Saturday, 19 January 2013

Also: this

This past week I didn't get in much more Dragon Quest IX, but a bit. I've been playing Alpha Centauri, Spec Ops: The Line, and Dark Crusade. I'll hold off on DQ9 to give a full review when I beat it, but I have a few thoughts on the other three games.

Alpha Centauri is a game in the civilization genre that came out in the 90's. It was released shortly after Civilization 2 as a matter of fact. It's really a classic game, similar to how Blade Runner is a classic film; it's worth playing because A) it's great, B) it has influenced games that came after it, and C) it has a lot of high-brow influences in it. It follows the standard Civilization formula: you build cities, develop and expand them, discover technology, and you can conquer other civilizations. Except it's in space - the premise is that a colony ship departed Earth to land on Alpha Centauri, and the ships occupants Balkanised into several factions with opposing ideologies. You have your religious fanatics, militarists, economists, scientists, communists and environmentalists. Oh, and a faction built off UN principles, for which there is no effective one-word "ism".

The game isn't perfectly balanced; certain "wonder" improvements (buildings that can be built once, by one faction, and provide a permanent or long-term bonus to your whole civ) provide truly incredible benefits. But that issue aside, the game really is a lot of fun. It has solid gameplay mechanics, with the option to fully customize your units; you can take unit improvements and mix and match them how you please. It has excellent voice work and excellent writing. Every technology has a little quotation or soliloquy related to it, and they're either quotations from famous philosophical works or intellectuals, or they're well-written in-character speech/book-excerpts. I have a background in philosophy and this is the only game that has freely quoted Immanual Kant, as well as demonstrating an understanding of what the quote actually means. Far Cry 2 had Nietzsche references but they really just made it seem stilted.

If you like civ games you owe it to yourself to go to and buy this.

Spec Ops: The Line apparently caused a buzz by having a relatively sophisticated and critical look at US military involvement in the middle east. I haven't got far enough in the plot yet to really know for sure where it's going, but the theme of horror resulting from military presence is firmly established early on, and is effectively continued. The most striking moment for me was when me and my two man squad had the drop on two guards. The guards were having a conversation about how they are fighting for peace, and despite being bombed and burnt out, Dubai was still a really beautiful place. One guard said he would go to sit alone and listen to the wind, and enjoy how it reminded him of the forests from his hometown. And then I shot them both to death, because, well, I had to, and they would have shot me. This sort of scene is basically a cliche. An indictment of violence and militarism. But it's well-done, which is quite rare. You aren't drowned in sentiment, and how much of it you take in is essentially up to you, which makes it much more effective; a cut-scene that you are forced to watch, with closeups of crying children et cetera is too much. But a pair of guards, 30 feet away, whose faces you can barely see and whose dialogue you don't have to listen to is effective because it's real and your engagement with it, as voluntary, is more meaningful to the player. When I feel like a game is telling me to feel this or that way, I'm very resistant to the feeling. But when I'm confronted with a situation and invited to feel however I want to, or even ignore the situation and gun them down immediately, it feels real.

The gameplay isn't much to write home about however. It reminds me of Gears of War, which I found clunky and not fun. Spec Ops is also a third person over-the-shoulder shooter. Making it mandatory, basically, to press a button to go into "behind cover mode" is a mechanic a whole lot of games have used for years, and I've never liked it. I can use it; but I don't like it. You also have to swap out guns from dead enemies, because you will run out of ammo for your own guns. I kind of like that; I always like using a variety of guns in any shooter. I'll get back to you about where the story goes on this game when I finish it. I'm not sure if I can recommend it yet.

Finally, Dark Crusade. Last week I mentioned that even discussing the game made me want to play it again, and here I am. It's one of the last iterations of the Dawn of War series. I say that because I don't consider that Dawn of War 2 is really a part of the series; they changed the core gameplay so much that they alienated the fans of the series while failing to draw in a new crowd. But Dark Crusade is great. It's set in the Warhammer 40k universe, and you can play as the Eldar, Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Necrons, Orks, Tau or Chaos. It's a little absurd that the Necrons and Tau are included but the Tyranid are not. It's also disappointing. They were brought into the next game in the series but they really missed the mark there, so never mind.

I like to play the Eldar. The webway building lets you teleport 10 squads around the map to any other webway gate in about 5 seconds, and that just does it for me. The game is fast-paced and fun. It has a gameplay mechanic that takes all of 15 minutes to figure out, but it has enough depth that you can have many hours of fun with it, even if you only play one faction. Central to the gameplay is claiming "strategic points" on the RTS scenario. There are two resources; requisition and energy. Energy is acquired from power plants you construct, and requisition comes from strategic points. Once you've planted your flag in one (takes maybe 20-30 seconds) you gain a bit more requisition per second, and you can build "listening posts" on them to increase that. The resources are used to build squads and replenish the units in those squads if they die. On the strategy map, you conquer a territory and this confers some advantage to your faction; I think there are about 24 territories, including the home territory of each faction.

The writing and voice-acting is melodramatic and silly, which fairly suits the setting. So many different alien races duking it out on some wartorn planet: what do you expect? That said it's all pretty fun, and the flavour dialogue is appropriate, if silly. I really recommend the game if you like RTS. It's not deep in the way Supreme Commander or Starcraft 2 are, but I like it for that. I never had the discipline for those games. This one is just fun.

I saw my views spiked today, so I really thought I should update; if people are reading enough to expect an update on Saturday I ought to provide one.

Keep gaming.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Ramirez, do everything

Well I saw the doctor, bought snow tires at great expense, and arranged for an academic appeal in between buying books, doing readings, grocery shopping and attending class... Saturday posts should be feasible - extras if there's something extra to post.

I played Diablo 1 extensively, and Diablo 2 quite a bit (though enthusiasts of the game wouldn't agree with that estimation). Diablo 3 was a highly anticipated game for me, and as such, I played the hell out of it the week it came out. I got my mage to level 60, the last few levels feeling very grindy indeed, and lost interest. I was in the first act on Hell difficulty and finding it very, very tough going, and also finding very little enthusiasm to progress further.

A lot of people complained about being obliged to be online constantly to play the game. There are a plethora of remarks online, but if I'm going to post my views on games I do have an obligation to opine as thoughtfully as I can - dated though this point is. All I have to say is that even if you have no interest in multiplayer (and I don't really have any interest in that) it's still odd that anyone made such a big deal over the mandatory server connection to play. The reason is that Steam games all require you to log in to play, and Steam is a massively popular game distribution platform. It is possible to play Steam games offline, but first you have to log in online to enable that function, so if your internet unexpectedly fails, you're out of luck. I just don't think it's a very big deal.

Diablo 3 was competent - extremely competent - in most every detail of its execution. The writing was lacklustre however, and the voice-acting was as well. I'm comparing this title with the most recent other major Blizzard launch that I played, which was SC2. SC2 was my game of the year for 2011. I really loved it, beating every mission on Brutal difficulty and getting every mission achievement. I wasn't great at multiplayer, but I did get ranked gold in 1v1 matches as Protoss. SC2 had excellent writing, direction, voice-acting, and the mission scenario developers deserve an extra accolade for going above and beyond in creating 27 missions, each of which had unique challenges and thrills.

Diablo 3, on the other hand, has only minor elaborations on the basic gameplay devices we're familiar with from Diablo 2. As in Diablo 2 it has several Acts, where you battle progressively more powerful demons until you fight the titular badass. They made Diablo, the character, hermaphroditic ultimately, which I found a rather interesting choice, even if it had no real impact on the story or symbolism.

The character's abilities are generally interesting, and I enjoyed playing my mage overall, probably on the first playthrough most of all. As usual, the amount of time it takes to get decent gear becomes truly inhibitive, and this is what has always driven me away from the series. The fighting also gets incredibly repetitive. This criticism might be unfair, insofar as repetition is not avoidable for this game - it's built right in there, an essential part of the very popular formula. Its popularity is an argument for the value of the formula as well. But especially when the enemies get so difficult that the little roving minibosses can and will kill you upwards of 10 times, and the only battle tactic is to get in as many hits as you can before you must flee or die, repeat ad nauseum... then the game is a chore. For me the game isn't worth 60 dollars.

My mage seems to be voiced by the same guy who voices the protagonist from Gothic 3. This is actually disappointing - not because he's a bad voice actor, but because he is a good one. He was not allowed to emote at all with the mage. This was obviously an artistic choice on the part of the director - something about how the mage is a robot or a vulcan or a pre-recorded telephone directory, a choice probably intended to establish that he is so intelligent and awash in arcane mystery as to have left any human emotion or reaction far beneath him. There is a snippet of the sardonic, witty vocal sniper I know from Gothic 3 in the sewers section, where the mage is the straight man against the prolific voice actor who voices the jeweller, Covetous Shen, but this is simply not enough. This archetype has been around in gaming for a long, long time - someone who is so super-cool that they don't emote like a real person - and it is never effective at contributing to a characters impact. It's a tired cliche, and while I have no problem with stereotypes as such - they can be done well (see the film Stardust) - this is one which didn't deserve to be repeated often enough to become a cliche in the first place.

Discussing games usually makes me want to pick them up again. I've thought about dredging up Warhammer 40k Dark Crusade again, for instance, even though I've played it to death. But with D3 I feel only a vague interest in trying it a bit more, and that's quickly squashed when I remember how dull it is to level characters, and how long it takes. They've expanded the loot slots on characters in D3 so there are many, many more equipment slots now. This might make it more interesting for some people, but for me it's only more uninteresting micro-management - more frequent now are the times when you have to closely examine the latest drop in the newest line of glittery dungeon-crawler apparel to try to live up the fashion standards of the snobby hellspawn around you. And you just never find Gucci gift-wrapped off the side of the road, you know. It's always some cheap Korean knock-off.

I've been playing Dragon Quest IX on my DS lately. I like a lot so far. I'll talk about that next.


Saturday, 5 January 2013

Have a frank and productive new year

Not a lot to say. I've been busy for the last two days with... things.

I can elaborate on my probably unpopular opinions w/r/t Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 however.

I'm very much a gameplay oriented gamer - story and graphic design and... other auxiliary features are important but secondary. I don't have to justify my priorities in games, but I will say this. A game is something which you play. You can analyze it, or dissect it,  or "experience" it, and you can do all of those things to a chair as well, but I think we can all agree that a chair is for sitting. Similarly, a game is for playing. Therefore, the gameplay is the feature of the game that makes it a game. Gameplay is the most important feature of any game, QED.

I played Borderlands very thoroughly, bringing three characters to the max level; Siren, Hunter and Berserker, and I came close with the Soldier. I played a lot of the DLC as well, so clearly I really liked Borderlands. Borderlands 2 is in many ways simply an update on Borderlands 1 following the exact same formula. And having said gameplay is what I care for most, and the gameplay in the two games is eminently similar, how can my enjoyment differ so greatly? Perhaps because I played Borderlands 1 until I really had no more desire to do so. This was one well-spring of joy that got tapped dry for me, so serving it in a different glass didn't wow me. That said I feel there was one very distinct difference between the two games in gameplay. That is the volume of enemies and the time it takes to clear an area. In Borderlands 1 you could move from room to room relatively quickly in single-player; a lot of rooms had 2 or 3 baddies, and you could enjoy a sense of steady progress. Borderlands 2 is more like air-travel; hurry up and wait. You wait in the car for an hour to get to the airport, wait there for a few hours and get to the plane, and then wait for your connecting flight, et cetera. It takes much too long to clear an area in Borderlands 2, and the reason is the ridiculous extent to which enemies respawn from their little doors of mystery. Also many areas are multi-tiered, requiring you to clear out the first "floor", climb some ramp, start fighting on the second floor to find all the enemies on the first floor have respawned, and you've triggered a few on the top level as well. And all of these guys will have to be killed 2-3 times, effectively, due to respawns. Headache.

That said, the new characters are fun, I played the Sniper because he's good for soloing what with kill-at-a-distance, and enjoyed popping guys in the head. The story is undoubtedly better written, and Handsome Jack's whole... deal... was pretty good. There were fan service elements pretty thoroughly sprinkled in there, and everyone has a pretty partisan view on those so I'll leave it at saying they're ubiquitous for better or worse.

The game used a ton of blue and green tones, I found, which is a poor choice in my opinion. They're just not easy on the eyes in an environment where you have to spin around trying to figure out where you're getting shot from. Similarly, the enemy colouration schemes often caused them to blend in the with the background colours, which is poor design. Opinions may differ on this, but that's what I experienced.

This game is not worth the triple-A cash it costs. Play Borderlands 1. It will cost way less, and it's a powerfully similar experience.

I'll actually leave D3 for Tuesday, when classes resume, since I probably won't be able to game much before then.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Main Screen Turn On

Happy New Year.

Far Cry 3 is great. There's a lot of buzz on the 'net about weird shit it does w/r/t post-modern story elements... my strong urge is to put that out of your mind if you've been exposed to it, or not to read it at all before you play the game. The only interesting insights into the story which inform your gaming experience will come from your own experience; this isn't a general truism, but it is true w/r/t FC3. The game handles well; it is a competent shooter with a decent stealth mechanic. Now, I played both FC1 and 2 a heck of a lot so I will compare it to them. It is easier than either of them, and more garish, for want of a better word. I'm given to understand that what I refer to as "garish" is intentionally so in order to make the player reflect on his own position as regards gaming as a whole, but I find that pretentious and stilted (the writer of the game refers to FC3 as a building which should have six legs but only has four, and this makes "stilted" a uniquely appropriate critical predication). I will simply take all game elements at face value, because irrespective of their deeper signification they inescapable have the value of their prima facie existence, for better or worse. So; garish. There is island racing, island hold 'em, island skeet-shooting (with real birds!) and some interesting weapon challenges. FC1 and 2 had none of these. All of the objective-oriented gameplay in FC2 was immersed in the realism of the location, even the side-quests, and there were no side-quests in FC1.

I said the game is easier. Enemies can only see you within about 30-40 meters of you, which is dumb. In FC2 even if you had a sniper rifle you had to stand well, well back in order to be able to use it without being seen, such that it was still quite difficult to aim. There's this "target-painting" mechanic in FC3 which is silly as hell; it lets you see enemies through walls, once they're painted. That said, I had a whole lotta fun. I don't always finish games these days and I finished this.

I found every character in FC3 who is a resident of Rook Island to be very well acted, directed and characterized. It is competent in every respect of its execution, and excellent in a few; characters, acting/direction, and GUNS. However excellent it be w/r/t guns however, Far Cry 2 did it better, I'm afraid to say.

Play it.

I also started BG1, and then BG2, and then BG2 ToB again recently. I'm not going to talk about them. I just find it funny that I'm revisiting my blog and playing this damn game again for the umpteenth time.

I found XCOM Enemy Unknown to be a disappointment. I liked and played a lot of Fallout Tactics, and find the latter game to be superior to XCOM in just about every way. Indeed, this comparison so robustly expresses my feelings I don't feel the need to elaborate... I'm not pretending to give gaming news that is accessible to people without gaming experience, so I recognize if you have played neither game this is meaningless to you; that's fine. Play both is my advice. XCOM is a very well-reviewed triple-A title; every such should be played. Fallout Tactics is a personal favourite - it should also be played.

Dishonoured was a marathon game for me. I played it into the ground in a few days - so clearly I liked it. And I did like it! A lot. However, you realistically speaking unlock every ability you want in the first three missions if you are thorough, and you unlock every ability you actually need in just the first mission if you play carefully. So: the game is easy. It took me a lot longer because as soon as I discovered the game incentivizes being "Good" I tried my best to be so, and then I learned you can go through the whole game without killing a single individual, so I did that, because I felt the game was challenging me to: there is, after all, a points-bonus at the end of every mission for the reward "didn't kill anyone". That's a very clear indicator that A) you can do every mission without killing anyone, and B) this is a goal, a challenge, inherent in the game. It is therefore disappointing as all hell when you get to the very end, and having voluntarily made your gaming experience exponentially more difficult by your commitment to pacifism, you find the ending sequence gives zero cognizance whatsoever to your unstained karma. You get the "good" ending, ok, but I'm totally certain you'd get that as well if you simply kept your killing to a minimal standard.

It's a great game. Play it!

I also beat Dark Souls. I don't want to elaborate overmuch on this topic. The game is exceedingly difficult, and combines a finely honed modern physics engine and modern graphics with a very old-school approach to gaming. It is well-compared with original NES RPG titles, like any D&D game on the NES or SNES. I like this game more than Dishonoured or XCOM, and recommend it more heartily. It is punishingly difficult and this is probably why; I derive a lot of enjoyment through triumphing over adversity, when it comes to games.

I played Alpha Centauri recently, the expansion. If you like civilization games (Any of the capital C Civilization titles as well as a few other colonialist games of the same genre, titles aren't coming to mind) then you owe it to yourself to play this. This game is to civ titles what Blade Runner is to sci-fi movies. A classic, stand-out with excellent production values, innovation and brilliance. Mind you, the original Alpha Centauri has most of the artistic perfection; the expansion is merely competent w/r/t art, though it has fun elaborations on gameplay. This one is a classic.

Speaking of classics I bought Master of Magic from Great Old Games... it actually is also a civilization game, but not the type that you need to have played in order to consider yourself informed about the genre. It's a lot of fun and has a wide variety of gameplay mechanics, all solidly intergrated. It's latter day successor is Warlock: Master of the Arcane, but the pathetic thing there is that this successor simply has less to it. Master of Magic had far more gameplay elements, and I do not think there is a persuasive argument that any of them needed to be shaved off. It was very well put together.

Hesitantly; very, very hesitantly; I'm looking at a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday update schedule. We'll see. It's not like anyone is reading this thing.

Oh, Post-Script: Borderlands 2: disappointment of the year, even more than Diablo 3.

Game on.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

We Get Signal

Postnihilist here.

I just started graduate school, so I haven't been able to game very much. Also the wireless here won't let me either torrent or log onto Steam, so that's a hindrance. My gaming has been absorbed mainly be Mount and Blade with Fire and Sword, and a bit of Far Cry 1.

Far Cry is a great game. I've beaten it twice before, I had thought on the highest difficulty. But I'd enabled something called "Auto AI Balance" which apparently causes the difficulty to downgrade. I don't think I had it enabled the whole time, but either way, it's dubious that I ever beat the whole game on the highest difficulty. I'm trying to now and it seems harder than I remember.

The game has an intuitive, easy to use stealth system which enables game-play. Also you can carry 4 weapons, which is just more fun than the standard two weapon system. There's a real free-form element to game-play. You can approach enemy encampments from several directions usually, or sometimes bypass some enemies entirely. If you bring up your binoculars and scroll over enemies they get added onto your radar, the explanation for which in-game is a bit dodgy but not quite stupid, and either way it's an effective and fun feature. The guns handle well enough, and on high difficulty the lethality of enemies is so extreme that you need to be very careful and approach situations thoughtfully and tactically. I recommend it if you can deal with the somewhat dated graphics. It's also a very long game, which is in this game's case a good thing. The action is only occasionally repetitive, and they put you in a very wide variety of tactical situations.

Mount and Blade with Fire and Sword is a really unique game from my point of view. I finally managed to get a castle rewarded to me by the Crimean Khanate; it took long enough. I'd laid siege to and taken over several castles entirely on my own and eventually I got one rewarded to me. More importantly I got elected as my faction's marshal, so I get to lead the armies fielded by the Crimean lords. Finally our faction is making serious gains under my leadership; we're about to eliminate the Cossack Hetmanate.

There is too much to say about MBwFaS to get into here. The thing is the game format just doesn't have an easy analogue in my gaming experience and vocabulary, so I would have to detail most everything about it to give a proper explanation. One thing I can say is that it has the biggest learning curve of almost any game I've played, and there is also little help to be found online. Still, I'm having tons of fun with it (sort of surprising given how inherently repetitive the action is), so I recommend giving it a serious try if you're not turned off by having to use a clunky interface to have a unique gaming experience.

Keep gaming, it's good for you.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Still Alive

Postnihilist, gamer.

At the advice of a friend I'm going to attempt to do smaller posts more frequently. Since it has been more than three months since my last post, attaining the latter portion of that regimen should pose no difficulty.

At any rate, here it is.

I have lately been playing SPaZ (space pirates and zombies), MBwFaS (mount and blade with fire and sword), E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy and I'll say a few words about Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The last I haven't played in over a month, but I got through most of the game since my last post, so. In order of mention.

SPaZ is a cheap fun little game. It is around 120 megabytes, so no big strain on... anything, really: neither your wallet nor your machine. Though it does support 1920x1080, which is my native, so that's good. The game progresses a tad slowly; we're talking a serious time investment to get into the meat of the game. I'd say I played for over 10 hours before the zombies were a real part of it, which is surprising. You go from star system to star system, collecting data to go up levels and acquire research points (allowing you to upgrade your ships) and REZ, the galaxy-wide currency. Some kind of mineral. They put some work into the backstory, and it's coherent and moderately interesting and not poorly-written, so why not read it (coming from a guy who often skips these). The characters are immobile portraits with text beside them, so not a lot of characterization. You blow up enemy ships to acquire blue-prints to reverse-engineer them so you can build them. You also buy or steal (by blowing up) new ship parts from either civilian or, well, Federation colonies (the game calls them UAF or something like that but the idea is ubiquitous). I recommend the game. It's cheap and fun. If you don't much like it, it doesn't take long to get your money's worth. And if you stick with it, going from a tiny fleet of shit ships to being kind of a badass who can roll into town and fuck up a space station to get free tech for your fleet, well, that's a good feeling.

Mount and Blade with Fire and Sword is a powerfully simulationist game, concerning a location in space-time that is medieval Eastern Europe. There are guns, but primitive ones, so at a guess I'd call it the mid 1600's (the day someone e-mails me a correction on something I've blogged about will be a very happy one). You start as one guy with a horse, a cheap pistol and a sword, and after many, many hours of playing, you can work your way up to be a medieval lord. I've sunk surely over thirty hours into the game, and possibly over thirty hours into this one character, Nihil Ist, and I still can command only 100 troops in battle and my fief is a small village. The biggest army I've seen was about 300 troops. Hopefully I'll get to that point, but we'll see... the game is such a time hog. In terms of what you need to know to decide if you want to play it: it's very user unfriendly. The UI is awkward and opaque, with certain integral functions a mystery. The very method of advancing your character and yourself in the game is quite obscure. I spent a tremendous amount of time just trading to make money before I realized that having a fief, even a shitty little one, makes you tons of money and you don't have to do anything to get it. The in-game combat is awkward, but not buggy - they've designed a certain kind of system, and they've made it work as well as it can. Like it or lump it. And as the combat system goes, so the game goes: this game is for nerdy or weird people willing to obsessively play a game until the juice comes out.  Of the game, not the person. The juice is tasty, but how hard are you willing to press the fruit? I'm going to drop that analogy now.

E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy is a very stupid game that I've put a lot of time into. In many ways it is what Crysis or Crysis 2 should have been. If these two companies could team up they could do justice to the concept underlying Crysis, but since one company has produced a game with a titular acronym that refers to nothing, and the other company has a budget the size of the previously mentioned bloated metaphor, they will never talk. Also, E.Y.E. can't have been made by English speaking people, at least not native English speaking people. The dialogue is weird and ham-handed in many places and there are simply lots of grammatical errors. It's technically an FPS RPG, though with less RPG elements than Deus Ex. I'm not sure why the ability to customize your character's advancement instantly designates a game as an RPG... it has little to nothing to do with playing a role. Though I suppose people don't call D2 an RPG. I digress. E.Y.E. cost me 20 bucks and I played it for more than 20 hours. I do play games obsessively, apparently, but this game is great if you're after a fun combat sim with some seriously crazy capabilities. It's nothing more than a combat sim I would say, though several missions do require surprisingly close attention and thought to solve. That's an indy game for you I guess. If you do play it, remember that the heavy non-silenced sniper is the strongest gun in the game, and it is the only way you will ever kill a Deus Ex Machine or a 'Copter. 

I don't want to talk much about Dark Messiah. It's an old-school game, with an old-school interface. Imagine a Morrowind-style interface: you point your eyes at objects to highlight them and interact with them. The combat is awkward bordering on brutal, and this coming from a guy who plays most games on the highest difficulty from the get-go. It's just not fun in many cases; you have to redo fights again and again because you're dying from enemies who hit harder and faster. You can get the hang of it, but ghouls are always just death walking. The physics is pretty awesome. You can kick guys off ledges easily and it's rewarding to do so. You can kick 'em into walls too. It's wise to do so. This is a combat-heavy adventure game. There are puzzles and secret areas. If you can pick it up for 5 bucks or less and you have a taste for nostalgic adventure games go for it, but I haven't beaten it and will probably not pick it up again. Although the plot bears special mention as being, in many ways conventional and predictable, but in a crucial way quite divergent. I guess the title gives it away a bit. I had fun with it; you might too.

Brevity! One last comment. I've been playing Darksiders. It's fun, but the combat is rather repetitive. This is a game I sort of want to see through. You play as the apocalyptic horseman War, and you kill lots of demons and some angels. People compared it to God of War extensively, but since I played much more Ninja Gaiden I'd say it's more like Ninja Gaiden. That plus Zelda, Ocarina of Time or any of the iterations past that point. It doesn't take much more to describe it; if you know those games you know this game. It's not very hard, but it's pretty fun. Ninja Gaiden is better, but then Ninja Gaiden is awesome, so there you go. 

I have the intention of updating again before September 15th, but I'm going back to school full-time, so I don't even know how much gaming I'll do. I started this blog talking about Baldur's Gate, and I may some day finish the erratic train of thought I started there, but don't hold your breath. (I'm also going to write something about metaphor soon, for my own pleasure. Count the metaphors in the preceding non-parenthetical sentence!)

Postnihilist out.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

More Games

Postnihilist, gamer.

I'm going to talk about several different games here. I haven't finished BG2 yet, though I have some comments there, with regard to a comparison to BG1. I've been playing Crysis 2, Bulletstorm (PC), and I finished Portal 2, so comments on all of those will also be here.

Baldur's Gate 1 was dramatic, well-paced and kept a healthy mystery about it's main and only important antagonist. Baldur's Gate 2 is melodramatic, also well-paced but causes irreparable damage to its antagonist by cosntantly revealing his doings and powers to the player. This is the thesis, and with more patience, I might establish it thoroughly, but tonight I'm sort of tired already so I'm just going to go over some major points which will be appreciable only to people who've played these games and know them. I don't call this blog Games for Gamers because I'm here to tell you about things you don't know about.

We receive one movie about Sarevok in BG1, where he kills the player's foster father Gorion, rather brutally. That's it, until much, much later in the game, where we see him give a speech in front of major Baldur's Gate dignitaries. We see him fight twice: at the beginning of the game, where scope is utterly meaningless, given there is nothing meaningful to compare it to: the player is level 1 and has never seen the abilities of a character of a higher level. When next we fight, it is at the final confrontation in the game (the game actually stops, dismally, after this fight. You can't keep on, last I played it this was true). You hear two rumours of Sarevok's prowess throughout the game to my knowledge, though I actually remember only one direct rumour. The point being the man is thoroughly shrouded in mystery. He's a monster who killed your godfather but going after him is reasonable in the way that being a hero is reasonable: your ignorance fuels you in the way a beaver's short-tern memory keeps him working until he's built a massive dam.

Well, contrast to BG2. We start the game with an in-game movie about Irenicus experimenting on you. How nice. Well, he doesn't demonstrate ridiculous power here, so credit where it's due, I suppose. The first time you see this movie, it is pretty sweet. However, before the first chapter of the game is complete we see Irenicus lay utter waste to many eminently powerful mages, and submit to their authority out of, apparently, boredom and expediency. His omnipotence is established in more concrete terms than Sarevok's ever was: Sarevok only seemed strong as hell because he killed a damn-strong opponent: maybe this fight nearly killed him, we don't know. Whereas with Irenicus we have no reason to suspect that his enemies even touch him, because we're given to dream sequences as well as 3rd person omniscient perspective cut-scenes of him pwning ass (And by the way, these cut-scenes were just dumb as hell. If you cut them out entirely this would be a stronger game). He casts spells with a 1 or 2 casting time that instantly kill whoever he directs them at. Well, all I can say is thank god he never thinks to use that dangerous bugger on the player.

Also, with Irenicus we get this whole song-and-dance backstory about his love affair with the queen of the elves, and how he used to be an elf until his power-lust led him to try to usurp the elven gods, and in his wretched, cursed state he blah blah jesus christ go stuff a turd down your throat you whiny bitch. We never heard an ass-hair of an inkling of Sarevok's backstory, in emotional terms at least. So he was raised by the leader of the Iron Throne mercantile group. Is that why he decided a genocide of national scale was a good idea? Who the hell knows? Maybe he was just born crazy. We have no clue. It's obvious the guy was incredibly evil and evil in the worst kind of way: a true prodigy of the Lord of Murder, Bhaal, Sarevok sought only the death of as many people as possible. Whereas Irenicus? ... Well... looks like all he needed was a warm hug and cup of hot milk from his elven once-lover to get back to beddy-bye and resume a normal life. I am trying to cut down on expletives as I noticed my last post exploded a bit in them toward the end, but F**k that. It's f**king weak. I'm not going to go into arguments as to why this further exposition is not worthwhile unless I'm asked to by readers, as I think it's perfectly obvious that the antagonist's story in BG1 is far, far superior to the story in BG2. God, those cut-scenes! Maybe you could have left it as a mystery to the player whether Irenicus actually went through the Underdark? Maybe left us wondering what his motives would have been to do so, if he had done so? But no... just reveal all these utterly crucial plot questions in a short stupid cut-scene. Thanks, developers. I was maybe 15 when I first played this game, and it insulted my intelligence then.

Don't be afraid to have a backbone as a game designer, and strike out at a bold new direction. The reason we doubt it will sell well is because it is a bold new direction. If your marketing people and producers feel like they have to kick you back into line, you should fire them or quit. Games are the most compelling art form of human existence. They can achieve higher levels of involvement than anything that has come before. Don't sell your talent to the highest bidder.

Ok, so, Portal 2. Yahtzee's, that is, Zero Punctuation, his review pretty much had it on the nose. The game is great and well-worth playing. Since his review is easily available online, I won't add too much to it, just what I think was left out. First, the helper-guy, the British ball-of-steel A.I. who ends up trying to kill you (spoiler, but if those bother you you can f**k off), his emotional tone changes not a decimal place between evil, monomaniacal psychopath and bumbling, well-intentioned side-kick. That's probably intentional, but I find it unhelpful. Perhaps GlaDos's own change in emotional timbre is intended to be the focus of all this. And as it goes, I have no real criticism there, except to say that where in Portal she came off as actually an A.I., that is, a computer program, whereas in Portal 2, she seems more like an actual human being who's just a bit socially inept and hates you. It's a bit flat, is my point. Also, Yahtzee hit the nail on the head when he complained about the lengthy walking around sections of show-casing the massive artistic wanks of Portal 2. They're not necessary, and though impressive, they are fluff, which should always be cut. Cut it out, fellas.

Portal 2's puzzles are also a bit odd. Most of them are 2-3 step puzzles. It's possible my memory is foggy with regard to Portal, but in that game I seem to recall that there was usually more to it. You'd figure out a piece at a time to be sure, but it would take many-a-piece to finish a puzzle (the more advanced puzzles, certainly). In Portal 2 it is usually the case that, for any puzzle you find difficult, this is simple because there is one little trick or gimmick that you have over-looked, and once you have figured it out the rest of puzzle is easy as a well-aimed piss that you quick-saved before and have to reload if you splash or miss. The point is, it's kind of annoying to spend an hour or so bashing your head against a puzzle, only to try some random move for kicks, or come back to it the next day to realize something, and then all of a sudden, in one move, you've practically solved the thing. They could have gone a bit more complicated. The most difficult puzzle for me, for the reason that I failed to comprehend where I was supposed to go, was in the installation shafts working with all three different goos.

Crysis 2 is the first game but better, more or less. I'd say more rather than less. People seemed to really like Crysis, which surprised me because I didn't. Yahtzee raved about the visuals, especially with respect to the alien spaceship, but I thought that while the graphical detail was well-done, the design itself was very pedestrian and derivative. I don't want to sound like an art-snob, and I know you can't not sound that way when you call something "pedestrian and derivative", so I guess I'm going to have to lie in the bed I've made for myself. But I don't know about art in any formal way, I just know that Metroid Prime 2 had amazing art insofar as though the graphics were lesser than the Xbox, the design of the levels and visuals was astounding and beautiful, and while Crysis had great graphics and detail, so did Oblivion, and we all know how the art direction on that game sucked noodles (ok, the architectural pieces were pretty cool,. but it all came to feeling way too much like artifice: not a trace of the organic, real-world feel one gets from Morrowind). I've mainly talked about art, but I have a few other points. Crysis 2, as a game (I'm playing 2 on the highest difficultly and played 1 on the same) has a better understanding of the player's abilities and how to deal with them. The ability to uncloak, shoot a guy in the head, and cloak again existed in both games, but whereas it made the game sort of a joke in Crysis, it's just an anticipated maneuver in Crysis 2. The ability to upgrade my suit with alien... goo... seems very cool, but I'm saving all my... goo... up for a great big upgrade, so I have no meaningful commentary here. Though it's weird as hell how some aliens have it and some don't. Lastly, for Crysis 2, the story is better, though still sort of weird. I like how Crysis 2 seems to have quite a coherent plot that they just don't spend a ton of time explaining patiently to the player, unlike most games, which have stupid plots that they hammer into the players skulls with stupid, expository dialogue. It's classy. Like Ghost in The Shell. This game is great, people should buy it if they liked Crysis, or any other CryEngine game.

Lastly, I promised a few words about Bulletstorm. I think this game sucks. Which isn't to say that it is a terrible game, or that no one would like it, or that no one should but it. All I'm saying is that I think it sucks. And I do. It really, really sucks. The whole point system for special kills gimmick is cool, and I don't mind buying the in-game explanation for it: it's so obviously a nonsensical  work-in for the thing that who cares how much sense it makes. But the A.I., aiming system, and overall the whole combat sensation doesn't work for this "special kills" system. Maybe it's because I'm playing on the highest difficultly, but while I can aim for the balls, in order that once my enemy is prostrate with pain I can kick his head off his shoulders, Once I've done it once I got the big point payoff, and aiming that closely was stupidly difficult for a game where automatics have almost no recoil. Look here, Unreal Tournament (the original) is the purest shooter ever made, and many games, including this one, could learn from it. Some guns have recoil, none have so much of it you get disoriented. The f**king background should be just that, a f**king background. It's only typing this now that I realize how infuriated I've been with this game for putting too much eye-catching and utterly unbeautiful and uninspiring detail into their environments, that it gets hard to easily identify the enemies. Next, while the main character, Grey-"something" is pretty cool in my opinion, he very quickly loses all of that when he loses any foil that lets his character make sense. The game opens with him and a fellow alcoholic murderer intimidating a victim to get information. Well, cool. There are people like that: I'm playing as a genuine bad man, here. But very very quickly, all the interesting characters (the drinking buddy and surly doctor/tech-head) are killed, and you're left with a guy who, though he earlier states he had sworn to serve you but would not die for your revenge fantasy (though as you pushed that agenda forward right in front of him he raised no further objection), he immediately turns to almost killing you and hating you very seriously because your decisions (which again, he didn't really try to stop) led to the death of your crew. He's utterly humourless, sober, sombre, and makes a terrible foil for the main character's gimmick; that of a drunken, jolly, cruel and violent mercenary. His lines are all delivered with the same dead-pan anger and loathing, which, given that the man continually works with you, follows direction and gives advice, comes across as nothing at all but petty whining. Grow a pair my friend. You'll threaten my life and push me around if I'm pushing you, but you never actually do anything do you? No, you follow me like you always did. I wonder if his oath to serve Grey-"whatever" was just an oath to be the "straight-man" comical foil. But Grey isn't funny enough to need a straight man. He's not funny at all, really. There can be some gritty pleasure in watching a drunken psycho be himself, but it's not a laugh and a half. I keep on wondering why Gray doesn't either kill Ishi or tell him to shut the f**k up.

So that's today's post. Dee-lightful. Again, quite long I know, and as last time, unedited. I'll have a few finishing words on BG2 when I finish it, probably nothing to add to Bulletstorm since I don't like the game and am sick of it, and a wrap-up of Crysis 2 which I intend to finish soon. Also, there are just... so many games I can see in my quick-launch bar that, old though they may be, I don't have a big enough following (any at all, I believe) to censor who or what I review here. So, look forward to it, vast internet emptiness, because a week from now you'll have another 2500 words on various games.

I'm playing Far Cry 2 right now as well, which I think was quite under-rated as games go, and would have been less so if the developers had stuck to their guns with the original design which, I believe, did not include a quick-save function. Immersion was the (middle) name of the game here, Far Immersion Cry 2. Rolls off the tongue. Anyway, while it makes the game tougher (especially on max difficulty, the way I play almost all FPS games) it brings the players closer into it. But enough on that.

Keep playing, it's good for you.

Postnihilist out.