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.