Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for November, 2008

Man, was I that critical?

I was just reading back through my last several posts on Gears 2 and Resistance 2, and boy, I was really in a mood to criticize.  I can’t say my opinions have changed since I wrote the entries, but I feel like I left some things out that may make me appear to not “get” what the games were going for.

First up, Gears 2.  It’s a highly polished game, just like the first one was.  The audio and weapon feel is great, just like the first game had already.  I still believe the clicking clip sound when you get to a few shots left in the mag is just brilliant.  The environments, when you’re not cutting through sphincters, are wonderful to look at, again much like the first game… except without the sphincters.  When used, the environmental effects (the razor rain level) are great, again much like they were in the first game.  The vehicle sequences are annoying, just like they were in the first game.  I guess that’s the problem I had with it in the end.  It does everything right in terms of presentation, but doesn’t present anything that’s really worth presenting.

As for Resistance 2, this one is more of a head scratcher for me.  Maybe I’d forgotten what R1 really looked like (I’ve not loaded it back up for comparison), but it feels like this one doesn’t look as good, at least in the early levels.  Uncharted and R&C on the PS3 look better, IMO.  Let’s be honest, too.  R2 has no where near the polish level of Gears 2, so perhaps the cruelest comparison was to play Gears 2 and then within a few hours put in R2 and start playing it.  The game can stand on its own in many ways, but that’s a hard comparison to make.  R2’s problems are in how the various dials the devs could spin were finally spun.  I don’t think they were tuned in the most enjoyable way, but maybe I expected too much.

In the end, either game is worth playing, especially if you don’t have access to the opposing system that features the other one.

Perhaps because I’ve been getting back into serious design work that I’m becoming more critical and analytical of games and gameplay, much as I used to be.  Reading my own commentary, man I sound like an ass, elitist and a jerk, sometimes all three at once.  However, I’m now in a position where the next project(s) I do are my chance to eat crow or caw loudly, so it’s put up or shut up.  We’ll see how that all works out.

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DUMMM-dum-da-DUUUUM!!!1! : Thoughts on Resistance 2

The title (the part before the colon, at least) is my attempt to recreate the musical refrain that you’re going to hear over, and over, and over yet again if you decide to play Resistance 2’s campaign.  What is that glorious melody, you may inquire?  Why, it’s the sound of you dying, of course!  It happens quite frequently, many times with little warning.  You can come around a corner and die to enemies that already saw you.  You may be standing still, with no enemies in sight, and die.  You could be crouching behind cover and die.  You may have not memorized the exact location of an invisible, one-hit-you’re-dead monster that you moved into range of.  Or, you could be hit from a few shots of scattered fire from a guy that’s less than a few pixels tall on the screen and – you guessed it – die yet again.

To be fair, I have no problem with dying in games when I do something stupid or try to rush a scenario that I should not.  However, this game has a great number of deaths that certainly provoke some outbursts of “WTF?!”.

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A few more thoughts on Gears 2

While my coffee is brewing, I thought I’d finish off my thoughts on Gears 2.

The game feels more like a duck shoot than the previous Gears game did.  I was always worried about getting into melee combat (and my general suck at it) in Gears 1.  The thought of it made me paranoid and kept me on my toes.  Not so in Gears 2.  Gears 2 feels like the design team very purposely made the game more of a ranged game, with melee being an insanely aggressive thing to attempt against most enemies, or even against the players.  Aside from a sequence where monsters just run at you one at a time (hint: just keep holding B and you insta-kill all of them with the chainsaw), melee was about 2% of the overall game activity.

I think this betrays the game’s origins a bit, as the original game had such a nice blend of close-ranged combat and melee, and this one went in an almost strictly ranged direction.  Most combat areas in Gears 2 are constructed such that there’s cover for you, cover for them, and miles of open space in-between.  At least in the first game it felt more like an arena that you constantly moved around in; An area of cover for the enemy becomes your area of cover a few moments later. I’m going to try playing through again on a harder difficulty, and I’ll make it a point to aggressively move against the enemies.  We’ll see how I fare.  I’m guessing not very well.

The split sequences (you go one way, teammates go another) feel like they’ll have a lot of payoff and back-and-forth play, but end up being very short and very unrewarding as a result.  The Brumak sequence was fun, simply because the scale of destruction was vast.  The other vehicle sequences… I really could have done without many, if not all of them.  In a game that’s about close-quarters combat with guns and melee, why betray that gameplay with slow, ponderous sequences on vehicles that don’t share any of the dynamics of your core game play?

Other betrayals of the original game’s focus abound.  Forget about closing emergence holes with grenades to stop enemies from coming at you.  That happens – maybe – three times in the entire game.  It’s also rather telling that later into the game, the enemies start using the COG default rifle rather than their own standard locust weapon. Why? Because your weapon is more effective and versatile.  Theirs kinda sucks, in both fire rate, damage, and ability to melee with.

Overall, I don’t get why this collection of levels and story bits thusly assembled is the sequel they made for Gears.  It doesn’t answer any questions, doesn’t add any new huge twist, and really… didn’t do much of anything new game-play wise.  A few new weapons for the franchise that we’ve seen in other shooters already.  More driving sequences that aren’t exciting or really compelling.  It feels like one of the bad conspiracy filler episodes of the X-files; People say things, and stuff happens, but at the end of it all, you learned nothing, and really are no wiser coming out of it than you were going into it.  The lack of direction generates a feeling that the Gears team didn’t really know if the first game would be a hit, hadn’t thought through their own lore, and didn’t have a good idea of where to take the franchise if it warranted more trips back to that particular well.

I don’t want to get snarky, and certainly wish Cliff B. all the success he can get, but seriously dude — with any new outing in a franchise, you need to tend to that entry as intensely as you did with the first one that garnered you all the success in the first place.  It feels like you’re off in hollywood movie land now and not focusing on making the series that got you there in the first place as great as it deserves to be.

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Well, that was fast.

I have to say that Gears 2 was likely the easiest game I’ve played in quite a while (standard difficulty).  I think collectively my wife and I died 5 times playing through the entire campaign co-op.  Perhaps that was just what they intended from normal difficulty.  That seems to be the norm these days — provide an experience rather than any challenge when on “normal”.  Keeping with that, the final boss was, well… was it even a fight?  You just point a weapon at the thing and pull the trigger until it dies.  There was no strategy to it, no style… just pulling a trigger with not a lot of aiming even required.

…but really, that was the entire game.  Pulling a trigger until object X was dead.  There were really four boss encounters in the game, and all of them were… underwhelming.  Dead Space’s final boss (well, really the only boss fight in that game) was much more enjoyable to fight, and that wasn’t a very difficult fight at all.  The Gears 2 bosses were… well just kinda standard “big monster” encounters from other games.  I know that Resident Evil 4 was a big influence on this series, but now that appears to be spreading to the game’s events itself, which is a bit too much of an homage, IMO.

So story-wise, I don’t know if the game really went anywhere.  To be spoiler free, I’ll just say that I don’t feel any more connected to the Gears’ universe after finishing this game than I did after the first one, which should not be the case, should it?

Also is it my imagination, or does it take twice as much ammo (vs. Gears 1) to take enemies down, even with headshots?

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Well, OK that settles it.

My wife read my entry and said “wait, there’s a Gears 2?  Can we play it co-op like the other one?”

Sold.

And Resistance 2 is now on order (with an extra dual-shock) for after we’re done with gears.

Co-op gaming with the wife = worth the $60 admission price. =)

…of couse the question that immediately followed: “Can I play someone that has a neck this time?”

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What's worth the money any more?

I finished FE3, had a wonderful time playing it (45+ hours put into it), and am contemplating a second run through from the totally evil direction this time… oh, and going melee only.  Yeah, I should just hit myself in the head with a brick and just live off of that pain for the 15+ hours it’ll take me to run the main story.

Looking back on the game, it’s funny that the main story is really so short.  I accidentally short-circuited part of it during my random explorations, but it was nice that the game just kept going around my actions.  In the end, the main story took less of my time than all the incidental quests (like the wasteland companion series).  I was really worried that the story was going to involve all of those satellite towers that are scattered around the area, since the Oblivion design sheet was still lingering in my head with its ever more and more annoying “turn off the demonic towers” slog / filler.

But whatever, that’s not what this entry is about.

I realize there’s tons of games out there at the moment, but what the hell do I play now?  And more importantly, what’s worth the $60?  Read on for my new games rundown, full of vitriol!

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Why I know Fallout 3 is a winner

While exploring the wastes, I came across a radio tower in the middle of nowhere, guarded by a few easily decapitated-at-range bandits.  Upon turning the tower’s power back on, a faint radio signal begins playing; a husband is pleading for help for his sick son in an ever-looping broadcast message.

Finally honing in on the signal and finding the location of its origin, I’m amazed at how moved I am by what I find in the family’s safe haven.  It’s a classic example of well done design and art — you’re telling a story without saying a word.

It’s a game steeped in death and destruction, with corpses littered everywhere and gore as an integral part of everyday wasteland life.  It’s a detached apocalypse however; I know it’s just a game.  But then there’s this radio message.  Perhaps it was the well delivered reading by the voice actor, the fact that you couldn’t hear the message completely clearly from where you activate it, or that it didn’t immediately give you a quest location you could hone in on.  You had to go out of your way to find the result.  In discovering the outcome, the emotions really hit home, and there’s really only one noble outcome I could deduce for the situation, which was also brilliant since it’s in the player’s hands to do or not.

If art is supposed to move you and make you think, then Bethesda certainly succeeded in delivering a moment of art with that little vignette.  Bravo.

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