Obscured View

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Archive for March, 2010

Dark Void: I couldn't come up with a witty title; the game doesn't deserve one anyway.

I can’t remember the last time I sat down and finished a game in 1.5 sittings.  That translates to around 5 hours of play.

I had a lot of hope for Dark Void when it was announced.  There’s so much potential in the idea of a free-flying Rocketeer type game.  Sure, it seemed like it was biting off more than it could chew (flying, ground combat, platforming, etc.), but there was such a great road map of things to avoid (the Iron Man game for one) and plenty to inspire (The Rocketeer film, Crimson Skies… which this team made!) that I thought this one would “get it” and go towards the latter rather than the former.

Wow, was I wrong.

So if you’re making a game involving shooting and guns, you really should get those right.  The default weapon in the game (a machine gun) is buggy.  The problem: the gun can’t hit anything up close.  Apparently the bullet emitter is just a bit too far ahead of the muzzle on the model, or they’re moving to fast, or it’s just bad logic; the shit is broke regardless.  At point-blank range, only one in every 10 bullets or so doesn’t spawn past an enemy in front of you.  Sigh.  This gets worse as you upgrade the gun, too.  At one point, it seems I was doing no damage at all with it while closing for a melee attack.  The shots were hitting the wall behind the enemy instead.

Speaking of melee, it doesn’t fare any better.  Instead of making melee a dynamic part of the game, there’s canned animations for every melee attack.  This means that once you start a melee attack, you’re locked into it and can’t move or shoot until the animation is over.  The canned thing is nice when you need health to regenerate (you’re apparently invulnerable while doing melee), but isn’t nice for game play flow.  It’s jarring and very unsatisfying.  Damage from melee is a joke too.  The basic robots you fight you can 1-hit kill.  Everything else?  Try 3 to 6 melee attacks.  Or better yet, don’t try it, because it isn’t worth doing.

Machine-gun aside, there are other weapons that are more fun to use, notably the alien version of the machine gun, which has none of the basic machine gun issues and has upgrades that make it well worth using.  This likely has to do with the bullets being projectiles rather than raycasts with effect.  The other weapons vary from kinda meh to not really that useful.  The gravity gun seems fun, but there’s nothing to do with it outside of one level that you get it on.  The sniper rifle, even fully upgraded, can’t headshot and quickly kill most enemies… most of the time.  Again I’m thinking they have some really bad collision detection with raycast weapons.  The tesla cannon is fun for the mission you get it in, but not much else.

Lastly, the game makes one horrible mistake with aiming.  Where I’m looking (center screen) when I go into aiming mode doesn’t naturally become where the reticule is looking.  So, even if I’m in cover and move the camera to basically center on an enemy in the distance, as the view zooms in, I’ll be looking somewhere completely different, requiring me to re-aim once I’m zoomed in, making the entire point of general aiming worthless.  Any modern shooter has this working correctly, but not in this game.

So ground combat isn’t great, but then again the game is about flying, right?  With a cool jetpack!  That’s awesome!

Well, it should be, but it’s not.

Flying is a mess.  You have a poor sensation of speed.  The boost and brake abilities don’t do enough to speed you up or slow you down; Boost is too slow, and flying with brakes on feels still too fast.  There’s no way to lock on to enemies and get even a basic targeting / gutter arrow to tell you the direction of your target.  You can hold down a button to focus on the nearest enemy while trying to steer, shoot, and aim, but it’s uncomfortable on your hand to do so for more than a few seconds at a time.  Some enemies have flight trails behind them, but they’re not long enough and you can’t vary your speed enough to track them well anyway.  It’s easier to boost away from stuff, U-turn, then just shoot and repeat.  Dog-fighting is not enjoyable… in a game about dog-fighting.

Enemies have targeting reticules around them to call them out from friendly aircraft… sometimes.  There is no rhyme or reason to why you sometimes see them and sometimes don’t.  It’s not distance based, and has nothing to do with their health or yours.  Sometimes you just don’t get reticules to call out enemies, and other times you do.

You have a context action that you can do while flying to hijack an enemy craft or kill a few “boss” type enemies.  It’s tedious and boring, and like melee attacks, locks you into a canned animation as you fly automatically to the enemy craft.  This is really fun when the brilliant AI of an enemy decides to suicide below the game horizon, or is shot down by one of your AA guns and falls to its death as your guy is flying to the ship.  You end up flying right after it and directly into the abyss.  Some checkpoints can be far enough apart that this makes replaying the same mission sequence very tedious.

If you avoid canned death and get to the craft, you end up in this bad version of a simon game, except to win their version of Simon, you just hold down one button.  If the enemy shoots at you, you have to stop holding the button and move to another part of the ship… and just sit there unable to progress with the hijack until it stops shooting.  sometimes it tries to shake you off, requiring you to mash a random face button for a few moments.  Once that’s done, you move back to the panel and hold the button down more.  You repeat this until you pull off the panel to get to the pilot, then wiggle the stick to kill him and take the craft.  I can’t understand the call to make the path to success the most boring choice possible.  Where’s the quicktime event of hitting a few buttons in rapid succession?  Man, just take a look at any larger monster fight in God of War for inspiration.  Taking over an enemy craft has never been so unexciting.  Well, I guess it could have been more boring — just don’t do anything in order to succeed.

The other problem with many of the aerial levels is that it’s actually more efficient to jump into one of the AA turrets and shoot down the enemies.  The AA guns do more damage, are more accurate, and take a more punishment than you can with your rocket pack, even when upgraded with better guns.  When the main draw of your game isn’t the most efficient and rewarding way to fight enemies, you have a serious problem.

Finally, the story is bad.  Not cheesy and somewhat fun in a bad way like Darkstalkers was… like just bad.  Here’s an example:  You’re fighting robots and UFOs the entire game… and then suddenly at the end you’re fighting a giant mecha-dragon.  HUH?  Or what about Nikola Tesla being killed by an impostor Tesla who then doesn’t take Tesla’s place and cause havoc, but just stabbity-stab-stabs and… leaves?!  He doesn’t even try to sabotage your ship while he’s right there.  So weak.

I could go on, but this game doesn’t deserve any more words spent on it.

The TLDR version: Lack of good feedback on actions, poor controls, weak weapon balance, poorly paced upgrades, bad story, mediocre graphics.

6/10 on a good day.  Ouch.

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I’d like to consider myself at least semi-intelligent.  Some games make me question that… or they make me question if the game itself was trying too hard to be intelligent.

Bioshock 2 makes me think there’s a bit of both going on.

Before I get to the story, let’s talk about the game.  It’s Bioshock.  More.  Not as fresh this time around just because the newness is gone.  Still beautiful, still under the water.  Still doesn’t use water as much as it should.  Still has the goal arrow, still has Gatherer’s gardens and Circus of Value, gene tonics, plasmids, weapons, weapon upgrade stations, and vita chambers are all around.  Still has big daddies and little sisters.  Most enemies are the same, except for a new big fat one and of course, the big sisters.

This time around, you’re a big daddy prototype that apparently had a lot more free will and ability than other big daddies.  You can use plasmids and do all kinds of things that the regular models can’t.  There’s some logic questions to scratch your head about, but whatever.  You also have this nice diving helmet masking part of your view for the entire game.  Yeah, turn that off and the game is more enjoyable.

You immediately get your goal — rescue your little sister — and from there the entire game is a stream of movement towards that goal, with roadblocks thrown up to make you detour elsewhere.  The areas you travel to in the massive city aren’t as connected to the story.  They’re just places that have problems.  You travel to different areas because you have to (you’re following a train route), stopped each time by some impassible gate that requires you to take detours into whatever crux problem each area has and deal with it in order to eliminate that gate and progress further; Powers are doled out, moral decisions made.

All the plasmids return from the first game (I think — it’s been a while) with a few optimizations and refinements to make the choice a bit less overwhelming.  However, they’re not that special any longer.  You just find them and buy them and you’re off using them.  Remember the drama the first time you injected yourself with the swarm tonic in Bioshock?  Your character screamed as the hive burrowed out of your skin.  That kind of stuff is just glossed over this time around.  The idea of splicing is taken for granted.

Kudos to allowing me to use both weapons and plasmids at once this time around though — that’s the biggest improvement over the first game without a doubt.

Weapon selection wise, they’re all kinda standard templates for FPS weapons.  Gun, machine gun, shotgun, sniper, rocket launcher, melee, and two tools for combat / exploration support.  Some of the weapon upgrades are fun to play with, although others (tesla shotgun?) I don’t see how they’d be useful.  Maybe there’s a nice mix of plasmids and tonics that would make them beneficial that I didn’t see.  After I got the option to go completely plasmids and melee alone, that’s what I did.  The drill charge was just too much fun not to use constantly.

As for playing uniquely, my combat style worked out to letting bees out everywhere, then dropping a decoy and mini turrets.  While everyone is busy hitting the decoy (and healing me by doing so) I’d drill charge or use telekinesis to grab enemies, melee them to death with the drill (also giving me back health) while holding them up in front of me, loot them, then hurtle their corpse at another enemy to weaken them.  Yeah, that was fun.

The level designers did a good job in presenting you with plenty of turrets, objects, and oil / water pools to allow you a wide range of plasmid / weapon strategies.  The new research mechanic, while clunky to start up, at least was not overly taxing in order to get full research on any one type of thing.  Very doable with one play-through of the game.  Getting full research was a pain in Bioshock 1, so I’m glad to see that it’s easier this time around.

The mechanic with the little sisters, which you had to “liberate” from a big daddy, then harvest OR use to collect ADAM, THEN either harvest OR release was… OK.  I’ll talk more about this in the story section, since it contains spoilers.

Bioshock 2’s moral pivot, which the nemesis (Dr. Lamb) balances her scheme on is one that I’m still having difficulty groking, even after finishing the game.  Since this part is laden with plot spoilers, I’d suggest not reading any further if you’ve not completed the game or have any interest in doing so.  Really.

Not kidding.  Stop reading, right now.

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