July 27, 2008 § Leave a comment
It’s a trend that’s happily dying out with increased development costs of current-generation consoles but it’s a problem nonetheless. The game tie in to a summer blockbuster, designed with all the good intentions of a Spiderman helicopter, filling game shelves and websites with a putrid mess of consistently low review scores and overtly mediocre gameplaying experiences, does its level best to kill my belief that gaming is the eighth art form. It’s evident that the only reason they get made is to supplement the profit raked in by the film when it hits box office but more often than not these games are rushed, and lack any form of innovation or relevance to the source material to the extent that many could easily have emerged as mods for any number of established games.
There are several reasons why a tie in will often fall to its knees before critics everywhere. Firstly and most obviously, they’re rushed to release at the same time as the movie. Bugs remain unfixed, controls untweaked, and all those things a developer needs to do with a game before pushing it out the door get left undone. It’s hardly the developer’s fault, they have a harsh schedule to keep to and even the best of them run over, more it’s the fault of the men in suits at the film production company in charge of licensing such deals not giving the programmers enough time to get the game done. Marvel have recently decried that this is something they hope to change in the future, by arranging tie (cash) ins further in advance of a film hitting cinemas. It’s a nice step certainly, but it does nothing to bypass the next few problems they have to face.
Like the fact that for around 90% of films, a tie in game should not exist. I could put forward hundreds of arguments why the likes of Fight Club should have never be thrown into the gaming spectrum but most of them can be summed up in one word, dialogue. Dialogue is never more than a pleasant novelty in games, when the most you want to get into a conversation is with the intention of getting a quest from it, preferably with as little dialogue in it as possible. Whereas in a good movie you’ll expect to sit through a good two hours of conversation, do that in a game and people understandably start throwing hissy fits. How do you get around this unfortunate side effect of forcing a franchise into a medium it doesn’t belong? Well you condense some of the best written dialogue around into around a thirty second cutscene (or better yet, have supporting characters yell it out during play, people love that) in favourite of massively extending action sequences, some of which may not even have appeared in the film. Path of Neo cannot be excused in this department (well apart from awful voice acting, that was present in the movies as well). Even such small set pieces as the Smith battle before reaching the door with the keymaker were extended to their logical extreme. Part of this fight was forced to take place in the White House.
Many of these reasons come due to the huge difference between the length of your average game and an equivalent movie. Developers have to fill all that extra time with something, and more often than not, sequences put in to lengthen the play time of the game won’t add much or anything at all to the experience, but then this may not be a problem in itself. Many great games have sections in them which could be considered “filler,” but when you do the same in a game based on a movie you immediately draw comparisons to the source material, which more often than not is far better than anything the game developers could come up with.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. When a tie in’s done well it can be an amazing experience, allowing the player to be a a part of some of the greatest action sequences ever made and if any effort is put into a game by the movie’s production staff, a game can even expand on the dramatic narrative, adding scenes which develop characters or plot events not fully explained in the film. Enter the Matrix is a prime example of this. Although the gameplay was mediocre at best, because you took the role of two fairly minor characters in the films the game was interesting to Matrix fans far beyond the novelty of “You’ve seen the move, now play the game!” It features extended scenes from the movie and filled in the back story of what was going on before and after the films took place. For that reason it was one of my favourite tie in games of all time.
In the end though how good a game is has as much to do with the movie studio as it does to do with the actual developers. Getting the film’s actors on board to voice characters in the game as well as giving direction to the developers really make playing the game worthwhile for a fan of the film, and not just another embarrassing Christmas gift from a clueless relative.
Edit: I’m not saying that every movie tie in is inherantly a bad game, just that most of them are because they aren’t compelling experiences. With every opinion their are exceptions, and this remains exactly the same in the realms of interactive entertainment. It is completely possible for developers to create an innovative experience based off the ideas of a movie, but many don’t, and that’s where my problem lies.
My point about Enter the Matrix being my favourate game does imply that I like it better than Path of Neo. This is true. I’m of the opinion that neither were amazing games in terms of gameplay (although path of Neo’s controls were more refined it has to be said) but as a fan of the trilogy Enter the Matrix was more compelling for me because it filled in backstory. Whilst gamplay is the most important feature of a game, the story it tells can improve the experience.
Sorry for lumping things together, this should of course never be done.
July 24, 2008 § 5 Comments
With a mixture of not being allowed the house and not wanting to, I felt myself being rapidly more and more occupied with a game that I only got a few days ago. Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core on the PSP, prequel to the RPG classic, Final Fantasy VII released on the original Playstation. It was released a couple of a weeks ago back and personally as I found the Final Fantasy VII story one of the best storylines in gaming, I had to play this game. The answer to your question at this point is no. This isn’t a review.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core tells the story of a young man called Zach Fair. It follows his own personal story before the events of Final Fantasy VII where the protagonist is Cloud Strife, a good friend of his. Okay, I changed my mind. This paragraph is going to be a very rushed review but it will come in nicely with the rest of the post! When I first started this game, I was immediately thrown into an action packed cutscene and combat situation. The new combat system is very impressive using real time battle and movement in a fight and commands that are acted out instantly. None of this RPG “staying still in fights” crapola. The environment is rather limited although graphically the game is beautiful. Unfortunately there isn’t much freedom as I had hoped, for example there isn’t a world map for you to travel and explore, the game is all quite linear but still it’s not that bad. The cutscenes are immersing and just the right length. What really made this game stand out for me though is the story. Voice acting and the CGI cutscenes are absolutely beautiful and set the standard for what the PSP is capable of. Right, I feel like I’m stuck in a bit of a strut. Having just finished the game, there’s an uncontrollable urge for me to share the ending with the world but I feel that would trigger off some fanboys throwing bricks through my window. I’ll say this. If you’ve played Final Fantasy VII, you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t played Final Fantasy VII, then you will want to after finishing this. Each character has a unique personality and what really impressed me was how well the two games fit together. You find out just about everything there is to know before FFVII from Aerith’s pink bow to how Cloud got his famous and over-sized Buster Sword. Finally, the ending of the game, is perfect. We just had a detailed rant on what endings should be and the end of Crisis Core is emotional, beautiful to watch and links perfectly up to the beginning of Final Fantasy VII. Subtleties that people that have played Final Fantasy VII noticed are all in this game and there are parts where something in your brain clicks, and you have a moment of nostalgia from remembering something in FF VII which you couldn’t quite understand. I guess it would be hypocritical of me writing a small review if I didn’t tell you some of the bad points of Crisis Core.
1. The environment and backgrounds looks rushed and lazily done as all the characters, combat, enemies and magic look very detailed.
2. The combat although should be praised, doesn’t have the same strategy to it as RPGs should, i.e. using variety in attack and magic depending on who you’re fighting.
3. The new “missions” option is a good idea but rather poorly executed. They should have made it more realistic in how to get to the place where a mission is and situations in which you’ve been sent, rather than just spawning at a random environment each time and fighting enemies that gradually get harder.
4. Rather linear, different to Final Fantasy VII where there isn’t much to find out for yourself and there isn’t a world to explore and to defeat the super-enemies and get the super “final” things. In that respect, it’s a rather short game.
5. What the fuck happened to riding chocobos? I don’t care if it doesn’t link in with the story, it just isn’t Final Fantasy without chocobos…
Please note, I think points 1,2 and 4 can be excused because it would probably be impractical to fit a detailed world map on a portable console and some things obviously must be restricted.
That was longer than I expected… But anyways Crisis Core is a fantastic role model for those game developers who are looking to milk it just a little bit more. The hate we see for sequels and prequels is probably justified. Most of them are in fact well received but that shouldn’t be praised really… Okay imagine you’re a game developer and you make a good game. Now you just take what’s good and with the updated technology available make some adjustments and bam. A safe sequel, done and dusted. However bad sequels are rightfully condemned, the risk factor might be an issue but I personally think games are it’s own worst enemy because of human greed. Crisis Core was good in the respect that it provided something for everyone, wether you’ve played Final Fantasy VII or not you can enjoy it, something all games should aim for. Another good prequel is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater where you play as Big Boss himself, who all the Snakes were cloned from. It doesn’t link in as well with the story of the previous titles (unless you count the original Metal Gears that no ones really played) because of the timespan of the events. However what I liked about this was that it wasn’t limited and it introduced new ideas in gameplay to the whole Metal Gear franchise even though it was a prequel. Finally Konami took things on board and made a fantastic sequel to MGS2 and linked in well with story and improvements in gameplay once again for Metal Gear Solid 4.
There we go! I’ll have to go into a sequel that does suck to get out my pointing stick and floodlights to show the world what not to spew into gaming. The unfortunate Devil May Cry 2 is going to be subject of my hatred tonight, which probably a lot of people would have picked in terms of “shitness.” I can honestly say I’m saying this from a non-biased view because this was the first Devil May Cry I played. I can explain to people in one sentence why it’s awful and this is my theory. Any game thats last boss features the heads and body parts of the previous in-game bosses put together in a chaotic blob has “run out of ideas” printed all over it. In terms of a sequel it was appalling. Capcom seem to have the biggest, what I like to call, swing and a miss ever in terms of making Devil May Cry 2 as from the roaring success of the original Devil May Cry they decided to change the protagonist, Dante, and throw him in a storyline that was designed by a team of Tesco-value Hideo Kojimas… What made Devil May Cry 1 stand out was the brutal and effective combat and how it fit in perfectly with the darkness characters and the story. Suddenly Devil May Cry 2 decided to throw in some shiny stylish ways to slash a sword and ignore combat effectiveness almost completely. Basically a poor game in any respect but Capcom wanted to milk it from the original so in conclusion compared to the first game, Devil May Cry 2 was boring and rather easy.
What do you do when you make a successful game with an intriguing story? You work damn twice as hard if you want to make a sequel and take in exactly what made the original good in the first place. I think developers have a fear though which gets to them when making a sequel. It’s true no one wants to see a repeat of a good game but at the same time you can’t change it completely and go in a different direction altogether. Sequels are risky to make and even harder to completely pull off, just look at Halo (or read Trolleydude’s more detailed review of it). Please though, game developers have brains. There’s nothing more obvious than “use good parts of your original game in the sequel and focus improvements on them.” It seems rather retarded though when we see such awful 2nds and 3rds to games of greedy game makers who don’t care about their own creations. I can’t speak for everyone but I’ll say this on behalf of myself. Gamers like it when they see parallels in sequels and prequels. A good fitting story from a prequel has a certain niche if you will that makes you go “ah” out loud as if to say, “so that’s why they had sex, to create a superhuman bear killer that would one day save humanity.” Nintendo! There you go. Another idea for a new franchise from yours truly.
July 23, 2008 § 4 Comments
I’m hard pressed to think of a completion message as infamous as “You’re Winner!” from Big Rigs. Not that it was a popular game, or even a good game, but rather it had a weird habit of letting you win every single time, even if you didn’t actually start the race. It was truly a magnificent ego boost I can tell you.
Award for the most off-topic introduction goes to me of course because I’m amazing, but I’m also a sucker for a good ending, one which can simultaneously give you closure on all that has gone before, whilst teasing you ever so slightly with what is to come. It’s beginning to grate on my now that in this generation where every game is pitched as a franchise to publishers, that so many are now skipping that first crucial step and massively hugging the second. Notable perpetrators of this annoying habit include last year’s Assassin’s Creed, Rainbow Six Vegas and Ratchet and Clank Future, all of which had conclusions which just screamed “To be continued!” at you before flipping the bird and riding off into the sunset. I don’t want to have to invest in every single game to get one decent story out of a franchise – if I play a game for the story, it damn well better be resolved at the end, and no, a thirty second cinematic is not going to cut it.
It’s not as if the step games have taken from single adventures to trilogies or even sagas even require endings such as these. There were three Ps2 Ratchet and Clank games, and each of them told a completely self contained story. Sure there were recurring characters from previous games, but I never reached the end of the credits thinking to myself “Damnit! What will become of Captain Quark!!” I was satisfied with just playing one game, and then when others came along I was happy to continue with the franchise.
I have no problem with a long, all encompassing story arc however. The Metal Gear games have always managed to walk this tightrope rather well, going back to the days of the first Metal Gear game on the MSX2 computer system. You destroy Metal Gear D and then Big Boss in turn before escaping Outer Heaven as it explodes into a million pieces. Only once the last designer’s name fades off the top of the screen do you get a small post-script from the legendary soldier himself reminding you that he is of course still alive(yes an off topic link I admit). Oh and Portal from Valve did this magnificently as well, I want to play the next games, but if I don’t there’s nothing that I desperately need to know.
At the same time though, I want some sort of fanfare when I actually make it to the end of a game, and this leads me on to my rant about genres I just don’t get, namely fighters and sports games. Not surprisingly part of my dislike for them stems from the fact that you never reach any satisfying conclusion. When you’re playing a first person shooter or a platformer there’s always a point when you finish the story and you feel like you’re done with the game, but fighters in particular aren’t designed with me in mind. There’s always some other challenger you can face off against, and even if you make it the entire way through the core arcade battles you never reach anything more satisfying than a ten second cutscene of a character’s death. Hence the reason why I never touch fighters (that, and the fact that I can never progress very far beyond the levels which sympathize with my button mashing tendencies).
Am I alone in my quest for some closure and reward? Statistics say I must be when eight million odd people pay a monthly fee to complete an endless series of quests in World of Warcraft, but if they decided to end WOW tomorrow and have an epic story conclusion bringing the entire history of Warcraft together would that excite you? Or would it just merely piss you off that your favorite money sink needs to be replaced? It will come as no surprise to you that MMORPG’s are another genre that I “just don’t get.”
It’s always hard to draw a satisfying conclusion from a seemingly endless rant, but if I can squeeze anything from these last few paragraphs it’s that a somewhat lengthy conclusion can often be good for a game. It provides some closure to the story, and can justify the hours it takes to reach it. Above all though the final cutscene is often the last part of a game that the player will experience, and a bad ending inevitably leaves you with a sour aftertaste.
July 18, 2008 § 1 Comment
In resent years the Japanese game development community has suffered a lot of criticism for a lack of innovation in next gen titles. Lost Odyssey, Devil May Cry 4, Gran Turismo: Prologue, all great games in their own right, but for the most part they’re treading on a well worn path, taking the safe route if you will, with a formula that’s proven to be popular. That’s not to say Japanese game development is stale, it isn’t by any means, but these developers tend to make a habit of reusing old ideas, adding a lick of HD paint and shoving them out the door.
For those unfamiliar with Shadow of the Colossus, it tells the story of a young man named Wander who takes a woman named Mono to a temple to resurrect her. All we know about her is that she was sacrificed for “cursing destiny.” She may be Wander’s lover, sister, or just a good friend, this is left entirely up to the players own interpretation. What you do know for certain however, is that you must destroy sixteen colossi in order to use a “forbidden” spell to resurrect Mono.
Looking at the game from a gameplay focused point of view Shadow of the Colossus is a truly innovative game. Each of the colossi have weak points which need to be stabbed in order to kill them. The challenge is getting to these weak points. On a very basic colossus you may be forced to simply grab a passing leg and slowly traverse your way up to the glowing weak point, but on harder bosses this tactic is made ineffective by stone armour the colossi wear, which unlike hair you cannot climb up. This transforms the game into more of a puzzle game, forcing you to think logically about how you’re going to get to your target. One example of an early boss is a bipedal colossus with a beard. In order to reach his head you need to hide underneath some form of cover and then grab his beard when he bends down to look for you. Working out these little puzzles really add to your sense of accomplishment, when you feel as though you haven’t just had to get from point A to point B.
If we take a step closer and examine the technical aspects of this game we once again see the most incredible design in a PS2 game. The forbidden land the game takes place in is as vast and detailed as any city from Grand Theft Auto, but it manages to feel empty at the same time. whilst still interesting. Wander animates as you’d imagine a real person would, his body language emanates fear, and when he’s being being thrown around whilst holding onto a colossus’ fur, you really fear that he might fall to his death at any moment.
Take a step back however and you’ll see a game which has the most subtle and yet most emotional plot you’ll ever encounter. There are no cutscenes to illustrate Wander’s love for Mono, but throughout the entire game you just know he’s on a selfless quest to save her, with no regard for his own safety. Ultimately the game is as close as interactive entertainment’s ever come to an epic love story, and it does it in a way which any gamer can appreciate. The star of the game however, is not Wander or Mono, but the colossi themselves. Throughout the game you often run into colossi who appear to have no interest in destroying you until you provoke them. Then, when you manage to finally get to their weak point and start stabbing away the colossi writhe and shriek in agony, in a way which makes you empathize completely with them, forgetting that they’re hunkering stone giants.
Like any game Shadow of the Colossus isn’t perfect. The camera can sometimes get overwhelmed by the frantic action on screen, and whilst Agro the horse is an amazing sidekick, using him in battle is more cumbersome than it should be, but then if you’re looking at Shadow of a Colossus from a pure gamers perspective you’re kind of missing the point. It is a classic in the eyes of anyone who has ever laid eyes on it, and if you haven’t experienced this game yet then you’re missing out on one of the best games ever released for PS2.
July 16, 2008 § 6 Comments
I was going to do something on Call of Duty 4 because well.. Call of Duty 4 might just be the best online experience ever, (here’s hoping for MAG though!). But alas! I’m writing this post to make myself feel a bit better. You see life threw a big fuck off lesson at me yesterday in the form of spending two hours asleep in a cell at 3a.m. in Paddington, so onto a cheerier note.My favourite franchise of all time without shame is Ratchet and Clank, a third person platformer about a cross breed between a fox and a midget that’s apparently called a “Lombax” and his robot friend, Clank. There is a reason for this being my favourite franchise and I couldn’t explain it in a simpler way. Right go onto google and search “define:fun”. The first result that comes up is a list of four possible definitions:
– activities that are enjoyable or amusing; “I do it for the fun of it”; “he is fun to have around”
– verbal wit or mockery (often at another’s expense but not to be taken seriously); “he became a figure of fun”; “he said it in sport”
– violent and excited activity; “she asked for money and then the fun began”; “they began to fight like fun”
– playfulness: a disposition to find (or make) causes for amusement; “her playfulness surprised me”; “he was fun to be with”
from the site: wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
I can say without a doubt, Ratchet and Clank meet all the criteria above. I wont just write on Ratchet and Clank no but I’ll use it as an example and take out the best points in hope Nintendo are listening in… Ratchet and Clank have had 4 console releases, (ignoring Ratchet: Deadlocked which is non-existent in my eyes because of the high points it scored on the “shitness” scale), and each individual game you can pick up and play without having to know about the storyline behind it. The writers and the voice actors really bring about the light-heartedness of a platformer and if any thing make the cutscenes and the story interesting and engaging. Couple this with the fact that each level design, weapon design, enemy appearances are original to a tee just like the storyline. Let me give you an example with the variety it has. In the latest Ratchet and Clank, you can throw a disco ball up into the air and every enemy on screen instantly become incapicitated due to dance. In the first Ratchet and Clank, the storyline is about some nutter who wants a planet so much, he’s stealing bits of other ones and putting it all together. The second Ratchet and Clank is about an evil furbie, and the third is the really kick ass one with the really evil kick ass boss and everything about Ratchet is kick ass. The best thing about it, is that Insomniac made this game without taking it seriously. The cheesy “save the universe” fights are there to be fun and basically quite funny. Never does it try and send out a moral message or something weird about love to gamers who just want to blow things up in Looney Tunes world. With this said, I don’t like the new turn it has in Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction and also what seems will happen again in Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty. Any cartoon platformer that takes itself seriously will make anyone cringe and it’s because it defies the whole point of it.
The Jak and Daxter series I think is also amazing. It’s different though, much harder and it is recommended you start with the first one to fully understand the storyline in the later ones. With that said the end of Jak III epitamises everything that is good about platformer storylines because the ending to the series is fantastic and very cleverly done. Here’s something for Trolleydude! I remember when microsoft first released Xbox, I’d plead for my parents to take me window shopping at Toys ‘R Us so I could play this game. Blinx: The Time Sweeper. The first thing I’ll say about it is going to be that the storyline was weak… I felt there could be potential for something amazing here which could be resulting in us seeing something like “Blinx: The Intergalactic Space Time Continuum Transmorpher.” Let’s face it, a game based on working around time shouldn’t have enemies called, “Time Monsters.” Call them the “pedos” or something for dramatic effect but originality points are pissed away here. The gameplay however is rather… orgasmic. There are items that aid you with your time attacks and the time controls are very similar to that of a VCR, with Rec, Fw, Rewind etc. You actually have to use techniques cleverly and the graphics for such effects not only look amazing but are almost realistic in the context, which is strange for a cartoon platformer.
What do the games mentioned have in common? They’re actually fun to play. Remember a time when gaming was more gameplay than who had better graphics or who has superior online multiplayer capabilities. I’m not being a hypocrite, although I love such things developers had that originality about them before which they could bring out in cartoon platformers rather than focus majority of their energy on how to make the water look realistic. Take out realism and physics and accurate graphics for a protagonist, you get a cartoon platformer. Spend the time developers are using now on the mentioned things on gameplay and hiring more original people for ideas and storyline elements and the 7th generation of gaming is really in for a treat in terms of platformers. They will blow that realism shit out your ass.
July 16, 2008 § 5 Comments
So the big three: Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have all had their chance to show off their top games and new features for the coming years, and of course the Clockwork Manual is here to fill you in on what they covered.
Microsoft went first with their presentation on Monday. Of the three, Microsoft spent the most amount of time actually showing us games, along with quite a few “Exclusive to 360” stickers slapped on the front. Among the big games shown off were Gears of War 2 (of course), Fallout 3 (with 360 exclusive downloadable content), Lips (Microsoft’s answer to Singstar), Resident Evil 5 (co-op, hell yeah!) and Fable 2 (we saw an in-game wife, but not a whole lot else).
Also shown for the first time (officially at least) was the new Xbox dashboard complete with brand new Mii’s, I mean Avatars! Yes we all saw it coming but now it’s official – 360 owners will be able to create a digital representation of themselves for use in-game. The new dashboard does look very cool, completely ripped out of Windows XP Media Center, but cool all the same.
Then came the news that every Sony fanboy had been dreading, the news that Final Fantasy XIII would be coming to Xbox 360 at the same time as the PS3 when it’s released in Europe and North America. It’s worth noting that this won’t be the case in Japan, Square Enix it seems knows what platform its Japanese gamers want the play the game on first.
Apart from a surprise performance by Duffy, the press conference passed without any real fireworks being lit, something which again occurred this morning with Nintendo’s hour in the spotlight. Aside from much gloating about how much of the market share Nintendo has managed to get its grubby mitts on, no games were revealed that would really appeal to the hardcore gamer.
Games announced were Wii Music (aside from the drums this looks pretty standard, you have no real input to the tune aside from deciding the rhythm with random button mashing), Wii Sports Beach Resort (making use of Nintendo’s new peripheral for some…sword fighting?) and Animal Crossing – complete with online play. Also shown off was Shawn White’s Snowboarding’s use of the balance board included with Wii Fit to carve your way down the mountainside, complete with uncomfortable demonstration by Shawn White himself.
So the last two conferences failed to excite, but surely Sony’s would come and really light up the sky with a whole host of games specifically targeting the hardcore. Whilst it managed to show off some interesting footage of games we already knew existed (Resistance 2, DC Universe) the real stand out moment of the show came with the announcement of Massive Action Game (MAG, don’t worry, just a placeholder) from Zipper Interactive featuring, wait for it, two hundred and fifty six player online matches. I think we can say Resistance’s multiplayer has well and truly been trumped. They plan to keep such massive games interesting with the use of eight man squads in the game, within which you can organize, and work together to rack up as many frags as possible.
So far this year’s E3 has been quite the uneventful beast, with no really huge software announcements to report. Here’s to hoping the week ahead will garner more surprises.