Oh the Internet, You Will Never Cease to Entertain Me…

February 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

If the Metacritic score for Killzone 2 is anything to go by then it’s actually a pretty good game. Most publications out there have awarded it with a score close to full and certainly higher than ninety. I hear its graphics are pretty good. I also hear that its production values are incredibly sound. According to Metacritic it has garnered “Universal Acclaim.

Oh wait no I’m sorry, I’ve just been informed that there are in fact people out there who Killzone 2 doesn’t sit so well with. A 7 from Edge isn’t actually that low a score, especially when you consider that, you know, it’s a ten point scoring system, meaning that bad games do in fact deserve a score of less than 5 rather than a 7 (an above average score according to the system). Other sites meanwhile seem to run with a 5 – 10 system, where any game scoring less than a 7 is deemed to be unplayable and nothing apart from the direst budget games imaginable will ever get less than a 5.

It’s this assumption that because the numbers are the same, the scoring system must be, that PSX Extreme seems to be getting their knickers in a twist over. In their eyes a score of a 7 means that Edge must hate the game instead of maybe thinking that it wasn’t the Citizen Kane of gaming. In this respect perhaps PSXE aren’t maybe entirely to blame. After all, Metacritic, -a site which aggregates review scores from dozens of different publications – deems all review scales to be equal, and thus so do many journalists themselves, despite the opposite being true.

What can only be seen as gross ineptness on the part of PSXE is the assertion that “We all know that Guerilla’s title is one of the best FPSs ever made;” when in fact this is clearly not the case, as demonstrated perfectly by that Edge review. What they’re trying to say in essence is that because the majority of publications believe one thing, it must therefore be true, which comes completely cold when you bring the whole opinion thing out as to whether a game is actually ‘good’ or not. Edge have proved themselves first and foremost to believe that a good game will innovate above everything else. The rest of the internet may believe a good game to posses other qualities, but that’s ok, because that’s their opinion.

Any enthusiastic video game fan out there cannot rely on one gaming publication for all of their information about which new releases are worth buying. You need a multitude of different views to find out which stuff applies to you, and thus which games are worth your attention. If you are one of these people that only reads one publication (and I can only assume this is the people Edge has deemed to show “a disservice”) then it’s probably likely that you’re going to be in tune with just what this publication looks for in a game, and if it’s the only place you turn to then it’s likely that these opinions are going to be close to your own. Let’s make something clear:

No one who will enjoy Killzone 2 is going to be put off it by one review which doesn’t praise it as the second coming of Jesus.

With that in mind do you really think Edge has done its customers a disservice. Really?

You people need to grow the fuck up and not treat game critics as carriers of the sole truths in the universe.

Idle Thumbs currently have the best commentary going on this issue.

How far can Games Push ‘Choice’ Before they Break?

February 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

A common complaint brought up when talking about the latest Prince of Persia was the ending. After spending nearly ten hours roaming the game’s world, restoring light and colour to the the land with the healing of the ‘fertile grounds,’ the ending brought you crashing back down to earth with the realisation that you had to undo everything if you wanted to save your love interest Eleka. Personally having bought completely into the Prince’s relationship I had little qualms with ending the game this way. It’s the closest a game has come to showing the sacrificial nature of love, and when it managed to build up their relationship in such a fulfilling way I held no grudges for how the story panned out. But is there an alternate ending?

When discussing the clichéd ‘are games art?’ debate early on in this blog’s life, Niall pointed towards Execution as proof that a game can give you a meaningful choice, whilst also making something of an artistic statement about the way we interact with our favourite medium. We’re constantly being told what to do, and how to do it, but Execution bucked this trend. If you wanted to really ‘win’ the game you were going to have to walk away from the situation it presents you with, or in other words exit the game.

So what if at the end of Prince of Persia, when essentially told that the player must sacrifice everything to bring Eleka back to life the Prince just walked away, deciding that the destruction of an entire land is a price to great to pay for one mortal’s life. The player would quit the game, and although they’d miss out on physically seeing the Prince act upon their choice would their experience still be complete?

It may simply come down to how much you really empathise with your character. If it’s a Solid Snake figure, who you’re simply guiding from cutscene to cutscene in which he makes his own choices then leaving a game unfinished would go against the whole design philosophy of the piece. If it’s more of a Fallout 3 experience, where you’re given much more freedom, even sculpting out your own protagonist, then this conclusion seems more fitting.

What it all comes down to in the end is which experience you’re more attached to. Is it the one handed to you on a plate, delivered through the cinematic of the game? Or is is the one you created when playing, those times when you strayed outside the path laid down for you by the developers.

Until next time,

Jon

Been playing lots of Far Cry 2 recently as well as getting back into Civ 4 for some epic multiplayer matches. Both are pretty awesome.

Why Joining Them is Never Going to be as Satisfying as Beating Them

February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

Would a Grand Theft Auto MMO work? Can a realistic setting even house such a game? Does such a game have the weight needed to topple World of Warcraft? I emailed Suzie of Girls Don’t Game for her thoughts.

Suzie,

We’re all familiar with the problem with World of Warcraft. As anyone with basic knowledge of economic theory knows, the control of one company over an entire market with a product that is vastly more popular is most certainly a bad thing, and make no mistake, within the MMO market such a situation exists. With monopolies no competition exists, stunting evolution and limiting potential. If consumers want an different MMO to play there’s simply no alternative to WOW, with it’s two expansion packs, millions of players, and it has to be said, superior gameplay.

It’s no surprise then that last year saw a huge effort on behalf of many top-tier publishers to try and take their own slice of the MMO pie from Blizzard’s overflowing – but locked – bakery. Eidos’s attempt was Age of Conan, Ncsoft’s Tabula Rosa and EA perhaps most promisingly of all, made a well constructed effort with Warhammer Online. Two out of these three have widely been considered complete failures; Age of Conan has seen its servers recently castrated, and unsold copies of Tabula Rosa were discovered for the taking in a dumpster outside of an EB Games.

The pessimist in me has already decided that at this point WOW cant be beaten. No amount of talent on the part of a development studio is going to match the experience Blizzard have gained through running Warcraft for this long, and then even with an amazing effort, tearing people away from characters they’ve invested so much time in is a task few out there are up to. Developers seem to be missing the point a little, people don’t like WOW because it’s the finest interactive experience ever created, they like it because it’s WOW. Essentially you’re not going to beat it by copying it.

If the fantasy-fans are already entrenched in their level 50 Mages then who are you to tear them away. Why not go for gamers playing games with completely different settings? Why not try and suck in a completely new demographic with a universe that is, for want of a better word, cool? Why not take arguably the coolest gaming universe around and let people inhabit it communally? Why not make Grand Theft Auto an MMO?

Start telling a group of non-gaming friends about an epic quest you and your guild got into the other night and you’re not going to impress. The appeal of MMO’s has never lied in the objectives players complete but instead the way in which they complete them, the community that rises up out of the need for this accomplishment. How much easier a sell would it be to draw in non-gamers with the promise of experiences mimicking the greatest action scenes in cinema history, the bank job from Heat, or the villa shoot-out from Scarface, all events Rockstar have used as inspiration in past GTAs. Even the name Grand Theft Auto carries weight to a non-gamer, it’s much more likely they’ve heard of the best selling franchise in history as opposed to Warcraft or Age of Conan.

If there’s one thing Rockstar can do better than any other developer in the world it’s create a bustling metropolis that feels lived in by the thousands of characters seen roaming the streets. How easy then, would it be to see other players filling the shoes of the people you pass by in the street without a second glance. That taxi driver that dropped you off at your mission marker could be someone on the other side of the world, saving up a little more in-game cash to hire some protection. That hotdog vendor you just paid could be someone else playing a minigame in between missions.

It’s not hard to imagine an entirely new group of people getting hooked on an MMO through the infinitely wide grip of GTA, people who would not otherwise have considered touching WOW or any of it’s imitations. Only through expansion and change can the MMO market hope to evolve, and turning out one fantasy rpg after another isn’t going to accomplish this. I know you’ve spent some time with WOW in the past, is all of this just wishful thinking?

Jon

Her response is forthcoming.

Edit: Her response can be found here.

The Force Unleashed – Niall

February 10, 2009 § 2 Comments

Alternative title: Oh Christ, Not This Shit Again

Okay, possibly a bit harsh. Before I go off on one, I would just like to establish that this game wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the shit that has graced these pages recently. In some ways, it was actually…good?
Urgh. I feel dirty.
Remember that this was never going to be an easy game to review. Especially for me, having grown up with Jedi Knight and the original Star Wars, not to mention the fact that The Phantom Menace appeared during my childhood, when I was still vulnerable to the charms of Jar-Jar Binks and the rest of his fucked-up species. I was torn from start to finish over this thing, just the way I am with the entire franchise. Can incredible choreography and special effects really compensate for a lack of Harrison Ford? Were we merely blinded to the original trilogy’s shortcomings? Were the Gungans really that terrible, or should we be more pissed at those frigging Ewoks?
All I can really say now is brace yourself – because this is gonna be a long one.
With that out of the way, here follows a brief summary of my first hour or ten shooting up with a nice vial of Star Wars and a mug of my beloved chocolate milk. Now sit back and enjoy this rare glimpse into the mind of Niall Megatron Chan Boitano Bryson Slater.
And please bear in mind – I really wanted to hate this game.

First minute:
Dear god, what were they thinking? The side of the box is lurid yellow! It’s actually leaping off the plastic into my face and grinding its sweaty ballsack up against my eyes. They’re trying to fucking provoke me. Yeah, turn it away. I don’t want it distracting me from all the horrible things George Lucas is about to do with the hard-earned 25 quid I splurged on this. Okay, START.

Second minute:
Fucking loading screens fucking fucking FUCKING screens fucking loading menus shitting arse shitarse shit FUCKING menu FUCKING load fucking FUCKING load BOLLOCKS FUCK. YES I WANT TO SAVE TO HARD DRIVE NO I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE REVOLUTIONARY AUTOSAVE FEATURE OH FUCK MORE LOADING SCREENS FUCK FUCKING FUCKERY.

Third minute:

Oh great, Darth Vader. Bitch, impress me.

Fifth minute:

Hahaha. I must admit, I’ve always wanted to use the force to crush my screaming enemies underneath a cascade of DMM rubble while frying their brains out of their skulls with over-the-top force lightning. This is REALLY satisfying actuallZOMGWTF MY RUBBLE DISAPPEARED INTO THIN AIR FUCKING BASTARDS I WAS PROMISED REALISM YOU’VE JUST RUBBED YOUR BALLS IN MY FACE HAVEN’T Y

Twelfth minute:

That was a nice relaxing tea break. Ah, now what was I doing? Hey, that’s a pretty jungle. Oh, look. It’s Darth Vader. Have at thee, rebel scum!

It was around this point I started to notice that the lightsabre fighting is really quite weak. Partly because it’s just so unspectacular there was no reason for me to take any notice of it, but mainly because the tutorial mission gives you all the powers of GOD and then some, leaving you wondering just who exactly would pick generic button mashing over creative and hilarious force-powered infinite destruction.This meant that for a good deal of the game I simply didn’t touch the smegging sabre except to execute a few lovely force-impale attacks I happened to stumble upon. I’ve been saying for a long time that Jedi Knight was the only franchise ever to do swordfighting well, and I have not once been proven wrong. Jedi Outcast was the absolute peak of their achievement. I’ve been left wondering whether it would have been better to just do away with the lightsabre and make the protagonist solve all his problems with the force. An interesting idea which, sadly, has never been taken seriously. I think it would force (ba dum tish) the designers to approach massive combat setpieces more carefully. Anyway, enough rambling. The hack n’ slash gameplay is adequate, which was more than I was expecting. That’s all there is to say about it really – but I do miss Kyle and his dismemberific swashbuckling skills.
Fuck lightsabres. I just found the “force explode” button. That should just about cover every possible combat situation. I’M THE MOTHERFUCKING FIST OF THE EMPEROR YOU HAIRY BASTARDS. EAT PHYSICALLY SIMULATED FORCE-PROPELLED ALIEN TREE. FUCK YEAH.
Fifteenth Minute:

GOTY GOTY GOTY GOTY GOTY GAME OF THE MOTHERFUCKING YEAR

Twentieth Minute:
Oh, hey. A boss fight. This should be interesting as long as I’m not surrounded by an invisible circular boundary which makes all my force powers effectively useless and instantly sucks all the fun out ofOH YOU BASTARDS

I sort of hoped we had left the invisible barrier behind with the last console generation. Unfortunately not. It seems to have hitched a lift on the inconsistency train along with its friends Captain Lazy Game Design and that filthy bastard on every development team who lets the cutscenes do all the fun stuff. You know the one I mean: the dickhead who decided that quick-time events would work well in games that weren’t Shenmue. He was wrong. Only Shenmue is Shenmue. The Force Unleashed is definitely not Shenmue. I know this because Shenmue was pretty much flawless. Star Wars is definitely not flawless. Nor is it Shenmue.

Shenmue only set me back a fiver.

Twenty-Fifth Minute:

I feel like I’ve just crashed horrifically after a wonderful LSD trip. Five minutes ago I was godlike. Now I’m getting my arse handed to me by stormtroopers who couldn’t hit a barn from the inside.

Little was I to know that the later levels would have my arse handed to me by motherFUCKING JAWAS. I was not aware that the little brown bastards would be capable of murdering the most powerful dark jedi in the galaxy.
At least there’s still loads of cool stuff to hurl at my hapless victims, as long as I can suspend my disbelief when a twenty-tonne TIE-fighter simply phases out of the universe, leaving a small cloud of bright orange gas where the cockpit used to be.

I’m sorry, I thought this was the most sophisticated physics engine ever devised. I thought LucasArts hired Industrial Light & Motherfucking Magic to make it for them. I thought that they would be capable of producing an explosion effect more advanced than a twelve-year-old’s pivot animation. I thought that this was a one off, which fucked me RIGHT off when the same thing happened again a minute later. Where’s my DMM crushing the metal into lethal shards and launching the fragments everywhere in an earthshaking blast wave? Lazy cunts.

Possibly I’m being a little whiny, but this has always been a pet hate of mine. It’s not as bad as I make out – some of the effects are facepunchingly impressive – but these moments are spread too thinly through the game. It suffers from the same problem as Halo 3 in that respect – truly spectacular setpieces straining at the seams of a dull, predictable campaign. I’m reminded of a moment, near the end, where you’re smashing through a series of glass panels which shatter explosively in front of you, desperately trying to outrun a massive… well, I’d love to tell you, but people tend not to like spoilers. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the TIE fighter factory. Actually, there’s been a slight change of plan – let’s skip to Felucia – where I’m on the tail of a Jedi mistress and her apprentice – both of whom appear to have a great dislike for wearing enough clothes to hide a mighty cleavage – I’m willing to bet Lucasarts would have us believe this is due to the humid conditions on Felucia, and not just the result of their pandering to horny teenage boys.
Sixtieth Minute:
BOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIESBOOBIES
Ahem. *Fast-forward*
Seventieth Minute:
It’s been a while since I saw a stormtrooper. I’m starting to miss the rhytmic crunch their bodies make against metal ceilings. Now all I’ve got are these fucking mushrooms everywhere. Oh, christ, not another platforming section.

These are pretty damn fiddly, and this is coming from a guy who completed Ninja Gaiden. Twice.
Okaaay. Easy, easy. Nooow… DOUBLEJUMP.
ARGH FUCK NOT AGAIN. NO WAY IS IT THAT FRIGGING SLIPPERY. I NEVER HEARD THE ONE WHERE THE JEDI MASTER WAS KILLED BY A WET MUSHROOM.

It certainly doesn’t help when it’s impossible to tell the difference between where you’re supposed to go next and which surface is covered with a magical invisible sliding gel which will send you skittering down to certain unfair death excruciatingly slowly. At least Jedi Knight understood that it was unbecoming for the unstoppable scourge of the galaxy to be seen bouncing around everywhere like a euphoric escapee from Jump n’ Bump. It seems that games these days have traded in the mandatory shitty stealth segments of olden times for some mandatory shitty platforming segments instead.
The entire concept of platforming seems to have taken a bit of a nosedive since Ninja Gaiden and Sands of Time. I haven’t played a single game since which melded combat and acrobatics as fluidly as this dynamic duo. Sands of Time allowed you to use your enemies as springboards to bridge and merge your movements into one smooth loop so it was impossible to tell exactly where a slash became a parry became a leap became a final, satisfying, crunch. Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand, was a frenzied blur of superfluid bloodletting – much faster and much more punishing. Gaiden forced you to be precise and deliberate in your movements, as well as really fucking fast. Combined, these created a perfect in-the-zone type of combat which demanded you develop lightning-fast reactions as well as a sense of rhythm and style.
The Force Unleashed isn’t very accomplished in this respect. For some reason, you are the only non-euphoria powered character in the game. As such, you do not have the benefits of actually being aware of a nearby instant-death chasm. Expect to die a lot because one of the cheap-ass droid enemies pushed you too close to the vaseline-slick edge and you simply jerked backwards before floating diagonally down the cliffside back to yet another loading screen at the bottom. I thought the whole fucking idea was to create a perfectly immersive experience without any cracks appearing to ruin the flow. I just have trouble understanding why trivial oversights like this are always being allowed to snowball and destroy otherwise excellent games.
Fourth Hour:

Oh no! The bad guy did something evil! I am shocked beyond belief! Betrayal? In a story? I can barely breathe from the surprise.

You know, I’d like it if, just once in a while, a story would come out which had the potential to shock me. The last plot twist which I didn’t predict from the back of the FUCKING box was the one in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Yeah, you know the one I mean. Or do you? That plot was so full of suspense, so full of twists and turns that it was all I could do to hang on for the ride. When you know what’s going to happen next, what’s the point? You no longer feel in the least bit threatened. What modern games all seem to lack is that all-important sense of urgency. The feeling that if you don’t act, and fast, there will be serious consequences. I point to Ninja Gaiden yet again for an example. When eighty slavering monsters all suddenly burst from their hiding places, every one of them eager for some warm, flabby gamer entrails, you know you haven’t got time to think – only to flee or fight. The threat becomes so much more palatable when you haven’t got a chance to see what’s coming, or when there’s a tangible sense that you’re running out of time to act. Quick-time events captured this idea clumsily, and now they’re losing their impact, because we know what to expect when one appears. It suddenly occurs to me that I’m being infuriatingly vague here. What I mean is – the greatest suspense in any kind of game comes from being forced to innovate in a worryingly short space of time. Ninja Gaiden had you bouncing off the walls to evade the scything claws of a horde of monsters, frantically pinballing yourself around in frankly ludicrous ways to stay alive. World in Conflict impressed by forcing you to think really damn fast – decide whether it’s worth sacrificing your last helicopter to save your pinned infantry – and decide soon. Even Halo 3 forced you to figure out how to kill a massive mechanical spider before it squished your stupid arse – although this lost its threat when you had to do it somewhere in the region of twelve times.
The Force Unleashed doesn’t exhibit much of this, disappointingly. I thought that the whole DMM force thing would make us innovate on-the-fly, but it never really materialises. I suppose the level designers are to blame for that.
FUCK ME THIS IS GETTING TOO DAMN LONG
Okay, just let me wrap up my thoughts quickly and end this frigging thing. I guess all it really comes down to is whether the latest Star Wars is actually a good game. This isn’t a straightforward answer, but I’ve got to tell you something – so I guess here is my verdict.
Erm…
Uh, hm-
Uhmmm…
…No.
You can’t make up for shoddy and inconsistent gameplay, no matter how epic the story or how shiny the technology. Sure, they get some things right, like the desire for big, showy setpieces with explosions and action shooting off everywhere, but these moments are spread too thinly among the abysmal platforming sections, boring boss fights and cheap, glitchy deaths. It really feels like a letdown, because they could have done this really well.
There was potential for true brilliance here – it could have ranked among Prince of Persia and Ninja Gaiden in the history books (something I don’t say lightly) – but the effort wasn’t made. It was pushed out the door without proper playtesting and it shows. All this will be remembered as is Lucasart’s final, desperate attempt to retain their credibility – a marginally below-average hack n’ slash.
Nice work, you pricks.

Dead Space Review: If it ain’t broke don’t fix it

February 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

If we’ve learnt anything from science fiction it’s that when things go wrong in space, the shit really hits the fan. Dead Space is not the exception to this rule. When the Ishimura – a deep space mining vessel – stops responding to any form of communication you’re one of the lucky few sent to find out what’s going on. Predictably there’s been something of a major cock-up, and aliens now roam this ship, infecting the dead bodies of its crew, and attempting to kill Isaac ie. you. Not surprisingly as a result, throughout most of the game your aim is to escape. Whilst the actual story of the game follows a well-trodden path, the real appeal comes with the universe’s back-story, revealed through logs left behind by the deceased crew. These logs manage to give you just enough information to keep you interested, but rarely explain everything you want to know. It’s a slightly uneven formula but it’s a well told story, and the clear objectives mean you never get bored just going from A to B.

For those who are unaware, Dead Space is a staunchly third person shooter. Throughout the entire game you won’t leave this viewpoint, and nor will you ever want to. With this consistent camera and control-set a moment never arises when gameplay feels alien or different, and thus even though the game is peppered with alternative gameplay sequences these never feel out of place in the experience. During normal play, your movement is kept quite slow, in effect causing you to consider your shots much more carefully, in order to effectively dismember enemies. Dismemberment is a key theme of Dead Space’s when more often than not it’ll prove to be the most effective means of stopping an enemy in their tracks. It’s an interesting mechanic, forcing you to think much more whilst aiming than in other shooters, and then when you finally do let fly with the lead the visual destruction hammers home the impact of each shot.

Dead Space is a game which borrows profusely from others, constantly adding its own ideas and refining others. It’s therefore quite depressing to see that whilst boss battles do make an appearance, they’re neither original, nor fun, each of them tasking you with shooting a weak spot continuously. When in the rest of the game the impact of every shot is immediately apparent, these battles feel painfully drawn out and repetitive. The dismemberment mechanics present in Dead Space mean that the developers could have done something really interesting in these set-pieces, but instead they just feel like one fat missed opportunity.
Whilst the graphical competence the game possesses is certainly nice to look at, it’s the sublime animation which manages to give it its character. Although Isaac Clark stubbornly refuses to speak throughout, his subtly changing movement animation and breathing give an effective means of gauging his physical well being, to the extent that most of the time you won’t even need to look at his health bar to know when he’s in trouble. His animation is at its best when in close quarters with enemies, when his panicked movements do much to show not only his, but the players sense of panic, trying desperately to get some distance between them and their adversary. When the game throws story events at him however, his reactions are non-existent. During certain events it gets to a point where the significance of your actions isn’t relayed to the player at all, and this lead to me personally paying much less attention to sequences which I should have been enthralled in.

For it’s minor annoyances there’s really not much that can be said for Dead Space. It’s an extremely well put together piece of entertainment, and whilst it may not bring many of its own ideas to the table, the ideas it manages to take from elsewhere are interesting enough to keep you involved throughout. Fans of a good, solid, third person action game should find something to enjoy here, but a word of warning, survival horror fans won’t be losing any sleep due to this one.

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