Killzone 2’s Graphics are Shit; and other blasphemous thoughts brought on by play

April 22, 2009 § 1 Comment

Whilst Killzone 2’s graphics may have reached fans expectations by getting tantalisingly close to the infamous E3 CG trailer the fact remains that for the vast majority of the game the art style is bland, consisting of murky oranges and greys, and constantly brought back memories of Red Faction 1, a game which is almost ten years old and certainly can’t hold up graphically today.

That’s not to say the graphics are technically bad – the sheer detailing in the weapons models deserves a mention – nor does it make the game any worse. All it serves to do is make Gorilla (almost certainly egged on by Sony) look arrogant for boasting for four years about their game’s graphical prowess, when at the end of the day it ends up looking satisfactory. It brings to mind EA when they used volumetric smoke as a selling point for ProStreet on the Wii; yes the game had it, but no one was ever going to care when they played it.

This complaint stems from the fact that Killzone 2’s graphics fail to wow at any point other than when it first loads when you see just how many polygons Gorilla have squeezed into the gun model. It lacks the colours and scale of Prince of Persia, or the sunsets of FarCry 2 and as such never forces the player to stop to take in the environment at any one point. Again, that doesn’t worsen it as a game, but it’s meant that it graphically fails to make a mark.

Killzone 2 is disturbingly realistic, and hilariously over the top in equal measure. Shooting enemies will without fail produce a fountain of blood, followed by some spectacular limb flailing and ragdolling almost certainly implemented to please the people who were underwhelmed by what Alex Ward of Criterion games described as enemies that would crumple like bin bags. It’s certainly satisfying to have gunfire create such a response, but it’s this, as well as the Helghast’s helmets popping off whenever you score a headshot that gives their deaths an almost comical edge.

Contrast this with the effect the flamethrower has on the enemy. When they first set alight the hilarious arm waving begins. Then they run mindlessly. Then the screaming begins. It’s all very visceral hearing “Oh god please make it stop,” and the intonation in the voice, as well as the echo brought on by the Helghast gas masks mean that it’s genuinely quite disturbing to listen to, and forced me to put the flamethrower down after just a few minutes to make the screams stop. Moments like these add a whole new dimension to the game concerning the horrors of war, it’s just a shame that much of the rest of the game is inadvertently so silly.

If every cutscene in the game had been as thought provoking as the final one, the game’s story would have been a whole lot more interesting. In it, Scholar Visari is finally confronted, only for him to proclaim victoriously that whilst there is still just one Helgan alive, he will continue to fight the Vectans. It’s a poignant moment, not least because of the brilliant voice acting and writing involved, because it undoes any optimism that the ISA had had about the war. This realisation that in order to get peace they would essentially have to commit a genocide of the Helghast race is not a pleasant one to come to terms with, and it’s made all the more surprising by the fact that almost half the lines of dialogue in the rest of the game contain some sort of profanity, and none any artistic merit.

It’s all very in keeping with the moral ambiguity present throughout the rest of the game. The ISA are never presented as the good guys outside of the propaganda heard at certain points in the game, and it’s always important to remember that you’re not fighting on your own soil: you’re fighting on theirs, through their city streets, and through their buildings. It presents no real moral high ground, no real solution to the horrid mess you’re wading through, the aim is simply to end the war, winning it has turned out to be impossible.

Without a shadow of a doubt, multiplayer is where the game shines brightest. The rank system in place, seemingly to provide incentive to keep playing, ends up introducing a learning curve similar to that seen in the single player portions of most games. New concepts are introduced to you over time, allowing you to get used to everything rather than be faced with a full character selection screen your first time online. The game mode ‘Warfare’ deserves a special mention, combining what would otherwise be five copycat game modes into one rolling match so the tide of battle is constantly turning.

If anything the online actually looks better than the single player. The high level of detail remains from the single player, but environments change more frequently and more dramatically, allowing their individual styles to shine through much more. The online play’s inherently less serious tone than the single player means that the over-the-top death animations look much less out of place and don’t ruin the immersion.

Ignoring all the pleasant dressing, the online code is simply rock solid, even on a dodgy internet connection. Noticeable lag is practically non-existent, and once you’re in a match the server’s not going to lose you. The game never lets technology hinder your fun.

Killzone 2 is fun. It’s not clever, it’s not inventive and it’s not unique but it’s a piece of big budget entertainment which has a very high level of polish that’s hard not to appreciate. Worth a rental.

This week Jon stopped trying to force himself to enjoy Ocarina of Time. To his utter dismay he can get no enjoyment out of one of the best games ever made because it’s simply not for him.

And that sucks.

Red Faction: Guerrilla Beta Impressions

April 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

We were lucky enough recently to get some hands on time with Volition’s Red Faction: Guerrilla, the new open-world third-person shooter complete with building-leveling hammers.

First and most importantly, Red Faction feels satisfying to play, something which many similar games recently have struggled with (Mercenaries 2 comes particularly to mind). Guns have a nice amount of weight to them, and the cover mechanic feels very smooth and natural. In a pinch the game could be described with its vehicle handling and generous lock-on as like playing Warhawk with a cover mechanic, a statement which should certainly be taken as a compliment.

But enough about controls, what of Guerrilla’s unique selling point, its destructive capabilities? Red Faction has always done this well, and a new hardware generation has managed to really take the lid off things. Rather than the building health bars of Mercenaries 2 or the underwhelming wall destruction of Bad Company, buildings can actually be taken apart piece by piece in the game. Take out a wall and the roof above it crumbles, continue and the whole building gets ripped apart. It all feels incredibly satisfying, and something of a minigame can be made of trying to destroy a building with the minimum of well placed explosives.

Obviously the system isn’t perfect. Take out your hammer and go to town on a wall and it’s obvious when the ‘damaged wall’ model is substituted for the real one, but it’s so far ahead of everything else that it’s hard to care. Weirdly, unlike the first two entries where the martian rock was the easiest thing in the world to destroy, in this game it’s the only thing that won’t wield to your hammer’s blows, at least not in the area we played. Never again will you be able to tunnel underground, but then again, why would you want to?

As with any open world game making an individual mission fun is only a small part of the battle. Making the martian surface an interesting place to explore is going to be a difficult task to accomplish, as well as ensuring the boasted 150 missions don’t all fall in to the same repetitive moulds. Getting around might also be a cause for concern; in the level we played, as soon as an enemy spotted you they opened fire, and if this is any indication of the entire open-world, getting around might prove irksome.

Overall though Volition have proved with this demo that they certainly have the competency to make one level enjoyable, as well as proving their engine has the muscle to back up their smack talk. All that remains to be seen is if this consistency can be maintained.

Predicting the Interactive Medium’s Progression

April 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

Sitting down to read a novel more than a hundred years old is much more difficult than reading something from the sixties. Until about the 1900’s books weren’t written for normal people, they were written for the academics, the scholars of the time, and this made them difficult for the average person to appreciate them. Nowadays almost all works of fiction are written in a way practically everyone can understand. Many literary critics miss the days of old when books were, for lack of a better phrase ‘hard.’ But is gaming doomed to a similar fate?

Sitting a non-gamer down to play a modern game is a difficult thing to do, not least because of the stigma surrounding doing such a thing. Common staples of a gamers diet, health, respawning, save points, inventories, all these things we take for granted are completely alien to someone who simply doesn’t game. Add to this the sheer dexterity needed to play most games and getting the girlfriend to play through a level of Timesplitters is not a task for the faint of heart.

Game developers were until recently focussed almost entirely on gamers, with a hope that games of a high enough standard would encourage non-gamers to start gaming just to experience them. Whilst this is certainly an optimistic way of looking at things the Wii has, if anything, proved that the quality of games has not been what’s been turning people off (how many bad minigame compilations have we seen in the charts in recent months?) but their complexity.

It therefore follows that in order to get the mainstream playing the long, complex games we play, these games need to ditch the requirement for the assumed knowledge we take into them in order to make them playable for everyone else. Will this make games less enjoyable for the hardcore? Almost certainly.

The solution most modern classics seem to be comfortable with is being accessible whilst containing depth for those who seek it. This might not be the future of gaming, it might prove impossible in the long run to convert the masses from their Wii Sports to Heavy Rain or Ico, but it’s certainly something worth thinking about whilst game companies continue to actually target the “core audience.”

Jon can no longer write long articles due to the insane amount of time they take him to write on a Dvorak keyboard. Over time things will return to normal as his speed improves.

The Last Person on the Planet to Play Ocarina of Time

April 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

Like Goldeneye, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time is widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made, but unlike the other three it doesn’t have one defining achievement which can be pointed at to prove its worth. Goldeneye was the first fps to work on consoles, MGS the start of gaming’s cinematic storytelling and GTA the first open world game. This is not, however, a bad thing. Simply put, everything OoT does is worthy of note, an achievement not easily condensed down into one sentence.

Going back to play it for the first time then, is not like playing GTA or MGS for the first time ten years after their release. These games have introduced concepts which for better or for worse can be taken and applied to different games, different genres. How many times have you seen the ‘GTA Clone’ tag floating around a game after it’s created an open world for itself? With every game that takes inspiration from these trailblazing titles the impact of the first is diluted, the mechanics they introduce becoming more commonplace. The end result is that going back to play Doom for example for the first time today has nowhere near the impact it once had.

As previously stated, The Ocarina of Time doesn’t have this problem, but that’s not to say the experince hasn’t changed since its release.

Going back to the game ten years later is liberating and aggravating in equal measure. Aggravation comes from a lack of signposts, a lack of the little instructions that we’ve become so used to in modern games. Liberation emerges from exactly the same faucet. It’s refreshing to not have to listen to instructions at every single point in the game, but then these same annoying interruptions are desired the instant your intuition fails you. It’s a tightrope that modern games tend to avoid altogether, but a part of me wants that satisfaction of working out just what the hell I’m supposed to be doing rather than have that information forced down my throat. Given the choice between speedy progression and additional satisfaction however, I’m ashamed to admit I’d probably take the easier option most days.

This week Jon finally finished Final Fantasy 7 after weeks of faffing about in the battle arena. It occurred to him that he was only doing it out of his completest desires and no longer because he actually needed Cloud’s ultimate limit break.

Some Thoughts on Persona 3

April 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Re-releases with additional content are always a bit of a kick in the teeth for loyal fans. They force you to essentially re-buy a title you already own, just to get your hands on a few more hours of content which, on the flip-side, you’re practically guaranteed to like. I’m thankful then to my own laziness for allowing me to buy Persona 3 FES just once. Admittedly the extra FES content has sat on the main menu untouched (I’ve been told you should complete the game before delving into it) but it’s nice to know that it’s there for when the time comes.

Persona 3 is a fresh and unique game in so many ways, but because of this, its adherence to the norms of the Japanese RPG in other places really grates. Assumed knowledge is one such problem when you’re never really sure of how a system works until you try it for yourself. Another is the continue system, or lack thereof; where failure to save often will lead to huge chunks of lost progress when you snuff it.

A lack of information is a pretty consistent issue in the game. Right from the get-go you have access to the entire town to explore, but without a shred of a map in sight it’s tough knowing exactly where the fun’s to be had. “Go to the staff room!” you’re told on your first day of school in-game, only to spend upwards of five minutes searching corridors for that elusive room. Maybe this is Atlus’ extremely well concealed way of forcing you to explore, but on the day it just ends up feeling like you’re wasting your time.

It’s almost as though the developers were afraid of cramping the game’s style with too many menus, but as a result information that should be at your fingertips is either available only when you don’t need it or sometimes not at all. It’s lovely to be able to know the stats of the equipment my party has equipped just before going into a dungeon but what about giving me that information before at the weapon shop, when I had no idea whether the items on sale were any better than what my companions had equipped.

Typically for a JRPG the story doesn’t get started for a while. Not so typically Persona 3’s story lacks any sort of intrigue or mystery. You’re told within the first five minutes of the game that at night demons appear and wreak havoc, but then your supporting cast acts surprised when people turn up unconscious in the morning. That’s not to say the whole story is junk though; side stories with people from your school can be very involving, especially when it feels like you’re having an effect on the outcome. You might find it a hard game to leave for the night at times, simply because you’ll want to discover the next step in admittedly what is quite a minor story.

That’s really the crux of it; you may see its flaws whilst you play but you keep playing anyway as a testament to Persona’s overall quality. Clearly there’s a lot in there to love, and when you find it it simply won’t let you get away.

This week Jon finally updated the blog. You didn’t need a fancy footer to know that though.

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