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Archive for July, 2011

Bulletstorm

I meant to talk about Bulletstorm while it was still relevant. I got it immediately after the PC demo was released. I hadn’t really planned on buying the game, but once I played the demo I couldn’t resist. Grabbing an enemy with an electric leash and kicking him into a spike trap seemed to penetrate some primal and instinctive part of my brain that compelled me to shell out  my $60.

I played through it quickly afterwards, and I enjoyed it. But once it was over I just didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I played some of the multiplayer and a few of the Echoes (essentially time trial challenge levels) but I quickly lost interest in those. I thought the game had a very visceral appeal and carried quite a nice flow to it, but there was just something very dreary about it that watered down my enthusiasm.

It was hard to identify exactly why I felt it was so mediocre despite all its new ideas, but I think I’ve got it down now.

A lot of people say Bulletstorm is like the bastard child of the old and the new in terms of shooters, in that it features cover-based shooting, iron sight aiming and health regeneration (all of which are relatively new to shooters) while also involving lots of frantic, runaroundy fun action like the shooters of old.

I actually disagree with that. The key factor that separated old shooters from the ones we have now was the emphasis on maneuvering; it was all about fast-paced movement, dodging attacks, circle-strafing, rocket jumping, etc. Nowadays we spend most of our time crouching behind cover and aiming down the sights for headshots.

Bulletstorm doesn’t really have any of that fast-paced maneuvering. You move just as slowly in this game as you do in Gears of War, and very few of the enemies attack in ways that you can effectively dodge. Bulletstorm does have frantic, fast-paced gameplay, but in a completely different way.

Bulletstorm’s biggest game-changing concept is the “skillshot” system. You get points for each enemy you kill, and you get more points for more impressive and over-the-top kills (though the actual measurement of how awesome a kill is is determined by the game, and can seem very arbitrary at times).

This certainly isn’t an entirely new concept, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen it in a shooter  before. The two games that spring to mind for me are Devil May Cry and MadWorld. According to Yahtzee these are parts of an entire subgenre of games that he calls “spectacle fighters,” wherein the regular enemies pose barely any threat and the challenge comes from killing them in the most spectacular, creative ways.

The problem with Bulletstorm is the same problem that MadWorld suffered (or so I’ve heard): since specific kills give specific numbers, you’re going to end up doing the same few high-ranking kills over and over, and the novelty of the whole concept quickly wears down into a boring grind. Kicking an enemy into a bed of spikes is a lot of fun at first, but by the end it feels depressingly routine.

To be fair, the campaign does offer some variety throughout. Every once in awhile the game will throw a set piece or interlude at you, like a mechanical dinosaur that you can command to blow up a big wave of bad guys, or an ugly alien boss monster for you to shell out all your ammo on. But for the most part Bulletstorm just feels like a one-trick-pony, and nothing in the core gameplay can really change it up enough.

There’s no competitive multiplayer, because frankly I’m not even sure how you could make a competitive mode in a game like this. I’m alright with that. Not every shooter has to boil down into deathmatch or capture the flag. Bulletstorm went for a cooperative mode instead, and while it does seem pretty promising at first, it also quickly turns into a grind.

You get dropped into an arena with three other players and a whole bunch of completely ineffectual baddies. Your goal isn’t just to survive, but to get as many points as possible. So like with the single player mode, you just have to figure out which kills give the most points and do those over and over again.

It seems like the developers came up with a few neat ideas (skillshots, electric whip, etc.) and simply ran with them at the expense of many other important aspects of gameplay. (Balance, difficulty, variety, etc.) That isn’t to say that it’s bad, just unchallenging. Decent but bland.

All in all, I’m not really surprised that it didn’t make much money.

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Fallout 3 > Fallout: New Vegas

A few days ago I presented a pretty radical opinion on the Twenty Sided comment board: I said I think that Fallout 3 is superior to New Vegas. Some people took issue with that, and this is a topic I’ve actually been meaning to get off my chest for awhile, so I figure that now is as good of a time as any to just tackle it.

First off, let me say that Fallout 3 did have crappy writing. I’m fully aware of this. I’m not sure what drugs the Bethesda writing team was exposed to during the development of Little Lamplight, and I sincerely hope they were merely on prescription medication. But writing is just one aspect of a narrative, and narrative is just one aspect of a game.

I do think that story matters in games. Don’t think that I just don’t care for motivation or backstory. Narrative was the main reason why I loved games like Deus Ex, Final Fantasy 6 and Psychonauts, and why I hated Fable 2. But like I’ve said before, the story of a game is like the lyrics of a song. It isn’t completely necessary to have a good one, or even to have one at all, but it can add a lot of entertainment value if it’s done well.

And Fallout 3 is the song that’s so well written and constructed, until you look up the lyrics and realize how offensively stupid they are. But it’s still a good song, and if you ignore those lyrics then you can enjoy it quite a bit regardless.

New Vegas, on the other hand, is a song that has good lyrics indeed, but those lyrics are spoken through such a severely autotuned voice that it sounds like a narration from a malfunctioning Microsoft Sam. And the actual music sounds just like that of the other song, except considerably more bland and less engaging.

Okay, fine, I’ll stop laboring this analogy.

I understand that it’s easy for a game to be completely ruined for someone because of one flaw. Shamus disliked The Witcher because he hated Geralt. Tom Chick disliked Deus Ex because he doesn’t like spy stories. Yahtzee disliked Bionic Commando because it drinks Pepsi. There are about a million reasons to like or dislike any given game. I get that, and that’s fine. Hell, Jamestown was almost ruined for me because of its difficulty restrictions.

I guess I’m just confused by the fact that so many people think Fallout 3 completely sucks because it has a badly written story, and never is this more obvious than when these people praise New Vegas, a game I found to be inferior to Fallout 3 in nearly every way but the writing.

My experiences with Fallout 3 and New Vegas were essentially the opposite of my experiences with Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. When I finally did get my hands on Fallout 3 it was the Game of the Year edition, which means I had all 5 DLCs. I played through the main plotline, every single sidequest and DLC, and then made an evil character and did a lot of it again. I loved that damn game. With New Vegas I beat the game, started a second character, and then almost immediately shelved it. It was very much a disappointment for me.

And I used to think I was weird for that. I even started to make excuses, like that since I played Fallout 3 in 2009 and New Vegas in 2010 I must have had higher standards by then. But after putting thought into it and talking to others I really do feel justified in saying that I think Fallout 3 is a better game.

Like I said earlier, writing is just one part of a narrative, and although I do admit that New Vegas had a more competently written plot than Fallout 3, I much prefer FO3’s overall narrative style. Fallout 3 felt more like a journey, while New Vegas just felt like a bunch of stuff happening.

In New Vegas I never really felt emotionally involved. The beginning didn’t draw me in, the ending didn’t feel climactic, and I rarely ever felt like I was working toward something. Fallout 3 actually felt more compelling to me, and I think the intro contributed a lot to that.

I know a lot of people bitched about the tutorial section of Fallout 3 taking place in Vault 101, but I actually thought that was a great way to open up the game. Sure, it lacked freedom, but what it did offer was pacing, pacing that New Vegas completely lacked.

As far as I can tell, starting off in a concealed, claustrophobic environment like Vault 101 served two big purposes for Fallout 3. Firstly, it meant that the player could be gradually introduced to each mechanic of the game in a controlled tutorial. And secondly, it made it feel much more poignant when you get released into the overworld.

It really reminds me of what Yahtzee was talking about in his Crysis 2 review. You start off small so that once things get big it actually carries some weight for the player. The Vault is a very sheltered, “safe” society, which makes it feel like an extreme gear shift when you go from there to being alone in the decrepit wasteland. It also gives your first view of the wasteland much more of a “wow” factor, which set a great first impression of the game for me.

New Vegas lacks all of this. Its approach is to just drop you into the game world with very little motivation, understanding or sense of direction. This doesn’t surprise me at all, since Fallout 1 opened up in the same way, although I feel the need to point out that it’s really not a good thing when your game resembles the opening of Fallout 1.

Ahem. Anyway, the Spoiler Warning guys actually admitted in today’s episode of the show that they preferred the traveling and dungeons of Fallout 3. I have to agree, and I think that’s a large part of the reason why I preferred Fallout 3 overall — because that makes up so much of the gameplay.

So much of the game is spent getting from point A to point B, or from exploring buildings and vaults (for me, anyway) and in Fallout 3 it’s actually fun, but in New Vegas it just feels like bland filler. Endlessly trudging through the Mojave is so boring that it almost makes me wish for a nuclear winter, but you have to do it if you want to get through the quests. That’s what ultimately caused me to shelve New Vegas. I was sick of the filler and I wanted something fun.

I know you’re really aching to post a rant about how “stupid” Fallout 3 is because of its nonsensical plot right now. Just take a deep breath, because I know. But the thing is, I really can’t appreciate New Vegas’s plot any more than Fallout 3’s. The reason for that isn’t because of the plot itself, but because of the way that it’s delivered.

You can’t really enjoy a plot unless you can suspend your disbelief, and New Vegas seems virtually designed to break your immersion as much as possible. Characters act completely mechanical, a large percentage of the voice acting is unbearably wooden, and the world just doesn’t make any bloody sense. Once you complete a quest objective or tell a character a certain piece of information, everybody in the world instantly knows about it. If you kill a character while you’re “hidden,” nobody will even notice that the person is dead and that her corpse is lying in the middle of the room.

What’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong. Just a couple of dead naked women, usual business.

Maybe this stuff didn’t ruin the story for you, but it sure as hell ruined it for me. Why? I’ll quote Shamus himself, though he was talking about Cities XL 2011 rather than Fallout at the time.

“See, I like to believe that the underlying system makes some sort of sense. Perhaps I insist on it. When it becomes obvious that the thing is catastrophically arbitrary, it loses its appeal as a playground. Even doing well loses its appeal, because there’s always the knowledge that I’m doing well at running a nonsense city of random bullshit.”

Of course in this case we’re not running a nonsense city of random bullshit — we’re navigating through a nonsense world of random bullshit — but I think the same concept applies. So as far as I’m concerned, the entertainment value of both games’ stories is at zero. That didn’t bother me in Fallout 3 because I was having so much fun exploring, finding new locations and buildings to loot, but in New Vegas the story is practically all we have, and that’s why the game falls flat for me.

And yes, I’m aware that Bethesda is to blame for a lot of these immersion-breaking issues because of its horrible engine. I don’t care. My point is not that Bethesda is a million times better than Obsidian. My point is that I think Fallout 3 is superior to New Vegas.

And maybe I’m just looking for discussion in the wrong place. Like Shamus said in that episode I linked to, the general public doesn’t seem to be as loyal to New Vegas or as hateful toward Fallout 3 as Twenty Sided is. Most people I’ve talked to outside of Shamus’s site agree with me that Fallout 3 is the better game and that it had a better narrative structure. Hell, Extra Credits is on my side. That’s got to count for something.


Humble Indie Bundle #3

Humble Bundle is back!

For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Humble Indie Bundle is a website run by an indie game dev studio called Wolfire Games that collaborates with other indie studios, and this is the fourth bundle they’ve put out for sale.

With this bundle you get five indie games with no DRM (that means no service tied to it, i.e. you can download the games as many times as you want on as many computers as you want) and you can name your own price. No minimum (unless you count $0.01 as a minimum) and no maximum.

Also, you can choose how much of the price goes to the developers, how much goes to the Humble Bundle organizers, and how much of it goes to charities Child’s Play and EFF.

Yeah, these guys are pretty much saints. You should buy the bundle. Right now.

And in case you don’t want to click that link at the top, the games in this particular bundle are Crayon Physics Deluxe, Cogs, VVVVVV, Hammerfight, and And Yet It Moves.


Half-Life 2: The Bridge Scene

So I replayed Half-Life 2 last weekend, due in no small part to Spoiler Warning‘s week-long coverage of it. (Now I can say I beat it on hard mode. Woo!)

Half-Life 2 is a very polarizing game. That’s inevitable for any game with so much critical acclaim. There will never be a game that everybody likes (with the possible exception of Plants vs. Zombies) and if somebody dislikes a game that everybody else appears to love, the instinctive reaction is to rage against it.

I’ve seen this happen with Portal, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Halo, Farmville, Team Fortress 2, the list goes on.

So when you play Half-Life 2, you’ll either love it or despise it. There is no middle ground. You’ll think it’s either a shining example of fantastic interactive storytelling or a cavalcade of mediocrity and boredom.

And if it isn’t already clear, I am of the former.

And I’m glad Spoiler Warning did this special block for Half-Life 2, because I always knew it was a really great game, but there were many little things they pointed out that I hadn’t even thought about when I played the game before. When they pointed out the flawless introduction to the Barnacle in their third episode, that blew my mind. If id Software designed this game, the camera would have been wrestled from the player to zoom in on the barnacle for several needless seconds just to make sure you know that HEY, THIS IS A MONSTER. SHOOT IT.

Valve really knows what they’re doing when it comes to visual design, storytelling and pacing, and it’s depressing to see that so few other studios have picked up on it.

So I figure I might as well jump on the bandwagon and spill out some praise for this game. And they didn’t get to show my favorite part of it, so I want to talk about that today. It’s a sequence that thrilled me and terrified me so much that it’s stood out for me as the most memorable scene in the whole game, one that I couldn’t wait to get to again in my new playthrough.

And no, it wasn’t in Ravenholm.

Don’t get me wrong — Ravenholm was a cool level. The atmosphere was solid, the traps were fun, and I loved how it let you utilize the gravity gun by grabbing and firing all the saws and barrels lying around. But other than that it just didn’t feel very special to me.

Anyway, I’m referring to the bridge scene in Highway 17. And if you haven’t played the game or can’t remember what I’m talking about, let me fill you in.

Now, part of what makes Valve so great is that they’re willing to try new things. They’re not afraid to change up their formulas and see what comes out of it. So with that in mind, I’m going to try something I’ve never done before: I’m going to describe the scene in second-person narrative form. This might technically classify as a text-based Let’s Play, but whatever.

Go easy on me, it’s my first time.

The gate to your next destination is blocked by a force field. To deactivate it, you must press a button located on the opposite side of a bridge.

A horribly mangled bridge.

You see no alternative to get across, so after taking a deep breath, you jump onto the piece of staircase. Once you can tell you’ve stuck the landing, you walk slowly across the few metal poles holding the whole bridge together.

You reach the first building, empty save for one headcrab. Once you start walking across the next few poles, the entire bridge begins to rattle and shake. All you can do is move forward, holding your breath and hoping that the bridge holds together.

Thankfully it does, and you reach the second platform. Here you find a crate full of rockets next to a rotting corpse.

You hear gunshots from the distance. It seems even broken bridges aren’t out of reach of the iron hand of the Combine.

Fortunately by this point you have a full arsenal of weapons, and two Combine troops is hardly a challenge.

A bit more walking and you reach the end of the bridge. Here you find an outpost full of troops, and after wiping them out you finally find the console that controls the gate.

You deactivate the bridge. Moments later you hear more gunshots. Outside the window you see a gunship firing at your position.

You have a rocket launcher, but you’ve only got three rockets in stock, and that’s not enough to destroy it. Then you remember the rocket crate on the bridge.

Seeing no other option available, you can do nothing but run to the crate.

The first time you crossed the bridge, you had the option to be careful. You were in peaceful solitude. This time you have to run. Caution is not an option.

You sprint across the bridge as quickly as you can. You feel a few inevitable shots strike your HEV suit, and wonder how many more shots you can withstand.

Finally you reach the crate, and use all the rockets you must to take down the ship.

Eventually the ship falls into the water. With no other immediate danger present, you walk back to solid ground.

So yeah, there’s a number of reasons why I love this scene. Every bit of it is designed cleverly to look cohesive and believable while also fitting together to form a tight jumping puzzle (or rather, a “walking” puzzle, I suppose). The first time you cross it feels tense walking across this broken, ruined bridge and hoping none of the pieces fall off when you step onto them. The second time you cross it feels tense because you’re being chased by a gunship.

Valve talked about this technique of theirs in their Lost Coast developer commentary. When they introduce you to a big set piece, they let you explore it first and get a feel for it. They’ll often include it with a puzzle so you have to really examine the area to figure out what to do next. Then, once you’re really familiar with the area, they throw the combat at you. That way you don’t end up overwhelmed.

It’s not a very long scene. It’s concise and it’s only as long as it needs to be. But those moments crossing the bridge for the first and second time gave me a sense of unease and excitement that few games can hope to match.

If anybody wants to say that first person platforming just doesn’t work and doesn’t add to an experience, I think this sequence would serve well as a counter-point.


Doom 3 ≈ Half-Life + Cutscenes

It feels weird comparing Doom 3 to Half-Life instead of, you know, Doom. The comparisons to Doom are much more obvious and blatant. But this game also had some striking similarities with Half-Life 1, so much so that I think it’s worth talking about how the two games are similar.

The basic story structure is extremely similar between the two games. You’re in an isolated facility of workers experimenting with strange concepts, when suddenly the entire facility is attacked by weird, foreign, alien-like creatures of varying sizes and shapes, some of which have the ability to teleport. Then you have to fight your way through the whole facility to defeat the leader and restore peace to the land, but once you beat the big bad you get left with a silly cliffhanger.

I already mentioned in that id Software post that the intro to Doom 3 feels very Half-Life-esque. You’re at a space station type place instead of a science facility, but it’s the same basic concept. It’s your first day as a marine and you’re walking around the station, getting to see people on the job. At first things seem pretty normal, but over time you hear more and more people saying that there’s some weird stuff going on. You keep getting a bit of a creepy vibe, until you finally see the aliens go loose and start turning everyone into zombies.

And then all restraint gets thrown out the window.

But seriously, the beginning is really cool. You get a sense of how these people live their lives, and there are a few toys for you to play with. You can even play a little arcade game:

META!

Also, the moment when the guard dude forces you to pick up your security armor and pistol seems to have been ripped straight out of Half-Life: Blue Shift.

About that beer I owed you…

Another section of the game that felt very Half-Lifeish was the segment where you enter Hell. It felt very much like the final level in Half-Life, wherein you enter the alien homeworld. Think about it. You’ve been fighting these crazy alien-type dudes out of your domain, and finally towards the end of the game you get to fight them on their turf. Sure, they might be demons instead of aliens, but tear off the paint job and it’s the exact same thing.

This part of the game does have pretty interesting scenery, and it’s a nice change of pace from the endless identical space station corridors you traverse throughout the rest of the game, but it does have its problems. The monsters are all the same ones you’ve been fighting, so the combat does get tedious to a degree. You lose your flashlight for this segment, so those dark areas just have to stay dark, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And like the alien homeworld in Half-Life, Hell apparently has a few jumping puzzles.

Don’t slip!

I’m actually not as bitter about this as you might think. I’m one of the four or five people on the planet who thinks that first person platforming doesn’t automatically suck. It just sucks if it’s done badly and used in an engine that doesn’t really allow for it. For example, I was pretty much alright with the platforming in Half-Life. And Doom 3 doesn’t ever demand as much agility as Half-Life does, so it’s not too much of a nuisance. It wasn’t for me, anyway.

Here’s some other similarities between Doom 3 and Half-Life, in no particular order:

  • A mixup of fights between alien monsters and gun-wielding marines
  • A silent protagonist who everyone orders around like he’s some kind of goddamn repairman
  • A legion of uninteresting NPCs who are easily killable by the player
Hah! That’s what I think of your boring dialogue.

But hey, you know what Doom 3 has that Half-Life doesn’t? Cutscenes. Cutscenes out the back end.

Different people have different opinions on custcenes and how they should be used in games. I think that, generally speaking, cutscenes are the antithesis to good storytelling in games. Resorting to cutscenes because you don’t know how to use interactive storytelling is like a film resorting to text walls every five minutes because it doesn’t know how to use visual storytelling. Games are interactive by definition, and taking that interactivity away just so you can make sure they don’t muck up your magnificent story just comes off to me as ham-fisted and self-indulgent.

However, I can begrudgingly accept a cutscene as long as

  1. It seems necessary to the plot,
  2. It is concise and well put together.

Doom 3 fails in both of these regards. Most of the cutscenes are entirely needless, the dialogue is badly written, and they typically screw with the atmosphere of the gameplay. Almost every time the game brings forth a new monster, it’s introduced in a cutscene first and in gameplay second. Especially since this is trying to be a horror game, all these cutscenes seem to do is completely remove any sense of suspense or fear we may have had.

Just as an example, in one of the early levels you enter a closed-off room to press a button which opens a door in another room. As soon as you do this, a cutscene begins which carries the camera off to the outside of the room, where this dude appears:

He’s like a demon cow. I know, spooky, right?

He jumps off of the railing and runs up to the locked, windowless door to your little chamber. It switches back to gameplay, where you can’t see the monster but can hear it smashing against the door a few times before he moves over and smashes through a window. Then he dies in two shotgun blasts. On hard mode.

I can’t help but feel like that sequence would have been much scarier if they just cut out that cutscene. That way I wouldn’t have known what was smashing against the door, but my imagination would have filled in the details. And your imagination will always be scarier than reality.

I bet if they just removed 95% of the cutscenes in this game, it would be far more compelling.


More on Quake

Quake is another game I may have been a bit unfair to. I’ve been playing it a bunch and it is fun and interesting. But it’s far, far from perfect.

First, let me say Odin bless Ranneko for telling me the console command for full mouse aiming. That makes the game much more playable. Before, when I couldn’t control the Y-axis with the mouse, I pretty much got stuck at the first point when I had to swim.

Having to use keyboard buttons to look up and down is a huge hassle when you’ve become accustomed to mouse aiming, and it isn’t as big of a deal in Duke Nukem 3D when they don’t force you to look up or down too much, but Quake seemed specifically designed to screw over anybody who didn’t have the console command.

But I digress…

I think the most interesting thing about Quake to me is its emphasis on rockets. Many shooters end up having some sort of “main” weapon, a weapon you end up using most of the time because you get tons of ammo for it, and because it’s one of the most powerful or versatile weapons, etc. In Doom 2 it’s the super shotgun, in Half-Life 2 it’s the SMG, and in Quake it seems to be the rocket launcher.

Sure, the super nailgun and the laser thingy do more damage, but those guns drain ammo at a very rapid pace, and the ammo for those weapons isn’t quite as ubiquitous as the rockets you practically trip over at every other step.

I don’t think I’ve ever played any other games where the rocket launcher is used this commonly, except maybe Serious Sam to a much lesser degree, and Team Fortress 2 as the Soldier. Usually the rocket launcher is the “BFG” of the game, the instakill weapon that you save for helicopters or big boss fights (see Resident Evil 4) but the rocket launcher in Quake is much less overpowered and rockets are common enough that you can use them almost all the time.

The reason this is so interesting is because the rocket launcher is much more tactical and requires much more skill to use effectively than most other guns in shooters. It fires slow projectiles, so you have to predict where the enemy is going to be rather than just point at the enemy and hold the fire button. It deals splash damage to everyone in close proximity, so you can use one precise rocket to kill multiple enemies at once, but must be mindful at all times not to stand too close to a target you’re firing rockets at.

On the whole, it just makes combat more tricky and fun.

I’m quite fond of the style of gameplay Quake delivers; extremely fast-paced shooting that emphasizes evasive maneuvers. Rather than crouching behind cover and waiting for the right moment to pop out and shoot the bad guy’s face, you’re dashing around the arena faster than Road Runner and dodging everyone’s attacks.

It all goes back to that Daredevil mindset I talked about before. It gives such a rush of adrenaline that I don’t experience very often in games these days.

It’s unfortunate, then, that extended periods of Quake end up making me feel sick. I wasn’t kidding when I said that in my other post, by the way. Part of it is the fast movement speed, but I’m pretty sure most of it is due to the sickening visuals. All brown, all the time. Everywhere.

You could argue that it’s not fair to complain about the visuals of a game that came out in 1996, but it’s worth noting that Crash Bandicoot was also released in 1996, and that game looks leagues better than Quake. Not because of any superior graphics technology, but simply because the world is colorful and vibrant.

(Although it might have better graphics technology than Quake. I wouldn’t know. I’m not exactly an expert on that subject.)

Quake is also much shorter than I expected. I haven’t reached the end credits quite yet, but I’ve beaten about three and a half of the four “episodes” in only a few hours, and I think it’s safe to assume that once I beat the last episode I’ll only have the final boss left.

So it’s a pretty insubstantial game, but interesting nonetheless. And rockets are always fun, right?

And I suppose the big question is, are there any developers out there who are still trying to give us that fast-paced runaroundy shooting fun that we used to have? What games do we have to look forward to in that subgenre?

Four words: Serious Sam 3, bitches.


Chainsaw Massacre (Aliens Edition)

Sorry I haven’t been posting for the past few days. My attention has been in a bunch of places at once, and on top of that writer’s block has hit me pretty hard. I got a bunch of games during the summer sale and I’m having a hard time picking one to talk about.

But I recently decided to stop being a cheapskate and shell out for Fraps, and holy crap, Fraps is amazing.

Well, compared to Livestream Procaster it’s amazing. I’m no connoisseur of video recording software, mind you. But Fraps is really a great tool. It can record virtually any game out there, from Doom to Magicka to even Windows Minesweeper. It shows you your framerate, it can automatically take screenshots, and recording videos hardly hurts the framerate (depending on the game). And of course, the quality is much better.

So I figured I’d have fun with it and record a little something for you guys.

I’m aware I already talked about this game, but in all honesty I think I was a bit unfair to it. It’s quite immersive and fun, and I think it’s better than the original Doom. And it does have some interesting moments. But for the  most part the whole “horror” thing just isn’t working for me.

I like horror. I’d go so far as to say that I love horror. I’m pretty sure the only true horror game I’ve ever played was Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but that game was fantastic. It gave me some of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had. I feel like that game has spoiled me to a degree. Now whenever these other games try to scare me they only make me roll my eyes.


id Software Hoedown

Thanks to the Steam Summer sale I now have all of the Doom and Quake games, excluding Quake 4. I’m not sure how interested people are in my whole new-retro shtick, but I figure I might as well talk about them since I’ve been playing them a lot lately. I don’t have enough to say to warrant a post for each individual game, but if I bundle my thoughts on all the games into one post I’m sure it can work.

DOOM

I’m aware that Doom is one of the first FPS games ever made, and I must say that I’m quite impressed. The combat works well and has a decent flow to it. The levels are big and sprawling, and praise be to Odin, there’s actually an intuitive map you can look at. The guns actually feel fairly different from one another, and the monsters have enough variety to prevent it from feeling too repetitive.

I played Duke Nukem 3D a few months back via Good Old Games, and I detested it. I assumed that was because I just couldn’t get into the whole “2.5D” thing, but that’s not the case, because I’ve been enjoying Doom 1 quite a lot. No, the real reason I didn’t like Duke was because the controls were very clunky.

The story for Doom appears to be pretty much nonexistent. “Baddies over there, go kill them” seems to be the gist of it. I’m cool with that. To me, the story in a game is basically like the lyrics in a song. It can add more entertainment value to the whole package if it’s done well, but it’s not really necessary.

On the whole, I like Doom. I like it a lot. And I think I’m gonna play it some more once I’m done writing this.

DOOM 2

Refer to above comments concerning Doom 1.

Seriously, it’s the same game. It’s an expansion pack, that’s what it is. More of the same gameplay in different environments with different monsters. Really not much to say about it.

DOOM 3

Now here’s where things change. Doom 3 was released long, long after Doom 1, and while the weapons and monsters are basically the same, the overall feel is very different. While Doom 1 is a game about intense, balls-to-the-wall action, Doom 3 tries to go for subtle, claustrophobic horror. And it kind of fails in that regard. It’s a bit scary at first, but it’s the same problem I had with FEAR 2, it’s just too repetitive.

And this game also has a serious problem with lighting. So many areas are covered in darkness, and you can’t use a flashlight with your gun; you have to pull out a flashlight just to see what’s going on, which breaks up the flow of combat. I get that they were trying to show off their whole dynamic lighting technology, but it just gets annoying after awhile.

Doom 3 has much bigger production values than Doom 1, and it certainly looks better, but on the whole I just don’t find it as engaging. I have to agree with the others who say that Serious Sam is the true successor to Doom 2.

Though it is worth mentioning that the very, very beginning of the game is really interesting. There are no monsters, and you walk through the space station and get to see the marines at work. It reminds me of the intro to Half-Life 1 in a good way.

Quake

Quake will always hold a special place in my heart, because when I close my eyes and try to remember the first shooter I ever played, Quake is always the one that comes to mind. Of course I can’t remember it very well because I was so young at the time that the only memories I have now are tiny little glimpses, but I think the fact that I remember it at all shows that Quake had an impact on me as a child.

This game is an interesting specimen, because it seems to be right in the middle of the transitionary phase of first person shooters from 2D to 3D. The environments are rendered in full 3D, but the enemies are still in that awkward 2.5D state, so the game as a whole feels a bit weird.*

Aside from that, the controls feel fairly awkward since you can’t look up or down using the mouse, and the game is just too brown. The lack of contrast almost makes me feel nauseous when playing it. Seriously. When people complain about games these days being too brown it makes me wonder if they ever played Quake, because it puts any game made in the past decade or so to shame in terms of lack of color variety.

It’s interesting to play in a sort of historical sense (sorry if I just made you feel really old by saying that) but it just isn’t that much fun.

Quake 2

Okay, you’ve watched at least one episode of my LP of Unreal, right? Well then I don’t need to say anything about Quake 2 because it’s the same fucking game.

Okay, so maybe Quake 2 is fairly more linear and brown than Unreal, but other than that it feels exactly the same. Same alien baddies, same guns, same early 3D FPS style gameplay. Really not much to say about it at this point.

Quake 3 Arena

Apparently Quake 3 is entirely multiplayer, which means I’m not gonna mess with it. I’m not much of a competitive shooter person, and whenever I do get that itch I have Team Fortress 2 to scratch it. Not to mention the fact that none of my friends have Quake 3, and I don’t know if I’d even be able to find anyone online to play with. The Steam summer sale has given me a virtual pile of games to play, so I’m gonna hold off on Quake 3 for now.

Fin

It’s nice to sample some more of gaming history, and it’s even nicer to have fun while doing so.

I guess all there’s left for me to play from id Software is Wolfenstein 3D. How about that, Steam? You still have one more day of summer sales left…

*UPDATE: That one paragraph about Quake was flat-out incorrect. Sorry about that.


Ultimate Assassin 3

Okay, so it’s no secret by now that I like stealth games. I like to keep my eye out for any stealth games in the indie scene, but there typically aren’t many to be found because stealth is not easy to do well, and if you do it badly then the game will turn into an adventure in tedium and frustration.

Case in point: Ultimate Assassin 3.

On the surface Ultimate Assassin 3 actually seems like a pretty solid concept. You’re dropped into an warehouse-esque building with guards patrolling around, and you have to assassinate some dude dressed in green (possibly symbolizing capitalism) and then escape through a manhole that doesn’t appear until after the target is dead. You can see the guards’ vision when they’re anywhere near you, and you have to avoid being detected since you can’t kill the guards and can only withstand a few shots before you die.

We’ve seen this all before, so the game gives you two abilities to make the experience more interesting and to give you a bit of an edge; you can use a speed boost and you can turn invisible (but only when standing still). Both of these drain your energy bar. Once you get the hang of using your abilities it helps a ton.

So this sounds pretty cool, right? Well there’s more to it than that, trust me.

The big, glaring flaw in the game is that the enemy AI pathfinding is pretty much completely random. They generally move in one direction and turn every once in awhile and they won’t turn around too often (until they go into alert mode, in which they’ll go completely haywire) but the directions they walk in and their general movements are arbitrary and randomized to the point where you can never predict how to evade the guard’s sight until he’s already moving toward you. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, the location of the escape manhole also appears in a randomized and unpredictable location.

It isn’t a big deal in the early stages of the game, when guards are fairly sparse and you can easily move around them, but later levels are so crowded that you’re going to die a lot in each level of the Hard stages before you can finally beat them.

Expect to see this a lot.

And it’s worth noting that you’re not dying because you aren’t good enough. You’re dying because the guards happened to go in unfair directions. In other words, it isn’t really about skill. There is skill involved, but in the end it really all boils down to luck.

You can argue that this is to make it more “realistic,” since guards aren’t always going to move in rigid unchanging patterns, but if you’ve played the game yourself then you know that the guards in this game do not act realistic. Guards that move like clockwork would be more realistic than these attention-deficit children that stare at walls and will go hyperactive and start running in circles as soon as one of them sees a suspicious figure.

If you ask me, a stealth game should at heart be equivocal to a puzzle game. You have to analyze the situation and come up with a carefully timed maneuver to evade detection. Afterwards you can feel proud of yourself for having the necessary skill and strategy to pull it off. Ultimate Assassin 3 is at its heart equivocal to cranking a slot machine. You’re going to get it eventually, but you just have to keep trying until you get a jackpot.

The tutorial made sure to emphasize that the game is all about patience, and I guess it is, but likely not in the way the game designer thought.

Not pictured: Fairness

There are certainly other criticisms aside from that, though. The areas all look the same; gray buildings littered with brown crates. There are a lot of levels but they feel very repetitive, and this feeling gets worse once you realize that some of the later levels are literally copy-pastes of old levels with more and more idiot guards sprinkled on top.

I feel bad for ripping on a game that’s clearly trying to be the exact sort of thing I love. But sadly, it’s not enough for a game to let me play as a ninja to make me like it. It also has to be a good game, and that’s where UA3 falls flat on its face.


Redesignification!

As some of you may have already noticed, my blog has a bit of a new look now. If you’re thinking I suddenly unleashed my artistic talents, well, I didn’t. The background, banner and new logo were all made by Laura-Jane Cunningham, graphic designer extraordinaire (you can check out her website here) and pretty much my only contribution to it was when she asked what I wanted and I said “I want the logo to be of, like, a ninja. Holding a controller or something. Yeah, that’d be cool.”

Well, she did that. And she also came up with a gradient background with a bluish purplish vibe going on, which is much more appealing to look at than that dreary black-brown motif I had before. She also kept the retro feel of my original “guy with gun” logo by making the ninja quasi-8-bit, and made a rather stylized banner to go along with it.

So thanks, Laura! And I hope you all like it.