hot  /  reviews  /  video  /  blogs  /  forum

FRESH MEAT  
|   FROM OUR COMMUNITY BLOGS


7:09 PM on 11.07.2012  

LEFT 4 DEAD 2 and the Goddamn Roof Glitch

I started reading Tom Bissell's EXTRA LIVES, in which the talented scribe writes about a particularly riveting LEFT 4 DEAD Versus match he played which exemplifies the exceptional gameplay design of Valve's game. It put me in the mood to reinstall L4D2 and try to get into the multiplayer. I'd played some online matches before, but my mic-happy teammates would usually show less self-preservation instincts than the AI bots.

Granted, on the first Versus match I joined today, a teammate would insist on taking point. I would look and see a blue silhouette more or less a mile away from the rest of us with a hunchbacked red silhouette riding his shoulders and pounding his head.

On a mood to experiment, I decided to try the Survival mode for the first time. I joined a game and we were gathering supplies when one of my teammates insisted on switching to another map to exploit a glitch I'd never heard of. A vote was called and, not wanting to be a spoilsport, I went with it.

The map is The Passing - Underground, where the zombie hordes attack the survivors once a radio is started. Before doing that, my teammates instructed me to go up the fire escape and, when we got to the top, one of my teammates jumped on the railing and from there jumped toward the roof. Surprisingly, he hung from the supposedly-inacessible roof and when we helped him up, he was on the roof. Another teammate did the same. I was encouraged to try.

My first attempt had me hanging from the fire escape. My teammate patiently helped me up and encouraged me to try again. My second attempt ended with me on the ground, dead. They defibbed my bones back together as I admitted I wasn't very good at this.

A few botched attempts later, I was starting to accuse Valve of sexism for not letting my female character model get on that fucking roof like everyone else.

"Get on the railing and jump at the corner!" said a teammate through the mic.

"I am doing that," I defended myself.

"No, quite obviously you are not."

We were at this for about ten zombieless minutes. Different directions were given: "Face the WALL, jump to the RIGHT!" "Aim at the corner and jump!" "Just jump!" "Don't jump, just fall off". All of these ended with me either hanging from the railing or staining the ground below.

"Impressive, Andre. Impressive," said the mic guy.

"Don't worry, I failed on my first twenty times too," said another teammate, which I and my ruined self-esteem appreciated.

"Look, I'll just go start the radio and fight from below, okay?" I said, to which they begrudgingly agreed. About a minute later we were all dead. You'd think they'd have fared better than me on top of their precious fucking roof.

From one match to the next, some of my teammates had been replaced by other online players; the ones who weren't replaced were vacated by their human players, reduced to bot-status and nametagged "Ellis", "Coach", etc. But soon, more human players jumped in. We managed to play one match properly before one of the new teammates said:

"Let's do the glitch!"

Up I went, anticipating my humiliation, explaining my story to them and asking for a step-by-step guide. Not fully comprehending the scope of my ineptitude, they were somewhat vague. Two teammates got on the roof and jumped all the way to a lower fire escape on another building. A third teammate got on the roof and got ready to jump too, forgetting he was supposed to help me up. I didn't notice this right away.

So as I jumped toward the roof he jumped toward the fire escape. We both missed.

"Wow," said one of my teammates, contemplating the dead guy on the ground and the desperate girl hanging from the fire escape.

After restarting the match, they offered a more thorough explanation. I got on the railing and, like a little scared child, said, "What do I do now?"

"Get on the railing, jump at the corner and press D."

I tried that and I WAS UP.

I AM NOT A MORON.

I HAD TO PRESS D.

THE OTHER BASTARDS NEVER SAID THAT.

As I victory danced all over the rooftop -- in what may be the most pathetic pride I ever felt --, one of our teammates had gone all the way to the other side of the map and wouldn't stop hopping.

"Why are you hopping repeatedly?" I asked.

"A GLITCH" he replied.

"Another one? How many goddamn glitches does this map have?"

"INVISIBLE LADDER" he replied happily.

We went over to where he was and found him jumping at a wall on which there was nothing but bricks and traces of vegetation. My other teammate did the same thing. I watched them both hop repeatedly like bunnies on ecstasy.

"THEY TOOK IT OUT", one of them concluded in, I imagine, tears. He proceeded to shoot the wall many times, presumably to carve a ladder with bullets.

Meanwhile, in the distance, a fourth teammate stood, patiently waiting for us to start the radio, not slightly interested in glitches and apparently eager to kill some zombies. I verified the nametag on top of this magnificent person's head:

"Ellis"

read + comment


8:42 PM on 08.18.2012  

The Shallowness of SLEEPING DOGS



Most open-world sandbox games shouldn't be open-world sandbox games. As I write this, MAFIA 2 and LA NOIRE spring to mind in red-filtered flashbacks like traitors upon which I yearn to enact my revenge. Games that made me drive distances best measured in astronomical units for no purpose other than padding gameplay length. If the sprawling cities had been cut out entirely and replaced by smaller, mission-appropriate scenery, would it have been an improvement? If the answer's yes, your game shouldn't be a sandbox. Your time and resources would be better spent ironing out everything else. Not that this would have helped LA NOIRE. Its core mechanics were inherently broken to begin with.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's GRAND THEFT AUTO 4. The amazing Liberty City seems to bear down on Niko's shoulders, making him feel small and isolated. In what is a stroke of genius, pedestrians will often answer their cellphones as they come close to Niko, excluding him even more. Gameplay-wise, GTA 4 knows how to make the most of its scale with good missions that couldn't exist without it.

RED DEAD REDEMPTION is similarly skilled at evoking an atmosphere. The death of the Old West is almost tangible as you cross a lonely prairie illuminated by the sunset. To the far east is Blackwater, the most advanced city in the gameworld, threatening to expand westward and swallow all in its path until it meets the ocean. The game also has a gameplay feature that every sandbox game should have: scripted events that happen randomly, such as an ongoing robbery or a person being chased by wolves, in which you can intervene. Events that make the world feel alive and the gameplay more varied.

And finally, SKYRIM. In which the world is the main character and its exploration the entire point. Everything else builds toward that. The game's most memorable moments consist of travelling toward a distant city as Jeremy Soule's gorgeous music plays.

SLEEPING DOGS presents a different problem. Its Hong Kong is gorgeous, interactive and full of opportunities. It doesn't feel tacked onto a game that could easily do without it. Unfortunately, the game lacks the creativity to make the most of it. To say that it makes the least of it is a generous assessment.

The problems start with the writing. Wei Shen is an astonishingly bland protagonist. Good at everything, fazed by nothing. Most of the time I forgot he's an undercover cop, because when he's told to do heinous things, he doesn't bat an eyelid. He doesn't call his superiors for guidance, he doesn't hesitate. The developers seem to think it's enough drama for him to show signs of stress every time he wakes up. It isn't. It's just another dissonant aspect of a personality that never forms a coherent whole. He has no real humanity. I could care less what happens to him. Which is in itself a gigantic flaw.

The other characters are stock characters. They feel like the first draft of characters in GTA games, before actual depth was added. And the missions they give you often have little to do with anything. The objectives feel random and actually boring. Several missions ask you to play sequences of hacking mini-games and -- of all fucking things -- karaoke.

Now I speak directly to you, United Front Games and Square Enix.

Who.

The fuck.

Wants to be forced to play a Guitar-Hero-for-dummies version.

Of karaoke.

In a game that has a competent melee combat system, acceptable gunplay and surprisingly responsive driving, why would you build missions around hacking a safe or pressing a button to fast-talk people?

(Yes. This happens. A guard shows up and asks what are you doing, a button prompt appears, you press it and Wei comes up with an excuse that convinces the guard to let him in peace. This is an actual gameplay feature.)

Why, in a crime game that has this:



Would you focus on this:



The more I played SLEEPING DOGS, the more it felt like a waste of time. The story is completely lacking in ambition, the missions are uninteresting and often rely on the game's least entertaining features and the overall gameplay design has a kitchen sink approach that hilariously breaks the game's previously established level of realism.

Consider, for example, the ability to make your car lurch forward or sideways to ram other cars. Even DRIVER SAN FRANCISCO, the game this feature was borrowed from, had the common sense to make this ability available only in the protagonist's dreams (which, no spoiler, last for most of the game). And the designers also remembered to prevent this lurch from adding actual speed to the cars, which would give players a game-breaking advantage during races. The developers of SLEEPING DOGS didn't notice this problem.

And then there's the pathetic health shrines that increase Wei's health after he performs a ritual. This is yet another aspect of what can charitably be called Wei's personality that never shows up anywhere else, and thus feels more like a stereotype of Chinese culture than anything.

And then... there's the sexism.

The female characters in SLEEPING DOGS bother me, because they seem to exist solely for Wei to conquer them. You meet them during a mission, they leave you their cellphone, you call them, you meet them, you do things for them and they have sex with you. They are all attracted to Wei's skills at driving, fighting, hacking, etc. instead of his personality (understandably, since he doesn't have one). It's that line of thinking that, to paraphrase a tweet by Hexjackal, equates women to machines in which you put coins until sex comes out.

Nearly all of the women in SLEEPING DOGS are like that. They show no further depth or narrative purpose. The only reason they're in the game is to be a mission for which the reward is sex. There's no option to advance the relationship, only to conquer the next woman. I had a hint of hope when Wei gets angry at a woman who's cheating on him, and she rightfully reminds him he's cheated on her first. Sadly, this goes nowhere. Wei and the narrative are entirely unnaffected by this. It's like the moment only exists to be a mildly amusing ending to a "tail the car" mission, and to encourage you to conquer new women. Plot-wise, it's pointless. Gameplay-wise, it's padding.

No woman impresses Wei, no woman challenges him or teaches him something in any meaningful way. Most of them are there to give you easy mission objectives and reward you with sex. The only reason this isn't that sexist is due to Wei being such a good-at-everything bore of a character that nobody ever impresses him or teaches him or challenges him. Plus none of the characters, men or women, have any actual depth. The game's sexism is more of a side effect of overall shitty, lazy writing. "We need more stuff for the player to do." "How about dating minigames?" "Bingo."

And your writing truly has to be shitty when actual sexism seems too sophisticated for it.

After a mission in which yet another female character left me her cellphone number after I won a street race for her (by a wide margin, thanks to the magic of the "ram" button), I went to another mission briefing in which I was told to do something I instantly recognized as a minigame. And I simply said "no," quit the game and uninstalled it. Without a second thought. Because it's a pointless, vapid, insubstantial timewaste of a game.

And this may be because of the open-world setting. Having populated it with so many minigames, the developers apparently decided that nearly every mission should consist of doing one or two of them with some story-flavored context added. It's like they built the world first and, seeing what it already offered, built the story around that without adding anything else. In my (admittedly incomplete) playtime, there was nothing even approaching the level of craft from the heist mission in GTA 4 or the ambush mission in RED DEAD REDEMPTION.

All in all, SLEEPING DOGS is a decent sandbox with a shitty story and uninspired gameplay tacked on. The Hong Kong created for the game could have been a great setting for so much more.

read + comment


5:19 PM on 11.20.2011  

The Decay of SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD

It's weird, really. There I was worrying that MODERN WARFARE 3 would lose the franchise's identity due to being written and developed by a substantially different Infinity Ward. It didn't, and is perhaps the best installment in the series*. As if that wasn't baffling enough, SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD turns out to suck in comparison to its predecessor, despite being made by the same studio, including the same writers.

The game starts with some promise, and some wit. The Saints are now celebrities. The first mission has you and your homies robbing a bank wearing rather useless disguises while in the company of a method actor who is trying to learn how to play a Saint. The second mission is a gloriously stupid shootout in an airplane, followed by one of those free-fall sequences that are becoming so common in third-person games (such as DEAD SPACE 2 and FORCE UNLEASHED 2), but even crazier. Both missions have the funny writing that made SAINTS ROW 2 such a joy, my favorite moment being when the main character calls the villain a "French fuck", and hears the offended response: "Please! I'm Belgian."

But in the third mission, I started to get worried. What the fuck happened to Shaundi? Where's the lovable, sexually promiscuous stoner who kept upstaging Pierce in the previous game? Who's this perpetually pissed-off, profoundly irritating woman who shares her name, but absolutely none of her traits except a bare midriff? Also, where's the attention-needing, classical-music-loving Pierce? Why is he now pretty much defined by his wish to finish a chess match? Where's Johnny Gat? Did they really do away with an excellent character on the second mission? And this hacker chick who speaks in complicated computer lingo no-one understands and lacks a social life -- are those two horribly cliché traits the best they could come up with? And dear God, why did anyone think that Zimos' autotuned voice would stay funny?

Not only do all the characters suck now, the interaction between them is astonishingly bland, failing to come within a mile of the funny dynamic of the previous game. They go for the obvious almost every time, and the effort to be funny actually comes off as a struggle. At one point, while you're running away with your enemies' cargo and being pursued by its owners, Pierce actually asks "Why are they aiming at us?!". They being the people whose cargo you're stealing. And instead of being baffled by the sheer stupidity of the question, my character responded, "Because we're not dead yet!". I honestly do not know which is worse, the set-up or the punchline. I actually want to go back to that mission and hear it again to make sure I'm not paraphrasing, but the game doesn't have a mission replay option. SAINTS ROW 2, of course, did.

And mind you, the cargo was a group of barely-dressed whores being sold as part of a sex trafficking operation. At the end of the mission, you can decide whether to sell them or keep them. At another point in the story, the whores at your party turn out to be assassins, and the mission requires you to kill them all. In your crib, whores can constantly be seen giving people lap dances. When Burt Reynolds shows up, he has a whore in his lap. There's a game mode called "Whored Mode". THE THIRD seems to be very proud of its whores, and its approach to ramping up the absurdity of a situation is often to add whores to it. "Look, you're shooting people and there's all these WHORES around!" I'm surprised they didn't include a cameo by Frank Miller.

But that's not all: the female members of pretty much any gang in SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD show up semi-nude. For example, while the male members of the Morning Star gang dress in suits, the women wear trenchcoats over a corset and panties. Shaundi -- despite no longer acting like the sexually promiscuous stoner from the previous game -- walks around with her abs always bare. The game makes a point of having a sexualized woman whenever possible, which quickly gets tiring and gratuitous. There never seems to be any irony about it, what with so many of the game's attempts at humor failing disastrously. Only the mission in which Viola dresses in a superhero costume with a gigantic cleavage, while the other characters constantly tease her about it, comes close to being a spoof of the comic book industry, but never actually comes off as such.

The story does start to get crazier (and occasionally funny) in the third act -- although to say the game's story has acts is to attribute more structure to it than it has. Characters come and go without ceremony, and frustratingly the game does away with its most promising characters. The proud Belgian Phillipe Loren is soon replaced by the unspeakably dull Killbane, and Decker leader Matt Miller shows up only to fill out a couple of missions. STAG commander Cyrus Temple is a monotonous cliché -- big, pragmatic and a fan of Shock and Awe. Apparently that wasn't deemed obvious enough for a military leader, so they give him a sidekick who's pretty much a female version of him. At least the game doesn't dress her minimally, although perhaps if it did -- and other characters remarked upon it with surprise -- the sexism would really start coming off as tongue-in-cheek.

Chances to subvert or ridicularize stereotypes are, therefore, constantly missed. Obvious routes are taken throughout the entire narrative, and new ideas are introduced without foreshadowing as if they're being scratched off a checklist (the zombies come to mind). Nothing about this game comes even close to the aspects of SAINTS ROW 2 that kept it interesting and funny, such as the pathetic leader of the Ronin who is a disappointment to his father, or the deadpan couple that commanded the Sons of Samedi, or the disastrous tattooing of the Brotherhood's boss. And what's worse, THE THIRD presents its watered-down, cliched ideas with an overconfidence that makes them all worse.

Gameplay-wise, there's ups-and-downs. The visual presentation is much improved, with vivid colors, slick graphics and excellent animations, but the implementation of the latter leaves a lot to be desired. For a start, grabbing people and throwing them is no longer fun, because you can't aim them anymore. In SAINTS ROW 2, you could throw them against a bunch of trash bins, or against a car, or against a breakable fence, with surprising (and immensely entertaining) accuracy. In THE THIRD, your character will throw them in the direction you're facing, but always upwards, so if you do it indoors, they'll always hit the ceiling. I made the mistake of upgrading my throw power to the max, and whenever I tried to make a target hit a fence, they'd fly over the fence, and when they did hit the fucking fence, it wouldn't break. What's worse, even after flying forty feet, bouncing off a wall and landing on concrete -- leaving blood splatters everywhere they touched -- they'd get up. On several occasions I threw enemies off dangerous heights only for them to get up again and shoot at me from below. So the throw feature was only useful when you're fighting on top of a skyscraper -- and I wouldn't be surprised if they survived that, too, but at least it'll take a while for them to get the elevator back up.

The nut punch feature -- which allows you to liquefy anyone's testicles with the press of a button -- gets old fast, and much more appreciated would have been the addition of varied kill animations such as the ones that made THE PUNISHER (also developed by Volition) such a joy to play. The wrestling moves you can perform while sprinting also lose their charm, and are an uncertain tactic in combat, since enemies often survive them and keep shooting at you. Enemies are way too relisient, in fact, and to waste two thirds of an SMG's clip on a single one of them breaks the pace of the combat. When they die, they have varied death animations that transition into ragdoll -- but the transition is not seamless. It would have been much better if the game used an Euphoria-like system instead of rigid death animations instantly going full ragdoll.

The "brute" characters, muscular giants that ram you -- yes, SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD has those. SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD has one the most cliched type of enemy in videogames, and they're just as annoying as you wouldn't expect in a SAINTS ROW game. Instead of poking fun at this tired cliché, the game makes them even more infuriating by giving some of the brutes flamethrowers and miniguns, and as they set you on fire/tear you to shreds, they can still ram you.

"But what about the insanity?!" I imagine a straw man asking, as strawy tears slide down its strawy face. "What about the dildo baseball bats, and the fart bombs, and the --" Yeah, they're all there, but like the rest of the game, they get old fast. Volition had a lot of ideas but didn't think the execution through. Hitting people with a giant dildo is pretty much the same as hitting them with a baseball bat, or any other melee weapon -- it sends them flying backwards in floppy ragdoll. The sword, despite being huge and sharp, does the same thing. The amusing quick kill animations that every melee weapon had in the previous game -- guess what -- aren't in THE THIRD. To be honest, I didn't even see any fart bombs in my full playthrough -- well, "full" except for the horrible final mission, which offers two endings, and the one I picked was so pathetic I didn't have the stomach to check the other one.

We do get quick-time events. SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD has quick-time events. Yeah.

Furthermore, the experience system makes the activities pretty much useless, since they don't earn you enough money or respect to be worth playing. In the previous game, completing an activity would give you some kind of perk, and you wouldn't know which until you completed it. Could be really useful, or just barely useful. In THE THIRD, you buy whatever upgrades you want after you've unlocked them, which you do by earning respect, which you get from doing stuff. Missions award you a lot of money and respect -- activities usually don't, which reduces them to pointless diversions. And guess what happened to the best and funniest activities from the previous game, such as FUZZ and CROWD CONTROL? That's right.

Mind you: I had fun playing through the campaign. I had little interest in the activities, and the main story sucks most of the time, but the game was solidly-designed and entertaining enough to keep me playing until the ending. It is a good game. But that's it. The pure sandbox full of toys THE THIRD marketed itself as, and is so proud of being, it is not. If there are things I missed, I'm not compelled to find them, because they'll likely not be funny enough to be worth it or because they'll just ragdollize people in a slightly different way.

* AUGUST 24TH 2012 UPDATE: No it really bloody isn't the best installment in the MODERN WARFARE series. I must have been temporarily insane when I wrote that. Or probably just impressed that the game turned out good after so many problems within Infinity Ward. Still, it's not as good as the previous two, the first of which is more brutal in its portrayal of war and the second being less grounded but more subversive.

read + comment


1:28 PM on 11.06.2011  

Why the MODERN WARFARE series ISN'T patriotic gunwank

(Warning: this article contains spoilers of MODERN WARFARE 1 and 2)



Sure, it might become patriotic gunwank in a few days, when the third installment -- written and developed by a different team -- will be released. Writer Jesse Stern is no longer attached, and I'm under the impression he deserves most of the credit for avoiding the label that... ended up being used to describe the MODERN WARFARE series anyway, possibly by association with Treyarch's pathetic half of the CALL OF DUTY franchise, but still, Stern tried. And in my case, he and what used to be Infinity Ward succeeded.

I've hinted at this point before, but it wasn't until watching this that I felt an overwhelming necessity to expand upon it. As a fan of Bob Chipman's insightful work, I was a bit disappointed that he illustrated his otherwise pertinent argument* about videogames not growing up as a medium by using images from the MODERN WARFARE series -- which is, to my knowledge, the most subversive war series in videogames.

If the words "patriotism" and "Call of Duty" are so connected in your mind that this statement causes an exasperated "whuh?!" to shoot out of your mouth, you can probably blame Treyarch for that. While they did get something right by highlighting the role of the Soviets in World War II, they did pretty much everything wrong in BLACK OPS, which constantly plays like Patriotic Gunwank 101.

The MODERN WARFARE series, on the other hand, already starts unusually. The very first mission of the first game -- not counting the tutorial level -- has you playing as a British SAS operative murdering people in their sleep. The American forces are portrayed in a light that is nearly as ambiguous: at one point, you're going back into a dangerous landing zone to save a downed pilot. In the other, you're playing as an operator in an AC-130 plane, bombing enemies from above the clouds while your colleagues have fun and make detached commentary as if they're playing a videogame (which is uncomfortably reminiscent of real footage of operators in bombers actually behaving like this).



But even though the portrayal of American/British forces is more complex than usual, the game's plot is still fairly straightforward until its end. Surprisingly, it's the coked-up sequel MODERN WARFARE 2 that is the most subversive. In one mission, you play as an American undercover agent helping terrorists kill civilians in an airport. And how is it that no-one seemed to notice the satiric tone of the mission in which American forces protect fast-food restaurants? And for fuck's sake, why does everyone seem to ignore that the villain of the game is an American general?

Perhaps the message was lost somewhat in the midst of all the explosions. MODERN WARFARE 2 is twice as intense as its predecessor, sometimes thrice, and it can be hard to believe a game so insane can also be subtle in its commentary. Every plot development happens on an epic scale, particularly Captain Price changing the course of the war in American soil by detonating a nuclear warhead in low-earth orbit and, just to add to the craziness, accidentally destroying the International Space Station in the process.

Also, maybe you think "the villain is an American" does not constitute enough for biting commentary. And you're right, it doesn't. But the game goes farther than that. General Shepherd's plan is motivated by his outrage at the death of 30.000 American soldiers being received by the world with indifference. So he orchestrates a tragedy to happen in American soil, forcing the country to fight back and win.

The reason he is the villain of a game accused of patriotism is that he is a blind patriot.



And another point, and this might be me reading too much into it, but it's worth mentioning: Shepherd creates a war, using recent events as carte blanche to fight it in any way he sees fit.

Now replace "Shepherd" with "the Bush administration".

Obviously they don't match up with perfection. If you take it literally, you could interpret it as the Bush administration having planned 9-11. But the overarching point is there, exposing the futility and moral relativism of war. How thousands of people can be sent to fight over a lie.

And this is even more important to highlight since Chipman's aforelinked video was juxtaposing Cinema's reaction to 9-11 and videogames' reaction to 9-11. And while I agree that videogames have been far less thoughful in their approach, I strongly disagree that the MODERN WARFARE series is an example of this problem. The CALL OF DUTY games made by Treyarch, and EA's pathetic MEDAL OF HONOR, are examples of the problem, but MODERN WARFARE deserves credit for its thematic ambition, whatever you think of its execution.

Of course, one could argue that the high-octane style of MODERN WARFARE 2 is not the most appropriate to explore serious, topical messages. That a message like this should be more proeminent, not barely glimpsed amidst the action.

Well, they tried making a serious, grounded game about war based on real-life stories. SIX DAYS IN FALLUJAH. And everyone threw a shit-fit, leading Konami to stop backing the project, which is still unreleased.

So. Yeah.

*What do I think of ARKHAM CITY's sexism controversy? I'm going to play it soon and decide, but I'm leaning toward FilmCritHulk's article. Particularly the second part, in which he demolishes most of the counter-arguments directed at the first part.

read + comment


4:33 PM on 05.27.2011  

Great Videogame Music - Heavenly Sword

Originally this was meant to be a list of great videogame scores, but when I realized I had gone well over two thousand words with it, I decided to do this in shorter segments.

HEAVENLY SWORD was criticized for its short length and the combat system divided opinions. I thought it was a beautiful game and as long as it needed to be, but what truly hooked me was the touching story about sacrifice protagonized by Nariko, a daughter blamed by her father and her clan for not being the chosen one they expected, cursed by her decision to wield the Heavenly Sword and fulfill the prophecy that condemned her to lifelong rejection.

This is evoked magnificently by the slow percussion, the plucked strings, the beautiful wind instruments and the constant, soft chiming of Nitin Sawhney's wonderful main theme:



But the example that summarizes the genius of Sawhney's work is SHEN'S ESCAPE:



The track is gorgeous in its own right, but the brilliance of it is where in the game it appears. The following is a mild spoiler, so jump right to the next paragraph if you want to miss it: this music plays when a character named Shen, wounded, is very slowly trying to escape from armed soldiers being barely held back by the arrows of the character you play as. Due to the gameplay mechanics, most of the section plays in slow-motion, perfectly fitting the pacing of the music -- but its brilliance is in its melancholy, and in how it evokes tension by portraying Shen's efforts to pick up the pace and not pass out.

The score as a whole is tinged with melancholy, but in BEWARE OF FLYING FOX, Sawhney proves himself capable of keeping that up while delivering the fast-paced epicness required by some of the game's combat sections. Due to the dynamic nature of gameplay, the following track has noticeable audio cuts as it switches melodies, but it is nevertheless beautifully engaging:



Sawhney's score is worth experiencing the entirety of HEAVENLY SWORD. Fortunately, there's many more reasons to do so. Again if you don't mind mild spoilers, this is how the previous music plays in-game:



"That's what I said: BOOOOOOORIIIIIIIING."

Play this.

read + comment


4:57 PM on 05.24.2011  

My Unexpectedly Negative Opinion of L.A. NOIRE

L.A. NOIRE has done something I thought impossible: it has made me look back at the time I've spent with HEAVY RAIN and miss it.

Because regardless of David Cage's pretensions of being a filmmaker and his hard-on for himself, HEAVY RAIN was a game. You could make choices that deeply affected the storyline. Sure, the storyline was a piece of shit floating in an ocean of piss squirted from Hitler's dick, but there was still a degree of control over where in the ocean of piss the piece of shit would float. You could get any of the four playable characters killed at various points during the narrative -- and I think the only reason I didn't was in the hope that there would be another scenario later on in which I could kill them in a more painful way.

When it comes to narrative, L.A. NOIRE kicks HEAVY RAIN's ass until incandescent meat is dripping from its buttocks, but at the end of the day I finished HEAVY RAIN and I find myself currently unable to muster the patience to finish L.A. NOIRE.

First of all: having a much better narrative than HEAVY RAIN does not mean you have a good narrative. It does not even mean you have a bad narrative. It simply means your narrative is somewhere above brain-killingly fucking awful.

L.A. NOIRE has a disjointed narrative. It starts with a narrator, who soon disappears completely. Then we start getting flashbacks of protagonist Cole Phelps in the Second World War, which happened underwater in a sewage pond judging by the video filter they use to indicate to us dipshits that it's a flashback. Without it I guess we'd just all ask ourselves why Cole suddenly put on a soldier's uniform to solve his next case, and why he needs so many similarly uniformed partners to help him figure out who's dropping mortars on them.

Then there's the morphine subplot. Every time Cole picks up a newspaper, the player gets access to a scene involving a plot Cole has no knowledge of, but now we do. In a detective game, it's kind of not a good idea to let us know more than the detective we're playing. This is completely lost on the developers: in the prologue to every case, we see the felony we're about to investigate being carried out. Obscure camera angles or not, I could still see the suspect's general appearance and the weapon he used, which helped me figure out an important plot twist about two cases before Cole did.

And are any of these disjointed plots well-written? The dialogue certainly is, but writer/director Brendan McNamara goes out of his way to try and mislead the player. At one point, the game asks us to convict one of two suspects -- both of which have a knowledge of how to use ropes, wear size eight shoes and own green coveralls with the letters HM stencilled on them. By coincidence.

Here's the gameplay in L.A. NOIRE: get assigned a case - drive to location - hit about ten cars and nearly run over a dozen pedestrians because the controls are shit - cutscene - pick up every object until music stops playing - cutscene - interrogate whoever's on the scene - cutscene - walk ten steps - cutscene - let your partner drive you to new location - cutscene - shoot/pursue someone - cutscene - let partner drive you to new location - fall asleep - wake up with sound of controller sliding from your lap and hitting the floor - interrogate whoever's on the scene - cutscene - repeat - repeat - repeat - case solved.

And not even the parts that aren't cutscenes feel like gameplay. I don't think my abilities are being particularly challenged by walking around a crime scene picking up everything I see and turning it around in Cole's hand until he figures out what's special about it. I don't think I'm having much fun with it, either. And when pursuing a suspect on foot, all you have to do is press down the sprint button and steer Cole around -- he'll jump over all the obstacles for you.

Pursuits by car and gunfights are two aspects of the gameplay that actually feel like you're playing them. While the car controls are shit for normal driving, they work somewhat decently for high-speed chases, and the shooting mechanics are competent, but only that. You go into cover and shoot everyone dead. No way to just wound or use some other strategy that could reward you with more points or something.

As for the famed interrogation scenes, they're easily the game's most frustrating aspect.

First of all, the amazing facial animation technology is thrown in the bin by an approach that not only lacks subtlety but never heard of it: when someone is telling you the truth, they'll look you in the eye and appear relatively calm. When someone is telling you a lie, they'll shift nervously, flick their gaze everywhere, tighten their lips and write I AM A LYING SACK OF SHIT on their forehead. Everyone in this game is a phenomenally bad liar, and therefore this huge disparity between their appearances when they're being truthful or deceitful could easily be represented by typical facial animation, which demotes the technology used in this game to little but eye candy. Why not teach the player to recognize microexpressions and train us to spot them as people speak, instead of having them reply to your question and then fall into a long silence that is either calm or nervous? It gives you the impression all the characters are Jim Carrey in LIAR LIAR.

Second of all, what the fuck is wrong with Cole? If he approaches a line of questioning incorrectly, he'll give up on it. You can only ask a single question on any given topic. Fuck it up and there's no going back unless you quit to the main menu and reload the last save, which is far less preferable to, say, Cole rephrasing the fucking question like the goddamn detective he's supposed to be.

"But how does one fuck up the questioning if the suspects are such terrible liars?" you ask, in my diseased imagination. Because there's three options to every question: truth, doubt or lie. The difference between the latter two is evidence, which when lacking requires you to use doubt, and when present requires you to choose lie and pick the particular piece of evidence that corroborates your claims. Problem is, what the game may or may not consider evidence is often strange, so choosing the wrong option can actually happen a lot -- and the annoying thing about it is that there's no middle term. There is only One Right Way for every question, and figuring it out doesn't require wits from the player, only from Cole. All you do is see whether the suspect is obviously lying, then checking your notebook to see if there's any usable evidence against him and choosing either doubt or lie.

It's a system so detached that at one point I realized I didn't know the details of the case I was working on. The game told me to go somewhere, I did, investigate this, I did, investigate that, I did, interrogate him, I did, and so on. Actual thought is rarely required, and when it is, it's almost insulting. On two separate occasions I was asked to put pipes in the correct sequence, and in one of those occasions, I was asked to do that by a guy who could have assembled them in half a second but didn't for no reason.

And finally, what is the frigging goddamn fucking bastard point of having a huge city with nothing to do in it? And I mean nothing. NOTHING. Even MAFIA II -- the game that previously held the title for Most Useless City -- let you rob a store or two and get chased by the police. In L.A. NOIRE, you sometimes get a call from dispatch offering a mini-mission that is often in the other side of the city, instead of using the brilliant RED DEAD REDEMPTION system of having you happen upon nearby events during your journeys -- a system that made the game world feel alive, whereas in NOIRE these mini-missions have their own cutscenes and even their own title cards, so they feel as separate as possible from the game.

L.A. NOIRE should be praised for its approach to maturity, though: it's unafraid to show corpses, either naked or wounded or both. They go so far as to show the charred body of a child. This commitment to reality also shows in the game's amazingly well-done setting, from the way characters talk to how they dress and how they look and what their prejudices are.

But that is one of the few things the game gets right, along with some of its action sequences and a few good scenes. Most of the time, it feels like a movie you have to continuously turn a rusty crank to watch. A repetitive experience -- especially during the Homicide desk -- that never really puts its already flawed mechanics in situations that explore them differently. Cole has a wife and children -- a fact that you only learn well into the game because a character casually mentions it -- yet we never see Cole using his detective skills on his family, which could render interesting dramatic moments. We never see any of Cole's relationships in detail, either, and we rarely see Cole himself when he isn't working.

There's only cases, cases and cases, and as much as the game tries to have an overarching story, ultimately it feels unconnected, arbitrary and, worst of all, tedious. I stopped playing at the first arson case when I found out there would be four other arson cases which would probably require me to do the same thing over and over and I just don't have the patience for now.

Say what you like about HEAVY RAIN -- fuck knows I most certainly never miss an opportunity -- at least it wasn't tedious. It remains an example of what not to do with storytelling in gaming. But L.A. NOIRE is, to me, an example of what not to do with gameplay in gaming.

read + comment


8:23 PM on 04.29.2011  

Aaamaazing: F*cking Up In MASS EFFECT 2

(This article discusses aspects of MASS EFFECT 2's plot in the vaguest way possible to avoid spoilers, but it inevitably reveals details you might prefer not to know before playing it. It's recommended you've played MASS EFFECT 2 before you read. Actually, it's recommended you play MASS EFFECT 2, period. But I digress.)



It's my assessment that the concept of storytelling in games is now widely accepted as vital, but still stained by general incompetence. KILLZONE 3 seemed eager to craft a compelling narrative but tripped and fell on a ditch full of poo miles short of its goal, as did PROTOTYPE, CRYSIS 2, CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS, PRINCE OF PERSIA and many others. Even MAFIA 2, the sequel to a game that was narratively years ahead of its time, failed to fulfill its potential due to a rushed ending and poor blending between story and gameplay, which mostly consisted of driving around to do mundane things and occasionally, if the game was feeling generous, you'd get to shoot someone.

Few companies in the medium reliably deliver narratives that don't suffer from the "good for games" curse, being good in their own right. In fact, off the top of my head, I can only think of two companies: Rockstar and Bioware. In 2010, both did memorable things with their games RED DEAD REDEMPTION and MASS EFFECT 2, but it was the latter that made the most of the medium's interactivity to instill in the player a genuine fear of fucking everything up.

The characters are brilliantly developed through well-written conversations and, most importantly, the situations you go through with them. They ask you for favours which, if indulged, will increase their loyalty to you. Helping Jacob deal with his father, convincing Tali's people not to ban her, finding a purpose for Grunt's existence, all of these missions are vital in making your mind see your AI partners as people whose fate is worth fighting for.

The game spends its entire duration making you care about all of them until you're about to write down the dates of their birthdays and wonder what gifts to buy them.

And then it puts their lives in your hands.



This is the genius of MASS EFFECT 2: its ending. The perfect blend of story and gameplay. As you and your team are faced with a mission so risky it's considered suicidal, the player is required to decide what role each character will play in that mission, and whoever you choose might die (horribly) or get others killed (also horribly).

The game offers you no help in choosing: all it does is describe each character' specialty, but there's no percentage of success, no recommendations. Even though the upgrades you bought for the characters throughout the campaign and their loyalty to you are important in determining whether they live through the final mission or not, they are still in constant danger and their survival remains subject to your decisions. And to make them, all you have is your instinct.

I found myself torn between picking the characters more suited to the task at hand and preserving the lives of the ones I liked best. I kept Garrus and Tali with me at all times so I could personally guarantee their safety, even though they could have been more useful to the mission that would save the entire galaxy if separated from me. I picked Thane for an escort task not only because I considered him competent enough to protect the people he'd be with, but also because it would lead him back to a safer area where he'd remain until the end of the hugely important mission that could have used the most skilled assassin in the universe.

Which decisions worked and which didn't, I'm not going to reveal. But the feeling of playing that final mission is simply unforgettable.

Blasting through waves of enemies while trying to get to a certain place before your teammates die, expecting to hear someone's demise over the comm chatter at any moment, catching a break and being asked whose life to risk next for the safety of the entire fucking galaxy which is in your hands and oh God I'm going to fuck this up

All of that is relentlessly dumped on your shoulders in a way no other medium is capable of doing, and even within the medium I think MASS EFFECT 2 is unique. And it shouldn't be. Games like the utterly brilliant PORTAL 2 show the many merits of tightly linear gameplay design, but I want to see more games that boast a non-linear story where the decisions you make deeply affect everything you hold dear in that universe to the point of making you feel your stomach go cold with the fear of failure, for it makes the victory all the more satisfying, and the defeat all the more dramatic.

read + comment


6:21 PM on 08.01.2010  

Teh Bias: A Black And White World Of Wonders



"Bias", most popular word in the Idiot Fanboy Dictionary (wherein they define it as "Jim Sterling"), is an inherently bad thing deeply-rooted in human nature: defined by thefreedictionary.com as "mental tendency or inclination, esp an irrational preference or prejudice", which I personally define as "turning yourself blind to reality and distorting facts to suit your happy little fantasy world."

If it'll help us mantain a sense of happiness, it's much easier and attractive to believe it. Wouldn't it be great to believe that Sony is staffed solely by intelligent human beings? Therefore, having purchased a PS3, like I did, is a decision with no cons to it whatsoever. And therefore, every game released by the Sony Einsteins and their associates will be carefully written and developed to please you orgasmically. And therefore, when the actual game isn't up to what you hoped it would be (i.e. the second coming of Christ), it actually IS as great as you hoped! You're just feeling depressed, but you'll be okay in a second. That's why the player character is so difficult to control, and the aim mechanics so imprecise, and why you think you're seeing an enemy NPC running repeatedly into a wall. This is a game made by the professionals that made the gaming console you put irretrievable money on. It is therefore wonderful and you're just not feeling wonderful enough to play it. But you will soon, so don't feel sad. And while you wait, go on the Internet and insult people who disagree with you.

It won't make you happy to realize the PS3 has its problems along with its qualities; that it's quite possible Sony staffed their marketing department with drugged chimps; that their games are made by human beings capable of mistakes (and sometimes chimps); that a game you're eagerly expecting might suck; that not all aspects of the game you love are perfect; that the world isn't defined by a simple and comfortable black-and-white.

Yeah, let's not go with that! The reviewer giving it incredibly low scores such as 8.5 and 9.0 is just biased and corrupt (everyone on Metacritic gave it a 9.00001!). There are a number of reasons for him to hate this game enough to score it so badly, other than him sincerely thinking the game deserves it: he obviously wants to be a contrarian to convince people he's more intelligent than everyone; he gave a low score to another game from the same developer before, so obviously he has an axe to grind with them; he gave a high score to another game from the same developer before, so he obviously doesn't feel like repeating himself; he's a reviewer, so he obviously doesn't have a life or social skills and this is how he gets off; and he's obviously Jim Sterling.

Bias is a word often used against reviewers such as Sterling because they gave the game you consider perfect (or hope will be perfect, since you already pre-ordered it) the abysmal score of anything below 10, or gave the game you consider putrid (because it's the flagship game of the console you don't own) the huge score of anything above 0. And since the game is so clearly what you consider it to be -- I mean, it's clear to you, so it must be to everyone else, look at the Metacritic score! Wait, Metacritic disagrees with me well Metacritic sucks anyway! -- the point is logic dictates the reviewer is wrong. I mean, they used words such as "good" and "bad" in the review, and such words mean opinion, and opinion means subjectivity, and subjectivity means bias, and bias means the reviewer is Jim Sterling, and Jim Sterling means you must forget the proper use of grammar (assuming you ever learned), hit the caps lock key and personally insult him like the imbecile you are.



A subjective review is not a biased review. A subjective review is a review. There is no such thing as objectivity in reviewing because a review is the opinion of the writer. There is, of course, such a thing as a stupid opinion (ironically, most often used by biased fanboys): not properly arguing your points, failing to provide examples, writing "your" rather than "you're" because apostrophes hurt your head. You're still expressing an opinion that is not right or wrong -- it's just moronic. Someone else, someone with the advantage of having a brain, might be able to express the exact same opinion, along with arguments and examples to support it, making it interesting, at least.

I still squint to make sure I'm actually seeing a 4.5 on Jim Sterling's review of Assassin's Creed 2. It's a game I thoroughly enjoyed, but as much as I disagree with Sterling, I can understand why he didn't like it and I did -- the arguments and examples he used helped me determine our different tastes, and in some things I agreed on. This is the magic of reviewing: dissecting a work of art and helping the artform evolve. Reading other people's points to see flaws or qualities you missed or didn't think about, knowing in detail why you like or dislike something.

Take Heavy Rain. Many might consider it a masterpiece because the game acts like one. It's ominous, it has nudity, it's violent, it's "mature". But careful examination of the plot -- well, actually, just glancing at the plot -- will reveal its many inconsistencies and plotholes. As much as you want to like it, doing so will only encourage other developers to put equally small effort in the plots for their games. However, some things in Heavy Rain hit the mark -- it's a fun game, and its mechanics could work brilliantly in a game that makes sense.



If you want an objective review, you have two options: go read the game's Wikipedia article, or if it's still not objective enough, kill yourself and hope there is an afterlife with such a thing as objective reviewing.

And now to my final point, as you must be asleep by now: I often try to imagine the person behind such enlightening comments as "WAT A STUPID REVIEW!!1!! 8.5 IS RIDICOLOUS! YOU WAS JUST TO STUPID TO LEARN HOW TOO USE THE COMBAT SYSTEM!!1!"

The first thing to come to my diseased mind is often a teenager living in a basement somewhere, masturbating over Halo screenshots.

But first things to come to mind are not usually reliable. What if it's a doctor? Or an architect? What if it's not a Cheetos-fueled waste of oxygen? After all, bias extends to much more than just gaming -- political bias and religious bias are two important examples of how disastrous the human tendency to believe whatever is personally more convenient can be, and how it can infect even that level-headed friend of yours who is balanced about everything except one particular subject that turns him into a drooling fanatic. It's hard to accept the political party you've supported for a long time now consists of corrupt bastards, so... it doesn't, and you're right, like always. Isn't it wonderful?

Now let's insult everyone who disagrees so they won't break the illusion.

read + comment


2:27 AM on 04.20.2010  

E for EFFORT: GOD OF Annoying Puzzles And Occasionally WAR

I know, I know: it was 2005. Gameplay trends change with vomit-inducing speed; having to find a key to open a door was actually acceptable level design not too long ago, and judging by DEVIL MAY CRY 4, Capcom still believes it is. Also, GOD OF WAR was the first of a franchise and therefore subject to its share of bad ideas and subpar implementation of good ones.

All of which should be dissected for all to see in microscopic detail, of course. It's a matter of learning, gaming industry, and in order to ensure the constant rip-offs of GOD OF WAR are eventually going to get better or preferably just fucking end, it's necessary to expose why this game, while worthy of respect for its many achievements, is so brain-killingly frustrating.

Me and this franchise have a history of hating one another. In my defense, the game started it. As a result of living in Brazil, a country where console games are ridiculously overpriced, forcing me to be economic with my purchases and to rely on whatever's available for rent, I played GOD OF WAR II for PS2 first, or more accurately, I persistently tried to. After having to move rocks around to solve incredibly boring puzzles to progress a story I had no emotional investment in, I had the feeling the game just didn't like me very much, and with time the feeling became reciprocal.

Then GOD OF WAR COLLECTION came along, re-dressing the whole thing in HD and giving me a chance to start properly this time: with the first game, which I recently finished.

The premise is, frankly, irresistible: you play as a large monosyllabic bastard with serious anger issues who wields chained twin blades and is on a quest to murder the God of War, Ares, and everyone in Greek mythology and, in fact, any sentient lifeform that happens to stand between him and whatever he's walking towards.

Logically this is a hard character to relate to, which is why the developers don't even bother; they just give him the typical angry male background of having lost his family and wanting revenge. They do add some flair to it, such as the reason for Kratos' pale skin and the impressive CGI cutscenes that appear regularly during gameplay, but in the end of the day, the one thing I gave a shit about is what part of Greek mythology I'd be able to sodomize next.

Considering the protagonist wields chained twin blades, and considering the huge praise this aspect of the game received, I expected amazing combat. However, when I think of the combat in GOD OF WAR, the image that comes to mind is a hurricane spurting blood and severed limbs everywhere. Which sounds awesome, and partially is, but it's mostly very obnoxious. Kratos cannot perform a single move directed at one target; he fights like there's a swarm of bees over him.

Remember the combat in PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME? Oh, sorry, you were trying to forget it so you can go back to labeling that game as flawless. But see, I have a soft spot for the combat in SANDS OF TIME because it has two things that combat systems seem often disinterested in: strategy and rhythm. Strategy is an adaptable combat system to deal with varied enemies, forcing you to plan a few moves ahead so you can elegantly dispatch all your foes and feel proud of yourself thanks to the efficient illusion of having any fighting skills whatsoever. Rhythm is defined by being as different as possible from the combat in NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA, which can be best described as trying to guess what kind of enemy the sword-wielding blurs are, having half your health bar reduced to a third of its previous state in the five milliseconds you wasted trying to think of an appropriate combo, and finally settling for button-mashing while jumping around like a frog on ecstasy to avoid the fifteen exploding shurikens being thrown at your ass.

To use a positive and more recent example, rhythm is what the combat in BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM utterly nails.

SANDS OF TIME had a simple combat system, which is maybe why so many people hated it; hit and counter-attack your enemy until they fall over, then stick a dagger in their chests. But the charm was in adapting this simple combat system to deal with a variety of enemies. Not only that, but seeing the combat up-close made it much more intense, with the Prince clearly focused and struggling to block every incoming attack, vulnerable and having to settle on dispatching one enemy at a time while minding all the others surrounding him. And I find that much more fun than having a huge number of combos which are all effective in dealing death and destruction to just about anything killable. GOD OF WAR makes most of its combat save for the great setpieces into a casual, detached affair.

Be it minotaurs, medusas, screeching things with big tits or whatever the hell else the game threw at me, most of them were vulnerable to the same kind of combos. Sure, some could parry better than others, and some had extremely strong attacks, but in the end the combat just felt kind of samey and most importantly, it rarely happened on a personal level (something not helped by the far distance the fixed camera mostly settled on). On SANDS OF TIME, you had to focus on an enemy while paying attention to the others, which added a layer of tension and forced you to concentrate. In GOD OF WAR, you can simply wait until all the minions are in close range, then activate the CHAINY HURRICANE OF SWORDY DEATH, a combo directed at everything in a twenty-feet radius of you.

Which isn't true for the boss encounters, when the combat noticeably improves due to the clear and personal focus on one big and intimidating motherfucking target, but it's still problematic. Practically all boss encounters required me to jump as close as I could to the boss' face and deliver as many combos as possible while in the air, until the boss stomped me back into the ground, when I would get up and repeat like the world's most persistent mosquito. I did try using the roll move to evade the attacks, but this clearly proved fruitless, since the sheer shock caused by a huge boss punching the ground was enough to cause an earthquake in Olympus. Staying in the air as much as possible turned out to be the most self-preservational option, as the block move was also kind of useless against fists that were twice as big as Kratos.

The real variety in the combat is sadly in quick-time events, when you keep an inventive and gory animation going by pressing random buttons when prompted. And while the animation itself is entertaining, if you feel pleased with yourself after finishing it, you're probably the kind of person who pats yourself on the back for successfully brushing your teeth every day.

But what I see as the greatest flaw in the combat is the complete absence of an aftermath; after you finish a battle against a dozen scythe-wielding bloodbags, the room looks exactly the same. Enemies disappear in a cloud of black smoke as soon as they die and sometimes before they even hit the ground, and all the liters of blood they spurt just fade out shortly after splattering all over the soon-to-be-clean-again floor and walls. So not only the combat itself is relatively confusing and obnoxious, but the only indication you have of having just fought is the shiny new number of red orbs you have to spend on new moves and magic. Which turns most of the combat into minor, forgettable nuisances instead of memorable encounters. If the problem is processing power, I would gladly have accepted less enemies if I could properly see the horrible things I was doing to them (which only happened when finishing them with a gory move by pressing circle).

(You could argue that SANDS OF TIME has no battle aftermath either, but at least it had a reason for it, neatly summed up by "monsters made out of sand")

It's no wonder the combat that happened anywhere but on ground level turned out to be much more fun; to climb a wall, find an enemy and repeatedly hit him against said wall is immensely satisfying. Sure, it was simpler and much easier, but it was clear, seen fairly up-close and, if you share my sense of humor, really fucking funny.

Which doesn't mean the combat isn't entertaining; it is, otherwise I wouldn't have managed to go past the first two hours of the game. It was just lacking and not worthy of the immense praise it received. Having a billion different moves does not equal a good combat system; a neat control scheme that awards tactical thinking is far more satisfying, as BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM, with its economic and yet surprisingly varied and adaptable combat, would later prove. Try repeatedly pressing the punch button in that game and in a matter of seconds the bat-ballsack will be permanently pushed into the bat-intestines by a tire iron.

What definitely wasn't entertaining in GOD OF WAR were the fucking omnipresent puzzles. I'm not sure who thought requiring Kratos to think of anything more complex than gutting was a good idea. I'm a fan of thinking, but whoever developed the puzzles in GOD OF WAR apparently isn't, considering they're the most retarded scenarios you can imagine, added just to lenghten the gameplay time and pretend Kratos ever uses his brain for anything that doesn't involve a bodycount.

Let me bring up SANDS OF TIME again, for a reason that is far less debatable than its combat: SANDS OF TIME had the best kind of puzzles; the ones that are fun to do. They were an integral part of the platforming; finding out how to get across a chamber was the thinking process, and the fun part was in actually doing it, swinging around in beautifully acrobatic moves, trying your best to perform an unstoppable string of them, going from a hundred feet high to ground level in an amazing display of parkour.

The puzzles in GOD OF WAR are about turning a lever until a rock appears, and then moving the rock to a pressure plate, which will open a door to a room full of enemies for you to kill and have some fun for about thirty seconds until they're all dead and it's back to moving rocks around until the next path presents itself. Another puzzle that is a favorite of the development team is figuring out when the game requires you to backtrack to a location you barely remembered. My favorite way of solving that one was a walkthrough, because fuck that level design.

"Hey, sounds like every adventure game I ever played! Having to figure out a puzzle to progress, and lots of backtracking!" Yes, you might also remember that in good adventure games, this was fun to do because there was a good story that you wished to see to the end, whereas I couldn't give two shits about Chainswords Miseryguts and his family, and the villain Ares wasn't well-developed enough for me to actually be interested in seeing him skullfucked by the man whose life he'd ruined. Well, whose life he'd saved first, then ruined, plus Kratos is a bit of a dick regardless of -- anyway.

The platforming in GOD OF WAR is about grabbing ledges or jumping on various ascending surfaces while fighting demonic bats. This game has one of the worst examples of platforming ever devised by human beings with (presumably) functional brains: rotating cylinders with spikes, which you have to climb while avoiding the spikes. If you're hit by a single spike, or even if you're not, thanks to the awful collision detection, you'll fall and hit many other spikes on the way down, having to climb the whole fifty-feet long bastard again, only to find an even longer one that requires you to do the exact same thing. This happens near the end of the game, by which time the only thought in my mind was "Goddamn it I've come this far, haven't I?", so I bravely kept going. You could say it was a brief flash of common sense from the developers to include this sequence near the end, but no, because any common sense at all would have resulted in this sequence being cut and the amoeba responsible for coming up with it being bukkaked by the entire development team.

The thing about GOD OF WAR is that it has character and uniqueness -- well, it had, before all the rip-offs came along. Regardless of all its flaws, they were flaws because they tried something new or that hasn't been tried very hard before. It was heavily based on Greek mythology, it had very gory combat and wasn't afraid to experiment. Sure, the story was forgettable, the combat is mostly lacking and the experimentation resulted in most of the gameplay time being spent inside a temple that is essentially an endless sequence of find-the-missing-crank/key/artifact puzzles to get to the fucking Pandora's Box --

-- but STILL. It attempted something new in many regards, and while new doesn't stay new forever, it will temporarily forgive a lot of flaws a game has simply due to its freshness.

read + comment







Back to Top