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Melz's blog

11:05 AM on 07.18.2011

Am I Playing It Wrong?

Since as far back into my gaming life as I’d care to remember I have always been the type who would push the instruction manual to one side, favouring instead to learn by playing the actual game. The one exception to this that springs to mind is Secret of Mana, the manual being a handy reference point since it contained pages of stats for each weapon and armour. Since then, the good old instruction booklet packaged with games seems to have become increasingly redundant. Thanks to in-game tutorials and the ability to download electronic versions and walkthroughs, there seems very little point in including a weighty tome inside each new game box.

Despite that, I do feel a tinge of sadness that some of my recent purchases have included only the bare minimum of instruction inside of the box. Duke Nukem Forever had a very short manual detailing the controls, HUD and very little else. However, FEAR 3 takes minimalism to a whole new level as the instruction manual contains only two pages. Two pages, like an A4 sheet of paper folded in half. And inside? Nothing at all about the game content. Just the usual legal bobbins and some small-print about Xbox Live. Even though these games are straightforward first-person shooters and really require no more detail than “Shoot this guy. Then shoot that guy. This is a boss: he requires shooting. JUST FUDGING SHOOOOOT!!!” I always think back to Doom 64’s manual, which gave a great deal of back-story and had images of the weapons and enemies along with humorous descriptions of each. You just don’t get that any more, it seems, outside of the Grand Theft Auto series with their fancy travel-brochures.

Anyway, the point I was going to make here is that there have been times when a game has had me totally stumped and I’ve had to resort to reading the manual (only to discover that the jump I couldn’t make for over an hour was actually possible with the wall-jump I didn’t know I had. True story.) There have also been times when I’ve consulted the manual because the game has deliberately punished me and made me feel as though I’m playing it wrong. Marc Ecko’s Getting Up, for instance, begins with a simple tutorial stage. “Press the down arrow to go down”, it says. I dutifully press down, only for a random thug to beat my character around the face with a baseball bat and call me a “toy ass beeotch”. What? Did I do something wrong here? Sure, I don’t expect every tutorial to throw you compliments for every tiny accomplishment (Hitman: Codename 47, I’m looking at you. “Wow, you figured out how to open a door! You’re my finest student.”) but at the same time, surely games should indicate that you don’t suck at them before you go investing so much time into them.

My point? It’s come to my attention that I have a lot of trouble committing to actions when multiple choices arise. I remember the days of choose-your-own-adventure books and leaving my fingers in certain pages to act as checkpoints (or “quick-saves”, maybe). I’m the same in real life. Ask me if I want pizza or lasagne and I’ll probably go searching the internet for an FAQ detailing the benefits and drawbacks of each choice. Horrible habit, but I’m trying to sort myself out. Anyway, I’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Age 2 recently and have found myself referring constantly to the Dragon Age Wiki to ensure I’m not doing anything wrong or missing anything essential. This, I feel, is a little bit sad and I am sure that I am losing out on a lot of enjoyment here just by being a bloody perfectionist when it comes to RPGs.

I think the moment my outlook changed was during Vagrant Story on the PSone. I remember it as a very good game that I enjoyed very much until one fateful moment when I tried to fuse two weapons together. Big mistake. I basically took (for lack of memory when it comes to names) the Epic Broadsword Of Asskickery and fused it together with the Awesome Cutlass Of Destructiveness only to be presented with the Blunt Twig Of Suckitude as the result. What’s more, I couldn’t undo this process as the fusion had over-written my saved game. This is the moment I fell out of love with Vagrant Story and have found myself completely turned off from 99% of RPGs that even try to mention the words “fusion”, “customise” or “experiment”. Rogue Galaxy is a case-in-point. I loved the opening few chapters of that game - genuinely fell head-over-heels for them. Then sometime around either chapter 3 or 4, a frog appeared and chirpily told me he could customise my weapons for me. My response? I turned it off and I think I’m right in saying that I gave it the finger.

I think this is probably a result of my Vagrant Story escapades and my desire to not want to have to start a game over again after doing it wrong the first time. Only once, as I recall, have I had to do this, and that was with Final Fantasy VIII. After discovering that my summons did so much more damage to enemies than my weapons, I basically chose not to upgrade any of them and just advance the plot. This “summons only” run lasted as far as the boss battle in Lunatic Pandora against Raijin and Fujin, who proceeded to annihilate me every single time. It’s only a few years ago that I went back to it, started again, and “played it properly” to its conclusion. My problem is that these days I don’t have as much free time as I used to, and when it comes to 50+ hour RPGs I really don’t have any desire to play through them more than once. Which brings me to my nemesis of recent years: Persona 3.

Let me say, first of all, that I love – LOVE – the idea of Persona 3. The idea of mixing a dungeon-crawl with a high-school dating-sim is truly inspired, and the plot so far is right up my street. What I’m struggling to put up with, however, is the wealth of options open to me with regard to which social links to advance and which personae to fuse. I certainly don’t want to invest thirty hours into this game only to realise that my personae are the wrong ones and that I can’t get better ones because I’ve done the wrong S-links. So far I’ve played the first month three separate times: once with Persona 3, once with the FES edition, and again with the PSP version, and I just can’t get past the nagging thought that I’m doing it all wrong. Having looked around on various forums, it seems that the general response to queries like mine is to not worry and enjoy it the first time around, then try to go the completionist route on a New Game+. This isn’t really something I’m too interested in doing, as Persona 4 keeps tempting me from my shelf for when I eventually wade my way through 3. So, I put it to you, Dtoid community: is this game just not for me? Or are there any bits of advice you can give or walkthroughs out there you can point me towards that might help me to get on the right track?

In the meantime, I’m sticking with Dragon Age II. I’m not sure if it will win any Game of the Year awards, but it does have a very good instruction manual.

- Melz
[Currently playing: Dragon Age II (Xbox 360)]   read

11:44 AM on 06.29.2011

Happiness is a Warm Right-Trigger

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love my first-person shooters. Ever since I picked up a second-hand copy of Wolfenstein 3D on the SNES from an awesome little market stall in town, I’ve not been able to get enough of the running, gunning, switch-pushing and key-finding. And now in the Year of our Duke, 2011, there seems to be a bit of a FPS renaissance going on. Despite the majority of my friends staying glued to their CoDBlOps since Christmas, my copy of that game remains barely open as I’ve had quite a few other games of the same genre that have interested me a little more with their concepts and executions. Bullet-riddled executions, that is - occasionally involving cacti.

Looking at the titles I’ve played to completion so far this year, there have been more FPS games than you can shake a freshly reloaded MP40 at: Bulletstorm, Killzone 3, Crysis 2, Duke Nukem Forever, and most recently FEAR 3. I’ve actually enjoyed playing them all as they brought a different approach to the same genre: where Bulletstorm had the scores, Crysis 2 had the style. Duke brought daftness to the alien-mashing whilst Killzone took it pretty seriously. Sure, they are all “big-men-with-big-guns” games but I guess as someone who grew up watching Schwarzennegger and Stallone portray these larger-than-life characters on the screen, I guess I’m stuck with one of those childhood dreams of being the lone gun-toting hero who shoots all of the baddies as opposed to playing a faceless marine in a more serious shooter.

Having said that, I took note of a few issues I encountered when playing some of these games that involve these heroes and the ways that we play them in their respective games. Sure, the first-person perspective is a great way of getting the player into the gloves and boots (and in the case of Jurassic Park Trespasser, boobs) of the protagonist, but there have been moments when I’ve genuinely thought to myself “what’s my character’s motivation, again?” Bulletstorm and FEAR 3 both get it absolutely right in my opinion: you’re given a character with an engaging backstory and you essentially become them. In Bulletstorm, Grayson Hunt is the kind of character who really would boot an enemy into a cactus, so the game allows you to do just that. In FEAR 3, Point Man has a twisted and tortured past and the game’s hallucinations depict him coming to terms with it, especially in the wonderfully creepy last interval of the game.

This is, unfortunately, the area where Killzone 3 and Duke Nukem Forever fell down a little for me. Having enjoyed the Killzone series so far, I was familiar with the character of Sevchenko going into the third instalment. However, there seemed to be absolutely no personality to the proceedings. Even in the cut-scenes between chapters, Sev seemed to have lost whatever made him a fairly likeable character in Killzone 2, and a worthy replacement for the first game’s hero, Jan Templar. Just like my experience with the Call of Duty series, I felt no connection between myself and the character I was playing. I certainly didn’t feel at all like a war hero who beat the Helghast in the previous game; more like a random passer-by who got caught up in the action, a la Turning Point.

The same goes for Duke Nukem in his latest, much maligned outing. I have read a number of different opinions online about whether or not the game is actually “good” or not, and have to say I agree with what both sides of the argument have to say. From a personal standpoint, though, I admit that I enjoyed the game very much. It’s not the best FPS I’ve played in the past however-many years it took to develop, but it’s a pleasant little romp through vaguely familiar territory. As with my time with Killzone 3, however, there was something about the game that didn’t really add up. In DNF’s case, it was that the hero seemed completely out-of-place in the world he inhabited. Duke’s wise-cracks and hyper-masculine attitude made the majority of the laughs in the game, and the level-design was typically 3D Realms, but these were the only factors that actually kept me playing. Take Duke away from the game and there really would only be a slightly above-average game left, which I see as a real shame.

The curious thing is that the more I look back on my time with Duke Nukem Forever, the more I wonder if that was the intention: to place an iconic figure of the 90s into 2011’s world of Duty-Calling, two-weapon-only first-person shooters. Duke’s single-finger gesture to the alien mothership after the turret-battle seemed to me to be more an act of defiance to the genre’s trappings rather than to the enemies he had just taken out. Unfortunately, as much as I would love for this to be the case, recycling old jokes about dead space marines and giving the cold shoulder to a bunch of “hoo-rah” spouting soldiers just seemed to highlight the separation between Duke and today’s market. If that was intended, it was done very subtly. If it wasn’t, then I’m sorry but Bulletstorm and even Eat Lead accomplished the Duke’s goals before him and to much more devastating effect.

As a fan of old PC first-person shooters, I’m a bit of a sucker for that golden age of the genre back in the late 1990s. In fact, I firmly believed up until my beloved computer blew up during the ending of Half-Life 2 that PC was the only way to go for playing this genre. Since then, plenty of console FPS titles have proved to me that I’ve no need to go splashing out thousands on PC upgrades to enjoy a good shootout. In fact, I think the first game that truly proved that to me was Red Faction on the PS2. Since then, I have been praying for Monolith to realise that their classic game Shogo: Mobile Armour Division deserves a console port, HD update and sequel. Since hell hasn’t frozen as of yet, their FEAR series has done a great job of filling that mech-shaped hole in my heart, and the latest instalment from Day One Studios hasn’t disappointed at all. Sure it’s not a patch on the first game and looking back it did seem a lot shorter than the first two, but it’s a fun ride whilst it lasts. In all honesty though, my issue with this and all of the FPS games of today that I’ll play exclusively on consoles is the lack of one special little function:

Quick saves.

Is there a technical issue preventing the use of quick-saves on console games? I would honestly love to know because I cannot stress just how much I loathe badly-placed checkpoints, especially in FPS titles. A slight tangent from the overall theme of this post, but I’ve been playing American McGee’s Alice and its sequel Madness Returns on my 360 recently and noted that you can save at any time you like in the first game (which, let’s not forget, was PC only for over a decade). In the sequel, beat three out of four waves of enemies but fall at the last hurdle and back you go to the last checkpoint. The same thing hit me about FEAR 3. As a gamer that plays mostly for the story, I found myself cursing the game when it kept shunting me back to previous checkpoints and seriously impeding my progress.

The same applies for Crysis 2 – which is probably my favourite from all of the FPS titles I’ve played so far this year. Everything about the game made me feel like I was getting the PC shooter experience on a console, aside from the bloody checkpoint system. If quick-saves had been in there too, it would surely have been a massive improvement on an already fantastic game. The fact is that, for me, there is a fine line between challenge and frustration. I look back now with less-than-fond memories of the original Killzone, because the final room was beyond challenging due to not being able to quick-save. The final room of Black, similarly, was a controller-smashingly irritating epilogue to a good game, just because I couldn’t quick-save. Perhaps this shows just how much I really do suck at FPS games, but having that feature available makes the genre as a storytelling medium so much more appealing to me. In truth, it’s probably also been the defining point as to whether I’d play any of these games again a second time or trade them in.

Perhaps I am living in the past and the genre has moved on leaving me behind in the 90s with Duke Nukem for company. Or maybe there’s a way quick-saves can be implemented on a technical level and without sacrificing difficulty? Perhaps I’d better not hold my breath though – I imagine I’d have more luck hoping for that HD remake of Shogo. Or Lo Wang Forever.

[Currently playing: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)]   read

10:25 AM on 03.31.2011

Life, The Universe, And Dead Space 2

Back in The Good Old Days in 2008, a brand new survival horror franchise was born. Hailed as a cross between Resident Evil 4 and Run Like Hell, Dead Space quickly became a shot in the arm for a genre that seemed destined to become very stale. What with Resident Evil’s shift towards all-guns-blazing action and Nintendo’s stubborn refusal to bring Fatal Frame 4 to a Western audience, Dead Space filled the growing niche in the market very snugly. It was October, almost Halloween, and I wanted a game that would not only give me the jibblies but also make me leap a foot out of my chair. Unfortunately my Xbox 360 had chosen that time to scare me in a more subtle way: the infamous Red Ring of Death. So as my beloved white box got shipped off for surgery, I picked up a copy of Dead Space on the PS3 to tide me over. My reaction? I still regard it as one of the finest examples that survival horror is relevant today; even now static cameras and porridge-thick fog are pretty much things of the past.

Here and now in 2011, EA have finally released the much-anticipated sequel: Dead Space 2. Riding in to the UK at the back end of January on a wave of hype (posters on the side of buses, TV advertisements soundtracked by ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, you name it!) you’d have to be either a cave dweller or a Black Ops player to miss it. And what a game it is! Beautifully gruesome visuals, sound used to incredible effect, and gameplay that draws you in and doesn’t let you go over the course of Isaac Clarke’s latest journey.

To be truthful though, as wonderful as Dead Space 2 is and as much as I enjoyed playing through it, to me it never seems to reach the dizzy heights scaled by the original game. Probably because strategic dismemberment was all new the first time around and revisiting something never really has quite the same effect. The same is true with many games, films and aspects of life - if you have a brilliant holiday somewhere and choose to return a year later, it’s not going to be the same no matter how much you want it to be. As I see it, there are two ways that game designers can go about making a sequel: to make more of the same, albeit bigger and arguably better (Resident Evil 2, God of War 2, Uncharted 2) or to add a new idea to the template drawn out by the first game (Castlevania 2’s added adventure elements, Grand Theft Auto 2’s respect system, Mass Effect 2’s loyalty missions).

What Dead Space 2 does is follow the former of these two ideas. Bigger and bolder is definitely the aim of the game here, and it does this fairly well. A lot of comparisons have been made between this game and the movie sequel Aliens as opposed to the first game being more like Alien, and that definitely did ring true for me whilst playing it. There was a lot to shoot at, and a lot to shoot with, eventually culminating in turning the final chapter of the game into a bit of a run-and-gun affair. This, I didn’t care much for. Dead Space to me is about the tension, the claustrophobic feeling of being constantly stalked, and picking your shots to save your precious ammo. By the end of Dead Space 2, I was running past enemies that didn’t bother me and gunning down those in my path with very little effort. More to the point, I felt as though the developers missed a trick when they didn’t let the player drive the giant drilling machine – that could have been tons of fun and could have really broken up the action with something fresh. But instead we were stood on top, pouring bullets into enemy after enemy, wishing to be playing as the character piloting the thing.

What did interest me about the Dead Space 2 launch, however, is the simultaneous wave of Dead Space 2 related STUFF. Now, I’m a bit of a fan of Dead Space and I’m also a fan of stuff. So much so that, in total, over the past two months I’ve not only found my way to the end of the main retail game but also Dead Space Extraction (bonus on the PS3 disc), Dead Space Ignition (Playstation Store), Dead Space 2: Severed (the obligatory DLC), Dead Space (a prelude to DS2 on the iPod Touch) and sat through the anime feature Dead Space Aftermath (DVD). To be fair, with Dead Space stuff EA are really spoiling us! What this has achieved (aside from making me coin the phrase ‘Compilation of Dead Space 2’, for which I apologise) is the feat of keeping fans such as myself entertained for the better part of two months. As a result of this, when I look back on Dead Space 2 now, I tend to think of highlights from the main game interspersed with story elements and characters from these side-projects.

And therein lies the method through which I’d have improved Dead Space 2: rather than a full game and lots of stuff outside and around it, why not put all the stuff into the game and just release one super-awesome-mega-ten-out-of-ten-triple-A game? How much better would Dead Space 2 have been if, in between chapters, you’d switch to Gabe Weller and play one of the Severed bits, then get a bit further and switch to play as Vandal from the iPod Touch game, then further on you’d unlock some more of Ignition to play? I would probably have found Dead Space 2 a much more fulfilling and satisfying experience had this been the case. As it is, it’s kind of like watching Watchmen without the Tales From The Black Freighter sub-story. It’s one heck of a ride, but there’s quite obviously something missing. Especially as those who only played the numbered games will not know anything about a certain character in Extraction and Severed who is becoming more and more integral to the overall story.

I also reckon that doing this might have addressed one of the other major criticisms of the game: despite being on board an enormous space station known as the Sprawl you never actually get the feeling that you’re in as expansive an environment as its name suggests. The solution there is not to go making it open-world, but to provide the player with a bit of variety. I can imagine playing as Franco from Ignition and wandering around an area designed like The Citadel from Mass Effect, stealth-ing past Necromorphs and hacking panels – heading past the rim and showing just how massive this place actually is. As it stands, however, Dead Space 2 very rarely gives us that sense of spectacle – it’s a lot of corridors and a couple of large rooms but ironically no real sense of “space” and therefore no real sense of the scale of the Necromorph outbreak.

Of course, I am nitpicking now at what is a truly excellent game. Seriously, I had a lot of fun playing it and at times was equally as scared as I was when I played the first (two words: “school” and “Ishimura”). It just seems such a shame that by the time I reached the end credits, I had the words “missed” and “opportunity” in my head, and was making a list of things I would have done differently. Then again, I guess that’s part of what comes with being a fan. All I can really say is that I had a lot of fun with Dead Space 2, and the copious amounts of stuff that have come alongside it have kept me entertained for the past couple of months. Now Visceral, how about getting to work on making Dead Space 3? And please, make it the super-awesome-mega-ten-out-of-ten-triple-A title it deserves to be!

So long, Dead Space 2, and thanks for all the stuff! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist squeezing another Douglas Adams reference in.)

[Currently playing: Crysis 2 (Xbox 360)]   read

8:58 AM on 02.24.2011

Bored of the Open World

The idea I had for writing this came from a conversation I had with a friend. I had let him borrow Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the Xbox 360 over Christmas, having proudly racked up a thousand gamerpoints on the title myself and without a clue that DLC was being worked on (seriously, extra levels for a game already jam-packed with them? Sold!) With both of us falling ill over the festive season, we didn’t get to see each other and compare impressions on the game until very recently. He brought me the game back and handed me the case, Gabriel Belmont snarling boorishly at me from the cover reminding me of the fantastic quest I had joined him on. “What did you reckon?” I asked with a knowing smile. This friend, you should know, has been my best friend for many a year. We’ve known each other since we were both 9 years old and have grown up enjoying the same taste in games, music, films, even anime. I was certain that he would be the one person I know who would enjoy Lords of Shadow as much as I had. “Nah, I was disappointed with it.” What?! How could you say that about such a wonderful, intricate and downright fun addition to a series we have both played to death for over 15 years?

His answer was simple: “I expected it to be open-world.” That’s when it hit me. When I had started playing Lords of Shadow, I had sat with my 360 controller in my hands watching the gloriously dark introductory movie as the camera swooped down and landed on the right shoulder of the currently horseback hero of the game. At this point, I have no idea what compelled me to do so but I pushed the left stick upwards. Nothing happened: the cut-scene continued on screen. Looking back on that moment, I wondered if it was the Resident Evil 4 positioning of the camera at Gabriel’s left shoulder that made it instinctive for me to think I was in control. On the other hand, maybe we as gamers have become so spoilt by the amount of freedom presented in modern games that when we are reined back by more linear quests we feel a little suffocated? Admittedly, I felt the opposite way to my friend: I remember looking at screenshots from before Lords of Shadow’s release and thinking that the game would be presented in an open-world, then was pleased when the game chose not to take this route.

Granted, I have had my fair share of moans about this in my gaming time before. I’ve rolled my eyes at “invisible walls” restricting my on-screen actions and snarled at pop-up scenery appearing between my player-character and the castle in the far distance. However, my perspective changed drastically back in 2001 when the owner of my local games shop told me that the future of video gaming had arrived in the form of Grand Theft Auto III. At the time, I was heavily inclined to agree with him – here was a game that built upon the blueprints laid down in the first two GTA games, giving gamers a whole city to race around playing cops and robbers in. There were missions in there too; genuinely fun missions that opened up parts of a narrative that engrossed anyone mature enough to appreciate the content; but the main appeal of GTAIII was the “go anywhere, do anything” attitude it brought to the table. Rockstar had created a sandbox for gamers to play in however they liked, and it was good!

And now, here we are in 2011 – a decade after GTAIII – and what really has changed? The last Grand Theft Auto followed pretty much exactly the same formula as it’s ten-year-old predecessor and other established franchises are gravitating towards this “sandbox” style of gameplay presentation. In fact, such has been the impact of Rockstar’s trend, that just a couple of years ago in May 2009 three games arrived in the space of just one month that chose to take this open-world approach. In fact, if inFamous, Prototype and Red Faction Guerrilla were put in a ring for a fistfight, I’d dare say it would be a triple-KO due to them sharing the very same strengths and weaknesses of the GTA formula. Out of the three, inFamous was the one I chose to play the most, despite my devotion to the Red Faction franchise. It’s a shame, as I would have loved to enjoy all three for the merits they do genuinely possess, but after playing through inFamous I had absolutely no desire to play another “sandbox-genre” game for a while and have left the other two largely unplayed.

My point here, however, is that some post-GTAIII developers seem to be relying on this design mechanic as a crutch whereas others are being heavily criticised for not using it. Is this really fair? To paraphrase some examples that my friends and I discussed, would inFamous have been a better game without the open-worldiness? Probably not. The reason behind this is the very same reason GTA became such a hit: the player wants to experience things they wouldn’t be able to do in real life, but it has to be fun to do. Evading the cops in GTAIII is a great fun adrenaline rush, just like parkour-ing away from soldiers in Assassin’s Creed and playing the part of a friendly neighbourhood super-hero/villain in inFamous. Alternatively, and I may be in the minority here, I didn’t get the same excitement from Prototype. In theory, playing as Alex Mercer should be great – running up walls and throwing cars etc, but for me the fun factor was missing. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been released so close to inFamous.. I don’t know. Unfortunately my memories of Prototype are now tainted by this and all I think of is a game that had great potential and good missions but a needless open-world hub.

And yet, I seem to be in somewhat of a minority on this issue. Red Dead Redemption has captivated a great number of gamers and garnered a heap of critical praise since it released last year, but am I the only one disappointed that it didn’t follow a Castlevania-like level-to-level structure? That was actually one of the main reasons I loved the original Red Dead Revolver and was so initially psyched about news of a second game in the franchise. I’m sure I will, at some point, return to Redemption’s vast world, but at the moment my desire to do so is at a bit of a low. Credit where credit is due, though – at least Red Dead had the decency to offer a fast-travel system for those of us who want to progress the story without having to trudge across the world map just to get to a marker.

Similarly, would Alone In The Dark have been better without the openness of Central Park? Maybe it would have made for a more streamlined narrative, but unless the developers had scripted it you’d have missed out on game-defining moments like creating sticky-bombs and exploding cars. I do hold a great deal of respect for Alone In The Dark for trying something a little bit different with the formula – rather than “here’s a sandbox, do what you like, or do the missions if you want”, the emphasis was shifted to “here’s a sandbox, here’s your mission, here are some tools you might want to use”. Sure, the critics looked at it as a bit of a failed experiment, but here’s a game that tried to innovate, and that surely has to count for something.

Some developers, however, seem to have acknowledged a shift away from the openness trend. The team behind the No More Heroes titles, for example, appear to have conceded that a free-roam around Santa Destroy was rather dull and so replaced this with a menu in the sequel. After all, if there’s nothing to do in the game world, why bother letting the player roam it? (I’m looking at you, Mafia II!) Curiously and rather controversially, the developers of The Darkness 2 recently announced that they were doing away with the free-roam for their sequel, and I hope that this is the right choice! One of my favourite parts of The Darkness was completing side-quests for the random bums in the subway station. However, I am eager to see how the new devs take the reins.

Remedy famously (or infamously) took the same design choice with Alan Wake: a game that was initially planned to allow free-roaming but the idea was scrapped to benefit the narrative. Looking back on it, I can understand why many people were disappointed by this decision – the prospect of racing to a safe haven before the sun sets is quite an epic prospect, but I personally would not have changed a thing about Wake as it is. The level-based structure lends itself very well to the overall pacing, and chasing a waypoint on a radar in the bottom-right hand corner of the screen would have just broken everything that the developers set out to accomplish.

Along the same lines, would the narrative of Deadly Premonition have suffered without the open-world layout of Greenvale? I’d actually say so. A lot of the exposition for Deadly Premonition came through the side-quests and learning more about the various inhabitants of the town. Whilst this might have benefited the overall experience of Alan Wake, I would say that the ability to roam around Greenvale interrogating the suspects was based upon Francis York Morgan’s motivation to be there, whereas Alan himself was inconvenienced by the town of Bright Falls and just wanted to be left alone with his wife. Exploring was not on his agenda, so it never became part of the player’s. I’m hoping that this is the kind of theory behind Rockstar’s latest, L.A. Noire, and that the concept of an “investigate-em-up” gives a new sense of purpose to the open-world.

In short, let’s hope that the game developers of today are making these informed design choices:

Does it need to be there? If not, throw it out.
Does it hurt the story? If so, throw it out.
Does it stop the game from being fun? If so, throw it out.

Taking those three factors into consideration, I’m hoping that developers can take what I now see as more of a nuisance getting in the way of the game and evolve it into something much more interesting and exciting. In the meantime, however, Castlevania has me absolutely convinced that there’s nothing more fun than choosing a level from a menu and getting straight into the thick of the action. Anyone care to show me otherwise? I’m always happy to be proven wrong!

[Currently playing: Dead Space: Extraction (PS3)]   read

10:44 AM on 01.21.2011

Magic Moments of 2010

Even though 2010 wasn’t a particularly great year for myself (or for anyone I know, for that matter) there is still a part of me that can’t quite leave it behind just yet. Curiously, it’s the part of me that enjoys dishing out compliments and recognitions of the sterling work that other people do for the entertainment of the gaming community. Yep, I reckon it’s Game Of The Year time again, ladies and gentlemen. If only it were that simple.

I’ll be honest; if this post was going to be all ‘GOTY’ then I may as well just come out and say “For me, it’s Mass Effect 2. Done. Goodnight and God bless.” However, I know many people would debate that point: a good portion of my gaming friends would argue with me for hours that Red Dead Redemption gave them a much more fulfilling gaming experience. And that’s what Game of the Year really is: something completely different to every individual. Sure, some people might cite Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II as their own personal GOTY, and fair play to them. Just because there are legions of others who like Red Dead or Mass Effect better than anything else they played last year doesn’t mean that they are for everyone, or that they would provide the same amount of fun to some gamers as they do to others.

That being said, I’m not going to even try to pigeon-hole all of 2010 on a game that was released way back in January and say that nothing else released last year ‘beat’ it. On the other hand, I think a more fair way of summing up the year would be though a selection of truly memorable gaming moments. These are, after all, what we play the games for: whether it’s the shock twists in the narratives, the jaw-dropping cinematic set pieces or something the player discovers for themselves that they can do within the game. As my previous post mentioned, I did get the opportunity to play an awful lot of games last year and my memory of some of them is unfortunately a little hazy. However, these are the five moments that I can remember very clearly and will be able to take with me into 2011 and possibly even further into my gaming career.

1. Mr. Stewart’s Epic Sandwich [Deadly Premonition]

The truly great thing about Deadly Premonition for me is that it’s so incredibly quotable. Since finishing the game I’ve found myself adding the phrase “Don’t you think so, Zach?” at the end of sentences, rambling on at length about 80s movies and finishing every rhyme – intended or otherwise – with the addendum “So says Mr. Stewart.” In fact, the character of Mr. Stewart is a great source of amusement to me as I tend to think about a good friend of mine whose name actually is Mr. Stewart. He got the game for Christmas but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t got to this point yet or he would have called me up by now to tell me how right I was about it.

For the uninitiated, at one point in the game our hero Francis York Morgan, a bizarre but genius cross between Dale Cooper, Nah-man Jayden and Tyler Durden, walks into a café to buy lunch. The enigmatic Mr Stewart is then wheelchaired in by his attendant and informs York that he absolutely must try the sandwich that he seemingly has for lunch every day of his curious existence. The ‘Sinners Sandwich’, as York refers to it, is a wacko concoction of turkey, jam and cereal stuffed between two identical triangles of white bread. After a bit of non-sensical rhyming banter, York relents and orders the abomination for his lunch. His reaction after tasting it is absolutely priceless.

Being a bit of a David Lynch nut, I was expecting something along the lines of the oft-parodied “Dame good cherry pie” scene from Twin Peaks in the strangely similar world Deadly Premonition inhabits. This skit is definitely going down that route, but in the context of the game was completely unexpected and as a result it not only made me smile, it also made me cringe and eventually laugh out loud.

2. Missing Something, Ethan Mars? [Heavy Rain]

Heavy Rain had a great deal to live up to in my eyes after David Cage’s previous games, The Nomad Soul and Fahrenheit, were both so unique and impressive in their own ways. Sure, neither of them were particularly polished and the plotline of Fahrenheit in particular did tend to skew off in all sorts of odd directions, but these were two examples of a very talented game creator being given a little bit of artistic freedom. With Heavy Rain, Cage created a world the player could believe in and a genuine mystery to solve: who is the Origami Killer? Now, this is hardly the place where I would feel comfortable spoiling such a fantastic game for anyone who hasn’t played it, but suffice it to say that the Origami Killer’s modus operandi made for extremely intelligent writing and some intriguing moral dilemmas.

One of these that springs instantly to mind is The Bit With The Finger. Without giving too much away, in a very Saw-like situation, protagonist Ethan Mars finds himself in a room filled with a smorgasbord of sharp implements. The Origami Killer then informs him that he must remove one of his own fingers in order to obtain a clue to his missing son’s whereabouts. The clock begins ticking down, and the only thing I could do whilst playing was… panic! I admit, I had to play this section about three times before I found a solution I was (somewhat) satisfied with, but the way this game threw such an unexpected curveball towards a hero we had got to know so closely made this scene much more shocking and suspenseful than anything in either of the two Saw video-games to date. This is how it’s done. Let’s hope Konami are taking notes for the seemingly inevitable Saw III.

3. WAAAAARP ZOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!!! [Super Meat Boy]

Super Meat Boy is another entry in the legions of recent games showing love for the titles of yesteryear: 30 Second Hero, Cladun, 3D Dot Game Heroes… even Shadow Complex. All of them come with a very retro style of gameplay that takes those of us old enough to remember right back to our joystick-thrashing youth. What Super Meat Boy brings to the table is a shining example that us gamers who remember The Good Ol’ Days are probably getting soft in our (relatively) old age. I approached this game first of all as a curiosity, then as a challenge, and finally as a way of life! By the time I beat all of the game’s increasingly devilish levels, I could practically see Meat Boy leaping around in my dreams and could hear only two words resounding in my brain… WAAAAAAARP ZOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONE!!!!!

In a respectful nod to the classic series this game shares its acronym with, SMB presents the player with a series of hidden areas, accessible through swirling portals hidden in the game’s main levels. Upon touching one, Meat Boy is sucked into a new level as the announcer bellows in your ears that you might just have found something called a “warp zone”. Not only that, but the warp zones themselves are presented in distinct graphical styles reminiscent of the NES and original Game Boy. It’s those little pangs of nostalgia that hit you as you play those levels that really make you think about how far gaming has come in the past twenty years, and how the core gameplay is still centred on the difficult balance between challenge and fun.

In addition, at random occasions in Super Meat Boy, Bandage Girl will appear as a graphical glitch. Touching her in this state unlocks an extra level in each world seemingly based upon the innumerable Super Mario Bros mods that to the untrained thumbs are bordering on impossible. That Super Meat Boy got its hooks into me and made me want to beat every single one of these “frustration” levels, time trials, dark worlds and all other hidden stuff is without a doubt the sign that this is a game I’ll be remembering and probably referencing for years to come.

4. Is that…? No! It can’t be! Holy crap, it is! [Metroid: Other M]

Way back in 1994, I collected up my pocket money and purchased Super Metroid. When I got it home, entranced by its big red box, I spotted the strategy guide included with it. I instantly gave it to my parents and told them to only let me see it if I became incredibly stuck. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because nothing would then prepare me for the boss of the Wrecked Ship area: Phantoon. This creature shook my whole perception of what a boss should be, by requiring a battle to the death before the level had really started. That I had not seen this in the guidebook meant I wasn’t ready for the battle and really faced a bit of a struggle until I finally beat him. This little piece of my gaming history repeated itself last year in Metroid: Other M.

While this game certainly has drawn a great deal of criticism, I can say without question that I enjoyed every minute of it, including the deja-vu inducing post-credits sequence in which a familiar face (or eye, to be more precise) shows up for one last slice of vengeance before initiating a self-destruct sequence. This countdown brought Super Metroid’s introductory sequence from sixteen years ago straight back to me as though I had only beaten it last week. For me, that’s why games like Other M exist: to give a little something extra to the fans of the outright classics. Whether it’s a full game like Crisis Core or a sly reference like the fallen Slogra in the post-credits of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the developers know they have fans to please as well as newcomers to attend to. It’s the way in which they go about satisfying the long-term fans that makes me love these new titles all the more.

5. “What’s black and white and red all over?” [Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue]

Ron Gilbert is renowned for being able to create fantastic characters and tell a great tale. His latest creation, Deathspank, is possibly not as clever as anything in the Monkey Island series, but to anyone who appreciates the concept of a dim-witted yet proud hero whose desire for justice far outweighs anything else in existence (think The Tick in armour) this is certainly a game to get. When the sequel, Thongs of Virtue, appeared only a month or so after the first, I was thrilled to be able to dip back into the crazy universe Gilbert and Hothead Games had created. What I wasn’t prepared for was the comparatively epic nature of this quest compared to the “then-impressive, now-small-fry” quest in the first game. It blew my mind!

The primary constant throughout both Deathspank titles aside from its addictive hack, slash ‘n’ loot gameplay is Gilbert’s trademark humour. I remember finding a good portion of the dialogue very funny, but it wasn’t until I met a boss character an hour or so into the sequel that I really belly-laughed. A curious little pixie chap with the ability to grow on screen to slowdown-inducing proportion posed an old familiar riddle to Deathspank: “What’s black and white and red all over?” All of Deathspank’s possible answers were the work of comedy genius as I recall, but I could not help myself but fall into fits of hysterical laughter when I read and instinctively clicked on the bottom answer. Deathspank stares his enemy down and, without a hint of sarcasm, proudly offers his answer: “A COMMUNIST SKUNK.” Absolutely perfect.

Well, those are the five moments I’ll remember the most from gaming in 2010. I should also give honourable mentions to landing on Pulse in Final Fantasy XIII, Clover’s face during the “axe” ending of 999, the hard-rockin’ intro to Green Day: Rock Band and Ezio’s wonderfully-delivered “Oo eez Dez Mond?” from Assassin’s Creed 2. Let’s just hope that 2011 is not only a better year in general, but also provides us all with some more moments like these.

[Currently playing – Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)]   read

10:22 AM on 01.06.2011

Looking back on 2010 (first post)

Hello and welcome to my first post on this c-blog. Not the most original way to start this off, I know. I could make massive promises about how “it’s going to be great!” and “we’ll unite to change the world!” and “free muffins!*” but in all honesty I have no idea how this is going to play out. And besides, there are definitely worse ways to introduce yourself to the world...

Now, what’s this all about? Well, I’m 25 years of age and have been gaming pretty much all my life. I play for entertainment and escapism, the same way someone might watch a film or read a book. I tend to dabble in all sorts of different genres of games, and will happily enjoy a cult classic as much as a triple-A blockbuster. As much as I enjoy the actual playing of games, I’m also at home discussing with my family and friends what we have been playing. Hence, my starting up of this c-blog: not only does it allow me an opportunity to use words like “dabble”, I’m also very keen on sharing recommendations and impressions of the current and retro gaming crops.

And as for choosing Destructoid? Well, I’ve long been a casual reader of this site and have been intrigued by many interesting blog-posts by members of such a fantastic community. However, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I bought Deadly Premonition on the day of its UK release and saw a bold “10/10 – Perfect” beside the image of Mr Destructoid. That’s when I really felt that this is the kind of community I would want to be a part of.

Anyways, by way of introduction, I thought I’d share something I’ve been keeping track of since the start of January 2010. I decided it might be interesting to keep a tally of all the games and bits of DLC I actually managed to beat throughout the course of the year. I figure this might be a good way to show what kind of games I play and my preference for the ones I see through to the end. Please bear in mind though that these are just the ones I’ve “finished” and don’t represent my entire gaming habits - games such as Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption are still on my “to finish” list.

Assassin’s Creed II (PS3)
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4 (Wiiware)
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (DS)
Darksiders (360)
Bioshock 2 (360)
Dante’s Inferno (360)
Heavy Rain (PS3)
God of War III (PS3)
Splinter Cell: Conviction (360)
Alan Wake (360)
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (PS3)
Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)
Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias (Wiiware)
Alpha Protocol (360)
Sam & Max S3E01: The Penal Zone (PS3)
Mass Effect 2 (360)
Prison Break: The Conspiracy (360)
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 5 (Wiiware)
Green Day: Rock Band (360)
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Wii)
Singularity (PS3)
Monkey Island 2: Special Edition (XBLA)
Deathspank (XBLA)
Limbo (XBLA)
Dark Nebula Episode 1 (iOS)
Plants vs Zombies (iOS)
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (360)
Nier (360)
Metroid: Other M (Wii)
Bioshock 2: Minerva’s Den (360 DLC)
Mafia 2 (360)
Dead Rising 2: Case Zero (XBLA)
Halo Reach (360)
Resident Evil 5: Lost In Nightmares (360 DLC)
Resident Evil 5: Desperate Escape (360 DLC)
Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue (XBLA)
Mass Effect 2: Overlord (360 DLC)
Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker (360 DLC)
Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box (DS)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (360)
Saw II: Flesh and Blood (360)
Ys Seven (PSP)
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Wii)
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP)
Super Meat Boy (XBLA)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (360)
The 7th Guest (iOS)
Infinity Blade (iOS)
999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (DS)
Deadly Premonition (360)

In all honesty, I can’t really complain about 2010 with 45 completed games under my belt, 50 if you include DLC chapters. In actual fact, however, even though I’ve kept my list going since this time last year, I really am struggling to remember the intricacies of some of them already. I remember having a lot of fun with Darksiders, but if I played it again now it would probably feel like a whole new experience to me. Therein I guess lies the curse of the gamer who will play absolutely anything: hindsight might make me remember only the highlights of Alpha Protocol and I do with I remembered more of Heavy Rain and Tales of Monkey Island.

So, my resolution for 2011 is to build upon what I started roughly 365 days ago when I beat Assassin’s Creed 2: I intend to start writing down my thoughts and impressions on games, and gaming in general, as I play and probably as I finish them too. I’ve never tried anything like this before so please excuse me if I’m “doing it wrong” at any time. You never know, some bits of what I write might interest you and some bits might amuse. Hopefully speak to you soon.

[Currently playing - Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (PS3)]

* sorry, no muffins   read

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