Didn't want this to get lost in the sea of comments attached to the article, and I had more to say than I thought. No pictures this time, sorry.
This isn't me defending Uncharted 2. He picked the game, and so I'm sticking with it, but you could just as easily substitute any other high production value GotY winner that also was an action game. His issues with Uncharted are broad enough that they can be applied to the genre at large, but because he gave the title purchase, I went ahead and stuck with it to save confusion, and vocabulary.
Uncharted doesn't try to give us something to walk away with on a cerebral level. If it tried to do that and failed, Sagat would have an argument. All it tries to do is deliver an action packed experience, which it does, regardless if the "threat of real danger" is present or merely percieved.
Games are an interactive medium, and it seems Sagat has either forgotten this, or he wants games to behave as movies, Mr. Sagat. You're right, the movie equivalent of Uncharted 2 doesn't win the Oscar, but the movie equivalent isn't taxed with being INTERACTIVE. I can watch Pi or Eraserhead or City of Lost Children until my brains bleed out of my ears, and then I can ponder the social commentaries, high-brow art, or the videography itself, but these experiences would not make for the best video games. Why? Well, what aspect of any of those films offers any sort of control or interactivity to the potential player? None of them. They use their medium to convey thoughts and ideas well suited to it; it just so happens INTERACTIVITY is well suited to the action genre. The Oscars are for film, the title "Game of the Year (in all of its unstandardized, diverse application)" is for games. They are not the same thing. Why do you want games to be beholden to the film industry standard?
He also mentioned that the plot was predictable, as if all of the movie equivalents he proceeded to mention were not. It's the nature of the beast. Are excellent, jaw dropping set pieces necessarily subject to predictable plot devices 100% of the time? No! But, by and large, the plot tends to take a back seat to the action because the script-writer knows their audience, and they know their audience wants to see cliffhanging tension, and they know their audience wants to see shit get blown up. Not to mention that we can interact with it much more smoothly and profoundly than we could in a game based on Eraserhead, or any of the aforementioned art house films. He also goes on to describe how the Hollywood analogues are all blockbuster action movies who concern themselves with fluff and racey, heart-pounding sequences . . . and then follows with raking Uncharted over the coals for not being intellectually engaging . . . I don't get it. If Indiana Jones or Star Wars is intellictually engaging, either you're a moron, or I am, because I just don't get it. Instead of having problems with what the game tried to do, you're having problems with what the game is very upfront about never even having tried.
Do you have problems with Bridges of Madison County not keeping me on the edge of my seat with car chases, or Grama's Boy not exploring our mortality as human beings? I don't, because I understand the nature of the genre. Again, not all action movies have to be fantastically idiotic, but if I go to an action movie, or buy an action game, I expect, first and foremost, at the expense of all else, action.
The rest of what he said is detrimental to the experience, and smacks of typical elitism. "It isn't hard enough?" Who cares? You're e-peen? WoW players have been decrying mass-market appeal for 3 years, now, claiming that normalizing difficulty somehow detracts from the experience. They're all morons. Don't be a moron. WoW players misunderstood "BROKEN" as "difficult," and so as the game is more and more heavily patched, it gets more and more fixed, more and more playable to a broader audience, all the while frustration and once unachievable goals actually become palatable, enjoyable, and less broken. This is a good thing. It relfects the industry's ability to learn and adapt.
I understand that people like the sense of acomplishment that follows along with a difficulty having been overcome, digital or otherwise; Hell, I have recently been playing most all of my games on hard mode because it's fun and challenging and I do, in fact, feel acomplished upon conquering them, but this feeling I get doesn't stand in oppossition to the experience I had with Uncharted 2. I reckognize that all experiences are not the same, and they all require that I approach them in the way best suited to what they're asking me to do. If they're asking me to laugh, I approach it vastly differently than if they're asking me to think, or just zone out as shit gets blown up. Uncharted 2 blows shit up, and does it so well that even through this "percieved" threat of death or danger that I am well aware of, it still gets me to the edge of my seat, sweatty hands gripping a controller. All of the movies that Sagat mentioned also do this. You know Luke isn't going to die, and you know Indy is going to get the girl and the artifact, but often the mere perception that danger is present is enough for us. It is for me, anyway.
This is a story of triumph when compared to the last game I did this with. Modern Warfare 2 accosted me, forced me to the ground and was seconds away from shackling me when I told it I was going against its recomendation of playing the game on Normal, choosing the Vetteran setting instead.
inFAMOUS (which I hate begining a sentence with because of its ridiculous capitalization) actually told me it wanted me to play the game on hard mode after the introductory missions. I was sort of shocked (...terrible pun) when it happened. Now, MW2 had indeed inspired me to play my games on hard mode from there on out, and the alure of achievement/trophy hounding adds extra weight to the scale, so when given the option, I typically play on hard. inFAMOUS (Grrrrrr) just sort of begins. It never asks you to set a difficulty, it just goes when you tell it to. I believe you can, in fact, set the difficulty in an options menu, but I never had to.
Then all of a sudden, there I was, making my first moral choice. As is typical, I go good, because . . . well I don't rightly know why. I just can't bring myself to slaughter innocents, I guess, digital or otherwise. This decision turned out to be what clinched the "hard" in hard mode. You see, when I make a moral choice in these sorts of games, I repeatedly make that same choice across the board, and if for some reason I find that upon the completion of a mission I have earned myself any measure of negative karma, I will reload and try again to avoid such an outcome. Now, I recognize that this is an arbitrary "rule" which I have personally established, and the only thing keeping me from breaking this "rule" is myself; however, I still have a difficult time overcoming it...
I have effectively recanted.
Reapers, Dustmen, and now the First Sons have been swarming me in droves, and the only effective way to deal with them is to blast them all with area effects, killing all the bystandars in the process, or take it up to the rooftops where I can possition myself and rain precision death strikes down on their helm-obscured heads. Because the most effective weapon I possess (Shockwave) is an area of effect ability, I typically just blast away regardless of location. Being good aligned, my Shockwave floats whatever it hits for a while before they drop, and so roof-hopping can be particularly safe, as any baddies that confront me are whisked off their feet out into open air, and finally the pavement below.
All in all, I'm having a ton of fun with it, and there was a twist in the plot that I didn't see coming, but should have, which I count as the hallmark of good writing.
Now it's time for something I hope will be semi-regular: SBC Slam presents "Late to the Party." A feature wherein I discover particularly great games, only weeks, and sometimes months after I should have.
I am notorious for ignoring high-profile (and not so high-profile) releases under the mistaken impression that I won't like the game in question. Case in point, I played Halo 3 for the first time a week ago . . .
Anyway, it usually turns out that I think I'll hate the game, and end up falling madly in love with it. Uncharted 2, and now Modern Warfare also fall into this category, as well as Batman: Arkham Asylum, 'Splosion Man, Shadow Complex, the list goes on . . . and I fucking wish FFXIII was included on this list (ZINGER!).
Now, being that it's already so late, and everyone but myself knows about this shit, I can't exactly offer a review. I mean, what the Hell could I say that would be any sort of relevant several months after the fact? The answer is nothing. So, what I've decided to do is simply share my experience.
See that little boy in the picture? I shot him. He's dead.
I began by completely botching "The Pit" tutorial . . . twice. I was so bad the game told me to go stand at the back of the line and try again when it was my turn. Luckily, no other soldier was nearly as bad as I, and so I was the only lay-over. After once again failing, the game finally passed me, but I could tell it begrudged me the victory. It isn't often that a game treats me like this, and so I took exceptional note. I knew I was in for some shit. It's like the game wanted me to fail, and was going to make sure of it.
Sensing the hatred this game already had for me, I decided to do something I have never done before. I set it to the hardest difficulty. Why? I don't rightly know. Maybe I want to show off to my overbearingly hyper-competitive friend, George, who would strangle me if he saw I beat the game on Veteran. Maybe I wanted to show the game that no matter how hard it tried, I was going to win. Who knows. All I know is I have never played an FPS, single player, on any other difficulty than Normal.
As if to punctuate this grandiose mistake, the game then asked me three times if I was sure I wanted to do this. Three times. It was like, "Uh, dude. I recommended 'Normal.' That's why all the other options are shaded in. You sure?" I said yes. It then persisted, "I'm telling you, man. You will die. A lot. A whole lot." I said yes again. Then, in an unprecedented display of compassion, it gave me one last chance to opt out. I did not.
Fuck you, game. I don't need your charity.
OK, so this game is taking no fucking prisoners. I was scared at first, never having done this. I thought I was going to turn the game into something of a monster, frustrating me at every available opportunity, around every corner. I wasn't necessarily wrong, but to my delicious surprise, it's fun as Hell! I must have gotten myself killed 25 times in the very first fire-fight, but it was so intense, and so adrenal (yeah, I used it as an adjective, fucker), I couldn't tear myself away. I had to beat it to see just how ridiculously obnoxious the rest of the game got. I was seriously enjoying myself.
Every so often, however, the game seems to have this need to turn me around, mount me, and assert dominance. At the end of the controversial "No Russian," while climbing in to the back of an ambulance to finish out the mission, I watched as Makarov (I think that's his name) shot me in the fucking face . . . and I swear to god the game chuckled. It was like, "Great job, Jim! Here, let me help BLAM!!! BWAHAHAHA! Did you see that?! Oh, MAN! You should've seen the look on your face! Oh, oh, oh, hold on. I need to catch my breath . . . BWAHAHAHAHAHA!"
I'm not quite done, yet. I'm in a Virginian suburb, slinking around out of sight while I try to dodge enemy armor. It's a bit of a break from all the shooting, but I suspect I'm simply being lulled into a false sense of security, only to become a smear on said Virginian suburb's roads. At any point I am keenly aware that the game will turn on me, but I am also aware that no matter how mentally prepared I am, I won't be as prepared as I need to be.
You know, this game has become like my own personal GLaDOS, without all the entertaining banter. It is my passive aggressive nemesis, waiting quietly to destroy me, all the while maintaining cordial relations.
Since the review isn't up (and apparently won't be for a bit), and because I am a proactive whirlwind of productivity, I've decided to go ahead and give you my first impressions of the thirteenth entry into the increasingly ineptly named Final Fantasy series (which will heretofore be referred to as "the game," "that game," "game," "the thing," or "it" because FFXIII is ridiculous to type).
Clearly, only two (work) days after the release of the North American version of the game, I haven't beaten it. In fact, I am only approximately 7 hours into the thing, and so this isn't a comprehensive review. This, however, is plenty of time for me to identify what it is I like and what it is I can't stand.
Going into this experience, I brought along with me a set of expectations, and I was disappointed to discover that, again insofar as the first few hours are concerned, they were met with a resounding "meh."
That dude up there? That's Sazh . . . the ONLY likable player-character in the whole game. Lightening is a cold bitch with a chip on her shoulder, but there is nothing there to humanize her. OK, I get that her sister is presently indisposed, and possibly that's why she's a jerk-off, but there isn't anything in the story up to this point to explain why she's so unapproachable. Miranda was a right bitch, too, but she had reasons that she told you if you asked her. She didn't know if you were as committed to the Cerberus cause as she was, and her beliefs and mission came before everything else, especially human relations. As a human myself, I can relate to that. She was stand-offish, but she had her reasons, and I respected that. Lightening is arbitrarily a bitch for some unknown reason, or worse for no reason at all, and that instantly turns me off to her. The ONLY saving grace of hers is that she hits like a truck, but this is mechanical, and does nothing to warm me to her.
Everyone else in the group acts out their stereo-type to exaggerated and ridiculous effect. Hope is so fucking whiny, and so typical in choosing a scapegoat for what's ailing him, seeking not to understand or cope, but to lash out in adolescent frustration and rage, accomplishing nothing and generating unbearable dialogue in the process. Snow is a moron, an over-the-top drama queen capable of nothing save proving what he says about himself and his beliefs false at every opportunity, whilst grand-standing about circumstances in such a blatantly dreamy and unrealistic manner you want to slap him to wake him the fuck up. Vanille . . . honestly, I haven't decided on her, yet. She's likable enough, and cute without being saccharine sweet, but given the group she's cast her lot with, I can't really tell if I like her simply because everyone else is so unlikable, or because she's a genuinely endearing character.
I've been saving the world for the majority of my adult life, and I've come to discover that the details no longer matter. Whether circumstances conspire against me and thrust me into a leadership role, or I choose to save it due to personal reasons. Whether it's expected of me due to lineage, or maybe it's just a simple errand that balloons into a grand quest. None of this matters. What matters are the characters I interact with along the way, and the relationships and personalities that develop from there. I do not care about the ultimate destruction of the world, because this aspect of any given game is usually horribly under-developed, trite, outlandish to the point where suspension of disbelief becomes taxing, or any combination of these. The Reapers are fucking silly, and so are the fal'Cie. As a result, it is the characters I look to for intimate emotional attachment and engagement . . . and I cannot stand the majority of the assholes in this game.
Sazh is normal. I can't tell if he's maybe dangerously "BLACK!" at times (my line of work has me hyper-sensitive where race is concerned), but generally speaking, he's just a normal old dude, who also happens to be black, and is surprisingly level-headed and reasonable. He's a decent guy, and I like him.
I realize that plot points may change these opinions, but for the time being, this is how I feel out of the gate.
The Eidolons are amazing in both form and function. I only have access to two of them (Shiva and Odin), but assuming the rest of the pack follows suit, I can't possibly see my interest or enthusiasm waning in any conceivable or significant way. The bio-mechanical aesthetic, and the fact that they have two separate and distinct modes, both as interesting to look at as the other, has me summoning them as often as is reasonable just to look at them. That's typical of me in any game of this series, to only summon them to look at them, but this time it seems much more pressing. The designs are so busy and detailed and just so goddamned neat; I want to summon and re-summon them to see if there was a detail I'd missed or not noticed before, and there invariably is.
In fact, this is true of the entire game:
The stunning craft with which the artists constructed this world, and the staggering amount of detail, containing no small amount of filigree, which must have been painstakingly wrought and textured has me gasping at every new thing that enters the screen. Airships, people's clothing, monsters, weapons, everything in the game demands such rapt attention for sometimes such a brief period of time, just looking at the goddamned game has become the very definition of intensity. This is, put simply, the best looking game you could ever lay your eyes on.
This is what's keeping me playing for the time being. I want to see what comes next. I want to see the forests, the skies, the wastelands, the fleets of ships, the monsters, everything. I don't care why I'm going there, or what I have to accomplish. I care just that I get there, and have the opportunity to see it all.
Exploration has been completely removed, and I often feel like I'm being shoe-horned down a corridor that is invariably too long, punctuated (thank god) with minor and major battles to break up the monotony. If you aren't going to let me look around how I want to, at the very least be merciful in how long you force me to stay in any given environment. This game is not so benevolent. You can leave when it tells you to, and chances are, it won't be telling you to for a while. There comes a point where I don't give a shit how beautiful this particular environment is, I've been here for way too long and fucking want out.
The player's function in combat has been minimized, as well. You control only the party leader, and if they die, it's game over. Never mind that all throughout the initial stages of the game each and every character takes turns leading, proving themselves capable of taking the reigns if necessary, if the currently selected leader dies, you start over. Mercifully you start over from a point right before that particular pack of villains was engaged, so this contention is more about how little sense this design decision makes than actual player inconvenience. It still has me scratching my head.
While in combat you choose a load-out for your squad in real time, and can change it up at any moment to suit your needs. I find that the game is actually quite flexible in this regard, not requiring certain paradigms, as they're called, to defeat certain enemies, but allowing you to use the tools at your disposal to solve any given combat conundrum in the manner you feel most comfortable with. Want to debuff everything in sight before you swing into them? Go for it. Do you like a medic mainstay, sacrificing damage for the piece of mind a ready healer can afford? Be my guest. Personally, I like to debuff the baddies, buff myself, and then swing with everything I've got. It costs time, which can cost experience and items, but honestly that isn't anything a little grinding can't fix. Or a bunch of Gil.
At first, when hearing about this system, I thought it was sacrificing player interaction. In a form of media where interactivity is the biggest strength and mode by which games differentiate themselves from everything else out there, I thought this a mistake, and an affront to my gaming sensibilities. After having played it, I find it's fast, frenetic, extremely fun, and had they given me the responsibility of choosing all of my party members actions every round, would become convoluted, messy, and nearly impossible to deal with, especially giving the pacing of the battles. The Chain Gauge adds to the freneticism, as it adds a sense of urgency with which you attack any given target. Certain conditions affect the gauge, like class or resistances, but the overall effect seems to keep the battles strategic in the face of their rapid pacing. You have a lot to consider each time you shift or attack, or use an item, and the experience is really very fun.
Call it Crystarium, Sphere-Grid, License Grid, or what-the-fuck-ever. It's all the same thing, with extremely limited differences, capable of making your characters carbon copies of one another in time for the endgame.
I actually like this, as it allows me to select my party based on who I like, rather than what they can do, but at the same time what a character can do can become such a huge part of who they are and their personality; it's a triumph in a gameplay sense, but a defeat in the character development department. I certainly prefer this design choice, but with characters I already find insufferable, I wonder if maybe giving these people a new dimension with which to develop might have actually been a good thing. I am reminded of Final Fantasy IX, and how everyone had a class, only that class, and it added a very strong pillar of personality to each and every one of them. Vivi just couldn't have been anything other than a Black Mage, and he was better for it.
That said, the Crystarium is OK enough. You can advance your dudes down whichever path you choose, but ultimately certain dudes are better at certain things. Other dudes get access to the same abilities, but at different places throughout their development, and everyone has their own ability pathing. Sazh's Synergist path gets him Faith and Brave early on, while Hope has access to Protect and Shell. Overall it's a solid system, and honestly with the limited exposure I have, can't really be too critical of it yet.