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This Week - 19/10/2011 (LA Noire, Demon's Souls, Dark Souls)

In an effort to write more and to get into a habit of forming opinions about things I started writing casual weekly blogs about the games I've been playing. This post contains minor spoilers about LA Noire. If, like me, you didn't play this game on release and don't want to know anything, skip the 2nd paragraph!

In all honesty, this week was pretty bleak, it was also thoroughly awesome! I finished the final parts of LA Noire which certainly shifted my opinion of the game somewhat. Following that, I played and completed Demon's Souls. I had this game on my shelf for a long time and couldn't muster the patience to get past the initial difficulty curve until the coverage of Dark Souls pushed me into trying it again. Straight after Demon's Souls I compulsively rushed out to buy, yes, Dark Souls which on first impression is better, harder and, well, darker!

Before I flail about Demon's/Dark Souls, let's wrap up LA Noire a bit. I'm writing a review of it at the moment so I'll keep this somewhat brief. Last week I was fairly enamored with 1940s LA and how detailed and immersive the world was. This still holds true, however something I can't quite put my finger on was missing from the latter two sections of the game. For me, it totally peaked with the homicide cases and everything after that was only ok (or boring, as with vice). I didn't like how Cole's wife and family suddenly became a pivotal aspect of the plot considering how they were basically ignored up until that point. When the events at the end of vice happened I was mostly just wondering who I was supposed to be caring about. It was presented in such a low-key manner that regardless of whether or not it's a simple cliched situation, the audience lacks enough of a connection with most of the characters involved to really care about any of it – even the protagonist's feelings are obfuscated. The ending had much more of an impact though and I did really appreciate the shift in focus with the final set of cases. Overall I felt that LA Noire was a fantastic and polished game, it just suffered from some structural and pacing issues.

Demon's Souls was also something special. I had previously heard from so many sources that it was an incredible game, but for a long time I simply couldn't get past the initial difficulty of it. About four times I'd played it for 30-40 minutes and died. Upon being thrown back to the beginning I tended to go “meh, fuck it” and just quit. After making the push to get through the first level though, the rest came naturally and I totally began to see what people were talking about all along. After the fight with the Tower Knight I was absolutely sold. I played a melee character in the end, so I can't comment too much on the magic or ranged attack system both of which saw minimal use in my game. As someone who generally shies away from melee in RPGs I was pleasantly surprised with how intricate and varied it was in Demon's Souls. Different weapons require different timings and strategies and the stamina system works exceedingly well, forcing a balanced mix of thought and reflex. The main fault I could find with it was that there was very little benefit to wearing heavy armor. The increased mobility allowed by lighter wear seemed to far outweigh (sorry) the minimal protection that plate armor offers. As a result, my character ended up looking rather strange – a rogueish man in skinny leather armor wielding a huge metal shield and sword.

Looking strange is hardly an issue in this game, though, with the grotesque menagerie of enemies you face and horrific locales you travel to. The Tower of Latria was probably my favorite area. The sound design in the prison was outstanding – the wailing inmates, the monstrously dangerous, tentacle-headed guards chiming their little bells and then that strange lady singing at the top of her lungs. Following that up with the interconnected towers and walkways of its second area and the sudden downward detour to a bloody mire – I was completely entranced. The game's bosses were also particularly striking. Though some of them were disappointingly easy (Valley of Defilement and Shrine of Storms in particular), they all looked amazing. Tower Knight ended up being my favorite fight in the game, though Penetrator and King Allant came close. The only part I found annoying was the blue dragon in 1-4. It took me quite a few tries at running past it before I just gave up and stacked extra fire resistance in order to survive a hit. Also, the fact that killing it entails shooting arrows at it for 20 minutes wasn't particularly exciting.

From what I've seen of Dark Souls it seems to have improved on the faults I found with its predecessor. The most noticeable change is the fact that it is now an open world dotted with checkpoints rather than disconnected worlds linked to a teleportation hub. I was worried that this would result in a lot of excessive repetition of content but they've really excelled at cohesively intertwining the various sections of the game. It is still essentially split up into A to B paths like the original but they end up looping back on each other in very natural ways, maintaining both an open world feeling and a sense of linear progression. It's really quite impressive. On top of this, the rationing of healing items at checkpoints makes the difficulty much more consistent. It was possible to complete some parts of Demon's Souls quite sloppily simply because you had a huge stack of herbs in your bag – not the case here. One heal used because you failed at managing trash properly is a heal you won't have in the concluding boss fight, where you'll likely need it. Again though, I'm still relatively close to the beginning and have little ability to kindle bonfires (increasing the amount of healing items I receive at that bonfire by 5) which might change later on.

In terms or sheer epicness, the volume has definitely been turned up. Take for example a boss fight which takes place atop a cathedral roof, overlooking an enormous city... on a cliff. I also took a peek at a later area, a subterranean waterlogged ruin with a large beam of sunlight piercing through a gap in the ceiling making the whole area shimmer in cobalt blue; then I noticed that the sounds of my scimitar strikes were echoed by the environment. By all initial accounts, Dark Souls has the makings of a suberb sequel which has clearly learned hugely from its predecessor and I honestly can't wait to get back to it. I'll stop here as I get the feeling that Dark Souls is the only thing I'll be playing next week. I'll discuss it in some more detail then.

I have a copy of Dead Island making its way to me in the post and inFamous is another game I let slide from my radar for far too long (yes, the first one – contemporary relevence ahoy!). I might try a little bit of those but to be honest Dark Souls is just completely consuming. When I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about playing it. It's nearing World of Warcraft levels of obsession. Anyway, expect a review of LA Noire and Demon's Souls fairly soon.

Until next week!
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About Marcello23one of us since 10:50 AM on 06.17.2011

I'm Marcus, 23, Irish and nearly a graduate of Multimedia & Games Development. Predominantly interested in games and television. I appreciate any comments you might have, should you take the time to read anything I post.

Apologies in advance for not being entirely contemporary with the games I write about; I don't have the money to buy everything when it's new.

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