Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New games... any good?

It has been a Christmas of oh-so-delicious gaming. Most noteworthy being Kyna's receipt of a Nintendo Wii for Christmas (that's right.... Lownewulf has the connections ;)). However I didn't get off too badly either, with Asian Jon getting me Metroid Prime 3 for the Wii, the sis getting me Assassin's Creed for the 360, and Big Jon getting me Crysis for the PC. And of course, add that to my own shopping - before Christmas, Mass Effect for the 360, and just recently, Twilight Princess on the Wii.

You know... I think I might be getting old and cynical. But I just have to pick apart every game I see now. Even games I have to grudgingly admit are good. Honestly, some of the games these days are simply amazing; despite what many people say, there is still a few people trying to innovate in the industry. But, in the end, most of them lack what I would consider relatively simple polish that mars an other great title. In the search for the next epic, I really am starting to feel that game studios are cutting corners, and it makes me sad.

But I can probably best explain by example, namely all of the above games.

Mass Effect
You know... this is meant to be a good game. A fun game. A combination of shooter and RPG, something done far too rarely and almost never well.
But you know what... if you want me to enjoy a game, it had better work!
This game froze on me. Hourly, if not more. While we suspect our media was bad, I hear that even a working copy tends to freeze every now and then. It's really not acceptable for a console game to do that with any level of frequency.

However, I had the option to replace my copy once the store I bought it from restocked. I said no. I returned the game, and may never buy it again.

I'm told that Mass Effect gets better once you get past the beginning (I wouldn't know, lock-ups suck). But in the beggining, what I saw was a bad combination of RPG and shooter. You try to set the pace of a shooter, but stop what you're doing to loot. And of course, in live action, trigger your many psychic skills for your entire party. Of course, there's plenty of friendlies, and they bring back one of the most painful parts of the RPG world: dialog trees. That's right. Now you, to understand what's going on, have to play the exhaustive dialog traversal game. Reminds me of AI class all over again. And what's better than talents? That's right, for all the characters in your party, if they get a level, you get to set their talent points - now you too can spend hours online speccing not your Warcraft toon, but your random nothing characters in a single player console game.

Yes, I know you can set the game to easy and choose to automate a lot of this, but I think it hurts a game more to design their gameplay around features that many players won't even want to have on.

Combine this with a nearly non-existant gameplay intro, and a manual missing most of the critical game elements, and you have a winner. Mass Effect could be fun for some people... but not for me.

Assassin's Creed
Actually, this game is pretty good. So good, that I spent a few full nights and burned through the game. It's got decent gameplay length... longer than Halo 3 by far (though sadly for Halo 3, that doesn't say much). It has a novel control system, and a fairly unique gameplay style. And totally atmospheric. You really feel like you're gliding anonymously through a crowd in a crowded medieval Middle Eastern capital, stalking your next target.

But it's got one major flaw: it's as repetitive as hell. Except for the 9 or so scripted assassinations, there's really only six things to do in the game (you have to do at least three investigations per assassination, so the rest is technically optional, but it'd certainly cut down your first clear time), and you do them over and over and over again. Lets go climb some viewpoints. Oh, and save some citizens. Pickpocket this guy. Eavesdrop this guy. Interrogate this guy. Stealth-kill these targets. Collect flags. Sorry, I lied, that's seven. But they are practically identical each time you do them, there's nothing even remotely different between your first pickpocket and your last interrogation.

Even the audio is repetitive. I probably saved a good 50 citizens (see what I mean about repetitive?), and they have like THREE different things they can say when you rescue them. Same with the Town Criers... I've heard exactly the same speech for the past four missions, yelled repeatedly over blocks of terrain. The guy at the other end of the city seems to be saying the same thing, in the same voice. Fer crying out loud, is 15 minutes of extra studio time really THAT expensive to record a few more audio clips?

And finally, the Animus. You aren't *really* an assassin, you're in some futuristic VR simulation replaying your genetic memory at the whim of high-tech kidnappers (no... really! I couldn't make something like that up!). At night, you can sneak out and read your captors' email and stuff, but that's about all. This is what is known as filler. It would make a good layout for a book, but adds nothing but dead time to the gameplay. Especially when the ending in the 'real world' is so lame and weak. Seriously, why not just cut out the whole future thing? You're an assassin, regaining the respect of your guild while fighting the Templars and discovering philosophical truths about the human condition. That's a great story all by itself! They could have used the extra disc space to add some variety in the gameplay

Of course, given the repetitiveness of the non-required content, this game has zero replay value. It was totally fun while it lasted. But just rent it, and stay up all weekend kicking its ass, because if you buy it, it'll just sit on your shelf after the first clear.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
The one thing the Wii has shown me is this:
If you talk about how great the Wiimote is, you can ship the exact same stuff all over again, with no upgrades, and people will love it.
The main reason for this is, even without the Wiimote, is that Nintendo makes some awesome games. So really, why mess with them?

Metroid Prime 3 plays just like the rest of the Prime series. Fight Space Pirates through a 3D shooter, collecting powerups your suit miraculously lost after the last game, and completing various puzzles along the way. It's certainly a different sort of game from the side-scroller, but ye know, it's still fun in its own way.

Corruption adds something that I think is novel - allies. Not really; most of the time, you're still running solo, but occasionally you can talk to people that don't want to shoot you. I was worried this would bother me. Samus always worked alone. But when you actually play, it does feel right. It's just the right amount of immersion into the universe in which Samus plays a part, and I feel it was a worthwhile addition.

Looking at my progress, I tag it at a 40 hour game. Great for a both a shooter and a Metroid game.

Honestly, I haven't played much yet. But it genuinely looks neat. A lot of attention to detail. A decent storyline built into a futuristic shooter with a far more realistic combat model than your average Unreal Tournament match. While I didn't particularly like the shooting model (it's very hard to hit with your guns), I honestly think it'd be something I'd grow into.

But Crysis isn't about the gameplay, it's about your tech epeen. It's about having the sort of hardcore system that will actually make a game like this look good. Sadly, no matter how much I love my awesome computer, it just can't hope to do this game justice. I feel somewhat less of a man. Maybe Amber's sweet new PC will handle it better (that blog post is probably next).

Since I haven't made it far yet, I can only discuss one complaint: SecurROM.
Basically, SecurROM is a complex third-party anti-piracy measure that looks for all manner of debugging tools and virtualization technology (that practically any programmer has in use for their day to day work) and disables the game if it finds them. And it casts a wide net as to what it doesn't like, but offers not the slightest hint as to what's wrong or why.

These game developers need to get hit with the same cluebat that the music studios did - those that want to pirate will crack your protection anyways (easily in fact. every time. without exception.) and distribute their magic on the Internet. So the only one you really hurt are the poor souls who are in fact legitimately trying to use your technology. The music studios are getting the hint and starting to sell MP3s instead of protected crap. Games... soon I hope.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Let me say it again.
If you talk about how great the Wiimote is, you can ship the exact same stuff all over again, with no upgrades, and people will love it.

Twilight Princess plays just like any modern Zelda game. It's basically what Ocarina of Time would be if it was made today. Except with the Wiimote. Thankfully all the cel-shaded suck of baby tribal Link from Windwaker was left out - unlike that 'game', this one actually has more than six hours of gameplay (a *lot* more), doesn't look stupid, isn't 90% ocean and has more than just three dungeons.

There are some quirks... the fishing comes to mind (they never explain that you need to use the nunchuck as a reel). And there is still the fundamental brain-grinding pain that comes with a puzzle-heavy Zelda games as you try to figure the odd quirk you need to get you to the next step. But really, I can't criticize the game beyond that.

We were just renting it... and Kyna got the Master Sword and knew where the boss was. I was like "GG, game over". But apparently we were like less than halfway through the game. And still having fun. We decided it would be cheaper to buy at that point. While I doubt it's ultimate replay value, we probably still have a couple of hundred hours between us (a couple of clears/collections each), which is more than I can ask of most games.