Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Christmas letter - My year in gaming

An open Christmas letter, why not? Well, I’m sure there are many reasons why not to do it, but I’m the captain, wash boy and saucy maid of this blog ship, so I’ll give it a festive stab. My year in gaming has been a fun one to say the least, and quite varied too.

It all kicked off with Mass Effect 2 and my personal voyage into being a bad person in RPG games, rather than the selfless white knight that I would normally strive to be. It was my first purchase of the year and probably game of 2010 in my books, with a fantastic storyline pushed along by a more than fantastic conversation system. It’s always funny upsetting pretend people.

Next highlight of my gaming year was April’s Splinter Cell Conviction. Less shadowy gimp suit swaggaery and more violent throat punches made it a totally different experience to past offerings, but a lot more fluid and fun. About half of the internet disagrees with me, wishing it stuck to more classic roots, but the fast and furious room takedowns were brilliant and unlike any other game. Main criticisms came from people whining that it wasn’t a stealth game anymore, but I still think plugging eight people in an area with none of them realising is still pretty sneaky.

It was also a high for local multiplayer, with a complete campaign dedicated to co-op play that reached back to a simpler time when you could sit on a sofa and play with your mates without the need of an Internet pipe. Good stuff.

May gave us the spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver, a game that should’ve done better than it did. Thankfully, Red Dead Redemption did to the barren planes of the Wild West, as Grand Theft Auto did to the sprawling cityscape of faux New York. Dragging people behind horses and onto train tracks was almost as much fun as pistol duelling and hunting bears. Okay, there were a couple of boring cattle herding missions that got less fun with each cow that ran off, but these added to the pacing of a truly brilliant game.

Those are my personal major highlights of the year, but the lows also deserve a mention. There has been a lot of disappointment this year, with release dates being pushed back, games with great potential turning out bad and still no mention of Episode 3.

Let down of the year was definitely Bioshock 2. The only innovation it brought to the series was the lovely drill arm of hypnotic spirally death, bringing absolutely nothing else to the same formula we saw last time in the undersea test tube society. It wasn’t a terrible game, but it did not live up to the first, and might has well have been a DLC addition to the original.

I still wish that Naughty Bear turned out better than the flaming orphanage of a tragedy that it was, but it somehow managed to secure itself a sequel, so we’ll see what happens there.

2011 is already looking bright with more Batman, Mass Effect and Portal on the way, so that’s a good thing.

I hope that you all had a great 2010, and still have many more fond memories to make over the festive period. Merry Christmas, happy New Year and best wishes to the other holiday festivities that take place this time of year. Have a good one guys.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Polished unmnetionable or broken marvel?

Duality is quite a common theme in games. Okay, so that statement mainly applies to good and evil, the major plot line of most games worth their metascore. Whilst Alpha Protocol certainly dances along the good and bad morality fence, it also precariously dangles both sides of the good and bad quality line. It’s a good RPG with each decision making an impact, whereas it’s a broken shooter with all the working mechanics of an Amstrad VCR caught in the gears of a combine harvester.

After picking it up for £5 on the PC and playing it for hours, I still can’t decide if it’s a good game or not. The idea of a modern day RPG intrigued me, but the “meh” reception from critics - which has ultimately denied the game a sequel - put me off picking it up at full price.

It’s one of those occasions where if you can avoid looking at the bright pink elephant in the room that is screaming racial slurs and stamping poo into your carpet, there is a good game underneath. Unfortunately, if you go in expecting a good third-person shooter, you won’t be doing this. You need to approach it purely from the RPG side to get the most from the experience. It’s a bit like saying that a toaster is a good kitchen appliance but an ill-advised bath toy.

I’m not the biggest RPG player in the world (or Worcestershire), but I have yet to come across a game where dialogue choices have had such profound effects on the game you play. A mess up on my part meant that I had to play the first third of the game again, and even though I strived for similar conversation options, I must have made alternative choices along the way.

Surprise doesn’t quite cover my reaction when the guards I had encountered on my initial play through, originally donned in suits and toting pistols were in fact man tanks bearing shotguns this time round. This one simple twist has made me wonder what the game would be like if I was actually nice to some of the people I come across. It has definitely made me want to go back to the game after completion for a different run through, but that’s only if the game’s major flaws haven’t caused me to punch my fists into mushy stumps.

Anyone who plays the game, even those who genuinely enjoy it, can easily point out the shortcomings within a minute of playing. It just feels wrong. There’s an awkward clunkiness to it all that means you are wrestling with controls half the time.

Game mechanics are also frustrating. As it is an RPG, your character starts out with a shooting ability that can be rivalled by most feral animals. It means that what you aim at is rarely what you’ll hit, especially if you don’t take the few seconds the game insists you are immobile and exposed for to line up the perfect shot, indicated by the crosshairs shifting colour. Not what you need when you want to shoot someone in the blink of an eye.

In journalism terms, this is a ‘good game poorly executed’, but personally I would say that if you can pick it up cheap and play it primarily as an RPG, it is a great game. It’s one of those things that I feel needs a sequel to show its true potential, but it looks like the kaibosh has been put on that one.

Still it’s not like we are going to be deprived of good sequels in the future, with Uncharted 3, Prototype 2, Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 and Portal 2 peppered over the release schedule for the next two years.