Thursday, 31 March 2011

What Crysis 2 learned from its little brother

Having resisted the eye popping allure of Nintendo’s latest portable stunner, I settled for something a bit more skin tight and figure hugging with the nanosuited escapades of Crysis 2. After running, jumping, sleuthing and stabbing my way through it over the last week, it’s been nice to see where it has learned lessons over the 2007 original.

First of all it seems that the new streamlined suit is much more at home in the concrete playground of New York. The jungles of Crysis had the Predator feeling (sans-shoulder cannon) down, but at times the lack of solid stuff to hide behind and the complexes in the middle of nowhere meant that there was a lot of hopping in and out of hot spots. New York just feels like a more naturally consistent environment to roam around.

Speaking of the streamlined nature of the nanosuit, having everything assigned to different buttons was a smart move. Even though it looks like a gimp suit covered in artificial muscles and consumer electronics, you do feel cool jumping between invisibility and man tank modes when ploughing through the clusters of bad guys that seem to be very unfortunate in meeting you.

The transitions between the suit modes in Crysis 2 means there’s a much greater level of fluency over the original’s awkward suit function wheel of misfortune that meant a crafty fiddle was required to switch abilities. Appearing from thin air with full armour right in front of an enemy never failed to get old, especially when you could vanish again just as quickly before his mate noticed.

Introducing a consistent bi-pedal form to the aliens also went miles to pitching this one over the original. They are actually more amusing to fight now, even if it means that they share a very close resemblance to fighting the human enemies you encounter. It’s perhaps a bit of a shame that the main challenge the aliens pose over regular enemies is their uninspired bullet sponge properties, but they are still a conservative leap in the right direction.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with Crysis 2 was the silent protagonist appearing about as charismatic as a washing machine that has never been used. While the mute man syndrome worked wonders in games like Halflife, there seem to be too many direct questions posed at the games’ hero, Alkatraz, to really warrant his non-answer. It just goes to distance you from the story.

At least in the original Crysis the suited and booted grunt, Nomad, had a few things to say, confirming that he was flesh and blood. Speaking of the guy, it would have been nice to know what happened to him, seeing at the end of the original he was flying back into the alien invested oblivion of an island he just fought tooth and nano-limb to escape from.

Crysis 2 was a very good game though and I’m looking forward to see if the multiplayer will grab me by the competitive plums the way that Halo and Call of Duty have so far failed to do so. I want my Xbox Live Gold membership to see some action damn it.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Call of Fight Club Now: Redux

Trailing behind just about everybody else who has the game under their console, I finally got around to playing through the single player campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops. It’s very nice to see that the writers of the series’ plotlines are still drunk and like to pinch their ideas from multiple sources. This blog definitely will be spoiler centric, so if you don’t want to know certain bits about the ending, close your eyes and click optimistically for something else.

To mention anything would be quite a major spoiler as the game seems so random in its route through the story that the destination is not clear at all. I can’t believe that there was anyone sitting there thinking “I know exactly where this is going”. This statement is not to be mistaken as praise.

Unpredictability and plot twists are all good things to have in a story, but they need to make sense in order to be truly appreciated. During the course of Black Ops it would not have been out of place for the fantastic moustache of Captain Price to suddenly swoop down from orbit and get slapped across Gary Oldman’s forehead. This may be down to the fact that Gary Oldman’s character (whose name I forget) turns out to be your imaginary friend for the majority of the game, and everything that he has supposedly done past a point was actually you.

Now this seems fairly bonkers for a game series that has tried to at least pretend it meant serious business and put action heroes in a plausible setting. Perhaps they were trying to distance themselves from the ‘serious’ vein of story flowing through Modern Warfare 2, where all of Russia suddenly goes to war with the US because they find a dead, slightly guilty looking American in an airport full of dead, slightly guilty looking Russians.

I honestly believe that the stories for these games are the result of a night of drinking followed by frantic fever dreams induced by leaving whatever late night film is running on the SyFy channel on a TV screen in the same room. They make as much sense as cross breeding chickens with icing sugar and chocolate to try and get the distressed animals to lay Cream Eggs.

The ending sequence was what took it over the top for me though. Maybe I’m being a bit pedantic and SCUBA diving nerdish here, but to escape, the protagonist ascends through about fifty metres of water in 25 seconds. Considering that a safe ascent from depths shallower than that should not exceed 18 metres per minute, with a three minute stop five metres below the surface, it’s incredible that he doesn’t immediately die of decompression sickness, an arterial gas embolism and exploded lungs.

And what greets him at the surface? Five warships that can’t be parked more than 20 metres away from each other, each facing the opposite direction as if they rushed into the middle of the sea to find you. If the wind picks up it would be very easy for these things to drift into each other, not to mention the smaller craft weaving in and out of them.

The six aircraft that fly low over the top of you in synchronisation might as well be dragging a banner that says “America wins!”

I know I’m picking holes in the very serious case of a videogame storyline, but I can’t help but feel that Black Ops was actually a parody of the Call of Duty series. I thought that EA’s advergamesment Duty Calls was being a bit extreme in its piss taking, but I think the ending of Black Ops possibly out did it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Enemies that aren't fun - Dead Space 2

I was going to write a different blog today, but sheer anger and sock chewing anger has prompted me to write this one instead. I have been raging like a tiger blood fuelled Charlie Sheen over the final chapters of Dead Space 2. I won’t drop any spoilers mind, not unless you are really sensitive to frustrating enemies that pop out of nowhere with very little explanation and the stubbornness of a toilet stain after chilli and beer night.

For the most part I loved Dead Space 2. It was fun, seemed a bit different, and whilst the scares became predictable after 20 minutes, it was enough to establish the desired atmosphere. It was frustrating then that the last 40 minutes or so were spoiled by this undesirable cretin.

Whoever it was that thought it would be fun to have a regenerating, invincible, bipedal cockroach monster chase you through the last two chapters of the game needs to be pushed down some stairs – metaphorically of course.

Whilst it does put pressure on the player to keep moving and up the challenge, it’s just frustrating when you’re in a room that requires puzzles to be solved. It means that every time you need to do something you run to one side of the room, wait for the ugly menace to toddle over to you right before mutilating his limbs and putting him in stasis so you can attempt to figure out what you need to.

The real kicker though was putting him in a room where there is a save point. Considering the save game panel has a two to three second animation that opens up a menu during which time you are helpless to do anything, it just seems mean to put a flesh hungry, unkillable monster in the room with it. I was in a foul mood over this creature and it wouldn’t even let me save my game so that I could walk away and clear my head.

In a game where ammo conservation is a real issue, putting a creature in the middle of it that just acts as a frustrating bullet/buzz saw/javelin sponge seems like bad game design.

Anyway, after a few attempts I finally slipped passed it and finished the game, but the really sad thing is that I’m glad that it’s all over. That last part felt like a real slog, and more of a chore than a fun, joyful gaming experience. Maybe it was the mood I was in at the time, but even if it was, it’s the games fault for putting me in that place.

Ah well, Crysis 2 next week. Yay.

Monday, 7 March 2011

I miss proper expansion packs

Personally, I love a good expansion pack. This may sound a bit silly and redundant (as surely nobody would love a bad expansion pack), but I genuinely feel that game expansions have come under a bit of threat in the last couple of years. Fortunately it seems that Relic haven’t lost their touch, with the fantastic Dawn of War II: Retribution that dropped through my post hole last Friday.

As you may or may not know, Retribution has finally opened up the single player experience to five additional races on top of the vanilla space marine man tanks we have been steering through the campaign mode so far. Okay, the storyline has taken a slight hit so that the other races’ individual plots can be shoe horned into the same selection of maps, but hey – it adds variety. There’s certainly a fair amount of meaty, man shredding substance to it.

My real gripe with the current generation of game expansions lie with the three letters that I have now programmed myself to completely ignore: DLC (downloadable content for the three people out there who’re not in the know). It really bugs me when a developer thinks they can squeeze a extra few quid out of me in exchange for a new dog, a couple of maps or fifteen minutes of extra gameplay. The minimal change that the majority of DLC offers really grinds my rusted, cynical man gears.

There is so much cheekiness being passed under our noses in the world of DLC that I really can’t understand how people willing hand over their money like it were bottle caps or naked lady playing cards. I know I’ve said it so many times that my brain has managed to scratch it into the walls of my skull, but I remember a time when map packs were free.

Now we have games like Call of Duty and Halo that feel they can get away by charging close to £10 for a set of three maps. Personally I think this is daylight buggery, but many coin tossing shoppers will retort my sentiments by saying that they were getting bored with the original maps. Considering that maps in most games are mashed up areas from the single player mode, surely that just says the developers were lazy when they originally designed the multiplayer mode?

I think the absolute worst thing about DLC is that many companies seem to plan for it ahead, before the actual game is released. To me this just says that devs are now releasing games that aren’t even finished, that don’t include all the content of their original vision. The worst example of this in my swirling vortex of hate cloud is Bioshock 2. That game actually shipped with parts of the DLC content on the disc, with the actual purchase of the DLC merely unlocking files you had already bought.

I wouldn’t mind it so much if downloadable content actually offered more content, something that adds a radical change to the formula we already have. I’m curious about the Dead Space 2 mini-campaign that was released recently. That one actually sounds like it adds a little more than a funky haircut and a new skin for the protagonist’s crotch plate.