Monday, 27 February 2012

Is Nathan Drake just a little too good?

If I were a character in the Uncharted games I would go out of my way to ensure that my feet never shared a surface with Nathan Drake. Just about everything that man sets foot on crumbles and sends him hurtling to the floor. With all of the consecutive rough tumbles Mr Drake experiences, I’m fairly certain he has steel ribs or a pain tolerance higher than that of a fence post. How he has survived every cutscene and scripted scenery collapse is a mystery.

Having completed Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception over the weekend I can’t help but look back and think how slightly over the top and ridiculous it was at times. The Uncharted series has always been good at immersing the player in environmental peril, but the third outing may have pushed it a bit too far. It felt like every other chapter had dramatic and lively scenery that was desperate to shake Drake into whatever nastiness was below.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought Uncharted 3 was brilliant, but Naughty Dog seemed to over use the set pieces a little too much this time. In previous Uncharted adventures such occasions have really stuck out as highlights, but I can’t help but feel they tried to cram too much imminent danger into the third PS3 outing. I know Uncharted isn’t meant to be completely bound to realism, but it at least tries to pretend it follows the laws of physics.

To me there were a few too many near misses accompanying every action. It was always a case of leaping from the ledge as it crumbled or swinging from a pipe the second it detaches itself. It stopped feeling like Nathan Drake was really lucky, but instead that he might be some kind of thrill seeking god character descended to Earth for a cool-looking treasure hunting jolly. It might have featured this heavily in previous games, but it certainly felt more abundant in Drake’s Deception.

Despite this mild grievance it’s still a great game. It’s one of those titles with so few flaws you really have to criticise things that may seem a little petty. Although, as indicated in my last post, Uncharted 3 did seem a little more scripted and linear than the previous two games in the series. It was still enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want to relinquish any more control over Nate for the sake of making the game actions look more cinematic.

Friday, 24 February 2012

On-rails gaming: Uncharted 3 edition

Over the last several years, as games have been getting bigger and bigger, players have been granted more freedom, whether it was just a case of larger rooms to explore and navigate or entire worlds to cause havoc around. It’s generally been regarded as a great development and met with universal approval. However, a slightly disturbing trend seems to be working against such freedom recently.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that Battlefield 3’s campaign seemed to be reversing this sense of open environments. It had all the appearances of large, open areas, but actually funnelled players down an incredibly narrow path, not leaving much need for exploration or navigational puzzles. It was basically an on rails corridor shooter with the appearance of a vast, expansive world.

Uncharted 3 is the latest offender of this, but not because of the seemingly one track path. I’m sure it must have featured in the previous Uncharted titles, but there seems to be far too much hand holding in Nate Drake’s third outing. I’m sure it’s all there to make it a more fluent and cinematic experience, but it really bugs me because so much challenge has been removed.

Leap in the vague direction of the ledge you are meant to jump to and Mr Drake will be inexplicably sucked towards it, like the conveniently placed finger grip holes are magnetised and pulling his belt buckle towards them. This can make for some incredibly weird and off-putting physics mysteries as your jump path is corrected and often extended in mid-air. It also makes it painfully obvious that control is being ripped away from your fingers to make the game easier, even on the ‘normal’ difficulty setting.

Look back to the days of Tomb Raider 2 and this all seems like madness. I remember carefully walking Ms Croft up to the edge of a platform before taking a step back to prepare for a running jump. You needed real precision to clear the majority of gaps and it was a genuine challenge. I appreciate that by today’s standards it might be a little clunky and impractical to careful line up your jumps that much, but for the game to actually correct your flight path to the necessary line seems a bit over the top.

I just hope that the new Uncharted inspired Tomb Raider game out later this year takes more notes from Lara’s previous adventures and actually retains some element of challenge with the jumping puzzles. I’m all for a little bit of assistance in terms of grab detection, but don’t take total control away from us when the perilous jumps are meant to be a challenge.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The onset of gaming fatigue

Gaming fatigue is an inconvenience that usually sets in when you get enthusiastic about a game and overplay it in a short period of time. It can be a real pain as you get half way through and then run out of steam. You then have to make the choice to try and grind through it or walk away and try something else for a while. Unfortunately both break your immersion in the world the game has worked so hard to build up.

I feel bad to admit it, but this is the hurdle I’ve come across in Skyrim. My sneaky archer character has burned through so many quests with no end in sight that everything just feels the same now. It probably doesn’t help that I’ve cheated myself and know nothing of the Elder Scrolls backstory prior to the fifth entry in the series. I’m sure the majority of what gets waffled at me has significance or glancing references to prior storylines that just sail over my newbie head.

Skyrim’s seemingly endless scope has started to work against me as I just can’t see a conclusion on the horizon. It’s a bit like building a wall to no specification, I have no idea how long or tall to make it. It’s great really, and a true achievement to have such an open game that is still crammed with plots, sub-plots and secondary sub-plots at every turn. I just don’t quite know where to go with it now the novelty has worn off.

Skyward Sword is the other game that is currently suffering from burnout. I’m having a real love hate relationship with it. I hated the opening 90 minutes, but then it opened up into something wonderful. But now (*minor spoiler alert*), I’m trying to tackle the third visit to the Silent Realm and I just can’t be bothered with it. Why oh why have Nintendo tried to fit stealth gameplay into Zelda? It’s a revisit to a game design crime that I thought the industry had outgrown. Forced stealth sections are not fun in a game that does not have stealth as a primary gameplay element.

At least Skyrim has other distractions I can entertain myself with should I get stuck on a particular quest. Skyward Sword won’t progress unless I finish this stupid, out of place sneaking segment. The pointless thing is that I’m not even stuck at this point. I’ve only had one failed attempt and have already dismissed the section because it’s not fun. I am genuinely not looking forward to returning to the game because of this. And when a game isn’t fun, what’s the point in playing it?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Player One ReStart

Player One Upgrade may have been a more appropriate title, or maybe I could have made a joke about levelling up? Oh well, it’s done now. Player One Start has received its first ever major facelift since birth. It wasn’t that I thought my baby had grown especially hideous with age, I just thought I’d dress him up to look a bit more up-to-date and approachable.

The upgrade still isn’t finished mind you. I’m going to dig up all of my game reviews and set up an archive full of links to where they live on Critical Gamer. I’m also considering the possibility of inflicting a video blog upon the world as well, although that won’t be for a little while.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank your excellent self for coming to this blog and dragging your eyes along the lines of text I spray everywhere. I really appreciate your presence here and hope to repay it with more insights, ramblings and word arrangements over the next year.

And what a year it’s already shaping up to be! March could be a lost month to be honest, with SSX rearing its head March 2, Mass Effect 3 appearing March 9 and Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai on March 23. That’s a lot of time to potentially lose to the machines; awesome.

P.S. I didn’t know how to illustrate this post so I took a picture of a plush headcrab eating a teddy bear. Enjoy.

Friday, 3 February 2012

More games need to lighten up

There are very few legitimate opportunities in life where you can write the words ‘pulsating dildo machine’ in a relatively guilt free manner. So I will apologise now if I offend anyone particularly sensitive for indulging myself in this way today. It’s the literary equivalent of swimming with dolphins.

Such a phrase would seem completely out of place in a world that is rapidly filling up with overly gritty titles like Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3 and Grand Theft Auto 4. The latter game in particular took a step in the opposite direction from the cartoon-like style and tone set by previous entries in the series, such as San Andreas and Vice City.

It’s a real joy then when something completely silly and fun rears its head above the meandering waves of macho realism that seem to be dominating the mainstream gamescape. Saints Row The Third doesn’t try to be serious, realistic or macho. It just gives you a world and tells you to have fun however you want from the very start. The protagonist can be anyone you want, from a hardened gangster in a slick suit to a transvestite leather fetishist that enjoys beating things with a four foot long sex toy.

Story missions don’t see you struggle against oppressively strong antagonists who leave a wake of immeasurably bleak circumstances behind them. Instead they are over the top joy rides that see you base jumping, flying VTOL jets and even raiding a ship to steal prostitutes. This particular boat raid mission has an element of Deal or No Deal thrown in, except you are opening shipping containers with the hope of finding a trafficked lady or two.

Opening shipping containers amidst a gun fight switches up the slightly monotonous chore of gunning down waves of baddies; however things took a turn for the funny when I opened the first container only to be greeted by a pulsating dildo machine instead of my terrified prize. Saints Row The Third is punctuated with similar semi-offensive props that reinforce the mental, nonsensical and humorous tones that make the game so different and fun to play.

The unexpected presence of this grotesque gadget in the middle of my mission was enough to make me giggle and continue on, knowing I was playing a game where the random and unexpected could truly happen. Who cares if these are static events that don’t change between playthroughs? Whereas most games are disappointingly predictable in terms of random cupboard dressing, Volition seem to go out of their way to keep the unexpected constant and fun. It might not be humour to suit everyone’s taste, but the complete lack of effort to make this game straight-laced places it high above GTA4 in terms of fun.