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Gaming: Recent Gaming

From left to right: A little sister, Alan Wake, Trip, Syd and a tank.

This post will be a quick recap of the recent gaming I’ve done, things that don’t warrant a full post.

Bioshock 2 (Xbox 360)

I completed the game last weekend and was very impressed with it when I really wasn’t expecting to be, and it’s currently sitting at the top spot of the currently rather slim Game of the Year 2010 list. With Xbox Live having a free weekend I did intend to try out the multiplayer (I’m currently only on a Silver account, which doesn’t let you play online) but ultimately didn’t get around to it. I don’t play much online multiplayer anyway and it was more out of curiosity about how it works than genuinely wanting to play the game in multiplayer. It’s not really a game that needs competitive multiplayer even if it does have a decent in-universe justification not just for skirmishes but also for arena battles and even respawns (thanks to the Vita chambers). I do wonder if part of the reason the combat in the single player feels better is because they had to tweak it a lot more for the multiplayer, and if so then it would justify the mode’s existence even if I never actually try it.

Alan Wake (Xbox 360)

I’ve recently started Alan Wake. I had the choice of that or Mass Effect 2 as they’re the two recent purchases sitting on my desk, ultimately opting for Remedy’s effort because I think I might want to play through the first Mass Effect again ahead of going into the new one, something which is going to eat up a lot of time. I’ve not got far into it but the game already makes good use of light, darkness and fog to ramp up the atmosphere.

It hasn’t been a particularly creepy game so far because Alan is perfectly capable when it comes to dealing with the Taken, the zombie-esque enemies that come after him, swathed in shadow for his torch to blast away. The Taken remind me of the shibito from Siren: Blood Curse as they were also corrupted versions of regular folk, stuck reciting old expressions or going through old routines. Of the two Siren is by far the creepier game because you were pretty weak (it even encourages avoiding fighting the shibito and plays up the stealth element), and even when you had a weapon you never felt particularly powerful. Alan Wake plays much more like a third-person shooter, and even though enemies hurt when they hit you Wake’s more than competent enough with his weapons that you don’t feel powerless or in a great deal of danger.

Something that’s already stood out is the collectible thermoses, of which there are one hundred in the game. I’m trying not to seek them out in this playthrough because it breaks the fiction somewhat if Wake is searching corners for a thermos instead of trying to save his wife, but I’ve still picked up a few. At one point when I was moving through a mazelike logging camp I saw something flashing, figured it was where I was supposed to be going and rushed toward it, only to find it was the glow of a thermos. I’m not convinced yet that they add anything much to the game but they are harming it just a little bit by pushing against the fiction. The game seems good though and it’s not something that I expect will undermine the experience in the long run.

Quantum Theory (PS3 demo)

If I’m honest I never thought Quantum Theory looked set to be a good game. It held a little interest as a Japanese take on the cover combat of Gears of War (though I think Vanquish has pretty much stolen any thunder the game might have had in that respect) but I didn’t really expect it would be good. The demo didn’t dissuade me of that opinion.

The game wears its Gears influence with pride. The beefy main character, the weapon layout on the d-pad, the controls (including the roadie run into cover), the icons for moving around cover and the way you can focus the camera at key points all come straight out of Gears. There even seems to be an active reload (an interactive bar that if timed correctly can boost the reload) but I couldn’t quite figure it out. Their attempts to recreate the art style of Gears were fairly unsuccessful, with the enemies and environments all kind of merging into one another thanks to the textures and colour palettes. The demo ends with a boss (or at least I’m guessing it does) but I had a lot of trouble with the fight and kept getting killed quickly, with there seemingly being nowhere to hide and no way to stun it in time to avoid death. Ultimately I quit the demo without completing it and don’t intend to go back.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3 demo)

I wasn’t a big fan of Heavenly Sword‘s combat, which was fairly shallow and just didn’t work as well as in something like God of War. Where the game shined though was in its presentation, telling a decent little story with fantastic animation and motion capture (which is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game). So for Ninja Theory’s second game (or third if you count Kung Fu Chaos back when they were still going by Just Add Monsters) I’d like them to be able to keep Heavenly Sword‘s production values while overhauling the actual game bits, and based on the demo it seems like that could be exactly what we’re getting.

What surprised me was how much of an influence Uncharted 2 seems to have had on the game. The demo kicks off where the full game likely will, with Monkey (the character you control) escaping from a crashing prison ship after Trip (the character you accompany throughout the game) escapes and causes a lot of problems. The way you have to leap around as the ship explodes and shifts around you is very reminiscent of similar parts of Uncharted 2 (especially the collapsing train sequence). Unlike Quantum Theory it seems like the team understood a little more about why those parts worked in the game they’re emulating and they hold up pretty well. There isn’t a great deal of combat in the demo but what was there seemed fun, though there wasn’t enough for me to be able to say if it beats Heavenly Sword‘s at this stage.

On the presentation side I didn’t find it quite as good as I remember Heavenly Sword being. Monkey isn’t very expressive at the start of the game so the excellent facial work wasn’t readily apparent until right near the end, once he was teamed up with Trip. Trip’s poses and face were much more expressive and the final cutscene was enough to suggest there’s going to be a good story told throughout the game. Combined with the great visuals (it’s nice to see a post-apocalyptic setting that is alive with greenery instead of all greys and browns), the solid platforming and seemingly improved combat it means I’m now very interested in the game.

R.U.S.E. (360 demo)

As yet another World War 2 RTS R.U.S.E. would ordinarily be something I’d ignore entirely, as neither the setting or genre particularly excite me these days. I did like the idea of the game’s ruses though, special ‘cards’ you can play on a sector to trick your opponents by disguising units or outright creating fake ones. Unfortunately the demo doesn’t really give you any good ruses to play with, the only ones it does give you being basic buffs to increase the chances that enemies will flee or to reduce the chance that your units will.

That’s disappointing because as a straight RTS the game didn’t dazzle me. The unit types were fairly generic (an inevitability of the setting), objectives weren’t always entirely clear, the cutscenes were pretty poor and I didn’t find the combat particularly fun. I liked the presentation (zoom out far enough and the level is presented as a map in a war room) and as I’ve already said I like the idea behind the ruses, but the game itself didn’t sell me on any of that. Considering the reception the game has received it’s possible the demo just doesn’t do a good job of presenting the game at its best and perhaps it’s more suited to PC, but as it stands I don’t have a great deal of interest in trying the full game.

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