the Gears 3 campaign

Again, sorry with the lack of posts of late.  As the release calendar is finally showing signs of life again, I expect to be back here on a much more regular basis.

I’m not in any position to review Gears of War 3, as I haven’t touched any of the co-op or multiplayer features, of which there are seemingly dozens.  I’m not a multiplayer guy, and I suspect by this point – it’s been over a week since the game’s release – I wouldn’t last more than 30 seconds in any sort of competitive match.  I do intend to play some of the co-op stuff, though, someday.

I did finish the campaign, though, and so while that’s only maybe 1/3 of what’s on the disc, it’s the 1/3 that I knew I was going to play, no matter what.  And I’m of two minds about the experience.

On the one hand, it’s the tightest, most polished, and most evenly paced Gears experience yet.  I’d be hard-pressed to find an Unreal Engine game that looks better, too – Bulletstorm‘s color palette clearly influenced Gears 3, which is much appreciated, as the world is now no longer (only) brown and grey.   Most importantly, the combat is as satisfying as it’s ever been.

On the other hand, sweet Jesus, I am sick and tired of elevators that require 3 power sources to be turned on before they work.  The sound of Marcus Fenix whining “Revive me!” like a petulant toddler having a temper tantrum was only made worse by my companion AI who would often walk right past me without, in fact, reviving me.  I started the game with a Lancer, and I finished the game with a Lancer, and while I used a bunch of other weapons throughout the campaign, I never accessed anything truly new and exciting to use – and those giant catapult monster things, while new for the series, are not exactly “new”.  And while the game’s ending was refreshingly devoid of any stupid cliffhangers, it’s not as if the narrative really mattered.  These characters were not all that likable, and the world that I saved was pretty much on the verge of total collapse anyway; if there are any civilians left, their homes were most likely destroyed and they probably don’t have any jobs to go to and it didn’t look like there was any clean food or water around.  So, hooray.

Also, Cole Train’s bizarre hallucination in the football stadium?  What.  The.  Fuck.

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I’m still slowly plugging away in Resistance 3, but I suspect that a lot of my focus over the next few days will be on the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus collection, which just arrived via Gamefly.   I was one of the few Americans who didn’t own a PS2, and not being able to play those 2 specific games was my biggest regret of that console generation.  (I’d also include the God of War games and maybe Final Fantasy 10 in that category, which is why I gobbled up the GoW reissue and why I’m hoping that the rumors of an HD remake of FF10 are, in fact, true.)  Last night I played about 10 minutes of Ico, which is obviously nowhere near enough to garner any legitimate impressions, but I was quite taken with the little bit I’d seen.   So that’ll be nice.  Of course, Rage arrives next week, too, and my PC copy of The Witcher 2 apparently received a gigantic update today that is supposed to make it a lot easier to get into, so…

weekend recap: poor impulse control

I started playing a lot of games this weekend, and that’s not counting all the stupid shit I bought on Steam.  And the sad part is – I don’t know that I’m ever going to finish any of them, not with Gears 3 arriving tomorrow.

Anyway.  The bulk of the weekend was spent with my rental copy of Resistance 3.  I’d not been a fan of the first 2 games – indeed, I only played about 5 minutes of R2 before boredom set in – but the reviews of R3 were positively glowing, and so I figured why not.

I’m enjoying it, for the most part.  It generally looks really nice – not as jaw-dropping as Killzone 3 but it’s got great lighting and terrific art design.  People move nicely, although their faces (outside of cutscenes) are a little weird.  The weapons are probably my favorite part of the game – every gun is immensely satisfying to use, and I certainly enjoy leveling them up as I progress.  Hell, I like that I keep leveling up even if I die repeatedly (which has happened in a few sections, unfortunately – so much so that I ended up moving the difficult down to Easy just so that I could finish it quickly).  The biggest drawback, though, is the friendly AI, which is either stupid, non-helpful, or just plain broken.  They don’t hit anything, and indeed sometimes they don’t even fire their weapons, even as enemies pour into view.  What makes this even more frustrating is that the enemies seem to know this, also, which is why they only seem to target me.

I’m apparently at the end of Chapter 10 (of 20), so there you go.  As noted above, I’m definitely not going to have a chance to finish it before Gears 3 arrives, and frankly I’m not entirely sure I’m ever going to finish it.  But I’ll hold on to it in the meantime; maybe it’ll be something nice to switch back to if Gears 3 gets frustrating.

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I also spent an hour or two with Dead Island, which I’m playing on my PC.  I’d been hemming and hawing about renting it for a while, and after listening to a bunch of podcasts I decided to forgo the console versions and just give it a download on Steam.  I’ve heard it compared to both Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, but to be honest the game it most reminds me of is Fallout 3 – specifically in terms of the size of the world, the combat, and the questing.  I think this is a good thing.  It’s a bit clunky in spots, and the writing/voice acting is a bit off, but it also feels wildly ambitious and I feel compelled to give it a good effort.

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I’m still plugging away in Driver: San Fransisco, which I apparently haven’t written about here.  I like it!  It’s a bit frustrating here and there, but I love how completely batshit insane it is, and I especially love how the developers really took this lunatic premise and went all-out with it.  And I also appreciate just how much stuff there is to do, which goes a long way towards easing frustration with story missions or races or what-have-you.

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As for Steam sales… god.  I’m such a whore.  Picked up Darksiders and Mirror’s Edge for 5 bucks apiece – both games I’ve already played before on the 360 – and then I did the Star Wars mega-pack, mostly because we also bought the Star Wars blu-ray set and so we had it on the brain.  (Which I’m sure wasn’t merely a happy coincidence on Valve’s part.)  I did the first 5 minutes of KOTOR and turned it off immediately – it felt very clunky with a mouse and keyboard, and I didn’t want my memories of that game sullied by reality.  Also – the Star Wars: Force Unleashed install was something like 24 gigs?  WTF?

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I keep meaning to do another Subway Gamer piece, and I keep not having time.  So here’s a quick taste of what’s been keeping my iPhone busy of late:

Jetpack Joyride might be my frontrunner for most addicting game of the year.

Quarrel is a fantastic word game – anagrams mixed with Risk.  If it had online multiplayer I’d never turn it off.

Monsters Ate My Condo is… I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a pretty insane little puzzler, good for quick 5 minute bursts.

Dragon Portals is something I downloaded for free the other day; it’s an intriguing take on the old match-3 formula.  Not sure I’d recommend it at full price, but for a free download it’s certainly worth checking out.

Deus Ex HR: the end

***SPOILERS AHEAD.  This post concerns, among other things, the ending of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and while I’m mostly focused on the form of the ending as opposed to the content, you should probably stay away until you’ve finished the game.  Ordinarily I’d wait a few more weeks before posting, but I’m not sure I’ll remember what I have to say by then, so…***

I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution over the weekend.  In my last post I’d mentioned that I was stuck in a boss battle towards the end of the game and that, because of an action I’d inadvertently made 6 hours previous, I was more or less screwed.  As it turned out, I wasn’t as screwed as I’d thought; my Typhoon weapon was still active even though my HUD was messed up, and three quick Typhoon shots put a quick end to a tough bastard.

From there, it was really just a few more hours worth of hacking, sneaking, and ultimately giving up on the non-lethal path and just flat-out murdering dudes until I came to the ending(s), which I won’t spoil, except to say that from an objective standpoint there’s really not all that much to spoil.

There are 4 endings in all, and the game makes it more or less clear that you should probably save at a certain point if you want to see them all, and, well, that almost tells you everything you need to know.  It doesn’t matter how you’ve played the game for the previous 20-30 hours; after the final boss battle, you are presented with 4 buttons to press, and once you press one of them a short, vague montage is shown with some ponderous, monotone Adam Jensen monologue-ing, and then the credits roll, and then you can reload your save and try pressing a different button.  That’s it.

And you’re only given the proper context for what these button presses actually represent about 30-60 minutes before you get to the button-pressin’ room – although that context is only given if you’re actually looking for it.  (Before you reach the final boss area, 2 messages are played over the intercom – 2 major characters have barricaded themselves in rooms and require your assistance.  The locations of those characters are only mentioned once; they don’t appear on your map or in your mission log, and I very nearly missed both of those encounters.)

I was a bit underwhelmed.  My memory of the first Deus Ex is hazy at best, but I do seem to remember that in order to see one of the original game’s 3 endings, you had to commit to a course of action that was far more involved that merely pressing a button.  Sure, you could save your game right before the decision, but you still had some more work to do.

I’ll be honest – the only reason why I watched all 4 of DXHR’s endings is because I got 50 Achievement Points out of it, and those may have been the easiest 50 points I’d ever gotten (well, besides the Avatar achievements).  The movies themselves were simultaneously clumsy and pretentious, and didn’t really reflect on any of the 30 hours of work I’d put in.  Ultimately, I couldn’t really tell you what happened even if I wanted to; none of them made any discernible impact on me.  To be fair, I was at the end of a marathon gaming session and so maybe I wasn’t as awake and alert as I should’ve been, but still – I need more from an ending than a 3-minute student video from an “Intro to Montage” class, especially from a franchise that made its name on player choice.

At the end of the day, I suppose I’m a little down on the game.  I’ll admit that maybe the reason why I’d enjoyed it as much as I did was because it was far better than I expected, and also because it was the first genuinely good game that had been released in months.  When it comes time to compare it to the rest of the year’s best in December, though, I’m not sure it’ll fare all that well.  It’s a welcome return to a much-loved franchise, and certainly I’d like to see more Deus Ex games in the near future; I just hope that these future titles aren’t afraid to carry a bit more weight.

Labor Dabor: hitting the wall

Does this ever happen to you?  Where you’re playing a couple different games at the same time, and you find yourself stuck in a difficult section in each one?  This is how I’m currently living.  I’m stuck in a boss battle towards the end of Deus Ex Human Revolution, and I’m also stuck in a difficult “boss” battle in Rock of Ages, and the CPU refuses to let me sink anything, even 5-foot gimme putts, in Tiger Woods 12.

I’m doing my best to enjoy DXHR, in spite of this boss battle bullshit.  I’m still trying to stay non-lethal – I’m not sure of the exact amount but I’ve spent at least 20 hours in the game and I still  haven’t fired an actual gun at any non-boss enemy yet – but I’ve got no problem whatsoever in hacking turrets to slay my pursuers while hiding safely nearby, because that’s awesome.

I’m also feeling a bit cynical and wondering if my enjoyment of DXHR is due to it being the first non-shitty game to be released in what feels like months.  Because let’s be honest here – it’s got some problems.  The boss battles are horrendous, both in conception and execution; if you’re playing non-lethally, like me, you’re pretty much screwed because you’ve spent your Praxis points on stuff like hacking and cloaking instead of damage resistance and recoil dampening.  Even though the game does more or less put you next to an ammo dump right before a boss battle, I still never feel prepared.  I only beat the 1st boss because a walkthrough told me that there were weapons scattered about the room – before I read that, I was just ducking in cover and popping off shots that weren’t doing anything and getting killed if I ran away.  And I ultimately ended up beating the 2nd boss only because of an animation glitch that left that boss stuck in place.  I’m doubly screwed in this 3rd boss; I inadvertently did something about 6 hours prior to the boss fight that renders my HUD totally useless in this fight, which means I’ve got no radar and no access to the Typhoon weapon.  That sucks.

And I suppose I could gripe about the shitty guard AI, although let’s face it – every guard in every game has shitty AI.  They all do the same thing in every game – if they spot you, they’ll run to the last place they saw you, look for you, and then, if they can’t find you, they’ll make some sort of comment like “Oh well” and then return to their regular patrol route.  I have to assume that there are legitimate game design reasons and limitations on why this is a common AI practice; otherwise, the player would feel like they were being excessively punished for making a mistake that they didn’t even know they’d made (i.e., getting spotted by a guard outside of the player’s field of vision).

I was listening to this week’s excellent Gamers With Jobs podcast, and they made a lot of really interesting points about other DX issues – how the locations don’t really feel all that distinctive (especially when compared to the first game), how clumsily some of the side quests are implemented, the strange realization that nobody in this world has finished moving in to their same, sterile apartment, etc.  I’d also disagree with them on the quality of the voice acting – I happen to think that DXHR’s voice acting is, by and large, pretty bad.

But ultimately, in spite of its faults, I suppose I think it’s a remarkably well-made game.  I don’t know that it necessarily feels like a “Deus Ex” game – let’s face it, game design has changed radically in the 10 years since the first game, and gamers have grown accustomed to certain modern conventions that simply didn’t exist back then, and frankly my memory of the first game is hazy at best – but it feels like a good game, and it’s a welcome return to the series.  The things that it does well, it does really well, and I could certainly see myself playing a few more of these.

TANGENT

The above-referenced SWJ podcast also had a mini-discussion about how DXHR disproves the “myth of the simple gamer” – the myth that today’s modern gamer doesn’t care for slower-paced, thought-provoking, nuanced gameplay.  I’m not entirely sure that I agree with that statement, but part of the problem is that they don’t really provide any examples of the “simple games” that today’s “simple gamer” enjoys.  If they’re referring to the empty narratives of big blockbuster shooters like Call of Duty and Halo, well, you can’t judge those games on their single-player campaigns – those games have staying power and enjoy massive popularity because of their multiplayer, which is a completely different animal altogether.   I’d argue that making thoughtful, slower-paced gaming experiences are HUGE commercial risks for developers – I mean, sales numbers don’t lie, and I’ll guarantee right now that Modern Warfare 3 outsells Bioshock Infinite by at least 3:1 – and I’d further argue that making thoughtful, slower-paced gaming experiences is generally more difficult, which is why not many developers take that challenge on in the first place, especially given that those titles won’t necessarily sell well.   Look at the big, AAA titles coming out this fall:

  • Rage
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Uncharted 3
  • Skyrim
  • Gears of War 3
  • Battlefield 3
  • Modern Warfare 3
  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

With the notable exception of Rage, all of those games are sequels to existing franchises.  What does that tell you?  And look – I’m guilty of personally looking forward to playing most of those games on that list, and I’m sure that at least 3 of those games will wind up in my Top 10 GOTY list.  I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say that of those titles, Rage will probably move the least amount of units, even though it’s being made by one of the biggest names in the industry (and presumably with a lot of marketing power behind it).  The vast majority of gamers want something familiar.   (Hell, just look at how many Counter Strike players are still playing 1.6 after all these years.)

END TANGENT

Anyway, my original point at the beginning of this thing was that I’d hit a wall in all the games I’m currently playing.  And being that this is a long weekend AND that my wife is out of town for the next 5 days, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Have a great weekend, everybody.  I’m hoping to be back next week with some Subway Gamer columns on two new iPhone games that have been kicking my ass lately.