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.

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