revisiting Brutal Legend

I was home sick today, and so I decided to spend some of my convalescence by downloading the Steam version of Brutal Legend, a game that I still own (and never finished) on the 360.

Brutal Legend - The Wall

This is what I wrote about Brutal Legend back when I was first playing it in October 2009:

I don’t quite know how to express how bummed out I am about Brutal Legend. The art direction is stupendous, and the world itself is just fantastic. I love driving around and exploring the world and seeing all the incredible stuff there is to see, and my compulsive need to seek out hidden collectibles is very well satisfied. The dialogue and cut-scenes are fantastic, and even though the side missions are incredibly repetitive, they almost never last more than a few minutes, and the rewards generally result in neat stuff in Ozzy’s Garage.

But goddamn, the stage battles completely suck all my enthusiasm out of the game. It eventually got to the point where I had completed every side mission and found every hidden thing I could possibly find, just because I wanted to play the game as much as possible without having to go through the stage battles. And, of course, the story can’t progress unless you do those stage battles, and therein lay the tragedy.

I don’t necessarily hate real time strategy games, I’m just not very good at them, and Brutal Legend’s brief tutorials don’t really help me in terms of figuring out what the hell is going on, and the game does such a terrible job of providing adequate feedback, especially when I’m on the ground trying to kill people because my army refuses to move. Once you start getting wounded, and the screen starts turning red and the heartbeat starts pounding louder, you’re almost always dead, and I’ve yet to figure out why. Even when I try to fly away, I die. And even though I’ve eventually won every stage battle I’ve participated in, I really don’t understand why, and the whole thing just feels shoddy and poorly implemented.

I have all the respect in the world for Tim Schafer; I’ll play anything the man works on. But I’m starting to feel that there’s more to a game than art direction and funny dialogue; ultimately, a game either succeeds or fails based on how much fun it is to play, and Brutal Legend is not very much fun at all.

This is Tim Schafer speaking about the game with Rock Paper Shotgun today:

“When Brutal Legend was done, a lot of people wanted the wrapper to it – the heavy metal world – to be [the only unique thing about it],” he said. “They basically wanted the heavy metal funny version of God of War. A very simple hack and slash game. That’s a real tough call for me. It’s hard to say, ‘There’s this other thing that’s not the thing you’re trying to do. The thing you care about and that you love. There’s this other version of it that’s totally different and it would be more successful. Why don’t you make that version?’”

“Maybe it would have been more successful. It would have been more accessible and simpler and easier for people to grasp. But it wasn’t the thing that got me up in the morning and made me want to make the game.”

I am sad to report that my opinions of the game have not changed one bit.  The world is still wondrous, the art direction is still mesmerizing, the characters are still memorable and marvelously performed and animated, the dialogue is still witty and smart, and the story is still engaging… but the gameplay is still shitty.   I understand where Tim is coming from in that RPS quote – making a simplistic hack-n-slash game is probably not as inspiring as coming up with this RTS-esque system – but if you’re going to commit to a complicated system over the more obvious route, then you’ve got to make sure that your audience can follow along with you.  I’m sure some people understood how the game worked, but I never could.  And after my time with it tonight, I’m not sure I’ll ever get there.

It’s also worth bringing up that this PC port is not without some noticeable problems.  Lots of weird graphical glitches and bugs pop up all the time – the mouse cursor will appear in the middle of the screen at random even though I’m playing with a controller, some of the upgrade options in Ozzy’s Garage are totally glitched out, and the audio has a tendency to come and go during the pre-rendered cut-scenes.  (As I type this, I see that Steam just downloaded a 50MB patch; maybe that will help smooth out these rough edges.)

Despite my pessimism, I really would like to see a sequel – this world is too amazing to be lost to time.  I just hope that if they get the chance to make one, that they’ll be able to take as much time as is necessary to make sure the game part works.  Double Fine’s games have never come up short in the story department, or the art department, or any of the other technical/creative departments – they’ve only ever shown their weaknesses during the parts where you actually have to play them.  As I said above, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tim and his company, and I’ve played pretty much everything they’ve put out, and will continue to do so – I’m certainly waiting with bated breath for the Kickstarter Adventure (whose progress I’ve been trying to not follow, actually).  I wish nothing but success for Double Fine.  I just can’t help but feel that success will only truly arrive once their games are as much fun to play as they are to experience.

weekend recap: hello goodbye wtf

Major developments this weekend!

1.  Said goodbye to Ni No Kuni this morning, as I sent it back to Gamefly.  The game is fine, I suppose, but a few things became very apparent during my last few sessions with it, namely:  (i) I was never going to get 60 hours of TV time with it before the baby arrived, and (ii) I didn’t feel particularly compelled to fight for TV time in order to play it.   If I were 13 years old and had all the time in the world, I suppose I’d be madly in love with it.  But as a 37-year-old with limited time on his hands, it feels a little too cutesy, and the combat system is needlessly tedious and cumbersome, and it’s just not what I’m in the mood for right now.

2.  Said hello to a brand-new Nintendo 3DS XL on Saturday.  This after I wrote up a big long thing (that I didn’t end up publishing) about how I was suddenly seized with this irrational desire to get one, and that even though I have a special savings account that is specifically designed to let me me buy expensive toys without feeling guilty about it, I was still feeling guilty about it.  Maybe I’m nervous about fatherhood, and buying a new toy will help distract me.  I don’t know.

In any event, I bought the thing, as well as Super Mario 3D LandProfessor Layton & the Miracle Mask, and Paper Mario Sticker Star.  (I was hoping to also get Ocarina of Time and Fire Emblem, but they were sold out.  And you know what?  I might simply rent Fire Emblem; I played a Fire Emblem title on the original DS and it stressed the hell out of me.  Turn-based tactical strategy games always tend to freak me out.)  When I got home, I also downloaded Pushmo and Crashmo; not sure what else there is to download that’s worth it – thought about Cave Story, but it’s unclear if the one on the eShop is in 3D or not.

The 3D is pretty spectacular, even if it makes looking at everything else a little weird – like this computer monitor, for example.  I suppose I’d like it even better if it had a higher-resolution display, but everything I’ve got for it right now looks pretty grand, and I can deal with it.  I even took it to work with me today, as I’m curious to see if I picked up any Street Pass activity, but it doesn’t look like it.  This doesn’t surprise me, frankly – since it first came out, I’ve maybe only ever seen 1 or 2 on the subway.  I’ve seen more Playstation Vita’s on the subway, actually, which is very surprising.

As for the games?  3D Land is pretty great, reminding me of a smaller-scale Galaxy.  The Prof. Layton game is also pretty great, even if some of the puzzles feel a bit cheap.  Paper Mario is… OK, I guess.  It’s not Mario & Luigi, which is what I’d prefer, but it’s still interesting.

Those of you with 3DSes – what else would you recommend I check out?

the obligatory PS4 post

Now that the apartment move is over, and my life is relatively settled for the moment (i.e., before the baby’s arrival in early April), I am hopeful to return to a more regular posting schedule.  Indeed, I’d hoped to have some sort of liveblog here regarding last night’s Sony announcements, but, alas, the conference took place during the duration of my commute home from work, and so I didn’t get a chance to check out what had transpired until it was already over.

What did we actually learn last night?  We saw the new controller, we learned about Playstation Cloud (and a little bit of how it will impact backwards-compatibility, though not quite enough for my tastes), we saw surface-level specifications, and we saw some launch window games and a list of third parties who’ll be  supporting the PS4.  We did not see the actual PS4, nor did we get a release date or a price.  (I expect those to be released at E3, for whatever that’s worth.)

assume the PS4 will still be using Blu-Ray discs; I’m not sure that was mentioned anywhere, though I can’t imagine they’d be giving up on that format.

Some people were bummed that there was no new Uncharted game announced, but, I mean, come on – Naughty Dog is still in the last stages of development on The Last of Us, and I’d have to imagine that anything Uncharted-related is way too early to show just yet, especially if Sony wants to show us how powerful the PS4 is.

The Diablo 3 announcement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though I guess I was still surprised that Blizzard was still bothering with it.   I burned myself out on that game last year, and playing it with a controller isn’t going to make me like it again – especially if I can’t carry over my progress from the PC.

Scooping up Jonathan Blow’s The Witness as a timed exclusive did come as a big surprise, however, and that’s the news that I’m most excited about.  Even if it’s also coming to iOS and PC and, presumably, the next Xbox.

As for the other games that Sony announced – I can’t say I’m particularly excited about any of them.  For one thing, I have to imagine that stuff like Capcom’s Deep Down, Bungie’s Destiny and Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs are also coming to Microsoft’s machine.  And as for Sony’s exclusives, well, I’ve never been that big of a Killzone fan, and I found Infamous 2 to be a bit disappointing.  

That being said, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the PS3 when it came out, either.  But although most of what I play is on the Xbox, I’ve really enjoyed Sony’s exclusive PS3 titles, for the most part – I still think Uncharted 2 is one of the best games of this generation.

Your move, Microsoft.

weekend recap: strangeness all around me

I’d started a post last week, but never got around to finishing it; things are still a little weird, and I’m finding very few pockets of idle time these days.  A brief summary of what’s going on in apartment-land can be found here.

As for games & stuff.

To be honest, these days I’ve mostly been playing Dungelot on the iPhone, which recently went free.  Also Pixel People, which is a strange but addictive hybrid of Tiny Tower‘s resource management and Doodle God‘s creation mechanic.

I’ve also been getting very deep into Antichamber;  I’m far enough into it now where I can only play it in short bursts before my brain starts hurting.  I feel like I’m not smart enough to talk about it.  Certainly it’s the closest thing we’ll ever get to living inside an MC Escher drawing.  It’s a very strange game for me to be playing right now, at any rate, because I only find myself with game time very late at night, when I’m exhausted from dealing with apartment stuff, and it’s not really a relaxing experience.

I took a sick day last week, and in doing so I plowed through the end of Devil May Cry (or is it DmC?) yesterday.  I liked it a lot, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for any of the previous games.   I’m not a DmC fanboy, and I think that this game was made for people like me, and to that end I think they succeeded admirably.  The action was continually satisfying and engaging – and even if I played on the “normal” difficulty setting, so what?  I had a lot of fun with it, which is, again, a lot more than I can say for the previous games.  And the graphics and overall visual design continued to be just as jaw-droppingly insane as they were in the beginning; I’m tempted to buy it on Steam the next time it goes on sale just to be able to see it on my kick-ass monitor at 60 fps.

I’ve been slowly moving further along in Ni No Kuni.  My wife was sitting next to me on the couch, reading, and every once in a while she’d look up and say “This reminds me of a Zelda game.”  I kinda wish this was a Zelda game, to be honest.   JRPGs live and die more or less on their battle systems, and while there’s an awful lot to love about Ni No Kuni, the battle system feels a bit tedious and unnecessarily complicated; I’d much rather just engage in a real-time combat system.  I do like the idea of improving people’s moods by taking/giving heart, but the game (at least in the early going) holds your hand a bit too much, which means you can’t actually solve the puzzle on your own; you have to have this mandatory conversation that’s just long enough to be annoying, since you already know what it is you have to do.  Still, though, I’m only 3-4 hours in, having saved my game after finishing the missions in Ding Dong Dell and moving along to the next city, whose name escapes me.  Somewhere in the desert, I think.

Beyond that, it’s just apartment madness and work busy-ness and impending baby stuff.  Good times all around.

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