On Walkthroughs

It’s been a weird week.  That’s a vague statement, and I’m not really in a position to elaborate, so just trust me when I say it’s been a weird week, and we’ll leave it at that.  And on that note:

Let’s talk about walkthroughs.

I am weird when it comes to walkthroughs.  I mean, I’m weird about a lot of things game-related, as I’m discovering, but I’ve got very weird and specific and deep shame issues when it comes to using them – even if I’m looking at it simply to see how far along I am.

And yet I’m also not shy about using them compulsively, depending on the game.  Like, for example, L.A. Noire.  While I had no problem with the crime scenes or the combat, every interrogation scene was played with a walkthrough.  I was fanatically obsessive about acing every single question; and because the game’s interrogation system was kinda broken, I kinda felt justified in cheating.  Perhaps it ruined the spirit of the game, but I didn’t care.

[TANGENT:  Funny that L.A. Noire comes up, as I’ve been wanting to go back and play it again lately, for some reason, and maybe writing about it.  If I do, I promise to do it without a walkthrough.  (Well, I’ll try, at any rate.  It’s been long enough at this point that I can’t necessarily remember all the right answers.)]

Similarly, I’ve not been shy about using walkthroughs for the Professor Layton games, and I’m very much aware that using a walkthrough for a puzzle game specifically defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place.  Honestly, though?  Some of the puzzles aren’t clear in their design or their purpose (or, alternately, the graphical fidelity of the DS/3DS screen obscures the illustrations).

Point is, I use them.  I don’t like it when I do (because I’d rather solve the damned thing on my own) but I do (because I’d rather finish the game, if I’m enjoying it).  I’m too old and socially withdrawn at this point to care what the outside world thinks of me, but it doesn’t matter – I beat myself up about it plenty.

(And since I’ve already gone on record about my feelings regarding god mode, this shouldn’t necessarily come as much of a surprise.)

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because over the last 2 days I’ve been very happily grinding along in Bravely Default.

(And can I just say, again, how much I appreciate the game’s willingness to let me “break” it if I want to power-level for an hour or two?  For example: yesterday I decided to go on a sidequest tear.  So I unlocked every available job, and then I went to the highest-level dungeon I could find, set the random encounter rate to 100%, set battle speed to 4x, hit “Auto”, and just went nuts bringing every job up to level 8 or 9 or so.  I’ve got tons of gold, my party is near level 60, and I felt like I actually accomplished something.)

(But on that same note, it also raises one of the game’s weird gameplay peculiarities; the regular battles are over in two turns at the absolute worst, but the boss battles are often 10-15 minute slog fests that require completely different kinds of strategy.  It’s almost like I’m playing two different games.) 

ANYWAY.  I happened to look at a walkthrough for Bravely Default a little while ago – really just to see how far along I was – and then, because I saw how much more was left (I’m apparently at the end of Chapter 3), I was curious, and so I took a peek at what happens next, and I suddenly got really, really bummed out.

****SPOILER ALERT*****

It appears that once you awaken the fourth crystal, which is what I’m about to do, [something] happens, and then you have to re-awaken all 4 crystals again.  And then, after you do that, you have to do it a third time.

*****END SPOILER ALERT****

I’ve spent almost 25 hours playing this game, and I’ve had a good time with it so far, but that. fucking. sucks.  That is lazy game design.  That’s bullshit, and in a weird way I’m kinda glad I know already so that I don’t have to experience being disappointed when it finally happens.

[I have more to say on this topic, but I must cut this post short.]

Infamous 2, DNF, and other ramblings

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since the last post, so for that I apologize.  The good news is that I’ve got a LOT to talk about today.

The short version:

  • finished Infamous 2
  • played a bunch (perhaps too much) of Duke Nukem Forever (PC)
  • played a tiny bit more of The Witcher 2, escaping prison and getting to the first real town
  • played a bit of Child of Eden and wished I still did drugs
  • got thoroughly obsessed with Plants v. Zombies
  • did a bunch of Achievement-hunting in L.A. Noire
  • speaking of which, hit the 70,000 mark in Achievements

The long version:

I was home sick for 2 days last week, and that fact directly correlates to the first two bulleted items above.  I had gotten a few hours into Infamous 2 over the previous weekend, and ended up powering through the rest of it last Monday.  I’m a little bummed out about Infamous 2, to be honest with you.  It’s a better package than the first game – it looks better, for one thing, and the first game looked pretty good already.  The game lets you start with all your powers, too, so you’re kicking ass right from the get-go, and the new powers are, for the most part, pretty neat.  The voice acting is surprisingly good, even if the script is kinda hokey.  The city itself is visually interesting.  The “good” ending is satisfying, and shockingly devoid of cliffhangers – I have absolutely no idea how Infamous 3 would start, is all I’ll say.  (I didn’t see the “evil” ending, and maybe that’s where a sequel would pick up.)

So, then, if I was such a big fan of the first game – a game scratched my Crackdown itch in a big way – and the second game is, by and large, a better iteration of the first, why am I bummed out?  I guess it’s because the game is, ultimately, forgettable.  The story isn’t particularly interesting or unique, and the moral choices lack any ambiguity whatsoever – good and evil are very clearly defined and color-coded and you’ll never spend more than a second or two making up your mind.  The city, for all its visual flourish (and let me reiterate that point, as the city really does look fantastic and the sky is especially jaw-dropping)  is curiously devoid of audio – cars don’t make noise, nor do most of the pedestrians, and sometimes the player’s footsteps don’t even register.  I don’t know if it’s just a bug, or if the audio was simply unfinished, but it creates a very strange disconnect – it makes the city feel lifeless.*

I’m glad I played it, I suppose – it certainly filled the idle hours of an unplanned sick day – but I’m also glad I rented it.

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So that was Monday.  Tuesday was a second sick day, and since I’d already finished Infamous 2 and sealed it up in its Gamefly envelope, I was a bit at odds as to how to occupy the hours.  And then I remembered that Duke Nukem Forever was finally out.  And even though I’d read tons of horrible reviews by then, I succumbed to 14 years of temptation, and clearly went against my better judgment and downloaded it on Steam.  (To be fair, the PC version is, supposedly, the least horrible of the 3, at least in terms of visual fidelity.)

Here’s the thing – after playing the first few hours, I’d actually planned to write something of a defense of DNF in this space last week.   Yes, it’s grotesquely misogynistic and sexist and incredibly stupid, even in terms of adolescent humor (which is odd, since it’s rated M and young teenagers aren’t supposed to be able to play it).   It isn’t funny, it isn’t erotic, its cultural references are incredibly dated and probably wouldn’t have been all that funny if it had been released when all those references were still relevant.  First-person platforming is almost always a bad idea, and there’s way too much of it in the first few hours.  Still, though, there was something about it that brought me back to those heady days of 1996, when I was playing Duke Nukem 3D on my brother’s computer on my weekends home from college.  I was trying to put myself back in the mindset that I might have been in if the game had come out in the late 90s – early 00s, and there are brief glimpses in the early hours that brought me back.

Of course, the game is, ultimately, a piece of shit.  I got hung up on a boss a little more than halfway through the campaign and ended up putting the game away for a few days; I eventually beat that boss (no idea how) and then got stuck about an hour later, and that’s where I currently am.  I don’t really want to go back to it.  I suspect that I will eventually finish it, but only because I’m avoiding doing something else.   It’s just that, well, the game makes me sad.  I was one of the many that had been looking forward to this game’s release, and while it wasn’t necessarily in the front of my mind for the last 14 years, I’d never forgotten about it.  When the first few advance reviews came out and killed it, there was a part of me that figured that those scores were somewhat reactionary – they were so aggressively negative that they were almost hard to take seriously.  As it turns out, they were right.  There is absolutely nothing in the game, from what I’ve seen, that would explain what the hell took so long.  The gameplay is dated in all the worst ways, and for a game that goes out of its way to break the fourth wall, it has a surprising lack of self-awareness.

The biggest problem with DNF, I think, is that there’s too much Duke.  Back when I was playing DN3D, I wasn’t really paying attention to Duke at all – I was paying attention to the crazy environments, to all the hidden secrets, and to all the cool shit I could do.  Duke would spout out some one-liner from a movie every so often, and that was fine – it’s just that for all intents and purposes, his bad-assery kinda spoke for itself.  In DNF, Duke won’t fucking shut up, and nobody in the world tells him to shut up.  The world of DNF is a monument to Duke, for some reason, and that gets old incredibly quickly – especially since he’s such a fucking douchebag.

It is true that DNF could never hope to compete with expectations.  But it is also true that the game looks like it wasn’t even tryingSerious Sam rewrote the rules when it came to over-the-top gunplay, exploration and crazy enemies, and this year’s Bulletstorm further refined those rules and created something genuinely unique and fun to play.  DNF was created in a vacuum by people who apparently hadn’t played anything else since 1997, and was written by sociopathic 13-year-olds who love boobs and kicking monsters in the balls.  I still think that there’s a future for Duke – I don’t think Gearbox would’ve spent the time and money acquiring the IP if they weren’t going to do something with it – but I worry that the travesty that is DNF will sully that game’s potential.

———————————-

I don’t have all that much to say about The Witcher 2.  I enjoy my time with it, but it’s also somewhat intimidating and I don’t really know what the hell is going on.  I play for 30 minutes at a time and then put it aside.

———————————-

I don’t have all that much to say about Child of Eden, either.  It’s trippy as hell, and I suppose I’d have spent a bit more time with it if I were still doing drugs.  I’m sober, though, and as such there was only so much craziness I could stand.  It plays like a psychedelic Panzer Dragoon, I guess.  It’s certainly aspiring to be… something, which is more than I can say about DNF.  I read some review of it that bemoaned its attempts to revive the “Games as Art” debate; but that’s exactly what this is.  You would expect to play something like this in a children’s museum, or something.  It’s certainly interesting, but there wasn’t really all that much to it that kept me involved.

———————————-

I can’t explain my sudden obsession with Plants v. Zombies.  It’s been out for a few years now and as a long-time Popcap fan I’ve certainly been aware of it; I think it was one of the first apps I downloaded for iOS, but I never played it.  I guess at some point last week there was an iOS update for it that included a bunch of intriguing features, and that got me interested enough to fire it up, and now I’m a man obsessed.  Which is weird, because my general experience playing that game is one of intense stress and anxiety.  There’s so many plants to keep track of, and so many zombies to plan ahead for, and when a level is really humming along the board is absolutely chaotic.  I’m already dealing with anxiety issues as it is, and so I can’t explain why I would torture myself with non-stop PvZ sessions.  But such is life.  I finally beat the adventure mode on my iPhone, and now I’m thoroughly entranced with the Zen Garden and all the meta-stuff there is to do.  And I suspect that I’ll get around to playing my XBLA and PC/Mac versions as well.

———————————-

I ended up doing a lot of Achievement hunting in L.A. Noire this past weekend – I finally 5-starred all the cases, found all the film reels and landmarks, drove 194.7 miles, completed all the street crimes, etc.  According to the Social Club I’m exactly 94% complete.  I don’t know that I will ever find every single vehicle, nor am I sure I want to.  Honestly, it was just nice to finally get to actually explore the world; I never bothered with it when I was actually playing the game, as I just wanted to focus on the cases.  There’s a surprising amount of city to be found, as it turns out; the game itself uses hardly any of it, which seems a bit wasteful.   I do kinda wish that I had the PS3 version; I didn’t really mind the disc swapping when I was playing the story, but in a weekend like this where I’m doing a bunch of completion-ist stuff, it’s somewhat of a pain in the ass.

———————————-

I can’t quite remember which Achievement it was that put me over the 70K mark, but, well, it happened.  I’d like to hit 75K by the end of the year, although that might be a little bit out of reach.

 

____________________________________________

*  This is a big deal, actually.  In my experience, open world games live or die based on the worlds themselves.  This is why Crackdown 2 was such an incredible disappointment; this is also why Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece.  Infamous 2 takes place in New Marais, a fictional city inspired by New Orleans; you would think this would be a slam-dunk in terms of atmosphere, but instead it feels, well, dead.

L.A. Noire and what comes next

For a 3-day weekend, I didn’t get a tremendous amount of gaming happening.  I did finish Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, which is to say that I finished all the stages and unlocked a fair amount of extras.  And I did a bit more Dirt 3, including some of the amazingly fun multiplayer – the Zombie mode, or whatever it’s called, is incredibly fun.  But I ultimately spent the most time getting back into L.A. Noire.

I was emailing back and forth with a friend about it.  He had been asking when I was going to be online in Dirt 3, and I’d told him I was almost done with L.A. Noire and that I’d be all over Dirt 3 once I’d finished the last few cases.  And so then he asked:

So now that you are most of the way through [the game] and well into the development of the over-arching story, are you loving it?

And I responded:

I don’t know that I’m loving it.  I’m enjoying it, certainly, and I am appreciative of what it is and what it took to make it.  But for all it does to immerse you in the world, it does a thousand other small, subtle things that totally throw you out and reminds you that it is a game.  The interrogations, in particular, are so beholden to a particular, specific formula that you almost wonder why they bothered with the facial animation tech in the first place.  And there’s been lots of times where my own brain is ahead of Cole Phelps’ brain, and so he never asks the questions that I want to ask.  Part of this is because of those newspapers – I don’t know if you’ve been diligent in picking them up, but they’ve been telegraphing where the overall story is headed – so much so that it almost broke the game for me at several points.

I should also confess that I’ve been using a walkthrough for the last few missions, because I hate getting questions wrong.  Does that take all the challenge out of the game?  Yes, pretty much; I’d been doing great in terms of clue gathering, and I’ve been having my partner do all the driving since it’s impossible for me to not crash into a thousand cars and lampposts and pedestrians just going around the corner.  The sandbox element feels totally unnecessary and not particularly interesting, either – certainly not in the way that it worked for RDR and GTA.

Now, look – I’ll be the first person to acknowledge that using walkthroughs, especially in a game like L.A. Noire, essentially defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place, even if the walkthrough in question doesn’t actually spoil the story, but rather simply gives you all the right answers to the interrogations.  I’ve been saying ever since the beginning that the interrogations are the most problematic part of L.A. Noire, and judging from all the podcasts I’ve listened to, I know I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Like I said above, the essential problem with the interrogations is that once you get past the astoundingly good facial animation, you are left with a very basic template that never, ever changes or deviates, and so whatever immersion you might have had in the animation is ripped out from under you as soon as it’s time to react.  Let’s say that you ask the Person of Interest a question.  The POI will say something in response to your question, and then immediately start acting, usually betraying everything that they just saidThey’ll forcefully say “There’s absolutely no goddamned way that I could’ve murdered that person,” and then as soon as they stop talking they’ll immediately start twitching and grinding their teeth, and if you think they’re lying they’ll suddenly get brazen and say “Well why don’t you prove it, flatfoot!”   Let’s leave aside the obvious observation that real conversations never work like this, and let’s also leave side the weird disconnect in the player character’s attitudes when confronting a lie (gently) and being doubtful (flying off the handle).  The main problem that I’ve been having is that I never seem to be able to ask the questions that I want to ask.  Either my own personal brain is ahead of the game, or else I’m on a path that’s utterly disconnected from the correct line of questioning.  And when I’m actually asking the right questions, I’m still generally 50/50 when it comes to confronting a lie with what I believe is the right piece of corroborating evidence.

That’s mostly my problem, I suppose.  But the fact that lots of other people are having problems with it leads me to believe that maybe it isn’t just my fault.

The last thing in my email, though, is part of the larger problem I have with the game – that the sandbox element feels unnecessary.  I totally get that having a real post-war L.A. is an incredible achievement, and I really truly wish that I could spend more time exploring it.  Problem is, there’s really no incentive to do so; the side missions feel obligatory (most of them are 20 second shoot-outs) and the hidden collectibles are so well hidden that I wouldn’t even know about them if I hadn’t been told they were there.  The one side thing that I’ve been diligent about collecting is the newspapers, and even then, they’ve revealed so much of the backstory that I almost feel like I know too much – for example, the events that mark the transition from Ad Vice to Arson were more or less telegraphed in one particular newspaper that was almost impossible to ignore, which more or less ruined the surprise.

But there’s a solution to this problem.  In fact, there’s a solution to most of the problems I have with L.A. Noire, and it’s a solution that would make L.A. Noire 2 better for everybody.  And it’s a solution that seems kinda obvious, so much so that I have to wonder if the developers knew it also, but had spent so long working on what they’d already come up with that to switch gears would cause more problems than it would solve.

The solution:  your player character in L.A. Noire 2 is a private detective.  Here’s 4 quick reasons why that works:

1.  Suddenly, the sandbox makes sense.  A private detective can run around L.A. and do things – he can go to the fights, he can gamble at the tracks, he can explore – he’s not beholden to the law in the same way a police officer is, especially a golden boy like Cole Phelps.

2.  Similarly, the side missions could be more varied.  The photography missions alone would be more interesting than the shoot-outs we’re currently working with.

3.  A private eye fits the noir mold a thousand times more than a police officer.  He can be darker, he can be mysterious, he can be drunk, he can wear his regret on his sleeves.  Cole Phelps is more of an automaton than a living, breathing person – and while there might be a good, as yet unrevealed reason why that is, a private eye is more interesting right from the get-go.

4.  I’m guessing that a private eye’s interrogations wouldn’t be as formalized as a police officer’s interrogations, but that would certainly make them a hell of a lot more interesting and varied.

I appreciate that L.A. Noire’s current set-up works, in a certain way – the progression of Cole’s career is broken into desks, which also vary up the cases and put him in different situations.  It’s just that it never feels as gritty or as dirty as it could.  I’m not saying that a future L.A. Noire game has to be like GTA – it’s just that it has the potential to be so much more than it already is.

Weekend preview: BBQ edition

1.  I downloaded The Witcher 2 yesterday, in a moment of weakness.  (As it happens, I downloaded it right when the 1.1 patch was coming out, which meant that I ended up downloading the whole thing twice.)  I gave it a very quick 5 minute look, just to see it.  And you know what?  The reviewers weren’t kidding around – this game doesn’t explain anything.  I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and no idea how to do anything.  At a certain point the game told me about meditating before battle, and how to pull up the meditation menu.  OK, but the menu is just filled with runes, without any explanation as to what the runes mean, or why I need to meditate.  The game’s gotten too many great reviews for me to dismiss it so quickly, but when a game makes such a horrendous first impression, what the hell are you supposed to do?

2.  Spent a number of hours powering through Lego Pirates of the Caribbean; I finished the 3rd movie yesterday before powering off.  I’ve played a lot of Lego games – not all of them, but certainly most of them – and Pirates is pretty good, I guess.  Certainly it’s the prettiest.  But it’s also locked up on my 360 more than a few times – Lego games in general tend to do that, but Pirates is the worst offender by far.  I haven’t seen the 4th movie yet and so I’m not sure what enjoyment I’m going to get out of playing the 4th movie, especially since the cutscene shorthand really only makes sense if you know what the scenes are referring to.  Still, it’s fun enough, I suppose, and Lego Jack Sparrow is a sight (and sound!) to behold.

3.  I’m a few races into my 2nd season in Dirt 3.  I’ve been starting to mess around with the assists; I turned all of them off yesterday for a few races, and found that I had a much easier time staying on the road (although the cars felt a lot heavier and stiffer).  I don’t hate the Gymkhana events the way other people do; I’m not very good at them, but they’re certainly a pleasant enough diversion and you don’t have to try terribly hard in order to pass each event and move on to the next thing.  My only real complaint is that one of the announcers has an overtly “dude” vibe and likes to call me “amigo” and I kinda want to punch him in the face, repeatedly.

4.  With all this going on, I’ve kinda put L.A. Noire on hold, and this worries me a bit because I’m afraid that if I wait too much longer, I’m never going to go back.  And that would be a shame.  I’ve certainly cooled off on it a little bit, but it’s still a remarkably unique experience and I’d very much like to see where it goes.

You’re not going to be coming here for your E3 needs, I know, but I’ll be offering up some opinions just the same.  I’m not entirely sure how this year’s edition is going to pan out.  Last year’s had some clear themes – motion control and 3D – and I suppose that the bulk of the media attention this year will be focused on the new Nintendo console and Sony’s new handheld.  2011’s release calendar doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises – we all know what’s coming at this point – so my personal focus will be on what’s coming up in 2012.

Have a wonderful 3-day weekend, everyone.  Stay safe!  And I’ll most likely be on XBL Saturday night, if you want to get something going.

WIPTW: anniversary edition

This past weekend was my 7-year anniversary with the wife, so you can probably surmise that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of videogame time to be had.  Still, I managed to finish the Homicide desk in L.A. Noire, and the wife and I knocked out the first level of Lego Pirates of the Caribbean in co-op.

Let me get the Lego game out of the way – it’s quite good, as far as Lego games go, and it doesn’t seem to radically change the tried-and-true formula.  Certainly it’s very good looking.  My main problem with it, after about 20 minutes of gameplay, is the co-op camera.  I’ve not really done much co-op in other Lego games, so I’m not sure how the camera compares, but the co-op camera in Pirates is fucking ridiculous.  I appreciate what it’s trying to do, but it’s incredibly distracting and ultra-sensitive when it doesn’t need to be, and if anything it causes more harm than good.

My wife isn’t a gamer, as she’ll readily admit.  But she knows I am, obviously, and I try my darnedest to either (a) keep my gaming time from intruding on her TV time, or (b) keep her engaged with what I’m doing.  We’ve played Rock Band together, which is fun, and we recently completed the Portal 2 co-op campaign together, which was wonderful.  (She wrote about her experience here.)  I’d very much like to keep playing Lego Pirates with her, but that camera will need to be dealt with.

As to L.A. Noire… well, as I said before, I finished the Homicide desk very late on Saturday, and the wife helped me a bit with the interrogations.  It’s hard to talk about what I want to talk about without getting into spoiler territory, but I’m going to work under the presumption that if you’re reading this, you probably don’t care.  In any event, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

**********SPOILERS BELOW************

Let me say, firstly, that I’m enjoying L.A. Noire immensely.  I’m not totally 100% in love with it, but it should be noted that it’s a fantastic technical achievement, and I must salute Rockstar, Take Two and Team Bondi for taking such a bold, experimental risk.

I’ve read a bunch of complaints from players and reviewers (this Kotaku piece in particular) about how the game isn’t open enough; you don’t really have much to do in this meticulously-designed city when you’re not in the mood to crack a case.  I guess I understand that, but I think that’s their own fault for expecting the game to be something it never claimed to be.  If anything, I think that the open-world element feels a bit shoe-horned in; it’s not really all that necessary, and considering that you can fast-travel from location to location anyway, it can be downright irrelevant.  I generally ignore radio dispatches when I’m working a case, and I haven’t really done any exploring beyond figuring out the map system and simply trying to get from point A to point B.  Considering how much collateral damage I incur when I drive, I prefer fast-travelling, frankly.

If I have any real complaints at this stage in the game, it’s that, well, for all of its valiant attempts at immersion and cinematic presentation, it can still feel very game-y in spots, especially in the interrogation sequences.  I’ve gotten a little bit better at them since my first write-up, but I’ve still never gotten all of them right in a case.  The irony, of course, is that the conclusion of the Homicide desk story arc pretty much renders all the previous interrogations irrelevant anyway.  I suppose it’s a neat twist if you didn’t see it coming, but I knew something was off, and as soon as I’d heard mention of a temp bartender in one of the later cases (after already meeting one towards the beginning of the arc – and a “temp bartender” is somewhat eye-catching to begin with), I started getting ideas that would soon be confirmed.

That story arc has some other significant plot holes, too, that don’t really hold up under scrutiny, the main one being that it just seems a bit too contrived that the serial killer could find that many women to murder with husbands that easy to frame.

More to the point, though, it makes me less inclined to replay those missions in an effort to 5-star all the cases since I know I’m going to be putting the wrong people away every time.

**********END SPOILERS**************

Tomorrow comes the arrival of Dirt 3, which I’m tremendously excited about.  It’s been too long since I’ve played a good driving game.

L.A. Noire – first impressions

According to Rockstar’s Social Club, I’m 3 cases into L.A. Noire; that includes the tutorial stuff that leads off the game.  So maybe narrow that down to 2 real, full-length cases, combining all the different gameplay elements:  evidence collecting, witness interviews, and interrogations.* I’ve hunted down 2 hidden cars, found 1 landmark (without meaning to), and I think I’m up to level 5.

It’s an incredible experience, is the short version.  It feels, in many ways, like the natural evolution of the classic adventure game – you explore environments and objects, you converse with a colorful cast of characters, you’re essentially solving puzzles.  There are comparisons to be made to other games – Phoenix Wright, Heavy Rain – but this still feels very much like its own thing.

It most certainly is not Grand Theft Auto 1947, and that’s to be applauded.  It’s an open world in the sense that you can drive around and explore, but you don’t get your missions from random people on the street, and you can’t cause wonton destruction on a whim.  The detail of the world – the little that I’ve seen of it, at any rate – is amazing.  You’ll want to take your time and take it all in, rather than zooming by and blowing things up.

The much-ballyhooed facial animation is, in a word, stunning.  Jaw-dropping.  It’s so good, in fact, that it has a tendency to work against itself at times; it’s very clear that these incredible faces are attached to normal, video-game bodies.  Most of the time, this isn’t that big a deal – when you’re interviewing someone and trying to determine if they’re lying or not, almost 99% of the time they’re sitting down, behind a desk or table.  But when you’re walking around (or chasing someone), the animation feels canned – and this is only noticeable because the facial animation is in a different class entirely.

It also brings up a somewhat disconcerting point, which is that – at least in the early going, when everything is purposefully exaggerated in order to emphasize how to play the game – the animation is so good that it ends up revealing the actor acting, as opposed to the character reacting.  Again, I understand that in these first few cases, everybody’s probably being told by the director to really emphasize their emotional state, but it’s a little jarring and unintentionally, weirdly meta.  The dialogue is somewhat stilted to fit the period, and none of the lines are delivered in any sort of naturalistic way.  (And I’m probably hyper-aware of this particular bit because Stephen Merchant’s performance as Portal 2’s Wheatley is possibly the best example of what a naturalistic approach should be.  To wit:  it sounds like a real person talking, instead of someone reading words off of a script.)

This last bit dovetails into the question of whether this technology has a viable future in the videogame industry.  I have absolutely no idea how expensive it is to produce, but it’s clearly the best option out there by far, and as videogames get more and more complex (and attract more A-list talent), one could see this technology really taking off (especially in stuff like, say, Mass Effect).  But it also means that videogame scripts can’t be as terrible and generic as they currently are, because a disinterested actor will produce an especially disinterested performance.  The biggest thing holding videogames back – and certainly the main quality that separates the truly great games from the pretty good ones – is the quality of the script.  The best voice acting (and facial animation) in the world can’t disguise terrible dialogue.

Lastly, I wish the mini-map was a little better at telling you how to get to your chosen destination.

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*I botched some of the questions in the second case (the one involving an abandoned car by the railway) but still got it resolved – I think I’m going to play it again, just to make sure I understand the technical difference between “Doubt” and “Lie” in the interrogations.  (It seems to me that the main difference between the two is that if you think someone is lying but don’t have any evidence to back it up, you select “Doubt”.  It’s a minor semantics issue; I feel like “Doubt” is too passive a description when faced with an obvious liar, but didn’t understand what it actually meant in literal gameplay terms until the game clearly told me that I’d made a mistake.)