>Weekend Recap: here comes the hyperbole

>Are you ready for some outlandish statements? Good, because I’m really tired after watching the Lost finale last night and work is slow today and I can’t stop thinking about Red Dead Redemption, so here goes:

1. Red Dead Redemption might just be my favorite Rockstar game ever.

Let me qualify that a bit.

RDR is not the groundbreaking, industry-shifting watershed moment that GTA3 was. But there’s a difference between being groundbreaking and being a truly great game. My affection for GTA3 – more specifically, for the times I personally spent in GTA3 – helps me overlook a lot of that game’s glaring problems, of which there are many.

As with each subsequent Rockstar open-world game, RDR, then, is simply the latest refinement of the ever-evolving open-world platform. In this particular case, it most clearly resembles GTA4. But it’s where it differs that gets me all hot and bothered.

GTA4 was a staggering achievement; it managed to create the most immersive city ever seen in a game, while also creating a truly fascinating narrative around a singularly unique protagonist. But GTA4 still suffered from old ideas; the game’s gunplay was still a bit tricky, even in spite of being retooled, and the punishment for mission failure was still brutal.

RDR fixes almost all of what was bothersome in GTA4, and I would expect/hope that GTA5 will borrow almost everything that RDR gets right. The snap-to targeting might make the game a little too easy, but frankly, I’d rather have fun with the story than struggle with the controls. If you fail a mission, you can continue from the most recent mid-mission checkpoint, which is fantastic. There’s regenerating health and fast-traveling, which is crucial. You can save anywhere, at any time, which is essential.

And the world – oh, the glorious world – is a sight to behold. It’s easily the prettiest game Rockstar has ever made, and utterly convincing at every turn. I do wish that the game would let you take screenshots – and I’d buy the PC version if only so that I could. I’ve had to call my wife in from the other room just to have her look at something – like standing on a cliffside watching the sun rise over the valley below.

But it’s not just the graphics – it’s everything. The wildlife; the random people in trouble; the “ambient challenges” – there is always something to do. I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but I’ll make it again anyway – it reminds me an awful lot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, because getting from Point A to Point B usually meant that you’d get sidetracked about a dozen times doing other things, which were always just as much fun as the actual missions.

According to Rockstar’s excellent Social Club, I am just under 19 hours in and just over 42% complete. I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish the game before I leave for Jamaica next week; as much as I want to be done with the campaign before I go, so that I don’t have to miss it, I kinda don’t want the campaign to be over with, either.

2. The new Prince of Persia game isn’t nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe.

Let me qualify that one, too – it’s certainly not bad, and indeed it’s the best-looking game in the series, and it easily has the best combat system. The problem is that it’s arguably the least essential. There’s nothing inherently special about it. It’s not magical. The story feels slight and flimsy. Too much work went into the game to call it a mere cash-in for the movie, but I finished it in 6 hours or so and haven’t thought about it since, other than to write this paragraph. It’s certainly worth a rental, if you’re a fan of the series and you’re not already sidetracked with RDR or Super Mario.

3. I really want to like Alan Wake, but the opening chapter didn’t grab me nearly as hard as I’d hoped, and RDR has pretty much overshadowed it for the foreseeable future.

That wasn’t really all that hyperbolic; it’s just the way the weekend went.

>Prince of Persia sort-of review

>I can’t help it; I’m still giddy about crossing 40,000. Wouldn’t it be nice if the 360 gave your avatar a little balloon/confetti party every time you crossed a significant number?

For the record: I officially crossed 40,000 by getting the “Flawless Fretwork” Achievement in Rock Band 2. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should also acknowledge that I was playing The Police’s “Roxanne”, which is not very hard at all on Expert. Indeed, I’d accidentally gotten 100% the previous day, but my guitar wasn’t signed in as JervoNYC (alas, it was the drums) and I spent the next 20 minutes playing Roxanne over and over and over again and always spazzing out at the very end.

Anyway. I’m here to talk about Prince of Persia, which I finished in about 10 hours, pretty much all in one sitting.

My initial impressions ended up being pretty much spot-on; the game is beautiful and the art direction is truly impressive, and there are some vistas that are truly jaw-dropping. And, also, the controls never felt quite as tight as I wanted them to feel; the Prince doesn’t immediately go into a full run, which messed up my timing a bit, and there are certain things in the game that never stopped being “new” – a perfect example being that when you jump to a surface below a ledge, you don’t have to press “A” to jump again because you automatically jump up to the ledge; if you hit A during the tiny window between animations, you will inevitably jump to your doom – er, get reset to the last checkpoint. It took me almost 3/4 of the game to stop doing this.

Much has been made of the fact that you can’t die in PoP; all this means is that if you miss a jump – and you will, and not always because it’s your fault – you are “rescued” by Princess Elika, and you’re taken back to the last place you were on solid ground. You’re still dying, it’s just that the game never stops moving forward. It’s actually a nice addition and it ensures that you always have a sense of momentum; it’s very hard to put down.

It is a shame, though, that much of your not-dying is because of issues with the controls, which is maybe my biggest problem with PoP, and is certainly the biggest issue with any game that requires precision. The thing that not-killed me the most in this game was whenever I’d jump to a pillar/column. Generally speaking, if you jump to a pillar, you’ll automatically swing around to the back so that you can keep moving in the same direction. Sometimes, though, you don’t want to move in the same direction, because (a) there are multiple paths to follow or (b) you want to move up instead of forward. In this case, you will swing your body around to the direction you want to face. The problem I had in these cases was that the animation for moving your body around takes a little bit of time and isn’t always responsive, and the camera would occaisonally move in the opposite direction. Which is to say – I’d jump to a column, turn left and jump, but the game would interpret that to mean I’d jump to a column, turn right and jump into the abyss.

Other times, there’s a jump you have to make that requires a double-jump. The game generally does a good job letting you know when these double-jumps are coming – the visual cue is that the screen starts turning black/white – but sometimes it doesn’t, or the window you get is half as long as it normally is, and that just kinda sucks.

The first game in the last-gen series was almost perfect, and the thing that held it back was its combat, which just sucked. The 2nd game was apparently designed to maximize the shitty combat, and the 3rd game kinda refined it a bit but it was still shitty. The combat in this new iteration is generally much better, because you only fight one enemy at a time, and you don’t fight very often. That said, it’s not without some significant annoyances; you fight each of the 4 bosses multiple times, and with each successive encounter the fighting is broken up with QTE events, which break up the flow and, incredibly, do no actual harm. All that happens if you pass a QTE event is that you go back into combat. Furthermore, near the end of the game, each fight is basically 80% QTE, so your actual window to deal damage becomes progressively narrower until it’s a wonder you’re doing any damage at all. Even worse is that should you fail a QTE and the princess rescues you, the boss gets healed as well, and this never stopped being annoying.

I should probably back up a bit here and talk about the main point of my initial impression, which was that this new Prince was a bit of a douchebag. Ubisoft has had a real bitch of a time trying to find the right tone with the PoP series, which is odd because they totally got it right in Sands of Time. The 2nd game was all goth and naked chicks and being super intense and hardcore, as if that’s what market research said that the franchise really needed, and the 3rd game… you know, I don’t even really remember the 3rd game other than it was better than the 2nd one, which I stopped playing less than halfway through because I hated it so much.

Anyway. I think it’s fair to say that this year’s Prince never truly stops being a douchebag, although certainly there are moments near the end of the game where he lets up just a bit. The game’s story is somewhat generic but interesting; there’s a few twists but you can see them coming, and here I think there was a pleasant and unintended consequence as a result. (I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as I can, but you may want to skip to the next paragraph just in case.) The Prince, in this game, is a bit thick; he spends an inordinate amount of time talking about chicks and gold and tomb raiding, and when he’s asked about himself he keeps things relatively vague, and while I suppose the game designers thought that would keep him mysterious, it really just makes him appear dense and stupid. I am neither dense nor stupid, however, and as I said above I saw where the story was going long before the Prince did. But what made this interesting is that this lent the rest of the game this accidental air of tragic inevitability that I’m not sure it would have had if the Prince knew what I knew. Two of the biggest themes in the PoP series have been the notion of fate and the illusion of time, both of which also come into play in this game, and I must say I was actually somewhat moved by the game’s ending, partially because the Prince stops being such a douchebag, but also because by the time he figured out what I already knew, he did something that I did not expect. The game is set up for at least one sequel (surprise!) but the ending is still very satisfying, and that’s not something one sees very often.

(Spoilers over).

The short version is that the game has a decent story but a terrible script. I don’t want my Prince to be all “cool” and modern and talking about girls and shit; there’s absolutely no sense of time or place in this game, which I suppose would be more frustrating if the game lived or died by its story, which it does not. In any event, the Prince should not sound like he’s on a TV show.

I think this review (or whatever this is) comes off as maybe a bit negative, which maybe isn’t fair. Or accurate. I really was having fun for a significant portion of my time with it, and that’s ultimately the most important thing. But it will not be in my Top 10 of 2008, and I think that’s why I guess I’m a little disappointed with it.

Big announcement to come later today, possibly right after I finish posting this. It deserves its own post.

>Prince of Douche

>I got my hands on the new Prince of Persia today, and I played for about an hour or so. I love the new art direction.


The animations are beautiful, but the control doesn’t feel quite right. But I can get used to that, I guess, after a few more hours.


What the fuck is with this guy being a huge fucking douchebag? What the hell is with the writing in games these days?

The thing that made the Sands of Time game so great was its sense of time and place. The thing that makes this game so difficult to deal with is that it might as well be taking place right this very minute, and people today are fucking douchebags. There’s no poetry or artful grace in this game; the Prince is a shmoe and Elika is, as all videogame females are, a mystery.

I mean, fuck – even the great Hot Chicks With Douchebags has figured it out.