Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mirror’s Edge: What’s So Bad About Taking the Stairs?

In a bland wasteland of sequels and uninspired games I was actually very excited when I played the demo for Mirror’s Edge. While the concept of rooftop platforming certainly isn’t anything new it had the potential to offer a fresh and innovative look on the stagnant genre. I played through the demo on several occasions and honestly enjoyed it. Once I got the full version of the game the realization slowly sunk in that the full game is essentially built on taking the innovative platforming mechanics and control schemes and making you rehearse them for 6 hours. Granted, it’s a fun game, there’s just very little depth to it. Essentially level 1 is get to that roof, here’s some red pipes. Level 2 is get to that roof here’s some red plywood. Level 3, here’s a red pipe over some red plywood now go get on that other roof. I’d hope by now you can piece together what the other levels comprise of.

The first person perspective in a high speed platformer certainly takes some getting used to, not for me obviously because I’m awesome, and anyone prone to motion sickness should probably just avoid this game entirely. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the camera work it actually heightens the experience. In my opinion had this game gone the third person tomb raider route it would have vanished into the already staggeringly large pile of mediocre clones. The camera does force the player to leave a certain amount of the game up to a mixture of chance and the players understanding of how a platformer works. Unfortunately the latter part of that only works if the game is consistent and in that aspect Mirrors Edge misses its landing. I had more than one frustrating moment in this game where I’d wallrun, turn and jump into an object that seemingly appeared identical to every other object I’ve interacted with only to have my poor character fall down to their bustling urban death. One gameplay aspect that I found incredibly refreshing was the encouragement to avoid playing the game like any other first person endeavor. As gamers when we see that first person perspective we’re programmed to look for the nearest gun and shoot until our trigger finger is raw but Mirrors Edge included one of my favorite achievements to date which was to go the entire game without firing a gun but rather, use your somewhat out of character martial arts skills to disarm your police pursuers. I’m still not sure why when these highly trained and often heavily geared cops are chopped by a ninety pound girl do they decide to sit out the rest of the engagement but I’ll just cover my eyes and ears and pretend like I didn’t see that for the sake of moving this review along.

One area where Mirrors Edge leaps before it looks (see what I’m doing with these puns here, clever little writer aren’t I?) is the story. The story is as bland and cliché as they come and could have been cut completely from the game and I don’t think anyone would have minded. For as innovative as they approached their gameplay and style cut scenes the developers apparently decided to rehash the same old ‘framed by the faceless corporation’ story that we’ve seen time and time again. Personally, I find a story based around the concept that mail couriers are the greatest threat to society pretty thin. Now bike messengers on the other hand…

The most frustrating aspect of this high speed game whose focus is on constant movement and seamless stunts is just how much of the game is spent inside. Not only spent inside but trapped within the narrow confines of an elevator traveling 40 stories in agonizing real time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody will ever want real time elevators ever in the history of gaming.

In the end though I did enjoy this game for its conciseness and simplicity and would recommend it for a purchase. But grab it used since it’s playtime is short.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Word on Okami

At 29 and a half hours with the last remaining bits of conscious thought that I could find I finally crossed the finish line on Okami and promptly collapsed and dragged my exhausted mind into bed to process this surprisingly layered and vast game.

Finally, I can start playing other games again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Favorite Games Ever

A common debate amongst me and my friends is what our favorite games of all time are. While I could go on for days about my favorite games in various genres I just hastily put together these six games. Write in and tell me what some of yours are. But give me a reason why, don’t just tell me your favorite game is Mutant League Hockey and not offer up any explanations.

Chrono Trigger: (Super NES) The amount of times I played through this game are staggering, a truly well written, well put together game. I will probably buy a Nintendo DS just for the rerelease of this game.

Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past: (Super NES) In my opinion the greatest of the Zelda games. I played this game so much that I could beat it in one sitting without any deaths.

Soul Reaver: (Playstation 1) I don’t know why but I truly love this game and wait patiently for the day when the series comes back. Time travel storylines make me happy.

Bioshock: (XBox 360) A true masterpiece in storytelling with interesting combat mechanics. It would be perfect if not for the constant hacking mini game.

Rock Band: (XBox 360) I will never be tired of this game, the greatest party game of all time.

Tony Hawk 3: (Playstation 1) My favorite in the series before it turned to shit. I once won a bet that I could finish this game with 100% completion in under an hour.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cut Scenes: When Video Games Become Movies

Now some of you may or may not know that I enjoy movies. I’m willing to bet that I probably watch more than your average “movie fan” and have on occasion been known to talk in great, and generally angry, detail about various movies. Now with that in mind I’m going to complain about cut scenes. It’s not that I’m against cut scenes, if used correctly they can be a crucial and important part of any game but here’s my issue. At some point, whether it is length of an individual scene or frequency of cut scene occurrences they stop aiding the plot of the game and instead take over in a savage blood coup. Now I know that most of us fear change and at the slightest sight of it we run and hide under our covers and wait for mommy to come in and tell us everything is alright, but let’s face it at this point in video game history we’re at a place where we don’t honestly need cut scenes. Cut scenes apart from acting as a narrative device only have one other function and that is removing the player from the world that the game had more than likely spend a chunk of time trying to draw you into. It’s at the cut scene point where you’re no longer an active participant but rather a passive spectator.

Now, an opening cut scene is somewhat crucial, it helps ground the player on the world they’re entering into and helps establish a place and time. Games that instantly drop you into the action can be jarring, which itself can be an effective narrative tool, but are then usually followed by a cut scene that pulls you out of the game you just got your feet wet in. Sometimes developers try to sugarcoat it and add the word “interactive” to their cut scenes but usually this is only a gimmick packed with busy work to try and trick the player into believing that they’re still actually playing the game. Take for example Assassins Creed; cut scenes gave the players the chance to pay attention to binary code effects in the background rather than the actual dialogue being spoken so they could change get the chance to button mass their way to a different camera angle. Then you have my main problem with cut scenes, when they appear more frequently than the phrase “Hero your health is low” in Fable. We’ve all experienced this game, you’re running your little character around shooting and exploding creatures with glee and whoa, cut scene. Ok we sit through the cut scene and walk down the hallway and what’s that? It’s another cut scene. Ok, we sit through that one and walk up to the guy with the giant arrow on his head saying “COME TALK TO ME” and knock knock:

Who’s there?
Cut scene.
Cut scene who?
Fuck you you’re not playing anymore because it’s another cut scene.

The biggest offender in my opinion is Metal Gear Solid 4. Referring to this as a “game” only applies if you consider the “let’s see who can sit quietly the longest game” (commonly employed by my parents as a child) an actual game. It becomes very clear very early on with Metal Gear Solid 4 that you’re not playing a game, you purchased a movie that on occasion will allow you to control the main character, much like a choose your own adventure book.

In my fantasy utopia where every game is well thought out and beta tested by large chested women cut scenes will go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by more scripted events. Not to say that every game needs the endless dialogue tree where saying nothing or replying slowly are valid options (Mass Effect comes to mind) to give the player as much input into a scripted scene as possible are necessary but giving the player the feel that even though a scripted event is happening they’re still a part of this world. Bioshock does a fantastic job of storytelling and really only relies on two cut scenes. The first is a brief intro which does a good job of setting up the environment that you’re in, then as the game slowly weans the player into the simulated world you’re privy to witnessing certain scenes that help get across the opening narrative. Shortly thereafter you’re locked in a room as a scripted scene plays out that will never change by way of the player’s actions but because you can still move freely in the locked room it lends a sense of urgency and stress to the scene that is unfolding. The only scripted scene that takes control away from the player blends seamlessly into the game play experience by making it relevant that the player is no longer in control.

Basically, leave movies to Hollywood, let gamers play.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Okami Update

So a ways back I wrote about my (out of character) praise for Okami. I sat down to play some more this weekend and approached what I thought, for the second time, to be the logical conclusion of the game only to sit through a cut scene and find myself staring at my godly wolf character sitting back on the screen awaiting my instructions to move forward into the next "mission." I'd like to preface my next statement with the fact that my entire time spent playing this game has been full of constant progression, there's no Final Fantasy-esque level grinding for hours or anything of that nature. With that said I have passed the 24 hour mark on my playtime and I am at a loss for words. This is long by PC RPG standards. I am now viewing Okami more as a marathon to which I am forced to press onward in, not for the desire to finish because I truly am enjoying this game, but because a game of this length and depth in storytelling deserves to be finished. I've rarely had a game tire me out (note that does not mean "bore me into not playing) and when I finally cross Okami's finish line I may collapse onto the floor in a heap of exhausted satisfaction much like I did into my friend's living room wall after I collapsed off of the drum throne after finishing the 8 song "metal marathon" set list in Rock Band.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dear News Media: I Play Video Games and I’m not a terrorist

Now a major pet peeve of mine, apart from not writing a new article in over a week, is the need that us as a society have to scapegoat high profile targets as quickly as possible in the even that anything goes wrong no matter how unjustified it may be. Anyone who considers themselves a “gamer” more than likely already knows where I’m going with this and probably shares my opinion. If you’re not a “gamer” then I have no idea why you’re reading this and I’ll wait for you to leave.

Ok, I think they’re gone and we can continue. I’ve been playing games my entire life in one form or another so I’ve only seen this trend grow over the years as video games have become more of a mainstream enterprise. I remember being a young nerd at the age of 12 and staring wide eyed and slack jawed at a bright shiny new cabinet in the arcade called Mortal Kombat and despite its poor spelling I knew I was witnessing something big that would have a profound impact on our society. Soon thereafter I would overhear my parents discussing a video game that they had seen on the news that glorified violence and encouraged kids to kill each other in horrible, bloody spectacles of 16bit glory. They quickly questioned me about the aforementioned game and I gave a performance that to this day rivals Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, and explained to my parents how I did not know that game and would stay far away from its murderous influences. Thankfully my parents did not know what a liar their sweet young boy was and how he had spent every cent he had on that game just the day before. I remember making it a point to listen in on the news when they would discuss that marvelous fighter and my young mind started to make certain connections. The news could be wrong, my parents could be misinformed and I could dive headfirst into all sorts of simulated violence.

Now nearly 15 years later I’m a functioning member of society, I have a clean criminal record, I hold down a steady job and am in a healthy relationship with a girl whose only physical harm comes from the Ninja the Cat. So needless to say that when I hear more and more how video games are the cause of the majority of society’s ills I get a little upset. I’ve gored, dismembered, stabbed, shot, impaled and torn apart literally thousands of species in my gaming over the years and never once felt the need to go and perform these actions. In fact, none of my gaming friends have. So why is it that when a kid shoots up a school or a disillusioned twenty-something shoots up a bar that one of the first places people rush to point their fingers is the video gaming industry. In the wake of a recent shooting one of the first sentences in every article I read was that the person in question was “an avid video gamer” and made it a point to mention that he owned a copy of Grand Theft Auto 4 and Halo 3. Well, who doesn’t? Those two games combined have sold well over 10 million copies so finding one in the home of a suspect isn’t that shocking. To me it’d be very similar to reading an article claiming that “the suspected killer was an avid fan of eating and police reported that a refrigerator and microwave oven were found in his home and at this time no actions are being taken against the nation’s beef industry.” The fact that suspects play video games is always brought into the public eye much quicker and more frequently than issues such as: where did this kid get a gun in the first place or where was a parent? Now, granted I do have a Bachelors Degree in History and therefore more privy to this kind of information but the shocking truth is that neither Hitler, Mussolini nor Napoleon ever owned any type of video game. Not only that but video games didn’t even exist. I know it’s shocking and I’ll allow a moment for you all to process that information. So how is it that violence existed before video games or that devil rock and roll music? Could it be that certain people due to very specific and individual events in their lives led to very specific points where they had to make a choice and maybe because of those very specific things that happened to them they weren’t equipped with the necessary balance and mentality that the rest of us have? No, I’m pretty sure that The Son of Sam was thinking about Frogger.

So long story short, I know it’s too late for that, video games do not create violence. If a person is willing to commit real violence because of the influence of video games than the person in question wasn’t emotionally stable in the first place and it would only be a matter of time before something triggered them whether it be a video game, a movie or just having someone give them a funny look on the street. Which is why the recent road warning sign prank made me laugh. Not the prank itself, or when 200 people told me about it before noon, but the fact that the news media whose normally so eager to jump down the pixilated video game throat completely missed blaming the industry when this was actually for once, the fault of a video game. Now ok, granted if I was a like minded prankster who had access to write whatever I wanted on an electric road warning sign sure, I’d think of something, anything really to say whether it be video game related or not. But for once, an honest to goodness link to a video game in a crime and the media dropped the ball. Shame on you media.. shame.