I’ve been meaning to write something about Alien Isolation for the last few months when I finished playing it. Putting aside Nintendo I think it was the only game released in 2014 that I had any interest in but when it came out it didn’t feel like the reviews were that good and I was busy at Leeds International Film Festival. I finally started playing it earlier this year and I mostly enjoyed it. The Xbox 360 version is full of many bugs, most notably a display issue that meant part of background for on screen text was persistently displayed on screen which did ruin the atmosphere. The game often crashed on the loading screen and there were many graphical glitches.
The game is at it’s best when your alone in an area with the alien. Unfortunately the gaps between such scenarios seem to grow further and further apart. Worse than that there are annoying humans and more annoying androids that just get in the way and just make this like most other games. The developers perfected the “Alien” part of the title but failed on the “Isolation” part.
Like most games it’s also too long. Things are dragged out along long corridors far too often and those humanoid encounters are just a pain. Save points are often before a long boring corridor with an opportunity to die at the end, this kind of crap shouldn’t be happening in games, especially ones where death by alien is down to chance (or sophisticated Xenomorphic AI programming). Still I put up with all the problems to see the story through the end. If the story had been shorted I’d have been tempted to spend more time with the challenge part of the game but this option has remained untouched.
It seems that Bioshock Infinite is one of those games which is being praised as a great example of the art form and considering how much I enjoyed the previous games I was looking forward to playing. With high expectations it’s inevitable that disappointment will follow but I’m really surprised just how much Bioshock Infinite gets wrong.
It is a great game but I can’t see it appealing to non gamers in a way that a true masterpiece should. For all the wonderful storytelling, characters and environments it frequently breaks down into chaotic scenes of men pointless shooting each other. Once again I’ve realised I’m not very good at playing games, facing frequent death whenever action kicks in. A friend of mine said how they lowered the difficulty just to get on with the story – I may yet end up following in his footsteps. I can’t help but wonder if Bioshock Infinite would be a better game if there were no guns. Playing with the vigors is fun but they are all essentially the same and they are all introduced poorly. A nice video shows you what they are capable of but then it’s impossible to find out again so pay attention. Days later when I returned to the game I could not remember what Charge did or remember back to picking up the murder of crows. There’s no opportunity to play apart from in the heat of the battle so it’s likely you’ll just stick to what you can remember. Weapons are handled even worse, with no easy way of knowing which weapon is which or what they do. This makes collecting ammo and applying upgrades quite hit and miss.
Then there’s all the stupid shit that just shouldn’t happen in blockbuster mega budget games. At what point during play testing did someone decide to ignore the comments that pausing for a two second sequence every time Elizabeth found a coin was incredibly annoying. There are achievements (and more importantly from an artistic point of view, story building background) from watching all the Kinescopes, but the same film is repeated in many of them and this should be indicated in the game instead of having to rewatch the same ones over and over. Characters start talking to you when you are playing back voice recordings meaning you can’t make out what either is saying – it’s 2013 why is this happening?
I am enjoying the game (but I’m still enjoying Lego City Undercover more) but every time it aspires to be great it does something stupid and video gamey and I’m still left wondering when the games industry is really going to mature.
The best game of 2012 is Telltale’s The Walking Dead. It shouldn’t be the best game of the year, it would be easy to argue that it isn’t even a game and just a series of quicktime events forming a choose your own adventure video. It shouldn’t be called the best game of the year because it’s only October and presumably any other contenders for the title have still to be released. It shouldn’t be game of the year because there’s still another episode to be released and it may be a horrible mess and somehow undo all the greatness that has passed so far. It shouldn’t be the best game because it’s a bit glitchy in places. But The Walking Dead is the best game of the year for so many reasons.
Firstly the delivery model is how gaming should be in 2012. Each episode takes 2-3 hours to play and costs less than £5. That’s better than the cinema and a manageable way of playing games. The biggest problem with major games is having no idea how much commitment the require and when or if you’ll be able to save.
Secondly I have never felt emotionally attached to characters in a game like I have with The Walking Dead. I don’t know if it’s the story, the writing, the design, the performances or an amazing combination of all these things. My decisions matter because what happens to these characters matters and that rarely happens in any medium and especially not games.
Thirdly your decisions don’t just affect the game, I’ve found myself seriously questioning my actions long after I have finished playing the game. At a certain moment in Episode 3 I was more shocked by my immediate reaction and response to particular shocking moment. Did I really just do that? Should I really just have done that? I started trying to justify my response long before my character had to. This is powerful stuff. It is only a game, there is an option to rewind and make different choices but I haven’t. I made the choice and I’m sticking to it even when I don’t like the outcome and think I’ve made a mistake. I don’t know how to explain this attachment to the characters and decisions. I woke up this morning feeling bad about one particular decision I made towards the end of Episode 4 but I keep trying to tell myself it had to to be done even if it didn’t feel right.
It may only be a game but for the first time I feel like I am actually part of a zombie outbreak and in those situations perhaps there is no such thing as right and wrong and it all just comes down to survival.
I may have mentioned how much I hate video game bosses before. I really wish game designers would start to think of some smarter ways to climax their levels and games than the lazy attempts at pointlessly introducing an artificial difficulty spike to drag out the experience. I’m sure there have been some good bosses, those you can carefully exploit with your latest piece of equipment (Zelda), but I’m really struggling to think of any enjoyable ones. Usually when a boss battle is over it’s not a sense of accomplishment but relief that you can move on to the next part of the game or a new game entirely.
I’m playing Dead Rising 2 and probably would have completed it last night if the game didn’t have a ridiculous “final” encounter. I was ready to finish my play session when I stumbled across what I assumed would be the end of the game so I carried on playing. Over an hour later I was still playing and now extremely annoyed and tired. I’m not the greatest gamer but this particular boss fight (and many others in other games) are just unfair. I “cheated” and looked up what technique to use to beat the fight, there is no way I (or any sane person) was going to be able to find out a method that worked through trial and error. Does anybody think that repeatedly dying because one hit knocks out a third of your energy is a fun way to play. In Dead Rising 2 it’s even worse because you are just fighting a man and his fists – how can he do more damage than the thousands of zombies attempting to eat you or the magazines of ammo emptied in to your body from soldiers earlier in the game. And so you try again, die, load, load, return to the scene, fight, die, die, die. When I finally did defeat the guy it felt more like chance than anything else but the important thing at no point was it ever any fun.
Last weekend I finally got round to playing Dead Rising 2. Easter seemed like an appropriate time to start playing a zombie game and funnily enough it was the previous Easter when I played Case Zero. The first Dead Rising was one of the reasons I wanted and Xbox 360. The game was initially a huge disappointment, incredibly frustrating and difficult. I grew to love it and the 2nd game appears to be more of the same. It seems easier and having 3 save points really helps although sometimes I think it might be easier just to start over rather than returning to a previous save (starting over is actually part of the game, you retain your character process but the story starts again). As always with me it’s the small things that are really irritating. Not being able to check your watch whilst moving, not knowing if survivors are with you before going through a door, the huge loading times between areas, switching to something useless when a weapon brakes and not having voice acting for messages. In a game like Zelda I really don’t mind a lack of voice acting, if there is lots of text it’s easier to read. In Dead Rising you get messages at awkward busy moments when you can’ stop and read the screen, it’s a huge mistake not being able to listen to these as they come in. The psychopaths are a complete pain and I wish the story ones were easier so you could defeat them at lower levels but I’m still really loving the game.
The Xbox 360 Dashboard got updated last week and like many I don’t seem to be that impressed. Adding in Apps is obviously a great idea, covering the place with adverts not so great. My biggest concern is down to the design, it seems to be build around Kinect navigation which is obviously Microsoft’s intention. This seems wrong to me, just like the redesigned BBC website appears to have been designed for a swipable touch screen. What happened to designing interfaces to be optimised for the most popular hardware? The thing that surprises me most about the Xbox redesign is how none of the dashboard layouts ever really take advantage of the Xbox controller. There are more ‘slideshow’ panels in the new design which automatically scroll through 4 or 5 different panels, why on Earth can I not scroll these using one right stick or D-pad?
In terms of functionality I haven’t really seen any improvements, this is mostly because I haven’t been a Gold member for quite some time. Nearly all of the new Apps and functionality required Gold membership. Microsoft made a big mistake having a free weekend before the majority of the apps had been released because there was nothing for the non-Gold members to sample for free. I’m really interested in the LoveFilm, Blinkbox and YouTube apps (and the 4OD and BBC ines coming next year) but I’m unsure about paying to use them. Rather annoyingly you are allowed to download the apps before being told they require a Gold membership to use them; thanks for wasting my time and bandwidth Microsoft. It also seems a mistake not being able to view anything in LoveFilm, Blinkbox or YouTube, why not just have some clips up there so I can see the quality of the video and the app’s interface.
No doubt I’ll end up paying for Gold and upgrading my LoveFilm account, neither are really that expensive if I will actually use them which has always been my problem with Gold up until now.
I finished the main story of Arkham City last night, in an effort to get it out of the way before Leeds Film Festival and Skyward Sword eat up my November. It is a great game there’s very little doubt about that but I can’t help but think that Arkham Asylum was a better game. The first game masterfully lead you by the hand to teach you how to be Batman and tell a story in a great environment. When you’re thrown in to Arkham City there is so much to see and do it’s easy to get lost. The main story is perhaps better than Asylum’s but because it’s so awesome being Batman I kept ignoring it and doing my own thing. A story with an urgency and ticking clock doesn’t really work if you keep wanting to break away to beat up thugs, collect trophies or just perch on a gargoyle because it looks and feels so cool.
I can’t help but wonder how different the game would be if you were forced to play the story first and then clean up the rest of the city. For a change the story is about the correct length and it would allow some better training and reminders if everyone was forced down the same path. One complaint I do have of the game is that you start with a lot of the gadgets and moves from the first game but you’re not really told how to use them like I think you were in the first game. I’m also really bad at playing the game so being able to turn on tutorials for all the moves would help a lot.
I grew to love Asylum after I’d finished the story and started collecting the Riddler trophies. Arkham City offers up so much more to do once the story is complete that I feel like I’m just beginning to play the game. Maybe I have it all wrong and the story was just the tutorial for the open city sandbox.
Essentially what it boils down to is that it’s a great game because Rocksteady have made it so great to play as Batman.
I spent a few more hours with L.A. Noire and I’m afraid to say my overall opinion didn’t change. It’s not a bad game but it is hugely disappointing and playing through all the street crimes only highlighted this further. I realise that the street crimes were supposed to break up the cases and not be played back to back but during the game I wanted to get on with the story and ignored them. All of the 40 street crimes they pretty much all boil down to a variation of shooting a few people and then chasing someone on foot or car and none of them are much fun. There seems to be no connection between your character in the story and these side missions. Cole Phelps is portrayed as a good but flawed guy and yet playing him you’re mostly forced to “subdue” the criminals by shooting them to pieces, often fatally. I know it’s just a game but it’s supposed to be a different type of game.
The one thing which keeps running through my mind is how the rumoured working conditions during the development of the game may have impacted the final release. I’m never going to understand why “crunchtime” is required or acceptable in software development, it’s just a result of poor planning. Normally if a deadline isn’t going to be met you have two options, extend the deadline or reduce what you are trying to achieve. In L.A. Noire and many other games, cutting back on the number of levels, missions, cases would have made so much sense. If the developers were allowed time to step back and look at what they are creating perhaps they’d be able to see all the obvious flaws apparent on playing the game and have time to address them. I don’t care if hardcore gamers are going to complain about games being too short, gaming is moving into the mainstream and there’s no place for 30 hours games where most of that is simple repetition. If you have a 30-hour story to tell then fine tell it, if you’re just going to make me chase/shoot non-entities over and over then don’t bother.
I wanted the story, I wanted character development, I wanted choices but most importantly I just wanted my actions to have consequences.
I’m still not sure if it was a good idea to be catching up with L.A. Noire and Forbrydelsen at the same time, it certainly wasn’t intentional. The number of parallels between the two are amazing and I wish I were smarter and more articulate so I could write something better about them. Despite ending up enjoying L.A. Noire it annoyed me a lot when I started playing it and unlike GTA IV and Red Dead Redemptions these annoyances never seemed to go away. The writing seemed to bother me the most, restricting you to go down one path and never be free to investigate any hunches with a nagging feeling of always getting the wrong man. In Forbrydelsen there were also many false investigation and wrong accusations but you never felt cheated like you did in L.A. Noire, the only thing making you think they’d got the wrong man is that there were still many more episodes to go. I can’t help but wonder if L.A. Noire would have been better if it was one long 20-hour case with much more depth and red herrings. Interestingly I spotted the unlikely killer in both L.A. Noire and Forbrydelsen very early on, even if this was more to do with the narrative structure than the investigation.
If I had a spare 20 hours then I’d watch Forbrydelsen again rather than playing L.A. Noire (and in a way I will be because I have the American remake to watch) but I am left wondering if a game with a story like Forbrydelsen could ever work.
When I started playing Portal 2 I tweeted:
I stand by that statement and the excellent humour and performance by Stephen Merchant as Wheatley continues into the game during the early stages. A good sign of a great character is one you really miss when they are not on screen, unfortunately this also makes it obvious where Portal 2 get’s it wrong. When Wheatley is missing the game really seems to drag on and rather than step up the gameplay so you don’t notice, this also seems to be the weakest part in terms of game design. Running from one big open space to another, desperately scanning for a tiny patch of “portal-able” wall to progress just isn’t fun and I really struggled to be motivated to carry on. Great inventive puzzles were desperately needed here instead of just finding all the pieces to join together in the correct order. I think Portal 2 is a good game but I ended up thinking that, like most games, if it was about a third shorter it would have been a great game and maybe could have been released last year.