Saturday, January 19, 2013

Far Cry 3: Character Progression and Pacing Done Right


     When it comes to games, impulse buys are few and far between for me. Usually I follow games that pop up on my radar from announcement to release date. Trying to gain as much knowledge as possible about a title before picking it up, just to make sure I'm not throwing 60 dollars down the toilet. I think anyone invested in the medium of video games can sympathize with the pain of waiting for a game for 6 months to a year only to be truly disappointed with the final product for any number of reasons. Far Cry 3 was just the opposite for me. While it was something I was intrigued by it never really grasped my attention till the final moments before it's release. Somewhat reluctantly I picked it up on release day and can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am beyond satisfied with my purchase. Though it came out at the tail end of the year I would gladly name this as my 2012 Game of the Year.

Here are just a few reasons why.

The Motivation of Feeling Powerless

     At the outset of Far Cry 3 you're essentially a mild mannered every-man. A twenty-something without a care in the world on vacation with a some close friends and a few members of your family. In an instant your fun becomes fear. The familiar party of characters you're traveling with is ripped away from you by a group of human-trafficking-rebels inhabiting the small pair of islands you've been brought to and there is seemingly nothing you can do about it.

     After the intro cut-scene you wake up in a cage, tied up, and staring at your older brother. An odd feeling of powerlessness slips over you as one of the games antagonists belittles you with insults and tells you what lies in your future. Vaas, the aforementioned antagonist, is one of the best voiced characters I've ever encountered in my 20 years of gaming. He also happens incredibly animated. But, more importantly, his confidence and the conviction in his words really drives home the idea that there isn't anything you can do to stop him. He's insane; He knows it, he wants you to know it, and at this point you're pretty sure of it.

     That powerlessness is something we see a lot in games but this is one of the first times that I personally have actually felt it. It's an incredible, albeit cliched, motivator. The way it's presented in Far Cry 3 is second to none and a feeling you'll carry through much of the early game.

The Realization of Potential

     Shortly after your great escape you're brought to one of the main towns on one of the islands and given a gun with a handful of bullets. The relief of just having a weapon brings back some semblance of power and now the island is essentially yours to explore. You quickly realize that,  for now, you're relegated to carrying only one gun. Your Gaming Instinct kicks in and you ask yourself  "How do I carry more guns?" Well, my foraging friend, you've gotta go hunt! The island is inhabited by a few dozen types of animals that aren't just for atmosphere. Finding, killing, and skinning animals is one of the keys to becoming more powerful. It allows you to upgrade all kinds of stuff from the amount of grenades you can carry to expanding your on-person inventory.

     While initially most of the island isn't "safe" to wander around just yet, you're free to upgrade almost every facet of your inventory right from the get go. I had almost all my inventory upgrades before I was even a quarter through the game. Where most games have you unlock these kind of things sequentially Far Cry allows you to work at your own pace. Do you want to upgrade almost everything now? Go ahead! Want to wait till the upgrade seems more necessary? Feel free to wait! This freedom lets you control some of the pacing of the game and can have a large effect on how you deal with enemies.

     This again is a mechanic that a lot of games have had in the past. Far Cry tinkers with the idea and lets you decide when the time is right.

The Monster You Will Become

     Slaughtering faceless minions is a staple in games and you'll do your fair share of it here. But, very few of those games make you feel the implications of the bloodbath you bestow on whatever given world you've entered. While Far Cry really only touches on it in dialogue, it's a nice change of pace. Your friends start to worry about your sudden violent turn, addressing the fact that you've turned into someone else.Someone so far from who you were at the start of this adventure. It's a slight nuance that I wish more games would introduce.

     In game like Skyrim for example, you could assassinate an entire town without much need to worry aside from having to pay a bounty. After you've payed your fine no one is any more fearful of you than before. There's no real meaning behind those actions. Admittedly, Skyrim is an incredible game in it's own right. But something even that subtle could make it a much deeper and meanigful experience.

The Payoff

By the end of your time with Far Cry you'll be powerful and smart enough to dispatch large groups of minions with out much trouble. You'll learn to stalk your prey and pick and choose how to encounter different situations. You'll find hidden temples and caves. You'll hang glide over mountains and take out a few of the most fully realized villains in modern gaming. Rarely have I been so impressed with every facet of a game. From the production value to the minute to minute gameplay Far Cry 3 is an incredible game that will give you exactly what you put into it.

There's so much more that I didn't get into here. I hope, if you haven't already, you go out and pick it up for yourself. It's a uniquely wild ride from beginning to end and well worth your money.

-Nuff out.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why SSX is the only game with an online pass that I'm ok with.

Since the inception of console-based online gaming there have been many follies, foul-ups, and some would even say schemes. None however, have enraged me more than the trend of publishers requiring an online pass for a game. Being an Xbox 360 owner I already pay $50 yearly for my  Xbox Live gold membership. There is no reason I should have to pay for an online pass to specifically play a game if I haven't bought it brand new. This becomes even more of a problem for me if you're not offering me something outside of what a normal multiplayer component in a game should offer out of the box. It's a growing trend that, until now, I hadn't seen any good in. Though I still disagree with this practice EA's reboot of SSX is the first time I've been okay with a publisher requiring an online pass. SSX's offerings go slightly above the norm in an, albeit, nontraditional way.

Most games with online play have you competing live with other players. You know how it goes, you enter a lobby, some twelve year old starts swearing at his mom, some guy with a huge ego starts talking trash to the rest of the lobby, and you end up either shutting them both up or getting spanked and raging out. SSX negates  these things that are seemingly necessary features for an online title and instead makes the world your persistent lobby. While I'm sure people are talking trash, the lack of an actual lobby system makes sure you never have to hear it. That guy's score you just demolished doesn't get to rag on you at all. All he gets to do is stare at his now 2nd place score.

The whole "the world is the lobby" philosophy that the new SSX takes gives us a not often seen style of multiplayer. Instead of live matches you have, what SSX calls, Global Events. These events have a set time limit that I've seen vary from an hour to a whole week and everywhere in between. The events utilize all the tracks and event styles you see in the game's World Tour mode and Explore mode but add additional parameters to a given track. On top of all of that, you'll be competing for the fastest time or the highest score  against everyone else that owns the game and tries the event for a prize pool of in-game money. Most times you'll see ghosts of other players who are also trying to covet a top spot. A few games have tried this idea before but I can't remember any that have executed it so well. I found myself playing and replaying events to see if I could squeeze out a few more points or shave off a few seconds to gain a spot in the top two brackets and net myself a good sum of money.

This type of multiplayer in someways is a call back to old arcade cabinets on a much larger scale and at a much faster rate. With thousands of people playing a given event the score or time for the top bracket can jump drastically in just one run down the mountain. I feel like this brings the community closer together in a different way with people trading tips and tricks instead of belittling each other. I've added and been added by more people because of SSX than any other game I've ever played. The message boards I've visited have been tight nit instead of being splintered into groups. SSX's community so far is an interesting phenomenon that I've found to stand out in the crowd.

EA really hit it out of the park with this reboot and it's almost solely because of the multiplayer. Here scores say more than your ego and talent says more than your trash talk. I do still disagree with the idea of the online pass at this point. But, if more games started giving more than the standard online offerings, like SSX does, then I'd much more okay with the idea. If you're looking for a unique twist on multiplayer I'd highly suggest you pick this up and shred with the world.


Friday, February 10, 2012

First Impressions: Kingdoms of Amalur

Upon playing the demo I quickly dismissed this game as a mash-up of WoW and Fable and nothing more. Upon booting up the full game and playing for a few hours I realized how wrong I was. Kingdoms of Amalur has the open-world play-it-your-way appeal of a lot of other western RPGs but also has the combat, storytelling, and world design to back it up.

I've played probably 5 hours of KoA and I can't get enough. The combat alone is enough to keep me coming back. It's much like the combat system in Fable. You can switch between melee, magic, and ranged combat at will. It just feels much better here than in Fable; It feels more stable and fluid. The spells are amazingly animated as is the rest of the combat. The one thing I do think the combat is lacking is a lock-on but really that's just nit picking.

I'll hopefully have a full review up sometime soon in the future.

Friday, January 27, 2012

First Impressions: Dead Island

I just picked up Dead Island today and am having a ton of fun romping through the zombie hordes. The game plays like a mixture between Left4Dead and Diablo. A first person dungeon(in this case "Island") crawler that mainly focuses on melee combat. The presentation of the game was the first thing that caught me. It has some pretty amazing visuals and really has that "Island Resort" feel to it. There is a quote towards the beginning of the game that sums up the design and feel of the world: "Who ever thought hell could look like paradise." The game really drives this sentiment home showing you some beautiful locales that have all been infested with the living dead.

There are two options for combat available "Digital" and "Analog" I chose to go with the latter. The difference between the two is pretty drastic. "Digital", Dead Islands default setting, allows you basically to wail away at enemies but lacks the precise aims and specific strikes of the "Analog" setting. You swing, only horizontally, withe the right trigger and the left trigger is used to aim before throwing your weapons it's as simple as that.

The "Analog" setting does have a bit of a learning curve but it is what I ultimately chose as the superior control scheme. The "Analog" setting has you holding the left trigger to get into a ready or combat stance before swinging. It's much like aiming down your scope in Call of Duty. After entering this stance you use the right stick to attack much like in any of the more recent Fight Night titles. Because headshots(even with melee weapons) can often result in a critical hit I found this control scheme to be much more useful. Dead Island also allows you to debilitate enemies by breaking their limbs. Again the "Analog" setting was much more precise in multi-zombie scenarios where I've needed to put some distance between me and the seething teeth of the infected trying to bite my face off.

So far it's been incredibly interesting and fun. I'll have the full review out soon and go much more in depth with the combat, RPG and online aspects, as well as the story.

Thanks for reading.

'Nuff out.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Full Review: Metro 2033

Based on a cult classic Russian novel sharing the same name, Metro 2033 is an atmospheric supernatural shooter that is sure to test your mettle on more than one occasion. In a post-apocalyptic Russia thousands of survivors of a nuclear fallout now call the Metro subway system their home but even this extensive safe haven is slowly becoming a place of terror. The station of Exhibition is in danger of being invaded by mutants known only as the dark ones. Artyom, our protagonist and narrator, is tasked with saving this makeshift home. Artyom's journey will take him through some of the Metro's claustrophobic corridors and have him braving the now ravaged urban wilderness that exists outside.

Right from the outset of the game developer A4 let's us know we're in for a ride. Your home of Exhibition station is full of life. While there isn't much in terms of interaction here everything going on seems real. There's a group sitting by a fire listening to a man play guitar, soldiers and citizens sitting and chatting at a makeshift bar while the bartender wipes down the counter and serves drinks, and a handful of shops selling anything they can scavenge. You can't directly talk to most NPCs but if you stand around a group you'll certainly hear some horror stories about the remaining civilizations trials and tribulations. This is pretty much the case for most of the stations you'll come across though, each one does have a bit of it's own style.

Though Metro 2033 is a fairly linear game these stations give it a bit of an open-world feel and are a welcome reprieve from the terrors on the surface and in the tunnels. The only form of economy that still exists in the world of Metro 2033 is Ammo. All ammo is worth something but pristine military grade ammo is pretty much gold. It's in short supply and you'll have to do some searching to find any or convert some of your unneeded ammo at a currency booth in any of the stations. Each station also has a market though you can only interact with the weapons sellers and sometimes a medic. Most stations will have a unique set of weapons. Though you can't customize your weapons yourself you'll often come across a few variations of most weapons.

This is a game that not only rewards exploration of your surrounding area, but almost forces you to explore to survive.(in a good way). Scavenging ammo, health, and air canisters from bodies and your surroundings soon becomes second nature. A lot of games use this mechanic but few make it seem so necessary. Your ammo will constantly be in short supply and Metro 2033 forces you to be smart with your shots. This is where one of my only complaints with the game comes in. The lack of ammo forces you to try and conserve it but some of the enemies in the game are bullet sponges. You'll waste a few clips and feel like you've done no damage what-so-ever. Head shots on human enemies are one hit kills are are also incredibly satisfying when they're detected correctly. Luckily the bullet sponges only come up a few times in the game and the shooting mechanic works well 90% of the time.

All this action is broken up a few times with some nicely implemented stealth sections where shooting out lights is often the only way not to been seen and throwing knives are your best friend(they can be retrieved off of dead bodies). The A.I. Shines most in these sections. Once alerted to your presence they'll search around frantically for an intruder. When you whittle the group of guards down to just one or two the dialogue also whittles down. At first all the guards working together are confident and angry. Once the numbers start to drop you'll hear fear in the voices of those left. It's a small detail but definitely a nice touch.

Not all your time in Metro 2033 is spent underground you'll brave the post-apocalyptic wilderness on several occasions. The air outside is full of deadly fumes and chemicals so you'll be inclined to throw on your gas mask. This mechanic is really interesting and I'd like to see more games throw something like this at you. Your mask uses air filters which deplete overtime. You can check how much air you have left before you have to switch out the air canister which becomes your main priority when outside. Otherwise you're gonna suffocate. There were times in my play through where I had no filters left, my mask was almost out, and I just made it inside at the last second. The gas mask can also break during combat making you search for another more suitable replacement. This brings an unfamiliar tension to the game and makes some of the outside combat incredible. You'll be shooting if out with guards, looking for cover and ammo, and need to worry about your gas mask. All of this works together incredibly well.

All in all, Metro 2033 is a sleeper hit that I would highly recommend you pick up if you enjoy first-person shooters or survival horror games. Though it is a bit short your time spent with it is well worth it especially considering it's now older and most likely cheap. The atmosphere in Metro 2033 is really what makes the game. The aire of desperation and hopelessness seep out of every corridor. The tension builds with every new area you explore and the story is an awesome tale of the human will to live even in such catastrophic circumstances.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Ausgamers Skyrim interview with Todd Howard

Here's one of the best interviews I've seen regarding Skyrim. The interviewer asks question's  we actually want to know and seems like he's actually a gamer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Full Review:L.A. Noire

Smooth jazz plays over the radio, you're chatting it up with your new partner while driving to a fresh crime scene, the nightlife seems as lively as ever but, the city has never been deadlier. You arrive to a bloodied body and your only initial thought is how someone could kill something so beautiful, though, this one is no more or less tragic than the last. An excited new beat cop was the first on scene and gives you the rundown then let's you on your way to investigate the gruesome murder.

This is just a small example of the incredible atmosphere Team Bondi and Rockstar have created with L.A Noire. Tension builds with every crime scene and characters are fleshed out between and during investigations. Rockstar and Team Bondi manage to deliver an unparalleled narrative tale, all while recreating the look and feel of 1940's L.A to a T. After a bit of research into the topic I found out just how in depth the studios got when bringing the city back to life, while I won't go into detail here, I highly suggest you check it out for yourself if you have any interest in game design.

There are a few graphical hiccups and some frame rate issues but, L.A. Noire, for the most part looks great. Buildings, cars and, people are all tailored in true 1940's style. The real graphical star though is not the games backdrop, it's the facial animation. L.A. Noire's groundbreaking MotionScan technology allows the studio to capture a given actor's entire performance down the the smallest facial expression and will likely be seen as a new bar for in game performances. It's also a core part of L.A. Noire's interrogation mechanic which serves as the main gameplay device throughout the entire game. Watching a character's face while he spouts off lines during an action sequence is something I'm sure doesn't happen often but here it's almost impossible to not notice that even outside of interrogation the new MotionScan technology is a game changer.

Sadly, outside of the investigation and interrogation L.A. Noire's gameplay falls a bit flat and tends to get a bit repetitive. You'll grow accustomed to chasing down fleeing suspects, which is fun at first, but most of these chases(see:Most) fail to feel unique and they soon become more tedious than anything. One thing that did surprise me though is the amount of verticality in a lot of the chases, sometimes you'll get more of a Price of Persia feel than Grand Theft Auto. The gun-play feels pretty standard, it's third person cover based al a GTA, but without the ability to lock on. Rockstar and Team Bondi do a decent job of setting up some interesting shoot-outs, especially in the shorter more action oriented street crimes. These serve as a small relief from the main story and do a pretty decent job of giving the action craving audience their fix.

Though L.A. Noire is an open-world game there's really not much to do outside of the investigations and street crimes. It's kind of disappointing that after painstakingly recreating the city Team Bondi and Rockstar didn't give players much reason to really explore the world. There are some hidden cars and the landmarks to discover but none of these really change the game at all. The city more serves as a means to get from point A to point B than it does a living breathing character which is a real let-down considering the scope of the city. It takes about 20 minutes to get from one end to the other, but again there's really no reason to. Really, under its surface L.A. Noire is a glorified point and click adventure that happens to be polished to the max.

I don't want to give the wrong impression, L.A. Noire is an incredible game and is really one of the first games to truly successfully blur the line between movies and games(besides Heavy Rain). If this is was Team Bondi and Rockstar's goal, which i'm guessing it was, they've unabashedly succeeded. More often than most games you'll identify with characters and truly get a feel for each characters personality. Any fan of movies will easily get caught up in the well written plot and find themselves wanting to know what the big picture is.

L.A. Noire Succeeds in delivering an intriguing twisted story of corruption, greed, and murder. It's fully fleshed out world, while baron of activity, is a testament to game design. The in-game performances are unparalleled and I'm sure we'll see this technology popping up more and more in the industry. While it does lack a little outside of the investigations and interrogations, these new gameplay innovations bring enough of a fresh feeling that you'll be sure to play this from it's beginning to it's culminating end. I'm excited to see what Team Bondi and Rockstar can do with this new franchise and look forward to future entries in the series.