I write this post in response to Trent Polack's ode to Far Cry 2 as his game of the decade, and Ben Abraham's epic game diary of his time in the game. These two well-respected game bloggers, amongst many others consider Far Cry 2 an amazing game of legendary proportions (yes, I'm pumping the superlatives) because of everything it represents in terms of sandbox and dynamically spontaneous action, based upon individual player choices.
But in my opinion, despite Far Cry 2 being a good game, I wouldn't go so far as calling it spectacular. And after hearing so much praise heaped on the game even to this day, I had to return to it myself and see what the fuss is all about. What I found was that all the original issues I had with the game still stand today.
But if Ubisoft tweaked a few things, the game would be the stellar title it should've been.
I've heard this one at least a dozen times; the way you can almost "feel" the sweltering heat as you scream across the African desert in a 4x4, or how the towns are positively buzzing with tension and alive with people.
What people? What atmosphere? What heat? Sure the graphics can make it feel like you're really in some savanna, or a lush jungle, but as far as civilization is concerned, Far Cry 2 is too lacking in populace. The only time you ever see non-hostile NPCs is at the very beginning, as you are driven towards the town. You see women and children and random dudes but they seem to be going in the opposite direction to you. The driver informs you everyone is trying to leave the country. This means all the villages are either devoid of life or filled with angry people with guns.
So to make Far Cry 2 more immersive, instead of having all the people disappear, they should've made the towns more vibrant with communities that don't try to shoot you on sight: have people going about their daily business, from selling and buying things at a market, kids playing in the dusty streets, women going about their housekeeping chores, etc.
The player is already in constant danger traveling between places, with jeeps chasing your ass, and outposts that spray bullets at your car every time you pass. Having non-hostile communities not only gives the player an opportunity for respite, it also contrasts the violence with the peaceful, cultural aspects the country has to offer.
Even if your interaction with non-hostile NPCs is minimal, i.e. have them there for show even if you can't talk to them shows that you are not alone in this big, bad world full of big, bad people.
In Far Cry 2, you pick up buddies at an expat bar (which, as discussed above, is too empty to be fun) and have them help you out in two ways - they give an alternative plan of action for missions, or help rescue you if you go down in a fight. Outside of this, they have nothing interesting about them, and reveal only piecemeals of personal histories.
Such static programming may mean the player quickly understands the function of the buddies in the game, but I'd like to have seen something more dynamic. Didn't Half-Life 2: Episode 2 come out exactly one year before Far Cry 2?
Why mention that awesome game from Valve? you ask.
Simple. HL2: Episode 2 had an interesting gimmick in that Alyx, one of the main characters to the Half-Life story and your best buddy, follows you around for most of the game; dispatching enemies and sitting in the car beside you. It made the world less lonely as she talked to you, and reacted to the world along with you. Far Cry 2 needed to do that.
For much of the latter game, you are driving across very pretty landscapes, but it's all so very lonely. Having someone sit beside you - perhaps telling you about their lives before you arrived, or help fend off all those irritating jeeps chasing you, would make the game a lot more fun and the buddies all that more meaningful in your game existence.
Plus, when the shocking twist comes at the end, I think it would be a whole lot more profound.
All this talk about more affecting companions leads me to my next big point. Characters in Far Cry 2 are poorly written. Perhaps Ubisoft's concern is that in order to focus on the main point of the game, which is to shoot stuff, and do it fast, they need to cut back on lengthy talky bits and deep characterization.
But heck, go all out to make the best immersive game you can, I say. Which means all the bosses, and their assistants that you get your missions from should be made more well-rounded. Right now, they could very well be replaced by cardboard cut-outs with robotic voices, and we could care less.
Bring out more of their paranoia at the other faction, some underlying emotions, anxieties, motives for acting the way they do. Give us more and more of the characters. Now, they just speak too fast and not at all about anything other than "go-here-do-that". Even the buddies could do with a little more depth, although I have to praise the visual design of all the characters, they are each individually quite interesting.
The Jackal I must add though, is a well written character. Of course, he is the most prominent character for the plot, and the catalyst for everything that happens around you in the game world.
I played Uncharted 2 recently, and the story is just so compelling and a rollicking good time as an adventure. That's what Far Cry 2 should've done. Made an adventure story set in Africa. It may be a little cliched, but at least it is at once familiar to audiences but also fresh, in terms of it not being done to death yet in the gaming world.
This is definitely a very strong personal opinion but I believe we should be given better reasons to blowing things up, or assassinating this person or raiding that outpost. Give me a strong enough motive to want to fight these people badly.
In the game, we are just blunt tools acting on the whims of these faction lords, fighting their pointless proxy wars so that we can earn diamonds to buy the next big gun. I don't really care if I've racked up a body count, or leveled an entire village. But my point is, I should care. I even sometimes forget the main reason why I'm in Africa which is to find and kill the Jackal.
I have no doubt that the writers at Ubisoft are good enough to maintain the game's high degree of freedom and choice whilst having a focused story. Granted, Far Cry 2's ultimate design is in that it is not shackled by a story so that players can create their own as they play, but after awhile, even sandbox without meaning or focus can grow tiresome.
And if the writers at Ubisoft want ideas for what kind of story to make, I have a possible plot opening:
*COPYRIGHTED* You come to Africa to find and kill the Jackal, but after being struck down by malaria, you are saved and nursed back to health by a small village community. You come to live with and befriend these simple people, until the factions come through and ravage the peaceful village.
Therein lies your motive to fight: to save the lives of your friends, or even take revenge on those war-mongering fools. Or not at all, and go work for the factions instead. Boom! Cue epic music. *COPYRIGHT END*
When I played the game last year, I was seriously head over heels for it. It did the sandbox thing really, really well and I preferred it to that other awesome open, lush-world shooter, Crysis. The range of weaponry, the realism in recoil, firepower, and wear, driving across pretty landscapes, lots of dynamic player-driven violence and action, etc.
But at the end of the day, my concerns are primarily based on immersion, and I seriously believe if Ubisoft considers these, Far Cry 3 will be a kick-ass game.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
LOLZOR, after the whirlwind of excitement at the Spike TV VG Awards, some new trailers for new games coming in 2010 were released. HERE THEY ARE, for your enjoyment.
Kane & Lynch: Dog Days
I haven't played the first Kane & Lynch, but from what I've read, the first was a cinematically brilliant game, if only let down slightly by wonky combat. But after watching this trailer for number two, I think I might just go and play the first one after all. This has the makings of some gritty-ass movie-game. And don't forget, a live-action movie of Kane & Lynch is in the works, starring Bruce Willis. Action man of the decade. No one does Die Hard like Brucey.
Spec Ops: The Line
I don't know what to make of this. It looks exciting, but it also at the same time has the potential for being absolutely bland. Because of the whole "stand there and shoot at all the stationary enemies who don't appear smart enough to take cover". But I like the whole sand dynamically shifting terrain thing. Then again, using that one gimmick to pull the entire game forward can also cause major fail. We shall see. Don't like the guy trying too hard to be all intellectual-villain though.
Batman: Arkham Asylum 2
Maybe Warner Bros is riding on the success of the first Arkham Asylum to quickly churn out the second. But even if the trailer says "Arkham Asylum has moved", does that mean we're still going to get the exact same gameplay, bar different environments? Well, that's no fun is it. And *SPOILER ALERT*, didn't we already kick Joker's ass at the end of the first one? Give us a new bad ass boss before we get Joker back in the picture. But that's just my cynicality speaking. It may turn out to be even bigger and awesomer a game than the first one. Or not.
Medal of Honor: Reboot
EA are not stupid. They've been around just as long as Activision. So why shouldn't they get a piece of the mega pie that Activision just ate up thanks to Modern Warfare 2? So whilst Activision is gloating in front of the press for their shooter-of-the-year, EA have been secretly tinkering away in their backrooms making their own modern war shooter, aptly titled Medal of Honor. Why? Because everyone knows that MoH was the granddaddy of war shooters before they tanked with some titles.
So hopefully this new MoH Modern Warfare is as good as it sounds, it being based on a REAL campaign in the Middle East, and not all made up like CoD's. The graphics doesn't look as awesome as Modern Warfare's though... but we shall see.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Finally, folks. We have come to a decade. It only seemed like yesterday when the world was in a frenzy over the whole millennium hoo-ha, and I watched as a man zoomed around a stadium with a jetpack.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about my games for 2009. This year has been quite a dry one to be honest, there have been some stellar titles, but nothing spectacular or earth-shaking. With the economic turmoil in the world at large, even the game devs are either cutting back, delaying, or just plain canceling games altogether. Rest in peace, Duke Nukem...
Here we go...
10. The Sims 3
The most highly anticipated release from EA and Will Wright since his failure with Spore (in my opinion). A game that got the women ga-ga again to play house, and made everything seem all that more realistic with improved A.I. and sweet graphics. I watched as a bunch of friends go through entire days without feeding themselves (no joke) just because they were more interested in feeding their Sims and making them go about their daily business - that was how great the game was. It also saw the return of sadism with the creepy players walling up their Sims and watching them pee themselves to death. Gross.
9. Secret of Monkey Island (Special Edition)
I'll be honest. I'm not a big fan of the adventure genre. I don't seem to have the patience for finding hidden objects that make other hidden objects work. Or understanding an obscure reference that would lead to unlocking another obscure puzzle. Give me a rocket launcher and I'll clear a path through whatever obstacle's in my way. That's also probably a very obnoxious thing to say.
But LucasArts did something special with their Special Edition-ed Secret of Monkey Island. They made their greatest adventure game all shiny and updated for us new generation of gamers, too young back then to appreciate or even play it. The jokes are all there, the fun is all there, now even with Threepwood's awesome voice and a hint system!
8. Street Fighter 4
As I mentioned in the review for this game, the PC has not been graced with many bash 'em-up titles. Probably because we don't have couches, and widescreen TVs, and analog stick things to control women with large, gravity-defying boobs and men that look like they've swallowed several barrels when they were babies. But Capcom was kind enough to get SF4 on the PC, a game which heralded the return to the no-nonsense side-scrolling, kick, punch, ultra awesomeness.
The cel-shading graphics is just brilliant for the new generation, the characters are sumptuously updated with very unique, flashy moves. But the most important thing is that the game is highly accessible, from those who are prone to button-mashing to the most hardcore SF aficionados who can perfect-combo your ass to oblivion. Plus, as a PC gamer, I'll have to say controlling the characters with keyboard is way easier than using a stoopid analog stick thingy.
A game and a piece of profound art, Braid does the unthinkable. It has the simplicity of Super Mario but the complexity of an academic text on philosophy. To use time as a mechanic is sheer genius, and it does so in a way more kick-ass than even that Prince of Persia game that everyone likes so much.
It's the first game to make you feel true anguish and pain, not just from the perfect conundrums of puzzles that Jonathan Blow devises for you at each level, but because of the story that the game takes place in. And of course, the final twist.
The unbelievably sickeningly epic legendary final twist that has you clutching your head and screaming at your computer screen when it comes around. You cannot say you have experienced emotion in games if you have not played Braid. Many casual and even recreational gamers will be put off by the sheer difficulty of the game, but to gamers who consider themselves connoisseurs of games as an art-form, they must play Braid.
That is all.
This was a hard one to consider for my Top 10, but then I recalled all the great memories I had with this, on just one night play-through with a couple of friends. We started the game up, shot through countless enemies, squealed like little girls at the great loot we'd pick up, and cut across the bleak landscape in two-man buggies. As cowboys in the Wild West, we ran screaming from humongous monsters, and shouted strategies for taking down some bad-ass bosses.
I honestly believe Borderlands got down the adventure aspect of cooperative gaming to near-perfection, better even perhaps than that 4-person zombie shooter we all know and love. It was very Diablo-esque in its role-playing elements making the game even more compulsively addictive. And all that gun porn like the 6-shot rocket launcher. Now that's just obscene.
5. Left 4 Dead 2
Before Left 4 Dead 1 came out, I must've followed all the news of the game's development like a stalker to J-Lo (if people still bothered stalking her in this day and age). When it came out, it was fun and crazy and everything I'd wanted and more in a cooperative zombie shooting experience. Then just six months later, Left 4 Dead 2 was announced and I was extremely skeptical.
But Valve have proven themselves time after time, and honestly, no IP of Valve's has blown up dismally. In fact, they've all been critical successes, and when the world dissented that Left 4 Dead 2 was coming out way too soon, all the devs said was "Trust us."
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum
I had no idea what to expect when I first got this game. Batman doesn't have flight or laser eyes or super strength like Superman, nor can he scale buildings as easily as Spidey. So what kind of game will it be then?!
A stealth-action title is what. Tapping into all that is great about Batman as a superhero, the player has to use their ingenuity and stealth skills to overcome most challenges. And his tech gadgets. And the hand-to-hand combat. My god, what awesome hand-to-hand combat. The awesome camera angles as you broke the bones and smashed in the faces of thugs. For those of you who've seen the Chinese kungfu movie Ip Man, you'll know what I'm talking about. For those that haven't, watch it.
The shooter of the year obviously. Extremely exciting and not for the faint-hearted. It's like those new Transformer flicks, high on spectacle, low on brains. But it did have a more focused storyline than the first Modern Warfare, and even World at War.
Finally, the return of the glorious Bioware. I personally thought Mass Effect was a load of horribleness, and we can forget Jade Empire. But everyone has good memories of Knights of the Old Republic. And Dragon Age brings back all that is awesome about Bioware's epic RPG adventures - deep and strategic combat/gameplay, expansive universes rich with lore, well-written characters and plot, and most importantly with Dragon Age, grey moral choices with significant consequences.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Writing this review is a minefield. There's a reason why I've put off writing it this late, despite having actually finished the game on its first day of release. You see, the hype for this game is so huge that it has literally tainted the jury pool so to speak. Even I admit that I could not help but be swept up in the frenzy of the awesomeness that Modern Warfare 2 perpetuated even before I actually start the game.
Though, I've got this nagging suspicion that Infinity Ward seem too smug about their "creativity". Every time an exciting set piece plays out with its explosions, twists, and turns, I can't help but hear IW's voice at the back of my head going, "You like that?!? You like that?!?" This isn't necessarily a bad thing and without a doubt, you just want to keep playing to see what else the developers have up their sleeve.
But its unrealistic nature is not without flaw - as like in the Call of Duties in the past, IW has failed to address the fundamental issue that you are just a blunt instrument to be commanded/directed/driven in whatever direction the main players of the story need you to go. You are not friends with Captain McTavish or General Shepherd, they don't really care about you despite your being there with them through thick and thin. These shallow heroes exist to fire guns, blow up installments, and take point, but put them in an ordinary setting, i.e. a shopping mall/bank/market wearing civilian clothes, and they already seem out of place as it is.
They are not human enough: does Price have a family? How does McTavish feel about the events that transpired before Modern Warfare 2? How come all the characters you play keep getting blacked out/fall over/die throughout the game. Why can't it be one of the other guys? In the loading screens between levels, characters spout philosophies on war and violence in macho voices as if they all know what they are talking about, but if you're intellectual and experienced enough to like depth in your games, then you'll be put off by the sheer shameless hollowness of it all.
Some might beg to differ, but to me this is a big issue when compared to other heavyweight titles like Uncharted 2 which has as much character as it does spectacle. In order for Call of Duty to rise above its status of great shooter to great game, it needs to do much more with its story. With that said however, Modern Warfare 2 definitely has done a great deal more than past games to amp up the story. Even if it is paper-thin, there is a sense of direction that holds throughout and that will keep audiences playing to the end.
Gameplay is as it should be. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Guns fire and enemies go down satisfyingly. I was worried that the game would be dumbed down for consoles, and in a way it has been, with goals pin-pointed to you by a dot in the player's periphery vision, or even automatically moving the player along slightly if they keep dying at a certain point, just to prevent them from rage-quiting. But I quite liked that you still need to have a degree of shooter skill to survive. On higher difficulties, the enemies are still punishing, and constant cover and reflex is necessary to survive. Flanking tactics are encouraged, and the level design is decent in that it allows for alternatives in path finding for the players, but they hide it well enough so it doesn't look so artificial.
Also, Infinity Ward has answered many a fans' call for moarz gunz plz. The game is serious gun porn, with a tonne of different assault rifles, SMGs, light machine guns, machine pistols, hand guns, snipers, shotguns, etc. You name it, Modern Warfare 2 probably has it. All have different feedbacks and are a joy to play around with. As proven with Left 4 Dead 2, having variation in weaponry is another factor for a shooter to sustain interest, as it means you have more ways to dispatch of your enemies.
Finally, they addressed the age-old problem the Call of Duty engine has been plagued with, of having obvious way-points that players have to hit in order to keep the action moving. In past games, enemies kept respawning from hidden areas, and AI teammates stood stock still until you moved forward to a certain point. Now, everything feels more natural, more alive as teammates may go ahead of you and kill things before you get there, and you can be confident that you've cleared an area of enemies without more having to spawn from impossible hiding locations.
The graphics is superb. From the first training level at base camp in the Middle East, the sunlight as it hits the various vehicles and soldiers relaxing and playing B-ball, to the barnacles-covered pillars of the oil rig stationed off China, everything is so beautifully rendered, the game positively oozes atmosphere. One level in particular stands out, as you and your squad navigate through the deserted streets in America filled with vehicle wreckage and bombed out buildings, rain slashes across the landscape, and all is quiet; you have to think to yourself, Call of Duty has outdone themselves this time. The detailing on characters make them seem a whole lot more real, and the best part is that it is optimized well for all systems.
Sound is also amped up with a heart-pumping soundtrack to accompany your every move. It's very modern-techno-y and doesn't feel like they stinted on this element at all. And even if the script is shallow, the voice acting redeems the believability of the game, featuring Lance Henriksen of the Aliens franchise fame as General Shepherd. Although I'm no expert on soundtracks, I thought they could've probably done a little more to make it rousing and completely epic, but as it is, it's already quite action-driven.
Oh and that terrorist level everyone's been worried about... seriously, it's nothing special. It isn't mind blowing nor is it shockingly debase. In fact, it should inform gamers and critics alike that games are able to be more mature with its content in this new generation, especially if it should compete on the same level as the best of cinema and TV.
I realized that as it is, this review is pretty damn long. And I haven't even gotten started on multiplayer. Or Spec-Ops. Which is why Infinity Ward separated the game into three distinct parts. And why this review is only focused on the single-player campaign. I'll get on to the other two parts later, but for now, I have this to say about the single-player:
There's a reason why the Call of Duty franchise is the most successful and most hugely money-making in the entire entertainment industry. It's because Infinity Ward knows how to get into your brain and tap all the kick-ass parts into overdrive. This game doesn't revolutionize the shooter genre, but it certainly is the best in the field right now. I'll be damned if the game doesn't win awards for best shooter of the year.
Also, some critics are concerned that a game like this seems to glorify bloodshed and warfare, but trust me when I say that underneath the gun porn, violence, and massive explosions, there's a commentary on the atrocities of it all. The sickening madness, and the men that go beyond the call of duty to save humanity. It makes you appreciate the relative peace we all live in. It's a shame the campaign is only just over 6 hours in length, on Advanced difficulty, but every second of those 6 hours is well-crafted. Go play it if you still haven't. It needs to show you what the new generation of PC games are capable of, and hopefully, other developers will learn from.