And then what?
Well, it’s been awfully quiet here, hasn’t it? I’ve been taking a break from MMOs for the past few months, and haven’t had a lot of game-related stuff to post about as a result. Instead of grinding away to level up my chars, I’ve been grinding weights and cardio, lost 25 lbs, and put on a moderate amount of muscle. I keep listening for the ding noise but haven’t heard it yet. Maybe I need to adjust my sound options IRL.
I have spent some time playing console games lately, and thought that was worth a quick summation. My XBOX360 has had a fair amount of use, and I’ve found some great games and some that didn’t impress me as much.
Assassin’s Creed 2
Assassin’s Creed 2 was a worthy successor to a game I deeply enjoyed. I think AC and AC2 had the best representations of cities I’ve yet seen in a game; the people bustle around doing things, and it really feels like you’re running around a city. The parkour-style free movement helps a great deal with my sense of immersion, since my character can fairly literally go anywhere in the city. It’s such a pleasant change to have real freedom instead of a linear path from one point to the next; that’s why the section at the end set in Rome is so jarring. While throughout the game the player has almost total freedom (within the unlocked areas, anyhow), when you get to Rome you can only travel along the top of a wall then into a building. If you want to climb over the side of the wall, too bad. It’s a strange feeling to lose the freedom that was such a highlight of the game, and it frankly wasn’t remotely necessary from a narrative point of view; it would have worked perfectly well to have the action trigger when the player arrives at a given location, as in the rest of the game. Players didn’t need to be herded to the essential spot for the first 20 hours of gameplay… why do they need to be herded at the end?
Anyhow, AC2 was a great deal of fun by and large. The combat is fairly visceral and enjoyable, though honestly it also wasn’t all that tough for me. I definitely liked the villa-vuilding parts, where the player can spend money to improve and expand the character’s villa, which in turn allows for discount purchases at said villa, as well as ongoing income. The game’s plot was of a quality with the first game, which is to say it’s enjoyable and immersive, if never terribly original. My only real complaint (besides the lack of freedom in Rome, noted above) comes from a single mission, around 3/4 of the way through the game as I recall it. This required the player character to chase a villain across the rooftops of some city (I forget which, as it’s been a couple of months… probably Venice). While the other missions were fun and immersive, this one was terribly difficult for me, and I think I had to try it four or five times before succeeding. The difference in difficulty between this one mission and the rest of the game was jarring.
Mass Effect 2
The other great game I’ve played lately was Mass Effect 2. I enjoyed this one thoroughly and completed it on Normal setting, then went back and have played about 1/4 of the game on Insanity setting (highest difficulty). What do I like about ME2? The story is at times incredibly rich (e.g. I simply loved Garrus’ loyalty mission) and the world (well, galaxy) is very immersive. The combat is by and large excellent, with every character having both an assortment of weapons and some special powers (innate, technological, or psionic – what the game calls “biotic”). There’s even a decent amount of fluff content, like being able to purchase fish for the fish tank in the player character’s office, or being able to buy and mount models of ships seen in game.
Despite the glowing adulation I am largely willing to lavish upon ME2, I have to admit that there are two places where the game disappointed me. The first and most crucial is the planetary exploration. In the first game, players took an away team to explore planets, and the team would tool around in a big armored vehicle called a Mako. The Mako was awkward and slow, combat with the Mako was tricky at best, and the process of planetary exploration was largely tedious. So in ME2, planetary exploration was changed entirely. Fair enough, except that now players are presented with a 3d image of a globe, around which they move a “scanner”. This is… wait for it… awkward and slow. It really isn’t fun after the first couple of planets. Now, granted, it’s possible to unlock a device that will speed up the rate of scanning, but even with the device, this mechanic is just tedious.
My other complaint is that the plot is at times largely disconnected from the plot of the first game, in ways that are puzzling to me. Cerberus is a group of fairly villainous human activists, and they were one of the primary antagonists in the first game. In the second game, the player character has absolutely no choice except to work with and for Cerberus, which is more than a little puzzling. Further, while there were some excellent villains set up in the first game in the persons of the Reapers and their servants the Geth, they aren’t really an issue in this game, which focuses more on the Collectors. The Collectors aren’t any more frightening or innately interesting than the villains we already had in the first game; why drop what worked in favor of these new antagonists? At times it felt like ME2 was created by two teams: the mechanics were done by the same folks who created ME, while the plot was drafted by someone who had only a cursory knowledge of the first game. This disparity wouldn’t be so jarring if the game weren’t so very very well written by and large.
I played a few hours of Darksiders and didn’t really get into it that much. The game’s premise is that the player character is War, one of the Four Horsemen, yadda yadda. An apocalypse is triggered before it’s supposed to happen, Earth is ravaged by the armies of Heaven and Hell, and War gets busted by his ethereal bosses for jumping the gun. Gameplay involves running around fighting demons and angels while regaining War’s powers. The concept is fine, but the gameplay just didn’t grab me, and the writing was terribly predictable and trite.
I also mucked around with Bioshock 2 but it failed to grab me the way the original did. The games are remarkably similar, but the sequel just doesn’t feel as compelling. Bioshock had a creepy, claustrophobic feeling to it, which Bioshock 2 fails to reproduce. I just didn’t find myself caring about the character or the setting overall, and lost interest. The mechanics are ok, but then they’re almost completely the same as in the first game, so that’s no surprise. Where ME2 has a rich ongoing story (that admittedly the writers sometimes mangled or ignored), there didn’t really seem to be any need for the Bioshock story to continue here.