Thursday, September 30, 2010

Video Game Day 2010

Today I am taking the day off work to play video games. This is not a lazy shirking of my duties, but an attempt to expel that nagging feeling of regret I experience when I see a game on the shelf at work that I was so excited about, read so much about, but never played. I’ve borrowed four games that I have been wanting to play for as much as a year but have not had the chance. I plan to play each game for about an hour and a half, so what’s recorded here are merely first impressions.


I immediately like the art and cinematic direction; it seems straight out of comics and graphic novels. This is like an animated Image Comics title (I haven’t read comics in over ten years, so that may be way off base). Some of the frames look hand drawn, and I expect to see text bubbles any second.

I’m struggling a bit with the combat mechanics. I think I’m doing okay... Until three deaths at the first miniboss. Combat has a different pacing then I’m used to; I’m trying to play as if the game had the even-tempered free flow of Batman: Arkham’s combat, or the measured, slow precision of Demon's Souls.

I have much more success when I stop being a wuss and don't hang back and wait for an opening. Instead I powerslide in and start wailing on the guy, and when I see his attack animation, I powerslide back out for a second, and then back in more some more wailing. It’s less interactive, but it feels more bad-ass, and fits better with the game.

I’ve reached my first hub-like zone and got a power to unlock one of the areas. This seems much more familiar, and I understand the associations I’ve heard made with Zelda and Metroid. This seems like a game I could really get into.

I've played a few of the challenge rooms and have unlocked some of the ability upgrades and a new weapon - a scythe - and can definitely see where this game is going. The combat has clicked with me and seems very intuitive now. I don't really play a lot of combo based fighting games like this, so maybe this is something I should check out some more.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

I was super excited about this series for a long time, but never played them, for whatever reason. Aside with the grappling hook arm of Bionic Commando, I can’t think of another more exciting game mechanic than destructible buildings with full physics.

I’m surprised by how quickly the game gets the story out of way, gives me a sledgehammer, and tells me to go wreck a building. Okay! Toppling buildings feels very good to me; it’s just complex enough that I have to think about destroying supporting beams and avoid being hit by the building as it falls, but I can still just go in there, start swinging, and have fun.

Shooting is very easy, and unexciting. It's almost a matter of pointing and clicking, and lacks punch to the experience. Demolition is much more fun, so much so that I regret having to slow down and shoot guys. Throwing charges at them and laying traps for their vehicles is a lot more fun, and I forget I even have a gun. There’s an ambush mission that I failed a few times until I used explosives to drop a bridge on the invading convoy. Awesome.

This was a solid two hours of fun. I finished the first zone. There were different kinds of missions with just enough variation to keep me interested, but never too overwhelming. I would like to play some multiplayer matches with friends or at a LAN party; flanking the enemy by bashing in the rear of their building and tossing in a few charges to flush them out is priceless.


Pressing start was awesome! What a way to begin a game. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. That moment is enough to get me excited about the unfolding narrative and dive right in.

After a slower moving game like Red Faction, this game feels really fast. The player moves and turns much faster, and the standard electronic bolt shot pops right off, with a high firing rate. I spend more than a few minutes running around and blasting cars, which feels very satisfactory.

I’m not as annoyed by the moral choice moments that stop the game and ask you to make a decision. It gives me a chance to stop and think about how to role play my character, or just what reactions I want to see from the NPC’s. There’s a scene where I’m helping a dude try to escape across a bridge that really builds some tension and makes me feel like I’m caught up in an event. It seems like both types of pacing are represented.

Uncharted 2

I’ve gone through my hour and a half without stopping to write. I guess that speaks to the pacing and flow of this game. If you had asked me before if I wanted to play through an interactive Indiana Jones video game, I would’ve said, “no,” and instead pulled out my copy of Shadow of the Colossus. But I really like the story of Uncharted 2 despite that I don’t think I should. I think this is a sign of craft over genre winning me over.

It also has some gamey elements. I was captured about ten times in the beginning of the level where I had to sneak past some palace guards; that was annoying and felt somewhat like I was playing a plat former, trying to find the exactly correct path through a maze.

It doesn't seem very open to different playstyles, but small increments of progression are very rewarding with all the in-game dialog, camera angles, and art, so the challenge of figuring out what they want me to do doesn't ever become annoying.

The next level has become a cover-based firefight, and this is where I start to lose interest. I haven’t given the game enough time to discover the right rhythm of combat, like how much I can run-and-gun and how much I have to sit and cover and take pot shots. A few times I was flanked and felt like guys were spawning in behind me. But throughout, I can tell there is a lot of attention to creating a very particular experience, and I really appreciate that in a game. I think if this game were more to my esthetic liking, I’d be all over it, but for everything it does well, it doesn’t have the mechanics gimmicks to draw me in (which totally says more about me than the game).

This has been Video Game Day 2010.