GameFront 2010: The Year’s Pleasant Surprises and Last Straws
The year is winding down, which means our GameFront 2010 feature series is also winding down. As we come ever closer to embracing 2011, too, we ease up a little on our rhetoric. OK, so maybe that’s not really true.
This feature is all about expectations and what about this year in gaming defied them, for good or for bad. Expect strong rhetoric.
Pleasant surprise: Fallout: New Vegas
I think I was probably expecting New Vegas to be a pretty OK game. And then I played Alpha Protocol, Obsidian’s other 2010 game. That was a disaster in so many ways, not the least of which was its utter lack of vision.
New Vegas, however, is a game of almost unprecedented vision. It’s a game that was longer and had a larger scope than Fallout 3. It has a million sidequests, but doing said sidequests never feels like dicking around because most everything you do in the game factors in to the main plot somehow. There’s a focus to this game few RPGs have ever dreamt of having.
With this game, Obsidian has shown it has a much better handle on this type of open-world RPG than Bethesda, or any other developer, really, ever did.
Last straw: Heavy Rain
OK, David Cage, you had an interesting idea for a game with Indigo Prophecy, but that ended up devolving into a lot of annoying and ridiculous nonsense as it went along. That was all right, because it was your first go at it. Heavy Rain, though, is much worse than Indigo Prophecy, though, and it proved that your priorities are all f–ked up when you’re making a game.
Yeah, you can set a mood, but you don’t think it’s important to have quality voice acting in your character-based drama? You’re OK with leaving a bunch of massive, gaping plot holes in the already very silly and dumb story you created even though your game’s success is wholly contingent on the story being effective? You’re very lucky that gamers have incredibly low standards.
Heavy Rain, then, was a “last straw” for me, because it made me realize that if this whole “interactive drama” thing is going to work, then some other developer — like Rockstar or BioWare or Remedy, to a came a few that would do it well — should venture into this genre. With Quantic Dream being the only folks holding that flag for it now, interactive drama will never be truly effective. There were a lot of warning signs on Indigo Prophecy, and QD apparently learned nothing from their mistakes.
Pleasant surprise: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
There were a couple times when I had to feign enthusiasm for Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood before it was released just to do my job. Other people like those games, I had to tell myself, so this news post is worth writing up.
Even though Assassin’s Creed 2 is garbage.
The Assassin’s Creed series up to now has been an abysmally boring, tedious attempt at an open-world Prince of Persia that has FAILED at every turn. Seriously, I can’t fathom why people like Assassin’s Creed 2 especially, in which the combat has been made more annoying than in its predecessor and the controls are, more often than not, designed to help you kill yourself.
Then I had to review Brotherhood, and I anticipated several days straight of being annoyed before finally penning a review condemning squeezing out another AC game a year after the last that was just as lame.
So yeah, Brotherhood is a surprise — because it’s great. Just about every issue I had with Assassin’s Creed 2 has been addressed, in some form. Horses are available everywhere. Combat has been tweaked so that gang-beatings are far less common. Many buildings have lifts to save you the trouble of scaling them over and over again.
I can see why people like Assassin’s Creed, and why I’ve bothered to play the games at all, now that the B.S. has been stripped out in a lot of places. I’m much more willing to wander around in Rome when I can get where I’m going quickly. Just the ability to call additional assassins to a fight makes the game much more appealing because I know each battle isn’t going to be a grind anymore. Brotherhood is a game I actually want to play.
And it has an interesting, challenging multiplayer mode that doesn’t totally suck, to boot.
Last Straw: Useless f–king collection quests
Listen, game developers, because I’m about to blow your brains out your ears — no one likes collection quests. No one. No one likes scouring Alan Wake’s stupidly large forest areas only to discover nothing, and then maybe later come across a can pyramid or thermos in a really obvious place. No one cares about finding Borgia flags, feathers, artifacts and whatever the hell else is packed into AC Brotherhood.
So stop putting these in games PLEASE. Dropping 500 random objects into a game that earn you an achievement for collecting is no longer acceptable, and it’s not clever. It’s an artificial means of extending gameplay, it’s boring and it’s a waste of a player’s time. Slapping an achievement on something dumb just because you have 50 achievements to burn and couldn’t think of anything else does not constitute good game design.
Here’s the issue: every stupid game at this point has huge, irritating collection quests. It’s not just a few games, like tracking down 100 packages in Grand Theft Auto 3 or 4 for the challenge. It’s finding all 2 billion orbs in Crackdown. Thermoses, can pyramids, manuscript pages, TVs and radios in Alan Wake. Meaningless pins that commemorate your minor changes to the game world in Epic Mickey.
If you’re going to add game content to this stuff, then that’s one thing — finding the manuscript pages in Alan Wake wasn’t all that bad because they enhanced your video game experience, and at least if you managed to track down the collectibles in Splatterhouse, you were left with naked pictures. But in most games, you get nothing but a pat on the back in the form of an achievement. That’s actually kind of worse, because now everyone you play games with knows what a sad little hermit you are that you sat on your couch and found every stupid object hidden in Assassin’s Creed, and it amounted to absolutely nothing. Providing gamers who like your game with a gofer job for the sake of hitting all the achievements is just lazy.
I can’t handle obsessively checking every corner of Dead Space 2 for audio journals, staring at my screen until I get a headache to find one goddamn COG tag in Gears of War 3, or getting killed over and over because I suspect there’s an Intel package past that throng of enemy soldiers in the next Call of Duty.
Do you have fun tearing apart your house when you lose your car keys? No? Then stop making us look for virtual car keys in your video games. We’re here to have fun.
Phil Owen note: Yay Crackdown 2 orbs. There were 800 of those f–kers. And that game is built so that you kinda have to go looking for them, which sucks because I learned long ago to ignore collectibles.
Last Straw(s): God Of War III
I didn’t want to hate God of War III, I swear. I love God of War and GOWII, and seeing how other PS2-exclusive franchises had been updated, like, well for PS3 (for example, Ratchet and Clank Future), I expected A) that they would provide more of what we love while B) vastly improving everything they can. I was readier than hell for more hilarious carnage and epic Kratos being a dick to everyone in the Aegean while laying the smackdown to the Greek Pantheon action.
Unfortunately, the only thing God of War III managed was to sour me on the entire series. Put simply, GOW3 is a lazy, tarted up PS2 port that adds nothing original to the series, and in fact is something of an embarrassment. Sure, the graphics are fantastic, but it’s PS3; graphics would only be noteworthy if they sucked — or if they’re the only thing fantastic about it. Well, not the only thing. The sex mini game was also wonderful. But everything else is either exactly the same as the PS2 installments of the series, or they’re worse.
Plot and Characters: Terrible, if only because Kratos is an even more paper thin, one-dimensional character than ever before. Every line of dialogue is nothing but Kratos refusing to use contractions while glaring angrily at everyone. And the story simply peters out, even if the ending is kind of interesting. Somehow they managed to take what seemed to be a story leading to a massively incredible climax and make it excruciatingly boring.
Controller mapping and sensitivity: The controls worked exactly the same as in previous games, but ended up being a thousand times more annoying because they didn’t really need to be. I get why the camera is fixed during land-based combat. But having the camera remain fixed while trying to glide or swim just sucks. But these were forgivable in the sense that it’s obvious that GOW III was a lazy cash-in. But the fact that the quick time events and certain actions in regular gameplay were so easy to f–k up (falling to your doom when performing gliding command exactly as instructed) simply because of the fixed camera and insensitive buttons practically caused a stroke.
Save points, f–king save points: I admit this is the well from which all of my hate sprung. In 2010 there is simply no excuse whatsoever for a game that actually forces you to seek out a specific location in which to save, particularly so the auto-save sucks large and you end up having to play out large swaths of game just to get to a point where you can take a break and turn off your machine for a while. GoWIII wasn’t the worst offender — Dead Rising 2 and Lost Planet 2 are probably worse — but the fact that the previous GOW games were of vastly higher quality than either of the other 2 franchises made this absurd, lazy throwback to the previous gen unforgivable. Every time I had to hack my way to yet another save point I became angrier and more frustrated until I just stopped playing. I finally forced myself to finish the game because I had a review to complete. I haven’t touched it since.
God of War III was the last straw. Cheap, frustrating and so obviously intended to be a pS2 game that was clumsily updated for PS3 in the most shallow possible way, I disliked it so much that it has not only ruined my ability to go back and enjoy the previous two games (kind of like the last 15 minutes of BSG), but deterred all interest in playing anything remotely connected to the franchise in the future.
Phil O note: I was totally with GOWIII for like the first 20 minutes. But after Kratos fell into Hades (again) it lost me very quickly. And it really did turn out that it blew its load right there at the beginning, which is lame as s–t. So f–k God of War III and f–k you, Ross, for being completely wrong about the end of BSG.
I was pleasantly surprised that neither Move nor Kinect were shoddy Wii replacements. I realize a lot of core gamers scoff at the concept of making games more accessible, but the Kinect and Move brought innovation to two game systems that were beginning to stagnate.
The Move really shows the potential for the wand-based motion control, while Kinect, despite some small issues I believe will vanish with software updates – like space requirements and skin tone detection problems – shows a huge potential future for intuitive controls.
For my last straw I’d have to say Military First Person Shooters are now dead to me. I played Battlefield Bad Company 2, Medal of Honor, Black Ops.. and you know what.. they’re all just the same crappy games from different publishers and developers.
I accept that these titles are popular. I even accept that at one time I loved the Call of Duty/Medal of Honor formula before they were formulas and became the Madden of shooter games. Innovation is hard when 12 year old and 40 year old gamers alike throw money at you for the same retreaded gameplay and a few new maps.. I understand that, but until something really drastic evolves from these games I’m checking out.