Saturday, November 1, 2008

Overdue Opinion

As I have mentioned in both of my recent Tidbits posts, I have been playing quite a few different games in the past few months. I went from a phase of not really having anything to play to a phase of, arguably, too much to play. Originally I intended on writing individual posts for the individual games here but as time went on (and we all know how hard I am finding it to manage my time at the moment) I realised that it would be better to just put it all in the one post and get it out of the way. So with that in mind, here are some impressions and/or thoughts I have on the various games I have had on rotation lately.

GRID - As a longtime fan of the V8 Supercars games, I wasn't sure how to approach this game after hearing that the V8 Supercars (and other championships like Germany's DTM series) were not going to be in the game. Being a Codemasters game though, I was quite confident in their ability to create something that was worth playing. DiRT added to that confidence even more and I did end up enjoying GRID. A lot.

First thing that I noticed wasn't the rather gorgeous graphics, the feel of the handling (when compared to other racing games that I am used to) or the in-car camera view; no, it was instead the small touch of having your name being called out. When you first start the game you're asked to choose your name and then at various times in the game that name will be spoken. It was nice hearing a "nice job Steven" after taking victory and it certainly added to the experience. Of course, the aforementioned graphics and in-car camera view added to it too because eye candy is always good and I feel like all racing games should have an in-car, behind the wheel camera view. Another small touch I noticed was the smoke effects and how they actually covered the car to the point where you couldn't see it. It's nothing important but most racing games have the smoke coming from the burning tyres disappear too fast. Anyway I enjoyed the game as I progressed through its career and felt the difficulty was just right too. It wasn't that long of a game either so it didn't get boring. Well actually that's a lie, it did get boring as I had to play it online for 25 hours or so until I had gained enough experience to get the two online achievements for the game. That's my own fault for being a completionist though. Anyway good game that comes recommended if you want a reasonably easy but enjoyable racing experience.

Eternal Sonata - I keep on repeating this every time I talk about the game, but, that art direction is absolutely stunningly beautiful. It was an absolute pleasure playing through the game because of this and I looked forward to seeing every new area just so I could marvel some more at the beauty of it. The soundtrack that accompanied the journey was also quite enjoyable, moreso because of the Chopin influence. Which brings me to the story. Having a story revolve around Chopin's life (sort of) was intriguing and the moments where the game played one of his pieces while detailing something that happened in his life were great. The actual story of the game however was a bit, well, weird and didn't really seem to maintain a focus. It chopped and changed a fair bit and while it wasn't confusing, it certainly took away from the experience somewhat. I am now playing through it for a second time to get the rest of the achievements I need and it is here where it has become a relative bore. I'm skipping cutscenes and because it's a 'New Game +', having to grind a fair bit so I am strong enough to defeat enemies/bosses that I had no troubles with in the first run. Again, my fault though for being a completionist...

Call of Duty 4 - I am growing tired of all of the FPS games out there. Actually, growing tired of the big focus that the entire industry seems to have with guns (not just FPS but almost all genres). That's a subject for another day though. I am also not really a fan of war games, generally steering clear of the WWII ones due to just not having an interest in the subject matter. It was refreshing then to find that I absolutely enjoyed Call of Duty 4. I don't quite know how to explain it, but the modern war games (Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for example) seem to be fascinating to me. Others can put it better than I can but the experience of these games just seems to be worth having. They seem important even if they are just fiction and if a game can make me feel that way, then it is doing something right. There's no need for me to comment on how it looks, sounds or even plays because we all know that it is brilliant. What I will say though is that some of those levels and set pieces are amazing and if that's the sort of thing we are going to see in gaming in the future, we are headed to a wonderful place.

Assassin's Creed - Like Call of Duty 4, this game felt important while playing but I just can't pinpoint why. Perhaps it was because it was so different, so unique or perhaps it was because it was one of the only games out there that allows you to play as an assassin? I don't know. What I do know is that as soon as it was announced I was anticipating it and Ubisoft's brilliant trailers for the game only added to that anticipation. Actually playing it was something else though and like Call of Duty 4, like BioShock and some other recent games, I was quite surprised to find just how immersive it was. I think it was the setting of the game that nailed the immersion and while yes, that twist that isn't really a twist made everything even more intriguing, just playing in that era was something enjoyable due to it being quite unique to our medium. Upon completion of the game I also begun thinking about how much potential it had as a franchise and how many different directions it can go in. I'm really interested to see where Ubisoft take it next that's for sure.

Two quick notes I'd like to touch on though: firstly the common complaints about it being repetitive weren't a concern for me. I could understand the complaints but due to the way I play my games, it wasn't an issue. Secondly the complaints about the collection of the flags wasn't an issue for me either as I treat collect-a-thons like that as something that is supposed to be taken as a nice and slow experience of the game's world. Taking it slow allowed me to enjoy it and as such, it never got tedious.

Skate - It has been quite a while since I played a Tony Hawk game - the last being Tony Hawk 4 - so I was looking forward to playing this. I'm not a skater in real life nor what you could call a fan but for some reason or another I always enjoyed the Tony Hawk games and you can now add Skate to that list. In fact, despite not knowing much about the sport in real life I still found myself appreciating the more realistic approach that this game has when compared to Tony Hawk which in turn added to my enjoyment while playing. It took a while to get used to the controls (using the right control stick to 'flick' your tricks) so it did have a steep learning curve, but before long I had the hang of it and loved every second of it. It reminded me of Test Drive Unlimited actually and how I loved to just choose a car and go for a cruise in that. I did something similar in Skate where just skating around and finding a set of stairs or something to do tricks off was fun and at times more interesting than following the main game. The challenges at the end of the game were pretty damn hard though and I definitely struggled to complete it so when I actually did, I was quite proud of my effort. I'm not sure if it was a skill (read: my lack of) thing or the game's difficulty really did ramp up, but either way the overall experience was great and a nice change from the shooting and racing games that I had been playing.

Braid - Another game that felt important while playing it, however I wonder if that was because everyone else was going in-depth on what the game's meaning was (and so on) or because it is actually important. I appreciate the experience that Jonathon Blow has created though and thoroughly enjoyed playing it. Solving some of those puzzles was hard but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards was great and I can definitely see why it was compared to Portal (which I just recently started playing) as well. I'm a sucker for art direction and this one definitely had a gorgeous one that, when combined with the homages to older platformers like Mario and a nice and relaxed soundtrack made for a nice and short gaming experience and one of the best games to hit the Xbox Live Arcade so far.

Lost: Via Domus - I don't have much to say about this game other than that yes, I liked it. Sure it was short and sure as a game, it wasn't all that special but to me it didn't really matter. As an extension of the show it was definitely worth playing and it naturally ended in typical Lost fashion, posing more questions than answering them. It confuses me though that the creators of the show haven't tapped into this cross-over plot a bit more as it seems a bit pointless to ask those questions and then not follow them up somewhere with answers. Even Wikipedia doesn't really link it in with the show...

So there you have it, a summary of the games I have played in recent months and what I think of them. I didn't really say anything worthwhile or go in-depth with any of them but in a way, I don't feel like I have to. Everyone has discussed them already so I'm not going to add anything new but it is still nice to write some thoughts on them, even if it's only so I can remind myself of them in a few years time.

I haven't covered every game that I have been playing recently though and will cover games like Fable 2, Portal: Still Alive and The Darkness as I play them more and form my thoughts. Individual posts this time though, I hope. ;)


Jorge Albor said...

Assassin's Creed got a lot of flak for its repetitive missions, which I absolutely understand, but the artistic element and sheer fun of climbing structures made drew me in completely. Like you, I think the franchise is fertile for some really interesting additions, especially with the time-travel aspect. I'm surprised we haven't heard more from Ubisoft about where they want to take the series.

One quick thought on Braid too: The influence of other opinions on the game definitely distorted my own. However, the more I think back on the game the more I value the way Blow meshed the game and narrative. I think if we come back to Braid sometime next year there will still be a lot to get out of what is essentially a very simple game.

Nismo said...

Jorge: While it's obvious that there will be a sequel to Assassin's Creed, I actually appreciate the fact that Ubisoft haven't revealed anything about it. When the teaser for BioShock 2 was revealed, I had mixed thoughts. On the one hand I was very happy to see it because damn it, I love BioShock but on the other hand I don't want to see them rushing it so it comes out in time for the Christmas rush or whatever next year. I want that game to have as much time as it needs to be brilliant and well, I want the same for Assassin's Creed 2 as well. As I said and as you agree, Assassin's Creed's overall story has a lot of potential and I don't want that to be lost because of these games being rushed or whatever.

As for Braid, well I absolutely would love to return to it next year so perhaps that's something we can do? Playing games like Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty 4 for the first time this year (instead of when they released) has made me realise that taking time with games and yes even revisiting them again ends up being more enjoyable and dare I say it, more important as well. This whole Christmas rush that we're in and that we have every year is a bad thing for our industry I think but then of course I might just be thinking that because Fable 2 still remains hardly touched. ;)