Saturday, November 15, 2008

Space and Conquer: FallEdgePlanet Cry 09

This is Gtpod, and that sums up my November. A garbled title reflecting a garbled mess of incredible gaming that's proving difficult to keep track of. Dead Space, C&C Red Alert 3, Fallout 3, Mirror's Edge, LittleBigPlanet, Far Cry 2 and NHL 09. I don't know how far I am in each one, I don't know where the discs are, I don't know where on my HDD the PC games are, I don't know where some of them came from, I don't know if there are more on their way; all I know is, I'm f**king loving it. In fact, let's tackle them a bit, one by one - basically let's nick Nismo's "Overdue Opinion" idea, except this one's in no way belated and in every way topical.

Dead Space
Had GTAIV not been released this year, I think this would be my GotY. In terms of gameplay, I cannot fault it at all; EA have absolutely hit the mark for horror gaming, to the point where previous dissenters of the genre, such as myself, are righteously converted. A word of warning to those in this position though, if like me you were on edge playing F.E.A.R, you might want to play Dead Space in bursts; after playing several chapters in a row, I nearly jumped out of my skin when my roommate brushed the back of my chair walking past me.
It's not entirely perfect though, mostly due to graphical problems on the PC version. V-sync (a method of limiting the FPS for steadier gameplay) is entirely screwed, yet favourable in certain situations, so constant switching on and off is required. Also it inexplicably slows down in places, and sometimes starts up with a black screen; minor bugs to be fixed in the next patch I'm sure, but annoyances nonetheless (a common theme amongst PC games this year, particularly when EA's involved).

Red Alert 3
Greatest RTS series of all time? I'd say so. As someone who grew up playing RA1 on PC, the series has always held a special place in my gaming heart as the pinnacle of the entire strategy genre, and RA3 certainly didn't disappoint. The most refreshing and exciting aspect is how little EA have changed the formula from the early days; they've not at all been tempted by titles like World in Conflict and Supreme Commander to stray into more serious, straight-faced gameplay, instead sticking with the stereotypical, over-the-top action-film-like storyline and brightly coloured UI. It's exactly as epic as RA has always been, which is particularly nice to see after the shambles of C&C3 and Generals and such rubbish that so poorly plugged the gap between RA2: Yuri's Revenge and RA3. EA's second bout of perfection this quarter.

Fallout 3
Now, I must admit, I had some beef with Fallout 3, dating back to Tokyo Game Show 2008. It was late in the day, I was wandering around looking for my next title to test, when I saw a booth girl holding the most awesome 'thanks-for-playing-prize' I'd ever seen - a Vault Boy bobblehead (just like the preorder bonus). Not knowing anything about the game, having actively avoided it due to lack of interest, I queued immediately just for the prize. Two and a half hours later, I was given my ticket and lead into the booth to test the pre-release demo on 360. And I hated it. I was frustrated by VATS, frustrated by the map/compass, frustrated by the weapons/inventory; generally frustrated at what I saw to be an elaborate mod for Oblivion. Having spoken to other people who've tested alpha/beta stages of the game, they entirely agree that pre-release Fallout 3 was abysmal.
Pre-release Fallout 3 is not post-release Fallout 3. Post-release Fallout 3 is brilliant. If I had to put my finger on what the chief reasoning behind this colossal shift in our opinion is, I'd have to say it's the intro. Not wishing to spoil for anyone, but up to a certain monumental occasion in the story that occurs very early on, everything is very well explained in the common 'tutorial story' section of the game, and all events thereafter just sort of make sense. The struggle makes sense; 'struggle' referring to the Resi-like survival system (perhaps not that hard, but you get the point) of a limited inventory and scarce ammo. Similarities to Oblivion are quickly forgotten as the overwhelming story and atmosphere of Fallout is thickly piled onto the same Gamebryo engine. Not EA, but a definite Autumn success, and certain contender for GotY 08.

Mirror's Edge
Ah Faith, how long we waited for your grace to touch our hearts. My least-played game of the selection I'm talking about here, due only to the fact that it just arrived yesterday. Well... maybe not only. Oh EA, you were so so close to a perfect score for this quarter, why did you let DICE slip up like this? I'm not talking gameplay, or sound, or even atmosphere; I'm talking graphics. We all know graphics aren't everything (unless you're Ninja Theory, gg guys), but they certainly make up a part of the overall gaming experience, and in ME, this part is... I don't know... broken? I don't want to say 'lacking', the intent is all there, it's just the execution that does not do it justice. 90% at fault would have to be the aliasing problems. A pan over Edge City should be a breathtaking scene of sun-kissed skyscrapers adorned with runner routes; instead, a panoramic sight of jagged edges and screen tearing cuts through the atmosphere like a poorly aliased high-rise tower. That's not to say it kills it, but I really had to create a level of immersion to stop it from irritating me; generally, as you run from building to building, it's simply not noticeable, but in those brief moments when you stop and get your bearings or check direction, it sort of hits you, sadly. All this makes for a better looking game indoors though, as running through offices or sewers isn't nearly as graphically buggy.
An incredible game nonetheless. As I say, I'm not very far in, a little under half-way I believe, but I'm loving it. It's everything you'd expect from the demo and more, with unthinkable challenges created from the various running methods popping up throughout the chapters. On top of all that, the time trials prove a very prominent and very challenging mode of gameplay sure to extend the lifetime beyond the short story. A clear hit by EA, but it's no home run like previously mentioned games.

Speaking of hyped titles finally arriving... possibly the biggest title of 2008 is finally here, after several years of excitement, and it most certainly delivers. On a more personal level, I remain confusingly indifferent to a game I'm sure I love. Having not played it in over a week is surely only a symptom of the 'November Overload', however there may well be contributing factors I'm not all too aware of. Perhaps the creativity is just not within me whilst entertainment's being veritably spoon-fed in large doses by the several other incredible games. LBP is very much a game that's made fun by your own input; as much as you put in, you get out, and without that initial time spent, all that's left is a short story with little incentive for unlockables. I feel it's a game for the calm after the storm.

Far Cry 2
Yes, yes... Far Cry... learning from Crytek's mistake of introducing aliens into the original title, Ubisoft decided to stick with an all-human cast for the sequel, which I have accepted with considerably more warmth than its predecessor (which I refused to finish, on principal of it trying to be, but not being anywhere near as good as, Half Life). However, Ubi inexplicably decided to ignore one large aspect of Crytek's legacy, present in Far Cry and Crysis - a little thing called gunplay. Traditionally in FPSs, guns have a level of realism, and differ greatly in handling and aiming, range and accuracy and such weapon characteristics. Confusingly, Ubisoft seemed to create templates for 4 or 5 weapons, then just stick them to multiple models. For example, a rusted jungle AK with the accuracy of a western AS50 .50 cal sniper rifle, or a shotgun with the wide-angle spread of a silenced pistol. It comes as no surprise to me that a company known better for its publication of female-oriented casual DS titles than its equally-lacking-in-the-gun-department Splinter Cell series doesn't understand the intricacies of modern FPS gunplay.
Aside from this issue, however, they've put together an enjoyable game, with little else wrong. Maybe the AI's not as good as it could be, and the enemies are fairly cut-and-paste, but it's a game with a solid story and considerable side-missions that make for huge longeivty. Buy it for the experience, but don't expect anything magical on the weaponry side of things.

NHL 09
Last but by no means least, a sports title. Part of EA Sports' company-wide franchise improvement scheme, NHL like all other franchises has received a complete control overhaul. Simply put, it handles like a dream, and is that much closer to perfection, not to mention its stunning graphics and presentation. Playing team vs. team is, for the first time to date, entirely fluid with very few unrealistic hitches such as pucks not registering on blades, or players not being where they should ideally be; the AI improvements are significant, in turn adding difficulty to the same structures from previous titles, each rating being the equivalent of the one above from, say, NHL 08.
The addition of a new mode, Be A Pro, adds incredible gameplay that has exclusively taken up my time spent on the game. Taking exclusive control of a customised or ready made player, working from the fourth line of an AHL team to the Stanley Cup, is one giant leap for sports-gaming-kind, adding a level of realism never seen before. It makes the game so much more personal to be sitting on the bench, watching a period progress without you as an attacking line's sent out while you rest up, or spending 2 minutes in the penalty box, receiving the punishment both in game and in real life. Goalies hug the corners of nets, defenders sacrifice their bodies to save pucks, attackers finally complete breakaways instead of feeling obliged to pass; as far as I'm concerned, it's sporting perfection, and I just can't wait to see how EA Sports improve on it in the future.

So that's November - all of that in one month has made for the greatest gaming period perhaps of all time. On a more personal note, aside from gaming, I'm back to RR after a hiatus that can only be described as 'significant'. Look forward (I know you will) to many more editorials from me.


Nismo said...

Perfection is a word that seems to come up often when you describe EA's games, is that a hint of fanboyism I see? :P

Nah I am joking; EA have had a fantastic year this year if you ask me and it all started with Burnout Paradise back in January. Whether it's their own games like NHL '09 (which I will have to take your word for) or games that they publish like the aforementioned Burnout Paradise or indeed their two new IPs in Mirror's Edge and Dead Space, EA have had a very good year and personally I am happy for them. The EA hate that a lot of gamers have has always annoyed me for some reason even if some of it is actually justified, so to see them turn their reputation around with titles like these is a good thing as far as I am concerned. I am still yet to play Dead Space (gaming overload just like you) despite it sitting here and I have only played the demo of Mirror's Edge so far, but from what I can gather both games are decent enough to warrant EA's change of direction and regardless of whether I end up enjoying the games or not is kind of irrelevant now. I can appreciate the fact that EA tried some new IPs and I can only hope they continue doing so in the future.

On another note, welcome back. It is probably a good thing you returned while I was still in the process of changing some small things around here on RR and hopefully you are able to stick around for a lot longer now.

pete said...

EA will always have a soft spot in my heart for (at least) one reason: they published Archon. That buys them a lot of leeway in my book ;)