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Blacklightning

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Everything posted by Blacklightning

  1. Erazor Djinn (Sonic and the Secret Rings) Okay, let's be blunt about this right off the bat - Secret Rings is a bad Sonic game that caught a lucky break just by virtue of releasing alongside an even worse one. That being said, in retrospect I hold Secret Rings in even lower regard than 06. 06's crappy design, buggy expoits and absurd, under developed narrative have lent it sort of an endearing quality in hindsight that make it difficult not to just laugh at when you know exactly what you're in for, but this game on the other hand has the dubious honour of being one of the few Sonic games that are physically painful to play. Nevermind that you use the Wiimote to steer Sonic like a fucking car even though you always have a D-pad within reach, you have to shake the controller every time you want to perform a Homing Attack, and quite vigorously too, and many enemies need to be hit multiple times to get them out of your way. Even just the simple act of moving backwards and forwards requires you to tilt the controller towards or away from yourself - and let me tell you, playing the entire game almost exclusively with the controller on a 30 degree slant is a nightmare on your wrists by ANY metric. Did anyone even playtest this? Even when you take motion controls out of the equation entirely, the way this game controls is nothing short of hair-brained. For some reason it's not enough to just press the jump button and have Sonic jump on command - you have to charge your fucking jump up to be able to perform anything besides a short hop. Considering just about every other Sonic game handles variable jump height just fine while you're already in the middle of of a jump, it beggars fucking belief that Secret Rings honestly believed it needed a system like this to such an extent that it completely fucks up any flow the game has the second you involve any kind of platforming. And I swear the ability to jump between rails is just flat out fucking broken in this game because you'll constantly overshoot and undershoot adjoining rails during critical moments, especially during Pirate Storm, and I've never actually figured out what the hell I was doing wrong if it was ever indeed my own fault. Knowing my luck, it could very well have been an unlock. See, another aspect of Secret RIngs is that throughout the process of playing it, you're constantly unlocking perks that affect the way that Sonic performs. And just thinking about it makes me want to tear my fucking hair out, because it wasn't enough for these guys to make the controls as responsive as the player - their unresponsiveness is intentional, because the ability to unlock better fucking controls is considered a game mechanic. And honestly, even when you DO have upgraded controls it can be hard to tell where you end up sometimes, because even though the entire game takes place in an on-rails path for some reason the path can take very unpredictable twists and turns that can make it difficult to follow trails of rings and pearls that keep snaking through them, nevermind enemies and hazards. And finally, the progression through this game is just dumb. There are both story missions and challenge missions, but you're required to do challenge missions to unlock other missions, including the story ones - and the game doesn't fucking tell you what unlocks what, so whether you'll actually earn the ability to progress through the story or just be forced to do more irrelevant bullshit is a complete crapshoot that drags the game out a lot longer than it has any right to. Which is a rotten shame, because despite all the qualms I have with this game, it's actually one of the better written ones in the series, arguably even one of the best. If there's even a single aspect the series could stand to draw more of from the storybook games, it's absolutely that. Just stay away from the fucking motion controls if you don't know what the hell you're doing, okay?
  2. The only other third party franchises with multiple reps are echoes. Sonic isn't special. Any further discussion can go in the Smash thread itself.
  3. Agent (Crackdown) Seriously? This again? Just "Agent"? Look, I get what they're trying to go for here - the player character is essentially a product more than a person, and in universe that would defy the need to give them an ordinary name. But even other games built with almost exactly the same approach to their lead characters, like System Shock 2 and Hitman, still at least gave their lead characters a fucking serial number. Honestly this kind of narrative halfassery permeates just about everything that happens in this game - all you're told is that crime is running rampant, all of law enforcement has been cornered into a single monolith in the centre of the city, and you're an artificial human genetically built to be able bring down all the gangs in the city singlehandedly. Beyond that, it's just hunting down all the kingpins at your own pace. Okay, so it's more an excuse plot than anything else - that's not a problem if it's fun to play around with on its own. Is it? Well... I think it's fair to say your mileage may vary. Your Agent develops in one of four categories as you play through Crackdown - Agility, Guns, Strength, Explosives and Driving. Let me just say this right off the bat - driving is fucking useless. Supposedly levelling up your driving skill makes Agency vehicles better in some way and gives them some extra tricks, but it never actually makes them any better at traversing the environment or taking down gangters. There are occasional - and I mean fucking occasional - time trial events you can use to gain points in Driving, but for the most part you just run gangsters over. You wanna know where you see them when out and about driving? On the sidewalks. You know who else occupies the sidewalks? Ordinary pedestrians. You know what happens if you run over pedestrians? Your driving skill GOES DOWN INSTEAD OF UP. You never need to get into a vehicle anyway because your Agility skill quickly gets to a point that you can run as fast as most cars anyway, and most kingpins are located high up on buildings that you need to be able to climb to reach anyway. If you really wanted to make vehicles into an entire skill class, why the fuck would you not at least arm them? Give me a chopper, a chaingun buggy and a tank, not a supercar, a 4WD and a truck. Okay whatever. Just don't use vehicles at all and the game still works fine. My main gripe with it is that it just never gives you a fucking break. No matter where you go, gangsters are CONSTANTLY shooting at you, and they never shut the fuck up, howling insults at you in foreign languages (yes, they're all racial stereotypes because of course they are) the moment you come into visual range of any of them. You can't just wipe them out as you go, because engaging them causes them to start sending hit squads and make you engage MORE enemies, much like the noteriety systems in your typical GTA title. And you can't really just hide and wait for it to blow over either, because they're goddamn everywhere and they're borderline omniscient anyway, so they'll simply just re-aggro and resume shooting you the moment you come back out and dare to have fun jumping between buildings again. It's a game that really, really tries your patience, and trying to play it for more than an hour at a time will really exhaust you, and honestly it never felt like a game that really needed to. Game really needs to just fucking chill with the enemy spam, man. I think it's really telling that they bundled this game with a beta for Halo 3 - because without it, this game would have had nothing. Immediately forgotten like a fart on the wind. Kinda like what happened after Crackdown 3 came out, come to think of it.
  4. Galactic Colossus (Supreme Commander) I don't know if I'm in the best position to be talking about real time strategy games. It's not something I've ever played competitively, for fear of the amount of micromanaging needed just to contest on some levels, and even cooperatively I haven't had much experience with them save for occasionally LAN-ing two laptops together for a few games of Battle for Middle Earth II (which itself I didn't really have enough to say about to form its own entry on the list). So for the most part, I can only speak to what I've experienced through campaigns and bot matches, which again, really limits what I can say about any given game in the genre. What I CAN speak to, though, is that Supreme Commander is perhaps the best controlling RTS I've ever personally played, a few elements of such that I'm shocked other giants of the genre haven't adopted. Much of the reason micromanaging is ever necessary in an RTS is that units can only ever accept one order at a time. Some orders have multiple implicit objectives, usually in the form of "move to location, but immediately stop and engage if you see any enemy units en route", but nothing that allows you to plan surgical strikes in advance based on what you know of the enemy's positions. Supreme Commander on the other hand, allows you to queue orders for any given selection of units just by holding a button down while you're issuing them. Even on a basic level this allows you to assign units on a very specific selection of targets in an assault rather than just blanketedly hitting everything along a specific path or selecting one target and waiting for it to expire before issuing another order manually to move onto the next. As a few hypothetical examples, you could have air units sweep in and take out turrets in preparation for land assault for a separate squad, or launch a nuke, gunship down all their nuke defenses and bug out before the nuke hits. How the hell did it take this long for a strategy game to allow you to plan out these kinds of attacks? Supreme Commander has an... interesting approach when it comes to its balancing. Units in most RTS games have their own specialties and cost efficiencies, but are never truly useless in a war - for example, a unit might be overall worse off than others in an open firefight, but their relative cheapness might favour them early on in a match for scouting positions and spamming to harrass people with poorly defended positions or under-developed armies. In SupCom, all units are placed into one of three tiers, with a fourth consisting of units so large they need to be built on the map in the same way as a building. To put it bluntly, tier one units are absolutely fucking worthless in almost every instance, because the obligatory building unit you start every match with is a heavily armed mech that will hold its own against just about everything you can throw at it right at the start of the match, to say nothing of the fact that pretty much no amount of tier ones will be able to contest with hardpoint defences of any kind, even ones of the same tier. It honestly does beggar belief that they're even in the game at all, because they don't have any real effectiveness even when built en masse. You never have any reason to do much early game besides tech rushing to at least tier 2 and snatching as much of the easy resource nodes as you can in the meantime. At least that I can rule out as a quirk of the game. The main real problem I have with this game is good lord it is so god damned slow. Matches can take hours to settle completely, and a lot of this is down to the fact that besides air units, everything else in the game has just ludicrously low movement speeds and takes forever to cross from one side of the map to the other. There are some circumstances where you can speed up the clock to alleviate some of the hassle, but matches between players to my knowledge only advance as fast as the slowest player, who might not ever see any reason to speed the clock up even when it DOES benefit them to - not to mention airstrikes and artillery can fuck with an advancing army REALLY quickly, so you might not even be able to slow the clock back down in time to save all the ones that matter if you're caught off guard. Supposedly the sequel is somewhat better in this regard? But I can't speak to that for sure because I've never owned or played it. Whatever the case, it's a sense of scale that's seldom portrayed anywhere else, from just the sizes of individual units to the amount of relentless chaos and destruction that can be unfolding at any one moments, to the point I don't think I know even other RTSs manage to approach often. It's definitely a game that anyone with an investment in the genre should at least try out.
  5. Midna (Twilight Princess) Over time, I've really come to despise this game. Not because it's bad - it's a definite step down from Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, sure, but that's like saying wine is a step down from ambrosia. No, I hate it because it represents just about every little thing that went wrong with the Wii's software output from then on out, and set the precedent that it quickly became infamous for right at the start of the generation: that you don't even have to build games with the gyroscope in mind, just map button presses to generic shaking motions (which we will dub "waggling" from here on out, as much of the community and gaming press did) and spew out some vile PR bullshit like "iT's JuSt LiKe SwInGiNg A rEaL sWoRd" to bait and switch people into thinking it's anything that couldn't have been done on the Gamecube. Now there's some elements of this I do absolutely get in this case, such as the fact that Twilight Princess literally was a Gamecube game and had to be ported pretty quickly to have a release on both generations. But you can't tell me it was too much fucking trouble to at least match the direction the player swings to the same direction that Link swings - even fucking Red Steel, for all of its faults, still managed as such in a way that actually functioned correctly. In TP, it's literally just the B button mapped to waggle, and you still have to use the control stick to direct your swings into chops and thrusts. Even the jump attack is just a button press and doesn't involve physical swinging at all. Why is it that so many people never actually fucking talk about this??? Let's talk about buttons, actually. For sake of argument, let's bring back out the Gamecube controller. You guys should already know my stance on the physical button layout by now, but I want you to pay close attention to what's within reach of the player's fingers at any time. The left hand has access to a shoulder button, the start button, a control stick and a d-pad, the latter three of which are mutually exclusive because both use the thumb but they're at least in close enough reach that you can jump to one or the other without trouble. The right hand gets two shoulder buttons, the right stick and every remaining button, with your right thumb doing most of the work. The thumb tends to rest between the A and B buttons and most games built specifically around the Gamecube will exploit this, but the remaining buttons are still in comfortable enough reach of one another that you can use any other combination that involves the A button - Y and A, and X and A. All caught up? Good. Now let's talk about the Wiimote and Nunchuk. Honestly, the Nunchuk is the best part of this - it has two "shoulder" buttons and a control stick, and are arranged in such a way that they can be controlled independently by individual fingers. But the Wiimote itself is fucking stupid. The resting positions on the Wiimote is the A and B buttons, and nothing else. That's three vectors of input if you include the gyroscopic controls too. Your thumb CAN reach three other buttons, and you'd think they would be important ones, right? Nope, it's the Start, Select and Home buttons. A normal human being can't reach anything else on this controller without physically adjusting their grip on the fucking thing, to the point that the 1 and 2 buttons are generally not touched AT ALL unless you're holding it in such a way that precludes the Nunchuk completely. Who the fuck designed this thing, and how did it make it all the way to market in this state? It's embarrassing, and it puts limitations on games that really have no reason to be there - even in Twilight Princess, for example, you can tell they had to get unnecessarily creative to get previous gameplay to work on this thing, key among them that you have to use the B button for all items and the Dpad simply swaps over which item currently uses said B button, instead of having a handful of buttons that each activate an item of your choice instantly. Oh, and let's not forget that the Wiimote does not have a fucking stick, so you better get used to abusing the "center camera" button all the time because you have absolutely no control over the camera besides it. Finally putting my gripes about controls aside, I feel like the biggest issues I have with Twilight Princess mostly come from bloat and context sensitivity. It has 15 items in total if you skip over stuff like upgrades, but many of them like the Slingshot, Ball and Chain, Dominion Rod and the Spinner only have any real usefulness exactly where the game tells you it does, which seems like a huge cop-out when it comes to the way Zelda items are traditionally designed. Okay sure, Ocarina still had the Lens of Truth which was virtually the same problem, but think about what you can do with say, the Boomerang - you can use it to hit switches, stun if not kill enemies, hit multiple of them if your aim is good, and retrieve items just off the top of my head. And it seems like a rotten waste when so many items don't share this same versatility or even just the simple ability to play around outside of their intended use case. Can you imagine if say, the Dominion Rod could possess ordinary mooks and allow you to fight their mates with them? And then there's the wolf form, which for some strange reason isn't treated as an item when you get the ability to switch on command - you have to talk to your Navi expy and tell them to do it for you, which much like the Iron Boots in OoT is an extra step that doesn't really seem like it was needed. So yeah, if you're for some reason nostalgic for this game, just avoid the fucking Wii version and go for the 'cube or HD versions instead. Once you take the halfassed motion controls out of the equation, it's fine. Not great, just... fine.
  6. Otori (Red Steel) Oh great, another game with a faceless mute protagonist. There's no way this is going to get old as the years progress. Red Steel serves the dubious honour of being the first Wii title on the list, and as was the style for most games made for a launch window, it plays very much like it was made as a tech demo first and then fleshed out into a full game second. Unlike most other console launches though, which emphasize leaps in graphical technology and not much more, the Wii was made to promote the usage of motion controls at the expense of graphics, which in turn has a profound impact on the way the game itself plays rather than just looks. There's no point beating about the bush - the Wii was an act of marketing genius and the poster child for how little graphics can ultimately matter in making good games and being appreciated as such for it, but Red Steel's rush to link as much of its being as possible to motion-based controls truly did turn this game into an absolute pile of shit. The nicest thing I can say about it is that despite how it works, at least the aiming is still generally better than traditional twin sticks, on many levels about the same responsiveness you'd expect from a lightgun game - you point at a thing on the screen, you press a button, your character shoots the thing. This of course, depends on your target actually being on the screen at the time, and the Wii doesn't exactly have a second stick with which to handle turning. So the approach this game took in its stead - and the example that just about every shooting game followed after the fact - is through what's called a "bounding box" around the edges of the screen. If your cursor enters one of these edges, your character turns towards that direction. I get that Wii games had to work within limitations - yes, LIMITATIONS - that the Wii controllers introduced, but this makes a lot of FPS games feel really clunky whenever the turning isn't handled for you, and honestly it's the only time I would have accepted going all the way back to the original Doom way of handling things and just making one of the nunchuk buttons a strafe modifier. I know, I can't believe I'm suggesting that as an improvement either. I would honestly forgive Red Steel if that was my only gripe with it, but it consistently and hamfistedly shoehorns motion controls into applications that are effectively just a motion mapped to a button press, like flicking your nunchuk downwards to pick up weapons or shaking it to perform a quick melee attack in gunfights (with the added bonus that you need to have your wiimote cursor on your target the whole time, which is really fucking hard to hold steady while vigorously shaking your other hand, so this will miss at LEAST half of the time), and sometimes even for incredibly mundane and stupid shit like sheathing your sword to spare someone or physically gesturing in response to a yes or no question. Look, I shouldn't even have to explain this to people - a motion control has a wide range of motion and output, while a button is literally just one digit of binary, "on" or "off". When you tell the former to do that latter's job, it's inevitably going to be less responsive at it. Would you ever think about using the right control stick in Halo to pick stuff up and whack people? Yeah, that's what I fucking thought. Even from the standpoint of making games more immersive, which little doubt is the reason people praise tripe like Red Steel. the reason this works in say, VR and not Wii is that the full range of motion is used and accounted for even in rudimentary tasks, like people having to physically align their hand towards if not directly over an object first, whereas in Red Steel it's all literally just button presses with extra steps. I say that even as to include the swordplay, which was pretty much this game's selling point - the ability to swing the wiimote around and have your character mimic its movements. Right from the start we have a problem - you can't actually pull out your sword on command, the game decides that for you and only allows you to engage in swordplay when another solitary enemy approaches with sword drawn and forces you into a duel. Problem number two is that the swordplay doesn't account for rotation - if you treat the bottom of your wiimote as the leading edge of your sword like your character does onscreen, the game will treat it as though your wiimote is still upright and your character will swing in the wrong direction. It's not like they didn't know how to account for this, or that the Wiimote was incapable of doing so, because it works just fine in gun battles and allows you to hold your gun sideways even though it serves literally no purpose to do so. The REAL problem though, is that the swordplay is a complete facade - your character will follow your movements when idle, but the actual act of attacking people is all handled through completely scripted motions, no different to what would happen if you held a direction and pressed attack in a Zelda game. It's the barest implementation possible that can be done and still considered technically "motion controlled". What pisses me off more than anything else though, is that almost nobody strived to do any better than this in the entire seven years the Wii was on the market, save for its sequel Red Steel II which absolutely aced the controls but was a crap game in just about every other respect. Lucky for you, though, I get to go into the how and why of that in our very next entry:
  7. Silver the Hedgehog (Sonic 06) It's really fucking bad lmao
  8. Shigi (Tenchu Z) The biggest flaws of Tenchu Z are visible almost immediately - it flagrantly has all the signs of a shoestring budget, with aspects of it that are either merely on par with previous gens or direct downgrades from it. Much of the graphics are murky and poorly defined, the sound design doesn't have the same impact it did before, there's no longer an English dub, and even the dialogue the game DOES have often doesn't have any lipsyncing to accompany it, on top of re-using content constantly and relentlessly like entire maps and scenarios practically verbatim. Having a low budget isn't always the end of the world, though, as long as the design is still solid where it counts. There's enough quality of life changes that I can still recommend it as an alternative to Wrath of Heaven, and even of its own merits I have to say this is one of the most relaxing stealth games I've ever played, which probably seems like a weird thing to suggest about a game that not only shares WoH's insistence of murdering every guard possible for rankings, but further incentivizes it by basing cash rewards on them, which you need lots of in order to develop your character. Yup, that's right - this is a game that stars an OC of your own creation, serving as a fresh recruit of the Azuma clan under previous protaganist Rikimaru, mostly competing day to day tasks - or night to night, as the case often is - for Lord Goda. Once could say it fills a niche that most live service games occupy today, in its focus of drawing an adventure out into a long series of tasks that may or may not have any relation to the overarching narrative, but Tenchu Z never felt to me like a game that gets particularly grindy because of it, in large part because much of the game can still be completed in relative comfort with your starting abilites. Most of the stuff you can learn in addition to that feels like personalization and specialization more than anything else, and it includes some incredibly cool shit I wish previous games had, like being able to blend into walls, cling to cielings indoors and perform a short, intense sprint that can cross half a football field in about a second, on top of MUCH more open ended level design to make good use of everything your character can potentially do. I just wish you could have a good idea of what you're getting into BEFORE you spend money on it, because some abilities - like the wall running ability - are way more useless and less cool than their ingame descriptions make them sound, and don't even get me fucking started on the fact that you can't even preview cosmetic items before bying them. So about those quality of life changes. First and foremost - you can stealth kill most boss tier enemies in the game now. All but two of them, in fact. I get that dramatic confrontations and speeches sound cooler from a narrative perspective, but it sorta puzzles me that it took this long to apply Tenchu's most iconic mechanic this broadly. Secondly, sneaking itself has been revamped around shades of Splinter Cell and Thief, with meters for how visible you are and how much noise you're making at any given time, and the fact that you're more visible when your sword is unsheathed, incentivizing you to keep it in its holster until the last moment possible. This in turn forms several other layers of strategy that are intertwined with one another, such as the fact that unsheathing your sword makes noise too unless you obtain a special upgrade for it, and the fact that if you kill guards in a fight instead of with a stealth kill future guards will SMELL the blood on you and become wary the moment you're in their presence, adding layers of caution that previously in Tenchu were simply just avoiding line of sight and not much else. It can be frustrating to contest with when you're just starting out, especially if you're more familiar with Wrath of Heaven's way of doing things, but once you start to get a grasp of the game's mechanics, it's absolute zen. I didn't even mention the fact that this game was built with co-op in mind, both LAN and online - and while the game was still fresh, it was some of the most fun I'd ever had playing with complete randoms in just about any online game I can think of, and I think it's a testament to the relaxing mood this game puts its players in because pretty much everyone I ever played with was super chill through victory and failure both. At the very least I would have changed it so that the entire mission isn't failed if a single player out of a potential party of four dies, but it's still relaxing enough that having to restart a mission once or twice won't really phase me much, which is something I would never expect to say in hindsight coming from the guys that would later go on to create Dark Souls.
  9. You know, I usually struggle to get excited for a new generation of consoles. Even when backwards compatibility of some kind comes into play, it usually means letting go of SOME quantity of your previous titles, and it also means paying a sizeable investment into a chunk of hardware on the promise that it'll become worth it sometime in the future, which is a lot of trust to put in a manufacturer and a bunch of gibbering idiots who will use the increased specs as an excuse to get lazy with their coding and graphic design more than anything else. I tend to find games are at their best when they DO have to contest with technical limitations and I find it all the more impressive when people are able to pull off technically intense shit on weak hardware, because through that lens it's only the people who actually know what the hell they're doing that can shine through with flying colours and come up with a game that is more than just good looking for it. But Dead Rising is one of the only times I've ever said to myself "okay yeah, you definitely couldn't pull this shit off on anything less than a next gen console at all". Frank West and Chuck Greene (Dead Rising 1/2) If you told anyone in 2005 that this was an undoctored screenshot, they'd have thought you were taking the piss. But if there's a reason there was a glut of zombie games starting with the Xbox 360, this was certainly one of them - the sheer quantity of actors one can have on the screen at the same time and not see a drop in performance, and honestly, to a point that even individual zombies still have a decent amount of detail on them. This is impressive to everybody, even those that don't have a clue what kind of specs are involved, because these kinds of crowds had never really been done before in a videogame, even games that were already built around it like the Warriors games. Not only does Dead Rising take a similar glee in mowing them down by the dozens, it gives you plenty of opportunities to fool around while you're doing it and weaponize literally anything that can be be carried. From entire park benches, cash registers, giant lipstick props, vision obscuring head props and shower faucets you can jam into their heads and watch blood pour out through them, on top of the more mundane and reliable stuff like baseball bats, machetes and the occasional firearm. It's the kind of game that knows every zombie trope in the book and steers way clear of most of them for the sake of the childlike fun that comes from having an entire mall all to yourself and having a bunch of meat puppets to abuse, which is always hard not to admire. It's just a shame, then, that one of the major mechanics of Dead Rising is escort missions. Whenever you're out and about, you get regular radio messages from a janitor you're sharing a safehouse with, and most of these messages point you towards story missions, survivors in distress, boss fights with psychopaths, or a combination thereof. Both games have multiple endings based on your attendence of these events, and you have to wait real time in between story missions in order to actually advance the plot, so it's pretty hard to just ignore them completely on principle. This much could be forgiven if they could hold their own, but even when armed they're often absolutely useless and will get stuck in crowds constantly even while you're actively carving a path out for them, and this is on top of the fact that you have a limited window of opportunity to complete most cases, which sometimes isn't even communicated to the player through the radio system. What results is a game that will take multiple playthroughs to truly conquer, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I do appreciate that there's a lot of different ways to play the game, a lot of different ways it can end and subsequently, a metric shit ton of replay value, but it's hard not to feel like it's more dependant on the AI not being dumb than your own efforts to rescue them. Dead Rising 2 made them more competent, but traded that off with absolutely asinine requirements to get them to follow you, including I shit you not, beating three of them in a 10-20 minute long poker game. Don't get it twisted, Dead Rising 1 and 2 are still great games despite this one glaring flaw, but it's a series that has stayed less and less true to itself with every entry in its series before eventually becoming a hollow, soulless shell of itself, and that brings us right back to the same lesson we just covered in Riders - consistency is generally better than chasing trends if the original formula works fine, and if it does, there's really nothing wrong with making more of the same shit people already enjoy as long as you're consistently polishing it along the way. You'll know if people are starting to get tired of it.
  10. Tommy Tawodi (Prey 2006) Prey is probably the lesser known of the two big profile development hell scenarios that have come out of 3D Realms. If that sounds hard to believe looking at the game as it actually released, you should probably know that there playable builds dating back as far as 1998: Despite its troubled development history, though, it really isn't all that bad a game. The worst I can say about it is that it can come off as disorienting, gimmicky and tech-demo-y at times, but even that works hand in hand with its own setting, working hard to sell it as alien both figuratively and literally. Sometimes things are made to be unfamiliar just for its own sake - weapons are unconventional in either design or function if not both, enemies are mostly bipedal but can go from zero to absolutely monstrous really fucking quickly, and level design can border on non euclidian thanks in large part to its usage of portals and magnetic pathways. I can't think of many other games besides the Metroid Primes that have really nailed the feel of exploring a genuinely alien world, and graphically speaking it is a true technological marvel in a way most launch window titles struggle to pull off, even if it does have that signature Doom 3 "oh my god I can't fucking see shit it is so goddamn dark" look at times. You know, shared engines and all. One thing I've been avoiding covering until now is that because Tommy has Native American heritage, that translates into playing around with spirits because of course it fucking does. What this usually translates into is that he can separate his spirit from his body and move independently of his physical form. This is usually as a means of solving puzzles, because your spiritual self is immune to forcefields and is unaffected by the aformentioned magnetic paths, but can otherwise interact with the environment normally. Because the spirit has a bow and arrow, though, you can also use it for combat purposes if you can hide your physical body somewhere safe first, which can actually be a better option sometimes because your spirit has a separate resource that functions as a health bar when used this way, and you don't actually die when it runs dry. It does tie into what happens when you ACTUALLY die, though, and I think it might form my biggest criticism of the game. When you bite the dust, you're sent into a spiritual realm that acts as something of a post-death minigame where you shoot at colourful bat-looking creatures with your bow, and the amount of red and blue ones you manage to hit determines how much health and spirit you respawn with. Yes, a singleplayer shooter with respawning mechanics. The developers try to make this off as a tagline, as if it's supposed to make dying fun (no seriously, it's on the back of the fucking box), but it comes off as irritating and tedious instead, and honestly sucks a lot of the stakes out of the game knowing that even in canon there's nothing the aliens can do to kill Tommy completely or so much as inconvenience him more than just being flung right back into the same skirmish with MAYBE a little less health than before. Despite that, though? I'm glad they tried, because history is littered with the corpses of games that tried playing things too safe to appeal to broader audiences only to fade from memory because they were boring and stale as a result. And I think it's better any day to strive to be ambitiously unique for it to turn out not to be the best move, than to just do the same shit everyone else is doing and not have any way to stand out. The absolute worst that will happen is that people will learn from your example why people don't do that, which is honestly kind of a necessary evil in the industry either way.
  11. Jet (Sonic Riders) Like it or hate it, any time a racing game is made that allows you to punish other racers requires a catch-up mechanic - Blue Shells for example, have long been a necessary evil in the Mario Kart series because 1st place faces no opposition from in front of them, so if 2nd and 3rd place get into a squabble, 1st place increases their lead and no longer faces any opposition from behind either. This is absolutely not a hypothetical situation. People dominated with 30 entire second leads in Sega Allstars Racing because nobody had tools to keep the leader in check. If in no other respect, Sonic Riders is a stroke of conceptual genius because one, racers always have access to their entire kit without the need to find items on the track, and two, challenging the leader is ultimately as simple as following them. The main gimmick of Riders is "turpulence", a windy half-pipe left in the wake of the lead racer. Anyone behind them can ride it for a burst of speed, and even perform tricks off the outer edges of it to refill their hoverboard with air, which is the single resource that all techniques in the game draw from and is at a relative premium for everyone without access to it. So maintaing a lead is a challenge of knowing your character's routes well, carefully rationing the air you DO have access to through capsules and stunts and picking just the right time to drop a tornado in the path of someone just about to overtake you without letting the resulting speed drop give an edge to the others right on their tail. While I love it on a conceptual level, there are aspects of it that definitely could have been done better - you're automatically locked on to the turpulence's path whenever you cross it instead of having to manually and skillfully trace its path through the level, and the exact air usage of many moves seems unnaturally strict for what they actually do, not to mention I'm not sure why you should need to spend any for something as simple as fucking drifting. It isn't like you can just run on empty sans special moves like say, F-Zero GX - you have to continue on foot if you run out of air, which is a much bigger disadvantage than it sounds for a Sonic game. In fact, Sonic Riders is pretty rough around the edges in general in spite of its ideas, sometimes in ways it had absolutely no right to be. Drifting never feels like a smooth motion like it does in just about every other racing game of note, corning hard and jankily and then shooting you straight off as if you hit a boost pad whenever you release the button. For the longest time I thought grinding was fucking broken, but for some reason you have to press the jump button, then press it again as you come into proximity with the grind rail instead of just landing on it? And even then you don't preserve any momentum between jumps whether you're on a rail or the track, so the timing for each jump is a lot different than it immediately appears while playing it. And although Riders uses rings for increases in speed in a similar manner to Mario Kart the cap is at a hundred rather than ten and you lose ALL of your fucking rings if another racer hits you once or you fall off the track, which is a lot of investment to put into a resource that can be immediately stripped from you at any moment, especially if the leader drives off the track and takes almost everyone behind him along for the ride. Regardless, it's still a good game as it is, I just think it was onto something much bigger that it didn't get a chance to capitalize on - because the sequel flipped the script and used a completely different (and frankly much worse) gimmick, never returning to turpulence in its true form again. So in a sense, the main lesson today is the same lesson it's always been for 21st century Sonic - you should ALWAYS be polishing what you already have, because throwing the baby out with the bathwater leads to both ridicule and failure and leaves you without a core foundation to build a franchise this fucking big apon.
  12. Magnum Revolver (BLACK) BLACK is a game concocted by Criterion, who you might better recognize as the masterminds behind the Burnout series. And as one might expect, it was made with the intention of ticking all the same boxes that Burnout did - instant gratification, crunchy sound design, and a metric shit-ton of raw destruction. What results is a game that is flagrantly just gun porn, and lots of it, to the point that the arsenal gets a lot more love than anything in the game, even the characters (and frankly, you can tell it influenced my choice of sprite today). The title screen alone is probably enough to register as NSFW in some communities: Unfortunately when your game only has a single focus, and that focus isn't how the game plays, it tends to suffer really badly as a result. While some might appreciate its sound design, it is singularly the most boring and generic first person shooter I have ever played in my god damned life. I am dead fucking serious when I say there are CoD games more entertaining and inspired than this, even though they're the poster children for bog standard military shooter tropes. It's bad enough to play that shit completely straight - it's worse still to be horrendously fucking bad at them. I'm still not completely sure what the plot is supposed to be because you spend most of the game shooting russians with all the radio dialogue drowned out by explosions and gunfire, divided by incredibly boring and hard to follow FMVs between missions of the same two guys talking in an interview with most of their faces obscured and stock images and footage spliced in. If the focus was simply to have sweet, punchy guns to shoot, why was any of this shit even in the game? It could have been an arcade or score attack shooter, or it could have just refused to take itself seriously at all, shit, BLACK even could have been intentionally campy with it and still been much better off for it. I could forgive that much if the gunplay was any good, but even that is mediocre at best. Most of the guns have absolutely ridiculous spread, making it almost impossible to consistently hit shit beyond a few metres in front of you. Imagine playing Deus Ex with the Rifles skill permanently set to Untrained and then being forced to shoot at shit from across the map with the assault rifle and you almost have an idea of how badly BLACK handles it. This is already bad enough, but the guns aren't even hitscan, which means you can miss distant targets even if you DO happen to get a bullet directly in their direction, and the enemies all take a really silly amount of damage for how hard it is to him them with these fucking guns in the first place. The one saving grace is that the first bullet in a spray is always accurate, which often means that a game that should be about going nuts and letting loose instead gives you assault weapons that are only effective in single shots at a time, and even then only if you land headshots, and even then headshot detection is so inconsistent that enemies can appear to be shot in the head multiple times without much real difference. BLACK's fixation on gun porn even has implications on the gameplay - which is to say, it actively works against trying to play it most of the time. Most weapons in the game have a lengthy cocking animation when selected regardless of the circumstance, so if you're in the middle of a firefight you're inevitably going to get shot a few times if you need to swap to one better suited to the circumstances. Reloads are even worse, because in addition to taking a long time for anything beyond a pistol they also BLUR THE ENTIRE FUCKING SCREEN EXCEPT FOR THE WEAPON while you're doing it, so in addition to not realizing if you're about to run into an enemy, you might not even be able to see the fucking level geometry and temporarily get completely lost until the PC orgasms over the thought of a fresh mag in his russian-perforating AK. And honestly, even when some things are working as intended it comes off as a silly juxtaposition to its otherwise serious setting, where some shit just explodes for literally no reason, like safes and sandbags, and shooting at a sniper or RPG emplacement can often cause the entire building to detonate basically unprovoked. Once again, you can't have that shit both ways - either make a shooter that's down to earth or one where the setting is as over the top as its mechanics, otherwise one will detract from the other and both will be worse off. I don't think anything in the world will offend me more than the fact that in spite of how fucking awful this game is, it somehow got favourable reviews and seems to be beloved by much of the gaming community. For fucking what? Because the guns sounded good? Did they even do THAT right? They're loud and obnoxious and it gets old pretty fucking quickly, to the point that I dread having to fire them after a certain point because it legitimately gives me a headache. Fuck this game. Fuck it to hell, and fuck everyone who still believes it accomplished even a single fucking thing of note.
  13. Sometimes it feels like comedians have the easiest fucking job in the world today. Some of them don't even really have to write actual jokes about modern affairs anymore - you can just run a clip of a political gaffe completely unaltered and in context, and the absurdity of the shit they spew on a regular basis will often draw laughter just by itself. Reflecting on it a little more made me think back to some of the earliest years I spent on the internet interacting with other people, who shared much the same sentiment towards videogames - often the best way to get a point across was to make it funny, and often the best way to be funny was to be blunt as a fucking brick. A lot of this did lead to dozens of people trying to be internet tough guy at once, and admittedly it had a tendency to create a lot of drama that didn't really need to be there, but there's a part of me that still feels slightly nostalgic for those years, where it wasn't yet socially inappropriate to just murder a motherfucker with words to make a point, even if they weren't asking for it. Some internet personalities embraced this way in covering videogames themselves, which brings us right back around to the angriest gamer you've ever heard... The Angry Video Game Nerd A character concocted by one James Rolfe, AVGN holds a fair bit more influence over my outlook on things than I'd probably like to admit, and is probably the reason I find the bad easier to pick out than the good in any given game. He originally started out as the Angry Nintendo Nerd before he was picked up by Screwattack, and his schtick was mostly picking on shovelware in the NES library - "playing the shitty games so YOU don't have to", or so the saying goes. And true to the opening paragraph, AVGN was at his funniest when showing a game exactly as it was and letting it speak for itself, albiet with his profanity overlapping it. Out of all the episodes I've watched, I don't think a single one exemplifies this better than the one that got me into him in the first place, the Dick Tracy episode: Usually when he cuts from the game, it's to elaborate on his thought process a little more, engage in dramatic cartridge smashing (or system smashing, as it was in the 32X episode), or just to playfully vent about the given situation some more. But he sometimes has a bad habit of going off on some extended skit that is almost irrelevant to the game at hand, and to be perfectly honest I can't think of a single time it's actually been funny? He was so close with the Atari Jaguar episode, but he milks out what should have been just a cut and dry gag of a character breaking the fourth wall and instead milks out out with almost two minutes of shooting at gifs with various peripherals and teasing his cat with a laser pointer. That's pretty tame compared to some of the shit he pulls in later episodes where he more or less draws it out into short films in of themselves, to the point that I've started just shutting off videos out of habit once he runs out of game to cover because I already know the video is just going to go downhill after that point. Some people can pull off this kind of irrelevant humour practically without thinking about it, like Jontron, but James is definitely not one of those kinds of people. Are his fans just too nice to tell him that or something? I think one last thing that's unique to AVGN, though (besides his unique perchant for shit jokes, of course, and I mean that in the most literal sense and not as a jab), is that he's very much a sole survivor of the old guard of his era. He wasn't the only person from back then who based himself around openly raging against terribly designed videogames, and he even had many copycats trying to flock to the success he had doing it - but he's one of the few people I know of who's STILL doing it, yes even today, without even a single controversy to his name. And believe me, there were controversies. And I think this is a better indication of his true character than anything he shows as a character - he has no ulterior motives, no histories of abuse, not even any tendencies to beg for likes and subscribers. He's just a guy that loves doing what he does, and I hold a hell of a lot of respect for that, and I probably still would even if he DID stagnate somehow. Judging from the Ecco video he put out not long before I made this post though, I'd say he's still got it.
  14. Ethan Thomas (Condemned: Criminal Origins) Condemned is a first person game that blends elements of shooting, brawling and detective elements, the lattermost of which was still a fairly new concept in the mainstream space at the time. One would think that lends this game a perchant for testing the player's observation and deduction, but sadly the detective work is mostly scripted window dressing - you can only equip detective gadgets in specific areas and use them on specific objects and surfaces, and even then all the deductive work is made for you by a voice over the phone. At that rate you might as well have just not bothered and made it all cutscene based for all the difference it makes, and that really is a rotten shame because Phoenix Wright had already proven by now that this kind of gameplay could work pretty well - why not add a combat system on top of that for the full cop experience? Actual fighting is a deceptively simple affair, consisting of no more than a single swing at a time and a parry mechanic to act as a defensive option, and a self-charging tazer that can work as a wildcard to swing fights in your favour by giving you a chance to disarm enemies or simply land a cheap shot while they're squirming. This actually works a lot better than it sounds, once you start getting a feel for the variations in the enemy's mo-capped animation, whacking them in the face and parrying their inevitable frenzied counter to land a second whack in their face and repeating until they fall over, somehow never actually getting repetitive in the process. At least, not until the mid-late game anyway, where they start throwing in buff motherfuckers with absolutely stupid amounts of health, nevermind the few boss encounters sprinkled occasionally throughout. If there's any reason to fault the fighting in this game, it's certainly not because of the core mechanics of them - they're pretty goddamn superb despite, even arguably because of, their simplicity. No, I feel like Condemned's biggest problems, if anything, come from its weapons, several of which have options outside of combat. For example, the fire axe can break down weak doors, the crowbar can pry open lockers that usually have guns in them, sledgehammers can break padlocks and shovels can force open some electronic locks by jamming into the cords at their base. Most of these are pretty mediocre in a fight, usually because they take a long time to swing despite doing a crapton of damage, but you're usually incentivied to carry them around over most other alternatives because of their ability to open routes, some of which are absolutely mandatory to progressing through the game. You would think you could just keep a utility weapon in storage while packing a more well-rounded weapon for fights, but you can't actually hold more than one weapon in this game at all in this game, which seems like an incredibly strange ommission in a game that can punish you for having the wrong weapon at the wrong time, both in terms of combat AND utility. At the very least it would have been nice to be able to holster a pistol just in case - what the fuck kind of detective doesn't have a place to stash a gun when they're not using it? The AI of most given enemies though, isn't necessarily just about making a beeling straight for you and bashing your brains in, which leads into this game's other big feature - enemies actually attempt to be stealthy in a way that doesn't disadvantage the player, which is something you don't see a lot of in FPSs period, much less first person brawlers. Much like any attempt at stealth, human or AI, it can look somewhat goofy if you know what they're up to, or they run through open ground to get to their hiding spot of choice, but the fact that they can seek out areas obscured from your line of sight at all instead of some dumb invisibility mechanic is something that doesn't get played around much with, as is their propensity to rush you when your back is turned or to throw a sucker punch once you approach the corner they're hiding behind. You only have to lower your guard for a few seconds for the AI in this game to show its true colours, which somewhat unfortunately means the milage you get out of it varies a lot player by player - someone who actually understands their habits or is paying close attention to them will probably just see a long string of goofs instead. So yeah, long story short - competent brawler, nice atmosphere, great lighting for a launch title, kinda just wish the detective stuff got more love than it did.
  15. Halfway through the list now! Still never thought I'd have the patience to sprite daily for this long, but it seems to be working out!

  16. So before I start today, I have two milestones to announce. The first is the introduction to the Xbox 360, and with it the seventh generation of consoles. The second, and probably more important, is that this marks a rough halfway point in my list. That might sound a little weird for a game that came out in 2005, but the seventh generation is by and large the longest lasting one out of any in recent memory, lasting nearly an entire decade as opposed to the 4-5 years most other gens get. This would also be around about when I could finally start buying games with my own money, without the common sense to avoid impulse buying shit, so needless to say there will be a LOT of games centred around this one generation to cover. Can I just say though, goddamn games are getting pretty long by this point? It's getting pretty hard to digest games down into a few paragraphs when you usually have at most an hour to review them in your spare time, and I'm almost certain I've made mistakes already, so here's to hoping I still do an okay job of it in a day per game as I always have. Without further ado, we open up gen 7 with: Jack Dark (Perfect Dark Zero) Time has not been kind to this game. Granted, I don't think there's a single developer out there that wouldn't struggle trying to match the legacy of a game like Perfect Dark, AND it had the added problem of recently having been snatched away from Nintendo platforms, given a two generation gap between titles and given the burden of holding up a console launch to fuck with its public perception all the more. Now that we're long past all the hype and fanboy backlash and can speak on it with almost no bias, I think it's fair to say now that... even on its own merits, it's not all that good? Even visually speaking, although all the usual hallmarks of a generation leap are there like a jump in polygons and more elaborate special effects, it doesn't really rock all that interesting a look and if anything detracts from it with some of the new advances it's made, such as this god damn motion blur you get when turning now that keeps you from actually making out distinct shapes at all unless you're almost at a complete standstill. I suppose that's lesson number one already: making a game look prettier shouldn't come at the expense of being able to fucking play it, and although PD0 is hardly the worst offender, it's still notable enough that I can't ignore it completely, especially in the leaf cover in the jungle levels that make it just obnoxiously fucking difficult to see anyone. Weapons overall feel like they're just designed worse than the Perfect Dark arsenal, and I'd argue PD64 already had a handful of issues yet to resolve in the first place. PD64 might still have a glut of full-auto weapons it overrelies on in between its more unique and gimmicky picks, but even when just spraying out bullets rapidly was their only job (like the AR34) at the very least their design was inspired and their sound design was still a thing of beauty - I have a hard time remembering most of the weapons in PD0 because most of them are flagrantly just real world weapons with fake names, with a handful of precursors to PD64 weapons that somehow manage to lack most of the charm the originals had like the Falcon, Magsec and the Laptop Gun (...okay fine, the Laptop Gun is still cool). And I could deal with less inspired weapons if they were at the very least designed particularly well, but there really aren't all that many weapons that have good synergy between their primary and altfires. An AK with a launchable bayonet? A magnum that can fire a silenced shot for the sole purpose of making the gunshot sound like it came from a different direction? A heavy machinegun - one, mind, that reduces your speed when you have it equipped - that can... drop caltrops? A P90 with a scope, but not the accuracy to be able to act on the scope's zoom without missing like 75% of your shots? It almost feels like the firemodes were picked at complete random, without any regard to where and how the gun was supposed to function. And we haven't even gotten into the inventory system yet. See in PD64, your weapons were based on the level - what you started with, and what you could find along the way. In PD0, you have to choose your own loadout before actually entering a level, and they often don't tell you what kinds of threats or level design you're actually going to be encountering. So that often means bringing a really boring jack of all trades weapon like the scoped/silenced P9P pistol to every mission just to make sure you have bases covered and don't get surprised when stealth or sniping turn out to be the only viable options. And to make matters worse, you have a very limiting inventory system that keeps you from packing an arsenal for every situation - you only have four inventory slots, and anything bigger than a pistol takes up multiple fucking slots, and if you want a loadout with the intention of dual wielding you need separate slots for both fucking weapons, unlike PD64 which bunches them both up under one slot. What purpose does limiting the amount of weapons you can carry this way serve but to fuck with your ability to accomplish basic tasks? Why do this at all when the original game already worked just fine? I could get past that if the levels were any good but jesus christ I don't even know where to start. It's bad enough that they repeatedly devolved into a habit of slathering bland grey surfaces onto everything, but they're also even less forgiving of mistakes than PD64 was - they have a tendency to throw fail states into just about every mission, oftentimes forcing you into a tedious crawl to make sure you can get past without issue, especially when stealth is a borderline or literal necessity for clearing it. It's not to say PD64 didn't make you restart an entire level for messing up things besides dying, but PD0 does it a lot more often with the added problem that stages can take like 10-20 whole minutes apiece to clear, especially on higher difficulties where you have to milk your dwindling regenerating health for everything that it could possibly be worth. And it's so stingy with checkpoints that I often forget the game even HAS any, and it might as well not have for all the difference it makes sometimes. As usual, the biggest shame about this is that after defining a whole console generation by itself and being one of the most beloved shooter games of all time, this was what killed the series - just a single mediocre launch title. And I can't believe i have to say this, because it seems like some people -executives mostly - take stuff like this as a sign that nobody has interest in the franchise anymore, but people don't dump on Perfect Dark 0 because they're tired of the IP, it's because it's a mediocre game. That's it. People need to learn to distinguish the two badly, because publishers keep letting good ideas and franchises go to absolute waste because they can't figure out what the fuck they did wrong or even whether they were at fault. That, and it would save them the trouble of milking out Halo constantly for their first party FPS fix, effectively killing one franchise to make another stagnate and making both worse off.
  17. Neo (The Matrix: Path of Neo) Much like Enter the Matrix, if there's anything lacking in Path of Neo it's certainly not ambition. Rather than act as a side story, though, this game summarizes all three films by itself, acting as a complete retelling of Neo's story all throughout and even a few events that happened offscreen, such as the training sessions he takes right before sparring with Morpheus. Some diversions of this kinda are great. Most aren't. You might have already heard of the most infamous examples, but for those of you who'd rather see for yourself I'm going to put the rest of the story stuff in spoilers: Okay, stupid writing aside, how does it play? Long story short, like mollasses. This game is full of slowdown in every sense of the word - the bullet time mechanic from Enter the Matrix returns, of course, but most key impacts are also sold with very long, uncomfortable pauses, usually to segue into other moves, and that's all on top of a framerate that closely resembles a late N64 title whenever the bullets start flying. Say what you will about Enter the Matrix, but despite how it looked it ran at a pretty crispy 60fps and didn't drop frames all that much, so how a game that came out much later, right at the tail end of the Xbox's life, and still ran this bad is something that honestly beggars belief. What remains is a game that lacks pretty much any concept of flow because it just keeps PAUSING whenever you get to the action, and frankly would still feature a lot of stop and go even when it's functioning correctly. Fighting in Path of Neo features exactly one combo, and a shitton of scripted attacks that trigger more or less at random when you land the final hit of said combo. It's more or less just button mashing with QTEs mixed in, because whenever you have an opportunity to perform a scripted attack the game will basically pause outright for 2-3 seconds with a button prompt for executing it - as such it never really feels like fighting actually has any semblance of strategy, and frankly it feels like most of it unfolds almost automatically as it is. I haven't even mentioned gunplay yet either, which works on some really bizarre automatic targetting system that sometimes locks onto shit you aren't even remotely looking at or have any active interest in shooting at, which can be irritating if there's an undetonated fire hydrant at the end of a hallway opposite to the group of SWAT officers currently lighting your ass up. The nicest thing I can say about Path of Neo is that it's an improvement over Enter the Matrix - but anyone who's ever played EtM will tell you that's not a huge bar to clear.
  18. Shadow the Hedgehog Oh fuck no. Do I really have to talk about this game? Ugh. Let's get this over with. Right from the very word go, ShTH is a designer's worst nightmare - a concept concocted by clueless executive chasing every fad at once without even the slightest clue of how any of them gel with each other, much less their own series, so they leave the onus of figuring that out only to the people they pay to make these games for them. The end result is a game that is constantly at war with itself, in identity, mechanics and setting alike. I'm sure it doesn't need to be said that there's a limit to how dark and edgy you can make a game about cartoon hedgehogs that get around by rolling down hills, so it seems poignant to point out that the very reveal of this game started out with taking a gun to their own legacy. ...ahahaha, did you think that was a fucking metaphor? No, they literally shot up a projection of their own legacy - the one that people far and wide adored them for in the first place. You cannot make this shit up. It's as if to make a point that they absolutely did not give a shit about it anymore. That it was unimportant to the making of this game. And believe me, that shows. It shows a lot. Irregardless of how you feel about Shadow as a character, I think most would agree that Shadow is defined very heavily by Shōnen archetypes, to the point that he's basically a furry DBZ character (to the point that I think Iizuka emphasized that he's the Vegeta to Sonic's Goku? Correct me if I'm wrong there). On his own terms he is already disproportionately strong, at least as fast as Sonic, perform energy-based attacks in the form of "chaos energy", and depending on where you look, even fly unaided and travel through god damned time. So even on the absolute most basic level, it begs the question of why the fuck anyone thought needed guns and vehicles to accomplish anything his basic abilities could already feasibly handle on their own - even IF you suggested his game needed a bigger focus on ranged combat, right from the start he already had a NAMED attack designed specifically to attack from range, and already looks more powerful than anything a bullet can muster. Why the fuck wouldn't you just design a moveset around moves like that intstead? Well, instead of doing that, ShTH takes an approach to game design that you're probably going to start seeing more of as the years pass by - they created a new problem just to justify a new solution, rather than working with what they already had. In ShTH's case, it was to give most enemies ludicrous amounts of health and making physical attacks, including the Homing Attack, deal amounts of damage tantamount to absolute fucking worthlessness, in order to justify full automatic weapons that can wipe out health bars in seconds. Even WITH this concession, though, most elements of gameplay in this game don't seem to be designed with each other in mind. Sonic is a series designed with speed and flow in mind, but you have to constantly come to a stop to engage enemies because among things, you have no fucking way of knowing who Shadow is aiming at so you have to come to a complete stop to ensure you don't waste very limited ammo spraying and praying as you run past. Oh, "very limited"? Yeah you can only hold one gun at a time and don't get ammo for the others whenever you're holding one - because apparently something as fucking simple as an inventory system was lost on these absolute god damn hacks. The worst part of this game by a large margin, though, is its level progression. ShTH has a RIDICULOUS amount of levels for a Sonic game, but you don't play all of them in a single playthrough - rather, they're laid out Lylat Wars style, in that actions you perform during a level will change which one you venture to next. This is fine - great, even, and I'd like to see a Sonic game return to it one day. Level progression is also based on a rudimentary morality system - you will go further north if Shadow turns evil, and south if he turns good. Strange, maybe even a little nosensical, but okay, it can still work. The biggest problem when addressing this system is the actual requirements to determining your route. Most are stage dependant, but are almost always fucking awful unless it's the neutral route (which is just "get to the level exit - you know, what you SHOULD be fucking doing in a Sonic game). Often the mission will just be helping out one faction by wiping out the other. And I don't mean "killing key enemies to make the lesser ones a non-threat to your allies". I don't even mean "enough that you could conceivably be considered more friendly towards one than the other". I mean EVERY. SINGLE. GODDAMNED. ENEMY. IN THE FACTION. EVERY LAST ONE. What should be a platforming game about getting to places as fast as possible becomes an incredibly awful and tedious scavenger hunt unlike anything the franchise has ever experienced. Even Emerald Hunting in SA1 and 2, for all the infamy it has, still gives you a fucking indication of where to look, and never makes you hunt down more than three of the fuckers at once. Oh, and did I mention the fact that no matter which faction you choose to side with, both sides are almost always still shooting at you regardless? Even simple gratitude seems to be lost on the AI in this game. This is assuming your path from one level to another even makes any narrative sense, which it pretty often doesn't. Nothing in your playthrough takes into account the events that happened previously, leading to frequent plot holes and inconsistencies if you happen to deviate from anything but a very specific path at any given time because they all assume you took the mission immediately previous to it on the same morality scale instead of making concessions for the specific path you took through the game. And worst of all? Even none of THIS shit is relevant, because once you have every ending in the game, ShTH just throws you a final campaign that renders almost everything else that happened throughout non-canon, making its tagline about a choice between good and evil completely fucking worthless. This, from a game that was made to tie up Shadow's story once and for all, and to smooth out any plotholes that yet remained. Honestly, there's only one self-own in the series of greater magnitude than that. We'll get to that soon.
  19. Guildmaster Wigglytuff (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series) God. It feels like nobody, not even Gamefreak, knows what they have with the PMD games. Am I really the only one who genuinely prefers them over the main games? Is that really a controversial thing to suggest? Alright alright, fine, I'll elaborate. You remember what I said all the way back on page one? Well if I had to pick one word to describe PMD's gameplay, it would definitely be "imposing". In just about every game in the series, dungeons are long, trecherous slogs, where packing and preparing beforehand are key and a single mistake can potentially doom the entire expedition. And not everyone can handle strategizing their way around Pokemon 10-15 levels higher than them - fine, I get that. But I still wouldn't have it any other way, because it makes EVERYTHING feel like a genuine accomplishment, even the little fundraising side missions you do in between encounters with the main storyline. I won't say it's absolutely perfect. Hell, there are a LOT of things I wish they would change, because I honest to god believe it could stand toe to toe with the main series if Gamefreak and Spike Chunsoft took it seriously, even though it has steadily been improving with every successive game. For example, you only directly control one Pokemon in your party at any given time, leaving the rest to be controlled by AI. There are aspects of their behaviour you can influence, such as their aggression or which specific moves they're allowed to use, but positioning and strategic moveset application means a LOT in PMD fights, and simply put, you're almost always not given the options to utilize it to its fullest extent, and often it feels like it could have been as simple as allowing players to go through every party member's actions a single turn at a time whenever they're not just wandering around looking for loot and exits. What makes this lack of strategy all the more annoying is that there is a great deal of importance placed on getting through confrontations with minimal losses, and again, can mean the difference between living another day or having to restart an entire 20 floor dungeon from scratch - quite literally, in the first few games, losing either yourself or your partner to fainting is a failure state, even when you have other team members to carry on. And it doesn't help that you also lose almost everything you were carrying, which is a layer of punishment none of these games need and it pretty much forces you to reload from a save for how much time and money it wastes getting back up to that point again. I also think that, despite quite obviously being fashioned after a roguelike, I think it could sometimes stand to be more... well, roguelike? Granted, I totally expect some aspects of it to have limited options - making character portraits for nearly a thousand Pokemon is already a pain in the ass, nevermind the eight or so frames you need to make for major character's mood portraits. But just the same, I kinda wish something like Zero Island was a standalone mode or a side game you could pick up and play at any time, where you're given a literally random level 5 Pokemon instead of one of a selection of existing starters and a few fan favourites you can choose from in the story mode, then forced to clear a gargantuan dungeon with only whatever resources and party members you can gain along the way. It would be nice to have some element of it I can play at any time without having to invest in it beforehand, in much the same way I would get out of The Binding of Isaac or the survival mode in Puyo Puyo Tetris, not so subtle foreshadowing. One aspect of PMD that unquestionably shines above the others, though, is its writing. It's something that I wish that I could explain in better detail, partly because it's hard to talk about without spoiling it and partly because I'm honestly pretty bad at talking about characterization to begin with, but PMD is just so goddamn good at creating likable characters out of their pocket monsters where previously they were just somewhat intelligent animals with a one word vocabulary, and I would honest to god have the audacity to say they all trounce the main series's writing by a pretty fucking huge margin - yes, even Gates to Infinity, widely upheld as the absolute nadir of the series for its comparitively mediocre writing and smaller roster. They're really good at getting you invested in its setting and its characters, and will always set you up for a real tear jerker of an ending whenever it can help it, even when you know exactly why ahead of time. There is a single digit's worth of games I can say that about and genuinely mean it. I am dead fucking serious. Look, at the very least, you owe it to yourselves to try Explorers of Sky and see for yourselves, because so much of the gaming populace is really missing out on what should be considered a classic in its own right, and I think that just might be a sadder truth than any ending that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon can muster.
  20. Point Man (F.E.A.R) Okay, real quick now. Can I just say that I've really come to hate the idea of a protagonist in a first person game not really being an actual character to speak of? And I'm not saying that just because that makes it really fucking hard to find reference art of them - even though I'm not the best at eloquently explaining why, as it's probably been evident through my mostly gameplay-focused writups so far, I feel like games as a whole suffer when they don't have a central character to rally around. It doesn't always need to be someone on the same tier as Sonic or Duke Nukem or even fucking Ryo Hazuki - Doom has a character that is only ever heard grunting and only ever seen through a headshot in your HUD, and still shows infinitely more character and presence than Point Man ever will. One of the reasons I bring it up here is that FEAR screws up even the concept of a silent protaganist, because the game mostly treats you as just a camera with a gun mounted to it, without even the implication that you're interacting with them at all like most characters of that type do in order to envision the player in that character's shoes, like they would with say, Link. And this has a tendency to, among things, cause problems that could be easily solved if Point Man were in any way capable of communicating danger or objection - for example, there's a level early on where you're operating as part of a squad, and have to take a detour to open a gate for them. You find a brutally murdered dead body in the control room for that gate, and because your character can't tell them what's going on, the rest of your team also gets murdered immediately after that gate opens and everyone acts surprised that they didn't see it coming. It's a layer of stupidity that honestly defies belief, and it happens CONSTANTLY throughout the game. Of course, one only needs to look at the boxart to know that the narrative isn't exactly the focus in this game, but it's something that's always bothered me about this game's writing above all others, which would probably not acknowledge the player's presence at all if it honestly could get away with it. Like most high profile shooters of its day, feedback is the name of the game in FEAR. Big, punchy guns, flying bodies and gratuitous gore, sometimes to the point that it takes me out of its otherwise realistic-looking setting. It's already one thing to be able to borderline drive a ragdoll corpse into cartwheels with an MP5, but being able to blow people to pieces with a fucking shotgun is honestly just ridiculous even for the day this game came out. There's no doubt that it's all satisfying gunplay, but you can't be both Doom-esque ridiculous and Counterstrike-esque down to earth at the same time, especially if it means most enemies are literally fucking identical clones besides their weapon choices - pick one or the other and spread it across the whole game, otherwise they actively work against each other. You can't suspend disbelief enough to take it seriously, and you can't switch your brain off enough to just have dumb fun with it. And it's about now that I point out, in a game where you mow down clones by the dozens and are constantly looking for creative ways to wipe them out through some combination of your arsenal, bullet time powers and the environment... this is supposed to be a fucking horror game. FEAR tries occasionally to justify that label through occasional segments of inactivity, plagued by the most c-rate horror tropes I could possibly fathom. We're talking absolute bottom of the barrel shit like creepy ghost girls, jumpscares, rooms full of blood and stuff like that, sometimes stuff that isn't even scripted all that well - you might sometimes hear a scare chord and not know what the fuck it's supposed to correspond to, because FEAR usually assumes you're facing a specific direction when you enter its trigger area instead of just triggering the scare when you are looking at it. The closest the game gets to being actually scary is a handful of dark sections with invisible motherfuckers that honestly, are just more annoying than anything else. I get that horror shooters have come a LONG ass way since FEAR and this is me probably more punching downwards in hindsight, but sometimes I wonder why the horror aspects of this game didn't get more attention if they clearly intended there to be enough of it to classify as a subgenre. It's like calling Halo a driving game based on the fact that it has jeeps you can hop into.
  21. Paragon (Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects) Marvel Nemesis is a fighting / beat em up game published by... oh for fuck's sake, YOU guys again? Marvel must have thought they'd struck gold when grabbing a publisher as big as EA, but as we all know by now, there are few companies out there that deal with them and come out completely unscathed. Some of the unluckier ones end up losing their IPs, their studios and entire fucking brands - of course, given that Marvel is still around these days, it's safe to assume that the worst that happened is they got one medicore-to-crap game out of it and then backed off. The closest equivalent to Nemesis I can think of is Power Stone, in that the arenas are full 3D, the perspective is mostly isometric and there's a shitton of debris everywhere to use against your enemies. Frankly you'll be using a lot more than actually bothering to engage enemies directly, because the fighting is embarrasingly basic in this game, and usually consists of just using the same 2-3 hit string over and over until enemies can't fight back anymore. In fact, the movesets in general feel like they're designed to meet quotas rather than to represent any of the characters in question - every character *has* to have a 2-4 hit button mashing string that ends in a launcher, every character *has* to have a meter burn variation of it that barely looks and feels any different to it, almost every character *has* to have a projectile move that uses the same input, and so on and so fucking forth. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for characters that share the same inputs, in fact a recurring criticism I have of most fighting games is that characters have different controls for no particular reason at all but to fuck with the learning curve and artifically pad the game out more - but you still need to differentiate the moves themselves while you're at it, otherwise it devolves into absolutely homogenous sludge like this. You can put Spiderman and Hazmat into the same match and were it not for their postures you legitimately wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Speaking of characters, this was to serve as the introduction of the titular Imperfects, a series of anti-heroes created by experimentions from the big bad of this game, but the game doesn't actually get a whole lot of use out of them - they only have a single boss fight each and don't appear anywhere else in the game's narrative, so you don't even get a grasp for their backstory outside of a pre-baked FMV, spending most of the game fighting generic aliens instead. They do, however, tie into a certain system of edge that was very much the style of mid-2000's games. And before I get into the specifics of that there's something I want to pick on first, because it's a choice that to this day still beggars belief: you make a Marvel game with the intent of being dark and edgy... and you kill off the fucking Punisher in the opening god damned cutscene? What the hell were you guys thinking? Okay okay, back to my point. At any given point between missions, you have a choice of up to four different characters - one who is currently relevant to the story, while the rest get optional challenges after you complete their story arc. At regular intervals throughout the story, you have to pick a character for a "last stand", but you don't fight as that character - you fight against them, usually as one of the Imperfects, serving as the opportunity to play the aformentioned backstory FMVs. You have to do one of these fights to progress, and once you win one, that character fucking dies and is removed from your roster (except for The Thing. For some reason he gets better). If you have to take an edgy approach, this I feel is the best way to go about it - it makes the stakes feel a lot higher when you know not everyone will survive the journey, though I feel like it would the system would have a little more agency if most of it weren't predefined in who gets killed by who, and consequently, having unlocks hidden behind fighting as those characters in the story which you have a very limited number of opportunities to obtain. So close, but sadly, still no cigar there. So in the end, yes, plenty of edge, but still no actual substance. It probably won't be the last time I say that here - the worst offenders are still yet to come...
  22. Garcian Smith (Killer7) Final game of the Capcom Five. When people think of Grasshopper Manufacture, this is one of two games that usually comes to mind - weird enough that it could conceivably have been designed by aliens or some ancient eldritch entity, but not in a completely aimless kind of way that outright makes the game awful. Key among this strange design philosophy would have to be its bizarre, distilled control scheme. Ready for this one? The button to move forwards is the fucking A button. Your character moves along a set path until they reach a fork in it, during which you have to manually select a path to take from a series of options onscreen. You can pull out your gun at any time to aim from first person if an enemy shows up, so the best one can describe Killer7 genre wise is some odd mashup of rail shooter with bits and pieces of point and click and inventory puzzles, but even THAT doesn't accurately sum up the weirdness of this game and how, despite its stubborn refusal to follow any kind of trend or standard from the industry at large, still manages to be pretty consistently good all the way through. Of course, those conventions usually exist for a reason, and you can only flaunt them so much before something starts to suffer for it. For me, most of them revolve around usage of the Smiths themselves. Specifically, you don't really have good reason to use them most of the time - usually you'll just run Dan for his damage output, occasionally switch to KAEDE if you have enough space to shoot something far away, and then only touch the others if there's a situation with the level design only their abilities can solve, which to be perfectly fucking frank is the absolute worst way to design a character's abilities in any game. Because it essentially boils their entire purpose in the game down to being just a keycard with a gun for all the difference it makes. Parts of this boil down to the self-imposed design restrictions Grasshopper gave themselves, of course, so just giving Coyote the ability to jump at any time for example might not have worked out so well, but giving characters abilities that are almost exclusively context sensitive seems like an absolute pisstake of a compromise that leaves you no real reason to invest blood into levelling them up - cos you're certainly never going to develop them to a point that they can out-damage Con or Dan. Then you get to the boss fights, which regularly flaunt the game's OWN rules and conventions to the point that many of them are almost literally totally different games. Traditionally boss fights are designed to test the player's accumulated knowledge and skill up to that point, so if you're going to flaunt that expectation the very least you can do is design them with mechanics that are either self explanatory or can be safely picked up on over the course of the fight. The mid bosses are usually enhanced variations of the basic Heaven's Smile template that, credit where credit's due, manage this just fine, but the level end bosses are pretty awful in this regard and at best, tend to come off as pretty awkward to fight. There's a boss that doesn't react to damage at all unless you shoot them in their wings of all things, another one that punishes you if you draw your gun too early, and probably the best case in point here, one that determines victory or defeat based on the quantity of shots landed, not the actual amount of damage dealt, in a limited space of time. Something that the game doesn't warn you of in any way beforehand, and to make matters worse, railroads the Smith with the lowest rate of fire into the fight first, effectively forcing you to take a death before backtracking and bringing Con out. And while we're on the subject of death, it forms pretty much this game's most annoying mechanic. You don't actually game over if you lose all your health most of the time - that Smith just becomes temporarily unavailable. To get them back, you have to bring Garcian out, trace your steps ALL the way back to the closest room he can reach from the place that you died, collect their head and do a button mashing minigame to revive them, all the while praying you don't lose Garcian himself because you DO game over if he dies, then drag your newly revived character ALL the fucking way back to where you were from the last safehouse you visited to try it all over again. Once again here - punishing the player for dying is one thing, but tedious and irritating backtracking shouldn't be the end result, especially if the route to and from your last location is reduced effectively down to non-gameplay from all the opposition you've removed between both points since. There would be so much less trouble involved if you weren't automatically sent all the way back to a safehouse just for losing ONE Smith, even when you still have the rest of the party on standby. It's still a great game all things considered - just don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense, especially on your first playthrough.
  23. Anya Romanov (Stolen) If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Stolen is perhaps the best endorsement a game can have. Unsurprisingly for its name, it styles itself primarily as a catburglaring game, but it also steals a little bit from just about every other major stealth game of its time, from Thief to Splinter Cell and even elements of Metal Gear Solid thrown into the mix. The end result I feel, is an awkward mishmash of ideas that don't gel together as well as the developers probably thought they did, with a budget that seems to have gone mostly into their theme song which they must be pretty fucking proud of because they keep reusing the thing in just about every action sequence that happens within. I feel like the biggest area this shows are area transitions - areas are only rendered one room at a time, and the area beyond doorways is rendered as an indistinct black void, so it's difficult to tell whether you're about to run right into a guard's line of sight whenever you move between rooms. Stolen tries to remedy this with a Sonar visor that allows you to peek through a door, but it pulsates almost sickeningly in a way that makes it difficult to tell which direction a guard is facing or even whether they're moving towards or away from you, made all the worse by the fact that it can only render when it detects sound, so you won't be able to detect stationary guards or cameras at all. Sometimes this means whistling to create sound that the Sonar can pick up, which guess what, also attracts any guards nearby. It's a lot of needless over-engineering that could have been solved with a fiber optic cable ala Splinter Cell, or being able to peer through the keyhole, or I don't know, not rendering only a single fucking room at at time and just being able to look through an open god damned doorway. The MGS side of things mostly comes from its minimap system, but unlike MGS, cameras and guards don't have positions and visible vision cones on the map by default - you have to shoot every one of them, individually, with a Tracker from your silenced gun to be able to see where they are and which way they're facing at any given time. Tools like this are strewn about the map without any real context to why they are there, so pretty early on this becomes a puzzle of determining where the limited resources you're allocated are supposed to be used - which you have no way of knowing if you're playing a heist for the first time. This is a pretty common problem in stealth games, but at least in most of those games you can choose your own loadout to some degree, so you can plan for contingencies that you're more comfortable with. You can brute force a room to some extent, and the game even encourages you to take down guards via chokehold if they're in the way of something you're trying to steal, but not only do you get a score penalty for knocking them out, they don't even stop being a threat even when knocked out - they wake back up on their own an indeterminate amount of time later and radio in, putting the entire fucking level on alert. Which means you better get used to hearing this a lot too, because alerts take a LONG time to run out: Honestly, the only thing I truly appreciated about Stolen is the ending. This isn't me being smarmy and saying "hurr hurr game is best when not playing it" - the ending is a fucking FANTASTIC accumulation of all the events that had led up to it, and that's not something I get to say often about a videogame. For anything else though, you're better off playing Thief or Splinter Cell.
  24. Spy Vs Spy Let's address the elephant in the room right away. Self depreciation is a big part of MAD Magazine's humour, and I don't think they've ever made any real secret of it. I can still remember when they railed on Hanson and the MmmBop song when it was still at the peak of its popularity, and they got a lot of hate mail for it - I should know, because they open their mags with responses to mail from readers, and most every accusation of them being despicable hack writers was met with paraphrasings of "yep, that's us lol". Frankly I don't think I'm doing their writing enough credit, because in context it was legitimately hilarious. Fast forward to August 2005, issue #457. Their front page attraction is "50 worst things about videogames", which in general was an article they were already unusually blunt and on point about when articles like this of the day were usually massive generalizations from people who didn't really understand the medium, but to link this ramble back onto the subject at hand, the VERY FIRST entry was, and this time I'm quoting directly: Think about that for a moment. There's self depreciation for a gag, and then there's outright telling your audience that a game was a complete fucking waste of your characters. If that isn't a big red flag for the kind of tripe we're getting ourselves into here, I don't know what is. To tell you the truth, I'm not actually completely sure what the overall focus of the game was supposed to be. It's clear that the game takes nods and inspiration from the original Amiga title, which was a game that the Spy Vs Spy brand of humour better played into with its focus on placing traps for your opponent to stumble into while looking for a series of four mcguffins to win the game - even back then, the game was at its absolute worst when you were fighting directly, so believe it or not, legitimate subterfuge played into getting the edge in a match. In the campaign of the Xbox version, though, it's scarcely even a consideration - most stages are littered with non-Spy enemies without much rhyme or reason, and while I can occasionally appreciate them on a purely aesthetic level alone, like the robotic machineguns hidden in pot plants in the first level, it contributes to an atmosphere and gameplay style that lacks any of the subterfuge and wit Spy Vs Spy had as a comic, or even all the way back in its 8-bit outings. When traps DO come into play, they're almost exclusively scripted. Here's what will almost always happen without fail - the enemy spy sets a trap, you pass through the trap without triggering it (sometimes by going around it, usually just by sneaking), you trick the enemy spy into triggering it instead in via cutscene and the stage continues as normal, like the entire thing is just an afterthought they have to shove in to be able to claim it's a Spy Vs Spy game. It seems like a consolation to have traps featured in the campaign at all because much like the Amiga version, they were built for a multiplayer environment - in fact, the level design itself feels like it was built to try and dual purpose as both singleplayer levels and multiplayer arenas, and somehow manages to do an incredibly shit job at both of them, because the hideouts for every player spy (think the lobby areas in Counterstrike where you buy all your gear) all lead into a central hub area within naked eyeshot of each other. The second level is absolutely ridiculous for this because the Black and White Spy spawns are directly across the room from each other, not even 5 metres apart. Almost all fighting happens in this one hub alone, and anyone who happens to walk out into the level at large is never seen again because people don't have either the means or a reason to actually get out there with all enemies already centralized in a single room. This focus on multitasking absolutely DESTROYS this game and any potential it could have had to be a decent title. All of this would be bad enough if the fighting were any good, but it isn't - it's atrocious, in fact. All ranged combat in the game is handled by this autoaim system that isn't explained all that well to the player. You can be directly looking at and facing a hostile target at any given time and it'll still be a crapshoot whether you weapon will actually shoot in their general direction at all, so a lot of actual firefights will devolve into either spraying and praying, or taking the shitty aiming system out of the equation entirely and using a melee weapon or the flamethrower. It's not even the only thing in the game that feels like it just straight up doesn't work - the audio is incredibly inconsistent and cuts out channels frequently, leaving you with no music, no sound and sometimes just no audio period. I don't think I'll say it much over the course of this list, but Spy Vs Spy feels like a game that shouldn't have been made at all, and nothing at all would have been lost if they just stopped.
  25. Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) If there was ever a game that could rival Thief 3 on the stage of stealth games, it would definitely have to be Chaos Theory. Your choice between the two will probably boil down to a lot of personal preferences - Splinter Cell is the modern political espionage to Thief's dark ages "I'm just trying to pay my fucking rent, man", the first person shooter to Thief's pseudo slasher/brawler. As characters, both Sam and Garrett are equally likeable, but again it depends on whether they keep their dry quips to themselves (Garrett) or have an audience to bounce them off of (Sam). It wouldn't be a Ubisoft game, though, if there weren't SOME kind of caveat. Ubisoft games are usually known either for recycling the same core designs en masse, or for using some kind of game specific gimmick to differentiate them. Although I haven't played enough of the other games in the series to state the former, there's enough that I can attest to the latter - Sam's pistol has an EMP attachment that allows him to temporarily disable most electronics from a distance, usually light sources and cameras. You will usually be doing this a LOT, because breaking shit by shooting it, even with silenced weapons, will usually alert guards that there is a hostile presence in the level, and you do NOT want guards to sound alarms because it makes entire buildings more antsy and makes them more heavily armed and armoured. Honestly, it puzzles me that I don't think the used this anywhere else in the series because it's actually a pretty bloody good gimmick, managing to be a really cool and useful tool without completely trivializing stealth all by itself. One personal pet peeve with this game though - and a fucking LOT of stealth games, for that matter - is the distinctions between fatal and non fatal takedowns on enemies. I'll say it straight up - most of the coolest shit you can do in this game usually results in your target dying, but you're usually penalized if not punished outright for actually killing people at all. Which makes it all the more irritating when this game - and again, a LOT of stealth games in general - try to sell this as a viable choice because dead men can't squeal, and yet guards usually still sound an alarm regardless of whether they find a dead body or an unconcious one. Why should any of this shit matter if the mission's circumstances don't depend on it? Just let players do cool shit, don't teasingly dangle the option in front of them and then give them a point penalty for taking the bait. It's stupid and irritating. Stupidly irritating. Can you imagine if Doom Eternal punished you for every Glory Kill you performed? Yes, it's THAT kind of irritating. If there's one element of Chaos Theory I have nothing but acclaim for, though, it's the multiplayer. Not only does it have a co-op mode following an entire separate set of missions and plot developments to the main mode, it also sports the famous Spies Vs Mercs competitive online mode, one of the earliest examples of asymmetric multiplayer I can conceive off the top of my head, not to mention one of the best designed. Much of it is designed around the naked eye - there are shadows legitimately dark enough to conceal human players to other human players, not just a gauge in the corner of the screen that arbitarily decides whether or not you're visible to people looking in your direction, and the art direction that goes into consistently enabling people to utilize the darkness is nothing short of fucking masterful. Players on BOTH sides get lots of fucking awesome gadgets for evading and hunting the other side respectively, and it makes me sad that Double Agent dropped the ball so hard on it that we never really got anything quite as well designed as it since, within the franchise AND without.
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