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ITT BL reminisces over his entire game library

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Gabriel Belmont (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow)

Oh come the fuck on. So much for washing the taste of one game down - now we have this?

The most concise description for Lords of Shadow that I can manage is that it's a game with absolutely no fucking soul. The only consideration that the Castlevania source material was given is brand recognition and absolutely nothing else, used as a vehicle to steal every god damn fucking overused cliche under the sun. The gameplay, graphical style and ledge climbing of God of War, the musical stylings of Lord of the Rings, the boss fights from Shadow of the Collossus, a fixed camera system I haven't seen in so long I can't even remember the exact game that inspired it, and the quick time events of what feels like goddamn every executive who has never touched a gamepad in their lives. It's bad enough to be this shameless and uninspired on its surface, but Lords of Shadow doesn't even do any of it particularly well. The combat has absolutely no weight to it, feeling like you're whipping people with a cotton string rather than an enchanted, steel forged chain link whip, and gets incredibly messy further down the line just for trying to do way too many goddamn things at once, mechanics apon mechanics apon mechanics in place of a concise identity for the game to rally around. It's pathetic in every sense of the word, and emblematic of exactly the kind of shit show that modern Konami has become.

One mechanic that this game uses to try and switch things up is light and dark magic, which you would think lead to even more complexty and a system of spells to cast, right? Nope, literally all it does is imbue your standard attacks with an elemental trait, which sounds like such an underselling of the way they describe it. There's not even a thought provoking method in their usage most of the time - you'll usually rely on light magic more than anything else because landing hits with it restores your health, whereas dark magic is supposed to simply increase the amount of damage you deal but I honestly struggled to see the actual impact it had on gameplay much of the time. Maybe buried under the dozens of upgrades the game throws at you is the ability to make this actually matter, but I can only spare a day per game and I honestly don't respect Lords of Shadow enough to go that far in depth in lieu of any time I can't simply just remember my original playthrough offhand, especially because this is a pretty long game as it is - so long, in fact, that it's split across two discs, a fucking ridiculous antiquated practice I thought we'd grown out of when we established DVDs as a format. Even Elder Scrolls has never needed you to switch discs, what the fuck makes Lords of Shadow think it has any fucking right to?

Honestly, I'm just tired of covering games like this, because it really is just the same story every time - executives don't know how game design works, order stooges to chase every trend imaginable instead and are somehow consistently surprised every time whenever it inevitably fucking backfires, so complacent in their relative fame and success they are that they don't consider that it can all be stripped from them with just one mediocre entry, a loss of trust that will forever anchor everything they could hope to do after the fact. When taken by itself it's just dumb, but when they use the name of a once respected and lauded franchise for it it's all the more unforgivable. They have no respect for the things that have made them successful - all they see are names and dollar signs, and their greed essentially takes those names to the grave with them. I guess the good news is that bar a few outliers, this is about the worst it gets from here on out in the list, so hopefully I won't have to write about this kind of depressing gloom too much more.

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Bubbles (Sonic 4 Episode 1 / 2)

Okay, so I kinda lied. After all that doomsaying I did with Sonic last time, I genuinely forgot I had other games left in the series to make examples of. This game is kind of an interesting distinction from our previous entry - whereas Lords of Shadow was only interested in their brand name insofar as pretentions of a get rich quick scheme, Sonic 4 was at least on the surface level still interested in appearing like it knew how to be a Sonic game. And both are crap, make no mistake, but this is the lesser of two evils because it shows that people making decisions still have SOME kind of self awareness and ability to feel shame, as well as the ability to hear and respond to what invested fans of the series are trying to tell them at all. Of course, this is Sonic we're talking about, so naturally that means they gotta break out the monkey's paw again. They would delegate a game inspired by the classics that made them, definitely - but their understanding of them was indeed surface level only. At the same time, they would lean into that surface understanding too heavily while neglecting the parts of it that actually made classic Sonic tick, to the point that the entirety of Ep1's levels were utterly shameless ripoffs of shit they'd already done before. I'm not talking just the level tropes, I mean to the point that they were essentially just upscaled tilesets of existing zones, with backing tracks that were essentially soundalikes of their original source material, and a smattering of Badniks from previous games shoved in wholesale sometimes even without respect for the theming of the zone they're supposed to coexist with. By that point, why even keep up the pretense of being an original game at all? Just use the actual zones and music verbatim instead of making out like you're trying to bootleg your own fucking franchise.

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What most people here actually remember the Sonic 4s for, is a cripplingly poor understanding of physics. I don't mean just the classic Sonic model of physics, I mean like... fucking any physics I can think of. And honestly, having a discussion about this kinda pisses me off because Sonic fans like to use the word "physics" as a bludgeon without understanding or explaining exactly what that even means in Sonic's case, usually opting to say some shit like "iT's SoNiC rUsH tHrEe" instead - and side note, no, spotting a single boost pad in three seconds of gameplay during which the physics aren't even active doesn't make you a genius analyst, it makes you a pretentious prick looking for an excuse to rile people up. In any case, my personal understanding of the Sonic physics of old is that inertia plays a huge part in making it feel as influential on the gameplay and image of the series as it does, even though later games in the series physically move much faster than it. You have to build up your speed over time rather than just having it given to you on the first button press, and to come to a complete stop means having to physically challenge your own inertia and move against it. Some might say this is slippery, but I say it makes your speed feel genuinely powerful, a force of nature all its own that you have to learn to tame over the course of a given game. In Sonic 4, the opposite is true - inertia only exists as long as you're commanding Sonic to move. The moment you let go of the control stick or try to change directions, all of that momentum abruptly vanishes into the fucking aether, never to be seen again. This is on top of the fact that you still have to build up speed over time, so in addition to your momentum feeling incredibly weak and flimsy it also obliterates any sense of flow and pacing the game has, making it extremely stop-and-start in practice because you have to rely on abusing your Homing Attack to fucking get anywhere. And this is on top of the fact that rolling somehow carries your momentum down and up slopes worse than simply running does, amidst a cornucopia of physics fuckups that are honestly less trouble to show than to tell.

But the most grevious sin that this game commits is probably the name. Yes, just five letters and one number. Some people will probably argue that I'm blowing this out of the water, but even something as simple as the name of the game can well and truly change everybody's perception of it, and its importance in the grand scheme of the franchise. Understand that this was a numbered sequel to a subsect of the series that hadn't seen a new game since ninteen ninety four, in a gameplay style that hadn't been seen since 2004 and was debatably already seen as Sega's understanding of it worsening year by year. You do NOT set expectations that fucking high unless you know exactly what the hell you're doing, and to be perfectly blunt, they really didn't. People were harsh on this game specifically because it was called Sonic 4, because it felt like a betrayal of everything they knew and loved about the gameplay style, and had they just called it Sonic DL like they'd originally planned to everybody's expectations would be much more down to earth for it. Episode 2 tried to mix things up, but despite doing many things even worse than the first it would not have mattered much anyway, because you simply do not get to make a first impression more than once. And this I fear, is leading into history repeating itself - because with the failure of the opposing extremes of Lost World and Forces, there seems to be a renewed call for a literal Sonic Adventure 3, in spite of the fact that nothing about Sonic 4 could live up to its name and despite coming from many of the very same people who called that naming convention out like the shitty nostalgia bait it was without seeing the obvious double standard. Can we not fucking do this again?

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Anon (Tron: Evolution)

Tron Evolution shares a lot of parrelels with Enter the Matrix right off the bat - namely that it's a licensed game based on an upcoming movie, but acts as a side story to it rather than a direct adaptation. Also that the time sensitive nature of trying to release a movie and game in tandem obviously outstripped whatever ambition it was they had for it, leaving in its place a confused, discordant mess that sometimes scarcely knows what to do with itself. Okay, level with me here guys - have you ever watched a Tron flick and thought to yourself "Goddamn, this is nice and all but do you know what it needs? More parkour"? No? Well clearly someone high up did, because it makes up a bulk of this game, debatably more than anything that makes Tron, well, Tron. I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not a big enough expert on Tron to know if Legacy - and Evolution, by extension - occupies the exact same case study that Sonic 4 does, in sequelizing a really old property without comprehending it. I'm just saying I wouldn't have minded it so much if it worked well. It has all the usual moves you've come to expect since Prince of Persia, but executes it in a way that comes off as really stiff and lacking in signposting, and honestly doesn't feel all that satisfying even when it's working completely as intended. It doesn't help that the scenery is just buildings and rocks, partly because it's generic as fuck and partly because it makes you pine for a freerunning game that's a lot more open ended than this, constantly teasing you with scenery you'll never reach - and sometimes even scenery you CAN, but the game kills you for trying. It ALSO doesn't help that the game makes you vault and wallrun through specific objects to recover health and energy, usually in a way that it absolutely does not flow with any given skirmish they're shoved into. Shit, it's saying a lot that even WET handled its mid-skirmish parkour much better than this.

The actual fighting might have seemed like standard God of War fare, but for one very notable distinction - rather than separating into strings of light and heavy attacks, Evolution is split between throwing your disc at enemies for one keybind and physically swinging at enemies with disc in hand for the other. Not only does this create an interesting dynamic of choosing your method of attack based on proximity and motion rather than just finding one good combo and abusing the shit out of it, it also means that projectile attacks themselves can effectively be combos in of themselves, albiet weaker to incentivize using the hand to hand moves at all. It isn't too long, however, before the game starts throwing other disc-wielding enemies at you, and they quickly develop to a point that they will consistently kick your ass throughout the game without a clear indication of what exactly it is you're doing wrong. That is, until you realize holding the freerun button lets you attack while you're moving, and this attack is stronger and more consistent than literally anything else in your moveset on top of the fact that it combos into itself, so the fighting still devolves into abusing one move over and over at the end of the day once you come to realize just how fucking overpowered it is compared to just trying to play Tron like a regular videogame.

For whatever reason, you're given four different disc weapons to choose from, which mostly just influence the meter burn attacks you can perform - and then in an attempt to incentivize using any of them besides Heavy Disc, they've given enemies specific weaknesses to which the discs act as hard counters, which honestly feels like a lot more micromanaging than a game of this type is worth, even putting aside that you might have struggled to even tell the fuckers apart unless you had a pretty good TV at the time. The game does have light cycles and light tanks, but they're every bit as linear as the freerunning bits on top of being frustratingly cheap, trial and error trash on top of it. So as usual, for a licensed game Tron Evolution will come as absolutely no surprise, besides that it also has an incredibly forced online multiplayer mode that I've never tried personally - and for all I know, died weeks after the game came out anyway just for the lack of faith that the singleplayer campaign inspires. Just get Tron 2.0 instead.

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Cole Phelps (LA Noire)

LA Noire is a game that I REALLY want to love, for all the effort that has clearly gone into it. It's biggest boast as a detective sim is its questioning and interrogation scenes, where you're expected to look at people's expressions while they're giving statements and recognize subtle facial cues that they're lying, and Rockstar really spared absolutely no fucking expense at all to make sure their mocap technology can accomplish facial animation that intricate. Debatably, it's the best facial animation videogames have ever had, before or since. But it needs to be said that "sparing no expense" was used here in the absolute most literal sense of the word - it costs a fucking LOT to animate a game this way, especially when you're the one that has to invent the tech for it in the first place, and Rockstar needed to recoup their losses somehow - certainly not the kind they'd get back from a detective sim alone. So LA Noire does the Resident Evil 6 route of "shove in as many wildly different things as possible in hopes that fans of each of them will give the game a shot", and honestly, I can't think of a single time this has ever worked, critically or comercially. As a GAME, LA Noire would have been so much better with most of the fat cut out to focus on the detective parts, which were always going to be the best part of it. The shooting is bog standard, the driving feels slippery and is often held against you in the final ranking for a given case, the brawling is aboslutely atrocious even for the standards of a Rockstar game, and... honestly, why the fuck was this even billed as an open world game? I know I've gotten on the case of other open worlds and sandboxes for being big empty maps with samey fucking busywork littered all throughout them, but this game doesn't even have THAT - you have almost literally no reason to explore the gigantic world they've painstakingly recreated besides occasionally finding some secret cars. Whoop de doo???

However, even the detective work quickly falls apart whenever you fail to meet the game's expectations. There isn't really a universal tell for whenever somebody is lying in this game, and game doesn't really make any attempt to clue you in on what exactly the fuck a tell is supposed to look like by their standards, so sometimes calling people out is either based on the logic of the case instead - and when you don't have that, whether you make the right call or not can often be a complete fucking crapshoot, made worse by the fact you can't re-ask a question that's already been answered with some kind of penalty like you would be able to in say, a Phoenix Wright trial. It would certainly help if I had any idea what the fuck Cole is going to say before make a decision of which way to treat a witness's statement. You always pick one of three responses to any given statement - humour them and assume they're telling the truth, bluff to try and catch them out on a lie, or to present a piece of evidence you think directly contradicts their stance. If you pick the wrong one, especially if it's a Doubt, Cole has a habit of going off on wild, completely fucking unfounded tangents that border on effective retardation, which would make the choice a lot simpler if I had any idea what the opening line would be ahead of time. This was already long a staple of games with multiple choice dialogue, so I have no idea why LA Noire pulled this shit and then had the nerve to mock its players for it.

Regardless, there will eventually come at least one point in the game for everyone where they botch an interrogation hard enough that the case effectively dead-ends, leaving you with no further leads to track. And yet, LA Noire doesn't really have a fail state except when you're taken down in a fight, so the game often just contrives some stupid excuse for the case to continue regardless, which gets annoying and unsatisfying REALLY quickly. I think back to some of the earlier Phoenix Wright games and some of the absolute worst they had to offer, having to restart sections over and over again for a means of progression that isn't always entirely obvious or even intelligent - and I genuinely preferred THAT over the amazingly asspulling, patronizing bullshit that LA Noire gives you. I've never actually played the game in its entirety, partly because of this and partly because, well, it gets fucking boring after a while and kinda peaked right at the end of your run in the homocide department. It's not often I get to say that a game jumps the shark before it even has the chance to establish itself as a series. Just so we end this on a higher note though, I wanted to post the bloopers for this game because they're both hilarious AND a pretty good demonstration of how nice the mocap is for this game:

 

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Eye of Cthulu (Terraria)

While AAA games for a time loved stealing parts of Minecraft without realizing they acted as parts of a whole, unsurprisingly there wasn't any shortage of titles that acted as flagrant ripoffs of Minecraft as a whole. Terraria, originally, was one such game, albiet as a 2D slice of a given world rather than a full 3D environment to explore and settle on. Over time, though, Terraria would start to drift apart from its inspiration and form an identity of its own, where exploration is the name of the game, settlements are only built as a formality for places to stash loot and vendors, and kitting your character out is a long, gruelling, RNG-fuelled process of mixing, matching and fusing perks over the course of your playthrough rather than just immediately digging to y11 in Minecraft and putting together some diamond armour right there and then. There's good and bad in this approach - namely, that materials continue to be consistently useful through other means in Minecraft even after you advance past their tier in equipment, like minecarts and tracks for iron and enchanting setups for diamond and leather, whereas materials in Terraria become useless at an absolutely shocking rate once you move past them. For the life of me I have no idea what you're suppose to use Demonite for after a certain point besides a fancy building material or a bartering tool to raise funds for other shit.

Honestly though, I feel like the dependence on randomess to obtain certain kinds of gear really holds this game back. Don't get me wrong, a certain amount of this is entirely expected for a procedurally generated game - much of the best stuff in the game is found in chests randomly strewn about the world rather than forged wholesale from materials you find buried in the ground, and you absolutely NEED to find lots of these because they're usually the only way to upgrade your mobility in most areas and many categories of them can be fused together to merge their perks and free up slots for other gear. But the game makes no consideration for exactly how much of a given item exists in the world, or whether it exists AT ALL, so sometimes you'll run into hard barriers that keep you from progressing down a certain path at all unless you generate an entirely new world and try all the fuck over again. Sometimes ENTIRE FUCKING BIOMES never generate even if you make the largest world possible, and I dunno, I don't think it should be controversial to suggest that every item should be possible to obtain in the same world you started in? Don't even get me started on that Monster Hunter esque dynamic in which you have to fight the same bosses over and over and fucking over again for a chance of getting the actual items you want or need, or the Minecraft esque tendency of needing to constantly check back on the wiki to know bosses drop these items at all and realize they would work well with your character build.

Worst of all though, is that after you defeat a very specific boss at the very bottom of the world, the game officially enters what's called "Hard Mode". This is actually where the majority of the game takes place, and it fucking sucks. Not necessarily because of the difficulty - it's certainly more annoying than playing the game normally - but because the game suddenly turns into an unbearable grind after this point, because just about all major upgrades and means of progression are locked behind "soul" pickups of various colours and flavours and only have a small chance of spawning from enemies defeated in specific biomes - biomes that by the way, are now infectious and spreading all over the world in real time, corrupting other blocks in their vicinity and potentially making your home uninhabitable unless you're actively fighting off the spread and containing it to certain areas you can control. It honestly feels like they ran out of ways to milk one world for a progression system this long and involved and still finding ways to gate shit off so brand new players can't find it right away and sequence break, so said "fuck it, let's just spawn a bunch of random bullshit in postemptively after a point so the player has to re-scour the entire map all over again". It's one of the most boring and tedious experiences I've ever had with a game, and I cannot get over the assertion people have that this game is somehow better than Minecraft because of it, not in spite of it. Nevermind that you only get one chance to fight a boss after you've summoned it, so if you fuck up (and let's face it, you probably will), that's it, back to half a fucking hour of farming souls again. Fuck this game sometimes.

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Alice (Alice: Madness Returns)

As one might deduce just by looking at it, the Alice games are very much a darker and edgier take on Alice in Wonderland. I'll be the first to admit that it's incredibly mixed, at least as far as Madness Returns is concerned (I haven't played the original, otherwise I would have covered this much earlier). It can be really nice to look at when it wants to be, but at frequent points throughout - usually about half an hour into any given chapter - the world suddenly just becomes fucking shader city, presumably to represent Alice's failing psyche with an atmosphere of dread and unease but honestly, it comes off as just extremely dull whenever it comes to this point. Nothing is more frustrating that knowing full well that the developer can do much better than this, but they actively choose not to for the overwhelming majority of the game, like the gorgeous juxtaposition of colour ful environments and gorey, unsettling combat and enemies only exist to be juxtaposition themselves against a long, boring slog through generic, sepia shaded drivel you usually see dime a dozen of in a typical indie horror game. It was always the brief, cheerier looking sections that I ever persisted through the game for, because my brain just tunes everything out whenever I have to lookg at it any other time. Even this I would have less of a problem with, if it spent all that buildup on literally fucking anything.

Madness Returns has exactly one boss fight - the final boss right at the end of the game. In spite of this, every major chapter of the game constantly teases you with the presence of a major antagonist, sometimes even several, and then straight up resolves any conflict you could hope to have with them through cutscene alone. And it's not even the exciting or engaging kind of cutscene, just fucking sepia tone clipart, the likes of which you could conceivably have seen on an epsiode of South Park if not for the artstyle difference. This is honestly just pathetic in every sense of the word I can think of, the kind of thing that usually only happens if a game suddenly runs out of time or money and has to wrap up development very suddenly and quickly - and knowing this was published by EA, could very well have been the case? But it's not the impression I get from playing it - every other aspect of the game is feature complete, honestly lending the impression that this constant anticlimax was absolutely by design, and I can't fathom why anyone would make a game this way out of anything besides sheer, incomprehensible laziness.

And I think a big part of why I've been struggling with this writeup for hours is just because it's all so BORING. Most of the fighting can be summarised as "just spam X", and whenever it's not that its "just spam x and hit the dodge button to get around that uninterruptible attack the enemy has". All of the platforming is trivialized by the fact that Alice has a slow falling ability and a fucking QUADRUPLE JUMP right from the start of the game, and because the level design is made with them in mind it has a bad habit of devolving into tiny platforms with huge gaps between them over a generic void rather than designing any actual level around it. And I don't know how they did it, but this game somehow makes the concept of insanity boring, because it's used mainly just to shepard along a narrative grounded firmly in the real world where all the interesting plot developments happen without really much  to join the two together - which might sound a little silly, until you play Disco Elysium and realize it managed just fine. Most games usually have to TRY to be this mediocre with these kinds of concepts under its built, but Madness Returns makes it look easy.

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Garcia Fucking Hotspur (Shadows of the Damned)

Suda51 is known for some goddamn kooky shit - understatement of the century, I know. We had No More Heroes before this, and the even kookier Killer 7 before that, which broke so many conventions in writing and gameplay both that it honestly felt like it was coded in lovecraftian script at times. So when they met with some of the brilliant minds behind Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill, you better believe there were some pretty fucking lofty expectations to fill. And yet, when the game finally came out, it would prove to be... still kooky, but considerably more grounded by comparison to all of its peers under the publisher's wing. Don't get me wrong, I genuinely love all the little touches Shadows makes in its lore and setting, where hell operates on rules besides "haha evil guy go here when they die" - for example Fleming, the big bad of this game, makes bosses out of people not because of how deadly or ruthless they were in life, but whether they died in a unique and entertaining way, and you see this as early as the first boss who makes harmonica noises whenever he breathes because he died with one lodged in his throat. However, the premise and the gameplay is utterly bog standard for the most part, mostly just a regular ass third person shooter with bone themed weapons and a narrative that can mostly just be boiled down to "go to hell to save a damsel in distress". Hmm. I wonder why that could be? I'll give you a big hint - look at the boxart:

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Fucking SERIOUSLY, guys? You assembled a dream team of some of the biggest names in eastern action and horror, and you sought out fucking EA of all companies to publish it? Even back THEN you must have realized this was a huge fucking mistake. Honestly, if I ended the writeup right there, you'd probably believe Shadows of the Damned was a total disaster, right? Well... not quite. It wasn't brilliant, certainly. Kind of short too - in subsequent playthroughs I've managed to clock it within the day. And the enemy design, for the most part, is really just fucking zombies again by any other definition, just sometimes with extra armour and an occasional miniboss. But you know what? It's fun. It clearly still revels in what sillyness it has left, to the point that it can even get kind of campy at points, and if there was anything that EA was clearly hoping for when these guys approached them it was definitely just "more Resident Evil 4". I like it, and I'd happily replay the whole thing any time I have an excuse to unpack my 360 again. So all's well that ends well, right? The boys make a modestly good game, EA gets what they asked for, and everyone goes home happy? Oh, if only it were anywhere near that simple.

Long story short, despite the backing of EA, they didn't advertise it all that well, and it bombed. Hard. More importantly though, this wasn't even the game Suda51 had set out to make. Originally Shadows of the Damned was leaning MUCH further towards the horror spectrum than the action side of things, and honestly, Matt here does a much better job explaining the specific concept than I ever could. It would be bad enough if they had to change games just once, but to hear them tell it they essentially wrote five entirely different games in revising the draft to EA's expectations in response to their constant rejection of pitches. And I'll be totally frank, it is ludicrously FUCKED UP that developers are beholden to publishers this way. Sure, I get it, sometimes you need to rein in the lunacy of developers a bit until it's palatable to the general public, but they should never have to compromise THIS much on their visions just to be able to put a game to market at all. As far as I'm personally concerned, I feel like that responsibility should be reversed - publishers should be working on how to make what they're given marketable, not giving up and fucking injecting themselves into the development process to push their completely out of touch mandates onto people that don't even natively speak the same fucking language as them. ESPECIALLY when it then turns out they're directly responsible for essentially ruining the game and accept no cuplability regardless. And this, really, is sort of a microcosm of why I fucking hate EA so goddamn much - it's one thing to slay IPs in their entirety, but they're toxic to the very idea of ideas, thinking success in the industry is as simple as following a simple formula and staying true to it no matter the context, and somehow never learning to the contrary despite killing everything they try to force their formula onto. So if there's a moral to this story, it's really just more of the same you've already been hearing - never, ever, EVER do business with EA. You will always have better options.

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Ballistik Wars

And for yet another change of pace sandwiched between two mismanaged games on this list, here is in all likelihood the only mobile game on the list. Even before it settled into the state it's in today, I only ever sought out mobile games as a means of convenience, to have something to play when I didn't have the pocket space for a DS, because right from the get go you're making games with a huge control disadvantage. Making a traditional game means relying on virtual controls that lack the haptic feedback and responsibity of buttons, and making a game with the intention of touching objects onscreen is finicky too because it often means completely obscuring the thing you're trying to touch with your thumb, which leaves mobiles at a definite disadvantage on everything from platformers to first person shooters, and to an extent even point and click adventure games. What this usually results in is an avalanche of bargain bin puzzle titles, in which time is of no essence to allow mistakes to rest firmly on the player - and in this hellscape of generic match-3 puzzles and clones of other puzzlers which originated as clones themselves, I've always had a firm appreciation of Ballistik Wars because it carves out a niche that's both familiar and unique, and respects the capabilities of its platform of choice in the process rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole like SO many other games on the mobile market desperately try to.

I'm tempted to call Ballistik Wars a tower defence game, but that would imply deploying hard defences anywhere on the battlefield, which this game has none of. Any given game has two towers, of which you own one. A steady stream of units pours out of the opponent's tower, so you have to strategically deploy units of your own fight back the oncoming horde and push them back to their own base to level it. What's interesting here is that once you deploy a unit, you have no direct control over it - they simply advance forwards, only stopping to attack when an enemy moves within a certain range of them. And this creates a level of strategy that I don't think I've seen in a lot of other games of this type, where you have to make decisions around the behaviour of your own units as well as the composition of the enemy's army. For example, there's a unit whose attack completely obliterates any missle attacks that are fired into it as a side effect, so one can lead their charge with specifically these units while building missile units of your own to back it up, or one can bundle up slow and tanky units first, back them up with projectile units that can fire from behind them and then only break out the speedy, glass cannon units once the momentum of the fight is well and truly in your favour. It's a gameplay style that I really want to see more of, and whether for lack of existing or lack of trying, I can't seem to find outside of its developer, PONOS. I just wish on some level it had more to do - the game has exactly one campaign and an arranged hard mode version of it, and nothing else. No competitive VS mode, no endless mode, no ability to design your own wave sequences to overcome, nothing.

If there's just one genuine complaint I have with the game though, it's that the opposing side cheats, sometimes to absolutely absurd and flagrant degrees. Some levels are challenging not because the enemy AI is smart or has any capability to read your army composition and counter it, but because they have the ability to pump out at least one devastating unit before you've even had the chance to build up even a modest army of your own. In fact, they operate on completely different rules to you altogether, in that they spawn a scripted sequence of units over time once the battle starts and then switch to a different sequence once their base's HP falls below a certain amount - usually a massive clump of the same unit at once, in spite of the fact that all of your own units have a cooldown time in addition to the normal resource cost specifically to prevent them from being stacked this way. Despite that, I like the game. I just wish there was more of it to play. I also wish it was... well, still playable. See, at some point, there was an iOS update that rendered a huge swath of games on the appstore completely unplayable at once, which the developers would have to manually overcome by updating the app. PONOS didn't do this. Why? Because they'd just put their hand in the live service pie.

After this they would go on to release Battle Cats, which mechanically speaking was virtually the same game - and like any other free to play live service game that is still alive to this day, it's loaded to the fucking brim with buyable premium currency, lootboxes and every manipulative FOMO business practice you can think of. And I gave it a chance because I liked Ballistik Wars, but unsurprisingly it becomes really unfun to play if not literally unplayable after a point when you don't have the ultra rare hard counter units a certain battle or campaign expects of you, much less the absurd amount of resources you need to dump unto them to bring them up to the max level cap it expects for EVERY FUCKING BATTLE after a certain point in its campaing progression. And I'll be honest, it stings REALLY fucking hard that a genuinely great mobile game had to die in order for this to flourish, when it like many on the platform today intentionally makes its own game worse to convince people to fork more money over to make it playable. There are many stories that can be told of the descent into the barely moderated, greed driven, downright fraudulent cesspool that the mobile market has become today - but this I think, will be the only one I tell, because it's the one that has personally hit me the hardest.

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Duke Nukem (Duke Nukem Forever)

The first and most immediate moral of Duke Nukem Forever's story is hubris. An ages old tale of development hell fuelled by ceaseless perfectionism, of chasing trends and of throwing out babies with the bathwater all the while. Understand, first and foremost, that the legendarily long and stalled development time on Duke Forever wasn't spent on just one game - what would often happen is that 3D Realms would work on a variation of a game, build it up to near completion, then the development heads would find some new trend to chase or a hot new engine to switch to, and in doing so completely scrap all the work they'd done to that point and start over from scratch. There was nothing ever wrong with what they'd made, and shit, had they originally released when intended it could have been a genuine competitor to Half Life - but the higher ups were so terrified of being dated on release that they repeatedly scrapped and redid the same game, over and over, for as long as publishers kept feeding them the money to - which ironically, resulted in the game becoming more dated overall every time they pushed it back, because the design doc clearly wasn't being updated with their engine switches. Including the final Gearbox release, this single game went through something like four different major builds, and that's just the ones that we know of from trailers. By ANY metric, that's fucking absurd.

As far as the end result is concerned of its own merits, there is one thing I'll give it credit for - the Ego system is a really nice idea, perfectly fitting the image Duke already has for himself as a character. Essentially, instead of a HP meter, Duke has an Ego meter instead. Duke games are traditionally known for being pretty interactive as far back as Duke 3D, but in Forever it goes hand in hand with Ego, in that most of them are themed around Duke's own narcisissm and masculinity, from curling weights to finding a cigar to smoke to even printing a picture of your own ass on a photocopier at one point, and every time you find an exploit a medium like this, your maximum Ego increases, turning it into a game long quest to become the most self-absorbed action hero possible. It's very much the peak of the character that started taking shape in Duke Nukem II, and if there's any real missed opportunity left in Forever in this regard, it's that they couldn't do dialogue that does his silent portrayal justice. It's very much the "we spoiled all the best bits in the trailer"  style of writing - the Halo roast got a genuine giggle out of me when I first heard it, but most of what remains is incredibly stale and dated, and obsessed more with referencing than actually parodying. This, as a reminder, was a game that spent over a decade in development - they had more than enough time to refine this, completely independently of all the fucking engine and asset changes they went through over the years.

And again, DNF spent plenty of time chasing trends over its many revisions, becoming a victim of the very things it set out to mock. This game has plenty of interesting weapons, as is the standard for Duke games in almost all forms, but only allowed you to carry two of them at a time. And worse still, most enemies of miniboss tier and above were completely immune to everything besides explosive damage, which meant constantly carrying around an RPG that only held something like four shots - so effectively, you only had one slot and a backup for killing bosses. Even after the game was patched to allow carrying four weapons at once, it still lives on as an incredibly arbitary and bizarre limitation coming from a series - hell, a fucking subgenre - that typically just allowed you to carry everything at once and allowed you to switch on the fly for what the situation and your ammo counts demanded of you. Another trend represent a really strange tonal shift right in the middle of the game where it becomes super serious and dark all of a sudden, which is probably them trying to be creepy but just like Alice above it just comes off as dull instead, and even long after you're past that section the stain it leaves still remains and all the levels after that point look like they've been dunked in either a grey or brown vat. Again, I should remind that Duke was trying to make fun of games designed this way, sometimes even by name, but somehow goes to the trouble of playing it completely straight anyway. I'd say that's like making an Alien parody and trying to make it scary instead of funny or witty in any way possible, but Duke forever pulled that fucking shit too.

I think above all else though, the main thing I wanted to stress in this writeup is the importance of letting go of a lost cause. I don't mean just cancelling Duke Forever or hastily wrapping it up and releasing what they had early on, even though there was plenty of good arguments for both of those too. No, I'm speaking strictly as a fan on this one. I remain invested in Sonic because I liked him in his prime, their owners and developers still openly show an interest in returning him back to his prime and against all odds, good Sonic games do still get made. For the longest time, I tried to show that same appreciation for Duke against all odds, but the truth of the matter is that Duke Forever basically killed this franchise. Not even its new owners Gearbox show much interest in making games for it anymore, and they're absolute scum in the first place, clearly interested in the IP only for making money and even then only for half assed cameos, like the laughable bonus they did for Bulletstorm's re-release by replacing the main character with Duke without even fucking re-dubbing anyone else's lines so they don't even so much as get his NAME right. And well, I guess I'm making this writeup as a means to say all hope is lost, and it's time to move on to better things. So long as Duke belongs to Gearbox, and Gearbox belongs to Randy Pitchford, there won't be another good Duke game again - and nowadays, there are so many indie alternatives in his old stomping ground of choice that it barely even matters that he's gone.

Bye Duke. It was nice while it lasted.

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Sam B (Dead Island / Riptide)

Alright, first of all let's just get the elephant in the room out of the way:

This is a good trailer, that portrays a zombie apocalypse for its poignancy more than a convenient excuse for psycopaths to torture and maim hordes of meat puppets that only technically aren't human anymore. This trailer is also a FUCKING LIE. I don't mean that just in the sense that it isn't representative of gameplay, but that it isn't even representative of the tone of the game, something even the most flagrant, obvious fake trailers don't dare to falsify - probably because it hides the fact that Dead Island is just a convenient excuse for psycopaths to tortue and maim hordes of meat puppets that only technically aren't human anymore, which was already getting tired even around the day this game was made. I'd ask why anyone thinks they can do this without pissing people off, but instead I think I'd rather ask why anyone thinks they can pull a stunt like this more than once, because it was clear right from the start that Deep Silver wanted to franchise the shit out of this, and people have already gotten wise to stupid gimmicks like this. "Fool me once", as they say. Bad publicity doesn't necessarily translate into sales like some executives seem to think it does, as I'm sure they found out when they tried to peddle a decaptiated bust with tits as a preorder incentive.

Dead Island Riptide's bloody torso statue sparks anger, confusion (Updated)  - Polygon

One of the best things Dead Island had going for it was its setting. The island resort is really pleasing to the eye in a way I don't think many games have managed before, and much like Dead Rising it forms a nice backdrop to the carnage that otherwise dominates normal gameplay. After the deception of that first trailer wore off, it was always going to be its main selling point, which is why I can't understand why they only maintain that facade for a mere third of the game, transitioning into utterly generic slums and forests after that point and only ever returning to it for a single quest dropoff that you discover early on and can't turn in until the lattermost third of the game. Shit, Riptide didn't even bother with it at all. It feels like this really should have been a no brainer, to just have the map expand into more and more luxuries and facilities as the game progresses, not turn into basically any other first person game ever made before the main plotline has even had a chance to develop. I don't know why I ever bothered to see the game through to completion after that point - certainly not because it's an inspired take on zombie survival games, that's for fucking sure.

Dead Island has flavours of western RPG going on, which is something I've always found incredibly strange because most weapons don't seem visibly sharper or harder than others, and yet you're constantly swapping out weapons to micromanage factually better stat numbers, hammering on batteries or burning rags or poison to give it elemental attributes, levelling up every now and then to manage an assortment of character specific perks and - hold on a fucking sec, isn't this just Borderlands repackaged as a zombie game? It pretty much is in retrospect, and I've come to dislike its brand of padding just as much here as I did in Borderlands itself, rife with accepting every fucking quest at once and then taking a path through a map in mind of intersecting as many objectives as possible, and I dunno, it never really felt to me like it flowed all that well in either series. But at the very least, it functioned much better in the environment of Borderlands where it benefits from futuristic conveniences like fast travel, instantly materializing vehicles and guns that could in any way function against zombies if hit anywhere besides the head despite the fact that severing limbs and hitting centre of mass is a perfectly viable strategy any other time. Once first impressions run out, Dead Island is just an absolute dialtone of a game that just drones on and on with no apparent end in sight, and then occasionally sends a wave of annoying cunting sprinter zombies that shave off half your HP at once in an effort to keep you on your toes.

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