Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the forgotten machine

My new computer arrived yesterday. I souped it up, ostensibly for music-related purposes, but let's be honest - I'm not going to be writing music all the time.

And so, since I had nothing better to do, I wanted to see what it was capable of. I went to "Can You Run It?" and saw that, even though it wasn't actually my intention to do so, I could indeed run Crysis. And I installed it, and saw that it could run it at substantially high settings, and got very, very excited.

Only then did it occur to me that there's almost nothing on the PC that I'm actually interested in playing at the moment - or, rather, that I'm not already playing on a console.

And then I remembered.... Diablo 3.

oh boy oh boy oh boy.

Monday, March 22, 2010

oh, fercrissakes.

Eurogamer reports that EA is "testing the waters" with paid-for demos.

Are you kidding me? Wait, let me rephrase that. Are you fucking kidding me?

1. So, EA either (a) has no faith in their internal playtesting department to make sure a game is fun, or (b) has no playtesting department.

2. EA is asking you to pay actual money to essentially play a beta of a game that might never be released.

Let me rephrase my first question one more time. Are you fucking me?

FF13 - all this dampness is damp

If my save file is to be believed, I'm roughly 21 hours into FF13, somewhere in Chapter 9.

There's quite a bit I could complain about in FF13 - and I will - and yet I'm still chugging along. For all the game's quirks, it is paced remarkably well, and I find myself frequently saying "OK, let me just get to the next save point and I'll quit" and then another hour has gone by. And while I'm generally not that inclined to grind all that much, my characters are versatile enough now so that I can make meaningful changes to the paradigm system, and it's quite satisfying to then be able to kick all sorts of monster ass quickly and efficiently.

Still, though, there's a lot to complain about. The first thing is that almost all of the dialog could use a good rewrite. The second thing is that, after the rewrite, the voice acting could use a second pass. (And the person portraying Vanille, and the person who cast her, could both be shot.)

But more to the point - the cutscenes seem very much disconnected from the gameplay; i.e., you'll be strolling along, killing things, and then you'll cross some threshold and your characters will start talking about how they can't fight anymore, or that they've lost hope, or what does it all mean, etc., and perhaps there will be a flashback, and then they'll get momentarily rejuvenated, and then the scene ends, and you continue fighting monsters as if nothing had happened. I don't know if this is something present in all FF games or not, but it feels a bit clunky, especially considering that you (the player) have absolutely no control over how the dialog plays out.

Now, I'm not entirely sure that FF13 would be better if it felt more like Mass Effect 2 - frankly, it might just feel silly. As it is right now, it's merely corny, and occasionally clunky. And sometimes it feels a little too cute.

I guess a bigger issue is that all I'm doing is simply moving from point A to point B, without a particularly clear sense of why. I'm only now starting to understand the underlying fiction; the "l'Cie" / "falCie" business could've been much easier to understand if they'd simply picked different names. (I still maintain that I'd have ABSOLUTELY no idea what anybody was saying if I wasn't playing with subtitles on.) I'd like to feel a bit more invested in what's going on.

And another part of that is that the leveling system is strange. A battle does not reward you with XP; it rewards you with crystals, which you can then use to power up your various paradigm elements. It makes sense, to a certain extent, but you're only able to make significant upgrades after you complete a chapter, which makes grinding feel even more redundant than it already is. (I've really only found myself consciously grinding once or twice, and that was only because enemies were quick to respawn, yielded high amounts of crystals, and were very easy to dispatch.)

Still, though, I find myself compelled to keep carrying on. As some point I hope to be able to articulate why.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

God of War 3

I took a sick day yesterday - because I was sick - and so I managed to play the entirety of God of War 3 while I was home.

The short version is that while it's good, it's not as good as God of War 2. Even if the graphics are technically snazzier, and it does amazing things with scale and perspective, it's not nearly as inspired as GOW2. It's paced well enough, and it still does its style of combat better than anyone else, but it's just not particularly memorable.

I don't necessarily have a long version just yet; at the end of the day, the game doesn't really warrant that much discussion. And that's mostly because Kratos is one of the least likable protagonists in the medium. When he's kicking ass, he's great - and he kicks a lot of ass over the course of these 3 games. But in the cutscenes, he's a one-dimensional, sociopathic vengeance machine, so maniacally single-minded in purpose as to be completely unrelatable.

Now, let's be clear - this is a man who ends up killing hundreds and thousands of people, monsters, and (eventually) gods - there's not a lot here that is relatable to the average American 20-something. (Hopefully.) His tragedy and his raison d'etre is that he was "tricked" into killing his own family; but rather than looking at himself and seeing his own part in this, he instead has sworn revenge on anybody and everybody that might have been tangentially involved in the ruse. And so it goes; over the course of 3 games (roughly 24 hours of gameplay, all told), he exacts his revenge, tells anybody he encounters to get the fuck out of his way, and then rips off their heads if they don't move quickly enough.

Ironically enough, the final third of GoW3 tries to make him the tiniest bit human again, to have something to care about besides killing everything he sees, to instill a sense of hope rather than revenge. I'm particularly curious to see how that fares with the rest of the target demographic; most of the reviews I've read seem a little down on the ending, and that's probably because it feels a little clunky and out of place. I thought it was too little and too late.

The game itself also suffers a bit from a lack of ambition. Let me make myself clear; the game apparently had a $50 million budget, so it's not like they weren't trying to make it amazing. The problem is that, as I said above, the game isn't particularly memorable. There are certainly a few set-pieces that are jaw-dropping, and there's one puzzle in the later half of the game that's actually pretty interesting in an M.C. Escher / Echochrome kind of way, but it's not terribly difficult to figure out and it's over with much too quickly. But the rest of the game takes place in rather non-descript dungeons and towers - come to think of it, it reminded me quite a bit of Prince of Persia in places, but without the magic.

If you must play a God of War game, I think 2 is the way to go, especially with the PS3 HD makeover. 3 certainly isn't bad; it's just not as good.

Monday, March 15, 2010

FF13: the next 12 hours

I am roughly 12 hours in to FF13, which means that I am right at the point, according to most of the reviews I've read, where it starts getting interesting. (The OXM review specifically mentions the area that I am currently in.) Honestly, I can't really say I've noticed that much of a difference, other than that my parties are split up into new configurations, and that the whole paradigm concept finally has some meaning.

The story still doesn't make any sense; I do not really understand what a fal'Cie is, or why it's bad to be a l'Cie, or what Pulse is, or Eden, or why the map is pointing me in a certain direction (especially when every map really only offers one direction to travel in). Vanille is one of the most annoying characters I've ever seen, in spite of her usefulness in combat; the rest of the main characters aren't necessarily annoying, but they aren't terribly interesting, either.

The thing that gets me the most, though, is that I remain confused as to why I'm still compelled to keep going. The combat system has become pretty intriguing, I think; it's become less rock/paper/scissors and more strategic in nature, and understanding the "stagger" concept is crucial in terms of ending a battle quickly. In any event, the combat isn't tedious... yet.

Certainly the environments are gorgeous; they are as compelling a reason to keep moving forward as anything else the game might offer.

I'm compiling a list of grievances, though, which I'll post once I get near the end.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

FF13: The first 2 hours

The subtitle of this post should be: "or, Why I Didn't Finish Heavy Rain."

I didn't finish Heavy Rain, nor am I sure I ever will. To be fair, though, it's not entirely HR's fault; I moved to Brooklyn last week, and even though we've been settled in for the better part of a week, I still haven't really had that much free time. That said, the free time I did have was time I didn't really feel like spending playing HR. HR kinda needs to be played in a long, uninterrupted stretch, or else it loses its rhythm, which is what happened to me. Also, it falls into the uncanny valley way too often, it needs an actual English-speaking voice cast, and the script very much needed to be touched up by an English-speaking writer. That's really what hit the uncanny valley for me - not the graphics, but the stiff, stilted dialogue delivered by people who don't quite know how to pronounce certain words. Also, it felt almost a little too derivative of "Se7en."

Anyway. Final Fantasy 13 arrived in the mail yesterday, and God of War 3 will arrive next week, and so I'm not sure I'll ever get around to finishing HR anytime soon.

As for FF13. I should probably start by saying that I'm not really all that familiar with the Final Fantasy series. I tried (and failed) to document my playtime with FF7 last year (1, 2, 3); I also downloaded FF8 from the Playstation Network, although I don't think I've even installed it. And I played about an hour or two of FF3 (?) on the DS, and a little bit of FF7-Crisis Core on the PSP. But that's really the extent of it.

I understand, though, that FF13 is somewhat of a radical departure from its previous versions, at least in terms of its combat system and how relentlessly linear it is. So there's that.

Here's what I can say about FF13, now that I'm a few hours in and the combat system is starting to get a bit more expansive:

1. It's gorgeous. I'm playing the PS3 version, for whatever that's worth.

2. People weren't kidding around when they said it's linear. It's not just that you move in a straight line - it's that the straight line you move along is very, very narrow. I can appreciate that this very conscious design choice might make the game a little less intimidating for the FF noob; but just because I've never really played a FF game doesn't mean I've never played any game.

3. The combat system sounds a lot more complex than it actually is. At least at this stage.

4. Almost any Japanese-developed game has this weird idiosyncratic thing where every character has to be constantly voicing something, even if it's just grunting. And almost every female character's grunts and moans sound alarmingly sexual in nature, even if they aren't at all sexual in context.

5. It is basically the polar opposite of Mass Effect 2, which I am holding up as the gold standard for Western RPGs. (Whether that's true or not is not really the point; it's an amazing game, and it's still fresh in my mind.)

Most reviews have indicated that FF13 starts slow and doesn't really get going until 12-15 hours in. Which is a lot of hours that I might not necessarily have before GOW3 arrives. But I must admit that I'm kinda enjoying it so far. I have almost zero idea what's going on (and if I weren't playing the game with subtitles, I'd have absolutely no idea what a "fal'Cie" or "l'Cie" is; at least I know how they're spelled). But I'm intrigued. I think the last truly engrossing JRPG I played was Lost Odyssey; I'm hoping this will be somewhere near that ballpark.