Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

First Impressions: Red Dead Redemption

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Alright, so I’m going to try and do this ‘review’ a bit differently. I can’t do a real review yet, as I have not finished the game, so I’m going to do a ‘first impressions’ bit which will let you know what I think of the game after approximately a week of playing it.

 Graphics are the first things people notice, so lets start with them. Now, people have always said that Rockstar games have good graphics, and I’ve never really understood this. GTA3 did seem like a game from the future, but everything else has, to me, just been a mild next gen upgrade. Even GTA4 had problems; the characters looked blocky and marionette-like, and even the cars (though impressively metallic) seemed to be fairly computer-y. I’m not saying that this is bad (I believe graphics technology should actually slow down a notch), its just not groundbreaking.

RRR continues this fine tradition. the graphics are… acceptable. The landscape, especially the draw distance, is amazing and the scenery can almost feel real. Unfortunately, the characters still look blocky, etc. A few year ago, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but games like Mass Effect (1 and 2) and Fallout 3 have spoiled me. I’ve grown used to character models that DON’T look like they were designed by Gerry Anderson. And its just the people. All the animals look good, but the horses are especially spectacular! Manes billow, muscles move realisticly under flesh, and they rear and whinny with true authenticity. Its a pity that they are being ridden by action figures.

 
 
 
 

Total realism! Not seen: strings, awkward motion

 

Also, the landscape is spoiled by the grass. In the immediate foreground, there is usually this scrub grass that I believe is just a series of pixilated 2 dimensional sprites. It looks awful, and it does detract from the sense of atmosphere that game is otherwise so good at creating.

And the game does provide atmosphere. The sound quality and the weather is top notch, and all the disparate areas have a different feel, from the low lying swamplands of Thieve’s Landing to the red mesas of Mexico, John Marston’s journey does feel like an epic journey across a wide area. Improve the character models and we have the makings of a Dark Tower game.

The story so far is decent. Its a western revenge story, and while it seems to be heading in an interesting direction I know now not to judge a game’s story before its ending (see Mass Effect 2, brain-liquifyingly awful ending of). What does strike me are the references to Cormac McArthy’s Blood Meridian. Someone at Rockstar has done their literary homework, or has at least looked at the Blood Meridian entry on wikipedia. You see, the main character of this game is one Mister Ganton, a man who is one letter removed from the second in command of the man group of yahoos in Blood Meridian. In Red Dead Redemption, you play a man hunting down the members of his old gang of yahoos, and its pretty obvious from the getgo of the game the your character was pretty high up. Also, Ganton’s mentor and the leader of the gang is described as a psychopath, a terrific shot, and… a man of learning? He’s basically the Judge, the true leader of the yahoos in McArthy’s novel. Red Dead Redemption is essentially Cormac McArthy fan fiction.

However, the characters are only rough sketches of what they should have been. Rockstar games are known for their colourful and politically incorrect characters, but in Red Dead Redemption, aside from the crusty Marshall and the young cattle girl, every character is a half crazy con man who wants nothing better to betray you… or at least that what John Marston seems to think. He spends half of each bloody pre-mission cutscene telling the other character how untrustworthy they are, even when it becomes apparent they are actually trying to help. Frankly, Mr. Marston, you are getting a bit annoying. If you don’t like these people then stop working with them, or at least shut up! Sheppard kept his mouth closed while working for the terrorist group that killed his entire team in Mass Effect, so why does Marston take up my relaxation time by complaining about his co-workers!

I shouldn’t blame him though. I’d complain if I lived in a universe that had same amount of AI bugs as Red Dead Redemption. I save a girl, and she takes three second to thank me before running away screaming in terror. The person driving the wagon I’m riding in refuses to swerve around a stage coach parked in the middle of the road, with the result that it gets stuck on the stagecoach, and begins to push it very slowly down the road. It’s just like what would happen in a real high speed chase! When I get out to move the coach, the driver of the wagon screams I’m committing suicide, and I’m forced to move the wreck using my horse as a battering ram because Rockstar won’t deign to let me use the other wagon. Three cheers for immersion! There are other examples…

As I mentioned, I can’t give a final opinion until I complete the game. I still think there is a high chance of that happening. I’m not bored of it yet, and I can’t quite afford Alpha Protocol yet, but my initial impressions are  mixed.I’ll write more on the multi player and single player once I’ve fooled around with them a bit more, but as of this moment the game seems perfectly acceptable, though it lacks the polish one would expect from a Triple-A title in 2010.

Review: Mass Effect 2

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

And, so we start off this blog with a gush of fanboy love… not exactly an auspicious start, so I shall try to temper myself. I will clarify that Mass Effect 2 really is all I have been playing for the past week, and  further more is the best game I have played in a while.

For those who do not know, Mass Effect 2 is the second in a set of three planned games that comprise Bioware’s epic, sprawling, space opera. The mere fact that it is space opera is probably half the reason I like it so much, because for those of us who are fans of space opera there has been little enough of it available (except for Avatar, of course). Even shows that traditionally scratched the itch, such as Stargate: Atlantis have begun to follow the Lost route of having an interesting premise, but only five minutes worth of plot each episode and filling the rest of their air with angst. So starved have I been for this style of genuine laser blazing, princess rescuing, space adventures that not only have I played both Mass Effect games, but I have read the Mass Effect books.

Mass Effect 2 begins with a pseudo cliff hanger, by which I mean something that would have actually been a cliffhanger if it occurred in the last game. Admittedly, if there had actually been a cliff hanger at the end of the last game, people would have sworn blood oaths against all the script writers. In Mass Effect 2, this is primarily used to drain you of all the resources you had accumulated in the first. Eh… at least this game actually pretends to have a reason for doing so.

Most of the game is spent recruiting your team, and also building up their self confidence, cooing reassurances, and taking time out from your desperate race against time to go solve your crews Daddy issues (I’m not kidding, that happens). This is actually highly entertaining, as the backgrounds of the your crew are interesting, and the missions are quite fun. It does, though, occasionally make you feel like a space middle manager, especially with the amount of time that you spend mining.

Mining is a huge stroke against the game. Its take a long time, and it s flow breaking-ly dull. It can’t be ignored though, as you to mine resources so you can upgrade your team’s weapons and your spaceship, and you need these upgrades if you want the best ending to the game. I really don’t know why this is here, as I can’t imagine anyone implementing this in a game without realizing that almost everyone will hate it. If you must have us collect resources, at least figure out an interesting way to do it. You could have the player set up mining facilities through missions which would then give a steady flow of resources. Or you could have the player either persuade or intimidate mine owners to give you resources. Or you could outright attack other ore haulers. Anything but moving a slow cursor over a 3d model of a planet hoping to find some platinum.

Combat is good though. In Mass Effect 2, combat is centered around gun play and force… er… biotic powers, and plays much like Gears of War. Its viewed from a first person perspective, and you have to take cover while firing rather thn charging blindly into combat. Or you die. Over and over again. This is similar to the first game, but overall the experience has been improved. Every character no longer carries every weapon; in the first game you were force to carry an assault rifle everywhere even if trying to use one would result in bullet holes in everything but the enemy. Combat also feels…smoother. Aiming is better, the action flows more, and it just seems better tweaked. I’d have to play the first one again to catalog the small changes, but then again I liked the combat in the first game as well.

Aside from the combat, there are many little changes between Mass Effect 2 and the first game that make the second one stand out. Mass Effect 1 was enjoyable, but filled with tiny irritating flaws that I beleive signifigantly reduced its appeal.  The minigames to hack computers and break into doors consisted of paying Simon Says with the computer, the inventory system was a mess, the driving was horrible, he loading screens were disguised half the time behind elevators that moved hilariously slow… these errors have rectified and the game is much improved for it.

Some issues remain… no, no, no I can’t say that. I’ve admited to being a fanboy, so I’ll call them ‘unanticipated  gameplay enhancements”. You character will frequently get themselves stuck on the world geometry, to simulate how clucky their space suits would be! And the system used to highlight important objects is almost invisible because of space myopia! Caused by vacuum exposure! And Tachyons!

These annoyances aside, it is quite entertaining game-play wise. I cannot judge the story until I have finished the game, but I might come back to that later, if it utterly falls apart. Until then though, Mass Effect 2 is a refreshing burst of space opera goodness.