November 27, 2008 § Leave a comment
This review is of the PS3 version of the game and not the Xbox 360 or PC version. As such some of the technical notes made in this review may not be applicable to other versions. Neither other version was considered when writing this review.
It’s sometimes hard looking back on it to think of Bioshock as a game. Make no bones about it, it’s a great game, but you’re hardly going to remember it for that reason alone. Bioshock’s attraction for the most part comes from its incredibly immersive and well-told story, the success of which is not solely due to some of the greatest voice acting and writing seem in a modern game.
Your story begins on a plane crashed in the middle of the ocean, where you enter the only structure for miles around to find it’s the entrance to an underground city, Rapture. You’re soon recruited by a surviver of this city, a man by the name of Atlas, who asks if you would kindly rescue his wife and family from an almost certain death at the hands of Andrew Ryan. Predictably though, thing’s aren’t that simple, and your task soon spirals out of control, taking you to the heart of this once great society of scientists and artists not confined by the constraints of morality and law.
Without a doubt Bioshock’s story is the most absorbing part of its experience. It’s told with a degree of subtly that many other games don’t posses, and all around the world exist clues to add to the narrative. Surprisingly, considering its rich story, Bioshock opts not to use any cutscenes in the game outside of the beginning and ending cinematics. The game is shown from a first person perspective throughout, all the while allowing player control. Whilst the addition of multiple endings has minimal bearing on gameplay, their existence adds much to the game’s ending, which manages to convey a real sense of involvement on the part of the player.
Mechanically the game falls heavily into the category of “could do better.” Bioshock was clearly designed with other platforms in mind, and the controls don’t feel right on a Dualshock 3. Even after playing the game for several hours getting quick accurate shots on enemies is difficult, but thankfully this never gets overly frustrating. In a word the controls could be described as “imprecise,” analogue movement and aiming has a distinctly floaty feel to it, and the PS3’s “marshmallow” triggers shouldn’t have been chosen to control your weaponry.
Considering the lackluster shooting, it’s perhaps lucky that a major feature of the game gives you an alternative way of fighting. Plasmids – or magic to you and me – add another dimension to combat, with the ability for you to not only cast your standard elemental attacks (fire, bolt, ice) but also some genuinely inventive powers such as the ability to enrage enemies making them attack each other or a tag which will cause enemy defences to attack an individual. These plasmids add a hugely satisfying layer tocombat, and with some creativity can be greatly enhanced. You could for example set an enemy on fire (causing them to rush to water) before electrocuting the water itself. The scope for the use of these plasmids is limited only by the creativity of the player, who can have much fun just trying out different combinations of attacks.
Finishing Bioshock you’re not the same person as when you started, thanks not only to the story. Throughout the game you face off against miniature bosses named Big Daddies, who guard Little Sisters, the gatherers and guardians of ADAM. ADAM is then in turn used to upgrade your many abilities, which include hacking, photography and of course plasmids. It’s an interesting system helped by the moral choice you’re given with when faced with an unguarded Little Sister. Do you harvest her, killing her but reaping maximum ADAM? Or do you instead save her, getting minimum ADAM but continuing safe in the knowledge that your immortal soul is safe for another day.
You could argue however that whether you take the easier road or not is meaningless due to the game’s implementation of respawns, which are in effect infinite. When you die you’re taken back to the last Vita-chamber you passed, and revived with half health. The enemies health however, remains where it was when you died, and so it’s possible to continually die and return to the fight rather than use skill to beat them the first time.
Graphically the game does nothing too impressive. Environments have enough detail to convey the amazing atmosphere present throughout the game, and enemies have suitably sinister animation, displayed most prominently when you observe them from a distance going about their moping. Death animations are inexcusably choppy, with enemies which have no more than around three frames of them in the process of death. When the rest of the game looks as competent as it does such sloppy occurrences contrast hugely, and break the flow of the art design.
Everyone with even a passing interest in great storytelling should play Bioshock. It’s fun, engaging and ultimately a very enjoyable game hampered by a very small number of rough edges. It’s an experience which is ultimately worth reaching the end of, memorable for every reason a game should be.
November 21, 2008 § Leave a comment
If like me you were pissed as hell when Killzone 2 was delayed to 2009 in favour of releasing Resistance 2 this fall you’ll probably have been keeping up to date with the Killzone backstory being posted over on their official site. The universe of Killzone has interested me since the advent of the first game on the PS2 – more so than the game itself – the universe, the unavoidably evil Helghast, the realistic yet futuristic weaponry, all of this has sucked me into the world, begging for more.
I mention these two things not out of a desire to keep the Internet pointlessly updated on my day to day activities but to illustrate a difference between two mediums. Wuthering Heights has had literally thousands of essays written about it over the years, examining everything from Lockwood’s past, to Cathy’s sexuality, to how Heathcliff can be interpreted by Marxist literary theory and being symbolic of the sinful cities influence destroying the countryside. Contrasty when was the last time you read an essay based on a game? When was the last time you read a university student examine Solid Snake’s soliloquies, and turn them into a description of his past? Unless you’ve gotten very lucky you haven’t. Why? Because games lay out everything on a plate, from fear of an audience numbed with shooter after shooter simply won’t get it.
Maybe developers are right. Maybe we as an audience don’t understand subtlety, won’t catch on to subtle hints of a back story never explicitly mentioned. Maybe not all of us need to. Take the Metal Gear series as an example. This is a series which has long been criticised for its lengthy cutscenes, which even the most fervent of fans must admit long outstay their welcome. Complaints spring mainly from those who simply don’t care about the back story, those who’d rather sit back and enjoy that which is necessary to grasp the game’s central concepts and leave the political intrigue to the Kojima-Cult, the legions of fans desperate to hear about every single step of Solid Snake’s life. Never in a Metal Gear have I experienced narrative during gameplay, always it’s been in a cutscene. Whilst in gameplay I’m in control, I can choose exactly how much I explore, how much I want to learn. In a cutscene however it is Kojima who is in control, and everything he wants us to know is forced down our throats. He’s separated story from game, narrative from experience, consequence from action, and in doing so we gain no more and no less from his game than everyone else, and a brick wall meets any attempts we make to delve further into his world.
Bioshock has made me realise this doesn’t have to be the case. No cutscenes, all gameplay, all story. I wasn’t shown with a PowerPoint presentation how Rapture fell into its hellish state, I experienced it, I can see with my own eyes what plasmids do to people, how they can destroy an entire city. No one told me the citizens tried to escape, but instead I can instead examine the picket signs around the blathosphere, peer at newspaper headlines scattered around the floor. I don’t need to be knocked over the head with huge poorly acted rhetoric, I can read into the world as much as I wish, because I’m involved in this experience.
I’ve enjoyed reading the Killzone back story but in a perfect world it shouldn’t need to exist. I shouldn’t be spending hours trawling the Internet searching for passages to read, I should be trawling the game itself, searching for clues which can help me unearth its world’s own past. What we have now is a separated experience between mediums. Game’s have the ability to tell a deep, engrossing story in just one, but they’re not, and that’s a shame because I really do love playing games.
November 8, 2008 § Leave a comment
Do you like map packs? How about free ones? Released every day? If you do you might just love Little Big Planet, Sony’s first foray into the world of Game 3.0 and a truly revolutionary step in game design. In one fell swoop Media Molecule has revolutionised the platforming genre, and its traditional competitors will have a hard time keeping up.
If you were to completely ignore the online portion of the game you’d still find a huge amount of enjoyment on the little big planet. Media Molecule’s levels are without a doubt the highlight of a game, every one of them creative in an entirely unique way. Each level introduces a new gameplay mechanic more inventive than the last, and as a result no two levels ever feel the same. Levels are divided into sets of around three, called ‘worlds’ – created by one of the fictional game’s creators) -and these basically amount to different themes. Each of them manages to make the game visually interesting constantly. As soon as you start to get bored of a certain theme a new one rolls along, and you fall in love all over again.
The game isn’t without its issues though. When you die in a level you’re returned to the last checkpoint you past. This in itself is a well developed system, when throughout the entire game checkpoints are frequent enough to avoid frustration. What wasn’t a good idea was the inclusion of lives. The game only allows you to spawn at a checkpoint a certain number of times, until it decideds you’ve had enough fun and forces you to restart the level. Such a system is archaic and stupid, and has no place in such a forward thinking game.
The art design in the game is a sight to behold, yet it’s very hard to place. The best possible word for it would be “homemade.” The levels are all designed to look like they’ve been created out of a variety of materials such as sponge, wood, or felt and this gives the game an interesting aesthetic. For once you’re not simply running through one metallic corridor after another but over felt upholstery designed to look like rolling hills, grabbing on to sponge to have yourself pulled up to the next area. Overall the game possesses bucketfuls of charm, which will appeal to audiences universally. Little Big Planet is most definitely a game to show off to a non-gamer, Sackboy’s undeniable charm should win anyone over instantly.
The control scheme reflects the accessible nature of the art direction. You can run, jump, and grab hold of items, and if you ignore all the aesthetic gestures you can make sackboy perform these actions will be all you need to play the game. A light tap of the jump button will send sackboy on a little hop into the air, whereas a firm press will send him much higher. It’s very intuitive and easy to get hold of on the easy levels, but when the level design gets more hectic you may find yourself cursing the control’s imprecision. It’s very hard at times to gauge the distance you’ll jump, and add to this the fact that you always float forward a step when you land, and you’ll find yourself throwing controllers at the game’s hardest moments.
All of this without even going online.
Signing in to the Playstation Network unleashes a tornado of creativity onto your PS3. People have created the most amazing things online, there’s the standard platforming levels to play for a more traditional experience, but then there’s also calculators, old arcade game clones, pinball machines, basketball, and even lightsaber battles. With the intuitive system built by MM it’s very easy to find the best levels online, so you’ll rarely come across untested levels unless you go out searching for them.
When you go looking off the beaten track however, the quality of levels is all over the place. The game ensures that the technically in all these levels is proficient, but level design can still lack intuition. Often I’ve come across levels where after passing a certain point the path behind you will be destroyed, but when you die you’re left with no chance of reaching the level’s end. Problems such as these are unavoidable when you give anybody the opportunity to create levels for the community, but hopefully over time people will learn level design etiquette, and quality will improve.
So you play a few levels, and then you decide you want to create your own. Thankfully this is as easy a process as it can be, with the biggest limits on your designs being your own creativity. Every design tool comes with its own tutorial complete with narration by Steven Fry, so it’s rare that you’ll find something and have no idea what it’s for. A reference guide would be helpful though, as at times I found myself trawling through lengthy tutorials looking for the most mundane of information.
Overall though Little Big Planet is everything it was promised to be by Sony. It may have a few small rough patches in its design but these are minor blemishes on what is a truly incredible game. Best of all though it will only get better over time, as people become more and more adept at using the level editor to produce some insane creations. Hopefully a year from now the creativity still won’t have ceased, and we’ll still be discussing the latest levels published.
November 7, 2008 § 10 Comments
With Jon and James thoroughly incapacitated by the recent release of LittleBigPlanet, it appears that I can write about whatever the fuck I want and not get called out on it. I fully intended to take this opportunity to dole out some bitchslaps to the good ol’ games industry until my bile-dispensing organs dried up and crusted over, but then I had a better idea. Instead, I’d like to squirt some wisdom into your open eyes and gaping mouth, fresh from my knowledgableness glands. You’re welcome.
November 3, 2008 § Leave a comment
November 3, 2008 § 3 Comments
For me at least, the Mirror’s Edge demo released last week on the Playstation Store sucked. Not that it was a bad demo – in fact I enjoyed it immensely and will buy it when the full game is released – but because it’s not everything I wanted it to be.
Part of my sorrow stems from the fact that I’d somehow elevated this title above what a game can realistically achieve. I expected a character whose animation was completely lifelike from a first person perspective, and a style that was unlike anything I’d seen before. What I got instead was a game, an amazing game, but a game nonetheless, constricted by everything any other release is. Why do I feel this? Read on to find out:
1. First person perspective isn’t realistic.
Not that a real first person perspective is all that different from what is displayed on a television screen, but the way in which you, your character acts in a first person game is far removed from how you’d act in real life. People don’t strafe…ever, they turn their head and move in that direction. In the same way, your head will move with 360 degrees of movement, whereas when confined to a controller your primary shifts of vision are up, left, down and right. Of course every shooter has this problem, but as Mirror’s Edge has tried so at to capture a realistic perspective such as with the presence of legs below your character, or the side to side movement of your head as you run, these fundamental inconsistencies are left exposed for all to see.
2. Character animation isn’t dynamic
You won’t notice this one unless you try to take an unintentional route, but Mirror’s Edge’s character animation only looks good when you’re doing what Dice expects you to do. Scale a fence? Check. Vaulting over piping? Check. Jump over a fence from a waist high air conditioning unit however, and the smoke and mirrors vanish in a flash.
I’ll tell you what happens when you try and attempt the latter move. Your character hits the fence awkwardly, but the game’s laws determine that you should be able to get over the obstacle, and so you’re free to pass over it. In any other fps this wouldn’t brake the immersion at all, but in Mirror’s Edge it does, when every other action you perform looks so amazing on screen. There’s no way around this, sometimes the player is going to move in ways you can’t anticipate, and when they do, they’re going to discover the seams of your elaborate creation.
3. They killed the beauty of the music.
Do you remember the end of the first ever Mirror’s Edge trailer? The subtle synth sounds that had been playing throughout finally crescendoed into the first song shown from the game, with piano and drums providing melody and rhythm to this simple tune. Nothing about the song felt like it should belong in a game, and that felt fantastic, it was fresh and pleasant, and original, just like the rest of the game. “If they stick with this musical style throughout the rest of the game,” I remarked to my cousin, “it could be the best soundtrack ever.”
Listen to the score now and it’s a completely different story. The tune is the same, but now there’s someone else in the mix, a female, with her incessant drawls robbing the song of whatever merit it formerly possessed. It feels, in a word, mainstream, and I don’t like it. Here was a game which I wanted to be original and unique, and in one fell swoop the composer had taken that away from me. Why did you have to mess with perfection? Why?
Like I said I enjoyed the demo for hours on end, and will probably the full game too, but this pedestal I’ve built the game up on has been irreversibly toppled. It’s no longer the shining beacon of “Game as Art” that in the back of my mind I wanted it to be. It’s just another brilliant holiday title, and that’s great, but I wanted more.
I’m sorry I have such high expectations I guess.
November 2, 2008 § Leave a comment
Few months ago, drowning in deep dank depression, very few things lifted my spirits. Grand Theft Auto IV was one of them. Having spent a lot of time inside and playing it, I finished it with a an expectation for more. A hunger, unsatisfied, by a game that does almost everything right but was never too ambitious to become perfection. Only today did I realise how wrong I was…
The introduction of trophies alerted Jon and myself. We both started new games and wanted to score some points against the other with the new found trophy system on a game we both loved. So as I sat down and played through the first few missions, reacquainting myself with the controls, I realised what a beautifully designed city it was despite my initial thoughts on a lazy development team choosing Liberty City yet again. In fact a lot of my pre-conceived notions rapidly disappeared on this play through. Having not touched this game for over 3 months, I sat in my chair reminising about the summer. Having people over casually, or just lighting up, by myself playing GTA. Not a worry in the world with the combination of good non-sensical violence.
However, this time, I took my time reading everything I thought I missed in the game. Body language, tone of Niko and what he says. This wasn’t the non-sensical violence GTA we grew to adore from Rockstar, this was a scathing yet beautiful attack on modern day white-America. I flicked through the radio talk shows, laughing at each crude joke. I stopped to listen to conversations and was offended by the callousness of the public. The fact that I was the outside, I was the illegal immigrant was widely known. No one cared for you and no one did me any favours. As I progressed further through the story, the idea of cold hearted Liberty City became evident. This may have been funny but it definitely wasn’t a joke. The idea of unity and family remained as core above everything else and the murdering and stealing isn’t done in a distasteful way for you to feel like a superior antagonist. Quite the opposite. You are made to feel you shouldn’t be doing any of this, you have an objective that’s almost a million miles away, but you have to continue with these monotanous tasks just to pray for a spark of hope you can somehow achieve what you want rather than do the dirty work of others just to survive. Why did I not get this on my first run through? The absorbing story made me play the game to progress that in itself. I had no time to feel what I wanted as I went through the game playing as Niko. If possible, Rockstar’s storytelling was so good up to the point I forgot about the gameplay and meaning behind the words spoken.
I got to my first decision making mission, “Ivan the Terrible.” Having been asked by Vlad, a fat corrupt Russian, to kill this man, I stopped in my tracks for a second before I proceeded. Why? I remember this mission clearly. I killed him without doubt because I thought that was the way things were supposed to be done. I am in the mind of Serb Niko Bellic and to benefit this GTA-stylee story, I need to play as how I see as the “right” way to play it. However, the sharpness behind Vlad’s words and impatiency with me made me feel ambiguous. When I found Ivan, he was not a cocky, shovenistic gangster. The tone and fear in his voice finally got through to me. He was weak. He was tricked. He too is an immigrant doing the dirty to live. Does he deserve to die, if I Niko Bellic live? The answer to me, was no. I chased him across the rooftops and pulled him up, just as I would have done if I wasn’t playing GTA.
People make critisms of the game that its too realistic and you feel attachments that are just like in everyday life. That in itself is where GTA shines, next to its gleaming storytelling. There is no way to judge people on how to live their lives and in GTA you are thrown in an environment, drowing in satire, where you have to ask yourself what the American Dream really is.
Closure. The one thing you can’t ever get from the attachments you make in GTA.
Also playing: Super Stardust HD – It’s worth £5 definitely.