2011 Takes the Stage

January 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

Until I actually sat down to write this list I wasn’t too excited about 2011 in gaming. There’s a palpable sense this year (for me at any rate) of a generation that’s fallen into a stride, a generation that’s found the boundary of what modern consoles can do, and is quite happy playing within them.

I’ll admit now that I still hold this view, but whereas before I was frustrated by a lack of any truly breathtaking titles, now, after having a look over the next twelve months, I’m eager to see the polish sticking to what you know can bring.

Killzone 3 is a perfect example of this. We’ve had waggle-enabled shooters almost since the Wii first appeared, but whilst many of these have certainly functioned, they’ve never truly been able to make a case for the replacement of the gamepad.

Killzone could change all this. By virtue of its existence as Sony’s flagship shooter, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Guerilla has received more than its fair share of calls from its publisher stressing the importance of well-implemented Move support. We’ll probably get a good idea of the extent of their success as soon as team Move faces off against team Dualshock in the online arena, but even if this ratio falls short, at least other developers will be able to build upon these mistakes.

For the record; as far as I’m concerned the rest of that game looks like generic, ultra-violent garbage. I don’t see that melee attacks involving shoving thumbs through an enemy’s eyes is something any game should be proud of including, and I resent being treated like I’m twelve years old by a game’s marketing material.

The opposite is true of LA Noire, the detective thriller that’s been a long time coming from Team Bondi. In true Rockstar fashion all trailers thus far have been completely devoid of actual gameplay, which really speak to both the originality of the setting as well as the pedigree of this now legendary publisher.

As far as this writer is concerned the team behind LA Noire could dress Niko Belic in a suit and trilby and push the game’s setting back a few decades and I’d be happy The work they’re doing with facial animation certainly looks stunning, but whether they pull off such a ground breaking element is another matter entirely. At worst the game will have tried something new with a big budget, which is as good a reason as I need to include it on this list.

The term big-budget seems almost at odds with Journey, the next game from Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany. Details are spare on this idyllic piece, but what we do know is that it’ll focus around a lone soul’s journey (ah? See what they did there) towards a tower. Chen is also eager to make you feel small and insignificant, whatever that means…

Really though the reason I’m including Journey on this list is because of its art style. I mean just look at it…

I mean really look.

Go on, just once more for luck.

It would be almost criminal to lavish praise on le arte farte without mentioning Team Ico, who manage to not only indulge in the beauty so many other developers seem to be afraid to touch, whilst also capturing the hearts of even the most vehemently classical gamers.

The Last Guardian looks to build upon these themes, in a way which quite neatly builds upon the achievements of their first two games. Your companion this time around is a huge griffin-like monster who looks to be a nice cross between the beautiful-yet-useless Yorda and the utterly dependable but visually uninteresting Argo.

This year also sees the return of Team Ico’s previous two titles, Ico, and Shadow of the Colossus, repackaged into a single HD collection. Milking the franchise it may be, but it’s hard to decline the offer of revisiting two of the last generation’s greatest games, which may have in the process gotten a facelift far greater than the HD shunt promised by its title.

As for my most anticipated game though, nothing comes close to Portal 2. Though I’d be crazy not to be frothing at the mouth over more of one of the funniest, original, and downright clever titles ever released, it’s not actually the single player that I’m most eager to get into. The original Portal was my go-to for showing off games to the unconverted. It was so far from what people generally assume video games to be that it became an easy target to point toward whenever the whole ‘waste of time’ argument reared its ugly head.

 Previously I’d have to sit patiently whilst friends cautiously made their way though an entirely new experience, but with the second game’s introspection of co-op I can quite literally hold their hand as they play.

 My excitement for co-op is so great that it’s almost easy to forget that Portal 2 will push PS3 and PC players together in a way never seen before, with its utilisation of Steamworks. If playing multiplayer cross-platform works as well as console monogamous play then only a fool would assume Portal 2 will be the only game to do so.

As much as I love spouting hyperbole about games based purely upon past releases and previews it’s likely the game I end up enjoying most this year hasn’t appeared on this list. It might not have even been announced. Such is the beauty of the games industry, that it will always have a surprise or two tucked up its sleeve, ready to blow you away with the meagerest of expectations.

2011, you have the floor. Show us what you can do. 

This post was part of Gamer Banter, a monthly video game discussion
coordinated by Terry at Game Couch. If you’re interested in being part
of this, please email him for details.

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Stuntman, and the Anatomy of the Car Chase

January 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

It has been remarked by some that Grand Theft Auto 4’s best moments were in its car chases. Whilst the game’s many intense shoot-outs certainly deserve a mention, it’s hard to deny that Rockstar knows how to put together a good chase.

Generally the rule with action sequences in games is that the closer the player feels to failure, the more intense the scene. The moment a player feels safe behind a piece of scenery, or has access to a weapon which destroys the challenge, intensity inevitably drops.

It’s important to note here that intensity should not be equated to fun. Undoubtedly, as fans of games such as Ico or The Legend of Zelda can attest to, there is fun to be had whilst proceeding at one’s own pace, and likewise those few second proceeding your death in Pacman CE DX are invariably not a fun as when you tuck in to a delicious Ghost-train.

Keeping a sequence genuinely tense for any length of time is a difficult feat to achieve, and in no genre is this more obvious that the car chase.

The car chase is a set-piece so fraught with difficulties so as to present an enormous challenge to even the most adept of developers. Chief among these challenges, to my mind at least, is a sense of speed. They need to be fast to avoid becoming monotonous, but with speed invariably comes an increased difficulty. At high speeds the smallest mistake will send your car careering off the path you had intended for it, prompting a restart and repetition of the previous sequence of events. This is damaging for several reasons, the most important of these simply being boredom on the part of the player.

The appearance of danger is a very difficult trick to achieve. Having explosions and other stimuli happening all around the player’s vehicle may seem like a simple feature to include, but there’s a difficult balance to be struck before this feels right. If this presents too much danger you risk having the player’s fate being taken out of their control, as danger comes at them whilst they’re attention is focussed on keeping their car on the road. Too little danger however, and the scene feels cheap. You feel like you’re racing through a film set as opposed to an action scene.

Inevitably the question arises of how exactly your going to control all these external factors; the explosions, gunfire and traffic that must be overcome if the player wants to keep up with his or her prey. It’s certainly a tempting idea to script out the entire scene, ensuring the difficulty is just right throughout and that everything is optimised for maximum effect. As soon as this section is repeated however, the man behind the curtain is revealed, and events that would have previously had you on the edge of your seat can be seen to be mere charades.

Stuntman may not have been a great game, but it at least found a fantastic way around many of the problems described above. By setting the game not in an action movie, but on the set of one, the game quite literally embraced the fact that it was completely scripted.

It was a hard game, divisively so, but with levels playing out the same way after every restart, the challenge became one of pattern memorisation in addition to skill. The lack of freedom may have been offensive, but the satisfaction upon each level’s completion more than made up for it.

Every gamer wants to show off, but most games leave this as an optional extra for the hardcore fans. You could play through Metal Gear Solid 3 whilst making it look amazing, by utilising all the extra features such as poisoning enemies with snakes or distracting them with dirty magazines, but after a certain point you’re going to get lazy and just tranquillise everyone in your path (though I’m willing to admit this may just have been me).

It may not have been the ideal solution, but Stuntman would accept nothing less than the optimum run-though. If you didn’t scrape that car just so as you passed it, or if you didn’t plough through those boxes as you exited the alleyway, then you weren’t going to make it through the level.

So yes, Stuntman was unforgiving. It was often infuriating and gave you no freedom at all aside from the freedom to fail. Its achievement though, was that once you’d finally made it through, you were eager to watch back your replay. My question to you then, is how many other games have managed to do that?

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