Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gaming Thoughts 02/09/11

Should have gone up in the last few weeks but here it is as I play catch up.

I managed to finish off two titles this past weekend and I like this drive to finish what’s on my plate before moving on to the next meal. That’s been my MO for 20 years, and it’s continued to this day despite my best efforts. Last week, I received a game via trade that I’ve been dying to play but opted to hold onto it until I completed at least two of the three games I was working on. As such, I knocked off “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena” on Saturday night and “Darksiders” on Sunday night and my world was the better for it.

“Dark Athena” still feels like an expansion pack to “Butcher Bay” and I can’t recommend it. It was fun enough for the most part, but the story just stopped about 2/3 of the way through, the villain’s final line was utterly nonsensical under the circumstances, and the finale lends no credence to it being a prequel to the movie “Pitch Black.” It also failed to make convincing use of Vin Diesel as the titular character, which is an amazing feat considering you’re playing as Diesel start to finish. But I rang up some achievements along the way and now I’m done with Riddick.

Moving on to “Darksiders,” I have to take major issue with THQ for this. The final dungeon, such as it is, was totally unnecessary to, well, everything. The setup for the final goes like this: You finally free a big demon named Samael who teleports you to a giant tower. Upon entering, you find the Angel of Death, Azrael, suspended by an energy field. He provides some long missing exposition, then you have to channel three separate energy beams to his prison in order to free him. This ENTIRE dungeon took me the better part of an afternoon to complete. I can say with absolute certainty that the game was not enhanced in any way by this sequence. Strip this sequence out, have a lengthy cutscene where Azrael lays out the story for you, then be on your way. THAT’S how it should have gone, and I’m routinely puzzled by developers who fail to realize that sometimes less is more.

Once you complete the massive waste of time dungeon, you have to track down seven sword pieces scattered across the numerous maps (none of which are small), take them to another place to get them reforged into the Real Ultimate Weapon™, before finally tracking back to Azrael who sends you up against the big bad guy. That’s a heck of a lot of puzzling and problem solving for a story following one of the four horsemen on an act of revenge against an army of monsters. “Darksiders” may have ripped off “The Legend of Zelda” whole hog, but a Zelda-only clone this ain’t. I thought “Darksiders” pilfered everything the industry had seen in the last five years, but I considered throwing in the towel once the “Portal” gun appeared. Seriously? We’re ripping off “Portal” in a game where the mechanic makes absolutely no sense to implement?

To its credit, the finale was pretty good despite blatantly setting up a sequel. To add insult to injury, word came out a week or two ago that the sequel (slated to hit in spring of 2012) would in fact take place at the same time as the first game, thereby not continuing the story so much as milking the same cow from a different angle. Sigh. Throughout “Darksiders,” you get the sense that a much, much larger story is at work even if those nuggets of information are few and far between. If you have a “LOST” vibe then you’re not alone. When some big revelations hit late in the game, they allow for all manner of directions in a sequel. But that would have to be a sequel which continues forward rather than steps to the side.

Stupid is as stupid does I guess.

Fortunately I’ve found a dazzler. Upon completing “Darksiders,” I transitioned over to “Enslaved” and I think I’m in love. Right now I’m up to chapter four (of about 13 or 14 I think) and it’s fabulous. Thus far. I reserve the right to change my opinion should the game suddenly drop off the Cliff of Stupid as so many other titles do. They start out strong, gain momentum, then… nothing. Either they simply run out of ideas and repeat themselves (looking at you “Halo”) or they fail utterly to stick the landing (too many to count). So fingers crossed for “Enslaved” but I’ll tell you what my favorite aspect is—the setting.

The game is set in the far-flung future where mankind has been decimated and some unknown apocalypse has flattened the globe. Cities lie in ruin. Heavily armed mobs of rusting robots patrol the broken streets. No signs of life are to be found anywhere. Sound familiar? To me, it sounds like just about most every post-apocalyptic game ever released. But “Enslaved” has a crucial distinction, one which I think will lead people in the future to reconsider its appeal.

In the future of “Enslaved,” Mother Nature has reclaimed the land. Vines, shrubs, grass, and trees grow everywhere—even from the tops of crumbling buildings. The cloudless sky is a beautiful azure blue. Sunlight glints off exposed, rusting girders. Through this genuine urban jungle, the two main characters must venture. They arrived courtesy of a slaver space craft (though whether from outer space or a different part of the planet hasn’t been specified as of yet) and have to trek some 300 miles to the west to find sanctuary. Thus far, the two have started working as a team and begun to rely on one another.

In short, it’s brilliant. The game takes you to dizzying heights that rapidly fall out from under you, throws new environment-based challenges at you so quickly it’s tough to keep up, and focuses a tremendous amount of energy on the evolving relationship between the male and female leads. As I said, I love it. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes and if it fails to stick the landing I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

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