Friday, October 26, 2012

Week 5: Dishonorable Discharge

     When I saw the Game Informer feature about Dishonored, I expected a unique experience with an engaging story and a near disgustingly detailed world, full of bleak and dreary back alleys, sprawling environments and abilities to aid in stealth as well as assassination.

The image of the tallboy intrigued me in terms of the challenge it may pose in the game, as well as the fear it may strike a player given the purported environment of the game.

I was excited for this game, so much so that I pre-ordered it, which for me is fairly rare. In my many years as a gamer, I have pre-ordered four games: Red Dead Redemption, Batman: Arkham City, Dishonored and BioShock Infinite.

Red Dead Redemption and Arkham City are masterpieces of gaming, between their visuals, their stories and their characters.

After four hours, or rather two playthroughs of four hours spanning four hours apiece, I would consider Dishonored a long ways away from a masterpiece in any sense of the word.

I won't say the game is devoid of fun, because it isn't. The swordplay is satisfying, the powers offer a variety of possibilities for the experimental types, and the game does let you approach it through pure stealth.

The swordplay is, however, very limited, the story and characters leave a lot to be desired, the level design is unimpressive, there is no pacing, and the attention to detail, or lack thereof, is distracting.

Maybe I'm overstating things a bit since I am just part of the way through the game, but given the short length of the game, I hold only the slightest hope that it will improve.

The story is uninteresting from the very beginning. As Corvo Atano, Lord Protector, you have a reputation that is never elaborated or given any weight.

Within five minutes of playing, your empress is killed, her daughter kidnapped, and you are thrown in prison for the crime.

If Corvo is so respected, why is he not given the benefit of the doubt, or the right to plead his case? Why go through the trouble of feigning an existing reputation if you're going to simply sh*t on it before we get a feel for it?

There is absolutely no basis for Corvo's reputation, which makes the apparent fall from grace that much thinner. We are informed of his importance by characters making vague reference to his reputation.

We never see Corvo triumphing in any way, or valiantly serving his empress before we see her cut down. And why should I care if she is dead, or her daughter is taken? Because it is implied that she trusts Corvo? Because Emily plays hide and seek for 12 seconds?

I could not care less about the characters. I didn't care when the empress was murdered, don't particularly care that the girl was taken, don't care about the self-important, and remarkably wooden, political figures who facilitated the Corvo's escape from prison, nor do I can't about their intentions to restore Emily to the thrown, using Corvo as a surgical strike to compliment their politicking.

Dishonored offers no reasons to care about Corvo, his plight, or the fate of the city of Dunwall.

The characters make it difficult to care about what they're asking of Corvo because there is no sense of urgency or emotion to it. They are very direct with their orders, and show little or no care themselves as to the fate of Emily or Dunwall.

     If they don't care, WHY THE F*CK SHOULD I?!??!?

Before I get carried away, I guess I should give my impression of the gameplay.

At first glance, the combat is very much like that of BioShock. A power in one hand and a weapon in the other. The key difference being the powers in Dishonored aren't so direct. You can't just electrocute an enemy and be done with it.

I do appreciate the subtlety of the powers, particular the possession ability. It is unique in the sense that you can inhabit the body of a rat, or a human if you upgrade the skill, and do as you wish with them. You can possess someone, leap out a window, then jump out of the body and watch them fall to the ground and die.

In terms of creativity, I have to give that approach a thumbs up.

The rats in the game offer an interesting wrinkle to things. You can dispose of bodies in a horde of rats, call on rats to take out a guard, attach a trap to a rat, possess a guard to walk into it...

So many possibilities.

But the creativity and intrigue from one aspect of a game does not make it a great game. A fun experience, but not a great game.

I'll save some of the other points for next week when I've had a chance to really get into the game. As of right now, I'm enjoying it, though I am disappointed in it. I expected  a lot of the game, and was encouraged by the early reviews.

Shame on me for getting my hopes up...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Week 4, Part 2: Batman Arkham Asylum

     Since I finished Assassin's Creed at the beginning of the week, I couldn't very well wait until the end of the week to introduce my next game and begin my playthrough the following week. That would be foolish...

You don't make your way through a backlog totaling over one month of playing time by taking a week off.

I had already made it past the intro/tutorial stuff a while ago, but put it on hold once I made the decision to start this self-indulgent blog chronicling my backlog.

So when I picked Arkham Asylum back up, I had already seen Joker escape into the asylum, and played through the first hour or so of the main story. Perhaps it stems from my feelings towards this game, or I suffered a memory lapse, but I started this game thinking it would take me through this past week and into next week.

The game was finished early Thursday evening, forcing me to cram two entries into one week.

I approached this game in a fashion similar to Assassin's Creed in terms of collecting things. Since I was more familiar with Arkham Asylum, and the execution is engaging, I gathered a decent amount of Riddler trophies without going out of my way to track down every last one.

When I finished, I had tracked down around 170 trophies, roughly half of the Arkham Chronicles and had a 77-percent completion rating.

Now that all the numbers and explanations are out of the way, I can move on to spouting my praise as if it means anything to anyone.

There is no way I can touch on every aspect of this game that I love, so I'll just hit the important parts. For starters, they set the stage perfectly by tagging the writer for Batman: The Animated Series, as well as the voice acting talents of Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman, Harley Quinn, and Joker respectively.

For anyone who grew up in the 90s, having what amounts to an interactive version of that show is a dream come true.

That may be an oversimplification, but with all of the attention paid to Nolan and Bale's Batman, and my general distaste for the execution, it is great to get back to what made me love Batman.

Arkham Asylum is, in a word, amazing.

The story is great, the characters matter, and the gameplay is phenomenal. Superheroes don't easily translate to video games (see Superman, Aquaman, Iron Man), which makes the triumph of Arkham Asylum so much more satisfying.

In contrast to the general glossing we have seen over the "World's Greatest Detective" moniker, Arkham Asylum offers a solid amount of detective work.

The player is responsible for tracking friends and foes throughout the Asylum, whether it be with tobacco from Commissioner Gordon's pipe, the alcohol on a guard's breath, Harley's prints. You get to see the brain that is often overlooked in the brawn of Batman.

Detective Mode is a great game mechanic, though the developers went on to lament player's playing through most of the game with it activated, as it left their meticulously detailed environments unappreciated.

The combat is one of my favorite systems in all of gaming. It is smooth and satisfying, yet challenging and varied.

One of my favorite things about this game is the numerous nods to classic Batman villains.

We see Basil Karlo (Clayface) taking the shape of Gordon, Cash and Warden Sharp, Ra'as Al Ghul's body in the morgue (which is missing upon your return), Penguin's umbrellas and hat, Mr. Freeze's holding cell, Scarface in a display case, Black Mask's mask, piles upon piles of files tagged to Hugo Strange, the tea set for Mad Hatter, the mention of Tommy Elliott aka Hush, Calendar Man's cell.

All the mentions of villains make up for the story focusing on Joker, with key roles played by Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc and Scarecrow.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the absolute mindf*ck Scarecrow is responsible for.

The section where you walk a long hallway as a young Bruce Wayne when his parents were murdered is great. The stealth sections, having to avoid the gaze of Scarecrow, feature flashes where you ARE Scarecrow....

... Getting a glitchy screen... Then you're Joker transporting Batman into Arkham Asylum in the manner Batman escorted Joker into the asylum to start the game...being KILLED, and then a Retry/Quit screen coming up...

Never has a simple cough from Batman been so terrifying because it was a prelude to some craziness at the hands of Scarecrow.

I'm getting carried away.

There is too much to talk about with this game. If there is one gripe I have, it is that it isn't longer, but that is rectified with the sequel...

...Which is hinted at in one of the most impossibly hidden Easter eggs ever...

The final payoff leaves a bit to be desired, though Batman spraying explosive gel on his knuckles to deliver the knockout blow is beyond words.

I'll cut myself off before this gets more out of hand than it already has, and I become hyper-aware of everything I've missed pointing out.

Since I pre-ordered it, and picked it up the week after it was released, I will be playing Dishonored next. I don't know how long the game is since varying sources have the main story clocking in at less than 10 hours, while one of the level designers made it through a stealth playthrough in around 20 hours.

I'm excited for this game given the comparisons to Deus Ex and BioShock, two games I have enjoyed, though the former is on my to-do list...

So yeah, expect some Dishonored sh*t next week.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Week 4: Finally Killed Assassin's Creed

     It took longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished Assassin's Creed. I put other activities to the side and tackled the final three hours of the game in one sitting. I admit that I probably overlooked a great deal in this playthrough, and for good reason.

Interesting and well-executed game mechanics do not excuse a so-so, predictable story and repetitive tasks across a handful of cities broken into various stages themselves.

I love the living cities. The guards prowling the streets, the annoying beggars you can shove away, the merchants who get pissy when you leap through their set-ups.

I hate the formulaic approach to each assassination. Eavesdrop here, pickpocket those guys, do an informer's job for him, return to the Bureau, rinse and repeat.

The story played out in the Animus was predictable and did very little to engage me. As I've mentioned, I cared more about regaining all the rank and equipment the game teases you with in the first mission than carrying out the Brotherhood's orders.

[Here come some spoilers for all 17 of you that have not played this, though only one of you is likely reading this]

Can I pat myself on the back for calling the finale? Halfway through the game I could tell I was going to have to kill Al Mualim. When it came down to it, I didn't really care why and the reason given was pretty stupid.

The pieces of Eden were becoming more and more like MacGuffins, and the payoff didn't redeem them in any way. My waning interest in Altair's story, and my growing interest in Desmond's fate made it nearly impossible to care about them in the end.

I was let down by the way they ended things with Desmond, though I'm sure it feeds directly into Assassin's Creed 2. There was legitimate tension when Vidic put it out there that Desmond would be disposed of once they found the Templar's treasure.

The crazy writing on the floors and walls, the sudden ability to switch on the Assassin Vision as Desmond brought to mind some interesting directions for future installments...

...But to end it on that note is just stupid. Cliffhangers have no place in video games. Foreshadowing, sure. Not outright cliffhangers.

Now that I've finished the first, and arguably hardest, part of my backlog playthrough, I feel compelled to move on. I have abandoned my alphabetical approach for something less... rigorous. With my desire to game returning to respectable levels, I don't have to force myself to play anything.

For my next act, I have picked Batman: Arkham Asylum. A game I have played through just once, and have been meaning to replay ever since.

I'll save my personal feeling for this game until then.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Week 3: The End is Nigh!!!!

      Three weeks later, I'm actually coming to the end of Assassin's Creed. I'll save my final thoughts for the next entry, though it will likely be mixed with the first thoughts of the next game I play.

I've come to appreciate AC in a variety of ways. The story within the Animus may be the most hashed out, but it is the story unfolding with Desmond, Lucy, Warren and Abstergo in the real world that is the most compelling. In the thick of an assassination, I found myself wondering when my next out-of-Animus section would be.

Now I know Abstergo is in bed with the Templars, and they're using Desmond to find more Pieces of Eden to improve the world as they see fit.

Which, if I read Lucy's email correctly, involves mind control. Or forced complacency.

I also learned that Lucy is communicating with someone to get her, and presumably Desmond out of that place. I'm assuming it is a modern day Assassin's Order, though I may be wrong. The coded message was a nice touch.

After the first couple of executions, I all but did away with any attempt at perfect stealth with my assassinations. I grew impatient, and frustrated at times, with trying to find the right moment.

I was lucky when I killed William of Montferrat. He was sitting at his table after making an example out of two people, and I happened to reveal myself enough for him to notice, but not so much that he called for help. He actually climbed the ladder to me, and I was able to kill him without alerting anyone.

The same cannot be said for my assassinations of Majd Addin, Jubair al Hakim, and Sibrand.

With Addin, I made the mistake of not paying attention to my surroundings. Instead, I rushed the guards, which only pissed them all off, forcing me into a length fight with a dozen guards. It wasn't until after I had disposed of all of them that I noticed the band of scholars who walk a path up to the platform where Addin was preparing to execute four captives for various reasons

Al Hakim was a pain because of the five other targets the mission assigns along with him.

Damascus is already a dangerous place since apparently EVERYONE draws their sword when someone runs through the streets. I'm sure there was a stealthy way to go about it, but I went with brute force and killed each of the Illuminated and fled when guards reacted and engaged.

Sibrand was easy to approach, I just timed my leap poorly, and killed him in front of his guards rather than when he was firing arrows off of the deck of his ship.

My biggest problem got to be my need to complete the side missions, saving citizens, getting all possible information and view points. It helped, but as the game progresses, guards are on the lookout for suspicious behavior and seemed to go off at the slightest hint of my presence. Informer missions requiring the assassination of five Templars without alerting anyone got to be a nuisance.

If it wasn't guards going off when I climbed a ladder, it was the crazy or drunk people shoving me at inconvenient times. My efforts to remain anonymous led me to have some close calls with the time. Five minutes should be enough to take out five targets, but navigating the streets I hadn't familiarized myself with was difficult.

I blame myself for treating this playthrough like a Band-Aid, wanting to get it over with more than anything else.

My next session should bring my playthrough to a close which begs the question: What do I play next?

Contrary to my earlier intentions to approach my backlog alphabetically, I don't know that I can stomach a second entry in the Assassin's Creed series. I need a change of pace, though I don't know if I want to play something I have beaten before or start on a new title.

I may have to write multiple entries next week. Wrapping up AssCree, introducing the new title and settling in on my playthrough.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Week 2: Progress Is a Slow Process

     My Hunt for the Nine has been stifled by outside interests. I made the 'mistake' of dedicating a great deal of my time to reading, and the time I had allotted to my backlog was absorbed into personal growth.

I blame Patrick Rothfuss for his incessantly engaging storytelling. What an assh*le, right?

As for my progress, I made it through the rest of Acre, killing the crazy doctor-man and hitting all the memory glitches in the aftermath. The hospital he works in is a pain in the ass, for me at least. I have never made it out of there with perfect stealth.

I kill him while he is absorbed in his work, and am almost immediately discovered and pursued through the city.

Maybe I just suck at stealth...

The assassination of Talal is an interesting change to the formula, if you can call the two previous assassinations formulaic. Rather than stalking the target, he essentially leads you into a trap.

Instead of stealth killing him in the middle of a crowd, you have to chase him down and kill him. It added some tension to the process, with the potential for the target's escape sort of looming, but not really.

In restrospect, I think this could have been done differently. Rather than Talal waiting while his goons try to kill you, he should flee and it should fall to the player to hunt him down within the city with little more than instincts.

I understand that might be a difficult game mechanic, but that could be pretty cool if handled properly.

Even with my full attention, I cannot be brought to care about the plot being carried out with my assassinations. For me, the quest to reclaim rank supersedes the conspiracy developing across the land.

Since I've managed to avoid spoilers to this point, any speculation I offer in regards to the plot is genuine.

I get the feeling I will end up killing Al Mualim. He seems less interested in restoring Altair's rank and more interested in progressing his own agenda, or the agenda he sees fit for the Assassin's Order.

The interactions with Lucy and the opportunities to find information on her, Warren and, I assume, ultimately Abstergo, make the Desmond segments interesting. It is still jarring to go from leaping across rooftops and running through crowded streets to sauntering around a lab with no real options in terms of destination.

You can access their computers and you can go to your room. Hooray for freedom.

Again, I'm still very early in the game and I imagine it is all leading somewhere. I'm more curious about Abstergo's goal than the sub-plot in the Animus world.

I am fairly close to where I left off with my deepest playthrough in terms of story progress. I've been given the three assassination targets. Since I'm familiar with the guy throwing the party, I figure I'll take him out first, even if it is another chase down and kill target.

After him, William of Montferrat. He was the last target I assassinated in my previous playthrough and marks the furthest I've made it through the game.

I intend to reach that point midway through next week so I have something more than a review of previous feats to share.