I think The Darkness II's Jackie Estacado deserves an award for being more utterly screwed in a single instance than any other videogame character in history. So here's the tale of the tape: I – playing as the main character of all first-person shooters: camera-glued-to-the-main-character's-forehead – was locked in a dark, dingy room while a horde of vaguely supernatural mob goons turned my mega-mansion (and my horde of vaguely competent regular mob goons) into a gory pile of mob goop. “Mansion under attack, lol #firstworldproblems,” I could almost imagine Jackie tweeting if he hadn't also been, you know, crucified at the time.
Then one of my none-too-subtle foes wheeled a TV inches away from my eyes so as to – both literally and figuratively – rub my face in what was to come. “It's your own personal snuff film,” he proudly announced. On the screen were two of my particularly talkative underlings – beaten, bound, and on their knees, with backs mercifully turned away from the pistol pointed in their general direction. “One lives, one dies. Pick.” And I should have cared. I really should have.
But I didn't. Not in the slightest. So, what changed between the original Darkness' masterclass in characterization and this sordid tale of heartlessness and heart-eating? Simple: time.
It's the end of the year, and you know what that means: awards! Awards for everyone, from everyone! Best graphics, best game featuring Nolan North as a ruggedly handsome scoundrel, worst “arrow in the knee” joke (answer: all of them), etc, etc, etc. Honestly, though, most of the teary eyed, speech-blabbing winners are kind of boring. For example, Portal 2: An undeniably great, but ultimately safe update to a revered franchise. Arkham City: An undeniably great, but ultimately safe update to a revered franchise. Skyrim: An undeniably great, but blah blah blah. You get the point. The following, then, are games didn't land with such a huge splash -- perhaps because they weren't so great, or maybe because they're not even new -- but will almost certainly send out ripples for years to come.
You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you just know something's about to go horribly wrong? Like when someone says “This can't possibly go wrong!” or “Let's buy iPhones”? Well, that's how we felt when EA and Valve started taking their toothbrushes back from each others' houses. Obviously, Battlefield 3 wasn't going to benefit from the divorce. And so, predictably – but no less regrettably – here we are.
Dragon Age II was a mess. We don't mean that as a damning statement, either. It was simply an undifferentiated jambalaya of half-baked ideas both good and bad. Whether due to rushed development, lack of a cohesive vision, or something else entirely, the game failed to glue all its puzzle pieces together in a meaningful fashion. So yes, a mess. Fortunately, EA's not planning on leaving DAO fans high-and-dry just because DA II made waves on the sales charts.
The influence and demands of console gaming weigh heavily on Dragon Age II. For PC gamers this is not a good thing. I feel like the word “streamlining” must have appeared in every design memo. You can almost hear BioWare thinking, “These kids today, they can’t be bothered to move their rogue behind a target in order to properly execute a backstab. Let’s do all that for them!”
Part of me gets it. Positioning party members can be a little fussy, so why not just cut that stuff out in order to get right down to the combat?
Say what you will about Dragon Age II (here, we'll help: “dumbed-down,” “consolized,” and “ignorant argument against homosexuality” are the popular ones), but you might want to think twice before booting BioWare out of your life forever. After all, whether you liked Dragon Age II or not, the RPG powerhouse is still quite thankful that you bought it. So thankful, in fact, that its passing out free copies of its space opera opus Mass Effect 2 – no strings attached.