Certain sects of the gaming populace would have you believe that linearity – be it in story or gameplay – is a dinosaur, on a fated collision course with the meteor that is freeform game design. After all, who wants to be funneled down the same glorified corridor every time they play through a game – having the same conversations with the same characters – when they could be forging new paths and crafting their own unique stories as they go along? Sure, Half-Life 2 was great, but we’re in the age of Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, and Grand Theft Auto now, right? Sitting back and just watching a story unfold without intervening? That’s old news, a musty relic for people who prefer movies… or even books! And man, those people are friggin’ nerds.
Or at least, that’s what I thought until I played Zeno Clash. For the uninitiated, Zeno Clash is a first-person brawler (think Riddick, but minus Vin “I just ingested a sheet of sandpaper” Diesel’s vocals) developed by the mad Chilean geniuses at ACE Team. But such a quick and conventional description doesn’t even come close to doing the game justice. Oh sure, punches and kicks flow as freely as the teeth you’ll knock loose with them, but Zeno Clash’s real star is its strange, unsettling, and yet all at once cohesive world.
In fact, instead of “strange,” let’s try “downright bizarre.” Zeno Clash’s world isn’t some simple paint-by-numbers sci-fi/fantasy videogame setting. Instead, at first glance, it appears to be the result of paint buckets tossed willy-nilly onto a canvas, with colors strewn all about in no recognizable pattern, yet placed on top of a recognizable shape. In more concrete terms, here are just a few of the things that you’ll see in a typical Zeno Clash setting: bird-people, tables with actual human legs, screaming women in diving helmets, exploding squirrels, women with exposed… spinal cords (Yeah, not exactly what you were hoping for, huh?), and purple trees with limbs that twist and tangle like a broken Slinky. And that, my friends, is merely the beginning.
There's a method to this madness right after the break.
Every gamer has a story. A story assembled from countless in-game experiences, a collage of victory, defeat, heroics, and villainy. There is, however, a schism in the way these stories play out. Ask someone who’s lived out their gaming days in solitude and they’ll tell you of superhuman feats, epic dramas, and non-player characters who may not have been real boys, but were certainly close enough that Geppetto would’ve been hard-pressed to tell the difference. Pose the same question to multiplayer-centric gamers, though, and you’ll get an earful of teamwork, commitment, practice, and good old fashioned competition.
Neither side, of course, is wrong to enjoy games for their respective reasons. It’s merely a case of different strokes for different folks. However, what happens when single-player and multiplayer modes get married and pop out a child? Well, if you ask developers like BioWare and Splash Damage (who are working on fusing multiplayer and single-player with Star Wars: The Old Republic and Brink, respectively), they’ll tell you such all-encompassing modes are just The Next Big Thing. And they may very well be right about that.
Forgive me, then, for objecting to this holy matrimony.
Clicking the read more link is a single-player experience, but reading and responding to the article is multiplayer! These are important distinctions (no they're not).
“Never bring a knife to a gunfight” – a wise saying that’s kept Cowboy duels the world over interesting for years. That cardinal rule doesn’t say anything about stone-shattering mining hammers, though, and there’s a very good reason for that. To quote an enemy from Red Faction: Guerrilla: “Snap! Crack! Sounds of brain splattering like wet spaghetti against a wall.” Hey, I never said I was quoting something that came from the poor guy’s mouth.
Battering EDF goons into Mars-flavored space-paste isn’t the only thing my hulking steel hammer does, either. It can render years of architectural progress futile in a few powerful blows, taking chunk after chunk out of buildings until all that remains is splintered scrap. As you can imagine, the practical applications for this futuristic form of Building Neutralization are endless. Wall in my way? Knock it down. Gun emplacement in my way? Knock it down. EDF fortress in my way? Well, you get the idea. But aside from the novelty of being able to run through walls screaming, “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch,” the ability to homerun-swing the entire environment around me into chalky dust – to never be impeded or have to take “the long way around” – is incredibly liberating. In fact, other shooters now feel limited and strange to me because they lack that feature.
Clearly, Red Faction developer Volition is onto something here. Completely destroyable structures give me all kinds of new options, keeping missions endlessly fresh. What Volition created, then, is a good, well-implemented game mechanic. It brings me endless amounts of joy and – even more importantly – I can’t imagine playing other games of its variety without it. As much as the game’s destructible environments have been pushed and marketed, they aren’t some big gimmick. In fact, interestingly enough, Red Faction: Guerrilla’s also a perfect example of how to both define and avoid cheap gimmicks – lessons that, if cranky, keyboard-bound gamers are to be believed, are quite important.
High blood pressure. Teeth marks in keyboards. Keyboard marks in monitors. Millions dead. These are only a few of the symptoms typically associated with gamer rage, but as with any potent malady, thousands of talented men and women are racing to find a cure. Recently, however, two groups picked up the pace and sprinted to the head of the frustration-fighting pack. Their names are Bethesda and Nintendo.
Both companies are currently developing games that, in a manner of speaking, play themselves. They are -- to put it in cynical, crotchety, “back in my day” terms – finally handing players a Win Button. Bethesda has applied the name “SMART A.I.” to its get out of frustration free card, but it merely gives you the option of taking a breather while the A.I. controls your character’s movement toward a specific location. In other words, encounter anything with an itchy trigger finger and you’re S.O.L.
This is nowhere near as extreme as New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s approach, which will – according to Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto – do everything for you at your behest. Free from the slippery grasp of your feeble fingers, Mario will cut a swath through Bowser and his cohorts as though possessed by the reptile-battling soul of Steve Irwin. He will have his revenge. But will you enjoy it?
Pressing the huge, red picture of a button won't do anything! Click the read more link instead.
There was something different about this year’s E3. Ok, aside from the 30,000 or so extra people and the occasional, chuckle-inducing swine flu masks strapped to the faces of germophobic show-goers. It was something subtle – invisible, even – but it happened with a great deal of frequency.
It was cheering.
Clapping, laughter, excitement. By and large, at this year’s show, people really, really liked what they saw. This should be a good thing, but in my cranky, cantankerous opinion, it’s not. Why? Because every last cheer, whistle, and imitation air horn blast sounded in raucous approval of the status quo. Another FPS. Another God of War clone. “Our game is a lot like Half-Life, but mixed with Halo,” developers would cheerily exclaim, bathing in the glow of audience members’ beaming smiles.
From me, however, E3’s flood of samey shooters and risk-free sequels elicited only one reaction: a quiet cry of “Down with the hardcore.” Allow me to explain.
As I mentioned earlier, most every big ticket title at this year’s E3 was some sort of rehash, sequel, or clone. Here’s a quick list of particularly obvious offenders: Modern Warfare 2, BioShock 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Halo: ODST, Halo: Reach, Dante’s Inferno, Metal Gear Solid: Rising, Assassin’s Creed 2, Crysis 2, Mass Effect 2, Alpha Protocol, etc, etc, etc. That’s not to say that my fanboy froth isn’t overflowing for many of those games; it is. I came away from E3 jumpy (though that might’ve been the fault of LA’s less-than-friendly neighborhoods) and excited as could be. However, I’m excited for me. Right now. I’m not, however, excited for the future of the gaming industry.
What drives a perfectly sane person to become a videogame company's public relations manager? I can't quite be sure, but I'm willing to bet that whatever it is, it isn't pretty. The mission that -- again -- they choose to accept seems simple enough: deliver information into the eager hands of journalists and laygamers alike, in hopes of eventually building your game's hype-tower up to stratospheric levels. What's so wrong with that? Well, nothing, actually. But all it takes is one quick slip-up at the intersection between mission intention and mission execution to turn that colossal hype tower back into splinters and dust. Those things, for the uninitiated, do not typically mix well with the copious amounts of blood, sweat, and tears that go into game development.
Thus, toward the end of a game's hype cycle, we see little fiascos like the one well-respected journalist Tom Chick encountered with Sony's latest second-party effort, inFamous. Chick had received an early copy of the game for review purposes, and chose to divide his criticism into two separate lists: one praising the game's pioneering efforts in the field of electrically charged super heroics, and the other (gently) reaming the game for pilfering from the plot of Kids WB cartoon Static Shock, among other things. No review scores were assigned to either of Chick's lists, but his somewhat brutal -- though justified -- honesty was enough to send the PR machine into a tizzy. As a result, Sony canceled an interview between Chick and the game's developers.
The stunning plot twist? Chick reported Sony's little gaffe, as journalists occasionally do, and readers weren't too pleased with the publisher's Indian-giving antics. The site's comment section rang with cries of "Gerstmann-gate," the PR explosion between website GameSpot and publisher Eidos that resulted in the firing of Jeff Gerstmann, one of GameSpot's senior review staff, for assigning Eidos title Kane and Lynch a 6 out of 10 review score.
Continue reading for some hot Spy and Mama action.
I’ve been playing Peggle lately, and – confession time – I love it.
Despite the attached “casual timesink” stigma and even though the game’s main gameplay conceit is essentially as complex as watching a slinky bounce down a staircase, I can’t get enough of it. On top of that, it serves as a perfect contrast to the other stigma-prone game I’m currently loving in that can’t-let-the-family-find-out sort of way: Mirror’s Edge. Why the wariness? Well, Mirror’s Edge was supposed to lead EA’s innovation charge, but the game’s over-reliance on frustrating trial-and-error-based gameplay caused it to fall slightly short of its lofty goal.
As with Peggle, though, that “controversial” gameplay conceit is my main reason for loving it so much. So, to sum up: Peggle is simple and fun, while Mirror’s Edge is brutal, but still enjoyable. Playing one when I’m fed up with the other makes them perfect compliments. End of story, right?
But this complimentary contrast isn’t without a point. See, typically, the ridicule Peggle receives is purely in jest. The game’s casual and addictive, so – obviously – you’re putting your hardcore gamer cred on the line by playing it. “Oh that Nathan! Giving [Big Name Game X] the cold shoulder for Peggle? What a loon!” And then hilarity ensues. Etc. But the truth is, Peggle’s a fantastic game, and most will acknowledge that.
Mirror’s Edge’s jump-die-jump-die-???-profit shtick, though? That’s the kind of thing that inspires gamepad-shaped holes in the wall and cursing strings that’d make Q-Bert blush. Lower than expected review scores and a general air of disappointment shortly after the game’s release reflect that. As a result, I’d wager that the type of gameplay Mirror’s Edge took so many verbal blows for is on its way out. Which is a shame, because I think it still has a place in today’s gaming climate.
Read on to find out why Mirror's Edge 2 -- if one ever appears -- probably won't be much like the first.
When they strap me to the chair, I won’t fight it.
The man was frail and frightened. All he could do was drop to the floor and beg for a quick death from his much more physically imposing enemy. And I gladly obliged. His name, when highlighted by my cursor, was red, after all. He was one of the bad guys, right? Right?
The above scenario occurred while I was playing through Fallout 3’s Broken Steel DLC, and would’ve been just another day in the Wasteland if not for a few key factors. First up, according to my Pip Boy, I’m Wasteland Jesus, doer of all things selfless and just, hands sparkly clean and free of innocent blood. Second, my enemy – a scientist – wasn’t the violent type. He ran without giving me any sort of trouble, yet I gave chase. I was the schoolyard bully, and he the undeserving nerd. Sure, his red name tag told me that perforating his fancy future lab coat wouldn’t yield any karmatic consequences, but I had no way of knowing if he was actually evil. But I still killed him and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t the least bit sorry.
Really, what does such a scenario even say about the habits videogames foster in us? Sensationalists would, of course, say that this is just another example of the big, mean gaming industry’s trivialization of death, regarded by many as the de facto Serious Topic. To which I respectfully reply: You’re dumb.
If you take a few moments to sift through gaming’s ever-expanding walk of fame, you’ll quickly notice that many of our hobby’s biggest, most memorable stars and starlets are, well, dead. SPOILERS. Aeris (or Aerith, or whatever Square’s calling her these days) from Final Fantasy VII. The dog from Fable II. The baby metroid from Super Metroid. And my personal, though lesser known favorite: the random helicopter pilot from Resident Evil 4. In the cases of many of these deaths, players mourned for these characters, and even tried to – for the most part, unsuccessfully – bring them back to life. Gamers still experience death like everyone else. Game designers know that, and use it to make their games more emotionally affecting.
So why, then, are we still capable of callously capping “enemies” that can’t or won’t fight back? My guess? It’s that darn good vs. evil meter doodad so many new-fangled games present us with these days.
Continue reading for the battle between good and evil
Ignoring the absolutely, hilariously awful second movie, the universe of Vin Diesel vehicle Richard B. Riddick is undeniably fascinating. Each of its good entries dishes out only as much juicy info as Riddick and a small cast of supporting characters see fit, creating a potentially infinite playground for Diesel’s be-goggled antihero to bully around. And, as with any well-constructed sci-fi setting, no trip to Riddick’s take on the final frontier is complete without a liberal helping of the four W’s. What’s the deal with this planet? Why is Riddick performing fistic genocide on half of its population? Who made these totally rad mechs? And where can I get one?
The answer to all of these questions is simple in Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena -- explore.
Or at least, that’s the logical solution, and in a universe where even a quick moment of hesitation is liable to end with someone on the receiving end of a knife to the eye socket, it’s probably best to avoid asking too many questions. So, during my still in-progress playthrough, I’ve been plumbing the grimy depths of Alcatraz’s out-of-this-world cousin, Butcher Bay. Unfortunately, as of now, the only reward I’ve received for all my exploration is a pack of smokes. And by “a pack,” I mean somewhere in the upper double digits. Suffice it to say, it’s a good thing Riddick doesn’t use the same cigarette storage methods as Solid Snake.
But for me, this literal smoke stack still presents a problem. Sure, I’m being rewarded for my constant exploration, and yeah, the Special Surprises inside each carton – ranging from concept art to behind-the-scenes tech demos – are pretty neat, but after a while, everything just becomes so predictable. Under those crates? A cigarette carton. On that ledge? A cigarette carton. Behind your ear? Well, you get the idea. And really, isn’t the main appeal of exploration – and, to an extent, gaming in general – discovery and subsequent mastery of the unknown? Why take a hike off the beaten path when I already know what lies just around the corner – especially when, in all likelihood, said main path will provide me with far more varied rewards for my trouble?