Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Witcher [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: About an hour of the game. 

Note: It would be inappropriate for me to comment negatively on the art/sound/story with such a limited amount of time put into the game. There were no specific glaring issues in my experience.

Gameplay: The Witcher is a third person RPG with a massive inventory system, magic, and basic weapon combat. The Witcher uses a hybrid of pause-time combat with essentially a constant quick-time-event. After assigning the main character to battle a given enemy you have to follow up with subsequent clicks to improve the attack at an interval of time (required to generally survive the confrontation). This was so appalling to me that I quit the game shortly after clearing the fortress of enemies at the beginning of the game. Games like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Final Fantasy XII, and Dragon Age have a much more preferable combat systems without the need for extensive quick-time-event usage (I do not recall much if any). I do not like rhythm games and have a lot of disdain for playing games that use this kind of functionality extensively. The Witcher, unfortunately, bases the entire combat system around it.

Gut: I will not play this game until I like this type of combat in a game. While an unlikely scenario, I would not want to throw around the word "never."

Spec Ops: The Line [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: One play through failing to realize I had a choice at the end of the game (non-spoiler?).

Story: Spec Ops: The Line is about a three Delta Force operatives attempting to perform reconnaissance in a storm ravaged Dubai. Everything has been destroyed due to the cataclysmic sand storms that continue to ravage the area as you play through the game. You play as the main character and move the story forward by making minimal decisions and mostly just moving towards the next way point like a good little gamer. I make the sarcastic comment because the game forces you into decisions that you may not like the result of. The overall view is that war is a hellish mess in which people can easily make terrible decisions. Unfortunately there is little change in the game based on the decisions you make. You will be exposed to the horrors of war and witness things go from bad to worse.

Unfortunately the female gender is limited to evoking emotion in cut-scenes and civilians in the background. I am guessing they wanted to avoid stirring up even more controversy by having any actual female characters play a role. I think this could have worked well with my original thought that the game would be less guided and more open-ended about which factions you choose to support.

Art: The game looks great! There is a lot of extra detail in a few places with original art to remind the player that they are traveling through a high end metropolis that has been utterly devastated. Over the course of the game your character and his companions visually change providing some acknowledgement that they have had little to no rest, certainly don't wear a clean set of clothing, and aren't back to perfect unwounded shape every new step of the story.

Sound: The sound design of the game was critical due to the variety of events within the game. While I think they did very well I was very disappointed with the use of music. In a few sections of the game the "Radioman" uses his city-wide radio system to broadcast music providing a soundtrack to the various firefights throughout the game. Unfortunately they also had music during other firefights where it was generic and felt out of place with a game attempting to be realistic.

Gameplay: As someone who can actually recall the original Spec Ops games from the 90s (they were cool for the time) I think this is a very worthy sequel. You do not have multiple missions and are instead on one very guided roller coaster ride into the madness of war. The squad play is limited but works. You can help your companions if injured and request they go after targets as well.

As with many third-person shooters of late Spec Ops: The Line includes the use of cover by pressing a key to "attach" to a given wall/barrier. This works for the most part but is not always predictable due to angles and types of things to attach to. You cannot predict what you can attach to until you stand your character next to it and see if the context sensitive hint appears indicating you can attach.

One drawback of the game is that the controls on the PC keyboard just do not exactly work right. Grenades in particular require a lot of input and a bit of thought (especially if you want to cancel one). It is not that it is especially difficult it just seems like the number of situations where they could have been useful was cut down due to my lack of desire to fight so much with it. The grenade selection with the mouse wheel was also bizarre at best. It was like a game of roulette if I would get the grenade type I desired.

In a game where your choices and  consequences are generally apparent the concept of karma is lost in the "execution" option on wounded enemy combatants. By performing execution maneuvers you are rewarded with additional ammunition you would otherwise not receive. This flies in the face of the goal of the game and encourages you to take on further violent acts. I was very confused by the decision to include this (as it is both morally odd and nonsensical).

The aftermath of any gun violence pales in comparison to the aftermath in numerous of the cut-scenes or non-combat scenarios. Instead the enemies you face are reduced to video game fodder. Only once do I recall the radioman sarcastically pointing out that the soldier killed had a wife and children. The enemies do occasionally speak of other matters but never much in the way of reminding the player that they are in hell and wish to be out of war and back to just about anything else.

Gut: The game is fun to play. The game also contains a lot of disturbing content and may disgust some players. I was a bit disappointed that the story was so completely on rails. I was hoping for a bit more open ended where you have to deal with independent issues in a non-sequential order (faux player choice).

Afterthought: I was surprised to read such harsh criticism over the lack of alternate decisions to avoid the most horrific events. This game is not a choose-your-own adventure. The game is more like a regular book where the player is only responsible for making it through gunfights. I guess people wanted/expected Fallout 3.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fallout: New Vegas [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: One play through the main storyline and many of the side quests (no DLC yet)

Story: The story of Fallout: New Vegas follows a courier that has been shot and assumed dead. Your journey is first to find out why and what exactly happened. Along the way there are plenty of distractions in the way of side-stories to be drawn into. For the most part the narrative is open ended in that you can make your own decision on how to proceed. There are multiple endings/outcomes related to the interactions you have with various groups of characters. You can also take along one robotic and one humanoid follower to help out in battle. On occasion the followers also impact your choices, but that can easily be averted by leaving them temporarily.

The major players in the game are two warring factions: The Legion and the NCR. Both groups are vying for control of Hoover Dam and potentially New Vegas itself. As you play through the game you are introduced to both groups and allowed to support, attack, or ignore them accordingly. Unfortunately there is little grey area when it comes to which side to support morally. The Legion is way too savage to be a viable option if you are trying to play through in a remotely "kind" way. The NCR comes across as a sad, corrupt democracy that is spineless and exhausted. While not a major player from the start, New Vegas itself also presents an option but it comes off as too ego-maniacal.

The story is really up to you to create. There are many groups to meet and events to play through. While I found the overall story experience more interesting than Fallout 3 I still felt a bit disappointed because by the time I made it to New Vegas (playing through many of the side missions) it turned out I was only a few steps from the end of the game! Once the roller coaster of a conclusion started things spiraled out of control and my choices were more limited than I would have liked.

One section of the plot in particular left me with no choice but to break out and force the failure of a number of missions. Shortly after entering New Vegas I was given the opportunity to travel to The Legion camp to perform a task (that The Legion could have done themselves in a heartbeat). They removed my weapons upon entry to the camp but then returned them when it was time to perform the task (avoiding the spoiler). At the time I had powerful weapons and allies and had the strong urge to simply destroy The Legion (as they had been less than nice to me previously). I did. I crushed/razed the Legion camp and Caesar (the leader) as well. This had almost no impact on the game but it felt like the right thing to do.

Art: Like Fallout 3 everything is dingy and gross. Even New Vegas looked nowhere near as nice as I would have expected. New Vegas should have looked even better to really remind the player just how awful the world outside is. 

Sound: The music for New Vegas (theme in particular) definitely got stuck in my head. I had to turn off the radio stations though because they were too repetitive. There were some problems with the audio for Boone (a follower). It would crackle and seemed like it wasn't recorded correctly.

Gameplay: The gameplay of New Vegas is exactly like Fallout 3. It seems like there were no changes made at all. You run around a huge wasteland exploring and collecting junk to buy more junk to make it easier to defeat people to get more junk and in turn finish missions. With a few exceptions you are always in a combat capable mode. If you so feel you can turn on the people who have no hostility towards you any time you want. Unfortunately the reverse is not true. It is a lot harder to convince people who want you dead to suddenly not want you dead.

I spent much of my time making supply runs because The Legion assassin squad attacks were so brutal and inventory filling. I racked up a lot of money from their failed attempts! After a while I realized that I would not need as much money as I was hoarding. I never really used the 65,000 caps I ended up saving.

The one follower I always made sure to keep with me was Ed-E (with the exception of when I took Rex to get a new brain). Ed-E is a floating eyeball that shoots lasers. Ed-E is awesome that way.

When a game allows it I always put as much attention on being able to have the most options in conversations. Speech/charisma was champion again like with Fallout 3. My experience was a bit less rocky and resulted in a lot fewer deaths thanks to talking through issues.

Gut: Fallout: New Vegas is fun. I liked it more than Fallout 3 primarily because I spent less time roaming the same looking 4 billion square miles of subway tunnels. I look forward to playing the DLC in the future and likely replaying the game with a bit more knowledge of what is to come (ie. better use of stats).