A weekly log of the games I’ve played accompanied by some random thoughts about them
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Gears of War 2
*** Warning — Spoilers! ***
DMoTsunami and I made some progress, getting up through Act 4, Chapter 3, in today’s session — not a whole lot of progress, but a respectable amount and we’re certainly getting closer to the end. Even when sometimes it’s total overkill with detail work, I’ve been enjoying the scale and aesthetic of the environments so far. Visuals is something the Gears of War series is known for and it still feels that way. Obviously it’s probably a lot of fun (and work) when you’re working in this highly stylized fictional environment. We also finally made it to perhaps the second most central plot point in the game — beyond eradicating the Horde, saving humanity and saving Jacinto — the one where Dom finally gets closure in his search for Maria.
This is another point in the game’s story where the theme is serious and adult, similar to Tai’s suicide earlier in the game. Clearly are both events not only serious in nature, but they are supposed to evoke emotional responses. Tai’s suicide was sudden and quite unexpected — we’ve been conditioned to think that Cogs, and all other manner of testosterone fuelled space marines, are virtually indestructible and not prone to weakness of body or spirit. While I didn’t shed any tears at the situation, this was a clever subversion of trope we’ve all come conditioned to accept without reason or questioning, in this genre and especially in the Gears of War franchise. A fact not so subtly illustrated by Ben Carmine saying “he survives everything. Doesn’t he?” Beating the dead horse somewhat, but that’s just a pretty subjective opinion on how overt you need to have points hit home. Of course, the ironic counterpoint is that the Carmine family has done anything but survive in the Gears of War games — although that’s a tragedy of a different nature.
Moving on, however, to Maria. Dom’s search for Maria has not only been one of the key plot points for the game as it progresses forward, but it was an integral part of the marketing machine both to pique interest and presumably also to silence naysayers that Gears of War didn’t have a story. During this part of my playthrough, that thread of the story comes to its conclusion as Dom finally finds Maria amongst the enslaved. Even though you think Dom has found resolution in his quest, the writers throw in a twist in an attempt to ratchet up the emotional intensity yet again. In this case, we saw Maria through Dom’s eyes and he was seeing her as he remembered her and it wasn’t until a cue from Marcus did Dom see that Maria had been entirely “processed” for lack of a better word, and was basically not even human anymore. As a result, as Marcus turns away, Dom does the compassionate thing and ends Maria’s life (off screen). The scene is certainly positioned to be a turning point for Dom, perhaps launching him into a different state of mind as you follow him and Marcus through the end of the game, presumably looking for vengeance.
Unfortunately, the scene just didn’t resonate with me the way I suspect the writers intended it to. I have to give them a bunch of credit for trying to tackle exponentially more complex mature themes in their game, I just think in many ways, the overly macho slaughterfest of a game makes it difficult to wholeheartedly believe these displays of emotion. Really, the precedent was set with the first Gears of War, so you can’t really expect much as the writers try to move the game out of the hole it’s already dug itself with regards to story and emotional connection. The more I think about it, while it may not have worked with the overall story or universe, I would have preferred Dom and Maria get reunited here — save the tragedy for the third game/act, once we’re had more time to feel elated about their reunion and therefore having time to build the emotional connection needed to respond to the tragedy of loss.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
I still haven’t had enough time to dedicate to playing through Mirror’s Edge, as much as I know I want to. I just completed Chapter 1, which isn’t much. The story is just getting started and we’ve gotten foundation on which I’m sure the rest of the story is going to be built around. That is the conspiracy surrounding the death of this Robert Pope and the framing of Faith’s sister. We’re already seeing how some of this is going to play out — the duality of sisters at opposite ends from each other, Faith the one on the fringes, breaking the law and her sister Kate, a cop, on the side of the “enemy” by virtue of employment. It’ll be interesting to see how the story may or may not exploit this to provide insight into how the gameplay mechanics are they way they are.
Beyond that, I still haven’t fully gotten a hang of the controls yet, but I’m picking it up quickly. I’d really like to get to the point where I could be a bit more fluid with Faith’s movements as I try to navigate and evade in the world. I guess that part is all about practice, practice, practice.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
I played a couple of matches of this to try it out since it was just released. I’m barely competent at fighting games, but I still find them quite fun and this is no exception. I really need to read up on the move list and what not of what makes this “Super” because without it, because I didn’t quite get to anything that felt radically different just by fooling around with it. That being said, when I played, it still felt satisfying. Will have to play some more after I pore over, but not memorize, the move list.
I picked this up again, mostly to check out the character customization features. This is way deeper than I anticipated, although I should have guessed given the detail some people have managed to pack into created characters. Crazy.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Gears of War 2
Well, DMoTsunami and I completed Gears of War 2 tonight. There were definitely some highs and lows as we rushed to the end of the game. Skorge is one tough dude and it was a shame that the way to finally dispatch him was through a reaver fight, but you have to say, flying around on reavers was pretty fun. It was nice to turn the tables and ride a Brumak and decimate a ton of Locust as you gave them a taste of their own medicine. It was also a way to see the upgrades to the Unreal Engine since by having a camera that was pulled out farther than the normal third-person view, they were able to render many, many Locust swarming around trying to take you down. It definitely felt… empowering. Unfortunately the end was a little anticlimatic, although it was an improvement over the ending boss battle from the first Gears of War. Don’t get me wrong, that was a pretty tense fight even on Hardcore, but you felt like you wanted something bigger and seemingly overwhelming to fight at the end. I think this was part of the reason a Brumak fight was included in the PC version of Gears of War, along with the fact that you just never got to fight one of them.
Anyhow, riding in a helicopter and nearly indiscriminately using the Hammer of Dawn on the lambent brumak just felt slightly underwhelming when you look back at the other staged fights you had. I just didn’t get the same sense of tension and anxiety, but, it still felt pretty rewarding to take it down in the end. I think part of what happened is that you’re just thrown into this situation where you have to take the brumak down that you’re just reacting and, at least on hardcore co-op, it didn’t really provide for the adrenaline to kick in. Still, it’s a step in the right direction and finishing the game felt both satisfying and got me pumped to play some more — on Insane. Especially since I never unlocked the “Friends with Benefits” achievement even though, as best as I can recall, DMoTsunami and I played through every bit of the game together. So, I definitely need to get that.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I completed Chapter 2 of Mirror’s Edge in this sitting. I’m feeling a bit better with flowing between running and doing all the parkour moves, but I still don’t have it so well that I can string a good segment without running into something and stopping me in my tracks. In this chapter, I’m running after someone from Faith’s past, trying to catch up to him to get more insight into the conspiracy surrounding Pope and my sister. It’s pretty clear this guy is going to figure fairly significantly later on in the game, just based on how much the cut scene dialogue decides to keep Jackknife’s history a mystery. Speaking of cut scenes, it’s beginning to bother me a little how much the animated cut scenes are breaking from the immersion provided by the rest of the game, no matter how cool the animated style is. We’ll see how it feels as I progress through the game.
In Chapter 3, which I also completed, we first meet Lieutenant Miller. Again, given what you know, he seems to fall into a pretty stereotypical insider helper person who will eventually be forced to stick with what his job is, rather than betray the system, no matter how much he helps you. Beyond that, this was probably the most visceral chapter I’ve encountered so far — DICE really piled on a ton of action back-to-back here. It’s not just even jumping between the large cranes, even though that’s a moment where you’re not sure if you’re going to make it. There’s a part where I got stuck a little, on a rooftop where three guards were dropped off by helicopter and, if you didn’t get it just right or rushed, you’d be killed pretty quick. This was the first time where I felt I would try to do the disarm move every time, as that was the quickest way to dispatch the guards. After much trial and error, I pretty much got it perfect and it felt pretty good to get it down like that.
The real achievement in this chapter, in terms of getting you all wrapped up in the action, was the portion where you’re running through all the scaffolding while the helicopter is firing at you. I liked how the intensity was at a high through this entire sequence, so much so that when you encountered the lone officer at a corner of the building, that you could only react by instinct and attack and basically push him off the scaffolding to fall to his death. That was, in a word, just a brilliant piece of pacing because you couldn’t get the feeling of anticipation that was going to happen, it just happened and afterwards I could only think, “Did I just do that? Wow.”