Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Welcome to the jungle, baby

               “It was never about the suit.” One of the central characters reveals only seconds before death, yet another attempt at an emotional moment falling flat, a drop in the ocean of flat moments with forced emotion. This quote alone defines the lack of understanding Crysis 3 presents in its story and its characters. First off, it’s hundred percent about the suit, Prophet would not exist in any capacity if it wasn't for the suit. (Remember, the guy killed himself at the beginning of Crysis 2?) That's like trying to say living was never about breathing. Listen, I understand what he’s trying to say, in fact, it’s a core component of the game, the man makes the suit sort of thing but my problem with that is my second point. If this is to be your emotional payoff at the spiraling end, then you might want to make a point that hasn’t been on full display, spoon fed and shoved down our throats the entirety of the game, so as to at least appear meaningful, possibly as a reward for the reflection the story may have caused.
To put it plainly, Crysis 3 hits the ground with a resounding thud. It’s missions are short and lacking interest, the story long winded without intrigue or sense. The game was so brief, I often found it hilarious whenever a character referenced a moment or quote from earlier in the game, because that was generally 30 minutes of playtime ago. Not to mention how lame it was to hear poorly conceived dialogue twice in one game. The repetition of which this terrible dialogue is spewed will have your head spinning. There was so much talk of Nanosuits at one point I thought Robin Williams had written part of the script. Wait what? If the nanu nanus link up with shazbots, we’ll all die!
Crysis 3 is one of those games where the narrative has been constructed so poorly that you have no clue where you are in the game progress wise. Is this the middle or the end? Is this guy the ultimate bad guy? No.......is this guy? It just keeps going until it ends and when that happens you find yourself saying, that’s it?
It’s no wonder Crysis’ characters question Prophet’s humanity, what I find strange and definitely unintended was how often I questioned theirs.These characters are simply ‘there’. I suppose a possible caveat of having a graphics engine so adept at creating realistic faces, means more attention is being paid to make them look real then there is to make them feel or sound real.

One of the easiest ways to facilitate a plot is to have a character, whose death was not confirmed, save the day, amidst the chaos when there’s no time to explain just how he escaped a massive explosion. It’s clear to me Crysis 3 didn’t want us to ask many questions. Such as, where are we going? What did we just do? What did you just say? Why do I care?
One of the biggest draws of the Crysis franchise has always been the freedom to approach each encounter as you like. The freedom to choose between stealth or run N’ gun. I always enjoyed stealth-ing through areas, quietly dispatching enemies, discreetly slipping by, but in Crysis 3 the problem is both offer an effortless difficulty, stealth just requires more of your time. I found myself running and gunning more than ever. Whether it be the Cell or the Ceph, I felt as though neither deserved a second thought.

All of that aside, it boasts some outstanding visuals. The sight of an overgrown jungled New York City is truly one to behold. Its characters are painstakingly detailed; their movements are charted nearly flawlessly. It easily has the best graphics we have ever seen in a single player campaign. Unfortunately, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, if some random IP released a campaign like Crysis 3’s without the graphics, it would be considered mediocre at best. Beautiful, haunting and mesmerising are all words that could be used to describe the visuals of Crysis 3, just as lifeless, apathetic and vapid can be used for its story and gameplay.
In Crysis, we were dropped onto an island and given a direction with no restrictions, exploring the environments around us for ammo or weapons. In Crysis 2, we landed on the shores of a war-torn New York, given a direction that came with many restrictions, but despite that fundamental change, it was still a fun game. Crysis 3 is just Crysis 2 with a bow and seeing it copied and pasted here brings about a diminished return in what is a straightforward and ultimately unsatisfying game.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Single Player, Where art Thou?

      The pathological liars we must be, to tell ourselves and each other what's new is different. However, there's another voice in this discussion, floating around our heads. It's the voice of creativity and atmosphere as its dying. What's that sound like, you say? Well it sounds like it's saying,

      All these disposable campaigns, laconic in nature, will be the death of the stories you hold dear.

      The truth is, due to the failure of the industry in recent years and the success of Call of Duty. The term profitable in gaming has formed a new definition, one that is designed to spend as little time and effort on your single-player experience and focus solely on the multi-player. Which people are willing to play for months and convince their friends to buy, so they can play together. Don't forget to buy the nine downloadable content packs, six of them being new outfit skins or emblem icons. This is who we've allowed ourselves to be defined as. Nowadays when someone thinks of gaming and those of us who subscribe to the most sincere of religions, they picture you playing Call Of Duty 13. Why 13 you ask? Probably because they themselves have lost track of which one we're on.
The good news is, great original games still exist. The bad news, they are fewer and farther between than ever before. I like to use 2007 as an example. In 2007, outside of sports games, some of the most successful games were Bioshock, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, Halo 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. As we flash forward to 2012 the highest sold games are, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Halo 4, Assassin's Creed 3, Diablo 3, Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 2, Resident Evil 6 and Uncharted 3. Notice a trend? Not only are all of those games sequels, they all contain a multi-player component.  
Look at Alien: Colonial Marines, while nothing could have saved that game. Gearbox, a quality and respected developer was brought in solely to design the multi-player, while the campaign was pawned off on some no name, Time Gate Studios. Hopefully, its failures chart the way for change.    
Most campaigns are slowly dipping into a world where the controller is no longer in our hands. It's in our laps, as we sit patiently, watching our hero do bad ass things rather than doing them ourselves, trickling into our sub consciousness, transforming our minds to expect this new normal. The gaming industry has always a world of show and tell. Lately though, it's been leaning quite heavily on the tell side.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dismember me

        Floating by us untouched like the debris of a derelict spaceship. Dead Space 3 is all Dead Space ever was, is and ever could be. Dead Space 3 is not terrifying. Whether you're a cynic and you see this change as a cash grab, a chance to make the experience as user friendly and open as possible or chose to perceive this as a natural progression. In Dead Space, we had a character who never spoke. Therefore we could only assume he was terrified because we were. In Dead Space 2, Issac spoke. What he finally got around to telling us was that he really was terrified, but we were ultimately less so. By this game, Issac is a necromorph slaying veteran. Who sees space zombies as more of an obstacle than an unrelenting horror. My point being Issac Clarke is now a character that we sometimes control. He speaks his mind, he screams, he does bad ass things in cut scenes. Issac is no longer us, we're him.
I think everyone had a similar perspective coming into Dead Space 3. We read it in every preview and saw it in every promotion, action. Yep, there's definitely a lot of action in there. Don't worry; much of the same is present. They still have you dismembering the Necromorphs, instead of by the dozens; it's a bit more like the hundreds. There are still dark corridors beneath the most haunted air ventilation system I've ever seen. They may want to consider calling Troy from Community.When it isn't like Dead Space; it contains a lot of other gaming clich├ęs. See if this modern gaming trope sounds familiar. Ever regroup with your team just to have the ground fall beneath your feet, separating you once again? Well get used to it, because it happens quite a bit in Dead Space 3.
It's a big game, biggest of the series. I don't just mean in action set pieces or copious amounts of dialogue. What I mean is the amount of stuff you're given to do. It comes off more like an RPG than any of us had the right to expect. Boasting optional missions and the best crafting system I have ever experienced in a game. Its areas are also far less linear than any of previous games. This is where Dead Space 3 succeeds.
      Listen, I could sit here and tell you about the plot of Dead Space 3 but it's ultimately unimportant. My critique wasn't hinging on the narrative, the Dead Space series never has. What it sells in story and characters, it buys in atmosphere and lore.
Dead Space 3 introduces us to some horrifying new enemies, the most horrifying being Humans. The Unitologists have it out for our courageous engineer once again. Why are Humans so horrifying in a world populated by alien monsters, you say? They're horrific as a game device. We've been trained since Dead Space to dismember. Told head shots would do us no good. We bought into to this mechanic because it played so well into the game's weaponry. So why after all this time, all the limbs scattered across the floors of The USG Ishimura and The Titan Space Station, have they chosen to incorporate an enemy that does not congeal to that overall philosophy. From their first encounter to their last, it's unbearably apparent how awkward their inclusion is. They take cover, they shoot at you, they use simple tactics. They are a joyless bore to fight. It's a lot like the effect the "flood" had in Halo. In Halo, the covenant were so interesting and fun to fight that when the flood came it was a downgrade, not a gradual evolution.
             Fortunately, as soon as you escape the first two chapters and the clutches of humanity, the game instantly improves. You find yourself on the other side of the universe in a ship grave yard. Large pieces float around you, sometimes towards you, forcing Issac and company to leave the ship. The time you spend gliding through space, the planet and its moon your constant backdrop will make something as insignificant as salvaging parts seem truly awe-inspiring. It fuels the narrative you perpetuate in your own head. The kind where you aren't playing Dead Space, you're just some astronaut taking his first step into uncharted space. It's one of the most atmospheric moments in the game, maybe in the series, a series which oozes atmosphere. Which is surprising because I thought you could only ooze two things.
             The largest portion of my appreciation of this game should be attributed to the crafting system alone. It gives the game credibility. Its presence was incredibly reassuring against my growing feeling that Dead Space 3 was mailed in. From Dead Space to Dead Space 2, there were a lot of interesting weapons, but no matter what, none of them could topple the effectiveness of the mighty plasma cutter. It was refreshing to have a system in place with which I could not only improve the classics but also create my own.
             Looking for resources and parts to make my deadly contraptions come alive. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, hewing together anything I could find for my disturbing experiments. One of the first additions I made to my plasma cutter was a fusion based knife. Any necromorph that came close enough felt the stinging slice of its burn. From there I moved to a grenade launcher with a flamethrower for an alternative fire. I added modules that transformed my launcher to one that fired rockets and my flamethrower's flame to a cryogenic freeze that stopped my enemies frozen.
         I took my fancy weapons and started exploring. In my travels I found many optional quests, quests that would yield lots of loot, loot to finance my killing machinery factory. It was a complex equation I was dead set on solving. Rounds coated with stasis, or a support mod that made it so when I used a med-kit, my partner felt its effects as well. I was enveloped in an ever expanding hunt for more. After all that's what Dead Space 3 is, more.

        I suppose I only have myself to blame for the last few chapters and the frustrating mess they were. I played the entire game on Hard, because I had been lead to believe the difficulty was soft. This belief was true throughout the game until those final few chapters, where humans and giant alien monsters, (I mean like alien alien, another species of being that became necromorphs.) both of which were teeing off on my limbs and innards. Ammo exhausted and health spent, I limped to the finish line. Hobbling away, rather than standing and fighting.
Despite my problems with the final few chapters, they don't even challenge the frustration the last six brought in Dead Space 2. Unlike Dead Space 2, the final chapters were difficult but fit. The game's story leads you to some strange places and it appears to me those chapters serve as a ramp. Launching you into an epic fight against some huge three-eyed monster, that has you throwing markers with super-charged kinesis.  The kind of stuff you can't walk into, you have to be thrown.

         Dead Space 3 manages to succeed where others failed. It's disconcerting however, that number of franchises starting to do this, the Mass Effects or Resident Evils, those who have gone from crafting critical darlings to solely pining for commercial success. Much like those other games, Dead Space settled for what it could be upon first suggestion, never looking past a customizable 3rd-person shooter with a disturbing atmosphere. It could have been its own Bioshock in space. which embodies how a loyal fan feels while playing Dead Space 3. It's not the game we wanted, but it's the one we deserved.