Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deadly Premonition, and why you should buy it.

Simply put, this game is genius. It is so utterly unconventional that a jaded old gamer like me just can't help but love it. It is quirky and Japanese, involves copious amounts of absurdest humor, is self aware on a level that is almost baffling, and unlike anything you have played before.

Shitty critics were quick to dismiss the thing as a cash in on PS3's very popular detective drama Deadly Rain (note that I never called it a game), and a poorly executed and woefully budget feeling Resident Evil 4 clone.

And actually, both of those things are true. The game's opening hand presents both of those types of gameplay, which happen to be the weakest cards in its deck. I can see how, based on the first hour of play, you could believe that that is what the game is all about. But after that first hour the game opens up into what it does best: Open world crime solving (and the occasional meaningless public service quest).

The majority of the game has you moving around in an open world (ala GTA), and observing the inhabitants of the town (IE: suspects of the murder case) while trying to solve the case. The game town is on a real schedule, so in the morning some suspects go to work, they have something to eat in the evening, and then they go home to sleep, etc... This means that you have to observe and interact with suspects based around their real schedule, sort of like the old Ultima games.

Getting information from the town folks usually involves doing some side quests for them. The side quests, which are of your usual RPG side quest variety (fetch this, find that, talk to them, fight this thing, solve this puzzle, etc...) net you some fancy additional gear, as well as further your knowledge of the crime and the suspects. And since the game plays out on a schedule, this means that if you fail to talk to a certain town person early enough in the game they may wind up dead later and you will be missing a key piece of the puzzle. It really makes you feel detectivey in a way I haven't experienced in a game before.

The game plays out in chapters, where you start in the open world gathering info on people (doing sidequests and the like), and then typically is book ended with the not-so-great RE:4 style gameplay. While the RE:4 gameplay isn't the greatest, it at least serves as a nice breakup to the open world game and occasionally even has some interesting and tense moments, such as when you have to hide from the super powered serial killer.

But as decent as all of that is, what really makes the game special is its presentation. No, not the graphics - this game is PS2 ugly. But the writing, the audio, and the speech.

Deadly Premonition has all your typical Japanese wackiness to the story, but somehow they do it in such a self aware way that you won't hate it. You play as FBI agent Francis York Morgan... Kind of. Really, you play as Detective Francis York Morgan's best friend, who happens to be the schizophrenic voice in his head, Zack. Throughout the game Francis will start talking to you, or Zack. He often does it right in front of other characters, who just sort of go with it because they chalk it up to a genius crime solver's eccentricity.

Now, Detective Morgan is a HUGE film fan, especially of 80's B-horror, and when he is alone in his car he will start waxing poetic about his favorite B-films and actors and directors... And it is great! I swear that there was an occasion where Morgan started describing a movie to Zack about killer moles starring Billy Zane, and he paused for a moment and I instinctively shouted out "Critters!", and then he goes "That's right Zack, Critters from 1986!" as if he had just heard me answer him. It happened a few weeks ago so that I can't remember it all word from word, it might not have been Critters but some other 80's movie, but the point is that it was a great moment of fourth wall breaking where it felt like I was really there just shooting the shit with an FBI Detective. And this happens all the time.

Other great moments include the wonderfully obsurd music, which, during conversations where Morgan's mind is wandering, will start to BLARE through the speakers to the point that you can't really hear what is being said. A lot of reviewers chalked this up to being a cheap game flaw, but personally I feel that this was done intentionally for humor. Then again, I can't really say I know myself for sure.

I think that is the real genius to the game. It walks a razor thin tightrope between being a shabby budget game with actual inadequacies and being so incredibly self aware that it can actually pretend to be shabby for comedic effect.

I have actually come up with a test to see if someone will or even can appreciate this game. It follows:

This is the driving controls screen. If this looks confusing and frustrating to you then you won't like this game. If this looks confusing and hilarious to you then you will like this game.

That one screen full of Madden-like red lines sums up the game. Either the game is clunky and awfully put together, or things like this are part of the big joke between the developers and the player.

Simple as that. I really could go on and on about how the game surprises me at every turn, but I'm getting bored of writing this and everything really important to be said about the game already has been.

So yeah, pick this game up.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Red Dead Review

I hate this game.

No really, I do. I don't even want to write about it, much less play it. I'm about half way through, and while I am determined to see this pig through to the end, it is going to take every ounce of will power to do so.

Where to start? Well, I guess I should bring it all back to GTA4 and how much I hated that game.
  • The story was so pretentious and annoying, filled to the brim with angst and Tarantino wannabe dialogue.
  • The driving was terrible, with each car handling like there was no such thing as power steering in Libery City, even at the lowest speeds.
  • The shooting was wonky as crap, with a wacky lock-on system that snapped right to the worst possible target in the room. Basically, if there was any baddy within ten feet of you it was game over, as you were never going to be able to target them as they pumped round after round into your stupid Russian face.
  • Even the on foot controls were wonky somehow! A lot of the animations in game seemed to be procedural, which meant that walking up and down stairs, over objects, and leaping over fences and the like all looked pretty darn good. Unfortunately, it wasn't perfect: Your guy controls a bit like a car himself. Niko Bellic was no acrobat, as sometimes it was a struggle just to get him to accurately get through a door. It reminded me a lot of Pagan: Ultima 8, where you had to really take your time and line up with a doorway or staircase in order to progress.
  • The multiplayer was full of potential and promise, but ended up being terribly pointless. You are plopped down in a city full of nothing to do, with 16 other people, and you just mess around. Sure, this is sort of the very definition of sandbox. Yet a sandbox is only as fun as the toys inside the sandbox, and GTA4 gave you none.
Okay, so that is why I hate GTA4. So why do I hate Red Dead Redemption? Copy that list and make a few slight changes.
  • The story this time around is pretty worthless, but not near as annoying. Sure, the game doesn't even bother to tell you who you are, why you are in the West, and what exactly you are doing until several hours in (and I'm still a little hazy on exactly what is going on), but at least I haven't had to hear "beeg American teeetiez". Yet.
  • Obviously, there are no cars in Red Dead Redemption. Well, technically I have seen a model-t looking thing during the intro, but I don't think you ever actually get to drive. Instead you have wild west horsey antics. Let me give you a rundown of the horsey controls: Tap A repeatedly to get your horse to go any faster than molasses. Left Bumper to slow down or stop. Hold-A if you want to maintain a speed, although it always feels slower than I want. X to jump over obstacles. Hold the Left Shoulder button to aim, and Right Shoulder to fire. Simple as that. If you want to do something as simple as ride and shoot at the same time - which, incidentally, in a cowboy game is something you should be doing just about all the time - you have to be holding the left shoulder, steering with the left analog stick, aiming with the right analog stick, pressing the right shoulder to fire, and all the while tapping the A button. Piece of cake, right?
  • The shooting is slightly better this time around. In the singleplayer I can't say that I've ever gotten killed by the aiming system like I did in GTA4. This is probably because the auto-aim default is off, and on my machine that is where it stays. Unfortunately, in the multiplayer the option to go auto-aim always remains, and boy do people ever use it. There is no penalty for using it, and no reward for actually lining up your shots like in every other game out there. So why wouldn't you use it? Oh right, because that might actually be fun! But this is competitive multiplayer, and in the land of competitive multiplayer it isn't about fun but about kill count. So be prepared to either die a lot while standing for your no-auto-aim principles, or just not ever play the multiplayer like me.
  • The on foot controls are still wonky. Getting through doorways and up narrow staircases is still a frustrating exercise. On the bright side, walking into NPCs until they procedurally topple over like drunkards is as hilarious as ever.
  • The multiplayer, as I have already mentioned, is crap. More great potential, more great disappointment. The free roam could have been something special: Posses of players marauding the lands and doing evil bandit stuff like robbing trains and banks, and another group of bounty hunting players coming to put an end to it! This is pretty much what every article and Youtube clip promised, and I was stoked. Unfortunately, in action the free roam is the exact same as GTA4's free roam: A big sandbox with little to do. There are no banks to rob, or trains to capture. Which means there are no posses of bandit players. Which means there are no posses of bounty hunting players to bring them to justice. Which means everybody just runs around an incredibly sparsely populated game world and just mucks about, occasionally shooting each other. The action very much reminds me of early Ultima Online in that it is everybody versus everybody. And in everybody versus everybody, the noob is the big loser. Like early Ultima Online you have no disincentive to smoke the brand new player. In fact, you are incentivized to do it, as Red Dead Redemption has a leveling system that rewards you with bigger, better guns and equipment. That noobie literally doesn't have a chance with his shitty level 1 revolver as you pick him off a mile away with your high powered rifle (using auto-aim, naturally). However, this time around there are a few toys in the sandbox. There are (a couple) bandit camps filled with baddy NPCs that you can raid for extra XP, as well as hunting and foraging challenges. And yes, hunting and foraging is just as boring as it sounds. Still, it is nice that they are there if you are into that sort of thing.
So yeah, I hate this game. And I'm a little pissed that I paid for it. I don't even want to talk about this anymore. I'm done. When I think that reviewers love this turd I just want to... No, I'm done.