First Impressions: White Knight Chronicles

I suspect that if White Knight Chronicles hadn’t been a huge JRPG, it would have been a half hour, or one-evening game at most.  But it isn’t, and that more or less gave it a buffer for me. It’s a comfortable genre, and it seemed that it was going to do some interesting things.

Of course, typical of JRPGs, this couldn’t be a half hour game because it takes that long to get to anything.  I accept that, though, it goes with the territory.  I was surprised that a good chunk of that time was spent making an avatar.  Pleasantly surprised, even.

The character editor that let me create an avatar with, perhaps, more options than Oblivion or Fallout.  I messed around with it for a bit, got something I was reasonably happy with. I could have spent a lot more time with it, tweaking and messing, but I chose not to (and to be fair, it gives you the option to change it alter.)  Fifteen minutes or so, and  Zhenette was entered out onto the world.

Then the story started, and I, or rather my avatar, wasn’t in it.

The story is about some guy who works for a weird looking dude who runs a winery.  The boss guy is upset with the Wine Delivery Dude, needs him to do something ASAP, and oh, take the new girl with you.  Oh, yeah that’s me. I nod and smile, or rather my Avatar does.  That’s really all she does.

We do the first mission, which is predictably simple, travel across a low level monster-filled wilderness, wind up being late anyway, coming back at dark.  We’re joined by a useless guest and Unrequited-Love Girl Then we’re attacked by a ridiculously large monster, which we (being buff wine-making delivery people) dispatch with apparent ease. (Well nobody died or anything, anyway).  All of this, of course, interspersed with cutscenes and stuff that’s going on back at the palace.

When we do get there, the bad guys had done bad things, including destroying part of the town and killing the king.  Wine Delivery Dude saves the Princess (who he met when he was younger) and runs off with her, while my avatar and Unrequited-Love Girl are separated from them by a burning pillar.

I should say at this point, that combat is semi-active.  Position appears to matter, but doesn’t really, except perhaps for area spells, and that’s more luck than anything else. You can control any character, and I chose to control my avatar for most of that.  Zhenette is usually a mage, as I’ve said before, so I had a bunch of spells.  I set wine delivery dude up as a swordsman, and when we got unrequited love girl, I made her a healer.  Each of them runs on their own, while we all fight, using a very basic “all out” or “conserve mana” type setup.  (Nothing like, say, Final Fantasy 12 or Dragon Age:Origin’s tactical setups.)

This works fairly well for a while, but after most movies, Wine Delivery Dude is set as the main character, so I had to switch back to MY avatar. After the split up, I’ve got him in my party and only him, and the princess as a (useless) guest.  He’s built totally wrong to be on his own, with no healing or magic, and no customization so, I have to spend time figuring him out, while he was just on automatic before.

Still, the Princess and Dude fight through a dungeon, and then he gets a big eponymous superpower, that makes him boss-sized, and he fights and wins against the boss. So far I’m okay, we’re really still in tutorial land, and things have just gotten bad.

The princess gets kidnapped and taken to another castle. An Old Grumpy Mentor shows up and Wine Delivery Dude plan to set out on your quest, taking along Unrequited-Love Girl, and oh yeah, Silent Chick Who Happens To Be There (aka: your avatar).

If you follow the story from then on, you’re avatar is there at the end of every cutscene, standing there and saying nothing while everyone else talks. Of course what everyone else says is kind of stupid, especially as we’re running around.  Wine Delivery Dude complains we’re not going the right way; Unrequited-Love Girl complains that it’s hot in the desert; and Old Grumpy Mentor tells them to shut up and get moving, we don’t have time for this shit.

I decided then, to do a quest. They opened up and I could join the adventurer’s guild and go do something else. And here’s where White Knight Chronicles steps out of it’s cliche and off a cliff.  I went in to do a quest, and was suddenly alone.  This time, at least, I was my Avatar, but by then, even more skewed to being a mage, and certianly not to being alone.  Oh, the deal is quests are designed to be multiplayer. For extra bonus annoying points, they are also timed.

There’s a lot geared in the game to the multiplayer content. Quests, your town which you can waste spend gold on, I suspect there’s going to be real money stuff you can buy too.  I died a lot doing my quest, which I was under powered for by myself.  I’m much higher level now, but  since the surprise end bosses are to giant ones, I don’t know how I’ll manage with two. I could barely stand up long enough to fight the first time.

I still wasn’t completly discouraged at this point.  I hadn’t gotten to crafting yet, and that’s about the point that you’ve got most of the tools you need to play a JRPG (technically, you usually go everywhere, then get a ship to allow you to travel faster, and then it opens up, but crafting is a good place to define the cut).  The quest to get crafting was ridiculous.

Not silly or funny, although I suspect that was the intent.  You deliver a love message to someone who turns out to be a monster, only to return (with a response letter, mind) to discover that the person you were acting on behalf of was married. Someone in your party knew this, and didn’t mention it.  You then get roped into the lie because you need a pass to go out the other gate of the city.  Yeah, a pass.

In other words, a totally contrived plot door makes me run through one of the more stupid (and from where I sit, kidn of offensive) plots.  Oh, and the Don (the very large guy who sent the letter) knows how to meld items together to make new ones.  Okay.  He has shops everywhere, and now (for a fee) you can use them.  Why did I go through this, again?  I saved, quit the game, and popped the disc out and ranted to Tam while I stuffed it back into it’s GameFly envelope.

I realize that there are people who work hard at making these games. They spend hours and hours doing writing, coding, deisgn, 3D modelling, voice acting, rendering and all that. This quest probably took a team two or three weeks — or more — to write and do (it was a small one, but still).  Did no one look up and say, “This is stupid. And not funny?”  I kind of feel sad for those people who worked so hard on something so very stupid.

There are good ideas in here. I like having a customizable avatar! I don’t like being supernumerary in every way (to the point that i’m not longer controlling my Avatar, which is a freaking misnomer.) Online co-op play is good (not as good as couch co-op, but yay!.  Having it be a separate thing entirely from the game, but embedded within the game? Not so good.

I’m actually kind of angry with it, but then I don’t like lying (particularly in the space of relationships).  The heteronormative cheating crap gets on my nerves a lot.  But even allowing for my own strong bias, the whole things was silly and contrived.  I’m done with my rant now, and the game is in the mail.

So, like a few other games, this first impression is almost certainly also a last impression.

First Impressions: inFAMOUS

The PS3 game inFAMOUS was one of three angry-man open-world games that came out about the same time. The other two, Prototype, and Red Faction: Guerrilla were also available on the Xbox 360, so I played them months ago.  Prototype was a 30 minute game, although I gave it a few hours of play.  Red Faction: Guerrilla got a couple of nights — I did clear the first area — before it’s story and boring missions made me give it up.  The failure of those two games meant I didn’t pick up inFAMOUS for my PS3 soon after getting it, which was a mistake.

I did the same thing a long time ago, my friend Jason and I planned to see several underwater horror movies.  We went to see Leviathan and Deep Star Six both of which were craptacular movies that had Jason apologizing for even suggesting them. When The Abyss came out, we’d both had enough and skipped it entirely.  On the other hand, it meant that the first time I saw The Abyss it was the extended director’s cut, which had a much clearer ending.  Still, it’s the one I’d see in the theaters if I had to do it over.

While the horrors of Leviathan and Deep Star Six were pretty obvious compared to The Abyss, I’m struggling with what makes inFAMOUS different.  I know that I want to play and finish it.  I can only list a couple of things that really annoy me about it, but I can’t list anything that’s particularly amazing about it.  I suspect that that’s the main issue at work here:  it isn’t a great game, but it is a good, solid game.

In Infamous (I’m dropping the ridiculous spelling now) you play as Cole, someone who survives a horrible accident.  You later learn that he was duped into creating the explosion that also gave him powers based on electricity.  He lives in Empire City, a metropolis which is both isolated form the the outside by a quarantine enforced by the military, but also the three islands are separated from each other.

Play involves a mix of fighting using your electricity powers, and climbing buildings, and running around rooftops.  The parkour here is less fluid than Assassin’s Creed, since you have to perform the various jumps and drops yourself, instead of just entering a climbing mode and pressing up or forward. It’s much easier than, Mirror’s Edge as Cole sticks to everything a bit too well (the first of my complaints) and is therefore much less precise, and more forgiving.  You aren’t plummeting to your death here, ever, but you might lose some progress because the stickiness over- or under- applies.

There are main and side missions, items to collect (which, I discovered show up on your radar only after over ~10 hours of playing). The characters you interact with, friends, allies and enemies talk to you on your cell phone (or in your head), giving you story as you’re moving around the open world.

There is also a binary morality system.  This would be my second, and larger complaint.   In fact, it was someone’s post on Infamous that provided part of the spark for the Transgression posts.  The argument of that poster (I have, unfortunately, lost the link) is that by giving the player specifically good and evil choices, the game condones the choices and reduces the fun of being bad (since it’s accepted).  Obviously, I disagree, since there is a larger (and in-game) world that provides for this kind of feedback.

I’m not going to talk a lot about Infamous in terms of transgression yet, as I’ve not even tried the evil options yet.  Certainly being good in the game doesn’t feel like a transgression, despite the fact I’m someone I won’t ever be.  That’s certainly not where the fun comes from, and in fact, I think Infamous would have been a much better game without the morality system altogether.  Give us a character with wants and needs (he has these, and they seem out of line of being evil), and let us follow that.  It’s obvious to me from the Assassin’s Creed games that you can have an open world game with an essentially linear plot and have it work.

Part of what does make Infamous work, however, is that Cole is uniquely suited to his environment.  The modern world is filled with electricity, and it both powers, heals, and sustains Cole. One of the challenges he has to deal with is the power being turned off, and losing that lifeline that he’s used to. The game then turns the fixing of that into a chance to give him more powers, as well as a mini tutorial on how to use the new power.  I’m well over 2/3 of the way through the game and I don’t have all the powers yet.  This seems appropriate to me (but then I didn’t see AC2 as one long tutorial, either.)

In fact, this game uses a very Zelda-like structure, minus ‘dungeons’. Go into a new ‘dark’ area, bring back the electricity, do story and side missions there, and then move on to the next area. You return when you’ve opened up some new types of missions, until the area is complete — something that is also optional.

The combat is a combination of first and third person, mainly because so much of it is ranged.  That’s the hardest part for me, and I died more often in Infamous than I did in the same amount of time in Bayonetta. Dying doesn’t have a huge penalty, merely setting you back to a nearby clinic, or the start of a mission (or for longer missions, a mission checkpoint).  Mission failure is treated like dying, so I rarely felt I was being punished by the game (there were a couple of larger monster fights that took some time to figure out how to defeat them, which resulted in repeated deaths).

I’m close to the end of this game, so I’ll be keeping it until I’m done, I think, a few more days.  Then I suspect I’ll have more to say about it, and transgression. Probably next week sometime.

First Impressions: Bayonetta

Bayonetta made the rounds of the blogs when it came out, largely because of it’s hyper-sexuality, and the fact it’s from the same creative mind that made the Devil May Cry franchise.  Most of what I read was focused around the design of the titular character, Bayonetta.  Some of what I read cast her in a mode of empowerment, others criticized her for being designed for the male gaze.

I played the game for about 6-8 hours total, and got through three chapters. I’m not very good at these sorts of games, with huge combo lists.  My favorite combo is usually press the attack button three times, then press it three times again.  I was doing a bit more with Bayonetta, including dodging (which I do only slightly more rarely than blocking). In fact, it’s possible that with time I could come to be good at Bayonetta, instead of being passable at it.  It’s actually kind of fun.

She moves with a bit of ease and grace, and except for some times where there are invisible walls (you can’t jump on or over awnings, for instance) she moves well and quickly.  Death largely affects scores and trophies, and as I already knew I was bad at the game, I accepted that I was going to get bad trophies.  Yet, there were some sections that I did very well on, so I think there’s a chance for competence here for me.  In fact, if the other game I got from the GBox last week hadn’t captured me so completely, I’d have kept playing Bayonetta.

No discussion of the game can really ignore the sexuality of it, however.  While I think the game would be generally fun if you were playing stick figures, it’s been dressed in extreme sexuality, from the main two female characters’ body and motion designs, to even the bartender of “The Gates of Hell” (who is of a male sexual type that I find pleasing, something that rarely occurs in games.)

She’s certainly built like a runway model, and the game constantly accentuates her sexuality.  The cut scenes show her spread-legged flying into the camera.  Sometimes she seems very aware of the camera, looking into it, and winking.  Health potions (and a constant prop)  are lollipops, which she sensual licks while shooting guns from her super-high-heeled boots and so on.

In combat against larger foes, she can do special “climax” moves which essentially remove her clothing (which was only her hair in the first place).  The hair turns into a giant dragon and gobbles them up, but the camera pans in such a way that you can usually see a naked Bayonetta (stratgically covered by spinning hair) while her dragon-hair devours the angel in question.

These bits of tease are only part of Bayonetta’s sexual display, however.  These are the parts that feel typical for a video game.  They are the cleavage and ass-shots that poor games inundate us with.  If this were all to Bayonetta, then it’d just be a derivative game, like Bullet Witch. Instead, the character is way more sexual than just her design.

In the opening movie (which comes just after a basic tutorial section), Bayonetta takes on several angels before you get a chance to control her again.  It’s a fairly long movie, and I sat watching it, kind of entranced by it. At one point there’s a long sequence of her, legs spread wide, guns at her hips, blazing, as she lands on the face of one of the angels, basically smothering him with her sex (after all it is only hair between her lips and his.)

The angels at this point (and as far as I’ve gotten) are all male, or monstrous.  A few have cherubic faces, but are still grotesque with the remainder of their bodies being masculine or monster.   The other male characters in the game are a fat comic relief character, a buff good-looking demon, and a womanizing man who saw Bayonetta arrive and (I think) kill his father.

The only other female character is built on almost the same model as Bayonetta, except she wears actual clothes, and is a blonde.  She has the same exact equipment, down to shoe-mounted guns, and has the same basic powers.  They seem to be dark/light reflections of each other but it’s questionable which is dark and which light.

In fact, the moves that Bayonetta takes, and the camera angles she has been given are ones that are more likely to occur in pornography or, perhaps, sexploitation movies. She’s not unconcerned with being seen as sexual, she embraces it as part of her power.  I want to say that this was intentional and idealistic choice, but I suspect it’s there to make the typical 18-35 male gamer a bit uncomfortable.

Bayonetta doesn’t read to me as a sexy woman, but rather a sexual one, and that’s a bit different.  That she is, also, physically sexy (by some definitions), occludes this a bit.  She is as sexually confident as she is in her fighting skills, without feeling sexually predatory (which is what we usually get with a sexual woman in videogames).

I don’t know what this means in terms of art or sexism.  I feel pretty unqualified to say one way or the other. It’s a game that exudes sex, and we like that here at the Cult.  Also, unlike most sexy games, it’s actually fun to play.  That it also includes witches and sexy-librarian glasses is just a bonus.

Edit, update 2/17 1:40

For a different look, The Border House also wrote an impressions post on Bayonetta today. http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=1468  They are probably more qualified than I am to talk about sexism, and I can’t say I completely disagree with anything they said. I think our interpretations of it’s purpose are different (I’m not convinced that straight males are going to consistently like her aggressive sexuality, but I’m not one of those, either.)

For a different look, The Border House also wrote an impressions post on Bayonetta today.   They are probably more qualified than I am to talk about sexism, and I can’t say I completely disagree with anything they said. I think our interpretations of it’s purpose are different (I’m not convinced that straight males are going to be comfortable with her aggressive sexuality, although I do think the game is aimed at them. But I’m not one of those, either, so I’m not sure about that..)


Overlording II

I’ve had Overlord 2 for a while, but hadn’t played it (as it lived at Girl’s house for some time). I recently borrowed it, and began playing it.  This isn’t strictly a First Impressions post, but I’m about that far into the game.

Girl and I played the first game fairly differently.  One of her favorite things to do was to farm the first villiage by going and killing everyone in it, and looting all the houses.  I, however, played without killing anyone.  I was going, both by predilection and GamerScore, for the achievement of being “good”.  She enjoyed the loot.

Overlord II promised a more evil morality system, where you were basically evil and it was more a question of how you were evil, not if you were.  Not being evil in the first game made some sense, after the reveal of the ending.  Being completely evil in this game also makes sense, given the prologue.

Fairly early in the game, you return to the town that ejected and rejected you. At first it’s unaccessible, controlled by the Empire, the primary enemy of the game. As soon as you get to the outskirts, you’re given a quick tutorial on the morality system.  You can dominate or destroy the villagers.  To destroy them you hit them with your magic spell until they die.  To dominate them you hit them with the spell until they start taking damage, and then you stop.  The latter converts them into a loyal follower/slave/whatever.  (Not minion, minions are something different.)

To teach how to do this, the game requires you to dominate three villagers, and then to destroy three.  It seemed to me, again, that dominating was the less evil decision, so I made that choice.  Part of this reasoning had to do with Girl’s dissatisfaction with destruction.  In Overlord I, the destroyed village repopulated itself. In Overlord II there’s persistence of state for your villagers.  Once you kill them, they are dead.  Once you dominate them, they are dominated — until you kill them.  My desire to keep things open, lent itself to the domination path.

Last night, I went to work on my quest to properly dominate Nordeberg.

I ran out of mana pretty quickly, as my first few attempts had villagers running from me.  I got a few done, however, a pitiful handful of villagers, and nowhere near the 100 I needed. I was tired, and stopped, and went back to my castle to save and take a break.

When I returned the villagers I had mastered were still dominated, and had sparky blue things around their head.  They worked at anvils, or digging mines.  I barely noticed it, though, as it really was only five or six.  I started doing the rest of the villagers, using my minions to trap them a bit, and zap them.  They started with a catty comment about how I had treated the first real villain (by dominating instead of killing him, as he’s largely useless).

That quickly changed to a “Thank you for sparing me!” or “Know that if I die, it will be in your service, Lord!”  The latter made me chuckle in Evony-inspired humor.  Later conversions offered to love me forever, or a promise to become a cog in my well oiled machine. I had gotten up to around a quarter of the remaining villagers — most of the ones walking around outside, and I saw something different than when I first arrived.

Villagers that walked around, did so hunched over.  They exclaimed, “I am so tired!”  There were a lot of people working in the mine and in the blacksmith. I picked up the money and equipped my minions and started in on the houses. When un-dominated villagers came out, I dominated them, and went to the next house.  Soon I had close to 50 villagers dominated — as many as I could find; there were sections of the town I couldn’t get to yet.

But the town was different. I mean, besides being on fire. It will filled with despondent people.

“Why didn’t you just kill me fast, instead of slow?” cried out one woman.

“I think I’m in love with you,” said another woman.

“I think I’ll just go in the corner and die,” said a man.

“We always knew you were one of us,” said another man.

Back and forth from despair to adulation. These were broken people, and I had broken them.  They shuffled about, working themselves to the bone, and they hated themselves.  But they loved me, or said they did (and the voice acting made me believe in it)

I started to think that maybe it would have been more merciful to have killed them.  I wasn’t sparing them, I was forcing them into my plans and by my power.  I felt actually evil.

That bothers me.

I didn’t expect that from this game, honestly.  It was one of a couple of surprises (the other made me laugh.)  I’m looking forward to completing it, and yes, I plan to stay on this path to its no doubt bitter end.

Darksiders First Impressions

Borderlands plot — at least as far as I’ve gotten into it — is largely non-existent.  I’ve gotten several quests to kill some dudes, and a ghost lady that suggest I should do these quests to kill some dudes.  I’m pretty good at killing dudes, and that seems fun.   Darksiders plot is much more involved, serious, and still involves the developers coming up with some reason for me to kill some dudes.

That’s really a problem, and it didn’t get me very far into the game before I was about to give it up.  I made the conscious decision to return the game on Monday, and that spurred me on to play it a bit more, just to see.   I mean, I wasn’t totally irritated with it, but let’s play the one i’m not keeping for a bit, to eke out the most enjoyment possible.  At least that was my thought, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that.

Now, I was playing it largely because of the buzz from my twitter feed.  Not all of it was good, but the bad stuff wasn’t horrible, and the good thing, the word everyone kept using had me hopeful.  That word? Zelda. In case it’snot obvious from my blog, I happen to like Zelda just a bit.  Not as much as turtles, but hey, everyone has to have priorities.

Saying something is similar to, or reminiscent of Zelda is enough to get me to play it. It’s not enough to get me to gout out and buy it right away, but I’ll play it.  That’s what game rentals and GBoxes are for.

Since I already started talking about the story, let’s recap what I know of it.  Heaven and Hell were fighting a war until another group, the council, showed up and made them stop.  The enforcers of this pact, were the Four Horsemen.   Once they stopped fighting, humans showed up, making for a third kingdom, which would play a pivotal role in the battle.   There’s a typical Armageddon setup, with seven seals after which the four horsemen ride, and Heaven, Hell, and the humans can fight it out.

The game starts with Heaven and Hell fighting, and you, playing the horseman War there to make them stop or something.  I dunno, you fight demons and angels.  You’ve got godlike power… and you’re War.   And the game play is very, God of War. Makes sense, right?

Anyway, you play through a tutorial, and some angels point out that the seventh seal wasn’t broken, so this shouldn’t be happening.  You try to kill the big demon “the Destroyer” and lose all your power in the process.  Then you fade to black.

You wake up in front of the council, stripped of all your power (Don’t you just love games that do this?) and, evidently, the need to redeem yourself for being framed.  Not sure why it matters, as the humans are all dead at this point.  But it’s okay, Mark Hamil will be attached to your wrist, so that you can be annoyed with him.

He’s way way way more annoying than Navi every thought about being in the worst nightmares of Shigeru Miyamoto.  He leads you through a bunch more God of War like tutorials, except for the ones that are like Prince of Persia.  Some of the art looks… very much like Prince of Persia.  I’ve never seen walls with those kinds of gaps in them, but evidently Arabian oases and destroyed metropolises decay in similar ways.  Which is good for people with oversized hands and metal gloves.

Were was I? Oh, plot.

You need to make contact with a demon who will sell you some information for souls. See, the things you kill (mostly zombie-like nothings at this point) drop three kinds of souls.  One is xp, I mean, money.  One is health, and the other wrath or mana.  Hey, but they changed the colors! And they aren’t balls, they’re skulls. Still nothing Zelda-like that I’ve noticed, except for a passageway blocked by ice.

Oh, and a horn, a musical intstrument!  That it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out how to equip and use.  I probably could have summoned up a whiny farmboy, but I was kind of pissed at him, anyway. So I didn’t do that.  My bad, probably. I hated talking to Midna, too.

Well, demon guy sends me after another demon guy who sends me after Lilith.  At this point I tweet about the lack of Zelda references.  Annoying useless helper-sidekicks notwithstanding.  I had no idea that I had a potion that would become an empty bottle if I used it, because I hadn’t.  And I didn’t understand why I couldn’t buy any potions, because I didn’t realize I needed empty bottles.

Darksiders doesn’t call them that, of course; then we might notice, or understand.

Only once I got into the first dungeon did I really see the Zelda bits.  There were things like bomb flowers, and small keys.  I got a boomerang, even, that works just like the boomerang in Zelda, only the aiming is hard and annoying.  And necessary in the first boss fight.  I know how to kill Lilith, but I couldn’t pull it off after several tries.

In the boss battle with Lilith, I was doing fairly well, but screwed up one of the dodges. She then knocked me into one of the bomb flowers that just happened to be nearby, doing more than one “heart” of damage to me. I only have 2 hearts, so I was quickly killed.  I think that’s when I walked away..

I’m really tired of un-fun punishing games.  If you’re going to be punishingly hard, let me feel like I’m learning my way, and getting better.  That’s why Demon’s Souls is in my queue as well.

I’d taken a break from Darksiders, and certainly coming back to play made it seem like more fun.  Maybe there’s more fun deeper in, but I doubt I’ll find out. There’s no point in continuing something that’s refusing to be enjoyable. So it goes back to the GBox today.  So does Borderlands, but it gets added to the GameFly queue for longer-term play.

Borderlands First Impressions

Most of the old posts of this type went with the great hard drive failure of ’09, but I like to talk about games before I’ve fully experienced them.  I’ll gladly analyze them to death the whole time, but I tend to drift away from games, or finish them.  Neither is a good way to get me to buy these games, but that’s a sticky post of another color.  I’d play these games for an hour, and move on, but Kyle Orland already does that.

Borderlands.

Here’s what I knew about the game before I got it:

  • It’s a four player co-op game, that has a Diablo looting mechanic.
  • The story is set in that cliché’d science fictional post-apocalyptic world that seems game.standard.
  • The plot is essentially “get the four keys and open the vault.”
  • It’s an FPS with couch co-op.
  • The guy with the bird is lame.
  • It was Manveer Heer’s Game of the Year on Brainygamer’s podcast

None of this (except perhaps the Diablo-style loot generation) really bumped it up in my thoughts. There’s really one person I play co-op games with, and she doesn’t like shooters or science fiction, and her love of loot doesn’t really overwhelm that.   When I hit the GBox rental on Friday, I wanted two games, I quickly decided on Darksiders for reasons I’ll discuss later.  Bayonetta was my next choice, and it wasn’t available on the 360, the PS3 visuals aren’t as good, and well, what is Bayonetta without visuals? No More Heroes 2 was a distance third, as I haven’t completed the first one, but it wasn’t even available as a choice. Mass Effect 2 was sold out, but getting that would have been an also ran.

Borderlands sat somewhere after that.  But I’d just listed to the Brainygamer year end podcasts, and listened to Manveer talk about this thing.  And I thought, “What the hey? How bad could it be?” And GBox rentals are for those kinds of games.  Sometimes I find out my prejudgement of the game was woefully wrong, as I did with Demon’s Souls.

I’m not sure my reaction to Borderlands was as strong as my reaction to Demon’s Souls, but there was just something fun about it.  Okay, I played World of Warcraft for years.  I’m totally trained to do the kill 4 Skags or collect the three audio diaries type quests. I’m down with levels, and know to run from things that are “skulls”.  When my bullets started doing elemental damage, catching those things on fire… yeah. I think that might have been the moment.

I died like three times to get that gun, but death isn’t horribly expensive.  You lose the progress with what you were fighting (it heals up, unlike Diablo), but you’re usually set back at the ammo vendor, and with full health, too boot.  Often that’s enough to settle the odds in your favor.  Then I got the gun that sets things on fire (I originally said “shoots fire” but it’s not a flamethrower), and it was like I had a fireball arrow.

We were cooking with gas, baby!

That’s also about the time I looked up and it was time to quit, turning the console over to Girl so she could play Oblivion, and honestly, some part of me didn’t want to.  Still, I enjoyed what she did as she played, and had more interesting thoughts about transgression as she played through the ends of the Assassins and Thieve’s Guilds quests.  I had to fight myself to put in Darksiders to try it out — and my initial disappointment with that game made me try more Borderlands.

I may have talked Girl into trying couch co-op with me though.  I told her the plot, as Manveer explained it on the podcast: “get four keys and open the vault.”

She said to me, “Why are you trying to open the vault.”

“There’s treasure in it,” I said.  “Some sort of alien something or other.”

“I might need to play this game,” she said.  Hopefully she’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Echoes

I think some of it is nostalgia.  Some of it is the nature of games to build on what came before. Some of it is certainly the hit driven nature of games, that forces repetition.  Too many games I’ve been playing this year echo an older game that I find I’d rather be playing.

Dragon Age has me wanting to play Oblivion, which makes me want Morrowind.  I played Prototype, and more than anything, the moving around Manhattan made me want to play Spider-Man 2 so much, we tracked down a copy (thankfully backwardly compatible on the 360), and I played, and spending much time just web-slinging around the city.

BioShock has been doing this to me lately, although in a different way.  It feels almost tinny to me, as though it’s an echo and reflection of something and the fidelity isn’t quite right.  I’m having difficulty finding the wonderfulness that the net has assured me is there.  I was replaying it recently as I’d gotten the disk from Girl, partly because of the immanent arrival of BioShock 2, and also because the VGC played it.  I missed their playthrough (and want to hear their podcast), when I read Michael Abbot’s recent piece on the game.

I’m not good at shooters, especially on the console.  I have BioShock for the PC, my key is missing, and well, it’s designed for the 360 anyway.  I wanted to get through it, and experience this environment that is so lauded.  Perhaps my expectations are too high now, and it’s certain that my playthrough is jaded, as I know the secret of the Crying Game.

My initial impressions of BioShock? First, the plane crash, and fall to the water.  Why are there droplets of water on my screen? This was my reaction the first time I played this, close to when the game came out, and again, every time I play it.  It jars me out.

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