Mittwoch, 3. März 2010

Retrospective - Games finished in Jan/Feb

So as it turns out, getting rid of my last MMO subscription was a good idea. Suddenly, there was so much time to enjoy all the things I had missed out during my 5 year addiction. And those things amount to a lot as I have found out.

Let's start with games, shall we? During the first two months of 2010 I managed to finish 5 games and dabble in numerous others.

Mass Effect
I bought this only because a friend of mine recommended it to me during the Steam holiday madness. Until then it had flown under my radar completely. Turns out this one of the best RPGs I have ever played and since I have been sick of elves and the whole fantasy routine for a good while, Mass Effect gave me the chance to return to my science fiction roots. I found myself uniquely challenged by the moral dilemmas at least half a dozen times throughout the game, resulting in a slightly more Paragon character despite my attempt to go Renegade on everyone and everything. The narrative was great and although it struck me as odd to do the side missions when the galaxy was in danger, most of those side missions were worth my while.
I did have my issues with a few things though, the AI of the teammates being number one. Although "only" I played a soldier on normal, I had to finish a good majority of indoor fights on my own and would have had the same problem with the outside encounters too. Luckily I specialized on sniper rifles early on and managed to eventually frag everything from a lowly droid to a thresher maw with it.
The dialogue system is great although I thought the whole charm/intimidate mechanic would have been way more interesting, if they didn't go hand in hand each time. Hard to describe but I think if the characters are fleshed out well, some of them will allow for renegade reactions and other may spark paragon options. Both at the same time every time struck me as odd. This is a minor thing though.
All in all Mass Effect was a great experience and I hope I get to spend a lot more hours in this particular universe in the future.

Ben There, Dan That
Point'n'Click adventures. In the nineties I played all of the LucasArts games, Discworld one and two, Simon the Sorcerer and everything that ended with "Quest" and provided "Use" and "Take" as viable actions. Sadly, I lost all interest in this genre with the atrocious Monkey Island 4. I hadn't played Grim Fandango and Discworld Noir yet and until today those are missing from my gaming vita. A friend of mine got into the TellTale series of Monkey Island and Sam'n'Max last year, but to me, these games were abominations of the original games and I wouldn't touch them while in a hazmat suit.
"Ben There, Dan That" (BTDT) and "Time Gentlemen, Please" were mentioned quite frequently by RockPaperShotgun during the last months of 2009, so I picked both of them up during the above mentioned sale on Steam. 2009 also saw the release of a few highly acclaimed Point'n'Clicks, such as "The Whispered World" and "Machinarium". Was this the return of the dead genre or could these be regarded as enthusiastic necrophilia?
I finished BTDT on a laptop in maybe three to four hours during the reinstallation of my PC. I though it was genuinely entertaining and a fitting heir to their hilarious ancestors of the last century. It provided just the right amount of british humor, meta jokes and pop art references. The puzzles were both funny and easily digestible to spend a nice evening with Ben and Dan, the two unlikely heroes.
I can't wait to knock out the second game of the series one of these evenings and hope Zombie Cow Studios will follow up with a new episode sometime this year.

It is hard to talk about Braid without spoiling too much for people who have yet to enjoy it. Which is something I suggest everybody remotely interested in games should do.
I find the whole indie gaming scene deeply fascinating but only to a point where I don't have to buy everything that comes out and has a vocal fanbase. By now I own three indi games and have about ten on my wishlist. Most of the time they are cheaper than AAA titles, but only provide a limited playtime. Most of them are deeply creative and even revolutionizing, but a lot of times they are not entertaining at all or too hard to pick up. I will think buying an indie game over a lot of times, because the cost of two to five indie games make up the cost of a AAA title. And I know I will enjoy the hell out of something like Fallout 3 of Mass Effect 2 and get at least 50 hours of playtime out of either of them. I am not so sure about the five indie titles providing me with the same.
Now getting into Braid I noticed just that. I also picked this up during the Steam holiday sale and like Mass Effect 1, I got it dirty cheap. Having finished it I would have been okay with a 10€ price tag for an indie game. If I was to earn any real money on a regular basis, 15€ also would have been okay. I do not attribute that to the roughly twelve hours I got out of it, but to the experience as a whole.
While I am not yet sure where I stand on the story of the game (I get the accusation of the game being pretentious), the game mechanics are ingenious and I firmly believe several people working on this game would have ruined the ingenuity of Braid.
Adding a third (and even forth) dimension to a twodimensional puzzle platformer is about as clever as it get's in my book when it comes to this dear old genre. Despite it's occasionally complex levels, I managed to finish the game and that alone was a very challenging task. Even without any of the hidden content discovered. A few frustrating levels even had me motivated enough to come back on a daily basis until I had finally beaten them. I am glad to have played this and to me Braid is one of those titles every child (and grown-up) should play at one time during their gaming live.

Where do I begin? Imagine a highly polished threedimensional platformer on your favorite console. Throw in the whacky art style of the cartoon network series from the nineties. Mix that with a upside down read copy of "Psychology 101". Now you have Psychonauts.
This game is very colorful, freaky and entertaining on many levels. The humor functions on the same subliminal level of all those modern animated movies, that feature jokes for both the parents and kids, neither of which will get those punchlines targeted for the other group. The majority of the jokes are aimed towards a grown up audience and that's where the game works against it's presentation. The candy look probably gave a lot of people the wrong idea about the game, putting potential customers off.
Somehow I regard this game as the good twin to the underrated nineties game "Sanitarium". Both are basically focusing on the same topic, one from a grim gothic perspective of suffering, the other as an insane LSD birthday party with all the kids from the neighborhood. The unique design of each level keeps the suspense up until the very end and portrayed the nature of the human mind extremely well.
This game is a blast to play, even if you're not studying psychology. It's also a prime example of a working incorporation between story and gameplay. Mechanics and content working hand in hand. This should be an obligatory game for anyone studying or learning to be a game designer.

Knights of the Old Republic
Luckily, I installed this and it's successor as soon as my PC was reinstalled a while back. Two weeks ago I was anxious to finally breeze through Half-Life 2, a plan that swiftly broke apart (more on that another time). So I was sitting there on a lonely friday night, browsing through my start menu. 'Well hello there, Knights of the Old Republic...' 10 days later I finished the game, successfully conquering the galaxy as the new Dark Lord of the Sith.
It was nice to play this game shortly after having spend about the same amount of time with Mass Effect 1. It was interesting to see both the recurring mechanisms and ideas and the evolution of BioWare's games over the years. I am now even more excited about finally diving into Mass Effect 2 later this year and seeing how they have taken it to a next level.
Curiously enough I managed to reach the Sith end of the Force-o-meter fairly quickly. I hadn't even been named Padawan yet and I was already leaving a trail of burning corpses. I even executed Juhani before she had a chance to reconsider the light side. Too bad as I found out a bit later, she would have been a nice addition to the team. So I ran with Bastila/Jolee and HK-47 (my favorite NPC in that game) for pretty much all of the game, since I knew I had no chance to drag sexy Mission to the dark side with me. The other characters didn't appeal to me that much. I probably wouldn't even have chosen Bastila if it wasn't for her force powers. Her nagging was unbearable at times. I didn't quite get why they implemented the option to go Sith right from the start when it didn't influence the main plot at all safe for the last one or two hours.
From a gameplay perspective, the force powers dumbed the game down a lot and starting at roughly level 15 until the end of the game every encounter could be easily won be spamming area crowd control, area damage and area heals. Why the dark side version of Bastila has been implemented a lot weaker than her light side twin is beyond me. Most of the talents dark Bastila had were basically useless for the few hours you had left in the game. The only challenging fight was the very last one, which became a lot easier because I had almost all the grenades and health packs I found throughout the game saved up. The rest was just a hit and run exercise. Okay, I played on normal at that point, but I didn't notice any improvements in the difficulty when I switched from easy to normal towards the end of Taris.
From a presentation perspective I have to say that this game destroyed some of the Mass Effect magic. I wouldn't call it recycling, but a good proportion of the "Wow!" graphics in Mass Effect had already been tinkered with in KotOR. Mass Effect's graphic engine is newer or course. Why they dropped the kickass idea of the characters looks being altered by the good or bad side in ME1 is beyond me, but I have gathered that they reimplemented it for ME2, so I am excited about that.
Finishing KotOR rather impressed and at the same time reading a lot of whining how Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 didn't reach the high level of RPG that Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights provided, I am considering to revisit those titles at some point in the future. It has been a long time since I played Baldur's Gate 1 and all the BioWare games between that and KotOR have passed me by. At least I can't recall ever giving Neverwinter Nights a try.

And that will be it for the games I've played and finished during the last two months. Next up will be the titles I dabbled in and maybe a few thoughts on recent movies and TV series.


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