Friday, February 21, 2014

The Critical Flaws of BioShock Infinite

"If you're used to insipid boomfests like Halo then BioShock will seem like the shit, but if you're a long-time PC gamer spoiled by more complex FPS-RPGs then you're in for a kick in the balls." -- Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw.

Yahtzee's review of BioShock basically sums up my thoughts on the original game. Like everyone else at the time, I bought into the hype and bought BioShock for $50 on launch day -- a decision I quickly regretted once I discovered it came boxed with crippling DRM. The actual gameplay did little to assuage my disappointment at the technical problems as I grew increasingly frustrated with its excessively contrived sidetracking, unrewarding exploration, and binary morality system. Looking back, the first BioShock may in fact have been the catalyst that led to my current state of jaded cynicism whenever it comes to massively hyped mainstream games.

Going into BioShock Infinite, I was hopeful that the gameplay would at least be an improvement over the original, but I was still fully prepared for it not to live up to its hype. I had the distinct feeling in my gut that it would be another case of "all flair, no substance," and I probably never would have bothered playing it if not for PlayStation Plus putting it into their lineup of free games. Fortunately, many of the things that actively bothered me in the original have been improved or removed. Unfortunately, what we're left with in Infinite is a game that's been so streamlined as to cut out any form of meaningful interaction, while the game stubbornly insists on being something it probably shouldn't have been in the first place.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Impressions of Warframe

I spent most of my weekend playing Warframe, a free-to-play online cooperative shooter. It had been on my radar for quite some time, ever since it showed up on Steam almost a year ago, but as usual I never got around to playing it. Ever since Killing Floor jumped the shark in mid-to-late 2012, I've been looking for a new coop shooter with the same kind of depth, intensity, and longevity to replace it, and it seems like Warframe might have the potential to be that game.

Warframe is a futuristic sci-fi shooter in which players take the role of an ancient civilization of warriors known as the Tenno, battling a variety of humanoid armies throughout the solar system. As the Tenno, players have the ability to move like ninjas, running and jumping along walls and sliding across the floor, while their warframes (the suit of armor they wear) give them a variety of unique active skills. The action is fun and exciting, the controls are tight and responsive, and the visual style and atmosphere are very immersive.

The only problem I have with Warframe is that it's fundamentally designed like a free-to-play game: "free to grind, pay to have fun." In a way, that works in the game's favor because it offers a psychological satisfaction to be had from earning your improvements while giving you long-term goals to work towards. On the other hand, the grind can force you to spend dozens of hours slogging through repetitive missions with boring starting equipment you may not even like before you can even get to the fun part of unlocking new warframes.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On Video Game Difficulties

I don't consider myself a "hardcore" gamer -- I'm not the type of person who has to play every game on the hardest difficulty or hunt down every single achievement or trophy to get satisfaction from the games I play. When it comes to playing video games, it's not about proving how good I am to the rest of the world; it's just about having fun. For the longest time my philosophy was that whenever a game presented me with difficulty options, I would play the default, normal difficulty unless I knew in advance that the normal setting would be far too easy and therefore unsatisfying. And yet lately I've noticed myself consistently playing games on the "hard" setting, because it seems like in most mainstream games these days, "normal" has actually come to mean "easy."

It's no secret that games have been getting easier over time. Classic NES games were so difficult they even inspired their own trope. The idea at the time was to make less total content last longer and to cause arcade players to spend more money on the machines buying continues after reaching a game over. Those games were so hard that only the most dedicated players mastered the skills and know-how to reach the end. Nowadays, with advents like regenerating health and frequent checkpoints, the idea seems less about challenging the player and instead about ensuring that evern the lowest common denominator will be able to reach the end of the game.

I find myself playing on "hard" more often lately because I want to feel some sense of challenge, and most "normal" modes don't provide much real sense of accomplishment. I like that feeling of satisfaction that comes from developing my own mastery of the game, the realization that it was my own skill, wit, and determination that got me through to the end. That's what makes the experience unique and personal, because otherwise I'm having the exact same gameplay experience as everyone else, and I don't always get that feeling from playing games on the default, "normal" difficulty.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Kingdoms of Amalur: Why Must You Suck?

Open-world RPGs have been dominated the past decade by the likes of Bethesda, a developer whose games I regard with utter contempt. When smaller studios try to compete with Bethesda, their ambition usually outstretches their own abilities or resources, and they wind up with a janky mess of a game that falls way short of its potential (I'm looking at you, Gothic 3). With Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I hoped that it might be the game that would finally offer some contention for Bethesda's stranglehold of the genre.

In an industry that relies so heavily on sequels and established franchises, it's always nice to see a fresh new product from a fresh new company, so I really wanted KoA:R to succeed just for that reason alone. On paper, KoA:R has all the requisite parts to be a good game and shares many similarities to some of my all-time favorite games, but what made it seem all the more promising was the blend of headlining talent working on the game combined with its enormous budget. It was to be a big game from big names, and there was an awful lot of hype surrounding its pre-release anticipation. 

I really wanted to like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, but the game itself is a sad, mediocre disappoint punctuated by the developer, 38 Studios, going out of business shortly after its release and company owners (and Rhode Island taxpayers) losing tens of millions of dollars on the financial flop. My experience with the demo almost exactly two years ago made it seem like a good game that just wasn't worth the full $60 asking price, but even after numerous price drops and sales putting it in a more comfortable budget range, I feel like KoA:R just isn't worth anyone's time.