Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Binary Domain

Binary Domain is... an interesting game, to say the least. After playing Gears Of War 3 towards the end of 2011, I was craving for another cover based third person shooter, and Sega (of all companies) heard me. Then came Binary Domain, which felt like Gears Of War... with robots instead of aliens-- what the fuck, wasn't that basically what Vanquish was? Well, not quite, because Vanquish had a huge sense of speed thanks to the thrusters in your suit. Binary Domain doesn't have that, and although it does have a gimmick, it didn't do much to the game, and overall, it just felt like Gears Of War with robots. Now, I don't have a problem with that because I like Gears Of War. Not my favorite games in the world, but it's a fairly strong trilogy, so eh, let's go with what works. Does Binary Domain hit a home run, or does it just feel like an inferior clone? I bet you've figured out the answer, so... if you want the answer, read on.

At first, Binary Domain is about two guys, Dan and Bo, who have to go to Japan and find Yoji Amada to bring him in for questioning because he was the guy who created the hollow child (basically what a hollow child is is a robot that's a lot like a human, but without human weaknesses... and it gets to the point where they believe they're humans themselves) that attacked Bergen's Headquarters. Why? Well, the people at Bergen believed that the Amada Corporation wanted to get back at them because Amada sued Bergen for stealing the technology used to make hollow children. The story starts off fairly convoluted as it chucks a lot at you at once, plus it starts off boring because the characters are either giving you bits of the story or are spewing mostly unfunny one liners, but as you proceed, you'll eventually find yourself getting invested into Dan and his love interest you meet an hour into the game, Faye. Eventually, the story starts to make sense as it develops, and as a result, the second half becomes very addicting because you'll want to know what they'll do next, and there's even some philosophical stuff like what it is to be human. Nothing deep, but it's enough to keep you coming back, so whatever. It's pretty much a slow burner, which isn't a good thing for shooters that are like 8 hours long, but it does pay off when you find yourself really getting invested into the story.

But yeah, if you've played Gears Of War, you'll immediately have an idea of how this plays out. If not, well, what you have to do is go through a set of corridors and open areas to fight the next wave of bad guys. When you encounter said bad guys, you duck into cover and shoot them in the head. While Binary Domain boasts a decent arsenal of pistols, machine guns, a shotgun and a rocket launcher, god, it's so much easier to just fill two weapon slots with machine guns and one with a pistol. The shotgun is fine if you're getting into plenty of close quarter encounters, but it's better to chill in cover, and since rocket launchers carry fuck all, well, you're limited to machine guns and pistols there. Then you're given grenades and EMPs, and at least they have their purposes in fucking shit up.

The thing with the robots is that you pretty much need to either shoot their bodies off or shoot them in the head in order to truly kill them. Getting them in the legs will cause them to drag themselves up to you and basically hump your leg. So yeah, get them in the body or the head. I can name all the games that make hitting the right limbs mean the difference between using a bullet or two and wasting a whole clip on one hand - Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and the two Dead Space games. An interesting thing you can do is blow off their heads and have them shoot each other... I don't know why they're not just firing blindly everywhere, but I'll take it!

Another interesting thing is that boss fights are different from enemy fights. While enemies require you to blow off their heads while you're in cover, bosses tend to require different strategies. Even if it boils down to finding the rocket launcher, constantly resupplying it with ammo and shooting down the targets without getting yourself blown up, it's still something different and as a result, it does feel like you're fighting a boss and not just an enemy with more HP. A couple of the bosses were pretty frustrating, especially the final boss, which delivers more explosions than the average Michael Bay movie, and since Dan's actions get delayed because of the impact - not to mention kill his squadmates and force him to revive them since if one dies, it's game over, restart from the last checkpoint - it becomes a right pain in the ass. But beyond that, the fights are tricky and extreme enough to keep you on your toes as you'll constantly be in danger of getting blown up. Just... yeah, some of them get to the point of overkill...

So that's the shooting, which is actually pretty fun because there's always shit to blow up and some situations get frantic, which really keep you interested. Sadly, everything else isn't up to snuff. The customization (like stat buffs and shit) isn't as well executed as it could've been. It works to a degree with Dan since you're in control of him the whole time, but with the teammates, all that works with them is letting them carry more medkits because... fuck, I can't tell if the others are making them better soldiers. Ditto for the voice commanding, for that matter. If you got a headset, you can issue commands to your squadmates. I like this idea, but it's executed pretty poorly, mainly because they don't seem to understand what you're saying. I guess it has to do with my voice because I kind of sound like Christian Bale's Batman when he tries to be intimidating, but at times when I'm just sitting there, it thinks I'm dropping f-bombs and my squadmates are like "dude what the fuck". Their AI isn't terrible - at least they shoot the enemies and remember to revive you if you issue the command (sometime most shooters' AI wouldn't ever do), so yeah, it's definitely the voice commanding itself that'll fuck you over. Stick with issuing commands via holding the left bumper and pressing the corresponding face button - it's much easier and they'll actually do it. The trust feature is another idea I like, but it's underdeveloped at best since it doesn't really matter, unless you're going for achievements. Unless you fire at them like a thousand times, it'll never reach a level where they'll ignore you, so it just feels like an arbitrary addition at best. Ditto for conversations where you reaction will either increase or decrease the trust, because half of them have random answers that'll increase the trust... I don't even care, I just focused on kicking ass because that seems to raise trust as well.

But if you want underutilized, try the multiplayer. You'll either fight in free for all matches or team deathmatches... oh, and a horde mode of sorts where you have to kill waves upon waves of robots... sheesh, no wonder bugger all people are online - Gears Of War has more to do! Shit, Soul Calibur 5 has more to do, and that game was rushed. I mean, they work competently enough, no problem there, but if you're going to have multiplayer, go the whole 9 yards not for my sake, but for everybody else's sake... well, unless you want people going back to Halo, Call Of Duty or Gears Of War for more online fun. I also had no desire to replay the game because of the slow intro, and the last boss... just no.

Can't say I liked the visuals all that much though. From a technical standpoint, they feel unpolished. I noticed a good amount of lag when there's a lot going on, and some screen tears here and there. Not to mention, some textures look a little lackluster, like they could use an extra coat to make them shine. The character models could also be considered butterfaces, because their skin is a bit muddy... might have to do with the washed out colors, I guess? But thankfully, it does have a lot of interesting designs, like the different sorts of robots - big or small, they each felt different, not to mention that they just look pretty good, and whoever designed the bigger ones definitely knew about scope because shit, they definitely feel as big as they look. Ditto for the set pieces - despite overall mediocre graphics, there's definitely a sense of scope put into each of them as they look fantastic. Just wish the technology was there (and if it was, then I wish it was utilized better).

The sound department was alright to say the least. The soundtrack is far from memorable and it didn't really have much, if anything in the way of ambiance either. None of the tracks made me feel the emotions I was meant to feel during to cutscenes or inspire me to kick ass during gameplay. Instead, it just existed for the sake of existing. The voice acting was hit and miss - some of it was good, but for the most part, it was just serviceable. Nothing that'll set a scene alight, but nothing that'll ruin it either. Overall, not bad, but not quite good either.

Binary Domain was a good game. Not great, not an underrated masterpiece... maybe the sleeper hit of 2012, but at the end of the day, it was a pretty good game that managed to keep me entertained, especially during the second half. Actually, if all of the game was like the second half, then I'd believe all the claims of it being great and all that. As it is, it's a good game that can pull off gunfights quite well and keep you engaged in its story during the second half. However, I can't really ignore the underdeveloped trust system, poor voice commanding and tacked on multiplayer - all of that does hurt it in the long run, because you just expect more out of it all.

7.5/10 (Good)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review: Assassin's Creed

When I first heard about Assassin's Creed, I thought that it'd be like Hitman set in the 1100s. What I didn't know was that it was going to be a sandbox-y game, with large environments that hosted a series of missions... that repeated over and over and over and over again, and could barely be considered missions at times. The best way to sum up Assassin's Creed is that how much you enjoy the first half of the game is in inverse proportion to how much you'll enjoy the second half, but that's if you actually enjoyed the first half at all, because an enjoyment level of 0 or less... just lowers and lowers as you progress.

Assassin's Creed starts off with some guy named Desmond being put into some machine known as the Animus, which allows the person laying on it to relive the life of one of their ancestors. Cool concept, I know, but beyond that, Desmond has no purpose. Sources may speculate that this was a last minute addition, but whether that's true or not doesn't stop it from seeming like a waste of time whenever you're forced to control Desmond again. “oh but surely the ending will make it all worth it” - fuck no! It barely felt like the ending... more like a plot twist halfway through a story! It's like “ooh yeah shit's about to get intense with... whatever the fuck that's meant to be” (and I'm not hiding anything – I wasn't sure what was going on either and nobody is willing to say anything about it either, until the sequel that is). In the end, the ending was very disappointing and left me with way too many questions for it to feel like an ending.

Ooh, but who is this ancestor? Why, Altair, of course! Altair is an assassin who, while trying to recover an incredibly important artefact, broke the three rules of his clan, and is thus stripped of his rank. Yes, even though this artefact is built up to be this big thing that can determine the fate of the world... nope, let's strip him of his rank anyway. Something's fishy and dammit, if it takes the entire game to satisfy my curiosity, then SO BE IT! Anyway, to restore his rank, he has to assassinate nine key figures of the Third Crusade to stop them from taking over the world... and they're not your typical bad guys. They're people who want to do good for the world, but the way they go about it is evil, so that's why they have to die.

Now, this could be really cool and make up for Desmond's lack of story, right? Ehh, not quite. The concept is pretty cool, and the execution is technically competent, managing to at least explain what's going on and flow cohesively, but does it have to be soo boring!? Besides the historical accuracy (which is either pretty damn close to being dead on or not quite right, depending on what textbook you've studied), it doesn't have a whole heap going for it that'll maintain your interest. The plot develops at one point, and then it just goes nowhere until the next development or twist. Until then, it just plods along, hoping that you get a boner for historical accuracy to make up for it. Actually, I'm sure somebody will debate whether this is historically accurate, but you know what, who really knows what happened? It's as one of the characters said - “do you believe it because it's in the history books? After all, history is written by the victor”. Think about it...

But yeah, usually, the gameplay makes up for that kind of thing... and for a while, it does. I don't know about everyone else who has played it, but free running on rooftops is something that's always interesting, even if all you're basically doing is holding the left stick forward while holding down R1 and X. Maybe it has something to do with the designs of the towns you explore? I'd say so. The towns are designed very fucking similarly, but that's cool, because exploring them is still fun anyway. Maybe it's just the simplicity that keeps you in some sort of hypnotic trance, wanting to uncover each square of each city for flags (which do jack shit, by the way)... that's about as far as it goes.

Sadly, the combat could never put me in the same trance. It's simple as well – either hold R1 and press square as they're about to attack or just molest the square button... no, seriously, that's all you do. “But Lukas, there are other commands like sidestepping, grabbing and more”. Okay, first off, a lot of these commands are unlocked as you proceed through the game. That's complete horse shit because these commands ought to be with you from the start. Secondly, and I feel that this is the big thing... there's basically fuck all need to do any of that when you can simply do what I suggested, because that'll manage to get you through the game! But what really frustrates me is that after a few fights, it starts to feel clunky. I mean, sure, your strikes and counters may feel alright, but sidestepping and the like... holy hell, what is this shit!? Eventually, combat winds up being this thing to dread because it just gets boring and tedious, and it honestly shouldn't ever get to that point, but here we are, at that point.

There ARE some legitimate attempts at trying to make this feel more like Hitman. Sometimes, you'll be given missions in which you have to kill specific guards and make sure no other guards catch you in the act or suspect you when they see the dead bodies. This is done either through the art of blending in with the crowd and using your hidden blade when you're sure nobody else can suspect you, or using throwing daggers. A lot of these missions are timed, which would make you think that you really ought to get your timing down, but actually, all it feels like is that you have to rush everything. Sounds fine, but given that this is meant to be stealthy, it's not so dandy in execution because when it comes right down to it, stealth is about waiting for the right moment to strike, and a time limit doesn't exactly make you think that it's okay to wait for that opportunity. I mean yeah, you can keep at it and develop the right timing to kill them all and get back to the mission marker, but honestly, in the year 2007, trial and error of a bullshit calibur like this should be fucking extinct... Oh, and you can't skip the dialogue from the assassin that gives you the mission... you can see how tedious this gets, right? Good idea, not so good execution.

Sadly, those are the only missions really worth a damn, because all of the others bite ass! The only other remotely stealthy mission is pickpocketing, but all it is, is that you have to sneak up to them, make sure they're not looking at you, and hold circle. Wow. But that's nothing. Try this one where you have to find a bench to sit on and then lock onto a specific person so you can eavesdrop on their conversation. Doing fuck all not your cup of tea? Don't worry – some people need a good punch in the face so that they'll spill the beans on your target, and then it basically becomes square, R1, square, R1, and rinse, lather, repeat. Oh sure, they'll send their mates out to gang up on you, but as long as you punch the mother hen enough, she'll crack and the chicks will leave you alone. Oh, and remember those other assassins I briefly mentioned? They don't just offer assassination missions – they'll also offer runs where you have to get some flags, and the only difficulty you'll run into is a moment when the controls decide to screw up. Honestly, assassination missions aside, these all feel like those sidequests you do in a sandbox game just to get a few more in game bucks. There's pretty much nothing to them except the same exact crap over and over again, and in the end, you're just wishing you could skip this crap so you can get to the main meat of the game!

Actually, there's one thing that really needs to be said – this game has a ton of commands. Like, more than a PS3 controller can handle. They do alleviate this by having you press or hold a shoulder button to access the appropriate commands for the situation, but not completely. See, the issue is that at times when you jump off of buildings, you'll never know what kind of jump you'll perform. Sometimes, you'll do what you want, and other times, you'll go the wrong way. At times, you'll jump when you don't want to jump. So in other words, the jumping is fairly iffy at the worst of times.

But yeah, once you do enough of these preliminary missions, you can head back to the guild and then get started on actually killing your target, which involves getting to where they are, hearing a speech or three, and then either fighting them or chasing them while mowing down their cronies. Fighting them is not really any different from fighting any of the guards, except these guys have more endurance and you can't counterattack then. Big whoop. Nothing about these fights is really exciting or even good, and you know what, I don't feel like repeating myself so let's talk about when you have to chase them. You basically run towards them, get out your hidden blade and when you're close enough, hit square and watch Altair jump and stab him in the throat. These are more exciting because there's... more to do! Seriously, it's one thing to fight them – it's another to barge through a series of cronies to get to them. As well as quiet killings, singling out a target and stabbing them is a way to assassinate them... not the best way and I don't think we'll be seeing Agent 47 doing that anytime soon, but given that this is a video game that's trying to find its audience, eh, why not?

I will say that the graphics do look pretty amazing... if you judge just by the environments and buildings. The human models are technically inferior and clash on a stylistic level with everything else. Seriously, they look like they came fresh out of a PS2 game from 2003 while the buildings and environments appear to be state of the fucking art! Same with the blood splatters, they just look silly. It's like they didn't finish rendering those... if you want me to paint you a picture here, imagine that you did a damn fine drawing of somebody with some oil crayons. That's basically what they look like. Then put in some buildings, environments and Altair's robe, all looking like they were made with some damn detailed textures that made everything look spot bloody on, like they would in real life. If that's not enough, then there's not much I can really do... except add that because they look so good, the game has some serious screen tearing and lag issues. The lagging isn't all that often, but screen tearing... holy shit, it pops up fairly often. It's a shame, because damn, this game looks good!

When it comes to the sound department, there isn't a whole lot to say. The soundtrack had barely any presence throughout the whole game. Yeah, it sounded okay, but it didn't really add to much. Not even its most intense tracks got me into the fighting, even back when I liked it (which was at like the first hour of the game). Ah well. The voice acting was hit and miss. The folks at Abstergo (where the Animus is) sound good, especially the doctor who has that kind of voice that makes you suspect something about him (that's how I felt, it's not a spoiler in any way guys). Altair sounds alright, but really out of place... I mean, since when did Middle Eastern folks in the 12th century sound like a modern day American? Just putting that out there. The Middle Eastern folks themselves sound alright, but the citizens get annoying repeating the same dialogue. But really, it's all nothing special, except the doctor who sounds just right, and Altair who sounds completely out of place.

So yeah, that's Assassin's Creed for you. It's a game with great ideas, but mediocre execution, and not enough steam to carry a whole game. That's what shits me in the end – it had some really good ideas, like a 12th century Hitman game, with a sci-fi premise of sorts and themes of redemption and corruption. But nope, what could've been cool is just flat and not worth playing through, because it just doesn't have any endurance. What starts off as a good game becomes an exercise in redundancy with side mission quality tasks and just the overall feeling of disappointment and mediocrity.

6/10 (Above Average)

Short Update + Some indie dev not named Notch reckons games aren't adult enough

First off, I'm so sorry that none of us have updated this blog in a few months. To make a long story short, we've been having personal problems - some with each other, some in general, and after all that was said and done, we've found ourselves becoming uninspired. I don't know if they'll come back - in fact, DT Jesus had asked me to take her off the author list because her heart wasn't really in it anymore. But then I found this, and suddenly, I felt like writing again! Joy!


To put it simply, games these days don't have much if any intellectual stimulation, but rather, they're about getting headshots.

First off, anybody who thinks this generation is nothing but shooters is fucking ignorant. There are PLENTY of non shooters in this generation. Perhaps they're not as well advertised as the shooters, but even then, the only shooters that get advertised are Modirn Gayfuckstupid and Campfield. Hardly a "generation of nothing but shooters". Maybe this is more of an attack on idiots who probably don't even have a current generation system than towards Chen, but that's the vibe I got from the article - that, and how fucking pretentious he (like all indie developers) is, but more on that later.

Second off, while I liked Journey, it wasn't exactly the holy grail of gaming that anybody claimed it was. It was an emotional experience that touched your very soul, but honestly, I couldn't stand to play it a second time because all it had going for it was emotion. It wore off after the first time and all I felt like doing was exiting out of the game to play me some Split/Second because that game was at least a lot of fun (besides the fucken rubber band AI). Journey didn't really have much in the way of gameplay, which I was able to overlook the first time due to the sheer scope of the game and the emotions it conveyed, but cannot overlook the second time because it's worn off, and all you're doing is walking and maybe floating around every now and again. Look, I like simple, but it gets to a point where it bores me rather than keeping me entertained, and honestly, if there is no fun, then there has to be something else that's captivating, and if that something else falters, the entire game dies despite its technical capabilities or style. It's like listening to hipster black metal bands like Wolves In The Throne Room and Alcest - it's endearing the first time, but pretty meh the second time around, and just gets worse. At least, that's how it gets for me, anyway. But hey, if you want to go by the whole "video games are art" thing, then you pretty much have to accept my interpretation of it - isn't that what art elicits? A whole heap of different interpretations from a whole heap of different people? Sure, most art gets the same reaction, but more often than not, it comes from sheeple who don't really know what they're talking about.

Finally, with both of the above points taken into consideration, Chen thinks that games with fun and excitement are for those with ADD or are for children. Again, that's what I got out of it, maybe he meant something else (arthouse people tend to think that one thing has 7 billion meanings, which I think is a means of covering their asses when somebody calls them out on their bullshit... kinda like what I'm doing right now), but I'm willing to be that he thinks fun and excitement is childish and that all a game needs is emotion and intellectual stimulation. Basically, the more artsy, the better. Basically, shit that'll empower indie developers who don't know the first thing about designing a game (ie. Braid's designers). Honestly, I want to believe that Chen is raising some good points, but going by what he's developed, I can't, because I've always believed that a game has to be fun above all else, and Journey wasn't exactly fun for me.

The only indie games I like are Bastion, Shank, Deathspank, Recettear, Limbo, Journey and Sequence, but guess why that is? BECAUSE THEY'RE FUN! Holy shit, who cares about the technical aspects of a game or how artistic it is when it's not even fun?