Highlights and Massive Shites: Gaming in 2013 (The Bad)

You know that thing where something is in fashion, then it goes out of fashion, then you wait a while for it to come back around and it’s in fashion again? That’s what I’m doing with being fashionably late. So, a whole six months after it ceased to be relevant, here is the other half of my noteworthy games of 2013.

If I really wanted to justify this, I’m fairly certain a few of these games might appear in the upcoming Steam Summer sale, so let’s pretend that’s why I’m doing it and crack on.

Remember Me
rmps3fob1Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: My putting Remember Me in the bottom pile has nothing to do with it having a female lead character. In truth, Nilin was about the only interesting part of this otherwise dreary trudge through mediocrity and half-baked ideas.

That’s actually a bit unfair, possibly: I get the feeling that Remember Me’s development and subsequent publishing limbo was frequently presided over by the spectre of compromise. There are definitely things to be enjoyed in the game, though, don’t get me wrong.

The world is beautifully realised, although the fact that it’s supposed to be set in ‘Neo-Paris’ never really came through in the design; there was little about the world to suggest it was the future and even less to imply a Parisienne setting. The characters all look interesting and varied, but they do have some awful names, (look forward to a brilliant scene involving a character named Bad Request, where Nilin constantly shouts his first name like she’s scolding a puppy that’s pissed all over the carpet).

The one other feature worth mentioning involves sending Nilin inside her enemy’s minds to re-arrange their memories and bend them to her will. It sounds interesting on paper, and essentially plays like a triple-A version of Braid -using time manipulation to create different effects- but the mechanic is only used a total of four times in the game, despite Nilin using her ability a lot more than that in cutscenes. Granted, in most of the cutscenes she’s only stealing memories, rather than re-arranging them, but that’s not to say there couldn’t have been a 2D runner-style mini-game where you have to dodge and destroy obstacles to get in and out of the target’s conscious with the memories.

This is my main issue with Remember Me, and the reason it was bad enough to make this list: there is so much potential in the world that has been created, so many different places the story could have went, and instead we just get an excruciatingly slow-paced faux-platformer (the climbing sections are even more diluted than Uncharted, since you can only jump at designated areas; rendering exploration largely moot,) and extremely clunky, ineffecient combat, that only lets you build a combo on one enemy at a time, despite having the same counter system as Batman; meaning you will constantly watch your combo getting reset through no fault of your own, because the game also doesn’t let you lock on and focus on a specific enemy. So many parts of the game seem to be at odds with each other like this.

For another example of how poorly thought out the combat is, there is an enemy you’ll encounter much later in the game whom you can’t attack without taking damage. The only way to take them out, damage-free, is with a special attack that you don’t actually have the first time you encounter said enemy, and that also comes with a three-minute cooldown between each use.

No problem, though, just equip some of the special ‘Pressens’ the game provides you with which allow your combos to grant various (read: four) status effects, such as increased damage and health recovery. That last one is important, because you’ll also need to equip healing Pressens so that you don’t die while hitting this enemy. Of course, you can only equip so many of each in a combo, so you can either alternate between doing one combo to reduce your cooldown time and then another to refill your health, or just wail on the enemy with the healing combo until he goes down; which will incidentally take about twice as long to do as it takes to stop being fun.

Later on in the game you’ll go up against these guys while surrounded by normal enemies so that makes it a lot easier to use your cooldown combos, then all you have to worry about is whether or not the games wacky targeting system will choose the right person when you decide to use your special attacks.

All of that might make it sound like combat can become quite frantic –challenging, even- but nope. The healing Pressens that I mentioned remove absolutely all sense of danger, the only times in the game when I came close to dying -even on the hardest difficulty- were during the infuriating gimmick fights with enemies who became invisible out of direct light; because they move so fast and Nilin’s targeting is so screwed that it was a pain to keep a combo going on one without constantly having to dodge out of the way of the rest.

Again, if that makes the game sound difficult, it isn’t: I beat the game on it’s hardest difficulty setting without breaking a sweat, and to put that in perspective I still frequently die outside Joker’s Funhouse in Arkham City on regular difficulty, even after having beaten the game.

I don’t want to be too hard on the developer here, though, because I genuinely think they set out with the best intentions and were forced to make cuts and compromises just to get the game published, and I feel sorry that a lot of the blame for the game doing so poorly is going to be laid at Nilin’s feet, as I do really like her as a character and wouldn’t mind seeing her in a sequel, but Remember Me is in no way worthy of a full-price release, when there are games that release for a quarter of the price that are far more polished and robust.

Play it if you get the chance, but don’t expect much beyond a pleasant, if infrequent, soundtrack and some really good art direction.

Dead Space 3

I was pretty bummed that I didn’t play Resident Evil 6 until after I’d written my worst DS3-PC_covergames of 2012 article, because that piece of shit would’ve blown every other awful game I played right out of the water. Lucky for me, Dead Space 3 came along in 2013 and made all the same mistakes, so consider this my first dual-wielding review.

I already wrote at length about all the problems Dead Space 3 has in another article, but something I don’t think I took the time to mention while I was waffling on was that I actually chose to play Dead Space 3 in tandem with Dead Space 2, because DS3 was so bad I was convinced I was just remembering the series wrongly and that it had always sucked.

I was pretty happy to be proven wrong.

Playing DS2 side-by-side with DS3, it is shocking just how badly they managed to fuck it up. Absolutely every component that made the series stand out and be an original sci-fi knockoff –and yes, that is an achievement in these bleak times- was either dumbed down or removed completely in the neutered final instalment of Isaac’s story.

The easiest way I can explain pretty much every problem though, is by detailing the differences with Stalker encounters in each game. Stalkers, if you’re not familiar with the name, are the token ‘fuck these guys’ fast-moving, hard-hitting dog enemies first introduced in Dead Space 2. You always know when they’re going to appear if you enter a room with a lot of pillars set out in neat rows, or anything else it would be convenient for a lot of them to hide behind. They will move from cover to cover, occasionally sticking their head out to size up Isaac, before making a mad screaming dash toward you; leaving you a split second to blast their legs off or go for a headshot and take them down instantly. Fail, and they’ll knock you to your arse and scarper back to the shadows.

Get used to that last part, if you’re fighting them in DS3. It happens a whole fucking lot.

See, this is why the Stalkers are perfect for demonstrating every single thing wrong with the design of DS3: in the previous game, because they were designed to be fast and powerful, the game compensated for this by also making them easy to take down so long as you can land a hit on them. In Dead Space 3, though, all of the guns are so watered down -either as a result of poor balancing for co-op or because the weapon construction system wasn’t properly thought through- that unless you empty a full clip into each Stalker, it will still hit you. Unless it dashes at you from far enough away, it will still hit you.

When I mentioned taking their legs off before, I wasn’t referring to some souped up Hand Cannon attack: I did the entirety of my first Dead Space 2 run with nothing but the Plasma Cutter (AKA starter pistol) because, so long as you upgrade it accordingly, there is nothing it isn’t capable of taking down. Fast-forward to Dead Space 3, and I once again thought I was remembering the game wrong, because it took most of a clip with the Plasma Cutter just to remove an enemy’s leg. The Line Gun in DS3 is closer to the power of the Plasma Cutter in DS2, which you may take as a sign that my problem is just that they’ve made the game too hard for me, but the game isn’t hard at all.

It’s just a fucking chore to play.

Again, this is most likely explained by the incompetent handling of the co-op system, which also broke the single player experience of Dead Island: even though I was playing the game solo, all of the battles were clearly designed for more than one person. Enemies swarm you unrelentingly, but even though they are the exact same enemies that did so in Dead Space 2, here they inexplicably take several more shots to put down. Presumably this is supposed to be balanced by having two players attacking simultaneously, but if you’re playing alone it just means turning what used to be a fun semi-tactical shooting experience into a painfully dull war of attrition; running to one corner of the room, dropping a few shots at the wave of enemies coming towards you, then running to another corner and repeating the process over and over.

And if that somehow sounds fun to you, you’re in luck: the game literally copy-pastes optional scavenging missions from different parts of the game and makes you do them all over again, right down to the interminable battles while waiting for a slow-ass elevator to descend from on high, full of largely useless loot that you more than likely will be unable to carry anyway. (If I hadn’t already prattled on enough, I could expand on how fucking dumb it is to implement a loot system into a series without revising it’s fairly rigid inventory management system, but time’s time.)

All in all, Dead Space 3 is a pretty broken mess of an experience. It would possibly be better with a co-op partner, but I’ve always maintained that if your game only gets good with someone else then don’t give me the option to go it alone. But that’s EA for you: cowards to the last. I can’t even recommend this if you’re a fan of the series, because you’d genuinely just be better replaying the first two games. I can’t stress enough just how much better Dead Space 2 is in every respect than Dead Space 3.

I actually think, at this point, floating in the cold, dead void of space would be preferable to playing this shit-heap again.

Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage 2

KensRage2_coverI wasn’t sure whether or not to include this since I don’t imagine many people even know it exists, but since it’s one of the most egregious examples of my most hated gaming sin I figured it was worth mentioning for that, if nothing else.

Just to bring you up to speed: FotNS:KR 2 is a palette-swap of Dynasty Warriors with all the characters replaced with ones from the somewhat infamous manga starring a lot of men in leather hugging in the desert. Also there was another game before this one, so that covers the 2, part.

I absolutely loved the first instalment because the Dynasty Warriors engine is pretty much custom-made for a Fist of the North Star game, what with both having a propensity towards genocide-level bodycounts. That being said, there were some teething issues, such as unnecessary/flat-out shitty platforming sections and a couple of really unforgiving boss battles early on, but overall the game was a blast to play.

The sequel, on the other hand, somehow can’t even just be dismissed as more of the same, as we’ve come to expect from Koei sequels. As I said, Ken’s Rage 2 is guilty of one of my most reviled design transgressions: making a sequel with less features than the original.

It’s generally a well established premise in almost every form of media that you use the first instalment of a series to set-up the world and it’s parameters, get everyone used to what’s going on, and then use that success to ramp it up for the sequel. Not so with Ken’s Rage 2: everything has been dialed back. The character movesets are smaller –even though they’re recycling all the same character models from the first game- presumably to get out of having to create full movesets for the admittedly staggering number of new characters introduced.

That’s hardly an excuse though: would you rather play a Street Fighter game with thirty new characters that only have one move apiece, or play the original SFII with it’s small roster of fully fleshed out fighters?

So aside from making the characters less fun to use, what else has changed? Well, as opposed to the trademark sprawling levels characteristic of the Dynasty Warriors brand, every level now takes place in a series of corridors with arbitrary block-off points every so often. I’m not exaggerating for the sake of emphasis, here: you literally just move forward until you reach the boss and end the level. No more hidden items or secret fights, no more reasons to explore; just barrel forward until you get to the next overlong cutscene.

Wait, did I say cutscene? I meant series of static images.

Yep, whereas the original Ken’s Rage had fully animated cutscenes, 90% of the ones in Ken’s Rage 2 only feature the character models posed inside of comic book panels while the dialogue is read over them. Again, you could argue that the sheer amount of story content the game packs in –given that the previous game only covered a small part of the original manga, whereas Ken’s Rage 2 covers the entirety– would have made it realistically impossible to animate absolutely everything, but I say why bother at all then.

Again it’s worth pointing out that the first half of Ken’s Rage 2 just retreads the story covered in the first game -which includes re-using some of the exact same animated cutscenes from the Ken’s Rage, whole-cloth- presumably for the sake of being thorough, but that, coupled with the reduced movesets, would imply to me that this game isn’t actually a sequel at all.

If anything, it’s a reboot.

This is the thing that annoys me the most: if the game had been marketed as the definitive Fist of the North Star experience, then I might have been more forgiving. I still wouldn’t have liked the game, because it’s pretty much awful in every sense, apart from getting to enjoy the Fist of the North Star story, but since most of the cutscenes aren’t animated I may as well have just read the manga.

That’s not what happened, though. The game was marketed as a sequel to the first game, and it quite simply isn’t. Sequels don’t spend the first two hours of the campaign making you replay the the first game. I was looking forward to continuing my adventure with the same engine, and new parts of the story/world to explore, not playing a dumbed down version of a game I already owned with a bunch of half-arsed shit tacked on to the side.

If Koei had been honest and told me Ken’s Rage 2 wasn’t going to be a proper sequel, then I’d have been pissed, but at least I would have known not to waste thirty quid on a glorified interactive comic.

In short, Ken’s Rage is less the disappointment of Spiderman 3, and more the bewildering confusion of expecting to see Spiderman 2, and getting Turkish Spiderman instead.

Tomb Raider

1Tomb-raider-cover-e3-2011Okay, I’m going to cheat with this one and pretty much just copy-paste what I wrote in my ‘I Hate the Games Industry’ thesis, because I don’t have many new points to bring up, but I don’t want this crock of shit to escape the list.

Once again, I feel the need to stress, because of the times we live in, that none of my issues with Tomb Raider have anything to do with the protagonist being a woman. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true, I do take some issue with the frankly psychotic level of glee the game seems to take in injuring Lara in brutally graphic ways, but none of my issues with Tomb Raider have anything to do with me playing as a lady.

Given that this game comes from Square-Enix, it should be no surprise that 2013’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise is pretty much the epitome of style over substance. Absolutely everything in the game exists for its own sake, and little to none of it feels cohesive. Unlike other games with themes of exploration, where you learn as you go along how you can apply your new abilities to previously discovered obstacles, urging you to go back and experiment, Tomb Raider signposts everything with the uniformity of fucking Metroid doors, to the point where you can write off entire areas under the banner of ‘I’ll just come back after I’ve got all the upgrades’.

So now that the exploration part of the game about an explorer has been thoroughly euthanised, how do the combat and platforming elements shape up; i.e. the pillars of the classic Tomb Raider formula?

You start off Tomb Raider shooting dudes and climbing on walls, and then that’s it. Enemy variety, for the most part, never advances beyond regular footsoldiers and slightly more armoured regular footsoldiers, and the platforming all has that Uncharted-esque my-way-is-the-right-way linearity, albeit with slightly more freedom to fall to your death than Remember Me.

As for the story, it’s actually reasonably interesting and fairly well written. Of particular note are the surprisingly engrossing audio logs that flesh out the islands history, and the character motivations –though at times unbelievable- at least make them more engaging than the usual gaggle of mercenary fucknuts we have to suffer through. My only issue was that, for all the promo material made a big deal of Lara’s coming-of-age awakening angle, none of that every really translates into the game. She is a bit weepy the first time she kills someone, but after that she goes into full wave of mutilation mode; gunning down enemy and animal indiscriminately as she carves a path towards the full-on xenophobic sociopath we know and love he for.

This is the real problem with Tomb Raider: the story paints a picture of a young, starry-eyed Lara forced to go through the whole innocence lost ordeal and become the woman she needed to be, but the gameplay skips the whole first bit and jumps straight to the end of the story. I would have liked to play the game the story was telling, where Lara is forced to hunt for survival and use stealth and cunning to defeat a better-trained, better-equipped army. I would have enjoyed clearing out enemy camps and gaining territory, using my crew to perform various tasks to bolster our defences and help me build new weapons and train with them.

That would have been a game I’d put in my best games list, because that game would have been Far Cry 3, AKA one of my favourite games of all time. I do feel like Square-Enix would have done well to study Far Cry 3 (beyond just nicking the Glaswegian crew member idea) and see how you can effectively weave good narrative in with amazing gameplay, but that would have taken time and effort and money and it’s not as if Tomb Raider didn’t do well as it was. Oh wait.

I suppose I should at least mention the graphics, because some parts of the island really are astounding to look at, (at least when they aren’t brutally murdering Lara in creepily graphic ways,) but if I wanted to see exotic locations or buildings of historical significance I’d watch the Discovery Channel, and if I wanted to watch a screaming woman gored to death on a propeller blade then I’d download the official Eli Roth screensaver pack.

In terms of gameplay, though, there is literally nothing to bring you back after you have completed the campaign, which in and of itself is incredibly short, (I think my time wasn’t far over ten or twelve hours with a 100% completion rate).

Oh, and it’s also kind of dumb to call your game Tomb Raider and then make the raiding of said tombs both optionally and really, really easy. I mean, I thought that part would have been a no-brainer, at least.

———————————————————

Okay, that should do it for this. I really just wanted to post something because it’s been a while and I don’t like my blog growing stagnant. Plus a bit of precision-targeted rage always gets my Sunday off to a good start.
Peach out, bitches.

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