Sadly there wasn’t a large amount of gaming had this weekend, mostly because my usual gaming hours (late at night after my wife retires for bed) were supplanted by a need to sleep. I did manage to squeeze in a few games here and there including some ostensibly scary stuff and the most random sports game ever. Check it out after the hippity-hop.
Ooh, I’m Shakin’
I finally got around to finishing F.E.A.R., which was another one of the games I rented early on after I purchased the console, played about halfway through and then returned. Now that it’s available from GameZnFlix, I thought I’d give it another whirl.
Let me get out of the way my biggest gripe with the game: The stingy single-player Achievements. I really think it’s dumb that beating the game on Normal difficulty nets you maybe 100 points. I’ve come to terms with the fact that so many games tie Achievements to multiplayer: I’m not a huge competitive deathmatch kind of guy so a lot of those points will go unearned. But if your game is primarily a single-player game—and I still believe this is the case with any title that includes a campaign mode—why would you tie the best Achievements into re-playing the campaign? I can sort of understand giving extra points for beating the game on harder difficulty levels (that would be, you know, an achievement) but when completing the game earns you only 60 definite points and completing the campaign without using power-ups earns you 65, something is amiss.
But score gripes aside, I did enjoy the game. I think it might have been more effective story-wise if I hadn’t put a nine-month gap between the first six levels and the last, but I got the basic idea and thought it was quite well done. A lot of the complaints about the game I’ve heard such as that it’s really just an enemy A.I. tech demo and the levels are mundane are valid but I guess those kinds of things don’t really bother me. So often I feel that enemies, especially in shooters, follow such a predictable pattern: You find the easiest, basic soldier and fight a bunch of them. Then gradually the game adds new and tougher foes while those basic enemies become more or less cannon fodder that either stop showing up after a while or begin to be just annoyances thrown at you in large quantities. I kind of like how FEAR’s AI made the same clone soldiers you fought in the beginning just as viable as opponents at the end because it felt more authentic.
In the same vein I sometimes feel like the contrivances games use to get you from one location to another so the map designers have to earn their paychecks gets a bit out of hand. I imagine that fighting a campaign against a corporate-sponsored army in a genetic experiment gone awry would involve a lot of fighting in office buildings and industrial areas. I mean, compare this to Bullet Witch where you end up, inexplicably, in the forest halfway through the game before bumbling back into the city. Wha–? A jungle level in FEAR would have just been out of place.
Still, the game wasn’t perfect. Either I didn’t play it right or something but I never felt the atmosphere really clicked with me: The sense of tension the game tried really hard to create more or less failed because I don’t think hallucinations are particularly scary and the white flash and screen effects that clearly marked each head-trip seemed to signal to me, “This stuff is going to be scary! Rawr.” And I wasn’t impressed. If they had just had weird stuff happening more like they did in Eternal Darkness I might have been drawn in more. I also disliked how hard it was to follow the story since they tried for that Half-Life vibe but I felt like the inclusion of the PC as a pivotal part of the story felt forced since you are never given any kind of identity. It worked in Half-Life because Gordon Freeman (whom you will note has a name and a face and everything) could have been anyone: He himself wasn’t vital to the plot. But “FEAR Point Man” really is vital and yet we have nothing to connect to, no character trait to latch onto. I know we’re supposed to project ourselves into the role, but either I didn’t catch that early enough or they didn’t do a good job of encouraging it or something but it felt hollow.
Anyway, I’d certainly play a sequel and hopefully they’ll fix a few minor issues here and there but overall I’d recommend the game.
Also Not Scary
The other “horror” game I played a bit this weekend was Resident Evil: Deadly Silence for DS which is awful. I mean really quite bad. They changed all the cutscenes to these live-action freakshows and while the voice acting was never great (although I thought it was perfectly passable in the GC remake) it’s really atrocious in this version. Plus they did nothing with the painful tank controls (hello? Stylus?) and the graphics on the DS are pretty sad, especially with the awesome remake available for the same number of Goozex points. I guess all these things should have been self-evident but I just loved the idea of RE on the DS so much that I was blinded to reality. Live and learn, I guess.
Assorted DS Tidbits
I didn’t play much DS this weekend, since I was home and not even playing much 360, but I did play a little more Kirby Canvas Curse. After several more levels I concede that a lot of the platforming clichés are still there: The fire level, the ice world, the underwater stages, etc. But Kirby does them all in a way that feels less mundane than a lot of games that drift back into those conventions. One thing that I did find I wasn’t crazy about was the handful of auto-scrolling levels: There are few contrivances in video games worse than dying because you got squashed between an obstacle and the edge of visibility, but whatever. I still think this game has done the most to showcase the potential of the DS’ touch screen as a control mechanism aside from Trauma Center.
The Rest of the 360
Aside from FEAR my other main 360 games were a bit more of Marvel Ultimate Alliance which is a lot less fun the second time through, even with different characters. Somehow level grinding with Ms. Marvel is less exciting than it sounds. I suppose that pretty much says it all. I also continued to feed my weird Geometry Wars obsession which is getting silly because I’m really not getting any better and I tried a few of the new XBLA trial games. Super Contra was a bust: Playing it for ten minutes only reminded me how much I hated every Contra game I ever played after the first one. And then I tried Marathon: Durandral which reminded me that pre-Quake FPS’ are eye-gougingly ugly. I can tolerate sad looking old graphics on many games, but not all games get a pass. Sometimes it’s just like watching a SF movie from when you were a kid: Once you realize those special effects don’t hold up and that there wasn’t much of a story either, you just have to let go.
I did have a chance to play a bit of Rockstar’s Table Tennis just before the weekend was over. I have to say I was surprised by how much gameplay they got out of not only a fairly simplistic game from a mechanical standpoint but also from only a handful of control inputs. I want to play a bit more before I get too chatty about it but so far I like what I played, I just wonder how much long-term appeal it has.
$60 a Month Update
I missed out on the deal Circuit City was offering that allowed you to buy two 1600 MS Point cards for the price of one, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I checked out three different locations on several occasions during the week of the sale and they were all completely sold out of the cards. So other than a couple of dollars for shipping out a Goozex trade, I still have the full budget amount left for August although I wasn’t able to get to the recycling center and up the total either. After one weekend my running budget tally is $58.05.
As for my current score, I acquired Resident Evil: Deadly Silence; F.E.A.R. and Rockstar’s Table Tennis and played them all, plus I played Geometry Wars, Kirby Canvas Curse and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. My one-week score is 3/3:6 (the score is Games Acquired/New Games Played:Total Played). Just as a side note, I’ve made an executive decision not to count demos or trial games toward the total games played tally since they qualify more as research than actual play.
Looking forward to next week, I should have at least one new game from Goozex and one from GameZnFlix and I’m very happy to have found that there is a new comics and games shop in our town that I checked out over the weekend. They have some cool stuff there including a massive wall of graphic novels and a pretty decent selection of board and role-playing games as well. I doubt that I’ll have a chance to spend much money there this month or next (what with Halo 3 and all) but it’s good to know there are other folks in my town on a similar page. Also I noticed that they’re having a Twilight Imperium game next Friday night that I hope to make it over there to join since I have wanted to play a complete game for a couple of years now (ever since we started one at DunDraCon and couldn’t finish due to time restraints). The game itself costs $80 or so which is pretty rough on my budget especially since I’ve never played it all the way through, but this might be a good way to decide if it’s something that goes on the “save for” list.