Monday, October 29, 2007

Yet another video game post... Yadda yadda like having sex with my grandmother...

First off I would like to thank my erstwhile editor and literary sherpa-boy Mark for improving this blog, in this particular case sussing out how to wrap news links in hypertext. As the post below clearly displays it makes for a nicer overall package, yes? Look at it from the side as well and you’ll agree the package is shaping up.

This weekend I finished playing Half-Life 2 and Episode One of the same franchise. These games and others can be found on Valve Corporation’s anthology titled The Orange Box. For the first time console gamers can experience these award-winning titles on their own terms and I highly recommend doing so. If you own a 360 or a PC then pick it up today, if you run the PS3 you’ll have to wait a bit before it’s released. Half-Life 2 has been extensively reviewed so there is no need to do so, but I will add a few quick personal impressions. In terms of design and immersion I would describe the story as flawless. Visually it’s a gorgeous game that is comparable with this year’s top titles; an impressive feat given the game was first released three years ago! Value-wise it’s a good choice as there is lots of content on this single disc.

What I like best about this series is that you play a scientist thrown into an extra-ordinary set of circumstances and the game never forgets this. Sure as in all shooter games you wind up with assault rifles and rocket launchers but the game rewards you for playing smart above all. As a brainy protagonist the game encourages you to use the environment and come up with clever ways to dispatch enemies while remaining safe. The game trains you to pick up on these environmental clues by pitting you against a number of wonderfully subtle puzzles. These involve you being presented with road-blocks or obstacles that you wind up instinctively trying to circumvent. It hits you later with an ‘oh yeah’ feeling that this is a puzzle you need to figure out in order to further advance through the game. It’s your knowledge of simple physics and where you can apply them more than your skills in gun play that will ensure your success.

I’ve gone on longer than I thought gushing about an excellent game, but maybe this can serve as a counter-point to the review I wanted to do on a demo last week. I am compelled to review this particular demo because the subject matter is near and dear to my heart. Conan the Barbarian was created by Robert E. Howard throughout the 1920’s. To me Howard was one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time. His stories were captivating, authentic, savage, decedent, and strange. He is one of the pioneers of the genre and just about everybody stole from him with good reason.

I would figure that if your game company earned the rights to make a Conan game then you basically have a license to make money if you know what you are doing. Not only do you have a stable of great characters, locations, plot-lines, and dialogue to plumb, but you can look back at all of the previous Conan-related materials (comics, movies, TV shows, more books) to see what worked and what didn’t. Robert E. Howard was above all a short-story writer. There are literally dozens of stories that you could stretch into fantastic ten or twelve hour games. There is so much time-tested creative work already done for you that a game company simply has to pick what they feel is the brightest apple from the basket and devote their time to the mechanics; to make sure Howard’s vision displays well and plays nicely. It’s not necessarily a cake-walk but it is way easier than starting from scratch and developing your own intellectual property. If you can’t make a Conan game work then simply put you suck hard and really have no business in the industry. You need to set your sites lower and slum it making convert-trawling Christian games or maybe budget math tutoring programs for worthless inner-city kids who are going to wind up selling drugs anyway.

It was Nihilistic Software who received what I see as the honour to make a Conan game. Checking their history I learned that the heads of this development team once worked for Lucas Arts dome-fucking R2D2 until the poor guy spat out code for Star Wars titles. They struck out on their own to make a White Wolf Vampire game, then an aborted Star Craft game, and finally a Marvel Superhero game. In short, these guys are parasites in that they gain the rights to use other people’s material rather than create their own. I don’t think they wooed Conan estate holders to make this game out of love or passion for the material but just saw the potential to exploit the marketability of the brand. See? This is how a shit game gets birthed and you can usually predict it by seeing the pattern in developers history. Go internet!

The demo started off with a cut scene; with piss-poor CGI and an exchange between Conan and some random sword-slut. “Would you serve a woman?” She asks. “Service a woman,” Conan replies like the spiritually dead voice actor he is, “and gladly.” She’s outraged by this cheesy tripe and yet counts the barbarian as an ally. She has to otherwise we won’t get to play the actual game but in retrospect she should have scored a point in the battle against misogyny and feathered the fucking creep with a couple arrows.

In short; Conan is absolute garbage on all fronts. Think of God of War except for one important thing, it’s not. It’s a wannabe piece of clunky and cliché-ridden trash that somehow requires a system twice as powerful to play. In fighting the generic enemies I immediately came to realize that one of my attacks would unerringly kill while preventing me from taking damage. For the rest of the ten minute demo I therefore hit that button over and over to the ruination of all. What’s even better is that the more I pressed it the more gruesome and overblown the death scenes became. There was no need for combinations or special techniques, no need to learn or become more engaged. The game rewards monotony the same as when I use to pound grandma’s vag for quarters to play Ms. Pac Man. All of this repetitious slaying is done on a preposterous two-story wooden structure that serves no purpose other than to facilitate elevators that take you from one level to the next. Elevators! Conan of Cimmeria sacked the walls of Venarium at the age of sixteen and let me tell you, he didn’t use a fucking elevator.

There is nothing in this retarded game that is intrinsically Conan or utilizes the strength of Howard’s writing. What’s more it’s a blatant and lackadaisical rip-off of successful games with none of the graphical beauty and graceful flow. Hopefully it will bomb big enough for the corporate lawyers running Nihilistic to ‘diversify their investments’ and get the fuck off my lawn with their committee-made games. Demos are to be commended because you can avoid purchases just like this one. The game just came out so we can take a look at what a mainstream reviewer had to say. Here is the closing paragraph and the rating. If you hear a munching sound while reading that is the author trying to soften up a hard turd he's been forced to swallow.

IGN: Although they say you should never judge a book by its cover, in the case of Conan you can. The box art features a gruff, six-pack-toting barbarian wielding two bloody swords, surrounded by half naked nubile women. All that's missing is a decapitated head at his feet and it would be perfect. Ultimately, Conan is game that revels in the ridiculous and it’s all the more fun because of it. There are plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments, ludicrous cartoon violence and a rather suspect plot. Thankfully, the in-depth combat system, while not as tight as God of War’s offering - is strong enough to carry you through your adventure. Throw in some great boss battles and an array of over-the-top weapons and you've a compelling package. Admittedly, Conan’s violent charms certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes but, if you’re looking for a brainless but enjoyable romp, you could do far worse than pick up this. Rating: 7.5/10

I love how couched the language is, how the game is praised with the most suspect of accolades; shit like reveling in the ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek, ludicrous, brainless as a good thing even. This paragraph is an internal battle in the writer’s mind, a battle between telling the truth and doing what he’s told. He (and I assume it’s a he) wants to tell us what he really thinks but the frontal lobe forbids it, the rent is due and meat lover’s pizza never, ever pays for itself. Seven-point-fucking-five. HA! Even the rating translations I gave last post didn't account for the sheer quantity of bullshit on this one. These people are not to be trusted.

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