Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My game tastes seem to be refining... I wish to kill more people at faster speeds...

The deluge of worthy games continues but I have seen the high water mark, the tide begins to ebb ever so slightly. In the strangest twist of fate ever I am honestly thankful of this because the quantity of desirable product through the end of 2007 was forcing me to do questionable things. If one possessed a perfectly excellent game (in this case Call of Duty 4) and one was dying to play it, why then would that person buy another (Mass Effect) game? Even worse, who in their right mind would only play the first chapter of the new game and then set it aside once ANOTHER hotly anticipated title (Unreal Tournament 3) hit the shelves? No one with a strong command of his faculties, to be sure. Games I have reviewed in the past couple of months are insisting they be re-played, they actually nag my brain whilst I am spending my time constructively. I literally have more games then I can play right now and I try to calm my increasingly indignant sense of responsibility by assuming there will be lean times on the horizon; a dry season where each of these purchases will receive time meriting their financial commitment. It seems I am becoming some kind of game-storing camel or squirrel. Is it mere coincidence that a newly emerging hump and steadily fattening cheeks liken me to these animals on a physical level? This is me coming to grips with what appears to be my early-blooming mid-life crisis.

So I took Mass Effect out a couple times and she puts out well enough but the chick is slooooooooow. Is it legal to compare a sci-fi epic to a blond chick? How about a Downsy blond chick who’s into the Dramamine? There is a ton of reading and dialogue to get through and you can even complete missions without drawing your weapons. Outrageous! Even as I wrote that last sentence my monocle popped off! Some people will love this and I can appreciate it because at its heart I can see there is a good game here, but I need to wait until I’m terminally ill and on the couch for ten hours a day before I can even touch this. The game has two minor points that disappoint and both issues can be blamed on X-Box design parameters. All the game data has to sit on the disk and what this results in are brutal load times and sub-par frame rates. The 360 can’t completely handle this game and Microsoft has either got to let designers put stuff on the hard drive or this will be the shape of things to come.

Unreal Tournament 3 however is the opposite of Mass Effect; it’s no golden-haired drooler with a touch of the Downs but rather a crystal-snorting redhead who likes to burn stuff. Developed by Epic Games and published by Midway, the Unreal Tournament franchise enjoys high status in the world of on-line shooters. There have been many incarnations of the game and aside from providing a lightning-fast shooter experience it showcases Epic’s proprietary game engine which they lease out to other designers. To this end Unreal Technology has been used in hundreds of games. There are well over fifty games using Unreal in this generation alone and that number will soon exceed one hundred. Thus far this console war's only winner has been Epic Games.

The overall art design and story in Unreal Tournament 3 is amongst the most hilariously over-the-top I’ve ever seen. My first instinct was to simply dismiss it as obvious and adolescent, but in the end I kind of liked it because I guess it’s just so damn ridiculous. “So bad it’s good” might be aptly applied here but I’ll hold off until I secure the proper permit. The main characters wear this crazy space armour all covered in needless embellishment, but that’s not metal enough so they wear skirts or sarongs also made of armour, but THAT’S not metal enough so they sport facial tattoos as well. This unrelenting passion for testosterone blasts any sense of realism or connection you have with any of these cartoon characters. The best is the weapons though. It looks like they took the front end of Camaro's and Trans-Am's, quartered them, and then had weapon barrels sticking out the middle. If these weapons are in any way a form of phallic compensation then I would be the Ron Jeremy of Unreal Tournament. The story is stupid, and makes no sense, and is filled with clich├ęs, and you don’t care, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

Nonetheless if you own a PC or a PS3 then you should get this game. What? Why? You see, the addition of a single player story mode is a kindness that Epic provided as a tutorial for players to become acquainted with the various aspects of this game. It allows you to play this game on your own against the computer thanks to some excellent A.I. programming. In the end however it’s really nothing more than value added to the multi-player which is the focus of the product. In this regard the game delivers! The fighting is amazing and this is achieved with blinding speed, gorgeous graphics, well-designed levels, and balanced mechanics.

There are around forty maps and they range from good to bloody excellent. One in particular played out like an epic story for me; it was a Capture the Flag game that had me coasting the open country on a hoverboard only to stop here and there in order to take part in some intense firefights. The game transcended from a contest into my own little adventure while war and havoc occurred around me. Vehicles play a huge roll and they come in all shapes and sizes including some alien walkers and flying demon squids. Such is the pacing of the game that you wind up jumping in and out of vehicles constantly, using their superior firepower to waste foes only to discard the wreck once it becomes severely damaged. The packaged vehicle segments you find in so many other games cannot hold a candle to this style of play.

If you want a gritty, realistic shooter then Call of Duty 4 is for you. If you prefer a gratuitous futuristic fantasy running at hyper-speed then give Unreal Tournament 3 a spin. Between the two there is simply too much good on-line multi-player action to give either title justice.

Game developers pressure the enthusiast media to no end...

Thanks to Marc for passing this article on to me and in doing so turning me on to the Gamasutra website. Sadly it seems the behaviour I singled Ubisoft out with is far more widespread than even I figured. I was surprised to see that a supposedly cool company like Rockstar (makers of Grand Theft Auto) were as corporate and Orwellian with their product message as the rest. It all appears so foolish really. It seems evident that the focus should be on making a game worthy of praise rather than jiggering the media.

Doughboy here loves his African art but he's a total fucking NOOB!!!

This spotlight on the C.E.O. of Activision, who upon merging with Vivendi will create a conglomerate to rival the giant Electronic Arts, is a good example of why I think video games and the media are in the state they are in today. Mr. Kotick is no doubt an excellent businessman but he’s not a game player and therefore has limited experience in making an actual product better. He can sell it better, he can promote it better, he might even be able to motivate actual game makers better, but in the end he is hawking a ware he doesn’t fully comprehend. Put in its simplest terms the purpose of a video game is to be fun. The fact remains that only devoted game players can tell you how that comes about. They can tell you how the product rates when put against its competitors in the marketplace and they do so with their purchases. Until the game industry matures to the point where game designers get old and experienced enough to secure executive level positions most big game companies will continue to fly blind and focus sales tactics off the product, where the current leadership feels comfortable and in control.

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