Friday, May 2, 2008

Once again I will poo-poo on someone else's hard work like the elitist gamer-nerd douchebag that I am...

I did the ‘midnight madness’ thing again for Grand Theft Auto IV. This time the gamer-wife Mike met up with me and we marvelled at the hundreds long line ups at all the stores that were selling the game, of which there were many. Crazy! I did the same thing for Halo 3 and there was barely anyone in attendance. That said the game went on to break all records. If the huge crowds are any indication then this game is going to dominate like nothing else before it. This week all over the world there have been hundreds of millions of dollars changing hands on account of this game. When the papers start putting up real figures I’ll put them here.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a dense, open world game. It’s so big that after putting a couple hours into it last night I felt as if I was actually progressing in reverse; that I was somehow undoing what I did the night prior. I am pretty lost right now with little idea of what to do. This hasn’t happened since I played Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I had to sink over 300 hours into that game before I felt I was done with it. You may not hear from me for a long, long time.

I cannot even begin to review this game. My first impressions are quite positive despite being overwhelmed. Liberty City looks bloody amazing! It has a perfect combination of realism and artistic style. The game is begging you to go for a ride. There are many times when I get the urge to just drop whatever task or mission I’m in, steal a sports car, find a radio station that’s pumping a filthy beat, and just take off with no intended destination. This is an embryonic virtual reality experience and let me tell you this child is going to grow into one hell of a bright kid!

Just prior to this I quickly completed one of the last mediocre shooter titles I was interested in this year and by that I mean Turok. The first Turok: Dinosaur Hunter came out eleven years ago and grew into a franchise of four games. While the first was well received the sequels received increasingly more critical reviews and the series eventually died. Disney bought the rights, created Vancouver-based Propaganda Games to develop a new title, and basically wound up repeating the lacklustre performance of the last go around.

Overall Turok is mired in sub-par design in almost every aspect of the game. It uses the eponymous Unreal Technology to run the game and the developers weren’t able to make it shine as nicely as other third party developers. The environments are dull, rather fake looking, and use a slim palette of colours. The character models and dinosaurs look pretty good but it's nothing new and therefore fails to impress.

They didn’t get the shooting entirely right and in my bible this is the one sin thou shalt not do. A most excellent standard that good shooters adhere to is the ‘aim down the sites’ style of play. Press and hold a button and your weapon is brought close to the eye which in turn magnifies the center of your screen. It approximates taking aim with a real rifle held up to the cheek. It’s very effective and there is no need to change it unless you manage to come up with something equally revolutionary. Turok opted for none of this and the aiming is nothing but a slight magnification of the screen. It’s as if they had trouble rendering the draw distances. In the end you almost never use the aim feature and the limp mechanic in place is thus wasted. As a result the shooting winds up being imprecise and mushy feeling.

The game was marketed as a world of complex A.I. There are enemy soldiers in the game and neutral but easily angered dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were to be a random factor that you could use to take out the soldiers, to lure them into traps and the like. If you messed up they would attack you instead. The end result however is far less interesting than they originally claimed. While there are a few seemingly scripted occurrences of pitting dino versus man you mostly go through the game dispatching a bunch of reptiles, then man, then lizards again, then man. In total there are four different types of carnivorous dinosaurs and some of them get different skins in order to fake variety but it doesn't work. More was needed.

Turok is also guilty of abusing Quick Time Events (QTE) like no other game in memory. Rather than pump round after round of ammunition into the smaller, quick moving dinos it is much easier to approach them with a knife until you get a button prompt. Hit the button and you are treated to a gory cut-scene of Turok stabbing a lizard to death. I thought this was quite cool at first; it mixed up the shooting a bit. After doing it around twenty times however it became really old and even worse, it became what felt like a loophole to exploit. When the game started to throw six or seven Velociraptors at you one merely has to pull out the knife and bounce from one to the next, killing each creature with but the push of a single button. It was way too easy and there wasn’t nearly enough variety.

With all this criticism laid out I will admit that Turok had a few decent moments. In the first half of the game what kept me playing was the stealth aspect. Turok can sneak around quite a bit and kill silently with either the knife or a bow that’s powerful enough to pin people to the wall. I haven’t played a stealthy game in a while so it was pretty fun to switch from the run and gun mindset.

The other interesting thing was later in the game when you have your pick of all the heavy duty weaponry. Each weapon had an alternate firing mode, like having an assault rifle with a grenade launcher mounted beneath. At one point I realised that my guy was carrying a pulse rifle with twelve concussion grenades, a flame thrower with five napalm grenades, my bow with ten exploding arrows, and of course a trio of good old fashion fragmentation grenades for throwing. That is a lot of boom-boom - even by video game standards - and so I spent the next hour exploding my way through several rooms of enemies. Seeing as the physics were decent it actually stepped up the fun in a way the game didn’t advertise.

Towards the end there were a few big fights in some interesting areas that were good enough to carry me towards the end of the game, which was a predictable letdown. After completing the single player story I tried the multiplayer which is absolute lag-ridden garbage. I don’t understand why companies who can barely make a passable single player experience try to jam the much more demanding to develop multiplayer component into the game? They must work for years under delusion and it saddens me. What’s worse is that they have tied a great deal of X-Box Achievements with the multiplayer so I’m pretty sure this is a game that will remain half completed in that regard.

So in the end Turok is exactly what you would expect from a first time company that gets Disney to sign their cheques. Metacritic gives it an aggregate review score of 69% and I guess that sounds about right if even a bit generous. This game is really only for head-cases like me; people that treat the shooter genre as some kind of university thesis and needs to play all of them in a vain hope of further informing their overblown opinion. At the very least I hope the game was a positive learning experience for Propaganda Games. I’m eager to support Canadian game developers with my time and money, even when they’re off to a so-so start.

In New Orleans people are still living in tents under a highway.

Hit the link and hear the spoken word performance of a man who lives with a couple hundred others in tents under a highway. It appears that all levels of American government have abandoned these people. What the fuck is this if not the signs of Western society in decline? Hurricane Katrina hit on August 23, 2005, about two years, eight months ago.

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