Wake Up

Originally Published 18 August 2010

Last week, I completed two playthroughs of Alan Wake. Alan Wake is a third person horror game developed by Remedy Entertainment–most commonly known for making the first two Max Payne games.

Alan Wake is centered around the titular author. Famous for his series of Alex Casey (quite obviously a name-swapped version of Max Payne) novels, he is now in a slump after finishing the last book in the previous series and hasn’t put a word on a page in over a year at the beginning of the story. He has come to the small town of Bright Springs on a vacation. His wife hopes that the trip will help him overcome his writer’s block, but when she reveals her wish, Wake stomps out of their rental cabin in a huff. Moments later, his wife screams out, and once he returns to the cabin, he finds a broken railing overlooking the lake the cabin is situated on and dives in after where she has presumably gone.

The next scene shown to the players is of Wake in his car, crashed over a small cliff with his wife nowhere to be found. He is far from town and attempts to make his way to a nearby gas station. As he does, he finds pages of a manuscript that he doesn’t remember writing, but that bear his name and the title he was planning on using for his next book. Soon thereafter, he begins to find shadowy humans who attack him on sight and can only be hurt by burning off a layer of “darkness” covering them and then firing at the exposed body underneith. Once at the gas station, he discovers that he is missing a week of time in his memories and begins a desperate struggle to discover what happened in the missing week and what has happened to his wife.

The gameplay of Alan Wake is mostly of the form “get from point A to point B without dying”. On the lowest difficulty level, this is generally a question of simply controlling crowds with the flashlight and then gunning down the enemies once their darkness shields have been broken. On the higher two difficulties, the game actually achieves its horror setting. On these difficulties, enemies have more darkness to shield them and take far more ammunition to kill. As such, the game becomes more about conserving equipment and trying to avoid, dodge, or distract the evils in the night.

Two kinds of enemies make up the bulk of the threat to Wake: the Taken and the Poltergeists. The Taken are human-shaped bodies which are protected by darkness and which usually pursue Wake with melee weapons. They can be slowed by shining a flashlight on them until their shield of darkness burns off and then shooting them with normal firearms. Poltergeists, on the other hand, are objects which have been controlled by whatever evil is pursuing Wake. They are thrown about in their entirety and can only be destroyed by shining the light at them until they are burned away. Despite having a fundamentally limited set of obstacles, the game manages to keep things fresh by putting Wake against them in various interesting ways. For instance, the game at one point introduces flashbangs. Rather than having them as an addition to an already outfitted character, players are instead given them as the only weapon to defend themselves in the night. This forces the player to become acquainted with their use, conservation, and strategy.

I ultimately found the plot of Alan Wake to be very compelling. What I think sets it apart from other contemporary horror games is that, despite being in a disturbing situation, the main character actually has allies who take him seriously and also experience the madness going on about them. Here, I’d compare to Deadly Premonition where although there is madness all around, the protagonist seems to be the only one who experiences it. I found that giving Wake allies who also had to deal with the craziness gave it a grounding that helped keep things cohesive.

It is somewhat uncommon for me to play through a game twice, so that may be evidence of my feelings about the game. On balance, I think it is one of the better games that I’ve played in a while and certainly one of the finest in the horror genre. Without using the cheap scares and startles that some horror games insist on using, Alan Wake managed to convey an environment that was hostile, frightening, and still somehow just a bit too close to possible.

Alan Wake: 1!

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Maybe we should have left these Sands Forgotten

Originally Published 10 August 2010

Last week, I finished Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. This Prince of Persia game is an interquel that takes place between Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

First, the gameplay here is very much what we’ve come to expect from the Prince of Persia series. The platforming is solid, and they’ve introduced a couple of new elements to add to the standard configuration. Specifically, they’ve added the ability to freeze water without freezing the rest of the environment. This mostly is used for puzzles which end up having relatively strict timing constraints. The second new element is conditional platforms. Essentially, there are certain areas of the game which are somehow in disrepair. You can fix these areas, but only one at a time. This often means leaping from one semi-existant platform and toggling the next one while in midair. The new and classic mechanics all come together at the end of the game in the “Final Climb” which is perhaps the most challenging Prince of Persia platforming section that I’ve ever encountered.

The comabt system, however, has had the difficulty dialed way down. There were almost no fights that I really considered challenging on the Normal (highest of two) difficulty. The game gives four special power sets for the fighting system, but they are mostly unnecessary. Every fight can be beaten using only the sword and without much difficulty at that. It turns out that you can generally get three free sword swings and then roll away without being hit by any enemy in 90+% of all combat situations due to the fact that dodge rolling into an enemy interrupts their incredibly long telegraphing sequence. Nevertheless, the game generally gives you a large number of enemies to try to make it seem like you’re still under threat, even if they are essentially just fodder to slow you down.

My main problem with the game comes from its place in the larger Sands of Time setting (SPOILERS COMING; you’ve been warned). As I mentioned above, Forgotten Sands takes place between the first and second games in the Sands of Time triology, but fundamentally adds nothing to the series. The Prince now has a brother, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t survive to the end. He gains access to new powers, but loses them at the end, so there’s no reason to question why he doesn’t have them in Warrior Within. The Dahaka apparently hasn’t started pursuing him yet, but we’re given no explanation as to why. Given the Dahaka’s relative lack of explanation aside from “The Prince broke time and now must die”, this game could have served to expand on what the led to the Dahaka finally taking action against the prince. Instead, the whole issue is simply ignored. In fact, the only references back to Sands of Time are a few lines of throwaway dialog near the beginning of the game explicitly mentioning Farah and Azad. Without those lines, the game could simply be considered to be yet another continuity without any negative impacts or plot holes.

It is as if Ubisoft went to pains to make sure that this game fundamentally doesn’t matter to the greater picture of the Sands of Time setting. The Prince doesn’t particularly learn any lessons nor does he have any particular responsibility for the events which occur. Something bad happens due to the actions of others and he has to fix them. This is a very different theme from the rest of the Sands of Time games. In those games, the Prince is continually being subject to the results of the errors of his past. He released the Sands and everything due to that is his responsibility, whether he likes it or not, whether or not it is fair or just. Forgotten Sands doesn’t fit that mold and may disrupt the overall message of the series.

As an aside, I’ll note that this is probably the game which took me the least time to get a perfect gamerscore on of the dozen or so games that I’ve perfected. It only took one playthrough and about half of another to get all of the achievements in the game. Given a total gameplay time of perhaps 9-12 hours on a first pass and substantially less on a second one (due to memorized puzzles and enemies being mostly skippable), I suspect this would be an easy game for score boosters.

Overall, I can’t say the game was bad. If all that mattered in a game were its gameplay, it would probably get a 1 rating from me, but the fact that the story is so obviously just tacked onto a successful franchise and adds so little to an otherwise rich setting undermines the entire game in my eyes. Maybe it is also wrapped up in my disappointment that Ubisoft chose to make this game rather than making a sequel for the promising though controversial (and in my mind excellent) 2008 reboot of the series. Regardless, a Prince of Persia game comes with high expectations and they failed to meet mine.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands: 0

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Title Drop 4: The Prequel

Originally Posted 29 July 2010

Last night, I finished up Star Ocean: The Last Hope. It is the fourth in a long spanning series of actiony RPGs going back to the SNES era. The series tends to focus on spacefaring humans who end up trying to save the universe/galaxy/world but inexplicably end up on planents with medieval fantasy levels of development.

The Last Hope is actually the chronologically first game in the series, taking place right as humanity is beginning to seriously begin extrasolar exploration. Later games take place once humanity is already an established power in the galaxy. The story here follows Edge Maverick, a bridge officer in the new Space Reconnaissance Force, who quickly ends up the captain of his ship due to field promotion. You’re then tasked with searching out new worlds fit for human colonization due to the Earth being in something of a bad way after all the wars and such. Of course, you quickly become aware of threats to the galaxy and are off to save it as in the other games.

The game uses the rather standard JRPG division of overworld and battle modes. The overworld contains visible enemies who you can encounter to enter battle and all of the other trappings of a JRPG–scattered treasure chests, sidequests, item creation, etc. The battle system is highly similar to the previous games and is nearly identical to Star Ocean 3’s system in terms of control and flow. Luckily, they’ve done away with the idea of being able to either “MP kill” or “HP kill” characters and use the more familiar HP is for damage and MP is for casting. Otherwise, you are simply able to move around the map, carry out special attacks or magic, and otherwise fight. The game up battle slightly by incorporating the “battle gauge”. This guage allows you to gain special benefits by completing certain conditions. The guage contains 14 slots which get filled as these conditions are met: killing an enemy with a critical hit gives an experience bonus slot, killing multiple enemies at once gives a money bonus slot, getting ambushed (being in two consecutive fights) gives a skill point bonus, and killing an enemy using only skill results in an HP/MP regen bonus.

This is where the first noticable bad design decision appears. For the battle gauge bonuses, the level of utility varries massively: for XP and Money, each slot gives a 10% bonus. This means that maxing the guage with one of them would results in getting as much as 240% of base XP or money for a fight. For SP, which is relatively common, but vital to both character advancement and item creation, each slot gives one additional skill point per battle. In the early game, this allows for very fast advancement and access to special abilities. For HP/MP regen, however, you get 1% per battle per slot. This last bonus is completely worthless for the cost of carrying it out. Given the choice of getting to recover 14% of your health and MP after every fight without expending items or getting a 140% bonus to XP, the answer is completely obvious. Furthermore, given how common healing items are in general, this shouldn’t even be an issue. That isn’t the only problem with the battle gauge though. The gauge is not retained when you save and load. This led me (and I suspect others) to simply leaving their system on when they had acquired a relatively large bonus. Since it can take a fair amount of time to aquire certain bonuses (SP especially), this is the only pragmatic solution offered.

Of course, this wouldn’t be such an issue if the game were more stable. At this moment, I’ll say that I played the game on the 360 and that I have not played the PS3 (International) version. I had at least a dozen hard locks of my console while playing this game. Every single one happened during a battle and every single one was frustrating. Worst of all, I had one hard lock occur during my first attempt at the final boss resulting in me having to go back and beat its first form again. Luckily, I was able to skip the pile of cutscenes ahead of it.

Less annoyingly, but still evidence of poor thinking, is the late game transit system. Once you are able to access the final area, you can return to most of the areas previously available. In total, this consists of 5 worlds. Going to the first three worlds requires you have the game using disc 2 and going to the last two requires you to use disc 3. This is completely unacceptable. I shouldn’t have to wander around my apartment playing disc caddy in the late game.

As much as these technical issues grated on me, by far my biggest complaint against the game is from a particular section of the plot. At one point, you end up in a situation with a person who is so obviously evil that from the first word the character spoke, I knew they were out to betray the party. I was then forced to watch as my characters happily hand over the giant world-ending bomb to the obviously evil character who proceeds to blow up the planet. Worse, I then got to listen to the character who did it angst about it for the next fifth or so of the game. I understand that the characters should get tricked sometimes and that the narrative may drive things, but at least write a plot where I can maybe see myself getting tricked in their place. Genre saviness isn’t even required!

Overall, between the grating technical issues and the (mostly) lackluster plot, I can’t recommend the game. I’ve played all of the Star Ocean games at this point and this is the least compelling of them. Also, since it is a prequel, that means that it ultimately has no actually effect on the ongoing progress of the game’s story (aside from providing more backstory for established elements), so it can be skipped without too much trouble.

Star Ocean: The Last Hope: 0

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I don’t really see what we’re prototyping here

Originally Published 9 June 2010

Late on Monday, I finished up Prototype. The game itself is an open-world platformer similar in style to Infamous. The player takes on the role of Alex Mercer–an amnesiac who wakes up in a morgue–trying to figure out what happened to him and why nearly everyone in Manhattan is trying to kill him.

The game makes use of a relatively standard platformer upgrade system. Completing sidequests, killing enemies, and finding various collectables earn you EP which can be used to buy new powers. Completing main quest missions unlocks new powers for purchase in addition to the standard EP rewards.

Mercer’s powers proper are based entirely on him manipulating his body in strange ways–growing claws, turning his fists into giant mauls, etc. To that end, the standard way of regaining health is to grab a person and “consume” them. Doing so involves Mercer character physically absorbing (and thereby killing) the person absorbed. This consumption mechanic ends up being key to gameplay in several forms. Firstly, Mercer can switch between two disguises: his standard “Mercer” form and the form of the last person that he consumed. Since Mercer is often pitted against military personnel, consuming a military person and using their form provides substantial benefit.

Further, the consume mechanic also has an influence on the plot due to its non-gameplay powers. Most notably, Mercer gains the knowledge and memories of the people he consumes. Due to this, the main plot of the game is often concerned with finding people who know Mercer’s history and essentially eating them. This mechanic also drives the major subquest called the “Web of Intrigue” which is concerned with finding random people on the streets of Manhattan and eating them so as to find out more information about the game’s backstory and the ongoing operations of the military in the city.

The consume mechanic also bends back yet again into the upgrade system. Most powers can simply be purchased using EP, but some can only be obtained by consuming people with certain knowledge. All of the skills of this form are related to using things other than the powers inherent to Mercer–driving military vehicles, being more efficient with guns, etc. In addition, all of the people with the requisite knowledge are military personnel sequestered inside of the various bases constructed around Manhattan. This leads to a sort of minigame wherein you must find the base commander, consume him, sneak into the base under a false identity, and then find and consume the person (or people) inside with the appropriate knowledge. This is honestly one of the most interesting parts of the game because it pulls together many of the game’s more novel elements.

Gameplay wise, Mercer moves about the city mostly by running up buildings and then gliding around. Unfortunately, the building climbing is infuriatingly impercise at low speeds or over narrow objects. There are several collectables situated at the top of antennas atop tall buildings that I collected before I obtained the ability to fly helicopters. Had I known about this, I would have simply waited rather than becoming frustrated. This poor control also becomes troublesome in the various “movement” sidequests. One in particular (Point to Point) took me hours to do successfully.

The combat is also rather weak. Mercer is somewhat fragile and prone to be knocked over. Additionally, he has little in the way on inherent ranged attacks. This led to me using combat vehicles whenever possible due to the fact that they have seperate health bars and have damage output well in excess of what the player can nominally do with weapons. For instance, the tank can take down a helicopter in a single show whereas Mercer on foot only has a shot if there is something large nearby that can be thrown at the heli.

Overall, I found the game fun despite its weaknesses. I also enjoyed the story enough to keep moving through it without feeling compelled to simply get it beaten. I wish that I, as a player, had more impact on the outcome of the game. Given the open world nature of it, such things seem almost the norm, but Prototype gives a fixed plot influenced only by the player’s progress.

Prototype: 1

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Maybe I lack the required Nostalgia

Originally Published 19 May 2011

On Monday, I finished my playthrough of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. This game is not to my taste, so it quickly became a “rush to the end” rather than an experience that I at least attempted to find some joy in.

I had originally purchased the game because it had been well reviewed and I believed (incorrectly) that it was a 3D platformer. It turns out that the game is actually much more of a racing game. Essentially, the game gives you a system for building custom vehicles from parts (rather similar to the Gummi Ships from Kingdom Hearts) and then has you complete various challenges using them in one of a half-dozen themed areas. Unfortunately, these challenges are uniformly timing-based with a large number of them being races. I generally don’t care for racing games and having a series that had been, until now, a platformer series do a bait and switch was unexpected.

Additionally, the game seems out of place in time. There is no voice acting to be found anywhere in the game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they instead have Nintendo 64 era screeching noises play whenever a character has text on the screen. This led to me ceasing to read any text or watch any cutscene about 30% of the way through the game. “Press Y to Skip” became my mantra. Since every “challenge” gives a one sentence description of what you need on the vehicle choice menu, I chose to read that instead of listening to the horrible noises the characters tried to inflict through my speakers.

Of course, since the game doesn’t have standard vehicles, that means it has a sort of generic control system that is supposed to cover all of the vehicle types available. This ends up mostly being frustrating since all of the controls feel off somehow. The frustration is made even greater if you actually try to use any weapons since the game provides no on-screen targeting and the geometries involved are rarely clear especially when the game decides to try to help by auto-aiming. Oh, and if your vehicle ever gets flipped, it is usually just easier to restart the challenge. It may have a button for resolving this, but it has a bad tendency to damage your vehicle in the process or get you stuck on any nearby outcropping available.

The game seems to make a lot of references back to previous games, mostly for humor. Since I perhaps played no more than 2 hours put together of all previous Banjo-Kazooie games, this is mostly lost to me.

Here, I think the comparison should be against the first Ratchet and Clank Future game (Tools of Destruction). It carried most of the same baggage that Banjo-Kazooie did–a long series of games, a humorous style, updates for a new generation system, released at a similar time–but Tools of Destruction revived my interest in the platformer genre and managed to be interesting and engaging without relying so heaviliy on backstory that a new player was unable to connect. This game will probably prevent my from buying another Rare. I think at this point, I’ve played almost all of their XBox 360 offerings (KameoPerfect Dark ZeroViva Pinata, and this with only the second Viva Pinata and their XBLA offering being missing) and haven’t found a single one compelling. Maybe they’ll return to their SNES and N64 glory days, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts: 0

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Apparently Hero doesn’t necessarily mean Heroic

Originally Published 18 May 2010

Earlier this week, I finished up my playthrough of Fable 2. I had been attempting to delay playing it until it came out on the PC, but given that over a year has passed since it was originally released it seemed unlikely. When there was a particularly cheap deal for the Platinum Hits version (~$20 and includes all the DLC), I finally picked it up.

The game plays rather similarly to the first one: you’re still a young hero set out in the world to get revenge on some ultimate evil. You still get to build up your powers in each of three categories: melee combat, ranged combat, and magic. It has a big mess of “sameness” about it. Insofar as it is a rehash, it doesn’t have too many glaring flaws, but action RPGs have evolved since the first Fable, and Fable 2 hasn’t kept pace.

For those who missed the first one, Fable 2 is a third-person action-RPG with an open world. The game is structured as a series of quests with those in the “Main Quest” slowly unlocking more of the world for exploration. This time around, the player character starts off watching his sister being murdered in front of them by a young noble. After surviving the noble’s bullet, the PC is raised approximately a quarter day’s walk away from the villain’s home and trained so as to be able to carry out revenge on him. Apparently, nobody notices this until you start going around being all heroic.

Fable 2 adds a few new twists on the formula. This time around, a major side endeavor is to gain wealth. The game only provides money in a few ways: periodically found in chests or buried underground, a rare reward for quests, signing up for QTE-based jobs, and through buying and renting property. All of the money available from the first three types is dwarfed by that available from the last. The game gives you approximately 0.1% of the total value of all of your rental properties every 5 minutes (or 50 minutes if the game is off or paused). In the early game, this will be close to zero and jobs or quests with gold rewards drive your income. My current character, having beaten the game (and gotten a perfect gamerscore) gets just shy of 20,000 gold every tick. As a comparison, the top three most expensive properties in the game are 1 mil, 100k, and 80k respectively and the largest possible chest reward is a paltry 50k.

The sequel also dramatically ramps up the ability to customize your character and home. Although it is entirely optional, the game provides for substantial renovation of the rental properties by swapping out the various furniture pieces with other kinds. It also has a ridiculously large set of possible clothes and hairstyles and dyes that can be applied to said clothes and hair. Of course, the game once again does the “character appearances is partially determined by leveling choices”. This results quite quickly in having a character who looks more like the incredible hulk than a real person and is much worse on a female PC who ceases to really appear female once they get about half way up the “strength” ability tree (yet still has the voice of an 11 year old).

My biggest beef with the game, though, is the size of it. The main quest is incredibly short. The world consists of maybe three dozen locations, only about 4 of which are worth returning to visit later. Sidequests tend to be sparse and almost uniformly of the form of 1) fetch quests (rarer) or 2) go kill X (the majority). The majority of the time that I spent playing was done earning money so that I could reach a critical threshold wherein my wealth would allow me to buy every property in the game. If I hadn’t needed to grind for money, the game would’ve likely been at least 10 hours shorter.

When I was thinking about what to compare Fable 2 against, my first inclination was to compare it to Oblivion. This comparison, however, quickly shows the shortcomings of Fable 2. Despite being two years older, Oblivion had a substantially larger world–orders of magnitude different in size. Oblivion had a more diverse and larger set of quests. Oblivion may only win out in that it is impossible to build a completely non-optimal character in Fable 2 whereas Oblivion allows for character advancement that results in enemies outpacing the player.

Honestly, I can’t really recommend this game. Yes, I did go through the effort to defeat it, but that was mostly because it was easy to do so. If you want an open-world fantasy-themed action-rpg, just go play Oblivion. If you do decide to play Fable 2 though, I can probably help you along. The game allows players to exchange items and currency when connected to XBox Live. My character currently has about 3 million gold (plus whever I made since I was last online), so I could cut those first 10 hours of money grinding off your game.

Fable II: 0

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See, they use bolts as currency

Originally Published 12 May 2010

Two weekends ago, I played through Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time. For those unfamiliar with the series, they’re rather quirky platformers with a humor slant and little need for realism.

I gushed about the previous one, and the sequel is quite good in its own right. The game follows most of the recent platformer tropes: weapons that level up when used, a dozen different types of collectables, jumping puzzles on rails, etc. The game does branch out a bit from the standard fair by adding some interesting things by making use of time-travel based puzzles. These show up in the form of rooms where you can record a sequence of moves for a “shadow” and then work in cooperation with the shadow to get through the room. Although this particular type of puzzle has shown up in a few flash games, this is the first time that I’ve seen it carried out in 3D in a modern platformer.

I found the game enjoyable enough that I decided to defeat it. I had mostly completed the task by the end of my first playthrough, but getting all of the trophies required a second playthrough anyway (basically there was a trophy for beating the game a second time) and I got the remaining trophy that I needed in the post-game of my second playthrough.

I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that the Ratchet and Clank series is one of the top-tier Playstation-exclusive titles. Although it may not be as angry and violent as say God of War or Resistance, it provides one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences that I’ve had lately. It definitely helps that the game makes a strong point of not taking itself too seriously and provides continual humor value without compromising on gameplay.

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time: 1!

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Too Much Static

Originally Published 27 April 2010

A month or so ago, I got a random IM from Seabass telling me that not owning Deadly Premonition despite owning an XBox 360 was me doing a huge disservice to myself. I googled the game, as one does, and quickly found two wildly conflicting reviews: Destructiod gave it a 10/10 while IGN gave it a 2/10. Since the game was only $20 (apparently it was released as a “budget” title”), I added it to my Amazon cart and ended up picking it up a few weeks later when I had a super-saver capable cart.

I think Deadly Premonition was the answer to a question: “What would Silent Hill be like if you set it in a GTA-style open world?”. The game begins in a relatively straightforward way for the genre. Francis York Morgan, protagonist and FBI profiler, and his apparently imaginary friend Zach are headed toward a small town where a young woman has been murdered. Something appears in the road causing him to swerve off and crash leading to the game’s first “Other World” scenario. He’s soon solving puzzles and fighting strange creatures.

As soon as you clear the “Other World”, however, you end up in the town of Greenvale. Once there, you can drive around the city, perform side quests like helping the grocer rearrange the stock room, talk to your imaginary friend about the movies that you like, eat breakfast with the kindly old lady at your hotel and other such things. Of course, there is still that little murder investigation to carry out.

The game itself is rather fun and the plot was interesting enough to keep me playing. It is very easy to see why people might but put off with it, however: the game has graphical quality more on par with the previous generation of consoles; the controls are very rough and lack the polish that a commercial release should have; the dialog is rather campy; you often have to drive from one end of the map to the other which takes damn near forever; dialog windows during conversation and item pickups are so slow as to be interminable. Any of these could be a deal breaker for some people.

I would say that the game is important if not necessarily good. The game points at the horizon and says that a horror game can be scary without startling us every few minutes. It says that a horror game can use humor without losing its edge. Most importantly, the game shows that a horror game doesn’t have to take itself seriously in order to deal with its story in a serious way. Unfortunately, it also shows us that being truly great does require getting the fundamentals down: shoddy controls and graphics that would have been just barely passable a decade ago bring down the game.

For fans of the horror genre and for people who care about its evolution, the game is required reading. For everyone else, if they want to know what kind of game can lead to an 8 point swing between two relatively respected publications’ reviews, it might be interesting. Otherwise, I’d give it a pass.

Deadly Premonition: 0

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In other words, hold my hand

Originally Published: 9 March 2010

On Sunday, I finished up my playthrough of Bayonetta. The game initially caught my attention when I found out that it was the most recent game to score prefectly in Famitsu. I picked it up after Christmas, but I had been distracted by Dragon Age, Bioshock 2, and Mass Effect 2 and so hadn’t played more than just a bit of it. I finally started playing again in earnest last week.

The game itself plays very much like Devil May Cry which should make sense due to the fact that they share a director. The game is thus made of fast combat, huge combos, and rapid action. I would classify the game as more forgiving the Devil May Cry, however, due to its inclusion of a “dodge” button. Although the DMC games include the ability to dodge, it tends to be more finicky and can fail. In Bayonetta, a successfully engaged dodge always works, and if timed properly, grants a bonus in the form of “witch time”–a sort of bullet time. Regardless, most of the DMC skills will transfer over successfully.

The term “hyper-sexualized” seems to float about when describing this game and perhaps not without warrant. The main character speaks almost always provocatively and almost all of her attacks emphasize her sexuality–at least one even ends with her in a pose and the game performing a “camera shot” by producing a shutter sound and a quick shutter graphical effect. The deapth of it doesn’t really sink in until you realize that the character is essentially always naked. It seems to be implied quite heavily that Bayonetta’s outfit is just her hair being strategically arranged via magical powers.

Storywise, the game also overlaps with Devil May Cry. There exists two groups–sages and witches–which previously kept some sort of balance and watched over history. Eventually, a witch and a sage had a child against all of the rules of their orders and led to the ultimate near destruction of both sides. Skip ahead a few hundred years and we have Bayonetta waking up from a coffin at the bottom of a lake. She is, of course, the cross-breed, but seems uninterested in dealing with any of the old problems. Instead, she starts taking jobs fighting angels. The exact reasons for this aren’t really clear nor important, but the various “holy” types are mostly just jerks who are more than willing to wantonly destroy part of the human world to reach their objectives. Your character eventually gets ambushed by a more concerted pack than usual and decides to figure out what’s going on. That’s where the plot more or less starts.

I think the game makes a lot of good decisions in design. For instance, at the beginning of the game, there is a long explanatory cutscene where they explain the back story of the witches and sages. Most games would simply subject you to it, but Bayonetta instead has the dialog playing in the background while you take the role of a fully powered character with infinite health fighting enemies in a huge battle. In the closing of the game, after the final boss, they roll credits with various little scenes playing in the background. Two of those scenes zoom in and become player-controlled battles. They didn’t even want the credits to be boring. It’s that sort of care that sorts the great games and the good games apart.

There is one other thing that is worth noting: the game makes very heavy use of the song “Fly Me to the Moon“. In a sense, it is the game’s theme song. It shows up several times as battle music complete with lyrics, several of the battle themes are direct remixes, and even the other songs will occasionally throw in just enough notes in a row to evoke some part of the song. The reasons for this are never made terribly clear, but the continual use of the song does provide some level of unity to the entire audio score.

Overall, I’d say the game is quite good. In a sense, it is better at being Devil May Cry than Devil May Cry is. I picked it up at MSRP and don’t really consider that to be a bad thing. I should note that I played the XBox 360 version rather than the PS3 version. Supposedly, the PS3 version had framerate issues, but I have no first-hand evidence on that. Either way, where else are you going to find a game that allows you to weild a katana while wearing ice skates or lets you simultaneously use four rocket launchers?

Bayonetta: 1

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