Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Half Yearly Exam - the highs and lows of 2012

With the year being halfway done, I feel the need to make some sort of summary of gaming pre-E3 2012. This can either be the most uneventful half of the year or... I guess a tad less eventful. Either way, let's look at it all so far.

We'll start with what's good so far.

Binary Domain
Starting off this list is a cover based third person shooter from the same team who make the Yakuza games. At first, it just felt like an ordinary third person shooter, but then you enter the second half, and its brilliance truly shows with excellent writing and some pretty damn intense fights... not that the intensity was low in the first half, but the second half was muuuuch better in that regard. With that said, I don't like the fact that this game is a slow burner. When it comes to shooters, you pretty much want to start off strong and keep going strong. If it had even a good beginning, this would be my pick for game of the year, but given its mediocre start, it's not quite there.

The Darkness 2
Yeah, it's not nearly as good as the original game, but that game was fucking excellent and easily one of the best games in this generation. However, this sequel is still worth buying. It puts in a good effort to continue the story, and even though it's not nearly as interesting or emotional, it's still one that you'll be absorbed into. The structure of this game is like that of any shooter - linear hallways, bang bang bang. The Darkness itself does make things interesting at least. Overall, a good game, but nowhere near as good as the original game. Plus it's a bit short.

I Am Alive
Another potentially disappointing game - this time, because it went from being a full retail game to a downloadable game due to what I assume was shaky development. Not to worry, because it is still a good game. One thing that always bugs me about the Resident Evil series is that while it gets survival down to a tee, playing it is a pain in the ass. I Am Alive gets the survival aspect down to a tee by not leaving too many items around, forcing you to play conservatively in a world stricken by disaster. The platforming may seem like Uncharted or Enslaved in which most (if not all) is done with a simple press of the button, but with the addition of the stamina meter, it makes things much, much more tense. That's what I Am Alive is all about - tension and survival. Perhaps it is a bit clunky, but nothing that you can get used to (yeah, I hate using that argument to justify shit controls, but these are not bad - just a bit clunky and the rest of the game is good enough to make it easy to overlook). Overall, definitely worth a purchase, though I do wish it was the retail game it could've been. Ah well.

Dragon's Dogma
This is certainly an interesting game. It's basically a WRPG done by a Japanese developer (Capcom), and while the story is pretty mediocre and the lack of fast travel eventually makes backtracking a bore and a half (not my fault that I don't play games 24 hours a day unlike those who praise the lack of fast travel), the game is pretty fucking good. The combat is fluid and tons of fun to engage in, and the bosses are fan-fucking-tastically designed. God, I just love the combat in this game and the Pawns have some pretty good AI... which I guess makes up for the lack of co-op multiplayer... ah well, it all works out well in the end and what you'll get out of this is a game that'll really impress you. Expect this game on the end of year list.

Max Payne 3
This is how you make a reboot - take the old game, and modernize it! Max Payne 3 has most of the Max Payne feel, which is John Woo style shooting with bullettime up the ass and you needing to use it strategically (you know, unless you want to die), but it has the cover system we all know and love from other third person shooters, plus it just feels a lot tighter in general. The mood itself is different - instead of the melancholic tone of the first two games, it feels more like an action movie with hints of said melancholic tone thrown out there throughout. But if you see that as an issue, you probably also see fun and excitement as a bad thing, throwing terms such as narrative connection and all this other psuedo-intellectual bullshit nobody actually cares about. No, what I see an issue with is that you can't skip the cutscenes, which can be fairly lengthy. Fine for the first time through, but pretty shitty the second time through. Beyond that, it is a fantastic game. Also another game you should expect on the end of year list... at least, I'd hope so.

However, we've had our share of shitty and just plain disappointing games, so... here they are.

This is, like, the OPPOSITE of what Max Payne 3 did! Instead of taking an old formula and building upon it with modernizations, Starbreeze (yeah, I had to quadruple check that - I thought they were better than this) went "fuck it, strategy games aren't cool, it's a first person shooter". Now, I would have absolutely no problem with that if it wasn't so fucking boring! This is about as by the numbers as it gets, folks. Go through corridor, bang bang bang, corridor - you get the drill, and unlike The Darkness 2, it does fuck all to seperate itself from its kind. Even the powers are lame. I just couldn't give a fuck about this by the numbers game. That and the neon color scheme (which actually does irritate my eyes after a while) is what really holds it back.

Blades Of Time
Did we really need a sequel to X-Blades? X-Blades was, at best, a guilty pleasure. It felt like a bad Devil May Cry clone, but it was fun enough to justify existing. Mind you, I'd sooner buy Bayonetta than X-Blades, but whatever. Blades Of Time is a shitty hack and slash that isn't fun. It's drab, boring, and I just can't fucking play this shit anymore.

Lollipop Chainsaw
Clunky is the best way to sum up Lollipop Chainsaw. Really clunky. Like it doesn't control all that well, flow too well or even feel alright. It just feels like an early PS2 hack and slash not named Devil May Cry - awkward and about as fun as watching paint dry. Oh, and the quick time events... they suck. Just feels like they're put in there because, well, what game doesn't have them these days? Thanks God Of War! Not all the funny dialogue in the world can save this game from being pretty fucking clunky!

Soul Calibur 5
It'd be so easy to simply say "rush job" and end it right there, but then there'd be little reason to put this here. No, my issue lies with what it could've been. This takes place 17 years after the events of the last game. Alright, we have a bunch of new characters and a new-ish setting, so what do we do from there? Well, let's only give two of the new characters a story each, let's make the stories terrible, and let's have the storyboards serve as the visual. Genius! Not only that, but let's turn the fighting engine into some sort of half assed Blazblue clone! Let's make half the characters unbalanced as fuck, especially Nightmare and Siegfried with their comically big swords and the fact that they're fast as fuck in their huge amounts of armor! Hell, fuck the single player - it's all about multiplayer! Now, yeah, that is normally the case for fighting games, but last I checked, even the first Soul Calibur game had a good amount of content for single player... Does rush job sound any better, people? Because it is.

Pokemon Conquest
Unimpressive is the word best used to describe this. Mind you, there are only two real flaws - the AI is dumber than what you'd find in the generation 1 games and it does everything in its power to not feel like baby's first SRPG. What I mean by the latter is that there are plenty of different systems put in place, but they're either explained poorly or not at all, and yet, when you get right down to it, it's a really basic strategy game. Perhaps the ditzy blonde AI contributes to it feeling like an easy strategy game with little of the actual strategy? Or maybe it's the fact that your Pokemon only have one attack and can completely change from being melee attackers to being ranged attackers upon evolution? I don't know, but I thought this game was pretty mediocre and a huge disappointment. Damn, I really wanted a Pokemon SRPG, too...

The absolute worst game of 2012 so far is...
Anybody who thinks the reception for this game was exaggerated for any reason... hasn't played it. If this is a real survival horror experience, then thank fuck this genre died. I don't give a rat's ass about clunky combat or anything that you'd come to expect in survival horror games. What I do care about, however, is the lack of polish. Not in the graphics, though they aren't exactly the prettiest around either (even by Xbox Live Arcade standards), but in the game itself. I've had moments where I died and lost something that I needed to progress... which is fair enough, until you realize that you can't backtrack... at all. You're stuck and you have to reset. A lack of playtesting coupled with broken mechanics and feeling more bored than scared... this isn't just the worst game of 2012, but also the worst game of this generation.

The absolute best game of 2012 so far is...
Silent Hill: Downpour
Talk about the complete opposite to Amy! Like Max Payne 3, it takes the old formula and modernizes it without it feeling too different. In this case, why not take the clunky old survival horror thing and improve the controls? Wow, I didn't know what was so hard! Yes, combat is a bit clunkier than it was in Homecoming, but it's never a nuisance, unless you're forced to fight multiple enemies at once. Unlike Amy, there is always the feeling of tension, the feeling of suspence, and real legitimate horror, and as you'd expect from the Silent Hill series, you're never sure if there actually is something around the corner or not, but the sound design just fucks with your mind (and yeah, I know it's the composer from the Dexter TV series doing it instead of Akira Yamaoka, but this guy definitely knows what he's doing), and then when you're given the Otherworld, fuck, the visual designs don't let up in terms of suspense and scares. It keeps the series's tradition of deep, character driven storytelling, showing us a sort of Dante's Inferno as they travel through Silent Hill to go toe to toe with their mental demons, and it is very compelling as Murphy is a very likeable character whose journey you'd really want to see from beginning to end, changing as he goes... a little thing called character development if you will. Yeah, this game is just fucking fantastic, and if you haven't got it, go get it. Now!

Well, that does it for this half of the year. Tune in next time for when I do this sort of thing for all the games instead of just these games! I may have missed a few, but that's either because I haven't played them (pretty much anything on the PS3), or they didn't really do as well or as badly as those found on the list (Kid Icarus: Uprising and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City). That, and Xenoblade Chronicles was released in 2010 in Japan and last year here in Australia. So yeah, hope you enjoyed this list, and if you don't like it, well, sorry, but Amy did suck really badly.

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