Act 1 of 5 is now out for Windows and Mac. I’m intrigued by this, but I’ll be holding out for the Linux version (promised “soon”) before I move on this. If you’re bold enough to give this point-and-click a spin, be sure to share your impressions with me!
While most of the videos I’ve posted from E3 2012 have gotten or kept me interested, this one’s another story. This is the demo Ubisoft played for Far Cry 3. I loved Far Cry 2, but I can’t bring myself to get excited about this one.
The tag line for this game is shaping up to be “Step Into Insanity,” and it feels less like an inevitable mindfuck as it does like a cheap George Lucas third act twist. The turn loses its kick if you’re up front about the insanity aspect. That’s why Far Cry 2, like its obvious inspiration Apocalypse Now, were interesting. The insanity is written between the lines, not in bold block letters on it.
Thematic awkwardness I might put aside and try it, because I could be completely off base. There are other things here that are pushing me away.
I’m not inherently opposed to nudity in video games, but I am when it’s cheap (and it almost always is). Here in the E3 gameplay demo, some NPC is not only showcasing the goods but giving the player character the guided tour. It’s female objectification at its worst, but Hitman: Absolution already stole the show for blatant, gratuitious sexism at E3.
I suppose the worst thing for me is that the game, while shaping up to be gorgeous, is not compelling. I’ve yet to see any reason why I should care about any of the central characters of the game. Neither the protagonist’s plight nor the antagonist’s anything are interesting in the slightest.
I’m saddened to see the follow-up to a game I really enjoyed echo so hollow.
Please tell me you’re acquainted with Penny Arcade. If you’re not (and FYI, we aren’t friends), go directly to their website and don’t return until you are thoroughly acquainted with them. The PA crew are easily the most important people in gaming who aren’t making games.
Except, well, they kind of do make games. They’ve made two already - the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (and Episode 2) were made in cooperation with Hothead Games, Ron Gilbert's former company. They didn't do too well in the money department, because the planned third episode never got made…
Until now. Now partnering with Zeboyd Games, best known for indie darling RPG Cthulhu Saves The World, the PA crew returns this month with On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 3 and the promise of a fourth chapter down the road.
I’ve enjoyed the first two games. The third is a more cost- and pixel-consciously developed title and draws loads of inspiration from the 16-bit classic RPGs from the mid-to-late 1990s. So, get out your wallets and give them your money already.
I’m not alone in that Watch Dogs came at me from out of the blue. It’s new IP, which puts it in a class with few peers in the marketplace (let alone E3), and new IP at the AAA level is risky.
I can’t say I’m a believer in Watch Dogs. Not yet; it’s too early in the product cycle to get out the big foam #1 finger. You can’t deny this demo turns heads, though, so I won’t try. I’m interested. I want to see more. That’s a big Mission Accomplished for this team at E3.
What I see here reminds me quite a bit of CBS’ Person of Interest. You’ve got a high tech bag of tricks, a point man with the skills to back up the toys, and a penchant for operating outside the law. If you’ve not checked out the show, you should. It features Jim Caviezil being very un-Jesus-like as the show’s star, and it might just hold you over until more information on Watch Dogs emerges.
This trailer paints the Firaxis crew as super-heroes.
For the uninitiated, X-COM is an old franchise. Old in the sense that it dates back to heady days of the early 1990s, before first person shooters and 3D graphics engines were even holding hands. Back then, the best PC games were usually turn-based and experienced from an isometric perspective. X-COM fit this mold perfectly. Rather than harp on the past, fire up your trusty Steam engine if you want to learn more.
X-COM was a dead (or dormant) franchise since 2001. Then, not too long ago, 2K Games announced the return of the series with XCOM, developed by 2K Marin. To many old school gamers’ horror, they revealed that XCOM would be a first-person shooter and, bewilderingly, set in the 1960s. In short, the new installment wouldn’t share a genre or even the setting as the original. X-COM was becoming a zombie franchise. I tried to reserve judgement, but after watching the game play trailer from E2 2011, I found it to be uninspired and derivative and it fell off my radar for good.
I think someone at 2K realized that they were holding onto a damp turd with XCOM, because in the last year they decided to try to do something worthwhile with the license. They were able to secure Firaxis, developers behind the Civilization franchise, to build XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Now we’re talking! This isn’t some franchise reboot, this is an honest-to-god strategy game made by the masters in the vein of what longtime fans would expect. Everything about this oozes excellence, and it brings the X-COM name back onto my radar. Firaxis, I raise a glass to you.
Ubisoft announced the next installment of the popular Splinter Cell franchise (in the Tom Clancy brand) at E3 this year, and its first showing left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. You could say that I’m cautiously optimistic about it.
From a story/continuity angle, things are starting to unravel. After the end of Conviction - wherein the leadership of secret black ops agency Third Echelon goes rogue - the President disbands the agency entirely. She immediately regrets this decision, mostly because a whole bunch of people still hate America. The geopolitical situation changes again, and the President decides that we need a secret black ops organization with a license to kill. Naturally, she wants to prevent the problems from the last version, so she puts complete authority over the new organization in the hands of just one man: Sam Fisher. He’s loyal; he saved her personally from the last bad guy! Certainly, there’s no way she’ll ever regret that decision, right?
There’s some cognitive dissonance at work here that gives me grave doubts about this title already. The icing on that cake is the fact that the new black-ops organization that Fisher leads is called “Fourth Echelon”. I’m sure no one will connect those dots.
Oddly enough, Sam himself appears to be much younger in Blacklist than he was in Conviction. Expect in-game advertising for Just For Men.
Finally, Splinter Cell has always been about stealth game play. Stealth isn’t something I see a whole lot of in this announcement trailer. It looks like Ubisoft is copying pages from the Assassin’s Creed playbook into the Splinter Cell book.
I’ve been following Dishonored since it was first announced, but it’s a title that’s been easy to overlook until now because it’s a new IP. Let that sink in: amidst a storm of sequels and reboots in the gaming industry, here we’re seeing a truly new idea walking into the gale.
Dishonored is a simple revenge story, and that’s not where Arkane Studios is spending the midnight oil. The game is, in essence, a simulation and things within the world are intended to behave by the rules of that simulation. Except for the player character getting to bend the rules, of course. Summon a horde of ravenous plague rats, they’re going to go after anything with a pulse, even you.
They’re showing off gameplay that reminds me of the lead-up to Bioshock — play your own way. This looks to be more open-worldsy than the undersea classic, which could be either boon or bane. I’m very excited to see what comes from this.
Tomb Raider has been slowly and steadily climbing my interest chart since this installment was first announced. Rather than a hollow empowerment fantasy, the game is being portrayed, if jocularly, as a “disempowerment fantasy”. I think it’s an interesting angle to play it from, not because I derive sadistic pleasure from the disempowerment of women but because it sets aside the hollow invincible buxom brunette that’s been half of the coin that is Lara Croft and delivers the trial by fire that forges the self-empowering icon people have always wanted her to represent. The gameplay (see also) is looking more and more solid, which is a relief; though, the presence of quicktime events might grow wearying.
I realized recently that one of my favorite titles of the current era of video gaming isn’t one of the obvious AAA franchises - the Bioshocks, the Assassins Creeds, nor any of the deeper rooted IPs… It’s Far Cry 2, a game that barely seems comfortable in its own skin, let alone its franchise.
The game is set in modern(ish) day central Africa, in a fictional-yet-believable war torn nation gripped by a protracted civil war. The player fills the shoes of an assassin hired to travel there and eliminate a savvy arms dealer known as the Jackal. However, the player quickly succumbs to malaria and finds himself being jeered at by the Jackal himself whilst suffering through a crippling fever. The Jackal lets you live - if you managed to survive the fire fight that breaks out in the shanty town around you. Your mission compromised, you’re just another mercenary getting fat in the feeding frenzy of chaos… Or maybe you’re just trying to get close to the Jackal again.
The plot is mostly pulp, like most anything else in the medium, but there’s a grim thread of realism that stitches together a gorgeous setting, excellent mechanics, and few poignant note while maintaining a high level of immersion.
Like most Crytek projects, the game’s earliest evidence to the world were the tech demos that drive the setting. These guys have a knack for creating games that simulate places you’d love to just sit and drink in for hours at a time. Central Africa covers a broad gamut of microclimates ranging from jungle to desert, serengeti to swampland, and Far Cry 2 visits each of these in turn with breathtaking detail. This area of the world is harsh and majestic, and it’s somewhere most of us in the western world will probably never go because it’s tourist-friendly at its best. The ability to see these settings come to life and interact with them, even in a purely digital fashion, is special.
If you’re not one for just sightseeing (and, in my experience, most people playing actions games are not), Crytek added battle damage subsystems into the environment simulation that hadn’t been seen in a game before. The self-healing trees were a subject of much jocular-yet-awestruck attention on YouTube, but the real star of the havoc circus were the fire mechanics. One of the obvious hazards to living in a dry climate is the risk of wild fire, and the presence of low brush in the world becomes a terrible, effective, and believable weapon with a flamethrower or molotov cocktail in the game. The fire catches and spreads, leaving scorched earth and probably a couple of enemy thug corpses before burning itself out.
The game is a first person shooter, and its mechanics stand on its own merits. One of the things I love about this game is that it’s almost completely without a HUD. You want a map? You’ve got a map; press the button and your character slings his gun and pulls out a map and compass and holds it up. There’s no magic floating reticule, not even a tell-tale center dot on the screen. Your aiming options are to guestimate where center screen is or zoom in for iron sight aiming. The HUD-less experience adds a deep level of realism to the game, driving home that you’re carrying real guns, not gleaming space age combat rifles or glossy replicas. When a gun is in good condition, it looks like it just came out of the box. When it’s been through hell and back with you, it’s scuffed up like it should be (and will jam and work against you like a beat up firearm would). And when you get tired of your workhorse of a sidearm, you’ll sit down at a old tech low-fi terminal with a dial-up modem in an arms dealer’s shop to order your new shiny death machine.
The game lives with Heart of Darkness in its veins, irresistibly. Throughout much of the game, the developers successfully avoid assigning motive to the player character. That’s a decision left only to you. Are you in this for revenge? Perhaps you’re playing as another soul lost to the dirty machine of mercenary warfare. Your character’s motives are yours, until late in the game. The Jackal emerges as a stand-in for Conrad’s Kurtz, and to continue the game’s story through to its conclusion you must buy into the motivation for it whether it aligns with your will or not. Those with any amount of literary exposure ought to recognize what’s happening as it unfolds, but it may rankle a touch with some who choose to embrace the mercenary route.
Far Cry 2 is not without its imperfections. The pattern of things from minute to minute could get a bit repetitive. The bizarre rushed nature of the dialog voiceovers must have stood out to everyone. Like most things that tap central Africa’s political instabilities as subject material, there’s an inescapable gravity to the game that is absent from some of Crytek’s other titles, more firmly rooted in fictional soil. Yet in spite of these flaws, Far Cry 2 put forward a unique experience unlike any other.
I find myself thinking back on this game before many others that delivered more polished and critically celebrated experiences. The multiplayer is probably dead and done by now, but the the merits of the single player experience inspire this finished title to continue to be worth spending time on.