Archive for PC

Mirror’s Edge

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2008 by B33

“Parkour” is a particular subject not fully explored in the realm of gaming, although there have been a few “explorations” into the unfamiliar territory. The most recent title that comes to mind is Assassins Creed, which to the game’s credit, was rather fluid and intuitive, albeit a bit clunky and repetitive from time to time. Now, we have Mirror’s Edge which is attempting to further plunge into the free-running style of gameplay by placing the player in the shoes of “Faith,” a runner who “lives on the edge” of a city run by a fascist government (which is strangely never fully elaborated upon). The plot really isn’t anything noteworthy, as it often takes mediocre twists and turns with characters that are rather forgettable. In the end, it’s all about successfully getting from point A to point B in one piece and any amount of drivel poured out to you in the noticeably cheaply animated cinematics isn’t going to drive the point any further, especially due to the sporadic nature of the story, to begin with.

With the abysmal state of the plot, one would hope that the gameplay would at least fair well. Fortunately, Mirror’s Edge does boast solid gameplay mechanics, at its core. The free-running aspect of the controls are rather tight and intuitive and once the title gets going, it’s fun and provides a unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever played before. However, the flow of the title often comes to a halt due to the “trial and error” nature of the gameplay. In a game that declares itself as a “free roaming” first person platformer, you’d think the general direction and objective would be clear and the flow would continue at a constant speed. I often found myself ramping up speed and beginning to feel immersed in the experience until I ultimately died over and over again until I figured out the procedural and “correct” method to completing a puzzle. This is mainly due to the inconsistency of the “Runner’s Vision” feature which serves as the essential guideline throughout each level by highlighting various objects the player may traverse at a rather sloppy rate.

The primary concept to Mirror’s Edge is to provide the feeling of “freedom” and allow the player to freely traverse the environment utilizing any particular method or pathway. This might have been a bit ambitious on Dice’s part since the “freedom” aspect of the title is merely an illusion that gives way to fairly linear gameplay. The game encourages experimentation, albeit to discover the particular solution to each puzzle, which as I have mentioned before ultimately breaks the flow of gameplay and defeats the purpose of a game that claims to root itself in the realm of a supposed “free roaming” mechanic. Combat is often discouraged the developers purposely “optimized” the gameplay to reflect as much. Faith has a very small amount of health, her attacks are weak, and the overall state of the combat is sloppy and unrefined. This wouldn’t be an issue if the developers stuck to the concept of running rather than fighting, but you’ll find yourself placed in moments of the game that force you to take on opponents with the lackluster combat system that often leads to frustratingly cheap deaths. To further add fuel to the proverbial “fire,” playing a platform oriented title from the first person perspective also reduces the judgment of various jumps and often leads to obscured vision and “leap of faith” moments that deliver the frustrating impact of death over and over again.

The visual style to Mirror’s Edge is rather intriguing, as it chooses to rely on a lighter blend of colors rather than the typical bleak and “drained of color” type of visuals we’ve grown accustomed to in a fair share of games throughout this current generation of gaming. The character animations are rather fluid and run fine, albeit with little variety to the actual enemies you’ll encounter. The framerate runs at a solid speed and the lack of a cluttered HUD gives the player a better feel for the environment and sense of realism. One of my primary concerns with the title upon its unveiling was the possibility of motion sickness due to the nature of “free running” in the first person perspective. However, the developers clearly put a decent amount of thought and polish into the visuals, as I had no feelings of nausea or issues with the overall flow in which the game displays movement.

Mirror’s Edge is ultimately a title that attempts a rather ambitious leap, but ultimately falls short and fails to reach its goal due to the numerous design flaws present. The few positive aspects of the game aren’t enough to warrant a purchase and even a rental is questionable depending upon your tolerance and personal taste. Fortunately, the title is very short (even by today’s standards) and the nearly endless string of frustrating “trial and error” gameplay segments and half baked cinematics only needs to be endured for a few hours until it abruptly ends. While it’s refreshing to see a new IP in the sea of sequels and remakes that typically saturate the industry; the numerous flaws ultimately prevent this “experiment” from succeeding.

Pros: Ambitious concept, unique blend of visuals, and it’s quite fun when the flow of gameplay isn’t constantly broken.

Cons: Multiple collision problems in regards to the controls, combat is sloppy and unintuitive, the design of the title is inconsistent and schizophrenic in nature, the plot is poorly crafted and forgettable, and the characters are shallow and unlikeable.

Conclusion: An intriguing concept ultimately foiled by poor design decisions, numerous collisions issues, a terribly shallow campaign, and forgetful plotline. Does not warrant a purchase, much less a rental; pending upon your level of tolerance and personal taste.

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First Impressions: Left 4 Dead

Posted in First Impressions with tags , , , , , , on August 31, 2008 by B33

After developing Portal and Team Fortress 2; Valve is now steadily at work on their latest title, “Left 4 Dead,” which will hit Steam and major retailers on November 4th of this year (2008) for North America and November 7th for Europe. Left 4 Dead was first unveiled at the end of 2006 under the helm of Turtle Rock Studios, which was later acquired (i.e. absorbed, merged, etc) by Valve (given both studios having good relations with one another), hence how they ended up jumping on board the project. The story to Left 4 Dead is as follows; A unnamed virus has swept across the world and everyone affected has become the essential equivalent of a zombie. You take the role of one of the four survivors of the virus who must fight the hordes of victims in a First Person style of gameplay (FPS or First Person Shooter). Sounds relatively simple enough. What sets Left 4 Dead apart from other titles of the same genre is the gameplay and actual assets featured.

Valve’s primary goal with Left 4 Dead is to spark a change in the Co-Op style of gameplay often flawed for various reasons. Clearly, a decent amount of forethought and planning has gone into the gameplay aspect of Left 4 Dead as it’s vastly encouraged you work together or else you yourself will end up dead (along with your other team mates as well) at the hands of the vast amount of zombies featured. Running off on your own to be the sole “hero” is not wise and it’s doubtful you’ll last long. Players must stick together in order to fend of the enemies present as well as help each other out when a particular team mate happens to fall into a snag (becoming overwhelmed, falling off a ledge and hanging, injured, etc). To even further mix things up for the player, Valve has added an intriguing new AI (Artificial Intelligence) concept they’ve dubbed “The Director.” As player’s progress; The Director will observe the group as a whole to decide upon the difficulty curve, pacing, number of enemies, etc. There are no set spawn points for enemies within the game. Everything is varied upon the given factors and circumstances of the players. If you have a team that works well together, has little friendly fire, and a decent amount of health; The Director will spawn enemies at a greater number and in a more diverse strategic manner to up the ante and make the game much more difficult. However, if you have a team that’s poorly performing with a low amount of health; The Director will ease up on the player and lower the amount of enemies and set the difficulty curve at a lower rate to offer a bit of a break.

The Director also affects the player’s individual perspective as well. Music and visual effects are implemented in a procedural manner to reflect upon the player’s particular condition and situation. Combine the procedural alterations between the variations of a player’s experience individually and as a whole; and you have a game that encourages a vast amount of playability that further drives the entertainment and value of the product. It’s a rather intriguing concept that makes up for the fact it’s yet another title in the over saturated First Person Shooter genre of gaming. One to four players may jump into the roles of “The Surviviors,” although you don’t necessarily need more than one role filled as The Survivors can also be controlled bots via AI. Co-operation, again, is the key as players have the ability to aid each other and any selfish player present will soon be corrected (and can ultimately be booted by other team members in a voting system present). Players can communicate through automated commands courtesy of quick menus present (certain commands will be automatically uttered when reloading or spotting an infected civilian). And to further drive a co-operative style of gameplay, the developers allow players to spot each other through walls, obstructions, etc by utilizing a green glow around each player when blocked by an object.

There is a particular backstory to each character, though there will be no cutscenes in the game to further flesh it out. Instead, the developers have recorded a vast amount of dialogue that will be featured pending upon the various situations the player encounters. This further encourages multiple playthroughs and keeps the gameplay at a solid pace rather than breaking it up with cutscenes or a linear timeline, as well. Overall, I’m very intrigued with what Left 4 Dead has to offer. The concept isn’t particularly original by any means; though the title makes up for it by introducing enforced principles on top of rather solid gameplay. There are additional modes to extend the experience and various other aspects to further add depth to the game itself. Though I still have doubts on whether the actual gameplay will grow repetitive; despite the measures taken. The fact that it’s a First Person Shooter also leaves me leary as the genre has become rather bloated and over saturated in the industry, as of lately. Left 4 Dead hits the PC and Xbox 360 this Winter, with a possible Playstation 3 port in the works. For more information, please visit the official website at www.l4d.com.