The deluge

November 16, 2007 by Tim

So let’s talk video games, it’s been a big week. Here are my opinions.

Lynching some Kane

The aiming in Kane and Lynch is pretty much exactly like the Hitman series. This is to say, a little clumsy and not very accurate. Single player (from what I’ve played of it) strikes me this way: Great characters, great voice acting, all wrapped into so-so gameplay. Not bad gameplay, but just not great as I was hoping for. Also lack of online co-op? Are we living in the 80s now?

Now, Fragile Alliance. While this online mode suffers from most of the same gameplay problems as the single player campaign (aiming), it has fast become my new addiction (replacing painkillers and pudding as the previous title holders). While the game mode may not be anything that is technically outstanding, as far as I’m concerned the social aspect of the game more than makes up for it.

As a regular deathmatch type game I would pass right over it without a second glance, but the tension and paranoia that comes from knowing that at any moment that “buddy” of yours behind you could be deciding that you’re not making it to the getaway car, and the sheer temptation to consider the same fate for anyone standing between you and more money, are more than sufficient for a really good time. I’d consider a Fragile Alliance tournament at Digital Overload if I could figure out a way to make it work. But regardless I definitely plan to have this game networked at the event.

This game brings out a side of me I’ve never seen before. I can be a jerk, but I’ve never been a greedy jerk before. I just can’t help myself. I see them jumping the fence to the getaway car, carrying what is rightfully my money… their back turned, completely vulnerable… it makes for some interesting second and third rounds. But I have no problem sleeping at night.

Though the mode is not without a downside. First of all, the game has an annoying bug whereby it gives you some nondescript error half of the time when trying to join games. This is annoying in and of itself, however any time you get this error, it dumps you to the beginning of the game, and you have to click through six screens just to join another game. It’s awful, and I really hope they patch a fix for this.

Because also, it dumps you to the main menu after you’re done with a game too. Now I get this for ranked matches, you don’t play with the same people and just rack up score. But why does it dump you from social matches? What is the issue here that I have re-invite my friends to a match after every game? Very obnoxious.

Still, when you get into a game, it’s a load of fun. If you’re not keen on buying a game just for the multiplayer portion, maybe just rent it and see what you think. The single player story is very good, the characters are great. For some people that will be enough, for some it won’t.

The Creed of the Day

Assassin’s Creed is visually one of the most stunning games I’ve ever seen. The texture quality, the environment, and most of all the animation (character animation is a biggy for me, as a lot of games have fancy graphics, and then characters that walk/run in terribly unnatural ways) are all out of this world. It really is an absolutely gorgeous game to look at.

As far as the story, I won’t ruin the “twist” for you, even though it’s revealed in the first five minutes of the game, I’m not too sure about. Unless there’s some new revelation towards the end of the game, so far I can’t even see why this story is necessary. Players of the game should know what I’m referring to. But I haven’t beaten it yet, so who knows how it will turn out.

I have no real gameplay gripes yet, but I do have concerns. Primarily that we’re only given three types of mini-missions with which to discover information (pickpocket people, eavesdrop, and flat-out pummel them for information). While right now these things are enjoyable to do, we’re tasked with killing nine people throughout the game. The idea that this is all I’m going to be doing for the next ten or so hours of gameplay worries me. But again, I’ll hold actual complaint until it’s actually bothered me.

Other than that, Altair’s voice just frustrates me. Everyone else in the game manages to have an accent, and yet Altair is the only 21st century American in the year 1191. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it jarring. I think he should sound more exotic. I suppose there’s one explanation (though it still makes no sense to me), but I can’t talk about it without spoiling the story. And to avoid angry emails, I won’t go and do that.

Anyway, so far it’s a good game. I’m not sure I feel it lives up to my expectations, but it deserves a full play-through before decide. So far I consider it a $60 well-spent though.

Effects of Mass

This is the big one. This is the one you monkeys have been emailing me about, and asking me on XBL and the forums about. This is Sparta. Wait, I mean this is Mass Effect.

I’ve got about 15 hours in the game so far, and though I’m a loooong ways from even completing it a first time, I do feel I’ve played enough of the game to formulate opinions on it. This may take many a paragraph.

We’ll start with character creation. It’s pretty powerful, and while I’m not sure you could create look-alikes of “anyone” you wanted, I think most people will have no trouble creating a version of Commander Shepherd that suits them.

I spent a good twenty-to-thirty minutes in character creation, between deciding what class and backgrounds to take (soldier, orphaned in an attack on his colony, willing to do whatever is necessary to get the job done), and creating the actual look of my guy. Hairstyles are pretty much all short for both male and female (this is the military, folks), and there are a nice selection of scars to add character to your… character. I wish more MMOs offered scars as an option. The scars on the males are a lot more garish than the females. You can’t really create a disfigured chick. I went with a nice long chin-to-ear scar on my guy.

The only facet of the character creation that bothered me was the eye selection. Most of the eyes were just either too wide (like walking around in a constant state of surprise), too droopy (like walking around in a constant state of being Rocky Balboa), or too exotic. If you want to create an Asian Commander Shepherd, you’re all set. But they don’t really work for anything else.

I’ll warn you that once you get into the game, you don’t really get too much of an extensive tutorial. You get the basic button functions, but I found there was a lot of stuff left to be figured out, especially with combat. It’s not terrible if you’ve played KOTOR, but people who haven’t might be a bit lost in the inventory/squad management screens. Maybe not though.

That said, there is a lot of KOTOR familiarity in this game, while still being fresh. KOTOR players will definitely feel right at home though.

The graphics in Mass Effect are outstanding, particularly the environments. I’m constantly amazed by the new planets I travel to. There is a slight obnoxious graphical tendency that so far as proved to be my biggest gripe with the game, and that’s the texture pop-in. I recall it happened occasionally with Gears of War as well, but I find it to be far more frequent in Mass Effect. Essentially when you load a new area, or a new cutscene, sometimes the game gets going before the textures have finished. So for 3-5 seconds you’re looking at blurry, vague models, and suddenly the gorgeous textures load and everything looks pretty again. It clearly doesn’t hamper gameplay, but it is a bit distracting.

Another minor annoyance are the constant pauses when the game loads a new area, or auto-saves your game. Though this one really doesn’t detract from the game, and I can’t fault the game for saving and loading (it is software, after all), you will notice it.

Moving back to some of the good stuff, I find combat to be really enjoyable, however there is a bit of a learning curve. It’s all real-time, so that’s a big change from KOTOR. It will take a little while to really wrap your head around the in-combat controls, and using the radial menus (which pause the game) to issue commands to your squad mates. Overall I think the combat works well. Just don’t get discouraged if it frustrates you right off the bat.

As far as your squad, they’re a mixed bag, I guess. More often then not they immediately grab all of the good cover spots in a firefight, and you’re left standing there like an idiot. They are useful in combat about as often as they get themselves killed like idiots. I took an ability called Unity (might be for Soldiers only), which revives my squad in-combat, which is useful because, well, they’re dead a lot.

The voice acting in Mass Effect is, for the most part, really really good. There’s even an alien race called the Elcor that speak in monotonous tones, and thus have to preface every statement with the type of sentence it’s supposed to be, similar to the robot in KOTOR (HK-whatever his name is). It’s pretty amusing.

Aside from the main mission, there is no shortage of things to do in Mass Effect. Right from the early game you’ll be coming across side quests and task that people need done. Exploring uncharted worlds is a fun little past time if you’re into that sort of thing. Not only does nearly every world you visit have its own very unique look (and there are a lot of worlds you can land on), but there are all sorts of stuff to find there. When you touch down in the Mako (that ATV thing you’ve seen in the videos), your map will show you the location of 2-3 points of interest, usually a mineral deposit you can survey, or some debris you can check out. However there are other things on the planets that will only show up on your map if you drive around and get near them it seems.

Driving the Mako is like a little game unto itself. This thing can scale near-vertical  surfaces, and it also uses thrusters to sort of “jump” so it’s become a little hobby of mine when climbing mountains to reach the apex and then burn the thrusters, throwing the Mako all the way down to the bottom. It doesn’t take damage from falling, so it’s just good clean fun.

As with KOTOR, and as you’ve been told you would, you get to make a lot of choices in this game. Now obviously I won’t know the extent to which some of these early choices are effecting the game until I’m on my second play-through and making different choices, but there are some situations where the effects of your decisions are immediately apparent. I decided to play through as a Renegade (Dark Side, for you KOTOR familiars) the first time through, and a Paragon (Light Side) the second time through. So I’m making all of the cruel and bastardly decisions, as hard as some of them may be. Sometimes I find myself surprised at what they let you decide to do. On more than one occasion when making these choices I’ve though to myself “Nah, I’ll just say this, the game wouldn’t let me actually be that much of an asshol– oh shit, I did just execute that hostage.”

You could probably rush through the main mission in twenty-hours or so, but I think you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t experience all this game had to offer, at least once. Even all of the lore scattered throughout the game is interesting and ties together. Actually a good portion of the codex (your collection of information about planets, species, etc) entries are voiced-over, and I could be wrong but the guy doing the voice over sounds remarkably like the voice over guy from Crackdown (someone said it was Frank Welker, original voice of Megatron, but I can’t find him credited for it officially).

I could go on about how great Mass Effect is. It’s very clear that Bioware put a lot of love and hard work into the game. It does present with some minor technical flaws, but the game is so massive in both scope and story that these little imperfections can’t do a think to detract from enjoying the game, for me at least. If you’ve been anxiously awaiting this game as I was, I definitely think your excitement is justified.

I haven’t forgotten about Super Mario Galaxy, I just… haven’t even opened it yet.

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