I Need a Bigger Gun

As we progress into the future, games become more and more limitless. When hardware or storage capacity used to hinder developers, new formats and emerging cloud gaming have basically done away with old constraints.

Have you ever noticed how most newer games lack unique or memorable arsenals? With all the power at their fingertips, developers still rely on the tried and true Doom arsenal to pepper their games with variety. Nothing against Doom or iD Software, but that was 1994.

We are in the year 2015. The fact that I couldn’t recall any weapons from the latest Call of Duty is a tremendous problem. Even if the first game relied on period accurate weaponry, the series was known more for how it changed the way we utilize the guns more then the guns themselves.

Yes! That gun I’ve used in every game for the past 4 years!

Even with that, Call of Duty is eternally boring with it’s selection of firearms. You have the general ”Weapon” category and then everything to broken into sub-catregories. Rifles, Machine Guns, SMGs, Snipers; you name a real life gun, Call of Duty has it.

While this may make sense for a Tom Clancy game with it’s focus on realism, Call of Duty should be pushing the boundaries of the genre. The games are the most popular thing in the medium and collect ridiculous amounts of money every year. You’d think Activision would want to spice things up a bit.

To lay off that franchise, what about any other games? Grand Theft Auto is guilty of phoning in the weapons. I remember the stupid glee I had when I first obtained the chainsaw in GTA: Vice City. About the coolest weapon I found in Grand Theft Auto V was a golf club.

Even Assassin’s Creed has basically stopped innovating in terms of arsenals. Since Ezio introduced the dual hidden blade, every subsequent game has contained it. Ubisoft then started throwing in items that took away from the idea of stealth (who the hell wanted bombs?).

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looks to remedy this problem, but I don’t know if one game series is enough. As popular as those games may be, shooters still reign supreme and have been stagnant for a long time. I don’t want to always rely on an M4 or ACR in my games.

I used to love old-school shooters with their insane, unrealistic and creative weapons. I loved how, when Half-Life took a turn for a more realistic style, the weapons remained unconventional. I truly love how Unreal introduced two firing modes.

Even their “real” guns had different modes.

Painkiller, a game which was seen as a bit vapid back in the day, has probably the best arsenal of any shooter around. There are only 6 weapons, but each gun has an alternate mode that is basically a new gun. It doubles the arsenal without bombarding the player with different models or information.

To that effect, Halo has always been fairly inventive with it’s guns. While some are basically analogues for genre staples, the Needler and the Plasma pistol are wholly unique. The pistol is also god damned incredible with how well it balances the multi-player (as far as the first game is concerned).

Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena never had issues with balance as their arsenals were diverse and different. Obviously a rocket launcher was in both, but each game had a different feel and different fire rate. The rail-gun was a much faster sniper, while UT’s plasma rifle and ripper have never been replicated.

You can dig through iD Software’s past and find plenty of different guns. Quake had the lightning gun, Heretic had a damned staff and Doom introduced the world to the BFG 9000 (later upgraded to the BFG 10k for Quake 3).

And all was right with the world.

Then I go to my PS4, boot up Killzone: Shadow Fall and see weapons that can be replaced with any real world equivalent. It really makes newer games feel completely dated. What about when future warfare becomes a reality? Now these weapons will be old-school and worthless.

With the likes of old-school shooters, most of those weapons will never exist. Even if you could produce a facsimile, the game’s weapon would remain an entity unto itself. The fun wouldn’t be lost or feel lazy.

I would just like to see shooters try harder. The genre used to be a trailblazer for graphical technologies and creativity. Now, we pretty much have a paint by numbers system for creating first-person games. I don’t want that to be the standard.

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Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

Briskly Walking “The Line”

So, that Spec Ops: The Line was quite the game, right?……..Right?…….Ugh, sometimes I hate being me.

Just the other day, I finished my journey through Dubai in what seems to be record time; 5 hours. I played on the hardest default setting, otherwise known as Suicide Mission. This game was far from that.

While I found the narrative very ambitious and intriguing, Spec Ops: The Line seems to run at breakneck speed through all of its high points. I mean, in the first hour alone, I conquered 5 of the games 15 chapters. They get considerably longer after that point, but I hadn’t even realized how little time I had spent.

I have no problem with games being short, but I just feel a little short changed here. This game was touted as having a very deep and complex narrative and most of the anecdotes I’ve heard from gamers are how affecting they felt the games “decision” scenes were. I saw them so close together; I don’t even know how the hell I’m supposed to think.

This contrasts with Hotline Miami, another game that brings up questions of violence and does so in an even shorter time span than Spec Ops. I managed to plunk through that little gem in about 3 and a half hours, but the pacing worked much better.

Some missions gave some breathing room in terms of combat and there was even a break from the constant murder for a stealth mission (even if that level was a little crappy). Hotline wasn’t a constant bloodbath and it worked to make me more interested in the combat and plotline.

Spec Ops, though, doesn’t give you a single minute to reflect on anything. Even the cutscenes aren’t that long, with the longest probably being around 6 minutes. You simply deal with a firefight, walk to the next room and repeat. When a decision comes up, you make it in a snap fashion and then proceed to shoot some more.

I can’t say I was disappointed with the game (and I got it for dirt cheap, so how could I truly be?), but I feel like it would have been a greater story if I was just given more time to explore it. Let me sink in the details of the game’s world, let me reflect on my awful actions and give me periods that help build character instead of pushing me directly into the action.

One of the best moments in Uncharted 2 comes during chapter 16. After practically non-stop action, Drake finds himself stranded in Nepal. The only task for the chapter is to walk around and soak in the sights. This gives you ample time to think about how you arrived at this location and reflect on what Drake has gone through.

NaughtyDog understood that packing a game with minute to minute firefights would sully the experience and leave the gamer wishing for a break. While you don’t want to have too much time dedicated to simply doing nothing, even just the smallest amount of leisure or padding can create a sense of relieve and a desire to continue.

For all the flack the Zelda series may get for sidequests and lack of innovation, the padding in that series really drives home the desire to press on. The early games in the series (namely Zelda 1 and 2) suffer because there is nothing else to do. You simply proceed with quest or you don’t play the game. Without any break of alternate activity, the quest feels long winded (even being only an hour!).


This is completely related to saving the Princess…trust me!

So honestly, while I won’t deem a game of lower quality because it’s short, some titles need extra game time to justify their existence. I can’t sit here and whole-heartedly recommend Spec Ops: The Line because I feel like it’s incomplete. It’s too damn short and leaves too much unexplained.

If I only simply had more time to feel the anguish that Captain Martin Walker was going through, maybe I’d be in love with the game. As it stands, it’s a very ambitious experiment, but one that ultimately doesn’t feel as impactful due to a sense of being rushed.

Cinematic Narratives

As gaming evolves and budgets become larger, there seems to be a trend going on: lavish cutscenes. You’d be hard pressed to find a modern, mainstream, triple A title that doesn’t feature cutscenes in some significant way. Be it “Metal Gear Solid” or “Alan Wake,” games just push their narratives onto us through the use of cinematic cuts.

I’ve seen this trend bemoaned as the death of gaming. I’ve heard critics lambaste titles that rely too much on scripted events and FMVs. I’ve read complaints from fans that most games are more movies now than they are game. Is this really a bad thing?

I just recently finished “Binary Domain.” The game was created by the producer of the Yakuza series by Sega. If anyone has played any entry in the Yakuza series, they will tell you that the cutscenes are long and plentiful. Still, the narrative set-up by those scenes is leaps and bounds ahead of most games in the modern climate.

Regardless, as gaming grows and matures as a medium, why is it so bad to include cutscenes in your game? Much like a musician who seeks to tell a story through the use of a concept album, can a video game not decide to display its narrative ideals through cutscene?

I suppose there is a point where enough is enough. The Atlus RPG Classic, “Persona 4” starts off with a 2 hour prologue that is text-based with limited interaction. Capcom’s brawler/adventure hybrid, “Asura’s Wrath,” is composed of 80% cutscenes. Hell, “Yakuza 4,” one of my favorites, includes over 5 hours of non-interactive FMVs. Isn’t that just too much?

I say no. Much like every movie isn’t about broken cops or drug lords and every book isn’t a fantasy novel in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkein, video games do not have a single mold with which they can convey their message. If a developer sees fit to include 6 hours of cinematics, why is anyone even complaining?

This is pretty damn close to “Lord of the Rings,” though…

Maybe the ability to skip said cinematics should be included in every title? Well, I just finished “Shadows of the Damned” three times for the Platinum trophy and I was able to deal with the cutscenes each and every time. They even took on new meanings during my third playthrough as I focused on other elements to the game design, namely Akira Yamaoka’s glorious soundtrack.

I suppose gaming just provides a radically dissimilar interaction than movies, which is why people are sick of seeing so many FMVs. Instead of having control ripped away, most gamers want to keep going. I like getting breaks from the action, though.

The Uncharted series, for as generic and unoriginal in gameplay as it may be, has some very well done cutscenes. Extraordinary motion capture and superb acting combine to make the cut aways something you seek out. While I enjoy popping soldiers in the head, I’m more eager to see Drake’s interactions with Sully and Elena. It gives me a nice chance to catch my breath.

“Max Payne 3” was an exceptional case for having more cutscenes in games. The transitions Rockstar employed to make game and cinematic blend are so ahead of the competition that I barely knew when to stop playing and hardly ever wanted to. I blitzed through the title because I was sucked in by fierce opposition and tight controls and compelled forward through wonderful acting and supreme direction.

After playing such a great game like that, I’m left pondering why I ever thought ridding games of cutscenes was a good idea. Still, I do understand that some people just cannot stomach their existence and want nothing to do with them. I appreciate that viewpoint.

But when did our medium ever conform to one idea? The amount of games I’ve played where there are no cinematics far outweighs the amount that do. You can fire up any number of indie games and get your old-school fix, but even titles like “Portal 2” and “Doom” do not feature any FMVs in sight.

So to any naysayers of cutscenes, all I have to say is just avoid the games that have them. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to the day where an entire game may just be one long cutscene (Hotel Dusk doesn’t count!). I’m all for a slightly interactive movie, as long as the plot isn’t as garbage as “Heavy Rain.”

Split Screen Woes

Multiplayer is definitely not the newest idea in the gaming world and it’s online application isn’t even in its infancy, but I’m really starting to feel angry over the lack of proper split-screen or developers bright ideas to tack them on to single-player games.

Last night, my friend/brother Jim and I sat down with Killzone 3 to try out the Move support. We were skeptical that it would work well, but we figured that, since GameStop has a fairly lenient policy on used games, what the hell? We synced our two wands, booted up the game and were greeted with a lovely message.

“Move is not support in split-screen multi-player. Please connect a dual shock 3.”

Alright, so Guerilla Games lied about that; whatever, no big deal. Move isn’t the end all, be all of first person gaming (and believe me, Killzone 3 bot matches with Move are stupid), so Jim and I just decided to say the hell with it and continue on into the campaign.

Now, I know I complained a tiny bit about Resident Evil 5’s split-screen application, but at least that game kept an aspect ratio of 16:9. Killzone does one better and formats the game to 4:5 or some kind of stupid mash-up of full screen with black bars. It’s one of the ugliest uses of split-screen I’ve ever seen in my gaming career and that covers nearly 20 years!


Best picture I could find. Definitely really awful, though.

It turns out, co-op was a completely tacked on idea at the last second. Sony needed another bullet point to sell their latest shooter and they figured co-op was it. Why there’s no online use or customization of the screen is beyond my feeble brain, but it definitely brought my piss to a boil. Jim was so frustrated at his inability to see anything that he gave up after 3 levels.

While we were lamenting our lack of any kind of current co-op game to play (we can’t keep going back to Borderlands for the umpteenth time), I kept making the joke of, “Well, we can play Dead Space 2 online!” That brings me to a totally separate discussion.

We all know Call of Duty rules the online, first-person gaming scene along with Halo and Battlefield. So why do developers feel the need to tack on a multi-player mode into their single-player game? Granted Dead Space 2 is still a wholly awesome game and worth the price of admission, but think of how much more polished the mid-section could have been if half of Visceral wasn’t being wasted on trying to copy Left 4 Dead.


Who needs skill when I can just statis away?

Bioshock 2 made this same kind of offense. Not only was the single-player game lacking in almost all of the charm and mystery of the first, but its competitive multi-player component was utterly worthless. Laggy battles, poor collision detection, insanely worthless perks and game ending crashes (at least in my experience with the PC version).

On the flip side, we have Bulletstorm. It features a fairly neat co-op mode where you can team up with 3 friends and fend off against waves of enemies. Oh wait; you can’t do that split-screen! This is truly baffling as Epic provides a fairly well done split-screen mode in Gears of War, offering both Horde and Campaign without any sacrifices.

Taking a look at an open world game, why does Saints Row 2 not feature any kind of split-screen support? Maybe it’s due to the underwhelming amount of RAM in current generation consoles, but it’s completely stupid that open world games with co-op modes cannot be experienced on the same console.

Why can’t more developers do something like what Gearbox did with Borderlands; provide the entire game in split-screen and actually make it function? While Borderlands has a vertical split, at least it fills your screen.


Everything is in plain view.

How about Infinity Ward and their co-op mode in Modern Warfare 2? Every mission is playable and fully functional and the screen is perfect. It doesn’t feel like a tacked on idea to sell more copies and, even if it were, it at least doesn’t hinder your ability to see anyone.

While Scott Pilgrim lacked an online feature, at least it’s same couch experience was well made. All characters worked well together and even had some extra functions over their single-player prototypes. Hell, lacking online probably made the offline mode that much better.

As for single-player experiences, what is the need of including a multi-player component? Did we really need to have multiple Isaac’s running around? Was there any want for Bioshock’s powers to be explored with other players? Why not take all those creative ideas and apply those to even better scripted events?


Makes me wonder how well the split-screen will fare in Uncharted 3.

I know this isn’t a call to arms or a very insightful blog, but I’m just sick of seeing multi-player being offered in games and then developer’s half-assing their way through it. Yeah, obviously not every game has awful split-screen or lacks it, but I just want to see a revision like the old days. Give me more Perfect Darks and less Killzones.

Why Video Games Beat Hollywood Action

Sylvester Stallone will never learn when to give up. At the roaring age of 64, Stallone has created countless sequels to classic movies that have tarnished the original idea. He’s also written and directed his fair share of disasters and starred in a porno.

But Stallone is still kicking. His most recent train wreck, “The Expendables,” proved one thing to me; video games beat recent Hollywood action films. Throughout the entire movie, aside from trying to figure out who was punching whom, I had flashes of the brilliance I’ve played in games over the years.

The fights made me think Street Fighter is awesome. The plane scene made me remember Battlefield 1942. Hell, the explosions made me think of the intensity and visceral joy of Uncharted 2. All of these games last for much longer than the 2 hours of Expendables and they’re a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

I’m not sure if this is just because of Stallone’s inability to direct and write, or whether video games are just more enjoyable because you’re interacting with them. Something just seems more pleasing when virtual fists are trading hits and you’re behind it all.

It could possibly be the rotten characters. Recent action cinema has taken a turn for “old-school.” What I mean by that is everything is trying to be as cheesy as possible. Plots consist of, “You took my woman,” or, “I’m no hero.” The action is completely over the top and, in most cases, poorly edited to look like jump cuts.

While Uncharted doesn’t have a deep plot, at least it has something that isn’t a dead give-away. Hell, even Gears of War has a plot that is more involved (well, 2 does). Whatever happened to chivalry, or fighting for something you believe in? A human element really drives home insane destruction.

To even look at a more ludicrous game, Red Faction: Guerrilla is hilarious fun. Action movies don’t go as far as this game does, but everything is in your hands and for your enjoyment. You see a building that looked at you the wrong way and it’s gone. How about that bridge? DONE!

Stallone’s film might have also benefited if there was any decent acting. Obviously Stallone knows how to act (the last scene of First Blood is just awe inspiring), but where does his talent disappear to? Statham just plays Statham, a rather over rated and irritating guy. Jet Li plays a particularly good sport to the fact that he could rip everyone in half.

It’s all very cold and no connections are made to the actor’s fates. Statham has some love interest, but he’s shown winning her over by beating the piss out of 5 guys. That will certainly work. Hell, Terry Crews and Randy Couture don’t even appear in more than half of the film. I don’t even know who they are.

And yet video games have been increasing their talent over the recent years. Mark Hamill has given some surprisingly good voice work to recent Batman games and Darksiders. Johnny Young Bosche plays a very good Nero in Devil May Cry 4. Nolan North has become the defacto hero man after his great role as Drake in Uncharted.

Of course games have bad actors, but the really great roles and the general interactivity balance the ugly out. Who cares if your hero sounds like generic man A (I’m looking at you Prototype and inFamous)? When you can pick up cars or unload on armies of the undead, you don’t really need that much in the way of charisma.

As it stands, action movies just don’t do it anymore. Unless you’re making a well edited and stylistic film like “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,” don’t even bother. Video games have you beat and I’m sure they’ll continue to get better and more action packed. I think Hollywood should just leave the action to the professionals, or at least the Chinese. They’ve known it better for the past 40 years, anyway.