Tag Archives: first-person shooter

Prey (2017)

For all that it’s five years old, Prey is one of the best games I’ve ever played, and certainly the best one I’ve finished in recent memory[1]. (I need to get back to Pillars of Eternity. And also Horizon Zero Dawn.)

It is approximately like, what if Half-Life, but extremely modern and therefore with the ability to have and track quests and side quests, and the survivors you meet are actually able to, on occasion, take care of themselves a little bit instead of solely serving to keep you in a somber mood. You can play guns blazing, or extreme stealth, or anything in between, while being as kind or cruel or unconcerned as you prefer. In a different world where I didn’t have an infinite number of massive games I wanted to play, nevermind the smaller ones, I might be inclined to play this again with a different focus. I happen to know there are things I never saw because I played differently than what would have allowed me to see them.

As far as the plot: go in as blind as you can. All I knew was a) praise and b)… actually, I can no longer swear what I knew about b), so it would be unfair to say anything, wouldn’t it? But the game starts off on your first day joining your big brother in the family business. Wake up, get ready, fly across town in a helicopter while the credits roll, then take the evaluation tests you need to pass to go up to the space station where the real magic (by which I mean science) happens. Only, the tests don’t really make even a lick of sense? And why is that table running around, and why are the alarms going off? And then things get weird.

In conclusion, I liked it really a lot. The plot twists never really stopped, no matter how far into the game you think you’ve gotten. I am uncertain about the expansion? But I would play the hell out of a sequel.

[1] “Okay, but what about Hollow Knight?” It’s like this. They are both exemplars of their respective types of game, but Prey has the better plot. HK has the better mood, if that makes you feel okay about things.

Bioshock Infinite

I have been having a very hard time reacting to Bioshock Infinite. As a story, it was beautiful and compelling and I spent every moment from beginning to end wanting to know more. As a game, it was, well, rather a lot like Bioshock, with a few interesting differences. And a few unfortunate ones, it must be noted. The inability to have a save game and instead only be allowed to wait for when the game decides to save for you is… mostly not so bad, but when it was bad (I’d like to go to sleep now, not in 15 minutes; I’d like to be able to restore and do this fight a different way), it was pretty terrible. Still, as flaws go, they had a good reason for it and it was nowhere near a showstopper.

Unfortunately, I got about two lines into the next paragraph before I realized that I have to play this one too close to the vest to be worth a whole lot. But I can give you the premise in broad strokes, I suppose: Booker Dewitt, down and out private detective, has been sent to Columbia, a city in the sky, with one haunting directive: “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” Well, okay, there are one or two more directives, but they wouldn’t mean anything much to you until you were playing anyway. I would quickly add that he discovers nothing is as it seems, but let’s be honest, he just magically appeared in a floating city in the clouds in 1912, I think you probably already knew that part. I think he probably already knew that part already! Okay, the rest is behind the cut. Continue reading

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The last thing I did lately was run through the most recent entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy. (You can see from the awkward construction of the previous sentence that I have no idea if it really was a trilogy or if I should expect more to come.) They have a clever thing in the opening credits where it starts as WW3 and then the first W flips to become an M (and their acronym). Because, you see, it picks up immediately after (or, really, probably a few moments before) the end of the second game, in which World War 3 has well and truly blossomed.

The other thing about Modern Warfare 3 is that it took me several minutes to recall just now exactly how it ended, and if said ending would actually count as a completed story sequence. The answer is yes, but my inability to immediately remember what happened a mere eight days after I finished the game tells the rest of the story of this review for me. It was a perfectly adequate game, identical in play to the previous volumes, but without quite the punch and edge-of-my-seatness the others had. Maybe it’s because I’m overly jaded. It was cool and shocking the first time a viewpoint character in the game died, but after three such games, they had taught me not to get attached to anyone, and it turns out that this may be a problem in a first-person game, the inability to be attached to your own damn eyes and ears.

But still, from a purely narrative point of view, yes, I am satisfied by the complete story told in these games. Not, ultimately, as satisfied as I was with the Halo series, but pretty satisfied indeed. Will I later play the Black Ops games as well? Just maybe! It’s nice to have a game I can start and finish over the course of one or two weekends.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

A very long time ago, I played a game and thought it was basically fine, compelling even, but not particularly worth following up on the sequels. I cannot tell you a good reason why I would have thought that, beyond the part where I don’t really play all that many games. But considering this was a game I was highly impressed by and able to play through in just a handful of days, you’d think the next one would have gone on the short list. My best guess is I’m used to the rest of the series’ WWII roots meaning I’d be playing the same game over and over with slight variations. Certainly, the thought of a true sequel never crossed my mind.

But then I got the third entry for Christmas in 2011, and when I popped it in to take a look, I quickly realized that, nope, this has some of the same characters and really is a sequel. Which meant I had to get the second entry and for that matter relay the first one and remind myself what was going on even before that. And then, as it does, time slipped away. Which explains why fully a year later, I have only just now played Modern Warfare 2.

On the bright side, it has every last one of the same benefits of its predecessor. Intricate and exciting storytelling, rapid yet challenging gameplay[1], characters to care about who face ethical dilemmas and real consequences, plus the added benefit of characters you have already previously cared about. My only complaint, minor though it be, is that a couple of the scenes really felt like replays of the previous game; and this is easily balanced by the plot following directly from the plot of the previous game, with amplified stakes and a dark ending that leaves me entirely excited for Modern Warfare 3, whenever I get around to playing it.

[1] I finished over the course of a single weekend!

Halo 4

Remember that time when I played Halo 3 and called it a science fiction trilogy? So it turns out that a new studio got their hands on the property and made a new game, so, trilogy no more I suppose. To get the obvious parts out of the way, gameplay is identical to the previous games, so if you liked those, you should ought to like this too. I reckon that the same is true for multi-player, but I haven’t hit it up yet, so I cannot say for certain. But the important questions are: new studio? new plot entry in an already complete story? seriously, someone thought this was a good idea?

Except, in contravention of all known wisdom on the topic, this may be the best Halo of all of them. It’s like, yeah, the new story absolutely relies on everything that has gone before and would never work as a standalone tale, and what has gone before is a pretty cool story that had lots of highs and lows and dramatic tension and tragedies and triumphs, and I stand by all the good I’ve ever said about it. But Halo 4 relates two very personal, small-scale struggles, and it wrestles on multiple fronts with a question as old as the very genre of science fiction itself, what does it mean to be human?

There’s also an entirely serviceable sci-fi plot to hold up these philosophical delvings, about which I’m glad, because you have to have a working plot, and a working plot about the historical forebears of all the cool tech floating around in the galaxy is always of interest. But mostly this game was about the emotional resonance for me, and I have not had this much investment in a specific videogame outcome but a handful of times previously. (Aeris in Final Fantasy VII, the shocking climax of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and my fierce protectiveness of Tali in the Mass Effect games are all I can think of.) Honestly, there’s a specific line of dialogue that haunts me days later, and I don’t think any of the others have managed that. (Aspects of the Portal games haunt me too, but not in the same way.)

Duke Nukem Forever

I have not and almost certainly will not sample the multiplayer, but without further delay, here are the things that are good about the Duke Nukem game that only came out 12 years later, and in so doing has done more than anything to support the idea that we will in fact mostly all be dead in 11 months:

1) The graphics are really pretty okay. Sure, some of them add to the discomfort of c) below, but by and large, they are entirely modern. And since they had special bonuses of footage from previous versions when they thought they’d be releasing by 2000 at the latest, I can assure you that’s a relief.
2) There were occasional in-jokes at other shooters, not quite to the level of parody most of the time, but I still appreciated them. The moreso, I expect, because of how little I appreciated any of the other humor.
3) The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect it to be, which, cool, that’s all I was looking for anyway. The days of FPS innovations are mostly over.

Here is what was wrong with Duke Nukem Forever:

a) Load times between levels are 60-90 seconds. Load times between levels at all is pretty egregious in this enlightened age of seamless travel, but that much delay? Horrible and a half. Plus also, it takes just as long to load to the spawn point after you die, which is twice as bad. I know that they know time passed since 1999, because I’ve seen the graphics updates. So, man, what the fuck?
b) You can only carry two weapons at a time. I guess, okay, that everyone does that now, or at least limits you in some way, but this game hearkens back to the “choose your weapon from 0-9” school of thought, and if they’re going to stay so “traditional” in other ways, why screw me here?
c) The misogyny. I thought I knew. I thought, okay, there will be some uncomfortable interactions with strippers that would get a real person kicked out of an actual strip club, and there will be more girls in alien cocoons asking to get killed and you kind of have to because if not aliens burst out of them and they die anyway, but now there are aliens to fight, and I didn’t love that in Duke Nukem 3D, but still, it was a callback to Aliens, and it was uncomfortable there, so, okay. The reality, though… so, there are still cocoon girls, but they aren’t world-weary and in pain, begging to be spared what is to come. They’re bemoaning how much jäger they had last night and how they feel funny as a result. Plus also, I think he kind of ruined the idea of getting a blowjob while playing video games for me. It never seemed so one-sidedly ooky in my head. Perhaps it’s because in my head there aren’t twins, and even if there are, I’d have the capacity to call them something other than “Babes”, especially when addressing them.

Stopping alien invasions at the Hoover Dam is fun, it is. But, I reckon probably not worth it, y’all.

Portal 2

A handful of years ago, a game came out that did something entirely new in the genre of first-person shooting. This was not a surprise in the scheme of things, Valve having been long known for such innovations.[1][2] But the degree of new was pretty surprising. Sure, the Half-Life games have always had an element of puzzle solving, but Portal was purely puzzle solving in a way that forced you to think of spatial relationships and three-dimensional physics as you had never done before. And it had a great deal of humor and plot crammed into its several hours of gameplay. Now, I can’t say a whole lot about Portal 2, but I’ve figured that I can almost certainly say more than most reviews I’ve seen, which are that it’s amazing and you should play it and anything else would be a huge spoiler.

Mind you, I am saying a good deal of that, I’m just working my way around the last part. Since it’s my job to, and all.[3] So, basically, in the recently-updated ending to Portal, you are dragged off by robots at the conclusion of your apparently-not-so-successful-as-all-that escape from the Aperture Laboratories facility. After a non-specific but implied period of time passes, you wake up and some brief plot occurs, followed by a nod to people who never played the original or who haven’t in a very long time, in which you learn controls and physical concepts. And then, well, then you are launched down a rabbit hole full of history, psychology, morality, and, just like last time, really a lot of puzzles and humor. And all manner of troubling revelations, also just like last time. And, well, okay, there’s a lot of just like last time to this game, although rest assured that the puzzles and the plot alike have significant updates as well. The point is that it’s not a brand new game that will leave you amazed nobody ever did this before.

It is, however,  the best interactive story I’ve ever seen, from both the interactive and story sides of that equation separately. The fact that they’ve been joined into one game? I guess it’s like this. I don’t imagine it’s the best game that will ever be made, and I would easily accept arguments from people saying the first game is better; it’s all down to taste and what you want from your experience. But I cannot imagine a way that a game named Portal 2 could have been better than this one. As best I can tell, it is entirely without flaw.

And if you care about the mythology of that shared dystopian future world (which I do), I was impressed anew today by how I can take a joke line about the Black Mesa research facility from the first game’s closing song and both extrapolate very nearly precisely when Portal occurred in the shared timeline of the multiple game series and also a good deal of information about… well, and there’s that rabbit hole full of spoilers again. Because I actually don’t want to provide the hint about what else I was able to determine from that line of song, lest it simultaneously hint at events in the game you might otherwise never have anticipated. Because seeing this stuff cold? It has always been the best way. The point of this closing digression, I think, is that I expect more insights into both this game and the world of shared games as I think more about it all. And also, there’s an entirely separate two-player cooperative Portal experience that I have yet to touch. But I wanted this review while things were still very fresh; if there’s enough innovation or storyline revelation to warrant it, I’ll just have to revisit the game with another review sometime in the uncertain future.

[1] For innovating the way storylines and characters are handled in the genre, there’s the original Half-Life.
[2] For innovating the ways in which you can interact with the random detritus of your environment, look no further than Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun.
[3] And anyway, if I can’t work my way around seemingly-insurmountable obstacles in a review about a game derived from Portal? I’m clearly doing something wrong.

BioShock 2

It’s been rather a long time since I finished a game, though thankfully not as long as it’s been since I finished BioShock. All the same, definitely too long. But over the past few weeks and culminating in an enforced snow day on Tuesday, which is slightly ironic when you consider that I never bothered to get the plasmid that lets you freeze people into ice sculptures, I played its unimaginatively-named sequel, BioShock 2, to completion. It seems overly harsh to proceed by saying that “unimaginative” was a convenient choice of word since it can serve double duty by also describing the gameplay, which has a few cosmetic changes but nothing especially new. Honest, yes, but harsh; and I think that feeling of harshness stems from the part of my brain saying, “well, it’s a sequel, of course the game play is the same. That would be like complaining that Halloween II had a tall guy in a mask who went on a murderous rampage while trying to schedule a family reunion![1]”

If, like me, you accept my brain’s premise there, the really important question is, how does the game rate on the basis of plot and theme? And the answer to that is a little complicated. BioShock, as you may remember, was unapologetically cruel to the objectivist philosophy described by Ayn Rand. Or, depending on your perspective, it was compellingly accurate about the end results of objectivism run amok. BioShock 2 seems on the surface to be written as apologism for that cruelty. At least, the simultaneously cartoonish and ham-fisted portrayal of Sophia Lamb as Andrew Ryan’s philosophical nemesis reminded me so much of the strawmen used by Terry Goodkind throughout his Sword of Truth series that I assume the main point of BioShock 2 was apologia.[2] “That doesn’t sound complicated at all,” you are no doubt thinking. And you’d be right, except that there are moments of real brilliance (mostly in the end game[3]) that shine through that muck and leave me considering aspects of both the original and this game all over again in that light. So, yeah. Complicated.

[1] Insofar as, y’know, of course he did, that was the whole point of it being a sequel.
[2] There is every chance that this is a real word, and a slightly lessened but still significant chance that I’ve just used it correctly.
[3] And therefore firmly in the territory of spoilers. See the ROT13 comment I’ll leave by tomorrow for more detail.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Three years ago and more, I played the original Condemned game. Creepy homeless people, a serial killer, crime scene investigations… fun, scary times! So, anyway, turns out there’s a sequel. Condemned 2 is every bit as creepy, with all the angry homeless people and new bonus extra-creepy people who have bizarre mouth and body-modifications. Not to mention hallucinatory slime people and evil animated dolls and all manner of bad times. The story part of the game is… well, pretty silly? See, the same characters from the previous game are back: Agent Ethan Thomas has turned to the bottle after his successful crusade to take down Serial Killer X resulted in no body, no proof, and a long-term suspension. His lab contact Rosa is doing fine, but the wealthy Malcolm Van Horn is being hunted by… a secret society. That has sinister plans for Agent Thomas.

On the one hand, yay for explaining all the crazy homeless people, probably better than the first game did. On the other hand, changing from a serial killer series to a conspiracy series without so much as a how-do-you-do is just a bizarre choice. One that will work better, I think, if there’s no third game. Really, the story thing isn’t a complaint per se. The game was scary and that’s what I was looking for. My complaint, if one is needed, is that it was entirely too short. Well, and there was maybe not quite enough studying crimes while nervously watching over a shoulder for a well-wielded pipe wrench. …yeah. Okay. Scary enough or not, it just wasn’t nearly as good as the last one. Oh, well.

Halo 3

It occurs to me to state for the record that I did finally finish playing Halo 3. A few weeks ago, I guess? I forgot it was a noteworthy event, as it happens. The Halo games, as you may or may not be aware (but probably you are), chronicle a three-way war between humans (led by Master Chief, a genetically improved guy in a big metal powersuit), um… a confederation of aliens that I distinctly recall having a name that escapes me at the moment (led by religious fanatics), and the Flood (about whom the less said the better in the unlikely event that you care about spoilers for a game that is almost a decade old). The war is fought in a variety of places, but mostly on giant terraformed rings called Halos which figure prominently in the fates and histories not only of the aliens and the Flood, but of the galaxy itself.

In this game, a first-person shooter like the others, you control the Master Chief as always, and up to three other players in co-op play, which at the time was pretty new. Other games have made good roads into that space in the meantime, but, that’s how it goes. And you continue to fight against the other two sides of the war and try to save the galaxy and all. Also, there’s some pretty fantastically customizable multiplayer components to the game.

Despite the disinterested tone of the review, it really is a great game. It doesn’t have quite the strength of storyline of Halo 2, but the game play is equivalent and probably improved, so, decent tradeoff. If it weren’t for the fact that the game play in the original game was iffy, I could unreservedly recommend the whole trilogy as a pretty good sci-fi yarn wrapped around finding a bunch of guns and using them to kill things. Which, I mean, they’re aliens. That’s why they’re on the screen!