Sunday, 31 January 2010

Massively Affected

Blade Runner. Star Wars. Star Trek. What do these Science Fiction juggernauts have in common. A double barrelled name of course.

And now we can add another. Mass Effect. The original game was a solid expedition into outer space, often feeling like a fan tribute to Star Wars with it's creepy re-imagining of "the force" and jedi-like peace keepers of the galaxy. The sequel however is a much improved effort from developer Bioware.

Straight off the game no longer feels like a George Lucas powerpoint presentation. What I infer by this is that the original had such a bad framerate it often devolved into a slideshow during intense combat segments and particularly well detailed environments. No more. Mass Effect 2 flows smoothly from combat to exploration without forcing your console into a fit of whooping coughs.

Character interaction is also miles ahead of it's archaic predecessor, with conversations forcing both parties to interact as they move around the room, a welcome change to the oddly static system of the original. Furthermore conversations can be interrupted with typical gaminess moral ramifications. Is some green alien withholding vital information that you need, fuck him, put a gun to his abnormal little eyes, although expect to receive stern words from your more virtuous companions. In fact, the interrupt system is an example of how Bioware's approach to morality has improved over the years. These dark versus light alignments are a trademark of Bioware RPGs, ever since they ironically created KOTOR. However in Mass Effect 2 they appear to havebeen replaced by a postmodern equivalent. No longer are these two distinctions binary opposites, with the player able to garner both without sacrificing the other. Both moral standings can now grow parallel to one another, with the reasoning that Shepherd (the player) is on a suicide mission, he doesn't always have to play nice.

The game's depiction of a galaxy littered with multiple species is also full of racial subtext. As you progress you realise that not every species appreciates one another, and that extends to you, the human. In fact, dialogue options offer you the chance to become strangely racist yourself. I in particular have noticed my own tendency to help another human isn't always mirrored by my tendency to help a Batarian for example. Perhaps this is a result of my racial discrimination from the Batarians in the game, but whatever Bioware have done, it works.

Performance issues, characterisation and improved combat help Mass Effect 2 massively outclass the original, and that massively impresses me.

Monday, 18 January 2010

How far does the rabbit hole go?

A wise French philosopher/cultural theorist named Jean Baudrillard once made the bold claim that everything in our world is a copy of a copy. An imitation. A fraud. A simulation. Or so I'm told.

With this scent lingering in the vast snow globe that is my pink, spongy brain, I sat down to play my first game of 2010, Darksiders. As titles go, "Darksiders" does very little to actually inform my spry mind of what it is about to experience in the next few hours and does it's best to feel riddled with cliche and juvenility. After all, this is a videogame. With a quick shake of the head I cast aside all aspersions with the best interest of enjoying the game, only to realise that the title was merely a fullstop on the game's inky web of clichedness.

The main character for instance; his name is "War". Who the fuck calls their child "War"? Oh yes that's right, he's one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. My mistake. Jesus.

Moving on, I'm hit smack on the bridge of my nose by deja vu. The game's combat reeks of "Devil May Cry", so much so I must relentlessly apologise to each person unwittingly hit by the stench emitting from my TV. And heck, the apocalypse has happened, now the streets are littered with 3D renders of a 13 year old's sketchbook, ready for me to wage "War" against I presume.

Placing aside the completely unoriginal combat I force myself upon the rest the game has to offer. And boy would it make Baudrillard feel good. Dungeons are identical to Zelda. I presume that once Link reached puberty, he realised the green tunic was a bad look, grabbed some armour (and a cape) to reinstate his masculinity and applied for the apocalyptic horseman job. Superb. Next time he rescues Zelda he wants a fucking blow job.

I could continue with this pessimistic description of what is overall a solid game, but I feel you get the point. The game is cliched, completely unoriginal, blatantly derivative, and yet surprisingly enjoyable, unless you've devoted your life to disproving the works of Jean Baudrillard. In which case you're a tool.

Buy it, play it, but don't be surprised when you see a pair of black cats.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Catalyst

"Arnie! Your very own Pokemon legend is about to unfold! A world of dreams and adventures with POKEMON awaits! Let's go!"

Epic. These words are etched into my brain. Regurgitated through muscle memory. Pokemon (Red) on the Gameboy was not the first game I ever played, however at the time it was by far the greatest. The initial hook of selecting your very own Pokemon, out of 3, was mind blowing. I picked Squirtle, my brother chose differently, fuck him, this was my game, my 6 year old adventure. Epic.

At the time I did not own any pets, although I did have a Blastoise. Raised from level 5 into a bipedal water tank, capable of washing away anything that confronted me.

I took my Gameboy everywhere. Luckily my primary school pant pockets were deep enough to conceal the white plastic block which brought me my enjoyment. I would haul it to restaurant meals and relative's houses. It didn't matter where I went, my Pokemon came too.

The structure was perfect. Defeat 8 other Pokemon trainers and then advance to the Elite 4. At the age of 6, adjectives such as "Elite" were ominous and foreboding, however at the age of 17 seem rather hyperbolic. The structure was so perfect in fact that Nintendo would decide to tediously re-hash it out for over a decade, with no sign of stopping as I write this.

Still, we can look back with the upmost fondness at what was perhaps, to me anyway, the greatest role playing game of all time.