So… not done much blogging lately. In my defence, I’m working full time for PC Gamer now, doing the news updates for their website on a daily basis. Plus, writing blog posts takes ages – especially when compared to NOT writing blog posts, which takes literally no time at all. Still, we’ll soldier on.
Here’s some stuff that I have opinions about…
Dishonored: Dunwall City Trials
I’ve not finished Dishonored yet, mostly because I’m compelled to do each mission in one sitting. When you’re scouring every inch of every street, one mission can easily take around 2 hours, which is a not insignificant time commitment.
On the surface then, the City Trials pack was a great concept. It’s almost certainly not what most people wanted from Dishonored’s inevitable DLC, but short mini-missions make for an ideal counterpoint to a longer consequence-driven campaign structure. Plus it’s a great excuse to piss about with weapons and powers that don’t fit with the way I’m trying to play the main game.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. I haven’t played all the challenges, mostly because one of them involves shooting raining whale oil tanks and who the fuck wants to do that? The others are hit-and-miss in their execution, which makes me wonder why they didn’t try something more focused.
Partly my problem is that I don’t care about races. Dishonored’s mix of blinking and rooftop clambering is great, but it’s in service to stealth – to be pulled off with panache – not something that lends itself to blindly rushing about like a magic Forrest Gump. The only one that really works is the combo drop-stabbing, precisely because time is less important than positioning. The natural route leaves you just short of a 2-star rating. To get more you need to increase your drop height, which means thinking through the surrounding area.
More troubling is that the mansion mission is just outright better than anything else. It’s pure Thief: you’re rated on the amount of tat you steal, and given bonuses for not killing or subduing guards. That gives the game a completely different flavour, and one most people aren’t going to bother with in the campaign itself. You could fill an entire DLC pack with this sort of thing and it would be far more consistent, enjoyable, and, at a guess, much more warmly received. I’m amazed they didn’t.
Far Cry 3
There are three brilliant things in Far Cry 3:
- Outposts: large encampments of pirates that must be cleared out by sneaking around and OH SHIT THERE’S A TIGER!
- Driving through the world, only to run into a patrolling car of pirates and OH SHIT THERE’S A TIGER!
- Hunting, in which you stalk through the jungle looking for your prey – possibly a tiger – and suddenly OH SHIT THERE IT IS! THERE’S THE TIGER! QUICK, KILL IT STAB IT MAKE THE TIGER DIE!
Sometimes non-tiger things happen. They can also be fun… I guess.
It’s a great open world game – one that’s primarily system-driven, gives plenty of scope to tailor your play style and provides loads of possibilities for emergent shit to happen.
It really wants you to know that it’s a game though. It’s like it’s scared of you forgetting it’s a game, in case one day you tell all your friends how many tigers you’ve killed and they’re all, “man, you’ve been killing tigers? What a dick.” Man!
The systems all fit together too neatly. Everything is painfully transparent, and usually accompanied by ENDLESS FUCKING MESSAGES telling you exactly how it all works. There’s no mystery; there’s just a checklist. And as much as enjoy ticking things off of it, it still bothers me.
Presumably Far Cry 2 has a lot to do with this. That game is, for some reason, deeply unpopular, and it’s clear that much of Far Cry 3 has been designed around the complaints made of its predecessor. They’ve gone too far. As much as I enjoyed FC2, I’ll admit the respawning road checkpoints where a pain. Thing is, it wasn’t because respawning baddies are a bad thing. It was because the frequency of checkpoints was slightly too high and, importantly, they didn’t make for particularly interesting fights. The number of guards stationed at each post was too few to require a tactical plan, but too many to be a quick bit of fun between whatever you were actually doing.
In Far Cry 3, you’ll encounter pirate patrols – a few enemies in a vehicle or out in the jungle – fairly regularly. They’re always in numbers small enough to not be a problem, but with the added danger that a firefight could attract more. It gives you the option to pick how involved in the battle you want to be. Ignore them, then lose them on the road; stalk them, using stealth takedowns to dispatch them without incident; or go loud, safe in the knowledge that there’ll be more things to kill soon. This is ace.
But clearing outposts – which is also ace – reduces the number of pirates in that area, and means your own people will start patrolling it too. It’s a direct response to the Far Cry 2 thing – now you’re creating a safe haven in which the pirates don’t respawn so frequently. You feel like you’re progressing, battling back the forces against you. How fucking boring.
There’s now a big chunk of the island in which I barely need to fight anyone. Even if some pirates do show up, there’s almost always some of my guys killing them before I can. Ugh. I’m starting to avoid capturing outposts – a thing I enjoy doing – just because the result will be a bigger area in which not much will happen. That’s pretty stupid.
It’s odd that Waves didn’t become another indie critical darling. It does everything right: hits its (admittedly narrow) scope, looks crisp, plays fluidly, stands out in a packed genre, has a soundtrack that’s… well, tolerable.
I suspect the problem is that it’s so singularly high-score driven. That’s a hard balance to get right, and not one the game can do anything about. Global high-scores are essentially useless for all but the most committed, so continued enjoyment is entirely down to having a group of people to compete against. Certainly I’d only played around four hours before last week and, had I not noticed an upsurge in friends playing it, it’s unlikely I’d have gone back. Beating my own score is a bit too onanistic. Even for me.
But! Friends! Playing it! That meant my high-scores were in jeopardy!
They were – they are – and that’s great. There’s little as good as the challenge/response of a proper score attack game when matched with a group of people with a similarly improving skill level. It’s also pretty rare for me to find one I’ll commit to. I can think of a few Audiosurf tracks, me and Adam’s unhealthy Joe Danger obsession, and now Waves.
As twin-stick shooters go, it’s fairly simplistic, but elevated by constant tense risk/reward decisions. Killing things builds a combo, which increases your score and grants a bomb attack every 10 levels. But a charged bomb is fleeting, so to make the most of it, you need to be rushing head first into the enemy. This is a stupid thing to do.
Enemies killed by the bomb also increase your combo, creating more bombs in a chain that can – if you can sustain it long enough – ratchet up your score dramatically. Of course, this means tactically leaving things to kill, so that you can come back to them later in your chain. The best way to do this is to leave the Virus undisturbed. The green cells propagate quickly, and are your best source for a quick combo boost. The downside is they reduce the space in which you can manoeuvre, which can be a problem in a game that’s all about quickly dodging through tight gaps.
Then there’s your base multiplier, which increases as you level up. Except it only increases if you roll over the power-up, which disappears after a short time. Can you guess how many times it appears in the centre of an enemy pack? More score boosts can be had with the one-off x2 bonus you get for killing things at point blank range – obviously a bad idea – or if they die while you’re slowing time.
The time dilation – a limited buffer that slowly recharges – is the trickiest skill to get the hang of, but also where Waves gains the tactical edge needed for a lasting score attack game. Obviously it’s biggest use is to escape from enemies that are on a direct collision course. But use it during bomb chains and the score boost is significant. Do you drain your buffer for instant gratification, potentially sacrificing long term survivability, or save it and hope the extra dodging power will outpace the slower score gain?
Right now I’m topping the Survival leaderboard (which, let’s be clear, is the only one that matters) with 185 million to Craig Lager‘s 142. It was only last weekend that the top score was around 25 million. Shit is escalating. Elliot Metson‘s 9 million Crunch Time score is actually going to be the hardest to dethrone. My clever plan is to pretend that no-one gives a shit about Crunch Time.
Unlike Waves, I don’t really care about Super Hexagon’s leaderboards. The game already has a specifically defined challenge: survive 60 seconds without hitting a wall. Going beyond that just seems a bit redundant.
I also think I might have hit my skill limit. Neither the easiest mode, Hexagon, or it’s slightly harder variant Hexagoner seemed beyond reach. Once you’d learned the possible patterns they could throw at you, it was just a matter of refining, getting more consistent and linking them together in an unbroken run. Challenging, but never impossible.
Hexagonest, however, is a proper cock. None of my usual tricks work: your triangle moves faster than normal, which means looking at the peripheries of the screen, hoping to anticipate what’s incoming, can leave you overshooting the small gap of safety. Concentrate on the centre, though, and the next wave will catch you off guard. It seems pitched just outside of my potential reaction times. I threw myself against its geometric walls for half an hour the other day, and probably averaged a seven second life span. And that was an improvement.
Still, it was fun while it lasted. It proves there’s value in tightly executing something small and focused. Soundtrack’s good, too.