Archive for November, 2006

Little Savages 2

I just want to record this, the time I was second on the scoreboard.

I doubt I’ll hold the spot for long and then it’s down, down, down…

Gears of War (360)

Not first impressions, this is second impressions.

The first impressions, you see, weren’t that great. Oh, they were good, very good, but there was no sense that this was a great game, a future classic or a system seller. It looked nice, yes, but the controls felt clunky and the gruff space marine voice-overs, while providing much amusement, made me feel about twenty years too old for the game. First up, as is usual, I played through the tutorial. I died several times in the process, but I did have it set on the “Hardcore” difficulty setting so I don’t feel too bad about that. I then played through a bit more of the early game, taking cover, shooting aliens, dying a lot and wishing the controls let me do what I wanted to do, instead of sending me off in odd directions.

When I turned off the game to make dinner my wife asked me if it was good and I said “yes”. She then asked if it was as good as I’d hoped it would be and I said “no”. I felt satisfied with the game, but disappointed. I’d expected that, though, as my expectations had been stupidly high.

A pause for dinner, then back into the action. It immediately seemed to make more sense. Not just to my brain, but to my hands. I wasn’t rolling instead of taking cover, I wasn’t moving out of cover seemingly at random… or at least, not as often and not randomly. I could quickly do what I needed to do and everything just felt smoother. I guess it was partly down to being more comfortable with the controls, but it was at least partly down to getting into the right mindset for the game, knowing what I wanted to do and how the game would process my inputs.

Take cover. Don’t move out of cover blindly. Don’t aim unless it’s safe. Just keep down. And, for God’s sake, look for flanking opportunities. That’s the most important thing. Flank those bastards.

I was still dying over and over again. But I didn’t mind. This is Halo again, combat evolved, where every fire fight is a set piece and the fun comes from the playing, not the progressing. This isn’t a sight-seeing tour through a virtual world, this is a game. (Which isn’t to say it doesn’t look great – it really does – but the progression isn’t the point, the fighting is the point.)

The greatest moment in the game so far? Crouching down behind a wall in a ruined room in what was once a grand old building as an enemy turret fired just over my head and hearing a piano explode behind me as the bullets meant for me slammed into and through it…

…But that’s a lie. Sorry. That was just the greatest single player moment. I tried multiplayer as well. I jumped into a quick ranked match and chose to be on the side of the locusts. (As is the way of things, they look much, much cooler than the good guys. Less armour, more cloth, great big teeth and terrible skin. I think I want to be one when I grow up.) We started off outside an old house that had seen better days. The kind of spooky, ruined house kids would dare their friends to walk up to and just touch – because entering would be unthinkable, even in daylight.

And it was raining. And somehow, despite being almost devoid of colour, the house, the cloth flapping from my teammates’ waists and the rain all added up to one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a videogame.

It was – and I really don’t say this lightly – it was up there with leaving the castle in the Ico demo and walking out into the sunlight.

Then we were off, running towards the house. I followed a teammate, but lost him, found myself alone. Using cover, moving slowly, hearing firefights far off, inside the house. Unintentionally, I’d come up to the enemy from behind. Not sure if I killed anyone that first round, but I helped.

Soon I’d discovered I had a shotgun and I’d learned the layout of the small but perfectly-formed map. Two very important things.

I worked with a teammate to take down a sniper crouching behind an old sofa at the top of some stairs. I didn’t have my headset, so I couldn’t speak, but it’s one of those games where you don’t really need to. You know what needs to be done and you do it, instinctively working together.

The sides were evenly matched in numbers, but not skill, and my team won the match, getting to five wins first. I was the worst player on my team, but not by a lot and I got enough kills and downs to feel pretty pleased with myself.

It was glorious. I want to remember that match for ever.

The second match couldn’t and didn’t live up to it. Firstly, it took me about five minutes to get into another match. Then it was two against four and I was one of the two, which really showed up my weaknesses – the primary one being a weakness to chainsaws being forced into the back of my head. It was still great fun – the one kill I did get felt like a real victory – but it didn’t reach the same heights. It was a first-to-ten wins match and after the first couple of rounds it was obvious how each round was going to go. I did feel some comradeship with my single teammate, though, and by the last couple of rounds we were really working well together. (The map wasn’t as good, either, for the record. Just a square room with spawn points either end and various bits of cover lying around.)

You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned lag. Simple reason – there wasn’t any that was visible to me in either match. End of story.

After the multiplayer it was back for a bit more single player and then and end to the night’s play.

So, then, that’s Gears of War. On turning off for the night I told my wife that I’d changed my mind: it was as good as I hoped it would be.

And I’ve not even tried campaign co-op yet… or got tired of putting on a silly voice and saying, “Hey, I’m big gruff space marine. Shit.”

The Boss Commandments

1) Bosses must not have any unskippable cut scenes before the fight, though pre-fight animations of under seven seconds are allowed.

2) It must be possible to save directly before any boss fight in any game where progression, not scoring, is the main indicator of success.

3) All boss attacks must be avoidable, though games with character customisation can make this harder or easier based on the skills/equipment chosen by the player.

4) If the battle is based around finding weak spots, the number of times the boss’s weak spot must be hit must always be three, no more, no less.

5) If the battle is based around doing a certain amount of damage, the boss must have a health bar or equivalent way of seeing damage being taken (i.e. armour that falls off when attacks connect).

6) The player must never take damage due to an attack they couldn’t see because the camera got stuck behind a crate/wall/etc.

7) In a game with energy/hit points no attack should be able to kill the player in one hit.

8) Bosses must never be allowed to heal themselves fully when nearly dead, though partial healing is allowed.

9) Boss fights should always reward tactics, cunning and creativity over mere endurance.

10) All bosses must be killable in less than five minutes, though fights can take longer when players are unskilled, unsure or underpowered.