Sunday, 15 September 2013

Bioshock Infinite

I remember when I met the film director Quentin Tarantino we spoke about the film Jackie Brown and his belief that the film was more fun to watch the second time round because you were freed of your obligation of having to follow the plot and could just enjoy the dialogue between the characters.

Actually now that I think about it that might just have been a DVD extra I watched.

Anyway the point is that on an initial run through I found my feelings while playing Bioshock Infinite fluctuated somewhere between enjoyment, boredom and feeling rather overwhelmed.  On a second play through its difficult not to praise the scope of the game’s ambition, even if ultimately the much hyped story gets rather confused and the world it creates is not quite as immersive as it could have been.

There are undoubtedly moments of highly polished gameplay, although these sit alongside the occasional incomprehensible moment that might have been clever in the late 90s but now sticks out like a sore thumb.  To be honest once I’m hurling fireballs through the air and riding a skyline firing rockets at motorized automatons of George Washington that can be conjured into existence out of thin air then my excitement threshold has already been stretched to a level that is unlikely to be exceeded by every toilet in the game excitedly telling me “PRESS SQUARE TO FLUSH!”

The skyrails themselves are an original idea but poorly integrated.  You need to be looking in exactly the right place to use them and this is almost impossible to do quickly.  When the difficulty steps up this makes them at best redundant and at worst frustrating as you are repeatedly battered to death while apparently frantically studying every inch of the world above you.

I also encountered as many bugs with this game, which received universal praise from critics, as I did with Aliens Colonial Marines, which was universally panned for being bug ridden (no pun intended). 

Which makes me seriously question just how much in the pocket of the manufacturers the games journalists really are.

For those of you who are au fait with this concept feel free to skip ahead.

Games magazines and ‘independent’ games websites have huge influence over the video game market. Websites that review video games and give the illusion of independence are many people’s first port of call to catch up on the latest games news because they have the most recent trailers, appear top of Google’s search engine hitlist, and publish the first reviews.

In practice should a bad review be written by one of these websites then the company responsible for the game can withhold future demo releases from the website, refuse to give them trailer videos and so on.  The effect of this is that the reviewing website won’t have the latest news, reviews or videos and people therefore won’t go to their website which causes a drop in website hits, the reduction of advertising on the site and the collapse of the website.  Even simpler than this the games manufacturer might not pay the website their annual ‘supportive’ donation.

I will no doubt in future wax lyrical about Deus Ex, Fallout 3 and Knights of The Old Republic and I would like to thank the billion dollar behemoths responsible for those games for sponsoring me during a recession in an industry which is not exactly known for its financial rewards.

And obviously expecting a balanced review of a PS3 game in PS3 Magazine is like trying to decide whether you should buy a Honda Civic by reading the brochure.

To be fair Bioshock Infinite isn’t the best example of this I could have picked.  If you liked the previous instalments then there’s a fair chance you’ll like this one.  I base this on the fact that I thought the others were alright and I’d say the same about this one too.  A better example of an awful game given rave reviews would have been something like Final Fantasy XIII, but the thought of having to replay that snoring festival of horse piss still keeps me awake at night.

Bioshock Infinite just doesn’t feel like quite the immersive experience that the game is striving to be.  For example I had moments where every time I crossed an invisible ‘new area’ line, the enemies around me would inexplicably pop in or out of existence.  Which just reminds me that I’m playing a game that is essentially a series of hoops I’m expected to jump through as opposed to a living breathing world I can pretend I inhabit.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it then does it make a sound?

Well if I knew it didn’t then I would have much less interest in the world around me wouldn’t I?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Halo 4

I like art.

I also like oxygen and the smell of my own farts.

Halo 4 at times feels like walking through an art gallery – albeit one full of hideous alien creatures firing plasma rifles at you.  Games like this can sometimes become a sensory overload of stunning visuals and fast paced gameplay thrown at you too quickly for either to be fully enjoyable.  Take note Assassin’s Creed 3; expecting me to read instructions at the same time as fighting ten enemies in your beautifully rendered environments to a time limit just makes my head hurt.  Thankfully Halo 4 paces itself to give you time to enjoy the spectacle.

Halo 4 is perhaps not as good as previous Halo games, with the exception of Halo ODST which I disliked for reasons I don’t actually remember but possibly because its title sounds like a newly discovered sexually transmitted disease.  A large part of the reason Halo 4 perhaps compares unfavourably to its predecessors is because the new enemy, the Prometheans (yesfuckingreally), just aren’t as much fun to slaughter as the Covenant.  It doesn’t help that they’re all robots that don’t say anything.  I know that listening to those little Covenant twats squealing “Enemy!” was kind of annoying but you know what, at least it gave them character.  Remember how shityourpants scary an SS guard booming at you in Wolfenstein 3D was?  Or the roar of those pink centaur ‘Baron’ fuckers in Doom?

The key success of the Halo series has been founded on slick, fast paced action.  It nails the shooting genre better than anything since the original Doom games and doesn’t try to be anything more.  Halo 4 is comfortable in its own skin while other games have tried to be clever and ape Deus Ex when they have neither the writing talent nor the gameplay mechanics to support such ambition.  For another example of this idea read something I’ve written and then read Milan Kundera.

Halo 4 also has something Doom didn’t have, namely a story, although to someone like me who reads books at about the same speed as it takes a well established television corporation to out known paedophiles, it is fairly baffling.

As far as I could make out the sexy lady Sat Nav in your head is suffering from some sort of AI deterioration called “rampancy” – a fact that she seemed at pains to remind me every 10 minutes.

And in this respect I’ve got to applaud Halo 4 because as far as sexual fantasies go having a symbiotic relationship with an AI who sounds like she could overpower and rape my brain at any second is one that I have neither contemplated nor indulged in.   Yet after the fortieth time of hearing the words “Chief you need to hurry, my rampancy is increasing” I found myself sporting the same type of lustful smirk usually only seen by the most unfortunate girls in my local area.

This Halo round there’s a villain, though you only see him twice before he dies in a horrific quick time event.  SPOILER ALERT!  Oh damn, sorry.  Just as well that telling you the fate of the bad guy at the end of Halo 4 is a bit like telling you what happens to Spot at the end of Spot The Dog i.e.:


The only thing I do remember about the final cut-scene of this game was that it was self-congratulatory, smug and made me feel uncomfortably like I had just walked in on my best friends shagging and made eye contact with them seconds after they’d came.

Oh and we also find out that the character you’ve been playing all this time is called John. 

John Spartan. 

As in the guy out of Demolition Man.

It is most definitely not to the credit of today’s video game writers that I was left pondering if this was a deliberate random name-check apropos of nothing or a genuine case of nobody on the development team having ever watched Demolition Man before.

And I’ve got no problem with the name John being used for mere mortals but why not call this superhero kickass guy something a little more exciting?  Kimbo* for example.

Anyway Halo 4 is pretty good and the bit where you get to hop off and on of an enormous moving Landrover base was so exciting I kept on forgetting to go to the toilet.

Lucky I like the smell of my own farts really.  

*  this is almost certainly what I am calling my son/daughter when I adopt/steal a child as a single parent in the future.  Just a heads up Mum.  Kimbo Cook.  Write it in your diary so you don’t pull a face in 20 years time.