Friday, September 19, 2008

Reviewer Unleashed!

Okay, I got a copy of the Force Unleashed, and I'm gonna whine about it.

Short review: Oh, look, another game where lightsabers don't cut shit and you suck! But with added quicktime events, because we don't want you to have any fun!

Long review: Wait, I played this game already. On this console, even. Except it was called Conan.

Except in Conan, your mana didn't refill as fast. This was okay, because fighting was fun. Conan was, of course, absolutely ruined by the idiotic quicktime events that happen at every point. Quel coincidence!

So, I haven't played the Force Unleashed for too terribly long just yet. I stopped when I got shot to death by a race that's not supposed to have fucking ranged weapons. So far, it's not very good. Their much-vaunted physics/animation system is... um... pointless? Not terribly interesting? The ability to throw shit at other shit doesn't really support very much gameplay. It's kind of fun for a bit, but it gets pretty repetitive.

The rest of the game is cookie-cutter action game. Your character might as well be Kratos, except that your melee combat is really dull and there are no really awesome boss battles. Just really boring ones.

Now that I've ranted, let's see what the average score is from the rest of the world... Reviewers seem to rate it as a high six or low seven, players seem to rate it as a high eight. I can only assume this is because reviewers are smarter than fanboys.

A lot of people talk about how pretty it is, which is true to a point. Boy, I sure would have liked them to think about using lights other than "ambient standard". I also liked how their cutscenes tend to use in-game animations, meaning walking so wooden and lock-step it's painful. The story might be good, but there's a whole lot of quicktime events between here and there, so it's going to be irritating.

Whine whine bitch moan. When did the rebels get shocksticks that can block lightsabers? Why does my lightsaber do a fraction of someone's HP in damage instead of, say, cutting them in half? For that matter, why can't I cut anyone in half? It's a big part of my Sithy ideal. Force grip, check. Cut people in half, not check. You see, that'd be straying from the cookie-cutter action-game mold, and they'd actually have to start thinking about balance and fun, instead of stamp-stamp-stamping down levels.

I'm always depressed by the new Star Wars games because Force Powers are depicted as, basically, D&D magic spells. Unleashed's push-physics is a step in the right direction, but let me explain to you what's missing from all of these titles:

The Force.

Whoa-ho, you know, it flows through all things, you can sense it, feel the Force, be one with the Force, trust the Force...

The Force can be more than just magic spells. In fact, in all the various Star Wars stuff (canon and otherwise) we see people on both sides doing a lot more with the Force than we do in these games. Stuff that seems insignificant until you think about just how cool it would be in a game.

For example, it's common for Force users to jump off something high and land on a moving vehicle. It's common for Force users to sense other Force users. And, hey, saber combat isn't about stringing together combos, it's about using the Force to guide your blade. Let's not mention the whole redemption/falling stuff, which is always simplified to a painfully childish level.

Here's a thought experiment: this is a Star Wars game very similar to the Force Unleashed. Except we'll start as completely untrained, and it's in black and white.

As we train up, colors are added. But they aren't the "true colors": they're representations of various ways of seeing the Force. So, when we learn to see the Force in all living things, we see all living things limned in, say, green. The further away they are, the more stuff in the way, the foggier and fuzzier the lining is. The halo sparks and fizzes based on the personality of the life form: a Sith would have delightfully sparky halo, while a Jedi might have one that is a gentle rivery-type effect.

When we learn to see opportunities - to "trust in the force" - we see a fog that flows towards important things, and bunches and swells with timing opportunities. So if we're standing in a corridor on a space base, we see a slight fog being sucked down the garbage shaft, or chugging in clumps towards the edge, where platforms are moving by beneath.

There could be a system for sensing raw Force, for sensing connections in the Force, for sensing danger, for sensing the future...

The idea being that, by the end of the game, you are experiencing a radically different environment than a non-Jedi. You can tell that people are going to shoot at you when you turn the corner, because you can see the red streaks that represent danger. You can tell when to jump off the cliff, because you can sense when the ship's going to drop by. You can track down another Jedi, because you can see his distinctive glow even from space.

I understand this kind of thing is difficult (especially to not make it overwhelming), but it is really any more difficult than the advanced physics and AI Unleashed uses?

To be honest, I'll gladly stick with shit-tastic Light Side powers if I can have the Force overlays.

What do you think? Have any of you played it?

Edit: Having played more of this game, I can safely say that I wouldn't have even given it a 6.


tensai said...

An interesting idea that struck me deals with using overlay perception as a challenge of the game itself, or even as a difficulty level; e.g. on Easy, the overlays are very observable, and decrease in visibility as the difficulty increases, providing subtle encouragement to pay more attention to the game.

Craig Perko said...

I'm actually thinking that they're skills, and that they can be turned up or down. For example, you normally don't want to be able to feel a jedi on a faraway planet - it would be a bit distracting. But you can amp up the volume to get it clear. The clarity - not the volume - is affected by your skill.

That's how I thought it, at least. :)

Brog said...

I really like this idea.

Probably the most moving gaming experience I've had was in a Splinter Cell game, I think Pandora Tomorrow, where

(spoiler warning)

the voice in your ear tells you to shoot someone who's just been helping you. I didn't take any time to think, I just did an instant evaluation of "I trust the voice in my ear more than I trust the woman in from of me" and shot her without hesitation. I was quite shaken by it afterwards, because I'd just obeyed without thinking and killed someone who'd never shown me any hostility, and in fact had just been helping me.

(end spoiler)

I think your jedi game could feel a bit like this, but less chilling. You are trusting in the force, believing in what you cannot see, and acting on it. If you're being chased near a cliff edge and suddenly the force flashes a safe colour over the cliff edge, you should know instantly that this means it is safe to jump off it RIGHT NOW and do it without hesitation, because in a seconds time it might no longer be safe. You don't know how it's going to be safe, there could be a dozen different possiblities, it could lead you into new difficulties which you'll have to deal with when you come to them, but you know it'll work out fine. It could almost give a sort of religious feeling (Jedi is a religion after all, right?), you are trusting in the force to take care of you provided you obey it blindly. This is all very light-side, of course. I'd love to play this game.

Craig Perko said...

Yes, you have the idea exactly! :D

DmL said...

I've not played it mostly because a bending-wall-panels simulation sounds like less fun than a train simulation.

Craig Perko said...

Upon having beaten it, I can definitely say that you are right.

TickledBlue said...

Love the idea of visually communicating the force via the fog and halo concepts. I also liked the feedback you got while lockpicking in Thief 3 - where the lock would rattle and shake the closer you got to the 'right' point. With rumble and force feedback being so prevalent I like the idea of being able to provide vibration (with enough fidelity maybe even pulling your joystick/controller in a set direction) as well as visual and audio cues.

Only being devils advocate here, but doesn't brog's suggestion of:

"If you're being chased near a cliff edge and suddenly the force flashes a safe colour over the cliff edge, you should know instantly that this means it is safe to jump off it RIGHT NOW and do it without hesitation, because in a seconds time it might no longer be safe."

seem a little like a quick time event?

I'd also argue the whole religion thing, but my memory of the Star Wars 'verse is poor, I always thought it was 'outsiders' who referred to the force as a religion... of couse that's probably true of any religion, I wonder if Catholic priests refer to their beliefs as religion?

Craig Perko said...

There's a huge difference between the quicktime events and the fog... I'll actually write a full post about that.

Whether "Jedi" is a religion or not is basically irrelevant to the concept, but it's clear that the Jedi are as affected by and adherent to their philosophy as any religious people and their religion.

Smashmind said...

I hate it when games do this sort of stuff. In cutscenes they show your guy jumping off buildings in single steps and running faster than cars and chucking some dude's skull a mile away, but when you get to the gameplay, you get a pants-on-head retarded (Coined by Yahtzee) character who's attacks don't do crap.

Craig Perko said...

I can only assume they do it because they don't know how to balance a game that uses weird new game play. Actual light saber effects would require them to throw away virtually every aspect of their standard action-game model, and they're scaaaared.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your analysis of the game. When I first played I could not figure out how it was possible that I could do specific combo and cut a chicken-walker in half with my lightsaber, but three hits with it was not quite enough to kill the stormtrooper? Decapitations and dismemberment should have been the bread and butter of the lightsaber combat. I love your idea about the force visuals by-the-way.