Archive for April, 2010

Uncorrupted, please

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 by paulmontesanti

I like to come to games pristine. Especially if I’m excited about them. I don’t know exactly why this is. Maybe I like to experience something in an innocent way, a way that addresses the game as it is and isn’t spoiled by marketing and the incessant chatter of the internet videogame hive mind. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t work that way very often. If you’re at all interested in gaming and what’s going on in the industry then you’ve more than likely been exposed to the maddening glut of gaming news, rumor, and innuendo that surrounds the hobby.  And that makes an uncorrupted approach to any game as difficult as landing a 757 in a hurricane.

Splinter Cell: Conviction arrives loaded with roughly the amount of baggage that would fit in that 757, so there’s no way that I could possibly pretend to be innocent here. Troubled development? Check. Massive course correction in design? Check. Add to that list the difficulties of changing the basic identity of a franchise that comes pre-loaded with a storied history and you have all the cliches of gaming car crash.

Even after knowing all this, watching trailers, and playing the demo, I still didn’t feel like I really knew what Splinter Cell: Conviction was about. Was it about making the stealth experience of Splinter Cell more fast-paced and deadly? Or was this not really a game in the stealth genre anymore? I wasn’t sure if there was really any reason to call this Splinter Cell. That may seem academic, but with the multi-throated outcry from the old guard regarding the rebooting of the X-Com franchise, it seems clear that people take the history and legacy of a franchise very seriously. So the question arises: Is Splinter Cell still Splinter Cell? My answer: I don’t know.

I would say I’m about two and a half hours in at this point, certainly not a place to make any snap judgements. But I’m already surprised by how much Conviction doesn’t feel like a typical Splinter Cell game. I think a lot of this comes down to basics. For one, Sam runs much faster than he used to. Or at least it feels like that. You push the left stick and if you’re not sneaking, he takes off like a lightning bolt. It’s a basic thing but it underscores the differences in the most basic mechanics. In addition, the whole world is filled with context sensitive actions you can take, mostly based around the cover system: things like jumping over crates, opening windows and doors, etc. Using the cover system becomes second nature quickly, but the wide-open interactivity of the environment somehow makes it all seem… less interactive?

Okay that doesn’t make sense. But the environment does seem less alive to me somehow than in the last games. I miss being able to use computers and throw bottles and all that slightly tangential gameplay stuff. (What a terrible outcome for a developer, by the way. They spent all this time making the environment respond to the cover system, and then some jerk like me comes along and says that all that work somehow makes the game feel “less alive”. Thanks a lot, buddy.)

This version of Splinter Cell is more bloodthirsty than any either. This is the biggest change, for me. One thing that I have always enjoyed about the series is that, even though it is unquestionably a violent game about what amounts to a paramilitary thug running around and stealing things, I’ve always appreciated that the game allowed you to act in slightly less violent ways. In the old games you could knock people out instead of murdering them. (Have you noticed how many reviews of the game mention murder? I think this is a result of the fact that in a stealth game, enemies often rarely get a chance to threaten you before you dispense with them. Running up behind someone, putting your hand over their mouth, and then putting two silenced pistol shots into their back has a much different effect on the player than returning fire from an enemy that already attacked you.) In Conviction, murder is the only option unless you want to completely avoid your foes. I get that Sam is “avenging” the murder of his daughter (play game to understand quotes), but none the less it is a significant change for the franchise.

So the original question: Is it Splinter Cell? So far, I’d have to say no.

The impending supernova of sadness and emotional destruction that is a Bioshock MMO threatens us all

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 by paulmontesanti

http://www.vg247.com/2010/04/14/rumor-2k-working-on-mmo-set-in-bioshck-universe/

Why? What is the purpose? I realize that, at its basest, the focus of all companies is to make money, and I have no problem with that. But how can they be so stupid about it? Does 2k really think that a Bioshock MMO is going to work, or even be successful? I have news for them – it’s not.  I realize that the impulse to leverage a property as critically and commercially successful as Bioshock is strong, but to do so successfully you have to leverage it in arenas that make sense.

The Bioshock MMO will not work. This has nothing to do with the talent of the developers, which I’m sure is considerable. The idea of a Bioshock MMO made anytime in the next 10 years is simply incompatible with success. Here are some reasons:

1. Bioshock, at its very core, is a shooter. You can make a class-based MMORPG set in Rapture but it will  be a Bioshock game in name only. What’s worse, if you try to make an MMOFPS in the same environment your failure will be all the more, because the MMOFPS does not work yet. Why? Latency. It just doesn’t work. Planetside is still the best example, and it wasn’t that great.

2. Even if you make a moderately successful MMO out of the property (let’s say as successful as Warhammer Online) you have irrevocably weakened your brand. The chances of a Bioshock MMO being as successful as its two predecessors (don’t even imagine WoW level success) is virtually nil.

3. People want to visit Rapture, they don’t want to live there. Rapture is opressive and gloomy and fantastically interesting, but it’s not someplace people are going to want to spend a lot of time.

One caveat: Maybe this rumor is untrue. Maybe 2k is planning an MMO-lite or social game with the Bioshock property. These are tangle, reachable goals. But a full-fledged AAA MMO with this property is a bad idea.

New X-Com game from 2k Marin; I crap my pants

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 by paulmontesanti

X-Com

I love X-Com. I love Bioshock 2. I can’t wait to see what 2k Marin does with this property. It’s nice to see smart people take on smart licenses.

The best stealth games of all time

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 by paulmontesanti

Splinter Cell: Conviction is coming out. And now that the reviews are out and people are getting their hands on it, it’s becoming clear that it’s taking the series in a different direction, one at odds with the slow-paced stealth action of the previous titles. I should be getting my copy soon, at which point I’ll be able to find out for myself.

And it makes me nostalgic. So what are the best stealth games of all time? My by no means exhaustive list:

6. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater:  Maybe not a great game, what with its exhaustive and grating plot and dialogue. But there’s a great stealth game in here. It just takes awhile to find it.

5. Splinter Cell: Do you remember playing the first Splinter Cell demo? I certainly do. It was so much fun, featuring emergent and organic gameplay before those things were buzzwords. Throwing bottles at people in the dark was never so much fun.

4. Thief: The grand-daddy of them all and the most influential stealth game ever. Introduced us to Garrett, one of the few legendary protagonists in gaming. Made us all realize how fun it is to sit in the dark and listen to people talk about bears.

3. Deus Ex: Does this even belong on this list? I think it does. A fantastic game where stealth was an option for the player as viable as shooting bad guys in the face with a rocket launcher.

2. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory: Inarguably the best Splinter Cell game of the bunch. Stealth action at its finest on the console. Also the best multiplayer game incorporating stealth by a country mile.

1. Thief 2: What else could be here? An improvement over the original in nearly every way. Expansive levels, wide support for different skill levels, a story that ranks as at least mildly interesting, and perhaps some of the best level design in the history of gaming.

What did I miss? Leave it in the comments.

Richard Morgan loves Halo’s story

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 by paulmontesanti

Richard Morgan, sci-fi/noir author of Altered Carbon and other books, is writer for Crysis 2. He’s also pretty hilarious: after calling Modern Warfare 2 “an immense dissapointment”, Morgan now says that Halo’s story is “bullshit.”

Morgan: “The reason that its fiction doesn’t work has nothing to do with the fact that you don’t get to see Master Chief’s face, it’s because of lines like ‘Okay … I’m gonna get up there and kill those guys.”

For whatever it’s worth, I agree. The nice thing about games, though, is that who cares if Halo’s story sucks? It was pretty irrelevant to me when I playing multiplayer with my friends in college every night and having the time of my life.