As blue-collared space miner John Rochard, Rochard provides the player with a gravity-tractor beam, a simple blaster, and the means to manipulate environmental gravity with the push of a button. The game starts with Rochard’s mining team being under pressure to get results and then scoring a big find on an asteroid when disaster strikes; the initial goal is to rescue Rochard’s team members and save the day. When it stays on target Rochard is an entertaining 2D sidescroller with enjoyable platforming combat and decent puzzle-solving mechanics. The problem is that Rochard isn’t always as laser-focused as it could have been.
As weird as it was to contemplate, Saints Row: The Third reminded me that there are few things more amusing than first dates. Both parties tend to go all-out to highlight themselves as being as hip, cool, funny, sexy, or whatever as possible. To further this endeavor, they will also hide blemishes, hold in farts, wear expensive clothes disproportionately out of line with their normal lifestyle – obviously people will lie to impress others. Videogames (especially with demos) are generally designed with the same principle in mind: convince the player that there is a wonderful experience here worth their time, money, and emotional investment, even if that means misrepresenting the truth to some degree. This practice of selling a not-so-accurate package is tolerated, especially since most videogames (like dating relationships) aren’t really that serious, but the hiding of the truth can lead to complications and disappointment as time goes on.
For my tastes, a videogame without a compelling narrative has much ground to make up; one with a plot that expects to be taken seriously despite treating its story as anything but (see Portal 2) is a borderline affront to everything I hold dear. There’s seemingly little substance and even less dignity in a videogame like Saints Row: The Third that glorifies gangsta culture and has players driving prostitutes around with clients in the backseat of the car, or rescuing strippers from shipping containers on a rival gang’s barge. By all rights Saints Row: The Third is to videogames as some airhead model with more invested in silicon or steroids than education is to people, but Saints Row isn’t even trying to pretend to possess a high school diploma.
While playing Metro 2033 I couldn’t help but compare it to Mark Twain’s novel Huck Finn. Racial themes aside, the rail system in Metro 2033 serves exactly the same purpose that the Mississippi river fulfills in Finn, in that it leads the protagonist to varied situations and characters that provide insightful commentary about our real world. Like the Mississippi, the metro system is wondrous and hazardous, but manageable when respected, and the further that the player moves away from the rails the worse and more dire the presented situations become. While the metro environment can be dangerous, the people on and around the system prove to be much more so, to the point that the confined, claustrophobic tunnels feel much safer than the husk of Moscow which can only be explored from the safety of a tight-fitting gas mask. Continue reading
Monday Night Combat (MNC), by Uber Entertainment, is the smartest competitive multiplayer game to come out in recent years, and I love it. In a nutshell, it’s a class-based, third-person shooter combined with elements of tower defense, with the ultimate goal being to destroy the other team’s moneyball, which can only be made vulnerable initially by AI bots. Leveling up increases skill potency and passive class stats like health, and is managed with currency earned by destroying AI bots, taking out other players, or picking it up as drops. Heck, even doing fully animated and non-offensive taunts instead of the time-old and immature tradition of teabagging your foes pays off. Each class has a purpose and utility, and each skill has valid uses and situations in the game that they were designed for. If you don’t want to invest in your skills for the match, you can bolster base defenses by purchasing and upgrading turrets, buy a wave of class-specific bots to assault the opposing base, or spend your money activating environmental hazards to harm enemy players or destroy bots on the map. There is always something productive to do other than out-twitching or out-headshotting the folks on the other team.
One team can be dominating in terms of kills, but they’re oftentimes doing so at the cost of maintaining map control and escorting their own bots to the enemy base and opening it up to be attacked; it’s not uncommon for a team doing this to ultimately lose despite employing a strategy that would bring them victory in almost any other competitive game. An assassin can be obsessed with chasing backstabs, and they might be really good at it (which is unlikely), but they’d be much more effective sneaking around and creating openings for their team to exploit, or wiping all the enemy bots off the map with the environmental Annihilator attack. Conversely, a support player can deploy their turret near the Annihilator to keep enemies away, while periodically dropping air strike attacks on the activation switch to deny it to the other team until a teammate with the spare cash can activate it.
Ghost Trick is the Inception of videogames; it creates a concept of hopping from objects and going back in time for a few minutes and then bases the whole of the game and everything the player does around these simple concepts, while exploring them from multiple, sensible angles to keep things fresh and fun. The mastery of how the system developed for Ghost Trick works, and coupled with an engaging mystery that raises more questions as the game progresses makes Ghost Trick a fun experience that feels just right in terms of difficulty, if not a tad too short.
Compared to the previously developed Phoenix Wright series, Ghost Trick makes several necessary improvements to the adventure game formula. The biggest structural change is that the player is actively participating in events instead of trying to recreate them from evidence and witness testimony. Playing as a ghost detective and saving somebody’s life by modifying a sequence of events is much more satisfying than merely bringing their killer to justice. Additionally, there’s no “life bar” that punishes the player for experimenting differently than the game designers intended or freely guessing. Instead, failure is often times a learning experience and restarting a sequence is simple, painless, and built into the system of the game itself.