New Adventures in Falling Asleep (also some mini-reviews)

I just woke up from a very detailed dream about playing a computer game. (Yeah, I know it’s two in the afternoon. Don’t judge me.) I wouldn’t post this if it weren’t for the fact that the dream included extremely specific elements from both good and bad games, and I thought that was interesting.

It was a third-person melee/shooter, most of the time, but there seemed to be other gameplay elements. I had two characters based on a small spaceship on a pastoral but violent planet. The spaceship was clearly drawn from my experiences with Space Rangers. The planet itself – I had some kind of relationship with a small group of friendly aliens, and they would give me missions. It was exactly like Fable. They’d post one or two missions, I’d pick one, and off I’d go.

The combat gameplay reminded me a bit of Max Payne, and a bit of Giants, but mostly Bloodrayne. The main character was basically Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, but with Bloodrayne’s blades and Advent Rising’s alien guns. She had a sidekick who was basically a Caligula-style jaded metrosexual Liberty Lad with no apparent armament and not much apparent clothing, but I always left him back at the ship because I didn’t know what the hell his powers were. Something about forcefields and telekinesis, I think. Sorry, Liberty Feyd-Rautha, but chopping stuff up with blades and then shooting it with glowing energy is just more intuitive and all.

The music was pure Space Rangers. The ship theme was – I’m positive – that song from the French master criminal dancing through the lasers in Ocean’s Twelve. The interface overall had a fairly Space Rangers feel – except for the mission selection interface, which, as I’ve noted, was straight out of Fable.

In the dream, I really, really liked the game, and I was eager to see features that I hadn’t seen yet but knew existed. Apparently a large element of the later game was freeform space travel, trading, and combat. When I woke up, I regretted not having it, then remembered I had Winter Assault and was comforted.

Now for the breakdown of the elements from which this dream-game was derived. I use a “Good/Bad” rating system. To be rated Good, a game pretty much has to be great. Enjoyable games can still be rated Bad, especially if they are derivative without being an improvement on a previous game. It’s frankly pretty subjective, but suck it up, because the alternatie is the established rating system.

(Obligatory mocking explanation of the established rating system: I call it the 7-9/4 system. In the first format, 7-9, which in some publications is expressed as 70-90, the game gets a 7, plus one if its budget is high enough – naturally, the marketing budget is included – plus one if it has trademarked words in the title that the reviewer already knows, like “Command and Conquer.” IGN and PC Gamer may add an additional 1 – or 10, since they use the 70-90 variant – but cannot exceed 9, because there might exist, now or in the future, a better game. The 4 system gives every game four stars out of five: one for gameplay, one for sound, one for graphics, one for “fun factor” or “reviewer’s tilt” or “mystery bonus” – pick one according to your publication – and one star withheld, because there might exist, now or in the future, a better game.)

Space Rangers - Good
I can’t afford Space Rangers 2 right now, but the creators have basically encouraged the Western market to warez Space Rangers 1 as a demo for Space Rangers 2. SR1 is a good game except for the fact that I haven’t really gotten the hang of the early game yet and tend to get my ass kicked. The music is great, though. Those unfriendly-looking .dat files will actually play just fine in Winamp.

Fable - Bad
You, sir, are no Baldur’s Gate 2. Or Knights of the Old Republic. Or Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Subtitle. Or any RPG I’ve played recently. Hey, you’re fun for a while, and at least you’re better than Lionheart, but you’re not a great game. Aw, baby, don’t cry… it’s just that I want a little more character customization. A little more depth. A little less cheap boss battles. Seriously, FUCK Maze. I never finished Fable. I killed Jack and then basically set the game down. Killing Jack with a melee character is pretty much the definition of a bitch as the word is used to describe a difficult and frustrating task.

Max Payne - Good
Frustrating at times, especially when you wind up stuck with low health in a dangerous place and no recent saves – and even moreso when that’s your most recent save – but bullet time was great, and I liked the writing (you’ve got to approach it on its own terms), and for months afterwards I’d say “Max Payne! Whack 'im!” to anybody wearing a long coat.

Giants - Good
Shit yes. Never have topless chicks been so badass. The sheer mobility of the Reaper princess was awesome and wonderous. Playing as Kabuto after that kind of sucked. But the chick and the Meccaryns were cool. The overall look of the world was very nice as well. I found it exceptionally refreshing to play a game based on warm, wide-open islands, with not so many sewers and warehouses – Giants came out at the perfect time to be a shooter that DIDN’T take place entirely in corridors. Lots of good, new stuff in Giants that could stand to be repeated elsewhere. And boobs.

Bloodrayne - Bad
I hate to dump on Bloodrayne, which I liked, but it had some really serious problems. My main issue was the melee combat system, which is kind of the focus of the game, so it ought to work damn well. But basically you just clicked the left mouse button and that was the extent of your involvement in the melee combat. It was like fencing in Pirates, but with only one move. Oh wait, sometimes you fed. Two moves. They gave you that spinning kick but it wasn’t very useful except for the very specific noncombat situations which required it (to break down doors and Zelda-esque weak points in walls). Ultimately I found myself comparing the game unfavorably to Oni, which is not a good final judgement. Anybody remember the voice acting in Oni, Shiroko’s in particular? Were they INTENDING to make a “bad dub?” Anyway, the combat was better than Bloodrayne’s, and that’s the main thing. I’d like to think the dream took elements from Oni rather than Bloodrayne, but when the player character has two short blades plus two guns, yeah, that’s Bloodrayne.

Beyond Good and Evil - Good
Loved the comparatively nonviolent feel, especially of the main character, who was a huge step forward. I would much rather play a photographer/reporter/mass adoption specialist than Duke fucking Nukem. The game overall was charming as hell and made me think of Princess Mononoke and other Miyazake films. The gameplay was a nice mix and captured a sort of casual console appeal very well. Those “pirates steal your shit in a cave and you must chase them through a conveniently located racecourse” missions could be infuriating, but eventually I got the hang of them. The game suffered a bit from “tight spots” – tricky situations that you’d have to play over and over again to get right – but not enough to dull my ardor. A great game, a landmark, and something other designers can learn from – assuming they play it. Idyllic. That’s what it was. Why can’t more games be idylls? My dream-game’s (as in “the game from my dream,” not “my hypothetical ideal game”) overall style and attitude owed a hell of a lot to this quality, despite the fact that the actual gameplay was mostly mass evisceration and shooting shit with balls of energy. The main character did not feel like a square-jawed retard or a cheerleader moonlighting as a slasher villain. For the record, I have much less against the latter. I can live with bloodthirsty schoolgirls. But I like orphanage photographers even more.

Advent Rising - Bad
Fun for a while, I suppose, but incredibly derivative. And the writing – what the fuck? I guess Orson Scott Card is a hack now. We should have known – aside from Treason and Ender’s Game, his output has pretty much fallen into the category of “five-book series that starts to suck after the second book and gets progressively worse enough that I never even bother with the fifth.” That first contact shit, where the aliens are all “we are sorry noble human masters, but you will be wiped out in three days” had me cracking up – clearly this was an elaborate alien prank. In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only Crank Yankers. What the fuck was up with all the lame shit in this? Force Powers, weapon proficiencies, and akimbo anything can’t save a game where you re-fight Halo except instead of the Master Chief you have a revolting boy-fop who whines out lines like “I’m sicka people dying for me.” Also some serious apparent plot holes – I didn’t finish the game, so they might have explained some of this, but why, when the main character is getting the powers that are his birthright as a human, his fellow last surviving humans get jack? It pissed me off how he tells that captain chick to wait in the car when they assault the bad guy stronghold on good guy planet – and then she is captured back at good guy central, apparently without a struggle. She knew kung fu when he met her, and she stayed on good guy ship just as long as he did, and they trained him in force powers and whatnot – so why isn’t she a badass too? I can’t save somebody drowning behind a glass wall? I akimbo guns that blow big heavy aliens thirty feet in the air. I break glass with my mind. For their chauvinism and other crimes, the persons involved in these decisions are sentenced to having Andrea Dworkin rise from the grave and jam her bulbous zombie claws up their stupid asses.

Freedom Force - Good
But, you know, duh. Although the expansion was too short. But I liked the system changes it made – the three-bar power thing. Still too short. The original was awesome though. I can’t wait for these guys to visit later eras of comics – if they do an eighties/early ninties X-Men-type game, I’m so there. Really all the dream-game borrowed from Freedom Force was a gay Liberty Lad from the future. So not much there – although if Irrational wants to put a gay Liberty Lad from the future in their next game, they should be advised that I think his powers are force fields and telekinesis, and he definitely doesn’t have guns or knives.

Ocean’s Twelve - Bad
It’s a shame that a movie that attempts so many interesting things isn’t better overall. It’s fairly enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s not great, and in my ratings system, you have to be great to be Good, because there’s enough great stuff out there that you don’t need to watch anything else except by accident. The introduction of the Night Fox at that Euro-cop conference made the needle breakdance on the clichesmograph. The laser dance scene – I thought the movie had already established why it couldn’t be done that way, otherwise our heroes would have just gotten the Chinese guy to do it. And what if one of his stupid earbuds falls out and trips a beam? The beam pattern is semi-random, goddammit. How can he account for the beams he can’t see, which will be moving in a somewhat unpredictable fashion? So like wtf. Also there were about 30 characters that did things important to the plot, and while I favor a move toward ensemble casts, that’s just too many. Ocean’s Twelve desperately wanted to be Snatch or Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. It really wasn’t. It was baldly surreal to see a movie so painstakingly self-aware consistently overlook its own mistakes.

Dune - Good
The book, not the movie or the other movie. I totally never saw any connection between Feyd-Rautha and Liberty Lad before, though. I wonder why not?

There’s not much else out in the RGP space so I’ll probably get it anyway, now that the Lost Chapters pack is out on the PC. Nobody so far has called it outright bad, at least…

Beyond Good and Evil - Good
Loved the comparatively nonviolent feel, especially of the main character, who was a huge step forward.

You don’t own a Nintendo console, do you? I eventually pulled BG&E out of the bargain bin since everyone was raving about it, but found it seriously underwhelming. I’ve played an idyllic photography action-adventure before… it was called Zelda: The Wind Waker and about 20 times better.

Really, if you like games without excessive violence and “edgy” characters you should get a Gamecube. There’s little point waiting for the occasional BG&E to come out on the PS2 while Nintendo is specializing in this stuff.

Fable’s not “bad” outside of my Good/Bad ratings system, which says that only games which are great are Good, and that games which are not great are Bad. And Fable’s not great. Like I said, though, it was fun for a while, and like you said, damn if there aren’t way too few RPGs these days. So it’s got that going for it. I might pick it up again at some point – but with Winter Assault and Barbarian Invasion (not to mention a newly reinstalled Children of the Nile) standing in the way, that’s kind of unlikely.

You don’t own a Nintendo console, do you? I eventually pulled BG&E out of the bargain bin since everyone was raving about it, but found it seriously underwhelming. I’ve played an idyllic photography action-adventure before… it was called Zelda: The Wind Waker and about 20 times better.

Yeah, Wind Waker was on my “I’d like to play it” list, where all Zeldas wind up. I played a little of it, and while I preferred Beyond Good and Evil’s overall style, I still enjoyed Wind Waker and would have liked to play more. Unfortunately it’s pretty much not feasible for me to get a console. I won’t bore you with the details but it’s not going to happen.

That said, of the consoles currently available, the Gamecube is not the one I’d get. Aside from Wind Waker, I’m not sure what else I’d play on it. Some friends of mine pooled their money and got a Gamecube around the time they came out, and I speak from experience when I say that few releases for it interested me. We played Bloody Roar for a while until somebody figured out some really incredibly cheap bitch tactics that nobody else could beat. We unwisely blew an enormous sum of money on Crystal Chronicles and GBAs, then set the game down after a couple of hours. And it was always at somebody else’s house, so it wasn’t really practical for me to play Wind Waker. Of such stuff are tragedies made.

Nah, I’d get a PS2, mainly for Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, the Nippon Ichi games, Katamari, that kind of thing. Ico. Final Fantasy. All the PS1 games I also missed. The Gamecube comes in somewhere ahead of the Xbox – which has some good games, but mostly ones with superior PC versions – but that still puts it down in the ghetto of consoles I’ll never buy, along with the Saturn, the Jaguar, and the Gizmondo.

That’s not to say I’ll never play Wind Waker, though – the time will come around when it’s abandonware playable on a PC, just like A Link to the Past is now. Or maybe not, but I like the odds.

Really, if you like games without excessive violence and “edgy” characters you should get a Gamecube. There’s little point waiting for the occasional BG&E to come out on the PS2 while Nintendo is specializing in this stuff.

Ah, but it’s not nearly that simple. When it comes to violence in entertainment, I’m like a riddle tucked in a rubik’s cube wrapped in a spank sock. Sure, I like stuff without excessive violence. But I also LOVE excessive violence. Ichi the Killer is one of my top five movies of all time. What I don’t like is violence that tries to strike some kind of marketing-gasm balance between being tame enough for sanctimonious, house-proud American parents and yet appealing to their blank-eyed young nu-metal cat-torturers. “Edgy” is definitely the right word for that. So is “extreme.” So is “back of the frosted cereal box.”

I wonder which will happen first… the widespread availability of Wind Waker as free nostalgiaware, or a really kickass PC game based on 120 Days of Sodom.

Wait, you don’t have a console!? Sorry, I keep forgetting that there are some people who don’t buy every new entertainment device as soon as it’s released. Probably because so few of them post here. :)

Well, well, well, my little droogies. I’ve been playing Fable for several hours now, and I’m somewhat nonplussed.

For one thing, the controls are atrocious. What do you mean, I have to hold down Shift to cast spells? And who made up this inventory where I have to click approximately 327 buttons to get a list of my clothes? The controls were evidently intended for a gamepad, but I don’t see an option to use the DualShock pad I’ve connected to my PC.

For another thing, the gameplay does not at all feel like I’m exploring a world, as in Morrowind or even Zelda. Instead it feels as if I’m walking through a series of small circus arenas, all nicely dressed up with trees and shrubbery but also populated with clowns who poke me at every corner to deliver some inane joke.

That is to say, the areas are really small and the NPCs all make teh funnay in some most exaggerated British accent. It’s kind of hard to buy into the whole revenge & morality plot when my quest involves talking to two hippies with tin hats who ask you to retrieve their lost mushrooms!

The strange Guild concept doesn’t help. Yeah, we’re the heroes of the land and we take up quests to save the peasants… but you know, if you’d rather slay and rob those peasants that’s okay, too! We don’t care, you’re a hero anyway! How could I possibly take this plot seriously when the developers themselves evidently couldn’t care less about it?

I keep hoping that the game gets better but right now it’s looking like yet another Lionhead disappointment.

The longer you play Fable, the more disappointing it becomes, and the more you want to uninstall it for the disk space it gobbles up. It’s all flash and unfulfilled promise, like most of Sir Peter’s games.

–scharmers

Metroid Prime alone is worth buying a Gamecube for. I do however agree that Beyond Good & Evil is an incredible game but I liked playing it much more on the Gamecube than I did on the PC. The keyboard/mouse controls sucked for this game.

More Fable hate! Fable hating is fun! How the hell did this game get such good reviews?

During melee combat you often knock down an opponent, and he takes some seconds to get up again. That’s good. What’s not good is that you are not allowed to attack while he’s down! What’s that, a cheap trick to get a lower age rating? When you’re only fighting one opponent you just have to stand around dumbly until you’re allowed to attack again. But when you’re fighting multiple opponents you have to turn and fight someone else, giving the first guy time to get up again and hit you in the back. Thanks, assholes.

Also, Will (= magic) vs Strength/Skill seems quite unbalanced. For one thing, Strength/Skill only have three disciplines each while Will has, like, three dozen – and they are no cheaper in terms of experience points than the Strength/Skill ones. For another thing, you can spend money to buy better equipment and augmentation to effectively raise your melee/ranged combat prowess without spending XP. But there does not seem to be any way to improve Will with gold.

So I can either focus on Strength/Skill and become a kickass fighter in no time flat. Or I can focus on Will and be a mediocre wannabe mageling by the end of the game. Did I get that right?

More hate for the use of the left shift key to cast spells! The same key is used to attract XP globes, Onimusha-style, so I frequently cast spells when I just want to attract globes during combat. On top of that, Caps Lock enters Sneak Mode, and hitting that accidentally is just totally fantastic when you’re trying to run away from an attack.

The game looks very pretty at first… until you realize that the environments all look exactly alike. I swear, Lionhead is using the same generic tree models for all forest areas and the same generic building models for all village areas. As a result, it’s hard to get a sense of covering ground while travelling, or of being in any specific place. Morrowind did this so much better with its distinctive environments and styles of architecture.

Oh, and by now I’ve fought the first boss battle so I know exactly what Monsieur McGriddle was talking about. A series of knockback attacks, with the second hit coming right after you get back up from the first hit. So you try to get a few swings in while eating lots of apple pie until you get knocked down again. That’s the student exercise from the beginner’s class on cheap boss battles.

Morrowind did this so much better with its distinctive environments and styles of architecture.

Yes, Morrowind was fantastic in that regard. What a difference between Ald’Ruhn, or Ebonheart, or Vivec, or the big mushroom city (Tel something or other). It tires me that people always complain about MW being “brown” without noticing the lavish world-design that was in front of their eyes.

That giant “citadel under a clamshell” in Ald Ruhn is one of the coolest settings I have seen in a videogame.

I only played Fable for a few hours. I got up to a point where I married some random chick in town, and then went to the bar, bought my inventory full of the maximum stack of booze, and proceeded to get everyone in the tavern and probably about two-thirds of the townsfolk outside of it, staggering drunk and puking.

I felt that was such a high point that I needed to pretend it was actually the heroic climax. I imagined some entertaining credits and haven’t played it since.

Unicorn, I think you might like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. You can probably find Ico for a tenner at your local EB. Shadow is the “spiritual sequel,” just out.

I haven’t played Shadow, but Ico is a beautiful, dreamy, hazy game where you and a girl have to find your way out of a rambling castle that makes the Winchester Mansion look like a triumph of commonsense architecture.

Note that the combat is time consuming and repetitious – it’s designed to be an impediment to progress, a part of a particular room’s puzzle, rather than a real combat system. For example, you will often have to leave the girl behind, and at a critical point, she will be attacked and you have to get back to her to deal with the monsters. Some find the game boring if the atmospherics don’t do it for them.

The game is oddly reminiscent of a British fantasy TV show from the 80s called “Knightmare.”

It was an early VR game, where players would guide a friend around painted CG dungeons. The friend was in a bluescreen studio, and wore a horned helmet that covered their eyes. The dungeon and the world around it were rather like the castle in Ico – the puzzles and environmental dangers were also very similar. Ico is definitaly a game that, were it not for the combat, you could complete just by saying stuff like "Take three sidesteps to the right, Nigel… Walk forward… "

Ico: YES. This game has been on my list of games to play forever. Now that I have moved heaven and earth and gotten a PS2 (iIt should arrive next week) I’ll pick up Ico pretty soon. In the interim, I’ve already got Disgaea, Phantom Brave, La Pucelle Tactics, and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (which was the game that finally convinced me to get the damn PS2) on the way. I’m planning to get Makai Kingdom and both Digital Devil Sagas relatively soon, and likely I’ll pick up (roll up?) the Katamaris.

Shadow of the Colossus: Yeah. When the price drops. (Yeah right. Classic console game prices seem to go up, not down, right up to the point that they get emulated like ten years later. But I at least won’t get it immediately 'cause I’ve got lots of other stuff right now.)

Fable redux: Seeing your reaction, Cristoph, I wish in retrospect that I’d been hard enough on the game to dissuade you. You do not sound like a man who is enjoying his consumer goods. At the time I made those posts I was under the impression that, among other things, a mage character would be viable. Some brief experimentation since disabused me of several mistaken notions, including that one, and the game swiftly departed from my hard drive. I will never understand the Molyneux game fascination with stupid fucking cockneys or whatever they are (I’m not British, so the proper technical term could be kippers or lorries or choggles for all I know). I guess it’s a good thing he got his start when technical limitations prevented everyone in Populous and/or Syndicate from calling you Guv’nor. I liked Dungeon Keeper, I liked Dungeon Keeper 2, but Startopia is way better. I still dig out Startopia from time to time. A true classic. Not by Peter Molyneux.

Morrowind: LOVED Morrowind. Some people denounce Morrowind’s “dead world” or whatnot. I don’t get that. I can SO understand the criticisms about a shitty combat system, shitty character advancement, shitty magic, and shitty NPCs. Those are all true, the last one especially. And what is up with expansions where fucking GOBLINS can knock the shit out of my super-warrior? That’s bullshit and I hate, I hate that. So definitely Morrowind has problems. But those problems do not outweight its strengths. It was a beautiful piece of escapism, almost criminally evocative. It was a world you could wander around in, a beautiful and detailed world full of foggy coasts at dawn and rainy cities at midnight. I often found myself comparing it to Myst, which likewise presented a (substantially more) surreal other world that triumphed over gameplay difficulties (stupid puzzles) and technical limitations (couldn’t just walk around wherever you liked). Myst had better sound, though. Splish, splash, clunk. I think future games like Morrowind are going to realize their goals more and more effectively. Who knows, in Oblivion you may even be able to look through windows.

God damn I want to play some SMT: Nocturne right the fuck now. Patience.

Edit: Forgot to mention I intend to pick up Killer7 too.

I just remembered something that makes this even stranger: you can actually stab the corpses of the fallen. Initially I thought I was finishing them off, but no, you can only do it to the ones who are already down for the count. What the fuck?

I screw up my face in disgust at the bosses of Fable. Damn, now my face is ruined! Oh well, it had a low blue book value anyway.

Twinblade (who I assume is the “first boss” you allude to) is easily the least aggravating of the bosses. Maze and Jack are both solid contenders for the worst as far as I know, but I stopped playing after Jack. Rock trolls or whatever they’re called are also really bad.

Typically bosses – and often monsters that are supposed to be “tough” – will block at all times, forcing you to rely on flourishes. Meanwhile they themselves are able to flourish at will. They are often far more mobile than you are, and freqeuntly they have powerful ranged or area attacks, especially ones that cause knockdown.

Now I’m not saying boss battles can’t be difficult. The problem isn’t that they’re hard. The problem is that they feel almost punitively cheap. It’s like playing Pong against a computer opponent whose paddle is always perfectly level with the ball.

When these Molyneux putzes play FPSes, is their idea of a good time a mod that gives the bots a headscript?

No, I was thinking of the first rock troll which I assumed to count as a boss monster since it was big, had its own hit point bar and all. Twinblade was okay, really. I eventually quit when I met the second rock troll. I can’t believe they had the gall to reuse this incredibly annoying creature.

Later on, you fight two super rock trolls at once.

Well, I’m much lamer than either of you. Twinblade is very tough for me; I’m just not good enough at circling around behind after he gets stuck.

I’m kind of sorry I bought Fable. :-(

In Fable’s grudging defense, a lot of the features are things I’d like to see more of, in theory. The player model that reflects your history and capabilities? Good. The ability to have a family? Woefully vestigial, but a step in the right direction. Real estate? Good.

It’s too bad these features don’t remedy the game’s core problems, but now that these things have been done this way in a high-profile title, maybe we’ll see them elsewhere.

Well, I picked up time stop and it did the trick. Is that critter out in Witchwood a rock troll? Wasn’t too tough with time stop.

I think I’d enjoy a game that blended the style of Fable with the open-endedness of Morrowind.

I think what you’re thinking of is a clay troll or earth troll or something like that. This is – again, I think – also what Nahr was talking about when he fought the “first boss.” What the game calls a rock troll, I referred to as a super rock troll to distinguish them from the Witchwood type things. They look about the same, but the super rock trolls are bigger and bitchier.

How about a game with the style of Torment and the openness of Morrowind? Everybody praises the plot/story/characters/writing in Torment, but its art and art direction were also incredibly good. Besides, I liked the Planescape aesthetic to begin with…

Edit: I’m confused again. This is AFTER Twinblade? Remind me where Witchwood is. Is the troll near the Hobbe Cave?

I don’t think you could really combine Torment with Morrowind… very different feel to the two games. In any case, I prefer 3D to isomorphic.