Friday, December 11, 2009

Crossing The Same Bridge Twice

The period from February through to August this year was a gaming drought of unprecedented proportions. I'm hard pressed to cite anything from that season that made me excited to own gaming hardware. Eventually September unfolded like a wonderful and exotic flower and since then the nectar has flowed with overwhelming sweetness, but in the wasteland that went before I was forced to go back to some old titles and enjoy them that little bit harder.


Theoretically the goal with Crackdown was to take my points for the game from an anemic 620 up to its current height of 1050. But really it was completely rediscovering what I had already considered to be one of the greatest games produced this console generation. Just moving around in Crackdown is a pleasure that plays on the animal parts of one's brain; it's a symphony of acceleration and exhileration that no game before or since has really managed to nail.

On my first trip though Crackdown I'd noted that it was able to stimulate real-life vertigo when I ascended to particularly high locations; this time I was able to realise the role that the excellent environmental sound effects play in that achievement. I also discovered that the game's driving systems, horrible for the majority of the game, suddenly become intensely enjoyable when you level up the protagonists's driving skill to maximum levels, unlocking a wall-climbing SUV, a missile-spewing APC, and a sleek, elegant racer able to devastate vehicles in its path merely by touching them. Rather than grinding completed content to achieve the game's remaining goals, I found myself using the goals as an excuse to keep interacting with the content. Crackdown is a sublime argument enjoyable process making the idea of meaningful rewards irrelevant.

Saint's Row

There are no words for how much I love the single-player portion of the original Saint's Row but it had frustrated me how many of the game's achievements were tied to multiplayer content. On my first interaction with that content I had no fun, and assumed I was simply over the game; too saturated in it to enjoy this online extension. A more recent attempt to go bareknuckle with the online play has corrected me - the multiplayer is hideously designed, inherently terrible, and to the extent that matches can be found at all in the barren wastelands of XBox Live they are dominated by the kind of spawn-camping software-assisted griefers who flourish in such carelessly-created environments. After an hour or so of being farmed for someone else's achievements I gave it up forever as a bad idea. In turns out the same people who created the majesty of the single player game ARE perfectly capable of designing multiplayer that efficiently murders babies.

Left 4 Dead

Every time I say that quality trumps quantity, Left 4 Dead laughs at me. I came back to it to sample the new Crash Course DLC and the Survival mode. Crash Course, naturally, is great. It's only two levels but they're longer than what came on the disc, which makes for an interesting variation to the game's pacing. There's more of the hilarous off-handed dialogue and a couple more memorable set-piece battles. But once you start replaying it (and particularly if you're going for the Littlest Genocide achievement which involves killing 5,395 zombies exclusively within Crash Course's two maps) the deficiencies of the "director AI" once again become clear, and you find yourself learning possible witch and tank spawn points off by heart and slaughtering the same zombie hordes with mind-numbing regularity.

I ran right into the game's brick walls again, as well. To tackle Expert difficulty you need four players - no ifs and no buts - as the AIs just aren't up to the task. With no guild play or team persistence, attempting to educate random strangers on how to not play like douchebags is a thankless exercise in frustration, and as far as playing with friends either you have three friends with the game and a Live Gold subscription or you don't, and even then getting them online at the same time can be epic. The other DLC - Survival mode - quickly convinced me it was a waste of time. Nothing's less fun than losing because a team member screws up, and Survival mode, with its "fight until you drop" mentality, makes that an inevitability rather than a possibility.


Grant said...

I could never remotely get into Saint's Row - it sits on ths shelf, barely played. For some reason it seemed to be trying to hard to be GTA yet failing at it so miserably.

Crackdown was awesome fun, though - gleeful sandbox gaming at its finest.

Greg Tannahill said...

Give Saints Row another go, you were almost certainly just not in the mood for it. (Dead Space and Assassin's Creed both suffered from this on my first playthrough.)

The story's better told, the interface is better, the city is more lively. Even the jokes are more insightful and intelligent (although still not exactly an Algonquin Round Table). Pretty much the only thing missing from the GTA formula is the punishing difficulty; I just can't see how any who enjoyed Vice City or San Andreas wouldn't regard Saints Row as a clearly superior iteration of the same concept.