Sunday, April 20, 2014

PS3 games people overlooked, Part 1

I don't normally play shooters...

(no, this is not a Dos Equis commercial)

...but when I do, they should be interesting. As I might have stated previously someplace, my primary experience with FPS games really ended sometime around id Software's Quake III Arena and Rare's Perfect Dark in 2000. I tried playing Timesplitters 2 on the Nintendo GameCube some time later, only to find out I should have called it "Headsplitters", for similar reasons to the games I already explained here.

Now, I didn't seem to have this problem with Resident Evil 4, first for GameCube and then for the Wii - but this isn't a 'first person' shooter. They put the camera above and behind you and generally this solves my nausea issue, unless the camera is jittery. The character's reaction to the environment helps me visually process what I'm seeing in a consistent way.  In addition, having the character fully on screen makes the motion more like action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta and God of War, or any of the brawlers like Mad World or Urban Reign or God Hand and such.

So after a while of owning a PS3 and being near the end of the console's lifespan, I start asking myself and the internet the question "What have I missed that I probably didn't want to?" and one of the answers that came up a few times was the Platinum Games shooter "Vanquish" from 2010. It's a third person shooter, so I didn't have too many nausea issues, but I was surprised by a lot of things.

One, it's got a much better story than I was used to for a shooter (but I realize part of that is because I haven't been playing shooters for a while). Most of the the story takes place in a big space colony, allowing for interesting changes of atmosphere (pun partially intended). The main character Sam Gideon works for DARPA, but has the challenge of working with the Armed Forces. On old enemy becomes a big problem after years of a manageable truce, and some important technology changes hands because a scientist has been captured. Maybe it seems familiar in the broad strokes, but it seemed well executed in the details.

Two, there seemed to be a lot of interesting scenarios that I'm not sure were really possible before on older game systems. There was a sniping level, a 'protect the armored vehicle while you're on foot' level, a level where two moving vehicles on tracks try to gun each other down, a 'clear the area so a transport can land here' level, and quite a few other things. It was a lot more varied and interesting than the usual 'go down this corridor and hide behind boxes or you're going to get shot' or the 'take that building from those dudes' scenarios that I feel like you seem to get a lot of in shooters.

Three, the game has a cover system that works pretty well, or a inexperienced shooter player like myself couldn't have gotten along with it. One button is dedicated almost entirely to going in and out of cover, and you get helpful onscreen prompts where appropriate.  The levels are timed, and you get a better rating if you take less time, and you get a better rating if you don't overuse cover, so there's a good reason to use it efficiently.

Four, it did a great job of making you feel like you were part of a team (another item probably improved on by other shooters first). The other AI soldiers actually got things accomplished, spread out in a sensible way, and picked the right weapon most of the time. One of the responsibilities they gave Sam, your character, is to act as medic to the soldiers, and you get weapon bonuses for helping them when they need it.

Five, it did a magnificent job at impressing you with a huge sense of scale when enemies and ships as large as a building (or bigger) came at you.  A varied array of giant robots and walking battle tanks stand between you and finishing the game.

Six, and they really didn't have to do this one, they took a mechanic that could have been really gimmicky - a ridiculous speed boost in short bursts for your character - and made it work fantastically with the level design and the character story.

There are a few quick time events here and there during boss battles, but I didn't find them too onerous or distracting from the game play. Veteran voice actors Gideon Emery, Kari Wahlgren, and the always amazing Steve Blum play the lead characters Sam, Elena, and Lt. Col Robert Burns, respectively. I really liked the music when I was playing the game but I can't remember any of it now that I haven't played the game for a week. My favorite enemy in the entire game was an enemy that built itself out of spare parts called Unknown - don't worry, you'll know it when you see it.

The down side was that as an inexperienced shooter, I was only able to finish the game on 'Casual', but I didn't have to rely on the autoaim of the slightly easier 'Casual Auto' setting.  This means (or at least I think that it means) that experienced shooters will have at least two more levels of difficulty to test themselves against. Even after finishing on Easy and having a pretty good sense of the control mechanics, I was killed on Normal difficulty prior to even reaching the first boss. Used copies for XBox 360 are going for $10, $13 if you have a PS3.

No comments: