March 29th, 2013
A few years ago, in the midst of a rail-shooter bonanza for the blog, I wrote a series of articles on Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. Most of what I said in those posts is also true of its sequel, Darkside Chronicles, but there’s a few comments I’d like to make specifically about the second game:
- The most immediate point of difference between the two games is Darkside Chronicles‘s higher colour saturation. It can still look a bit drab at times, but at least it’s free of Umbrella Chronicles‘s nihilistic, nearly monochromatic colour palette.
- The other thing that becomes immediately apparent is the forced attempts of playing up the horror element. Let’s explore these one by one:
Shaky Cam – During the transitions between shoot-outs it’s nausea-inducing. During the shooting sequences themselves, it’s just obnoxious. Given that the hit boxes for enemy weak points are still quite small, the hit box for critical hits are tinier still, and the enemies occasionally approach from some distance, the shaky cam only makes it harder to aim accurately.
More Talky-Talk Sequences – More than the original game, the characters talk their heads off about the supposed horror of the situation. Since the sequencing of the shoot-outs, perspective control, mechanics, game elements, and interplay with enemies aren’t structured around creating scares (some good ideas on this here), there’s an odd and somewhat comical disconnect between the fear the characters are expressing and the fear the player is not participating in. I reckon that about 2 hours of my play time was spent inactive, waiting for the characters to shut up.
Sudden Attacks – One technique which is sure to guarantee frights, and Darkside Chronicles reuses over and over again, is sudden enemy attacks. Whether zombies pop out of nowhere or interrupt one of the game’s excessive dialogue sequences, the player is caught off guard and must quickly react. This cheap trick often frustrates as the window between seeing an enemy and them taking a bite of your neck is short, indeed.
Run Away Sequences – Sometimes the characters will spot a group of enemies and quickly turn around and run because “there’s too many of them!”. The player can take a few shots before the viewpoint is suddenly yanked away from them. Given that “too many” tends to be just as many as the player had face earlier in the level, these sequences are frustrating and illogical. If anything, these sequences only encourage reckless shooting.
- Each chapter is undertaken by two characters, one male, one female. The player can select one of the two Resident Evil staples prior to each mission. The viewpoint and gameplay is a little different for each. For example, one character being caught by a zombie while the other tries to shoot it off. This is a subtle, yet significant feature.
- Branching paths also add to the game’s longevity.
- The gun upgrades only work to unbalance and displace the selection of weapons. That is to say, what’s the point of having a shotgun when you can buff up the firepower of your pistol to be just as strong?
- Choosing your load-out, however, encourages the player to find an optimal balance between gun types and keeps a continuity going between levels. The player’s selection of weapons should be reset each story arc, though, as it doesn’t make sense that their cache of weapons can travel between different points of the Resident Evil timeline. This would also add a salvage dynamic to the initial chapters of each arc.
- Some enemies have protracted reaction animations in which they’re protected by invincible frames. The tofu mini-game epitomises this problem as, even though the animation is the same/similar to the zombies, the tofu squares have no physical features, so it’s difficult to tell when they’re about to sprint towards you and when they’re still recovering from a gunshot.
- Similarly, it can be hard to tell which objects are breakable and non-breakable. Amazingly, some windows break while others remain solid.
- This fight with William Birkim is horrible. Small hit boxes, invincible frames, and Birkin’s health bar has no relationship to how close you are to defeating him. Even when the boss’s health is whittled down to nothing, the player still needs to go through the sequence where they’re about to fall off the platform. This is a great example of how the designers betray form for the sake of contrived scares, much to the detriment of gameplay.
I played this game on Wii and would recommend a standard Wii-mote and nun-chuck setup.
March 25th, 2013
It only took about half an hour of play for me to realise that Platinum Games is one of the world’s best game developers. Vanquish is a supremely well-designed action game that deserves more time than I’m about to give it. Consider these dot points as preliminary commentary for when I get back to Australia and can explore the game more thoroughly on its harder difficulties.
- The slide boost and slowmo functions are tied to a visible cool down meter, which forces the player to carefully consider when to use these mechanics and for how long.
- When the player’s health is low, the slowmo function is automatically activated. This makes it easier for them to dodge attacks and quickly retreat into cover, where their health can regenerate.
- The player can only manually activate the slowmo function after rolling, slide boosting, jumping out from cover, or slide kicking an enemy. This limitation forces the player to strategically consider their plan of attack so that they can use the mechanics in tandem to turn the tides of a fight. More specifically:
Rolling – Access to the slowmo ability encourages the player to identify the enemy’s weak point (observation, knowledge), determine when they can roll around the enemy to get a clear shot at its weak point (space, knowledge), and then execute (dexterity, reflex).
Sliding Boosting– Because Sam Gideon slides so ridiculously fast, the slowmo is activated any time the player shoots in this state, allowing them to cleanly target enemies. If it weren’t, shooting when slide boosting would clutter the game design. By joining the two mechanics, the player’s presented with a meaningful strategic choice: use the boosters to get behind enemy lines and then keep going forward or flank the enemy with a few melee moves or shotgun blasts (less cool down juice) or slowmo as you slide in, picking apart the enemy line (more cool down juice). With the former, the player risks being caught off guard by a pack of enemies. With the latter, the player risks being caught with their suit overloaded and nowhere to hide. Depending on the composition and layout of grunts and larger foes, you’ll want to vary your strategy accordingly.
Jumping Out From Cover – Access to the slowmo ability encourages the player to identify their targets (observation, knowledge), wait until they’re open (timing), and then leave the cover, line up the crosshair, and shoot (dexterity, reflex).
After Slide Kicking – The slowmo ability allows the player to follow up the slide kick with some close-range shooting. This can destroy decimate grunts and take large chunks of health off larger foes, but comes at the expense of a lot of cool down juice.
- When in slowmo, the bullets move slow enough for the player to manually dodge them. This makes the chaotic bullet-hell sequences manageable. It’s quite the spectacle.
- When slide boosting, the camera pulls back to give the player an optimal view for targeting enemies.
- Walking/running in a shooter is often a low engagement action, especially once the conflict has died down. By sliding boosting instead, the player can keep the game moving at a rapid pace.
- The red/blue colour palette of the enemies distinguishes them from the detailed environments.
- Unlike Resident Evil 4, which often allows the player to play for long stretches without being interrupted by a cutscene, Vanquish’s various battles are strung together through cutscenes which, perhaps unnecessarily, set up the next confrontation. This is a pity as these sequences lack the gameplay’s finesse, never mind the “McCheeseMo” script. Over time the expository melodrama becomes tiresome.
- Despite the innovative slowmo and slide boosting mechanics, and all the enemy and level design that works in with it, Vanquish lacks legs. The inventive gameplay scenarios keep the game going for a while, but there’s simply not enough enemy, weapon, or level design variety in the game’s second half to maintain the initial momentum. Blue-coloured grunts which cut Gideon down with their shotguns, a morphing particle boss, and sequences where the ARG suit is disabled are noteworthy exceptions.
- Vanquish shares many similarities with shmps, both in terms of aesthetics and gameplay. All of the player’s actions contribute to a high score tally, the enemies spawn in waves, some enemies let loose with a bullet-hell-esque hail storm of gun fire, and most bosses are introduced with a “warning, enemy ships approaching” alert notice, as in most shmps.
Hopefully, there will be more for me to say in the future.
March 22nd, 2013
When my brother and I were kids, we finished SNES RPG, Lufia II, about six or seven times between us. Every time you beat the game, in the subsequent New Game+ file, your party’s EXP is multiplied by the number of your current playthrough. So beat the game once and start a New Game+ file and your party will receive double EXP each battle. Needless to say, we adored this game. When Square-Enix announced that Neverland, the original developers, were going to re-envision the game for the DS, it seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, this gorgeous-looking dungeon crawler is full of bad design. I got a bit further than half way through the game (the Mountain of No Return, ironically) and gave up. Here’s why:
- Unlike the Zelda games, where the combat and puzzle portions are organised so that one doesn’t intrude on the other, Lufia frequently dogs the player with enemies in the middle of them pushing blocks or targeting a grapple point. Worse still, enemies respawn endlessly without any cool down period between defeating one and attacking its replacement.
- There’s little strategy to the combat. You just combo enemies until they perish and then attack their dead carcass to earn bonus gems and coins (odd, I know).
- Comboing attacks adds a lot of negative space (button mashing, in this case) to the combat design.
- There’s a ton of weird stuff going on with the combat. Hit boxes are off. Enemies sometimes flicker from one spot to another. Geemer-esque enemies in the first dungeon can take off 999 HP in one go!
- The levelling system means nothing when you can prop your party up five levels every time you game over. I jumped ten levels in the second fight against Gades and it didn’t make a huge difference. Since levelling is useless, there’s no “incentive” to participate in the tiresome battles.
- The rooms in the dungeons are too large, so the camera is zoomed in in order to prevent slowdown. This, however, conceals a lot of important information from the player, making it easier for them to overlook certain details and get stuck.
- The logic behind the puzzles can super unintuitive at times. I got roadblocked about once every hour of play.
- The characters’ unique abilities are underutilised in the puzzles.
- Oftentimes, the game makes it easy to accidentally mess up a puzzle, such as the block puzzles in Gruberik Bridge W. Yet, when the player resets the puzzle through the reset function, they have to start the whole room again. This can be frustrating when you continually mess up the fifth puzzle because of an issue with the game’s design, and so you have to repeat puzzles one through four several times over.
- Some areas, like Gordovan Drawbridge, are too open-ended and the layout, architecture, and visual design often lead the player away from where they need to go.
- Maxim and Selan’s wedding is far too sudden compared to the original game.
- I don’t remember Guy being a big, dumb oaf. Curse of the Sinistrals also turns the once-cool Dekar into a bit of a bonehead too. Because of this character rearrangement, Dekar and Guy are too alike, and ultimately it makes Dekar, who joins the party later in the game, feel superfluous.
- Maxim pronounces Gades as gädis, not gādēs (the latter having the same pronunciation as “Hades”).
- Like most RPGs, the equipment side of things is pointless and should be cut.
Here’s what I did like:
- The localisation is surprisingly aware of the trite plot and character archetypes, and often makes good use of these traits for comedic effect.
- The level of detail in the environments is amazing, and the scale of some of the bosses is nothing short of remarkable.
- The grid system—where players are rewarded with Tetris pieces for solving puzzles and said pieces can be placed on a grid to unlock new abilities, tributes, and bonuses—is a neat way of tying together the game’s two halves.
Ah, now that I’ve written this article, I don’t feel so guilty over ditching this game early.