Pokémon Sun – Session by Session Review – Sessions 1 and 2

Pokémon Sun and Moon are now out and I was very happy to get a copy of Sun on the day of release. Professional reviewers likely had it before the release date so in the interest of getting this out quickly, I will review as I go, session by session. It might not give the best picture of the overall game, but hopefully will make up for it with a clear image of how it plays over time.

 

Session 1 – Phew that is a long introduction

I should start this by saying I am very familiar with the Pokémon adventure games, so I have a familiar issue with the opening hours of this game. Anyone who has played the previous generations will know what I am talking about. These games are designed for a wide range of ages and skill sets. It is great that the games make effort to allow accessibility for young and new players. But for us veterans, the tutorial sections of a new game is very much like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs.

 

It strikes me in this first session how much the developers have looked to grow the Pokemon experience. There seems to be much more in the way of story cut scenes. The game opens with a sequence involving one of the main character escaping some kind of lab. And the early sections pull away from the gameplay to show conversations and action in. It feels like there is less of the characters standing around talking at each other and more of the kind of acting we would see in animation and PC or console games.

Already this was looking to be one of the most immersive, original and detailed instalments of Pokémon. Alola is a beautiful place and is full of life. The people of Alola seem to have their own culture and mannerisms that seems a whole lot different to any of the previous regions. The place feels very natural, helped in large part by the move away from a square grid. Gone are the patches of wild grass growing is neat lines. Paths and patches of long grass flow more like they would in nature.

I followed the usual introduction and tutorials common to these games, frankly getting a little bored. It was a relief when I was let loose to explore the trainer school and have a few battles. Whilst the battles themselves have not changed much, they have made further improvements to the interface. Everything is laid out on the touch screen to be very clear. And the game now keeps track for you of any stat changes, which is helpful. Another useful feature, though I am not sure I appreciate it, is the indicator of move effectiveness. I enjoyed the puzzle in the past of working out which move was best to use against an opponent, memorizing types of Pokémon to best calculate which move would do the most damage. Sun and Moon somewhat takes all that away. Once you encounter a Pokémon for the second time, all your moves will show how effective they are. There is still much to consider to be the most efficient in battles, but by effectively giving us the answer to type match ups, it has taken away some of the challenge.

I also had a brief look at a couple of side features. One being the Care function, here you can feed your partner, pet it, and tidy it up after battle. I am not sure if there is a penalty for not drying off you Pokémon after a fight with a water type, or for not combing the fluff out of its fur, but they seem happy when you do. Then there is the Festival. At any time you can warp to the festival to meet other players, purchase items and services, or take part in battles. It is reminiscent of the Join Avenue feature in Black and White. There is not much to either feature, but they are sort of fun.

 

Session 2 – Just me and my Rowlett

My second night playing the Pokémon Sun showed more promise. After petting a Turos to clear a blocked road (They are really running out of ideas to segment areas now.) I moved along to areas with more gameplay. I found myself skim reading a lot still as characters insisted on showing me all the shops and services of the first big city, but I was given a bit more freedom to look for wild Pokémon and explore.

It was in the city that I had my first run in with Team Skull. Every generation has had a group of ne’er do wells to hamper your progress, and Team Skull are proving so far to be my least favourite. They rather annoying with their over the top patois and break dance swagger. I’ll leave it to the SJW’s to rant about cultural appropriations, these characters just look to me like white kids who listen to too much hip hop. Although annoying as they are, it somehow works. It is satisfying to beat such arrogant hooligan and see the wide-eyed shock that they were not able to back up their big words. I even took to messing with them in the dialogue options and their responses were amusing.

Another annoyance for me was the game’s inclusion of a lot of wild Pokémon from previous generations. I only encountered a handful of new creatures, otherwise I mostly encountered Rattatas, Drowseys, Wingulls and Ghastlys which I have been catching in games for years. The Alolan forms gave a bit of variety but I was still left craving something new. What was new did not appeal so I currently still have but a single ‘mon in my party. Good thing I like my starter, my Rowlett, now evolved to Dartrix is cute, strong and a lot of fun to travel with. I fear I will need to venture further to find any wild Pokémon I deem worthy to join the team.

 

After exploring the first routes, I came to the first trial of the game. Here is where the game introduces the biggest mechanic changes to the game. For a long time now, Pokémon games have followed the same formula for many years: Meet a professor, get a grass, fire or water starter and some running shoes, walk around, beat eight gyms, take down some organised criminals or terrorists despite looking like an eleven year old, catch the mascot from the game box and beat the elite four. Although much of that is still there so far, it is refreshing to see them try something new.

My first trial was to explore a cave and find and defeat several wild Pokémon, followed by a show down with a stronger find creature. In some ways it still felt like the gym battles of old, I will be intrigued to see how other trials differ. The next new feature was the concept of wild Pokémon calling for help. This can seem to happen in any wild encounter, basically it involves a Pokémon calling for back up, bringing a weaker ally to fight alongside it, effectively switching to a double battle mid fight. A nice addition.

Finally there is Z moves. It is like mega evolution for moves. They certainly look epic when used, but I am not sure it adds much to gameplay, essentially, once you set up to use a Z move, it is a button that makes a move hit harder, which begs the question why anyone would want to ever not press the button (well, I suppose if you wanted to catch a wild ‘mon and didn’t want to kill it). If anything, they are a bit long winded.

 

I may sound like I have been a bit down on parts of the game so far, but despite a few annoyances, I am enjoying it. I am still on the first island of Alola and found it a great place to explore, I have found a few option areas already, this could be the most expansive map in a Pokémon game yet.

Big credit goes to the designers of this game. Lots of effort has been put into making everything as smooth a process as possible. It’s the little changes that help, there were so many niggles in the past. Remember when you went to the PC in the pokemon centre and had to go SOMEONE’S PC then ORGANIZE BOXES, then the interface was a mess. Now if you want to swap out a Pokémon, you go to the PC and are straight into the boxes. Your party is on one side, the box on the other and you can drag and drop intuitively. Also when you tap any Pokémon, you get a quick view of its moves. It is changes like this that are ironing out the kinks in the games series’ once clunky interfaces.

 

 

Watch_Dogs – Game Review and Breakdown

If you are wanting a review of Watch Dogs then this will suffice, but it is more of a breakdown of the game from a game designer point of view, so bear in mind that I may talk about specifics in the game that may be considered SPOILERS. I have been following the game design lectures here and making a design analysis of a game is the homework. This was my first attempt and although enjoyed making somewhat like a review, I think I can do better on the analysis department having read the brief again. so lets begin.

It's great fun to use the profiler, especially if you are an Archer fan

A world where no ones private data is safe, especially not from you

Watch Dogs is a game where you play the complex Aiden Pierce, a gifted computer hacker, driver and marksman. Essentially it is an open world action game with diverse gameplay elements from combat, puzzle solving, driving, stealth and evasion, but the theme and narrative of the game add a deeper level of meaning to the gameplay.

In Short

Positives

  • Strong Theme an narrative reinforced by the mechanics
  • Original gameplay features
  • Thought provoking theme that is highly relevant to modern life
  • A sense of power over adversity in slow plan and execute phases or in higher paced reactionary situations
  • A variety of tools for a wide array of scenarios, none of which seem redundent
  • Attention to detail bring the setting to life making all AI characters seem more human

Negatives

  • Cheating enemy AI
  • Too difficult to correct mistakes in stealth sections
  • Next to no use for the money you collect
  • Easy to find dominant strategies that can take the challenge out of gameplay

In summary – The morality of the narrative flits between good and bad in this title, but as far as the gameplay is concerned, the good far out weighs the bad. Enough to recommend this game to anyone who likes their open world, action, adventure or stealth games to assume a little intelligence of the player.

The mother of all smartphones - Apple could learn a few things from this game

Immersion is kept at all times, you don’t pause and check a menu, you just open the app you need on your phone

Game Design Breakdown – For me the game elicited conflicting emotions in me, especially regarding my opinion of the main character Aiden Pierce. A lot of games involving physical conflict exhibit a black and white mentality to good and evil. Most often the enemy is purely represented as evil and the hero is the shining example of good who overcomes evil (There are many other ways of depicting good and evil, in the Grand Theft Auto series, almost no one is depicted as being a good person). Aiden Pierce inhabits a grey area between the two. He is neither hero nor anti-hero or villain. On the one hand he is known as a vigilante in the games Chicago city setting, stopping and hunting down criminals and the main story line follows his exploits trying to protect his family from a criminal conspiracy. However, Aiden is also a criminal in his own right, he steals from civilians, has illegal access to city infrastructure technology and is willing to kill a large number of people (not all of them particularly deserving of death) to protect his family. As a player I shared in his anger and hatred of the enemy as well as his guilt for some of the extreme actions he takes. A good example of the emotional conflict elicited by the game was the human trafficking plot. Aiden infiltrates an auction of sex slaves, the half naked girls are paraded on stage and some are shown sobbing or terrified, you can even hack the phones of the patrons to see their foul thought processes. You then meet the vile man responsible for the auction. It felt heroic in the game to save the women and bring the police to arrest the people involved. Afterwards you are informed that some slipped away and finding them becomes a side quest. Most of the men from the auction are clearly bad people and you feel good about incriminating them, one however, remarkably was able to make me feel some sympathy for him (not enough to let him go free of course), the side quest requires you find the auction patrons and hack their phones to find evidence on them and you get a brief snippet of their thoughts following the police investigation, this one man is found in a graveyard, he appears to be texting his wife, he apologises for his actions, saying he was trying to fill the hole left when she died, then instead of a reply, the phone sends back a delivery failed message. I felt sadness and sympathy for the man despite my hatred for those who would commit the same crime.

There are many example of this kind of thought provoking morality in the game. Often it is used to emphasise the games theme of issues surrounding privacy and surveillance, and exploration of vengeance and justice weighed against their cost. The game, especially during Aidens more introspective moments and his dealing with innocents like his family ask questions of the viewer. Is it OK to pursue justice for terrible crimes if it means hurting a lot more people in the process? Can your good deeds as a vigilante make up for your past crimes? Can anything you do “fix” the injustice of a murdered child. The insights into what is monitored in the city and the public propaganda broadcasts by the hacker group DedSec made me think about the issues surrounding privacy in the digital age and how it applies to the real world.

The gameplay does a good job of giving a sense that you can overcome great physical strength using intelligence, sure there are times when skills like shooting and driving are needed, and they are often exciting, however for me I found the most engagement in using my intelligence to overcome obstacles, Aiden can be killed by gunfire as easily as any enemy, but is always greatly outnumbered. The combat, and particularly the stealth combat sections are more like puzzles to be solved. There is a great sense of achievement when you can defeat enemies and manipulate them using the hacking tools at your disposal, often without ever putting yourself in harms way.

If only real hacking was as easy as pointing your phone and holding a button and not hours sat at a keyboard.

Aiden has the skills to make trained professional police officers and hardened mobsters look like bumbling 1980’s cartoon villains

The hacking mechanics are very interesting, they can be used in low tempo scenarios, where you as a player can carefully plan out and execute your tactics, or they can be used in more vigorous scenes, this particularly works in car chases when you can use traffic blockers, spikes and traffic lights to take down or evade your enemy. When say for example you manage to cause a perusing car to crash into road blockers, the game slows down and pans to show the crash, the effect is satisfying and makes you feel smart for having executed it.

The puzzles and gameplay scenarios are quite varied, they kept me interested as the game does a great job of mixing up the challenges, you have a range of abilities at your disposal and all of them will be needed throughout the game. The challenge comes from identifying the nature of each problem, assessing the best strategy and the pay off is executing it successfully.

The game is strong overall. It is well produced, original and I found it enjoyable throughout. I am hard pressed to point out any flaws in particular. The driving and shooting sections might have felt somewhat similar to a lot of open world games on the market, but the game adds enough extra tools to make it feel much more unique. For me one of the biggest drawbacks was the AI which felt unfair at times. The stealth sections were very strong but became almost impossible to salvage if a mistake is made. Much of the time, once you mess up, a stealth section will become almost irrecoverably a shooting section. And in these circumstances, the AI feels like it is cheating, if a guard spots you, even if you kill him quietly before he can say anything, all the other guards seem to psychically know where you are. Effective hiding places are hard to come by in a fire fight, I found when I was caught, that it was best to restart the section or fight. The AI often feels like it is cheating, from helicopters that can recognise you through the roof of any vehicle, to criminals that seem to be suspicious of you and you alone in a city populated by millions. The other major flaw that I noticed was the fact that at times you are almost given too many tools to deal with the challenges in the game, there are a lot of dominant strategies to be found that defuse otherwise difficult tasks. Another negative is the fact that money serves very little purpose, I found myself habitually hacking peoples accounts for their money (even whilst chasing down muggers which felt somewhat hypocritical) but the only things to spend money on were guns and ammo, but I was able to afford the best weapons very early on and I never bought a single bullet the whole time I played, what I scavenged from enemies was plenty. Before long I had a huge fortune and nothing to do with it. The also meant that I lacked the motivation to complete the many fixer contract side missions, as they reward you with only money and some of the contracts I found kind of annoying as they often had needlessly strict restrictions and tasks that seemed to serve no reasonable purpose like moving a number of cars a mile or two down the road in a small amount of time, as though any criminal would pay thousands of dollars for such a task.

Reasons Not To Get Rid of Your Last Gen Console Yet – Part 1

Title

The Xbox 360 and PS3 had their time in the sun, but now they must make way for the new generation. The Xbox One and PS4 have been on the shelves for some time now. But wait, the old generation are not yet ready to retire and put their feet up in the old consoles care home. There is life in these old dogs yet. New games are being released for the Last Gen platforms still, and much of the public has yet to be convinced of the need for the shiny new gaming machines. It used to be that with a new console, the first thing you’d look for is the graphical improvements, well it’s getting harder and harder to spot when graphics improve: The limited pallette of Sonic 2 was blown away by the glossy almost 3D looking visuals of Sonic 3, Starfox was for most the first time we had ever seen 3D rendering in a game, and when the PS2 and Xbox original came along, we started to see in game characters whose faces didn’t look like they were made of LEGO. But now, the improvements from the old technology seem so be hard to notice without looking hard, and with the fast paced action of most of the games with a budget big enough to make use of the next gen consoles, most of the pretty pictures and hard work by the animators, just gets lost in the noise. As for the other improvements to the consoles as social or media machines, myself and many other, just don’t care that much for these features.

So for all the people still clinging to yesterdays console, whatever your reason; maybe you haven’t the money, or you just aren’t convinced by the new breed, maybe you will keep your trusty game box plugged in for that one favourite game you just have to play once in a while. Or maybe if you’re like me you just want to get through your games-to-play list whilst you wait for the next gen to get a little cheaper. Well here is my list of Xbox 360 gaming experiences that you simply cannot get with the Xbox One or PS4. Huh… if only there was a way to play these games on the next gen, then folks like us may have adopted the new machines by now… isn’t that right Microsoft and Sony.

So here is my list, I won’t say it’s comprehensive, after all, I haven’t played every Xbox 360 title, and I never had a PS3 so I can’t comment on the Playstation exclusives (although I may do an article on the games make me wanna buy a PS3 before a next gen console). There may be some games I haven’t played but still feel confident recommending. The qualification for entry will be based on how good the game is, but in order to get on the list the game needs more, it needs to be something you just can’t get on the next gen. There will be some obvious classics on the list, but also some under-the-radar gems you may have missed, some cult classics, and some that simply embody the spirit of the generation.

So since I have spent more than enough time rambling let’s begin with one of my favourites…

bulletstorm

1. Bulletstorm

I turn to video games in my free time for a number of reasons, different games fulfil different needs, Bulletstorm fulfils the desire for fun, unabashed, unapologetic fun. To many first person shooters get bogged down in realism, precision play and a push for near constant adrenaline rushes. Not Bulletstorm, this game hands you a gym bag full of the wackiest, kill-iest nerf guns to ever get recalled from the toy store and then throws you into a consequence free playground filled with a bunch of no-one-will-miss-them types to send to an unmarked grave. And then the game turns and says “OK, you can kill the badguys, but can you kill them in a cooler or crazier way?”

Yes the aim of this game is not to efficiently headshot everyone you meet, but to find the most inventive way to defeat your enemy. And at the end of the day, if you are going to murder your way through a thousand space bandits, would your rather Judo chop your way past them like Austin Powers, or would you rather go Jackie Chan and find a dozen ridiculous ways to take them down using nought but a folding chair and soup laddel.

So if punting an explosive soccer ball into someones face or using a gravity whip and a flair gun to make a human firework sounds good to you, then you should probably try this game. Such a breath of fresh air in the genre, it’s a shame it seemed to pass by with little interest, but at least there are a lot of cheap second hand copies knocking about, but if you can, find a way to give the devs some money, find a way to pay for it new or downloaded, and pretend there is a chance we may see something like this ever again.

katamari

2. Beautiful Katamari

How can I make this list without evangelising my all time favourite series of games. From the first time my old roommate handed me the controller to the original, I have been hooked on these games. Katamari is one of the most unique games you will ever find on the console market, it is made with the kind of joy, love, and bravery that today we would most associate with the indie world. The premise is bonkers, the visuals minimalistic yet singularly stylish, and nothing is allowed to get in the way of the gameplay. This game is bonkers, but from inside its little world it makes so much sense; your father, the King of all Cosmo made a black hole by serving a tennis ball too hard, this caused all the planets and constellations to be sucked up, so it is up to you, a tiny prince, to roll up enough stuff using your super sticky Katamari ball so that the King can zap it into new celestial bodies. You roll a ball around a Japanese town, picking up anything smaller than the current ball size, this leads to a snowballing affect, allowing you to grow bigger and bigger and roll up more stuff, nothing beats the satisfying feeling when you roll up your first person, then your first car, house, so on and so on until your katamari is huge. For a game that looks like it could have been an early Nintendo 64 game, there was clearly a lot of love and care put into its creation, everything down to the little details like being able to start a snowball fight in the level selection hub. Try this or the PS3 Katamari Forever, we may never see their like again.

alice

3. Alice: Madness Returns

I toyed with whether or not to include this game, honestly, as a game it doesn’t hold up that well. I have included it because it stands up well in other areas, namely its creepy yet eerily beautiful aesthetic, its dark narrative and its morbid twisting of a classic children’s tale. The gameplay is simple enough, a mix of 3D platforming, puzzles and familiar combat, reminiscent somewhat of Psychonauts or 3D era Zelda games. It’s like a parallel world where Mario really was fuelled my hallucinogenic mushrooms and the designer sunk into a paranoid and depressed come-down just as Mario 64 was being made. It was an intriguing journey that you share with Alice, revisiting the familiar locales and characters of the Alice in Wonderland story with adult eyes, to see the fantasy land for what it really was, like thinking back to childhood and realising for the first time why you weren’t allowed to take sweets from strangers. The atmosphere and theme is what sold me on this game, and there are some good puzzles and enemy encounters to keep you engaged along the way to boot.

asura

4. Asura’s Wrath

Nobody does over the top like Japan. Get ready to suspend the rational part of your brain for this one, Asura’s Wrath takes you on an anger fuelled rampage the likes of which rarely seen outside of anime. In fact anime is precisely what this is, an anime cartoon in which you take control of the fighting. Just be ready to sit through a lot of slow cinematic sections, if you are familiar with action anime series, especially ones such as Naruto or Dragonball Z then I am sure you are used to the back and forth between intense action and lengthy dialogue as well as the disconnects associated with watching a Japanese story with western eyes.

The game uses the much maligned quick time events for a lot of gameplay, but it’s there from the start and failure only really affects your score, your can carry on with the story regardless. The main appeal for me was the narrative, although it won’t win any awards for writing, it is a runaway ride of anger and revenge, Asura is pissed off and will not stop for anything, you almost feel sorry for the hapless victims who try desperately to plead and reason with Asura, only for him to crush their skulls regardless. This guy starts off angrier than a punted football full of wasps and just carries on getting angrier as the story progresses. Which is lucky for him as anger seems to fuel him, the shear spectacle of the fights is immense. At one point you fight a guy larger than the whole planet and it isn’t even close to a finale. And the fight on the moon with the classical soundtrack is the definition of epic. It might not last you very long, but think of it as a binge watch of a good anime and it is time well spent.

marvel

5. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

I get the feeling this game won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you are a fan of Marvel comics and old school brawlers then you might get a kick out of this title. Loosely based on the Civil War graphic novel, this game has you pick out a team of four Marvel superheroes to kick, punch, smash, blast and… shield throw your way through hordes of henchmen and boss fights with a variety of heroes and villains. The gameplay is almost entirely brawler combat reminiscent of games like Streets of Rage. The basics of combat are pretty standard; light hit, heavy hit, special move, throw. But what makes it engaging is the team mechanic, there is a wide variety of playable characters to choose from, unique team bonuses to find for making a themed team either matching the comic book teams like the Fantastic Four and X-Men or a team of element manipulators or strong guys. But the best thing is the super team up moves you can pull off. There are dozens of match ups allowing you combine the varied powers of team members to create a bunch of powerful attacks to level your opponents. And in co-op mode, you can play as the Hulk and fast ball special your friend playing as Woverine into the badguys. If you look you may still find copies of the original game, however, I found it to be inferior, apart from looking ugly by even last gen standards, it handles clunkily and the non-boss enemies take so much effort to kill that it breaks immersion. Where as the sequel lets you mow down waves of canon fodder with glee, the original gets you wondering why it would take these superhumans so many punches just to knock out one regular guy. The sequel is a more polished game, but it still has it’s flaws, so if you get past them, it is an old school romp filled with bad ass superpowers and a ton of cameos from all over the Marvel universe. A comic book geek’s dream.

crackdown

6. Crackdown 1 or 2

Honestly I cannot decide which of these to recommed so I say try either one. Sure the sequel worked out a lot of the gameplay bugs and issues of the first game, but by replacing the gangs with zombies and having the city half wrecked, the sequel lost some of the feel of the original. The enemies had more variety from district to district and the city felt more alive. These games are pretty short on story, but this allowed for focus on gameplay. Sure at times that opportunity to concentrate on gameplay seems somewhat squandered, but it will keep you entertained plenty, these are games that truly offer a free roaming sandbox experience, there are very few times when you have to do any activity other than those that you choose for yourself. And with any open world, the way you get from A to B can make or break an experience, if it’s not fun to go places, then you either have to fast travel or get bored. Either way, your sandbox won’t feel as immersive as it would if you had fun on your travels; cruising with the radio on in GTA, grappling and gliding in Arkham, or in in the case of Crackdown, leaping about like Superboy, pancaking cars with your monster truck or tossing them aside with your cattle scoop fitted supercar. These are games you can get a bit lost in, there always seems to be one more thing to do before you switch off, or an agility orb you can spot on a tall building that you just have to go get. The collectibles sing to you when you get close like Sirens luring you to your doom… I wonder if there’s anything good at the top of that skyscraper?

Part One done. Follow my blog to see more gaming experiences you just can’t get on Xbox One or PS4. I’m trying to write a mini review for at least one game a day, but I have a bunch of other projects on the go as well. Hopefully part two will be up soon. Coming up, a few more hidden gems, some all time classics, and a handful of forgotten beauties from when the last gen was still new.

South Park: The Stick Of Truth – A short, focused game is better than a longer bloated game

The last time I played a South Park video game was an awful quiz game on the PSone. I’m glad to report that South Park TSOT shows much more respect for the series and should set an example of how games licensed from material outside of the games world should go about expanding into video games (not to say others haven’t done it well. Die Hard Trilogy was one of may favourite games as teenager). It shows a level of respect and understanding for the source material that as a fan of the show, I really appreciated, and on top of that it stands up on it’s own as a work of game design.

In the game you take control of a new kid recently moved to South Park, you are forced out of your new home to make friends and quickly get recruited into a kind of LARPS game with the neighbourhood kids using whatever junk and weapons they can get their hands on. The children’s fantasy game quickly gets tangled into a bigger real life plot with dire consequences. I wouldn’t say the story is that great, As authentic and funny as it is, and as much as people have lauded the writing, it’s nothing like the quality we’re used to in the TV show. Sure it’s funny and puts you in some hilarious, outrageous and memorable situations. Only it all just feels like a bunch of stuff that happens, there really isn’t much point to any of it.

Overall it looks and feels just like the show, the town is full of fan favourites from the show and the game world is always a fun place to be, you are always stumbling onto something interesting or fun, the amount of nods and references to the TV series is huge. I spent a good ten minutes just reading the descriptions of the junk items that are usually just sold without thought, it’s impressive the level of detail they put into crafting the South Park world, in any other game these junk items would be just nondescript useless items (like the broomsticks and tableware in Skyrim that is little more than decoration and clutter to be sold or ignored) but in South Park there’s hundreds of items found only once that relate to their location (like finding the Brad Pitt survival kit in Cartman’s house).

Fans of the show will appreciate the level of detail in this game

Fans of the show will appreciate the level of detail in this game

The gameplay for the most part is a joy to experience, much of the time I spent in the game was wondering around, exploring and discovering, all the time being entertained my the well written and performed voice acting. The world is made to feel alive this way, your companion and the inhabitants of the town are always adding bits of dialogue, and sure sometimes you end up hearing the same line a dozen times, but mostly it’s entertaining and sometimes gives you a little hint towards new quests or how to pass a certain puzzle. When not exploring, you are mostly fighting, the leveling up system feels a bit small and inconsequential: the only time I felt like I was getting stronger than the average enemy was when I bought a new stronger weapon, the only noticable benefit from leveling up is giving you access to better equipment and special moves. The fight animations and depth of the combat system will keep you interested throughout most of the game, but it can easily boil down to spamming stackable status effects, the game does compensate this with certain enemies and most bosses having immunities, but for the most part you can pile on the status effects and then defend until the enemy kills themselves.

This game is wonderfully designed, there was little I could fault it on, which makes it disappointing that the tutorials you have to play as part of the main storyline are so terrible. I’m referring specifically to the sections during cutsecenes where you must perform a certain action before the game will let you move on. I wonder who was part of this part of the game, because they seem really out of place in how amateur they are. There are some better tutorials, often new mechanics are taught through gameplay and you barely notice they are there, and the problem mostly comes from having to teach the needlessly complicated magic spells (farts) mechanic. The spells have too many inputs to execute, a step by step guide is about the only hope of teaching them. But the tutorials detailing this have little resemblance to what you have to do in the game itself, and on top of that the way to use the spells is in most cases different between using the spell on an enemy in combat and using it when rest of the gameworld. I probably found these tutorial sections the most frustrating part of the game, and all I can suggest is to grit your teeth and get through them to enjoy the rest of the game.

Sure the game has it’s problems, but apart from the awful tutorials I’m mostly knit-picking. The game is straight up fun, the issues I have a not enough to prevent me giving this game a good recommendation, especially if you count yourself a South Park fan.

 

Playing this game and reading the opinions of others on it bring up thoughts about an issue around games that will surely become more relevant over time if game development costs at the AAA end of the spectrum continue to spiral upwards out of control. That issue being game length.

Sure for the most part this game has received praise, but the short length of gameplay has at times come into question. Sure I knocked this game out in just a few sessions over a couple of days. But none of that time felt wasted, I was never bored, and the content maintained a high standard throughout. Compare that to another game I played recently; Deadpool. I am barely a few hours into the game and already it feels like it is outstaying it’s welcome. It’s a problem all developers have to face, you always want to make the biggest and best game you possibly can, but on the other hand you are restricted by budget, hardware limitations and time constraints. Somewhere something has to give. South Park TSOT feels like it benefited from it’s long development time and the visual style that surely meant adding new content was relatively fast and low cost. Sure the game is short, but it had a level of focus making almost every aspect of the game earns its place. By the end of the game, I didn’t feel short changed, and I didn’t feel like I was trying to wade through repetition to reach the conclusion. It is a master class in balance and management of interest and difficulty. Most of the time though, full retail games can go a number of ways, there are the ones that are over too soon and leave you wanting more, and the ones that feel like content is being copy-pasted in to bulk out the play time, I certainly felt the latter was the case in Deadpool, there is some entertaining content in the game, but the combat got boring very quickly, some sections felt like a grind, suffering from the “kill X amount of enemies to unlock the door” syndrome, apart from getting boring quickly, it makes me wonder who the enemy is that he would have a private army of hundreds who are all so willing to throw themselves into the meatgrinder to protect their boss from someone like Deadpool, I think I’d quit after I saw him murder the first dozen of my co-workers.

I know it’s not an easy problem to solve, if you can only afford to generate so many environments and write and design so much content, then you can either release a shorter game, or bulk it out with more enemies, but there are good and bad ways to go about doing both.

South Park TSOT is a good example of the short method, the gameplay is satisfying and every part of the game has been given enough attention of cumulatively make a good game. The best example I can think of for a bulked out game that stays entertaining is the Arkham series. The Arkham games

are packed with hordes of criminals to beat up. But they remain entertaining for a number of reasons:

  • The combat is fun, the freeflow combat system is intuitive, deep and can accommodate for most play styles (perhaps with the exeception of button bashers, this is the most commom complaint I hear, that you have to learn the combat and can’t just bulldoze through it)
  • The numbers of enemies make sense in the context of the story and game world. The Batman world (Gotham and the prisons) are bleak and unfair, it is a soceity split between wealthy decadence and appalling poverty, combine with the depressing and dark feel of the city and the harsh weather, it’s no wonder so many turn to crime. And it is communicated well by the enemies you face, they are simply copy pasted nameless thugs, but have varied motivations. Through voice over snippets we get an idea of how some of the thugs think, ranging from desperation to survive in a world that offers little alternative, some seem to be stuck in a situation they can’t escape, some are more scared of their crime lord bosses (Batman may break bones but Joker or Black Mask may kill them) and some are just sadists and psychopaths
  • To an extent you can control you engagement, some encounters can be bypassed with stealth or by going the long way around, often you can chose to dive in and start a fight or pick enemies off one by one, and always there is the choice of using powerful strategies to beat the enemy quickly, or beat them with style, finesse or patients. One is easier and quicker, and one requires more development of your skills and some effort, but offers more rewards.
  • The majority of enemies are no match for Batman, it’s satisfying to take on a dozen men and learn them wincing in pain in heaps on the floor without breaking a sweat or taking a hit.
  • You can for the most part see how much resistance is ahead of you, and once they are beat, you can move on to the next challenge.
The Fleeflow combat system in the Arkham games makes you feel badass!

The Fleeflow combat system in the Arkham games makes you feel badass!

Compare this to Deadpool, the combat is little more than hack and slash, it doesn’t matter who you are going up against, they all have massive armies willing to lay down their lives for their leader. The game throws more and more enemies at you at times, leaving me wondering, when will this fight end so I can get on with the rest of the story. Even with one solitary enemy of the weakest kind, it takes to many hits to kill them that it feels like a chore. They missed out on what is the appeal of Deadpool as a fighter, that is that even without his healing factor, he is a highly skilled assassin and martial artists. He should be able to slice his way through huge crowds of ememies with skilful ease, instead we are expected to mash attack buttons and watch Deadpool hack away at enemies as though his katanas were butter knives. The Akham games fulfil the Batman fantasy by letting you plough through the minions and sprinkle in doses of more challenging enemies and bosses. Deadpool does not deliver of the fantasy of the character, I’d rather play him with the skilful precision of the Arkham games Batman, or the cut through the crowds Dynasty Warriors style, where one or two swings of a weapon can take out a dozen enemies. That’s more what I think of when I think of Deadpool, not flailing swords around chipping off health, and when the bosses turn up, they are little more of a challenge then regular enemies with bigger health bars.

Another consideration may be story versus gameplay. I may go into this in more depth another time, but games can have a tendency to overeach and try to do both of them equally and fall short on each. A number of games have found a great niche for themselves by focusing on a strong story with simple gameplay (Asura’s Wrath, Catherine) or by havin engaging gameplay that players keep coming back for despite a lack of story (Street Fighter and Tekken series, multiplayer focused shooters like Titanfall and MOBA’s). Doing one well can often work better than doing avargely on both

In conclusion, since developers can’t all hope to make a game like Skyrim with huge amounts of unique content to have you measuring gameplay time in days rather than hours. It will pay off in the long run for developers to use their resources wisely. Don’t out stay your welcome, I for one would rather play a shorter game where no moment it wasted, than a bloated game that heavy handedly uses repetition to pad out the play time. The key is to find the thing in your game that appeals to your audience and focus on that. Nothing should be in your game simply because it’s expected of games today; be it story, visuals, RPG elements… know what your game is about, know it’s appeal, know the reason people will want to play it and keep playing, and focus on that. Focus on this a make it the best it can be and you will surely make a better game, if there’s time/money left over, then work on the rest.