Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Darkness II: Game Design Review

Based on the Darkness comics by Image Comics and sequel to the Darkness which was released on the consoles, this sequel continues Jackie's story and the mysterious brotherhood pursuing him. Spoilers will be mentioned in this game design review.

First off, Darkness II is a fun, violent and gory action game. It hits all the right notes with comic book feel using cel-shading voice acting and very solid combat mechanics. I used a Xbox 360 game pad so it might be a different experience with mouse and key board.

What I liked about the game:

Executions have a point- Executions in game are very cool and actually serve a point rather than just to finish off the enemy. You can choose to execute to get health, ammo or a shield which creates a nice tension and choice in the game and each has its own use depending on your situation.

Tentacles- You have tentacles hovering next to you at all times acting as extra arms allowing you to attack as well as grab and throw objects like guns, metal poles, shields and other important items. With the controller, the tentacles are mapped onto the shoulder button. It's quite intuitive and fun and you kind of wonder why other games don't have something similar.

Story combined with action- I think the game has a good balance between gameplay and story weaving both together well without either dragging on to long.


Linearity- This is a fairly short straight forward game. It's pretty much level after level. The levels themselves aren't particularly creative either just your standard urban environments. I found them okay but nothing I hadn't really seen in other games.

Lack of enemy variety and bosses- The game plays it a bit too safe with the enemies. You'll only be fighting humans and darkness powered humans. That's it. Aside from you, the people you fight are quite tame. Even in the last level where you find inhuman enemies spawned from Hell, they carry around guns that behave exactly like the ones all the humans have been carrying. I was hoping for some cooler enemies you know? The boss fights feel tame as well since the only enemies you'll fight are human bosses.

Disconnected Co-op multiplayer- Co-op is actually quite fun. In the game you choose one of four characters which have different powers and go around completing missions. It feels very strange and although supposedly running parallel to the main game, there is no mention of it in the main story. As a result it feels very disconnected and very shoehorned in.

Darkness explosions need to be bigger- Instead of grenades you can unlock a power early on where anything you pick up and throw explodes into Darkness. Great. Unfortunately the explosion is a bit small. It's sometimes a problem when the explosion hits a corner rather than the enemy you're targeting and nothing happens.

Dark Vortex too random- Dark Vortexes are like super grenades in the game, they are very powerful and pretty much kills anything. Unfortunately they are dropped randomly. I think they should make it more skill based rather than luck based. Maybe if you kill enough small enemies via combos you can summon it up instead.

X button is both grab weapon and heart- minor point but occasionally you end up picking up a worse gun in battle.

Lacks automatic healing- Unfortunately for some reason you can't heal automatically. This usually isn't a problem but sometimes I would end up at the end of a fight with very little health meaning the next fight became harder than it needed to be because there was no one left to consume health from. When I died and the checkpoint was reloaded I ended up in full health allowing me to pass the next area.

Too weak in light- Being a game where you're constantly needing to be in darkness is a great idea but being exposed to light in the game is extremely penalising. Not only do you lose your armour, you start to become blinded making it extremely hard to see. This becomes especially problematic when the enemies start carrying out powerful lights to attack you. It just makes your weakened state even more punishing than necessary.

No climbing- Hard to believe that a guy with the powers of Darkness no less can't even scale walls. I mean seriously? This guy can pick up dumpsters but can't super jump or clamber over walls? Despite all the innovations in attacking this made Jackie feel illogically stunted in the game and reminded me it was 'just a game' rather than an 'experience'.

Melee- Melee combat is okay but I kind of wished they would have done something a bit different. You basically press attack and flick the right joystick in the direction you want the attack to go. But there are two directions horizontal and up and down and the only reason you need to slash up is to activate a special power and stun enemies. I feel like they should have just had melee as an auto attack and use the joystick for something else. Maybe commanding the imp or activating some special dodge move?

Lack of special attacks- There are only two special attacks. A auto-targeting and a stun attack. That's it. I was hoping for something a bit more creative considering you have the powers of darkness. How about summoning up demons or something? In the comics, Jackie could craft all manner of dark beings and dark attacks. Well I understand a video game has balance surely some abilities like 'summon dark fire' would have been cool?

Terrible ending- Okay seriously what is up with the ending? Don't get me wrong, I quite liked the cliff-hanger ending but  also ends up with Jackie trapped in Hell; or the Hell as created by his Darkness powers. I bet you the Darkness III will feature Jackie having to fght his way out of Hell as the first level.

A more satisfying ending would have Jackie fighting his way out of Hell back into reality, partially defeat the Angelus who then escapes and then closing with some sort of: "I don't know what will happen now but its out there" speech which at least provides more closure. You know, a real final boss fight.

The Darkness II is a fun game don't get me wrong and its innovation of tentacles allowing you to quad-wield really increases the fun factor. Unfortunately, despite the premise, the game only adequately delivers its promises but never really forges ahead in the area of innovation. It's a missed opportunity in my opinion and something I hope the next game in the series will fix.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Farcry 2: Game Design Review

Farcry 2 is an action adventure game taking place in Africa in a fictitious wartorn region. It is a sequel to the original Farcry but its best to call it a thematic sequel than a direct sequel as the only thing that connects both is the theme of an open free roaming world. My original impression of Farcry 2 was good. The game starts by having you pick a character with an interesting history and has an opening showing off the very nice graphics. Most importantly, it didn't slow down on my fairly modest computer. That being said, about an hour in, it's pretty clear to me what the faults of Farcry 2 are. I did play it right to the end, so here's my list of what I liked and disliked after about 20 hours or so of gameplay.

What I liked:
Large well-designed 'organic' looking world- Farcry 2 has a wonderfully crafted sandbox map with each area and region feeling differently well design. This is a virtual explorers dream. It's clear a lot of effort was put into making the map topography and geographic interesting and unique.

Solid combat and stealth- Combat is very satisfying and very fun. There are lots of different guns in the game so there's plenty of choose from. If you prefer going in and shooting everything you'll want to carry mostly automatic weapons while those who prefer a long range approach will prefer a mix of sniper rifle and explosives. There are even flame-based weapons that you can wield to set fire to bushes and grass which can spread and kill enemies! Stealth is also definitely a viable albeit slow tactic especially with silenced weapons you can purchase. Just as importantly, you're always carrying a machete as a melee weapon compared to the first game where it took up an entire weapon slot.

Enemies AI and reactions- The enemies are quite smart in the game and will try to flank you, search for you and work together. They flinch if you shoot but miss them and try and seek cover in general. They'll even try and carry away a team mate who's injured!

Environment physics- The environmental physics such as a fires, winds, lighting and weather really help make this feel like a living breathing world.

Static world and enemies- The issue with Farcry 2 is that the entire world like many sandbox games is static and unchanging. Guard posts and enemies continually respawn no manner how many times you destroy them. It doesn't matter how many main quests you complete either, the entire world remains a hostile unfriendly place. This creates a sense that none of your actions have any real weight or impact on the world.

Can't choose multiple quests and poor quest location- Although the game makes it seem that initially you have a choice of faction it turns out you don't have a choice of factions. You have to finish every single main quest for both factions to advance the game.

Lack of story pacing and impact- As a more story oriented gamer this is what disappointed me the most. Farcry 2's storyline is suppose to be about you entering into a war torn region to assassinate the Jackal, an arms dealers who's been arming the two factions. But things go seriously wrong when you enter, you contract malaria and then end up being saved by the Jackal and basically abandoned by the people who hired you. To survive and get out of the country, you start working for both sides of the conflict picking up missions and playing each of the sides against each other.

Now this could have been a great story about moral choice, wartime atrocities, the dark side of human nature. The audio tapes you pick up and philosophy of the Jackal and the ending are actually thought provoking in nature. But the whole story lacks emotional impact because your actions have no consequences in the game. The game world doesn't change, the missions don't change, the way the characters speak doesn't change and when certain game-changing situations occur nothing really happens. You survive and continue to do things in exactly the same way as before, no different from previously. Your choices lack impact undercutting the initial narrative. This is a real shame because for all the freedom the game gives you in the world, the story and narratives as presented is simply uncompelling.

Quests are repetitive- At one point, it just so happened that the main quests and subquests were all located in the same area which meant that I had to visit the same area three times just to do pretty much the same thing, clear it out full of bad guys. It got repetitive and nearly all quests basically involve you going somewhere and clearing everyone out, destroying something, killing someone or picking something up so it can get repetitive fast.

No variety in enemies- Aside from different weapons you'll see the same guys over and over again. Yes some do carry weapons but you're otherwise shooting the same people over and over again.

Enemy intelligence and driving- As mentioned enemies do flank and it's actually fairly realistic. Unfortunately they don't seem to get smarter when it comes to driving. Basically whenever you see a car, the enemy AI will automatically attempt to ram/attack you and then they'll get out and try and shoot you. They have no sense of fear and will quite happily get out of the car as you're shooting them rather than run or drive away. As a result this makes driving more annoying than fun especially when you're trying to travel across to a different part of the map only to constantly attacked every single time you run across a guard post.

Malaria- At the start of the game you contract malaria which serves as an explanation for why you start off so weak and get stronger throughout the game. I thought this was a good idea as opposed the standard amnesia ploy. Your malaria level is related to how many main missions you've done but will also strike at completely random moments throughout the game with no prior warning. And these strikes are serious interruptions when you're unable to move for a few seconds. Occasionally resulting in damage and sometimes death.

No stealth meter or radar- One thing I do miss from the first game is the stealth meter and radar. Unfortunately this makes the stealth portion of the game much harder than before. Some people complain about the lack of crawling compared to Farcry 1 but I didn't really find it too much of an issue as long as I hid in the bushes and foliage.

Buddies are pointless- There is a buddy system in the game where buddies will rescue you if you get knocked out or injured in a fairly lengthy sequence. What else buddies good for? Aside from giving additional missions they don't actually do anything. You can't ask them to accompany you in a fire fight, you can't hire them, you can't drive around with them. It's a real shame considering they gave each buddy a history and animation but they only act as generic NPC backup and only if you get hurt badly enough to pass out.

Overall, I can say I enjoyed Farcry 2 for the first few hours but not the rest. Mechanically very solid but it feels as if no one really took the time to look at the larger game and see how the various bits fit to create a cohesive game. The result is a repetitive game that looks and plays great but just can't offer enough content to justify keep going unless you are solely into shooting. According to reviews, Farcry 3 fixes all this and I think all gamers should skip this game and go straight to Facry 3 instead.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dragonball Z: Super Sonic Warriors: Mini-Game Design Review

Dragonball Z: Super Sonic warriors for the Gameboy advance is an arena fighter game where you pick Dragonball Z characters such as Goku, Vegeta and Piccolo and going around blasting, kicking and smacking each other.

My initial impressions is that its a fun game and for the first few hours it was. Mechanically the game is solid. You control 1 fighter at a time and fly around on screen and are able to attack each other from any direction and have other fighters swap in if you're in a team game. There is a very solid rock-paper-scissors balance in the way attacks, blocking and dodging works to good effect. For example, it's easy to dodge and counter the very powerful slow super attacks but if you misjudge the enemy might just follow up with another super attack or several quick fireballs instead.

Each fighter has different special moves and abilities.For example, some of the fighters have homing missiles, others have direct blasts that travel in a straight line, android characters have infinite fireball energy but can only recharge super attack energy via sucking it from the enemy characters. Unfortunately the more I played it the more I realise the lack of special moves and abilities between fighters really hurts the game in the end.

 Because of this, there's not much to say about the game design, you can play this in about 15 minutes and you've pretty much explored most of what the game has. It is a bit difficult to perform certain attacks which require holding two or more buttons down at the same time but you do get used to it.

It's fun to play but I amongst 360 arena battlers I would recommend you go play the Psychic Force series instead for a true arena battler with enough variation and special moves.