Friday, January 20, 2012

Into the Wild

Given that Crytek is making games I find interesting, I decided to give Far Cry II a whirl, a game which uses some of the developer's code but was finally made by Ubisoft, in anticipation of the release of the third part the coming month. As the reader may recall, the original Far Cry was banned in Germany. Yet unlike say, the reality-starved CoD:MW series, here we find actual social commentary, as there are small hints of racial tension in the land, like a hanged black man, all of which could easily represent the outskirts of Johannesburg.

I'm happy to report that one gets to choose a character at the beginning, so this is not your regular FPS. Furthermore, FC2 hopes you will plan your moves strategically, hence there's nothing mindless about it; guerrilla warfare was never stupid. Add to this the free-roaming, which makes it feel like a first person GTA; the difference being FC2 was concocted by developers whose games aren't so overly derivative.

The Heart of Darkness as well as The Day of the Jackal have been mentioned as inspiration for perhaps the most expansive sandbox game of them all, as there are no levels, only checkpoints. Yet the experience reminds me loosely of the Splinter Cell series, as the game certainly makes you watch your step. Just use your monocular; simple, wasn't it? Gladly, there is quite an international cast of characters, in fact, the "Soviet enemy" scenario is somewhat inverted here, as you can play as a mercenary from that land.

There is a randomized "buddy system" wherein one character becomes your main assistance in the game and the other your secondary one. These are the nine playable characters plus three other ones. This is good, because there are gangs looking for trouble everywhere. The NPCs provide missions and establish the plot points.

Ultimately, Far Cry 2 is an evolution of the concepts from the first game; whereas the original took place in an island in Micronesia, the sequel brings the player to the perhaps harsher terrain of South Africa. Gone are the fantasy aspects, now the moral ambiguity of life is reflected in a free-for-all world of mercenaries, in a land with good people, living in a torn country. Considering this trend, it's entirely possible that the third entry will take place in India and you will play a poor man fighting human trafficking.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blast from the Past

After playing what to me was one of the best games of the year 2011, Crysis 2, I felt compelled to play one of the original games, and got my hands on Crysis: Warhead, the stand-alone expansion to the still graphically advanced Crysis.

Crysis Warhead is a "midquel" which occurs during the events of the original Crysis, yet on the other side of the island in which that game takes place, after "Psycho" splits up with "Nomad" following their raid on the North Korean harbor. The intro may be very nice, but it's quite hard to make heads or tails of it, if you haven't played the original. Psycho, on the other hand, sounds remarkably like actor Jason Statham, which is a welcome addition.

The real attraction may turn out to be just how much the natural-flowing strategy of the game reminds you of Far Cry and Far Cry II (the first also by Crytek), something which has become a bit more stale in the sequel. There is a general need for the adoption of basic survival tactics; it's rather easy to get killed if you don't move across the battlefield with caution, which must be said, also reminds me of a console game as is the excellent Black.

It is rather interesting, it must be said, to see everyone, enemies included, wearing nanosuits, in a "future war" scenario which reminds of MGS but is very much its own thing. The Korean nanosuit army is a force to be reckoned with. As well, the Cephalopods are here more organic, as opposed to the anthropomorphization found in the sequel.

I feel obliged to make a parenthesis and briefly discuss the portrayal of "bad guys" in games and movies. Hollywood filmmakers have a fetish for Arabs, Asians and, more specifically, ex Soviets. Gaming is no different. Yet, for a leading nation with so many enemies within, it all stinks of formulaic decisions; gaming by committee. Unless the game is about fighting robotic aliens, you will be hard-pressed to find a developer that doesn't resort to infuriatingly simplistic clichés. If I listed all the examples of "bad Russians" this essay would go on forever. Let it go!

The wintry graphics do get a bit repetitive, despite excellent level design, but you do encounter new scenery rather quickly. Crysis:WH is certainly worth it as a past-gen shooter which puts you to the test, but for the most part you do not feel like a super-soldier in an advanced, ultra expensive suit.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Switching Platforms

Much has been made of the "console wars" between Microsoft and Sony, and while it is clear that both companies have put out great products, there is a factor of importance which tips the scales to one side, at least from my standpoint; exclusives.

The PS3 has on offer Beyond, GT5, Heavenly Sword, Heavy Rain, Infamous, Lair, MGS4, Siren: Blood Curse, SOCOM, The Last of Us, Uncharted, plus several re-issues of PS2 games.

While the 360 sports the strong Forza series; and now, The Witcher 2, its "response" to Heavy Rain; for the real similarity was the release date, was the tepid Alan Wake, which is to this day the most derivative and over-hyped game I have ever played.

It's just a very exciting time for consoles, especially with an eye on Europe and Eurasia. With studios like Starbreeze (plus splintered MachineGames), 4A Games, CD Projekt, and Crytek putting out above-average action games, which don't insult the player's intelligence, but reward with innovation. And I'm all for a console whose games cannot be so easily pirated.

Yet I will also try my hand at some bargain bins and open betas as a man can't spend all his cash on games!