Tuesday, February 25, 2014

War Has Changed Indeed

It's curious that the best game on the ps3, was released on the console nearly a decade ago. The level of craftsmanship shown in Metal Gear Solid 4, rivals that of another early title, Heavenly Sword, in that they both show traces of admirable craft and many years of development. This Konami title then, was a proud addition to the company's tentpole releases, for we are talking about one of the most-accomplished sci-fi worlds to date, in gaming at least.

As a tv-series addict, I found the various cut-scenes to be captivating and engrossing. This melodrama and exposition may be superior to say, SC: Blacklist, in that this world is a full-on dystopia. In fact, MGS4 is more of an experience, like a theme park ride, if you will, than videogame. A title in which Pixar's Luxo Jr, or perhaps Wall-e, get a homage in the form of the tiny mechanical Mk.II, is truly gaming at its finest. Moreover, the game obtained trophy-support, a couple of years ago.


To say that the games in the series have an aesthetic of its own is an understatement, as even the voice acting is recognizable. Likewise, both the hero himself, with his advanced ever-changing camouflage, and the enemies, are a wonder of design, such as the powerful Gekko, a towering Mech. All of this taking place in a para-military, nano-machine governed world. Likewise, few war games are self-reflective and retrospective, as is the case here.

And why does it work? The game can get away with some violence due to being sci-fi, yet even then, it takes the time to parody and question the ethics of war; there is even a trophy for losing your belly after a killing spree. The opening even puts infomercials into question. The property, which reportedly borrowed elements from film, is such a self-contained world, that not for a single minute does the player questions it. The game is like delicious cuisine, in which all the right ingredients are present, for you certainly believe the character as a super-soldier, because that is just what Snake is. Likewise, the cigarette portrayal veers between coolness and parody.

Kojima both glorifies and condemns war, and this approach seems quite sensible given Snake's adventures, and this glamorization and demonization, allows for a true auteur's voice to express itself in a large canvas. These hardened soldiers take pills, like they do in real life, for this war game is about both brain and brawn, and most other offerings in the genre should take note. It's about how you do it, right down to our hero's psych treatment. As well, the game is full of easter eggs and secrets. The update allows for a seemingly full install, instead of in parts, of this large game.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I Am My Sword

It was written that twenty-three years ago, in the year of the fire-horse, a deity would be reborn, in the body of a mortal man. A savior, destined to unite our people and show us the way to the Promised Land. Instead, I was born from my mother’s dying body…and my people wept. They said I was a portent of doom… - Nariko

Nariko is the kind of heroine who takes matters into her own hands. An outcast, reviled by her clan for seemingly not fulfilling an age-old prophecy, she takes her role of savior very seriously. So much so, that her very her mission becomes her life; that at least is the premise of Heavenly Sword, a ps3 exclusive game.

Nariko and her notorious hair are a wise design choice and so are the locales found within the game disc, which are breath-taking to say the least; constructions in the mountains adorned with banners waving in the wind, stairs that go on forever, and waterfalls as a backdrop, like an Eden invaded by evil men, led by nefarious and resolute King Bohan. Five years in the making and a staff of 140 people will get you that.
In fact, the game, which is basically a hack and slash title, makes a powerful argument for art in gaming, since much work went into this ps3 launch title, as can be witnessed by the behind the scenes features. The talent behind Ninja Theory explains they wanted the game to have the grandeur of a movie and they certainly succeed in that regard, although the game looks more like a series of illustrations come to life. The cast, starring Anna Torv, of Fringe fame, and Andy Serkis, is a great addition.

In this challenging game, the art design truly shines; Nariko and Kai, the two playable characters, are wonderfully depicted, with top notch animations. The villains are also a joy to behold, each of them crafted with great care. Be it King Bohan himself, who sports the best facial animations, or his henchmen, Flying Fox, Whiptail and Roach. These characters appear in well written cutscenes and inventive boss fights, and have solid voice acting to bring them to life.

The Sixaxis motion control is the thorn in this rose. The bow missions with Nariko's adopted sister, Kai, in which you have to shoot arrows at enemies, are of extreme difficulty when you find yourself shaking the gamepad. However, there is thankfully an option to turn Sixaxis off and use the analog stick instead, making those sections fun. When companies allow gimmicks to have an integral part in their games, as is the case of Microsoft's almost defunct Kinect, things can go downhill.

Whilst it is a combat game, as explained above, there are enough combat stances to keep you fairly busy. Each of these moves is accompanied by a balletic animation which is pure eye candy. The game, which has inspired a recent animated feature, comes also with a series of animated shorts which are breath-taking in their simplicity. For a title which offers no trophies due to its early launch date, it certainly comes packed with hefty extra content to make up for it.