Mighty no 9


I’m finding it hard not to compare Mighty no 9 to DOOM since I just finished playing both – but in a way it feels like it’s not entirely useful. Or, for lack of a better word, fair. Both are flirting with a kind of game that was starting to disappear some 20 years ago, but while DOOM tries to capture the essence of the original using new techniques Mighty no 9 seems to want to recreate the original as-is and pile new ideas on top of it.

A comparison between a kickstarter project – even though it’s backed by famous names – and a AAA project backed by one of the world’s largest publishers is not really fair though. Mostly because experimentation might – ironically – still be safer to do with publishers who understand that budgets are flexible, failures are a part of the process and have the resources to take care of practical matters for you. But I am honestly not sure I was the right audience for this game to begin with.

I wrote a few years back about Megaman 8, how it had a high level of frustration and seemed much more concerned about its level of spectacle than it being fair to the player and how criticizing it for doing what it set out to do said more about me than about the game. There are innovations in Mighty no 9 that I do like – the dash/combo system is fluid when it works, the recharging special weapons discourage the stockpiling that took so much joy out of the early Megamans and some of the later levels have really nice ideas, if not well-realized ones. Other times, it feels like the game is trying to shoot itself in the foot – certain sections are so hard to get through mechanically that the game flat-out tells you what you need to do since it might be hard to guess after failing at it. Instead of letting you experiment with strategies, the game tells you what weapon a boss is weak to before you enter the level. There is an abundance of instant-kill traps with poorly defined hitboxes and the archaic lives system will force you to replay areas that do not offer nearly enough challenge to warrant optimization. Bosses occasionally have interesting patterns, but are usually bullet-sponges with easily dodgable attacks. In short, playing Mighty no 9 is a game of attrition.

But I am not so sure that would have irritated me when I was younger. And there is some room for detailed optimization in playstyles – the upcoming SGDQ should give us some hint that there is a lot of desire for games that encourage mastery. I don’t know if Mighty no 9 manages to do that as the market for punishing platform games is rather crowded already, but it’s really not for me to judge.

Posted on Jun 29/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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I was in College when the Doom 3 leak happened, never did spend much time with the game but it was one of the early and clear examples of a trend where the added realism afforded by new hardware allowed games to be more serious and dark. A whole lot of games fell for it during the late 90s to early 2000s, as if videogames were in some adolescent period where they needed to abandon their colorful origins. I mean, in a lot of ways they were.

The cool part of DOOM is that after so many games have tried that modernization approach, it appears to follow a recent phenomenon (which I can only hope becomes more of a trend) where developers skip the tried-and-true methods of wringing an old IP for money and instead return to the roots of the game, changing it only when new techniques can further the original ideas. At the time, I remember Doom 2 being a technological marvel more than anything else but it did have a frenetic pace of the action that got lost somewhere among the cover-shooting and regenerating health.

I think it was Halo that popularized the idea of creating a simpler shooter with much less longterm economy – you didn’t really have to keep track of health between fights, and since you could only carry two weapons you were bound to keep replacing them with whatever you found ammo for. It was a brilliant way of removing the problem of players fretting over just how expensive a victory had been and how it would affect their path through the rest of the level – it allowed each encounter to be interesting and lethal in its own right. The problem with this, though, is that by allowing the players to rest to regain health, you encourage a playstyle that involves frequent lulls in the action.

Nothing wrong with that per-se, but it has been a crutch for many games – it is therefore refreshing to see DOOM flip the idea on its head and instead of rewarding the player for taking a break it rewards the player for keeping the action going. Not a lot of DOOM makes sense from a narrative standpoint but the flow of the game and the feedback from its mechanics justify it. It is a bold move to go back to the drawing board on a problem that’s already been solved, and no mean feat to pull off a completely new solution so well.

I did feel like some of the exploratory game elements introduced a bit too much of a pause in the mayhem, and the difficulty curve was uneven, but those are merely nitpicks in a confident and very good game.

Posted on Jun 23/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Quantum Break


It is very clear from the get-go that Quantum Break was made by the same people who conceived Alan Wake – story is front and center and the game in between is functional, but hardly inspiring. It is a very ambitious project – would have been even without the TV episodes that are interleaved with the actual game.

A lot of times and on many levels, Quantum Break feels like it is full of good ideas that could have used a little bit more attention. On the presentation side, for instance, textures visibly stream in when you’re standing right next to them and effects and environments frequently make the game very hard to read. Gameplay-wise, you get a sense of areas being designed to be realist first and fun later – it is never clear where you can go and the areas where you fight feel ill-suited for it. It is a particularly egregious example of ludonarrative dissonance with an upgrade system that encourages you to search every area thoroughly but a narrative that constantly nags you to hurry along. What makes this even worse is how the game gives you a rough idea of when you are supposed to find something, but if you happen to miss one it will almost never allow you to backtrack. For these reasons, and some ill-advised instant-kill moments, Quantum Break can be frustrating to play.

It is, however, very obvious that these choices were made in order to tell a better story – and it does tell quite the story. It is not as atmospheric as Alan Wake and it left less of a mark on me, but it is an ambitious project with some great performances both in voice and live – Aidan Gillen in particular shines as an unusually sympathetic antagonist. It is a game that is flawed in some ways, and I don’t think Remedy has quite figured out a good way to merge their kind of storytelling well with gameplay just yet, but I am happy that they are trying.

Posted on Jun 13/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »