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Archive for the ‘Opening Movie’ Category

by Shawn Alexander Allen

In the first mission, Hitman Absolution does what few AAA games that invest heavily in creating a cutscene driven narrative do; it immediately throws away the pretense that anything in the game should be taken as anything but that, a game. Rather than effortlessly working to create a world where game mechanics are not spoken of and then trying to dance around the inevitable awkwardness that ensues when an in game character has to break the 4th wall and mention “Pressing X” or “Holding the Left Bumper”, the female-voiced tutorial overseer outright refers to Hitman Absolution as a game. She says that your score is kept in the upper left hand corner and that all of your acts are being monitored to the effect of being given a penalty or bonus based on the manner in which the missions are completed.

The numerous assertions that the tutorial makes about Hitman Absolution The Game over Hitman Absolution the Wannabe Gripping Thriller Drama, however, creates a certain irony when the first mandatory kill objective assigned to the player is taken away mere steps from the goal. This moment could have been one of intense gameplay bonding the player to the game world. Instead, the moment is played out in an awkward cutscene.

This is a big problem and something that gaming is supposed to be moving away from; forcefully ripping control from the player to insert narrative into situations that would be stronger if the player was allowed to actually interact with the scenario. The first big kill was apparently too important to leave up to the player with its importance hinging on a backstory that is quickly thrown at the player previously in the introduction.

The incongruities between the gameplay manifest set up by the tutorial and the cutscenes surrounding it exhibit a  disregard for creating a cohesive game design. After instilling the player with a laundry list of tips about how to exist in and interact with the game world, the game betrays itself. The moment where the player loses control to a cutscene is the same moment where the stealth sandbox of Hitman Absolution, which usually focuses on player agency toward mission objective completion, is undermined. For me, the game doesn’t seem worth it anymore. The trust has been broken, and I haven’t even been playing for more than an hour.

I didn’t actually consciously notice this during my first time playing but on my second play through after losing my save file to a game crash. It was another moment that came not too much later that first raised an eyebrow. After playing for a couple or so missions and having a genuinely good time, despite the insistence on relying on the rote cutscene-gameplay-cutscene style, I hit a point that had me scratching my head at its inclusion.

It began outside of the door of my target, and it was locked. I looked around for a viable entrance and predictably there was the now overused replacement for a door, a vent, just waiting for me to press A to leap into so that I could proceed. While crawling forward the game goes black. A cutscene begins to play and my character is suddenly out of the vent, trying to garrote a rather large character.  I had made it through the level leading up to this using the tools that I had in the game – from stealing disguises, distracting the guards and feeling anxiety as I made my way ultimately to my current fate. But I am now treated to watching the game being played for me.

This leads to another cliché where the player is knocked out in the scuffle, essentially losing a fight the player was never able to participate in. It’s from here that I get to watch a guy in a suit dance around, shout “Yee haw”, kill a maid, offer his stereotypically dressed female assistant, low cut shirt and all, a drink, and light the room on fire using off the shelf alcohol which somehow causes a massively explosive fire. And then the next stage starts.

Seven years into this console generation and six years since the last Hitman have seen the AAA game industry go from being dominant to gasping for air at retail. The continued push for spending far too many resources creates inadequately shot, directed and edited faux cinema content. That faux cinema is the inspiration for and constantly interrupts increasingly homogeneous gameplay design. Reliance on faux cinema hs been hurting games for years and Hitman Absolution took the plunge right into the fire.

Within the walls of Hitman Absolution is a perfectly fine game that I had a lot of fun with, but the points where the player is yanked out of the game by a decided reliance on AAA tropes also make it a game that is perhaps not worth giving a second look. Trapped in between wanting to play with the big boys and also wanting to maintain that spark of originality Hitman is known for, Hitman Absolution seems like a good game that was driven off course by the story designers and never did recover.

Shawn Alexander Allen, formerly at Rockstar, is a game designer who lives on the Lower East Side of New York City.

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Last night, Nintendo’s Wii U, its newest game console, went on sale throughout North America. Many of our critics took the trek to Rockefeller Center to check out the event at Rockefeller Center. Without any fanboyism or favoritism, here are 10 things you’ll like and dislike about the Wii U.

1) Short battery life on GamePad is the worst of any console or handheld. Two hours was my minimum and three was my maximum.

2) The GamePad controller is too complex with buttons galore.

3) Not all apps are available on launch day. Where’s the promised TVii service, Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, for instance?

4) The GamePad is too heavy. It will affect your game play over time.

5) The GamePad takes a long time to recharge.

6) Games take a longer time to load than on the Wii.

7) Not all game music and audio comes through the GamePad when you use it without your TV.

8) It’s harder to set up and get going than was the Wii.

9) Software update takes soooooo long to download, well over an hour.

10) What an arduous process it is to move your old game profile and info – from the Wii to the Wii U.

-Harold Goldberg, Founder

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Herewith, we continue our in depth look at the Razer Blade gaming laptop.

Once I got a good feeling for the design and general strength of theRazer Blade, I soldiered onward to game play. Ramping up slowly and steadily, I cautiously played more and more powerful games. My worried concern? I didn’t want to see any drop in frame rate, or worse, freezing of the computer as whole.

There is one caveat, however. Razer suspects that all who play via the Blade will use Steam, Valve’s expertly designed game service, to download and play games. They do not include an optical drive inside the laptop. I’m old school, and while I use Steam, the everpresent nerd within still likes having a disc and game package around to show off on my many shelves. So while I know Steam is the future, and many say the future is now, I purchased a $30 USB-powered DVD burner at an online store to load PCs games like Diablo III onto the device. I also added programs like Word, and my guess is that you will, too: at $2,500, this will likely be your primary computer.

So I took to the beta of Offensive Combat, the free-to-play online multiplayer game you can open in your browser. The graphics were of console quality, and I detected no choppiness at all, even when there were as many as seven opponents jumping and shooting in the same battle zone. The Razer Blade made the game a joy to play. But admittedly, a game like Offensive Combat isn’t going to strain the Intel i7 quad core processor very much.

Next up was Diablo III, Blizzard’s tour de force which hit store shelves in the first half of the year. I loaded it up for the USB DVD burner. The opening sequence, which showcases hand drawn art which sets up the branching story line, featured a fair amount of panning of the camera. While the scene never felt choppy, it wasn’t quite the smooth experience I expected. Diablo III’s graphically robust opening movie is full of action and movement; it shows the earth rent asunder from a fiery falling star. The hole in the earth devours the already grizzled Deckard Cain as the movie played as effortlessly as a film in a theater.

As I plodded forth through the grim and foreboding land of New Tristram, I noted how superb graphics on the Blade were. At one point as I crossed a bridge and the game’s camera moved up, over and forward, I could have sworn the game was in 3D because the shadowy trees had the same kind of depth as they would have had in real life. And when Diablo III went into overdrive with many monsters moving at me on the screen at once, there were no dropped frames, nothing at all to upset my flow or my suspension of disbelief.

I did note that while the LED screen was very, very good, the visual clarity wasn’t quite as stellar as an LCD screen I have on another machine.

Finally, I moved on to Battlefield 3. The Blade was placed on medium settings as I played. My tank chugged realistically through its Middle Eastern desert environment and when the warworld became a battle zone, there were still no hiccups. Jet combat had one or two fits and starts, but they were mere moments. Through all this, the Blade didn’t heat up substantially. It was just a bit warm, the way my other, more inferior computer is when I simply have 20 tabs open in Chrome.

Through all of my battles, the Blade never ran hot.

Below is a bit of a public relations walkthrough from Razer itself.

Next: The Wrap Up.

–Harold Goldberg, Founder

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Here are various video clips from the 1st Annual New York Videogame Critics Circle Awards.

They include The Daily Show’s hilarious presentation, the Manhattan Award and Darren Korb and Ashley Bennett’s amazing performance.

Enjoy!

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Last week’s NYGCC panel tackled a ton of interesting topics, but there was one point in particular that resonated with me: Evan Narcisse’s comment that this year, we saw a lot of good games, but not a lot of great games. It was a solid year, Evan said, but we saw too many sequels and more than a handful of publishers decided to “play it safe.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Evan, Metacritic tells a different tale. In fact, according to the site’s game review aggregations, twenty-one games of 2010 scored 90 or higher, which seems to indicate that they were all pretty great.

Most of other the panelists and audience members agreed with Evan, as do I – this year was speckled with more good games than great ones. So how do we explain the Metacritic discrepancy? What if maybe, in retrospect, some of the 8s and 9s we gave out this year really weren’t all that accurate? What if some of those scores were inflated? What if, after spending 10-20 hours with a given game, our brains were too immersed in wonder to give accurate scores?

Take Super Mario Galaxy 2. It’s the highest game on the list, ranked 97 overall. In fact, it’s the one of the best-rated games of all time according to Metacritic – beating out BioShock, Baldur’s Gate II, Half-Life II, and a host of other classic titles that often come up in conversation when gamers discuss the greatest games in history.

But do people really think Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the best videogames ever? Sure, it was a lot of fun to play, but looking back, does it even come close to achieving the kind of transcendent experience that StarCraft (88 on Metacritic) or Metal Gear Solid 2 (96) can offer? Hell, I can barely even remember which levels were in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and which were in the first.

To me, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was just another good game released this year – not a great game, but a good one. Several years from now, I can’t imagine anyone replaying it and thinking “wow, this is one of the best games of all time.” Could it be that when some reviewers played through Super Mario Galaxy 2, they were enamored by the game’s charm – which is pretty damned alluring – and had trouble staying distant enough to grade it fairly? It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Look, it’s okay to enjoy playing games – we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love gaming. But as game reviewers, we have a responsibility to be honest and critical with our scores – there’s a big difference between a fun game and a great game. And if every fun game is worth an 8 or a 9, how do we grade the great ones?

It’s essential to try to balance immersion with critique – to stay fair while also staying fans. If we want to be able to talk about games on any sort of critical level, we have to stop tacking high scores on every fun game that comes along. We have to recognize what games are great – and what games just seem to be. We have to reward innovation and lambaste lazy design.

Let’s make scores mean something.

-Jason Schreier

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