Monday, 18 October 2010

Rental Review Roundup

Another month has gone and I’ve plundered my way through more rentals gaining achievements and the seeing that occasional moment of brilliance in amongst a sea of mundanity and shoddy level design.

Metro 2033

Moscow 2033: we're gonna need more vodka...

The genesis of Metro 2033 is actually quite interesting when compared to the majority of other titles that are spit balled across a boardroom. It is adapted from a novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, that is to say, that it is not adapted from a film or a series, it is not a sequel, a remake or a reboot it is in fact one of those rare things : a new intellectual property! With that said, it is far from the most original game out there, it can be filed next to Stalker and Fallout in the category of post-apocalyptic dystopian FPS with varying RPG elements.

In a plot, that is nowhere dissimilar to Fallout, the world has been nuked and you play as one of the remnants of humanity existing in the vast subterranean environments of the Moscow metro. War never changes of course, and the metro tunnels are rife with an array of irradiated beasties as well as a couple of gun toting factions of communists and Nazis. This is a problem for the normal people that live in the tunnels, and so you are called into action to restore order to the world or at least just to survive it. Now I love Fallout, but what Metro 2033 nails brilliantly, is a sense of atmosphere. Perhaps this comes from the novelistic source material because the environments just have a greater sense of realisation. From the feeling of warmth and comfort in the human populated areas to the howling frozen wastes that exist above ground. The world of Metro 2033 feels believable, as well as harsh and alien.

Graphically, Metro 2033 is adept, but it will not win any awards. The character models are very dated. Combat can also feel stuck in the past. You have the option of taking the stealthy approach over the conventional auto-shotgun Rambo mode but the enemy AI is so flawed that taking the stealthy option is basically pointless. Fighting the various monsters is handled a lot better than the human opponents. There are several new ideas implemented into the games design. The game’s economy is based on bullets. You have your usual surplus amount of bullets and then you have your higher quality military grade bullets, which are worth more, and deal more damage. This causes you to think before you fire your weapon, which is a very interesting idea to implement when other games cause you to unload enough lead to kill God.

There is a very clear narrative drive in this title as well as a highly atmospheric tone and a handful of genuinely interesting mechanics, generally this proves Metro 2033 as being worthy of the thinking gamer’s time and money. There is a sequel in the works of course. Glukhovsky has already written Metro 2034 and with a bit more focus, we could be getting an even better game out of this.

Alan Wake

I've seen real sunsets that don't have as good graphics...
 Alan Wake was one of those blockbuster games, that every xbox fanboy was expected to buy on day one without question. I however, instinctively felt that I would not like Alan Wake. I did not care much for Remedy’s two Max Payne games, stripping away its clichéd noir plot it was essentially a third person shooter with a bullet time mechanic which was revolutionary when the first Matrix came out. I also hate so called horror games that try in earnest to scare you, but end up failing. The marketing hype surrounding the game sold mystery and horror, though despite all this the clue to the game’s story was already within the game’s title.

To my surprise then, I played through Alan Wake and actually found it quite good, even riveting. You play as Alan Wake, a prolific horror writer in the vein of Stephen King, who is suffering from writer’s block. In an attempt to ‘remedy’ this, Wake has agreed to take some time out in a remote mountain town called Bright Falls, with his wife. Taking that distinctly American Thoreau approach, they take residence in a log cabin on the shores of a lake. Needless to say, soon after arriving, spooky stuff starts happening, things go bump in the night, Wake’s wife gets kidnapped and the whole area is attacked by a dark shadowy presence. The plot is pure Stephen King of course, whilst Max Payne was influenced by film noir; Alan Wake is a character in a Stephen King novel. Luckily, I’m a sucker for King, and enjoyed all the injokes and realisation of his fiction.

The first thing that I liked about the game is its scale. Alan Wake has been in development for nearly a decade, going through various incarnations, showcased at several E3s past. Somewhere in the earlier processes, the game was sketched as an open world game, though the finished product is not, the scale has the essence of a sprawling world. Bright Falls is a fantastically realised environment, from the grand mountain ranges, to the down to earth portrayal of small town America. As with other games, Elder Scrolls 4 and Farcry 2, Alan Wake is a game that relishes in the beauty of natural landscapes.

The pacing of the game is also good. During the day, things are normal though obviously not without menace. Wake tries to bring the townsfolk into some kind of awareness whilst trying to maintain his own sanity. At night, however, the game adopts the more conventional survival horror aspects. Shadowy axe wielding psychopaths come at you and your only defence is to fight them or to just leg it. Combat is handled ever so differently from other third person shooters. Light becomes a feature, of which you use to weaken your enemies before you pelt them with shotgun fire. You are equipped with a torch, but you will also come across flares which act a bit like grenades, and flare guns which effectively become RPGs. Occasionally the game will go into slow motion mode revelling in the illuminated carnage of it all.

So is the game scary? Well it certainly has its moments, usually generated when provisions are scarce and you are faced with an onslaught of murderous darklings. It doesn’t have the brooding horror of the early Silent Hill games or even the more recent Amnesia: The Dark Descent and there is nothing as mentally draining as the derelict shopping centre level in the first Condemned game or LISA TREVOR in the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil. There are parts of the game when inanimate objects come to life under the influence of the darkness, and though this adds variety to the legions of axe murderers it wasn’t very scary, coming across like an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. As a filing cabinet comes soaring across the room hitting you in the face. It’s pure slapstick.

The game is engrossing. There is an element of absurdity to it all and certainly a degree of the American gothic. The graphics are the best of recent memory, through all the desperate running through the forests you may remember when trees were composed of nothing more than two sprites. The might pine trees on display reflect the immensity and the antiquity of the American landscape. Combat is satisfying, scoring the darkness of a target with your torch before unleashing that final bullet to the head is satisfying. Better yet, when you reload your gun, you can actually tap the ‘x’ button to reload faster. More shooters need to do this, especially most horror shooters. The game perhaps goes on longer than it needs to and the climax has something to do with a hulking great aquanaut. Remember this game’s development probably predates Bioshock and its development. And what was with the collection of thermos flasks? The only reason I can fathom is that coffee is a stimulant and prevents sleep. But still, an unnecessary collection element.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

Ah!  Skeletons!

Like any self respecting gamer, I loved Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Its sequels were nowhere near as good of course, though I did admire the 2008 reboot for simply taking a risk and doing something different with the franchise, namely by adopting an enchanting new art style. Despite my admiration for the series, I have little intention of seeing the recent film adaptation starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Big action blockbuster movies just don’t cut it for me anymore. Why settle for a third rate action movie, whilst I can have a more involving experience actually playing an action adventure game where I am the hero? There is no way that the experience of watching Jake Gyllenhaal leap from rooftop to rooftop is going to compare to the satisfaction of pulling off fluid movement and acrobatics via a control pad in the original Sands of Time.

The Forgotten Sands was released as a product to support the film release and has you returning to the role of Datstan, the prince from the sands of time trilogy. Fans of Nolan North’s Prince from the 2008 remake will have to wait a little longer for its sequel I guess. The story involves you infiltrating a temple with your brother before you unwittingly release an evil force upon the place, again. Hardened players of Persia will not blink an eye. Same old story, but so long as there is platforming right? Well, about half an hour into the Forgotten Sands, you realise that this game is not as well thought out as previous titles. Navigating the temple becomes an exercise in merely pressing buttons. You press right trigger to freeze water, you press left bumper to turn those transparent platforms into solid objects. And if you mess it all up, you use the sands of time to rewind time. Previous instalments have never felt this routine and dull.

Combat has never has been the series’ strength and it returns with the added complexity of MORE ENEMIES ON SCREEN. These enemies are all clones of one another, exactly identical. There is no variation at all. They hardly pose any kind of threat even on the hardest difficulty and require little effort to despatch. Everything about this game is undercooked. It is more of the same, almost four years after the Two Thrones. A highly derivative title in ubisofts otherwise above average roster. There may actually be more enjoyment in watching Jake Gyllenhaal parkouring it in live action instead of playing this unnecessary fourthquel. A limp slap in the face then. Bring back Nolan North’s Prince.


Singularity does not have the production values of some of the more popular shooters of our time. The plot is strictly B-movie, the aesthetics very similar to the retro 50s schtick of Fallout and Bioshock. You won't really care about the time travelling story line, in which upon doing a run of the mill black op mission upon a top secret Russian research facility, your jarheaded marine accidentally goes back in time and inadvertently changes the course of history. The ability to use time as a weapon is a fun distraction as opposed to the usual FPS armoury, however. As you fast forward the aging process on all those assault wielding foot soldiers that stand in your way.

Graphically, the game is quite ugly when you compare it to other games currently on the market. Textures sometimes have that shiny gloss look to them, like a roasting chicken. Graphics aren't everything of course, and if you stick with the game you will find yourself getting sucked in. The pacing is particularly good, one minute you'll be fighting your way out of a sinking ship, other times you'll be battling a large insect monster upon a train. The game throws you against a variety of different foes ranging from enemy soldiers, zombies, patasitic bugs and inter dimensional beings. Nothing you haven't seen before, but mixed and matched effectively during the course of the game. It also gives you an array of weapons to play with, including a spear gun and a rifle that fires bullets that you guide towards your enemies. There is also a decent explorative element in the game, much like Bioshock, which more FPSs should use. The game shares further similarities with that game by including collectible audio logs, the difference being that you don’t pick them up, you have to instead stand around and listen to them.

Essentially it is a decent game that you will pick up and play and complete over the course of a weekend. There is a multiplayer mode that tries to ape L4D's versus mode, but it is nowhere near as enjoyable or balanced. The monsters don’t particularly give you any form of empowerment. Maybe development should have concentrated on the single player. Regardless, Singularity is a decent rental if you are into the genre and B-movie thrills. Love it and dump it. Feel like a real man, why don’t you...

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