Totilo At Play

April 29, 2009

Game Diary - April 29, 2009: The Ninth Shooter

Filed under: Totilo Game Diary — Tags: , — stephentotilo @ 9:00 am

fear2

I finished “F.E.A.R. 2” yesterday, exhausted by all the shooters I’ve been playing. I wondered: Why do I consume so much of what feels like hollow culture?

What do I want from shooters? And is what I want what I should expect from a genre defined by the action of gunning people down?

***

My problem with so many video games is that they can feel aesthetically shallow. Not every game needs to have some deep meaning, just as every song doesn’t need to have a constructive message or poetic epiphany.

Some songs can just have a good beat. And some games can just be fun to play.

What I want, at least sometimes, is a sign of real human emotion. I want matured aesthetics. If characters are going to talk in the games I play, I want them to talk like people. If I’m going to be asked to help a character in a side quest or to make a moral decision, I want those quests to feel original or intelligent or honest or anything else that isn’t primitive or cliche.

I abhor what is dull. I have little tolerance for that which repeats what I have seen and heard before.

It doesn’t help “F.E.A.R. 2″ that I played it at the end of a several-month stretch in which I also played through “Call of Duty: World at War,” “Resistance 2,” “Far Cry 2,” “Left 4 Dead,” “Killzone 2,” “50 Cent: Blood on the Sand,” “Gears of War 2,” and “Resident Evil 5.”

I’d done the shooting thing. A lot.

The ninth game of the season, almost inevitably, was not going to be the charm.

And most of the time, the ingenuity in these games is in how you shoot or what you shoot. Seldom do they explore how else you might interact with their world — lest they wouldn’t be shooters anymore? — or how this world and its people exist from day to day and choice to choice.

Most of these games live and die by their singular focus: their shooting mechanics.

“F.E.A.R. 2″ is all mechanics. There’s little else distinct enough in the game to praise.  Its developers did themselves no favors by taking what should have thematically felt fresh — a new iteration of their melding of commando-combat and horror — and setting it in a stock narrative of evil corporations, experiments on small children gone awry, clone soldiers and evil paramilitary forces.

If “Killzone 2″ was meat and potatoes, “F.E.A.R. 2″ is nothing more than meat, potatoes and green beens. It puts one more thing on the dish, but it’s still a plain serving.

“F.E.A.R. 2″ plays very well. Its shooting mechanics are superb. Its enemy soldiers are smart, strategic and interesting to fight. Its sound design makes combat punch and crack out of my speakers. But this is a game made in a genre where outfits such as Bungie and Valve are excelling at those qualities as well. Being excellent at mechanics is not enough.

Games such as “BioShock” and “Far Cry 2″ are more of what I’m looking for in a new shooter. They are games that apply new themes to the familiar genre. They may not match the mastery of shooting mechanics in a “Halo 3″ or a “F.E.A.R. 2,” but they still elevate my experience as a player to somewhere I haven’t been before. They introduce me to virtual places I haven’t witnessed, to meet characters and  experience situations that feel new. And better than those games being novel is that they feel interesting.

More important than the ways the shooters like “BioShock” or “Far Cry 2″ feel new are the ways they feel classic. They achieve their best qualities and feel so fresh, ironically, by tapping into the old aspects of the human experience that games often ignore: ideas of vengeance and guilt, free will and compassion — timeless aspects of being alive that resonate with emotional and thematic maturity.

The new shooters that I most like are those that ask me to think and to feel. They have the elements not just of a good shooting gallery but the marks of good fiction.

I’ll hang on to my “Halo 3″s and “Killzone 2,” the shooters that thrive based on the mechanics of their shooting gameplay.  Whichever come earliest in the season will probably get the benefit of my doubt. But as the shooters keep coming month after montn, my patience will be exhausted. I’ll be left feeling unwell. I’ll be yearning, as I am today, for something deeper, something more grown up, something with emotional weight or thematic spark — something I can feel proud of playing and that won’t for a second make me feel like I just wasted my time.

Next: It’s “Godfather II” day today, as long as my PS3 doesn’t overheat and temporarily stop reading discs, as it did last night. Scary!

9 Comments »

  1. “Far Cry 2″ is deeply problematic for me. It definitely is more of what I’m looking for in a shooter, and I look forward to seeing more games in that vein. The first time I whipped my car over a small hill and discovered a vast and fiery desert on the other side, I was awed. That feeling didn’t go away for awhile.

    But it DID go away, and the game’s lack of ambition really started to get to me. The environment was gorgeous and full of wonders, but there was so much that was completely uninspired and gave me the sense that the developer wasn’t even trying. All my buddies were interchangeable, the missions were painfully repetitive, and the setting, for all its interesting topography, was a dead place. Nobody lived in this country.

    I’ve had this problem lately where I can’t help but look at some games and see what more they could have done with it. “Far Cry 2″ fits that mold. It could have given the player the feeling of being in a Graham Greene or Frederick Forsythe adventure, but for that you need actual characters and some understanding of the world’s complexity. Far Cry 2 lacked both. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I couldn’t shake the nagging sense that it was satisfied being a shooter with a couple novel aspects. That made it better than most shooters of last season, but is that all it should have been aiming to do?

    Comment by Rob Zacny — April 29, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  2. One thing I would reccomend is that you create a well sorted out queue! I myself get bored when I play the same type of game many times.

    All I have been playing recently was Shooters, and was getting bored, so I made myself choose something different. Hence played DMC4, then I played some Paper Mario and then back to shooters etc etc.

    I mean..as you said, there will always be games which are all flash and no substance. We should take advantage of the information that is out there, make a nice and finely distributed queue and play, by seeing what type they are. So that we havfe the best experience.

    (Ofcourse, its a different story if your job is to play one game after the other, with no choice and in a “first come first serve” basis :P )

    When you have a bit of change it should be interesting.. ofcourse its not like one game of one type one after the other only or soething..

    just play those type of games after playing many games that you want to play.

    It will be like that silly college comedy movie you watch just for fun after watching oh so many “Man from Earth”s “Forrest gump”s and all that.

    Its like complaining why are there so many High School Musicals, and other teenage “lets go make the best SONG GROOUP” movies when you know that you can stop watching things as they come and see maybe a “Star Trek” “Wolverine” or some classy movie :P Theres a market for them, no matter how shallow.. hence they’ll always be there.

    Comment by Reeteshinator — April 29, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  3. I think a lot of people will share your sentiment on Far Cry 2, despite their own personal hang-ups with it. I definitely see where you’re coming from as well. I do think however, that you answered your own question…

    “low tolerance”
    “sign of human emotion”
    “ask me to think and feel”
    etc…

    At least you know what you want (at least I hope so anyway). I’ve felt that same yearning you’ve described here as well; I just think I’ve abandoned it for something transcendental towards what we have now. I’m not going to pretend like the games are worth more than they are, but I I’ve learned that I can’t treat games the same way I did ten years ago, not if I want to earnestly “see what else is there”. I’m don’t mean to begrudge you of your tastes, I’m just describing my own. That craving for new began to bore me a while back and the way I play titles now is a godsend (e.g. extremely slowly, obsessively, and methodically). I’m sure I have an advantage there though. I have much more free time than you. =p

    ~sLs~

    Comment by SnakeLinkSonic — April 29, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  4. I hate going down this road but, If you like Far Cry 2 you might want to check out Crysis and Crysis Warhead. The series is based open very open world, multiple tactics one can employ cloak, speed, and strength (easy to hide and infiltrate, escaping from fire fights easily and jumping on top of buildings are just a few examples). Check it out on my recommendation!

    Juan

    Comment by Juan — April 29, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

  5. @Rob, From reading the post-mortem that FC2’s creative director, Clint Hocking, wrote, I think the team was going for as open-ended and dynamic a structure as possible. What they wound up with, I think you and I will both agree, is a game that is interesting in its moments but bland in its totality. Any given 15 minutes of Far Cry 2 was beautiful or exciting, sometimes even morally interesting. But the amount of similar missions, the amount of tedium in traveling from one locale to the next, hurt the game.

    Comment by stephentotilo — April 29, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

  6. @juan, I have Crysis Warhead and finally have a PC that can run it. But aside from about 10 minutes with it last September or October, I haven’t touched it. Eventually, I’ll get to it. But I’m on a shooter break for a bit.

    Comment by stephentotilo — April 29, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

  7. @reeteshinator, Interspersed among the games I listed above were Mushroom Men, Fallout 3, Fable 2, GTA: Chinatown Wars, The Lost and Damned, Halo Wars, Prince of Persia, Deadly Creatures and more. I’ve played through all of those games. It wasn’t shooter after shooter. It’s just that literally every other game I was playing was a shooter. The genre is just that prominent.

    Comment by stephentotilo — April 29, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  8. @stephen, I really enjoyed Crysis and Crysis Warhead, there are a few yet, incredible touchstone moments and from talking to other players tackled the objectives differently, ala Bioshock. I also hit the ’shooter fatigue’ wall, and since you have a PC that can handle Crysis, my advice is to take some RTS pills and play Company of Heroes.

    Did you play Left 4 Dead alone? With random XBOX Live users? Friends? I played alone, and have not touched it since.

    I want to leave with a question, can a “Cops and the Wanted” game be any closer to being realized in this current generation of consoles? GTA 4 and Resident Evil 5 engines gameplay and game engines show a few hints of a possible play as a ‘cop’ mechanic. In GTA 4, pulling over vans and killing criminals were fun. Add Resident Evil 5’s stop, aim and shoot gameplay can work for a cop game, the player can only shoot criminals if the players life is in danger in any way. Sprinkle a bit of Fallout 3 karma, a player’s decision to shoot an unarmed criminal or plant evidence on an unknowing civilian will be a twist of gaming goodness.

    Juan

    Comment by Juan — April 29, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  9. Ah..I see. If it was me I would just delay the games.. take them in long gaps.. play a certain type till am bored and then switch. Because, well.. every genre is experiencing the same thing with FPS being the most mainstream one where the “will do what sells” effect is dominant

    Basic explanation for this is that, everyone wants to make money, making games takes money, they want to make something that all will like. They know major crowd likes what they’ve been getting (awesome gfx, new ways to shoot). They also know that if they take the risk and try to be “unique” they will have less chances of getting back monnies. People who actually want to do different things, just get out of big studios, start indie stuff, and make small games with their vision. Or in some cases, take the risk and make big games with their vision.

    These risky things are only being done by people who have “lotsa monnies” or who have been successful in previous attempts. I am fine with knowing that atleast someone is doing something, and treat the other which arent, to be something thats now normal. Its like, they are a part of the ecosystem. Just take small doses of everything, if we play a lot.. it will result in… Long blog posts :P

    “I want to shoot this type of dudes, as this dude, using these awesome weapons, would be great if it had cool graphics and SLOW MOTION!!” - $$$++

    “I want to shoot dudes, but think before I shoot and have a internal 50minute cutscene to give weight to my decision” - props++. $$$ not so much. (”Why cant I just kill and get on with it?, I dont want some touchy feely stuff in ma gamez!”)

    Comment by Reeteshinator — April 29, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

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