Video Game Month in Review: April 2012
A late update for April, purely through laziness on my part and being mostly oblivious to the fact that it’s now May. Ye gads, where has the year gone?
A game that I was very interested in a long time before release. Lost amidst the Q1 rush of Final Fantasy, Mass Effect et al, I only got around to purchasing the game in early April along with the accompanying bible.
The third and final game of the fabled Operation Rainfall non-trilogy. Three disparate games, held together by a singular belief that all gamers everywhere should experience the dark seedy underbelly of Nintendo’s shining white knight. While very glad that my friends across the pond will eventually be able play the games Europeans have been enjoying in instalments since September, the sadistic part of me is chuffed that we got them first. After thirty years of languishing in gamer’s hell with whatever bones we were thrown to pick at, we were smeggin’ entitled to it.
Gears of War 2. No I didn’t already have it. Yes I knew all along what I was missing. I just never got around to picking it up. Or Gears 3, for that matter. Anyway, problem solved to the tune of £3. Also one of those arcade compilations I like so much (this one a SNK outing for the Wii) and the PS2 version of Silent Hill Origins, one of the tougher games in the series to track down.
Charity shop pick-ups, just a couple of PC games from the golden era. Arx Fatalis is a grown-up rendition of Ultima Underworld, a first-person dungeon-crawling RPG, an antidote to the Elder Scrolls and a game worthy of your attention. The Xbox version goes for a pretty penny, but the PC release should be easy enough to find. Also a game callled Nocturne, a slightly surreal horror adventure I remember from the pages of PC Gamer back in the day.
16 loose Famicom carts of varying genre and quality courtesy of a dirt cheap eBay lot. Nothing spectacular, a couple of first-party Nintendo games, a couple of shooters, some Mahjong and Igo games, some racers and my third copy of Dragon Quest III.
After hoarding my Club Nintendo points for what seems like an eternity, I figured I’d better spend them before they expire. And what better piece of tat to add to my shelf than this, an anniversary edition replica of the first-ever Game & Watch title, Ball. It’s an awesome little piece and will stay firmly enshrined in my collection.
Finally, a couple of DS games, purchased during the course of my Hotel Dusk playthrough. I was impressed by that game’s style, so I tracked down a pair of related titles. Last Window is a sequel to Hotel Dusk, while Another Code (called Trace Memory stateside) was a much earlier attempt from developer Cing. Sadly, Cing does not exist any more, but it’s a decent enough legacy.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)
Hotel Dusk is an interesting adventure game for the DS in the vein of latter-day noir crime fiction, presenting that genre’s love of intertwining plot lines, conspiracies and head-shaking coincidences. As adventure games go, it’s very talky… essentially, Hotel Dusk is one big conversation tree interspersed with some very easy puzzle sections and a good amount of wandering around in a confined area. It’s also long… very long. I’m up to 11.20 in the evening, still got the whole night ahead of me and I’m no closer to figuring out what the hell is going on. So many secrets in this place.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (X360)
So, Kingdoms of Amalur. I’ll admit that I was a little worried there for a while, in those first few weeks after release. I was a bit disappointed at the gulf between the dark, bloody concept art I had been teased with for months and the actual in-game style and was similarly stumped by the demo, which presented Reckoning as far too light and Fable-y for my tastes. However, it did come across as a strong, well-made RPG (with more than a little nod-and-a-wink to Euro-RPGs such as Gothic and the sadly-derided Venetica) and so on to my wish-list it went. Since starting play, I’ve come to realise that the lighter, more magical fantasy style is a much better approach than my original expectations. After the dual barrage of Dragon Age and The Witcher do we really need another dark ‘n’ bloody RPG? Coming from the pen of R.A. Salvatore, Kingdoms of Amalur is high fantasy in the vein of Dragonlance and David Eddings, rather than the more mundane medieval fantasy of Feist and Gemmell.
It’s a rather large game too, with story to spare throughout the main plot line and literally hundreds of distractions along the way. The areas travelled through on this epic journey are enjoyably distinct with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, dungeons to delve into and towns to ransack… er, I mean, pass peacefully through. Character progression is well done as well. Sure, you can pick one of the three traditional class structures and pile all your skill points into either might (warrior), finesse (rogue) or magic (erm, mage)… but equally valid and much more interesting is to mix ‘em up in all manner of new and interesting combinations. Like slinging spells but relish the protection of heavy armour? Want to quietly sneak up on your foes before bashing them over the head with the biggest hammer ever forged? The neat character development along with the myriad possibilities offered by the combo- and ability-based combat ensures that fighting your way through the lands of Amalur is never dull. Rather, I’ve been having a blast all along both in terms of action and adventure. In short, I misjudged Reckoning and hope to make amends by piling as many hours into this beast as I can and maybe even picking up the two DLC expansions sometime soon.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)
What always strikes me about Star Wars games that aren’t directly based on one of the films is how Star Wars-y they end up. Game designers have become extremely adept at distilling what makes the Star Wars universe iconic and instantly recognisable and transporting that essence into new eras and locations. While most other licensed properties rely on established characters and events to tell their tales and connect with a certain fanbase, what games such as KOTOR, Jedi Knight and X-Wing (along with the rest of the expanded universe, comics and novels et al) have done over the years is to bust the universe wide open, an almost unheard-of situation with such a tightly-controlled IP. Almost any tale you wish to tell is possible in the Star Wars universe and that’s part of what permits The Old Republic to work.
Now, despite what Bioware would have you believe, The Old Republic isn’t really KOTOR 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The level of storytelling and quality of the dialogue just isn’t quite up to snuff, the quest lines are too repetitive and the gameplay is too entrenched in standard MMO tropes to be truly worthy of succeeding that epic single-player RPG adventure. However, that doesn’t mean that The Old Republic isn’t very good at being what it was actually designed to be: a story-orientated multi-player adventure… and the story aspect of The Old Republic is huge. True, there is some padding here with big areas, plenty of fetch quests and kill contracts and lots of back-and-forth… but I’m 50 hours in to one toon and I’m still on Chapter 1. Not only have I got the rest of my Jedi Sentinel’s story to play through, but then there’s seven other character’s tales to sample as well. It’s all fully voiced too… which is actually a pretty incredible feat when you think about it. Even if I can’t play the Republic Trooper for fear of retconning Commander Shepard into the Star Wars canon.
It’s actually really easy to solo through much of The Old Republic. The majority of quests and areas are completely suited to a single-PC plus companion dynamic and high-level sections such as group quests and heroic areas that all but require teamwork are actually rather few and far between. It actually reminds me more of Neverwinter Nights online component than World of Warcraft and it’s ilk. Designed for soloing or for small groups, heavy on the story and light on the grind. So although it’s not a replacement for KOTOR 3, essentially that’s how I’ve been treating it. And am I pleased with myself? Giving my life to a MMO when I swore I never would? Heck, even lifetime free WOW never tempted me like TOR has.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (X360)
Not much more to say here that I didn’t cover in my last blog. It might not be the epic action-RPG I have always hoped for, but Space Marine is an enjoyably dumb hack ‘n’ slash/shooter hybrid that is great fun for fans of the 40k universe. I chainsword-ed and blaster-ed my way through the final couple of levels, finally sending Chaos back to the Warp and although I was then summarily subjected to a gut-punch of an ending… I had a great time doing it.
A mixed bag in April, with most of my playtime poured into The Old Republic: got to make the most of those initial 30 days! Hopefully I’ll get my Wii back in business sooner rather than later as I’m well aware my Xenoblade progress is sorely lacking!