Thursday, October 28, 2010

Medal of Honor

I can't believe how mediocre Medal of Honor is. It's like every military shooter ever made was puréed into a smooth but flavorless paste. Nothing about it was new or interesting. Nothing was terrible, either, but then again I'm pretty forgiving about things like AI squadmates who hunker down and refuse to move until I cross an invisible checkpoint. Just as long as I can keep blasting away, I'm good. Still, every time I play a game in this genre, I think to myself, "I've had about enough of this for a lifetime." And then when the next one comes out, I play that one, too.

Medal of Honor is supposed to be different because it's supposed to be more realistic than its contemporaries. Certain things are true-to-life: the way people and places look, for example, and the way the weapons work. Other things are less so. That's the ground I cover in my review.

I was actually glad to see a friendly-fire incident, since those are pretty common, and that was the game's biggest feint toward real realism. Of course, it was ordered by some needle-nosed bureaucrat in Washington who'd been out of combat for years and who, presumably, the CIA had pushing too many pencils. This is seen from a distance, in satellite view.

But I kept thinking about Pat Tillman, and how, faced with the barrage of friendly fire that would kill him, he was reported to scream "I'm Pat fucking Tillman!" However brave Tillman was -- and he seems to have been uncommonly courageous -- it was a moment of sheer terror and panic. He didn't sacrifice himself for any great cause. His death was one big fuckup.

Why was I thinking about this? Because I kept accidentally shooting my squadmates, and they kept brushing off my bullets with quips. There wasn't a Pat Tillman to be found.

The real truth of warfare is that people die in all kinds of stupid, ridiculous, and not at all heroic ways. Combat deaths are senseless at least as often as they are heroic. Could you make a game out of something like that? I don't know. But I know that Medal of Honor didn't try.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boomshakalaka etc.

With about 30 triple-A games coming out this week and next, I imagine the thing you want to read most about right now is a review of NBA Jam for the Wii. Not exactly the most penetrating criticism you'll ever read, the review can be boiled down to one message: the price is too damn high.

When I expressed interest in playing the new NBA Jam, somehow it escaped me that it would come on a disc. I assumed it was a download. And even when I had it in my hands, it didn't occur to me for a couple of hours to check how much it cost. Fifty dollars! Good gravy.

Granted, I paid zero dollars for this game, so I can't say I had anything but a good time. And usually I strive to separate a game's cost from its true worth. But I'd be surprised to find that anybody thought this thing was priced right.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Above: Castlevania, now with 20% smaller heads.

In his farewell post for PopMatters, L.B. Jeffries said something that resonated with me: "In games, more than any other medium often the problem is just you."

Whenever I dislike a game, especially one that other people seem to like, that's how I feel -- that, far from being flawed itself, the game is illuminating inherent flaw in me. In theory, I like the idea of being the guy who goes against the grain, but when it actually happens, it's cause for a lot of sad-bastard navel-gazing on my part. I won't subject you to it here, except to say that my review of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow does have me questioning my own sanity.

I have been reading many positive tweets about this game from people I respect, and it has a healthy Metacritic score of 83. But there really wasn't one thing I liked about it. Rookie mistakes like putting checkpoints before cutscenes rankles (yes, you can skip the cutscenes, but it's a more cumbersome process than it needs to be). Constant and needless hints on the screen prove to be a distraction (how many times do I need to be told to "press RT to grip?" I got it). The platforming was bland. The combat had promise but lacked any visceral impact. Nobody else seems to be making this complaint, so maybe I'm just crazy, but I swear that half the time it didn't even look like my weapon was making contact when I did damage.

Sort of like with Metroid: Other M, a large part of how you approach this game depends on what your mental picture is of a Castlevania game. As a Symphony of the Night fan, I certainly would have preferred a new Castlevania that took more of that game's approach. If anything, a back-and-forth platformer that borrowed more from Prince of Persia than from Devil May Cry would have hit the spot for me. I enjoyed how overpowered Alucard was, and the fun of Symphony is in exploring. The castle is your enemy more so than its inhabitants. But that's not the game Konami wanted to make in 2010.

And that's okay. In a lot of ways, Lords of Shadow is more of a throwback to the original Castlevania, and to Super Castlevania IV, which I also loved. An action game is not a radical departure for this series. But, I don't know, Castlevania or not, this isn't one of the best action games around. This is a case where I feel like the scores actually do tell the story: I scored Lords of Shadow two points lower than God of War III and Devil May Cry 4, and scored both of those games two points lower than Bayonetta. That sounds right to me.

I am clinging to Ben Kuchera's review of LoS like a life raft. He makes many of the same points that I do, and many more that I didn't, but which are entirely correct. His article has hundreds of comments, most of the "no offense but you're an idiot" variety. The comments also open up the question, once again, of what a game review is supposed to be. That's another discussion, but the real takeaway, for me, is that some readers don't want writers to be honest with them. They want a pat on the head.