Sunday, December 7, 2008

Recent PS3 demos

The terrain manipulation mechanic is actually a pretty cool gimmick. While it's mainly used for creating pathways where instructed, some more interesting applications during combat include raising terrain to create cover or, better yet, sending an unsuspecting enemy soldier flying when the ground beneath them pops up suddenly. By all accounts, however, the game's use of the mechanic doesn't get much more varied or imaginative, leaving just the generic shooting action to fill out the experience. The game would have been better off focusing entirely around the terrain guns. As it stands, this game is already mostly forgotten.

Valkyria Chronicles
The visual style is stunning, of course, and composer Hitoshi Sakimoto is in classic form with the score. As for the gameplay, despite ditching grid-based movement, combat ultimately doesn't play out too differently from previous turn-based strategy RPGs. You're still moving one unit at a time and then selecting a command from a menu. That doesn't make it any less significant as an evolution of the genre. It almost feels like the jump from 2-D to 3-D platforming.

Mirror's Edge
The idea of a first-person platformer is plain enough, but, aside from maybe Metroid Prime, no project has really had the nerve nor vision to realize it until now. The convoluted controls somewhat undermine the visceral appeal and fluidity of the experience, and I feel certain that the gameplay would work better (and probably has) in third person. But I'm equally certain that the game would not be nearly so exhilarating were that the case. EA has already planned out a series, but I can't see it becoming the basis for a new genre. While improvements could be made, it strikes me as the sort of novelty that only really needs to be experienced once. Ugly character designs notwithstanding, the game has a very cool look, somewhat like a cross between The Matrix and an Esurance commercial.

Alone in the Dark: Inferno
Some ambitious ideas are wasted on a mediocre experience. The best feature is the DVD-style chapter selection. It's basically a stage select that doesn't require unlocking, but each chapter is preceded by a "previously" segment to recap parts that the player may have missed. I can think of a couple past games, where, given the choice, I might have opted to skip a frustrating or boring section of gameplay. The game also attempts a lot with the first-person perspective to try and better immerse the player in the adventure. For example, instead of a traditional menu, the inventory is accessed by pressing a button to make the character look down at the items stored in his jacket. Combat, however, is unwieldy, albeit it's hugely satisfying to toss a Molotov cocktail at an enemy and then ignite it in slow motion by shooting it mid-arc. In the demo at least, this is the only way to kill the zombies, and it gets cumbersome having to first knock them down with a melee weapon in clunky third person, then go into the first-person menu and put together the Molotov cocktail, equip it and the pistol, and then use them in turn on the rising enemy. And the driving stage, where you must outrun the apocalypse, is trial-and-error gameplay at its worst.

Not actually a demo, I purchased this on release day, but haven't had much time to do more than sample it. So far, the multiplayer is pretty awesome, but the platforming has major issues. The physics and collision are a tad overdone, but the real problem is the Fatal Fury-style multi-plane system, which has frustrated every player I've talked to. Also, the "story" mode is badly in need of some context--not necessarily a full-blown narrative, mind you, but some sense of purpose at least to motivate progression. As for the user-generated content, I'm pleased to find that, despite Sony's best efforts, a large portion of the material is blatantly copyright-infringing. I played through a Metal Gear stage that did a great job of capturing the first Metal Gear Solid's mix of pattern observation and hiding spots. But I also played a Resident Evil-inspired stage that was so broken that I almost wanted to report it. More on this as I get further into it.


Czardoz said...

Fracture vs. Haze (demos), which is better, amazone?

Henry said...

Fracture looked, sounded, and played better. Both stories seemed to have their charms, but Haze featured more memorable performances.