It was my birthday last week (and my wife’s), and while I’ve been far too busy to have any time off (cue world’s smallest violin), I have managed to find a little time to play a few new games. I’m still deeply mired in Fallout 3 too, having invested 60 hours in it over the last 4 months with still loads to do - see, this is why I can’t handle more than one ‘big’ game a year anymore - and Gears and Rock Band are still regular staples, but there’s always room for variety.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
Ah, nostalgia - sure it’s a crutch, but it’s fun to indulge it sometimes. In this case, when they release a completely re-mastered (in terms of graphics and sound) version of one of the most classic games of the 90’s, there was really no option but to get my wallet out (or rather, a portion of the MS points ). It’s a great recreation - all the witty dialog is present and correct, translated exactly, and the ability to switch back and forth between the old game and the new one in real-time with a fancy cross-fade is surprisingly entertaining, letting you see how they translated the classic (which is to say, incredibly accurately, while still bringing it up to date). It also made me realise how much more patience these games expected of the player - I expect that players ill-versed in this tradition might be reaching for the cheat websites fairly early. I’ve already been stuck a few times, even though I’ve played this game before, mostly because my memory is terrible. But at least that means I get my money’s worth I guess. And no, I haven’t resorted to hints yet 😀
Now, hopefully they have SOMI2: LeChuck’s Revenge, Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road on their roadmap.
1 vs 100
Not strictly a ‘proper’ game, but I’ve had a couple of 30-minute sessions on XBLA’s virtual gameshow now. It does a pretty good job of recreating the gameshow experience, which is to say that while the meat of the questions can occasionally be interesting, like a real gameshow the whole thing contains way too much dull & repetetive padding which just grates on your nerves after a while. Whether it’s panning across the crowd showing everyone clapping and whooping - that got old in about 5 seconds flat - or periodically jumping back to the ‘live host’ so he can either bore you, or even worse you can be stuck looking at a billboard in silence for 3 minutes because the game deems that your bandwidth isn’t high enough to hear the streaming voice (strange, I know 2Mb isn’t that high these days, but it manages just fine with 2-way voice chat, so why can’t it handle voice from a host?).
The questions though are also pretty annoying. You can guarantee that the first 2-3 are incredibly easy, so much so that even if you don’t know the answer, you can figure it out just because the other 2 incorrect answers are bloody stupid (e.g. one is a name you recognise, the other two are clearly made up). Despite that, some people still manage to get these wrong. When you get to the later questions it actually gets more interesting, but that’s undermined by the fact that everything resets as soon as ‘The One’ gets a question wrong, or chooses to ‘take the money’ - a choice which IMO they’re given far too often, because I became very frustrated at being bounced back to the ‘retard questions’ again and again. Every time ‘The One’ leaves for either reason, it takes a minute or so to get started again. So when you add up that time, plus the ‘host interruptions’, plus the time spent on retard questions, and the general padding around each question (which, while not at the same level as Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire?, where the host seems to get paid millions of pounds for just being a procrastinating arse, is still annoying because all the dialog is the same every time), only about 15% of the time was spent having any real fun.
The other problem is that the odds of you getting a chance to win anything, either by being picked to be ‘The One’, or in ‘The Mob’ (the 100) seem infintessimally small. When I was playing there were 53,000 other players, which even if the selection was unweighted, would mean I’d have to play about 500 games before being guaranteed any kind of prize-winning opportunity. But in fact, the selection is weighted towards those that play more it seems, reducing that chance even further for a newcomer. Therefore, the experience mostly boiled down to bouncing around in ‘The Crowd’ where only the top 3 players win anything; and I was slightly suspicious about that, because these top players always had an average response time of around 0.02 - 0.05 seconds, something that sounds impossible to me. So even the draw of winning MS points isn’t really a big enough carrot to warrant putting up with the other annoyances.
I hate game shows in real life, but I thought that perhaps taking out the irritating presenters and retarded contestants, making it all interactive and sprinkling the opportunity for prizes might make it entertaining to play. In practice, not really.
I’ve had this on my ‘back burner’ list for ages and a friend got it for me this birthday. All I can say so far is: wow. My first hour in this game was probably the most intense immersive experience I’ve had in a long time, this game channels elements of System Shock, Half Life, Resident Evil and Aliens, and the implementation is absolutely superb. None of it is remotely original of course - a deep-space mining ship with which contact has been lost, things going pear-shaped in an gnarly alien infection way, escape cut off, etc etc - but when the execution is this good, it really doesn’t matter.
Things I love so far:
- They’ve gone with the Half Life immersive story-telling technique. I love this approach, and it fits this game brilliantly; the lack of cutscenes makes you feel like you’re really there, experiencing the story, not being told it as an observer
- The lighting - vital in a game like this, it’s really, really nicely done. Shadow textures could use a little filtering, but that’s being picky 😉 The overall effect is fantastic.
- The sound design is sublime. The music is incredible, and context-sensitive. The amount of incidental noises, clanks, creaks, drips etc keep you totally freaked out the whole time. Was that just the sound of that piece of wreckage banging against the walkway, or was it a creature wanting to have my eyes for hors d’oeuvres?
- The interface; again, the fact that they’ve gone for immersion here makes a huge difference; all the UI is projected from the suit as a hologram in the world and feels very ‘real’ rather than a game UI.
All these things together, plus some clever scripting, make this game incredibly atmospheric, as well as highly efficient at making you fill your pants. When you analyse it, it does boil down to ‘scripted monster-closet’ stuff, but damn, it’s done well. It may not have the depth and social commentary issues as Ken Levine’s System Shock games & Bioshock, but it’s easily the most refined sci-fi horror experience I’ve ever encountered. Hell, judging by it so far, it might well be the best horror game I’ve played, so far it smacks down even RE4 pretty convincingly for an initial play. I don’t know if I’ll start getting jaded to the scares later on, but if a game can be judged in the first 90 minutes of play, this game is fantastic.