Hello, I am Nit

He will find a way to criticize you. Have no fear.

I am here to talk to you about the elephants you seem to have turned  a blind eye to. Lets start with the most obese yet ignored of them all:

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Now I am a great fan of RPGS. I played KotOR 2 enough times to min-max my best Sith character to be able to beat the final boss fight in the time it takes FOX news to get a fact mixed with fiction. Yes, -that- fast. I’ve got Mass Effect 2 for both PS3 and PC. I eagerly await getting to play more of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (unfortunately real-life always gets in the way). And then, I turn my eye to the wannabe kid in the corner. Yes, I’m talking about the Elder Scrolls series. I have so far played roughly 14 hours of Oblivion (nearly 20 if you count playing a friend’s PC copy), and maybe an hour and a half of Skyrim. The sad thing is, I can’t tell the difference besides graphics and the character creation screen backgrounds. That is the -only- different. The characters are being held prisoner in the uncanny valley, the combat is tediously unrealistic and stick like, the inventory’s concept of “weight” at first sounds neat, but then feels like a shot to the foot the second you actually play it out in practice.  There is seemingly no place to safely keep your gear that isn’t extremely out of the way, so you have to sell or drop whatever you can’t carry. The AI interactions are atrocious — I kill a chicken, and suddenly I’m Bin Laden. I accidentally “steal” a horse owned by a faction I’m allied with, and the NPC I just spent an hour protecting comes at me, throwing every spell he can at me. How the heck does this make sense on a design document? I’ve not even gotten to the hundreds of glitches that are always in Bethesda games, and it seems like these two games should have tanked. How it is that everyone sees past the issues in this series while games like Oni, XIII, and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories are shoved aside, just for trying to be original, is baffling. I’ve probably played Shattered Memories three times as much as Skrim and Oblivion combined. Why? Because Shattered Memories’ only failing was “not appealing to everyone”. And then a game like Amnesia uses almost the exact same game design ideas, and makes huge sales.

*Breathes in* but we’re getting off topic here

Skyrim is Oblivion with a new coat of paint and even worse hair models, without a doubt. The new additions like a “more user friendly” (aka, -more confusing than ever-) inventory system, dual wielding that somehow exists in a world where two swords cannot block an attack, a story that is even more pointless, alien, and disconnected (when will Bethesda learn that we are more invested in a story if you actually give us a motivation besides being ordered or asked to do something?). The environmental navigation it a matter of jumping in the right diagonal line for each mountain, magic is still more effective than arrows or swords, NPCs still give you that creepy vacant stare, there is no middle ground between fighting and talking (unlike in Deus Ex: Human Revolution),  and while the environment looks nice, it doesn’t necessarily appear to be living naturally.

So what does the Elder Scrolls series have going for it at this point? Frankly, just realistic first person platforming (it’s not Mirror’s Edge but at least it’s something) and dungeons. Oh and “details” as someone once argued to me. Forgive me, but what good are details when there’s nothing there besides them?!

*Breathes in again* now to end this

I want to make two things clear before I go further — I wanted desperately to like the Elder Scrolls games. I heard so much praise, so many pleased reviews, that I thought maybe someone had finally cracked making a true sandbox RPG. As of present though, it’s really just a sandbox game pretending to be an RPG. If I wanted just a sandbox game, I would have gotten Just Cause 2, or I’d go back to playing Red Faction: Guerilla (which we will be talking about in the future. I hope you just “love” courier missions!). So, that’s all for now, but I will return!

*Goes to hide under desk before Fallen returns*

You know those old games you used to play? You remember them fondly, but also remember how foolish you were back then? Or are they like the Ex you keep trying to leave but keep going back to because you never find anything better. Well, I guess the F.E.A.R. series is straddling in between those two things. The first game was a brilliantly made shooter. Despite that nearly 95% of the time you were fighting the same enemy type, it kept feeling fresh. Why? Because nearly a dozen different weapons were offered you, and practically any combination could be made to work for you (aside from that one boom cannon with four barrels — that might as well have been a tank piloted by gremlins on crystal meth). The AI is still hard to beat even today, and at least parts of the story were genuinely interesting. Yes, the ending to the first game sucked until it finally got to the -very- end, but at least it didn’t have a QTE boss fight, right?
Now I hadn’t played the FEAR series on it’s launch, so I got to play each game in sequence (granted I stopped playing the non-Monolith trilogy rather early on and then waited patiently for FEAR 2 to install). When I first played FEAR 2, I was honestly disappointed (and if you’re a fan, you probably were too) for about the first hour and a half of the game. Instead of throwing new Replica soldiers at us like in the first game, it threw apparently dumber spec-ops soldiers, and gave us the illusion of actually helpful allies (seriously, why do we even count them as more than cheerleaders?. Then, finally we get the enemies back that we wanted, but it still doesn’t feel the same. We can now carry a 4th weapon, but we also now can only carry 3 medkits, we can’t upgrade our health, bullet-time upgrades are far more sparse, and environments are far more industrialized. I’ll admit the game does use more than just gray and brown, but I’d actually argue that at least something like Gears of War or Warhammer: Space Marine had inspired locals, if not colorful ones. FEAR 2 starts in a hospital, and ends on an island or silo somewhere (with the only the truly well handled horror elements happening in the school section that somehow happen just before the end). The nightmare sequence boss fight was a serious upgrade to FEAR’s ending, but the disturbing concept that your protagonist was being raped by an undead ghost sociopath woman certainly just made you go “W…T…F?”

That was my first time through. Afterwards, I tried the multiplayer a little (it’s actually nicely handled, and very polished, but there’s a feeling they are holding players back just to keep it balanced). Then I let it rest as I played through more games. Coming back to it years later, it feels like my expectations are lowered, but not to the same extent you’d have for something like a Resident Evil game. I played it to show a friend it. The fact was.. the game’s flaws were more clear to me, and the serious overtone was broken. I couldn’t feel invested in it, until I tried something some of FEAR’s hardcore fans would call unthinkable:

I started playing Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” in the background. Somehow it not only was in sync with the action, but it made the experience feel like it was new again. Because I felt like I was genuinely having fun, I was able to actually perform better in-game, and no longer was I a cover hugging idiot. I would jump into the fray, load bullets into the nearest enemy, slow down time, shotgun the next nearest bastard, toss a grenade, and then get back to cover for just long enough to regen my slow-mo. I felt like I was breezing through the levels, and I died rarely even though I was running head first at enemies. I even managed to get the lift moving in the one section -with- the boss fight mech firing at me. You should have seen the non-visible look on the pilot’s face when I just left to the next level without even giving him a passing glance.

And so, I’ve wasted enough of your time with this Side Note. But be sure to consider trying this idea out one some other game you enjoyed once. Maybe you’ll find it’s a helluvalot better to beat the Covenant senseless while listening to Florence + The Machine .

So, to start this off lets take a look at a flash game, called Flight: http://www.kongregate.com/games/ArmorGames/flight

As you can see, Flight isn’t exactly the most challenging game on the market. It also isn’t the most innovative — it’s about a task we can do ourselves in real life. How is it, then, that it is so important? Because, it does what so few games actually genuinely accomplish these days — it inspires an emotion. By listening to I’m Still Here from Treasure Planet (seriously, what’s your excuse for not watching it?) while playing, I almost became one with the plane. I didn’t feel ripped out every minute by a glitch or stupid attempts at “realism”, I was just flying.

Now not everyone will feel the same about this. But the fact is, there are games where you actually feel genuine emotion. Imagine talking down a mad gunman in Deus Ex: HR or trying to survive an apartment fire in Heavy Rain, or the sensation of fear mingled with discovery in Penumbra, or the odd feeling of regret and pity that you have to leave in the ending of Portal 2. These moments should be treasured highly, more highly than they are. They teach us something about ourselves, they make us think, and they make the medium as a whole more than just a “game”.

And so,
Fairwinds

%d bloggers like this: