Stealth Bastard Review

February 13, 2012

Original website: http://www.stealthbastard.com/

Stealth Bastard. It is very appropriately named. It is both bastardly hard at times and revolves a good bit around stealth. It’s four mini-campaigns it starts you out with teach you the basics, introduce new concepts every campaign, and have varying level of challenge. I’ve got to be honest though, the most difficult campaigns are 2 and 3, rather than 4 and 5. Conviently, the game lets you skip up to 3 levels without playing a level, and will give you another ability to skip within each campaign with every successful mission. The gameplay itself jumps between masochistic platforming and ocassionaly stealth-centric moments (I say occasionally because really almost everything is twitch-based platforming). There’s some vague allusions to something akin to the basic premise for Portal’s story, but even then the story just doesn’t really maintain itself. That doesn’t necessarily hold the game back, but it makes the few weak attempts feel more like a frustrating reminder that we’re supposedly here for some reason that the developer left out. When the game isn’t pointing to its few faults, the game is really good at platforming. In the place of wall running, the game has a cliff-hanging platforming element that I wish more 2D games had (grabbing edges works in 3D, why not 2D?). In the recent few years I’ve played a good number of free 2D platformers, and I’ve got to say that Stealth Bastard is worth a download. It’s not exactly going to beat out the Great Gatsby “NES” platformer ( http://greatgatsbygame.com/ ), but it’s clearly got promise. The 663 (as of this writing) free additional levels made by fans of the game certainly means you won’t run out of content in this addictively masochistic platformer.

Nitpick moment Honestly the most questionable element included in the game has to be the Seeker enemy type. It’s hamfisted in at the last minute and just feels like an excuse to not reuse other elements in a differing way. It’s gameplay useage in downloadable levels may be more innovative, but in the main campaigns it feels unnecessary attempt at avoiding just making 3 scripted enemy paths.

Why You Should Play: Platforming is polished, Puzzles are (for the most part) Intelligent, and Graphics are Well Done. Very rewarding missions in campaigns 4-5.
Why You Shouldn’t: Stealth isn’t as much a focus as it could be, missions in campaigns 2 and 3 can vary in difficulty a bit too much, vague attempts at story telling are laughable at best.

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XCOM as the new 2K shooter is delayed, many of the older fans are pleased to see a new Turn-Based reboot of the main games, yet few seem to show a great deal of concern at the shooter’s fate. While acknowledgements can be given considering the fact that the last time X-Com became a shooter, it was a mindless game that most fan’s hated, the new game actually looks to be almost like a hybrid between Insomniac Game’s Resistance series and Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms, with a progression and choice system like out of a Bioshock game. The weapons look like a decent mix of the familiar and the distant, the control of your squad looks smooth and efficient based on one preview that Game Informer had. The art style isn’t cliche, and has a very nice “Pixar” feel to it in that it dodges the issues of the uncanny valley. The game will even let you have freedom in how you progress with most missions similar to how Mass Effect generally only made you have to recruit 3/4s of your team and only required about two to three loyalty missions completed to go through the Omega Four Relay.

Despite this, there’s not been much praise for the game. When the game was first presented, the criticism and skepticism were understandable, but they’ve clearly gotten a handle on this and the game will likely end up being at least worth an 7.75/10 (in the language of the Hate out of Ten-ers, it’ll be 8.95/10). ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/4966-Hate-Out-Of-Ten for those of you who’d like clarification on what I mean).

So please, cut the devs at 2K Marin a break and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Nit requested to add his own little bit to this:

I will find a way to critcize you. Have no fear.

If there’s someone who needs a vocal enough community that it effects the very development of a game, it’s Ubisoft. Think you can make me link my copy of Brotherhood to Uplay, don’t ya Ubisoft? You thought wrong! Which for you is like breathing. Don’t think I’ve been ignoring you, we’ll have a nice long chat about your DRM in the days to come…

Sandbox Games

January 5, 2012

I will find a way to critcize you. Have no fear.

Hello readers, death-threat writers, and people who randomly got here by trying to Google something else entirely. Today, we shall be crit-I mean ‘talking’ about sandbox games.

First, lets be clear on what a sandbox game is. Well, it’s clearly not a game actually set in a sandbox (although that would be a good idea for a game). It is a game in which, generally speaking, you are free to do whatever you wish wherever you wish within the bounds of the game. Sounds really free-form and open, doesn’t it? Well, unfortunately, a true sandbox game (and there have been a few made) usually -only- focus on the general choices, never have a story, and are more or less as niche-centric as a low-level comic book publisher. Others throw away concepts of open-ended factions and choice in favor of more controlled action and keeping it interesting, this can result in a few flavors:

Vanilla — Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption are both good examples of this. They aim for a semi-realistic, almost action-grit style sandbox. In the latest GTA games, you can even do things like go down to comedy clubs, play darts and pool; and even watch TV shows that are exclusively in-game. The problem is, their narratives are as linear as can be, and rarely is there a moral compass for the player’s story outside of how the NPCS (computer generated people populating the world) around the player react when he appears. So you can be a mass-murdering lunatic or a Christian-robin hood style character, but the main plot characters won’t give a crap either way.

Chocolate — Fallout and Elder Scrolls fall more or less into this category. They try to be the best of both worlds. Now I’ve already spoken before about how the present Elder Scrolls games handle it, but from what I hear, Fallout actually does a decent job of conveying story, choice, faction relations, and even makes it possible for the player to complete the game without killing a single person (also, it’s latest iteration, Fallout: New Vegas, has more ending variations than almost any RPG — about 59-65, if I remember correctly)

Strawberry — Dragon Age, and arguably Deus Ex: Human Revolution fall into this category, although not entirely. The first game is from Bioware, who prefers branching narrative and a focus on making the player feel important and involved in the story. Deus Ex: Human Revolution does this, but not as much to the extent of a Bioware game. It’s just as willing to let you sit back, ignore the story for a little while and just hunt around in the sewers or amongst the cities to find something to do.

That One Flavor You Cannot Discern — Japanese Role Playing Games, they could be applied here, but I’m just saying now that they won’t be. They are almost always entirely linear affairs, outside of a few (and I mean it when I saw FEW) series. We’ll devote another post to this topic at a later date.

Rocky Road — Red Faction: Guerilla, Just Cause 2 and Saints Row are those type of sandbox game that wants to be like Red Dead Redemption and GTA, but really aren’t. In Red Faction’s case, it is a semi-open world game plagued with a bipolar focus that rarely actually makes its key talent be the center piece. In Saints Row’s case, it finally gives up trying to emulate after the first game, made a very popular (and violent) sequel. We will also be doing an analysis of Red Faction: Guerilla (perhaps today, depending on how long this lectu-erm, ‘post’ takes). Just Cause 2 is essentially an unintentional hybrid of Saints Row and Red Faction: Guerilla.

*breathes in briefly* Now that we’ve covered the general sand-boxy games, the problems with them:

Realism is always an issue, and as I’ve experienced, the only games to ever handle realism well have been Red Dead Redemption and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Why? Because they do it -within the context of their fiction-. GTA can’t decide if its the Sopranos or is Better Off Ted. Also, to lightly prod a dead horse, Skyrim’s AI, dialogue, faction handling, and quest decisions are rather often break immersion due to their unrealistic behavior (I killed just one chicken, that’s all. If everyone got wanted for that, McDonalds would be an illegal crime syndicate).

Spreading itself too thin. No game is a better example on this list than Red Faction: Guerilla of how to not compliment your best feature. It’s main mechanics is it’s very well done destruction engine that lets you destroy whole buildings with just a hammer or with a dozen explosives. Despite this it also has sniping missions, interior-combat missions, horrible driving-centric missions, duck-and-cover missions, and stealth missions. Why? Because apparently Volition thinks that despite the fact you can clean most of the EDF out of an area in about 2-3 hours, you need a bunch of additional things that would make sense if you weren’t making a game that centers on running in, blowing things up, and then running back out. Seriously, why am I defending a random hill from 5 enemy tanks with no cover when I could be destroying that giant mineral processing plant two miles away? I can see it from here Volition, don’t tell me it’s a mirage. This isn’t the first time a game’s tried to be something its not in order to try and increase it’s marketability, but it is especially clear and sloppy in this game.

This one will seem a bit odd a point and even more ironically Red Faction: Guerilla is one of the best examples of succeeding against this issue: Making a playable demo for a sandbox game. Now, how did Red Faction succeed where GTA, RDR, Human Revolution, Saints Row and so many others have failed? It used common sense. It’s demo lets you play one of its best missions (arguably the best one in the entire game), and it limits you to have 10 minutes to do whatever you want in the demo (and after playing it about 3 times, you’ll figure out how to destroy most of if not all of the buildings in that time). Another good example is the game Just Cause 2. Now it doesn’t restrict you to one mission (there’s about technically 3-5 you can do in the course of the demo), but it does still give you a limited area to explore and a 30 minute limit on playtime before you have to restart. It seems to be a simple formula, yes? Tell that to your favorite sandbox developers, because so far most of them seem oblivious to the benefit a demo could do for their games.

Now I realize I haven’t covered every sandbox type and every game, but this gives you a general idea. I’ll end this on a more positive note by pointing you to some decent sandbox games that avoid most of the faults mentioned.

inFAMOUS — PS3 exclusive sandbox game centering around being either the ultimate super hero or super villain. In the first game, your powers are exclusively electric, but in the sequel you can get flame or ice abilities. If you like the demo but don’t want to sink $30-60 dollars into a game, get the Festival of Blood standalone DLC from the playstation network, which will only set you back $10 and includes the custom-mission maker that inFAMOUS 2 has. And yes, they let you make your own missions in inFAMOUS 2. If that and a power fantasy don’t have you sold, I don’t know what will.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution — I could spend an entire post listing how good this game is. Yes, it may feel short, because the primary locations are often reused, and the developer has even admitted two other visitable locales were cut due to time constraints. The game’s difficulties are far better in explaining themselves than the basic easy-medium-hard, and the game is very approachable if you’re willing to dig in and think with more than trigger reflexes.

Just Cause 2 — This is not a game for narrative lovers or people who want moral focus. This is a game for people who like to see stuff blown up sky high while the protagonist hang glide-kicks the antagonist off of an airship hotel as they plow 20 bullets into the nearest mercenary opponents. It doesn’t have the destruction of buildings like in Red Faction, but it compensates it with satisfying combat, hillariously corny voice-overs, and a far more forgiving physics engine than the first Just Cause game.

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 .

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