Seriously, has he played every game that there’s ever been? I’m staring incredulously at my nephew’s gamerscore. Sure, there’s a couple of games I beat him on, but on the whole he’s got twice as many Achievements as me on my entire game collection, plus at least twice as many other games, including – bafflingly – the Harry Potter games. I’m impressed he got further into Fable II than me. Teenagers must have greater attention spans than easily-bored thirty-somethings. So, yes, I’m making my way through The Pile – this time, of unplayed console games. Since these belong to my husband – Him Indoors, as I call him – he chips in with advice during my marathon play-through.
Him Indoors: You need to try Enslaved first. Seriously. It’s the most excited I’ve been about a game in ages.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
The game hasn’t actually arrived yet. HI ordered it a few days back, but what with the bank holidays things aren’t travelling as fast as they should. So I’ve downloaded the demo, and off we go.
It’s a beautiful-looking game, and a joy to play, too. A bit confusing at first, as my console-shy hands get used to the controls, but after a few minutes as ‘Monkey’ – a somewhat acrobatic humanoid trying to flee the carnage of a space crash – I’m getting the hang of it. It’s essentially a platform game, but instead of boring you by having you fall off repeatedly, you’re penalised instead for mis-timing your jumps. There’s combat, too, which is pleasingly reminiscent of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The story is absorbing: a re-imagining of the ancient Chinese tale Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China. This time, the story is set in a future post-apocalyptic world following a global war. Alex Garland’s adaptation retains the premise of someone who forces the help and protection of a warrior, along with some of the original names. The game sold disappointingly on release despite very favourable reviews. It seems a real shame and I’m eager to play, and zip through the demo while waiting for the post. Monkey (Andy Serkis) has only just teamed up with the heroine of the story (Lindsey Shaw) on the lush island from which they need to escape when the demo ends. It’s too soon. I can’t wait to play more.
Dragon Age II demo
I played Dragon Age: Origins, which I enjoyed in spite of itself. In other words, it was only playable to me after I downloaded a mod to give my companions 1000 points of health and all of us enough strength to kill every enemy with a single blow. I have no such advantage in DA2, which doesn’t even allow you to select a difficulty level. I don’t even finish the demo: it takes several minutes to kill an ogre, and he’s surrounded by about 30 other foes, each of which have to be hit repeatedly to be killed. Yes, the animations are flashier this time around, but the effect is still indescribably dull. I don’t see any possible entertainment value in hitting one foe 50 times with my sword. I have my own personal set of ideals for level design based on games I’ve played – namely that there shouldn’t normally be more than three enemies in any one area, unless it’s a game like Left 4 Dead where you have one-shot kills, infinite ammo and a strong team. However it’s done, fights should be brief and tense – and these are neither. Although I’m assured that the story does make the tedious gameplay worthwhile, the demo portrays something that’s everything that was bad about Drag On Ages (as it was nicknamed) without its essential warmth and charm.
Him Indoors: I’m getting bored to tears just watching you play that. It’s like they took everything that’s bad about RPGs and put them all together.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
After that, I was in a shooter mood, so figured I’d finally try Splash Damage’s precursor to Brink. I’d been warned it would be a little more complicated than I was used to in a game, but even playing classic Enemy Territory left me unprepared for this. HI had tried to use the phrase “information overload” and describe to me how chaotic the game is, but it really didn’t convey the sensation of just wandering around lost with a million sounds in your ear, a million flashing objects on your screen, and absolutely no clue where you’re supposed to be.
I played a covert op, since it allowed me the maximum opportunity to run around without being shot at. It was only playable at all with HI’s veteran help. He showed me where to run, how to hack things and how to steal the enemy uniform. I even managed to find a bit of loot he hadn’t found in the game before. I was, of course, playing against bots, so my noobishness wasn’t too much of a frustration to my team-members, but I did quit two missions in with the campaign still incomplete. Even with expert help, it was impenetrably confusing.
Him Indoors: I’m impressed you’re staying alive as long as you are.
Yay! I don’t suck quite as much as anticipated!
This is one of HI’s favourite games, based as it is on characters from 2000 AD. The titular blue grunt is dropped with his team into a combat zone, only his fellow squaddies are a bit unlucky in the opening scenes. Bizarrely, these artificial soldiers have chips in them that can be transferred into inanimate objects, so Rogue ends up with a talking gun, backpack, and later, hat.
Gameplay-wise, I found the mechanic a little similar to Mass Effect 2 – or, if you like, Gears of War. You run forward, take cover, shoot something, duck again, run to the next cover-point, rinse, repeat. Each area has an object that you need to interact with, such as taking control of a turret or using heavy guns to shoot down enemy aircraft. HI tells me that later missions have you setting elaborate traps while you sneak around and stealthily achieve your objectives.
Him Indoors: The first level is quite poor compared to the rest of the game.
Well, that’s good going, because I was interested enough after that first level to want to play more.
A racing game, this one. It looks amazingly good.
KEEEERRRRRRRRRRUNNCH. I’m barely off the starting line and I’ve already launched smack into the nearest wall. Undeterred by the jeering crowd, I spin the car in all directions before launching off back towards the start line. Notified that I’m going the wrong way, I awkwardly turn and hit the wall again. It’s just like the Mass Effect Mako levels all over again. This is what I meant about hating the controls on the 360. I limp forward. Crash. Reverse. Crash. A few paces forward. Crash.
Him Indoors: I can’t watch. This is too frustrating.
I’m not even pressing anything! The car just won’t drive straight – it just keeps going straight into the wall!
Him Indoors: That’s because you’ve completely destroyed the car.
Maybe this just isn’t the game for me.
HI said Wet was a weak copy of Stranglehold, but since I played Wet first, I thought Stranglehold was just like Wet. However, in place of Wet‘s kitschy grunge charm, Stranglehold offers a “John Woo presents” game starring Chow Yun Fat.
Yes, it’s also a little Max Payne-y. You dive through the air, shooting with two pistols in “bullet time” (or Tequila Time as it’s called here). You even get extra health-points for flashy kill moves such as shooting while sliding down a bannister or rolling along on a metal trolley. There’s a market place with plenty of watermelons, but I can’t see any chickens or workmen carrying plate glass windows. If you’ve ever seen a Hong Kong action film, you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here.
Him Indoors: It’s a great game.
It’s not wholly charmed me yet, but I’m sure it will.
Resident Evil 5
The Resident Evil games are one of the best-known series of video games, especially in light of the surprisingly successful films. The fifth entry in the franchise was probably the most controversial, owing to its African setting, but it’s also the first RE game I’ve played.
Unnecessarily handsome guy named Chris teams up with unnecessarily pretty girl called Sheva, and they battle their way through the zombie hordes together. You can play the game co-op or single-player – HI and I have often talked about playing together but never got around to it. The game likes to spend a lot of time with Sheva holding something up in front of her chest to give the camera another chance to enjoy her cleavage, but has no such interest in the Herculean hunk by her side. The map is next to useless in pointing out your objectives, and there’s no ammo anywhere.
Him Indoors: That’s part of the game – ammo is always scarce.
Which turns out to be infuriating when you have seven rounds and twenty zombies. Eventually I figure out how to use the knife and slash my way through – playing as Chris, needing rescuing by Sheva about ten times – and finally grab some Achievements for knife kills. After dying for a fourth time, out of ammo and completely boxed in and surrounded with no idea where I’m supposed to be going, I just give up. I just plain hate the shooting mechanic, which roots you to the spot as you take aim. I’m not having much fun.
Call of Juarez: Bound In Blood
This is the Western game that isn’t Red Dead Redemption. It’s a tale of brothers in the Old West, and later on in the game you get to control different characters. I picked this up from the start where only one character is open to you, Ray, who is fighting in the Civil War.
There’s a long cutscene and then another long cutscene, and eventually you stand behind a fence in a trench and shoot your enemies over the top. So far, so easy, and so fun. It’s a fine-looking game and to that point I’m looking forward to finding out about the family and setting and see the story play out. Unfortunately, the next bit says “defend the right flank”. What is the right flank? It’s the bit on the right, yes, but do they mean the fence on the right or should I run down the trench-path to the right? The directional arrows are useless – I have absolutely no idea where I’m going or what I’m supposed to be doing. I get the mission failed notification three or four times before I disconnect.
Him Indoors: It gets way more frustrating later on.
Somehow, I just don’t think I’m going to find that out.
Rogue Trooper and Stranglehold are my immediate choices for further play, but on the strength of the demo, I’m very much looking forward to continuing Enslaved.