Casual Gamer Update – First Person Shooter Edition

I have a mandatory break from work over Christmas and New Year. I use the time to do the same three odd jobs that each take 5 minutes that I have been putting off for months, do my painful annual work clothes shop to replace the shirts and socks that are practically in rags and spend some time watching TV.

Oh that and seeing the family and celebrating various things.

But even I get bored after altogether too much alcohol, backyard cricket and 37 movies back to back. So each year I inevitably turn to the XBox 360 for advice.

Now as a three or four times a year gamer – I indulge in 1 or 2 week binges – simplicity and familiarity is key, so aside from some sports titles the most accessible games to simply ‘pick up and play’ are the First Person Shooters (FPS).

The key to their success is the familiarity; you are some guy, you are thrown into a violent – but linear – situation where you must advance at all times, gunning down all those that enter your vision.

Here are ten characteristics that seem to apply to almost all FPS titles:

  1. –        Guns, ammo and (miraculously enough) health are scattered around the place at strangely familiar intervals.
  2. –        Your foes are amazingly short-sighted and tend to walk the same pattern along the same paths,  until you open fire, which tends to bring them all running.
  3. –        You have the capacity to carry a small arsenal of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo, yet you never tire and practically ‘float’ along at the mere pressure of a controller stick.
  4. –        Computer terminals, diaries and journals are just lying about the place without passwords or security, and they almost always have something pertinent to your story.
  5. –        For some reason the further you go towards your goal, the tougher the enemies become. Often new breeds, strains and even species never seen before pop up in the latter stages.
  6. –        If you wait long enough any bad guy will yield his position and either leave cover or simply pop his head into view, allowing you a clear shot.
  7. –        You have the ability to slow or freeze time for everyone but you, an obvious advantage that temporarily can remedy some numerical advantages that your foes may have previously enjoyed.
  8. –        There are only about 12 phrases taught to the thousands of minions that you face; “Over here!”, “Take cover” and miscellaneous grunts and groans being constants.
  9. –        The main bad guy always has a way of appearing along your journey, seemingly with direct access to you, though you never face him in combat until the last stages.
  10. –        You will be sold out or turned on at some point in the narrative. In almost EVERY game. This is supposed to shock you each time.

Now I’m on record as saying I don’t play these games for the stories, like I didn’t watch Frida for the historical accuracy (someone finally gets Salma to take her kit off then has the brainwave that she needs a giant furry caterpiller on her forehead!?!).

For the most part I might indulge the opening scenes but after that I FF straight through anything that might pass as ‘plot advancement’ so I can get back to killin’ aliens/monsters/nazis et al. So don’t expect to learn much about these games aside from what I feel are the most relevant parts; how they play and if I liked ‘em.

So this Christmas when I wasn’t killing time in other ways, I killed it thusly:

Bulletstorm 

Why you be killin’.

You are some meathead guy who likes beer and violence, that makes you American (Ooooh the social commentary here is amazing!).

You were a killer for hire but due to a change of heart apparently you are hunting down the guy who most recently hired you. Along for the ride is a newly roboticised man who was once your bud and a tough woman who don’t take no mess.

Usually one of these guys and occasionally both traverse this bizarre spaceworld with you while you lay waste to all who would dare hove into your vision. For the most part they never kill anyone but at least they give you someone to talk to, mostly in big dumb sentences filled with big dumb macho dialogue which is 12% humerous, 88%… other.

What you be killin’.

For the most part other dudes or variances of humanoid types. I think you graduate from bad guys to alien types to occasional invisible guys to revved up super-zombies that attack with a frenzy and require more ammo to take down.

How you be killin’.

You get a lotta weapons to choose from at various dropship type places, but realistically you can get through the game with the same few if you like, an assault rifle, the forever awesome shotgun, a larger gun for the big baddies, and periodically a sniper rifle.

In actuality the shotgun here is a little disappointing and the sniper rifle frustrating to both learn and use.

The strength of Bulletstorm is the ‘leash’ an amazingly elastic and multi-purpose dealie that is attached to your arm and at the flick of a button reaches out to open doors, tear down obstructions or grab weapons or enemies with ridiculous ease. It’s not that important in the early going but quickly becomes the best way of dealing with practically every situation, meaning that you go back to it way too often instead of thinking which weapon will be most suitable.

For the most part the leash is used to drag enemies either towards you – and your waiting boot or gun – or into numerous sharp or explosive objects designed to cause them owies. By utilising different  and new reasons for death and dismemberment you accrue points, doing the same thing over and over is easier but gets less points, which can be spent on ammo and weapons periodically.

Why you be playin’.

The leash is OK for an hour or so, but the dialogue and gameplay become monotonous pretty swiftly; leash-kick-shoot. Leash-shoot-explode actually gets old fast. The lack of bosses makes the game easier than most and the run function is pretty awkward, making it hard to run and steer effectively.

The best thing about Bulletstorm is actually the visuals, the backdrops look awesome and crystal clear, the framerate never drops so you can watch every mutant’s face as they move towards your boot just before it merges them forcefully into the nearest available sharp object.

Why you be switchin’ off.

Because you finished it. It’s a pretty easy and a little too repetetive game, but aside from the dopey dialogue it’s mindlessly enjoyable for a few hours.

Final Rating – 7 / 10. I know it sounds a lot like I don’t like Bulletstorm, but it’s like 2 minute noodles. I eat them. I enjoy them. But I can’t think of too many reasons to recommend them to others. They’re just food. Bulletstorm is just a FPS shooter.

Duke Nukem Forever

Why you be killin’.

Because you’re Duke Nukem, the deep voiced, sexist violent cliche who has to save humanity from another alien invasion and rescue hot women from the restraints of their underpants.

What you be killin’.

Aliens. They occasionally materialise right in front of you and other times they use jetpacks to annoy you. Their movements seem frustratingly similar to another game I remember… oh that’s right Duke Nukem from the 90s. More on this later (see ‘Why you be switchin’ off’).

How you be killin’.

You have a plasma gun *Oh my Mr Duke!* and a standard series of assorted assault rifles interspersed with a few moments where you get to use turret guns and the like.

Why you be playin’.

Ummmm, because when Duke Nukem came out on the original Playstation I was about twenty-something and obviously fairly easily entertained. That’s the reason I rented this sucker.

As far as reasons to keep playing, well I’m out of ideas. The only moment of amusement are the hints that pop up during load times, at least I truly hope that hints saying “Avoid taking damage to stay alive longer’ and ‘If you get stuck, cheat’ are tongue in cheek.

Why you be switchin’ off.

The load times are insane. Bad insane. They alone are sufficient reason for me to heartily unrecommend this game. I can’t imagine that in well over a decade the developers couldn’t improve this aspect of the game. The game design is flawed, the characters Lego-man blocky and frankly amateurish and there are long sequences of actionless and pointless Press X interactions.

If that isn’t enough – and it should be – the gameplay hasn’t improved, if anything it’s actually worse! Gone is the slightly irreverent Doom clone and in its place is this steaming pile of confusing mess. The aiming system is useless and inconsistent and the aliens movements are predictable and annoying. The puzzles are confusing and unclear, sometimes I walked around for 5 minutes before I realised that there even was something that nneded solving. I might be dumb, but I don’t think I’m that dumb.

That’s a lotta reasons folks, all Not to play this game. But without doubt the main reason: LOAD TIMES. Even in the 90s I think you could walk down a hallway in a game without needing a 90 second pause in the game before you could proceed into another hallway, and I’m only just exaggerating.

Final Rating – 4 / 10. I rented this for a week, took it back after a weekend. No wonder they delayed the release so many times, I can only imagine what the early ‘inferior’ version looked like, because Duke 2011 sucks. Try Duke Nukem Forever Never Again.

F.E.A.R. 3

Why you be killin’.

I’ve played and enjoyed all 3 F.E.A.R. games now, but aside from knowing some haunted and mentally tortured young girl is somehow behind the psychological horror shooter series I can’t tell you much.

In this version you seem to have a dream / nightmare guide / assistant who pops up to put murderous ideas in your head and move the plot along I guess.

The killing comes when you face countless soldiers as you try to escape the mental asylum facility, which seems absolutely endless by the way.

What you be killin’.

Crack soldiers. Noisy crack soldiers. Who provide you with hints if you listen even casually to their chatter. This is actually a good idea at first, but is so damn repetitive that after a couple hours it really gives you the shits, especially random soldiers asking loudly “Did you see that shit?” and telling one and all “We lost him”. On second thought soldiers who give away their position and situation might not be so crack after all, but some of these guys are hard buggers with big guns, especially some of the level bosses.

How you be killin’.

The usual guns and hand grenades are conveniently scattered about the place, but you can only carry two weapons at once so there are occasions that call for a little more planning, especially as some of the weapons straight up suck, so at times you will reflexively grab a discarded weapon and immediately think “Oh shit I picked up THAT!?!”, then start looking for an immediate replacement.

This is probably more realistic than carrying a small army’s worth of cannons, but a little less fun…

Why you be playin’.

The game is actually quite savvy and responsive, picking up and tuning into your skill level quite quickly, this keeps the level of difficulty at appropriate levels, and maintains the challenge so that nearer the end of the game proceedings prove tough even on the easiest setting.

This means the old ‘run in gunning’ approach is simply not a suitable option at times, this hardly results in stealth being required, more common sense, with your health not measured in percentage terms or levels you simply need to be more aware of your mortality, and once again the increasing difficulty ensures that you will likely be near death on more than a few occasions.

The F.E.A.R. series are quite consistent and decent quality, even if they are as scary as an Auntie without makeup – which I guess might be scary to some – though the foreboding music that cranks up in the moments before a big noise or impending conflict is at least partially responsible for deadening the impact of potentially scary moments.

I’m sure the plot is suitably macabre and grim, but as always I always end up fast forwarding through anything resembling a cutscene, so me commenting on the ‘story’ element is pointless and unfair.

Why you be switchin’ off.

Most will turn off for the same reason I hang around, the game is pretty simple. Even when it feels like it’s a particularly hard section no sooner have you completed it do you realise just how simple it was. The difficulty comes with volume not complexity. Harder sections have more bad guys or bigger level boss bad guys.

As you near the final moments even the run of the mill soldiers make way for super-soldiers, bazooka wielders and partially invisible killers with the ability to transport themselves about the place. I eventually chucked the shits at one point when an invisible demon spirit thing killed me a few times in a row and I couldn’t work out what I needed to do. I left the game for a few days and when I revisited it tried a different approach that saw me through. In reality while the game was never a breeze that was as hard as it got for me.

Final Rating – 8 / 10. The F.E.A.R. games are never brilliant but always good, this consistency sufficient reason to buy the sequels as they are released with confidence, but without expecting to be blown away. Consider them the Lethal Weapon of video games, only without woman-bashing, racist religious fanatics.

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So there you have a few months in the life of the most casual of gamers. Hardly prolific I’m the first to admit, then again take a quick look at how many movie reviews go up here each month and you’ll see where most of my time goes.

But one day I’ll get annoyed in the video shop after spending half an hour finding nothing, and the video game rack will beckon, possibly inspiring me to binge again for a short while.

Until then.

OGR

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine.

I don’t expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don’t be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong… and hopefully if you think I got it right for once.

Don’t be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.

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