Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Looking at the first year of FPS titles of the Playstation 4

"I think my ghost is broken, it sounds like Peter Dinklage with his emotion button switched off."*
Technically it's been about ten and a half months (give or take) since I bought my PS4 but the new holiday season is upon us and it means that we're about to be hit by a slew of new titles in the next two months, even as the first year of games immediately falls out of style and sinks into the digital muck of gaming history. So, what wasn't worth it....and what's worth remembering? I'll look at the shooters this time around....which is most of what came out for the console, anyway.

First off, Destiny arrived not long ago and has proved to be a fantastic game, albeit with some caveats. Chief among the "buts" is the fact that it's a game which suffers from an identity crisis, and depending on whether you approach it as a "MMORPG shooter" or a "Halo but with more interesting design parameters" you will likely have two very different takes on the game. I'll tell you this: it's not an MMORPG no matter how much they doll it up; structurally it is much closer to the original Guild Wars, though that doesn't become obvious until a little way in to the game. By this comparison I mean that the game has a hub, where everyone gathers, then it breaks the game up into discreet chunks which may or may not have small groups of cohorts battling it out. What it really does is present a novel way to integrate single player and co-op content into one seamless whole, and that's where the MMORPG element "feels" like it should be, even though it's not quite there. It also apparently makes for a great loot grind at the endgame but I haven't gotten there yet.

Destiny's only real sin, though, is requiring an online connection when, ultimately, only the "crucible" pvp elements and a few other specific missions (all optional so far) are necessary for that connection. This could have been a long and engaging single player game, and if they'd made it that way they could have invested in giving a more protagonist-focused plot and story to Destiny. As it stands, it exists somewhere in a weird nether: not good enough to rank with MMOs, but definitely superior in structure, mechanics and graphics to all other shooters right now. Destiny, like Titanfall and Defiance, is another stepping stone toward something much cooler in the future; but it's not "that thing" it promised, either.

Still expect to be playing it a lot for months to come, though. Criticism of its focus doesn't change the fact that it's fun as hell. The story criticisms would probably feel more damning if it weren't for the fact that Destiny still does more with it story and amazing atmosphere than most other shooters. The criticism about the story is quite amusing, really. Destiny has a strange almost mythic sort of vibe to it; its story will confuse people expecting the usual FPS story garbage (see below for many examples) or it will annoy people who prefer elaborate Bioware/Bethesda titles where everything is revolving in great detail around your character. Destiny is almost poetic in the way it blends story and atmosphere into a strange, eerie experience puncuated by moments of violence.

Which gets us to the next few games....

All of the shooters prior to Destiny now suffer a bit by comparison. Of the titles which predate Destiny (Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Metro Redux, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Wolfenstein) only Killzone Shadow Fall really offers a comparable experience, albeit in a somewhat more limited form. You can do some stuff in K:SF you can't do in any other game, including Destiny.....but the multi-player element of K:SF is still not up to Destiny-level quality, unfortunately.

Anyway, I finished Killzone's campaign and was ...I don't know.... I guess impressed at the sheer length of the design credits for the game, more than anything. I wish they'd spent more time figuring out how to convey the story; the game has a story, and you can follow it (and also miss a lot of it if you don't hunt for the game's many hidden collectibles) but I never really felt a connection or even a care for any of the characters** except one, at best a twinge of remorse at the end of chapter nine just before chapter ten started with it's "payback" mode (no spoilers, I promise). The bottom line being: people may criticize Destiny for a shallow or poorly conveyed world and story, but this is not a problem unique to Destiny (hell, I would argue Destiny has the opposite problem by keeping it simple and eloquent....and this confuses many players looking for complex and confusing. K:SF has a decent story but it's told through poorly conceived's become an epidemic of shooters in general these days. Developers telling us that the single player campaigns are not necessary (Titanfall, cough) or not the main point of their game (Battlefield 4, blech) are deluding themselves (I hope). I can tell you right now for all the time I've spent in Titanfall (hint: not much) I definitely won't buy a sequel until it hits bargain basement prices. And this is as good a segue as any to talk a moment about Call of Duty: Ghosts.

The only sympathetic character in Killzone....and she still wasn't that nice
First, I've played all the "modern" iterations of the CoD franchise as well as the WWII editions. I've mostly focused on the single player campaigns, so my investment is way lower than your typical CoD addict, and I didn't get into the multi-player element until the first Black Ops, which was distinct for recognizing the desire to have bot matches. CoD: Ghosts to its credit continued that trend and you can play multi-player local with bots easily, and the bot AI can be pretty decent....if you're just looking for fun and don't want to deal with the stress of the online PvP crowd then this is great. Of course, there's also the single player campaign...

At this point in the CoD universe they moved the storyline to the future, quite a ways, and the story itself is almost transparently evident as a series of strings tying one location to another. The reason and purpose for the action of your protagonist is tightly defined in a formula that is so wrote now that you can pretty much tick off by the numbers what will happen, perhaps even when. So we get Roarke as the charismatic bad guy over Makarov. We have the driven cohort who spurs us on, the Big Bad Evil Empire which in this case is the South American Federation, and we have lots of places where things happen, each more impressive in scope and madness than the last. And it's damned playable, even if the plot comes right from the scribblings of a Tom Clancy fanfic forum.'s gotten too old, too predictable. The end of Ghosts' campaign was a paint-by-numbers in which I knew what was going to happen scene by scene, even as I still conceded I wasn't entirely clear on what the hell the plot was, or why Roarke turned evil-bad. In fact try to play this game keeping in mind that the Federation is basically South America at large....and tell me if you could have guessed that. They discreetly cut down on the extraneous chatter (I didn't hear a lot of Spanish or Portugese being spoken, for example), and no behind-the-scenes major villain ever surfaced, which was weird; usually they're better at this would have helped explain Roarke's existence if a more shockingly evil supervillain were behind his "conversion."

And the end: without spoiling it, I'll just state that I really wish they had let these characters alone in the end, because knowing they set it all up for a Ghosts II sequel is not selling the franchise's future to me anymore.

I'm very forgiving of the CoD fanchise, but Ghosts is pushing me to think twice. Luckily Advanced Warfare does not appear to be in the same universe.....but it does suffer from what I call "Crysis but without any weird SF vibe to scare away the mundanes" going on for it. Maybe I'll get it....after I read the reviews, first. Maybe. Or I could wait until they have a sale or two.

So for the rest of the shooters? Here it is in a nutshell:

Wolfenstein: I'll be honest, as well designed as this game was it got tepid and unpleasant after around chapter fiveish, and I grew increasingly annoyed with the game. Somewhere in the latter half of the prison level I gave up; Destiny's existence did not help my motivation to continue here. Plus, I could not get over the fact that Blaskowzki was stuck in that home for the indigent for years and yet somehow retained his soldier's muscle mass? WTF! I know suspension of disbelief can be tenuous in these games, but this one snapped mine completely.***

Battlefield 4: this one buried the hatchet on the franchise for me completely. I loathe this franchise now, and will not even bother with Battlefield: Hardline or whatever nonsense they plan to produce next. Short reason is the single player campaign was unpleasant, too linear, and just plain old "not fun." The multiplayer was conceivably more interesting but also required a greater degree of investment to become good at, which means time, which I have in too short of supply for this game.

Metro: Redux: this is actually a fantastic game, and if you somehow didn't play it previously the Redux edition is a good starting point. It's fairly linear, but the game makes up for that problem in so many other ways, including numerous realistic touches, a seriously well developed story line and more atmosphere than you can shake a gas mask at. Play it to experience Fallout Russia style.

In Russia game play you!

*In Peter Dinklage's defense I think his voice over as the Ghost is fine, but he has two problems: they don't really give the protagonist enough (almost any) dialogue, and it's impossible to avoid comparing the Ghost to Cortana...and Cortana will always win. Always.

**Contrast with games like Last of Us or Shadow of Mordor where you can feel your very soul gripped by the plight of the characters.

***Don't get me wrong, this is a game about "future" Nazis in the sixties with giant robots and all that, but I'll be honest, I never finished any Wolfenstein previous to this one, so it comes as no surprise that the series' alternate history post-WWII setting just doesn't do it for me, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. What a thought-provoking review! I've just recently acquired Destiny and I'm about to play it, so thanks for the heads up. Aside from the online issue, I'm pretty much excited about playing it. Anyway, I can sympathize with your opinion on the shooters. Thank you so much for sharing! Happy gaming!

    Erik Barker @ CPR