Friday, June 25, 2010

USS Workstation - The Continued Voyages

Once again, I find myself posting from a computer at work. I probably wouldn't be doing this during the school year, but summers are a slow time working in a university, so here I am; plus I can't really get access to my computer for long enough at home, so here I am. As with my last entry, this will also be my own personal reviews of two video games, though not as ridiculously positive. Zero Punctuation may not be quite my level of vitriol, but it can get up there.

Prototype - this is a game that I picked up well after it was released, mostly because I don't often like to play the 'bad guy'; I don't play Grand Theft Auto games, and don't generally pick the 'evil' alignments in games where I get a choice. In Prototype, you play Alex Mercer, a guy who wakes up on a morgue slab, and immediately, for no reason he can remember, has people trying to kill him, including the military.

He quickly discovers that he is now different, massively so; he is stronger, faster, and tougher than normal humans, can literally run up walls and leap great distances, and under the right circumstances, can literally turn his body into a variety of living weapons. And as he discovers what is happening to him, he also discovers the military - or, more accurately, the military-industrial complex - views him as a threat greater than almost anything in history, and is willing to sacrifice the entire island of Manhattan to take him out.

In Prototype, you can kill just about everyone you meet; random civilians, military squads, tanks, helicopters, and beasts created by the 'disease' that infects Alex, and has begun to spread to the general populace. The game plays in a third-person perspective, and for the most part, you can roam all over the island of Manhattan - which is a big area, even when you can leap from building to building, because the creators of Prototype went to some trouble to make the area authentic. Aside from just following the storyline, there are various optional challenge missions, testing your new abilities and how you use them, and also missions that pit you against both the military and the Infected.

You can be sneaky about it - eventually you get an ability that lets you sneak up on and 'consume' a person, taking their shape and memories - but as the game goes one, things get harder; the military becomes better at detecting you, the Infected grow in number, and neither group likes you. So yes, while you can run rampant murdering the population of New York City, you aren't just a total psychopath - you are a man who wants to know what was done to him, how to stop it, and who is responsible. What you find out is ugly, but makes you something of an anti-hero - you may do bad things at times, but in general, you are working to do some kind of good. If you can handle crazy 3rd-person action where you run up buildings, fight hand-to-hand with helicopters, and can eat people to sneak around, this is a game you'll enjoy - as, I was surprised, I did.

Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood - this is a game that, unlike basically all the others so far, is something of a first-person shooter. You play one of a pair of brothers, who start out as soldiers in the US Civil War, and you are fighting on the losing side. The Civil War missions get you used to the two characters you'll be able to control throughout the game, the brothers McCall, Ray and Thomas. There's a third brother, William, who narrates, but he isn't playable. One brother, Ray, is tougher and more suited to close combat and heavier weapons, and can take more punishment; the other, Thomas, is more of a sharpshooter, and uses more accurate weapons.

The object of the game, once your characters desert their unit after going home to find their mother dead because of Yankee mischief, is to go down to Mexico, escape the law, and find the mythical treasure of Juarez, which will make them rich and let them rebuild their family home. To this extent, you take a number of jobs, many of them unpleasant - at one point, you have to gun down a sheriff of a small town because one of the brothers slept with the sheriff's daughter, then blow your way out of town as violently as possible, and eventually, you run into a woman, Marisa, who divides the brothers, as both want her and both will kill to get her. You work for, and against, a host of unpalatable people - the Mexican warlord Juarez, your former Confederate commander Barnsby, the Apaches of Texas and Mexico - all in search of the woman and the gold.

I disliked this game for both reasons of gameplay and story. Gameplay is first; for one, many of the most important 'fights' of the game are handled using a slow-motion, bullet-time fast-draw duel, where you circle around, try to keep your opponent in front of you, then draw and fire. The problem is that to be successul, you have to fire at exactly the right time, hitting a very small area, and do it very accurately, and you get one try - otherwise, you die and have to keep trying over and over. In a game where some of your other, tougher opponents can take dozens of bullets, as can you, this is just a way to screw the player. Also, the use of contemporary weapons meakes the FPS shooting difficult, as apparently nobody ever taught the McCalls to steady their guns, so they move all over, even when zooming in. This makes the game difficult to the point of frustration, even on Easy difficulty, for people who are not experienced in FPS games.

The story is unpalatable, too. The two brothers start out as Confederate soldiers, mowing down Union soldiers with glee, then desert their side the moment they hear their home might be in danger; it is, but they had known that could happen, especially since they, even thought they seem like vaguely criminal men, are apparently part of the slave- and plantation-owning Southern elite. They then pillage, and presumably rape, their way to, and then through, Texas, down to Mexico, and take up all manner of unpleasant jobs, to the sorrow of their brother William, who is a priest. Once Marisa comes into the picture, they even begin to fight each other over her, to the point where at the end they hate each other more than their other enemies. Ray and Thomas are unpleasant characters, who perform 'good' acts by accident on occasion, but generally are selfish, self-centered, and just plain mean. At several points, they actually laugh maniacally when killing unarmed people, whether white, Mexican, or Native American. They are exactly the kind of characters I hate to play, and since Bound in Blood is apparently the prequel to the 2006 game simply named Call of Juarez, I can't imagine how ugly things are there. Unless you love playing total bastards and are already very skilled at FPS games, I recommend you avoid this game.

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