WET Review

Wet, you are shit.

I know this. Now, I have not actually played you. I have not watched you being played, or read any reviews of you. The sum total of my experience with you is watching your minute-long Basketball Court gameplay video and half of your Rage gamplay video on Gametrailers circa E3 2009 before closing the browser tab in terror. Finally, I’ve been unable to avoid the TV ads you’ve started putting out recently. Some people might say you have to play a game, to know if it is shit. These people are not professionals.

I am a professional.

Here is my review of Wet:

In Wet you control Miss. Alice Wet on her globe-hopping mission to murder literally a whole bunch of dudes. With such far-flung cinematic influences as both Kill Bill and Sin City, this game is a game that oozes cool.

You will shoot guys while backflipping. You will cut a guy with your katana, and he won’t even know what’s going on! You will shoot guys while hanging from the ceiling, and you will do it all while lookin’ fine! Alice Wet belongs to a school of character design that believes in well rounded personalities, if you know what I’m saying.

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I’m saying she has a fine ass!

It’s a shame, then, that Wet’s such a dog to play. Supposedly Wet gets its name from the fluidity of the protagonists’ fighting style. I’d say this is the absolute pinnacle of PR bullshit if I didn’t fear their car-owning kind would take it as a challenge. Wet’s animation and controls are unforgivably sloppy. Your attack animations jump in and out of movement animations in a jerky, illusion-snapping fashion, and your sword and guns jump in and out of Alice’s hands as your button presses demand. You’ll even watch Alice Wet leap off of platforms after she’s run over the edge, her feet pushing off of thin air.

The combat enjoys a similar fast-and-loose development strategy. Enemies have been coded to run at you and attack because… that’s what enemies do, right? No thought’s gone into how to make combat remotely deep or rewarding. Or maybe that’s unfair. Maybe thought has gone into how to make combat interesting, but the developers were incompetent. Guys run at you and you put them to death like you might fold a pair of jeans on a sunny day. It doesn’t take long for your walk-in closet of acrobatic moves, slides and flips to start feeling like ‘cool’ distractions, when really a game like this should be braiding them into combat and the way you’re attacked to create something interesting.

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Worse, for a game so self-consciously struggling to be cool, treading those icy waters with all the elegance of a fat man still wearing his business suit, it’s impossible to make Wet look cool when you’re playing. You’ll take spastic swipes at thin air with your katana, jostle for a decent camera angle in tight corridors and take hits from guys you had no idea were there. Better still, the sweary quips that come both from Alice and her enemies don’t stop coming when the game slows into bullet time, which it does for 35 seconds of every minute. As in, Alice and her enemies will be sassing each other at normal speed while Alice cartwheels above them in slow motion. That’s attention to detail!

Every so often Wet lets you interrupt your not-having-much-fun with RAGE MODE. But I mislead you! Rage Mode isn’t much fun either.

ragemode01_copy

In Rage Mode everything turns BLACK and RED and  SILHOUTTED, which I see Spike TV calls ‘Seeing the world of Wet through THE EYES OF FURY ITSELF.’ In Rage mode you move a little faster, get your health back a little quicker, and wonder a little harder if you’ll ever find someone who’ll love you for who you are.

All told, Wet is a man who vomits on you on the bus and doesn’t even say sorry. It’s an action game which hasn’t bothered intelligently analysing what makes a good action game, and it’s a ‘cool’ game which honestly believes you can be cool by stitching together other people’s ideas and flashing a thumbs up. When you enter Rage mode the actual fucking “I am angry” siren sound effect from Kill Bill plays.

Put that last sentence on the front of the game’s box, Bethesda. I’m sure it’ll sell you another 60,000 copies.

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The Void: The Review: The Hype

So I’m currently playing this:

NullAnd

It’s called The Void (or possibly Tension, depending on who you ask) and it’s the next game from the developers of Pathologic. They’re called Ice-Pick Lodge, they make games for the PC and are notable for being Russian, ambitious and mad. My spittle-flecked three part analysis of Pathologic was the best thing I wrote last year, and my subsequent interview with Ice-Pick made for great reading too. Choice quote:

“Catharsis always assumes a vivid death experience. Always. And if you remember Aristotle, the meaning of catharsis is in metamorphosis, in this case the metamorphosis of the gamer. The metamorphose is a “ritual” event that assumes a “small death” of the person that went through it. For a new, enlightened man to be born, the old one has to “die”.”

YEAH!!

In The Void you play a lost soul arriving in an afterlife that’s almost beyond description; it’s a vision that takes no cues from any existing mythology. The world is cold and twisted, and your goal unclear. Returning to the realm of the living would be desirable, but you have no idea how to make that happen and a greater concern is ensuring you don’t slip deeper into death. You see, there’s a terrible hunger inside all beings of the Void, and succumbing to it will cause the erasure of your very existence.

Which is to say, game-over.

At least at the stage I’m at, The Void is about wrestling the game for colour. The scratches and spurts of colour that you can find and absorb are what sustain you, and exist as your health, currency, weaponry, food and much more besides. It’s really a game about resource management, but more cramped, tense and agonising than that implies. Say you infuse some trees with colour, like this:

tees

Return to them later and the colour you invested in them will have thrived. You’ll be able to pull even more of it back out. But even in this pastoral task the game’s asking you all these horrid questions, and it’s doing it silently, breathing them over your shoulder. It’s saying: How many trees have you got left? What colours do you grow? Is there a monster nearby? Are you going to blow even more colour to set up protection for your garden? And most importantly: How much are you willing to drain yourself in this place? Because you need to walk away from this with enough colour to keep moving, keep fighting, keep finding more colour.

I should point out that this is a game where, like Pathologic, repeated fuck-ups or a tactically unsound long-term plan might wedge you into a position where survival is impossible and you have to reload a save from hours back. I haven’t had to do this yet, but the knowledge that it might happen is enough to make the game very, very engaging. This evening I walked away from a three-hour play session with the coldest, most tired nerves a game’s given me in a long time.

I’ll be writing my review of The Void over the weekend, so it should be up on Rock Paper Shotgun early next week. I don’t send my blog readers home empty-handed though! Here’s a capsule review, just for you.

(Yes, that means you should buy it. The English-language version I’m playing is out next month.)

UPDATE: You can pre-order it from the UK publisher here. Americans! Order before October 1st and you’ll get free shipping to your despicable continent.

Traveling and Lies in 16-bit

You might have read something referring to me as a traveling games journalist. Maybe you’re wondering what that means. Well, let me tell you! It’s a lot like a ticket. On that ticket is printed the following:

“GOD-FORSAKEN RUIN OF A LIFE: ADMIT ONE”

See, I’ve got my Dad’s genes. My Dad spent his life enjoying such retarded misadventures as flying a hot-air balloon across Africa, poking around some caves under Iran (then Persia), crashing an airship in the south of England and supervising the building of a steamboat and riding it down the Amazon, all while getting married and divorced three times. Most recently he tried to get together a team of octogenarians to ride a raft made of oil pipes across the Atlantic, but they only got as far as an appearance on the Richard and Judy show before the funding fell through. I think the companies involved realised they were going to have their logo stamped on the side of a project that was, statistically, going to feature death.

The point is the man cannot sit still and neither can I. This worked out alright for him. As an adventurer by trade, he spent his life making documentaries, seducing natives and discovering species. But I am a videogames journalist. I’ll be clutching backpack-straps in some strange new city and the only thing on my mind will be how the fuck I’m going to review this new 360 release without access to a 360, or a TV, or a roof.

But this braindead combination of traveller and gamer has LEARNED ME A THING OR TWO.

I spent my youth playing 16 bit RPGs, each one tingling like pepper in my bloodstream. Secret of Mana, Illusion of Gaia, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Landstalker, Earthbound, all of them magical stories of growth, love and hardship. I existed in these games, and now they exist in me.

These were games with themes of traveling, and it connected with me on some deep level.

But you know what? It was all BULLSHIT.

I hereby present to you a choice selection of the lessons I had to learn. These are the lies of the 16-bit era.

  1. On a real adventure, you will not find the lowest-level enemies first. Low-level enemies must be found through trial and error.
  2. Warthogs are not low-level enemies.
  3. Bandits are not low-level enemies.
  4. Rats are DEFINITELY NOT low-level enemies.
  5. Sleeping in an inn will only recover your health 30% of the time.
  6. Inter-party romances do exist, but they will never involve you.
  7. You still want to routinely buy the most expensive equipment you can afford, but must balance it with the additional mechanic that really powerful armour will cause people to call you a fag.
  8. Paralysis cannot be cured by an item.
  9. Blindness cannot be cured by an item.
  10. Poison can be cured by an item, but you won’t have it.
  11. Fear can be cured by an item known as booze, although this also causes Confusion.
  12. Darkness cannot be cured by an item, but can be cured by having sex.
  13. Stone cannot be cured by an item, but can be cured by taking less drugs.
  14. Sleep cannot be cured by an item, but can be cured by extremely long overnight bus rides where screaming children ask you for money all fucking night.
  15. Oil can be cured by washing.
  16. There is no quest.
  17. There are levels, but going up one only means a slight rise in constitution and a new dialogue option that’s just “Leave me alone” in a different language.
  18. There is no ending.
  19. You will have to fight random battles with every single person who joins your party.
  20. You will never be cast out of your hometown for causing or being involved in some terrible tradgedy. Your hometown will always exist and features a system whereby it dynamically gets dirtier, more depressing and more of your old friends can be seen wearing slacks.
  21. Similar to Quest Items, some objects will be placed in your inventory and you won’t be able to use them or drop them. These are called Souveniers, or Useless Sentimental Shit.

All this said, giving in to the urge to dress like a character from an RPG will go a good way to keeping you sane. This is me in Tibet:

betbetbet

LEGEND OF DOUCHEBAG. You can just see the fighter pilot goggles around my neck, there.

That’s all for now, kids, except (‘case you missed ’em!) a link to my Eurogamer retrospective of God Hand, my appearance on the latest Rock Paper Shotgun podcast and my recent column on Demon’s Souls.

Be good, now.

Rhythm’s Action

RocketBillyGame idea! Do you ever choreograph scenes from imaginary films in your head while you’re walking somewhere and listening to exciting music on headphones? Everyone I know with a Y chromosome and half a pulse does. There’s definitely a game in there. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Take a third person action game with fighting, running, climbing and jumping segments. Plot’s unimportant. Make it about some scrawny guy who’s just spent ten years in Neo-Tokyo studying the art of dance-fu, and returns home with a pair of fat headphones and a burning desire to clean up his town. Make the levels short, maybe three to four minutes long, and build them like time-trials. Your goal is not just to make it from A to B in the shortest time, but to discover new routes and shortcuts for subsequent playthroughs.
A level might look like this: Boss gangster is taunting you from the roof of a bar. You have to make your way through all his goons in the car park, go around the alleyways behind the bar to the fire escape, climb up that and then beat his ass down.
The game would ship with, say, 20 real-world songs ranging from dance to hip-hop to rock, one for each level, and the action would be tied in with them. Whether a punch hits hard or soft, and whether a block simply deflects damage or automatically initiates a counter is dependent on whether the button was pressed in time with the beat. The goal for the player is for play to become metronomic. Instead of a dodge or evade button the player instead has a ‘dance’ button, which doesn’t increase the player’s combo but when tapped in time with the beat will stop the combo from fading. When pressed in tandem with the corresponding direction on the analog stick the dance button also causes the player to weave out of the way of incoming attacks.
This need for timing would extent to non-violent actions, too. Climbing, jumping, sprinting, all of it would require rhythm and pacing to keep the combo up and the avatar’s actions smooth and strong. Now, environments and enemies wouldn’t be designed around the concept of four button presses for each bar of four-beat timing. The trick in any given sequence would be in squeezing in button-presses where possible and learning what moves your character has (long jumps, slides or convoluted throws) which require you to stop pressing buttons for a beat or two.
Solos and breakdowns in the song would, naturally, require the player to be involved in some kind of exceptionally dramatic setpiece to keep the combo going.
The point of the combo would be in unlocking new ways through the level. The higher the combo gets, the more your character gets into the music and leaves his human limitations behind. After 60 seconds of flawless play perfectly timed kicks will cause enemies to crumple like paper, but they’ll also break the locks off wooden doors. By 90 seconds your jumps will have gained a good sixteen inches in height, more than enough to get your fingertips up on previously inaccessible ledges. Your goal with any level is to find the single path that’ll let you chain the whole thing from start to finish, turning it into an acrobatic, ass-kicking music video.

Game idea! When you’re walking somewhere and listening to exciting music on headphones, you choreograph scenes from imaginary films in your head, right? Everyone I know with a Y chromosome and half a pulse does. There’s definitely a game in there. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Take a third person action game with fighting, running, climbing and jumping segments. Plot’s unimportant. Make it about some scrawny guy who’s just spent ten years in Neo-Tokyo studying the art of dance-fu, and returns home with a pair of fat headphones and a burning desire to clean up his town. Make the levels short, maybe three to four minutes long, and build them like time-trials. Your goal is not just to make it from A to B in the shortest time and with a minimum of pain, but to discover new routes and shortcuts for subsequent playthroughs.

A level might look like this: Guffawing, liquored-up boss gangster is taunting you from the roof of a bar. You have to make your way through all his goons in the car park, navigate the alleyways behind the bar to get to the fire escape, climb up that and finally beat his ass down.

The game would ship with, say, 20 real-world songs ranging from dance to hip-hop to rock, one for each level, and the action would be tied in with them. Whether a punch hits hard or soft, and whether a block simply deflects damage or automatically initiates a counter is dependent on whether the button was pressed in time with the beat. The goal for the player is for play to become metronomic. Instead of a dodge or evade button the player instead has a ‘dance’ button, which doesn’t increase the player’s combo but when tapped in time with the beat will stop the combo from fading. When pressed in tandem with the corresponding direction on the analog stick the dance button also causes the player to weave out of the way of incoming attacks.

This need for timing would extent to non-violent actions, too. Climbing, jumping, sprinting, all of it would require rhythm and pacing to keep the combo up and the avatar’s actions smooth and strong. Now, environments and enemies wouldn’t be designed around the concept of four button presses for each bar of four-beat timing. The trick in any given sequence would be in squeezing in button-presses where possible and learning what moves your character has (long jumps, slides or convoluted throws) which require you to stop pressing buttons for a beat or two.

Solos and breakdowns in the song would, naturally, require the player to be involved in some kind of exceptionally dramatic setpiece to keep the combo going.

The point of the combo would be in unlocking new ways through the level. The higher the combo gets, the more your character gets into the music and leaves his human limitations behind. After 60 seconds of flawless play perfectly timed kicks will cause enemies to crumple like paper, but they’ll also break the locks off wooden doors. By 90 seconds your jumps will have gained a good sixteen inches in height, more than enough to get your fingertips up on previously inaccessible ledges. Your goal with any level is to find the single path that’ll let you chain the whole thing from start to finish, turning it into an acrobatic, ass-kicking music video.

For some reason I can’t get the mental image of Rocketbilly Redcadillac from the PS2’s Gungrave: Total Overdose out of my head as the protagonist. He looks like this:

RocketBilly

Kinda low-res, so have some cosplay instead.

RocketNo

Yeah!!