February just ended and a bunch of us here on Save/Continue all took part in something a bunch of people do each February. Some call it Febru—eh, you’ve read this before, so let’s get started.
Admittedly, Lightning Returns took a lot of time out of my schedule, but with the advent of the Pokémon Bank spurring me on and picking up a PlayStation 4 of my own, I still managed to clear off a significant portion of my backlog.
I picked up Pokémon Black way, way back when I started university three years ago, got around halfway through and just stopped, and it was only the fact that I had to finish it to transfer my Pokémon from previous games up to Y that spurred me to do so. I find that a better testament to its quality than any description I can come up with, but for the sake of giving something its fair due, let me tell you what separates a great Pokémon game from a bad one.
As a concept, Pokémon is brilliant. Its world is based on our real world, but the creatures that inhabit are such a great spanner in the works that examining the implications of their existence is always fascinating. Pokémon Snap, for example, is great because you get to examine the natural ecosystem of Pokémon. Pokémon X and Y tie into the theme of wanderlust that comes with exploring the world and crafting personal bonds between Pokémon and their trainers. Black and White try to tackle the Pokémon world’s version of animal rights groups, and their motivations vs. their actions, which seems like a logical progression for a series based around having animals fight each other for sport or entertainment.
Unfortunately, the group presented is so strawman-ish, yet so definitive, that the angle feels hollow and wasted, and the fact you still have to go around and fight eight gym leaders to become a champion when the core drive of the game is so far removed from that goal makes the entire game uninteresting. It’s actually ironic, too, because Black and White end up being character driven stories, with the Pokémon themselves being relegated to tools. If they were replaced by any other means of attack, the story would be no different. It’s fun at the core, as all Pokémon games are, but the story is wasted.
To be honest, I don’t know why it took me so long to get to playing Revengeance. I guess I was still burnt out because this time last year, I had already been through a beat-em-up marathon, including the just-released Devil May Cry reboot. After giving some time for the dust to settle and during the in-between period of new releases, I finally decided to give it a go. Platinum Games remains one of the best developers of its field, and there isn’t really anything that Revengeance does wrong, except for parrying being a bit twitchy, but it goes to show that Bayonetta is a surprisingly hard act to follow.
A lot of game talk that gets lost in the discussion, especially in the context of criticism, are implicit qualities like pacing, direction and difficulty curves, and while Revengeance is good at these things, it’s not great at them. Whether the boss battles are hard or not is too random, with Blade Wolf’s movements being especially unpredictable to parry when in the first two hours of the game. Revengeance just goes too fast, and it’s a long time before the game reaches the high of RULES OF NATURE again. With all that said, it’s still a great game; just not in the same class as the classics of the genre.
I got myself a PlayStation 4 last month to go with my Xbox One. I also have Knack, but I decided to spend my time with Killzone: Shadow Fall instead, simply because I have a slightly bigger affinity for this genre. As I said, I feel it’s a shame implicit qualities in a game like pacing aren’t talked about more, because those are what truly make great games in a given genre, and Shadow Fall both succeeded and disappointed my expectations in this regard.
The game’s at its best when it’s either open or just plain shootout-y. The gunplay is fantastic. Even though weapon variety is thin on the ground, the AI is smart enough to employ more complex tactics than usual, and your health is rather limited, so victory requires playing things smarter than just stop-and-pop. The best levels are the ones that have open spaces and multiple approaches into a room or area, because it encourages scouting a location before engaging in gunfire. It’s a small facet that adds so much more dimension to a game called Killzone.
Unfortunately, the campaign is also privy to moving on autopilot. Despite the pretty graphics, it feels exactly like a shooter from ten years ago. You will have to play a sewer section, an on-rails section, a section where you escape from prison, a stealth section, a sniper section, bomb defusal and so on. It feels less like honest variety and more like the game is ticking arbitrary setpiece boxes. Not to the extent of Call of Duty‘s recent campaigns, perhaps, but it still ends up feeling like a lackluster campaign overall. This isn’t helped by the story, which has a protagonist who is such a non-entity that he doesn’t show up when you jump out of your body and possess a spider-bot. Still easily surpasses most FPS games I’ve played in a while, though.
I picked up Dust: An Elysian Tail in last year’s mid-year Steam sale, happily played through half of it and then…just stopped. Eventually I picked it back up and played through the rest of it. I maintain it’s a good game, but out of all games on here, its problems are the most glaring. It combines a 2D beat-em-up combat system with an action RPG framework, which means packing lots of sidequests into a rather narrow map. In order to justify this, the game fits in lots of backtracking to pad out the time. The combat is simple but cathartic, making for universal appeal, but it’s not deep enough to sustain the game’s length even skipping a lot of the sidequests.
Speaking of universal appeal, I actually liked the art style of the game. Many decried it for being amateur hour design you see on DeviantArt, and I agree somewhat, but it makes the atmosphere more wholesome and generally appealing. The story in itself is very simple, but it’s told in a practical enough way that anyone can enjoy it. In fact, even though the game was repetitive as hell, this pretty much guarantees I’ll play it again at some point.
Way too many new games coming out in the year to come to guarantee it’ll happen in the next twelve months, though. In fact, my backlog is likely to either shrink or stagnate this year simply due to the fact that I have pretty much every 2013 game I want already, so the only new games I’m likely to play will indeed be new. That said, with now full possession of the current console generation, my options will be as broad as they can be for a good many years, so who knows? I might still get swamped after all.