Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Slow Times Near Detroit. Fear, Loathing, and Video Games

Living out in Michigan makes for some very slow days. I don't quite get out as much as I do in the mean, sun-baked streets of Phoenix. Also, I might mention, I really don't get near Detroit much more than once a month.

So, what I've gotten myself up to has mostly been video games. Lots of video games. Recently I bought myself Prey and F.E.A.R.

Prey, an uncanny, scary, atmospheric FPS involving a juxtaposition of aliens and Native Americans. The game starts out presenting our hero, Tommy, a jaded and disillusioned Cherokee boy (young man really) trying to break free of the Reservation. It's steeped in every pop culture Native American cliché that I could think of, and then some. Suddenly, aliens attack. They start sucking up cars, people, the bar he works in, into this weirdly convoluted ship that is traversed via a bizarre network of space-warping portals.

The best parts about this game happen to be some of the humor. Once and a while, wandering about, you come across a panel on the wall that is currently receiving radio from Earth—and it happens to be Art Bell. Callers continually call in about various strange happenings, lights, and other events involved with the alien attack and he does his best not to believe them.

The biggest problem I had with Prey is that it was amazingly short. The death mechanic is interesting—when you die you are thrust into the alternate world of your ancestors where you fight the dishonored dead—of course, this makes short work of dying over and over because you come back, whilst your foes do not. It doesn't have enough replay value to go back in with a more difficult setting.

The best things about this are the weird varieties of puzzles that present themselves from the space-warping qualities of the ship. Sadly, the game just does not go far enough with those puzzles. The most intriguing part was a labyrinth of wall-walking-gravity-conveyors, but it didn't end up lasting that long.

High point? Discovering that the aliens were apparently the doom of the Anasazi causing them to totally vanish so long ago (not that we haven't seen me using this sort of a plot in Vexations or anything.) I laughed, I cried, I kicked alien butt in the name of my ancestors.

F.E.A.R. This game fell down mostly on story. While the creepy little girl effect really got me, and I loved having bullet-time to take out my enemies in this FPS shooter it really wasn't doing such a good job of keeping my attention. What drove me forward wasn’t the interesting new foes, but the next time I met Mr. I-Eat-Dead-Bodies or the scary little girl who light fires and threw stuff at me.

Otherwise it was a generic FPS with horror elements. Things that I did like involved how the bad guys would jump for cover, or leap over objects to get at me. They'd throw grenades when I was hiding and scream in horror when I appeared. I'm told by everyone that they're telepathically controlled clones, but they seemed pretty well socialized for clones.

There isn't much in the way of tactics, or problem solving that I had to do. The enemies are loud—well, most of them are—talking to each other in their outside voices on the radio whenever I'm getting near. I don't need to walk like a cat, these guys were made to be snuck up on.

I think that they could have done a lot more work with the NPCs (or at least more NPCs in general who weren't specters walking in my vision) and had them be more interactive. Maybe some escort or protection scenarios. As a horror it did a pretty good job with the ethereal ghosts that fell into dirty ashes every time I got a good look at them, and the dead bodies falling out of ceiling tiles, but sadly eventually it just got tired. I stopped jumping at noises about half-way-through. I think it was because I realized nothing was coming to get me anymore, at least nothing that wasn't going to bark, “AREA SEEMS CLEAR!” on its radio before it came up on me.

Today, I got Jade Empire.

Let's see how this goes.

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