Thursday, June 23, 2011

Of limbs and dismemberment

Poor Dead Nation got about an hour of play before being supplanted by F.3.A.R., and it deserves to be played from beginning to end. Yes, it is just another twin stick shooter, but it looks really good, the score multipliers actually serve a purpose (you use the points to purchase ammo and weapon upgrades) and it has a refreshingly dark tone more in line with the zombie apocalypse. Not to take anything away from Zombie Apocalypse, the XBLA game, not the end of the world event, but grim dark zombies work better than zombie being fed into lawn mowers and chipper shredders. The only complaint I have is that the camera is zoomed out a bit far for my tastes, making the nicely detailed physics a bit too hard to see. I know that blowing up a car and sending a bakers dozen zombies flying looks good, but it could look better if I could see more.

Dead Nation, as good as it is, was beaten out by one of the only PC shooters (that I play on console) now that I have any loyalty left for, and that loyalty is based on a demo of the game that I saw before it even came out. F.E.A.R. was demoed at one of the old EB conferences (pre-GameStop buyout). They were running thing on God's own computer, which means yes resolution with yes more texture quality at holy shit frames per second. In other words, they were playing a game in a way that very few people would be able to match. It was standard demo fair: look at this weapon,  marvel at the bullet time we stole from Max Payne, behold our destructible environments. All of it was good, but what it created in aggregate was combat more visceral than any I had ever seen.

The demo ended with an encounter that it was clear had been practice many times. Point man rounds a corner and almost bumps into an office containing three clone soldiers. He fires through the windows with the penetrator, nailing the first solider to the wall, then lobs a grenade through the hole and backs up. It was a sequence of events designed to show off both what the engine could do and what the player could accomplish with enough skill. What actually happened this time could never have been predicted. The first two maneuvers went off without a hitch. As the grenade went off Point Man went into bullet time to highlight everybody in the office being blown to shit, and just as it ran out a dismembered arm came flying out of the window and landed at his feet. The guy doing the demo was so surprised that he did a double take with the mouse and the audience went crazy.

Events like this were common place in F.E.A.R., and the third game does not disappoint, but there is still something missing. The first game worked because it started out with crazy things happening in normal surroundings, slowly building to absolute insanity in the final level. F.3.A.R. starts out with crazy, supernatural shit, and has no where to go. There is now build, no tension, so nothing is actually scary. Don't get me wrong, it's a great shooter so far, but it isn't F.E.A.R.

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