Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Not through my looking glass, you don't

Meant to type this up yesterday, but I... I have no excuse.

Over the weekend a friend of mine bribed with with spicy wings and stout beer to emerge from my cave and go over to his house. Once I was sufficiently lubricated the ulterior motives came out.

'You played American McGee's Alice on the PC, didn't you?'

'Yes, but it was years ago, and I don't think that I ever finished it.'

'I'm stuck in the PS3 port, can you help?'

That bastard.

American McGee's Alice is quite different from modern platformers. First and foremost it was designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Enemies, especially flying ones, move too quickly to be efficiently targeted using a pair of thumb sticks and no auto-aim. I yearned for my WASD, but mouse and keyboard support is not something that is often built into console-centric games, much less ports of ten year old titles. Jumping was painful as there was no double jump. It's sounds like a small thing, but not having a double jump makes every single leap an all or nothing endevour. Once you leave the ground you better damn well be sure there is something to land on.

In general, Alice has no forgiveness, no give. When compared to modern games with there air leaping, frequent checkpoints and in general watered down difficulty it feels like a dinosaur. What saves it from being unplayable is the one thing that PC games got right and consoles only recently have implemented: the quick save. Made a hard jump? Save. Killed a few guys? Save. Need another beer? Save. The game could be as hard as it was because you only had to get past each difficult section once. This can lead to out of the blue difficulty spikes, but a a whole is an excellent feature that every game should have.

I did eventually get past the area my friend was stuck on. He had never played the original, much less any other games of its ilk and time period, so he was unfamiliar with tried and true 'inch forward until you can shoot the bad guys but their AI hasn't seen you yet' technique. To him it was magic, to me it was just about every game ever that was built on Quake 3. Alice had not aged well; it did not look as good as I remembered and wrestling with ported controls was not a good time. At least this was just a side benefit of owning Madness Returns, which had coincidentally just arrived in my mail box as well.

From the very beginning Madness Returns does its best to make penance for its predecessor's issues. Alice still does not have a double jump; she has a triple jump and can float between each air hop. Jumping is still not easy (mostly invisible platforms will do that) but it does not feel like a leap of faith every single time. Likewise the combat has been slimmed down a bit, with ranged combat that is much slower with a larger margin for error. It certainly looks good, though I prefer the color drained London areas that fall between the uber-saturated Wonderland levels. It's a modern game, and playing the original mere days before drove home just how far things have come, both on the design and technical sides.

Except...

Remember the quick save? It has made its way into more and more console games. Just not this one. I don't need it to cheat this time around, inching forward and recording my progress. I just want to be able to stop playing when I want to stop playing, not when the next half hour spaced checkpoint decides to roll around. It's a small complaint, but in a game that modernizes a diamond in the rough from ten years ago to miss something that the first one got right is just not acceptable.

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