Monday, April 24, 2017

Double fault

Often, after I finish a game that I actually enjoy, I become less tolerant of problems and will discard game much more easily. This happened twice over the weekend with games that have had at least some critical acclaim. Not bad enough to enjoy ironically but not good enough, or at least containing something I take issue with, to play for more than a few hours.

Yakuza 0 was the first victim. Issue number one was there being all of fifteen minutes of interactivity in the first two hours. It was literally cut scene, walk for a bit, cut scene, walk for a bit, karaoke minigame, walk for a bit, then you get to punch someone, followed by a few more cut scenes. And the combat was, at least in the beginning, stiff and uninteresting. By the time I was done I had unlocked two other styles but the flow of combat never got any better.

Issue number two was being dropped into an open area with very little hint of what to do next. I was supposed to investigate the murder that I was framed for that was also tied to a fight between the yakuza and several real estate companies over the only remaining undeveloped patch of land in a neighborhood. You read that right, all of the drama begins with a conflict over an empty lot.


No hints on where to go, not even a direction in which to walk. So I walked, stumbled across a few side missions that were nothing more than extended cut scenes, eventually overhearing a conversation about a property that had just been purchased under duress. The name of the property was highlighted in red so I finally had a direction. I found it on the map and tried to set a custom waypoint. No dice, no custom waypoints. So I fumbled my way there and nothing happened. Then I turned the game off.

People speak in incredibly loving terms about the Yakuza series. I got bored and thought about downloading the Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition, then being sad that there will never be a sequel.

Victim two was Torment: Tides of Numenera. I actually feel bad about this one because fifteen to twenty years ago I would have played the ever loving shit out of it for hundreds of hours. The game runs on a modern(ish) version of the same engine that Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and the original Torment ran on. This means turn based combat, not even the pseudo real time combat of Neverwinter Nights It just felt old. And it looked old, too.

Worse, the game spends all of its time telling the player what is going on instead of showing what is going on. Every interaction, be it with an NPC or an inanimate object, is done through paragraphs of text. This was necessary back in the day when I played RPGs like this on a PC but modern games, good ones at least, can communicate the same paragraphs of text visually.

I am aware that Torment is a kick started title with a budget many times smaller than most AAA projects but that does not exempt it from being compared to other modern games. Small budget does not mean relying on text for everything. Look at Hyper Light Drifter, a game that I was honestly lukewarm on: it tells a whole story with zero text. This is not possible with a game like Torment but when something specifically visual happens, like figures disappearing into a mirror with a liquid surface, fucking show me, don't make me read it.

Again, in my youth, when I had neither children nor the need for much sleep, this would have sat right alongside the games it celebrates. I cannot rewind my tastes back that far. Torment was turned off in two hours.

So what did I do instead? I retreated to a reasonable twin stick shooter that came out last year: Livelock. It's fine. I can shoot things, they explode, I am temporarily satisfied.

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