Monday, November 26, 2018

Game versus not game

Time to get reacquainted with my keyboard.

In the week plus since my last entry I have finished Red Dead Redemption 2, finished Spider-Man and started Assassin's Creed Odyssey. That is a lot of open world in a row and I will admit that it was with some trepidation that I installed and started Odyssey. I did not feel ready to commit to another big game. I almost started Mega Man 11 instead - a nice, linear, short experience.

But I was wooed by the opening battle in Odyssey, a sideways take on the battle of the hot gates. This was barely an Assassin's Creed game. It was a open world, combat heavy RPG, closer to Dragon Age or Mass Effect but prettier and more poorly written than either. It was, in every way, a game. Not a painstaking simulation that was at it best when being observed and not touched, no, a smooth experience that sacrificed realism for convenience.

A very small example: picking something up off of the ground in Red Dead Redemption 2 accomplished via an excruciatingly long and accurate animation, every single time. Picking something up off of the ground in Odyssey just happens at the press of a button. No animation, no attempt at simulation, it is part of the game that no one needs to see. Is it realistic? No, of course not. Neither is a horse appears from thin air when whistled for, but it allows the game to stay out of its own way.

But I am getting ahead of myself. There is the matter of Spider-Man to attend to.

Spider-Man is this close to being perfect.

Anyone who listens to the podcast will have heard all of the nice things that Chance has had to say about Spider-Man (and if you don't listen, you should be) and I agree with most of them. He is more forgiving of the forced stealth sections than I am, because they are way out of place and terrible, but they are spread out enough and short enough that they did not hamstring the experience.

Aside from those, I do have other complaints, most of which are firmly in spoiler territory. Suffice it to say that most of the boss battles are, at best, so so. They feel very repetitive, have one of two solutions, and are in no way satisfying. Fighting a large group of convicts is more difficult, more fun, and requires a firmer grasp of what a spider can do than fighting any of the big bads.

Second, the third act feels very rushed. That scene from the raft from E3? That happens about six hours from the end of the game. Only two of the six main enemies is more than paper thin (part of this is the weak nature of Spider-Man's rogues gallery, he's no Batman) and they are dispatched as quickly as they appear. And the ending is little more than an ad for Spider-Man 2.

Despite all of that I cannot wait for Spider-Man 2. Everything else the game has to offer, from it perfect controls to the way it makes incredible use of a relatively small space, is perfect. It embraces the fact that it is a game, a silly game about a man with spider powers in a a tight suit, and runs with it as fast as it can, hurling itself off of buildings with reckless abandon.

Spider-Man was almost always fun. A perfect antidote for Red Dead Redemption 2, which was almost never fun. Is Peter Parker as well written, realized or acted as Arthur Morgan? Of course not. Spider-Man was a game and Red Dead 2 was a wild west simulation.

...

I knew thirty minutes into Odyssey that I was in trouble. Such a big map. So many question marks. Odyssey skips the normal linear opening of an open world game and lets you wander as soon as you gain control of your chosen character. 'Go here,' the game suggests with a quest marker, but you can also go here, here or here and find cool things. The only limitation is the level of enemies in an area. A one level difference is death, so it really is no different than an invisible wall, but at least the game tries to hide how to directs the player.

It is not fair to compare Odyssey to Red Dead 2. They might as well be different genres. Given the choice to spend sixty more hours on a horse that can only be tied to hitching posts and realistically shits after long rides and one that disappears and reappears at the press of a button, fuck it, give me the magic horse. Give me a game.

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