Friday, March 5, 2010

First Impressions, Part 2--Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

I confess, it wasn't my intention to come off as an overbearing shrew in my last post on this topic. Once I got started, though, all the pent-up disappointment in regard to what has happened to the Star Wars universe boiled over, and I got a little carried away. This does not mean I retract my previous statements on this game. I'm simply saying that I probably could have handled things better. But, too late now! The tone's been set, and far be it from me to pull punches when I was the one who started the fight.

Also, I neglected to throw out my standard Your Mileage May Vary disclaimer. Yes, I still think people who say this game is brilliant should have their heads examined, but that's just my opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own, and has the right to completely disregard mine.

One more thing of note before we dive back in. You may have noticed I struck through the "First" in the title of this and the previous post on The Force Unleashed. This whole. . .thing in regard to the game has become something bordering on obsession, so "first impressions," just didn't really fit anymore. "Review" also didn't really fit, as I've made it personal policy not to review games I haven't actually finished playing. (Given a lot of the stuff in my play pile, this policy may change, but that's a horse of a different color.) So, plain old "impressions," will have to do.

Old Business: More on Menus and Controls

Leveling Woes

Something I failed to mention previously was character and skill leveling. Such things are borrowed from role-playing games, and while RPGs are my second-favorite genre of console game, I admit the leveling and inventory systems utilized by some are very confusing to me. Sometimes I'm just too tired to give a damn, but most of the time it is a symptom of a problem I come across a lot as a game tester: Information Strain.

Try to cram too much information in too little space, the player will strain to retain it all, his eyes will glaze over, and he'll decide to do something less complicated, like re-read War and Peace. Fail to provide enough information, the player strains to grasp what the hell you want from him, and he'll curse you to the previously undiscovered 10th ring of Hell because the 9th ring is too good for the likes of you. In my opinion, SW: TFU suffers from the latter.

Perhaps I'm totally inept 1, but the little bit of info they provided for each Force ability was easily forgotten by the time I closed the sub-menu. Choosing what I wanted to spend my hard-won experience points on was about as easy as a man choosing the right breast pump for the mother of his children with no relevant data handy. And while we're on the subject of experience, you gain XP in two ways, primarily via natural game progression, but also by picking up magical McGuffins Holocrons filled with Force points. You then spend those points on abilities that fall into three categories. . .whose titles currently escape me. (Note to self: Find out which dog chewed up my notebook. I'm looking at you, Oddball 2.)

Having more than one way to gain XP is good. . .except when these McGuffins are in impossible-to-reach places, and the Force doesn't affect them. That's right: Someone took the "hologram" part of "holocron" very seriously. Unlike in BioShock, where you can fetch unreachable objects via telekinesis, you must physically touch these things in order to reap the rewards. Granted, you don't have to collect these little do-dads in order to progress, but they are more than a wee bit useful if you can knab them.

Please understand, I'm not against jumping puzzles as a concept. Half-Life 2, for example, has amazing jumping puzzles. Using this mechanic in your game is fine and dandy, unless you manage to design these jumping puzzles very badly. Oh, and force us to accomplish amazing acrobatic feats with an uncooperative camera and sluggish controls. If this is the case, instead of rabidly consuming your game and begging for more, I will round up a legion of pissed off gamers ready to tar and feather you for your act of game design hubris. Simply put, I think this particular issue was a missed opportunity to give players more ways to play around with the Force powers available to them.

Not-Quite Mortal Combat

The hack-and-slash part of the combat works just fine. If the targeting worked better (or I could find a way to de-select Auto Target), I would go so far as to call it "adequate." I contend, however, that the Combo List that goes with many of the lightsaber-related abilities is just plain unhelpful. Honestly, I hate combo lists in general. If I wanted to spend my time memorizing complicated sequences of button presses, I'd play Soul Calibur or Street Fighter, thank you very much. To my own credit, I did try to learn all the combos available to me once I unlocked new abilities, but after a while I wound up doing what I always do in these situations: Mashing the hell out of the Square or Triangle button until no enemies remained. Boring, sure, but somewhat effective.

Some of you are probably saying, "Well, you could have just looked up the combos mid-battle via the menu screen." First of all, didn't we just have a short conversation on breaking the flow of gameplay? Secondly, you're right, and I probably would have done just that had the menu screen not required long loading times just to open and close the damn thing. No, you read that right. A next-gen game's menu screen required a loading sequence. Really, LucasArts? REALLY?

I might be overreacting, but if the designers themselves had not confessed to essentially dumbing things down for people who are unfamiliar with or just plain suck at action-oriented video games, I would be far less upset. Okay, "dumbing down" is a harsh term to use, but good grief. There is a difference between "making things accessible," and "trying to please everyone." You wanted to make this game the virtual version of approachable to garner more players (and by extension, make more money.) Instead, you wound up pleasing next to no one with crappy mechanics and bad controls. Great job breaking it, dumbass.

And don't even get me started on the story. OYE!

Wow, got long-winded again. Cutting it off here to save your scrolling finger. Stay tuned for Part 3: The Rest of the Story!

1--Not likely, but I'm willing to concede I am far from perfect.
--Though, to be fair, Max isn't exactly above suspicion.


Anonymous said...

I am gonna hold off on more indepth commenting until part three is out simply because I don't think it's coming. I really do think your going to start gathering your thoughts about it, then here (in Newfoundland) I am going to hear a loud pop for a generally States-ward direction, and then bits of head will rain from the heavens.

Very good read - you know I don't totally agree with you, but I am very much so enjoying reading your reaction to it.

gamerpanda said...

Thanks, Rick! I appreciate the kudos. I also appreciate your ability to put aside the fact that you disagree with me so you can read this with some level of enjoyment. A rare talent, indeed. :)

Anonymous said...

I am a man of many talents, and many smells. Very few of them are any good, but occasionally an abberance occurs ^_^ Very much so looking forward to more - and your WordPress digs.

Meg said...

re: " "first impressions," just didn't really fit anymore. "Review" also didn't really fit, as I've made it personal policy not to review games I haven't actually finished playing."

There really should be a word for this! Something that doesn't imply we've completed the game, but something a bit more in depth than a first-reactions braindump.

gamerpanda said...

@Scionical--I'm looking forward to the new digs, myself. I just have to, you know, actually get things working. I hate being so inept at something that should be so damn simple. *facepalm*

gamerpanda said...

@Meg--I know, right? It seems patently unjust that no word for such a thing exists. Some linguist out there in the world at large needs to get on top of this, ASAP.

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