Saturday, 30 May 2009

Game Review: Centaur City MCMXXXI

Here's a strange one for you. TeamDTs, the developers behind 2003's anthropomorphic rob'em'up Chicken Bandits, went into liquidation late last year, having spent more than half a decade working on an untitled mega-project involving a team of hundreds and costing something in the region of $40m. Assets were sold and employees were scattered to the far corners of the game-development world; it seemed for sure that the masterpiece was never to see the light of day.

Cut to only a few months later, and here's Centaur City MCMXXXI (that's 1931 for those uncomfortable with Roman numerals), landing unheralded like the cargo of a stork caught in a downdraft and forced to shed ballast in order to save its own skin. Funny old world, eh?

So what's it all about? Well, the game is "best described as a mytho-historical sandbox adventure", according to the backcover blurb. If you're buying a hardcopy, that's all you'll have to go on: the box is otherwise completely blank, and grey to boot (would black have been too glamorous?). Open it up and you'll be presented with a game disc and a slender volume of poetry entitled Cold Dreamers of Old Town:

First thing to go's the colors;
look out yonder on our fine city
and see how everything's now but one hue.
It's the color of money;
we painted all our rooftops
with them green bills, see?
And then when the rains came down,
they washed through;
they stained us all green,
and now there ain't one thing in this town
is worth the paper it's printed on.

Mysterious, n'est pas? And not a reference to secondary-fire mode in sight. In fact, it took a good three hours of gameplay before things started to make sense. The premise is this: the years is 1931, and the Great Depression is in full effect. Bendorion, an amnesiac drifter, arrives in the southern US city of Dustyville, where he immediately creates a stir among the locals. He's a centaur, see: from the waist upwards a man, below that a horse. And it doesn't help that he can't speak English (at the beginning of the game, the speech of the city's residents consists of nonsense syllables, which gradually morph into intelligibility as time passes); within minutes he's been attacked by an angry mob, who beat him into unconsciousness and steal his lute.

Awakening in a barn, Bendorion finds that he's been rescued by an old horse whisperer named Miller, who seems to know more about centaurs than he lets on. And so begins a mystery-adventure of uncommon ambition, set over the course of two decades and dealing with racism, poverty, the rise of nationalism, identity politics, quantum physics, prohibition, universal grammar, musical serialism and advertising.

C.C. MCMXXXI's gameplay is highly indebted to the GTA series: long periods are spent doing sub-quests for shady mobsters and corrupt policemen. However, these potentially tedious exercises are enlivened by the game's incredibly open-ended structure. One mission, in which Bendorion is assigned to assassinate a twelve-year-old witness, proved to have no fewer than fourteen possible outcomes, one of which involved an experimental theatre group performing the first scene from Ibsen's A Doll's House with the role of Nora played by a Model T Ford painted green.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

BioShock 2: THE FACTS

BioShock 2: Chunky Martin Sets Sail is set two and a half hours after the shipping date for the original game. Rapture does not yet exist as an imaginational construct in the brandscape of 21st century global capitalism; rather, it is a potential entity, housed within the minds of its creators. This is about to change.

An electrical storm at sea sinks a freighter carrying 100,000 copies of the game, which are released into the ocean. It is the worst rec-tech spill in recorded history, with ecological ramifications that threaten the entire planet. Furthermore, the storm actualises the content of the game discs, manufacturing a fissure in the material of factitional-space-time that allows Rapture's inhabitants to access dimensional reality. They quickly establish a real-world Rapture, which attracts all of the human race's greatest scientists and artists. Unfortunately, this version is a massive success, and nobody wants to leave.

The player assumes control of Manuel "Chunky" Martinez, an aspiring maritime hero with a small-but-noticeable weight problem, who must travel to the new city to kidnap as many people as he can before he starts to feel bad about himself. Since the game is set in real life, the player must ride on Martinez's shoulder, shouting instructions in pidgin English.

New features include the "Big Sister" (literally the elder female sibling of the player) and the removal of the contentious Vita-Chamber feature, which enhances the game's immersiveness by making death fatal.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

fuck bioshock 2

Bioshock 2:

Firstly let’s hit that subtitle running, shall we?

Sea of fucking dreams?

I know its set in the ocean but, for fuck’s sake, pull yourselves together 2K. Why not just call it “twilight of the mysteries” or “shadow of tomorrowmore” or how about “Bioshock 2: a giant whales dick” or some other equally generic piece of crap title a two year old could shit out.

Now I’m not against sequels per se, and I’d like to apologise for using the expression “per se”. Half Life 2, COD 4, Silent Hill 2: these are good games. And they’re distinct from their predecessor in terms of gameplay, graphics and their world or they expand on the story and answer the questions the first game didn’t. Or sort of anyway.

But what questions will Bioshock 2 answer that Bioshock one didn’t? Because what questions are there, other than “why the fuck did I buy this fucking game in the first place?” (read it and weep)

Basically that whole big sister angle looks really shit. You know what the big sister is? It’s Godzilla. It’s Rambo or the T-1000. It’s Darth Vader and the monster from Cloverfield (and that was Godzilla again anyway).

It’s just another ultimate hard ass monster designed to make your dick spasm uncontrollably and get your controller vibrating so hard you froth at the mouth. Or maybe that's just what happens to me.

Huge cyber monster badasses aren’t inherently bad (despite being the bad guys – little villain joke for you there) and maybe I’m just looking for cheap, extremely cheap, digs at this game. Except isn’t this sort of shit already mocked in films, T.V. shows and books?

Like how the hero meets some ultimate super villain and for 80 minutes just can’t make a dent until everyone comes together just right at the end and the pain is brung.

Here’s a super toughie you can’t even hurt!

You can’t kill it! You still can’t kill it!

Ok, finally we let you kill it. Well done, noble warrior of the sea. Go play with your drill and your little girls.

Anyway I was thinking about how they’re going to develop their characters and world in this game and I remembered hearing how they might make up to 7 Bioshock sequels.

I started thinking about old school comic books, from the golden age of comics. You’d have a set list of characters who’d appear in a number of issues, and most of the stories would be completely separate.

With Half Life and its sequel, the story continues fairly neatly. But the only connection, it seems, between Bioshock 1 and Bioshock 2 is the setting (and at least one of the characters from the original will appear).

That’s not necessarily bad, it worked for those comics. But can you imagine if 2K had a story so complicated and intense it was going to take 7 games to tell it? Rather than 7 games which just happen to be set in some ever expanding underwater city?

Maybe it’s not 7 and it’s only 5 or something, but even so everyone knows making a ton of sequels is a really bad call. Look what happened to Rocky.

They’ll get to the third one and you’ll be a team of marines descending into Rapture or some shit. Then the fourth one will be a prequel.

Then, like a tidal wave of shit, horrendous franchise games will flood the market, each with more sequels than the last and we’ll all soon be drowning in subtitles like “sea of dreams” and “mountain of snuggles”.

Everyone will realise their mistakes too late and spend the rest of their lives in self induced exile, endlessly remaking Bioshock in Flash until they’re torn asunder by a woolly mammoth. All because of Bioshock 5.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

game worlds

By now everyone's seen the trailer/gameplay footage/bullshit of Beyond Good and Evil 2.

But if you haven't, here it is:

Hopefully the free running won't be the heart of the game, like Assassin's Creed, but will just be a way to flavour a game based around strong characters and story.

What interests me more is the setting. Looks like India to me. This has got me thinking a little.

The setting in Bioshock was ok, but sci fi lab stuff is more or less done to death now. Fallout 3 suffers from the same sort of thing (although the wasteland is one of the best things in games to date). GTA4 is the best example of a big city environment and Prototype, inFamous (are they actually the same game?) and all those other open world city games can just go to hell.

Resident Evil 5 was a great setting for a game. African shanty towns. Have we ever seen that in a game before? Vaguely ignorant racism aside, that was a pretty good call for a game setting right there.

And now some Indian looking city. This looks promising.

But I am so certain it will inspire lots of shit rip offs in subsequent games. Like how Gears of War had a cover system, so suddenly all shooters need cover systems. This exactly sums up why games are shit: because people who make them think that basic, surface stuff is what a game is. The invention of cover systems is not a way to take games forward to the "next level". It's just a step sideways, another tool for telling a story.

Games will improve when they're giving us something dramatically different. By which I mean not just a pronounced change but some actual drama. When the stories are heartfelt, personal and interesting. When the characters and game world are engaging and feel authentic. When you get a more intense connection from games, this is when they'll have improved (in my mind).

This "footage" from Beyond Good and Evil 2 shows it has potential, the basis for something. It remains to be seen whether they make the most, or anything, from it.