April Fool’s Day seems a completely appropriate time to return to this blog – much earlier than I’ve managed in previous years! My arty cultural sojourn was a lot of work (though nowhere near enough writing was done), and a lot of fun – 155 shows all up, with some absolutely blinders in amongst them. But, as seems to be typical with any holiday I take, I was itching to get back into some gaming by the end of the Festivals.
I seemed to avoid the post-Festival malaise this year, possibly due to the relative stability of “normal” life compared to the emotional turmoil that seemed to be attracted to me during the break. And I decided to ease myself back into things by grinding my first playthrough of Bastion up to the maximum level, and then turned around and belted through a New Game Plus run. It’s an undeniably gorgeous game, both graphically and (especially) sonically, with a wonderfully balanced storyline progression. Why it didn’t appear on more Game of the Year lists last years beyond me; it really is one of the best games I’ve played in recent years.
There’s a couple of other games that had appeared on such lists last year that had piqued my interest, and after spying shrink-wrapped copies in a cheap sale I picked them up during my cultural travels (only to leave them festering in their wrap while I stayed game-free). The first of those to be opened was Saints Row: The Third, which had been recommended by a couple of friends (and raved about by the Giant Bomb crew, who I’m really growing to trust). Opening impressions were great: suitably unrealistic graphics mixed with a stupendously silly storyline and solid third-person shooting mechanics.
The problems came with my OCD, of course, which was spurred on by advice from friends that it was best to get a lot of the Challenges out of the way early on in the game; focussing on those little tasks, as well as engaging in other sideline level-plumping activities, meant that I was seriously – and I mean seriously – over-levelled for much of the game.
And normally I quite enjoy that situation: I certainly love being maxed out at any particular point of a Zelda game, for example. But in the case of The Third, I’d hit the Level 50 cap before the end of the second Act – and some of the stuff unlocked at that level is pretty game-breaking. Immunity to bullets and infinite ammo, for example. Thus, I spent about half the game walking into battles without a care in the world, bazooka at the ready, just obliterating the opposition. Fights that – I’m sure – were intended to be taut affairs were mere busy-work, and there were precious few challenges in the late game. And that’s completely my fault… I am the game-breaker here. Sometimes min-maxing can suck the fun out of things… as it did with (curiously) the third Act.
But in no way do I want to malign the great qualities of The Third: for all the misogyny and stereotypes in the game’s script, there’s some genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and some really well written dialogue. The music spewing from car radios is a fantastic selection, too: jumping into a car to race to a mission’s conclusion, and hearing Holding Out for a Hero come forth is a really wonderful moment, the glorious contrast of stealing a military vehicle after an explosive battle only to be subjected to the dry classical station was brilliant, and hearing a little FNM or FGTH never failed to raise a smile. For every half-mis-step The Third takes, there’s two leaps forward that the rest of the game gets right.
Until it comes to the DLC, that is. In particular, the Genkibowl VII DLC. Where the main game seems remarkably polished and well-tended, Genkibowl contained more teeth-gnashing than all of the main-game Snatch missions put together (and doubled). The Katamari-ish mini-game was a horribly clunky mess, and the rest of the missions felt like they were completely unbalanced… it really took a shine off the experience of the main game (in which I’ve just clocked up fifty hours). Worse still is the knowledge that I’ve mentally committed to playing through all of Saints Row: The Third another six times… apparently all the main character dialog was completely independently recorded, which my OCD tells me is a necessity to experience. So I reckon one more proper 100% game (on Easy this time… first time through was on Normal) is in order, and the other four will be hammered through using some cheat codes… as much as I liked The Third, I don’t think it’s worth devoting three hundred hours to…
…especially after playing my other Festival pick-up, Portal 2. I’d previously mentioned that I thought that the original Portal was a bit short, and its sequel certainly rectifies that: but, if anything, the ten-to-twelve hours that it took me almost felt a little long. I was really hoping that the final set of Chambers would be seriously cut short… though, again, I accept that my (eventual) insistence that I finish the single-player content in one sitting might have coloured my impressions of the final couple of levels. I certainly enjoyed some of the levels a lot more when I returned to them the next day for a few little Achievement wrap-ups; I suspect that my dogged insistence on completing the game led to some grumpy thinking somewhere along the line (though I only had to look up two solutions to puzzles after about fifteen minutes of poking around).
What Portal 2 does bring to the table (in an entirely dissimilar – but no less effective – manner compared to Bastion mentioned earlier) is a remarkably fresh way of telling a story. And whilst the early parts of game stick in my memory the most – the Animal King Takeover instructional movie and GLaDOS’ weight jibes being two particularly giggle-inducing examples – the introduction (and backstory) of Cave Johnson halfway through the game is just magical. The manner in which his snippets fill in Aperture’s backstory is wonderfully clever: the player is given sufficient leeway to fill in the gaps themselves, and never feels like they’re being talked down to. That form of game-based storytelling really does set the bar incredibly high for the gaming industry.
And the gameplay behind Portal 2 is pretty bloody good, too. The gels are brilliant fun, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the co-op over the Easter long weekend.
But that’s about all I’ve been up to, really. Oh – March’s sale on the PSN Store was pretty enticing, and I wound up getting sucked into buying the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus bundle for cheap. I love Ico, and cannot wait to play it again; Colossus, on the other hand, was a bit of a war of attrition for me when I played it on the PS2, so I’m not super-keen on getting back into that. But hey – I’ve made a cash-commitment to the game, so tackle it I will! I also picked up flOw and Flower, which I know next-to-nothing about, but I figure that those two and their youngest brother, Journey, will take care of my “something outside the stuff I know I like” Resolution.
In fact, I may just give flOw a bash now…