The List took a real battering this week: five new games. Five. Well, six really, if you take into account the PC version of Space Giraffe that I snaffled… and, since Rez appears on The List three times for three different platforms, it seems only fair that the Giraffe gets another airing.
That unplanned acquisition was, of course, due to the superlative double-bundle currently offered by Llamasoft to celebrate the release of GridRunner Revolution. I excitedly downloaded GRR on Friday night, a painful eight hours after its release (after an unexpected day at work), and… well, to say I was underwhelmed is a bit of an understatement. Is it pretty? Oh yes. Does it sound good? Hell yes – no-one does deep chest-thunking sound effects quite like Minter. But the problem was that there was no excitement in the gameplay; I was rarely troubled at all in the first fifty(!) levels I played. No pressure to perform, no seat-of-your-pants thrills. And that made me well and truly glum. After all, it was love-at-first-sight with Space Giraffe: I could tell straight away that she and I had a connection. GRR, on the other hand, was like the doting girlfriend with puppy-dog eyes, willing to conform to your every whim without offering anything in return. No challenge. No personality. No spark. And, dare I say it, a little boring.
Then I start on the third set of levels (the levels are arranged, in order of difficulty, into collections of Korma, Madras, Vindaloo, and Phaal)… and initially, apart from a bit of a speed bump, it seemed like more of the same. But after another twenty levels, the difficulty actually started going up a notch, and there was a bit of a fight going on. Unlocking the final difficulty level has further piqued interest, but my first (and only) bash on Phaal saw me pummel my way through just over half of the fifty levels.
GRR is most similar to GR++, returning to the fluid mouse control. But the SuperZapper smart-bomb – previously triggered by the mouse button – has disappeared, replaced instead by a rotate mechanic that allows you to send a stream of bullets in any direction you choose. The XY Zapper also seems to have been left out, but the new inclusions – a plethora of subtly different gridrunners, barriers that hem your bullets in and, most importantly, black holes and suns that can be used to bend your streams of bullets – are really neat gameplay mechanics.
But here’s the thing: when GR++ introduced the Sheepie Save (a technique where the player could resurrect their life if they could guide their falling carcass onto the sheepie bonus token), it felt astoundingly fresh. That simple mechanic, and the strategies that bloomed around it (do you take the sheepie for the power-up, or leave it as a safety net?), made GR++ a truly unique experience. GRR maintains the Sheepie Save and tries to improve upon it, allowing the player to continue killing adversaries in the hope of triggering a sheepie to Save them; but all this encouraged me to do was scrub the screen as fast as I could after hearing my death; if I managed to trigger another sheepie, then I was fine. If not… well, the levels don’t reset with death, so it’s a war of attrition.
This is awfully hard for me to write, really; I’m a big fan of Minter’s work, and there’s no denying his unique (and ungulated) take on videogaming. But after the well-weighted and sensual success of Space Giraffe I was expecting massive things from GridRunner Revolution, and… well, I don’t think it’s delivered. It’s not that it’s bad, just… it’s not great. Perfectly competent entertainment if you like bright flashy things and not much challenge.
Let’s put it this way: you really should go buy GR++ now. And as for GRR… well, it’s only US$20 (or US$25 with the superlative Space Giraffe), so you’d be mad not to pick up that double bundle – if only to experience the technicolour mind of Minter. After all, I rate Space Giraffe as one of the best shooters this decade, and GRR is awfully pretty.
Blimey! What a lot of words.
“But wait, Pete!” I hear no-one exclaim; “what about all those other games you picked up this week? Surely you can squeeze out a few words on them as well?”
Well, yes I can.
Monday saw the deliver of one of the Wii’s few M-rated games to my door: MadWorld. Previews videos of this game had me salivating in anticipation, with gloriously rendered black-and-white graphics violently splashed with blood in a Smash TV-esque gameshow of brutality. And it certainly delivers in that regard; despite the monochromatic colouring, the graphics are clean and crisp, and the audio is great. But even after just one level, it’s all feeling mighty samey and not all that inspiring, with woolly controls and a nagging feeling that it’s not quite baked. Luckily, it seems to be a short game, so hopefully I’ll be able to churn through it in quick order.
Tuesday, of course, saw the release of Halo 3: ODST. And let me be quite blunt here: I fucking love ODST. I love the storytelling, I love the snippets of action, I love the voice acting, and I love being back in the Halo universe. It really feels like a paean to all that makes Halo memorable; there’s Warthog runs, Scorpion assaults, Banshee raids, and wars of attrition, each a tiny little vignette in the ODST storyline, each an utterly fulfilling experience. And that’s just on Normal!
And then there’s Firefight. Now, I’ve not played Gears of War 2 or its Horde mode, so it may well be the case that Bungie have ripped Epic off mightily in terms of game style. But you know what? I don’t care, because Firefight is bloody amazing. Playing with three Melbourne mates one weeknight, we managed to hold out for five sets of pain, including one where I had to finish the set off solo, with no ammo of any kind, being chased by half-a-dozen Brutes wielding gravity hammers and fuel-rod guns, with the Black Eye skull enabled, dead team-mates watching remote to tell me when a hammer lunge was coming. Such tension I’ve not experienced since trying to no-collision Island Circle R :)
But the week’s not over yet! Also delivered was We Ski… and it’s bloody fantastic. Somehow this cutesy graphics engine, combined with some intuitive motion controls with the Wiimote & nunchuck, manages to create an absolutely convincing sensation of skiing. The first time I found an ice patch on the shady side of a mountain I panicked, flattening my skis in terror; the first time I hit the powder trail I yelped in delight, then started carving trails. It’s simple, it’s bound to be short, and I’m sure there’s some frustration in store – but I’m utterly chuffed that I took a chance and picked this up.
And that’s it! Hopefully this week will yield lots more Firefighting, and maybe a Legendary run… so much to do, so little time.