Last week, I wrote about making a bet to get easy achievements, and how I’m going to spend what’s left of my summer going through many of the Xbox 360 titles with the easiest 1000g. The easiest games aren’t always the best however, and suffice to say, It has been an exasperating week for video games. Although I’m beginning to see my gamerscore (an altogether pointless metric) continue to rise at record levels, I’m also beginning to see how playing through games can represent one hell of a chore. I’m only one week into my “dirty achievement project,” and I’m already developing a new respect for game journalists, who are required to complete the most banal and painful titles with professional integrity (in theory).
Because I’m just in it for the completion, the points, and the anecdotes, I don’t have to worry about marinating in the rancid stew of bad licensed games. Rather, I can finish, and hopefully forget the worst of it. That said, I’m not really playing the worst titles as of yet; far from it in fact. I’m trying to go through the lists to find games that I could enjoy, and all in all it’s been a mixed bag. Almost every game I’ve gone through this week has positive qualities, but they also have annoyances that leave me wondering whether gamepads are effective replacements for shot puts (guess what, they’re not half bad…).
In writing about these games, I figure the best thing is to adopt a “stream of consciousness” approach, and just share my impressions and thoughts. There’s not a lot of point in reviewing a game that came out in 2005 with deep sincerity (pro tip: you’re not going to want to buy Lost: Via Domus anytime soon). So this is what my whirlwind week looks like:
Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
I started this project by picking up Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (and yes, that is the full title). As I wrote last week, I nabbed this one in order to win what I thought would be an easy bet. I can’t say that I had high expectations for PJKK: TOGOTM, seeing as it was a licensed title from 2005. However, I wasn’t prepared for the degree of well…awful gameplay that awaited me. To its credit, the game contains voice acting from the film’s main characters, but all the lines sound like they were pulled from a soundboard, and that they were recorded by a broken cell phone in an empty stadium. At its core, the game is a linear first-person shooter that follows the events of Jack and crew as they traipse around Skull Island. Despite being a shooter, the game lacks even a basic reticule for aiming. Progress consists of going through the same couple environments, killing the same couple of creatures over and over, and completing some of the worst puzzles I’ve seen in some time (take spear, light spear on fire, and burn the grass…rinse and repeat). It’s hard to know what the hell is happening most of the time. It’s summed up kind of like “hey, we have to get off this island, COME ON JACK!”
I can deal with a lame FPS; after all, I played through Haze for reasons I can’t quite recall. But PJKK: TOGOTM falls apart in catastrophic fashion during the scenes where you play as Kong. Despite what the developers might have you believe, Kong’s real enemies aren’t the dinosaurs, the humans, or even the weird bat-thingies. No, Kong’s true opponent is the camera, which gets thrown into weird oblique angles that defy basic gaming logic. It’s obvious that the game’s producers thought it looked cinematic or something, but have you ever tried controlling a front-facing cinematic? To compound the control frustrations, the friendly NPCs’ AI routines broke on numerous occasions, forcing me to replay levels from the beginning and hope for the best. I do realize that this game was released in 2005; but at this point, Halo and Call of Duty had already set standards for basic console FPS games. This game was just laughable. Still, 5 or so hours and 1000g to show for it - I’d have felt worse if not for the annoyances of getting through it all.
After returning King Kong, I picked up Neversoft’s 2005 Western Shooter Gun. Having never played this the first time around, I was genuinely looking forward to playing. Realizing that the game was basically an up-scaled port of the original Xbox game, I tempered my expectations. While Gun is quite poor when placed against Red Dead Redemption, it was a largely entertaining experience. The story was simple (evil Civil War commander obsessed with finding a buried treasure, plus murder, revenge, etc.) but effective in a “popcorn western” kind of way. As a basic action game, it’s successful; however, it fails miserably as an open world title, which it’s clearly trying to be. By 2005, Rockstar had set open-world standards in the GTA series; Neversoft should have taken at least some notes.
Even though the map is tiny, getting around becomes a major pain due to poor map functionality. Objectives aren’t clearly marked, and the game simply assumes you’ll figure out where places are. For example, side missions will tell you to go hunt in Blackfoot territory- as to where said territory is remains anyone’s guess. This becomes a problem in completing the many side quests out there (which you must do for the full 1000g). The graphical interface looks like it was ripped straight out of the Tony Hawk games, meaning the visuals and HUD just don't look right. Also, the main story is woefully short as well, but given that activities pad the experience out to around 15 hours or so, I didn’t complain. With that in mind, I didn’t feel bad about the easy 1000g, though I did feel bad about having to cheat to get all the “beat on x difficulty” achievements (because they don’t stack, you’d normally have to complete the game 4 times…hell…no)
The next day I exchanged Gun for that perennial easy-achievement classic Terminator Salvation. Now I love the Terminator franchise, so I was stoked to get into this one. Unfortunately, the game (at least for me) was a textbook exercise in rage-inducing frustration. To be fair, in order get the full score I needed to complete it on hard (which, as a rule, I do for almost every game I play anyways) but I can’t imagine it being much less frustrating on lower difficulties. The summary is simple: Terminator Salvation is an incredibly short Gears-style cover-based shooter, which chronicles John Conner as he does, well, something in the future.
But let’s get back to that whole “annoyance factor” I mentioned earlier. Inconsistent weapons? Check. Incompetent friendly AI? Check. Enemies that cannot be killed by direct fire? Check. Interminably long and difficult rail-shooting sections? Check. Poor checkpointing? Double check. Broken enemy spawns? Check…Okay, you should be starting to get the point here: nothing about this game works the way you’d like. The way that enemies act as either bullet sponges or bullet shields becomes overbearing, to where the game becomes about memorizing the positions and patterns of the enemies in every room. There’s a lot of trial and error. Still, even with about 50 or so cheap deaths, getting the full 1000g took roughly six hours. I don’t feel bad about it, but I certainly can’t recommend it for any real fun. Moving on.
I’m a huge fan or horror games. During the PS2 era, I played literally every game in the survival horror genre, even the terrible ones like Haunting Ground and Obscure. Saw was one of those games I was looking forward to playing; I knew that the reviews were less than glowing, but let’s face it, horror games aren’t exactly ubiquitous these days. The first thing to mention about Saw is that the atmosphere is as grimy, gritty, and dilapidated as one would hope for a horror title. Yet the first scene foreshadows more or less the entire game: timed puzzles, timed puzzles, and more timed puzzles. The game is formulaic to a fault- there’s a major character who Jigsaw has trapped - follow the only available route - get locked in a room with certain death – escape (or don’t) – fight some dude – repeat. Some of the puzzles are well designed, but they’re all overused. Instead of bringing in new mechanics, the game just recycles them, and asks you to do more and do it faster. For example, the game uses circuit-breaker puzzles that begin with 3x3 grids, then 5x5 grids, then 7x7 grids, and then…two 7x7 grids!! Wow…terrifying.
While the imagery is dark, the game is simply not scary. Sure, I got startled a couple of times, but only when my character ran into a nearly-invisible tripwire trap, insta-killing me, and forcing me to replay multiple sections again. The checkpointing in this game is notably terrible. It doesn’t the help the combat (which promises to be good, given the variety of available murder tools) is bad, really bad, by like Silent Hill 1 standards. Perhaps most damning, for a series predicated on gory, gruesome deaths, the violence is just not shocking in the slightest. Now, I know that the sequel (Saw II) remedied that, but that didn’t help me. There’s sure some good ideas here, and I think I may check out the sequel, but for now I’ll settle with an honest 1000g.
Cars represents my first stop into licensed games for kids. Sadly, it’s not going to be my last. Coming in I had heard that Cars wasn’t that bad of a game. Frankly, I’m not sure what game those people were playing. To be certain, the game has a nice open-world presentation, and decent vocal performances from all the actors of the original movie. The story is simple but effective for the game, and the visuals are evocative of the style of movie. Unfortunately, almost all the parts where it’s supposed to be a game fall short. Racing itself is simple, but clunky. Physics have an arcade quality, but the lack of impact modeling means that you’ll be bouncing around the course like a moronic brick.
If it were just a racing game, Cars would be just fine. Seeing that it’s a kids’ game, however, stupid activities inevitably enter into the mix. Remember that part in the movie when Lightning and Mater went tractor tipping? Sure, that was funny. Remember that part where they had to carefully navigate a series of trenches and searchlights to carefully spook the cow-tractors? Yeah, me neither. The camera in these events puts even King Kong’s cinematic nonsense to shame. I’ve never fought for perspective so hard; in the end the cameraman won, because he got to look at whatever the hell he wanted. Me? Not so much. To compound matters, the game (despite appearing like an open-world environment) is a dizzying series of invisible walls that make navigating the many challenges feel like a chore. It took about 10 hours to get the 1000g, and my only regret is that there will probably be other Cars games to come…sigh.
And so it goes...
So that was my week, my first week to dive into this craziness. So far, I’m completing these game 100%, taking time to do sidequests and other activities, and wringing every last bit of content out of them, so I can’t exactly feel dirty about any of it yet. I did have to cheat a bit to get it done, but apart from that, I feel like I’m working hard. Yet it’s certainly work, although I’m holding out hope for a real diamond in the rough. Some of these games have been annoying for sure, but Cars is the first one that started to really hurt. Nevertheless I remain undaunted in my achievement-whoring insanity. Next up on the chopping block? Probably my will to live…
But hey, if you played any of these games and enjoyed them, more power to you! More news to come as I make progress and complete titles.
Thanks for reading this long, long post. I’ve received such good feedback, and the mods have given me great love by posting my blog to the front page. Thank you all; Giant Bomb has the best community, hands down.