A Treat for the Masochistic
This game has been on my to-play list for a very long time because the core fantasy seems cool, and the production values are still unmatched in a FPS even to this day. You actually watch your hand open doors, press buttons, and drink sodas. I'm almost finished with the game, but this is by far one of the meanest titles I have ever played in recent years... as if the game designer is playing a practical joke on their consumer where they want to watch somebody play the game and snicker behind their back.
The first person animations are beautiful, but it is clear that aesthetics trumps design/usability in this game. I'm going to list the issues I noticed because they are somewhat comical.
Slow Two-phase ammo pickup
I press the button once, I pick up ammo. Press again to keep it. Each phase of this process takes about two seconds. It was not uncommon for me to take damage while I am picking up some beautifully rendered ammo and holding it in my hand to marvel at its beauty as I desperately tap the same button again to go into the next phase of ammo pickup, which adds the ammo to my inventory.
Figure out the Designer's Obscure Intentions
Dying and restarting from checkpoint seems to be part of the game design. I get into a confrontation with a story character, and naturally, I choose to fight. I can't win this fight, but that is not apparent. Finally, I looked at gamefaqs and found that I was supposed to run and turn three valves in the environment while in pursuit. Successfully turning these valves unlocks a door. Failure to do this takes me to a door that can't be opened. There are no clues to do this at all in the game other than trial and error. This happens all over the place. Sometimes, a death results in starting at the last checkpoint which is all the way back at the end of a long, empty tunnel that you walk through for two minutes of nothing.
This game is an Xbox exclusive, but it is obvious that the developers have never played Halo, which is kind of the standard for any FPS on a console, these days. Click right analog stick to duck. Right Trigger to shoot. Left Trigger to reload. Click left analog stick to block. Blocking is an important mechanic in this game, you can block bullets and also block melee hits that knock you off your feet otherwise. Yet it is really hard to hold this in during combat as you are supposed to stick and move while blocking - and you can't remap this. You have nearly useless first person backflips and cartwheels, and the camera literally follows what your eyes would see in real life.
Lock-On that works against you
While locked, I can't turn and look at other things. I move slower while strafing, and even slower when backing up. I can't see the environment around me while locked.
Reading a clipboard in the game is so bad, it's comical.
You press a button to pick the clipboard up (1 second).
Press another button to read one-third of the clipboard, in which an animation plays (.3 seconds) of your first person camera scrolling down a third of the page.
Repeat button presses until finished.
Sometimes, there are no words on that third of the page or more, so you simply press the button to scroll the wordless section of that page down until you can finish and watch your beautiful hands gently place the clipboard exactly where you picked it up from. (1 second)
- When you hold a machine gun and you press the block button, the gun and your arms take up the entire screen.
- Non-interactive objects look just like its interactive counterpart (i.e. doors, buttons, climbable objects, etc.)
Why Did I Play This to the Very End?
I continued to play this game to the finish because the story caught me and the immersion is deep... I've painted my silent first person protagonist as the type of hero who will calmly drink a soda in the middle of battle while taking damage from bullets like he just doesn't give a damn.
Design-wise, I'm willing to accept their haunted house mindset where I walk into a room and see what scripted animation sequences the designers have set up for the player. I'm not always in this mindset as a gamer, but this is the mood I'm in, right now. It is the complete utter opposite of the whole emergent systemic mindset that the Looking Glass legacy is known for. The upside to the haunted house thing is that every experience is super polished in exchange for this artificial control.
Overall, the level scripters bring up some very cool moments in the game. The most memorable moment is when you are running from these scary things that you can't hurt. When they punch you, the screen blurs, and you get knocked off your feet in first person. Three punches kill you. So you learn to run from them. At some point, your "power" kicks in. For some reason, you can break through the energy shield created by the monsters. Then you finally get to dish out the pain that you've been on the other end of for the early part of the game... And it feels great! The first person melee combat is very gratifying because the hits are meaningful. Instead of trading punches and whittling down HP, each impact is slow, but registers meaningfully in sound, animation, and screen/particle effect. They took great pains to give you a first person experience, and ultimately, the art is what drives me to continue. I feel that I have a personal vendetta against this one story character that made me reload a bunch of times... they built this villain up pretty well, and my drive to have a final showdown with him is what keeps me going. It's also cool to run and slide into an enemy's feet, and then uppercut them Mortal Kombat style... all in first person.
I finally beat the game (on normal) after about 18 hours of gameplay. It took a lot of willpower but some cool moments made it worth it. This is by far, one of the meanest most difficult games I have ever played in my life.