March 4 - March 10, 2013
I'm going to try something new - every week, I will make a blog entry about the games I've been playing for the past 7 days. I'm not a particularly heavy gamer, so I'll mostly be plugging away at the same games week after week, but I figure it'll be a nice way to track my gaming accomplishments and maybe improve my writing ability.
I finished El Shaddai on Saturday, and I'm really glad I did. It had been a while since I put so many hours into a game in such a short amount of time, and the game seemed to reward me for doing so through some of the most mind-blowing visuals I think I've ever seen in a piece of interactive entertainment.
El Shaddai is a beautiful game - you just can't deny it. Every single level seemed to break another of my preconceptions of video game art design. It's not enough to say that El Shaddai looks like a painting (which it often does), because the fluidity of the backgrounds and the way they play with your perceptions of space go beyond static imagery. The game takes the aesthetic qualities of traditional art and uses them in ways I'd never seen before, and maybe never will again. This probably sounds like hyperbole, but El Shaddai is genuinely one of the most artistically interesting and inventive games ever made (or at least, I've ever seen). It's as if concept art was directly translated into level design, magically bypassing the usual technical details.
There's also a very Japanese sensibility to the whole thing, which makes its treatment of ancient religious texts even quirkier and out-there than it might have been otherwise. God (the titular El Shaddai), Lucifer, Uriel, and other Judaic figures all play major roles in the story, but the plot deals in an internal fight over darkness that draws from JRPG story tropes more than anything. Still, the details are left vague enough that, when combined with the impressionistic art style, the game strikes an appropriately mythic tone.
Unfortunately, the technical aspects of El Shaddai doesn't quite live up to its artistic heights. The frame rate fluctuated pretty wildly during my playthrough, and I came across an issue that caused the game to stutter every time I defeated an enemy. Apparently, this happens after you unlock an achievement for defeating 50 of a certain enemy type, and can't be fixed unless you go through the rather drastic measure of recovering your Xbox Live gamertag. While it wasn't game-breaking, and served only as an annoyance, it is a pretty big blight on what is not a technical marvel anyway.
Combat, which takes up most of the game, is pretty fun, and I found myself getting the hang of it pretty quickly (this is coming from someone who has little experience in technical action games).There was just enough depth that by the end of the game, I felt I knew everything there was to know. It's too bad that the other half of El Shaddai's gameplay, precise platforming, lets it down. There are numerous 2D platforming sections that are fine, but when the game asks you to make precise jumps on moving platforms with an unfriendly camera angle, it's rough. I found myself getting more frustrated than I would have liked in some spots, and the art style can occasionally get in the way.
It's all worth it, though, in the end. Because El Shaddai is one hell of a unique game.
I'm about fifteen hours into Anachronox now, and I think I'm getting close to the end. It's been a pretty fun journey, so far. Just like El Shaddai's beautiful art overshadows many of its flaws, Anachronox's world and the characters that inhabit it are so charming and funny that I can overlook the basic combat and some tedious puzzles.
For a game that's more than a decade old, Anachronox's Quake 2 engine graphics still look okay, thanks in large part to the fantastic art style. It's cartoony, but it's grounded enough that the world feels real. The characters are often cracking dumb jokes and engaging in slapstick behavior, but the dialogue is so well done that they still feel like real people. The fantastic writing extends to every NPC, it seems, and it made me wonder whether having full VO for every NPC in recent games is a benefit or a hindrance to writers.
Every once in a while, I tired a little of the fetch quests the game often makes you do, especially with the obscene amount of backtracking that's required. Still, I'm excited to see how it all plays out.
Those two were the games I spent the most time on, but I also fooled around with Bit.Trip Runner and Saints Row: The Third. Runner is fun, and frustrating as hell. I was cursing at it in record time. I think I'm about two-thirds of the way through Saints Row (maybe more) - I just took over a power plant or something? That game's crazy, and I will definitely finish it this coming week.
Guess that's it for now.