It’s the final stretch of 2012, and the games are coming in hot and heavy. This week I’ve been juggling a few of them, including finishing Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. I managed to play through every ending, and fortunately the final, "true" ending did manage to be completely ridiculous like I had hoped. I think I like 999’s ending a little better, but Zero Escape’s does live up to the legacy, and makes the game worth seeing through to completion.
I said most of what I have to say about Zero Escape last week, but I do have a few closing thoughts to add, primarily about the game’s few drawbacks. My only serious complaint with Zero Escape is that I feel it drags on much longer than it needs to. The multiple timelines idea is neat and all, and it does well to let you jump around at will and skip dialogue you’ve already seen before, but the game still manages to repeat itself a lot. The very nature of the dialogue is also slow moving in general, often being overly elaborate and wordy. That’s not unusual for adventure games like this, but I still frequently found myself wanting the game to just get on with it. I also experienced some other, more technical issues with Zero Escape. I had the game lock up once, which I’m pretty sure is the first time that’s ever happened to me on a handheld. Equally frustrating was a late game puzzle design issue that essentially prevented me from advancing without reloading. I’ll spare the details here, as it’s kind of a long story, but it‘s a pretty obvious and glaring oversight. Anyway, these issues are definitely unfortunate, but in the grand scheme of things aren’t the end of the world. On the whole I really enjoyed Zero Escape (I covered why last week), and think it’s a solid adventure game worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing. This series is establishing itself as a great entry in the genre, and assuming they don’t overdo it, it will be neat to see where they go from here.
I also continued to play Need for Speed: Most Wanted this week, which is still pretty great. I’ve now finished the single player “campaign”, which wasn’t all that special. You basically play the game in any way you want to rank up, unlock the ten main races, and take down the associated “most wanted” cars. I played some normal races for a while to accomplish this, but once I found a car I liked and got all the mods for it, regular races got kind of repetitive. Also, by far my least favorite thing about Most Wanted are the cops; I think they’re nothing but a hassle. They’re especially annoying when I’m simply trying to get to a waypoint, or trying to explore the city in search of billboards or gates to smash. I would enjoy the single player significantly more if the cops weren’t there at all. That said, roaming around the city more or less aimlessly has been one of my favorite parts of the game. I had similar fun in Burnout Paradise, and while Most Wanted’s city isn’t as impressive, it’s still well designed and fun to explore.
Really though, most of my time spent playing Most Wanted this week was dedicated to multiplayer. It’s absolutely fantastic that the points you earn in multiplayer count towards your single player progress (and vice versa). That allowed me to unlock the last few single player races via multiplayer, which became my preferred way of doing it given that the multiplayer is so well done. To me, the big draw of Most Wanted (along with the Burnout games) is that the car handling is excellent; plain and simple. The next step is then to create activities that take advantage of such sublime control without overshadowing it, and that’s exactly what the multiplayer does. By mashing such a wide variety of simple events together, the actual driving always remains front and center, but it’s always supplemented by small goals that give direction to your driving. It’s a super smart way to give players stuff to do without losing sight of what makes the game fun to begin with, and it’s even better that many of the challenges are completely goofy and ridiculous. From trying to get near misses in a pipe to repeatedly driving off a cliff, these things can get pretty bizarre, and it’s a hilarious way to interact with other people online as well. The game also makes sure to keep everything appropriately competitive without taking itself too seriously. You’re always racing to starting points between events, and the game tries to get you to wreck into each other as much as possible, but it’s all so outlandish and over-the-top that it never feels cutthroat. It’s a good time.
I’m sure I’ll keep playing Most Wanted’s multiplayer here and there, but I think I’ve said pretty much all I have to say about it over the past two weeks. I think it’s a pretty sweet driving game, and while it has a few caveats here and there, the only substantially negative thing I can say about it is that it feels a little overshadowed by Burnout Paradise’s existence. Because the two games are so directly comparable, and I like Burnout Paradise better, it can make Most Wanted seem less impressive than it actually is at times. And while I still think I would have preferred a proper new Burnout game in its place, Most Wanted is more than good enough to fill the void for now. The world’s better off with Criterion’s style of racing however we can get it, and Most Wanted fits that bill just fine.
Finally, along with the rest of the world (or at least those not snubbing it for Call of Duty: Black Ops II), I picked up Halo 4 this week. Full disclosure: I’ve never been the world’s biggest Halo fan. I’ve always been pretty indifferent on the series in general, and have never thought it has been either bad or great. It’s just kind of there, offering a series of well made but otherwise straightforward shooters that can be fun to play through cooperatively with a friend. Halo 4, to no surprise, doesn’t change any of that. It’s another Halo game, and it’s totally fine by that standard. I’ve finished the campaign cooperatively on Legendary and had a good time doing it, though it also didn’t do anything we haven’t seen before. The few new weapons and enemies fit pretty comfortably among both standard Halo and general FPS archetypes that they don’t add (or subtract) anything from the game, and its pacing and feel are very much what you’d expect. The game does try to include a few Call of Duty style “set piece” moments, with more scripted vehicle sequences and quick time events, and I feel like these moments are pretty weak. Then again, I don’t like them in other shooters either, and they feel even more out of place in Halo.
Overall the campaign was good enough though. I felt that the first half or so was as good as any Halo game, while the second half became a bit of a slog that was overly focused on fighting the same enemies over and over. I also didn’t get that into the story, and don’t think it did a very good job at giving much context for what was going on. More than that some of the characterization seemed really weird to me, which may be because there’s some background information I’m not aware of. Either way, it kind of bugged me. On another note, I do think that Halo 4 looks and sounds better than the series ever has. This is easily one of the best looking Xbox 360 games I have ever played, both technically and artistically. Character models in particular look much better than before, with tons of fine detail and smooth animations, and some of the environments are absolutely gorgeous. Also, the guns finally pack that punch I’ve always wanted them to. One of my biggest complaints about Halo has always been how the weapons felt like cheap plastic toys. They finally sound tough in Halo 4, which simply makes them more fun to shoot. The musical score, however, is kind of hit or miss. I never thought Halo’s score has been as amazing as everyone says, but it was at least consistent and effective. Halo 4’s score is generally fine, but it’s also all over the place thematically, and never felt like it fit as a result.
Finally, there are some other weird little things that bugged me about Halo 4. Maybe Halo has always been like this and I don’t remember it, but there’s a strange momentum to the way Master Chief moves (at least during the co-op campaign). When I let go of the thumbstick after running forward he takes an extra step or two, which doesn't feel very good to me. Also, the game doesn’t seem to count your co-op progress if you don’t beat levels in one session, which led to us having to replay a few levels start to finish. There’s no excuse for that at all, especially since levels can take up to an hour to get through and provide numerous checkpoints. We also had the scripting break once, to the point where we literally couldn’t interact with our objective. We had to wander around until it fixed itself, which took a good five minutes. That’s pretty lame. I also think Spartan Ops is pretty uninspired, and a lousy substitution for Firefight. Firefight was pretty wild and crazy in a way I could get behind, and Spartan Ops is super dull by comparison. It’s just a lot of drab fighting on boring maps with no story; I think it’s pretty garbage.
So that’s Halo 4. There was a point in time where I hoped Halo would strive to be a bit more than a pretty standard FPS, but that time has clearly past. So now I come to Halo expecting a well made if unspectacular shooter, and in that Halo 4 delivers. I had fun playing the campaign cooperatively, but probably won’t do a whole lot more with it outside of a little multiplayer (which is perfectly fine by the way). That, along with Most Wanted’s multiplayer, will probably compromise most of this coming week, as I’m still on the fence about both Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Call of Duty: Black Ops II. I’ll be out of town on vacation next week, so I likely won’t have a new blog up next week. By the time I get back PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale will also be out, which seems pretty cool. Anyway, this blog has gone on excessively long (trying to get it all out before vacation!), so it’s time to wrap this thing up. Until next time!
Currently playing: Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Halo 4