Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War( I just don't stop with this, do I?) How much longer can I keep this up? Anyway, this time, we have Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a game that assumes you've played previous Wolfenstein games, but does jack shit with that. Despite that, though, it's gotten some pretty good marks, at least according to the box. It got a full five stars from Maxim, a company widely known for its video game expertise. It also got an Editor's Choice award from OXM. They never say what the editor chose it for, or if that's a good thing, but you can rest well at night, knowing that the editor chose it. He also said that "it is the definitive Xbox Live [their emphasis, for some reason] experience". Of course, Halo 2 wou...have you caught on, yet? I don't like this game in any capacity.
Where do I start with this? How about the story? After all, it sucks so hard that black holes can't escape its grasp. Despite being set in World War II, the game begins with wizards and princes and other fantasy crap fighting a war 1000 years before the beginning of the game. Speaking of which, what does it have to do with the game? Well, Wolfenstein takes its sweet time tying it in, so for the first third or so, it's just your quest to investigate Nazi activities. That's when you discover their greatest horror: clichés. Every cliché possible. Nazis yelling "Achtung!", but inexplicably speaking 80% of their other words in English? That's in here. So are shallow, cartoonish villains ("they're Nazis" is not proper characterization), magic beings who curiously have an easier time eliminating the enemies than they do the protagonist, and about the entire plot of Indiana Jones. I'm not even joking on that last one. Near the beginning of the game, while Agent British and Agent USA are chatting it up, an old-timey map of North Africa popped up. I immediately whistled the Indiana Jones theme (I sometimes think that I have an invisible microphone in front of me), expecting a red line detailing their destinations to appear. AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED. Now this would be good if it had some awareness about this and played around with the clichés, but I have the feeling that it genuinely thinks it's awesome and original and all that crap. It's not. It's a cartoon. Specifically, Secret Squirrel, because it steals a character (not a voice actor, but the whole character) from that show. Wait, did I call it a cartoon? That's a bit of an exaggeration; the Nazis stole the fucking Eiffel Tower on Looney Tunes, and even that wasn't as cartoony as this.
Oh, but that's not the only problem I have with the story. If it was, this would be a short blog. So what else do I hate about this story? You mean besides the fact that it robs you of more intelligence than lead poisoning would? Well, what about the plot holes? Because there are quite a few to be found. Granted, they're fairly minor, but once you notice them, you'll be wishing that the Allies lost World War II just so this game wouldn't be. For example, remember those magic beings from before? You'll be seeing a lot of Nazis shooting at them in the temple in the first part of the game. But wait, if they're having so much trouble killing them, then how come you see them shooting them up the further you go? Are the Nazis following you, not shooting you, getting ahead of you when you inevitably get lost in the level (more on that later), all just to employ the Stormtrooper Strategy against every last mummy they see? Then again, these Nazis are stupid enough not to notice their buddies on the other end of a radio call suddenly getting shot before the call drops. Then again again, they are smart enough to close their secret stair doors with the switch that you can't reach once said doors are opened. Then again again again, WHAT THE HELLING FUCK IS THIS!? (I know that's not a plot hole, but...what!?)
Speaking of the way this game looks: the game looks like crap. I'd say "not technically", but even by those standards, it doesn't look too good. Don't believe me? Go back to the magic dominatrix by the first picture. Or try to find a video of the water effects, which look less like water and more like pools of molten lead. Speaking of videos, watch some of the animations. Particularly, the useless kick animation*. It seems id forgot that this game is 3D, since there are only about four pre-rendered frames to that kick. Hell, just play through the game and count the number of times the geometry folds in on itself for a few brief seconds. Any number higher than "one" is too much. However, this isn't really my issue with the graphics. My problem is more an artistic one. It's just so...bland. I mean, really, really bland and nondescript. It's utterly ironic how many words I have to describe something so generic. I'll just leave it at this: you know how television depicts video games? No, not when they do it right, but when they do it wrong. You know, when the people are mashing every button possible while you see mediocre CGI of ninjas and robots and dinosaurs and whatever else those iCarly rejects saw fit to include? You could replace those with Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and at no point would you give the people behind the show credit for getting video games right.
OK, enough of this. Time to talk about the game. Return to Castle Wolfenstein begins with a "stealth" mission, and "stealth" is a big part of the game. There are quite a few parts of the game where you have to sneak around dudes and time your kills and stuff. Hell, you even get special items from taking a stealthy approach. That's always cool. So why did I put quotations around the word "stealth"? (Well, there, it was just to refer to the word itself. That's how grammar works.) Because it's incredibly optional and stupidly useless. Sure, you get some cool bonuses from stealth, but more often than not, the enemies are gonna detect your ass. That's when you break out your guns and shoot everything in sight, and you'll most likely follow that up by questioning why you chose stealth in the first place. Of course, there are levels where stealth is mandatory. Guess how I feel about those? Hint: I don't like them. Now, it is possible to stealth your way through them, even if you will gun your way through them at the same time, somehow. Unfortunately, you're not going to stealth your way through them, because you'll fuck these up a lot, and you won't know why. Imagine this: you're walking through a German village, seeing some NPCs and being careful not to breathe on these fragile bastards (killing innocents results in the game spanking you on the bottom and telling you to try again). You haven't seen any enemies, and the last one you killed was in the last level. What's t-FUCK! Game over again?
Wait, I forgot something: this isn't Metal Gear Solid. It's a first person shooter. So how's it fare under these circumstances? Middling, I guess? You spend most of the game walking through levels and shooting things, except for the levels where you're expected to do something that isn't one of those things. But those levels are few and far between, so for most of the game, it's eating an oddly high amount of German food (I think there's more food than there is armor. No wonder they lost the damn war!) and shooting a bunch of guys. On that last one, you get a ton of weapons for shooting dudes up. There are about three pistols, four sniper rifles, eight types of grenades, and more machine guns/assault rifles than there were at any point in history. But do you have any motivation to use them? Simply put, "not enough." OK, so maybe you'll pull out your rocket launcher for the robot dogs, and maybe a grenade will be thrown once or twice, but for the most part, you'll stick to one or two machine guns. Why? Because that's probably the most reliable thing the enemies drop. Why give me so many weapons if I'm only gonna use about three of them throughout the game? I'd say it's like Bad Company 2, but two things. First, that game was far better.
Second, Bad Company 2 wasn't this hard. Yes, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a hard game, but not for the right reasons. I've already outlined the arbitrary stealth missions (why do I have to sneak into the camp, but I can blast my way through the very first (and very stealthy) mission in the game?), but there are other ways it screws you over, like the save system. Or the lack thereof, because the save system kinda sucks. Like Doom 3, there aren't any auto-saves; unlike Doom 3, there are checkpoints. Good thing, right? No. First off, those checkpoints don't count as saves, so don't turn off your console, thinking that your game is saved after reaching them. You'll have to play more Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and nobody wants that. Second, the checkpointing system is pretty stupid. Let's say that you reached a checkpoint, but one second after, you get a game over, and it's out of your control. Now, a good game would boot you back to the last safe save, or at least allow multiple saves in case this shit went down; this game, however, decides to reload that checkpoint, oblivious to its own idiocy. Now it's just a matter of loading up the last save, and hoping that you saved at the beginning of the level you were playing. Oh, and did I mention that your health doesn't refill between levels? You're gonna need it, too, because the second half of the game loves throwing monsters at you that will destroy you in a few hits at top health. Oh, and they will destroy you (countless times); you're often gonna find them in cramped hallways with little in the way of dodging and a target on the door you just came through.
Speaking of the level design, that's probably one of my biggest problems with the game. (Actually, it'd probably be second (right behind the story).) What's so bad about it? How about not being able to tell where you're supposed to go? Those screenshots are not an exaggeration; I honestly had a lot of trouble figuring out where to go. Part of the problem is that the game doesn't tell you what you can do, like that certain walls can be blown up and others can't, for some reason. A larger part of the problem is that it's not always clear where to go. Often times, I found myself just wandering around, wondering where the hell the game progresses. It got so bad that I found the secrets more easily than the exit. That's not a joke, and that's not good level design. If, for example, I am to backtrack through the level, give me some hint or indication that I should backtrack. Don't expect my confusion to lead me to the exit. So after all that, do I have anything positive to say about the game? Uh....it'd make for a good Let's Play I guess, since there's so much to mock and stuff. That's about it, really.
- Which of these is harder to believe: this or this?
- About as generic as they come.
- You know this graphic? This is the game that caused that change, and there's a reason why the game industry hasn't looked back.
After that, I need a good FPS. Here's this, instead.
Zelda II: Adventure of Link( OK, enough of me spewing absolute bile toward a game that totally deserves it.) Instead, let's focus on Zelda II. If you didn't groan at my previous novella, then you're probably groaning at what will most likely be a somewhat thick pamphlet. I can already hear you (turn off your webcam; nobody wants to watch you reading Internet musings) saying, "But Zelda II sucks! It's not even a Zelda game." I can see how you're right. It's like a Metroid game, but kinda better. And with that sentence, I'm certain that I've alienated 900% of my current reader base.
So I guess it doesn't matter what I say after this, does it? That said, we all know that Zelda II borrowed a lot from RPGs of the day; shame it never really borrowed the right things from those RPGs. You know, like story. OK, I know that I played this game in Japanese (it's not the first time I've made a horrible mistake like that), but I still know the story, damn it. Ganon's dead, and his followers would prefer that he's not dead. So what do they do? Hope that Link dies soon enough. Meanwhile, Zelda's in a coma, and the game makes no effort to connect these two events. Also, a gnome factors into this, somehow. See? No story. So what does Zelda II steal from RPGs? It certainly isn't towns (the difference between this game and its predecessor is about six people), so it must be grinding. Not quite. OK, there is a bit of grinding early in the game, and the random encounters get really annoying (especially when you get hit on a blank road that exists only to waste your time, or when the game suddenly forces you into a map that only exists to slow you the hell down), but the game's pretty good about level-ups, and it's usually possible to evade enemies on the overworld. So, again, what does it steal from RPGs? Confusing progress. By that, I mean that you have to perform some arcane shit that the game never really tells you about, like get this spell or get this item to get this technique that you can't beat the game without. How am I to know that I'm supposed to walk onto the ocean to get to one of the later palaces? What hints do I get that this one boss is vulnerable to a spell that's easy to miss? (Speaking of which, you can't leave a boss battle once entered. Again, this isn't what you want to take from RPGs.)
Hold on a second. Did I mention the combat? I forgot to mention how awesome the combat is. You get some cool spells over the course of the game, like the ability to make the screen flash and jump high and who the fuck cares about that shit? This is a Zelda game, and you're here for the sword fighting. (OK, you're actually probably here for the dungeons, but I'm getting to that.) You know, stabbing dudes and shoving a sword into their faces and asses (that's not so much a joke as it is a sad reality). I'd say that it's like some of the fights in Ocarina of Time, since that put a huge emphasis on the combat, but remember how you could slash their shins to death? Zelda II would tolerate that as much as you would a predictable King of the Hill joke. You actually have to pay attention to shield positions and sword strokes and other stuff like that. Understandably, this game is pretty hard. You'll be lucky to get away from some of the knights with more than your torso intact. It doesn't help that health restoration is stupidly limited (you ( I) thought the first game was sparse with its heart placement?), or that the game loves throwing enemies at you who don't give experience upon death and who only exist to make your life terrible. But persevere. At the end of each dungeon is a pretty cool boss battle against a knight or a dragon or something. Hell, there are even more if you're playing the American version. And the best part? They're not as hard as the regular enemies (unless they turn into the regular enemies, which is somehow possible).
Oh. I should probably mention the dungeons. This is where things are gonna get weird, by which I mean "Metroidy". For example, no more puzzles. I guess that's what pissed off so many Zelda fans when they first played this game (or, more likely, read an article on Zelda history that said this game was the black sheep because it was all side-scrolly): no using items or abilities to solve a bunch of puzzles. Instead, it's all about the navigation: poking around, knowing your boundaries, finding keys, unlocking those previous boundaries, and doing everything else that Metroid did, only better. What makes it so much better? Well, the direction is a helluva lot clearer. I know that it's hard to describe to those who haven't played the game, but there's something about the dungeons that make them easier to navigate. Maybe it's the size or the layout, but I had an easier time getting through Three Eye Palace (there's only one way to interpret that, and I don't like the idea of feeding myself to an unacknowledged beast) than I did through Zebes. Wait, why are people against this game, again?
- Have you played an RPG, but didn't want the parts you enjoyed about it? Well, here's this.
- Wait, that's a bit heavy. Maybe I should have added that the combat is pretty cool.
- Oh, and the dungeons are, too. I'd come up with a Zelda/Metroid portmanteau to describe that, but I'm afraid that I may create a terrible Flash game by doing so.