In my final month in Afghanistan, I didn't have much going on. Our replacements were still a ways out, and the Taliban were occupied with their muslim holiday, Ramadan. I was able to finally sit down and play some damn games. The only issue with this is that every game in my pile involves shooting dudes in the face. My unplayed games included, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Vanquish, and Spec Ops: The Line. The good thing about living with 30 dudes is that there is no shortage of games coming in. The bad side of that is I’m the only one here that would consider videogames a hobby; no one really plays games of different genres. It was a great enough struggle to get the guys to check out games that weren't called Call of Duty. I can be credited with several sold copies of 2011's GOTY, Saints 3.
Up first was Ghost Recon, a game I didn’t finish because I was bored out of my mind playing it. I figured, yes it’s a shooter but maybe a more tactical pace would be a breath of fresh air. Boy, was I wrong! I have no clue what the Clancy name even means anymore, but the latest outing of the Ghosts was a snore fest to say the least. Not only was it a straight up shooter, the game isn’t even up-front with it. Future Soldier is the best example of a game with an identity crisis. Either the people involved with development weren’t clear on what kind of game they were making, or Ubisoft put out a title that tries to cover all angles including stealth, tactics, and 3rd person action without pleasing anyone.
Some of the stealth segments were interesting as they were set up like puzzles. I was tasked with methodically having my squad take enemies out without their comrades noticing. It’s unfortunate these segments weren’t more difficult or else it may have been strong enough to carry the generic action that makes up 50% of the game. It’s also strange that the game calls itself “Future Soldier”. For instance, none of the game’s elements feel especially futuristic in a videogame context. In reality, seeing soldiers turn invisible and throw out drones that can tag targets would be jaw- dropping. But in a videogame, it isn’t as revolutionary. Most of the “Future Soldier” stuff just explains gameplay stuff such as a HUD as technology the characters are actually interacting with. I think the game would have been better off going further with the futuristic approach or just be as-is without the “Future Soldier” tagline.
Next up was Vanquish, a game I actually finished. Directed by Sinji Mikami, the man behind one of my favorites games of all time, Resident Evil 4. Unlike Ghost Recon, Platinum Games did everything imaginable to distinguish Vanquish from the commonplace 3rd person-shooter. I’ve seen this game described as Japan’s answer to Gears of War, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only thing Vanquish has in common with Gears and our friend Ghost Recon is that the camera is 3rd person and the protagonist uses guns to fight. In fact, the game actually penalizes you for utilizing cover. That is, if you care about getting high scores at the end of a stage.
Vanquish is all about using the jets the protagonist Sam’s armor suit is equipped with to slide around the battlefield at 50 mph laying waste to Russian Space robots in Max Payne style bullet time. If that description doesn’t entice you, then you are one of those dead souls who can’t enjoy a Pixar movie. For a cherry on top, pressing the Left Bumper (360) has Sam smoke a cigarette mid-battle. Sometimes the flame distracts the Russian Robots. Seriously, this game is great. Vanquish has some of the best sense of movement I’ve ever experienced in a videogame before. The fidelity of sliding around while blowing up enemies is something all game developers should take note on. No game has made me feel so awesome and forget I’m holding a controller. And Vanquish has plenty of awe-inspiring explosions and Japanese non-sense action that is tastefully presented. Thankfully the game never gets too anime. I picked up a copy for $20 on Amazon; at that price I recommend everyone pick it up.
Finally, I checked out Spec Ops: The Line. I was legitimately impressed, but confused at some inconsistence in quality. Spec Ops is successful at establishing atmosphere. From the beginning there’s a great sense of mystery adding to the game’s motif. The acting and writing is also impressive to boot. The overall presentation has all the makings of a great Blockbuster without all the Michael Bay bullshit. On the other side of the coin, the action is straightforward and littered with unresponsive controls. Or perhaps just coming off the outstanding movement fidelity of Vanquish just jacked my standards unrealistically. I’ll have to revisit that criticism. Maybe I’m just tired of shooting dudes. I even wrote a review, making it my 10th and final review written in the field. I carry the self-proclaimed title of "Afghanistan's #1 Videogame Correspondent".
That’s a lot of time on the trigger. With all these games I’m completely drained of any desire to shoot dudes or Russian Space Robots in videogames. I’ll be heading home soon, so I’ll be able to hop on the downloadable scene to check out games like Fez and The Walking Dead. Also, Diablo III.