A Naughty Sequel
In a world where it is unlikely that I'll ever have the joy of playing Shenmue 3, another proper installment of Banjo Kazooie and had to wait so long for the confirmation of Beyond Good and Evil 2 it seem very unfair that a game like Naughty Bear has been given a sequel.
2010's Naughty Bear was a game that had a few good ideas but squandered them in a game that suffered poor design choices, repetitive gameplay and lack of proper testing which resulted in a buggy mess. So the big question is this: Does Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise improve upon it's predecessor's mistakes or offer more of the same?
Well in fairness the follow up to the 2010 game is an improvement in some areas, at least enough for me to score it slightly higher than it's predecessor.
The story is still non-existent beyond the fact that your a psychotic Teddy who is urged to kill the other bears on an island by the English narrator in his head. Although this element has been minimised further as the cutscenes that introduced the levels from before are gone, replaced by a scrolling text. Although this is understandable with the game being a download title opposed to a retail release.
The core gameplay mechanic remains the same. You are given a particular target to kill by any means necessary. There have been some slight modification. Naughty is given a particular way to kill the target, whether this be by a particular weapon or by wearing a certain costume. You must follow this through if you want to unlock further levels and cross the bear off your hit list.
The structure of the game has changed too. The last game took placed across seven levels with three areas each. For the most part they were sparsely populated and caused the game to drag. The new game has 36 levels albeit each only takes place in one area (out of a total of 11 that appear in the game).
This has both benefits and deterrents. The shorter and small levels are much better suited to a fast style of gameplay that the previous game encouraged. You can kill bears in quicker succession and set up traps a lot easier since there is less room for enemy bears to maneuver to. The levels are also a lot more detailed and vibrant. The samey Forrest locale of the previous game has been replaced by landmarks, sunny beaches, tropical discos, jungle temples and several other types of settings.
On the negative side the game no longer requires as much skill to gain the Platinum Trophies for gaining a high score. Killing the target by how the game asks you to will give you a huge score bonus which more times than not will knock you up a trophy level. Then there are three side missions which can be completed that add more bonus points.
With special circumstances withstanding I was able to get a Platinum first time through on most levels, two at the most on others, but then again the reasoning for Trophies in this game are pointless beyond ego-trips. In the last game they would unlock further challenge modes, costumes and weapons. They do nothing here.
There are no challenge modes anymore, they have been completely thrown out of the window. Costumes are acquired during levels by sneaking up behind a bear, grabbing them, pulling them off into the woods and stealing their clothes. Weapons are unlocked by finding them and using their Ultra Kill (of which there is more than one per-weapon this time around).
Although this is not to say you won't want to score high. The better you do in a level will see you gain XP which upgrades Naughty's stats. Each item of clothing also has an effect on Naughty's stats which means you can customise him after a point depending on your preference for stealth or combat.
Playing the game is much improved upon the last game's random decision to mix hack and slash with stealth. The hack and slash is downplayed in this game and stealth is much more effective. With this said the combat mechanics are improves with the introduction of a lock-on button (albeit it's the R3 button) and block. Naughty will also lock on automatically to targets within a certain range.
Although this has it's own problem as there is a slight delay between pressing the attack button and it actually happening on-screen. This leads to countless times where I killer a bear when I was only aiming to injure or would waste time hacking at someone who was blocking.
If you play from a stealth perspective however it plays brilliantly. The last game's idea of stealth was to sneak up behind someone and press a button. But this game allows you to set traps for bears, drag them off to other areas and kill them in certain areas as a message to other bears. This allows you to utilise the fear mechanics of the game much more effectively.
This is all of course within the range of your Stamina bar which has been introduced in this game. The bar which is dependent on your level and what items you are wearing determine how much special actions can be performed in a certain amount of time. The bigger the bar is the longer you can hold a bear before he wriggles free, the stronger you can hit and the louder you can boo.
What is absent from this game is gunplay. As with the last installment enemies can carry fire arms which inflict devastating damage, but this time around you can't pick up a gun yourself. Admittedly it was horrible to use a gun in the last game as it made you move sluggishly and was too much hassle. Either way it feels a lazy way to get rid of an issue by completely ridding the game of an option opposed to improving it.
The graphics and sound work hasn't improved much unfortunately. The character models still look very rough and the sounds are pretty much recycled from the last game. To be fair the locations look pretty smooth this time around so there is improvement. The voice acting is once again solely laid at the feet of the English Narrator who makes amusing comments for time to time.
The frustrating AI from the last game has been replaced with a shockingly stupid one. Previously the AI was too strict and made it way too hard for the stealth mechanics to be utilised properly as one bear would alert the others causing them all to barricade themselves into a house. Now they hardly react in a way that could negate your stealth.
Bears that witness Naughty killing in a disguise no longer alert other bears about you and just run around in a blind panic. If another bear witness you dragging one of them off into the woods they are not suspicious when you come out wearing their friend's face. Hell in some levels the bears actually start fighting each other when two rival factions see each other.
But now is time for the big issue from Naughty Bear, the glitches. The last game was horrendously made in the fact that it suffered hit detection issues, clipping problems, camera hi-jinxs, frame-rate slowdowns and worst of all regular crashing.
Well the hit detection is better in this game, albeit some bears while getting damaged will not react meaning that they sometimes take your head off while your unleashing a barrage of attacks. Plus sometimes when the bears are hit with a strong attack they will randomly teleport several feet back, breaking up the flow of combat.
Clipping and camera issues are non-existent from what I've played so far. I get to witness all of the big moments and when I'm in a stick of bother the camera doesn't just zoom in on a insignificant area.
Frame-rate slow down has been replaced by speed up which is just as infuriating. Several times I was caught unaware by this glitch as an enemy bear would all of a sudden tear me apart.
The crashing... well let's just say the last time I played this I had to reboot the PS3 four times in the space of 45 minutes. In the earlier levels where there are not so many bears to take care of, meaning you are done quickly and there are less bears to put stress on the game engine, you will have little issues. It only froze up on me a couple of times in the first 25 levels or so.
Upon the later stages however when you are forced to take longer time while the game struggles to cope with larger groups of bears all reacting simultaneously the game quickly made me long for the return of a soft reset button on game consoles. Being nothing will save until you have completed a level (and sometimes the game will crash when loading the completion screen losing an entire level's worth of progress) you will constantly become frustrated with how many times you will repeat the same action.
505 Games and Behaviour Interactive were given a golden opportunity here that other long-gone developer's and publishers would have killed for. An opportunity to prove that their new IP can live up to it's potential and that the mistakes of the first could be ironed out.
Instead we are given a game that while does slightly improve upon its predecessor just doesn't do enough. With two glitch-fests under their belt they will begin to form a reputation. Whether this is because they are poor at what they do or are just too lazy for play-testing doesn't really matter.
I really wanted this one to be good and prove that there was hope for the series but in recognition of another failed attempt to put out a working game I will not be investing into any future Naughty Bear games without a good reason to do so.