Egge's New PC Adventures, Part #3 - Creative Destruction

I'm still a huge fan of Gearbox's ridiculously rewarding open world shooter/RPG hybrid Borderlands, and despite having played the game for more than 50 hours on the PS3 (including a New Game+ consecutive playthrough and all expansions except Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution), it was really refreshing to check out the GOTY PC version on the new computer. The 1080 resolution gives the crisp, stylized visuals a nice boost while the super-smooth frame rate and mouse/keyboard controls benefit the shooter dimension of the gameplay immensely. Lining up headshots becomes noticeably easier on the PC, and thus improves the gameplay of precision-based classes like the Siren and Mordecai compared to the console versions.

The "shooter with RPG elements" has quickly become a cliche (encompassing everything from Modern Warfare to FEAR 3), but Borderlands is still the first-person action game that makes the most comprehensive and meaningful use of RPG mechanics. And it's all so bloody addictive that if Gearbox's stylized shooter was a full-fledged MMO (which, to be fair, it probably will become at some point) I would probably buy a lifetime subscription just to be able to return to the satisfying XP accumulation anytime I wanted...

There's no denying that Just Cause 2 is a derivative and quite shallow game with repetitive mission design and unnecessary difficulty spikes. However, this technologically ambitious open world action game from Swedish developer Avalanche Studios can still be an entertaining and deeply satisfying experience - provided that you share the game designers' idea of what constitutes "fun" in a GTA-style action game, that is.

Once I finally got around to buying and playing through Just Cause 2's main missions (Xbox 360 version) the game had already been out for quite a while but still managed to impress me with its huge and varied game world, jaw-droppingly amazing draw distance, advanced physics implementation and stunningly beautiful explosions. While the story is almost non-existent and the "campaign" frequently caused me a lot of frustration, Just Cause 2 got me hooked for a good 20 hours on the strength of its few core gameplay mechanics alone.

Much like the Saints Row series, Just Cause 2 ditches the character development and social satire of the GTA games in favor of a cheerfully anarchic, arcade-like take on the basic open world game design by putting the emphasis squarely on engaging the player in a ton of satisfyingly creative destruction. JC2's combination of grappling hooks and parachutes ensures virtually unmatched flexibility and maneuverability (while simultaneously violating every known law of Newtonian physics with reckless abandon), and the in-game rewards for constantly going berserk are just substantial enough to keep the player's motivation up.

Just Cause 2 pushes hardware limitations on the aging currentgen consoles in ways which must surely have involved a whole lot of clever programming and painstakingly detailed optimization, and the PC version benefits most noticeably from higher resolutions (great for those already stunning vistas), some wonderful new water effects and an even more solid frame rate.

9 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by Egge

I'm still a huge fan of Gearbox's ridiculously rewarding open world shooter/RPG hybrid Borderlands, and despite having played the game for more than 50 hours on the PS3 (including a New Game+ consecutive playthrough and all expansions except Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution), it was really refreshing to check out the GOTY PC version on the new computer. The 1080 resolution gives the crisp, stylized visuals a nice boost while the super-smooth frame rate and mouse/keyboard controls benefit the shooter dimension of the gameplay immensely. Lining up headshots becomes noticeably easier on the PC, and thus improves the gameplay of precision-based classes like the Siren and Mordecai compared to the console versions.

The "shooter with RPG elements" has quickly become a cliche (encompassing everything from Modern Warfare to FEAR 3), but Borderlands is still the first-person action game that makes the most comprehensive and meaningful use of RPG mechanics. And it's all so bloody addictive that if Gearbox's stylized shooter was a full-fledged MMO (which, to be fair, it probably will become at some point) I would probably buy a lifetime subscription just to be able to return to the satisfying XP accumulation anytime I wanted...

There's no denying that Just Cause 2 is a derivative and quite shallow game with repetitive mission design and unnecessary difficulty spikes. However, this technologically ambitious open world action game from Swedish developer Avalanche Studios can still be an entertaining and deeply satisfying experience - provided that you share the game designers' idea of what constitutes "fun" in a GTA-style action game, that is.

Once I finally got around to buying and playing through Just Cause 2's main missions (Xbox 360 version) the game had already been out for quite a while but still managed to impress me with its huge and varied game world, jaw-droppingly amazing draw distance, advanced physics implementation and stunningly beautiful explosions. While the story is almost non-existent and the "campaign" frequently caused me a lot of frustration, Just Cause 2 got me hooked for a good 20 hours on the strength of its few core gameplay mechanics alone.

Much like the Saints Row series, Just Cause 2 ditches the character development and social satire of the GTA games in favor of a cheerfully anarchic, arcade-like take on the basic open world game design by putting the emphasis squarely on engaging the player in a ton of satisfyingly creative destruction. JC2's combination of grappling hooks and parachutes ensures virtually unmatched flexibility and maneuverability (while simultaneously violating every known law of Newtonian physics with reckless abandon), and the in-game rewards for constantly going berserk are just substantial enough to keep the player's motivation up.

Just Cause 2 pushes hardware limitations on the aging currentgen consoles in ways which must surely have involved a whole lot of clever programming and painstakingly detailed optimization, and the PC version benefits most noticeably from higher resolutions (great for those already stunning vistas), some wonderful new water effects and an even more solid frame rate.

Posted by Slither_Maggot

I know what you mean about BORDERLANDS. While I haven't indulged in the GOTY Edition I still log a lot of hours playing through my original copy. It was a game that seemed to take the risks in a shooter that just worked to perfect effect. It gave the lovers of both the FPS genre and the Fantasy/Role-playing game genre something they hadn't seen before and it still just continues to enthrall us with it's drive for loot, money, and XP! Long live the BORDERLANDS franchise! Cheers mate.

Posted by Seedofpower

How are you in the way of RTS's?

Posted by Egge

@Seedofpower: Not great, to be honest; but I should perhaps add that I also don't play multiplayer at all regardless of genre. I stopped paying serious attention to the RTS scene at some point after Tiberium Sun, although I did have a lot of fun with Company of Heroes when that was released. I still haven't played either Tiberium Wars, Red Alert 3 or any installment in the Dawn of War series, and while StarCraft II's campaign and overall gameplay is very well-designed it wasn't compelling enough to make me replay it or create any lasting urge to play against other humans.

Posted by Seedofpower

@Egge: True, the learning curve is what gets most people. You should at least check out Sc2's custom maps or The Last Standalone.

Edited by Egge

@Seedofpower: It's true that the learning curve is a significant obstacle, but my main problem with all multiplayer modes is that unlike singleplayer campaigns they A) don't have a clear beginning, middle and end, and B) make you dependant on other people for your own personal gaming experience. I want a game I can finish definitively, and I also want to do so without having to rely on some random (or even non-random) individuals that may or may not know how to behave or take the gameplay seriously. Also, I've never seen the point of persistence and progression in terms of leaderboards, points accumulation and the like; I just want to see the final cutscene and put the game on my shelf and feel like I've accomplished something. I'm weird that way, I guesss.

Posted by owl_of_minerva
@Egge: I agree with your argument here, except Borderlands being "the first-person action game that makes the most comprehensive and meaningful use of RPG mechanics." Deus Ex and System Shock 2! 
 
But to return to the main point, what I liked about Borderlands is that it is genuinely a good action game with a rewarding loot mechanic, rather than a shit action game that keeps you going for the sake of loot. It rewards player skill so that his or her input feels meaningful rather than just machinic. Dungeon Siege III is similar but doesn't quite get the loot or multiplayer right. Still, it's a good direction for action RPGs to take; be more like action games rather than uber-simplistic RPGs.
Posted by Egge

@owl_of_minerva: Good points on the main subject. As for the examples of Deus Ex and System Shock 2 you bring up, my own view is that although those games certainly tried to be first-person shooter games they were never really successful at it. Borderlands is reasonably convincing both as an action RPG and as a shooter, but Deus Ex's clunky and unsatisfying combat would be absolutely hideous without the added RPG mechanics, dialogue, player choice etc. I feel System Shock 2 fares better when it comes to that shooter aspect, but it's still far from having the responsive controls and visceral action of a proper FPS.

If you take away all the stats and loot from Borderlands you're still left with a functional (although probably very boring) shooter, and I just don't think the same could be said for Deus Ex or even the mighty System Shock 2 (yes, I'm a much bigger fan of the latter game than the former).

Posted by owl_of_minerva
@Egge: This is quite true. Borderland''s combat is much more satisfying in terms of action mechanics. However the way you phrased the sentence was a little unclear, as it made it sound like Borderlands is the best example of an action RPG rather than primary an action game with rpg elements. I think it's a fantastic game, and one of the best action RPGs, but if you stripped away the action mechanics from Borderlands it would be a pretty atrocious RPG, whereas both SS2 and DX wouldn't lose much if they got rid of the shooter elements, they most likely would be improved (my thought experiment on whether a hybrid game should be considered more x than y).
 
As RPGs both Deus Ex and SS2 are far ahead of Borderlands because the outcome of combat is tied more to build than to the player's reflexes. I'm more inclined to assess how well those games allow for divergent playstyles and builds than whether they provide combat satisfying in its own terms - which relatively few RPGs and strategy games have in the first place. I'd want to argue that despite the action mechanics not being great the games allow for enough specialisation and playstyle divergence through skill selection and level design that their combat should be viewed in an RPG context rather than that of an action game. This is also why I found some of the criticisms of Alpha Protocol's combat a little unfair, because action games and RPGs come from entirely opposite ends of the mechanical spectrum. That said, the RPG mechanics in SS2 and DX are not beyond criticism, but I'd say they are also the most ambitious and sophisticated attempts yet seen, especially the choice and consequence aspect of Deus Ex (mindblowing for a game of its type). So I don't forgive DX and SS2 their poor action mechanics, but I don't assign them as much weight as others have.
 
Sorry for the entirely tl;dr post.
Edited by Egge

@owl_of_minerva: I agree that my sentence was a bit unclear, and in the original blog post I was primarily comparing Borderlands to modern shooters with some light RPGs elements tacked on rather than full-blown FPS/RPG hybrids such as SS2 and DX. I would still maintain the stronger claim (i.e. that Borderlands is more successful at combining genres than a game like Deus Ex) as outlined in my previous response, but I guess that's partly because I personally have never found the divergent playstyles/choices & consequences dimension you mention to be a very compelling aspect of RPG gaming in and of itself. Being able to choose between sneaking through vents or attacking enemies directly is nice in theory, but if neither of those activities (i.e. the actual gameplay) are particularly interesting to engage in then that choice becomes meaningless to a rather old-fashioned "mechanics fundamentalist" like myself.