How I learned to love James Heller

I was not a great fan of the first Prototype. Not at all. It took the formula from Radical Entertainment's The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game, that of running around a city and smashing all sorts of shit up, but replaced Hulk with Alex Mercer. Alex Mercer is no Incredible Hulk. One of the reasons I disliked Prototype was Alex Mercer. He was a pretty bad character, both in terms of quality and motivations. Rationalise this how you will, "He's not the real Alex Mercer, he's infected", whatever. The point is that I, the player, had to spend all my time with this character who was quite frankly a bit of a knobhead. Not even one of those cool anti-heroes the kids rave about nowadays, yer Stone Cold Steve Austins and New World Orders and the like (that stuff's still popular, surely - if not, why not). Alex Mercer was just a bad man.

Fast forward to Prototype 2. Someone at Radical perhaps realised Mercer was extremely unlikeable, so he's the villain this time around. Now you're playing as James Heller, a soldierman who's angry or something, there's an emotional backstory but they never really show much conviction to that so neither should we. That in and of itself is weird considering that backstory consists of his family dying, something perhaps not on his mind when seeing a giant tentacle kill a load of humans, which he deems the hypest shit and declares "I GOTTA GET ME ONE OF THOSE". Everything is an annoyance and everything is sworn at. He's as much of an awful stereotype as every character in that game, except he has sweet ass Hulk hands and Batman's Detective Mode.

This is my quandary. Alex Mercer is technically a better character. He has a more mysterious background, there's a lot of moral ambiguity in some ways, there's perhaps something that could be explored in a better way. With James Heller there's none of that. There's no mystery. Any potentially mysterious aspects are soon revealed and promptly sworn over by Jimbo. He's a shit character but I think I prefer him. I'm not sure why but I do know that I'm enjoying Prototype 2 more than the first despite them pretty much being the same game and one thing has changed.

Heller cannot even be classified as "so bad he's good". I think I just see a lot of missed potential in Mercer, whereas with Heller they didn't really have a go at creating the illusion of quality. Mercer was an appalling human being, I don't imagine a human being like James Heller would or could ever exist. And if one did I would like to see a documentary where Louis Theroux meets him.

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What I've Played ~ Driver: San Francisco

This week, on a whim, I spent too much money on a fighting stick for my Xbox 360. I'm not very good at fighting games, although I would quite like to be, so I managed to get my hands on a Street Fighter 4 stick. That's how the pros do it, right? And all those slightly insane and incredibly misogynistic bearded men, but I'd rather not be like them. That arrived on Friday in an absurdly large box and I gave it a whirl, playing Street Fighter 4 for the first time in honestly about two years. While initially I'm not particularly great, working through the battle mode as Ryu (your entry-level character for these games) and trying to learn the moves, I'm actually able to execute supers, ultras and even the basic Shoryukens and Hadoukens with minimal fuss, which is something I couldn't say about my pad experience. I'm yet to try the stick with Mortal Kombat, my other fighting game, but hopefully it also helps there.

I also, randomly, decided to go back to Driver: San Francisco, one of those games that got lost in the ever-growing backlog (the Splinter Cell: Conviction memorial list). And let me tell you, this is a good, good game. Is it the best sandbox game of all time? No, not at all. Grand Theft Auto 4 is the daddy in general, whereas Burnout Paradise's constant crazy driving is superior, but this is an absolutely cracking effort and reminiscent of the early Drivers that I enjoyed so much when I was first getting into video games. It is, and I say this in the best sense, the definition of an 8/10 video game. The funny thing is, I read people complaining about the shift mechanic before, like it was hackneyed and a cheap gimmick and all that ("Mindjack with cars"), but it's absolutely fantastic. It works well in the storyline itself because it makes for some complete mindfuck moments and supernatural weirdness, but it also makes for some incredibly fun side activities that are, dare I say it, Hot Pursuit-esque. Except, instead of getting helicopters to help you and using EMPs to blow up racers, you stop these racers by shifting into a lorry further up the road and driving headfirst into them. It's AWESOME. The driving itself feels a bit heavy at first compared to those other games but it kinda suits the classic vibe they're going for (and have gone for in past Driver games) so once you work it out it's totally fine. I'm also a great fan of the cutscenes involving Tanner, Jones, Jericho and various other random characters around the city. They're all prerendered and that but they're incorporated incredibly well in a talking-head style. There are very little moments where you think "Oh great, this is gonna be an entirely prerendered cutscene" which I appreciate.

I played lots of Fez and Trials: Evolution but instead of writing about them I'll just say that my hands, brain and sense of pride really hurt right now.

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First Impressions: Dillon’s Rolling Western

After being impressed recently by a few of the 3DS eShop offerings, most notably Mighty Push Force and Pushmo/Pullblox, I decided to spend some more money and give the newest release, Dillon’s Rolling Western, a go. The game costs quite a lot, £9 in England (and apparently a similar number in Euros, strangely), but my initial impressions are good.

To explain the game itself, it quite unsurprisingly takes place in a Western setting. You play the role of Dillon, an anthropomorphic armadillo. He’s the silent type, you know the drill. Wears a cowboy hat, has a neckerchief, loves all that Clint Eastwood shit. However, unlike Clint Eastwood, he can roll around the deserts and destroy stuff (which is why Clint Eastwood is rubbish).

The gameplay has two parts to it: one part tower defense and one part actual combat. The game has you go from town to town protecting the townspeople (and their livestock) from grocks, these strange little triangular rock monsters. Like all good monsters - and Batman - they only come out at night so during the day you can roll around the surrounding areas collecting food for the animals, going into small caves and collecting ore, and completing various side quests for money. You can use the money to upgrade towers, either creating watchtowers or stocking them up with guns ranging from (initially) shotguns to cannons. The ore can be used to strengthen the town’s walls just in case any enemies get past you and there’s a buy/sell system where you can upgrade Dillon’s equipment, buy health tonics and all that stuff.

When night comes the game changes a bit. Enemies come out of their dens and the mini-map on the lower screen is crucial. When you come into contact with an enemy you’ll enter a “battle mode” where you have to defeat maybe half a dozen basic enemies, all while time continues to pass in the background so you have to be quick. Speed is crucial in general at night and early on I found myself catching up with the final enemy just as he was about to reach the town. In short, things can become quite intense, if rarely difficult. There are a number of different enemies as you progress through the worlds that add some nice variety and require you to mix up your combat instead of just rolling into enemies (although that is most of the combat).

The thing that’s really struck me about this game early on is how stylus-heavy it is. It’s absolutely essential; the face buttons play absolutely no purpose in this game. You hold the 3DS in your left hand to use the left trigger and stick while the right hand’s all stylus. The controls take some time to get used to as Dillon requires a “wind up” with the stylus to get rolling and maintain his motion, but once you get used to it it’s fine. I was also very impressed with the art style of this game, particularly in the few actual cut scenes you get. It’s not outright cell-shaded but it’s appropriately cartoonish, something I think works really well on the 3DS.

I’m only a few worlds into the game but judging by the mini-map to jump between towns it seems like there’s quite a few in here. However, these worlds consist of just a few days and don’t take that long to complete. That works in the game’s favour on a portable device because you can just pick the game up, complete a day in a particular town and be done for a while. It might take about 10 minutes in total.

The game seems to be made to digest in bite-sized chunks, not a marathon session, adding longevity and hopefully giving you your money’s worth. Because that is quite a lot of money for an eShop game.

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