By MajorMitch 0 Comments
I’ve spent the past week playing a pair of games, the first of which is Aliens: Infestation. I’ve had my eye on it since it came out last year, and I’m glad I finally got around to playing through it. Even better is that I really liked it. I sometimes get tired of the “Metroidvania” label getting thrown around as much as it does (often inappropriately), but I think in this case it works well. Aliens certainly has that kind of world design, and while it’s never as devious as it is in a proper Metroid game the spirit is still there. You’re constantly winding your way back and forth through the Sulaco, opening up large, previously inaccessible areas of the ship, and finding shortcuts and upgrades. There’s also a strong sense of atmosphere and tension, which helps make the ship feel more like a tangible place in addition to being a series of connected hallways for gameplay purposes. It feels like a good fit for the game.
Aliens derives that atmosphere and tension from a numbers of places too. First is the presentation, which is appropriately moody. The ship both looks and sounds dreary, and can be a little unsettling. Then there’s the way the game paces itself, which is pretty methodical. It knows how to let the tension build, and rather than throw a bunch of enemies at you all the time it doles them out more slowly, making each encounter more impactful as a result. It also helps that one-on-one fights with most of the game’s enemies can’t be taken lightly. Aliens is not a particularly easy game, and it certainly doesn’t allow you to run through guns blazing. You can never take a lot of hits, so you’re always better served taking things slow and steady. I find that only adds to the tension, and is pretty refreshing compared to the way a lot of games just hurl fodder at you. Finally, and by far the most interesting thing that Aliens does, is the way it handles your characters. You have a squad of up to four marines at all times. You only control one of them at a time, but if you die the marine you were controlling is dead for good. You can then switch to another marine, but you’re never getting that one back.
I really like that permanence; it’s always a welcome sight to me when a game treats player death as more than a minor inconvenience. That kind of permanent character death is something I’ve always loved about the Fire Emblem series, and it’s a similar thing here. You can find replacement marines scattered about the ship that you can recruit as replacements, but I assume there’s a finite number of them. If you’re not careful, you could potentially be boned. That may sound off putting to some, but I think it’s really neat. Each character also has some amount of unique personality, so I could see people getting attached to some favorites, which is further incentive to keep them alive. Anyway, it’s a really cool idea, and something I’d like to see more often.
If there’s anything to complain about in Aliens it’s that sometimes the action doesn’t feel that great. The controls aren’t always as responsive as they could be, and switching items around and having to reload via the touch screen is kind of annoying. That’s all pretty minor though. For the most part the action felt fine, and the way the encounters are designed don’t put as much of a premium on quick button presses as they could. There is one late game zero gravity section that was really frustrating though; that I could have done without. Otherwise, I really enjoyed Aliens, and if you like sidescrolling action games it’s easily worth a playthrough. Parallel to Aliens I’ve been playing Darksiders II this week, and I’m going to play it pretty straight: I don’t think Darksiders II is a very good game. It’s not offensively bad so to speak, but it gets dangerously close on one too many occasions, and the moments where I’ve genuinely had fun with it have been all too rare.
I was a mild fan of the original Darksiders; I thought it had some interesting ideas, but the execution was pretty boilerplate. The dungeons, puzzles, combat, etc. were all fairly rote, but they got the job done. Put another way, it was competent without being very noteworthy. I’m not entirely sure I would call Darksiders II competent (and if it is, just barely). For me it starts with the combat, which simply doesn’t feel very good. It’s sluggish and unresponsive, especially when it comes to dodging. There seems to be a lot of animation priority that hinders your ability to pull moves off with the proper timing, and leads to it all feeling more mashy than an action game should. Furthermore, even when it works right it’s pretty boring. I’ve been playing on apocalyptic difficulty (aka hard), and it’s still been very simple and easy. Given the unresponsiveness of the controls, I basically feel like I’m fumbling my way through each fight, and yet I’m doing so handily. It’s all very unsatisfying. Also, the camera is quite bad.
I feel like the platforming suffers from the same animation priority and general unresponsiveness as the combat does too. If you try and perform one action right after another Death will almost never do what you just told him to do. It’s like the game has to wait for it to catch up with itself before letting you go on. Perhaps all the sluggishness is somehow tied to how buggy the game is, and it should be a well known fact by now that Darksiders II is pretty darn buggy. Clipping, frame rate drops and game lockups are abundant (I’m playing the Xbox 360 version for what it’s worth), and I’ve also had the fast travel stop working multiple times (reloading seems to fix it). The worst so far though has been some broken scripting that made me wonder if I was even going to be able to finish the game. Basically, a guy I needed to talk to for the main quest wasn’t where the marker said he was. After about 10 minutes of random wandering he finally loaded in, which is ridiculous. I don’t really know why the game is so buggy either, it’s not like this is a Skyrim sized world or anything.
All of this is very technical, execution style stuff, but it makes the game feel sloppy, and makes the act of playing it more trying than I would like. I don’t really have a problem with what the game is trying to do, I just don’t think it does much of it very well. If I do switch over to more design type issues, I personally don’t care for the loot system; it feels totally unnecessary to me. Also, inventory management is a mess (made even worse by the sluggish menus), and the side quests are extremely bland. I have no desire to do any of them, especially since the game is so easy already, and I find perfectly fine equipment and more money than I could ever spend as it is. It all makes this otherwise action heavy game feel more bloated than it should. I also think the pacing is off in a weird way. You get surprisingly few abilities in the game, but there are a ton of dungeons (this is a long game). So you end up spending a lot of time solving each set of environmental puzzles and fighting each set of enemies over and over, which gets old. It’s a shame too, because some of the puzzles are actually quite good. It’s one of the few things I think the game does really well, but it gets somewhat diluted by all the other stuff going on that’s bogging the game down and stretching it out.
Whew, I apologize, this has gone on longer than I expected. Anyway, I’m near the end of Darksiders II, and should easily finish it this week and wrap up my thoughts next week (I have yet to talk about any narrative business). I’ll probably dive into an assortment of smaller games this week too, such as Sound Shapes. But that’s going to do it for now, until next time!
Currently playing: Darksiders II