By MajorMitch 5 Comments
Between Spelunky and FTL: Faster Than Light, I’ve played more games in the past year that can be compared to roguelikes than I ever have before. FTL has been the one occupying me recently, and like Spelunky before it I’ve had an up and down relationship with it. My first impression was fantastic, thanks to the game’s solid underlying mechanics. The balance it strikes between fighting battles and upgrading your ship is incredibly exciting and interesting, and the game moves at a snappy pace to be constantly engaging. It also has great atmosphere and and an even better soundtrack (continuing the trend of indie games absolutely nailing their soundtracks). But as with all games that are kind of like roguelikes (roguelike-likes?), FTL relies on randomness a lot, which is where my relationship with it becomes a little rocky.
Pure randomness is fine to an extent, but at some point I get frustrated when I feel like my ability to progress is hindered by a roll of the dice. Even the best runs have a chance of going south regardless of what you do, and while there is certainly a layer of strategy to the game, and you can improve your odds of success by playing better, it’s never entirely in your own hands. This makes it especially hard to learn from your mistakes, as it’s often difficult to tell if (and where) you did something wrong, or if you simply ran into some plain old bad luck. Finally, it can be tough to make strategic decisions when you don’t know what’s coming up ahead; the best you can do without any concrete information is attempt to play the percentages and hope it works out. I feel like all of these problems are more pronounced in FTL than they were in Spelunky, for the sole reason that a single game of FTL can take over an hour to play. When I die in Spelunky I’ve wasted maybe five minutes, but playing a game of FTL for over an hour with nothing to show for it can be hard to swallow.
I realize that the primary way to enjoy such games is to let go of results, and to focus more on the journey than the destination. And by that measure, I have enjoyed playing both Spelunky and FTL to a certain extent. Almost every run has a lesson to learn, but I simply don’t know if or when I will learn enough of them (and get lucky enough) to “beat” either game. Ultimately, only the dice can help decide that, while I will likely decide that my time is better spent on the giant pile of other games I have to play.
Lions and Tigers and Bears (and Komodo Dragons and...)
I recently finished Far Cry 3, which I really enjoyed. In fact, had I played it during 2012 it would likely be on my top 10 list for the year. But alas, it was not to be. Anyway, I generally don’t care for open world action games that much, as I feel like they tend to stretch themselves too thin and often become really bogged down with menial tasks. Far Cry 3 certainly has some of that, but I also like a lot of its tasks more than most open world action games, and find it easy to ignore the rest. The standout for me is easily the hunting, or more accurately animal encounters in general. The animals have a certain ferocity to them that’s exciting, and they are absolutely everywhere. The game basically infuses animals into everything you do, which can lead to intense standoffs with a bear in the middle of the thickest jungle, or hilarious moments where enemy pirates get overrun by a roaming pack of komodo dragons. It gives the game a certain primal edge that you generally don’t see in games of this quality, and it ended up being my favorite aspect of the entire game.
Not only is interacting with animals in Far Cry 3 a total blast, but the upgrades you earn from hunting them are totally worth it. More weapon slots, higher ammo capacity, etc. If I have one gripe against the hunting it’s actually that it’s too tempting and too easy to blow through it all right up front. A few hours into the game, before doing virtually anything else, I had maxed out all of the meaningful upgrades. Maybe that’s my own fault for not pacing myself, but I still wish a larger percentage of the game involved hunting. When it comes to the other activities, I really liked climbing the radio towers and clearing out enemy camps. I feel like the towers rewarded me for exploring the game’s gorgeous island (something I’d be prone to do anyway), while the camps let me make use of all the weapons and abilities I had acquired. The stealth and combat in Far Cry 3 are surprisingly fun in small bursts, and I feel like those qualities shine brightest when infiltrating these camps. Most of the other side activities I found to be pretty dull, such as the “Wanted” quests, supply runs, Rakyat challenges, and the myriad of pointless collectibles. At the same time, they were all easy enough for me to ignore, and didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the game.
The main thing that did hinder my enjoyment of the game was the other thing I tend to not like about open world action games, which are the main story missions. They’re super rote and generic, if not just plain bad, and are by far the weakest part of Far Cry 3 to me. Boring corridor crawls, escort missions, rail gun sequences, fetch quests, driving time trials, and lots of repetitive combat in general (all without the open ended aspect that makes taking enemy camps so fun) plague the main missions, none of which I care for at all. The story itself didn’t do anything for me either, but I didn’t find it as aggressively offensive as some people seem to. For me it’s just kind of “there,” not really hurting or helping matters, which is only a bit of a shame since the story missions do need help. Anyway, those missions were pretty easy to mindlessly plow through, and ultimately didn’t ruin the other great stuff Far Cry 3 does in the long run. I may not be a fan of open world action games in general, but Far Cry 3 has proven to be one I can get behind, and is probably among my favorite such games I’ve ever played.