By SonicFire 9 Comments
Since I started writing these entries, there have been more than a few kind Giant Bomb users who cautioned me about burning myself out with mediocre and bad games. Now that I’m three weeks into this psychotic, achievement-based orgy, I am beginning to see where all the warnings were coming from… but I’m nothing if not stubborn.
For those of you who have been following along, this marks the second “official” entry in what I have been calling the “Dirty Achievement Diaries.” By dirty, I mean that feeling that comes from earning rewards that just don’t mean anything – in this case, easy achievements. Until two weeks ago, I was determined to only ever play games that I wanted, and never play anything for the sake of something as meaningless as gamerscore. Some ten games later, whatever ethical opinions I had towards cheevos got washed away in the shame spiral. While I still find the cumulative gamerscore somewhat meaningless, I found that I’m becoming addicted to playing these games that I would otherwise ignore, or consign to the dust bin.
Even if the games themselves are of poor quality, the ability to easily “complete” them keeps me chomping at the bit for a new title. At first, when I was playing King Kong and Gun, I didn’t really think about it beyond the points. However, the more that I get into this project, the more I realize that easy achievements scratch my completionist itch in the best possible way. Like Vinny, and many others on this site, I have a tendency to want to complete every single game I play down to the last collectible. Sometimes it can be fun, but more often than not it can make me feel quite miserable, marring an otherwise fun title. So in a sense, I’m replacing one self-destructive tendency with a new one. Think about it this way: assuming I was a puppy… my knocking out all of a game’s achievements in only three hours is kind of like rubbing that one spot on my tummy that makes my back leg kick uncontrollably...it’s that good. (Oh, and if that isn’t a cry for help, then I don’t know what is)
For this week’s installment, I’ve only got three titles on the docket. I’ve completed more than this by now, but I want future posts (assuming my sanity holds) to be a little more thematic. Hey, I can dream, can’t I? Still, on to the games:
Although I was born in the ‘80s, I did most of my growing up in the early ‘90s. And, like any kid from that era, I was addicted to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Whether it was the movies, video games, or the TV show, if it was green and ninja-related then I had to have it. As kids, my older brother and I built an enormous collection of stupid plastic toys, ranging from the original foursome and the most bizarre side-characters like Chromedome and Ray Fillet. So coming into TMNT, I was excited to experiences something Turtle-related for the first time in many years. Well, I also figured I could at least have fun. Hell, it would have to be better than the original NES game (which ruined a good year of my childhood…but that’s another story).
The game itself follows the Turtles through the events of the recently released CG Animated film. Since I kind of liked the movie, I found that there was a lot to love in playing the simple platformer. And indeed, at its core TMNT is just a linear platformer, albeit one with terrible combat mechanics. Nevertheless, the majority of the game’s four hours are dedicated to jumping, double-jumping, and wall-running through various environments, so there’s not much to complain about. In this era of cover-based shooters and ubiquitous RPG mechanics, I think it is easy to overlook the joys of landing a few good jumps and moving smoothly in a straight, uninterrupted flow. Mario Galaxy and Prince of Persia captured this in their own right, and TMNT is at its best whenever combat doesn’t occur. Unfortunately, once the word “FIGHT!!” jumps onto the screen however, the game becomes a pitiful button masher. Combat is never challenging, despite being painfully sluggish. I know it’s a licensed movie tie-in, but seeing that they’ve had good fighting in TMNT games for decades, this is remarkably annoying.
TMNT is considered one of the go-to games for achievement hunters. It takes 3-4 hours to get everything, play everything, and move on; no cheap or cheating tactics required. So even though it’s a relatively mediocre licensed game, for a few bucks and a few hours, I’ve had much, much worse…
Lost: Via Domus
…which brings me perfectly to Lost: Via Domus. Full disclosure: I’ve seen the entire run of the series, and I absolutely hated the last season and the flaccid ending. Luckily for me, Via Domus takes place during the first and third seasons of the show (you know, when we still thought all those WTF moments were leading towards something truly breathtaking). My opinions of the show aside, I was looking forward to exploring the island in Via Domus; there could even be some genuine entertainment there. Even if there wasn’t, the game only takes about 4 or 5 hours to complete, so it wouldn’t exactly become a grind, right? Right? Wrong…so very wrong…
On its surface, Via Domus shows a lot of promise that it can provide the rare “immersive” licensed experience. Playing as a random survivor of the crash that strands everyone on the island, you interact with the major characters from the show to try and solve a new mystery in conjunction with the overall plot. Environments from the show are rendered accurately, and the soundtrack hits the correct cues from the show. Hell, it’s even conceivable that there were other stories going on with different characters on the island, the show even hinted at that notion in several episodes. Via Domus contains the ingredients for greatness (well, mediocrity anyway).
Unfortunately, that’s where the positive comments end. Somewhere along the line, the game’s developers must have thought to themselves: “people love being confused by Lost right? Let’s go with that!” So, playing as random guy (whose name now escapes me) with severe amnesia (how original), you must piece together your memory by completing “flashback sequences,” which consist of trying to take a predetermined camera shot during a memory sequence. Other gameplay elements include: completing mindless circuit puzzles, running through caves, avoiding the smoke monster, and um, talking. Yep, that’s pretty much it. The game doesn’t attempt to weave a cohesive story either, jumping at-will through the series without any type of explanation. The developers clearly assume that you have seen the show, because almost all the major moments of game consist of the “hey, I remember that place/conversation/episode” variety. To make matters worse, the voice acting downright abysmal, to the point it becomes unintentionally funny (when exactly did John Locke become a Canadian fur trapper?). Now that I think about it, Via Domus may have been the perfect Lost game, because by time it ended, I wasn’t entirely sure of what happened, who did what, or why I should even care. Four hours, 1000g, and some nice scotch to wash away my memories.
The Godfather: Part II
The Godfather Part II was another game that I had wanted to play when it came out. Ryan’s review of the title steered me off the purchase decision. I’m thankful for that, because this one wasn’t worth the full price of admission. The Godfather Part II is an open-world game in which you play as one of Don Michael Corleone’s underbosses, and build your empire during the timeline of the second film. The game promises players that it will make them feel like a Don, giving them control over gang activities, territories, business, buyouts, soldiers, etc. To that end, the pause screen becomes the “Don’s View” which allows players to see the status of all the properties and people in the three cities in which the game takes place. But for my part, this promise of control never really came to pass. There was no task that my soldiers – no matter how well-trained – were capable of completing with consistency. Bottom line: if I wanted something done right, I’d have to do it myself. Moreover, for being a game ostensibly about management and control, one would think that the Godfather II would unfold at a steady pace. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because rival gangs constantly assault player-held business and rackets, the ongoing wars never stop. This leads to a situation in which the player can either act fast and take out the other families ASAP, or get mired in endless property takeovers and random street missions. The devs wanted players to slowly chip away at each crime family, taking out the made men in an ordered system very reminiscent of the original Mercenaries game. However, by the third major crime family, I found that the sooner I killed off the rival stronghold (bypassing assassinations) the less headaches I had. To compound matters, the Godfather II is simply a poor open- world game, containing tiny environments, bad shooting and driving mechanics, and plenty of good-old open-world jank.
The sad thing about it all is that the game has some great ideas. Supposing that the Don’s view worked like more of a management interface – and supposing that more could be done with it besides bombing, defending, or taking over businesses– The Godfather II could have been an actual mafia sim of sorts. It’s also worth mentioning that the game handles collectibles better than any other open-world title I’ve seen. First each type of collectible is listed in the menus, and then crossed off once the player has found/completed them. Second, and perhaps more important, the collectibles have a real relation to the story. They include safes (which have cash in them), banks you’ve robbed, officials you can bribe, and the weapons you’ve found. I have expressed in previous blog posts how collectibles can be done poorly (see: Alan Wake), so this was refreshing.
All that said, getting the full 1000g in the Godfather Part II was not terribly difficult, but it was quite time consuming, and quite a lot of focused work. The full score took me roughly 15 hours, and that’s with guides on either side of me. Still, for those of you interested in achievements, I would certainly recommend it now, given that it costs less than 20 bucks.
Down, down, down....
And that was last week for me, at least all I’m writing about now. After this week, I plan on trying to focus these articles more on a certain type of game. Up next week: the wide world of sports from 2006!! Wait…I hate sports games…oh man, this was not a good idea. God help me…
Once again, thanks for reading these long posts. The feedback I have been getting from both the community and the moderators has been fantastic, and really the only thing propelling me down this dark path. But as always, share your thoughts and comments, and remember: if you loved these games, then I’m stoked to hear it!