By Video_Game_King 30 Comments
How long has it been since the last one of these? Well over a year ago? That sounds about right. In case you've forgotten, I'll remind you of the old song and dance: I act all nervous about touching another Halo game like I've just gotten out of a seriously abusive relationship. Then I reveal to you that I actually sort of like this particular entry in the Halo series (well, parts of it, this time), and then only four of you bother commenting on the blog itself. Such is the circle of life.
That being said, I only really acknowledge the overall story. I don't like it; I don't hate it; I just acknowledge that such a thing exists. It's been four years since Master Chief finished the fight (whatever fight that was supposed to be), but Microsoft needs more money. In enters the Didact, a magic space genie who wants to assimilate all of mankind into digital ghosts or something? I never really understood the details. They're a lot like a cloud: dense, vague, and sometimes look like asses. Unlike clouds, though, it's best to ignore them, because the overall picture is pretty clear throughout: stop the Didact from being mean, and also Cortana's dying. Did I not mention that? Because it's a pretty big component of the story, and it works? All I can really say is that the ingredients are there. There's tension, a very real relationship between Space Link and Sci-Fi Navi, and some emotion to their lines. Does it all add up to something worthwhile? No goddamn clue. Let's just say that I may be blind to this sort of thing.
I'd also say something about how Del Rio's a flat tire away from taking a gun to everybody or how this vehicle probably costs more than the GDP of several nations, but who comes to Halo for big fucking cars? Misinformed people, that's who! Slightly more informed people come here for the theatrics. Getting dragged into firefights, seeing shit explode around you all the time, and generally being caught up in the moment. I know that sounds a lot like mere gameplay, but it's something more than that. It's like you're playing a movie, EXCEPT NOT AT ALL LIKE THAT. I don't know what that is, but I know that Halo 4 isn't that. It is this: knowledgeable about how to use what tools and when. You want to see the power of a thousand suns drag Master Chief into eternal night? Switch to the first person perspective and experience that shit yourself. How about a slower story moment, where everybody's talking about Forerunners asking the Librarian for the Composer to....write the All Song? I have no clue, but I was going to say that Halo 4 puts that all in a cutscene so that you don't watch lifeless puppets ignore your existence so the story can move forward. Hooray for letting me live the moment, game! Is there anything you don't know how to do?
Be consistent, for one. And here we come to my major problem with the series, rearing its ugly head once again in another numbered entry: the dissonance. (Have I been on a tear with this sort of thing? Feels like it. Just give it a while to work its way out of me.) Allow me to explain: the story of Halo 4 sells Master Chief as some sort of immortal demigod among men. Hell, its first priority is to have some old woman lecture us on how super soldier Master Chief Taco Supreme is the future of all mankind because of how goddamn awesome he is. Let's completely ignore how worrying it is that man's future is supposed to be so dedicated to war that it can't function outside conflict. I'll even completely brush over how the game is trying to establish a warrior fantasy that simply can't exist with the type of military it's utilizing (mainly because that's a larger issue than merely this one game). Instead, let us focus on what happens when the actual game starts up: suddenly, Master Chief can only take three bullets before he has to call time out, and he can only hold two weapons at a time, despite the fact that he can just flip trucks over and jump with a mini-gun in hand like it ain't no thing. Doesn't matter if he's holding a pistol and a banana; he's not allowed to have more than one weapon at a time because the future doesn't know what a belt looks like.
Speaking of what, what the hell happened? Why am I supposed to trust my future to a man who thinks he has to dedicate a hand to each weapon he has? What makes him such a trustworthy fellow on the battlefield? Is it his ability to avoid enemy fire and recover from these situations quickly? Put his ass on reconnaissance duty where he can stealth you a victory. Or maybe he's supposed to be intelligent enough to devise tactics that make this all irrelevant? Give the bastard a command role and let THAT lead you to victory. Mayhap he can recover from injury super quickly when his shields fail on him for the 308309th time, like a cybernetic Chidori? (Not that I remember that from the actual game, but I'll give this game very brief benefit of the doubt.) Then send this man's ass to the medics so they can figure out how to give that ability to more soldiers. My point is that the game doesn't provide a lot of strong evidence for what the story claims is the reality of Master Chief's situation. You can't say one thing and do another, Halo 4. That just leaves you with credibility more shot than your opponents.
I know what you're thinking, devil's advocate: "But maybe these elements make the game fun and your complaints irrelevant, Mr. King." First off, what exactly do you advocate of the devil, Mr. Devil Worshipper? Maybe some time with Father O'Floggihan will set you straight. Second, actually looking at your words this time, I understand them, even if I don't approve of them entirely. But that's a subject for another day. Today, I completely understand that sentiment and prove it by using an example that does nothing to support that claim: the cover system. It's not that I'm oblivious to the appeal behind the idea: take a break from the action and think things through. You know, a strategic element to the combat. At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, it comes off less like a tactical element and more like the game's telling you to stop having fun for a bit while it gets its shit together. You don't make a fast-paced game fun by slowing things down. Maybe it works better on the high difficulties, but on the Normal difficulty the game actively recommended to me, that simply isn't the case.
Speaking of maybe, maybe it is again time for me to talk about something I like about the game. Let's make it the shooting, because that oughta confuse the shit out of you. I know that I just spent literally the last 192 or so words criticizing the cover system, but the glorious thing is that there's so much more to Halo 4 than that. "Like what"? Who the fuck said that? Well, first off, how about a shitton of weapons? This is where all the narrative stuff I mentioned before actually works toward the game's favor. Jam in two alien races on top of the humans, and you have an abundance of weapons, each with their own personality. Speaking of two, that's the highest number of weapons Master Chief can carry at any given time. I'm aware that I was complaining about it before, but from a gameplay perspective, limiting weapons like this works really well. It forces you to think on your feet and be aware of what weapons you have on hand and how to use them. (Or maybe you can resort to punching things to death when you've run out of ammo all around. Whichever works.) It's almost like the feature introduces some amount of strategy the cover system only wishes it could deliver.
But let's assume that this still isn't enough for you. I don't know why. Maybe you're a horrible person. I mean, you were worshiping the devil two paragraphs ago. What was my point again? Oh, right: there's more to the action than the shooting. For instance, the vehicles. Maybe it's the sheer variety of vehicles you can pilot; maybe it's how the controls are so momentum based that you feel like maybe Master Chief had one too many drinks before the big battle; maybe it's how Master Chief can simply jump on vehicles and punch them to death; but there's just something really enjoyable about the game's vehicles. Even if that's not your thing, though, there are still plenty of other moments worth checking out, like the jetpacks and the leisurely stroll of a flying sequence? OK, so not all the elements of this game are worth checking out. Still, you can't fault Halo 4 for its variety, and there's at least something admirable in that. Combine all of this into one package, and you have a quite enjoyable shooter fit for short bursts of gameplay. Then add sci-fi mythos, an intrusive cover system, and all that dissonance I mentioned before, and you have Halo 4.
And did I mention that this game looks fucking fantastic?........You know what? This blog is long enough; let's leave it at that.
- Just ignore the dialogue about the Forerunners wanting the Composer or whatever; just come to it for the explosions and stuff.
- That applies to the gameplay, too.
- Did I mention that Master Chief essentially has two separate characterizations that are near impossible to reconcile?
One of the many alternate endings to BioShock Infinite. Again.
Hey, remember the original Tomb Raider? (Forgive me if I don't; it's been well over two years since I touched that game.) Remember how all the living beings populating its world looked like grotesque MS Paint monstrosities? Remember how the levels were all confusing and lacking personality and not at all fun? Remember how the controls were kind of bad? Apparently, this was all endearing enough to gamers of the 90s to warrant not one, but a billion sequels. Today, I'm tackling Tomb Raider II. Good news: it fixes a lot of the problems I'd mentioned not a few sentences ago. Bad news: it still has some other, quite important issues that leave it just OK.
I'd like to discuss the problems, but first some context that fortunately comes in the form of a compliment. Namely, the level design is...sort of good? I mean, the problems that I discuss later relate directly to the levels, but strangely enough, they're the best part of the game. Gone are the days when you had to blindly bumble your way through a nondescript ruin. Instead, you get large yet still contained arenas, AKA the best thing to happen to the game. It gives you enough direction to know where you're going, but also enough so that you actually have some fun figuring things out for yourself. It's like a puzzle game where every solution is "jump". There are also some secret statues to find in each level, if you're into that sort of thing, but they're not necessary to have fun. They may help (I don't know; I only got the obvious ones), but the absolute core game is fun enough on its own. That's not even counting the circumstantial fun the levels deliver. You're going to be travelling all over the goddamn place in Tomb Raider II. China, underwater, Italy, underwater, floating China, underwater.....a lot of the levels take place underwater, for some reason. Personally, I found the trend strange, but not a major problem for the entire game.
You want a major problem for the entire game? Try the pacing. Dear god, do these levels just feel like they go on forever. Now originally, I was going to cite the time you spend in these levels as an indicator of how long they are, but then I realized that I'd used this same indicator to describe the levels in Halo as somewhat short. This is why I used words like "pacing" and "feels like" instead of "length" and "is": because it's all a matter of perception. In Halo, you're always shooting something and generally moving toward a clear goal. Not so with Tomb Raider. Sure, there are a lot of puzzles to solve, but a lot of your time is simply making it to these puzzles or solving puzzles to get to even more puzzles. The result? A game that feels empty and constantly in build-up to something else. Not the best expression of all the exploring, platformy fun from the last paragraph.
Let it be known, though, that I want to offer some constructive criticism. That's why I tried to think up ways to improve this lamentable state of affairs. I failed, but the important thing is that I tried. "More puzzles" was immediately thrown out as a solution. There are already enough puzzles in the game, and changing them around too much would actually make things worse. I'm already expending brain energy getting through the levels; no need to increase it on one-off puzzles time and time again. I could also think of a few areas where level design could be made less circuitous, but that's more treating the symptoms than anything else. With those two options out of the way, how about combat? Just throw in more enemies and then you'll realize that the combat completely sucks ass. The main problem is that the controls simply aren't up to the task. (The controls aren't so much an issue for the platforming because there's not as much on the line and you're going to adjust anyway.) Lara can turn on a dime, provided that said dime is the size of the Earth's equator. She's also lacking in any sort of appropriate strafing motion, so your only real options in combat are to run around the level, shooting and jumping in all directions until there's nothing left living. I shouldn't have to tell you how clumsy and unfun this tends to be.
But maybe the enemy designs make up for this, right? I'm not sure why that would be a factor, but the answer is no, not particularly. Most of the time, you'll be facing off against generic thugs. Nothing bad, but nothing particularly good, either. Their only notable feature is how they can take so many bullets that you'd swear they were half robot. Once you're done with them, you can move onto the animals. For some reason, every animal absolutely wants Lara dead and will instinctively maul her face if she so much as exists, so be prepared to shoot tigers and falcons and other surprisingly innocuous animals. If you know how to position yourself correctly, they won't even be able to touch you. Can't say that for rats and spiders. Their only job is to chew at Lara's feet until she simply collapses dead from chewfoot. They are simply an embarrassment that take time away from the far better parts of the game. There are also a couple of cool boss battles that I won't spoil, but again, you have to fight them with this game's combat system.
Speaking of spoiling, I probably would've mentioned the story by now if I remembered any of it. Italian mafiosi are trying to grab a magical Chinese dagger so their leader can become an immortal dragon or something? That's all I could get from the three cutscenes spread over a ten hour game. Yet somehow, without having (much of a) story, Tomb Raider is an accomplishment in stupidity. Lara can apparently hold her breath for what seems like days, handle underwater pressures that should logically crush her to bloody bits, and walk barefoot on rusty metal. Now before you criticize me for my criticisms, keep in mind that I like this brand of idiocy. It's not like any of this destroys significant plot elements, and it's just dumb enough to be hilarious. Pretty sure that's not at all what the developers had in mind with this game, but what works works. I wish I could apply that to the rest of the game, but damn the myriad problems I'd listed before. Notice one, and another pops up. They're like weeds in the....I don't know where I was going with that analogy, but I do know where I wanted to go with it: this game could have been better. It's not bad, but yea, it could be better.
- Kill all the animals you could ever want! Assuming, of course, that you can figure out how.
- Hooray for the level design! Unhooray for the pacing!
- All while playing as the most oddly proportioned woman ever born.
Keep in mind that I only write controversial titles when I can’t come up with anything better.