By impartialgecko 1 Comments
I've never written a blog here on general gaming, nor did Gamespot get many of my everyday gaming thoughts. However, when you've played a grab bag of games and want to talk about them all then you write it all down and hope for the best.
I've been thinking about old games and their recent iterations ever since Max Payne 3 was released. Ever few days I find myself going back to Max Payne the third for no apparent reason and I've decided this is because I'm trying to decide what make it different from the first two games.
I have no nostalgia for Max Payne 1 or 2. I played them about a month prior to 3's release and damn did they hold up well. Though with the first game I occasionally had to remind myself that this was revolutionary for the late 90's, The Fall of Max Payne still feels properly modern bar the horrendous platforming sections.
When I say "different" I'm thinking in terms of gameplay. Max Payne 3 is a Rockstar game and when I accepted that then the tonal shift plus the overwrought visual style felt natural, even with the sadistic bullet cam. However the gameplay is evocative of Max Payne without actually being Max Payne. I don't think I died once playing Max Payne 2 but its sequel has a penchant for punching you in the kidneys for trying to pull off the flashy stuff. You die all too easily when you hit the ground and the AI is so tenacious that you don't plan so much as react.
However, Max Payne 3 still manages to push the "I feel awesome at videogames" buttons, just different ones. Let's say Max Payne 2 is what you imagine ballet dancing is like, you've probably heard the comparison before. Everything looks smooth and elegant and graceful and the dancers smile as if everything is effortless.
Max Payne 3 is probably more like what ballet is really like. One mistake and it all goes shit. You're forced to be absolutely perfect in order to progress and even then you're probably going to end up limping. Then again when it all works out perfectly and you manage to subvert Rockstar's emphasis on cover by shootdodging with skull, Max Payne 3 makes a single room feel like one choreographed action sequence. You realise you made a series of split-second decisions and they all came together to make fun.
Do I love Max Payne 3 as much as I did 2? Not really. I like Hard Boiled more than I like Man on Fire. I like noir Max more than the great american saviour of the poor. You have to love the Housers and their ability to shoehorn social commentary into a Max Payne game though. Finishing MP3 again got the brain juices flowing on what kind of social/moral message the Houser/Benzies team will push for GTA5. It's not like they're strapped for subject matter after the global economic crisis. Nothing says critical acclaim like a satirical look at the housing crisis right?
Playing the first Max Payne unfortunately got me thinking: "Hey, I can totally deal with old games". Then I tried to play Half Life 1 for the first time and realised that no, I totally can't deal with old games. Even in its Source incarnation HL1 looks rough, so much so that installed some texture mods because the opening train sequence is a masterclass in teaching you how far 3D graphics have come.
Though Half Life 2's opening had a deliberate pacing to it, Half Life 1 makes it feel like God of War by comparison. Back in the day walking around a science lab filled with the 4 or 5 character models marionetting around may have been deep contextual storytelling at the time but today it's hard to appreciate. I know games have catered to my attention-deficit for the past 6 years but brevity is the soul of wit y'know?
It was mistake to go this far back down the evolutionary chain really. Even regarding the story there are things that jibe with my memories of Half Life 2, and then are things that are completely bemusing, like this chap:
I did some reading and apparently this guy is called a "Bullsquid". Now vortigaunts I could deal with and seeing headcrabs was like being reunited with an old friend but Bullsquid here? He's unsettling and forced me to dwell on the fact that the formative years of 3D graphics meant weird, disgusting design first and context second. Did "they came out of the rift" cut it in 98 when each enemy looked like it dropped in from another game?
Playing Half Life 1 is still pretty fun even with the odd ladder-climbing and 1998 corridors, certainly more so than my attempts to play Doom 2 and Duke 3D were. But as you can see, without the context of what HL1 was at the time it's impossible for me to play it without comparing it to the Half Life game I played first.
I will finish Half Life but it'll be out of obligation. As someone who wants to appreciate the evolution of games, skipping Half Life 1 is like glossing over the ancient Greeks.
Disillusion inevitably leads to music with me, therefore the intervening period between feeling bad about not really getting Half Life and the writing of this blog has been taken up with Sound Shapes, a game that justifies itself with one-fifth its campaign mode.
Maybe that's an overstatement. But guys, you should play the Beck album in Sound Shapes. This game was sold on mixing music with platforming and Beck's levels literally ARE the songs. Is having to avoid a platform because it turns spiky when the lyrics are "Hurt a little" a tad pretentious? I'm not sure yet but I love it all the same.
Each album almost seems like it had its own design ethic, one specifically tailored for the artist providing the music. Jim Guthrie and Beck's albums have been the standouts so far in terms of raw quality of music. Deadmau5's D-Cade album is surprising inasmuch as it's actually enjoyable but also because I think it actually delivers on the idea of really interacting with the soundtrack you're assembling in each level. More of the platforms add to the soundtrack and make you feel like you're actually making music, while the Proud and Guthrie albums are more like platforming to a soundtrack.
I hope a community forms around Sound Shapes because honestly the platforming itself doesn't really hold my interest without the music to back it up. It's not bad in any way, just unremarkable. The controls are good enough to allow you to concentrate on the music which is why as soon as I finished the campaign I went looking for more levels from people who can create things.
A few tries of user-levels before the servers started getting hairy taught me three things:
1) Tunes from the campaign and tutorial are surprisingly easy to copy.
2) The design tools you unlock from completing the albums don't gel too well together because they come for different art styles. Most levels look like disturbing a mess of Sword and Sworcery and space invaders.
3) The people who like Sound Shapes also like the themes from Zelda/Mario/StarWars/Uncharted/potentially every memorable theme from the past few decades.
In the meantime there's Sleeping Dogs and Darksiders 2 to consider, because what Sound Shapes also taught me was that it's the kind of light gaming snack that gets you hungry for something more substantial. It got me out of my cycle of playing the same old games that I've played for years during the summer droughts.
Videogames right? They're pretty good.
Thanks for reading. If you read.