Monday, July 5, 2010

Crackdown 2 Reviews are In. Still Confused! Rent or Buy? ALSO, Gaming is a Relgion...My Religion.

Crackdown 2 Reviews are In. Rent or Buy? Also, Gaming is a Relgion...My Religion.

NOTE: This blog was intended to be a short discussion of my feelings regarding whether I should rent or purchase Crackdown 2, as I am feeling uncertain on this point, and the slate of reviews that have just come out don't seem to have helped in this regard. However, it ended up blossoming into this monstrous post regarding a bunch of other stuff including this big realization that gaming is a religion, and that, furthermore, gaming is MY religion. I, the most avowed atheist in existence (lol), an ardent antitheist, who blogs about his disdain for religion on a regular basis, have realized that I am indeed religious!

So, I will do this in sections. Look for the large, bold, red text to signify a new section, and sorry for the rambling. Hopefully the content more than makes up for the form....and the!

Gaming Reviews: Meh. 

The reviews for Crackdown 2 are starting to trickle out, and even though I do check how games fare in reviews, I don't put too much stock into them, unless a game is being universally panned, and I mean badly (if a game is scoring 4/10 everywhere, I can be fairly certain that it's bad). Conversely, universally high scores don't mean much to me, especially if the game is made by say Rockstar or Bungie. Those 2, among others, never seem to really receive honest reviews for their games. Look at GTAIV and RDR: High 9's and many 10's even, with Hilary from IGN going so far as to say that GTAIV was better than LOZ:OOT.

For fuck's sake.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a Zelda fan per se, but I do recognize the consistent quality of the games, especially Ocarina of Time. I myself have only played up until the Water Temple (I think it was the Water Temple...could be wrong) and I wasn't enamored with it, as it's just not my sort of game, but I can absolutely, without the slightest bit of hyperbole, having played a few hours of it, but more importantly, having watched my brother play it, basically from start to finish, albeit sporadically and not sequentially, say that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an absolute gaming masterpiece that ranks among the very best. Every generation has a few generation defining games, and the for the sixth gen, OOT was one of them, and for many, it was the one.  That game is goddamn amazing and its influence was huge.

....Um, sorry for the huge digression there....

Back on topic, while I don't put a lot of stock into the so called "professional" reviews, I do check them out for games I am contemplating purchasing (and even ones I am not from time to time, to satisfy curiosity). I rent most of the games I play, and when it comes to purchasing decisions, there are relatively few games for which I am certain on a purchase. Demos help tremendously in this regard.

Crackdown 2 Impressions (based on the demo).

Thinking Crackdown 2 was a no brainer, based on my love for all things Crackdown 1, I downloaded the Crackdown 2 demo just to experience the fun before I could get my hands on the full game. I had no intentions of using the demo as a barometer for my purchasing decision. But then I played it. I played it several times, including a 5 hour romp through the demo with a glitched demo timer (it was locked to 30 minutes unless you glitched it for infinite playtime).

And, having played the Crackdown 2 demo for around 8 hours (how crazy is that lol) I feel like, while it was fun as hell, I have basically experienced most of what Crackdown 2 has to offer, and am now thinking I might just rent the game. I don't want to rent the game. I really, really want to buy Crackdown 2. I was awaiting this game ever since the credits rolled for the first game back in 2007 (not that I did not continue to play that one, I did). The thing is though, as most of the reviews seem to be saying, not too much has changed in the 3 years that have passed since the release of the first game.

Of course the amazing core gameplay remained intact, as it damn well better have (so fucking fun), but the mission structure didn't get any more exciting (frankly, it sounds fucking worse) and they really didn't go as crazy as they should have with the weapons and vehicles. The buggy drives like shit (and can only seat one person....note to Ruffian devs, a co-op game that includes a turreted dune buggy should NEVER only seat one person in said turreted buggy.....fucking morons), and they removed the machine guns from the agency supercar (WTF) although the thing is somehow even faster now and drives under other cars (fucking win).

Also, the sniper rifles no longer zoom (seriously, of all of the things to change, removing the zoom from sniper rifles has to be the most confusing) and from all accounts, the mediocre campaign is much better suited for co-op (I FUCKING HATE THAT!!  Developers should ALWAYS make the difficulty scale depending on how many players are present. Am I the only halfway intelligent person left on this fucking planet? I mean, honestly!)

Developers focusing on MP often hurts the SP.

There are some other issues as well, but those are the main few that are irritating me. See, as much as they are pushing the co-op and multiplayer, I will spend the majority of my time playing the game solitary, as I did with Crackdown 1, despite the fun co-op, and as I do for ALL games, really. I'm a single player gamer. Always have been, always will be. I'd MUCH rather immerse myself in an engaging story, or tackle a well designed challenge (a brutal one is welcome as well, but only for certain genres) alone than go online and deal with people and their bullshit (and th ultra repetitive nature of online PvP).

I do really enjoy co-op though, and as such, I know I would spend at least 10% of my time with the game playing it co-operatively with like minded gamers. Still, to sacrifice the single player quality and well, basic common eschew these things for a focus on multiplayer.....well, I'm almost tempted to call it sacrilege. Developers should NEVER sacrifice the core single player experience for the transient trivialities of online multiplayer. Your online crowd will inevitably disperse, effectively killing off your multiplayer. Your single player experience will live on forever. Of course, including multiplayer in a previously single player only affair does not automatically mean that this is being done to the detriment of the campaign. There's not an automatic one or the other, exclusionary dichotomy, but, the multiplayer does quite often end up being tacked on and/or takes resources/attention away from the single player, resulting in a lessened experience.


Okay, this blog is really unfocused. Lol, sorry to the readers, this one's a mess. Again attempting to move on....

Back to Crackdown 2.....Lol. (Review Scores).

So, anyways, with Crackdown 2, I thought perhaps the reviewers would come through for once and actually have some use other than pissing me off, making me sad, or satisfying my curiosity about games I don't intend on playing through in the first place. Well, all they have done is made my confusion even greater. Here is a sampling of some of the review scores and comments I have seen thus far. First, a few scores:

(scores not in the 10 point scale were converted, by yours truly, to that format for brevity and ease)

Gamesradar: 7/10
Giantbomb: 6/10

IGN: 7.5/10
Games Magazine: 9/10
Gamespot: 7/10
G4TV: 8/10
Planet Xbox 360: 9/10
Computer and Video Games: 8.3/10
1UP: 6.7/10
Eurogamer: 8/10 (yes, Eurogamer, who's quite tough, gave this a higher score than most other sites......)

The Metacritic score for the game is currently 71. Of course, at this juncture, it's based only on about 2 dozen reviews, as opposed to the 50-80 reviews it will be based on a month from now, but there it is. Crackdown 1's Metacritic score is 83 (based on 75 or so reviews). Assuming that the metacritic score doesn't vary too much with the additional reviews, we're looking at a 68-74 average compared to an 83. That's a fair difference. The reasons for the discrepancy seem to vary (from graphics (Joystick....idiots) to the fact that not much has been added, and some things actually worsened or removed (most of the other reviews, which, while most of the reviews fucking sucked, seems like a perfectly valid rationale).

So why my confusion?

The reviews have not revealed any major issues, that's why.

"Professional" Reviewers: You Often Suck.

See, as I said earlier, I don't normally rely on reviews, although I do listen when reviews are uniformly bad and express the fact that there are serious issues present within a game. But in cases like this, or in the 10/10 best game ever!! scenarios, I don't really have much confidence in them. Much of the time, my expectations and factors that deem whether or not I find a game worthwhile differ greatly from the majority of the critics (or paid extensions of PR departments, in some cases).

Look at Alpha Protocol. The Metacritic score for the Xbox 360 version is 63. That's absolute bullshit. May of the reviewers lambasted the game for graphical issues, "broken" mechanics (I use quotations because I am positive many of these reviewers were expecting a TPS and not an RPG. Dice roll, stat based shooting does NOT translate to "broken" shooting. It's NOT supposed to be based on player skill, it's an RPG and uses a stat based, skill tree/exp progression system) glitches, and difficult minigames (again, clearly not digging into the rpg mechanics of the game, which allow one to tailor their experience...and hinder it, if they do not play to their build strengths and avoid its weaknesses).

The reviewers focused on all of the wrong things, played it completely incorrectly, and then unfairly punished Obsidian for their own ineptitude. I, on the other hand, understood what the game was, how to play it correctly, and, despite the few very real flaws, which I described in detail in my review (and took into consideration when it came time to quantify my opinion), gave the game what I think was a fair 8/10. I feel terrible for Obsidian, who was rushed by SEGA, dealt with internal problems, and still managed to release a great game with an absolutely groundbreaking narrative/conversation/choice system. Did they get credit for this? Some. Much of the feedback was entirely unfair, however, and most of it really reads like it was written by people who truly did not "get" the game.

I strongly suspect that much, if not most, of the negativity stems from people playing the game from the wrong perspective/with the incorrect mindset, and the rest are far too stuck on seeing all games as being on an equal playing field, which means everything is compared to so called 'AAA' games, and graphics really, really matter (I don't even think they were all that bad anyways, but I don't focus on visuals anyways). But this does come down to the fact that, as I said, my expectations and factors that deem whether or not I find a game worthwhile differ greatly from the majority of the critics.

I don't focus on graphics, and unless they literally detract, in a real, tangible way, from the gameplay experience, I don't factor them into my scores. Glitches are, to some degree, depending on their severity, but either way, I mention them. Mechanic/control issues are also mentioned and factored in, but the degree to which they is not the same for me as it is for them. I do not review all games in the same way, as though all things are equal and all games can be compared to one another. For example, I scored Earth Defense Force 2017 a 7.5/10. That game provided me with dozens of hours of great fun, and I still pick it up and play it here and there. I gave it a good score because it's a lot of fun, and it hearkens back to the old school.

The game is also severely flawed, and if you try to objectively compare it to most 'AAA" games, it fails miserably. But, to do so, as some reviewers actually did (although some were quite fair, surprisingly) is a massive mistake. It's a budget game made by a very small and resource strapped Japanese studio. It's also not trying to be a damn 'AAA' game. It's going for silly fun. To review it with out any understanding of, and respect to, these facts is just plain wrong. You cannot compare the game to the likes of say, Gears of War, and score it as though it can be compared to that. To give EDF 2017 a 3/10 and harp on its busted mechanics, outdated gameplay, lack of a cohesive narrative, repetitive sound, and bad visuals is to miss the fucking point. Entirely.

 The game is a budget game that has you killing ridiculous enemies like insanely gigantic web slinging spiders and acid spitting ants, Godzilla like mech...things, humongous, laser beam and bullet shooting terminator looking robots, etc with an insanely extensive variety of ridiculous weapons like missile launchers that shoot 12 missiles at once, handheld mini nukes, or things called....firecracker...grenades. It's NOT a big budget, 'serious' effort like Gears of War, made by a resource rich studio packed with employees and backed by a major corporate conglomerate. To treat it as such is both stupid, and really unfair. It saddens me to know that there are gamers out there who cannot tell the difference, and this trend to wards these samey big budget shooters is really starting to see gaming becoming homogenized to an absurd and worrying degree. I don't like it.

...Okay, I did it again. Huge digression. Sorry.

Crackdown 2 again: Reviewers off the Mark?

So, when it comes to Crackdown 2, I'm confused. There's the part of me that loves Crackdown 1 despite its lack of story, no real characters, and poor mission structure. In fact, none of that even mattered to me, and again, I thought it was obvious that it wasn't fucking supposed to. The game wasn't supposed to have an engaging narrative, because the game was all about hunting down orbs, and growing your character's attributes to the point where you could jump 50 feet in the air, run insanely fast and throw freaking cars at people.

As though this alone weren't enough to show that the game wasn't trying to be serious, there was a lock on, homing, autofire rocket launcher that you could juggle cars in the air with. And, while many reviewers seemed to "get" the game, may did not. Somehow they still though it reasonable to complain about the lack of a cohesive story, characters with associated character arcs, and in depth campaign missions. The rest of us knew it was about chaos and indiscriminate killing, and that's what we got. Is it really crazy to think that some games just aren't mean to have a good story, and characters that matter? Perhaps not, as enough pro reviewers actually did seem to 'get' this, for once, when it came to Crackdown 1, and the game scored in the low 80's on average, as I mentioned earlier (83 to be precise).

And that represents the other side of it. If many/most of them did 'get' it, maybe this drop in scores this time really is indicative of the fact that something is amiss.

But then again maybe not, since most of the complaints are the same I heard the first time around. It's almost as though they are making the same complaints but being less forgiving this time. I think one of the prevailing sentiments is that a sequel should expand the formula, which is fair, and true, but this is where we part company....maybe...See, part of me is like...."No, you idiots," the additions to Crackdown 2 should not be graphical and in terms of mission variety, characterization and should be in th area of TOYS to play with and DESTRUCTION to wreak! And in that sense, they came through....mostly. They really could have gone further with the toys, although the mag grenades and UV weapons are awesome, a couple of the vehicles rock, and the glidesuit or whatever it is called is actually more fun than I thought it would be. Don't know how useful it is, but it's fun to mess around with.

Maybe The Reviewers are Right This Time...

Then again....they really could have gone further with this. Also, maybe in this case, the reviewers are right. Not about the graphics, not about the narrative (seriously, do they not grasp the fucking concept that games are about gameplay and fun, and not all games need an engaging narrative?) but the mission structure and variety. I mean does sound bad. The reviewers complained about it in the first game, but I actually found it refreshing. For real. None of that "chase this guy, kill him, report back" bullshit. Just, "here are the gang hideouts. Power up, and when you're strong and agile enough, go fucking wipe them out." I actually liked that.

No bullshit minigames like poker or horsehoes. No running drugs. Just superhero strength, agility, etc, crazy weapons and vehicles, and chaos. Indiscriminate killing with no deep reasoning behind it. No moral conundrums. No pressing concerns or ponderances. Just killing. Bad guys there, you good guy. Go wipe them off the face of the Earth. However, for the second game, not only did they not improve it (even though for me this wasn't necessary) they actually worsened it. Seriously, here's the description of it from the overall favourable G4 review:
First, you need to locate three solar Absorption Units that are linked to a specific Beacon drop point. You activate an Absorption Unit by standing on an adjacent pad for a few seconds, then you head to the next one. When three Absorption Units are activated, you then guard a Beacon from an endless stream of sometimes monstrous enemies. You then either start the pattern again, or you can choose to take over one of the rebel Cell strongholds, and then go in search of another Absorption Unit.
I have to say, that sounds fucking awful. So does the fact that the missions are supposedly frustrating in single player, and a breeze in co-op. As I said earlier, developers need to scale their difficulty in cooperative games. In a 'normal' open world game, like GTA, this would be a gamebreaker in my opinion. But for Crackdown, I don't know. The point of the game really is not the main missions. At least in my view. But these really are terrible. The question is, will they be tolerable in co-op? And will I be so busy hinting down agility orbs and causing random chaos that I won't care? Will the multiplayer actually be fun? Will I bother with it? Perhaps it will be the first multiplayer in a long time that I actually bother to play more than once. Hell, it might even grab me and I might love it. I mean, it IS based on the core Crackdown gameplay, after all.

I just don't know.

And so I return to my demo experience. Really fun, really enjoyed it, but I was also left with a bit of a sinking feeling and a question echoing in my brain:

"Is this it?"

So, Regarding Crackdown 2, what to do?

Crackdown 2, what to do, what to do. Hehe, that rhymes. Crackdown 2, what to do.

Crackdown 2, what to do.
Crackdown 2, what to do.
Crackdown 2, what to do.
Oh, Crackdown 2, what to do?

Is the core gameplay not going to be enough to sustain my interest this time around? Will I buy it only to feel empty inside once the initial excitement dissipates, finding myself left with buyer's remorse and the pervasive sense that I should have rented? Or will the few things I was unable to experience in the demo, namely, level 6 for all of the stats and whatever surprises that may bring, the helicopter, about 8-10 different weapons, co-op and the multiplayer, the full orb hunting experience, in addition to the fun sounding new renegade (I think that's what they are called) orbs, that run away from you, forcing you to chase them throughout the city (lol!....or annoying?) and the full suite of fun things to do that were in Crackdown 1 but not the demo for 2 (ramp trucks and vehicle stunts, the Agency tower and the rest of the city, and the rest of the returning weapons including the aforementioned homing, lock on, autofire, car juggling rocket launcher) make it worthwhile?

I just don't know.

The demo was simultaneously fun, rekindling that old flame, and also a but disheartening, and the slate of reviews now out only serve to add to this confusion. I almost wish that they were all unanimously terrible, like 3/10 terrible. At least then I would know 100% to rent ( although I have actually bought and enjoyed games that scored terribly). As it stands now, I'm really fucking torn, and with Alan Wake and Alpha Protocol both going from most buy to rent status based on the feedback they were receiving on the message boards, the lack of demos, my nagging little doubts, and the reviews, to a lesser degree, I really, really want to buy a game.

Yes, I want to buy a game.

I am literally anxious to hand my money over to a developer and say "here you go, nice work and thanks for the great game, which I can play for dozens of hours and then have in hand for any future playthroughs and/or DLC releases/expansions. It's been so long since I have done so, and growing up gaming, it feels so strange not buying a game every month. Renting games is great, as it saves a shitload of money and buyer's remorse, but it also feels so damn hollow sometimes. There's just something about buying that new game, removing the shrink wrapping, opening that case, smelling the brand new instruction manual and recently pressed disc (seriously, it may be strange but I do it every time and they smell terrific), popping it in and marveling at its awesomeness, and then seeing it sitting there on your shelf for years to come.

I am disappointed that I did not get that from Alan Wake and Alpha Protocol, although I am glad I listened and rented Alan Wake. I'm not sure on Alpha Protocol though, as I really love(d) it, played it twice, but am now unsure if I will go for more, and it was really damn short for an RPG....I might have gotten all I needed from it one one 3-4 week long rental. Man I really love my Blockbuster rental plan!! Then again, I did really love it, and part of my is itching to give it another go. But is it worth shelling out $70 now? I can keep it for another week and play through it the third time, sine it's so damn short (18 or so hours for the first playthrough, then 11 or so for the second.....that's abysmal for a role playing game).

However, had I stuck to my guns, not relented, and actually purchased the damn game, I think I would have been happy with it, and I could conceivably see myself playing through it even more than once more. 2-4 more playthroughs really isn't out of the realm of possibility, and if it's not worth it to purchase a game I play through two to six times, then what the fuck does merit a purchase? My best friend, Claudio, argues nothing, as he too has the Blockbuster Game Pass, and for $30 a month, we get unlimited rentals. He sees no reason to purchase games anymore, as we can play any game we want, until we are done with it. 3 days or 3 weeks, doesn't matter, and you avoid paying $70. I see three problems with this, however:

1) If you keep a game for a month, it cost you $30 and you don't own the game. Sure, it's still less than half of the price, but it's not quite as appealing at this point.

2) If you do keep a game for 2 months, well, you should have bought it....and yes, i actually have done this. On three occasions, actually, and I felt rather stupid on each of them. To make matters worse, one of these games was then purchased. To quote a famous, worldly intellectual: D'oh.

3) As I stated earlier, renting as opposed to buying is great for pragmatic reasons, but it feels so damn hollow at times. I went through the laundry list of bonuses to purchasing, so I won't do it again, but I will repeat that buying a game just has a certain charm that renting cannot, by definition, ever replicate.

So, the choice comes down to renting or buying Crackdown 2. Do I buy the damn thing, and satisfy that part of me that really, really wants to do so, and just hope that I am not left feeling remorseful a few days to a week or so later, or do I do the "right" thing and just rent it? Renting it doesn't preclude me from buying it at a later date of course, and it does save me a lot of money, but damn it! it's fucking Crackdown!!

Gaming....Is My Religion?

I LOVE Crackdown 1, and I have really been anticipating the sequel, and also, while this may sound stupid (although I suspect most gamers will understand) as irrational as this may be, there's something special and grand about that Day 1 purchase of a new game. It's funny, because I can see that the obvious and best solution to this problem is to rent the game and go from there, but for what I guess amount to emotional reasons, and perhaps a bit of tradition, it's so hard for me to take the rational course of action, and dissuade myself from acting in a way that may be against my better interests......wait a minute....that sounds a lot like....that sounds a lot like....HOLY FUCK!

Son of a bitch. I have just had an epiphany.....Gaming really is my religion......

I'm fucking religious!!

The question is, am I still an atheist?

I guess that answer is yes, unless I start proclaiming the divinity of Ryu Hayabusa and going to Gamestop on Sunday's to play the holy Wii at which point I pray to Mario, who I affirm as the one and only true god, and I eat crackers with the understanding that the second I do that, the cracker transforms into the flesh of the one true Mario, and gaming magazines become my Bible, and the Konami Code becomes my prophetic bible code....

Ya, I don't see any of that happening. I think I'm safe. Now, off to EB Games to pay my tithes, and then it's time to go door to door spreading the good Word...

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