‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ is an insane open-world stealth game and much more. It’s also incredible that despite its flaws it’s still such a great game. A weird combination of 80s action movie, bad writing and utter madness, enhanced by something that is either a great sense of humor or me being ignorant of Japanese culture. It’s also a very impractical game if you want to write a blog about video games because even by concentrating solely on the story missions it took me about 35 hours to finish it.
In ‘Metal Gear Solid V’ you play as Punished “Venom” Snake aka Big Boss. Most of the time you ride a horse called D-Horse through some versions of 1980s Afghanistan and Central Africa. You are the leader of the adorably named ‘Diamond Dogs’ band of mercenaries and besides managing your off-shore private army base, you mainly visit afore mentioned conflict zones and decide whether you sneakily sedate and extract or less sneakily shoot and kill everyone and anything you meet. Wild animals hate you. Continue reading “Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”
Alpha Protocol is a half-finished spy RPG with very simple stealth mechanics and crappy combat controls. I enjoyed it a lot.
The thing I liked most about Alpha Protocol is that it cared about story first, and everything you did fit right into it, most of the time, at least in it’s slightly crazy over-the-top (somewhere between Bourne and Bond) spy setting. There was always something happening, and while the stealth and combat system weren’t great, at least they didn’t get in the way. I chose a stealthy character and after a few levels my recruit was able to murder himself through an entire building complex without being seen. If you’re looking for a great challenge, then Alpha Protocol is not for you.
If you like a game that gives you choices and the feeling that they probably would have mattered more, if the developer’s actually had time to finish their game – in that case it’s the perfect game for you.
Granted, I had forgotten who was working for/betraying whom by mid game already but I still enjoyed the well written dialog, and the sometimes cringe worthy characters (there’s a crazy hacker called ‘Heck’) of good b-movie quality. The writing went well with the looks of the game, which are fine but probably didn’t impress anyone even by 2010 standards. They even included a more than awkward sex scene, where you have to imagine the sex part.
I have read articles that criticized Alpha Protocol for having an unsympathetic main character. While I agree that Michael Thornton is basically a prick, no matter what dialog options you choose, I really enjoyed him being one. As someone who sticks his knife in other people’s necks on a daily basis, I think being an asshole is a fitting character trait. Most game ‘heroes’ are full on mass murdering sociopaths portrayed as rouges with a heart of gold. Hey, I think this is my first chance to say ‘ludonarrative dissonance‘ – Alpha Protocol doesn’t suffer from it. I guess you could try to go a non-lethal route (some NPCs don’t like it when you undo civilians or police officers), but the game doesn’t really want you to, and you’ll wade through blood of your enemies soon. By the end of the game you get a disturbing amount of ‘execute’ dialog options. ‘Spy’ is really just a euphemism for assassin in this game.
There are a lot of things that might put people off in Alpha Protocol. It’s a clunky PC-port and who ever thought of the mouse control for the hacking mini game should be stabbed. A lot of it felt unfinished or not fully fleshed out. Yes, your decisions and relationships to NPCs do matter, but not as much as you would like. There were a lot of moments, that felt like they were just placeholders, where originally something bigger had been planned. Also the dialog options are only one word per option, which sometimes makes it hard or even impossible to anticipate what exactly Thornton will do if you chose them. Chose ‘aggressive’ and instead of intimidating the guy, good old psycho Mike will grab his head an bash it on a counter. Chose ‘joking’ and instead of saying something clever, Micky will tell his girlfriend to fuck off.
Which is so like Mike. As I played the final mission a bug kept the ‘save your girlfriend’ objective lit, even though I had already passed the point where I could save her. So instead of reloading the checkpoint I played through to the end only to see a solitary Mike drive a boat into the sunset saying that now that the action is over he’s worried about getting bored. Oh Michael. Thornton is a flawed man in a flawed game, but I still am looking froward to playing him again (in about a thousand years from now, after the mountain). Next time I will play as ‘veteran’ (an option that unlocks if you played as ‘recruit’) and go full on psycho, because I think Mike is really just happy when you chose ‘execute’.
Alien Isolation is like owning a big, black cat, that hates you
It’s beautiful and you love it, but as much as you want to, you can’t keep it because it always tries to trip you at the top of the stairs.
Alien Isolation is probably the best looking game I have played so far. I am a fan of the original Alien movies (yes even the fourth one – shut up!) and no game in the Alien universe came even remotely close to capturing the look and feel of the movies (in this case, especially the first movie) so perfectly. That is why it’s utterly frustrating for me that Alien isolation is a survival horror stealth game – even though it’s a fitting choice. Again it’s not a genre I am particularly fond of (but I like to keep an open mind), especially if it’s so well done as in Alien Isolation. The intentionally cheap looking droids for example are a horrifying trip through the uncanny valley for me. Being spotted by one of them and starting to run straight into the arms of another one is impressively unpleasant. The sound design is great and knowing by the rumbling of the air ducts that a big, terrifying creature will probably turn up around the next corner, or from the ceiling or from a vent behind me, is exciting up to downright exhausting.
If it wasn’t so good, I could enjoy it more
The game is so well done it had me at the edge of my seat most of the time I played it. It’s just that I really don’t enjoy feeling helpless and hunted all the time. I like games to provide me with the means to live out my basic power fantasies – stealth and horror games usually can’t provide this. Yes, there are ways to fight back, but most of the time firing a gun got me into more trouble than running away screaming or just sitting in a locker, being grateful that the black monster does not seem to have a functioning nose.
It’s not just playing monster bait that bothers me, but I find that waiting in a locker, or a dark corner, or a vent, is rather boring. Especially in a game where you die often and that doesn’t allow you to save anywhere. I understand that it’s a design choice to only be able to save at certain points, because it adds a lot to the tension, but for a player like me it becomes frustrating fast. I don’t enjoy finding the perfect route to get unseen through that corridor. I want to know what happens next. Stop killing me all the time and let me enjoy my space adventure!
Alien Isolation is a great game if you are into survival horror, and it’s a masterpiece when it comes to set-design and atmosphere. Some time in the future, when I’m all grown up, I’ll give it another try.
Welcome to finishing off ‘Alan Wake‘. I liked my adventure with him, but I am also glad it’s over. The second part of the game felt less like a chore than the first three episodes, but it still felt artificially stretched in many places.
I enjoyed how the game left me in the dark (ha!) about what’s really going on. There are multiple ways to interpret the story, but fortunately the game never explains what’s actually ‘real’ in the game. This serves the atmosphere quite well, and leads to some clever moments.
Which stands in stark contrast to the dumber than dumb puzzles the game still feels like throwing at me. ‘Press B to solve’. Then again, more challenging puzzles probably would have ruined Alan Wake’s pacing. Remedy should have left them out completely. They fulfill no other purpose than to insult the player’s intelligence, which the game doesn’t hold in high regard anyway. The hints the game gives via Alan’s inner monologue are as subtle as a fat man charging at you with a chainsaw: ‘The viking boat looked imposing – almost like a battering ram’. Gee, I wonder how I’ll get the door open.
Who are you?
While ‘Matthew Porretta’, the voice of Alan Wake, clearly has never been drunk in his live and thus fails to voice act appropriately, the game designers and writers certainly didn’t lack the experience. I appreciate that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to wink at you at the right moments. That is until the second half, where the tone of the game goes all over the place. From completely over the top weirdness in Episode 4 (heavy metal concert shootout) to a more Hollywood action comedy in Episode 5. Yes, that pump action shotgun is fun, but a wacky sidekick added on top of that and your already brittle horror mood evaporates. Even though these episodes felt out of place, they still were a lot of fun. The finale on the other hand felt like a couple of end battles strung together that ended in an underwhelming boss battle (but at least it was over fast).
This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay twelve hour game. Still I enjoyed my time with ‘Alan Wake’. It’s pretty looks (even for an seven year old game) and the interesting story kept me entertained til the end.
First the good news: Alan Wake is good enough to make me want to play the whole game. The bad news: it’s too long (more on that later) and thus it keeps me from writing on this here blog. I decided to split my review into two pieces. Alan Wake consist of six episodes. In this part of the review I will tell you about my experience of episodes 1 to 3 and part two will tackle the rest. I will probably use this method again in the future – Alien Isolation lingers right around the corner.
About the other guy (Alan Wake)
Alan Wake is a third person horror action adventure released by Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Quantum Break) in 2010. The story focuses on psychological horror elements with a good dash of mystery thriller. For reasons I can’t explain, I am enjoying it – it’s really not my kind of genre (neither the perspective, nor the setting). Maybe it’s because as a fan of video games I am just thankful for any story that had at least some thought put into it. Also the writing is decent and the voice acting great. The sad thing is, that it’s rather hard to get to the story bits. For some (probably wrong, business related) reasons, they get interrupted by repetitive fight sequences and a lot of running around in the woods. The combat system is entertaining, but after killing your 50th possessed woodworker with a flashlight and a shot gun it just feels like a grind. The same goes for the woods: they’re dark and atmospheric (even though littered with uncharged batteries and ammunition), but after a while you start wondering why they didn’t just let you jump to the next cut scene. It’s a gripe I have with many of these games, whether they be Max Payne, Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Entertaining, movie-like stuff, cut to pieces by repetitive stuff. The actual gameplay often feels tacked on.
Another thought on atmosphere – all the shooting of ghostly burly men doesn’t feel scary. I think Alan is a bit too much of a bad ass.
I am now getting ahead of myself by predicting the conclusion for the second part of my review: This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay (at least) twelve hour game.