Trip the fight fantastic
Tomb Raider, Aliens Colonial Marines, Crysis 3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and more…
Game Theory After a gap of five weeks or so since my last column the games industry has suddenly become a whole new animal. The next generation - well, Sony’s at least - has been revealed, and games publishers are finally able to talk about developing for a new breed of consoles without resorting to coded, barely voiced communications.
It’s here where we start then, before plumbing the depths of recent releases that read like a who’s who of major franchises, even if one or two are starting to grow a little whiffy.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
If you’ve been living in a lead lined cave for the last few weeks you might just have escaped news that Sony has unveiled the PS3’s successor.
The PS4 certainly looks a step up in terms of horsepower - though, from the footage shown, its capabilities are perhaps not beyond the remit of a generously crafted PC. It also looks to offer the equivalent of a Swiss army knife as a controller, the slightly heavy-looking DualShock 4 pad coming equipped with seemingly everything but a power glove.
Despite the inevitable hooting and hollering for the likes of Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, Drive Club, Destiny and Watch Dogs, it was the Media Molecule and Jonathan Blow sections of the presentation that really held my attention.
DualShock 4: the Swiss army knife of controllers?
Media Molecule’s Alex Evans appeared on stage to push his vision of a “creative console”. The PS4 is apparently powerful enough to allow users to “create our dreams” in a similar way to his studio’s LittleBigPlanet franchise. He illustrated the point with a demonstration of players carving sculptures, before conducting a puppet show of sorts with a shake of the PS Move. A little far-fetched perhaps, but an idea that moves us beyond what we currently think of as a videogame.
Jonathan Blow, he of Braid fame, also graced the stage to showcase his next project, ironically enough after the explosions of Killzone had barely finished shaking the room. The Witness, a whimsical study of the ‘a-ha’ moment as he put it, shows that even in this next generation of gaming the enterprising small games studio might still stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys.
That Sony would show off graphically impressive first-person shooters, driving games and sandbox action games at its PS4 announcement was inevitable. The fact that said games looked to be peddling the exact same gamplay as we’re currently used to seeing, however, was a tad disappointing. Credit to the likes of Evans and Blow then for daring to show us something different.
Aliens: Colonial Marines: the wrong kind of bug hunt
How can it be that Gearbox got Aliens so wrong? James Cameron had all but made the videogame himself by portraying Ridley Scott’s creature as but one of a hive of intelligent and relentless nightmares, from which instant death was the most merciful escape.
He was even generous enough to throw in “ultimate badass” future marines - best not call them space marines or else Games Workshop might sue - equipped with shotguns, pulse rifles, sentry turrets and more. Next he gave these hot-headed jarheads movement trackers, complete with the most terrifying heads-up display and bleep sound ever to grace film.
'There's nothing back here'
But, rather than craft tense standoffs versus these lithe, cunning adversaries, Gearbox have treated us to xenomorphs without any semblance of intelligence. And, copout of copouts, they’ve even thrown enemy marines into the mix, who think nothing of charging down corridors towards your stream of hastily fired bullets. Not the most auspicious of starts to a FPS then.
That’s not to say you won’t die - and often on higher difficulty settings. The sheer numbers of enemies, coupled with porous cover and aliens that sink into the glitchy scenery will see to that. But never will you be out-thought, or out-manoeuvred, which is more the pity.
Next page: Close encounters
Re: A few comments
Ironclad said: "Plus joypads suck, keyboards and mice for teh win."
This is the key, and belongs up top, way ahead of clock speeds, cores, or polygon capacity. The 'console' as we know it is defined by a painfully 'low-bandwidth' user interface, the ubiquitous gamepad. This feeble device is the chief constraint on console gaming. It offers basic four-way directional control, and a minimal number of buttons, thereby severely restricting the human-game interaction. Witness the Sony PS4 launch, where we saw nearly photo-realistic characters jerking around like insanely detailed 3D versions of Pac-Man. Rendering just doesn't matter - there is simply no way the player can move their onscreen avatar with anything resembling real-life fluidity.
There's another point, equally important. Gamepads have the wrong TYPE of control. They control velocity, not position. Rotation, not angle. (It's a first-derivative thing, if you recall any high-school calculus). This is simply NOT the way humans think and move. When I turn to my friend, I'm rotating to THIS angle... not STARTING rotation, waiting, then STOPPING rotation. Similarly, if I aim a weapon, I don't START sweeping to the right, then STOP. I turn a few degrees right. I turn TO a given location, not AT a given rate.
Taken together, the limitations of the gamepad result in dumbed-down games. Good console games are built around those limitations, so players may not notice what's been done. But the richness and depth of a PC game like ArmA, or Flight Simulator, or Civilization, or even Battlefield, is simply not on the menu. (It's easy to think of other examples.)
Add the openness of the PC ecosystem, and the gap widens still further. The new 'social' features of the PS4 emphasize this gap, rather than narrowing it. Yes, you can press "Share." On the PC, you can connect to multiple services simultaneously. You can count on developers finding new ways to deliver games, sell games, tie games into resources that don't even exist yet. You can count on a 'mod' community inventing anything the developers miss. (And in turn spurring commercial development to new achievements.) This vibrant ecosystem will always produce faster evolution than a console monoculture.
To go back to the car analogy, it's more like the difference between a train and a helicopter. The train can switch tracks, at pre-determined points. It can go faster or slower. The helicopter can wander freely in three-space. The train is constrained by a cumbersome switching system, operated by a very limited number of corporate bodies. The helicopter can be privately owned, and hence upgraded or modified, taken 'off the grid,' to locations not served by the rail network.
Of course, even that strained comparison falls short of capturing the actual gulf we're talking about. A gulf that will continue to widen, given that the growing power of the PC will not be constrained by the human interface, while the advancing clock cycles of a PS4 or even PS5 will be increasingly wasted, as far as gameplay potential.
Re: A few comments
"In car terms both of them have (console / PC) have an engine which produces 500bhp. But the PC weighs in at 3 tonnes and only has rear wheel drive. The console weighs in at 1.7 tonnes and is 4 wheel drive. It's lighter and has more grip off the line (sorry I've been watching a lot of top gear lately)"
Ok, it's Friday and post lunch so I'll take that car analogy challenge and raise it some:
The PC can be fitted with superior cooling and then have the CPU and Graphics Card overclocked (Nitrous and Turbocharged), it can also be fitted with an SSD drive (slick tyres?) while the console has to be stock clocked or even underclocked in order to avoid overheating it's tiny box . So the PC is the drag racer, while the console is the production line machine. If you watched Top Gear a few weeks back when they drove around the U.S.A you'll know how that turned out.
Plus joypads suck, keyboards and mice for teh win.
FPS on a console (no keyboard and mouse) is like sex with the world's thickest condom.
Re: A few comments
Never tried Tomb Raider, but i'm curious.
As for MGR, I agree 110%. It may be a nice action game, but please don't name it Metal Gear.
Metal gear has always been an action/espionage game, not a glorified slash-em-up.
And it has NEVER EVER been a game of kill'em all. I managed to end Metal Gear Solid killing only the bosses. And MG3 without killing anyone.
So yeah, MGR is definitely not part of Metal Gear series.
Sad face, because that was me when i looked at MGR. I just thought "please, don't go that way. Please respect the fans... please please please please"
Re: A few comments
I'll confuse the issue somewhat by mentioning a genre of game where NEITHER a keyboard+mouse NOR a gamepad is the correct choice - the racing game. No, I don't mean one of the myriad knock-offs of Mario Kart (itself arguably a knock-off of F-Zero, but never mind that), but GT, Forza, Dirt, etc.
I have one of the XBox360 controllers-for-Windows (XBCFW), and while it's great for playing e.g. Portal 2 (for which I bought it), it sucks balls for playing Dirt 3. Why?
In Portal 2, I have access on the XBCFW to *all* the necessary controls for actual gameplay (save, load, and quit are not part of actual gameplay, so they don't have to be on the controller). The XBCFW suits the size and shape of my hands nicely, and Portal 2 exploits the force-feedback to e.g. make the controller kick in my hands as Chel completes a long jump. Yes, it's silly having to use a speed-by-deflection analogue stick to turn, but running with it is reasonable, because when running, you set a speed, not a position.
In Dirt 3, however, when using the XBCFW I have to steer with an analogue stick and accelerate / decelerate with analogue trigger buttons. That stick is now actually serving the purpose specified above by other commentators - X amount of deflection means X' amount of rate of steering or (for the trigger buttons) rate of movement/braking (a good thing). The end-to-end throw of an XBCFW analogue stick is less than an inch, and all the steering response must fit into that inch (a bad thing). Dirt 3 does have (buried in the advanced controls somewhere) linearity settings, but the steering is still extremely twitchy on centre. (That said, it's amusing to hear the navigator telling me to "Reste concentré" as I roll the car over and attempt to fell a tree with it, which is all too easy when racing with twitchy steering on gravel surfaces. Never have I heard a fellow occupant of a car with so much sang-froid.)
A wheel controller, on the other hand, is utterly useless for Portal 2 because it doesn't have enough axes fitted, and the movement model isn't suited to a steering wheel and foot pedals. Dirt 3, however, comes alive (even on the bottom-priced wheel I bought) because the input model (wheel, brake, accelerator) matches the input model for a real car, and that murderous twitchiness just vanishes because the wheel throws much further to each side than the stick does.