Friday, May 23, 2008

Poetry in Motion

Sometimes you can get away with writing things like “I'm going to talk about a little game called 'Portal'”, because it's a little ironic, and in this case at least literally true: Portal's critical reception – no matter how positive - does nothing to augment its three-hours of gameplay. Sometimes you can't, though, especially if you're talking about Civilization, Doom, Starcraft, Half-Life, System Shock 2, and so on. The same rule applies for incredibly hyped games, even those undeserving of classic status (cough Bioshock and Crysis cough), or even praise (cough Halo cough). So, I'm not going to say anything about a “little” game called Mirror's Edge, because short of EA implementing copy protection out of a Penny-Arcade comic (speaking of things which are huge but by no means as good as people think they are...), not much is going to stop this game from being a pretty huge deal.

    You're doubtless aware that I am a sucker for hype, and the curmudgeons among you will be getting out a well-worn sodium chloride crystal for the inevitable gushing about just how cool I think Mirror's Edge is going to be. Cue the predictable twist: I'm going to write about how the game could go wrong, from what I have seen and read thus far. To wit:


    The trailer is nothing solid to go on, but from what I saw, it did not look like there were many paths available to the player. The game will not be an open-world game, according to one of the developers, and while he did say there will be multiple paths, I expect that the area accessible to a player during any given mission will still be a fairly narrow corridor, funneling the player through all the cool set-pieces the dev team doesn't want you to miss. There's a certain irony here, because in a game about the few free people in a totalitarian utopia/dystopia mashup (more on that in a second), you the player will not be particularly free. I suppose even more ironically, the character won't be either, just an empty shell for the player to inhabit. Half-Life does this, too, although when they call you the “One Free Man”, it's entirely possible that those lines are inserted by the developers for the sake of irony (I promise to lay off that word for a bit now), but at least it fits that game's universe, what with the G-man and all. Who knows, maybe ME will pull off this kind of trick, but it would smack a little too much of “The One is just another form of control...”, I think. Certainly, characters fighting for “freedom” in constrained narratives is nothing new, I guess it's just been irritating me ever since I read that horrible piece over at The Escapist, comparing HL2 to Yeats. Ugh. On a more basic level, the game risks becoming a one-time thrill ride, with about as much replay value as the average shooter. Funny, how on the one hand they are trying to push the limits of the first-person view, but at the same time seem to be falling into the same pitfalls.


This is a side-effect of Linearity, and also something of a nitpick, but here it is anyway: DICE is crafting a gorgeous setting for their game, but I fear that players' actual range of exploration will be about as wide as the path of rooftops they follow from point A to point B, and anything cool they see along the way will be scenery, and nothing but. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just annoying if a game shows you something cool that you can't actually have (utility ships, large freighters and capital ships in Freelancer, for example).

Fight The Power!

Actually, I like the part where Faith is all about sticking it to the man, by parkouring her way around to deliver messages. Actually, wait, messages? Maaaan, more FedEx quests? Haven't enough critics already been over how much they aren't much fun? How only escort missions are worse in terms of suffering inflicted upon gamers? Evidently not, because here is another game where the (and this is just a guess, but probably not far off the mark) unwitting Saviour of humanity sets off on their quest to...deliver....stuff... it wouldn't sting so badly if the developer interviewed on Game Trailers hadn't defended their choice of a closed-world game by saying that they didn't think it would fit the game to have the player decide to “go deliver 10 pizzas”! Sheesh, messages, pizzas, the lazarus doesn't actually make much of a difference what the virtual dude or dudess is carrying, and it won't until we have games that actually take the weight and fragility of the carried item into account (a physics-based pizza delivery bicycle game, anyone? Indietastic!). But back to fighting the power. Actually, the most positive thing I have to say about this game is how cool their world-building could turn out to be. It actually reminds me a little of Firefly/Serenity, the sterile, high-tech city and the cultural hodgepodge. They had better throw in an allusion to the 'Verse, even if it wasn't a direct inspiration! Wait— abnormally powerful young asian woman in a surveillance-heavy utopia/dystopia in which western and oriental culture and language collide...this game IS Serenity...well, sort of. Joss Whedon should get royalties...or at least a spot on the writing team or something. Not only are teenage supergirls his forte in the first place, but he handles pop culture and snappy dialogue in a pinch. Ok, so there was that Alien Resurrection thing, but we'll write that off as a fluke, mmkay?

I fully expect to be a little cheated by the final release of ME, even with the knowledge that it won't be what I was hoping it would. That first impression never really leaves your mind, for the trailer, preview, or review has already planted in your head a very real game, sometimes quite different (and often better) than what you end up playing. The unavoidable tragedy of imagination, I suppose.


(I'll do all the linking and re-formatting tomorrow, I'm tired now)

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