09 October, 2011

Playing the Angles

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 9 October, 2011

3D is hard. I'm not even talking about 3D graphics. I'm talking about 3D environments, prevalent in games since the mid-90s, regardless of how they're rendered. Humans are built for 3D, but the games I played this week reminded me of how challenging it still is for game developers.

Transformers (2004)

After playing the more recent War for Cybertron, I heard that the 2004 PS2 Transformers game was considered the best ever made, so I hunted down a cheap used copy. The game defaulted to Recruit difficulty, but that sounded boring, so I bumped it up to Veteran. To survive on Veteran, I've had to resort to pretty lame tactics.

The first boss had to be fought in terraced ruins. Since the boss couldn't fire while jumping between levels, I simply changed levels, took cover, then jumped out and pegged him while he couldn't retaliate.

The second boss was a jet. So I hid in a barn and shot him in the back with homing rockets as he went over.

The third boss was a helicopter, but his guns couldn't penetrate water, so I found a shallow lake, turned into a vehicle, and only had to dodge his missiles. And even still he was a pain.

And boss fights aren't the only problem. There's a stealth segment in the game that is a huge pain to actually be stealthy in. The game's sound algorithm increases the volume of things in front of you, so trying to guess enemy positions by sound doesn't work. And the ability you get to see enemies through walls doesn't work at a long enough range to make it very useful.

I respect that this game gives players a lot more options and freedom than the more guided experience of War for Cybertron. But it's got its own problems.

Portal 2 (2011)

Portal 2, was on sale for $15 last week, so I finally picked it up. It had it's moments, but I got the same feeling that I did with Dead Space 2. Here are some fine bits of entertainment with a mediocre game in between.

It's probably sacrilege to call Portal 2 a mediocre game, but I felt the same way about Portal 1. The novelty was great, but the puzzles were so focus tested and carefully built to guide the player to a single solution that much of the spontaneity and creativity had been removed from play. And the new gels added to Portal 2 weren't really enough to make it feel novel.

Additionally, solving some puzzles depended on noticing usable panels or objects in out of the way locations. Those puzzles felt like a 3D version of the pixel hunts in old adventure games, and I was more annoyed than pleased to find their solutions.

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