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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Game Play: inFamous (...and boss fights in general)

I'm not going to spend a lot of time about the virtues of inFamous - the game has gotten a decent amount of coverage since its initial release and largely lives up to the hype. The open world is well constructed and imaginative, Sucker Punch really nails the postmodern urban comic book thing. At the core of the game: blowing stuff up is a great deal of fun - chaining attacks against enemies and environment alike is engaging (though I would love to see a truly destructible environment in a game of this style).

For the core mechanics, I only have two real complaints: repetition and intelligence. Most of the missions devolve into run, run, run or blast, blast, blast ... or sometimes run, blast, run ... or - well, you get the impression. This is why the fact that Sucker Punch made both the running (be it the parkour style climbing or skate style "grinding") and blasting so much fun is critical. Intelligence wise - well, the AI is not exactly Einstein ... rather the game seems to really on every enemy having really, really, really good eyesight. You'll constantly get sniped from enemies from afar - which can be fairly annoying early in the game when your powers are limited in scope and you're trying to snipe back.

Which, allow me to nominate the floating cloaking grenade-launching robots later in the game as some of the most annoying enemies devised - they aren't particularly tough, they just buzz (literally, the noise is irritating as hell). And so glad they decided to show for the final boss fight.

And that final boss fight. I'll keep this spoiler free, but the final boss fight is representative of everything I hate about boss fights. Most of the game and missions are well designed, but the final fight goes right to every cliche every put out there: the boss is largely invincible except for a random period of time you need to keep an eye out for - all the while you'll be running back and forth avoiding a relatively random array of attacks.

The reason why the final fight was such a downer for me is this: for a game that was all about revealing the escalation of a simple bike messenger to city superhero the final fight made me feel pointless and weak. Pointless because it was quite obvious that the final boss could tear me apart in an instant if it really tried and weak because all I could do was run around a lot and wait to throw off a few shock grenades ... and then repeat.

And then repeat.

And then repeat.

And then repeat.

At some point - can't we just skip to the end? I can't count how many games have built up layers of anticipation only to have the end scene be the result of some kind of old school slugfest followed by a cinematic. Gaming evolution has given us emergent gameplay, open worlds, freedom from counting down player lives or even keep track of the score - but in many ways we're still stuck with the bonus level notion that everything should be capped with a button mashing showdown.

So that's kinda more of rant about games in general, of course. The other good bit about inFamous? A pretty decent story handled well by the comic style cutscenes. OK, I still have questions and general huh's about the ending in general, but at least it kept things interesting.

One last note: I think it is curious that inFamous, Assassin's Creed II and Uncharted 2 all have very similar core mechanics: parkour style movement, third person action, emphasis on unlocks and exploration. Yet UC2 is not an open world setup and, no offense to other two - I think easily the best of the bunch. Homework question: what exactly does an open world give players?

Anyway, if you haven't played it - you probably should. And it just recently hit Greatest Hits for the PS3 - so you can get it cheap.


jvm said...

The open world has a shot at algorithms for separate elements interacting in interesting/surprising ways.

I've told this story before, so hopefully I won't bother you too much.

When I played Vice City on the PS2, I had a very interesting experience. I was being chased by cops and I ran into a particular neighborhood where a gang was present. I lost my ride and took a shot at taking out the cops with my firearm. Some gang members got in the way and started taking shots at both of groups (cops and me). Later an ambulance showed up and paramedics started healing the people who were getting shot.

It was fascinating seeing three AI groups (cops, gang members, and paramedics) interacting with each other and me.

Nothing particularly dramatic happened other than a heated battle (which I eventually escaped from on foot) but it was a remarkable moment for me. I've never encountered anything else quite like it.

Steve said...

The concept of open world games sounds appealing and certainly the situation JVM points out is pretty cool. But overall I find open worlds to be a waste for me. I'm not a completionist and though I like to explore a little, generally I tend to stick the main plot as much as possible.

I think what's nice about open worlds is that it gives the game a somewhat more realistic feel. You're not constantly bumping into fake walls that were put there to keep you from doing things the developers didn't plan for. On the other hand I think this means developers spend an awful lot of time working on details that largely end up being unimportant. Great, I can take a character out on a date for bowling... WHO CARES? If I want a date to go bowling I'd much rather find an actual woman and go actual bowling and maybe get actual nookie :)

What I find frustrating is open worlds that make me do a lot of work to just get through the basic plot line. For example, Far Cry 2 was terrible in this regard. I spent most of my time driving from place to place trying to find things rather than completing missions. Largely this driving involved a lot of getting shot at, wrecking my car, trying to find another car, etc, etc. It was tedious and distracting. Credit to inFamous, GTA, etc, for giving you quicker ways to get around that take a lot of the transit tedium out of the equation.

Overall my sense is that the open world concept could get interesting in the future but for now it's largely a distraction. I mean imagine an open world where other players were in the world with you. It could make for some really fun cooperative or competitive game play. That could certainly make things more interesting.

Josh said...

My friend Seth said he couldn't stand GTA because of "all the driving". The Girl, on the other hand, can't stand the missions and prefers just wandering around and blowing stuff up (though technically that is more sandbox than open world).

@jvm - I've had similar experiences in GTA and they're always illuminating. I was once getting shot by a rival gang in San Andreas until they were run over by an incoming cop car.

It is part of the charm, moreso (to Steve's point) than being able to get hot coffee from some girl. A version with casual MMO features (more Demon's Souls than WoW) would be most excellent if only to introduce more human AI into the mix.