Take this, console fans: Crysis 2 at minimum on a PC, 720p resolution, keyboard and mouse, a frame rate somewhere in the 50's, and an extra mod that adds about 500% more particles flying everywhere (just because I can). Still looks much better than the PS3 version.WHATCHA GUNNA DO WITH UR LOW RESOLUTION AND SUB 20 FRAME RATE? LOLOLOL
Sorry. I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry. To be fair, this game kind of brings that out in me.
I have yet to play the original Crysis, which I do intend to pick up eventually (I would like that purchase to lack DRM, but I don't think I'll get that pleasure) but I do know that the second game differs from it in some pretty huge ways, most notably in scope. Crysis 2 is sci-fi Call of Duty 4, with maybe a little Halo in the aftertaste. It deviates in subtle ways that do make the game feel different, but in the end it's like the difference between two flavors of ramen: underneath it all it's really just salt and noodles, neither of which are good for you.
Crysis 2 manages to stand out from the pack by being pretty and throwing around chaos. Thankfully it does both in tandem and it's particularily good at both - while the PC version lacks the fine grained options of the original and has some smeary textures here or there, it's hard to argue when the overall art design is so stunning and cohesive. It's indicative of modern big-budget movie design, in fact; Crysis 2 isn't two steps away from Transformers 3. Associations in this case aren't flattering for either party, but Crysis' chaos tends to be more manageable and definitely more fun. Where the Transformers franchise eventually diluted its grand battles by cluttering up the screen with extra explosions and ridiculous convoluted action sequences, Crysis 2 remains understandable and capable of delivering the underlying goal: the flavor of the day.
The flavor of the day, it just so happens, is ultra linear shooter topped with a delight in scripted sequences and a cacophany of screamed orders, a storyline that's READ TO YOU IN CAPS LOCK EXCLUSIVELY with quick cuts and no character development, and a roller coaster pacing. Crysis 2 is a slight mix of the flavor of the day, giving some bigger areas between the rails and some more shootery options within the confines of orange balls of fire, but the entire experience feels so heavily controlled the little grams of freedom the game offers come off as grudging obligatory inclusion rather than actual experimentation. The game almost feels animosity towards its own predecessors and comes off as a moaning teenager if anything: "So why do I have to let you run around again? Fine."
The reason for this is the way the game is paced. The game opens with sequences that can barely be counted as interactive, and while it shows off Crysis 2's fantastic graphical applications, it's also pretty dull. Maybe if I were five years younger and hadn't played Goldeneye Wii, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 and 2, and the Half-Life series I would find these sequences entertaining, but these days what passes of interactivity is really grinding my gears. Everybody's done it better and the whole thing just feels routine. The mere fact that the sections aren't skippable pervades the experience with a sense of an alien, burgeoning ego. It's there just to remind you that while the shooter bits are fun, the game is actually EXTREME and FAST and PACED BRILLIANTLY. At least in this game you're allowed to be the main character for once, right Call of Duty?
So the game ebbs and flows between some nicely done open areas with cool flanking options and environments that surprise the player with traversal options, but gums up the in-betweens with dull cutscenes with green military readouts flying all over the place (trying to give you the illusion that there's anywhere to go other than forward), the occasional dramatic scene with awful animation and script, and some seriously limited linear segments where the game feels more like a cheap, uninspired rail shooter than a full-fledged FPS. And the game doesn't even trust itself to leave the player alone for a few seconds in open combat, with a special button that shows the player where the enemies are and then offering to tell the player what to do if they're scared of the openness. Hell, it's not like we don't have the vastly popular sandbox genre or anything. Thankfully the game doesn't hamper you with much AI to worry about on the ally front, giving it that Halo feel.
This is in addition to how much interface stuff they shove onto the screen. The HUD and health meters are ideal, but must we always have a glowing dot telling us where to go next? It's not like it's ever some big secret. How would I have ever known you're going to use the "lift up door like strong man" animation again? On that door right in front of me that looks like the door a hundred feet behind me? I couldn't see that one coming. And the game is constantly pestering you to move forward, not letting you stop and smell the roses. I mean, sure, Half-Life is just as linear as this, if not more so in the earlier iterations, but at least it let you look around and get your bearings now and then. Perhaps the game fears that I will look behind the cardboard cutouts, so to speak?
Well, the game has nothing to fear there. Mechanically and graphically, this game shines like a champ. The controls are flawless and the combat itself is extremely satisfying, even without the graphical veneer. The suit powers are a nice upgrade from the usual "disposable soldier grunt" Call of Duty paradigm, and while the gun and suit skill trees aren't particularly deep, they're certainly functional and beneficial on some level. Some of the music's pretty, while some of it is annoying (like that main menu BUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH "orchestra" noise). I added the mod that makes explosions huge and more particles every time you shoot your gun, because I feel like the game should have been that way in the first place. Looks fantastic and hilarious.
But this is the problem I have with these games, and they're dime a dozen this time of year. They're so interested in making you breathless with their PACE and EXTREME that the mechanics suffer even if they're completely solid. Perhaps this is why modern shooters have eschewed quality campaigning for the usual multiplayer bonanzas: pace is largely dictated by skill in that arena and is exclusively powered by the mechanics underneath. And hell, it's hard to make a quality game of decent length and have it move this fast. So why don't we slow down, open 'er up a bit, and quit with the barrage of BS. Because I am having fun with this game, it just gives me a bloody headache.
Zelda? Xenoblade? Bah. Now that I have been immersed deeply in the bountiful waters of Metroid Prime 2, I would like to discuss what each game does better.
I'm halfway through Metroid Prime 2 and I've been told the best is yet to come (notably Sanctuary Fortress), so I'm plugging on.
-Has anti-aliasing, in some fashion. Oh yes. You could tell me Retro managed to super-sample this game on the Gamecube and I'd believe you because these developers are gods among men.
EDIT: I went back to try my Gamecube copy, and there appears to be more anti-aliasing on the Wii version (probably due to leftover power - the first has simple geometry), but there's still something. Not sure what. If I can find a technical answer I'll post it.
-Sure it has the ice level, the lava level, the grass level, but you really have to admit the color palatte shifts are nice.
-A really nice, distinct alien world. Still incredibly detailed, and not even for its time.
-A lot more well rounded and mainstream. As much as I'm about to heap praise on the second, it really is an extension on the first and as such they kind of are part 1 and 2 of the same experience.
-Less of a focus on combat when exploring.
-As awesome as the new stuff is in Echoes, the fact that there's really only one type of ammo to manage (Missiles) is a nice thing. Sorry Echoes.
-Came out first.
-The Gamecube version has the original Metroid if you beat and sync Metroid Fusion. Oh special!
Metroid Prime 2 Echoes
-Looks better. The art design? Oh my god. I mean, hell, I have never seen a game with better art design. In this game, every single bloody room is a treat. The enemies are so creative. Oh man. This cannot be on the Gamecubeor even the Wii. I'm playing on Wii and widescreen 480p puts a sacred look on my face every time. Sorry Resident Evil 4, I found a new pretty face. Even the most boring rooms with simple elevators or mechanic puzzles have some sort of brilliant twist to look at, some sort of visual feedback that was entirely optional for the developers to include and yet is perfect for the setting. I don't even mind game-overs because the game over screen is so cool looking.
-Sounds better. The composer just went all out. Listen to how well this song sets the mood. Perfect. On point in every aspect. The monsters also sound just as good as, if not better than, the original. I want to go buy a surround sound system just for this.
-Spacially demanding. I have to play this game for three or four hour chunks because you lose the spacial layout of the environment if you take too many breaks. And yet I also find little issue in tracking down what I need to do next, even in some of these gigantic spaghetti levels, just because the level design is so accomplished and it's so much fun to explore. But the individual areas are bigger, better connected, and there's less of the "Phazon Mines" sort of thing the first sometimes fell into, where it was largely a linear gauntlet of challenges ramping up to a new gameplay mechanic. Those were okay, but they were Prime 1's weakest moments. The second, in comparison, is incredibly dense, packed with tons of things you want to take care of, and you're constantly reassessing the priorities of things.
-The bosses are even more creative than the original and tend to be tougher. The Wii release lowered their difficulty in some cases, which I think I'm appreciating, but even then they're a sweaty struggle. Common enemies are also full of quirks to exploit and learn.
-Level design even in a room-by-room basis is amazing. It's clear the developers just threw off their limitations from the first game and went crazy. Sure, it is a step up from the first, but the payoff is worth it. It's breathtaking, some of the things they've come up with. The game deluges you with upgrades and then strings together rooms with ways in which to use the upgrades that is just brilliant.
-Apart from the first thirty minutes of the game, most of Prime 2's mechanics are communicated purely through the strength of the level design. Sure, there's some text when you first go to the Dark World for the first time, and there's the item jingle where it tells you how to use an item. But this game is such a switch from Skyward Sword, whose verboseness is still its biggest weakness. Prime 2 just sits back and lets its strengths take over.
-The atmosphere, I would say, is better because it's more varied. Each of the game's distinct environments is unique in certain ways, but once you get to the Dark World all hell breaks loose and you're just trying to manage so much at once. It's broody, ominous, depressing, everything you want from a sinister world. It feels so evil and well crafted. You don't want to be there. Nothing about it is inviting. Game mechanic wise, graphics wise, sound wise, nothing about it is comforting. But it still looks and plays amazingly well and so you keep pressing on, through this foreboding landscape, trying to make things happen.
-The scans are better across the board. Some of the space pirate text is genuinely funny.
What they both do
-Exploration is just as good in either.
-They both run at 480p with 60 frames per second, which is more than you can say about most games in the HD era. As good as Resident Evil 4 looks, Metroid Prime beats with with a higher frame rate, better resolution, and whatever minor anti-aliasing magic they used.
-The Wii controls make the game move so quickly. Like buttah. Exploration is no big deal when you can spin and turn and twist with nary a pause. Echoes in particular really works with this because of how easy it is to activate the Dark World's safe-light-dome things. In addition, the widescreen presentation is a godsend, and when you install it to a USB drive there are absolutely no load times. I do not exaggerate. This goes for both games.
-If Metroid Prime 2 continues to be as good as it is, if not better, it may even trump the first on my "favorite games ever" list. However, they are both high up and I love them. If you don't like them (particularily the first one), it is probably proof you aren't human.
-Too verbose. Across the board. Everything from tutorials to normal dialogue.
-Aliasing. 24-bit color. Dithering. Go Wii.
-Occasional "these controls aren't listening to me" moments.
-Anything and everything related to the controls outside of the small exceptions above. Flying is perfect, and don't listen to anybody say otherwise.
-The tone. Sense of humor. Character design. World design. All of these: very cohesive, well done, and creative. Oddball.
-The graphics, apart from the Wii limitations. Breathtaking sense of scope and brilliant animation.
-Dungeon design. Aside from the fairly simple first dungeon, this is really quality stuff. They use your arsenal quite extensively.
-The inventory system, allowing for a bit of choice in what to upgrade, buy and use.
-The music, when it's not just ambiance.
-How much there is to explore when you're not just battering your head against the dungeons. It's not too broad, and you won't get lost in it, it's just nice to have some side stuff to do and try.
-Characters! Each and every one has such unique design and feels like a real person. I'm not getting the "anime trope" criticism here.
-Being hypercritical of this game. What's the point?
-Getting distracted by Metroid Prime 2 Echoes. WHY HAVE I NEVER PLAYED THIS SERIOUSLY WHAT
-Metroid Prime 3 is foul. Yuck yuck yuck.
-New Humble Indie bundle also distracting me.
-I hope that console games quickly realize that you cannot compete with iCrap on a pure content level. "More content" doesn't mean "better" in all cases. However, Ridge Racer Vita is not acceptable.
There's a growing sentiment that the gaming industry has moved beyond Zelda games. For example, VentureBeat's review, which reads more like a screed against Nintendo's lack of forward motion. This confuses me greatly. Every Zelda game feels different from the rest, and Skyward Sword is no exception. Dare I say it feels the freshest of all.
The tech press has become fashion press. They don't necessarily discuss qualities of games in meaningful terms, but rather judge things on a "coolness" barometer. Motion controls? Those are not cool. Nintendo? They are not cool. They're quality, they're serious and neat, but they're not cool.
I know I'm painting a broad brush across many sites, some of which are much more engrained into this sort of thinking than others. I know it's also kind of a silly thing to say the tech press doesn't think Zelda is cool, considering the notably high 95 Metacritic score for Skyward Sword. But the growing sentiment almost feels that the game got that score in spite of the fact that it's a Zelda game. This runs counter to the newest edition of Elder Scrolls, where the press was almost lapping at the feet of the series, just waiting to bestow great scores and only holding back a few points begrudgingly due to the inevitable bugs and wonkiness present.
VentureBeat's review seems to signify this, if only because it lacks any sense of subtlety or grace. It seems almost proud of what it percieves to be its counter-culture opinion, when in reality I feel like Zelda has been largely maligned by the press and only covered because, well, it sells and it's a good game I guess.
It's also worth wondering about the opinion itself. Why have a person who doesn't like Zelda review Zelda? Sure, the opinion is valid, but is it useful? If someone literally dislikes everything about Zelda and wants anything but Zelda, which is clearly the case for those calling for Zelda to become more like Skyrim (which is, arguably, an entirely different genre), what use is their opinion to the rest of us who harbor less extreme opinions? As much as my hyperbole is fun to write about Resident Evil 4, I won't pretend it's useful to most people.
This perception could be way off. But it's a theory nonetheless.
The Game Itself
I bought Skyward Sword day one. It's the first Zelda game I have ever done this for. This is because I have finally "figured Zelda out," so to speak. And really, the game's closest peer is probably Portal 2.
I feel like the game takes many cues from Portal 2. They're both linear puzzle games (Zelda less so due to the item-based focus, but still). It shares the same tone: surface level is lighthearted, but underneath there lies uneasiness. In terms of plot alone, the formula's execution calls for not only a routine "this again" but also a bit of self awareness. And Skyward Sword is very possibly the funniest Zelda game, with amusing character designs and, very, very rarely, laugh out loud dialogue. I wonder if this was inspired by Portal 2, or merely a tonal shift.
The motion plus combat is one of many improvements to the Zelda series, and it's hard to understand complaints against them. They're, without a better word to describe them, perfect for Zelda's combat. Zelda has always has combat but it's never been quite right with the rest of the puzzle structure. Here it feels cerebral. The game demands quick thinking and matching motions to each enemy. This is not just some fluff piece - this is beneficial to every part of the experience. On a technical level, they're quick and responsive.
Other improvements to experience in the opening: genuine uses of rupees (you get a ton of them as usual, but you spend it on almost anything) coupled with what feels like a real inventory system, making the game a bit more dynamic in terms of combat possibilities. In addition, the sound and visuals got a great upgrade. The orchestrated soundtrack is mesmerising and beautiful, and the graphics are expressive and beautiful. Its strengths are in animation and emotion, using these as focal points for combat, cutscenes, and everything in between.
I haven't played enough to get a hold on anything that may potentially annoy me later on, but the game's scope is certainly wide and as delightful as I could have hoped. I was expecting less than I got, and it's a pleasent surprise. I've played for about three hours.
I expected Xenoblade to overshadow Zelda, and to be honest it's a little annoying that such a thing didn't happen. Now I have to choose which to play more. Ugh. How irriating.
The Symphonic CD
A nice, pretty set of tunes. A bit over 40 minutes.
If I have any complaints, it's that the song choices don't always seem to take advantage of the symphonic orchestra - you would want arrangements that amplify either the pure emotion and expression, or aim for bombast. Some of the songs are just like, "hey it's Zelda but live! Pretty cool!" And other songs are absolutely incredible. Wind Waker's whole movement is like this. The series has some great music and even if some of the symphonic stuff isn't quite as well chosen as I'd like it still flows like a quality "best of" Zelda music disc.
I'd say it's good enough to get the game ASAP to get the disc, particularily because the game is so good. But if not, go listen to it on Youtube. Worth a listen at least once.