Nick's Gaming Blog

Watcha Playin, Guvnah? (May 2012)

‘ello poppit, it be your wee old uncle–” Fuck it, I can’t even do accents on paper.

It’s about that time.  Actually, it is that time.  That time when we talk about the hobby I’ve invested the most time and money into, and however exactly its managed to make me yearn for the days of old when every Star Wars game was unrepentantly shit, yet I played them all to death.  Yes, even The Phantom Menace.

Oh boy. Oh boy. Just...umm...I mean, like, I know it's 1999 and all, but LOOK. AT. THAT. HAIR.

It’s also that time where I give you the opportunity to share what you’re playing…provided your comment doesn’t get swept back out to sea with my daily dredging of spam.

Well, for starters I got my hands on Fez, a game which is both resplendently cute and infuriatingly difficult.  We’ve probably all encountered this sort of title from time to time; the ones where your frustration with the overly-precise platforming, cheap AI tactics, or logically-unfounded puzzles is pacified by a soundtrack or visuals that make it impossible for us to stay angry for very long.  Fez just so happens to possess both a tranquil chiptune score and some of the most adorable 8-bit visuals…which is convenient because the platforming has me juxtaposing profanities in a way that’s tragically reshaping the English language and the puzzles have left my bedroom looking like “the shack” in A Beautiful Mind.

The only thing that’s missing is me forgetting the baby I put in the bathtub.  And I never forget about babies that I’ve left in bathtubs.  That’s because if you leave them alone, they stand a chance of escaping its rapidly-filling confines and really messing up your life.

What’s Fez about?  Well, it involves a little dude named Gomez who in a Deadpool fashion, is more than aware that he lives in a 2D world.  But rather than being a self-aware side-scrolling platformer.  However, by virtue of Gomez’s titular hat, he’s been graced with the ability to discover the fact that he’s been LIVING IN A WORLD OF LIES…or one that, in a less melodramatic fashion, actually possesses three dimensions.

“So it’s a game with three dimensions,” you say. “Big deal.”

Well, this is where it gets tricky.  The game effectively works like a 2D title, with the caveat being that Gomez can “cycle” a room, taking control of the “camera,” if you will, allowing Gomez to access areas, or gain a new perspective otherwise unobtainable.  I know, still doesn’t make much sense.  Hell, I’ve shown people how this functions within Fez and the look I usually get is indicative of “brainsplode.”  Bottom line, this makes for some crazy hard puzzles.  For example, you might need to “line up” a series of blocks…and they may look lined up from one angle, “shifting/cycling” the room will reveal that, from a 3-D perspective, they aren’t.

Fez is a High Def game with an 8-bit aesthetic...it's a really spiffy old-school looking game...if that makes sense

But most puzzles are harder than this.  Way harder.  The universe has its own alphabet and numerical system, along with some twists in how one should write/read the language.  Yes, the game does have a Rosetta Stone of sorts, but I’d venture to say that it’ll be lost on anyone under the age of twenty.  Yet perhaps what really has me crawling to GameFaQs with my tail between my legs is the fact that, much unlike Portal, puzzles don’t have a clear-cut beginning or end in Fez.  You’ll come across drawings and diagrams toward the beginning of the game that won’t become relevant until much, much later, and you’ll frequently stumble upon puzzles that can be tampered with, but really shouldn’t be, as you lack the knowledge or insight to solve them.  In that sense, it’s a lot like Riven or Myst (Riven especially, because even resorting to the “plug-and-chug” still requires enough of an understanding of the puzzle to effectively attempt such).

If all this puzzle/adventure gaming lexicon has you confused, just know that Fez is a lot like a small child.  Sure, it’s cute and adorable, and will likely charm its way into even the chilliest of hearts, yet it’s also entirely capable of things, twisted illogical actions that will inevitably result in one’s walls being coated with Sharpie or feces…and the worst part is that you don’t even get to choose which one.

Other than Fez, I’ve taken a liking to Driver: San Francisco.  Sure, I know it’ll raise eyebrows to suggest that the best part about a game titled Driver is that it fails to place itself within the very narrow confines that that “Driving” genre has self-imposed upon itself.  Yes, past titles like R Racing Revolution and Need for Speed: The Run have attempted to begrudgingly shove a plot into the proceedings of their respective games (The Run does a better job, of the two) but racing titles have usually stuck by the “bread and butter” cliche plot: you’re an “up-and-coming” rookie driver looking to take the championship/win ALL teh trophiez/gain the previously unattainable respect of women who undoubtedly understand (and validate, for that matter) motor racing as an allegory for virility.

Don't worry, you won't be exiting the car in this installment.

Games that don’t utilize this structure (either deservedly or not) end up criticized for focusing on an unessential aspect of racing games.  All that time spent on crafting a story/plot could have been better spent adding more tracks, sprucing up the car models with 33.41% more polygons, or ensuring that every car engine sounds exactly like it should, according to these critics of convention.  Sometimes, they’re right; a flimsy plot is used to gloss over the fact that the gameplay just isn’t that good.  Yet this emphasis on plot as a disingenuous distraction shouldn’t always be viewed as the goal.  Some developers are interested in injecting an actual story into a driving game, and Driver: San Francisco is proof.

But how did Driver: San Francisco accomplish this?  Probably by deciding that Driver: SF wasn’t going to be all about racing, but more of a sandbox GTA title where you just never end up leaving the car.  If they had you in the role of an underground street racer, you’d probably be limited to, well…underground street racing, and the occasional running from the cops.  On the flip side, if they had you playing a police officer, you’d be restricted to car chases.  Rockstar’s Midnight Club series already has the former locked down, and Need For Speed’s Hot Pursuit the latter…and while imitation is flattery, it doesn’t always translate to income.

Driving in first person is fun, if ineffective. However, certain challenges must be completed in first person, so you can't ignore it outright.

So how do you limit yourself to vehicular-based gameplay (Driver 3 already toyed with the notion of opening the driver’s side door and got a half-baked Grand Theft Auto) and still get mission variety and avoid the typical “rookie racer trying to win it all” cliche? Well, Driver:SF went and gave their protagonist the ability to “hop” into any car on the road; think of it as a sort of rapid-fire bodily possession.  If you can see the car (with few exceptions) you can take control of the driver.  You’re probably wondering just how this wonderfully odd ability was bestowed upon you.  Well, you’re a hotshot driver named Tanner that happened to fall into a coma while chasing a criminal.  And, of course, when one falls into a coma, weird stuff happens.  Them’s the rules.

Once you’re done mulling over the “science” behind this ability…one which even the game’s characters admit they have no clue how it works…you can observe how the mechanic shines.  You’ll jack into police officers trying to recover stolen cars originally intended to be auctioned for charity, a wife trying to keep her pet arachnid-bitten husband’s heart rate up while racing him to the hospital, or assisting kids over their head in an underground street racing gang, trying to earn money for college.  In turn, completing several of these missions unlocks a campaign mission; it’s padding for the campaign, but it makes one feel benevolent, and allows for some of the zanier scenarios in the game.

Amazingly enough, that’s pretty much all I’ve been playing for the past three weeks.  That sort of downright addictiveness hasn’t really been seen since Dead Space 2 or Alan Wake: American Nightmare, at least on my behalf.

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