Month: March 2019

Devil May Cry 2 HD

Devil May Cry 2 HD

Devil May Cry fans and I have our differences of opinion, but they’re totally right about DMC2. This game is fascinatingly bad. Despite being nearly identical to its predecessor both mechanically and aesthetically, it still manages to be vastly inferior in literally every aspect. The camera and lock-on functions are delegated to an incompetent AI, while the shallower combat makes the controls feel more overcomplicated than ever. The enemies are so brainless and easily stunned, and your ranged weapons are so overpowered, that most skirmishes are resolved by simply mashing or holding the attack buttons until everything else is dead. The exceptions are a handful of boss fights which swing the difficulty to the other extreme with bizarrely unfair strategies. The only worthwhile gameplay contribution here is a dodge button; the new wall-running ability is so spectacularly useless that it doesn’t even count.

The two campaigns share 90% of their content, most of which is aimless, interchangeable levels full of arbitrarily respawning enemies. Playing through both is the only way to have the story make any kind of sense, although it doesn’t get very far in that regard. The plot plays out without any regard for internal logic or coherent structure – there’s no real beginning or ending, and the events of the first game apparently never happened. Dante’s one-off dour personality here is a rightful sore spot with fans, because it erases the unique juxtaposition of gloomy gothic atmosphere and ridiculous anime action, on top of being boring. The HD port fixes nothing, only adding some anti-aliasing and widescreen presentation to visuals that mostly held up anyway. At least the voice acting is so comically horrendous that it lands in “so bad it’s good” territory.

GRIS

GRIS

GRIS is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful games ever released, but it doesn’t have much going for it otherwise. There’s the occasional esoteric puzzle that evokes memories of Braid and FEZ, but much of the gameplay is merely about finding a path through the elaborate level design. Though you’ll accumulate new powers as you progress, they’re all extremely ordinary – double jump, ground pound, swimming, etc. Additionally, while the audio is magnificent, neither it nor the movement controls are suited to a sense of urgency, so the game falls flat when it tries to invoke such a reaction. The lack of a failure state doesn’t help there, either. Most disappointingly, the narrative’s stunning imagery belies an overly simplistic tale that seems inconsistently conveyed.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

I can’t think of any developers I feel sorrier for than those of the Assassin’s Creed series. So much effort goes into their historical research, art direction, and level design, only for the big Ubisoft steamroller to come around and flatten it all into a watery paste. Fans often consider Black Flag to be the franchise’s last gasp of quality, and it’s hard to argue against a premise that’s essentially Red Dead Redemption meets The Wind Waker. But while the series’ dark age may have become overpowering with subsequent releases, it was still obviously on the rise in this installment. The new present-day framing device even comes across as a cry for help, being set in a Montreal-based game studio whose creative decisions are mandated by unseen corporate overlords.

Everything in Black Flag feels like it’s being torn apart by opposing forces. It should be both atmospheric and cinematic, but it can’t because the screen is so plastered with HUD elements.  The free-running feels amazing when it works, but there’s barely any skill to it. The combat is slightly better about the skill issue, but it also feels shallow and artificial beneath all its flair. The 18th- and 21st-century narrative threads complement each other nicely – the former is self-contained and follows a strong character arc, while the latter is an interesting continuation of the overall plot. Unfortunately, standard AC storytelling issues – arbitrary time skips, inconsistent progression, and an unsatisfying ending – still haunt the past segments, while the modern ones offer nothing to do but another timesink of asinine hacking minigames.

The expanded naval gameplay from AC3 is a well-advised focus this time. Ship combat is surprisingly deep and engaging, while harpooning and diving missions are novel additions. All of these things, along with all other things in this game, will become needlessly repetitive after only a few hours, however. I was actually astonished that there were no single-player microtransactions to be seen; the variety of grindy resource-accumulation tasks, particularly in the dreary fleet management minigame, seemed totally designed with them in mind. Bizarrely, ships are nowhere to be found in the game’s multiplayer, which is as clever a merger of stealth and deathmatch gameplay as ever, but is clearly just coasting on its predecessors’ foundations at this point.