Category: PS3

Flower

Flower

Playing Flower in 2019 really shows how far art games have come. With obvious inspiration from Passage, this is like the gaming equivalent of Oscar bait – using up a whole lot of artistic talent to say a whole lot of nothing. After an hour of gorgeous scenery and aimless gameplay, the game’s big statement boils down to “beautiful things > not beautiful things.” A lot of elements of the presentation still haven’t been replicated elsewhere, but in some cases, that’s because they don’t work very well. The unorthodox controls effectively capture the intended feeling of weightlessness but don’t lend themselves to the collection gameplay, which feels undercooked and inconsistent even by art game standards. It’s also quite obvious how infantile procedural audio was at this point, as the music often feels disjointed even during the story’s initial relaxing arc.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange

The elevator pitch for Life is Strange is usually “a Telltale-style adventure game where you can rewind time to edit your choices,” but it’s far from a clone. The time travel mechanics are more multifaceted than that, for one thing, as they can be used to imitate premonition and teleportation, among other things. Its gameplay is also peppered with detective segments, its story is filled with potent symbolism, and its unique atmosphere often feels more like an out-of-body experience than a roleplay. The player is more of a companion than a puppeteer to the characters, but when those characters are so three-dimensional, their world so vividly realized, and its relevant subject matter handled so maturely, merely observing it all through a mildly fantastical lens is as engaging as it needs to be.

Befitting its stellar soundtrack, Life is Strange is like a punk or folk song in video game form – a lack of refinement is the price you pay for authenticity. For example, as devastatingly memorable as several sequences are, the amount of ambiguity and red herrings in the plot’s resolution is disappointing. Additionally, the “painted” art style flips between gorgeous and inadequate depending on the subject. Some of the flaws improve over time, however. Episode 1 – Chrysalis is especially bogged down with introduction, and the early episodes’ default gameplay pattern of “Incorrect action >> Rewind >> Correct action” is gradually replaced with more unorthodox puzzles. The voice acting also inadvertently improves too, since events become more dire in later episodes and the side characters become more…well, sidelined.

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.

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.