Better Red Than Dead pt. 2

25 05 2010

So, yesterday I talked some about Red Dead Redemption’s single player aspects, but today I’ll be focusing more on the multiplayer. For a game like this, a AAA title with as much advertising and muscle behind it to be released without at least some form of multiplayer is incredibly rare. Assassin’s Creed 2, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 are notable exceptions to the rule, but typically if it’s at all possible for a game to have multiplayer, it’ll have it.

From the outset, the developers were very clear they wanted RDR’s multiplayer to be revolutionary. While the modes it offers are very traditional (deathmatch, team deathmatch, a variation of capture the flag) the real difference here is the multiplayer lobby. Every online game has to have a lobby of some sort, where players are collected, choose what they want to do and then eventually get whisked off into the action. RDR changes this by the inclusion of its other multiplayer game type: free roam.

Sure, Grand Theft Auto IV may have pioneered the concept for the genre with its online free roam, but RDR changes it. When you select to play online, you’re dumped into the game world in its entirety to explore and do whatever your little heart desires. From this open world, you’re allowed to go wherever and do whatever you want. Along the way, you’ll find icons that you can approach if you want to start a deathmatch or capture the bag (not flag) game, or you can simply vote to start it from the pause menu. However, it’s this freedom that makes RDR so revolutionary. Gone are the days of simply staring at a menu screen while people queue up to join your game. While you wait, you can roam about, hunt the wildlife, hunt the local NPC’s, pick flowers or do whatever. It’s free roam in the truest sense of the word, and it’s all online.

Any fan of an open-world environment will instantly fall in love with the free roam in RDR. Sure, there aren’t the random happenings of violence like in the single player, but there are still plenty of NPC’s moving about the countryside and the towns. You can stroll into a town, shoot up the place and watch your bounty collect and watch lawmen come from far and wide to collect the bounty on your head. It can be pretty thrilling to hold up in a saloon or something and see the bodies pile up at the doorway, then making the daring jaunt down to said pile to refresh your ammo.

Another interesting thing about the free roam is the ability to form posses with other players. These posses allow you to basically form a group to roam around with, with the leader being able to mark spots on the map and all members respawning around each other in the event of death. However, that’s not  to say the system is perfect. I for one had the initial impression that posses would be a more permanent fixture, something like clans that are formed, last outside the mode and maybe even named. Maybe Rockstar will allow something like this later on, but for now it’s just something that’s made in each game. I’d also love to see things like shared bounties for posses and more, but who knows, only time will tell what happens.

Oh yeah, there’s also the more conventional things, like deathmatch or capture the bag, perhaps some day I’ll try those out. I’ve probably spent about 15-20 hours in the free roam alone, and it’s still fun. Sure, we’ve done all the gang hideouts and explored just about all the map there is, but there is always more for you to do, especially when playing with friends. One of my best experiences in a recent online game happened a few days ago. A friend of mine were hold up in the saloon in Armadillo (one of the game’s major towns), killing lawmen and other players. I made a run for ammo when suddenly my friend pulled up in a stagecoach and yelled for me to get in. I shot someone in the way and hopped in to ride shotgun, and off we went. The lawmen and other players gave chase, but a bullet to the head of a pursuer’s horse sent them flying head over heels and put a quick stop to the chase. We rode off into the sunset, laughing and cheering at the rather Hollywood-esque ending to a good time.

Moments like these are what will really give RDR legs. They can add all the maps and modes they want, but simply giving players the freedom to do things like this will really form lasting memories in my mind. RDR will likely be remembered for many things, such as its great offline story and characters, amazingly realized world and environment, and especially its treatment of online. It’s my great hope that the posse system will be expanded to allow for easier matchmaking of friends and a more stable, lasting group mentality, but for the time being it’s more than enough to allow for some friends (or like-minded individuals) to ride together, take over gangs, slaughter innocents and just have a great old time.


Better Red Than Dead

24 05 2010

So, last week, a little game came out. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Goes by Red Dead Redemption. Being the wide-eyed, ever-eager-for-more vidja games hog that I am, I snatched up a copy of the game pronto-like. If you’ve watched or read any gaming news recently, you probably know about the game. Made by Rockstar (the same folks what made Grand Theft Auto), it’s an open-world game in much the same vein.

However, one thing that greatly separates RDR is its setting. RDR is set in America, 1911. It makes for a very interesting setting as the western states (such as Texas or New Mexico) were still mostly lawless entities that upheld the ideals and lifestyle of the wild west. However, industry was pushing west and the life of the cowboy was coming to an end. You play an outlaw in this setting, a former cowboy and gangster that has reformed his life in hopes of moving on. He has a wife and kids and a past that continues to haunt him into the game’s start. The story is incredibly cliche to start out, but it doesn’t hold the game back from what I’ve played of it.

The setting is one of RDR’s biggest strengths. While there have been plenty of games set in the west, some even set in an open-world western setting, but RDR does it best. Perhaps even the best of any open-world setting I’ve seen so far, and I’m a pretty damn big fan of open-world games like this. For starters, it’s incredibly open. Many games would shy away from this, preferring to make their game seem fuller or more involved. GTA IV, for instance, had very, very few open areas (aside from the water) where you could just stand and see emptiness around you. RDR uses the setting to its advantage, with several instances where you’ll be in the open with a little town on the horizon, perhaps a gang hideout and that’s about it.

It certainly captures the spirit of the west, the spirit of the time before everything became industrialized and populated. Out in the wild, you’ll see plenty of cacti, desert bushes and more. Wildlife was also not forgotten to be included. At any time, you can see birds flying by, deer galloping around, wild horses running by and other critters scampering about. All the critters have their own behaviors and all can be hunted and skinned. That’s right, PETA won’t be very happy to see a cowboy running around shooting horses in the face and skinning them, but dammit is it fun.

Once I set foot into one of the game’s towns, I was pretty surprised by the life shown. Sure, GTA IV had citizens that had their own schedules and mannerisms, but RDR takes it one step further. People in the town will buy things from the shop, order drinks from the saloon, do chores at the ranch, check their horses and more. And of course, being that it’s the lawless west, you’ll see plenty of random acts of violence. One time I walked out of the saloon and heard a woman scream. I glanced to my left to see her chased by a drunken yokel. He yelled at her to calm down, brandishing his knife at her. I was given a moral choice, the game did nothing to warn me about this. I could shoot this drunken man and protect the woman, or simply walk on by and go about my business. Being the nice guy I am, I chose to save her. I shot the man dead and people jumped, some cowered in fear, but the woman was only too happy to thank me. I received a bonus in honor and about $5 or so as thanks.

There’s been some flack about the main character, how he doesn’t really have a personality, and I can see where they come from. John Marston is comparable to Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (or just about any western) but he’s easy to sympathize with. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s done bad things in his past and he knows it. He simply wants to do what’s right, but if someone messed with him, they’ll regret it. Of course, the bad thing about this is since it’s an open-world game, the player is free to make him a complete jackass. That’s a problem I have with this sort of thing. The character, John Marston, is a nice guy, overall, but if the player wishes, he can be downright dastardly. The game allows you to lasso and hogtie innocents, allows you to blow innocents away and rob banks, which just isn’t something Marston does, at least anymore. You can even approach whores who may hit on Marston, but he simply shakes his head, saying “Sorry miss, I’m not that kind of man anymore.”  I know they want to give the player the freedom to do what they want, but when in one cutscene, Marston can talk about how he’s not a violent man anymore that only hurts those that deserve it, the player can murder an entire town and throw a hogtied woman in front of the train if they wish. Maybe it only bugs me, but it just seems weird that a player can do that.

However, one of the randomized events that really stuck with me happened as I rode through the wilderness. A man approached me, shouting about how his friend was being hanged for something he didn’t do. I rode with the man and saw a tree surrounded by thugs with a man being hanged, kicking and screaming for help. I pulled out my gun and began to shoot the thugs, but one ran behind the hanged man. It should be noted that not all guns are pinpoint accurate, and I found this out in the worst way. I aimed a bit closer to try and get a shot on this man, by the bullet veered to the left, hitting the hanged man and killing him. The man who called for my help fell to his knees and began sobbing that his friend had died. There was still a thug left, who immediately shot the crying man in the head. I shot the thug and was left there with seven or so dead people around me. Now, I’m not really one to get emotional around games, and I can kill an NPC in a game without mercy, but this made me pause. I actually felt bad that I shot the wrong man and felt bad that his friend was quickly shot in a moment of pause. Rockstar should be commended for its efforts in making the world seem alive and making me care, at least momentarily, about one of its fake inhabitants.

In case you forgot this is a Rockstar game, you’re reminded constantly. They invented the open-world game as we know with GTA III, and the formula still works today. You see icons on your map where you get missions, you do your mission, advance the story and so on. Sure, it’s a formula, sure, it may be tired, but it works. The setting and characters in RDR are so impressive and interesting, you won’t really care.

Ok, I’m going to cut this short here. There’s still MUCH more to be said about Red Dead Redemption, but for the sake of your sanity, dear reader, I’ll stop it here. Stay tuned for an entry about the game’s incredible multiplayer mode(s) and a bit more about the game itself.

The Pokemanz

29 03 2010

I’ll go right ahead and admit it, as if you didn’t know already. I’m a huge nerd. I play vidja games a lot, watch videos on Web sites, talk about them, read about them, all that. It shouldn’t really be a surprise. One of my favorite game series may surprise some people, though. I love Pokemon.

When Pokemon first came out in 1997, I was 10. I had no real idea what I was getting in to, I just remember reading about it in Nintendo Power and thinking, “That sounds like fun.” I saw Pokemon Blue at a store and decided to buy it. Another fun fact: Pokemon was my very first RPG, or at least traditional JRPG. I… Never owned an NES or SNES and before this, mostly just played platformers or sports games (I was into sports back then, go figure.)

Anyway, I enjoyed the game. The critters were fun, I liked leveling them up, the idea of traveling the world as a young boy (I was the same age as Ash in the TV show!) and fighting with these little creatures really connected with me. The first game I ever pre-ordered was Pokemon Gold in 1999. I was hooked for life. Since then, I’ve bought pretty much every main game in the series. I bought Pokemon Yellow when it came out (chalk that up to my being a fan of the TV show) and I can’t tell you how excited I was when Pokemon Gold came out. I was 12 and Pokemon was still sorta cool, but not by as much. Especially for someone my age. I had to hide it from the public, but I would still play it all the time. Some of my best memories from middle school come from playing Pokemon Gold with my friends before class.

The other games came and went, but my friends seemed to lose interest after Pokemon Gold. Maybe they felt they outgrew it, maybe they got bored, I’m not sure. I remember being the only one of my friends to buy Pokemon Sapphire (2003) and not telling them, because I knew they would mock me, or at the very least not buy it. I managed to get the same friend I would always play Gold with to buy Emerald in 2005, but at that point I was graduating, so we never really got to go back to the glory days of Gold and Silver.

Some time around FireRed and LeafGreen’s release, I found just how deep Pokemon could go. It’s very easy for someone who knows nothing about the game to look at it and laugh at its dated graphics, simplistic mechanics and cutesy creatures (not to mention the story, but really, who plays Pokemon for story?). Let me tell you, Pokemon is deep.

While it’s true the battles are (and likely will always be) a turn-based affair, it’s easy to overlook things like Natures, stats, types and so on. Pokemon uses a sort of rock-paper-scissors mechanic on its battles. Grass beats water, water beats fire, fire beats grass, and so on. But that’s just the beginning. Playing the game will let you know what type works against what, but there is so much working under the hood, it’s a bit mind-boggling.

I didn’t learn about EV’s or natures until FireRed. You see, Pokemon, when trained, get these things called EV’s (Effort Value) from every opponent they get experience in. These EV’s bolster a Pokemon’s stat, and each Pokemon can receive no more than 510 EV’s total. It’s a bit hard to grasp, but this means you can dramatically increase your Pokemon’s effectiveness in battle. An example: a Charizard raised in Special Attack and Speed will have significantly higher points in those skills than one trained in, say, HP and Defense. Then there’s the natures. There are 25 total, with 5 being inert. These natures further boost and hinder a Pokemon’s stats, adding more depth. Oh, I almost forgot abilities. Abilities were added in Sapphire and Ruby and appear on every Pokemon to further augment skills.

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, and that’s just the beginning. I won’t touch IV’s (every single Pokemon has a set of these, ranging from 0-31 that will further affect their attributes), breeding, egg moves or anything like that. Sites such as Serebii, Smogon and Bulbapedia are all dedicated to Pokemon, with Smogon focusing entirely on the competitive battle circuit of this “kiddy” series. While Pokemon will never take the place of Street Fighter or Madden or Call of Duty, it’s hard to deny there is a definite market out there for people who take Pokemon seriously. Just one glance at these sites shows you how much information and how much depth is crammed into these games.

For a series that many people gave up on (or never even bothered with) it’s very daunting to look at Pokemon and want to play. The game is as deep as you want it to be, and that’s what’s great about it. Kids love the game because they love the sense of adventure, they love the cute critters that fight for them, but older people love it for the strategy involved in the battles. While the main game itself will probably never bring things fans have been asking for from the start (a way to see and count EV’s, a way to see IV’s, easier and faster battles) it will always bring an insane amount of depth masked under a very shallow premise: Gotta Catch ‘Em All.

I’ve never once caught ’em all, but dammit if I don’t get excited when I hear a new Pokemon game is coming out.

Hello world!

22 02 2010

So I just created this thing. I’m expecting to update it frequently with feature-esque musings I come up with. It will most likely include my opinions (something similar to an editorial) on things in the world that I have an interest in, such as video games, movies and so on. I plan on using this quite a lot, so stay tuned!

I’m aware that a smart jarnalist (or person) should never make a promise like that, but I’ll give it my best shot.