Monday, November 24, 2008

My 2008 Demo Reel

This is my 2008 demo reel. Tell me what you guys think.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Retrospective: Gears 2

I recently finished the single player section of my Gears of War 2. It was an adrenaline-pumping experience with hordes of enemies charged upon my poor Fenix like the bubbles that burst when I innocently shake my McDonald's coke. It also fulfilled my bloodthirsty nature with more than twenty methods of torturing enemies at my disposal. However, there is one aspect of the game that keeps bugging me for the whole time, the narrative.

It could be argued that Gears have never been about the storyline, it is about gore, violence, and gigantic space marine. That view, although acceptable, is flawed. From the interview with Gamasutra on October 2008, Cliff Bleszinski mentioned that they have hired a writer, Josh Ortega, to write the story for it. So that Gears 2 storyline would be better than Gears 1. As quoted:

"I think if you can believe in what's going on in the world around you and really believe that this is a desperate situation, and that Dom is becoming increasingly frustrated with the search for his wife, those are narrative hooks."

Cliff was trying to strive for believability of the characters and the desperate situation of human, especially Dom who was searching for his wife. But the message that he was trying to get across through this game has surely evaporate on the process. You can't help but wonder whether Dom actually cared about his wife at all when he killed her, because she turned skinny and ugly due to the tortures. After that, he ran around with chainsaw killing Locusts without even slight remorse in his heart (or at least the game doesn't show it...). But it seems that to Cliff B., this is absolutely acceptable and even commendable, as quoted:

"I think we did an admirable job of it... For some reason, Gears seems to have more of a female following than other shooters."

Female following? Because you killed your wife when she turned ugly? This would surely go well with my wife.

Furthermore, sometimes you have to wonder whether the humans are actually in trouble at all when your squad that consist of 4 soldiers (Fenix, Dom, Cole, and Baird) could destroyed the whole Locust base without a scratch on them. Although the first one also contained the same storyline, the second one unfortunately do it worse. This is mainly due to the number of Locusts that appear on screen. As much as you are supposedly fighting millions of Locusts in the first one, you are always presented with maximum of 5-6 Locusts on one screen. Although this is because the limitation of the Unreal Engine, the game subconsciously send a message to your brain that you are just a small part of an epic war. You killed some Locusts on the way to finish your part of the mission to save humanity, while other teams are doing their part of the mission somewhere else.

This is contary with what you found in Gears 2. Showing how epic the war actually is is one thing, but asking the players to kill hundreds of Locusts, whether using tank or the Brumak(one of the Locusts' gigantic creature), is the wrong approach to communicate Cliff's idea of human's desperate situation. All the main characters just become superheroes, iconic but inhumane. Because of this, Gears 2 characters are even less believable than the first one.

Finally, the story arc is laughable at best, which made you wonder why they bother to hire any writer at all. The cutscenes are basically cliches after cliches. Oh no, the Queen escaped right in front of my eyes. Oh, you are our only hope "again", Fenix. I don't know what those reviewers in metacritic are smoking, but saying the pacing of this game is good is just like saying the pacing of my eating is masterful. The game starts out with normal difficulty, and become progressively harder as it reached the middle but as it get closer to the ending, it became so mind-bogglingly easy. In the final part, you controlled a Brumak, killing every type of Locusts in your way using machine gun and rocket launcher which are attached to your body. I played hardcore mode and I don't even reach a point where I almost died. Furthermore, you won't believe how effortless it is to kill the final boss. It is as if the game designer forget he is designing the final boss for a hardcore shooter game, not a baby game.

It is also unreasonable for the game to let the players see the Queen (predictably the final boss of the game) but did not let them even touch her. I understand the reason behind the decision, Epic wants the queen to be the boss in the third one. But by doing this, they destroyed the player's trust in the game mechanics. Imagine, you saw the Locust General(the last boss) from the first Gears, but rather than let you killed him, the game made him escaped. How do you feel? Disappointed? Absolutely. God of War 2 did this with Zeus escape, but the difference is, the game designer actually let you fight him first. They showed that Zeus is badly hurt by you, although her daughter, Athena, saved him from his imminent doom. The game doesn't cheat.

Other than the players' inability to fight the Queen, the boss battles in Gears 2 are mostly disappointments. The cool looking General with chainsaw(the Queen's right hand man) that you thought could be fought with your skill ran away on a Reaver( flying creature of Locust). You caught him with your Reaver and keep shooting until he fell off his Reaver and died. Just like that. What a waste of cool looking boss. The final boss, as I've mentioned before, is also a joke.

According to my favorite video game blogger, LB Jeffries, a video game masterpiece should be able to balance and maximize the game mechanics, narrative, and player input and combine them into one immersive experience. Gears 2 seems to stumbled upon one and failed to deliver that magnum opus.