Got Game? April '06 Feature - The Next Level

Got Game? April '06

Find out what we've been playing this Spring.

Article by TNL Staff (Email)
April 19th 2006, 07:05AM

Aaron Drewniak

I can't remember the clever topic I had planned for this month, so I'll just be honest with you in a way I've never been in a videogame writing situation before...

I don't care if a game is good.

I don't care if it's bad either. If it got solid tens from every magazine on the planet or it's been buried with all those copies of ET for the Atari 2600, which happened to be one of my favorite and most played 2600 games. And I'll tell you why. It wasn't because I was a stupid kid, even though I was. It's because the other 2600 games at the time were all about some immediate and simple action, if it was chomping pellets in Pac-Man or running from screen to screen in Berzerk. ET offered a narrative structure with locations and set goals to result in a true ending, instead of going on and on forever until you died or just got bored. It was something unique.

I waited on baited breath for months for the original Phantasy Star, staring up at the box art mounted on the wall with my pre-order ticket clutched in my hand ($60 of not so hard earned allowance money), without hearing reviews or a single outside word about the game, because I knew that it was going to be something special.

I'm in it for the experience. Either something so new that almost every action carries a thrill of unknown exploration, or something familiar that's been developed to such a level of perfection that it makes me weep just to think about it. Morrowind the former, Borderdown the latter. Half-life 2 is neither.

Recently, the law of diminishing returns has been a killjoy. As more and more games are made, fewer and fewer do more than simply ape what's come before them, while time and budget make perfection a very rare commodity. Developers in general have moved further and further away from simpler concepts, and closer to closer to the day when all games will either play like Final Fantasy, GTA, or Madden.

But let me come back to Half-life 2. It's a good game without question, but it's really just the same game as the original Half-life (which I've played and enjoyed) with fancier graphics and a somewhat gimmicky physics engine. After a long introduction (in the case of HL2 way too damn long) things start to go bad, and it's up to one scientist to follow along a set path with scripted sequences, to set things right again. An exciting and new experience back in the HL days has become stale and terribly forced in the modern era. I mean, they make a teleportation joke that's as old as the original Star Trek at the expensive of immersion. They risk the life of the game's pin-up queen for no reason at all... only to make you sharply aware that she's never at risk. Just the way Gordon is never at risk when being chased by the new age Nazis. It's all scripted, controlled... boring. The surface tension has been broken.

So I popped in Second Sight instead, which I bought at the same time only because it was $8, while knowing next to nothing about it, other than it was made by Free Radical, who also created the awe-inspiring Timesplitters: FP. Immediately, it's far more immersive and interesting than Half-life 2 was. The characters are less realistic, but far more animated and full of personality. You have the sense that something has gone terribly wrong and you want to know why. You feel for the bandaged wretch of the main character even before you know anything about him. Perfection on the intro, and in the gameplay... innovation! A third person camera that can either be fixed or follow behind the character, and changed by a tap of a button! If DMC3 had this, it might have actually been worth finishing instead of forgetting I had even owned it.

So am I saying Second Sight is a better game than Half-life 2? No, I'm not saying that at all. The nub of it is Half-life 2 is a prettier version of a game I've already played, and don't ever feel the need to play again, while Second Sight has something different going on, in both style and gameplay departments. That's what I crave. That's my vice, my drug, my... whatever blood is to vampires.

New experiences.

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