About a week back, I picked up the highly acclaimed and much-loved Deus Ex: Human Revolution. While I initially loved the hell out of it, my poor choices of augmentations and my absolute ineptitude when it comes to stealth made each skirmish (which I quite enjoyed in the first mission) a trial-and-error process that resulted in me playing my PSP during load screens every 35 seconds or so.
While I enjoyed the stealth in the first mission (perhaps because of my silenced stun gun, which I eventually abandoned for weapons that I could actually find ammo for), later on, it seemed as though enemies could see me wherever I was and that trying to kill or knock out an enemy would pretty much lead to instant, bloody death.
It’s a damn shame, too, because when I was properly using my augs, the game was an absolute blast. For instance, to get over a fence to get into an apartment I needed to get to, I used my enhanced strength to stack dumpsters into an impromptu staircase. While that sounds silly, I was actually quite proud of myself for doing this… Even though, once again, I died in the process, because throwing dumpsters apparently counts as an act violent enough for people to want to shoot you on the streets of Detroit.
The second combat-heavy mission, despite containing a moment where I was really proud of my aug use (I jumped about 50 feet from the rafters of a warehouse to land perfectly in front of the elevator, all thanks to my high-fall augmentation), was where the trial-and-error gameplay began driving me nuts. Somehow though, I soldiered through, killing practically everyone I saw in the process. Then… I got to the boss.
I’m not going to waste a lot of time beating up Deus Ex for its apparently outsourced boss battles, as the rest of the internet has already done that for me. I will just say that when I throw an explosive barrel at an enemy’s head and he doesn’t even flinch, I get a bit grumpy. Needless to say, I’ve since put Deus Ex on hold.
Speaking of putting things on hold, I’m wondering if I’m getting less patient and forgiving in my old age (21 is old, right?). Mass Effect, a similarly critically acclaimed Shooter-RPG had a similar effect on me. This is another game that I enjoyed quite a bit, but there were little elements of combat that just pushed me away. I’m about 99% certain that nobody at Bioware who designed the MAKO driving sequences had ever been in a car. The fact that the enemy Geth that I was fighting against pretty much demanded the MAKO’s missile capabilities to defeat meant that I had another game to put in my “on hold” pile.
Where is the mercy and forgiveness that the young me had for titles like MegaMan X6? Why can’t I enjoy these otherwise great games? Why is it that I’m willing to enjoy Final Fantasy XIII despite its story and can’t bring myself to play further in Mass Effect? Nier, which I love, might even be a better comparison for Mass Effect, because it’s simply broken in places.
At first I thought it was my deep-seated love of Japanese games, but just the other day I picked up The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena by Starbreeze. While The Darkness assured Starbreeze a special place in my heart, I somehow missed Escape From Butcher Bay when it came out in 2004. The night I started the Butcher Bay remake included in Dark Athena, I was disappointed. It was more of the I’m-trying-to-be-stealthy-oh-no-I’ve-been-spotted-now-I’m-dead that I disliked in Deus Ex. I only gave the game about 20 minutes (it was late), but I was just about ready to trade it back in for something else (thanks Gamestop’s 7-day grace period!).
However, the next day, I brought my 360 over to my friend Michael’s house. Michael is one of the few people I know who is actually fond of the Riddick series. He played the original Butcher Bay on PC, and when I saw him play Dark Athena, everything suddenly clicked with me. He lived in the shadows, sneaking up on enemies and using their weapons against them. It was almost elegant how well he understood the game’s mechanics. With a new excitement and some altered strategies I restarted Escape From Butcher Bay the next night.
All of a sudden, the stealth elements started making sense to me. When Riddick was crouched and the screen was blue, he couldn’t be seen. My style alternated between giving amateur lobotomies in the dark (with the shivs I picked up from various inmates in the game’s titular space prison) and darting in and out of the shadows with a shotgun or assault rifle, leaning out of my hiding spots when the time was right.
Strangely enough, it felt lot like Deus Ex's stealthy cover system, especially because Riddick and Jensen are both highly susceptible to bullets. Riddick also shares Deus Ex's tendency to make stealth unfair at times, primarily through camera-mounted turrets that are incredibly hard to see (that will kill you if you’ve drawn a weapon while not in the shadows) and occasional fights against guards in mech suits.
However, despite these frustrations (that led to a lot of deaths), there’s something about Riddick that makes me want to keep playing. It’s certainly not Vin Diesel’s power-fantasy that is Richard B. Riddick. I think it’s due to the fact that the game’s mechanics never limit me and story is always driving me forward.
Deus Ex's augmentation system and the weapons I brought to the fight seem to have made progression nigh on impossible. What are my abilities? Oh, I can jump over the guy, fall from a high place, or even pick up a barrel and throw it at him. None of the points I put into hacking, conversation, or my radar help me here. Besides, when I pick up an explosive barrel, there's a good chance he'll just shoot it when it's in my hands, killing me instantly. I should have invested in enhanced health…
Mass Effect just has me bored and displeased. While I could go through the MAKO segment, I’m not really interested enough in meeting Liara T’soni to be drawn back to the game. Besides, now that I have Wrex and Tali in my party, I don’t feel like I need anyone else. I’m just not compelled to get through the already overlong vehicle segment.
Somehow, Riddick has avoided both of those pitfalls. The desire for escape kept me playing, despite the aggravating turrets and mechs. The things I had done in the game and the way that the characters reacted to Riddick kept me thinking that no matter how impossible the situation seemed, regardless of whether I had one unit of health left or six, I could get through it.
So far, that’s always been the case.
I really want to go back to Mass Effect and Deus Ex, but at the moment, the thought of going back to the abysmal driving and overwhelming boss fight just doesn’t appeal to me. Perhaps I just need somebody to show me the ropes in those games like Michael did with Riddick…
- consumeallmedia posted this