Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Month In Games: Nov./Dec. 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order - PS4

Alright, I may have mentioned this before, but in the interest of honesty and full disclosure I'm just going to come right out and say that I'm not a big FPS guy. Now, to be clear, I'm also not one of those people who thinks that everyone who plays Call of Duty is a Dorito munching, Mountain Dew swilling mouth breather. I mean, let's be real, the number of mouth breathing COD players is probably only hovering at about 75% of its total fanbase. Law of averages and all that.

Seriously though, I played my fair share of Doom and Quake back in the day; I even put in a good chunk of time with this game's 90s ancestor Wolfenstein 3D, but these days I don't play many FPS games at all and when I do I usually go for the more story driven ones (like Bioshock), and I NEVER do any online multiplayer. If I had to pick one main reason that the genre doesn't appeal to me, I'd probably say that it has to do with the general lack of variety in the gameplay. Staring at your hands and shooting dudes gets a little old.

And yet, despite my many reservations and personal prejudices, I found myself itching to play this game after hearing good things about its story, graphics, and straight-forward gameplay. In terms of its presentation, Wolfenstein: The New Order was clearly designed to hearken back to the days when FPS games were linear, story driven blast-a-thons. There's no squad-based tactics, no magic spells, and you won't even find the now ubiquitous regenerating armor mechanic. Heck, this FPS is so old school it doesn't even have a multiplayer mode.

So how did it work out for me? Not great! The graphics and sound are nice, but just about everything else falls short in my view. The combat feels dated and spammy, and the story, while it does have a very cool premise (the Nazis won WWII and you're fighting alongside a rebel resistance), is nothing short of ridiculous. In fact, I was so bothered by the unnecessarily difficult gameplay and the over-the-top story that I just couldn't bring myself to finish the game. Seriously, the main character begins the game having spent 20 years in a coma and he snaps out of it just in time to slaughter a cadre of Nazi soldiers who have invaded the Polish mental hospital in which he has been living. Oh, and did I mention that he's just as buff as he was before he slipped into a catatonic state? If the gameplay had been more interesting I might have pressed on just to experience the silliness, but I just couldn't abide.

Grade: C

The Evil Within - PS4

The latest survival horror creation from Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Resident Evil 4) is upon us and..... it's a little bit of alright! It plays and feels a lot like RE4, to tell you the truth. In fact, you wouldn't be at all out of line if at first blush you mistook this game for yet another entry in that vaunted series. Yep, it's a pretty good Resident Evil clone from the man who invented Resident Evil.

Much like its spiritual predecessors, it features a garbage story and loads of gunplay, as well as scads of shuffling zombies and other mutated freaks to kill. I get the sense that this game is Mr. Mikami's attempt to "right the ship" and appease the fans who have complained loudly about the more action oriented direction that Resident Evil has been headed in since RE5.  If this is indeed the case, then I must say that he has succeeded. The Evil Within is combat heavy survival horror that emphasizes resource management and ammo conservation while also incorporating stealth kills and character upgrades. The graphics are nice, the fighting feels good (though at times the stealth kills feel unnecessarily difficult to pull off without alerting the enemy), and moody vibes and jump scares abound.

It all works fairly well, and I had enough fun with it that I jumped directly into the New Game + after I finished my first playthrough, but the truth is that The Evil Within never really jelled for me. As I mentioned, the story is not just bad (well...let's say extremely mediocre), it's also borderline incomprehensible at times, and many of the game's themes and horror motifs are just beyond clich├ęd. Zombies in a run-down mental hospital...AHHH! The stealth elements and melee attacks also feel half-baked. In fact, most of the time they almost feel like red herrings; left in the game as a way to lure you into close quarters combat with the enemy. And let's be honest with each other here: as much as people like to talk about concepts like resource management and limited ammunition being tension heighteners in a game like this, I never feel hopeless while playing survival horror games. I mean, the game CAN'T put you into a position where you simply don't have the resources to advance, otherwise it would be a fundamentally broken game, no? I've always just found it weird how so-called hallmarks of the genre (e.g. limited resources), things that people seem to clamor for and don't hesitate to whine about when they feel they're not getting enough of it, just don't seem to hold up when you examine them closely.

In the end, The Evil Within stands as a fine example of the genre. Everything works well enough and some will undoubtedly be drawn in by its ham-fisted Lovecraftian story. There's no multiplayer or bonus modes, but I wasn't intrigued enough by the combat to be disappointed by the lack of any such extras. Bottom line, if you've been waiting for a "proper" followup to RE4 then you should probably check this game out. Those who may be looking for an experience more akin to RE5 or  RE6 could probably do better.

Grade: B-

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