Monday, March 24, 2008

Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy X, and Cutscenes (and Misc. Bits)

I've gotten through the first disc of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, and to be honest, it's been a struggle to get through. The game has no tutorial to speak of and simply throws you into a room with several guards and expects you to figure out how to either evade or incapacitate them. I was stuck in this first room for about an hour before I cried uncle and cracked open the manual. Only then did I learn that you can sneak up behind guards, choke the life out of them, and drag them out of sight. I suppose this is my fault more than the game's but I've grown to expect console games to show me how to play it. Mass Effect had much the same problem.

Once I managed to get out of the first room I was able to get a little more comfortable with the controls. But they strike me as incredibly clunky. You use the analog stick to move, but you either creep or run, and there's no smooth transition between those states. It's hard to know where the threshold between the two is. Many times I've been sneaking up to a guard, only to accidentally lunge forward, alerting him and everyone within a half mile radius to my location. It's frustrating.

The Metal Gear Solid series is known for its convoluted storyline told through extensive cutscenes. I don't mind cutscenes, but the ones in MGS are pervasive to the point of annoyance. When I finish one ten minute cutscene, get two minutes of gameplay, and then have to sit through another ten minute cutscene, I start getting frustrated. I just want to PLAY.

Don't get me wrong. One of my primary motivations for completing a game is to find out what happens in the plot of the game. Unless I'm replaying a portion of a game several times, I don't skip cutscenes. They're rewards for getting through a portion of a game and serve to further motivate me to continue. The problem is when the game forgets that it's a GAME and not a movie. This is Metal Gear Solid's problem. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that when I actually get to play, it's an exercise in frustration for me. The irony is that the story is pretty good. Espionage, double-crossings, and sudden twists are the name of the game, and it makes me interested to know what happens next. I'm just losing interest in playing to find out.

The other annoying thing is that there are sequences that require you to backtrack through areas you've already been. I basically had to replay the entire game at that point in order to find a weapon for a boss fight. Later, while looking online, I found that doing so wasn't strictly necessary, but that was what the game told me to do. Backtracking through levels of a game is a sure way to make me not want to continue playing.

On the other side of the coin, Final Fantasy X has been a wonderful experience. I think I'm about ¾ of the way through, and as my first extended experience with a Final Fantasy game, it's been great. The characters are interesting, the story has drawn me in, and the gameplay itself is great fun. My experience with JRPG's is limited, but I find FFX's sphere grid to be more interesting than Enchanted Arms' or Eternal Sonata's boring method of leveling up. You're constantly leveling up as you play, therefore making each play session feel rewarding. The puzzle sections are a nice diversion, though it would have been nice to have them more integrated in the rest of the game rather than keeping them in certain sections only.

Cutscenes in FFX are spread out pretty evenly. They can be long, and they've occasionally devolved into melodrama, but the excellent gameplay between them makes me far more tolerant of them. It uses a mixture of in-game engine and pre-rendered cutscenes. The pre-rendered ones are gorgeous, and are truly a nice reward at the end of an extended series of dungeon crawls. Every time I see one, I want more, but the game wisely keeps them special by not overusing them. I don't know if this applies to every Final Fantasy game, but it's certainly effective in this one.

In other gaming news, I finally finished Gears of War's campaign. I started from the beginning and beat it on Hardcore difficulty with help of a few people online, then played through Insane mode with the help of yet another. The game is much easier, and consequently much more fun, when you have someone playing with you. I even went a few rounds online, but as expected it didn't really suck me in.

I also picked up Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 again. The developers released a new set of co-op missions for download, so decided to try them out. I forgot just how difficult those co-op missions are. Once I found a group of good people to play with, it was a great time. Those missions really require coordinated teamwork. Strategy is essential. The only problem is that strategy can only be formed by playing a mission several times in a trial and error fashion to figure out what needs to be done. It's still immensely satisfying to beat those missions.

Finally, I received Condemned 2: Bloodshot in the mail. The first game was a terrifying experience, and I'm looking forward to the sequel. I'm going to try to hold off on it until I finish FFX though. As for Metal Gear Solid… I want to finish it. I want to know what happens next. But I won't be surprised if it enters my pile of unfinished games. And will I even give Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 a try? Stay tuned.

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