Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Synthetic Play #2 | Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance


The reaction to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has confused me. Raiden has suddenly become cool.

He was supposed to do that in Metal Gear Solid 4, and he was only supposed to do that because of the disgusting reaction gamers gave him in 2001 with his debut in Metal Gear Solid 2. Now Platinum Games has seemingly turned him into---

ta-daaaa

Fucking Dante.

Yeah, I know I'm kind of biased given the window of play and affinities at work here specifically, but stick with me for this ride, it'll only take a few minutes.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simply because Jeanne is better...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

'Fuck You Dante'

 
"I hear quite often when we enter the turbulent waters of “entitled gamer syndrome” that fans should stop complaining and vote with their wallets. If you don’t like it, so the advice goes, quit whining and just don’t buy it. I certainly think the most effective possible protest in a capitalist economic system is to vote with one’s wallet, though I have no problem with vocalizing complaints alongside said protest. Yet here we have an example of that very self-same thing happening right before our eyes, and now it turns out that voting with one’s wallet is actually akin to destroying a brand out of spite. It’s almost—almost!—as if some people think game publishers are entitled to sales regardless of whether or not customers particularly care for the product." 1
So DmC just sideswiped a bunch of fans' expectations in the past month eh? Some consider it a personal affront by merely existing, others took it as a misguided reason to appreciate a series that they generally had no interest in beforehand, and---yes, a sizable chunk of poor fools out there were simply upset because Dante's fucking hair wasn't white.

If anybody recalls my stance almost three years ago2 , they won't be too surprised when I state that my opinion hasn't changed much on the matter. One thing I did not expect was that Ninja Theory would actually make a game this 'good'. The active words here being 'game' and 'good', the former shows that Ninja Theory stepped its talent up from the likes of Enslaved and Heavenly Sword, which weren't poor endevours mind you, but the two titles weren't exactly known for their exemplary gameplay amongst their respective genres. The latter suggests that Ninja Theory either took input from Capcom to heart in a big way and/or they really looked at what made the former games tick from a mechanical standpoint.

If one weighs it against what players wanted, what they expected, and what they got, DmC still has no great argument for existing, and the collaborative efforts between its two developing houses did just about everything one can do wrong when presenting this game to its fanbase/newcomers. Nothing quite rings as false as the jump from bold change to pandering redaction and that's just one of the specious ways this game was handed to people. However, juggling all this stuff together made a difference at the end of the day, and most of it was good if you judge it on its own merit as a stand alone title.

The problem is---there's still no real reason to do that. Separating the baggage from this game is only useful insomuch as to appreciate it as something which it isn't, a standalone IP that may have been fantastic as a initial entry in a genre not very populated or revered by mainstream.

'It seems to me that a lot of the negative things being said about this game boil down to ' I want this, and they didn't give me this, bullshit.'
It's unfortunate this game is called 'Devil May Cry.' It alienates the (in my opinion) rightfully annoyed fan base DMC has garnered, and makes people like me, who aren't really huge fans of the DMC series think, 'I didn't really enjoy the first, second, third, or forth. Why try this one?' 
The reality is, this is an interesting game that has a fantastic collection of creative ideas unfortunately wrapped in a name that says 'not for me' or 'not what I wanted.' " 3

However, the hardcore fans of the original series are being snotshits if they can find absolutely nothing to enjoy about this game whatsoever. Yes, if you're used to the depth and improvisation that the older titles accommodated, you're gonna hit a wall pretty fast with this game, as it was designed with some specific tenants in mind (e.g. the threshold for becoming adept with the fighting system was notably lowered). It took me all until the 2nd mission to hit that wall, but it didn't bother me because the game held its contextual design consistently and competently for the following 30+ hours I spent with it. Not only is the combat fluid, but it functions on par or better than most other hack-n-slashers available this console generation. The frames-per-second argument never really fazed me and I spent a good chunk of my time switching back and forth between 30 and 60 (because I kept playing with my graphics settings) with no noticeable difference in play on my part.

When it comes to the appreciation for the lore and the prior entries in the series mythology---well there's just no way around it, Ninja Theory did their job very well in this regard. The problem for a lot of players I see whining comes from contextualizing personal preference and constantly comparing it to the prior games characters and setup.

And yes we have to take the games' lore seriously, as silly as it is---it's particular style holds major appeal for most of the fanbase and those who buck against it. And let's be serious, outside the indie uprising and a few exceptions, the vast majority of game stories range from silly to fucking stupid. Devil May Cry is just one of the few franchises that actually knows its own ridiculousness. In some ways, the crassness in DmC will turn the same people away that it did before, but Ninja Theory is a better fit for presenting the game in this fashion at this time. Why? It feels more coherent than all four of the prior games put together. Of course this stance could be toppled over when and if Ninja Theory ever makes a sequel to this game, but if we're gonna look at Devil May Cry 1-4, there's some serious tonal shifts going on.

Hideki Kamiya probably hasn't felt too much personal affection for the franchise or character specifically since it slipped away from him in 2001 with the original game. Dante as a character is the result of fan fervor, not some great auteur statement. Each game in the series has seen a shift in character and design for him and none of it is really handled well in the game's own lore because---well does it really matter at the end of the day if it plays well? The transition from the games' canon going from Devil May Cry 3 to Devil May Cry 1 is about as much as we get.

Devil May Cry 1 - Character is reserved, confidently seasoned, a smart aleck but far more serious than he is playful.
Devil May Cry 2 - Aloof, brooding, and borderline emotionless.
Devil May Cry 3 - 'Full of piss and vinegar', rowdy, youthful and vigorous
Devil May Cry 4 - A caricature of the 'Trickster' trope4, humorous,  a mixture between elements of the first game and the third game.
DmC: Devil May Cry - Self-destructive, youthfully apathetic, impulsively conscientiousness

The fourth entry is the most interesting if for no other reason than the same trick was pulled with him that was pulled with Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I would have enjoyed seeing some kind of elaboration in character development from what Hideki Kamiya presented (the most similar I saw in tone with the first game was not anything in the game franchise, but the Animated Series5), but I have a better chance of flying a pig to the top of Kilimanjaro than I do seeing that. I can only critique what I'm given and Devil May Cry 4 and DmC's Dante are the most sophisticated as characters. They're the only two who carry themselves throughout their respective narratives without some major compromising shift made for the sake of jamming some haphazard attempt at character development in the players' ear. Both Devil May Cry 2 and 3 do this in spades and it's successful in some areas and worse in more but it always rings as an inorganic and borderline counterproductive way to create a character---even if the sole aim is style over substance.

Mechanically, DmC has a low threshold towards aptitude and a deceptively low ceiling in terms of playstyle, particularly in comparison with the prior games. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, yes it does allow many new players and more easily frustrated people to hone themselves towards perfecting their combat styles. On the other, the low ceiling whacks veterans of the series right in the face when they try to do creative or more high level things with the system (and sometimes the game will just outright break if you try).

DmC primarily works off a dualist exchange between Angel and Demon weapons. From what I've played (which is more than what most people I've seen that 'love it' have), Demon weapons are primarily for power attacks and angel arms seem to be more suited to building combos and crowd control. I call into question the efficacy of the latter because the Style ranking in this game doesn't seem to value the combos themselves, but their correlation to damage output, which means extra work has to be done with angel weapons for no benefit.  There's a difference between 'light weapon' and useless (I find it hilarious the the achivement for aquiring the Osiris is aptly titled 'Thing drives me crazy'). Not only that, but the myopic nature of how the weapons work in relation to the enemies will allow very limited variation in terms of play style past a certain point. For example, in Devil May Cry 4, I could be surprised at how ingenuitive some high level players could be with the Lucifer to dispatch enemies. However, in DmC, I won't be surprised at someone using an Angel weapon past a certain point because it's just not worth the investment training with (to be fair though, it's an easily tweaked problem that a patch could fix in terms of damage).

Yet, in what would appear to be in it's favor, DmC is not a ballbuster of a game. It can have its challenging moments, but usually I found myself grinning every time the game tried to throw me something that it thought would kick my ass. I never felt truly threatened (though the color-coded Rage demons were irritating as fuck) Even on its hardest regular difficulty, once the player has addressed handling certain lesser demons (e.g. Rages, Witches, Dreamrunners, etc.), the game will lose almost every time.While that should be a rather godsend for the Western audiences this game seems to go after so aggressively, the sales of the game would speak otherwise6 (and that second quote in this post speaks volumes here). Hell, as I recall, Devil May Cry 3 originally had its difficulty lowered in a later released Special Edition because of complaints on the original 'Normal' difficulty in America. I'm not sure how well that appeal to Western audiences worked, but I doubt it failed on the level that this game's inceptions seems to have misfired on.

Though I feel I've spoken too negatively on the game here which is inconsistent with my earlier statement on how good the game is. Well, the game is good, even mechanically. In terms relative to both Enslaved and Heavenly Sword, hell it's even great. The mechanics are solid and as a hack-n-slasher it's well above competent in not only enjoyability but functionality. The seamless transition between all five of Dante's primary arms (Rebellion, Eryx, Arbiter, Aquila, and Osiris) could even give Devil May Cry 3 & 4 a run for its money in terms of just base attacks. The game also does a very good job of layering each combo set between weapons. Most of the weapons have roughly the same button combinations to perform similar functions (e.g. all five have a launch attack which sends the enemy into the air that requires the same button strike), so starting a combo with Eryx and finishing it with Arbiter7 has its benefits. There's an argument to be had on the feel of each weapon being diminished by similar templates in which only animation and power output are a factor, but I think the tradeoff works in DmC's case. As a first outing relative to its competition, DmC is very much a fantastic entry by Ninja Theory. I doubt we're gonna see a sequel, but I wouldn't be as terrified of it as I was initially of this.

Visually, the game is amazing8. This is definitely its strongest point. What it does with its engine is not only good-looking technically, it's pretty damn impressive from an artistic standpoint. While I still prefer the general milieu of Devil May Cry 1-4's gothica backdrop, it could certainly take plenty of notes from how DmC treated its urban jungle hellhouse (which without said effects become a rather bland backdrop, which makes it all the more admirable). Landscapes warp and tear around you and Greater Demons seem to be able to shift them violently according to their will. In relation to this is the platforming inherently relevant to the landscapes going haywire, and I will say that navigating various areas with the Ophion forms and Dante's Angel Glide make platforming more enjoyable than they were in the prior incarnation of the series (e.g. DMC 1-4 had some platforming and offshoot areas that were just plain terrible). The downside here becomes the game's linearity in some fashion. The game does try to give alternate routes every now and then, but exploration still doesn't really become DmC's best attempt because of them, and I don't think it made a great argument for why it even should become a goal.

All the characters have forgone the borderline anime feel in favor of a more realistic European aesthetic. While Dante doesn't look like the initially revealed emaciated model for this game, he's mostly the same black-haired & rough-edged white dude. Vergil's look has stayed the same in tone, but not in character and it can be jarring for people familiar with Devil May Cry 3 (which isn't so much a flaw, but worth noting). Characters like Kat, Mundus, and Lilith all fit the roles in the world Ninja Theory created, though it is sort of depressing seeing what they went with concerning Kat. She looks fine as is (though generic when her character is accounted for), but after seeing all the conceptual art the game unlocks for her across playthroughs, it looks like they had plenty of options that would have suited her to mesh with the game's world more effectively. Kat specifically is her own character and not a black and white analog for Dante's previous female companions Trish and Mary (i.e. Lady), which is a +1 in the game's favor.

Soundwise, the game still holds true to creating a musical blindspot in terms of using hyper aggressive music that usually isn't first on the list of favorites from your average person. Whereas the older games used a combination of generic screamo and ethereal original themes, DmC uses exclusively tracks from Combichrist and Noisa, who update on the edgy rock tunes with a more electronica flavor. If we remove the original themes that the older games used, I much prefer this electronic 'aggrotech' that DmC primarily uses over the screamo tunes; where the prior games kind of created a beneficial (though jarring) juxtaposition through its music, DmC's tunes fit with its world and story far more effectively. The voicework and dialouge works on the same campy level that both makes it an individual thing and a respectful nod to the silliness of the older games.

I'll trade in my nerd cred here as both a huge fan and aficionado of the older titles and an admirer of what Ninja Theory did here. DmC is a truly odd case for a myriad of reasons and I doubt this will be the last I hear of it in terms of Japanese games being 'Westernized' and such, but I'll genuinely be disappointed if we never see a followup; the path it walked to get here however was a lonely and clumsy one and I certainly won't be surprised if we never hear from it again.


1. Are Fans To Blame For Lower Than Expected 'DmC' Sales? - Erik Kain, Forbes [Link]
2. Tokyo Game Show 2010 - 'DmC' - Myself [Link]
3. 'pcbuildname', reddit commentary [Link]
4. "The Trickster or Clown, is an example of a Jungian archetype. In modern literature the trickster survives as a character archetype, not necessarily supernatural or divine, sometimes no more than a stock character. Often too, the Trickster is distinct in a story by his acting as a sort of catalyst, in that his antics are the cause of other characters' discomfiture, but he himself is left untouched. " - Trickster,  Wikipedia [Link]
5. It's the only thing I've seen in terms of media that even comes close to Dante's character in the first game [Link]
6. 'DmC: Devil May Cry shipped 1 million in January, forecasts slashed' [Link]
7. Note that the Arbiter's Trinity Smash is basically one move that can carry you through the entire game (on all difficulties) if you know how to use it effectively. 
8. My Flickr photoset from my time with the game (still growing) [Link]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Alderaan

Friday, February 1, 2013