Sunday, July 13, 2008

Game Club - BG&E Discussion 1

I mentioned in the Monday Report that I'd try to post something about my thoughts during and after playing the first assignment. You can go and view live discussion that Kotaku had (link). I didn't get a chance to participate but I have a few thoughts of my own.

The game starts off by throwing you into an action sequence. I found this interesting for two reasons: it doesn't spend a lot of time on exposition, and fighting is only a minor mechanic. It is wonderful to have a game that doen't give a lot of lead in. With many games providing near half-hour intros it is refreshing to be button mashing right from the start. This initial fight sequence also serves as the fighting tutorial. The action doesn't stop, but you are given pointers and are forced to use your charge-and-hold attack to defeat the mini-boss. Extraordinarily this works: combat is simple button mashing with dodging, and the sequence introduces emotional stakes (saving the kids) and character relationships (Pey'j).

As for the combat not being a major mechanic, I like it. Combat is context sensitive, and relatively easy to handle. Only a few moves are possible (attack, charge attack, and paired attack). With dodging, this gives you three buttons to manage, and keeps much of the combat context sensitive. Which is good, because having to manage too much with the clunkiness of the camera would have made the fighting parts eye-stabbingly. Besides, I'd rather explore, snap photos, and find out what is really going on than have to wade through endless baddies.

That's the other thing that the intro allows for: coming to your own conclusions. Initially there are the Alpha Sections, the protectors (who Pey'j shows some antipathy towards), the DomZ (the bad guys), and the IRIS network, portrayed as the subversive group. Everyone is using propaganda.

Actually, I don't even know who to trust. The story quickly heads in the direction of the good guys being not-so-pure, while the underground is trying to reveal the truth. I can see that, although it feels like it is too obvious, and certainly cliché. There is something up with the Alpha Sections, and the totalitarian overtones of their protections don't sit well at all. They obviously have the major media in their pockets too, as all the broadcasts are controlled by their spin.

However, the IRIS network doesn't sit well with me either. Underground networks that depend on secrecy to survive tend to have dark secrets. I've played ahead a bit more since Monday and I dislike the amount of counter-propaganda that seems to be coming from them. I'm worried that any info I send to them is going to come out skewed.

And I still don't know anything about the DomZ. The Alpha Sections claim that this is a war, and the DomZ are attacking us. There has been no indication of motive, so I don't know why. The IRIS claim that the Alpha's are in league with the DomZ, but they give no reason. I have yet to see any sentience, or intelligence, surrounding the DomZ attacks. I've fought monsters, but nothing that seemed more than beast. Even the attacks seem off, coming from some sort of portal in the sky. Nothing adds up and no one seems to have any motive. This appears to be a war, but it feels more like a distraction.

So, one mission in and I'm confused. I don't know who to believe, and no one is giving me anything but the party line. Even Pey'j is being cryptic. He knows that there is more going on than meets the eye, and he doesn't want me involved. I keep wondering what he knows that he isn't telling me.

Worth a Thousand Words
The picture taking mechanics do wonders for the game. It acts as an exploration tool, a collection too, a way to provide currency and upgrades, it provides maps to locations, and it works as character motivation. The pictures tell the truth of what is happening, and through your camera you can find out what is going on, and tell people.

My favourite part so far has been wandering the areas and trying to spot all the animals. The locations are detailed, and all the life feels organic. Nothing feels forced or out of place.

Pictures can also be misleading. I learned this at the end of the Black Isle Mines. You take the picture of the mating pair of creatures that you have been sent to find. Then you learn that it's really just one creature. The picture tells a different story than the truth. Trying to capture everything through the lens will be harder than it seems, I think.

Week One Final Thoughts
I like the game. There are a few quibbles with the camera and the controls (usually related to when the camera becomes fixed), but most of that can be overlooked. The combat is simple, and has stayed out of the way most of the time. The rest of the game feels good and has certainly done a lot in the first mission to make me think about the characters, and about everything that hasn't been said. I want to find the truth, but I really have no idea who, if anyone, has it.

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