BEYOND: TWO SOULS
David Cage is always pushing the boundaries of video games, edging as close to the cinematic as possible. Movie star Ellen Page even joined this project, taking on the role of Jodie Holmes, a young girl who had a connection with a mysterious entity called Aiden. The premise and look of the game were incredibly promising. It looked like we would get a personal, dramatic story rivaling that of Heavy Rain. The actual product didn’t live up to these high hopes.
The gameplay is almost entirely about story, guiding players through the narrative by tasking them with completing certain actions. Not only are these actions not fun to do, but the narrative is incredibly convoluted. It’s told out of sequence, jumping forwards and backwards and featuring some pretty lackluster storytelling. The graphics are incredible, fully realizing the narrative the game attempts to weave, but even the beautiful aesthetic can’t make Beyond: Two Souls fun to play.
LOST PLANET 2
The first Lost Planet was a game about taking down hulking insects on a snow covered planet, both on foot and in fearsome mechs. Lost Planet 2 decided to create a bigger, more fleshed out version of the first game. Not only were the environments more varied, but the enemies were even bigger. Seeing these things realized on the screen were fantastic. Deadly bugs tore through lush jungles and arid deserts, completely filling the player’s vision. Everything was breathtaking to behold, but the gameplay was a complete mess.
Navigating the levels and taking down enemies was incredibly dull and unintuitive. It involved a lot of hopping around, hitting opponents in their glowing weak spots and struggling to defeat enemies that were seemingly not meant to beaten. The trailers made everything look bombastic and visually stunning, but the gameplay itself only fell flat.
THE ORDER 1886
Sony was looking to create a new blockbuster franchise with the Order 1886. The first several trailers showcased a carefully crafted Victorian setting teeming with werewolves and a unique steampunk arsenal to wield. The visuals were some of the best seen on any console at the time. The facial capture and art style were better than anything else on the market. But, as the game’s release drew closer, it became clear that the experience might not live up to its look.
The Order 1886 is a third person shooter, but it doesn’t do anything special to differentiate itself from other heavy hitters in the genre. Every firefight amounted to crouching behind a small piece of cover and picking off generic enemies one by one. The title did very little to differentiate itself in terms of gameplay, instead focusing on the graphics and telling a somewhat interesting story.
FINAL FANTASY XIII
Final Fantasy XIII took more than four years to finally hit store shelves after its announcement. The series’ unique style was still very much intact, looking better than ever. You could almost see the individual strands of multicolored hair sprouting from each character’s head. Everything was a joy to explore and discover, but the game didn’t feel very much like its predecessors.
The structure of the game was much more linear, with no open world available until the game was almost done. You were just pushed from battle to battle. The battle system itself was a fun evolution of the ATB and job systems that had defined the franchise, but the sense of exploration that had always gone hand-in-hand with Final Fantasy was completely stripped away. Your health was even fully replenished after every encounter, also removing the sense of stress that large dungeons and long excursions brought on.
id Software was silent for many years while they toiled away on RAGE. It was the first game completely developed by the studio since Doom 3, set in a barren wasteland after an apocalyptic event sweeps across the globe. Not only this, but the game is open world, with plenty of open and closed spaces in which you can shoot mutants and raiders. The world is dirty and ravaged, and every location and enemy is beautifully rendered.
While many were hoping that it would breathe new life into the FPS genre, RAGE was instead just another lackluster shooter. It was functional, but ripping your way through enemies, crafting weapons, and utilizing various gadgets was just dull. Not only that, but as the game nears its conclusion it simply throws waves of enemies at you, seeing if you can walk away alive.
RYSE: SON OF ROME
Ryse Son of Rome is a perfect example of a game that is all style and no substance. The title gave us the most visually spectacular depiction of ancient Rome we have ever seen in a video game. The soliders’ battered armor glimmered in the light, the blood sank into the cobbled streets. Working your way through the game’s short campaign is a joy, though actually playing it is much less exciting.
It’s is a fairly standard action game. You swing your sword at enemies and when they glow a specific color, press the button of the corresponding color on the XBOX controller in order to kill them. It all looks great, but when combat breaks down to simply hitting the same buttons to bring enemies to the ground, killing hundreds of barbarian soldiers quickly becomes a chore.
Crysis was a visual showcase when it was released. Sneaking through lush jungles as a super soldier and picking off enemies using a variety of enhanced abilities sounded fun, but the game’s biggest selling point was its absolutely stunning visuals. It raised the bar for how good a video game could look. Not only did the jungles and caverns impress, but the rich alien environments were a marvel to explore.
The shooting was pretty subpar, however. The Nanosuit gives the player a variety of powers to manipulate but the shooting and stealth is nothing special. You just crouch your way through a variety of enemy camps, either picking them off slowly or just unleashing a veritable tidal wave of bullets and destruction. The action never really develops, but rather serves as a vehicle for guiding the player through the game’s beautiful environments.
The 2014 reboot of Thief left a sour taste in the mouths of fans. It marked the return of Garret after many years away, but the gameplay itself herded players through dimly lit alleyways and tasked you with very specific objectives. Working your way through the throngs of guards and figuring out how to dispatch them is a puzzle unto itself, but actually navigating the sprawling map and actually trying to be a function thief is easier said than done.
The only upside is that the worn down, Victorian city that serves as the game’s setting is a fantastic space to explore, even if it is occasionally a frustratingly dense maze. Each alley and rooftop is extremely detailed. The shadows hang heavy over the cobbled streets, and every trinket you can steal is incredibly well designed, as are the illustrious buildings you slink your way through. The entire game has a unique style and visual flair that makes the slow and occasionally unresponsive gameplay slightly more endurable.
The Arma series has made a name for itself as a simulation game that does a fantastic job depicting the hardships of modern combat. But it turns out that while war may look pretty, it is not as fun to play as it is to view. Every small action needs to be carefully calculated and planned. You can’t just storm a compound and shoot every enemy in the head. You need to manage food, water, ammunition, and carefully strategize your attacks. Arma 3’s gameplay is slow, complex, and often times quite dull.
The game does a great job of visually representing war, though. So at least you have something nice to look at while you crawl through miles of dirt and watch as your targets slowly shuffle around under the hot sun. The guns and tools at your disposal are incredibly detailed, as are the soldiers themselves and the uniforms they sport. The visuals at least add some flair to an otherwise tedious experience.
Remedy’s latest offering is a temporal adventure filled with plot twists, time travel, and lots of drama. The gorgeous visuals perfectly capture the fabric of time ripping and bending as protagonist Jack Joyce shoots concentrated blasts of time out of his palms. Temporal shifts or anomalies are depicted as clusters of gray, and red triangles shifting through the air, slowly consuming everything they touch.
The gameplay, however, is another example of beautiful visuals wrapped around a lackluster third person shooter. Joyce could dash from cover to cover, freeze enemies, unload a full clip into the stasis bubble, and watch as they were struck down in an instant by a dozen bullets. This was fun the first time, but the mechanic quickly wore out its welcome. Matters were only made worse when the game introduced enemies who were resistant to your abilities, stripping you of the only thing that made the gameplay unique in any way.