Four Mini-Reviews

While peterb wallows in his extended winter-induced MMO haze, I’ve been stuck on the console. I have the following four thoughts on my recent experiences.

PS3 Slim

I caved and bought a slim PS3 a few months earlier than I wanted to. But it’s OK because I had a gift card for it. This new incarnation of the Playstation yet again shows why Sony completely destroys Microsoft as a pure hardware company. Everything that made the original PS3 a better hardware platform that the original Xbox 360 is amplified by a factor of two in this new machine. It’s smaller and sleeker. It doesn’t require an external power brick. It hooks up to your wireless transparently. The thing makes basically no noise at all. You can’t really even hear the fan. The only noise the machine makes is an occasional rumble from the Blu-Ray drive.

The machine is a total joy until you actually have to interact with its software. When I stuck in Uncharted I had to wait 25 minutes for it to download and apply four patches one after another. I guess it’s just not feasible to combine them into one big ball. Speaking of Uncharted

Uncharted 2

I didn’t play the first Uncharted. I haven’t really even played the second one yet. But it was the first new game I stuck into the new PS3 and I had a quick thought about it. I put the game in the machine for about an hour and played through the introductory chapter and the tutorial. Having had this experience, I would like to propose that the guys at Naughty Dog go over to Ubisoft and teach those morons what pacing means in a narrative-driven video game. The tutorial in Uncharted 2 was brilliant. In a short half an hour or so it teaches you all the major game mechanics that you will need and sets up the plot in a series of remarkably well produced cut scenes. Compare that with the nearly three hours of torture that you are subjected to in Assassin’s Creed 2 before you are even allowed to stab someone. Well done.

Bioshock 2

I don’t have much to say about this one. Same cool setting and atmosphere. Same “environmental” combat mechanics. Same creepy little sisters. Dumber story. More combat. More combat means the game was less interesting and more tedious overall. The narrative and plot has the Dragon Age disease in that it tries to make up for the fact that it is completely redundant and mostly uncreative by just giving you more dialog. The more intense things get, the more your radio chatters on about THE FAMILY or WHATEVER. But none of it is particularly interesting. One good thing: the fetch quests don’t make you constantly backtrack.

Demon’s Souls

Demon’s Souls was the second game to go into the PS3. Here is a game that takes you through a straightforward tutorial and then immediately presents you with a Boss who more than likely insta-kills you with one hit. This is most definitely not the sort of thing I usually go for.

The best way to describe this game is as a Japanese take on Diablo with a bit of Nethack mixed in. You run through dungeons. You kill monsters. You collect “souls” that you can then use to buy more power. Then you run through the dungeons some more. If you die, no problem! You just run through the dungeon to where you fell over and pick up the souls you lost. Then you start all over again.

In most other games, this repetition would crush your very will to live, but for some reason in this setting with this game, it seems to work. You just have to put yourself into a state of mind where clearing the same enemies from the same spots on the same maps all over again is progress in its own right.

Demon’s Souls enables this by avoiding the narrative weight that many games seem to insist on carrying. There is almost no plot to advance, so not being able to advance it is not as bothersome as it would be if the plot were there. And, thank the gods above there is little or no NPC dialog in the game. This game is the anti-Dragon Age. No endless trees of pseudo-philosophical babble attempting to hide clumsy exposition. No badly written “emotion”. No artificial “moral choices.” The game is delightfully free of the encumbrances of the bad video game story. Instead, the point of the game is simple: you run through dungeons, you kill things, you do it again.

I’m sure I’ll get tired of it after the first few maps. But at least by the time I quit I will not have had to read enough bad dialog to fill eight novels.