Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Round and Round

I know a lot of people who can read the same book over and over again and still draw the same amount of enjoyment as the first read through. I am not one of these individuals. To me, books are essentially a one-way street-the story begins, engages, climaxes and concludes-The End. So I get a little frustrated when linear, story-focused games assume the player will perform a complete replay of the game (without having an online multiplayer option, of course). Rock Band was designed to be a continually replayed game. Mario Party-drunken replay game. No intricate story, no hidden mechanic. These games sit on top of your entertainment center instead of getting filed away because they reappear often during your week-to-week plays and allow for single-serving entertainment. So although I enjoyed playing Bayonetta, I was not terribly happy about the many unspoken assumptions, the biggest of which being the replay assumption.

Okay, first of all, the game allows you to initially choose from three difficulties: Normal, Easy and Very Easy. I found Devil May Cry intensely difficult at times on Normal Mode, so because I was playing Bayonetta as a time filler until Bioshock 2’s Tuesday release, I choose Easy, which was also “Automatic” mode. What does this mean? I had no idea at the time and no explanation was given. Now that I have finished the game I have learned that it means half of the collectibles and an entire side mission were eliminated. Now, I recall a large amount of space for potential text underneath the Words “Easy” and “Automatic”. Maybe there should have been a footnote that lets players know of these eliminations prior to choosing this mode as I certainly would have chosen Normal had I known it would affect play beyond weaker enemies and simpler boss battles. All right, so let’s assume I am playing Bayonetta for nothing but the story itself. Why not eliminate game mechanics solely in Very Easy Mode to allow a player to breeze through the actual interaction and focus only on the narrative and cut scenes (of which there are loads)? Ultimately, I was disappointed that after a highly satisfying and seemingly thorough (and meticulous) playthrough I discovered that I had only played about 75% of the game. Hard Mode doesn't even seem to be available until you complete the game once on Normal. Breezing through the Xbox Achievement list I found many combat-specific awards that required purchasing items in the Gates of Hell-items the game itself never encourages you to acquire. In fact, it never really instructs or motivates you to do anything other than continue moving forward, break environmental objects and/or create intricate mental flow charts to follow the characters and the ecclesiastical storyline. I suppose if I had purchased the game full-price I would love the idea of being able to play it over and over again and find something new each time. But here’s the thing about a game like Bayonetta-there are no choices you can make that would alter the storyline in any way. Take a game like Dragon Age, for example, which also has a fairly linear story-the replay assumption for DA is also inherent, but understandable because you can have a unique experience every time by making a variety of different choices along the way. Not so for Bayonetta. With so many games in constant development, I can’t imagine wanting to obsessively shoot angels for months on end just to acquire more halos/coins to purchase more items to use them obsessively shooting more angels.

At face value, however, I found Bayonetta to be quite entertaining. Like I said in my last blog, as a character Bayonetta was obviously created with great care and devotion, which makes guiding her on her journey a pleasure. The story itself was dark and grim, even while Bayonetta herself was always winking and flirtaciously sarcastic. There are some surprisingly touching moments in the game between Bayonetta and two other lead characters that hint at some deeper emotions swirling beyond her long legs and come hither attitude. It was these elements that kept the game from dragging morosely alongside all of the other Action Adventure Apolocalptica games that are currently in release-all very interesting, but also deadly serious in their quest for vengeance/war/true love. Great fun for a weekend game.

Speaking of replay assumption…Borderlands! For a game that has a fairly loose storyline, kudos to you, Gearbox, for tapping into the psychology of ‘Want! Need!’ with your randomly-generating weaponry. It kept Matt on the edge of our couch for two complete playthroughs (‘I’m Level 50 now!’) while still willing to have another go with me in Split-Screen mode. It's hilarious how many times I’ve killed King Wee-Wee in the past two months or so.

I am currently elbow-deep in Bioshock 2. And…it’s so…beautiful. *tears*

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