Saturday, March 19, 2011

PAX East: Bulletstorm (360)

Play Time: ~30min

What Happened:
This was the last game I played at PAX East Console Freeplay. I thought I'd go even more outside of my comfort zone (which really I should be doing more if I want to take this seriously) and try Bulletstorm. To start, I don't play first person shooters, so I was really, really bad at this game. The barrier to entry the FPS genre when you're not an FPS player is really high. This game does at least give you difficulties from 'very easy' 'easy' 'normal' (and then one or two more difficult option). I had intended to play on normal to get the full experience, but accidentally clicked 'easy'. :) After playing, I wonder if I should have gone for "very easy" to see if it compensated for that barrier to entry.

I forget exactly what happened plot wise. I started off with my gun pointed at some guy that me and my crew were threatening. I was really worried that the game was going to ask me to shoot him at point blank range (super uncomfortable) but I think I ended up just shooting a bottle off of his head. We jettisoned him out of the airway of our spaceship after that though... there was some walking around our damaged ship (aforementioned guy had a bomb in his hand), a part where I manned the ships guns and shot at another ship, a part where we walked on the side of a skyscraper and swung in the window to kill someone (after which we went rogue, since we discovered we killed an innocent man!) then a part where I got off of my ship and walked around. It's all told in that sort of 'flashing forward and backward in the narrative timeline' style, so that's why I'm feeling fuzzy about the details now.

What I Liked:
Objective reached. I don't really remember what it looked like, but I had a note in my notebook that said "objective reached = cool" - I think the UI just made some sort of satisfying animation when I did what I was supposed to do, which made an impression on me.

Kicking. Kicking guys is surprisingly fun! I still don't really understand the slow motion aspect of it though... am I breaking gravity for them? Is it slow motion because it's a cool 300-eque moment? I never really got it.. but it still felt satisfying to kick someone.

What I Didn't Like:

Short! When I first got control of my guy, I saw a monitor over on the side of the room which looked like it would be, say, slightly above your eyeline, so I walked over to it --- and apparently the main character in this game is like 3ft tall! There are definitely some weird scale issues going on in this game. Issam and I tried to deduce my height through normal objects around me, and it seemed as though the main character comes up to about mid-thigh height on a real life person. :) I think the scale of objects was just really off.

Visual polish. There were definitely a lot of small visual details which were off. For example, the neck line of the main character was dotted by black pixels (which almost made it look like the model's head wasn't welded to his body), the edges of ship machinery had some pretty obvious crawling pixels where the light was hitting them, and when I was in the city pretty much all of the buildings had some significant Z-fighting going on. In a way, as with my comments in Marvel vs. Capcom - this sort of makes me feel a little better because I think that most people don't notice these details. This game is doing well, and I haven't heard anyone say "it looks like crap" so maybe we over-value details like this when we're considering the success of our own games. :) More visual details I wrote down: no blinking on your team mates, the hologram of the chief looks really bad, and in general the FX were pretty lame (very flat).

Space Shooting. The whole section where I was operating the space ship's guns was confusing. I didn't have a good sense of whether or not I was succeeding or failing, movement felt clumsy, and there was a gross filter over the whole screen which seemed unnecessary and distracting. (My notes on this section? "Ship shooting? Am I failing?")

False choices. There a number of moments where you're instructed to press a single button to make the action progress. Really, if I only have one possible choice, why are you asking me to participate. Maybe if my timing mattered, I'd at least feel more involved - but generally I just felt annoyed. Also, if you wait awhile to do what they're asking, the action just freezes up (I believe I've seen criticisms that CoD has a tendency to do the same thing - there are super intense situations where you're asked to act, but if you don't act the game totally breaks all of its illusions and holds still.)

Slow running. My guy is super slow. This annoyed me. It's not like I was a giant..

Staring. My companions seemed to be set up to constantly be looking in my direction - so whenever I look at them, there they are, just staring at me, unblinking. More than once it felt distinctly unnerving. Maybe this mostly just comes down to the lack of blinking mentioned above - but also, these are some pretty independent guys. They don't need to be looking at me all the time. It felt like it didn't fit in with the narrative to have these gruff men constantly looking at me to see what I was doing.

Kicking. As I said above, kicking is really, really fun. The problem is that, because it's so much more than shooting, I just wanted to do it all of the time - and unfortunately, my first real encounter did not allow for this. It seems like you're being put in situations where in order to survive you need to take cover and shoot - but that seems counter to the overall mood of the game, particularly when kicking is fun. I sort of felt like I'd been set up for failure.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Eh. As I said, I'm really bad at the whole FPS genre, and there really wasn't anything in particular about this game that drew me in, or felt different than other FPSs I've seen (except maybe the kicking, which I'm pretty sure you're really not supposed to use all that much.) I think I'm set for this one - but at least I went out of my comfort zone.

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