Monday, July 30, 2012

Dustforce (PC)

Time Played: 2-3 hours

NOTE: I started this entry like, 2 months ago and never finished it! I apologize for the neglect! I've played a lot of games in the last couple of months that I'd like to write about, so I'm going to try to get them up here. In a way, the delay might end up being a good thing, since it lets my initial impression settle a little. For example, last year I wrote a glowing entry about Catherine - but pretty soon after I realized that most of my excitement was coming from the game being so unusual, not so much because I was actually enjoying it. Also I've found that almost every entry where I said "yes, I WILL keep playing this" I definitely did not. ;)   

What Happened: 
At the risk of pulling out a typical buzz-adjective, Dustforce can best be described as "slick" - it's an incredibly sleek, stylish game. On the surface it's a pretty simple 2D platformer where you run around removing all of the dust and dirt from the world, occasionally encountering critters and objects that have been possessed by the dirt that attack you until you 'purify' them (by whacking them a bunch of times). You play one level at a time, earning grades and unlocking more levels and more worlds as you go (level select is non-linear - you get to choose which levels you want to unlock).

That said, what the game is actually about (at least as I perceive it) is movement, momentum and style. It's that perfect chain in gaming where you keep doing everything right; one movement blends into the next seamlessly, and you move continuously. The only other game I've played with a similar focus is Mirror's Edge, but I feel that this game was more successful (granted, trying to do something like that in 3D is a lot different than doing it in 2D. I think this game also offers something different because you can see the character (again, Mirror's Edge would have had a bigger challenge showing the character), but there's definitely something magical in seeing your character's continuous movement. You are given a letter grade at the end of each level in completion and style - completion being how much of the dust you cleared/creatures you purified, style being (I can only assume) how well your movements flowed. (There's never an actual breakdown of what style means, but that seemed to correlate.)

What I Liked:

Intro Animation! Clearly for an indie team, making a fully animated intro animation is a lot of extra work, and people generally argue that it is best to get the player playing as quick as possible - but in this case I think it was worth the effort for establishing tone. It's very cool, and it makes you feel cool for playing the game. ;)
You can watch it here!:

Animation. Since this game is really all about style & momentum, it's vitally important that the characters look awesome when moving, which they do. Animations are fluid and flow together beautifully. Most important, I think, is the effects animation - there are always swipes, which emphasize fluidity and power in attacks. There's a pretty strong camera shake which accompanies a hit, which helps you feel the contact.

Characters. There are 4 playable characters, because apparently the animators didn't have enough to do - they all have a unique sense of personality in their movements, while still feeling consistent. Usually I don't care a lot about this sort of thing, and pick one character and stick to him/her - but I found a certain amount of fun in switching between the characters often to get a different feeling while playing.

Concept. I will always be a fan of non-violence in games, so I'm pretty down with this idea. Clean up the world. Cool. :) (You still beat the possessed things into submission though...)

Music. I wrote this bullet 2 months ago, and I honestly don't remember a lot about the music. I think it just fit the style of the game really well.

What I Didn't Like:

Controls. When I first downloaded this PC title, I tried to play it on the keyboard and I gave up almost immediately. This actually raised a ton of questions for me personally. I wonder if other people have the same problem with this game, or if it's just because I've never been a PC gamer, and I simply don't have the necessary skillset to play this game. I'm especially curious as to whether or not this game was intended for the PC from the start. If I were making a 2D platformer that was all about flow and momentum, I don't think the keyboard would be my instrument of choice. Did the game simply end up on PC because Steam is an actually realistic platform for indie teams and consoles are not? Also, it's possible that the devs always intended for the user to play with the controller on the PC, so it was never an issue in their minds. How many Steam users have controllers that they can plug into the PC? (My XBox controllers are both wireless - I ended up borrowing one from a friend). Once I switched to the controller, the game was great (although I had to manually set up the controls - which again makes me wonder what was intended). I have this gut belief that a game should be playable on a hardware's default setup - if it's on PC, it should be best with a keyboard and mouse. Am I being too idealistic?

Level Select. I don't really remember why this is in the 'didn't like' list. The level select was very open. You start the game in a 'level select' level - you can get to every other level and world through doors (most of which are locked, and you have to unlock). I think I just thought it was a little too directionless. I felt that an additional burden had been placed on me. ;)

Grades! I actually played this game right after I finished reading the book Punished by Rewards, which is about why grades and other incentives generally do more harm than good in terms of motivating people. In this case, I assume that grades are functioning as a gate, to make sure that you've gained the necessary skills to proceed to the next levels - but I still found them pretty demotivating! The grade for "style" was particularly rough, since I would occasionally feel as though I had done extremely well, and get a crappy grade. I'm not really sure what could have been done differently. "Style" seems like a difficult thing to measure - perhaps the system they built just wasn't quite there.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I think this game was a good way to spend a couple of hours - and I definitely think it's worth checking out. In the end, for me, it was too frustrating. I never achieved that level of grace the game was pushing me towards. I felt like I was holding my characters back. ;)

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