Friday, 28 September 2012

Demos: Torchlight II and Resident Evil 6

Due to the fact that I’ve been out socialising with hot chicks, drinking enough Jim Beam to scare away Billie Joe Armstrong and generally having a debauched, hedonistic time recently, I’ve become a little bit more of a casual gamer. Not in the COD and FIFA way, fuck no, I haven’t been drinking THAT much! I did, however, manage to play a couple of demos recently: Torchlight II and Resident Evil 6. I’m approaching these games from 2 vastly different perspectives. One is a sequel to a series I’ve loved since I was 9 and the other is a recommendation from a friend that I had very little prior knowledge of. One is an action horror game, a genre I’m incredibly familiar with, and the other is a point and click RPG, a genre I’ve never touched because, well, read the first sentence. And most importantly, one is very good and the other is, well…

Let’s start on a positive note then, Torchlight II! My only real knowledge of this title is from reading arguments on the Internet over whether it’s better than Diablo III so I was a little hesitant to play a game with a fanbase consisting almost exclusively of what seemed to be immature wankers but if I was going to give either of them a chance it was going to be the one that wasn’t made by Blizzard. I tend to start most games with some prior knowledge of the series or the developer so it was nice to go in with a completely clean slate for once and give the demo a chance to shine on its own merits and it performs its job admirably, installing quickly and, despite the obligatory intro cinematic announcing some kind of threat to humanity you’ll need to stamp out eventually, dumping you right into the action almost immediately.

The best thing I can say about this game is that it has a level of self-awareness rarely seen in videogames, in that it knows exactly where its strengths, and the strengths of the genre, lie and plays to them almost religiously, these being combat and exploration. The combat is extremely simple, you click on a thing you want to die and it does. At first it seemed overly simplistic but it’s really no less complex than any game that uses auto-aim or lock-on features. Admittedly things can get a bit clusterfucky at times but that’s just an occupational hazard of real-time RPG combat. Much of the game’s strategy seems to come from your use of equipment and items, as most of the fights seemed to descend into tanking damage and hammering the right mouse button until the bad men stopped touching me but then again, I did play on Normal difficulty so maybe I’ll need to put a bit more thought into my playing style should I purchase the full game and play it on a more manly setting. One feature that I really like is that you get to choose a pet at the start of the game, as I tend to like having some friendly AI around in RPGs until they open their fucking mouths so having a partner that’s both useful and quiet is a total godsend. Your pet also represents a wonderful example of “dynamic difficulty” in that you can choose how useful they are; you can make them aggressive if you fancy breezing through a certain section and passive and lovely if you’ve got something to prove.

I've never liked point-and-click games because traditionally they’re incredibly slow and clunky but once again Torchlight seems to tackle my preconceptions almost exactly by making movement fast and fluid; I’ve heard this game described as a “dungeon crawler” and while there certainly are dungeons I was zipping around them all so fast it felt like I was wearing a fucking jetpack! The decision to shun both linearity and any focus on story was indeed an inspired one; many games of this nature are so worried you’re going to miss out on their epic, emotional and almost universally stolen from Tolkien stories that they might as well mark your mission objectives with great neon signs shaped like testicles while simultaneously tempting you with a vast open world that you’ll never get to explore. Torchlight knows that its story is most likely going to be God awful and that we’d all rather be pissing about in a game like this and damn well leaves us to it, giving us only a small insignificant mark on the map to guide your way. It’s like it’s saying, “Yes, you could collect 5 vials of badger sperm from Cockend Forest for Drongo the Elder but that group of mangled orcs over there are giving some pretty damn dirty looks!” Trust me, the fact that I, a normally story driven “gamer,” enjoyed a section in which I spent half an hour on completely the wrong side of the map bashing armoured wolves in the face with what looked like a cross between a staff and a shotgun is a big shiny point in Torchlight’s favour.

There are a couple of other minor things I liked about this game. The interface, for one. I’ve always been put off playing World of Warcraft by the fact that the HUD looks like a tax return with sick on it so I appreciate a game that can keep things accessible and intuitive, and a system that a complete novice of the genre can figure out in 5 minutes with minimal tuition is definitely doing something right. I also love the fact that I have the option to play single player; it’s nice that a game doesn’t look down on me for wanting to go at my own pace and having a mortal fear of friendship and contact with strangers, for once. Torchlight also hits that rare sweet spot where it works both as a casual and hardcore game; I can imagine both getting in a quest or 2 while waiting for the housemates to shower and spending 8 hours perpetually grinding in search of that sonorous God voice telling me I’m now “more skilled” than I was before, and I can’t say that of too many games.

In conclusion, Torchlight II’s demo is a fine example of how to do a demo right: A good chunk of gameplay demonstrating mechanics and style in a positive light. I imagine I’ll be purchasing it as soon as my pathetically low bank balance improves.



I've not been looking forward to this. I’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil series over the past few years. RE4 was an incredible game in every way, bringing innovation and a wealth of new ideas to a series that desperately needed them and yet its success has been something of a double-edged sword. Capcom didn’t seem to realise that the main reason people liked that game is not because it had more focus on action and violence in particular but because it had new ideas, and instead took away the message that people wanted the series to become generic and samey and, well, like RE5, a vapid game which shoehorned in every generic trope of AAA gaming that was mildly fun at the time but currently has all the lasting appeal of Carly Rae Jepsen. Well, Capcom have taken that message to its absolute extreme in Resident Evil 6.

The game itself is split into 3 campaigns. Let’s get any positive thoughts out of the way first: I kinda liked Leon’s section. The atmosphere is reminiscent of RE2 and Nemesis but with a slightly more modern vibe. The return of zombies is particularly welcome; their behaviour is similar to that of the Ganados: more functional than Romero-zombies but without the ability to use heavy firepower, which is pretty much the perfect compromise. Combat is standard over the shoulder fare but the newly introduced ability to use melee attacks without stunning enemies first is extremely welcome. People might say that it’s too actiony, mostly because of the abundance of admittedly fucking cool wrestling moves mixed in, but to me the decision between going all guns blazing to stay safe or get up close and throw some fists to save ammo takes me right back to situations in the Spencer Mansion where I had to choose between using precious handgun clips to fend off the hordes or becoming a knife wielding Jill Sandwich. The ability to map all of your health items to a single button is also a great addition. See, I have no problem with innovation if it benefits the gameplay. Making things more convenient is fine if it fits in well; the idea that horror gaming HAS to have poor controls is outdated and ridiculous. I mean, if you can’t be scary without sabotaging your own game then you’re probably not a great game designer. Older survival horror titles had poor controls not to purposefully prohibit the player but because that’s literally all the developers could manage. If anything as sophisticated as modern over the shoulder 3rd person shooting was viable in 1996 then “tank controls” would still evoke the image of a giant phallic gearstick and nothing else.

That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. Mandatory combat is hardly fitting of the Resident Evil series, even 5 gave you the option to run away most of the time. The quicktime event in which you fumble for keys is just lame; QTEs were fun in the last 2 games because you were fighting huge monsters or engaged in close-quarters knife battles, not doing menial tasks like we’re Ethan fucking Mars. Also, whoever thought it was a good idea to make it so that zombies only pop up after you’ve walked past them deserves to spend an eternity in Hell. But really, these are all just niggling little complaints and I did ultimately enjoy this section and would be happy to play through a whole game of this. So far, so good!

These next sections may be a little shorter, as the 3 modes share a lot of mechanical features. Next we get to play as Jake, a new character who is apparently Wesker’s son, a fact I guessed from his immeasurable levels of both palpable evil and raging camp. I’m glad he’s involved in this one though; I’ve always wanted to play as a version of Wesker that looks more like an emaciated Wentworth Miller. He’s accompanied by Sherry Birkin and I’m extremely glad that they’ve allowed me to retain some of my memories of old school RE by keeping her as an innocent little girl instead of gluing bowling balls to her chest and cranking up the jiggle physics.  Not a lot to say here, the most effective description I can give of this section is that it really really reminded me of the blisteringly average Operation Raccoon City. I did worry when I played that game that the next ‘proper’ installment might go in that direction and as I fired a variety of heavy weaponry at armed human enemies from the cover of chest high walls I realised that my pessimism had been confirmed, as usual. It’s functional but extremely bland. If that’s your thing then knock yourself out!

Soon enough though, Operation Raccoon City starts to look like a wonderful distant memory. As glorious patriotic trumpets wail and Chris Redfield tries his absolute hardest to pull a heartfelt, inspirational speech out of his finely toned ass, we’re treated to absolutely the most generic, plain, COD and Gears of War wannabe garbage I’ve ever had to misfortune to play. This is the absolute nadir of modern gaming; if this doesn’t bring about another Great Video Game Crash then nothing will. I’m sorry this isn’t very funny or interesting but I really can’t express enough hatred for this section. The other sections and ORC and RE5 had at least some semblance of similarity to earlier games, or at least a sense that the improvements were a natural progression for the series. This just feels like a bare faced rip off of vastly superior titles in the hopes of attracting similar sales. Say what you like about Call of Duty and Gears of War but people like them and buy each instalment religiously because, at some point in time, they did something original and fresh that made people take notice and built upon it, something that Resident Evil managed at one point.

I mean, how many average gamers could name another 90’s survival horror game besides Resident Evil or Silent Hill? No-one, because all of the games that copied them were forgotten for simply that reason, they were copies. It’s almost as if Capcom has lost faith in itself, saying that real horror wouldn't be popular while Slender is a massive Internet phenomenon because yay for logic, but after 2 creative renaissances in RE1 and RE4, giving up on innovation and following the herd is fucking pitiful. Sorry to get all “inspirational Facebook quotes” on you but the innovators are remembered, those who just copy what’s popular at the time without adding anything new and daring are forgotten, and rightfully so. I’ve heard a lot of people say “Don’t be resistant to change, man!” when defending this section but I’m genuinely not; I’m personally fine with change that benefits the product. I loved RE4’s innovation because it was just that, innovation! Chris’s section adds literally nothing to anything except my growing desire to self-harm and drink myself to death. People are praising the fact that the game has “something for everyone” but I’m sure most people would prefer to see a game do one thing well than to see it half-arse everything, I can play Gears of War for great cover based shooting and don’t need every other game to have a slightly worse version of it, as well. If every game does everything then what’s the point of a videogame industry? Why not just lump Capcom, Konami, EA, Ubisoft and Activision into one big company, have them make “Videogame: The Videogame” once a year and get it over with?

Of course there’s always the argument that it’s just a demo and I should still give the full game a chance. No, just no. Literally the only point of a demo is that it’s supposed to give a good overview of the game and ultimately to convince you to make a purchase; the first half of this article should be proof enough that an IP that’s completely brand new to me can convince me to give up cold hard hooker money on the strength of its demo alone, so if a new entry in a series I’ve loved since childhood was any good then it’d simply be a formality before I threw my money at Capcom’s big stupid evil face. When your game is even failing to overcome the usually toxic power of pure nostalgia then it’s probably just not very good.

I almost certainly won’t be purchasing this at launch but I kind of want to play Leon’s segment so maybe I’ll wait until it’s like a tenner pre-owned in CEX or a close friend has killed himself half way through one of Chris’s speeches and acquire it then, especially as each segment is apparently almost as long as RE5 was. Other than that I won’t be holding my breath.

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