Monday, January 18, 2010

Prototype - second impressions.

Okay you get used to the movement and you can even get used to the momentum once you've got enough XP... sorry EP to buy the boosts and damn if isn't seriously cool to jump around the city. Yet there are still problems.

First something it does right - in checkpoint races it counts you down to the start by panning along in reverse order the first three checkpoints before moving back in the same shot to where you start. This gives you an idea of where you're going and should be the default action of any checkpoint type race. Secondly regardless of your position when you initiate the race you start facing the right direction can you hear me Assassin's Creed? Facing. The. Right. Direction! Finally checkpoints show up as pointers on screen so you're not scanning around to find them (yes AC I'm looking at you again) or peering at a mini-map (InFamous) So Checkpoint Races in Prototype are good? Well no - the mechanics are good, the races themselves are painful.

There's no reason for them. In AC2 you're trying to show-off to a thief, in InFamous you're re-establishing mobile phone connections that open up yet more side-missions. In Prototype you're just jumping and running. Now sure in-game you could argue that it's to get Alex used to his powers and out-of game that works too; so why not state that? Well because it's not quite true, yes it's a fine example of combinations of powers and it acts as a great way to demonstrate how to combine moves to seriously shift arse around the city except, except...

I run towards the first blue orb (like inFamous you don't have to be dead on it'll be sucked towards you if you're close enough) as I sprint (R2) I charge my jump (hold X), hit the orb, push off the parapet and release the jump to crest the top of the next building and auto-leap over its parapet as I charge jump again. Land on the orb, release and fly up the side of the building. Don't jump just sprint over the parapet and up the next wall to hit the blue orb, leap off that parapet and air boost (R2) fall and air boost again to the next building and its glowing orb. At which point I fail because I've missed one. Yep instead of leaping off I should have fallen down to a ledge to pick up an orb there. So far this has happened on every single race, there's always one checkpoint somewhere in the middle that forces you to come to a screeching halt, because if you're running too fast you'll run off the edge or miss it entirely.

It's like taking out a high-performance car out onto a race track, turning a corner and discovering a brick wall in front of you. If you know it's there you'll slow down prior to reaching it, if you don't you'll crash and that's how every checkpoint race works. Either way it's not the best way to show off moves.

Next up is the timed actions. Consume someone and you'll be told that there are three individuals out there you need to find and consume. Off you go. Reach the first, reach the second, and flay the third just as Event Failed comes up. Amusingly it still plays the Web o'Intrigue video after telling me I failed to reach them before they left the area. Play it again, and no it won't reappear until you leave the area and dawdle, and the first guy you grab plays the video you've just seen, because the game hasn't registered you've got it. The remaining two give no information, which makes me ask why I'm doing this again?

Collectables time and there are blue "Landmark" orbs that give you EP and purple "Hint" orbs that stop the game and give you a hint. Not useful if you were gliding over a building trying to evade a Strike Team when you pass close to one and suck it up. Just let me see them at my leisure don't force them on me. And what they hell are these things anyway. There's also yellow ones that hives pump out that are full of genetic information, so are these similar it's never explained - it's a game these are the collectables, off you go.

Back to the missions and nonsensical instructions. Kill as many infected as you can. Excellent. Using only the 'Big Fist' power, using only the weapon provided, using only the vehicle provided. Ah. So you've all these powers and some missions just like to strip them away from you and force you to use what they want. I'd say it was a subtle way that the developers tried to encourage you to use newly acquired abilities; except they can't do subtle. No really every so often the game will pause; never in a mission, but normally when I'm about to do something and inform me that there are powers I've not used and how to use them. Yeah I know and that's because those powers really suck and the length of time it takes to switch between them and the fact there's little visual indication of which power I'm using means I'll just stick with the long whip swing-it-around-and-kill-everyone power thank you very much.

Power-wise they're two button presses depending on the power you have activated. So spikey hands will shred with square and do something else with triangle and will shoot spikes from the ground if you hit square then triangle (Whip fist will swing it around as I've already said). It works except you also have Devastator attacks and they work by pressing Square and Triangle (or Circle, or whatever) I've already mentioned my joy at being forced to press two face buttons simultaneously; luckily it's not too picky and mashing both with my thumb generally does the trick. Except the attacks themselves are pointless; oh they cause a lot of damage, but you can only perform them when your health is full. So when do you think I'm really going to need a seriously powerful attack. Right at the start of the fight when only a few baddies are around, or near the end low on health and getting whacked from all sides? When can I use my most powerful attacks? Yeah.

Finally I have to mention the tank. At one point in the game you get the ability to drive a tank and yes there's a mission in which you have to drive one and a side-mission where you have to kill as many enemies as you can while driving one. The problem with the tank is that it's difficult to remember which is the front, this is not helped by the auto-targeting system and the turret. See hold L2 and it'll target the most-threatening enemy. Use R and you can flick between enemies. Except you don't know where they are. So L2 points you at a foot-soldier but you want the tank to your left. You flick R to the left and the target highlight shifts, you hit R1 to fire a missile at it and miss because the turret hasn't rotated to point in the right direction yet. Now take that situation and target someone, flick to the left and L2 targets someone behind you. The camera now shifts to point at them, but the turret lags. Oh and the turret can get caught up on things, and R without L2 shifts the camera. It's just a mess.

Oh and these events are timed too, best of all if you restart it leaves all the debris from your previous attempt, and to add insult to injury removes all the combatants until two seconds in when they pop up on the mini-map. Just for fun try the missions where you have to target military personnel in an area next to an infected zone. Infected get auto-targeted too. You just end up rotating the turret and firing off a missile from your infinite store every so often in the hopes of taking out a bunch of soldiers.

Trouble is I can see a good game underneath all this, it just seems they needed to grab some gamers off the street, stick them in a room with it and count how many times they swear at the screen and why they're doing it.


Orphi said...

Playtesting costs money. ;-)

I have no idea what you're talking about, but according to Zero Punctuation, this game sucks. Then again, I'm not sure I can take a guy seriously when he starts comparing fictional computer game characters to assorted aquatic invertibrates. But I seem to recall one of the main points was that there's only one weapon worth using — which seems to match what you say.

FlipC said...

Pfft stick an advert in the local paper asking if you want to get to play the pre-release version of Awesome Game for an hour and they'd be queueing at the door.

The weapon in question is Whip Fist. A reasonable damage hitter with both close and long-range abilities as well as movement enhancements; so why have anything else active?

Shame this came out at the same time as InFamous. IF is the mature story-lined game and P is the teenager just hitting out and then writing bad poetry in its bedroom.

In that analogy if you get some earplugs it's not that bad to play and can be fun.

FlipC said...

Just OOC when you say "I have no idea what you're talking about" do you mean you don't know what Prototype is, or InFamous or AC2 or you don't know what a checkpoint race is or what?

Not being funny, but I've already considered doing a basic 'this is what some game terminology means' entry. Not necessarily aimed at you per se, but those coming into gaming without growing up with it as it were.

Orphi said...

I have no idea what Prototype is. I'm aware that it's a game and that ZP things it sucks, but that's about it. Oh, and I think I might have seen the cover art. But I have no idea what the game's about or anything.

Come to think of it, I have no idea about Infamous either. In fact, I don't actually know what Assasin's Creed is; I just heard that it's not that good, but the sequal is.

As for play-testing… it's much more than just playing the game. That wouldn't cost much at all. No, decent play-testing involves getting people who will come up with constructive feedback. It involves putting a framework in place to collect and evaluate that feedback. It involves a framework for monitoring crashes and recording what the player was doing at the time. It's way, way more than just getting some people to play the game.

FlipC said...

Okay that's fair enough. It's a multi-platform open-world game in which you play someone with amnesia who's been infected by a virus giving him huge powers.

Completely unlike the PS3 only open-world game InFamous in which you play someone with some immediate memory loss who gets zapped by some 'thing' that gives him huge powers.

Assassins Creed1 was the repetitive one, AC2 was better 'twas I who said that and you were glad as you'd picked that up for someone as a Xmas present.

Oh no I didn't mean play-testing I just meant play-testing. Once you've got something that possible to play just let some for-free gamers run around in it and monitor reactions before you polish it and pass it on to the repeat this section 20 times in different ways.

I swear that'd kill off half the bad ideas they stick in these things 'Yes I know that passive infected water tower 100m away is a target but I'd prefer it you auto-locked onto that flying thing 20m ahead that's shooting at me instead'

Orphi said...

For what it's worth, Valve does a good job of play-testing. Or at least, they give that appearence.

Go play (for example) Portal, and turn on the commentary. They say stuff like “hey, we designed this level a different way, but nobody could understand what the hell they were supposed to do, so we changed it”. Stuff like that.

It gives the impression that they actually spent quite a while watching people play the game and figuring out what doesn't work.

(And then there's the HL2:EP2 death maps. You know, the map of where the most people died. There's a huge white spot on the cliff edge on the opening level. LOL!)

FlipC said...

Which probably explains why Ep3 hasn't arrived yet :-)

You know I don't think I've played Portal with the commentary, I'm not even sure it's possible with the PS3 version. Damnit, you know I'm going to check now and be spending all bloody night playing it and it's all your fault heh.

Speaking of the stats, just had another look at them Ep1 stopped collecting end of Jan 07 and Ep2 the middle of Sept 08; what gives?

Orphi said...

Of course, the problem with Valve commentary is that you can kind of only use it if you're already completed the game once. Because you really can't watch the game and the commentary at the same time; there's no way to pause the game while you listen to the commentary.

In Portal in particular, the casual rambling of the developers (who really, really aren't great public speakers) contrasts strangely with the dark, dystopian atmosphere of the game itself.

Oh, and that lady who does the voice in TF2 and Portal? She's an opera singer. o_O

Orphi said...

That's got me wondering now… whatever happened to the CSS weapons market idea?

FlipC said...

If you've just read my latest entry I didn't head to Portal so I'm still not sure if I've got it. Last I recall I'd finished it and was trying out those "Do it in X steps or less" type missions. As far as I'm aware though I don't get anything extra for doing so, so it started to get tiresome.

I didn't know she was an opera singer, heh.

CSS - maybe it didn't work out; probably outlined in great detail on a developer's blog somewhere.

Orphi said...

Multiple searches about CSS reveal nothing.

Last I heard, they brought in dynamic weapons pricing, and all the good weapons suddenly cost a fortune, and the naff ones became ridiculously cheap. Like, the best pistol in the game went up to $15,000 (for a pistol?!), and some of the naff SMGs got as low as $11. Not elevan thousand, just elevan. Which is just silly

I'm wondering if they eventually turned this sillyness off. It was just about the last update they ever made to CSS; now all the work goes into TF2, apparently.