[ Laymen's Quickie Review ] Murdered: Soul Suspect, Watch Dogs and Child of Light

It’s been a while, guys, I know, I’m sorry: life has a funny way of letting you know where your priorities should lie, whether you have them in line or not. Unfortunately, for the last little while, they did not lie here and, for that, I’ve been away for a bit. I’ve made attempts but since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, coming up with crap that panders doesn’t sit well with me and, therefore, I didn’t post it. I even dabbled in getting fancy with recording videos but, alas, life continued to wrangle me away from this.

"We really care about your life situation, Kenny." -no one on the internet

I know, I know. I’m getting to it.

Anyway, as thanks for your patience and in response to being a little more active in my gaming variety, lately – I’ll admit, I’ve taken myself away from Final Fantasy XIV only because patch 2.3 will be coming out soon – I figured I’d do another “quickie review” to spill my thoughts about the games I’ve played in the last few days. Weirdly enough, this one will also be a three-shot. The system I’ve played these on are all on the PlayStation 3 and I’m sure there’s slight differences between console releases so keep that in mind when reading through. To keep from dragging on, I’ll get started:

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Murdered: Soul Suspect

I wanted this game to rock. I wanted this game to be good so badly it almost hurt. The premise of the game wasn’t exactly ground breaking but it looked promising; very, very promising. It seemed well-written and all that needed to be done was code a good game around the story. That’s where things got really bad.

The Good

This game’s writing feels kind of cliché but in the context given, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Without spoiling too much that you won’t find out in the first fifteen minutes of the game, you get shoved into the shoes of a detective hot on the heels of a serial killer. You find him rummaging around an apartment only to have him overpower you and throw you out the window. That wasn’t enough to kill you all the way so the killer comes out and shoots you with your own gun. Seven times. In public. Pretty brutal, right? Well, now that you’re dead, you find yourself caught in a kind of state of purgatory, using the common explanation for ghosts being the souls of those who cannot pass on all the way because they have unfinished business – in this case, finding his killer and exposing why he was murdered. What this gives you is a kind of R.I.P.D spin on L.A. Noire, really: this is a mixed bag because it gives you both the good and bad of such a mix of elements. As a ghost, you wander around and you get to investigate a case in a way no ordinary human would, exposing clues that others wouldn’t be able to see and traveling to places you normally wouldn’t be permitted to see. You get to interact with people through possession and listening to conversations and influencing the events around you. It really works well as a concept and its execution exposes some seriously cliché elements in writing but it’s realistic in that way – stumbling into a room with a bitter married couple has them bickering over the wife’s insistent nosiness towards what’s going on outside and the woman reveals she does that because she feels neglected. It’s overused but it’s easily to relate to because it actually happens in real life. The story also paints a pretty solid story that gives you the chance to really immerse yourself in the narrative and its surrounding content. There’s a lot to see and hear and do in this world.

The Bad

That’s about where the good stops: while the story and writing is pretty compelling, the game that surrounds is makes the narrative feel disjointed, at times. When it succeeds, it feels forced; for example, when you’re investigating a crime scene, you’re pretty much left with nothing to go on. In one scenario, you’re asked where a target went off to and you’re dropped in the investigation zone with little to no idea of what to look for and among all of the stuff you find, most of it is purely circumstantial. It will paint a pretty obvious picture for you and if you find most of the evidence there’s a good chance you’ll know where it’s going but the game will pigeonhole you into highlighting only certain evidence that it finds directly relevant to a solution, breaking up the investigation into doing what you’re commanded without knowing what you’re commanded to do. Another thing that you’re exposed to early and feels extremely forced are the demons: they are exactly what you’d come to expect from such a title, serving only to impede your progress and can be disposed of easily but only through very particular means that specifically counts on your reaction time. They feel like moving traps whose purpose is only to break up the narrative so that way it doesn’t fall into the Beyond: Two Souls trap of not feeling like a video game and it does so very poorly. They provide very little challenge and when they do get the upper hand it’s literally because you had no way of knowing they were ahead of your path. It becomes frustrating because it’s really easy to understand that they’re only there as placeholders to keep you in the mindset that you’re playing a game. Considering navigation and investigation are two big parts of the gameplay it feels like an intriguing story that’s wrapped up in a terribly contrived and uninspired game.

The Ugly

What it succeeds in falls flat but it doesn’t stop there – some parts of the game are just flat out boring and glitchy and I’ve found myself glaring at the screen because this game doesn’t only feel uninspiring from a gameplay perspective but it also feels unfinished. This game feels as though it suffered underneath a restricting timeline and it seems like we may either get fixes in the way of DLC and updates or they may remain on the cutting room floor; that would be a shame, really, as this game could have been very good.

Long story short, this game was a great concept that was executed horribly. There needs to be more games like this; if only to prove that they sometimes need a little bit more time to polish out all the kinks and bad ideas. There’s no way some stuff wasn’t complained about in play testing that got left in anyway. I wouldn’t buy this game if I were you but I would certainly try it to see if it first, if the concept is worth the work, to you. It really wasn’t, for me, but that’s me and that’s why I’m here telling you this.

 

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Watch_Dogs

Speaking of games that could have been so much better than they were, we have Watch_Dogs. This game was hyped to the nth degree as the one game that was going to turn sandbox games on its ass and utterly change the genre into something completely different. What ended up happening instead was an uninspired copy of games like Grand Theft Auto as a stage for some really exciting concepts that fall flat because of the fact that the game just borrows elements from way too much and does a few key things poorly.

The Good

What this game gets absolutely right comes few and far between. While the story, for example, comes off as extremely cliché, it’s executed well and comes off as, at the very least, somewhat believable. You have this guy, Aiden, who worked as a hacker who had become so good at his job that he ended up becoming a target thanks to some very important people. Those who would hunt him end up doing a sloppy job of holding family hostage and you end up with a man who has the ability to hack into everything electronic in a city with a taste for vengeance. Pretty much every hostage action movie you’ve ever seen, right? Clichéd movies like that are supposed to let the plot take the back seat to the characters, the scripting, and the action; this is one of the things that the game gets right. Much like Grand Theft Auto, progression happens at the pace you choose and, while the story content is kind of heavy at times, it never becomes overly so. It feels kind of right given the kind of game that it is.

The best part about a game centered around hacking should be the part of the gameplay that features hacks, right? Well, this is one of the game’s main concepts and it pulls it off rather well without feeling too much like you’re playing a video game and not performing real life hacks. I mean, sure, Aiden is the poster child for a “script kiddie”, but he knows how to use what he has and he can get the job done. Using his cell phone and a great deal of hacking know-how, he’s able to do everything from unlock cars to snoop on people to set off explosives to… well… just about everything you can think of and then some. Some of them seem kind of weird – like setting off grenades that some guards carry or blowing a pipe main – that the game just brushes off, explaining them away as “everything has chips, these days”; apparently they all come with self-destruct mechanisms, too, but you won’t see me complaining. Hacking feels very fun and is one of the primary reasons I stuck it out with this game and is one of the only reasons I constantly come back to it.

The Bad

Oh, man… there’s a lot to say about what went wrong with this game. There are two primary things wrong with this game that aren’t game-breaking but bother the piss out of me: first, driving feels like you have a chest freezer half-loaded with meat in the trunk in the rain; secondly, there seems to be little to no police presence in the game unless you do something completely stupid or the story requires it. There’s a bunch of other things but let’s try to keep it down to a dull roar because there is a lot to go over, here.

Let’s talk about driving for a moment – you don’t need to be Gran Turismo or anything but you can, at the very least, create some kind of realism while driving. It feels as though the team who created the driving mechanics in this game were either rushed or have not driven a motor vehicle. Ever. Driving, in this game, was manageable, but it took a very long time to adjust to it and the next game that requires it, I’m going to drive as though I’m still playing Watch_Dogs. That is not a good thing.

This next complaint is probably just me being a terrible nag: I hate that the police presence in Chicago is nothing like I would picture it would be during a crisis like the ones faced by the city during the course of the game. I find that if you’re going to present situations in a semi-realistic way, at the very least, then you should try to streamline everything else in the game. If you’re going to create a morality system a la InFamous to reflect the public’s opinion of you, you shouldn’t be lazy in regards to the same aspects regarding the police and their reactions to you. It just feels like the police were kind of stapled on so that way they would be present in the required missions and to present the requisite chase scenes.

Among the small bothersome stuff: the music selection sucks, character development feels slow and dull at times, gunplay feels uninspired and should offer lock-on if it’s going to be so easy, objectives sometimes feel like disjointed fetch quests; beyond all that is one primary complaint that should be heard above all else: this game has a great concept stapled on top of a poor copy of Grand Theft Auto.

This is its greatest failing: it takes the best parts of what makes Grand Theft Auto a compelling and enjoyable experience and does nearly all of them poorly. What it fails hardest at is allowing this sandbox game to truly feel like a sandbox game; there’s no incentive to roam and if you cause too much chaos your reputation goes down and things start to suck after that. There’s no real advantage to doing whatever you like and there’s certainly no encouragement from the game itself to do whatever you like with the world that this game presents. Its environments are often bland and lifeless and presents itself only as a backdrop for the story and the idea of hacking. That’s a damned shame because this game could have done so much better than it did, especially considering all the hype Ubisoft built up for it.

The Ugly

Yet another game on this review that just feels like it could have done so much more. It’s not that this game is completely terrible; while it does have its many failings, most of those are borne from failed expectations. I really wanted this game to be as awesome as I expected and I ended up with yet another game that would force me to oversee things that really bother me in order to actually enjoy it.

This game would be recommended, also, as a try before you buy. There’s a lot to enjoy, here, but there’s also a lot to be annoyed by and there’s a lot to be dragged down by.

 

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Child of Light

I would most certainly save the best for last in this Quickie Review: Child of Light embraces what makes it like other games and decides, rather, to present it in such a way that makes it endearing and enchanting. Again, it might seem a little cliché, but it certainly does what it does right and is satisfied with that, which is perfectly fine by me.

The Good

One of the greatest things about this game is that it doesn’t suffer underneath the weight of its own ambition: it sets out to be a decently plotted turn-based RPG with side scrolling elements thrown in for good fun and it does both of those things very well. It’s simple and for that it can expand its depth and difficulty based on the simplicity without coming off as rushed or cheap. In its base you have a game that plays a lot like every traditional JPRG when battling and outside of battling it plays a lot like Trine; how it’s presented is where this game really shines.

Right from the time you boot the game up you’re treated to a beautiful score and art style that’s quite unlike a lot of what’s offered up in terms of 2D games, these days. Either you have something that’s pretty standard fare or you have an indie studio pandering to the “older is better” retro crowd, usually; this game does neither of those things, instead giving you presentation and design that’s really well thought out, creative, and engaging without being overbearing.

The gameplay doesn’t venture outside of the box too much but what it does do, it does well: it does exactly what it sets out to do without taking away from the story and the presentation and it’s the one thing that makes this a shining gem of a game.

The Bad

The same thing that makes this game unique and interesting is also the same thing that makes it feel kind of stale: beyond the art style and the great music, you don’t have anything with any real staying power at all. That doesn’t make it bad but aside from its mind-blowingly awesome presentation, there’s not a whole lot about this game that sets it apart from a lot of other games out there. That’s really all I can fault it for: not challenging itself a little, at the very least; for playing it safe.

The Ugly

When it boils down, this game’s success comes from the fact that the presentation gets to be the star and, for that, everyone gets to enjoy the wonderful art, music, and writing; in making the presentation the star, though, you realize it’s just a shiny wrapping for a game that is really kind of same-y. There’s not a whole lot more to it than that, really; if you’ve ever played an old-school traditional RPG or a platformer before and they were half decent, you know exactly what to expect from this game, from a gameplay standpoint.

If you’re asking whether or not you should buy this one, well… considering the price tag, you have a game that’s well-designed and competent and is well worth the price tag. It is great for a quick fix for traditional and competent gaming that’s awesome to listen to and look at.

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The Verdict

Let me clear the water, here: while I spend a lot of time analyzing what’s bad about a game, I also try to spend just as much time talking about what I like about a game, as well. Judgment goes both ways and I try to be equal in my evaluation about these games, which brings me to the general overall thought of these games… games that should have done a whole lot more or did what they were doing better. Sure, that would seem a little too harsh for games that, on the surface, were alright in their own right but the companies that published these games – Ubisoft and Square-Enix – have literally no excuse for not being able to run a game through a few more processes in order to make a game do more than just go through the motions to sell a certain amount of copies. I’m not chiding these games because they could do better but rather because they should have been better considering where they came from.

If anything, a game should be enjoyable – you shouldn’t have to overlook something in order to enjoy it. Either it should be completely enjoyable or completely objectionable but you should want to have to put aside what you think in order to look for something to make it all worth it. Gaming shouldn’t be that much effort, in my eyes, especially since the price tags for a lot of these games aren’t exactly cheap. If you have to dig that deep to find something you like about a game then it’s clear you didn’t get your money’s worth.

These games just make me wish that publishers and developers would take more time in making a game happen, that’s all. They’re good games but they could be awesome games and I feel they weren’t because of a lack of feeling they needed to in order to sell the games. Murdered could have had combat that didn’t feel tacked on, Watch_Dogs could have been less like an uninspired GTA clone, Child of Light could have done a little more with its gameplay instead of taking the safe route: all of these things would have been well within the developer’s scope of ability and I know that these games would have been better received if they’d just done what it took to make them awesome.

Especially in the case of Watch_Dogs. Which should have been awesome, if the advertising was to be believed.

Fucking Aiden.

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