Open and Closed: Two games

I’m going to lend my copy of Arkham Asylum to a friend, partly to be nice, partly to alleviate the burden on groaning game shelves, but mainly just to get the bloody thing out of my house. Completing the story mode was a joy, tracking down all the secrets was a bit of a grind but deeply rewarding, but the challenges… oh, the challenges! I’ve got a few, but eventually hit the limit of what I could physically do. One trophy short of the Bronze Achievement for combat challenges, I found that last trophy an unattainable goal, but nonetheless spent an age trying to somehow push myself to manage it. Essentially, I was throwing myself against a wall repeatedly, rather than turning around, opening the door on the other side of the room and just walking away.

I’ve walked away now. The game is in my suitcase, ready to be handed over. I’m comfortable on being at 89% completion of the game forevermore.

Since then, two games have stepped forward to alleviate my urge for another round of batmasochism: Mirror’s Edge and Borderlands. One is open, another closed, but not in that order.

Closed first: Mirror’s Edge is a bleached-out sorbet of a game compared to the immersive world of secrets, characters, treasures and upgrades that was Arkham. It’s essentially an obstacle course – run, jump, grab your way across rooftops, through warehouses etc, following a set route and try, try, trying again whenever you mistime a jump or are sufficiently tardy to catch one too many bullets from those pesky future cops. The sense of scale and the super-clean futuristic aesthetic is, at its best, breathtaking.

But Mirror’s Edge is a great engine in search of a better game. Its big innovation, first-person platforming, works like a dream, with a real sense of motion and agility. But there’s no exploration, just following set paths, and the story and combat built around it are at best unappealing and at worst downright annoying.

The plot (spoilers ahead) sees you as tastefully black-tattooed ‘runner’ Faith, one of a group of anarchistic parkour couriers developing messages of freedom (or something) in the face of opposition from The Man (or something). About two thirds of the way through, it’s revealed that the big secret plot involves wiping out the runners, and seemingly replacing them with evil Ninja Cops.

Given the choice between being a counterculture cliche and glorified bicycle messenger defending my charmless peers, or a fucking Ninja Cop who gets to run around kicking the runners off roof tops, I want to switch sides right now. The Devil may have the best tunes, but The Corporate Man has the best career choices.

Also, while the mechanics for movement work like a charm, the combat controls work like a three-wheeled shopping trolley. Slow-motion disarms are fun when you can use them, but direct confrontations when required by the plot are an absolute arsepain of cranky, three button punch-ups where the controls seem to be context sensitive in some deeply unclear way.

Mirror’s Edge is fun when you’re running free in your free running, and after putting serious effort put into being Batman it’s a fun change to play a game where you just repeat the same twitches until you get them right. It’s also a fairly short game, not taking too many play sessions to get to the last couple of chapters (if I don’t complete it in the next two days, it’s because I’ve given up out of frustration). But such fun platforming deserves a better game around it, and a less po-faced and charmless IP.

After that little distraction, I’m in the market for a deeper experience, and I’ve just started one. So far I’ve only played a few hours of Borderlands, and only in single player, but it’s living up to its ‘Role Playing Shooter’ tag so far. If you hadn’t guessed, this is the ‘open’ of the two games: you’re thrown out into the world and, while there are barriers to be overcome, the way you get around to taking missions, gathering XP and opening up the gameworld is largely left to you.

First impressions are, loosely, of a cartoon Fallout3 with less depth but proper first-person-shooting. The cel-shaded graphics don’t take a drop of atmosphere away from the brooding expanses and crumbling shanty towns of Pandora, and there’s a mischievous, childish sense of humour at work for anyone who found Fallout3 too bloody grim. I’m only a few levels up, I’ve ground some skags (the game’s alien equivalent of all those giant rats in fantasy RPGs), taken out the first major baddie and have yet to go online for some co-op. If the co-op is all it has been promised – and the initial reviews are good – then Borderlands should prove to be good immersive fun for the next few months.

Except for when we have to abandon it to pile into Left4Dead2, of course. But that’s another story…

Mark

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October 24, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

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