Thursday, September 1, 2011

And I Asked For Lime-Green, Too

There's this game called Trenchcoat Revolution that came out recently. It follows the exploits of the worst android ever, Adam Jensen, and his quest to find a heart, alongside a lion who needs courage, and a straw man who needs a brain, and a small girl who needs all three...

Yes, it's Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I have been anticipating this game for a long, long time, and having picked up my pre-order the day of release and spent tens of hours playing it (with no end in sight), it's come to my attention that it is probably the best game to come out this year. I'll say it - Human Revolution is bloody brilliant and you're a moron if you think otherwise. Everything about the game is so staggeringly well-crafted, from the visual design to the script to the combat systems and the inventory and the upgrades and... everything. Everything in this game is just damn fine, and if you disagree then you're a stupid.

I wish I could say I have a review ready for you because I desperately want to get out a lengthy and smart written analysis worthy of this wonderful, intelligent game. The game is really really long though, and really freaking substantial, so I haven't seen enough to say I can really write a fair review yet. And since I haven't written something on this blog since early August, I need to write something here, or you'll think I've gone braindead recording my Pokemon Yellow Let's Plays or something equally baffling. So I'll have to fumble my way through a quick fluff piece just to verify that, yes, I am still alive, and no, I haven't forgotten I can type words into a textbox to make my opinions known to the handful of people who care. So... umm... hold on. ...there must be something worth talking about.

Oh, I know! What about the fridge-sized space bastards kicking several shades of shit out of pasty green soccer hooligans?

...I've always been a huge fan of Warhameer 40, 000's universe. It's so teeming with diversity and really interesting concepts and ideas. It also has an unprecedentedly nerdy stigma attached to it, which is probably the easiest way to get a property pique my interest. But while I do like the universe, I've never been so enthralled with the actual game - tabletop or otherwise. The tabletop game intrigues me to no end, but it's frankly huge time and cost barrier puts me off actually partaking - while the Relic-made RTS series Dawn of War saw me spend more time in the character editor than actually in the in-game battlefields themselves, owing to the fact that I... well, I don't hate RTS games, but they often bore me to tears. Not even the action-packed and flashy linear StarCraft II single-player campaign could hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time, and I often stuck around the bar reading up on StarCraft lore more than actually playing the game.

...but I'm still sufficiently interested enough in Warhammer 40K enough that Space Marine makes me want to play it, so with the release of the demo not too long ago, I thought... why the hell not, right? Warhammer 40K I like, Gears of War-style third-person shooters I like too, so why not download this (relatively small) demonstration and see how it plays? ...why not indeed, because it plays like a dream and it's runs smoother than goddamn butter.

I was kind of underjoyed to find that it felt like a Gears of War-style third-person, picking it up. Your character moves really slow (thus why I'm committed to calling him a "fridge man" for the rest of this demo recap), extremely evident when you press space bar only to see him barrelroll rather clunkily, in the same manner you'd expect a small truck to barrel roll. Didn't help that the first unskippable in-game cutscene was about as engaging as reading a plot summary on Wikipedia. I was pretty much ready to say that it was a merely functional third-person shooter in a relentless sea of "merely functional" third-person shooters.

Then some fleshy, target-sponge Orcs stepped on screen. And my god. My. Fucking. God.

The shooting in this game - the act of aiming at an enemy and pulling the trigger - is more immensely satisfying than in any third-person shooter I can recall. The Orcs all swarm in massive hordes, screaming "death to humans!" as they charge with old bits of plywood and sticks and ineffectual pea shooters as their only real defense. Meanwhile, fridge man is packing heat in the form of several variations of Bolter, which - as far as I can tell - fire giant spear-like bullets out of a gigantic, head-sized pistols. The damage these Bolters make are unbelievable, the carnage and destruction of exploding Orc body parts and blood splatter only fairly compared to zombie munchers like Left 4 Dead 2 and Dead Rising. The shooting is satisfying and gory and a real thrill - it's also relentlessly challenging when tank-like Orcs show up brandishing weaponry than actually does a half-decent job of cutting into your healthbar.

I am, however, inclined to give bonus points to Space Marine for NOT including a cover mechanic. It means that when the big guns come out - and they do come, a lot - your tactic is rarely "hide behind wall until health regenerates". Rather, it is "pull out chainsword and wreck shit up". And that leads me to the bit where I squee in glee as I talk about the motherfucking chainsword.

This is part of the reason I am so goddamn interested in the Warhammer 40K universe. It's campy enough, and awesome enough, to let a staple of its iconic imagery be a chainsaw crossed with a sword - a chainsword. Sure, Gears of War sort of worked this sort of idea into its motifs by making a chainsaw bayonet, but at the end of the day, Warhammer is infinitely older than fresh-on-the-block Gears of War, and a sword will always work its way into gameplay better than a pointy thing on the end of a long-range weapon. Case in point: in Gears of War, you use the chainsaw bayonet by running up to an enemy across a giant battlefield and hitting a few context-sensitive buttons. In Space Marine, you use the chainsword by hitting Mouse 2, where subsequently the action shifts viewpoint from over-the-shoulder to overhead, and the game - and I'm not kidding here - goes into full-blown hack and slash mode.

Yes, Space Marine is a part-shooter, part-hack 'n slash. And just like the shooting, which is full and brash and immensely awesome, so too is the chainsword swinging. Fridge man has an arm on him like King Kong as he swings with enough force to dismember heads, arms, and other vital organs from the Orc hordes that dare get up-close and personal. It's bloody good fun (no pun intended, but happily used regardless), and really highlights what is wrong with third-person shooters today. Just because your character is a slow-moving hunk of armour and firepower doesn't mean that your action can't fluent, and slick. Space Marine controls like a dream, and even though fridge man is built like a tanker truck with two car-sized shoulder pads attached, the shooting and melee combat never felt stilted, or cut-up. In contemporaries like Gears of War and Red Dead Redemption, the combat was always very slow, or start-stop. In Space Marine, it's positively chaotic whenever enemies are on-screen, and it makes the game fucking great time, with more body parts exploding violently than the Saw films and enough heterosexual lead-spewing pew-pew-pew to make even the deepest of intellectualites drop their jaw at the sheer spectacle of it.

That's it - Space Marine is a spectacle shooter, and one that operates so smoothly and joyfully I'd expect this to be one of the best games of the year when it's completed. There's more stuff that's awesome about it - the amazing jetpack demo that lets you crash down from the sky to flatten unsuspecting foes, or the replacement axe for the chainsword that lays waste to enemies like John Goodman does to a river of whoppers... but I'll admit, I'm a little uncomfortable praising this sort of stuff. As I've noted, I am interested in WH40K, but not exactly versed in the lore or the feel of it - as such, for all I know, this game is a shitty representation of the 40K universe, and by praising the game so unequivocally, I'm afraid that I'm just pissing them off more and more with every passing sentence. And the kind of people who have sadistic power fantasies as they command tiny toy soldiers across incredibly detailed replica battlefields, ordering them to kill everything that's a different colour than them - armchair Hitlers, basically - are not the kind of people I want to be pissing off. After all, most of them are my closest friends.