After sitting through far too many rounds of the NFL Draft over the weekend, I got to thinking: If sports reporters can analyze players that haven’t gone pro yet, why not try to make an assessment of games that haven’t gone live yet? So here is my scouting report on some big releases of May, including just how I think they will fare when they hit the big time.
Max Payne 3
The wait for this game has had many fans feel what it’s like to be stuck in Max’s signature slowdown bullet time mode. Original developer Remedy did an amazing job with the first “Max Payne” when it came to capturing that particular brand of Hong Kong cinema gunplay, popularized by the likes of “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer“, while infusing it with some old fashioned American film noir style. It resulted in one of the most revolutionary and unique shooters ever made. For the sequel, “Max Payne 2“, they managed to blow nearly everyone’s expectations away by retaining the essentially the same gameplay of the first, but then smothering the entire experience with unbelievable amount of style, emphasized by some of the best level design ever in a game and some perfect ragdoll physics, to create what is one of my personal favorite games of all time.
But now it’s Rockstar’s turn to take the reins (and why not as that iconic R logo on the first two led many to believe it was one of their developments anyway), as they attempt to bring Max back into the limelight. So far, from the numerous preview trailers, it looks like the emphasis is on refinement of the system and not starting a revolution….as least in the single player. Yes for the first time ever, Max is going multiplayer in what Rockstar is hoping is going to be a unique attempt at that eternal question. How do you make bullet time work in multiplayer?
I have zero doubt this game is going to be good. I have some questions though on whether or not it will be great.
It’s obvious from everything we’ve seen so far that Rockstar is not looking to stray from the established gameplay of the first two, and merely tweak it with some very welcome additions (mostly cosmetic). But at this point, many fans want the game to be more than “just fun”, and to pull that off, Rockstar is going to have to match the numerous little X-factors that Remedy populated the first two games with. As this installment is moving away from its previous Noir style roots, they’re going to have to find a way to make the new “Man on Fire”-style world and plot shine as bright and feel as unique. Failing that, it’s going to come down to the multiplayer to be what makes this game stand out in a busy market (even for a returning legend).
I see this game turning out much like the last two “Uncharted” titles. A strong and cinematic, but brief, single player campaign that is bolstered somewhat by a multiplayer mode that is not quite an add-on, but far from mandatory. But since that’s probably the bare minimum we can expect from this title, I still can’t be more excited to see the Payne train pulling back into the station.
As the successor to the PS3 launch title “Warhawk“, Starhawk looks to carve its own niche in the world of online shooters by emphasizing class based combat in a very real way. From everything that’s been shown so far, “Starhawk“ absolutely demands a variety of players of different classes working in perfect harmony. So while everyone may want to play as the half mech, half jet class for those sweet “Warhawk” style dogfights, without a good sniper or someone to work on base defenses, victory will take a backseat to your own amusement. Even in a game that will support up to 32 players in a match, developers LightBox Interactive have made it pretty clear so far that even one lone wolf from the pack can be detrimental to the rest of the team.
Well, I’ll never knock a game for trying to be unique, and “Starhawk”’s ability to call in offensive and defensive structures to shape the battlefield along with its emphasis on teamwork are certainly welcome ideas. However, and I hope I’m wrong on this, I don’t see this one making much of an impact. So far everything I’ve seen gives me strong déjà vu to the PC bomb “Planetside“. While “Planetside” wasn’t necessarily a bad game, though it did have its own set of flaws, what ultimately led to its undoing is that it became nearly impossible to pit two teams functioning as one unit against each other in most of its matches. Thus the game degraded into a simple, lesser shooter and never evolved to its full potential.
Hopefully this game will eventually become a cult hit, and lead to a small dedicated fanbase playing it the right way. So if it sounds like something you may be interested in, keep an eye on it. Just be prepared to invest some time and patience into it maturing.
With very few possible exceptions, this may be the most anticipated game of all time. “Diablo 2” was a success in nearly every single aspect of how you would measure video games, and yet Blizzard is far from resting on their laurels and are aiming to make “Diablo 3” a true sequel that will justify the twelve year wait.
The most noticeable of the changes comes to the graphics, which are more colorful and vibrant than the usual style of the series. Looking deeper though, Blizzard is also making some major changes to the core gameplay, most obviously in the character building system that now puts more emphasis on loot, armor, crafting, and skill runes (a new addition) while doing away with the series famous skill tree. Along with minor tweaks like modifications to the mana system and nixing the potion belt, its obvious the emphasis is on streamlining the game, and therefore making it more accessible, while still trying to maintain the feel that made Diablo II one of the most successful games of all time.
There’s no denying that the reaction to the games major changes have been heated among “Diablo” fans. I question the need to make the game more accessible when the built-in “Diablo” fanbase is so large and powerful that they would have posted astronomical sales numbers on their own without Blizzard having to pander to John Q. Gamer. Indeed after playing the beta, I kept thinking that the game just feels softer. It’s lacking some of that edge and intensity, and I’m sad to say that the changes do indeed reek of “WoW“influence, right down to the new palette of the graphics.
However, this is still at the polar end of being a bad game. Much like “Max Payne 3”, the basic formula of “Diablo”’s hack and slash remains unalterably entertaining, and none of the changes are game breaking enough that even the most hardcore fans can’t get used to them in some way, and still enjoy the ride. Personally, this isn’t the “Diablo” I was waiting for. Speaking objectively though, it is still going to be a great game that will make many GOTY ballots and sell unbelievable amounts. Historically I would just expect this to be viewed the same way as “Starcraft 2“. This is to say, it will be an execptional game that fails to have the long term impact that many expect it to.