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Tycho / on Fri, Nov 2 2007 at 9:55 am

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Painstaking Market Research

Gabriel sometimes suggests that he doesn’t give “two shits” about something, which is meant to imply that he is apathetic about it - very apathetic.  It’s always struck me as ambiguous.  Buried within the phrase is the possibility that he might be willing to give a single shit.  Manhunt 2 - which I’m told is very controversial, mostly by people who don’t actually follow the medium - is a game neither of us have the slightest interest in.  We also don’t know anyone who is interested in it, but then, it’s been a long time since I did things just to make my parents mad, which seems to be the game’s entire purpose.

I wasn’t surprised to see Jericho getting middling reviews, though the game was much better than I expected.  I think that for most people it probably just feels kind of “off brand,” a downmarket Doom, when it’s actually a lot more like modern classics like Blood or Republic Commando.  It really came out at the wrong time, a new property thrust into a community still lethargic from Halo, sharpening its knives for Call of Duty 4.  Both of those games are incredible, so I’m not making a statement there.  But the shooter fan who craves surreal horror with a strong historical anchor is probably few and far between, even in the best of days.  And it’s not really the best of days.

I wondered before if there would be enough time to deliver on their ensemble cast, and they do alright in this respect.  The trouble is that not every actor is capable of delivering their dialogue in a way that does the setting justice.  The voiceover that introduces the context isn’t written incorrectly, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear, but the doofus they had drooling it out completely wrecked it.  A supernatural S.W.A.T. team doing battle with God’s first creation is kind of, um…  “high concept,” and I’m shocked that any of these characters were realized - Father Rawlings, Simone Cole, and Xavier Jones really work.  You have to listen past some of these people to get it, but there is some extremely savvy characterization and world building when they don’t get in the way of their own narrative.

The Republic Commando characterization came through for me because many of the basic weapons don’t do a tremendous amount of damage - enemies really take a beating from ordinary automatic weapons fire - and the player is frequently tasked with resurrecting their squad.  There are several bosses, but there aren’t a tremendous number of ordinary enemies, so you’re fighting the same weird S&M troupe often.  I don’t really fault them for it:  most of the gameplay “weight” is balanced on the side of the party, whose ridiculously vast suite of conventional and paranormal weaponry lets the player jump from sorcerer to hacker to psychic to telekinetic to ninja to priest instantly.  Choosing how you want to dispatch these denizens is the game proper, and I found it satisfying to the end.

The reason I can’t personally recommend the title - a title I actually love, in many respects - is because somewhere in the frenzy of development, they neglected to end the game.  Halo 2 ends better than this.  Half-Life 2, which does not actually have an ending, ends better.  The game simply stops at one point, rolling the credits - which is convenient, because it lets you know who to hate.

(CW)TB out.  

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