Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Medal of Honor's Badge of Failure, Or Why I Hate Its Online Multiplayer

I just got back from college this past week to enjoy the wonders of XBOX Live again (since I can't get wireless up at school). After picking up a pretty good deal on Gold for three months thanks to Live's annual summer sale, I settled in to try out Medal of Honor's online multiplayer again for kicks because I wasn't ready to start Red Dead Redemption online yet. Perhaps this was a premature decision.

I've never really enjoyed Medal of Honor's multiplayer system except for those first throes of glory when I started playing. The model for the games is inherently flawed. Spawns are very limited and it means tons and tons and tons of spawn camping, especially in the big team games like Team Assault or Domination. Sniper rifles are incredibly overpowered from high distances, and if you like to stick to the outside and tops of levels and have a steady aim, this game will be your friend for hours. There's nothing wrong with sniping every now and then, but when all of the very limited levels include almost untouchable places reserved for snipers, it becomes an egregious flaw in level design.

These sniper camps allow for players to net numerous kills without moving from their position, granted the fact that they're skilled enough to take out flanking soldiers, which is often easy when other team members are protecting their precious killing force. This is a good strategy; however, it shouldn't be the only one. Most games allow players to forget about the objectives in lieu of getting kills, getting killed, rinse, and repeat. And ultimately, what might have been a fun minigame turns into a crap shoot as players run out from their spawn base and immediately get their head blown in by a well-placed sniper.

Medal of Honor also limits the player's customization by including only three types of soldiers and then limiting the guns these soldiers can use. The rifleman seems good at first, a run-and-gunner who gets right up in the forefront with smoke grenades and a quick gun, but it's all too easy to be owned by a lone, unmoving sniper. The special ops class means a fairly quick runner but with all the glory of chucking grenades at foes. However, the grenades are almost useless based on their bounciness, more like flubber than a piece of chucked metal. The sniper class is useful in the ways I outlined above, but it also takes some getting used to and one either needs to be able to find a great hiding spot or really enjoy sitting around for ten to twenty minutes to do well as the class.

Blocking is another huge issue that really needs some work. It's a huge mistake when players are leaning behind a rock wall and get hit by stray bullets from a sprayer yards away. This might be due to lag, but it might also be due to poor blocking in the programming. Bulletproof walls would have been nice.

The class progression is not very well executed, and it certainly doesn't make the player feel like continuing. The unlockables are limited and not useful; some are as helpful as alternate gun colors. For a game that should have a lot of playthrough depth with the level progression, Medal of Honor offers up more of the same type of play level after level.

With the lack of good multiplayer games, poor blocking and spawn programming, and an unbelievable penchant for allowing snipers to rule the levels, Medal of Honor has become one of my most hated online games. But I'm really getting hooked on Red Dead's...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bayonetta (2010)

Welcome to the first post on this XBOX 360 review blog. Since it's the only console I have, it's the only console that will be reviewed here. I run a primary blog for horror reviews at The Moon is a Dead World - some may know me from there. Others may know my noise blog, Memory Wave Transmission. This will be different from those, but in the same vein.


Without further ado, let's get talking about last year's love-it-or-hate-it action game Bayonetta. Coming from SEGA, who also helms the Devil May Cry franchise, it's no surprise that Bayonetta resembles that series in more ways than one. Hideki Kamiya directs the story for this game as well as DMC, and you'll notice a lot of similarities in thematic elements, stylistic action sequences, and character design.

And Bayonetta has all of those ridiculous combos, big weapons, and huge complex bosses for your disposal. But rather than harp on all of the comparisons one could make to that franchise, I want to get into the real meat of Bayonetta - and it's definitely not the story.

No, instead it's the combo system that really drives the game. There's a ton of creative combos, and they change with each weapon Bayonetta uses (you unlock them by finding records hidden throughout levels). Loading screens help the player practice the button presses, which are a little bit like morse code. Combos can change depending on how long you wait to hit the next button in the chain; they also depend on the elemental power they harness. Though these combos give the player a lot of fodder to face the fairly difficult baddies, they also are immensely hard to master, especially for the beginning player. There's almost too many combos to remember. Instead, Bayonetta often resorts to button-mashing on the part of the player, and as is often the case with people like me who are too lazy to remember all of the different button presses, the player will find a good combo and keep on using it to the point where the buttons might just fall off.

There's a few changes to the action style which players will find useful. Witch time is a slow-motion event that occurs when the player successfully dodges enemy attacks. Mastering the dodge is integral to your survival, and you'll find that Witch Time is incredibly useful for quickly disposing of enemies. There are also moves called Wicked Weaves, high-powered attacks where Bayonetta uses her hair to deal serious damage. These Wicked Weaves are generally combo-chained, so remembering which combo utilizes the Wicked Weave is a must.

Bayonetta also uses the YB button press at optimal times to trigger Climax Mode, a real-time event which allows her to finish off a boss or baddy with an extremely intricate hair technique. These are quite interesting to watch, and they are different for almost every boss. They also require the user to smash a certain button enough times to deal ridiculous damage. There should be a warning on the box to tell users their fingers might fall off after completing the game. Add torture attacks to this mix, where Bayonetta uses her magic to slam enemies with different attacks, and Bayonetta becomes a one-woman killing machine.

So the action is fairly balanced, and though the enemies have their tricks to beating them, the player will have no lack of moves to finish them off with. But the story meant to engage the player and keep the game moving forward is ultimately confusing and prolonged. One might not understand what exactly is going on in the unbelievably sexualized, stylized cutscenes, but on the first playthrough they're pretty to watch. Over time, however, you might find yourself hitting the skip button to get through them, and you probably won't fully grasp the importance of the story.

There's also a few excruciating sequences that futilely attempt to mix up the button-mashing. A driving level becomes very repetitive and boring, not to mention fairly glitchy. There's also a missile-flying mission that, while working somewhat well as a linear shooter, doesn't do much for the rest of the game, especially since it feels out of place amongst the rest of the game. Some of the bosses, too, are too drawn out for their own good, especially Bayonetta's rival Jeanne, who becomes annoying after the fifth repetitive battle.

Bayonetta is a pretty good action game, but it's certainly  bogged down by its sexist story and too over-the-top action. The combo system works, but it's easy to get confused on all of the different strings of button pressings. It's worth multiple playthroughs for those damned achievements, where the player can unlock hard and infinite climax difficulties, but after getting the relatively easy 1000 GP in around 30 - 40 hours, there's not a lot of need to play through again. Stylistically beautiful, Bayonetta offers up a good amount of button-mashing akin to God of War or DMC, but it's lacking the personality of those games.