Modern Warfare Series

After years of the first person shooter market being dominated by the World War II theme (and space marines), Infinity Ward decided to go against the grain and shift the genre into a new trend. This was no easy feat. Several attempts on more original shooter stories have of course been created but the key metric was gaining the public’s acceptance.

After inventing the Call of Duty series and building up a respectable first person shooter talent base, it was time to enter the modern era. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was an interesting idea when it was in development but nobody could have predicted the success it would have. There were so many things the game did right as far as utilizing the first person perspective uniquely- instead of a crutch that inhibited storytelling the camera view was leveraged as a strength for in game cinematics and action. The game was so successful that the Call of Duty name was dropped and Modern Warfare became its own brand. The sequel, Modern Warfare 2, was groomed from the beginning to be a blockbuster and perfectly utilized all the great gameplay techniques of the first. These two titles sold more units than any other console games in recent years. As a developer in the genre I had to play them both, and as prepared as I was to hate on them I have to admit that these are two expertly executed single player campaigns.

Here’s a breakdown of notable features:

Plenty of variety to counter core mechanic fatigue.

Movie Moments

A shooter, at its core, consists of great gunplay and enemy reactions. Still, no matter how deep the weapon system is it will get eventually get tiresome to endlessly repeat the same actions. Pacing is a great tool that designers use to make sure a player is not constantly doing the same thing again and again. When a player is walking down an empty street with nothing in sight for a bit it makes the combat segments more interesting. But downtime isn’t the only way to get a break from the core shooting mechanic. There are so many other special situations during the game used for this. Whether you are manning a turret, breaching a door in slow motion, swimming, rappelling, or driving- there are plenty of change ups. These are things that all shooters employ to some degree but Modern Warfare executes them as short one-offs that are reminiscent of movie moments.

Great story.


In the true style of modern combat, wars are not fought by a single soldier who can never die. The action jumps around between several different people working for different units. The SAS, the Marines, the Army Rangers, the CIA- the interplay between the different factions all over the world is fascinating. And dare I spoil the plots a bit and say that not all the characters make it through alive- I’d even go as far as saying getting shot in the head is an Infinity Ward trademark. Dialog and voice acting also get props in an industry that doesn’t always provide an ‘A+’ product.

Every level has a sensible entry, a clear target, and a cool exit.

Level Progression

Storytelling in games isn’t only the metaplot- it is also the level progression, or unfolding of events during play. In Modern Warfare it is usually easy to know what the current objective is, when you are leading up to a climax, and when the status quo changes. Many games do not do this well and may in fact fail miserably in this category. If you get lost or confused during levels and don’t know what to do or why you are going somewhere then you have fallen victim to this design flaw. It is likewise important for players to feel a sense of accomplishment, and some sort of clear progression and achieving of goals needs to be understood instead of aimless wandering around. In addition, many of the Modern Warfare levels start in interesting ways like ferrying from a submarine into the bottom of an offshore oil rig or flying into a mountainside prison from the side of a transport helo and end in exciting sequences like airlifting out of the middle of an ambush or running to an extraction point while outnumbered and under chase.

There are no real movies.

In game story

Speaking of all this cool action, it is important to note that it all happens in game. You lose control of your character and can sometimes move the camera around a bit but the point is that you are taken in and out of gameplay seamlessly and ensures that you don’t sit through belabored performances with an itchy trigger finger. Sure, there are prerendered movies instead of loading screens but these are computer images and audio recordings for the most part – nothing excessively hard on the development team but interesting enough to watch. These add style to the game and cover the level loads without becoming a strain on the animation team.

The AI doesn’t try to be too smart.


This is a small point but worth noting because some games try to get too complicated with the AI and do too much. In Modern Warfare, enemies use designer placed fire points or some similar system to determine where the AI can stand and fire. To be honest this is a weakness of the first game because many enemies stand in the same place and it feels like after you kill one that another soldier just pops back into the same place, but the sequel mostly corrects this problem. My main takeaway is that the friendly allies either follow the player and take cover or lead the player in a 100% scripted fashion, the enemies take cover and either defend or advance slowly, and that’s it. There’s not a whole lot going on and there doesn’t need to be because that is all the action needed without getting overly complicated.

And just for good measure… the main weakness of the series:

The zoom firing mechanic.
The damage model in modern Warfare is fairly high. That is to say that enemies go down with a few bullets and the player can’t take many more before needing to duck and hide or die. Facing multiple enemies without mouse control can be tough especially when getting shot kicks the camera around and covers the screen with blood. Console shooters use various aim assist techniques as a great equalizer, anything from making the reticle ‘stick’ to targets to nudging the bullet trajectory from a near miss into a hit. The unspoken rule with aim assist is that it should be helpful without being noticeable. One such technique that Modern Warfare over relies on is pushing the reticle towards the closest target when you push the zoom button. Unfortunately Infinity Ward outright abuses this feature and makes the reticle immediately snap to enemies making it supremely affective to rezoom rather than aim manually. I am sorry but quickly zooming and unzooming to autotarget is a ghetto aiming system. I am not against removing the hardcore nature a precise aiming game offers by giving some sort of autolock- that is a fine compromise to bring a hardcore game further into the casual space. The problem is the execution of the feature. When forcing the screen to zoom and unzoom repeatedly in a nauseating fashion is the clear optimal strategy then there is a problem with the game. Not to mention the number of times the autolock forces me to *miss* my target because I am trying to manually aim at it while I am unexpectedly ‘assisted’. Weak sauce. The designers need to either force the player to aim (and make getting hit yourself not be such a penalty to counter-balance) or more realistically build the autolock feature into the game in a better way without making the screen jumpy.

But enough nitpicking. Lord knows I do it enough as it is on this website. For once the public opinion and sales numbers got it right. Modern Warfare is the most successful recent console franchise and *it should be*. Do yourself a favor and play these two games if you are among the few who haven’t yet.

Facebook Games

Do I want to join your mafia? Well, is it fun? Did I just find a lonely sheep? What can I do with that? For the last couple of years the newest phenomena in the game industry are ‘social games’. For those that don’t keep up with all the cute game category names, this just means ‘games you can play on Facebook’ (because certainly many other games are social).

These games have long held my contempt for many reasons. Here at Why I Hate Everything, what I find particularly egregious is when something less than ordinary is hailed as holier than thou. Do you remember the big push for mobile gaming years ago when cell phones first started being built with semi-decent processors? There was actually a Ratchet & Clank game that you could play on your Motorola as long as you didn’t mind 5 frames a second and only being able to push one button at a time. Next we had the great iPhone game boom and the industry was turned upside down because a few people early to market made some money. I personally know several developers who have tried to capitalize on the empty promises of the faux market known as the App Store. And now everybody is making a Facebook game. It is the new fad, and why should its fate be any better?

Unfortunately, people tend to be reactionary because it tends to be more exciting. When I attended the latest Game Developers Conference I was sickened to see how much emphasis was put on Facebook games and their poster-company Zynga was making ridiculous proclamations from on high. The idea presented was that social games are forever changing the industry landscape, that free-to-play is king, and that AAA console gaming as we know it is dying. This is right after a banner year when Modern Warfare 2 was crowned as having the most profitable entertainment product launch of all time. Seriously, I know you guys entered the market early, Zynga, and I know you’ve had unheard of success, but why feel the need to jaw about being better than everybody else? Ride the wave while you can, guys.

I played Mafia Wars for literally 25 seconds when it first came out. I concluded that it wasn’t a game and it certainly wasn’t fun. Of course, that didn’t stop it and Farmville from making bucketloads of cash. To me, a game like this is really more of a short-term scam. Its profit is driven from psychological tricks with money the ultimate goal that informs the design. Just google Zynga business practices and you will read a lot of unflattering stuff. It is self-admittedly less about fun and more about profit. The problem is, these ‘games’ are pretty much spam. People have already started to grow wary of the viral tactic of using invites to get more users. Facebook allows blocking notifications from apps because the majority of users already realize that it’s not fun to wade through advertisements to see status updates of their friends. Millions of users per month are being shed as developers like Zynga are scrambling to find more legitimate ways to harass people into playing their products.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not bad mouthing all games that can be played on Facebook. There are plenty of casual audiences that appreciate what is out there but there are also plenty of companies that care about nothing other than ‘motivating’ these players to part with their money to account for bad, in fact under-handed, game design. And there will be a smile on my face when the mighty fall. Now, I am not naive enough to believe that these games will go away forever. To me it is similar to being a telemarketer- people can make a living doing anything if they have no self-respect and some people will always look to money as their primary motivating factor. Just another way to make a quick buck. But the writing is on the wall. Game companies like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft have all made announcements of entering the social network arena. As better social games get created people will be less susceptible to the tactics of old. For now and for the short term people will still be paying money for non-fun experiences without realizing that anything better is out there but eventually competition will drive up the product quality and the cheap knock-offs will be left in the dust.

It is why Zynga needs to start making better games. And it is why they are spending a lot of their cash buying small developers around the United States and the world. Because they do not know how to make good games. Because they’ve never yet tried.

Death of SP

With the advent of social games and more console connectivity there is a noticeable trend of packaging more games with cooperative and competitive multiplayer features. This is a great development in the game world because supporting a wider range of play styles can facilitate a larger audience. Friends can play with other friends who get excited and draw even more friends into the loop. Creating a community can extend the life of a product through expansion packs and micro-transactions and even simply keep fans around long enough to be excited for a sequel.

One thing that concerns me, however, is that there seems to be this line of thought that single player gaming is dying. There are people that believe that multiplayer is the future and everything else will fall by the wayside. This is simply not the case.

On speaking to current trends it is easy to see the success of World of Warcraft and Facebook as a platform. Let’s ignore the stagnation of the mobile and PC gaming markets for now. What we are left with are consoles- the core of the game platform business. There are clear examples of games receiving better critical and popular acclaim because of multiplayer modes. Grand Theft Auto 4 is a sprawling solo experience but you can play with and against friends in a cops and robbers mode. Almost all first-person shooters have cooperative play and various competitive modes, some even going so far as to focus on multiplayer and packaging a very weak solo campaign. These points all create a great case for why multiplayer gaming is here to stay but to swing wildly in the opposite direction and say single player is dying is being reactionary. A look at recent games awarded Game of the Year by popular outlets reveals Batman: Arkham Asylum, Oblivion, and even Bioshock, which is a first-person shooter that forwent a multiplayer mode altogether. Surely these types of game experiences are here to stay as well.

Aside from examining the current market we can think about why people play games to begin with. Entertainment has a long history of solitary and social applications. People can watch movies in groups and listen to music at parties but that doesn’t prevent doing these activities alone. Man is a social creature, to be sure. That is exactly the reason people turn to media when they are bored and alone. Curling up with a good book is a traditional experience- why should curling up with a good game be any different?


Xbox 360 SlimIt is time for another year of the Electronic Entertainment Expo and what better way to start than having Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony duke it out with their pre-E3 press conferences. For the uninformed, these are hour long hype machines hosted by the biggest corporate tools you have ever seen in your life. Today was Microsoft’s turn and as expected it was time for them to unveil their motion controller.

While the press conference did start out with glimpses of Gears of War and Halo, nothing was notably wow-worthy, perhaps with the exception of the Metal Gear game. A new Xbox Slim is pretty cool but the announcement of built-in wifi (welcome to 4 years ago) doesn’t deter me from noticing that there was no price drop. This is because the majority of the show was meant to focus on the “next era of entertainment” which is the “evolution of motion control”- the Microsoft Kinect. This is a camera system that plugs into your Xbox and tracks your skeletal movement to allow you to control games without a physical controller at all.

Microsoft Kinect

At face value this sounds cool. The thought of navigating menus with your hands a la Minority Report is tasty. The facial recognition and voice command input are logical followups. Saying, “Xbox Pause” to put a movie on hold is actually kinda cool. So how does the Kinect break down?

The good

I have to admit that Microsoft is making a run at the casual market very strategically. There is a dance game that beats anything DDR can do. I don’t need to make a creative leap to imagine junior high kids learning classic dance move and performing on screen to a Guitar Hero like system. The pet sim for little kids, while very limited, may sucker enough parents into noticing the Kinect. There is a fitness program that doesn’t require a pad and can track any motions your body is doing and make sure you are correctly matching a personal trainer onscreen. I’m genuinely curious to see what this technology can inspire in a couple years.

The bad

There are a couple big problems with what Microsoft is selling. The first is that something is automatically easier and more natural to use without a controller, an obvious slam at Sony’s Move motion controller. But this isn’t necessarily true. Easier? Imagine if you walked into a building and wanted to turn on the light and there was no switch anywhere. No problem, just say the right voice command, or make the correct hand gesture, and presto, you’re done! Well, what is the correct thing to do here? The lack of a physical switch isn’t by nature more intuitive. What about more natural? Well, if I am playing a golf game I can hold my hands in front of me and pretend I am holding a club, or I can grip a physical controller with the same form I would use in real life. It is certainly more natural to actually feel a baseball bat, steering wheel, or guitar in your hands.

Another potential issue is the accuracy of the system. While there’s no denying that Sony’s physical controller will more accurately reflect movement, the question is whether or not people will care. If Microsoft is truly going after the casual market then this most likely is not an actual problem. But there were some games being shown that may be approaching the ‘hardcore’ spectrum. The racing game, for example, allowed you to pretend to hold a steering wheel but had no discernible method of controlling the gas. Games that require multiple controls, however simple, will suffer. And any games that require immediate reaction will just not play as well as their controller-driven counterparts.

The funny

A great thing about these press conferences is that, without fail, there is always a new internet meme born. Whether it’s Cliffy B acting like he’s on MTV 15 years ago (“What’s up bitches?”) or a preview of a game billed as having realistic historical battles right before a giant 3 story scorpion boss fight starts, there will always be something Tosh.0 worthy. This time this guy rolled out to present a few games.

Lorenzo Lamas

Now I don’t know who he is really or why he was wearing sunglasses inside during the day but it was a pretty weird scene. At one point he introduced some people who were gonna play a game and one of them said “Thank you Lorenzo Lamas.” It was a completely unscripted joke as the dude was walking off the stage and he turned around semi-laughing, semi in shock and said, “What the … fuck?” before his mic was cut off.

The end

So it’s hard to say if the Microsoft Kinect will succeed or not. It mostly depends on if it captures the imagination of the populace. And that is the question, since they are shamelessly targeting the Nintendo Wii audience. Not only did they copy their avatars and then actually claim to invent the concept of avatars at last year’s press conference, but they are shoveling advanced versions of Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and Nintendogs. In no uncertain terms, Microsoft is trying to outwii the Wii. The question is, does this casual market really want to buy another console that they will use for a little while before stuffing into their closet? I’m not saying the answer is no because there will be hella marketing backing this thing for sure, but a large part of the Wii’s success was the low price point and that is not something that the Kinect bundle will likely have. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft finds themselves going in another direction with this technology as it matures.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman:Arkham AsylumTruly, this is the most refreshing game of 2009. All the Game of the Year awards are well deserved. If you have a chance, play through the first 10 minutes of the game and see if you aren’t hooked. Batman feels tough as you walk into the famed Arkham Asylum but it is immediately apparent that he is in a dangerous place surrounded by dangerous criminals. And the prisoners are the true stars of the game- you will come across quite a few classic villains and you will want more.

The Joker

The recent Batman films were amazing. It makes sense for a AAA video game to take advantage of that success with a tie-in but Batman: Arkham Asylum has nothing to do with the movies. This is gaming asserting itself as its own medium. This is a strongly themed Batman game with its own flavor. It would be easy to lean on elements prevalent in the latest films but this game is showcasing its own version of the Batman universe.


Developer Rocksteady did an amazing job with very traditional Intellectual Property. They could have just spit out another superhero game and nobody would have blamed them but they wanted to create a cohesive experience that shows great respect for the source material. This isn’t just a generic Batman game- it is a well-conceived struggle within a defined world. Arkham Asylum is the backdrop to the entire story and it is with this incredible strength that the game derives so much of its character. Themes of danger and lunacy loom as Batman tries to contain the chaos on the island. And of all the places to be, he is surrounded by many of his worst enemies, in the prison he confined them to.

From the beginning you will immediately notice the cinema scenes are treating us to classic Batman. While the in-game movies are rare, they are cool when they happen. Getting to see the Batmobile and the Batwing are nice rewards but the cinematic nature of Arkham Asylum doesn’t stop there. The voice-acting is excellent and much of the talent from the popular cartoons was retained. Seeing some of the villains up close is reminiscent of modern films. The Joker is a cruel, deranged psychopath. Croc is a terrifying monster. Scarecrow pulls some neat tricks on you before you really know what you are dealing with.


The gameplay doesn’t borrow from the popular titles of the day. Instead, Arkham Asylum was thought out and designed from the ground up. The combat is fluid and satisfying. The stealth combat is interesting with a nice design mechanic to punish the player for failure without immediate death. The core mechanics of Batman were well designed and supported various secondary features that could be used repeatedly throughout the story. Sure, there were a couple of gameplay segments that were a bit less polished or otherwise not perfect but it never brought the whole thing crumbling down. The development team fearlessly gave us a wide variety of play mechanics- I was pleasantly surprised enough that it was hard to notice if a couple didn’t cut it.

All the bios, interview recordings, upgrades, and extras keep the game from being overly linear. It is rare for me to be motivated by finding collectables in games. In fact, I usually hate on them for being useless (I’m talking to you, Mirror’s Edge). Batman has a few different collectable types that range from finding hidden objects to solving slightly more obscure riddles hiding in plain sight. Players find themselves rewarded with experience, health, background info, challenge modes, and other goodies. There are even a couple of additional subplots that you can take to the end. I have to admit, even after I beat Arkham Asylum, I went back and finished finding all the riddles.

Game of the Year

I need to give major props to the Rocksteady team. Time and again I will gripe about a good game not living up to its potential. This is one case where I can not do that. As a game developer myself I am just so impressed with the complete package of Arkham Asylum. Anyone who does not give this game a chance is doing themselves a disservice. Being recognized as Game of the Year is great but I believe Arkham Asylum surpasses even that honor. In many ways it represents the pinnacle of our young industry and I am excited at the thought of the positive influence it will have on many teams going forward.

The Quantic Dream School of Narrative

Quantic DreamQuantic Dream is a fascinating video game developer based in Paris, France- a peculiarity which no doubt contributes to their individual style. They are equipped with a certain brash determination to make games according to their ideals. This vision entails an obsession with having players experience the normalcy and relationships of life in addition to the action-packed adventures of Hollywood. Character design needs to be well executed and soundtracks must be top notch. In essence, Quantic Dream strives to create the equivalent experience of a feature film in a game. While their ambitiousness inevitably leads them to many failures, it is easy to respect what they have accomplished. Since Quantic Dream’s latest title was released today I thought it would be a good idea to recap their history.

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

Their first game back in 1999 was Omikron: The Nomad Soul. It was about the player transporting his soul into a police officer in another world to help hunt for a serial killer. The player discovers that a demon in human guise is committing the murders and then the story starts to run away from itself with an age old battle for power, secret societies, and ancient magical artifacts. The gameplay was a bit schizophrenic as well. This was mostly a 3rd person adventure game but there were skill areas that switched to a 1st person shooter. Some sections had you fighting hand to hand combat in a forced side view where you had to pull off streetfighter style combos.

The gimmicky hook was that you were a nomad soul and if your host body died you would transfer into someone else. Ultimately, Quantic Dream didn’t have the resources to flesh out any of the characters besides the first. But at that beginning, the large city felt alive and the characters had depth. There was a distinct psychological draw to moving about the Blade Runner-esque world, finding your apartment, and relaxing and spending time with your wife.

David Bowie

David Bowie made the music for this game and played a couple of the characters. One was a cheesy virtual being who lived in “the net” but the other was much less vital yet more appealing. He played the lead singer of a band and you could watch a full performance of one of his songs in game.

Most of the criticism came from the game’s more disparate elements yet Quantic Dream created an atmosphere and temper that left many fully engaged. An intriguing first effort.

After some struggles and a full 8 years later, Indigo Prophecy was their second game release. Also titled Farenheit everywhere except in the United States, this video game was billed as an interactive film. This is an artsy way of saying it has a lot of quicktime events. The dreaded QTE, or Dragon’s Lair gameplay, has long been derided in the industry.

Indigo Prophecy

Instead of taking place in a futuristic dimension, Indigo Prophecy was set in the present and looked to have a more grounded story. Like a modern thriller, the plot begins with the hero having just violently stabbed a man to death in the bathroom of a small diner and recovering from a trance. Similar to Omikron, there has been a string of ritualistic murders. The player then has options on how to react to this situation with some exploring and dialog. Having ditched the unsuccessful genre-merging of Omikron, Indigo Prophecy resolves to remain more focused. That is not to say that there aren’t small sections of the game that break you out of the normal interactions, but for the most part the gameplay is acceptable. Specifically, the first act of the game is great.

My biggest complaint with Indigo Prophecy is the storyline. How can such a compelling introduction languish into disappointing pulp? Well, let’s look at synopsis excerpts from wikipedia.

The overall plot follows Lucas as he attempts to uncover the reason behind the murders. He initially attempts to move past the experience, talking his way of a visit from the NYPD, but Lucas begins to experience hallucinations, primarily involving arthropods, which eventually attack him, forcing him to flee from his banking job. The Oracle, a Mayan sorcerer, attempts to kill Lucas more directly by placing him in pseudo-reality inside his apartment, which Lucas manages to escape.

The arthropod hallucinations are weird but suddenly being assaulted by a Mayan sorcerer is just as jarring in the game as it is to read here. But this is only the beginning.

Lucas contacts a spiritual medium, who places him in a trance to recall the events in the diner, which initially terrify the woman. Lucas returns to his apartment to find it surrounded by police. During this time, Lucas demonstrates superhuman strength, reflexes, and agility, dodging bullets fired by police and leaping 30 feet into the air onto a moving subway train. Lucas’ ex-girlfriend is eventually kidnapped by the Oracle to draw out Lucas, and in an attempt to save her from a fall, Lucas is killed. He returns to life later in the game through the Chroma present in him, though this is never explored.

Not only is it not explored but this story continually fabricates inanity as regularly as you or I would use an exclamation mark. It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does it throws you for a loop. The twisted layers grow exponentially near the ending of the game, as if the writers were struggling in quicksand and grasping at ideas to save themselves.

Detective Valenti and Lucas eventually learn the location of Jade, the Indigo Child, who possesses a secret that will give great power to whomever hears it. During this time, a third faction, the Purple Clan, composed of an anthropomorphic artificial intelligence (AI), also steps forward to assert a claim on the child. Lucas, the Oracle, and the AI converge on the military base where Lucas grew up and was exposed to the Chroma.

After defeating the Oracle, you basically fight this giant electric AI monster for seemingly no reason and then the game ends. This really is one convoluted plot- and I cut the part out about the Invisibles. The obvious kicker that you may have figured out by now is that the story isn’t well executed. Not only that, we see recurring Quantic Dream themes of playing multiple characters, secret societies (the Oracle’s Orange Clan), electronic beings (the Purple Clan), and an age old struggle. For a game that started out as a police thriller, I was dumbstruck.


Still, the core appeal remains. This is a game that starts out tethered to the lives of several characters. Their homes, their jobs- their world- is what draws us in. If only we could see a treatment of these elements that wraps up as nicely as first presented.

Today Quantic Dream’s latest game, Heavy Rain, was released. Oddly enough another serial killer incites us into action to uncover deeper mysteries. The question is, are these mysteries compelling? Or are they, once again, simply batshit crazy?

Mirror’s Edge

Mirror's EdgeAnybody remember this captivating game trailer from a while back? A modern city populated with tall white and glass skyscrapers. A first person view of someone running, jumping over fences, sliding under obstacles, even disarming a big brother-esque police force. The parkour action was accompanied by a beautiful song that slowly faded into a climactic reveal of the main character, an Asian girl named Faith.

I absolutely had to get this game. It had a look and feel- and more importantly, game mechanics- that I had never seen before. And for that alone developers DICE deserve complete credit. This is a great idea and a pretty good game and I would easily recommend playing it. Unfortunately, as with anything that builds up such impractical expectations, all I am left with is a bitter aftertaste. Aside from what was accomplished and what I enjoyed, I am going to use lost potential as an excuse to break down the biggest failures of Mirror’s Edge.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the story introduction:

The near future. In a city trying to forget its past. Crime is nearly gone. Surveillance is pervasive. The old marks of civil violence, of strife, are now covered over or memorialized. Most people are content, ignorant, and docile. Few even remember the “bad” old days anymore.

Except Faith, a young girl.

Wait wait wait. There was a decent build up there. But you are going to tell me that no one remembers the past except a little girl who probably didn’t live through it? Umm, ok.

So here is the main character, Faith- a runner, a courier of information in a corporate age of control. Every time she tries to hop along the rooftops she is pursued by police. I’ve got to say, it gets old being up there and having my buddy come on the radio and say, “There’s Blue incoming!” yet again. I have an idea – how about Faith tries to be inconspicious and just takes a taxi to her next objective?

Overall, the story is horrible and disjointed. The levels have no meaningful connectivity in between them and the cutscenes often don’t move the plot forward. Playing Mirror’s Edge feels like you are just doing the same thing over and over again. I swear this actually happens:

Mirror's Edge Story

Okay, maybe story is not this game’s strong point (it’s not). Let’s move on.

Early on in my play experience I noticed that music was conspicuously absent. This was potentially one of the best features of Mirror’s Edge with the title track garnering internet hype and a separate soundtrack on sale. Where did all the music go during the levels? This was a missed opportunity for sure.

The jumping mechanics feel nice but they are not quite there yet. Like everything else in Mirror’s Edge, there is an obvious lack of polish. Landing from jumps will often result in you sliding off a ledge. It is usually hard to tell where you are supposed to go. The load times are excessive even after watching cutscenes. There are collectables scattered throughout the levels that have no purpose or reason for you to bother with. Judging distances of jumps is difficult and often only solved by trial and error, meaning you will fall to your death and pray there was a well placed autosave checkpoint.

On that note at least, falling to your death is very cool. The whole screen blurs out and shakes savagely while the noise of wind rushing past your face drowns out anything else, and then black. There are moments when you stop short of falling off a ledge and look down as the sound of rocks trickling down hammers home how close to death you are. Vaulting fences, touching walls, and slamming through doors are all genuine experiences with style. If this game sounds schizophrenic in its implementation, that’s because it is.

There are very few in-engine cut scenes that DICE tries to blend into the game but it is not a seamless transition. It is quite jerky and there is a white flash when the switch happens. This isn’t the biggest sin of a game engine, but there is a miniboss fight with quicktime events that blends back and forth between the game and the in-game scenes. Who’s idea was it to cut back and forth like that with choppy transitions and try to play it off as if it wasn’t horrendous? The controls were useless in the non-interactive portions and many times I died because my input wasn’t detected during a switch.

But, ladies and gentlemen, these gripes are nothing compared to the biggest control issue of the game: the Trip button.

Mirror's Edge Controls

No joke, using this button will more often result in failure than success. If you are merely running forward and you push this, you will spin around backwards and fall on your ass. If you are in a gunfight and try to press L2 to shoot but press L1 instead, you will turn your back on your attacker and get shot in the back of the head and die. The only reason this button exists is to perform a wall jump – you would think there is a better, perhaps more context sensitive way to perform this maneuver than always having a ‘Trip unless you are wall running’ button.

Moving on to macro design. Gameplay is a bit one-dimensional – you can only run from cops for so long before it gets old. Sometimes it is hard to tell where you should go under stressful circumstances. The few chase sequences are an ingenious way to solve that problem since you can always see where to go by imitating the target ahead of you. But there are some questionable decisions.

It was touted that you could play the entire game without shooting but that is a load of horseshit. While the idea of disarming a cop and using the remaining clip on other enemies until you need to move on is cool, the fight sequences are not the game’s strong point. Many times you can run away but near the end of the game you are forced into extended battles that you haven’t been prepared for and the aim controls are not very forgiving. If you play this game make sure to start with the Easy setting because that basically makes combat more tolerable without losing all the cool platforming.

The design is also very heavy-handed. There is not more than one way to do anything in Mirror’s Edge and you will find this out very quickly. Sometime you hang from pipes and can turn around to jump back, while other times your are clearly not supposed to turn around and the game doesn’t even bother letting you. It ends up feeling less like you are navigating a world than merely trying to guess what the designers want you to do.

The end of the game really starts falling apart. There is an entire level section that involves you jumping out of a building onto a bunch of others, avoiding snipers, slowly taking them out one by one, and when you finally finish you need to perform a very long jump back in to the building you started in. If you miss this jump and die you need to replay the entire segment over again. Either DICE intentionally tried to make the game harder by placing less frequent autosaves or they were rushing to meet a ship date, but the last couple levels are not fun.

The budget for Mirror’s Edge was not on par with the hype it had built up. The majority of the cut scenes were done in a 2D cartoony style that EA tried to play off as ‘stylish’ but I interpreted as ‘discount’. The hilarious thing is there is this police chief who Faith is in contact with the entire game in these cutscenes and finally, during one of the last levels, I came up face to face with him in the 3D engine. I had no idea who I was looking at because he looked completely different from the cartoon version. I had to listen to a few lines of dialog and ponder a second before I realized what was going on.


In the end, we are left with a game that had a lot going for it but the developers dropped the ball. DICE had a remarkable vision but I blame them for not following through with the promise. EA needs to get credit for funding a more experimental project like this but they should also bear the blame in this mess. To release a game prematurely does not do justice to the idea and they should have known better.

Even with all these failures, Mirror’s Edge will have lasting effects in the years to come. And who knows? With an iconic heroine and a better managed second effort, we just might get a sequel that delivers on more than just potential.

Prince of Persia (2008)

Prince of PersiaDon’t get me wrong – this is a pretty good game. Its American fantasy animation style makes for some beautiful visuals and a unique setting, which should be noted involved neither a prince nor Persia. The animation and running on walls and climbing, while not inspired, is solid traversal stuff. There’s also a couple cool pieces of tech that the developers experimented with- cloth tech for the character’s clothes and blobby tech that reaches out to the player as he walks by.


Ubisoft Montreal, the developers, put a lot of good into Prince of Persia. They, however, broke the golden rule of game design: A game is not the summation of its parts. They tried to cram everything in and hope it came together without a care for what the final experience was like. Ubisoft has been guilty of this before (see Assassin’s Creed aka. why I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2) and doesn’t understand that making a player repetitively perform the same tasks is not fun.

There are basically two sides to this game:
1) Traversing the level, killing an enemy or two before battling the boss,
2) Traversing the level collecting soul power seeds to unlock later levels.

These are both very traditional game mechanics that we are all familiar with. The problem I have with these two parts is that the developers make you go through every level once for the first thing, then populate the level with collectables and make you traverse the very same level again before you can move on.

Mind you, collecting games can be fun. Mario and Sonic had a healthy amount of collecting *mixed in* with the combat. But separating them out to be done at two distinct times over the same level? This is just lazy design. It is basically doubling the length of the game by making you play it twice.

Imagine a level that is a tower. I climb the tower and kill a couple guys on the way up. At the top, I kill the boss. Then the land is healed and magical light seeds appear everywhere. I go down the tower (a different and faster way than I came up) and collect seeds on the way. Now, at the bottom, I can move on to another level, or I can go BACK UP the tower again to collect the seeds on the way up. So now I repeat the initial level again just so I can obtain a reasonable amount of light seeds. Now I am at the top again with nothing to do there, needing to go back down. I go down, again the way I went down before, without even any seeds to collect this time around. Well, that was a lot more work than i wanted to do. And the most annoying part is that Elika, your sidekick, keeps urging you to hurry up to the temple or something even though the game wants you to go on an Easter egg hunt.

Making the game longer by stuffing filler in doesn’t only make the game less fun, but it means you’ll be playing a less fun experience *longer*. That, sir, is not the way to entertain. You cut the fat, let the players play the good parts, and have them finish the game wanting more. That’s how you sell sequels. And expansion packs, apparently, since you can purchase a few download-only levels from the PlayStation Store.

With the underlying fundamental flaw of Prince of Persia out of the way, there are still other problems. The combat system in the game attempted to be intuitive by assigning a button to ‘magic’, ‘throw’, etc. but in practice came across as a Dragon’s Lair button reaction game. There is a complicated combo list of what buttons can be hit at certain times that I only started to get the hang of at the end of the game. And by that I mean I used the one combo I knew over and over.

Combat Controls

All the animated attacks look very cool in combat but the experience didn’t end up as freeform as what I think the developers initially envisioned. Every fight takes place on a raised platform and you can instant kill guys by knocking them over the edge. Imagine my surprise when I fight a boss, and after a cut scene where he says how bad ass he is, I position my attack correctly and knock him off the edge in one hit. It took me about 1/3rd of the way through the game before I found an enemy who wasn’t this easy to kill, and I was thrilled for the challenge.

The theme of the bosses, on the other hand, is very cool. There are some obvious Shadow of the Colossus influences at work here. Most of the game is level traversal and boss fighting, with very few generic fights in between. You almost feel sorry for the bosses when they are killed. Even the concept of using a dark god to bring a girl back to life, at the sake of the land, is copied. But Prince of Persia fails to match the elegance of Shadow on almost all fronts.

You can choose your own path in this game, and I honestly don’t see the strength in that. If there are 4 levels per boss and I can beat them in any order, then there is no feel of progression. Instead of feeling like you are slowly defeating a boss, you simply fight it in 4 identical battles with the same generic evil dialog beforehand. Linearity could have been a strength to this title and allowed the story to be presented much better.

Instead, we are treated to stilted and disconnected dialog. And might I add, horrible dialog at that. The two characters squabble back and forth without making a semblance of a point. Oftentimes when one of them mentions something important the bickering takes over and the subject matter is lost. Sometimes you are treated to lengthy explanations of mundane things to flesh out the world, and other times you have to sit through bad jokes. The game doesn’t even take itself seriously- one time you are fighting a boss and you keep pushing him into a wall to defeat him, and the hero says, “I hope he keeps falling for this.” This breaking down of the fourth wall with chatter became more of an annoyance than anything else. What’s worse, the two main characters follow the hollywood romance model of fighting until they are attracted to each other. So when it comes time for me to save Elika from death, well, I don’t really want to- she likes to argue too much.

Relationship Development models

In the end, it sounds like I am being much harder on Prince of Persia than I should be. I almost stopped playing it because of its faults, but about 40% through the bosses get more challenging and the necessity for light seed collection goes down. I actually trudged through and beat it, which is more than I can say for a lot of video games these days. It was fun, but it could have been outstanding. Using Shadow of the Colussus as a roadmap was not a bad decision but Ubisoft didn’t have the heart to see that through.

Prince of Persia is like that relationship you had that lasted a couple months and was never incredibly exciting. Sure, you are broken up now and are glad it is over, but at the same time you can appreciate the experience as a pleasant distraction where hopefully you learned some things and got a couple blowjobs.


GTA 4A bit of old news maybe but Grand Theft Auto 4 won some ‘game of the year’ awards so I felt some berating was necessary (plus I need something to start off the Games category). At this point in the series’ life how is this still happening? If somebody told me the game was fun I could get that. If somebody told me it was cool because the story was cinematic then I would totally agree. But don’t talk about innovative gameplay when it is the same tried and true formula yet again.

Take Two does a lot of things right in their Grand Theft Auto series. I like how the main characters are not typical video game heroes. They usually pick some minority and thrust you into common movie stereotypes and situations but it feels good because we all like watching movies that do this. Take Two does a great job ripping off cool scenes from pop culture and throwing them into their video games, and that’s a great thing. GTA 4 specifically put in an effort to make the cut scenes and story have the familiar feel of a drama. There’s some emotion and comedy in there and the action scenes are taken straight out of a Die Hard flick. There’s even some useless but fun things to do that make Liberty City seem like a real place, like listen to radio stations.

Looks like a movie!

But isn’t there more to the gameplay? Isn’t this a living, breathing city where you can do anything you want? Let me spoil the surprise. If ‘anything you want’ doesn’t involve driving or buying clothes then you are sorely lacking options. But what about all the people you can interact with? Sure, they say random things when you walk by them, but is that really interaction? This is the deal. I see a guy, I can punch him. Oh cool, there’s a hooker. I can punch her. Oh wait, the cops just showed up. Let’s punch them. Are you getting tired of my explanation yet? Because trust me, when you’re actually playing this over and over again spanning hours and days of your life, you will REALLY be tired of it.

Gameplay Flowchart

When it comes down to it, the problem with GTA is that it is a driving game. All these “open-ended” missions just boil down to driving from point A to point B. 50% of my game experience is driving fast following a yellow line on my radar. I look at that stupid radar more than the street when I’m driving. So that means the car chases are fun since I can ignore the map and just chase what’s ahead of me, right? Yes, I have to admit, but all excitement quickly goes out the window when you realize that you can’t actually catch the car you’re chasing until the developers want you to. If you get too close to that beat-up buick they will turn the hyperdrive on and ignore the laws of physics instead of rewarding you for driving well. What about downtime? To go on a date I need to drive to the girl’s house (follow radar), drive to a date location (check and follow radar), be treated to a cut scene if I’m lucky (because many times the game immediately skips to the end of the date), and then take the girl back home (follow the radar). Well that was a pain in the ass. What should I do now? Great, my fucking cousin is calling me again. I bet he wants me to drive somewhere to pick him up. Wasn’t I supposed to be taking on a mob boss or otherwise doing something exciting?

And the city itself, oh God. If the driving is the core problem with the gameplay, then the buildings are the core problem with, well, the buildings. Sorry if that analogy didn’t work out. It’s just that this entire ‘world’ that was created is very empty. All the food joints will just heal you. All the bars are devoid of any reason to be there. They tried to stick minigames in places but they don’t have enough purpose- for us to play them or for the dev team to justify spending time making them fun. The theater shows are the only locations that really have anything unique in them although they are not interactive at all.

Liberty City Map

Point is, we really need to set a higher bar for open world gameplay. It should be obvious for sequel number FOUR but the improvements from game to game have been minor. I’m not calling for Take Two to change what they’re doing if they are selling games but isn’t it time for the public perception to admit that this isn’t breaking new ground any more?