The last post I wrote was talking about Duke Nukem Forever, and this one is too -- it's almost as if no time has passed! We can just continue on as if this blog didn't languish for the entire summer. With anyone else you might rightly suspect he spent the season soaking up the sun and engaging in a variety of healthy, outdoor activities. It's true! You might suspect that.
When I finished DNF the first time, my overall reaction was relatively positive. I could recognize that it wasn't a good game, but perhaps my fondness for the original Duke Nukem platformer and Duke Nukem 3D helped me find the fun in there. I had an okay experience with it. I went back to it recently in an attempt to wrap up the last four achievements (yes, yes, I know, achievements don't matter. It doesn't make me love them any less), and I'm finding it very difficult to make excuses for it anymore.
1) The game is ugly. I have an HD TV now, and games that used to look good on my ancient and doddering SD now look great. It doesn't have that effect on DNF, though, and instead it calls attention to how grainy and outdated the graphics really are. It's not just technically, either, but artistically too: everything is grey and brown and ugly. I love Gears of War, another game that goes for the grey-drab brown-muck approach, and even the blandest location in Gears is a work of beauty compared to DNF.
2) The game excels at nothing. DNF feels like Dr. Frankenstein's creature, stitched together pieces of other games -- and that's what I sort of liked about it! I liked the variety: you're driving an RC car, you're miniaturized, you're running fetch quests in a strip club, you're firing a turret from the side of a helicopter, you're throwing explosives at a giant boss, you're run-and-gunning through a lab. The downside of this is that none of those things I mentioned is done particularly well: the RC car controls sluggishly and makes you long for Half-life 2's air-boat (remember when we thought that part was bad?), the miniaturized sections are full of one-hit instant death traps, the inclusion of the fetch quests is a real head-scratcher, the things you're firing at from that turret consist of one or two guys at a time along what's supposed to be a warzone but hilariously isn't, etc. etc.
3) The game's performance nearly makes it unplayable. Everything stutters and hitches, even when installed on the 360's hard drive, and loading screens are incredibly long. You read that sentence and you think you know how long these loading times are? They're longer than that. You get several checkpoints in each part of a level, but often you'll have ten or fifteen minutes of gameplay before you'll reach another one (and it could be longer than that on harder difficulties), and you need to sit through the same ridiculously long loading screen every single time. That miniaturized section I mentioned in point two, with all the one-hit instant deaths? That would have been almost enjoyable if you didn't have to sit through minute-long loading screens every time you failed to see what you were meant to do and instead guessed incorrectly.
4) The game is not funny. This is really the most grievous sin a game can commit when it has nothing else going for it and is supposed to be funny, but I can't help but think they really missed what made Duke entertaining in the first place. He was funny in the other games because he was an action-movie type fighting aliens and saving our babes in the seediest of places. Here the world apparently worships Duke, and after the third or fourth Duke-branded location the novelty had really worn thin. And a note: coming up to a boarded-up location in a mine and saying 'I wish I had a crowbar,' is not the height of satire. Yes, I enjoyed Half-life. Don't remind me I'm not playing it unless you're able to MINE the reference for hilarity. See what I did there? I wasn't funny. Just like DNF!
So I've shelved it for now. There are just too many good games out there to waste any more time on this one. At a certain point even my attempts to get every last bit of value out of the games I buy has to be abandoned in the name of keeping my sanity. At least I'll still have Duke Nukem 3D.
I've been playing Duke Nukem Forever for the last few days. That's pretty crazy. If you haven't followed its torturous course between multiple delays, engine changes, overhauls, and finally cancellation, followed by its subsequent resurrection, you might not appreciate just how crazy that is. Well, consider this exerpt from an interview with George Broussard and Scott Miller that appeared in the official Duke Nukem 3D strategy guide, published in 1997.
Scott Miller: We are also making Duke Nukem Forever, which will be out next Christmas for sure. DN Forever is not a sequel though, rather it's simply another episode in the life of Duke, just like each episode of Star Trek is not a sequel to the previous episode. DN Forever will be a side-scrolling platform game similar to the original two Duke games, but with far better technology and graphics. We're using the same Duke model from Duke Nukem 3D and adding dozens of new frames. Duke will climb chains, poles, ladders, walk hand-over-hand along wires and pipes, do midair flips, and ride several vehicles, including a jet ski and a Harley. The graphics will be very realistic and dark in style, and not cartoonish like the first two Duke platform games. Duke will have several familiar weapons, like the shotgun, RPG, and Ripper, plus several new weapons. And, of course, he'll still have his legendary attitude and Duke Talk(tm).
Duke Nukem Forever has been in development for so long that it was once a side-scrolling platformer! Unbelievable. I'll have more to say about DNF in a later post. There's stuff to talk about, for sure. For now, let's just say that I'd like to have played the platformer.
Apologies for the last few weeks of no updates -- overtime at work, a nasty cold, excuses excuses. We're coming up to my favorite time of the year, though, so I wanted to get back in the swing of things: E3 week! It's that magical time when game companies unveil the surprises they've been cooking up for the last year in an attempt to win the heart and mind of that fickle beast, the elusive gamer. What company 'wins' E3 is a pointless discussion for the most part, but it's also fascinating. Who will it be this year?
There's been one pre-E3 news conference of note so far, and it was Konami's on last Friday. No memorable wackiness this time, unfortunately; it was pre-recorded, and undoubtedly vetted by the Powers That Be. That's okay. We'll always have One Million Troops, Tak Fuji.
The big news from the Konami conference, as far as I'm concerned, was the announcement of three new HD collections: a Zone of the Enders HD Collection, a Silent Hill HD Collection, and a Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, each of which will be on Xbox and PS3.
Outstanding! Especially the MGS one, which will contain MGS2 (Do You Know What Day It Is, Jack?), MGS3 (The Best One), and Peace Walker (Yes, This Is Why You Bought a PSP), all gussied up in HD and apparently containing Trophies/Achievements. You might laugh, but I love Achievements, and the Metal Gear series has long had the sort of gameplay that would be perfect for the things. If they rereleased MGS4 with Trophies, I'd buy it again in a heartbeat, for instance.
Some people are disappointed that the collection doesn't contain the original Metal Gear Solid, but I'm okay with it. The amount of work necessary to smooth out the jaggies on the original was probably prohibitive, and anyway the Twin Snakes version that was done for Gamecube is all tied up with Nintendo. You don't want to get involved with their lawyers, if you can help it. Plus, if you get the collection on PS3, which I'm planning on doing, you can get the PSX version of MGS and play through the whole series on one system anyway.
It comes out in November. That feels like a long time from now. Want!
Previously on Chronological Halo: The Covenant finally arrived in Earth orbit with a mighty fleet of... fifteen ships? Despite the small number of ships, they still managed to destroy two of the orbital defense stations, and would have destroyed a third as well if the Master Chief hadn't intervened. He took their bomb and gave it right back to them, with explosive results.
Three Pelicans fly from the 'In Amber Clad' down to the surface, where they approach the East African city of New Mombasa. As they approach the city, Cortana picks up a message being broadcast from the Covenant carrier stationed over the city.
Cortana: The message just repeats. Regret. Regret. Regret. Miranda Keyes: Catchy. Any idea what it means? Sergeant Johnson: Dear humanity... we regret being alien bastards. We regret coming to Earth. And we most definitely regret that the Corps just blew up our raggedy-ass fleet!
Sadly, that's not it. Cortana explains that 'Regret' is a name, the name of a Covenant religious leader. He's on the carrier hovering over the city center, and it's up to the Master Chief to get onboard that carrier and find out from the Prophet why this is the one place on Earth the Covenant chose to land.
But it won't be easy: as the Pelicans approach, a giant Scarab tank moves from between buildings and fires! One of the Pelicans is engulfed in flames, and the one carrying Sergeant Johnson and the Master Chief veers away, smashes into a building, and crashes. As our vision clears, we get our first taste of some of the hilarious section names in Halo 2.
'They'll Regret That Too.' Ha!
Together with Johnson and the surviving marines, we make our way from the crash site to a courtyard. We're in the old town, Old Mombasa, across the river from the city center. We fight off Covenant forces in the courtyard, and just as the marines prepare to put a satchel charge on the gate we need to get through, a pair of Hunters burst through!
Johnson: Stand back, marines! Let the Chief show you how it's done!
After the Hunters are taken care of, with our customary ease, we make our way through the streets of the old city dealing with Jackals with beam rifles. A Pelican lands and picks up Sergeant Johnson while we get through an abandoned hotel with the power out. On the other side a Warthog drives up; we can use it to go through the tunnels up to the bridge that leads to the city center. In the tunnel, Cortana comes to a realization.
Cortana: I've been analyzing the Covenant tactical chatter. They're surprised, confused... I don't think they expected us to be here. Not you and me... all of us... humanity, on Earth. Odd, I know, but it does help explain why they came here in such small numbers.
That's... strange. As we come out of the tunnel and up to the bridge, the level comes to an end.
We're fighting in the streets of Earth, as promised by the promotional materials for Halo 2, but the worrisome signs continue. The long-awaited Covenant invasion of Earth is... an accident? The Covenant didn't know we were here? It does explain the small number of ships, but this is a long way from 'the goddamn apocalypse' the marketing for Halo 2 led us to expect. Honestly, we've seen what that would look like by now, in Halo: Reach (and it was amazing), but at the time that Halo 2 came out we didn't have any of that. It felt like a bait-and-switch.
Chronological Halo really shines when you're behind the wheel of a vehicle, and the long tunnel that ends this mission is no exception. It doesn't have the emotional impact of the escape at the end of 'The Maw,' but it does have similar gameplay, and is nice and long.
One last thing: we now know why the Prophet of Regret wasn't physically present at the trial of Thel 'Vadamee, and was instead participating via hologram: he was en route to Earth. But why? We don't know at the moment, and won't for awhile; but it certainly wasn't for the purpose of wiping out humanity. If it had been, this level and the one right before it would have been quite a bit different, and more like Reach.
This level gives us fighting in the streets and a fun stretch of driving, but the eyebrow-raising continues. The Covenant accidentally invading Earth is okay as a plot point, but the simple truth is that it's not what we were expecting.
Previously on Chronological Halo: The leader of the Fleet of Particular Justice, an Elite called Thel 'Vadamee, was put on trial by Covenant High Command for failing to prevent the destruction of Halo. Meanwhile, the Master Chief was on Cairo Station, part of Earth's Orbital Defense Grid, getting his gear upgraded. Also, Sergeant Johnson made it back safely! Don't ask how: it's classified.
There's an interesting dynamic to the cutscene that begins this level: two ceremonies are occuring simultaneously, one involving the UNSC leadership and the other involving the Covenant. In High Charity, Thel 'Vadamee is led out onto a walkway in front of a crowd screaming 'Heretic! Heretic!' He's being escorted by a pair of Brutes, large ape-like creatures that seem to be responsible for the physical law enforcement of Covenant society.
They're below the societal level of the Elites, normally, but Thel 'Vadamee has been disgraced by his failure to protect Halo. Tartarus, the leader of the Brutes, fixes Thel 'Vadamee's hands to floating handcuffs.
Tartarus: You've drawn quite a crowd. Thel 'Vadamee: If they came to hear me beg, they will be disappointed. Tartarus: Are you sure?
Energy beams lash out to the Elite's unprotected sides, and he shakes with pain. Meanwhile, back in Earth orbit, the UNSC ceremony is proceeding with 100% less torture. The Master Chief and Sergeant Major Johnson are receiving the Colonial Cross, awarded for 'singular acts of daring and devotion.' It is also awarded posthumously to Captain Keyes, and is presented to his daughter Miranda, a Commander for the UNSC.
Cortana detects whispers of some activity near IO, one of the moons of Jupiter, and dispatches probes to investigate.
Back on High Charity, Thel 'Vadamee has endured extensive torture but isn't out of the woods yet. Tartarus produces a red-hot brand and presses it cruely to the Elite's naked torso; he is being marked, to make an example to those who would fail the Covenant. He bellows with pain.
The UNSC ceremony is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of fifteen Covenant capital ships just outside the kill zone of Earth's defensive cluster! Lord Hood, the leader of the UNSC who has been conducting the medal ceremony, thinks there's something strange about this invasion.
Lord Hood: Something's not right... The fleet that destroyed Reach was fifty times this size.
As boarding craft approach the orbital stations to try and take the MAC guns offline and give the capital ships a straight shot at Earth, Master Chief and Johnson go to arm themselves and defend Cairo Station.
After we fight off the first wave of boarders and find ourselves in one of the hangars, through the viewport we can see boarding craft leaving Malta Station. Cheers of 'they did it! Malta fought them off! They're retreating!' evaporate as the Malta explodes in a blinding flash of light. Shortly afterward, the same thing happens with Athens station: boarding craft leave it, and it explodes.
Cortana: That explosion came from inside the Athens. Same as the Malta. The Covenant must have brought something with them. A bomb. Lord Hood: Then they sure as hell brought one here. Chief, find it.
The next section is humorously titled 'Priority Shift,' and involves our search for the bomb. If you hang around and don't go looking for the bomb, Cortana gets increasingly agitated.
Cortana: Just a friendly reminder: Bomb.
A brief detour through the Armory results in us seeing Master Guns killed by the Covenant, and we run into Commander Miranda Keyes; she was almost on board her ship when she was cut off by Covenant Elites. We head out into the vacuum of space to reach a cargo elevator that will take us down to where Cortana thinks the bomb is. Vacuum isn't as cool as it was in 'Long Night of Solace' -- our jumping height is different, but grenades are unaffected. Oh well.
As we're taking the elevator down, one of the Covenant capital ships blows right by the Cairo and heads for Earth! At the bottom, we clear out the Elites guarding the bomb, and Cortana deactivates it. This gives rise to one of the Master Chief's more badass moments.
Master Chief: Permission to leave the station. Lord Hood: For what purpose, Master Chief? Master Chief: To give the Covenant back their bomb.
Oh yes. Yes indeed. We pull the lever that opens the hangar doors and grab onto the bomb as it's pulled out into space. We float with it through a hole in the side of a Covenant carrier, reactivate the bomb, and then push off with our legs. It detonates right in front of the carrier's fusion core and we soar through space, eventually coming to land on 'In Amber Clad,' Commander Miranda Keyes's ship. The ship heads toward Earth; we're taking the fight to the surface.
The first video reveal of Halo 2 was pretty incredible, despite the fact that a sequel was a foregone conclusion. It took the form of the Halo 2 Announcement Trailer, played in movie theaters and on TV, and showed up on the Game of the Year edition of Halo: Combat Evolved. It essentially showed the Master Chief's To-Do list, superimposed over shots of him moving through a station of some kind:
Explore Derelict Ring Habitat -- COMPLETE; Outwit Ancient A.I. Construct -- COMPLETE.
Meanwhile, we hear radio chatter from UNSC forces desperately calling for reinforcements, saying the fleet was destroyed and that 'Down here, it's the goddamn apocalypse!'
Stop Destruction of Human Race -- IN PROGRESS
The Master Chief pulls a lever, a hangar door opens, and he flies out into space to land on a Covenant carrier.
It was a pretty fantastic trailer and got people excited for the full-blown invasion of Earth by the Covenant. But when the game itself arrived, 'Cairo Station' already had a few troubling differences. Nothing major, yet, but enough differences from the Announcement Trailer to raise a few eyebrows.
First, the size of the Covenant fleet. Fifteen ships? That doesn't sound like very many. Reach was hosed, sure, but according to Lord Hood that was a fleet fifty times the size of this one. Second, none of the 'goddamn apocalypse' chatter is present in the actual game, and while giving the Covenant back their bomb is pretty awesome, it does seem like the full-scale war of the Announcement Trailer hasn't actually started yet. Maybe it'll happen in a level or two, when we get down to the surface. We'll see.
About giving the Covenant back their bomb, which I've already said is badass. It is. But there's a good question here: is it too badass? This is one of the first moments in Chronological Halo that really makes you question 'Did that really happen? That feels a little far-fetched.' Noble Six plummeting from orbit back to the surface of Reach even passes that test, because he's given a Re-entry Pack that is apparently designed just for that purpose. But Master Chief's trick with the bomb in 'Cairo Station' is just a little too credibility-stretching for me.
Despite my quibbles about the changes from the Announcement Trailer to the final game, Cairo Station begins with a neat back-and-forth cutscene between the UNSC and the Covenant, and ends with one of the Master Chief's most badass moments. It's a pretty solid 'battle on a human ship' level, of which there are only a handful in Chronological Halo.
Previously on Chronological Halo: The Master Chief set off a wildcat destabilization in the fusion core of the Pillar of Autumn, and barely made it off the ship before it exploded, taking the Halo ring with it. He sets course for home, confident that the trouble with the Covenant, and with Halo, is not over.
This is technically two levels, but there are several cutscenes sandwiching a brief playable tutorial, so I'll be covering them as a single mission. 'The Heretic' is the opening cutscene of Halo 2, and 'The Armory' covers Master Chief's new upgrades and serves as a basic non-combat tutorial before the action starts.
It's about a month after the destruction of Halo and the Master Chief's escape from Installation 04. A giant Covenant structure has travelled through slip-space to the wreckage. This is High Charity, the Covenant holy city, and deep inside a trial is being conducted. Two Covenant religious leaders, called Prophets, are interrogating a lone Elite. A third Prophet is not physically in the Council Chamber, but is participating via hologram. The Elite is not named in the game itself, but the Internets tell me his name is Thel 'Vadamee. Who is he?
Thel 'Vadamee, whose life has been better.
Thel 'Vadamee: There was only one ship. Prophet of Regret: One? Are you sure? Thel 'Vadamee: Yes. They called it the Pillar of Autumn. Prophet of Mercy: Why was it not destroyed, with the rest of their fleet? Thel 'Vadamee: It fled, as we set fire to their planet.
A-ha! So Thel 'Vadamee is the Covenant commander in charge of the Fleet of Particular Justice, the fleet that destroyed Reach! And he's in biiiig trouble. The Prophets are not happy that he allowed the humans to set foot upon the 'Sacred Ring,' and more than that: he could not prevent Halo from being destroyed. He tries to tell them that he was too busy concentrating on the Flood, and there was nothing he could do.
Thel 'Vadamee: Noble Hierarchs, surely you understand that once the parasite attacked - Prophet of Truth: You were right to focus your attention on the Flood. But this Demon, this 'Master Chief...' Thel 'Vadamee: By the time I learned the Demon's intent, there was nothing I could do.
The Prophets do not agree. Thel 'Vadamee led his fleet with distinction, but his inability to safeguard Halo was an inexcusable failure, and though he vows to continue his campaign against the humans, the Council has other ideas.
Prophet of Truth: Soon the Great Journey shall begin. But when it does, the weight of your heresy will stay your feet. And you shall be left behind.
We don't know what the Great Journey is at this point, but it's clear that this is bad news for Thel 'Vadamee.
The screen fades to another location, and we're near Earth's moon, and a large space station, the Cairo. Inside, the Master Chief, cause of Thel 'Vadamee's current woes, is having his armor serviced. The Gunnery Sergeant isn't pleased at the state of it, and asks the Master Chief if he knows how expensive it is.
Master Chief: Tell that to the Covenant.
The Gunnery Sergeant then runs us through a simple tutorial, teaching us the controls and letting us choose if we want to invert our look axis, etc. He gets amusingly exasperated if we don't follow his instructions. Once the tutorial is finished, Sergeant Major Johnson enters the armory to escort us. He brings us up an elevator and onto a tram, talking about the history of the Orbital Defense Grid which protects Earth: three hundred platforms like the Cairo, each one with a MAC gun powerful enough to take out a Covenant capital ship. We exit the tram and walk into a crowd cheering our arrival.
This is our first glance behind the curtain at the Covenant leadership, and it's an intriguing one. We knew the Covenant had a religious slant from Cortana's eavesdropping on their battlenet, but it seems almost to be the basis of their society, centered around something called 'The Great Journey.' It's unclear what that might be, but those who endanger the Covenant are deemed heretics and unable to participate in the Great Journey, according to the Prophets.
The Prophet of Truth is ready for his close-up.
And here's something interesting: look how bad you feel for Thel 'Vadamee during his trial. This is the guy who was in charge of the Fleet of Particular Justice that decimated Reach, but here he cuts a sympathetic figure. Blame the voice casting once again; Thel 'Vadamee is played by Keith David, whose voice you may recognize from Every Videogame Ever, and he just has that sort of voice.
On the other side of the divide, the Master Chief gets an upgrade to his armor that is basically the same as what he had in Halo: Combat Evolved, but does away with a visible health meter requiring medpacks. It's strange to see Sergeant Johnson again (remember Cortana saying that all that remained of Installation 04 was 'dust and echoes?'), but the wink and nod factor is very high during the following exchange:
Gunnery Sergeant: So, Johnson, when you gonna tell me how you made it back in one piece? Sergeant Johnson: Sorry, Guns, it's classified.
Johnson's history lesson as you ride the elevator and the tram, about how awesome the Orbital Defense Grid is and nothing could get by it, no matter what, is a little too obvious for my taste. You just know something's about to go down, you don't really need to put such a point on it.
No real gameplay in this level, but the glimpse into Covenant culture is intriguing and feels like a necessary next step for the series to continue without becoming too one-note.