Slouching Toward the Next Generation: drivatars, sledgesaws, and severed limbs

, | Features

The installs may take forever, the UI may look cluttered, odious monetization schemes may lurk around every corner, and my new best friend the Kinect is always watching, but hot damn if Microsoft’s launch titles aren’t good. Despite all the media center ambitions and social interfacing, systems are sold because of exclusives. So let’s talk some games.

After the jump, gladiator porn, car porn, and zombie porn.

In Ryse: Son of Rome you play the roman warrior Marius Titus, a sword and shield wielding execution machine. Ryse is an action game in the vein of the Batman Arkham series. You attack, block, push, and roll. Your goal is to chain together successful moves without missing a beat or getting hit. The better you do the more valor you earn to unlock upgrades. Hurt an enemy bad enough and a little skull will appear over his head. This is your cue to hit the right trigger, setting up a quick time event execution sequence. These sequences are the game’s claim to fame. The camera zooms in and as you match button presses to the colored glow around the enemy Marius performs a gruesome series of choreographed killing blows.

XB2_2

I’ve severed arms and legs, stabbed people in the face and chest, slit throats and stabbed through necks, pierced spinal columns, and boot stomped faces. I’ve performed a double execution combo where I cut off one dude’s arm then another dude’s leg, and then stabbed the armless due through the throat and the legless dude in the chest before he even hits the ground.

Unfortunately, the combat isn’t very smooth. The animations are so detailed there is significant lag between moves. It’s hard to get a feel for when to push a button or what a button has done, and flow from one enemy to the next seems off. You have to be very deliberate in your button presses, you can’t mash. At times the combat can feel rote, but the game within a game of stacking combos and earning points can keep you engaged.

There is very little variation among enemy types — skinny barbarian, fat barbarian, girl barbarian, axe barbarian, sword barbarian — and bosses are few and far between. The upgrade system is basically meaningless. You can’t unlock new moves or weapons. I’ve mainly been upgrading my health, focus (an ability you have to slow down time), and experience gain.

The game can feel clumsy in its attempt to vary up the gameplay: manning a ballista, ordering troops (with horrendous voice commands through the Kinect), and throwing spears all feel weak and tacked on. The story is nonsensical; it seems to be a mash up of 300, Troy, and Clash/Wrath of the Titans. It’s just something to drape over the gorgeous graphics. Have I mentioned the graphics? They are astounding. Ryse is the best looking next gen title I’ve seen on either system. I can’t wait to see the next Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, or god help us, Rocksteady’s next Batman look like this. Graphics like these on solid games like those will provide instant justification for this generation of consoles.

Speaking of graphics, Forza 5 isn’t a slouch. This time around developer Turn 10 has gone a little nuts with their sexy car porn. Forza 5’s cars are gleaming near photorealistic masterpieces. The damage model is elaborate; every paint scrape, chip, dent, ding, and mud splatter rendered in exquisite detail. But unlike Ryse, where every frame of the game looks amazing, Forza 5 is a bit inconsistent when it comes to the tracks.

Some tracks like the Circuit de Prague are stunning; light glints off of each cobblestone, statues and bridges look immaculate, and mist rises off the water realistically. Speeding through a wooded stretch and accelerating around a bend into a wide open vista the oxidized green spires of churches rise out of the landscape and all of Prague is laid out before you. Blasting out of a dark tunnel hit with a white wall of light and flying down a steep down sloping straightaway in the Bernese Alps going 157 miles an hour with open air to my right and nothing but snowcapped mountain ranges miles into the distance provides a near vertiginous feeling.

XB2_3

These are the most dramatic moments. But most other tracks like Australia’s Bathurst with its brown barren plains, and seas of grass, are devoid of life. This has been a hallmark of Forza games: a few show stopping set piece tracks while the majority are antiseptic, clean, and boring.

In Forza 5’s career mode you pick a themed league (vintage, sporty coupes, etc.,) with a certain class of car and go about a series of races earning experience and credits. The most meaningful change to this formula is how you get your cars. Past Forza games just rained cars down upon you with abandon. You always seemed to have too many cars and too much money. This time around the gifting is at a minimum and you’re responsible for purchasing nearly all of your cars. This is the only Forza I’ve played where I have an intimate relationship with my fleet. I know their names, care about how they look, and I spend time thinking hard about the next addition to my garage. Because you never have enough money you tend to drive the cars you have longer. I’ve gotten to know my Mazda RX7, Subaru Impreza WRX, and Toyota Celica SS-I quite well.

Cars can be purchased with credits which you earn, and tokens which you buy with real money. I find this monetization scheme to be cloying and nefarious. Not ten minutes into the game I got an in game message from Turn 10 recommending a series of challenges. In order to compete in the challenges I needed a specific class of car, which I of course didn’t have. However, they were more than willing to sell me the necessary pack of cars for $9.95 or, if I preferred, I could purchase a season pass for another 50 bucks. You can also purchase experience boosters that help you level faster available at the start of each race.

Their eagerness to sell me cars for real money leaves me cold, and I can’t help but think that the decision to have fewer cars and a meaningful in game economy had less to do with fixing the game and more to do with an enforced rarity to maximize profits.

The other meaningful change to this edition of Forza are the drivatars: AI controlled racers that take on the driving styles, ability, and tendencies of actual players. After a few calibration races the game gathers data about your performance and creates a drivatar that will go out into the community and race on your behalf earning you credits. It sounds like a gimmick but it actually adds a lot of depth and competition to the game. In any given race the cars in the field are made up of my friend’s drivatars. These drivatars will hit you, block you, drive aggressively, miss turns, screw up, and just generally drive like real players.

While it’s no racing wheel the Xbox One controller is made for this game. The rumble in the triggers gives amazing feedback and feel for the road, grip, breaking, and drifting, while the new analog sticks feel great and provide just enough resistance for fine-tuned adjustments and steering.

The real piece de resistance of the Xbox One’s launch is Dead Rising 3. This is the preeminent Mad Max zombie epic. It’s the game Dead Rising has been aspiring too ever since those first fitful days of Frank West taking photos in the mall. Save for the simulated intricacy of State of Decay, Dead Rising 3 is as close as you’re going to get to inhabiting the body of a survivor during a zombie apocalypse. It’s the Grand Theft Auto 5 and Saint’s Row IV of big budget zombie slaughter games. And like Grand Theft Auto, Dead Rising 3 knows its fiction well. From the music to the atmosphere to the characters to the story, Capcom knows zombie fiction, and this game deserves its rightful place in the canon.

XB2_4

With each iteration Capcom has done a good job littering the world with zombies. In Dead Rising 3 we’re finally at the saturation point. Zombies are freaking everywhere. When you gaze out onto the highway leading into Los Perdidos for the first time it’s shocking how many zombies you see. Zombies love those highways. They also love crawling out of ventilation grates, out from underneath garage doors, and falling seemingly out of the sky from overpasses and roofs. While the graphics can get a bit muddy and jagged the animations are great. The variety of zombies is fantastic, and the gore and special executions are the stuff dreams are made of.

Like previous Dead Rising games everything in the world is a weapon, and scattered throughout the world are blueprints for weapon combinations. From the sledgesaw, to dual wielding mini-chainsaws, to something called the mecha dragon, the combo weapons are glorious. You don’t need a workbench this time around; all combo weapons can be made on the fly from your inventory. The A-Team Combo vehicles are also back and they are a necessity. Traversal through the city of Los Perdidos will eventually take you to one of the highway overpasses, and woe be unto you if you have to walk.

Dead Rising 3’s world is truly open, and nearly every building has an interior. There are safe houses you can clear and unlock, a la State of Decay. Safe houses provide a weapon locker and closet for your clothes, as well as a survivor board which keeps track of characters you’ve rescued or have helped out along the way.

The Kinect integration is horrible. During certain psycho (boss) fights voice cues pop up on screen that you have to yell at your TV. Yelling “clam down” at a kun-fu master and “you’re crazy” to a lunatic biker is embarrassing and I hated it. On the more useful front you can yell “over here” to distract and draw zombies and “change clothes” to go back to the default outfit.

The last thing I’ll mention is also the best thing about Dead Rising 3: Nick Ramos. Nick is the main character. He’s not a beefy badass, even though he fights zombies like one. He’s a dweeby nice guy, not too smart, always eager to help. He’s not cynical or vicious or some idealized macho man. In cutscenes his eyes are always wide with fear. Every time Nick meets a survivor he calmly assess the situation, showing compassion and empathy no matter how inane the request. Some of the best parts of Dead Rising 3 are Nick’s pep talks. Once you get to a specific mission and meet a character named Gary you really get a good glimpse into what makes Nick tick. There’s a powerful moment of resignation that changes how you view Nick from that point forward. It’s a gutsy choice to have a character like Nick in a game like Dead Rising 3, and it just cements the fact that Capcom knows what it takes to make the definitive zombie game.

Next Time, anyone for a round of golf?

Scott Dobrosielsky lives in Northport, NY with his wife and dog. When home from college he enjoys wasting entire summers in the back bedroom of his parent’s house playing Black Isle games. He posts to the QT3 forums as Scott Dobros.

FacebookEmailTwitter