Finished this over the weekend. The experience was weird and interesting in unexpected ways.
First, it's been a while since it came out and I have vague memories of it being an indie darling and that it had a cool dialogue system. Other than that, I vaguely "remembered" that it involved animals in a village. Or something like that. Oh, and that the tone was sort of like a teen movie. Ha!
There's an early scene in a cave that really knocked my socks off - because I realized that, well, I did not remember what the game was about at all. So, the "true" tone - it's a creepy mystery that's not Scooby Doo at all - was genuinely a surprise, and a fun one at that. I was mostly going - what the heck is going on! - which was fantastic. Especially as you try to make sense of eveything with scant clues...really scant. Weirdly, the clue part only opens up (becomes a possibility) once you're really close to the end - and then, you have to actively reject finishing the game to go hunt up all the collectibles, that give you clues and info as to what is really happening. I was a good little foot soldier here, and collected everything, but I'll admit that there's a significant chunk of time in which I felt totally confused but also felt like the game assumed I wasn't. Like it had told me some important info that I didn't understand.
The conversation system is nifty in a UI sense, you basically have three options open represented as speech bubbles above the character's head and you then press the corresponding button on the controller to choose that one. I felt a bit rushed at times, the options disappear quite soon, and there isn't really much time to think about a lot of the things you may or may not want your character to say. This was a bit unsettling, but I thought it was neat that when you say something, you can interrupt whoever is talking at the time. It made the game feel more "real" in terms of the chit-chat, more like actual friends talk and less like a movie/game. However, it sometimes made it hard to follow stuff, especially when someone is talking and your options are disappearing. Do I finish hearing whatever is being said, or get a word in before the choice disappears and maybe miss out? So, interesting - but I felt like it needed a bit of tweaking for my personal tastes.
The game was made by a really small team - so the usual stuff you'd like/want isn't there - the other characters really act like dumb puppets and seem to have no real contextual awareness - I'd pop open the radio to scan frequencies, and they'd continue acting the same as before.
Apparently to get all the trophies you need to play it three times - play nice, mean, and quiet. I think it's REALLY interesting that the game still works even if you never speak a word (by choice, the character sometimes just says stuff). It seems like the designers admitting that - whatever, the dialogue doesn't really matter, sort of like they gave up and just let you listen to the story play out in the voices of other characters. On the other hand, I presume it works! And, this means that the game is fundamentally not broken since you always have the option to remain silent. This feels like a really strange conundrum to me, but I mostly lean towards "not liking" the trophy because it sorts of draws attention to the game's narrative choices not really mattering for much.
I've finished the campaign and played a fair amount of multiplayer both operations and "regular" maps/missions. I've really enjoyed it and I have lots of thoughts and feels about different aspects of its design and the overall experience. I'm not sure I'll be able to get them all down, but here goes.
a. The campaign is structured as a collection of mini-campaigns (2-4 missions each) that take place in different parts of the world and feature different characters. I thought this was a clever way to cover, somewhat, the breadth of WWI in a way that makes sense without having to worry about whether or not everything fits together. It also allows different characters from different backgrounds and viewpoints. I found the campaign shockingly educational for me - not so much in the "content" but rather in illustrating how little I know of WWI in the pan-European sense. I basically was left with a bunch of questions and things I wanted to look into more deeply. For example - I have no idea what the role of Italy was in the war and I have the vague sense that the current modern Italian republic was a result of the war, but I don't know if that's true or not, nor any of the reasons/forces/actors/etc. that led to this. I always forget that WWI meant the end of the Ottoman Empire, but the role of the British in that has always been on my mental sidelines as it where. I watched Lawrence of Arabia a loooong time ago, but I kind of want to read and learn more about it now. The austrian-hungarian empire also ended thanks to WWI, and I had a hard time not getting them mixed up with the germans. They're not, and I suspect a lot of people confuse the two as well - especially since it was the germans that were the "main" force lined up against the french, english, and americans on the western front. People forget about all the other fronts (including Gallipolli), including myself - and playing this game just made me realize how much I'd like to start better separating WWI and WWII from each other in my mind and imagination. This is despite the campaign missions being incredibly over-the-top fictions. They were fun, and maybe the locations were real - but I'm pretty much sure everything else was made up. Which is fine!
b. I had a lot of fun with the operations mode and it reminded me, in a good way, of the fun I had playing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory back in the day (15 years ago now?). W:ET was, AFAIK, the first FPS game I ever played online that had distinct classes with special abilities - medics reviving and dropping med packs, engineers fixing things, support dropping ammo, etc. While I was initially turned off by the sheer amount of chaos and noise and speed - I decided to play a medic and just go for it. To slowly learn the maps, to learn how to play the class and so on. It was fun, and it really is the same game as before - but with lots of added wrinkles and sprinkles thrown in. Lots of fun and, as usual, the overall experience really depends on how lucky you are to get a team of randos that can play together. Eg. sticking together and chasing objectives, etc. The mode itself is also quite fun - the general rule is that offense needs to get objectives without losing too many respawns/lives and defenders must stop - but there's lots of different maps and such. I don't really see the point of the planes, and vehicles are fun to pilot, but not so fun to crew as gunners.
c. Probably the biggest change since the W:ET days is the meta- RPG elements - the leveling up, unlocking new weapons, options, etc. I couldn't tell how much of a power-difference things are, early medic unlocks are definitely no-brainers, but I never really bothered with weapons and stuff. I suspect there is a benefit to later weapons, but I'm not good of a player to really take advantage of them. As for the crates? Wow, I really don't see the points (other than potential in-game benefits), so I'm surprised if they've been able to monetize these as much?
d. The game opens in a UI wrapper that I thought was pretty interesting - it's basically a wrapper for other Battlefield games! Linking to Battlefield 4 and 5 - encouraging me to buy 5 for example. Presumably there's some sort of shared-across games profile? Is there a benefit to this for players? (overall stats?) I don't know - but I thought it was interesting from a marketing point of view. Weirdly, the game has a separate upgrade stream for the UI. So, when I first installed and updated the game I still had to update it again from inside the game - just for the UI.
e. Respawing works such that you pick spots on the map to respawn from, sometimes this can be inside a vehicle! There are two kinds: hard points (new ones open up when you capture points) and soft points - which are respawning on a team mate. This option is interesting, if you have a teammate who is in a neat location (deep behind enemy lines) or at a spot that needs support. It's totally unrealistic, but I think makes for interesting gameplay decisions - assuming a team that's coordinated.
f. I had a hard time identifying "war" in this game as significantly different from WWII, which was weird. The weaponry "felt" WWII, the tanks and such looked WWI, but felt WWII? Maybe it's just because everything was too fast?
I always need to remind myself that sometimes a game isn't too hard - I'm just playing it wrong. It's a lesson I need reminding of every now and then because I play enough games that I feel like I should "know" how to play most of them (even if poorly) AND we've reached a point in which teaching the player and tutorials are a common and natural part of videogames. There are few games that expect you to figure them out as you play them.
I picked this one up on a lark - it seemed fun from the box and I was not familiar with the series (I assume there's a series). 4-player co-op was also a draw.
The first time I put it in (to play with my son) didn't go that well. We weren't able to clear the first stage and the game just felt awkward and bad. Namely two things: First, every 3-4 times I fired my character would do a special move that "sort of stunned" opponents. It was awkward and I wanted to keep on firing, did I really need to do this special move? Second, You control the characters movement on the screen (left/right + jump) but the reticule (for firing) is SORT of tied to the characters movement, it's kind of "squishy" - sometimes your character is close to it, sometimes not, so you have to sort of dance around the screen to get the reticule where you want it.
It seemed terrible and I could make much sense of it.
So, I checked some online reviews and meta-scores. They all were pretty decent. So, this was not a case of the game sucking, but rather my not understanding it. Rather, not understanding how to play it.
So, I played solo a bit.
Then a bit more.
I tried things out and suddenly (at least for the dog character, I didn't try the others) it all clicked: Once your reticule was over an enemy, KEEP THE BUTTON PRESSED! Then you can move around and the reticule stays in place. Let go and quickly press it again and it often jumps to another enemy close by. No more "stun" thing and, it made it a lot easier to move around the screen and dodge enemy attacks. I then cleared two levels and almost a third. Ha!
The game is still not really my cup of tea BUT, I now understand how you're supposed to play it (at a basic level, there's some score combo stuff as well) and I felt good about sticking with it until I figured it out. I still don't think the controls are a good idea - but at least I understand how they're supposed to work and I could achieve moderate success (based on trophy completion rate as reported on PSN)! Yay!
This game is a veritable gold mine for UI-related game design snacks. Bad ones.
Space Hulk (and Blood Bowl) are two of my guilty game pleasures. I currently have two more Space Hulk videogames on the shelf waiting. And this one? Well, it goes straight back on the shelf. Such a disappointment.
To be fair, I've had to chew on things I did not appreciate that were just "different" in terms of game design - and things that were poor design overall. It's not easy, especially since I'm a real fan of the boardgame (the early editions, haven't played the newer ones yet). In the end, I gave up after the tutorial and two missions. Maybe it was three.
Design differences I didn't like (but I don't think are "invalid" design choices):
a. In the regular boardgame you can see (and count) how many spaces there are between locations on the board - and you can effectively see the entire board. You might not know how many genestealers there are (blips instead of figures), but you get used to figuring out how to spend your action points. Here, there is "fog of war" for everything - not just blips to stealers, but also for the layout of the map. This means that you have to play the game quite differently in order to be successful (IMO, you have to play "slower" so as to avoid having a stealer break through your perimeter and quickly take out all your marines).
b. You need to reload, and your weapons overheat. (they also jam, but that was in the original game). I don't know if this costs AP (to reload) or not...and you can also vent heat (does it cost AP?) So I was mostly confused by these new actions...
Bad UI (and design)
a. Color contrast was really poor - making it hard to see which marine was selected, what they were selected for and such.
b. I could never tell how many AP I had left - or how many I had spent. I still don't understand how the AP worked in the videogame, but I was able to play from my knowledge of the boardgame (4/marine, but then you have some extras)
c. I had marines change their facing after I was done with them - thus leaving them pointing in the wrong direction! Many died like that. Very frustrating.
d. When the stealers take their turn, the camera doesn't move - so you have to guess what is happening and where if you don't happen to have that scene focused.
e. Some mission objectives were super vague - they were explained narratively, but not in terms of gameplay. E.g. "We must rescue our fellow marine, but we need to cleanse him if he's tainted". The fellow marine was dead. What are you supposed to do? Reach his location with another marine did nothing. I THINK you had to use the flamethrower on him - but I'm not sure that did the trick either. Why? Because there's no overview of the map, so if you don't pan around and see a new exit, well, you'll just stand around waiting.
f. A lot of the text is really small. I don't sit THAT far from the large TV, but still...
g. Selecting/unselecting and choosing actions with your marines is pretty cumbersome - if you can get it to work. I had trouble selecting a marine I hand't used yet and having him move forward - I could change his facing no problem, but sending him somewhere was a problem.
h. In Space Hulk your facing matters and turns cost AP, so, you need to carefully plan out your moves - e.g. This guy moves backwards, but doesn't change facing is often important. I had no idea how to get any of that to work right (you tend to move, and then set facing) in a way that spent the right amount of AP (so that I could set overwatch, for example). I lost a lot of marines because I thought I could set overwatch and then couldn't afford it in terms of AP.