This month in video games played with what few emotions I have left. Mostly contained in two, completely unrelated events, about the availability of two unique but flawed third person shooters which initially released exclusively on 7th gen consoles. I’m talking about Alan Wake and Vanquish.

tl;dr: I recommend both of them, but they aren’t very outstanding. They both try some different things with their gameplay, to varying degrees of success.

Bad News First

Alan Wake was a third person shooter released by Remedy, the Max Payne studio. That would be enough to describe the game and define how quality it is, except it’s barely like Max Payne at all. The gameplay is less balls-to-the-wall action, and becomes slower paced with a higher focus on crowd control and resource management. It’s like a horror game but also not really at all: the atmosphere, plot, and designs have this element emphasized, but it never actually tries to scare or disturb you. And that’s fine, since it doesn’t get in the way.

The progression of the game is based entirely on its plot, making it very linear and scripted. Playing as Alan Wake, you fight zombies Ganados People Possessed By The Darkness, who have an interesting mechanic. Instead of just shooting them, you have to wear them down with a flashlight, then shoot them. Shining the light staggers them, so you can do a quick burst at one to keep them from advancing. Batteries are now a resource, and improved flashlights do more “damage” but consume more energy. Flares, spotlights, and other light-giving objects are present to help this mechanic, which feel natural and creative. The flashlight doubles as your crosshair, which is a natural way to portray, “this is where your bullets will go,” which is always tricky in third person. All this doesn’t really stand out and make the game play distinctly different from similar games, but it’s a nice touch.

But the game isn’t all good. It gets really repetitive, not having many environments outside a forest, and having few memorable bosses or encounters. In between combat portions, you get to fuck around inside a building or something while you look for easter eggs and get exposition Half Life 2 style. Not the best choice, but this is standard fare for 7th gen console games. The writing and voice acting is good enough to at least make it bearable. At the end of each episode, you get a titlecard and a song. This is where the problems begin.

Since the songs used in Alan Wake‘s episode ends are contemporary, popular songs, this means an agreement had to have been made with the record label who owns the song. So the labels decided to make the game have an expiration date, at which point the developers would either remove the tracks (seen in a few GTA games, Crazy Taxi), or stop selling the game altogether. The latter option was picked, and now Alan Wake can no longer be purchased off any online store. So the only option to play this game is to pirate it. Smart.

Sometimes Good Things Happen

Vanquish is a third person shooter released by Platinum, the Bayonetta studio, directed by the Resident Evil 4 and God Hand dev. That would be enough to describe the game and define how quality it is, and it is.

Not only is the gameplay balls-to-the-wall action, but it’s fast as hell and challenging. The game has multiple mechanics, like a boost, a dodge, a melee attack, and a move which motherfucking stops time, all of which rely on an energy gauge. Maintaining this gauge is the key to gameplay, since a health bar is absent. Vanquish is a 7th gen console game, so regenerating health is “in” and all the kool kids are doing it. This initially put me off to the game, but it grew on me. Gameplay focuses more on not getting hit a lot, instead of not getting hit at all, like it is in other Platinum games.

Upgrade shops are also absent from Vanquish, which is a less justifiable decision. This is hard enough to explain as it is to conceptualize, but basically it discourages using your gun. It also encourages fucking around with swapping weapons in order to get an upgrade from a partially filled gun. The mechanic makes no sense on any level, so the only assumptions are:

  1. Upgrades don’t matter
  2. The devs didn’t have time to implement the shop
  3. The devs didn’t want you to be smart about this

Number 1 is the one I’m going with, but it’s still shitty.

But the real reason this game is important is it got a PC port this month. Usually only popular or extremely good games like Metal Gear Solid V or Earth Defense Force 4.1 (respectively) get PC ports. Vanquish is one of the last games I’d expect to get a port. And this is a very good thing, since I (like many) would never have played the game in the first place, especially not with low framerate and controller aiming. It’s nice to see that an under-the-radar game like this can get a second chance at fame, and I hope more publishers follow after Sega.

I’m looking at you, Capcom. Port the Resident Evil Outbreak games with good multiplayer support or I will never buy another Monster Hunter game

Also published on Medium.

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