Author Topic: A Late Review  (Read 1525 times)

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Offline swashmebuckle

  • 210
  • Das Lied von der Turd
    • The Perfect Band
Finished a few days back after playing Vassago's Dirge--a hard act to follow, but it's great to see such a quality campaign renaissance.  First of all, I have to compliment the fantastic polish and presentation and high quality writing (not just for a video game), as well as all the great work on the art assets and missions.  There's a lot of love went into this war, and it shows.  Now on to my scathing criticism! :)  Just kidding, though
Spoiler:
I do think the mood got a little overcooked at times.  I get that you're on the losing side here and it can't all be rainbows, but it felt like half the time the game is telling you how utterly devastated you are, and the other half is a brutal set up to make the devastating half seem even worse.  The repeated pattern of hopeful buildups leading to crushing, kick-you-in-the-teeth tragedy worked for me at first but felt more and more overtly manipulative the further in I got.  This frustration was compounded by how static the narrative felt.  I was an active participant in important battles and all, but the only real indicator of overarching plot action was the text info after a mission updating you on how far from ultimate defeat you were.  This mechanism worked alright in FS because losing meant Earth would be destroyed.  Here though there doesn't seem to be any indication that losing the war could possibly be half as bad as fighting the war. 

Hell, even the characters themselves often seem ambivalent towards their fate.  I can see how that could be a realistic state of mind in such a dreadful situation, but as fictional characters it certainly doesn't help make me care about what happens to them.  In Age of Aquarius, you went on this incredible adventure, and there was a sense of purpose throughout, so when the twist came at the end that brought up the "So this was all for nothing?" moment, I felt like I was locked in with the characters' motivations, and their actions made me excited for what would come next.

In War in Heaven, by contrast, you basically get your ass kicked over and over in every imaginable variation around the solar system and then you think about it.  Here, at the end, it's me the player who is asking "So this was all for nothing?", because practically none of my actions over the past 15 or so missions seem to have had much of any relation to where the story looks to be going.  By the end of AoA you have traveled to another dimension, blasted your way through the empty shells of your home systems, rescued the last refugees of humanity, established contact with a new species that fundamentally alters your perception of the universe, and turned your back on command and your entire civilization, all hand-in-hand with the character development.  The story at this point is practically bursting with expectation, and there is such great momentum carrying you forward.  By the end of WiH you have absorbed a lot of cool background information, but as far as the plot points go, you know that:

1) You have the Nagari thing and you might be nuts
2) You captured an important ship, but are losing
3) Everyone you love will inevitably die a horrible death?

Furthermore, the only real question we're left with at the end is "What will you have to do with the big secret thing that you don't know anything about?"  I dunno, I guess I just sort of felt like the game was kicking the can around most of the time--all the components were great, the background, the missions, the music, the writing, the art, it's just that more often than not basically nothing happened except that 10,000 people died again.  Maybe that's what a real space war would be like, but as far as a story goes, I was like come on, let's get this thing off the ground!
Anyway, I don't mean to sound down on it--the campaign is very much enjoyable and totally unique among all the games I've played.  It's a sweet achievement and the whole team deserves to be really proud of it.  IMO, if the remaining chapters can combine the dynamic spirit and fun of AoA with the wonderfully fleshed-out presentation and attention to detail of WiH1, you guys will be the undisputed FS champs.

 

Offline General Battuta

  • Poe's Law In Action
  • 214
  • i wonder when my postcount will exceed my iq
Yeah, a lot of our design objectives were about subverting some of the tropes of FreeSpace and of games in general - namely that the player is a preposterously influential force in the overall context of the war. We wanted to do something about what it feels like to be struggling in the face of a war that's being lost for mechanistic, macroscale reasons - something like being in the IJN during the closing days of World War 2, or on the losing side of any competitive multiplayer game.

The cost is, of course, a reduction in player agency, both on the tactical level and the level of the overall story. We knew it was a risk going in, because a traditional FreeSpace story has a lot of forward movement and accomplishment, whereas War in Heaven R1 is really about elaborating on the crushing effect of the war on the individual characters as well as elaborating and riffing on the existing elements: all the pieces are in play at around m04 and from there on it's just machinations with them, rather than twists.

 

Offline General Battuta

  • Poe's Law In Action
  • 214
  • i wonder when my postcount will exceed my iq
double post for new thought

If AoA was like playing A New Hope, with all its mythos setup and whizzbang adventure, WiH R1 is a lot like playing Empire - you're getting your ass kicked, and
Spoiler:
by the ending Han's fate is in jeopardy, the bad guys are winning, and the best you manage is running away.

Or think of it as Black Hawk Down. The 'goal' of Black Hawk Down is to get the Somali warlord's cabinet, but that's not what the movie is actually about - it's about what goes wrong and the human cost involved.

 
I see my star wars comment is starting to spread around =P

 
VADER IS LUKE'S FATHER! 

 :P
"Courage is the complement of fear.  A fearless man cannot be courageous.  He is also a fool." -- Robert Heinlein

 

Offline swashmebuckle

  • 210
  • Das Lied von der Turd
    • The Perfect Band
I guess I should preface this by saying that I'm one of the few people I've talked to who thinks A New Hope is significantly better than Empire, but that's a thread derailment for another forum :)  I think I wasn't very clear in my original post--probably I didn't have a good grasp at the time of why it left me with a funky aftertaste in spite of all the great components.  I wasn't actually bothered by the lack of player agency or even plot movement, and the mood issues I talked about in my first post weren't really it either, as I've liked plenty of other gloomy stories that were way more manipulative.  I've been playing individual missions over again, (and again I'll say before any criticism that this is a really, really good game) and I think I've figured out my issue:

I feel like there are two different stories going on here against the same backdrop--one concerning this pilot who is contacted and will witness the awesomeness that was previewed in the first campaign, and one emotionally and technically loaded meditation on losing a tragic superwar.  The reason it seemed so labored is that for me the two arcs dragged on each other rather than feeling complementary.

On the one hand you've got this really well fleshed out war story that's full of all sorts of coolly-developed sci-fi and real world detail, a romantic subplot, sociological interest, etc.  It's also packed with dramatic events, but it lacks an overriding thrust to propel the player through the narrative--lose a battle, reflect, lose a battle, reflect, win a battle, reflect, lose a battle, etc.  This could be a really cool campaign on its own, sort of like a playable appendix that could add depth to the background of the actual story, but the context of what has already been revealed in BP1 makes it feel like this really elaborate dungeon crawl--you must have experienced X amount of death and misery to fight the boss and advance the plot. 

On the other you've got the big-picture aliens and crazy mind business.  This part is stuck on the back burner for almost the entire campaign, advancing in fits and starts, getting poked at during or after missions, never allowing you to get fully immersed in the more immediate stuff.  It totally dominated my attention because after playing AoA, I was anticipating that this was where the story was actually going, but it just refused to go, sabotaging the pacing and crispness of a campaign that was already really heavy on reading.  It's like there was too much good content and insight and it all had to get crammed in, hence the fusion into a single (half of a) story.

Spoiler:
Basically, I think Laporte doesn't belong in the campaign.  If she were a normal (non-extra-sensory-gifted) protagonist then the scope of the story would have made a lot more sense to me and her character arc could have sustained the structure in a more meaningful way.  As it is, half of her contribution comes from threads that have nothing to do with the emotional or intellectual center of the piece.  Her alien deal is a shiny, jangling external element that distracts and detracts to the point where I'm reading her interactions as "Hey baby, I've noticed you also excel at destroying the GTVA, wanna get dinner sometime?".  It's like Rick Moranis and Casablanca--they're both great, but not together.  And the ending could have been so much stronger if you hadn't been rescued by the dun-dun-duuuun Secret Dudes!  Ok not enough sleep, might write more later.  Great game though!