Being first is not special. Or, more accurately, it is special to be the first to do something, but that alone does not somehow entitle you to a life free of critique or feedback. Being first just makes you, well, first. It’s entirely possible to be first and yet still be pretty damn awful. You can probably gather where I’m going with this.
Rag Doll Kung Fu is the first non-Valve game to be offered on Steam, way back in the day. That’s something. It is also… well, it’s a game with an okay premise that wound up stretching pretty thin within seconds, and then it just sort of keeps going. I know that I talk a lot about games that feel like Flash titles stretched out far beyond their breaking point, and this one definitely falls under the same header. It also manages to somehow fail at that, though, which is very much to its discredit.
You are being hunted. Go.
We don’t need more elaboration than that. We’ve seen countless films wherein the big action sequence is as simple as trying to outrun pursuit. There’s no fighting back against your pursuers, no hope of reasoning, only escape or collapse. They are at your heels, they are coming for you. No time to pause, no time to think, no time to do anything but hurtle forward and try to be as quick and clever about your escape as possible.
Vector is meant to tap directly into that urge, the “flight” portion of fight-or-flight, the need to escape however you possibly can and as fast as you possibly can. No frills, no waffling, no nonsense, nothing except the straight pitch of your character from left to right, traversing obstacles, vaulting railings, smashing windows, slowing not a whit until you have outrun your pursuit. And it does pretty well at that, if not perfectly.
Playing The Secret World was in many ways both satisfying and infuriating. On the one hand, here’s an MMO that genuinely wanted its players to be engaged with puzzles beyond simply clicking on the right answer from a short and obvious list. That’s kind of awesome. On the other hand, the actual puzzles it had were highly reliant upon you scanning through fake websites, assembling clues very vaguely hidden in context, and then producing a synthesized answer. Or, as was far more often the case, looking up the solution online and skipping that whole tedious and unenjoyable aspect.
Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that the game did earnestly try to provide a challenge for its players that stretched beyond the norm. It was trying to challenge players beyond the usual sides of gameplay (which ties into that bit I outlined near the start of this feature) or simple common-knowledge trivia, asking players to flex a different skillset. They’re challenges that rely partly on things you’re not usually asked to do and partly upon the fact that you’re taught there’s a certain way video games play.
I recently found myself playing through Half-Life 2 again for reasons that are not clear to me. But that’s not the important point right now; what’s more important is that I was struck, not for the first time, at how tedious stretches of the game could get. The tense, brutal firefights were great, but then suddenly I’m in Ravenholm and dealing with millions of small enemies nipping at my heels without any ammo to be found. Or I have to piece together another physics-based puzzle. Or I’m doing anything related to the game’s vehicles. Or the goddamn antlions and sand.
None of these are segments that are unfamiliar at this point. I know how to get through all of them with a minimum of fuss. But they wind up feeling tedious for various reasons, and every time I hit another one of these roadblocks I rolled my eyes in irritation. Which seems an apropos condition, because in some games, the puzzles evolve naturally from the existing gameplay, but in others they’re just a way of padding out the game until you get to the next good part.
When I was younger, I had a book report to write about a book that I didn’t particularly care about. The one trick I hat was, well, an array of literary tricks. So I used them. I dove into my big bag of stylistic obfuscation and went nuts, dropping every bit of didactic deception into the requirements as I could. By the end, I had four pages or so of book report consisting of a paragraph of information and a whole lot of flourish.
My teacher gave it back to me with a note that I had written something which served as the ultimate triumph of style over substance. I think Splice would have given it a run for its money, though.
Splice, by the broadest definition, is a puzzle game. By a more practical definition, it’s really a game of stylistic clicking that doesn’t mar the experience with things so superfluous as narrative or feelings or even meaning. It’s a bit of distracted clicking. But it’s very pretty and soothing clicking, which is probably worth something, even so.