Friday, April 22, 2016

Sly Cooper:Thieves in Time

There are some video games that shouldn't exist. Be it for say being a mess of programming held together with chewing gum. Then there's a game like Sly Cooper Thieves in Time that just takes the franchise up to this point and runs it over with a monster truck. A game that misses the point of what made the original Sly Cooper trilogy,especially the latter two games, fun and enjoyable. Boiling it down to a mess that while perfectly functional should not have been made.

To understand what makes this game such a slap in the face we need to step back shortly. The Sly Cooper games have always been about the titular thief who stole from criminals because there was no fun in stealing from regular people. The first game,The Thievius Raccoonus, was your standard 3-D platformer that followed Sly and his friends,Bentley Turtle and Murray Hippo, as the took back the title book that detailed his ancestors various thieving techniques and defeated his families most feared rival, Clockwerk.

The sequel, Band Of Thieves, was a radically different game. Murray and Bentley were upgraded to fully playable characters and become less of a collectible platformer to a open world game that felt like a heist. It did well enough to spawn another sequel, Honor Among Thieves, which took everything that made the previous game work and streamlined it, while adding new forms of game play against the backdrop of building a team to make one massive heist. Despite the radical changes both these games made everything fit. You explored the hubs, stole from guards, and just felt stealthy. They're excellent games I come back to again and again. Thieves in Time is a game that I can't say I'll probably ever revisit.

The first strike is the lack of a bigger goal both within in the levels and in the grander scheme of the narrative. Band and Honor both had Bentley giving a briefing on how things were going to go and then giving you a host of missions to pull off then you went about your merry way to do those tasks how you pleased. It was fun and gave you a sense of progression,not the case here. You still get to go out into the world to pull off jobs and steal optional treasures but there is always one job at a time,barring one instance in the final stage, and the details are explained as needed. I never had a good idea of why I was really doing this or how this helped...what ever the plan was. The briefings aren't gone completely just moved to the start of certain missions to explain the apparent big plan we'd been prepping for. Then Bentley descries about four or five steps that sound like fun things to do and then come to find out we're only doing one character's portion of the plan while everything else is done off screen. It's a huge let down and breaks the supposed sense of unity these people are supposed to have. I don't know if I can accidentally beat a game but I felt like I stumbled through most of this game. This ties nicely into the game play, I might add.

The missions have this bad habit of either been criminally short or go on for ages. Most fall into the latter category with tedious sections of do task to open up a path to do a short combat section to do more of the tedious task again. The few new characters that are fun to play as tend to get the short end of the straw with actual tasks for them to do. Which leads to a bigger problem of most of the characters that aren't the core trio of Sly, Bentley and Murray having little purpose.

Honor Among Thieves had the set up of expanding the team but everyone had a role that they filled. Even characters like Penelope, who was there to be better at something than Bentley, felt relevant. Here the new characters are all just worse versions of Sly with like one technique that makes them special. This brings up a whole host of problems story wise that I'll get to shortly but they add really nothing to the game play. Sure you could explore the world and collect treasures with them but you still need certain things only Sly can do,barring a random exception in the fourth stage, so it's pointless to explore as anyone but him. Most of the jobs they pull off reek of “This looks like a job for Aquaman” and could have been easily done with Sly if they hadn't been specifically tailored to the one move the new guy knows. Also while  Carmelita was a sometime playable character in Sly 3,she's upgraded to a select able character but she really has no reason to be used in the field since Sly is the only reasonable choice and her upgrades don't seem to really help,though this is less a problem with here and more a problem with everybody.

Outside of a few core upgrades you can purchase to help build the characters most of them are quickly forgotten. Murray has four add-on to give his fists elemental powers and while entertaining all serve the same function of bashing skulls in equally well. There is no need to learn them when the basic attacks will do the trick. Speaking of upgrades remember when Honor Among Thieves let you dress up as a guard on occasion to pull off jobs well now Sly has even more costumes and they are all shoe horned in so hard I'm surprised the disk doesn't reek of astro glide. Nothing they really do needed to be in this game and ultimately make you back track if you want to collect all the games optional treasures.

The second strike is the characters and the story. As I mentioned above the games always have had this feeling of working towards something bigger. Here again we're just fumbling in the dark against villains that are probably the worst the series has to offer. Most of the villains in previous entries had either a bit of a tragic back story,were jerks were just hamming it up or a combination of the three. It gave the player someone to rally against and made the take downs mean something. Here we see the villains so little and their plans are either insanely petty or just plain stupid. We see so little of them that they feel more like a carrot dangling out in front of the player than any actual threat.

There are two notable villains that do merit discussion: Penelope and Le Paradox. Penelope came all the way from Honor Among Thieves to do a heel face turn that while it is well foreshadowed in ways still makes little to no sense. She's doing it because apparently, Bentley being with Sly is holding him back. Despite all of Honor Among Thieves being about how Bentley is equal to Sly and they'd support each other no matter what...apparently she forgot about that and how she helped Bentley through that problem last game.

Le Paradox opens up a very interesting avenue as a parallel to Sly, both grew up as orphans after losing their fathers but Sly went one way and Le Paradox went the other. It could have made the villain much more personal like most Sly final bosses but no were just treated to a quick back story shoved in the last episode and a motive that is about as petty as everyone else.

The villains are clearly phoning it in but to be fair the protagonists are too. They all act like they always have with a few new traits that are just a bit bizarre. The humor is rather off, Bentley and Sly's conversations come off less as charming and more mean spirited towards Bentley. Murray seems to have forgotten the arc he went through that reminded him that he's valuable to the team even if he can't do everything. He also has this obsession with cross-dressing that, like most of the humor comes off as, more mean spirited. There is a scene where Murray disguises himself as a geisha and seduces all the guards. I can't honestly tell if the humor is from the stupidity of the disguise or that the guards are all being tricked by a man. I'm more inclined to believe the latter since there is a scene later where Murray is really eager to dress up as a belly dancer and we're supposed to laugh that he'd want to do that but I don't know why. Some jokes do land but they are few and far between and more often than not come off as nasty than actually funny.

The new characters are Sly's ancestors who Le Paradox is trying to interfere with by stealing their canes. As noted above they add little to the game play and for the most part are just unlikable. They were all featured in the first game when Sly was thieving back his family's book and I guess they forgot to write down the actual useful techniques like zooming up poles or leaping great distances by concentrating. The Cooper ancestors them selves are a mixed bag,they range from boring to just plain unlikable. The only decent one is Sir Galleth Cooper,with his noble tendencies and headstrong attitude honestly leads to some of the better jokes.

The story makes little to no sense in the slightest. As mentioned above Le Paradox is screwing with time by stealing the Cooper canes but it's never clearly stated why he needs the canes and what's to stop the Coopers form making a new cane. Then they start talking about time regulating itself for no real reason. All the villains are petty and the characters are either so bland or nasty that I can't really be asked to care.

There is no third strike...what? You thought you knew what you were in for well I didn't so you get disappointed too. I'm actually going to say some nice things about the game. The game play really works just fine for all of it's superfluous additions and on occasion we do have a fun platforming section that made me remember why I liked the original games. Bentley's hacking has been over hauled and has three separate variations that are reminiscent of different arcade games. Most are actually enjoyable and provide some challenge. The timed treasure hunts that were in Band of Thieves return after being absent from Honor Among Thieves and are fun even if the thief costume's time slow ability makes the challenge a joke.

Despite the fact that the developers had no idea what made the original games great they did clearly play them as the game is packed with references. The treasures you pick up are all nods to either past villains or events. Speaking of call backs, I believe that this is the only reason the clue bottles remain in the game. The previous games had you collect bottles to unlock a safe that contained something to make game play easier. They do the same here but the safes are not a number combo; you just play a mini game,so why did I need to collect the bottles? Sorry the good things about this game are few and far between the more prominent annoyances.

Thieves in Time is a game that has a very warped idea of what made it's predecessors great games. It's too afraid to stand on it's own and while throwing out an interesting idea every once in a while it just fails to be fun.It's humor seems out of place and mean-spirited, the characters are either bland,petty or just out of character and the story which had the potential to go to interesting examination of Sly's history ,squanders it on piss poor villains and plotting. I could go on for days about everything that pisses me off in this game but for brevity's sake I'm stopping now Go play any other Sly game and leave this game forgotten by time.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Things No One Cares About: Giganto Maxia

It's a rather happy day for me: Kentaro Miura shows up on this blog again and for once I don't have to make fun of the man. His previous non-Berserk works featured here has ranged from average to embarrassingly awful. Giganto Maxia has the advantage of a being written by a Miura who's learned something from writing Berserk. It's a story with tight plotting and characters with the art style Miura has honed after all these years.

Giganto Maxia's story is not a complex one,it's half past the Apocalypse and the world has gone down the gutter. We follow the odd Delos and his companion,the even odder Prome, as the search for fragments of life to help restore the scorched world. The story only really covers a small slice of what should be a much larger story yet the ending doesn't feel abrupt. Everything you'd want to know about this world is conveyed through attention to detail and the back story of Delos. I feel like I'm in a living breathing world with it's own rich mythology that I'd love to see more of.

The pacing is rather quick and boils down to a short prologue and epilogue and two fights. The prologue sets the tone as more comedic and while it is delivering into more serious topics,the fighting keeps things light since it's basically a guy pulling off wrestling moves to defeat much more serious opponents but even that ties back into the bigger theme of peace and hope. Berserk has been exploring fighting the odds even when they are hopeless and it's explored here as well with out coming off as a retread.

Delos uses wrestling moves to incapacitate his opponents rather than kill them like everyone expects. Everything he does runs counter intuitive to what the world has come to expect. He doesn't kill the titular Gigantos he encounters as killing them will do nothing, but rendering them immobile they can be used to restore the earth albeit rather slowly. Later we get the revelation that the events that razed the planet have happened before and will happen again yet humanity never gives up and instead adapts. Yet it also proposes that to change the world we have to be willingly to change not just to suit our new environment but also how we conduct ourselves and the treatment of others.

The major conflict of the story is the imperialistic Empire trying to wipe out the people of the desert who have learned to live with the massive beetles of the region. The Beetle people are rightfully angry at the Empire for wiping them almost all out in a rather cruel fashion. Yet Delos' is able to convince them to spare the opposing army and become better people to try and end the cycle of violence. When the empire does not to stand down, they get their memories and feeling of the dessert mixed around by Prome's magic. Having details of this change would be a much more monumental task that could take up a few volumes by it self. The story is trying to convey that change starts small.

Delos and Prome's relationship is rather cute in a way. Delos carries her every where and will protect her with his life. At one point trying to stop rocks getting thrown at her by having the throwers focus on him. They both clearly care for each other even if Prome won't admit it. She admires his dedication to non lethal violence and not just because it's the only way to get the most use out of the Gigantos. That's not to say one couldn't read her refusal to let him die as simply her desire to complete her mission since she often comes across as all business. However she shows him immense kindness despite her cold and teasing demeanor. She's implied to have seen the type of predicament the world has been in before being a sort of omnipotent spirit and Delos' kindness really speaks to her as evidenced in the ending where she shrinks her self to a child like state to lighten the load of carrying her around.

The art looks rather magnificent, Miura's backgrounds were a highlight of his poor team ups with Buroson and combined with the years to hone his talents were treated to a gorgeously barren world. The world feels scorched and ugly and contrast nicely with the crowed and pretty sanctuary of the beetle people. The monsters look scary and otherworldly,akin to the demons and apostles of Berserk. Prome's face is serious most of the time but her decidedly less serious pouting faces are hilarious for all the right reasons.

I've said before that I refuse to believe that Berserk was not just a fluke and while his early works have not done much to prove me right, Giganto Maxia has. A deep story with likable characters and a theme of hope that runs through the story without bashing you over the head with it. Highly recommend,if my opinion means anything to you. See you all again in like seven months.