Mike’s Prattle

Miscellaneous

Crackdown; Two Worlds; Condemned: Criminal Origins; Sacred 2; Jack Vance – The Anome (The Faceless Man); P. C. Hodgell – “A Matter of Honor,” “Child of Darkness”

Posted by Mike on May 18, 2010

Alright, time for another muddled series of prattle notes – I see I’m getting way behind but find these help spur my memory later down the line when I need it…

The first group is the last few Xbox games I tackled (back to March) and it’s definitely a list of reasonably fun if imperfect games, not in the same class as the Mass Effects and Bioshocks and Elder Scrolls and what have you. The sequel to Crackdown is either out or coming out soon, and I’m interested in seeing how much they’ve improved on the game as at micro levels the first game’s a bit bland. Anyway here you’re a supercop cleaning up a bunch of mafia like criminals around a large area of three connected cities. You start out a bit dull but by picking up various symbols, you start jumping higher and higher and end up careening all around the city. It’s a game that literally induced vertigo for me particularly on the final level (which I finished second to last), which was so vertical that on my big screen TV it was really freaky. The very second to last boss I must have found some sort of secret entrance as I jumped in went around a corner and already had him pinned down. Then at the very end when you’re all done and still left to play I figured I’d try to take down some achievements by trying to climb the map’s central HQ building and got vertigo so bad I realized I wasn’t having any fun. But I can see some major improvements could make the sequel interesting so I may check it out of I find the time.

Carbon paper fantasy RPG Two Worlds was probably a lot more fun than the reviews gave it credit for, even though, yes, the horseback riding was indeed terrible. But I think it’s main issue was that the central quest was extremely short meaning that after about halfway through exploring a very large map, I had little reason to go on and there were very large areas of it that I could barely care less to continue with. At one point I decided I’d finish out the main quest and it took less than 10 minutes. After all there’s no penalty for dying which means that fighting anything is more a matter of persistence than being clever. But this one too has a sequel due and there were many aspects I enjoyed, particularly the loot system (on the other hand the inventory was as wretched and poor as anyone I’d ever seen).

Condemned: Criminal Origins was also interesting, quite creepy. It reminded me a bit of the Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners game from years ago, except that it didn’t run me into a corner and make me stop. Perhaps its main weakness is that it didn’t seem broad enough or that the internal logic of the gameplay didn’t always hold together. On the run up to the final boss fight it got almost game quittingly intense and I had to literally run a chase through half the map in order to thin out my opposition enough to get past it. But I did. And again, this one has a sequel of which I’ll end up playing at some point. But I’m still not particularly clear what kind of game it is. A noir meets horror adventure game? Was it about the devil or someone going slowly crazy? Or perhaps those questions get answered in the sequel. I guess maybe a part of me wished it would have stayed in the realm of the real, that is not every game needs to go supernatural.

Sacred 2 was perhaps the most fun of these four at least in that it approached Oblivion like length in gameplay. It also had a fun Diablo like loot system and a huge map to explore with a wide variation in geography. The graphics weren’t really up to the speed of better games and the story was pretty much meandering and throwaway (not uncommon when there are elves and orcs around) but from a pure hack and slash level it was cool and for the most part I enjoyed the boss fights. However this is game where you can hold 750 health potions which means you rarely ever die, I think maybe I did twice the whole game and the first time was early when I didn’t understand the mechanics. Best of all I think this one’s multiplayer which means I may try it out with the nephews when I think they might be patient enough for all the gear maintenance involved. But overall like with Two Worlds there was a point where I lost interest in it, and reviews claiming the quests were often fairly dull were right on.

And onto books, The Anome is the first in Vance’s Durdane trilogy (the second of which I’m reading now several months later). I’ve always gotten the impression this one’s considered minor in the canon, but noticed in Vance’s bio that the second and third are among some of his favorite personal works. I didn’t think the first was bad at all myself, it’s basically another planetary romance with a self sufficient and effective protagonist who, like in Emphyrio, is beat down by cultural restrictions only to eventually break out. But unlike some other Vance series (Dying Earth, Demon Princes, Alastor), this really seems more like one book broken down into parts, as the second starts right from where the first left off. The big issue is there’s a mutated race of humans called the Rogushkoi who are raiding various cantons and stealing off with their women, which sets the protagonist on a mission to get his government, led by the “Faceless Man,” to do something about it even though he’s open to instant execution due to a device worn around his neck. But as the first book goes he comes into contact with another man whose interests seem to eventually coincide with his own. And even though it’s not the end of the book, the first still ends with some interesting plotting climaxes. 

Finally, a couple of P. C Hodgell stories that are part of or lateral to her Chronicles of Kencyrath series. The first, which reads almost like a Fafhrd and Grey Mouser Pastiche, was quite a bit of fun, particularly as the Fafhrd equivalent here is virtually falling asleep through the entire mini adventure. The second seems to be something of an alternate universe for the main character and commits the sin of using words with lots of apostrophes, Pern-style, which I find terribly distracting. It’s set more in a science fictional milieu and parts of it seemed to be lost on me and I’m not sure if that’s my fault or not. Were they cat people? Cat like? I wasn’t quite sure, but not particularly concerned as the books in the series will obviously be taking the former story’s approach.

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