Game Informer, I think we have a problem

An Editorial by Figboy

I’m generally not a guy that calls out anybody (except for fanboys, because it’s fun), but I admit that I was quite taken aback by the current issue of Game Informer (the one with Assassin’s Creed 2 as the cover story), and their review of The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.

I’m completely aware that reviews are simply one person’s opinion of a product, but reviews for games are a bit trickier than any other medium because of the interactivity of games. It’s easy to watch a movie, or even listen to a song, and explain why you liked or didn’t like it, because movies and music are rather passive experiences, and it’s pretty cut and dry as to why you’d like or dislike a particular song or movie.

Video games, however, have varying things that need to be considered when evaluating them, one of which is the genre, and the standards of the genre.

A game reviewer must consider things like how the controls feel, how the story/characters affected them (when applicable), how the level design was, how the sound design/art design was, how the overall gameplay of the game made them feel, and most importantly, if all of those elements gelled to make a fun gaming experience. And considering how differently people respond to each of the above (some people absolutely love the art design of, say, Shadow of the Colossus, whereas other people don’t, and so on and so forth), you get quite a bit of disparity between people’s opinions of the game.

But what does this have to do with Riddick and Game Informer? Glad you asked!

Game Informer awarded Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena a glowing score of 9.5, as well as the Game of the Month honor. Impressive, to say the least.

Now I have a confession to make. I worked at Vivendi Games as a Quality Assurance Tester on The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, and I think the game is rather good (a review will be coming shortly). However, I can’t let my close attachment to this game affect my common sense.

A 9.5 score for this game is bordering on the absurd, because it essentially puts it in the same category as other games Game Informer has scored in the 9.5 range.

Such as Call of Duty 4, Prey, Gears of War, Fallout 3, Resident Evil 5, and Resistance: Fall of Man.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I’d hardly put Riddick up there with the likes of those games, especially CoD4, Gears of War, and Fallout 3.

What’s even more surprising is the fact that Game Informer, not too long ago, gave Killzone 2 an 8.75. Again, maybe it’s just me, but I feel that gameplay offering of Riddick fails to match the gameplay offering of Killzone 2, and that’s not even mentioning other elements like controls, story, sound/art design, graphics, etc.

What part of the Riddick gameplay experience was so phenomenal that it deserved to be placed on the same pedastal as Call of Duty 4, Gears of War, and Fallout 3, but Killzone 2 is not?

I’ll even break it down for everyone:

Riddick –

Story: This is the strongest part of the package, as least as far as the redone Escape from Butcher Bay is concerned. Assault on Dark Athena, however, has a rather boring, uninteresting story, with poor characters that lack the fun and charm of the cast from Butcher Bay. Fans of the original Xbox game will have a lot to enjoy on the Butcher Bay end, but Dark Athena falls short here. Your enjoyment of the story here also depends on your threshold for Vin Diesel’s acting.

Killzone 2 –

Story: No different from any other meat-head with guns story, and it certainly lacks the fun cast of Butcher Bay, but the overall narrative is much more somber and gritty than Riddick. It’s more, “Saving Private Ryan” meets “Aliens” (minus the aliens, of course), than, well, Riddick. I’d probably call the stories of both games a wash, as neither are poor, but neither are outstanding either. Rico, however, is much more annoying than Riddick, and they are essentially the same guy (very angry dudes with no hair).

Riddick –

Controls: The controls in Riddick are standard FPS fair on consoles. That is to say, attempting to mimmick keyboard and mouse controls on a controller, and all the good and bad that comes with it. The game, while light on the “shooter” part of the genre, does have plenty of gunplay, which is decent, and relatively responsive.

Killzone 2 –

Controls: The controls in KZ2 are tailored for a controller. If the heavy, “sluggish” weight of the characters would be absolutely awful if it were on a keyboard and mouse setup. As stated before, the characters have a sense of weight and reality to them that really helps sell the immersion of the world.

Riddick-

Gameplay: While being in the first person perspective, Butcher Bay is light on the shooting, but heavy on the talking to NPCs and exploration. Dark Athena, on the other hand, ratchets up the shooter quotent, but the set pieces are rather tame, and not much of a challenge for anyone who’s played an FPS before. Enemy AI is also straight forward and unremarkable. If they see you, they shoot. They very rarely utilize cover, and are prone to simply using the same “I’m going to poke my head out for no reason, then duck back down for a few seconds, then poke my head out again in the exact same – HEADSHOT!” tactic over and over, and over again. There is a lot of backtracking, and the environments, while nice, don’t really drop jaws like they did back on the Xbox, when the game was originally released. Dark Athena is rather unforgettable in terms of level design, as for the majority of the game you are on the ship, Dark Athena.

Even moreso, the biggest issue with Riddick’s gameplay is that it is very innovative – well, back in 2004, when the title first released. The FPS genre has grown so much in the 5 years since Escape from Butcher Bay’s release that most of it’s gameplay elements feel rather dated. Like I mentioned before, fans of the Xbox release will love the HD makeover, but anyone that has played, and enjoyed FPS titles released in the past 5 years like Half Life 2, Resistance 1 and 2, Halo 3, may be disappointed with what is on offer here.

Killzone 2-

Gameplay: Killzone 2 feels like a battlefield. It feels like you and your squad are constantly moments away from death due to be heavily outnumbered by an enemy that is, honestly, rather intelligent and cunning. The Helghast will use some pretty smart tactics when trying to take you down, and are constantly attempting to move to more advantageous positions. Level wise, the game is always putting you into a new environment or scenario. Despite the drab, oppressive Helghast environment, there are no repeats of levels, nor backtracking. The levels are also large enough to give players some room to explore and get a sense of presence- of being in a real place, at a real point in time, and fighting for their everloving lives.

Riddick-

Multiplayer: This is where the biggest disparity between the quality of the two games is evident (besides visuals, which I’ll get to next). Riddick online is by no means bad. It’s quite enjoyable, actually, but it’s very standard, with one notable exception. You have your Deathmatch, your Team Deathmatch, your “control points” mode, Arena, etc. The really standout mode in the game is Pitch Black. This mode has one player spawn in as Riddick, while the remaining 7 players spawn in as soldiers who must then jump down into a *cough* pitch black map, and try and hunt down and kill Riddick with a weapon grabbed off of a shelf, and a flashlight.

This mode is extremely fun, but it doesn’t make up for the rather shallow experience that are the other modes. They feel like they were ripped straight out of the era of PC games like Unreal Tournament and Quake, but minus the polish. Riddick MP is adequate, but I’d hardly say Pitch Black is enough to warrant plunking down your cash for. Map design is also rather decent.

Killzone 2-

Multiplayer: Killzone 2 offers a rather robust multi-player offering. The standard matches are still here, like deathmatch, team deathmatch, etc, just like Riddick, and there’s no Pitch Black mode, but the game already dwarfs Riddick’s 8 player count with 32 players, and maps large enough to accomodate them. Additional game modes like Search and Destroy, Assassination, Find and Retrieve, etc, add to the game. The mode Warzone seemlessly streams the 5 main game modes together in one match, without having to exit the game to a lobby to relaunch each mode.

This results in a constant feeling of tension, as you and your team have to quickly reorient your strategy when each new mode/objective is revealed.

On top of this, and this is truly where it sets itself apart from Riddick, is that Killzone 2 also features an XP and Class system, a la games like CoD4 and Team Fortress 2. There are 6 classes total, from Snipers, to Medics, to Tacticians and Sabotuers, each with a Primary and Secondary class that can be unlocked when various battle conditions are met.

Unlike other class based games I’ve played, however, Killzone 2 lets you mix the Primary and Secondary badges of any class to create a class that suits your playstyle better.

Do you want to be a Medic/Tactician, having the ability to revive team members and call down air support from a sentry bot?

Or do you want to be a Sniper/Saboteur, who has the ability to cloak himself, becoming near invisible, and throw out a sticky, proximity detonated C4 charge?

There is a hidden depth and variety to the MP in Killzone 2, and that’s not even mentioning the clans, in game tournaments, Valor Points which can be wagered against competing clans, and more.

In short, the Multi-player alone puts Killzone 2 above Riddick, with the hectic intensity and diverse gameplay of the single player sealing the deal.

I’m not even going to mention the graphical differences between the two, because it’s well documented that Killzone 2 is more than likely the bestlooking console FPS released to date.

So I guess my beef with Game Informer is this? Why, when it is so obvious that the quality of Killzone 2 far surpasses the quality of Riddick, and I’m specifically referring to the gameplay, not the visuals, would Riddick score a 9.5 out of 10, while Killzone 2 scores a 8.75?

My logic receptors refuse to let me believe that a game with such a quality singleplayer campaign, and a feature rich, robust multi-player as Killzone 2 cannot stand proudly next to CoD4, Gears of War, Halo 3, and other amazing FPS titles on consoles, but The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena can.

It may seem like I’m bagging Dark Athena; trust me, I’m not, I did work on it after all, and think it’s a fun experience, however, Killzone 2 is simply the better game, regardless of my relationship with Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.

I’m not a big fan of scoring games in my reviews. I prefer to let the text speak towards my thoughts on the game, instead of a rather arbitrary, and highly subjective score, but if I were to score Dark Athena, especially in comparision to other FPS titles on the market, I’d give it a 7.5-8/10 tops. There are simply better FPS experiences to be had out there.

Putting the game in the same league as Gears, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Fallout 3, Resistance 2, and Killzone 2 is, truthfully and honestly, a joke. Riddick is a game I recommend as a rental at best, and a purchase if you really, really like it, whereas there is no hesitation for me to recommend games like Gears (1 and 2, naturally), Call of Duty 4, Resistance 2, Fallout 3, and Killzone 2 as must have purchases.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m looking too hard at it, but there’s quite a descrepancy between an 8.75 and a 9.5, and I can’t help but wonder what criteria Game Informer uses when evaluating games from like genres.

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5 Responses to “Game Informer, I think we have a problem”

  1. Riddick is crap, no hype, another movie franchised game. Killzone 2, Call of duty modern warfare 2 will all overshadow it based on fanboy hype alone. Riddick will be an afterthought.

  2. namelessshe Says:

    I agree. I can’t see Riddick standing the test of time. It just proves that scores don’t mean a whole lot.

  3. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  4. I totally agree and i think you are a incredibly intelligent writer/ reviewer. I always show this to my friends when they

  5. I totally agree and i think you are a incredibly intelligent writer/ reviewer. I always show this to my friends when they say how bad Kz2 IS OR WHATEVER. but why do you think this is? Do you think its bias since KZ2 is a PS exclusive and all. I dont know at all but it was just a question?

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