Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Brutal Hybrid




As I knew they would, the Real Time Strategy aspects of Brutal Legend are giving me fits.

If you have been reading this blog for a while you may remember some ranting about my general lack of skill and/or patience with strategy-based pursuits (and some puzzles or puzzle games). I like the idea of being an armchair general, and in fact I have a decent track record with tabletop wargames like Warhammer. But Warhammer and 40K are turn-based. You take a turn, then I take a turn. You have time to think about what you are doing. The ‘real time’ aspect of RTS games kicks me in the nuts.

It shouldn’t. Emotionally I think an RTS is a good idea. If you were commanding a real battle, the enemy doesn’t pause while you consider your next move. Not that video games are really like actual war, but the continual unfolding of events whether you direct it or not, is a feature in warfare (and so many other things) that video games are uniquely able to duplicate or simulate.

But I’m terrible at it. It is the whole resources management and control facets that suck the fun out of it. Almost universally, there’s a ‘cost’ to building or acquiring units in RTS fames. Usually it is money, energy, fuel, or some other facsimile of a real-life resource. In Brutal Legend, the resources are the fans, as in concert fans. The more ‘fans’ you have pouring power into your ‘show’, the more frequently you can call up troops. RTS games also frequently have time delays to the arrival of your units (representing travel, build, or recruitment time), and depending on the technology represented, command and control limits… ie, your general can’t be everywhere at once.

All these restrictions are a fundamental part of the genre, simulating the limitations that might be imposed on real commanders, and composing much of the challenge. You have to learn to make do with what you have, and learn to adjust on-the-fly as the situation changes and your resources wax and wane. But for me, that shit just isn’t fun. It is too much like real work! I don’t think the genre should change for me, but I usually steer well clear of these games. My video game enjoyment is almost entirely predicated on immediate feedback, physical coordination skills, and memorization. That’s why the preponderance of my game collection comprises 2D shooting games, racers, fighting games, and platformers. With a few first person shooters and third person action games thrown in. I have a mere sprinkling of RPGs because I don’t cotton to the lack of immediate, direct control. So for real-time video wargames I think I have three… and that’s including Brutal Legend. My gaming background springs from the arcades, ‘twitch gaming’ as it were, and on home consoles I’m happiest near my roots.

So I’m running around BL, enjoying the utterly spectacular and badass scenery, getting in the occasional small fight, and finding the hidden items. The game makes finding stuff really rewarding because they aren’t just items collected for some long-term goal, you frequently get new abilities and entire new music tracks. The game keeps throwing something cool or interesting at me. My kid is just blowing through the story mode and it's a shame because a lot of work went into making this world. A player really needs to slow down and look around in it.

Then it comes time to fight one of the major battles. The RTS battles. I don’t feel like they are just shoehorned into the game like some reviewers have opined. The designers did an okay job justifying the mechanics and integrating them into the story. BUT. I hate this kind of battle nonetheless. They shove me all the way from having the time of my life to getting apoplectic with frustration. It isn’t that I can’t learn how to play the RTS battles… but I really don’t want to. Like I said before, it is too much like work. Everyday life is an exercise in resource management. Balancing a checkbook or juggling priorities at my job might not be as cool-sounding as ordering a unit of Razorgirls to annihilate enemy Grave Diggers, but it comes off even more of a hassle because its landing square in the middle of my fun. I’d feel the same way if someone handed me that checkbook to balance just as I was climbing aboard a rollercoaster.

So I’m being a total lame-ass and using the guide to help me. I just don’t have personal ‘resources’ to get good at this on my own. And using the book isn’t sailing me through these parts either, because it is terrible… one of the worst game guides I’ve ever seen. The map poster is useful. Everything else about it, the organization, descriptions, everything is jank. In effect, even making the book useful (during the battles) is WORK.

This isn’t killing my enjoyment of the game as a whole. The rest of the game is just too much fun for that. This game could’ve easily just been a total joke. A game about heavy metal? How did that even get greenlit, much less turn out to be fucking awesome?

From the point where I am in the game I think I have three more of these ‘stage battles’ to go. I’d rather they’d made the RTS stuff a separate mode, but its obvious a shitload of work went into that part of the game too, so that might be more than I could reasonably expect. Hopefully I can shut up about it now, get through the RTS battles as they come up, and remember the game for its strong points after its over!

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