(This post has been languishing for a couple of weeks now while I allowed myself to be distracted by other games. Here are some of my thoughts on the game overalll, and of the ending.) Previous posts: First Impressions, Followup, Nearing the End.
At the onset the game gave you one central goal: Rescue The Girl. You spend the first half of the game fighting your way to her, and about two minutes after rescuing her she gets re-captured. You spend the next one-fourth of the game trying to reach her again, only to find out she’s been horribly mutilated and has to die. Once again the player sees their efforts dashed.
I said before that her death didn’t have a lot of impact on me, and I think the reason is because I never really cared about her character. The romance between Tommy and Jen never really worked for me. At the opening of the game we learn that Tommy hated the reservation deeply and wanted to leave. He resented every day he spent there. Jen loved the reservation so much she wasn’t even willing to leave it for a few days to spend time with Tommy. I saw their relationship as fundamentally flawed and doomed before the game even got rolling. They didn’t have much hope for a happy future together. No matter where they ended up, one of them was going to me miserable.
In those first few moments of the game we saw what drove them apart, but we never learned what drew them together. What did he see in this bar owner who wouldn’t even spend time with him on his own terms once in a while? What did she see in this bitter and restless guy who hated the place she loved? I think if I’d seen a bit more about their characters or their relationship it would have worked for me, but as it was I saw rescuing her as a secondary goal. I was all about stopping the aliens.
In the comments Dev_Null pointed out that the romance DID work for him. He was in tune with the main character, and so when Jen died he lost a lot of his motivation for playing. I had the opposite reaction: Once she was dead I was glad to move on and focus on the larger problem. It seems like the game messed up here by alienating players who came at the game “in character”. Brutally dashing the hopes of the player twice by continually snatching accomplishments away is something that should be done in careful moderation. Here, the writers gave you a futile goal and let you struggle hopelessly for the first three-quarters of the game. It all would have been better if the relationship had more depth, and if her death had come much sooner in the game. (Or been foreshadowed more.) As it stands, I can hardly blame players for crying foul.
I really, really liked the revelation at the end that the Sphere itself had been helping you. The final conversation with her was pretty interesting. When I finally reached her inner sanctum I suddenly really, really wished I was playing an RPG at that point, because more than anything I wanted a dialog tree. I wanted to talk to this woman. It’s obvious that she would have been willing to chat if the main character hadn’t been so eager to start shooting.
The revelation that Earth was more or less “planted” by the aliens as a food source was kind of an interesting twist. It doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny, but it’s a nice change from “we are here to conquer you because we’re interplanetary jerks”, which is how this sort of thing usually goes.
The main question I wanted to pose to the aliens is that, given the huge bio-diversity of Earth, why did they choose to start with homo sapiens as their food source? It was obvious that their abduction procedures were less-than-perfect, and that a lot of potential food got loose and caused problems. So why mess with people? People have opposable thumbs, analytical minds, proficiency with tools, the ability to organize and communicate complex ideas via language, not to mention an extreme dislike for being captured and eaten. Humans are just a pain in the ass as a food source. Plus, they just don’t have that much meat on them. If the aliens had done just a little homework they would have noticed other, slower-moving treats like cows, sheep, pigs, goats, giraffes, kangaroos, and about a hundred other species that are less troublesome and more filling. The only thing they should want from humans is couple million gallons of barbecue sauce.
Their entire plan seems to be a bit impractical:
- Seed a planet with life
- Wait a few million years for something delicious to evolve.
- Come back and strip the planet clean of life.
They had a lot of advanced technology, so it’s hard to believe it never occurred to them to get into raising cattle. It’s not as glamorous as planetary invasion, but it’s way less labor intensive and it won’t lead to regular military losses. Just fill a planet with some beefy, docile animal, exterminate possible predators, and come back at regular intervals to stock up the fridge. The way they are doing it now, it would be like a human planting a tree that takes 100 years to mature, and then cutting it down as soon as it bears fruit. It took us a hundred years to grow the apples for this pie so, savor it, guys.
On the whole I enjoyed the game. The combat was shrug-inducing, the plot didn’t work for me, but the puzzles kept me amused and entertained. I’d still love to see someone take this same engine and make something more puzzle-focused. They have the ingredients here to make something along the lines of Portal, plus the wallwalking / changing gravity / spirit walking tricks. You could mix those concepts together to make all sorts of fiendish puzzles. I know this is a pipe dream: Puzzle fans shy away from the FPS interface, and FPS fans tend to prefer action. By combining the two you’d limit sales by making something for people who fall into both groups – and I doubt there is all that much overlap. Still, I’d play it.
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