Game Ramblings #179 – Spider-Man 2

More Info from Insomniac Games

  • Genre: Action
  • Platform: PS5

I’m going to be real here. You could read my ramblings on Spider-Man and know where I landed on this one. My thoughts on swinging through the city are the same. My thoughts on combat – and particularly the power curve – are exactly the same. What I’m going to focus on instead is where a few points of polish really stood out to me as huge improvements to the experience. As an iterative experience, this is a standout example of making tweaks where there’s opportunities while keeping the rest of the game solid.

The first thing that really stands out to me is the web line ability. It looks like they were probably experimenting with this for the original game but I’m glad this made the cut for the sequel. What this does is lets you put a line between two points that can be used for all the normal abilities (grabbing, ledge takedowns, etc). This is a game changer for stealth segments. Rather than being limited to existing ledges and poles, you now make your own platforms. What this ended up doing for me was making any sort of base encounter feel a lot more free form than in the past. Instead of hopping from point to point finding angles that work, I was observing enemy movement patterns and setting up lines above them to do takedowns.

I get where some people may find that this trivializes stealth, and frankly it does make staying in stealth a lot easier than the original game. However, rather than being annoyed by it I found that it fit the power dynamic of the character. What I see as the comic book ideal for Spider-man is someone who uses their powers to trivially take out the hordes of stupid minions while focusing their fighting power on the current big bad, and this fits it perfectly. I could use the web line power to quickly take out dozens of enemies, then swing in to finish off whatever the boss-type thing was for the section. It allowed me to focus my combat capabilities on where I felt combat really continues to shine – in one-on-one combat. This is a game that still has some issues with multi-person combat encounters in terms of just too much going on at once, so having improved stealth was a huge personal boon.

The second piece I want to point out is the wing suit. The original game was one in which traversal around the city was so fun that I just did not want to fast travel. The sequel is absolutely the same, despite the fact that fast travel in the sequel is extraordinarily fast loading wizardry. A lot of why I enjoy the traversal so much is down to the inclusion of the wing suit.

The first game really shone in the tall buildings of Manhattan, but getting towards the water or to the north of the city with smaller buildings was a bit less fun. There was simply less places to grab with webs, so you could hit the ground a lot easier. The wing suit solves so many of those problems. Now if you’re in one of those spots, you turn on the wing suit and glide between vertical drafts or air currents that propel you forward. It keeps your momentum going at all times, and frankly is probably the one thing that allowed them to open up the city to more boroughs. Now that smaller housing areas of queens aren’t a travel headache. Going through Central Park is an easier option. Heading across the East River from downtown Manhattan towards Coney Island is entirely doable. These are all things that only exist in a fun way because of the inclusion of the wing suit and its ability to give you extended fast traversal options without web slinging.

The final thing is that this game continues to be an absolute tech standout on the platform. The video above shows what is clearly Insomniac bringing in the portal tech they made for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart into this title, but it’s just as impressive as ever in its second use. I mentioned not using the fast travel system earlier, but it’s also impressive as hell. You go into the map, hold a button as more of a UX confirmation, and you’re immediately at where you intend to be, including an impressive as hell seamless transition animation from the map view into the world view. This is all backed by a visual option for a full time 60 FPS that I used throughout my play through. It’s a standout AAA experience on the level of things like God of War: Ragnarok or the city visuals in Cyberpunk 2077. It’s just one of those rare games that finally feel next-gen to me, despite the fact that the gameplay is often not that different from the previous game.

This is just a fun, impressive game. It takes a game that I liked, tweaks some things in ways that make sense within the context of the series progressing. It’s an easy game to fall into and just enjoy. It also does something that I hope to see more of – be simple. They pulled away some of the extraneous activities in the open world. They pulled away some extraneous gadgets from the original game. What it all results in is an open-world experience that somehow feels tight and efficient. It’s a mix that really just works.

Game Ramblings #168 – God of War: Ragnarok

More Info from Sony

  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4

Being perfectly honest, you could read my ramblings on the previous game and have a pretty good idea where I fell on this one. This is every bit an iterative sequel instead of the revolutionary change that the previous entry was. However, that’s not to say that’s a bad thing. This definitely does a lot to clean up some rough edges in the series’ transition to action RPG, but more importantly it shows a drastic amount of growth in the characters. It’s for that reason that I wanted to get through the game.

The lack of core gameplay changes did end up with this one being a bit long in the tooth. Combat felt like it reached a point towards the end of the game where they kind of just ran out of ideas and started throwing more targets at you, which wasn’t particularly fun. Side quests started to get a bit samey, which meant that I was doing them purely for rewards instead of any narrative enjoyment. Despite having a lot more environments to wander through than the original game, I just kind of felt like I was at my limit. That’s the curse of sequels I guess. You’re going to have to be somewhat samey or risk alienating your audience. Unless you’re doing a years later reboot like the previous title, you are where you’re at. However, I wanted to see the end of the story.

That push to want to see the end of the story is the most important thing to me about this game. I didn’t really need or want a challenge by the end, because it wasn’t important to my enjoyment anymore. I could turn the difficulty all the way down, hammer through the repetitive combat segments, and get what I wanted out of the game.

The previous game had me in a place where I absolutely hated Atreus, and that was a huge point of celebration for the quality of the writing in place. He was a little shit of a kid that needed to learn patience and care. Kratos was a completely impatient and untrusting father that wasn’t really prepared to be the sole caretaker for his son. It was a dynamic that worked wonderfully as a reintroduction to the series after years off.

This game instead shows a lot of growth in the characters across the board. Atreus still has his little shit moments, but he’s got such a strong growth arc throughout the game that ends with him at a point where he is clearly becoming an adult. He’s more careful in his decision making throughout the game. He shows patience when he isn’t immediately getting his way. Importantly, he is able to provide a level of care to others that allows them to also grow. Kratos on the other hand is an increasingly patient individual. He shows deference to his son’s wishes while still providing growth lessons to him. He shows a clear wish to avoid war but is also willing to engage when it becomes necessary. The growth in the dynamic between the two of them is the thing that made it easy for me to push through to the end of the game, and on its own I think is a clear reason to play this.

The rest of the game is kind of take it or leave it. The combat is as solid as the previous game, but effectively unchanged if you ignore the inclusion of a spear weapon. Atreus’ role in combat is a little more flexible with some arrow powers, but in practice it acts as more of a spam when practical button than much in the way of planning. I again enjoyed the dodge/parry focus on defense that I could play with, but found enemy tells and timing of tells to be incredibly inconsistent, which could be pretty frustrating in multi-target combat. Basically, they were similar gripes I had with the original and I’m not surprised that hasn’t changed.

I guess my tl;dr here is play it if you know you liked the previous game or play it on story mode if you just want an enjoyable narrative experience. There’s really not going to be a lot of surprises here otherwise. It’s an incredibly solid first-party title for Sony that has the same strengths and weaknesses as the previous title, with just that important bit of iteration involved, leaving us with a game that is predictably great.

Shelved It #16 – Gran Turismo 7

More Info from Sony

  • Genre: Racing
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4

This one probably could have been titled Set Aside, because frankly that’s what I’m doing. I’m putting this one aside to return to it at some point. The driving experience is still far too good for me to not jump into this one periodically, much like past GT titles. However, everything around it is garbage – just flat out garbage, and it’s baffling that Gran Turismo continues to be like this, because a lot of the problems are not new.

Just on its own, the problems that came over from past games were enough for me to generally pull my very little remaining hair out. Gran Turismo has ultimately been well titled in the past as “The Ultimate Driving Simulator” because the racing experience has always been pretty bad, and it’s still bad here. In past entries, it was something I was largely able to ignore but we’ve continued to have Forza entries in intervening years that at the very least have fun racing, even if the driving experience hasn’t quite felt there. Unfortunately for GT, I’m kind of at the point where I would just rather be playing Forza.

The first obvious thing is that you’re never actually in what I’d call a race. You’re just in a chase. You start every race 20-30 seconds behind the leader, who’s a quarter lap or more ahead of you. You’re given a very limited set of laps to do your best to chase up to the front and try to get the “win”. However, all you’re doing is upgrading your vehicles to the class limits of the races so you can easily outclass the AI enough to get to the front. You’re never just starting an event from the line and going head to head against cars of equal measure. Again, it’s not racing. It’s chasing.

On its own, that sucks. And ya, I can do multiplayer if I want to race but frankly it isn’t why I play these games. However, the AI are also part of the overall problem. They simply aren’t trying to race. They’re just out driving. If you’re next to them and in their perceived line on a turn? Fuck you they’re running into you. If you’re ahead of them and their braking pattern doesn’t match what you want? Fuck you they’re running into you. They just stick to their preset racing line and don’t react to what’s going on around them……which might be fine, but they also rubberband. Their braking is clearly unnatural. Their acceleration is clearly unnatural. Their ability to do things in turns without losing traction is clearly unnatural. As a combination of things on top of the fact that you’re trying to rush to the front ASAP, it results in a frustrating mess of dodging unpredictable and unnatural cars at high rates of speed.

Which again, it sucks, but I expected it. This is Gran Turismo. It’s always fucking been like this. Just like past GTs, the menus also still suck. Things take far too many clicks to get through. There’s far too many layers deep to change simple things. Modifying your car’s setup is still in weird spots. Restarting a license event when you don’t quite hit gold is still slower than I want it to be. But again, these are all things I expected. I knew that all of this stuff was going to be the case going in, and I wanted to play it anyway because the driving experience part of the games is what always drew me in. So they went ahead and added more problems anyway.

Simply put, the game shipped with barebones content on the single player side. There just isn’t really the wide set of unique races that past games have had. Rather than being a wide array of manufacturer specific races, there’s a handful for a couple of companies like Porsche, then a handful of country specific events. The rest are largely class type races. You’re completely missing out on the wide array of lower power races like the old Mini Cooper or K-Car races. You’re missing out on some of the fun endurance events that encouraged tuning less exciting vehicles to go for as long as possible without needing refills or tire changes. It’s just missing the interesting random stuff that made expanding your garage fun.

Which doesn’t really matter, because the economy is completely busted. Get a duplicate car? Too bad, they removed selling it. Car prices? Now modeled after realistic car values rather than being set to some gamified practical price. Have fun with your $400k Skyline. Don’t like the changes to driving dynamics if you apply engine mods? Too bad, they’re permanent. Buy a new engine, often as expensive as the car was to start with. Want to put a set of racing tires on your car? Well about 75% of the races don’t give you enough money to do that through one try, so lmao start grinding. A lot of the public is pessimistically noting this as a consequence of microtransactions trying to be encouraged, and there’s probably some bean counting going on to prove that out, but frankly a lot of this just feels like bad design.

Ultimately, this was all capped by the game forcing an online connection, even in single player mode. The development team claims this was to prevent hacking in multiplayer, but that feels like a copout. People that want to play in multiplayer will accept some form of restrictions, be that an online-only profile, multiplayer being distinctly separate, etc. Make that distinction and keep it on its own. Don’t let it affect the single player. Frankly, the single player could be balanced much better without the online chain around its neck.

All of these little things are basically making me put the game down. Sure, the driving experience is still as fun as ever. Doing hot laps for shits and giggles in a Miata is great. It’s as close as I’m generally going to get to taking the ND in my garage out to these tracks, and I love it. However, everything around feel like the game is actively trying to get me to put it down. It has old Gran Turismo problems that have been ignored at this point for literal decades and adds new problems that just make the game insufferable to play, so this one is going back on the shelf until it starts to see some patches roll through.

Perhaps by then I’ll be playing Forza 8 anyway.