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Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Tale of Two Demos

I played two demos recently that I thought were worth mentioning. Prey is a first person shooter with some gimmicks (portals, gravity shifts, a novel death mechanic). Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a first person action game with a fantasy setting that uses the Source engine.

You can download the Prey demo directly from the official site, which is convenient. And for the relatively small 448 MB you get a really lengthy play experience and a great sense of the story and gameplay. I doubt anyone would play the demo more than once or twice though.

The demo for
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is available on FileFront here. It's an insane 1.38 GB for a very short demo. It's not only short, it cuts you off before the "payoff" of one level. But it is quite replayable.

That's basically all you have to read in this post. I think both demos are worth checking out. Dark Messiah is obviously more of a download committment so you might want to look into that one a bit more. The rest of this post contains ramblings and some major spoilers so feel free to skip it.

Prey

Positives

The great thing about Prey is that the demo tells a compelling story. What's more, it is capable of creating emotion in the player. Seriously, don't read the following spoilers until you play it.

Amazing moment: You're on the alien ship and humans are being brutally tortured (and I mean brutally). You come to a console and notice that it's clickable. So you click it. When you do a torture machine comes to life and the person who was hanging there is brutally murdered. The main character says something like "Oh my god, what have I done."

I find this hard to believe myself but I caught myself quitting and restoring to an earlier save point. How crazy is that? I'm a somewhat rational person...yet I instinctively restored based on an occurrence that had nothing to do with gameplay. That's bringing emotion into games. It's also quite funny in a twisted way. Games often encourage us to open every box and press every button. But if you do that in real life, you're going to get yourself in serious trouble.

A second emotional point in the demo was its ending. You discover that the bar you were at in the beginning of the game has been taken whole by the alien ship, complete with working jukebox. But everything is twisted, literally. The entire bar is sideways, covered with alien tendrils and the drunken rednecks have been replaced with gun-toting aliens. By bringing that familiar spot into unfamiliar surroundings and bringing the story full circle, the demo provokes an emotional response. It's a perfect ending to the neat short story of the demo.


Negatives

Prey's gimmicks (portals and gravity changes) are stale by the time the demo is over. And
Abalieno's criticism of the combat happens to be spot on.

There is also a really weak story point for a demo which tells such a good story. The main character does not like living on the Native American reservation, does not appreciate his heritage and does not believe in any mystical Native American Magic. This is made wonderfully clear through the beginning of the game. It really defines his character and his relationship with his girlfriend. But once in the spirit world, he goes from total non-believer to complete Master of Native American Magic simply by being yelled at and told to press "E" to spirit walk. It's an overly quick and awkwardly scripted shift in character that felt completely out of place. But that may be partially a testament to how enjoyable the rest of the story was.


Dark Messiah

Positives

The key to Dark Messiah is that combat is fun. How shall I kill an Orc (or whatever the enemies are called)? Let me count the ways:

Attack him with a sword
Use a power attack with the sword
Build up adrenaline and do a crazy fatal attack
Use some other weapon
Attack him with magic fireballs
Freeze him with magic and then attack him
Shoot him with an arrow
Light an arrow on fire and then shoot him with it
Sneak up behind him and stab him with daggers
Kick him off a ledge
Kick him into spikes
Knock out a plank which brings down a ton of barrels and crushes him
Kick him into said plank and bring down the barrels
Pick up a barrel and throw it into him knocking him off a cliff
Pick up a flaming box and throw it at him catching him on fire

I'm sure I'm missing a ton and that's just the demo. It's the physics that really make the combat so enjoyable. Think of the fun with physics from Half-Life 2 and apply them to a fantasy universe. The melee combat is not as solid as Mount and Blade but it is still quite good. I don't know how good the whole skill-tree is but I was able to focus on melee, magic or stealth by making different choices. And that did change my gameplay style.


Negatives

The story was completely generic and the voice acting and dialogue was lame. The game seemed somewhat unpolished. Kicking enemies is way overpowered, though it is incredibly fun. Also, I'm down on the whole Might and Magic universe after the tragedy that was HoMM V. But that's hardly this game's fault.

6 Comments:

Blogger TheeNickster said...

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic may be infested by Starforce even though Ubisoft is backing away from it.

I'm not too worried about what the folks at these two companies would do to my PC. Unfortunately, once this rootkit is installed, real hackers could detect it and abuse it.

TheeNickster...

6:41 PM  
Blogger Kafka said...

There is no Starforce in Dark Messiah.

I'm hopeful that Ubisoft has learnt its lesson.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Rotacidare said...

I played that Prey demo and liked it as well. I thought the gimmicks were pretty cool. Great storyline for a demo.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I think the sudden change in the main character in Prey from total non-believer to total believer makes a ton of sense. As much as I enjoy the Star Wars movies, I think that The Force is a bunch of hooey. Still, if Yoda shows up and yells at me to press "E" and my coffee cup suddenly flies into my hand from across the room, you can shave my head and put me in a toga: I'll believe.

11:18 AM  
Blogger Karnatos said...

I've played neither of these demos - but I think I'll give Prey a whirl tonight. It came with my PC Gamer mag a month ago, so I don't even have to download it.

Its nice to see you post about other gaming genres Aggro!

10:13 AM  
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2:10 PM  

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