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My thoughts on Remedy's third person shooters so far

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  • My thoughts on Remedy's third person shooters so far

    So, I played through most of Remedy's games recently, and I want to offer a sort of analysis on the gameplay of all of them because I am bored. There's no real "general Remedy discussion" subforum, so I put this here because it kind of relates to Remedy's future projects? Maybe?

    The games I'm going to talk about:
    Max Payne
    Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
    Alan Wake
    Alan Wake's American Nightmare
    Quantum Break

    No Death Rally or Agents of the Storm because I can't really compare them to the rest of Remedy's games.

    This text will also contain some spoilers, so be careful.

    Max Payne was announced before I was born, which is pretty crazy. At the time of its release in 2001, it was pretty influential to the third-person shooter genre. But how well does it hold up today? Let's start this weird rambling essay-ish text by talking about it.

    Max Payne still holds up well. A rather anticlimactic start eh? But seriously, the game is great. It looks hideous by today's standards, the models are all very blocky and the animations are stiff. I'd even dare to say that the game didn't look that great even back in the day; there are a lot of really great looking titles from 2001. Max Payne looks like an N64 title.

    But we're not here to talk about graphics. Max Payne is most notable for its revolutionary bullet time mechanic, which has stayed in some form in every Remedy game released since. And I have to say: It's a great mechanic. It really helps on some of the tougher fights, as well as adding a cool cinematic layer to the combat. There's nothing cooler than diving out of cover, in front of multiple dudes and gunning them down before they have a chance to do anything.

    However, even though Max is some sort of insane god of time and descruction, he is still a very fragile god of time and destruction. The game is hard, and really makes you use that damn quicksave key. Especially on those drug-induced nightmare platforming sections. In many ways the game is a product of its time. You can quicksave every time you take a step, so the game has to be hard to balance that out. However, that doesn't mean the game isn't fun. Quicksaving and quickloading seventy six billion times to get past that one section gives off a Hotline Miami-esque vibe and I really enjoy it.

    So all and all, Max Payne is still probably my favourite Remedy game. I don't really have much to complain about it. Besides the fact that the game really deserves a graphical facelift.

    Onto the next game! Max Payne 2 doesn't really change much, but it was still more of a payne (HA!) to play, and I will now describe why.

    Max Payne 2 adds two new things: a neat realoading trick which I think is called "hardfall" and AI partners. Hardfall is a gameplay mechanic which I don't really know much about, since I never use it. It decreases reload time to basically zero, if you reload while in bullet time, and it looks really cool, but I really don't use it too much, since I never really had any trouble with reload times. Except in one section, and that brings us to the second addition.

    AI partners. Artificial intelligence is really the worst possible way to describe them, since there's nothing intelligent about them. The first AI partner you meet is Mike the Cowboy, who aids you in Vlad's Vodka restaurant near the beginning of the game. On my first playthrough, Mike ran straight towards the first enemies, and got instantly killed. "This has gotta be a good sign", I thought to myself. The terrible part is when you have to protect them from enemies, since they really seem to have no ambition to survive. The crowning moment of "fuck this" came when I had to guard Max from an ensemble of enemies as Mona. I know that Max hasn't been having the best time since he lost his entire family, but I didn't imagine him being borderline suicidal. While I was fighting enemies to get to the next vantage point, Max suddenly died without any real warning, and ruined my quicksaves. I quit the game.

    But other than these additions, it's mostly the same game, with some early Havok physics mixed in in order to add some weightless physics objects. It was still mostly fun.

    Nearly ten years later Remedy finally release Alan Wake to an astounding "eh" from most critics. I really love the game, but I can see why most people are indifferent to it, and it's mostly because of the gameplay. Alan Wake is definitely the low point of Remedy's third person shooter game design.

    Alan Wake claims to be a "Psychological action thriller", but the action falls a bit flat. The game isn't a really good survival horror game either, and it's because the game's combat gets very formulaic. And there's a few core reasons why.

    The harder difficulties are unlockable, so most players are going to play through the game once on easy difficulty (or normal on Xbox) and then never touch it again. Enemies don't really have much health on normal, and the player is showered with revolver shots, so most players are going to go through the game using mostly their revolver. Ammo for the bigger weapons is scarcer, and that quickly triggers the oh-so-common "I might need this later" -syndrome, and you'll never use the goodies.

    The next problem is that the enemies don't have weak points. In Max Payne, you could instantly kill an enemy by shooting them in the head. In Alan Wake, no matter where you hit the enemy, it does the exact same amount of damage. And since players will mostly use the revolver exclusively, the combat quickly becomes a chore, where you have to shine a light on the enemy and shoot it three times. The fact that there's little variety in enemies, and that all of them are melee-based doesn't help.

    But at least the AI partners are less aggravating now! That's a plus right?

    I have a few suggestions on how to fix the gameplay issues: There should be more variety in weapons, especially handguns, so the damage output would be a bit more random. Enemies should also have more variance, and there should be enemies with ranged weapons, such as taken hunters with rifles... or something. Enemies should have weak points so the player is forced to pay a bit more mind to their aiming. Weak points could also help strategize and make the combat more interesting; taken with rifles could be shot in their arms so the player could have time to reload. Skilled players should be able to kill enemies faster by aiming for the head. And last and perhaps also least: the dodge shouldn't make the player invincible. The dodge manouver is Alan Wake's bullet time implementation, and it's kind of poor, since the player can get out of any situation by dodging, since it makes them invincible for the duration of the dodge. It should be something closer to the dodgeroll from Max Payne, where you can still get hurt if you dodge into another enemy.

    So I guess that's that then. I really love Alan Wake, but I can't help but feel that the combat was a bit of a letdown. I like the concept a lot, the execution, however, was a bit stiff.

    Also you guys should totally make a proper sequel. I will be very disappointed if "P7" doesn't stand for "Palan 7wake2".

    Alan Wake's American Nightmare is probably the strangest title here, since it's not really a proper big release. But it's still a step-up from Alan Wake's gameplay.

    AWAN implements two of my four suggestions from above: there are a lot more weapons, which are fun to use and make the combat less repetitive. Also the enemy variety has been bumped up with new enemies with totally different strategies, which is great! Alan Wake had four enemy types, but all of them worked functionally identically, here all the new enemies are very different. Good job Remedy.

    I guess my only real complaint on American Nightmare is the repeated scenery, but it's a budget title, so I shouldn't really expect a massive world with tons of settings. Overall, AWAN was a very enjoyable game, and I love the arcade gamemodes. Also a sequel, please.

    And now we have arrived on the latest and almost greatest of Remedy's games: Quantum Break.

    I love Quantum Break's gameplay. It's a return to the faster paced Max Payne combat, with a twist on the bullet time mechanic they've been using for ages. The time powers exist to speed up the game even more, and it's great. The game really encourages to fight the enemies head on, rather than hiding behind a random wall and popping out to fire at enemies behind another wall.

    And as such, the fact that the game has recharging health really confuses me. It's the polar opposite of what the rest of the game is going for. While the gameplay mechanics mostly encourage the player to avoid cover and jump about with crazy time tricks, the health mechanics force the player to stop that and take a break behind cover. Alan Wake had recharging health as well, but not to this extent. You couldn't rely on it, because it only charged a little bit. I have a suggestion for this as well: health should be a reward for killing enemies using your time powers. This would reward players for taking risks, and would encourage players to keep out of cover and instead attack enemies head on. It would keep the pacing up, and make this already good game great.

    And that's really the extent of my complaints when it comes to the gameplay. The time power upgrades were also kind of weak, but I really didn't mind it as much. My main gripes with the game come from the TV show, which likes to kill the game's pacing. But that's another discussion entirely.

    And so, we come to the future of Remedy. Two games are on the horizon: the ever-so-mysterious "P7" (please be alan wake 2 please be alan wake 2 please--) and the single-player campaign to Crossfire 2. The latter especially intrigues me. It'll be interesting to see Remedy's take on first person shooters. Hopefully it'll also come to the western audiences, and hopefully we'll hear and see more about them soon enough.

    I really can't think of a good ending. Bye, I guess. Sorry for the wall of text.
    The "Alan Wake development history" fanatic strikes again!
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