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Friday, July 17, 2009

Conan (Xbox 360)

OK, Conan is an oldish 360 game, and I finished it months ago, but I've been meaning to write about it ever since. Reason for the delay is the final boss battle (more on that later).

This a the kind of game that makes me irritated at game reviews/reviewers.

This is a solid licensed title that is ambitious and has so much going right for it, that -- especially given the stigma for a licensed title -- it's great.

Nihilistic Software should be commended shoving so much stuff into the game -- from the basic hack-n-slash to the much deeper combat and combo system, to entertaining and stretch Xbox Achievements (50 grapple kills, 100 dismemberments, etc.), to technical implementations like environmental cloth and destructibility.

Its tale is knit together by game writing great Susan O’Connor, and has a stellar score from Michael Reagan (Twisted Metal: Black, God of War / II, the underrated music from Brute Force, etc.).

Besides, the fact that you can pick this game up for ~$10 bucks anywhere should make it a no-brainer for Conan franchise fans.

Since few games are perfect, here are a few of the rough edges Conan does fall into: camera, platforming, polish, gratuitousness, and quick-times.


Seriously, I have had very few good fixed cameras in third-person titles. When the camera is not good, don't make it fixed. Conan uses a fixed not-good third person camera.


I like platforming -- in platformers. I don't like platforming in third-person actioner titles. I'm fine with the puzzle mechanic, and lightweight platforming-esque maneuvers that complete said puzzles. But jumping from ledge to ledge with the above fixed-camera implementation? Anger-inducing.


Like I said, kudos to Nihilistic for putting so much into the game. It does feel like in places the polish falls down, with unexpected clipping, some texture issues, etc. that almost made the game feel unfinished to me in places. That may be a horribly unfair assessment, and the reality is all games (unfortunately) have some level of bugginess and rough edges.

Other than that, a few of the environments feel a little bland -- and they feel that way because other areas (think a hall populated with rich props, interesting textures, cloth banners, etc.) are not bland at all.


Some people are probably going to call prude on me for this one.

I'm not talking the violence (which most games let you dial down) -- I'm talking the topless girls you rescue throughout the game. It'd be nice from a philosophical level to be able to "turn off nudity" like you can "turn of gibs" in so many games (and hey, in essence it's the same mesh and animation sets across most or all of the girls, so it should be easy). There are some tween kids I'd say could play a game like Conan despite the violence, but I wouldn't endorse the title for that same demographic, because of its obnoxious titillation.

Quick-time Events.

Developers who use quick-time events, I am convinced, hate gamers. That's my bias, but other than Resident Evil 5 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance coming close to making not totally sucky QT events, I hate these things. What's worse than a cut-scene? A cut scene where you can't passively watch, and can't really control. The industry calls these "quick-time events".

And Conan? While most of the QTs are irritating, the final boss battle implementation is horrific. I finished the game months ago, and it's taken me this long to write the review, because the QTs in that fight pissed me off sooo bad -- and not in a Ninja Gaiden "this is hard and is kicking my butt and I am going to beat it" kind of way, but in a "you are f***ing kidding me? Another cheap interruption?" kind of way.

See, where Conan is strong is its implementation of combos (X+X+X+Y, for example). But to make the final boss quick-time events "harder", devs decided to shrink the time you have to hit the button that you're supposed to mash. Problem is, if you're in a combo, it has to finish out before it registers the QT button, and usually stomps on it. This is maddeningly infuriating, and made me almost hate the game, even though it was just that last, bad implementation that soured me.

Devs: Quick-times are bad. Stop using them. Thank you in advance.

Anyway, pick up the title if you can. At sub-ten-bucks, it's a fun, brainless brawler at the least, and a deep combo license treatment for franchise fans in the extreme.

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