god hand

a review of God Hand
a videogame developed by clover studio
and published by capcom
for the sony playstation 2 computer entertainment system and the sony playstation network
text by Hamish Todd

4 stars

Bottom line: God Hand is “would never lie to you.”

There is no such thing as immersion, and a good thing too.

You can see something strangely revolting played out in recent “games.” Watch that video, or play something like Enslaved (zero stars), or Bejeweled (zero stars) and you’ll feel patronised and lied to. You might ask, of the designer: “You’re trying to make me think I’ve accomplished something when really I’ve not. Why are you working so hard to lie to me?”

The “game” developer looks blankly back at you. “I’m making a video game,” they say. “The whole thing is a lie. All games lie. If I’ve set up an epic, orchestrally scored, well animated, well written setpiece, then why is it so important that it also be difficult to play? Why don’t you just pretend that it’s difficult? You’re already suspending a lot of disbelief by accepting that the characters are real. By taking it a step further and pretending you’re involved in it, you could get a lot of gratification.”

This way of looking at games is an aberration. Games are not about having powerful verisimilitude with tossed-off involvement — it’s meant to be the other way around. I do not have to suspend my disbelief to enjoy Tetris, or Rhythm Heaven, or God Hand. And paradoxically God Hand, with its absurd kung fu, its enormous floating bananas, its thick line between good and evil… would never lie to you in the way that those games do.

God Hand does not do immersion. What it does is concentration, in a quantity which only the deepest games can achieve. In general, games which inspire concentration are usually utterly indifferent to the concept of “fiction”, and God Hand has palpable disdain for fiction — that’s why in place of characters we get unrelenting satire.

God Hand knows that we want to hear the truth. The truth it tells us is always “You are not good enough.” But it isn’t a blunt truth — we can always ask “In what way am I not good enough?” and God Hand will give you a highly detailed answer.

When they began making God Hand, it was just meant to be really really hard — this is what people wanted. The thing is that in order to be truly hard, you have to be fair (otherwise it wouldn’t be fun), and fast (so that a player can have instant feedback on a strategy), and have a carefully calculated amount of complication.

Any asshat can create difficulty by being unfair in the Hitch Hiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy sense of the word. So how do you create difficulty while being consistent? (“consistent” is a synonym for “fair”) What you do is give people some tools, and then demand that they become proficient with them through reasoning and experimentation. You then give them as much information as possible about how well they are doing. If you’re clever, you can present this information up to sixty times per second.

God Hand is the hardest game I’ve ever played. Unlike some hard games, it has no grinding, no memorization, and as small an amount of luck as was possible. What it has instead cannot be easily bottom-lined. But the game is so consistent that it becomes like a math test. God Hand gives you the tools, and then demands that you become proficient with them. The level of proficiency required is so high that at first it just seems obscure. But you will reach it.

There is something powerful and truthful about this process. The astounding becomes the normal. When you overcome something new, it’s a personal discovery. Mikami wanted to demand as much from you as he could. So eventually, he demanded that you discover things.

To me, getting good at God Hand strongly resembles getting good at programming and certain other real-life skills. Like programming, it is not enough to do something fast, clever, bombastic. You are also required to find a way of doing things that requires a small amount of effort from you. So you might find that you can kill a certain kind of enemy with two buttons, but it takes a lot of effort. But then you turn a corner, and there’s three of him, so you need to use other tools. It’s a meta-risk-reward structure. You demand a lot from yourself, and you do it so that you can demand less from yourself. In the pursuit of difficulty, the game starts to ape the real world.

You have to work fast in God Hand, and admittedly, reaction time is not a very intellectually impressive thing. There again, wouldn’t it be nice if we could perform experiments in real life as quickly as we can in God Hand? If you could build sixty Large Hadron Colliders every second, you could work out a lot of stuff.

I do think there is something to be said for games being fast, for the same reason there is something to be said for people speaking fast. Speak fast, and you’ll say more. But speak too fast, and some people may not understand you. This is why we have books, which let people listen at their own speed. Osmos had this efficiency in mind. Bangai-Oh Spirits had it more firmly in mind. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (***1/2) had it most firmly in mind.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX’s automatic slowdown is the biggest breakthrough in action game design in a long time, and it is all the more fascinating for being an inversion of one of the previous big breakthroughs in action game design (playing “chicken” with the ghosts in Pac-Man). It’s a pity that the level design is linear to a degree that is somewhat disturbing (it really doesn’t belong in a Pac-Man game).

So we kinda worship God Hand’s fairness. There is a flat fucking lie told by IGN, in the worst game review of all time: “enemies will often come up (or even appear) behind you”. With all the politeness I can muster, I might say that the writer of that sentence misremembered his experience of God Hand. In actual fact, if there is an enemy behind you, then it is because you put that enemy behind you.

The camera hangs behind your avatar’s back, not unlike a stalker. You could call it ugly, but I would say that if you want to make a game that doesn’t require a camera this close to the action, well, surely that’s a poor reflection on your game.

I just picked up Devil May Cry. A lot of it is unforgivably shit, but the combat and art direction are pretty cool. Them and the textures. They have some bloody detailed textures in there. They even hold up today, so I can understand any amount of pride. But, you know… if you care so much about the walls that you’ll risk obfuscating the action, why don’t you just become an interior designer? Devil May Cry’s camera is execrable. Not because it’s fixed — a couple of twiddles this way and that wouldn’t have helped. It is because it’s not functional, and the fact that it came about because of vanity is sad.

It’s easy to take a camera for granted. Well, Christ, a camera is actually a beast of a thing! It’s nightmarishly difficult for a programmer to get it to the expected level of efficiency (which would be the efficiency of the human eye). And what about when the camera goes inside a piece of world geometry? Bearing in mind that this could happen many times a second if you’re, say, going through a tunnel in a racing game. The usual reaction to intersection is to spew the camera out. This is appropriately realistic, but it leads to inconsistency, and that leads to unfairness.

There are only a few ways of completely avoiding camera issues. A partial list:

1. Base the level design around accomodating odd camera angles at every turn. Hence Super Mario 64 having a large amount of towers. This is hard and lead to many in-a-void-floating platforms and other semi-abstract level designs, so it fell out of favour with game designers who were trying to tell a story. Gloriously, we may be seeing a return to abstract level design.

2. Either by reducing the player’s agency or shifting the focus of the gameplay, make it so that you will always know exactly where the camera will point. Hence Uncharted and the Rail Shooting genre. This could be said to make the game 2D.

3. Base the system of the game around controlling the camera. This is what first- and third-person shooters are. This is the easiest option, so first- and third-person shooters are prevalent, and get used to demonstrate new technology.

4. Base the challenges around not seeing things. Hence Smash TV positioning the camera over a door, and also Space Giraffe.

In God Hand, walls disappear whenever there is a chance of them getting in your way. This is a very important aesthetic decision. It was not done out of laziness on anyone’s part.

It also accommodates a bit of (4). In God Hand, they have to have the camera close to the combat, as opposed to Spartan: Total Warrior, where the camera is zoomed out far enough that you will always see an enemy before they attack. Like I said, occasionally it is a good idea to turn your back to one enemy so you can wail on another enemy. You just have to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to need to keep unseen enemies stored in your mind. It’s a little risk-reward thing: it leads to a nice situation where you wonder, “Can I get another punch in before the purple dude runs up to me?”

3D games inherently involve obfuscation, basically, so it should come as a shock to us when a 3D game is as precise as a 2D one (even when it cheats by having a 180-degree turn move and a minimap).

There is an impressionistic setpiece in God Hand which allows us to realise something big about the composition of the game as a whole. The mast of a ship falls over, forming an infinitely thin bridge that is impossible to fall off. We walk onto it, and a bat-wielding baddie comes toward us. We spar with the baddie on a completely 2D plane, flicking the dodge stick back and forth, wondering what the arc of the bat looks like from the Playstation’s point of view. This is how they made such a precise game in 3D: they made a 2D game, and then made all the 2D planes intersect on the exact place where you stand. That’s quite profound, really: every enemy exists in a separate universe consisting of them and you.

“We’ll have a bunch of individual, frictitious challenges, and the player will have to overcome them all at the same time” would be my other guess at the composition of this game.

My favourite of God Hand’s many (separated) frictions is what I would call a rattling friction. Push the right analogue stick (which, due to the no-nonsense camera, can be used properly) upward, and you’ll do a Matrix-style duck: use this to defend against punches and some swipes, possibly many in a row. I can recall this friction in my thumbs better than anything else I’ve ever done in a game. The sound of the analogue stick hitting the top of the circle is important (the PS3‘s analogue sticks are a little too resistant for this). It’s a clear “knock” sound, and a clear “knocking” feeling.

Knock-knock-knock-knock-sweep-sidedodge- Ah! they’re on the floor. Now what?

You have a heck of a lot of options when your enemy’s on the floor. What I personally favour right now is a heel drop and some juggling. The heel drop is, let’s see… it’s like dropping a breadknife blade-first into a sheet of cardboard and watching it stick there. You can follow the heel drop up with some poppy and funny moves, but I guess it doesn’t do that much damage (unless you can get a flying roundhouse in, which you probably can’t with the harder enemies).

I should try and grow out of the heel drop. Maybe take the opportunity to wind up a Granny Smacker (which is also damn funny) or lay in a few kicks.

So, there are occasional (and, of course, crucial!) difficult choices you make in your God Hand style. But yes, I do strongly suspect that the joy lies in the places where you don’t have so many choices.

Combat in God Hand is compartmentalised. There are certain (difficult) things that you can learn to do in certain situations. A couple of examples:

The ability to get whacked into the air, but backflip just in time to stay on your feet.

The knowledge of how to effectively separate one enemy from a crowd.
The turn move.

Canceling kicks when in God mode.

Wall bouncing, which is what I’m working on at the moment.

I could go on for a while. They’re bricks that you acquire, and then pile on top of each other. You’re a builder, and only occasionally an architect.

It’s clever, because it allows you to get better in discrete steps — it’s almost as palpable as an RPG sometimes. Lots of people remark on this with God Hand: the difficulty doesn’t offend because you always know how to improve yourself. As we get slapped around the face by a whip-weilding dominatrix, we take opportunity of a pause in the fight to think to ourselves, “We need to work on our side-dodging.”

Here it is: a game so deep that it becomes an isolated pocket of self-improvement within the mind of the player. Street Fighter and Counterstrike managed this a couple of years ago. God Hand turns its nose up at their fury. In those games, you improve yourself because you want to beat someone. In God Hand, you improve yourself because you want your self to be improved.

In a perfectly fair, perfectly interesting system (which God Hand is about as close to as you can come), difficulty is nothing but a structure. In a perfect world, we might never talk about a game’s difficulty — only its fairness and its beauty. So let’s say you die in a game. You lose some amount of “progress”. This presumably sucks — unless we’re playing a game where levels are still fun the second (or eightieth) time you play them.

Maybe there are some choices (moral or otherwise) that you can reconsider. Maybe there’s some part that you can do in a more interesting way this time around. Maybe you could use some space to practice, which will allow you to overcome the part you died on. The point is, there is a constant flow of interesting stuff.

Thank god Ikaruga is so hard. Its levels are so many-layered, and its difficulty encourages me to play them many times, to discover and exploit their many facets. Ikaruga is set of overarching patterns and subtly assembled machines.

Thank god Portal is so forgiving. There aren’t that many reasons to repeat a puzzle, nor are there many reasons to repeat the first half of a puzzle that you died half way through the completion of. Portal is a series of booming statements.

God Hand is a lip-biting prospect for a games journalist. I’ve done my best. It’s so hard to really divine clever pieces of game design — this is why Anna Anthropy is surely the best games journalist in the world, and it’s not even a full time job for her.

For the rest of us, there will be no magic bullet. Even if the major sites stopped accepting bribes, swore not to do another article on the gaming’s greatest tits, and pledged to report on games only after they had been released, they‘d still be pretty thick people. Having said that, talking about auteurs would be a good start.



Shinji Mikami, man. Why are people faithful to franchises over auteurs? When I was 14, my uncle remarked to me that his friend was selling his company. This confused me. I knew the company was very small, and that its owner was a big part of what made it special. I asked my uncle “What does selling a company actually mean when the company is a rather ephemeral thing?” (I may not have used the word ephemeral). My uncle squinted and said “Good question… Mostly what is sold is referred to as the ‘customer list’. The company will have patents and established brands, and so there will be some people who will be guaranteed customers of the company.” That seemed pretty sensible and straightforward, provided you’re talking about capitalist constructs. If you’re talking about art, you’re fucked.

When it is revealed that, say, a Final Fantasy character appears in some bullshit fighting game, it’s guaranteed that the game will sell. Our affections are literally being bought and sold, people. At best, journalists talk about franchises; at worst, they talk about publishers. As if publishers matter one fucking wit! Don’t be hypnotised! Yeah, the logo appears every time you boot up the game — that doesn’t mean that “Capcom” or “Atari” are really responsible for the stupid thing.

Every time (every *fucking* time) we watch a film, we see at least three logos before anything happens — and then these cunts put “A New Line Cinema production”, “in association with the UK film council”, in the body of the film as well, this being within several seconds of the aforesaid logo. Have you ever heard of someone who was excited to watch a film on the basis of it being made by New Line Cinema? Of course, this isn’t about utility for the consumer. These are companies we’re talking about, and the names are blared out in the idle hope that one day someone will utter the words, “Holy shit, a project endorsed by Warner Bros.!”

People don’t use that exact phrase. But in games, they come close. In the games industry, we have franchises. While everyone knew that there wasn’t going to be any point in watching American Pie 4, every year we get a new Sonic title, which journalists eagerly anticipate because they’re a dull bunch and saying “Let’s just hope this latest sonic goes back to the series’ proud origins” makes them feel like they have real opinions.

By the way, Ivy the Kiwi? (***) by Yuji Naka has great art, a highly elegant and frictitious concept, and almost-serviceable level design (so it’s slightly better than Soul Bubbles). Yuji Naka is the real designer of Sonic, as Ivy’s box art oh-so-timidly suggests.

Right now there’s a “reboot” of the XCOM series as an FPS. I’m no expert on XCOM, but what the fuck? Those in the know will be aware that the guy who’s really responsible for XCOM made the one good 3DS launch title which with shocking irony was nominally a “Tom Clancy” game! This is a strange subculture we have here, especially because I can think of some counter examples to what I’m proposing (Valve, Sonic Colours maybe).

The reality is that “characters” are utterly superfluous to the language of video games. This is a fundamental fact, and the strangeness that we see comes from there being different groups of people with different levels of awareness of this fact.

Game designers are aware of it.

Game writers aren’t aware of it.

Some game journalists aren’t aware of it.

Some game players are completely oblivious to it. This is how we get abominations like fanfiction.

Some games exectutives are aware of it, and are trying to suppress it because characters can be owned on paper, while auteurs cannot.

How many people knew that God Hand came from the director of “All the Resident Evil games that were actually good” and “Devil May Cry”? Everyone hated Devil May Cry 2. Capcom came as close as can be imagined to saying, “Yeah, fuck that game.” Maybe they could have gone one step further: “So here’s God Hand, the game that takes Devil May Cry to its real conclusion.”

I’ll leave you with the two problems that God Hand has. There were going to be some others but then I realised that I was looking at them in the wrong way.

Firstly, God Hand is bigotted. Not much more to be said there.

Secondly, some of God Hand’s quick-time-events are silly. Most of them are okay. With the “pummel” QTE, for example, you can land a couple of blows before entering it if you know what you’re doing, and sometimes it may be within your interests to not use it at all — so there is a smidgen of strategy there. For the rest, I’ll quote Kinto:

“I defend the majority of God Hand’s QTEs thus:

– Their occurrence is predictable; either through telegraphing, like the counter move used against the demons, or through the player deliberately setting up situations where they can happen, like tripping up an enemy so you can stamp on them

– The input icon displayed is the input tied to the mechanic you would need to use to solve that situation anyway. Analog stick right (and no other direction!) to dodge a suplex, attack button to attack etc

– If you removed the button icons they would still work as game mechanics but, and this is the most crucial point, WOULD CEASE TO BE QTEs.

The only QTEs I can think of that don’t fit this framework are the one where you punch the gorilla in the balls and the one on Shannon’s second form that involves dodging an attack and striking a weak point at the same time. Both of these feel appropriately cheap.”

–Hamish Todd


70 Responses to god hand

  1. Yes yes more god hand review please.

    I thought about commenting on Pac-man CE DX, and was going to disagree with your three and a half star rating (I’d give it four), but your criticism of it is very much on the mark, so I decided to let it slide. I certainly wouldn’t complain if the layouts were less predictable!

    And I haven’t read nearly enough of Anna Anthropy. Thanks for reminding me.

  2. Re: the linked wallbouncing video, I’m doing a Kick Me sign/hard mode run of my own. It’s a newgame+ file, so, at this point, almost all of the moves in my attack chain are of the “God” variety. It’s been fun, and at my last save I was about to tackle the flying pyramid of stage 7-2. While it has necessitated new approaches to many stages, it’s also introduced at least one flaw (and I’ll cross-post): “if you use the God Hand or the roulette wheel and then die (both cause the Kick Me sign to fly off), the game resets with you having lost the sign. This mean that if you get to a checkpoint and then accidentally use either ability, you need to re-load the file and start over. Perhaps this was the developers making sure that you couldn’t use the God Hand/roulette wheel, get to a checkpoint, and then die to get the sign back. But they could have just had the game recognize player behavior and not let you get back the sign in such a situation.”

    Not too sure about the ability to wallbounce enemies. It is a little interesting — though tedious — in the context of the that boss battle in the aforementioned video, since screwing up your timing can mean that the guy summons two henchmen. But it is a pretty easily abused move on most standard male enemies (you can only wallbounce female enemies once before they fall to the ground). There’s some sort of detectable planned complication in the fact of enemies going into their steamy-headed “pissed off” mode and leaping away during a wallbounce assault, but I don’t think it’s a definitive enough challenge to people who are experienced with the technique.

  3. Really Hamish?

    You really should know better than to think publishers have no say in how a video game will turn out.

    ESPECIALLY after linking a video to a Call of Duty game of all things!
    (And that’s all I’m willing to touch in this thing.)

  4. Shit, everyone likes Deus Ex: Human Revolution despite no involvement from Doug Church, Warren Spector, or Randy Smith. I take back all the stuff about auteurs.

  5. I’ve been wondering about that. Has anyone who actually knows their shit played it?

  6. Why are people talking about Sonic Colors?

    I tried to get into it. Ok, it is refreshingly colorful, but it was full of tutorials and handholding and empty praise and bullshit “challenges” and “unlockables”. It had DIALOGUES, for chrissake, like a (non-interactive) ren’ai plot. When I finished the first world it wanted me to do some bullshit “touch a wisp” minigame to start the second world and I gave up permanently.

  7. Or at least set off a little section of the site for a God Hand shrine. Collect all the reviews and some low-res screenshots there.

  8. @leoboiko tbh I haven’t played Sonic Colours, hence no rating. I heard some people talking and thought I should give it a nod :/

    Has anyone played Ascension of the Metatron? I just finished the demo and it has to be one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. It’s gorgeous obv (and no HUD) and the combat seemed almost promising (better than Uncharted, Enslaved, God of War et al). But then there are some touches that are just bizarre, like the weird sudden camera changes and you having the ability to bring yourself back to life by hammering buttons after you die (if you forget to then basically the same stuff happens but you have to have a loading screen). Are there good reasons for these things? Does the platforming elements lead up to anything?

    I also got “Topatoi” on the PSN at the same time. I’ll give you a quote from that game: “Standing on boxes allows you to jump higher!” 🙁

  9. i saw the new captain america movie recently and it reminded me a lot of bioshock. an entertaining on-rails amusement park ride. i also saw the new fright night movie recently and the way the final boss is killed was amazingly similar to how you kill bosses in 3d shooters. across the highway from the movie theater was a gamestop. i considered this for a moment, and then i quickly stopped caring.

    also before captain america there was a trailer for the upcoming new spider-man movie. looks like mirror edge without the gameplay. looks pretty good.

  10. oh, it wasn’t. i was just trying to communicate something in a language people who hate that game (everyone on this website) would understand.

  11. btw is your name a reference to drilldozer? that game fucking owns.

  12. replace “on-rails” with “heavily guided [BY VOICES [man i love that band]]” if that makes more sense. anyway, my initial observation had something to do with the economy, but like i vaguely implied, it’s better not to care about these things.

  13. When are games just going to say fuck it and literally be barely-interactive on-rails rollercoaster rides? We’re already 90% of the way there. We could play in the role of a wounded GI who has to go on a ten hour ride by boat, gurney and helicopter to the MASH camp. We’re free to look around at all of the incredible water effects and stuff, watch explosions, and circle impressively modeled monuments and shit as orchestral music swells on the soundtrack. Basically it’s an on-rails shooter where everyone but you gets to do the shooting.

    Call it “Line of Duty”, like injured in the line of duty. A game like this would still contain every single thing that’s bullet pointed on the back of most FPS boxes, every single thing that people go apeshit for about games like Black Ops, and every single thing game designers openly boast about.

  14. Games learned a lesson from the FMV games of the early nineties – a bad lesson.

    The lesson should have been “pretend involvement is not sustainable”.

    Instead it was “*completely* pretend involvement is not sustainable – you have to work out what the bare minimum is”

    When will games say fuck it and become entirely on rails? Surely they already have. What is the barest, meekest amount of involvement that one can have?

    “you control your movement, but only to go down one straight path” – Dear Esther, Final Fantasy
    “you have the ability to look, but no other” – that’s been done by Fatale, man, and Half Life 2 and CoD of course briefly.
    “you have to press a button that appears on the screen in order to see what happens next in the cutscene” – that’s quick time events, the devil.

    Can you imagine a way in which games could reduce the player’s involvement, from here? I really can’t.

    Ultimately, it’s about stories. While we are trying to tell stories, we will always make games that are, in some way, lacking, and you are drawn into disgusting practices like what we see every day – Enslaved, Heavy Rain, Interactive Fiction, the Adventure genre. Stories must be abandoned lock, stock, and barrel, if we are to make any progress.

  15. I always go back to the example of growing attached to your pet cobra in Metal Gear Solid 3, and having to put it down when you run out of tranq darts and it tries to attack you. That’s a dramatic story that occurs thanks only to the game’s rules/mechanics. If a game can’t create these stories on its own, the solution is NOT cutscenes and on-rails set pieces.

  16. So you are saying that if a game is linear, it automatically robs the player of interaction and it’s therefore bad?

    Would that make sandbox games and Bethesda RPGs perfect games?

  17. I think “Linear” is a misleading word. Assassin’s Creed is nominally a sandbox, but look at the platforming – you hold down two buttons and your avatar will flip around like a superhero. The intention is that you watch this stuff and think “I’m awesome”. It’s just the same as black ops and the other agency-thieves I mentioned.

    As I see it a “sandbox” is a structural decision. Imagine a version of Half Life 2 wherein all the setpieces are taken out of their normal order and placed in an enormous desert or something. The intention with all of them is the same: “move forward”. In this version, instead of one leading to another, they all lead to a treasure chest with something nice in it and a device that teleports you back to the middle of the desert so you can do another of the setpieces for another treasure chest. When you’ve gotten everything in the treasure chests, that’s the end of the game.

    The mechanics and level design are undeniably the same. The visual aesthetic and the story have to be changed slightly, but who cares about them? This game is exactly the same as the original Half Life 2. You can choose what order you do it in, but that is not an especially large choice. The real choices that comprise Half Life 2 are to do with movement, direction, weapons and physics.

    It’s not about linearity. It’s about whether you’re interested in real gameplay.

  18. I think the problem people have with Bioshock isn’t linearity so much as that it spoonfeeds you win after win. My understanding is that puzzles in Bioshock are frequently something like “There’s a code on the wall, type that code into the keypad three feet to the right” or “There’s a guy standing in a puddle, electrocute the puddle.” This is like if every level in Portal was just a bottomless pit with a ledge and a wall on either side.

    I don’t care if there’s only one way to beat a level, I want to feel like I figured it out for myself.

  19. Hamish, you were first to mention Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

    Do you maintain that DE:HR, or even the original Deus Ex, would be just as memorable and fun to play (because let me just say this right now: Human Revolution is every damn bit as good as the first Deus Ex), without their elaborate stories? Without all those bits of information scattered around the game world that you can find? Without slowly coming to grips with what is actually going on around you and what you are fighting/fighting for? Without the conversations with the NPCs and their effect on the game?

    Do you maintain that those things don’t actually add anything to the experience of playing a video game at all?

  20. There are many good stories that have been told in video games. But video games are still bad at telling stories. These facts are compatible, because a lot of games draw a thick line between “story” and “gameplay”, which allows a good story to exist completely in isolation.

    Deus Ex, as you clearly know, is a fascinating thing to study because both story and gameplay are good. And unlike, say, Professor Layton, they aren’t just good in isolation – there is an effort to blend them together.

    I would say that the blending is not successful.

    For me, the most memorable conversation of the game was with Morpheus. I found it very profound. But I had no choices in the conversation. It was another agency thief. It provided me with a list of answers, but this was tossed-off involvement. It was not about exploring a system. It was about listening.

    The other conversations have more involvement. And many of them are interesting to listen to, but the way that you engage with them still does not satisfy me. It isn’t like real talking, because I can’t give my own responses. And it isn’t like real interaction, because if you evaluate the conversations purely as gameplay then then they are very shallow and slow to feed back on things.

    The moral choices are interesting! Now THAT is a good use of “story”. But we haven’t worked out how to do moral systems in games yet, and you can see this come through in the fact that Deus Ex (and other games) don’t have all that many moral choices. There is the central “lethal vs non lethal” thing in the gameplay, but that is made interesting by enemy behaviour, not by morality, and I say this as a person who completed a nonlethal run.

    The newspapers and books were a neat way of contributing to the fiction. Did they contribute to the gameplay? I’d say no. The gameplay is FPS/RPG/bit of puzzle solving and with some interesting weapons. It’s great, but it’s not “about” biological warfare. It only involves biological warfare in that some of the (great!) levels are set in labs.

    What you asked me was “would Deus Ex be as great without its story?” And my answer is no, because the gameplay is strongly intended to be seen in the context of the story. So if there were some mod that removed all the story somehow, I would not use that mod.

    But there is another way to look at that question: “Would the Deus Ex team have been able to make a good game that did not have a story?” The answer to this is yes. And I would say that that game might even have more potential to be good than Deus Ex. I know that’s a very dreamy kind of claim. But it is clear to me that game developers use story as a crutch.

    By the way, I was be sarcy when I mentioned HR, but I am actually looking forward to being able to play it.

  21. The problem with these moral choice games is that objective morality is a myth anyways. Adding an arbitrary set of rules to judge us then is just retarded. The makers of these Choose Your Own Moral Adventure games could do well to actually read a fucking book on morals and ethics one of these days. They could just start with The Stranger, that’s pretty accessible. George W. Bush liked it.

    Morality in games is knowing that you could kill whoever you want in Grand Theft Auto, and choosing not to because it kind of makes you feel like a jerk.

  22. Morality in story games, anyway. The only moral transgressions that people are really capable of in games is to not do what they should have done to win. I might push a friendly into the line of fire in Team Fortress, but if it wins the game for us, I’ve done my teammate a favor. If I run and hide instead of helping out during the final push, that’s a lot more immoral than pretending to kill some NPCs because they were in the middle of the road, as I’ve done myself a disservice as a player and my teammates a disservice as an ally.

  23. I don’t agree with much of what you say, but there are so many ways of looking at morality in games so I don’t feel particularly confident about saying anything myself.

    I do like this lecture though: http://number-none.com/blow/slides/rant_2006.html for the important part, ctrl+f “ultima iv”, but the whole thing’s pretty short and readable.

  24. I think we can at least agree that a developer who wants to deal with morality should probably be taking more inspiration from Dostoevsky than Choose Your Own Adventure.

  25. >Assassin’s Creed is nominally a sandbox, but look at the platforming – you hold down two buttons and your avatar will flip around like a superhero. The intention is that you watch this stuff and think “I’m awesome”.<

    Well, that's probably part of the intention. But the other part is, we have a GTA with no cars. Simply running along the streets at footspeed would be maddening. How do we let the player move around in real time? Making AC's parkour do what you want isn't any more or less difficult than driving in GTA, and has the same "punishments" for small mistakes (in GTA, crashing into light poles; in AC, falling off roofs; in both, taking damage and killing your forward momentum). The control scheme for both is more or less the same (hold down a button, move a stick) and it can be mechanically exploited by "challenge areas" in much the same way (in GTA, races or car chases; in AC… races or foot chases).

    In other words AC is "about" its parkour about as much as GTA is "about" its driving, i.e., mostly as a means to an end, and also somewhat as another bit of challenge. You may as well criticize Half-Life because all you have to do to run around is press WASD.

  26. I don’t appreciate the Half Life comparison. Platformers are about moving and jumping, FPSs are about shooting and moving. A platformer that makes its own decisions about when to jump while you hold down a button is a bad platformer. The equivalent of this for an FPS would be if holding down one button caused the game to move you around dodging bullets and circle strafing and such automatically. That doesn’t happen in Half Life – you don’t press WASD, you press W, A, S, D when you judge it to be a good idea to do so.

    I really like your other comparison though, with driving and GTA. My criticism of AC was based on the assumption that AC is a platformer. So if you’re telling me I’m wrong, and that AC is actually more of a driving game, I’ll take back my criticism and give AC another chance. To be honest I stopped playing it after I realized it would jump for you – I *thought* that what I was looking at was the platforming mechanics of Uncharted and Enslaved taken to a hideous conclusion. I’d be very happy to hear that I’m wrong.

    If AC is a driving game though, it’s still surely a rather patronizing one? At least when you’re holding down the accelerator in GTA the car doesn’t wank a procedural animation system in order to move – you just get a car going forward (and you get some friction in the acceleration).

  27. Well, I wouldn’t consider GTA a driving game either, at least not in its current incarnation (4). Driving is certainly one of your main verbs. But it’s… well, it’s a sandbox. Let’s call it an action-adventure sandbox. It’s a bunch of ideas of what you can do in a 3D space all thrown together in service of a plot.

    In that sense, AC is actually relatively more focused. It’s definitely about killing people, mostly silently, in a way that GTA is not just about killing people. The key point of AC parkour is to put you in advantageous positions with some planning and a keen eye rather than a fast hand. And it’s relatively more challenging than you think, at least in the newest game (Brotherhood); it’s quite easy to push the stick in the wrong direction and go flying off of a rooftop instead of hopping to the next one, killing your momentum and perhaps temporarily ruining a good kill (or elegant escape) you were about to pull off.

    But no, whatever AC is it is DEFINITELY not a platformer, in pretty much the exact same way that GTA is DEFINITELY not a racing game. Some similar mechanics are utilized, but they’re simplified in service of a different goal.

    I don’t want to talk up the game too much, of course, it’s heavily flawed in many ways, but I feel like it gets an unfair shake from ABDN/SB type people. It’s definitely Ubi’s most interesting effort, for whatever that’s worth, just leagues beyond what they’re normally up to, which is blanding previously vital franchises into PS360design oblivion. Perhaps AC fares relatively better because it’s original, or something, I don’t know.

  28. Thanks for enlightening me. Something that occurs to me now is that if you make an FPS that moves for you, we call it a rail shooter. And just like with assassin’s creed, if you start out thinking of a rail shooter as an FPS then you will start to hate it.

    I hope my original argument can still be understood without AC though. I’ve not played enough sandboxes to know what to replace it with. The point is that we can *imagine* a game that is as oppressive as Blops or Enslaved that also has a sandbox structure (in that you can do everything in any order).

  29. The mechanics in Assassin’s Creed really stand out better for me in the context of the multi player. When you are trying to outsmart and outmaneuver humans rather than brain dead AIs, the autopilot nature of the platforming is more of an asset because you need to focus your attention on the props in and layout of the environment. In other words it’s more about skillful navigation than any sort of tactile platforming fun, and with the right people victory takes a truly satisfying amount of cunning and reflexes while each death teaches at least some sort of little bite-sized lesson on how to improve. That’s been my experience, anyways; as with most on line experiences results may vary.

    God Hand is sublime because it forces the player to relish and master its rich mechanics, but it would still be a rather good time on a hypothetical Easy mode simply because the crispy button-smooshing, stick-flicking core is so solid. I would say the AC campaigns fail because the mechanics are ONLY satisfying when the player has to use them well, yet the designers seem deathly afraid of taking the player to task in any way; pretty much any assassination mission can be completed by waltzing up and genociding the crap out of all the enemies with the easily whipped mano-a-mano fight system. It’s a waste of course, but it seems like those who didn’t grow up playing arbitrarily mean games tend to think the computer is cheating whenever it wins, hence the IGN review mentioned so often on this site. I just wish more developers would put thought into their Hard modes to throw us classicists a bone. Human Revolution has a good one so far, and Bastion with all available totems turned on is great, too, but more often it’s like Shadows of the Damned or Nier, which is to say Hard is exactly the same as Normal mode but the bosses take so long to kill that it’s more boring than thrilling.

  30. If Godhand had been a hit, we’d be complaining right now about how Capcom needs to take the series back to its roots instead of this Dynasty Warriors bullshit it’s become, and then they’d put the band-aid back on Gene’s face in the next game as proof that they’re listening.

  31. That’s the tagline of the God Hand review you’re going to write for us, right?

  32. Whoa, whoa, what’s with the DMC hate? It’s not God Hand, in the sense that the ‘reward’ for bettering yourself is continued movement through the game. It’s ‘reward’ is your own little combo video.

    And shit, I need a God Hand review up here.

    And a Bastion review.

    And a cape.

  33. I like Devil May Cry 3 because its dumb humor and moronic set pieces let me pretend I’m playing Godhand… during the cutscenes. Other than that, it’s also kind of a fun game.

  34. Though I never beat it. I got about halfway through and figured I’d seen enough missile-surfing and pizza-related combat for the time being.

  35. I’ve played half an hour of 1, 3, and 4. They are fun. But 3’s savepointing was daft. After losing to some boss there was a certifiably dull and shallow jumping puzzle I was expected to repeat so I gave up on that one. 4 just wasn’t interesting enough. And 1’s camera was truly sad. It doesn’t seem impossible to me that someone could hack the game to have a God Hand style camera – if they could, I would play that.

  36. I don’t know why so few game designers have caught on to the idea of just plain not including the shitty parts. Nobody puts in Devil May Cry and thinks “I can’t wait to do some platforming!”

    They make movies like Commando that are nothing but violence from end to end, there are bands like The Ramones who only play the fun part of the song, why can’t our dumb action games actually just be dumb action games?

    I read somewhere that Asura’s Wrath was gonna be the new Godhand, so I checked out a few videos. All I saw was five minute cutscenes peppered with sparse QTE’s, so basically a really long cutscene you have to watch over and over again as you keep fucking up the QTE parts. Maybe the actual video game part of the video game is fun, but Godhand let’s you skip all the parts of the game that aren’t a video game.

  37. p1d40n3, I’m so down for an actionbutton style review of Bastion. Kind of expected one to show up here by now. I’ve thought of trying to get a review up on this site but I just don’t think I’ve got the style, although there is quite a bit of variety around here these days (just look at all the different God Hand reviews) so maybe I’ll reconsider giving it a go. Would a fifteen minute jazzy-hardcore guitar improvisation suffice for a review of God Hand? For a Bangai-O HD review I could just do the track list of the Melt-Banana, Hella, and Lightning Bolt mix I play that game to.

    Anecdote: The other day at work the resident alpha-nerd asked me what I thought the God Hand of RPGs was, and of course I called it out as a trick question (God Hand is better than RPGs). Then he said he was thinking Disgaea because they’re both about “doing the incredible.” I was about left speechless, although I think I managed to call him a queef. Now that I’ve read this review though I might consider Demon’s Souls just because it is also so endearingly honest, except for when I killed the dragons- although maybe since I’m the kind of person who does that I’m even less qualified to do an abdn review…

  38. How is Demon’s Souls an RPG? Is it because its combat is bad?

    btw that alpha-nerd remark is humorous in more ways than one. Just saying.

  39. My request is that new bloodrayne thing or el shaddai. Those games have something in common aside from the obvious stuff: they are a weird blend of professionalism, even beauty, and complete incompetence as well.

    Bloody hell though, I’m looking forward to your sims social review. I have never played a social game – I know they’d only depress me. Reading a Tim Rogers review is the best entertainment I’ll ever get out of them.

  40. Bloodrayne (the new one) is really visually cluttered, and the level design got repetitive even in the short part I played. But pretty damn good core mechanics.

    Again I only played the demo, but El Shaddai’s 2D platforming felt worse than the made-in-an-hour platformers you see on indiegames.com. Jaw dropping graphics but christ.

  41. el shaddai just . . . isn’t interesting enough for me to review. it’s a dumb action game with layers of visual gloss. the story is brain-dead and the visuals are the exact sort of thing people who don’t do drugs imagine people who do drugs would think of. el shaddai as a videogame is like “the expendables” as a film production: someone was assembling a crack team, except instead of action heroes they collected up a bunch of hacks.

    the next game i review — well, after the review that is going to go up here in about fifteen hours (!), will be minecraft.

  42. At least one person on drugs had to be involved with El Shaddai because it’s the first time I’ve ever had to sharpen a lightsaber by striking a Power Rangers pose. If only someone on better drugs was involved, then maybe instead you’d have to pray in the middle of battle so God shows up in a van and gives you a shotgun. Or His Hand.

    Haven’t played Bloodrayne yet but it just seems too easy to get fanboy cred by making your contemporary franchise resemble some well-loved older game(s), but hopefully my cynicism is misplaced.

    Dozer, your question about Demon’s Souls is golden. I guess it’s an RPG because the player can see hard numeric values for stats and figures rather than vague “damage = 3 bars out of 9 pizzas” or whatever. Or maybe because of its slight simulation-y bent. Really RPG as a descriptor has outlived its usefulness in general (by the standards I just proposed God Hand is about equally an RPG as Demon’s Souls), so I guess it’s an RPG because the first person to preview it put “RPG” in the “genre” box next to the article, and because you can get helmets that have bigger numbers than other helmets.

  43. (In the El Shaddai scenario above God is played by Jason Statham and the van has a dragon with a soccer ball airbrushed on the side so the people playing would be all “what the eff?! so random lol”)

  44. This is one of the best God Hand reviews on this site.

    God Hand is full of dumb gay jokes and shit, but a gay person is probably as likely to be offended by that as I am to cry at the ending of the game. The cut scenes, characters and environment of the game are the closest Playstation 2 can render to an MS Paint drawing of a middle finger.

    • This quote from Atsushi Inaba, I think, is very telling: “We began with the idea of enjoying punching, fighting with fists, and we weren’t very particular about the style… we’re trying to convey this idea through the way the characters fights as opposed to expressing it through a very particular graphical style.”

      In some interview somewhere, they explain how Fist of the North Star actually wasn’t much of an inspiration. Rather, where Okami and Viewtiful Joe were meticulously crafted, Godhand’s whole aesthetic is really just a lazy afterthought, pieced together from the staff’s vague collective recollections of action manga, anime, movies, video games, and spoofs thereof seen in television commercials.

      It sincerely doesn’t give a shit and doesn’t care who knows it.

    • I dunno man, those jiggle physics aren’t there for nothing!

  45. Found this, wish the guy had commented here:

    From the start, the reviewer takes ~15 “paragraphs” to make the following simple points: “Challenge is a crucial tool games can use to engage the player and give him a sense of accomplishment. This element is unfortunately missing from many modern games, which prefer to use flashy cinematics to fool the player pretend like he’s actually doing something meaningful ingame. Luckily, God Hand is balls hard yet fair, a synthesis of flashiness and difficulty.”

    Other than that, he doesn’t actually make any specific points about God Hand in this entire portion of the review other than telling me it’s hard. Except for the paragraph about that infamously retarded IGN review, I could literally substitute the name of any other great 3D action game (Devil May Cry (which he mentions later (but I’ll get to that)), GunValkyrie, Ninja Gaiden, whatever) for God Hand and all of these statements would still be equally valid. Every great action game ever made, 2D or 3D, “gives you the tools, and then demands that you become proficient with them.” Every great action game ever made has the “meta-risk-reward structure” which he talks about, where you’re forced to develop new strategies on the fly to deal with new combinations of old elements (like 3 enemies at once attacking you, which is the example he mentions). Every great action game ever made “demands that you discover things.” Yet he acts like these criticisms are somehow specific to God Hand and plays them up like these things alone make God Hand some huge revolution in videogaming, as opposed to these aspects being obvious fundamental qualities of any good action game (or with some of the statements, any good game, period).

    And in all his discussion of how hard God Hand is, he completely fails to mention one of the most crucial and unique (in this genre, at least) mechanics contributing to its difficulty, the rank system. In case you’re not familiar with the term, rank (a term usually used in the context of many 2D shooting games which have systems like this, but which also applies here) is scaling difficulty which gets higher as the player gets better at the game, and it’s implemented in God Hand with the Level gauge. This alone renders his statement at the beginning of the review that God Hand makes you “demand a lot from yourself, and you do it so that you can demand less from yourself” laughable, because as you demand more from yourself and get better at the game the game gets much harder to compensate and give you a challenge, so you’re not actually demanding much less at all from yourself. Other important parts of the game he completely glosses over in this review: anything at all regarding the money/shop systems (which tie directly with the combat system and performance), as well as many crucial aspects of the combat itself which I’ll get to in a bit.

    Anyway, after the aforementioned beginning fluff he devotes some time to talking about the game’s camera, and camera systems in general. There’s nothing too objectionable there, but I’d just like to note that in this part he says he “just picked up Devil May Cry.” As in, while he was writing what was supposed to be a deep critical analysis about one of the best, most complex, and most important 3D action games ever made he literally just started playing the games that practically invented and refined the genre, and set many of its conventions. So basically he’s admitted that while he was writing this review, he had almost no standard of comparison or experience with similar games (except maybe Spartan: Total Warrior, which he namedrops once while talking about the camera), which would probably explain why he was so fascinated by all the things I mentioned 2 paragraphs ago, why he makes almost no comparisons or actual criticism regarding the combat system and just kind of lays it out like a wordy and quirky strategy guide, and why he doesn’t seem to recognize or comment on how unique God Hand’s pacing and stage design are within the context of its genre.

    Alright so now he’s talking about the actual combat system, the meat of the game. (Halfway in through the review.) First off he calls the right analog dodging “rattling frictions,” whatever that’s okay I guess. Then he tells us about his favorite strategies, mentions a bunch of the moves the game offers, and talks about how the combat is “compartmentalized,” apparently because certain situations in the game have specific strategies you must learn (woah, you mean just like almost every other game?). He even reverts to typical NGJ-style daft analogies for a bit, describing the heel drop as “like dropping a breadknife blade-first into a sheet of cardboard and watching it stick there” and providing absolutely no further elaboration on what the hell that’s even supposed to mean. There is no real criticism here in any of this; the dude’s literally just listing strategies and moves he likes, without elaborating on what these moves are, how they impact the game, how they control and can flow together, how the strategies and methods you have to learn in God Hand differ from the strategies and methods you have to learn in other 3D action games (because there are some huge differences, which is part of the reason why the game is so great), or virtually anything of any value whatsoever. And even then he manages to almost completely gloss over crucial aspects of the combat system which he is right now supposed to be analyzing and dissecting in depth: Roulette attacks, the complex movesets/combo system, and last but not least, the damn God Hand that the game is named after.

    Alright then, ~15 more sentences regarding the difficulty (reiterating points which I think I already covered in my second paragraph here) and then BOOM! Ikaruga and Portal. I think Ikaruga has to be the only 2D shooter these guys have ever played or something? Probably because it’s by Treasure, I guess. I wonder if they’d review Battle Garegga without mentioning the rank system.

    A few pretty irrelevant sentences, a huge awful screenshot (do the Action Button guys actually think that stuff looks good, or are they editing their screens “ironically?” I’m legitimately curious about this), a mention of Shinji Mikami so that everyone knows who the “auteur” of this game is, and then a few paragraphs of non sequitur about how “characters” and “auteurs” are irrelevant to videogames in any sense but the financial. The review ends with a quote from another person about the game’s QTEs, which is probably more valuable than most of the entire review which preceded it.

    And one relatively minor (in comparison to everything else, at least) thing: he also doesn’t seem to know what the word “immersion” means, and that “concentration” is a vital part of it. The more a game engages (aka: immerses) you, the more you’re forced to concentrate on it in order to succeed; if it doesn’t engage you in any way then it’s just a bad game. Challenge in a game makes you concentrate hard and makes every single action you take matter, which is one of the main reasons why God Hand is so engaging (immersive).

    • That same commenter suggests that the developers of Shadow of the Colossus were lazy for leaving the open world so empty, that it should have been packed with content.”it wouldn’t have ruined the exploration aspect of finding the colossi and it would have also made it a more interesting game.”

    • Also, I like how his critique of the review is basically “It describes the game and then offers an opinion on it.” I read a piece in Vice just griping about how crappy Sofia Coppola is, and all of the comments were along the lines of “Hey, there’s no hard hitting facts in this opinion piece! You’re just SAYING she’s terrible!

      Why can’t people just, like, disagree with subjective writing and opinion pieces? Why do they have to find the moral and intellectual high ground before they can allow themselves to disagree?

  46. Literally only just now discovered this review.

    I kind of wish I was drinking something as I got to the bottom so I could spit it all over my monitor.

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