Monday, 10 January 2011

Star Wars Video Games: The Dark Side - Galaxies

Star Wars. A source of a fair bit of scorn from fans in the last decade or so, pretty much consistently since the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Yes, that's correct, the film is 12 years old this year. Terrifying eh? Now, if you're like me, you actually found elements to enjoy of the prequel trilogy, and find yourselves keen to try out all branded content. Then again, if you're like me, you spent New Year's Eve playing Mass Effect. I will shut up about that eventually, by the way.

Anyway, what follows is a caveat regarding Star Wars, specifically as it pertains to video games. Much like the books, TV series, films and all licensed merchandise, there are some rough patches. Make no mistake, generally a fair bit of it is pretty good. However, think of this as a rough guide to the toss that's worth avoiding in the otherwise good range.

Star Wars: Galaxies

My experience with Star Wars: Galaxies lasted all of three hours. I got myself a copy as part of the otherwise excellent Star Wars: Best of PC boxset, which included some games of true class as well as this pile of complete and utter toss. Bear in mind as I describe this experience to you that although I didn't pay for this, as it was a 30-day trial version I used, people were paying £14.99 a month to play. As if it was a privilege to be able to grace the hallowed servers.

I opened the box, placed the disc in the drive and began the installation process, all the while savouring the possibility of having a character in arguably the greatest science fiction universe in the history of creative fiction. I had already prepared myself for the fact that my actions would be largely non-canon, and had also remedied my disappointment with the new gameplay system they had invented which restricted character development and meant that literally anyone could (and thus would) become Force-sensitive as they progressed through the game. It never bothered me in this instance, as I was planning on making a character I liked to think of as "The White Lando".

Once the installer was finished doing its thing, I started the game file expecting to be taken to a magnificent world where anything was possible. Instead, I was transported to a screen which informed me that some updates were necessary, and far from anything being possible, all that was possible was specifically this course of updates, past which I could (presumably) enjoy the game. I grudgingly accepted, trusting that the experience past this update would justify my trudging through this process. Besides, I thought to myself, surely the updates would only improve the game.

What followed can only be described as "me getting progressively more and more pissed off as the computer takes an hour and a fucking half to get hold of a seriously large number of update files." Once that had downloaded, to the game's credit, the updates installed pretty fast and it wasn't long before I was able to launch the game. In hindsight, I sort of wish that my PC had died there and then.

Once I got into the game, I was presented with the detailed character creation engine, which left me with a slightly shonky looking version of myself once I had finished with it. Not a completely new concept to me, as I've had to deal with that sort of problem in pretty much every game with a face creation engine. Incidentally, the only game I've seen so far which makes it easy enough? The Sims 2, my avatar was scarily accurate there. The Movies wasn't too bad for a game that had a limited system, either.

Just as an aside, the introduction portion of the game sees you on a space station performing some introductory tasks specifically designed to get you up to speed with all the different game mechanics, in what some are calling a "tutorial" (tyoo-tawr-ee-uhl). It was on this station that I, like so many before me, found myself being tutorialed by the game.

Okay, I thought to myself, this game hasn't really blown me away so far, but let's give the gameplay a go and see how immersive this game is. After ten minutes or so, the answer coming to the front of my mind was simply "not very". The gameplay was pretty tedious, and the graphics underwhelmed me. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a complete graphics snob, and some of my favourite games of all time are games that look dated today but still play like complete gems. However, the game was rough around the edges to say the least.

What set me off in a spiral of ultimately experience-destroying anger came relatively early on during the introductory portion. As I was being given my third or so mission, the subject of which eludes me now but almost certainly involved repeating some inane task, I rounded a corridor on this space station. What greeted me on the other end of the corner will stick with me until I depart this mortal coil.

Space. Infinite, empty space, as far as the eye could see. Bracing myself for a hasty drop out of the stratosphere, I figured that I must have taken a wrong turn out of an airlock. However, once the vacuum of nothingness failed to materialise, a thought began to occur to me. Moving my character slightly further forwards, I was amazed to see that he had inadvertently developed Force BreakTheGameTechnically as one of his Jedi powers. No mean feat, either, considering that he was a smuggler and not in the least bit Force-sensitive.

My optimism was short-lived, however, when moving a little further forwards brought the corridor back into the field of view. I had in fact stumbled upon a graphical glitch, and not actually broken the game to give me additional amazing powers beyond the scope of the normal game abilities. What ultimately made me the angriest was the fact that I had spent an hour and a half downloading updates for this game before I was even given the chance to play it, and that these updates had at no point fixed a basic graphical glitch that happened in the game's fucking introductory portion.

That said, I hold out high hopes for The Old Republic, based a fair bit on this trailer:


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