By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
As appears customary, I shall start with a waver. I’ve never been big on fighting games, it’s a genre that passed me by during my brief console spell and has seen little development since I have been a PC gamer. I also have little real interest in martial arts or fighting for sport in general, shooting pixels is one thing but beating someone in the face IRL just seems a little excessive. That being said; I recognise the sheer amount of skill that is involved in both competitive fighting games and competitive fighting IRL, and the dedicated and extensive fan-bases that these possess.
My initial reaction to the game’s promotional material was skeptical at best. The statements of the embedded video on the game’s website regarding film and games to be much the same media are statements I could not disagree with more. Games are an interactive media, allowing the player to shape the world and story around them, creating an experience and interpretation for themselves whilst working within the visionary framework of the game designer. In this sense games are far more like books, where the important crafting has been done by the author but the details and interpretation are left to the reader. Film on the other hand is a one way media, where viewer interaction is limited to consuming and interpreting an otherwise complete media product. Interaction is limited in that the viewer has no control over the story or the experience and instead finds personal identification through a process of interpretation, altering their perception of the story and content to fit them rather than altering the story and content to fit their perception. I will however concede that this is certainly not a universally agreed opinion and that the support and creation of cinematic games will continue, even if they result in corridor FPS (Modern Military Shooter campaigns) and RPGs (Final Fantasy XIII).
From the start the very definition of the game has me intrigued and mildly skeptical, a merging of film and game in a manner that is apparently unique and new. Watching the gameplay trailer on the site extended this intrigue and to a degree skepticism; yes it did appear to be a merging of cinematic elements and gameplay, although in a manner that at first glance appeared to be a series of QTEs (Quick Time Events).The game appeared to consist almost entirely of a series of cinematic moves held together by QTEs. I have to be honest, QTEs are not new, they are not unique and in most cases they represent the laziest of game design. The recent ‘boss fights’ of Far Cry 3 represent just how poorly a QTE can integrate into an otherwise mostly good game.
But what of a game that has no pretence to seemingly be anything but a string of QTEs, does it gain some advantage from distancing itself from the poorly implemented general QTE? Yes, in this case it does. Despite not personally finding the fighting genre particularly fulfilling, nor sharing the creator’s vision of game design, nor knowing the name of every Bruce Lee movie, I did enjoy the game.
It is evident that the game has been crafted by people that are well aware of the fighting styles that they are portraying within the game, and I trust that the timing of the moves has also been portrayed equally faithfully. There is also a great deal more depth than there first appears, with options being laid out for the player in terms of what action to take in terms of attack, defence and combos. It is difficult at first, but with some practice the game can become a satisfying experience. How long this experience lasts will depend on how quickly you progress through the levelling system and pick up the necessary techniques. The risk that the game becomes repetitive due to its very nature is ever-present, however the variation of characters and locales reduces this risk.
I can imagine that for someone familiar with the fighting styles portrayed within the game it could be a very fun and interesting experience. For someone interested in the fighting game genre it could be a new perspective on an old formula, certaInly not what they are used to. For myself and those of similar ilk, it could potentially be an intriguing venture into a different genre, proof of well executed QTEs and at least worth downloading the demo to try it out.
The aesthetic of the game is certainly worth mentioning, as the inclusion of live action is rare in modern games. The video quality could possibly be better, but this is on 1080p on a 27” monitor so most video under the native resolution will suffer in appearance. The quality is certainly adequate though and the settings, costumes and choreography are very well done. These high-production values make a potentially risky venture away from the norm of polygons into a success worthy of praise, if marred only by the video quality.
The game is available on iPad, Mac and Windows, with my comments based on the Windows version. There appears to be the typical disconnect in price between Mac/Windows and iOS variants thanks to the horrendous race to the bottom that is the AppStore. If anything the cost of the Mac and PC version could be to offset not only the low iOS price, but also the big chunk Apple screws its market contributors out of. The Mac and Windows versions are available from their website, with payment being handled through Paypal. In all the game cost me close enough to £5, which all things considered isn’t too bad (for perspective I spent £4 on biscuits the other day, although it was a lot of biscuits). With a good keyboard the control scheme is satisfying on the PC and manages well to port and adapt a control method evidently built with touch-controls in mind. The game seems that it would work equally well on the iPad, if not better as it would only be enhanced by the convenience of portability.
The system specs for the Windows version are not exactly demanding, so that’s not going to be a significant issue, if it can play video well then it should handle the game well. The Mac version requires a minimum of OSX Snow Leopard. An Android port is not available but would be a very sensible move and would open up the touch variant of the game to a whole new and ever growing tablet market.
A small note that seems worth mentioning, the Paypal defaults to Italian (had to use Google Translate to find the Italian for United Kingdom) and the installer also appears to be in Italian. That seems to be the limit of the language variation and wouldn’t have been a problem if the first installer I downloaded hadn’t corrupted and left me with an Italian error message. So make sure the download is complete and the file sizes match. In fact corrupt, failing and slow downloads appeared to be a consistent issue on downloading the actual game.
In conclusion, the initial impression that the game’s promotional material gave wasn’t great and had me skeptical from the get-go, however after playing the game it turned out to be a satisfying experience. Whilst I can’t see myself mono-gaming Stay Dead anytime soon I can certainly see me getting my money’s worth from it. A pleasant surprise, so try the demo.