Saturday 17 July 2010

Jumper: Griffin's Story

Oh yeah, I own this game.

This sat unopened on a shelf for a couple of years, and only caught my attention after putting my now completed copy of Super Mario Galaxy 2 away. Released for the PlayStation 2, Wii and Xbox 360 in 2008 as a movie tie-in, the game was quickly thrown aside after being given some disastrous review scores that never peaked past 35%. It's the worst type of shovelware, and I can't explain why I own it, but I do.

I've not seen the film which makes its purchase that extra bit puzzling, but from what I gather it follows the teenager "Griffin" out to AVENGE THE DEATH OF HIS PARENTS by killing some group called the "Paladins". It assumes you've seen the movie, (even though it's set after the events of the film and features a different manin character) so straight away I'm feeling a bit alienated. It's a boring beat 'em up that breaks every good design rule in the book... yet there's something a bit strange going on here.

I've been tempted for the last x number of weeks to post a big review on the 2004 "hit", Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, which again was ignored by me for too long. Warrior Within, despite its good reviews, was quite possibly one of the most frustrating games I have ever had the misfortune to play (the PS2 version anyway). It's dull BROWN AND BLOOM landscape, constant silence and appalling camera angles really did raise questions in my head as to how that game even passed Ubisoft's quality control. The Prince even did a lot of the moaning for me.

And then it came to my attention that every "realistic" game developed for the PlayStation 2 was built in exactly the same way, and that Warrior Within is probably the best of a bad bunch. There was a period in the middle of the last decade where people decided to redefine the needs of the gaming market. Gone were any actual aspects of innovative gaming, arcade graphics and high quality sound, and in their place, "realism", whose murky brown and gunmetal grey continues to haunt games to this day.

Difference is, on the more powerful consoles it doesn't quite look so bad - textures reflect and refract light properly and aren't blurry, character models are defined better and the processing power exists to have interactive scenery and more action packed gameplay. Also you can expect higher framerates. 30 frames per second is fine for American TV, but the problem with video games is most use 50 or 60, and so if you introduce a 30FPS game it looks noticeably slower, and it'll lose marks as a result. If you steal ideas from other games (which Jumper certainly does) your game will be compared to theirs.

I own the PlayStation 2 version and it's probably the worst of the three (though I would guess the Wii had tagged on motion control for no reason). The game looks as if it went for the "realism" idea, but then changed mid-way through development to bring in a cell-shaded comic book style. So what you have here is a bunch of outlined characters fighting in unsaturated worlds. Have a look at some comic book covers some time - observe the use of colour and then explain to me why Jumper lacks it.

Anyway Griffin can run about and... uh... knife people, "jump" (teleport) between short distances and... well that's about it. Sometimes you can upgrade your weapon, though it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. Often you're faced with the obvious question of why little Griffin doesn't bother to pick up some of the guns and tasers the enemies are fans of. Pressing circle will have you do some special moves reliant on a "jump meter", and they've all been inspired by the Matrix trilogy.

Teleporting is literally a case where Griffin disappears from one location and appears in another. No special effects, no change of animation, just a lazy translation from one set of coordinates to another. He has a disturbing lack of animation in other areas too - Griffin will never bend down to pick up objects for example. He almost feels a bit incomplete.

Even though its controlled by the second analogue stick, the camera is stupid, and actually seems to function in the reverse direction of what most gamers are used to... or perhaps that's just me. It gets caught in walls, and often manages to mask the action completely. Programmed on the cheap, no doubt, but at least the player has some control over it.

The game is short, but not only that, it's very easy once you realise that you regain health over time. Most of the enemies behave the same and most of the time you have to kill a certain number of them in order to progress. Fairly standard beat 'em up stuff then, except in most beat 'em ups you can't avoid death by running around for a bit.

Here's a thing for you though - there are beat 'em ups from the late 80s and early 90s that do a better job at keeping you entertained. Streets of Rage II, which I still love, is so much more fun it's not even funny, and you know what made that game a success? It's soundtrack. Jumper has no soundtrack to speak of, just a bunch of various overtures I assume come from the movie. Lego Batman, also based on a comic book/movie and was also released on the PS2, does a similar thing but miles better.

"No offense, but you're not exactly the game's final boss", says Griffin as he slices and dices the Italian police force. The main character is a bit of a git, with a not very good "Irish" accent and numerous misplaced one-liners. In fact, lots of the characters will echo the same speech samples repeatedly, and even though we're dotting around to Rome and Nepal, they all seem to be Americans. I'd say there might be more said in the Xbox 360 version thanks to the greater amounts of disc storage, but the game's short and has very little music - there must be loads of space left.

Straight out of the box and already the movie sequences seem to be a bit choppy, with the last second or two being sliced off the characters' dialogue. This was fairly common with the original PlayStation, but that was usually induced by the fact the discs had been handled quite a bit or (in some cases) cheap copies. You'd think these problems would have been ironed out by the time the PS2 came along... especially for games that arrive too late for the console.

I don't believe the game was tested enough. I think it should be some sort of rule to have regular people play the game at different stages throughout development, get their views, work on problems and so on and so forth. These days many games offer public betas, but I don't think that quite works either. You, as a programmer (or designer), need to watch someone play your game, spot their reactions, see what they're doing and attempt to make things more pleasant.

This game is about as generic as they come and doesn't even have the visual appeal to hide its simplicity. Thank god the days of murky PS2 games are over.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats for get this game. Sounds nice and interesting game. I definitely wants to put hands on it. Great suggestion from you.