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January 12, 2012

Red Means Angry

He's a little miffed right now.

So the other day, I tried the Asura's Wrath demo on PS3.  And...well, I'm not sure what to say about it.  When asked by my brother, all I sad was "This guy is very, very angry."  Demos being demos, I didn't want to judge the game based on about twenty minutes of context-less beatdowns.  I'm an equal-opportunity gamer, unless your name has Final Fantasy XIII in it -- in which you can just mosey right on into the lowest circle of Hell.

But I digress.  By default, I want to like -- no, LOVE Asura's Wrath.  For one thing, it's a game made by Capcom and CyberConnect2, companies known for delivering stylish crazy action and ultra-cinematic battles, respectively (with regular overlap).  It's not another brown-tinged military shooter.  You play as a guy with six arms who punches and punches and punches until he turns a finger that could poke a hole through Brazil into molten confetti, along with the moon-sized deity that it belongs to.

So yeah, I'm excited.  At the same time, I'm really worried about this game.  It's a cinematic experience, sure, but -- as I've said in the past -- games and movies are separate for a reason.  Games put the action in the hands of the players, crafting battles and skirmishes as they see fit.  Movies do not.  Movies are all about scripted events, occuring in a predetermined fashion.  But then again, games are featuring more of these scripted events than ever before; logically, that would make a game like Asura's Wrath primed for perfect review scores and acclaim by the public.

But I still can't shake this sense of worry.  Yes, it's awesome to press the right stick to the right and dig your right foot into the ground, and then do the same with the left stick/foot, and then split the sticks to throw your arms out and yell "COME ON!" at the motherlovin' finger of doom, but there's a problem with that.  The player isn't telling Asura to dig in those heels; the game (and its developers) decided what Asura will do beforehand, and tell the player to do as they direct to advance.  On the one hand, it's the only way to accomplish events that would otherwise be impossible in-game.  On the other, it's reducing the game to a string of quick-time events, cutscenes with button prompts that order you to press a button within 5 seconds or die.  And as many gamers/reviewers will remind you, that got played out in the mid-2000s.

On the other hand, Asura is just too cool.  Yes, most of the demo highlights scripted boss fights, but when you actually get to control him directly, there's a certain visceral nature to the combat, and I couldn't help but feel a bond to the character.  I didn't want to be his friend or anything, but I felt like all his titular wrath was my own.  I'm a peaceful guy by nature, but when you've got a game that has me taking control of a multi-armed engine of death and destruction, punching out his master -- on the moon! -- in a fury of flaming haymakers, shooting magic bullets out of his fists better than any Gatling gun, roaring louder than a dozen lions, and surviving stabs from swords that stretch from a lunar crater to a canyon on Earth, you tend to get a little excited.  As in, I was screaming "DIE DIE DIE DIE DIEDIEDIEDIEDIE YEAHYEAHYEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" in my head whenever I had direct control over Asura.

This game doesn't just exude style and charisma.  It pukes it from every orifice with the force of a railgun, with enough raw power to bowl over a row of elephants standing shoulder to shoulder in five feet of cement.  It's got a personality that I feel Western games, for all the talk of how Japanese developers are on the way out, have yet to reproduce on a regular basis.  I'll admit that "rage" isn't much of a personality, but when you have the guts to put out a game called "Asura's Wrath" and try to promote it by putting people in glass booths and measuring how furiously they can scream, you'd best be keen on delivering.

I have high hopes for you, Asura.  Don't let me down.

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