Monday, September 15, 2014

Takedown: Red Sabre - 10/20 hours

I will say this for Takedown: Red Sabre its sales pitch was not lying when it said it did not play like a typical shooter. I don't know how to put it, exactly, but it feels like it goes out of its way to avoid artifacts that would make it feel like a game. The HUD is minimal, showing only your currently equipped weapon and how much ammo remained (though if they wanted to go really hardcore with that, they could remove even that, and only show you how many clips you have - it's not like real guns come with a digital ammo display). You also, technically, get a health meter, but as far as I can tell, it is green when you have not yet been shot, red when you have been shot at least once, and in either event completely useless, because being injured doesn't impair you and being uninjured is absolutely no guarantee that you won't die from a single enemy gunshot.

One thing that is notably absent is a crosshair for when you are not looking down your weapon's scope. While watching a video online (I was looking for something to point me towards the biolab's mission objectives, because of course it doesn't have objective markers) I heard it claimed this was because the game was supposed to discourage shooting from the hip.

And that's when I realized me and Takedown simply have irreconcilable differences. What I want out of a shooter is a fundamentally game-like experience. I want to be an action hero. I want to move quickly from enemy to enemy and make progress through the level with checkpoints for when I screw up. I want to know where I'm going and what I'm supposed to do (seriously, the HQ mission tells you to "destroy all the external hard drives" but does not tell you how many there are or where to find them).

Takedown: Red Sabre is not like that at all. It is less a game and more a manifesto. "You will go slowly" it says. "You will die unpredictably from enemy fire," it says. "Areas that appear safe will not be safe," it says (and then goes on to mutter under its breath, "but deadly threats will not necessarily be visible from cover, even if you wait a long time, so progress will be impossible without occasionally exposing yourself to a headshot from halfway across the map"). With Takedown you will not be getting a "watered down" shooter experience.

And while I've always been a bit suspicious of the phrase "watered down" (it always seems to be used by people trying to make a virtue of their ability to endure pain and inconvenience), I can appreciate Takedown's purity. Or, at least, I could if it would at least make some concessions to the fact that I am a person trying to play a game. I'm not talking much. Statistics tracking would be a godsend. Ninety-nine percent of the time (no hyperbole, either, I've been playing for 10 hours, and have only finished one mission - the biolab), I am going to die without completing the mission, so it would be nice if I could establish performance benchmarks and track "high scores." Also nice would be the ability to move the camera after I die, so I can see what killed me and not wander into the same damned trap time and again (which, you'd think would not be a problem, except that sometimes you're ambushed in a place you absolutely have to pass through, and killed in less time than it takes to scan the environment and find the enemy whose killing you). Health expressed in percentage terms. Being able to switch between which squadmate you control, so as to use the best weapon for any particular situation.

However, I have a feeling that Takedown is simply not a well polished game. There are things, mostly minor inconveniences, that have no conceivable reason for being the way they are (except, perhaps, lack of time, money, and quality control). For example, while in a mission, you cannot check to see how the controls are mapped. You have to exit the mission and go to the options screen off the main menu to do that. (This is especially glaring during the tutorial, when the game instructs you to do stuff while giving no hint whatsoever about how to do it). Similarly, being able to customize your squad's equipment would be an important aid in mission planning.

So far, Takedown: Red Sabre is really making me appreciate Dark Souls. While I was playing it, it frustrated me to no end, and often made me feel like I was being punished for failure, yet I now realize, that while it was not ideal, it actually did quite a bit to gently nudge me in the direction of progress and keep up my interest during those sagging "now you die 50 times in a row without advancing the story" sections. It's a shame that I could only realize how much Dark Souls actually did for me by playing a game that doesn't bother.

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