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The Thrill of Navigation

Why Randy loves the Just Cause 2 demo and Mini Squadron.
I have been playing, almost every day, the Just Cause 2 demo. After playing it for two days, I decided that here was a game I would be willing to shell out to get on opening day. It has been a while since I have had that urge. Oblivion perhaps? And what is even more amazing is that I am shelling out money for a game that freezes on me every time I play. I have only once reached the 30 minutes that the game allows you to play before kicking you off with a sweet enticing trailer. Every other time it freezes or just disappears. Other than that, however, I am entirely indebted to this game for getting me to play games on the PC every night again.

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I have been spending an inordinate amount of my time playing iPhone games. There are two reasons: they are simple to pick up and play for a short time and the ones I enjoy the most understand the mechanics of touch-control. I have talked about Canabalt previously, I am playing Spider again, and lately I have also been enjoying Mini Squadron. Each one is enticing to me because of the wonderful speed with which you interact with the world. In MiniSquadron, a fun little dogfighting game, you loop your plane around to dodge and attack with varying quickness, and they smartly slowed the various bullets down to the point that you can dodge them. It lends the simplicity of the game a really fun strategic element, making you stronger than such a real dogfight would ever present.

And the game is comfortable. You really feel the bullets as you fire, their sound effects joyfully punchy, and once you press down on the directional pad, it keeps track of that finger wherever it goes on the screen, always maintaining the same centerpoint. This allows you to rely on the feedback much less. Not only can you watch the plane respond to your finger, but you know it will respond as long as you have your finger down anywhere on screen. It is smart and always works in favor of the player. Indeed, even the shooting button extends noticeably past the space marked on screen. Just get within 50 pixels and you should be fine. That is strong understanding of our interactions with the device.

Spider, as I was able to present at GDC last week, worked because 95% of the game was controlled with three super simple mechanics, all of which controlled the actions of the spider. Tap to prepare a web, flick to jump with or without a web, and hold to attract the spider to your finger. I was able to rapidly explain the game to a newcomer and then go back to chatting with someone else. Fantastic! Control has kept me playing around on the iPod Touch for the last three months that I have had one. I am seeking out the latest games that use the device for all its power. A new method of interaction and navigation, that has distracted me from my DS, my PS2, and even mostly from my PC as a gaming device.

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But let us steer back to the road that got me onto navigation in the first place: Just Cause 2. I think it is a superb game (demo at least) because it lets me run, fly, and drive around a world with the simplest of ease. Using Rico's grappling hook and parachute, I can quickly transition from any form of transportation to another. I can jump out of a helicopter and parachute to the ground. Or grapple back onto a helicopter. The game does, admittedly, have slight control hiccups in these transitions. As you enter or grab onto a vehicle, you notice your normal movement controls disappear, but the developers clearly recognized that you only needed a few controls to navigate around the vehicle, and then the main controls for handling the vehicle. In the end, it works well.

I am still getting comfortable transitioning from vehicle to running to another vehicle and then jumping to a third. But I am having fun doing it. And that is why I personally play games. To experience the thrill of navigation. The developers of JC2 have made a fun game. An open world with lots of things to destroy, and plenty of vehicles to get from destructible to destructible. (And of course I spend half the time destroying the vehicles I drive.) Hopefully when I install the full game I will keep finding new thrills, or at least that this main mechanic will not wear old. [And hopefully they will resolve this major crash bug.]

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