I played through Hydrophobia Prophecy again, on normal difficulty, which chiefly affects… I have no idea what it affects.  Enemy danger, I suppose, but the terrorists can still be two-shotted with the sonic blast.  I still like this game, but once you’ve acquired the skill set its replayability goes way down.

I picked up Sam & Max season 3, The Devil’s Playhouse.  They’re often quite funny, they capture the particular Sam & Max surrealism well, and models are pretty expressive now.  They’re worth trying out just for the ingenious gameplay mechanisms, though.  The conceit of the season is that Max has psychic powers linked to toys– different ones each episode.  In ep 1, for instance, he can look at people or objects and foresee their future.  This effectively serves as a hint system, but it’s awfully clever.  Plus the opening tutorial, which is in medias res, is out of control insane.

The second episode focusses on Sam & Max’s great-grandpas; the main trick here is that there are four reels and Sam can switch between them.  In effect you play each reel till you run into a problem the duo can’t solve; the clues or tools to solve it come from watching the other reels.  So you are kind of advancing all four reels at once until they’re all correct… a really unusual and interesting mechanic.

The plus and minus of the episodic format is that you have so little inventory that you can almost stumble into solutions.  On the other hand, you can get stuck because the solutions are often completely bizarre.  (Ep 1 works better because of the predict-the-future mechanism.)

And for something completely different, I picked up Far Cry 2, where you play a hired killer in a war-torn African country.

The atmosphere is very Third World… lush country, nasty problems.  Your personal problems are generally solved by going and shooting people, though as in GTA IV you also spend a fair amount of time driving vehicles.

It’s an open world, meaning you can do missions all over the place.  My first mission was to go fix a car; this done, my new boss asked me to go shoot some people.  I guess I showed him where my talents lay, because I haven’t had to fix any more cars.

You can play one of about half a dozen mercenaries; whichever ones you don’t pick become your buddies, people who will occasionally save your hide, and more often offer an alternate route to completing a mission (apparently always a more complicated route, but it offers some perks). 

One minor pet peeve: the game is exquisitely rendered, and uses clever tricks to not break immersion (e.g. the in-game map is held in your hand), but then it breaks immersion anyway because you just can’t interact with too many things.  You can’t examine the newspapers or sit in the chairs or climb the trees or change your clothes.  I know, it’s a shooter.  But the more open-world a game is, the more I expect to be able to explore and just noodle around.  Bethesda gets this… if you want to collect a tin can from every ruin in the Wasteland you can.  If it’s going to be mostly shooting, well, the best way to make that reasonable in-game is to make it more linear.

I’m still in the middle of both games, so more on both later…

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