It’s 11:45pm, and I’m determined to try on the murder suit. Is it a murder suit? I’m sure my machine is going to curse at me. I haven’t run anything this demanding since, well, ever. So I launch it. You know, click “Play” on Steam.
After a 43GB install I have an idea what to expect, but not entirely. A dark screen transitions into a company logo. Monolith. Almost sublime. This fades dramatically into a wall of technology logos used to drive the experience I’m about to have. Then, the title, but I know what to expect.
I choose the single player campaign because that’s what I’m here for. An innocent and ruggedly attractive face stares ominously at me while I do this. Immediately I’m interested. Why does his face half glow with the ethereal luminescence of a Wraith?
There is no name choosing, customization to do, just a contrast check. Okay, so I’ll be playing in darkness at least half the time. That’s what intrigues. I passed over several opportunities to play the Arkham franchise because this game exists, but I chose the wrong time to start.
Immediately I’m presented with a dead man. Toriel. He stands up, questioning his existence. He’s not breathing. What follows are flashbacks that teach me how combat and stealth work, and I know when the tutorial is over when they’re dead. My family. His family, that is.
Not to spoil, but you’ve got to be an innocent not to expect motivation for Toriel’s actions throughout the game. Is it paper thin? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Why? Because I’m already invested.
Shadow of Mordor (or Murder, funny, that) is one of those rare licensed titles that expands the established and well loved narrative well above and beyond its origins. A true Tolkeen devote would tell you if this was invention or adaptation, but I don’t know the difference. Near as I can tell it’s the former.
Make no mistake, this is a great game. I foresee myself slaying many Uruks in as grisly a manner as the game has been design to portray. Motivation has full force with me, already familiar with the lore and the characters, my choking emotions for Boromir. Poor, flawed Boromir of Gondor, how we love him. Aragorn, well, now you see where I get a little geeky-gushy.
Noble heros are my champions. I’m a paladin/healer at heart, and while Toriel’s more of a stealth assassin, I’m down with his motivations. Especially after the opening sequence. Black Hand. How ’bout the Back of My Hand? This is some shrewd writing. Not mine, of course.
I grew up with pixelated death. Crono died in a wash of white with more impact than the later animated sequences could evoke. Though I’ve enjoyed Akira Toriyama’s works (Dragonball Z), there’s no competing with imagination. SoM has tough competition, even through it can easily beat out anatomical knowledge and world detail with – as I’ve mentioned – hoards of textures, map data and physics simulations. This is why triple-A games are such a risk: Hotline Miami draws arguably more attention and cost next to nothing to develop.
What’s a company to do? Honestly, not my problem, but looking for an answer I can see that Shadow of Mordor is part of it. Combat feels sluggish, but I know that’s me wrestling with this new fangled control scheme. Keyboard, controller? Which one? Does this guy ever stop walking? Is that a bug?
I was so enthralled with the first hour of play that I’ve deliberately overlooked a potentially major flaw in this multi-million dollar title. According to forums no one else has had the problem, so I’m certain it’s my fault and easily fixable, but when was the last time you forgave a game so grievous a flaw?
My current gaming system is underpowered by modern standards, but my own requirements aren’t high: 1080p is easily achievable for the games I play: Dust: AET, Borderlands 2, Half-Life 2: Update, et al. SoM runs at 720p with most settings either ‘Low’ or ‘Off’, and that’s enough, for now. Monolith has designed a game accessible to a broad spectrum of players without sacrificing aesthetic.
On PS4 everything is tweaked to get the best out of the hardware, and I’ve no doubt it looks prettier than what I’m looking at, but I’ve also no doubt the integrity of the experience is uncompromised. Do I care about that? Yes. As a hardware geek that issue is close to my heart, and I’m grateful to Monolith for being so flexible.
So thanks for that.
And thanks for the epic quest.
I’m never going to forget the way my/his wife gurgled. Sleep? That’s for the rich and childless.