Sunday, March 20, 2011

White Gold review

“Zombies? That’s ridiculous. It was giant cougars that killed him.” That’s my CIA handler. The one who’s supposed to be keeping a cool head in the midst of anarchy. The one I’m relying on to help me with my mission, to stop the flow of poisonous cocaine out of Colombia that’s killing rappers and starlets. The record company hired me, you see.

White Gold is about as close to an open-world RPG as it is to an FPS. You level up, have an inventory to manage, and upgrade your equipment with brightly coloured boxes. You have standings with each faction, which raise and lower depending on how many of their opposition you kill. In theory, that’s how it all works.

The problem is, after the first hour or two, things start to go wrong. Not as part of the narrative, or through any sort of intended design. This is from the makers of Boiling Point, one of the most notoriously buggy games ever released. Missions become broken, enemies attack you when they shouldn’t, and occasionally cars fall out of the sky and explode.

White Gold doesn’t spend a good deal of time explaining itself. It’s a sandbox game in the most rudimentary sense of the word. Developers Deep Shadows put you in a world with the loosest, most nonsensical plot they can think up, and allow you to just to play around with it. You can work for guerrillas, the government, the mafia, or the hundreds of civilians who have their own little problems for you to solve, which usually involve the application of bullet to skull.

You stop a suicide by killing the suicidee’s wife’s lover. You settle a dispute over cards by killing the winner to make the loser feel better. You buy an alien communication device off a mechanic, so a hobo can get it back. And then there are the giant spiders and zombies, who manage to remain absent for a good deal of the game, despite being alluded to constantly during conversations with the locals.

Gert lush
If the bugs were all of the latter variety, it might be a surreal romp through tropical islands. Sadly they’re far more of the former, getting especially impossible when you’re supposed to infiltrate an army base, only to find that the uniform won’t equip when you try to put it on, and the only way to complete the mission is to kill a few hundred soldiers.

It’s heartbreaking. An impressive game that falls short on so many levels, only because it tries to reach so far. Factions, economy, side quests, a huge, lush world and even semi-destructible buildings, all make it seem like it could be a truly brilliant game, but the further you get from the (mostly) workable start, the more and more apparent it becomes that the game is broken.
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