Daikatana Level 3: Solitary

25 08 2010

It’s at this point that I begin to realize how arduous playing through the world’s most infamous game may really be, because Daikatana is truly long. I’m on the third level, and I haven’t even met one of my sidekicks yet. The problem is really that I’m not looking forward to the moment when I do.

That’s the thing, really: Because I’m really not that good at video games, I get through them on anticipation alone, and Daikatana doesn’t give me a whole lot to anticipate. I’ve gotten through Mishima’s swamp and into his prison, a pretty good feat for a back-alley martial arts teacher who doesn’t seem to know any martial arts. I’ve collected four weapons so far, and each of them is a good example of the kind of overreach that’s emblematic of Daikatana.

When John Romero designed Daikatana, he envisioned it as a massive built-from-scratch world with unique weapons for every level. This is a great idea in theory, and I admire his guts, but unfortunately, “unique” is probably the kindest word one could use for these weapons. You’ve got a punching glove that’s impossible to hit a target with and makes an improbable chainsaw noise, a laser gun that hits you with its ricochet, a shotgun that fires six shots in succession, and a gun that shoots land mines. Whatever Mishima Corp. is famous for, it isn’t weapons manufacturing.

Some of these guns are an opportunity to fight differently: I like placing land mines and then drawing the AI towards me, for instance. But some of them–like the shotgun–have little conceivable application, and make me wonder if anybody actually playtested the game who wasn’t already a miraculously good fighter.

I know Penny Arcade made fun of it, but it really does seem like a good idea to see how someone who isn’t familiar with games plays something. I tried having my dad, a fairly casual FPS gamer, play one of my (very short) mod levels a bit ago, and he ended up going in circles for a few minutes and then trying to pull a gun turret off a tank for a weapon. Having someone who didn’t automatically know what to look for, or what the Source SDK weapons looked like,┬áplay through my rooms let me know that something was wrong.

But back to Daikatana. Weapons aside, this level is distinctly more atmospheric than the last two, but then again, we’re in the prison blocks of a sinister corporation, and if you fail to make that fun to play, you really need to drop out of level design school (Personal caveat: I would probably fail to make it fun to play. That is why I am not in level design school.) John Romero’s fondness for gibbing is on display here: At the end of the level, I walk into not only a giant furnace, but also a completely gratuitous meat grinder, and I am repeatedly hit by pieces of leg, spine, and ribcage. This game makes Fallout 3 look downright tasteful.

Architecturally, we get our first breakable wall, exploding barrel, and flickering light, as well as Romero’s discovery of the color purple. Something about the proportions seems just off enough to make me wonder if I have my screen resolution quite right, but I conclude that the blocky prisoners are merely a product of their time, and move on.

And, then…Superfly.

Superfly Johnson was one of the infamous sidekicks I had heard about, both for their difficult behavior and terrifyingly stereotypical personalities. And, indeed, Superfly is a blaxploitation character come to life, although his personality has occasional bizarre shifts into solemnity. It’s as if the actor started by hamming up his lines, then forgot for a moment and started talking about how he regretted breaking up with his ex-wife, then went back to “I’ve got severance pay to recover — in blood.”

Despite having never met, apparently certain death forges strong bonds, as I seem to know his name before he’s even told it to me. I can’t leave without my buddy Superfly! I lament each time my character tries to leave a level sans Johnson, which is fairly often, as if he’s not getting himself killed by taking on a gun turret with his fists, he’s off running somewhere. This all makes it somewhat of a surprise to me when his first act in the game is saving me. Successfully.

It goes down like this. I’m low on health and ammo, and I have to take down three of the giant robots around the corner before the level’s done. I hang back, worried, but Superfly blithely charges ahead and, while I cower, literally punches a robot to death. This gives me time to regroup and shoot down the other two, before climbing and falling into, then running and jumping into, a meat grinder. Superfly, having met me thirty seconds earlier, grieves.

Strong bonds indeed.


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