Part 3: Short Essay for Level 3
Level 3 ends the hand-holding for the most part, but is still teaching players a couple of new things. As will be a running theme in my LP, my exasperation with the triple-locked door starts here. It's padding, pure and simple, and the game doesn't even offer the fig leaf of having different colour keys!
The thing behind multi-colored keys has always been a distinct delineation between sections of the level. It was definable progress for the player to obtain a key and use it to advance into new areas. What we're seeing here is nothing of the sort. It's busywork that is interrupted by a short scene of a light turning colour. And this isn't the worst level for it as we only have to do it twice!
So, before I get angry, let's move on to Barabus.
Baabus is the first boss fight in the game, and spoilers, there are others. What sets him apart from, well, pretty much 99.99% of Boss Fights in every other game ever is that he comes at the start of the level, and for those other fights, the rest of the level is about dealing with the defeat of the boss. No, here it's about catching up to what's going on after Barabus has slowed you down. It's a nice reversal of expectations. In a worse game, Barabus would have challenged you at the end of the level, stopping you from chasing after Muro's van. Here, he's up front and more than willing to rumble.
Barabus is noted in the supporting documentation to be wearing a suit of powered armor that is both what you think it does, as well as acts as a life support system. He's sort of what you get if Bane, the Batman villain from DC comics, had to wear an early suit of Iron Man (from Marvel Comics) armor. The combination is noted to make him, effectively, a walking tank in combat, and thus Muro's first choice when things like 'subtlety' and 'collateral damage' are not a concern.
His weapon is a Wave Motion Gun, effectively a super-charged particle beam that deals massive damage, and has a serious knock-down effect. There is also a secondary fire grenade launcher that I've used in previous playthroughs in years past, but I think AE patched that out as it was glitchy as all get out in the default game. The WMG is super heavy, as when you see Konoko pick it up, she has to use both hands on it, and is forced into her walking or 'stroll' animation to move around. No jumping or sliding for her.
The WMG has two aspects to it, that aside from Konoko's mobility limitations, make it a poor long-term weapon. First, unlike other guns, the WMG has no ammo counter, and cannot be reloaded. You have no idea how many shots you have left, and no way to add more. Yet, Barabus can reload the gun, as a form of 'hidden' action. The other concern is that you have no clear idea of where you have to stand to pick it up. Your best bet is at the front of the gun's stock, just behind the trigger. Of course, the AI has no such problems, though only Barabas' AI will even try. If you take this gun to other fights, the enemy AI won't touch it.
And because of these facts, this is the first place in the game where the players are really shown the fact that Konoko is super-human. Sure, the Overpower effect could just be an Anime thing, but Konoko can lift and carry a weapon normally mounted on actual tanks. And she can punch out a man in power armor and juiced up on steroids with her bare hands. It's not in your face, but when Barabus cuts and runs, he warns Muro that Konoko is there, "the one (he) couldn't take".
Remember last time, when I pointed out that a lot of Muro and Barabus' dynamic can be traced back to Muro punching out Barabus' lights? Well, so can Konoko. And that's going to affect her next encounters with both of them.
The boss fight itself is well designed. There's a couple of Hypos lying around, plus a reload for the pistol as well as a Plasma Rifle and a reload for that if you search around. But the real draw is the outright brawl you can get into.
Barabus starts the fight equipped with the WMG, and will pull the trigger the instant the player gains control of Konoko. Thanks to the proceeding cutscene, they know what to expect, and they can react accordingly.
Curiously, the best way to fight Barabus is to dodge his shots, and punch or kick him. But never stagger him, and never cause him to drop his gun. This prevents him from doing most melee attacks - he, like Konoko can still deliver a single kick while holding the WMG - but he loses the ability to punch or to throw Konoko. There is a reason why I called the Punch-Punch combo the most broken thing in the game.
However, that's boring, and when Barabus loses his weapon, his AI shifts gears accordingly. He stops being more cautious in his movements, and starts to more aggressively maneuver and attack. His strikes are hard to read, but you should be able to weather them.
He's a big fan of dodgerolling, and in the video I posted above, his first move in my fight after I disarm him, is to roll into picking up his gun. Of course, I lariat him in response, but that's part of exploiting his AI. Seriously, let him go for his gun, pick it up, then hit him when he can't hit you back. He will also dodge-roll while carrying the gun, which can cause the model to clip through the ground.
He also has a two or three hit punch combo, though the second hit is something you might not see unless you're in his face. It's more like a short-elbow than a punch. His kicks are nothing to write home about, but you have to be careful about them when he's holding the WMG, because as I said earlier, they're his only melee at that point.
Barabus has two throws, one where he picks up Konoko and delivers a haymaker to the face, where the other has him pick her up, spin around and throw her away. Unlike many other throws in the game, while these do plenty of damage on their own, their real purpose is to make space. Barabus throws you away from him, giving him a chance to either go for the WMG, or start one of his super moves.
Speaking of, Barabus' two super moves are very much unrelated to each other, but you will learn to watch out for one more than the other. "EARTHQUAKER!" is your run of the mill Area-of-Effect shockwave attack that has shown up a thousand times since. There's nothing unique about this, save the warning he gives might be enough time for you to dodge roll or jump out of the way.
I'll let you know when I get that down right.
The other is "STRONGER AND STRONGER!" and is the real pain for his fight. Barabus is fully capable of regenerating health, and while it won't put him back into the green, it will reliably take him out of red and into orange. If he hits yellow, you screwed up. But while he stands still and has fancy particle effects to show he's healing, the real trouble with this ability is that Barabus can cancel out of it to attack you. In my video, you can actually see him regenerate, and as I close to punch him out of it, he stops to kick me in the face.
At the end, though, he does escape. We'll see him again soon enough.
Barabus is a fun and challenging fight, coming early enough in the game that he is something of a wall for players who aren't used to his behaviors. But once you do have a handle on him, he is an opponent that you can happily beat on for longer than many other foes.
But speaking of behavior, I drew attention to the odd case of him jogging backwards when headed for his gun. This is not unique to him as I've seen it with other enemies in other levels. At first, I thought it was some sort of error with his AI when it pathed to pick up his gun, as that was where I saw a repeat of it later on. My theory was that his AI went "Pick up the gun, shoot the player", and the AI got the necessary order of operations wrong. Rather than running to the gun, then turning to face Konoko to shoot, the AI first turned to face the direction it would need to be in to shoot Konoko, then moved to the gun at best speed. But because now they had to move sideways or backwards, they couldn't fully run, leading to what you see here.
However, in a video I recently subtitled, I saw this same behavior from an enemy with no gun or Konoko nearby. Which kinda scratched my theory, leaving just as confused as before, if not more so.
But enough about Barabus! He's fun, brutal, and he can turn the fight on you in a heartbeat if or when something goes wrong. I like it!
Moving on, the level itself.
I already talked about the first two instances of triple-locked doors, so let's go for another high-point of the level, if not the game. The cutscene in the tower. Konoko has fought her way up there, released the locks and has defeated the last enemy in her way. But from down below, she hears her allies needing help. The suicide bomber has activated his vest, and is ready to kill them both.
So she throws the bomber out the tower, using him to kill the Syndicate holding the Lobby.
It's a perfectly scripted, perfectly executed scene that, despite being impossible as Konoko can't break glass with a throw, is still probably the best scene in the game.
In fact, it was so good, so perfect, that it was recycled in a later game. Don't believe me?
Here is Master Chief John-117, giving the Covenant back their bomb.
It's also this scene that prevents the player from taking the Wave Motion Gun through the whole level, as Konoko is scripted to unequip her weapon going into it, and you can't unequip/holster the WMG, so it simply gets dropped. This is a thing with the game's scenes, that Konoko will put her gun away for them, only to draw it when it is done, explaining her quick-draw at the start of this level and the previous one.
The Atrium/Lobby is a well-designed location, and having a running gun/fist fight up the stairs and around the walkways could make for a compelling set-piece. However, this space is broken up by the large areas to the left and right of the lobby, which contain the consoles to unlock the second triple locked door.
No, I'm not going to count the number of those I encounter. I'm an LPer, not crazy.
The days since last accident console isn't required to be read before the accident happens, but honestly, what the hell were those guys doing out there with the Syndicate shooting the place up, I have no clue.
But that last major room...
Look, I've LP'd the Descent series. I named that thread an OHSA violation (on the suggestion of a friend)! I recognize hazardous locations when I see it, and this? This was beyond hazardous. The lack of safety railings, like those found in the atrium/lobby, the open pit of glowing chemicals... what in god's name is going on here?
To cap it all off, the expected back from the unlock console to the last door is across the acid, jumping over the three platforms in the process. No. No. HELL NO. Platforming in this game is horrible. Combat? Excellent. Jumping puzzles? Not a chance. So I head back up, and slide down, taking a sliver of damage in the process because it beats the alternative.
And of course, Muro escapes at the last moment, his van not even a physical object in the game as my shot passed right through it. Don't worry, we'll catch up to him next level.
Also, how do you botch a skybox so badly you leave black-bars along the edges of your box?