Well, like clockwork the change of seasons brought the usual throat infection, and like clockwork the entirety of the Alice: Madness Returns review's comments consisted of people talking about how I sounded different. Remind me to ask for that to be a banning offense if it goes past the first page. Well, if you're not willing to discuss anything important, I'd better do it here.
I took up Madness Returns on its offer and downloaded the original Alice for a waltz down memory lane. I still think it's a better game than the sequel. The environments are packed with detail, characters and imagination, and it feels a hell of a lot less padded. But that said, the weapons really are as horrible as I remembered. Enemies don't even seem to react to being stabbed, most of the projectiles you can launch are so small and dark that they get lost in the murk of the graphics (what with everything being so dark and edgy and everything) and the sounds they make are pathetic and get lost in the ambience. It's like a crash course in how-not-to-do-it.
Madness Returns does show an improvement in this area, especially with the pepper mill weapon. It hits with a satisfying thud and big red splashes appear on enemies if they cause damage, white splashes if they don't. I ended up using it a lot more than the allegedly more powerful teapot cannon because that had an obnoxious firing delay and enemies didn't seem at all put out by the hits.
So what is it that makes a good weapon? It's not enough for a weapon to merely be effective - it has to feel effective, too. A game with dissatisfying or ineffective-feeling weapons carries a heavy flaw, because firing your gun is the one thing you're going to do more than anything else.
In my frequent championing of balls-out fun-shooter Painkiller I've often made the point that part of the game's effectiveness is that the weapons are basically fun to use. The mere act of firing them gives a slightly Freudian sense of satisfaction. The weapon I've frequently been quoted on is the Electrodriver, the gun that shoots shurikens and lightning, but really I only focussed on that one because it sounds the funniest on paper. Truth is, the shurikens feel a wee bit flimsy. My favourite weapon in the game is the stake launcher, which sounds a hell of a lot less interesting. How can lumps of wood compare to shurikens? Well, it's the 'plunk' of the launch, the obvious recoil, the way it ploughs straight through an enemy's midriff, hurls him off his feet and nails him to a wall like a tummy Christ.
A lot of it's in the sound. Another weapon I like is the shortbow from the Thief series, and that's all about aural pleasure. The creak of tightening wood and bowstring right beside your ear, the THWOOSH of release, and then the impact. The satisfying fleshy sound that signals a direct hit, the less satisfying but still encouraging hollow boioioing if the arrow hits wood (and can be recovered), or the heartbreaking clatter of an arrow shattering against stone like a premature ejaculation. Then there's the double-barreled shotgun from Doom 2 - no-one within your entire household could be of any doubt that it's been fired because it sounds like God slamming a door on his fingers. Compare that to, say, the sawn-off shotgun from Blood, which feels like it's blasting puffs of talcum powder.