Monthly Archives: September 2010

I hate zombies

I’m done. I quit.

When Dead Rising came out, zombies were a cool but slightly overused phenomenon, a fantastic enemy who allowed for the creation of a lot of interesting game types. Making a zombie game out of personal favorite RPG Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter (the obvious, overlooked inspiration for Dead Rising) seemed to open a lot of possibilities. Following that were Left 4 Dead and Plants vs. Zombies, two interesting takes on zombies that took their positivie traits (the slow, shambling nature, the overwhelming nature) and combined them with other good ideas. Plants vs. Zombies built on the overwhelming invasion idea, while Left 4 Dead took them and made a cooperative, “hey guys let’s survive the apocalypse” experience out of them.

Then Call of Duty happened. I’m going to blame Call of Duty: World at War for everything in the world being wrong. World at War took a good game and appended zombies to it, for the sole purpose of being memorable. No innovations, no good ideas, just…hey guys, look! Fucking zombies.

And now they’re everywhere. They’re taking formerly respectable franchises and turning them into zombie apocalypse titles (Yakuza). They’re invading DLC of proud franchises, and shitting all over them. Most damningly, we have Red Dead Redemption, a fairly serious western, now having…zombies. Why? Because zombies! Zombies sell! Focus groups like zombies.

I’m done. I’m done. The presence of zombies, those once exciting enemies, is now a deal breaker to me. I can’t take them. This is worse than World War 2 shooters four years ago, because at least then you didn’t have every fucking game with Hitler plastered on the walls. Now, you have to look to find a franchise that doesn’t have zombies.

And I’m sick of them. I’m really, truly sick of them.

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

For those who haven’t been paying attention, the city of Siena, Italy wasn’t all that happy about their flags being on display without permission in Gran Turismo 5’s Piazza del Campo track – a virtual recreation of the famous square located within the city. Thus threatened to take legal action against Sony and Polyphony Digital because of it.

The matter has since been resolved, with Polyphony removing the flags from the course entirely, but it would seem Kazunori and team are having the last laugh. Publicity surrounding the controversy has piqued local interest in the game and Sony has seen an increase in preorders as a result, with the city’s citizens wanting to get their hands on the location’s virtual counterpart. It would seem the age old moniker about publicity still holds true. Footage of the “infamous” flags can be seen in the video below:

Enslaved Odyssey to the West Demo Impressions

Perhaps it’s the conditioning set by previous post apocalyptic titles–which favor dull gray and brown blooms–but the world presented to me in Enslaved seems deliciously alien. Make no mistake, the world has ended here–but nature has taken its course too, like it invariably always does. In case you didn’t know, the setting of Enslaved is Earth…after most humankind has been eradicated. And, as a result, there are few humans left to fuck around with anything. There are, however, robots roaming the land with bygone military orders to eliminate humans.

This idea was not immediately apparent, because of a tutorial that overstayed its welcome. Admittedly, this ‘tutorial’ almost turned me off from the game completely: is the strength of the design so shoddy that Ninja Theory felt the need to tell me that I should jump with A from one ledge to the other? Did I really need to be tested on that concept for ten minutes? Learning how to play is important, but not as important for getting an overall feel for the game, no? The focus on the basics seemed out of place in a product meant to sell me on the game–and if there’s one thing this game has going for it, it’s the atmosphere and narrative.

And, that’s the clincher. I did not feel swooned by Enslaved for the majority of the demo, since it seemed more concerned with taking care of a chore than it did with showing me what it was really all about.

Other minor gripes came with noticing the lack of ‘weight’ felt when the protagonist starts undertaking treacherous platforming. He’s a big guy…shouldn’t I feel some minor weight shift? The character on the screen performed amazing vaults and tricks, but honestly, I didn’t believe it. How could I? I didn’t feel it. That wasn’t me. It was a disembodied experience which took a liking to acknowledging the dichotomy between the avatar on screen and the person sitting in a room controlling it. I was aware of my controller prosthetic, and that makes for a jarring experience.

I wasn’t impressed, to say the least…until Ninja Theory decided to take the gloves off for the last couple of minutes of the demo. Suddenly, I was catching glimpses of the world around me, took notice of the underutilized aesthetic. Lush, lush greens and brighter palettes as far as the eye can see. Make no mistake about it: reviews will be making many comparisons to Uncharted because of this.

The similarities go beyond the aesthetic, though…the platforming is extremely reminiscent of Uncharted, too. Platforming design felt tight and engrossing, despite being heavily directed: there’s only one way to go. In the last minute or so of the demo, the protagonist vaults across a large airborne structure in an attempt to save his life before the vehicle hits a skyscraper. Suddenly the platforming becomes less of a chore and more of a fast paced cinematic adventure. Some people claim that they didn’t realize they could move around during cutscenes in Uncharted, but something like that didn’t happen to me until I played Enslaved. The first time the game showed me that the aircraft was about to hit the skyscraper, I thought that it was just a cinematic. Imagine my surprise when the game tells me I’ve died–I had no idea I was supposed to be playing that entire time! The best part about that is, the game promises to showcase things usually reserved for QTEs–things that are cool, if you were capable of focusing on the action and not on the buttons you’re supposed to be pressing. Also like Uncharted! During these sequences, I could just…feel it. They weren’t there to lacklusterly drive a point home, like the tutorial was, they there were there to be played, to get lost in.

These last few minutes of Enslaved alone were impressive enough to put the title on my radar. You should definitely check out the demo on PSN or XBL and give it a whirl yourself. Until then, treat yourself to this trailer:

No Excuses: Planescape Torment released on Good Old Games

Unless you live under a gaming rock (or are one of them console only folks), you know Good Old Games shut down for a week last week. Many felt they were dead, and it stirred up all the existential scares created in the modern PC market, where one day we will be unable to play our hard-bought games on modern computers. Bad taste or no, as a marketing campaign it managed to get Good Old Games a lot of press, and not just from fanatical devotees like yours truly.

When they relaunched with Baldur’s Gate as a leadoff title, we all knew what was coming. Six Atari-Hasbro titles, which meant six D&D properties. Which meant, eventually, Planescape: Torment.

Unfortunately, now is not the time to write about what I would call possibly the best game of all time. At the moment I am currently plowing through the history of the Infinity Engine (expect a piece on Baldur’s Gate shortly, followed by the other games), and, alas, I am not yet at that pinnacle of storytelling, Planescape: Torment. All I can offer you is a retrospective over on Rock, Paper, Shotgun written by Kieron Gillen, a promise of a future retrospective that is less focused on the game and rather on its importance, and the fact that my release day foldout four disc set is sitting in a place of honor on my dresser.

If you haven’t played it, you owe it to yourself to. In terms of narrative, especially narrative native to a video game, no game has done it better. And now you have no excuse not to play it.

Explodemon: Not a new Pokemon

There are games I wouldn’t know about except for the lovely folks at the IndieGames blog. Explodemon is one of them. An 2.5D platformer coming to PSN this year (hopefully), it’s endured something of a complicated development history. Not least because the very day it was officially announced, ‘Splosion Man was announced.

You know, that kind of horrible, soul crunching coincidental stuff. Which is disappointing, because really, once you strip away the fact that they both explode to jump, there’s really little similarity. ‘Splosion Man was all science and western games. Explodemon is very much a parody of 1990’s Japanese platformers like Mega Man, Pulseman, and other games with man in them. And, from watching the trailer, it looks fantastic. As much as I liked ‘Splosion Man, I wondered what it would look like with that sharp, stylized Japanese edge, and if it were…tighter. Denser. And this looks like it will fulfill that niche.

Playstation Network, in the Winter. I won’t say I recommend it, because I haven’t played it, but I will say that I’m keeping an eye on it, even in a holiday season crammed with platformers.

Mercenaries should all wear Ponytails

I hope Tom forgives me for pushing this Just Gamers post down, but I couldn’t resist commenting about something I’ve noticed in Metroid: Other M. Initially, I wanted to save the comment for some future review, but frankly, who knows when I’m ever going to put my hands on that game .

If there is one thing that bothers me about games in particular is when functionality is dropped for the sake of a possibly interesting design. I’ve always been an advocate of the opposite: that form should follow function. Even if the form in question is Mario’s cap and its function is merely to give Miyamoto an excuse not to draw hair with pixels.

So, I was trying to find something interesting at Kotaku today (and it wasn’t easy) when I came across the picture of Samus used in the Japanese box art.

That’s so stupid, I thought. Samus shouldn’t use her hair inside her helmet like that: it might go into her eyes in a critical battle or something. It’s dangerous! A skilled mercenary should know better. Read the rest of this entry

Just Gamers

The crucial conversation of this generation of games is not whether games are art, but rather whether we, the games journalist, should be reviewer or critic. The most recent catalyst of this crucial discussion is (http://g4tv.com/games/wii/61992/Metroid-Other-M/review/) this review of Metroid: Other M, which criticizes the game not so much for its technical aspects, but rather for its story and its portrayal of characters.

This raised an internet shitstorm, much like Jim Sterling of Destructoid’s various reviews do (like the 4 he gave to Final Fantasy XIII): instead of objective, “the graphics are shit, but the game is well paced” criticism, a games journalist dared to offer an opinion on the quality of the game. They offered a subjective experience of the game, how they saw the story’s themes working, and got a thousand plus hateful comments from people for it.

What was in these comments? Tucked away inside folds of misogyny and personal insults, there was one running theme: it’s just a game, so how can themes matter? Why should we interpret characters when the developer does it for us? That the only purpose of games, the only criteria they can be judged on, is fun.

This is immediately ironic, because fun is subjective in and of itself. I hate roller coasters. I’d rather read about sports than go on a roller coaster. In fact, I find reading about sports quite fun. One cannot define ‘fun’ in a way that is not subjective. Commentary on things besides technical aspects and “fun factor” bring accusations of unprofessionalism and attempts at rationalization from the game’s fans who can’t stand anyone in the world not loving their precious video game.

There’s also the (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/writersroom/8050-Writer-s-Room-Mafia-II-is-Not-a-Game_) interesting case of Mafia II, which has gotten wildly varying reviews. Some people claim it to be the true evolution of the interactive medium, while others vilify it for not being interactive enough, not being “fun” enough. There’s that dangerous qualifier again.

Video games, I have long said, will not truly be art until we treat them like art. Sure, it’s great to talk about a game like Ico being art. That’s not the hard part. You can make art out of anything; if modern theories of art has taught us well, it’s that if you try hard enough, any object or concept can be art. Making a video game into art is no different than making a box fan into art: if you try hard enough, both can be emotionally effecting.
Read the rest of this entry

BIOSHOCK 2 – Review

BIOSHOCK 2 is a videogame developed by 2K Marin and published by 2K Games for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by JORDAN THOMAS.

If a singular aspect, alone, can propel a game to greatness, than perhaps the original Bioshock was that game. The game’s opening piece, with an airplane crashing near a towering lighthouse in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and its now famous plot twist are still some of my favorite gaming moments of all times. Games like that don’t need sequels. Especially when their creative director declares they had already fulfilled their vision and moved on to other projects. However, it is not some director’s vision that moves the world of games around. It’s money; and it’s naïve to assume otherwise. So Bioshock 2 was born. An unnecessary sequel. But an unnecessary sequel isn’t a bad thing by itself, mind you – as proved Godfather Part II.

Still, I was skeptical about Bioshock 2 even though the new creative director was the guy in charge of everyone’s (but Tom) favorite area of the original: Fort Frolic. In the end, I was right to be skeptical for Bioshock 2 is schlock whose main achievement is to ease our nostalgia of the underwater city of Rapture.

I actually stopped for a while before deeming the game as schlock. Was I being too harsh? Especially saying that New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW) was good game despite adding nothing to the Mario canon? Here I realized my own bias of rating sequels: I demand more from sequels of games I loved than from games I disliked. After all, you rate things based on your expectation, which are determined by the original game. Looking back, this thought is consistent to my actions: I absolutely loved Super Mario Sunshine (sorry, Tom) and despised its sequel (sorry again, Tom), Super Mario Galaxy (to which NSMBW is also a sequel). So, for all intents and purposes, that’s why I believe I’m being just with Bioshock 2 in my evaluation.

The biggest problem of Bioshock 2 is that it never justified its existence. It has no raison d’être. In an interview with Jordan Thomas, the man stated he wanted to use the sequel to provide contrast to the schools of thought presented in the first game, “a new way of thinking and hopefully take it to a similar extreme”. By playing the game, I could see that he tried, but his vision never came close to being fulfilled. In the end, Bioshock 2 improves its shooting mechanics and little else. It learned nothing from the original game’s mistakes, its narrative themes are never fully realized (or even consistent with the ones from the previous game for that matter) and the missions demanded from the gamer are never satisfactorily justified, thus breaking the immersion.

Despite all that, Bioshock 2 is usually able to conserve the same atmosphere of the first game (but not always). Combat mechanisms are also better and new types of enemies helped making this game perceptibly harder. So, considering it improved the gameplay and keeps the atmosphere of the first game intact, shouldn’t I be more forgiving with the game then? Read the rest of this entry

Final Fantasy XIV Trailer from TGS 2010: Orgy of Wow

Setting aside personal opinions regarding the last handful of titles in the Final Fantasy series as well as the direction the series has taken since the Square-Enix merger, I boldly endorse Final Fantasy XIV.  The second incarnation of an FFMMO is upon us. And god damn, if the opening cinematic doesn’t make the Final Fantasy girl inside you scream with delight, there may be something clinically wrong with you.

The typical fruity colours and lame-looking character models of FFXIII, XII, and X are gone, featuring instead a much more medieval style art direction. Gone as well are the gimmicky features of recent characters. In other words, Final Fantasy has finally grown up.

Here’s to hoping this kind of art direction to take precedence in the next single player title in the franchise.

The game will be out at the end of this month exclusively for PS3 and PC.

Demon’s Souls 2 is Project Dark

It’ll just have a different name because it’s on the 360 as well.

Sure, it’s nominally called Project Dark at the moment. But look at that trailer. Look at it. That’s totally Demon’s Souls. Claustrophobic darkness, blocking instead of a badass dude stabbing someone, a giant horrible teeth monster, a dragon straight out of 1-1, and armor designs that are exactly the same. From the same company, and the same director.

It’s Demon’s Souls 2, and possibly the most important game of the past five years has a well-deserved “sequel”, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Yes, I would say it is possibly more important than Bioshock, though I’ll definitely take the debate on that. And yes, I realize a sequel could be terrible, but I’ve got high hopes.