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REVIEW: The Brink of a Genre, Worth Exploring

Stretching The Edges of a Genre

Brink was developed by Splash Damage and published by Bethesda Softworks for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC. It was directed by Paul Wedgewood, Richard Ham, Olivier Leonardi, Chris Sweetman, Arnout van Meer, Richard Jolly and Stephen Gaffney. The Xbox360 copy was played for the purpose of this review following the day one patch released from developer Splash Damage.

Innovation rarely produces perfection, but it always brings something new to the table. Something on the brink of existing standards, stretching old rules with the new ideas it brings forward. Flipping on Brink for the first time, and watching it’s lengthy tutorial videos (10-30 minutes), you get the immediate sense that you are playing an ambitious shooter. Four classes, directly interdependent with one another, three distinct body types, and a plethora of weapons and abilities help shape the battlefield of Brink in a way that is rarely seen in this generation’s “run ‘n’ gun, lone-wolf” brand of first-person shooters. Brink’s team centric, objective-based battles are laden with a variety of fun opportunities, but they are also fraught with technical issues that will leave those with slow internet connections as well as eye-candy junkies disappointed. Visual issues frequently result in constant texture pop-in and online lag often interrupts the fast-paced flow of combat. Problems with the bot’s artificial intelligence in Brink can also be downright infuriating. There, is without a doubt, mountains of lasting fun to be had with Brink, however with all it’s innovation aside, it falls short of perfection.

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Disembodied

So! We have that one thing we call the Omnitopic (which you should all enter, because there are prizes!) going on here at Nightmare Mode, and…this would be the first entry. But Patricia, you might ask, what in the world does this have to do with difficulty? Why, I speak about my difficulty adjusting to PC gaming, of course!

Rumble. It’s a feature I never knew I appreciated until I acquired my first gaming PC last February. Since then, I’ve been spending more and more time playing games on it than my consoles, and, despite enjoying the many benefits of PC gaming–lower price points, better graphics, etc–there’s something that’s been nagging me this entire time. Something unspeakably eerie to me about standard (ie, normal mouse + keyboard) PC gaming experience.

It feels disembodied.

Hell, I’d go so far as to say that it feels downright unnatural. I can’t feel anything, my ‘body’ is denied legibility. I can’t situate myself. Where before sticking to cover produced a dull thud; where every step before jumping off a ledge was palpable; where sliding down a mountain produced an earthy rasp; now, there is nothing but nothingness itself.

In its place was this cold efficiency that the prosthesis of a mouse and keyboard provide, the result of taking my body out-of-the-way. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The future that we see in science fiction points to the same thing. The age of protein-based life forms is ending, to be replaced by silicon-based forms; that human consciousness can, hopefully, be downloaded onto a computer; that the humanity and subjectivity is the mind and not the body; that if our essence can be transported into the digital space, as it often is, that perhaps we can become immortal.

And yet, if there if there is anything which is inherently “natural” about the human being it is his body. We experience everything we do in the way that we do precisely because we are embodied beings.

Yes, PC gaming isn’t completely disembodied–I can see, I can hear. But the most basic thing to me, the thing that bridges a gap between myself and the game–the visceral ability to feel–is currently missing.

The Weight of Definition: Balloon Diaspora

Balloon Diaspora is a funny little game that’s weighed heavily on me since I’ve played it. It is ethereal and wonderful like a leaf blowing in through an open window in fall, but at its core it asks a powerful question: how do we define ourselves, and how do we define others?

In nearly every video game, we are defined, like it or not, as questioners. We are eternally detectives, divining information about other parties, developing concrete entities the developer places in the game world, but never developed ourselves. We exist to probe the depths of others’ consciousnesses, to expose their deepest secrets. It’s a joke that in all the big name RPGs that everyone somehow, miraculously, trusts you enough to reveal things they’ve never told others, because otherwise these characters would be reserved and shallow. As it is, it is exploitative. If they didn’t talk to you, then what would they be besides walking clichés? When they talk, they become something more, but they become characters lesser than you.

Balloon Diaspora, an independent adventure game developed by Cardboard Computer (who we’ve talked about before within these very walls!), makes us ask a different question: what if others were the questioners? What if individuals asked questions of us, asked us to define ourselves as well as they were defined, and asked us to play a role in the story? Not a superficial, “pick X to stab the man, pick Y to lay his wife, pick Z to steal his money” choice, but rather a deep, meaningful definitive choice?

What would the world be like if you could invent it?
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The Golden Age of Trailers

The Dead Island Trailer has some company for best trailer released this year.

Seriously, I don’t love Magicka. In fact, I don’t think I even liked it very much. And when a company can put together a trailer for an expansion to a game I don’t like that makes me want to give them money to expand it, that is saying something.

Christ.

Wacky trail of the day: Kentucky Route Zero

We missed the boat on this extremely hard, but Kentucky Route Zero is a game being made by Cardboard Computer who apparently made games I’ve either not heard of or meant to play in the past.

In any case, this is one of the better trailers I’ve seen recently (up there, but not exceeding, Dead Island), and it’s made me put an eye on the title. And play their previous titles. We’re too late to even post a link to the kickstarter page that was funding the game. Man, I’m pretty useless, aren’t I?

But whatever. It’s a cool trailer, and begs the question: why not more games with America influences? Why not?

MASS EFFECT 2 – Review

MASS EFFECT 2 is a videogame developed by BioWare, published by Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by CASEY HUDSON.

Isn’t it weird? We have written 28 (TWENTY EIGHT!) articles about Mass Effect 2, but not a single tiny review? It’s time we corrected that.

So! Although I knew it from the start that liked Mass Effect 2 a lot, it took me some time to figure out exactly why I liked it. I knew what I disliked in it, though. I also knew it was a near great game; basically, for the same reasons ActRaiser was a near great game: the game’s main mechanism had to be diluted in order to hide its flaws.

I’ve only became aware of where the greatness of Mass Effect 2 laid after examining Mass Effect 1. The original Mass Effect tried to play it as much as a new IP could possibly do, for it was, at the end of the day, essentially Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (or KotOR – also developed by BioWare) sans the “Star Wars” part. The plot structure, the moral choices, the items, allies and quest mechanisms surrounding the adventure of the newest Jedi of A Galaxy Far Far Away were all basically the same stuff we would relive during the tale of the first human “Spectre” agent of Mass Effect’s Citadel Council. Stuff like these usually leave me raging mad – after all, if I wanted to play that same game again I would… play the same game again! (Coming up next… our merry review for Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood!)

Despite that, Mass Effect did manage to deviate from the mold, and during those times it shone – even if such deviations were eventually unpolished. Most importantly, instead of the tired old Light vs. Dark Side bickering involving lightsabers, furries and that same old desert planet that appears to be omnipresent despite being “the planet that it’s farthest the bright center to the universe”, we have a whole new – and incredibly fleshed-out – galactic lore involving xenophobia, the revolt of technology, the frustrating shackles of official regulations versus the abuse and the calamities caused by unregulated environments, all tied up in a neat bundle rich with background details.

It’s from this new, fresh universe that the greatness of the Mass Effect franchise emanates. It’s that mythos that elevated what would otherwise be a trite conflict involving Commander Shepard, the new sheriff in town, and Saren Arterius, a veteran Spectre agent from an alien race whose role is pretty much to serve as proxy Klingons, into something whose meaning and consequences we cared about. Read the rest of this entry

Review: Atom Zombie Smasher

Few games are funny. Humor is a difficult card to play in a video game. Yes, good writing can help, but in the end it can only pull so much; eventually, the gameplay needs to back up the zaniness of the product; this is something most game developers have a hard time understanding.

Blendo Games’ previous titles, Flotilla and Air Forte, mostly achieved this. They had the writing and the punch lines to make you smile, but not quite the delivery. Not to say they were bad: Flotilla was one of my favorites of last year, a perfect coffee break game that hit all the right notes. It was a good game, but the writing had to carry a lot of the comedy. There was disconnect between it and the gameplay–the world was ludicrous, but the situation you were in smacked more of desperation than insanity.

And now we enter Atom Zombie Smasher, a game that is hilarious and features the gameplay to completely back it up. It is a stunner, a great game that presses every button, even the big red one that says “Do Not Use”.
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Amnesia a good memory for Frictional

I love indies, especially indies who put out super high quality, retail type experiences, but I can’t play horror games. This has made me something of a cheerleader for Frictional Games, whose Amnesia: The Dark Descent was, by many accounts, one of the best games released last year that I absolutely couldn’t play. This hasn’t stopped me from encouraging others to buy it, and enjoying fantastic videos like the one above. To quote one of my friends, who deals with horror so I don’t have to, Frictional make “the only genuinely frightening games available.” Trust him, he is a doctor, and has seen pretty much every horror film in the world. They make good games, those guys. I bet they’re even good guys.

So it does my heart good when I read things like this, which says that Amnesia has sold over 200,000 copies. While that doesn’t seem like a major success compared to console blockbusters, it’s quite a bit, as their blog post explains. Without a publisher collecting on an advance and then taking 75% of royalties from each sale, a developer can succeed quite comfortably selling 200K units, especially with a small team (whereas, if a game that required 50 people and had a publisher sold that many, they’d be up shit creek without a paddle).

No word on what sort of terrible horror that I will never, ever play they will release on the world, but I bet it’ll be a good one. And guys, one day, make something that won’t scare the pants off of me, so I can play your brilliant games. Thanks.

‘Eventual’ Console Version of The Witcher 2 Kept In Mind By Designers

As of right now, though there is no concrete announcement of The Witcher 2, console gamers shouldn’t lose hope. CD Projekt RED’s upcoming RPG title may be developing for PC, they’re designing the game in such a way that a console version would not require too much reconstruction of the game’s systems according to GameBanshee. Senior Producer Tomasz Gop has stated the following in regards to a console version of The Witcher 2:

“We want to make Witcher 2 on current generation consoles, but there is no point in saying “yes” or “no”, if you don’t have something concrete [to show]. Simultaneous release [of PC and console wersion] is impossible. We will do out best, but you will have to wait for specifics.

We designed the game in that way, that eventual console wersion of Witcher 2 won’t force us to change the interface, redesign the gameplay, controls and so on. We attempted to [project the game in that way] that making a console version would be really easy for us.”

And why would you be interested in the Witcher, fellow console gamers? I could tell you, but it’s easier for you to just watch this video showcasing all the neat things The Witcher 2 will allow players to do–choice is paramount.

 

 

BIONIC COMMANDO (2009) – Review

BIONIC COMMANDO is a videogame developed by GRIN, published by Capcom for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. The Xbox 360 version was played for the purpose of this review. It was directed by ULF ANDERSSON.

I really don’t get the logic behind remakes. Usually, when a remake is made, it is for a game that was already a success and almost hasn’t aged. In other words, remakes are made for games that simply do not need to be remade! Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we only remake games that could use a second chance? Games with a cool concept and a terrible execution, like Geist, or games that were good back then but aged badly, like Metroid II: Return of Samus and Final Fantasy VII? These are the types of games that deserved to be remade.

Bionic Commando (2009) is one of such games. Between remakes and adaptations, the original Bionic Commando, published in 1987 for the Arcades and 1988 for the NES, was already released at least 3 times, the latest one being Bionic Commando Rearmed, which is, incidentally, not only very good but also the prequel to the 2009 game. Therefore, it is with some irony that I ask for the remake of the only direct sequel this game ever got in 21 years.

This is because if there is a game that deserves a second chance, this is it. Bionic Commando is schlock, and shouldn’t be. Beyond all its layers of mediocrity and straight up stupidity, there is a solid, fun and engaging concept of swinging-slash-combat. It’s like a muffin with a huge stump and a tiny, tiny top. Read the rest of this entry