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Muscle-zapping controller photo
Muscle-zapping controller

Goodbye rumble controller, hello electric shock

No pain, no gain
Feb 18
// Taylor Stein
The next stage of videogame evolution might take place where you least expect it: within your body. A team of German researchers have deviated from the traditional rumble-controller formula, instead embracing an entirely new ...

Co-op and horror don't work together in Dead Space 3

Feb 18 // Taylor Stein
With the admittance of co-op functionality within the horror genre, it begs the question, is it possible to produce an authentic fear-driven experience while playing a game with two players? How scary can a dark room, narrow hallway, or eerie mansion be when you've got a geared-up teammate watching your back? Many of the recent horror titles such as Resident Evil 6, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and Dead Space 3 have embraced the action-driven narrative, but adding co-op might just tip the scale in determining whether we're left with a true horror game or just another third-person-shooter. Let's take a trip down memory lane to explore how the videogames of old, the grandmasters of horror, were able to convey terror in the simplest of ways.The titles that put the horror genre on the map, Resident Evil and Silent Hill just to name a few, carved a unique space within the videogame gamut. Without the use of high-def visuals or stellar controls, the early horror installments were able to successfully embody the atmosphere of trepidation. Fear was derived from the fact that the odds were not often in your favor. Fighting a deformed nightmare monster with a baseball bat almost always ended in getting your ass kicked. Run out of bullets? Kiss your sweet life goodbye.Survival was the overarching sentiment, not guns-a-blazing battle. With a combination of fixed camera angles, few health packs, invulnerable enemies and ineffective weaponry, terror tactics of the past were brought to fruition by making the player as vulnerable as possible. It wasn't about how many necromorphs or zombies you could kill, rather, how you could get from point A to point B without running into a giant monster that would instantly reduce you to a bloody pile of mush. Nowadays, it seems like people just like to shoot stuff. Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski shared similar concerns about the fate of the horror genre in his blog. Within the current gaming market, Bleszinski predicts that horror games will be unable to flourish; instead, he points to indie and PC titles as the next step for the genre. He states, "When we’re fully digital we’ll see more true horror games coming back. Look at Amnesia and Slenderman on PC."Action is one potential strike against the effectiveness of in-game apprehension, strike two and possibly the icing on the cake, is co-op. Gun battles and explosions are welcomed inclusions to any shooter, but it's arguably difficult to maintain the same level of nail-biting suspense or edge-of-your-seat anxiety when you're equipped with weapons galore and a buddy who is ready to lay any ferocious creatures to waste. Dead Space 3 is the most recent title to deviate from its single-player, nightmare entrenched roots. With a friend, players are able to explore the frozen wasteland of Tau Volantis and the decrepit remnants of derelict space vessels together. While two heads are definitely better than one, two guns make all the difference. Taking on a horde of necromorphs with an added set of autonomous weaponry highlights each room as a tactician's dream. Quelling waves of resistance is as easy as positioning your character relative to your squad mate to cover all avenues of attack. If an enemy unsuspectingly emerges from an overhead air duct, my partner has my back. While tag team monster annihilation is amazingly entertaining, the last thing I would describe the experience as, is frightful.The shift within the genre from perseverance to action, from defense to offense, was one that reflected the popularization of shooters within the gaming landscape. Horror developers are forced to adapt, and what we are left with, is an attempt to maintain the same level of suspense captured during the golden age of scary gaming, while providing room for the mechanics that represent the current trends within the mainstream industry. The reality is, the vision of crafting an insanely scary experience is often lost when combined with multiplayer features, over-the-top action, and shooting elements. The good news is, Dead Space 3 allows players to complete the campaign alone OR with a friend, so thrill-seekers have the option of pursuing the story in the scariest way possible. Unfortunately, minus a few jumps here and there, I haven't found the two-player gameplay to be the least bit intimidating on a horror level. The co-op functionality enhances the playability of the game by welcoming a shared experience between two players, yet it adds nothing to make the title more suspenseful or daring besides adding a bit of character back story via co-op side missions.  This is not a discussion about whether Dead Space 3 is a good or bad game, even though I quite enjoyed it personally. It's not a debate about which genre is better, action or horror. This article serves to ask a simple question, does combining action with the comforting appeal of 2-player support create an authentic horror experience?What is your impression of the complicated relationship between co-op and horror? If you played Dead Space 3 with a friend, did you find the game to be as nerve-wracking as the previous installments? Sound off in the comments below.
When co-op meets horror photo
Action plus co-op is fun, but scary? I'm not so sure
The room is dark, cold, and unusually calm. The once bare walkways are now riddled with blood and severed limbs. In the distance, a faint hum can be heard echoing throughout the metal encampment. Its repetition is a solid rem...

Roses and tears: 10 depressing videogame romances

Feb 14 // Taylor Stein
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – Big Boss and Eva Love can blossom anywhere. If the Metal Gear series has taught us anything (besides the usefulness of a cardboard box) it is that romance is especially prominent on the battlefield. Why would bullets, explosions, and a team of evil super soldiers deter one from indulging in a little affection? While Big Boss fought off Eva’s motive-driven advances, he was unable to resist her overt feminine charm indefinitely. After a romantic encounter complete with wine, a fireplace, and a bear skin rug, Eva skipped town, leaving the battle-hardened veteran heart-broken and empty handed. I guess Snake would've been better off sticking with his M1911A1. Final Fantasy 10 – Tidus and Yuna Ah, there’s nothing sweeter than teenage love. Combining raging hormones with the responsibility of saving a world tormented by perpetual death is certainly a unique formula for passion. During their pilgrimage to defeat the ever-returning nightmare Sin, Tidus and Yuna found romance as a convenient way to ignore the foreboding reality of their quest: Yuna’s death. Throughout a series of plot twists and extensive battles, players save Yuna from her sinister fate. Too bad the protagonist Tidus turns out to be from a dream world and disappears into a poof of nothingness. Dead Space – Isaac and Nicole The horror genre isn't ideal for heartfelt connections. The closest that scary games often get to featuring physicality is through a zombie bite to the neck. Too bad no one sent the memo to Isaac Clark. What started as a standard repair job on the intergalactic mining vessel the USG Ishimura, quickly turned into a terrifying test of survival among reanimated corpses and alien monsters. Did I mention that his girlfriend Nicole was stationed aboard the ship? I’m sure you know where this is going. Not only does the poor systems engineer discover that his girlfriend has been dead since before his arrival, he develops mental instability causing him to see visions of her, courtesy of an alien artifact. Thanks, Nicole, insanity is a perfect parting gift. Infamous - Cole and Trish There are very few actions in life that cannot be forgiven. Being held responsible for an explosion that wiped out a chunk of a city, killing thousands, would definitely be one of those unforgivable moments. Ever since The Blast, Cole's relationship with his girlfriend Trish took a turn for the worst. Blaming him for the death of her sister, Cole became a monster in her eyes. In an effort to win back her trust, the now super-powered hero went above and beyond to assist Trish and the citizens of Empire City. Just as affections were beginning to turn around, Trish was kidnapped, forcing Cole to make a difficult choice. Save the love of his life, or save a team of doctors; serve his personal desires or act on behalf of the greater good. Either way, Cole is pretty much screwed. Choose Trish and she spends her last dying breath describing how much she despises what Cole has become. Rescue the doctors and Trish praises his decision yet still dies from her injuries. Lose-lose situation is an understatement. Final Fantasy VII – Cloud and Aerith What does a spiky-haired soldier, an innocent flower girl , and a well-endowed bartender have in common? In the boring arena of reality, absolutely nothing. Within the fiction of videogames however, the trio arguably represent the most notable love triangle in the gaming world. Regardless of who the player chooses to pursue as a romantic interest, Aerith or Tifa, fate intervenes in the cruelest way possible. A scene of tranquility is instantly transformed into the epitome of shock, alarm, and terror. While praying at an alter, the silver-haired villain Sephiroth seemingly appears from the heavens and impales Aerith with his eight-foot-long Masamune. In an instant she is gone, collapsed in Cloud's arms. To hit the point home, Aerith's theme song begins to play in the background, and the reality that Final Fantasy VII actually had the audacity to kill off a main character halfway through the game, is fully realized. Mass Effect 3 – Commander Shepard and Romantic Partner Saving the galaxy from sentient machines may seem like a tall order, but after three installments of the Mass Effect series, it's pretty safe to say that Commander Shepard always finds a solution. Whether through diplomacy or a firefight, humanity's savior has proven to go above and beyond the call of duty. This applies both on and off the battlefield. Seducing a slew of men, women, and alien crew mates is all fine and good, but the end of the world has a way of offering a sobering reminder as to what is at stake. There will be no civilian life for Shepard and her partner; no white picket fence and no blue children. Ensuring the survival of the entire galaxy is not a job that one simply comes back from. All that can be said between the larger-than-life figure and her significant other is a somber goodbye before the true suicide mission commences. At the end of Mass Effect 3, the hero alone ventures into the depths of the Reaper operated Citadel. The first human Spectre is given a choice that will forever alter the course of the galaxy, to end the cycle of destruction that has continued in secret for millennia. Ultimately, Shepard's decision opens a new chapter for the galaxy, while putting an end to her own. Whether truly dead or not, Commander Shepard's closest squadmate is forced to hang her name on the Normandy SR2's memorial wall. In an act of remembrance signifying Shepard the soldier, the legend, and the human being.  Shadow of the Colossus – Wander and Mono Love has the power to transform a young man into a hero; a vigilant civilian into a seasoned warrior. In the case of Wander, the desire to revive his romantic interest Mono, inspires him to commit a laundry list of questionable choices. Stealing an ancient sword is risky yet understandable. Entering a forbidden land is yet another precarious decision. But following the instructions of an ominous, obviously evil, being is a step in the wrong direction. Whether due to naivety or injudiciousness, Wander proceeds to slay 16 enormous colossi in the hope that his new "ally" will reawaken the beloved maiden. Instead, the sinister lord Dormin possesses his body, transforming Wander into darkness incarnate. In the end, Mono successfully opens her eyes and returns to the land of the living. Wander, however, regresses to the age of an infant, marked with horns upon his head to signify a curse. As the only bridge connecting the forbidden land from the rest of the world falls, only Mono, altered Wander, and his trusty steed Agro remain. The two are together again, yet they are worlds apart. Alive but isolated in a land of danger and mystery. The Darkness - Jackie and Jenny Hit man with a heart of gold may seem like an oxymoron, but in the case of Jackie Estacado, the seemingly opposing identities are more than true. After the death of his parents at a young age, Jackie was sent off to an orphanage where he met the love of his life, Jenny Romano. Their childhood friendship blossomed into an adult romance; a relationship seemingly too good to be true. Unfortunately, Jackie's profession would be the factor to catalyze the sudden change from conjugal bliss to marital tragedy. On the eve of his 21st birthday, Jackie was targeted in an assassination attempt by his own organization due to fears that he was attempting to take over the Franchetti Family. In an effort to shake Jackie at his core, Don Uncle Paulie kidnaps Jenny and travels to the orphanage from their youth. Jackie arrives in a homecoming of sorts to witness his enemies berating Jenny. In a scene of absolute helplessness,  the Darkness seizes Jackie's body, preventing him from intervening as the Don raises his gun to Jenny's face. Boom. Jenny crumples to the floor and the antagonists escape. Even through suicide, Jackie is unable to find peace. The Darkness cannot live without its host, and thus he returns to the land of the living, forced to continue his existence as a pawn of the malevolent being. Gears of War 2 – Dom and Maria Battling for humanity’s survival against a horde of reptilian humanoids may seem like a challenging feat, but the steroid-pumped, macho men of Gears of War claim otherwise. Corporal Dominic “Dom” Santiago, one of the elite soldiers chosen to fight against the Locust, is forced to not only deal with the hardships of war, but also with an internal struggle fueled by the death of his children and disappearance of his wife Maria. When news is received about her whereabouts, Dom trudges through hordes of alien forces to her rescue. The good news is Dom finds his wife alive. The bad news is she is malnourished, scarred, and mentally broken from the torment of slave labor. In the ultimate display of love, Dom ends her suffering with a single bullet to the head. Damn. God of War – Kratos and Lysandra Kratos may be Sparta’s most prominent ladies man, boasting encounters with countless women and even the Goddess of Love, but he wasn’t always the king of promiscuity. Before the demigod was known to partake in threesomes with advanced button-pressing sequences, he was a devoted husband and father. In a desperate move during a losing battle, the Spartan devoted his allegiance to the god of war Ares in return for victory against enemy Barbarian tribes. Through a twist of fate fueled by Kratos’s thirst for power, he was tricked by Ares to raid a nearby village. Blinded by Ares' power,  Kratos slaughtered every man, woman, and child in the village, including his own wife Lysandra and child Calliope. If that wasn’t enough, Kratos was cursed by a village oracle, forcing him to forever wear the ashes of his dead family on his skin. From that day forward, Kratos became known as The Ghost of Sparta; and ever since then, God of War has represented one of the most depressing love stories in videogames. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- What is your favorite videogame romance? Have you ever felt moved or saddened by gaming love affairs gone wrong?
Sad videogame romances photo
Still think love conquers all?
Valentine’s Day inspires a variety of emotions. While love is in the air for many, cupid has more sinister plans for a select few. A poor Valentine's Day for an average person might include seeing a movie alone or a sol...

Top five ways for a gaming couple to bond

Feb 13 // Taylor Stein
1. Breakfast and controller in bed. Mornings often reflect the epitome of stress; a battle against the clock thrusting dreary souls out into the unforgiving cold, all under the guise of necessity. Often enacted as a daily skirmish against the alarm clock or a misguided affair with the snooze button, the essence of get-up-and-go is undoubtedly hard to come by. Perhaps the most gratifying gifts that one could offer would be to transform that frantic morning hustle into a relaxing videogame inspired reprieve? Breakfast in bed with a side of videogames represents the trifecta of happiness: comfort, relaxation, and entertainment. Wrapped in a bundle of absolute joy, no mortal could deny the pleasure of munching down scrambled eggs and toast, with controller in hand, and eyes fixed upon the TV screen. Grant your loved one the gift of game time, in the most absolutely wonderful way possible. 2. Complement your valentine's gaming hobby with a custom controller. There are a multitude of tools that we depend on in our work lives. Carpenters are reliant upon a trusty set of power tools, and a film crew would be lost without expensive recording equipment. For the average gamer, the necessary tool of the trade is none other than the controller. With a few analog sticks and a handful of buttons, a gamer is able to take charge of any situation. Commanded to defeat a dark overlord? Easy. Trusted to free an entire kingdom? No problem. How about saving a princess? I'd like to see a wrench do that. After years of button mashing, control-stick grinding, and perhaps a few rage-induced slams to the floor, the closest thing that many will get to holding a gun, sword, or magic lance often shows its age. Rather than replacing an old controller with a standard model, invest in a custom version and kick Valentine's Day up to epic levels. Personalize the device with your loved one's favorite colors, patterns, or decals, and you're sure to impress your beloved. Not to mention, with a gift like that, your partner will certainly be willing to share. 3. Make your partner a home cooked meal ... with videogame flair. In the words of famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, "There is no love more sincere than the love of food." Take out is great and fast food gets the job done, but there is undoubtedly something special about a dish prepared from scratch with the ultimate flavor enhancer, love. How does one describe the savory, unctuous delight of a home cooked meal? From first glance the senses explode in a frenzy; aromas envelop one's being as eyes lock on the gastronomical marvel. Mouth salivates, brain revs in anticipation, and stomach awaits a close encounter of the culinary kind. Successfully delivering a sensory explosion of this nature will easily earn you 100 bonus points with your significant other, but as a gamer, 100 measly points just isn't enough. We've explored every inch of Skyrim, unlocked ultimate weapons in the realm of Final Fantasy, and built impressive achievement and trophy lists while amassing loads of virtual gold, coins, and rupees. Going the extra mile is what we do. Add a videogame inspired food item to the party, and the real-life celebration will be complete. Show your sweetheart that you can get your Cooking Mama on while embracing the hobby that they hold dear. A little bit of creativity goes a long way, and a Pac-Man cupcake is sure to make this Valentine's Day memorable for all the right reasons. 4. Plan a special trip for the two of you ... to a videogame convention. Taking a trip with a romantic partner often signifies a noteworthy milestone in a couple's relationship. You trust your significant other enough to showcase your post-nighttime bed head, and they trust you enough to spend more than 24 hours by your side. Armed with the fluttery sentiments of love, an island getaway might be the first notion to enter your thoughts. Your sweetheart might thank you, but your wallet sure won't. How memorable can sunbathing really be anyway? It might be impossible to agree with that special someone over politics or religion, but if you're dating a gamer, videogames are always a sure bet. Skip the tropical oasis and buy two tickets to a gaming convention instead. You'll still be able to achieve a level of romance in between events and exhibits, while managing to satiate your partner's inner nerd, geek, or game enthusiast at the same time. Not to mention, couple cosplay is always an option. Master Chief and Cortana anyone? 5. Have a couple's night in, cuddle up, and play co-op together. When a couple must manage the rigors of daily life: school, work and kids, paired with a cultural emphasis on conspicuous consumption, it can become easy to forget that a relaxing night at home is not only an option, but a fun alternative to the constant flow of dinner outings and movie dates. The fast-paced lives that many of us lead can act as an uninvited buffer between two people actually enjoying each other's company. If there is one day to step up and break the mold of an archetypal weekday evening, it's on Valentine's Day. Instead of dealing with hassle-filled dinner reservations, spend the night at home with your special someone and bond over a shared hobby of videogames. Playing together might be a rare treat, making it all the more memorable when you can successfully devote an hour or two to Valentine's Day co-op. There's nothing quite like bonding over surviving a horde of zombies together in Dead Island, or tag-team chainsawing an enemy alien in Gears of War. Despite the probable gory subject matter of the games you'll be playing, don't make that an excuse not to cuddle together in the name of Cupid.  ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Diamonds might be a girl's best friend, but any gamer male or female can appreciate a gift that facilitates, encourages, and promotes their pastime of gaming. It is rare to be taken seriously as a gamer; we're instantly typified along a stringent line of negativity. With so much antagonism or simple misunderstanding within the general populace, having someone by your side who understands the thrill of saving Hyrule for the umpteenth time, is priceless. You might criticize Valentine's Day for being a commercial holiday or sulk at its arrival for other reasons, but if love and videogames could find a middle ground, maybe it would be worth giving a chance after all? Trust me, roses and chocolates get old fast. Why not break free from the traditional boring offerings and give your significant other something that they'd really enjoy this Valentine's day? [Images courtesy of Bitmob, Rolf Venema, Vox Efx, Echo.Plexus, Game Set Watch, and Feast of Fiction.]
Tips for gaming couples photo
Romance AND videogames? Heck yes.
Taylor is an avid gamer, sushi lover, and overall nerd. After founding two gaming-related sites of her own, she went on to intern with G4, and can now be found across the interwebs writing about videogames of all kinds. At le...

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