Music has been a part of gaming history almost since its inception. There are few out there who can't at least hum the opening bars of Super Mario Bros. main theme and most would at least recognize the intro to Sonic the Hedgehog or the crystal theme to any of the Final Fantasy games. Music, or the lack of it, can set the tone of the entire experience.
A horror game might place the protagonist in a silent, darkened hallway where only the sounds of his footsteps and labored breathing can be heard, creating an atmosphere of being completely alone. A knocked over paint can followed by an unintelligible chattering can cause the paranoia of being watched set in without having to show anything at all.
Licensed music can have the same effect as original efforts if done properly. One of the last missions of Saints Row the Third presents Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero" in such a way that it matches perfectly with the game's overall satirical and over-the-top tone. Both Borderlands' intros capture the viewer's interest with the first game in particular, setting the pace for the game's irreverent feel. The right song can also give a scene emotional weight, much like in World in Conflict, where Audioslave's "Shadow on the Sun" accompanies a group of marine helicopters attempting to retake Governors Island from the invading Soviet forces.
FarCry 3 highlights just how important music can be during a scene. Early on in the main campaign, Jason Brody has to burn down a field of marijuana in an attempt to create chaos and disrupt the flow of drugs for the island's despot, Hoyt Volker. As he closes in on the crops, the music starts to slowly change into "Make It Bun Dem", an appropriate mix of reggae and dubstep by Skrillex and Damian Marley. The upbeat, almost surreal tune emphasizes the glee that the once hesitant-to-kill Jason has further devolved as he excitedly destroys the crop and murders anyone in his way, laughing and cheering the entire time. This scene, one of the highlights of the game, would have been easily forgettable without the song playing in the background.
Play this scene with the music off and you will know exactly what I mean.
While the right song can make a good sequence great, it can also save what would have been an otherwise boring stretch of gameplay. During the climax of Max Payne 3, the game reaches a moment where Max has to cut his way through seemingly endless waves of hired goons down a long airport terminal hallway. What would have been a generic showpiece is made into something memorable by HEALTH's haunting theme to the game hanging in the background as Max slaughters his way from one end of the hall to the other. The music flows perfectly with the bullet-cam and slow down mechanics saving what would otherwise have been a frustratingly long turkey shoot.
"One second, let me turn on my iPod."
Sometimes in a game, it's not a single song, but a soundtrack as a whole that brings the entire thing together. It would be easy to point to the massive licensed discography is that is the Grand Theft Auto series, but I would argue that those games stand alone just well enough without the music. There are those games, however, that when they are mentioned one of the first things brought up is the amazing soundtrack. Katamari Damacy wouldn't be anywhere near as beloved without its catchy, lounge singer crooning, absurd beats. Anyone who has played this is already thinking about their favorite tune from Katamari just by naming it, it's that infectious.
In a similar vein is Persona 4. The entire breadth of Persona's soundtrack serves to help one embrace the culture of a high school student in a small Japanese town. From the J-pop battle music to the cheery tunes that play while exploring town, the music serves to pull the player into the world itself. By immersing someone so fully it makes what happens to the characters have a greater impact. These aren't just some nameless NPCs made to give quests or act as cannon fodder, but living people with lives that are cared about. In combination with a great translation, the music helps breathe life into what would be nothing more than another JRPG in a modern setting.
Sometimes it can just suck you in.
And then there is Bioshock: Infinite, where the music in the game in part of the plot itself. While wandering around the floating city of Columbia, barber shop quartets sing covers of songs which are several decades from being released. 80's pop hits are changed into carnival music and ragtime tunes hinting that there is something very off about the entire setting. Anachronistic uses of well known songs like this do far more to build a world mythology than any cut scene could have conveyed.
Best use of licensed music ever.
As games continue to grow as a storytelling medium, it's important that all aspects the experienceare covered. The most amazing action packed set piece can fall flat without an appropriately epic musical score driving the player forward. Likewise, a forgettable moment can be given an extended life by simply choosing the right song to play alongside it. The atmosphere of a game can be completely ruined if something breaks the immersion, pulling the player out of the experience and killing any emotional attachment that might come along with the game. Much like how a good meal can be made exceptional with the right combination of spices, the right music can make a mediocre game better or a fantastic game into something that will truly be remembered.
Steven Brown falls asleep listening to the Skyrim soundtrack every night. You can listen him on Twitter to hear his thoughts on damn near everything.
It's late so I'll be somewhat brief here. At midnight PST Sony had a live stream conference about the Vita and its plans for the next few months. For the most part nothing new was announced as far as games go. Everything here should be considered for the Japanese market ONLY. If I get something wrong, PLEASE let me know.
1. The Vita is dropping roughly 20% in Japan. IF that price drop comes to the US, that would be
from $249.99 to $199.99.
2. The Vita REALLY wants to have a Monster Hunter-esque game. Losing Monster Hunter 4 to the 3DS was a major blow to the system and they are desperate to find a replacement.
3.Dragon's Crown still looks really pretty, much like any other Vanillaware game does.
4.Final Fantasy X HD is STILL in development with no real trailer shown, just a few character models of Tidus and Yuna. The lack of anything else on this makes me believe that this game is STILL months, if not a full year away.
5. While this conference was focused on games that will be released over the next few months, the lack of anything new being announced is troubling to me. At least tease something at the end to give us hope. To me this just shows that the Vita is struggling even in its homeland.
Let me know what you took away from the conference below.
There's been a lot of buzz lately about the the release of Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines and just how bad it is. From the laughably inept AI, the ugly and dated textures, horrendous voice acting, weak plot... I could write pages about the laundry list of problems the game has and this blog originally started off as just that, yet another scathing review of the game. Yes, it's a bad game. Yes, they spent six years developing this and you have to wonder where that time was spent. Yes, this has ALL been said by seemingly every critic under the sun.
At least Hudson didn't live to see what became of his legacy.
Somewhere along the line of taking screenshots and replaying a few key sections of the game I found myself unable to really add anything more to the conversation that hasn't already been said. That's when I started to think about just how long this game was in development. After six years of development how did no one really see this coming? We've all seen what happens when a game sits in "development hell" for far too long. I Am Alive, Daikatana, and Gearbox's own Duke Nukem Forever all came out looking dated as technology passed them by. While not always indicative of a horrible game, it's never a good sign. Much higher quality product has been produced in significantly shorter time.
Did Gearbox try to pull a fast one on us and SEGA by using time and resources given to them to finish up another game or did they honestly not know how far away from their goals the game was until it was too late to change anything without a massive overhaul? An anonymous post on Reddit from a supposed Gearbox employee says that while working on the project, codenamed Pecan, the game was delayed numerous times in favor of other Gearbox launches as well as being outsourced to several other companies such as TimeGate, Demiurge and Nerve. As time ran out Gearbox was able to get one more nine month extension from from the publisher, and according to the poster "about 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2". By the time Gearbox was was done with Borderlands 2, they realized how terrible the final product was, but SEGA seemed to be tired of the delays.
"Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against GBX, asking for an extension wasn't an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get."
In 2011, Gearbox showed off a work in progress hands-off demo at E3.
Hands-off means just that, the people watching never get to play it. This isn't an uncommon practice, but when anyone shows a demo without letting the public play it, you have to assume the gameplay being shown is under extremely controlled situations or in the case of the infamous 2005 Killzone 2 E3 "demo", a complete fabrication. When E3 2012 came around and no playable demo of the campaign was put in the hands of the press or public, despite having shown the controlled one last year, another red flag should have been sent up. As far as I can tell, aside from a multiplayer demo at a few major gaming events that was still under tight control (the public only being able to controlled humans against Gearbox developer controlled xenos), no one outside of Gearbox was able to play the game until review copies were sent out just before release. To call what Gearbox showed off as unrepresentative of the final product is generous at best.
This is NOT what was promised.
Yet another warning came from the gaming press itself in the form of review embargoes. An embargo is an agreed upon time between the publisher and the gaming publication when information such as previews or reviews go live in return for early access to the game. The theory behind it is that an embargo will give journalists enough time to properly review a game or write a quality article without having to worry about being first to have the information on the web while publishers get to time information releases with their own marketing. Breaking an embargo can lead to a publisher cutting off all future access to their events as well as pissing off those journalists that follow the rules. Reading a bit deeper into these dates can give you a bit of insight into how confident the publisher might be in their titles. If a review goes early, say a day or two before launch, it can show the publisher has confidence in the title and hopes positive reviews will help sell more copies at launch. If a review is the day of release, or in the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified a few days after, it can be seen as a lack of faith in the game on the publisher's end, hoping they can stave off poor reviews that might drive away sales. Most reviews I've seen for Aliens: Colonial Marines didn't go up until after midnight of the release date.
While all of these things on their own might not be enough to be worrisome, all of them combined should give pause to even the most die-hard fan out there. We should take the lessons learned from this to heart. The industry is full of embellishments and franchises who over-promise but under-deliver. From Fable to Dead Island we have all been sold one thing but given another in some way, shape, or form. It just hasn't been this bad in a long time. As publishers get more desperate to have each and every game a massive Call of Duty-esque blockbuster I only fear we will see more dubious marketing in the future. Hopefully now, however, we might be a bit more wise to it.
Capitalistpig211 dreams of working a desk job at Weyland-Yutani. You can follow him on Twitter @Capitalistpig21 and listen to his podcast GamePoints every Wednesday night at 8:30 PST
The Dead Space trilogy is a lot like the Alien trilogy. The first one was focused on suspenseful horror, following the lead character as they are stalked through the halls of a mostly abandoned space ship by an unknown terror while desperately trying to escape. The second one was far more fast-paced, blasting your way through a fallen colony while fending off hordes of nightmares. Dead Space 3 follows Alien 3 in spirit if not in location. Both are fine on their own but fail to live up to their impressive predecessors.
In an attempt to broaden the audience by appealing to the "shooter" crowd, Dead Space 3 places a greater focus on combat, includes human enemies, and implements a rudimentary cover system. The cover system feels especially forced, having not used it once during my entire playthrough aside from messing around with it at the start. Even the weaponry seems to have been changed to appeal to your stereotypical FPS crowd. More "traditional" weapons such as shotguns, carbines, rocket launchers, and SMG's join the hardware-inspired standards of the series like the Plasma Cutter and the Force Gun. While the Pulse Rifle was laughably weak in the first one, the military-inspired firepower you can craft in Dead Space 3 just feels like it outclasses anything else. The series hallmark of strategic dismemberment goes by the wayside when my assault rifle/rocket launcher WonderGun(TM) can blast wave after wave of foes into bits from afar. The once-reliable Line Gun fires too slowly and the iconic Plasma Cutter is just not powerful enough to compete with that kind of firepower. On top of that, Necromorphs come at you much faster and in far greater numbers than before, giving you little time to line up that perfect shot to remove an arm or leg. For a series that used to push the dismemberment angle so fervently it's telling to see it get lost in the action.
Thank god I have this double-barreled, acid tipped rocket launcher.
That's not to say you can't have a lot of fun with the weapons. Dead Space 3's robust crafting system gives you a lot of ways to customize your loadout to your tastes. Gone is the old grid system of enhancing your guns. Power Nodes and Credits are replaced with a variety of resources which are used to create differing weapon frames, bodies, tips, and support modules. I spent a good chunk of time combining various pieces of equipment to see what insanity I could get. Want a flamethrower with a hydraulic hammer for melee? It's yours. Want a Line Gun that rotates like a Plasma Cutter and can electrocute necromorphs on contact, all the while picking up ammo automatically for you? Well you can have that too. I just wish the balance worked more in favor with the franchise standbys. The Plasma Cutter used to be my bread and butter in the first to installments. Now it just feels like a waste of space.
Man, this would be beautiful if the planet weren't trying to kill me.
The pacing in the game has some severe issues. Dead Space 3 starts fast but slows down dramatically in the first few hours. The pace picks back up significantly when you reach the snow-covered planet of Tau Volantis but there is a LOT of backtracking to be had through the game which detracts from the major set pieces. On top of that, most of the side quests are reused layouts from previous missions, dragging out the game and making the out of the way trips seem more annoying than rewarding. Fortunately, you can skip most of the optional content and move from chapter to chapter with little lost beyond a few files and schematics.
Don't worry, you won't remember enough about them to care.
Back to my Alien comparison for a moment. The first two movies had people I cared about. I can say the names Ash, Bishop, and Hudson and recall their faces, how they acted, and what their roles were. The same holds true for the first two Dead Space games. Nicole Brennen, the insane Nolan Stross, and the omnipresent Director Tiedemann were all memorable. Similar to Alien 3, I can't recall the name of a single non-established character in Dead Space 3 with the exception of the excellently acted Unitologist leader Jacob Davik (voiced by the talented Simon Templeman). They serve little-to-no point other than window dressing and cannon fodder for the plot and the awkwardly forced love triangle drama comes off as unbelievable in this situation. You could make the case that it's caused by a Marker induced psychosis but since no one else, save for when John Carver is controlled by a co-op partner, seems to fall under its influence it seems a tenuous link at best.
Speaking of John Carver, Dead Space 3 does a fantastic job of mutliplayer this time around. Gone is the tacked on competitive shooter feature from the second game and in it's place is an entertaining and completely optional co-op mode. A second player can join Clarke throughout the campaign and Visceral does a fantastic job of integrating it into the story. Playing with other people almost feels like a completely different game as the dialog is changed to adjust for two players accordingly, rather than just having a silent Carver always standing in the background. None of this pulls away from those who want to journey through the plot alone, however, as save for a few puzzles and the occasional co-op only side mission you would never know the game was tailored for two people to play. This, along the with much maligned inclusion of microtransactions are completely optional and I didn't even notice them past when they are first introduced showing that Visceral took great care to try not to alienate fans with what might be perceived as additions forced on them by publisher EA.
Bruised and battered but still willing to fight.
Despite my criticisms there is still a lot of entertainment to be had here. Franchise purists might lament the dramatic changes to the core mechanics of the game. Gone is Clarke's insanity, the focus on strategic dismemberment, as well as a lot of the suspense found in the previous two. In it's place is a solid action game with horror overtones that has an excellent cooperative mode which should be played through at least once. Long standing fans have good reason to be upset, but if they can get over the changes there is a fun, albeit flawed, game here.
Capitalistpig sleeps with his Plasma Cutter under his pillow waiting for a necromorph to give him a chance to finally use it. You can follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast GamePoints every Wednesday at 8:30 PST.