I am currently on reading break from school. Since I haven't played a new game in a couple of weeks, I hop on over to the local blockbuster and rent Killzone 2. The reason I went with this game is because I usually play RPG's and I like to own those types of games. No, a one week break calls for something that is simply fun to play without getting too emotionally invested. Killzone 2 seems to be a pretty good choice.
Wow, I really hate Killzone 2. I suck at FPS games. That doesn't mean that the partner AI needs to exasperate my lack of skill by dieing all the freakin' time. There's this one part where me and my "buddy" are being chased by an enemy tank and around a dozen dudes. Ahead of us are our own troops with a tank of their own and a rocket launcher ready for use. Logically, the appropriate thing to do would be to haul ass over to our side. I hit sprint and do that. I look around and see my buddy trying to take out a dozen guys and a tank by himself. He falls down and a symbol denoting that I should go save him appears. No. No I won't. I ready the rocket launcher and leave my "buddy" to die. For some reason, when he dies, my guy suffers from a literal broken heart as he undergoes cardiac arrest and falls to the ground. God dammit. I hate it in games where if your partner dies, you die to. Plus 50% more hate if said partner is of no use to the story and you have no emotional connection to him/her. I decided that I wasn't going to use valuable break time playing a game I don't like so I go back to blockbuster and return it for Vanquish with my stealthy skills of lying. I think I made the right decision.
Unlike in Killzone 2, the default control scheme and stick sensitivity in Vanquish feels absolutely refined. There was no reason for me to fiddle with the controls at all. Graphics were beautiful but, more importantly, they were varied. Unlike the brown upon brown of Killzone 2, Vanquish has stunning and brightly lit open spaces that allow for intense fire fights. The main thing that sets Vanquish and Killzone 2 apart, though, is that Vanquish innovates while Killzone 2 decides to pretty up it's graphics.
In shooters, mobility is often overlooked. Yes, we get a sprint option but usually that's it. Uncharted 2 did something new by introducing climbing elements to the mix. Vanquish goes the route of extreme speed. The power armor that you find yourself using in Vanquish is pretty much a self contained rocket. Pulling the L2 button on the ps3 controller, you can rocket forward or backward or in any direction you want. The inclusion of speed and most of all controllable speed (no roadie running like in Gears) innovates the third person shooter genre by giving you the tools needed for you to not be stuck behind cover for 90% of the game.
What do you usually think when you see ammo for a weapon that you are already topped off with? I have this feeling of waste when that happens. Whenever I see ammo that I don't or can't pick up in shooters, I feel like that ammo could be put to something useful. Vanquish answers this trope of shooters by giving superfluous ammo stores a point. If you pick up a gun which you are already holding in Vanquish, it will upgrade that weapon after a certain number of pick ups. This simple change in gameplay suddenly makes all those useless doubles of triples of guns that you are already holding have a point. Instead of seeing the same assault rifle I am holding and leaving it (so wasteful!), I can now pick it up and know that after a couple more, my rifle will get powered up. Platinum games is so good at these beautiful and simple changes in gameplay which change entire genre tropes. With Vanquish and Bayonetta both being made by Platinum games and both games being clever tongue in cheek commentary about the genre's that they are in, it puts Platinum Games in a special place in my heart for their innovation and commitment to quality.
Over the past couple days, I've been feeling this weird sense of unease. It feels like I've been missing something that I am very accustomed to but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. This feeling felt like a sore spot that needed rubbing but I didn't really know which place needed to be rubbed. Almost unbeknown to me, I started to look through any new videos for the upcoming Dragon Age 2 and the Witcher 2 as a reaction to this strange feeling. It wasn't until a day ago that I realized that I hadn't played an RPG for about a month. It was then that I figured out what had been bothering me. I being bothered because I didn't feel important enough.
Before I continue, I would clarify that this feeling didn't apply to my IRL life. Rather, I missed being important in a video game setting, specifically, RPG's. I missed the feeling of knowing that the fate of the world rested on my choices. I missed the feeling of power and authority at being able to help people. I missed the feeling of being an integral part of many people's lives such as the Warden in Dragon Age. In that game, your choices can dramatically alter your party members' outlooks on life, from being whiny and joking to being responsible and dependable. To sum it up, I missed feeling like the most important person on earth.
When I came to this realization, I was kind of freaked out. It just seemed to self centered, border line narcissistic. I began chastising myself on allowing myself to develop such a pathetic need. I didn't like the thought that I had become accustomed to being able to change people's lives and change the course of history. This might be getting WAY too serious, but some of the most infamous people on earth also believed that changing people's lives and the course of the world was something that they not only needed to do but were entitled to do. Obviously, I don't believe myself to be capable of doing such extreme acts of cruelty that could be on par with histories worst people. I'm trying my best not to sound ridiculous here, I just want to get across that what I saw developing in me, I saw it as being bad. After some more thought, however, I began to put myself at ease.
In video games, the player is often given the role of someone who is absolutely pivotal to the game world and also has the power to change the course of people's lives. I think that deep down, many of us wish for such power. Why else do people work for money, do well in school, try to get ahead in life? This might be extremely cynical of me but I think, to some degree, it is to gain some more control over our own lives and the world around us. If gaining control over our own lives and the world around us is the goal, then what would be the next goal if we did gain absolute control over our lives? It seems like the answer to that would be control of other people's lives. This desire to control could either be put to good like improving someone's living conditions or it could be put towards completely selfish reasons like enslavement. I think that videogames allow us to experience the feeling of not only being able to control our lives but the lives of those around us and that this feeling is something that I grew to greatly enjoy.
Now that I've figured out what it was that's been bothering, I think that I'll be able to enjoy games with a new level of self consciousness.
First off, please excuse me for such a terrible title. It was too cute not to put up.
I found out over the past couple days that Dragon Age would be getting another slew of DLC on launch. Some of it you get by preordering at participating retailers (there hasn't been a list of who those retailers are so far as I know) and some you get for simply buying the game new. I really like day one DLC that the player can get at no extra cost. A lot of the time, the DLC in question is something cool like the cupid themed guitar that came with Brutal Legend or just a nice looking piece of armor or a mid-tier weapon. The items being given away with Dragon Age, however, caught my eye because Bioware specifically said that they are epic-tier weapons and items. In other words, they should rank as some of the most powerful items in the game. At first, I was excited at the prospect of being given epic items just for buying the game new. After some thought, however, I wondered whether I was getting juked or not. If a game maker creates content that is meant to be a "bonus" on release date, is it really a bonus at all? Shouldn't it have been on the disc? How are we, as consumers, supposed to tell when we are being given content that really does count as a bonus or content that was just set aside to be used as DLC?
The way I see it, bonus content can be considered as a bonus when their absence from the game does not create any kind of hole in the gameplay or plot and can only be counted as a bonus if they offer something unique that adds to gameplay or plot. So, for example, let's use Shale who was a bonus character for those who bought Dragon Age: Origins new. Shale's questlines are all about digging up his past and trying to find out how he got created. While the story is quite entertaining and emotionally charged, it's absence would not have a great impact on the main plot line. There would be no gaping holes in either the gameplay or the story if Shale was left out of the game. As such, I consider Shale to be a bonus. Now, let us look out the preorder DLC that is coming with Dragon Age 2.
We get a hound, a mirror that let's our reset your faces, a sword and shield, and access to a shop full of high end weapons, armor, and gear. This shop also has quests and secrets attached to it. Which of these items/ places would create a dissonance if they were left out of the game? For me, it is the shop. It is one thing to include one or two good items with a game if you buy it new. It is another thing entirely to hold a shop full of end-game tier items separate to certain players. Gear is fundamental to many RPG's. They are what all those number and thrown dice revolve around. Better or worse gear can completely change a player's strategy by expanding or limiting what a player is capable of doing in the midst of battle. For these reasons, I feel that the Black Emporium shop should not have been used as a bonus but be included in all copies of the game.
Now, some people might say to me, "How does anything you are saying matter at all? Most of these bonuses are meant to deter people from buying the game second hand. There's nothing wrong with the game developers wanting to try and cut down on lost moneys due to companies like Gamestop or Play N Trade so quit your whining and buy the game new." I would respond that whoever said those words are completely correct and that I do plan to buy the game new. What concerns me is not that I must buy the game new and/ or preorder to gain bonus content. Rather, it is that companies like Bioware seem to be using more and more elaborate pieces of bonus DLC in their preorder programs. This concerns me because how are we, the consumers, supposed to know that this piece for bonus content is, indeed, a bonus? What separates content that is truly a bonus and content that was simply set aside to be used as DLC? I am asking the same questions that I asked at the beginning of this train of thought. The reason for that is because I really don't know how to answer these questions. While they aren't questions that keep me up at night, they do hint at a future of gaming that is heavily tied into preordering games and buying new copies not because you get cool bonus items, but rather, because you are afraid of missing out on something that others might have. That is sickening to me. I don't want to be motivated to preorder a game just to get a shiny sword. I want to be motivated to preorder a game because I truly want the game to succeed and want to do my part by preordering.
Imagine this. The Fire Flower! This flame imbued piece of floral wrath grants Mario the ability to hurl flames at his enemies. Decimate your foes from afar by preordering are your nearest *******.
Biggoron Sword! Gain access to an epic quest of delivery as you make your way across all of Hyrule in your quest for this powerful and unique blade. Only available through preorder.
Mega Buster Over Charge! Equipped with the ability to store energy instead of firing it, the Mega Buster Over Charge gives Mega Man a whole new level of depth in his combat tactics. Hold for power, or fire for speed? You decide! Preorder now.
What separates content between being a bonus and being something that should have already been on the disk? Can you finish the Mario without the fire flower? Yes. Is it right to withhold it just because you can? No. Same goes for the Biggoron Sword and the Mega Buster's charge. Will taking these items out of the game keep you from finishing the game? Obviously not. But that doesn't mean that they should be withheld as "bonus" content.
I played two games this year that tricked me into thinking that the game was going to end but then carried on to the true ending. For some reason, I find this immensely pleasurable. The games that tickled me bawls (guarana drink) were Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker and Bayonetta.
The "last boss" in MGS Peace walker is, surprise surprise, Peace Walker. Peace Walker both follows the MGS tradition of "walking tank" bosses, but also injects injects freshness into these fights by having Peace Walker not only have a walking-tank form,but also give it a high speed four legged sprint form and a large variety of weapons that really keep you on your tows. Add to that the boss also moves through different movement patterns, that forces you to change tactics on the fly. It can walk behind a barrier of warehouses making it difficult to fire at it. It can power up for a high speed body check that is difficult to dodge given the immense size of Peace Walker. When in it's normal, "walking" mode, Peace Walker is still unpredictable because it moves a la monster hunter style in that it seems to be alive without following a specific set of canned movement patterns. The boss's huge arsenal of weapons and varied methods of movement coupled with it's insane amount of health makes Peace Walker the best end boss I have ever fought: it took me 40 minutes to finally defeat it.
Metal Ge- er, I mean, Peace Walker?!
Even after you finally manage to take this behemoth of a boss down, the pacing of the story is still intense as you watch Snake try to convince the US government not to launch nukes at Russia (Peace Walker was broadcasting false signals that made the US think that Russia was attacking them with nukes). Survival of an entire country is at stake if not the entire world. When the game reached it's highly emotional climax, I felt fully satisfied. The part where Snake finally accepts his title as Big Boss still sends chills down my spine. But wait... there are more missions to play? Awesome! I kept playing these missions which had me hunting down an escaped prisoner over and over again and, to make things brief, ended with ANOTHER WALKING TANK BATTLE. This boss battle surprised me to no end: I thought that that 40 minute boss fight with Peace Walker was more than enough to close the game on, but then the game just went and threw me another walking tank battle. This battle even keeps the player's emotions engaged by making the pilot of this walking tank (Metal Gear ZEKE) someone that you thought you could have trusted throughout the entirety of the game. For some reason, I found this turn of events immensely enjoyable. Maybe it's because I got to play more of an awesome game, or maybe it's because of some kind of unconscious desire that yearns to be led on and led on and led on without a true climax. Whatever it is, though, I found the two endings of MGS: Peace Walker to be the most intense and enjoyable experiences I have had in gaming to date.
Bayonetta's end boss is also extremely epic. You fight Jubileus, the creator of the universe. The scale of this fight is like none I've ever experienced. You fight in a gigantic orb that separates you from the cold vacuum of space. It was an interesting feeling to fight in this manner because the same thing that is keeping you alive also traps you with a god of creation that is really pissed off at being woken up. As the fight progresses, the boss changes the orb that you both reside in by first turning everything around you into an inferno of magma, then into an arctic hell, then into a gigantic raging storm with plenty of tornadoes thrown in. The ever changing and chaotic nature of the environment makes the boss fight truly exhilarating. After whittling down the bosses health to nothing, Bayonetta summons her own god which looks a lot like Jubileus except made of hair and easily hundreds of times Jubileus's size. Your god gives it's fist a kiss and it punches Jubileus's soul into the sun. After that, we see Bayonetta stuck on the remnants of the boss's body, completely exhausted, as it enters the atmosphere and begins to burn. The credit roll and sad music plays. At this point in the game, I thought that Bayonetta was dead for sure. I mean, the credits are rolling, that usually means the end of a game, right? Well, not in this case. Jeanne (your rival) comes to your rescue and literally stomps the credits out of the screen. After a bit of banter, you both begin to pummel the falling remnant of Jubileus and the game goes on to it's true ending and end credits. Again, I have no idea why I find this teasing style of ending a game so enjoyable. When Jeanne came and stamped out the credits, I felt a surge of exhilaration and braced myself for more Bayonetta. Although I wish that more games played out like this, I also fear that if every game ended in this manner, it would take away the novelty of it.
If you wanted to see some of the ending for yourself
Some questions to the reader: Any other games you know that play out like this? Do you like this kind of ending or does it feel cheap to you?
Reading through the comments in the article that Mr. Holmes wrote on Kamiyama's views towards women (http://www.destructoid.com/bayonetta-dev-to-one-woman-all-other-women-are-enemies-191213.phtml#commentbox) brings to light 2 disparate views on the Bayonetta character. In one camp, there is the thought that Bayonetta is nothing but an over sexualized toy, used to obtain the money of guy gamers. The other camp believes that it is because of this dominating sexuality that makes Bayonetta a self conscious parody of sexualized video game women. I think that these to camps of thought are fascinating because they seem to be separated by a thin line. This line would be the question: is the sexualization of Bayonetta just stupid sexyness or is this same sexualization so intense that it transcends "souless sexy shell" and into the realm of character archetype parody? I firmly believe that Bayonetta is able to place it self into the category of parody and I hope that my examples will convince you of the same.
Bayonetta and the Pussycat Dolls are alike because they both make use of intense sexualization. The difference between their approaches to this sexualization, however, is what sets them apart. The Pussycat Dolls' form of sexualization does it's best to empower the members of the group but ultimately fails because sex is both the tool and the goal. When I watched Pussycat videos I thought that the were being very sexy but to what end? It seemed like they were strutting their stuff and showing off in order to become more empowered so that they could... strut their stuff and show off more. Here lies the fatal flaw in the Pussycat Dolls approach to "sexuality = empowered". When the tool (sex) is also the goal (more sex), it makes the Pussycat Dolls ultimately fail at empowering women because, in the end, they are still doing one thing and one thing only: pleasing men. This is important. No matter how hard the Pussycat Dolls try, no matter how "empowered" they become, they are still just wank material for men. Bayonetta does the opposite.
Sex is, indeed, a tool that Bayonetta uses. However, unlike the Dolls, sex is NOT the goal. Instead of using her sexuality as a means to further pleasure us guys a la Doll's style, Bayonetta uses her sexuality as an implement of killing. Her goal is not to strut her stuff and show off. Her goal is to obtain dominance over her enemies. Here lies the fundamental difference between Bayonetta and the Pussycat Dolls. Instead of having to be sexy in order to be more sexy and thus ultimately falling prey to the whims of men, Bayonetta uses being sexy in order to obtain dominance. This fundamental difference between having to and using is why Bayonetta is able to transcend mere "plaything" label and catapult herself in the realm of clever character archetype parody.
ALL THE THOUGHTS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH AR PARAPHRASED FROM THE GAME OVERTHINKER.
Bayonetta also differs from your usual over sexualized gaming women on an artistic level. Look at the character design for Chun Li. She is the strongest women on earth yet when she wins a match, she breaks out into her "yatta!" little-girly-speauling routine. This is purposely done to soften her character so that the men who are playing her can still feel sexually superior to Chun Li by way of softening her character. In the back of men's minds, Chun Li is just a perky little girl who happens to be really good at fighting, not the other way around. Now look at Bayonetta. There is absolutely nothing about her that is even remotely close to being submissive. Her personality is dominant, her fighting abilities are dominant, and, more importantly, her sexuality is dominant. Bayonetta is not softened at all and instead of trying to make her sexually acceptable to men, she is, in fact, sexually intimidating. Can you believe that? A video game female that actually makes the male player feel small and insignificant in bed. Sure, Bayonetta wants sex. But are you the one to give it to her? No way in hell, you're not. This complete sexual dominance over the player is also why Bayonetta transcends the shackles of sexy video game women. Instead of being really sexy and stopping at a point where men still feel in control, Bayonetta says "Oh, you like sexy women in your games? Well how about this much more, then? And more? And more? And more?! And MORE?!?! AND MORE?!?!?! AND MOAR?!?!?!??!?!". In other words, she gives male players exactly what they want, sexy women in game, BUT she gives them so much that they are completely dominated by her onslaught of sexual power. Also, remember that, unlike the Pussycat Dolls, giving the player sexual pleasure is NOT her goal. As was said above, her sexuality is a tool and unlike the Pussycat Dolls having to use their sexuality in order to gain enough empowerment to still do nothing but use their sexuality, Bayonetta uses her sexuality to obtain a different goal which is domination over her enemies.
I hope that this bit of writing has clearly expressed my views as to why I think that Bayonetta does not stop at just being sexy and, instead, breaks through to a new realm of sexually dominating and sexually intimidating video game women who also parody the archetype of sexy video game women.
Note: I will post a link to the Game Overthink'ers video later but for now, Screwattack.com is not accessible.
I've been thinking back on the past year and the games that got released during that time. There have been some heavy HEAVY hitters like Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted 2. I noticed, however, that the games that I enjoyed the most were not the highest profile games, but rather, the ones that probably won't win any awards though not because they lack quality. Bayonetta is one of them along with Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale and, of course, Yakuza 3. Living in Canada, it was amazingly refreshing to play a game so steeped in Asian culture. Also, this game made me feel hella manly, like, punch a tiger with my fists of rage angry. Oh wait...
4:00 is the tiger punch. This is Yakuza 2 on the PS2
There were a lot of elements of this game that spoke to me on a personal level, mostly because I'm Asian. I sometimes feel a little bit removed from my heritage what with being raised in Canada. This game allowed me to feel like I got a little bit closer to Asia. The details are everywhere in Yakuza 3. If you've ever been to Japan, specifically Kamurocho, then you can tell that this game emulates the crowded, dirty, and yet oddly ordered Japanese atmosphere perfectly. Being orderly even amidst a congested environment is Japanese culture to it's very core, imo. That's why you see some of the cleanest, most well organized homeless people in Japan, with their cardboard houses and shelters. This comes across in Yakuza 3. Everything is tightly packed into the environment but you still get a feeling of order in the level layout of the game.
The story in this game is so typical of Asian gangster movies like Hard Boiled that it transcends being corny and barges it's way into clever commentary. You've got the old (but not "old" old!) dragon personifying ex-Yakuza member, Kazuma Kiryu, who just wants to live a peaceful life. HOWEVER, the Yakuza world just keeps on dragging him back in. You've also got the young upstart who thinks that he can handle anything. Rikiya is his name and being tough is his game. He's also from a little island community which makes his naivety all the more believable. These two guys are embody done to death Asian gangster movie tropes, but their presentation makes them seem larger than life, often due to excellent facial animations and camera direction that really highlight what a particular scene is trying to convey. Like these ones.
As you can see, the camera often centers the character in the shot, almost making them take up the entirety of the screen. When it isn't focusing on the characters, it is often panning out to show an impressive seen. These are staples of Asian film direction which work beautifully in Yakuza 3.
The combat in Yakuza is arcadey. Your not going to find super precise and slick combat like in Bayonetta. You'll sometimes miss your attacks, when you do a counter enemies "jump" into your attack, and just odd things will happen like getting caught in multiple enemies attacks that bounce you around every which way. These moments can make combat in Yakuza 3 frustrating but they are far out weighed by the plethora of awesome moves that you can do. Instead of trying to describe these moves, I'll just post another video.
Please excuse the ad, it'll be worth it to see these moves, trust me.
Being able to pull of such insanely painful looking moves and dominate your foes makes Yakuza 3 make you feel like you could actually pull shit like this off in a fight. The moves are not so over the top that they are completely unbelievable which makes them seem all the more painful. This is because we can all imagine what if must feel like to take a baseball bat in the shin. It would hurt like hell. Being decapitated by a sniper rifle from, say, Gears of War is much harder to quantify, at least of me. Thus, the violence in Yakuza 3 is effective because of it's solid basis in real life.
A bit of Asian culture that I've noticed when playing Yakuza 3: combat is almost all melee based. This isn't GTA. You won't be going around offing people in cold blood. You can't kill random citizens and you can't rob people. You're playing the good guy. Instead, fights feel much more personal in Yakuza 3 than any of the fire fights in GTA. Your not shooting them from a distance away with you assault rifle. Instead, you are beating them down with the strength of your body alone, no guns to get in the way of a good old fashioned ass whoopin'. Combat feels all the more satisfying in Yakuza 3 because the camera work is done in a way that you can actually see the pain appear on your opponents faces or the shock that they experience at being picked up and thrown against a utility pole. This level of gritty, up lose and personal combat is what makes Yakuza 3 such a thrill to play, to feel like you are the baddest badass on the street not because you just bought yourself body armor and some guns, but because you don't need that stuff to take guys out. All you need is your fists and some Heat meter.
Last point of interest. There is a ton of walking that your going to have to do in this game. No cars are available to you except in the form of taxis. I think that this heavy emphasis on walking is brilliant game design because it forces you to mingle with the many characters that appear on screen. Congestion is a major part of Japanese life, and forcing the player to wade through the masses is an amazingly smart way of giving them a taste of real life in Japan. You also don't need to worry about wasting time because you are stuck on foot, either. While you are limited to running, the size of the environments are not so large that it'll take you half an hour to make it from one side of the map to the other. The size of areas are made with your mobility in mind so getting to places on foot is not a chore at all.
One thing that I didn't like about the game, the portrayal of Chinese people. China-Japan relations have never really gotten to the point of "friendly" after WW2 what with Japanese war crimes which came out of the countries need for expansion via imperialism. In both countries, you see a lot of denouncing of each in the other country's media, often using a Japanese person as the villain in Chinese media like films and stuff or vice versa in Japan using a Chinese person as the villain (Shenmue). Yakuza 3 took things a step too far, though, imo. The main Chinese bad guy is presented with little to no redeeming qualities and is portrayed as an underhanded asshole. Also, he is dressed in stereo typical Chinese clothing, Qi Pao. It just stereo typed Chinese people too much and I felt a little bit offended when I played to that part.
Besides some personal gripes with the game, Yakuza 3 impressed me in almost every department, especially in it's nuanced presentation of Asian culture. The game gave me a taste of what Japanese culture is all about. Actually, my mom lived in Japan for a long time and when she watched me playing the game, she pointed out that old ladies selling stuff in the game looked exactly like the old ladies that she used to see when she went down to the fish market in Japan. So anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this game and am sad to see that it isn't going to get any recognition over here in the west.