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Jon Hartley's blog

5:43 PM on 05.24.2013

The stubborn, unlikable Xbox One

There are a lot of reasons not to like the Xbox One. It’s pretty ugly, representing the boxy design favored in 1980s electronics more than a modern, sleek look like what we’ve seen popularized in recent years. The name? Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. Those are things I can get past, though. It’s not like “Xbox” was a cool name to begin with, and you can argue that “Playstation” only sounds alright because we’re so used to hearing it. Anyway, that’s all superficial stuff.

Ladies and gentlemen...the Xbox One!

It’s not even the expected lack of backwards compatibility. I can deal with that. In fact, I don’t hate it so much for any specific feature (or lack of feature) that’s been shown so far. I think the reason why it’s hard to like the Xbox One is that it doesn’t want to be liked. The Xbox One knows it will succeed, whether you like it or not. The Xbox One knows what you want more than you do.

The Xbox One: the first console not to give a fuck.

Not the best slogan, right? It’s fitting, though.

How else can you describe some of the crap that’s being included as part of the new Xbox? Stuff that you or I never asked for, like mandatory installation of discs, a required Internet connection, the ability to have a bunch of windows on-screen with a bunch of crap going on at one time, and being able to control your Xbox with your voice?

Sure, you can counter that with, “Well, somebody out there is going to be really excited about all of that.” Yes, and somebody would have been really excited if Xbox One could make grilled cheese sandwiches, too. That doesn’t mean it should have been included. This brave new world of game consoles that are no longer game consoles is not a democracy, though, and popular vote doesn’t matter.

Instead, what we’re looking at is a console that is full of features that seemingly nobody asked for, but represent a future that Microsoft has already imagined and is doggedly sticking to, whether we like it or not. In this future, what we care about is:

--Not having to get up and put a disc in the tray (so hard!),

--Not having to switch TV inputs (the HUMANITY!),

--Being freed from the oppression of controllers and remotes.

Pictured: the enemy

So, in order to fulfill the demands that we never made in the first place, Microsoft went and made a console that creates a whole host of new problems in the process.

What we’re seeing is the future Microsoft imagined with the Xbox 360, which was responded to with lukewarm enthusiasm at best, is being force-fed to us with the Xbox One. Kinect, which resulted in a grand total of zero classic gameplay experiences that we will remember for the rest of our lives, is mandatory with the Xbox One. You can’t even turn off the speaker.

Microsoft championed digital downloads of games, and although Games on Demand never really took off like they probably expected, we’re being thrust down the all-digital path, nonetheless. You see that’s where this is going, right? If you don’t need a disc to play the game, why buy the disc? If the console requires the Internet anyway, what’s to stop publishers from only releasing games digitally?

Please tell me how that benefits me as a consumer, by the way. Now, I don’t own the product that I could have bought cheaper at a retail store by taking advantage of a sale than I instead bought at the ridiculous Games on Demand price. Umm…woo-hoo? Yes, just imagine a world where console games are digital-only! No more annoying retail sales where you can get games for 33-50% off within months of release. Instead, buy them from one source that has no competition and give up all of the perks and rights of physical ownership in the process! Sign me up!

"Why, when I was your age, we used to OWN stuff!" "Shut the fuck up, Grandpa."

Microsoft continues to tell us that we don’t want physical discs on our shelves, that we aren’t satisfied with having a cable box AND a game console, and that we want less controllers and more flailing around and/or yelling at our game systems. When we respond with, “Actually, we’re fine with those things…” they scream back, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, DUMMY!” and toss the Xbox One in our general direction.

But the problem- the problem is not THEM, dear reader. It’s US. The writers, gamers, and fans that make up this wonderful, dysfunctional family that we call the gaming community, we’re refusing to evolve, you see. Why are we so stubbornly clinging to these stupid controllers, after all? Why do we insist that our game consoles focus on games? Why won’t we just want the things that they want us to want, which would make this whole deal a lot easier?

This business of selling gaming systems would be so much easier if it wasn’t for having to deal with gamers, right?   read

4:42 PM on 11.05.2012

Putting the "No" in November

I'm definitely in the minority when it comes to my complete and utter lack of excitement over what most consider to be a huge month for videogame releases. I'm unswayed by the prospect of jumping into the moonboots of Master Chief, uninterested in pwning noobs or shooting zombies in another Call of Duty, and unmoved by the prospect of assassinating colonial fools in the most recent Assassin's Creed, which just missed the November release window. I won't be getting a Wii U yet, so the only thing I'll be anticipating regarding Nintendo's latest system will be the reviews.

You can toss December's releases in there, too. Far Cry 3? Meh. I know this may seem crazy, but my most anticipated game for the rest of 2012 is not the sequel to any blockbuster FPS. It's likely Midway Arcade Origins.

Coming in a close second, the ToeJam and Earl Collection

Yes, I'd rather have my childhood sold back to me in a nostalgic cash-in than venture into any science fiction shooter or dystopian future where I must infiltrate the something-or-another and make sure Nefarious Bad Guy 32 doesn't do various acts of terrible villainy that will endanger the world as we know it somehow.

What does all of this say about me as a gamer? Well, like so many of us, I'm sick of first person shooters. I've never been a huge fan of them anyway, but I've gotten jaded enough that even the most excellent representatives of the well-worn genre don't excite me very much. Of course, under the right circumstances, I'll happily plunk down some cash for the latest cynical sequel or soulless blockbuster (*cough* Gears of War *cough*), but these particular franchises leave me feeling as bored as an unsatisfied housewife, though without the accompanying desire to read the Twilight novels.

The games of the rest of 2012 are asking a lot of us, though. Even a game like Hitman: Absolution, which despite its puzzling marketing campaign promises to bring some creative thrills to the usual videogame tasks of murdering lots of people, has a hard act to follow after we just saw the "stealthy murderer" genre get turned on its head by Dishonored.

Anyone who reads my blog (all four of you, in other words) knows of my love of all things XCOM, too. How am I supposed to get excited for games like Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 when no matter how much further the quality of the gameplay, visuals, and writing (ha!) get pushed, they will still have an unmistakeable sameness to them? Even a great Halo or Call of Duty sequel is still very much more of what you played the last time out, and for a guy like me who has never been particularly enamored with either franchise, that spells doom. Or at least, it spells "apathy".

It's a good start, but um, where's the rest?

Even the Wii U features a launch lineup that is unlike any that we've seen before in that many of the biggest games coming out with the system have already been featured on other systems. Batman: Arkham City, Assassin's Creed III, Skylanders Giants, Madden 13, FIFA 13 (which is really FIFA 12 dwarf the original exclusives like the unfortunately-titled ZombiU, which are in short supply.

The message from the release schedule the rest of this year seems to be, "Okay, original IPs and genre-defining reboots: you've had your fun. Now it's time for the big boys to play." Well, in my case, anyway, the big boys don't elicit much more than a skeptically raised eyebrow and a weary yawn.   read

7:02 PM on 10.24.2012

The Hardest Trigger to Pull

MAJOR SPOILERS for Episode 3 of The Walking Dead follow. If you haven't played it, please, stop reading and do so. Bookmark this page or something and go experience it yourself instead of letting me ruin it for you. If you haven't played any of the episodes, please do so. They're great. And yes, this is the only time I will ever tell you NOT to read something I wrote.

Like anybody who has played their share of videogames, I've sometimes doubted my ability to control an on-screen character with the agility, timing, or accuracy needed to beat a tough boss or make a difficult series of jumps. Still, I've never had the urge to just hand the controller over to somebody else because a task was too hard or too frustrating. I've never wished that a game would literally take control and go on auto-pilot for a minute or two...until recently. Even then, it wasn't because the game was too difficult- at least, not in the usual sense of the word.


Standing in the woods, Lee has already committed to taking care of the situation at hand. So far, Kenny has been the one with the reputation of handling the difficult decisions, which in the post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world of The Walking Dead generally means “killing people”. Never mind that I chopped a guy's leg off to get him out of a bear trap without even flinching, or that I offed the family of farmers who turned out to be cannibals.

He's even started to give me crap about not having what it takes to make the hard choices, and why? Because I thought we should try a little CPR before smashing a guy's head with a salt block? Sure, I admitted that Larry was a “racist asshole”, but bashing his brains in while his daughter was trying to revive him was a bit much. Still, I'm not trying to prove anything; that's not why I offered to fix the situation.

Even in a screwed up world like this one, no father should have to kill his own son.

Duck sits against a tree, staring off blankly. His breathing is labored. While Lee talks to Kenny (who is suddenly a widower) on my TV and assures him again that he will take care of Duck, I find myself surprisingly moved by the whole scene. It has all affected me more than I expected- the slowly building sense of dread and inevitability that has been mounting as we traveled on the train and the denial that Kenny was stuck in, thinking that even in this hopeless situation that there was no way he was going to lose his son.

Even with a funny little glitch that momentarily ruined my suspension of disbelief as we got ready to board the train (Katjaa was suddenly holding empty air instead of Duck), the game has gotten to me. I'm closer to tears than I thought I could ever be from playing a game. Still, I take solace in the fact that while there are few lines that don't get crossed in videogames, killing kids is one of them. It's why you can't shoot children in Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. It's why there are no kids at all in the Grand Theft Auto series.

“There's no way I'll actually have to shoot him,” I reassure myself. “They'll cut away and show Lee's or Kenny's face and it'll happen automatically or something.” Now, it's time. Duck's breathing is labored, and he's got to be put out of his misery. Wait a minute...there's the reticle, and I'm supposed to aim it at Duck's head. They're actually going to make me do it.

“You've gotta be fucking kidding me!”


I've done a lot of bad things with a controller in my hand.

I've murdered prostitutes in dark alleys, assassinated politicians, and run over innocent bystanders on sidewalks. I've ripped the heads off of fighters from exotic lands, destroyed buildings, and looted dead bodies. I've lied, cheated, and stolen. Even in cutesy all-ages games, I've kicked little keflings around for fun, made Sims pee themselves for my own amusement, and bred adorable pinatas only to rip them away from their parents and sell them for a profit.

What's worse is that I've done almost all of those things without any feelings of guilt whatsoever (except for maybe selling the pinatas- I felt a little badly about that). Since I generally don't go around killing hookers and blowing up post-nuclear war shanty towns in real life, I figure that the reason for my lack of empathy has more to do with the games in question not making me feel anything for my victims than with my being some kind of sociopath.

As I did all of those dirty deeds, I rarely felt bad at all. I never really thought that a videogame could make me feel bad about killing an in-game character, especially if it was something that I needed to do in order to fulfill a game's objectives or move the story forward.

Then, I played the third episode of The Walking Dead.


I didn't realize that I gave a crap about Duck one way or another until I was tasked with figuring out what had been happening to the camp's food earlier in the third episode. I reluctantly allowed him to help, and his Batman reference made me smile. When we finished the investigation, he put his hand up for a high five, but I chose to investigate further before slapping hands with him. He put his hand down and the game informed me that I had left him hanging.

So, I reloaded from the last checkpoint and did a bunch of stuff over again just so I could high-five Duck. That's when I first realized that the game was working its magic and actually making me care about the characters.

Watching Duck get worse and worse after he was infected wasn't easy. Still, I never thought twice about being the one who would eventually pull the trigger when his health eventually hit rock bottom. You can't let Kenny do that, right? To me, it wasn't even a matter of choice.


The Walking Dead series so far has already been a triumph in many ways. It has successfully brought episodic gaming to consoles and used quick-time events to make a control scheme that blends adventure gaming with elements you'd find in regular action games and shooters. It has made player choices matter in a way that they rarely do in a videogame, all while making those choices more interesting than the usual binary moral choices of whether to throw the cute kitten off of a cliff or give it to the orphan boy after rescuing him from a blazing house fire.

The best thing it has done, though, is make players care about the characters. After I played the third episode, I read reviews and found that other people cared as much about Duck as I did. He wasn't even my favorite character in the game, but he was part of the group, he deserved a better life than what he got, and most importantly, he mattered.

Having the characters matter has not only been the coolest thing about The Walking Dead series, but has been absolutely essential to its success. Think about it: if you don't care about the characters, why would you care about the choices you make? If you don't care about the choices, why play the game? If killing Duck doesn't make you feel anything, how has the game succeeded?


Even in a zombie-infected dystopian wasteland, Duck was in many ways, a regular little boy. His big grin and freckles could have belonged to any number of kids I knew in elementary school or have seen playing around town now as an adult. Now, though, he sits there against the tree, looking pitiful as he struggles to complete every breath.

It would be one thing if he had already turned; I don't think I'd have a hard time shooting a monster that is essentially already dead. To shoot him when he's alive, though? That's a different matter entirely.

I sit there for about thirty seconds, doing nothing. I know I have to do it, but I'm dreading it. I get that feeling that I talked about earlier, wishing that the game would take over and do this one thing, just this one thing for me. Even as the feeling comes over me, I'm surprised that it's happening- that the moment feels so significant. I know it has to be done, but moving the reticle toward him, and especially to his head, just feels wrong.

You don't play videogames without learning to shoot a lot of things. Animals, monsters, bad guys, even innocent people. There's no telling how many times I've pulled the figurative trigger of an in-game gun or the literal trigger of my Xbox 360 controller. Thousands, for sure. Still, it's never felt like this before. It feels...heavy.

People like to joke around about how we would survive in zombie apocalypses as if they'd be great; and so many movies and games make light of the situation. One of the reasons that The Walking Dead comic, TV series, and now game have been so amazing is that they all remind you that a zombie apocalypse would actually be awful. There would be no place for such simple things as trust or innocence. Even mercy would usually exist only in the form of a bullet to the head, like it does for Duck right now.

I move the reticle over his head, and for the first time I can remember, I actually take a deep breath and hold it as I prepare to shoot.

I pull the trigger.   read

12:01 AM on 10.19.2012

A Taste of Discipline from XCOM and Dishonored

I usually try to make my writing well-structured, if nothing else. This is perhaps as a contrast to my everyday life, which is a chaotic series of (only sometimes) hilarious, unrelated, unpredictable, and often horrifying events. Similarly, I seem to gravitate toward videogames that demand some level of organization, and when they don't outright demand it, I enforce it upon myself (see: my stupid plan to hoard every unique weapon in Fallout: New Vegas, my even stupider plan to collect every book in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

Even though both games provide plenty of choices to be made, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored both have enforced their own brands of rigidity and discipline upon me, even if they have done so in entirely different ways.

Not pictured: XCOM, Dishonored, other things that are actually awesome

I really enjoyed my playthrough of XCOM. So much so, in fact, that I didn't touch anything else until I had properly dealt with the alien threat, even if I got a few dozen soldiers massacred along the way. I'm a sucker for strategy RPGs, with Gladius, Valkyria Chronicles, and anything Disgaea being among my favorites. Therefore, XCOM was right in my wheelhouse, allowing me to devise strategies that ranged from "pure lunacy" to "somewhat effective" on the Strategy Scale (TM).

My favorite? When I realized that you can't directly attack a mind-controlled enemy, I realized that I needed to do something to deal with my soon-to-be pissed-off mental captive in a couple of turns. So I placed my soldiers around the poor Muton in all directions, then used the Muton's last move while under my control to move him into the middle of them. I used my squad's last moves to place them all on Overwatch. When the Muton got control of his own mind again, he thought to himself, "What the shit?!?" and immediately went to move to some sort of safety, like any sane sentient being would, only to get mowed down by six soldiers simultaneously ripping him apart. I call that maneuver "Firing Squad".

Anyway, while the game had its flaws: the pacing can be uneven (especially late in the game, since it can be controlled by the player). Late in my playthrough, I was just leveling my soldiers for the final battles without any regard to money (I had tons of money that I didn't need any longer), research (didn't really have anything to do there), building my base (ditto), and so on. Furthermore, I encountered a number of glitches, almost of all of which had to do with SHIV units.

Multiple times, I couldn't assign active SHIVs to my squad for a mission. The problem would repeat until I dismantled the SHIV and built a new one. One time, I brought my SHIV in and it had no actions available. In the bottom right of the screen, no actions were shown where they normally be located; that part was simply blank. Pressing "Y" (Xbox 360 version) at the end of a turn wouldn't allow my SHIV to overwatch, etc. I couldn't do anything but move and provide cover. Another time, my alloy SHIV came into battle as a rookie soldier with an inability to take cover, provide cover, or do anything but move and perform normal attacks with an assault rifle.Weird, and since I was playing in Ironman mode, I simply stopped using SHIVs since I wouldn't have the option to go back to an earlier save if I had a SHIV glitch in an important mission. It was a bummer, since I really liked using them.

Otherwise, I loved the game. Loved it. The strategy elements were great, and it may be the most challenging SRPG I've ever played. I'm looking forward to tackling the tougher difficulty levels and endangering the lives of my dearest friends and family again. I was even surprised by how much I grew attached to some of the generic soldiers that I inherited once I got tired of re-naming soldiers to replace my dead ones. Also, I loved the feeling I got that I improved so much at the game as I played through it. It's a challenging game, but a fair one. It just punishes you for doing dumb shit, and I love that about it. The only real reason I'm not playing through it again while we speak is Dishonored.

Now, Dishonored has forced me to play intelligently, thoughtfully, and carefully, but a lot of the blame for that rests on myself, rather than the game.

Sure, Dishonored heavily pressures players to play with their brains rather than braun- killing more people results in a "darker" ending (or so the game says; I'm not that far yet), the game's biggest achievements are for getting through the game while keeping killing to a minimum and not being seen, and getting into a fight with more than a couple of enemies at a time is just asking for a "game over" screen.

You haven't seen me stumble my way through an undetected [i]Dishonored run, Hand Person[/i]

However, I take a lot of the blame for turning Dishonored into an obsessive-compulsive repetition of save->fuck up->reload (repeat), because for some weird reason it got into my brain that it would be fun to go through the game without killing or even alerting anyone.

Yep, that's right- in the game where you can do over-the-top melee executions or summon a horde of rats to horrifyingly devour living foes, I figured the best thing to do would be to say, "No, I'd prefer to not check out all that cool stuff and instead give myself a massive case of Gaming Blue Balls by sneaking around and reloading saves non-stop."

I can't be alone, though. When I did a Google image search for "reload save" to look for a picture that I could add a snarky caption to for this very blog, several pages in there was a picture used in a Dishonored review.

Plus, I have ways to cope. Every now and then, I save, and then just freak the fuck out stabbing friends and enemies alike, slowing time and shooting as many dickwads as I can, or just flinging unconscious bodies to their deaths. It's strangely therapeutic.

I thought about starting over and playing the game in a more natural way, using my tried and true "Stealth Until 'Fuck It'" playing style that has served me so well in The Elder Scrolls series (where stealth is laughably easy, mind you) and other games. Then, I could do my nonstop saving, reloading, sneaking, and loudly cursing in smaller intervals. However, for some strange reason I'm actually enjoying the more challenging, trial-and-error approach.

I haven't felt this inadequate since algebra class, and yet I love it.

XCOM and Dishonored may be different in a lot of ways, but for me, they're similar in that they both require the kind of discipline that a lot of games don't have the balls to ask of gamers these days. I don't know if it makes me a masochist, but I don't mind enforced discipline as long as the challenge doesn't feel cheap (and aside from unlucky dice rolls and those fucking terror missions in XCOM, as well as your usual stealth-related AI detection issues in Dishonored, it usually doesn't).

Some play games in order to relax. Apparently, I often play them to have my balls busted, and XCOM and Dishonored are all too happy to oblige.   read

12:13 AM on 10.04.2012

10 Reasons I Can't F#@king Wait for XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I'll say it: I'm completely hot for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It's been a long time since I've anticipated any game this much, and I'll admit that even I'm a little surprised by the development. Sure, when I first read about it, it sounded interesting. I love strategy RPG's, and killing aliens is always a good time, after all. However, something about this game has given me a game boner the likes of which I haven't had in quite some time. This list should serve two purposes, then: it will help me figure out why I have such an e-rection for this game and also give any of you holdouts plenty of reasons to jump on the XCOM bandwagon.

"So then, we got together and said, 'What kind of game will make Jon Hartley instantly goo in his pants?'"

10. It's Got Ridiculous Difficulty Levels

Like just about every game made after 1995, it's got your typical beginner mode. That's cool and all. Let the uninitiated get in and obliterate some aliens to get their feet wet. Then, there's normal difficulty, whatever that means. I would assume it means “I know how to use cover and am not out to sadistically get my squad murdered by extraterrestrials.” But then...THEN...

There's “classic” mode. Yes, the difficulty that would generally be known as “hard” mode on any other game is simply known as classic mode in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. “Oh, you're gonna step it up past normal difficulty? Well, that's cool and all, but don't expect us to be all impressed. I mean, you're really just playing 'classic' XCOM, noob.” Finally, there's the hardest difficulty level, suitably known as “impossible” mode. As we learned from Destructoid's own Allistair Pinsof's interview with Lead Designer Jake Solomon and Lead Producer Garth Deangelis, impossible mode basically exists to F you in the A.

“We have one tester who beat that mode, so you can beat it!” Solomon said. See? It can be done...technically.

9. Checking Out the “Ant Farm”

The home base that you designate in XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not just a base of operations in name alone. No, it will give you boosts according to where you locate it (North American bases lead to 50% less expensive aircraft and aircraft weapons, while South American bases give you instant autopsies and interrogations, for example) and directly affect how your playthrough goes. You'll use the hangar, mission control, situation room, workshop, laboratories, and barracks, along with many other areas, all while using the new “ant farm” view to monitor what's happening.

It's kinda like a real ant farm, only with less ants and more high-tech, alien-murdering weaponry

8. It's Got Plenty of Style

I love the art style in the game, which some of the team described as a look resembling real-life action figures. The aliens have kind of a retro look to them, and new aliens like the Thin Man (who noticeably resembles the Slender Man from the YouTube series) are creepy looking, too. The sound will add to the experience, with the sectoids having voices that were likened by audio lead Roland Rizzo to altered spider monkey sounds.

The music will retain the eerie vibe that I experienced during my brief time so far with the original PC predecessor, which is good news, as Rizzo has worked on attaining a creepy, atmospheric soundtrack “with a pulse”.

7. Good Ol' Fashioned Violence

Sure, I love the idea of agonizing over decisions or coming up with perfect strategies in XCOM. Of course, I also love the idea of blowing shit up and shooting aliens RIGHT IN THE FACE. Hey, what can I say? I was stained by the horror movies and violent videogames of my uncaring, amoral culture. Also, violence is awesome sometimes.

I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't waiting to rip through my enemies with advanced lasers or blow up clusters of alien dickwads with frag grenades. The active camera that highlights the most dramatic moments of battle will only make the action even better.

The only good alien is a...nevermind, there is no good alien. Except Alf.

6. The Soldiers May Be Doomed, But They'll Be Awesome

Customizing your soldiers will be both a fun experience in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and another reason that the tension will be heightened when your favorite fighters are struggling to survive on the battlefield. With customization options that let you name your soldiers and alter their looks while building them up as they level, I don't think anyone will fail to feel some kind of connection with their squad members. That makes the perma-death that is one of the series' trademarks that much more meaningful.

If your squad is injured, I feel bad for ya son, I got 99 problems, but a stitch ain't one

5. Multiplayer That Actually Sounds Fun (!)

I know this sounds completely fucking crazy, but in a world full of single-player games that have multiplayer modes hastily duct-taped onto them in order to add another bullet point to the back of the box and avoid whiny complaints about campaigns being “too short”, XCOM's multiplayer sounds pretty fun.

The reason I hold out hope for XCOM's multiplayer is that it doesn't ask you to play a drastically different game than you do in the core single-player experience. You're still in a turn-based battle, but now, your opponent is a human being. Furthermore, in the multiplayer, you get to use both aliens and humans to make a squad with the power to force rage quits and angry messages full of homophobic slurs from your opponents.

The intriguing part of the multiplayer is that you have a point allotment that you have to use to make your force up, so that theoretically nobody will be overpowered. In a way, mixing and matching different units sounds kind of like picking your squad in Ice Hockey for NES, and who doesn't like that idea? (By the way, one fat guy, one skinny guy, and two medium-sized guys is the way to go. It's not up for debate.)

Pictured: Two teams who are doing it right

4. Little Things Mean a Lot

When I play a game like this, I'll enjoy the core gameplay features and the strategy involved, sure. I'll admire the pretty graphics and occasionally even notice the sound effects and background music, but what really turns my simple affection for a game into the kind of love affair that usually inspires stalking and ill-advised neck tattoos of another person's name are the details.

I love hearing that if somebody gets hurt, your less-experienced soldiers will flip out and run for cover as if- well, as if they've just seen a fucking alien blow a hole in one of their buddies, I guess. When I hear that critical wounds can heal, but leave a soldier's “Will” stat permanently affected, I squeal with delight. Dead characters get a cinematic and end up immortalized on a memorial wall in your base. These are the types of details that make a good game great.

3. Finally, Strategy Instead of Twitchy Gameplay

Even with insane difficulty and migraine-inducing decisions to make at every turn, I find strategy games relaxing, in a way. I enjoy mulling over important choices and planning my next move. Feeling on edge as I turn around a corner with an itchy trigger finger ready to shoot whatever I see? Not so much.

Hey, twitchy FPS gameplay has its place, but let's face it...there's plenty of that shit on store shelves already. It seems like really good strategy games that don't hold your hand and demand that you actually use your noggin are rarer with each passing year, though...especially on consoles. I love strategy RPGs, and the hand-crafted maps, random enemy spawns, destructible environments (blow down a wall so your sniper can get a clear shot, for instance), and weapon advantages/disadvantages sound like they're just what I'm looking for in a strategy RPG experience. Furthermore, since the strategic decisions about what to spend your money on, what to research and who to help actually affects what happens on the battlefield (and vice versa), this game has a rare unity in its gameplay that brings all of its systems together.

To military strategists, this is known as "the direct approach"

2. Your Choices Actually Matter

If I play one more game where I have to choose whether to give an orphan a piece of bread or kick a homeless guy in the balls as some sort of supposed “moral choice”, I'm going to kick a developer in the balls, instead. Fortunately, that kind of tiresome choice will not be in XCOM. That's because in XCOM, you're making hard choices that actually matter.

With the permanent death of your beloved soldiers lurking behind every decision, will you risk their safety to stun aliens instead of killing them, so that you can interrogate them for information? Will you throw a frag to easily dispose of a cluster of aliens, even though that will render their remains unusable for scientific research?

Furthermore, when multiple attacks are happening around the globe, who will you help? I remember seeing a memorable Mass Effect 2 ad that showed Shepard looking at the galaxy map, seeing tons of distress signals but only obviously being able to help a few poor souls out. Unfortunately, none of the games in the series lived up to the ad's promise. Instead, just like with most RPGs and open world games, you could receive an emergency distress signal, fuck around finding people's lost personal items and flirting with cute aliens for 30 hours, and get around to helping those who were in trouble whenever you felt like it without any negative consequences.

In XCOM, you have to choose who to help, knowing that those that you don't help will die and repurcussions (such as increased panic in the area or decreased funding from countries you don't assist) await. Games that ask you to make choices should make sure you actually care about those choices. Remember the time when Morrigan asked you to father her creepy witch baby and never talk to her again? Yeah, expect plenty of moments like that.

That's a whole lotta Earth for one group to defend from anal probings

1. Two Words: Ironman Mode

Okay, three words: “Motherfucking Ironman Mode”!

If you're going to play XCOM, I think this is the only way to do it. The game auto-saves for you at regular intervals, and you have no second save slot to use. No reloading when a bad decision doesn't work out for you. No saving to a second slot before you make a risky decision. Nope. Like in real life, you make your decisions and deal with them. Imagine the extra tension as you play, knowing that everything you do will be irrevocable.

Favorite squad member dies? Too bad. A country pulls its funding from the program? Sorry.

Ironman Mode sounds like XCOM personified. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.   read

1:35 AM on 09.29.2012

Review: FIFA 13

While Electronic Arts has suffered a seemingly endless string of PR nightmares over the years (most recently for slapping a new cover on FIFA 12 and releasing it as FIFA 13 for the Wii), some of their yearly sports titles have managed to deliver on a level that leaves them virtually immune to the criticism the publisher receives. FIFA has been one of those titles in recent years, with gameplay that straddles the line between realism and accessibility beautifully, as well as an absolutely ridiculous amount of game modes.

This year, EA Canada set out to not only expand the ways that you can enjoy FIFA 13, but also to address issues with the core gameplay itself. The results have been even better than expected, and the result is one of the deepest sports games ever made.

FIFA 13 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC, Playstation 3)
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release: September 25, 2012
MSRP: $59.99

First things first: there is an endless amount of content here.

It's almost overwhelming to turn on FIFA 13 and see all of the things there are to do. Inevitably, most people will gravitate toward a few game modes and try the others out a couple of times before moving on, but the sheer number of game modes and ways that you can play FIFA 13 left me unsure of where to begin.

Career mode returns, along with tournaments, the popular FIFA Ultimate Team mode, a variety of online modes, and new game modes such as online seasons. Virtually every mode can be played online or offline, and no matter what mode you play, you will earn experience toward your football club of choice as you contribute your own earned experience to compete alongside fellow fans against those of other clubs around the world.

As you play FIFA 13, you level up and unlock rewards in the new catalogue such as celebrations, career mode boosts, historical teams, and so on. This emphasis is part of what is an obvious effort to bring all the modes together and make them part of one cohesive package, rather than feeling like several vaguely-related games that are simply duct-taped together.

Without knowing exactly where to start, I gave the tutorials, drills, and skill games a try. While tutorials are the bane of the antsy gamer's existence, I've always enjoyed tutorials as both a way to learn an unfamiliar game and a way to brush up on unused skills in others. Since I haven't played a FIFA game since FIFA 10, I checked them out. They were quite limited in a way, with tutorials being restricted to defensive controls, but they were helpful nonetheless in helping me acquaint myself with important mechanics like jockeying and the improved push/pull techniques.

To work on my offense, I had to head to the new skill games, which ranged in quality from just okay to absolutely addictive. Your efforts are scored as you progress through bronze, silver, and gold level challenges that add difficulty and help you improve your grasp of offensive techniques. All of them gave me a basic understanding of my options while controlling offensive players.

Still, I was disappointed that there isn't anywhere in the game that walks you through the improved dribbling controls, especially because a lot of the advanced maneuvers are pretty complex and aren't best experimented with in an actual match. Unfortunately, if you want to get the hang of them, you have to go to the practice arena and simply work them out for yourself. Furthermore, where's the button for flopping, and how do I fake injuries? "If it's in the game," my ass, EA.

For a single-player fanatic like me, career mode was the thing I was most excited about, and FIFA 13 doesn't disappoint. I've always enjoyed franchise modes and their equivalents in sports games, and the way the FIFA series marries player and manager careers is brilliant, allowing you to take over as a manager once your playing days are done, as in previous iterations.

This year's improvements to career mode are noticeable, as you now have expanded international options both as a player and a manager (managers can helm a national team full-time now), and AI as well as options when it comes to player transfers have been updated, as well. Apparently in the past, the AI would value players like pieces of meat according to a flat assessment of their talents, and now a more realistic approach allows AI teams to view their players as more or less valuable according to their contributions and role on the team. Nothing ruins a good manager mode like wonky transfer AI, so it's an important change.

EA has put a lot of effort into promoting the Ultimate Team feature in many of its sports games, which is clear in FIFA 13. The mode is overflowing with options, as you can take your team into one-off matches, tournaments, or complete seasons against either AI or online opponents. Promotion and relegation are a part of Ultimate Team leagues this year, just to add a little pressure to the proceedings. You can also take on the "Team of the Week" for a chance at extra coins, should you be able to defeat them. Of course, you can buy packs to improve your roster or add boosts to your team, which is as addictive a process as ever.

All of these game modes would be worthless, of course, if the gameplay itself wasn't great. Fortunately, it is. First Touch Control works beautifully, as players will occasionally mishandle passes realistically. This means that turnovers occur more naturally instead of happening most of the time through tackles, especially at the higher difficulty levels, where the AI doesn't hold on to the ball as long. The gameplay is still very responsive, and although the tricker dribbling techniques can be hard to master, they work well when used in the right situations. Simpler techniques like shielding the ball and making fine movements with pace control work well.

EA Canada has made it clear that they don't want players to play like collections of ratings, but like actual people with personalities, flaws, and strengths. For the most part, they seem to have succeeded. After playing with Lionel Messi in the skill games, I picked the Chicago Fire of the MLS to play a few matches and the drop-off in my player's abilities was noticeable, to say the least. Furthermore, player personalities seem to emerge as you play more with or against specific teams.

FIFA 13 can be a very challenging game if you are new to the series or play at a high difficulty level, but various settings allow you to avoid the always-annoying proposition of being stuck between two difficulty levels. You can adjust everything from the way the AI's defense lines up to how accurate their passes are to get the matches to play more like you want them to. You can also add difficulty without changing the AI by altering the amount of assistance you get on shooting and passing.

Player creation has not changed much, and you can still make a reasonable facsimile of an actual person to control in either online seasons or career mode. The creation centre allows you to download created players, teams, and tournaments from others, but in typical EA fashion, you can only download so many and have to pay extra if you want to expand the number you can have.

The presentation is polished, as always. The first-string commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith return, and they do a good enough job of calling the action. You'll hear repeated phrases, of course, but unlike other sports games where the flow of the game stops regularly and you hear the same anecdotes over and over, matches keep them busy enough that most of what you hear is what's happening on the pitch moment-to-moment, anyway. During the new Match Day mode, they comment on real-world happenings, similarly to the way that the NBA 2K talking heads do in NBA Today mode. Crowds sound suitably realistic and add to the sense of immersion during matches, too.

In a sports game, gameplay should always come first, and EA Canada really delivered on that front while also improving and expanding many features of the game, too. Whether you call it football or soccer, if you have even a tiny amount of interest in playing "the beautiful game" in videogame form, you won't be sorry that you bought FIFA 13.

Final Verdict:
Superb: 9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title in its *genre*.   read

9:26 PM on 09.25.2012

WTF Moments in Gaming History: Wall Street Kid

If you're like me, you remember the NES very fondly. You also remember the system for the genres that made the system so great. Sure, there was something for everybody, but generally you could count on plenty of platformers, side scrolling action titles, bullet hell shooters, and RPGs, to name a few well-worn genres from the 8-bit days.

What you wouldn't expect a lot of are stock trading simulators. Mainly because marketing a game where you buy and sell stocks to a bunch of 10-year old kids is INSANE.

Enter: Wall Street Kid.

Wall Street Kid, quite simply, was designed by sociopaths who thought, "You know, there's plenty of games out there where you play baseball, save princesses, or do battle on alien worlds. So let's just get away from all of that and let kids do what they really want to do: try to make a profit off of the volatile stock market!"

Keep in mind that in 1990, when Wall Street Kid was released to what were certainly crowds of gamers who had camped outside of stores in anticipation of such a AAA gaming experience, games were pretty expensive at about $50 a piece. People complain nowadays about $60 games that "only" provide 10 hours of single-player content, but let's remember in that in 1987, people were shelling out $50 for Deadly Towers.

So, this wasn't like asking somebody to pay 800 Microsoft Moonbucks for a niche XBLA title that might offer some stupid fun. This was asking a bunch of pre-teens to set aside their allowances for a couple of months so that they could buy a game that you could beat in two or three hours that had you trading stocks instead of punches or gunfire.

Riveting gameplay!

"Okay," you may be thinking, "this doesn't sound so bad. I mean, yeah, it was a dumb business decision to make a game like that, but I could see a sort of stupid appeal. It could be fun if done right." I know, I know! I felt the same way when I played it as a kid. The problem is that the game was AWFUL, even if you thought trading stocks all day sounded amazing.

First of all, the difficulty level was punishingly hard. You had to trade the stocks of companies like "Strayhound", "Reebucks", or (my favorite) "American Depress" on a weekly basis according to wildly varying market conditions that could make a stock hot one day and leave it plummeting in price seven days later. You were expected to use the game's version of The Wall Street Journal (another well-known name in children's entertainment) to make your decisions based on interest rates, market conditions, and news items.

Seems legit

See, your character has a $600 billion inheritance from a distant uncle that he can't have access to until he proves his worth by turning $500,000 into at least $5 million within four months by trading on the stock market. Why? I don't know...because your uncle's a dick.

Why do you need to make so much money? Because at regular intervals throughout the game, you will be forced- yes, forced- to buy large items. If you don't have the money, the game ends. One time it's a $1 million house, another time it's a $700,000 yacht, and then there's the family castle that is up for auction but used to belong to the family. Depending on how the auction goes, it will be at least $3 million, but can cost as much as $10 million. How did a family worth $600 billion allow a castle that was supposedly important to them fall into the hands of outsiders? We don't ask such questions.

Not pictured: literal wet blanket

Then, there's your fiancee, Priscilla. Her sole existence appears to be to bleed you dry and make endless demands of you even though you have four months to make a 1,000% profit on the stock market. She wants a dog, and then she wants a new car. Then she wants stereo equipment, as well as art to put in the new house. She'll also want to throw an expensive party, and you'd better buy her some jewelry, too. You'll also have to make time out of your stressful workdays to take her to picnics or carnivals, and after the wedding, you'll take a week off of work for your honeymoon, even though you're busting your balls to try to make back the money you spent buying her all of that crap.

As a kid, you have to wonder whether this was intended to be a game that trains you to kick ass on the stock market or one that trains you to have a deep-rooted fear of commitment. Wall Street Kid teaches you that women are nagging, greedy, needy creatures that exist only to make your life difficult. For $50, you get both a stock trading sim and a mysogynist trainer!

Fun for all ages!

The next time you wonder what the hell game developers and publishers are thinking, just remember that once upon a time, a little software company called Sofel published a point-and-click, stock trading strategy game that was ridiculously difficult in a time when videogames were still thought of mainly as "kiddie stuff."   read

12:21 AM on 09.18.2012

SaleBlog: Dust Off Those Instruments, 50% Off Rock Band 1 & 2 DLC

I don't know about you guys, but it's been awhile since I took out the trusty ol' plastic axe and shredded out a few tunes in my living room. Still, even my cold, black heart melted a bit when I heard of the monumental sale Harmonix is throwing at us shortly.

Don't worry about this guy- he already owns them all

Starting Tuesday, 9/18, over 1,100 tracks that were released before Rock Band 3 came out will be 50% off. Now, what is not known is whether this represents a permanent price drop or a temporary sale, so if you've had your eye on that Night Ranger Pack for a few years now but were too cheap to shell out the entire $5.49, you might want to snatch it up with the quickness so you can get your "Sister Christian" on.

On Xbox Live, prices will gradually update, but all of the tracks should be priced correctly by noon ET. Meanwhile, Wii prices will update at the normal time that Wii DLC usually goes up (whenever that is), while the same will be true for PS3 tracks. Here's a full list of all of the track packs, albums, and single songs that will be impacted by the discount.

The songs will not have pro guitar or keyboard functionality, since they were all issued before Rock Band 3, BUT have no fear! They are still compatible with both Rock Band 3 and Rock Band Blitz, in case you have traded in your plastic git-fiddle for a regular old controller.

Are you guys going to pick anything up? Do you even play music games anymore? I'm kind of interested, and I have to admit that I do miss playing fake guitar...   read

12:41 AM on 09.13.2012

Backlogged: Alpha Protocol

Just about every gamer has a backlog, and I am no exception. To try and keep mine managable, I will regularly pick a game I've been meaning to get to and complete it (or play as much of it as I can stand) before reporting my thoughts. That's what Backlogged is all about: the dream of finally getting to all the games I've been meaning to play. And no, it has nothing to do with being constipated. Finally, don't worry, I won't including anything other than very light spoilers past the first hour of gameplay without warning you.

Not pictured: Awesome "Se-gaaaaa" opening credit

The Backstory

Alpha Protocol is a game that I read about regularly before its release, immediately being interested in the branching paths and interesting dialogue system. Of course, the game was delayed for over a year and upon release, was panned by many critics (including our own Jim Sterling, who gave the game a woeful 2/10) for poor shooting and cover mechanics, along with technical issues.

Nevertheless, the wide range of review scores (as low as 10, but with several others in the low to mid-80s) and the praise I've heard for the RPG aspects of the game kept me somewhat interested, and I finally snagged a copy for all of $11.69 at GameStop in February. Despite hearing that the game often gets frustrating due to the shooting sections not being well done and the difficulty being uneven, I finally gave it a try this last week.

Easy Does It

I'm not "reviewing" this game, per se. As such, I am freed from the responsibility to try out different difficulty levels and so forth. Instead, I simply aimed to play it, enjoy it (if possible), and clear it out of the ol' backlog. Because of that, I made the decision early on to play the game on easy.

Why? Well, I'm okay with a good challenge if a game's mechanics are sound and the difficulty isn't ridiculous. To date, there are only a handful of games I've ever played through on easy (this and Catherine being the two that come to mind), and in both cases it's because I was more interested in the story than anything else. When I heard that this game had shoddy combat and that you had to invest in certain skills to get anywhere on the standard difficulty, I figured I'd have a better time saying "eff it", playing on easy and doing whatever I wanted, instead. Although very few sections stand out that seem as if they would have been frustrating on harder levels (besides the helicopter attack from the last mission), I think I made the right choice.

Getting Started

You get to choose classes in Alpha Protocol, which is only slightly made confusing by the fact that later on, you also choose specialties. I chose "Soldier" in part because it indicated that my character has "natural language talent and quick wit." Sounds about right, if I do say so myself. Ahem.

My first official act within the game? To hit on the first woman I spoke to, the horrifically-named Mina Tang. Mina has disastrous bangs and a mouth that looks like it belongs on the head cheerleader of Uncanny Valley High, but I decided right off the bat that like all secret agents, my character would be all about the tang. Even Mina Tang.

Little-known fact: Mini grew up in East LA, which is why she still shaves her eyebrows off, then pencils them in

I noticed right off the bat that the game likes to provide you with choices. One of the easiest of which: "Open Door" or "Break Open Door". Well, shit. If you put it like THAT...why would I ever NOT want to break open a door? I'd kick in the door to Subway whenever I wanted to get a sandwich if I could get away with it. I was less impressed with the melee combat, which looked decidedly last-gen and like it was tacked on at the last minute. "Oh shit guys, what do players do against all of the enemies who will run through their gunfire and attack them with kung fu? Better program some melee in quick!"

No, I realized that my door-busting ways were already over; stealthy was the way for me. Using my stealth skills, I snuck up on an unsuspecting enemy and immobilized him with some typical judo-rate that would only work in the confines of a videogame. I also got my first taste of the lockpicking, hacking, and other minigames, which were not bad! At least, at first. But hey, I've yet to find a similar minigame that hasn't gotten old after doing it a couple hundred times.

After kicking the shit out of all kinds of nameless thugs, I found out that it was all just a training exercise and part of the recruiting process. OF COURSE! That makes perfect sense! I customized my character (a pair of aviators and five 'o-clock shadow seemed great for his douchey, womanizing demeanor), got trained up, and was set to go.

Betrayal! Suspense! Intrigue! Sexual Innuendos!

The story of Alpha Protocol is a mixed bag. On one hand, I loved the characters, who may not have been believable in all cases (and often were caricatures), but were always clearly-defined and in most cases, either instantly loveable or hateable. On the other hand, the story was a whole lot of crap about terrorists doing terroristy things, evil corporations working with arms dealers, missiles needing to be recovered, and blah blah blah, you get the point. I'll be honest with you: a fair amount of the time, I set off on a mission not really knowing (or caring) why the hell I was doing what I was doing.

What I did care about, though, was my interaction with the other characters. Sure, it was fun clumsily trying to seduce women, but it was also fun figuring out the motives of shady characters or deciding which way to approach conversations in order to get them to do what I wanted them to do. Investing in them made me similarly invested in big choices that occurred later in the game, which were occasionally among the harder ones I've been asked to make in a videogame.

Your character, no matter what you do, seems to be locked into the persona of Drake from the "Uncharted" series' extra-snarky older brother. You can choose to be professional, suave, arrogant, aggressive, and so on during conversations, but when you don't get to choose what you say (as in some cutscenes or communications during missions), Agent Thorton often makes dry wisecracks, anyway, such as when he wonders aloud in a monotone voice whether a terrorist under arrest "likes waterboarding".

Sometimes, to keep the story on the path you've sent it on, characters will do things that seem out of character, or just plain weird. For instance, after a misunderstanding with one character, I was able to end the confrontation without violence, which is fine, but it seemed weird that he would just let bygones be bygones when I had just mowed down dozens of his men during the mission. Other times, though, you can convince someone who openly dislikes you to help you out if you appeal to the correct motivation, which you use your own intuition and the information you've collected on them to figure out.

Judo-rate! Keeeyaaaa!

Choices, Choices

The game's dialogue system is great. Options of what attitude to assume in a conversation appear as other characters are finishing their statements or questions, and you have a finite amount of time to choose how to act or respond. I found that the one to two-word descriptions were usually pretty fitting with what Thorton would actually say. The really great thing, though, was seeing how your choices affected not only the gameplay itself, but how your missions went and what options you might have in the future.

Alpha Protocol has all kinds of different paths that you can take, ranging not only from how you deal with the game's villains and main characters to who you ally with, and sometimes who lives and dies. Here's a vague and only lightly-spoilery description of a scenario I dealt with early on:

I had the choice to either extort, arrest, or kill an arms dealer. Because I wanted to get information from him, I chose to arrest him. Doing so hampered intelligence gathering in the region, but also lowered terrorist weapon supplies. In another mission, I chose to fulfill a side objective that helped a friend, but also caused a security lockdown, making the mission more complicated.

Later on, the game also throws some tough "you can only accomplish one of the two objective" scenarios at you, but it goes back to the well with them a little too often and they lose some of their power as a result.

Love Machine

For me, this game was one part murder simulator and one part sexual harassment simulator. Although I found the combat to not be quite as bad as others have, you can guess which part I enjoyed more. From the start, my Thorton hit on, flirted with, and generally made uncomfortable every woman that he came in contact with.

And there are so many to choose from! From the afore-mentioned Miss Tang to the predictably career-minded photographer (with red hair and named Scarlet, no less) to the classic damsel in distress (Madison Saint James, who Thorton correctly notices has a porn star name), there is quite a range. None is as entertaining as SIE, though, whose name is spelled in all caps for no apparent reason, besides maybe the fact that she murders professional soldiers in the snow while wearing a tube top and pink sunglasses, so she can pretty much spell her name however the hell she wants.

Completely appropriate attire for gunfights in Russia in the dead of winter

All have their own personalities, which makes interacting with them a little more interesting than in, say, Bioware's offerings, where you know you pretty much have to listen to their boring stories and pretend to be interested in their problems to earn their favor. Sure, Bioware's method may be more realistic, but in Alpha Protocol you can actually try to woo a woman and fail miserably for awhile when not knowing what she wants.

Another difference from Bioware's games is that you can be a complete man-whore and sleep with everyone in one playthrough. I failed, as the undoubtedly sadomasochistic pleasures of SIE were undiscovered by my character, but it's the thought that counts. The romance scenes, of course, are nothing to write home about, with just the insinuation that you, to use one love interest's innuendo, "planted your tracking device" in the women.

Who's the Boss?

I generally tend to think that boss fights are a silly, unnecessary and outdated part of gaming that have overstayed their welcome. They either require you to abandon the core mechanics of the game for a gimmicky one-off battle or they lazily through a suped-up version of a regular villain at you just to add some articifical challenge to the proceedings.

In shooters, the problem is ten-fold, as it's impossible to suspend your disbelief when you have to shoot someone dozens of times in the face to kill them. In Alpha Protocol, you run into a teenage girl who appears to be fighting you in street clothes, yet somehow takes several bullets to the face before realizing she's probably lost the battle. Later on, I faced an enemy who I shot over 30 times, almost always in the head, before again subduing- not even KILLING- him.

The only saving grace for what would likely be very frustrating experiences on the harder difficulties from these bullet-absorbing supervillains is that if you level up certain abilities, the fights are almost an afterthought. With all but a couple of bosses, I simply used a pistol ability where you freeze time, load up a bunch of targets (all of them to the bosses' head, of course) and let them all go at once to make quick work of them. Still, what place do boss fights like that have in a game like this?

Her hoodie is...bulletproof, I guess? Hell, I don't know

Shooting: Dice-Roll Style

Some people were put off by the combat in Alpha Protocol, and I can't blame them. Due to the RPG aspects of the game, there are times when you'll aim at someone's head and simply miss for no apparent reason, for instance. That's hard to defend. Then again, how do you properly show progression if all of the success rests on the player's individual ability level, which by and large doesn't change a whole lot?

I also found that if you stick to a couple types of guns and just level them up, the shooting wasn't quite as frustrating. Having to wait a few seconds for your reticle to converge for a critical hit felt strange (especially when being shot at), but since your enemies have just about zero accuracy on the lowest difficulty level, it wasn't such a big deal for me.

The stealth aspects of the game were not as bad as I'd heard. I didn't feel like enemies who shouldn't have known I was there detected me very often, and an ability you can earn fairly quickly that works like the "Detect Life" spell/ability in the Elder Scrolls series was pretty helpful, too. That said, my stealth style is best described as ", fuck it", as I would generally use stealth just to get the drop on a group of enemies and start confrontations to my advantage, not to sneak through entire missions unnoticed, which seems as if it would be fairly difficult in this game.

Some missions only required for you to use your conversational skills, and another mission has you using a sniper rifle to zoom in on suspects to find the right one before carrying out an assassination, which was a nice change of pace. However, a lot of the missions required the same ", fuck it" play style and didn't have much variety as the game went on.

Many Different Paths

When I came to the end of the game, I felt pretty satisfied. Even with one playthrough, I can testify to the many different ways your Alpha Protocol game can end. I re-loaded my last checkpoint right before the final boss fight and changed a couple of choices right at the end that gave me different endings, for instance, one of which was radically different (and patently ridiculous, but whatever).

Looking around online, it seems that there are many parts of the story that branch off and can cause the ending to be completely different. There's also an extra rundown at the end of the final mission that ties up some loose ends via a few paragraphs of text, which is also done at the end of previous missions to help you understand the gravity of your decisions.

(SPOILERS)In the end of my playthrough, Marburg apparently escaped scot-free, but I brought Leland to bloody, beautiful justice. I saved Mina and we floated off into the sunset to make little Tang-Thortons. Of course, when I reloaded and chose to let Leland live, I literally had my jaw drop as Thorton was shot by a sniper who turned out to be Scarlet herself. Turned out that Scarlet had made the assassination attempt on Taiwan's president earlier in the game, too. I give Obsidian props for making two very distinct endings from what would be two nearly identical playthroughs, but the Scarlet-as-assassin ending was pretty far-fetched. If you've played through Alpha Protocol, let me know how your ending was!(END SPOILERS)

In real life, I always choose "suave"

Remaining Questions

-If there's no new game plus, why did I earn XP at the end of the final mission?

-Why does SIE's accent sound Russian, not German?

-Seriously..."Mina Tang"?

By the Numbers

19:55 time logged
24 achievements unlocked for 675 gamerscore
576 enemies killed
108 enemies subdued
49,336 XP earned
928 children orphaned (no really, the game tells you that)

Final Thoughts

Alpha Protocol exceeded all of my expectations. I'll go as far as to say that I really enjoyed playing it. Now, it had started to wear out its welcome with repetitive gameplay and mission structure near the end of the story, but the interaction between characters kept me interested, nonetheless. While I felt that the combat and overall gameplay coule be improved, I didn't find them to be as bad as was indicated in many of the reviews I've read.

Alpha Protocol reminds me of LA Noire a lot in that while the game was far from perfect, there were some solid ideas that I'd like to see taken further, if not in a sequel, than in another game entirely. Overall, I liked Alpha Protocol a lot, and I'll likely replay it in the future to see some of the other things that could have happened in the story.

If you've played the game, too, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!   read

4:11 PM on 08.30.2012

My Completely Unnecessary (Re)Introduction Blog

Hello, friends, strangers, and men pretending to be women!

I feel more than a little self-conscious writing an introduction blog, for a couple of reasons:

a) I would rather the focus of any blog entry not be on me. My consoles of choice, the games I've played, my dashing good lucks, sure. Me, as a person? The subject merely being the fact that I'm here? That seems a little weird.

b) It seems only slightly less masturbatory than actual masturbation, but slightly more masturbatory than bragging about one's gamerscore to write a blog that basically says, "Here I am! Quiver at my presence and cast Faps at my feet, peasants!"

However, the fact is that while I've never stopped visiting Destructoid regularly, I've been absent from my poor, neglected c-blog for two years (I've visited the site, commented, and blogged in various capacities since 2007). It would seem just as awkward to simply show up with a blog about whether I want to buy a Wii U or discussing the merits of yet another game where you shoot stuff in first person without so much as a mention of the fact that my next most recent blog post was about Heavy fucking Rain.

It's also more than a little weird that I've been lurking/reading/commenting/blogging here for five years, yet I haven't really ever felt as if I'm ingrained myself in the community. I think that's a problem, and just last night I read various blogs about the state of the community here, including one by Y0j1mb0 that basically said, "If you don't do anything to contribute, don't complain." I think that makes a lot of sense.

In the past, I aimed to post blogs about things I found interesting, in the hopes that others would, too, and some discussion would ensue. I tried to give what I thought would be a unique take on things that had nonetheless been discussed to death already, hoping to provide a fresh angle that would get noticed. It's not that I don't want to do that anymore, but I also want to actually be more of a part of things here, too.

What I'm saying is:

I want to get in your pants, Destructoid.

This post is kind of like the stammering, self-deprecating Hugh Grant speech from some bad 2000's rom-com that is going to help make that happen. Hopefully, you will find it somewhat amusing and return when I actually post something of substance. At the bare minimum, I hope you don't wish you had spent the last few minutes causing yourself bodily harm rather than reading my ramblings. I think that's a pretty good starting point, too.   read

5:41 PM on 02.02.2010

How Heavy Rain Pushes All the Wrong Buttons

A funny thing happens when I browse this fine site. Many times, I'm more interested in people's reactions (and the reasons for them) then the actual stories themselves. I find Destructoid not only to be an awesome place to get news and even make some friends (if you're into that sort of thing), but also an interesting community with a subculture all its own. I find that at certain times, the Dtoid community reacts to things in a way that no other site does in quite the same way. Figuring out why this is the case is a nice challenge from time to time. So of course, after braving the comments sections of a few stories related to Heavy Rain, I wondered why the game provoked such intense reactions.

What follows, fine folks, is the result of painstaking research, good ol' fashioned hard work and a little bit of just plain making shit up.

The question was obvious: what is it about Heavy Rain that pisses people off or even makes them give a damn at all? I, like most of us the majority of the time, can bypass stories about games I have no interest in without feeling compelled to stop in and comment (again) about just why I won't be playing said game. However, any Heavy Rain story (even early on, before the "games vs. movies" nonsense really got started) would attract numbers of people who simply felt the need to tell us why they wouldn't be playing it. Furthermore, people seemed to be a little more passionate about this game than they really should be, especially if they really didn't care (as they claimed). There had to be something about this game that got people's panties in a bunch, so to speak.

What I've realized is that Heavy Rain has inadvertently created a "perfect storm" of rant-inducing, argument-starting, fanboy-enciting madness. There are a few buttons that a game or its developers/publishers can push that will set people off a bit, and Heavy Rain pushes many of them, maybe more so than any game in recent history. Here they are:

It's a PS3 Exclusive

I don't have to point out to anyone who has visited a gaming website before that all you have to do to stir up the ol' controversy pot a bit is to release your game as an exclusive to one system or another. While scientists have quietly kidnapped console fanboys for years in order to perform grisly experiments on their underdeveloped craniums, they still have not found any real reason for the condition that has plagued gaming websites and forums since the beginning of time. Er, internet time, that is.

Still, it is an irrefutable fact that if a game comes out just for the PS3 or the Xbox 360, there will be drama. Lots of it. That's the most obvious reason that comes to mind for the shitstorm that ensues in the comments sections of even the most uneventful Heavy Rain story. It didn't help that last May, before the game was even on some people's radars, we got the obligatory "only possible on the PS3" comment. Of course, it wouldn't be a perfect storm with just that.

The Developers Love Their Game Too Much; Can't Shut Up

If there is one clear way to get many Dtoiders to hope your game sucks, it is to endlessly talk it up to anyone and everyone who will listen. How many times have we seen this happen? Peter Molyneux. Denis Dyack. Luc Bernard. Peter Molyneux again. Cliff Bleszinski.

Well, Quantic Dream's David Cage surpassed all but the most elite in this category with the rapid-fire quotes that were fed to the community regularly, inciting anger from members who do not take kindly to such cockiness. We heard Cage proudly state that Heavy Rain had morphed from being a game into something else entirely. We heard Cage say that he didn't want us distracted by Trophy alerts during play. We heard Cage call for more mature themes, characters and situations in games (he had a good point here). We heard Cage fire back at criticisms about his game, which almost no one had actually played yet, and the supposedly QTE-heavy gameplay . Cage also wished aloud that players would only play through the game once, in order to preserve their initial experience, which prompted quite a few incredulous comments.

And it wasn't all Cage, either. Sony reps boldly (stupidly?) stated that Heavy Rain graphically "blows Uncharted 2 away". They also stated that Heavy Rain is a "gamble" (which it is), and the game's producer even weighed in on the Modern Warfare 2 "No Russian" controversy.

Of course, this overexposure of Heavy Rain in general and Cage in specific worked hand in hand with another thing that is sure to get people riled up around these parts...

People are Too Damn Excited

There is a certain trend that emerges with a high-profile game, which Heavy Rain has surprisingly become, at least here at Destructoid. When the game is announced and first spoken of, reactions tend to be almost entirely comprised of optimism from those who think it's up their alley and non-commital comments from those who aren't sure whether they'll be into it or not. However, as more information comes out about the game, those who are pumped for it already become really pumped, and an interesting phenomenon occurs: those who aren't interested in the game somehow feel the need to counteract what they feel is an excess of hype or excitement by, well, shitting all over the game whenever they get a chance.

I don't know what this is all about; perhaps these negative Nancys feel as if they are somehow "bringing balance to the Force" or something. For whatever reason, though, people in general can't stand to see a game that they personally aren't interested in get too much attention. Particularly when that game contains...

Quick Time Events!

Just like Heavy Rain itself, Quick Time Events push all the wrong buttons for some folks. Which is ironic, because pushing the wrong buttons in one of Heavy Rain's Quick Time Events will likely get you crushed to bits in a junkyard compactor. Because Heavy Rain, like Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit, if you prefer) before it does not appear to have dedicated controls for many of the actions you will perform in-game, its critics have taken to lobbing many a slight towards the game- including the ultimate critique of saying it's not a game at all.

To me personally, such statements have no merit whatsoever. I would like those in the "Heavy Rain's not a game" camp to make a couple of things clear to me. First of all, what makes a video game a video game? If you're so sure Heavy Rain doesn't fit the criteria, you must know what your criteria are, and I would love to hear them. Second, what makes Heavy Rain anything other than a game? Is it because of the emphasis on story? Is it because you aren't always using predefined controls, like "right trigger to shoot, B to crouch," etc.?

So, what other games aren't actually video games? Are point and click adventures games? What about console versions of board games? How about old-school JRPGs that require little more of you than to walk from place to place, select actions from a menu and watch the story unfold? After all, in many of these games, you don't even have an effect on the story, unlike in Heavy Rain, where your actions will determine how things proceed. One of the funnier arguments I read was that Heavy Rain isn't a game because you could play it with a DVD or TV remote. You couldn't do that with many of the Final Fantasy installments? The thing is, while no one wants to stand up and say that something like a Final Fantasy game or Secret of Monkey Island isn't a game, Heavy Rain hasn't come out yet and doesn't have that place in gamers' hearts where such a criticism would be met with a zillion "STFU"s. Still, it doesn't make the argument any less silly.

And a quick note on QTEs- you may hate them, but that doesn't make them any less legitimate of a gameplay device. Most of the time when you play a game, you react to a visual stimulus by pressing the appropriate button(s) on your controller. QTEs just break this down to its barest essentials, but make no mistake, pressing "X" when it pops up is essentially the same as jumping over a Goomba as it approaches. It's just a stripped down take on one of the core mechanics of video games. If you want to call them unimaginative or annoying, fine, but it's just not correct to say QTEs aren't gameplay.

GASP- It Wants to Be a Movie?!?!

Recent articles on Destructoid have highlighted this last fire-starter, as many have come forward to say that they aren't big fans of what they perceive to be an attempt to make Heavy Rain more like a movie than a game. The thing is, Indigo Prophecy already did the same exact thing- how big of an issue should this be in 2010?

Well, this is just poor timing and bad luck, honestly. Since Indigo Prophecy, we've had more "are games art?" debates than you can shake a frozen turd at, not to mention the continuing onslaught of awful film adaptions of games, as well as the continuance of the time-honored tradition of shitty games based on film licenses. Gamers simply don't want their games and movies to mix.

Then, there was Avatar. What normally would have been just another blockbuster got blown out of proportion entirely in the gaming community, particularly because James Cameron insisted upon making comments about certain characters being influenced by gaming culture, as well as insisting that his movie was even more immersive than a great game could be.

Now, I agree that games should focus on their strengths and not try to be something that they're not, but is Heavy Rain really trying to be a movie? No. The quoted blurbs from the review mailer Jim Sterling received compared two elements to that of films- the narrative and the production values. How many of you really want to say that gaming, as a whole, seriously competes with mainstream films in those areas? Come on, now. That's ignoring the fact that this type of crap is written to sell the game to people who are on the fence, and are not written by the people that actually created the game. So, Heavy Rain is bad for gaming because some marketing majors decided to compare a couple of elements of the game to movies?

Okay, So What Does All This Mean?

So, that's what I came up with. This all comes together at a perfectly bad time, as the "console wars", the tradition of cocky developers bragging up their games, people's dislike of QTEs (and the "casual gaming" fad that they supposedly represent) and the non-troversy regarding games trying to be movies have all built up to a high level. For one game to represent all of these issues means that there is probably no end in sight to the ridiculousness we've already seen in the comments sections of any and all Heavy Rain-related stories here.

I'm not naive enough to think that pointing out all of the characteristics that get people riled up about this game will change much, though. If you're the kind of chap that gets fired up about a game that you haven't even played yet because of something a developer says or gameplay elements that you haven't even tried yet, self-evaluation is probably not your strong suit. And as for the other stuff, well, we've already seen that nothing will bring an end to the great console wars.

However, if even one person can just acknowledge that maybe the reason that they hate (or love) Heavy Rain before it has even been released has little to do with the game itself, I will be pleased. Maybe at some point later this month, we can all give the game a chance and STFUAJPHR.   read

11:10 AM on 09.28.2009

(NVGR) Nightmare on Elm St. Remake Trailer and Reactions!

As posted in the title, this is not video game related, but I know there are a fair amount of horror fans here on Dtoid, and I had to see what you guys thought of the trailer for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake trailer that was just officially released. Here's the trailer for anyone who hasn't seen it.


Now, before I say what I thought, here's a little background on my Freddy fandom. I saw the first movie on cable when I was like 6 or 7 due to a lazy babysitter falling asleep and leaving me unsupervised. Needless to say, it scared the shit out of me, but I always loved the movies anyway. To me, Freddy is the most iconic horror character of all-time, but I recognize that I'm very biased on that matter, as well. Even though really only half of the movies (by my count, the original, the 3rd, New Nightmare and Freddy vs. Jason) are any good, I still enjoy all of them for different reasons, even the corny ones.

Having said that, I was not opposed whatsoever towards having a remake done of the movie. I firmly believe that a remake can't harm the integrity of the original, and is actually less harmful to the original than a bunch of crappy sequels are. A lot of people say, "it's all about the money, blah blah blah", but when is making a movie NOT about the money? I'm talking about from the studio's perspective. To the talent involved, from the director to the actors to the crew, whether it is a remake or not, it is still an exercise in trying to make the best film that can possibly be made. When did we start giving a shit about the motives of producers and executives? It's just like with video games. I don't care if Kotick or whoever else is a big asshole, because I know there are hardworking programmers, designers and developers who are trying to make a game worth playing. If you go to the top of any company, you will always find money-grubbing, greedy bastards.

But I digress. My original thoughts on Jackie Earle Haley playing Freddy were positive ones, and once I finally saw Watchmen, I was actually really excited for him to be playing the horror icon. However, after this trailer...I'm not so excited. First of all, let's talk about the makeup. More realistic in its depiction of what a burn victim would look like? Yes. The problem is, real burn victims aren't scary! I don't want to have a joke-telling Freddy, but that doesn't mean a sinister grin isn't welcome now and then. After all, Freddy is a sadistic bastard who enjoys what he does. How would he make any facial expression whatsoever with that makeup? I'm just not a fan of it.

Also...the voice. I thought Haley's voice in Watchmen was already close to ideal for Freddy, and the voice he used in the trailer was And what's with the lisp? The last, minor problem for me is just a matter of Haley's height. This may seem like nit-picking, but any Freddy connoisseur knows that Freddy has about fifteen shots of his silhouette in every one of his films. It builds suspense and adds a little creepiness. With Haley, it just doesn't work. He's just way too short. I would have preferred a stand-in for the silhouette shots, since you're not seeing the makeup or anything anyway at that point. I know Robert Englund was also not very tall, but still.

I'm still going to go see this for sure. I'm willing to give it a shot. However, I think I'm definitely an easy mark for this one, and I still managed to walk away from the trailer disappointed. If you're going to rehash the original movie so much (right down to individual kill scenes and dialogue being repeated), why change Freddy's makeup so drastically or give him a fruity voice? I will say that the opening parts with the origin of Freddy were pretty bad-ass though. And as to the kids he's terrorizing...meh, just more crappy young actors that look like they belong in a Dawson's Creek re-run.

Oh, to make this post a little bit game related:

What a brutal game that was.   read

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