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Kenneth Cummings's blog

3:57 PM on 08.14.2014

Why Murdered: Souls Suspect Fails as a Mystery Game

Murdered: Soul Suspect was a bit of a disappointment to me. I really love the concept of a murder mystery/detective/investigation/whatever the hell you want to call the genre game, which is why I really wanted this one to succeed. Sadly, this was not the case. As a video game, it's painfully average, but as a mystery game, it's a sad failure.

A mystery game should have a strong focus on clue-gathering and investigation. Anything else takes away from the heart of the experience, and simply isn't what we came for. At their core, mystery games are essentially an evolved form of the puzzle genre, and most often takes the form of a point and click adventure. The satisfaction doesn't come from a grand sense of adventure or a high skill level, but in the "a-ha" moments when you finally piece together the mystery for yourself. Therefore it's not hard to see that such a game - one that focuses on critical thought over action - might have trouble hitting the mainstream market.

So maybe some compromises are made in order to vary up the gameplay. This isn't an entirely unheard of. L.A. Noire had tepid gunfight sections and Deadly Premonition had shoehorned combat that ranges from laughably stupid to mind-numbingly boring. 

Murdered: Soul Suspect comes in as the worst version of this concession, with "stealth" mechanics that boil down to using Detective Vision and waiting for the one enemy in the game to turn their back so you can execute the same kind QTE every time. There's really no fun to be had here, and all it does is pad out the game's length with sections that will have you groaning whenever demons show up.

These demon sections are a huge black mark on an already mediocre experience, but they're not the reason the game fails in my eyes. Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire both had action segments, but these could only detract from a satisfactory detective experience. Murdered: Soul Suspect may commit some of the same sins these game do, but it lacks the strong core to which the others return. The heart of the experience, the mystery solving, is just unsatisfying, which sinks the whole game for me.

Action games test your reflexes and quick-thinking ability. On the opposite end of that spectrum lie strategy and puzzle games, which focus on deeper thought. If you're playing a first person shooter, you have to make quick, shallow decisions with short-term consequences. If you're playing a grand strategy or investigation title, you should be mulling over complex conundrums that have a deeper impact on the experience. Critical thinking isn't something that games do too often these days, but you'd think that an investigation title - a game in which the express intent is to unravel a mystery for yourself - would feel right at home with this.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. A mystery game to me is about deep thought and puzzle solving, two things that this game fails to execute properly. The heart of the game is searching crime scenes for evidence and using those clues to unravel a little more of the story. Having a keen eye for evidence is an important part of being a detective in these games, so we're doing fine so far.

Unfortunately, what you do with these clues isn't very interesting. The core gameplay is just stating the obvious. After finding a few clues, you need to pick out which ones are relevant to the case, which has nothing to with critical thought, but rather trying to understand the game's weird logic. Common sense isn't a very satisfying puzzle to solve.

The game arbitrarily gives you a limited amount of guesses to the correct answer, but it's impossible to fail the investigation, and even if you do screw up, you're prompted to try again right away with no real consequences. With nothing at stake and no real challenge, it's easy to get bored with a series banal point and click "puzzles" that feel more like an interactive cutscene broken up and sold as a video game.

Sometimes, the game's attempt at interactive storytelling is just laughable. During one scene, you'll look at a corpse and hear a noise, with the game prompting you to determine what part of the scene made that noise. You get three chances and three choices, and if you pick the wrong one, the game boots you out of the menu and forces you to go back in, with absolutely nothing lost.

Other puzzles play out like a high school exam. For example, you might be shown a picture or memory of something or someone, with a variety of descriptive verbs and adjectives floating around them. The way you solve these is to find the answers that are ridiculous or don't belong, leaving only the most relevant ones. Now you aren't really thinking like a detective, you're thinking like a school student taking a pop quiz.

At one point, you see a key drop down a vent and chase after it, ending up at a screen with three objects: a fork, a spoon and the key for which you were just looking. The game then asks you to pick up the thing you need, but only gives you three chances to get it right. That's three chances and three choices. How is that even a video game mechanic?

This level of simplicity in its interaction makes it feel like you're watching Dora the Explorer. You're on a linear track with no way to fail, shouting obvious answers at the screen, and even if you do guess incorrectly, the outcome remains the same.

Failure carries only the risk of the slightest of minor inconveniences, nothing else. In L.A. Noire, there were points where it became possible to get an undesirable outcome to the case, or at least solve the mystery in a less-than-optimal fashion. Misreading suspects, not using the right clues in the right places, and drawing incorrect conclusions can all negatively impact your score and ranking, as well as the outcome of the case.

The evidence found in crime scenes can be used to catch suspects in a lie, if you know when to use them. If you have hard proof that contradicts their statements, you can use that against them. The game never brings up a prompt to tell you to use your clue, you have to use your brain and remember what clues you have and can use.

For all the shit I give it, Heavy Rain might have some of the best investigation mechanics in the mystery genre. During certain scenes in the Norman Jayden chapters, you'll be able to fully investigate a crime scene and collect evidence. You don't need to pick up everything, only the most relevant pieces, and if you don't get them all, the case is unsolvable, which can lead to one of the bad ends unless you successfully gather the right information as Madison.

The climax of Norman Jayden's investigation arc isn't a shootout or a boss fight. The game takes all of the evidence you found, spreads it across a desk, and forces you to piece together the puzzle by linking the clues and forming a coherent narrative (something the game itself sadly lacked) from them. That's the ultimate mechanical culmination of the mystery, actually solving the mystery.

If you don't have all the clues, you won't be able to piece the mystery together, and you will fail. There are one of three outcomes: you solve the case in time, you give up, or you run out of time and die, due to some contrivance for which the plot never really gives proper exposition. It might seem a little silly, but having a time limit adds an element of challenge missing from the finale of Murdered: Soul Suspect.

The climax of Murdered: Soul Suspect's is very underwhelming by comparison. Like the "Solving the Puzzle" chapter in Heavy Rain, you have a time limit to solve a simple puzzle. The problem with this final level is that you have about ten seconds to figure out what it is, which runs contrary to the entire rest of the game and the genre as a whole. 

Having to figure out the game's logic in such a short time doesn't add any sort of tension to the game, and will most likely only add to the frustration when you fail. And if you do fail, you're just put back a couple seconds earlier to try again and again until you get it right. The time limit in Heavy Rain on the other hand is just long enough to not be frustrating, but also strict enough to make you stress. It's a tough balancing act, one that even Heavy Rain doesn't do perfectly, but Murdered: Soul Suspect just seems to fail miserably in the attempt.

Murdered Soul: Suspect is a mediocre game with good ideas that sadly fails as a mystery game. It saddens me that it wasn't enough to save Airtight Games from being shut down because despite some very poor design decisions, it could have been a great game if it's concepts were fleshed out a bit more and maybe if they had some more time and money. As it is, it doesn't challenge the player, it never makes them think, and it certainly doesn't warrant a $50 price tag. It turns out your own murder is actually pretty easy to solve.

Perhaps if the developers had some more resources, this would have been a much better value, both for the player's time and money. Development troubles aside however, what ultimately sinks Murdered: Soul Suspect is a lack of competence to back up their ideas. 

Murdered Soul Suspect doesn't seem to understand what makes solving a mystery fun, and like many similar games outside of the occasional point and click, it has no idea how to entice the player with thought-provoking gameplay that doesn't involve violence and twitch reflexes. It's a real shame too, because the premise of solving my own murder as a ghost is actually pretty cool. Sadly, we may never get to see what that game would have been like.

Oh wait, yes we can. Go play Ghost Trick.   read

6:20 PM on 07.29.2014

Should Anyone Buy Anything on Day One Anymore?

The industry is obsessed with day-one purchases. Publishers love pushing the idea that you should pay a large amount of money on software - often times without the possibility of a refund - about which you know very little. For a game that's complete garbage like Aliens: Colonial Marines , getting as many sales on day one before people find is essential. If you don't sell a game like that as quickly as possible, you'll lose out on the ignorant impulse-buyer crowd.

Day one impulse purchases are very important to the industry for games well-made and shitty alike. Developing a computer game is a complicated and expensive process, so I can't exactly fault publishers for trying to incentivise consumers to make a risky day one purchase in order to make back the money they spent trying to make the product itself. Still, there's something contradictory about it all that really makes me scratch my head.

With every big release, publishers insist you buy the game right away. They incentivise you to do so with lame pre-order bonuses that will inevitably be on sale later down the line. They hype up their release to such a point where you can't wait even one day later than you have to get your hands on a product you've never played before. The intent here is to coerce you into buying their product now by capitalising on the fear of missing out.

Missing out on pre-order bonuses makes me feel like I've been punished for being a patient consumer. If I had bought the game before it was released, I could have gotten that timed exclusive offer that I'll now never get. Normally, this would all make sense... if I didn't feel like nearly every pre-order and day one purchase I've made was a huge mistake.

The  Last of Us: Remastered releases tomorrow, featuring slightly better graphics and a decent framerate, along with an actual options menu (perhaps a first for a console game) and a slew of additional content. All of this is available for the same price for which The Last of Us was sold a year ago. The original game is now clearly an inferior product to the new version, but they both cost the same at release.

In my eagerness to play Naughty Dog's newest title, I ended up getting the worst version of the game, the one with the least amount of content and a low framerate. Now my options are to stick with an inferior version of the game or pay full price for an upgraded version of a game I already own.

When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was still in it's hype cycle, I pre-ordered it for reasons I can't possibly remember or justify. They were never going to run out of copies, so why bother pre-ordering? The game was going to be rife with bugs, so why play the worst version of that game and not wait until all the bugs are fixed and the expansions are released? For a paper map? Now that the Legendary edition of the game is available, I really have to wonder why my adventures in Skyrim couldn't wait.

The same is true of Grand Theft Auto V. Again, I bought into the hype for one of the most overrated games of the previous generation, because I just had to play it as soon as possible. What I ended up playing however, was a very tepid experience that easily could have waited at least a year. Now the PC version is on its way, and I feel like an idiot for ever wasting my time and money on the inferior console version.

I bought the first two Borderlands games before the DLC was released, at the behest of my buddies who wanted to play with me. They eventually lost interest in the game, and when I found out I could get a Game of the Year edition for a fraction of the cost with twice as much content, I felt like a real dummy for paying so much for relatively so little.

What I'm getting at is that despite the industry's insistence that I buy their games right now, they seem to be going out of their way to make me feel stupid for doing so. I'm getting mixed signals from publishers and developers very eager to double dip their consumers as quickly as they can. Of course, I can't really get mad about a great value, but seeing how every game has DLC and a Game of the Year edition, it really makes me wonder if there's any point to buying anything on day one anymore, even as retailers insist that I do.

Is there any reason to pre-order any more? Had I pre-ordered Metal Gear Rising: Revengance on day one, I would have gotten one out of a small handful of cheap pre-order items. When the PC version came out less than a year later at half the cost, I was able to get the best iteration of the game with all of the DLC included. That's a value of about $80, for less than $30, because the only pre-purchase incentive I needed to buy a Platinum game (other than the sheer merit of it being a Platinum game) was a discount, and that's after the price was slashed in half!

It strikes me as almost hypocritical that the publishers and developers of the gaming industry desperately want me to buy their game the day of release, but turn around and make me feel stupid for doing so just a few months later. In certain situations, if I can save a little bit of money by getting a discount on a game I know I'll want and will be good (i.e. Metal Gear Rising: Revengance), I'll probably pre-purchase it. For the most part however, I won't be buying very many AAA console games, and I certainly won't be paying full price on day one for a game I know will be re-sold as an improved version bundled with more content at a lower price. With dozens upon dozens of better games in my back log, why should I buy anything on day one anymore?   read

6:43 PM on 06.29.2014

Make fun of Ubisoft all you want, they've already won.

Ubisoft's been the centre of attention the past couple of weeks, mostly because of their general incompetence and terrible business practices. In light of the recent Watch Dogs debacle, in which Ubisoft made a build of their own game and then hid it, it's no surprise that consumers and gamers in general are lashing out out against them, accusing them of being a greedy corporate hacks and general slimebags, and then idiots as they trip over themselves with terribly transparent PR.

Ubisoft is pretty much the laughing stock of the industry at the moment, when this really shouldn't be the case. Watch Dogs was meant to be the spearhead of the generation, and though it's not the best game ever, it's not the game they showed us. Needless to say, a lot of people were upset at its mediocrity and general jankiness, which must be absolutely embarrassing after such a long delay. Yes, it's easy to hold a self-righteous attitude and look down on them, but in truth, they've already won.

From Gaf threads to belligerent comments on YouTube, most of the reactions I've seen thus far are mocking Ubisoft, when they should really be considered the envy of the industry. We've reached such a point where you don't even need to make a good game anymore, only the illusion of one. The game we were shown at E3 2012 was just that: an illusion for most players. 

So what I'm trying to get at here in all this nonsensical rambling is that I'm experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance here. On the one hand, the Watch Dogs we were shown was a technological marvel. On the other, the Watch Dogs we got was painfully average. At this point, you're likely to do one of three things: accept that you made a bad purchase and move on, lash out at Ubisoft because you failed to be a responsible and informed consumer, or desperately defend the game, lest your ego take any damage.

So how can you be an informed consumer? I'll tell you. You can't. Not before release, anyway. Everything you're seeing and being told about the game is marketing material, whether it's a CG that is in no way representative of the final product (a la Dead Island) or even a gameplay demo full of outright lies (a la Aliens: Colonial Marines). If you buy the game before the actual real product is out, you are gambling your sixty dollars on something that can easily be a terrible game. If you want to wager your hard-earned money on a crapshoot, do it in Vegas; at least then you'll have a funny story to tell.

In all seriousness, please think very carefully before you pre-order. Not only do you risk wasting a lot of money, you're hurting the industry and the medium as a whole by encouraging bad business practices. Watch Dogs has been met with mixed reception and very ugly controversy. None of that matters, because Ubisoft has already won. If you pre-ordered and got burned, they already took your money, and all the bitching in the world won't change that. They won't face repercussions, they haven't learned their lesson, and now that Watch Dogs has become their biggest launch title ever, they have every reason to pull the wool over our eyes again.

You might think the corporate higher ups at Ubisoft are all idiots, but they deserve to be lauded for being able to not only profit, but break day-one records for a game that was marketed as something entirely different. They didn't have to make your dream game, they only needed to tell you that they were. If you pre-ordered Watch Dogs based on what they showed you, you're a part of the reason they didn't need to make a good game. When a game's profit is practically guaranteed months before release based on hype alone, what incentive do they have to make a good game?

The bottom line is this: think before you buy. If the game comes out and it's everything you wanted and more, great! Go out and buy it. They'll have enough copies. If they don't, you can buy it digitally, where there is no stock. If it's a real stinker, then you dodged a bullet. Comparing the risk of losing a lot of money versus simply waiting, when you get the game at the same time, is there any real reason to buy a ticket for the hype train?

Oh never mind guys. You can get a different coat. I'd buy that for sixty dollars!   read

12:13 PM on 05.22.2014

I'm tired of being the chosen one, can I be someone else?

Why am I always the chosen one? In so many games, the entire world revolves me, the grandest and most perfect of all heroes sent from on high, pre-ordained by the gods to fulfil the ancient prophecy and save the forces of good from the ancient evil. As fun as all of that can be, the formula gets boring after while. Why do I have to be the chosen one all the time? Can't I be anyone else?

You're probably familiar with the trope, as it's not one exclusive to RPGs or even video games as a whole. You are the chosen one, chosen by fate to carry out your destiny, which is just another way of saying "you're gonna win". I almost feel bad for the antagonists who try to oppose me, especially when I have fate on my side. So why does being the protagonist have to come with this sense of empowerment, even when facing insurmountable odds?

Of course, some games handle this trope better than others. Let's compare the three most recent entries into The Elder Scrolls, starting with the latest. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you are the Dragonborn, the hero sung about in legends who has been foretold to defeat the evil dragon Alduin. The story here is as straightforward as it gets. You are the hero and/or heroine born with the ability to defeat the big bad, and upon discovering your gift, you head to the mountains to train with some old monks who will help you hone your abilities. After finding a few magical MacGuffins, you eventually defeat the great evil, just as fate foretold. If any of that sounds like a spoiler... it shouldn't. The story in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is as cookie-cutter as it gets, with the general gist of the plot's straightforward direction being stated more or less outright from the get-go.

In that game's predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you play the Hero of Kvatch, a mysterious nobody who receives a get out of jail free card from the gods as part of an orchestrated plot to save the world of Nirn from the invading forces of Mehrunes Dagon. Pretty standard stuff. Aside from being chosen by the gods to save the land, you're nobody special. You don't have any powers or anything unique outside of being given the chance to start your journey in the first place. What's really interesting however, is that you aren't necessarily the "chosen one". Rather, Martin Septim seems to fit the trope more closely than the actual protagonist. Instead of playing as the most important character, around whom the whole world revolves, you are instead tasked with finding said character, and helping them fulfil their destiny. Compare this to the more recent Loren The Amazon Princess, a turn-based RPG in which you are not the main heroine, but instead her aide.

Finally, we get to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, in which you play the Nerevarine, who may or may not be the chosen one of legend. As the player character, it is your duty to unite the land, put an end to the blight, and smite a false god. All pretty good stuff, but what's most interesting is one of the requirements for being the, or rather a Nerevarine. During one of the game's main quests, you are infected with Corpus, the disease ravaging the Dunmer people. After drinking a potion that may or may not cure you, you keep only the positive effects of the curse, with the negative ones being annulled. Whether you're cured because of the potion, or because you are indeed the proper incarnation of a god, remains uncertain. Are you truly the chosen one? Or are you just what the people of Morrowind want you to be?

In the case of the Nerevarine, where you may simply be filling the role the Dunmer want you to fill, the player character isn't necessarily a true-blue chosen one, just the right guy in the right place at the right time, telling the people what they want to hear. Expanding upon that idea, the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls is probably my favourite example of the this trope, as it turns the traditional idea of "the chosen one" completely on its head. At first glance, it's your pretty standard affair. After being freed from prison, you set out to fulfil an ancient prophecy which states that, after escaping the Undead Asylum, you'll go on to ring the two Bells of Awakening, gather the four Lord's Souls, and ultimately overtake Lord Gywn as kindling for the First Flame, to keep the Dark at bay.

At least, that's what most players are duped into thinking the first time around. In truth, you're not the chosen one, but rather, one of many applications. Your liberator, Oscar of Astora, only freed you because the denizens of Lordran want to throw as many people at the prophecy as possible, hoping somebody will fulfil it in a desperate attempt to stave off the end of an age. After ringing the two Bells of Awakening, the player will find Frampt, who fills the player's head full of grand ideals about being "the chosen one", destined to put an end to the curse of the undead. Now, if you sequence break hard enough and do some digging, you'll instead meet Kaathe, who gives you an alternate proposal. Upon close examination, it should become apparent that the entire prophecy is a farce fabricated by a failing hierarchy to manipulate you, the player, as a pawn in a losing game. Instead of using tired tropes as a crutch, Dark Souls decides to instead subvert it, turning it on its head, and giving players one of the most intriguing stories in an RPG to date.

I won't dismiss every game that borrows the concept of the chosen one, however. The first example that springs to mind of this being used well is Brütal Legend, in which the player character Eddie Riggs is a warrior destined to travel to the Age of Metal and liberate humanity from their demonic overlords. Considering this game's tongue-in-cheek homage, this doesn't feel offensive in the slightest, especially when the main character doesn't really get the credit for his actions. Like the Hero of Kvatch, Eddie's job is to get someone else where they need to be.

In a world-changing story, your protagonist doesn't have to anything special in order to be important. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is the hero because they're willing to take the antagonistic body seriously. Because they're good at what they do, they're given the chance to continue their quest. As silly as the plot is, you're given a second chance in Mass Effect 2 because of what you did, not who are. Compared to the Hero of Kvatch, whom the gods choose to save to start their quest seemingly at random, Shepard is a far more compelling character, which is saying a lot, because Shepard is really pretty boring.

Honestly, your character doesn't have to be important at all. The protagonist doesn't need some special power that no one else has in order to be interesting, it's more inspiring to hear the story of an average Joe rising up and being recognised for their actions. If you're not going to change the world however, I should be able to go about my life as a (relatively) normal person. The motto for The Elder Scrolls is life "another life in another world", but that's never the case. You have to live a pre-determined life of valour and excitement. If a game let's you ignore the main plot, than you should be supported in doing so. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered there was no real questline for the the Bard's College in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even though you could rise to fame and glory several times over.

Sometimes, it's more fun to experience a more personal plot with a down-to-earth, grounded character, instead of the extra special centre of attention power fantasy we get all too often. I'd rather be an anti-hero like Geralt of Rivia or even a sidekick to the real hero, as is the case in Loren the Amazon Princess, where you don't even play as Loren the Amazon Princess. And you know what? I'm lazy. Let someone else save the world. If I can ignore the plot, let me pursue other meaningful activities, such as mercantile and pacifism. Part of the reason video games are so much fun is that I can be anybody I wanna be. If that's the case, why am I stuck playing hero all the damn time?   read

1:36 PM on 05.18.2014

Six Simple Features from Steam that Consoles Need to Implement

Let's not beat around the bush here: Steam is great. It's a fantastic platform full of great features. Though I'm primarily a PC gamer, I do occasionally like to play on consoles as well. When I do though, I find a myriad of annoyances in comparison. Whenever I go over to my PlayStation 3, I find that, aside from the ridiculous level of difficulty presented in simply trying to navigate the store and find my own games, my biggest complaint is just how bare-bones it all feels. Though its features aren't always perfect, Steam is at least making an effort to move forward and make their platform better, which is a lot more than I can say about my five or six years owning a PS3. As a disclaimer, let me mention now that I've never owned a Microsoft console, so most of the comparisons I make here are from PlayStation 3.

1: Trading Cards, Badges, and the Community Market

After achievements were introduced, everyone followed suit. So why hasn't this caught on? Personally, I feel that trading cards and badges are a lot more fun to collect than achievements most of the time, since you can't make any money off of them. For the uninitiated, trading cards on Steam are doled out randomly as you play games, with the additional chance of getting a booster pack every week. The best part about this is, if you don't care about them, you can only really benefit from having them. Don't want trading cards? Sell them on the market. You won't get huge piles of cash from it, but considering the vast amount of titles you can buy on Steam for just a couple of dollars, selling a digital trading card for ten cents doesn't seem so bad.

Of course, if you trade or buy more trading cards, you can unlock badges, which grants you Steam profile backgrounds, emoticons for chat, and showcases, which allow you to customise your profile page on Steam by showing off your favourite games, rarest achievements, or just your favourite mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Of course, the things you get for competing sets can just be bought on the Community Market. Want a nifty new background? It'll probably cost you about four to ten cents, and most of that goes to another player, not Valve. It's a nice little feature to be sure, whether you in it because you're a completionist who likes to collect everything, or just a regular gamer who wants a little extra cash to put towards getting that game that's been marked down to two bucks.

2: Using Your Own Avatars and Skins

Want a new avatar on PSN? That'll set you back fifty cents. Want a new avatar on Steam? Upload it! It's just that simple. It seems like a really cheap cash grab on the part of Sony and Microsoft to charge for tiny images that I want next to my username, when almost every other online service ever just lets me upload whatever I want. When you have to charge money for such a simple, no one wins. Sure, you do pay money to customise your 3D avatar on 360 and Xbone, but that's a little bit cooler than a flat image, I suppose. Of course, Sony does this with Home, but that sucks.

Meanwhile, if I want to change up the look of my PS3's menus, I need to buy a theme for about two bucks. On Steam, it's completely free. You just download and go. If you want a background on Steam, you can unlock those as you play if you're patient enough, or just buy them for a few cents. Of course, I realise there is a method for downloading free static themes for your PS3 online, but that requires you to use the PS3's web browser, so fuck that.

3: User Tags and Reviews

Too often, I've wondered as I browse through the labyrinthine annals of the PlayStation Store: is this game just a steaming pile of shit? From there, I either leave the store or head to the Internet to find some helpful reviews. On Steam, this isn't an issue. Any user who owns a game can review it, and those reviews end up on the bottom of the page for possible consumers to read. The negative aspect of this is that you'll get a few joke reviews, but it's still better than nothing. Being able to scroll down and find a quick community consensus is a neat feature, why don't more platforms take advantage of this?

Then you have user tags. Again, this is another system prone to abuse, and that abuse goes both ways. As funny as it is to see *Call of Duty: Advanced Wafare* in the "Kawaii" and "Point & Click* categories, it's really annoying to see a first-person shooter when all I want is to play a kawaii point and click game. That being said, it can be very useful, and I'd say the positives outweigh the stupidity of some users. Being able to look at a glance and see tags like "GFWL" and "Uplay", or just "Roguelike" and "MOBA" can serve as a very useful indicator as to what to expect when buying the game. Again, not perfect, but much better than the nothing you get on console.

4: A Store You Can Actually Navigate

Maybe the Xbox Live Marketplace is better, but from personal experience, I can attest that going to the PlayStation Store is a joke. If I want to search for a game, I need to enter one letter at a time using this really weird series of columns, even though the PS3 has a keyboard feature. This makes finding games that I want a very difficult thing to do. For example, I was recently looking for Shin Megami Tensei title. When I typed "Shin " (You can't type any more than that), I was given all of the Persona games, a couple of Shin Megami Tensei Games, and Shin Chan. However, one of the Persona games didn't show up, because it was listed as Persona 2, whereas the other games were listed as "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona".

Look at that. What is that even? On Steam, I can type in the word "Resident", and in about a second, I'm given a quick list of several Resident Evil games, and their respective costs. Is it really so hard to include a search bar?

5: A More Easily Accessible Library

As a PC gamer, this is my biggest grievance against the PS3. Where the hell are my games? My PS3 doesn't have enough room to hold my entire library, and because I can't seem to swap out the hard drive, it never will. The problem here isn't memory, though. The problem is accessibility. I can't find my games. If I want to re-download games on the PlayStation Store, I have to go through a list of everything I've downloaded there, or search for it which, as the above image indicates, is a pain in the ass.

Now look at that. All of your games are listed in one place. One click brings me to all of my games, downloaded or not. Compared to the alternative I get on console, which just dumps whatever I have downloaded into one column, this is absolute perfection. Hell, I can even add non-Steam games! Even if it's not on Steam, it's still on Steam.

6: Tracking Time Spent on a Game

So everyone can see how much of your life you've wasted.


8:26 PM on 03.19.2014

Dark Souls and Morality: A Community of Assholes and Comrades

Dark Souls is a game renowned for its innovative-and perhaps, controversial-multiplayer elements. Whether you think it's seamless or intrusive, it certainly shouldn't be ignored. The overwhelming odds and constant threat of danger are offset by the ability to lend a helping hand to other players in need by leaving messages and offering to help against a boss. One-on-one, that giant golem might seem like an implacable threat, but with one or two companions fighting by your side, victory is more tangible than it ever was. When you're bashing your head against the wall trying to beat a boss, it's comforting to know there's a community of stalwart players ready to fight by your side. The idea that human beings can overcome any obstacle when they're working together isn't an uncommon theme in literature and media. Mass Effect for example, presents the player with a conflict that becomes increasingly dire as the trilogy progresses. Through sound, dialogue, and other narrative elements, those games immerse players into a seemingly hopeless that can only be overcome by setting aside differences and working together.

In the Souls series, it's taken one step farther. Players aren't shown and told how hopeless and dire the situation is; they feel and discover it for themselves. This hands-off approach to storytelling and game design makes a scary first impression on new players. Those who persevere however, will find themselves part of what I consider to be the best, most diverse communities in the video game medium.

The "Dark Souls community" isn't just great because of how supportive everyone is. The playerbase is full of all kinds of players who will both help and hinder you on your quest to do that thing that guy told you to do twenty hours ago. Whilst there are plenty of white knights willing to come to your aid, there's always going to be a few rouges lurking around the corner, waiting to take advantage of you. Believe it or not, Dark Souls does have morality system. Morality is a bit of a hot topic in video games, with most employing binary meters that tell you directly how good or evil you are. The land of Lordran however, is a dark and dangerous place. Much like in the real world, being a total scumbag tends to be much more profitable than white knighting. That being said, there's no actual morality mechanic outside of sinning, which is actually pretty straightforward. If you hurt NPCs, they deal with you. If you invade another player's game and murder them, you can be indicted. Sinning carries the risk of brining down the wrath of the Darkmoon covenant. So why do these things? Well, whilst most games have morality "points", Dark Souls has only currency. Much like in our world, these things are valuable, and sometimes, people will do dirty things to acquire them.

When you invade a player's world, you are essentially breaking into their home, murdering them, and robbing them. Maybe you just need souls, and you're not afraid to take it from someone who might be weaker than you. Maybe you just want a challenge, an honourable duel to the death. Either way, it remains a possibility that you are making someone's day worse for your own personal benefit. This frontier risk-reward system plays well to the games' dangerous atmosphere, where "good" and "evil" players contribute to create a dangerous environment that can actually reward griefers and murderers.

Let's take a look at some of the other covenants. On one side, you have noble do-gooders like the Way of the White, Warrior of Sunlight, and Princess's Guard. These covenants exist so straight-edge players are able to more easily assist up-and-comers. Through these factions, veterans can assist those who are in need of help. Of course, jolly cooperation is incentivised as well. Joining in on boss raids can earn you a fair share of souls and other valuables. On the seedier side of Lordran, you'll find the sinister Gravelord Servants and Dickwraiths. 

These groups will actively antagonise players in order to gain their humanity, an uncommon and valuable resource coveted by many. Then of course, there are those who simply want to watch the world burn. By invading your world, infesting it with phantoms, and killing you, they get the thrill of overpowering an actual human being in a playing field that isn't always so level. PvP can be unfair at times, but even I will admit it does match the game's tone.

Then there's a the Forest Hunter covenant, a band of brigands that protect the Darkroot Garden from any intruder who enters its boundaries. This area of the game serves as an excellent example of the flexible and unseen morality system in Dark Souls, and how the community can come together to make the most of certain situations. For the uninitiated who enter the forest, they'll likely be torn to be pieces by what are essentially high-level highwayman preying on the unprepared traveller. When I first went into that forest, I was made a victim. It was the purest example of " you came to the wrong neighbourhood motherfucker." After being cut down, I decided to investigate. After making my way past the sentries, I joined the covenant to see what all the hoopla was about. As it turns out, joining sides with these bandits could be quite profitable. However, you aren't always going to get unwary scrubs. There are those who come prepared into the Darkroot Garden, and they don't come alone.

Whilst the Forest Hunter clan can attack an unwitting passers-by, that doesn't mean they lack the means to fight back. Whatever its original intended purpose, Darkroot Garden is more-or-less a PvP warzone. Crossing back over to the other side (and returning to my usual covenant, Warrior of Sunlight), I found plenty of comrades willing to fight by my side before entering the garden. I can't really say what the original developer intent was for the Darkroot Garden, but the community has taken this area protected by bandits-real players-and teamed up to fight back. There's plenty of hostility and treachery in the Dark Souls community, but that only leaves more opportunities for camaraderie and teamwork.

There are plenty of role-playing games out there that tote robust alignment systems and difficult moral decisions as the forefront of the experience. Dark Souls tackles morality in a different way. Instead of giving you specific routes, and outright telling you what's right and what's wrong, the game's approach to a moral system is simply how you interact with other people. Whether you're doing it just for kicks, or you want the material rewards invasion can bring, you have to hurt other players-actual people, to be "evil". Likewise, being a "good" guy constitutes helping real people along, making their experience a little easier, a little better. By giving you the opportunity to do real good and real harm to other actual people, Dark Souls creates a deeper, more realistic, and more mature approach to morality that other games can only hope to imitate with artificially contrived systems.

Let me give you one more anecdote. In most of the PvP matches I've played, it's customary to bow before fighting. Those who do are generally considered honourable people, even if they are here to kill you. Of course, there are those who will attack you mid-gesture, because you're wide open for an attack. This has happened to me before, and the result is me being punished for my idealistic nature, and someone else profiting from being dishonourable. Sounds a bit like our world, doesn't it?   read

5:26 PM on 02.22.2014

Ken's (Totally On-Time) Top Ten Games of 2013

I wanted to start off by saying this year was a good one for gaming, but in all fairness, we had a shit ton of really shitty games. From Aliens: Colonial Marines to Ride to Hell: Retribution, we've had some bad ones. 2013 was a year that gave us gems like The Wonderful 101, but it also gave us shit piles like Final Fantasy: All the Bravest. Taking that into account, I guess I can't really call it a "very good year", so I'll just settle for "interesting". 2013 was an interesting year for gaming. Of the many games that came out last year, here's a list of the top ten that I played. Please note that I said "that I played", not "the objective list of the best games that ever came out period.", so try not to get too upset if I commit the unthinkable atrocity of not playing the game you liked.

10: Proteus

Why it's on the list: Well, it's pretty. I know that sounds shallow, but Proteus does a single thing, and it does it reasonably well. It's an escape, a chance to relax and unwind after a long day. There's very little interaction, merely exploration and serenity. Does that make it a "game", or should it be forever labelled as "not a game"? It doesn't really matter. Proteus is enjoyable for what it is, so I'm not going to damn it for what it isn't. It isn't deep, complex, or complicated, but not every game has to be. In an industry dominated by "Follow the Leader Syndrome", it's nice to see a game that just wants to do its own thing, which is to be an enjoyable little experience, for however long you play it. 

Why it's not number one: I feel that this game fills a niche that I've been looking for, small as it may be. Sometimes, I come home from a long day at work, and just want to unwind. I don't want always want to blast things to bits, and I certainly don't want to be teabagged by some twelve-year-old screaming in my ear. Sometimes I just want to escape to a beautiful, serene environment, and forget my worries. Proteus does this... but not much else. This isn't so much a criticism as it is a justification for its place on the list. It's not a game I'm likely to which I'm likely to keep returning, but at the same time, it isn't necessarily as memorable as Journey, which remains one of my best gaming experiences, even though I've only played it once. Proteus doesn't really have that many real issues about which I can complain, so I'll just say that I enjoy it for its simplicity, even if it's not all that memorable.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Non-Game of the Year

9: Dead Space 3

Why it's on the list: Despite forgoing its action horror roots, Dead Space 3 still managed to be an entertaining ride, not unlike how I enjoyed Resident Evil 5, despite being an inferior imitation of its predecessor. Despite throwing atmosphere aside, the game's core gameplay-that is, dismembering Necromorphs-is as strong as ever. The true saving grace of the game however, is its robust crafting system. Collecting resources, upgrades, and weapon parts was what kept me going through a second and third playthrough. I played this game for many hours, and I'd say most of that time was spent at the weapon bench, experimenting with the various permutations. Want an assault rifle with an underslung rocket launcher that slows down time? You can do that. How about a flame-thrower with a blade attachment that coats enemies in acid? Yeah, that's possible. 

The depth of the crafting system and the sheer visceral joy of using those crafted weapons to tear enemies apart is extremely satisfying, and is what ultimately saves it from being the mediocre experience it otherwise would be. It should also be mentioned of course, that cooperative play is a blast, with a unique twist on the co-op specific missions. Seriously, I get to dismember alien monsters with a a quadruple-barrelled shotgun that shoots fire. What's not to love?

Why it's not number one: Well, a lot actually. The story's a mess, with the character's actions ranging from impractical to the outright idiotic. Whilst the crafting system is the best part of the game, it's also held back by the somewhat egregious use of microtransactions. Every time you stop at a bench, you're reminded that you can always pay more money to cheat. Don't want to cheat? You have to wait for actual time to pass. I can't think of any examples of waiting used as a good game mechanic, but if there are, this certainly isn't one of them. 

I'm not sure if it's fair to judge a game based on its DLC offerings, but it should probably also be said that the downloadable content for this game was pretty terrible, even by the standards of a Dead Space title. Every weapon and costume you could buy was just a re-skin of existing models, and the Awakened add-on (if you can actually say that it added anything) shat all over the story with an even more confusing plot full of idiotic characters. It adds no new content except story, which was bad. It may not effect its placing on this list, but it certainly tarnishes my memory of the game.

Oh, but I did get a spear gun for eating a Slim Jim that one time. That was kind of a win-win, I guess.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Crafting System That Rewards You For Eating Junk Food

8: Volgarr the Viking

Why it's on the list: Volgarr the Viking is an excellent homage to old-school arcade games that walks the thin line between retro throwback and sensible game design. It can be frustratingly difficult, but that's also because you're a scrub and you should just be better at video games. Every misstep you make, as unfair as it may seem, is your fault. Because of this, the game creates a duality of frustration and satisfaction. Every time you fail, you're compelled to go again, because you know exactly what you did wrong, and what you can do to be better. At the same time, finally succeeding is extremely gratifying, not because it took so long, but instead because you did it, with nothing but raw skill.

Why it's not number one: Of course, it isn't a perfect retro homage. Whilst it does capture the look and feel of a classic arcade game, it would have done well to leave some of the more undesirable aspects of that era behind. At times, completing levels feels more like rote memorisation level design than mastery of mechanics. The player is also forced to play the whole game in one go, like you had to do in arcade games. However, this isn't an arcade game. It's another 2D platformer in my Steam library. After triumphing over a long, difficult level, it's nice to just take a break. Sadly, coming back to the game resets your progress, and the player is punished with a worse ending if you want to skip ahead, discouraging replayibility.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Viking Simulator of 2013

7: Grand Theft Auto V

Why it's on the list: With a large open world, an incredible attention to detail, and a metric ass-ton of content, there are plenty of reasons for this game to take a spot on this list. For the most part, the moment-to-moment events in the story were a lot of fun, and the staggering amount of detail etched into San Andreas is outstanding, rivalling a lot of single player games such as Metal Gear Solid. It's a game that definitely takes into account what the average player thinks of doing. If you shoot up one character's house with a rocket launcher, the other will text you and kindly ask you to stop. The amount of thought that went into the little things is what earns this game a spot on my list. In addition, the intricacies of the AI deserve a mention as well. I don't think I've had this much fun simply evading the law in any game as much as I did in this one. For the single playthrough that I did, it managed to justify most of my time spent with it.

Why it's not number one: Grand Theft Auto V is a game with a lot of problems. Despite an amazing attention to detail, I'd describe the overall experience as having a "frail grasp on the big picture". Despite what feels like an overwhelming amount of content, I constantly felt underwhelmed. There's a lot to do, but I never really felt interested in doing those things. The combat lacks challenge and depth, and the weapons lack impact. Shooting enemies in the face over and over again is really boring, and it really shouldn't to be. 

Despite having a plethora of missions with branching paths, I only ever did one playthrough, and only replayed a couple of missions. Whilst the moment-to-moment action can be a lot of fun, they're only fun once. Driving a crop duster into a cargo plane shouldn't get old after the first time, but the wow factor is completely lost, and with weak core mechanics, the game has very little replayibility for me.

Then of course, there's the story. It manages to build up a semi-interesting mystery at the start, but despite a fairly good set-up, the story simply doesn't go anywhere. After a string of set-pieces, the plot just fizzles out. The best way to describe the plot of Grand Theft Auto V-and indeed, the entire game-is a lack of focus. With three main characters, none of them get the time to be fleshed out. Unlike previous titles in the franchise, there was very little theming, nothing to tie it all together. The story eventually leads up to one of three disappointing endings. The first two are actually offensive in how anticlimactic they are. Ending 'C' is still anticlimactic, but less so. All of the elements of a good ending are there, but it simply fails to deliver, mostly because the storytelling wasn't very good throughout, and the combat is just so unsatisfying The story gives us several main characters with multiple antagonists (one introduced early on and forgotten, another alluded to late in the third act), but not a single interesting character.

The online mode showed promise, but it too drove me away, especially after seeing how Rockstar prioritises making a quick buck off of microtransations than actually making a good game. The gameplay of Grand Theft Auto V falls into two extremes: easy and boring, and too difficult and frustrating. The single player gives the player too much too soon, with too little effort, which led me to boredom. The multiplayer on the other hand, is far too slow paced and counter productive, which frustrated me to a point where I just got tired of all the repetition and poor design decisions, like cutting the payout for every mission in half, forever. Much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto V is a game that simply failed to live up to its ridiculous hype train. Is it a good game? Yes, I'd say so. However, it's certainly not "one of the greatest games ever made".

If you want to read more about my thoughts on Grand Theft Auto V, you can read my full review of it here. For a detailed deconstruction of how the online mode is unbalanced, you can read more about that here.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Retirement Simulator of 2013

6: Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves

Why it's on the list: Most PC gamers are no strangers to strategy games. As much as I love a good strategy title, sometimes I want to get right into the action. In this, Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves delivers, offering the best blend of action and strategy I've played since Brütal Legend. During the day, players prepare for the night's onslaught by purchasing items, setting traps, and preparing a plan of action. Oh, and I don't use the word "onslaught" lightly. The wolves will attack you relentlessly, and if you lose a single building, it's game over. You'll need to carefully plan ahead and act fast to survive and scrape together a living in this game. It takes the critical thinking of a strategy game and combines it with the frantic action of a brawler. Combine this with the clever "fear" mechanic-wherein you can keep attacks at bay for a short time-and you've got an intense nail-biter of a game. Refer to the above image. It might not look like much, but when you consider that I've got about a second left before that wolf attacks me, and likely a little more than a couple to fully reload my rifle, which only holds one bullet, it should be obvious that this game is anything but laid back. Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves combines two genres well enough that I can overlook some of its rougher edges, and enjoy one hell of an intense action strategy experience.

Why it's not number one: Like I said, the game's pretty rough around the edges. It's certainly not the best looking game, with a somewhat barren and uninteresting landscape. In addition, it's combat is fairly rudimentary, and difficult to enjoy on its own. Bashing wolves with your axe is clunky and not nearly as satisfying as it should be. Though the strategy aspect of the game is top-notch, the action side of things isn't quite as polished.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Accurate Representation of Canadian Life

5: Saints Row IV

Why it's on the list: I don't think the Saints Row franchise will ever recapture the perfect blend of over-the-top shenanigans, impactful storytelling, and an deep open world full of things to do like Saints Row 2 did. That said, Saints Row IV is some of the most fun I've had with the series in a while. In fact, it's some of the most fun I've had in a while, period. At this point, the game has all but completely shaken off its roots as a Grand Theft Auto clone, and now more closely resembles games like Crackdown and Prototype. This game takes a familiar setting and turns it on its head by giving the player super powers, with the ability to fly and spring at super speed, to name a couple. Much like Prototype and InFamous, the actual open world itself isn't very interesting; there isn't much to see from point 'A' to point 'B', most of the fun lies in simply jumping, sprinting, and flying through the environment. The world isn't so much fun to explore as it is to mess around in. Combine that with a zany plot full of laughs and a really deep customisation system, and you're left with a hell of a fun time.

The main reason however, is because you get RoboCop's gun.

Why it's not number one: Saints Row IV is a fun time, but not much else. Like other open world games such as Assassin's Creed, the gameplay is actually quite decent, but most of the entertainment lies in going everywhere and unlocking everything. Of course, there's also the baffling omission of mission replay, which can be very frustrating, considering how much I enjoyed doing those missions. I shouldn't have to re-do the whole campaign just to re-play one set-piece. Aside from that, I don't really have that many issues with the game, it just didn't consistently amaze me like the other games on this list did.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Patriotic Game

4: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Why it's on the list: Coming in at number four, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the second game on this list to start off with a Predator reference. If there's one trend of which we haven't seen enough, it's the neo-eighties subgenre, and I don't think any game this year has perfectly embodied that decade like this one. Of course, action movie allusions aren't everything. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon takes the familiar setting and mechanics of its base game, and completely reworks it into something unrecognisable and totally righteous. Like the previous entry on this list, the game is chock full of humour, which prevents the game from getting dull. The open world itself isn't much, but there's plenty to do to keep yourself busy. For such a low price, this game is another great case for why the expandalone model should continue. Simply put, it's most excellent!

The main reason however, is because you get RoboCop's gun.

Why it's not number one: Honestly, there aren't that many problems with this title, unless you just don't like the premise, in which case you are not tubular. The game is just short enough so it doesn't overstay its welcome, but the fresh take on the mechanics and environment are so far removed from the base game that it still feels like a worthwhile experience, even if you haven't played it. Would it be a cop-out to simply say it's great, but not as great as the next three games on this list? Yeah, probably.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Eighties References in a Video Game Ever

3: Divekick

Why it's on the list: Whereas Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon managed to be a faithful homage to its source material, Divekick does more than simply pay homage to fighting games. In addition to its slew of FGC references, it actually manages to pull off being a damn good fighting game in its own right. Its sheer simplicity makes it a breath of fresh air compared to the overcomplicated series of systems certain games in the genre have become. What started as a joke ended up becoming a simple, yet hype fighting game that's impossible to criticise. If you don't like Divekick, it's probably because you're a scrub who should be better at video games. You scrub.

Bonus points for being the first of many games to feature Zubaz.

Why it's not number one: It's not as good as the next two games on this list.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Most Salt in a Video Game

2: Metal Gear Rising: Revengance

Why it's on the list: You throw a giant robot and slice it in half... in the first ten minutes. If you've ever played a Platinum game before, you know why this is on here. The game just feels incredible, especially since its running at sixty frames per second. The sound assets, animation quality, and visual feedback all come together to create what is known as a "Platinum visual sex game". Whilst other games have a weak core covered by lots of content, Metal Gear Rising: Revengance nails its core gameplay mechanics with tight controls and challenging, rewarding gameplay. Its story is halfway decent too, straddling the line between serious and insane. However, what most impressed me about this spin-off's story is how it managed to move the universe forward in a more coherent and interesting way than its mainline predecessor. Despite it's flaws (of which there are several), it just goes a long way to show that Platinum can take anything and make a great game out of it.

Also, it easily has the single best soundtrack of the year, no contest.

Why it's not number one: Considering its fairly rocky development cycle, it should come as no surprise that this game has its fair share of flaws. The camera can be infuriatingly antagonistic on higher difficulties, the game is extremely short, and lacking in overall content, and the environments are dull and lifeless. And if you think beautiful environments and high performance are mutually exclusive, I implore you to play Devil May Cry 4. It's obvious that this game was rushed, and whilst that isn't based Platinum's fault, a difference of perspective doesn't change the game itself.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Awards: Best Character Action Game, Best Soundtrack, Best Gameplay, Sexiest Display of Cyborg Ass, Best Boss Fight, Nanomachines, Son

1: The Last of Us

Why it's number one: I'll be honest. I could have rustled everyone's jimmies by putting a game like Gone Home just for the sake of going against the grain, but regardless of the accolades showered upon The Last of Us, it's number one on my list simply because it's the best game I played in 2013. After the subpar Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, this is a return to form for Naughty Dog, sending the PS3 off in style with a game to rival its other masterpiece, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Sometimes, mainstream praise is spot on. The Last of Us is a game that nails nearly every aspect of design (with the notable exception of its somewhat lacklustre AI), from graphics and art direction to gameplay and story. It's soundtrack fits every scenario perfectly, the game looks gorgeous, and despite having an unoriginal plot at first glance, it actually manages to get away with more than one surprising twist that turns the genre on its head with one of the best endings I've seen, ever.

Unlike Naughty Dog's previous title, the pacing here is spot-on. It's quiet and reflective when it needs to be, then tense and explosive when the time comes. It's quality is unrelenting, and in my opinion, it is what every triple 'A' title should aspire to become. If you want more justification than that for why its my best game of 2013, you can read my full review here.

Meaningless Arbitrary Superlative Award: Best Beard of 2013

About My List....

If you're wondering why X game isn't on this top ten list, it's probably because I haven't played it and/or it's a shitty bad game. It's probably both. No, I didn't play Beyond: Two Souls. David Cage is a terrible writer, and I will not support his works. I did play BioShock Infinite; it's not on this list because, whilst many of the games on this list had some major flaws, they had a few noteworthy accomplishments as well. BioShock Infinite has the former in spades, and not so much the latter. The truth is, it was just far too mediocre a game for me to consider it amongst the top ten best games I played in 2013. Besides, one Troy Baker escort mission is enough.

Well, there you have it. The factually objective, unbiased, definitive list of the best ten games from 2013. What were your favourite games? Think I missed anything? Feel free to post your picks in the comments section below!   read

1:40 PM on 01.16.2014

Nine Reasons You Should Be Playing Metal Gear Rising: Revengance

This is the first boss.

You can strip dudes in public with your sword.

You can jump on missiles, just like Solid Snake.

You can be a master of disguise.

You can cut anything you want. Don't like a certain Ferris wheel? Cut it down.

You get a talking robot dog sidekick.

You can slice cyborgs in half and rip out their spines for nourishment.


And there's plenty of tactical espionage action, too!


7:31 PM on 12.17.2013

All That Remains Review: A Roller Coaster of Feels

All together, the first season of the The Walking Dead: The Game is easily one of my favourite games ever made. As such, I have high expectations of season two. Avoiding all of the coverage of the game up to today, I plunged in to the second season hopeful, and came out not feeling overly excited, but satisfied nonetheless.

I will be going fully in-depth with this episode. Expect full spoilers for all of season one, 400 Days, and the latest episode, "All the Remains".

The Technical Stuff

If there's one issue that has plagued this series throughout more than any other, it's the horrible performance. This is a real shame, because it detracts from the overall experience it's working so hard to deliver. The action sequences are really intense, but this level of inconsistency in the framerate should be a high priority for the development team, and sadly, it only seems to have gotten worse.

The performance was terrible for the “last time on”, and one of my choices didn't carry over properly, though the rest seem to have. This is honestly something I expected to be ironed out-at least somewhat- in the new season. The stuttering and poor texture quality in this was worse than what I’d seen in any of the previous episodes. The performance remained steady for the next couple of scenes, but by the action sequence, the game was just running terribly. Just as the action starts and the music kicks in, the flow is ruined by the loading screen. It has the need to save seemingly constantly, and every action you make causes the framerate to plummet. When the game is working however, the action bits are incredibly tense, and very fast-paced, when they work.

As seen in the last season, the animations are still a bit stiff. Though this isn't noticeable often, it’s hard not to notice when it does happen. The art style seems to have been given a face lift, with characters being given bolder outlines, and certain characters having a whole new look. I personally prefer the bolder, darker lines, and either way, it's refreshing to see a bit of a change, if minor, from the look of the original episodes.

The Story and Whatnot

The opening scene gets tense as Clementine is being robbed at gunpoint. The game then quickly kills off one of the only surviving characters from season one, setting the tone for the entire story. I was honestly expecting Omid to last a lot longer. Despite all the sadness and death from the earlier episodes, I honestly just expected Omid to save the day. This is only the first scene, right? They wouldn't kill off such an important and well-loved character less than five minutes in, would they?

After a time skip, we get a slightly more mature Clementine, and a much more depressing and ragged Christa. The implications here are obvious, and depressing. From this point, the pacing will take somewhat predictable highs and lows, following a cycle of dialogue, exploration, and action. For the most part, it works well, with each individual component being spaced apart in such a way that it doesn't rely to heavily on one aspect of the game. The dialogue wasn't quite as hard-hitting as the previous episodes, but then again, this is only episode one. I always felt pretty confident in what I wanted to say, and some of the dialogue choices felt like obvious ones. Who can resist the Clementine sad eyes? The action scenes, as I've said, have some technical issues. However, I also felt like there were more close calls this time around, as the game introduced more quick directional swipes-which seems built for iOS-as well as mashing, which works better on console and PC.

The set-pieces this time around seem intent on hardening Clementine into a jaded survivor of the apocalypse. This episode likes to tease the player with hope, than snatch it away as cruelly as possible. The game gives us two familiar characters, one of whom is pregnant, and then kills one of them, and the unborn child in an instant. After trying to feed the dog, it retaliates and bites me, forcing me to kill it. I expected a close companion. I honestly thought Clem would have a canine companion for longer than a single chapter, but no. Even that gets taken away from her. I wasn't expecting that many feels in this episode, honestly. I was expecting a slow start that would set the stage for future feels. Instead, I got a few in-the-moment moments that actually made me tear up a little. Having to stab the dog, then mercy kill it as it flailed around, impaled on two spikes, is already one of the most horrific and pitiful things I've seen in a game.

After a short stealth section (I say stealth, but in truth, it’s no different than the rest of the game, just with a little extra added tension), you have to clean and stitch your wound, which is easily the most gruesome thing I've seen in the series thus far, rivaling the “The Lizard” scene from Heavy Rain. After another close call with a walker, we get some time to reminisce about Lee, and much to my delight, a few callbacks to the first season. There was also the irresistible option to blackmail an unfaithful pregnant woman, which is nice.

The next scene involves an argument, and depending on your dialogue choices thus far, you can choose to open up to Nick, and forgive him. It’s surprising how this game keeps you guessing with its characters. At first, I thought I’d really like Pete, and hate Luke and Nick, but by the end of the episode, the opposite was true. These characters are certainly not flat, that’s for sure.

I'm not sure how to feel about this new group yet. We've got some characters that have been nice, some not so nice, and some who are absolutely mysterious. It's an interesting group, so I'm willing to give them a chance. Still, I hope we get to see a familiar face or two join the group, to get a good mix of old and new. There's obviously not a lot to work with, since most of the first season has been wrapped up pretty tight (with the exception of Christa), but that's sort of the whole point of The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Seeing some of the characters from that episode would be a good compromise. We did get some good closure on the fate of Roman, but I'm hoping more characters seen previously join the cast. Season two can and should stand on its own, but it still should feel like a proper continuation, both for the universe and Clem's character.

The Conclusion Part

The choices this episode were light, and I wasn't all that surprised to find three of the major choices were split 90/10, with two others being 75/25. The options here felt like a no-brainer, and though the moment-to-moment action was still good, I actually think “A New Day” had better setups. Mercy killing the dog seems like the obvious decision, as does saving Nick, the guy who isn't bit. None of these decisions felt difficult to make, which is a shame. Though everyone naturally gravitated towards Carley, I feel that the opening episode of season one still had better “who should you save” decisions, because whilst the first one didn't mean anything, it had an impact on your relationship with another character, and the second at least made me feel bad.

Not a lot of your choices impacted this episode, which makes it feel like this season will stand on its own, rather than a continuation of what’s already happened. Still, the overarching goal seems to have already been put in place, which is to get farther north. Season one waited a few episodes before establishing the “get to Savannah and find a boat” goal, so I’m glad this one has already hinted at a destination. From there however, it’s not entirely clear where the series will go. A lot of the action seems to focus on the situational moments, and not the journey itself.

The purpose of this episode is two-fold: bring some closure by expanding on the aftermath of the season prior, and move forward by starting Clementine's next journey. It arguably accomplishes the former better than the latter, but I overall enjoyed "All That Remains" a little more than "A New Day", which I think I can ultimately attribute to this having an entire season to back it up. There was a lot more action this time around, and the pacing for this season seems to be moving at an entire pace. Whereas the first episode of season one had a nice, quite moment of reflection, this one ends abruptly on a cliffhanger during the climax, cutting out any falling action or denouement. This is something that we see a lot in all forms of The Walking Dead fiction, but it felt a bit too abrasive for me. On the other hand, it's a nice change of pace to see the action moving forward.

Overall, I really liked this episode. I loved Lee, but I think I'm going to enjoy playing as Clementine even more, as we see what will likely be a very profound and satisfying character arc. Like the pilot from the previous season, this wasn't anything too heavy-hitting, but that's to be expected for the setup of the story. I have a feeling that this will be the start of a wild roller coaster ride of feels.   read

7:31 AM on 11.09.2013

The Feel of a Character Class: Why We Need More Gunzerkers in Games

Having recently gotten back into Borderlands 2, I decided to create a new character, this time playing as the Gunzerker class, Salvador. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, he's basically the tank. However, stats aren't what set Salvador apart from the other characters. Whilst I will say I've dabbled as every class in the series for at least some length of time, the Gunzerker remains my favourite. Why? Because it's probably one of the best examples of a character class in an RPG feeling noticeably different, for all the right reasons.

However, it isn't just that he feels different, because the same can said of Team Fortress 2 and Diablo III. The classes in those games have a different look and feel, because of how they restrict you. You can't be a Pyro with a gatling gun or a Demon Hunter with a two-handed pole arm. In that sense, you're sort of shoe-horned into a specific play style, making them feel different, for somewhat artificial reasons. This doesn't really apply so much to the former example as much as the latter, since that's a multiplayer game in which you have to play a specific role on a team, but it's a good example of what I mean nonetheless.

The Gunzerker class in Borderlands 2 pretty much nails it. On the one hand, his skill trees seem to foster a Gung-ho play style, but it's broad enough that you could conceivably play however you want. The gun play is the core component of Borderlands 2, and your class has no real effect over how you as a player chooses to use the game's weapons. As someone who tends to favour shotguns and assault rifles in most games, this means that no matter which class I pick, I can still play that way, but with a slightly different flavour attached. The downside to this of course, is that it doesn't force me to experiment like some other games do.

There's a bit of a wide spectrum when it comes to character classes in role-playing games. On one end, you have the more flexible systems, like the one found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which allows for organic character growth, but to the point where there aren't really even classes. This system works in that you probably won't feel pigeon-holed to the point of re-rolling halfway through the game, because your character's skills develop based on how you play. Use two-handed weapons? You get better at two-handed weapons. If you fancy yourself a warrior, but you really like to dabble in a couple different types of magic, you don't have to choose. From this, you essentially create your own class, but it doesn't really mean much to me, and I almost always end up making the same kind of character when doing a re-roll.

On the other end of this spectrum, we have more rigid character classes, where the actual tools at your disposal are limited by your class. This is often seen in multiplayer titles such as Team Fortress 2 and Mass Effect 3, but also in more traditional role-playing games such as Diablo III. In these games, you have to settle for whatever appeals to you the most. From there, you can still fine-tune your character, but the feel of the character class is mostly the same regardless of how you spend your skill points. The benefit of this sort of system is that each one feels unique in some way, which gives you a more direct incentive to jump back in as a different character, to see what you missed.

Going back to the topic of this article, the Gunzerker sits squarely in the middle. On the one hand, picking this class doesn't restrict what weapons you can choose, and doesn't even offer specific stat bonuses for certain kinds of guns. However, playing as Salvador made me think and play differently than I would with any other class, even though my play style was mostly the same. The skill tree for Salvador includes both passive and active abilities, which ultimately only fine-tunes your character. The badass tokens, which carries over to all characters, does this to an even smaller degree, meaning by the time you reach the level cap, your character is a perfect reflection of how you like to play the game. You can of course, respec at any time, so the system remains flexible. The single most defining characteristic of each class is each one's respective action skill. This can complement or shape your play style, depending on who you pick. The Siren can single out an enemy, freezing them in mid-air. This makes her an excellent support class. Zer0 has the ability to turn invisible, making backstabs, and by extension, melee damage, more important. You get the idea.

The Gunzerker can dual wield anything. This seems pretty straightforward, making him the tank class, because he has such a high rate of damage per second. After all, it's hard to compete with a character class that can fire an acidic rocket launcher and a fully-automatic flaming sniper rifle simultaneously. Whilst this sounds simple at first, it can actually change how you approach the game. You'll be using your action skill a lot in Borderlands 2, so what guns you have equipped and where you equip them does have an effect on combat. Once you unlock all of the weapon slots, this class really opens up, and numerous permutations of death-dealing become available.

The different combinations and possible permutations of dual-wielded death are what keep this character class interesting. I'm constantly swapping out weapons and trying them out-even if only for one or two fights. Salvador's most defining characteristic, his action skill, makes me want to experiment, but it never pins me into a specific play style. It simply tweaks the way in which I use my play style, meaning I can mess around with a few interesting combinations. What if I have a slag gun in one hand, and a corrosive shotgun in the other? How about two revolvers? Or two machine guns? Let's mix things up a little. Put a Bandit submachine gun in one hand, and a powerful sniper in the other, adding huge chunks of damage dealt on top of a continuous stream of steady damage per second. These are just a few of the different combinations, and each quest and gunfight feels more varied and less of a grind because of them.

Needless to say, I'd like to see more classes like the Gunzerker. The character class still feels flexible, offering a great degree of freedom to the player, whilst remaining distinct from the other classes, moreso than the other classes, in fact. Playing as the Gunzerker changes how I think about playing, prompting me to experiment with the tools at my disposal rather than restricting me to certain tools. Getting tired of Boredomlands? Maybe the Gunzerker is what you need. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shoot some engineers in the face. With a rocket launcher and a shotgun. At the same time.   read

7:30 PM on 11.02.2013

Ken's Top Ten: Beards in Gaming History

Video game technology has come a long way. We've gone from pointy boobs to round ones. It's taken us from polygonal hands to fully-modelled fingers. Most importantly however, we've seen a great variety of long, flowing, manly beards. In the spirit of Movember, here's the top ten best beard I could think of.

10: Wyatt (The Walking Dead: 400 Days)

In spite of the zombie apocalypse, Wyatt manages to maintain an impressive beard, though still a bit unruly. Perhaps not the greatest beard in gaming history, but noteworthy nonetheless.

9: Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V)

Straddling the line between murderous hillbilly and drunken hobo, Trevor grows his manly mane on demand at any local barber shop. Though the "default" Trevor is clean-shaven, I feel it goes without saying that bearded Trevor is the best Trevor.

8: Max Payne (Max Payne 3)

At least half of the budget for this game went into Max's beard. Fact.

7: Hawke (Dragon Age II)

Say what you will about the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. Most of those things are probably true. However, if one of those things you said was that it's hero didn't have an epic beard, you'd be wrong. When it comes to character creators, I always custom craft my own personal hero. This game is the exception, because none of the other facial hair options matched up to the default protagonist's.

6: Salvador (Borderlands 2)

His beard is blue. I don't think I need to say anything else.

5: Agent York (Deadly Premonition)

Francis York Morgan is one hell of a man. When he's not solving crimes Twin Peaks style, he's kicking undead monster ass. His best feature though, is his beard. What makes this stubble so remarkable is that it must be grown at the expense of extra agent honor. Even whilst working for the FBI, he still manages to fight the system... with his beard.

4: Adam Jensen (Dues Ex: Human Revolution)

His beard is augmented.

3: Captain Price (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)

Let's not beat around the bush here. Captain John Price is a badass. Even if you're not a particularly big fan of the Call of Duty franchise, you have to admit that much. He goes into battle wearing mutton chops, you got to respect that.

2: Joel (The Last of Us)

Just look at it. It's beautiful. Ellie wishes she could grow a beard this awesome.

1: Big Boss (Metal Gear)

The first time Big Boss and his big beard made their début over twenty years ago on the MSX home computer, he appeared to us as a scruffy Connery-esque old man. In the prequel, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, we get to see the beard from the beginning. With subsequent sequels, we get to see its evolution, from stubble to epic mane. Though it has many iterations, it really doesn't get any better than a Fox Engine beard.

Honourable Mentions


8:06 PM on 10.24.2013

Rockstar, Your Mission System is Broken

I love Grand Theft Auto Online. I really do. I've spent a lot of time with it, and I love what Rockstar has set out to do. Sadly, they're also ruining it. The mission system is becoming progressively more broken with each patch. Everything in the game is driven by money, yet missions are little more than a waste of time, for a few reasons.

As someone who's looking for a fun cooperative experience with a few friends, Grand Theft Auto Online can be an exercise in disappointment. Everyone has their preferences. Some like racing, others prefer deathmatches, etc., and they're more-or-less accommodated. If you're the type who likes co-op missions, you'll likely be getting the short end of the stick. This isn't because missions weren't given any attention, because there's plenty of content to keep co-op oriented players happy. No, it's how you access that content that's the problem.

Due to the amount of grinding done by repeating short, high-paying missions, Rockstar has opted to halve the amount of money you make every subsequent time you complete a mission. Isn't it a little unreasonable to do this for every mission? I can understand lowering the payout for missions like Violent Duct, because it's so short, and easily completed. However, halving the payout for harder, more complex missions such as Base Invaders and The Los Santos Connection results in a pitiful payout compared to the amount of work that goes into them. Indiscriminately cutting half of your earnings from every mission forever is a terrible solution, and it has some pretty hefty consequences.

As a result, it's easy to dismiss missions as a waste of time, because they fail to reward and incentive the player for doing them. Completing The Lost Santos Connection now nets less than 10,000, which is terrible for a mission of that difficulty. Compared to racing, which can earn you several thousand in less than a couple minutes, missions are a total waste of time. One game of survival pays out $20,000, which feels like a much better time sink than most of the missions.

This lack of satisfaction extends to other activities as well. Pulling off a liquor store robbery seems like a waste of time when your split of the take is only $500. Attacking an armoured truck together is risky, but the low payout and the inability to share the cash you get trivialises that danger. In-game currency is a great way to pat the player on the back and give difficult missions an extra sense of achievement to them. With no way to gain money in the game, is it any surprise people are resorting to exploits and grinding?

Worse than the poor payouts however, is just how inaccessible the missions are. Instead of something sensible like choosing from a list or going somewhere on the map, you have to call one of your contacts, who pulls a random job out of a hat. If you get a job you don't want, tough. You can ask them again, and they'll eventually pick another random job, but only after the game calls you an idiot a few times. This is especially annoying when you have five or six people in a closed crew or friend session, and you want to find a cooperative activity that you can all do. Even more annoying still, I'm getting jobs that take a maximum of only two people. Who wants to volunteer to sit around in freemode whilst everyone else does the mission?

Here's the thing: these missions are fun. I really like some of them. However, unlike every other activity in the game, I have to pick from a grab bag and hope I get what I want. I want to play The Los Santos Connection and Base Invaders again. I'm in the mood for a specific mission, so what do I do? It's extremely frustrating working with this convoluted system when all I want to do is hop straight into some action with my friends, and I can't.

There are ways around this that don't involve a single blanket pay cut for everyone. Here's a few ideas: instead of calling and getting texted a job, you open up a menu for that character, then pick the job you want to do. To prevent grinding, install a time limit that prevents players from hosting that job repeatedly. Let's just say one hour. If I host Flood in the LS River, I won't be able to host that mission again until that time limit runs out. However, one of my three other friends in the game can host it. Of course, to prevent us from going in a circle, you cut the payout for any player who's played that mission within the time limit. So if my friend hosted Flood on the LS river immediately after I did, we'd both get less money that we did before. If a new guy joined in, he could host as well, but he'd get the normal payout, whereas I would still get the reduced one. As I said, this would only last an hour or so. Hell, even an entire day would be better than what Rockstar has done, which is reduce the payout forever.

However, a 50% cut isn't going to cut it. This needs to vary from mission to mission. If I get less than $10,000 for raiding and robbing a military base, why bother? If I stickup some drug dealers for less than a couple grand, what's the point? That won't buy me much of anything, and robbing a liquor store would be more efficient. Because everything in the game is so expensive, this massive pay cut undercuts the missions by taking away the reward. Honestly, our time is better spent in survival and races, until they make those even harder, to prevent the player from actually moving up in the game.

Balancing and maintaining a massive online experience such as this is difficult. There's going to be holes in the design, and I accept that. To say that Grand Theft Auto Online got off to a rocky start would be a bit of an understatement. Though the game as a whole has been a fantastic blast thus far, and it definitely shows a lot of promise, I'm continuously frustrated by flat-out terrible game design, especially when it comes to cooperative missions. I know a lot of this has been done in the name of balancing, but all it seems to have done so far is undermine the player's efforts. Of course, heists could give us quite a large payout, but I can't shake the feeling this is being done to encourage the purchase of GTA$, before it even releases. Sadly, it's hard, if not impossible, to have a balanced economy in a game such as this when you introduce microtransactions.

Rockstar, your mission system is broken. Please fix it. Don't make them feel like a waste of time, and don't make it a hassle just to find something fun for four or five of my friends to do. Just let me jump in and enjoy your game. A lot of these missions are really cool, it's just a real shame I can't play them.   read

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