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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.




BOOBS!



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

  read


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





  read


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


4:25 PM on 10.19.2013  

Why It Sucks: A Plot Analysis of Heavy Rain

With Beyond: Two Souls receiving a very mixed reception, I think it's a good idea to go back and pick apart David Cage's previous work, Heavy Rain. It's a game with which I'm all too familiar. Having earned the platinum trophy for it, I know the ins and outs of every scene, every line of dialogue, and every permutation thereof. I'll preface this by saying that I know what I'm talking about when I say this is not a good story, or even a good game. It fails to deliver on just about every level. When it comes to stupidity, Heavy Rain is the gift that keeps on giving.

I don't hate this game. I certainly don't love it, but hate isn't the right word. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in David Cage, for holding back the potential of this medium, and in the fans, for taking this garbage as their high standard for art. Sure, no game or story is perfect, but there's a limit. A goof or two or three is one thing. I can understand a discrepancy betwixt shots, or a slight oversight. And Heavy Rain has plenty of those; it's clear David Cage doesn't have any attention to detail.

There's a limit, however. Eventually, those mistakes pile up, and people begin to see through the façade. If you're building an "interactive drama", with narrative at the forefront, plot is twice as important than it usually is (though it's still second to graphics), so it's natural for this game to fall under heavier scrutiny. And when one actually pays attention and uses their brain, they realise that Heavy Rain doesn't just have a few minor mistakes here and there: it's plot is a mangled mess, riddled with holes. The nitpicks I could ignore. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain doesn't just have these minor issues. It has big ones.



Let's start with the little things. I think attention to detail should be extremely important for any artist, but whatever. I might be able to forgive the game when I realise Grace picked up the kids on Saturday, or that Scott never reloads his handgun, or even when chickens are flung at Norman Jayden in an indoor supermarket. In America.

However, dissecting the problems with Heavy Rain's overly ambitious plot isn't just nitpicking. There are huge plot holes too big and too numerous to ignore. This is the game that just keeps on giving when it comes to stupidity. First, there's the inciting incident. For no discernible reason, Ethan's son Jason decides to run away from him. Because, you know, he's mentally retarded. Well, at first, I could forgive him, at least when he got his balloon. He was being stupid, but at least he did a stupid thing for a reason. What follows however, epitomises everything that is wrong with Cage's writing.

After he gets his balloon, Jason runs off, goes through the ridiculously oversized crowd, and runs across the street. Why? Because the plot needs him to be there. When he realises that he's a complete idiot, he runs back across the street without looking both ways. Then, the only car on the road hits him, but not before his father jumps in front of the car, saving him. But wait! He dies anyway. Even though he wasn't hit head on, and the car wasn't moving very fast at all, he dies. Why? Because it's dramatic!



This is quite possibly the worst scene in the entire game, and that's already nigh unforgivable considering the entire plot hinges on this scene. First, he has no reason to cross the street. Now, I could maybe buy this if his son was mentally retarded, but this isn't the case. In fact, had they shown us that he had some sort of mental disorder, this might have actually made me sympathetic, instead of laughing at him when he died.

Second, the entire scenario plays out very slowly. Any one pedestrian could have stopped this from happening simply by stepping two metres out into the road. That's beside the point, however. Even though this car is clearly only going 15, maybe 20 miles an hour. Even though she wasn't driving very fast and stops just as she hits him, and despite the fact that Ethan shielded him from this impact, he still dies. Everything in this entire scene is completely contrived and unbelievable, making the foundation for the entire plot a farce.

Sadly, this sets the tone for the rest of the narrative.

Later on, we get a taste of how certain words were lost in translation. The most prominent example of this is when Shelby is questioning Lauren Winter for the first time. This is supposed to be a serious scene, but the dramatic delivery is undermined both by word choice and the actor's accent. When she says "you don't know what it's like to find your son's body dumped on some wasteland", I'm too fixated on how badly she misused the word "wasteland". A grassy field in the middle of a city on the east coast of the United States is NOT a wasteland. To make things worse, she isn't even the only one who says this. It is later repeated by Scott Shelby and a news anchor, so no, it's not just the French prostitute.

This is only a small part of the story's issue with setting. David Cage really wanted a plot set in America, but he clearly knows very little about the country itself. The actors aren't bad at their jobs per se, they just can't do American accents like say, Andrew Lincoln can. Had this story been set in England, and the actors allowed to actually use their normal accents, a lot of this game's presentation issues could have been fixed.



Later, Ethan goes to a shrink because of how depressed he is, and how that minor bump put him into a coma and caused brain damage. The stand-out mistake in this scene is how the game constantly refers to "schizophrenia", even though it's really referring to dissociative personality disorder. This is a simple mistake that could have been fixed by opening a dictionary or hiring an editor.

After Ethan's child goes missing, he gets a mysterious message and ends up at Lexington Station. After a silly dream sequence with some of the worst voice acting in history, he makes it to the lockers and finds a box. Well, what's in the box? A gun and some origami figures. Nothing out of the ordinary here, right? Well, at least until you realise there's a metal detector on the way in.

Then we have the matter of the "schizo" red herring. This is one of the plot's biggest failures. Originally, Quantic Dream intended to include surreal dream sequences, but later removed these from the game, because they apparently slowed down the pace too much. That didn't stop them from adding in an awkward shark-jumping dream scene in "Lexington Station", though. Thing is, these were supposed to allude to a psychic connection between Scott and Ethan when his son died. Sounds dumb right? Well, not as dumb as removing the explanation, but leaving the false lead. Even though he clearly states he's never made origami, and thus has no way of making them, he ends up with an Origami figure (figger?) in his hand when he comes to from his unexplained random plot blackouts. How is he ending up the killer's home? If he can't make them, is the Origami Killer just stalking him at all times? Well, we know he isn't. This is bad writing. You don't leave unexplained false leads that create plot holes and are completely impossible. That's just thoughtless, ham-fisted drama. Not only is the narrative outright lying to the audience, it's treating them like they're idiots.

And Ethan just rolls with it. This "internal conflict" just keeps on going, even when it's patently obvious he can't be the killer. Even after he cuts his finger off, something which someone had to have seen, he still thinks he's the killer. At this point, they're just hitting the player over the head with this already-ridiculous false lead.



Then there's the Butterfly Trial. After showing up at the abandoned power plant, Ethan decides to crawl inside the dark scary tunnel. After the hatch magically closes by itself, he finds that the entire shaft is filled with glass. Let's think about this for a second. If Ethan can barely fit in there, how the hell could the killer, an overweight middle-aged asthmatic, get the glass in there? The only way this scene could be even remotely possible is if he brought a bag of glass with him, and crawl backwards sprinkling little shards of glass along the way. But hey, emotions, right?

Let's talk about another character: Norman. A lot of his character arc revolves around his virtual reality glasses. As a side effect of using them, he's losing grips on reality. This is kind of an interesting concept honestly, but shoving it into a modern-day murder mystery just doesn't work. Since there's three other playable characters, this subplot isn't fleshed out nearly enough, and the little that's there actually distracts from the narrative. It's a lose-lose situation.

Completely out-of-place cyberpunk elements aside, isn't it a bit odd that no finds Norman odd? Does the FBI not conduct drug tests, or are they the ones supplying him with Triptocaine? This part of the game needed a lot more exposition, either way.

If Ethan fails to escape the police after the Lizard Trial, Ethan is detained and beaten, even though again, there's no evidence against him. He is eventually broken out by a sympathetic Norman. It strikes me as a bit odd how easily he can facilitate the escape of a high-profile suspect (though he shouldn't be). Is it really so easy for such a notorious person to walk straight out of a police station? And how does no one suspect Norman, when he was the last person with him? Oh wait, this is the same police department that can't figure out Scott is the Origami Killer.



More questions are raised in a later Jayden chapter. If the player looks in the acid bath, they'll find the remains of a police officer. Wait, what? Was no investigation conducted? If a police officer goes missing, don't you think investigators should, you know... investigate? A great place to start would be his last known location, where his corpse is literally just floating around.

In fact, It's obvious David Cage doesn't know anything about police procedure. Throughout the latter half of the game, Ethan finds himself the target of a citywide manhunt. Why? Because of the questionable hearsay about dreams from his ex-wife and nonsensical babble from a psychiatrist that was beaten by a police officer. Both of these things are completely circumstantial, and neither would get any Man convicted in the United States. Also, if there's been more than half a dozen of these murders, what do you suppose the odds are he'd have an alibi?

So in spite of the lack of evidence against our protagonist, they still manage to declare him the killer, start a manhunt, put him in jail, get SWAT to chase him down, and eventually gun him down (provided no one else makes it to the warehouse). Here's the thing David. Suspects are questioned, not shot. Even if the culprit is a corrupt cop, there's no way he would ever have a desk to go back to after ordering a wall of cops to shoot an innocent, unarmed civilian without warning.

Another interesting titbit to ponder: why don't any of the mothers of the victims give those strange boxes and letters to the police? You know, the ones filled with origami figures? And if they did give them to the police, they should still be in their possession, because the case file is still open.

One last thing of note about the police. They're blind. Even whilst Scott and Norman duke it out on the top of a conveyor belt high in the air, exchanging blows and throwing TVs at each other, not a single officer spots them? Not even the ones in the helicopter? No wonder the Origami Killer got away with so many murderers. These people have the worst police department ever!



But wait, there's more! I'm not done talking about America's finest just yet. Why is it that they manage to be constantly on the heels of Ethan Mars (a man they've yet to even question), but they're nowhere to be found when gunshots ring out? The scene in Hassan's shop is kind of short, so I'll let that slide, but what about The Shark trial? Even though half a dozen shotgun blasts ring out (which are known for being quite loud) in an apartment building, which can be followed by a handgun shot, not a single officer arrives on the scene. No one calls the police in in the time frame between the first shot fired and Ethan leaving? Are you serious? But okay. Maybe it's just a bad neighbourhood. I'm willing to let this slide as well.

Even if these two scenes are forgiveable, they're dwarfed by the stupidity of Shelby's rampage in the Kramer mansion. After crashing a car into shooting a couple dozen people with his magical un-silenced handgun that never needs to be reloaded, he just walks away, unpunished. This cannot be rationalised, due to the sheer length of the scene. He even takes his time to have a nice long chat with his buddy Kramer. Meanwhile, even after a prolonged gunfight in the mansion of an extremely affluent and influential business man, the police are nowhere to be seen!



Scott's stupidity doesn't stop there. It would seem that Cage caught Shyamalan Syndrome, putting ridiculous plot twists over logic and proper storytelling. The reveal that Scott is actually the Origami Killer has a more botched execution than Ginggaew Lorsoungnern. First, the unreliable narrator trick doesn't really work when the game includes a feature that allows you to listen to the thoughts of the playable characters. Isn't it really convenient that this serial killer rarely ever thinks about the fact that he's a serial killer? Without a doubt, this is one of, if not the worst example of an unreliable narrator.

However, he does think about them, in a roundabout way. This is much more insulting, as he knows what he's doing, and they game just outright lies to the player again and again. Had we known from the beginning that Scott was the Origami Killer, these plot holes wouldn't exist, and it would have added an actual sense of dramatic irony.

This isn't just poorly executed. It's downright insulting. At best, it insults the intelligence of the audience. It outright lies all for the sake of some stupid plot twist. Let's not forget that Scott murders Manfred, then calls the police on himself. Why tie yourself to the crime? Why would you call the cops before you cleaned up your prints? This entire scene, along with the ridiculous reveal, undermine the "mystery" of the game. Being able to read your character's thoughts was a good idea, and having a playable character be the antagonist was an interesting concept. Sadly, like everything else in this game, the execution is utterly botched.



Later in the game, he traps Madison in his burning apartment building, so she can go up in smoke with the rest of the evidence. There's only one problem with this. The police are sure to come knocking when they find Madison's charred corpse in his old apartment. Seriously, how does he even last this long? Scott can kill half a dozen children, murder Manfred, Madison, and Norman, and gun down a couple dozen bodyguards in a high-end mansion. He can leave prints at the scene of one of those crimes, which is more evidence than they ever find against Ethan Mars, yet the force just lets him walk right out. Despite all of this, he can still get off Scott-free (sorry). I don't care what the trophy says, that isn't the "perfect crime" at all. Scott Shelby is the worst serial killer in history, and the only reason he's survived so long is because he's being perused by the worst police department in history.

Let's go back to our protagonist for a bit. After completing The Shark, Madison finds a perturbed Ethan at the Crossroads Motel. What can follow is the most awkward, contrived, and downright cringe-worthy romance scenes of all time.



Most games cut to black or move the camera away from characters as soon as things get hot. This is done for a reason. This is because kissing, and physical contact in general, is complicated when it comes to animation. I'm not saying it can't be done, but Heavy Rain flops here almost as bad as it does with its awful voice acting.

The hilariously stupid "sex" scene aside, it's the implications of this scene that's irksome. If your only surviving son has been captured by and is mere hours from death, you wouldn't get much sleep. For all his dedication, Ethan seems to completely forget his son is about to die. Hey Ethan! Remember how your son is drowning in rainwater, cold and alone in the captivity of a deranged serial killer? Yeah, me neither. Go ahead and do her. Your dying son can wait. No rush.

Things get even more ridiculous the morning after. It only makes sense that one of the worst sex scenes in the history of the medium is followed by the most ridiculous chase scene ever. Even though the police will gladly gun Ethan down in a later scene for absolutely no reason, they seem unable to draw any kind of firearm when chasing him down in the motel. Should the player choose to jump off the roof, Blake and the entire SWAT team sit and watch as their suspect walks to the nearest taxi and commits grand theft auto. They then continue to sit and watch as he drives away. Darn! It's too bad none of them have cars, helicopters, spike strips, or an entire police force or anything right?



And with zero explanation, they still somehow end up at the abandoned warehouse! How do they get there exactly? It seems unlikely that Norman would say anything to Blake, but he might. But what if he can't find it? Well, maybe they were able to track the taxi cab somehow. That's possible, right? No, wait, that makes no sense. If the police were smart enough to do something like that (they clearly aren't), wouldn't they catch up to him much earlier? Like, when he's parked and trying to figure out the address? Also, they never find him if he ends up at the wrong address. Well, one cop car does pass by, but he does just that. He doesn't even stop. Don't worry. It's not like the target of a manhunt was reported stealing a car matching the exact description of that one.

One could say that the stupidity of these cops is outweighed by Norman's sheer genius. Nahman Jahydahn is capable of following the most ridiculously convenient clues in the history of the murder mystery genre. Let's take a look at the string of "evidence" that can lead Norman to Shaun's location. Most notable is the gold watch. Using his sharp vision, he notices that his assailant is wearing a gold watch. He then makes the connection that some police officers get gold watches when they retire. Since no one else in the entire universe but retired cops can wear gold watches, he deduces that the killer is a retired police officer. This would have been fine as a small bit of foreshadowing, but as the crux of Norman's entire character arc, it just falls flat on its face.



He also tracks down where he lives using the receipts he had in his pocket from a local gas station. Y'know, because no one ever buys gas more than a half kilometre away from their home. Tangentially, there are WAY too many flower shops condensed in one location. Anyone else notice that?

Two more plot discrepancies arrive at the final scene. The first is if Ethan takes the poison. This magical vial of poison makes no sense. We're expected to believe that this liquid somehow kills you in exactly sixty minutes, and that you never feel a thing. As soon as sixty minutes is up, Ethan immediately rejoices, reinforcing the stupidity of the protagonist and the plot. That's not how poison works.

If Ethan makes it there alone, the Origami Killer just lets him go, provided he passed the trials. Fair enough, he got what we wanted; he found a father who loves his son. However, if someone else makes it there, he pulls a gun on Ethan as he's saving his son. Why? This makes absolutely no sense. Why does he want to kill Ethan all of the sudden, when he doesn't want to when no one else shows up? Well, the reason is because David Cage wanted to add more drama and less logic to the climax. If no one else shows up, the Origami Killer is cool with Ethan. If someone does, he magically decides he should kill Ethan, even though he doesn't know anyone else is there. Why? Because it's dramatic! This pretty much sums up Heavy Rain in a nutshell. Inconsistent character motives and ham-fisted drama thrown in without any regard for storytelling.

Oh, and did I mention how screwed up the entire timeline is? The website seems to think Shelby is 45 years old, whereas two contradicting in-game sources place him at 44 and the more likely 48. If it wasn't bad enough that the story contradicted himself, it should be noted that there's no way he could have been more than 10 in the "Twins" and "Hold My Hand" chapters. So when you account for the fact that Sheppard died 30 years ago... that make him 18 in the flashbacks. That's not how math works.



David Cage once said that "We need to forget about video game rules — bosses, missions, game over, etc... are very old words of a very old language". If that statement isn't ludicrous on its own, it's made even worse by the fact that he's the one saying it. Even when he gets something right, I still have trouble siding with him. It's like having Michael Moore as your dietician.

This is why it bothers me so much that people love Heavy Rain. Not because they're opinions are different than mine, but because it drags this medium down. As a movie, this would have failed. As a novel, this would have failed. As anything else, the God-awful writing, script, and voice acting would have made it an abomination, and it is an abomination. It's an interactive drama with a horrible plot. The story is at the centre of the entire experience, and it's completely corrupt to the core. It's characters are all paper-thin clichés designed to tug at your heart strings, the "plot" is a farce, and the voice acting ranges from bad to ear-bleeding.

Heavy Rain isn't a good game, and it's certainly not a good story; it’s a rough draft, and a bad one at that.   read


1:59 PM on 09.05.2013  

Divekick Review: Simple, yet Effective

Given the amount of exposure I've had to Divekick, it seems inevitable that I would have bought it. What I wasn't sure of though, was whether or not I'd like it. Despite my salt and fighting game ineptitude, I came away with a sense of satisfaction, and will likely come back to it very soon.

Divekick started as a joke: what if you made a fighting game with two buttons? This joke has since grown, becoming a clever deconstruction of the fighting game genre, and it does hold up. Divekick proves that you don't need to memorise mind-numbing combos to have a good fighting game. It's all about precision, positioning, and of course, the mind games. This is a game that gives your mind more of a workout than you're fingers. Quick-thinking is the key to victory, and mashing buttons wildly is guaranteed to end in frustration.

What makes Divekick's mechanics (or lack thereof) work is its simplicity and accessibility. Despite shedding the unintelligible depth of most fighting games, it still manages to be addicting. The rounds go by fast; the maximum time limit is twenty seconds, and every attack is a one-hit knockout. It's a fighting game boiled down to those clutch moments, making every fight feel epic. If time runs low, the winner is decided by whomever is closer to the line (draws only occur in the case of both players being of equal distance from the line or in the event of a double K.O.). This might sound kind of arbitrary, but it makes for an entertaining scramble, as players try to position themselves to the centre of the stage without getting kicked. It's in this desperation that you can strike, further enforcing the "positioning" and "mind games" angle.

All of this makes for a game that you'll always want to play one more round of. The short length of the matches makes it easy to get into, especially when you're salty. When hanging out with friends, this can lead to having a few hours of laughs. When playing online, it can lead to a bad KDR.



The background is entirely aesthetic, as it is in similar games (I say similar, but in truth there aren't any games like this one) such as Street Fighter and BlazBlue. However, the characters aren't merely for show. They all approach the diving and kicking gameplay a little differently. Dive and Kick are your Ken and Ryu characters, both of whom are simple, but slightly different in small ways. Them there's S-Kill, who teleports instead of jumping. Of course, there's always Kenny, who is a random character each round, making him impossible to properly counter. My favourite however, is the storm himself, Zubaz. Instead of traditional kicks, he moves through the air (players can control the trajectory by holding down the dive button) and leaves behind a trail of lightning that will K.O. the enemy instead, adding a completely new dimension when playing as him. You have to think one move ahead of your opponent, trapping them in your trail. Jefailey is a cross between Zangief and Dan, moving more slowly than the other characters, and dropkicking instead of truly divekicking. When he wins, his head gets bigger, making him easier to hit. The roster certainly feels diverse, which is saying a lot for a game with two buttons.

There's more to the game than that however, each character can build a super gauge which is activated by holding both buttons in the air simultaneously. Each character has two super: one in the air and one on the ground. Another interesting feature that switches things up is the concussion mechanic. If you score a headshot on the opposing player, they will be "concussed" and will move more slowly for a short period of time.

In addition, players can also use gems, of which there are four. The first three increase either diving, kicking, or super meter fill rate by 10%. In addition to those three, there's the YOLO gem, which increases all three by 30%, but puts the player in a state of self-imposed sudden death, meaning if you get kicked even once, you lose the match. That might sound foolish, but then again, that's what I told my friend before he cleared me Redacted.

Needless to say, we're not friends anymore.



If it seems like I'm ignoring single player, it's because Divekick does as well. The only single player option available is the arcade mode, which takes the player through that character's story, which is mostly parody. However, versus isn't even available unless you have a second controller available, meaning you can't set up quick matches with the AI. There aren't any challenges or trials, either. Though it isn't a huge deal, I would have also liked to be able to pick my stage when playing some of the modes. My biggest complaint about Divekick is simply its lack of features. It feels bare bones compared to other games, and I'm not just talking about the button layout. If you find online more frustrating than fun, and you don't have a lot of friends around who want to dive and/or kick with you, you'll likely get bored quick. That said, I've had a lot of fun online, even though I've lost every game I've played. The single player mode could use a bit of work, and a few extra features, but for those with a few close friends, versus mode is the perfect fighting game for playing with a few friends and a few beers. That's how good Divekick is. It's still incredibly fun to play even when you're drunk.

Especially when you're drunk.



For fighting game fans, this comes highly recommended. Despite its simplicity, it feels like a game made for the fighting game community, who will get all the jokes. This game references everything from Street Fighter to Sp00ky, from Weaponlord to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For a lot of people, these jokes will go straight over their heads, but the wacky characters and zaniness of the overall game will still make non-fighting game fans laugh. For those who can't get into them, due to the steep learning curve involved in so many of these types of games, Divekick is a relatively simple game that removes the needless complexity without sacrificing what makes fighting games so great. It boils them down to their most essential components, creating a game that makes every match feel like a clutch moment.   read


6:17 AM on 07.01.2013  

An Essay on Interactivity: Are Cutscenes a Crutch?

Games are an interactive medium. It's a medium defined by how you interact with it, and still games regularly employ periods of non-interactive entertainment akin to movies, commonly referred to as "cutscenes" or "cinematics". Many games feature cinematic cutscenes on par with most Hollywood movies. Of course, games aren't movies, right? Well, games are a lot like movies, and borrow heavily from them, so it's not entirely correct to say "games aren't movies". Rather, they branch off from movies whilst adding another dimension to its structure, and we should understand that distinction.

Many reject games like The Walking Dead and Metal Gear Solid 4 as games, because they are seen as "interactive movies" or "experiences", but not games. I believe video games can be both however, and shunning such titles narrows the scope of the medium, weakening it as a whole. If a game takes control from the player too often, this can and should be criticised, but it isn't grounds to revoke a title's status as a "video game". Titles like Max Payne 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4 take control out of the player's hands a little too often, and that can be jarring. Still, I'm hesitant to say these aren't games, I just think they fail to capitalise on what makes a game such a fantastic experience over a movie. That distinction is important to make. These are still video games, they're just flawed.



Even though games are meant to be interactive, "cinematic" is still a selling point for a lot of games, especially the triple 'A' titles. Is "cinematic" a bad thing? Well, if Webster-Merriam is to be believed, the word "cinematic" means "of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures" or simply "filmed and presented as a motion picture". Since games aren't movies, could this be seen as a bad thing? That depends on context and execution. Let's use the big dumb chase from act two of Metal Gear Solid 4 as an example. Here, the player is involved in a motorcycle chase through the streets of a nondescript Eastern European city. When the player isn't aiming, the camera reverts to a flashy cinematic angle, which is fun to watch as a viewer, but jarring as a player. This scene is oversimplified, and doesn't require a lot of skill to complete. It feels dumbed-down all for the sake of flashy presentation, and I'm not entirely sure you have to sacrifice one for the other.

Set-pieces don't all have to be interactive cutscenes. It's important to remember that danger of failure and death raises the stakes and ultimately makes the experience more satisfying. Knowing I narrowly avoided a grisly demise by own skill is far more satisfying than having my hand held through a narrow corridor of flashy explosions and close calls. During the famous train-chase in Uncharted 2, a helicopter comes in to ruin your day. Along the way, it blows up the train cars you're riding, forcing you to move fast. There are short cinematic moments in which the camera pans and Drake does something cool, like stick a landing, but they're there to enhance the overall presentation, and never really get in the way. In general, this could be applied to the entire Uncharted series. Basically, the rule of thumb with these moments is to make them short and sweet.



Earlier, I mentioned "interactive cutscenes". These are unlike regular cinematics in that the player is involved in some way. However, these are often very simple, and usually not a lot effort it required; so long as the player puts in minimal participation, they will progress. These are often labelled as "cutscenes in disguise" due to their lack of interactivity, but I think that, if handled properly, they can be an effective way of engaging players. There's nothing inherently wrong with simplicity. In fact, having simpler or easier portions of your game can come as a relief, and help to properly pace the experience.

The simple act of pressing a button is enough to engage the player, because in the end, they still initiated the action, no matter how simple it is. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, I'll refer to the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the emotional climax of the third episode of The Walking Dead: The Game, season one. In both instances, the player is forced to mercy kill someone. However, instead of watching this unfold, the game forces the player to do it, driving home that final dimension of storytelling: gameplay. Though simple, this is an effective means of making the player feel like they are truly a a part of the experience.



Interactive cutscenes can be used to emotionally engage the player moreso than a simple cutscene. Despite its over-reliance on cutscenes, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots really nails it with its famous microwave corridor sequence. During this interactive segment, Snake must crawl through a corridor radiating deadly microwaves, obviously. This challenge pushes Old Snake to the limits of his mental and physical capacity. Of course, we don't just watch this happen. In order to push themselves through, the player must mash the "triangle" button to progress. Doing so can wear out one's fingers, which helps get across Solid Snake's struggle, in a very small and subtle way.

"Quick Time Events" or "Power Struggles" are the distant, dynamic cousin of interactive cutscenes. I know QTEs get a bad rap, but they aren't all bad. In fact, they can actually be used to good effective. Overusing them, or sticking them where they don't belong, can cause them to become a crutch, and one that will frustrate the player more than anything else.



Compare Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 6. In the case of the former, the player must waggle the analogue stick and mash certain buttons in situations that require Leon to exert a lot of force. Doing this so suddenly creates a great deal of tension, as players try to physically overcome their opponent or their environment. Using this sparingly can stimulate the struggles of the player character. The latter example, Resident Evil 6, fails in this regard, asking the player to preform these simplistic, menial button-presses far too often. The difference here is that, with the former, "Quick Time Events" were used to complement the gameplay. In the case of the latter, they served as a substitute for it.

Many are quick to brush QTEs aside, but they have their place. In God of War, this is done to complement the combat. After defeating say, a Minotaur, the player gets the simple joy of ripping off their horns, with the mashing simulating a sense of struggle and triumph. In episode two of The Walking Dead, the player can overcome an enemy and end up on top of them, where they are allowed to deal a flurry of blows to their opponent. By making the player press a button for every punch, they feel more in control of these actions, and they gain a greater sense of agency in the game world, which makes this all the more cathartic.

The Last of Us is a game manages to execute all of these reasonably well. There is a slow crawl in which an injured Joel must struggle to escape a ruined building under pursuit, which is analogous to the aforementioned microwave corridor sequence. There are also plenty of power struggles, all of which are very simple, but actually make the game more tense despite their simplicity. In addition, there are also interactive cutscenes, though these aren't used often. The first time this technique is used, Joel is being drowned by a Hunter. This cutscene is unwinnable, and Joel is ultimately saved by Ellie. Though that might sound pointless, it actually goes a long way to convey Joel's feeling of helplessness and struggle to the player. This is how an interactive cutscene should be done, to immerse and engage the player in a meaningful way that cannot be done through simply watching.



These things are all cinematic by nature. As gaming is a relatively young medium, some may be self-conscious about the use of anything that resembles a different form of art. In this respect, they will claim that cutscenes are a bad thing, because that makes them more like movies. However, consider this: is it wrong for text to appear on-screen in a movie? No, though it shouldn't be overused. Having a couple of sentences appear on-screen at a certain points can be utilised for dramatic effect (take the end of Paranormal Activity for example), and all of the Star Wars movies start out with a text crawl. These things are borrowed from written mediums, but that doesn't make these movies "interactive books". By that same token, whilst some might complain that a game relies on cutscenes, they probably don't have any problem with written notes and files in their game. Games combine the effectiveness of various artistic media to great affect. There's a time for all of these things, provided the developer knows how to balance them all. The player can find time to read a short story and watch a movie in between epic battles and grand adventures.

Games like The Walking Dead and Mass Effect don’t have this same problem, since their "cutscenes" are still very much interactive. Though you may not be as involved or as in control in the game, you are still interacting with it in a meaningful way. People who say "The Walking Dead isn't a game because "it’s just a bunch of cutscenes" are really kind of missing the point. Not every part of a game has to be interactive in every facet of its existence, and every game has highs and lows in terms of interactivity. These games do not have a rigid narrative, so they let the player direct the direction of the story. Games like Uncharted 2, The Last of Us, Bulletstorm, and InFamous 2, let the player handle the action, whilst most of the character and plot development (mostly handled through cut scenes in which the characters simply engage in dialogue and little else) is done through non-interactive cutscenes. Since a rigid narrative doesn't allow the player to alter the story in any way, displaying these dialogue exchanges in a more cinematic format makes the overall experience more entertaining. Either way, both methods are equally valid methods of giving the player a sense of agency.



If you’re going for a rigid narrative, a cutscene can be the most effective way to progress the plot. Forcing the player to slow down to a crawl and listen to dialogue can feel restrictive, so it may be best to do these things in a completely non-interactive way. At first, you might think that telling the player to put their controller down and simply watch something might seem even worse, but if these scenes are well-directed, and you don’t go overboard, the player will view it as a reward, and a moment of rest. Here, it’s perfectly fine to borrow from movies. Despite what people say, it’s okay to have cinematic qualities in a video game. A game isn’t a movie, true, but parts of it can be.

Interaction is ultimately what defines this medium. However, it’s not the only defining characteristic. Games can deliver a wide range of interactive experiences, with highs and lows in terms of player input. It’s important to vary the experience, since games are so multi-faceted by their nature. Are cutscenes a crutch? They can be, but they aren’t an inherent evil. All video games are interactive, some more than others, and carefully deciding when player input is or isn’t required can make any game a much richer experience.   read


7:54 AM on 06.27.2013  

Morality and The Last of Us

The Last of Us released recently and has since garnered critical acclaim, earning perfect scores from critics across the board. One thing the game really nails is its storytelling, which I've praised highly. Specifically, I want to talk about one facet of this game's pitch-perfect writing: the black-and-whiteness. In a medium inundated with binary "good" and "evil" conflicts, it's good to see a game that leaves us a little unsure as to who's right and who's wrong, and whether or not we're doing the right thing.

Games like BioShock and InFamous paint good and evil as two radically different extremes. You are either Ghandi, or you're Hitler. You're Mother Theresa, or you're Ted Bundy. There's no middle ground. There's no moral ambiguity. In some cases, good and evil are clearly listed with their respective labels, for the convenience of the player. Not so with The Last of Us. Though the player doesn't get any on screen prompts asking if they're a bad person or not, they feel a sense of uncertainty when the term "hero" is put in any kind of context. Joel is a character that I ultimately end up rooting for, but I'm never entirely certain if what he's doing is "right". This is a game that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, in a good way.
Please be warned, there are spoilers below.



The world Naughty Dog sets up is bleak, brutal, and unforgiving. After the prologue, the narrative skips ahead twenty years to show us what the world has become. Joel is now living in a quarantine zone under marshal law. It's easy to finger oppressive military regimes as wholly "evil", but the game does a fairly good job showing us why living under the military's scrutiny could be seen as a necessary evil. These circumstances are dire and, as the player later discovers, the alternative is an anarchic dog-eat-dog world. That doesn't mean the military can be viewed as heroes of the hour, however. Rations are running low, people are starving, and people aren't being treated fairly. Despite these struggles, people are still desperate to sneak into the city, as we see, and Tess comments on, after the first infected fight.

The story wastes no time in letting us know that Tess and Joel are "shitty people". They are survivors. They realise that sitting in line waiting for food isn't going to get them anywhere. In order to make it in their world, they have to break the rules, and a few bones. True, the military police are ruthless and aggressive, but so is Joel. The difference here is that the military is trying to hold on to the last semblance of societal order they have left, and Joel is just trying to stay alive. Joel hurts and even kills dozens of people, all for his own well-being. The framing of it doesn't make it feel outright evil, but looking back, it's hard to say what you do in the game is always justified. One of Joel's character flaws is his selfishness. Everything he does, at least at first, is for his own well-being. Later, when he cares for Ellie, he's doing so not for the greater good, but because of his emotional attachment.

Joel is characterised as a human being, with flaws and weaknesses, which ultimately makes him one of my favourite characters in this medium. From the get-go, we see how he would rather leave a family on the side of the road than risk harming coming to his daughter. That selfish attitude is only amplified as Joel spends twenty years hunting, killing, and looting. He's killed innocent people, but isn't that what it takes to survive? Maybe.



Based on this depiction of Joel, you might get the impression that he is unlikable. Thing is, he isn't. Naughty Dog did a superb job here nailing the characterisation of Joel. He's a character that is morally ambiguous at best and downright terrible at worst. At the same time however, the player can still feel perfectly fine playing as him, and rooting for him, because they can sympathise with him. Joel might do bad things, but what really matters is that we understand why he does those things.

Part of what makes Joel work as a character and a playable protagonist is how players understand his motives. The prologue shows us Joel's personal tragedy, which leads to the development of his character flaws. Joel has put up an emotional barrier between himself and others. It's clear he and Tess have an implied chemistry, but Joel won't allow it. He doesn't want to get attached to people, because he doesn't want to get hurt again. Joel and Ellie's journey isn't about saving the world or redeeming the human race. It's about Joel's emotional development, and how he learns to put his guard down, and learn to care again.

Caring for another human being is another character flaw. Joel's final decision, to save Ellie from the Fireflies, isn't necessarily done because it's the "right" thing to do. Joel does it because he cares too much for Ellie to let her go, no matter the cost. I know there are some who felt the game would have benefited from multiple endings, but I disagree. The rigidity of the narrative works well, because we have a clearly defined protagonist. I wasn't always sure if I agreed with his actions, and sometimes I almost felt a little guilty, but I never outright rejected a scenario, because everything Joel does fits with his character.

That isn't to say we couldn't have seen some element of player choice in this game, however. There is one small moment where a moral decision is left up to the player. When the player first encounters the trapped man (just outside the Boston QZ) with a broken mask, he begs Joel to kill him. Tess asks Joel what he thinks they should do. This is really just a quick tutorial to acclimatise the player to the shooting controls, but the player can simply walk away. I'm not saying the game is lacking in any respect, but I do feel that this could have been interesting had this been fleshed out some more. I would have loved to see a similar moment later in the campaign, when the player might be really hurting for ammunition or supplies. Finding a survivor in need of help could put the player's moral compass under strain, as they associate helping other people with a loss. In the future, I want to see more games that aren't afraid to punish players for doing the right thing.



Small, organic decisions such as these are fine, as I can understand the wiggle-room in our protagonist's characterisation. However, there is one set ending, and it works. It works not because it's the best possible outcome, but because we know why it happens. At the end of the game, Joel learns that the potential cure for mankind would come at the cost of Ellie's life. This isn't so clear-cut, however. Audio and text logs reveal that they've had other candidates, and that even though Marlene doesn't like the idea of killing Ellie, she does it because she believes it's for the good of mankind. Even though the Fireflies are basically freedom fighters, they cause dissent and chaos, and are willing to do anything to restore the old world, no matter the cost. Here, the player is asked to ponder if the ends justify the means. Regardless, Joel doesn't believe it does, and even if he did, he doesn't care. He only cares about Ellie.

What makes this so compelling is that there is no good and evil here. It's just different people doing different things, because they have different upbringings and motivations. Joel cares about Ellie so much that he's willing to risk letting the cure go just to save her. The framing helps players participate. Yes, Joel is going on a rampage, killing these people who could potentially bring humanity back from the brink, but they are also going to kill a little girl. However, Joel is doing this for his own selfish reasons. He's doing this because Ellie has become the new Sarah. She's become his surrogate daughter, and Joel is too weak to allow himself to lose another little girl. The fact that Joel carries her in his arms, much like the prologue of the game, punctuates this. Regardless, there's a lot to consider here. There's no guarantee that Ellie's death will grant us with a cure, and even then, there's no guarantee that we can pick up the pieces of society and put it back together again. There's a lot to consider here, which leaves us with a moral dilemma for us to ponder, instead of insight or an overall message.


In The Last of Us, notions of "good" and "evil" are cast aside, and replaced with characters and their motivations. Most games are afraid of giving us complex and morally ambiguous characters. Earlier, I said this game left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but in a good way. By that, I meant I was left a little unsure as to whether or not Joel's decision was justified. He possibly snuffed out humanity's last hope by going on a rampage, even going as far as to execute a doctor and an unarmed woman. There's a lingering doubt that hangs over the ending of this game, and that's what I like about it. There's no clear "good" guy here. Just characters and motivations.   read


2:42 AM on 05.28.2013  

Always Offline: How the Gaming Industry is Short-Sighted

Gaming has changed. It's no longer about art, expression, or fun. Games development, and its consumption of our cash, has become a well-oiled machine. Gaming has changed. ID tag gamers play ID tag games on ID tag consoles, use ID tag controllers. Everything is monitored, and kept under control. Gaming has changed. The age of games as art has become the age of control, all in the name of averting catastrophe from pirating and used games sales. and he who controls video games, controls the living room. Gaming has changed, when your console is under total control, gaming becomes routine.....


Hey all, it's me again. I thought I'd talk a bit about my fears for the future of the video game industry, and how the recent Xbox One unveiling has rekindled those fears. In fact, Microsoft has done a pretty excellent job of taking every gamer's worst fears and turning them into a reality. This is hardly a problem exclusive to Microsoft, however. As short-sighted corporations compromise the artistic integrity of developers and gouge their games to make a quick buck, it's the consumer who will have to pay in a few years down the line.



Put a cartridge into your old SNES or N64. You might have to blow on it a bit, but odds are, if you've been taking care of your console, it's still working. When you boot it up, you aren't greeted with a message saying "sorry, our servers are busy, try again". You just get in and play your game, the one you own. It's as simple as that. Right down to the durable hardware, these games were built to last. 

Compare this to the wonders of modern-day gaming. AAA releases almost always ship with several special editions, meaning you could end up blocked off from certain in-game content unless you buy from multiple major retailers at once. Entire portions of our games are being sectioned off and sold to us separately in the form of day-one DLC and online passes. Some games have content that a lot of players will never experience, because they did the smart thing and chose not to pre-order. Sadly, things only get worse from there. In order to better monitor their customers and control their products post-purchase, publishers have adopted the idea of forcing you to be online... to play offline. 

Some simply shrug off Microsoft's Internet requirement because they think everyone has Internet. Truthfully, not everyone does. It's not fair to completely disregard that demographic entirely by saying they don't deserve to use the console at all simply because it isn't connected to the Internet all the time. When I first got my PS3, I couldn't connect to the Internet with my set-up at the time. I eventually got Internet, but had my console been incapable of performing its primary function without it, I wouldn't have bought it.

To further elaborate on "always online", I think most people have this misconception wherein they believe simply having an Internet connection is enough. Sadly, there's two sides to this problem. We're still at the whim of our Internet provider. Your Internet will go down, and when it does, you can't play. Sometimes this will only be for a few hours, sometimes for a day or two, but when that happens, you're not allowed to use your property. As the SimCity launch and PSN Outage has shown us, their servers won't always be up either. You know, if there's one good thing I can say about the PSN Outage, It'd be that my console wasn't rendered inoperable for the entire duration of that fiasco. We are at the whim of both Microsoft and our Internet provider. Essentially, you only play your games when they say it's okay. That's not right.



Another problem this poses is that it puts up another barricade between the player and their games. When you buy a new game, you have to input a code if you want to play online. Then, you have to install a patch (or patches) of varying length, because it's become acceptable to ship games in a near-broken condition. These things are annoying, and do require an Internet connection, but without one, you can simply forgo those things and enjoy your single player game. Now Microsoft has come in and made this worse. Now you'll have to log in and register your game, just to make sure you aren't a filthy pirate or worse... borrowing the game from a friend. The first two things are annoying, but negligible. This new thing however, locks you out of the game entirely.

Apologists might cite multiplayer games and MMO’s as examples of why an always-online policy is perfectly acceptable, but this logic is severely flawed. Those games are multiplayer. When the servers shut down, it's a shame, but there's no way around that. The problem we face is different. When the servers for the original Xbox went down, it was a real shame that people couldn't frag and teabag each other in the first two Halo games. Of course, they are both great games, and one can still enjoy the campaign to this day. Now imagine if they took the single player along with it. Not only would that suck, it'd be unjustified. Multiplayer servers are shut down because they can't justify keeping them up with small user bases. A single player game doesn't (or should I say, shouldn't) need a connection, and thus can be played on your own terms, until the end of time, for all they care. The inherent difference here is that the parts of the games that needed a connection, whereas single player games do not. Let me give you an example of a game made better by multiplayer that isn't forced on you: Dark Souls. Despite being a single player game, there are multiplayer aspects seamlessly woven in. These features being present don't hinder the single player at all, and if you aren't connected at the time, those features are obviously inaccessible, as they need an Internet connection by their nature. However, single player doesn't need Internet, and it never will. The Xbox One wants to take the industry a step back by imposing an all-or-nothing restriction on all their games.

Consider this. Since Microsoft wants to control what I can do with my games and when I can play them, shouldn't we have the right to tell Microsoft how and when to spend the money we gave them? No, because the transaction is over. We own the product, they get our money. That’s how it works. This isn't a loan.



This does not enhance the console. In fact, instead of creating a console With potential, Microsoft has decided to take the low road and create a console with more restrictions than features. Kinect could have been a cool addition, but that's overshadowed by the fact that you aren't allowed to play your games without it. Notice I didn't say you couldn't. You aren't allowed, because Microsoft put that arbitrary limitation there. This is a console held back not by technological limitations, but greed. Internet access is great for enhancing your experience, but again, forcing it only causes your console to become weaker. Give us innovative online features, but at the same time, understand that Internet access isn't a guaranteed constant, so requiring it will only weaken your console in the long run.

Contrary to common belief, not everyone has Internet readily available to their console. Shrugging it off by saying “everyone has Internet” displays an egregious amount of wilful ignorance that is simply unfair to those people. Ask yourself: what do we as consumers gain from this, and does it really merit excluding a sizeable portion of the fanbase and punishing the rest?

Simply “having” online isn't enough. When your Internet goes down (and it will, trust me), you shouldn't be forbidden from using your property. When Microsoft’s servers go down (and they will, trust me), the consumer shouldn't be the one getting punished. When Microsoft’s fails to hold up their end of the bargain, we have to suffer another “Error 37”, only this time, on a console-wide scale.



An always online console would mean that console would essentially become dead in matter of years. Once they have your money, they don’t need to remove this needless restriction. Why should they? They clearly don’t care about their fans or their public reception, so I see no reason for them to remove this. Of course, this is long-term, so buying this console means putting a ridiculous amount of faith into an amoral corporation that treats you like a criminal instead of a customer. Why put trust in Microsoft, when they don’t trust you enough to play your own games without asking their permission first on a daily basis? Something to think about.   read


2:21 PM on 05.21.2013  

Xbox One Impressions: Underwhelming Innovation

It's been hyped for a while now. After a slew of bad press and worse public reception management, the Xbox reveal is or was Microsoft's chance to win consumers over to their side. There's still E3 of course, but if Microsoft stays their current course, I don't see them doing very well at all this generation. After watching a short, somewhat tepid reveal, I had only one response: "is that all you got?"

Despite a laundry list of buzz words, I wasn't exactly impressed. I expect a healthy amount of lies and bullshit at these kinds of events, but there was little substance to back up the hype here. It felt like Microsoft was trying their best to make up for a severe lack of actual gaming content. It seems clear that Microsoft had nothing of value to bring to the table, and is just banking on hype at this point. Hey, here's a good drinking game. Watch the reveal, and take a shot every time someone says “innovation”. You'll be wasted in no time.
Aside from some flaccid attempts at over-hyping gimmicky integration with social media and television services, there wasn't anything of substance to mention. I went into this thing sceptical and came out scared. They showed us one new IP for example, but told us absolutely nothing about it, only giving us pre-rendered footage with little context. What else did we get? EA Sports titles and a Call of Duty game? Seriously? You mean the games that come out on a yearly basis anyway? How anyone gets hyped for What is largely the same game every year escapes me, but did they really expect this to get people excited?

Compare this to what Sony showed us. They unveiled a brand new IP caled Knack, but also showed us two sequels to existing franchises with Killzone: Shadowfall and InFamous: Second Son. What does Xbox have to offer? A few sports games, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and a live-action Halo series, though I feel that this last one was just dropped because they felt obligated to mention their flagship franchise, and they had nothing to show us in game form.

Of course, I was really dumbfounded when the Infinity Ward representatives said this: We didn't want to do the safe thing." Ummm yeah. Right. That’s why you annualised your series. But hey, look at how great those dogs look!

Microsoft is acting with the same level of arrogance Sony was at the beginning of this generation. They're foolishly moving forward without once considering the repressions of their actions or what their consumer wants. They seem to be making one bad decision after another with this console, and it doesn't look like anyone is looking forward to it. Hell, even the name is horrible. Of all the names you could have chosen, why would you name your new console "Xbox One", the same informal name used for the original Xbox? "Durango" is a better name than that!

It also doesn't help that Microsoft made no mention of "always-online" allegations. This, combined with reports that the Xbox requires a Kinect to function, and that players will be charged to use the same disc on multiple accounts, doesn't paint a pretty picture for the console at all. A racing game, non-identified EA sports titles, and a Halo TV show? Is that all you got? Things aren't looking up for Microsoft, not at all. Honestly, this may have been one of, if not the, most horribly tepid console reveal in the history of gaming.

Deal with that.   read







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