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This week, I will recommend to you a game in Early Access which makes you feel like a wizard through vocal commands.
Remember those times spent playing your favourite fantasy videogame? Or perhaps watching Harry Potter? Or reading Lord Of The Rings? How you wanted to be able to bend reality to your will with a flick of your fingers and a mutter of incantation? Remember, how you wish you could be a wizard? It is a particular form of escapism a lot of people wish for, although I admit to preferring to be the cloak-and-dagger who wasn't above throwing salt into people's eyes or flinging rocks at civilians who had wronged me (both I did in pen-and-paper RPGs, the latter ended up accidentally blinding an one-eyed bartender).
In my defence, I did nearly get robbed while playing five-finger fillet and the civilian was gambling with a bag of rocks. The way I saw it, the bartender acted blind to me getting betrayed so he may as well be blind.
However, it is something a lot of people wish for, even if I admit I'm not among them. Despite this, the options on hand are collections of “press 1 to cast spells”s and magical summons with nefariously incompetent motion controls. It is less a cool simulation of bending things to your control in the heat of battle, and more of a press-a-button-to-win moments and wrestling with awkward controls. So this edition of “Riobux Recommends” is a dedication to a game that may be closest we've been to solving the conundrum of wizardry simulation. This week, I wish to present In Verbis Virtus.
In Verbis Virtus is a game that started out as an end-course assessment project (in the form of a demo), turned into a professional game by Italian developer Indomitus Games. In it, you play as a magic-wielding explorer who traverses an ancient ruin so he may find a way to bring his wife back from death. Along the way, he finds out how to cast spells to combat enemies and solve puzzles so he may dig deeper and deeper into a crumbling monument to a time long gone.
The road to ruin is paved with good intentions.
The big hook it uses to reel in those with a fantasy itch is its method of spell casting. To cast a spell, you hold the left-mouse button and speak the incantation down your microphone. You may pick your native tongue or, if you want to go for an interesting immersive twist, you may say the phrase in a made-up in-game language.
Microphone-interactivity, like this game uses, have a rough history. From Tom Clancy's EndWar to Lifeline to Manhunt (where it served a very small purpose). Putting aside technical problems these games have had (perhaps not Manhunt, which only was used as a noise maker), the question has always remained: “why should we have to wrestle with voice commands, when a simple button press will do the job faster and be more reliable?”. In this case, In Verbis Virtus uses the idea of immersing yourself as a wizard who must cast spells as he explores deeper and deeper to discover the answers he must seek. Which, in theory, is a good idea to aim for such a goal as long as they can successfully make microphone implementation as smooth as pressing a button, as frustration can snap someone from immersion like whiplash and into a chore-filled experience. “So” you may wonder “how is the software behind the voice recognition?”.
Watching the crew of Broken Pixels (including Seanbaby) wrestle with Lifeline's microphone feature is a fantastic time that illustrates everything wrong with microphone commands in videogames.
My personal experience with it, as someone with two regional accents that intertwine like snakes upon the staff of Hermes, is it works very well. Even when trying to use the made up language. My only complaint with this regard is it was almost too readily recognising phrases. One such example was when I was casting the light spell (lumeh tial) by saying the place name “Monaco”. However, I never really become frustrated at not recognising phrases, nor was it confusing one spell for another. If you want to look more into how the made-up language was made, which did consider pronunciation recognition of various language-speakers during its creation, you can read about it here.
However, there are two distinct weaknesses this game contains.
The first issue with the game is its use of level design. At least during the first level of the game, I became incredibly lost quickly. This, I believe, occurred for two reasons. The first was a choice of environmental design. By using rocky tunnels mostly, this allowed for paths to exist where I would over look them and for one tunnel to look similar to the other tunnels.
The second reason is its use of back-tracking. This game, at least during the first level, suffers heavily from asking the player to back-track a lot. You'll go down one path, learn a spell. Then you'll find the right junction of tunnel to go down (as there are a few). After that, you'll use the learnt spell to solve a puzzle. You will then have to back track to a third tunnel, solve a puzzle there, pick up another spell, return back to the second tunnel and progress further down. As the game requires a lot of platforming, this quickly becomes mind-numbing and tedious.
The first half an hour of the game can be summed up as this image and "WHERE THE HELL AM I?! CAN MY CHARACTER NOT SCRIBBLE A MAP?!".
The other weakness this game has is its bugs. I had figured I would play through In Verbis Virtus fresh to remember what the game was like. I got to the second level, where my first real enemy (besides the insects) became trapped on some stairs. I was meant to lure said enemy to a particular place, but I really couldn't work out how to free my door-opener from the bear-trap that was the stairs. Although I feel that is more a statement of its current status being in Early Access than anything else.
Perhaps this recommendation sits on shakier ground than I originally thought it would, lacking the intense analysis that Fear Effect and Zero Escape gave. I would say that if you are one of those people forever hunting for an example of good use of microphone-interactivity with the game its self or wanting to feel like an impressive wielder of power to bend the fabric of reality; then In Verbis Virtus is the game for you. However, I really would not blame the average reader for perhaps giving this title a miss and waiting for other microphone games coming in the future like There Came An Echo.
Hopefully There Came An Echo wouldn't confuse "handcuff the unconcious terrorist" with "execute the terrorist and waterboard the civilians".
Note: Due to a lot of work coming up next week, there is a strong chance there wouldn't be an analytical article then. So most likely the analytical article about why do reviews scores tend to be above five will be posted on the 6th of Feburary. Sorry for this.
This week, we get to examine the troubling aspect of how triple-A development may encourage standardisation of game development in countries without strong videogame development cultures.
As you probably are aware, as someone who is excited enough about videogames to read this lengthy piece, videogames are increasingly becoming a global event that is shared among those of every walk of life. From the mighty triple-A power-houses of American developers like Sledgehammer Games, to obscure small development teams in the Phillipines like Kwan. Every game is influenced by something else, including various national cultures. I seek to discuss about how something called McDonaldisation could see to potentially strip individuality away from games born from countries with non-major videogame development cultures.
So, what is this McDonaldisation I'm mumbling about? It is a sociological theory proposed by George Ritzer in 1993 concerning a particular form of business evolution. The evolution of pure bureaucracy from traditionalism. Ritzer uses McDonalds as an example, as he describes four key components that show the fast food business as an evolved state above traditional food businesses.
It probably wasn't called "KFCisation" partially because it doesn't roll off the tongue, and partially because the original owner is still angry about his gravy being stolen.
These are: Efficiency (optimal method of achieving the set out task, such as feeding the customer as quickly as possible), calculability (measurable achievement status), predictability (standardisation to the point where you can go to a branch anywhere in the world and get the same as always) and control (high level of standardisation and uniforming of employees, as well as replacing them for robotic workers). There is also another indication, although is a negative aspect, which is the “iron cage”. This “iron cage” is where bureaucracy is taken so far as to start hindering the business. Such hindrances include dehumanisation and failures occurring from focusing on a single goal (i.e. quickest delivery of product).
If this sounds familiar in a scary manner, it is something that has crept into industries beyond simply fast-food. One such example is the mainstream music industry. During the last few decades, what used to perhaps be more experimental has turned into a more heavily calculated and controlled process.
There are various signs of this mainstream shift, although the most pronounced is the “Loudness War”. This is how some music are engineered to be louder, so it requires a lower volume to achieve music that is loud. This has lead to music having a lower dynamic range, thus potentially lowering music quality in favour of just being loud. This leads to a higher efficiency of just trying to create music that sticks in your mind (in this case, due to being loud), while losing out due to dehumanisation (in this case, the artistic aspect is somewhat lost).
"Music wasn't loud enough, man. It still isn't loud enough..."
Another example is politics, where campaigns are designed in a way to maximise votes gained and nothing else. Such as the efficiency of delivering a competing opinion (even if both sides pretty much agree on the issue), calculability using numbers of areas won during election and polling success, predictability of everyone on the same team agreeing (even if they don't), control of said same opinion being delivered and the iron cage of dehumanisation and bureaucracy. This can also lead to political parties promising things due to popular demand, despite being possibly questionable.
One such example is the rise of UKIP and BNP in the UK. Both political parties have used the moral panic of immigration by news sources such as the Daily Mail to promise fixing such an issue. Rather than political parties trying to quell the panic, these ones have sought to take advantage by further feeding the fires of demand. This allows the politicians to promise the efficiency of delivering what is demanded, despite it potentially not being in the best interest of the country.
However, it is the predictability I wish to focus on today as videogames do provide its own unique twist to this problem. The reason for predictability is it allows people to travel to other branches of the product and to still access exactly what they desire. In the case of McDonalds, it allows people to travel from one country to the next and still get the same food they want where local customs allow it (e.g. in India, they do not sell pork or beef products). In contrast to this, due to videogames being a digital product, predictability can be assured by importing goods on a digital marketplace. So how does this impact local development?
Thanks to the digital marketplace, everyone globally can watch such Uwe Boll classics such as Alone In The Dark, Bloodrayne and In The Name Of The King
Put simply, for a videogame to compete it must cater to the world. As harsh of a truth this is, this is something that is the case. To develop on a Triple-A level, it must use data that has been previously collected to deliver a game that will surely succeed on an easy-to-measure quantitative manner (calculability of McDonaldisation) such as sales or Meta-Critic critic rating average. With the amount of money that goes into Triple-A level of development, it would be an unwanted risk to create a game that wasn't based on data.
With regards to countries with strong videogame development scenes, such data exists on what games succeed and what games don't. Western countries such as the USA, UK and Canada know to take cues from Hollywood to create an engaging bombastic cinematic action game (e.g. Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and Assassin's Creed). Meanwhile, Eastern countries such as Japan, China and South Korea have data based on Eastern mythology, narratives and the monomyth to create story-focused self-actualisation collective (in contrast to individualistic) adventures (e.g. Final Fantasy, Perfect World and Ragnarok Online).
However, for countries without a strong videogame development scene, problems can arise. You can take a leap of faith by injecting your own culture into a game and hope it does well. While this can make for an interesting indie game, it is a risky prospect for Triple-A developers. Alternatively, you can use data from a society with a strong videogame development culture and apply it to your development direction. After all, it makes sense to cater to a world audience by using data that works, even if it isn't data from your region.
If data from America suggests how to make a good Spiderman film, why shouldn't it work in your own country?
Despite it potentially working on an economical level, this can lead to missing out on a fantastic opportunity. After all, each society holds its own culture and this can often influence creative products the society produces. This is why some games can be described as noticeably American, obviously Japanese or even perhaps “European”. After all it is hard to imagine a game series like Final Fantasy, one featuring training of the internal self in the form of “levelling up”, being born in a place like America where “the way of the gun” rules. So by simply sliding in a Hollywood culture or by copying what Japan does well it ignores ways that, say, South American or Middle Eastern culture may deliver an unique style of game. If this forum post on using the rules of Islam in Minecraft is a sign of anything, it is a symbol that videogames may benefit from an unique societal influence that doesn't exist in videogames currently.
Putting aside the problem of simply adopting a development culture rather than creating one, this can even make the end result weaker. As those involved in development are likely not intimately familiar on a first-hand basis why the current development cultures exist, and therefore can deliver on an experience that can feel just “off” somehow. Like a crudely translated form of text. This can render a game that feels not as sharp as games built in cultures the original game is trying to mimic.
There is currently an example of standardisation that I wish to use as a case study of this. Although, as a disclaimer, I have not played the game and I'm simply judging it by data I can find out about it. The game is Unearthed: Trail Of Ibn Battuta, a game made by Semaphore who is a developer in Saudi Arabia. Currently, the videogame development scene in the Middle East is one without a defined set of characteristics. Unlike the West being inspired by Hollywood and the East by anime/JRPG genre, the Middle East has yet to form a set of cultural characteristics of games made in the area. So, in this case, Semaphore ended up being inspired by Hollywood films or the Uncharted games (which, in turn, are inspired by Hollywood) in their production of Unearthed: Trail Of Ibn Battuta.
No one should be inspired by Uncharted. No one.
Unearthed: Trail Of Ibn Battuta is an episodic third-person shooter about fortune hunter Faris Jawad tracking down the trail of a famous Muslim explorer. It is a game that uses a lot of tropes born from Hollywood and Western Triple-A games to provide an experience very similar to a Western game. In terms of Hollywood, it uses the typical tropes such as “rogue army leader hunting out something they don't fully understand”, “rogue-ish hero that does what is necessary to save day” and Hollywood style voice-acting. There are also references to Western TV presentation such as teaser cliff-hangers of future episodes. In addition to this, it uses Western videogame tropes such as cover-shooting, parkour elements and waves of enemies in a survival gameplay style. However, nothing does appear particularly born from a Middle Eastern setting in the game, besides the love interest being replaced with the sister of the main character.
Rather than creating a game that is unique that helps to carve out the characteristics of a game made by a Middle Eastern developer, it is a game that sought to use a standardised format born in America to make their own game successful. It appears to reject creating a game that looks and feels locally made in the Middle East, in favour of being a Middle Eastern translation of Hollywood. In a similar way to how McDonalds in India, while respecting local customs, is standardisation as part of the McDonaldisation process. This ends in a game trying to be like a typical Western Triple-A game, without the budget and understanding of why the tropes exist how they do. Which leads to a final product that was met with extremely negative reviews, as people compared it to Uncharted but less functional or interesting. Showing that, at least in this case, standardisation would be a negative force on the game development scene.
What did I tell you?
Which this is the important aspect of standardisation in this particular setting. In other forms of McDonaldisation, it could genuinely work. While McDonalds is seen as a inhuman monolith that walks from place to place, crushing culture with its step, it is hard to deny the results on an economical level. McDonalds does appear to make enough money, as well as other forms of McDonaldisation, to justify the dehumanisation aspect. However, if Unearthed is a sign of anything, it is that it would be inappropriate to apply the same methodology for making financially successful games. If this is due to the creative nature of videogame production, or if there is another factor (e.g. the ability to access content on an online marketplace and download the product) to it is currently unknown. As McDonaldisation is a complex theory that would span at least 10,000 words to fully apply it to videogames. In the meanwhile, I believe the best approach is to continue supporting good and interesting videogames, and let the region-specific development culture form from these successes.
Note: I am sorry if this article ends up below my average quality, and for how late it is (precisely a week late). As I begun to chew into McDonaldisation, it began to grow in scale and complexity at a rate that I didn't expect. A bit like microwaving a marshmellow peeop. So I had to trim it down to side, and even then I still feel very much unhappy with the end result. Here is the end form, and I hope next week's article is a lot better. I believe it may be a "Riobux Recommends" article, although currently I'm not sure what on.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, wherever and whenever you are. It has been a delightful few months for me really. Getting my little blog up and going, and scoring a job as a contributor for a videogame website (Gamers Honest Truth). It has been fantastic to be able to write about videogames, something that I thought was an impossibility even days before I started the blog. As much as games are a fascinating sphere on an analytical, cultural and sociological level, it always felt that everyone has an opinion and I had nothing to really add. So it has definitely been a source of motivation to see people notice my rambling, so really thanks for that.
As part of a videogame tradition that likely dates back to the 80s, I will be part of the millions who have compiled a “top five” list. However, with acknowledgement of praise, there must also be recognition to those who cracked their skull open on each step of the stairs of videogame development. After all, life is all about the yang with the yin. The free shortbread your co-worker shares, with the misspelling of your name the boss keeps on doing for years now. It really is about balance. So I'll first praise my top five as I abuse the thesaurus on how many ways you can say something is good. Then I'll follow that act up with me abusing metaphors and similes as I talk about how awful the bottom five were. There are also a life-time award as well for both, as some games either lift up or foul up the scene even years beyond their release.
With this opening act done with, let us start the climb up the rungs of Videogame Nirvana.
5. Dark Souls 2
Like finding a voucher for a free bar of your favourite chocolate in your daily newspaper.
The top five list was actually a very easy thing to work out. It was more working out what made the cut to position 4 and 5 that made things a headache. Hitting number five is a new addition to a favourite series of mine.
Dark Souls 2 took what made Dark Souls so good, increased the graphics a little bit, made it more user-friendly and even added new features. While it is another game that for the life of me I can not complete, it is still definitely a worthy addition to the series. Even if they rolled back on the interesting story that you had to hunt for, in favour for overt blunt story-telling. They also slipped up on bosses, making them a lot less interesting than Dark Souls. Despite all this, it is worthy of the fifth slot. Just, if you can, wait for the PS4/X-Box One release.
4. This War Of Mine
Like being told in a restaurant your meal has already been paid for by an anonymous individual.
I am really not a fan of war games. I find the worst part of a game based on an actual war to be the glorification of one side. When you fire up Call Of Duty, you know you're meant to be rooting for your side as you crush the skulls of the opposition. The gung-ho chanting of American troops as they dehumanise Germans or Middle Eastern individuals is a tiresome affair with nothing interesting to say.
11 bit studios shuffled out the door to announce This War Of Mine as a new war game early 2014. The sighs of boredom were quickly lifted when the twist was revealed: You're not the soldiers, you're the civilians just trying to survive in the war-zone. This is a game a lot looked forward to as it seemed to explore a previously non-talked about victim in warfare. The end result wasn't a direct discussion on war, but rather just an examination of the lives affected by it. Thus rather than telling you what to believe, you are simply shown the catastrophic results and allowed to believe what you want. It serves not only as a genuinely interesting and enjoyable game in its self, but also as a much needed alternative view upon war through the use of the videogame medium. It is safe to say the videogame industry is better off with this game as part of its library.
3. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Like discovering your boss, as a Christmas treat, raised your hourly wage by a few dollars.
One thing I find equally as dull as war is history. Unlike war celebration, it is rather a personal boredom than me wondering if anyone should celebrate it. While I can absorb myself into games based in a historical period, it is usually the gameplay that keeps me entertained as I remain apathetic towards the events of the period. Although Extra History remains the exception, as they have managed to present history in a way that is both respectful but also swallow-able and interesting.
So, imagine a game about a historical war being on my top five. A game with two aspects that I find boring and tedious some how, at the end, being so good that it did have a fighting chance at being my game of the year; if it wasn't for the next two games having such strong performances. Valiant Hearts acts as a war game that isn't afraid to criticise its subject matter. It is far from scared to depict the horrors of World War One.
While the gameplay is a rather weak aspect, it appears to function as something strong enough to keep people's attention but passive enough to not distract from the subject matter. As a tragedy, the story Valiant Hearts presents weaves its self perfectly between the subject of WWI as to make the subject matter relevant without being submerged into insignificance. It also has a fantastic song on its soundtrack with a name that sums up the entire mood of the game: War Makes Men Mad.
2. The Walking Dead: Season Two
Like being gifted a pet that was thought to be extinct on Christmas Day.
Let me begin by saying I am a huge fan of the videogames Telltale Games makes. As someone who has a particular love for narratives in games, every videogame since The Walking Dead by Telltale Games has won me over. Not only does the strong writing win me over, but also the illusion of being able to affect the events in the game have always excited me. With two series by Telltale Games coming to a close on 2014, I felt that I had to pick which one would make the list and which wouldn't. An act I'd compare to choosing your favourite child. After all, I feel 2/5ths of the games on a top-5 list belonging to a singular company would be unfair. I believe that The Walking Dead: Season Two deserves the spot over The Wolf Among Us due to slightly better writing.
The Walking Dead: Season Two is a tragic study into the break-down of not only communities of people, but people themselves. You play as a small girl who goes from trying to find the remnants of the group she was in during Season One, to trying to keep the new community from cracking under pressure. With it all ending in a grim manner that left me feeling both regretful and woeful of the events in the five episodes. The credits image of a snowy plain with a road side pointing up ahead reading “rest area” sums the final events beautifully for me. While the writing is not as strong as Season One, it still makes for a very worthy spot for number two.
Like then you find out you were given the pet by your long-lost father and mother who are billionaires; and you win some Nobel prizes for the exotic thought-to-be-existinct pet that you help breed back to commonness within a few years.
It is perhaps mildly surprising this got all the way to the top. After all, it is a game with a very awkward combat mechanic and is perhaps on the short side. Its story is perhaps not as strong nor as well told as The Walking Dead: Season Two. However, what makes Transistor so good isn't a particular singular strong area. It is as strong as it is due to a sum of its parts.
The graphics are beautiful to look upon. It uses aesthetic flare rather than sheer raw graphical power and it really pays off for this game. Each environment looks wonderful enough that you could make posters of the scenes. The voice acting by Logan Cunningham is, like always, smooth yet thick like honey and as rich as coffee. Cunningham is to videogames what Morgan Freeman is to films: A voice that is just always welcoming to hear. Also, If you take the story at face value, it is a rather weak entity that barely exists. However, the indirect methods of presenting the narrative propel this game. Let it be through its excellent soundtrack, the data on civilians who went missing or the mechanics on hand. All of it speaks to you of what world you're inhabiting and what has gone dreadfully wrong.
Transistor also does something that is incredibly hard to pull off successfully: The ending is left both open ended enough to allow you to ponder on aspects of the game and yet closed enough to feel satisfactory. It is a game that has room to have theories thought upon it (and I have pondered on a theory of my own in a previous article on mental illness), but is perfectly fine without the theories. In addition to this, Transistor has a soundtrack that is enjoyable long after the game is done. Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett have followed up the delightful Bastion soundtrack (especially Build That Wall and Mother, I'm Here) with some songs that may be even better; such as We All Become, The Spine and, my personal favourite, Paper Boats (which is my 11th most played song and the 2nd most played 2014 videogame song according to my Winamp program, behind In The Pines of The Walking Dead: Season 2).
Just a few words of the games that couldn't fit among the top 5, but deserve recognition for their actions.
Payday 2: Technically not a 2014 game, but the amount of DLC and community interaction goes above and beyond what is expected. Overkill has managed to turn a middle-of-the-road co-op game to a must buy via free and paid content. Due to this, their support definitely deserves acknowledgement.
Massive Chalice: A very good game with an interesting premise of genetics, as you must drive back a threat that seeks to swallow your land. Sadly, it was too much of an incomplete state to consider putting on the top 5, but Massive Chalice is still an interesting twist to the X-Com approach of world defence.
Endless Legend: In its self, it is a hard sell to anyone beyond fans of Civilisation. Especially due to glitches, a low amount of faction choice and a gameplay that can leave you being pummelled without knowing why. However, the use of Games2Gether means this is a title that may be the Payday 2 of strategy games in terms of the level of support in 2015.
Fistful Of Frags: While not a 2014 game technically due to its shelf life as a mod, it hit Steam earlier this year. It is, by far, one of the strongest free-to-play games of the year and definitely worth a go if you like FPS games but don't want to fork any money out.
Gods Will Be Watching: A game that just didn't have enough substance to get onto the top 5. However, it is a very interesting game that makes you tactically consider your options in intense situations. With writing that simultaneously makes sense and doesn't make any sense at all, it will definitely be a source of a lot of thought-provoking theories.
So up next is my Riobux Lifetime Award, an award given to a game that may not have been released in 2014 but still deserves something proclaiming its excellence. This is a “hall of fame” situation, as every game is in the running for this. Every year I hope to add one new videogame to this list. A list that I hope to be populated by games that go beyond delivering a fun experience, to a level where I feel the videogame industry is better off for its existence. Games that people can learn from and be inspired by as they venture out to play games, write about games and even make games. This is the most prestigious personal award I can give, whatever value that has, and I feel the first game to join the Lifetime Award collection is very deserving of the honour. So here it goes:
1st Riobux Lifetime Award: Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
If you're a follower of this blog, this should come as no surprise at all. Twice I've talked in depth about this 2012 game. First it was an analysis of Zero Escape about what it does well and, perhaps not so well. Partially on what can be learnt from it with regards to writing, not only with regards to videogames but stories as a whole. The second time was with regards to inspiring me to be back into games. It has also gone on to inspire at least two separate games: Exogenesis: Perils Of Rebirth and Adrift In A Cobalt Eternity.
There is just so many things I could talk about with regards to why Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward (ZE:VLR) deserves such an award. Although pretty much all of them exist within the category of writing prowess. A short list of its writing achievements include that it has the ability to use the spirit of Knox's Ten Commandments to allow the player a chance of guessing the twists, and the capability to explain complex theories/thought-experiments in an easy-to-understand manner. It really is no wonder that Operation Bluebird, a movement dedicated to getting a sequel to ZE:VLR, exists.
As I have done before, I highly recommend picking up this title if you want a game with incredible writing skill. If you're not sold, you can also read my analysis of ZE:VLR for a more in-depth list of writing abilities the game has shown. As someone who has a particular fondness of narrative above gameplay and graphics, ZE:VLR deserves a firm place in the hall of fame.
So with that climb to the top five games of the year finished, it is time to remember the mistakes of 2014. The videogames that managed to just blunder so much, the only question is “why did you think this was a good idea?”. Unlike the top 5, the bottom 5 was harder to find games for as I fortunately don't make bad purchases usually. With getting my contributor job late 2014, I wasn't given much time to amass a large collection of games that I had the misfortune to cover.
Some of these games may not be particularly bad on a technical level, but have managed to drive its self under my fingernails like bamboo shoots in its ability to just infuriate me. After all, the worst emotion to accidentally induce in a player is fury, followed by boredom. So lets start the naming and shaming with the number five entry.
5. Hazard Ops/ Zombies, Monsters, Robots
Like tripping over an uneven paving stone in front of your crush.
As shown among my top 5, something games of note tend to do well is its ability to bring something unique to the table. So is there a better symbol of the 5th slot than a game that is so safe that it would be a world-class baseball player? A videogame that peers over the shoulder of what everyone else was doing in 2004 and copies that ten years later. This is a game that managed to elude my gaze when I was compiling this list, as Steam hides the free-to-play games you've uninstalled in the free-to-play section of the store.
Hazard Ops, as known in Europe, is a game so dull that I had forgotten what an insult to the free-to-play genre it is. It looks like it was transported from 2004, the era of War Rock, and spliced with the cover stickiness of Gears Of War. Next to other free-to-play shooters like Loadout and Fistful Of Frags, Hazard Ops shows clearly how much they care about doing anything beyond printing money: Not at all. When I reviewed it, I gave it a 6.0 due to it being free-to-play. Probably deserves much less now I think upon it.
Like opening your bedroom door and stepping bare-foot into some faeces your pet dog/cat/ferret left you.
Many indie games seek to whirl you into a nostalgic feel. They'll make you experience something new, in that lens of the good old days. Those days where “Feminist” was an insult, the UK had been celebrating the exploitation of the poor since 1979 and homosexuality was looked at with suspicion and ire. Well, there was always videogames...Right?
Metrocide decided to take a rather unique approach. Where most games add upon what had already been done or gave something an unique twist, it had instead removed features from the source of inspiration. Judging by the graphics, this inspiration was the original Grand Theft Auto. So gone with the cars, and most of the guns. Bye bye to rampages, secrets to find and a large city to explore. What you got instead was a game with only one method to play it: Try to hide, try to shoot the target and try to hide the body. The same approach, over and over. With the inability to really be sure if you were being looked at, the difficulty was punishing rather than difficult. This existed as my first negative review on Gamers Honest Truth, and it definitely deserves it.
Like finding out your boss has decreased your wage on Christmas Day due to a “tough economical climate”, as he takes his girlfriend who is half his age on the 10th holiday abroad that year.
Consortium is a game that is obviously a product of love. You can really tell the developers went the full mile in making a game look good, act in interesting ways and ironing out the writing. So how the hell did the end-result end up just so bad?
Despite the best efforts of the developers, they had some how created a game that feels roughly as off as 10 month old bread. Like walking into your house after staying with your family for a week for Christmas, something just doesn't feel right at all but you can't put your finger on why it feels just wrong. Although the floaty nature of movement inside a very confined area may have something to do with why the game just feels weird.
The writing is at times okay, but at other times might be some of the strangest I've ever heard. Such as a doctor who entertains the possibility that his life is simply a game for your character, who is someone in the distant past observing the game's current events, to experience. This is then followed by a conversation about how the doctor's sister told him you've been saying some rather unusual things. Things like this pepper the plot constantly, with other strange instances of writing, voice acting and other forms of absurdity.
With the added problem of the ability to get lost in such a small area, such as a ship, this game is a product of love gone hideously wrong. Like a farmer wanting to take his love for his pig Babe to the next level.
2. Dead Effect
Like opening a Christmas present that has been under the tree for about a week, to find out it's a pet dog in a box without holes.
There have been a few PC ports of iOS and Android games released during 2014, although I really can not think of one that survived the process unscathed. Even Ascension, a very good deck-building card game, ran into some problems as it didn't consider what things would be needed out of a PC port (e.g. resolution settings).
However, Dead Effect stumbles onto the scene drunk and proceeds to urinate its self as it shows a severe lack of awareness of the market it is walking into. The first signs of problems is the genre it is attempting to walk into the PC market of: zombie FPS. While I can not speak on the iOS or Android market, the zombie FPS genre is currently as stale as the corpses that walk in the games. There are very few games that have lasted the test of time, and they usually survive based on a gimmick (e.g. Killing Floor's wonderful voice acting and class system). Dead Effect however just proceeds to not only offer things done by other games a lot better, but then proceeds to offer up dreadful writing (e.g. German scientist created the virus accidentally...Female character is augmented all over except her breasts...So on). Then there are the times the game some how lags, despite it being a PC port of a tablet game.
Considering all these things that should invoke some emotion of some kind, the over-whelming one is just sheer boredom. When I was playing it through for a review, I did seriously wonder on the last time I had been so bored in my life. Perhaps it was back when I was trying to wrap my head around Baudrillard's “simulacra” and “simulation” during my degree. Even with improvements, the port screams just milking a tablet game for every last drop of money before moving on. With this cynical goal, it deserves a number two spot on the list.
1. Always Sometimes Monsters
Like finding out your real father killed your mother and hung himself, out of the belief there should never be a second genetically similar form of yourself due to his disgust of you.
And now we find ourselves at a possible impasse of what it means to be number 1 around here. Should it be technical prowess and logical analysis, or should it be purely an opinion piece and reflect upon what made me angry the most. In this case, I am taking the latter road but perhaps later forms of these awards might take a perhaps less...”Emotionally-charged” approach.
So, Always Sometimes Monsters, why did you have to go break my heart? You were a game promising to provide a meaningful study into selfishness vs selflessness rather than the tacky “good vs evil”. One where the choices you make would make a difference and affect others around you. So why did you end up being so much less than that?
With all the promises it makes, Always Sometimes Monsters ended up being significantly weaker than I had hoped for. What it delivers instead is an instantly forgettable journey. One that never manages to say anything interesting, makes gender/sexuality choice barely relevant beyond a few conversation pieces and makes choices rarely last beyond a singular scene. Next to games like Zero Escape:Virtues Last Reward and The Walking Dead, Always Sometimes Monsters is nothing but a pathetic boring game. It is a game that would normally be simply okay, if it wasn't for the build up as this interesting choice-filled game. Thanks to marketing, it is nothing short of a significant disappointment. One that left me pretty furious on just how weak the final result was. As it is the only game that managed to stir real anger in me, Always Sometimes Monsters is my personal worst game of the year.
Some games however have the ability to do so badly, they deserve recognition. The acknowledgement of games so dreadful that they should stand as a warning. They should be the heads on the city walls, telling passer-bys not to travel the same way they have. Just like the Hindenburg gets uttered every time flammable gases get mentioned with regards to transportation, these games should be remembered to avoid the mistakes these have done. So let us go to the first Riobux Cautionary Tale Award, and look upon the first disaster people should never repeat again.
1st Riobux Cautionary Tale Award: Clive Barker's Jericho
Clive Barker's Jericho is a game that is a sore point for me. Even just watching footage of it is enough to make me at least mildly angry. In its self, it is a mediocre game. The gameplay is just dull, the environments are ugly enough in browns, greys and greens that you can actually get lost in linear tunnels and the story is just dull. However, that is not the cautionary tale on hand. The warning this game should be is one on characterisation, and what can happen when it goes wrong.
For a game written by the same person who wrote Hellraiser and Candyman, it both shows in the characterisation in the game and yet betrays his writing ability. As the horrid characterisation is something that reminds me of an 80s/90s horror film, for all the worst reasons as you're rooting for the bad guy to rip the smarmy idiots' faces off.
I am able to look beyond the visual design of the characters, as they are all dressed in tight black leather as though they've stopped by an S&M shop on their way to a Matrix party. What I am unable to look beyond however, is the inter-character dialogue. It is a hive of homophobia, sexism, racism and a distinct lack of understanding of schizophrenia. It is the type of banter I'd expect to find at a BNP/UKIP meeting.
With comments like “Hey, Abbey, I got a joke for you. How many telekinetic lesbian snipers does it take to clear a road?” and telling said lesbian character “Hey, congratulations, Abbey! Now you finally know what it's like to have a man inside you.”, this banter comes across as painfully terrible. It is never serious enough to potentially reflect the offensive views of the writer (well, except the schizophrenia thing), nor as an interesting character flaw. Instead, this is the type of banter Barker feels people in 2007 had.
It is the type of thing where I actually bought a cheap copy on Steam, just to play it through as a Let's Play (maybe even live on Twitch) so people could possibly get a kick out of me just getting angry with the game. After all, as someone with a keen interest in narratives in videogames and as an amateur writer, this type of terrible characterisation exists as something so dreadful it actually makes me angry. To this day, I can't help but wonder how Clive Barker didn't look down at his script and ask himself: “Can a single person root for these people? Could anyone want these people to succeed?”.
So with that, it is firmly on the cautionary tale list as a warning to those who wish to write. After all, if you have a story populated by individuals you can not root for it is hard to work for an ending you don't care to see. Flawed characters are fine, but if the banter that goes on in Jericho is presented not as flaws then you may begin to lose your audience.
With that, we come to a close of the first “Riobux Yearly Awards”. A bit of a lengthy article that can be summed up with “THIS IS MY OPINION OF THINGS I LIKE AND DON'T LIKE!”, but I think it works out. If I'm still about writing, which I hope to be, I hope to make this into a yearly tradition. While there are quite a few games hitting upon game-of-the-year lists that I haven't mentioned, this has mostly been due to me being unable to play them or just simply not playing them for other reasons (e.g. even if I had a Wii U, I am not playing Sonic Boom). Despite this, feel free to post in the comments below about how I missed that game you really like or don't like.
Next week should be a lovely analytical article. So until then, have a happy new year.
Here's to a new year of pseudo-intellectual writing.
Edit: If you want to see my review of Dead Effect, as I give it my lowest score yet of 3.5, you can have a gander here.
Aahh, the “small talk”. Wonderful, isn't it? This simple tool helps us throw a rope to others so we do not feel alone as we stumble around in the dim light that is our life. We're never quite fully knowing if we're about to bump into a wall, stumble upon a benefit or take a fall into a pit; although we do have a rough idea based on how illuminated our light is. This reaching out to others not only gives some guidance of where we are going, it has the bonus of making the bad times easier to bare as we have someone to share the load and making the good times better as we have someone to share the joy with. All it takes is a simple chat about simple things: the weather, favourite sportsball team or maybe even a videogame you're currently playing.
The last part was important to me, as conversations about the weather renders a shrug to most populace these days and I couldn't ever find sports interesting. Videogames helped me have something I could reliably bring out of my pocket to chat with people, to create a connection so I wasn't alone. Sure the conversations never did last for hours, but I didn't need them to. I just needed to throw a rope to someone, so I could feel connected. Videogames became my sole conversation piece, although the importance of such a communication tool perhaps requires some back story.
Since a very young age, I was diagnosed with a developmental anxiety disorder that does affect my ability to socialise with others. The diagnosis came due to a delay in language development. However, beyond simple linguistic complications, there were other problems such as understanding others. I did try to talk with others about various other things, but I could never manage it. I could not understand how to engage in conversations that others engaged back. The things I would blurt out with just went awkwardly. This awkwardness lead to me having the inability to say anything charismatic, funny or interesting.
My understanding was basic enough while lacking knowledge of the nuances of talking that it was as though I was an alien trying to spy on a human population.
Despite my flaws, I ended up with an ace up my sleeve that just needed time to form. Since an early age I played videogames in my spare time. I didn't have any friends, so I had a lot of time for videogames. I learned the ins and outs of them. Perhaps not enough to be good competitively, but enough that I could easily hold my own discussing whatever videogames were coming out, ones I had played and my thoughts on various games. It took until I was 16 to start having discussions on games, although since then I have spent most of my conversations talking about videogames. As someone who struggles to be charismatic, funny or interesting, games have been my perfect method to connect with others in a meaningful way.
So, what if I didn't have videogames? In all likely hood, without having that subject to bounce off of I probably would never really have a proper means of contact. After all, prior to using videogames to talk with others I never had a method of sustaining communication. However, it is possible I could have just simply found something else to talk about, like books or music.
Alternatively though, I could have ended up anomic. A sociological term, but I'll explain what I mean. With my social bonds between myself and society broken down completely, I would enter a state of normlessness. A state characterised as lacking social norms. I would be among the thousands of people who drift through life, with no connection to others around me and unable to find much to care about except perhaps a crushing feeling of lonliness. I probably wouldn't do something stupid but I know the disconnection would render me more apathetic than I currently am.
Anomie, of sociology, is about normlessness. Anime of sociology however will lead to a Marxist anime about clothes.
So the gift that videogames have given to me is a conversation tool. I still find this valuable to this day as something I can use reliably to bridge a gap between myself and others. By discussing videogames, I can use it as a tool to discuss and explore various other aspects. Even if the discussions are usually the small talk of “oh, what videogame are you playing?”, it helps as a bridge between myself and others. So I am not alone. I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to talk about things and have someone to listen to them. As someone who isn't good at humour, charisma or delivery of interesting facts, I am thankful for the gift videogames have given me: The ability to talk to others.
Note: I am sorry if the quality of this piece is below average of my usual style, and I am sorry for it being a very short article. I have been a tiny bit ill lately and I just wanted to get this article out this week so I may take next week off. This post was based on a previous comment I said about how videogames stop me from feeling alone. The post likely describes it better than here. I'll return to my normal schedule on the 29th December-4th January week with the top five and bottom five of 2015. Until then, have a happy holiday.
This week, we'll get to examine if co-op focused games should be reviewed under multiplayer conditions or the solo-review that is typical. I recently did a preview for the game Dungeon Defenders 2, a game that has a paid Early Access but looks to be free-to-play in 2016. At first, I played it with someone else at Gamers Honest Truth but then a creeping realisation slid its self into my mind with its nanny voice. “Are you have a good time? Is the game really as good as it seems? Or, are you just being distracted by the fun conversation you're having about what has been, what is and what could be?”.
So I rebooted it later on my own, thinking perhaps I could recapture the same magic from earlier. After all, earlier I couldn't quite pin-point what I was enjoying. Playing on my own though all I could see were areas of the game that couldn't grip me. It was, in its current state, a rather empty experience. “So maybe”, I thought, “maybe the game was designed for a multiplayer co-op experience rather than a solo one?”. Which then I could potentially be giving it a poor preview by assessing it as a solo experience rather than a possible conversation piece between friends.
Unsurprisingly, replacing child-characters of Dungeon Defenders with their adult counterparts in Dungeon Defenders 2 worked to needlessly cripple the charisma of the game.
So I wish to examine the possibility of reviewing and previewing co-op videogames on your own or with others. To be specific, which one would be more likely to produce an article that is the most appropriate for the game. I'll examine the pros and cons of using a solo experience to review a co-op videogame, and then conclude it with my impression of the situation.
Examining the pros first, the first aspect to consider about using a solo experience to examine a co-op game is it is more likely to control for variables that could affect your perception of the videogame. There are many things that hold potential to unintentionally affect how a game is received, including bad weather, poor sleep or just a bad day generally. The addition of more players to the experience increases the likelihood of an extraneous variable affecting the overall perception of the experience.
One such example is if someone was doing a review of Zombies Monsters Robots, playing through the game with a friend. As they're talking back-and-forth about topics they find interesting, they may get distracted enough to overlook problems with the game. Which this may lead to a review that is more on the positive side of things. In contrast, if there were constant arguments with said friend the game may stand as a sub-concious reminder of said argument, thus giving it a harsher review. So by making it a solo experience, it limits these possibilities a small amount.
The discussions and arguments while playing this game are likely to form about the question: "why are we playing this?".
The second pro is it makes it easier to provide a holistic article. A preview/review is an article that describes the experiences in a videogame and viewpoint of the writer of said experiences in an analytical manner. However, if a co-op game offers unequal experiences for different players (e.g. due to class), to provide a more holistic discussion of the events that occurred from the viewpoint as a player it would require those involved to comment on it. To exclude a player's view is to ignore a potentially valuable piece of information (e.g. if a class was particularly under-powered/over-powered). If there is a singular player in the game though, it would only require one account to get the complete story of the events. Which makes it easier to lessen the reductionism in the analysis.
The third positive aspect to of this is a review/preview with a solo experience in mind is useful for those who plan to play the game alone. Some people, sadly, do not have many people to play videogames with. They may discuss it on forums, banter about it with friends, but when it comes to playing games they simply have no one. So the solo-review/preview can function to warn them if it is a co-op game that would work for them or if it only works if you have someone to play alongside. If it does get a high praise and they enjoy it after buying it, the individual can then play the co-op aspect when they can with others. After all, if someone enjoys a videogame, chances are they're going to want to share the joy of it with others.
"Aw man, you should have been there. I just shot so much police while dragging that bag of gold to the escape van. It was just like Heat, minus the detective finding his daughter in the bath with sliced wrists. You really need to buy this game."
However, there are some problems with such a method of review that should be considered.
The first of these issues is a missed opportunity. There are multiple ways for a videogame to affect us; it can make us smile, laugh, cry or angry. These are aspects commonly talked about, although a less talked about form is the way a videogame can help us bond together. The ways that friendship may strengthen as you struggle to get the loot-bags to the getaway van or how love may bloom on the battlefield. By reviewing or previewing with a group, you may explore how it affected the interactions between those involved.
To use Dungeon Defenders 2 as an example, I think part of the reason why I had an interesting conversation may have been due to how simplistic it was. At least in the starting levels, the other person and I could do our own thing to win the game while dedicating our communications and cognitions to talking about things we both had an interest in. It was, in a way, a conversation piece. It would be hard to examine the game on how it aids inter-personal interactions as a solo review/preview, so by doing it as a group the article could potentially make for an interesting study in how useful the game is as an inter-personal interaction device.
One of the wonderful things you learn when doing a social science degree is how to twist and abuse the English language to make you sound more sophisticated. "Conversation piece" turns into "inter-personal interaction device". Feel free to theorise what an "intra-personal interaction device" could even be.
There is also another aspect to consider, which I feel may be the most important part of a review. This boils down to a very important question: What is the standard your videogame is meant to be measured up against? Say you're made to operate a score system, what would make a 10? If you don't, what would make an okay co-op game into a great one? Should a great co-op game include the ability to play solo, or is that an optional bonus?
This judgement comes into play when assessing aspects such as team-mate AI (if the co-op partner is made AI if there isn't another player), level lay-out and other considerations for fewer or a singular player. If you are judging how good a co-op game is based on how well it accomplishes its goal of being an enjoyable co-op game, is it fair to put a weak solo experience against it? Any work to improve the solo experience are resources potentially being syphoned from the core co-op experience. If this is a good or bad thing depends on if you feel a co-op game should cater to solo players as well.
To me, that final sentence of the previous paragraph underlines this entire analysis: “if you feel a co-op game should cater to solo players as well”. Every advantage and disadvantage rides upon the importance of the solo experience to co-op games, as the lone wolf mode will likely be the weakest part of a co-operative focused game. It is entirely down to the philosophy of the individual evaluating the videogame of the worth of the solitary mode in a game that favours more than one player. If the reviewer believes that a co-op game like Dungeon Defenders 2 shouldn't have its solo experience considered, then to review it by playing it alone is to run contrary to their own philosophy.
An article on reviewer philosophy (including fun works like ontology and epistemology applied to videogames) I think could be very interesting. However, the list of interesting things I'd like to do an article on is rather long as it is.
Personally, I am of the viewpoint that while a videogame's objective must be considered in assessing its success, there needs to be consideration to those who are unable to play with others. That is unless there is a good reason w hy the mechanics can not be recreated by AI. The reason for this is partially my own background and partially my philosophy. With regards to my philosophy, it is my belief that sometimes someone wants to just play a videogame on their own. So to deny them the chance without a good justifiable reason is something I dislike as it forces the player to socialise when they wish to just have some time alone.
My background growing up was that I didn't really have any friends. The few associates I had were definitely not the type to come around and play videogames. I played some games online on X-Box 360, probably around 2006 onwards, but never co-op as I found it awkward to not be able to tactically talk with the person I was with. I played some co-op games with my younger brother, but it was a very rare activity. So the idea that a game would deny me from playing it because I didn't really know anyone does seem like I'm being stomped on after being pushed to the floor.
So when I personally review or preview a game, I tend to play on my own. As I wish to consider those who perhaps aren't as fortunate as me currently. Those who live in a state of not really knowing anyone, and using videogames as a form of escapism from their woes. Alternatively, those who are introverted and prefer to use videogames as a breather from people should be allowed to play the game that's been made, even if it is a co-op focused game. Videogames should be accessible to as many people as possible, rather than an elite club for the popular. So when a videogame decides to close off a co-op mode for no good reason, or fails to remember that some may want to play their game on their own, it shows a lack of awareness as it closes its doors to potential fans.
The fact that I tend to play videogames for an articles and then write the article between 12am and 6am may also be a factor.
Anyway, thanks for reading this. The 22nd - 28th of December week wouldn't have any articles, just so I can catch up on various things and have a Christmas break. Next week (15th-21st) will be my submission to the community assignment. After the Christmas break, I'll be back with my top-5 and bottom-5 of 2014 (19th-4th).
Welcome to the second Riobux Recommends episode, where I will try to recommend an interesting videogame. This was an episode that I've had planned for a while, but with the last three weeks dedicated to other articles I haven't had a chance. So, better late than never, let's talk about the videogame series Fear Effect.
Fear Effect is a third-person action game series that sometimes requires you to solve a puzzle or die. Developed by Kronos Digital Entertainment, it was originally known as Fear Factor but changed their name due to similarities with the name of the American metal band Fear Factory. They successfully developed two games in the series: Fear Effect and the prequel Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix, both well-received among critics. They had attempted to make a third Fear Effect game called Fear Effect Inferno, but development was halted due to the publisher's financial difficulties leading to cut-backs.
So, what does Fear Effect do particularly well?
The first thing it does well is a very interesting art style that appears to push the limitations of the PS1 system as much as it can. When I was playing through the series (Fear Effect for the second time, and the prequel for the first time) on the Vita, I was surprised to see all the little ways they made the graphics impressive with their art style while not being limited by the hardware. One way was they appeared to use comic/graphic-novel inspired textures on top of simplistic models. Wikipedia notes that Fear Effect was one of the very first games to use unshaded characters that were textured to resemble cel-shading.
Needless to say, the opportunity to use impressive graphics on a shirtless man with a fantastic mullet and stubble was not missed.
There was also use of animated backgrounds when they could get away with it, so they could have full-motion backgrounds that wasn't just a simple 2D image. This allowed the environments to feel more alive than a lot of PS1 games at the time, especially ones that tried for the non-simplistic graphical style Fear Effect was going for. These were also interactive, although in a simplistic “walk on X, and Y occurs” manner. This was alongside Resident Evil inspired camera work and tank controls. These little short-cuts here and there worked to provide as much of a game as possible without being dragged down by what the Playstation could offer in 1999.
The second interesting aspect, and the main thing I wish to talk about, is its use of Chinese mythology mixed with an easy-to-understand cyberpunk environment. A lot of videogames use inspiration from various media. Payday: The Heist was very inspired by the film Heat, along with other heist films. The Uncharted series has inspiration that lies in Indiana Jones. Final Fantasy was inspired by just the mere concept of one last attempt at a videogame before quitting the industry. Stan Liu, the story writer of Fear Effect and it's sequel and director of Fear Effect 2, appears to blend Chinese mythology with an easy-to-understand starting point of the near-future.
In Fear Effect, what starts out as a simple kidnapping of the daughter of a Triad boss, to ransom her off for money, descends into a journey across China and into a Chinese depiction of Hell. The prequel, Retro Helix, is about a cure of a degenerative condition, and the desire to get the cure by any means necessary. Which then leads to various places such as the lost tomb of the first emperor of China and the mountain island of the immortals.
Fear Effect allows you to respond to people telling you to go to Hell, with "that sounds like a good idea, lets do that" and then lets you shoot demons.
They flavour and intertwine the story with knowledge of Chinese myths and religion in such a manner that it doesn't feel like prior knowledge is required. They play upon pop culture knowledge and use cut-scenes to illustrate points without watering down the original depictions. So it is easy to grasp that, say, burning paper representations does hold power in Hell. This leads to a very fresh story that I actually have a hard time comparing to any existing property; especially as the characters are made relevant to the story rather than being mere investigators of events and therefore disconnected.
However, it does have some weaker aspects.
Due to the nature of the enemies, hiding until you pop onto their screen and then shooting you, combat can be a wrestling match of camera angles. Combat functions by equipping your weapon via cycling through all the other weapons, entering a screen with an opponent, turning until the auto-lock works and firing until they fall on the floor. This can lead to a lot of frustrations of trying to get the auto-lock to function before you die and changing weapons mid-combat is an impossibility without dying. This frustration of camera angles climaxes during the Retro Helix final boss as the camera circles rather than stays static, turning an already hard boss fight into a trying nightmare.
While being hard to pull off, it is satisfying to shoot two enemies at once while duel wielding shotgun-pistols.
The game also runs the odd problem of being incredibly large. Using GameFAQs's rough statistics, based on 72 ratings the average play time of Fear Effect is 16.4 hours. For Retro Helix, with only 36 ratings, this play time increases to 18.3 hours. Even with the use of short-cuts as I explained before, due to the length of the games they both require four discs each. While they do not require disc swaps mid-mission, they can ask you to flip between discs a bit on the often side. Retro Helix does this more than Fear Effect, likely due to using particular textures from earlier sections again. This can be a source of frustration, but one I feel can be over-looked.
In its current state, Hana's (the main protagonist) sexuality can feel a bit undercooked. In Fear Effect, there are hints of Hana's love towards Glas, a male mercenary she works alongside with. In the prequel, this love is dedicated towards a female mercenary: Rain. Putting aside the Eidos advertisement campaign that seemed to prey on horny males, this sexuality was very well done. Especially in Retro Helix where Hana's love for Rain is very apparent. Considering the approach towards bisexuality by videogames typically, this was very well done.
Edios's Retro Helix advertisement campaign, of course, focused on a very minor aspect of the game. Anything to draw in horny kids who want to get their rocks off.
However, Hana's love never feels like they take the next step beyond simple affection. It never gets addressed beyond it possibly being Hana having just close friends. Although this has been due to Stan Liu's intention to focus more on the story than the characters. According to Liu in 2001, this was leading to a love-triangle moment in the sequel Fear Effect Inferno. Although at the time, no further details were revealed of this event.
So what happened to Kronos Digital Entertainment after the cancellation of Fear Effect Inferno? They tried at first to get it published by another company, since they still held the rights, but they were unable to secure publishing. So they disbanded. John Zuur Platten, the producer, lead designer, director and writer of Fear Effect, went on to work on games such as The Chronicles Of Riddick: Assault On Dark Athena. This was before settling down as a founder of Gammon Studios LLC who, according to their official website, wish to “bring quality, high-production-value casual games to tablets, mobile devices and social media”. Dan Danko, one of the two writers of Fear Effect: Retro Helix, went on to do various writing work on animations; although the latest series he's involved in has a 1.8 on IMDB.
Stan Liu, who worked on both Fear Effect games to a significant degree, currently works as vice president of mobile content development as part of The Walt Disney Internet Group. Interestingly, according to a forum post by FearEffect on the Tomb Raider forums, the Fear Effect Inferno assets are currently being held by Stan Liu and Retro Helix animator Joan Igawa. After the closure of Kronos Digital Entertainment, the rights went to the publisher Eidos Interactive. Which in turn, became part of Square Enix who now own the rights to the Fear Effect series. Upon communication by FearEffect, they expressed some interest:
“- ME : So, if independent developers want to finish Fear Effect Inferno, as an IDEA, and everyone vote for : WANT to see it, does that mean they'll finish the game ?
- SE : If all of that comes together, it’s possible – although access to Inferno code wouldn’t be provided as we don’t own the code – just the rights.”
Assuming you don't mind Linkin Park, here is a Fear Effect Inferno trailer.
So would it be out of the question to ever see Fear Effect Inferno? I don't think so personally. Stan Liu, to my knowledge, hasn't gone on record saying he doesn't want to do it any more. Square Enix, in 2014, have shown some interest in letting the sequel be made. I think it is a case that there hasn't been that much of a significant push for such a sequel in recent years, at least not to a level enough that Stan Liu has commented on it. If someone wishes to try to push for at least more information on the likelihood of a sequel (e.g. like Operation Blue Bird is for Zero Escape 3), I'd be more than happy to try to raise awareness if it looks like it'll go somewhere.
Anyway, I'd say that Fear Effect and its sequel Retro Helix is a worthwhile game for your PS3, Vita or PSP if you want a game with an interesting art-style and uses Chinese mythology to give the game an interesting twist. It has very good characterisation, partially by making the characters relevant to an enjoyable interesting plot rather than disconnected. On PSN, its currently £5.79 full price, but I'm sure with a deal or just buying the originals on PS1 you should be able to get a very interesting experience at a very cheap price.
Thanks to the shortcuts, Kronos Digital Entertainment managed to slide in some very creepy characters into Fear Effect/Fear Effect 2: Retro Helix with fantastic artwork for them.
I'll see you next week with another analytical article.
Side note: I've been mentally bouncing around an idea for an evolution of my current format. Put simply, next week I am thinking of possibly doing a voice recording of me reading the article so those who want to read it but don't want to have to sit there for a few minutes reading can do. They can open the sound file up while they go browse something else. I could possibly even do it for this article, perhaps as a test run. So please comment if you feel this may actually be a positive change or if you have suggestions, since I'm always curious to find new ways to improve my articles.