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9:44 AM on 04.23.2008

Gaming's Guilty Pleasures: Glitching

I love glitching in videogames. One look at my username will tell you that much, but why I choose to take part in the art of glitching, and involve myself with others who share the same passion, is an entirely different story.

I recognize that there is often no purpose for what I and others do. Glitches very rarely help me win. They almost never help me play better. Through glitching, nothing tangible is accomplished, gained, or earned. The goal of glitching is simply this: destruction.

The simple yet timeless pleasure of breaking stuff that's not supposed to be broken pervades the realm of videogames in the form of glitching, and I am helpless to its charm.

Glitches in videogames have been around as long as the games have. Whether you're talking about the secret worlds in Metroid or “Glitch City” in the original Pokemon games, glitching is an integral part of gaming culture that cannot be ignored. I mean, there are entire glitching communities (+1 shameless plug), sites centered around glitching in specific games, and numerous clans centered around glitching.

While most of the individuals involved with these groups have sound intentions, seeking only to have fun with the glitches they discover and perform, there will always be people who will try to use them to gain an unfair advantage. We call these people “cheaters.”

The difference between glitchers out to have fun and cheaters is the difference between lighthearted and malicious destruction. It's the difference between setting off fireworks and smacking someone in the face; the former is meant for spectacle and enjoyment while the latter is used to harm and humiliate. Both well-meaning glitchers and the people who use glitches to cheat are out for the same purpose, however; to break boundaries (both literally and hypothetically), and to raise a triumphant middle finger to “the Man.”

What's more interesting to me than self-professed glitchers, though, are regular gamers who somehow become involved with glitches. These are the gamers that give choice glitch videos on YouTube nearly one million views, cause the necessity for a “Glitches” category on Destructoid, and show sincere enthusiasm upon seeing new glitches in their favorite games. Yes, I'm talking about you guys. Evidently, you don't have to be a regular glitcher to appreciate strange and cool looking stuff in videogames. Who would've thought?!

You can also be a regular glitcher and still want to rip the virtual testicles off the conniving bastard that's sniping at you from outside the map. Unless you're some crazy, hardcore cheater, I bet we've all been in situations in online games where an opposing team or player is using glitches to unfairly kick your ass. And, yeah, it can be extremely frustrating (to say the least). But haven't we all wanted to be that douche bag? Haven't we all said, “Woah, how did he do that?” and want to break the rules like they did?

And that's really the bottom line: as long as there are rules there will be people who will want to break them. This is true around the world, no matter what country you live in or what game you're playing. Glitching is just an extension of that philosophy into gaming, and one that many of us simultaneously hate and enjoy.   read

9:04 PM on 04.22.2008

Fake Bargain Bin Laden #2: Armed and Dangerous

Armed and Dangerous, a game from developer Planet Moon Studios, tried to do something different. Combining British humor, unique guns and gadgets, and third-person shooting, the game succeeded on several fronts and is still a worthwhile experience today.

Many aspects of the game pale in comparison to more recent releases—and even games of its era—but the story, voice acting, and script excel in often unparalleled ways, leaving most games in the dust in terms of sheer enjoyment and number of memorable scenes.

Videogames are not always about the levels, the graphics, or the gameplay; sometimes it's personality that defines the quality of a game, and Armed and Dangerous certainly delivers in that regard.


Title: Armed and Dangerous (Xbox, PC, backwards compatible on Xbox 360)
Developed by: Planet Moon Studios
Released: December 2nd, 2003
Bargain Binned: $4.99 at GameStop, 100 Goozex points (Xbox, PC)

Armed and Dangerous sets forth in the country of Milola, placing you at the reigns of Roman, a criminal, weapons expert, and leader of the Lionhearts. The Lionhearts are a group of rebels set against the evil King Forge, and are comprised of Jonesy, an over-sized mole with a love for explosives, Q, a robot in denial with an obsession for tea, and Rexus, a smelly, ancient, and blind creature with latent psychic abilities. The secondary characters of Armed and Dangerous are clearly unique, but it’s their voice acting and distinct personalities that make them truly exceptional characters. The jokes they tell, the relationships they have with each other, and the general quality of the voiceovers make the characters of Armed and Dangerous quite memorable, and are probably the most appealing aspect of the game.

These characters have joined together for a simple purpose: to recover the Book of Rule and destroy King Forge’s empire. Rexus, who was responsible for losing the Book of Rule in the first place, is initially sought for capture by Forge’s army, but the Lionhearts help him escape and gain his assistance in their quest to unlock the book’s magical powers. Along their way they meet a number of strange allies and dastardly enemies, and uncover an ancient prophecy that only they can set into motion. Without spoiling anything, I can say with complete confidence that you will enjoy the story of Armed and Dangerous, if nothing else. I've played a whole bunch of videogames, and few have had stories as clever or as humorous as the one you'll find here.

The story progresses through the game's many cutscenes, which occur between each level and provide some cohesion to the game's missions. For the most part, these cinematics are excellent, with a number of jokes, references, and hilarious situations mixed into the general storyline. Compression, at least in the Xbox version, causes problems with the video quality of these cutscenes, however, creating blurriness in many of them and noticeable artifacts in a few. This isn't a huge problem, but it slightly tarnishes what would otherwise be a nearly flawless aspect of the game.

Don't expect an incredible level of graphical quality from the rest of the game, either. Even at its release the game's graphics were below standards, and today their age is even more evident. The textures and character models in particular look antiquated, and the animations of NPCs and teammates alike look choppy and almost mechanical in nature. Occasionally you'll see some nice lighting effects—especially in the forest levels—but overall the look of the game is nowhere near its strongest feature.

The general run-and-gun gameplay leaves something to be desired, as well. There are a number of unique and funny armaments in Armed and Dangerous, such as the Land Shark Gun that shoots a massive, enemy-eating shark and the Topsy Turvy Bomb that flips over the entire playing field, but these are far more entertaining than they are useful. The machine gun in Armed and Dangerous is really the only weapon you'll ever need in most circumstances, as it is far too powerful and accurate for its own good. In some situations, the Vindaloo Rocket Launcher and Mortar Gun are preferable, but only a few types of enemies require their use. It's a shame that the game's more unique weapons are not that beneficial, though; with some better weapon balancing they surely would have provided more breadth and variation to the action.

This is another area where Armed and Dangerous falters; the general gameplay is often repetitive, with missions that often consist of near-identical tasks. Saving peasants, blowing up buildings, defeating all of the enemies in an area and other activities become commonplace in no time at all, and over time the similar objectives may begin to wear on you. In some of the later levels you will gain access to a jet pack (similar to Giants: Citizen Kabuto, another Planet Moon game), and though these levels are a lot of fun, there are simply not enough of them to go around. My favorite parts of Armed and Dangerous involving actual gameplay take place during the jet pack levels, but there are only a few of those levels in the game.

My least favorite parts, on the other hand, occur in Planet Moon's other attempt to differentiate the gameplay: the turret levels. One of these levels would have been fine, but they exist in a far greater quantity than I would have liked. The universal objective in these levels is to shoot and destroy waves of enemies from a fixed turret, preventing them from climbing over the wall of whatever structure or area you are defending. If a certain number of enemies successfully ascend the wall you will have to replay the level, but the number of allowable enemies is so high that any potential challenge is swept away. In turret levels that accept 100 enemies passing over the wall, the most I ever allowed was five.

What's ironic is that, when playing the game's standard missions, Armed and Dangerous can be fairly difficult. It's not that the enemies' AI is particularly advanced—in most cases they will just stand in one place and shoot at you—but their sheer numbers cause the game to be extremely challenging at times. Roman can be downed fairly easily, and a combination of infrequent save points and a low availability of health packs only adds to the struggle. The last few levels of the game are particularly hellish, and will provide a great deal of frustration to players without a knack for patience. Still, the game's challenge is never unfair, and skilled enough (or determined enough) players should be able to surmount the game's difficulty.

Once you have completed the game you'll have a few things left to do, but you won't find anything too enticing left over. There are four different difficulty levels, the most difficult of which are unlocked after completing the game on Normal, but if you had trouble with the standard difficulty setting you probably won't feel inclined to torture yourself with the Over The Top and Insane difficulties. There are also bonus missions that are unlocked as you play, but I personally did not enjoy them. All revolve around fighting the clock or fighting for survival to accomplish some task, and none of them really caught my interest. There is one piece of downloadable content available for the Xbox version, a level called “Summer Home”, but this is nothing more than another bonus level in disguise. Finally, the game features a number of cheat codes which actually do provide some added enjoyment to the game. Many are designed to make the game easier, but some have purely cosmetic effects, causing things like big heads, big hands, and an inverted screen, to name a few.

Though I had plenty of negative to things to say about this game, Armed and Dangerous is unquestionably worth your time because it possesses a heart and soul that most games simply lack. It's not the standard gameplay, repetitive missions, or weak graphics that make this game special; the strength of Armed and Dangerous lies in its great ability to entertain and amuse through its story and characters. With a bit of patience, and a willingness to forgive the game's flaws, a truly unique experience awaits you, one that should not be passed up now that the game is so cheap. Now, in the theoretical words of Jonesy, “Pick up the game, you filthy git!"   read

8:14 PM on 02.02.2008

Fake Bargain Bin Laden #1: kill.switch

Bargain Bin Laden is my favorite feature on the site, so this my attempt at emulating those reviews. I love buying bargain bin games, and FBBL is where I'll share the ones I like the best. - SPJglitches

Short in length but big on gameplay. That's kill.switch at its core, a game lost like so many others during the holiday season of 2003.

Often cited as the inspiration to similarly cover-focused games like Gears of War, kill.switch is one of those games that many know of but few have played. While the mechanics of kill.switch are not as well refined as those of Gears, they serve their purpose well and still provide an excellent gameplay experience today.

The game's main flaws are its short length and a lack of reasons to keep playing after reaching the end, which did not provide a good value for its initial price of $50. For the low sum you can snag it for today, however, it is absolutely worth playing—if only to discover why and how it became the inspiration that it is.

Read on to find out why kill.switch is totally worth your time and is a game quite worthy of your next bargain bin purchase.


Title: kill.switch (PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC)
Developed by: Namco
Released: October 28th, 2003
Bargain Binned: $9.99/$6.99 (PS2/Xbox) at GameStop, 100 Goozex points (PS2/Xbox/PC)

When you first start the game, the player is left almost entirely in the dark as to what the hell is actually going on. Through the discussion of two shady-sounding voices you learn that some sort of plan is being unfurled through the direct control of your character, but your role in the event and the actual plan itself are left unclear. Meanwhile, some girl with a sexy voice is trying to “get a lock on” your signal, presumably to gain control of you, super-soldier Nick Bishop, instead of the other guys. Over time you'll learn more about what exactly is going on, and soon a tale of vengeance, political intrigue, and espionage is revealed.

The story valiantly attempts cleverness through a number of self-referential videogame comments and the slow unraveling of information leading up to the game's climax, but it ultimately fails when piecing together all the fragments of information the player receives. Through most of the game the narrative is too convoluted for its own good, and if you aren't paying extremely close attention to the dialogue you are sure to miss important details of the plot. It's certainly an interesting premise, but the game does not do a considerably good job of telling its story.

Despite the often incoherent nature of the story, the game's cutscenes are incredible, and are some of the best I've seen to date. It's sad to think that such production values were put into a game that did not perform well at retail, but the results are some well animated and beautiful video sequences that are truly a sight to behold. Unfortunately, there are very few of them in the game, occurring only between levels and at the end of the game, but their visual quality more than makes up for their scarcity.

The same cannot be said for the graphics in general, however. While many aspects of the game's graphics look great, there are some levels and characters that look strikingly better than others. The first level, taking place in a Middle Eastern city, looks like garbage in comparison to the second level, featuring excellent lighting, rain, and fog effects on a rain-soaked ship in a storm. The game's textures are decidedly hit-or-miss as well, with some nice reflective surfaces contrasted by others that lack any graphical flourish. Nick Bishop's character model and attire look far more detailed than those of his enemies', too. All things considered, kill.switch's graphics hold up fairly well, and shouldn't detract too much from the overall experience.

Bargain bin games aren't expected to have incredible graphics, though, and playing shooters for their story is a rare occurrence, so it's a good thing that kill.switch's gameplay has aged as well as it has. The game revolves around taking cover wherever and whenever possible, leaning out to take shots at enemies, and trying to avoid getting taken down while you're at it. Yes, WinBack did it first, but kill.switch does it better.

The game's cover system can be activated and deactivated by a simple button press; just hold down the L1 button or the left trigger on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox controllers, respectively, to snap to the nearest cover. While in cover, you can hold down on the left thumbstick to crouch, and you can also hold up to stand straight or aim over low objects. To shoot at enemies in cover you can either blindfire, resulting in greater protection but significantly reduced accuracy, or lean out, attaining far greater precision but putting yourself at greater risk of injury. During my time with the game I almost never used blindfire; if you're smart you'll know when you should and should not fire, and the technique is far too inaccurate to be of much use. That said, getting in and out of cover, firing from cover, and diving out of cover are all made fairly intuitive and easy to perform.

The guys you're shooting at while doing all this only add to the game's level of entertainment. Your enemies are far from brilliant tacticians, but they do make good use of cover and make praiseworthy attempts at taking you down. Enemies will routinely toss grenades and shift from one place of cover to another, adding to their believability and the game's challenge. Mind you, the game is not incredibly difficult if you play the game how it's meant to be played, but those who decide to run and gun will be mowed down with ease. Health packs are in fairly regular supply in kill.switch, but even a single forgotten enemy can spell death in seconds. Cover is not only a gimmick in this game; it is entirely necessary for your survival.

Luckily, the game's weaponry helps to counteract Bishop's propensity for death and your enemies' means of causing it. While most of the game's weapons are simply different types of assault rifles, you will also see a shotgun and a sniper rifle as part of your arsenal. In most games, this lack of variety would bother me, but in kill.switch your bevy of assault rifles makes sense in context. Most of your combat will occur over medium to long distances—perfect for your assortment of automatic weapons. You also have a few different types of grenades, but they mostly just serve as a way of scattering groups of enemies so you can take them out on the ground. The flash grenade can be useful when there are large clusters of baddies all together, but this situation rarely arises as the enemies tend to spread themselves out pretty well.

Another strong point of kill.switch is the sound design, particularly with its effects and score. Though there isn't anything too extraordinary, all of the guns and explosions sound just as you'd expect them to and complement the action well. No complaints there. The score is also good; some tracks are far more memorable than others, but nothing stands out as being particularly bad or annoying. The voice acting, while great during cutscenes, is not nearly as good from the mouths of your enemies, but this is just a minor annoyance. A lot of their banter is regurgitated throughout the game, and I swear that you'll hear the phrase “Grenade! Take cover!” every time you throw one.

The only thing that significantly detracts from all of this is the linearity of the levels. Nearly all of the game's levels funnel you down a specific path, with the choice of weaponry and places of cover being the only freedoms afforded to the player. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the AI can change things around a bit, but for the most part a second playthrough of a level will yield identical results.

This is the part where I must make something very clear; you will probably not have the desire to play this a second time. The linearity of the levels, coupled with the game's short length, make this a disc that will probably not spin much longer once you've finished the game. Most people playing on the normal difficulty should be able to finish this one off in three to six hours, and there really isn't any reason to play it again. There is a harder difficulty setting that forces you to be more tactical and conservative with your shooting, but this mode will likely provide more frustration than fun.

I can't stress enough that, despite its short length, kill.switch needs to be played. On the surface it looks like just another generic shooter, but the underlying mechanics of the game alone make this a worthy addition to anyone's library. You may only play it once, but for the low price of entry it's an experience worth every penny.   read

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