Hello, I'm Lewis, I'm a lot like you, only I'm probably not.
I got into gaming as a child, when I was handed the portable version of crack cocaine, known colloquially as Tetris. I would spend hours trying to make blocks form lines so they would disappear never to return. At the age of 8 I had my first existential crisis as to what happens to blocks that disappear. My desire to avoid death has since made Wario Land 2 one of my favourite games of all time, as Wario was immortal and this stopped me questioning my own mortality. Pokemon too fitted into this realm of immortal beings where only fainting occurred after heavy amounts of electricity as opposed to permanent void dwelling.
After I graduated from the philosophical quandaries posed by hand held gaming I obtained a PS1 and fell in love with games like Spyro, Crash and Rayman 2, a game so deceptively fucking terrifying that I have reoccurring dreams about the giant spider. And the king of nightmares. And the robot pirates. I don't care what any of you say, Rayman 2 is NOT for children.
I have a deep love of humour in games, with some of my favourites being no More Heroes, Brutal Legend, Team Fortress 2, Portal and Super Mario Galaxy. Sometimes I like to play bad games too, such as Alone in the dark, which is as hilarious as it is depressing. I have aspirations to become a writer, comedian and maybe one day game designer, but such things are simply the wet dreams of a desperate teen. Odds are I'll end up working in an office chewing on pens longing to go home and half write a blog.
A swaggering, arrogant, childish shooter produced by Epic came out this year, but it wasn’t Bulletstorm. Gears of War 3 certainly fulfilled that quota, yet it was People Can Fly’s first title under the Epic banner that truly caught my imagination this year. This stunningly original FPS was filled to the brim with characterisation, crass but clever humour and even a healthy dose of subtle philosophical undertones. Yes, like No More Heroes before it, Bulletstorm was what I like to call an “intellectual trap”, a game marketed and aimed at a collection of gamers who weren’t expecting something smart to appear, but got a boatload of clever allegorical scenarios and a genuinely enlightening plot. Bulletstorm is as clever as No More Heroes, only this time nobody else seemed to spot it.
Let’s get something sorted out right now: Bulletstorm is not stupid. Childish perhaps, crass certainly, but the writing and plot are both absolute works of genius, and i can easily shoot down any thought to the contrary. Firstly, Greyson is an idiot. He’s a beer chugging, authority loathing foul mouthed outlaw with as much education as the rifle he wields. He’s the archetypical idea of what we view the gears of War crew as, but exaggerated to the point of humour. We’re laughing at his terrible jokes, not with him, and the sooner the player stands back and realises that Greyson is exactly the kind of person you should hate rather than be they soon come to love the character. A great example of how the developers use Greyson’s juvenile humour to remind the player that he is an idiotic egotist is when he first meets Trishka. After proving herself a badass by dispatching a few enemies she loudly declares “You shitpiles pursue me I will kill your dicks!” Greyson response to this line summarises him entirely. At first he doesn’t understand the insult, it makes no sense. Then he realises his ego has been attacked, and so in a childish attempt to save face he declares “Oh yeah, I’ll kill your dick how about that!” It’s a futile, useless response, and shows his complete inability to deal with people.
But Bulletstorm does something utterly unheard of for a game of it’s genre and style: it tells a redemption story whereby the main character is not redeemed, and is in fact made considerably worse by his journey. At the start of the game Greyson has a ship, a crew, a fine selection of beer and a bounty on his head that gives him the perfect reason to never settle down. He’s living the ideal life for a man of his personality. Yet when confronted by his only unsettled debt he decides to risk it all to get one final chance at revenge. Instead of succeeding however he ends up killing all of his crew bar one, his loyal but hate filled partner Ishi. By the end of the game Greyson has even lost Ishi, and ends up drifting into space trapped in an escape pod with a woman who hates him and no chance of rescue. Even worse than that, he failed to succeed in the one thing he set out to do, and as a result has bet it all and lost. This is a game whereby if you finish it, the main character loses.
Aside from the overall message of how selfish revenge can destroy a man, there is also a strong undercurrent of morality and humanism lying beneath the surface. Greyson is accompanied by Ishi throughout the game, a partially mechanised friend of his who now despise him for allowing him to become part robot. As the game goes on Ishi loses more and more of himself to the robot side of his personality, and as a result becomes more and more ruthless and uncaring. This worries Greyson, partly because he wants to save Ishi, but also because it starts to show a side of Greyson he tries to ignore. Ishi ends up being heartlessly violent, killing without care and threatening and harming those in his way to get what he wants, and Greyson comes to realise over the course of the game the only thing separating him and Ishi’s robot side is a few dick jokes. Previously used as an assassin who unquestioningly took orders he starts to realise his pursuit of General Sarrano is equally uncaring and dangerous. This comes to a head during the final scenes of the game, when Sarrano is teasing Greyson about all the people he has killed on his quest to assassinate him. Greyson’s response is a blunt and angry “shut up”, which shows that Sarrano has clearly got to him. By the end of the game Greyson knows that everything he has done was wrong, and now he can’t change a damn thing.
To finish up I want to discuss a rather tenuous idea, one which I think may be me over stretching a little but I’ll type it out all the same. I think the planet that Greyson crashes on represents a society, and as Greyson charges through it, killing everyone uncaringly this displays his own anarchic views. Most of the wildlife was certainly happier without Greyson, and the green mutants seem to be perfectly content before Greyson turned up. It’s also not a coincidence the ship that Greyson takes down is called the Ulysses, the name of a Unionist general in the American Civil War. Greyson is, without a doubt, a Confederate kind of guy, and his opposition to society is fairly evident from his lifestyle choice.
In conclusion Bulletsotrm is exactly the kind of game I've come to adore. It covers itself in a sheen of juvenile humour to hide away it’s clever and involving storyline, one which I feel may have been overlooked and misunderstood. Far from “another shooter” Bulletstorm displayed that most sincerely adult quality that you rarely see, something childish for the purpose of something intellectual. People Can Fly is picking up the style moulded by Grasshopper Manufacture, here’s hoping they can deliver more.
This is going to be a critique of Arkham City, not a review. If you want my opinion it’s a fantastic game which you need to play, 10/10 whatever, the following is supposed to be a proper look at the game. Spoilers abound, foresight into the 3rd instalment in spades and genuine criticisms imminent. Arkham City is the first game I’ve played in a long time that I want to break down and critique.
First of all, the setup. Arkham City is a concept that makes absolutely no sense until the finale and if you beat a side quest and then listen to the tapes from said side quest. Why would anyone want Arkham City to exist, why would anybody agree to let it happened and most importantly how can anyone possibly gain from it? This question is unanswered for so long after a while you take it for red that, well, I guess it did happen, I guess there must be something clever going on and I’m going to have to wait to find out. When the purpose behind Arkham City is revealed it is actually clever, and more importantly makes sense in Batman’s world. It does take a long time for the City to justify itself, however, and when you do the research it goes from insane to plausible.
It doesn’t seem to make sense for Hugo Strange to want Arkham City as much as Ra’s does though. Hugo Strange’s role in Arkham City seems extremely minor, especially when compared to the likes of The Joker or Ra’s. He seems to have been put into the game so that the introduction of arresting Bruce Wayne makes sense to the player. Strange immediately falls into the background of Arkham City, and his relationship with Batman in the narrative is incredibly minor. Heck, for about 80% of the game he is not the main villain, and in the 20% he is, he’s quickly replaced by a much more powerful one. Lacking any major charisma and more importantly not remaining in contact with Batman makes him immediately a far worse villain than Joker was in Asylum, but that is understandable, he has bigger fish to fry. That said some form of Strange being more present in the game would have made it a lot more intense and enjoyable for the player. Strange is a psychoanalyst, why not play off that? Have him deconstruct Batman right from the get go, constantly prodding him and attacking his vulnerabilities. Instead we see him at the start, hear him once or twice declare Protocol 10 is approaching and then hit him in the head at the conclusion. As villains go, he’s pretty poor.
Which brings me onto my next villain failure: why the hell is Two Face in this game at all? Harvey Two Face is in Arkham City right at the beginning for 3 minutes and then right at the end provided you got the Catwoman DLC (which is another disaster all on its own, but more of that later). His role is to have Batman clumsily stride into his courthouse, get beaten up and then hang over an acid tank for the rest of the game. What a total waste. Two Face has his defining characteristic of his coin, a 50/50 choice generator, which I assume made the developers panic. How can Harvey be in any way interesting outside of being a gang leader? So they threw him into the promotional materials, made these clunky levels (the second of which was diabolically awful) and said they were done. But they missed a trick. Why wasn’t Two Face a side quest? Make it so he tells Batman he has hostages at either location a or b and that batman has to decide which is the true location, not too dissimilar from the Dark Knight’s thrilling hostage chase. Pure chance if you succeed? Sure, but that’s all part of the fun of Two Face. Instead he’s a man with a gun. Boo!
Catwoman should also not be in this title. She’s extraneous to the plot, she isn’t that fun to play as and I only identified her sections as annoyances that interrupted the goddamn batman game I was playing. I know the idea was to make the plot tenser, I know she’s supposed to be a palette cleanser and I know she’s cut out off the second hand game, but I don’t care. Her chapters pop up at the most interesting points in the game and kill the pacing stone dead. If I had the choice, I would remove her sections in a flash, and gladly not have the post credits sequence with Two Face cluttering up the finale. He character serves no purpose, her attitude and “style” is completely out of character with the rest of the game and she simply didn’t need to be here. Far play to Rocksteady, she was in no way “half arsed” in her implementation, the fact she has her own Riddler trophies and can navigate the world is a testament to the design of the game’s flexibility, but maybe she should have been taken out of the main quest and put to one side. If she’d had a good 3 hour set of chapters, all tangential but insignificant to the plot of Arkham City (which was most of it anyway) and been released as an actual DLC pack later down the line it would have all been much nicer. Perhaps this was the plan and Rocksteady had to rush Catwoman out as an “online pass” character. If this was the case, bad move guys.
The other villains, however, are extremely well done. Joker in this game was phenomenal, points to Paul Dini who gave him a worthy and fascinating finale. The main plot being subverted by Joker was a stroke of genius, as it highlights just how devious the clown prince can be. I had no idea that the main plot of Arkham City was going to be about Joker’s blood, and I fell for Joker’s death almost immediately. Joker manages to take over Arkham City’s narrative with a single stroke of genius, and his plan is so evil that he immediately removes the player’s interest from what Protocol 10 is and replaces it with a far more urgent, much more terrifying narrative structure. Infecting Batman and using him to get the cure could have worked in any format, but in Arkham City this means a whistle stop tour of some of Batman’s greatest enemies. Penguin gets a far appearance in a role that suits him as a mobster boss come arms dealer, but he seems like such a small fry in the overall scheme of the game. Freeze gets a role as an uneasy ally, although his motives seem bizarre at times as if he just agreed flat out to ally with Batman he’d have done far better. Oh, and he had the best boss fight by far. Ra’s does a devilishly clever bait and switch on the player by popping up early on and killing any ideas the player might have about why he is in Arkham City at all. His appearance at the end, while annoyingly vague about his relationship with Hugo Strange, was both a “no way” and an “of course” to the player, making him a worthy antagonist to the game as a whole. It’s also cool to see a final boss fight occur half way through the game.
Outside of this, I want to discuss Joker’s death. Firstly, it was clever; I love how he caused his own downfall with both the illness and the destruction of the cure. However it could’ve have been handled better directorially. Nothing is more effective than removing any form of comfort from the player, and music became a comfort. Having no music and a slow pan towards Joker’s eyes might have been a lot more effective, or at least tenser as the player waits for him to jump up. The idea of actually killing the Joker was both brave and admirable, even though it was a forced point on behalf of the developer; Mark Hamil has publically stated he won’t return to the role so removing him from the game’s continuity only makes sense. What happens now the ultimate villain is dead? Well several things.
Firstly, little old Harley appears to have been knocked up. If you examine her room in the steel foundry she is absent, has left her costume on a dummy and has a pregnancy test showing positive on the side, all clear signs that baby joker may be one the way. What does this mean? Well a lot of interesting things. Firstly, maybe we’ll see the son/daughter of the joker, which is in itself interesting if worrying. To make baby J in anyway a threat in the third instalment will require at least 20 years to pass, far too long for the player to leave Gotham alone. Even then, will he be a carbon copy of the Joker, will they even want to be a Joker? It all seems a bit strange. Harley as a pregnant villain or mother, however, is interesting. She may rise up to become far more dangerous a villain than before, with a true reason to now despise Batman and a son or daughter to train to hate him too. But what of the Titan poisoning? What if the baby has the illness, we all know Joker never got the cure and that’d be a fantastic hook for Harley trying to hunt you.
Otherwise we have yet more intrigue as to what the next game will bring, we get an apocalyptic vision from Azael, a set of secret messages from Scarecrow promising revenge and, perhaps most interesting of all, the final ending of Arkham Asylum, where a hand reaches out to take the titan floating in the water, being unresolved. Bane appears without it, as does Killer Croc, so we can only assume that Scarecrow has the last remaining batch. What will happen next? Who knows, but my god it sounds fun. My base prediction of setup is simply that the next title will be “Batman: Gotham City” and be a larger city with innocents and more at stake. Other than that, who the hell knows! I can’t wait though.
It’s been 20 years since Sonic rolled into the realm of games, and with him he’s brought us speed, clever level design and wonderfully imaginative set pieces. He has, however, also brought with him hideous 3d cameras, a host of annoying characters, piles and piles of buggy messes and a hedgehog who drives a jeep and carries a gun. Mixed legacy? You bet it is, and nowhere is the schizophrenic nature of the series better displayed than in the historically minded “Sonic Generations”. Is the blue blur back to his best, or is this simply another false start?
Sonic Generations begins optimistically, blasting through Green Hill Zone before being introduced to a charmingly “nod-nod wink-wink” opening cutscene that hints at a more light hearted Sonic adventure than other games have attempted. This reassuringly fun opening is cemented when, after finishing the first level with modern sonic, you think that you’re safe. Modern Sonic played fine, Classic Sonic was great, maybe we’re going to make the long haul here, maybe we can see the game through and not hit any major speed bumps. This goes on throughout the first third of the game, the level design is charming, the cutscenes are small and for the most part amusing, and the music is great. Then something happens, and a cold sweat sits in.
Challenges? There are challenges between the levels? The pulse quickens and blood drains from the face. Oh no. They surely didn’t mess this up, they were doing so well! Please don’t make me replay the same level to pad out gameplay please don’t... then the first genuine surprise happens. The challenges are not only really fun; they’re entirely different levels, for the most part! New power-ups are dished out in the form of Sonic’s friends and the level design shifts entirely. OK so these levels are much shorter, but they’re good, they’re fun, and best of all they take about 5 minutes at their most extravagant.
Then the first boss fight happens. It’s a mess, spotty controls, frustrating design and uninteresting music leads to the first true lull in the game. You can forgive it though, it wasn’t too bad and it ended quickly once you figured out how to hurt the boss. But then you open up the Dreamcast era, and like Sonic does when he needs to go quicker, it goes downhill from there.
It’s incredible how Sonic Generations manages to pinpoint the exact moment Sonic jumped the shark but the history lesson is well taught. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure is a city level. The level they chose from Sonic Adventure 2 is a city level. The level they choose for Sonic 2006 is a city level. Suddenly it becomes very apparent that Sonic stopped existing in a sort of fantasy realm and started becoming an urbanite. All of the charm starts to drain, the level design gets, not exactly harder but more finicky, there’s more awkward jumps and bad precision platforming, even worse are the glitches which suddenly pop up in Modern Sonic, blasting through walls, clipping on the edge of a platform and falling your death, more unexpected and unfair traps, it all gets a bit frustrating. Classic Sonic seems lost and bewildered in these later levels, outside his 3 games he has to wade through 6 modern titles and in almost every single one of them he is chased by something. I know Sonic being chased is a fun idea, but my god the poor bastard must be magnetic or something.
This is Sonic Generations biggest problem, while it’s great to celebrate Sonic’s past, it’s his present that is the true villain of the piece. What’s baffling is how the designers missed a trick in doing as little of the bad Sonic games as possible. They chose to include Sonic Heroes and Sonic 2006, and both of the “new levels” for those games are horrible. Why on earth recognise these infamously bad titles when you could have had a proper Sonic 3 level (the one in the PC version is Sky Sanctuary, a fine level but from Sonic and Knuckles) and brought in Sonic CD for a real nostalgia trip. Instead we get a bad beach level and a third (third!) city level. A terrible decision was made in development, but it could have been worse, we at least didn’t get a Shadow the Hedgehog level.
Towards the end the game feels like it might be getting a little stale, so it stops. With only 9 levels, and only 2 Sonics to play them with, Sonic Generations is short, but rightly so. The challenges become a little more cumbersome and tricky towards the end, and the final bosses are a teeth gnashing nightmare, but they are at least beatable. With 90 challenges to play and time trial modes to master some players will get tons out of the end game, but most users will be satisfied to put down the game after the final foe is foiled. I certainly am, and it’s an amicable separation, for £20 I felt I got what I paid for, and the game seems to breathe a sigh of relief that I’m asking no more of it.
As Sonic games go, Generations is a fun tribute. It remixes its ancestry but adds little to the series other than a recognition of when to bow out. Classic Sonic was fun to see again, but I doubt he’ll be back and it’s perhaps better that way, he’s had his day and now it’s his older, more jaded self that has to prove his worth. Modern Sonic is not redeemed by this title, and the later levels remind you that he still has his fair share of issues. But maybe he can move on, maybe someday we’ll get that 9/10 Sonic game that blows us away. This, though, is not that game, but it seems it was never meant to be. Short, silly and satisfying, Sonic Generations is a snacky game, not an epic event, and it’s nice to see something that knows its limitations. No melodrama, no over the top score, a fun run through the past of one of gaming’s most contentious icons and then off home with a smile on your face. It’s a better tribute than it ought to be.