Hello video game pals. It's been a long time. What's new?
As usual, I am spending most of my times these days getting grody in the shop, making fake dead animals and slopping fake blood on myself. I've also been muddling my way through the summer game drought. What little time I have to play games has been spent mostly with poor to middling games I bought for very little money on Ebay. So, here's a fart-filled addition of Summer Game Drought Desperation for ya'll:
Before I talk about games, here's a picture of where I plays 'em.
Seen here is my old Toshiba CRT HDTV with glorious 720p resolution, my janky 5.1 sound system running through an old Creative Extigy soundcard, and a bunch of gross stuff. Not shown is my amazing shelf of painted miniatures. It's a miracle I ever get laid.
Now, as promised, I will tell the tales of some shitty games I have been playing.
First up this summer we have Conan for the Xbox360. Ah, Conan. One of only two games this summer to contain the Methadone-inspired mumblings of Ron Pearlman. Remember when that guy was in City of Lost Children? That movie was great...oh, sorry, my brain strayed away from things that suck and toward things that rule...must be my overriding optimism. If the idea of hearing Ron Pearlman say, "Die you cur" with the same growling intensity of 50 Cent droning about his Magic Stick, well, Conan is your game, TARD. On the other hand, you do get to murder many giant apes and chop a lot dudes in half. I particularly liked when I would cut a guy in half and his animal-balloon intestines would come flopping out like I just bashed a viscera pinata. I guess I can't say too many bad things about this game. After all, I actually finished it. There are some cool bosses, lots of blood, and you get to fight a giant zombie elephant. In fact, this game could have been not bad...EXCEPPPTTTTTT then there's the final boss fight: an exercise in suffering and futility akin to attempting to jam your dick into a hamster's anus. This amazing boss fight has it all, multiple fucking stages, rotating obstacles, smaller enemies to deal with at the same time, and a bunch of cranks you have to turn while this steaming pile of butt blood whisks you away to a wonderful land of dingleberry milkshakes. And just in case you were not fed up with existence by the end of all that retardation, they throw in a nice long quick time event! Oh joy! The only saving grace of this whole fight was the fact that the developers clearly knew it was complete shit and just didn't have time to fix it. How do I know this? I shall tell you. In the arena where you fight this monstrosity of mediocrity, there are four cranks you have to turn. After you successfully fend off the marching bloody stool creatures that keep pestering you while you try and turn the fucking crank, the boss gets damaged a bit and then reverts to his other form. After doing this a couple of times it begins to dawn on you that if you are expected to repeat this grueling trial all four times this fight will take no less than six hours. Which is why it mysteriously ends after turning the third crank. WHAT ABOUT THE FOURTH FUCKING CRANK?!?! God damn fucking cranks. Seriously though, not having to turn that last crank was the best gift I've received all year. So I want to say a hearty, "THANKS!" to the developers of Conan...Thanks for creating such a delicious turd.
Next time on Summer Drought Desperation, I'll be talking about Viking for the Xobox360. Guess what...you cut dudes in half.
If the first Condemned had a target audience, it was me. I love exploring derelict urban environments, I have a crushing fear of the homeless, and I love hammering the faces of my enemies with Home Depot merchandise. So I was understandably excited to check out the recently released sequel. How does it stack up so far, you ask?
It stacks up like a quartet of square beef patties on a Wendy's hamburger. That is to say, "Deliciously."
I played about four hours of the game today. Like the first Condemned the story in Condemned 2: Bloodshot is obscure if you're being generous. It's downright obtuse if you're being critical. All you really need to know is you are a hard drinking cop with gauze warped around his hands, an Urban Outfitters haircut, and a city full of rampaging bums who need a good face punching like I need a cold, delicious Chocolate Frosty. Also, the world is sometimes covered in tar.
The graphics have improved marginally over the first game. The game's developer, Monolith, has a tendency to recycle models. You may find yourself thinking, "Haven't I seen that trash bag before?" or "This rack of paint pails and empty buckets seems eerily familiar." And you're not wrong to think that. This sort of visual deja-vu even bleeds across games. In at least one later level you will get the distinct feeling that you are playing F.E.A.R. This can be a bit bothersome, but it also helps give the game that Monolith feel. Luckily for Monolith, that's a good thing.
While the F.E.A.R. series has always been Monolith's showcase for advanced opponent A.I., the Condemned series is becoming their showcase for horrific atmosphere. Chillingly realistic dilapidated environments, insanely canny level design and peerless scripting all combine with some of the best sound design I have ever heard in a survival-horror FPS to create something exceedingly rare in video games: an honestly frightening atmosphere that is unparalleled in recent memory (with the notable exception of BioShock).
I enjoy the new combo-based combat as well, though I find myself relying heavily on counter attacking. I find the timing element appealing. It reminds me somewhat of the timing-based combat in Assassins Creed. Hitting your block at just the right time stuns the enemy and leaves them open for a vicious wallop from your pipe, wrench, bedpost, prosthetic arm, or trusty knuckle sandwich. There are a number of other combo types in the game, but I haven't found them nearly as useful.
Another area that has seen a revamp is the crime scene investigation. During certain sections of the game you will be prompted to investigate an area for evidence. Whenever you see the little dead bird logo on screen you can hit the A button to go into what is essentially "puzzle mode." I investigated one murder scene with this technique and found it to be a vast improvement over the hand-holding mechanic of the first game. Answering questions about what type of wounds were on the body and what sort of action the blood spatter patterns suggested was more satisfying than a Baked Potato with Sour Cream and Chives. This mode is also used to solve some environmental observation puzzles. For instance, one of your erstwhile squad mates might ask you to identify your location so you need to look for a sign or some other clue that will help them figure out where you are. I only hope there are more crime scene investigations. I have a sinking feeling they may be sparse.
So far, Condemned 2 walks a fine line between being downright harrowing and kitsch-creepy. Nowhere is this line more thin than the Doll Factory level. Condemned 2 has a nasty habit of falling back on cliched horror movie standbys: spooky dolls, evil clowns, pig masks. Fortunately, it's all done so well and the atmosphere is constructed with such care that it never feels like Fright by Focus-Test.
I can't wait to play more of this game. It's a game that, much like the woefully under appreciated Call of Cthulhu - Dark Corners of the Earth, feels like playing a virtual haunted house, and for a guy who makes his living in the haunt industry you seriously can't ask for much more than that.
Since the days of Chun Li's scandalous battlewear I've been pausing games to glimpse the elusive panty sprite or butt pixel. That was before Itagaki made that practice basically pointless and before you could make video game girls pole dance. In my heyday, if you wanted to see a video game girl naked you had to play enough Mahjong to uncover her digitally compressed comeliness. As a man, wanting to see panties is part of my nature. It's why the skirt has been such a successful garment. It offers the possibility of a real life panty shot. So here's thanking the modelers over at Ubisoft Montreal for giving me a glance at some anti-aliased underwear.
Apparently the digitized Kristen Bell wears a sensible light-blue bikini cut to work...um...over her pantyhose? Maybe those hose are thigh-highs...or she's wearing a garter...or maybe, as the poster Bernadina over at the CrossDressing.com forums says, Kristen Bell simply, "[likes] the look of having panties over pantyhose. Its kind of sexy to catch a glimpse of panties under the skirt with the stockings covering all the legs." Amen to that brother...er...sister...er...brister.
Walrus aliens, jellyfish aliens, mole aliens, hot slut aliens, Steve Buscemi aliens. Mass Effect creates possibly the most dense and compelling original video game universe ever. Playing Mass Effect feels like a blend between reading Barlow's Guide to Extraterrestrials and reading speculative non-fiction astrology books from the 1980's (in particular [u]National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe[/u]). The design of Mass Effect comes from a time when space was fun. It's the Star Trek and Star Wars design philosophy. It trades the modern prevalence of apocalyptic-Martian-Hell-space-marine-Ridley-Scott atmosphere for a cities-on-the-moon, Ziggy Stardust daydream. It's a design philosophy that speaks to the wonder of the unknown, not just the fear of it.
Voices. This game easily joins the ranks of Sam and Max Hit the Road and Day of the Tentacle as one of the best acted games in history. Even bit-part NPCs are incredibly well voiced. Combine the wealth of voice talent with a facial modeling system that allows for coherent variety in even the most alien characters and you have a universe of digital duders who actually feel like different people. Forget whole races with the same voice and peasants delivering rehashed dialogue with different accents. Mass Effect sets a new standard for unique interactive video game populations.
Combat. If you go into Mass Effect thinking it's going to be Gears of War you are either going to be ecstatic or severely disappointed by the combat. It all depends on your perspective. If you're a TPS fan looking for G.R.A.W. with dialogue trees, you're fisting the wrong space babe. If you're an RPG fan looking for K.O.T.O.R. with real-time aiming, you're going to love it. The lack of satisfying melee weapons is regrettable, but the feeling of blasting a Geth into a pile of rag-doll circuitry with your shotgun more than makes up for it. The combat still follows the classic RPG arc from overwhelmed weakling to godly destroyer and by the end of the game you will be relishing the more combative side-quests.
Deer with Arms. On the overly pollinated planet in the Maroon Sea Cluster you can find some cute little deer with tiny t-rex arms and slaughter them.
Dark Energy. Unlike the basic combat, Mass Effect's version of Force Powers feel deflated. Throw, Lift and Stasis feel sufficiently devastating, but I was missing the awe inspiring carnage of abilities like Force Lightning from K.O.T.O.R. Nothing compares to walking alone into a room of soldiers and burning them all to the ground with a single blast of evil energy. Mass Effect's replacement for Force Lightning, Warp, is a limp excuse for an area effect magic attack. Not only is it visually impotent (hurling a nearly invisible blue sphere at a target that will most likely move out of range before it reaches them is somehow less satisfying than watching a whole gang of tugs twitch under your electric wrath), but the damage-per-second never amounts to much, even at its highest level. I do like the implementation of recharge timers over the tired Magic Point system of other action RPGs. And did I mention that Lift is fucking hilarious?
Story. Mass Effect suffers from Foundation Disorder. As the first entry in a proposed trilogy, this is unsurprising. Foundations excel in depth, and Mass Effect is deep like a zebra dick in a newborn baby. You can spend hours learning trivial facts about the Mass Effect universe in the practically endless Galactic Codex. From who the major manufacturers of weaponry are to the number of testicles on a Krogan male. What the first entry in the Mass Effect story lacks is breadth. The main plot feels distinctly like a prequel and the space the adventure will occupy in your mind is disappointingly small, but the groundwork it lays for the grand story yet to come is gripping.
Driving. I actually really liked driving the Mako ATV around the many explorable planets of Mass Effect. The design of the vehicle and the bounding motion with which it moves across rocky terrain are very shark-like and navigating steep hills becomes a fun sort of environmental puzzle. It's a little bouncier than you might expect, and you are essentially fucked if you manage to roll yourself upside down. I got brutalized by a Thresher Maw in that position many a time. The vehicle combat is the real sore spot here. Your main gun feels like a pee shooter against larger enemies and you will find yourself in a rince, wash, repeat cycle against most serious foes: Pee shooter, pee shooter, pee shooter, rocket, jummmmmp, pee shooter, pee shooter, pee shooter, rocket, jummmmmp. In the end, the good parts of the driving and the fact that it helps pay the game pay homage to Starflight and Moon Patrol save it from being burdensome.
Elevators. Never before has a game so realistically captured the boredom of riding in a slow ass elevator. I guess these were added to give the world a seamless feel, but when the first thing you encounter after getting off is a pause accompanied by a little disc logo that says "Loading" under it, the whole "seamless world" idea sort of gets chucked down the shaft like a rape victim's wallet.
Frame Rate. It sucks. Add to this the constant delayed texture loading and the brutal chugging sounds of the 360 hardware while you play the game and suddenly your lean, mean Xbox feels like a fat retard chasing a butter-coated birthday cake up an endless flight of stairs. Mass Effect essentially buttfucks your 360 into submission. It's the Rocco Siffredi of video games.
Mass Effect: "You like-a dat 360?"
360 (Groans): "Nooooooo"
Mass Effect: "You do like it. You do."
False Complexity. Thought the dialogue in Mass Effect is the most watchable, engrossing, cinematic dialogue of any BioWare RPG, the idea that steering those conversations requires any sort of nuance is simply false. Want to be the good guy? Choose the top right response. Want to be the bad guy? Choose the bottom right response. Somewhere in the middle? You got it, choose the middle right response. In most cases your dialogue choices fall into two categories. You can either respond as the infallibly virtuous party-pooper, or the scurrilous dick wad. Only in rare circumstances do the choices amount to anything more than Right Answer / Wrong Answer. The stand-out dialogue is actually a completely optional side conversation about bioethics. It's one of the rare cases where each side has compelling arguments and the dialogue choices amount to more than "A: Everyone should be nice to each other" or "B: Kill all the fucking aliens!"
The Bottom Line:
Mass Effect is the kind of game that can carry a metric ton of faults and still be great. No matter how many small nuisances and imperfections mar the game, the overall experience is so mind-consumingly good that it never dips bellow greatness. In the end, Mass Effect is a gorgeous game with fun, RPG-steeped combat, a virtual universe fit for comparison with that of any great sci-fi novel, endearing and complicated characters, and the foundations of a genuinely epic story. The most amazing thing about Mass Effect, though, is the fact that it is a 25+ hour RPG (if you're doing all the side quests) that never once feels like a slog. The onus now is on the games to follow. Without the benefit of novelty, Mass Effect 2 and 3 are going to have to up the anty with regards to story breadth, quest variety and moral complexity. For me, that can't happen soon enough.
My friend Brett made a movie when he was twelve called "Two Indiana Joneses." You can probably guess that it featured him and a friend both pretending to be Indiana Jones. Well, I got to enjoy my own taste of protagonist duplicity last night while playing Assassins Creed. I was just about to complete the final assassination when I rounded a bend to see another assassin standing there. Figuring this was one of my allies I targeted him to see what he had to say. It didn't take long for me to realize that this was no random NPC but rather an exact duplicate of myself. I figured maybe this was some cool gameplay twist; that the Animus was malfunctioning and creating multiple Altairs. When I moved, so did Altair 2. The trippiest aspect was how the guards only attacked the other Altair. I could easily fend them off by concentrating on my doppelganger, but the camera stayed focused on the original the whole time, even cutting back to Altair 1 during those cool slow-mo counter attacks. It started to dawn on me that this probably wasn't supposed to be happening. That suspicion was confirmed when I came to what I assume is the end of the level and found nothing but a few rocks floating in an endless blue emptiness.
Now this happens every time I try to finish the game. There're lots of videos of the glitch on YouTube and it seems fairly common. For a while it was fun to run around with my mirror image killing dudes and then assassinating myself. Apparently the glitch is caused by having one or more additional controllers plugged in during the last section of the game. Looks like I have that damn Rock Band drum kit to blame! I have yet to check if removing the other controllers fixes the bug. With Jade Raymond talking about how the development team wanted to include co-op but had to drop it on the most recent Bonus Round, I guess it's probably safe to assume it's related to some piece of co-op code that didn't get tucked away properly; though I know about as much about making games as I do about breeding the platypus, so I really shouldn't speculate.
This glitch is the caboose of a short little train of gaming tragedies that has befallen me lately. First my Halo 3 Limited Edition discs come scratched, then I have to return my Guitar Hero 3 controller twice due to faulty hardware, now this Assassins Creed nonsense...PLUS I strongly suspect my Rock Band USB hub is jacked. It just makes me want to go eat a whole tub of mayonnaise with my bear hand like Hurly on Lost.
I'm just kidding. Mayonnaise is fucking disgusting. You might as well eat a jar of aged jizz if you are going to eat that shit.
Also, I'm just kidding about being upset. What I've really gained from these little disasters is an appreciation for being a grown-up gamer. As a kid, if the one game my mom and pop got me for Christmas was fucked up or the one game system I owned stopped working, that was tough shit. I was stuck playing old ass games or painting miniatures until we could return the game or get the system repaired. Now, as an adult, I'm fortunate enough to own all three major consoles and a diarrhetic elephant diaper load of games. So during this season of thankfulness, I'm saying, "Thanks turkey! As I worship the leftovers of your bread-stuffed corpse, I'll sing a song of praise for having games to turn to in my times of need...for having an awesome job that provides me with enough Dan Dority to get the games I want...and for the time to play those games. Ben Franklin was right. You should have been America's national bird."
P.s.: "Dan Dority" is character from the HBO show Deadwood. Also, his name is a cool way to refer to cash money.