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1:02 PM on 04.08.2013

Everybody wants to rule the world: Bioshock Infinite

After countless debates in the industry concerning whether or not video games can be considered art, Bioshock: Infinite has come along to silence them. An accomplishment in story telling and the crafting of a world so imaginative in terms of originality and intrigue, it should rest proudly amongst any collection of games (along with the original Bioshock) as the ending to a series of pointless arguments. Not many games can be considered as such, but this one can hold its head up high and know it’s definitively so.

A rather grand departure from Rapture, Columbia is beautiful, sunny and filled with racist albeit, happy people. Rapture was a special place too but it was a deserted wasteland at the bottom of the sea, littered with as many ideals as bodies. A complete shift in atmosphere, Infinite trades dark, lonely and claustrophobic for an effulgent and spacious place with a creepy sense of community. The micro-interactions you encounter with the hundreds of lively people walking around and chatting about Columbia are mind blowing when recalling the hours spent alone in the corridors of Andrew Ryan’s sunken utopia.

There’s a moment for everyone with a pulse. Maybe it’s when the wind pushes a lonely beach umbrella across the sand or even one as obvious as when the doors open, exposing a sprawling and floating city landscape. Regardless of how or when, it will come and when it does, it will devastate you. After all, Columbia is lighter than air.

A man with a debt is barely a man at all. Desperate for the opportunity to escape his burden, Booker Dewitt takes a less than favorable job, his deal: “Bring us the girl, wipe away the debt”. Before he knows it, he’s on a boat in the middle of the ocean. A lighthouse stands cloaked in solace, a storm rages above. The darken clouds scream and weep at his arrival. Atop a chair awaits, whisking him above the angry effervescence to the gleam of perfect blue skies and sunshine.

A somber yet delightful patter of keys roll over, a tune of emptiness plays as he floats down upon the city of Columbia, a place that itself is made of more empty spaces than concrete or brick. A burgh gliding all around the world, a shining example of American exceptionalism, powered by the word and will of demagogue Zachary Hale Comstock. His title of “Prophet” is a dangerous one, every time his visions come true his following grows in size and belief. Subsequently, they perceive Comstock’s prejudice as yet another prophecy.

As Jeremiah Fink tells us in relation to all this “prophecy business”, belief is a commodity. It’s apparent just how popular a product it is to the people of Columbia when it’s plastered on every wall, hanging from every ledge and shouted from the voice of every citizen standing at street’s corner. Comstock knows he won’t be around forever the same way he knows belief isn’t cheap, so he’s planting seeds that will influence them to follow another. “The seed of the Prophet shall sit the throne, and drown in flame, the mountains of man.”

Elizabeth like any Disney princess is beautiful, clever and highly capable. Years spent locked away from a city that desperately needed her haven’t been wasted. She prides herself on knowing a great bit from all she’s read. Among those piles of books and the heaps of knowledge she ascertained, she’s read enough about lock picking to pick any door in Columbia. Coupled with her ability to create tears into reality, which allow Booker to select a tactical option on the battlefield, whether it be an automated turret or a weapon or a med kit, she is an incendiary addition to your already stunning arsenal.

As for your arsenal, it’s very punchy. Every vigor is colorful and brimming with power. Every weapon is finely tuned and accurate, all while delivering that explosive punch. The weapons aren’t overly original, mostly following the familiar tropes of shotgun, rifle, machine gun and RPG, but it was clear the intention was that originality be left to the vigors. The guns are the constants and the vigors are the variables. Coupling variables can be awfully fun, whether it be the lifting powers of bucking bronco and devil’s kiss exploding them mid-air or activating return to sender’s shield and going to town against some founders with undertow, blasting them off many ledges or knocking them down with the sole intent of purchasing more time to re-activate your shield, the combat is pure and fun though hardly the selling point of Bioshock: Infinite.

Anyone who came expecting a revolution to First Person shooters will be greatly disappointed and while grinding against sky-rails, firing upon deserving enemies can be seen as revolutionary, the true revolution of Bioshock: Infinite is it’s story. Nothing here feels like game filler, if you lose a character or the figurative ground you were standing on crumbles, it feels earned. The only derailment that occurs is whenever Booker detaches from a sky-rail, hanging over his destination.

Stunning visuals, an excellent cast of characters and an intensely arresting concept are the recipe for most great pieces of art and Infinite is no different. Not every video game is art, the same way not every movie or book is; the only difference is that in this medium, the occurrence of art is a lot less common. Which makes Infinite a welcome sight. Floating just out of the reach of perfection, Bioshock: Infinite tells a grand and masterful tale with greater consistency than the original. Columbia may seem far away to most but to any true gamer, a charter will always remain a permanent fixture inside their heart.   read

2:49 PM on 03.27.2013

Dismember Me: Dead Space 3 Review

Floating by us untouched like the debris of a derelict spaceship. Dead Space 3 is all Dead Space ever was, is and ever could be. Dead Space 3 is not terrifying. Whether you're a cynic and you see this change as a cash grab, a chance to make the experience as user friendly and open as possible or chose to perceive this as a natural progression. In Dead Space, we had a character who never spoke. Therefore we could only assume he was terrified because we were. In Dead Space 2, Issac spoke. What he finally got around to telling us was that he really was terrified, but we were ultimately less so. By this game, Issac is a necromorph slaying veteran. Who sees space zombies as more of an obstacle than an unrelenting horror. My point being Issac Clarke is now a character that we sometimes control. He speaks his mind, he screams, he does bad ass things in cut scenes. Issac is no longer us, we're him.

I think everyone had a similar perspective coming into Dead Space 3. We read it in every preview and saw it in every promotion, action. Yep, there's definitely a lot of action in there. Don't worry; much of the same is present. They still have you dismembering the Necromorphs, instead of by the dozens; it's a bit more like the hundreds. There are still dark corridors beneath the most haunted air ventilation system I've ever seen. They may want to consider calling Troy from Community.When it isn't like Dead Space; it contains a lot of other gaming clichés. See if this modern gaming trope sounds familiar. Ever regroup with your team just to have the ground fall beneath your feet, separating you once again? Well get used to it, because it happens quite a bit in Dead Space 3.

It's a big game, biggest of the series. I don't just mean in action set pieces or copious amounts of dialogue. What I mean is the amount of stuff you're given to do. It comes off more like an RPG than any of us had the right to expect. Boasting optional missions and the best crafting system I have ever experienced in a game. Its areas are also far less linear than any of previous games. This is where Dead Space 3 succeeds.

Listen, I could sit here and tell you about the plot of Dead Space 3 but it's ultimately unimportant. My critique wasn't hinging on the narrative, the Dead Space series never has. What it sells in story and characters, it buys in atmosphere and lore.

Dead Space 3 introduces us to some horrifying new enemies, the most horrifying being Humans. The Unitologists have it out for our courageous engineer once again. Why are Humans so horrifying in a world populated by alien monsters, you say? They're horrific as a game device. We've been trained since Dead Space to dismember. Told head shots would do us no good. We bought into to this mechanic because it played so well into the game's weaponry. So why after all this time, all the limbs scattered across the floors of The USG Ishimura and The Titan Space Station, have they chosen to incorporate an enemy that does not congeal to that overall philosophy. From their first encounter to their last, it's unbearably apparent how awkward their inclusion is. They take cover, they shoot at you, they use simple tactics. They are a joyless bore to fight. It's a lot like the effect the "flood" had in Halo. In Halo, the covenant were so interesting and fun to fight that when the flood came it was a downgrade, not a gradual evolution.

Fortunately, as soon as you escape the first two chapters and the clutches of humanity, the game instantly improves. You find yourself on the other side of the universe in a ship grave yard. Large pieces float around you, sometimes towards you, forcing Issac and company to leave the ship. The time you spend gliding through space, the planet and its moon your constant backdrop will make something as insignificant as salvaging parts seem truly awe-inspiring. It fuels the narrative you perpetuate in your own head. The kind where you aren't playing Dead Space, you're just some astronaut taking his first step into uncharted space. It's one of the most atmospheric moments in the game, maybe in the series, a series which oozes atmosphere. Which is surprising because I thought you could only ooze two things.

The largest portion of my appreciation of this game should be attributed to the crafting system alone. It gives the game credibility. Its presence was incredibly reassuring against my growing feeling that Dead Space 3 was mailed in. From Dead Space to Dead Space 2, there were a lot of interesting weapons, but no matter what, none of them could topple the effectiveness of the mighty plasma cutter. It was refreshing to have a system in place with which I could not only improve the classics but also create my own.

Looking for resources and parts to make my deadly contraptions come alive. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, hewing together anything I could find for my disturbing experiments. One of the first additions I made to my plasma cutter was a fusion based knife. Any necromorph that came close enough felt the stinging slice of its burn. From there I moved to a grenade launcher with a flamethrower for an alternative fire. I added modules that transformed my launcher to one that fired rockets and my flamethrower's flame to a cryogenic freeze that stopped my enemies frozen.

I took my fancy weapons and started exploring. In my travels I found many optional quests, quests that would yield lots of loot, loot to finance my killing machinery factory. It was a complex equation I was dead set on solving. Rounds coated with stasis, or a support mod that made it so when I used a med-kit, my partner felt its effects as well. I was enveloped in an ever expanding hunt for more. After all that's what Dead Space 3 is, more.

I suppose I only have myself to blame for the last few chapters and the frustrating mess they were. I played the entire game on Hard, because I had been lead to believe the difficulty was soft. This belief was true throughout the game until those final few chapters, where humans and giant alien monsters, (I mean like alien alien, another species of being that became necromorphs.) both of which were teeing off on my limbs and innards. Ammo exhausted and health spent, I limped to the finish line. Hobbling away, rather than standing and fighting.

Despite my problems with the final few chapters, they don't even challenge the frustration the last six brought in Dead Space 2. Unlike Dead Space 2, the final chapters were difficult but fit. The game's story leads you to some strange places and it appears to me those chapters serve as a ramp. Launching you into an epic fight against some huge three-eyed monster, that has you throwing markers with super-charged kinesis. The kind of stuff you can't walk into, you have to be thrown.

Dead Space 3 manages to succeed where others failed. It's disconcerting however, that number of franchises starting to do this, the Mass Effects or Resident Evils, those who have gone from crafting critical darlings to solely pining for commercial success. Much like those other games, Dead Space settled for what it could be upon first suggestion, never looking past a customizable 3rd-person shooter with a disturbing atmosphere. It could have been its own Bioshock in space. which embodies how a loyal fan feels while playing Dead Space 3. It's not the game we wanted, but it's the one we deserved.   read

3:51 PM on 03.25.2013

Reboot Successful: Tomb Raider

Straight out of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins playbook, the latest iteration of Tomb Raider comes off gritty and far more believable. Most importantly it works as a game, no longer just puzzle after puzzle; it spends time making game play fun and rewarding. Its feels kind of like Lara Croft is raiding tombs for the first time….again. From the ashes of the failed franchise, a polished phoenix has risen. While unoriginal, Tomb Raider combines many of the best elements from triple A titles like, Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted and Far Cry 3.

It boasts a wonderfully open world to explore with plenty of reasons to do so. Collectibles breed achievements in most games and the same applies for Tomb Raider as well; however it’s more worth your while to earn achievements and collect loot at the same time. Found a relic? How about 500 experience points? Sounds great, friend. The system for discovering said collectibles is incredibly convenient, whenever you enter a new area, you tap left bumper, it scans and detects nearby loot. Sometimes these rewards are protected by a barrier that requires a game mechanic you haven’t acquired yet. If that’s the case, the icon for the document or GPS cache you’re looking for has a lock symbol over it, informing you not to stress when you are unable to obtain it.

Not only do you find yourself earning XP, you also discover salvage, which serves as an in-game currency that can be used to upgrade and modify all of your weapons, all the usual suspects are present, explosive arrows, sights and silencers. These are pretty stereotypical, nevertheless extremely effective. At one point some thugs were using a friend for ransom, I was forced to drop my weapons. When the kidnapper insisted I kick them off the edge, I was actually fearful I might lose my upgrades. Luckily, my friend freed himself and dispatched them on his own.

It’s surprising the relationship that is forged with Lara as a character; she’s attractive yet never objectified by it. Always capable, never the sex icon she was in the previous series. Learning how to survive she endures a lot and it shows. Starting cleanly clothed with her hair in the right place, we watch as her outfit is soaked in sweat, nearly torn apart and her hair a hot mess. There are some brutally dark moments, waking up upside down in a creepy cult’s hidden cave or later when Lara is swimming through a river of blood are among them. Slowly but surely, Ms. Croft forms a callous in the place where her sensitivity for violence once was.

The game often gives Lara the opportunity to sneak through, murdering unsuspecting foes with her trusty climbing axe while silently discarding those who stand just out of her reach with quick arrows. It’s simple yet satisfying and handled with a joy fueled ease. As for when enemies are aware of your presence, the game can be as inventive as you like. The encounters are brimming with variety; it felt like I was putting on a show. In one of my favorite encounters, I bowed two unsuspecting island thugs, ran in, and impaled one with my axe. Quickly two more of them shouted obscenities whilst barreling towards me with their crude machetes. In a moment of sheer panic, I scrambled, and with my hand on the ground I threw some dirt into the first’s face. With him temporarily inactive, I pulled out my shotgun and blasted the second. Still stunned from the blindness dirt in your face causes, I slammed a rock against the first’s head. Room cleared, I reloaded and combed their pockets for loot.

The story of tomb Raider is not important, the character is. It serves as a vehicle to fall in love with Lara Croft again, even if there was never anything more than sexy figure and a pair of desert eagles to begin with. You could be underwhelmed with the narrative and while you aren’t wrong, you’re slightly missing the point, that point being, Lara Croft is back.

The game is unoriginal, but god dammit is it fun. With the series reinvigorated from spirited changes to game play, I’m happy to say, I’m looking forward to Lara Croft’s next adventure. Maybe next time she’ll bother to bring a coat.   read

9:23 PM on 03.24.2013

Gears of Bore: My Judgment

There comes a point in every franchise’s lifespan were acceptance is key. It’s a measure of expectation. Should the fourth installment of a successful series be fundamentally different from any of the ones that came before it? We all act like we want our games to change, unable to comprehend how we’d be just as frustrated to see any major differences. This occurs when we have that yearning for something new and instead of expecting it in the form of a new IP, we apply that yearning to franchises that have already established themselves. That establishment serves as a foundation that is easier to improve upon than it is to create something completely new. For example, it's easier to imagine dual wielding swords in Halo than it is to forge a entirely new IP that you could get excited about. Sadly, the industry has more of the same and less of the new, with Bioshock being the exception.

It was half way through my time with Gears of War: Judgment that I discovered this. I had all these complaints about how cover to cover shooting wasn't enough anymore, questioning why the series never indulged a more tactical approach, but then it became clear. I don’t like Gears of War, so my expectations or desires don’t matter and they shouldn't.

Mired in a heap of illusory superiority, Gears of War: Judgment overvalues its fan's dedication and their ignoring of it's weaknesses, relying too heavily series' foundations. Gears of War has been around for seven years now and has given birth to four titles, so forgive me when I say, a machine gun with a chainsaw attached to it just doesn't do it anymore. The cover system is no longer fun because at a certain point you realized it's just big guys slamming into cover and that's not really great. The "shotgun rules all" mentality while still fitting was annoying two games ago and it's still annoying here. Every encounter involves a shotgun. Every kid online has a shotgun. I don't feel properly equipped unless I have a shotgun. It's not the utilitarian sidearm, designed to be used in all situations, it's a fucking shotgun. Sure, there have been a few new weapons here and there, as well as an enemy or two that have been re-purposed in some way but it’s mostly a static procession.

Playing Gears of War: Judgment is analogous to listening to the newest album of your favorite band, critics may condemn it as their worst yet, while others may praise it as their best, in either case you already like the band. My opinion on something I have a distaste for could never affect someone who likes this. Is it ever going to be that squad based tactical shooter I thought it could be? No and it shouldn't, because for most people who enjoy Gears of War, they enjoy it for the point blank, grind it out, humongous guys shooter it is. Far be it from me to ask People Can Fly to whistle a different tune.   read

7:12 PM on 03.24.2013

Somewhere Beyond the Sea: A Bioshock Retrospective

The world of Bioshock, an idealist, a deceptive business man and a puppet turned wildcard. All three sunk beneath the waves, lost in a decaying utopia known as Rapture. Much like Jack, I had spent a few years away and felt obligated by the upcoming release of Bioshock Infinite to return. I know beyond a doubt, Bioshock is an absolute champion of atmosphere. It contains the greatest and most complex grouping of concept, characters, universe, and story that has ever existed in the world of video games.

Andrew Ryan wasn’t a king, a dictator or president. He was a man, who fervently believed every man is entitled to full expression and zero limits. It was for this reason alone, he built Rapture. “A city where the artist would not fear the censor; where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality; where the great would not be constrained by the small!” A place where free thinkers were able to pursue taboo subjects or experiment with the limits of humanity was the only kind of place boundaries are really tested. When given absolute freedom, those bound by self-reliance will find anything given from someone else a favor. Understanding the importance of such favors, the first thing the people did was attempt to control one another. Unaware of the dependence they’re forging.

Perhaps the absolute antithesis to Andrew Ryan’s core belief comes in the form of a phrase, “Would you kindly?” It’s a simple phrase; it isn’t read from an ancient tome or spoke in some forgotten language. It’s a gamble, each time a stranger asks another for a favor, he’s rolling the dice. Hoping you might be so inclined to help him. Andrew Ryan did not believe in favors or manipulation of his fellow man, however, Frank Fontaine did.

Fontaine was a business man; he didn’t come to Rapture interested in the flowering of expression but rather, the ditch of exploitation. A city full of weak-armed artists and scientists spaced out from their limitless thoughts were still like those “capitalist pigs” of America; consumers. When the denizens of Rapture scoffed at Ryan Industries’ power, Fontaine, like any good businessman, saw a vacuum and filled it by creating Atlas, the sigil, the rallying cry of the “oppressed”. Atlas was whatever the market needed him to be and Fontaine knew better than any other inhabitant, the power conformity carried in any sales pitch. Both Ryan and Fontaine were creators. Ryan had a concept and Fontaine had a con.

That we play as a sick creation of both men should come as no surprise. Sensing the inevitable civil war, Fontaine saw you, Jack as a possible back up plan. Upon learning of Ryan’s illegitimate fathering of Jack, he enlisted the help of Doctors Without Boundaries: Suchong and Tenebaum with the ultimate plan of creating a sleeper agent. The irony here being that Ryan’s death was brought on by an environment he chose to create. Only in Rapture would it not be morally objectionable to genetically alter and brainwash a child. We may have had Ryan’s genes but we served at the hands of our master Fontaine. With the words, “Would you kindly?” we were rendered a slave. Jack was sent to surface in 1958 and returned only two years later to find bathyspheres previous locked, now open with only Andrew Ryan’s will to stop him.

When Jack arrived he found a once expressive city mired in silence, its halls vacant, its shops closed and its remaining citizens irreparably changed. Caught in a tug of war between two symbols of men, one offered explanation; Atlas and the other promised death; Ryan. Naturally Jack sided with Atlas. Ryan and Fontaine were not enemies and I believe that Ryan did not see Fontaine as ideologically wrong. Fontaine’s actions were merely a product of Rapture’s environment.

Rapture had failed, Andrew Ryan knew this well. However, it was his opinion that failing through freedom was barely a failure at all. If the by-product of individuality was nothing more than a pool of blood then so be it. At least no one had told them or enforced Rapture become this way. It was a pure evolution of what Ryan’s utopia allowed.

A little over halfway through Bioshock, we come face to face with the man, the myth and the legend, Andrew Ryan. He tells his son, “A man acts, a slave obeys.” This man may have had answers but more importantly he had questions, something unfamiliar to Jack, who mainly did as he was told. Powerless to stop himself, Jack killed Andrew Ryan. Each time Jack raised his cudgel; Ryan came back and said it once more. Unlike Jack, Andrew Ryan chose, unwilling to become a slave to what any other’s will. With this, Rapture was dead. Ryan was its life force and despite the cities’ fall to decay, his presence allowed the idea to remain alive. It’s somewhat disheartening to know the moment Jack finally had questions, the man who had them now lay dead by his hand.

Imagine the disappointment Andrew Ryan must have endured escaping Russia, arriving in America, a place he believed a man would be granted real freedom, then discovering how democracy only appeared free. Its citizens brainwashed into believing what their nation offered was the same as liberty. As if a man falling from a high perch, feeling the wind against his face was akin to another merely sticking his head out a window. Despite this he urged onward, believing if you want something done right, you must do it yourself and he did. Thus Rapture was born. His exposure to the colossal failure of the civilized government birthed in him the idea of a city beyond the sea. Far from the clutches of those who believe they have the right to constrict the lawful pursuits of man. He had succeeded and for twenty years, he lived without restriction. The tail end of such a time produced the largest disappointment of Andrew Ryan’s life, you. After all, what could be more discouraging to a man like Ryan than realizing your killer was just another mindless drone. “I came to this place to build the impossible; you came to rob what you could never build. A Hun, gaping at the gates of Rome.”

Rapture was designed as a paradise for those seeking to escape the parasites. Every video game is created as a safe haven from the harshness of reality, a break from the monotonous routines of our everyday life. The problem that often occurs with any escape from reality is logic, the walls start to crack. Water begins to spring from each gaping hole, eventually forming a crushing wave of sense that tends to break any experience down. It’s hard not to notice by the eighth time we’re sent to activate some switch, we’re already drowning. How many games shove poorly structured characters or plot front and center solely to serve as a more inspiring facilitation of a list of objectives? Is it a coincidence that Atlas himself is a construct, something designed to convince us were playing a hero’s tale. The same tale he had the citizens of Rapture believing. Ryan was the promise of all games and Fontaine was the designer of one. It took being fed a fake narrative to expose us to how blind we’ve been. Eyes long shut, now opened to the world around us. Helping Atlas was a metaphor for the stale and undeserving stories were told in video games, while Andrew Ryan and his belief, his way of life was the true heart and soul of Rapture and therefore Bioshock. Ryan, who believed the world shouldn’t be made for everyone’s use but for those who know what to do with it. “On the surface, I once bought a forest. The parasites claimed it belonged to God, and demanded I establish a public park there. Why? So the rabble could stand slack-jawed under the canopy and pretend that it was paradise earned. When Congress moved to nationalize my forest, I burnt it to the ground. God did not plant the seeds of this Arcadia; I did.”

All of this culminating in something beyond a game, Bioshock is a work of art and like any piece of art, further meditation will expose the most subtle of details. The kind of details that have us suspending our disbelief for just a little bit longer. The developers of Bioshock, much like many of the free thinkers who came to Rapture, found an outlet for their expression.

Rapture was a drowning city, too stubborn to resuscitate, she sunk deep and took the illusion of freedom with her. Ryan just like the captain of any worthy vessel chose to go down with her. That’s the cost of liberty, true liberty that is, it requires an unwillingness to relinquish, an utterly insane commitment to a cause, something that you believe so whole heartedly that even the threat of death wouldn’t shake you.

My experience with Rapture has got me thinking, I’d like to get away for a while, a place among the clouds sure sounds nice.


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