Monday, November 29
As much as this may sound like a cop out: for me, the most disappointing game of 2010 was not technically a bad game. On the contrary, it has been subject to almost universal acclaim (read: I could only find one review where it had been scored less than the equivalent of 90 percent). Furthermore, it's not as though it was the worst game released this year. There were times where the visuals blew me away, or the action functioned as I believed it should have with lasers, bullets and bodies flying everywhere. For every moment of perfection I played through however, I was then subjected to an eternity worth of poorly-delivered dialogue, or painstakingly slow-paced firefights.
I laboured over this decision for quite some time, as there were scores of underwhelming games released this year. The disappointment started early with the comically-derivative Darksiders, which takes away the dubious honour of having the most convoluted control scheme I've ever been privy to. Not just in the context of this year either, the game was genuinely confusing to play, and I am struggling to think of any game which required more thought to execute some of the most basic maneuvers. March presented the long-awaited Final Fantasy XIII, which featured a narrative that hadn't really started, even after ten hours of play. Even though I had predominantly positive things to say about it earlier this year, I must admit that any subsequent attempt to re-engage with the game has failed. Other lowlights for the year included the soulless Modnation Racers, and criminally-difficult Lost Planet 2.
The competition was narrowed to two games however, after the month of September. Dead Rising 2 failed almost entirely to deliver a sequel worthy of its predecessor. As I had advised previously, the original Dead Rising showed the potential of then next generation hardware. Wading through thousands of zombies armed with rarely much better than sporting goods, Dead Rising was a truly black comic take on the Survival Horror genre. The sequel promised the ability to craft zany weapons, online co-op and an expansive casino-mall hybrid in which to wreak zombicide. What I played however was an unpolished, and at times unforgiving assault on the senses. With ridiculously difficult (I would even argue broken) boss fights, and truly woeful vehicle sequences, Dead Rising 2 disappointed me thoroughly. As unsatisfying as the game was, the downloadable prelude, Dead Rising 2: Case 0 had alerted me to the fact that little had changed since 2006. I was ready for the frustrations that DR2 would provide.
So without further delay, the most disappointing game of 2010 was Mass Effect 2.
Despite my best efforts, and by far the most impressive opening sequence I've ever seen, I failed to engage with Mass Effect 2 entirely. Reflecting on it now, the principal reason for my disillusionment with the game is the volumes of positive opinion that the game received. It was one of the reasons I opted to once again purchase an Xbox 360. I know that it's foolish to buy a system for one game, and in my defence I did it for three (Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3 and well, you know).
The RPG-lite approach adopted for the space opera sequel meant that Bioware had produced yet another cover shooter, which in this case was punctuated by monotone dialogue from the protagonist who was in turn accompanied by some regrettable support characters. Previously I had reported that my brother was of the opinion that I was not playing the game in the correct fashion, but I would argue that if I have the power to charge at my opponents, that I should be able to use said power and survive more often that not. Obviously that was not the case.
There were some characters that I truly appreciated, like my returning favourite Garrus and the humorously skittish Salarian, Dr Mordin Solus. After levelling-up some of my biotic powers the combat also became somewhat more enjoyable, but ultimately the game failed to attain the dizzying heights of praise levelled at it by throngs of journalists and my brother alike. Much like FFXIII, any attempts to return to the adventure have been met with abject failure. In spite of this, I am planning to restart the second chapter of Commander Shepard's journey sometime in the not too distant future.
The Best Downloadable Game (or Content) the Year
To be entirely honest, I haven't purchased too many exclusively downloadable games and content this year. To be brutally honest, little of said content was worth the price of acquisition. There were some highlights though, with the single player expansion to Bioshock 2, offering a stronger sole experience than that delivered with the initial product. The only problem with Minerva's Den was that it was yet another four hours in the underwater dystopia of Rapture, after the twelve to fifteen found in the combat-heavy retail product. The overwhelming sense of deja vu ultimately detracted from the experience, but I must stress that the conclusion was not only a great surprise, but also genuinely moving.
As good as Minerva's Den was, the best downloadable game of the year was Shank.
Despite some cruel spikes in difficulty, and the most frustratingly-difficult final boss fight in recent memory: Shank recaptured the simplicity and fun of platforming classics from the 32-Bit generation, albeit with a fresh and bloody coat of paint. With that said however, the platforming sections of the game provided the most frustration. Shank was a success more for its brutal combat, where the players can freely switch between melee and ranged weapons to create some truly gruesome combos. The boss fights were usually a reliable source of fun, and the pattern-based confrontations once again harked back to the games of consoles long since passed. The story was somewhat non-existent, but then again, how many 2D brawlers or platformers featured profound narratives? Shank is the true evolution of the 2D action game , and while there were some flaws to be found, and many cheap deaths to be had, it was by far the most memorable and enjoyable downloable game released this year.
The Most Suprisingly-Good Game of the Year
For all of my lamentations and glorified whinging, there were some good games released this year. Even some great games, many of which were far better than I had expected. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (which I finished this weekend) and Kane and Lynch 2: Dogs Days both proved to be more enjoyable than I had thought they would be, especially given the mediocre reviews both titles had received. These games each provided a short, focussed experience which at times was just as enjoyable as some of the more lauded competition. These games weren't anywhere near perfect, and featured several notable design flaws; but I did complete them. That's more than I can say for Vanquish, Fallout: New Vegas and Crackdown 2, which received more praise yet remain unplayed and will more than likely remain uncompleted for months to come.
As much flawed fun as I did have with some of the underdogs this year, the most suprisingly-good game of 2010 is easily Just Cause 2.
Just Cause 2 came from out of nowhere to steal hours of my life, and my heart. Sure there was enough cornball dialogue, and offensively-stereotyped voice acting to make several action films, but Just Cause 2 made up for its shortcomings with an unrivalled sense of freedom. As Rico Rodriguez, a deadly agent of the creatively-named government agency, The Agency, players could call upon a full-scale arsenal to wreak havoc across the island paradise of Panau. If you wanted to reach a fortress at the top of a mountain, you could order a helicopter from the Black Market to fly to your desired destination. If said helicopter wasn't proving to be enough fun, you could fly to the airbourne nightclub, steal a jet and proceed to plough it into your enemy's fortifications while you parachute to safety. On the other hand, maybe you don't like conventional aircraft. In that case, you could use Rico's trusty grappling hook and parachute to scale the highest peaks of Panau. Add the ability to capture your antics on videos which can then be uploaded to YouTube, and Just Cause 2 is the videogame equivalent of a youth's worth of Schwarzenegger films.
Be sure to come back on Wednesday to see my picks for the best games of the year. What was your pick for the most disappointing game of the year? What was the worst game you played this year?
Friday, November 26
As I attempted to prise dog food from my toddlers’ mouth, I was suddenly struck with memories of Duke Nukem 3D. It may have been her pig like squeals or even the soft gooey mess on the floor once I got most (?) of it out that brought on these vivid memories, all I know is that I have become a man obsessed on Duke. Again.
Back in the mid 90’s, when it was first released, my friends and I went nuts for it. We would play it constantly through the week, and then meet up on the weekends to tirelessly take out mutated pigs and aliens together. Once it was cracked to the original US version, we not only praised the gore, but also the strong language and girly bits; two aspects of adult entertainment that were quite new to gaming (and 13 year old boys).
Along with a warped and comedic narrative, it’s these two characteristics of the game that set it apart from the FPS releases of today. The majority of today’s leading games seem to place all their focus on realism and cinematic style; whether you are fighting humans or monsters, programmers ensure the weapons, tactics and locations are accurate and that the storyline is tight and engrossing while delivering a visual feast i.e. Tom Clancy or Halo series.
If a game doesn’t deliver both, it will place preference on one aspect, usually opting to create an aesthetically pleasing gaming experience rather than a cerebral one. I can’t think of any examples off hand but I bet dollars to donuts anyone reading this can think of one game that looked the goods but was just plain boring.
Duke Nukem’s plot was simple and masculine: aliens are taking over the world and stealing all the hot chicks. Shoot the bad guys, save the world and women, go on holiday. Nothing about it was complicated and it was just over the top enough to get away with its absurdity.
One game that comes close to capturing the essence of Duke would have to be Wet, however I didn’t overly enjoy it. To be honest, I was more attracted to the name and the artwork on the box than the actual content.
It’s very much like a Quentin Tarantino movie put into a game. The action is quite stylised, with the opportunity to run up walls, slide on your knees while killing enemies with a samurai sword and perform kills in slow motion. Wet tries quite hard to be something it’s not, however the laid-back nature of Duke is evident through the game’s design.
The Grand Theft Auto series draws on a couple of Duke characteristics; however the overt adult themes and use of offensive language and sexuality were what truly captured its audience. While GTA was violent and anti-social, it took these characteristics to the next level, which gave it a dark and gritty theme and therefore had to be taken seriously.
As mentioned earlier, today’s leading FPS releases are all focused on realism – Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Halo, Gears of War; even Wolfenstein 3D was brought into the beautifully rendered 21st century.
In the current gaming landscape, the idea of a comedic narrative seems like a joke in itself and an idea best kept off the major production table and pushed onto the Xbox Live Arcade kids table.
I for one would like to see a game that doesn’t take itself seriously and that I want to play. Not necessarily Duke Nukem 4 (let’s face it, that one is not coming...ever) or another version/clone of Duke 3D, but simply a game that says the wrong things while you do the wrong thing.
Do you need to have the realism in your games or would you also like to see a serious attempt at a game that doesn’t take itself seriously?
Next Friday on Dutch: Hold on to your hats as I possibly do something useful with a video game blog and actually review a game.
Wednesday, November 24
To prepare you for next week, I must first qualify that:
- I do not own a Wii, DS or powerful gaming PC
- While I do spend an exorbitant amount of money on games, I cannot buy everything released on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PSP and PC
- While I do spend a lot of time playing videogames, I have not been able to play though all releases on the afformentioned systems
- Downloadable games include releases on the Xbox Live Arcade and titles available exclusively on the Playstation Network (ie. not available in brick-and-mortar stores)
- While I have purchased Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Fable III, Rock Band 3 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2; I haven't been able to play them for a sufficient amount of time to form a worthwhile opinion on these titles. It is also unlikely that I will find the time to play these games long enough for them to factor into next week's calculations.
Maybe I'm looking to the past with a pair of rose-coloured glasses, to a time when I had more time to engage with games, and experience their every feature (and earn more of their precious achievements). Perhaps more likely though, is that the industry is looking more often for the safe bets; the sequels. But then all you need to do is compare the list above with the list of games I have played this year (at the end of this post) and you'll find that to be a false assertion. A sequel doesn't necessarily have to tread within the same territory, and in the case of the games above, most of those sequels featured drastic improvements over their predecessors. Maybe, and perhaps most horrifying of all, critically engaging with videogames has taken some of the fun out of playing them. Maybe I'm being dramatic. Maybe.
Please peruse the list below, and share your picks for the game of the year in the comments section. Are there any games I should have played, but missed out on?
- Call of Duty: Black Ops
- Super Street Fighter IV
- Final Fantasy XIII
- NBA 2K11
- Medal of Honor
- Kane & Lynch 2
- Modnation Racers
- Mafia II
- Battlefield: Bad Company 2
- Bioshock 2
- Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
- Dark Void
- Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing
- Lost Planet 2
- God of War III
- Red Dead Redemption
- Just Cause 2
- Megaman 10
- After Burner Climax
- Sam and Max: Season 6, Episode 1 - The Penal Zone
- Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Videogame
- Final Fight: Double Impact
- Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den
- Halo: Reach
- Crackdown 2
- Fallout: New Vegas
- Dead Rising 2
- Mass Effect 2
- Alan Wake
- Risk: Factions
- Super Meat Boy
- Snoopy Flying Ace
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
- Half-Minute Hero
- Several horrible minis
- StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Monday, November 22
Once more, with feeling - While the script can at times rely heavily on curse words, the voice talent articulating the narrative have managed to create a sense of drama and atmosphere atypical of most First Person Shooters. James Burns, who lent his voice to regular companion Sergeant Frank Woods is the real standout, however Ice Cube, Ed Harris, Garry Oldman (man-crush) and (for the most part) Sam Worthington all contribute to one of the most compelling CoD campaign I've ever played through.
Still hot - While this is solely in reference to the single player campaign, it must be said that Blacks Ops is quite the looker. There are scores of wow moments within this game, and, they aren't limited to explosions. The environments each look fantastic, and, some of the scripted sequences are simply breathtaking.
Are you OK with this? - Black Ops contains some of the most gruesome sequences in recent memory; more stomach-churning (but nowhere near as questionable) than the airport sequence in Modern Warfare 2. I've heard quite a bit about a particular torture sequence, but, I felt that it paled in comparison to some of the contextual melee hits that are scattered throughout the missions in Vietnam. What is fantastic about this brutality is that it need not be experienced if it is beyond your comfort level: Treyarch have included an option to tone down and, in some cases, nearly remove the gore of specific sequences, and I thoroughly appluad their efforts to cater to wussbags like myself.
Go your own way - The thoroughly popular, and overly familiar Call of Duty multiplayer suite returns; however, now players are able to decide (for the most part) how they progress, and what perks, weapons and equipment they use. I've explored this previously in the post "Blaze of Glory," so I won't dwell on it for too long. However, the freedom you are afforded allows for you to develop effective strategies well before you reach higher levels. The new Contract system works well enough (however, I must admit that I lack the skill and confidence to make proper use of it) and presents even more opportunites to acquire COD points and unlock more weapons, attachments and various other personalisations. There is even the option to play against bots, and when you tune your opponents to Veteran difficulty it can prove to be an unforgiving, albeit necessary, introduction to the mechanics of CoD multiplayer.
Tour of Duty - Black Ops features an impressive array of expertly designed maps that suit the CoD formula of play perfectly. There are plenty of places to camp; however, run-and-gunners are able to flourish as well, as no spot on any map is unreachable. The balanced Killstreak rewards also add substantially to the strategies that players can develop and then employ. I can't recall a single instance where I felt cheated by the new or returning rewards.
Promising start - The first two hours of the campaign are a blast, and at times even break from the action typical of previous instalments. The first mission especially, is so frenetic in pace and execution that I genuinely thought the series was embarking in a refreshing new direction. Some early sequences don't even demand that every enemy be dispatched. A chase is always more exciting than a rout.
Black Ops Arcade - Unlockable from the main menu (check the video below if you want to know how, beware the swears!), Black Ops Arcade is an addictive and humourous twin-stick shooter. Not a reason to buy the game by any means; but, still a value-added Easter Egg complete with weapons, power-ups and precious treasure.
Ugly cousin - I am wondering whether this is specific to the Playstation 3 version, but the multiplayer game looks washed out when compared to the singleplayer portion. I can understand that animations and details need to be scaled down when dealing with 16 players, each employing their own dynamic strategy; but some competitors feature just as many players, and look far better (Battlefield: Bad Company 2 anyone?).
In English please? - Once again, Black Ops carries the fine tradition of employing a whole dictionary of military terminology that goes unexplained. I hope to fill the gaps in my vocabulary with subtitles, but they offered no elaboration on the various acronyms, jargon and code you're exposed to throughout the adventure.
Empty additions - The new Wager Matches are a novelty at best, and while they do serve to offer some new experiences they are, ultimately, unnecessary. This may be sour grapes on account of losing a few thousand at the proverbial track, but, the matches I played were not overly enjoyable. One in the Chamber quickly devolves into a knife fight, while Sticks and Stones is the foremost venue for opponents rage-quitting. Gun Game and Sharpshooter are fun enough for the casual crowd, however, the lack of depth had me returning to standard matches very quickly.
Unstable - For every solid match you'll find online, you'll have to endure two with spotty and, at times, unplayable connections. Even after a post-release patch, I'm still finding that matches end prematurely, or lobbies close as I get tantalisingly close to a match beginning. Not a game breaker, but, frustrating nonetheless.
Same old - The multiplayer offering has been refined to the point of near-perfection, but this is essentially the same game I've been playing for over three years. It still managed to engage me for a few hours, but, after less than ten hours of play, I can advise that I am happy to put it bed. I may return to it sporadically. however, if you've played any CoD multiplayer game since Modern Warfare, you know exactly what to expect here.
Tired - While lacking any civilian slaying controversy, the majority of Black Ops plays like every other CoD singleplayer adventure. There are usually three kinds of scripts for any given level, involving corridors, large set pieces in exterior locations, or, simplistic vehicle sequences. While the narrative tying these sequences together may be different, and the settings and context have been changed; I can't escape the feeling of deja vu I've experienced since as far back as Call of Duty 2. Black Ops looks fantastic, and plays well enough, but so did World at War; so did Modern Warfare. The recently rebooted Medal of Honor only exacerbates the situation; Black Ops may be a better game, but, since MoH is a CoD rip-off, the feeling of deja vu is stronger still.
Convoluted yet predictable - For its every attempt at misdirection, the final twist in Black Ops was in no way a surprise. I didn't pay too much attention to the credits, but it would not surprise me if M. Night Shyamalan was called upon by Treyarch to write this bumbling, time-hopping period piece.
Zombies - I am f&$%ing tired of zombies in videogames. Zombies mode makes its return in Black Ops, and it is just as uninspiring as it was in World at War. Zombies mode is no substitution for Special Ops, and Black Ops is a weaker package without a proper co-operative mode.
8/10 - For anyone who has somehow been living in a gaming cave, and hasn't played a Call of Duty game: you need to play Black Ops, for it is easily the most enjoyable and refined instalment of the franchise. However, all the quality voice acting, progession systems and map design in the world can't save this from feeling like a loaf of stale bread, fresh from the CoD bakery. This would be the best entry point for anyone who is yet to properly engage with series; a statement which holds true for both the single and multiplayer offerings.
Friday, November 19
Unfortunately, applying for a job isn’t a simple feat, especially in a specialist and competitive field such as marketing. Job applications used to comprise a resume, carefully crafted cover letter and a quick email. These days you have to jump through hoops and answer questions about this and that, and provide seemingly random musings to impress your prospective employer. And then there’s the interview.
The whole process reminds me of the old Monkey Island series – you look around for far too long to find what you think you are looking for, only to discover you can’t use it for your ultimate goal.
That makes the role of the jobseeker played by Guybrush Threepwood, ‘mighty’ pirate and habitual boat sinker. You start your adventure quite ambitious, tending to ask irrelevant questions and fumble around trying to find the right path.
Answering and submitting selection criteria is just like sword fighting with insults – you just think of something possibly relevant, throw in a key word here and there, and you’re done. You’ll fail miserably until you realise the tricks of the trade and learn a couple of decent responses but that’s ok because you need the practice to beat the Sword Master.
The Sword Master in this case is the person conducting the phone or first interview. You need to collect as much information as possible to get past this one. Some of the conversation will be relevant to employment, some of it will be filler so you can prove you aren’t a serial killer.
The Sword Master is a harsh mistress, living in seclusion and only available by stalking (thanks LinkedIn!). You’re likely to come across her a number of times only to fail but return much more confident.
Once you’ve impressed the Sword Master, you fiddle around for a little bit (that’s the easiest summary of the game) and square up to the ghost pirate LeChuck. Note to potential employers: I doubt very much you are an evil undead-demon-zombie-ghost-pirate antagonist hell bent on stealing my missus. Please don’t hold the analogy against me.
The final showdown, or second interview, leads to clammy hands, nervousness and what can feel like a mental beating of epic proportions; not because it’s hard, it’s just a drawn out process. Minutes feel like hours and it seems like you are running around in circles. At times you might feel like you’re at your wits end and that all hope is lost, but then you pull out some magic and win the game. Cue a sigh of relief, celebrations and fireworks.
Delving further into the comparison, job hunting website Seek could play the part of the mutinous pirates that ‘help’ you sail the Caribbean. I find it ever so *helpful* to receive irrelevant email job alerts. How is a lawyer part of marketing communications? I’m not sure, but they said I’m not qualified for the position.
Of all the objects in my real life puzzle based comic adventure, my favourite is definitely the resume (aka the soup on the ship) - a crazy concoction of random stuff collected along the way that changes the direction of your career only to land you on a new desert island full of misguided adventure that will inevitably lead you to a sequel in a couple of years.
Has your life seemed to mimic games?
Thursday, November 18
No hate from me. You provide a valuable service, and if the gaming media adjusts their assessment methods so that their opinions can be published on your website then that is their concern.
Videogames have been a medium prone to sequels (and a wholesale lack of creativity) for quite some time. I would argue this was the case long before I began to consult with you.
Ordinarily for me, purchase decisions are based on the impressions I read about a title pre-release. While reviews often reinforce the initial impressions, they can in great number sway me from purchasing something I was only remotely interested in. On the other hand, if something garners positive quantitative analysis out of relative obscurity (Braid, Demons' Souls) you then open my eyes, and my wallet.
I consult Kotaku daily for reviews and opinion, and the site has not since I started reading it afforded numeric scores to evaluate videogames. I appreciate that, I respect that, and these qualitative measures can at times have more sway than a number.
I would argue that no outlet on its own can provide the means to justify a purchase decision. You merely assist with filtering the raw data that the gaming media provides, and help with those 50/50 gambits. IGN and Gameinformer often scare me with their fleeting, albeit usually positive analysis of AAA games upon release, only to publish an article weeks/months later providing valid criticisms of a game that they will probably state is "Game of the Year," material. For an example, IGN gave Fable III a score of 8.5 only to publish an article titled "Editorial: Fable III - Why It Fails." 8.5 is not a fail, if Fable III went to IGN University, it would be awarded a High Distinction with that score.
Metacritic doesn't speak English, it only does the math. I refuse to hate on the numbers guy, they only try to help.
To Kotaku AU, please criticise a publication that deserves a higher level of scrutiny, like Gameinformer. Especially after that 30 characters that defined a decade article. That was rubbish. I loved Red Dead Redemption, but how has Bonnie MacFarlane (or John Marston for that matter) characterised a decade of videogames? How can they rate Niko the fifth most influential character and lament that "Before Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar protagonists were predominantly shallow criminals driven by a lustful desire for money and power," only to then announce the 17th most influential character, Tommy Verceti from GTA: Vice City? Absolute rubbish.
To me metacritic, it's not your numbers that I loathe, it's the usually inane opinions behind them.
Keep on adding, subtracting and dividing.
While I will admit that I made a few sweeping statements in my reply, I think it is wrong for us to lay blame for the industry's downturn at the feet of a website which merely aggregates the opinion of the gaming media as a whole. I'll admit that Metascores have influenced several of my purchase decisions, but this is often because I am unfamiliar with a recent release and am looking for a second, third or fourth opinion. If I'm interested in a game well before release, and intend to purchase it well before it is available, odds are that I will buy it regardless of the numbers involved.
What concerns me more than Metacritic, is the opinions that contribute to the much-maligned Metascores. Once again I will refer to Gameinformer, where reviews for recently released games are usually far shorter than the previews for upcoming titles. The final evaluations of many games are far less protracted than the pre-release hype typical of this publication. Call me a cynic, but I think this is in no small part due to the fact that the publication's principal sales partner is a large gaming retail chain.
Even with Metacritic's advice, I've still managed to pick up many games which I have failed to engage with. This includes titles with Metascores in the high 80s, and in some cases, 90s. Mass Effect 2 and Fallout: New Vegas, I am looking at you.
Do you all use Metacritic? Do you object to the concept of the website?
1. Stead, C (Editor) (2010). The 30 Characters Who Defined a Decade. Game Informer, Issue 12, p26-49.
Wednesday, November 17
My favourite new weapon is without a doubt, the under-barrel flamethrower. It's only effective in close quarters, but it has saved my skin (and charred that of others) in many a clinch situation. There are few feats more satisfying than a multikill achieved with a carefully-timed spray of fiery death. Other secondary toys like the masterkey (under-barrel shotgun) and n00b tube (under-barrel grenade launcher) make their return, but I can't see my interest in this incendiary life-saver waning anytime soon.
This tool is all the more effective with the upgraded Second Chance perk. I haven't been so lucky as to have many colleagues take the time to revive me, but being able to live that little while longer (with your pistol of choice, no less) provides a few opportunties to pick up extra kills. When your team does opt to save you though, your killstreak is preserved, and the fun continues. Combined with the Scavenger and Warlord perks, things can get very silly. Warlord Pro enables players to carry two lethal and two secondary thrown weapons (for me, grenades), while Scavenger enables you to pick extra munitions (including grenades) from the bodies of your enemies. Bombs away!
I must admit that I find it surprising that few have so far adopted this strategy. On maps with large open spaces however, the flamethrower and frags approach falls over. It doesn't fail entirely, but it is much harder to make a living.
I wish I had more for you today, but it has been hard to pull myself away from the familiar, but addictive CoD formula applied to a plethora of new, brilliantly designed maps. Once again, if the Call of Duty multiplayer game has never done it for you, the slightly more customizable approach probably won't win you over; but I would encourage you to trial it at the very least.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for me tomorrow. Kinect will have to wait. Anybody else picking up some new releases? Please share your purchase decisions with us.
Monday, November 15
Save for the chanting between rounds, the crowd showed the same reverance towards the players as that observed for the actors on a stage. Slight exaggeration I guess, but the action was far more convincing, and there were far less campy songs about fighting (that didn't really sound overly threatening). To give you a taste of my pain:
We're gonna rock it tonight,
We're gonna jazz it up and have us a ball!
They're gonna get it tonight;
The more they turn it on the harder they'll fall!
These are lyrics from a song that is sung before people die! I'll concede that West Side Story is a little more coherent from a narrative perspective, but that is understandable when in SFIV you have twenty-something characters that can each be the focus of the story.
It's not that I didn't enjoy myself. The company was more than enough to make the night worthwhile, but it does sadden me somewhat to think that a night spent gaming will for sometime have as much cultural currency as witnessing a brawl in a carpark. Some (read: most) of my fondest memories have involved videogames, but I know of few who have experienced the heartbreak of murdering your mentor in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (players are forced to pull the trigger), or endured the death of your companions in the Fire Emblem games, or witnessed the betrayal of Hobbes in Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. I'll never forget when I was first asked "Where do you want to go?" in Relentless: Twinsen's Adventure, or when I first conquered the lava spider in Devil May Cry. These are all events that shaped me in some way, but to most they are relegated to the realms of childish fantasy. I'm not trying to engage in the Are Games Art? debate, for me this issue has long been resolved (Games ARE works of art, live with it). What I am trying to say is that while the experiences listed above may not fit into the star crossed lovers paradigm, they still have dramatic and emotional impact.
What are the most powerful moments you've observed in videogames? What did you play this weekend?
Friday, November 12
It’s no secret that once something in one medium is a success, the remake, adaptation or expansion into another medium is bound to be horrible. For example, take the movie Doom. As a game it was an unholy addiction. Once it was rebuilt by screenwriters and condensed into 90ish minutes, the result was an abomination.
Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, such as the book to film adaptations of the Harry Potter series, The Shawshank Redemption or Die Hard. Yes I said Die Hard.
The problem I have is with movies taking over the world of video games, and to a lesser extent, comic books and anime.
Have you honestly ever walked into your local video games emporium and become COD: Black Ops excited about a movie adaptation or companion? I doubt it.
Can you remember the Matrix game? The first film comes out and cinemagoers are blown away. The second movie was released simultaneously with the game, Enter The Matrix, with an anime collection about a month later. It was horrible.
The game cost millions of dollars to make and was designed to be a side story to the film, enhancing the Matrix experience, opening fans to new information and allowing them to be something bigger than the film could deliver. The result was a rushed game with two main characters that no one wanted to play as, culminating in aggravated fans who wanted to play as Neo.
After a couple of years a sequel was produced, named The Path of Neo. This game was made for fans but is still a sterling example of taking a success from one medium and creating a disappointment in another.
In my opinion, the best game adaptations are those in the Lego series. Mainly concerning themselves with larger franchises such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, these games are ridiculously entertaining for fans of both Lego and the original franchise.
While each game is essentially the same as the previous, I’ve been consistently entertained with Lego’s take on some of history’s biggest films and characters. The simplicity of each game, the mini-games within, pop culture references and light humour are a winning combination.
My favourite of the games is the Star Wars Saga and I honestly believe it is the only way Jar Jar will ever come close to being cool, although he is still pretty pointless in the game – something that was adapted perfectly!
The success of Lego Star Wars stems directly from its simple nature – it combines two childhood favourites in a way that keeps the spirit of the movie alive AND allows you to relive the creativity of Lego.
Game adaptations can go the other way too, with many hit games rising from the small screen into cinemas everywhere. While I’m willing to bet you won’t jump at the next opportunity to buy a movie game, I’m also willing to bet you would think twice before standing in line to see a movie adaption of a game.
Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros, Resident Evil, Halo Legends and Double Dragon are all horrible atrocities, clearly made to suck the life out of phenomenal games. Well, Double Dragon wasn’t a phenomenal game but it was big in the 80’s. As for Halo Legends, again we saw more animated shorts inspired by the game, but it was still drawn out and boring.
Also, when I found out Universal are releasing a Halo film in 2012, I literally dropped my ice cream. I’m scared at what 3D, misguided adventure they’ll have planned for our beloved Master Chief. Microsoft has already made $9 million selling the script (www.imdb.com) and I guarantee Rooster Teeth will not be a creative force behind any part of the finished product.
Although, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by Prince of Persia; mainly because it cost me $1 and the only memory I have of the 1989 game is run, jump, fall in spike pit, die, repeat.
Have you been pleasantly surprised by an adaptation? Will you be playing/watching/reading one this week?
Wednesday, November 10
The series, whether in the hands of Infinity Ward or Treyarch, has never been known for its storytelling prowess; Black Ops continues the tradition of almost nonsensical quasi-realistic narrative, and that's just fine. What sets this particular instalment apart from its predecessors though, is the breakneck speed with which the action progresses. Frequently, interaction is kept to a minimum, and the steadiest aim is no longer a requirement; you just keep running and gunning, spraying and praying, and it works. No longer does it take several hundred retries to progress past a harrowing firefight, and your AI-controlled companions have now been empowered to actually kill enemy combatants. The series staples (read: cliches) are all present in Black Ops however; including the five to ten times your progress is interrupted by a concussive blast and a teammate helps you to your feet, the epic set pieces, slow-motion breaching and grenade/explosion indicators. The addition of the under-barrel flamethrower, crossbow and incendiary shotgun shells serve to freshen up the soon-to-be stale CoD formula, as well as effectively dispatching your enemies. There are enough familiar elements here to make series loyalists comfortable, but the drama has been toned down a (tiny) bit and the action flows more naturally than that found in the woeful, persistently frustrating, Modern Warfare 2.
The quality of the presentation is a bit hit-and-miss. The visuals for the single player campaign look spectacular, with brilliant lighting effects and wonderfully articulated facial models for the central cast. The environments are varied, if a little dull from a colour perspective, and there have been some truly spectacular sequences involving vehicles, rockets and support weaponry. The multiplayer though falls just short of ugly. Everything looks a little washed out, and the palette is even more dreary than that found in the campaign. The voice work is a little inconsistent, with Sam Worthington unable to decide whether the protagonist Alex Mason is American or Australian. Ice Cube also stars, and his work in the single and multiplayer portions is awesome. There's something magical about him pronouncing "Enemy spy plane inbound!" I can just imagine this sample being mixed into an upcoming Hip-Hop classic. The score however is a completely derivative mess, riddled with power chords and cliched licensed tunes. At the commencement of every multiplayer match, my ears bleed ever so slightly.
The multiplayer portion plays the same as it always has, however the progression system has been changed so that it is more accessible to n00bs like myself. While you still earn experience points for kills and challenges, levelling up doesn't automatically entitle you to a greater array of equipment. Levelling up instead earns you CoD points which you can then use to purchase equipment and perks. This enables players to use the tools that best suit their style of play, and means that I no longer need to play online for 14 hours before I can use reasonably effective assault rifles.You can also earn CoD points by fulfilling contracts (which have an initial purchase fee), and by participating in Wager matches. I'm not game enough to gamble my hard-earned CoD points just yet, maybe one day I'll grow the requisite stones. I should note however that core action is largely unchanged, save for the removal of the some of the more exploit prone perks and killstreaks. Unfortunately, attacks dogs have made a return, and my favourite weapon from MW2, the riot shield has been removed. At least the new maps are all of consistent quality and are sufficiently varied. You've got to take the good with bad I guess.
While I've enjoyed the 6 or 7 hours I've spent with CoD: Black Ops so far, I can't imagine that I'll remain heavily invested in the game upon completing the single player campaign. While there are some new additions, I can't help but feel as though I have played, and paid for this game several times previously.
What are your thoughts on Black Ops? Anyone playing it yet?
Monday, November 8
I find Vanquish exhausting. Don't get me wrong, this game should feel like a breath of fresh air; it's a visually spectacular thrill-ride, brimming with colour and movement. There's an interesting array of weapons, and enemies of varying shapes and sizes to point them at. It also features a thumping techno soundtrack accompanied by the din of gunfire and explosions en masse. Things fall apart however when the two protagonists open their mouths. I honestly felt like the third wheel on Sam Gideon and Lieutenant Colonel Robert Burns' first date after the two decided to give their relationship a second go. They bicker like an old couple, wading through a violent flow of testosterone. The musings of every other soldier, politician, even the game's villain turn into white noise which fail to rise above the inundation of action-movie verbal bravado.
It's a great shame too, because some of the sequences in Vanquish are almost too spectacular for written description. You almost need to use your hands when trying to describe the shock and awe of the opening mission; where a large space ship enters a larger space ship, only to crash within the interior, while smaller ships filled with bright-red robots shower you and your allies in gunfire. It is without a doubt, the busiest game I have ever played. There is so much shit happening on screen at any one time, that I am almost certain that Shinji Mikami (the director, of Resident Evil fame) suffers from severe attention deficit disorder. Even when there are no enemies in sight, the armour covering Sam's face unfurls, only for him to stuff it with a lit cigarette. When you switch weapons, you don't holster your current gun, it transforms into another (usually bigger) gun.
I've read that you can finish Vanquish in 4 hours, but to be honest, after smashing the head off a twenty-storey robot with a one hundred punch combo, I need to shelve it for a while. Even after a couple of cups of coffee, it's still too fast for me.
I very promptly moved onto NBA 2K11, and have so far been blown away. Not just in terms of presentation and authenticity, but on the scoreboard as well. It hurts, I'll admit; for I performed more than adequately in the last instalment I played extensively, NBA 2K5. It's not as though I've tried to punch above my weight either, as I'm losing regularly on the lowest difficulty setting. Still loving it though, as the quality of the visuals and sound design is unmatched, with exceptional and detailed commentary, and lifelike player models. My only complaints would be that there seems to be an exlamation point in the form of a replay, every time my computer opponent wrests the lead from my slippery clutches. It's almost as though the game is screaming "How you like me now?" every few minutes, while it's thrashing me on Rookie difficulty no less.
I'll try and put it into context. My last, memorable death in Vanquish involved Sam Gideon being impaled on a massive drill-wielding robot's massive drill, spun around in the air, and then slammed into the earth only to be drilled some more. Sounds pretty bad, yeah? Well in NBA 2K11, I surrendered a 13 point lead on the 30th ranked Pistons, and then had to watch replays of every glass-shattering slam dunk. I know which defeat I would rather watch again. My other losses weren't as discouraging, and I feel as though I am slowly rediscovering the fundamentals of the game. I did enjoy a solitary victory against the Knicks however (a win against the Knicks is still a win!), and that makes for another reason to continue with my unsuccessful season with the Celtics.
I'm not yet ready to take my game (or rather absence of it) online just yet. My offence shuts down as soon as I hit the perimeter, and I'm certain that my 5-10 steals a game isn't enough to milk a win against more dynamic human opponents.
What were you guys playing this weekend? Is anybody picking up Call of Duty: Black Ops this Tuesday?
On another note entirely: what is the best game you've played this year?
Dutch Note: Please donate to the Unbearable Dutch Movember team by clicking on the Street Fighter-flavoured link below. I hope you'll join us on our quest to improve the quality of life for men across Australia.
Friday, November 5
I’d like to say this is the first time it has happened, but alas, it is not.
I am, however, happy in the knowledge that my mental wanderings are only about playing video games.
I was recently reminded about a friend’s extended daydream to be Spiderman as he delivered his parcels through Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall. This came as a result of playing far too much Spiderman 2 on PS2 (it was some time ago).
He would imagine being able to swing from building to building, thus removing the effort required to walk up the annoying gradual incline, something I’m sure many of us have tried to avoid without success.
When he told me this in great detail and with a serious tone, I was both amused and impressed with his detailed imagination; a far cry from his usual misguided tales of porn and…porn.
On the drive home that day, I struggled to think of a time where my imagination took over and entered me into the world of games when not actually playing a game.
The closest I can think of is as a child when I donned a red headband and started kicking trees in the back yard, pretending to be Ryu. But, this was more likely to be a result of too much anime (if you haven’t seen Street Fighter II The Animated Movie please do - it’s rad!)
Slightly disappointed at my lack of engagement and the absence of imagination, I was reminded that I drive like I’m in Grand Theft Auto, which made me feel a little better.
In fact, my driving abilities have been compared to video games on multiple occasions, with my parents truly believing if I had a crash that I would look for the reset button.
Other comments like “No Tim, if you hit that shiny thing on the road you will not become invincible to other drivers and be able to hit them off the road” have also been heard within my car.
By the way, I don’t /didn’t believe that would actually happen; it was more a case of misunderstanding what I was saying. If people don’t know what Mario Kart is, I shouldn’t reference it in conversation.
With my work day soon to begin, I can take comfort in the knowledge that it will all be over in around ten hours; after which I can come home and knock out a couple of demos fresh from Xbox Live.
I might not be able to re-imagine my life as a video game, but I can definitely envisage being entertained with games for a long time.
Have you ever blurred the lines between reality and gaming?
Wednesday, November 3
Fallout: New Vegas is a wasteland. I know it's set in a wasteland, but from a gameplay perspective, New Vegas is desolate, unforgiving, and almost completely unrewarding. I have so far invested nearly 14 hours, finished several quests, dinged level 13, discovered about 40 locations, and hated almost every second of it.
I could make a redundant observation and state that New Vegas is too similar to its predecessor, or that the main quest isn't as compelling as that found in Fallout 3; but that would barely be scratching the surface. It is an underwhelming game in its own right, not just when compared to the previous instalment.
Of the many reasons why Fallout: New Vegas manages to both anger and disappoint, the sound and quest design have provided the most frustration. The standard of voice acting in the latest instalment of the series fails to compare favourably to that of its predecessor. Fallout 3 featured the incomparable Liam Neeson in the role of your created character's father, and his paternal tone drove me to complete the central quest rather than engage in the various alternative pursuits that were on offer. While the supporting cast (save for Malcolm McDowell) didn't exactly match Neeson's star power, their competent performances belied the wooden nature of the character models that awkwardly mimed on screen. New Vegas failed to capture my attention from the outset of the adventure. Even Ron Perlman, who again reprises his role as narrator doesn't appear convinced that your meandering through the Mojave Wasteland is necessary. It got worse though, I got to sit through an ugly pre-rendered cut scene and several monotone conversations with the various residents of Goodsprings. You'd think that someone with a name like Sunny Smiles would convey a certain amount of warmth and excitement. But, you'd be wrong. Aside from the woeful voicework, there's an understated (almost non-existent) score and an array of recycled sound effects. New Vegas sounds as desolate as it looks.
The mediocre aural experience extends its impact to quests, as conversation is integral to almost all of the missions that you will undertake; and at times both of these elements work together to obliterate any sense of immersion. In the quest titled, "I Don't Hurt Anymore," Obsidian attempt to deal with the controversial topic of rape trauma. This is a very short side quest, but still I'll issue a spoiler alert. When helping a faction deal with 3 drugged-up psychos, I learnt that a combatant, Betsy had been raped by the fiend, Cook Cook. I spoke to her commanding officer to see if he could provide any tips for dealing with this villain. The conversation quickly led to Betsy's attack and the subsequent effect this had on her behaviour. Apparently, after the attack she took to flirting aggressively with fellow female soldiers and I was then asked to deal with this inappropriate behaviour (and in usual New Vegas fashion, this was delivered in a droll monotone). After speaking with Betsy's CO, I turned to the soldier sitting next to him to see if I could obtain any further details. That person it turned out, was Betsy. Betsy sat and listened to her superior desribe her brutal attack in explicit detail, and how her actions were now affecting her colleagues. Normally you would think these matters would be dealt with in a sensitive, and confidential manner. Once again, you'd be dead wrong. After fumbling through my conversation with Betsy, she admitted she had trouble and requested medical assistance. I went to see a neighbouring physician and booked an appointment for Betsy to complete the quest. There you go folks, Obsidian cures rape trauma in 3 conversations across 4 minutes. Personally, I found this cursory approach to such a heinous crime both baffling and offensive.
The problems with questing in New Vegas don't end there. Very few missions have involved compelling conversations or some of the elaborate set pieces found in its predecessor. Instead this instalment offers fetch quests punctuated by short conflicts with three to five opponents. The combat system has apparently been improved thanks to changes made to aiming/iron sights outside out of the VATS targeting mode. There's no denying that combat feels a lot smoother, but when VATS is so effective in the first place there seems little point in fighting outside of it. There have been few memorable missions, and fewer notable characters. I'll clarify that even further, the only notable character I've encountered is a robot named the Yes Man. The Yes Man is the only character that shows any sign of life, and he's a freaking robot!
The graphics engine that first debuted in the first person RPG classic Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion returns in Fallout: New Vegas with little sign of refinement. There is an abundance of pop-in, with mountains sometimes appearing mere footsteps before you reach them. It's the little things too, with masses of shrubs, debris, non-player characters (NPCs), and on the other end of the scale, entire buildings appearing before your very eyes, well after they should have. Character models are still as ugly and lifeless as they were in Fallout 3, except now the voicework is just as limp as the accompanying visuals. The creatures of the wasteland are equally visually uninspiring, at times looking as though they are covered in a Play-Doh veneer. Most upsetting of all, playing New Vegas has kept me from recent, visually spectacular titles like Vanquish and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. No more Obsidian. No longer will I grind in this visual hellhole.
Is it worth a shot?
It may be. It depends on how much you love the grind; the grind accompanied by lacklustre voicework and sound effects, ugly (UGLY) visuals and forgettable characters. One thing I should note, I did not boot up the game until after the first patch went live and I have not endured a single crash. When you consider that the majority of criticisms levelled at the title from the gaming media at large have to do with stability, it is probable that there may be something here you'll enjoy. If you haven't played Fallout 3 or Oblivion, then you may not tire as fast from the hours of meandering across the Mpjave Wasteland; still, acquire at your own risk.
Will I finish it?
Probably not. At least not anytime soon. With several blockbusters sitting around the house waiting to be played, New Vegas will have to wait.
Dutch Note: Please join the Unbearable Dutch Movember team by clicking on the Final Fight-flavoured link below. I hope you'll join my quest to improve the quality of life for men across the country.
Monday, November 1
I've decided to register for the charity movement known as Movember, which aims to raise funds and awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer and depression in men. To show my support for this movement, I'll be dabbling in the art of moustachery and establishing a team for the readership of the Unbearable Lightness of Dutch. I hope that you will support this endeavour as vigorously as you have the blog itself.
Look at it: concise, determined, and deadly. Could a man ask for any more from his tea strainer? Sure Price's moustache carries a certain degree of distinction, but it lacks focus. Snake's mo has an objective, and it intends to achieve it.
To join the Unbearable Dutch Movember team, please go to http://au.movember.com/register/151100 and follow the steps. Once registered you'll be sent all the information you need to raise funds and start growing as part of our Movember team.
Thanks in advance for your support. Keep it healthy. Keep it hairy.