Posted by GrantHeaslip (1346 posts) -

I've played a number of games over the past few months that I didn't feel opinionated enough (and well-versed enough) to write a proper single-topic piece on. I've decided to start writing up short(ish) weekly(ish) posts going over thoughts and impressions about such games, if just to keep myself in the habit of writing. Here's the first!

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

I played Metal Gear Solid earlier this year, and got around to playing the sequel recently. I find it hard to have particularly strong opinions about this game since it's so clearly a product of its time. There were things in this game I could look at and say "hey, that must have been mind-blowing in 2001", and there were things I could look at and say "well, I guess that was acceptable in 2001".

I'll give MGS 2 this: for a stealth game from 2001, it's remarkably forgiving. If I got into trouble, I could always leave the room, or just take a fall and restart at the entrance. Rations and ammo were generously doled out, and the way enemies would stay sleeping if I re-entered a room made getting around way easier. The boss battles were sometimes challenging, but never in a way that felt cheap or insurmountable. As with Metal Gear Solid, the way enemy sight cones are projected on the radar single-handedly avoids the recurring "will this guy be able to see me?" stealth game problem. This game's got issues, but if we're comparing contemporaries, I'd take Metal Gear Solid 2 over Splinter Cell any day.

While I can empathize with the people who didn't like the way Metal Gear Solid 2's story took a turn for the bizarre, goofy, and self-indulgent, I was way into it. And having played Metal Gear Solid very recently, I suspect many have forgotten how goofy a game it was. It was during this cutscene, and more specifically the moment the moment the Army General says the words "La Li Lu Le Lo", that I really got on board with what Kojima was doing. The mind control via transplanted arms, a boss battle with a guy wearing a diving suit and roller skates, that moment where Fortune discovers she has magic powers, and, well, this -- I loved almost all of it.

In a weird way, Metal Gear's surreal mix of pseudo-realistic scenarios and utter insanity is the source of its charm. To complain about the narrative being ridiculous is, in my mind, missing the point. I'm not clear on the extent of Hideo Kojima's self-awareness and self-seriousness, but I don't really care -- I'm just glad he's doing what he's doing.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

I've been playing Animal Crossing on-and-off since its release. I haven't achieved all that much -- I've amassed a pretty good museum collection, built 3 bridges, and got my first house upgrade. I take solace in the idea that while others are playing this game like a sprint, I'm playing it like a marathon. They'll exploit weird beetle spawning glitches to amass huge fortunes, buy everything, min-max their Happy Home Academy scores, and lose interest by the fall, but I'm relatively confident I'll still be checking in come springtime.

I can't help but think the people blowing their way through New Leaf are playing it wrong. If they're enjoying it, all the power to them, but playing this game in a way that boils it down to its raw, often-lame mechanics strikes me as a great way to ruin it for oneself.

Compared to so much of what modern gaming is (for better and for worse), Animal Crossing is a breath of fresh air. It's a simple, happy world where everyone gets along, and everyone's motivations are simple. There's no monumental plot twists, no season passes, no moral choices, no death, and zero irony. I turned on the game yesterday and received a letter from my sporty cat neighbour explaining that my recent visit to his home inspired him to clean up his place. It's a thoroughly pleasant game.

Saints Row: The Third

My no-nonsense, business-casual-wearing lady psychopath.

Saints Row: The Third, like Animal Crossing, is a breath of fresh air compared to much of modern gaming, but in basically every way Animal Crossing isn't.

Yes, the side missions were sloppy, repetitive, and generally not particularly fun (which didn't stop my completionist self from finishing them all); some of this game's humour, especially of the dick/fart/prostitution joke variety, felt unnecessary and rote; and the PS3 framerate would sometimes chug, and occasionally completely fall apart. This game is far from perfect, but it does so much right that I was willing to forgive the wrong.

Almost every aspect of this game (aforementioned mediocre side missions aside) feels like it was designed in a way that thoroughly respects your time and prioritizes fun and choice over chores.

Carjacking epitomizes this. In GTA IV, carjacking was often a slow, sloppy, animation-heavy process; in Saints Row, you hold down L2, press △ anywhere near a car, and your character leaps through the window of the car, putting you in full control of the vehicle in about a second. It may not seem like a big deal, but it was one of many mechanics that kept the game from bogging down.

They kept the city small enough, and the driving nimble and rewarding enough, that the game doesn't suffer from the typical commuting doldrums that plague so many open world games. Sure, they also let you order VTOL jets and helicopters to your location, but getting around was so easy that they felt more fun than practical, especially since (and this illustrates just how much SR3 spoils you), the helicopter and VTOL aren't compatible with the running jump vehicle entry.

The combat design similarly values fun over realism, to a sometimes absurd degree. Saints Row 3 is a game that says "hey, if you want to use these awesome but completely impractical wrestling melee moves, don't sweat it -- we'll give you a bunch of recharging health and make you invulnerable during animations". Saints Row 3 is a game that lets you upgrade your starting pistol to be a dual-wielded, explosive-bullet-shooting, comically-overpowered menace fairly early on. Saints Row 3 is a game that gives you unlimited rockets in precisely the situations you'd want unlimited rockets in. In a lot of ways, I wish they'd gone further -- why not just give me unlimited ammo for all of the basic weapons from the get-go rather than asking me to stop by gun shops, and why enforce a cooldown on the VTOL ordering? As I said before, this game spoils you so much that the parts where it doesn't stand out even more.

I haven't talked about the memorable missions and moments because they've been talked up so much it feels unnecessary to belabour the point. Suffice it to say that the final mission is accompanied by Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero", and it's fucking awesome.

One last thing: having played this game as the the controversy over the caricatured female characters in Dragon's Crown hit its predictable over-wrought hyperbolic climax, I can't help but wonder how Saints Row IV will be received. Because, at least from where I'm coming from, what Dragon's Crown does with respect to the depiction of women is positively tame compared to Saints Row: The Third.

Ridiculously-proportioned, scantily-clad female characters? Check. Human trafficked "hos" being treated as a resource to be stolen and exploited? Check. A "sex appeal" slider on the character selection screen that changes your character's breast size? Check. Strongholds designed and populated like strip clubs? Check. Mini-game where you drive a "ho" around avoiding news cameras while she pleasures a customer in the backseat? Check. Your character saying "oh, you!" after your pimp friend mentions he has sex with his "hos" every night? Check.

This stuff is far from the end of the world. I could do without it it, but I also respect that the game leans so hard into its ridiculousness and parody of "gangster" culture that it's obviously not endorsing everything it depicts. But if game critics are going to go out of their ways to shame and project motives on artists for making art they think someone else could be offended by, it's going to look awfully hypocritical if they turn a blind eye to a game that, taken on face value, probably has a lot more potential to offend and/or alienate. I have a suspicion some critics find it easier to criticize a faceless Japanese company making a relatively niche title than it is to criticize a well-known American company making a sequel to a critical darling nobody wants to feel guilty about having played.

#1 Posted by Slag (3331 posts) -

Hey Grant!

can't say I cared much for MSGS 2 at the time, although it was a pretty funny troll on fans. I didn't mind the wackniess, just that the cutscenes seemed to go on forever. And noticeably felt even longer since half the time I had no idea what any of it meant.

But hey variety, I'm glad MSGS 2 exists if for no other reason than it's different.

re: SR3 vs Dragon's Crown criticism

I haven't played either yet although I've got SR3 in my Steam folder somewhere, so keep that in mind.

I think your position may be ascribing too much credit to critics and not enough to modern PR tactics. To be honest I think DC controversy may have been a curiosity footnote if Kamitani had ignored it instead of responding to Kotaku with his drawing which in a sense "legitimized" the complaint. That made it open season to dump on the game, got into the newscycle and made it go viral. Being a small company they didn't have the means to wrest back control of the narrative around the game.

PR teams at large game Pubs, even the deceased THQ, would never make that kind of mistake. They usually take the opposite tactic which is to try and silence criticism when it's a hot button issue. Either by ignoring it, deflecting or trying to bury it with new info (and occasionally bribery/intimidation). I don't know if people tried to rip on SR3 for the same thing but when someone probably did the response would have been completely different.

The other difference I see is how the depictions work in the settings of the game as well as cultural differences in what is scandalous or not. Everything in SR universe is blatantly ridiculous, while there are exaggerations of everything as well the degree of sexualization in DC it feels a bit more out of place in theme and gameplay. I think it's the bound inter-actable spread eagle shots that really are making people uncomfortable in the West.

You can certainly argue whether that should or should no be less offensive than what's portrayed in Saints Row with Prostitutes, but cultural norms on sexuality are not logical.

The other aspect is expectation of what those settings imply. An urban gangster setting suggests to parents/purchasers that there is almost certainly going to lots of very adult subject in the game. A fantasy setting does not.

to put it another way if which title would more uninformed American parents be concerned about these risks ahead of time?

This one

or this One

I can tell you back in the day, my parents would have let me buy DC years before SR3.

This isn't to say how SR3 depicted women was good at all, I just think it felt more "ok" to westerners because it was in line with their expectations for the game and their cultural norms.

#2 Posted by Video_Game_King (34572 posts) -

I'd say we're polar goddamn opposites on the Metal Gear Solid front, since I never felt that "this is so 2001" thought and got my ass kicked several times in the experience. (Not DSP bad, but I still fucked up more times than I probably should have.)

and, well, this

Fair enough. It was pretty awesome when the subtitles switched to Spanish for no reason.

#3 Posted by Slag (3331 posts) -

@grantheaslip

Don't know if you are familiar with this game, but an interesting acid test might be Senran Kagura: Burst which is releasing soon in the US.

Unlike DC I don't think American audiences will be surprised at all by the content or nearly as upset by it, That series is super upfront about what it's about

from the Creator

http://www.dualshockers.com/2013/08/10/senran-kagura-producer-defends-eroticism-in-his-games-is-sad-because-it-caused-him-trouble/

I have been more or less in the industry for over 10 years and I met people putting certain risqué elements (in their games) while not caring about that kind of content, just because they’ll sell for the time being. I’ve seen people having trouble with ideas nonchalantly including eroticism (in their games). They definitely sold, but it’s a little sad.

Personally I love “action” and “eroticism.” I believe it’s one of the best ways to obtain the perfect combination between gaming experience and pleasure. It should also go one step further.

A teenager’s experiences, sorrow, pain, anger, were all introduced into theSenran Kagura series , which has entirely naughty elements but interestingly plays like a good game. “At any rate, will it only be erotic?” Please try playing it without thinking that. Because it’s surprisingly fun!

If you are going to have cheesecake kind of content in a game I think that's a better way to handle it with American audiences. Then they don't feel deceived and people who don't like that kind of content can easily steer clear of it.

#4 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1346 posts) -

@slag said:

can't say I cared much for MSGS 2 at the time, although it was a pretty funny troll on fans. I didn't mind the wackniess, just that the cutscenes seemed to go on forever. And noticeably felt even longer since half the time I had no idea what any of it meant.

I forgot to mention that the pacing for that game got nuts at the end. The last 1/3 or so of the game is, as I recall, mostly cutscene. I was lukewarm enough on the gameplay (and really, just certain aspects of the controls) that I didn't really mind not having to do a ton of it. While I didn't have a lot of love for Raiden as a character, I knew it was coming, so the whole "WHAT THE FUCK KOJIMA WHERE'S MY SNAKE" thing wasn't a huge deal.

With respect to the sexism stuff, you're of course right that it's somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison. But that said, I think the climate's changed enough over the past year that Saints Row 3 would have run up against a lot more controversy had it been released today, which is what drives my curiosity about how IV is received.

I don't claim to know Kamitani's intentions, but my sense is that his Dragon's Crown art isn't completely intended to be taken at face value. Isn't the art, at least to some degree, referencing an established style and caricaturing to convey character traits? None of that gives him a free pass to get away with anything, but similarly, I don't think Saints Row caricaturing gangsterism gives it a free pass either.

Dragon's Crown is obviously played straighter than Saints Row, but I think there's a tendency when looking at a culture one doesn't understand to assume a lack of self-awareness. It's probably even worse from a PR standpoint that it's a Japanese game, as it's often (and mostly unfairly, I think) considered common knowledge that Japan is a deeply sexist society. A lot of what I've seen written about Dragon's Crown basically implies Kamitani just drew what turns him on, and I'm not convinced that's the case.

@slag said:

@grantheaslip

Don't know if you are familiar with this game, but an interesting acid test might be Senran Kagura: Burst which is releasing soon in the US.

[...] If you are going to have cheesecake kind of content in a game I think that's a better way to handle it with American audiences. Then they don't feel deceived and people who don't like that kind of content can easily steer clear of it.

Looking at that, I'm mostly just surprised it's coming here at all. It's great that digital distribution -- and the way companies like XSEED and Atlus are better able to gauge interest in localized releases -- is letting this kind of stuff get out of Japan. Not sure a game like that is my cup of tea, but it's awesome that it can come over here.

Were American audiences really deceived though? Are there really a non-trivial number of people out there buying Dragon's Crown and getting blindsided by the existence of scantily-clad characters? It can be tough to discern the people directly offended by something and the people offended on behalf of some hypothetical other. I suspect the latter group dwarfs the former.

I'd say we're polar goddamn opposites on the Metal Gear Solid front, since I never felt that "this is so 2001" thought and got my ass kicked several times in the experience. (Not DSP bad, but I still fucked up more times than I probably should have.)

and, well, this

Fair enough. It was pretty awesome when the subtitles switched to Spanish for no reason.

I should say that I'm pretty sure I played it on easy. I was told that MGS 1 and 2 were clunky enough that I should tend toward easier settings and get to 3, at which point the gameplay is more modern.

Sarcasm is hard to detect on the internet, but just to be sure, that video was all in Spanish!

#5 Edited by Video_Game_King (34572 posts) -

I played the game on Normal because that's what I do for all the games I play (except Fire Emblem: Awakening, because I thought it was taunting me with Normal).

Huh? I'm not sure where that's coming from. I've played both 2 and 3 somewhat recently (within the past year), and they both handle very similarly. The only major difference (aside from a completely new gameplay mechanic) is the ability to control the camera, which I didn't find that big a deal, anyway.

Not Campbell. Paul Eiding does not translate.

#6 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1346 posts) -

@video_game_king said:

Huh? I'm not sure where that's coming from. I've played both 2 and 3 somewhat recently (within the past year), and they both handle very similarly. The only major difference (aside from a completely new gameplay mechanic) is the ability to control the camera, which I didn't find that big a deal, anyway.

Huh, I may be misremembering. So MGS 3 doesn't address the short-range clusterfucks and the weird first-person aiming procedures (especially requiring you to equip a weapon to avoid shooting when your sight is up)?

This one may be on me, but I also never came to terms with the sidling controls -- something about the way the viewpoint shifted but the analog controls were still relative to your original position threw me off in a way I never got past.

#7 Edited by Video_Game_King (34572 posts) -

@grantheaslip:

I don't remember those being big issues, so I can't remember any fixes that were made to them.

Yea, those controls were odd, especially when you introduced crouching into the mix. Still, it was a minor thing that I got used to rather quickly.

#8 Posted by Hailinel (22673 posts) -

@video_game_king said:

Huh? I'm not sure where that's coming from. I've played both 2 and 3 somewhat recently (within the past year), and they both handle very similarly. The only major difference (aside from a completely new gameplay mechanic) is the ability to control the camera, which I didn't find that big a deal, anyway.

Huh, I may be misremembering. So MGS 3 doesn't address the short-range clusterfucks and the weird first-person aiming procedures (especially requiring you to equip a weapon to avoid shooting when your sight is up)?

This one may be on me, but I also never came to terms with the sidling controls -- something about the way the viewpoint shifted but the analog controls were still relative to your original position threw me off in a way I never got past.

I never had a problem with these, either. MGS (well, Twin Snakes, at least) and MGS2 both hold up fine for me.

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#9 Edited by Encephalon (1173 posts) -

MGS2, man... that game is probably the most frustrating game in the series for me, but also incredibly ambitious in a way that I really dig. It probably remains the purest distillation of what MGS is, and cemented my opinion of Kojima as a creator that I will always respect, even if I am often very at odds with many of his creative choices. He seems like a guy who wants to do a lot more than simply entertain his audience, even though he often falls short of his goals.

For me, MGS2 is similar to a lot of plot twist-centric games in which the best version of the story is maybe 1 or 2 twists short of the end. For instance, I actually thought the idea of a secret cabal making a play to envelop digital information within their sphere of influence would've made for a fascinating spy fiction novel/film. But then when the Patriots are AIs and there are multiple S3 Plans and all that, I wasn't so hot on that. The part where AI Rose and AI Campbell start lecturing Raiden in the middle of the Solidus fight was probably where I fully checked out of that game. Come to think of it, even in MGS4, I never felt like the series dealt with the AI thing with the thoughtfulness or specificity I wanted, so I was always a bit surly about parts where they played a huge role.

The reason I'm so excited for MGS5 is that it takes place in the past, which partially eliminates what I feel is Kojima's biggest Achilles' Heel as a storyteller--the near-infinite potentiality of speculative technology (the whole "nanomachines" meme, for instance).

#10 Posted by GrantHeaslip (1346 posts) -

@hailinel said:

I never had a problem with these, either. MGS (well, Twin Snakes, at least) and MGS2 both hold up fine for me.

My problems are less about the extent to which it holds up and more the extent to which standards have changed. I think MGS 2 holds up remarkably well considering its gameplay mechanics are mostly identical to a stealth game from 1998. I don't begrudge it for being what it is.

The part where AI Rose and AI Campbell start lecturing Raiden in the middle of the Solidus fight was probably where I fully checked out of that game. Come to think of it, even in MGS4, I never felt like the series dealt with the AI thing with the thoughtfulness or specificity I wanted, so I was always a bit surly about parts where they played a huge role.

I thought that was pretty effective in the sense that everything Raiden lived for was being pulled out from under him at the same time, and at the worst possible time. I wasn't particularly big on Raiden as a character, but accepting him for what he is, the end of that game is a pretty solid conclusion to his arc. I haven't played any of the post-MGS2 games, but I assume that the way his "awakening" involves losing love while Snake's involves gaining it plays into future events?

MGS2, man... that game is probably the most frustrating game in the series for me, but also incredibly ambitious in a way that I really dig. It probably remains the purest distillation of what MGS is, and cemented my opinion of Kojima as a creator that I will always respect, even if I am often very at odds with many of his creative choices. He seems like a guy who wants to do a lot more than simply entertain his audience, even though he often falls short of his goals.

Yeah, even though I don't like everything about the MGS games, there's nothing quite like them, and they've got a ton of heart and ambition. MGS is one of those series that I felt I needed to see for myself, and I'm glad I finally bit the bullet and did it.

#11 Edited by Encephalon (1173 posts) -

@grantheaslip: You absolutely have to play the rest of the main series, assuming you have a PS3. I do believe that MGS4 showcases some of Kojima's worst excesses, but it's absolutely worth seeing if you have any investment in the story. And MGS3 is, obviously, the fucking best.

#12 Posted by joshthebear (2700 posts) -

God, I absolutely love the bat-shit insanity of MGS2. The twists and turns in the last quarter of it are the best and worst qualities of Kojima.

#13 Edited by GrantHeaslip (1346 posts) -

@encephalon said:

@grantheaslip: You absolutely have to play the rest of the main series, assuming you have a PS3. I do believe that MGS4 showcases some of Kojima's worst excesses, but it's absolutely worth seeing if you have any investment in the story. And MGS3 is, obviously, the fucking best.

I've got the HD collection and 4 lined up, so there's no turning back now! I've heard a ton of good things about 3 and 4.

#14 Posted by ArbitraryWater (10987 posts) -

Between the part where MGS2 is a giant middle finger to fans of the first game and a commentary on sequels in general, I sort of love it, having also played it years after the fact. It's not necessarily a great game, but as a purveyor of batshit insanity I think it's pretty unmatched. Snake Eater is a lot better from a gameplay perspective (i.e. Behind the back camera) and has much better boss battles, though it's also less crazy.

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