The Pain: A Journey Through XCOM

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of times playing games (which I'm guessing are most of the people on this site) knows the pain. It may affect some of us more than others but we've all felt it. Being passed in the final seconds in a racing game, resulting in a shameful second place after driving for what felt like an hour. Yelling at your screen after losing to the same annoying boss five times in a row. But I have never felt the pain like I have with XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

According to Steam, I have played XCOM for 16 hours already, the last time a game consumed by time so aggressively I was sitting at home with a part time job. Where as now where I have school and social obligations, but I still find time (usually while I SHOULD be sleeping) to battle the alien scourge. And I don't know if it is the sleep deprivation or the reliance I have on my soldiers but the anger that swells in my soul that occurs when my fully leveled support hits the ground, blood pooling around him, is unmatched.

He's been there from the beginning. 51 kills. He is known as Buster.

Never having played the original XCOM, and only hearing stories, I surmised a few things about the game. One, it was awesome. Two, it was about aliens. And three, it was stinkin' hard. I heard your men will die, having been sniped by little grey men who are off screen. I heard countries will jump ship and you will be without funding with an alien invasion on the horizon. After hearing the tales I thought those people just sucked, I was wrong.

I know, I know. This is the dumbed down, streamlined version that pales in comparison to the difficulty of the original, but the core concepts of chaos still apply. You never have enough resources for all the things you need. There are difficult choices of choosing which countries to help and which ones to leave in the lurch. And as much as you may protect them, hunker them down and move them from cover to cover, your soldiers will die. Often the best ones.

Axle was my fully leveled Field Medic who was a guardian angel for the rest of my men. Pour one out.

It is a feeling that I can't really compare to other moments of video game rage. It is the combination of the time commitment, the reliance you put on those familiar faces, and those damn bagpipes, that makes losing one of your men so heartbreaking. I have been playing without reloading, I have kept multiple saves with the thought of going back after something bad happened, but I never have. Only having reloading a save when I literally couldn't have made it through with the two rookies that I had left. And I encourage all to play this way. War is hell, and you must live with the pain. I also encourage you to play with a shot glass and a bottle of whiskey next to you. So go forth bombers, continue the good fight against the alien scourge. Know that men will fall, countries will flee, but when all seems bleak, alt tab and play some Saints Row The Third.

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Vindication

After reading and watching GOTY coverage from the crew, and after reading the shit storm in the comments that inevitably followed , I was just wondering what it is that gets people really mad? Specifically with personal Top 10 lists.

Everyone has not only favorite games, but favorite STYLES of games, so is it any surprise that other people may not agree with you? Drew had a God damned FLIGHT SIM on his top ten! A game I had not even heard of before his top 10 video came out. But if you follow the site you would know that this isn't a strange thing, the strange part is that there weren't more obscure games from across the pond on his list. So why is it that people take these things so personally when it is quite obvious that not everyone is going to think your favorite block pulling/adultery simulator is the greatest thing to happen all year.

Personally I thought Renegade Ops was my favorite game all year, as it was the one where I was never actively pissed off while playing it. When I play games I take them seriously, not in the 'games are art' way, but in a 'when I cant do something that I need to do to progress I get mad' way. So I judge a game's value by how much time I am spending having fun versus how much time I am spending banging my head against a wall because I am doing something I don't want too (grinding levels, retrying an annoying part of a level, long/boring dialog, ect). And not everyone is going to judge games this way, so our favorite games are more likely to be different.

I realize video games play a large role in people's lives. Some of my earliest memories are playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario with my dad, so of course video games are a personal thing. But I don't think people should take these lists as a personal attack. It just really irks me seeing flame wars happening in the comments when these lists are to celebrate these games, they are not there to shit on the rest.

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The Modern Conundrum: Playing A Game

I have a piece of shocking news for everyone out there, a lot of games that are either spiritual or narrative successors to critically aclaimed games came out this year. And after reading some well crafted critiques, and a boat load of message board shit slinging about how underwhelming these games have been I thought I would try my best to write a retort defending these games and voice my concern with enjoying games in general, and I will try my best to be completely sincere and keep it free of cynicism (please excuse the sarcasm in that first sentence).

My first issue with most dissing of these games is how we look at games, and new media in general, comparisons. More specifically the double standards when making these comparisons, let's look at Uncharted 3 for example. There has been concern shared that this game is more like Uncharted 2.1 instead of 3, people pointing out old gameplay techniques and uses of set pieces similar to the ones seen in the previous game. Are you jumping ledge to ledge, are you ducking behind cover and shooting at thugs when you get a chance, are you giggling at a quip from Drake? Yes? I've seen these things being painted as a con because they are starting to feel stale. But imagine if you will you have never heard a joke before in your life and then some one told you a knock-knock joke about bananas. That shit would seem hilarious. I realize that this is an extreme case, and I am not implying that Uncharted is the videogame equivalent of a knock-knock joke, I just believe that people should consider that this may be someones first experience with this franchise and telling them they shouldn't play it because its been done before may be misguided since they haven't had the pleasure of experiencing Drake's adventures before.

In another sequel I have thoroughly enojyed this year, Batman Arkham City, I was disappointed seeing it receiving similar critiques. Is this game Arkham Asylum but with a somewhat open world environment attached to it, sure. Is the hand to hand combat largely the same but with some minor tweaks, sure. Do the stealth portions boil down to waiting for one thug to be by himself, taking him out then hiding, you know it brother. But guess what, that shit is fun. Why does this game receive negative buzz, when sports games can rehash exact same gameplay year after year. I know there have been innovations, one of the most important being the switch from mostly button control to the more analog feel of thumbstick controls. But that is not talking about, I'm referring to the actual game. I'm talking about dribbling a ball from one side of the court to the other and then putting it in the basket. People would argue that drastically changing fundamental play to a sports franchise would hurt a franchise, is this not the same with action or shooter games? When Activision publishes a game in which you shoot computer-controlled-computer-men for five hours or human-controlled-computer-men for upwards of 100 hours (for some people at least) people roll their eyes. But when this years version of throwing a ball down a field comes out people accept the same gameplay formula, and instead focus on the controls or the games auxiliary features.

Batman is not a fan of sleeveless hoodies

So with so much negativity being addressed to the larger games coming out recently I can't help but think that the advertising departments may be at more to blame than the people making these games. Expectation seems to be one of the largest factors in disappointment from what I've been reading, and while that is partially someone's own fault for hyping up a product in their own head, the level to which games are being marketed, and how for that matter, is a huge issue. I am a fan of GTA, but when a press release was announced stating that a trailer would be announced for GTA V a week after, my anticipation started to build. A week later when a very aesthetically pleasing video was released not really explaining anything about the game, I was pretty let down. I felt that by putting up a countdown clock that this was going to be huge, like the second coming of CJ. I, along with many others, was grossed out by how slandering the Battlefield ads where, fueling stupid feuds between different player bases. A game without advertising is most likely not going to sell as well as one with a whole lot, but there is a level to which your going to see diminishing returns.

With all that being said, how do I suggest you look at games? I agree, it's hard to look at a game and not think, 'Wow, this other game did this way better'. But reading message board chatter I see alot of people talking about games as if they were reviewing them, and not just playing them. When I was younger the act of playing a new game was so exiting that I wasn't thinking how Mario Party 3 compared to the last one, I was figuring out which mini games I liked and which ones I wanted to avoid. Playing Windwaker I was more concerned with battling horrific creatures, not how Ocarina of Time was arguably more compelling. Now that I'm older and I'm becoming for cynical and money has more value than before, getting a good value out of a game is important, but when you are more concerned with making sure a game is making drastic enough changes to old gameplay techniques or the story doesn't rehash some elements of previous games, you may be missing something legitimately awesome happening right in front of you. Now if you will excuse me I have to go preload Skyrim, though I hear that game continues to have swords in it, how cliche.

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