Magic Johnson has a cure for Hell's AIDS (A Review)

Shadows of the Damned is an important game. Sure, it features fantastically tight gameplay, an eccentric and entertaining series of key characters, and a soundtrack you’d be more than happy to buy on iTunes for ten or more dollars, but there’s something a lot more important going on here. What this game represents is the near-perfect collaboration of two men to whom Japanese gaming owes a reasonable debt.

The first man is  Goichi  Suda (more famously known as  Suda 51), the eccentric and arguably visionary game designer who brought us  Killer7, and Wii cult hit, No More Heroes. Followers of his work, and he has a few, will tell you that the ace in the  Suda pack is a wildly vivid, exciting imagination. The more honest of those followers, however, will also admit that this creativity often comes at the detriment of solid, or just downright enjoyable gameplay. For every fantastic idea that creeps into  Suda  51′s rainbow-colored brain, there’s an element of functional game design screaming out from the distance with muffled pleas for consideration. All too often that voice is stifled, and tapers to a whisper.

Step to the forefront, then, the second half of Shadows‘ dynamic duo, Shinji  Mikami. Not quite as famed a name in quasi-casual gaming circles as  Suda 51 may be (perhaps because his name isn’t quite as alpha-numerical), Mikami is no slouch, having been the driving creative force behind just about every Resident Evil game since the series debuted in ’96. What the godfather of survival horror brings to the feast, in his many years of experience directing triple-A titles, is a technical  ying to  Suda’s creative yang.  Mikami becomes the megaphone thrown towards that whispered voice in the back of  Suda’s brain, projecting at great velocity the kind of veteran guidance that shapes  Suda’s brain farts into neat sprays of designer cologne.

I’ll happily shine over the symbiotic relationship these two masterminds share in Shadows for the rest of the article, but that would be missing the case and point here: the game itself. Shadows of the Damned stars Garcia (Fucking)  Hotspur, a Latin demon slayer with more body art than Tommy Lee. His girl is kidnapped by the lord of hell, and made to experience death on repeat.  Hotspur’s mission is to set her free from this grim cycle of suffering by fighting his way through hell and sticking it to the high ruler of down below. This journey is broken up into acts, each act representing some sort of world, or phase of hell. These sections are consistently different, and you’re unlikely to find any two that seem cut from the same stencil, with the game throwing up anything from puzzle stages, to tower  defence, even side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups are represented here. It becomes crystal clear within an hour’s play that the team behind Shadows absolutely adored this project, each act being a true  labour of love.

These stages revel in their depravity, and the game has no interest in apologizing for the imagery it displays. For instance, I had to double-take on a string of babies overhead, each one hanging from a noose. Fully animated, they kick out arms and legs as you pass them by. It took more scrupulous inspection to determine that they were in fact dolls, not infants, but the impact that visual has still carried an abundant measure of weight. Remember, people: this is hell. Damnation and hellfire are not the only points of interest throughout your stay, you’re going to encounter some gruesome things, half of which will revolve around your girlfriend as she’s torn in two, exploded, decapitated (multiple times), and feasted upon.

For all  Suda  51′s demands to horrify and unsettle, at no point do we reach a level of excess. From the very beginning,Shadows paints a pretty clear picture of its intent. This could very easily have been a horror title, were it not for the tone of protagonist Garcia, and his glowing, bejeweled sidekick, Johnson. It wants to be sick, twisted fun.  Humour plays a large part in this adventure, and while it’s abundantly crass and juvenile, the funnies deliver with such a loveably cheeky wink and nod that you can’t help but raise a wry smile. If Duke  Nukem Forever’s poor and uncomfortable  forray into potty  humour (rape jokes? seriously?) cast a doubt over whether that content has had its day, Shadows makes us believe once again – our collective inner-13-year old breathes a relieved sigh.

One thing thankfully deceptive in its maturity is the gameplay, as  Mikami steps to the forefront of this process and applies a tighter version of the controls used in Resident Evil 4. It’s a control scheme that seems specifically crafted for interaction with multiple enemies at once, giving you a button dedicated to a 180-degree turn, and an evasive roll that grants you escape from the very tightest of hellish (sorry!) situations. The latter offers something of an invincibility hack, actually, as enemies cannot make contact with you mid-roll, no matter how close to them you may be. I can see this being a justified grumble from the more hardcore crowd, but I personally found it a God send – it levels out overwhelming battles and affords you opportunities to restore health or reload  weaponary.

I’ve gushed, but Shadows is not a flawless game. There’s the rare issue of screen  trearing, or collision detection which could render you stuck in an invisible gap, unable to progress. This is not a  gamebreaker, mind you, and happens once or twice, if ever. What’s important about Shadows is that it has very reasonable aims, and it hits them with the kind of style and attention to detail that you wont find in even the finest triple-A titles this year. It wants to be the kind of game you can pick up whatever mood you’re in, and just have a blast with. It wants to access that dumb  fuckin’ kid in you, the one that existed before you started watching comedies by Christopher Guest or reading Chekhov, and let you know that it’s alright for that kid to breath every so often. Who’d have thought it’d be the darkly depths of hell teaching us all to lighten up, eh,  pandejo!

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An Englishman in NBA2K11 

I just committed a backcourt violation, and I have no idea what the fuck that is, or how I made it happen. The only things I see even remotely close to the backs of the court are the mascots, and I’m curious how either one of these hyperactive furries infringed on my ballgame.

The opposition are beating my shit like I’m missing payments, and for one shining minute I find myself with the ball. I decide to be real relaxed about my approach, and pass the ball around the D about 273 times. I’m looking for that finesse move, like a somersault slam dunk or some shit, but nothing presents itself. Suddenly a clock shows, and apparently I have a limited amount of time to shoot the ball. Panicked, I shoot a turd from the 3-point line which bounces twice off the rim and into enemy possession. Some tall drink of a motherfucker by the name of Dwight Howard jumps about 17 feet and dunks the ball onto my forehead. I shut down my XBOX 360 and sit in the dark for a few moments. People in the next room think they hear me sobbing, but they’re probably full of shit.


Thinking Vertically in Uncharted 3 Beta  

Be it by astute opportunity ceasing, or merely fantastic coincidence, Naughty Dog have brought a multiplayer beta for Uncharted 3 to the Playstation Plus section of PSN. What was initially an exclusive extension of the PS3′s online experience (for anyone willing to put up the $50), Playstation Plus was opened up to the gaming masses on a free, 30-day trial basis as part of a coo to convince us all we could, and should, trust Sony again. The exchange pretty much rendered us a helpless spouse in an abusive relationship, only, instead of flowers we were given games we already had as symbols of reconciliation. It’s alright though, we know Sony will change. It loves us.

The Playstation Plus service itself is somewhat akin to a V.I.P. lounge at an airport, only that velvet rope that usually seperates executives from commoners has been removed and now we all get to put tiny Plus signs in the top corners of our avatars. For the time being, at least. Another apparent perk for all us peasants suddenly riding in business class is a wealth of less than desirable freebies and goodies, the kind that appear novel on first glance, but we’ll ultimately want to discard at the nearest trash can. All in all we get the sense that that green, green grass on the other side doesn’t quite have that glow we caught from afar. We remain free of any potential buyer’s remorse, mind you, and all it really took was a month of downtime, and the pre-emptive cancellation of all our credit cards. Simple, really. Anyway, I digress. This is not a critique of the PSN service – just attempting to play a game co-operatively with one of your buddies is critique enough.

Uncharted 3′s multiplayer introduces us to the wonders in store for online bromancers worldwide come the game’s November release, and, to its credit, it’s giving them a thing or two to chest bump about, the starkest of qualities those Naughty Dogs are bringing to battle is verticality. Stepping into the beta had me treating the experience with the same attention and method I might apply to Call of Duty or Battlefield, and I cannot decipher the cognitive psychology behind it, but overcoming that horizontal interpretation of the way the land lay became something of a revelation. Rather than thinking across the map, as your standard online FPS would have you do, I was beginning to look to the skies and think upwards. Buildings were no longer bastard obstacles I needed to find doors to access, instead I could just scramble up the side of a building and through an open window like Peter Parker-turned-sex pest, or that Dawson from the Creek. Such freedom creates the potential for some genuine edge of your seat (or building) face-offs, with opposition players actually zip-wiring into gunfights at points.

I gush, but the multiplayer has its niggles. For instance, attaching to cover can be a little hit or miss, and at some very awkward and fatal moments. Occasionally instead of actually backing up to a wall I will engage in a rather spastic routine of squats, and end up with a shell to the face for my troubles. Also, melee attacks at close proximity could do with a shot in the arm, something more to the effect of COD or BF where in most instances they’re fatal, rather than being an invitation to the opposition to do the gun dance for a few seconds. My final gripe is, very simply, that I’d prefer tighter movements from the player you control, but perhaps this is configurable from a menu option somewhere (in the same sense that a PC gamer can adjust mouse sensitivity).

Naughty Dog are sitting on quite a robust multiplayer here, and it’s still only in beta. Levelling up and active, public progression in the online arena is currently the soup du jour when crafting an addictive, compelling experience, and with its reward system constantly gratifying co-operative players it all adds up to a motherbeast that could well be holding multiplayer company with Modern Warfare 2 and Battlefield 3 come Christmas time.


Conversations with Gordon Freeman


I find it incomprehensible that there are some lead video game characters who hardly utter a word in the 8 or so hours of your average gaming time, examning a day to day exchange between Gordon Freeman, and Alex from Half Life 2

I've Started Talking Some Gaming Bullshit

It's been a long time, eh? Too long really. That is why I've decided to get back into the swing of expressing my gaming views and experiences, only this time, instead of using the written word to do so, I'm exposing all you unfortunate people to my face (and the harsh, dribbled mumblings of my lazy voice).

Without further ado my Youtube channel, Gaming Bullshit:

And my first, introductory video (I promise they'll get better!):


Cahiers du Gaming 01

I've decided to begin doing a little feature within this blog that highlights the connections and relationships that occur betwen cinema and video gaming, and with any luck I'll be able to shed a little added light on the importance of film to gaming, and almost certainly vice versa.

You may be wandering why the name of this blog has been painted all French and what not. It's a reference to the film journal Cahiers du Cinema, an important, Paris-based publication whose writers revolutionized the way the world watched and interpreted cinema. Now, by no stretch of my feeble little imagination do I have the same aspirations for these articles, especially from my humble, rarely traversed corner of the blogosphere. But mostly I just feel it's enlightening for the few of you who do read this to be able to add that dash of supplementary spice to your already stellar enthusiasm for this great entertainment medium.

In this debut write-up I wanted to discuss the subject of the games journalist-turned-developer epidemic that's sweeping gaming (of course, I use the term "epidemic" some what loosely.) I'd been observing the news as names from the journalistic loop quietly evaporated, only to re-appear as condensation hugging the windows of development studios from coast to coast. My interest peaked when my favourite gaming commentator and personality, a bright, young dynamo by the name of Shawn Elliott , left to become a part of 2K Boston . While I was sad to see Shawn go it felt as if his exit was entirely justified by his destination as he would be joining the team who created BioShock , a game I believe was the best of an impressive 2008 line-up. It is, in my humble opinion, a mind-bending marriage of creative talent.

Somewhere around the late 1950s two notable film critics, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard , writers for the afformentioned Cahiers du Cinema, set about creating their own little pieces of cinema. Armed with an enthusiasm for mainstream, Hollywood film and the influence of Italian neorealist movies and surrealist art , they debuted their projects to the world. Truffaut was the first with The 400 Blows , and Godard followed him a year later with Breathless . The impact of these two projects, both low in a budget and high on concept, tore the established acceptance of cinema to shreds. These films, among others from the Nouvelle Vague film movement, went on to teach and inspire the likes of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Robert Altman.

With critical names effecting the video game industry in more and more influential ways, names from the gaming press who are steadily being granted higher positions of power, it is not beyond comprehension to consider that these people couldn't apply their own observations and understandings of game development. And I mean this way beyond any kind of position of consultation, these men and women plucked from journalism could one day be granted the opportunity to redfine gaming. Of course it's highly subjective, and there were very likely as many Uwe Bolls as there were Christopher Nolan's back in 1950s France, but the right minds with the right ideas, being vacummed into an industry they spent so very long observing could just well serve to change the standards we've come to accept from video game development.

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