Starting 2014 with Yakuza 4

A long time ago a friend of mine sat me down to show a little bit of Yakuza 4. I only remember this really long scene of a man talking to a woman in a trench coat who wanted a huge loan in the form of millions of yen. Past that there was a little running around in a nice looking depiction of the streets of Tokyo and a fight with some dumb thugs. It seemed okay.

I was half paying attention at the time because there were other things I was more interested in (and I didn't own a PS3 at the time) but with the dawn of 2014 and the slow launch of new consoles with games that don't interest me, I decided to follow up on some old recommendations. And man am I sorry I didn't get this sooner. Yakuza 4 is just the game I've been looking for. It's got the right amount of seriousness, wacky personality and flashy action.

And the game is an action RPG set in modern times if you can believe it.

Yakuza 4: The Great Japanese Crime Soap Opera

This is the fourth entry in a long running series about Japanese organized crime syndicates known as the Yakuza. These games are not about saving the world or even Japan, which is surprising considering this is an action RPG. No, they're about modern crime stories where the main characters are caught up in a lot of Yakuza politics as people and forces make grabs for power inside and outside different crime families with all the illegal nonsense that entails. The first three games follow Kazuma Kiryu, aka the Dragon of Dojima, as he tries to go straight without letting the Tojo Clan that raised him fall apart because of his personal honor and dedication to family and other idealized stuff.

Like any good mafia/organized crime story, he can never stay away for long as people and forces are always drawing him back in.

Yakzua 4 has a distinction from the previous entries as it features four playable characters including Kiryu, and not all of them are wrapped up with the Yakuza. One of my favorite things in video games is when you have multiple playable characters with different views. Anytime you have stories that aren't related to each other that eventually intersect is great. Bonus points if they're always brushing up against the main plot that eventually draws them in. And this game has a great cast from the shady moneylender Shun Akiyama, the gorilla-like hitman Taiga Saejima, the beat cop who bends the rules Masayoshi Tanimura, and the Dragon of Dojima Kazuma Kiryu.

And if you're the type to keep up on Japanese narratives, you can rest at ease knowing the plots of these games are always entertainingly ludicrous and convoluted. People kill, get killed, plot, take bullets for others, scheme, lie, conspire, rip their shirts off for dramatic fights, and fake their deaths at such regular intervals that it wraps around to the point of being really entertaining and sometimes dumb. And the characters always take it really seriously.

This is basically a soap opera. Make no mistake about it.

Level Up For the Truth!

The main thing (at least for me) is how the Yakuza games are basically RPGs set in modern day. There are random encounters, experience points, skill points, moves to learn, gear to equip, weapons to modify, money to earn, jobs to manage, but all in the setting of a fictional district in Tokyo. You shop at convenience stores, meet shady weapons dealers in back alleys, and train on rooftops or in the basements of dojos. It's a really well done slice of a city with product placement and advertisements out the ass. But it's the kind of stuff you'd expect in a major city. It's really smart product placement. If you visit a bar, you can buy Jack Daniels Whiskey or Skyy Vodka. And if you're way too hammered, you can buy some Boss Coffee to freshen up. There's also Club Sega and Don Quixote discount stores.

The combat however, is in real time with combos involving light and heavy attacks. Special attacks often involve situational moves like if you're up against rails or walls, or if the enemy is flat on the ground or near one or more of their hapless friends. There are lots of cool and really brutal looking attacks in this game since 99% of it focuses on hand-to-hand combat. Considering how gun control is Japan is really strict (much like how it's treated in Sleeping Dogs' take on Hong Kong) guns are hard to come by and often really expensive. Shooting is kind of awkward, but often packs a real punch. But I found it way more fun to beat up on dudes and kick them around with flashy special attacks. Like I said before, some of them are really savage looking and great to use on dumb punks.

There's lots of other stuff, but I found all of it really fun. This is the kind of game where random fights are where you can play around, but the boss fights are always there to make sure you know how to play the game for real. The boss fights in this game are no joke, you'd better know how to dodge and block.

Fearsome Foursome

Out of the four characters, there only one I don't like playing as mostly because I can't do any of his moves and get beat up on by everyone. But I'll do a quick rundown to cover all of them.

Shun Akiyama - The Lifeline of Kamurocho

No Caption Provided

Akiyama is the first and easily my favorite character of the bunch. He's a guy who doesn't really have to worry about money. Apparently he has so much money that he's willing to lend it without collateral or interest. All you have to do is take one of his weird tests and you're good to go. In a fight he likes to kick people stupid with a funky style somewhere between taekwondo, capoeira, and Chun Li. It's a lot of kicking, and he's got one fantastic special attack where he kind of launches himself into a group of three enemies and kind of spin kicks them all in the face. I have a hard time describing that one, but it's fantastic.

His story is kind of slow in the grand scheme of things, but he sets the stage as it were, as you acquaint yourself with the city and hang out with a mysterious lady who needs tons of money for a reason she doesn't want to tell you. Mr. A also has a great secretary known as Hana. She's pretty awesome.

Taiga Saejima - A Gorilla in Disguise (his actual title is more like Legendary Hitman)

Saejima doesn't have enough arms for six guns, but he gets by just fine
Saejima doesn't have enough arms for six guns, but he gets by just fine

Saejima is my least favorite character... but only because I can't play him worth a damn. I like his story, and his general character, but when it comes to combat I'm so terrible with him that I barely have any fun. He's super slow compared to Akiyama and a huge target since he's like six feet tall. Enemies are always slapping me in the back of the head when I'm trying to attack and I get comboed to hell and back. Saejima is also blessed with the hardest boss fight in the game in his second chapter where you're supposed to fight and win against the protagonist from the first three games. The boss fight is so hard, I thought I was supposed to lose, but no.

It's even worse because I have no idea how to do his awesome sounding special moves like a Bell Ringer (where he uses an enemy like a battering ram and charges them into the wall) or the Flying Clothesline (where he hits an enemy so hard with his arm they spin into the air) and other cool things. Saejima is just so frustrating, I wish I could play him better.

Masayoshi Tanimura - The Parasite of Kamurocho

No Caption Provided

Tanimura is a beat cop detective who loves to gamble and generally ignore his patrols. He's the kind of guy who is only interested in his personal definition of justice. Bribes and understandings with businesses that employ illegal aliens (from southeast Asia) is perfectly okay as long as they don't piss him off. He's probably my second favorite as he has tons of sweet grabs and throws in the vein of Akido and Judo. His life bar is teeny tiny, but he's got parries that can intercept all kinds of incoming attacks and brush off enemies no problem. His moves are pretty easy to pull off and really fun to watch as he breaks arms and leg drops all sorts of thugs.

His section is where the plot starts to pick up. This is the part of the game where I really had to resist trying to power through it just because I wanted to know the story. Some of his side missions are pretty good, and I really wanted to try and learn all of his special moves. He can even slap hand cuffs on weak dudes to just take them out of a fight early on. Fun stuff.

Kazuma Kiryu - The Dragon of Dojima

No Caption Provided

Kiryu is great. He has like a hundred moves (not literally, but it feels like it) carried over from the first game in the series and is the kind of guy who gets to the bottom of things. But since he doesn't know the other characters there are plenty of scenes to play on misunderstandings as things come together. The man has a reputation as the Dragon of Dojima and lots of other characters treat it appropriately. The guy is a force to be reckoned with armed or unarmed.

At the same time, there's tons of funny scenes with random battles as clueless gangsters run up to you and try to start a fight with the main protagonist of the Yakuza series. And you just smash all of them. What's also nice is that he doesn't have a problem with guns, so if you want to bring a machine gun or shotgun to the final boss, that's perfectly okay. Great fun with Kiryu.

And Plenty of Wackiness Along the Way

While the story is taken really seriously and treated as such by all the major characters, the substories (sidequests) can often be really stupid and fun with all the Japanese strangeness you might expect from that corner of the world. One of the characters may find himself hunting down Kappa in the middle of modern day Tokyo. Or another might accept training from a guy who kinda looks like Sergeant Slaughter that uses a non-lethal machine gun. Another quest has you fist fight with a dude who almost looks exactly like the Joker from Batman. This isn't even taking into account all the side actives like batting cages, pachinko, hostess clubs and hostess training, fishing, mahjong, blackjack, running a dojo, sexy table tennis, and more.

Like any good RPG these days, Yakuza 4 is packed with all kinds of nonsense. Not all of it is as polished as the next, but it's there if you want to play around with it. Recently, I've found myself wanting more personal or focused stories as opposed to fighting for the fate of the world/galaxy/universe. And Yakuza 4 was right up my alley. I've had a fantastic time with this game, and now I finally feel the pain of everyone who wants Yakzua 5 localized for North America.


How I Made My Fun with 10 Cars: Grand Theft Auto Online

So I played way, way, way too much Grand Theft Auto Online. I would say it's okay for the most part. It still has a lot of problems (and even some new ones) that plague the series. Like most things, it's probably more fun with friends or other likeminded folk. But for me as a guy running solo with no crew affiliations, I had to make my own fun with this game. And the most fun I had was collecting cars and slapping bulletproof tires and turbo charging the shit out of them.

How I Made My Fun with 10 Cars

The missions are pretty lukewarm and incredibly hard, often asking you to pull off ridiculous shit with little to no payoff so I guess it's no surprise no one wants to play them. Races have devolved to Criminal Records and Down the Drain with Super cars and absolutely nothing else. There seems to be only one Survival map that happens to be Scrapyard. And I think I've only seen one session where one other guy actually wanted to play Skydiving. Oh, and I played one game of Tennis that didn't increase my strength stat like in the single player.

However, collecting cool vehicles kept me coming back for some reason. Making my own personal list of hot cars and cool vehicles was really appealing, so I figured I would share my madness.

Collecting Cars and the Import/Export Garage Love Story

One of my favorite things from the Grand Theft Auto series was the Import/Export garage. I found a lot of fun in tracking down cars from a list and delivering them to a dock or hangar. It gave me a reason to pay attention to the road and get out of my vehicle to make a daring theft or harass some unlucky motorist. I was really disappointed when this was nowhere to be found in the single player of GTAV. However, they sort of brought it back for the Online with Simeon and his car theft list. The other 99.9 percent of players don't seem to share my love, so it's one of the few things I can do without constant interruption/murder.

The major catch about this would be that the vehicle list is super limited and seems to be the same two groups of cars every single time. I must have stolen a million Mammoth Patriots and Schyster Fusilades. It's a damn shame they can't make it interesting and ask for like a Cop Car or a BF Injection or something. There must be hundreds of vehicles in this game and they only pull from a list of ten. I suppose maybe they were thinking ahead and realized how terrible their vehicle spawns are in online. Where the entire world only uses four of five cars to fill the road, sometimes making Simeon's car list damn near impossible to fulfill.

Who wants a Benefactor Dubsta? Text me if you're interested! Great prices!
Who wants a Benefactor Dubsta? Text me if you're interested! Great prices!

So that's when I decided to make my own car list. I stopped caring about the guns. I didn't care about the shootouts. I forgot the bounties and gaudy Super cars everyone seems to be in love with. I bought a ten car garage and set out to fill it with the stuff I cared about. I recently bought my tenth car, and I'm feeling like I've actually gotten something done in GTA Online.

Sarumarine's Showroom: My 10 Cars

Every car has a story. Especially in this game when people seem to want to kill you just 'cause it's something to do. Sometimes getting one of these personal beauties was a real pain in the ass. But it's worth it. And every single one of them has bulletproof tires so you can't stop me when I'm crusin'. That's what Sticky Bombs are for.

Bravado Duneloader

I love this rickety-ass truck
I love this rickety-ass truck

The Bravado Duneloader (without junk in the back) is without a doubt, the hardest fucking vehicle to find out of the whole list. It was especially infuriating when these would spawn in a mission where I couldn't take it to my garage. But I love the way this thing looks. I gave it a silver paint job, a turbo engine, and bulletproof tires so I can roll all over the Grand Senora Desert even someone takes shots at me.

Ubermacht Oracle

My fake government vehicle has the best black paint job ever
My fake government vehicle has the best black paint job ever

I really wanted an FIB Buffalo or Unmarked Cruiser because I've always admired the pure black government agency vehicles in Grand Theft Auto- but since you can't store Emergency vehicles in your garage, I decided to make a fake one. It also has four doors, which was helpful in a handful of missions when there was three other people to climb in. I tinted the windows black so I can always feel like I'm up to no good. It's also low-key at the same time, so when I park it at the heliport no one messes with it.

BF Injection

Best vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. Sarumarine approved!
Best vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. Sarumarine approved!

This is my all-time favorite vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. The BF Injection is so damn cool- that's why it was an amazing pain to find up near Sandy Shores. The game was being a real asshole by spawning nothing but Benefactor Dubstas for actual days when I really wanted a damn dune buggy. This black-and-copper Injection was my personal vehicle for the majority of my time online. Love it to death. I've rode through hell and high water in this thing and nothing but respect for it. Now if only more people would run Off-Road races so I can unlock more upgrades for it...

Bravado Gauntlet

Everyone needs a white car
Everyone needs a white car

I didn't drive this much, but I love the look at it. I didn't even have to mess with the white and red paint job. I took it right off the street and it was good to go with no problem at all. I gave it bulletproof tires just incase but never got around to turbo charging it.

Declasse Sabre Turbo

For all your muscle car needs
For all your muscle car needs

I spent most of my time with this muscle car. I've always loved the Sabre Turbo. I could recognize the back end of this car anywhere. I mean... you know. Luckily finding a Sabre Turbo is like trying to find dirt. It's literally EVERYWHERE and spawns in the tens of thousands. If you can't find a Sabre Turbo, I don't know if I believe you.

Canis Mesa Off-road

I only had to kill two players and four mercenaries (I hired) to get it
I only had to kill two players and four mercenaries (I hired) to get it

The Canis Mesa Off-road, or the Merryweather Jeep, was the vehicle I had to spill the most blood to get. First I had to pay 7500 dollars to get four mercenaries to attack a random player so it would spawn on the map. Then I had to kill the player I attacked with Merryweather when they tried to get in the jeep. And even when I managed to get away, I ran into another player heading back to my garage where they killed me and stole it. I thought it was gone for sure, but I shot out two tires and the guy who took it from me lost interest. I then drove it back to my garage riding rims praying and hoping no one else would try to kill me before I could get a tracker and insure it.

But man, what a beauty. Totally worth it. I gave it the color I use for races. Creek Brown.

BF Surfer

Now I can hang ten at five miles an hour!
Now I can hang ten at five miles an hour!

I really love the way the BF Surfer van is based off the VW Bus. Unfortunately, that's about all I like about it. This thing moves at 5 miles an hour and is a really big target in the trigger happy world of GTA Online. It's not hard to find a rusty beater version of this van, but I lucked out and found a pristine clean version on a coast near a lighthouse in the east. When I was driving it back, I managed to get a 1000 dollar bounty on me which made the slow ride back tense as hell. Lucky for me, no one felt like going out of their way to collect on me.

Declasse Tornado

*Plays garage theme from Saints Row the Third*
*Plays garage theme from Saints Row the Third*

I really wanted a purple car for some reason so I made it a Declasse Tornado. Of course as soon as I realized that, all the Tornado spawns dried up and I had to really look for this car instead of stumbling over it. That's pretty much GTA Online's car spawn in a nutshell. Feast or famine. Either way, this is probably my favorite showcase vehicle. Bonus points for being a convertible. It's slow, even after a turbo charge, but it sure looks great! White tires are the best.

Pagassi Vacca

Hey! A super car! I can almost picture Criminal Records and Down the Drain already!
Hey! A super car! I can almost picture Criminal Records and Down the Drain already!

As much as I've grown to hate Super cars from the stale Races in GTAO, I figured I would at least buy one. I like the Vacca mostly for how it handles rather than how it looks. After I bought it, I took it out to buy bulletproof tires and was almost immediately killed by a guy near my apartment. He really, really wanted to destroy this thing for some reason. Luckily, even with a busted tire, I managed to escape and get to a mod shop. I guess I can understand that guy's distain for Super cars. Unfortunately, this one is mine.

Bravado Banshee

Best friends forever!
Best friends forever!

The tenth and final vehicle makes me feel like I've come full circle with the Grand Theft Auto series. Probably my favorite car from Grand Theft Auto III (the first game in the series I played) was the Banshee. You could find it on the first island and then whenever you felt like it on the second island. I didn't know you could even buy it for the longest time considering it's so far down the list on Legendary Motorsports page. But now that I have one in a cool green paint scheme, I don't know what else I can do with GTA Online.

I wish they would have let you put more types of vehicles in your garage like the FIB Granger or the Romero Hearse. I've always loved stealing the unique or gimmick vehicles like in Vice City and San Andreas. But for now, I think I've gotten everything I've wanted.


Three Helpings of BioShock from the Sea to the Sky

Having just completed BioShock Infinite, I thought I would sort my thoughts in a blog post regarding the three games. I think they're all good, but there are things each one does better than the others. I figured sorting them would be a good way to reflect, but I have to admit this will probably end up being a blog entry about splitting hairs.

As mostly solid experiences, the things that make or break them when compared to each other are sometimes small touches that no one but me probably care about. So, your mileage may vary.

WARNING: Tons of spoilers for all three BioShock games. So if that kind of thing bothers you, watch out!


In terms of these three games, I think the original BioShock is a nice introduction that lays a lot of groundwork. You know, making a solid first impression. It's a much slower game than the others, focusing more on atmosphere rather than effortless first person shooting. It has more in common with horror games with somewhat awkward dynamic of switching between guns and plasmids before using each. However, Rapture is a cool place and exploring the city under the sea was a lot of fun. It was also cool to prepare and pick fights with Big Daddies at your own leisure, get that delicious ADAM, and buy cooler stuff.

A few things that bother me from this game are more like itches. A lot of the (almost) sane people you meet and talk to don't have their own character models. They're just enemy splicer models repurposed and put at a distance or in shadow. Only Andrew Ryan, Sander Cohen, and juiced up Fontaine have unique models. The others are just versions like Nitro Splicers (for Peach Wilkins) or random female models (for Tannenbaum and Langford). I don't know why that bothers me so much, but when their dialogue is so well fleshed out I guess it would be nice to have a face to match up in the game.

BioShock 2

BioShock 2 is easily my favorite game of the bunch. I know it's the black sheep of the three, spawning as some Frankenstein's monster from the cold, calculating, ever present hand of business. But this game plays and feels so damn well in the story mode that a lot of the shortcomings such as justification for its existence, doesn't bother me. It was awesome to play as a Big Daddy. It was awesome to use the Drill on enemies, especially when you get the dash move. It was awesome to dual wield with plasmids. All the weapons felt like they meant business, especially the double barreled shotgun and heavy machine gun.

I also found the Big Sister boss battles legitimately terrifying as they're incredibly fast and armed to the teeth with plasmid abilities and such. The lead up to a fight them is also really good as they shriek and make it clear that 'oh shit, they're coming for me' and you should probably get ready. The fights with the other Alpha series were also really good. Timing a melee strike to stop them charging always felt good. One thing Bioshock 2 really nailed, I felt, was combat. You even had a reason to use trap Plasmids to protect Little Sisters, provided you bothered collecting ADAM with them.

It was also nice that everyone had a unique character model from Tannenbaum, to Sinclair, to Poole, to Eleanor and Sofia Lamb. It felt like Bioshock 2 was way more polished than the first game, even if it struggles to justify its place in the universe. I remember having zero interest when this game came out, and I'm kinda sorry I didn't try to check it out then.

BioShock Infinite

While a good game, BioShock Infinite is probably my least favorite of the trio for a number of reasons. The fact I started on Hard out of the gate is probably the biggest mistake, as it made boss battles and many combat encounters really frustrating. Handymen especially so, as they soak up stupid amounts of damage and rush you endlessly with no way to escape their range. The final escort mission with Songbird was such a pain in the ass that I eventually lowered the difficulty just to beat the damn thing and be done with it. It wasn't a slog the whole way through, but there are some really annoying parts in this game I don't feel have comparisons in the other two BioShocks. That boss fight with Lady Comstock? Fuuuuuuuccckk man. Why?

The limitations to the guns and plasmids aren't all that terrible, but it's a pretty generic 2-weapon Halo style. But the change feels useless when guns are everywhere (with RPGs and Sniper Rifles in areas when you need them) and seems like they might as well let you carry all of them. Running over to the edge of a room just to pick up a shotgun or using Elizabeth to open up a tear to grab a Gatling gun feels like busy work. Also, probably due to the hard mode, the only weapons worth using were the power weapons like the Handcannon, the shotgun, the RPG, and the sniper rifle. The machine guns and burst fire weapons hardly do any damage even when upgraded. And that mortar weapon is a piece of junk as it hardly scrapes enemies when I shoot them at point blank range. I really started to miss alternate ammo types.

The skyhook executions are pretty savage though.

The way the story is set up using the idea of multiple universes or "infinite" possibilities played out from either/or scenarios, does anything you do in the game even matter to Booker and Elizabeth? Even if the version of Booker you play as wins or loses, there's always another universe where Booker saved the day, or didn't, or talked everyone into becoming friends, or destroyed Colombia, or was Kanji Tatsumi, whatever. Or a universe where Elizabeth was the hero, or the villain, or a nobody, etc. It marginalizes every outcome. Regarding the ending where Booker kills himself... doesn't that mean there's a universe where Booker decided not to kill himself? Therefore Comstock still exists in another universe from that choice over baptism? Why does it matter what Booker chooses given how all that works? Or what Elizabeth chooses?

Those Luteces, man. No wonder they're crazy.

The ending is very Twilight Zone in that respect with some trippy visuals, which is really cool on one hand, but it's hard to feel like anything was accomplished other than spouting some parable about the choices we make or don't make. Either way, it does make the oddities of Robert and Rosalind Lutece possible. And they are two of my favorite characters ever. It probably wouldn't work, but I wish there was a game where you could play as them, flipping coins... or something.

Then there's the setting, the racism, the religion, the extremes of American exceptionalism. All that probably depends on how sensitive you are to those things, what your family is like, where you live, etc. For me, it makes the majority of the game super uncomfortable. I really started the miss the dynamic of monsters in diving suits, creepy little girls, and mobsters with bad Irish accents. Not to say that Bioshock Infinite is a bad game. I still had fun with it, just no where near as much as Bioshock 2 or the original.


Recently Played: Dead Space 3

Man, I have played a lot of Dead Space 3. I've beaten it four times as of this blog post. Once on normal, once on hard, once on Classic Mode, and once on Pure Survival mode. So as much as people probably don't want to talk about Dead Space 3... I am in the mood to talk about Dead Space 3.

Because if you don't know this about me, I love some Dead Space action. And while DS3 isn't the best one of those games, it's still alright. I had a decent time cutting up necromorphs with souped up mining tools and watching Clarke get the shit kicked out of him.

WARNING: There will be all sorts of Dead Space spoilers from here on in if that kind of thing bothers you.

Recently Played: Dead Space 3 (Snow, Space, Love Triangles, Necromorphs: The Game)

Dead Space should stick to space and spaceships
Dead Space should stick to space and spaceships

For as many changes they've made in this game with co-op and the weapon crafting, Dead Space 3 sure does feel like a less ambitious experience compared to the previous entries. It doesn't feel like they take as many risks with Isaac Clarke or the nonsense he gets into. There's nothing on the level of the chaotic Tormentor scene or the gag inducing uncomfortableness of the eye poke machine from Dead Space 2. And even though co-op with the meat head John Carver is optional, the game still feels like it's lost something to accompany the possibility of two players. Like they've lost the personal touches involved with abusing Isaac in his war with viral dna recombinators.

I won't touch the issue of how horror or fear plays into Dead Space 3, mostly because I've never come to this series for the 'survival horror' aspect of it. The biggest thing that brought me to Dead Space when it first came out was Isaac's awesome suit, and the promise of weaponized mining tools. Dead Space played fucking great with its twist on third person shooters in the form of aiming for limbs instead of heads, and Dead Space 3 does too albeit not as fresh for the third time out. I don't think the scariness of enemies has any impact of my experience, because most of Dead Space consisted of jump scares anyway. I don't think that's the same thing as horror. Your definition may vary. What's really scary are turret sequences in this game, which are still as terrible as the asteroid part from Dead Space.

There's no shortage of ammo or health on normal or even hard. I was swimming in bullets (over a thousand rounds for one gun combination) and never had to make health at the bench. The only time survival or item management comes into play is the aptly titled Pure Survival mode, where enemies NEVER drop ammo or health. You have to make all of it at the bench with materials you collect, which makes managing your inventory until the next bench key. It feels like how Dead Space 3 probably should have played from the very start. Unfortunately, you have to beat the game once to unlock Pure Survival as one of the New Game+ modes.

Then there's also the business side of things involving microtransactions which... are really easy to ignore. Playing the game will get you all the resources you need. But if the mere inclusion of such a thing is enough to turn you away, I can understand that.

Cut Em' Up, Cut Em' Up, Don't Stop

My favorite part of Dead Space 3 is the weapon crafting. This is probably the best new thing in practice here, as it's given me new respect for weapons I initially thought were junk. In the first two Dead Space games, I hated the Force Gun. It never killed enemies, it just pushed them around. By itself, it's useless when I can just cut them up with the Ripper or blow them to pieces with the Contact Beam. But in this game, the Force Gun is an incredible support weapon, blasting enemies back, buying time to aim carefully and/or charge up shots. Pairing it with the Ripper and the Contact Beam makes some of my most favorite weapons in the entire series. Great stuff for those fast, stick-like enemies that swarm you.

I stuck with the Plasma Cutter for about 3/4ths of the game. But when I finally let go of it and played around with more weapon combinations, Dead Space 3 became a lot more entertaining. The flamethrower also gets a ton more use outside mopping up the tiny guys, and that's not even including the various attachments to change its function. The military weapons (as in real guns, not mining tools) still suck, but they're not as bad if you pair them up with more useful attachments. Playing around with the weapon crafting is probably what kept me coming back despite some shortcomings in other areas.

Love Triangles, Just What Dead Space Needed!

Ellie, I like you better armed with a Plasma Cutter
Ellie, I like you better armed with a Plasma Cutter

Story wise, Dead Space 3 is pretty shaky, but not for reasons surrounding the Markers or the final boss. I thought that was okay, mostly because I've never touched Dead Space fiction outside the main series. I always figured Markers made big necromorphs. I just thought they made Hive Minds (the last boss of Dead Space) and never knew they would go so big with it. That whole thing with Giant Killer Corpse Moons was at least a fun spectacle. No, my main problem is the dumb decision to work a love triangle into the plot. It's not like they consistently hurt narratives or anything, except when they always do.

The end result of this turns Ellie Langford (who showed considerable survival skills throughout Dead Space 2) into a piece of meat to be fought over by Isaac and some other guy who predictably gets what's coming to him. There is zero tension. Where Ellie could have been the co-op player (or at least I think she should have been) she gets reduced to useless load while Player 2 runs around as soldier guy John Carver. And I wouldn't even say that Carver is bad, but he's totally forgettable and feels like an extra who is supposed to get mauled in the first chapter to introduce necromorphs. It's a real waste when they could have had Isaac and One-Eyed Ellie take on the Universe.

However, despite story shortcomings, Jacob Danik (played by Simon Templeman) had a great voice and was pretty entertaining for what he was. And there's still a lot of great screaming as per Dead Space tradition.

A Few Sparks of Promise

Big McLargeHuge! Stump Chunkman! Slab Squatthrust! Beef Blastbody! Dirk Hardpeck! Rip Steakface!
Big McLargeHuge! Stump Chunkman! Slab Squatthrust! Beef Blastbody! Dirk Hardpeck! Rip Steakface!

Co-op is pretty forgettable in this game I've found. But the locked side missions that only open if you have two people had a few good ideas where whoever plays Carver sees different environments in the form of ominous streamers and toy soldiers, where the player as Isaac just sees more dilapidated concrete bunkers. It's just a shame that it doesn't amount to anything because Carver is so boring. And that last co-op mission Marker Containment is fucked up in the way that it locks Player 2 into stupidly hard endless battles with necromorphs in some shadow dimension until some vague objective is accomplished. It's just about the only moment in Dead Space 3 that drove me to frustration and profanity.

If only the entire game through Co-op had these discrepancies where Carver sees something different than Clarke, and the people playing the game have to talk it over or think each other is crazy. That could have been worth the trouble of suppressing some of the crazier Dead Space potential to squeeze in Co-op. And if they did that with enemies where every bullet counted... it has promise.

What Do I Cut Up Now?

I have no idea where Dead Space goes from here. It may have run its course. But they will probably continue to make more until we have a Resident Evil 6 situation. However, I still like these games a whole lot. Dead Space 1 and 2 are two of my favorite games ever. So I hope they have a Resident Evil 4 situation instead, even if its current course suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, there are more than enough landmines for this series to step on to sink it permanently. The future of this series is tenuous.

Maybe I'll just replay Dead Space a whole bunch of times.


Recently Played: The Walking Dead and Ni No Kuni: WotWW

If this sounds like an odd match up, you'd be right. But after being brutalized by the drama of The Walking Dead, the whimsical nature of Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a nice palette cleanser. Also, I wanted to say something about The Walking Dead... even though I realize everyone has probably talked it into the ground, debated if Adventure Games deserve awards, argued over the characters and sense of choice, and back again. So I'll try to keep talk about the adventures of Lee Everett short as best I can.

WARNING: If you have somehow not played The Walking Dead yet, there will be spoilers.

The Walking Dead (Raking Your Emotions Over the Coals: The Game)

I like this game. The Walking Dead was alright. But I found it really difficult to play because of the emotional toll, not so much any technical or game play reasons. Lee Everett is a great, memorable character, along with his partner in crime Clementine. Most characters were done well enough that I didn't want to see anything bad happen, even though I knew it would. The cornerstone of this particular adventure game is shitty choices, although some are easier to make than others. Lily and Larry especially, since they didn't feel like people but programmed obstacles. Their flat characterization dulls the edge of the meat locker scene since it's really, really easy to side with Kenny. Considering they are firmly sided against you no matter what Lee does (like grabbing important heart medicine, or jumping through hoops with handing out rations) there's zero reason to care about them. Luckily they're taken out midway in the story and replaced with more rounded characters.

No Caption Provided

I ended up dragging Ben to his final terminus in the fifth episode, which paid off with some great scenes that kind of sum up his mentality. Considering how hopeless Ben is even though he wants to do right by people, all the opportunities to get him killed felt way too much like schmuck bait. Like the game was just daring you to outright murder someone in front of Clementine just to be a dick. All I could picture was some guy with a big dumb smile hanging out next to Lee at every turn. "Hey buddy, don't you want to kill that guy? You should probably kill that guy. I think it would be swell if you killed that guy. C'mon, kill him. Wouldn't it be great if you killed him? You kill Ben, and I'll give you a cookie." Not to say you do Ben any favors bringing him along, but his final moment with Kenny was... effective. I guess he's ridiculous like Lily and Larry, but in the opposite way. The difference is he has room to show a range of emotions other than "Fuck you, Lee!" that the other two were hopelessly locked into.

A few other points, I love that this game gives you the opportunity to subvert the biggest zombie cliche in all of history, which felt damn good. I also missed the radio scene with Carly and thought she was pretty capable until I watched a video and saw she couldn't handle batteries. And I turned off the notifications in the top left (that tell you when people remember stuff and junk) because I didn't see what point they served. It seemed more natural just to play by memory or try to read people after talking to them. The facial expressions in this game were good enough that the text on screen seemed unnecessary and really bothersome. But that's about the summary of my Walking Dead experience. I'm curious what Telltale will do with a second season. I can't help but feel like they won't be able to replicate the impact of Lee's adventure. Not to say they got lucky with season one or anything like that, but I think their work is cut out for them. They somehow have to top Lee Everett and Clementine, or create a story on par with them.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (Getting that Dark Cloud Itch: The Game)

Mr. Drippy is boss, believe it
Mr. Drippy is boss, believe it

To sum up my feelings on Ni No Kuni, I would say the presentation and character design is top notch, but the narrative and gameplay meat runs a little thin for how long this game is. Right up front, this is a damn good looking game. The Studio Ghibli touch certainly helps. They've really nailed that family summer film kind of look from NPCs to supporting characters right up to the villains. Not to mention the various locations you'll visit on your quest to save the world. Which is good because that aesthetic will keep you company for about 45 to 50 hours. If you have a lot of time to kill (as I did in the month of January) you might want to check out Ni No Kuni. It would also help if you don't mind straight faced takes on fantasy RPG tropes. Brad Shoemaker used the word "earnest" describing his time with the game, and I would say that's fair. This game doesn't really have that cynical character who keeps things somewhat balanced by downplaying magic and prophecies and so on. Everything is taken with a heavy dose of whimsy, which worked for me because I had just finished playing The Walking Dead.

I had a good time, but I think this game overstays its welcome. Mostly due in part to the battle system. My biggest complaint is your dumb AI partners who will gladly take boss special attacks to the face like it was a sideshow attraction. Things play in real time, where evasive moves actually work and defending at the right time (before a boss launches a massive attack) can spare you tons of damage. But good luck getting the AI for your party to follow suit. You can switch between them on the fly, but there's nowhere near enough time to make them guard or evade manually. They eventually give you party commands to coordinate attack and defense, but it never worked for me. Usually they only serve as temporary distractions to give you enough of a life lead so you can solo the boss on your own. I mean you can revive them, but they'll just die all over again. Luckily bosses (except for two key, climatic fights) are never that vicious where your buddies are critical to winning. But I definitely got tired of trying to babysit the AI and eventually left them where they died. It wouldn't be a stretch that I basically beat this game with only Oliver and two badass familiars while Mr. Drippy played the part of Doc from Punch Out.

Probably my single favorite thing about this game is the mobility your magic gives you. Once you explore most of the globe, you get these abilities to whip in and out of towns and dungeons like nobodies business. Fetch quests and finding bounty missions are mostly trivial things as you can warp around at will, grabbing what you need and getting out in no time at all. You'll still get modes of transportation to find areas for the first time, but once you know where they are, teleportation is the only way to go. On the flip side, my least favorite part of Ni No Kuni would be the soundtrack, which isn't bad per se... but it feels generic that nothing about it is memorable. Not to say the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra are slouches, but I don't think they got the best material to work with. Worst of all is the battle theme. Holy shit that gets old quickly, and hearing the same few notes for over 45 hours from battle to battle felt like it was destroying my mind. I eventually turned down the music and used my laptop to play something from Chrono Trigger, Anarchy Reigns, Hotline Miami, Donkey Kong Country- anything to break the monotony of the battle theme. Ni No Kuni does a lot of cool things, I wouldn't say the music is one of them.

Mostly Ni No Kuni left me wanting another Dark Cloud game from Level 5. Or at least revisit Dark Cloud 2.


Recently Played: FTL (Faster Than Light)

I'm the Final Boss, can't step to this!
I'm the Final Boss, can't step to this!

Full disclosure, I don't know what to think of FTL. I go back and forth every time I boot up the game. So I might not sound very coherent here. It has found a very Dark Souls spot in my mind where sometimes it does really awesome things and other times it's punching you in the kidney and it doesn't even care. There are a lot of awesome stuff centering around spaceship management with main systems and moving your crew around, and then there's total space bullshit with fucking mantis men and solar flares. And fucking final bosses equipped with every single weapon system in the game blowing you up with one salvo and then cloaking just to rub it in your face.

I got angry enough where I turned to the internet to find modified files to break FTL's stupid face so I could finally beat the damn game. And I totally did beat the game (on EASY MODE) when I cheated, so I feel my experience is tainted in that regard. It's not like there's a awesome cut scene or quirky song to reward you at the end.

Recently Played: FTL (Faster Than the Speed of Death: The Game)

What a bunch of Space Bullshit!
What a bunch of Space Bullshit!

Sometimes I feel like Faster Than Light is a game designed so no one can win. Unlike the majority of video games, where scenarios and computer AI is made with the sole purpose to be overcome by player eventually, FTL is a gambling den with some of the worst house rules I've ever seen. Randomized anything is a dicey proposition to be sure, but this game sure likes to pile it on in savage, savage ways. The narrative conceit of the game places a time limit as a huge enemy armada is always right behind you ready to scoop up your motley ship and blow it to pieces at the first opportunity. You can stop and fight them if you want, but infinite re-enforcements mean you'll crumble eventually. That's on top of finite resources in the form of fuel, ammo, and scrap (money) which are critical to making it two steps out of the starting area. Then you have the dice rolls of your laser and missile shots deciding whether or not they hit their target.

And then there's your fragile ship and your equally fragile crew. Much like any technical piece of equipment in the real world, there are a million things that can go wrong at any given time. That's without pirates or rebels gunning for you across the galaxy. Randomly generated meteor showers, scanner scrambling nebulae, and fire starting solar flares can pop up anywhere. Everything is out to get you and sometimes it doesn't even have the decency of killing out outright. Sometimes they'll take out your oxygen systems so your entire crew suffocates. Or set your engine systems on fire and wait for the structural damage to take its toll. There are hundreds of ways to die in this game. The only thing in common from one demise to the next is just how fast it happens. FTL is a master of whiplash as one competently played game will end in ruin one jump later through no fault of your own. There's a ton of Space Bullshit out there and it's all coming for you.

At the Same Time... FTL is so Damn Cool

With all that said... it's such a cool game with everything else it does. It's got customization out the rear as you can name your doomed ship along with your equally doomed crew members. Provided you find or buy weapons once you start the game, you can switch them out along with automated drone systems. And depending on how your luck runs, there are a bunch of other ships to unlock with different room layouts along with new crews and weapons. You can juggle your systems to literally divert power to weapons or shields like any episode of Star Trek. Or one of my favorite things is when enemies invade my ship is opening the airlocks to suck the oxygen out of key rooms so they're left suffocating in space. You can do that to ship fires too. It always feels awesome. That shit never gets old. Not to mention the awesome soundtrack and the great look of the ships...

Space Bullshit still happens, even when you're cheating
Space Bullshit still happens, even when you're cheating

There's a point in FTL where I feel I'm fighting randomness so much I can't even enjoy the game. So after I found a dead end in space where I couldn't jump to any other map points (a dead end in space!) and got cornered by the Rebel Fleet after having an amazing run with the Engi Ship, I searched the internet and found a file I could easily switch out to eliminate the time pressure of the game. Well, technically it doesn't eliminate the Rebel Fleet, it just makes the Rebel Fleet so damn slow that they're not a factor anymore. It should go without saying that FTL is a completely different game when you can explore sectors at will. You can find a lot more stuff so building an awesome ship feels less of a game of chance. Not that it makes Easy Mode all that easy. You'll still die. A lot. That final boss will still chew you up and spit you out like nobody's business.

The Real FTL Starts Here

Screw the Stealth Ship! (Okay, fine. It's just hard to use)
Screw the Stealth Ship! (Okay, fine. It's just hard to use)

The only time I managed to beat FTL (on Easy Mode mind you) was by cheating so I could build a heavily shielded Engi Ship with lots of Drones. I've switched the files back and forth many times (depending on my mood), but it's a strong temptation just to leave the pursuing Rebel Fleet off. That's obviously not how FTL is supposed to play. I'm still really torn on the original FTL and the doppelganger FTL I created with modified files. The difficulty feels like real bullshit as EASY MODE is nowhere near easy, and I can't even imagine NORMAL MODE so it feels good to break this stupid game. I don't know how you would make it harder without just killing you at the first jump with five mantis men boarding your ship before you even have your door controls upgraded. Then there are stupid variables like when I was trying to do a run with the Stealth Ship to Sector 8 without hitting environmental dangers (one of the ship specific challenges) and then the game bottlenecked me in Sector 5 where the only way to get to the exit was to travel through an asteroid field. I quit out so hard you don't even know.

What a bunch of Space Bullshit. Fuck this game. I'll break all your dumb rules!

And then I play another round with a new ship and remember how much fun FTL is when it's not screwing you over a table. It can be pretty damn fun!

I don't know. FTL trades on so much randomness that I have a hard time deciding what part is the difficulty speaking and what part is actually just a bad hand. There's a lot of frustration mixed in with the awesome moments of using a laser beam to cut across a ship and set six rooms on fire, sending the enemy crew running around trying to fix things while I launch missiles at their weapon systems to leave them double screwed. That stuff is great. At some point I wish the mechanics in FTL was in a more traditional game where there was a story with a cast of characters and it didn't feel so unfairly brutal- but at the same time I feel like that would be selling this game short. Maybe I just want more games to rip off FTL so I might be able to beat something like this legitimately. Or at least have some true Easy Mode that's actually easy? Mantis men invaded my ship and destroyed my oxygen system so it's getting hard to process logic.

At the very least I hope I can reach some stage of acceptance concerning FTL.


Recently Played: Deus Ex - Human Revolution

I'm not overly knowledgeable of the first Deus Ex. To give you a point of reference, I did play the Ellis Island mission at a friends house years and years ago. But that's been awhile, so when I talk about Human Revolution I don't mean to make any comparisons to the series at large. So the stuff I find good, bad, or novel is probably older than I realize. I just felt compelled to make that disclaimer just in case.

Because I had a lot of fun with Human Revolution and its particular brand of the future. I also did a lot of sneaking and broke a lot of limbs in the process.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Breaking Into Everything: The Game)

There are some cool weapons and tools in this game. Like this Shotgun
There are some cool weapons and tools in this game. Like this Shotgun

I mostly played Human Revolution as the sneaky-sneaky type armed with a taser, the PEPS, a tranquiler rifle, and lots of fast talking. I didn't go pacifist though, as I had a shotgun for when things got heated. Also some robots I blew up killed a few guards in the process, so there's that. And I hacked a lot. I tried to hack everything I came across. There was a moment in the Sarif Industries building where I was following an e-mail trail about stolen drugs by going from office to office and cracking every computer I could find. Right there, I realized I was probably going to break into every single door, system, and building I could if it was possible. Luckily this only got old around the very last area, so it never felt like a real chore. It was always awesome to find ammo caches and money... even if I didn't use half of it. I think most of the fun I got out of this game was exploring everything. The Police Station was especially fun when I grabbed everything out of the armory.

The controls took some adjusting, but I didn't mind the shooting system. There were a few times when I took an assault rifle or the heavy rifle and tried to shoot my way into a few places just to see how it would work. Kinda wish I had invested upgrades to the targeting and recoil systems in that case, but even when I was going silent, it was fun to lure guards into corners and choke them unconscious or taze them silly. Kind of limited animations for the take downs, but there are some good ones in there. My favorite is probably where Adam Jenson folds a guys arm backwards and snaps it in a few places before punching the guy out. It's kind of hard to imagine that as non-lethal... but this is the future where you can get an artificial limb with a blade inside it so maybe it's not a huge deal.

Adam Jensen, the Aug that Fights Crime

I asked for the truth, asshole
I asked for the truth, asshole

One of my favorite parts of this game (besides hacking everything) involved the side quests. They weren't the usual "go find this thing, or kill that guy" deal, although that kind of stuff eventually figured into it. Since Adam Jensen is former SWAT of future Detroit turned super security guard, there are more than a few opportunities to get your investigation on where you're in pursuit of information rather than items. I really liked talking to people (since I had invested in the persuasion ability) and making them tell me everything I wanted to know. A few missions dig into Jensen's past, which had the right amount of mystery to it even when you reach the end of the trail. When you end up traveling to China, dealing with the local prostitutes and pimps made for a fairly cool diversion where you could frame a guy with drugs or throw him off the roof to stage an accident depending on how you deal with situations.

The down-to-earth nature of the side missions made me realize that I didn't really enjoy the main story nearly as much. Where you start out as a security guard saved from death by cybernetic technology and get sent to investigate the people who tried to kill you, the story can't help but spiral out to involve the fate of humanity, the future of artificial body parts, and long time conspiracies even characters in the game can't help but take shots at in a few scenes. Maybe it's usual for Deus Ex, but I think I would have preferred a little more grounded story involving corporate espionage or really taking aim at why Adam's boss and his doctor love interest are so interested in him. Maybe a crime drama or something to put it another way, especially since there are characters I like in this game. I think games at large should pull back from dealing with the fate of the world/humanity. Especially when high stakes like that usually hurt the ending of the game since it becomes impossible to wrap things up in a satisfying manner.

I didn't think the end of Human Revolution was the worst thing in the world, but it definitely stood out in a bad way.

How about them Boss Fights?

When Human Revolution came out, I heard the boss fights caught a lot of flak. If I'm not mistaken they were also patched or something. Either way, I didn't mind them so much. Considering I tried my best not to kill anyone, having a moment in the game where you actually had to go lethal was cathartic where I didn't have to worry about limiting casualties or being careful. The first boss fight with Barrett ended up being pretty entertaining because I shocked him with the taser and then threw explosive barrels and gas canisters at him until I won. For the second with the stealth lady, I played around with a bunch of grenades I had saved up from the mission leading up to her. By the third fight, I had enough inventory for a heavy rifle and shot up the place with hundreds of rounds. Of course, I really look forward to boss fights in a game.

I've heard that the first Deus Ex game gave you a lot more options dealing with bosses like ignoring them, or talking them down before a shot was fired or something. Which does sound really appealing if there was an option to be so damn sneaky, you could bypass a boss or find some covert way to take care of them. But for what they were, they weren't bad. Maybe except the last boss which was a kind of weird and freaky, and had tons of annoying invincible turrets (or at least I couldn't find a way to get rid of them) so I guess it wasn't all good.

Small, Unimportant Bits

To be honest, I totally picked the "I didn't ask for this" line when it came up in the game. I couldn't help it. I also thought Adam Jensen was voiced by a guy from a show called Leverage. There's an actor with long hair that has a really similar voice.

But overall, I really enjoyed Human Revolution.


Recently Played: Borderlands 2

Around the time I was putting together the 2012 Sarumarine Awards, I was playing Borderlands 2 along with two other friends. Having beaten the game once and the DLC in the form of Captain Scarlett and Mr. Torgue's respective adventures, I wanted to write some stuff down about it. Mostly because it falls in a really weird spot where the game is solid and fairly entertaining... but I found it lacking that certain something.

At the risk of sounding reductive or down on Borderlands 2... it really is just more Borderlands. And that's not terrible or anything. Maybe it would be more accurate if I said it fits in a spot where there's no rush to go out and play it, but if you get the opportunity you should have a good time.

Borderlands 2 (People Talking at You During Gunfights: The Game)

The biggest thing in Borderlands 2 that sticks out in my mind is the amount of dialogue I miss because the characters have a insatiable need to talk during huge gunfights. Between switching weapons, using action skills, dodging bullets, and generally trying to stay alive or keep my friends alive, I feel like I miss 70% of the material written for the various sociopaths and psychopaths of Pandora. Especially Handsome Jack who never shuts up. Now, you could build a case that it really doesn't matter since Borderlands 2 has that MMO quality where all you have to do is run to the objective marker to complete missions so who gives a damn about the who or why... but I care about stuff like that. I like characters. And story, even if it's flimsy. As long as someone goes to the trouble of trying to give a narrative reason for tracking down loose change or someone's pet, I will be there to take it in.

Unfortunately it feels like they don't even care about this stuff. This is especially bad when they place ECHO recorders one foot away from spots that trigger story dialogue. There's area in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve where an ECHO recorder for a side mission is immediately cut off by Handsome Jack when you pass through a nearby door, like they expected you wouldn't try to pick up everything that wasn't nailed down on your first time through an area. I find it really frustrating.

And I know, why am I stressing story and dialogue in a game like Borderlands? Well, mostly because there's nothing to talk about gameplay wise. It plays like Borderlands with a few flourishes. It's a quirky first person shooter where you pick up weird guns to shoot even weirder creatures. Especially since the narrative is just about the biggest difference from the first game. Gearbox went through the trouble of putting together a real nemesis to direct your impressive arsenal at for the majority of the game. There are actually plot points and stuff happens.

The Man Who Would Be Jack (and did someone say EXPLOSIONS!?)

Handsome Jack loves to chat
Handsome Jack loves to chat

Not to reopen wounds or pour salt on sensitive areas left from the Giant Bomb 2012 GOTY, I saw a lot of people confused (or incensed) why Handsome Jack didn't make any character awards or even get a runner up. I could probably guess why at the risk of making people angry, but Jack runs real hot and cold. He talks a lot. Oh god does Jack love to talk. Which works perfectly for his role as an egotistical CEO that values looks over everything and loves to shoot people in the face for fun. But not all of his dialogue works. He's got a few really good lines in the form of a violin joke after the plot point at the W.E.P. and some great exclamations about trashing his statues in Opportunity. The rest of it however, not so much

Then there's the plot point in the middle of the game or so where he suddenly wants you to take him seriously. Which, personally, is my real problem with Jack. He's such a goofy over the top villain with so many petty insults and blatantly evil plots that the death of one person making him turn serious is... hard to take seriously. Jack stops being fun at this point. Especially since Borderlands 2 doesn't do serious well. Once you have characters like Tiny Tina and Face McShooty running around, there's no room for tearjerkers or introspection. Your sniper rifle is talking at you trying to make you feel like garbage while you throw your submachine gun at psychos to reload. Also, bonerfarts. Granted that joke only lasted like five seconds, but still.

Also, nearly all of Jack's material is done over a radio where you never see his body language or his model animate. It hurts his presence in more ways than one. Especially since that one trailer with Handsome Jack setting up the player characters has him doing all sorts of stuff like strutting and winking. It would have been awesome to see him try to play a violin. That's all I'm saying.



At the same time, Borderlands 2 has one of my favorite characters ever in the form of the enthusiastic and dangerously genre savvy Mr. Torgue. His Campaign of Carnage DLC really doesn't do anything different in the grand scheme of things. It's Borderlands, dawg. You're going to shoot dudes, shoot things, pick up stuff, and turn in quests. Sometimes the things you shoot are much bigger than you. But the real highlight is pretty much every single thing Mr. Torgue says as he gets hyped about EXPLOSIONS, battles to the death, the dangers of alcoholism, betrayal, treating women nice, and everything else that comes out of his mouth. Especially things that are badass. He has no indoor voice, but it really helps sell some of his greatest lines and makes it really easy to hear him over all the gunshots.

This man is an entertainer and he certainly knows how to entertain in his own special way. I have a hard time figuring out how any future DLC release for Borderlands 2 is going to top Mr. Torgue.

Still Fun Though

Borderlands 2 may not stray far enough from the first game to really stand out, but it's still fun. I find that all of the character classes are pretty cool, even the Commando who is dangerously generic compared to the others. The guns and their various manufacturers are still cool to look at and scrutinize. I tend to go Maliwan and Torgue a bunch, but there are some cool Jakobs spiniguns and that bolt action elephant gun is tons o' fun. I think the backlash against internet jokes and referencing memes are a little too scrutinized. Borderlands was never exactly a super classy game to start with, and humor is so hard to pull off that it's only natural you'd find some really lame or uninspired attempts here or there.

Of course, only you can decide where to draw the line.


The 2012 Sarumarine Awards!

If I had infinite time and infinite money, I might be qualified to make some sort of official game of the year list with numbers and rankings. But since I don’t have either of those I can only play so many games in a year, many times missing awesome stuff in favor of other awesome stuff and sometimes not. The Sarumarine Awards are my way of putting a spotlight on the things I loved, things I enjoyed, and things I didn’t care for. As usual, I feel it’s important to mention that this is only my humble opinion. Everyone likes different things and I am 100% okay with that. Video games, guys!

Let’s get started!

WARNING: There are spoilers for Sleeping Dogs, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Mass Effect 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, The Walking Dead Episode 1, and probably Anarchy Reigns too. So watch out if that kind of thing bothers you!

The Most Killer of Soundtracks Awards: Anarchy Reigns, Rhythm Heaven Fever, Hotline Miami

Soundtracks: Thumb Approved
Soundtracks: Thumb Approved

Guys, I have a serious complaint with the year 2012 in video games. There have been way too many awesome soundtracks released this year. How am I supposed to pick one for my personal awards topic when there are so many great choices? I had to give up and make a three way tie between the off the wall hip-hop/rap of Anarchy Reigns, the insane techno beats of Hotline Miami, and the feel-good nonsense of Rhythm Heaven Fever. These are three collections I listen to regularly and will probably continue to listen to for a long time after I stop playing their respective games. Because I do love a good video game soundtrack, and I think these three are real standouts.

Now, as a challenge in the spirit of picking 3 winners, I will pick three songs from each soundtrack to highlight, even though each one has about a dozen awesome tunes I could choose. This was really, really, really hard to choose. I want you to know that.

Anarchy Reigns
1. Jaw by MuzeOne
2. Soon Enough by Sick YG
3. Find You by Doujah Raze
Rhythm Heaven Fever
1. Air Rally by Tsunku♂
2. Ringside by Tsunku
3. Remix 9 (Beautiful One Day) by Tsunku
Hotline Miami
1. Hotline by Jasper Byrne
2. Paris by M.O.O.N.
3. Knock Knock by Scattle

Runners Up: Sleeping Dogs, Max Payne 3, Journey, Mass Effect 3, Syndicate Promotional Songs


Unsolved Mysteries Award: 'Broken Nose' Jiang - Sleeping Dogs

Aunt Jiang Wears Red Well
Aunt Jiang Wears Red Well

One character this year that kept me guessing way after the story was over involves a lady Triad boss from Sleeping Dogs. The Sun On Yee Red Pole known as 'Broken Nose' Jiang has a great start with a fantastic nickname. Why do they call her that? Does she break other people's noses for crossing her? And it only gets more puzzling as the plot unfolds. How come the Hong Kong police can't find out her real name? How does she pull so many strings? That security footage at the end of the game was a pretty big reveal for a Triad gangster. I want to believe she's possibly a government agent from mainland China sent to keep the Sun On Yee in check or something- but I don't know. Either way, I have a feeling we'll never find out the depths of Broken Nose Jiang unless Sleeping Dogs gets a sequel somehow.

You win this time, Broken Nose.

Runners Up: Face McShooty - Borderlands 2, Those Guys from Donk-Donk - Rhythm Heaven Fever


Most Unsettling Award: The Walking Dead

Hang in there, you two
Hang in there, you two

I have to confess I never got past the first episode of Walking Dead this year. Mainly because this game doesn't make me feel good. It's not exactly a game you play to kick back and relax. I find it really, really oppressive because the characters are good enough that I don't want to see anything bad happen to them. Even with my time in the first chapter I felt really bad about: Telling Clementine that I wasn't sure if we would survive getting shot at, leaving an old guy's son for dead, hacking Lee’s zombified brother with an ax, not letting an infected woman kill herself with a handgun, and making no attempt to save a man because he wasn't armed with a handgun that could be useful later on. I realize this game's forte is giving you shitty choices to pick from... but I can't take it this year right now, man.

So, I'll just play it later when I'm in the mood for that kind of thing. Later. Much later.

Runners Up: Frozen Expressions on Minecraft Characters, The Violence of Hotline Miami


The Dead Space Quality Achievement Award: Sleeping Dogs

"Wei Shen, motherfucker. Who are you?"

This award is given to a game that does nothing new in terms of gameplay, graphics, story telling or pushing limits... but still manages to be a solid, fantastic experience anyway- much like when Dead Space came out years ago.

This year's winner is Sleeping Dogs, a GTA style open world game where you play as an undercover cop Wei Shen and break laws trying to take down a Triad gang. But with the action taking place in the video game version of Hong Kong involving tons of local flavor and style, with a satisfying melee combat system that is very Batman-like, I couldn't help but have a blast breaking everybody's legs over and over again. It has a lot of great characters, characters I can remember, and some of the best gang names I've seen in a long time. It also brings a weight to knives and guns crime games don’t normally have.

And it had a badass final level where you tear through a construction site and wreck every thug stupid enough to get in your way. Totally great moment considering everything that leads up to it.

Also, that Ice Chipper. I don't think I'll forget that Ice Chipper in a long time. Big smiles everyone.


Most Wasted Character Award: Slenderman - Slender

"I have decided that [Your Favorite Thing] is canceled due to lack of product placement."

I cannot help but feel the massive amount of wasted potential for the urban legend known as Slenderman. As a faceless, towering man in a business suit with an all pervasive lingering presence, it seems like a total waste that he's stuck running the horror circuit capable of nothing more than jump scares. His sheer imagery alone makes him a perfect fit as an avatar of shady, ice cold corporate business practices with no regard to art or creativity. The majority of the things you and I love, video games included, spring from the well of business. Slenderman could be the physical presence of the darkest side of this equation. The side that exploits people’s love for the sake of profit. He could be so much more symbolic and psychological than appearing behind you at random.

That's why I think it's a shame he's stuck sneaking up on people and whispering white noise into their ears. The man wears a suit. He’s got far more class than that.

Runners Up: Bertha - Operation Raccoon City, Garuda - Anarchy Reigns, Jake Muller - Resident Evil 6, Vaas Montenegro - Far Cry 3


Favorite Weapon Award: Revolver Cannon - Anarchy Reigns

Durga: Armed to the Right Knee Cap
Durga: Armed to the Right Knee Cap

Due to a number of factors that I will list soon, the Revolver Cannon is my favorite weapon of the year. One, it's a revolver. Two, it's a large cannon. And three, it's actually built into Durga's mechanical leg that he works into his Taekwondo fighting style. It unfolds and fires in the midst of high kicks and knee combos, and I find it endlessly entertaining to see in action. It's like they took Adon's Jaguar Revolver move and spun it out into a literal interpretation. One of my favorite uses of this unusual weapon involves Durga's mutant execution where he jumps in the face of a big lizard monster, sticks his cannon leg down down the monster's throat, and unloads all six shots.

As a semi-related fun fact, Durga’s English voice actor (Sunil Malhotra) is the same guy who played Jun in Halo Reach. Feel free to think about that.

Runners Up: Gauss Rifle - Syndicate, Mr. Tong's Machete - Sleeping Dogs, Shotgun - Spelunky


Most Villainous Co-op Team Award: Umbrella Security Service - Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

C'mon guys! Respect the dead!
C'mon guys! Respect the dead!

2012 has been a great year for villainous teams in co-op. While the quality of Operation Raccoon City as a game is certainly in question, the villainy of the Umbrella Security Service you play as is not. In the middle of a zombie crisis plaguing Raccoon City, they help speed along the deaths of survivors by taking out the city's power grid, rebooting Umbrella bioweapons, setting hospitals on fire, and murdering tons of U.S. government soldiers to make sure no one suspects the Umbrella Corporation's involvement in the disaster. Of course, you don't actually kill any civilians personally or see the fruits of your villainous labors... but there is an option at the end of the game to execute Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield right in front of Sherry Birkin if you feel extra dickish. Maybe the results are mixed, but the ill intent is certainly there.

Oh, and you can also use zombies as meat shields. That's pretty mean too.

Runners Up: Wulf Western Agents - Syndicate, RAAM and his Locust Homies - Gears of War 3 (technically a 2011 release, but I played a bunch of this earlier in the year and felt they were worth a mention)


Moment that Left Me Feeling Pumped! Award: Uniting Geth and Quarians - Mass Effect 3

Geth and Quarians living together! Mass hysteria!
Geth and Quarians living together! Mass hysteria!

Personally I feel that the journey is far more important than the destination, and Mass Effect 3 is probably no better example than that. But one event that made me feel like a badass on the level of Mr. Torgue from Borderlands 2 is when I made the Geth and Quarians play nice and join together at the end of Rannoch instead of wiping each other out. In an either/or situation I chose the third option prompting a real "I'm Commander fucking Shepard" moment topping off a pretty cool mission that involved calling in an orbital strike from an entire fleet. I've had a lot of fun this year, but getting Tali and Legion's respective parties out alive had me riding high for a long time. For whatever reason, it meant a lot to me.

Runners Up: The Ice Chipper - Sleeping Dogs, Mad Survival "Mad World" Round - Anarchy Reigns


Best Rock Band DLC of 2012 Award: All I Wanna Do - Sheryl Crow

Flying Battery back again! All up in 2012 over here!
Flying Battery back again! All up in 2012 over here!

Holy shit guys, they are still releasing songs for Rock Band! This has to be the most impressive commitment to DLC I’ve ever seen. Harmonix is still going strong after all these years, somehow. This category was actually pretty damn hard to decide, but I had to give it to "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow. Personally, no song better represents the 90s for me than this one right here. That guitar hook at the beginning along with the claim of "This ain't no disco" hits me with all kinds of memories from that time because I am old. So it was a real pleasure to see it finally reach Rock Band where I can do a real crappy job trying to sing along until I hit the chorus, or kill it on drums, guitar or bass. Cause all I wanna do is have some fun, and I got a feeling I'm not the only one.

You might notice "Never Gonna Give You Up" among the runners up, but that's some legitimate appreciation. I bought the song as a joke, but since playing it I've realized that it's a decent song in its own right. Plus it's fun to sing. Kinda sorry that one turned into an internet meme.

Runners Up: Metal Health - Quiet Riot, Love Shack - B52's, Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley


Proving It's Impossible to Predict the Future Award: Pokemon Conquest

No! You can't join me! No! NO!
No! You can't join me! No! NO!

Video games have proven time and time again that it is absolutely impossible to predict the future. It's a large contribution to the reason why I'm really starting to dislike prophecies and destinies as story telling conventions. To show you what I mean, I present to you Pokemon Conquest. It's a crossover of Nobunaga's Ambition (a feudal Japan strategy game as old as the hills) and the Nintendo classic catch-em-all monster training game Pokemon. If you told me in 1998 that one day the gameboy game I loved to play would be combined with Japan's warring states period I wouldn't even know what you were talking about because I was like 12 years old. My favorite Pokemon was Cloyster back then. I didn't know nothing about Nobunaga. But here we are in the year 2012 and this tactics-style DS game is actually pretty decent. Don't be put off by the main story, because the post game scenarios are tough as titanium nails. Ouch.

Honorable mention goes to Black Ops II's post credits stinger that features the band Avenged Sevenfold in a bewildering sequence so hard to watch that it risks eroding any characterization they might have built up with the game's main cast. Name anyone who played the first Call of Duty that saw this coming, and I will call you a liar. Also Lord of the Rings LEGO. I bet Tolkien knew this day would come.

Runners Up: LEGO Lord of the Rings, Black Ops II's Post Credits Sequence


Notable Video Game Performance Award: Michael Mando as Vaas Montenegro - Far Cry 3

"You thought you had your finger on the pussy trigger."

Characters are tough to pull off. Doubly so in video games where they are often secondary or nominal importance to game play. But one of my favorite character performances from this year involves one of the villains of Far Cry 3. Michael Mando provides the voice and motion capture of Vaas Montenegro, a slave trading pirate who loves to break people down with words almost as much as he loves to kill them with bullets. This guy is intense and completely menacing, but still a joy to watch as he belittles his captives and the main character with sadistic glee and plenty of good old fashioned profanity. Helping his sheer presence is a ton of excellent animation to highlight his personal quirks like his whistling, hand motions, and his tendency to go back and forth from an indoor voice to out-and-out screaming with effortless transition. Vaas captures attention as well as he captures hapless tourists.

Runners up include Robert Pine who does a great job voicing the disturbed Max from Anarchy Reigns, which is impressive considering he has to deal with the likes of the Blacker Baron in the same game. And for what it’s worth, James C. Burns was pretty entertaining as Old-ass Frank Woods from Black Ops II. Yeah, I know. A Call of Duty game. Don’t hurt me.

Runners Up: Robert Pine as Maximilian Caxton - Anarchy Reigns, James C. Burns as Frank Woods - Black Ops II


Quick Categories

That wraps up the year 2012 related to video games. I also played a ton of games from years past like Dead Island, Demon's Souls, Arkham City, regular ass Doom and more. Personally I didn't really find a game I absolutely hated like Okamiden from 2011. Or least I didn't play a game that left lingering frustration well after I put it away. So I hope everyone has a nice holiday and a great new year. Thanks for stopping by!


Recently Played: Resident Evil 6

Yeah, I know guys, Resident Evil 6. If you use the internet at all, listen to the Bombcast, or check out the forums you probably already know the general pulse of what people are feeling when it comes to the continuing series of viruses, B.O.W.s and dead, mutating things. From what I can tell, it seems divisive at the very least.

So I had to see it for myself. I probably won't say anything new here, so if you're already tired with Resident Evil talk, feel free to punch out. One of the reasons I felt compelled to write this blog is because I realized I've been with this series for some time. I wasn't there when OG Resident Evil on the playstation came out, but over the years I've done some catching up. Case in point below:

Resident Evil 6 joins the fray. Operation Raccoon City accidentally wanders into frame. Resident Evil 4 is still my favorite
Resident Evil 6 joins the fray. Operation Raccoon City accidentally wanders into frame. Resident Evil 4 is still my favorite

I dug all those out of my game collection for this line up. The plain white box is a PS1 copy of Resident Evil 2 (in outstanding condition) I bought from a Hollywood Video store for 5 dollars. Now, I'm not a Resident Evil superfan or whatever the kids call it these days. I've always admired this series for the mix up of zombies, precious guns, and the healthy cast of animal abominations and physics defying bioweapons. Resident Evil has a lot of very cool monster designs. Some are more annoying than others. So I couldn't miss the latest installment even with the risk of quality involved. I had to see where it was all going.

Besides, I beat the two Souls games. There's nothing Resident Evil 6 can do to me. I've built up an immunity to unfriendly game design. It can't touch me.

There are probably spoilers. Or enough information to be considered spoilers if the trailers haven't already done it for you.

Resident Evil 6 (Too Much Mutation: The Game)

It's like this in a lot of ways
It's like this in a lot of ways

I don't think this is the worst game ever made. I don't hate it as much as Brad Shoemaker and Patrick Klepek seem to, but I can see where that rage stems from after beating all the campaigns myself. I certainly didn't have as much trouble as they did, but there is a lot of frustrating bullshit going on here, even for a Resident Evil game. But what does that even mean anymore? This series has always been changing. The trick is knowing where to stop, and in my opinion this series has pulled a full William Birkin- transforming and mutating after every encounter. And now it has finally become a bloated mess of flesh and teeth stuck on a train hardly capable of anything except Michael Bay-esque explosions and chase sequences until the self-destruct goes off.

Which is a real shame because I still like the characters in 6, and most of the story bits are done alright with some pretty good voice acting. The story makes Resident Evil sense at the very least. It just doesn't have very good pacing or play as well as 4 and 5. A lot of subtle things I liked about the series have been left behind for a faster, more frantic experience. And I think 6 suffers a lot for that. Some of the QTEs in this game are poorly timed. Some of them are so tight you really have to mash the button prompt or spin that stick hard or you instantly die. And strangely enough, I didn't have much trouble with the notorious rope climbing sequence I heard about. Not to say it's easy or anything, it's definitely a pain in the ass.

Or to put it another way, I had way more fun with Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City... so take that as you will.

Killing All the Little Things

I miss looking at maps, guys. I know that sounds petty, but I missed getting presented with an area and spreading out to find keys, shortcuts, and guns. It's about the exploration. RE4 was split into three areas in the form of the Village, the Castle, and the Island. That was still pretty linear, but there were enough loops and backtracking that gave me enough of that "trapped in a mansion-laboratory-police station" feeling. And you had a map. The co-op and multiplayer demands probably trashed that quickly, as there are hardly any quiet moments in 6. You're always moving, always getting attacked by something, always fighting monsters and the QTE-Virus. Compared to the rest of the games in the series, this is breakneck speed. And as dumb as the puzzles were and how little sense they made in the other games, they were still a form of personality for Resident Evil. I'm talking about emblems and chess pieces that doubled as door plugs. Sometimes a video game just has to be a video game, logic be damned.

Merchant guy was all:
Merchant guy was all: "You like shotguns?" And I was all: "I love shotguns!" I miss him.

Also, the finding of new weapons is a trivial thing. And you can't upgrade any of them. One of the biggest things that brought me back to Resident Evil 4 (and 5 to an extent) was getting enough money to upgrade my favorite guns and buy cool new stuff. I suppose they tried to keep the upgrade system in place in the form of buying skills (like extra damage for specific enemies, faster reloads, more defense, etc) but they never had the same impact as increased damage on a sniper rifle or a magnum. I don't feel like I get the same kind of payoffs from this system. I still want to make a cool ass assault rifle or shotgun and blast some not-zombies and B.O.W.s. Not to mention ammunition is an endangered species in this game. I have never run out of ammo and healing items so often and so fast than I have in RE6.

On another level, I feel like they've overdone the "this enemy seems impossible to kill" mentality coined by Birkin and Mr. X from 2, that was fine tuned later with Nemesis from 3. Now every single boss does this. They come back again and again to the point where it feels pointless to shoot at them. They're all doing the Nemesis thing, and this really hurts Jake's campaign with the Ustanak. His shtick is old hat if you play the campaigns in order, so it's never really surprising when you keep seeing a particular enemy again and again. It's less of "he keeps coming!" and more of "yeah, him again..." I would have preferred a larger variety of boss monsters.

The Many Faces of Resident Evil 6

Since Resident Evil 6 went the action route, it's really easy to be mean and apply silly subtitles to the campaigns of what they (accidentally or intentionally) end up evoking. So I couldn't help myself here. Anyways, I'm not going to cover everything, just some of the feelings I had when playing it.

- Leon's Campaign (Left 4 Max Payne) -

This is my favorite Resident Evil 6 screenshot, ever
This is my favorite Resident Evil 6 screenshot, ever

I find it hilarious that the secondary function on Leon's pistol is to whip out another pistol and dual wield them Max Payne style. You can tear through your pistol bullets in seconds flat, but Leon does have a fucking awesome reload animation where he spins his guns to eject his used magazines. Other than that... this is about as close as you're going to get to Resident Evil of the olden days. There are zombies, zombie dogs, and zombie presidents. There are also types of zombies that really remind me of Left 4 Dead, the Whopper especially. And you'll also go where no Resident Evil game has ever gone before- a passenger airplane! The bad part is that Leon's campaign has everything. Even an escort mission.

Lastly, Leon crashes like every single vehicle he steps foot in, without exception. I found that endlessly funny for some reason. He's like a virus for transportation. I guess that's why that ambulance death in the first chapter feels so cheap. I bet more than half of everyone who played Leon's campaign got killed by that ambulance.

- Chris' Campaign (Call of Evil: Resident Battlefield) -

Man, one thing I like is how beat Chris seems in this campaign. He has a lot of great thousand yard stares and glances with Jake. One thing that's almost impossible to ignore is how much his story has the dressings of modern military shooters. You have a useless squad, ho-hum vehicle sections, lots of radio conversations with HQ, airstrikes, and get up to no good with a harrier jet. To be fair, I found the harrier jet part kind of fun playing as Chris. It gave me shades of AC-130/Chopper Gunner fun, which is always welcome. But... this is a Resident Evil game, so I would be lying if I said it didn't feel out of place. And I know, Chris flew a harrier jet in Code Veronica- but that was a cutscene.

This campaign does have one of the better boss battles in the whole game where you fight something that's a cross between the Predator and Yawn from RE1. Playing cat and mouse with that thing was pretty well done and definitely one of the high moments of RE6.

- Jake's Campaign (Stuck in the Middle with Ustanak) -

Jake says
Jake says "Get Bent!" and then hits him with a folding chair

If I had to choose, I think this is my favorite campaign of the bunch. I really like Jake Muller, probably because he's voiced by Troy Baker and does a really good job. The whole son of Wesker thing is 'eh', but I felt like it was handled as well as it could. Sherry Birkin is also pretty cool considering she was a somewhat annoying helpless child in RE2 and has a few good tricks up her sleeves. Her history plays well with Jake's background, so her appearance doesn't feel completely random. The whole call back to Nemesis with the Ustanak is whatever, considering he only shows up when the plot demands it instead of stalking you room to room. There are a few bad stealth sequences to be found here and there, and one part with a stupid tank... but overall I liked it.

Fun fact, I played Jake's campaign first. So I accidentally played it in chronological order. It was eye opening to play the others and get the full story considering these guys are left mostly in the dark of the main plot. Also, the first weapon pick up is the long barrel magnum called the Elephant Killer. I bet the merchant guy would be proud.

- Ada's Campagn (I Spy Frustration) -

Ada's campaign has most of the stupid bullshit and is my least favorite of the bunch, but it does clear up lots of the questions you get from the other three. Mainly, I didn't like her main weapons in the form of a peashooter SMG and a lame crossbow. She has this dumb sequence where you have to stand on a platform waiting for button prompts while enemies with LMGs and guns swarm the area. And another part where you fall through the floor and land so close to blades that it kills you instantly unless you have split second timing with the crawl button. And there's a really touchy chase sequence where the game has a hard time deciding if you avoided a wall trap or not. Just about the only fun I had with Ada was a long part where you fly a helicopter and blast things with machine guns.

Naturally, the end of her story only leaves you with more questions. And a really underwhelming cut scene after the credits.

It's Not the End of the World (Yet)

My time with Resident Evil 6 ran pretty hot and cold. I think the whole dodge/roll system is really annoying where you have to aim your gun first before you can evade. That adds a start up time which makes avoiding boss attacks way harder than it should be. I do have to give RE6 credit for putting together a cast without a blatantly terrible character in the mix. There's no Irving or Ramon Salazar wasting screen time. Everyone, even the villains, feel pretty solid with good voices too. Also, I love games where you can play as more than one character and see different sides of the same event. It's one of the reasons I love Suikoden III so much, so I'm glad they made that such a big part of 6. That was one of my favorite parts of RE2. The changing HUD graphics were pretty cool, even if they were a bit jarring at first.

I will say that Resident Evil 6 definitely feels rough. But I don't think it's the worst thing in the world. Probably more schizophrenic than anything else. I do think this series would benefit from taking a break, or stepping away from the mountain of continuity they keep breaking and reforming to fit the next adventure. Most importantly, HUNK needs his own game.