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

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

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!

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.

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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.

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

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.

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Recently Played: FTL (Faster Than Light)

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!

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

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)

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.

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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

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

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.

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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

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.

EXPLOOOOSSSSSIIOOONNNNSS!!! BUY TORGUE!

"NOTHING IS MORE BADASS THAN TREATING A WOMAN WITH RESPECT!"

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.

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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

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

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

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

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Most Unsettling Award: The Walking Dead

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

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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.

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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

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Favorite Weapon Award: Revolver Cannon - Anarchy Reigns

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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!

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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

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

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: "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

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 "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.

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The Complete 'Soul' Experience (Demon's and Dark)

It's October! With games like Borderlands 2 and Resident Evil 6 out and about, naturally I bought Demon's Souls for less than twenty dollars and played it to completion. I tend to do that thing where I play a sequel or spiritual successor and eventually develop a need to play the first games in the series. It's not quite as crippling as Vinny Caravella's need to play games in order before moving on (or soak up all the media associated with a game) but it happens occasionally.

What makes this blog complicated is that I played and beat Dark Souls first, so... I realize my opinion may not mean a damn thing in the long run. I had already developed the Souls mindset, so it can't really compare to the experiences of the people who were there when it first came out. The "Rule of Firsts" is definitely in effect here.

Demon's Souls (and Dark Souls): Unforgiving Fantasy Adventure - The Game

The ancient art of Castle and Dragon

After braving and beating the two Soul games from FromSoftware (that will never not be awkward to read) I can say with certainty that I like Dark Souls way more out of the two. This is mostly because Demon's Souls feels less creative when it comes to their enemy designs and overall setting, which is the thing that brought me to this series in the first place. You visit a fantasy castle, a fantasy mine, a fantasy prison, a fantasy island (but not the TV kind) and a fantasy swamp. There are a few levels with some cool parts to them, but areas in Demon's Souls could easily fit into any medieval video game. The bosses also lack the vicious twist that Dark Souls had, with a few exceptions. I never found any creature as visually menacing as the Chaos Eater or Mimic in this game. Or any area as strange as the giant tree growing on top of a giant bell deep underground next to lava and demon ruins. Those giant flying Manta Rays that fire ice spikes were pretty cool though.

Not to say I didn't have fun (or as much fun as you can have with this kind of game), so I don't mean to sound down on it.

One thing Demon's Souls has going for it is that it feels way less harder than its successor. Whereas Dark Souls is ready to kick you in the balls at every turn, the levels and enemy placement here are much more kind. Some enemies still camp out next to doorways ready to jump you as Soul games tend to do, but for the most part it pulls back on trying to lure you forward so hordes of dudes can attack from behind. The placement of checkpoints from boss fights are also better, cutting out some of the long grueling treks between dying and going for another attempt. Demon's Souls still has its moments though, like Squid Faced Assholes hanging out on spiral staircases where your lock-on has trouble targeting them with the added difficulty of zero room to maneuver. Or more frustrating, placing giant pillbugs in small ass tunnels that soak up so much damage, you'd think they were made of fucking adamantium. And when you kill them, they explode like mini-nukes.

Those Souls games, man. I'm telling you.

Souls... Souls Never Changes

Probably the weirdest part of playing Dark Souls first is catching all the references made to this game before I knew they were references. And it's not throwaway lines or characters with oddly similar names (try the exact names). They're whole scenarios and levels, boss fights and NPCs. In one way, that means that these references work both ways, but it still feels weird thinking about all the tricks FromSoftware decided to bring back... like poisonous bogs lined with shanty towns that kill the frame rate, a boss that calls in reinforcements when it's almost dead, dragons that fry bridges with little warning, enemies that hide out and spawn other enemies in a tomb, a traitorous asshole NPC that kills your friends after you free him from jail, a traitorous asshole NPC that tries to rob you blind and becomes a merchant later, and a disheartened NPC that thinks you ain't shit. I find it hard to fault them for it though. I guess it would be like faulting Mario for using ice worlds or Mega Man for using spikes or those disappearing blocks. They're just part of the game's personality.

What a Pair of Assholes

What's also similar is the flow of the boss fights in this game. Once again, the dual bosses are the hardest bosses (because the Soul games can't handle group combat) while everyone else, especially the final boss, feels like a chump in comparison. The Maneaters specifically should have been the last boss in the game. Instead, they show up in the third level. Fighting two of those fuckers on a narrow bridge while they jump all over you like rabid flying gorillas caused me Capra Demon levels of rage. Every other boss is just a matter of patience. Or in the case of the Penetrator, luring it into an easy pattern of leaping attacks and side slashes until it penetrates no more. After the Maneaters, I really can't complain about the last boss harmlessly rolling on the ground while I incinerate it with fireballs. It was cathartic, for sure.

Sticky White Stuff

Maybe it's just a sign of my skill, but I feel like these games have a common thread where there is no special weapon or all powerful magic that will carry the day. I remember in Dark Souls unlocking the final Pyromancy spell and finding how utterly useless it was (even though it's an area attack spell). I missed Seath the Scaleless with it, a three story tall crystal dragon. Spending time at the blacksmith with rare souls also came up with disappointment as I craft swords and bows I don't have the stats to use. Or in the case of Demon's Souls, never having the right materials. I have to respect these games leaning on the side practical equipment rather than flashy ultimate weapons. I used a fireball and a fire sword to beat the game, and that didn't work half bad.

I was surprised to find lots of people still playing this game well after its release date, as levels were littered with bloodstains and messages. Invasions were a different story. I was only invaded once and didn't even see the guy before he somehow died on his own. But that was welcome considering how broken player combat is in Dark Souls. I don't imagine it would be any different here. There are also other things like level select vs. an open world, item equip load vs. carrying as much as you want. Most of that feels like minor details in the grand scheme of things as the delivery method doesn't change how unforgiving these games are that much. You're still going to die.

(Which boss has the funnier name? The Penetrator or Ceaseless Discharge? I can't decide!)

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Past Expiration: Doom II - Hell on Earth

So until a few days ago, I had not played Doom in any shape or form. Pick a Doom game, I hadn't touched it. But after re-watching some of the Breaking Brad: Doom II Ultra-violence videos over Labor Day, I got the urge to try it out and played through all of Doom II: Hell on Earth. Considering this is an old ass PC game that cellphones can probably run, this is definitely Past Expiration. I haven't done one of these in a long while.

Also, this is my thinly veiled suggestion for Brad to get back to his Doom II Ultra-violence run. I need more Brad Ultra-violence. Preferably with double Brads, but I understand if that's a tall order.

Doom II: Hell is Level Design

Yeah, you know what time it is

What can I possibly say about Doom II that hasn't already been said somewhere else? Does anyone actually need an introduction? Can I just say Cyberdemon and move on? What about double barrel shotgun? How about that asshole Arch-vile?

How about the devil? You know... the one in hell.

But just so I don't get lazy, Doom II is a simplistic FPS (compared to today's standards, mind you) where you don't have to worry about looking up and down, cover systems, or completing objectives. There are no cut scenes and no partner AI. No secondary functions or quick kill melee attacks. This is Doom, son. All you have to do is point your weapon in the general direction of your target and pull the trigger. Even at distance with a shotgun or rocket launcher, shots will automatically curve up or down depending on where your nearest enemy is standing. The only goal is to find three colored keys or less and get to the exit. Watch out for the buckets and buckets of demonic creatures out for your blood.

Of course the biggest enemy in this game isn't any one of the demons standing in your way, but the winding, sometimes obscure level design where you have to check every fucking wall just to figure out where to go next. Sometimes you have to jump off ledges without the luxury of looking where you're leaping. Of course, insane level design is partially justified by the protagonist making a journey to hell. Why would hell ever make sense to a human mind? The levels in this game reminded me a lot of Dark Souls (or should Dark Souls remind me of Doom?) where the game can't help itself. You start to know when it's going to trigger a ton of enemies after you grab sweet, sweet health or a cool new item. It can't help but blatantly advertise traps and collapsing walls once you've learned its routine.

I'm saying that Doom II and Dark Souls would totally hang out together and share drinks at a bar. Two assholes, having fun together.

Despite that, I still found Doom II a lot of fun. Mostly because of the shooting mechanics and the selection of weapons, crazy level design be damned.

Fun with Shotguns (and those other weapons)

The Greatest Shotgun Ever Programmed

There's a charming simplicity about the way shooting things in Doom II works. It keeps the action moving as the only way to really aim in this game is by moving your point of view around. You never have those moments where you pull up iron sights and take aim. No, you're always blazing around dodging shots and returning fire. Things are always moving in a fight. Not to mention Doom II has the greatest shotgun in any video game I've ever played, easily beating out the one in Resident Evil 4. Even the regular shotgun has the range of rifles, the pump action the only thing slowing you down.

But I'm all about the double barrel shotgun. It feels so damn good to blast enemies with that thing. It kills most of the fodder demons in one volley, and isn't a bad choice to use on the bigger guys. Watching the pixelated corpse of a Cacodemon or Mancubus erode after killing them with the double barrel is really satisfying. Clearing a whole room of troops or imps is also a great moment. It's so damn good. The sound effects and animations (even after the passage of time) hold up pretty well. But I'm never one to sweat graphics. My opinion is that graphics are not the most important part of a video game. They're nice, but not key.

The other weapons are pretty good too. I have to say the Plasma Rifle is probably my second favorite to the double barrel considering how it chews through everything. Great sound effect and blue color for the stream of plasma death. I guess it would be criminal if I didn't mention the BFG9000, but I found it went through ammo too fast. It's certainly handy in the right situations. My least favorite weapon out of the bunch is the Chain Gun, which takes too long to kill anything and feels like a waste of ammo. Sure, it's fine with the lesser dudes. But the number of bullets it takes to kill a Cacodemon is embarrassing. Especially when the double barrel can get that done in two or three shots.

The Story, Enemy Designs, and Other Junk

The Spiders had a cool sound effect though....

This game was made in the 90s, and if you didn't know that, the story and numerous icons of the devil and all things demonic are a dead give away. Doom II has a Mega Man effort of story justification where... does it matter why you're traveling to hell and fighting skeletons armed with rocket launchers? Much like, does it matter why you're fighting Dr. Wily and eight new Robot Masters again? The fact that Doom II is really fun helps it overcome a lot of the aesthetics I don't really like about the game. One thing I've always really disliked about Doom in general was the enemy designs, which all come off pretty juvenile in the way that blood equals mature, and skeletons and goat heads are the coolest things in the entire world. It lacks... subtlety. But it's Doom, so I'll deal with it.

I hope that doesn't come off harsh. I'm just saying that nothing about the enemy designs really impress me, only their AI patterns and abilities make them stand out. The Arch-Vile could be a stuffed turkey and I would still be scared of it because it can set me on fire by looking at me and revive the other guys I killed a few seconds ago. If the Pain Elemental was a basketball that spat flaming badminton, I would still think it's a total pain in the ass that takes priority over most other enemies because fuck those flying skulls, man. It's probably because Doom is such a staple of video game and FPS history that it's become a Citizen Kane moment. Nothing was a real surprise. I would really like to know if people who played Doom II for the first time found any of it scary or edgy. If you're one of those players, feel free to let me know. It's probably hard to communicate that if you weren't there in the moment when it first came out.

...Still a lot of Fun Though

Playing Doom II has filled in a lot of blanks for me. I can see how it was and still is a big deal. I thought it was funny how the levels change how threatening the enemies are. It makes using the right weapons in the right places really, really important. I still don't like any platforming or jumping puzzles in first person games. Even in Doom II, trying to sprint or launch myself at the right angles to cover chasms or gaps was a real pain in the ass. And the level design feels pretty uneven overall. Some stages take forever because they're so obscure (like the Citadel and the Industrial Zone), and some are just kind of funny like the one with all the rooms of exploding barrels in patterns set for chain reactions (appropriately titled Barrels O' Fun).

So yeah, I feel caught up. And I had a good time. I probably haven't said anything new when it comes to Doom II but I feel better for getting it out there. Maybe people who grew up with Doom will find it entertaining on some level.

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Recently Played: Snoozing Pooches (Sleeping Dogs)

Can I just start this by saying how refreshing it is to have an open world crime game in a setting outside the USA? One of the things I wanted most out of the Grand Theft Auto series for a long time was to use a city outside The United States of America. While still fun, it was kind of a let down to go back to Liberty City in 4. Even Saints Row the Third (as insane and off the wall as it was) had the city of Steelport in the borders of North America.

So it was a great change of pace to take on the video game version of Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs. I'm not even going to touch it's long, tenuous history from a game with a female protagonist to True Crime and beyond. There are probably way better sources than I. I'm just happy this game exists as it does. I had a lot of fun with it.

Sleeping Dogs (I'm Waiting for that Title Drop)

If I had to describe Sleeping Dogs in one word, it would probably be: solid. This game doesn't really do anything new or groundbreaking in terms of game play or story telling, but it's so well rounded. Not to mention fun. What probably did the most for me was the setting and subject matter. Hong Kong is a city with some steep history between China and Great Britain, and choosing the Triads as the criminal element of choice to dive into (as opposed to making them a faceless rival gang you beat up on) was perfect. Red Poles, Dragonheads, and more, it's all the little things that made this game so enjoyable to me. And I love, love breaking people's legs in combat and watching everyone else visibly flinch. Great bone breaking sound effects.

Wei Shen: Wheelman

So if you don't know, this is a GTA style open world game about gangsters, undercover cops, and breaking the law. Only it's in China, so you'll have some local color in the form of driving on the left side of the road (assuming your country of origin doesn't do that already) and dashes of Cantonese from main characters and pedestrians alike. It's also got shades of Vin Diesel Wheelman in the form of air jacking (or stunt position if you prefer) and a button designated for ramming people with your vehicle of choice. Not to mention some Arkham-esque melee combat with counters and combos and enemies that will make sure you just don't button mash to victory. And yes, it's got guns that go bang-bang and cars that go vroom-vroom. Those are okay, but it all meshes together well enough for a good time.

A Killer in the Kitchen, Too

I mostly enjoyed the fist fights (I was always happy to enter combat) and the various weapons like meat cleavers and tire irons. I love meat cleavers as weapons. You get some sweet moves too. I liked the grappling attacks because you could follow up with breaking some poor thugs' arm or leg with the right timing. They actually have some enemy variety too like tough guys who can shrug off damage (aka they don't flinch when hit) and big guys who can throw your ass around if you try to grab them. Much like Batman, it feels very satisfying to take on twenty plus enemies and just mop the floor with them. And in this game you have the option to whip out a blade or throw a guy into a meat hook if you feel like it. There are some great environmental kills in this game. The ice chipper (when you find one) is so, so good.

Never turn your back on Mrs. Chu

As for the story, I enjoyed that too. There are some real characters in Sleeping Dogs. People I remember. Not to mention a collection of some of the best gang names I've heard in a long time. My favorite would have to be "Broken Nose" Jiang who is one of the rare female Triad members. When I first heard her name I thought she was a man because I couldn't imagine a lady with a nickname like that. You also have "Dogeyes" Lin, "Big Smile" Lee, "Two Chin" Tsao, and many more. The guy you play as is pretty cool too. Wei Shen has a great voice actor and some great animations all around. Some of my favorites involve the moments when he gets out of bed after a long night of... messy triad business... and his idle animation is him on the verge of freaking out. It's a nice touch to represent the stress of undercover work.

...Still Waiting for the Title Drop

Not to say that Sleeping Dogs is a flawless piece of work. It's got a fair share of "open world jank" as the crew at Giantbomb would put it. Generally in my video game playing history, I've always been lucky. I never ran into anything game breaking in my playthrough. The worst thing that happened to me was one mission taking a really long time to cue up the phone call that would move the story along like it had frozen or something. A few times the valet that delivered my car would get out, assume the seating position like he was still in the car, and then disappear into the street. Sometimes the physics got real weird (as in people and cars flying way too high into the air) and sometimes Wei Shen would get caught up on a corner during foot chases that he should easily be able to climb. Nothing was terrible or frequent enough to ruin my time with Sleeping Dogs... although your mileage will vary.

The way you get more money in this game stealing armored cars or select vehicles was nicely done. The customization for Shen's clothing was cool as they had a nice variety of thuggish clothing and slick suits to beat up enemies in. The progression system of Cop, Triad, and Face (as in the expression "saving face") experience was a nice touch to keep things moving and a sense of accomplishment. I also appreciate how the game took itself seriously enough for the sake of the story. Those technological mini-games (bugs, tracking phone calls, hacking computers, etc) were okay. And the free missions doing favors for people (or getting robbed) was interesting enough.

It's hard to say what kind of future this game has, but if they do plan to make another, I think I want that crime game with a female protagonist. Hopefully in another city outside the USA. After all, variety is the spice of life.

P.S: ...the title of this game is referring to the old saying of "let sleeping dogs lie" right?

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