Recently Played: Resident Evil - Operation Raccoon City

So far, 2012 has been a great year for games with co-op that feature villainous protagonists parading around with guns that do bad stuff to everything that gets in the way. First came Syndicate, and now comes Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. But considering the majority opinion is against RE:ORC in just about every way... this game must have been made just for me. I can't decide if that's awesome or creepy. I've had a lot of fun with campaign (and the two versus games I played), probably due to my particular tastes and expectations for the Resident Evil series. Finally, finally, you get to play as Team Umbrella. Finally.

This doesn't make it the best game ever. Let me make that disclaimer here before I get started. I think this is an odd little game that hits me in all the right spots. Maybe I've been desensitized by all of Skyrim's problems. Or maybe I'm willing to put up with a lot to live out my dream of playing as the bad guys in the midst of a zombie crisis.

So thanks Slant Six Games. I'm sure your bottom line appreciates it.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (Third Person Zombie Chaos: The Game)

Mr. Death by kerissakti on DeviantArt

One of my all time greatest desires for the Resident Evil series was for HUNK to get his own game where he fights monsters and zombies on the payroll of Umbrella and nearly gets killed doing it. The closest I could ever get was the insanely hard bonus mission in Resident Evil 2 and the Mercenaries game in Resident Evil 4. It's really the only reason why I put any time at all into that mode. Score attacks aren't really my cup of tea. But if I was going to have the opportunity to play as a dude in a gas mask and snap tons of not-zombie necks, then sign me up. So I was pretty excited to hear about the premise of RE:ORC where you play as a team of gas masked killers on the payroll of Umbrella. It's not quite HUNK-gets-his-own-game, but this is probably as close as I'm ever going to get.

And I suppose it would be hard to explain the appeal if you aren't familiar with the series. While HUNK has a really dumb name, he has a cool look and by series standards is just about as persistent and lucky as any of the major cast. Even as a villain, he's a dude scraping by the skin of his teeth and putting up with ridiculous shit without a one-liner or grunt to the contrary. The cast of ORC is a lot more chatty but I still enjoyed their color. Especially Bertha and Beltway. They aren't super memorable, but they get the job done. At the very least they look cool. I'm pretty sure Bertha uses a hacksaw as her knife. That's not bad in my book.

Not Actually Resident Evil, but a Neat Application of It

Having played most of the core Resident Evil games from Zero to 5 (I even dabbled with Outbreak) I can say with some certainty that this game has little to do with that style or tone. This should come as no surprise to anyone keeping up with its development. It's almost a little unfair saddling it with that title. Think Halo Wars in relation to Halo. Or Battalion Wars in relation to Advance Wars. It's not scary (although RE really hasn't been all that scary since 2 or 3 in my opinion) and it plays fast and loose with the events of RE2 and 3. Not that I'd ever get all up in arms about Resident Evil fiction... but it almost becomes a museum tour of callbacks. Remember when the copter air dropped that Tyrant in RE2? Remember when that asshole Nicholai acted like an asshole in RE3? Remember Nemesis? The RE movies? Zombies? In a way, this game has no "4 Itchy Tasty" moment. They do have Crimson Head enemies... and I feel like I have to give them credit for that.

I wanted to make a joke about this Hunter... then I saw those gas prices in the background...

On the other hand, using the Resident Evil name does give them an excuse to throw zombies and B.O.W.s in the middle of a gunfight. It's more about putting on Resident Evil dressing than putting in soul, but it's one of my favorite scenarios ever when you have a three way free-for-all. Everyone hates everyone and it's bedlam all the time. The only part of the original Halo I really enjoyed was the Covenant vs. Flood levels. There's a Terran mission in StarCraft: Brood War I played over and over again for that reason. And most of ORC is like that. It's fantastic. I feel like more games should arbitrarily throw in Lickers to spice things up. Or if there was a Call of Duty where an asshole with a grenade launcher could get mauled by a Hunter or jumped by a Bandersnatch. ORC knows how to keep things hectic and is not afraid to throw tons and tons of dudes at you. It's certainly more frantic than normal RE games could ever manage. There are more than a few cases where running is your best option not because the plot demands it, but because hanging around is a really bad idea.

With that in mind, it creates this impossible equation where if you haven't been keeping up with Resident Evil there's not a whole lot to get out of it. The campaign especially. But if you have been a fan of this series for a long time, it's probably not what you're looking for. It's not impossible you would enjoy it, but unlikely.

Fun for the Whole Massacre

Zombie Party at Lupo's! Sorry Lupo

To compliment the sheer chaos between guys who want to shoot you and monsters that want to eat you are the various abilities of the Umbrella Security Service crew. While the main mission of the game involves destroying evidence of Umbrella's involvement in the whole Raccoon City turning into zombies thing, I found the most fun pitting zombies against US Government soldiers and various abominations. The lady known as Four Eyes can throw what is basically zombie bait causing nearby undead to swarm a hapless target. It's extra fun to compliment this with a grenade and makes for some excellent crowd control. Doctor Bertha is the medic, and while it's not the most glamorous job, carrying a shit ton of First Aid Sprays (even spawning with one) is seriously useful. Her little anti-virus shot also helps with infection and does a ton of damage to T-Virus mutations. Lupo has incendiary rounds, Beltway tosses sticky grenades... there's something for everyone. Even within a single character they have three abilities to choose from.

I also enjoyed the healthy selection of weapons. Shotguns are a lot of fun in this game as they shred zombies nicely. I can almost hold down an entire crowd single handedly with the Riot Gun if not for the mean reload time. Submachine guns are solid, assault rifles reliable if not for their small ammo reserves. While ammunition management isn't really a thing in this game, scrambling for bullets on the battlefield is. The pistol is never neglected for long in a tight spot. The only real oversight for weapons is the lack of a Rocket Launcher. For every Resident Evil game that hinged on the use of an RPG at the finale, it's pretty disappointing there's never a moment in the game where you can use one. The Grenade Launcher is about as explosive you can get. There's also a flamethrower... but it's terrible. It doesn't help that I've been spoiled rotten by Syndicate's awesome Thermite Gun. That thing should be the model of all future flamethrowers. Remember it, video game industry!

Also, people have plenty to say about the shooting. I didn't really notice anything (or mind it) from what I've played. It doesn't feel any worse than say Mass Effect or Uncharted. It's certainly not the worst shooting I've ever seen before. I can hit guys in the face just fine and hit targets at range with the handgun if I have to. That's good enough for me. Of course, I've never been an especially picky person if that counts for anything.

The Experiment Requires More Testing

The biggest bummer I've found is that boss battles take forever in this game. And unlike more modern Resident Evil games, there's no option to buy a Rocket Launcher to speed things up. The worst example is a sniper fight where you have to play whack-a-mole with an asshole in a bunch of windows. He loves tossing grenades. A lot of grenades. Other bosses take mountains and mountains of bullets. I get that maybe they're trying to demonstrate just how tough these monsters are... but come on. The game's fearless attitude about piling it on comes back to bite it in another battle where you fight two bullet sponges- at the same damn time. Not even Albert Wesker in RE5 soaks up the kind of damage these guys take. It would almost be funny if it wasn't so ridiculous. Luckily there aren't many in the game.

A few odds and ends also stick out where I imagine broke the experience for a lot of people. The cover system is... let's say... It's admirable they tried to take a button out of that equation... but it's way too touchy and I never truly know if I'm hiding or not. I've also played way too much Gears of War and it feels crazy you can't mantle over cover. Early on I got into this loop of trying to jump kick dudes on the other side of barriers before I remembered I was playing a different game. Reviving teammates is also funky, because the heart monitor that lets you know they're down doesn't stick with their body. Corpses tend to slide a bit when they fall so sometimes there is a fair amount of looking around. Picking up guns on accident is also an unfortunate problem and I wish there was some priority on saving your team. I never thought I'd miss regenerating health like I do in this game.

And yes, if you can't get friends together, the bots are dumb. Really, walking into trip mines is probably the worst of it. It's kind of funny first few times, especially if it's the explosive expert Beltway. They at least make great distractions and take damage pretty well. One of my drone buddies lasted surprisingly long sandwiched between a mess of zombies and a B.O.W. On occasion they even heal me. If maybe they were reworked to watch where they're standing/walking or at least keep their damn heads down, they wouldn't be any more noticeable than other gangs of CPUs that hang around and let you do all the work. If that doesn't sound like something you can handle, you probably won't be able to stomach this game for very long.

Proceeding with the Mission

I will never get tired of doing this

I like Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. But if I had to use the GiantBomb scoring system I would probably give it a 3/5. Judging from word of mouth, the majority of people would be less kind. Way less kind. Personally this game gives me a lot of what I've wanted out of the Resident Evil series even if it's not a traditional entry. It has a good selection of weapons. It has the monsters I've come to dread/admire over the years. It's got a really satisfying move where you stab dudes in the face. It's got a great feeling of chaos. And I can finally play as Umbrella guys in gas masks. It's not HUNK, but I'll take it.

I also find it hard to hate a game where you can take a zombie hostage and use it as a meat shield. I feel like that speaks volumes about the U.S.S. crew. They just don't give a fuck. They see this shit everyday working for Umbrella. If they have to use a zombie meat shield, then so be it. Plus, it's pretty funny.

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Going Overboard: My Last Mass Effect 3 Choice (Spoilers)

I wanted to talk about the ending to Mass Effect 3, but not whether it's good or bad. There are a ton of topics you can drop into if you really felt strongly about it. No, I just wanted to talk out what I thought about when I was making my last choice. If you've gotten this far without picking up on it, there are spoilers here. Yup. It's the ending spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

As a "Going Overboard" post, this involves thinking too hard and talking way too long about what is essentially a video game story line. Yes, I know. Not exactly serious stuff with unshakable plot. But still, I wanted to put my thoughts out there and get a feel about what other people were thinking when they made their call.

I guess you can go off on whether you loved or hated it too, I can dig it.

Mass Effect 3 Ending: At Least it was Weird

First some background. I played a mostly Paragon Shepard with a few renegade choices when the moment struck me. Like punching that Quarian Admiral in the gut (whose name I can't remember because he sucks) when he opened fire on a ship that I was inside- along with Tali. Fuck that guy. And gunning down Udina for selling out to The Illusive Man. Way too satisfying. Fleet strength was good by the end and everything was green. No casualties on the way to the Citadel beam. Well. Maybe. I'm not sure. It's hard to tell if Garrus or Tali got wiped out by Harbinger when he was tired of taking my shit and came down to Earth to zap everyone. I wasn't able to convince TIM to pull an ME1 Saren suicide and had to put him down myself.

Then came the final choice in the game.

The Citadel manifests a holographic image of the kid from Shepard's nightmares to talk about how its whole plan weeding advanced organic life every 50,000 years didn't pan out. It sets up my three choices to solve this impasse. Take control of the Reapers. Destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy. Or trigger Synthesis that would make organic and synthetic one and the same. I probably spent five minutes soaking it all in and considering the consequences of the next action. Considering all you have is the word of this Citadel AI who is the boss of the Reapers didn't give me a whole lot of confidence any choice was a good one.

Take Control of the Reapers (What? No. Not ever. Not cool dude.)

So the first choice sounds like the worst one of all. Basically Shepard would become the Reapers. Why that was colored in Paragon blue and demonstrated by Illusive "I Hate Aliens Everywhere" Man in the Citadel's explanation, I don't know. But taking control of the Reapers sounds like the worst thing ever. Even if the Citadel is telling the truth, why would you risk it? Could Shepard really keep the Reapers in check for the rest of eternity? How long until he or she goes mad from the isolation and decides to restart the 50,000 year pruning of organic species everywhere in the galaxy? Or gets tired of seeing them treating each other like shit and decides to teach them about galactic peace via Reaper invasion? I know Shepard is built up to be a character with an iron will (Renegade or Paragon) but it's shown time and time again in the game that Reapers ain't nothing to fuck with, dead or alive. Expendable Science Guy No.341 in Mass Effect 2 said it best. Even dead gods dream.

They call them "Shepards" now. They like delivering quest items, scanning planets and shooting commercials. Reporters watch out.

So I passed on that choice. It sounded pretty fucked up with no guarantee of peace. Maybe it would last or an insanely long time. But a breakdown from insanity and the return of the Reapers sounds inevitable. Shepard is pretty capable no matter how you play... but I don't think he or she could stomach this fate as a (highly modified) regular human being for the rest of time and space. Plus you'd be giving TIM the thumbs up. No thanks.

Synthesis (Sounds like a Fate Worse than Death)

The extra weird choice, and by far the most nightmarish to me, was making synthetic and organic species one in the same through some vague fusion. I almost picked this one through morbid curiosity. But based on the information at the time, it sounds like a plot for a Cronenburg film packed with body horror and sheer terror. All I could picture was the ending of The Fly with Jeff Goldblum where Brundlefly accidentally fuses with the telepod machine and comes out the other side as a creature of flesh and machinery silently begging for merciful death. I kept picturing Geth and Quarians blending together in some hodgepodge of circuitry, envirosuits and skin. Krogans and shotguns mashed together like a Silent Hill Roadshow that produced nothing but sexually suggestive nightmares. Fear for the flesh indeed.

I'm an abomination! Kill me! Kill me now! Oh god! Kill me now!

I mean, that's what the Reaper enemy type is right? Organic species jammed pack with Reaper tech to become hard charging Brutes and fucking annoying Banshees that can kill you in one hit if they grab you. It's not like you haven't seen this first hand throughout the game. Fuck that, man.

So I didn't pick Synthesis. Even though, looking back it was probably set up as the "best" ending. I don't imagine they would go James Woods in Videodrome they way I fear. And since there would no longer be a divide between synthetic and organic, the Reapers wouldn't have anything left to do. Except maybe make giant T-1000 skeleton frames in their spare time. It still doesn't sound like something ideal. And the logistics and believability of pulling that off would be a hard sell in five minutes when your only guide is an AI who created the Reapers.

Destroy the Reapers (...yes? I guess. Sorry Geth buddies...)

This is the choice I picked even though it was demonstrated in Renegade red by Anderson during the explanation. Wasn't Anderson my mentor the entire series? Plus he's Keith David. How can Keith David be wrong? Anyways, the catch of this one (to avoid making it the easy right answer) is that the Geth also get the purge since they are synthetic. And I wasn't thinking about her at the time, I guess EDI would get whacked too. I suppose this is a lot easier if you went Quarian all the way and wiped out the Geth with the help of Tali. But I had brokered a peace between my Geth and Quarian allies (and felt pretty damn badass too) so I had to consider betraying a pretty awesome part of my galactic alliance. Even after I had helped them achieve sentience too. But I did that awful military thing where I weighed the fate of the many against the fate of the few.

Sorry Legion. I guess the Geth have to reach a consensus on afterlife now.

I came to kill Reapers, so I killed Reapers. I blew them up and everything remotely associated with them and beat the game... and then the last cutscene played... All the relays blew up. Joker and the Normandy is somehow caught in the process even though I'm pretty sure he was supposed to be defending the Crucible and killing Reaper drones. Crash land on a fertile planet. Garrus and crew step out. Roll credits.

So About That Ending...

Matt Bodega posted a status update talking about people who hate the ending and people who love the ending and asking where do you stand? And I know it wasn't a challenge but I guess I'm in the middle somewhere. I'm not sure what to make of it. But I am glad they at least made it weird. The ending of something is never easy, especially if it's been mounting up expectations over years and years. I was curious how choice would play into the final act where you wouldn't be able to buy a Mass Effect 4 to find out if your crazy decision had any effect on the way the galaxy unfolds. Of course, now that I've invoked that scenario they will probably find a way to make Mass Effect 4 a reality, as bad as that sounds. Either way, it doesn't really matter.

I'm not one of those people calling for a new ending and I'm not in love with it either. I don't think this will be something I'll talk about for years to come. But I guess I'm glad they tried something other than a conventional "Destroy Reapers, Win Game, Party Montage" scenario. I probably would have been okay with that too. Really, most of the games I've played this year have been mostly about the journey and not about the destination. Syndicate is a good example. I've had way too much fun getting to the end for the finale to ruin the whole experience.

Personally, I would love smaller stories in the Mass Effect universe where it didn't involve Reapers or Shepard. Preferably where you play as a Quarian or something because those suits are pretty cool even if its their only line of defense from disease and infection. But that's just me.

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Recently Played: Rhythm Heaven Fever

The first thing to know about Rhythm Heaven Fever is that if there is a monkey in the mini-game, it's going to be hard. The second thing to know that if you are part of a team of three or four guys, it's going to be hard. The last thing to know is that no matter how hard things get, it's always going to be awesome. So very awesome.

Rhythm Heaven Fever (Feel Good Nonsense with Music: The Game)

It wouldn't be a Rhythm Heaven Fever discussion without Ringside

I feel like I've started most Recently Played blogs with the preface that I haven't played previous games in the series. That trend continues with Rhythm Heaven Fever for the Wii. I've had some passing familiarity with other Rhythm Heaven games, especially a demo of the DS version with the widget game that I remember being incredibly frustrating at the time. But I can see that this isn't the kind of game you want to experience at a demo station where you probably can't hear the music or enjoy the amazing visuals while you try to stick the rhythm. But it ain't easy. I'm frequently tempted to call this the Dark Souls of music games... but that's probably way too harsh. Maybe.

It really depends on how musically inclined you are and how well you can keep the beat. For everyone else it's a very demanding rhythm game coupled with a vicious grading scale I've come to expect from distinctly Japanese games. Thanks in no small part to Bayonetta's scoring system, I got used to the "OK" or "Try Again" ratings pretty fast in this game. And it's a good thing I did, because it's damn amazing in just about every other way.

The Fever Doesn't Mess Around with Timing

Right when you start the game, there's a little test that lets you know what this game is all about. They ask you to press buttons when a timer reaches zero. Something I'm extremely familiar with due to many, many Rock Band calibrations. But unlike Rock Band that simply throws you a thumbs up when you're comfortable... I was ALL over the place. Most of my tests were early or late. With only a tiny amount actually on time. Then I got to Hole in One, the first mini-game where a Monkey and a Mandrill teach you to golf, and whiffed it hard. I was hoping that my Rock Band skills would help a little (cause I've played a lot of Rock Band) but Rhythm Heaven Fever was like "Nah, son."

Monkey thinks I suck at Tambourine. I think he's right.

And it's funny that a game that controls with literally two buttons (A and B) could be so crushing. It's a beautiful simplicity that strips out a lot of elements so the only problem is really not pressing those buttons at the right time. This may surprise some people, but I still play on a standard definition TV. I don't have to worry about HD lag or all those unfortunate timing issues with pretty pictures. So with this in mind I had really taken a blow to my rhythm ego. I thought I was pretty good about that. I admit this was compounded by the Quick Look where Jeff totally kills it non-stop from start to finish, making the whole game look easy. I mean... how the hell did he get a medal on Monkey Clock? Not to mention Tambourine which is my own personal Rhythm Heaven Hell... but I'll get to that later.

Feel It, Don't Watch It

This cat is either psyched about badminton... or a total asshole

One of my favorite quirks of this game is how often is tries to screw you with the visuals. It loves its rhythm and never fails to go out of the way to remind you that if you aren't listening closely, then you're doing it wrong. One of the earliest examples is Monkey Watch, where the camera zooms far out making all the monkeys look like ants. The real rub of this game is listening to audio cues and hitting them in time with the music. This visual teasing doesn't stop as it only gets meaner in the form of screen obscuring clouds, dramatic narration, flashing lights, and in some cases total darkness. One game even starts on a black screen and if you aren't listening closely you'll miss the first three hits before you know what's going on.

But totally ignoring the screen isn't the answer. There is a lot of crazy stuff that is made better when successfully pulling off mini-games. In some cases, things get even crazier as button presses are more and more successful. Characters often react to success with party poppers or complementary cheers that making pressing one button in time feel damn good. The boss-ish Remixes are even better that take the established mini-games and throw decorative themes over everything. Rhythm Heaven Fever has a very distinctive, very awesome look that never ceases to amuse from start to finish. It also helps that a lot of mini-games are so weird it allows the art style to have a lot of fun with synchronized rolling seals, Donk-donks, and tap tap dancers with an amusing secret. Not to mention executive pigs.

Rhythm Heaven Highlights

This part is mostly for people who have played the game. With the fifty or so mini-games and people's varying experience with keeping rhythm, I imagine there are a lot of different opinions on what game is great and what isn't. Below is a short list of some of my favorites and some stuff I wasn't so crazy about.

Awesome

Heavy drops all over the See-Saw
  • Ringside - "Pose for the fans!" An obvious choice maybe, but this interview game is so damn great.
  • See-Saw - "Eee-ooh!" Rhythm Heaven makes See-Saws more awesome
  • Air Rally - "Ba bah bah bum!" I may totally suck at this game... but it's probably one of my favorite songs in the game. It's so cheery even if it sounds like the cat is taunting you the entire time.
  • Packing Pests - "Double up!" This game has a great groove. Not to mention, I can crush it regularly. One of my first perfect medals.
  • Remix 9 - "Okay, it's on!" Besides Remix 1, this is the only other Remix I have managed to get a medal on.

Not So Awesome

Monkey Watch is here to high-five, look adorable, and be brutally hard
  • Tambourine - This game was my first serious road block. I didn't think Simon Says with simians would be so hard.
  • Monkey Watch - I love the concept of this game as you hand out non-stop high fives... But man, it has a damn tricky rhythm to get down.
  • Shrimp Shuffle - "Together!" The shrimp game is pretty annoying and I hate the switch up. I don't care for the song either, so it makes this game a complete loss in my opinion.
  • Tap Troupe - Maybe second to Monkey Watch in terms of games I just can't handle. It's especially bad when this game shows up in remixes and fucks me up bad. I do like how your character doesn't seem to care when he messes up.
  • Remix 2 - Probably the hardest remix in the game for me. Mostly because Tambourine and Monkey Watch make a deadly tag team to ensure I almost always get "Try Again!" I will probably get a perfect on Remix 10 before I get a medal on this game.

Wubba-dubba-dubba is that true?

Besides the style and music, this game is great about putting on pressure. The way it hands out gifts manages to add another layer to an already tricky game. It randomly selects a song you've gotten a medal on, challenges you to getting a perfect, and only gives you three shots to pull it off. The first time it gave me an opportunity on Hole in One, I missed the first beat three times in a row. During another challenge on Board Meeting I consistently missed the last beat every time. I'm not sure if these challenges keep popping up or are "forever lost," but it's just as stressful as anything in Dark Souls. I don't think I have the drive (or the skill) to get perfect medals on most of the stuff in the game. And getting a perfect on some of the Remix Boss Songs seems... nearly impossible. Like a job for crazy people. I can't handle that because I am too busy being the best at choking.

I'm glad this game exists... and I understand if others don't agree. I've already seen plenty of responses where people don't see the appeal. If I had to make an argument, I would say that it's not any single part of this game, but everything working in concert that makes the difference.

Lastly, a Challenge

I've seen some great parody videos. I wouldn't be surprised if "Blocker Heaven" is posted in the comments or one of the pony ones. Because that's what you do when Rhythm Heaven Fever talk happens. But I say take it further. I'm putting it out there on the internet... I want to see some live-action Rhythm Heaven videos. Some would be easier than others. Cheer Readers or the Ringside would be totally possible. But if someone could do Fork Lifter or Packing Pests, I'm sure it would be the best thing ever. Until then, there's always have this quirky game's crazy sense of rhythm.

And pose for the fans!

RAAAARRRRGGGH!
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Recently Played: Saints Row The Third

I've heard (often) that no one man should have all that power... So I took it to heart and made a female boss for my playthrough of Saints Row: The Third. I have an image of her below, but since I used the official Saints Row the Third website... image quality won't be great, but you'll get the idea.

Like a Boss I Care About

You can't see it here, but she also has a bunch of scars on her face because she's seen some shit. I also picked the absolutely terrible and awesome Eastern Europe/Russian voice because it's so appropriate for everything that happens in this game. A few "comrades" get dropped here and there, but overall it's used pretty sparingly.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here.

Saints Row: The Third (The Official Game of Jeff Gerstmann's Giant Bomb Persona)

In a parallel to Dark Souls, I never played any of the previous Saints Row games. The most exposure I've had outside The Third was a demo of the first Saints Row on the X-Box. Early on it seemed like this series was after that Grand Theft Auto money, as the rule of business always seems to spawn competitors (or pretenders) whether it's a good idea or not. Thanks in no small part to the Giant Bombcast's running gag of "You should play Saints Row" and the promise of some crazy shit happening, I played through The Third. And if I had to stack it up against my recollection of Grand Theft Auto IV, I vastly prefer the off kilter world of Saints Row The Third and all the stupid shit they manage to get away with. Not mention their masterful use of licensed music stirring up fond memories of Short Circuit 2 and Karate Kid.

Accurate memory of my first time with GTA III

The major dividing line is that The Third has captured the essence of what brought me to the GTA series in the first place: unadulterated mayhem. GTA IV got a lot of play in my college dorm not for Niko Bellic's story, but simple endurance tests of how long each of us could run from the cops or survive on six stars. If we ever had to kill an hour or got bored, we would run from the cops ramping up construction sites, stealing poor getaway vehicles like garbage trucks and having last stand shootouts at city hall or the coastlines. And Saints Row The Third has that same vibe in a lot of different ways. A lot of very stupid, but very entertaining ways.

And just to be clear, this isn't a declaration of "GTA, never again!" but just an observation that they have become very different games. It will be interesting to see if GTA becomes too serious for its own good, or if Saints Row becomes too stupid for its own good. Or if a third franchise will appear and tackle some unknown middle ground between them.

Off With a Bang

This game has one of the strongest openings I've played in a long time. I feel like I always have to mention other people's opinions may vary... but one of my favorite flavors of action is vehicle disasters. Trains, planes, helicopters, cruise ships, etc. If it's destined to crash and burn, I am totally there. A gunfight in free fall after escaping a cargo plane and parachuting between loads and loads of cars and crates was awesome. Not to mention the bank heist before hand where you try to lift a vault out with a helicopter. I enjoyed the way they established all the characters caught up in the oncoming storyline of Saints vs. the Syndicate and all the crazy gang leaders they have. Where it goes from there can be hard to describe offhand. Somethings you just have to see for yourself.

Perfect Weapon for a Stroll

And from there it doesn't really stop. This game's sense of escalation is probably my favorite part. In the first three missions you go and attack a national guard armory because "they have guns and we need guns." The often mentioned Predator Missile is one of the first weapons you get... and from there they just keep giving you stuff along the way. Every five or so missions you get a new gadget or vehicle or celebrity gang member to call in when you feel like it. Admittedly, some are more novel than useful... but the gun that lets you take remote control civilian vehicles while the drivers are still inside is one of my favorite things to do, even if it hardly ever sees use in gunfights.

Eventually you get to the point where you're fighting crazy futuristic government task forces, contractually obligated to fight zombies, and have the option to call in Burt Reynolds while you tear up a casino owned by Luchadors. If there is one thing Saints Row The Third can handle is the presentation until your reaction is something along the lines of "Ok, awesome. Let's go."

Barrels of Bullets and More So

Every gun you can get your hands on can be upgraded in some way. There are a few melee weapons that can't... but for all the bang bang and pew pew I feel like it has something for everyone. My personal favorite was the AK stand in that can be converted to a light machine gun with a grenade launcher that makes spraying down enemies a good time. Other guns get incendiary rounds, like a lever action shotgun (also one of my favorites). And I didn't notice until the very end of the game that you can upgrade your grenades too. The flashbang becomes a fart in a jar along the lines of Jarate from Team Fortress 2. Yup. Even the pistols are always useful considering one handgun is the only weapon in the game that can fire explosive rounds.

My Favorite Activity

But of course my all time favorite activity in the entire game is what counts for melee combat. Wrestling moves. All you have to do is run up on a guy and hit the right trigger to launch into a flashy suplex or take down. There's a surprising number of variations so I never got tired of it. Some of the best involve leapfrogging a confused enemy and straight up punching them in the face. Or one where the boss shamelessly poses after dropping a fool on the ground. This was made even better by Pierce (one of your homies) quickly commenting "save it for the cameras." Once I had a high enough level to buy the immunity to bullets, wrestling moves was practically the only attack I used if I could swing it.

Features that Should Be Essential

Maybe now is a good time to mention that Saints Row The Third is essentially an open world game so if you're not into that kind of thing, all the gunfights and window dressing isn't going to do you any favors. But the game has done more than a few things that I don't think I can live without if I had to play another game like it. Leaping into cars and kicking out the driver is so quick, easy, and useful that the brief carjacking animations of GTAs past seem like they take forever. It's also appreciated that if a cop somehow does run up on your side and throw you out you don't get immediately arrested. Saints Row The Third is pretty committed to letting you play until you die. Or in the very late game playing until you're satisfied because dying becomes impossible. Of course, considering the tone of this game that kind of shit can fly any day of the week. But if other games had to crib notes I hope they find someway to make that work.

Genki Homies are the best Homies

Not to mention the way they handle vehicles in this game. If you ever find a car you absolutely love, you can never lose it if you return it to your garage. The feature to call up a gang member to deliver it to where ever you may roam is also greatly appreciated. Sooner or later you can do it with helicopters and VTOLs and that's also pretty awesome. Expendable gang members are also a plus so you never have to get too attached to your soldiers or worry about wasting them. This is especially awesome as you complete side missions until you can have a whole gang of Professor Genkis rolling with you whenever you feel like it. It's like a Super Ethical Reality Climax everyday of the week.

Of Course, Perfection is a Hard Mark to Hit

Saints Row The Third is a good game, but like any release in 2011 it has its fair share of problems. I had more than a few lock ups on loading screens and even one while I was flying in a helicopter. The trigger for one mission to end never flipped so I had to reload my save file and play it twice to beat it. One weird glitch occurred where I couldn't interact with characters like taking hostages or using wrestling moves- which was probably the worst one of all considering how much I love running up on guys and drop kicking them. This even happened during one of the endings of the game where a cut scene was supposed to trigger meaning I had to play through the whole thing all over again. Video games, man.

Overall I had a great time. This game's sense of humor is fairly particular, and it makes sense why most of the Giant Bomb crew would enjoy it. I'm in no position to say whether it was hilarious or not, but there are some good moments if just for the "wow, they really did that" value.

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Recently Played: Dark Souls

I beat Dark Souls. I realize that opinions on this game are cheap and easy to come by, I still feel compelled to write something- anything about an experience like this. Considering all the time and... learning... I put into it, I feel it would be a waste not to put down some of my thoughts even if I end up talking to myself. It's Dark Souls, yo. You probably already have an opinion on the matter even if you haven't played the game yet.

But some of the things this game does is absolutely fantastic. I don't mean to imply it doesn't have its fair share of problems, but even then, Dark Souls doesn't really give a shit about that.

Dark Souls (Everything Trying to Kill You: The Game)

What the fuck is that?

Before I get started it might be important to mention that I didn't play Demons' Souls. So what I might find good or bad could be older than I realize, but I just wanted to give you a frame of reference. One of the reasons I even bothered playing Dark Souls in the first place was the awesome enemy design like the Gaping Dragon, the mimic, and other creatures. The difficulty, the setting, and the "story" are really just secondary in the grand scheme of things. And if there is one thing I can give Dark Souls, it has made me say "what the fuck is that?" probably more than any video game I have ever played. It starts kind of slow with basic skeletons and zombie-ish enemies wielding swords...

But once you get past Undead Burg into the sewers and on to Blighttown, it gets awesome... err... gross. There is a lot of nasty stuff that wants you dead. And since death carries so much weight in this game, I found every new encounter a high tension, who-will-blink-first showdown. Considering how unforgiving this game is, dying is as natural as jumping or running. It might as well be considered a natural ability.

How Hard is Hard?

I won't try to sell this as the hardest game ever or undersell how difficult it is in an attempt to go against the grain. It reminds me of Ninja Gaiden on the X-Box in a lot of ways, and Valkyrie Profile 2 in others. Dark Souls, at the very least, is a high stress, damn unforgiving game that constantly makes war on your patience. I find it hard to play this game for long stretches as it eventually grinds my concentration to dust so I'm making stupid mistakes over and over again. The way bonfires work as checkpoints means you'll spawn miles away from bosses requiring you to play the same part over and over again just to try a fight over. Sometimes you get poisoned on the way. It's a game with some high-ass highs, low-ass lows, and literally nothing in between. Your results may vary.

Blighttown is so deadly it kills the frame rate. For real.

I can say with certainty that Dark Souls is the greatest horror game I have ever played. When you can lose so much in a single death, it's easy to fear for your life even when nothing is happening. That's the true nature of horror and fear to me. Jump scares are cheap and easily over come. It's much harder to overcome fear of the unknown when I've fallen deep into a sewer filled with man eating blobs, bug eyed things that spew poison gas, and rats the size of a fucking school bus. Fear is when you're standing perfectly still in a hallway, nothing is happening, and you're dead afraid to round the next corner. And that's not even mentioning Blighttown, Tomb of the Giants, and other wonderful places to get killed.

But if you play long enough to get into the Dark Souls mindset, you can see ambushes or cheap shots coming a mile away. If there's a dude (most likely an archer or magician) blasting you from the other end of a hallway, you can bet that there are other enemies lying in wait to stab you in the back when you charge forward. Or you can bet that the narrow doorway is probably obscuring a runaway boulder that can push you into a bottomless pit or crush you flat. Narrow walkways will always be covered by snipers or assholes in white robes. Sometimes suspicious video game generosity is really too good to be true. Eventually (if you stick with it long enough) you get wise to the game's tricks before long. Dark Souls can't help itself.

The Dark Souls Flow

Probably the most damning thing about Dark Souls is that the game has no pacing. My game clock says 45 hours, but it felt way longer than that. When you're dropped into a the world with hardly anything but a few suggestions to move forward, there are a lot of opportunities to spin your wheels. The game is so mysterious about how it operates and what does what that it's not going to bother to point you the right direction. Some item descriptions drop hints, some enemies are obviously too powerful sometimes, but there are moments where you can edge your way in the wrong direction despite the odds. I made the grave mistake of picking the Master Key item in the beginning thinking I could get my hands on sweet weapons and armor... only to bypass several areas and reach the bottom of Blighttown way before I was supposed to be there. Unlike games with similar exploration like Super Metroid where you're always getting stuff to go "oh shit, now I can go there", Dark Souls drops no such hints. I certainly didn't do myself any favors with the Master Key. But that was something I had to find out on my own.

I had my moments of weakness and looked up the map of Sen's Fortress and Blighttown. I'll admit it. Not that it really helped. Areas in this game are pretty complex. But there were a few moments when I found it hard to go on. Things didn't really click for me until I got to Sen's Fortress and had a clear objective to conquer that shit. Then it kinda hit again when I got lost inside a tree, got beat up by mushrooms, messed around with the Darkroot areas and got killed by a butterfly. You know, Dark Souls stuff.

The Hardest Boss in the Game: the Third Boss

This also applies to the boss fights, mostly because Dark Souls' engine can't handle group combat. Is it any surprise that the hardest bosses in the game involve two or three guys coming after you at the same time? Smough and Ornstein can be tough if you kill them in the wrong order, but as far as I'm concerned, no boss is harder than the Capra Demon. The last boss of the game ain't got shit on this guy, his two fucking dogs, and his tiny alley where he has you at arms reach at all times. And he's only the third boss of the game. I had an easier time with a crystal dragon the size of a three story building. If you can handle this guy, you can handle anything.

You could argue that an improved engine where you could manage more than one enemy is against the spirit of Dark Souls... but the game could still be tough even if you had the ability to go back and forth between enemies like Batman. It seems like poor form to exploit the weakness of your combat engine in order to make bosses harder. But that may be no small amount of bitterness talking. I just wanted to put that out there that it's odd you can slay monsters the size of cars. But as soon as three dudes are on you it's too much to handle.

The Best of Abominations

Yay! Treasur- WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

My favorite thing about Dark Souls is the enemy design. I love the monsters in this game. The best would have to be the Mimics that pretend to be treasure chests. Monster Chests are not a new concept in the year 2011/2012, but their design in Dark Souls is pretty terrifying/great. The first one I stumbled on damn near killed me. I had the tiniest tick of health after I tried to open it. Of course, when you attack it they sprout arms and legs and stand nine feet tall. They tower over you and make hideous noises that sound something like demonic giggling and a bird call rolled into one. And they still want to eat you. The only thing that breaks the tension is that Mimics can do a flying spin kick that would be right at home in Street Fighter. Like they were taking notes from Ken.

The Gaping Dragon is also pretty good, but an obvious choice as most people have seen it in the Dark Souls trailers as the wall of teeth that crashes down on the knight guy. Nito the Gravelord is pretty cool as a moving mound of corpses with a sick blade and plenty of skeleton homies. There are also these things found in the magma area that are like cylinders of flesh and teeth covered in eyes that spit acid and look absolutely disgusting. I kept those things at a bow and arrow distance at all times.

Building a Better Deathtrap

Seath, why you so crazy?

At some point Dark Souls is a little too mysterious for its own good. The game is too busy withholding every bit of information to bother with exposition or story. Yeah, you're ringing bells and grabbing souls and other stuff. But I never had a real connection between my supernatural massacre and where I was in the scheme of things. Bosses sometimes get underwhelming intro cutscenes (if they get anything at all). They could use some more personality in the game rather than blurbs on item descriptions. I would have loved if they had any dialogue at all so I could figure out why the half-lady, half-lava spider was trying to kill me. Or why I had to hack a tree fetus to death to defeat the Bed of Chaos (or whatever the hell that was). This game could probably get away with sparse cut scenes without going Metal Gear and give me the tiniest motivation to check out the world's grossest slum.

I do have to mention that the interactions with the random NPCs are pretty well done along with the voice acting. My favorite is the Onion guy who hangs out around Sen's Fortress. He doesn't do much, but his armor is pretty cool and his bumbling nature more so.

This might fall under personal taste, but it's funny how all the enemies in the game just stand around rooted to one spot until you show up and activate them. They don't have routines or patrol routes. They have their one spot in the world until you enter their radius. It certainly works for combat as you can queue up enemies in one big line so you can kill them one at a time. But they never actively seek you out or corner you unless you moved too far ahead and attract too much attention. It certainly comes off kind of silly how a zombie dragon will wait around in one spot while you pump it full of arrows without coming after you or retaliating in some way. Although some of them will chase you to the ends of the earth if you piss them off. Even still, the world is extremely static. If they make a sequel, I hope they would find someway to make things more active. Hopefully without breaking anything or finding new and exciting ways to screw you over.

You Defeated!

I certainly enjoyed my time with Dark Souls. The enemies and various areas you explore were everything I hoped for. Player invasions... not so much, as I never won a single one of those showdowns. So I spent most of my time as a corpse. I am a little sad I got this game after they patched some of the English text. It doesn't feel quite as good without the translation quirks. It's hard to say if I will play another Souls game. But for now, it can have its own merciless corner in the wide range of video games. It's certainly made me appreciate games like Okami and Dead Space for the different levels of challenge.

Also, fuck the Capra Demon. Fuck him.

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The Sarumarine Awards of 2011!

Due to limited time and money on my part, I'm not qualified to make any real "best of" list. I've missed plenty of promising looking games in favor of other promising games, so all I really feel comfortable with is handing out some awards for some of the things I thought was pretty great (or terrible) in the year 2011. It should go without saying that this is merely my humble opinion, and your results may vary. You know, video games! So without further adieu...

HEADS UP: There are spoilers for Dead Space 2 and Portal 2, if you're worried about that kind of thing.

Best Evil English Accent Award: Queen Myrrah - Gears of War 3

"You're not worthy!"

If you live in the United States, the short hand for villainy is a slick English accent all because the US and England have had some serious beef in the past. This is especially true if an English accent makes zero sense in the context of the video game world it appears in. The clear winner of this year I found was Queen Myrrah from Gears of War 3. As the leader of a vicious underground monster horde, she uses her accent to spit game about genocide, the dominant species, and people named Fenix young and old alike. Her mannerisms get extra mileage in multiplayer where she has plenty of amusing one liners and at least one hilarious laugh that is completely out of character as she vaporizes targets with the Hammer of Dawn.

A round of applause for voice actress Carolyn Seymour. Clearly there is nothing more evil than Killer Underground Monster British.

Runner Ups: Katherine Marlowe - Uncharted 3, Wheatley - Portal 2

Grossest Moment Award: Isaac Clarke's Do-it-Yourself Eye Surgery - Dead Space 2

God Isaac. Stop moving!

If you don't know this about me, I don't deal well with eye horror. Sticking anything sharp and metal in the soft tissue used to look at things is enough to make me wretch inside. So it was especially tough to play through Dead Space 2 when the story suddenly demands Isaac jam a long, steel needle into his right eye. This scene gets extra points as a playable sequence where you have to carefully guide the needle into a very unwilling Clarke laying down on a bed. Why is this in the game? Something to do with those crazy Markers. It gets even worse if you fail this part, as the machine goes haywire and tunnels out Isaac's eye socket in gut wrenching fashion.

If you want to see how bad it can get, blame Hamst3r for linking a funny (and still disgusting) parody of the 5 Gum commercials using the worst case scenario of DIY eye surgery.

Runner Up: Stuff with the Night Mother Coffin - Skyrim

Handheld Hat Trick Award (Music, Gameplay, Story): Ghost Trick - Nintendo DS

Ghost Trick is a game that came out of nowhere to kick some ass and lay down some amazing character animation for a quirky puzzle game on the DS. It does what it says on the tin, involving ghosts, tricks, phantoms, and detectives. How that all runs together as the story unfolded threw me for a loop over and over again until I couldn't wait to see how it all played out. To be fair, this is a very "one and done" sort of game with zero replay value except to relive the magic over again. But Sissel, red headed girls, blue skinned hitmen, and Pomeranians make for a compelling mystery about truth and identity. Avert that fate, ghost that trick, and detect those phantoms.

Will Smith and Norm Chan's Stare of Disapproval Award: Okamiden - Nintendo DS

I really can't express how much I hate Okamiden without going overboard or sounding unrealistically mean. It has one of the worst final boss battles I've ever seen (with terrible execution to boot). So instead I'll let Will Smith and Norm Chan of Tested.com express how I really feel deep down inside about this game.

Favorite Franchise with No Release in 2011: Advance Wars

Ah... Good times. Good times.

One of my favorite game series, handheld or not, is Advance Wars that first came out on the GBA in 2001. The mostly bright and colorful take on managing armies of tanks, planes, and soldiers had shown me lots of good music and quirky characters. I've taken the lack of news about a new installment after Days of Ruin/Dark Conflict pretty hard and can't help but wonder if we'll ever see another one. It's easy to be a pessimist on this one considering Intelligent Systems also makes the far more popular Fire Emblem series. And I've come to accept the knowledge that if they ever do make another one, I'll probably have to buy a 3DS to enjoy it. Either way, sad to see nothing Advance Wars related this year. The wait continues.

Wishful Thinking/Runners Up: Blast Corps. and F-Zero

The Dead Space Quality Achievement Award: Modern Warfare 3

Iron Lady is the best mission in the game.

The Dead Space Quality Achievement Award is given to a game that does nothing new in terms of graphics, gameplay, design or pushing limits... but still manages to be a solid, fun experience anyway- much like when the first Dead Space came out. Modern Warfare 3 has nailed this middle ground as one of the many installments in the Call of Duty series. It's a modern military first person shooter that needs no introduction... but I would be lying if I said I didn't have any fun on the last outing of Captain Price's mustache and other random soldier dudes who keep stumbling into frame. It's big on spectacle as a roller coaster ride with bottomless explosions and all the plot holes you can come to expect. It also has the triumphant return of the AC-130 mission (one of my personal favorites) and the same mulitplayer with a few tweaks here and there. It is what it is.

Whether you hate or tolerate this series, I can take solace in the fact that I'm done with Price and I won't have to care about one of these games unless maybe they come out with Call of Duty: AC-130.

Best Rock Band DLC Song Award: Otherside - Red Hot Chili Peppers

I will find any excuse to use this

I find it incredible that someone somewhere is still releasing DLC for Rock Band. Week after week, they’re still putting out songs for people to download. One of my favorites this year was Otherside from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Whether it’s guitar, bass, vocals or drums, this song is an amazing release that I couldn’t wait to get into. Maybe a little low key compared to some of the shred fests... but I love it. I know how tricky taste in music can be, so I don't mean any disrespect to the truck load of other releases in the year.

Runners Up: Edge of Seventeen - Stevie Nicks, Betus Blues (Retro Remix) - dB Soundworks

Awesome Co-op Action Award: Uncharted 3

I couldn't find a good picture. So here's LEGO Drake.

Uncharted 3’s campaign was solid with some great character moments... but nothing on the level of Among Thieves. I was surprised to enjoy the Co-op campaign much more with it’s crazy, non-canon plot that ends in a gun battle at an airport with most of Uncharted’s major villains. If they had somehow thrown Marlowe and Talbot in there it would have been one of my favorite moments of the year. But along with an arena mode involving various objectives, I’ve had tons of fun jumping, shooting and climbing with two other people in pursuit of body counts... I mean treasure.

Runner Up: Beast Mode - Gears of War 3, Co-op - Portal 2

Most Memorable Set Piece Award: The Tormentor Tumble - Dead Space 2

Tormentor... IN SPACE

For the most part, Dead Space 2 did away with boss battles in favor of scripted moments involving rampaging necromorphs. My favorite moment involved a hulking monster known as the Tormentor that shows up while Isaac is trying to deal with a persistent gunship and insane Unitologist people. Shit gets kinda crazy when both of them get sucked out into space and tumble into a gunship for a final scuffle. The motion, soundtrack, and spectacle for this part is awesome as they all spin around in a vacuum until you take the shot. If you fail, the Tormentor re-creates the cover of the original Dead Space with Isaac's body.

Runner Up: The Sinking Cruise Ship - Uncharted 3

Standout Character Award: Cave Johnson - Portal 2

Good job, robots.

In a game series known for a crazy computer called GlaDOS, it's an achievement to somehow one up her with an even more memorable character in the sequel. The only trace of Aperture Science CEO Cave Johnson in Portal 2 is in the form of old portraits and prerecorded messages as you follow his career in crazy science. But I found myself kinda moved by his final speech he delivers in his failing health due to his relentless drive for progress (or whatever that means to him). J.K. Simmons, as the voice of Cave, did a great job to overcome my mental image of him as J.J. Jameson and the psychiatrist from Law and Order: SVU.

Runners Up: Herschell Biggs - L.A. Noire, Cicero - Skyrim, Charlie Cutter - Uncharted 3

Quick Categories

And that will do it for the year 2011. I will probably play more games before the year is out, but this topic will make a good representation of some of the fun (and horror) I've seen so far. By the time Christmas rolls around, hopefully I will have my hands on Dark Souls and Fortune Street. I can't wait to get into those.

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The Guess that Quick Look Game

Guess that Quick Look

Hey, I don't want to frighten anybody, but Giant Bomb has done a metric crapton of Quick Looks. The majority of the time they're having a little fun showing off the latest release or a game that caught their interest. I have my fair share of favorites, mostly due to hilarious commentary. But how well do you remember your Quick Looks? Would you be able to know the game going by one joke or off hand remark? There's one way to find out.

I'll give you a somewhat notable line from Jeff, Vinny, etc, and you name the game from the Quick Look. I'll sprinkle in hints (of varying helpfulness) for most of them to be generous. As for the difficulty rating... it's like the Rock Band system. It doesn't mean a damn thing in practice so don't sweat it.

But don't worry. This isn't a contest. At the very end I'll list the answers in a spoiler box so you can see how well you did. They'll be matched up by numbers. Really, this is just a clever way of sharing some of my favorite Quick Looks while practicing in bad art programs. Links will be provided if you need a reminder or see it for the first time. Good luck!

The Gimmies (Easy)

The Knight is site engineer Dave Snider, for those Wondering

The Singles (Medium)

The Last One is a Real Doozy
Ryan is pretty good at the off hand remark

The Doubles (Hard)

Welcome to the doubles. To make things harder, you'll only get two parts of a conversation. Here you'll have to name both commentators (A and B) and the game they Quick Looked. Oh, and the Wild Card at the bottom is a line I picked out of a random video on Giant Bomb. It could be office vids, mail bags, Endurance Runs, or reviews. It's worth all the cookies.

Watch out for the Wild Card

Done? How well did you do? Find out below in the spoiler box. If you missed a bunch, you can get a refresher course by clicking on the links in the answers and watching some quality content for the second (or first) time.

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Recently Played: Gears 3, White Knight 2

I was very tempted to call this "Nothing in Common" but recently I've been playing two games that couldn't be more different. One is a third person shooter with chainsaw bayonets featuring Ice-T on the XBox and the other is a painfully straight faced JRPG with giant knights on the PS3.

Gears of War 3

If you don't know about Gears of War 3 and haven't made a decision on it by now, we have the technology to catch up. But I'll try not to spend a whole lot of time recounting everything on Epic's latest chainsaw romp through the amazingly fucked up world of Sera. The story is alright. The unlock system is crazy. The Digger is my favorite new weapon. But I will spend time talking about my new favorite addition.

Beast Mode, Terrorize

I love Beast Mode. One of the things I like the most in video games is when you can play as the villains in any capacity. Campaign mode is fine, but when you have a mode like this where you can take the Locust monsters for a spin, it's a great time. It does take a bit of time adjusting to the controls of the locust. A lot of them don't handle like the main game, but have the same concepts. The Bloodmount is especially weird as you control the mount while an AI locust guy sits on top of you with a Hammerburst firing away. The Kantus can't take cover but has re-spawning Ink Grenades and a team healing move. It's a lot of fun to rip through defenses and destroy everything in your pursuit to wipe out the COG.

Nothing Runs like a Berserker

Playing as a Berserker is the obvious highlight as it's just as indestructible as it was in the first Gears of War. You can tear through any barrier, turret, decoy and Silverback without so much as flinching. Even if your vision is limited, having that telltale sound of a Berserker charge while running is just fantastic. But I think my favorites include the Serapede and the Armored Kantus. I don't always get to the final tier (because there are some good people out there) but the Armored Kantus' spin ball move ala Sonic the Hedgehog had me laughing for a long time when I used it to kill an enemy. Not to mention, two of those Gorgon Pistols are mean. And if you're feeling especially helpful, you can heal the team.

The only problem with Beast Mode? It takes FOREVER to find a game. It's not nearly as popular as Horde or standard multiplayer modes... and I guess I can see why. But man, Beast Mode is so worth the wait.

Hail to the Bots

Online Versus mode in the Gears of War series has been kind of tragic in the way that so many awesomely ridiculous weapon designs like the chainsaw bayonet, the torque bow, the Mulcher, the Digger... have always been tossed aside for one weapon: the shotgun. All of the games I've played so far with people (a handful at the most) have been nothing but Dances-with-Shotguns. The way people play you'd think no one started with an assault rifle, never mind the other weapon pick ups. Which is why I felt compelled to mention the greatest thing in Versus is the option to play with bots. It's nice to have the computer to play around with and experience the various maps, guns, and modes.

Dig Deeper into the Digger

The computer is cold, impersonal strings of code and that's probably the best part. Nothing is personal. It's pretty well rounded (even for AI) and make use of everything on the map. This is probably my mindset, but they play Gears in the way I imagined it. They snipe, chainsaw, mulch, dig- everything. And on Insane they're no slouch. Not to say they don't have their shortcomings, as they do exhibit some stupidity. But it's nothing you won't find online like teammates ignoring you when you're down and out only a foot away. But they keep things fresh with gunfights at a distance instead of rolling across the map to point blank range for a one-hit kill with the Gnasher or sawed off. I can just mess around, shoot guys, or chainsaw them when I have the chance. I hope this trend continues where games offer bots for the bulk of the multiplayer mode without stripping away features like Black Ops.

Probably my favorite moment so far is playing as Queen Myrrah and sticking Marcus Fenix with the Bayonet charge. Her follow up line was "That was oddly satisfying."

White Knight Chronicles II

White Knight Chronicles II is a weird game in a lot of respects. It's not exactly a straight sequel as it includes the first White Knight Chronicles packed in on the same disc. It seems kind of generous... except that the sequel part has zero tutorial and a long list of vaguely informative help topics. If you didn't play the first game, it doesn't throw you a bone in the least. The only real way to ease into it is start from square one and play through the first game where it takes the time to explain stuff to you. And that's what I ended up doing. Maybe I was drawn in from the idea of two games for the price of one (or the neat looking Knight designs) but I took on White Knight Chronicles I and II without really planning on it. My roommate seemed pretty excited about this game when it was first announced forever ago.

This game is... okay. Mediocre at best. But it has mad customization with armor, class and spells- and I love that stuff. The downside of White Knight Chronicles II is that it reuses every area from the first game, you just visit them in reverse. Yeah...

Standard Concept Fantasy

Mr. Sheffield, Ladies and Gentlemen!

The most crippling part of this game is the story. It's rote fantasy that does absolutely nothing new. You can predict everything that happens from the word go. Prophecies, princesses, black knights, betrayal, fake betrayal, spunky kid heroes that never says die, yelling names, old mentors, and characters taking themselves way way WAY too seriously. The only thing I can say that was kind of interesting is that one of the characters is voiced by Charles Shaughnessy who played Sheffield from the American sitcom "The Nanny" starring Fran Drescher. It's just the stuff they're involved in is so boring. Guess what guys, there's good and evil, and they got beef. I can assure you those prophecies play out just fine, too.

The coolest thing this game's story does is present a giant city on top of an even larger monster that moves around a crater. They call it Greede, and it's pretty neat.

So one of the reasons I gave this game a try was the customization. You start by creating your own character (that has zero impact on the plot and hangs in the background during cut scenes) with some Mass Effect style options. I made mine look as pissed off as possible which payed off much later when my guy was loitering in the background looking disapproving of everything going on. While this avatar character won't do anything of value other than slaughter tons of monsters, it does give you the choice to use every character class. Other party members are restricted to certain skills. And they do have a nice range of choices. You got your sword master, mage, healer, archer, along with cool choices like axes, gigantic swords, lances. They all have their specific uses but you can get by with just about anything.

Go Go Knights of Legend!

New Knight on the Block

The bright spots show up deep into the game. It's no instant gratification. I'm talking about the option for a few of your characters to transform into towering knights that can slaughter smaller monsters and take on giants with ease. They have a lot of systems in place (MP and Action Chips) that make it so you can't whip these Knights out every other fight, but it's fun to transform Power Rangers style and mess shit up. The first game only has two Knights, while the second adds a third. It never got old for me at least, and the Knights are perfect for bosses. I will say that White Knight is pretty good about making things huge. The downside is that they reuse a lot of enemy times or reskin the basic giant enemy frame. Hate wasps, spiders, wolves and golems? Because you'll kill a shit ton of them before the game is over. The Knights can help with that.

White Knight Chronicles won't set the world on fire. And if you aren't bothered by painfully predictable JRPG tropes, it's a decent game.

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It Could be a Game: Black Lagoon

I'm a guy with many tastes, but I have most of my fun with video games. And a lot like an ill fated metaphor about combining ice cream and pizza, I tend to wonder if other things I enjoy just might make a good game. Considering the crazy range of play styles and tone from one title to the next there is certainly a whole lot of room for just about anything you can throw at it.

So this blog post is about something that could be a game. Take careful note that I say could, because as the saying goes. You could, but should you? Safe money and sanity says, no, but I want to have fun with it anyway.

It Could be a Game: Black Lagoon

Like most Video Game characters, Revy is really only good at Killing People

Right up front Black Lagoon is an anime/manga series about a gang of pirates that operate out of a city in Thailand made up of mobsters, cartels, psychopaths, and drug dealers. The tone is very dark with a dash of grey morality kinda similar to Grand Theft Auto without the cheeky parodies of American culture. The action is very 80s what with torpedo boats taking out attack helicopters, unlikely displays of dual wielding handguns, and nearly indestructible women sometimes dressed up in maid outfits. I won't drag on about the plot because we have the technology if you want to know more.

Some of the appeal comes from a Japanese salary man out of his element who still finds time to survive using his head and carefully chosen words instead of mountains of bullets. I'll get around to that later. Some of the danger is that this would be a licensed game dooming it to indifference or a quick cash in. Although, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Tons of Guns, and Quirky Weapons Too

Guns? Yes. All of the Above

People who are familiar with Black Lagoon might find it a dead ringer for a third person action game or a sandbox type where you explore a city. But before we get that far, one thing Black Lagoon has going for it is a healthy selection of weapons. For me, most action games live and die with their selection of guns or tools of destruction. This is especially true in first person shooters where your "character" is really just a floating gun with a helping hand for reload animations. One of the show's more defining characteristics is the considerable detail spent on the various guns that are fired off from episode to episode. Everything from Berettas, to Browning Automatic Rifles, to Desert Eagles, to Kalashnikovs are well represented.

And then there are a few special weapons that were the partial inspiration for a blog like this. The kind of stuff that makes me wonder why this hasn't appeared in a video game yet.

The Umbrella Shotgun and the Suitcase SAW

Short explanation, Black Lagoon likes to take a lot of Japanese character types and put dark spins on them. Roberta the maid is no exception. But the important thing is her concealed weapons in the form of a combat shotgun umbrella and an LMG in her suitcase. I don't know how we've gotten this far without a game featuring some sort of concealed combination like this. C'mon video game industry. New Hitman game? Novelty Team Fortress 2 item for the Heavy? Someone get on this. It would be awesome.

Roanapur: A Little Slice of Hell in East Asia

Someone Has Already Thought of This

The setting of Black Lagoon certainly leaves a lot of options for game play. Roanapur is a fictional city in Thailand overrun with crime and drug trade. There's no illusion of order as the police are completely useless and the criminal element kill each other day in, day out fighting for territory. The only thing keeping the streets from becoming a war zone is a tight balance struck up by the various mafias. It's not the most original setting as a city of sin and crime, but the international element allows a lot of interaction from all over the world. Setting it in the 90s allows for plenty of soldiers left behind from the Cold War and Communism to apply their training for personal profit.

The natural reaction is something like GTA, which the accompanying image I found on the internet shows someone agrees. I have a different, less obvious idea, which leads me to...

Black Lagoon feat. Dialogue Trees

I would be totally cool with an adventure game where you navigate the trigger happy world of Black Lagoon with nothing but a lot of smooth talking. Adventure games are hot now, right? Give it to Telltale. The main character, nicknamed Rock, of this series is really just a normal white collar guy trying to hold onto his soul in a city where people solve their differences with gunfire and grenade launchers. He gets away with a lot of shit using nothing but a cool head and a lot of talking. It would be fun trying to get away with the same stuff through careful use of dialogue trees.

Use [Coat] on [Mad Russian Lady]

Or in the case of the game giving you options (including massive failure), make a big a mess as you possibly can.

Sometimes there are No Right Answers

Of course, if you want shooting there are more than enough blood thirsty characters in this series to put together a battle of any kind. You could even make it Uncharted-like to take advantage of all the jumping and diving regularly featured in the show.

This is Probably a Bad Idea

Torture mini-game! ...what? Too far?

But there's really no reason to limit game play to one character when there are plenty of quirky people you could rotate around... and that brings me to (probably) the most uncomfortable part of Black Lagoon, Hansel and Gretel. They're a pair of murderous pre-teen twins (maybe) that kill people with axes and a machine gun. They're all kinds of fucked up. And yet... I would be lying if I didn't think playing as them could be fun. Stalking people, luring them into a false sense of security, laying waste to bars and automobiles with a machine gun... and they would be weak to sniper rifles. I don't know what that says about me as a person, but if done poorly it would really cheapen their characters and probably show up on a news program.

Although, this concern probably depends on your familiarity with Hansel and Gretel and your tolerance for violence. I just can't remember many games where you play as murderous children beyond saving with a really, really fucked up past.

The Conclusion?

Black Lagoon could be a video game. It has everything it needs. Should it though? Probably no, considering how most licensed games turn out. The fact that there isn't an actual Black Lagoon game is evidence enough of that. Still, there are a lot of parts of the show I wouldn't mind getting borrowed for other games. If there is one thing from this blog that I would make real, it would be a shotgun umbrella. Preferably for a stealth game. That would be sweet.

That's not how you Active Reload, dude.
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53,596 HOPOs and 600 Songs Later...

So, if you don't know this about me, I like to play Rock Band. Actually, I like to play a whole lot of Rock Band. Recently I got the HOPO-cidal Maniac achievement (a crazy reference to a Dead Rising about killing an absurd amount of zombies) which gives me a pretty good idea how much I've put into Rock Band 3 alone. This isn't even counting the ton of DLC and spin off games involving LEGO, Beatles, and AC/DC. It's a perfect excuse to write something up about one of my favorite music-type games and talk a little about the years of songs, solos, and dumb band names.

The Bands

Flying Battery from RB2

When I make a band it usually involves two things: Top Hats and Gas Masks. Not together though, because it clips something awful and looks really terrible. The character creator doesn't give you a whole lot of options from the start, but the clothing is when you can really make members stand out. It's also a trivial aspect that doesn't affect how well you can play a song or modify your score... but I love customization so I'm glad it's in there.

I do really hate how the Top Hat (Male) automatically gives you long hair like you're trying to be Slash. Can't a guy just have a top hat? I mean really.

Band Names:

  • Trail of Woe (RB1)
  • Animal Coitus (Roommate's Favorite Suggestion- Google at your own risk)
  • Flying Battery (RB2 and 3)
  • The Jackjaws (RB2)
  • Back in Brick (LEGO)

The Songs

The most compelling reason why I keep coming back to Rock Band is the damn impressive stream of DLC songs (the meat of this blog) that have been rolling out ever since the first Rock Band launched in 2007. I would have never expected any company to be so consistent. The biggest DLC snafu I can think of (that affected me, at least) involved Rush's Moving Pictures that got pushed back a few weeks or so. But when it came out, it was totally worth it.

In all, the game says I have 602 songs across five different releases and DLC. That's a hell of a lot. But there are so many good songs that keep coming out I have a hard time turning down stuff like "Bad to the Bone" and "Edge of Seventeen" when they're right there. So here's a list of highlights, disappointments, impulse purchases and party favorites for your consideration.

Big Favorites

Now when I make a list like this, I don't mean to snub the literal thousands of other great choices. These are just go-to songs. The tunes I can easily think of when starting up a game of Rock Band. It's also nice that I can play these songs (and their solos) and get decent scores without feeling like I was flailing around too much.

  • "Highway Star" by Deep Purple
  • "Green River" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • "The Hellion/Electric Eye" by Judas Priest
  • "Kickstart My Heart" by Motley Crue
  • "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr.
  • "Runnin' Down a Dream" by Tom Petty

Big Surprises

People may feel differently, but Rock Band does offer exposure to a lot of songs you probably wouldn't give the time of day otherwise. I never knew I liked these songs until navigating a note chart or stumbling through lyrics when forced to sing.

  • "Antibodies" by Poni Hoax
  • "The Way That it Shows" by Richard Thompson
  • "Electric Crown" by Testament
  • "Hillbilly Deluxe" by Brooks & Dunn
  • "Use It" by The New Pornographers
  • "Knight on the Town" by Kula Shaker

A special mention goes out to "Sin Wagon" by the Dixie Chicks, because I bought it with the intention of someone getting drunk and tricking them into singing it. Unfortunately, this backfired and I got to sing it. But it has crazy hammer ons and pull offs and pretty fun to play for a country band most people have their reasons to despise nowadays.

Impulse Purchases

Songs regularly go for two dollars or less on the XBLA Marketplace. That's the right threshold for me to think "what the hell" and download songs based on the short preview or a few seconds of YouTube videos. I usually always, always regret it either because the song is way too hard. Or it's not really fun or because none of my friends want to play them with me. You know, because they have standards.

Peace Sells... but Who's Buying? [Album] by Megadeth

  • Yup. I enjoyed Peace Sells on Rock Band 2 so much that I decided to buy the album- because I can go for some Megadeth every now and then. But I had gone crazy and forgot just how insane the guitar parts are. I play on expert and I can barely squeeze by any of these songs. "Devil's Island" is especially bad with a murderous solo just seconds into starting the song. It is fun to watch people suffer on drums though.

"Runnin' Wild" by Airbourne

  • I saw someone describe this band as not-AC/DC so I gave a listen and I was fine with the lyrics. The guitar part is okay. It's really more of a guilty pleasure. But no one, and I mean no one, will play this song with me. And when the AC/DC track pack came out it got ignored fast.

"Surfing with the Alien" by Joe Satriani

  • Do you like trills? Because holy shit, Joe here has them in fucking spades. The worst part is that I know who Joe Satriani is and I know his reputation and I still bought this song because I like how it sounds. I think I've beaten it twice overall. This song is hard. God damn hard. It is pretty funny to load it up in LEGO Rock Band and watch all those bricks come screaming down the note highway. Silly brick people, trills are for experts!

"Afterlife" by Avenged Sevenfold

  • I bought this song purely for the novelty of (at the time) one of the craziest solos in Rock Band history. Little did I know that literally EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER had also bought this song. Online, Afterlife was picked almost every single time because it was the only DLC song two or three players had in common. Luckily that trend toned down before I had the urge to delete it and waste two perfectly good dollars.

Good Songs to Torture Me With

It's inevitable with track lists that there are going to be a few songs that you don't like. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about songs I can't even stand. When they show up in random set lists, I have zero motivation to play or even do well. If I was trapped in a room with these... things... I would produce a rope from thin air and hang myself. To be fair, these are all on-disc songs that I have no option to delete, with a few exceptions.

HOWEVER, I don't mean to start shit with other people. Music, like art, is one of the more subjective things in the world. I don't like the songs in this list, but that doesn't mean I think less of other people for enjoying them. It's just my opinion. Go your own way. Anyway you want it. That's what you get. You oughta know.

  • "Welcome to the Neighborhood" by Libyans
  • "Visions" by Abnormality
  • "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • "Electric Version" by The New Pornographers
  • "Oh My God" by Ida Maria
  • "One Armed Scissor" by At the Drive In

Biggest Live Disappointments

You can't always get what you want... but it still hurts when it doesn't happen. Harmonix has been pretty good about representing songs in a game play format for plastic instruments... but sometimes they have to fall back on Live versions of songs for various reasons. And when they choose a Live version over the Studio version... man. It should go without saying that I'm just being damn picky at this point. These are minor annoyances that I wish I could live without.

"Hallowed be Thy Name" by Iron Maiden

  • This was pretty crushing for me. While it is great to have Iron Maiden in Rock Band... the cost of including a few live versions affected one of my favorite songs in a terrible way. Hallowed be Thy Name performed live really screws with all the singing practice I put in with the studio version. I could have lived with a live version of "The Trooper" or "Powerslave" or "Run to the Hills." Not this one.

AC/DC Live Track Pack

  • Apparently AC/DC is pretty protective when it comes to distribution of their music... which makes an entire track pack of live songs a pain in the ass. I know I should feel lucky to even have songs like "Back in Black" and "Shoot to Thrill" in a music game... but shit gets ridiculous on the plodding ten minute version of "Jailbreak" and the nine minutes of "High Voltage." Not to mention the fucking absurd intro to a simple song like "Highway to Hell." I'm sure the concert they used for this track pack was great... but what a bummer not to have the studio versions. Brian Johnson's voice is pretty rough here.

"Breaking the Law" by Judas Priest

  • I don't have anything outstanding to say about this other than if they ever release "Diamonds and Rust" or "Heading Out to the Highway" and it's a live version... I'll be shaking my fist.

Songs I Will Never Ever Escape

To wrap this section up, I wanted to make some kind of comparison with other Rock Band fans. In parties I've been to, these songs always get picked more than a few times. I wish "Highway Star" was this popular.

  • "Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran
  • "Maps" by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden (Before it was dropped)
  • "Welcome Home" by Coheed and Cambria
  • "Nine in the Afternoon" by Panic! at the Disco

The Suggestion Box

If Guitar Hero ever lets go of The Eagles and they release "Hotel California" or "Life in the Fast Lane" or maybe even "Get Over It" that would be fantastic. Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar" would also be great if the world ever ends and that kind of thing becomes possible. I'm sure billions of DLC suggestions are already out there... so I'll leave you with some odd ball Rock Band Network suggestions complete with YouTube links if you're really interested.

Red and Black from the Bayonetta Soundtrack

  • I'm all for video game music on Rock Band. Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV is a great start, so I'd like to continue that plan with Red and Black from Bayonetta. You usually hear it during boss fights with Jeanne and it has an awesome piano track with synthesizers and a fucking fantastic bass line. I'd love to see it playable.

Dead Batteriesby SnappleMan (a remix of Flying Battery Zone from Sonic and Knuckles)

  • I heard this on OCRemix a long, long time ago, but I still think it's perfect. It has great bass and it's just as fast as the Genesis song it's based on. I'm not sure how drums would work out, but guitar would be fun.

Red Fraction by Mell, the opening to Black Lagoon

  • A guilty pleasure song. It has some pretty heavy guitar, synth, drums, and ridiculous (somewhat entertaining) Engrish lyrics as the opening theme to an anime called Black Lagoon. There's a longer, more techno-ish version called the I/O Mix which would also work pretty well in my opinion.

Keep Quiet by The Protomen from Act II: Father of Death

  • If I had to pick one band I could expect to see on the Rock Band Network soon, I would pick these guys. They're a band that puts a dark spin on Megaman who have been around for awhile. Act II: Father of Death is very 80s (very unlike their debut) and would work fantastic for Rock Band. One of my favorites, Keep Quiet, even has some harmony going on.

Sturm's Theme from Advance Wars

  • Now to be totally ridiculous. I would take a remixed version of Sturm's Theme in a heartbeat if Betus Blues (Retro Remix) is any indication.
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