Let's Talk About: Anarchy Reigns

Originally I wanted to write this blog as a lead up to a game I've been looking forward to coming out in July. Anarchy Reigns from your friends and mine at Platinum Games has really caught my attention for a number of reasons. I would be lying if the original appeal had nothing to do with MadWorld that came out on the Wii. I've written a bit about that game before, but long story short, I liked it. The game wasn't perfect or anything, but it had a lot of entertaining quirks, a great voice cast, and an even better soundtrack. Not to mention the insane joy of Bayonetta from the same developer promised they would keep up the great work with Anarchy Reigns.

But as of 5-25-12, it's officially TBA for North America and Europe. It's still scheduled to release in Japan early July... but that doesn't help me any. So now I'm just going to use this post to talk about it and somehow take the edge off the indeterminate wait.

Anarchy Reigns (I'm Cautiously Optimistic)

Much like Matt Rorie's attitude toward movies, I never play a video game wanting to hate it. It would be better if everything was awesome so fun was easy to come by. But I really have no idea how well Anarchy Reigns is going to turn out. It certainly sounds good on paper. Most things do. From the multitude of YouTube videos I've watched, it seems like a cross between a fighting game and a beat em' up, with a little arena combat to make full use of pick ups and environmental hazards. One possible move involves hanging from the bottom of an attack helicopter and redirecting its missiles and nose gun to shoot enemies stuck on the ground. If a match takes long enough, they have critical threats appear in the form of submarine missile strikes, rampaging big rigs, monsters, and more to up the ante. Comparisons to Power Stone and jokes about a Platinum Games Smash Bros. game have already been made.

How it Plays (I Guess)

The most telling thing (to me, at least) about how this game plays is a few scattered videos of a training room where you can practice character specific combos like a fighting game. Bayonetta had something like this in the form of a loading screen where you had the option to press select and hang out to play with different weapon combinations. So far, the combos just seem to be button combinations. No quarter circles or stick movement. On top of that are the character specific "killer weapons" that do serious damage for a short amount of time and recharges through damage inflicted and received. Naturally these work into combos. It doesn't seem like a basic button masher a beat em' up format would suggest. This I can wrap my head around.

What I'm not sure is how it's going to work when you're running around a 3D plane and have to target specific enemies or opposing players. I hope it's a happy middle between MadWorld (the game's primary inspiration) and the tight controls of Bayonetta. I'm not big into multiplayer, but I can't fathom how they're going to pull off an eight player free-for-all and make it feel good. They do have other game modes in the form of the usual suspects, including a football (soccer) looking game, class based team battle, and capture the flag. Personally, I'm more interested in the survival mode, which is basically horde mode with three players. Co-op is more my cup of tea. But my concerns still stand in that mode too. This is why I try to remain cautiously optimistic.

An Interesting Crew of Killers

On a more positive note, the biggest thing going for Anarchy Reigns for me is the delightfully crazy cast that make up the sixteen (plus Bayonetta as DLC) playable psychopaths. The character reveals didn't really pick up until they introduced a man with a revolver in his cybernetic right leg who fired it when he kicked and kneed people. That's not to sell Jack Cayman, Black Baron and Mathilda short as returning familiar faces from MadWorld... but it only got better from there, so I'll make a quick list of my favorites.

Durga

I love the concept of this guy. Durga here has a giant revolver built into his cybernetic right leg. All of his voice acting so far makes him sound totally unhinged. It seems obvious they tried to take Adon's Jaguar Revolver and make it as literal as possible. He attacks with his legs exclusively, which makes it easy to work in his cannon when he kicks people.

Of course, it's a lot more fun to see him in motion.

Edgar Oinkie

Possibly to make up for the blatant tiger theme of Durga, they have the animal hodgepodge of Edgar Oinkie. As a... human... he wears a pig mask and makes light of his weight and size with karate moves and Sonic the Hedgehog style spin attacks. His killer weapon isn't so much a weapon, but a green drug that turns him into a lizard-ish mutant in a way that would make Bane proud in order to do some Fist of the North Star business. Did you get all that?

Considering Platinum has released a trailer for every character, I can't help but post a link to Edgar's, here.

Ai Rin

Something you might not know about me, is that I rather enjoy the time honored trend of making characters that blatantly reference Bruce Lee in video games. Ai Rin covers that base with electrified nunchaku and a great idle animation where she never keeps her feet still. Not to mention she makes plenty of appropriate noises when swinging her weapon around. She gets by in style in an outfit resembling Lee's Game of Death suit.

If you like funny Bruce Lee noises and lots of flashy movement, here's Ai Rin's intro video.

Garuda

The most obvious thing about Garuda is that he's a transforming jet robot. That automatically earns him a Starscream reference, if not Optimus Prime for his blue color scheme. But I like his design, not to mention his killer weapons are a mean pair of drills. Another thing is that he can throw two characters at the same time, due to his size. I don't know many games where characters have the ability to throw two people at once. That's pretty awesome.

Get your transforming jet, drills, and double-character throwing action here.

Mathilda

So Mathilda is actually a returning character from MadWorld. You may or may not remember her as the silent woman who demonstrated all the Bloodbath Challenges by killing the Black Baron in the process. Her role in Anarchy Reigns hasn't dulled her fondness for pain and spiked bats. It's great to have an opportunity to play as the woman behind the man. I find it surprising.

Her video has been out for a long time, but I'll link it here anyway just to be consistent.

I could probably list more, but I'll stop here and just say that there are more crazy characters. I can only hope they'll all be fun to play.

Tracks that Kill

If you haven't played MadWorld, the majority of the soundtrack (or all of it, I guess) was rap tailor made to address the characters and basic set up of the game. Anarchy Reigns continues the trend, and I couldn't be more excited. Even if the game somehow turns out to be total garbage, I can take solace that the soundtrack will turn out solid. I'm no connoisseur of rap or hip-hop. Most of my exposure is from the mainstream and a dash of lesser known stuff due to my roommates in college. But for the game and the style, there's really no better choice of genre. Most of rap nowadays is aggressive by nature, banking on rivalries and talking shit as part of the material. Is there any better music for a man driving a double chainsaw down someone's throat?

Still, I know how subjective music can be. If you really hate this kind of stuff or quality, I can understand that.

The official site for Platinum Games have released a few preview tracks that I wanted to share. And I don't mean to imply that I love all of it, but I do have my favorites.

This is Madness: - A more low key track compared to the others, but still nice. What? Sparta?

Testin' Me:- First heard in Leo's introduction trailer, it caught my attention immediately. I can't wait to hear the full version.

Play For Keeps:- A damn catchy song with some pretty good rhymes. Very upbeat for talking about winning at all costs.

Days of Old: - A full version of the Black Baron's theme. I love all the horns in the chorus.

Unknown Track: - This is a trailer for the various battle modes, but the song in the background is awesome. It might be the full version, but I'm not sure. I still felt like sharing it.

Hurry Up and Wait

So until Anarchy Reigns gets released, those are a few reasons why I'm still looking forward to it. I hope everything works out well. I hope it's fun. I would love to play as a man with a revolver in his mechanical leg and remember it fondly. Not sure how the story will work out, but I bet it will be deadly serious contrasted by the insanity of everything that happens during gameplay. And if I had to sell it to you... Bayonetta is going to be in it. That's pretty cool, right?

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Guess That Quick Look: Full House Edition

Guess That Quick Look: Full House Edition

Giant Bomb's stockpile of quick looks grows by the day. So that means I can make more games that test your memory of notable lines from the Giant Bomb crew. It's a potpourri of games, one liners, and members of the site new and old, so let's get to it.

If you haven't seen the other topics I've made like this (which is understandable because I'm pretty irregular with this stuff), I am more than happy to remind you of the rules. I'll give you a notable line from Vinny, Brad, Jeff, Dave, etc. and you try to figure out what game they were Quick Looking when they said it. I will also provide a hint of varying helpfulness so you're not completely left in the dark.

But it's not a contest so don't sweat it. At the end I'll list the answers in a spoiler box. This is mostly just for fun and a creative way I can share some of my favorite Quick Looks with the Giant Bomb community at large. I'll even provide links if you want to relive the magic or see it for the very first time. So... drop a bomb on it and GLHB.

Full House Edition, Part 1

Quick Look Game V.3.1

Full House Edition, Part 2

Screaming Fridge Cam Man is site news editor Patrick Klepek and Happy Scribble Kid is site video editor Drew Scanlon

You've reached the end! Time for the results. Check them out in the spoiler box below. If you want to try your hand at more Quick Look guessing games, be sure to check out the beginning here, and/or Shoemaker Edition here.

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Recently Played: Rhythm Heaven (DS)

I find myself fortunate for playing the very excellent Rhythm Heaven Fever before taking on its handheld counterpart, Rhythm Heaven on the DS. Unlike the console version, this game is rage inducing with some pretty clumsy touch controls that make keeping the rhythm a chore rather than a joy. I think it's important I set the tone right up front, because much like the Okamiden Recently Played, I don't know if I'll be able to complain about this game without coming off like an asshole or unrealistically angry. I'm certainly going to try, but I don't like my chances.

Rhythm Heaven on the DS only seems to know how to make rhythm totally aggravating. And that fucking sucks.

Rhythm Heaven (Feel Bad Nonsense with Music: The Game)

Yup... Built to Scale still sucks...

A long time ago I played a store demo of Rhythm Heaven that involved the very first mini-game Built to Scale. It was a frustrating experience that left me cold on the whole idea. At the same time, it was a store demo where I could hardly hear the music and had to hunch over a DS at a strange angle. Then a few months ago I played Fever on the Wii and had a blast, experiencing the very best of weird Japanese visuals and damn catchy songs where hitting one or two buttons at the right time was extremely satisfying. And I wanted more. Even with the content in Fever (and the damn hard Perfect challenges) I wanted to see some more Rhythm Heaven madness. Lucky for me the DS version had come out ages ago and was pretty cheap online. I was willing to give it another chance considering I had a better idea what this series was about.

Unfortunately, this is more of a lesson in knowing when to be satisfied. It doesn't help that Rhythm Heaven is pretty mean spirited and has a bad habit of throwing patterns at you that aren't covered in tutorial sections. One dickish remix starts out giving you a long sequence to match but then switches it in the middle of your turn to another game, guaranteeing you'll mess up the next part unless you already knew that was going to happen. Other remixes lack audio cues, ambushing you with the next game without proper set up. In many cases it has less to do with rhythm and more about knowing when the game is going to sucker punch you. Sure, Fever had its moments too. But it always messed with visuals and never screwed with the beat. I don't get that feeling for Rhythm Heaven. I just feel like the game is doing its best to make sure I don't have fun.

Flail to the Beat (Try Again!)

The biggest difference from Fever is that the only way to play this game is the stylus and the touch screen controls. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad if the only thing you did was tap to the beat, but there's also a flicking mechanic where you have to quickly slide the stylus across the screen. This is where Rhythm Heaven breaks for me. Flicking is a completely unreliable motion that ruins the vast majority of the mini-games. It gets used a lot, which is damning because I find it hard enough to concentrate on the beat (as this game can get fucking hard) and now I have to split my focus on this stupid flicking motion and pray to God the game finds it acceptable. It doesn't feel good, even when it works. Games like Rhythm Rally (where all you do is flick) or Big Rock Ending (which asks you to flick impossibly fast in a row) frustrate the shit out of me. Built to Scale, the very first mini-game, really sets the mood of using these motions and never getting a very good pay off from it. The best you get is someone screaming at the top of their lungs. Maybe a dolphin leaps out of the water. It's pretty underwhelming for this series.

Munchy Monk, Rhythm Heaven Savior

Gameplay works WAY better when all you do is tap (or hold) the screen to a beat. Munchy Monk 2 is the cream of the crop and it's a lot of fun to watch a dude gulp down dumplings like a speed eater. Freeze Frame is probably the most satisfying mini-game as you tap to take high speed photographs of crazy race cars. There is fun to be had in Rhythm Heaven when it isn't tripping over its controls. Not to say it doesn't figure out how to screw up tapping too. For that there's the Lockstep game. Not only does it require a ton of tapping, but it's also incredibly hard and feels like final boss material. So of course it gets Lockstep 2 just in case you were enjoying yourself or something. I remember Vinny describing this game on the Fever Quick Look. I was hoping that was just a Vinny thing, but he's totally right. It's especially fun when it shows up in remixes. What the fuck, Lockstep?

Highlights? Yeah... Highlights. We'll Go With That

The music in Rhythm Heaven doesn't feel very impressive overall. There are a few standouts, but the vast majority leaves something lacking. The visuals also don't feel nearly crazy enough to carry the music. This might have to do with the fact I played Fever first, or maybe it was drowned out in a sea of frustration and profanity. The songs with lyrics feel especially lethargic, but I have no idea of the technical hurdles of getting voice on a handheld. I'm impressed they bothered in the first place. Not to say it's all bad. I do love GBA and DS tunes if the Advance Wars series is any indication.

Awesome

Rhythm Hell

  • Lockstep
  • Rhythm Rally
  • Love Lizards
  • Love Lab
  • Built to Scale
  • ...and many others

Special shout out to Love Lab as the turning point where I started to realize just how frustrating this game was. It has this really bad shaking motion that often transitions right into a flick. The chances of pulling either of these motions off in time to the song is next to impossible. Triple that complication when it shows up in remixes. Crop Stomp has a similar problem. And I could go on and on. But I'll always have Munchy Monk. He'll always be awesome. He's this game's Ringside. Or would that make Ringside Rhythm Heaven Fever's Munchy Monk? Either way. Stand out mini-game.

No Such Thing as a Superb Medal

Rhythm Rally? Never Going to Happen. Never.

I used to think that Fever was unforgiving, but Rhythm Heaven sets the bar and cripples you in both legs. I had delusions about getting medals until I realized there are no superbs in this game. There are only perfects. To give an example, I missed one widget in the first game Built to Scale. One. And I got an "OK". It wasn't even the ending. Or a big transition. It was just some random widget before the game speeds up. The only real way to get medals is to miss nothing. Couple that with the flicking motions and I don't know how people could even attempt it. And perfects? Fucking forget it. Give me some damn buttons to press. Then we can talk about perfects.

I do wonder if I would be as hard on this game if I had not played Fever first. That's not something I can fix any time soon, but I suspect it would be the same in reverse. Whatever order you find Rhythm Heaven, it's saddled with pretty awful touch controls that are nowhere near accurate enough to match the insane standards of this series. Things need to be one or two button simple in order to enjoy the craziness going on or react to some of the tricks this game enjoys pulling on you. For the people who find touch controls no big deal... I don't know how you manage it. I feel like I'm beginning to understand the people who use keyboard and mouse and won't tolerate controllers under any circumstance.

And maybe I've made it sound like the worst game ever. I don't think it deserves that title... but it does leave a lot lacking. I do find it hard to recommend even if you're a fan of Rhythm Heaven in general.

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Guess that Quick Look: Shoemaker Edition

Guess that Quick Look: Shoemaker Edition

Giant Bomb has done over a thousand Quick Looks, people. That's all kinds of incredible. Even more so that the vast majority of them are pretty damn entertaining as they show off a game or two. I know I'm a little late for celebratory topics commemorating four digits, but I still have to mention it for the purposes of this topic. How well do you remember your Quick Looks? Feel confident enough to name them from a one-liner or joke said by the Giant Bomb crew and friends? There's one way to find out.

This is the second Guess that Quick Look game (called Shoemaker Edition because I left Brad out of the first go around) and if you aren't familiar with the rules, I am more than happy to provide a refresher. I'll give a somewhat notable line from Jeff, Ryan, Vinny, Drew, etc. and you try to figure out the game featured in the Quick Look. I will also provide a hint for each one (of varying helpfulness) so you're not totally left in the dark.

And this isn't a contest, so don't sweat it. It's just for fun and just a way to share some of my favorite Quick Looks in a somewhat creative fashion while playing around with bad art programs. Answers will be provided in a spoiler box at the very end just in case you're totally stumped. Links will also be provided if you need a reminder or want to see it for the very first time. GLHB.

Shoemaker Edition, Part 1

Screaming Face Man is Will Smith from Tested.com

Shoemaker Edition, Part 2

You've reached the end. Pencils down.

Done? Got them all? Need results? Double check below. And thanks for playing along. If you missed the first Guess that Quick Look game and feel like catching up, check it out here.

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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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