Marriage, mutants, and all the puff puff you could ever desire.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Wait, where did this come from? Shouldn't I be playing Fire Emblem or Pandora'ing up my towers or something by now? Well, for reasons that currently escape me, I suddenly developed the itch for an old first person RPG, and Might and Magic VII is still sitting in the corner, thinking about what it's done. And on top of that, I'm sweatily making out with Fallout 3 right in front of the poor game, whispering, "You know what you've done. You know all too well" in between motions of the tongue.

OK, that got....ridiculously off track. Maybe I should get it back on track with the usual method: blandly describing the story. Washington DC's been blown to hell and everybody's forced to live in giant metal bunkers. After some genuinely warm family moments, your dad says "fuck this" and bails as soon as he gets an opportunity, and it's up to you to chase him down and ask him what it is he doesn't like about the cold metal life he embraced for near twenty years. It's largely a simple premise, and while it works for what it is, I still have a few issues with the execution. I'd say that I can't remember half the cast, but I'm willing to acknowledge that this may be just me. I can remember the non-human characters (and Three Dog) just fine and like what they did, but can't tell you much about anybody outside that limited selection of characters. But speaking of characters, where the hell is mine? I can't see my own feet, I ghost through environments without so much as a single step, and nobody seems to react to my presence when I'm jumping on tables like a madman. I know that technical limitations could go a long way toward explaining some of this, but it's the little touches like these that make or break my immersion in a game. A simple "stop messing up my lunch" would be enough.

WHAT IS THIS AND WHY AM I BOWING IN WORSHIP OF IT!?

But for all the things it messes up, I still have to give it credit for all the things it does right. For one, what the game sort of lacks in memorable characters, it more than makes up for in terms of events. I don't want to spoil them by simply listing off bland examples, so I'll just cut to the chase and say that you get a healthy variety of both lighthearted, funny moments and meatier, serious stuff. Also, a complete lack of emotional dissonance. What the hell does that mean? In this case, that the gameplay and atmosphere line up pretty damn well emotionally. Let's look at exiting the Vault as an example. What do you think a cave dweller's first instinct would be upon seeing the outside world for the first time? Probably what I did in this exact situation: explore every little facet with absolute glee and wonder. But what happens when you end up murdering an entire town of people on a whim? Well, personally, I felt like Badass Supreme after all that, but there's enough evidence in the game to suggest that other people may not have felt the same way. Stuff like seeing a once populated town become just as empty as the rest of the death-laden Wasteland. And it doesn't end with brutal murder. No matter where you go, Fallout 3's going to be one step ahead of you, making sure you only have fun when it wants you to (which just so happens to be a lot of the time).

For me, that was through being the most psychotic bastard the game would possibly allow me to be. It all begins with a character creator where being white is viewed as the default and every character ends up looking 40 years old, despite the incredibly robust amount of tools at your fingertips. Next, we add a stat and ability system on top of all that which lets you speck out your character however you please. And the final ingredient is a moral system that runs the gamut from Jesus Christ Superstar (there has to be a singing perk in there somewhere) to Anti Christ Booed Off the Stage. Bake for approximately fifteen to twenty hours and you have a game that allows you to be just about anything you could ever want to be. I should know; I've played this game twice over. The first time through, I played largely as a goody good saving the world from...robots? I think it was robots. Anyway, the game had no problem with this. Second time through, though, and I was a ruthless psychopath who would bash in somebody's brains for looking at me funny. Or refusing to look at me funny. Really, I just wanted to kill people as much as possible. The game didn't have much of a problem with this, either.

"Congratulations! You've just killed somebody in the most gruesome way possible. You are a saint among saints."

The best part, though, is that the game isn't.....actually, it will stop you from time to time. Sometimes, this takes the acceptable form of "you're not strong enough to murder everybody in Megaton". Come back in a few levels, and at its worst, the game will give you judgmental looks throughout. But then there are those other times when the game comes down with an iron fist and demands that you play the game a certain way. You want to play through the game as some sort of pacifist? Too bad. You're gonna have to kill somebody sooner or later, ya pansy. And while you're at it, pick up a gun. Everybody else is using them, and melee weapons are so tactically gimped that you'd stand a better chance fighting off the Mutants with a limp sausage.

Which brings us to the VATS system, also known as "DEAR FUCK, HOW COULD YOU BE SO GODDAMN PSYCHOTIC!" Who thought it would be a good idea to dedicate a feature solely to liberating people's limbs from their entire being? From a gameplay perspective, it makes sense. It gives you both an endless amount of strategy in each battle and oh so many ways to express yourself in the game. (Well, at least if you're using a gun; apparently, I can only aim a baseball bat "anywhere".) But from a moral perspective, it's downright uncomfortable. Any bullet you fire has a good chance of blowing a person's arm clean off and sending it five yards in the opposite direction. Sometimes, it's downright, cartoonish. I've seen bullets actually lift a person off the ground when they die, as if in sheer mockery of Galileo. Some of you might say that this should make the violence easier to deal with, given its now weaker connection with reality. Try saying that again after watching this. Why, Fallout 3? Why did you have to make the act of killing somebody so incredibly uncomfortable?.....Well played, game. Maybe not in terms of actually playing (as VATS feels like an awkward split between FPS and RPG), but in terms of the sto-

Hold up. RPG? As in "there's more to this game than just shooting dudes"? How the hell could I forget about that? Maybe because it's presented as a first person game where you shoot things a lot, but that doesn't excuse my forgetfulness. This isn't a game that deserves to be simplified. I mean, just look at the world: it's fucking huge. Even within abrupt invisible walls, there's just so much to do and steal and stab. I'd mention that experience and quests and such provide a nice enough incentive to go out and do this, but what more incentive do you need than the act of exploration itself? Why wouldn't you want to bum around a completely desolate Washington D.C, simply drinking in every last detail carefully wrought unto the land? Yea, the main campaign goes by oddly quickly, but given the large open world I just extolled, and the (mostly) unfettered ability to express yourself within it, I'm not complaining. Much.

And did I mention how amazingly good the game looks?......Actually, let's leave it there.

Review Synopsis

  • Well, you get to destroy the 1950s, but you can't see your own feet while you're doing it. A strange complaint, I know, but still something that bothers me.
  • As does the Scanners Combat System on display.
  • Everything else is alright, though.

Sex joke? Check! Drug joke? Check! Weeaboo reference? Check! I think I've met my quota for today.

Hey, remember how Assassin's Creed III and Illusion of Gaia have strong gameplay coupled with mediocre stories? (If not, go refresh your memory here and here.) Well, Dragon Quest V is the complete and polar opposite. The story that is Dragon Quest V is masterfully pulled off and definitely something to be experienced. It's just that you have to play the game in order to experience it. Guess which one of these games I like more? Not Assassin's Creed III.

It all begins with you plopping out of your mother's vagina. Fast forward eight years (Christ, this is Fallout 3 all over again, isn't it?), and you're bumming around the land of.....let's call it Land....with your dad. And then you get to Reinhart Castle, and everything just goes to shit. Just horrible event after horrible event. But rather than making the game an emotional horror show, they're what make this game good in the first place. First, because there's that religious, saccharine tone there to keep the depression in check. Second, you're gonna feel pretty damn invested in the affairs of Land because holy hell, this game knows how to hold a man's moods captive. Every little iota of detail, each and every minutiae, from the cinematics to the gameplay scenarios, is calculated specifically to suck in your feelings and hold them sway with an iron vice-grip. When you hear this, you know Dragon Quest V has good fucking reason to do so.

Why does this remind me so much of Invader Zim?

Perhaps a stronger example is necessary. How about the very first town in the game? You're going to spend a lot of time here, and with your dad busy, all you can do is explore the town. Comb over every last detail and get a feel for the daily lives of the people occupying the burg of Santa Rosa. And then the terror happens (I could probably write a bit on that alone, if it wasn't laden with spoilers). After escaping that hellhole of a life, you decide to return to Santa Rosa, maybe to forget i-oh dear fuck, this is just awful. Now imagine an entire game that puts this level of work into even the most inconsequential of things. It's about as good as it sounds. I'd say that the gameplay gets in on the action, too, but breaking and rummaging through everything in sight becomes a lot less child-like when you age ten years. More drifter-like, really.

What's that? You want to know about the plot? Who gives two shits about the plot? The only overarching plot-lines are "find the legendary hero" and "find your missing momma", and while the story never loses focus on those two important goals, they're not the real meat the story. Rather, most of what you'll be experiencing are essentially short stories scattered about the world. Often times, they're simple, sparse on detail, and completely optional, but somehow, still interesting in the very brief time that you get to know them. They're like a small glimpse into the insignificant lives of the NPCs populating the world you're exploring. Maybe not to the extent of Dragon Quest IX, yet that shouldn't diminish this game's accomplishments. But side-story or main, you're getting the same stuff: wonderful pacing, a hefty emotional weight, and, outside a few minor bumps, mechanical perfection.

I couldn't help it. I WANTED TO FEEL SEXY.

Now if only I could say the same about the actual game parts. Outside rifling through people's belongings to steal all their "medicinal herbs", a lot of the game is spent in and out of battles. Part of this is because that's the main gameplay system; part of it's also because the game is half random encounter by volume; but no part of it is because the battles are in themselves enjoyable. Given how high the random encounter rate is, you're going to be in a lot of battles, but sadly, the system isn't strong enough to support this level of engagement. You get some spells, some items, some....actually, that's really all there is. But all I really did in most of the random encounters was set all my allies to "eviscerate" while I mashed L1 and waited for the battle to end. No mental stimulation or even attention, really; just button mashing until I can just continue with the game. I'd say that it could use some more bosses to keep battles focused, but the ones that are there aren't especially challenging, at least if you stay on top of your healing. Instead, they're just really, really long. I imagine you could complete other Dragon Quest games in the time it takes to beat one of these bosses.

So what do you get instead of boss battles? A monster recruitment system! Sort of! Now in theory, this a pretty neat idea. Look at that picture just above this paragraph. Wouldn't you want to recruit that horrible thing? No? OK, well, no worries. There are tons of other monsters to recruit, all of them not that thing. Now how do you go about getting them? Well, you don't. Enix apparently never made it to that step in development. Just whack the shit out of an enemy (with love, somehow) and hope it joins you. What fun is a gameplay mechanic if you have absolutely no control over it and can't plan for it in any meaningful way? The one neat part of this game's battles, and it lucks itself out of relevance.

So with the battles completely busted, what else is there to do in this game? Look at and listen to it? Yea, that works, especially the latter, but what else? I'd say side-quests, but I can really only remember one: the largely pointless museum mini-game where you gather collectibles to exhibit to people in the most schizophrenic displays imaginable. And outside that, I can really only mention the dungeons. I don't know what it is about them, but there's something enjoyable about plundering their labyrinthine depths for untold treasures. The joy of discovery and whatnot. Hell, it's more enjoyable than the fights littered throughout wait what the fuck did I just say? How poorly does that reflect upon the feature you'll be seeing the most in this game? And how good does the story have to be that I'd still recommend the whole product?

Review Synopsis

  • In the blue corner, we have a story wtih a small focus but the tools to make it work!
  • And in the red corner, we have a battle system that interrupts instead of engages!
  • I haven't even rung the bell, yet, but the story somehow still won. Go figure.

Wait, did I just write the same blog twice?

11 Comments

Ludicrously old school and proud of it.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Wait, what's this game doing here? Well, remember my Snake Eater blog a while back? It was around this time that I started pining for more Metal Gear goodness. I'm aware of how strange that sounds in lieu of me blasting Snake Eater, but keep in mind that I really only took issue with Ocelot. With him out of the picture (or at least not a whiny little shit now), I should enjoy the experience more, right? Surprisingly, that's exactly what happened. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Metal Gear Solid 2 is the Moby Dick of gaming.

By which I mean it's incredibly dense and hard to understand. (Like one of my blogs. I future stole your joke, reader person.) There are just so many cutscenes in this game and they're all incredibly long and dense with information. In fact, almost half the game involves you sitting on your ass and watching things happen. Do I even need to say that's too much? And it's not even like that's a necessary number, because these cutscenes have more padding than a nervous teenage girl. A lot of the dialogue is the characters discussing what types of bullets their guns can use or how their nanomachines can read their biodata or whatever. I appreciate that this level of thought was put into constructing a believable, realistic world (where the Marines are building laser burping metal dragons), but maybe all that information should have been condensed or shoved aside into supplementary materials in the levels or something.

To be perfectly honest with you, I've completely forgotten the joke that was supposed to accompany this picture. Let's just assume it has something to do with Raiden gaining the Wild Card ability.

Otherwise, it's just going to distract from all the actually enthralling moments in the story, and believe me, there are actually elements here that are worth checking out. For instance, you get a ton of kickass action moments to help tide you over through all that Navy procedure talk. But more than that, Sons of Liberty has some pretty good points to make. I know what you're thinking: meta-game theme fuckery, right? Well, yes and no. I mean, it's definitely there; it would be hard to deny it when the game's nearly explicitly telling you as much. But sadly, it was not meant to be. A pretty damn thorough understanding of the original Metal Gear Solid is required in order for that reading to hold any water, and since that's a separate game completely outside this one, that's not gonna work out too well. You're just going to risk confusing people who have never played a Metal Gear Solid game, and that's on top of all the other confusing parts about this game. Sure, there's a plot synopsis included in the supplementary material, but from what I've read, it's somehow dense and bare-bones. That has to be some type of achievement.

Fortunately, Metal Gear Solid 2 has other ways of creating meaning. Namely, about how far legends differ from reality and trying to live up to them is only going to end in failure. This is a message you're going to see everywhere in the game, pounded into your head at every opportunity, and not just because of how dense these cutscenes are. It's clear that a lot of thought was put into these themes, and for proof, we need look no further than the protagonist: Raiden. Hot off the heels of ultimate badass Solid Snake, the guy's got some pretty big shoes to fill, and he knows it. Go watch his introduction and then compare it to anything Snake says. It sounds like he's copying Snake's inflections, almost like he's trying to be the legend himself. Predictably, he fucks that up big time. He's unjustifiably smug, egotistical, cocky, incompetent, and overall very abrasive. (Just like me. Am I psychic, future blog thief?) I'd throw in melodrama, too, but that's not exclusive to poor Raiden. Not the Solid Snake you thought you'd be getting, is he? So yes, I'm calling Raiden a bad character, but that's part of what makes him such a good character. I'll give you a moment to clean the nose cum from your keyboard. The best part about it, though, is that the entire game is just spilling over with these types of examples.

Turns out you have to beat fourteen of the bastards to get on with the game.

The worst part is when the writers lose their iron grip on the writing. No, I'm not talking about Fortune deflecting bullets with the power of smooth jazz or Vamp being Vamp. Yes, that's all incredibly silly, but I feel like Kojima planned for that. What I want to talk about are the things he didn't plan for, and not just about how CODEC calls make no sense for a stealth agent. At times, the plot feels way too convenient, like this scene, for example. To get to this point, I had to check everybody in the room in three second spurts lest the other guard become suspicious. Nice to know he's willing to let Raiden have a conversation with the man for as long as he does. And it sure was convenient that the microphone I needed to do all that was right where I needed it to be just when I needed it. But it's OK, because in the end, this all ends up being part of a plan concocted by Ocelot or the Patriots or whatever. A plan that would have to be executed ludicrously perfectly, given the number of variables that could go wrong (including the one that does, despite the amount of time in which it could have been fixed). And why does an American conspiracy group have a distinctly Japanese name? My point is that the story requires some heft suspension of disbelief in a few areas. Its made even worse by the attention to realism that I previ-

Wait a minute. Aren't I supposed to be talking about a game that you play with your hand fingers? Guess I should get started on that. To begin with, it's a stealth game. A really, really slow stealth game. But unlike all those cutscenes from before, this actually works to the game's advantage. You try plowing through the levels like Sonic the Hedgehog, you're going to get a bullet through your brain and any other part of your body that happens to be exposed. If you want to complete this game, you're going to have to slow down, observe your environment, and generally think things through. Naturally, this requires a lot of patience on your part, but it's well worth it just for that sense of reward you get from completing things flawlessly. But if you do fuck up (and you will), there's still fun in actually escaping enemy fire.

Oh, fuck it. PERSONA 3 REFERENCES FOR THE REST OF THE BLOG!

And then there's the tranquilizer gun, which.....actually does nothing to the overall gameplay. Yea, it gets the enemy out of your hair, but not instantly. If you don't put out the enemy immediately (or if you do so when another is watching), Sons of Liberty's gonna come down hard on you for it. So we return to the reasons why Sons of Liberty is so good, making the tranq gun the best weapon in the game. Wait, why do I even have multiple weapons? This is a stealth game; I'm trying to get by people, not outright kill them. Now there are times when you are tasked with killing people, but since Metal Gear isn't that type of game, the end result is all kinds of awkward. You're working from a top-down perspective, cover fire doesn't work (nor should it), and going into first person turns you into a sitting duck. Specifically, this duck. You are not at all equipped to handle direct combat, which makes any boss battle that doesn't use a sword or a Stinger a very strange presence.

I'd probably go on about how the flat skin textures make Fortune look like she's permanently sweating vegetable oil, or how you get to watch women sleeping, but I think I got my point across in as many words as possible. Actually, now that I think about it, my blog's a lot like Metal Gear Solid 2: the writing is incredibly dense and hard to penetrate, with an unlikable asshole at the center of it all, but that's just part of the charm, and underneath it all, there's something worth picking out. But that's not why you read. You read for the precise, methodically paced stealth action you know you can't get anywhere else.

˙ıɥɔnƃuǝʞnoʎW 'ıɐpɐʍıʞo┴ 'ıɐpnɟoʞ 'ǝqɐsɐS 'ɐʇıɥsɐɯɐ⅄ 'ouǝu∩ 'ııɹoʇouıɥɔI 'ouɐɹıH 'ɐpɐ┴ 'ıʞɐʇɐƃıɯnzns┴ 'ıɹoɯounsınƃ∩ 'ɐɯɐʎıʞɐ┴ 'ıɥsɐqǝqounuıʞ 'ıɥɔnƃǝsoN-ıɥsıuɐʍɐʞ

Review Synopsis

  • Hideo Kojima didn't throw in the kitchen sink when working on the story. He didn't even throw in the kitchen. He threw the entire fucking dining hall into Metal Gear Solid 2.
  • And then somebody designed a pretty damn good stealth system while Kojima was coming down from his high.
  • That not enough for you? Laser burping mecha dragons.

Speaking of postmodern insanity:

Once upon a time, there was a King by the name of VGLocks who stumbled upon a lone forest cottage. Having too much experience with JRPGs and too little respect for the concept of ownership, he tossed a rock through the window and broke in. Within, he found three televisions, each with an SNES hooked up, each SNES holding a Quintet game. (Let's say that this house belonged to nostalgic college bears.)

Curious, VGLocks tried the first game. "This gameplay is too repetitive", he moaned. Next was the....next game, I guess. "This story lacks direction and focus", he cried. Finally, he stumbled upon an action RPG that didn't see a release in America. VGLocks thought, "This game is juuuust fucking awesome." And then he discovered a super powerful sword just by the door for no reason and dogs began developing brain tumors and stuffing their skin into jars and oh god, let's just get to the fucking review before the night terrors return.

Eat your heart out, Fast and Furious 6.

What I'd say I like most about Terranigma is just how aware it is that it's a video game. In fact, you can say just that right from the very start. Our hero's a rambunctious asshole who causes trouble wherever he goes. This doesn't make a lot of sense until you find yourself trying to open a treasure chest that very clearly isn't yours. You see what just happened there? The game knew what you were going to do and worked it into the story. This is the type of thing that's going to pop up a lot in the story. A lot of the time, it's just minor tricks on convention, but there are those glimmering few moments when Terranigma goes for something big, like the most common thing you're going to do in the game.

That's right, I'm talking about the violence, even though I really shouldn't. The game simply waffles on this topic. On the one hand, it makes a concerted effort to transform it from an act of destruction to one of construction (more on that in a bit, though). So hooray for that. But then the game advances, and you find yourself killing the very things you brought back to life. Remember how you revived the animals of the land, player? Well, how about you go kill some wolves. Oh, and these aren't special demon wolves or some shit; they're regular fucking wolves. Terranigma's clear on that, if not on the entire topic. Yes, the thematic structure underlying the game essentially equates construction and destruction as two sides of the same coin, but that just feels like too easy a solution. Maybe it should've been more thorough with its themes of reconstr-

How? Why? These questions are never answered or acknowledged. Just enjoy the existence of sewer lions, alright?

That's right! There's also the reconstruction aspect that I love ever so much. Oh, sure, you also get stuff like fate and nature and blah blah blah, but how many others integrate themselves into the gameplay? Although not the main gameplay element, a large part of the game is simply guiding the world in its slow revival, and arguably, it's the best part of the entire game. Killing something is small potatoes; bring something back to life, and the game makes a huge fucking event of it. Bring plants back to life? Have a fucking awesome cutscene. And that's just the plants. Needless to say, it's a great way to foster a palpable sense of accomplishment, especially given how absolutely huge the world you're restoring is. It also helps that the story throws some cool characters and sad moments (and cannibal goats) your way so as to create a personal emotional attachment to the world you're helping to revive. If you're going to take one thing away from Terranigma, take this: it knows how to tell a story.

And then it gets needlessly political. Take, for instance, the voting sequence in Loire after the death of King Henri. That's already bad, but just give it a second. You get two candidates who wear their political ideologies on their sleeves: one who will bring about the Golden Age of Man and the one who will cause existence itself to implode into nothing. This is especially strange in lieu of the previous section's declarations on how democracy is just so goddamn awesome, you guys, even though one could make the argument that communism is closer to democracy than capitalism is (at least the pure Marxist version that nobody's ever managed to pull off.) But it doesn't end there. The game also goes out of its way to insult Islam and/or Russia (they're combined into one for reasons I don't quite understand) for no real reason. You were doing just fine with the themes of rebirth and reconstruction, Terranigma, so why you chose to add a transparent political dimension to things is beyond me. Then again, that very same racism is probably why there's a skateboarding wizard in this game, so maybe it gets a pass?

And have I mentioned how amazing the gra....you know what? Maybe I should get around to the combat. That's how these things go, after all. You can't be a video game if you're not killing something, and even by those strange standards, Terranigma is damn good. It's mechanically solid. You have a decent variety of moves with which to kill people, and surprisingly, each one has a definable personality and presence to it. Yes, that sounds strange, but it's easy to feel when you're meteor-ing into enemies or putting a ton of holes in them rapid fire style. Granted, it's easy to forget that you even have a few moves (did you know that you can block incoming attacks?), but I'm more willing to take the blame than place it. That not doing it for you? How about some awesome enemies, great levels, and OK bosses? A lot less specific, but it gets the job done, if you're into killing things. But it doesn't always have to be about violence. That's not what makes Terranigma great. It's about bringing life, not taking it away. By the time you see Ark dream his last dream, you're going to feel like you've accomplished something AND be justified in that belief.

Review Synopsis

  • The wiki page for this game says it combines the best of Seiken Densetsu and Link to the Past. It's not kidding.
  • And then it lays that feeling of creation and rebirth on top of it all. Ooooohhhhhh yeaa.......
  • That not enough for you? How about sewer lions, skateboard wizards, and fucking this?
21 Comments

Unicorn ladies caused the Goombapocalypse.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Feeling thoroughly confused yet? Then my job is done. I'd say this mirrors my own confusion about the disdain that this game garners, but I feel like I have a good understanding of the reasons behind that: it's put out a lot of games in a short period of time (five games in six years) and people are getting sick of it. How anybody could get sick of climbing huge buildings and running around Boston is outside my understanding.

Let it be said, though, that I still have some pretty big issues with Assassin's Creed III. Namely, it thinks it's a movie instead of a video game. You know, because that worked out so well for another A-named action game about the end of the world. OK, so it's completely unfair to compare this game to Alone in the Dark, but the game does hit on many of the same problems that I experienced there. For one, it's probably why the game's pacing is best described as glacial. Worse than that, though, is that any tension or emotional impact the game could ever hope to deliver feels completely and utterly manufactured. Listen to the music swell up as it's telling you that this is an exciting moment, goddamn it. Watch Connor react to huge events like he's been there before, simply because you pressed the X button once. Feeling pretty badass, right? And therein lies the problem: I don't feel badass at all. The game simply strapped me to the rails, force fed me every last little detail, and made it really hard for me to fail. When I do fail, it's more because I didn't do things like you wanted me to rather than through any significant failure on my behalf. True, there are moments when this works to the game's advantage (example), but they're the exception rather than the rule. Hell, the cinematic nature even robs you the satisfaction of taking part in some of the larger moments in the narrative because you, the player, can't be trusted with the responsibility. Instead, you're told exactly how to feel at each junction, and your only role is to press a button to remind the game you exist. But the story it's presenting has to be good to compensate, right?

Like YOU wouldn't want Haytham to be voiced by Vincent Price?

Wellllllll, no. Not really. It has all the depth of a subatomic particle, and that's ignoring the idiocy of the Hollywood style production. It all begins with the 2012 Apocalypse looming around the corner, which, standing at the tail end of the very year after it, should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the writing. From there, we go to British assassins generally failing at stealth and Native Americans leaping from tree to tree before settling into Hope Leslie if everybody was trying to stab each other. The ideas backing up the story are rather solid and I could imagine them working well if, again, there was some actual depth to the story. Alas, that is not the case. Instead, it’s the villains mostly shouting some variant of "order order order order hedonism", the Assassins retorting with "freedom freedom freedom freedom", and for whatever reason, I'm expected to agree with the Assassins. (I won't even get into how the story subtly sets this all against a racial backdrop for some reason.)

Even more worrying is the corollary that if somebody disagrees with you politically, then it's perfectly fine to stab them in the face for it. Now I know that initially ,Connor's fighting for the more noble goal of protecting his people, but boy, does that lose its focus quickly. And yes, later in the game, this dialogue is fleshed out considerably more, but the core message remains the same: the Assassins are good because freedom. Yet somehow I still sympathize with the Templars over the Assassins. Look at how many people you brutally murder over the course of the game. Think of all the chaos you create in the name of "freedom". Hell, there's a gameplay feature specifically dedicated to starting riots. Who wouldn't want the Templars to take over and put an end to this dickery?

Nobody ever said "Miles" was a last name.

Speaking of the Templars, guess who mercilessly rewrites history to their benefit at every opportunity? That's right! The Assassins! At least that's what I got from how the game treats history. Apparently, every bad thing that ever happened in Massachusetts was all part of a Templar conspiracy. Boston Massacre? Templars. Britain's iron grip on the colonies? Templars. The Curse of the Bambino? The Templars are huge Yankees fans, obviously. But don't worry, because Connor Kenway's here to make it all right by attending every single event of historical importance, from the Tea Party to Yorktown to the signing of the goddamn Declaration of Independence. What's that? It's incredibly implausible that somebody could have a major influence on such large events in a nation's history, yet still remain shrouded in secrecy about it all? You're right!

It's almost as though the writers didn't give two craps about history. That would explain why the Boston Massacre looked worse than it actually was, or how Paul Revere wasn't arrested on his famous ride (at least that I could tell), or how the Stars and Stripes is used despite that not being popular use at the time, or when they used the word "shiv" despite it not appearing until 1915. I know that a major aspect of the game is that the history we know is actually a Templar lie, but you can only stretch that premise so far before it cracks under pressure. What could they stand to gain from keeping the word "shiv" a secret for nearly 150 years? Were they in the patent market that might as well have existed at this point, given what's already been established? I'd also mention the wasted opportunities that lie within the story (why can't I play as Ziio? Or super cool Chinese assassin lady?), but I feel I've criticized the game enough for now.

The entire Danish GDP was invested into this game's facial animations. Appreciate that.

Which is why I'm going to tell you how utterly goddamn amazing this game looks. I'm aware that this plays into the game's problems of not focusing on substance as much as it should, but it's hard to care when the game looks this good. See all the detail packed into those models? It's almost like real life (for as corny as that sounds)! Yea, it never really animates, but how can you even afford to animate something this good looking? Besides, that's not even the worst graphical problem. That honor falls upon actually playing the game. Not to say that it looks bad, but the scene I linked before is a hard act to follow, and the game simply isn't up to the task. It tries, though. Dear god, does it try. Everything looks high def and usually with a smooth frame rate, but the real beauty lies in the world of colonial America. I don't even really know how to put it. There's just this really refined European aesthetic that makes everything a pleasure to look at.

And explore, too. Did I mention that? Well, I should have, because it's my favorite part of the game. Not just because of the world it creates, either (although that's certainly a big factor). There's just so much to do in this world, and the game rewards exploration quite well. There's always the obvious Viewpoints to scale, but if you're not up for that, you're in the wrong type of game. Who plays Assassin's Creed without getting the viewpoints? Yea, the climbing me....anyway, assuming that's not your thing, you can always chase ludicrously out of date almanac pages around like a giddy schoolgirl who climbs buildings for unknown reasons. That not your cup of tea? Then why not help the townspeople with their random problems? Or collect bird feathers, which are apparently in very short supply in New England? Hell, you can even just run around New York and ruin people's lives, if that's your thing. The point is that no matter where you look, there's something going on, and given the sheer volume and variety of tasks the game throws in your face, it's impossible not to find something you'll like.

Of course, if you get tired of the cityscape, there's always the Frontier to explore and hunt in.

Sadly, no option to assassinate.....whatever the hell this is supposed to be.

Moving right along, there's also the combat looming over the horizon, just waiting to contradict the game's premise. You know how Assassins are supposed to be sneaky and clean about their murders? Well, I'm not seeing it here, because every fight I've ever been in has devolved into a far clumsier re-imagining of the Boston Massacre. Just keep bashing X until you've killed more people than the war surrounding you. It's brutal, simplistic, celebrates violence...and yet has this strange charm about it. Not just in therapeutically hitting a single button over and over, but in the flow of events. It's always very easy to get trapped in a sort of groove in battle, bashing up against one guy and effortlessly brushing off another's attacks. That may be because the game announces enemy attacks with all the subtlety of a penis (can YOU name a time when a penis has been subtle? Exactly.), but that's not of any importance in the heat of the moment. Imagine a gay night club where everybody's punching each other silly, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Assassin's Creed III.

Again, there's more to the game than what I've already listed. There are a couple of rewarding but difficult to control naval battles over the course of the narrative. Desmond hops about the globe from time to time, adding some level of variety to the experience. There's even a mansion to fuck around with, if you're into that sort of thing. Just looking at all that it offers, it's hard to imagine why anybody would dislike this game. Then you realize that it's all glued together with a one dimensional and frankly proselytizing story, and suddenly, judgment of it becomes much harder. I'd still recommend it, though, just so long as your controller has a rapid-fire skip cutscene button.

Review Synopsis

  • This sums up the Assassin's Creed III story quite well.
  • Fortunately, that doesn't ruin the enjoyment of leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Still set to this, for reasons unknown.
  • Oh, and the combat's decent, too, although I can't imagine a description of it would help.

Before watching this video, keep in mind that it's meant to promote somebody's YouTube channel. Let that horror sink in for a minute.

Believe it or not, this game has some pedigree behind it. Turns out Game Arts was behind this. You know, the guys behind Lunar and Smash Bros.....and Alisia Dragoon. If you make games for long enough, chances are one of them's gonna suck. Fortunately, Yumimi Mix isn't one of those. Sadly, I couldn't understand a lot the language (which is a bit of a problem in what amounts to an FMV game), so I feel it slightly unfair to pass judgment on Yumimi Mix. But that being said, I'm still going to deem it average. Really, really average. The most distinctive thing I can say about this game is that if you have about 90 minutes to spare, it will occupy that amount of time somewhat well.

Now rather than begin with the story, I feel like I should open up with the gameplay, since, well, there's not a lot to describe. From time to time, you're presented with a choice and are expected to make one. Make your choice, see how it plays out, and then continue on with the story. If you're hoping that your choices have some sort of influence on the game, they really don't. Discounting the obvious differences between one choice and the next, none of them really have any lasting impact. Yea, there are three endings to pick, but only the choices at the absolute end of the game really have any impact on that. No, seriously, go check it out for yourself. Makes you wonder why they included that element of the game if it....wait, why is this a game, exactly? If my choices don't have much of an influence on what's going on, then why am I even making choices? It might as well be an OVA with a couple moments that only look like they'd make for an awesome game.

Let Keisuke fall prey to the zombie horde and make sure the little girl suckling on Yumimi there makes it out of this alive.

Hey, that reminds me: this game looks amazing....sort of. (Christ, this is just becoming Assassin's Creed Redux, isn't it?) On the one hand, the quality of the drawings is really fucking good. All the lines and colors are incredibly well defined, so everything's just really satisfying to look at. There are a few faces that amount to simple lines and dots, but given everything else the game has going for it, I choose to believe that this is more a stylistic choice than anything else. Just like the lack of animation. Time Gal this ain't. Movement is more implied than actually performed. For the most part, animation amounts to mouths simply opening/closing or maybe the absolute bare minimum animation needed for a scene to work. Not that there's anything wrong with this. After all, I imagine the reason behind the lack of animation is precisely because there's so much art in this game. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it lends the game this strange charm, like you're playing a manga while twelve year old girls yell shit in your ears. No, this isn't a flimsy justification for Yumimi's motionless nature; it's just something you have to be aware of before you jump into this.

Just like the magical elements in this game, because they're not readily apparent from the outset. At first, you're just helping this middle school girl called Yumimi get to middle school (and seeing her bathe, if that van came with your mustache), and suddenly, magical balls of light. They're just as abrupt and strange as I make them out to be, and it only gets weirder from there. Anne Heche will nuzzle Yumimi's sternum like crazy when given the opportunity, people bathe in Mountain Dew, and horse lesbians exist. Also, whatever the fuck this is. Eventually, though, every last fucked up element makes itself a legitimate element of the world ,decides to mellow out a bit, and reveal their true purpose: imprison monsters in another dimension for just existing. A tad worrying, but like I said, at least it adds purpose and direction to the plot, something that I don't think would be there otherwise. Without Sponge World, you'd just be left with a group of tweens bumming around their local neighborhood. At least this way, you get some cool action moments thrown into the mix, and that's gotta be worth something, right?

Yes, it does. I'm not contradicting my own premises. BUT I will say that they're not the main appeal behind Yumimi Mix. That honor would probably go to the graphics I mentioned before. Move further down the totem pole (which totally exists in this game), though, and I'd have to give it up to the characters. Quite the affable cast we have populating this. I've already mentioned our protagonist and Horse Lesbian Anne Heche, but there's so much more. Sort of Mean Blonde Girl. Keisuke Hiraga. Other Guy......My descriptions don't do them justice, do they? Believe me when I tell you that the characters are slightly more memorable than I make them out to be. Everybody generally puts a lot of genki energy into their performances, and the result is a generally fun experience. Yea, it's a very mild fun, but what more do you want out of a 90 minute experience?

Review Synopsis

  • You know what The Walking Dead could use more of? Whatever the fuck this is.
  • And a lot of barely animated anime.
  • Still, for what it is, the story's alright, with some entertaining characters and soda baths.
16 Comments

The rise and fall of Quintet. And Tarot, apparently.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

What did I just play? No, I want to know what it is I spent about ten hours playing. It's definitely one of the more terrifying games I've ever played, but that's not exactly a good thing. Planet Laika is what doctors show their terminal patients when they have to explain why the electric bill wasn't paid.

It all begins with a group of space dogs flying off to the military dictatorship that is Mars on a science expedition or to take care of some evil space terrorist or something; I don't know (a phrase you'll say a lot should you decide to play this game). And then this shows up. Do you feel your cerebral cortex slowly slitting its wrists? That's a feeling that will continue throughout the whole experience. A lot of it is simply because of how the game looks. Who thought modeling a dog's face onto a human body was a good idea? And who was it that decided to put bloated man-tits on all that? Or suspend it all in fart space from time to time? And that's just the "normal" stuff; you don't want to know what the game's like when it's trying to be scary. And it's not like the dialogue is any better. There's just something...off about each and every sentence. Nothing's ever explained too clearly, and half the sentences feel like one of the words was changed to something completely unrelated to anything that's going on, thus absolutely destroying any meaning I otherwise could have gotten from that sentence. Sometimes, entire sentences seem to be fucked. Don't try stabbing your eyes to escape this fate, either, because the limited instances of voice work will get to you, too.

I'm not going to translate this image, because the only thing you need to know about it is that it contains the phrase "cute ass". It is exactly as horrid as I make it out to be.

And the worst part of it all? IT NEVER FUCKING LETS UP. Not once. Not ever. "But oh benevolent King", I can hear you calling, "Surely, the game must let up at some point. It can't just keep getting scarier and scarier; it eventually has to reach a peak." Oh, how I wish I was that naive. I didn't even show you guys the most horrible parts of this game. Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse, tentacle rape. Just tentacle rape. Nothing heartw-OK, to be fair, there are a few touching moments in the game. A few. Hell, I can actually count them all on one hand: April having to deal with Laika's insanity early on and Yolanda recounting how she was there to witness her friend (Laika's mom) just up and kill herself in the bathtub. Yes, even when you're in the middle of a genuinely well written story moment, the game still manages to scare. You will never escape it. But if you still don't believe me, go check out the thumbnails to these videos and point to one that doesn't give clowns nightmares.

I'd say that this would be fine if the developers were aiming to create this type of atmosphere, but that would be like excusing what Jack the Ripper did because it was always his intention to eat some girl's internal organs. But let's assume for a second that the prior premise is true. Even then, Planet Laika fails spectacularly, because I never got the vibe that this is what the developer wanted the game to end up like. There's a lot of dialogue about new avatars and alternate personalities (which everybody seems to have) and the number pi and other such nonsense, which, at first, seems random as all hell. But to a trained eye, there's actually some symbolic value in these plot elements (or at least there would be if they were in any other game than this). Only when the game unloads things like the prophet Jeremiah and the Horseman of the Apocalypse (something it actually gets wrong) and all the fucking Christmas motifs lying around the city...only then does it become clear that this was supposed to be a Christian story of ultimate good conquering ultimate evil with a hint of overcoming psychological trauma, or something along those lines. With enough of the 1970s to make Space Channel 5 wet its pants. Strange design choice. Even ignoring that, though, the fact that everything looks like some hideous monster creature means this approach was doomed from the start.

You know, this part of the game makes some sense. After all, the game DOES make me feel like I lost everything I've ever loved in a terrible house fire AND that this experience has left me both physically and emotionally scarred for life.

I'm not kidding; the game's sick, demented ethos genuinely makes it difficult for the story to succeed on any level. I can't even tell who's supposed to be a good guy and who's supposed to be a bad guy. For a lot of the story, it seems like Dog Tits is supposed to be an antagonist, but then it turns out he's a victim in all this? Even though he was generally causing nightmare shit to happen all over the place for....why was he doing that, exactly? I remember a lot of dialogue about him living in a nightmare, but that doesn't explain why he was walking on ceilings. AND HOW IS THIS THING A BENEVOLENT FIGURE!? This isn't even getting into all the incredibly weird plot tw....you know what? I could have saved myself a lot of time by telling you that the people behind Planet Laika don't really know how to tell a story. There's not even any hint of a narrative arc. Things just happen because the game says they do, and after ten hours of torture, it mercifully ends.

Now after nearly 1000 words lambasting this atrocity, you may be wondering why I haven't said anything about the gameplay. Well, that's because there really isn't a lot to describe. After an introduction that's pretty much just cutscenes and nightmares, you just walk around a very small world (both in terms of design and writing), talking to random NPCs and battling face aliens. (More on that last part in the next paragraph.) Now because the world is small and your access to it often smaller, you'd think that progress in the game would be fairly easy, since you don't have a lot of options to try out. The answer to that is yes and no. Yes, you're limited in what you can do. No, it's not easy to know where you're supposed to go and what you're supposed to do. Even knowing what the NPCs were saying, I still felt like progress was up to dumb luck.

YOU TRY EXPLAINING WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THIS FUCKING IMAGE!!!

Perfect example: mid way through the game, a creepy little frog creature wants to take you through the looking glass to meet his God. Why, yes, that God is a horrifying abomination against the natural order, but that's not the point. The point is that he's not gonna let you come along unless you accept Christ as your one true savior (despite the fact that this game is the most cogent proof against God that's ever been conceived). Before I divulge the solution, I have to explain that you play as multiple characters throughout the game. Build up enough psychic energy just talking to people, and you get to become another person. Its true worth is in the narrative, so mechanically, it's only used to progress through the game. Like here, for instance! Can you guess which character you're supposed to change into to proceed? The one whom you've never used prior to this and thus would know absolutely nothing about. Duh! Now to be fair to the game, this does serve an important story function in that it finally introduces us to this fucker. But good fucking luck foreshadowing that in the gameplay so that the player knows how to get to this point!

Fortunately, this isn't the only gameplay that Planet Laika offers you. If it was, I'd be using far nastier words throughout this blog. On top of aimless wandering around and....really, just the aimless wandering around, you get some strange sine wave battle system thing. It doesn't show up a lot, but when it does, it's....satisfactory, I guess? You're supposed to launch a ball of psychic energy at your opponent while also using it to reflect their own shots back at them. It's not terribly complex (I won a couple of the battles by simply holding forward and doing nothing else.), but given how rare it shows up, it's fun for a nice distraction. Some of the more important battles in the game even give you some exposition on the characters' many psychological issues, like Persona 4 if it quaffed everything in the sink and the medicine cabinet. But as I've already elaborated on, that description isn't for the best. Mere exposure to the very concept of this game will result in your brains melting out your ears in a desperate attempt at freedom, which probably explains the level of quality the writing demonstrates. Also telling is how this is pretty much the game that killed Quintet; this was their last game before simply vanishing into the aether. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shit blood to remind myself that I'm still alive.

Review Synopsis

  • Have you ever wanted somebody to combine the visuals of the human characters in Toy Story with all the mental stability of a concussion? Of course you haven't! Nobody has!
  • No surprise, then, that the story feels like a series of severe psychological traumas barely lumped together under the pretense of something greater.
  • Space Pong's alright, though.

Hey, look at that: something almost as terrifying as Planet Laika.

I believe I've covered this before. Remember? No need to drag up the past.

Which is exactly why I'm bringing up the past here. Look, after the cosmic horror show that was Planet Laika, I needed a reason to love Quintet again, and this game....splinters the hell out of that. On the one hand, you have a mediocre, meandering storyline that doesn't explain a helluva lot. On the other hand, you have a great action RPG with some cool levels and really solid combat. Pretty damn tough call to make, but the end result is still a good game.

But not a good story, mind you. It all begins with psychic child Will stepping into a cosmic pocket to speak with the spirit of Gaia. Why? How? These questions (and maybe one other) are only ever addressed about nine tenths into the story. But that's the least of Illusion of Gaia's worries. Instead, it has to worry more about a lack of focus. In addition to speaking with the gods, Will is also tasked with finding some Mystic Statues and finding out what happened to his father, a set of tasks he immediately does nothing about. It's hard to say that Will and company ever take specific actions toward this end. More often than not, they sort of just luck out and happen to be in the right area at the right time. Like here, for instance! Hell, I could probably describe the entire game as merely bouncing around from event to event until the pig dies and it looks like the plot's going somewhere, maybe with the odd meaningless choice thrown in from time to time (although I don't have much of a problem with that). I'm not even entirely sure what the message or theme behind the game is. That all life everywhere is precious and connected to one another? That's the best I could come up with, and if it's there, it's only very barely hinted at, development of said message coming at the ass end of the game. It also doesn't really explain why I'm slapping the shit out of sand worms beneath the Great Wall of China......Wait, why am I beating up sand worms beneath the Great Wall of China?

I have to imagine some of these lines would be outright poetic if not for the overly literal translation. It's not as bad as Soul Blazer was, but the translation isn't as flexible as it needs to be.

Better yet, why am I giving Illusion of Gaia such a hard time? The characters populating this world already have it rough. After the Incan Ruins level, everything goes to hell for these poor guys. Two youths have to survive a month at sea, one of their friends turns into a giant fish for all of two minutes, a guy gets rejected, and the pig, man. But what good would this be if the characters were all massively unsympathetic pricks? Still pretty good. Actually, I was supposed to say that the characters are all well written enough that this crisis is averted. For one, they all have pretty well defined personalities. You have Kara fulfilling the Ben role of generally being useless to the expedition; the pragmatic Lilly; and the "I think I'm confusing him with Otacon for absolutely no reason" Neil. All their personalities play off each other in an endearing way that not only helps make the more depressing elements more palatable, but also acts as a Febreeze to the musty pile of compost that is the plot. Sure, it doesn't cover up the smell entirely, but it certainly helps.

You want to cover up that bad smell? You play the game; not experience the story. Hell, some of the dumber story moments may get a pass simply because they lead cool places in terms of the gameplay. For instance, the overly linear story creates an overly linear game.......That's not what I meant to say. Even without the option to move about the world in any meaningful capacity, the world still has a depth to it. Levels wind about and curve back onto themselves, but never feel like they're wasting your time. I'd say part of this is because of the puzzles in store, but really, they're a minor factor in the levels' success. More credit has to go to the mere concept behind these levels being fun, because what's there not to like about a sky dungeon where you flip the level upside down? Or exploring the Great Wall of China, only to end up fighting a dumb sandworm for no real reason? And that's not even getting into collecting all the laboriously placed Red Jewels strewn across the land.

Also, this being a Quintet game published by Enix, expect to get a healthy dose of Christianity alongside your slaughter (albeit not in as large doses as some of their other titles).

Mainly because the time I would devote to that must instead go toward greater gameplay features, like the combat, IE one of the game's main selling points. (The other is just how goddamn good it looks. Who knew that vibrant colors and fluid animations actually went well together?) What makes it sellable is that you get to transform into a dark knight (why?*); what makes it good is that no matter what, you're going to have a lot of moves with which to brutally murder anything in sight, and perhaps with the exception of the Psycho Dash, you're going to use every last one of them. But even without that variety, I'd still like the combat in this game simply because there's a real weight behind it. I know that sounds like a petty reason to like a game's combat system, but it's true. Each stab of the sword will send Will flying toward his enemy and said enemy flying back about a few feet. It's little touches like those that make me want to engage every enemy I come across. The fact that they vomit up stat increases only sweetens the deal.

Wait, why am I beating up these enemies, again? Back in Soul Blazer a week ago, it was because I was rebuilding the world and fighting off moral corruption of the soul. Here, there's really no explanation given for why I'm stabbing slime puddles or why they explode into staircases. And while I'm at it, how do we live in a world where Earthly city and culture exist long before there's actually an Earth as we know it? What I'm getting at is that this isn't the tightest narrative put to pen. But it is one of the tighter gameplay experiences put to.....uh, controller? Yea, sure, let's go with that. If the two were more in sync, half the words would have been "nnnnnggghhhh" or some other variation of a raw sexual grunt. Instead, we've ended up with a game that I like quite a bit, albeit reluctantly so.

*

Turns out it's because both the knight and the late game fire being are supposed to be the ultimate evolution of man or something. Should this plot point have been introduced far earlier in the game? Absolutely. But is it explored in any real depth in the limited time the game has allotted itself? Not particularly. We're going the Halo 4 route of simply saying that the ideal man is built only to fight, and then just ignoring all the horrible implications of that line of thinking.

Review Synopsis

  • Take a pinch of aimless wandering around and add more pointless choices than BioShock Infinite, and you have the story to Illusion of Gaia.
  • This is in stark contrast to the fairly refined gameplay experience used to string it all together.
  • And dear god, does this game look amazing!
9 Comments

Top down hack and eviscerate action.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Anybody ever stop and think about all the violence that's on display in video games? No, I'm not going in that direction with this blog, but this is a thought that definitely keeps popping into my mind whenever I blow somebody else's out. But as gruesome as that video was, it pales in comparison to Hotline Miami. Imagine if Vice City was even more violent and brutal, and you have Hotline Miami. Given my introduction, it's somewhat odd that I liked the game as much as I did.

Maybe it's because the game is so goddamn brutal that I like it as much as I do. I'd describe the overall premise, but all I need to say is Chickenhead. After doing God does not know what because his existence is proof against God, Chickenhead finally returns, and his mere presence should explain everything that is Hotline Miami. At first, you may wonder what's so wrong with something like Chickenhead. Just look at all the bright colors and fun times he's all about. What could possibly go wrong with that? Just wait. In time, all will be made clear. The grotesque, disgusting, outright shocking reality of Chickenhead will manifest itself, revealing itself for the inhuman abomination it truly is. The same thing applies to Hotline Miami (at least if you bother tacking on a happy ending of sorts), the only difference being I like it. Oh, I'm still horrified with it, but unlike Chickenhead, I like Hotline Miami because I'm horrified of it. It's like the game slowly becomes aware of how horrible it truly is and begins adjusting its scenarios to reflect that grim reality, twisting itself into a cruel parody of its very concept. Gleeful mania warps into hollow violence, and guilt-inducing NPCs transform into...well, guilt-inducing NPCs. A little awareness goes a long way.

Sanguis....bibimus...corpus...edimus...

But that doesn't mean the gameplay can't be.....actually, fun may not be the right word. That would create the strangest dissonance imaginable. For what it's worth, though, the game does a good job of getting you into the mind of a killer. Each level presents you with the same goal: murder every single living thing that just so happens to be in the same building as you. If that sounds simple, that's because it kind of is. But that's OK, given how well it's all pulled off. The majority of your weapons are going to be melee (largely because guns are about as stealthy as a sonic boom), so invariably, you're going to get this very primal feeling from each of your kills, watching your opponent crawl away before you jam your fingers in their eye sockets and introd......As I was saying, this is a very good way to get you thinking like the protagonist, especially when you jump from one target to the next, just bashing heads in, one af.....I think you get the point.

And then you die. What? You thought death only applied to other people? It's going to apply to you, too. This is a pretty difficult game, and you're going to die far too many times to count. Some aspects of that difficulty may feel cheap, like enemy weapons being randomized each time or how enemies don't attract attention when firing their own guns, but for the most part, it's handled really well. Despite what the game tells you, it helps to plan things out. Each stage has its own kind of flow to it, and if you don't know what that is (after playing the level again and again and again), you're not going to succeed. At first, this may seem antithetical with the game's appeal, since it forces you to stop and think things through, something that wouldn't exactly fit with the spur-of-the-moment murder motif the game has going for it. But then, you realize that none of that fucking matters. You're still getting that instantaneous killing streak that makes the game so strong, only with a mechanism attached that rewards skill and thought. Without it, you'd just have a thoughtless hack and slash game, and that's not at all what Hotline Miami is about. There's some actual thought put into this game, and really, it's the thought that counts. Non-ironically, of course.

Review Synopsis

  • CHICKENHEAD! WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME SO!?
  • Still, for all the poultry horrors that this game contains, it at least throws you a solid combat system.
  • And with an element of strategy! What more could you want?
  • I've only now just realized that this is one of the few contexts in which my choice of font makes sense.

You know what Super Mario 64 could have used more of? High pitched crappa.

What? This is an addendum to last week's blog, wherein I spent far too many words talking about magical teenagers, so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a game from years past. To that end, I played Soul Blazer, a game that is sadly not about a magical article of clothing that imbues its owner with the power of African American music, but a dungeon crawler from Quintet, a company named such because only about five games in their entire library are worth remembering. (I guess they'd be ActRaiser, ActRaiser 2, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma. Maybe Robotrek should I ever get around to playing it.)

I originally picked it because I wanted something that would line up well with Hotline Miami, but then I realized how incredibly little these games share in common. You know how Hotline Miami is as absolutely psychotic as the laws of nature will allow it to be? Well, Soul Blazer tones that way the hell down and adds a dollop of Christianity on top. Somehow, it doesn't suck as a result of it.

Yes, my attention to detail IS worrying.

I'm guessing that's because it knows how to put it to use: creating a sense of accomplishment and some small sense of emotional bonding rather than in addition to beating you over the head with religion. Here's how things unfold: God digs up a corpse and puts armor on it (that's my explanation for your ghostly white skin), and then demands that said corpse revive the world. What caused the end of the world? And why doesn't God get off his lazy ass and do the work himself? Shut up. That's not the point. It's that you're an active agent in reviving the world. This may not sound like much, but it sure does pay dividends. Every little thing you revive has some sort of voice and personality, and some of them even have a short little story, almost like you're returning life to the world. Naturally, you're going to feel invested in at least a couple of these stories. Granted, it's not much of an investment, but for what it is, it works quite well. This is especially considering the sense of accomplishment that you get from reviving the world. Who knew that adding life and personality to your world would grant you some feeling of reward in bringing it all back to life?

Sadly, this level of thought and care isn't entirely present in the scenario design. Fortunately, I couldn't give two shits about that, because the levels are fun in spite of that. It's amazing how many cool levels this game has. It's hard to name a single bad level in the game. For instance, what do you do after exploring a painting? Bum around a swamp temple, of course! And why not throw in some reindeer skeleton monsters, while we're at it? But the best part of the game has to be Dr. Leo's lab. After finding out both that he's a hoarder and that the things he's hoarding all have a voice, you head into his basement and slash robots to death (to some pretty bitching music, to boot). After enough of that, it's off to toy town, which probably has to be the best part of Dr. Leo's lab. It's like somebody combined Through the Looking Glass with Godzilla and then threw a sword into the mix. Now imagine an entire game just made up of these levels. What more could you want out of this game?

Maybe decent gameplay. I know that sounds strange coming hot off the heels of a paragraph lauding Soul Blazer's levels, but here's the thing: while the scenarios that make up the levels are fun, actually playing through these scenarios really isn't. Here's how just about every level in the game unfolds: you find an enemy spawning circle and bash away at the enemies that march forth from it until the game decides you've done that enough times. Repeat that approximately 400 times, and you have the Soul Blazer experience. Does that sound like it gets repetitive? Well, it does, very quickly, and it only gets worse when spawn points birth other spawn points. That's not legitimate level design, Quintet; that's just incredibly lazy.

In fact, that's probably how I'd describe some aspects of the game. Take, for instance, the enemy AI that I could probably program. It's all something like "just mill around a bit" or "track player position and then move there." Not terribly complex or engaging, is what I'm saying. Same goes for the boss battles, wherein the challenge is less in figuring out their pattern and more executing on that. And have I mentioned the translation? Because it's definitely an artifact of its era, overly literal in some places and strangely typo'd in others. Sure, all of these features are inoffensive and perfectly functional, but they're not the reasons you come to Soul Blazer. You come to Soul Blazer because ActRaiser didn't have enough dungeon crawling for your tastes.

Review Synopsis

  • What could be better than bringing life back to a dead world so in need of revival?
  • How about fucking up some toy soldiers?
  • Too bad the gameplay holding it all together is all kinds of eh.
14 Comments

Words cannot describe this.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Well, this is certainly going to be awkward. For those of you unaware as to why, allow me to elucidate. A while back, I started this screenshot thread for Persona 3 in the hopes that it would quell my F8ing habits. Clearly, that hope died a prolonged death in a rainy ally, all alone, nobody to comfort it in its most terrifying moment. Fortunately, the fear that I've wasted my best material in that very thread, leaving this blog a hollow husk of words desperately trying to convey my enjoyment with this game, is only lying in a hospital bed somewhere while doctors poke it and scribble down its responses to being poked. Let's see if I can write more words than I took screenshots.

Now where the fuck do I start with this game? How about the pacing? Yea, sure, why not start with the hardest possible aspect of this game to describe? The story begins with local psychopath Brooklyn Rage riding into a town of afro-headed beasts and girls who consider suicide a hobby. Soon, he finds himself with an amazing power that essentially turns him into Japan's magical Batman, protecting the streets of Gekkoukan from the monsters of the night. Of course, by "soon", I mean "over what feels like a long period of time", because returning to my original point, the pacing is...weird? If you measure out the events in the narrative day by day, then this game slows to an absolute crawl. You're lucky if you get a major event every two months, at least in retrospect. I added that clause because it's very easy to feel like things are going really fast. Maybe not at first, when the game's easing you into its primary concepts, but give it time. Soon, Social Links and special events and other such things will have you feeling rushed cursing the name of Chronos as you demand more time for so many disparate events. Yes, it plays into the game's messages about time constantly moving forward, but.....actually, there's no end to that sentence. I just like that aspect of the pacing.

I was originally going to do something with this screenshot, but holy hell, is it fucking depressing.

But ignoring that and considering the flow from event to event, Persona 3 ends up....still kinda slow. At almost any point in the story, you feel like you're in preparation for something bigger, even when the events that you're already experiencing are pretty big. This may be because the writers have the attention span of an excited cat, jumping to one shiny plot point only to abandon it just as quickly for the next. Uh oh, looks like Junpei's developing an inferiority complex about being a deuteragonist. Want to know how that's going to play out? Too bad. We're on Ken's introduction to the team. But not before we get to see what Akihiko's up to with his old buddy Shinjiro. It's a really disorienting approach to storytelling that leaves the overall product feeli-

Wait, why am I talking ill of the story? It's probably the best part of the game. Hell, I don't even know why I'm speaking ill of the pacing, because there are a couple of aspects of it that I really love. Namely, the plot twists. I know it's strange that a game like this can move so slowly and still catch you for a loop, but it's hard to deny that Shinji's death and Ikutsuki being a villain for all of twelve minutes and other such twists were predictable. At the same time, they fit really well into the overall story and take it in some interesting directions. And did I mention that Persona 3 really knows how to work over your emotions when it really wants to? It's almost like the developers knew what they were doing with this.

Then how do you explain the Shadow that siphons electricity from underneath the mall later in the game? Or the walkie-talkies you use in Tartarus? Or the train that goes out of control when you board it THIS VERY NIGHT?

In fact, that's probably why I like the story so much: Atlus really fucking knew what they were doing with this game, as it displays a thematic focus and clarity that you don't see terribly often. Time moves forward for us all. Always look toward the future instead of wallowing in the past. Figure out a goddamn reason for living (or fighting, if you're a high school girl with mommy issues). You are going to see this message plastered absolutely goddamn everywhere in the game, from the high school kids who turn suicide into a superpower to the Christ allegory with a gun. Yes, it sounds incredibly forceful, but fortunately, the themes are worked into the story quite naturally. The story's easy enough to enjoy without examining its messages, and the game lays out its logic well enough that it never feels like the messages are strained or overly proselytizing, so it's quite clear that the writers put a lot of thought and effort into their end product. The only part I think they really overlooked are the Full Moon operations. Maybe you shouldn't have characters breaking the law on a whim because they're special and unlike everybody else, especially when half the characters are fucking psychopaths. (Do I even really need to explain that one?) Other than that, though, Persona 3 has the big picture thoroughly figured out.

It's just that in the smaller details, the story doesn't hold up as well. For instance, the Dark Hour, a mysterious time that opens up between midnight and the exact minute after midnight. Only a select few can access it, even though logic dictates that absolutely goddamn everybody should be aware of its existence. It's not taking place instantaneously; this shit occurs over the course of a full minute. How is somebody to ignore people moving around 60 times faster than normal? You can scream "transmogrified" and "Tartarus" all you like, but scenes like this and this and this kind of take the validity out of those arguments. That's not even getting into how physics work in this mystery realm, maybe because the game just makes crap up as it goes along to justify minor leaps in logic. I'd cite a few more examples of this nit-picking, but they involve some hefty spoilers, and for all the complaining about the story I've made in the past few paragraphs, trust me when I say that I want you to experience every goddamn word of it.

Not sure why she's angry about it. I don't remember her saying this line with any hint of malice or sarcasm or anything, really.

Because aside from the other reasons I've already listed, there are some really damn good characters to be found in this game. It may not look it at first, though, when half the characters are brutal psychopaths and the other are average to unlikable, but give it time. (Maybe midway through, when the game just decides to dump a slew of characters right in front of you.) You're bound to find somebody you like. It would be very easy to write this off as being due to the sheer volume of characters on display, and while that's definitely a major factor in their success, I'd say the writing's also a big component of it. Every character has their own memorable quirk or two and all the problems the characters have are easily to relate to, so it's easy for the game to move your emotions where it wants them to go. After all, who hasn't lost a dear friend or had an extremely possessive girlfriend? Even characters I didn't really like in the first place, like Yukari and Junpei, get their own redeeming nuggets in the story. The only exceptions are Keisuke the Clingy Sexist and Ken the Generic. But still, that's only two characters out of a cast whose size would make your average Suikoden game blush. What more could you want?

How about a feature whose sole purpose is to expose to more of the characters than you'd simply find in the story: Social Links! I've already discussed what makes the characters work, so that leaves only the actual mechanics to discuss. Within a Social Link? Piss easy! Just grab a matching Persona for the person you want to Link (preferably a high level one that you can fuse into something worthwhile later) and then remember to be polite and agree with every goddamn thing they say in the cutscenes that follow. And even that's not hard; most of the choices you're offered boil down to "Should I say that I'd like to hang out with them or urinate on their shoes?". You really have to go out of your way to fuck up a Link while you're in it. Outside it, though? That's actually very easy to fuck up. There's just so much to keep track of. Conflicting schedules, personal condition, tests and other such gaps in time, reversing. Don't get me started on the reversing (although that might be because it only happened to me once.) Quite a bit of the system is based on luck, but so much more of it is based on simply being aware of how the flow of time works in the game that it feels like the game's presenting you with a fair challenge. If you're somehow able to max every Link in the game, then you probably have more important things to do with your time, like maybe taking care of that impending Dalek threat.

As always, Elizabeth has things figured out.

But story and characters are only one half of the Persona 3 experience. An incredibly large half resembling Pac Man, but my point is that there's more to the game than what I've already listed. Namely, running around Tartarus and beating shit up. It's a nice, simple way to blow some time for a variety of reasons, like clear time limits, how the game encourages constant grinding, and the fast pace of the battle system. Sadly, though, another big reason is that the battles are ridiculously simple and easy. You only control your own character (more on that in a bit), and coincidentally, they're the only one allowed to use multiple Personae. Combine these two statements together, and every battle results in you spamming whatever elemental weakness is needed for the moment and watching the enemy flounder about. It's even worse if you've scanned the enemies before and have quick access to what their weaknesses are. The only reason you'd let your allies handle things is either because the mechanics back you into a corner or because you don't want to blow your SP load too early. Oh, and I guess there are also fusion spells thrown into the mix, but given how incredibly difficult they are to stumble across (I only found one on my own), it's best to treat them like an afterthought instead of a full-fledged feature.

What's that? Having AI partners whom you can't control adds an element of strategy to the mix? Well, discounting what I just said a moment ago about the other party members being accessories instead of full fledged partners....nope, not really. In order for this to be true, there would have to be a need to change how my allies behave in battle from time to time, and for the most part, that simply isn't true. They can handle themselves just fine and adjust their own behavior as they see fit. (Though I should acknowledge that exceptions arise near the end. Mitsuru will decide to murder anything within 95 billion lightyears of her sword, and Koromaru will ignore any elemental weaknesses just so he can play with his shiny knife.) It's good that this level of behavior was programmed into the various characters, but it removes a lot of incentive for me to play around with the various AI commands the game gives you. Have I made it clear that strategy isn't Persona 3's strong suit?

This is so goddamn anime that I think clicking it leads to the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme instead of the image.

Meta strategy, on the other hand, is something this game has in spades. Not an easy thing to accomplish when your entire deck is full of wild cards. Before even picking your party members, you have to be completely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Same goes for your own weaknesses. Did you make sure that the Persona you just pulled out isn't weak to spells the enemies are casting? Or spells that you can cast (reflect is a bitch)? Because Persona 3 isn't the type of game to let you off lightly. Screw up even a little bit, and the game will bring the mighty hammer of Thor upon you to teach you not to slack off. Sometimes, you don't even need to screw up; the Reaper will still take your mortal soul away for all time. But if you actually put in the work and learn how things work, and you'll be rewarded with....well, those things I listed in the last paragraph. Believe me: it's better than I put it, especially given the strategy just oozing from every single hole this game possesses. Hell, even something like the All Out Attack requires careful consideration. Is it really worth it to damage all these guys when you know it'll knock them right back up?

And while I'm complimenting the game for a change, I might as well bring up the many gratifying boss battles. Those things I said before about the lack of strategy or AI commands? That's all gone. Combine the considerations for party strengths and weaknesses I talked about in this paragraph with the improvised strategy I kinda wish was present in the last paragraph, and you have this game's boss battles. This isn't even counting the scenario design of the fights. It's hard to forget something like a naked train lady or the wheel of fortune or the New York Knicks.

"Don't worry. There will always be a door to the light." "And that will bring our friend back to life?" ".....I.....I...uh...."

And while I'm "and I'm while"ing, how about I mention the graphics? For you see, this game's look is.....well, it's like the pacing: hard to describe, but I'll still fit in some really nasty things to say. Not about the actual game parts, though; those look fantastic. No, I'm talking about the anime cutscenes. The billions upon billions of anime cutscenes that, more often than not, look like crap. You want barely animated mouths? Here you go. How about faces with a glaring lack of detail? We have those in droves. No detail? That's here, too. Yes, there are some moments that look really well done, but they're just that: temporary fleeting moments awash in an ocean of bare designs. The music's alright, though. Has a modern sexiness to it that's hard not to like. (I know what I said.)

Unlike The Answer, apparently. Nobody seems to like that. Well, nobody except me, apparently. Yep, turns out I genuinely like The Answer inside and out. In it, we get to see how the various characters we've come to know and mock respond to the loss of a dear friend. You know, something the original game never gave itself time to explore in any meaningful depth. Surprisingly, it also delivers something that The Journey already has in spades: character development. How's that supposed to work when you're dealing with set characters whose pasts and foibles and whatnot have already been explored in depth in a story the game outright expects you to have played beforehand? Somehow, it finds a way, and for at least a couple of the characters, it works out really well. Who knew Ken could have something approaching a character? Because while he doesn't seem to have it when he's yelling about his mom, he certainly has it when he's yelling about his mom. Yea, maybe it drags on for a bit too long (blame Yukari for that one) and the conclusion could have been neater, but overall, it's a worthy addendum to The Journey that fulfills its role respectably enough.

"Wooh! Screwdrivers! That gets me so excited, man!" "........Alright, then."

Maybe it's the gameplay none of you liked in The Answer. After all, I can understand anger aimed at erasing all that progress you made over the 100 or so hours in The Journey, despite the game having clear access to your saves from it. That's difficult to justify, which probably explains why the game tries so hard to do just that, at least early on. But at its worst, this is only a temporary issue that resolves itself quickly. Soon, you're bumming around the halls of Tartarus Basement Sand World, enjoying Persona 3 all over again. There's just one small change: the bosses are balls hard. Unless you're well prepared ahead of time, expect to have your ass kicked hard and any victories to be prefaced with the word "barely". But the key phrase in that last sentence was "well prepared ahead of time". That's what makes The Answer's bosses fun: they force you to be aware of your own elemental weaknesses and whatnot. After getting killed once or twice, you're going to head off to Igor to fuse away your faults, and then you're back off to battle, configuring your party just so and hoping everything goes as planned (IE that your partners' AI doesn't go rogue on you, because that's something of an occasional problem). There's a tangible enjoyment to working out how to take these guys down (both in and out of battle), and finally beating them only multiplies that level of enjoyment.

So the story to The Answer is alright, and the bosses in it are all kinds of fun. Where does the malice for it lie? Perhaps we can find out in the billions upon billions of notes I took for the game. Because this blog isn't long enough, I'm going to explain why exactly it's so long: 160 goddamn notes. The record holding game before this just so happened to be.....Persona 4? I guess this kind of thing runs in the family. Although looking back on that blog I just linked does raise some interesting thoughts. For instance, my prediction of 2014 was only off by a couple of months. Well done, past me. But more worthy of investigation is how my Persona 4 blog could have been longer. Does that statement apply to this? DEAR GOD, I HOPE NOT. I already feel utterly crushed under the sheer volume of words I just clacked out. There's no need to add more wood to the bonfire. In fact, how about I end things here before my hands rebel against me and try to squeeze my brain out of my head?

Review Synopsis

  • How is it that such a strangely paced tale could be written so well?
  • And how is it that a lot of the battles devolve into spamming weaknesses, but they still have strategy?
  • And the graphics....OK, those anime cutscenes suck. But at least there's The Answer.

OK, you know what? Fuck it. This is a Renegade Ego first: I'm ending the blog early. It's just way too goddamn long. At over 3000* words, it's only a few words shorter than my Sonic CD blog. If I made a video review of this, it would last over twelve fucking minutes. Persona 3 should be enough to generate discussion value, so tune in next week when I cover...something else, I guess.

*Holy shit. I just realized that this is actually less than the number of screenshots I took of the game. Not even Edgar Allan Poe could write anything as horrifying as that realization.

24 Comments

A royal screenshot guide to parenthood.

Part The 一番目

Oh, you know I couldn't stay away from this for that long. No, I'm not referring to terrestrial sexual delights; I'm talking about screenshot threads, of course! But that still leaves the matter of just how I came to have a child in the first place. Well, I think this video will explain everything:

Except, you know, without the infanticide....yet. Let's watch as my little Tsukiko Kinian grows up before our eyes. I'll raise her right. You'll see. YOU'LL ALL SEE!

Now because this is a Japanese-only game with no translation patch (as far as I'm aware), I will be translating dialogue whenever it's relevant to the material. Like all fan translations, expect it to be hopelessly literal. It'll be a learning experience for us all. But me especially. After all, parental love knows no language, right? Let's get this show on the road.

Hey, it's better than most games.
She must carry on my legacy.
What bullshit. It was a 土曜日! Get your facts straight, whoever the hell made this game.
But I find the appropriate day nonetheless.
BABY DADDY!
A Nick Swardson joke?
It's a special year for me.
Plus I get to work in my Lunar lineage and all.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_types_in_Japanese_culture
Isn't she a beauty?
I'm kind of hoping I get light arrows out of this. Tsukiko could use 'em.
(Gah-! Th-this girl...) "She holds within her a tranquil fury I've ne'er seen in my days."
(Wh, what's going on here! What's this fortune teller doing with the madame...?) You know, you may want to go with something other than pithy disapproval.
(Tsukiko will become a widow wi-) YOU ASSHOLE. YOU GET OUT OF HERE THIS INSTANT, YOU PIECE OF SHIT! I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN INTO THE DEPTHS OF HELL ITSELF!
(Tsukiko's a good name. I really like it.) You fucking know it.
RUN A LAP, BITCH.
I have no idea where that dog came from.
And it just disappears just as quickly.
All's that left of her is that completely useless doll in the back.
Where was this face when that dickhead oracle was loitering outside the house?

48 Comments

The hauntingest blog this side of the Giant Bomb.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Good evening, ghouls and ghosts. (Ignore the fact that I post these blogs in the morning.) Welcome to a frightful Halloween edition of Renegade Ego, wherein I look at the spookiest games lurking in the shadows. Unfortunately, I've already covered Amnesia and Clock Tower a long while back, so we're stuck with games that are merely horror-themed, like The Walking Dead and Ghoul Patrol.

Not to imply that I hold any ill feelings toward The Walking Dead (we'll get to Ghoul Patrol later). On the contrary: it has some important issues, but damn, do its working elements work. Reviewing it, though, is going to be strange, since there's really only the narrative to talk about, and I'm not entirely equipped to handle these conditions. Oh, well. Narrative ahoy!

It's not like his actual face is that much different.

First, since this is a game about zombies, it only makes sense to discuss how the game actually depicts the zombies. The prognosis? Not very good. Now, the main appeal for zombies seems to be their humanity; they're scary because they're still barely recognizable as human, but do some pretty sick, inhuman stuff (forcing you, as an actual human, to do the same). Well, unless you're The Walking Dead, in which case the zombies aren't even remotely close to looking human. If anything, their grotesque faces look more like demons than anything human. (Demons that are wearing flannel and jean shorts, strangely enough. Can nobody in the South afford a decent burial?) Now this could still work if we're going for a hell on Earth affair a la Metro 2033, but that doesn't appear to be the case with this game. The Walking Dead's more into the realistic, a tactic that works really well when you're wringing the player's emotional core dry, but not so much when you want your zombie hordes to carry a sense of pathos.

Now to be fair, the game does have a completely valid alternate strategy for drawing some sympathy from the undead. Rather than do it through visuals, zombies elicit response through the roles they occupy. Killing a zombie the characters don't know is a sight to behold, but if the writers provide even the smallest amount of information regarding their human life, expect a heaping pile of sympathy with a dollop of emotion on the side. This may sound like a callous way of granting characters humanity, since you're not actually dealing with their inherent humanity, but if that's a problem, it never bothered me. Man, was I on edge when spoiler spoiler spoiler or during spoiler plot twist spoiler. Hell, things get pretty heavy even when you don't know much about the zombified, which is the case with all the early zombie moments. What? It's hard to develop a deep relationship in about three minutes, so it's amazing that what happens in those first few minutes is as strong as it is. Of course, you can't pull this off every twelve seconds, so this stratagem still has some pretty strong limitations.

See, you guys? Even the zombies think you need to relax a bit. Why they're starting with Duck, though, is beyond anybody's guess.

But enough about zombies in this blog about a zombie game. Let's talk about the characters. Hoo boy. Their worst is quite terrible. OK, there are a few good characters (Lee and a few of the female characters), but everybody else is an emotional mess. I get it: the collapse of society can wreak havoc on your psyche, especially when personal loss enters into the equation, but things seem to go downhill awfully fast. Take Larry up there, for instance. He's pretty much a seething ball of hatred who approves of nothing you, the player, do. Lee could ride a herd of buffalo into the Motor Inn, and he'd be the first to complain about it all going bad in a week. Don't think I'm letting the other characters off the hook, though. A lot of the story consists of Kenny and Lilly just yelling at each other, and Ben is essentially a whinier version of Steve Burnside, contributing nothing of value to the group and fucking things up so hard that I'm surprised I let him off the hook as much as I did. Consider this a sampling of the short-fused, petty cast. If the story is to succeed and draw me in, it has to be in spite of them, not because of them.

The story succeeds and draws me in in spite of the characters. I don't even know how to put it. I don't even know how to begin. Maybe with the game parts, since this is a game, and man, does it know. Not in a Duke Nukem 3D way, where the levels are fun to play through, but more by making sure you know how the zombie apocalypse is taking its toll on the various people throughout. Want to understand how hard it is to kill a zombie? Make the controls disorienting and give the player only a couple of seconds to reaction. Oh, emotionally hard? That's fine. You're gonna be forcing Lee to perform these actions, anyway, so it's as emotionally hard on you as it is on him. This type of thing is par for the course in The Walking Dead. It knows exactly how to tug at your heartstrings, and even when you know it's going on, you're not immune. The fact that you're holding a controller is simply another means by which the game achieves this.

Hey, look at that. One of the rare faces that isn't cartoonishly warped. OK, maybe 'rare' is a bit much, but it's difficult to ignore just how exaggerated some of the faces can be.

The best of the interactive features, though, is definitely all the moral choice you're forced to make throughout. For a moral choice to work, there can't be one right answer (remember BioShock?), something The Walking Dead does right......You know what I mean. There are a ton of ways to approach the situation at hand, but it's hard to say if there's one right way to approach it. There's just never enough information at the time to know if it will pay off, and there are multiple ways to look at anything in the game, really. For instance, my goal was to keep the group together at all costs without actively playing favorites, which eventually resulted in only one character definitively surviving. ('Twas not I.) But that's only one of many ways to approach the situation, and since you're only given a few seconds for each decision, they're as hard for you to make as it is for Lee. Sensing a theme, yet? I'm also a fan of the community stats on all the moral choices, since it puts your choices into some kind of context, and it's interesting to compare, from time to time. My only problem with this (and it is admittedly a very minor one) is that the early choices on who lives and dies lack any sort of emotional punch. I've only known these people for five minutes, and you expect me to develop some type of bond with them? Fortunately, the characters you do end up knowing for a while end up in some of these decisions, so this is a problem that fixes itself over the course of the game.

Oh, right. I probably should have mentioned the gameplay at some point in this review. Or the scenario. Zombies pop up and you have to run about all of Georgia looking for a place without shambling dead. With that out of the way, the gameplay. I'd say it's an adventure game, but it's more accurate to call it a ton of tiny little adventure games bundled into one. Turns out this works to the game's benefit. The puzzles are manageable and make a lot of sense, meaning they're out of the way long enough for you to get back to the juicy, juicy story. The only significant problem here is that controlling Lee can be iffy, and not always in an "enhances the narrative" fashion. But really, is any of that important? Are you coming to this because it's a game? Yea, the fact that you're actively driving the story forward with a controller is an important factor in The Walking Dead's appeal, but are you going to get it because that one sewer puzzle is just so good? Of course not! You're gonna get this game because of the story and the world it creates, by which I mean "you're gonna get this game".

Review Synopsis

  • Somehow, grotesque zombies and petty characters combine into a great story.
  • And the interactive elements only make it so much better.
  • Oh, and there are game parts here, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • Do you know how desperately I wanted to fit a Squidbillies joke in here? Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.

Is Mario getting in the groove scary? Well, it should be.

My, my, another strange game to blog about. No, it's not like The Walking Dead, where it's all narrative and I'm not up to the task of handling it. Hell, this is all gameplay, so I should be all set, right? Well, not exactly, because I can't quite figure out what I think about it. I could say that I like it, but I can't pinpoint why. Hell, I can't even name a single good feature this game has. And yet I have a lot more blog to write.

About a shooter, no doubt. Or at least something that heavily resembles a shooter. You get a variety of weapons, tons of enemies to shoot, and a few power-ups you gather here and there. Hell, there are even some cool boss battles, like a giant, demonic Robo-cop, or a giant demonic demon. But sadly, none of this adds up to a fun product, at least not in terms of shooting. I'd say it's just a framing issue. Plowing through the enemies in the game is not the ultimate goal, so there's nothing inherently fun about fighting them. No, score doesn't count as a motivator; there's nary a high score table in sight, so I'm a bit confused as to why the score's included in the first place. So the enemies, not being fun, become a nuisance simply meant to pad the game's length and add false depth. That may sound harsh, but keep in mind that they regenerate infinitely and constantly, often in the one place you do not want them to be. The only definitely positive thing I can say about the action-y parts is that it's best played in short bursts, something the password system thankfully allows.

This screenshot is how you know Ghoul Patrol wasn't developed in America.

I'd say that I have positive things to say about the exploration aspects of Ghoul Patrol, but I really don't. However, that's more due to my lack of eloquence than any ill will toward the level design. So what was I doing in these levels that I like so much? From what I remember 20000 years ago when I wrote this, you're dropped into a labyrinthine museum or a pirate ship or Asia or whatever and are tasked with rescuing the helpless pirates and samurai of those times from all sorts of demons. I know this sounds kinda mundane, but there's something about the levels that makes these goals enjoyable. Maybe it's how the developers balanced open-ended and linear level design simultaneously. Those areas I listed before? Every single one is a wide, open expanse of demons and people waiting to be killed by said demons. Fortunately, you're always provided with enough information to find your way around get the hang of the flow, so you're allowed the joy of exploring the levels without ever really getting lost in them. I'd also mention that the game rewards you for exploration, but it does so with points and weapons. I think we all know my stance on that. Whatever the case, LucasArts ended up with a fun little game about zombie exploration.

Too bad they never figured that out when they were actually making the game. All those things I mentioned before? If they're not shoved off to the side as far as possible, then the development team begrudgingly includes them. For instance, did I mention that the victims can die if you're too slow? What happens when they die? Nothing that I could spot. No less power-ups; no score penalty; no lost lives; no alternate ending; nothing. That just means one less person to rescue. And have I mentioned that the game has to teleport in victims for you to rescue after you've beaten a boss battle? Like it has to remind itself that rescuing people is a gameplay mechanic? So what we're left with is a game that actively shuns its one marginally redeeming feature while embracing the one aspect that simply isn't that good. Dear fuck, what a confused game this is.

I can probably imagine why that is: it came from the confused decade that was the 1990s, and man, does it show. The game opens up to rejected Garbage Pail Kids art and then transitions into two totally radical and gnarly teenagers deciding to spend their time at a museum. I know, this is already implausible, but bear with me. They find a book for summoning demons and are immediately surprised when it summons demons. What did they think would happen? What was the best case scenario? That it wouldn't work and you'd just be two gullible assholes in the back of a museum? I'd say this is the type of stupid that the game is known for, but fortunately, it isn't. This brand of idiocy is toned down in favor of a lighter, more jovial mood, with bouncy music and a cartoony aesthetic. I can deal with that. I'd go so far as to call it the cherry on the top of this Sunday, but given that most of it is at the bookends of the game, it's more like the bread on a meaty sandwich. Except the sandwich isn't meaty. It has cheese and lettuce and tomatoes, but it thinks it's meaty. Now would you eat that sandwich?.......Why did I end the blog in such a way that would inevitably make me hungry?

Review Synopsis

  • I was going to ask how Konami could make a shooter that isn't very fun, but then I remembered that LucasArts is behind this game. That explains everything?
  • Maybe it also explains why the levels were fun in spite of all this?
  • It was the 90s. That is all.
18 Comments

EVERYTHING ON SCREEN MUST BE SHOT TO DEATH!

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

Well, that was certainly fast. I finished this game in a little over an hour on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Hell, I'm pretty sure it took me longer to write this blog than to complete the game it's covering. That's got to be some kind of record. Not that I'm complaining or anything. In fact, I wouldn't have had it any other way. For you see, Liberation Maiden is a lot like sex: it's extremely loud, visually busy, and everybody's trying to kill each other, but damn, does it feel amazing.

The only issue I'd really take with the game is the story. It's the year Future, and Japan has been conquered by....that part's not very clear. In fact, you have to jump into the Gallery menu just to figure out what happened to Japan in the Future, and even then, unlockables guarantee that you're going to be in the dark on a lot of important details regarding the premise. (They were invaded by Dominion, by the way. No, I'm not entirely sure what that is.) Anyway, Japan's invaded by robots or some shit, and it's up to their president to fix this problem personally, by which I mean "she straps herself into a giant yet extremely vulnerable robot to fuck some shit up". I guess the morale boost this would bring is supposed to outbalance the massive tactical errors that come with the territory. Or maybe 18 year old high school students aren't master strategists.

WHAT IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW AND WHY DO I LOVE IT SO MUCH!?

Or maybe I'm not supposed to take any of this too seriously. I can see that counter-argument coming into play at some point. After all, none of this is being presented too seriously. It's a sci-fi future where robots fly through the sky and presumably do other things. This isn't the real world; who am I to question these rules? As long as there aren't any major holes or horrible offences, I'm just supposed to be content with the fact that I am the Liberation Maiden, right? Yea, I can buy that argument, and not just because of that last part. The story's not the main focus of Liberation Maiden, so some leniency is in order. Some, though, because there's still one major thematic issue at play here. The bad guys are bad presumably because technology. That's the most important factor behind their evil nature. They're disrupting the natural order, and it's your job to fix it....with your giant ass robot that's also made from technology. That's a fairly large thing to overlook, and sadly, the game never really addresses it. Instead, I'm expected to accept the "technology sucks and the natural world will always triumph" lesson without examining this one significant factor.

At least the game looks good doing all this. Actually, "good" might not be the right word. If I had to describe the look of this game, it would be "clean". Everything about the game just looks ludicrously smooth and refined. Take, for instance, the anime cutscenes. OK, so there are only two of them, but Liberation Maiden's going for quality over quantity. The colors are striking, the lines completely natural, the animation is fluid, and it's clear that a lot of effort was put into how this game looks. Some of this applies just as well to the actual game parts, but in a less exciting way. All I can really add is that the frame rate is very smooth. It might reach 60 in some areas, although I'm not an expert on this type of thing. And while I'm talking about the aesthetic, I might as well mention the music, because it's pretty good. (This time, "good" is the right word to describe it.) It's got a fast, high energy beat that fits the game extremely well.

As good as the music is, prepare for a lot of audio clipping, as is very clearly demonstrated in this still image.

This is because at any given time, there can be a trillion things going on simultaneously. Your goal in any given level is to shoot things until the game tells you to shoot even more things. (There are other things to do, but more on that in a minute.) Holy hell, is Liberation Maiden good at providing you with things to shoot. You're never at a loss for something to blast full of missiles (or lasers, if you prefer variety in your indiscriminate killing). What results is a very fast paced shooter that specializes in instant gratification. In fact, that's mainly the reason why I'm totally OK with the game being only five 30-minute stages long: it lets what ideas it has work at their full capacity. If the game went on for any longer, the mechanics would be stretched far too thin, and the game isn't exactly equipped for variety. It's only good at quick, simple minded shooting. Yea, this type of high-density gameplay may turn off those who can't keep up with the pace, but personally, I find it incredibly appealing.

However, I am an understanding man (the lack of executions during my reign stands as proof for that), and as such, I will mention that the game has more to it than that. Not much more, mind you, but enough. In addition to the normal missions of shooting things up, each level also contains at least one side mission that entails...well, shooting things up under slightly different circumstances. It's not a lot of variety, but enough of a distraction to shake things up.......Not doing it for you, huh? How about unlockables? Tons of unlockables! More unlockables in than there are enemies! That should keep you busy for a while, and not in a cynical "because we couldn't come up with actual content" kind of way. More in an engaging "actually pushing the game to its limits" kind of way. Yea, some of them are knocked out easy, like "use this weapon a lot" or "kill this amount of guys", but then you have to beat the game 1200 times on Hard, all of them with an absolute perfect score. Such a challenge requires playing the levels over and over again to understand the mechanics and such. I assume. I never really went after the unlockables because it's not my style, but it's certainly there for anybody who actually wants to.

I guess the only real complaint I'd lob against the gameplay would be the controls, which definitely take some getting used to. They're a lot like Kid Icarus' controls in that you move with the stick and aim with....well, the stick, but the extendy stick on the back of the 3DS. I don't have a lot of issues with this. Instead, I'd like to criticize the movement. Moving the stick forward or backward moves you in those directions, whereas moving it left or right merely turns you in said directions. That may sound minor, but it's counter-intuitive and muddies the combat. You spend a lot of your time drunkenly backing in and out of fire, just trying to get your bearings and wishing things work better. Well, wish granted, as all those complaints are rendered completely and utterly moot by the L button, which allows you to strafe and shoot things up as the developers intended you to: jumping between targets at very fast speeds and barely understanding any of it.

Review Synopsis

  • You know how a lot of games can be fun because of their idiocy? This isn't one of them.
  • Imagine Kid Icarus: Uprising if somebody replaced the cheesy comedy with a bag of meth.
  • And man, does it look (and sound) superb.

Man, I wish I hadn't covered Bulk Slash two years ago. That would've given me a flimsy excuse to call this blog "Ba".

Instead, we're going with this. Why I thought this would be a quick game to beat is beyond me. Rather than getting a game that would take an hour to beat, I got a genital-bustingly hard shooter. Not just ball busting; Ikaruga busts your entire crotch and reproductive system into nothingness, denying you any sort of sexual thrill from its completion. (Assuming, of course, that beating hard games gets you hard.) But for as criminally difficult as the game is, it's hard to fault it. Ikaruga's hard less because it simply spams bullets at you, but because of intelligent design that results in the game spamming bullets at you.

What makes this particular shooter intelligent? Your only form of defense against a World War's worth of bullets: polarity changing. Match the color of an oncoming bullet and it will simply make you more powerful. Fail to match it (and if you play this game for long enough, you will) and you die a horrible death. Just looking at it on its own, things already look promising. It's an easy to understand premise, but gets complicated really fast. See that screen I used in the word bubble? That's from the second level. That soon, and the game already makes you feel like you're gonna die when about half the screen will do the exact opposite. And it only gets worse from there. If the screen hasn't become a horrible mosaic of black and white, it's because unblockable obstacles are flying at your face at sonic speed, and you have to react a lot faster than that if you want to survive. Do I even need to say that this creates some very real tension, or that it will rob you of life after life; credit after credit?

Oh, go fuck yourself, Ikaruga.

What I do need to say is that this isn't all that bad. The tension transforms Ikaruga from a game about triumph to one about survival and then back to triumph as you finally make it through what the game has thrown at you. It's hard to put into words, but merely making it through a level in this game creates this strong feeling of exhilaration and excitement and whatnot. Besides, for as horribly difficult as the game is, it's a lot more lenient than it initially seems. See that ship in the screenshot I referenced just in the last paragraph? Only a very tiny part of it needs to be hit for you to die. Granted, you're probably not going to use this as a strategy in the actual game, but it's good to know that even when things are tilting in your favor, the game's going to kick your ass. Bosses are also skippable, but why would you bother doing that? Unless said boss is absolutely going to destroy you (and I can name maybe only one that will), you stick it out and beat that machine into submission. Let it know who's boss.

Because that's what this game is all about: skill. If you don't have the skill, you're simply not going to win. I know that sounds insultingly basic, but it really is a theme that runs throughout all the features in the game. That's why the chain system exists: to boost your score like crazy so you can get the extra lives you'll so desperately need. You build it up by killing enemies in sets of three, but good luck doing that when the game specifically goes out of its way to fuck up your combos each and every time. Just like simply finishing the levels, it takes a lot of effort to get this working and feels very satisfying when you've accrued the skill necessary to pull it off. Same goes for the next system in the game, which explains why I'll be so brief with it: you do more damage to enemies if you don't match their color. Now Ikaruga's no longer just about matching whatever color happens to be dominating the screen. Now you have to weigh your options: do you take enemies out with little risk over a long time, or do you go for broke and just blast opposite colors and hope they don't do the same? The only way to figure that out is to play the game a billion times and learn its systems in and out. You know, that sounds like a good place to leave the bl-

Oh, right. I forgot that my contract forces me to mention at least one major flaw per review. Let's see what I can dig up.....controls? I already tackled that with Liberation Maiden, but sure, why not? In fact, let's make it a very similar complaint: movement. Specifically, no use of the analog stick (if there was any, I sure couldn't figure out how to get it working). Granted, the game was originally made for arcade sticks that I doubt allowed the analog control I so desire, but still, it's not exactly the best way to control the game. An analog stick may allow me more control than a simple D-pad would, something I'd absolutely love in a game like this. However, let it be known that this is a minor complaint, as is the low level count. Given how hard they are, length isn't going to be an issue with them, and given the level of thought put into their design, I doubt enjoyment will be, either.

Review Synopsis

  • I have said that this game will kick your ass and bust your genitals. I would stand by both statements if Ikaruga hadn't effectively destroyed the lower half of my body.
  • But it's a thinking man's destruction, especially when you're replaying the levels enough times to have the luxury of thinking them over.
  • Oh, and something about the controls, I guess?
  • Fun fact: the translation of the game's name is essentially "finch".
14 Comments

Sequels to games that I didn't originally care for.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

How long has it been since the last one of these? Well over a year ago? That sounds about right. In case you've forgotten, I'll remind you of the old song and dance: I act all nervous about touching another Halo game like I've just gotten out of a seriously abusive relationship. Then I reveal to you that I actually sort of like this particular entry in the Halo series (well, parts of it, this time), and then only four of you bother commenting on the blog itself. Such is the circle of life.

That being said, I only really acknowledge the overall story. I don't like it; I don't hate it; I just acknowledge that such a thing exists. It's been four years since Master Chief finished the fight (whatever fight that was supposed to be), but Microsoft needs more money. In enters the Didact, a magic space genie who wants to assimilate all of mankind into digital ghosts or something? I never really understood the details. They're a lot like a cloud: dense, vague, and sometimes look like asses. Unlike clouds, though, it's best to ignore them, because the overall picture is pretty clear throughout: stop the Didact from being mean, and also Cortana's dying. Did I not mention that? Because it's a pretty big component of the story, and it works? All I can really say is that the ingredients are there. There's tension, a very real relationship between Space Link and Sci-Fi Navi, and some emotion to their lines. Does it all add up to something worthwhile? No goddamn clue. Let's just say that I may be blind to this sort of thing.

Quick! Shoot the science!

I'd also say something about how Del Rio's a flat tire away from taking a gun to everybody or how this vehicle probably costs more than the GDP of several nations, but who comes to Halo for big fucking cars? Misinformed people, that's who! Slightly more informed people come here for the theatrics. Getting dragged into firefights, seeing shit explode around you all the time, and generally being caught up in the moment. I know that sounds a lot like mere gameplay, but it's something more than that. It's like you're playing a movie, EXCEPT NOT AT ALL LIKE THAT. I don't know what that is, but I know that Halo 4 isn't that. It is this: knowledgeable about how to use what tools and when. You want to see the power of a thousand suns drag Master Chief into eternal night? Switch to the first person perspective and experience that shit yourself. How about a slower story moment, where everybody's talking about Forerunners asking the Librarian for the Composer to....write the All Song? I have no clue, but I was going to say that Halo 4 puts that all in a cutscene so that you don't watch lifeless puppets ignore your existence so the story can move forward. Hooray for letting me live the moment, game! Is there anything you don't know how to do?

Be consistent, for one. And here we come to my major problem with the series, rearing its ugly head once again in another numbered entry: the dissonance. (Have I been on a tear with this sort of thing? Feels like it. Just give it a while to work its way out of me.) Allow me to explain: the story of Halo 4 sells Master Chief as some sort of immortal demigod among men. Hell, its first priority is to have some old woman lecture us on how super soldier Master Chief Taco Supreme is the future of all mankind because of how goddamn awesome he is. Let's completely ignore how worrying it is that man's future is supposed to be so dedicated to war that it can't function outside conflict. I'll even completely brush over how the game is trying to establish a warrior fantasy that simply can't exist with the type of military it's utilizing (mainly because that's a larger issue than merely this one game). Instead, let us focus on what happens when the actual game starts up: suddenly, Master Chief can only take three bullets before he has to call time out, and he can only hold two weapons at a time, despite the fact that he can just flip trucks over and jump with a mini-gun in hand like it ain't no thing. Doesn't matter if he's holding a pistol and a banana; he's not allowed to have more than one weapon at a time because the future doesn't know what a belt looks like.

"What's this asshole saying about me?"

Speaking of what, what the hell happened? Why am I supposed to trust my future to a man who thinks he has to dedicate a hand to each weapon he has? What makes him such a trustworthy fellow on the battlefield? Is it his ability to avoid enemy fire and recover from these situations quickly? Put his ass on reconnaissance duty where he can stealth you a victory. Or maybe he's supposed to be intelligent enough to devise tactics that make this all irrelevant? Give the bastard a command role and let THAT lead you to victory. Mayhap he can recover from injury super quickly when his shields fail on him for the 308309th time, like a cybernetic Chidori? (Not that I remember that from the actual game, but I'll give this game very brief benefit of the doubt.) Then send this man's ass to the medics so they can figure out how to give that ability to more soldiers. My point is that the game doesn't provide a lot of strong evidence for what the story claims is the reality of Master Chief's situation. You can't say one thing and do another, Halo 4. That just leaves you with credibility more shot than your opponents.

I know what you're thinking, devil's advocate: "But maybe these elements make the game fun and your complaints irrelevant, Mr. King." First off, what exactly do you advocate of the devil, Mr. Devil Worshipper? Maybe some time with Father O'Floggihan will set you straight. Second, actually looking at your words this time, I understand them, even if I don't approve of them entirely. But that's a subject for another day. Today, I completely understand that sentiment and prove it by using an example that does nothing to support that claim: the cover system. It's not that I'm oblivious to the appeal behind the idea: take a break from the action and think things through. You know, a strategic element to the combat. At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, it comes off less like a tactical element and more like the game's telling you to stop having fun for a bit while it gets its shit together. You don't make a fast-paced game fun by slowing things down. Maybe it works better on the high difficulties, but on the Normal difficulty the game actively recommended to me, that simply isn't the case.

Wait, does this thing have tiny arms in addition to its larger arms? Why wasn't I informed of this at any point in the actual game?

Speaking of maybe, maybe it is again time for me to talk about something I like about the game. Let's make it the shooting, because that oughta confuse the shit out of you. I know that I just spent literally the last 192 or so words criticizing the cover system, but the glorious thing is that there's so much more to Halo 4 than that. "Like what"? Who the fuck said that? Well, first off, how about a shitton of weapons? This is where all the narrative stuff I mentioned before actually works toward the game's favor. Jam in two alien races on top of the humans, and you have an abundance of weapons, each with their own personality. Speaking of two, that's the highest number of weapons Master Chief can carry at any given time. I'm aware that I was complaining about it before, but from a gameplay perspective, limiting weapons like this works really well. It forces you to think on your feet and be aware of what weapons you have on hand and how to use them. (Or maybe you can resort to punching things to death when you've run out of ammo all around. Whichever works.) It's almost like the feature introduces some amount of strategy the cover system only wishes it could deliver.

But let's assume that this still isn't enough for you. I don't know why. Maybe you're a horrible person. I mean, you were worshiping the devil two paragraphs ago. What was my point again? Oh, right: there's more to the action than the shooting. For instance, the vehicles. Maybe it's the sheer variety of vehicles you can pilot; maybe it's how the controls are so momentum based that you feel like maybe Master Chief had one too many drinks before the big battle; maybe it's how Master Chief can simply jump on vehicles and punch them to death; but there's just something really enjoyable about the game's vehicles. Even if that's not your thing, though, there are still plenty of other moments worth checking out, like the jetpacks and the leisurely stroll of a flying sequence? OK, so not all the elements of this game are worth checking out. Still, you can't fault Halo 4 for its variety, and there's at least something admirable in that. Combine all of this into one package, and you have a quite enjoyable shooter fit for short bursts of gameplay. Then add sci-fi mythos, an intrusive cover system, and all that dissonance I mentioned before, and you have Halo 4.

And did I mention that this game looks fucking fantastic?........You know what? This blog is long enough; let's leave it at that.

Review Synopsis

  • Just ignore the dialogue about the Forerunners wanting the Composer or whatever; just come to it for the explosions and stuff.
  • That applies to the gameplay, too.
  • Did I mention that Master Chief essentially has two separate characterizations that are near impossible to reconcile?

One of the many alternate endings to BioShock Infinite. Again.

Hey, remember the original Tomb Raider? (Forgive me if I don't; it's been well over two years since I touched that game.) Remember how all the living beings populating its world looked like grotesque MS Paint monstrosities? Remember how the levels were all confusing and lacking personality and not at all fun? Remember how the controls were kind of bad? Apparently, this was all endearing enough to gamers of the 90s to warrant not one, but a billion sequels. Today, I'm tackling Tomb Raider II. Good news: it fixes a lot of the problems I'd mentioned not a few sentences ago. Bad news: it still has some other, quite important issues that leave it just OK.

I'd like to discuss the problems, but first some context that fortunately comes in the form of a compliment. Namely, the level design is...sort of good? I mean, the problems that I discuss later relate directly to the levels, but strangely enough, they're the best part of the game. Gone are the days when you had to blindly bumble your way through a nondescript ruin. Instead, you get large yet still contained arenas, AKA the best thing to happen to the game. It gives you enough direction to know where you're going, but also enough so that you actually have some fun figuring things out for yourself. It's like a puzzle game where every solution is "jump". There are also some secret statues to find in each level, if you're into that sort of thing, but they're not necessary to have fun. They may help (I don't know; I only got the obvious ones), but the absolute core game is fun enough on its own. That's not even counting the circumstantial fun the levels deliver. You're going to be travelling all over the goddamn place in Tomb Raider II. China, underwater, Italy, underwater, floating China, underwater.....a lot of the levels take place underwater, for some reason. Personally, I found the trend strange, but not a major problem for the entire game.

Where can I get that tank top, Lara? I've always wanted that snug, vacuum sealed comfort.

You want a major problem for the entire game? Try the pacing. Dear god, do these levels just feel like they go on forever. Now originally, I was going to cite the time you spend in these levels as an indicator of how long they are, but then I realized that I'd used this same indicator to describe the levels in Halo as somewhat short. This is why I used words like "pacing" and "feels like" instead of "length" and "is": because it's all a matter of perception. In Halo, you're always shooting something and generally moving toward a clear goal. Not so with Tomb Raider. Sure, there are a lot of puzzles to solve, but a lot of your time is simply making it to these puzzles or solving puzzles to get to even more puzzles. The result? A game that feels empty and constantly in build-up to something else. Not the best expression of all the exploring, platformy fun from the last paragraph.

Let it be known, though, that I want to offer some constructive criticism. That's why I tried to think up ways to improve this lamentable state of affairs. I failed, but the important thing is that I tried. "More puzzles" was immediately thrown out as a solution. There are already enough puzzles in the game, and changing them around too much would actually make things worse. I'm already expending brain energy getting through the levels; no need to increase it on one-off puzzles time and time again. I could also think of a few areas where level design could be made less circuitous, but that's more treating the symptoms than anything else. With those two options out of the way, how about combat? Just throw in more enemies and then you'll realize that the combat completely sucks ass. The main problem is that the controls simply aren't up to the task. (The controls aren't so much an issue for the platforming because there's not as much on the line and you're going to adjust anyway.) Lara can turn on a dime, provided that said dime is the size of the Earth's equator. She's also lacking in any sort of appropriate strafing motion, so your only real options in combat are to run around the level, shooting and jumping in all directions until there's nothing left living. I shouldn't have to tell you how clumsy and unfun this tends to be.

"MUST. KILL. LARA."

But maybe the enemy designs make up for this, right? I'm not sure why that would be a factor, but the answer is no, not particularly. Most of the time, you'll be facing off against generic thugs. Nothing bad, but nothing particularly good, either. Their only notable feature is how they can take so many bullets that you'd swear they were half robot. Once you're done with them, you can move onto the animals. For some reason, every animal absolutely wants Lara dead and will instinctively maul her face if she so much as exists, so be prepared to shoot tigers and falcons and other surprisingly innocuous animals. If you know how to position yourself correctly, they won't even be able to touch you. Can't say that for rats and spiders. Their only job is to chew at Lara's feet until she simply collapses dead from chewfoot. They are simply an embarrassment that take time away from the far better parts of the game. There are also a couple of cool boss battles that I won't spoil, but again, you have to fight them with this game's combat system.

Speaking of spoiling, I probably would've mentioned the story by now if I remembered any of it. Italian mafiosi are trying to grab a magical Chinese dagger so their leader can become an immortal dragon or something? That's all I could get from the three cutscenes spread over a ten hour game. Yet somehow, without having (much of a) story, Tomb Raider is an accomplishment in stupidity. Lara can apparently hold her breath for what seems like days, handle underwater pressures that should logically crush her to bloody bits, and walk barefoot on rusty metal. Now before you criticize me for my criticisms, keep in mind that I like this brand of idiocy. It's not like any of this destroys significant plot elements, and it's just dumb enough to be hilarious. Pretty sure that's not at all what the developers had in mind with this game, but what works works. I wish I could apply that to the rest of the game, but damn the myriad problems I'd listed before. Notice one, and another pops up. They're like weeds in the....I don't know where I was going with that analogy, but I do know where I wanted to go with it: this game could have been better. It's not bad, but yea, it could be better.

Review Synopsis

  • Kill all the animals you could ever want! Assuming, of course, that you can figure out how.
  • Hooray for the level design! Unhooray for the pacing!
  • All while playing as the most oddly proportioned woman ever born.

Keep in mind that I only write controversial titles when I can’t come up with anything better.

30 Comments