The best of The Adam Carolla Show (Feb. 2006) -- over 17.5 hours


 
It's time for another podcast recap, and a little departure from gaming after our latest recaps for 1UP Yours and The HotSpot. I was happy to see that many listeners picked up The Adam Carolla Show after our release for the first month. We got a ton of feedback along the lines of, 'I didn't know about Adam before this, thank you for putting this together.' Very happy to see that, as I personally regard Adam as some sort of deity. Adam currently runs his own podcast, but he got his starts on radio -- at Loveline, which some older folks may remember, and then at his own radio show in 2006, which became extremely popular. Here are the best moments from that show, from its second month running.
 
Here's a run down of what happens in this 17 hour marathon (from the page on our blog):
 

Week 1
The social experiment involving a wallet, $100, and random passersby continues over from January. Meanwhile, Big Tad struggles to lose weight. A caller reminds Adam about ‘hobo power’, Adam’s made up unit of measurement for stink, and Adam resurrects the system with listener input. Dave worries that TiVo might have an agenda, and Rachel doesn’t know who Joe Montana is. Guests include John Madden, President Bush, Susie Essman, Busy Philipps, and Gary Busey, if he manages to make it into the studio.

Week 2
Dave has ascended to Cloud Nine – nay, Cloud Ten – as his Pittsburgh Steelers took the Super Bowl away from Seattle. Deaf Frat Guy is in studio, and the social experiment continues. Adam starts his new crusade: to get a classical music station running on airplanes, and makes some headway with a manager of a major airline. Then, the crew rail against horrible music, including ranchero, reggae, The Guess Who, Hall and Oates, Lenny Kravitz, The Eagles, and Prince.

Week 3
How much longer can Adam put up with passion fruit iced tea? Ozzie, Deaf Frat Guy, and republican Representative Richard Martin are in studio, each with their own extreme bents. It’s Valentine’s Day, and Adam shares his heartbreak story, involving finding a used prophylactic device in his then-girlfriend’s apartment. Then, David Alan Grier is in studio with Lisa Loeb. Also: Dave is getting married.

Week 4
We find out how Dave’s wedding went, and how the manager of the venue tried to pull a fast one on him at the last minute. Then, Adam debuts a new game: What Can’t Adam Complain About? Ted Nugent enters the studio and Ozzie unleashes his cover of Wango Tango on the world. Jeff Conaway also shows up, Deaf Frat Guy continues his hilarious showings, and Dave’s angry because everybody thinks Adam is better looking than him. Adam gives perhaps the best analysis of the psychology of religion ever delivered on radio. 


Here's a direct link to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 for those that haven't subscribed to the RSS feed. It's also a good idea to follow us on Twitter or friend us on Facebook where you'll get news and awesome quotes from podcasts. Like the fact that in 2007, Garnett Lee (from 1UP Yours) claimed there'd be a new Xbox console in 2008. Well, we can't all be right. Poor Garnett :)
 
So, right now I'm going through 1UP Yours 2007. That should be done very soon, as in a definite release in April, but I can't yet give a timeframe. As the year goes on, we all tend to get progressively busier. What else? Oh, we could use a few retweets on Twitter or similar media. Just a thought, if you like what we do. It's easy and instant and it helps get the word out. We've gotten thousands of downloads per episode, but I won't be happy until we crack the five figure mark for one of these. Still something of a way to go yet. Get it on!
4 Comments

The best of The HotSpot (2007) -- the last eight hours


 
We've hit the first year of The HotSpot, the second year of The HotSpot, as well as the first year of 1UP Yours and the first month of The Adam Carolla Show. Now it's time to visit the third year of The HotSpot, and the last year featuring Jeff Gerstmann, Rich Gallup, and Ryan, Alex, and Vinny at GameSpot. I've always found it difficult to pick between the three years of The HotSpot, but if you forced me to choose, I might choose 2007 -- it has so many crazy, unbelievably funny moments, and it's hard to imagine anything toppling it from the pyramid's peak.
 

2007 saw the end of what is, for all intents and purposes, 'volume one' of The HotSpot. Though the show continues today, much of its famous cast, including Rich Gallup, Jeff Gerstmann, Ryan Davis, and Alex Navarro, left throughout 2007. Despite the departures throughout, the show remained consistently canny and consistently funny, and is nothing short of top quality today.

Timestamps (Part One)
0:07:30 - Korn and Haze
0:30:30 - Movies
1:38:00 - Video game violence, including Manhunt 2
2:46:00 - Various video games
3:38:00 - Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony

Timestamps (Part Two)
0:00:30 - Random clips
0:21:00 - Emails
0:36:00 - Phone calls
2:52:00 - Goodbyes
3:37:00 - Show close 


Just as with the 2006 show, I've split this into two parts. It's actually a few minutes longer than 2006 -- somewhere just over eight hours. A great travel companion? I sure hope so. Here's the first part, and here's the second part (direct MP3 links). Here's the page on our blog if you want more information; follow us on Twitter for timely updates. I'm going to start posting quotes every two days or so, so it's worth following if you want to laugh at some old-timey quotes. You'll need the RSS feed to keep up with the releases. And you can like the show on Facebook, where you'll get updates and quotes just like on Twitter.
 
A quick request, if you'll allow me -- as far as I can tell, the show isn't up on iTunes yet. I don't have iTunes because I don't use any Apple products. I actually downloaded it with the intention of installing it, but then I saw that it wanted to dump a whole lot of other stuff on me like Quicktime, and I didn't want to jump through the hoops. However, I understand that anybody can submit a podcast to iTunes. All the information it needs is coded into the RSS feed already. So if an enterprising Giant Bomb user would be so good as to submit the podcast to the store, I would be very grateful and more than highly appreciative.
 
That's all from me. I hope you guys enjoy this part. Next we'll be continuing with 1UP Yours. Stay on the lookout!
49 Comments

The best of The Adam Carolla Show (January 2006) -- over 16 hours


 
We're back with a non-gaming recap! You may know us from our recaps of The HotSpot (2005), The HotSpot (2006), and 1UP Yours (2006).
 
This time we're covering the first month of the original Adam Carolla Show, which began in 2006 as a morning radio show. I guess most people associate morning radio with not entertaining commentators and idiotic stunts and not funny bits, but Adam Carolla's show was always a cut above the rest. It was entertaining and interesting and informative, and above all that it had Adam Carolla behind it, who remains one of the funnier people in the business of podcasting.
 
Our past three recaps have been limited to gaming shows, but I have plans to branch out into other genres. You guys, as well as NeoGAF users and other gaming boards, have been awesome in your support -- we've gotten thousands of downloads and hundreds of subscribers. I'd like to thank you all for your support and great feedback, both positive and constructive.
 

In 2005 Adam Carolla left his storied position at Loveline, a late-night teen relationship advice show, to take up an offer to do morning radio. The fruit subsequently borne was The Adam Carolla Show, a four-hour drive time talk show that was always funny and always entertaining and always informative. Built up by comedic mastermind Carolla, none of the messages and comedy imparted here are anything less than timeless.

The following podcast covers the month of January 2006, and has been split into four parts, with each part representing a successive week. Please download all four parts for the optimal listening experience.


So, this show is just over sixteen hours long. I guess it's great for the commute and airplane trips. Here's Part A, Part B, Part C, Part D. I've fixed the RSS feed issues we've had. The second part of the 2006 HotSpot show should be appearing in your RSS readers now, including iTunes, and all four parts will appear. If you want to keep up with our latest releases, you can follow us on Twitter, or strike on the RSS feed.
 
For all those wondering, I'm halfway through The HotSpot (2007). That'll be out later this month. I'm always keen to take suggestions on what we should do next; my next goal is to finish 1UP Yours (the 2007 and 2008 years). Many want GFW Radio. I'm all into what you guys want to hear, so that may very well be next. Also, I do want to cover the Giant Bombcast. What do you guys think? All feedback is welcome. (Also, I've been down with some nasty cross-mix of bird flu and swine flu for the last few weeks, so I do have to apologize for my seemingly moody tone during the voice overs in this show. I was going to avoid doing them, but some segments needed setting up. I've kept them to a minimum.)
 
Please enjoy! I realize Adam Carolla may not be in everyone's wheelhouse, but this perhaps serves as the best introduction to him available.
18 Comments

The best of 1UP Yours (2006); 4 hours of sheer brilliance


 
Many of you -- over 600 individuals, to be exact -- have heard the two previous recaps I've done, of The HotSpot (2005) and The HotSpot (2006), the latter a stifling eight hours long.
 
Now we're back, again, with the first year of 1UP Yours. 1UP Yours stars many, many famous faces we adore today. It provided solid competition to The HotSpot, and while it may not have led the pack on comedy, it was simply unstoppable if you wanted to listen to fanboy bashing and controversial opinions. And it was pretty funny too. Especially when Garnett Lee claimed that Germans would like Viva Pinata because of the game's genocidal aspect. Controversial.
 
Download the recap here!
 
Or you can visit our blog, where you can also find the RSS feed. Many of you have already subscribed to that on iTunes; with any luck you'll already have this latest episode already. Also, follow us on Twitter to get news about upcoming shows and quotes from the great people that populate these shows.
 
Enjoy it; next up we'll be throwing out a recap for January 2006 of The Adam Carolla Show. Then after that, the 2007 year of The HotSpot. Keep eyes and ears open. :)
 

The debut year of what instantly became the most hard-hitting, thoughtful, and entertaining gaming podcast. Together with host Garnett Lee, 1UP and Ziff Davis editors Luke Smith and Shane Bettenhausen and editorial director John Davison (along with pinch hitter Mark MacDonald) gathered each week to mull over the last gaming topics and new releases. Always cutting edge and always controversial, 1UP Yours remains incisive and relevant today.

Timestamps
0:03:00 - Introductions
0:07:00 - What'cha Been Playin'?
0:23:00 - Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo discussion
1:54:00 - Various issues and topics including bad quality assurance, multiplatform games, video game journalism, review scores, video games in the media, and the state of the Electronics Entertainment Exposition
4:20:00 - Random clips

 Also, Re: people asking for other podcasts to be covered in similar fashion:
 
 

@wh4tshisface

said:

" @PenguinDust said: 

"Please, please, please do one of these for GFW Radio.   "

@RelentlessKnight said: 

" how about GFW?  "

@classicdms said: 

"GFW is deff something that should be on your to do list.  "

   The people have spoken, good sir. "
You can look at our release calendar here. I can't promise a date, but I do intend to move onto GFW Radio and EGM Live* soon. :)
78 Comments

The best of The HotSpot (2006) -- 8 hours of HotSpot goodness

Some of you may recall a recap/highlights episode we did for the debut year of The HotSpot (2005). In case you missed out, the Giant Bomb thread is here, and the download can be found here. We're back for the year of 2006 now! Except where as the 2005 episode was 2.5 hours long, this one is over eight hours long. That's a big podcast, and it's more than enough Rich/Bob/Jeff/Carrie/Alex/Brad goodness to satisfy. Because of the length it's been split into two episodes.

Part 1 - Part 2

Visit our home page, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Hit up some kind of rush on our RSS feed.

Here's some other best-ofs that may be relevant to your interests:

Timestamps (Part One)
0:01:30 - Show start
0:07:00 - Issues: Duke Nukem Forever, the Gizmondo, and the word "gamer"
0:43:30 - Issues: GameStop, Command and Conquer 3, and Halo 3
1:11:00 - Issues: Kurt Schilling, Baseball, Starforce DRM, and movies
1:57:30 - Issues: Female gamer clans, video game petitions, and video game violence
2:44:30 - Issues: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo; the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii launch

Timestamps (Part Two)
0:00:30 - Clips and other short topics
2:16:00 - Listener emails
2:54:30 - Listener phone calls
4:04:00 - Show end

Please enjoy! Now, a Metallica song:

126 Comments

I am surprised at how broken Tomb Raider: Underworld is

I have not completed Tomb Raider: Underworld. I grew too frustrated with it. I was not having a good time. Moreover, there was one major glitch I encountered that broke the game for me. Naturally, this experience has colored any opinion I have about the game. If you do not think it is right for someone to write about or review a game they have not completed, then you should not read the following.

Underworld frustrated me beyond belief. As I said, it is what I assume to be a glitch that broke the game for me, rendered my progress nil, and caused me to stop playing. The game allowed me to carry an essential item into an area where I would not be able to take it back to where I needed it. The item got stuck there. The game autosaved at a checkpoint I had already cleared several checkpoints back, and I was unable to continue on. On principle, I can no longer play Tomb Raider: Underworld. It breaks my heart, so to speak, because this game so desperately wants to be good. It looks great; it has some great ideas. Ultimately, years of hard work amounts to nothing when crippling glitches and atrocious design destroy the game. Here’s some of what went right, and everything that went wrong.

Design


 I actually didn't know I could climb up this pillar.

The game is not good at letting the player know where to go

One of my concerns with Underworld is that it is not linear enough. This may seem a bizarre complaint, but it most definitely is not. Open games are absolutely fine, but it is essential that the player is informed of where they have to go. This is an area where Underworld is desperately lacking. I find myself floored at how such a design oversight could be made. Ledges that the player is expected to clamber upon are almost identical in color and design as the walls, so there’s no sign that they are actually meant to be traversed. Some environments are big, but the different rooms and hallways all look the same. Paths for climbing up ledges and platforms are completely masked. Summarily, the path to continue is indistinguishable. The world all looks the same. This is completely unlike most other video game design. It’s just utterly unclear where the player is expected to go. I am well aware that the game includes a hint system accessible though the in-game ‘PDA’, but by this stage it should be clear that those hints scarcely help the player. I spent a tremendous amount of time running around rooms, simply not knowing where to go. This problem is evidenced by the segments that are well designed and where the player has no questions over where to go, like the short segment where the tanker ship sinks. One example of where I had trouble was after killing the Kraken in just the second stage in the game. The hint system says that there is a lever behind the body of the Kraken that opens the door to get out of the large area. Even with this blatant hint, I spent the better part of ten minutes searching for the lever. It turned out that it was the most nondescript-looking lever I’ve ever seen in a video game, in an alcove behind the Kraken, completely unlit; this the player was meant to find in what is a massive area. The fact that such a blunt hint system has to be implemented, however unhelpful it may be, should have told the developers something about the way they designed their game. Running around the environment, not knowing where to go, is just not fun. This game is not fun. The way it was designed goes against six years of progression in designing games. Tomb Raider Legend, the previous game in the franchise, had better, clearer design. This game is not fun, and that’s a tremendous disappointment for me.

The game is not good at letting the player know what to do

As if not telling the player where to go isn’t bad enough, the game isn’t very good at telling the player what to do, either. This leads to obvious problems, typically involving more running around, the player being consumed by pangs of frustration and boredom. The fact that I wasn’t told what to do led to what I believe to be me breaking the game, because I did the wrong thing, and the game wouldn’t let me recover.

Accidental success

As a result of the player not being told where to go and what to do, most of the success I experienced was accidental. For a significant portion of my play time I made my way by accidentally jumping in the right direction, or accidentally leaning in one direction while holding onto the ledge, and seeing Lara indicate that she wants to jump that way. There is a very clear and present problem with this. Solving so much of the game accidentally is not at all rewarding. It didn’t feel as if I had achieved anything. It didn’t feel as if I had solved the problem I was faced with. It’s just not good.

 This is fine, but I can't actually see where I have to jump to. So, I guess it's not fine then.

And then the camera is way too close to Lara.

Unacceptably bad camera

The fact that the player is not told where to go or what to do breaks the game. If those things break the game, the absolutely unacceptable camera destroys it beyond playability. It is absolutely outrageous and unforgivable that the game was released in such a state. For god’s sake, the camera doesn’t even work when the player wants to turn it to see where they have to jump to. When the player is climbing on walls, in a position where the camera goes overhead, it’s utterly impossible to see the path ahead. In any tight room or corridor, the camera literally breaks. It’s completely reprehensible. That essentially means the game cannot be played. Above that, there are other problems. When in tight areas, the camera jumps and flickers around. These problems are not only isolated to the PlayStation 3 version. Furthermore, there is no way to explain why the camera’s neutral position is so closely zoomed in on Lara at all times. The camera is just too close. The player can’t see the environment because the character is taking up half the screen! I am astounded that the game was released in such a state. It is tantamount, in the field of video games, with getting away with murder.

The camera clips through walls

All those camera problems are bad and inexcusable, but here’s the most amazing thing: the camera clips though walls. This is a problem that has plagued the Tomb Raider franchise since the very first game! This problem has spanned three console generations! How has this not been solved yet? How is this problem still with us? Who is in charge of developing these games? Whoever they are, they’re getting paid far too much. This problem needs to be fixed. It needed to be fixed seven full years ago.

Bad goal detection

Here’s another thing gone wrong that ruins the player’s experience: bad goal detection. I can issue a perfect example: at the end of the first stage, Lara says she has to “get back to the surface.” The player is tasked with swimming back to the surface and back to Lara’s boat. The goal is completed by swimming to a certain small window of the boat -- namely the front of the boat. Not the back of the boat, the only place where it’s actually to board the boat from. Who is making these decisions? Every other game would do the following: make the trigger (that sparks the end of the mission) a ring around the boat, so that no matter what direction the player approaches the boat from the goal will be cleared. But not Tomb Raider: Underworld. This game wants the player to hit a pinprick of a window. It’s completely ridiculous.

Stupid puzzles

This is a problem inherent to many video games: stupid, nonsensical puzzles. The first puzzle in Underworld has the player looking for three different crank shafts in underwater cavers. The cranks will turn three different giant discs on a wall, which will eventually open up a giant gap in the wall, into further caverns. The first two cranks are in the same room with the disks, but the other crank is on the other side of the map. Again, who comes up with this stuff? It doesn’t make sense! It’s absurd. The puzzles are silly and stupid, and there’s no point to them. It’s indicative of a great lack of creativity.

Restarts

For a game that revolves around action and completing puzzles, Underworld does not make it easy for the player to correct their mistakes. For instance, there’s no ‘restart at checkpoint’ option, which is a tremendous flaw. In fact, as far as I can tell from the pause menu, there’s no way to restart a level from the pause menu. (This seems so unbelievable to me that I will be happy to be corrected by anyone who knows better.)

 I don't know what any of those four different health-related gauges mean.

Health bars

The health gauges displayed on-screen are confusing and hard to understand. There are two body-shaped icons, and both of them change colors and seem to deplete at different times. I don’t understand it, but that’s probably my failure. But it does beg the question -- why not just have a simple health bar?

Super quick load to menu

Tomb Raider: Underworld has perhaps the fastest load I’ve ever seen for a disc-based video game. It has no awkward “this game autosaves” notice screen; no “please don’t switch off the console when the hard drive is being accessed.” In fact, it only has one screen with copyright information and small logos for the developer and publisher. It doesn’t have any opening titles. It was a very welcome surprise after playing too many games where it takes over forty seconds just to get to the menu, let alone to start the game proper.

Graphics and animation


Great Lara character model

Lara Croft is the prized possession of the Tomb Raider games. She is, after all, the central star, and for many, the main draw of the Tomb Raider franchise, so I am hardly surprised that so much attention and time and care was put into designing her for current generation consoles. The results are pleasing. Her base character model -- arms, legs, face -- are nicely sculptured and never painful to look at. Players are also provided with a myriad of outfits which they can dress Lara up in before each stage. Although I do not want to sound cynical, I am quite surprised that players are even given the option between dressing Lara in as little clothing as possible or in as much clothing as possible (the Vietnam level, for example, gives the player a choice between jungle-colored cargo pants and what are, for all intents and purposes, hot pants). I would suggest that an overwhelming proportion of players would choose the hot pants. Nevertheless, the option is there. All the clothing is nicely designed and looks good. It’s all nicely packaged. And as much as I try, I cannot avoid admiring the design of Lara’s butt. She already has a perfect hourglass figure; it’s very easy to get hypnotized by the waggle of her ass. It’s certainly pleasant to stare at, nonetheless, but not in any facetious way where I find her body elicits an emotional response -- far from it, in fact; she is, after all, completely digital. If I have one complaint, it’s that Lara’s face looks a little comic book-like, a little plain, compared to the other characters in-game. Her skin is very smooth, there are no imperfections, and it can be slightly jarring. If Lara had a beauty mole/mark, for instance, she would be much more realistic (and perhaps much more attractive as a result) than her rather plain-faced iteration here. But overall she is very well designed, and I have nothing but praise for her character model in Underworld.

Good animations

I would hazard a guess that a significant amount of development time was put into the animations in Underworld. It shows. By-in-large the animations are all great, especially Lara’s. Some of the implementation -- the control -- doesn’t do the animations justice, which is unfortunate, but most of the animation is great. The wall climbing in particular (see below) and the grapple hook actions are very impressive.

 This game has some great animations.

Great wall climbing animation

The animations are well rendered overall, but the wall climbing animation is the most convincing I have seen in any video game to date. Lara clings to the rocks; visibly looks and reaches for foot- or hand-holds to transition to; rests against the wall; and spreads her limbs to get the best range. It really is spectacular to see. The wall climbing animation is a textbook example of how to make one’s game look and feel realistic.

 This game has some great environments.

Beautiful environments

Tomb Raider: Underworld excels visually. It is very refreshing to be able to explore an ocean environment, or a jungle environment. What’s special is that those environments are nicely rendered, and busy. The textures for rocky crags and walls, and for the underwater ruins, are great, and the environments are fantastically populated with overgrown plants that Lara was to hack through. The jungle in Vietnam is particularly impressive in that respect. Overall, the game has a vast scope that is well realized. I’d like to note the water itself, which looks and feels very realistic. Light refracts accurately, and the seabed looks great. The way the surface of the water ripples is also impressive. Finally, I saw a few vistas, and all of them were great.

Gameplay


No active hints

Having in-game hints is fine, but don’t make the player navigate through two pause menu screens just to reach them. The developer should not punish the player because it is unable to design a level or a puzzle so that it’s clear what is required. Games contemporary to Underworld implement active hints -- hints in the game which point the player’s focus in one direction. Do that, or design the game so that the player won’t need hints.

Bad combat

Underworld is overwhelmingly weighted towards platforming and puzzles, and does not feature a tremendous amount of combat. Unfortunately, that little combat is incredibly dull. The combat system revolves exclusively around lock-on targeting, which means that the player doesn’t really have to do anything or think about anything ever. At least the lock-on targeting is functional, if not a little bit flitty at times when it comes to deciding which enemy/enemies it should lock to. There are some problems which serve as major detriments, however. Firstly, the bad camera can make it hard to keep one’s bearings when the action picks up the pace. Secondly, the weapons aren’t all that powerful, and they are devoid of any feeling. They lack punch or feel; they don’t register, and the bullets that strike the enemies feel and look like arbitrary paintballs marking vaguely human-like targets. (Please note that I have not had enough exposure to the AI, so I will abstain from commenting on enemy behavior.)

No cover mechanic

Though combat may be infrequent, when it does take place there are many enemies. It’s not, however, easy to take cover (because there’s no cover mechanic and crouching is awkward) which means that there are an inordinate number of game over screens. The cover mechanic may be a hackneyed device, but it is now a common trait of video games, particularly action-adventure first- and third-person games. Not having a mechanic is fine, but at last make it easy to take cover behind waist-height objects and the like. Underworld does none of this. The results can -- and most likely will -- be painful for the player.

Melee attacks do not lock on to enemies in most cases

I favor hand-to-hand combat above firearms in close quarters with enemies, as I would guess most other players do also. The melee fighting here isn’t all that bad, but it isn’t particularly good either. For instance, melee attacks won’t lock on until the player is about a foot away from any given enemy. This is not good design. The game should predict which enemy the player is targeting when the player presses the melee button five or six feet away from the enemy. Instead, an unstoppable animation ensues where the player is completely vulnerable to damage from attacks but is not doing any damage themselves.

Fine aim leads to slow movement

As an alternative to lock-on targeting, the player can choose to summon a reticule and aim manually. This is a typical contemporary gameplay element; Underworld makes one revision to the mold, however -- Lara will now move no faster than what feels like half a foot a second; in other words, inexplicably slowly. I’ve no idea why such a design choice was made, but it does not work.

Nice autonomy over the grapple hook

This is a small point, but I like how no control is forced over the grapple hook on the player. Once the player grapples, for instance, they are not forced to swing back and forth; indeed, the player can choose how to use the grapple -- swing, climb, or slide down.

Story


Abrupt start

Underworld starts extraordinarily quickly. Selecting ‘New Game’ from the menu thrusts the player straight into a tutorial level in a burning house, without any cutscene or context. From what I have surmised, this is done for narrative reasons. I do not know exactly how it works because I failed to reach further stages in the game, but, against, I assume (from what I know) that it is at least somewhat interesting, speaking from my impressions of the story in general.

Great theatrical moments

Underworld has some great cinematic moments, even in the first three hours. I particularly like the first sequence in the manor. The sequences on the ship in the second stage are fantastic. There is one brilliant part where the ship begins to sink, and it rocks and rolls and falls on its side.

Underworld has significant problems. In the state it was released, and in the state it remains, I implore people not to purchase or play this game. Do not tacitly endorse bad game design. I see the problems. Underworld is a perfect storm, a tumultuous and noxious combination of archaic gameplay traits and glaring glitches. Tomb Raider has missed the boat. It is no longer 1996. Games have moved on. If this franchise is not willing to update, reform, change, and build, it can only fail, and, indeed, if it doesn’t do any of those four former things, it deserves to fail.
 

Hit up my old-ass blogs.

34 Comments

This is one of the worst games I have ever played in my life

I did not finish V.I.P. It’s on the Game Boy Advance. It’s a very bad game. It’s slow, it has terrible control, and, quite frankly, it’s not worth my time. Take from that what you will, dear reader, because I know that some do not like it when a person talks critically about games that he has not completed. For what it’s worth, though, I think I’ve experienced enough in order to be able to talk informatively about V.I.P. this game is bad. It is, in all likelihood, the worst game I have played in the last three years. If you take nothing else from this, I beg of you: never play this game.

Design



Bad action

Boringly simple gameplay is equal to gameplay that’s not fun, and gameplay that’s not fun is not good. V.I.P.’s action is boring and not fun and not good. It consists of running left or right, and confronting enemies. It’s incredibly boring, and rather painful. Many side scrolling games suffer from this, but in V.I.P.’s case, slow firing weapons and lack of health makes it difficult to face the infinitely respawning enemies in later stages.

Bad level design

Level design is constituted of several floors on each level, with the player always aiming to reach a door which will take him to the next area. Most irritatingly, each stage has multiple floors, and each floor has a foreground and background plane. It gets too convoluted for its own good. It’s not confusing; rather, it simply requires more effort than the player should be willing to exert.

 This screenshot shows six different characters, but it feels like they've missed out about five more.

Too many characters

Every stage players will get to play as at least three different characters (though the first stage only has two). Some stages feature up to five different characters. I suppose that this would be a big problem for character development, but I posit to you that the story is so vacuous in any case, it’s impossible to care about the characters. It is a major issue for gameplay, however. It is jarring, which is a big enough problem unto itself -- different weapons which do different damage and the like. The bigger issue is that only one of the six-or-so characters is actually worth playing as. Ironically, this character is the weakest, but he has the faster fire rate, something at least reasonable by most video game standards. Every other character takes approximately one second to fire a bullet. It’s quite unbearable.

Bosses are poorly designed

There are two problems with the bosses. Firstly, they are SNK bosses, which is a short-hand term for boss characters that are unfairly overpowered and ludicrously difficult to defeat. There are several bosses whose attacks are unblockable, unavoidable, and no cover is provided to the player. I’m not quite sure how that’s supposed to work. My favorite (and here I am using “favorite” ironically) boss was a helicopter that players have to shoot in the air. Unfortunately it can only take damage in one minute area of the craft, and player characters can't shoot straight up in the air -- they can only shoot diagonally. The helicopter zooms across the screen as if it’s a jet (making it impossible to hit). Furthermore, the slugs it fires are nearly unavoidable, and two enemies spawn on the ground every few seconds. It was at this point I stopped playing because it was near impossible. Earlier boss battles were hard too, but I found a glitch to exploit. Here in lies the second problem (actually a saving grace for the player) -- bosses can only move around a limited part of the screen. This can only be a glitch. If the player moves so that the boss is off-screen, the boss won’t fire at the player but the player can still fire and hit the boss. Boss defeated, no health lost.

Backtracking

V.I.P. features two types of backtracking. The first involves completing several levels repeatedly (Particularly the boat stage), which should be a crime for side scrolling platformers. The second type involves the multiple character the player is forced to play as, and the fact that players are forced to complete the same parts of each level, facing the same enemies and collecting the same pickups, two or three times over. This should be a crime for side scrolling platformers.

Pickups are stupid

Pickups (all of which serve only as points for the total score the player accumulates) include desk calendars, sunglasses, and shoes, among other things. I lack the ability to understand why a desk calendar is a pickup in an action game.

Graphics and animation


Mediocre graphics

The graphics aren’t exactly bad -- they’re functional -- but they’re low resolution, uninspired, and bland. The ship, for example, looks all the same; city streets all look identical; the interiors of buildings are cut from the same mold. It’s not something that especially bothers me, but it’s certainly indicative of a great lack of effort.

Bad animations

There’s only one animation per action per character. They’re all clunky and robotic.

Gameplay


The gameplay is slow

  
 
Movement is slow, as is jumping. It’s not slow as to be painful but it is slow enough to bother. Jumping especially is plagued by tired movement. Combine slow movement with the lack of sufficient health, and the byproduct is the player being unable to sufficiently defend himself. Firing weapons, for most of the characters, is also too labored. There are pickups which increase the rate of fire, but these are generally rare. V.I.P. is a grind, not in a level-up sense, but in the sense that the player will likely play through the same segments repeatedly until he eventually depletes all his credits, at which point the game ends. I suspect most players will not start anew.

Jumping is bad

Air control is bad because everything moves a bit too slowly. This, though, is not the worst fault; inexplicably, sometimes jumping does not work at all. For example, I found that if the character is pressed up against a wall it’s a crapshoot whether pressing the A button will trigger the character to execute a jump. It’s bizarre.

Every enemy can be defeated by ducking and firing

It doesn’t take much to defeat the astonishingly stupid enemy AI -- all the player has to do is duck and shoot. Seriously.

Enemies fire at you before you can see them

I’m willing to accept that this could be just me, but I think it’s unfair in side scrollers for so many enemies (on level plane with the player) to fire at the player before the player can hit the enemy with his own weapons. If nothing else, it’s certainly archaic game design. Against, it ultimately gets frustrating and completely unenjoyable.

Story

 

Bad story

There’s not a whole lot going on in terms of narrative. The game starts the player looking for something, or someone. It’s never really made clear. All that is really necessary for you to know is that this game is based on an old TV show starring Pamela Anderson. Listen, it’s not good.



 
Please don’t play this game. It’s not good. The fact that the developers tried to use Pamela Anderson as a selling point should serve as a warning to you, friends. These kinds of games are insulting. They’re insulting to the player’s intelligence and they’re insulting to games as a whole. Most flash games are better than V.I.P. Don’t play this game. Don’t give the publisher the pleasure.
 
  Here's a full list of my other blogs. Next time: Tomb Raider Underworld. I didn't finish that game either, because the game glitched and exploded on me.

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It came out in 2004, and it's one of the best racing games ever

There is a subset of video games that are rarely played and ignored one or two years after their release. These games have no notable story, and are frequently iterated upon. Sports games and racing games lead this subset. Few would ignore the release of Gran Turismo 5, favoring to go back and play Gran Turismo 2. There’s no notable reason to do so, after all: Polyphony Digital is essentially remaking the same game every time, simply adding more features and polishing the controls to make the deal worthwhile one more time. Such a philosophy is easy for consumers to subscribe to. Such a philosophy puts great games of the past at risk.

Need for Speed: Underground 2 is one of the many games that has surely been forgotten over the years. To my mind, this is something that is extraordinarily unfortunate, because Underground 2 is one of the best racing games ever produced.

It is certainly one of the top three racing games ever made.

Looking at Underground 2, it’s not hard to accept that such a feat was achieved. Apparently, it’s not difficult to do. The developer just needs to get everything right. That’s what happened with Underground 2: all the cogs fit perfectly together, and the results are truly mesmerizing.

Design


 The game captures the murky, seedy promise of the metropolis that never sleeps.

Great environment

Underground 2’s strongest asset is the way the environment is rendered. To this day I cannot say that I have seen a better imagined city, a city bathed in the throes of midnight. The atmosphere is incredible and beautifully captured. It’s not that the buildings are amazingly rendered; it’s that the lighting is perfect -- the multifaceted colors, the way they all blend together, and the way they shine brightly. It’s that the city feel engaging. There are cars and taxis and trucks -- not an inordinate amount, because that would limit the player’s ability to move, but enough to make the city feel real. It’s that the city is well realized: there are districts, and there are suburbs, and everything is in its place and is easy to associate with. Above all, the effects applied to the environment are outstanding. Underground 2 has amazing rain. It plummets quickly, lands on the camera and blurs and stains; it coats the road with a fantastic glimmer and it feels like it’s really there. One can feel a tangible difference in how the car handles. Finally, rain gives rise to a peculiar mist, which, when mixing in with the light, adds a genuine layer of difficulty to driving in the rain. The atmosphere generated by the city is absolutely outstanding, and it is completely unlike anything else I have experienced from games this generation. For me, Underground 2 remains unmatched in this respect.

Good area variation

Although the area variation is a little traditional -- players start in the city and then unlock a side metropolitan area and then unlock the suburbs and then unlock the docks and factory burrows -- it works, and the areas are well distinguished. The city has short, sharp blocks, which the ever irritating winding roads of the hilly suburbs contrast well with.

Product placement

I quite like the product placement as it is integrated in Underground 2. I am not referring to branded car parts, but am thinking more of the billboards and shops in the city that players will drive by. Burger Kings are quite prolific, but the billboards are well handled. If anything, they now serve to date the game, but that only harbors a fuzzy nostalgic feeling for me. It’s strange seeing Cingular billboards. I also drove past an ING billboard once in the game, which I find amusing.

 The speed is palpable.

The speed feels real

The way speed is handled in the game is quite unrealistic, but what’s crucial is that it feels real. It’s hard to convey speed in video games. Too often many games display the miles per hour in the bottom right corner of the screen but don’t reproduce that same effect that one feels when one is really driving. Look out the window of your car at any time when you’re going over sixty and the world is blurred and incomprehensible. The overwhelming majority of games fail to reproduce this. Underground 2 does not. The world does blur, but inexplicably it blurs in a way that provides the effect without actually hindering the player and making the game unplayable. The effect is especially impressive when nitrous oxide is thrown in. Though that too is unrealistic -- light flares, and cars suddenly explode with speed, which is completely unlike what actually happens -- it feels right, it feels good, and moreover, it’s fun, and that is what I find to be the most satisfying.

Great GPS system

Because Underground 2’s city is large and features many different races and shops, a GPS system to guide the player is necessary. Underground 2’s GPS system is good. It is good at guiding the player through the streets, always selecting the most logical route, even if not the fastest one. It does suffer from a few bugs. On at least two occasions I experienced the arrow trying to shepherd me in the wrong direction (always on the city’s highways). Also, the GPS system seems to have trouble navigating over great distances. The arrow won’t pop up until the player has made it half of the way to his destination. I recall some players being irritated at the artificial malfunctions that occur. At the time, cheaper GPS systems (in real life) were finicky, and the game was designed to reflect this. For instance, heading down side streets or driving on dirt paths will trigger the message that the GPS system is “searching [for a] connection”. It’s a gimmick, and one that probably doesn’t need to exist, though I certainly understand why that superficial design choice was made.

The game is massive

I typically prefer to finish a game before writing about it, purely as a matter of principle, but I can see that it will take me some time to complete Need for Speed: Underground 2, so I’ve elected to do my write-up now in the proceedings. I have played the game for approximately 18 hours and 10 minutes at this stage, and have managed to clear all of 42%, according to the game’s statistics. From this I am willing to extrapolate that, in total, Underground 2 is probably somewhere between a 42 and 45 hour video game. Perhaps that’s not the biggest feat for an open world racing game, but it’s such a pleasure to be able to sink time into a very fun and very well designed video game.

Lightning loads

Today we can expect loading times of over ten seconds for races, but Underground 2 typically keeps below this. I’m not quite sure how it manages this, but it’s certainly well executed. The game seems to load unreasonably quickly between the world and stores, for instance. No loading is required between areas of the map. I assume that this is handled by streaming. It certainly is a fine achievement.

Great licensed soundtrack

Underground 2 has an exceptional soundtrack. It very much rings of 2003, especially with regards to the rap and R&B songs, but that never matters. Every single song fits perfectly with the mood of the game, whether it’s just driving around town, racing, or in the shops spread across the city. The rap and R&B songs are automatically set to not play during races and only play in the shops, but I found that they fit just as well during races as the hard rock songs do. I suspect it will be difficult to find a more fitting licensed soundtrack for a racing game.
 
 

Graphics and animation


 Cars are beautifully rendered.

The car models look fantastic

Underground 2 was released in 2004, but because of the nature of what the game demands from the car models (because of extensive customizability) the cars look like they are from much later on in the PlayStation 2’s lifetime. They bear an impressive sheen, and the detail is extraordinary. There is a very large number of parts and modifications one can make to the body of his car, not just limited to the generic neon and window tint and wide body kits and spoilers -- there seems to be a near infinite amount of variations for vinyls, for instance. It’s very impressive for a game that was released the better part of a decade ago. I would be very interested to see the result of a up-scaling, re-mastering of the game for the current generation (as with the God of War Collection), because I would suggest that those cars would look just as good up-scaled as car models from early racing games of this generation.

Gameplay


The different race types offer great variation

Need for Speed Underground 2 features six different race types -- Circuit, Sprint (racing from point A to point B), Drifting, Street X (tight, short circuit racing), Drag, and URL, the “Underground Racing League”, which features more realistic racing courses which do not take place on the streets. The different types don’t just offer variations; they test different skills. One player may be great at winning Drifts, which essentially test handling, but the same player might be terrible at the Drag races, which essentially test quick control and fast reactions. It’s nice to know that there are different modes, and players that are terrible at one mode (whether it be because of an incapable vehicle or a simple inability to adapt to the gameplay) can jettison one mode in favor of the other four. However, URL races are compulsory.

Car handling can be a little generic

There are no problematic issues with the car handling in the game. Perhaps the only complaint that could be leveled at Underground 2 is that a number of the cars tend to feel like they handle identically. To a certain extent this is an artifact of the performance upgrades. By all accounts, players can (and perhaps should) make it through four of the game’s five stages using the same car and simply upgrading it. Around Stage Four a little more power is required, and I purchased a new car -- for me it was the Audi TT -- and fully upgraded it. Obviously, both cars are upgraded equally, but the TT has higher starting statistics so it has an edge over the first car. Despite this, because most of the cars have very similar performance statistics, they can feel the same. Is this a problem? I’m not entirely convinced. I have not finished this playthrough of Underground 2 yet, but I believe I will make it through the game using only two cars, and in the worst case scenario a third. The game has over twenty cars, so there is plenty of choice, and though it may be cynical to say so, because most players won’t go through a whole lot of cars, they won’t notice that some of them feel identical.

Power sliding

I really enjoy power sliding. The game makes it easy for players to break into the slips. Sliding around corners might not be as fast as breaking into corners and accelerating out, but it does allow for better positioning of the car on the road, and, if nothing else, it’s thrilling.

Crashing

I appreciate the fact that the game allows the player to recover from collisions mid-crash. It’s extremely hard to do, but with fine control it’s possible -- turning the wheel against the grain to cut down on speed and momentum, for instance. In most other racing games, a crash is a crash. Yes, it’s unrealistic that one might have any hope of recovering after a cataclysmic collision in oncoming traffic, but it’s fun, and it works, and I like it.

No rubber band AI

Many racing games today feature rubber band AI -- that is, the AI is easy to leave in the dust, but it will somehow quickly recover and catch up to the player and overtake them, only for the pattern to repeat itself continually. It’s nothing positive, at least not for me, and it’s nice to head back to a game where there is no rubber-banding. Instead, the game opts to almost perfectly match the player’s car with other cars of the same level. Then, if the player is good enough, there won’t be any difficulties winning races. Messy players, unkempt on the road and lacking skill, will find it difficult to win, especially in later stages. It is, to my mind, the best way to design a difficulty level for racing games, but one that few subsequent racing games seem to have adopted, which is unfortunate.

 Don't crash into civilian cars.

Civilian cars become cement after the player collides with them

One of the few unfortunate flaws I see in the game relates to the civilian cars. Upon colliding with them, they turn to solid stone. It is literally impossible to push them aside, and the player is tasked with driving around them. This can be devastating on tight roads, though it’s not as big a problem in wide, open areas. Despite this, I’m not sure why it happens. It is a very bad design choice, though to be perfectly honest it feels more like a prolific behavioral bug that would have taken too much work to correct.

Custom settings are saved

There are six different types of races, and the game allows the player to set custom performance settings for each type of race for every car. Obviously, a different performance is required for a car between a drift race and a drag race. Thankfully, the developers had the foresight to not only allow the player to use custom settings for each race type, but also to allow the game to auto-load and auto-reset the settings. That means that the player can choose to proceed with the game’s default (my choice, because I’ve got no idea what the performance setting numbers and figures mean) or he can choose to design his own settings and let the game deal with applying them to each mode and loading them. It’s just something which makes life easier, and makes the game considerate of the player.

Story


Though the story is generic it is not bad

Underground 2’s story is quite pat, but thankfully it’s not remotely big enough to be bad or to have any legitimately flaws that ruin the game. It’s a simple story, very played, but executed acceptably. Though the story may seem prominent, in actuality it’s very much in the background. If anything it’s underplayed. There are cutscenes interspersed throughout the stages as well as at the end of each stage, but it never really matters. At its core, Underground 2 is really about racing and driving across the city going from race to race, as opposed to playing for the story.

The comic book cutscenes are okay

The graphic novel cutscenes aren’t spectacular, but rather like the story they function aptly. They are, at the very least, drawn well and rendered well. There’s not a tremendous amount of animation, but overall the cutscenes are packaged nicely.

 Brooke Burke is pretty good.

Brooke Burke isn’t too bad

Perhaps Brooke Burke isn’t known for her voice acting prowess, but I found that she was more than acceptable in this game. She plays the laid back, smooth, throaty female very well. She also appears in the graphic novel cutscenes. The graphic novel medium typically does not allow for live-action acting, but Burke looks great. Without being vulgar, she is extremely pleasant to look at, but I don’t say that to somehow diminish her role. She plays her character well.

The dialogue can be a bit hit and miss

It is true that the dialogue can be a bit hit and miss, though overall I find that it’s generally good. It’s nothing if not fitting to the street racing vibe that Underground 2 tries to promote. Like with most things, players won’t notice the good things but they will dwell on the bad. The dialogue that meshes well is seamless and passes by instantly while the bad dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb. For instance, when secret car parts are unlocked, players are required to roll up to a specific store on the map and enter, upon which the same line is repeated: “Yo dawg, head inside and pick up yer uniques.” Yes. I will.


 
Many Need for Speed games have been released since Underground 2. Most Wanted was highly acclaimed (and justly so), but most of the subsequent games did not fare as well. That’s not surprising. It’s hard to iterate upon Underground 2. Every facet of the game is fantastically handled. My only regret is that the game is not appreciated as it should be, while many current generation racing games that are plainly not as good get far more attention. Perhaps this can be boiled down to the fact that Underground 2 is a game from the last generation. But if you are a racing game fan, I implore you not to forget Need for Speed Underground 2. It is truly a marvel, and it is certainly one of my favorite racing games.
 
Here's a full list of my other blogs. Next time: V.I.P. for the Game Boy Advance. It may be the worst game I've played in three years. Choose my next game for me in this poll!

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Archive

As it's not feasible to dump a list of these at the bottom of each new post, here's an index of all the games I've blogged about so far.

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I don't know why some hate on Black, but maybe here's why

I finished Black in just under four hours. All in all, this does not serve as a fair commentary on the game’s length. What I feel I must admit is that I have previously cleared Black many, many times -- not so many as to be uncountable, but enough times to where I’ve stopped bothering counting. I know enemy patterns and I know all the surprises. You can glean from this that I am not the most impartial person that will ever critique Black. I like Black, and I like it a lot. For me, I can very clearly pin my respect for the game upon the fact that it has an impeccable atmosphere behind it that I find almost unparalleled in this generation’s first-person shooters. I am well aware of Black’s flaws, for they are many, but Black is one game where the flaws simply do not affect how fun the game is.

Design


 One of my favorite areas in a level is the bathroom in the Tivliz Asylum level. Essentially every part of this large room is breakable. Enemies hide behind cover, but can all be chopped away. The dust and the particle effects are brilliant.

Good level design

I found the level design to be streamlined. It doesn’t harbor any revelations, but it is interesting and multi-faceted, and it does provide for many different scenarios across the eight levels. Some of the levels are quite linear, taking place in buildings (indoor levels are especially well done) while some areas are very open, like in the countryside or in large city plazas. The game is linear, but it often doesn’t feel so. I imagine that a more open Half-Life would feel like Black.

Everything explodes

Everything in Black blows up. I can’t quite decide whether it’s bad design or whether it’s good design in that it provides for various methods of dispatching enemies. Literally everything explodes: if there’s a sniper or a gun emplacement in a tower, there won’t just be red barrels -- there will literally be a way to raze the whole tower. Brown, nondescript crates that both the player and enemies might take cover behind are utterly combustible. Finally, red kerosene tanks and barrels are commonplace around every corner. The explosions look great, though, so the inclusion of so many dangers is justifiable. I did witness an enemy taking cover behind two red barrels, however, which leads me prettily into the matter of enemy AI.

Enemy AI is quite dull

The only reason the enemies in Black pose a threat to the play is because they have powerful guns and they can shoot straight. Otherwise, they seem to rejoice in standing still, out of reach of cover, and firing openly at the player, or, alternately, simply running up to the player while simultaneously firing their arms. The fact that the few enemies that do take cover are frustrating to dismiss is a good indication that the player isn’t accustomed to encountering enemies who want to stay alive.

 The masked enemies are troubling because they're tough to kill and they spring out of nowhere. Above all, they charge relentlessly at the player.

The masked enemies are terrifying

Although the AI is, frankly, thick, the enemies with the metallic full Phantom of the Opera face masks are scary. They’re scary because they combine two of the game’s flaws: the enemy is a bullet sponge, and the enemy has bad AI; that is, it charges straight at the player. Unfortunately (for the player) it charges with a shotgun. They pose concerns because they pose a danger, and their shots hurt.

The blur during reload is unsettling

Here’s a design choice that is utterly nonsensical: every time the player reloads the screen blurs so as to not allow the player to see what’s going on. I’m not sure why this was included; in reality soldiers do not suffer from blurred vision while reloading, though Criterion may not be aware of this. It only serves as a hindrance: it is of the utmost importance for the player to see where enemies are, but this feature completely destroys that ability. Compulsive reloaders or twitch reloaders will suffer.

Blatant aim assist

It’s possible to hover on an enemy, remove one’s fingers from the sticks, and watch the reticule traverse tens of feet across the screen as the enemy moves. The aim assist feels good during battle but it is noticeable. Also, it doesn’t work perfectly. On multiple occasions I noticed the aim assist locking on to hostiles through indestructible walls and indestructible cover.

Artificial difficulty increase

The difficultly increase in Black is rather half-hearted: it seems to be that the enemies take more damage and dish more damage with each incremental difficultly level. Many games do this, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. It just makes it hackneyed, and rather wretched.

Ridiculous checkpointing

It doesn’t help that the checkpointing is silly. Every level is in the range of half-an-hour in length (for first-time players), but there are on average about two checkpoints throughout each level. There should be more like twenty. It’s an artifact of the aged game design, but the checkpoints are unforgiving, and are therefore unforgivable.

Fantastic music provided by Chris Tilton

Black features a breathtaking score (and I appreciate how hackneyed the word “breathtaking” is, but I think it’s a fair employment of the term) by Chris Tilton. I cannot claim to have had the pleasure of hearing Tilton’s other soundtracks, but I have repeatedly heard Black’s, and I can unreservedly say that the expansive theatrical action score is utterly fitting and brilliant. I also find that the music is subtle enough to serve as a nice, low ambient companion to other media, such as books.

Sound design is great

All the sounds in the world are accurately channeled through two speakers. The game is most immersive when one uses a good set of headphones. Every enemy can be placed merely using the acoustics, which is very important for the player. Sound in the environment is well rendered -- birds and wind and the like. I feel I should also mention how great the guns sound, but only because I recognize most of the sounds the firearms make. The corky report of the MP5 is John McClane’s MP5 from Die Hard; the metallic thud of the pistols is plainly Jack Bauer’s from 24. This game is essentially one massive action movie, and it’s very nice for action movie aficionados.

The introductory credit sequence cannot be bypassed

Although the introductory credit sequence features music from Tilton’s excellent score, it is both lengthy and unskippable, and is probably not the best way to introduce a game to a player before the player has even reached the “Press start button” screen on the menu. Unskippable introductions are more commonplace today, but at least there is an excuse: games have to update DLC, or install to a console’s hard drive. No such excuse saves Black, especially when the lengthy end credits are also unskippable.

Graphics and animation


 This summarizes Black: good looking guns, muzzle flashes, particle effects, blinding light, and dust.

Black is a technical marvel

I don’t think anybody has quite yet understood how Black manages to look and feel so good. Even as a PlayStation 2 game, it is more accomplished than most early XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3 games. To be sure, the ground textures are not magnificent, and there are some troubles with the character models; it’s not so much that there is one flaw here and one flaw there, it’s more to do with the fact that holistically the game does look terrific, and the well rendered gun models and well rendered ally character models importantly reflect on the environment as a whole. Environments are good-looking: the particle effects, and explosions, as I mention shortly below, are, simply put, great.

 If enemies inexplicably fly into the air, one should assume that something that didn't look as if it was an explosion probably was.

The explosions still look magnificent

I had not recalled how well realized the explosions in Black are. They are spectacular; I suspect that the explosions are better done in Black that they are done in many current generation games.

Enemies will repeat the same animation

Enemies shot in the same region of their body will execute the same animation repeatedly. I once crouched behind cover and fired eight or nine rounds at a hostile’s thigh, only to see that hostile do the same animation for all of the eight times save for the last: he would stumble down, place his left hand on the ground to steady himself, and regain his balance. The fact that there should have been craters the size of a man’s fist in the hostile’s thigh did not seem to trouble him much.

Gameplay


Control is heavy

I would suggest that this was a design choice made by Criterion, but the control in the game is extraordinarily heavy. There is no sprint button, and the player character seems to slug around -- there’s no momentum, there’s just mass. Aiming is just as heavy. I could not find any slider to increase analog stick sensitivity in the options menu. I have not felt anything like it in modern games. I soon grew accustomed, but the sheer weight of the game is most definitely unsettling, at least at first.

Every gun is great

There are many firearms in Black. Each firearm has its strengths and weaknesses. I am less inclined to use the shotguns because they are inaccurate and slow, but aside from those two instances, I enjoyed using every gun. My only complaint would be that the different ammunition is very specific. There are no randomized ammunition caches. I love using pistols in games, but there’s just not enough pistol ammunition in Black, and I find that regrettable. (I also like the fragmentation grenades in Black. While they’re not guns, they are weapons -- their strength lies in their range, which is perhaps the most realistic thing in Black. The grenades feel real and are very dangerous.)

 Headshots are a reliable way of eliminating hostiles. Also, explosions.

Enemies are bullet sponges

One thing I found troubling was the fact that enemies can take a tremendous number of bullets, not just in their extremities, but also in their chests. Above I recall an incident where I shot a hostile eight times in the leg. As frighteningly unrealistic as that may be, the same extends to anybody the player shoots in the torso or in the abdomen. The head is the only assured mode of felling an enemy. This is not just limited to enemies wearing body armor: ‘weak’ enemies seem to shrug off repeated rounds to the chest, ignoring the fact that black shrapnel (which one supposes is clothing or, in the case of other enemies, armor) propels from their person with each shot. There is then the issue of armor-donning enemies being able to sustain several magazines of fire. I am certainly no authority on how people react when taking shots to body armor, but if action films and shows like 24 are to be believed, the body still takes some shock or damage, certainly enough to make a person reel on the floor for some time.

Nothing feels as good as a clean headshot

Black is the only game where I get in the zone and can execute headshot after headshot after headshot freakishly quickly. Typically with games I don’t bother, because it’s easier to aim for the chest. There’s something about the way headshots are designed in Black, though -- perhaps it’s the tangible sound a headshot makes, a ‘plink’ in the headphones that let the player know they’ve hit the target.

Using suppressors has never felt better

The guns in Black sound great, but I find that using a suppressor provides for a good feeling. It’s bizarre, because as I understand, suppressors greatly reduce the speed and punch of bullets (at least in reality), but there’s no clear effect in Black. It just makes the guns look and feel great. This is all putting aside that suppressors can be found everywhere, and in the most inexplicable places -- right in the middle of a battlefield or on a catwalk underneath a bridge, awaiting the player in every case.

Story


The story and live-action sequences are a little silly

I won’t serve Black a reprieve by saying that one shouldn’t expect much of a story from an action game; nor will I employ the phrase “For what it is...” Black simply doesn’t have much of a story. Strangely, very little is explained at the beginning -- something has gone wrong, players are told; someone has been betrayed, and there’s a unit of several warfighters and they’re chasing somebody, somewhere. There’s also a plot twist at the end that feels a little unfair but is nonetheless surprising. The narrative is paper thin; the blunt rim of a plate could slice through it. It’s not particularly interesting, and it serves as little more than something that barely explains why characters are moving from one place to another. The live-action sequences, which only feature two men, are actually interestingly directed. Not much acting is seen. My only issue is that it’s plainly obvious that voice work was dubbed on top of the actors. Things don’t quite line up right, and it doesn’t sound good. In that respect, the cutscenes are somewhat let down.


I would not be surprised if you, the reader, are confused after reading this summary of my feelings about Black. In retrospect, much of what I think is worth mentioning, and have therefore mentioned, are negative things about the game. It speaks volumes, however, that I feel Black transcends all that. For me, as I have indicated above, I think Black’s design is often less than stellar. That doesn’t stop it from being fun. There are plenty of games that are excellently designed but are not fun. Black is not one of them. I look forward to Codemasters’ Bodycount, the very blatant spiritual successor to Black, and hope it will improve upon the design of Black, but failing that, I hope that it will merely capture the same atmosphere and be as fun as Black is for me.
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