Playing Kingdom Hearts For the First Time in 2020: Why Did I Do This To Myself?

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Here We Go...

I’ve been with my partner for six years. She is a stone-cold brilliant, beautiful woman with a wonderful sense of humor, an endless supply of artistic creativity, and the talent to match. She is the love of my life and I’m thankful every day that we are together. I bring this up because I am very glad I played Kingdom Hearts now. You see, it’s one of her favorite childhood games, and if I had played it back at the beginning of our relationship, her love of this…thing may very well have split us apart. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit, but goddam, what the hell was this? I don’t know if I exactly regret playing Kingdom Hearts, but I do feel like a worse person for having played it.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written a blog post, on Giant Bomb or any other website. I don’t particularly care to put my long-form thoughts on the internet because I don’t think the world really needs another rando gamer shouting into the void. That, and I’m also lazy. But Kingdom Hearts broke me. I need to speak my truth. I need to confess what I have done.

It is my own fault, of course. I entered this willingly. I could have stopped at any time. When I saw that the 1.5 + 2.5 Remix bundle was free on Game Pass in the midst of These Unprecedented Times, it seemed as good an opportunity as any to tick another one off the list of my SO’s favorites (as it currently stands: Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Resident Evil 4 down, Bioshock 2 and The Suffering to go). I genuinely, truly wanted to give this thing a good faith shake, to take it on its own terms in spite of all the internet baggage it’s accumulated over the years, all the memes, the dunks, the corpses of failed Giant Bomb video features. But sometimes it turns out that the naysayers are onto something. Maybe it was good back in the early ‘00s (I’ve got my doubts), but playing Kingdom Hearts for the first time in 2020, The Hell Year, is largely an infuriating and baffling experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s outright irredeemably terrible, but it’s not not irredeemably terrible either.

The Good Stuff

I’ll start with What I Liked. Not a long list, but a list nonetheless. From a bird’s eye view, the whackadoodle premise is just plain fun and I’m here for it. I’m a sucker for weird crossovers, the kind of person who gets really deep into the implications of St. Elsewhere’s finale at two in the morning after a few too many drinks. The anecdote of the game being birthed from an elevator conversation between Disney and Square execs is probably my favorite bit of video game errata. The promise of a tour de force of Disney sightseeing facilitated by action RPG hijinks is a fun pitch on paper, and some of that pitch admittedly bore fruit. Seeing the title card of a new world pop up never failed to give me a bit of a thrill, the summons are delightful, and the attention to detail in the deep cuts and character choices mostly demonstrates a clear understanding and appreciation of the House of Mouse’s catalog. It’s a shame about all that anime getting in the way, but I really can’t fairly complain about that…it is Square game, after all, and Aerith and Sephiroth and Yuffie and all their chums needed to make their perfunctory appearances or it could hardly be called a crossover, now could it? That said, I was actually surprised how minimal the Final Fantasy representation was. I was expecting at least, like, a Shinra Electric Power Company world or something, but apart from character and boss cameos there was pretty much nothing. I’m not a Final Fantasy person beyond that one time I accidentally played all of Crisis Core with no context, so I’m not exactly complaining, but it’s kinda weird? Then again, Sora’s whole look north of his Krusty the Klown shoes couldn’t be a better distillation of post-polygonal Final Fantasy vibes if he tried, so I guess that’s where it all got concentrated.

Where was I? Oh right. The Good Stuff.

No, I don't know why I made this either
No, I don't know why I made this either

The Disney tourism is nice, but it gets muddled, first by the aforementioned anime but then even more so by the tech. Wait, don’t go anywhere, this is actually a good thing! Graphically, the 1.5 Remix update throws all the strengths and flaws of the original art direction and world design into sharp and strange relief. From a technical perspective it’s understandable, the chunky textures and shoebox zones a product of the limitations of the Playstation 2 technology. But playing it in crisp, clear HD on an Xbox One X makes the whole thing seem distinctly off, in a way I actually really enjoy. The diorama-like worlds evoke less the dynamic and sumptuous settings of the movies they purport to represent and more a creepy surreal claustrophobia, Disneyland by way of a dying child’s dream. I had a friend half-jokingly describe Kingdom Hearts as the Twin Peaks of video games, and in some ways that really doesn’t feel too far off. I don’t think I agree with their assertion that this Power of Friendship schlock is an effective exploration of the “realm of existence that lies within the psyche using Jungian psychology,” but it’s hard to deny Kingdom Hearts’ pervasive sense of baffling, Lynchian unreality. Weird cartoon people standing in eerily empty pop-up environments spouting melodramatic platitudes through poorly-dubbed lips is just The Red Room feat. Donald Duck. And that’s great! The more Kingdom Hearts feels like some sort of weird existential horror creepypasta, the closer it gets to being actually enjoyable. Finding my way into the Hundred Acre Wood and hearing my precious good time boy Pooh Bear trying to figure out how to say goodbye to himself in case he disappears like all his missing friends? That’s the good shit right there. Give me way more of that, way less of everything else and baby, you got yourself a stew going.

But alas, that is the entirety of the good shit.

Everything Else

Let’s start with the story. The Kingdom Hearts franchise, of course, has the reputation for having a convoluted nonsense quagmire of a narrative. I dunno how the series goes from here, but up until the tail end (more on that later) the first game is not especially complex. It’s mostly just a bunch of DARKNESS and LIGHT and POWER OF FRIENDSHIP pablum with a heart fetish. It smacks of a plot hastily thrown together to facilitate the Disney + Final Fantasy = $$$ equation, and understandably so. A bit boring, but mostly legible—until the very end, the warning signs that this franchise is going to eventually break down into a confusing meme morass are mostly confined to the edges. They manifest as vagaries and missing details, things that don’t outright hide the big picture but rather start to blur it, like a slow creeping cataract. Sometimes they add to that fun sense of unreality, but usually they just kinda makes things unclear and difficult to fully engage with, raising a lot of questions that were either wholly unanswered or whose answers were so buried in collectibles or codexes that I never encountered them in a pretty thorough 30 hour playthrough. For example: what’s up with Sora’s whole family that he clearly had on Destiny Islands that are never mentioned ever again after the Heartless invade? What’s the Hundred Acre Wood’s whole deal? Why is Monstro just chilling in Gummi Space? Why are some Heartless friendly Toad knockoffs? How did Riku wind up in Hollow Bastion and not in Traverse Town like all the other random castaways?

Fuck. This. Dude. Seriously.
Fuck. This. Dude. Seriously.

Speaking of Riku, my biggest question about the whole enterprise is why the game keeps insisting that he’s a way cool dude worthy of redemption, when he’s clearly established to be a total dick even before Maleficent and Ansem step in? He sucks! He’s the worst! Two flashbacks of vaguely good times and trying his very best to close a door before Mickey Mouse bails his ass out does not a redemption arc make! Riku takes up a lot of angry space in my head, but he’s just the most obvious example of a larger problem: the characterizations and the tone in this game are completely baffling and all over the place. People repeatedly make bizarre decisions that seem solely to exist to execute on particular tropes or gags, obliterating any sense of character consistency. Another glaring example that really stuck in my craw was the way that Donald and Goofy have approximately zero concern about Mickey or where he is or what he’s up to after the first few hours until they suddenly need an excuse to take a big shit on Sora for about five minutes in Hollow Bastion before Power of Friendship kicks in again. Sure, it did let my man Beast show up and be a fuckin savage MVP, but why on earth would they do that in the first place?

And then there’s Kairi. I won’t spend too much time plodding through the obvious problematics of her whole deal, but one thing in particular really squicked me out. Granted, I could never tell if it was a weird camera glitch or an intentional choice, but boy howdy there are a lot of cutscene moments where the camera frames Kairi like the cover of Tomb Raider: Underworld, which is just a real cool thing to do to an apparent 12-year-old. I guess That’s Anime For You™ but also…yuck! I hate it!

What's your deal, girl????
What's your deal, girl????

A final story nitpick that disproportionately bugged me that I’m now going to force you to read about: why is Alice one of the Pure Heart Princesses or whatever they’re called? Ariel is literally RIGHT THERE and they chose Alice to be one of the princesses instead? What Disney canon or marketing manifesto has ever had Alice categorized as a princess? Anyway, not that important, but for something that otherwise does a pretty good job of handling the Disney stuff, it’s very weird! But I have now complained about it and can move on. I am free. It can no longer hurt me.

Gameplay! What the hell! The combat system is an indecisive gumbo, a heaping pile of clashing ingredients that combine into some kind of quasi-edible sludge. For the uninitiated, the moment-to-moment combat is a braindead-basic one button affair, a dreary slog of a system made incrementally better far too slowly by random ability and combo upgrades. If you were able to, oh I don’t know, actually pick skills from a talent tree or something to customize your playstyle your way instead of grinding your ass off in hopes that something useful drops on the next level up, that might make things a tad better. But alas, that is not the world we live in. On top of the combat is a weirdly animation- and menu-heavy item and spell system that is far too reliant on precise timing compared to the mushy combos. On top of that is what resembles a party-based RPG if you squint hard enough, but with so little party member control apart from broad AI directives that the system seems squarely focused on the novelty of Goofy and Donald Duck fighting the forces of evil than on any serious player utility beyond their role as item vending machines (which, I’ll grant, was often a very useful function). Even fully kitted out and set to “aggressive,” they may as well have been hitting enemies with flyswatters compared to Sora’s damage output.

By themselves, these systems are all worthy of critique. Taken together, it’s so much worse, an ill-advised, rickety contraption, each component at war with each other component with no victor in sight. All of this could have been avoided by adding some sort of active time battle system or other flavor of take-a-breath tactical system. It feels 90% of the way there already…just slap a pause-and-play layer on top of everything else and you’re good to go. The UI especially feels like it was designed to be leisurely navigated instead of thumbed through in a blind panic during boss fights, composed as it is of submenus on submenus that makes accessing it with anything short of precise muscle memory a recipe for disaster in hectic battles. If this design was a deliberate choice to up the difficulty, it’s a bad way to do that. Unless you’re playing some weird avant garde metagame, the UI should not be your enemy. It also doesn’t help that I had some sort of issue with the spell shortcut buttons where seemingly one time in 10 the wrong spell would get cast. Not sure if it’s a specific glitch with the Xbox version, my controller or if I just had an unnaturally consistent mispress, but boy it sucks to hammer on what I’m goddam positive is the heal shortcut only for Sora to joyously shout “Wind!” before getting stomped into the ground by Cerberus.

The Bad Place: This Is It
The Bad Place: This Is It

I am also absolutely convinced that the combat designers never, ever talked to the encounter designers. Kingdom Hearts is afflicted with as severe a case of Unprepared Dungeon Master Syndrome as I’ve ever seen in a video game. For those of you who don’t play tabletop games, UDMS occurs when the DM forgot to prepare and compensates by throwing the players into a room with a massive horde of random monsters to make up for it, without bothering to even try making it “fun” or “interesting” or “properly balanced for the players’ abilities so it’s not a thankless slog that makes everyone wonder why they’re playing this stupid campaign anyway.” No, this has definitely never happened to me and I’m not bitter in the slightest, why do you ask? Anyway, Kingdom Hearts is plagued by this mentality, most apparently and excruciatingly in Hollow Bastion where you’re forced to clear waves of enemies before you can activate various contraptions that let you climb the tower and rescue a pile of princesses. The problem is that most of the enemies are aerial enemies, and by that point all the useful combos and combat moves are aerial combos, so you wind up spending a lot of time flying off the edge of the level just trying to kill this last fucking winged Heartless asshole so I can progress oh my godddddd. Of course, if you ever fall off the edge, Phil Connors wakes up, “I Got You Babe” kicks in and you gotta do it allllll over again to get another shot at pressing the stupid garbage elevator button. Just an absolute joy.

At this point, you may find yourself asking “well, BaneFireLord, what did you think of the Gummi Ships?” Well, dear reader, in the immortal words of Vinny Caravella channeling Reggie Fils-Aime: fuck ‘em. I shall waste no more words on them.

Lord, there are so many other things to kvetch about: the maddeningly inconsistent checkpointing and enemy respawns, the wild difficulty spikes, the horrendous parrying system, the terribly designed boss fights, the atrocious platforming…but even in the midst of the purgatorial time loop of These Unprecedented Times, none of us have time for a dissertation. So in the interest of not boring everyone to death anymore than I already have, I’ll skip ahead and end this complaint at the end, about a final act so odious that it prompted me to write this screed in the first place.

The Final Rant

Up until the last few hours, I had certainly disliked Kingdom Hearts, but it was a mellow dislike, more bored and annoyed than outright angry. But then came End of the World. Without exaggeration, End of the World and its progression of boss encounters is the worst and most infuriating sequence I have ever played in a big budget video game, making such stinkers as The Fade in Dragon Age and the RC missions in San Andreas feel downright pleasant in comparison. End of the World indulges every sin of manufactured difficulty and presents them as virtues. Wave battles to gate progress and pad out the length by another half hour? Check. Damage sponge enemies with two hit kills? Check. Excruciatingly long multitier bossfights with no checkpoints between phases? Check. Designing encounters that the camera just fuckin’ hates looking at? Check. Taking away abilities and party-members you’ve spent the whole game building strategies around during climactic boss fights because reasons? Oh you damn betcha that’s a check. And by all accounts, this is still an improvement over the original release! I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play with unskippable cutscenes.

General RAAM, eat your heart out
General RAAM, eat your heart out

There’s nothing I abhor more in a game than a poorly paced finale, and Kingdom Hearts’ is as well paced as a dead fish thanks to these stellar design choices. But then, after an uninspired button mash of a final fight against Ansem and his Locust-ass airship, the final cutscenes kick in and make everything even worse, the storytelling teetering all the way into the stereotype of random batshit nonsense that has dogged the series ever since. Why is Kingdom Hearts (hey, that’s the name of the game!) light, but also infected with darkness and Heartless? How did Mickey Mouse get there? Why is Kairi standing on this weird floating beach and disappearing? What the hell has Pluto been doing this whole time anyway? Why, why, why do they keep insisting Riku is this cool misunderstood guy instead of Eternal King of the Douchebags? To top that all off, there’s the final “Simple and Clean” needledrop, tearing apart a moment of would-be pathos like sulfuric acid through flesh. It is, bar-none, the dumbest cheeseball thing I have ever seen in a video game. What an apotheosis of what the fuck.

Before Kingdom Hearts, I never really quite grasped the notion of consuming something because you hate it (a hate-watch, a hate-read, a hate-play, etc.). I’m infamous among my friends and family for being quick to abandon media I’m not enjoying, because life’s too damn short. And yet despite presuming this was one of my bedrock principles, I continued to beat my head against Kingdom Hearts until the bitter end, long after it became clear there was nothing for me here beyond a sick, pointless compulsion to continue. A hate-play, by any definition. But surely, isn’t masochism supposed to have some sort of release? Because at the end of Kingdom Hearts, I got no sense of accomplishment, no reward, no explosion of dopamine. Watching the credits roll struck me with the feeling of gingerly getting out of bed for the first time after the fever breaks during a bad flu. No catharsis awaits at the end of Kingdom Hearts, just empty exhaustion and anemic relief.

Yet, in spite of that void, in spite of all the hours lost, in spite of these 3,000+ words of bloviating bullshit, I’m really not sorry for what I did. After all, it’s given me some (perhaps rather horrific) insight into my partner and her childhood tastes, if nothing else. But I’d be lying if it wasn’t more than that. Something’s wormed its way into me, a little niggling voice in the back of my head. It comes in waves, sometimes speaking in Donald Duck’s voice, sometimes in Goofy’s, sometimes a horrific amalgamation of the two. Don’t ya want ta know where this garbage nonsense goes from here? Don’t ya want ta see how crazy this gets? You do, don’t ya? Don’t deny it! Hyuk, hyuk!

Hell, I can’t lie. The voice is right. God help me…I’m probably going to play the rest of them.

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Shark Effect

So this screenshot got spat out of Rockstar’s PR machine recently:

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This specific collection of varying shades of blue, white and grey pixels has managed to illicit more hype in me about Grand Theft Auto V than any of their trailers or previous screenshots have to date. I was sold before; I’m probably going to a midnight launch now.

Why does this excite me so much? The answer is threefold: first, this is a strong indication that the ambient ecosystem of animals that was pioneered in Red Dead Redemption is making a return. That aspect of RDR was one of my favorite parts of the game; roaming around New Austin and taking potshots at armadillos from horseback was an absolute delight. I can’t wait to barrel up the side of Mt. Chilliad in an ATV, blasting hawks out of the air with a Tec9.

Secondly, this screenshot (as well as this other one) is indicative of how deep (rim shot) the developers are going with the undersea exploration angle of GTAV. Aside from outer space, extremely detailed underwater areas are pretty much the last unconquered open world frontier for Rockstar (unless you count San Andreas’s barren sandy wastes occasionally punctuated by oyster collectables, which I certainly don’t) (Also, how fucking cool would Grand Theft Space Shuttle be?). It is going to be an absolute delight to see what they do.

Finally, and most importantly, this screenshot is the only confirmation I needed that GTAV is going to be pretty damn good. Shocking, I know; a Grand Theft Auto game is going to be good. But I’m going to go so far as to say that Grand Theft Auto V is going to be the highest scoring Metacritic game of all time, perhaps even being the first title to hit the “100” mark and stay there. Hell, if my hypothesis is correct, they’re going to have to make an exception to the rules and allow GTAV to score higher than 100 points. Why, do you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked me that, hypothetical straw person I created so as to affect having a conversation with the people reading this blog post. See, there’s this phenomenon I’ve noticed in gaming recently, a little trend I like to call…


No, not this.
No, not this.

Shark Effect stipulates this: if a game in a series of games has sharks in it (be it in the form of actual enemies, iconography of or otherwise, just so long as the shark is not a playable character), it is automatically better than the other titles in the series, as far as review scores go. Furthermore, if multiple games in a series include sharks, the best-scoring game is going to be the one with a greater emphasis and utilization of sharks.

Take, for instance, the Far Cry series.

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Not including the various and sundry shitty spinoff titles, the lowest rated title in the main three games is Far Cry 2, with an average Metacritic score of 85. The highest is Far Cry 3, with an average Metascore of 90. Far Cry 1 is in the middle at 89, one jot below FC3. Why the disparity? Sure, one might argue that Far Cry 2 was bogged down by respawning enemies and repetitive “go there, do this” mission types, but it’s obvious to me that the real reason for these lackluster scores was FC2’s distinct lack of aquatic predators. Certainly, having a shark in the middle of the African savannah does not make a whole lot of sense, but the facts stand: FC1 had a cameo from a shark and FC3 introduced sharks as enemies, not to mention the inclusion of shark symbolism in one of the talent trees. The review scores speak for themselves.

Here’s Shark Effect’s numerical breakdown, for several still-running series (thus, no Ecco the Dolphin, etc.). The scores given are averages of the Metascores across all platforms (with the exception of Crysis, whose scores do not encompass the console releases of either main title).

One series not included in this breakdown is the Tomb Raider franchise, which is an exception to the Shark Effect rule; Underworld included sharks, but scored lower than its predecessors. I believe this is less due to Shark Effect not holding up and more due to some franchises being just too staid and broken even for sharks to save.

Far Cry

Far Cry 2 – 85 – No sharks

Far Cry – 89 – A shark

Far Cry 3 – 90 – Lots of sharks

Overall change between highest and lowest: 5 points

Just Cause

Just Cause – 72.25 – No sharks

Just Cause 2 – 82.66666 – Part of a shark

Overall change between highest and lowest: 10.416666 points


Crysis 2 – 86 – No sharks

Crysis – 91 – Lots of sharks

Overall change between highest and lowest: 5 points.

(Warhead is an exception to this rule, with a Metascore of 84 with sharks. However, since the utilization of sharks was identical to Crysis’s, this drop off can be attributed to other causes. No shark innovation, no score improvement)

Batman: Arkham (Insert Title)

Batman: Arkham Asylum – 91.333 – No sharks

Batman: Arkham City – 93.666 – A shark

Overall change between highest and lowest: 2.333 points.

Spec Ops

Spec Ops: Ranger Elite – 48 – No sharks

Spec Ops: The Line – 76.333 – A painting of a shark

Overall change between highest and lowest: 28.333 points.

This is the most drastic example of improvement, and thus an obvious outlier; it is not included in the final average.

Average Shark Effect Score Improvement:

5.69 points.

Now, I’m fairly certain Grand Theft Auto V is not going to improve on its predecessor by 6 points, placing it four points off the meter. That’s just crazy talk. It will most probably end up at about 102, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Metacritic is probably not going to completely rework their scoring policies in order to give GTAV its rightfully deserved number, so it will have to settle for a lowly 100. Ah well.

All joking aside, Grand Theft Auto V has sharks in it. A lot of games that have sharks in them are pretty damn good. Ergo, Grand Theft Auto V is going to be pretty damn good and I’m fucking pumped. Spring 2013 cannot come soon enough.

Also, hey! I wrote two blog posts in the same week! That’s fancy.

Happy New Year, everybody.


2013 Predictions

Disclaimer: I’m no analyst. Neither am I particularly skilled when it comes to writing blog post intros. So without further ado, here’s a bunch of wild-ass predictions about what’s going to happen in the world of vidja gaems in 2013.

1. Durango and Orbis (or Xbox 720 and PS4, or NeXtBox and PL4YST4TION or what have you) will both be released in the fall, approximately a month apart.

Reasoning: This is pretty much confirmed, right? I’m going to go with this being pretty much confirmed.


2. Fallout 4 will get announced with a Fall 2014 release date, either at E3 or at the Spike VGAs. It will run on an updated version of the Creation Engine, be on all next-gen platforms and will not have a scaled back version released on 360 and PS3. In terms of content, Fallout 4 is going to take place on both the East and the West coasts of the US (perhaps with a change of locations towards the middle of the main quest).

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Reasoning: The release date is a no-brainer; with Bethesda’s last two in-house games (New Vegas not included), there has been approximately a three year window between titles (early 2006 to late 2008 between Oblivion and Fallout 3, 2008 to late 2011 between Fallout 3 and Skyrim). Due to the rockstar-developer status now maintained by Bethesda Game Studios (thanks to Skyrim’s huge mainstream success), both the people running Spike and any one of the console-makers (most probably Microsoft) would jump at the chance to improve their own ratings or the sales of their hardware by pulling the guys who made Skyrim out on stage with their new game. It’s simply a question of who ponies up the most money. Going along with that, it’s in the best interest of the console makers to ensure that Bethesda limits Fallout 4 to Durango, Orbis and PCs; a title like that will sell systems like gangbusters, provided it is only available on those systems. As for the locations, Jason Bergman (the Bethesda producer who oversaw New Vegas) is quoted as hinting that the Mojave might factor into 4, and this news story details how there have potentially been Bethesda location scouts running around Massachusetts and chatting it up with MIT.


3. EA will announce and have a beta released by the end of the year for a multiplatform, fully free-to-play Mass Effect multiplayer title with social hooks, developed by a non-BioWare studio. This will not be the same title as Mass Effect 4.

Reasoning: I don’t have any numbers to point to, but I’m willing to bet a significant amount of imaginary money that the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer microtransaction supply pack initiative was quite a profitable idea. I cannot imagine it would take too many resources to spin off that style of multiplayer into its own game. While such a release would be received less than warmly by the core fan base, the money that would come in from the more casual crowd would more than make up for any sort of fan ire in the eyes of the EA suits. I actually rather hope this prediction does not end up playing out, but looking at it from EA’s standpoint, it makes an incredible amount of horrifying sense.


4. Just Cause 3 will come out in the fall, as a launch title for both the Orbis and the Durango. Rather like the first title in the series, it will be a bridge between generations and also be released on the 360 and PS3.

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Reasoning: Avalanche Studios’ 2012 holiday card bears several Just Cause-themed designs, such as an object being composed of guns (in this case, an air freshener) and the hint of Rico’s face in the rear view mirror. That, coupled with the phrases “Nearly there…” and “See you in 2013!” provides some pretty compelling evidence that Just Cause 3 will poke its head out of the quagmire of rumor and speculation and become an actuality next year. Considering the standard set by Just Cause 1, with the generational bridge, it is no great stretch of the imagination to presume that the third title in the series will do the same.


5. Grand Theft Auto V will be the swansong of this generation of consoles. Despite a few technical issues, it will garner at least a 93 on Metacritic and (with some opposition from Bioshock Infinite) will be the go-to Game of the Year across all publications and websites. It will be the second-highest selling game of the year, next to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 (which it will eventually beat in lifetime sales). Rockstar will announce a PC version during an earnings report in the fall, due out in spring 2014.

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Reasoning: The technical issues are a given; there’s no way that framerate isn’t going to be sub-30 (probably around 20) on 360 and PS3. As for the Metacritic, no in-house developed, 3D console title in the GTA series has scored below a 95. Due to the inevitable technical problems, I expect a bit of a slip in the average, but nothing too major. As for the GOTY stuff, the sales figures and the PC version, those are just hunches.


6. Watch Dogs will not come out in 2013 and it will not come out on 360 and PS3, no matter what the logos on their website say. We will see more of it at E3, but the game will not be released until 2014 and it will be on Durango, Orbis and PC only (I have no opinion regarding a Wii U version).

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Reasoning: The graphical fidelity coupled with the heavy online integration hinted at in the demo indicates to me that Ubisoft would be reluctant to release such a blockbuster new IP in a gimped format on the 360 and PS3 when far more powerful systems are just around the corner. I am no network engineer, but I feel that they would also be disinclined to develop such a heavily online game across more networking ecosystems than is necessary, and putting out versions for PS3 and 360 would not be a particularly wise allocation of resources.


7. We will FINALLY see Half Life 3, but we will not necessarily play it until 2014. It will be announced along with and released day and date with Valve’s Steambox (it might even be preinstalled on the systems).

Reasoning: It has to happen sometime, and Valve has confirmed the existence of their Steamboxes. Seems to me like a major hardware announcement is as good a time as any to unleash Codename Ricochet 2, especially if Valve is hoping to compete directly with next gen consoles. Half Life 3 is the killer app to end all killer apps.


My Top 10 Moments List for 2011

I was going to do a whole “best games of the year” series of blog posts. I really was. Then I took stock and realized that a) I hadn’t really played enough games released in 2011 to be able to write any such posts with authority and that b) I’m a lazy motherfucker. So instead of a week’s worth of posts that no one will read highlighting such things as “Best Knee-Jerk Steam Purchase” and “Why Skyrim is the Best Game Ever” I decided to do something a bit different, condensing all my various thoughts and feelings about the games I played this year into one condensed top ten list of my most memorable gaming moments of 2011. Or something like that.

A caveat: not all of the games I’m about to highlight are 2011 games, just games I played in 2011. In fact, 2011 games are in a distinct minority on this list (I’m a poor high school student. Whatcha gonna do?). 

Oh, and a final warning: SPOILERS. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

Now, without further ado….

BaneFireLord’s Top 10 Moments in Games He Played in 2011

10. ‘Splosion Man (the ending, and what happened IRL as a result)

‘Splosion Man is a pretty punishing experience. Of course, it has nothing on the whip-wielding dominatrices of Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls (more on that bitch later), but it’s still up there, maybe in more the role of a…uh…okay, my knowledge of S&M analogies has run dry. Whatever; ‘Splosion Man is still a hard game. I had long ago abandoned any hope of seeing that wacky, live action cutscene so many websites had snickered about back in ’08 outside of a YouTube video. However, one night this past summer, after finally realizing that I didn’t like Bioshock and really could care less if Andrew Ryan’s dystopia went to hell or not, I idly scrolled through my list of XBLA games and settled on ‘Splosion Man. “Well,” I said to myself, “It’s not like I have anything else to do,” and commenced playing.

A good, harrowing three hours later, I finally hit that stupid meat boss for a third time and the joy of CGI steaks was spread throughout the land of FMV. I gave a great cheer of joy and banged a fist on my desk for good measure.

Unfortunately, I had neglected to glance at the clock and was unaware that it was almost three o’clock in the morning and everyone else in my house had gone to bed a good five hours earlier. As a result, my parents were rather irritable (an understatement on the level of classifying Nome, Alaska in January as “chilly”) and more or less refused to talk to me all the next day.

But hey, that live action ‘Splosion Man was pretty funny, huh?

IT'S SO FUNNY!!!!!!!
IT'S SO FUNNY!!!!!!!

9. Left 4 Dead 2 (“Concert”)

I like zombies. I like loud rock music. I like things that are badass. Honestly, if I had to go down fighting zombies, I would choose to do it on a stage with metal blaring through loudspeakers and fireworks exploding everywhere, with me beating the bastards back till my last breath with an indestructible Les Paul. Awesome.

Well, either that or suicide bombing a crowd of the undead with a Ferrari packed to the gills with plastic explosives and blaring “Highway to Hell” over the stereo system. That would be pretty sweet.

8. Rock Band 3 (“The Beautiful People” a la falsetto)

Say what you want about the death of the rhythm genre, but damned if Rock Band isn’t one of the best party games ever, especially when a guy who is either drunk, high or a combination of both chooses to sing a Marilyn Manson song. With a falsetto. At midnight.

If I had somehow managed to record it, the film would have taken the internet by a storm and both Mr. Falsetto and I would be rich and famous. But, as it was, everyone was doing their best to not fall off their chairs laughing. Thank goodness the song failed when it did or we might have all died from oxygen deprivation.

7. Batman: Arkham City (Tiny the Shark)

When I fell into the lake of water at the museum in Batman: Arkham City I literally fell off my chair. I mean, usually whenever Batman falls into water, he just rappels out, no biggie. But this…this was different. I mean…

Who the fuck expects a giant Great White Shark to show up in the middle of a Batman game and eat you? Let me repeat that: A Great White Shark fucking eats the Batman. He EATS MOTHERFUCKING BATMAN.

Like I said, I fell off my chair.

6. Dark Souls (Killing the Taurus Demon)

I don’t like Dark Souls. I bought it to kill time until Skyrim came out and really regret my purchase. It’s not really the difficulty; I expected that. It’s more the repetition that goes along with that difficulty that overwhelmed me. Usually, I’m the kind of person who excels at repeatedly beating my head against a problem until it goes away (works every time, except in regards to getting a prom date last year). That strategy, coupled with the Drake Sword, served me rather well through the first hours of Dark Souls. However, after I died about twenty times fighting the asshole with the two dogs and the meat cleavers, I suddenly had the revelation that I wasn’t enjoying the game at all, and had in fact not been enjoying myself for about six hours. So I stopped, because I’m not autistic or a masochist: I don’t enjoy doing the same thing a million times, nor do get my jollies by having a woman in stiletto heels stomp on my STOP STOP DON’T THINK ABOUT THAT.

I have a lot of negative things I’d like to say about Dark Souls, but this isn’t the place for them. Instead, I want to talk about one of the few times in the game I legitimately enjoyed myself. This was the time I defeated the Taurus Demon, after the bastard had thrown me about like a damn tennis ball five times in a row. (Yes, I know its only the second boss)

I cleared out the two archers on the tower overlooking the bridge, timidly tip-toed up to the boss-trigger area and, the instant I heard the demon roar, turned tail and sprinted like a madman back to the relative safety of the tower. I clambered up onto the top, missing being clubbed by a hands breadth. So, there I was, looking down at the demon, knowing I had maybe ten seconds to dive attack before he bounded gleefully up to join me and rape my face. I hurriedly panned through my inventory, looking for something, anything that might give me an edge. I alighted on some substance whose effect read, in very poorly translated English, something along the lines of “lightening effect to on you’re sword.” Sounded good to me.

I applied this mysterious substance to my greatsword and was pleasantly surprised to see some nice yellow crackles along the blade. After my nasty experience with Tiny Being’s Ring and its misleading description (seriously, fuck Tiny Being’s Ring), I had half expected my character to blow up. But no, clearly there was lightening on my sword, and lightening meant damage. I sprinted to the edge and, screaming for blood, dived, sword point down, onto the head of the bull devil.

The instant the game registered the hit, three quarters of the demon’s health vanished like Batman into the maw of Tiny the Shark. Elated, I vaulted off the demon and, while he was still roaring his discomfort to the skies, swiftly stabbed him thrice in his filthy back. There was another howl, a flash of light and “YOU DEFEATED” flashed on the screen. The entire fight had lasted about 15 seconds and I emerged with no health lost.

I was ecstatic. I strode confidently across the bridge, waiting to see what other terrors I could so easily vanquish. Five minutes later, I was killed by a dragon when all I was trying to do was walk across a bridge. Sigh. 

See, why isn't this a boss fight?
See, why isn't this a boss fight?

5. Mass Effect 2 (Jacob’s Loyalty Mission)

I’m a paragon, except when being renegade just feels right. It might have been the fact that I had just finished reading Lord of the Flies (which the plot of the mission was certainly inspired by) or it might have been my own morals, but something about the circumstances surrounding Jacob’s loyalty quest  just pissed me off. Someone had to pay for all the forced mental breakdown, dammit. Anyway, when I reached the final confrontation with Jacob’s father, I decided I wanted that asshole to suffer, and suffer good. So I picked every single renegade option the game presented me with. When Jacob finally hands his dad the pistol with one shot in it and he and Shepard walk off without looking back and dad raises the gun to his temple...the catharsis and justice was so thick you could cut it with a knife. 

Pity Jacob was so boring everywhere else, but oh well.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (The last twenty seconds)

Before I played the last twenty seconds of AssCreedBro, I had never screamed at an inanimate object before. After Desmond jerkily stabs Lucy and the screen went instantly to black, that changed. Seriously, a cliffhanger is one thing, but come the fuck on! That’s just plain cruel!

3. Fallout: New Vegas (Killing Caesar)

Caesar’s Legion is a bunch of jerks. I hated them the instant I set foot in Nipton and met Vulpus Assholeus and heard his bullshit speech about “paying for their sins” and whatnot. Fortunately, I had dynamite and he didn’t.

About twenty hours of gameplay later, I was questing near Cottonwood Cove, with Boone and Rex following me.  I cleaned out the Legion scum, released the prisoners and was doing some old fashioned looting. I stepped out onto the dock to sort through the belongings of a thoroughly dismembered legionnaire who had been blown there by a frag grenade when suddenly the normally laconic Boone starts talking to me. I do not recall the exact phrasing, but I will do my best.

Boone: Hey, we can see the Fort from here. You wanna go kamikaze and kill that Caesar sonuvabitch?

Me: Hell yes I do!

So a disillusioned sniper, a cyborg dog and a courier with a grenade launcher, a duster and an awesome mustache all clamber into a boat and go storm the Legion stronghold. No punchline. After plowing our way through the legion encampment like an 18-wheeler through a Toyotathon, we burst into Caesar’s tent. Immediately, approximately ten bajillion legionnaires appear out of various nooks and crannies in a hopeless attempt to protect their fearless leader. Three shots with a grenade launcher later, all ten bajillion legionnaires have magically transformed into ten quadribajillion lumps of unidentifiable meat.

Then Caesar, apparently unfazed by this Holocaust, decides to try his hand at killing a juggernaut, moi. As he jerkily stands and walks toward me, I switch to a sawed off shotgun and plug all my AP into a headshot. It was the most glorious slow motion explosion of brains, eyes and jawbones I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a Fallout game.

Then, of course, I still had to go save Hoover Dam because apparently Caesar’s Legion is an invincible zombie snake that doesn’t notice when you cut its head off. But whatever: don’t care; had justice. 

 Where the hell did they find all the Roman clothes, anyway?
 Where the hell did they find all the Roman clothes, anyway?

2. Portal 2 (“The Part Where He Kills You”)

Portal 2 is full of memorable moments, from the opening brain damage musings of Wheatly to the utterly unexpected moon shot. However, what really takes the cake (rim shot) is the “The Part Where He Kills You” title card. It is one of the most ingenious, hilarious sequences in anything ever. I cannot explain it effectively, so just watch it (0:55). Actually, don’t, if you haven’t already seen it, because you should be playing Portal 2 right now and not reading all these spoilers. BAD!


 1.  Skyrim (Too many to count)

There are far, far too many amazing things that happened to me in Skyrim to pick just one. So I’ll pick several!

First, killing the Gourmet. The guy’s last words were so acquiescing and hilarious, made even more so by my character’s slow motion jump/chest stab finishing movie. “Oh dear, you’re going to kill me aren’t you?” Yup. You’re dead, buddy. 

Secondly, the Dark Brotherhood quest line. I almost wish someone would make a big budget movie based on it. Certainly, it’s not as good as Oblivion’s line, but what is, really? I loved all the characters and situations, especially the little chat you have with the Emperor. “I know you have to do this, but could you do me a favor and destroy that son of a bitch who paid you?” Best last request ever. But, actually, the most amazing part of the whole quest line was the very, very end. Everyone’s settled into the new Sanctuary, the Night Mother’s telling me to kill again and everything’s perfect. I walk out of the Sanctuary, jump on Shadowmere and ride off into a blizzard, playing “Believe” by the Bravery on my computer and doing slow motion pans around my guy. It was legit. No, I swear. You had to have been there.

Finally, and perhaps most prominent, was the last dungeon before the portal to Sovngarde. I emerged on the top level of the cairn or whatever it was and was dive bombed by three dragons at once. I ran. I fucking booked it to the portal. I almost made it, too…but then one of the dragons decided to land right in front of me. So I decided “Hey! I’m the Dragonborn! I’m going to mess these guys up!” I equipped the Mace of Molag Bal and my flawless Dragonbane, shouted the max Storm Call and went to town, with lightning flashing everywhere and dragons swooping all over the place. Two minutes later, all three dragons, plus about a dozen draugr, were dead at my feet. It was the most epic battle I had had in the entire game, perhaps any game. It’s just a shame how anticlimactic the fight against Alduin was in contrast.

Because that's how we do things
Because that's how we do things

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! I hope you enjoyed yourself! If you’ve skipped to this part because tl;dr, screw you! (not really…I’d probably have done the same).

Happy New Year, duders.



Steam sales, iOS games, kneejerk buys and my ever-growing backlog

*WARNING: This is pretty rambly. Read at your own risk.* 
So how about these Steam summer camp sales, huh? Look at all this stuff! As I'm writing this,   I could buy the complete Half-Life collection for ten bucks, Bad Company 2 for five bucks, both Bioshock games for ten bucks, the complete Valve catalog for 50 bucks, Magicka for three bucks and I could keep listing stuff all day, couldn't I? Oh look, a Facebook update bleeping noise on my iPod Touch. Let's take a look. Okay, no, I don't care that Jane Doe got a DUI driving back from a pre-pre-Fourth of July party, why did Fred think that was something he should message me about? Oh well, while I'm here I might as well check the app store. Hell, I have to update Game Center anyway. Oh look, Angry Birds, 99 cents. Already got that, okay, whatever. Oh, Transformers Dark of the Moon (or, to be more precise, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON: EA'S MOBILE DIVISION NEEDS A NEW CAPS LOCK KEY EDITION)...99 cents. Cars 2, 99 cents. Angry Birds Seasons, 99 cents. Fruit Ninja, 99 cents. Tiny Wings, 99 cents, Dungeon Hunter 2 99 cents,Tertris,99cents,Cuttherope99centssims399cents99cents99CENTS 99CENTS 99CENTS. LOOK AT WHAT A STEAL ALL THESE ASSUREDLY FANTASTIC GAMES ARE BUY BUY BUY. 

 Okay, that might have been a slight exaggeration. The only game I've bought from the Steam sale so far is Knights of the Old Republic (fingers crossed for Two Worlds II) and the only iOS games I've bought in the last few days were Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars and Dungeon Hunter 2. But the point I'm trying to make is how digital distribution platforms are completely changing the gaming market. Kneejerk purchases are much easier to make when all it takes is three button presses or screen taps and the entry of a password, from the comfort of your computer chair, couch, bed, sex dungeon or whatever other place you have a laptop or iPhone on hand. No chance to have second thoughts making the long walk from the game section of the Wal-Mart to the checkout, no input from model citizens about why Aliens vs. Predator isn't a good buy, none of that. It's just you, your credit card and the Steam shopping cart. And the prices! Good lord, those fabulous prices! iOS games barely ever run above ten dollars for experiences that are, at times, superior to full-fledged console titles (I heartily recommend The Battle for Wesnoth to anyone with a penchant for turn based strategy and RPGs. Free on PC, less than five bucks on iOS for hundreds of hours of gameplay). Steam's daily, midweek, weekend and holiday sales, in addition to their no-tax policy, has turned the platform into the only place I buy PC games now. It's so cheap and easy.   And herein is my problem
 The low prices and the ease of purchasing games has greatly affected my gaming habits. It used to be that I would put tons of hours into every single game I would buy, savoring every last aspect of it, as my small allowance only really allowed me a game a month or so. But now, with more money coming into my pockets and the advent of faster internet and these digital platforms, that's all changed. My backlog stretches behind me like the tail of a comet (okay, dumb simile. Tail of a dragon? Mantle of a god king? Screw it), full of games that I'll, in all probability, never play again, never have the time to put hundreds of hours into. Why and when did I buy Medieval II? Why the hell do I have STALKER sitting on my desktop? What is this Aralon HD and why is it in my iPod games folder?  
They say goldfish have a three second attention span (that's what the first Google result says, so I'm going to go with that. Icthyologists can suck it up). Now, I'm not going to go saying I have a three second attention span (look! a bunny!), because I actually have a very long attention span (I wrote this long-ass thing, after all) compared to a lot of people I know. But with games I have a very selective attention span. I'll pay for something generally considered amazing, play  for half an hour and then never play it again. Conversely, I'll pay for something somewhat mediocre and then play it for dozens of hours. It's probably telling that when I set up my replacement Xbox yesterday, I didn't play the unopened copy of Bioshock sitting in my drawer, nor did I play Fallout 3 or Dragon Age. I played Just Cause 2, a game I've already played close to hundred hours of.  
So, actually, nothing really has changed in the way I consume games. I still do savor and play certain games for far longer than any sane person would. It's just that now the digital platforms have made it easy for me to buy things out of sheer impulse. It's easier to buy and easier to ignore a game when its nothing more than a folder of gigabytes on a hard drive than when its a box on my shelf.  
Oh, look, the Steam sale has rolled over. Let's see what today has to offer. Ooh, the entire Assassin's Creed collection for less than 30 bucks. Tempting. Torchlight for only three bucks? It's a fucking STEAL! Oh wait, I already have that, right, maybe I should actually play it sometime. Tropico 3 Gold Edition? For only 4.99? Good lord, it's like Christmas! Hang on. TWO WORLDS II FOR $17? I will probably play you for slightly less than an hour! What a DEAL! Shut up and take my money, Valve! 
BaneFireLord out.

Crysis 2 Xbox 360 Demo Impressions

*NOTE: This is coming from someone who never played the original Crysis or Warhead.*
I've never been much good at or even fond of FPSs, and yet I was completely blown away by the gameplay videos of Crysis 2 from the various gaming trade shows. However, after seeing Giant Bomb's quick look at the multiplayer 360 demo, my expectations were somewhat sullied. Nevertheless, I downloaded the Xbox 360 demo, to make my own judgments. After 3-4 hours of playing, I've pretty solidly decided not to pick up the full game.
The first impression you have of Crysis 2's demo is the absolutely wonderfully intense score over the loading screen and the main menu. The music is, frankly, superb, befitting of a blockbuster action or sci-fi film. I would buy the soundtrack for this game based solely on the loading screen music. But then  the actual game started.
I instantly saw what the developers were trying to do: meld the Call of Duty run-and-gun class based gameplay with Halo 3-like power ups (and I mean exactly Halo 3 power-ups: stealth and enhanced armor is it in the demo) and sci-fi trappings. If this game had been released on consoles two years ago, it would have been a lot more impressive. However, after the advent of Halo: Reach and Modern Warfare 2, the game feels too middle of the road and too generic to really please.
Gameplay-wise, the game feels really heavy. If Call of Duty movement is a fast, stop-on-a-dime Porsche, Crysis 2 is a school bus. While the parkhour (I totally misspelled that) traversal is kind of cool, it still feels really clunky. The guns are slow and don't feel powerful at all, especially considering little damage any non-head shots deal. I'm not very good at shooters, but when shooting a guy three times in the chest with a sniper rifle doesn't bring him down, but shooting a guy once in his armored head with a pistol does, there's something effed up. 
The nanosuit abilities do add a certain amount of strategic depth to the game. Deciding when to activate armor or stealth is an interesting dynamic. An odd developer choice is having sprinting and jumping sap the same energy pool as the stealth and armor do. I can see why it was done (running and jumping invisible  soldiers=balancing issues), but it still seems a bit odd. 
It also seems strange in the heyday of Modern Warfare and Black Ops for big-budget shooter to only have three uncustomizable kill streak bonuses. While I expect there to be more in the final game, it's not a great first impression for today's COD crowd. However, even if there are more, the implementation in general is very poor. It almost feels like it was shoehorned in to try and put a check mark on the back of the box. The way the killstreaks are achieved is also weird. It's not based simply on kills, it's based on collecting dog tags from the people you kill which, in an intense fire fight, can sometimes be annoying.
The graphics for this game are a mixed bag. While more often than not Crysis 2 looks gorgeous, it suffers from a nasty case of Mass Effect 1-itis, that is, texture pop-in. Every time I would spawn, it would take several seconds for my gun texture and the surrounding metallic and plastic textures to resolve themselves. For a company that prides themselves on excellent graphics, this is kind of odd. There's no point in pushing console graphics boundaries when the suspension of disbelief is ruined every time you re-spawn and have to watch the engine re-skin everything. 
Although hopefully only a problem with the demo, I had a number of lag, connection and server issues in my time playing. Matchmaking times ran anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and at least twice I had a connection break the instant the match started, as well as several server switches mid-game. While this might be more of a problem with my home network, there have been a number of similar complaints around the Internet.
Unless the single player is incredibly good, Crysis 2 on the consoles is not worth it. As this is Crytek, this would be a far better game to play on the PC anyway, both for graphical and control purposes. Invest your console shooter money elsewhere.


My top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2011

10. Homefront
Intrigued by the premise and it looks like it could make for some cool set pieces. I have a nasty feeling its going to tank, though.
9. Rage (assumption of 11)
I like the premise quite a bit and anything even vaguely open world (particularly first-person open world) is damn sweet.
8. Dragon Age 2
I've only played about three hours of DA:O (getting Ultimate Edition for Christmas, though!), but I've super enjoyed what I've seen so far. DA2 looks like its taking it in a very different direction and I'm very intrigued. 
7. Mass Effect 3
The Earth setting is going to be awesome, but I need to beat 1 and 2 first.
6. Brink
Seriously digging the art style and the fluidity of  movement.
4. Diablo III (assumption of 11)  
I do love me some action role playing games. Diablo III looks fantastic thus far and I'll pick it up day one, provided I have my new computer by then
5. . LA Noire
Rockstar is one of the best developers in the field. I'm hoping for very good things. Love the detective premise, too, a nice change from the criminal/bad guy norm of GTA, Red Dead and Manhunt.
3. Crysis 2
 I'm not generally a fan of shooters, but this looks AMAZING. I'm completely psyched to see CryEngine 3 on the consoles, too.
2. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham Asylum was my favorite game of 2009 and probably my second favorite game ever. Knock my socks off, Rocksteady. 
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It's going to get delayed. I know that, and I accept that. But Oblivion was a completely life changing experience for me, the game that triggered my gaming career. Skyrim is going to be amazing and mindblowing and I will lose another 300 hours of my life. But it will be WORTH IT.

Bite-Sized Reviews, January through November, 2010

I'll probably roll these out every couple months, reflecting on the games I've spent significant amounts of time playing (IE, at least 10 hours) in the past 6-8 months or so.
Red Dead Redemption
Great story, great atmosphere, great humor, great gunplay, fantastic all around.
World of Warcraft
My prepaid card lapsed and I'm not sure if I'm going to renew it. Fun in small doses, but without some sort of overarching story funneling you forward, it got boring really fast.
Halo Reach
Firefight: awesome. Campaign: pain in the ass. Online: It's Halo again.
Assassin's Creed
Fun movement and super intriguing story.
Assassin's Creed II
Just as fun as the first game, but prettier. Story's become a little too bat-shit crazy.
Just Cause 2
Utter disregard for the laws of physics, terrible story, terrible voice acting, broken targeting...but most pure fun I've had all year.
Mass Effect
Story: brilliant. Characters: brilliant. Universe: Brilliant. Gameplay: Clunky as FUCK (but still fun).
Chrono Trigger (DS)
Well made, good story. Gameplay: not my thing, but I can see the appeal. 
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Surprisingly fun and looks great for a DS game. Combat: Button mashy, but satisfying. Spellcasting: super annoying.
Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker
Entertaining, cool story, combat is a little too clunky in places and there are a few too many unnecessary gameplay mechanics in place, making it feel sometimes cluttered.
LOTR: Conquest
Just flat out terrible. Combat is shallow and repetitive. Enemies can too easily pull off unstoppable combos. Battlefields are dull. Hero units and vehicle creatures can be fun, but can't save this game. Bad use of a license, terrible Star Wars: Battlefront ripoff.


Elder Scrolls V hopes and dreams.

By now I expect this news story has become common knowledge. Provided it isn't an MMO, I'm totally  stoked. I've put about a solid week's worth of hours into Oblivion and roughly the same into Morrowind. In my eyes, Oblivion was a damned masterpiece. But there are a TON of things to improve upon.

Things that need improvement:

1. Good Story
Oblivion's story was objectively terrible. Everyone accepts that. It was the usual, cut-and-dry, every cliche in the book fantasy tale. If Bethesda was smart about this, they would bring over the writers from Obsidian to write a decent goddam story for once.
2. New engine, or seriously overhaul the current one
Gamebryo is buggy, and is getting buggier. Look at New Vegas. But even back with Oblivion, there were a myriad of problems and glitches (floating paintbrushes, anyone?). While some of those bugs were hell of fun, it's probably time to either switch to a fancy new engine or overhaul the shit out of Gamebryo. It's 2010, Bethesda!
3. Mounted Combat
This was a big pain in the ass in Oblivion: you're riding through the forest, and suddenly a bear jumps you. In order to fight the bear, you have to get off your horse. Whilst you're fighting the bear, god knows where your stupid animal decided to run off to. What's the point of being able to use bows and shoot fireballs from your fingers when you can't do it from a horse? Aren't you supposed to be some sort of badass savior of the realm? I can one-hit demons, but I can't shoot an arrow when I'm sitting on a horse. Something needs to be done.
4. Gimme dat old Morrowind flava...
There were a lot of improvements over Morrowind in Oblivion, but there were also some not-so-great changes, too. Because Cyrodiil is landlocked, there is no flight. There are no werewolves outside of mods. There is barely any difference in terrain across the entire province. There is no interplay between the various factions. The list goes on and on.
5. Balance, balance, balance
Yes, Oblivion is a single-player game. And yes, it is unbalanced as fuck. Invisibility alone completely breaks the concept of stealth. What's the point in having a security skill when there is an easily obtainable item (Skeleton Key) that renders it completely worthless? Why are the guards psychic? Come on... 
6. NO Oblivion Gates/Equivalents
This was a TERRIBLE idea, and the main reason I've never completely finished the main quest. It's fun the first two to three times, but then...urg. For a game with so much variety elsewhere, having your main story be a bunch of stupid dungeon runs is really, really bad for business. Don't do it again. I don't want to pop in Elder Scrolls V and be told that I have to go into 50 identical dungeons to find 50 identical pieces of gemstone to save the universe. I'd rather let the universe die.
7. More Varieties of Dungeon
The dungeons of Oblivion are fairly fun. There's cool loot, creatures to fight and chests to open. Unfortunately, about 80% of their layouts and interior design are identical. Take all the time you need, Bethesda, but just give me some different textures than Int. Gloomy Dungeon and Int. Gloomy Mine.
8. Nicer Looking People
I don't want Guild Wars-style "Everyone's a fucking supermodel!"   but I don't want World's Ugliest Humans either, which is what Oblivion gave us. Find a nice middle ground, if you please. 
*NOTE*: I am aware that there are mods for Oblivion that fix a number of these issues, but that's not the same as having the developer be smart about it to begin with.

Top 5 MIAs From E3

So, E3 is over, pretty much. It was a decent show, in my opinion. Not as mindblowingly awesome as last year, a billion times better than the year before. However, no matter how  enamored or bored you were by E3, there were a number of notable absences from the show. Here are my top five: 
6. Elder Scrolls V  
Okay, so I lied. Top 6.  Until I hear an announcement, or even a convincing rumor, I will bitch about this until the cows come home.  Bethesda's making Fallout: New Vegas, Interplay is making the Fallout MMO, they've already practically confirmed Fallout 4...where the hell is the next Elder Scrolls? I'm not one for the post-apocalyptic sterile wastes of Washington D.C. or gun based RPGs...give me a sword and sorcery yarn any day. 
5. Beyond Good and Evil 2 
Beyond Good and Evil was a critical darling, but a commercial fail, largely due to some major marketing mistakes. When a  trailer for BGE2 was leaked two years ago, fans had nerdgasms...and then it dropped off the face of the planet. Two years have come and gone and...nothing has shown up. What the hell, Ubisoft? 
4. Max Payne 3  
Last we heard from old Max was the delay announcement coupled together with Rockstar's earning reports for May. No demos or anything showed up at E3. Seems a little odd.  
 3.  Legitimate Red Dead DLC (None of this co-op stuff)
I know, it's way too early for this. However, I was hoping for at least an official platform announcement for  Lost and Drunk: The Wacky Adventures of Irish. 
2. Bungie's Mystery Activision Project 
A name? A general concept? A tentative 2013 release date? Something? Oh, wait, Activision didn't really do much at E3, did they, aside from their damn party. FAIL! 
1. Arkham Asylum 2 
We've seen the awesome teaser trailer. I was completely convinced we were going to have a full trailer this time. But nope, not a word from Warner Bros. or Rocksteady. Damn. This really made me disappointed.