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Hotline Miami is a Masterpiece: Part 3

I'm sorry this one's taken so long. Between picking up more work and school kicking into high gear, I really haven't had the time. Because it's now been more than a month since the launch of the game, I figure most of you have already finished and seen the "true ending" so I'll just be talking about it as if you already know instead of explaining as I go like in the last couple parts.

Facelessness encourages the player to project himself onto the character

One of the things that works really well in Hotline Miami is how quickly you (the player) slip into "being" the character. I mentioned this in Part 2 a little, noting that silent protagonists always encourage player projection. As soon as a character opens his mouth, he becomes his own character. Mass Effect did this with Shepard. Though the player had a huge amount of choice of how Shepard would react, his words were his own. This essentially puts Nolan North between the player and his/her character.

Yet another example of how the late-80s art style works, the fact that you never see your own face thanks to the top-down point-of-view also encourages this player projection.

Although the protagonist certainly seems to have his own vibe, the player is left to interpret his actions and rationalize them in a way that makes sense to him. Why does he rescue the girl? Why does he live in such a grungy apartment? What did he do for a living before he killed people? All these things are up to you, and you're very likely to play them close to the heart, even if only out of habit.

This is interesting in itself, but nothing new. What is new is how this applies to the violence of the game. It seems you leave a bloody trail wherever you walk, and until you get used to that, it is a little unnerving. That squeamish feeling is brought on by this projection of the self onto the character. The slimmer that disconnect, the easier it is to feel how the character feels.

Drugs are all around but nobody's using them

Miami in the late 80s was a blow-fuelled gangland, and it's no coincidence this game happens to take place exactly then. Throughout the game, you see a lot of needles and mysterious white powders, but you never actually see any characters using them actively. This may just be because of the minimalist storytelling style, but it also elegantly implies something else: that everyone is using them.

The breakneck pace of the game backs this up, as well as the AI. The game tells you "Tip: Enemies are predictable" in the loading screen. Alex's review mentions this: though the AI is simple, the speed of the game gives it a very humanly dynamic feel. What this all amounts to is the semblance of a bunch of heavily-armed men all acting entirely on visceral instinct. The flashing background and constantly-rotating screen tell you one thing: you're probably the most coked-up of everyone.

By doing it this way, Dennaton has simultaneously kept the focus off the drugs, and pulled no punches by hiding them in plain sight.


Notice the boxes of rubber masks in the top-left corner. These really are the guys behind the calls.
Notice the boxes of rubber masks in the top-left corner. These really are the guys behind the calls.

Early on in the game, you're told you're fighting the Russian Mafia. The classic boogeyman of the 80s makes perfect sense for this game. When the ending reveals that the people behind the phone calls are trying to affect how the country goes by killing of foreigners, it's hardly a surprise.

When you take a step back from the game though, you see some political commentary: the boogeyman has changed, but the attitude hasn't. Shooting Russians in the 80s was the status quo for most action films from the West, from James Bond to Bruce Willis. Take a look at what we're shooting in modern action films and games: Arabs. Recent Call of Duty games have mostly been set in the Middle East, as have more thoughtful (though not necessarily any less violent) games like Spec Ops: The Line.

It's important to remember that this game was made in Sweden, not in the States. Meta-analysis always has a different flavour than analysis coming from somewhere else, and Hotline really hits the nail on the head for having been developed outside the continent.

One neat loose end left in the game is the implication that you haven't stopped the movement, even if you killed the two people behind the calls. When you're abducted to the dirty apartment, there are three people in masks talking to you. Though you kill two people at the underground phone centre, there's still a third one out there somewhere. And that's assuming those two were two of the masked abductors: there could be even more of them.

Games as art

I wrote to Jonatan, one of the two guys behind the game, and he told me "Joining a studio sounds like it would mean giving up some of my creative freedom, which I don't want to do." If you've played any of his earlier games (he's also well known as "Cactus" or "Cactusquid" and has been making small games, quietly releasing them for years, and has built a small but loyal following) you'll know some of them can be quite abstract. Hotline Miami is first a piece of art and a game second. Every piece is integral to every other piece, and it all fits together so nicely it's hard to imagine it any other way.


Hotline Miami is a Masterpiece: Part 2

Note: this article's a bit of a pictorial in order to give people who haven't played the game a good idea of what is going on, as well as to make sure everyone who has played didn't miss any of the clues I'm talking about. Part 3 will be more text and fewer pictures, I promise. The main body of text can be found at the bottom, under all the pictures. Also NB that this article is chock-full of spoilers.

Well, I did it. I finished the game, got most of the masks, and saw the extra content on YouTube (I'd rather replay without having to hunt down little tokens). She's a doozy alright, but let me catch you up on the first half of the ending: the psychological thriller and twist.

You're slowly going crazy

As I said in Part 1, the game is unforgivingly violent and it takes some getting used to. Especially since at first you're not sure who it is you're killing. After you clear one building, the phone on the 3rd floor starts ringing and you pick it up.

You're called away to the second half of the mission. You don't go home yet.
You're called away to the second half of the mission. You don't go home yet.
You're instead sent to another building. But when you get there, everyone is already dead. And they aren't dressed like regular enemies.
You're instead sent to another building. But when you get there, everyone is already dead. And they aren't dressed like regular enemies.
You go upstairs and find the asshole responsible.
You go upstairs and find the asshole responsible.
He comes at you with a knife, but you beat him to death with a conveniently-nearby set of golf clubs.
He comes at you with a knife, but you beat him to death with a conveniently-nearby set of golf clubs.
After that you suddenly start seeing corpses.
After that you suddenly start seeing corpses.
And all hell breaks loose.
And all hell breaks loose.
You get another visit from the mysterious threesome. They tell you that
You get another visit from the mysterious threesome. They tell you that "nothing you do from here on in matters."
And after your next job the man behind the counter doesn't know you.
And after your next job the man behind the counter doesn't know you.
You start seeing dead people in your own apartment. You carry on.
You start seeing dead people in your own apartment. You carry on.
You get a visit from a man in a rat mask. He's here to kill you. And he does.
You get a visit from a man in a rat mask. He's here to kill you. And he does.
You wake up in the hospital. Big surprise: you're a prime suspect in a big murder investigation.
You wake up in the hospital. Big surprise: you're a prime suspect in a big murder investigation.
You shoot up the entire three-floor police HQ and take the keys off the dead Chief just to see a prisoner who is the other suspect. He tells you where to find the people who've been making the phone calls.
You shoot up the entire three-floor police HQ and take the keys off the dead Chief just to see a prisoner who is the other suspect. He tells you where to find the people who've been making the phone calls.
The documents reveal that you've been mostly killing Russian mobsters, and that the phone calls have been traced to a club downtown. You go to kill the club owner. Turns out he's a Russian mob boss.
The documents reveal that you've been mostly killing Russian mobsters, and that the phone calls have been traced to a club downtown. You go to kill the club owner. Turns out he's a Russian mob boss.
You go upstairs to find the boss's father. He says
You go upstairs to find the boss's father. He says "I've done so many terrible things... nothing seems to matter anymore, does it?" You kill him then go for a smoke on the balcony. The credits roll.
But it's not over. The clock rewinds two months and Part Five starts with you now playing as the biker you killed at Phone Hom. Unlike the protagonist, he speaks.
But it's not over. The clock rewinds two months and Part Five starts with you now playing as the biker you killed at Phone Hom. Unlike the protagonist, he speaks.
You shake down a few people who eventually tell you to go to Phone Hom. You can probably guess how that one will end.
You shake down a few people who eventually tell you to go to Phone Hom. You can probably guess how that one will end.

That's enough to digest for now. I've skipped a few steps in the story, but you've now got all the main beats up to near the end. I'll leave the very end to Part 3, but let's take a look at all that happened here. There's something quite interesting going on in how the gameplay evolves to perfectly match the tone of the story.

First off, your worst fears come true when your character starts going more and more insane. As you unlock more weapons and masks, your kills also get faster and more brutal. By the time you make your assault on the police station, you've probably unlocked some of the better masks, giving you superhuman powers to kill with any thrown object, or move even faster than normal. Using these powers you're an unstoppable force, and as one that doesn't speak the player is left guessing how much sanity there is left. This is very effective in preserving the dark tone in the later levels as the game becomes more outlandish, as well as keeping it edgy and uncomfortable as the player gets used to all the violence in the game.

Nobody knows you

A crucial turning point comes when the shopkeepers stop all being that one same "friend" of yours. Until this point, the quiet visits to collect your payment[1] have been a welcome break from the intensity of the missions themselves. The camera moves slower, the music is pleasant, and the man behind the counter knows you. All is still well. As soon as this is removed, the player is given no quarter as their character descends into cold madness. Every mission until your eventual triumph over the Russian Mob is a sick revenge fantasy that's both engaging and repulsive.

I'm not going to give away the end quite yet, but know there's another twist coming. As you've guessed from what our motorcyclist friend is discovering, it's not just the Russian Mob behind the calls. Stick around for Part 3 sometime this week.

[1] I'm thinking that in your "payment" is also a new rubber mask-- this would tie in well with how you unlock a new mask at the end of each level.


Hotline Miami is a Masterpiece: Part 1

At this point I'm about six or seven hours into Hotline Miami. I've got nearly half the masks, and I'm two or three levels from the end. Since the end of the prologue though, I've known this game was something special. From my first encounter with the masked trio in a trashed apartment, I knew this game had bite. It begins with you, the everyman suddenly turned contract killer, taking not-so-subtle phone messages letting you know where to hit. You go in, you kill everyone, you go out. Simple. Oh, and you wear a rubber mask.

On the gameplay side, these masks can give you special boosts depending on which one you choose, ranging from the gruesome "start with a drill" (3600 points for a drill takedown-- this game is brutal), to the life-saving "survive one bullet", to the tactical "silent gunshots". Though the art style is a simple, pixelly top-down throwback, this game doesn't hesitate to slap on the gore. I am in awe of whoever did all the pixel art because it is fabulous. The occasional effect combined with a camera that rotates slightly when the action heats up and a background that flashes neon colours whenever you score a kill cement this sense of speed and panicked aggression. Simply through the art style, we know from the get-go that even if the protagonist is only killing Russian Mafia members, he's definitely not one of the good guys.

Richard's come to see you.

After every job, you head to some sort of business, where the same man in a different uniform will be behind the desk and welcome you and quietly direct you to an object containing what the player is left to assume to be payment. It's not explained how you know to go to these places. In the fourth or fifth mission, you rescue a woman who then begins to live in your apartment with you. You start to root for your character a little because he now seems a little more human. But then Part 1 ends and 2 begins with another visit/kidnapping in the dingy apartment. The masked trio give you a series of questions to ask yourself, the first being "Do you like hurting people?" Without responding, your character leaves and continues his work. You're left to wonder what sort of man your character is becoming.

This mysterious approach to telling the story is brilliant in a video game. The silent protagonist trope always encourages the player to project themselves onto the character. However, giving the player such a narrow view of the character's life also establishes a persona that the player him/herself then adopts. That's the best way I can describe it, anyway. There are countless little things that encourage this sort of immersion, these are just a few examples. This is the first time since Beyond Good & Evil that I've truly been interested by a video game world or story, and it's because it's told so well.

I have yet to see how it ends, and I've heard there are multiple endings, so expect another post soon on how that goes. I've tried to keep this one mostly spoiler-free, giving only minor hints to actual story content, but the next one's definitely going to tell some of the stuff that comes beyond level 4. Stay tuned.

Oh, and by the way it's only ten bucks on Steam. Do yourself a favour and buy it and play a few levels before my next post.


DogCostume: Borderlands 2, Battlefield 3, Torchlight II & more

I was going to write a serious, relevant title for this blog, but when I clicked on the title field, the only suggestion that came up was "DogCostume". No spaces, with capital-C-Costume. When did I ever write anything about dogs, or costumes? Why would my computer think that would be something I'd want to write? I have so many questions about how and why and very close to zero answers.

Anyways, the last few months have been interesting in gaming. I injured myself at work and was stuck at home for much of July and all of August, and I managed to rack up more than 80 hours of a wonderful free-to-play game called Blacklight: Retribution. The Steam store page for it attributes the following quote to a Romanian site and although I couldn't actually find the citation in the original article, I'm inclined to agree with it.

"The matter is simple – the game is free to play and, if you take my word for it, an excellent shooter. In a perfect world, it would knock the CoD series on its ass."

Everything in Blacklight just feels right. The shooting is perfect, the action well-paced, and although by this point they're just using the term "beta" to cover their asses whenever the game glitches, it still feels like a full game, and it looks amazing. It even uses DirectX 11, which ain't too shabby for a free-to-play game.

Yes, that is me in first with 21 kills and 3 deaths. Look for me online -- CAPlugsEC32
Yes, that is me in first with 21 kills and 3 deaths. Look for me online -- CAPlugsEC32

The gun customization options are totally nuts, too. If you find your assault rifle isn't quite accurate enough, you can change a few parts around and make it so. Although most of the "pros" tend to just go for max damage, I've seen quite a few people dominate with builds geared towards stealth, range, suppression, or accuracy. It also helps that every gun template feels very unique.

Diablo III also came out sometime a while ago. It was a disappointment. Who thought not allowing the player to build their own character was a good idea? Who thought Inferno mode would actually be fun? I have few friends who actually played anything past the second difficulty. Oh well. At least one buddy found a ring worth over $300 real-world-dollars. Too bad he didn't think to sell it for real money and instead is now sitting on millions and millions of gold coins.

It's a good thing D3 sucked though, since it made talking my friends into pooling money for a Torchlight II 4-pack that much easier. Though I never finished the original (instead of playing through end-to-end once, I got about a quarter of the way with the fighter, halfway with the rogue, and a few floors from the very end with the mage), I loved it to bits. Until TL2 came out, it was my favourite action-RPG (yes, I even like it better than Diablo II, at least solo). One of my buddies was really impressed when I told him he could send his pet back to town not only to sell things, but to buy potions as well.

One of the greatest design choices in TL2 is to give the player access to higher-level equipment right away. I was level 6 and being regularly fed level 10+ gear. The gear also has alternative stat requirements that can be used to bypass the level requirements, allowing you to wear that sick level 15 helmet at level 10 as long as you meet the strength or dexterity requirement. Coupled with how the game doesn't force you into one class of weapon, it really opens the game up in a way that D3 was very closed. It keeps you excited about the loot that's coming your way.

Unfortunately, I just haven't had the time to co-ordinate game time with my friends. Just like Torchlight II, Borderlands 2 has had less than 10 hours of play so far, even though I've had it since launch. The game feels great, though. I played all of the original and dabbled in the DLC (the only one I really played to the end was Dr. Ned), and Borderlands 2 is more of a good thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it right? I've also been holding off on the game because my GTX 550 Ti is off being repaired (tip: if you don't have the best airflow in your case, don't buy a video card with a cheap fan) and I'm stuck with my trusty old Radeon 3850 from 2006. I'm honestly surprised how well it runs -- when I need to replace the 550, I'm definitely going back to ATI.

Finally, just two days ago I finally got Battlefield 3 (which I also have to run on the lowest settings on the Radeon -- come on, ZOTAC, ship me my card back!) which is just as much fun as Blacklight without being as tight or satisfying to play. The inaccuracy of the guns actually adds to the realism: even the snipers don't shoot perfectly straight. Once I get a steadier framerate, I think I'll get better, but even now I'm doing alright in multiplayer and having a blast. The "Premium Edition" is also totally worth it: I have more content than I know what to do with.

And if you're like me and you were holding off on BF3 because you loved Bad Company 2 and can't imagine how it would get better, go pick up 3. It really is better, but I can't really tell why. Everything just moves and feels a little smoother.

I'm also eagerly awaiting X-COM Enemy Unknown and Dishonored, both of which launch tomorrow (yikes! I don't have the money to buy them!). For all the UFO games launched since 1993, the original was still the most fun for me. Either that, or the fan-made remake that came out some five years ago -- anyone else remember that one?


Nothing is Wrong with Mass Effect 3's Ending

I played to the end of Mass Effect 3 last night, mostly to understand what all the hubub was about. A friend of mine was raving about how it made no sense, about how it was "total garbage," etc. I thought it was fine. I liked it. It turned out pretty much exactly how I knew it was going to. There are a few plotholes, but nowhere near as many as most people are complaining about.

Note that from here on in are some enormous spoilers.

The "twist" at the end (if you can call it that; everything in the game pointed to it) was hardly unexpected. So the Reapers built the Citadel and the Mass Relays. I think we were told that in ME2 if we followed a certain dialogue sequence with someone or another. The Crucible is more or less reverse-engineered Reaper tech, turning the Relays against them. Okay.

Most of the "plotholes" can either be explained or chalked up to "video game magic". Don't tell me Mass Effect can't have video game magic, because that's exactly how the titular "Mass Effect" works. Even if you somehow decrease the mass of an object until it has negative mass, the speed of light remains the same. Eezo doesn't change the laws of physics.

For example, my friend asked me, when I told him it all made sense, how did Joker get all the team away from Earth in time to avoid the explosion? Video game magic. How did I have time to talk leisurely with my entire team before firing off missiles into the Reaper guarding the beam up to the Citadel? Video game magic. How do I always seem to stumble upon Cerberus attacks at just the right time, even if I spent what must equate to several in-game days flying all over doing other things? Video game magic. It's part of the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy these games.

There's the big issue of everyone rebuilding, of all the fleets stuck on war-ravaged Earth and not having enough food. If you brought the Quarians along, they're not even carbon-based life forms so they can't eat Earth food. The answer is that yes, some people will starve, and yes, the Quarians will have a tough time of it. But the Quarians have been growing their own food on ships out in space for centuries. They'll be okay. And Earth may be a bit scorched, but the Reapers weren't exactly destroying farmland to try to starve us humans to death. I'm sure that most of the underpopulated agricultural land on Earth is still just fine.

When Shepard got blasted by the laser, I thought he was dead. It seemed to tear everyone else to bits, after all. Whether or not he actually gets up afterwards is open to interpretation, but I think he did. This is made a little funny by the fact that he's wearing his N7 armour even if you're wearing something else before. I can't decide if this is an intentional plot device to suggest a dream, or just lazy modelling. Judging by how Shepard's helmet seems to pop on and off without much rhyme or reason throughout the game, I'm leaning towards lazy modelling.

The whole indoctrination "theory" floating around the webs isn't a theory, it's what you're meant to assume happened. Maybe Bioware didn't make the cues loud enough, but it seemed pretty clear to me. Sure, the details on when and where are a little fuzzy, as well as exactly how much of the final scene is truly real, but the plot itself is solidly planted for all to see.

The one thing I can say is a big plothole is the destruction of the Mass Effect Relays. It was mentioned earlier that blowing one up tends to destroy the entire solar system it orbits. I know that Bioware can easily just say "Oh, the Crucible destroys the Relays from the inside out instead of with conventional firearms, limiting the blast" or something like that, but as it stands, it reminds me a little of the destruction of the Death Star in Episode VI and how it should have destroyed the moon of Endor (they did clear that one up; Star Wars canon now states that hours after the party scene at the end of the film, all the humans leave and the shockwave from the Death Star arrives and vaporizes all the Ewoks. They were so cute, too).

On a whole, though, I don't understand why everyone's so upset. I suppose some people expected more distinct, separate endings, but the story of the trilogy is a bit too weighty to really be strongly affected by whether or not you shot Wrex in the first game. Get over yourself.


Wakfu: or, Why I Don't Play MMOs Anymore

I played a lot of Dofus back in the day. One or two of you out there may reminisce along with me of the days when the game was still full of English errors, when we spent hours chasing Warchiefs with five Enutrofs in tow because it was the fastest way to make money, and when everyone was shocked to discover the level cap was not 100. After happily playing a couple of good years I called it quits, (I left a few months after the Pandawa class was released) mostly because I was spending upwards of four or five hours a day playing and my social life was waning.

Since then I've tried my hand at a few MMOs, but left them pretty quickly. They all seemed very samey with very little variety. They all followed the basic "tank 'n spank" gameplay of World of Warcraft, and I just couldn't get into mindlessly grinding away at the same mission for hours and hours a day. Right now a couple friends and I are trying out DC Universe Online, but it doesn't seem too good to me, either. The best part of the game is character creation. The fact that the majority of the playerbase seems to be under the age of 15 doesn't help, either. But I digress.

Years after my love affair with Dofus, enter Wakfu. An old friend and I caught up last summer, and he mentioned the game and we immediately reconnected over a shared enthusiasm for the world Ankama has so wonderfully built. Last February, I finally checked it out. After hesitantly prodding the basic game to figure it out, I dove headfirst into it after the Open Beta server wipe, starting at level 1 along with the veterans of Closed Beta. I spent more time at it than I would care to admit, gaining levels and gear faster than most of my server, culminating in two consecutive nights spent up playing two computers at once until 5 AM. The following Monday was a very depressed Monday indeed, and I decided (for my own health) not to play the game anymore. I logged on for about five minutes every day to keep my item-selling bags stocked in case I changed my mind, but after a week I didn't even do that. Last week I uninstalled the game from both of my computers.

This isn't to say Wakfu is evil in itself. It's a wonderful little game and should definitely not be dismissed for its cutesy art style or simple appearance. It has some excellent dungeons, a solid playerbase, and more depth than any other MMO out there (save for Dofus, the true king). For anyone who has not played Dofus or Wakfu and enjoys isometric tactical RPGs, you owe it to yourself to play them. Just pray that you don't love them as much as I do.


Arkham City, Skyrim, and Game of the Year

There is no doubt in my mind that Skyrim ought to be Game of the Year. It's an expansive, immersive journey through an enormous fantasy world that just keeps on giving. Then why have I only played 60 hours of it? I have so many friends who by now have completed every main quest line and are still avidly playing. Yet I just don't think to myself "I want to play Skyrim." Why not? Is it because I played more than 200 hours of Oblivion? That's partly it, but to explain it more fully, I'm going to draw your attention somewhere else for a moment: Arkham City.

Batman is enjoying quite a lot of popularity right now, and rightly so. The Dark Knight was a perfect sequel to Batman Begins, and we're all waiting eagerly for the next film. In the meantime, Arkham Asylum came out, more or less out of the blue, and showed us that the beat-em-up genre of the 80s and early 90s we all loved so much as kids is far from dead. It was dark, brutal, and not afraid of blood. The sound effects were suitably crunchy, and the criminals believable. I actually prefer Mark Hamill's energetic, excitably insane Joker to Heath Ledger's dark and contemplative interpretation. Not to say I didn't love The Dark Knight, nor am I saying the movie would be better with the more traditional Joker, but for that true Batman feel, the Joker as Mark Hamill's been doing him since the 90s feels right. But I digress.

Arkham City took everything Arkham Asylum did right and improved on it, often in ways nobody even thought of. The game is a masterpiece, and I've probably put more hours into it than I have Skyrim, and I'm still playing it. The endless Challenge modes, the Catwoman DLC, the thought that went into making Nightwing and Robin distinct from not only Batman, but also from each other, it all keeps me coming back for more. There hasn't been a moment in gaming that is more satisfying that disabling an enemy's gun and slowly walking up to him, watching him panic as the gun stops working, then taking him down just as he throws the useless thing to the ground. And this is but one of hundreds of different ways to engage an enemy, each one just as feasible and just as fun as any other.

This may be why I love the game so much: every encounter truly is different. Playing with your enemies and manipulating them is not only possible, but encouraged. I especially like the "intimidation bonus". The game is also so polished that I have only once ran into an enemy clipped into a wall. I've never found any bugs or anything else that takes away from the immersion of the game. something that cannot be said of Skyrim. Two open-world games, and yet one plays much better than the other. I love Skyrim, but at least once an hour something would happen that would make me say "Really, Skyrim?" Back when the game was first launched I was tempted to actually make an entire forum thread about those moments, encouraging others to tell their stories of broken suspension of disbelief. However, I was too lazy to record every moment, preferring to pretend they hadn't happened in order to not ruin the game for myself.

It's this sort of thing that takes so much away from Skyrim. Even in its fully-patched form today, it still feels janky sometimes. The fact that mountains can be climbed by jumping and strafing awkwardly up, in true Elder Scrolls style, makes me wonder why they didn't just make a mountain-climbing animation. Much of the time I'm exploring Skyrim's many fjords and mountains, trying to climb to the top, I am not sure if I've been following the designated path or just making my own until I reach the summit and look around.

The combat also only ever happens one way. Sure, there's stealth, there's magic, but it all boils down to running backwards while healing and madly slashing/casting/shooting until the enemy dies. Turning the difficulty up actually makes the game less realistic instead of more because every enemy can take ten fireballs to the chest before even flinching. Turn the difficulty down to a realistic level, and it stops being fun. I understand that realism isn't always the best for an RPG, but when the rest of the game is so insistent on making you feel like you're really there, it's very confusing when I still take damage despite using a shield, and putting ten arrows into a man's head sometimes doesn't kill him.

Skyrim may have more hours of playtime in it, but Arkham City is more fun in nearly every way, and I'd be lying if I didn't say it was my personal game of the year.


Weird Japanese Dialogue, Poor Instruction, and So Very Addictive

I recently went on a vacation and picked up Rune Factory 3 for the plane ride (travel is the only time I actually play portable games anymore). Having played a Harvest Moon game for the Gamecube, I had a bit of experience with the series, and so the game was (luckily) not completely foreign to me. Still, I found myself often confused by fairly incomplete tutorial dialogue filled with awkward Japanese humour and only quick mentions of what one must do in order to progress in the story, or grow crops, or make new equipment. It's as if the game simply assumes you have played one or both of the previous Rune Factory games. Maybe the manual would have helped, but honestly: who reads the manual when it isn't in colour? That's the rule: if the manual is in colour, then it's a good idea to read it. Otherwise, don't bother. 
Still, I found myself going back to the game repeatedly despite having a couple of other games to choose from. I didn't even touch Knights in the Nightmare, despite having heard great things about it. And why? Because I love dungeon crawlers, and I love growing crops. Mixing the two kept me entertained for my entire weeklong trip. 
I made it to the boss battle of the second dungeon (in the desert), though I didn't beat him, before I got home and set down my DS until I leave again. I probably played a total of around ten hours or so, and made it to around the end of the first season. I'm not much one for finishing long, grinding Japanese games, but I still feel like playing the game. Hell, you never know: maybe I will pick up my DS and play it some more, just for kicks. 
So, for anyone who's like me and never finishes his JRPGs and dislikes Japanese humour, Rune Factory 3 has enough fun packed into it that the shoddy instruction can be overlooked (with the help of GameFAQs, anyways) and the weird dialogue can be quickly skipped through for more monster-smashing goodness.


Brink, other shooters and big news from Nintendo

For once in several months, I've had an entire two days free, and I haven't spent it playing Minecraft. I think I've finally gotten bored with that game (and about time, too: bought it over a month ago, and logged an average of four hours a day... that's over 100 hours in a month. Whew. )

In that time, I've reunited with some old favourites like Warsow, Borderlands and Monday Night Combat. MNC especially I still adore, and it has become my replacement for Team Fortress 2 after they added Mann Co. and I left on principle. "Freemium" is not a word in my vocabulary, nor is "microtransaction". I love MNC's simple premise and incredibly customizable classes (six classes with set weapons, but you choose three buffs of varying intensities) and its goofy Super Smash TV-esque premise. Between the announcer's cries of "If you've got some extra cash, the Annihilator is available... Hoyoo, sounds like my personal relationships!" and the infinite supply of cannon-fodder robots, you'll find a friendly playerbase and great team-oriented gameplay.

I'm always outplayed by the guys who play Warsow; it's like Quake but more hardcore. I don't care, the game's a bright, fast, and fun blast-from-the-past. I tried Quake Live and played a few matches, but I always come back to Warsow over any Quake-type games, "Quake" brand or no. 

I've been following Brink ever since a video surfaced on Giantbomb showing a bunch of bandana-wearing freerunners jumping around a shipping yard full of steel boxes shooting at each other. It looked like everything I wanted when I had finished Mirror's Edge; all the Parkour with better shooting mechanics and multiplayer. Mix in a class system and tons of character customization, it may just replace MNC for me. We'll see. 

I've been also following RAGE since I found out id software was developing it. I'm hoping it plays more like Doom 3 than Borderlands, Bulletstorm or Fallout 3, because as much as I enjoyed those games, I'm more or less done with them now. I could uninstall them and not care. I didn't buy New Vegas for a reason. Though I could always go for more of Bulletstorm's Duke-boot.

Speaking of Duke-boot, I want to preorder Duke Nukem Forever. No seriously. I have faith it will actually come out this time. Haha.

After catching up on the news on Brink, Rage and Duke Nukem, I spotted the biggest news of the weekend: a new Nintendo console, and it will be playable at E3! If any of the rumours are true, I'm totally excited for a move away from the motion controls. I loved the Wii's separate remote and nunchuck idea, as well as the pointer, but the fact of the matter is this: most games just (annoyingly) used a vague shake of the wii remote as one would program another button. Many times I wished I could just graft a new button onto my remote that would register as a shake of the remote. Even if the newly-rumoured touchscreen suffers the same fate (i.e. "poke the touchscreen anywhere" becomes the new "shake the wii remote"), it will be less annoying. Anything to not have to lost my grip on the remote for the umpteenth time while fighting a giant bongo drum in DKC Returns...

Goldeneye 007: Oh hey there, Call of Duty.

I've spent the last three hours playing the multiplayer (offline with a friend, then online) and single-player of Goldeneye 007, and cannot stress how much it feels like Call of Duty. I am someone who does not much like Call of Duty's whiplash multiplayer style. The game contains enough nostalgia factor and throwbacks to original game modes and ideas that I might still like it, but the regenerating health and weapons you start with (as opposed to find lying around) are disappointing. I hear of something called "Classic Combat mode", which I got a code for (which unlocked Tag Mode instead; it's a problem that I've heard everyone's having). Maybe that will roll the game back to being like the original.
On the plus side, the Wii finally has an exclusive title that is a very competent shooter. This game feels very good, and plays well. I am greatly enjoying the single-player, and the cut-scenes, voice acting and story are all top-notch. I really do think this game is worth full value, especially for someone who enjoys Modern Warfare and all those snappy new FPS-es.