Finding A Great Story By Getting Lost in Horizon Zero Dawn

The sun paints the sky with magnificent tones of yellow and orange as it draws lower and lower towards the snow-capped mountain peaks.Dusk approaches. Aloy, a Nora Woman, hair as red as the sun at her back, jogs with purpose up the snowy mountainside that separates Carja territory from the sacred land of the Nora. As Alloy ascends, she comments on a palpable chill in the air. Snow and heavy winds bombard her face without warning. Aloy’s posture changes from a purposeful steady gate to a to that of a laboured traveler battling the elements; her arms drawn in close, her red hair turned lily white by the unrelenting wind and snow. Aloy presses on, her vision clouded by a by a persistent white haze obscuring the truth about the road ahead. Aloy continues up the mountain path, her hands outstretched, shielding her face from the cold, she could hear the unmistakable thump thump thump of something dangerous.

A being that would neither care about nor be affected by the weather or the treacherous terrain. Aloy took a quiet and defensive posture as she switched on her focus. The semi-translucent purple display silhouetted not one but two lurking figures in her path. Sawtooths. Huge, magnificent lumbering predators that could make short work of Aloy if she got careless. Aloy traced the tracks of one of the beasts and carefully crept up behind the it. She gingerly turned her spear over and began to override her unsuspecting foe and gain an ally for the fight ahead. The machine’s piercing eyes changed color to a tranquil blue. It was now charmed, under Aloy’s control. Aloy drew her bow back sticking in arrow in the the rear powercell of the remaining unfriendly sawtooth. The clockwork monster roared, jerked its head around and narrowed its blood red gaze on Aloy. The attacker took to the air, hurling itself full force toward the two-legged aggressor. Just then, another battle cry rang out. The allied beast slid in front of Aloy, absorbing the hit and charging its former partner with its dense metal head. A one-time predator was now a sworn protector to its new human counterpart. The blue eyed machine kept fighting blow by blow with its identical enemy. A cacophony of of metal on metal friction rang out. Sparks and and plating dotted the trail. Aloy’s blue eyed friend emerged victorious as its adversary sat in a crumpled up heap, smoking and sparking, motionless. The protector simply surveyed its kill to ensure victory before resuming its patrol as though the encounter never happened.

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The preceding text is a vivid description of of of a tense encounter that I saw first hand in Horizon. I will admit that encounters like this may be few and far between but this type of gameplay is what I have enjoyed the most about the game. Before I wrap up, I feel it is important to clarify just how I am choosing to approach Horizon. First off, I am playing on hard. After seeing the quicklook the AI seemed a bit too simply. It just did not seem dangerous. I set difficulty to hard from the very beginning. If I’m going to spend 30 + hours hunting mechanical dinosaurs I want a sense of danger. Second, I have not purchased any of the the maps that highlight collectables (nor do I plan to). Third, I turned pathfinding off, forcing me to get a feel for my surroundings and make my own path to quest markers. My play parameters have lead to what a feel is a tense, gripping and unique experience brought about through the the the perfect blend of the game’s visuals, environment, mechanics and player tools. Some of the most harrowing times I have had with Horizon have been when I am simply making my way from place to place. The world of Horizon a mysterious and dangerous place. A living breathing place with culture, life and intrigue something bigger and broader than Aloy and her quest. One that I look forward to losing myself in again and again.

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Killing Gary Busey: A Harrowing Hitman Experience (Spoilers for Elusive Target)

I killed Gary Busey. It feels strange to write that sentence but killing Gary Busey as an elusive target in Hitman had a very large impact on me. That being said, the fact that Busey was the target is purely incidental. It came down to the unexpected sense of urgency I felt as I went about setting up the kill, taking the shot and slipping away.

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I began the endeavor by loading into contract to see what I was up against. After some careful and stealthy observation, I discovered that Busey was sauntering in a loop, stopping at various points between the church and the beach. Those of you who are familiar with Sapienza know that the church is a superb vantage point if sniping is your thing. I figured that I could get a clean shot from the steeple as long as I was patient and waited for the perfect moment. I had not planned for a long range kill so I loaded up the mission again. This time making sure to arrange for a suppressed sniper rifle pickup, in the sewers beneath the church.

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I re-planned and reloaded the mission, ready to put my target down. I quickly made my way to the pickup in the sewers. Along the way I silently subdued a plummer who got in my way. it was a minor wrinkle but it did not change my plan. I got the rife and quietly crept though the sewers and into the church. Making my way past unsuspecting workers.I shuffled silently up the stairs to my predetermined perch. I stood up there looking for Busey, suppressed rifle at the ready. After a few minutes of careful scanning I spied Gary Cole, Busey's co-star, making his way toward the church. This meant that Busey was nearby.

I waited a bit more and spotted Busey walking with his guards a log the beach. I tracked him in my scope as he walked up and down the beach, completely unaware of the quick death that was in store for him. I let him walk along a bit more. I was itching to take the shot but I knew I would not get another chance. I waited. Finally, he stopped to answer his phone. This was the moment. I lined up the my sights, squeezed the trigger and watched the actor's knees buckle as pink mist escaped from his head.

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That was it. All I had to do was get out. I dropped the rife and began to make my way down the stairs of the steeple. I moved down, checking each flight, one by one, making sure there were no surprises in store for me. I was nearly at ground level when I spotted three guards charging up the stairs. "Oh no!" I said to myself out loud. I darted back up the stairs in hopes of buying myself time to improvise a way out.

I managed to get up to the top, with a few precious seconds to think. I remembered that there was an overhang that I could shimmy across. I wondered if I could use that as a hiding place while I felt things out and planned my next move. I hung over the side of the railing, taking care to ensure I would break line of site with the three trigger happy guards rushing to meet me. They yelled commands at each other and paced around a bit as they searched for me. Eventually they retreated back down the stairs, moving their search else ware. One even took my rifle with him. I muttered to myself, "I can't believe that worked!".

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When the roof was clear I made my way down to ground level and took the boat out of the harbor; unseen, and unharmed. I felt pretty badass, having such a risky move pay off like that. In the end I had no choice. No saves. No restarts.

That's what I love about elusive targets. The stakes are high. You can't just restart, or roll back to an earlier save. Once you've killed the target or escalated the situation in any way, the option to replan and restart goes away. In my scenario I had to commit. When the guards pegged my position I had to try something unexpected and crazy, or I would have lost the opportunity for good.The best part is that it actually paid off! I accomplished my mission. This was one of the most exhilarating moments I've had with a videogame in a long time. I was hesitant about the proposed bite sized nature of the elusive targets but in the beginning.However, now that I've done a few I think they are very unique and serve to set the game apart. The sense of urgency that this "one and done" format brings to the table, makes the game feel incredibly immersive. I felt like 47. The satisfaction I got from succeeding in such a rare opportunity though such an unexpectedly slick method will stay in my gaming memory for quite some time. If you have Hitman, I recommend checking out this target while you still can. I am definitely looking forward to more unexpected, and badass moments with more elusive targets.

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4:3 In A 16:9 World

As I write this I have only experienced gaming in a widescreen resolution for four days now. You’re probably thinking, “What took this guy so long to get a widescreen TV?” The main reason is that I am a college student and simply didn’t have the money for one. That being said, as a TV/Film production college student, the odd picture compression that comes with playing HD 16:9 games on an SD, 4:3 display has annoyed me to no end. The text is small and nothing looks quite right, not to mention the obvious loss of fidelity that comes from using a lousy RCA composite video signal.

About a week ago I decided to convert a widescreen flat panel computer monitor into a gaming display for my 360. This monitor only has a 480P display but it makes sense for use with my launch 360 that can only do up 480P anyway (at least not without “That weird dongle” as Brad puts it, and even then you are converting an analog signal to digital which causes loss of fidelity and input lag) so the monitor was good fit. After some consideration I ordered several parts on Amazon.com in including: VGA adapter for the 360, an RCA to 3.5mm headphone/speaker jack converter, a 3.5mm coupler, and an in line volume control. All said and done the order coast me about 20 bucks ($25 including shipping).

When everything arrived I was able to quite easily set everything up. It is also worth noting that I am playing this setup using headphones which gives one a slight advantage in some games; Modern Warfare etc…  Upon playing my first few games of Call of Duty with this setup I noticed that the wider aspect ratio allowed me to expand my field of vision and literally become a player due to my display. Now I am consistently winning more games, getting higher killstreaks, and reacting faster. It is amazing how as a gamer your display so dramatically affects your performance. I suppose you don’t know how bad your setup is until you implement a better one.

Now I’m even thinking of buying a New Xbox 360 and Using HDMI, in the near future, with its pricing so affordable and the price of HD TVs dropping literally by the day this seems like a must for me. I don’t know how it took me so long to realize this. For those of you out there still gaming in 4:3 you don’t have to anymore, $25 can revitalize your gaming experience just as it did mine. You will be able to see your favorite games as they were intended. It truly feels as though I am rediscovering my favorite games with a new perspective, both figuratively and literally.

 

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LA Noire Shows Great Potential For Future Rockstar Stories

 

If you look at my previous blog posts it would deem that the only time I ever write anything is when a new Rockstar title is out, and that’s absolutely right. That fact aside I just couldn’t help taking some time to reflect on my experience with LA Noire, and share it with the Giantbomb community.

Those who watched the trailers of LA Noire that were released in the year or so leading up to its release knew that the it would be a unique experience that would be unlike any other title that Rockstar has published. As a matter of fact, it turned out to unlike any other game ever released. Some people believe that LA Noire’s departure from what I will call the “Rockstar antihero formula” is a fatal flaw that ruins the experience because you are not able to pull out your sidearm at any moment and lay waste to LA citizens that stand in your way. I can understand why people feel that way, but I look at this kind of change in a positive light.

To be honest, the freedom to incite mayhem hasn’t been my reason for playing a Rockstar game since GTA: San Andreas (Granted, I was 14 at the time). However, at the release GTA IV the tone and intentions of Rockstar protagonists began to change. The player was no longer in control of a gangbanger ( CJ, GTA San Andreas) or a schoolyard bully ( Jimmy Hopkins Bully), There were put behind the eyes of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European, former soldier who was trying to live the American dream.

In my opinion, Niko was the first Rockstar character that I felt had a conscience; sure he was a bad man, but he felt bad about his wrongdoing. In playing GTA IV, I felt that Niko was a victim of circumstance who was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. This character change is further exemplified in Red Dead Redemption through the character of John Marston. Marston is a man with a questionable past who is seeking redemption as the name of the game implies. Unfortunately, Marston must commit heinous acts on his path to redemption, but he is a man with good intentions all the same. Cole Phelps does not operate like any other Rockstar game character; or at least not at first. He is a by the book detective who seems to have the world’s most infallible moral compass. However, by the end things fall apart for Cole.

His character aside, I was able to appreciate Cole’s story and the way that game was structured because it felt like I was taking part in something that was larger than a single main character. I was completely immersed in the gritty, 1940’s LA that Team Bondi had created; where a person is almost never who they seem to be, Cole Phelps included. I felt as though the game itself was defined by its story. and that the gameplay mechanics used (the ultra-realistic faces and the interrogation system) added to the story.  Sure people complain that the open world element of the game is sparse and the action sequences are inconsistent; but nevertheless, LA Noire is a prime example of what happens when a developer commits to a story and fleshes it out. This seems to be a goal that Roackstar has continuously strived for over the years so it makes perfect sense that they chose to publish LA Noire for Team Bondi. Who Knows? Maybe we’ll see a linear game developed by Rockstar someday. I’m curious to see what they would do with a linear experience instead of their usual open world approach. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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Red Dead Redemption: “Hell of a soundtrack”

 Based on the fact that I have churned out two blogs about Red Dead Redemption in two days, I can defiantly say that it is the best game I’ve played in a very long time, and it is quickly inching up to my number one, best game of all time, but I will not make that call until I’ve finished the single player story. However, I’m not writing this blog to talk about the game itself, but rather, the game’s soundtrack. I was unable to play the game today but I did have a few minutes to download the soundtrack from Itunes and I have been listening to it all day and frankly, I can’t stop… The soundtrack has a brooding, western feel to it, but it also contains a dark and alluring tone that gives it a modern feel. It is the culmination of these two aspects that sets the Red Dead Redemption’s soundtrack apart from that of other Rockstar titles, and videogames in general.

Rockstar has had a sterling reputation as far as musical production goes, they selected appropriate music for the setting and tone of all of the Grand Theft Auto games, with a few original bits of music here and there. However, most of the music in contained in Rockstar’s games had been obtained by licensed, premade, content from recording artists That all changed when Bully was released, composer Shawn Lee was hired to compose a score for the boarding school shenanigans of Jimmy Hopkins, during his time at Bullworth Academy. The Bully soundtrack is top notch. So, naturally I was excited when Red Dead Redemption was announced. I was hoping that Shawn Lee would take the reins of musical composition for Rockstar’s new Wild West adventure. Sadly, I was, at the time, let down. I soon found out that virtual unknowns, Bill Elm, and Woody Jackson, would be handling the majority of the musical composition on the project. I was extremely skeptical at this point but when I finally got my hands on the game I was pleasantly surprised. The two gentlemen did a fine job on the soundtrack. The score is able to both stand on its own as well as compliment the Wild West atmosphere the game.

One of the best things about Red Dead Redemption's soundtrack is its ability to take the classic western musical style (as heard in a lot of western films) and give it a sort of modern edge. Players of Red Dead Redemption will hear piano ballads and what I like to call “western whistling” as they are roaming the open range, but they will also hear ominous electric guitar riffs, and moody horn section, as they engage in lawbreaking, and gun combat. The music is slow and easy, like most western films when it needs to be, but it is also fast and heavy like the music in most action games as well. In my opinion, the two styles strike a fine balance between the old and the new. The old vs. new feeling of the soundtrack also helps to convey the tension between a new, rapidly growing, government and the withering world of the American old west in the year 1911. Rarely does a soundtrack become relevant to the ideology of a game’s story but in the case of Red Dead Redemption, I think that the choices in musical production styles and overall cultural message of the game run parallel. The message is that the western United States is undergoing a gradual change. The subtlety in the music compliments this idea quite well. All that being said, the thing that impresses me the most about the game’s soundtrack, is its ability to stand on its own like not many original game soundtracks can.

Some may argue that most game soundtracks can stand on their own, but bear in mind that those of you reading this are at least moderately invested into games, and probably own a few videogame soundtracks yourself. When I say that the soundtrack can stand on its own I don’t mean that it can function as background music for daily activity but I mean that you a person would be able to interpret the soundtrack as its own entity. I suppose what I’m getting at is that if this soundtrack were to be an album in a universe where Red Dead Redemption never existed, I would definitely pick it up. That’s what I mean why I say that it stands on its own.  An example of a game soundtrack that does not stand on its own is the Army of Two Soundtrack. I own it… but I would have never even bothered with it if the game had never existed. It is this ability to exist on its own that makes the soundtrack to red Dead Redemption truly memorable.

In conclusion, I’m not here to preach, I’m just stating my opinion which is that I believe that Red dead Redemption has one of the best soundtracks of all time. If you have been living under a rock and have not played the game at least check out the soundtrack. Who knows, maybe we will will be delighted once again by another splendid soundtrack form one of Rockstar’s future Wild West themed game. Cross your fingers. All I know is that Red Dead Redemption has a “hell of a soundtrack”.
 
Itunes link to the soundtrack:  http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/red-dead-redemption-original/id371357204

   

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Red Dead Redemption: Making The Classic Western Genre Accessible

 

Having played through most of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption I think that it is safe to say that the game itself is nothing short of spectacular. This comes as no surprise considering the fact that Rockstar has set the standard over the years for open world storytelling, but for important than the game itself is the atmosphere the world that the player must navigate and interact with.

Throughout my time with the game I found myself blown away by the meticulous detail of the game world. I often had to stop my horse to look around and enjoy the view. I have played a lot of open world games in my time but none of them have ever caused me to stop dead in my tracks to enjoy the scenery. The environment is beautiful and at times, it seems like Rockstar was trying to capture the classic slow, panning, long shot of a classic western. I have to say that they have indeed succeeded in this regard. With a completely open environment, Red Dead Redemption feels like the old west in the respect that anything can happen and the main character John Marston can go anywhere and do just about anything.

Never have I experienced such a rich environment has I have in red Dead Redemption. The world itself, lives and breathes along with the player. There are animals to shoot and skin, missions to take on and bounties to be collected. The preceding examples only name a few of activities that the Red Dead Redemption has to offer. It seemed that I was perfectly content riding my trusty steed and hunting the dozens of different wild animals in the game world for hours. This really drove home the feeling of the old west for me. It is that “I choose where I go and what I do mentality” I felt like a true cowboy as I rode through parries and deserts sometimes shooting animals (or people) on a whim, like a real wild west drifter.. Games have offered the potential for freedom like this ( Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Fable) but few have done it nearly as well. A Free Roaming western simply makes sense because that’s what cowboys did, they drifted. Not only does Red Dead Redemption allow for a spectacular atmosphere and western drifting mentality but it allows the player to feel like a top notch, old west,  gunslinger.

The gunplay in Red Dead Redemption just feels right. The controls are quick and responsive and they allow for quick and precise shots, just like the expert marksmanship of the main characters in classic westerns. The standard gunplay itself is good but it is the dead eye mechanic that makes the player feel like a crack shot. The first time you get to mark six headshots and then watch John Marston make them all while firing from the hip is truly a remarkable experience. Needles to say, if Sam Fisher and John Marston were to engage in a pistol duel it would be a close match. That bring said, Rockstar nailed the gun slinging in Red Dead Redemption and gun slinging is one of the most important culture highlights of the Wild West. Everything that is true for the single player game mode also carried over to the multiplayer, online mode. In some cases the multiplayer option adds to the Old West feel of the game.

The Multiplayer in Red Dead Redemption is very similar to that of GTA IV, players are first thrown into a free roam lobby and are left to their own. This unstructured free roam lends itself very well to the Western Genre, as the Old West was free to roam. However, the Old West was also unforgiving case and point, so are other players in free roaming online games. If a player is not careful they may find themselves shot as they are hunting wild animals or raiding gang settlements. I would imagine that the nomadic lifestyle of the Old West was not too far off from these scenarios. The free nature of the multiplayer mode itself adds to western atmosphere of the game.

In conclusion, I believe that Red Dead Redemption has done a fantastic job of    creating widespread interest in the western genre among the gaming audience. Others have tried (Gun, Red Dead Revolver) with little success in capture the open and free world that was the American Wild West. It dies so with its good use of environmental details, plethora of activates, and wild west game play. I have heard gamers in free roam lobbies talking about how they have watched western films for the first time after player Red Dead Redemption and cannot get enough of them. Perhaps more games can strive to create this type of atmosphere and to create interested in their subject matter as Red Dead Redemption did. I look forward to the future after this precedent has been set.  Needless to say, I won’t grow tired of Red Dead Redemption anytime soon.

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Splinter Cell Conviction: Embracing the Changes

So I picked up Splinter Cell: Conviction a few days ago and as an avid Splinter Cell fan I was thrilled to get into it. I was slightly skeptical due to all of the talk on forums about dumbed down game play and a change of style. To be honest, the gameplay is simplified. Also, the character of Sam Fisher has undergone an emotional transformation. Top all of that off, many people (including Jeff) have a problem with the voice acting of Michael Ironside. All of these things made me a bit apprehensive about the game. Nonetheless, I knew that the game itself would still be enjoyable.

To clear things up, I started playing the game having already playing through the demo several times. With this I already understood how the game played but I still did not understand how all of the cinematic and gamplay elements fit together. It was evident that the intentions of the game designers to keep the player engaged at all times. The game starts with Sam fisher as he is following up on a lead concerning his daughter’s death. Fisher is looking for a crime boss in Malta. The scene opens as a waiter at an outdoor  waiter delivers Sam a phone. Sam picks it up and hears his old friend Anna Grimstottder on the other end of the line. They have a brief conversation after which the gameplay starts.


Differences...

The gameplay in Splinter Cell: Conviction is the most notable difference between this game and the others that came before it. The gameplay is also the aspect of this game that has raised controversy among long-time fans of the series. Some say that the gameplay is “dumbed down” in order to make the game more accessible to a wider audience. While this is the case from public relations prospective, I do not think that the new gameplay hurts the feel of the game. To be perfectly honest the gameplay in the splinter cell series had been more or less the same since 2002 when the original game was released on the Xbox. That being said, the gameplay needed on overhaul to bring the series to the same level as other 3 person action, action games. The old formula of trial and error stealth and a slow-moving, over the shoulder shooting mechanics may have worked back then but it never truly did Sam fisher justice. Even in the older iterations of the series (which I still hold high today) it was difficult to come up for a reason why, Sam Fisher, Former Navy SEAL operator and team leader in the Gulf War was just about helpless in an unanticipated firefight. The shooting controls in Conviction are smooth and user friendly, but more importantly, they give the player the feeling that they can handle themselves in a gunfight, just as Sam fisher, A man who is one of the most lethal and experienced  soldiers in the world.  I think that the streamlined shooting mechanics are a nice change of pace due to the fact that the player is no longer held back or frustrated by antiquated shooting controls.

The other changes in splinter cell are problematic to some as well. One thing that gets criticism and praise across the board is the addition of the mark and execute mechanic. A lot of people would say that it is a crutch for people who can’t aim and let’s be honest, sometimes it is. However, the mechanic itself makes sense within the context of the character. There is no reason why someone with extensive combat training should not be able to line up multiple targets and take them down quickly. This mechanic lets the player feel more like Sam Fisher as he storms into a room, grabs the first enemy he sees and uses him a shield, after which he drops the three remaining enemies with precise neck and head shots (yes there are agents in the intelligence community that are capable of this).  My only real gripe with mark and execute is that it feels a bit contrived when you have to kill an enemy hand to hand before you can use it. The least that Ubisoft could have done is woven some kind of explanation into the game like adrenaline or something.

Another thing to note is the one-button context sensitive controls in Conviction they work well for the most part except for those occasions where a coop partner is incapacitated next to a railing, if you get where I’m going with this. Sometimes the controls don’t always do what they need to do but this is loads better than taking precious time to select options out of a dialog box like in previous Splinter Cell titles , which is one thing that I do not miss.

 

Conclusion

So, with all of this, what am I getting at? Conviction is still Splinter Cell. For the most part you can play the game just like you would any other Splinter Cell game(avoiding detection and taking out enemies quietly) but the player can also have the freedom to take on obstacles as they choose. Even if this means that everyone in the level gets a shotgun blast to the face… Personally, as a long time Fan of the series I have embraced theses changes and realized that they are necessary for the advancement of the series. Being that Splinter Cell is my favorite game franchise of all time this is a good realization fir me to make but more importantly, I have taken these changes is stride and I am now enjoying Splinter Cell: Conviction more than any other splinter cell title I have embraced the changes and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for the series.

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Fox News... Proving Its Flaws In Their Modern Warfare 2 Coverage

There is no doubt that everyone saw this coming way before Modern Warfare 2 was even released. It only took two days before Fox News to to attack Modern Warfare 2.
 
On Wednesday, November 11th fox news released this news report that literally says says that after playing this game an eight year old WILL become a terrorist.
 
 

  It is no surprise that Fox did not do their research. We have seen this in the past with the Mass Effect "SeXbox" scandal. I'm not so much enraged at the fact that they are attacking modern Warfare 2 because as a news outlet, they have that right. The important thing to realize that Fox news will refuse to do any kind of qualitative research whatsoever when it comes to video games. Fox News would claim that they are a news organization that upholds the highest standard of journalistic integrity but the reality is that they have no journalistic integrity when it comes to the subject of video games. They will pass judgment on  something that they, themselves will never personally interact with, other than trying to insinuate that everyone who plays the game will become a terrorist. What is my point in all of this? We should laugh at the ignorance of fox News, not take it as an attack on the gaming community. They simply do not know any better.
 
I'm going to pose one final question? Is Modern warfare 2 anymore graphic than the dozens of murder stories that fox news airs every day?
 
What is your emotional reaction to the game?
 Feel free to comment
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