Paper Teams, Paper Cups

Hi, Guys. For the past 15 years I've been religiously playing Championship Manager: Season 2001-2. It is timeless and, quite obviously of it's time. Back in August I started my latest save with the intention of seeing how far I could get with my beloved Newcastle before they threw me out. Whilst also trying (for about five minutes) to see if I could break records with Shola Ameobi and Jamie McClen. Those ideas went out the window when I started taking this seriously but the game clock is now in 2019, I've decided to focus on the larger things.

Football is killing itself.

Year Zero

Firstly, as this is science, I'll lay out the variables of August 2000, as devised by the good (well, apart from Miles) people at Sports Interactive.

  • Prize and TV money will remain at current levels forever. No inflation is modeled in the game so you can bank on certain financial aspects. ITV Digital hasn't went under, there will be no Russian Oligarchs, Asian businessmen or Arab consortium looking to influence the footballing world. There will be no financial crisis.
  • EU membership will remain static. No new nations will enter, no new nations will leave. No new nations will gain or lose FIFA membership.
  • World Cup hosts up until and including 2006 are already chosen.
  • FIFA's rules on unprotected contracts come in. With two years remaining on their contract, players are free to negotiate with other clubs.
  • Competition formats remain as they are in 2001.
  • The version I'm playing is 3.9.60. The vanilla retail database. English, German, Italian and Spanish leagues are running.

And for reference, here are my active years of service, roles and silverware so you know where my (well, alias Jim Pout) influence has been:

Newcastle United (2001-2013) - FA Cup (2005), Charity Shield (2005), League Cup (2009, 2011), UEFA Cup runners up (2009), Premier Division (2011)

Leeds United (2013-2015) - FA Cup (2014), Charity Shield (2014) UEFA Cup (2015)

China (2013 - Present) - Asian Cup runners up (2016)

Wigan Athletic (2018 - Present) - Second Division (2019)

With that covered, let's get to the bigger picture.

Global Matters

One of the things I was really keen to discover was how the game would deal with a static financial system. In reality, 2016's football finances have continued to boom as new TV deals, ownerships and markets come to pass. In the world of CM 01-02, it turns out the AI managers live within their means. Now, I don't have a save game editor so I can't dig through balance sheets. All I have to go on is some basic feedback whilst sums a club's financial state from Bankrupt to Rich but that barometer is good enough. It's a term relative to the level the club is playing at, too. I'll keep things focused to the top flight clubs.

The poorest top flight clubs I could find were: Palmese (ITA), Monza (ITA), Calgiari (ITA) Leganes (SPA). All of these have Insecure finances which you can consider below the breadline but not by much. Of these clubs, Palmese are the only ones able to avoid relegation this season which seems crucial to a club's financial wellbeing.

Artificial Stagnation

I say that because there are things I've discovered the AI will not do. As a manager, as your clubs grows you can improve training facilities and expand stadia to meet a growing fanbase. With that brings money. The AI managers will simply not do this unless it is legally required to do so.

For example, clubs in England are required, as part of the Taylor report to have an all-seater stadium when they reach the Premier League. As a result, there are about half-a-dozen clubs which now have modest expansions to comply with this. No club has expanded for the sake of it. Compare this to my two clubs Newcastle and Leeds which I expanded to 68,143 and 50,000 respectively. Facilities stay as they are and yet, clubs are generally getting richer as time goes on. I'm seeing less and less messages about clubs needing to sell talent to stay afloat. It used to happen with Alaves every year but years of top flight football have given them some security. It should be noted that in Italy and Spain, where the league ladder is shorter and there are no legal requirements to expand stadiums, the financial stability of clubs are on much weaker footing.

The richest of these nations appears to be Germany. In contrast, their stadia are massive with some great earning potential. This is entirely due to the game preparing Germany for 2006's World Cup. Those expansions were already written into the game and, as a result, the majority of Germany's top table are rich clubs. Just what do Dortmund do with a 147,000 capacity ground?

The Market

So we now come to how the AI handles transfers and player wages. In 2001, there was the beginnings of a transfer bubble which refuses to burst in 2016. Without the real-life factors coming into play, CM01-02 has largely cooled off the big-money signings. Rio Ferdinand's £41m move to Barcelona in 2006 remains the largest deal ever struck in this save. Since then, the £30m mark has been breached only once in 2018. Before that, the £20m barrier hadn't been beat for five years.

I think some of this can be put down to the unprotected contracts. Managers might simply just be waiting to buy a player's contract out. I can only hypothesize on that matter and, looking into it more, maybe the talent pool is such that the AI can find decent players on the cheap. Maybe these two factors combine to provide a self-sustainability where clubs are sitting on disposable income.

Wage demands have stabilised pretty easily. £120,000 a week was the limit by 2015 but, three years on, you're looking at £85,000 - £100,000 for a marquee player. Again, the game's financial sensibilities are kinda set so it's rare to see a trend bucked. I do kinda want to see how much money some clubs are sitting on. The Spanish contingent can't be too pretty with their 9,500 capacity stadiums and meager TV deals. In fact, let's move on to the real club stories of this odyssey.

Winners and Losers

Effectively, I'm looking at trends across the nations now to see if any dynasties truly emerge or wither. This is where the game gets the most interesting for me as a couple of eras have stood out. And, for reference, I consider dynasties to be clubs that take successive domestic titles and or European glory into account. Same kinda metrics for international sides.

Germany's Power Struggle

One thing that's usually certain about German football these days is that Bayern will coast it and, in the first few years of this save, the giants tended to prevail. Consecutive league titles coming in 2003-2005. Schalke threatened the title on four scattered occasions but only could grab one in 2007. Dortmund's status has somewhat waned over the years and, whilst stability under Matthias Sammer has probably lead to infinite money, success has been slim. What we have now in modern Germany is a power struggle which seems to have been won out by VfB Stuttgart. No consecutive titles but they dominated 2019 to add to their weirdly 24-month tradition of taking titles. Matthias Sammer having left Dortmund to take charge of them last season.

Nobody can keep a grasp on the German Cup and, as a result, smaller clubs are finding their way into finals. Dresdner and Kiel taking the silverware whilst not having league status. Sometimes that success spurs them on to become league and top flight clubs. Aachen seemingly a good example of it. As poor as Bayern have been, they did make it to a Champions League final this season and German clubs are fairing very, very well in Europe. I'm finding it to be a league where fighting on all fronts doesn't seem a priority. It's a trend we'll see with the others. A word on Leverkusen, too. They dropped out of the league structure completely five years ago and have never replaced their last manager. That's fairly bleak for a club I considered fairly well-established.

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Italy's Power Vacuum

Whilst there's no real dominance to Italy's top clubs, you could always be assured of Milan or Roma fighting for silverware. For about a decade, this is definitely the case with Rome clubs seemingly shutting out Milan from capturing gold. It's particularly interesting in Milan's case because, whilst researching the numbers, they had five of the world's top paid players on their books. It looked, on paper like a dynasty but their success always came on the continent, rather than domestically. No club would retain a title until 2008 when Roma traded blows with city rivals Lazio. After that, they had two titles of their own. Genoa tried to fill the void with consecutive titles in 2017-18. The last two sides I mentioned also taking consecutive Italian Cups.

If it feels like I'm neglecting Juventus, it's because they've neglected themselves. One title and cup double in 2004 all they have to show for themselves. 2018 saw them related to Serie B. Roma having been relegated a year prior. Both clubs have recovered but only just. They struggle across a league that struggles to score goals. Sampdoria won the title despite 10 defeats.

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Spain's Near Death Experience

So far we've seen nations where dominance is hard to come by where clubs have arrived, won and fallen within the space of a few years. 2010 marks the last time Barcelona or Real Madrid have secured a league title. Since then, like Italy a power vacuum emerged and, much like Germany, a struggle has been taking place. Now, I've mentioned before the modesty of the teams involved in Spain's top league. Talavera are perhaps the most successful of these minnows finishing runners up in 2009 and 2015. Eiche have also risen to prominence with a title win in 2015. Even Hercules are in on the act with a second-placed finish in 2018.

With this power vacuum came actual continental problems, though. Spain's UEFA coefficients plummeted due to these minnows struggling to make an impact on the European stage. They lost Champions League spots to the likes of Belgium and Croatia and the ones they retained were not seeded. In many ways, this is a glimpse into a Spain without the dependable big two clubs. In 2013, Barcelona were relegated. They would not return until 2016. Since then they have survived relegation by a single point for two seasons running. Real Madrid have yet to suffer the same fate but have come close twice in twelve years. This year they, like Barca, avoided the drop by a single point.

But all is not lost. In the wake of this, a dynasty has emerged. Cordoba have been a top flight side since 2002. They've consolidated over a period of a decade and, in 2014, were league runners up. It was a taste of near success and 2017 would see the first of their three successive titles. The last two have been dominant wins with 12 and 14 points of breathing space and, to top it all, they have been the only side in 14 years to retain the Champions' League. Financially, they're just about sustaining themselves with a rather small squad doing well to fight on all fronts.

It's a team almost exclusively of Spanish stock with the line being lead by an evergreen Fernando Torres. Buying and selling habits are somewhat sporadic with the bulk of their team being acquired years ago. It's kind of amazing and, with that success, Spain's stature in the European game may grow once more. They need competition, though.

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The Death of English Football

Yep. I didn't want this blog to be too Anglo-centric but I discovered a sickness last night within the English league. It's been festering, brewing for years and it might just be terminal. Much like reality, England's clubs are backed, largely by TV money. As a result, those that establish themselves as top flight clubs can ultimately self-sustain themselves quite well. Behold Gillingham. Promted in 2008, they would finish runners up in 2013 and 2017. They have won League Cup and FA Cups in 2016 and 2012. Sam Allardyce and Glenn Hoddle brought the success but, since then, the weight of expectation has burst them. Torquay now are an established top side. In 2017, they won an FA Cup of their own but struggle at the wrong end of the table. Southport, perhaps the biggest rise of the English clubs, have finished their fourth season in the Premier League in a European spot.

In terms of true dynasties, Man Utd hold the standard with three league titles and two Champions Leagues in the span of four years (2003-2006). They maintained success until 2013 when Newcastle began three successive title reigns under Trond Solleim. I laid the tracks for that team. He drove the train. I came within 15 minutes of derailing it with my Leeds side in 2015. They now struggle to maintain league form and Trond has to bank on cup success keeping the sack at bay.

That's a theme you can gather from the English game. Fans are angry, fans are expectant. and it can go south so quickly. Southampton and Everton had Third Division football this season. One of the oldest clubs in England completing their plummet in the space of eight years. Aston Villa are set to do the same from the Second Division in what is Jermaine Defoe's first roll in management.

Arguably, the biggest worry about the Premier League is the product itself. A lot of games draw and are tightly contested affairs. Fulham took the title this year. They scored 46 goals all season. Two less than Tottenham's winning run last season. Turgid. On the final day of the season, only two games didn't contain a clean sheet. I don't know whether it's down to a genuine defensive goldmine or whether just too many clubs have large expectations, leading to depleted morale. If this continues, there'll be nothing left but scoreless draws.

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As an addition to this, the FA have seen fit to employ an unproven Coach and an unproven Scout as England managers rather than... like, me or Charlton's Steve McManaman. Internationally, Argentina have retained the World Cup they won in 2014. My Chinese side drew with them in the group stages. We were shite. Europe's a shambles with Romania winning Euro 2016.

Moreso, this feels like the end of an era with the real players slowly retiring or moving into backroom roles. I'm sitting here contemplating whether to give Kim Kalltrom and Cherno Samba only last run. God knows what state the Premier League will be in once I get to it. Happy Christmas, guys. If you've made it this far you must already be drinking.

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A 2015 something-or-other (spoilers within)

Hey ho. It's been a pretty grand year for gaming. Rather than do a list of 10 (I've probably played about 4 actual contenders this year), I'm going to be a difficult git and make a mockery of awards in general. So, here's my gongs. Please note, I'm including games from other years that I've came to in 2015. Because.

And... spoilers.

Scumbag of the Year

This one's odd. I spent a ton of time playing Metal Gear Solid V this year and, to be honest, I thought Skullface's villainy was kinda cool. Its a shame you don't really see much of him til the excellent jeep ride. He has some clear motives and a very, very blunt pair of weapons at his disposal. As a result, you get a well-spoken freak with a huge hankering for genocide. He also falls into the same traps as any standard Bond villain. He explains it all when he thinks he has you captured and would rather use his giant robot to kill you rather than a helipad full of armed, loaded goons. He's an idiot but it beats Liquid Snake's 'getting back at Daddy' arc.

Unfortunately, Skullface can't surpass a fellow cast member. A bespectacled technocrat who we discover is a real shitehawk. Whilst Skullface's plans were grand, the actual impact of them were shut out before they could come to fruition. Huey Emmerich, in contrast, got his horrible misdemeanors underway pretty swiftly. Murdering his other half and keeping the corpse in his office is some serious Norman Bates territory. And, whether by accident or intent, he sparked a second virus outbreak in one of the more affecting moments of the game. I don't think its ever stated whether Huey sold the Dogs out in Ground Zeroes but he's shown in the sequel he's a capable saboteur. And, for that, he almost earns this.

I say almost. This year I also played Walking Dead's second series. As it was free on PS Plus I decided to finally pop my Telltale cherry. This award goes to one person who did one thing in the latter episodes which elicited a four-letter response that rhymes with 'punt'.


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My Own Personal Vietnam... of the Year

This one goes out to all those games I've persevered with in spite of them. Luckily, there's like, two contenders so I'll get the runner up out of the way.

OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood is a game that taps into the Trials receptors in my dumb, useless brain. Its a game that I enjoy succeeding at but, to get there I need countless retries and a slice of luck to get there. Y'see, I'm not good at it. Every time I boot it up, I immediately move the right stick to ollie because Skate has programmed me that way. After that I'm focusing solely on the board to time landings and, rather stupidly, I'm pushing off after some landings because, again, Skate and Tony Hawk have trained me to do such. When I play these levels I'm just looking to clear them. I'm not playing for objectives, fancy combos or tricks. I am Mr. Bare Minimum. I cannot manage that. Yet, I'll still keep revisiting it.

But if OlliOlli2 is the boot camp then Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin is the killing fields. Now, this is the year where I've really clicked with From's Souls series and, after clearing Dark Souls in the spring I moved on to its expanded sequel. I was well aware this is the lesser liked of the series but I also figured those into Dark Souls 2 were devoted followers so there must be something to it. 20 hours of gameplay have since passed. I'm not sold on it.

I saw Dark Souls as training for the remainder of the series. I thought I had that formula figured out. What From decided to do was to change that formula just enough to piss me off. Mobs are present from the outset. Not little fodder mobs but actual mobs that take time to dispatch or flee from. They'll take three hits to go down. You're down in two. Armour doesn't seem to impact your defence enough to matter and there's now more stats to consider when leveling up. I felt helpless and it only got worse once I got to the Pursuer.

God, I hate him. He's recognised as the hardest boss you'll face in the early stages and the rise in difficulty is enough to depress anybody. Especially if you go toe-to-toe with him. Dispatching him with the balistas seems like the way they intend you to do it and that's a damn shame. And if that boss isn't daunting enough, the sheer size of the world will scare you off a cliff. Dark Souls had its branching paths, especially from Firelink Shrine but there was a definite pathway through that game that you could get funneled down rather quickly. Everyone goes for the skeletons, gets schooled by them and then picks another way. Find the right path and you're on it mostly til your first main objective is complete.

Dark Souls 2 does not display this kind of care. You've got a recognisable first area from Majula and then it... sorta teleports you to the Lost Bastille and dead-ends you. Actually, I should make it clear that in the vanilla game you can go straight for the Sentinels but Scholar of the First Sin places a statue in your way. Great. So you're left with Tower of Flame which is mostly death aside from an easy boss. Its so disjointed and carries no real flow and that feels like the game's biggest problem.

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But I press on. I'll come through it with a 100-yard stare and speak none of it to the kids. YOU WEREN'T THERE, MAN! THE SKELETONS BECAME MORE SMALLER SKELETONS! ON FIRE!

Swerve of the Year

An award reserved for those that go where I least expected. I can only honestly think of one.

I expected Haruka to be more likely to pick up a gun than a microphone. She may still do but the way in which Yakuza 5 accommodates her new occupation into gameplay is quite nuts. Yakuza's a brawler at heart and reminds me of River City Ransom with its rewarding battles with cash and the way random enemies will just show up and challenge you to a fight after seemingly unrelated small talk. Whilst Haruka's time in town is not marred with, "Nice weather we're having... YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT!" its populated by like-minded girls all trying to dance in public like a one-person flashmob. I've just described a sad thing but in practice it works. I'm terrified with how much of that section I'm getting done. I've done half the jobs already and I'm googling to see if Japanese TV actually has a show that exclusively shows children running.

On top of that, the story's gotten weird. Your boss is clearly living past glories through you and is threatening to bulldoze your orphanage('s funding) because you need MOTIVATION to succeed at the Princess League. What a sentence. This is a Yakuza game. It's usually about gangland politics and key players standing at windows and being shot moments before they can tell you vital information. Now it's Mean Girls for five hours. Why do we need Shenmue 3 again?

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Miss Shake-Hands-Man 2.

Moment of Triumph 2K15

I was considering calling this 'Boss of the Year' but I've played through some memorable ones. Sehalanthropus is probably the only boss encounter Metal Gear Solid V gets spot on. The earlier hide and seek with it felt tense but wound up being awfully gamey. The final showdown had a real sense of weight and scale to it as he chased you down and went through various forms. Landing the final hit felt satisfying.

Same could be said for Bloodborne's Wet Nurse. Whilst the boss itself didn't carry an Ornstein and Smough level of challenge, it served as the culmination of weeks of effort. Probably should've mentioned this but all my ventures into the Souls games have carried with it the early struggle. The bosses in Bloodborne carry a consistent challenge to them that emphasise execution in a way that feels really good when you manage to hook it up. It might take this, had I not had a Souls game under my belt.

This year the winner has to be Dark Souls. I can go back to that game now and breeze through the first half but that first playthrough had some legitimately rough brick walls. Bell Gargoyles feel like a mock exam as you try to keep them within sight and find your opening. Ornstein and Smough is the real mid-term exam where you're tasked with two very different foes and asked to focus on one whilst being aware of the other. These two challenges took me hours and the game's good enough to make you return for one last shot.

The final exam comes by way of Gwynn. He's agile, carries a lot of range and power. I just remember running through his area feeling exhausted and, when I finally felled him, I may have let the neighbours hear about it. And then your reward for it is one-shotting the Asylum Demon in NG+. Thank you very much.

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DLC-Related Calamity of the Year

A joint winner for this award. Firstly, let's revisit Dark Souls one last time. I have never played the DLC. Last time I tried to do this, I followed all the steps. I beat the Hydra, got the pendant and then found the crystal golem. Two hits should be enough to free Dusk and she'll be all, "Check out my magic mushroom time travel powers, son!"

I hit her three times. Farewell. Bugger.

That said, I'm not sure it can outright topple my attempt to play the Nighmare on North Point DLC for Sleeping Dogs. This seemed like a good idea for my Extra Life stream so, at around 2am I finish .. whatever I played before it and slip the disc into my PS4. It doesn't sound too healthy. It not loading very well. Have I just killed my PS4 with this 24 hour stream?

I try again. Same problem. This time the disc fails to eject. Oh, shit. After a few frantic minutes, its out. I look at the disc and its clear that I've given it a whack at some point. Damn. So I'm in need of a plan B. I make a terrible choice. Who's up for some sleep-deprived Geometry Wars!? 3 minutes followed by an audible, "I can't do this." So faced with a brain that can't be arsed with anything sudden and a PS4 that may or may not be dying, Plan C. Contradiction.

Four hours of Contradiction. No audio. 90 minutes ahead of my scheduled end, I call it quits. It all started with that DLC.

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Now I'll never pick that bag up.

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Stand and Deliver your Money for Extra Life!

I'm a dandy ... why aye man? Fuck. Sorry about that one. This is my first year of participation and I'm excited to do my bit FOR THE KIDS!

I'm getting under way on November 7th at 8am GMT (the meanest of time zones) and there is some certain notes I want to hit. It'll be a mostly PS4-centric stream but I've also got a workable PC stream up and running. As a result, I have this in mind:

The Golf Club

There are two things I know that transpire around golf courses: Business and heart attacks. Why not band together in chat and intend to make one or both of these happen? Spout out your kickstarter fantasies or lay out Capcom's long-term business strategy from the comfort of your armchair. I'll be discussing the best suggestions from chat and, as with how democracy really rolls, any suggestions attached to donations get preferential scrutiny. LET'S MAKE SOME DEALS... WITH OUR IMAGINATIONS! AND LOUD VOICES!

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Time to celebrate Big Boss' oil rig death cult by playing the campaign completely Snake-less. The Diamond Dogs are ready to shine as we decide which ones have the coolest names and then give them license to ESPIONAGE! As with my recent blog series I may choose to moan about plot specifics. I say 'may'. I mean 'shall'.

Gone Home

Everybody's favourite introspection simulator will get a rude awakening as I role-play as a person attempting to burgle the Greenbriar residence. Chat can point out loot worth jacking and also speculate on the house's value as a whole. I will also be justifying my rampant ransacking by, I dunno, turning it into a class war. Sounds good, right? Start the van.


Who's the greatest vampire hunter of them all? Donate with a comment to champion a Belmont of your choice, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or Hunter Hearst Helmsley as our character. Yarnham won't know anything like it as our hunter dominates and is dominated by all manner of beasts.

Championship Manager / Football Manager

'Yeah'. Hold on a second, I'm going somewhere with this. I want to see how successful I can be in spite of myself. Selling top players, insulting fellow managers and generally acting with entire contempt for the profession I have chosen. Press be damned, star players be damned. Fans be damned. Its easier to do in the latter games with more interaction on offer but Championship Manager 2001-2 moves a lot quicker. A decision will need to be made. I recognise these are boring games to watch so I'll try my best to make it seem bearable.

And, if we hit $200 before 2am GMT on Sunday morning, we solve a murder.


From start to finish. We're solving this alcoholic's murder one bare-faced lie at a time armed only with a manbag, hat and "Just a few more questions, please." Make it happen. No hints. No chief calls. You are the chief!

So, yeah. Those are the main landmarks I'm looking at. I'm also looking to play a bit of Project Cars, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls II, Metro 2033, Rocket League, Sleeping Dogs, AMONGST OTHERS! Should be a packed 24 hours so join me.

I'll also be streaming over the coming weekend to preview the events. I fancy revisiting some old games whilst drumming up some last-minute support. It's greatly appreciated and is going to a worthy cause.

Donate here.

Watch on twitch here.

And it will be archived so anything you missed can be caught up. Team Giant Bomb's hitting that $250,000, folks.


The Story So Far (Episodes 30-'46')

Yes, this morning I was raring to end this odyssey and see how Kojima's last chapter wound up. Then came tanks. Lots of tanks. I don't like tanks. Especially those that are effectively boss tanks. With that in mind, I visited youtube for the conclusion of the final two missions. There's your full disclosure. I'm not finished but I am done.

Part 1 (1-12), Part 2 (12-20), Part 3 (20-30)

Revengeance Achieved

My last part concluded with me dipping my toes on the doorstep of Skullface's super-secret volcano base. This heavily-guarded fortress houses... nowt. It's like a helipad and three gates. Nevertheless, Kaz reckons the final showdown will be there and so will Sahelanthropus. So we pres on, sneak through an admittedly tense affair and confront Skullamania on the heliport. He then takes on a jeep ride under armed guard.

  1. There's a helicopter right there. Is that just going to stand down because you see Big Boss standing there and think, "Oooh, drama!"
  2. The armed guard vanish immediately as soon as the game makes the walk to the jeep on rails. I looked behind me expecting a gun at my back but there's nothing bar invisible walls to stop me from turning tail.

The jeep ride (which Kaz insisted I should go on) is nothing more than the game's ladder scene. The Bond villain spells out his masterplan to wipe English from the face of the earth with more parasites. Mainly to piss Zero off but also to stifle Cipher's world domination plans. Revenge and parasites are literally the two character motivations they map to everyone in this game. So the ride ends and Sehalanthropus lies in wait. Psycho Mantis and the Man of Fire say hello before the former takes the latter out because he now likes Eli more. Skullface shouts about revenge again as Mantis decides to pilot the mech using his magic mind powers.

I'll say this about Mantis. At no point in the fiction do they attach a reasonable explanation for it. He's consistent. He's a freak. He and Fortune are the only two that get actual magic powers. Sorrow doesn't count. Ghosts aren't magic. They're ghosts.

One thing the Metal Gear scrap continues to nail is actual scale. You're not fighting this thing on a platform or in a box room. You've got a sizable chunk of the map (that still isn't big enough) to duke it out with the best mech the series will ever have. It's also a boss ripped straight from the Peace Walker design doc. A massive machine with a health bar to match and you do not have enough ammo to take it down in one swoop. One of the reasons I disliked the predecessor was down to just how much of a marathon task boss fights were. Its handled better in The Phantom Pain by virtue of just having chopper and supply support happen automatically. Even then, there's only two instances (this and the tank waves... 'great') where your helicopter is a necessity. It winds up skirting the right side of frustration and feels pretty good when you land the last hit on the hulking behemoth.

And with that gone, the Skullface arc is concluded with some brutal shotgun shells and a touching moment that gets shat on by Huey for comedic effect. Don't do that, Hideo. It's not funny. You're not funny. Fuck you. So that's concluded, credits roll and the epilogue rolls into town with all the best bits from the trailers still to come. So I feel the best way to tackle this is character by character.


He opens Act 2 with a stirring speech that finally lays out the fact that he is a paranoid, blind Stalinist. He clearly hasn't got his revenge out of his system and now needs something else to rally against. He still has the idea that a spy is amidst the ranks so the only way to weed it out is to turn the workforce against itself. What a guy. Also, his blindness never has any consequence. He like, bundles into that one kid earlier in the game and then the rest of the time he's running to R&D for some burger meat. This man has been giving us intel the whole game. This man who cannot see has been verifying targets for us the entire game.

It wouldn't be so bad if Ocelot tagged along with him constantly as a minder but ... damn, he finds his way around with no trouble. With no eyesight. Another thing the speech lays out is just how he, much more than Big Boss, is the force that drives Diamond Dogs. It's his baby and he very much commands it. He's built this cult around Big Boss but, without Miller, it doesn't get done.


Man, I hate Huey. Over the course of the epilogue you discover he was working with Cipher, accidentally causing another outbreak of the parasites and had committed cold-blooded murder against the mother of his child. Sure, it was a loveless couple out of some bullshit convenience but, man, just take her to court. Oh, also he made his giant robot child-friendly. Fantastic dad material. On second thoughts, court would wind up in her favour. And speaking of such things, he loses his trial and then hilariously decides to blame whoever points the finger. That's the kind of thing you do when you lose an argument. So his story concludes with him being boated away to probably die. He also ditches his robot legs which, contrary to what Ocelot said during his torture, haven't shattered his legs to bits. Damn it, Kojima. Keep up with your fiction. Meanwhile Strangelove suffocates in a pod which you could get in and out of all the time in Peace Walker. Whatever.

Poor Hal.

Code Talker

I hate hearing him talk. He is the slowest at explaining anything and his sole purpose is to be a plot point and an exposition hub. He talks a lot about parasites in the epilogue and I simply do not care. He does imply revenge is a concept within the natural world which sounds like complete bollocks. The natural world is all about survival. Revenge is a completely alien concept to microbes. Shut up. He does find out about Quiet's problem, mind. Although he takes forever to tell anyone because DRAMA!

Li'l Foxhound

Eli and Mantis are probably my least favourite double-act in this game as they simply don't need to be there. Mantis already had a backstory setup in Metal Gear Solid and now he's just there as a KGB experiment who decided he was going to be drawn to rage for the next several months. Starting with the Man of Fire who, as we now know is Volgin. Yes, the Russian mindbender has decided to puppeteer a barely living, 20-years-dead Colonel because the only thing keeping him alive is REVENGE. Boom goes a hospital and Volgin walks on. Dumb.

Eli's story is difference in that, you can make a case for him being there. He resents Big Boss for the little time he spent with him but he seems so against authority in general that you wonder how the hell he wound up in the SAS. On top of that, he never changes his tune. He makes no attempt to connect with the father he barely knows and is just angry by default. Big Boss won't commit until that DNA test comes back so it's a stalemate of hatred. When the results do come back, "Oh, he's just some other kid!" and the penny drops. You actually went and did it, Hideo. And then the child-friendly mech which BIG BOSS INSISTED back to base as a symbol is stolen. I can't even begin to fathom that one. I mean, its a real good way to make your base a target. Remember the last time? You were there!

Quiet. Words and Deeds.

Now, I'll stand by and say she is largely a cool new character although she is effectively a punchbag. For some comparisons, let's take Coronation Street character Gail Platt. She's the first thing that springs to mind when I consider punchbags in TV and film. Throughout her tenure on the show, the following happens.

  1. Marries a nice man. He gets stabbed and dies.
  2. Marries another nice man. He goes and has an affair. They divorce.
  3. Marries a psyhcopath. He tries to drown the whole family. It's great.
  4. Her kid has a teenage pregnancy.
  5. Her other kid decides to become a psychopath because nothing's happened to Gail in a while.

That's a rough existence for a fictional character. Quiet might just trump it.

  1. Goes to kill Big Boss. Misses. Gets dead lungs for her trouble.
  2. Undergoes parasite therapy instead of a lung transplant because modern medicine doesn't exist in this universe. Only future medicine.
  3. Gets deployed to Afghanistan with even more parasites so that she can kill Big Boss with words. (Nice. Got one of my predictions right)
  4. Arrives on Mother Base and at no point gains the respect of anyone but Big Boss.
  5. Lives in a cage her entire time on Mother Base. Even when she's not suspected of anything.
  6. Jumps into a chlorine cloud to save a child's trinket. Nobody gives a shit.
  7. Runs away only to get raped.
  8. Speaks English. Condemning herself to death.

The depiction of point seven is where I really, really, really hated Kojima. Y'see, he's going on about being ashamed of your words and deeds and yet this is how a harrowing sexual assault is depicted:

The deed happens. Naturally her magic powers conveniently return for her to stab many men in the junk. This is all happening whilst she channels her inner Xenia Onatopp and strangles men with her thighs. A fire breaks out only for Big Boss (who has not intervened at any time despite being within striking distance) to extinguish it. My fucking hero. Quiet emerges with her trademark gear and the camera focuses on her breasts.


You can't portray a rape, go on about words and deeds and then undermine the worst thing that can happen to anyone by sexualising her response to violence (i.e. more violence) and then give us a tit shot! No! FUCK OFF! DISGRACEFUL!

But we're not done. The mayhem brings the fury of a battalion of tanks (who seem to turn up despite nobody radioing in) and, after a minute or so of fighting, Troy Baker is given the line, "Looks like Quiet's back to her old self."


Jesus Christ, man. You made a big deal about a scene which contains an incredibly sensitive subject and, within a minute of it happening, EVERYTHING'S OKAY! No years of counselling, just kill a few guys til you feel better. I'm shaking my head here and I really, really wonder if Konami had any bottle to intervene at this point. That would've been the time to tell him no. It is the worst way this could've been handled. And now she's off forever to die somewhere. I like you, Quiet. Sorry Kojima was at the controls. Well, there's only one thing left to cover.

Big Boss and his Friend Big Boss.

The Eli tape telegraphed it and I had known beforehand due to me not being astute with spoilers but I was still curious to see the execution. I guess it sorta works. I had given up Kojima playing it straight because he seems to get all of his narrative cues from anime but the long and the short of it is that you have been playing as the medic the whole time. He took the brunt of the explosion and his survival gave Big Boss, Ocelot and Kaz the idea that they needed a body double. Zero placed Big Boss in Cyprus so he could observe his progress and, presumably strike when he came to. In that time, Skullface vegetated Zero with parasites to assume the Cipher chain of command.

In what little time they have, the medical staff drill into Venom Snake the idea he is Big Boss. They give him the face to match and, rather than use him as a simple decoy, they start this whole elaborate ruse where they condition him to be a Big Boss unto himself. That's bollocks, really. The XOF guys are looking for a guy with Big Boss' face. He's unable to walk due to the coma so just pretend to be asleep when Quiet comes, let her ice Venom Snake and then sneak your way out. I know Venom's whole existence is to draw Cipher's attention but a dead Big Boss gets them off your back equally and you can just get on with building Outer Heaven. At worst, they'll do some DNA verification on the corpse but, by then, you're away.

But no, they need two Big Bosses to set up Metal Gear. One commanding Foxhound and the other commanding Outer Heaven. Lets ignore Venom tries to sabotage his own mission by telling Snake to turn his MSX off. I guess instead of a situation where Big Boss might know the jig is up, the context is now that Snake meeting with Big Boss could blow the lid on the imposter. Except he won't. It was never intended that way in the first place. Plus nobody in the support crew bats an eyelid when Big Boss turns up and the guys in the Foxhound control room all look at Venom Snake. Deary me.

On top of this, the ending spells out Ocelot and Kaz being at odds. The former is still a fanboy whilst the latter has had his fingers burnt by the whole charade. So they pick sides. It'll wind up getting Kaz killed and Ocelot will get his lights punched out on a battleship 40 years from now. But there's still problems. Like, where is Venom Snake in Metal Gear 2? Actually, let's go further back. Metal Gear. Big Boss is ended for the first time whilst Venom commands Foxhound. He relieves command of Foxhound to Roy Campbell.


Is he reprimanded? "Hey, Big Boss. You're going to prison for this even though you died just a minute ago." Does he just up and leave? That's all you can do when the mission flops. The world made a lot more sense when it was just Big Boss Classic picking a rookie because he didn't think he'd get the job done. The events of The Phantom Pain make a lot more sense if you just play it as Big Boss, end it at Mission 31, have Zero pull round and for him to express his gratitude for you doing him a big favour.

Look, I know we haven't always seen eye to eye but I did not want Skullface's actions to be in my name. There's a threat in my organisation. I need it stamping out. You're the only man I truly trust at the moment and you have the personality to keep these men in line. If you're interested, Foxhound's waiting for you. I don't expect a yes. Just consider it. Thanks.

You still get the split with Kaz and the lead up to Metal Gear. Ditch Psycho Mantis and replace him with Gray Fox who, older than Eli, becomes his superior. Eli gets pissed off with that, Big Boss ships the little git away. Eli stamps Fox out in a couple of game's time.

A lot of this game's fiction seemed to be pandering to a crowd rather than trying to connect with a forthcoming fiction. The end for this should've been set in stone but this anime nightmare continued because this is the best Kojima can offer. It's all he knows. And it really, really sucks.

Other stuff

  • Ocelot is younger than Big Boss but he looks like he was born old.
  • The Metal Gear world is 15 years away from a massive oil crisis. I wanted to see more indications of that besides, "Man, everything needs lots of fuel."
  • Sniper Wolf mentioned she met Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid. Missed opportunity.
  • If parasites are so cool, why doesn't everyone have them? Why did it take 20 years to figure it out. You had nanomachines in less time. You had gene therapy in less time.

Man, I am glad to see the back of this.


The Story so Far (Missions 21 - 30)

Part 1 (1-12)

Part 2 (12-20)

So far things have been dripped out at a manageable pace but in this, the third leg of our journey, the stakes are amped. And it all starts with children.

Kids. Stop playing with those guns.

Yes, child soldiers. An increasingly common-ish theme in the overall fiction (particularly if your name happens to be Raiden) and one that's handled kinda as you'd expect. You can't kill them because that'd be ... very... bad for business. So you do the only thing a Konami lawyer will advise at this point: Stop complaining and bring those kids back to base. It'll have some repercussions but now Mother Base is a school as well as a Noah's ark. It also means that, for the first time in a long while, I'm having to favour non-lethal weapons in case things get loud. Thankfully, Quiet loves sleepy kids and the waist-high cover populating the outposts are head-height cover for the kids.

They never see me coming. Bop. You're my kids, now.

Especially the King Kid. Eli is his name and they waste no time in removing all mystery from this blonde Tottenham geezer who only knows how to communicate by stabbing and spitting. Kaz immediately digs up some research and is all, "Hey, one of your clones is in Africa. Convenient. He's probably one of them." It's kinda an essential step they have to take seeing as Liquid references a past with Big Boss that's arguably more fatherly than the one he had with Solid. Placing them in the here and now (of the past, like) gives them a chance to set that up. Pity they set the tone so quickly, really. Eli turns up, tries to knife Big Boss and then tries it again in a side-op that involves just backhanding the little git til he cries and spits.

He's a brat. The kind of brat that will resent Big Boss for the duration of his short life. They've set it up. They don't need to go any further. I do like how Eli is now a small kid in an adult world and his authority on others has been removed but this was all done so quickly and there's no real arch likely to happen because, well, we know how it ends up.

Fun of a Base

So after doing a couple more Far Cry 2 missions for Africans A and Africans B the game decides now's the time to get FOB on us. It's a feature that, whilst it looked super cool in promotion, was never something I was especially keen on. I'm not huge of tower defense or multiplayer in general so the forced tutorial was somewhat unwelcome. I tried to go through the retaking of the platform the normal, full frontal method but got gunned to shreds on the third deck. The next time I saw death just inches away from the opposing commander. Pissed doesn't cover it. Eventually, I picked a spot right near the mission start and just waited to snipe the target. Frankly, at this point, I just wanted it done. Glad its over. Now let's never speak of it again. Just give me my extra platforms, thanks.

Coughs and Sneezes

So... then they give us some virulent disease that's rampant through the base. Enter another tutorial where I have to get to grips with quarantine. I found the common factor pretty quickly which isn't too hard given how bare the information is you get on staff. Imagine my disdain when I realised I had 250 Kikongo speakers on staff. I had to assign them all to the Q Zone one by one. My base was crippled and, as a rather cruel twist, the majority came from the medical wing. I'm furious at this point. I can barely develop anything and the only information I'm getting about how the quarantine is going is negative. I was hoping to prevent further losses so my priority now was getting a cure. Quiet still had time to stab a man in the teeth. This was fun. The game had acknowledged I was on the right track but still fed me the cut-scene afterwards. Also, the way they speak to Quiet reminds me of how Aussies speak to Skippy.

What's that, Quiet? You think there's something wrong with their mouths!? STREWTH!

Has nobody thought to get that woman a pen? If nothing else, the epidemic gave me a real sense of urgency to mainline the story whilst still wondering how the living frig a disease would spread through language. This is what you get for bringing kids on board. Miller wanted to kill them but he did not kill their clothes. Bad Miller. You're washing the dishes tonight.


Fuck! I KNEW IT! Yes but there's something off about that. Maybe this old man will explain everything to me after I kill some of his creations. Wait, I can just sneak past this lot. Hoorah! Why is there a lingering arse shot on the bald women? I want to see these as stern opposition, not objects. Plus there's nowt going on up top. I don't look at a woman in the arse if I want to talk to them. I do that shit in secret. Anyways....

There's a heavily guarded mansion which becomes a lesser guarded mansion because I'm instructing Quiet to just shoot at will. Let's be honest, I'm short on time. I just want to grab this old man and he'll be all, "Here's the antidote, brah. Can I vape with you guys, now?" So we meet Code Talker. A man who, disappointingly, does not talk in code. He's an old man who talks slowly but in long exposition. Turns out he's Mr. Bad Science. The kind of guy Emmerich probably aspires to be. So, here's a short version....

I'm a paraistologist. I invented these parasites which latch on to the vocal chords, wait for a trigger phrase in a language they like, make lots of babies, hit the lungs real quick and then die. They spew their eggs off to another host real quick and it spreads like butter. The military application for this is super simple: Ethnic cleansing. Brutal, inaccurate holocaust. Wanna hit the pipe with me?

Seriously, this is a better explanation than I could've expected. Its still science fiction but it follows a decent logic. One of the African groups can wipe out the other with said parasites and then you could reprogram them to silence any other lot you disliked. It appears that's what Skull Face was doing with the bodies at the hospital in Mission 20. Everyone is at risk except English speakers because... maybe he doesn't want to deal with them on a business level? See, we also learn Skull Face has an idea about deterrence. Admittedly a better idea than Hot Coldman had in Peace Walker. Sell everyone some nukes and you're back to a level playing field. You make a ton of money and you also have these parasites that can silence anybody who gets lippy. You can stop talking now, fella. You'll give away our position.

We also made these other parasites for the SKULLS. They harden the skin like an armour and add all kinds of crazy powers that make absolutely no sense. Like, some of them are super quick and others pull up these weird carbon icicles that come from literally nowhere. Seriously, they're not pulling up the ground or anything. It's magic. FUCKING MAGIC!

Look, Kojima. Remember when you presented the player with threats just because they were supposed to be real good at their job? Sniper Wolf was really good at sniping. Vulcan Raven has the stature to come at you with a plane's mini-gun. Liquid Snake is relentless. You're now presenting me with a Megaman boss, his child psychic sidekick and a unit of magic women. Can they not just be excellent soldiers? These are experiments. These are obstacles and nuisances. I do not fear them. Especially when I have a magic woman of my own who knows where all the best vantage points are. Fine. Okay. How do we fix these sore throats? Fine, I'll hit your stupid peace pipe.

Thanks. You're sorted now. You can use that or I've got this thing in a glass case which does the same thing but is more long term. It's ANOTHER PARASITE I've been working on. This won't cure of expel them because like, they're in you now but they'll stop the buggers from making throat babies and stop them from gender bending in throat town. By the way, these will make your men sterile. Because.

That's fine, mate. I've already got three kids. Actually, no. Just how the hell do you get from one set of genocide parasites to super armour parasites? Obviously this is all out in the wild but I'm not convinced of your bullshit, Sir.

Look, Hideo needs to crowbar a precursor to nanomachines into this somehow. Me and Huey will combine our research into murdering parasitic robots and then the series will roll on its merry way. I'm expositioned out.

And with that, the base is cured. 40 casualties because the guys already infected have no backsies. Bollocks. Time to rebuild. Time to march on Skull Face. Did that soldier just sneeze?

So this is it, huh?

Yup. At the time of writing the next mission up is the assault on Castle Skullfenstein. I took one look at that place, saw the red dots and thought, "Man, I should dust off some side ops and bring the base back up." I kinda want to get his arc done, though. If nothing else because Skull Face has some actual legit reasons lined up for his rough rise to power. He's the kind of villain that believes he's pulling this all for a greater good and he's not being a massive eejit like Hot Coldman. So, resolution is hopefully just around the corner which gives me possibly the last call for crazy predictions.

  1. Quiet doesn't speak because she has a throat of parasitic timebombs that will kill the English. Also, the silver paintjob really kills her sex appeal. Good. She's a T-1000 now.
  2. Eli will continue to be the prick he was born to be. I hear people complain about how his arc is kinda dropped but I probably won't mind seeing as it's in the spot it needs to be leading up to Metal Gear Solid.
  3. Big Boss scarpered after the hospital siege. Whilst Ishmael should be a figment of Big Boss' determination to get out of a jam, it's more likely (and more depressing) that Kojima decided a switcheroo is 'clever writing'. Ignoring the repercussions of a Mother Base being built on the say-so of an imposter just so the real boss can go under Cipher's radar to do exactly the same thing. Whilst all his comrades are like, "LEAD US, MILITARY JESUS!" If this turns out to be true, all the character building and the idea of Big Boss and Cipher having an uneasy truce will be for naught.
  4. Psycho Mantis was never psychic to begin with. He knew what you played in Metal Gear Solid because you had a spy within your support staff. His boss battle and his levitation came courtesy of some John Woo wirework. He never piloted Sehalanthropus. That's a dude in the cabin that you can't see. He doesn't control Man on Fire because he's just a guy in a suit.
  5. The ending will disappoint me.
  6. Hideo Kojima will never work again. Unless Konami make a match-three game based on anime girls.

So the next part will hopefully conclude this series of blogs as I intend to cover both endings and put this game to bed. 70 hours in. Still enjoying it but I'm ready to see this one off.


The Story So Far (Missions 12 - 20)

Following on from part one, I aim to keep this discovery train rolling with more thoughts about just what the hell is going on in this game. We left off at the beginning of Mission 12 where we intend to rescue Huey because:

  • a) He asked us to.
  • b) He is suspected of tipping Skull Face off about Mother Base.

I'll explain why b) is kinda dumb but firstly, I want to just say how good this mission was. You have a massive trek to your objective, find Huey in a base crawling with Walker Gears and then your extraction is hampered by this:

No Caption Provided


Sa-hel-anth-rop-us (and other Technological Inconsistencies)

Yep. Its a hell of an introduction. Inside the lab it looks like a Rex clone but it soon becomes apparent this is the most advanced Metal Gear will see in this series. In 1984. It has fingers which it needs to hold its Sword-Whip because OF COURSE IT DOES! It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder what will happen in the preceding years to make that obsolete and it also presents a very obvious problem when you're dealing with a long-running series that decides to plug gaps in the timeline.

Snake Eater approached it well with a good mix of conceptual 60s future tech not too far from reality. The Shaghohod, whilst not being a bipedal nightmare tank was a tank that could bolster missile range providing it had a runway large enough to pelt down. And it was powered by the Space Race which makes a surprising amount of Cold War sense. Now, when Granin mentioned his desire for walking tanks, I wrongly assumed this was some sort of pipe dream that, in the fiction would take until 1995 to realise.

Nope. In Portable Ops, RAXA is this weird winged thing with stubby legs. You can see them trying to edge towards REX without explicitly going bipedal. In Peace Walker, it's a four-legged beast accompanied by a support unit of other tanks and mechs. By the end of that game, you have a Metal Gear of your own which looks like a slightly primitive Rex. Beating Hal to the punch by 30 years is amazing.

Now, I understand that as a game designer or artist working on a series, you want your new thing to be better. A new thing in an old time is tough to pull off and I guess with Sahelanthropus and ZEKE they've stopped trying to keep the mystique around Metal Gear alive. By the end of the series, everyone has one. In this dark middle chapter, we have the most imposing. I'll admit tying it in as the missing link should make it a landmark as being genuinely upright but... you... already managed this 10 years ago, Huey. And just what did happen to ZEKE? I can't for a minute expect Skull Face to turn over Mother Base and then decide not to go looking for the giant monster on the sea floor. Is this all cobbled together from ZEKE? Is that still hidden away?

Walker Gear I'm totally okay with, even if they are getting kinda mass produced by a Russian military that's still getting their arse handed to them.

Huey is a Mad Scientist

Truly. Upon his rescue we immediately interrogate him over the events of Ground Zeroes Now, when it comes to whodunnits, it's rarely the first guy you come to. Mud is slung in Miller's direction to, seeing as he originally came to Cipher to try and give MSF some work. Thing is, Paz is a much, much more likely candidate to have spilled the beans. I mean, it has to be.


They don't need another insider. They have all they need and are just waiting for the right time to strike. Is this base in Ground Zeroes another Mother Base? Do they relocate every few years 'just in case'? Any idea how much that would cost? It's Paz, plain and simple. She gets interrogated by XOF, they get what they need and then bomb her up. Huey's not a turncoat. He's just a psychopath.

He moans about how he was forced to work for 9 years on Sahelanthropus yet he clearly did an awesome job. When he's let off the hook, his Battle Gear speech gives me the creeps. You love work, you. Those 9 years were probably alright. It also highlights the big difference between him and his son. Hal likes to build Gundams. Huey likes to build straight-up Murder Gears. Post Metal Gear Solid, Hal spent all of his days hacking and flying helicopters. Huey gets aroused at explosions. I bet they didn't get on.

So with Huey dismissed, I'll turn to Miller. They could have him be a snitch. They're on opposing sides in Metal Gear 2 and the signs of strain between him and Big Boss are definitely getting a lot of mileage. I'd like to think Kojima would refrain from having best friends turn on each other but then that's the kind of twist he loves. C'mon, Hideo. It's Paz.


Photosynthesis is the process plants use to convert sunlight into carbohydrates. It has never been recorded in humans. We have other things for that. Despite this, Hideo Kojima has decided two characters in his universe will become plants. The End uses it to allow him to wait for long periods of time and it has presumably extended his life significantly. He does this fully clothed. Quiet also has this. Ocelot explains that this is the only rational explanation for her not eating since being held captive on Mother Base. PLANTS STILL NEED FOOD! Flowers in a vase of water will still die. It needs roots. It needs nutrients from soil to survive. Otherwise it's just a terminal illness you're prolonging.

How do you survive, girl!?

She breathes though her skin, apparently.

The skin is the body's largest organ and makes up about 15% of our body weight. It does lots of amazing things like hold all our internal organs together but it doesn't play an active role in helping us breathe.

Wise words from

Now, there could be some other emotional reason why Quiet runs around. Heck, Afghanistan and Africa are very warm but the reason you're giving me is piss poor. Particularly as she appears in the prologue. At night. Fully clothed. I'll not say much more on the matter. It's been covered.

Big Boss' Cult of Personality

I mentioned in the first part how Big Boss is still being given agency over Mother Base despite logically being a vegetative shell. During the Huey rescue and other instances, Miller and Ocelot play devils on Big Boss' shoulder and, whoever loses out just goes, "Whatever you say, Boss!" Someone also references how they fulton soldiers against their will and eventually they 'see straight'. Firstly, I think that's why Ocelot spends so much time at Mother Base. Torture is his hobby. Secondly, it highlights the kind of offshore madhouse they operate. It's a militant cult and Big Boss, with his legend and mystique is their Brian Jones.

It looks even more like Jonestown now the kids are onboard. That was a cool mission. Running through that valley with 6 kids whilst Quiet provided cover felt pretty neat. Miller disapproves of their presence, or rather, their purpose. Big Boss wants them as soldiers. Miller wants them to be educated and shipped off. Tell him no, then. I dare you. That's the stature he has at this point and you can really believe that:

  1. He'll go rouge and create ANOTHER military cult.
  2. Many, many, many more people will want him killed.

You don't finish this path a misunderstood hero. You can explain to me how everything works at the end of this but I'm still not sending you a birthday card. Oh, another thing, whilst I'm on the subject. The tape where Huey gushes about Dr. Clark's work. For one thing, I've never liked Paramedic's retcon into a big science McGuffin but the cold reaction Big Boss gives to the cloning speech has me flummoxed. I can't tell from his reaction whether he's not acknowledging it because he knows there's three kids rolling around calling him Dad or whether he's got some convenient amnesia from the coma.

Team Skullface

At the time of writing this I've just played through Mission 20. I still have little idea about Man of Fire's identity beyond he looks like Volgin. Please don't be Volgin. Skull Face's motives or indeed if Psycho Mantis has any stake in this beyond, "I'm a child soldier. YAY!" I don't think he's got the mind-reading down otherwise I'd still be hiding behind rocks waiting for Sahelanthropus to pass. Clearly there's something shady going on at the hospital with the disease. I suspect its some experimentation with parasites or something. Maybe even exposure to uranium. Anybody else spot the P.T. audio in that place? I knew a boss fight was coming but that whole area was done well. That tape was just the icing on the cake. I suspect not going super deep into Ground Zeroes beyond finishing the main mission has hurt my Skullface knowledge. He is a bad man that does bad things and yet he might come off as the lesser of two evils at this rate.

Hope you enjoyed this speculation. I'll carry on til I finish this thing. There's still an awful lot I want to know. For know I'll lay down what I think will happen.

  • He and Cipher call an uneasy truce after all this. Zero's main opposition inside his own organisation is snuffed out so they reform Foxhound and Big Boss is placed at the helm.
  • Meanwhile Big Boss uproots Mother Base to a new land-based location because, at this point he is Joseph Stalin. He cannot trust anyone.
  • Man On Fire will turn out to be Volgin and not someone in a Volgin suit. Boo.
  • Sehalanthropus will be defeated by the Killer Bee. That's an easy one.

Also, now we're in Africa we're sort of not picking sides any more. It's a bit like how I played Far Cry 2 although I did grimace when Miller said in a mission briefing 'it wasn't about revenge'. Read the back of the box, Kaz. Master. Benedict. McDonnell. Whatever.


The Story So Far (Spoilers until mission 12)

Alright. The spoilercast is out and I've done very well to avoid spoilers beyond, "My, this story is light and/or disappointing". Curiosity might get the better of me but, for now, I'm going to collect my thoughts on the 'known knowns' I've got so far. Firstly, let's go into the war itself.

Whose Side are You On?

It's a question I often ask of Ocelot who, at this point in time is a Russian in Afghanistan fighting (directly?) against the country he effectively has a long-standing military association with. An association that will continue long into the 21st century. Why the hell are you on Mother Base? Shouldn't you be working? I'm assuming by now his decades of service with the GRU and beyond have landed him a rank of some significance. Why isn't he leading troops against us? Why isn't he providing us with more intel? If he's doing the double - triple agent nonsense he always does, why isn't he explicitly doing it in this instance?

Is this whole thing like his gap year before he takes up ranks with the Spetsnaz? What is up with you, man? He drops a lot of knowledge about local matters so I can assume he has had some action during the conflict. Maybe in the conflict's infancy when Big Boss was trying to break out of his third coma or whatever. Maybe I'll let it slide.

Whilst we're at it, Big Boss and his comrades have definitely picked a side so far. Every mission has been against Soviet aggression whilst, at this point in history they might be the more willing candidates to pay handsomely for Diamond Dog's services. Heck, an eight year campaign of fruitless endeavor against US-backed fighters would seem like the perfect opportunity for Miller to approach the Soviets and offer support. And they'd pay more than whatever clients he has in his portfolio. I mean, I understand Diamond Dogs is a fledgling new starter but, once they noticed your growth, they'd be eager to sign you up.

It does offer up an interesting question about where mercenary loyalties lie but Miller's always been a business-orientated guy since he started MSF. Is he backing the underdog to prolong the conflict and gain more jobs that way? Back in Peace Walker he and Big Boss seemed more picky about the stances they took. Seems like they're just going against the Soviets because history has them down as the bad guys.

Quiet (and by extension, Cipher)

So, having finished Mission 11 I now have Quiet involved with proceedings. She's immediately holed up in a cell and being given the Guantanamo treatment in an effort to get her to talk. Nobody likes Quiet. A Quiet lookalike tried to ice us in Cyprus. Apparently, she's in league with Cipher. I'll have to revisit that tape because I've only really heard Miller's word on that. It's true that she's immediately against us when we come into contact with her but she's had an opportunity to deal with us and, for various reasons, hasn't followed through.

I'm convince that she could do this at any time, though. She has mad magic powers that seem to involve invisibility, flight (or at least, gliding) and I wouldn't be surprised if she just teleported out of her cell at some point. As for her bigger picture, I kinda already know some of that. The title of the song she hums implies some shameful 'words and deeds' whilst her character is basically The End from Metal Gear Solid 3. I can draw some conclusions from that. Also, if she talks by the end of this, I'm walking away.

Miller Time

Miller's not stoked about any of this. Having a perceived enemy on the base, after the events of Ground Zeroes sounds like a bad situation waiting to repeat itself. I agree with him. He lets Big Boss bring her in but, let's be honest, Big Boss should, by rights, be a vegetable. He is in no condition to make smart decisions. He's lucky he can even walk or breathe on his own terms. He has a condition where frequent hallucinations occur so his ability out in the field should be hampered but the game seems real choosy about when to acknowledge any of this. Particularly with regards to the option thing on the medical platform. Actual spoiler tags for this one, as you may have missed it:

So, Paz is apparently alive and well. Big Boss found her second bomb (complete with unnecessary cutscene) and a missile took the chopper out which resulted in the 9-year coma. Miller apparently takes her in. Miller. Fiddle. Bitch. This is a clear indication that Big Boss is starting to lose it. Nobody on the base has verified her presence beyond that initial cutscene with Miller and Ocelot. Paz has amnesia and thinks it's 1974. A 1974 version of Paz that shouldn't exist because that was all an act by a Cipher mole. So, we have a 'peace and love' pretendy Paz which is now her real persona. At least this makes me appreciate the major heel turn she gives in Peace Walker. If this Paz was legit, Miller would've probably battered her and dumped her out to see. She does not exist.

I feel like this is the game where the split between those two happens. A split which should (but probably won't) land Big Boss back at Foxhound because of his services against the Soviets in this very game. Miller struggles to run Diamond Dogs on his own (despite being the capable candidate for years) and Big Boss picks that up under the guise of Outer Heaven. Or not. I can't honestly second guess Kojima and it's difficult to see how much influence he has over a troubled project such as this.

Whilst we're taking about Miller, I really, really hate the hatchet job done to retcon him into things. Master Miller. Benedict 'Kazamura' Miller. McDonnell Miller. Which is it? Are they different Millers? He's had like, three different faces in the fiction all to facilitate some shock twist in Metal Gear Solid. In fact, the timeline confirms Kaz and McDonnell are the same person as he gets killed in Metal Gear Solid. WHAT THE FUCK, KOJIMA!? WHY DOES HE HAVE TWO NAMES!?

Ocelot's not even Russian any more. He's gone from look like Lee van Cleef to sounding like him as well. And he sounded like an American teen in Snake Eater. Filthy American DAWG!

A Word on Mantis and Skullface and I guess Huey

I'm not sure where I stand on his appearance. He's effectively a child soldier but, at this point in time he already has the psychic powers that'll make him famous. He's another one I'm not sure about his allegiances. I mean, he's with Cipher but the backstory in Metal Gear Solid indicates he, like Ocelot is a Soviet soldier at some point. And he hasn't even met the serial killer that'll trigger him to go nuts yet. He doesn't like his Dad. Or sex. I remember that much.

Anyway, he's at the centre of Phantom Pain's cooler set-pieces. All so far have been fully acknowledged as being real as shit rather than being hallucinations. That kind of depresses me. Man on Fire should be a mind trip and not some unstoppable Terminator. Mantis also seemingly can control Metal Gear Something which makes its entrance during one of the Skulls sections. God, I hate the Skulls. Remember the Frog Unit from MGS4? Well, they remade those 25 years earlier. Keep track of your fucking fiction, Hideo! Also, another thing about the Metal Gear reveal is how Miller doesn't initially acknowledge it's Metal Gear.

What is that thing? Oh, that thing we used to have. The robot which were going to use as a nuclear deterrent. The one that probably got knicked from us when Cipher blew Mother Base out of the water. REMEMBER THAT, KAZ!? Except now it looks exactly like Rex. Hal, you stole Daddy's notebook, didn't you? Huey's involvement with the story really irks me. We get a throwaway line in Metal Gear Solid about Hal's Dad being born on the day of the Hiroshima bomb. Somehow, after years of thought, this has now extrapolated into Huey following in his father's footsteps and being a nuclear weapons designer. What was supposed to be an unkind coincidence is now, "like father, like son". There's no need. There are other scientists you could make up. You did that in Snake Eater.

Oh, Skullface. I don't get him yet but then I've barely seen him. He wears a Zorro mask and a hat. Hopefully he's got some quality motives. Apparently he's in league with Cipher but, again, those are Miller's words.

Well, I guess that's all I've got so far. See you in another 12 missions. The annoying thing about this is that I'm prepared to be disappointed in this game's resolution. I'm still hopeful of some surprises but, if I never play through another Kojima story, I'll live with it.


Things I finished... 6 monthly check-in.

Yeah, this was intended to be a monthly thing but the last couple of months have felt a little slim so I've decided to throw in a little progress report about my backlog in general and focus on some of the things I want checked off before 2015 closes out. A recap:

The Finished

  • Far Cry 2
  • Far Cry 4
  • Infamous: First Light
  • Metroid Prime
  • King Oddball Ends the World
  • Transistor
  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War
  • DmC: Definitive Edition
  • Dark Souls
  • The Unfinished Swan
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order

The latter two being new entries I haven't wrote about so I'll sum these up in the next couple of paragraphs. Unfinished Swan is a short and sweet storybook jaunt that's a really good way to fill a Sunday afternoon. It displays some neat mechanics which are all briefly touched upon. They don't outstay their welcome and I can't honestly say I was sold short either. And Terry Gilliam is in it.

Wolfenstein is raw fun. I took the challenge out of things by charging through it on easy but I don't feel like I've done myself a disservice. That game has some heart and its earned its rightful place as one of last year's bright moments.

The Ones I'm Done With

Effectively the games I put time into and then decided I'd had enough.

  • Velocity 2X
  • Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition
  • Black
  • Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Now, Guacamelee suffered due to the way I play games now. I used to be thorough but I've kinda broken that habit and, as a result, I got two bosses from the end and felt weak and underprepared. Its a game I'm likely to return to but don't be surprised if I don't. A nice Metroidvania with some emphasis on a decent combat engine, although it loves to wall you off in arenas.

Black's a victim of time. After Wolfenstein I fancied returning to it to get another FPS off the list. I was at the Asylum entrance and, let me tell you, PS2 particle effects on a 32" LCD might as well render me blind. I think I've advanced further in that game but my memory is conveniently fuzzy and, as a super short game I should tie that loose end up. The longer I wait, though, the worse it'll get.

Peace Walker should've been right up my street. The sneaking feels great but the bosses almost feel like they're out of one person's capabilities. I gave it another shot and eventually retired at the same spot I always do. The second tank battle is nonsense. I'll catch up with the cutscenes and leave it at that. The black sheep of the family must remain uneaten.

The Outstanding

So we come to the remainder. Replaying Black has taught me there will be some games on this list that just won't be pleasant to return to after such a hiatus. Certain games will simply not get finished due to the sheer challenge of them. Nonetheless, this is what remains:

  • 5 Resident Evils
  • 5 Final Fantasies
  • 3 Princes of Persia
  • 3 Souls games
  • 3 Clover / Platinum efforts
  • 3 Rockstar developed / published games that aren't Grand Theft Auto
  • 2 Hitmen
  • 2 Gears of War
  • 2 Legends of Zelda (And 1 that isn't)
  • 2 Splinter Cells
  • 2 Ninja Gaiden Sigmas
  • 2 Dual-Joystick shooters
  • The quintessential Castlevania
  • The most R-Type you can have
  • from the makers of APB ...
  • That most recent X-Com (which should be first off this list now that failure is canon)
  • Free Playstation stuff by way of apology
  • Free Playstation stuff by way of subscription
  • Dan's favourite mainline Mario.
  • Not a Capcom remake
  • Bungie's third-person something-or-other
  • Nobody messes with Adam We.
  • The Batman of Mordor
  • Metroid Prime 2.
  • Shinobi's last hurrah
  • Deus Ex

Yeah, I ran out of cool ideas. Anyway, that's about 50 in total. Some of which are too old or difficult to properly embrace. Regardless, there's some landmarks on there I need to focus on. I'm reinstalling Final Fantasy VII as we speak. And I've just realised I wiped my last save. Joy! Midgar for the 100th time, guys and girls!


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The Thing I Finished in April (Spoilers... probably)

Yeah, this month's got some time to run but I'm in an RPG rabbit hole and I've never been good at reversing.

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Easter came early this year so I figured the time off work would allow me to finally break through the fissure of this game and actually start to seriously enjoy it. 74 hours later, it was finished. I won't lie. I celebrated.

Barrier to Entry

Let's be frank, this game has a legitimate cult following but with some now mainstream appeal. Kinda like Scientology or Homeopathic medicine. This is the point where From's series gained some meaningful traction whilst still turning others away due to the initial hardships or simply word of mouth proclaiming the game's difficulty.

I persevered with the game by intending to setup some little objectives along the way. Killing the first Black Knight you see in Undead Burg was always on my agenda but firstly I was after what he was guarding. With loot staying with you after death, I began to entertain the idea of just making a break for glowing things just to see if it was worth it. Couple this with the obvious need to discover new areas and bonfires and I was starting to get to grips with this. I'll definitely admit to certain early encounters like the Capra Demon being roadblocks which had me stumped. I never gave up but I'd consult guides or videos just to give me a base camp to go from. This might be against the whole point of playing a game but, as a player, I still had to execute. The point where I started to get along with Dark Souls might possibly have been the Bell Gargoyles. Seeing that second foe join the fray switched my brain onto thinking about the fight differently. Keeping eyes on them both and manipulating them to stay on the same real estate was pretty neat and brings up probably my favourite part about Dark Soul's core mechanics.

Take the Lead

Because at this point the passive nature of the combat shows itself up to be mostly player-influenced. Obviously, you aggro them by coming into their personal space but, once engaged, you can lead their movements once you lock on. Its a dance and you're engineered to take control. Your movement seems so key to opening up times to strike or even what attacks the enemy will offer. I'll give an example: The Silver Knights you face in Anor Londo have this dickish shield bash which instantly staggers you. Now, I went through that area several times (due to a boss fight that I'll go into later) and really hated being caught out by that stagger. So the common sense approach would be to lead the enemy away from their shield hand. Once I figured that out, the guys offered a more straight-forward proposition. So much of the combat is recognising details like that and your player character will always have that kind of advantage. Once I could hit hard enough I was taking chances with second and third hits on earlier enemies because I knew they'd stagger, allowing for a quick kill. Sometimes its difficult to see where the skill floor is with RPGs but Dark Soul's combat shows that understanding how enemies react to your place in battle is where it's at. From that point on, getting better is a combination of stats and loot.

Explore or Explain?

As I played through the game's first act, I came up against another of the game's criticisms. The lack of direction or explanation in where the player should go. I've heard a counterargument from a friend saying, "But the game did tell you where to go. By killing you." I think for new players, this is a potential nightmare. Initially Dark Souls gives you a mission statement. Ring two bells. One is up in a place you've never visited and the second is down in a place called Blighttown. There is one path up which is kinda easy to miss and several paths leading down. I think finding that path up is crucial for new adopters to stay onboard with Dark Souls. Everywhere else seems to lead to certain death but Dark Souls clearly has a designated 'first area outside of Firelink.

Outside of this, the message system does a great job of directing you. I'll never forget when I reached the Crystal Cave, saw the messages plastering the secret path and thought, "Huh. Invisible platforms. Thanks, internet." In Undead Parish and Undead Burg, larger optional enemies are used as warning signs for the player that somewhat funnel them to where they need to go to progress. I know signposting things might be against the ethos From were into but when a player can only see death from three directions, its difficult to keep them. That said, those that persist are more richer for it. Finding a new area, gear and loot is satisfying in any game and in Dark Souls they're mostly useful to someone.

The story didn't grab me but then its never surfaced enough to do that. There's a definite bleak tone to that world, though. As a player you can seek out as much or as little lore as you want but everyone will probably have their own little tales to tell. By the end of the game my Firelink posse was down to the barebones. Only Petras and Griggs survived and I felt this was only the case because I never talked to them. The rest either died directly by my hand or indirectly because of my big mouth. Larry David crossed with the Grim Reaper. He wears Havel's armour. Do not approach.

Traverse the White Light

One thing that struck me about Dark Souls was the sheer number of boss encounters. I've talked about Capra and the Bell Gargoyles and, for the most part, they're designed really well and only one of them is a complete gimmick. Capra's difficulty stems from the fact the arena you fight him in is effectively a small box and he is just big enough to fit in a small box. With the bosses before him you had an easy way to fell them but that was never a required method of victory but with the arena being so small, with Capra taking the easy route seemed like the only consistent, viable outcome. Its a pity as its the only time in my 74 hour odyssey where the game felt cheap. The rest of the big encounters seemed fine, even Ormstein and Smough.

I say fine, after about 50 tries with and without summons. Its an extension of the Bell Gargoyle scrap which felt like a mid-term exam. Two guys except they have wildly different attack patterns so you need to manage both and, unlike the Gargoyles, focus on one of them whilst watching the other guy. Its marks the point to me where using environmental cover is crucial to regroup and survive. When people talk about this as the game's true test, they're right. When I was playing it I was reminded of the Meta Ridley fight in Metroid Prime. Ormstein is that. Smough is Omega Pirate.

And with all those deaths, I was never deterred for very long. You could say that fits the fiction when you're portraying a being that cannot die. You get right back to that fog door. You experiment with new gear. You go again. A game must be doing something right when you go back for more of that. There's some exceptional highs served up by Dark Souls and success doesn't come by a fluke. You know how its done. You've improved.

So that's kind of it.

I wound up thoroughly enjoying this game and I thought some of the enemy and area design was really well-crafted. For all that this game stacks against you, they give you just enough hope to make success feel almost inevitable. When you roll up on the final fog door after a few failures, you know you'll be back in five minutes. Blimey, that really is masochism. Anyway, Demon's Souls is next.


Things I Finished in March

Its that time of the month again where I escape to blog writing in an effort to ignore whoever it is outside my flat who's blasting Happy Hardcore out of their car stereo. Don't make me come out there...

Velocity 2x: Shoot, Switch, Repeat, Defeat.

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The stern-faced woman and her lizard... thing friend are telling you stuff about stuff whilst you not-R-Type and 2D platform your way through some fairly decent levels for medals. Its a compelling mix that confused me to begin with. The two main play styles seemed to jar with one another til the incentive for medals took over. When it's good, its greatly addictive and grabbing a gold medal for speed on some of the levels is outright challenging.

Its a shame maxing the levels out becomes so necessary, though. It really started to bog me down and progress became a crawl until I frankly, jacked it in. I like this game when there's a flow to it. Sadly, that flow derails at the 40-odd level mark when the game offers more roadblocks and labyrinths that completely took the wind out me. Its nice that it came to PS Plus because otherwise this game would've passed me by. It surprised me more than I expected it to but didn't hold it together for the final push.

Transistor: USB Buster Sword

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I regret not playing this sooner. It has such a cohesive sense of style and manages to sew together its story beats and combat tightly. I also regret not playing it right for the first couple of hours. I came to it having barely played more than the demo of Bastion but made the incorrect assumption that the turn-based combat was an either/or. So I played it as a straight-forward action game and only used the emergency turns.

Once I realised the errors of my ways and settled on a pretty decent, but interchangeable load-out, the game was a comfortable breeze. I may go back for the Recursion for the longer I spend away from it the less likely that is to happen.

I liked the way the story was presented and it was well acted in a really stylish environment. I can't think of a thing in that game that didn't fit although I've heard a couple of friends didn't get on with the turn-based combat. Not through how it was presented but in how it compared to Bastion's one-size fits all approach. They felt that there was a right way to play Transistor whereas you could settle on a number of different weapons for Bastion.

I should probably play Bastion to discover if that's true. Coming to this first means I've avoided that possibility. Good job, Super Giant. I look forward to your future endeavors.

Valiant Hearts: Cartoon Violence (and spoilers...)

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As this puzzle-oriented educational tool was nearing its final act I sensed a definite shift in tone from grim to outright bleak. The harsh, relentless industrial machine of death kept rolling on but the characters on this journey still offered hope. There were some legitimate narrative surprises in this game which offered some light gameplay to tie the story together.

It all came undone for me at the final QTE section which, frankly, didn't need to be there. I get that the pay-off is neat and then is followed by a gut-punching conclusion but Karl's going to wind up siding with the Nazis in 20 years after his son's death to the Spanish flu causes him to seek solace in National Socialism. Also, chlorine did a number on him so he shouldn't have even got that far.

At least that's how I would've ended it. The written material gets used to great effect as the Great War still gets overshadowed in schools by World War II and its slightly more good vs evil narrative. The first foray into grand-scale, worldwide conflict just seemed like an inconvenience to all that developed into a 5 year tragedy which led to the rise of fascism in Europe. I hope Ubisoft keeps faith with projects like this and Grow Home.

DmC Definitive Edition: Growing up is Hard to Do

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This was a lot of fun. I'll confess this is my first venture into Capcom's franchise so offense wasn't caused when they switched development to Ninja Theory. If anything, I'm amazed those guys managed this. They've always been known for their production values but haven't quite pulled it together when it comes to gameplay.

Its just so tight and responsive and my mashy tendencies are somewhat cooled by a number of great weapons that are fun to switch between. The core of it is just so spot on so it's a shame the boss fights don't live up to the spectacle of the series past. I was stunned when I managed to spam my way through the final two bosses and felt like I hadn't had to work for victory.

On paper, a coming of age story for Dante could've worked but, aside from learning one life lesson, he still comes off as a childish wanker. I'm okay with the demons degenerating into foul-mouthed beasts. That fits. Learning that humanity needs to be saved and then grabbing a handful of arse because, "Oh, that Dante..." doesn't sit well with me. Obviously growing up doesn't happen overnight but I expect more than just a cursory switch. Plus Vergil's idea had a point.

Despite this, I'm still coming back to it. The combat's too right and too up-front to ignore and it actively makes me curious about the older games. Not a fan of Vergil's abilities though. If Ninja Theory get the opportunity to make another one of these I'll be interested. If not then at least they got this one under their belts. They might not rival Platinum when it comes to the character action market but they seem like great imposters that could, with time, provide them with competition and us with more great games.

The Wrap Up

So, that was March and a quarter of the gaming year is in the bag and 9 games are chalked off my backlog. As I looked at what remained I made a crucial decision.

Prepare to Die.

Now, I've had Demon's and Dark Souls on my backlog for a while now and have not got deep enough for either to really hook me. With 90% of my PSN friends list playing Bloodborne and the remastered edition of Dark Souls II arriving at Easter, I began a new save on Dark Souls. The intention is to work through the three existing titles before taking on the new Victorian nightmare.

The first hurdle's already been cleared. After beating a threatening looking Knight in Undead Parish it seemed to click so my intention is to press on and on until Jesus Belmont succeeds. Yes, I named him so in honour of the Christian corpse run pioneer. I will continue such naming conventions throughout the series. I've already settled on Tupac Belmont for Demon's Souls.

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