Spider-Mans' Citizens and The Complete Super Hero Simulator

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Hey everyone, long time no see. I told myself I was going to write more this year and I totally didn't. But life, you know? Anyways I have a bit more time on my hand right now and I've been playing through Marvel's Spider-Man. First of all, I am not here to try to convince you why that new hot Spider-Man game is actually bullshit. Ultimately, I found the game to be very enjoyable. I ended up 100%'ing the game over the weekend, tearing through the game like a fiend who needs a fix. There's a lot of great stuff going on this game. Visually, Marvel's Spider-Man is breath taking. Insomniac has crafted such a remarkably beautiful and detailed world for Spider-Man to swing around in. And oh man is this a fun game to traverse through. Swinging from roof to roof...climbing up the tallest buildings in Manhattan...mastering these controls makes you really feel like you are Spider-Man and you can do anything he can do. Marvel's Spider-Man is one of the most realistic super hero simulators to date but it still falls short in one major way: The citizens of Manhattan.

Can a bat beat a spider?
Can a bat beat a spider?

It is no secret that comic book video games from years past were not exactly stellar multi-million dollar budget experiences. They largely seemed to share the same fate as video games based off of theatrical films, being rushed through development to make a tight deadline to ultimately promote the film/brand. There is always exceptions to every rule but these games really were just promotional tools and of course, the game-play always suffered for it. With that in mind, it's hard to imagine what comic book video games would be like without the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. It was one of, if not the first time in modern video game development that a comic book video game stood on its own. There was no movie tie-in or TV show to connect the game with. Arkham Asylum was just a straight up Batman story told through the vehicle of a video game. Obviously, the Arkham games have been very successful spawning 3 impressive games from the Rocksteady Studio (and 1 sadly underrated/appricated game from WB Montreal). The comments I made earlier about feeling like Spider-Man go equally so for Batman in the Arkham series of games. However, the pedestrian presentation in the Arkham games left much to be desired as it was completely non existent. It wouldn't have made sense to have random citizens walking around a psychiatric facility in Akrham Asylum. However, the next 2 games were set out in the 'open world' and had to come up with weird excuses to explain why there was no people wondering around Gotham. The Arkham games finally delivered a superb super hero game but I felt like I was still waiting for the first superb super hero simulator. Enter Insomniac games and their hot new product: Marvel's Spider-Man. From the very first announcement, Spider-man quickly became a highly anticipated title for a lot of people. For me, I was really excited for one small feature: people.

Look at all the people! Walking around the city! Doing things! Driving cars! Being people!! The living, breathing system of Manhattans' citizens does so much to the Spider-Man experience. Chasing criminals across the streets gets sprinkled with an extra layer of excitement as you can hear horns honking while you use their truck as a launching pad, citizens rushing to move out of the way from you and the criminals as you swing by...it all feels so organic. In comparison it really makes the Arkham games feel extremely sterile if not extremely depressing. And yet, it's still not enough for me...Spider-Man presents so much potential here but ultimately treats the random pedestrians as window dressing. Perhaps it is just another classic example of having your cake and wanting to eat it too but Spider-Man still fails at making citizens an important part of the super hero experience.

Of course the main story of Marvel's Spider-Man directly involves helping citizens of Manhattan. Yet for the most part, other then preventing another apocalyptic crisis (just a regular day for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man), those people directly correlate with Peter Parkers' life. However, the side activity is where Spider-Man leaves a lot to be desired. The game definitely wants you to spend time in the world between the main missions. Often after finishing a story mission the game will invite you to explore the world until the next mission unlocks. And there is definitely a lot to do in the streets of Manhattan while you're in between missions. There's backpacks to collect, challenges to complete, even environmental clean up (your eco-friendly neighborhood Spider-Man). You can beat up thugs attempting crimes in progress, unlock new suites to wear...and beat up some more thugs. Outside of a hunched down store owner or mugging victim waiting for me to complete the next 'Thug Crime' There are 0 activities to do that involve helping citizens. There are no cats to retrieve from trees, there are no senior citizens to help cross the street, nor is there any chance to save a baby from a burning building. Even the brief interactivity you do have with people out in the streets of Manhattan left be wanting for more. Spider-Man can't attack any citizens (which is good) instead, pushing the attack button will cause Spider-Man to greet people. Even a simple system where you could sign autographs or pose for pictures could have added so much more depth.

Just your friendly western cowboy...
Just your friendly western cowboy...

Am I asking for too much here? Maybe. Perhaps asking for random buildings to catch fire with a chance to save people stuck in said building would be very difficult to work out. But it's not like we haven't seen games tackle these issues before. Rockstar Games Red Dead Redemption crafted a random encounter system that worked fantastically in the open world of the wild west. They never stopped but there was only a handful of them; Retrieving a stolen horse for a stranded cowboy, wrangling up a thief who just stole from a merchants shop...they were simple but effective. And best yet, you could fail them. You may stumble upon someone about to be assassinated out in the desert and you only had seconds to put down everyone trying to murder this person. If you were not quick enough, there was no restart or retry. You weren't able to save that person and you will never have the chance again. The only parts of Spider-Man that are similar to this involve the thug/faction crimes mentioned earlier. You might be saving someone from getting mugged, but its part of a checklist. Every district has a set number of crimes to complete. If you fail while attempting to complete a thug crime, you can just try again later. The stakes are completely removed and thus lose all suspense.

With great power comes great...I couldn't even finish typing that sentence without groaning to myself. Still, Spider-Man does provide an amazing world to explore which is also combined with some of the best traversel tools I have ever wielded in a video game. It is because the highs are so high that I felt so disappointed with the citizen system. Despite my criticism, I still had a great time playing through Marvel's Spider-Man. You have to imagine a high budget first party console only exclusive video game will have a sequel or two. So it is pretty safe to regard this new Spider-Man series as a trilogy at the very least. Hopefully in the next game, Insomniac can add onto what they already have and finally deliver me the super hero simulator experience I've always wanted. Until then, I'll continue swinging around Manhattan at my leisure.

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Xanadu's Top 10-GOTY Edition!

Hey! Guess what? We made it through 2017, congratz! It's no secret 2017 was an intense year for a lot of issues outside of our video game world. Even within the game industry, many did not come out unscathed. Personally, it was a very rough year for me. Losing my job at the start of the year and ultimately coming to the decision to leave an industry I was working in for years was difficult. While still in limbo in terms of what type of career I next want to peruse, I'm glad to have found work, stability, and peace of mind about what is truly important to me this past year. 2018 is going to be good for me! In 2017 I started writing down my feelings about games and it's been therapeutic. This year, I hope to expand on that even further and I can't think of a better way to kick that off then focusing on last years games! With that in mind here are the top 10 games I played in 2017:

10. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

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Typing this list out it became apparent to me that Google Chrome considered 'Bandicoot' to be an incorrectly spelled word. This should speak loudly to the injustices and prejudices that Crash and his fellow bandicoot's have endured. For every kid who grew up with the N64 and Mario 64, there was another who had a PlayStation and Crash Bandicoot. While Crash's legacy is nowhere near what Mario's has become, there is no doubting the nostalgia factor with the original Crash trilogy. Thankfully, the collection put out not by Naughtydog but instead Vicarious Visions is excellent! The visuals are extremely clean and polished yet still feel extremely reminiscent of the low poly models from the PS1 era. Crash 1 is still rough to get through, Cortex Strikes Back is where they really figured out the Crash formula, and Warped may very well be my favorite game on the original PlayStation. I was never expecting this trilogy to be announced but I'm so happy it was. I know revisionist history does not look kindly at the past Crash games but I truly believe Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped is criminally underrated. I would recommend buying the collection just to play through Warped, it's that good.

9. Madden NFL 18

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Why is this game so good? Seriously, though. Why? Can anybody explain this to me? In a year where EA has become the most uber-fallen to the dark side down a path I can't fallow-version the public usually seems them as...WHY IS MADDEN 18 SO GOOD?! When you take into consideration how EA has 0 competition with NFL games, and what they've down with a certain exclusive Star Wars licence, Madden 18's accomplishments are extremely surprising. What if I told you Madden 18 had a story mode and it was the best story mode in a sports game I have ever played? The idea of a Madden story mode initially is baffling. The first 28 years of this series release has seen nothing of the sort. The fact that the first attempt was so successful at what it tries to accomplish further adds to my disbelief about this game. The story mode, titled: Long Shot features a young NFL prospect, Devin Wade (a literal perfect Football name) returning home from the military and attempting to make in this years NFL draft. A long the way you'll find out about his past, what originally lead him astray from football, and experience the relationships he has with friends and family. It's obvious the scenes were acted out in real time, they feel very natural. Also there is a surprisingly decent performance from NFL legends such as Dan Marino! When combining this one little feature with the rest of Madden, this year has made it such a compelling entry. Not to mention, the game looks and runs incredible. Performance wise, Madden 18 rarely hiccups and silly AI scripts that saw hilarious tripping over other AI players are practically non existent (take that as a positive or negative). On a PS4 pro, the game is up-scaled to 4k, employs HDR, and runs at an almost constant 60fps. That is damn impressive and the results are stunning. I ask again...Why is Madden so good this year?

8. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

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(Hums the opening theme to Uncharted) I love this series! I suspect naughty dog does as well given their inability to let go of this series. Who can blame them though? They have created such a rich world that is ripe for so many different spin-offs and sequels. Originally announced as a small single player DLC for Uncharted 4, the games development must have quickly expanded way beyond that as it came out this year as its own original title. The Lost legacy adds some great new ideas such as open world game play. Chloee and Nadine headline this game wonderfully and their relationship becomes fascinating as the game progresses. While I did not miss Nathan Drake while playing, I did miss everything he brings with it. The Lost Legacy is better for being a tighter experience without all the fat as in Uncharted 4. But it still ranks just a notch below for me as I found the gravity and finality within the characters lives that we grew to love in Uncharted 4 to have more impact and weight. Still, The Lost Legacy is an excellent experience weather you are a new or old Uncharted fan.

7. Persona 5

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The fact that Persona 5 is so low on my list this year speaks to 1. how excellent this year has been for games and 2. just how little I felt Persona did to justify a new sequel. Persona 3 and 4 are without a doubt my two favorite JRPG's. Which one tops the other is a debate for another day but it's safe to say how much I enjoy the Persona series. Persona 5 takes everything 3 and 4 did and gives them an extra dose of polish and of course; styyyyyyyyyyyyyyyle. If there is one thing Persona 5 does absolutely better than anything this year it is its sense of style. Every minor detail from a text box to the all out attack scenarios feel like they were painted over and over again with a style brush. Nothing seems out of place interns of UI. While Persona 5 still has a worth wile story to sit through and fun new cast of characters, it does pain me to admit they rank last between Persona 3-5. Ultimately, in a year where so many sequels were pushing the boundaries further then ever for their respective games, Persona 5 feels safe. There is really nothing wrong with a Persona game that plays it safe. And honestly during this year, I really needed some JRPG comfort food. Persona 5 was more than enough of that comfort food and I am very glad to have played all 100+ hours of it.

6. Assassin's Creed: Origins

Assassin's Creed has been through some rough times this past few years. To me it feels like ever since AC 3, the series has barely kept its head a float and has just barley kept itself inches away from drowning. It must be so relieving for Ubisoft to see the amount of critical praise for Origins and deservingly so. Byaak is the Creeds best character since Ezio and I personally find Byaak to be more interesting. At the start of the game, Byaak's world gets ripped away from him and he is forced to pick up the pieces and move on with his life. The way Byaak handles this pressure and hardship is conclusive to why he is so charming and easy to root for. Outside of the characters, the world in Origins is beautiful and alluring to explore. If you have an HDR TV, this a must to pick up. The sun rays casting down on the golden grains of sand, Sunsets gleam purple and orange through out the sky, temples are pitch black until illuminated with your torch...this world feels truly alive. What I enjoyed most about AC: Origins is all the little side stories populated through out this lush world. A lot of them have unique and interesting stories outside the main narrative. And there is sooooooooooo many of them. Ubisoft took a year off before putting out this game and it really shows. It's also easy to see which games influenced Origins in major way. Exploring the world and completing dozens of side quests felt so similar to Geralt and his journeys through Witcher 3. Infiltrating deep within enemy fortresses to rescue prisoners while carrying them out on your back felt EXTREMELY Metal Gear Solid V. If you're going to take inspiration from other open world games, these are the two to do it from. However I think because Origins reminded me so much of past games is what kept me from ranking this higher on my list. Ultimately, if this is what Ubisoft can do with a year off; just imagine what they could do if they took the "when it's ready" release approach.

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5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Alright! Top 5, lets go! A year where we get a great new Nintendo Console and a great new Zelda game on the same day is a pretty good year! BOTW was the first game I played through on my switch and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Admittedly, I am not the biggest Zelda fan. Before BOTW the only Zelda title I had finished was A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. Other then that, I got 90% of the way through Wind Waker and only barely touched Ocarina. Even with my limited experience, it's easy to see how BOTW changes up everything about the Zelda formula. The world has rules very similar to the real world which allows for puzzles to be solved logically in a way video games almost never achieve. The last time I felt this immersed with a games mechanics and puzzle solving within the world was Half Life 2. And while HL2 only applied this level of logic to physics, BOTW applies this to weather and other elements like water and electricity. The game also feels no need to hold your hand throughout the experience. After the initial tutorial plains, you are on your own for the rest of the game. It is truly and 100% up to you what to do next. Wanna beat Gannon and see credits immediately? You can do that. Want to fill out your own map while endlessly exploring the world and totally ignore Gannon? You can do that too. BOTW does something incredible which I hope more open world games will look into: Breath of the Wild provides you with a land mass in which you decide what 'missions' to play through. Weather that 'mission' is an actual story dungeon or a long walk through a cold nights desert where you barely survive just to find a shrine you never seen before, BOTW allows you to decide what that means.

4. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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Well this sure was a game, huh? When The New Order came out a few years ago, it was a double shot of nostalgia that was surely missing from the first person shooter genre. Long single player story campaigns, dual wielding huge machine guys, and murdering an endless amount of Nazis...It was something surely missing at the time. With The New Colossus, MachineGames could have put out a similar experience and it would have been pretty okay. Just a simple excuse to blow up a bunch of Nazi's would have been more than enough this year. Thankfully, MachineGames did not take the easy route and delivered one of the most over the the top thrill rides of 2017! As a collection, Thew Colossus has easily the best ensemble this year. All the old characters like BJ and Anya returning and mixing with new characters like Super Spesh and Grace brought some interesting new dynamics. Super Spesh and the "fucking aliens" is probably my favorite performance of the entire year. Not to mention, there are so many moments in this game that made me audibly yell "WHAT THE FUCK?!" The only negative comments I have for The New Colossus is that the game play did not click with me as well this time around. I'm not sure what it was but I felt like something got lost in transition between The New Order and The New Colossus. I felt like I had much more control over stealth and shooting in the first game where as in The New Colosuss I eventually turned the difficult down to easy and ran past almost every boss...Colossus's gameplay weakness only speak volumes to how good everything else around that game is.

3. Yakuza 0

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Do you remember how empty life was before those beautiful boys Kiryu and Majima entered your life? I do, and I never want to go back. Yakuza 0 provides a new starting point for fans like me who would otherwise have no idea where to start in this series. I remember playing the original Yakuza PS2 port with that horrible English dubbing. It was bad enough for me to only play through a few hours before quitting. I must have not been the only one because the Yakuza series had a troubled relationship in the US after that. The decision to bring Yakuza 0 to the states with the original Japanese cast is definitely what the series should have always been doing. It's the same reason why I played through Persona 5 and Neir Automata with the original Japanese V.O. It just feels much more authentic and closer to the source material than an English dub ever will. Besides all of the localization business, Yakuza 0 is just a fantastic game. I love its stark contrast between deadly serious and over top goofiness. Only in a Yakuza game can you have a plot about an ugly war between Yakuza clans over a legitimately useless yet illegitimately lucrative empty lot while causing the complete destruction of a rather innocent family mixed with a side character that only wears briefs and to which no amount of masturbation will cure his endless hornyness. Not only does Yakuza 0 mix these contrasting elements believably, it also does so in the most endearing way possible. Yakuza 0 may be the only game this year that left me a complete emotional mess with tears/snot raining down my face (they really dragged Makato through the mud towards the end and it almost killed me). I am so happy to have finally jumped into this series and I cant wait to start playing Kiwami very soon!

2. Super Mario Odyssey

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I don't have too much to say about this game which may seem surprising how high up it is on my list. Odyssey didn't re-event the wheel in the way Breath of the Wild did. Odyssey doesn't invite new players to finally join in on the Mario train like Yakuza did. It sure as shit doesn't have moment after moment in the way Wolfenstein II did. What Odyssey does do is that it delivered the purest and most joyful platforming experience possible in 2017. Playing Super Mario Odyssey is maybe the most safe I felt in all of 2017. No matter how crazy or fucked up the world/my life was, Super Mario Odyssey wrapped itself around me like a warm blanket and made me forget about all my woes while playing. For that reason alone, it doesn't need to do anything else. Thank you so much for that, Super Mario Odyssey.

1. Nier: Automata

What is life? What am I? What are words? What is??? Never has a game stuck with me after its final, final, final, but actually the real FINAL credits in the way Nier: Automata has. I have heard these sentiments from other people about Automata and couldn't agree more: the further away you get from playing the game and its true nature, the more it really hooks into you. Also like other people, I have never played a Yoko Taro game before this one. The only thing that has kept me from immediately diving into his past catalog is the general consensus that the quality just ins't the same as Automatas'...Perhaps what I respect most about Nier: Automata is how confident the game is in waiting to present everyone's true nature. In route A, you'll play through some interesting moments, like at the amusement park and a few other cool set piece moments. I enjoyed the combat enough to get the first ending and felt it was a pretty okay action combat game, nothing to terrible but nothing particularly meaningful. The beginning of the second play through or Route B was initially confusing. "So I just play through the whole game has the sidekick instead? Huh ok..." However, it quickly becomes apparent that is not exactly the case and the truths you believed in the first play through become twisted in unique ways. Route C and onward towards the ending of route E was an intense experience that I had to chew my way through as fast as possible once I realized what was really going on. The concept of androids and machines, what humanity means, and what beings have the right to humanity is nothing new whatsoever. It's also not the only idea Nier Automata tries to present. Amongst the many philosophies and introspective introduced throughout near, probably the idea that stuck with me the most is one every human shares: coming to terms with your place in a world that you never asked to be born into. Nier: Automata delivers these philosophies in a vehicle that only a video game could pilot. You'll jump from traditional hack and slash combat, to dual joystick-like shooter combat, from traversing a 3D open world, to reading a Visual Novel all within the span of minutes. It's not just the way Nier mixes up its game play but how that mixed up game play factors back into the story. The combination of game play, compelling narrative, and enduring characters (oh my sweet, sweet Pascal...) sums up to create an experience that is not for everyone. However for those it does speaks to, no other game or any other form of media will deliver an experience quite like Nier: Automata.

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If you've taken the time out of your day to read my list, thanks! Lastly, I feel like I have to make a blanket apology to all indie games this year. None of them are on my list. I feel badly about that but I really did not play very many indie titles this year. In the never ending dumptruck of good games that was 2017, these are my favorite games that Ive spent time with. But there are still so, so many more both indie and AAA titles from 2017 that are waiting for me press start...

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We Need More HDR In Our PC Games

I recently bought a new 4k HDR TV and I have been having a lot of fun enjoying all that #content! However one thing that has become alarmingly aware to me is the almost non-existence of HDR support for PC games. Also considering my gtx 970 showing its age tempting me to pick up a 1080 and not wait for the new "volta" cards in early 2018, the lack of HDR support is a huge bummer. Even in the brief time I spent testing my 970 at 4k resolutions, I could easily tell that HDR is the real reason to upgrade an older TV. 4k resolutions look nice and crisp and makes Anti-Aliasing obsolete, but HDR is a stunning feature that showcases light and color in a way I've never seen before. I'm running a lot of these games in 1440p with HDR turned on and thoroughly enjoying these new visual experiences.

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The shadows in Destiny 2 are so dark the TV looks off in areas shaded from the sun. Camera Flashes in Hitman's fashion show level are stunning as they are disorienting. Under certain conditions like nighttime and heavy rain storms, Forza 7 looks like a window into reality. I can type up countless examples and metaphors to try and explain how HDR effects visuals in games, but like virtual reality, it's something you really have to see for yourself. But here at lies the problem with HDR gaming on PC, it's just not getting the same support we see on consoles. Right now there are a wopping 24 games that support HDR on PC. Don't worry though, the extremely popular title: Chess Ultra has HDR support...

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Earlier in November, Assassins Creed Origins saw a title update for 4k and HDR. The initial announcement implied the title update would be coming to all platforms but it quickly became apparent that all platforms meant Xbox One/PS4. Wolfenstein 2 has come and gone with no HDR support and no explanation as to why from the developer (that I could find). Major games like Assassins Creed and Wolfenstein missing what I would consider "key next gen features" is frustrating to someone who prefers to play on the PC. The lack of HDR is counter intuitive to the philosophies of PC gaming. With the PS4 Pro and even the mighty Xbox One X, you have to make choices. 4k or Frame-rate? You usually have to choose which of these features you want on the consoles. The PC allows us to not have to choose, giving us the best of both worlds. I am certainly not a game developer so I have no idea what it takes to add HDR into games, but I wish more developers were taking HDR seriously on the PC. With Assisins Creed this year (a game I would otherwise skip if for not the critical reception), I have to make a choice between playing on PC at 1440p 60fps, or with HDR but 30fps on consoles. This is a weird decision to have to make. Wolfenstein at least runs at 60fps on all consoles but the only way to experience the game in 4K HDR is on the Xbox One X.

I understand HDR is still relatively new and we should see stronger support in the future. But right now, it's disappointing and a somewhat complicated issue. Right now all we have to look forward to for HDR On PC are ports of current console games: Final Fantasy XV and Injustice 2. At this point, I would just be happy with even more patches for older games that already have HDR support on consoles. Until stronger support arrives on PC, I guess i'll just stick to Destiny 2 and Forza 7 for my HDR on PC needs.

Also, if you want to get super drunk: take a drink every time I said HDR in this blog.

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7 Years Later and I Finally Finished Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning and crew about to drop the hottest album of 2017
Lightning and crew about to drop the hottest album of 2017

My experience with Final Fantasy XIII has been an interesting one. Until tonight, this game may be the single most time I spent with a game to never beat. My first attempt at this crazy ass game was on the Xbox 360. At the time, the novelty of playing a Final Fantasy game on an Xbox was a crazy thought in of itself. Of course Final Fantasy had switched teams before XIII jumping from Nintendo to PlayStation. At the time, Final Fantasy felt so synonyms with PlayStation but glancing back retroactively the Finalist of Fantiest series had simply become too big to be held down by one platform. There is also no mistaking how insanely slow XIII starts out. Arguably, there is no mistaking how slow the first 90% of XIII starts out...But if there is one single redeeming quality to Final Fantasy XIII, it is undoubtedly the combat system. The time sequence battle system is definitely what had me coming back to this game so, so many times.

I uhhh...what?
I uhhh...what?

My first play through of XIII ended abruptly about 20ish hours in. While playing Gears of War at a friends house with my Xbox 360, a heavy metal tape measure came crashing down from an above shelf and landed directly on the the hard drive for my Xbox. I shit you not. There was no rhyme or reason for this to happen but it just did. Even though it was just the hard drive that broke, I still had a replacement plan with Best Buy and they gave me a whole new Xbox that same night. It never dawned to me until the next morning that all saves (including Final Fantasy XII) were long gone. I had no backups and this was years before cloud saves. So I put XIII on the shelf, "I'll come back for you, someday" I said to myself. Given how slow and honestly extremely confusing XIII can be it wouldn't be for a few years before I delivered on that promise. My 2nd attempt with XIII on the 360 did not go much better. I have no divine intervention or crashed hard drives to use as an excuse for not finishing my second play through. Instead, I got to almost the same exact spot as my first play through and just fizzled out from ever playing it again. It would go on to be a sore subject in my video game library history. Eventually my 360 would red ring like so many of them did, I didn't have a replacement plan, all my 360 games were given away to my cousins (unbeknownst to me until a few years later) by mom after I went off to college, and Final Fantasy XIII would always be a game I spent 40 hours with and never finished....

At least XIII still does look very good given its extreme hardware demands
At least XIII still does look very good given its extreme hardware demands

That was until 3 years ago when Final Fantasy XIII was released on steam coming as a huge surprise to me and most of the gaming world. A console exclusive game from 2010 was being released on Steam 4 years after its release? Why? I wasn't going to get it, I told myself. The sluggish and ridiculous hand holding nature would be too much to play through thrice let alone one more time, I told myself. But remember how fun that combat gets after the first 10 hours? About an hour after the steam release, XIII was in my cart and waiting to be downloaded. If you guys think the beginning of this game is slow, just imagine having to play through it 3 TIMES. But alas, my brutal and self inflicting time with XIII would not wrap up as soon as I thought it would. This time I promised myself I wasn't going to fizzle out from the game. I'm gonna brute force my way through it and get to the good parts that everyone talks about. However, my PC specs did not agree with my self. You would think a PC port of a 4 year old game would run better but a lot of things about Final Fantasy XIII never made sense. On my old as dirt i5 processor and even older GTX 570. This game was not happening for me. The frame rate performance would hit into the low teens at times. This would not do, I knew I would update my PC eventually and XIII (like the crazy intense love interest you can't quite get away from) would be waiting for my return.

Otherwise, shoot THIS motha fucka...
Otherwise, shoot THIS motha fucka...

Thank god for cloud saves. If not, I really don't think I could play through the begging of XIII a fourth time. I'm not THAT crazy. A few years later I did upgrade my gaming PC and was ready to run a 7 year old game that had ridiculous high hardware requirements. But EVEN STILL this was not a straight shot to the end. I would install the game to get a nostalgia fix for that sweet combat. Newer games would come out and I would need to uninstall XIII to clear up hard drive space. Rinse and repeat this practice for almost another year. Eventually after plugging away at this ridiculous game time after time, I reached the penultimate chapter of XIII. THIS IS IT FOR REAL THIS TIME. I didn't tell myself, I demanded it of myself. So for the past week I have been digging away at getting through this game and today I played through the last bit of chapter 12 and all of the last chapter. It's really hard for me to admit if I really enjoyed my time with Final Fantasy XIII. The combat is an excellent way to modernize turn based role playing games. I wish the Final Fantasy VII Remake would use more of a similar system instead of the more action oriented system from XV. The story is definitely a grand experience one comes to expect with Final Fantasy even if it is extremely convoluted while taking its sweet time to make any of kind of sense. Also, besides my man Sazh, I think I hate every character in Final Fantasy XIII? In the end, I finally beat the game and it was a thing...I guess.

There was definitely a time where I really thought I would never see the end of Final Fantasy XIII. It seemed as if there was almost some kind of unknown entity that truly didn't want me to see the games conclusion. Maybe I should've listened to it, but I didn't. Also, while I do own XIII-2 and Lightning Returns in my steam library (steam sales be crazy) I think I may be done with the grand tale of The Fabula Nova Crystallis. I also find it slightly humerus and extremely coincidental that I finally finished this game on the eve of the PS4's Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age's release. I never picked that one up one for its original PS2 release and I've only lightly touched the game via a PC emulator. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow morning and look for a steel book edition of XII so I can have a whole new Final Fantasy to questionably finish or not within the next 7 years...

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Jordan Challenge: NBA2K's Best Mode Left Out To Dry

I woke up this morning thinking about The Jordan Challenge and NBA 2k11. This was a mode that put you directly in the shoes of Sir Airness himself with a task of challenges and feats to complete in many of his most famous performances. Can you score 47 points against the Bad Boys Piston roster and their ruthless "Jordan Rules" (let anybody but Michael shoot the ball) tactics? Can you beat the dynamic Jazz duo of Stockton and Malone while suffering from the flu in the '97 NBA Finals? From Jordan's first year in the playoffs ('86) to his last appearance in the '98 finals, NBA 2k11 lets you relive basketball from one of its greatest era's and players.

I forgot he had hair at one point in his career.
I forgot he had hair at one point in his career.

If you were a #90'sKid (I'm sorry about that) like me, you might be familiar with how popular basketball was at the this time. It was a tougher sport, the hand checking rule was still in play, and getting to the basket posed a real physical threat to your body. The 90's was a decade to host some of the all time legends to ever play the game. From Ewing, Stockton, Barkley, O'Neil, Miller, Pippen, Robinson, Olajuwan, and so much more; these players made watching Basketball so much fun with almost every team having a "threat" of a player who could shut down any game. And of course despite all that, we had Jordan reigning supreme over everyone. Half of the fun from the Jordan Challenge is not just playing as the legendary Bulls but also playing against the other greats from this time.

Another aspect that made this mode stand out so much for me was the presentation. 2K took the time to make the games look and feel like watching a sports broadcast from the past. The character models looked incredibly realistic and authentic to their appearance. Jerseys and arenas were altered just for the challenge mode. Additionally, classic visual effects were added like film grain, sepia, and washed out colors. It definitely had a negative effect from how good and crisp the regular game looks, but it is extremely effective at drawing you into the past and presenting these historic events as accurately as possible. And of course, the sprinkles on top of this delicious cupcake was the excellent commentary from the regular 2K crew. Obviously getting the commentators from the actual games would have been amazing but impossible. Taking the time to record comments and fact stats for some 10 games alone is a testimony to why NBA 2K has the greatest commentary system of any sports game.

Ah yes, the infamous NBA sponsor: Hewlett Packer .
Ah yes, the infamous NBA sponsor: Hewlett Packer .

NBA 2K11 on its own was a revelation at the time. Breaking away from an era when sports games were arcade like and played fast and loose, 2k11 was a griddy no nonsense simulation of basketball. For better or worse, you had to understand the fundamental concepts of basketball to not get your ass handed to you by the CPU. If you tried to play it like NBA Live or even 2K10 things are going to go bad for you. Given the utter destruction of NBA Live and their abysmal attempts to refresh the series, time has proved that 2K has won the argument on what basketball fans want. Maybe Live should just go back to what they did best and stop trying to catch up to NBA 2K's hardcore simulation style (but that is a story for another day perhaps)...

This is all why I have found it so disappointing that NBA 2K has never really expanded on this idea since its conception. Outside of 2K12 which simply let you play against rival match ups from the past, the mode has been all but forgotten. I'm guessing they had some kind of statistical analysis to suggest the time/effort of development to played hours ratio was not worth it. Or maybe a more cynical thought is that they couldn't find a way to monetize the mode like they did with MyPlayer and MyCourt modes. Never the less, I would LOVE to see a return of this mode featuring new players other than Jordan. Imagine replaying Reggie Miller's infamous game against the New York Knicks and Spike Lee where he scored 8 points in 9 seconds for a comeback win. Or how about a lengthy career highlight mode featuring greats like Bill Russel, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or even Kobe Bryant? A what if mode could be really neat as well (I'll finally be able to rewrite history by having the '93 Bulls taken out by my sweet, sweet Suns and that beautiful Barkley boy in the Finals).

Alas, I fear if the mode has been dormant for so long we will never see its return. At least I have the great Jordan Challenge Mode to fall back onto when ever I get the nostalgic itch. Who else has love for this mode besides me? Or anything similar? What games broke your heart by taking out something you loved the most in its sequels?

...she had the chronic, the bulls* beat the SuperSonics...
...she had the chronic, the bulls* beat the SuperSonics...

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The Color Pallets of Persona

The last three main Persona games have all followed similar themes and structure. You go to high school, make some friends, date some people, work a part time job, and casually save the world from some kind of bored or pissed of deity on the weekends. While the core materials that construct a Persona game have been extremely consistent, the presentation of these elements is where we see the most change from game to game. One element of a Persona game that largely changes from each entry to the next is the color pallet. For me, Personas color pallets are substantially effective in altering my overall mood while playing these games and Persona 5 is no exception to that.

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The murky greens accent the cool blues in Persona 3 in a chilling way. Blue is predominant through out Persona 3 during the day to day life but switches to green when the dark hour strikes. These two colors work well together and the combination of the two creates an eerie and almost longing feeling for me. Persona 3 largely deals with apocalyptic themes as well as death and the acceptance of loss. The decay like shade of the green in the dark hour is in contrast to what regular shades of green normally represent (life, greed, nature). Instead, the green comes off as more of sickness within the world and a representation of the forces behind the dark hour as they become more malevolent and gain momentum towards their apocalyptic goals. Overall the blues and greens of Persona 3 feel good in a calming yet chilling way, I never felt overly stressed while playing. The mood and color pallet of Persona 3 might be my favorite overall, it just has a real cool kinda vibe.

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Ah, good old P4. Remembering my time with Persona 4 invokes similar feelings of remembering past vacations from my childhood. The all encompassing yellow of Persona 4 initially may seem like a strange choice. Yellow is usually great as an accent or trim color but very rarely is the color used predominantly. In P4, it was the perfect color to use. Persona 4 focuses largely on introspective and what it means to truly understand and accept yourself. The weather is almost constantly raining or foggy in the town of Inaba as you play through Persona 4. The predominant yellow is a nice contrast from the constant rain and bleak nature of the weather. Yellow can also be see as an obvious representation of The Sun, it pairs well with the dawning or re-awaking characters like Chie and Yukiko face after tackling their inner demons. I always had such a warm feeling Persona 4, no other game has really made feel quite this way. Persona 4 feels like eating a warm cookie your grandma just made while riding your bike outside on a perfect day. Whenever it is raining or a little gloomy outside, I always feel an urge to hop back into the world of Persona 4 and just hangout for a bit.

Persona 5 amps up the series fascination with Western European Religion. The deadly sins play a large role in Persona 5 as well as the way our inner psyche is capable of shaping the real world around us. The color pallet is also pretty hard not to notice...It is a very obvious theme what with the game focusing around "stealing peoples hearts" who are sinful in nature. What is really effective at is being EXTREMELY STRESSFUL to look at. It is no obvious fact that color red is an alarming color that triggers stress-like feelings emotionally. Especially given how a lot of people are feeling overly stressed while playing, it isn't crazy to assume that large amounts of red in this game are not helping. While I really enjoyed my play through of Persona 5, I also felt stressed out almost the entire time playing. For me, the stress largely came from me wanting to max out all confidants and seeing everything I could. But this is how I felt playing Persona 3 and 4 as well. I never felt so increasingly anxious the way I did while playing Persona 5.

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The other two predominant colors seen through out Persona 5 are black and white which really doesn't help down play all the redness in the game. The dark and light shades only further draw attention to all the red throughout this game and there is A LOT of red. Persona 5 more so than its predecessors really digs into its style and color pallets, it does so both at its benefit and cost. Persona 5 is the most stylish game I have played for sure and the style goes a long way to make sitting down to play for 100 hours or so worth it. I just wonder if a different color pallet would have soothed my stress during the time I spent with Persona 5.

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Why I want my GTA Characters to be despicable people.

GTA V has been quite the divisive game this year and certainly the most divisive GTA Rockstar Games has put out to date (I don't count IV because I feel that games criticisms came unfairly as it was almost universally loved at release but nick picked in its later life for things that future open world games would implement). One of the biggest complaints I have heard from game critics, and us regular folk as well, on GTA V is how "despicable" the characters are. They are mean, testosterone filled, selfish and neurotic, and I loved it. Critics complained that they could not identify themselves with the main characters and I have to ask why would you want to? These characters steal cars, rob just about anyone, kill people, kill ALOT of people, and just spend a lot of time doing nasty things. To that I would ask, why would you want to identify with a character in these games in the first place?

I hope people don't think take this the wrong way but I feel most gamers are oddly selfish in terms of how they want games presented to them. One main factor that I think separates myself from a lot of people who play video games is this: Unless the game calls for it, I don't role play as myself in the shoes of the main character. I had quite a few friends same something very similar along these lines when speaking about Bioshock Infinite (major plot spoilers to follow), "Man I thought Elizabeth was so attractive and it made me when feel weird when I realized she was my daughter." Wait, What? To me, Elizabeth was not my daughter at all, she is Booker Dewitt's daughter. I just happened to be seeing the game/story in his perspective throughout the whole game. This is an interesting trope that only in a medium such as a video games can be experienced. Because video games are such a solitary experience where the entire narrative and game duration is entirely dependent on your progress, it is very easy to get ones self absorbed into the game world.

This rational isn't usually tied into other mediums like TV, movies, and literature. Take the highly coveted (as well as my all time favorite movie) Martin Scorsese gangster film: Goodfellas, for example. In many ways there is a lot of comparisons to GTA V. The movie follows a group of gangsters and their exploits including robberies, murders, and drug deals/addictions. Guess what? These are not "good" people either, despite the name of the movie. And while I am certainly not comparing the overall story between Goodfellas and GTA V (Goodfellas is better) It's interesting to me how one is praised for its monstrous portrayal of its characters while the other is criticized.

So to wrap things up, that is why I loved the characters in GTA V and personally hope Rockstar does not listen to closely to the people complaining about how mean and unidentifiable the characters were. In a murder/crime city simulation game, I don't really think anyone should be identifying to closely to any one character, But instead, loosely fantasizing the notion of being in the characters predicaments, just as you would in movies. Also, I am not saying the story had no faults either. I felt the story could have been stronger if the "Michael movie producer" bit was dropped entirely in favor of more focus on Franklin who was probably the most wasted potential in the game.

I am curious to know how the Giant bomb community feels about this as well. I didn't exactly see a thread focusing on specifically this part of the game. I also knew I would talk way to long for a regular forum topic so I just decided to write it up as my first blog instead. However, I still consider this post to be very much up for discussion/debate and would greatly like to hear back from you guys as far as your opinions on this topic. Thanks duders!

-Xanadu (Eric)

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