Friday, April 1, 2016

Memorable Gaming Moments II

PES 2016

The Last of Us: Left Behind

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Dear Machine

And so, the real game begins, as the time comes in which videogames no longer aspire to be movies, but are actually trying to pass for real life, since there are various rather interesting apps out there for all current VR devices; early attempts to make anything from roller-coasters, creepy manors, pre-historic lands, and even a space shuttle launch, everything goes. This is the kind of creative, all-over approach that's needed for VR to be a success. Now the countdown begins for the first steps, that might one day deliver a Strange Days film-like experience, in which most of our lives are spent jacked in, perhaps even like the film Surrogates.

I remember the early VR setups at the arcades, about two decades ago, which provided very basic, blocky simulation; heck, even cheesy films and tv, somehow lagged behind as to what was really possible to do in a virtual world. But deep inside, many a game designer, as well at the public, were expecting the multitude of options, as well as software, given the financial support behind the current VR endeavor. Whereas Sony VR is focusing on games, we must consider as well, the sheer size of adult entertainment, reason for which, the VR devices running on the PC, like Oculus Rift, are likely to offer not just games, but perhaps even sensual experiences.

This could well represent a landmark in gaming, considering casual gamers may then adopt VR, the way they did with the Nintendo Wii. Remember Kinect and the inability to introduce a new peripheral; well, this generation is pushing even stronger and from different fronts to make VR devices ubiquitous. It must be noted that Nintendo's previous console, the Wii, paved the way for casual gamers to participate often in party games, yet with a particularly interesting peripheral, the Wii Remote.

Philosopher David Pearce has made a convincing case for the abolition of suffering through hedonism, whose ideas on trans-humanism at a certain point intersect with VR. Pearce is a vegan who promotes "paradise engineering," and considers his work to include "pharmacology, biopsychiatry, and quantum mechanics." It would seem the cards are being shuffled in a way that may result in fringe scientific concepts such as the long debated Technological Singularity gain momentum, which of course, deals with the evolution of the machines that inhabit our lives. Many writings show how complex man-machine relationships can be in the not too distant future, they help us envision possible scenarios.

Medicine could benefit as well; created for clinical purposes, in various fields within medicine, MedVR is advancing steadily. Robotic surgery, after all, has proven to be somewhat successful. It is in training that VR shines in medicine, for it allows the students to acquire knowledge from a computer setup. Soldiers have been made to relive their time at war with VR also to heal. As well, there is VR used for architectural purposes. Laurentian University, Canada, a place well known for their mind experiments, has a program for their researchers to continue work and initiate new research with the objective of evaluating the impact of virtual reality and simulation training.

These ideas tie into the Anthropocene, a term seemingly coined by the ex-Soviets; from anthropo, for "man," and cene, which means "new" due to the impact mankind has had on its environment. Chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen popularized it in decades ago. It is nothing more and nothing less than guided evolution, since these days, more wondrous inventions are firstly created by humanity, but afterwards they acquire a more dynamic role, and they may actually change our own existence. Photo of my own (2016), and from Strange Days (1995) Surrogates (2009).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Memorable Gaming Moments I

Star Wars: Battlefront

The Last of Us: Remastered

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Back in the Saddle Again

The griffin; I mean eagle, has landed, with the arrival of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, perhaps the first game which is in every possible way, a Gen 8 offer. The game's scope is also fantastic, thirty times larger than The Witcher 2, and also with a geography reportedly larger than that of Skyrim. The truth is that our hero, Geralt of Rivia, with his warrior-like demeanor and raspy voice, has made for a memorable gaming trilogy, each game with carefully crafted elements, and often also a reflection of Slavic folklore.

In a market inundated with remasters, which only improve the definition of games slightly, original Intellectual Properties are sorely needed. The Witcher 3 doesn't disappoint; this is very much a story of outsiders, class warfare, engulfing various other sociological aspects. Likewise, I'm happy to report, this time around, the story is more human and less political, with the introduction of Ciri, Geralt's apprentice, and even a love triangle; for the world of The Witcher is also one of adult relations.

As with the X-Men films, Witchers are seen both in either good or bad light depending on whom you ask, and it's also somewhat similar to the Spartan education; their training is more than many can take. Truthfully, the Civil Rights movement in the US, and other cases of segregation in history, provide a template, hence many books and movies play with this love-hate relationships regarding minorities. Of course, you sort of feel sorry for whomever wants to confront Geralt; the main character himself has evolved, you can even have him grow a beard, which as a detail, can later be trimmed.

The Witchers also have a code, and know when to back off from conflict. They are in short, as the promotional materials in fact say, not heroes, but professionals. The inclusion of Geralt's horse, Roach, is a welcome addition; after all, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, finding an animal to travel long distances, was really rather difficult. The  dialogues are particularly good. And, considering this and much more, the countless GOTY awards The Witcher 3 has amassed is impressive but hardly a surprise.

The gameplay is magnificent, solid, the combat flows, and the rpg elements are more than satisfactory. In fact, it's easy to be mesmerized by this medieval world, hence this is not just a game, but an experience. The missions all have internal logic, it's not just fetch this or that, but they seem meaningful. The weather effects are magnificent, it truly fools the mind in thinking you are there; the sun through the trees, the rain or snow, are all presented with a deft hand.

In the end, while reviewing a Witcher game, it dawns on you, that each of them is a marvel of design and story-telling, every one of them was made with great dedication, and I humbly salute CD Projekt for this; like a good painting, the game conveys a state of mind, perhaps even feelings. The standard edition comes packed with goodies; such as a map of the area, a soundtrack, and neat Witcher stickers. Medieval fantasy never played and looked this good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

It's a Grunge Thing

Even if there is a new main character at the center of the recent Infamous: Second Son, I nonetheless ended up liking the novel focus the developers had adopted. For, if Cole MacGrath, from the previous games, was Batman, then Delsin Rowe surely is Spiderman, and both of these concepts are fine with this writer. As well, the game does a lot to differentiate itself from its predecessors, with outstanding firey and neon-like visuals. And in which other game can the player shake the controller to spray-paint humorous stencils; perhaps only somewhat similar to Jet Set Radio and Marc Ecko's Getting Up.

In various arguments among individuals, there are euphemisms used to name a group's adversary. In science we find the so-called "evo-psychos," or evolutionary psychologists, and in religion we encounter "fundies," or creationists. And so, Infamous: Second Son, presents the struggle of supposed "bioterrorists," also known as conduits. The underlying themes allow for an excellent game, a continuation of the previous titles, and is a Sucker Punch game after all; these devs have an impressive track record. A militarized Seattle is now the city in which our hero roams, yet it must be said the fictional cities of the previous games were for some reason, more remarkable.

Being a next-gen game, the city depicted is very much alive, with various details; it reminds me of another new game, Gravity Rush 2, plus on the other hand, the upcoming plan to roll out Sony's VR technology, perhaps for enthralling games like these, allowing for the ultimate in game immersion.* In fact, as I mentioned elsewhere, a journey inward of evolutionary "fitness-faking narcissism," has previously been elegantly suggested by Geoffrey Miller, who states that in fact, advanced alien civilizations have not made contact since they might have developed VR worlds rather than space travel. If you've noticed this blog's logo, it is a holo-band, a fictitious VR device; as they say, may you live in interesting times.

The "famous" or "infamous" paths you can follow, are really a basic addition, like in previous entries, they just offer yet another simplified aspect; though it must be said, unless you count the clever twist at the ending of Infamous 2, these don't serve much purpose, as large part of the game is a constant fight against the policemen du-jour, the Department of Unified Protection, who are also conduits, and it provides insight about our life itself, in that why wouldn't everyone work together, if they are so similar. I get the impression the engine would have run well on the previous Gen, though there are certain details, namely the powers and weather effects, that look particularly stupendous.

As far as the main character, he seems influenced in style and clothing, by Seattle's own music scene, Grunge music, which was quite popular in the nineties; it is also the land of Starbucks, and coffee shops do indeed appear in the game plus a "hooverville" can be found. As mentioned above, the character is younger, and more of a thrill seeker, discovering his powers grants him a new life; he is feared by the populace, but also stronger indeed. Gameplay revolves around recharging our heroes' abilities with smoke; that is cars on fire or chimneys, neon signs, just to name a few, whereas in previous games, it was about electricity. The gameplay remains similar, though now the powers seem more flashy, in hindsight.

There is some degree of DLC, such as the day-one, called Paper Trail, but most importantly, the expansion First Light, featuring the story of neon-powered girl Fetch, which  seems like much fun. The controller also plays a part, vibrating, but also emitting sounds. It is certainly a winning formula, since the next Gen has been out for a while, yet few games make an impression like this one does. *After all, the original Infamous games had Move peripheral support.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Digital Horizons

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line, Engines pumping and thumping in time, The green light flashes, the flags go up, Churning and burning, they yearn for the cup. New reviews soon, in this, my humble writing showcase!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

16-Bit Adventurer

I first became acquainted with Fez, a digital-only game, while watching Indie Game, The Movie, a film about the creation and release of Super Meat boy, as well as Fez itself; so as to keep the indie ball rolling. The fascinating movie, showed the development of the game, which is in fact, a peculiar mix between 2d vis a vis 3d worlds.

Like most indie games which have become bestsellers, the game's creator, Phil Fish, came up with a novel way to show a cute 16-bit world; to allow it to become 3d, and enable the player to explore the Mario-like worlds, filled with all kinds of platforming, puzzles and nifty, throw-back music. In fact, Fish spoke of making the Fez experience a friendly one, a place for the player to enjoy. There are four perspectives, and you can jump in one, and land on the next.

The game's mechanics match, in fact, the quality of the design. Gomez is a cool little snow-white character with a red fez hat, who has to collect yellow cubes, in order to restore balance to the flora-decorated, fauna-inhabited world. The bright skies change from within the colors of the spectrum for a winning effect. A bright light with an electronic voice lets our tiny hero learn some basic directions.

In spite of some back-tracking, Fez surely wins you over with its charm. Even when you start playing, the game has a wink at electronics in store for us. The fact that its development has been documented for history to witness, makes the game even more special, since you know that it took blood, sweat and tears to make it happen.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Asphalt Jungle

When household pets ruled the world, might as well be the slogan of the clever game, Tokyo Jungle, which borrows a page, to an extent, from the classic short film La Jetée, yet more importantly from the feature film 12 Monkeys. It's a special treat to us fans of desolate urban landscapes, such as those from the film I am Legend, and various tv documentaries. It's dog eat dog, or some adventurous tamagotchi, in a barren, post-apocalyptic land.

As much as this is a make-believe world, it is nonetheless, an interesting hi-concept attempt to bring certain scientific branches, with much creative license, of course, to a game console. In particular, Zoology, the study of the animal kingdom, and Ethology, the study of animals in their natural condition (that is, if we take for granted these animals have adapted to a sort of asphalt jungle), with a handy map, in this 3d side-scroller in which you can actually dress up the animals in groovy clothes and in which you cut your teeth in survival mode and thence unlock story levels.

This rate game asks questions such as whether animals can become feral in the span of a single generation; a cute Pomeranian appearing in the game's promotional materials. As stated before, this is not realism; as, for instance, the animals jump rather high, in true arcade fashion, and later on in the game, prehistoric animals can be unlocked. Yet it's fair to say that playing both as predator and prey, at differing times, is a winning gameplay feature in this title, which unfortunately has a "creative" save-system, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Dead Rising.

Tokyo Jungle is a psn game, yet I managed to find the Best of PSN compilation, which includes this peculiar game, along with three other fairly solid titles, these being When Vikings Attacks, my second-favorite, as well as Sound Shapes, and Fat Princess. It does ask for the disc to play, for both TJ and the others, and this makes little sense, considering their online roots, though the format is now another. The beauty of these games is, except for Sound Shapes, that you can play co-op with a second controller, making this a sweet package of party games. Extra points for originality.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Calling the Inquisition

And so, this marks the first time I have pre-ordered a game; for it was quite evident from early on, having watched hours of pre-release footage, that Bioware had come back with a vengeance, to deliver the goods, with Dragon Age Inquisition. The package comes with a few extra weapons, which are quite welcome, since even while Dragon Age: Origins is my favorite game, period, I was never extremely good at it. So, without further ado, let us delve into the Gen 7, or previous console version, while others debate for or against, the newer consoles' versions.

The story kicks in with Cassandra and Leliana from the religious Chantry, both from the previous two games, who wish to close the dangerous Breach in the sky, and it's your task to help them, based on your newfound power to seal rifts; this much is explained in the prologue. This time around, the developers got it right even with save-games or lack thereof; with the use of the web-based Dragon Age Keep, the player can review and export decisions from past games, similar to how the Mass Effect comic-book was used for the initial release of the ps3 version of Mass Effect 2.

On to the character creation screen; in which I chose to play as an Elf, as I had in DAO; perhaps looking a bit like a wimpy Geralt of Rivia. Add a taste of elf-haters, and the civil unrest in a world-building so well depicted, as has become usual in the developer's history, putting the player in the middle of a racial conflict. Herald of Andraste, is the title given to your character due to his powers, and authorities aren't too content with it. But you can convince people, town after town, that you are there for help.  Also, many players will wonder whether to play as male of female, later realizing that, given the quality and breadth of the game, it makes sense to to play as both eventually.

And the hours tick by, and you realize you haven't even seen one third of Thedas, with wide expanses, reminiscent of Skyrim.  All the while, you are sealing these mysterious rifts, which really remind me of Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, from such classic books as The Golden Compass, in which multiverse-travel are a reality, specifically through them. And the woods and the constructions here, look majestic and colorful. Thus, we find the main weak link of the game; namely the characters aren't too interesting. Sera is a rebellious and quirky elven rogue, though the Bull is also quite well-rounded. In fact, the romance options cover various possibilities, hence people from all walks of life will feel at home.

Visually, the game is a throwback, in the best sense possible, to DA: Origins, though also considering the new character designs from DAII, one thing that changes is the vastness, the scope of the levels. I thought it was of great use, that on the upper-right hand, quests are shown, when they upgrade to a considerate percentile. You also establish camps, which you can automatically travel to, and rest in order to restore potions, which becomes of important strategic value. Meanwhile, in the war room, you can delegate missions, which are completed by npcs later on. Powers, on the other hand, are gained mostly by closing rifts and building encampments, and are needed to unlock new areas.

As it happens, I bought a larger hd in order to play this game; and it was most certainly worth it. While it is true that the visuals, while nice and shiny, aren't as advanced as those on the pc, there seem to be some textures and perhaps a filter missing, still the game's adventures remain intact. It all reminds me of The Witcher 2 port for the xbox 360, in that it may not rival the pc, yet it's more than adequate. Despite some questionable game decisions by the developers, the Inquisition marches on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Voice of the Tunnels

For what I consider a long while in this blog, I have expressed bafflement at the infantile approach Western developers adopt to depict Eastern European characters. Having tried out the demo of Metro 2033 on pc, in which society gone-underground is shown with a deft hand, I proceeded to play Metro Last Light, in its console version. Given that both games in the series have been released in Redux re-masters for the newer consoles, it seemed somewhat timely to write about such title.

Based on the works of renowned Russian sci-fi author, Dmitry Glukhovsky, it can be seen the author has an eye for subtle social commentary, as we find a costumbrist tale at times, as the city hubs are clearly a strong suit narratively. While being the second game in the series, Metro Last Light is not based on the second book, Metro 2034, yet the author did take over writing duties for this game's screenplay. It's indeed of great value that the voices of contemporary young-adult Russian authors may be heard amongst the concert of nations, instead of us media-consumers getting second-hand, or cranberry accounts of the realities of the ex Soviet Union.

At a time when even some above-average first-person-shooters still somehow leave a bad aftertaste, such as, praise notwithstanding, Far Cry 3, with its unilateral narrative and short-sighted view of what constitutes them and us; a shame, since its predecessor really nailed it with its multiculturalism, it is quite hard to encounter an original perspective such as Metro Last Light in sci-fi, or the Polish The Witcher in fantasy. In the Metro world, the player controls Artyom as he explores the ruins of post-nuclear Russia. In this apocalyptic state, he is confronted with mutants and hostile survivors, most of them within or around the shelter that is the Moscow metro system.
The presence of gas chambers and the so-called Reich faction depicted as bad guys, made me ponder on the one thing East and West at least agree on; there is nothing more satisfying than, in make-believe of course, to wreak some havoc on the nazis, while they spout their nonsense about mutant corruption and whatnot. Given this scenario, the closest point of contact here, are the Wolfenstein games, yet perhaps it's the little details in game design and so on which set Metro apart. Moreover, one can play with the Russian voice-acting option on, yet unfortunately, the English subtitles don't translate everything that is said, in this thorough world.
Visually stunning, 4A Games offers metro tunnels looking rusty and full of vegetation, as they should in any clever dystopia. In my experience, some games may distract you from your surroundings, while others make you completely lose sense of time; such is the immersiveness of this title. Each human model seems to have been crafted with great care, and the mutants move fast and fiercely, their musculature reminiscent of wild animals. The level design, while linear, is an achievement in itself, mostly rather lived-in, right down to a theater with performers.
Some of the creators of the Metro game series, had previously worked on the breakthrough Stalker, Shadow of Chernobyl, and this translates into rather tight controls and interesting additions to FPS norms. The stealth sections while knife-throwing, are a high point, as is the need to control your gas mask while outside, reminiscent of the Mars exterior missions of Doom 3, and check for radiation, carrying a small inventory. The third act truly features some of the most amazing sci-fi I have witnessed in some time, and what to say of the fact that there is no multiplayer; good riddance. As well, the game has a basic morality system, which doesn't really intrude as far as gameplay is concerned. The Limited Edition comes with an extra weapon and more bullets for Ranger mode; you might actually need them.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


As in, I'm currently purchasing, more or less, fairly newish releases, as well as a few indies. Riveting, ruthless, relentless reviews to come! And below, some game trilogies.

Index of trilogy reviews

Infamous 2
Infamous: FoB

Dragon Age: O, Awakening
Dragon Age II
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Mass Effect
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 3

The Witcher
The Witcher 2, EE
The Witcher 3

Or maybe I should visit How Long to Beat and VGCollect.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Horned Boy and The Horse Rider

The Land of the Rising Sun; home of the most awe-inspiring, visually and thematically arresting games. At last, I got the chance to immerse myself in the uniquely singular world of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, a twosome of intertwined, minimalistic games, with two different approaches, though both containing exploration, and brought to life by game auteur Fumito Ueda. I hesitate to utilize common adjectives to heap praise, yet it is hard to fathom such gaming landmarks otherwise, now in their HD release.

I recall recently playing other adventure titles, and thinking to myself; "more exploring, less bullets." Well, gaming's longest escort mission, is also the most charming and quietly beguiling, as Ico's main focus is exploration; starring the namesake Ico, the exiled horned boy, working alongside the unearthly Yorda, with the goal of escaping from a foggy ancient fortress, and an evil queen with perverse intentions. In this title, even the enemies are unworldly shadow creatures, dark wisps right out of a dreamscape.

The visuals may look a bit dated, but the character and background designs are rather delightful. The gaming deities from Japan, have decided not to include health bars, or tutorials, making the game a captivating riddle, awaiting to be slowly untangled. I for one, am in favor of the puzzles being of intermediate level, since games such as this are an experience, and not really about skill, much like the trippy game Rez. Here, the right stick is employed to inspect your surroundings; in fact the dualshock 3 controller even quietly beats like a heart, while Ico holds Yorda's hand.
The music and sounds add much to the atmosphere, transporting you to this magical realm of made-up languages, in a subdued yet poignant way, which one might find reminiscent of the Minecraft original soundtrack. Michiru Ōshima handled the gentle soundscapes here, which are part of what make Ico so unique, whereas Kow Otani was the orchestral composer for SOTC. Both soundtracks present notable music cues, which really help define the identity of these games.
Shadow of the Colossus, which was originally to be an online game, squarely focuses on boss fights, while some elements from the previous game repeat themselves, such as the architectural style and the appearance of shadowy figures. SOTC is also something of a love story, though the action is certainly more agile and elaborate; while the former was an intimate game, this is a sprawling adventure. It also takes place in a magical world, and those who dig deeper, will find direct connections in both games' plotlines.
The game is more dynamic than its predecessor, yet the balance struck between exploration and action denotes the makers' trademark deft hand. Once again, the game mechanics are quite unique, as you progressively climb over each Colossus, while watching your grip, and finding their weak spots. It can be plainly seen that SOTC was a landmark game, with its breadth and epic scale, which influenced generations to come, and this has been noted by certain reviewers.
Wander's horse, Agro, has well-crafted and lovely, fluid animations, it controls very intuitively, and it's a pleasure to watch as she runs at great speed, in a rather realistic fashion; a thing of great artistry and refinement. The giants themselves are a unique mixture of pre-historic animals and ancient architecture, which has to be seen to be understood. The game's open-world map may not be the largest, but it's crafted with considerable care. As well, not only can you search for the sixteen giants to battle against, you also can collect shiny lizard tails and fruits from fruit trees, adding longevity to the title.
A final word, regarding the extras. These are filled with concept videos, animated prototype clips and interviews with the team behind the two games, and all are quite insightful. It's interesting to note, that the as-yet-unreleased The Last Guardian, is to be a combination of the premises of both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, since you play a boy whose companion is a an imposing fantasy creature. Gladly, this HD Collection takes only about 8 mb to install. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Happy Youth Vandalism

I was recently on the lookout for an inexpensive digital game; my short-list included the indie survival-horror Amy, the beat-them-up Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the experimental and innovative Flower, and the action-packed Hydrophobia. Yet none of these titles fully convinced me. And then, browsing what was on offer at the psn, I finally found it; Jet Set Radio, one of the finest games I had played back when I was the proud owner of a Sega Dreamcast, and which I loved to bits.

The original game, which has been remastered in HD, for every conceivable platform, is one of the early experiments in cel-shaded graphics, and awarded true classic status, having received accolades ever since its original 2k release. If you are looking for a game that will take steady persistence to complete; brilliant, since the gameplay from JSR is rather old-school, making the difficulty level quite high; even the game's tutorial is just about the hardest in recent memory. Having said that, the title packs an irresistible dose of nostalgia, and comes with nifty extras.

And so I find myself as a gamer, in the capable hands of another Japanese creation. The story is straight-forward, as you are part of a gang of graffiti street artists, which other skaters later join, competing against other gangs in quirky turf wars, while a relentless troup of policemen; who evidently watched the film Maniac Cop one time too many, chase you, led by Cap. Onishima; who in turn, is surely a big fan of the movie Psycho Cop. But there are also shady corporations and ruthless assassins; powerful enemies awaiting the ever-expanding GG gang. This, at least, is what happens in between cut-scenes, during which everybody just boogies.
The art direction is quite simply superb, and holds up wonderfully after all these years. As the story goes, the developers wanted to replicate the fashion and music styles they saw in the streets of Tokyo during the nineties, with a little bit of western elements thrown in for good measure. This is, after all, a Smilebit creation, a talented game development studio if there ever was one, responsible for many great Dreamcast titles, as well as others for various platforms.
Jet Set Radio presents more hardcore gameplay, so to speak, with time limits, than its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, released for the original Xbox, which is more accessible, having no time limits. In JSR, you often have to replay a level, given that there are secret passways, which lead you to completion of the level. In fact, if you do not plan everything to perfection, you will not clear the levels; this is the game's greatest weakness and greatest strength. The game mechanics may remind you of the Tony Hawk series, as you grind and do tricks that net you points, yet JSR takes place in a cartoony world, hence the flashy combos get a free pass, even though they kind of defy the laws of physics.
The original soundtrack is pure awesomeness. Some of the stand-out tracks are Let Mom Sleep and Humming the Bassline, by composer Hideki Naganuma, as well as Magical Girl and Super Brothers by indie band Guitar Vader, and Everybody Jump Around, by Richard Jacques, a composer I have admired for a long time, due to his work on Metropolis Street Racer and the Headhunter game series. I can't help but compare JSR to Skate 3, in that they are both landmarks in gaming; distant relatives connected through the decades via similar game mechanics, and the fact that more computing power and the evolution of the medium itself, has allowed for much smoother controls, more depth and precision, at the service of a fun ride. Only for hardcore gamers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Now You're Playing With Power

When you're ready, step inside. I highly doubt you'll survive this fight. But hey, there's only one way to find out, right? Give it your best shot! I am 100% certain you're returning from this battle, Travis... In a body bag. But trust your Force, and head for the Garden of Madness! - Sylvia Christel

Most gamers in their thirties, like myself, have been playing games for around fifteen years, and in the past, experienced such classics as Mario and Sonic. As it happens, yours truly wrote for a vintage-gaming site years ago. So a game which brings back youthful memories, is more than welcome indeed. Enter No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise, a port of the popular Wii game, with additional content. Meet Travis Touchdown; you know, just your regular trendy assassin with a beam katana.

The objective of the game, is to defeat the top ten assassins who outrank you on the UAA contract killers hierarchy, and reach the number one spot, through gloriously over-the-top battles. But that is not all, as this is also an open-world game. To fight each adversary, you need to pay an entry fee, so you must carry out smaller assassination missions, and partake in some hilariously mundane jobs, to gather cash. Plus, you get to move around in a sweet motorcycle, and purchase clothes and weapon upgrades.

The gameplay itself is a throwback to games of generations past, with precision button mashing, collectable items, high-scores, and laborious boss battles; all of them memorable. Even without the ps3 Move peripheral, and simply using the dualshock 3 gamepad, this is one of the most unique and creative control schemes you can find on Gen 7 consoles, while being a bit less organic than that of Nintendo's own Wii.* Add to this the wrestling moves, and you are looking at one tough Otaku.
No More Heroes: HP is chock-full of references to other titles in gaming history, and the very design of the game itself, as seen in the menus and in-game effects, is graced by vibrant audio-visual nostalgia, making you recall the days of classic game consoles. The game also pays homage to the film Kill Bill; after all, you are a hitman with a death-list to complete, and the battles usually get humorously bloody; of course, that movie was also a collage of Japanese references itself. There are also various versions of this game, since the visuals have been improved for the ports, and bosses have been added from the Wii's sequel to this game. The Anime-flavored cut-scenes are also a joy to watch.
Santa Destroy, the sunshiny town where the game takes place, comes alive as you progress, with various things to do, reminding me somewhat of the original Crazy Taxi. Even the motel room which our contract killer occupies, is a place of interest; you can access your card collection, pet your cat, watch TV; where you can play a game within a game, check out the fridge, change clothes; this is after all, a fashionista-killer, and of course, save your progress in the game, by using the toilet. There are even humorous calls from the video rental shop, asking our suave hitman to return his steamy tapes in time.
And what to say of the excellent electronica soundtrack, composed by Masafumi Takada and Jun Fukuda. It was released as a three-cd set, and included such great tracks as Do Not Destroy, which is Travis' living room music, Gorgeous Blues, the addictive open-world, bike music, as well as several variations of the motif from Beam Katana Chronicles, the main theme from No More Heroes. Perhaps these tracks could help uncover who is the man wielding the laser blade, as I feel Travis is no cipher at all; though depicted in a quirky way, he has clear motivations; to find a suitable challenger, to fight a battle that will put him to the test. He does, as well, have a soft spot for Sylvia Christel, his flirtatious, passive-aggressive supervisor.
Being the first Suda51 game I have played, it was a thrill to experience the work of a true game auteur, a visionary of which there are but few not just in games, but in artistic expression. Along with Hideo Kojima, Fumito Ueda, Yu Susuki, Keiichiro Toyama, Hideki Kamiya, Shinji Mikami, Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Masayoshi Kikuchi; Goichi Suda, the creator of No More Heroes and Killer 7, is one of the great talents-for-export to have come from Japan. Just about the most fun I've had since Pac-Man; in one word, Moe! *Except for one minor glitch.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Agent Provocateur

Most gamers have played either fantasy RPGs or sci-fi RPGs. But what happens when a game developer makes a present-day action Role Playing Game? A valuable concept I learned from my favorite film critic, is that sometimes "interesting" movies can often be better than "good" movies. I believe the same applies to other forms of media. Hence, it could be said that Alpha Protocol, a fairly ambitious title, certainly presents a rather compelling scenario.

The game opens with a an attack resulting in a downed aircraft, something which was seen recently on the daily news; we are dealing with a mostly timely and plausible plot. Espionage is indeed pervasive, the region this writer inhabits, saw in the past the grave consequences of US intel sector intervention, culminating in Operation Condor. Alpha Protocol may indulge in some creative license, but the world it depicts is faithful to its real-life counterpart. Yet, instead of sticking to one enemy, the gamble is made to tackle the Arabs, the Russians and the Chinese all at once; most of the real, or imagined, enemies of the US. Being a spy story, you can also expect the mandatory plot twists, as well as globe-trotting.

At the menu screen, you are presented with five classes to choose for your agent, Michael Thorton's background; Soldier, Field Agent, Tech Specialist, Freelancer and Recruit, plus the additional Veteran, once the game is completed, and later, specializations. There are three training missions, which will outline what's in store during the rest of the adventure. At this point, you can also customize Thorton's appearance. As the game progresses, you can work under several different handlers, or analysts. As for the missions themselves, they aren't exactly Splinter Cell material, but they work nicely. As is the case with most action RPGs, you have your talent tree, as well as weapon upgrades.
I often ponder how RPGs can become such deep personal experiences; consider, for instance, the times an acquaintance plays a section of your game, and you hope they will not screw with your intended actions, your story, which you are building alongside the game's creators, and it is here that I find a resemblance to the relationship between author and reader; it takes two to make these narratives work. Alpha Protocol's story is credited to Brian Mitsoda, a writer and video game designer known for his screenplay to Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. In this title, he is responsible for at least two absolutely memorable characters; the shady Henry Leland, from the enigmatic Halbech Corp and his daunting ex chief of security, Conrad Marburg.
Some reviewers have written off this game due to its lack of polish; an appraisal which I find to be a huge blunder. I played the initial sections of this espionage game twice, and in doing so, came to the  realization of just how much the experience can differ if you make contrasting decisions. From how to engage the enemies, to winning over, or being disliked, by your co-workers, the freedom this game grants the player is rather unique. You can even negotiate with key opponents, a truly winning and innovative game mechanic, making the game a more organic experience, which somewhat reminded me of the digital-only I Am Alive.
The white elephant in the room, is that there are similarities between this game and Mass Effect 2, romancing and hacking mini-games included. Having said that, the sheer craftsmanship and attention to detail behind Alpha Protocol, makes it very much its own thing. In truth, Obsidian Entertainment's game may be even with the space opera trilogy, since for instance, the use of intel here, such as email, which you can even reply to, becomes of vital importance for your interactions and missions, in a similar manner to Bioware's admittedly thorough codex entries. Ultimately, Alpha Protocol offers a level of depth seldom seen in games; a good indication of this is that this reviewer actually read the game's manual.
In the end, this ingenious title seems to have ended up being everything the game The Bourne Conspiracy had aspired to, and then some. Also worthy of note, the game data, or hard drive installation, works in an enigmatic fashion, at least on the ps3. While on the back of the box, it reads "7 MB Required," in reality, the game data file increases as you progress in the title, finally reaching a much larger file size. As well, halfway through the game, the game began to ask for more memory, since I have a small HD. Nonetheless, it was most certainly worth it. Now where is the Game+ option?