Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fast & Furious

While GT6 is out for the PS3, I will focus on the game which had much more hype and anticipation, the PS3 Exclusive Gran Turismo 5. In truth, it presents a remarkable experience; the series always has offered as much, but does it do well against the competition? Let us find out.
Visually, the games excels, depicting real life cities such as London, Tokyo and Madrid, as well as 200 premium cars which can be driven from the cockpit, though the rest of the cars cannot. If you somehow get stuck, there is the well-designed arcade mode. As noted elsewhere on the media, the menus are not too accomplished, to say the least.

The cars drive magnificently, using even the controller, with a left-and-right trigger setup, allowing for hours upon hours of fun, all the while listening to music that could be better; but that is what personalized soundtracks are for. The circuits are plentiful, sporting many new ones and some from the series' past. Kudos to Polyphony Digital.
Yet I can't help but compare the experience to Forza III, a game which essentially pampered the player all the way through, and in doing so made for a much more satisfying and lasting driving experience. In contrast, GT5 gives you less and lackluster cars when winning events, makes you search manually for a car in your garage to see if you qualify for a niche race and, at least for the uninitiated, forces you to upgrade your cars without assistance.

As for the install of the game, it is less than stellar. First, it asked me for one gb for playing. Then, the online update was an additional four. And if I wanted to install some content to make the game run smoother, then that would be another eight gb. Whatever happened to playing games from discs, it's not as if I purchased this digitally. In the end, if you own a Playstation 3, this and the Shift series comprise your choices for fun at the wheel.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Tomb Raider

As I was playing the first chapters of Uncharted 2, another PS3 Exclusive, my older brother remarked "this is just like a movie," and he made a solid point indeed. Naughty Dog are masters at walking the fine line between film and game. For one thing, the game is built around setpieces, in the same manner of a motion picture. With wonderfully written cutscenes, the point I've been making throughout this blog, that "games are movies," is alive and well.

The visuals are rather inventive, making special use of camera angles, and the dialogue from the team banter is just phenomenal, right out of a polished screenplay. If Heavenly Sword showed what could be done with the system, then U2 pushes it to the limit. Arguably the pinnacle of the series, this sequel reminds me of Mass Effect 2, from that competing console, in that this was also the standout episode in such series. Add the obligatory globe-trotting aspects and you have a winner in your hands.
The parkour style gameplay marks a trend in recent games, in which everyone is a monkey man who can scale just about any wall. But the game's charms somehow allow for enough willing suspension of disbelief to pull off a marvelous experience. This type of freedom is at times more welcome, in the opinion of this reviewer, than the by now utterly boring sandbox style gaming. In fact, the game shines during exploration as opposed to combat. However, the multiplayer component takes eons to start on a decent connection.
The bad guy du jour here is Soviet, of course; even seasoned companies can't avoid that trope. Since I have wasted enough digital ink on that subject, I refer you to this excellent article. There seems to be a certain nagging problem with the Greatest Hits edition. 200 megabytes in updates and the trophies just seemingly don't work; truly pitiful. You try to support the industry by buying brand-new and this is what you get. Yet the quality of the game more than redeems this scenario, of course.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I Am My Sword

Nariko is the kind of hero who takes matters into her own hands. An outcast, reviled by her clan for seemingly not fulfilling a age-old prophecy, she takes her role of savior very seriously. So much so, that her very her mission becomes her life; that at least is the premise of Heavenly Sword, which kicks off this PS3 Exclusives series.

Nariko and her notorious hair are a wise design choice and so are the locales found within the game disc, which are breath-taking to say the least; constructions in the mountains adorned with banners waving in the wind, stairs that go on forever, and waterfalls as a backdrop, like an Eden invaded by evil men, led by nefarious and resolute King Bohan. Five years in the making and a staff of 140 people will get you that.
In fact, the game, which is basically a hack and slash title, makes a powerful argument for art in gaming, since much work went into this ps3 launch title, as can be witnessed by the behind the scenes features. The talent behind Ninja Theory explains they wanted the game to have the grandeur of a movie and they certainly succeed in that regard. The cast, starring Anna Torv, of Fringe fame, and Andy Serkis, is a great addition in that regard.

Whilst it is a combat game, as explained above, there are enough combat stances to keep you fairly busy. Each of these moves is accompanied by a balletic animation which is pure eye candy. The game, which has inspired a recent animated feature, comes also with a series of animated shorts which are breath-taking in their simplicity. For a title which offers no trophies due to its early launch date, it certainly comes packed with hefty extra content to make up for it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


You'll notice that all the games have a red ps3 logo or otherwise, this is because they are greatest hits reissues. This is what occurs when you want to buy games new, some of which are no longer available.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Game Changer

It's all over the news; respectable sites are giving equal scores to both FIFA 14 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 as well. Having played the recent iterations of the former, and a thorough demo of the latter, I can attest to the fact that PES is back with a vengeance. As it happens, your humble servant used to run a small footy gaming site and since those days, many things have changed, with the crowning of FIFA as current champion, yet also, things now seem quite the way they were.

Sporting the brand new Fox Engine, PES 2014 feels more fluid and physical than ever. Both the Motion Animation Stability System (MASS) and TrueBall Tech sound like gimmicks, yet they help construct a game which is visually arresting in its realism. The demo provides hours upon hours of fun, with a respectable selection of teams. There are no options in the game except checking your GamePlan (Formations and Tactics), and matches do feel a bit too short. Yet the fun I've had on the PS3 equals the great days of PES 3 to 6.
As a result, the game feels quite a bit renewed by dropping its stiffness and replacing it with a more flexible experience, which now does seem more like a broadcast than ever before; it feels almost like ragdoll physics yet not quite. You can play, for instance, Bayern Munich vs Manchester United and the pull from both powerhouses becomes evident. I remember FIFA 10 in which I played with Barcelona and the tiny Messi didn't make things much easier for me.

Before a match begins, a player likeness for each team appears on screen, like a matchup in a fighting videogame, which makes for a nice touch. The full game comes with options for Friendly, Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores, Football Life and others. Framerate is though, a bit choppy while showing the crowds. In the end, the game comes highly recommended, thus fútbol aficionados should probably get a hold of both sides of the competition.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's coming...

Monday, November 11, 2013


I asked my kid brother Max, a teenager, to name his top 10 all-time favorite games, in response to sharing my own list with him. Here's the results of two generations.
1.Dragon Age: Origins (XB360) 2.Mass Effect 2 (XB360) 3.Half-Life 2 (PC) The Witcher (PC) 5.The Darkness (XB360) 6.Resident Evil: Code Veronica (DC) 7.The Getaway (PS2, pictured) 8.Unreal Tournament (PC) 9.Super Mario World (SNES) 10.Mortal Kombat II (SNES)
1.Assassins Creed II (XB360) 2.Super Smash Bros (N64) 3.Sonic Adventure (DC) 4.Mario Kart (N64) 5.Portal 1 & 2 (PC) 6.Command and Conquer: Red Alert II (PC) 7.Guitar Hero III (PS2) 8.Counter-Strike 1.6 (PC) 9.Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (Arcade) 10.Mortal Kombat Armageddon (PS2) 10.bis.Unreal Tournament 2004 (PC) 10.bis2.Quake 3 (PC)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Monday, August 20, 2012

Are you Experienced?

Imagine if you bought a new computer, and inside you found a video of a woman pleading for help. Mixing elements of Uplink, a hacking videogame, the film Rear Window, as well as the more recent "found footage" movies, The Experiment; or eXperience112, depending on your geographical area, is respectful of its audience to the point that the heroine in developer Lexis Numérique's game, reminds you when was the last time you booted up the game. It is all geared towards creating a provocative time, and they certainly succeed. It makes one consider the limitless possibilities of gaming, and the fact that they are not being fully explored at the moment.

Lea Nichols wakes up in a derelict ship stranded on a faraway beach, and the only person around is you, looking at her through a security camera. She begins to address you, in her mossy quarters, until the rudimentary communication turns into a more complex cooperative system in which you control various parts of the ship to allow her access, and work towards finding out what happened, as well as what the mysterious 112 number means. The name of the game here is verisimilitude, as we shall see, for how many of us have been in combat, in contrast to how many have used a computer?

Part of the immersion is attained because the game essentially turns your pc into an emulator; you are running a foreign, yet believable, operating system, which happens to control many aspects of a ship. Unless the reader considers CoD:MW his favorite game series, The Experiment is almost sure to suck you in, and for a few hours, make the player pretty much forget about the outside world, with heaps of files, some marked sensitive, hence more enticing, in a similar manner to the new classic, Doom 3.
There is, of course, the voyeuristic component, which creates an eerie feeling, making you wonder if you are playing the game, or it is you who is being played on. Furthermore, Lea is not a cipher, she is a no-nonsense, meticulous scientist, whose actions happen to be currently defined by her predicament. As she finds the corpses of her former colleagues, you may feel empathy. The detective work involved, aided sometimes by controlling a clunky robot, can at times be compelling.
The game plays wonderfully on a widescreen monitor, making great use of screen real estate. In truth, every self-respecting gamer should consider having this game in their collection. For those who think there is something slightly wrong with gaming nowadays, the reader is then advised to find a copy of The Experiment, a game unlike anything the reviewer has ever played, or should I say, experienced.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Generation Alpha's Fantasy Land

"What's your pleasure? We got it all here." - Rufus Riley, Minority Report

It is complex indeed to predict the impact of future technologies, especially when they lie many years down the road. However, the phenomenon pertaining to this essay is right around the corner; and perhaps dangerously so. As children born from 2010 until 2025 are considered generation Alpha, it is their group which will suffer the consequences of the first true virtual worlds, with upcoming hardware and software capable of emulating a hypher-reality similar to that which can be seen in sci-fi movies, yet whose repercussions can tentatively be surmised.

For my generation, known as Gen Y, coming after Generation X, the clash of two realities was hardly palpable, as the games we were brought up on had often rudimentary visuals and lacked realism. But imagine, for a moment, playing Resident Evil 15, completely immersed in the dread and horror, for hours without seeing the light of day, with most of the five senses engaged; enough exposure could affect minds, young and old, considerably, if that is not happening already. What will these people's frame of reference be in the long run; games or reality? This brings me to two products on the market, namely Skyrim, a first-person fantasy RPG, and Google's augmented reality glasses. If that is not enough, there are true-VR glasses also being developed.

Skyrim, the highly praised and addictive RPG, which is by default played from a first person perspective, may begin to offer a glimpse of what's to come. Like the quality-starved GTA series, yet with a fantasy backdrop, Skyrim offers a vast, beautiful snowy land to get lost in. Like its sibling, Fallout 3, the game is non-linearity itself; seeming less like a film soundstage and more like a movie shot on location, so to speak. The player can loot objects and sell them; a winning game mechanic, granting it a Mad-Max feel, as characters fight for resources. The indoor world-building is impressive as well, with hints of the classic game Enclave. Devoid of cut-scenes, the game builds its story through imagery; from the depressing Windhelm to the paradise-like Eldergleam Sanctuary. In Skyrim, you can get married, not to advance the plot, but for the sake of it. The extra content is nearly infinite, since much of it is generated by the user community.

In a culture where there is a tendency for individuals to narrativise their lives, everyone will be able to be a superhero, an antihero, or whichever stance the games on offer may have; the notion that TV will at one point watch us instead of us watching it, will regain significance, if it wasn't evident already. The coming generations may even live in a technological hedonistic state; whether it is a paradise or a hell remains to be seen. Globalization has made people all over the globe a little more similar, a little less distant. The west has steadily exported its individualist culture, reaching even colectivist regions. Yet people crave for transcendence in a silicon era. This army of sedentary people, our hive mind, is begging to jump on the next fad, and if science and technology are coupled in just the right way, the allure of a VR existence, away from existence, could prove to be inescapable for most.

While the next generation of consoles will not quite pass the Turing test, the assumption is they will nevertheless carry enough punch to go further than Team Bondi's realistic characters from LA Noire; which, in addition to the virtual expanses offered by games like Skyrim, will undoubtedly capture the imagination of both casual and hardcore gamers. This scenario presents the possibility that people may no longer care about mundane activities, as fantasies which far surpass the film medium will be available at a low cost. Hence, the fate of the Alpha generation and beyond may be an interesting, yet bleak one. Perhaps, like Geoffrey Miller argues, we've never met aliens because instead of interstellar travel they chose to look inward as an alternative.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hype Backlash is Back

So a game is released within the Dragon Age universe, and reception is mixed. Would it make a Grey Warden proud? Once again, it seems, the real story is not the game itself, but an initial negative reaction towards Dragon Age II which may well have been unwarranted; the demo is simply not a good representation of the final product. We are speaking, of course, of hype backlash. Sure, the fact that the character creation has been narrowed down to only humans is a letdown, since, if you are anything like me, you might have played Dragon Age: Origins as an Elf Rogue, and even a Human Mage, but never as a boring Human Noble; at least Alistair was a "royal bastard."

Yet the story, or backstory, is quite astute, and it expands on ideas from Origins. The conflict between the Templars and the Mages has now become exacerbated; both see each other as extremists. Other groups, like the cryptic Qunari, are occupying the city with military force. In the middle of all of this, is the Hawke family, to which your character belongs, having fled the Blight in Ferelden. Their rags-to-riches drama unfolds against the above-mentioned backdrop of social unrest. With some exceptions, most characters are well-rounded, though it is the Elves who steal the show; from Merrill to Fenris, and Tallis, who appears on dlc, and should have had a more vital part.

The Witcher 2, gorgeous as it was, was lacking not only in combat, but in an engaging story which went beyond politics. For a story to work, it has to have some degree of melodrama mixed in; a perfect example of this is the second season of the series Game of Thrones. DAII offers multiple pairings which create sparks, especially from the second act onwards. There is Merrill and the Dalish Keeper; Merrill in particular being so well portrayed, she is clearly DAII's own Morrigan, given her importance, except she is a Blood Mage, not an Apostate.

Then there is Anders, a Mage and ex-Grey Warden, whose inner turmoil is shown literally, as he is the host for a spirit called Justice. Aveline is a Templar who, given her occupation, is wary of any and all Mages; her character represents a strong woman, and done so with much class. Varric seems like a one-note character, that is, until we see his relationship to his greedy brother develop. And these are just the main characters, not the ones involved in bureaucratic intrigue.

There is something about the art design; it is much too pristine, not dirty enough, and hence not too evocative of Origins in that regard. Even the Game of Thrones RPG looks more lived-in. This is no accident, though, it is a clear artistic design decision relating to Kirkwall. Considering the fancy interlude animations, it's as though a graphic designer was in charge of some of the art design. I am led to believe that the decision was made to keep the Morrigan story for a third act perhaps, and introduce a contained story in this second act, so newcomers could get in on the action. With all the great stories being told in gaming, one can't help but wonder, after Ricciotto Canudo claimed that film was the seventh art and then Claude Beylie stated that television was the eight and comics were the ninth art, if videogames deserve to be finally called the tenth.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Operation Rescue

I felt compelled to play Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, almost as though it was my "duty" as a gamer, given the current state of affairs with war videogames, and help spread the word. Many have compared OF2 to Arma 2 in an unfavorable light, yet both games have clear similarities. In trying to distance itself from the phony patriotism and sense of grandeur of other shooters, OF2 actually honors, even if to a small degree, the soldiers of any nationality who have gone to war.

OF2 truly presents a refreshing change of pace for a FPS, as you slowly cover positions, work as a team, and issue orders. Console port or not, the controls feel utterly responsive and polished on the PC. The field manual attempts to cover the basics in combat strategies and does so nicely. The team dynamics are basic but solid, it reminded me of the great Swat 4. Every time you load the campaign, the thorough stats kindly remind you need to score more points.There is, in fact, a newer game in the franchise, which unfortunately hasn't exactly gotten glowing reviews.

Taking place on the fictional island of Skira, yet based on the topography of the real-life island of Kiska, the game portrays the Chinese PLA's attempt to seize control of Skira and its newly discovered deposits of oil, by taking it away from the Russian Federation, who calls for American reinforcements, after which a sandbox-style battle in the island occurs. The game was developed by Codemasters, who did not develop the first game, which was made by Bohemia Interactive instead, who would go on to make the Arma series.
In a game that has no cinematics, what is the gameplay like? Rather deep, actually. The movements the marines can make are versatile, and you can issue orders on site or from a map, as well as calling for air support. The radar is more like a compass, which intentionally tells you very little about enemy presence. Vehicle control is smooth, reminding me of Far Cry 2. You can even lower the enemy's morale by being aggressive. And yes, when things get out of control, you feel something akin to fear, in the way a horror game might scare you. OF2 is also difficult, but in the way MDK2 was; always motivating you for another go, because of how rewarding the game is when you get something right.
This brings me to the reason why I picked up this game. For a series of games that have the gameplay depth of Pong, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is far too ideologically charged, even insultingly so. It has become the greatest affront in gaming, dumbing down armed conflicts, global politics, and breeding a sector of twitchy gamers. Let's consider some glaring differences between the two games, to wit; in OF2, Russia and America are allies against China. In CoD:MW, not only are Russia and America enemies, but on the brink of something much more than a minor conflict. In OF2, you make long stretches on foot, whereas in CoD:MW, you land right into combat, like James Bond. And of course, in the former, a well placed bullet kills you, unlike in the latter.
After two patches, the game has grown equally in content and multiplayer possibilities. Considering the number of mods and still-thriving online community, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is money well spent indeed. And it may be one of those rare games that entertain while telling you a bit about the world you live in.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Warfare in a Virtual Setting

Six Days in Fallujah, a game which was set against the backdrop of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," became controversial for the simple fact that it explored a recent war scenario, and was promptly pulled off the shelves by its publisher, Konami. The US Marine Corps had actually asked developer Atomic Games to produce the game.

Yet the reality of war games in quite different. Instead, and breaking all records, is the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, whose nonsensical plot has been summarized succinctly by Tom Bissell; "The average gamer tells his friends that Call of Duty is serious this time, like super for real serious, and decides to give it another shot. Things between them are okay for a minute or two, but then Call of Duty is all "Russians! Russians! Russians! Goddamn Russians are in London!" and the average gamer is like "Russians! Where? How do you tell? Who's that over there? It's so loud!"
What occurred with Six Days in Fallujah demonstrates the "extended adolescence" the game industry wishes to promote for gamers. Consider that, in a lab setting, in fact; "Currently, the Department of Defense is testing Virtual Iraq - one of three virtual-reality programs it has funded for P.T.S.D. treatment, and the only one aimed at 'ground pounders'."
The CoD:MW series has become the new Counter-Strike, which is to sadly say, the new top fps with online multiplayer. While the Battlefield series is also caught in a CoD-like frenzy, game series like Arma, Operation Flashpoint and SOCOM,* tell the reality of war in less juvenile ways. Yet these games lack marketing punch and remain in obscurity.This revisionary history is different from, say, medieval fantasy, as it denies that the land which deploys these forces is involved in many conflicts all over the world, resuscitating instead an anachronistic war which belongs in history books.
Regarding Cod:MW and Battlefield 3, a group of real soldiers gave their opinion, one of which stated; "No enemy is going to stand out in the open for you to easily shoot, but most of the time enemies in these games like to stand in front of my weapon. Soldiers learn to cover each other and work as a team covering all line of fire while maintaining a dominant position and then maneuvering to pin the enemy with fire." *As well as Ghost Recon, which is stuck in the middle.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Videogames & Identity

For the annotated version:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Howl of the White Wolf

Science fiction gaming, with the often poor knowledge of the writers regarding their topic, sometimes cannot avoid the pitfalls of countless clichés. The analogy of gaming as filmmaking is suitable, as many game developers often find themselves relying on proven formulas. In hindsight, Mass Effect 3 was not remarkable in and of itself, but perhaps because it was connected to the first two. Sci-fi, in gaming at least, perhaps in general, may have become a trite arena where new ideas are scarce.

There's arguably more inventiveness in the medieval fantasy genre, in the gaming world, than in the cyberpunk of science fiction. You need look no further than The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, for some strong evidence. In TW2 EE, we get two additional quests in the once-anemic third act, as well as new animated cinematics and additional cut-scenes. It all comes together to create a more thorough and polished TW2 experience, including new music tracks by Adam Skorupa & Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz.
The fantasy genre is seen by many as a response to modernism; there's a microcosm of books, series, movies and games centered around medieval fantasy, which may well tell the same story, but do so from cleverly diverse angles. The Witcher series is comprised by more than simple games; it is folklore packed in a game disc, with its visually and thematically arresting Polish vistas. The racial tensions and political back-stabbings echo the books faithfully, the consequences of allegiances are depicted, and gender roles as well as socioeconomic factors are also explored.
As far as additions go, the Arena offers a nice change of pace, by providing battles against humans and creatures in a small coliseum. The companion characters are well developed and even the voice acting for such small endeavor is quite good. Were I still the owner of an Xbox, I'd buy this game twice, one for playing and another for it to sit on the shelf, likely being the best rpg on the system.
The new quests in the third act are of interest; Lilies and Vipers, from Roche's path, introduces some aristocratic characters and intrigues from King Foltest's court, and stands out for me, as good voice performances are always welcome. There is a new forest area as well. The Secrets of Loc Muinne, in Iorveth's path, takes place under the city, and feels a bit claustrophobic, too dark for my taste. The fact that the content is situated near the end, does make a new play-through more desirable.
Technically, however, CDPR floundered, as updating to the EE is utterly clunky. The much-loved developer surely can make remarkable games, but when it comes to glitches they may rank number one as well; the update is larger than the game itself. The Witcher 3 will be interesting for the developer, as this second entry was designed with consoles in mind, and if we are to be honest. A worthy sequel to the PC masterpiece.