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, 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?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Beast is One Mile from New Marais

The original Infamous was released in the early days of the ps3, and this was evident in the graphical department, yet the game had a lot of verve, and rather polished gameplay, so it comes as no surprise that Infamous 2, presents graphical improvements, both in-game and during cut-scenes. After a showstopper of a prologue, featuring the powerful new enemy, The Beast, the game reveals the changes in the engine; the environment being much more responsive, in other words, you can now destroy things aplenty.

An even greater surprise is the political undercurrent present, as New Marais, where our hero Cole is supposed to get his new powers, is a thinly veiled post-Katrina New Orleans; as we are told through motion-comics, Cole had been there before practicing urban exploration, or parkour, during the disaster, and during this episode it is highlighted that the police were less than useful, in a place turned lawless. In fact, an area in New Marais' map, is actually called Flood Town; I doubt you can see people struggling to walk in waist-high water in other games. Now, the citizens of New Marais have employed a militia, of rednecks, as Cole puts it, to guard them against so-called deviants; powerful conduits such as Cole himself.


The greatest addition, is being able to work with other conduits similar to Cole; such as Kuo, the good girl, and Nix, the evil one; who are basically shoulder angels. These companions come in handy while fighting the beastly Ravagers. Melee combat has been greatly improved, with the introduction of The Amp, a weapon built by our hero's pal, Zeke, which is sort of an oversized metallic cattle prod, which Cole can swing at his enemies, often resulting in finishing moves. This becomes useful when going one-on-one against other conduits, such as the Corrupted, mutated citizens connected to the Big Bad; Bertrand. After all, as in the first game, the story's backdrop is constituted by a web of espionage and intrigue, with characters from different spy agencies, all salivating over the power of conduits.
The Infamous titles seem to always excel in the music department, and this proves to be true once again, with the delivery of another stupendous soundtrack. Contrary to what occurred with The Darkness II, in which they downtraded the main voice actor, Infamous 2 benefits from Cole's new voice, as it displays more pathos. The karma system doesn't break any new ground, it acts more like an excuse for a second playthrough, in which you may choose the path opposite from your original one. However, it dawned on me that, the moral system manifests itself more effectively in the little details; if you play as a hero, you are rewarded by cheering crowds, whereas, if you choose the evil path, citizens nearly hurl stones at you. There is even distinct good and evil music.
There are some memorable gaming moments found in Infamous 2; such a Godzilla-inspired section, and a turret mission with a twist; using a powerful UV light beam to ward off an attack of the Corrupted. As well, since there are areas constituted mainly of swamps, Cole has to be watchful of not getting electrocuted in the water, for instance, while being knocked over with force by a Ravager. This watery scenario can lead to the hilariously-named trophy, aptly titled "I'm As Shocked As You Are." Ultimately, what makes the series so enthralling, are the engaging sci-fi concepts, intermingled with the more grounded element of the friendship between two men, and its evolution.
New Marais is one of the best-crafted, most accomplished game cities on the ps3, with attention payed to the littlest details. The train tracks from the original have been replaced, in this outing, by trolley lines which you can grind on. Also this time around, the news reports made popular in the first game, appear in the corner of the screen, picture-in-picture. There is User-Generated-Content; admittedly, a great concept, and it adds longevity to the game. For this author, Infamous 2 is part of one of the most exciting sci-fi franchises released as of late; with continued expansion in gaming's Gen 8.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

One Hour Until Sunrise

In the vein of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, comes Infamous: Festival of Blood, a standalone total-conversion of the Infamous world. The title, in fact, remains one of the biggest-selling ps3 downloadable games launched on the PSN.

 
Our protagonist, Cole, now decidedly an antihero, given his vampire form, must dispatch Bloody Mary, a powerful vampirette, before sunrise, or the blood suckers are taking over, as the vampire lady plans to turn the entire citizenship into creatures of the night. It may sound somewhat cheesy, yet the game makes sure you are in on the joke. Cole has been granted the power to fly, and given vampire vision, similar to Arkhman Asylum's detective mode.
Festival of Blood employs the Infamous 2 engine, and takes place in New Marais; based on New Orleans, during the Pyre Night celebrations; a sort of rather twisted Mardi Gras, complete with barefoot girls with glow-in-the-dark necklaces, partying all night. In this brief but engaging game, you need to suck blood from civilians to regain health, reminding me of the better moments of Bloodrayne II, but after a certain point, some of them may turn into the towering Firstborns, which are mighty vampire foes; much like the Banshees from Mass Effect 3.
Ultimately, there is much to do in this little package, having two sets of powers; the electrical and the vampiric, as well as the smooth controls and swift camera, both being extremely fine-tuned, with the end result, that at times, the screen is filled with colors and movement reminiscent of a japanese fighting game. It is one of those great games to play in company, even though it is a single player campaign.

The game is narrated by uber-cool geek Zeke, Cole's buddy, as he tries to pick up an attractive woman in a bar, and hence probably tells a story which is either embellished or completely made up in his own mind. There is also User-Generated-Content available throughout the city, many of it by game developer, Sucker Punch. A tasty appetizer before delving into the world of Infamous 2.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Massive Electrostatic Discharge

Infamous, an early ps3 exclusive title, is a superhero game without the trappings and the inherent baggage which comes with a superhero movie adaptation, since as history has proven, outside of the Spider-Man games, most such adaptations have failed deplorably. Cole McGrath's electrical powers are intimately linked with the game's mythology, and the game's design and world-building are a case of quality over quantity.

I have played few exceptional free-roaming, or sandbox, games; chief among them, Rockstar Vancouver's Bully, which takes place in the confined Bullworth Academy, yet this is made up for with strong characters and a good premise. Only one other worthy title comes to mind; Team Bondi's The Getaway, which puts the player in a lovingly crafted London. Does Infamous offer a spin to the age-old GTA formula, and not fizzle out like the recent Watchdogs?

To begin with, Infamous' Empire City is very much alive; you can even go into the sewers, and the fact that it is small is utilized as an advantage, since it is exploited to maximum capacity. Little details like bystanders snapping photos of you, TVs that play news reports and commercials, and, of course, the fact that there are enemies wreaking havoc in territories you have to clear, make this a thorough world. Your pal Zeke, offers comic relief, while the game plays like a more violent version of the movie Hancock. I had listened to the soundtrack by techno-virtuoso Amon Tobin beforehand, and I must say it is truly fantastic. The motion-comic cut-scenes are also quite well designed.
Some degree of strategy is necessary to fight against your enemies, the Reapers, the Dust Men and the First Sons; like taking cover, or holding from ledges, while you blast them with electricity; the routine of blasting away and recharging on any city device that runs on electricity never gets old. The city is quite interactive, with pipes you can climb, antennas which can be tumbled over to use as bridges, and power cables which you can hang from or slide on; the latter grants a tremendous sense of freedom, like Spidey swinging from a web. Cole's physical prowess is partially explained, when the main character states at one point, that he is an urban exploration aficionado.
The game employs an ambitious karma system, sort of like a good Jedi vs. dark Jedi path, taking into account certain decisions you make throughout the story, in addition to whether you decide to heal or "leech" injured civilians. There is also a basic talent tree, to upgrade your powers. Taking these things into account, it could be said the game has a respectable dose of action-rpg elements. Last, but not least, the main missions, and some side-quests, are actually quite fun. Having bought the Infamous Collection, which comes with both ps3 games, as well as DLC, I am certainly looking forward to experiencing the complete story. One of the ps3's finest games.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

It is with great satisfaction that I can revisit a franchise I have grown to enjoy in comic book form and its original game, although with the property switching game studios, The Darkness II has changed some of its elements, though thankfully not the ones lying at its very core. Mobster Jackie Estacado and his demon arms are back with a vengeance. The game plays in a rather similar way to its predecessor, but it is as though the action has been amped up, with the vibrant use of cel shading, and more spectacular and brutal Darkness powers.


It also stays a bit closer to the comics, with the inclusion of the Brotherhood and Angelus, the latter being more of a cameo. As well, Jackie's character model resembles the comic book look more this time around. Our antihero's powers lie dormant, until he is attacked by seemingly a rival gang. After her passing, Jackie sees his girlfriend from the original game, Jenny, in visions, as he is tortured by her loss. Jackie is being sought by a secret society, the above-mentioned Brotherhood, whose leader makes an attempt to obtain the Darkness powers through occult means.
The game has some rpg elements, with the inclusion of a talent tree, since you can buy Darkness talents with "essence points" by eating hearts or finding relics, and there is even the incorporation of a few dialogue options. There are talent shrines scattered about the levels for the former purpose. The ability to hurl objects at enemies, as well as grabbing, for instance, car doors as shields, are welcome additions. Pointy objects are of special use, since you can impale your enemies against a wall; this is a comic book world, after all.

There is now one darkling, instead of several. Jackie's demon friend opens doors and assists you during boss fights. As in the first game, he has a punk-rock attitude, and urinates and passes gas over your enemies, while cursing in a cockney accent. You can even throw him against enemies, which is helpful since gunfights can get fairly intense, and there are sections where you control him. There are various weapons at your disposal, and you can grab those that your enemies leave behind. There is the added bonus of playing while dual-wielding two different guns.

The quiet interludes in between missions mimic the pace of the original game, and I for one am glad this is present in the sequel, such as visits to Jackie's mansion, and vivid visions, for instance, of a terrifying psychiatric ward in which Jackie's mobster pals are inmates and doctors; always count on psychiatry to be more chilling than the Darkness itself. The tour of the brothel is explicitly detailed in all its decadence, with sights and sounds which both arouse and repulse. The loading screens are also similar to the first game, featuring Jackie's short monologues.

Curiously, some of the most fun I had with the game are the bonus missions, called Vendettas, which is pleasing since the main story is a tad short. Vendettas is a co-op mode for up to four players, which can also be played offline. Each of the four Darkness Assassins have distinct weapons and powers. This mode ties to the main campaign through Johnny Powell, Jackie's go-to man on the occult, who behaves and talks like a famelic Woody Allen on acid. The Limited Edition comes with a poster, printed on both sides, free digital download of the Darkness Origins Volume 1 and 2 comics, and a couple of minor additions to the game. A worthy sequel in all regards.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Tomb Raider

As I was playing the first chapters of Uncharted 2, a PS3 exclusive game, 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 the new 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 PS3, then U2 pushes it to the limit. Arguably the pinnacle of the series, this sequel reminds me of Mass Effect 2, formerly 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 polished 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. Uncharted 2 is perhaps too violent, as at times it plays like a war game, and would have benefited from some self-reflection, like a sorrow dream.

The voice actors deliver their lines to perfection, and after all, the talented Claudia Black, of Farscape and Stargate SG-1 fame, is on board, playing Chloe. The voice actors, in fact, performed their motion capture for some of the scenes. It all adds up to a wonderfully cinematic experience; the question then becomes, whether Uncharted 2 would make a good film, since Indiana Jones knockoffs are usually subpar.
The bad guy du jour here is Serbian, hence gladly, not ex Soviet. Since I have spilled 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 GOTY edition. 1 GB in updates and the trophies just aren't displayed properly. 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

It was written that twenty-three years ago, in the year of the fire-horse, a deity would be reborn, in the body of a mortal man. A savior, destined to unite our people and show us the way to the Promised Land. Instead, I was born from my mother’s dying body…and my people wept. They said I was a portent of doom… - Nariko

Nariko is the kind of hero who takes matters into her own hands. An outcast, reviled by her clan for seemingly not fulfilling an 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, a PS3 exclusive game.

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, although the game looks more like a series of illustrations come to life. The cast, starring Anna Torv, of Fringe fame, and Andy Serkis, is a great addition.

In this challenging game, the art design truly shines; Nariko and Kai, the two playable characters, are wonderfully depicted, with top notch animations. The villains are also a joy to behold, each of them crafted with great care. Be it King Bohan himself, who sports the best facial animations, or his henchmen, Flying Fox, Whiptail and Roach. These characters appear in well written cutscenes and inventive boss fights, and have solid voice acting to bring them to life.

The Sixaxis motion control is the thorn in this rose. The bow missions with Nariko's adopted sister, Kai, in which you have to shoot arrows at enemies, are of extreme difficulty when you find yourself shaking the gamepad. However, there is thankfully an option to turn Sixaxis off and use the analog stick instead, making those sections fun. When companies allow gimmicks to have an integral part in their games, as is the case of Microsoft's almost defunct Kinect, things can go downhill.

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

Reissues



You'll notice that some of the games have a red ps3 logo, 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. So expect some oldies-but-goodies reviews!

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

TOP TENS


 
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.
DFA'S TOP 10
1.Dragon Age: Origins (XB360) 2.Mass Effect 2 (XB360) 3.Half-Life 2 (PC) 4.The Witcher (PC) 5.Infamous 2 (PS3) 6.The Darkness (XB360) 7.No More Heroes: HP (PS3) 8.The Getaway (PS2, pictured) 9.Super Mario World (SNES) 10.Mortal Kombat II (SNES) 10.bis.Resident Evil: Code Veronica (DC) 10.bis2.Unreal Tournament (PC)
MAX'S TOP 10
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

Videogames & Identity, Pt. II

http://vimeo.com/78737662 Videogames & Identity, Pt. II
from parallassein

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.