Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

My 5 Most Difficult Video Games of All Time

Call of Duty: World at War – Veteran Difficulty

I had beaten the game normally, I had wasted hours fighting online, and I had done the zombie modes to death.  All that was left was to finish up the achievements, which involved beating the game on veteran difficulty.  Most Call of Duty games are tough on veteran, but this game was unique in its ability to make me throw controller after controller into the wall, especially the later levels.  For those who haven’t played it, picture yourself wading knee deep in a sea of grenades as more continue to rain down around you.  Needless to say, the game was sold back and I was left without my For The Motherland prize.

Wipeout HD

A rather fun and additive racing game, a throw back to the Extreme G days of old, I picked up this game after the PSN outtage last spring.  But once I turned my sights on getting the platinum, things went downhill quickly.  The later races, especially the Sebenco Climb track, are near impossible to finish first in, as not only will slowing down for a moment guarantee you last place, but even near perfect run throughs wont be good enough.  The game went from fun to maddening quickly as the difficulty curve shot skywards, and I was forced to play LittleBig Planet just so I could smile again.

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Like most stupid kids, I thought this would be a fun game back in the days of the NES.  I was wrong.  The game gave you no information on what you were supposed to be doing, how to do it, or what was going on.  You had a spray paint can and could see aliens bouncing around, but no way to hurt them.  I played this game many times, probably after I had forgotten just how difficult it was, only to be quickly reminded.  I never beat the first level, either because I died, didn’t know what to do and the time ran out, or quit out of frustration.

Vectorman 2

Vectorman 1 was an amazing game for the Sega Genesis.  Graphically it blew me away, and still looks pretty good today.  You could use new weapons, the animations were great, and I all around loved it.  Then came Vectorman 2, which threw away everything that made the first game fun and replaced it with crap.  The graphics were now dark and made it incredibly difficult to see.  But the main problem was the difficulty had increased exponentially, leaving huge gaps in between checkpoints, and the enemies were unforgiving.  I beat the first game many times, but I never saw the end of Vectorman 2.

The Lion King

And thus here we are at what I consider the hardest video game I’ve ever played.  The Lion King for Sega is obviously made for kids, its based on a movie made for kids at a time when most video games were made for kids.  And yet the ratchet up the difficulty to beyond what even a Mensa society member could comprehend.  There is the level where you ride an ostrich and have to either jump or duck under tree branches, but its glitched so that you often die even when you do it correctly.  There is the above pictured giraffe level, where timing must be perfect or you fall into the swamp.  Of course one can’t forget the infamous stampede level where you might as well just quit while your ahead.  To make the game even more memorable is the fact that you have a limited number of continues, so even if you get past some of the more maddeningly difficult levels, you’ll inevitably die and have to start the entire game over.  I recently found my Sega while moving and attempted to beat the game with some friends, but was still unable to.  I’ve never yet seen the end of this game, but I can only hope Simba dies.

September 29, 2011

Battlefield 3 Open Beta

In an earlier post I expressed concern over the BF3 console version, wondering if a game made for 64 player match-ups on the PC would translate well into smaller matches.  Today I downloaded the BF3 Beta and got to spend a couple of hours playing it, and I have to say that it is incredible.  You only get one map in the Beta, Operation Metro, which is set in Paris.  The Eiffel Tower looms in the distance, smoke pouring from craters in the street accompanied by echos of gunshots in the distance.  The environments are destructable, meaning as I respawned, I would run towards where the action is, seeing flashes go off, grenades throwing concrete in the air and trees toppling over.  The level is clearly made with incredible detail and the gameplay mechanics are great.  There is an above ground city park area as well as the subway system beneath the Parisian streets.  Jumping over fences lets you see your feet fly forward from beneath you as you leap over them, you are finally able to fully lay prone, and when people aim weapons with laser sights at you, your screen goes red as the laser glares in your eyes.

It looks to be a fantastic game.  There are a few bugs, but of course that’s what a beta is for.  Mostly there were issues with the characters leaning backwards, limbo style, or going knee deep into the ground.  Otherwise, I could see no serious glitches, and the mutliplayer went smoothly and without lag.  I did get a little frustrated as I kept dying often and quickly, and though I know its mostly because I just run and gun without much patience, I also feel like the game is pretty unforgiving when you get shot.  But then again, it is pretty damn realistic.  I just hope online progress carries over when the full game is released.  I will certainly be buying it, and give it a high recommendation.

September 29, 2011

Violence, Video Games, and the Law

In June of this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association dealing with how much the law can restrict the sale of violent video games, specifically to minors.  While I do have a legal background and while this conversation allows for an extremely lengthy discussion, I’m going to instead attempt a brief overview of the history of violence in video games and what the Brown decision means for the future of the industry.  This isn’t going to be a doctoral thesis, I’m sure you can find that elsewhere, and I’m certain most don’t want to read that anyway.  I know I don’t want to write it.  So lets begin.

The controversy over violence in video games is nothing new, and debate has centered around this very issue for as long as video games have had any sort of violent aspect to them, regardless of the quality of the technology or graphics.  The first real rumblings over violent games arose in 1976 over the arcade game Death Race.  In the game, you drive a car and attempt to run over gremlins.  If this doesn’t sound fun to you, just wait until you see the game in action:

I feel murderous already

Concerned that kids would play this game and attempt to kill people consisting of no more than seven pixels, parents and legislators alike began to look into whether violence in the games their kids play would have any effect on their children’s behavior.  They set out to do some research, well armed with preconceived biases and conclusions just needing facts to support them.  See, at that time, and to this day as well, the presumption among many was that video games were a medium solely, or mostly, consumed by children.  In fact, this presumption persists to this day in spite of overwhelming statistics that put the average age of a gamer at 37 years old.  Maybe many of these gamers were kids when they started, but as technology has improved and the gaming industry has exploded with capital, games are now aimed far more at adults than children.  This is because it is well known that males, 18-35, have the most disposable income, i.e. the most buying power.  It just makes good business sense to aim your products at the people most likely to buy them and kids are just not that demographic.  But facts be damned because many still cling to the idea that games are aimed a a young audience, and the violence therein will destroy those young minds.  Just look at the hysteria over the release of Manhunt 2 in 2007.

Not mentioned is the mediocre reception the game received, greatly hindering its sales in the US.  Indeed, and probably because of, the over-the-top and gratuitous violence and gore in games like Manhunt, which focus more on shock than on things that matter, like actual gameplay, the game just didn’t sell that well.  Thus less people played it, and as their logic would go, less people became mass muderers.  The problem with those who think violence in video games is terrible is that they make an assumption, unconsciously, that those who play these games are violent weirdos in the first place, and thus won’t be placated until something more extreme is released, ad infinitum.  Its the assumption that kids only want to kill, thus they buy the most sadistic game possible.  Not only does this contradict their own stated premise that these games turn normal kids into violent people, but it completely disregards the facts that games are popular because they are good games, and gameplay is not judged on violence alone.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best selling, and in my opinion, most fun games out there are extremely violent.  But they stand alone on their gameplay.  Call of Duty is fun because of the graphics, the dynamics, the community, and the competitive nature of the game.  There are thousands of games out there where I can shoot someone, and some are better, some are worse, some sell more and some fall flat.  Its not dependent upon the violence.  Now, sure, violence is kind-of a must in a game like that.  No one wants to play Call of Duty in paintball mode (looking at you, Goldeneye), but people don’t play Call of Duty because they are angry, bitter, rabidly violent maniacs.  They play the game for the reasons mentioned above, and the violence simply adds to the realism and excitement.  To then make the leap in logic to say that that very violence will in turn make people want to kill or emulate that behavior disregards the very reason those games are popular in the first place, and insults those who consume these very games  by painting them as mindless and malleable.

Though those screaming on the other end of my headset will often lead me on a descent into madness

In the early 90’s when games like Mortal Kombat and Doom were released, it began to really catch people’s attention, as these games had graphics that were far superior to any Death Race.  Inspired by similar moves by the Motion Picture Association, the video game industry created the voluntary self-regulating authority called the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or the ESRB.  Because most retailers, by agreement with the distributors, would not sell non-ESRB rated games, this rating agency became the de facto rating agency and served to restrict sales of violent games to minors.  This move was done in part to stave off legislation that would regulate the gaming industry, out of fear of what public opinion and legislators far removed from the actual games themselves would attempt to enforce on an industry they didn’t quite understand.

And this was all fine and good for a while, but as time passed, technology improved exponentially.  Graphics were approaching realistic levels, games were allowing more freedoms, and with it the backlash against violence in video games increased.  People like ex-attorney Jack Thompson were consulted by various news outlets about games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, more so after school shootings and other tragedies, as they attempted to tie in real world violence with its video game counterpart.  Jack Thompson, the famously level-headed attorney, filed multitudes of lawsuits against various video game developers and distributors, claiming all manner of illegal things were being perpetrated by the video game industry.  He was later disbarred for those actions, including filing frivolous lawsuits and engaging in slander and libel, not to mention a complaint sealed by the Florida bar where he supposedly depicted gay sex acts in his complaint and for which he was forced to promise not to file any more pornography (I’ll just let that sink in for a bit).

But Jack Thompson aside, many still continued to claim games like GTA would give points for killing prostitutes and other such crimes, exposing the true lack of understanding of video games past the arcade days of the 70s and early 80s.  Though GTA didn’t even include a point system and there were never missions that rewarded such actions, GTA was villainized in the media for those very accusations.  Its true that one could kill prostitutes in that game, but one could play GTA the entire way through without even once engaging in such behavior.  The game was the beginning of the modern sandbox genre, allowing you to do what you pleased, and in some people’s eyes, this allowed too much freedom because it allowed you the freedom to engage in behaviors they supposed the game actively encouraged.

When I play, I like to sit patiently in traffic

Thus in 2005 California introduced legislation that banned the sale of violent video games to minors and required labeling above and beyond what the ESRB had instituted.  This law was challenged by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents the video game industry, on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech as found in the First Amendment.  They would go on to win in district court on the grounds that the law indeed violated the First Amendment and that there was an insufficient showing that video games differed from other media.  Furthermore, the district court would find that there was not an established causality between violent video games and violent behavior.  The case would be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The case was Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association and the decision was presented in July 2011.  The case in its entirety can be found here.  To surmise, because the decision was announced by Justice Scalia, not known for his brevity, the case was found in favor of the EMA and the California law was struck down.  But what makes the case noteworthy is that for the first time the courts recognized that video games qualify for First Amendment protections.  The court stated that

Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas–and even social messages– through many familiary literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world).  That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

Though the court upheld the long standing rule that obscenity could still be banned from being distributed to minors, Scalia stated that video games constituted speech, and speech about violence does not constitute obscenity.  The court further held that the evidence shown did not prove that violence in video games causes violence in children, and that shows like Looney Toons have as much effect on children as do games featuring guns.

This may be no big deal to some who are 18 or older and no longer have to worry about the ESRB or the California law.  But it actually does have long-reaching consequences.  Consider the rating system in Australia, which has the power to outright ban games from the country.  Recently, they found the modern iteration of Mortal Kombat had excessive violence and lacked any redeeming quality, thus banning the game from the country.  Not just for minors, but for everyone.  The fact that our Supreme Court has found that video games constitute free speech means that we are assured that no such outright bans will take effect in the United States (though in fairness, games that fail to receive at least an M rating will in effect be banned in America, at least in as much as retailers will refuse to sell it, and thus developers will refuse to create it).

Personally, I believe that some games out there are not made for children.  Tons of games include some serious language, violence and other things that just aren’t appropriate.  But so do movies and books.  Video games shouldn’t be treated any differently.  Moral panics about violent video games serve to do nothing except produce free publicity for those game manufacturers and generate interest among potential consumers.  Forbidden fruit is always more tempting to those told they can’t have the games, and their efforts are counterproductive.  Moreover, their worries are unfounded, considering that most games today, especially the violent and blockbuster games, are not aimed at kids, but instead adults with disposable incomes and the capacity to purchase these games themselves.  Not to mention that adults have the ability and experience to objectively evaluate games, and will mostly buy games that are reviewed well and actually have good gameplay.  Kids lack that experience, plus are blessed with the ability to be more easily entertained, so why try hard to make good games for them when the industry knows they will buy Pixar tie-ins and other crap.  The big money is spent on games adults will buy, and that is where the violent video game market is.  And with all that said, I must say that my favorite moment from Black Ops involved this scene:

There are shards of glass in his mouth, and you get to punch him. Nuff said

September 28, 2011

Mortal Kombat – 19 Years In

One of the few game franchises I absolutely love, to the detriment of all other games in that genre, is Mortal Kombat.  Some people are Street Fighter types and that’s fine, but for me, a fighting game isn’t worth playing if it isn’t the ole’ MK.  And on October 8th, Mortal Kombat will become 19 years old.  There have been tons of sequels and spin-offs, movies and a mini-series, and one awesome song that have sprung from the original game.  Some were bad, some were good, and few were great.  But when they were great, damn, they were great.

I don’t remember what year it was when I first played Mortal Kombat.  I was young to be sure, probably around 8 or so.  My friend had gotten the game on his Sega Genesis and we would all get together in his refurbished basement and play it.  He was the go-to friend when it came to violent video games.  We would also play Doom together and his parents would yell at us when they found out.  I’m not sure how a kid ended up with those games if his parent’s didn’t want him to have them, but regardless, we whooped some Goro ass in our day.  Some would favor Raiden, some would choose Kano, but I was a Scorpion man myself.  I learned quite quickly that duck-kicking opponent’s ankles over and over was not only a great way to win matches, it was also a great way to get your friends to stop playing with you.  Before the days when 13 year olds in Canada would scream at you over PSN for spamming the moves, you simply had your friends get mad and turn off their systems.  What could I do?  Go home and play my Power Rangers game on my own Sega?  Yeah right, I’d rather play outside.


Some will say that Mortal Kombat was revolutionary in that it used actual images of people as sprites.  I always thought the graphics were shitty, even then.  Some will say the blood and gore was extreme for the day, some may still consider it extreme.  But when an enemy simply ‘explodes’, and red-looking pixels and what I assume are bones just bounce around, it had no effect on me.  Maybe watching the Gulf War unfold desensitized me (kidding, I was desensitized by Ren & Stimpy) but then, and especially now, I just don’t see Mortal Kombat being the vile game that Joe Lieberman saw it as.  It just doesn’t seem like this warranted the formation of the ESRB:

As gory as a game made in MS Paint can get

But regardless of how some kid felt about it all, Mortal Kombat was certainly onto something.  A movie would be made in 1995, one that blew me away.  The theme song alone was worth it, and produces an intense effect when enjoyed over a gallon of Surge.  I remember even buying the sound track, and subsequently having it taken away when my parents discovered one of the songs had the word shit in its lyrics.  Scorpion’s weird snake-like chain, snaking through the trees while chasing Johnny Cage, was an amazing cinematic achievement, or at least I thought so at the time.  (And to be fair, I watched the movie recently, and while certainly not a good movie, its not bad, at least for nostalgia’s sake).

He would later go on to become the poster child for cataracts

And then life moved on.  We tossed aside Mortal Kombat for other games (like Primal Rage.  Sigh, no one remembers Primal Rage).  We grew up.  And while I knew there were new iterations of MK being made, I also knew they were derivative and crappy spinoffs, too far removed from what made the game great in the past.  They made games that only had new characters, a game that focused on Stryker (ugh), a game where the fighting style was in 3D, thus making getting hits nearly impossible, and a game where you could fight Batman.  For God’s sake, where was the controversy, where was the innovation of the first one?  Even though I wasn’t shocked and appalled as a kid, I still loved the first two games, but had near zero interest in revisiting this franchise.

Then last April, bored of Black Ops and reading the news, I stumbled across an article saying that a new Mortal Kombat had just been released that day.  It was a reboot of the series, a return to its roots, in all its HD glory and promising extreme violence and gore.  I headed to Gamestop and bought it on a whim, actually pretty pumped to play it.  Indeed, maybe absence had made the heart grow fonder, or maybe the fact that I had not played the crappy games in the interim allowed me to still have hope for this floundering series.

The game blew.  Me.  Away.  The mechanics were back to basics, fighting was easy and a challenge at the same time.  There were tag battles, the good old arcade towers, all the old characters and some new ones, a great online play system, the graphics were insane, and the violence was dialed up to 11.  The perfect game.  For months it was my go-to game of choice, whether I was having friends over (indeed, those same friends from back in 1992) to play some local matches, to tagging up to play online, to grinding it out myself, yearning for that platinum I never achieved.   Fighting online was tough; maybe its because my reflexes aren’t as great now that I’m 26, maybe because I had taken such a long break from fighting games, but whatever it was, it made winning all the more satisfying.  We would fall to our knees and scream when we lost and we would drink everytime there was an X-Ray.  It had reclaimed all that had made the original game so great from my childhood.  Honestly, it probably lands in my top three games of this modern generation.  Not only that, but I could finally say that I was shocked by the gore, and I loved it.

A real man's uppercut

September 26, 2011

“The Gun That Made The Twenties Roar”

Every so often the government decides to make something everyone loves illegal.  In the twenties, politicians saw the sea of citizens before them, enjoying a beer with friends, and thought it would be a great idea to make that a crime.  Thus we were blessed with the only amendment to the constitution ever to be repealed, one that left Americans with a hangover the shakes for the next decade or so.

Evidence democracy just doesn't work

During this time, World War I had just ended, prohibition-related crime was on the rise, and World War II was on the horizon.  Americans of all walks of life dropped their beers and picked up their brooms.  The trench broom that is.  Yes indeed, America saw the birth of the Thompson Submachine Gun, a glorious weapon that would become a symbol of the time.

The Thompson SMG, or Tommy Gun as its more popularly known, was invented by John T. Thompson in 1919.  Before that time, machine guns were heavy weapons, usually mounted, and lacked any real amount of portability.  The Tommy Gun was a cell phone in a world of landlines.  Thompson had envisioned a new portable weapon that soldiers could use, ones that were fully automatic to replace the bolt action rifles that had seen so much use in WWI.  It was to be a trench broom, as he called it, used to sweep the trenches of those villainous krouts.   His original name for the weapon was the Annihilator, but he soon realized comic book sounding names might make his fine weapon less respectable.  Not to be deterred, the media would later crown this gun with all manner of names, including the Chicago Typewriter, Chopper, Chicago Piano, and the now ubiquitous Tommy Gun.

Fat, drunk and armed to the teeth. Churchill was more American that most Americans.

The gun was extremely popular at the time, and gained widespread use by the Allies in WWII.  It’s early versions sported an impressive 1,200 rounds per minute and large drum magazines, but this was slowed down in later models because of the extreme recoil and reduced accuracy.  Compared to modern SMGs, the Tommy Gun was a rather heavy weapon, around 11lbs without ammunition.  Regardless, it was a huge innovation and revolutionized the armories of organizations ranging from militaries, police, and gangsters alike.  It used the large Browning-made .45 ACP round because the gun’s creator, John Thompson, insisted on a “real man-stopper” type of ammunition.  The gun is no longer in service, having been phased out in most NATO countries and replaced by the Heckler & Koch MP5.  Some replaced it with the Uzi.  But while it is certainly a dated gun, coming it at 92 years old, it was certainly an influential weapon in its centenarian existence.

But though it was mostly used in WWII and by police departments and new government crime fighting agencies, the gun will forever remain a symbol of prohibition-era gangsters.  The first real recognition of this relationship came about as a result of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Though it sounds like a massacre invented by the greeting card industry, it was in fact a mass murder that occurred during a gang war in Chicago.  On February 14, 1929 Al Capone’s gang, the South Side Italian Gang, hired men to line up seven people associated with the North Side Irish Gang against a wall and (spoiler alert) shoot them up with Tommy Guns.  The South Side men were dressed as businessmen and police officers.  Though, like Prohibition, this seemed like a good idea at the time, it was the beginning of the end of Al Capone’s influence.  And with the end of Prohibition came the end of the Golden Age of gangsters, and with it the decline of the Thompson SMG in America’s collective imagination.  It was the death of the classy gangster.  And thus we’ve gone from this:

To this:

The Tommy Gun may just be a relic of the past, but we do see it resurface from time to time in conflicts.  The most recent conflict to make use of this antique was the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took place between 1992 and 1995.  And the FBI only stopped using it in 1976, when the US Government officially declared it obsolete.  Though to this day, violinists everywhere are looked upon with deep seated suspicion, a lasting impact of this once great weapon.

It can only play one song

September 26, 2011

The Anatomy of My Bioware Romances. Part Two: Mass Effect – jsixgun

Once again we find ourselves at the brink of digital titillation as we take a look through the romances of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. When I first saw the trailers for the Mass Effect, I literally had my mind blown.  Could a game this awesome really be coming out?  Well it was, and it totally reestablished my love affair for Bioware (After Baldur’s Gate I & II, Jade Empire and the AMAZING Knights of the Old Republic, I was ripe and ready for a new IP).  I relived my childhood pleasures (experienced in the original Baldur’s Gate) all over again when creating my Commander Shephard, and at the cusp of completion found my self thinking I was as “Bad A” as Peter Griffin with a Mustache.

Mustache culture is pretty cool

One thing any “Bad A” hero must have is an as fittingly “Hot A” companion. This isn’t misogynistic, this is an equation for success and Mass Effect glows with success like the Olson twins glow with an eating disorder (for those interested in photometric units that equals about 1 lux, or the radiance of a full moon overheard at tropical latitudes). However, Mass Effect 1 only gives you two choices to act out your sci-fi finagling:

Meet Ashley Williams and Liara T’Soni

If your first thoughts are, “eww, ones blue,” than I can accurately label you as a xenophobe and will promptly be reporting you to the police, because yes, I do know the number to 911.  Now that I have done my part to vanquish bigotry we shall continue.  The cool thing about Mass Effect is that it makes you make choices, hard choices and choices you can’t take back.  This same concept is present in your love interests.  Furthermore, if you start the game trying to be Mr. Casanova and court them both, they will eventually confront you and make you choose between them (score one for monogamy). So who did I chose in my original play through? Ashley Williams.

I’m a sucker for a woman in overbearing armor.

When you first meet Ashley, she’s fighting for her life on Eden Prime.  With her entire squad almost taken out by the Geth, you lend her your skills and you both make your way to the Prothean Beacon that Shephard was sent to find.  I won’t go into what all that means, but lets just say you and her are together when humanity finds out that something is quite amiss in the universe.  Eventually she winds up on your crew and the rest is intergalactic history. One thing I found extremely alluring about Ashley is her strong ingrained religious beliefs.  Though reluctant at first to share them with Shephard, at one point she comments, “How can you look out at this galaxy and not believe in something?”  Maybe it’s because I’m from the South, or maybe it’s because too few video game characters delve into those topics, but I was immensely hooked by the deepness of her convictions throughout the entire game.  Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air because I felt like I wasn’t dealing with a stereotypically hot video game broad; she had an original background that served her well.

As you build rapport with Williams, you help her overcome the tainted military past of her father and grandfather, which she is always trying to overcome (one of the reasons she’s very guarded at first). All your hard work finally culminates, after flirting and a healthy dose of poetry by Walt Whitman, into a kiss and the not so implied sex scene:

I just love it when a plan comes together.

Isn’t love grand? I think it is and if you disagree with me you are worse than Hitler.  In regards to Liara, well she just never turned my crank.  She was a cool character for sure, but Ashley just seemed so much deeper and relatable.  Interesting enough though, Liara could be a love interest even if you played as a female Shephard. While I won’t start a discussion if art should so accurately imitate reality, and how putting the option for a lesbian scene is kind of just fodder for 13 year olds to giggle about, I will say that it just wasn’t for me. Anyways, till next time when I look at Dragon Age: Origins, and more chicks wearing armor…or not.


September 25, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

First things first, we need to clear something up.  This game is pronounced Deus, as in Day-Us, not Deuce, like the act of dropping one.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, lets dive right in.

I never played the first two installments of Deus Ex, and thus had no prior familiarity with the game.  In fact, I bought it on a whim and didn’t even know what type of game I was getting into.  Now that I’ve beaten the game, I can say with full certainty that it was well worth the money.  In fact, Deus Ex hangs with you long after you’ve beaten it in a way the grand majority of games do not.  It is simply an astounding game.

Its a FPS RPG set in the not too distant future, 2027.  You play as Adam Jensen, a man born in 1993.  That’s right, if this game were real life, Adam Jensen would be playing Hey Mister outside of a liquor store as we speak.  Young Adam Jensen would be stressing over his SAT score and worrying about scholarships.  He would be yelling at his parents about how they don’t treat him like an adult, though he totally is one now.  Well, he would if he had parents.  But we wont get into all that here.  This is a review of the gameplay, and I won’t spoil the story for you.

This game is not like the many, many others which set the future in a post-apocalyptic setting.  Indeed, the world has progressed in many non-surprising ways.  Technology is obviously better, but by no means unrealistically better.  The main technological advancement though is human augmentation.  This is the science of augmenting humans with technological improvements in order to aid human evolution, as the supporters claim.  Of course, and quite realistically, this has garnered its fair share of detractors as well, those who claim that augmentation is unnatural and thus needs to be eliminated.

You are an augmented human, but one who came about this change by no choice of his own.  This of course helps with the overall aim of the game, to allow you to choose any path you want.  You can choose to be angry about augmentation and be opposed to it just as you can be a supporter of the practice.  You can beat the game without killing anyone or you can run, guns blazing, roughshod through the levels.  I chose the latter, but fully intend on beating the game again, on the hardest difficulty, without touching a soul.  And that is the beauty of this game, its replayability value.  Many games, even many amazing games like the Uncharted series, just don’t open themselves up as easily to a second playthrough.  This game almost demands it.

The first thing you will notice when playing this game is the incredible graphics.  I found that the extremely detailed and realistic graphics are bar none, and most games aspire to be as well done as Deus Ex.  There are few-to-no glitches or bugs, and the facial features rival that of L.A. Noire.  The game is also stylized in a unique and wonderful way.  Those who are nonaugmented dress pretty similarly to those of us today.  But those who support augmentation, as well as those who are rich and powerful (they go together pretty hand-in-hand) dress in a strange futuristic steampunk fashion.  This is also expanded upon by the heavy use of yellowish sepia colorization within the game.  Almost everything is washed with a yellow hue, something unusual for a futuristic game whose brethren in that genre are usually blue to the core.

Similar to the Hitman franchise, you will often enter a room and see multiple enemies.  How you get to the other side is completely up to you.  You can sneak, and that system is extremely well done, or you can fight.  The weapon mechanics are excellent, including reloads that show the smoke pouring out of the barrels.  The story is easy to understand so you don’t get lost in a sea of confusion, but so well written it draws you in to the detriment of such trivial things like homework and hygiene.  And the choices you make, and you have plenty of them, heavily affect the way the game plays out, soaking it in a level of realism that few games are able to match.

You are given a skill tree, one based upon your augmentations, that you are able to spend rare Praxis points to level up in any way you choose.  These choices also affect your gameplay, and you will want to spend your Praxis points as carefully as possible.  The characters are interesting and the voice work is well done too.  Often I found myself on the edge of my seat, heart pounding, as I realized just how limited my ammunition was, and just how difficult it would be to get through the labratory that was before me.  Looking around, I would find relief in the form of an air vent, hoping I could slither away unnoticed, leaving any consequences of my carnage behind.

And that’s the beauty of this game.  Its excellence lies in its immersive capabilities.  You are drawn into a world and you play it the way you want to.  And I guarantee your style of gameplay will be different than mine, simply based upon the number of choices available.  One especially satisfying factor of the gameplay is when you are able to successfully manipulate someone or win an argument.  Even when the outcome was less successful, the immersive aspects of this game kept me from simply reloading to a previous save.  I accepted the consequences, like in real life, and continued on.

I chose to smoke, and accepted it when I was kicked out of the restaurant

Honestly, I could sit here all night and discuss how amazing the game is.  But I do hold myself back, out of fear of ruining anything for potential players of the game.  There is so much to discover, and the world is so wonderfully done, even reading emails on someone’s computer in this game is interesting, and you’ll spend hours searching for more information about the world of the future.  Furthermore, as a testament to the detail of the game, those same emails will often include people discussing serious things like the security of their warehouses, to the silly things, like putting porn on their coworker’s computers.

There are a few interesting things about the future as presented in Deus Ex that I just don’t think will exist in 2027, however.  I honestly do not believe that desktop computer towers will still be in use, and I have my doubts that CDs will still be the storage medium of the day.  Those things appear in the game though, but who knows.  My parents still have records and I’m sure there are people out there today who still use floppy drives.

In the end, this is a game you can read about all you want, but you won’t fully understand the appeal until you actually play it yourself.  It is one of the more surprising games I’ve played in recent memory, and could be a contender for GOTY.  Well, except it was released the year Skyrim comes out.  That being said, in my opinion, it will still be a close match.  And good news for fans, next month we’ll see the first Human Revolution DLC in the form of Missing Link, detailing three days of Jensen’s life that he goes missing during the original story line.  Its rumored to provide 5-6 more hours of gameplay, so I’m definitely excited.

September 24, 2011

The Anatomy of my Bioware Romances. Part One: Baldur’s Gate II – jsixgun

This is not an article on how I love Bioware, although in fact they are my favorite developer. If they make a game you can bet I’m buying it, neglecting something important, and putting a minimum of 40 hours into it. This, however, is an article characterizing the unique, albeit formulaic approach to the Bioware romance and why through the years I have picked or not picked certain leading ladies to venerate me throughout my adventures. So sit down (actually if you’re standing up while reading this you’re probably a freak), grab some dark chocolate (might I suggest it enveloping a strawberry?), light the scented candles (lavender mayhap?), put on some R-Kelly, and wonder whether I can put something in else in parenthesis. Here we go.

In reference to R-Kelly, “My heart is telling me no – but my body is telling me yeasss.”

Anyone who has played a Bioware game knows that you’re introduced to a host of colorful companions, some of which you can choose to profess your love or lust for throughout various parts of the adventure. (Let me insert here if you have not played a Bioware game, WHY NOT?). To understand the anatomy of my Bioware romances it will be easiest to do it on a game by game basis. Let us tackle this chronologically, as doing this chronologically is both the logical and gentlemanly way to do things, do not question this point.

Baldur’s Gate II

Baldur’s Gate II was the first game to introduce me into the world of dating computer characters, and to this day it’s the one I blame for the inefficiencies I see in modern women (this whole  sentence is a joke).  However, truth be told I found it as interesting a feature then as I do now. When developing a character created by you it really helps the immersion to add things as simple as romance options. If you want them you can go after them, if you don’t your character can husk around all day like they’re too cool for love and hate 80’s pop music. Either way, in Baldur’s Gate II you had a few options:

Meet Aerie, Jaheira, and Viconia

Each of these three characters was vastly different, and a lot of who you decided to romance kind of hinged on your own personal moral compass, however not entirely. Throughout my original play through many years ago I found my self being most drawn to Aerie. This is somewhat interesting to me though, because it seems she’s the least favored on the internet. Many people complain about her incessant whining and pity parties, but to me that was the allure with her. Understand that picking your protagonist’s love interest was never as easy as point and click. You literally had to delve into their personalities, consider their potential feelings on every decision you made, and pick the right dialogue choices whenever they confronted you. Mess up, misread their intentions, or generally fail to understand what made them tick and you would find your self being more out of place than Ryan Seacrest at an NFL game.

“Wait, so the object of the game is to get in the endzone so you can do a dancing number?”

When you stumble upon Aerie, you find her in a circus gone gaga, and by gaga I mean crazy, and by crazy I mean as bad as Gaga’s music. You, being the epitome of all that’s virtuous in said fantasy world, save the day and can then choose to bring her along or leave her slaving away in the circus. Let her tag along and you discover a lot about Aerie throughout the game that really explains why she is so seemingly fragile all the time, if not a bit of whiner, as discussed earlier.  You learn she comes from a race of winged elves who are almost all forgotten, and what’s worse, she’s spent much of her life as a carnival attraction because of those fancy pantsy wings. Unfortunately, living life in a cage did not serve her emotional health, or her wings very well and they eventually had to be forcibly removed (insert Heidi Montag joke here). If you’re thinking potential major mental issues would be the result, you’d probably be right. So what gives? Who wants to choose the emotional distraught, formerly winged girl, whose borderline manic depression has her breaking down all the time? I did and this is why:

As you build a relationship with Aerie she actually begins to round out her personality quite well. You find that she has terribly low self esteem because she doesn’t have her wings, and is surprised that anyone could actually love her. If this sounds horribly sappy, that’s because it is, but it also works to make you like her as a character. This all culminates, if you play your cards right, into the famed implied sex scene. You see at this point you’ve made obvious attempts to show kindness to her, you’ve encouraged her when she’s been down, comforted her when she was scared, and basically did the best at simulating a Nicholas Sparks novel that you could do.  Right before the dirty happens she has some apprehension because of the scars left by her wings, you tell her you think she’s beautiful and I’m pretty sure you end up hearing Michael Bolton playing in the background.  Boom you’re in.

Michael Bolton and Aerie look oddly alike...

What you find is that through nurturing her relationship in the game, you take her from being a troubled, scared little thing into a strong character. What’s cool, if not a bit creepy, is that if you put enough hours into the game she gets her own little bun in the oven. That is; you knock her up if you don’t understand baking metaphors. If you succeed in all of this you are treated to a special romance ending and a score created just for her romance- pretty cool (see below).

Ahhhh.  The sound of love.

Why did I not pick the others? Well in short… Jaheira’s husband gets murdered in front of you and who wants to step in to that too soon? That’d kind of be like someone dying on their birthday and you gorging on their Bday cake at the funeral; a bit odd if you ask me. And Viconia, well she’s just kind of a mean broad. Aerie is kind, gentle and grows into the strongest developing character, at least in this writer’s nerdy opinion. Till Next time.


September 24, 2011

Burnout Crash!

Abraham Maslow famously created a hierarchy of needs, claiming that our most basic needs must be met before we can worry about less essential issues in our lives.  Going by that measurement, I must be doing pretty well then, especially considering that often times I need not one but two forms of entertainment at once.  Yes, as long as I can remember, one of my favorite pastimes is watching TV while playing video games.  If I’m on the console, my computer is streaming pirated television.  If I’m playing PC games, my console is streaming legitimate television.  Sometimes I’ll throw a second laptop up there, just in case I need to Wikipedia during the loading times.  Its a tough life for sure, one I constantly struggle with.  But somehow I survive.

Still bored.

Sure, when playing a game like Deus Ex I’ll zone into just the game so I can get into the story.  But some games don’t have a story and thus make great games to watch TV with.  That’s where Burnout Crash! comes into play.  After having a few long weeks and too much work to do, I decided I needed a way to melt my brain in a way that gasoline and a sock just couldn’t match.  So I set up Archer to play episode after episode and I downloaded this new PSN game I’d heard so much about.

Now I’m not sure if this is a review as much as it is a rambling look into the downsides of ADHD, but all that aside, Burnout Crash! is pretty fun.  Not amazing fun nor a waste of money.  I’d settle to say that it was a bit premature for Criterion Games to include an exclamation point in their title.  Its like ordering a Patty Melt! at a restaurant.  Sure its great and greasy, but its something you can only eat so many of  before your doctor gets a little stern with you about your future.

I’ve never played any other Burnout games, so who knows how it compares.  I’m not sure anyone can answer that.  Regardless, the game plays like a game of pinball.  You send your car careening into an intersection and attempt to get as many cars to wreck as possible.  You can explode your car and direct it to another part of the map, blowing up buildings and more cars.  You earn stars for obtaining certain amounts of damage and completing certain goals.  These stars unlock more vehicles and levels.

I actually really enjoy the bright and colorful graphics and the destructible environments.  The gameplay can be somewhat repetitive but is aided greatly by the addition of special vehicles that unlock more disasters, three different game modes, and progressively difficult challenges.  The main downside to the game, the horrible voice overs, are easily avoided by replacing the game audio with episodes of Archer.  This game isn’t one you will just want to play as a stand alone game, but its something to do while your doing something else, and this game is perfect when you need two things to do, and yet only have one.  Full circle, we’ve now come.

September 22, 2011

Alien Adoption Agency: The Rise and Fall

It was 1998 and I was eating my square pizza in the middle school cafeteria.  A friend of mine, whose name I have honestly completely forgotten at this point, told me about a new game online.  It was a text based game, one found online and free to try.  It sounded good to me, and when I got home that evening I hopped on AIM to discuss it with my friends as we went to it.  The game was Alien Adoption Agency, known as AAA and later A3.  A RPG of sorts, you were able to customize your jpg character, travel through mazes one click at a time, and earn different types of currency.  It had a pretty dedicated fan base at the time, and we were able to battle each other and anyone else.  Think Mafia Wars, but back when this type of game was actually innovative and not some spam riddled crap.  There were few boundaries, few rules, and the potential for abuse was ripe.  Yes, AAA had it all.

No wonder I got my ass kicked so much in middle school

It was a veritable wild west of sorts, and as I entered the game, so did that recondite cousin of mine.  I started the game off typically, grinding away to gain XP and level up.  He started it off a bit less typically, being gifted a large sum of money by some stranger from the get go.  His name was Uncle Pennybags, mine was Lou Derek.  We were badasses of the highest sort.  We got a few more friends to join in and it became addicting, we would play it while spending the night at each other’s houses and we would discuss it the next day while eating our square pizzas.  But while my other friends kept grinding away, Miles and I had a different plan.  We had devised a scheme.

There were three big types of currency in the game, because as everyone knows, its not a good game unless it is ungodly confusing.  There were marks, which you could find in the mazes, tokens, which you used in the casino, and credits, which I guess were just normal currency.  The marks were highly valuable, and varied depending upon in game stock prices.  The tokens were basically undervalued credits and were worthless.  Trading in the marks was big business, and something we just simply weren’t rich enough to get involved with.  But we discovered that you could trade any currency for any other currency, and the amount of trading taking place could get confusing.  This was to be used to our advantage.

The nefariousness of our plot was hampered somewhat by the 'graphics'

The plan was simple.  Propose a trade with someone rich who was wanting marks.  If they agreed, make the trade, but give them credits instead of marks.  If they skimmed the offer, they would accept a terrible trade and we’d get an irrevocable windfall.  We went fishing with these bad deals day after day, until finally, we both were able to make a big score.  I remember my trade being accepted for something like 3 million credits, which was huge.  He expected a ton of marks but instead got a handful of credits, taking a huge hit.  My lucky victim was of course the leader of one of the bigger guilds in the game, and at once I was blacklisted and constantly attacked, but God was it worth it.  It was ok for a while, because I was in a guild too, but when I attempted to pull the scam on our leader, I was kicked out.

We had been playing for a while at the point when AAA attempted to make a tiered payment system, with pay-for-play players getting extra rewards and in game items.  It was possible to get some of those extra perks without paying by doing surveys and other virus-riddled activities, but eventually the game would succumb to a common folly, charging for something not worth paying for.  In the interim, however, we frequented the chat rooms of the game, discussing in game topics and giving helpful hints as to how to improve the game for everyone, cursing and trolling people constantly.  One day was unusual, however, as the creator of the game, Webby himself, made an appearance.  Miles was there with me, and with one stroke, he uttered words I would never forget.

Immortal words indeed

I was stunned.  I was for sure that we’d be deleted.  I was honestly nervous, as only a 13 year old misanthrope could be.  But nothing came of it.  Down the road my cousin’s account would be hacked, threatened with hardware destruction if he didn’t hand over his username and password.  He complied, and as a gesture I deleted my account as well.  Years later I attempted to make another account, but the game had changed too much, and the payment system was now a strict must to play.  Free until level 5.  I quickly gave up.  Looking back though, the game reminds me of a different time, where we were allowed to self destruct a game from the inside, at least in our minds.  We avoided the gameplay by getting cash from other players, and when we couldn’t do it legitimately, we would steal it.  We griefed other players constantly and at one point insulted the creator of the game to his face.  Maybe it seems tame now with all the meth and meth-related activities of adulthood, but for a time a game that allowed too much freedom was discovered by kids who just want wanted nothing but to screw with people.  And we got our money’s worth out of that free game.

I attempted to revisit the site and its just not as fun these days.  The new layout may be to blame:

The graphics have been greatly toned down, even for a text based game