First Impressions: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Uh oh. It’s hybrid-spinoff time in the Metal Gear universe. Add one cup Ninja Gaiden, one cup Metal Gear, stir, add loads of Raiden, and you’re left with Metal Gear Rising. And believe it or not, it tastes pretty damn good. Even if there are some empty calories.

Here’s the deal with Rising. If you come in hoping for Ninja Gaiden’s rewarding difficulty and fluid, meticulous combat, you’ll be disappointed. That’s not say the gameplay isn’t fun–I’m having a blast, thanks–but it’s much more button-mashy than what I’ve come to expect from action games. Combat mostly consists of weak and strong sword attacks (the button-mashy parts), but you also have “Blade Mode” which enables you to slow time and slice maniacally at an enemy once you’ve saved up enough “Electrolytes” from battle (bring some Gatorade, kids). Slice up a weakened enemy and you’ll garner his energy core, which will restore your health and set you up for another run through Blade Mode. Blade Mode felt a bit clumsy at first, but soon the gameplay quirk of slicing up enemies and chaining combos uplifted the combat experience above mere hack-n-slash.

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Ripping out enemy cores restores your health and lets you chain Blade Mode combos.

If you’re surrendering gameplay depth, at least you get a solid story in return. Rising’s storyline is intriguing from the moment you press Start and the pacing is downright relentless. Although the cast of villains isn’t as memorable or developed as previous terrorist gangs from the series, Rising carries the authentic feel of a Metal Gear game. Despite being of an entirely different genre, it stays true to the franchise. Codec calls, stealth kills, and cardboard boxes all exist on the intricate level we came to expect in MGS1-3. I’d even go as far as saying that Rising is more of a Metal Gear game than MGS4. Seriously.

As of now I’m roughly seven hours into MGR and loving Hard mode (if you happen to pick this one up, play it on Hard–the game is forgiving with it’s checkpoints). Though I can’t quite recommend it to the Ninja Gaiden crowd, if you’re a Metal Gear buff or a casual action game fan, go out and grab this one.

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Latest Call of Duty commercial reinforces negative gamer stereotypes

If you watched any football this past weekend, chances are you saw the latest Call of Duty: Ghosts commercial, featuring a bunch of guys dodging bullets, blowing stuff up, and spitting game at Megan Fox. If you missed it, have a look below. Then we’ll talk.

From a creativity standpoint, the commercial is phenomenal. This live-action re-imagining of Call of Duty announces that next-gen has arrived; realism, here we come. Beyond the concept, the commercial is well-shot, the acting holds up, and there’s an amusing juxtaposition between the wild action and the big-band sounds of Sinatra. There’s plenty to praise.

So why am I down on the ad?

Stereotypes. And particularly those aimed at the stereotypical gamer (the portrayal of the black guy is another topic for another day). There are three parts that kill it for me:

1) The fat dude

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Not every gamer looks like this, though it’s a prevailing stereotype.

I understand the need for diversity, but do we really need a chunky guy in this commercial? I get it: “There’s a soldier in all of us,” even Captain Blubs with his rifle and khaki shorts. Fine, point taken. But do you see any thick-bodied soldiers running around in the actual games? In the end all we’re left with is reinforcement of the stereotype of the overweight gamer who sits around eating chips and climbing leaderboards.

2) Megan Fox

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Chicks might save your ass online. Just don’t expect them to look like this.

Infinity Ward recently added female character avatars to the game, so I understand the inclusion of a woman soldier in the trailer. That’s cool. But why is Megan Fox representing the female gaming population? I could stare at Megan Fox all day, but I doubt she’s ever held down an R2 button in her life. And then we have one of our fine soldiers in the commercial hitting on her. Real classy, Activision. Try taking female gamers more seriously in your next ad.

This just reinforces the stereotype that chicks aren’t gamers. Every person watching this ad thinks, “Whoa, she’s hot,” before they consider that women can compete on the virtual battleground.

3) The jolly attitude toward war

IRAQ WAR GAMES

Every American politician would love to blame this on video games.

Okay, they’re trying to portray Call of Duty as a blast, but do we need all four guys acting like they’re in the throes of meth rush? The expression on the humvee driver’s face during the tundra scene is comedic gold, but at the same time it’s ludicrous. Nobody’s that happy to drive a vehicle in a video game. And what are we ultimately left with? Four guys lollygagging as they shoot down choppers and dodge bullets. Four guys treating lethal combat as a joke, something to pump your fist and chuckle over.

Not only does this suggest that gamers are immature, but it insinuates the most negative of all gamer stereotypes: that we’re desensitized to violence. Call of Duty will sell millions of copies, but the millions upon millions who play the game won’t go out and murder someone. Gamers can distinguish between life and death, pixels and reality. Yet this Call of Duty trailer helps depict gamers as bloodthirsty mongrels who pick up an assault rifle right after they’ve put down a controller.

I’m not saying this commercial should be pulled. I’m not saying Activision and Infinity Ward shouldn’t have the right to air it. I simply want to see more class next time, a little more respect for the audience that funds all this advertising.

And what do you guys think? Am I being too analytical? Too harsh? Should I cut them a break since the ad’s concept is slick? Comment and let me know.

Mass Effect (PS3) Review: 6/10

This weekend I managed to distill all my mixed, twisted feelings on the original Mass Effect into one neat summation. If you’re not into lengthy reading, my closing thoughts on Mass Effect are below. Click Here to go to GameFAQs for the full-length review.

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As conflicted as I’ve felt about a game in ages.

Mass Effect is not a landmark game. Not in the history of gaming, nor in recent memory. While the writers have cooked up a compelling universe and a worthy storyline, the game as a whole is sloppy, uneven, and ultimately average. While I wouldn’t characterize it as a trainwreck, I can’t recommend it as anything more than a decent game set in a unique and enthralling sci-fi world. The watered-down combat, trippy frame rate, underdeveloped characters, and dreadful sidequests all hold this one back. If you must play the entire trilogy, then give Mass Effect a go; otherwise, skip straight to its sequels.

+ Intriguing storyline
+ Brilliantly designed sci-fi universe with alien races, political systems, etc.
+ Dialogue system that enables freedom to construct your own story
+ Solid voice acting

– Rickety frame rate
– Watered-down combat
– Shaky ally A.I.
– Supporting cast members have muddled identities
– Uninspiring side missions

PS4 launch titles misfiring till 2014

The theme for next-gen news over the past few days has been “next-year.” On Tuesday Ubisoft announced that their stealth-action game Watch Dogs wouldn’t reach gamers till Spring 2014–a huge letdown considering it was among the most hyped PS4 launch titles. Today, the PS4-exclusive racer Driveclub saw its own release pushed back to February.

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Amazon and GameStop had to provide alternatives for those who pre-ordered the PS4 Watch Dogs bundle.

For most, the loss of Watch Dogs is the tragic news, but the biggest losers are the PS4 and Xbox One. Let’s be honest: system launch days have been embarrassing in recent years. Aside from Halo back in 2001, can you name any other launch game that set the world afire? Zelda: Twilight Princess was technically a Gamecube title, so don’t get cute, Wii fans. That leaves you with Perfect Dark Zero for 360, Resistance for PS3, and all of last year’s ports for Wii U. If you want to go portable, take your pick from 3DS’s opening day hodgepodge or Uncharted: Golden Abyss on Vita. Have a favorite yet? Yeah, me neither.

Launch day has become misfire day ever since the glory years when you could pick up Super Mario World or Super Mario 64 on day one. The problem–at least in my view–is that focus has shifted from software to hardware. Gone are the days when you bought a Nintendo system to play the new Mario. Instead, consumers and media members can’t stop talking about PS4 and XBONE–the systems themselves. E3 2013 generated more headlines about used-game policies and online capabilities than anything else. Whether gamers were defending or urinating on Microsoft, their opinions targeted XBONE, not its games. To be fair, homogenized 3rd-party lineups have diminished exclusive software as a selling point, but still–why don’t we care about the games anymore?

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N64 released with only two games, but no one cared since Super Mario 64 was one of them.

No one could blame Sony and Microsoft for releasing their next-gen consoles right before the holidays, but their launch lineups are a bit undignified. I suppose if you crave Killzone or Battlefield, there’s a case for purchasing a PS4, but with all the hot PS3 and 360 titles on the way, waiting is the wise man’s move. That is, if you’re wise enough to value software over hardware.

Indie game “The Fall” jumpstarts the Metroid fan in me

I normally don’t pay much attention to the Indie game scene, but say the word “Metroid” around me and it’s like waving raw meat in front of a starved canine. And starvation only begins to describe the state of the Metroid franchise. Can you believe it’s been nearly ten years since the last 2D Metroid? Ten. And that decade of disappearance makes this gloomy upcoming project “The Fall” all the more appetizing.

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The Fall draws its design influences from Metroid.  Then it dyes its hair jet black.

The Fall is a one-man project set to strike a balance between the atmosphere, action, and gameplay of franchises like Metroid and Secret of Monkey Island. Instead of Metroid’s run-and-gun exploration, The Fall imposes a heavier influence on investigation and puzzle-solving.

And, wow… is it dark. The Fall reminds me of playing Super Metroid with sunglasses on. Locales include abandoned caves and robot-infested factories–most of which are soaked in shadows.

Not only do the dark visuals cook up a lonely, confining atmosphere, but they also give rise to flashlight-based searching, a la Silent Hill. In addition to illuminating the game’s locales, the flashlight scans objects and enables puzzle-solving. The light’s cone echoes the X-Ray visor from Super Metroid, and it provides readouts of various objects and environments. As far as I can tell, you can’t Power-Bomb the area, so expect plenty of detective work.

The Fall’s take on combat is classic yet modern. While the main character ARID blasts away at enemies, he must take cover when facing enemy fire. Survival depends on patience and timing moreso than mashing the shoot button. Check the video below to get a feel for it:

Finally, there’s a compelling storyline in the works:

“The Fall is a story about ARID, a virtual intelligence integrated into an armoured combat suit, who’s activated when the human pilot inside the suit is rendered unconscious.  ARID awakes in a half-initialized state, with very little control over the suit and its functions. Somehow however, it must find a way to help its human pilot, even though it can barely help its self.”

While I’m not expecting the game to go all-out in terms of presentation, the plotline has piqued my interest. I’m hoping the developer, John Warner, takes advantage of the story concept and explores either the dependency of humans on computers or the benefits of bridging humans and computers. We might have a thinking man’s sci-fi tale on our hands, here. Then again, maybe I’m just an English-Lit graduate hunting for deeper meaning. 

As it stands now, The Fall has raised $33,200 CAD and will appear on PC, Mac, Linux, and Wii U. Another $4,800 and the game will garner some serious upgrades including a larger world and improved combat. There are still two days left to help with funding, so check out The Fall’s Kickstarter page if you want to throw a few bones toward the project.

Top 5 Tuesday: Most Disappointing Games

Last week I grilled Mass Effect for having framerate issues and party members who couldn’t be dumber if they had blonde highlights and a fake tan. My opinion of the game was in a total free fall, but at some point over the weekend I warmed back up to it. My change of heart resulted from discovering that you can control the dispersal of Techs in battle (Way to mention that, in-game tutorial.) and realizing just how varied the missions are. After playing through Eden Prime and Feros, I expected every major mission to follow a “talk to the survivors and kill the Geth” formula. But that’s not the case. I’m currently working through the snow-world of Noveria, which has a nifty political mystery going on. I won’t spoil. Instead, I’ll introduce a new weekly gag.

To celebrate my renewed attitude toward Mass Effect, I’m listing the five games that disappointed me the most in my lifetime. Keep in mind that this list is based on my own experiences and not whether or not the gaming world as a whole was let down. Now that we’re clear, let’s unveil these soul crushers.

Honorable mentions: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, God of War, Mario Kart: Double Dash, Goldeneye 007, Metroid Prime Hunters,

5. Half-Life

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Half-Life: Influential in 1998. Archaic in 2010.

Expectations:

The greatest FPS ever. Complete with thrilling action, brilliant level design, and a riveting story.

To be fair, I didn’t play Half-Life until 2010, so my opinion is skewed by playing modern FPSs that improved upon the standards it set. Still, genre growth and the passage of time  haven’t stopped fans and journalists from pumping up original Half-Life as a masterpiece.

Why it disappointed:

Half-Life has aged horribly. The control scheme and the controls themselves feel wonky by today’s standards (ladders are the most threatening enemies in the game), and the combat doesn’t carry the same hectic rush that FPSs of the 2000s spoiled us with. Although the game is credited with revolutionizing the FPS genre in terms of story, setting, and atmosphere, I found the dark gray halls of the Black Mesa Research Facility to be dull and confining. The story was nowhere near as compelling as its reputation suggests, and what hurts even more is the vow of silence Gordon Freeman took during the development stages.

Was it good?:

I realize I’m being a bit unfair, but no. After having experienced FPSs like Metroid Prime and Bioshock, the original Half-Life felt archaic. I feel the same about Goldeneye, which I didn’t play until 2004. Timing truly is everything.

4. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

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It’s just like Final Fantasy Tactics. Without the tactics.

Expectations:

Underworld strategy-RPG Disgaea was actually rare when I bought it. Back from 2003 to 2005 the game had serious cult status, with fans and reviewers praising it as a masterpiece in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics. Disgaea’s rarity and rabid fanbase had me expecting the strategy-RPG to end all strategy-RPGs.

Why it disappointed:

The ironic thing about Disgaea is that it’s a strategy-RPG that emphasizes power-leveling over, well, strategy. While I suppose the same could be said of a lot of SRPGs, Disgaea is the most guilty one in my book. Though some early battles required careful thought and planning, I got blown right off the grid in later stages–not because my strategies were faulty, but because Disgaea decided that I should grind my way to the ending credits.

Was it good?:

The characters contributed some humorous moments, and the first half of the game had some solid story battles. Disgaea was actually likable for about 15-20 hours, then somewhere along the line the emphasis shifted toward geo-panel combos and level grinding.

3. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

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Brawl offers a ton of choices, but the best choice you can make is playing Melee instead.

Expectations:

The highest ever. Seriously, the hype for this game was vast enough to crack the ozone layer. Nintendo unveiled the game at E3 2006 with a trailer introducing Solid Snake as a guest fighter; that triggered endless fan speculation about other 3rd party guests, from Sonic (who got in) to Master Chief (who never even appeared on a Nintendo console). As if the series’ reputation and the E3 trailer weren’t enough to pump my hype balloon, the Smash Dojo website–which I visited every day until release–left it at the bursting point.

Why it disappointed:

Brawl was destined to disappoint. I wanted it to be twice the game that Melee was, but instead it fell short of its predecessor’s standard. Brawl featured a slowed-down fighting engine that simply couldn’t match Melee’s intensity. And though the roster nearly doubled, Nintendo did almost nothing to tweak the movesets for the returning characters other than adding over-the-top Final Smashes that made the battles more luck-based than skill-based.

Was it good?:

Hell yeah. For as disappointing as it was, Brawl offered deep single-player options, excellent multiplayer, endless amounts of unlockables, and more Nintendo than could fathomably fit on one disc. Oh, and Boss Rush mode on Very Hard was a masochistic blast.

2. Final Fantasy VI

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Everyone has a favorite FF6 character. The problem is you have to endure Terra along the way.

Expectations:

The best RPG ever created. A lot of Final Fantasy fans who consider themselves “hardcore” list FF6 as their favorite in opposition to FF7 which is deemed the “casual” entry point of the series. Prior to getting my hands on FF6, I had listened to these FF6 fans who touted the game’s cast, story, and “unforgettable” moments like the famous opera scene.

Why it disappointed:

I first played FF6 on the PS1 collection Final Fantasy Anthology, which was a mistake. If you have any respect for gaming, you should never go near FF Anthology–the battle slowdown and load times make the games as choppy as a buffering Youtube video. Anyway, after about 5 hours in the Anthology version, I ditched FF6 and later returned to it on a SNES emulator. The version was far superior, but the game was still a drag.

FF6 disappointed me for the same reason Stephen King’s The Stand does: it has a massive cast with no clear-cut protagonist to lean on. A great protagonist makes or breaks a story for me. Sometimes you can get away with having two guys sharing the spotlight, but when a narrative spreads its focus across four or more “main” characters, I tune out. Had FF6 been Locke’s story, it might have been one of my favorite RPGs. Instead, it forced me to endure scenes involving the robotic Terra Branford, who you couldn’t pay me to show interest in. Story and characters aside, the battle system was by no means electric, and I found most of the character-specific abilities to be underwhelming (though I loved Sabin’s button-combo Blitz technique).

Was it good?:

Kefka is the best villain in the series behind Kuja. And I’ll be honest, I like Locke, Edgar, Sabin, and Celes. Shadow, Cyan, and Setzer have their moments, too. The problem is that when you have so many storylines jammed into a 30-35 hour game, the characters end up thin and forgettable.

1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

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Committing to stealth in MGS4 is about as difficult as committing to sobriety on a pub crawl.

Expectations:

High expectations? Let’s put it this way: I dropped $500 on the PS3/MGS4 bundle to play this. Any time I buy a new system for one particular game, it’s serious. When the game happens to be the fourth installment in a series that pumped out three landmark titles, the expectations are through the roof and beyond the heavens. What jacked up my MGS4 hopes even more was the fact that the series got better with every game up till that point. I never thought MGS2 could top the original; nor did I believe that MGS3 could top Sons of Liberty. But they did. So by that logic, MGS4 would top them all. Right?

Why it disappointed:

MGS4 is a classic case of identity-loss as a result of trying to do too much. Hideo Kojima had a great idea in theory: give gamers the option of either sneaking or run-n-gunning through game. It enabled players to approach the game however they wanted, but unfortunately freedom isn’t always liberating. Rather than enjoying another stealth-based masterpiece, I found myself “cheating on” the stealth and treating the game as a 3rd-person shooter.

Worse yet, three of the game’s five acts could cure insomnia, and revisiting Shadow Moses Island was such a letdown that I almost gave it its own spot on this list. Even the story was a colossal buzzkill. It consisted of endless buildup that never hit a crescendo, and it relied on established characters who had little left to desire or prove. Whereas each of the first three MGS games offered their own brilliant cast of brand new characters, MGS4 took a a greatest-hits approach and brought back literally everyone you could think of. Trouble was, instead of playing integral parts throughout the story, most characters hopped aboard for one act and vanished until the ending. What you were left over with was the disjointed mess that is MGS4.

Was it good?:

No. Aside from some stunning cinematics and two decent acts, the game is an abomination. The series thrived off stealth-based gameplay, hectic boss battles, and gameplay scenarios that forced you to strategize and execute. MGS4 marked the series’ degeneration from distinct espionage into commonplace 3rd-person shooting.

Tomb Raider (PS3) Review: 9/10

Last week I raved about Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot and promised a full-length review. Here it is, hot off the word processor. Give it a look if you want an in-depth, spoiler-free outlook on a game that I feel is exhilarating from the moment you press start.

Also note that Tomb Raider is going for cheap on Amazon these days. If $22 is too steep for you, keep TR in mind around Black Friday.

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Want two big reasons to play Tomb Raider? Yeah? You’re into that? Try combat and atmosphere.

According to this old IGN article, most gamers are too lazy to read any part of a review other than the intro and conclusion paragraphs (if even that much). Just in case my readership consists of a mass of loafing sloths, I’m pasting the conclusion below. Enjoy it, you lazy bastards.

To recap, Tomb Raider is a stellar entry into what will likely become a trilogy or sub-series. Crystal Dynamics drank liberally from Uncharted’s fountain while developing the core gameplay, and the distinctive TR nuances of stealth and exploration keep this game from feeling hackish—it is by no means “Uncharted with a chick.” Despite the weak and forgettable supporting cast, the story proves intriguing thanks to Lara’s character development and the mystery swirling around the island of Yamatai. I can’t speak as someone who has played prior entries in the Tomb Raider franchise, but as a gamer who enjoys slash-paced action and exploration, I would highly recommend TR13 based on its riveting single-player campaign. If online multiplayer is vital to you, dock a point off my review score, as you won’t find a buzzing community or brilliant level design here. But as far as the single-player experience goes, it’s a twenty-hour journey that keeps firing away with brutal action, inviting environments, and puzzles of the climbing and thinking varieties.

+ Excellent combat system, climbing segments, tomb puzzles
+ Supernatural world with great sense of place and history
+ Lara’s character development
+ Stunning, detailed character models and environments
+ Numerous collectibles, weapon upgrades, skills

– Supporting cast doesn’t get enough screen time to make a dramatic impact
– Glitchy moments with enemy battle dialogue
– Passable online multiplayer