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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Cheapest Black Friday Video Game Deals

Tomorrow marks a day for food, family, and an onslaught of deals on video games. Even if you plan on staying home, you can score online deals from Best Buy, Amazon, and a few other major websites.

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-Assassin’s Creed IV:
$35 Microsoft, Best Buy, Walmart (guaranteed in-stock 6-7 Thursday)
$40 Gamestop-Batman: Arkham Origins
$30 Best Buy
$35 Target, Walmart (guaranteed in-stock Thursday 6-7)-Battlefield 4:
$25 gamestop (Friday only), Walmart
$35 Best Buy, Target
$38.99 Microsoft

-Beyond: Two Souls:
$25 Walmart
$35 Best Buy
$40 Gamestop (Friday Only)

-Call of Duty: Black Ops II:
$25 Target, Walmart (Walmart says Game of the Year edition)
$29.99 Best Buy

-Call of Duty: Ghosts:
$39.96 Microsoft, Walmart (guaranteed in-stock Thursday 6-7)
$44.99 Best Buy, Gamestop

-Deadpool
$20 Gamestop (Friday Only)

-Diablo III
$40 Frys.com

-Dragon Crown (PS3)
$25 Frys.com (Vita too)
$30 Gamestop

-Dishonored (GOTY)
$25 Gamestop

-Far Cry 3
$15 Best Buy, Walmart

-Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS3)
$20 Gamestop

-FIFA 14:
$25 Microsoft, Walmart
$35 Best Buy, Target
$40 Gamestop

-GTA V:
$34 Microsoft, Walmart (guaranteed in-stock Thursday 6-7)
$33.99 at Amazon as of 11/27

-Just Dance 3
$10 Walmart

-Just Dance 2014
$15 GameStop

-Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix
$20 Gamestop

-The Last of Us (PS3)
$25 Walmart
$35 Best Buy

-The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
$30 K-Mart
-The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)
$40 K-Mart
 
-LEGO: Lord of the Rings
$10 Walmart (if you miss Amazon’s deal)
-Madden 25:
$25 Microsoft, Walmart
$35 Best Buy, Target
$40 Gamestop-LEGO: Marvel
$25 Walmart-NBA 2K14
$40 Frys.com

-NCAA 14:
$25 Walmart
$40 Gamestop

-NHL 14:
$40 Gamestop

-Playstation All Stars: Battle Royale (PS3/Vita combo)
$10 Gamestop (Friday only)

-Rayman Legends:
$25 GameStop

-Saints Row IV:
$25 Walmart
$30 Best Buy, GameStop

-Shin Megami Tensei IV
$25 Frys.com

-Skylanders: Swapforce (Black Edition)
$80 Gamestop
-Skyrim:
$15 Best Buy, Walmart

-Skyrim Legendary Edition (all DLC):
$30 Gamestop

-Sly Cooper 4: Thieves in Time (ps3/vita combo)
$10 Walmart

-Splinter Cell Blacklist:
$25 Gamestop, Target, Walmart
$30 Best Buy

-Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
$50 K-Mart
-Tales of Xillia
$20 Gamestop-Twisted Metal ps3
$10 Walmart-The Bureau XCOM Declassified
$30 Frys.com

-WWE 2K14
$40 Frys.com

Top 5 Tuesday: Games of 2003

Soul Calibur II HD Online is set to release in a few weeks, just three months following its ten-year anniversary. Ten years… I feel like a senior citizen looking back on it. If you missed out on SC2 because you were too young or just oblivious, download it later this month on PSN or Xbox Live. It’s both deep and casual-friendly, and the only major letdown is you won’t be able to play as Link (who was an exclusive fighter in the Gamecube version).

As for today’s Top 5, I’m jumping back a decade to recall my personal favorite from 2003. I’ll warn you now: the list is Gamecube-heavy, and unfortunately I missed out on some excellent releases, most notably Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Beyond Good & Evil.

5. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

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2003: The year of a boy, his talking boat, and an oversized ocean full of pirate romps.

Despite being the weakest of the 3D Zeldas, Wind Waker is still a Zelda experience littered with sharp puzzles, engrossing side quests, and slick swordplay. However, Wind Waker disappointed for two reasons: the monotonous sailing and the lack of gameplay originality beyond the sailing. Notice how I didn’t rip the cel-shaded visuals? Though they don’t suit the tone of Zelda, I’m okay with them if only because they broke the gaming trend of realism that’s been rampant for nearly two decades.

And as for the sailing, it was both good and bad. Good when you were looking for adventure or sidequests. Dreadful when you knew where you wanted to go and had to sit through five minutes of cartoon ocean. In the end we were left with a massive overworld with only a handful of dungeons. Epic final fight, though.

4. Fire Emblem (GBA)

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Oh, you bought Final Fantasy Tactics Advance instead? That’s cute.

I already praised Fire Emblem in a previous Top 5 list, but I’ll say this: Fire Emblem had the misfortune of releasing two months after the inferior Final Fantasy Tactics Advance back in 2003. This was back when Final Fantasy was a juggernaut in terms of sales and popularity. For a lot of gamers, Fire Emblem was an afterthought when it came to jotting down Christmas lists.

At least now we know better.

3. Soul Calibur II (PS2 / GCN / Xbox)

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Many gamers bought SCII solely for Link, only to discover that the game itself was excellent.

Soul Calibur II has the distinction of being the only fighting game I love that’s not named Super Smash Bros. Why the sappy crush? Because it was enjoyable no matter your skill level. You could pick it up on day one, have a blast button-mashing, then spin together some smooth combos by the end of the week. By the end of the month, you’d have a handle on some advanced techniques as well as some serious button combos.

And that’s just the core fighting. Soul Calibur II had a fun single-player mode that involved collecting weapons for each character, arcade modes, 8-character team battles, and more. And I haven’t even mentioned the vivid cast, diverse in both fighting styles and personalities.

And before you ask: my main was Nightmare.

2. Skies of Arcadia: Legends (GCN)

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Ship battles, codes of honor, glass eye-patches: what’s not to love?

I have yet to play an RPG with a better atmosphere than Skies of Arcadia. Sailing the skies with ships is every bit as engrossing as it sounds, and the towns, locales, customs, and myths of the game lend to a sense of place that is rivaled by very few games I’ve played. Though Skies offers an admittedly cliched story, the presentation is top notch, and the characters are infectious, particularly Vyse (He never gives up, dammit!).

Battles run lengthy, but the combat is a fresh take on turn-based, elemental fights. Certain ship battles end up feeling particularly grand due to the length and scope of the duels (some require you to chase down titan-like Gigas or set up a beast for a harpoon takedown). When you grow battle-weary, there’s always Suikoden-style recruiting to look forward to. If you’re going to save the most vivid world in JRPGs, you might as well stock an army for the job.

1. F-Zero GX (GCN)

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You vs. 29 other racers. Wouldn’t hurt to ram five or ten of them off the track…

Milliseconds.

That’s often the difference between 1st place and 6th in an F-Zero GX race. Nintendo’s best racer is intense, maddening, and delightfully masochistic, but the game shines due to its unrivaled blend of fun and difficulty. Track memorization is key, as one slip off the edge means game over. Oh? Think you can stay on board? Try doing it while ramming your booster, which juices your speed up at the expense of your vehicle’s damage threshold. Boost too much and you’re one wall-nick or driver collision away from breaking down. And you have to boost. A lot.

Not only is F-Zero GX intense, but the tracks weave, drop, and roll like poetry. If you haven’t driven Aeropolis – Multiplex or Lightning – Thunder Road, do yourself a favor an score a used copy of GX. It’s the best racer out there in this blogger’s humble opinion, not to mention my favorite game of ’03.

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.

Upcoming Ninja Gaiden spinoff looks slick, sounds ultra-cheesy

If you haven’t had your fill of ninjas, cyborgs, or zombies, then Keiji Inafune’s upcoming action title Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z should be written on your wishlist in blood. Gameplay videos depict over-the-top Ninja Gaiden action set in a comic-book world. Team Ninja is even involved with the project and Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame will be the game’s primary villain.

The catch? You’ll have to stomach some dreadfully immature humor along the way. Watch the trailer on mute if you want to be impressed.

From what I’ve seen the gameplay looks like Ninja Gaiden on uppers: anti-hero Yaiba slashes hoards of zombies in half with one whirlwind slice, then streaks ahead to slice off legs and impale survivors from the scalp on down. Blood splatters, gushes, and erupts everywhere as Yaiba grabs, slashes, and dismembers everything in his path.

It remains to be seen just how challenging the game will be, and I feel the difficulty level will make or break this one. Yaiba looks like an unstoppable force in the videos, and his zombie foes hobble-wobble around like you’d expect. Whether Yaiba: NGZ proves worthy of bearing the Ninja Gaiden name depends entirely on how these enemies can adapt to Yaiba’s carnage. Since Team Ninja and Mega Man’s producer are involved with this one, there’s hope that this doesn’t turn into a button-masher or mindless hack-n-slash.

Ubisoft axed Far Cry 3 voice actor for prior success with Deus Ex game

Next time two years of your professional life goes to waste, think about voice actor Elias Toufexis, who recently revealed that Ubisoft pulled him from Far Cry 3 after recording the voice of protagonist Jason Brody for two years. Toufexis (good luck pronouncing that one) voiced Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s protagonist Adam Jensen, and had enough success to make Ubisoft uneasy:

“I played [Jason Brody] for two years, did the voice and when Deus Ex came out [Ubisoft] replaced me because they were nervous that … ‘We don’t want people playing this game and thinking of another game.'”

As with live-action performers, it’s common for voice actors to dabble in different game franchises. What hurt Toufexis in this case was the fact that he bestowed his “normal voice” on both protagonists, thus creating a potential situation where Far Cry 3 players could potentially find Toufexis’ voice jarring, had they played Deus Ex.

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Every time Adam Jensen opened his mouth, his VA came one step closer to losing his job.

I understand Ubisoft’s logic here, but this makes for an odd double-standard in the world of entertainment. I’ve never known anyone who walked into a Batman movie and found Christian Bale’s presence unsettling due to his prior role as the murder-obsessed protagonist of America Psycho. Granted, live-acting and voice acting are two different beasts, but how many times have you watched a Harrison Ford thriller and instantly thought of Han Solo or Indiana Jones? And yet the directors of Air Force One, The Fugitive, etc. didn’t pull the plug on Ford.

Video game voice acting becomes more controversial by the week it seems. Hollywood voices continue to trickle into our digital worlds, and Beyond: Two Souls may end up as a watershed game in terms of determining the fate of “game actors.” This recent news of Toufexis’ firing only throws more on the pile. Can top voice actors survive without modifying their voice for different roles? And what about familiar voices of Hollywood actors–aren’t they every bit as unsettling as the sounds coming from mouths of big-game VAs?

Top 5 Tuesday: Square Enix RPGs (Post-Merger)

Last week Square Enix teased us with the first gameplay trailer for Kingdom Hearts III as well as some new footage from the third and supposedly final entry in the Final Fantasy XIII saga, Lightning Returns. I’m not exactly counting the days till both releases, but at least neither is a HD remake or cell phone port. Bravo, Square.

Square’s sudden relevance left me pondering whether or not I could do a Top 5 Tuesday based solely on RPGs released AFTER Squaresoft and Enix’s merger in 2003. Let me put it this way: We barely dodged our first ever Top 4 Tuesday. I’m not crazy about today’s #5. I probably should play The World Ends With You so I can revise this list. Until then…

5. Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)

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KHII gave us what we wanted in the original: a Final Fantasy ally.

I shouldn’t have to go into detail on this one. It’s essentially a copy-paste job of the original with new levels and a couple new moves (most notably the Parry move that Square borrowed from Zelda: The Wind Waker). Though admittedly fun, nothing about KHII struck me as fresh or groundbreaking.

As for highlights: teaming up with Auron and Jack Sparrow. Lowlights: that dreadful Little Mermaid musical level.

4. Final Fantasy XIII (PS3)

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It’s hard to focus on the storyline once the gang starts focusing on Cocoon.

I actually thought FF13 was a step in the right direction, and, no, this isn’t a lead-in to a “Hallway Fantasy” joke. Sure, the game is linear, but at least it steered the series away from the direction FF12 sent it in.

FF13 returned the series to traditional Active-Time Battles while throwing in the twists of paradigm shifts. Much like how FFX enabled swapping out party members mid-battle to exploit enemy weaknesses, FF13 let players switch the party’s character classes on the fly. Dealing with a tough boss? Start with a Sabatuer/Synergist/Medic group to weaken the enemy and bolster your guys. Then swap for Ravager/Commando/Ravager to rip into the beast. All at once, it played nothing like FF12 and tweaked the classic formula of hitting Attack Attack Attack and mixing in the occasional spell.

The battle system was good enough to keep me going, even when the storyline collapsed toward the end. I actually liked Lightning, Sazh, and Snow until maybe the midway point. The first half of the game was much more personal on a character-to-character level. Then everything veered off into protecting Cocoon, saving the world, and other trite developments.

3. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PS2)

Underrated masterpiece alert! For whatever reason, nobody cares about Valkyrie Profile 2. Even fans of the original don’t give a shit. VP2 faded into obscurity almost from the moment it released. Total shame.

For those of you completely unfamiliar with the series, the Valkyrie Profile games put you in the role of a Valkyrie who traverses a conflict-ravaged earth in search of wayward souls to send to Valhalla. What’s cool is you can hang onto some of these souls and keep them as party members, or you can ship them off to the god Odin for bonuses.

What distinguishes VP from other J-RPGs is sidescrolling dungeons and towns (why the hell don’t other RPGs do this?) and a unique battle system that assigns each character to one of the four face buttons. In other words, tap X and your X-character will attack; immediately after, you can follow up with your Circle, Square, and Triangle-characters. It makes for some wild timing combos, and if you nail the right chemistry you can set up for some massive special attacks. As an upgrade from the original (at least in my opinion), VP2 put the battles on a full 3D plain where your 4-man party could dash around ganging up enemies one-by-one. Throw in a phenomenal fight theme, some challenging bosses, and a wild villain, and you’ve got yourself the most underrated Square game of the past decade.

2. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (PS2)

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Battles may look chaotic and mindless, but SO3’s combat requires timing and patience.

I have a bad habit of thinking of Star Ocean 3 as the poor man’s Tales of Symphonia. They’re both stellar RPGs that I happened to buy on the same day; they both have enthralling battle systems; and both have decent storylines and a couple awesome characters. The difference is that Tales has more charm and polish than SO3. Other than that, they’re neck-and-neck.

Star Ocean 3 is a mammoth. Reaching the credits screen ran me around 70 hours, and while the storyline wasn’t Xenogears, it had a few compelling sci-fi spurts. I even liked this one particular late-game plot twist that appalled most fans. Hey, one man’s plot-breaker is another man’s compulsion to keep playing.

The draw with SO3 is its battle system, which is action-oriented without being button-mashy. Thanks to a stamina bar known as the Fury gauge, you can only use your light and heavy attacks so many times before the gauge has to replenish. Run out of Fury and you’re left punchless and vulnerable. Manage it properly and you can destroy enemy shields with heavy smashes or link up combos based on distance from the enemy and strength of the attack. Like Tales of Symphonia, SO3 thrives off fun battles. If only the game had been edited a little better for length…

1. Nier (PS3)

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Masterpiece or mess? It boils down to personal taste.

Nier is the best mediocre game I’ve ever played. If that sounds like an odd compliment, understand that Nier is an odd game. It starts with bizarre winter scene between a father and daughter who are hunted down by otherworldly geometric creatures called Shades. Without spoiling, I’ll say that Nier has a touching and thought-provoking story that explores themes of humanity, mortality, sacrifice, family love, and the afterlife. If you appreciate a good mindblow, hang around for the game’s closing sequences. I can promise you your brain will pop like a pricked balloon by the time it’s over.

While Nier’s story is surreal, original, and enthralling, the rest of the game’s components are a mixed bag. The soundtrack and atmosphere are among best of any RPG, while gameplay and combat go lukewarm at times. The combat is fun but not challenging enough: Think Kingdom Hearts with the gimmick of a magical tome that can unleash a variety of spells and abilities. Unfortunately, though, the game’s straightforward enemies and bosses rarely warrant breaking out those spells.

But trust me on this one: don’t take Nier as a sum of its parts. Enjoy it for the experience, which happens to be the best one Square Enix has offered since its inception.