So I played Remember Me, and then I stopped.

Why is parkour still a thing in video games now? It was a key component in Assassins Creed and Mirror’s Edge, and it should have stopped there. (I’ll accept inFamous, too, because at least it’s fun then.)

But, here we are, still climbing up the sides of buildings. Like, EVERYONE can climb the sides of buildings so easily. Doesn’t that seem like a really hard thing to do? That didn’t used to be a thing. In older video games, when we came to a wall we were like, “Well, I guess we better find a way around it.” But now everyone’s trying to just climb over it.

It’s a cute idea, but you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. In the old days the question was, “If I have a grenade launcher, why can’t I explode that locked door off its hinges?” Now it’s, “If I can climb THAT wall, why can’t I climb EVERY wall??” It’s funny. As aesthetics get more realistic, the occasional inconsistencies with video game verisimilitude become more insufferable.

But then, hey, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised parkour is so present in a French game. A French sci-fi game. About memories. Called Remember Me.

The Ghost in the Shell series was a very dire and realistic meditation on the nature of technological progress and its influence on politics, the planet, and the self. It’s a crime drama first, but the themes of memories and identity run throughout all of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Remember Me opens like, “You lost your memories! Because a company called Memorize decided they could do whatever they wanted with your memories! Now take ’em down, so we can all have our memories back! Even if you have to mess with other people’s memories! And remember to remember to memorize memories!”

Now, isn’t it kind of obvious that the big twist is gonna come when you get your memories back? I know it’s a sci-fi, but it feels really silly and regressive to just make your plot actually involve what your game is thematically addressing.

Maybe I’m getting stuck on this, but… You’re supposed to use the plot to convey the point, the same way you use a frying pan to cook a steak. You can’t take the meaning of the game and then build the plot on that. You can’t cook a steak with another steak.

To be fair, there is other stuff going on in the game: the haves vs. the have-nots. The rich can afford to relive their own happy memories, while the impoverished can only scrape together the memories of others and go nuts in the process. There’s even a character early on whose decision to do something drastic is based on a very expensive hospital bill she has to pay. It actually feels just barely relevant at times.

But it’s not just plot and aesthetics you use to convey meaning: it’s mechanics. The script seems to be telling us that the game is about the malleability of the human psyche, and that my character is a genius hacker. If that’s so, how come I spend less time rewriting people’s memories – which is, in fact, a very neat and juicy bit of the game – and more time punching junkies and climbing up and down the sides of walls?

The thing is, Remember Me isn’t the first game that’s about running toward a glowing waypoint or climbing and punching things like a drunk amnesiac baboon. But it’s the last one I deign to play.

re: Abstraction

[by a man named Dreamknight]

I think neglect of the battle system is why the genre is now more or less going extinct. Most people just can’t take grinding through dungeons for 30 hours anymore.

I think its bigger than JRPGs.

By and large more powerful technology has removed many of the abstractions we used to have in games. Back in the day it was challenging to land a jump in Tomb Raider because Lara was stuck on a grid and the low visual fidelity made it hard to gauge if you could make a jump or not. These abstractions made the act of jumping and exploring in itself a challenge. Now we have games where you can hold down a button and cling to the world in lightning fast real time.

JRPGs are going through the same thing, things aren’t abstracted through menus anymore, why use a menu when you can swap weapons and spells on the fly? And just mash X to win like in Kingdom Hearts/Crisis Core?

Abstractions are probably the most meaningful component of a video game that most forget about, or even complain about. They may seem artificial but I feel they are vital in setting up the thematic/mechanical beats that get a player involved and invested.

The proliferation of large game worlds is problematic too, a lot of open world titles where traversal is a boring chore. How many games give us this large field to run around in and then make us resort to using the dodge roll to get through the screen quickest? (NIER)

When we had pre-rendered backgrounds and little space for data, game directors had to be picky and convey the most atmosphere with the smallest space.

For example, all the love it gets, I always found that MGS3 failed to bring the sense of precise, deliberate design that MGS1 and 2 had by taking place in a nondescript and open jungle area.

Re: Used games killing the industry

[by a man named Burai]

No, here’s the problem. Tomb Raider sold 3.4m units in the space of a month and it’s a “failure” because it will fail to recoup its budget.

THREE POINT FOUR MILLION FUCKING UNITS FOR WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY A B-TIER FRANCHISE AND THAT’S STILL NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE ANY MONEY.

And killing used games would have solved this how? Would it have made the execs at Squenix who thought throwing $100m budget at a franchise that’s been irrelevant since the turn of the century suddenly get a clue?

Oh, but no, they argue “GAMERS PUSH FOR HIGHER AND HIGHER BUDGETS AND WE HAVE TO GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT! THEIR ENTITLEMENT COMPLEX CAN’T BE SATIATED! WE HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO LET BUDGETS SPIRAL OUT OF CONTROL!” and that’s lovely, but since when did they ever give a fuck about what we actually thought?

Are Microsoft going to turn around and backtrack on this DRM fiasco because “WE HAVE TO GIVE GAMERS WHAT THEY WANT!”? Are they fuck.

Are EA going to throw all their games up on Steam and patch Sim City to not need the stupid Origin authentication because “THAT’S WHAT THOSE ENTITLED GAMERS ARE SCREAMING FOR!”? Fuck no.

If you couldn’t afford to give people what they wanted, then why didn’t you just turn around and say no like you do with every other thing we complain about? Here’s why; Every publisher big and small decided to get into a dick waving contest and it turns out that not everyone has a big dick. Squenix got its tiny little acorn cock out and went up against Mandingo Activision screaming “LOOK AT MY MASSIVE JUNK! YOU’LL WANT TO CARE FOR IT!” and everyone just turned around and shrugged and bought something else.

Not everyone has a big dick. Acting like you have a big dick when you don’t have a big dick is going to make the reveal of your tiny little penis all the more humiliating. And that’s what happened here. Squenix acted like Tomb Raider, a franchise that habitually sells less than 3m lifetime per entry was going to suddenly sell COD numbers just because they spent $100m on it and guess what happened? THE FUCKING INEVITABLE.

In terms of the franchise post-Core, the game is going to do really well, probably double what you’d expect from a Tomb Raider game post-PSone but it cost far, far too much.

But no, it’s all used games that did this. Used games made Capcom make some horrible design decisions on DmC and piss off the entire fanbase. Used games made Activision and EA flood the market with guitar games and accessories long after people stopped caring. Used games made Microsoft make a fourth Gears of War game that nobody asked for from a developer nobody cares about. Used games made Sony pump out another God of War game after they spent the past few years flooding the market with HD remasters. Used games made Sony make a Smash Bros clone with no appealing characters to help sell it. Used games made Bizarre Creations make James Bond and racing games no-one wanted. Used games make publishers shutter studios the moment the game they were working on goes gold, before they’ve even had a chance to sell a single new copy, let alone a used one.

I could go on. And on. And on. You could write a book about every single executive level screw-up this gen and yet these same people with their million dollar salaries and their shill puppets still try to insult our intelligence and blame used games and awful, entitled consumers for companies shutting and talented people losing their jobs.

So please forgive our cynicism when we don’t want to buy into the bullshit you’re spouting.

[original post]

So I finished Bioshock Infinite.

I didn’t like it.

First off, check this out.

This is the E3 trailer for Bioshock. I was pumped by this. I fell in love with the unusual locale and the gritty, visceral combat. The effectiveness of the trailer is that it’s so open-ended. What happened here? What am I doing with this little girl? What is THAT thing doing with this little girl? What other horrible powers can I use? Even the fact that it ends with the player’s death suggests that the player will have to be re-equipped with a whole bevvy of new combat options upon the game’s release.

Infinite pushed this kind of presentation to the limit with this 10 minute “gameplay” video.

Hype is a powerful thing, and Ken Levine certainly knows how to wield it.

The thing is, these videos are all just ideas. Sequential ideas. Lists in the form of a videos.

Truthfully, others have already gone through the broad issues I have with Infinite, like this guy, and this guy. All I have left is my own list of ideas.

The voice direction. Booker and Elizabeth have two very different problems. Troy Baker plays Booker as a very distinctly dull dude. He sounds like a good actor who received very little direction. But since Troy is a pro, he manages.

To me, it sounds like Courtnee Draper did not deal as well with the lack of direction. On the surface I understand what Elizabeth feels, but I often don’t get why.

Also, Elizabeth just sounds like some lady I could meet on the street today – her throaty casualness doesn’t click in 1912. I kept waiting for a plot reason why that should be. There isn’t one.

Elizabeth’s character frequently doesn’t make sense. The sequences up till meeting her in captivity is pretty intriguing – she seems to be pretty okay with her station in life. But then the moment the shit hits the fan, she’s like, “Let’s get out of here! The exit is this way!” and basically completely stops acting like someone who’s spent a huge portion of her life under lock and key.

The writing. “The only difference between Fitzroy and Comstock is how you spell the name.”

Aside from some real clunkers, Booker and Elizabeth constantly waver back and forth between period speak and modern colloquialisms. It’s especially infuriating since basically every other character actually pretty effectively acts like someone from 1912.

I mean, listen to the guy selling the Voxophones at the start of the game, and then listen to Elizabeth. (Or, shit, look at Elizabeth standing next to Mrs. Lin) Are they even from the same world?

Oh, yeah, the fucking Voxophone recordings. Some things never change, huh? This method of information diffusion was tolerable in the kooky world of Rapture. This shit makes zero sense in Columbia. Are you telling me an old black janitor would 1) be able afford a Voxophone, 2) buy a Voxophone, even though he clearly needs that money for other stuff, and 3) carry it around and use it while he is working?

Who is dropping all this recording equipment everywhere?! (Answer: The same people who are throwing money in the garbage) I will say that I was initially impressed at the way that the other sound levels would drop out so that you could hear the recordings, until some inconsequential dialogue started up, cutting off what turned out to be a pretty crucial recording.

Tape recordings are joined this time by nickelodeon-style moving picture viewers that take up even more of your time because you have to STAND STILL to use them, and yet are even less illuminating. They actually find a more insufferable way to convey information than background blithering.

All the goddamn noise. As bored as Booker and Elizabeth sound most of time, all the bit characters fucking commit. Like, the way bad guys scream. All the time. When they spot you, when they’re shooting at you, when they’re dying, when they’re being burnt alive, when they’re falling. Everything screams when I do anything to it. With the Big Bad’s saying threatening things over the microphone, cronies of every size running at you and shouting, robot cannons chiming and rat-a-tatting, Elizabeth telling you she can’t find anything even though you never asked, and a recording of a horrible old white man shouting about Lambs and Shepherds – fucking kill me. I’m only glad I could turn off the reminders telling me, “Your shield is broken! Find cover!”

None of the encounters are special. My favorite part of the game was fighting this horrible, ghostly boss that can constantly summon cronies to fight for it. Not only did I have to fend off mobs of dudes using all of my wiles, I also had to isolate and kill the boss before it summoned even MORE dudes.

Apparently, they thought this fight was so fun, they made me fight it two more times afterward.

This happens throughout the game. A new enemy is introduced in a semi-effective way, it’s defeated, it feels like a triumph, and then you… fight it again. No battle is unique.

There are never really any milestones. Powers and guns are distributed without much attention paid to the pacing or the mounting action of the story. One obstacle requires attaining a particular power to overcome it. This power is never used for such a purpose again.

The whole thing is extremely linear and yet extremely disjointed. I feel like every set piece could have been put into any order. There isn’t any escalation from one event to another.

Elizabeth’s powers are wasted.

The only time Elizabeth’s power does something interesting while playing the game is when she can make baskets of food materialize in the most impoverished part of the city. It highlights the sheer range of her powers, and clearly represents how someone like Comstock believes in the good it can do. (I’m not suggesting Comstock has any of the limited complexity of Andrew Ryan – he’s doesn’t)

The rest of the time, she can make hip-high walls and freight hooks and sniper rifles appear… in locations that are conveniently empty. There are maybe one or two fights where this can be pretty exciting – it feels like you’re actively taking control of the battlefield, summoning a mechanized patriot to take on another patriot, making a freight hook to get over and behind bad guys, etc.

But it’s, like… why can’t all that stuff already be there?

She also gives you health, salts, ammo, money. Stuff you can all get yourself. It invalidates the purpose of scrounging through the garbage for loot, because Elizabeth always finds items in such greater quantities.

You know what Elizabeth’s powers should have been used for? Getting Infusions – the things that increase your health, salts, and shield. That way your growth is intrinsically tied to Elizabeth – your advantage over everyone else in the game is your relationship to Elizabeth.

The twist isn’t really a twist because I didn’t know what was going on. A mystery only works if you can guess what the answer could be. If I have no expectation for how or why someone did something, why should I be surprised when I find out the answer?

The reason it takes forever for any important clues or tangible story details to be revealed, despite the shortness of the story, is that any single clue would unravel the mystery immediately. Especially if you played Bioshock – you’re already looking for the true identity of certain characters.

The big thing for me, though, is, the tone.

At one point Elizabeth very tearfully sums up her very complicated relationship with someone she once knew, and then–

“Hey, Booker, need some ammo?”

For all the importance being placed on the story and my relationship to Elizabeth, I sure feel like I’m walking around with an ammunition dispenser in a video game.

The most exciting parts of the game have really nothing to do with any of the gameplay mechanics. It’s mostly something neat happening while you watch. Even the sky-lines, one of the more exhilarating parts of the game, are just roller-coasters. The ending, while infuriating, is quite beautiful (Yes, Ken Levine has seen Inception, sure, whatever).

The only advantage Infinite’s ending has over The Third Birthday’s ending is shortness and prettiness.

The most interesting way you can look at Infinite is as a musing on the success of Bioshock. In Bioshock, your choices are stupidly distinct, leading to ending A or ending B. In Infinite, your choices all lead you to the same place.

But here’s the thing. Dishonored was more fun and Virtue’s Last Reward was more compelling.

If Infinite came out even half a year sooner, it would have seemed more clever. But literally every part of this game was done better in another game.

But Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it a 10 out of 10.

For years, the only perfect score EGM ever gave out was to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

The Ocarina of Time featured one-touch targeting, a giant interconnected world, a system distinguishing between day and night, and a world that changes over the course of time – all revolutionary ideas that are still visible in games being made today. A perfect score should indicate nothing short of revolutionary.

I don’t see anything revolutionary in Infinite. If anything, Infinite is regressive. No quick-time events, no cover system – things that were all true in Bioshock. Color-coded magic powers like in Bioshock, vending machines in silly voices like Bioshock, flavor text littered about the ground like Bioshock.

I DO see the appeal in Infinite. Really pretty, lots of things to listen to and look at, interesting ideas that almost flourish.

But 10 of out 10?

Come on, now.

You know the best part of the game? It’s whenever Elizabeth flips a coin at you. The animation and the sound effect are just… awesome.

So I played Bayonetta again.

The role of an avatar – the protagonist as controlled by the player – is to complete two tasks.

1. Act as a distinct character who relates to other characters as the story dictates.

2. Act as a conduit for the player to affect change in the world.

Avatars might lean more heavily one way or the other. Cole Phelps is slightly more effective as character in a story than as a vehicle for the player because the player usually has no goddamn clue what’s going through his head (Thanks, McNamara). On the other end, we have someone like Doomguy, who is just supposed to be a digitized version of the player, with a gun.

The most effective and memorable protagonists tend to either blend these two tasks into one or veer suddenly from one end of the spectrum to the other at a pivotal point.

Raiden, in Metal Gear Solid 2, replaces the storied and liked Solid Snake as the protagonist. This position makes him an embodiment for the message of the game – the growing ease of information control and manipulation in the 21st century. And by suddenly and mysteriously replacing him, he also elevates Solid Snake to the status of a legend, something to struggle toward.

Raiden is also an interesting exercise in the development of an avatar. At the game’s start, he’s more like Doomguy than Snake. His personality is pretty vacuous. He has no backstory. According to Rose, even the walls of his bedroom are bare. His girlfriend frets about him, he doesn’t know how to act cool, his only experience with infiltration is in Virtual Reality simulations – video games, basically. If he’s like ANYONE, he’s like the player.

His standing changes toward the end of the game, once the shit hits the fan. Only after he’s discovered Snake’s identity, after he’s been tortured and interrogated as Snake has, and after Snake LITERALLY passes the sword onto him do we discover more about Raiden, his past, and his connection to the antagonist – a child soldier raised by the bad guy who repressed his violent memories, becoming the plain and hollow shell you meet at the start of the game. Only at this point is Raiden trusted to take part in the melodrama and carry the story through to the end. He transitions from empty vehicle to living legend.

Travis Touchdown, of No More Heroes, comes from a similar situation as Raiden’s, but to the nth degree. Whereas Raiden is modeled like a blank slate for the player to project onto, Travis is actually designed as a caricature of the game’s key demographic – a childish, stylized hipster with violent fantasies who likes Quentin Tarentino as much as he likes gay moe anime bullshit. (He also embodies creator Suda51’s own sensibilities as a Japanese developer marketing largely toward Western males – Suda NEEDS guys like Travis to exist.)

He considers himself worldly, but actually has a very narrow set of interests. Despite the size of his hometown of Santa Destroy, the player can only enter places Travis would ever deign to visit: a niche resale boutique, a video store that sells foreign bootlegs, the workshop of the hot doctor where he soups up his lightsaber, and the pro-wrestler’s office where Travis may or may not realize he is not being taught special techniques so much as being molested.

Outside of his fantasy career as an assassin, the rest of the game is framed by his mostly boring life. He makes walking-around money through terrible part-time jobs, eats pizza to heal, and takes a dump to save his data.

But, again, as with Raiden, things change toward the end of the game. Travis discovers that he has complicated, messy relationships with several of the people involved in his line of work, and he’s not very happy about it. Killing people is cool, but matters of family and intimacy is lame and frustrating. While Raiden is liberated by his connection to the story, Travis is trapped by his. His story suggests that, like the player, he wants the fun of the assassin’s lifestyle without any of the drawbacks.

Before I get to Bayonetta, let me talk about one more avatar. This time, from a movie. No, not Avatar!

Tony Jaa in Tom Yung Goong (aka The Protector).

Like all the greatest works of art, The Protector revels in the conventions of its medium while musing on their necessity. At least, I think so.

In the movie, Tony Jaa lives happily in a village outside of Chiang Mai with his elephants, having been descended from a long line of guys who take care of elephants in villages. During a festival, his two elephants – his BEST FRIENDS – are stolen. Apparently, the theft of the elephants are a demonstration of force by transgendered gangster Madame Rose, who is simultaneously picking off her competitors so she can run the gang. The elephant rustling is simply the smaller part of a larger plan.

Now, there are scenes of gangsters talking about gangster politics, there’s a detective trying to figure out what they’re up to, politicians who are trying to cover it up – all this PLOT stuff.

Half of these scenes end with Tony Jaa crashing through a window into some dude’s sternum and shouting, “Where are my elephants?!

Tony is in the same corner as the audience. They didn’t come here to watch convoluted and nonsensical political machinations play out. They came here to see Tony Jaa get really super mad at these guys about his elephants.

There’s an argument to the made for the amnesiac protagonist. From the get-go, it puts the character and the player on the same page.

Bayonetta is casually interested in finding out more about herself, but she lives mostly in the now. She knows she’s a witch with supernatural powers, so she’s contractually obligated by demons in Inferno to rebel against the equally monstrous angels of Paradiso.

This works out nicely for her, because she loves beating up angels. And as the star of the single deepest and responsive spectacle fighter of the decade, so does the player.

Boss characters are trotted out periodically who pontificate aloud about their purpose, their plans for the resurrection of their god, and how Bayonetta might be at least tangentially involved. But Bayonetta is too impatient. She routinely tells other characters to shut up unless they are 1) willing to fight, or 2) going to give her something with which to have a more exciting fight with something else.

Before I move on, I think it’s important to point out that Bayonetta’s distinctiveness is most apparent in the playing of the game. Both she and Kratos wreak terrible havoc upon their victims, but while Kratos’s gouging violence is accompanied by blaring horns and Ben Hurr-ish booming percussion, Bayonetta is usually supported by frolicking electro-bubblegum pop as she blows kisses at enemies to lock on to them. It’s like dancing at a club – the catharsis comes less in the violent pay-off and more in the doing, the improvising.

I find that both because of her programming and her attitude, Bayonetta is an effective conduit for the player – you always want what she wants.

That’s why I find it weird that we’re having these issues.

You’ll ‘want to protect’ the new, less curvy Lara Croft

This is an older one, but it was considered pretty problematic when it came to light. Basically, the executive producer of the new Tomb Raider believed that getting players to identify with a female protagonist was a lost cause, so he assumed that players would feel more comfortable considering themselves as Lara Croft’s “helper” or guardian.

I still haven’t played Tomb Raider, so this might just be an executive thinking the worst of his demographic and saying what he assumes they want to hear. But it’s strange in light of this more recent piece of news.

Publishers rejected Remember Me because of female lead

“We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.'” For Morris, that response is puzzling. “I’m like, ‘If you think like that, there’s no way the medium’s going to mature,'” he said. “There’s a level of immersion that you need to be at, but it’s not like your sexual orientation is being questioned by playing a game. I don’t know, that’s extremely weird to me.”

Part of me thought that maybe the story was a PR stunt, or maybe a bit of sour grapes from being rejected by other publishers. But I dunno. Do executives think that female protagonists aren’t worth backing, or is the common player REALLY that uncomfortable stepping into a lady’s shoes?

Only 18% of players were FemShep in Mass effect 3, so, I dunno, I guess so.

It seems like developers believe there are two courses when it comes to making a female protagonist for a video game.

1) Design a decent character, alienate your male audience, and lose money.

2) Design a sexualized character in order to appeal to males, limit publicity out of embarrassment, lose money.

What’s interesting about #2 is that it doesn’t seem to be an issue in the Japanese market. For various reasons.

That’s how we end up with characters like Bayonetta.

So I played Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Silent Hill: Downpour

EDIT 3/7/13: Check this out! http://operationrainfall.com/etsu-tamari-on-mgr-revengeance-story-changes/

I think the reason there are so many Metal Gear Solid games set in the past is because Kojima has a genuine interest in history.

Games like Snake Eater and Peace Walker are pieces of historical fiction. The Cold War makes for a good setting because of all of the opportunities for espionage.

But also because it was an era in human history when films started to reflect the fears of society instead of repressing them. From The Day the Earth Stood Still to Godzilla to On the Beach, people everywhere started to understand that the future was as terrifying as it was promising.

Kojima has demonstrated his love for film from the beginning of his career, with his Michael Biehn-ish Solid Snake and his Sean Connery-esque Big Boss. That love is made more obvious in Snake Eater and Peace Walker, where characters actually start bringing up specific movies. One character even mentions actually being inspired by moves like Dr. Stranglove and 2001.

Kojima is basically wearing his greatest desire on his sleeve. He wants all video games to start capturing the zeitgeist of the era, as movies did during the Cold War.

As the Metal Gear series has been doing all this time. From the Genome Project to the Patriot Act to the War on Terror, Metal Gear has been unique amongst most games for actually kind of wanting to say something about the world.

So it’s not surprising that Kojima wanted Revengeance to star, not Raiden, but the cybernetic ninja Gray Fox. Seeing as he doesn’t make it through Metal Gear Solid, a game starring Gray Fox would certainly have to be set earlier in his life – another prequel.

Considering this initial idea, and the presence of Kojima’s upcoming Ground Zeroes, I think he knows that the Cold War has the richest veins for him to tap into.

The only other option is to keep going into the future. And well, considering how Metal Gear Solid 4 ended, there are only so many ways to take the story without it becoming more crazy and less relatable to anything he’s interested in addressing.

Revengeance is definitely a Metal Gear game. But it’s not a Kojima game. It, too, addresses real world concerns, but it also removes what little subtlety remained in the series’ storytelling.

September 11, 2001 is mentioned. What’s “wrong with America” is specifically addressed. It’s pretty silly but, at the same time, at least it’s something.

Another weird thing about Revengeance is that it’s a little contradictory to the rest of the series. Metal Gear Solid on the whole is anti-war – there’s always a non-lethal solution to a problem in most of the games. That’s patently untrue in Revengeance, a game based on cutting people into multiple pieces. Raiden’s violent nature is addressed eventually, almost to a satisfactory degree, but most of the cast is still pretty gleeful about his killing prowess.

But, hey, it’s an action game!

The funny thing is, even though there’s a huge emphasis based on cutting things in half, the most fun parts of the game are the boss fights during which you use bullet-time Free Blade mode to find the enemy’s weakpoint and cut through their defense. Most of the boss fights are based on surviving while you figure out what the trick is. In that way, it’s a lot like a Metal Gear game.

The rest of the game is fun, to be sure, fast and frictive, but it’s a lot more mindless in comparison. In fighting regular enemies, I was rarely ever careful with my selection of attacks. I was never super concerned with juggling or crowd control. My whole thing was just, “I gotta hurt these guys enough until I can cut them in half.”

According to the game, all cyborgs have a glowing spine in them, and if you can cut it out of them and grab it before it hits the floor and goes splat, you can absorb its Glowing Spine Juice. It doesn’t make any sense, but it makes for a super interesting mechanic. Not only does absorbing these electrolytes give you sweet points, it also restores your health and Super Slow Down Energy completely.

It’s a super neat idea, linking your ability to heal to your killing prowess. But it’s basically undermined by the fact that, well, you can also heal by just picking up healing stuff that’s lying around. They work like Rations do in the other Metal Gear games – if you have at least one, you’ll be healed when your life is reduced to zero.

Of all the mechanics that made the transition to Revengeance, this didn’t need to be one of them. If my life depended on my accuracy, I would take super great care in killing my enemies with efficacy and seek to improve my skills. Instead, there was always a safety net there.

Consumable items on the whole are not necessary, but they’re present anyway. It seems silly to build a game on lightning-quick slice-and-dice action, and then have sub-weapons that you have to stand still and point to use. Exploding things just doesn’t feel as fun as cutting them. The only time they’re fun to use is in VR Training Missions, which makes you use them in a context that is never repeated in the main game.

The sub-weapons in Revengeance stand in great contrast to the arsenal at your disposal in Kojima’s other great action production, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. Honestly, ZoE’s combat on the whole is more thoughtful while being every bit as quick.

I was most thoughtful during some of the stealth sequences where some big bruisers were involved. Most of the time, though, being discovered is merely a nuisance – and in some cases, a blessing, because it means more butts to cut!!

I sound super down on it, but it’s definitely worth playing. Most of the set pieces are pretty engaging, some of the new characters are actually interesting, all the boss fights are great, and it’s super fast paced. My final time was about 5 hours, not counting deaths!

That said – though they’re KIIIINDA like apples are oranges – if you want to play an action game and don’t care one way or the other about Metal Gear, go for DmC. I find it more cohesive and, frankly, prettier.

For more Konami action goodness similar to Revengeance, consider: Zone of the Enders, Neo Contra.

SPEAKING OF TORCH-PASSING

I think Team Silent knew when it was time to stop making Silent Hill games and why.

Games in a series, by nature, have a lot of shared aspects. If you are able to expect what’s about to happen, because it happened before, and then it happens, it’s not scary or special.

Some of the shabbier Silent Hills have simply taken the same formula and slipped in a slightly different story. What I thought was brilliant about Shattered Memories is that it took a story that’s been told before and completely changed the formula, ultimately changing the nature of the story as well.

The important thing in the best Silent Hill games is a simple story [beneath all the dense symbolism]. Go to Silent Hill, find your daughter. Go to Silent Hill, find your wife. The scary thing is that you know you can’t leave until you’ve done what you came to do.

In Downpour, your presence in Silent Hill is basically an accident. Your goal is to get out. I mean… alright. The problem with that is you KNOW you’re not going to get out until the game wants you to, so there isn’t, like… an important thing to do. It’s basically like the Haunted Mansion.

It’s got a lousy aesthetic. The dumbass monsters, the Haunted Mansion menu designs (complete with woman screaming for no reason??), the not-that-shitty but super-repetitive soundtrack.

The stuff I liked best were the moments where the game’s environment would warp to deceive your understanding of its layout – a clever idea and an actually impressive technical trick.

I also like the few scares that manifest in places while you’re not looking, even if you JUST searched there. It’s a great way to prove that, even with full control of the camera, you’re not in control of your reality.

But most of those stop happening towards the end. In fact, the end is pretty predictable. Whereas every other Silent Hill kind of goes crazy at the climax, Downpour basically sticks with the Real World/Other World formula to the end.

I… yeah, I dunno. I fucking hate Silent Hill fans. They complained about a lack of combat in Shattered Memores, so, OH JOY!! They added it back in for Downpour!!!

BECAUSE FIGHTING IS MY FAVORITE PART OF SILENT HILL GAMES

I LOVE IT SO MUCH

Because, like, running from your fears and transgressions isn’t what Silent Hill is about at all.

It’s about shooting something six times with a handgun or twice with a shotgun.

THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT

REMEMBER??????

YOU DOPES

Hey, you know what should be in the next Silent Hill?

Nothing.

There should never be another Silent Hill.

You know why?

Because Silent Hill: Book of Memories exists.

You can tell Book of Memories is a Silent Hill game because there’s rusty metal and shambling monsters everywhere.

If it looks like a duck, amirite???

Whatever. If we couldn’t appreciate Shattered Memories, this is what we deserve.

So I played DmC

I’m pretty familiar with Devil May Cry.

I played the first right when it came out. From what I understand, it hasn’t aged so well.

When it came out, it was revolutionary. God of War and 2004’s Ninja Gaiden wouldn’t have been things without it.

It was kind of a big deal for three reasons.

1. Style Points

There are some games, like Kingdom Hearts or Street Fighter II on easy mode, where all you have to do is use one trick over and over to win, neglecting all other options.

Devil May Cry doesn’t work that way. If you use Stinger over and over, you won’t get many style points. If you don’t get enough style points by the end of a mission you won’t get a good ranking. If you don’t have a good ranking, you won’t get enough Red Orbs to buy upgrades and useful items.

What’s brilliant about this is that the player is forced to use all of Dante’s skills to dispatch enemies and gain points so that you can dispatch tougher enemies with an even greater variety of moves.

Not only does this system teach the player the utility of each move, the system of tracking the player’s methods is referred to as Style, which tells us so much about Dante and the world of Devil May Cry – a world where the quality of kills is more important than the quantity of kills.

Style Points are brilliant because its serves to strengthen both the game’s substance, and its… uh, style.

2. Dante Has Unlimited Ammo

This is especially interesting considering Devil May Cry was originally supposed to be an entry in the Resident Evil series, which emphasized conserving ammo.

In ditching a running counter of Dante’s ammunition, the game emphasizes that, at its core, it’s not about survival, but about fucking dominating.

But the underlying message is even more important. Devil May Cry shows that, even with graphics getting more realistic all the time (at least in 2001), gameplay mechanics shouldn’t be founded in realism if it doesn’t make them fun.

That philosophy still carries through even the most mature of Capcom games. Why else is everything in Resident Evil surrounded by a glowing pillar of light?

3. It’s dumb as hell

All sorts of people, casuals and journalists alike, consider gameplay and story to be like two different things. But they both make up the one thing, like a layer cake. They may have been mixed in separate separate bowls, but right now they’re both on the disc in my Playstation.

That may or may not have anything to do with Devil May Cry’s story. Most people understand it. Some people don’t. They call it stupid. As though the whole game isn’t stupid. As though they haven’t spent twelve hours suspending bodies in the air with speeding bullets.

Devil May Cry – the story of a guy descended from a demon and a human/angel who gets paid (maybe???) to hunt demons – is something of an anachronism. In 2001, there were games that were trying to reach the next step in storytelling. Final Fantasy X. Metal Gear Solid 2. Silent Hill 2.

Devil May Cry heads straight in the opposite direction. There’s no big twist. There’s no social commentary. Its demon-slaying story is so basic, reminiscent of a NES game. When anything involves emotion, they’re obvious and melodramatic. It’s all plain to see. Its style IS its substance.

What’s funny about the new DmC is that it gets to have its cake, and then have a whole other cake. It’s incredibly faithful to the series while feeling fresh in a couple of ways, too.

Dante still has fucking stupid one-liners and acts like a douche bag, like he always did, but in a way that a real person with demon powers would be a cocky douche bag. He also gets to talk about himself and, amazingly, empathize with Kat, another wayward misfit with an affinity for the occult. It also helps that the voice acting is excellent.

What DmC uses really effectively is the series’ setting – basically in that it has none. They always take place in some vaguely European city that seems to also have a castle or some shit.

Throw in Limbo – the alternate dimension that perverts reality and bends, explodes, and collapses around Dante – and you have a lot of really fucking neat visual ideas. Some games would be satisfied to make Limbo look like the real world, throw on a filter, and call it a day. Ninja Theory packs big ideas and a lot of detail into even the briefest sequences.

Having played a lot of Hideki Kamiya’s oeuvre – Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Bayonetta – if you pretended Kamiya directed DmC as well, it would make perfect sense. It feels like a logical progression of all the ideas that he’s interested in. It’s fast, it’s fluid, and it’s often QUITE beautiful.

And yet, it’s made in the UK, and it features songs by an Atlanta band called Combichrist. Faithful and fresh.

Dante can eat any kind of pizza, as long as it doesn’t have any olives on it.[10]

  • Dante can eat a large pizza in five minutes.[11]

So I DIDN’T play Far Cry 3…

It seems really fun, though. I don’t have any beef with Far Cry 3.

But I hate this guy.

Long story short, the head writer of Far Cry 3 says that Far Cry 3 seems like a gratuitously racist and violent video game power fantasy because it’s a satire of gratuitously racist and violent video game power fantasies.

Saying Far Cry 3 is a satire of violent video game power fantasies is like saying ketchup is a satire of the color red.

Putting a quote from Alice in Wonderland on the label of the bottle doesn’t stop the bottle from containing ketchup.

Let’s talk about Bayonetta.

Bayonetta is a game where you play as a tall, leggy witch who summons demons to defeat her foes by getting naked, routinely runs directly up the sides of buildings, shoots bullets out of her shoes as a regular thing she does, and rides a missile into a holy city to defeat the leader of the religious sect that resides there.

Did Hideki Kamiya make Bayonetta to comment on the sexualization of women in video games and the sinister policies of institutionalized religions?

Maybe.

Mostly, Kamiya thought Bayonneta was really sexy and cool, and Vatican-esque architecture and biblical imagery make for really cool environments. He likes those things.

Bayonetta is as ridiculous and over-the-top as action games with nonsensical stories come, because Kamiya likes ridiculous over-the-top action games.

I think I’m in a unique position, reading what this Yohalem guy has to say and how he talks about his own work, as I have listened to Uwe Boll talk about his work in exactly the same way.

“This was dumb.”
“Exactly! And how did that make you feeeeeeel?”

Far Cry 3 has the opposite problem of No More Heroes.

No More Heroes is not a very fun video game, but it is a broader and more successful commentary on video games, their industry, and the people who play them, because literally every single portion of the game – from aesthetics to writing to gameplay mechanics to the very final moments – is devoted to this commentary.

Far Cry 3 seems to have nothing to say, but it’s still really fun.

Why can’t this guy just be proud of his fun, stupid game?

So I played Virtue’s Last Reward

I dropped Persona 4: The Golden for a while because my brother told me I had to play this game to completion.

Here’s the thing. The visual novel genre has been going strong in Japan for a long while without making its way over here.

So the fact that the two games in the Zero Escape series have made their way over here means two things.

1) Visual novels on the whole have very little appeal, but

2) Zero Escape does something to separate itself from all the rest.

When you look at the roster of characters for Virtue’s Last Reward (designed by Capcom artist Kinu Nishimura) you might think, “Whoa, this is Japanese as fuck.”

But anyone who played played 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors will tell you that writer Kotaro Uchikoshi is a man with a wide range of interests, especially when compared to other Japanese video game scenario writers.

The idea of a group of people stuck someplace with no memory of how they got there and needing to adhere to a set of rules to escape is directly influenced by the Cube series of movies. Indeed, the second Zero Escape game expands on the possibilities of its predecessor much in the same way the second Cube movie does.

I learned in school that a good story should not only be gripping, but teach you something new as well. Like all good science fiction, the plot devices in these games are based on existing, actually fascinating scientific theories.

There are also some not so real, but very convincing ideas as well. Both games make direct and oblique references to the works of Kurt Vonnegut. It’s so fucking comforting to know these guys have read a book before setting out to write an interactive one themselves, and don’t just get all of their ideas from anime.

I won’t suggest these are as good as Vonnegut’s works, but like them, there are giant ideas being used to explain some very intimate things.

This is the best science fiction video game of the year. Maybe of the past few years.

And the characters of Zero Escape seem at first glance to be molded from all the old stereotypes. In many ways, they are. But they change. What’s nice about the format of the visual novel – they’re basically a choose-your-adventure book – is that you get to decide what happens. And because of the nature of the story, your decisions not only affect you, but the rest of the cast. Some of them become desperate. You get to see all the characters at their best and at their worst.

This is a game you play more than once. You have to. It’s kind of the point. To say more would be to say too much. Let’s just say that while it introduces you to the concept of the visual novel, it also deconstructs the genre as you play it. While so many AAA titles are trying to make games more like movies, Virtue’s Last Reward argues that there are as many or more similarities to the novel – the long-form narrative, the player’s control of the flow of time…

Virtue’s Last Reward is the Spec Ops: The Line of puzzle-based visual novels.