Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hive Mind

I'm not sure what will happen with this blog in the future. I hardly come close to posting enough to justify it's existence so in response to my own lazyness I've joined up with the blogging collective that is http://systemlinkblog.blogspot.com/

So go there and support that site. If you do I'll buy you a pony ride.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bionic Commando: Swinging Headfirst Into Loading Screens

A long running joke among my gaming friends is that a game’s quality can be measured by one simple fact. Can your character jump? If not, move along, nothing to see here. However, in the 80’s there was a game where you couldn’t jump despite being an elite commando but instead had an arm replaced by a robotic grappling hook of an arm. Its lack of jumping was more than made up for by the fact that in the end you killed Hitler. Sure they may have called him something else but we knew better and let’s be honest, any game where you kill Hitler is a fun game.

So here we are in 2009 and our green suit wearing mechano-arm friend is back. This time around he has one of the poorest character designs I’ve seen in recent times. As the player you really shouldn’t be rooting against your own character but his awkwardly flowing dreadlocks and cheesy one liners left me rooting for the bad guys who through a pretty thin plot are the bionic commando’s own bionic brethren. The game obviously centers around your bionic limb and using that to swing around in frantic motion blurred excitement in a world that resembled New York City in the movie I Am Legend. The arm works well with the targeting system but after a while gets a little repetitive. The random floating minefields in the sky that only serve the purpose to give you grappling points get old fast. Seeing a little diversity would have been nice. To dumb down anything that might have resembled a challenge they make your character invincible to any fall damage because he’s wearing steel boots. Yup… steel boots. That’s the only explanation offered up for why your character can survive a 40 story drop. Personally, I’d like to have seen a height cutoff point where a fall from anything over it would kill you. Up until the end of the game the swinging mechanic never really had that sense of urgency to it. Swinging is fun but when you fall just you just climb back up and start over, I felt the game could have benefited from a little more risk in falling. However, in an attempt to keep you on track and prevent you from doing anything resembling exploring there’s radiation hazards. Go too far into radioactive areas and you’re done for. Is there any way to differentiate these areas from safe ones? Nope, none at all. Radiation also apparently stops like an invisible wall in the future which never sat right with me. Swing onto the wrong rooftop or just simply, too high into the air and the radiation warning pops up. All in all, a very awkward and poorly designed way of keeping you on the right path.

One of the first things I liked though was the loading screen. Seems like an odd thing to praise but it was just a floating controller that showed you what the buttons did when you pressed each button. Thankfully I liked the loading screen because in this game you’re going to see it every 5 minutes whether you like it or not. Swing too far the wrong way and blamo! Loading screen. Loading screens are a part of gamer life now and I’ve grudgingly accepted that but they’re so frequent that I expected to see them get a cast of characters mention in the game’s closing credits.

**There’s probably going to be some spoilers for the rest of this review so heads up on that**

For a game that I did enjoy in an overall sense I found the ending to be one of its weakest points. While it is always fun to kill Hitler again even if they are calling him by some other name I just found everything to be very non-climatic. Why does it seem like every game that has a particular mechanic that they force on you throughout the game, in fact, they define the game itself with it, makes you abandon it in the end. Similar to how the last level of Assassin’s Creed had zero stealth involved, the last section of Bionic Commando just had you running through a small enclosed hallway gunning it out with troops to face the last boss. The boss’s reveal a little earlier in the game just left me unhappy. It seemed like an unnecessary ‘surprise twist’ that was only put in the game for the sake of having a twist of some sorts. So throughout the game you’re working towards obtaining this secret government item that they don’t really explain the purpose of, the bad guys get it, you smash into their lab in the end and its only purpose seems to power up a mech-suit of sorts. That’s it, just one little suit that’s not particularly special and gets beaten by something that was a little too close to a quicktime event for my tastes.

When it was all said and done, fun game for the most part but with a terrible script and pointless ending.

Monday, April 27, 2009

You Crazy Kids and Your Mods…

Back in the archaic days of floppy discs and turning to page 42 of the user’s manual to get the authenticity code to convince your PC game to let you past level 2 little fledgling modders crawled out of the primordial ooze to crack open our favorite games and scoop out the sweet juicy insides. Years later we’d enter the Bronze Age of modding and these evolved creatures would use their powers for the good of all gamers and circulate discs of versions of DOOM where all the demons where replaced by Simpsons characters at tradeshows and conventions and all was good in the world. Years later, let’s call it the Iron Age, we’d see games being played online and now people were starting to develop their own levels and maps and still, all was relatively good. You see, these mods didn’t take control of the games from players rather they served to entertain us and give us new ways in which to play the games. Now that we’ve entered the Space Age of gaming (that’s the last of those analogies I promise) mods have in a SkyNet fashion become self aware and now seek to challenge our position on the gaming ladder as the “player” of the game and are moving towards our extinction.

Ok, that may be a little extreme but still, I don’t care for the current state of modding and I’ll explain why as to how it pertains to games like World of Warcraft. I’ve been playing WoW since its launch and as soon as they started emerging something felt inherently wrong about this new breed of mods hitting the streets. I’ll admit I dabbled in a few at first, “gateway” mods if you will that were meant to get me hooked at a young age and usher me into the harder stuff but mod after mod I began to see a trend emerging that every mod in some way took some level of control of the game away from me, even the seemingly innocent ones where actually hidden culprits lurking in the shadows. Take for example a mod that calculates what gear works best and what pieces to pair up with each other. Sure it seems all fluffy and sweet but let’s face it, isn’t that your job as the player to know what works and what doesn’t? I believe so. Back in my younger days of WoW I rolled a tank (if you don’t play MMO’s and don’t know what that is I’m not taking the time to explain it, sorry) in a high end raid guild and did so rather successfully completely mod-free. After months of tanking and successfully downing bosses I pulled back the curtain and revealed to my crew that I didn’t use any mods to play the game to which a very angry guild leader felt the need to chastise me for not using tools that will help me play the game. I was quick to point out that the evidence was there given my track record that mods didn’t make the player, but rather their own skill and understanding of the game. The truth was I had to have a better idea of what was going on in front of me than my guild mates because I didn’t have any add-ons serving as training wheels.

Now years later I still play (although not as a tank) and am still proudly mod-free. In fact, I haven’t been involved in a raid in several months where I wasn’t one of the top three people on the damage charts.

**side note, I don’t have a damage meter installed because I consider that a mod **

A few nights ago we were getting ready for a raid and I was listening to some guild mates discussing their character class. One of them suggested to the other to go online and find the “correct” way to assign his character’s skill points and a particular mod that tells you what moves to use and when. At this point ol’ Uncle Fuzzy (fuzzy being the prefix of my character’s name) decided to step in and offer up my two cents. A mod that told you what to press when was something that frankly I found disgusting. Why would you want to willingly apply something that essentially prevents you from the playing the game yourself? Truth be told, you could train a monkey to respond to cues to press certain buttons at the correct times and that’s what these players are to me. Let’s not forget folks, it’s a video game. It’s something you play for fun and not something you should be looking for shortcuts on that will play the game for you. If you were playing an FPS would you use a mod that reloaded your gun for you? Or how about a Ryu fireball spammer mod so you don’t have to be bothered with that pesky issue of pressing buttons and holding onto a controller during Street Fighter sessions?

Essentially, real gamers play the games themselves.


Last night after posting this I healed my first raid (10 man) free of mods and while it certainly involved a lot of fast clicking on my part, mostly due to being new at healing, it was a success and there wasn't a single death. Further proof that mods are not necessary and in my opinion, make for lazy players.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Look Back at Super Punch Out

So in my boredom this past week I dusted off my Nintendo Wii and browsed through its downloadable titles with as much intent to purchase anything as someone wandering into the Mac Store on their lunch break and playing with IPhones. However my eyes lit up as I came across Super Punch Out and raced for my wallet to make my purchase. To say I have fond memories of this game is an understatement. I love this goddamned game on a level that I hoped and prayed would stand the tests of time. Now I know that I’ve badmouthed retro games as downloadable purchases in the past but hey, exceptions can be made.

Like most video games of my youth (and by “youth” in this instance I mean college) it’s shocking how much of the knowledge about this game I’ve been able to retain over the years. In fact I was able to cruise through the game without being knocked down until Super Macho Man, the tanned bastard. This game incorporates much of what I still look for in games: A rising difficulty level, memorization of sequences and patterns, fast reflexes to specific cues and misleading Asian men with large sticks.

Even by my ultra-picky 2009 standards I still have no real issues with this game apart from its length. Only having 16 other fighters to compete against was at the time, and still is, a let down and the difficulty level on the first two circuits is a joke. For me the real game was and still is trying to beat the last circuit with a 4-0 record. Something I could easily do years ago but now I have to retrain my thumb pugilists and get them back into fighting shape.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I promise I’m not lazy, I’m just stubborn

My postings here at Epic Fail Gaming have been pretty sparse lately and I just wanted to take a second and address that. One of my guidelines with this blog is to only post 100% original content. Not that there’s anything wrong with reposting video game news or other stories, I just feel that there are plenty of other, and better, sites to get that information. I’ve been pretty busy lately and pretty broke so my gaming has slowed down but I promise as soon as I have something to write about you’ll see it here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad (bloody) World

So similar to my reasoning for picking up Okami for the Nintendo Wii, I was very excited over the release of Madworld and ran to my local store excited like the bloodthirsty schoolgirl that I am to pick up my copy on its release. My approach to the Wii and its games is I’m really only interested in games that approach its hardware limitations from a different perspective. Rather than making games that simply fall short of their competitors but instead choose to use those limitations to produce a unique experience, which Madworld does as deftly as its use of the word “fuck.”

Madworld is a perfect example of a game that exists on one layer but does it very well. Don’t bother looking under the surface of Madworld for a deeper meaning because frankly it isn’t there. Not only does the game exist on one layer but it celebrates it in all of its blood stained glory. Never once in the course of this game will you enter a new level (and yes there are “levels” so if you’re a whiney open world fan boy keep on moving) do you wonder “well I wonder what I’ll have to do here?” Every level is the same, kill everything, earn points and then go kill a boss. Not to say that’s not an enjoyable time, but there’s not a lot of mystery involved either. However, in every level I found myself, dare I say, giddy over the mini-game which takes a classic element and adds a level of comedic violence to it that I’ll more than likely laugh at no matter how old I get. There’s just something genuinely pleasing on a primitive level about hitting people with a bat into a giant dart board. Unfortunately as the game progresses you repeat several of these games and it really hindered what would have otherwise been the best element of the game.

Combat however, is nothing special. Button mash and wiggle your Wiimote like you were a 14 year old home alone on a Saturday night and then you get to engage in a series of constantly repeating sequenced events where you mash buttons and wiggle your controller to perform “finishing” moves that are funny the first 2 dozen times but then seem to lose their flavor by the time you’ve broken the neck of the same looking steam punk hooligan 80 times in a row. The game does reward your imagination when it comes to slaughter by providing you with an abnormal assortment of items in which to dispatch your mute opponents. For the first few levels I indulged my inner pain artist side and tried to invent the most elaborate methods possible of destroying my enemies and eagerly looked forward to the new methods that the game would surely introduce as it progressed. I looked and looked and looked and eventually the credits started rolling. Basically, the tricks of the trade that you get in the first level are 90% of what you’ll get right up until the end. However, I don’t think any of us will ever look at dumpsters the same way again after playing this game.

Ok… I’ve stalled long enough, time to talk about the visuals. It’s a black and white comic book style of animation with an abundance of red mixed in. It’s very engaging at first and then you realize that the flat style of animation coupled with a lot of colors and shading makes it very hard to distinguish between objects. However like most things you get acclimated to it relatively quickly, or at least I did because I’m Captain Super-Gamer Awesome Man.

My favorite element was the commentators. Two foul mouthed broadcasters watch your every move and talk about you and your blood sport of choice using every possible conception of curse word pairings imaginable. Unfortunately for longer fights you end up hearing the same loop of lines over and over again to the point where you mute them until it’s finished.

All in all I enjoyed Madworld. I don’t really know what it has for replay value yet to be honest but I think it’s a great foot in the door for Nintendo to get into the more mature market.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ryan Plays With Himself

I made this as a test to learn how to do some fancy editing magic but it shows my undying love for Rock Band.  Enjoy...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Pointless Survey Of Sorts:

The decision for, people who aren't completionist nerds like myself and need to own every possible system, to buy a new console can be a pretty expensive and tough choice. But if you're reading this blog then you've probably bought one at some point. So my question is, what was the game that made you spend hundreds of dollars on a console. Chances are when you purchased your new console, if you're broke like me anyways, you could only get one game at that moment. So what was it?

For me they were:
Nintendo (original): Super Mario Brothers (it was included with the console but it was the only game we had for a while)
Sega Genesis: Sonic The Hedgehog (included) ToeJam and Early (purchaed)
Sega CD: Mad Dog McCree
Super Nintendo: Super Mario World (included) Street Fighter 2 (purchased)
Nintendo 64: Wrestlemania 2000
Playstation: (I bought a 2nd hand modded console and don't think I actually 'purchased' a game for months until I bought Tony Hawk Pro Skater)
Playstation 2: Onimusha
XBox: Halo
Nintendo Gamecube: Starfox Adventures
XBox 360: Call of Duty 2 and Dead or Alive 4
Nintendo Wii: Okami

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mirror’s Edge: What’s So Bad About Taking the Stairs?

In a bland wasteland of sequels and uninspired games I was actually very excited when I played the demo for Mirror’s Edge. While the concept of rooftop platforming certainly isn’t anything new it had the potential to offer a fresh and innovative look on the stagnant genre. I played through the demo on several occasions and honestly enjoyed it. Once I got the full version of the game the realization slowly sunk in that the full game is essentially built on taking the innovative platforming mechanics and control schemes and making you rehearse them for 6 hours. Granted, it’s a fun game, there’s just very little depth to it. Essentially level 1 is get to that roof, here’s some red pipes. Level 2 is get to that roof here’s some red plywood. Level 3, here’s a red pipe over some red plywood now go get on that other roof. I’d hope by now you can piece together what the other levels comprise of.

The first person perspective in a high speed platformer certainly takes some getting used to, not for me obviously because I’m awesome, and anyone prone to motion sickness should probably just avoid this game entirely. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the camera work it actually heightens the experience. In my opinion had this game gone the third person tomb raider route it would have vanished into the already staggeringly large pile of mediocre clones. The camera does force the player to leave a certain amount of the game up to a mixture of chance and the players understanding of how a platformer works. Unfortunately the latter part of that only works if the game is consistent and in that aspect Mirrors Edge misses its landing. I had more than one frustrating moment in this game where I’d wallrun, turn and jump into an object that seemingly appeared identical to every other object I’ve interacted with only to have my poor character fall down to their bustling urban death. One gameplay aspect that I found incredibly refreshing was the encouragement to avoid playing the game like any other first person endeavor. As gamers when we see that first person perspective we’re programmed to look for the nearest gun and shoot until our trigger finger is raw but Mirrors Edge included one of my favorite achievements to date which was to go the entire game without firing a gun but rather, use your somewhat out of character martial arts skills to disarm your police pursuers. I’m still not sure why when these highly trained and often heavily geared cops are chopped by a ninety pound girl do they decide to sit out the rest of the engagement but I’ll just cover my eyes and ears and pretend like I didn’t see that for the sake of moving this review along.

One area where Mirrors Edge leaps before it looks (see what I’m doing with these puns here, clever little writer aren’t I?) is the story. The story is as bland and cliché as they come and could have been cut completely from the game and I don’t think anyone would have minded. For as innovative as they approached their gameplay and esurance.com style cut scenes the developers apparently decided to rehash the same old ‘framed by the faceless corporation’ story that we’ve seen time and time again. Personally, I find a story based around the concept that mail couriers are the greatest threat to society pretty thin. Now bike messengers on the other hand…

The most frustrating aspect of this high speed game whose focus is on constant movement and seamless stunts is just how much of the game is spent inside. Not only spent inside but trapped within the narrow confines of an elevator traveling 40 stories in agonizing real time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody will ever want real time elevators ever in the history of gaming.

In the end though I did enjoy this game for its conciseness and simplicity and would recommend it for a purchase. But grab it used since it’s playtime is short.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Word on Okami

At 29 and a half hours with the last remaining bits of conscious thought that I could find I finally crossed the finish line on Okami and promptly collapsed and dragged my exhausted mind into bed to process this surprisingly layered and vast game.

Finally, I can start playing other games again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Favorite Games Ever

A common debate amongst me and my friends is what our favorite games of all time are. While I could go on for days about my favorite games in various genres I just hastily put together these six games. Write in and tell me what some of yours are. But give me a reason why, don’t just tell me your favorite game is Mutant League Hockey and not offer up any explanations.

Chrono Trigger: (Super NES) The amount of times I played through this game are staggering, a truly well written, well put together game. I will probably buy a Nintendo DS just for the rerelease of this game.

Legend of Zelda - A Link to the Past: (Super NES) In my opinion the greatest of the Zelda games. I played this game so much that I could beat it in one sitting without any deaths.

Soul Reaver: (Playstation 1) I don’t know why but I truly love this game and wait patiently for the day when the series comes back. Time travel storylines make me happy.

Bioshock: (XBox 360) A true masterpiece in storytelling with interesting combat mechanics. It would be perfect if not for the constant hacking mini game.

Rock Band: (XBox 360) I will never be tired of this game, the greatest party game of all time.

Tony Hawk 3: (Playstation 1) My favorite in the series before it turned to shit. I once won a bet that I could finish this game with 100% completion in under an hour.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cut Scenes: When Video Games Become Movies

Now some of you may or may not know that I enjoy movies. I’m willing to bet that I probably watch more than your average “movie fan” and have on occasion been known to talk in great, and generally angry, detail about various movies. Now with that in mind I’m going to complain about cut scenes. It’s not that I’m against cut scenes, if used correctly they can be a crucial and important part of any game but here’s my issue. At some point, whether it is length of an individual scene or frequency of cut scene occurrences they stop aiding the plot of the game and instead take over in a savage blood coup. Now I know that most of us fear change and at the slightest sight of it we run and hide under our covers and wait for mommy to come in and tell us everything is alright, but let’s face it at this point in video game history we’re at a place where we don’t honestly need cut scenes. Cut scenes apart from acting as a narrative device only have one other function and that is removing the player from the world that the game had more than likely spend a chunk of time trying to draw you into. It’s at the cut scene point where you’re no longer an active participant but rather a passive spectator.

Now, an opening cut scene is somewhat crucial, it helps ground the player on the world they’re entering into and helps establish a place and time. Games that instantly drop you into the action can be jarring, which itself can be an effective narrative tool, but are then usually followed by a cut scene that pulls you out of the game you just got your feet wet in. Sometimes developers try to sugarcoat it and add the word “interactive” to their cut scenes but usually this is only a gimmick packed with busy work to try and trick the player into believing that they’re still actually playing the game. Take for example Assassins Creed; cut scenes gave the players the chance to pay attention to binary code effects in the background rather than the actual dialogue being spoken so they could change get the chance to button mass their way to a different camera angle. Then you have my main problem with cut scenes, when they appear more frequently than the phrase “Hero your health is low” in Fable. We’ve all experienced this game, you’re running your little character around shooting and exploding creatures with glee and whoa, cut scene. Ok we sit through the cut scene and walk down the hallway and what’s that? It’s another cut scene. Ok, we sit through that one and walk up to the guy with the giant arrow on his head saying “COME TALK TO ME” and knock knock:

Who’s there?
Cut scene.
Cut scene who?
Fuck you you’re not playing anymore because it’s another cut scene.

The biggest offender in my opinion is Metal Gear Solid 4. Referring to this as a “game” only applies if you consider the “let’s see who can sit quietly the longest game” (commonly employed by my parents as a child) an actual game. It becomes very clear very early on with Metal Gear Solid 4 that you’re not playing a game, you purchased a movie that on occasion will allow you to control the main character, much like a choose your own adventure book.

In my fantasy utopia where every game is well thought out and beta tested by large chested women cut scenes will go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by more scripted events. Not to say that every game needs the endless dialogue tree where saying nothing or replying slowly are valid options (Mass Effect comes to mind) to give the player as much input into a scripted scene as possible are necessary but giving the player the feel that even though a scripted event is happening they’re still a part of this world. Bioshock does a fantastic job of storytelling and really only relies on two cut scenes. The first is a brief intro which does a good job of setting up the environment that you’re in, then as the game slowly weans the player into the simulated world you’re privy to witnessing certain scenes that help get across the opening narrative. Shortly thereafter you’re locked in a room as a scripted scene plays out that will never change by way of the player’s actions but because you can still move freely in the locked room it lends a sense of urgency and stress to the scene that is unfolding. The only scripted scene that takes control away from the player blends seamlessly into the game play experience by making it relevant that the player is no longer in control.

Basically, leave movies to Hollywood, let gamers play.