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Monday, November 21, 2011

Wow, It's Been A Long Time. And Oh...I Guess I Owe You Guys An Apology

Hey guys, it's been...what, almost three months, eh?  Yeah, I kind of got a job working for a computer company called Canada Computers.  I sold some stuff, helped customers through system builds, it was fun times.  Now it's over.  On the bright side, I have more time for Thrown Controllers again...so I guess I owe you all a review...I'll get around to Mass Effect, soon.  I promise.  I've already beaten it anyway.

So, that said, I guess it's time for an update.  As you all know, I'm a huge fan of Fallout: New Vegas.  So, I guess I should let you in on some opinions about the expansions.

Okay, so, the first one, Dead Money:  Dead Money pissed a lot of people off, I can see.  Probably because it was pretty GD hard.  I actually rather enjoyed it because it was the only challenge I was pretty much getting without playing with the difficulty settings.  The add-on was pretty good, but to be frank, the new waepons and whatnot were pretty mediocre.

Up next is Honest Hearts.  What can I say about HH?  Well, for starters, it's too short.  It's maybe about 2 hours long, and if you finish it, it pretty much dries up the sidequests right then and there.  Unlike DM, you can go back.  Also, the weapons and items you get from HH are very, very awesome.  A little too awesome, but great nonetheless.

Old World Blues is pretty much the best of the bunch.  Not only because it's not two hours long, but it has an interesting story and most of the goodies are VERY awesome.  HH awesome, but you'll actually need the firepower. 

And finally, Lonesome Road.  Lonesome Road is okay.  It falls somewhere between DM and HH...more towards HH.  There are some overly cheap encounters, and I really find that most of the equipment is inadequate for most of the later encounters.

Now, as an aside, I did also DL the Gunrunners' Arsenal Pack, and I have to say...It's an essential.  It really is.  Some of the stuff is just gear that Fallout players need to have, like the Bozar.  I'm not saying it's amazing, just, you know, for continuity's sake (Fallout 2 fans know what I'm talking about). 

The expansions themselves are also essential for people who care about loose ends; the expansions will do exactly that.  Not sayin' which loose ends, but unlike Fallout 3, NV has far more loose ends to tie.  If you have the game and the cash to burn, it can't do too much harm; it's another 20 or so hours of play.  On the other hand, if you  don't have the game, wait until the Game of the Year Ed. comes out; it's much better value.

So, what's new:  Well, I caved and bought a PS3.  I currently have Metal Gear Solid 4, Little Big Planet and the first two Resistance games. 

I like MGS4 quite a bit.  While still an inferior stealth title to Hitman: Blood Money and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, it is still an excellent game.  There are things about it that I don't like, though - namely stepping away from the item collecting to get around the environment.  I'm at Chapter 3, and I'm not seeing anything like this.  I really enjoyed this as it gave me a tangible sense of progress, and it really made you use your memory faculties.  I'm not saying it's immaculate (Metal Gear on the NES is proof of this - but it's also like 18 years before MGS), but it certainly increases the depth of the game and gives it an adventure feel.  This style of play is sadly lacking.  I also dislike the 20 minute+ cutscenes.  Kojima, you are a hack.  Period.  Luckily, the game doesn't suck.

Little Big Planet is very charming, and one thing I really like about it is there always seems to be something new about it.  It was designed this way, I realise that, but few games that are deliver so well.  And my girlfriend, K, absolutely loves being able to dress up Sack-Boy.

I've played the Resistance games for all of ten minutes each, so I can't really give them a thorough evaluation.  However, they don't immediately impress me.  They feel like something caught between Halo and Call of Duty, so I think a closer inspection is required.

Now, recently, I've been playing Skyrim, and anyone tracking me on Facebook or Raptr (Rabbi_Voody for those interested) will see this in spades.  My initial impressions are fairly negative as far as RPGs go.  Skyrim has done away with a lot of the stats that make TES a lot like DnD, which I know is a major piss-off to many fans.  Regardless, it's actually a very good game.  And that's all I'm going to say because I'm not going to spoil anything for you - which is why I'll be giving the Resistance games a fair go.

And yes, I did wait for it in line on the Midnight Release.  Won't be doing that ever again; November plus sickness (which turned out to be strepthroat) equals really damned bad.

I also got a taste of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, and I have to say...it's alright.  I can't figure out how to lean, though (only played it briefly), which is pretty major in tactical FPS's.  It's pace is insane.  I like that.  I was introduced to it by way of my friend Jason D, who's more into wargames and such.  And also competitive sports games.  I can definitely see him getting NHL 2K12.  Hopefully it's a lot better than 2K9, which has one hell of a learning curve (of course it is; the later ones always are, claimeth EA).

And finally, for all of the Halo fans, I have played Halo: Anniversary Edition.  Didn't finish it - actually only did the first chapter.  I'm saving that for a co-op playthrough with my friend Jason S; he bought it for me specifically for that purpose.  And possibly playing on Live, which I did to see if it was old Halo redone.  It's not.  It's just Halo Reach, which actually caused me serious disappointment, but at least Halo Reach plays closer to classic Halo insofar as multiplayer is concerned, what with the shields and health.  Halo CE with no shields is very, very, very, very fun to play.  It's almost as fast - if not exactly as fast - as classic Doom.

And that is my gaming life over the past couple months in a nutshell.  More like a busted nut.

Well, take care.  I hope to see you all again soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adventures In FanExpoLand


Adventures In FanExpoLand

Hey guys, on Aug. 27th, K. and I went to the Toronto FanExpo. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a huge cult convention that combines gaming, sci-fi, horror and anime. Celebrities come to give autographs, and there's an arseload of collectibles you can buy.

My initial reason for going was to get Lance Henrikson's signature on my copy of Red Faction 2 (ironic because I'm actually doing a review for Mass Effect, another game he provided voicework for)...but that didn't happen. The reason was because...well, I couldn't afford to blow $40 on an autograph. So...I'll wait until I can.

Anyway, being that I was there, I figured I could actually look at the gaming side of things. Ubisoft and Warner Interactive both had booths. Warner had posters up for The Lord of the Rings: War in the North and playable demos of Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 and Batman: Arkham City. Both looked fairly interesting, but I was honestly disappointed that there wasn't a demo of War in the North, too.

Ubisoft was showing off a playable demo of the new Assassin's Creed title, Just Dance 3 and a new game geared at what looks like training someone how to play a guitar. Pretty neat, actually. Unfortunately, I did not see a demo of the new Ghost Recon game, despite there being many posters littered about. However, I was really surprised that there wasn't demo material for Far Cry 3. Quite dismayed, actually. Especially considering that there was recently a new gameplay video on XBL. Hopefully it won't be a sleeper like Far Cry 2, which was an absolutely fantastic game.

There was also a Nintendo booth with 3DS's in full swing, although I wasn't able to actually see what was being played because it was basically the back of cube van, and of course, it was packed.

And finally, we come to the grand finale: The EB Games/Gamestop “booth”, which took up ¼ of the entire convention space. There were demos of Uncharted 3, the Halo CE remake and a new Disney game for the 360.

The whole event was sponsored by G4, Rogers (one of the three major media providers in Canada) and Gamestop, which is why an unnecessarily large portion of the floor was occupied by them. I hope that their presence is much more subdued next year. Gaming doesn't begin and end with those shills. It's not like they actually make the games they sell.

So, I thought the gaming section was pretty lacking. There were no local independent developers and neither EA Canada nor Bioware were present. And the only game-seller that could be considered “Canadian Content” was Zellers...oh wait, no, they're owned by Target.

I was also hoping to run into the guys from Reviews on the Run – they're one of the few pro reviewers I trust – but that didn't happen either. Oh well.

All and all, kinda neat – there were some pretty awesome costumes and the people were very nice. I'd like to thank John Waters on behalf of my girlfriend for being such a mensch and I'd like to thank the staff for being so helpful...even when they sent us in the wrong direction.

That said...gamers, unless the Reviews on the Run guys are there next year and/or you're a huge fan of everything else...you might want to avoid it until they get their priorities straight.

I'm still going to go next year. I didn't have enough time to play around with the gaming exhibits, so I'll definitely be doing that next time. I just hope that it's more than just Gamestop and their pets of the month because gaming is a lot more than Warner, Ubisoft, Disney and The Big Three (MS, Sony, Nintendo).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Get Your Art Out of My Hobby


Date: 08/26/2011
By: Nate

Gaming has been announced as an art, yadda yadda yadda – or “big friggin' deal”. I already said my piece about it. While it seems that gaming has magically gone from being hobby to an art form over night, , I need to ask, “At which point did it actually stop being a hobby?”

I mention this as sort of a counterpoint to Duke Nukem Forever, which I've recently just played and grudgingly had to put down because I'm working on not one, but two long games. Yes, it's crass. Yes, it is extremely offensive. However, it is not a one-string banjo like many of the games that are raised on a pedestal these days.

To be honest, I found it strange that Duke Nukem Forever's gameplay was considered archaic. Halo has relied on relatively similar gameplay since 2001, and Duke Nukem 3D is a throwback to that, perhaps. But it's also a hell of a leap. Can you name me five shooters that are as interactive as Duke Nukem Forever? I can, and most of them are Build games (13 – 15 years old), and the others are the Deus Ex titles. If interactivity and varied gameplay with tight controls are an issue, then I think there's a much greater problem with the review scene than reviewers' memories.

Sure, intense interactivity may be a throwback, but it's certainly not archaic. Why? Because it immerses you into the environment by making you part of it. Unfortunately, that big button on screen does kind of take away from it by taking you out of the experience, but at least that experience is there.

The point is, the magazines need to check something called integrity. Lambasting something for being archaic – when it's not – is a great example. As a matter of fact, I would say that most “modern” shooters are archaic simply because they're even simpler than their 2D and 2.5D (e.g. Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, respectively) counterparts because they reduce gameplay to two components – completing an objective on a rail and slaughtering the bad guys.

Obviously, few titles use irreverence as a selling point. The last Serious Sam came out around the same time as Doom 3 – although Sam is much more innocent than The Duke.

However, going after the sense of humour because you're stuck on your morals (or political correctness – even worse) is also a cop-out; this is an M-rated game that, so far, is making Super Troopers look like a mature romantic comedy.

That said, we come to the point of satire as a humour vehicle, because, let's face it...Duke Nukem is a satire of “all that is man” - or hypermasculinity. Much like a Heavy Metal concert, Duke Nukem 3D is a piss-up of the core patriarchal values – debauchery, misogyny, bigotry, decadence and substance abuse. And Duke Nukem, like Judas Priest (the guys who started the hypermasculinity trend when singer, Rob Halford, sang onstage in his cruising attire) is just a caricature. And yet the Filthy Fifteen list did indeed exist (which also included Twisted Sister and Madonna).

So why the ambivalence? It's satire. It's a grand joke at the expense of something else. Satire is sometimes considered an artistic expression, and even moreso when delivered by way of humour. Someone isn't trying to put together a blacklist to protect their precious army shooters, are they? Either way, “Thou dost protesteth too much.”

Regardless, this creates a problem. These attitudes set a precedence, and an alarming one. You see, way back in the day, games like this would have been well received because they don't follow the norm, and they actually offer the gamer an experience beyond finding a key, hitting a switch and killing a room full of bad guys. Or, in today's shooters...just hitting a switch and killing a room full of bad guys.

Unfortunately, this attitude also shows politics in action, this time an attack on something being ridiculously politically incorrect for the sake of being just that. An important component of art is the freedom of expression, and while we are free to be critical of that expression...a little honesty goes a long way. Honesty rarely has any truck with politics. Unfortunately, it's also vice-versa. Unfortunately, there's something else that's being omitted...it's a game. Fictional characters and all.

Hell, I've read things far more crass and potentially incendiary than this (Virtual Freedom and Chocolate Jesus come to mind), and neither of these were panned when political correctness was still valued.

At the end of the day, we don't want politics in our reviews. We never did. We just want a clean, honest opinion as to whether or not a game is fun to play or not and why. We do not want mewling about how a game's sense of humour is odious because it violates social mores when you're clearly looking to pan it when you have nothing else to go on. I've actually played the game and I can honestly dispute all the crap that the alleged pros have spewed about the gameplay, as can anyone else who has actually played it. So it really only comes down to one thing: Pretense.

I can't stress this enough: It's a hobby. More importantly, it's a hobby with a culture, and that culture has its own feelings and opinions. Gaming started off as a hobby, and regardless of the monikers added to it, it will always be a hobby. It's now a recognised art form, but it's still a hobby. I'm not trying to denigrate it, quite the contrary. To be honest, while many hobbyists have their own pretenses, they're not nearly as douchy as the critics who claim to be an authority are.

Readers who actually pay for the dreck you people spew do not deserve this attitude. It doesn't make better games, it doesn't make publishers more ethical. What it does do is it alienates the majority of us who game because we do it as a hobby. Even worse, it alienates people who make those games. Most gamers aren't prancing art critics hell-bent on making sure the world follows their opinion (that would fall to the fanboys, an inane minority), and most devs work damned hard to put a quality title out.

If you want to bring some class to reviewing, how about changing your attitude to something more down to earth? Then maybe the rest of us can take you seriously - instead perceiving you as a grand satire of our own culture. We already get enough of that from soccer-moms, ignorant politicians and media-crazy lawyers.

Just give us honesty and integrity. Like Duke Nukem, they're old concepts that work great and, more importantly, still stand and deliver. I can't say the same for politics.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Metal Gear Review Is Up

Hey Guys and Gals,

The Metal Gear (NES) review is up.  You can find it here.  Enjoy.  Bear in mind that I did play it on an FC Twin (an NES and SNES clone), but that does not cloud my review as I have played it on an original NES before.

So, what's next?  Well, I still have to co-ordinate with Russell from The Real Life Gamer for another podcast.  The goal will be to further expand on my AAA Games Length commentary (it's the post previous to this one, called "AAA Games Too Long My Ass"). 

Also, the Mass Effect (360) review is coming fairly soon.  It is due at the end of the month as I recall.

I'm currently playing Darkstar One by Kalypso games on my 360.  If you're yearning for something from the halcyon days of space sims, this one might be up your alley.  It's fairly uncommon, so far that I can tell, but it's definitely worth a rent.  I'll go deeper into it soon to see if it's worth the buy.  Although...I only paid $10 for it...so...yeah.

I also found a wicked bargoon:  Castlevania II: Simon's Quest for - I kid you not - $5.  Granted, it was loose, but it goes for $30 or $40 loose on EBay, so I think I got a good deal, what say you?

Oh, and I'm getting rid of some games.  Most are for the original XBox, but I'm also clearing out some of my SNES stuff that I no longer play.  If you're interested, let me know.

That's all the news that's fit to print.

So, take care, hope you enjoyed your weekend and don't do anything I would.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

AAA Games Too Long My Ass

 
Date: 08/10/2011
By: Nate

Recently, a panel of five discussed the length of AAA games, and these people felt that AAA games were generally too long – at least where social and casual gaming are concerned. There was no talk of “hardcore” gaming, and being that most of the developers on this panel were independent casual game developers, I can understand this. What I can't understand is, with one of the developers behind Broken Sword on the panel, how can the view be so narrow?

Casual and social gaming is big, but Fallout New Vegas made $300 million in revenue – which I'm assuming means somewhere around $200 million in profit.

The panel consisted of these individuals:

Charles Cecil – Broken Sword
Adrian Hon – CEO of story developer Six To Start
Alexis Kennedy – CEO of Fail Better Games
Patrick O'Luanaigh – CEO of nDreams
David Varela – Writer

There's a touch of irony here, of course; people who make casual games are criticising hardcore games and saying how that doesn't fit into casual gaming. Really? No. Way.

Now, this discussion spurred quite a conversation, and I don't think many people had read the article in its entirety – admittedly, I'm in that boat, but I did read it again. And again. And again. Just to make sure that I had a grasp on its entirety.

That said, the discussion brings up a bone of contention that I'm having with AAA titles being passed off as a “hardcore” gaming experience. They're not. To be honest, I think most of the AAA grade stuff we're being sold is only made from A grade product.

I'll explain why. Length, depth and possibly girth. That's what she said.

But it's true. As far as AAA gaming goes, there are issues all over the place, but it doesn't mean that hardcore gaming should be abandoned, especially since it's what the gaming industry built its profits on. And a gaming magazine that has built their own empire on gaming of all stripes, is completely out of line by implying that hardcore gaming might be on its way out.

But there is an issue with the length of AAA games; yes, some are indeed too long, but most are too short. Games that are too long usually suffer from gameplay issues that make the experience go stale because they're used to artificially lengthen the game.

A great example is experience grinding in RPGs, where you need to be a certain level before you can progress, and to do that, you have to fight and kill a lot of things. As a consequence of that, you're stuck in one area doing just that. Maybe for several minutes, but come the end of the game, it can be for several hours. An overly convoluted story, like what is mentioned in the article I referred to, can also make a game too long, because you may get to a point where you start wondering why it all matters, but usually, it's a gameplay thing such as flawed mechanics or copied levels.

Games being too short, that's a different story. And when I say too short, I don't mean that 10 hours doesn't feel like enough. I'm talking about games that can be completed in an afternoon, which many blockbusters are. Sometimes, a game's shortness can actually breed replay. It was fun, it's over, I want some more. 007 Bloodstone was like that. But then you have the disappointments of Halo 2 and 3 and all of the Call of Duty games since Call of Duty 4, where the developers will promise longer campaigns when in fact, they're still 5 hours long, that's something else. Something shady.

AAA Games being too short is a combination of several design choices. One of them is a complete lack of exploration, and that's a given. Another is pressure from the publishers. Not so much to just get the game out of the gate as soon as possible, but to chop it up into sequels so that more can be sold. Or worse, chop it up so that DLC can be sold, so you're essentially buying back pieces of your game that the publisher didn't want you to initially have, like with what appeared to be the case with Dragon Age 2.

The problem is, this is the rule, not the exception, so gamers wind up getting shortchanged while EA, Activision and 2K wind up getting fat, lazy and greedy.

It's a pretty murky situation, and clearly some independent developers want to use a their own smear campaign to hammer the lid shut when this business wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the hardcore gamers. Unacceptable. Utterly, absolutely unacceptable.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Nate's Top Ten Games In Need of a Reboot

 
Nate's Top Ten List of Franchises Needing a Reboot

I was challenged (well, it was more a suggestion than a challenge) by a certain rabbit to produce a list of ten games that I feel need a reboot. To be fair, I slagged his list pretty hardcore, so I think he deserves the opportunity to return the favour, eh? What do you guys think? I think he does.

So, here's the list:

10: Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy got it's debut on the NES 1989 and is basically tanking on modern consoles today. Of course, how can you compete with The Elders Scrolls, Mass Effect and the Fallout franchise reboot? Especially when you're an old dog that's trying to do old tricks, and all you seem to be able to do is take a dump on the lawn. That isn't to say that FF XIII was a bad game. While I haven't played it, I have heard that, unanimously, it's pretty good – but most people wouldn't play it again if they didn't have to. Ouch. This is because the series is clearly steering away from its best elements, and for no good reason.

And what's Square doing? Rereleasing an MMORPG (FFXI) to the PSP and Final Fantasy III (SNES) to the Virtual Console. Bravo. I solute you with fully-rolled eyes. Not that either of these games suck; I refuse to play a game which I have to pay to play after I've purchased it, and Final Fantasy III SNES is better than the most of the dreck that Square has ever released after the SNES. But it's also been rereleased twice already; once for the PSX and again for the Gameboy Advance (Final Fantasy VI Advance). Talk about beating a dead horse. But you know, if any of the newer FF games had the balls that 6 had in 1993 with its storytelling (you'll have to play it), that would be a start.

And the ability to equip characters with whatever you want, that would be great, too. Any character can learn any spell? Count me in. No rediculous minigames that don't actually advance the story? Awesome. No rediculous minigames that do advance the story? Even better. No J-Pop in the soundtrack? Rockin'. No J-Pop in the story? I'm drooling.

Actually, the only thing Square still seems to do right is boss battles that require some strategy. But that's. About. It.

So, what to do? Simple: Look at your best elements, and find a way to put them into a game, and keep working on these. And omit your worst elements.

And for christ's sake, stop changing the development studios every single sequel. Stick with the one that produces the best title, because those guys clearly have an idea as to how an RPG works. The rest seem to care more about Final Fantasy movies.

Mmmkay?

Oh, and no more goddamned J-Pop.

9: CyberMage: Darklight Awakening

CyberMage is a game that a lot of people missed during the mid-90's because, frankly, it's requirements were too high for most people to play. However, anyone who had would remember how amazing the game is.

The story was conceived by D.W. Bradley, the same gentleman behind a little series called Wizardry. Never heard of it? Heathens.

Anyway, CyberMage could perhaps be seen as a precursor to games like Jedi Knight, which incorporate melee combat and special abilities as viable means of attack, and not just as a combat supplement.

CyberMage was more than that, too. It alluded to open-world first person shooting with an economy. You could use vehicles, too. The story was told in comic book cells with digitised (albeit mediocre) voice acting, and it didn't suck.

Unfortunately, the game did have clunky controls, but considering all that it offered, it could have been much worse. Not sure if it could have been better, though. The game was notoriously buggy, and yet it still came out as good as it did.

Its demo sucked (but only in comparison to the actual game; consider that), though, and it wasn't even part of the actual game, but it did come bundled with the game nonetheless.

8: System Shock

System Shock has already been rebooted, at least theoretically. That reboot is Bioshock. Unfortunately, Bioshock lacks the level of intelligence and interactivity that went into System Shock, so anyone who never played the game that “started it all” didn't really know what was missing, and just read what the reviews fed them. And besides, as scary as Ayn Rand was (or “Andrew Ryan”), her philosophy has nothing on SHODAN.

System Shock was one of Warren Specter's little projects (he was also involved with CyberMage, if I remember right) released by EA Origin studios in 1994, around the same time as Doom 2 and I believe the first Marathon game. However, it was far more innovative than either. System Shock was more or less a first-person action adventure game that featured a malicious AI with a god complex, and you had to figure out how to stop it. You did this using both brains and brute force. Not only did you have to fight your way through the space station that you were stuck on, but you had to fix a good deal of it along the way. Plus you had to enter cyberspace to hack your way through some of the defences that SHODAN set up.

Furthermore, the game's story was told in e-mails and voice-logs. Depending on the release version you had (floppy or enhanced CD-ROM) would depend on whether you were reading the e-mails or listening to them. Aside from digitised voice, the enhanced CD-ROM version also supported 640 x 480 resolution.

If you can find it, System Shock is an absolute treat. While it may be 17 years old, it has aged very well. Its sequel, System Shock 2 (which was developed by the same guys who made Bioshock), while also an excellent game, is actually quite inferior in comparison.

7: Rygar

Rygar has also been rebooted, but frankly, I find the reboot has little in common with the original game other than the yo-yo weapon. Not saying that it might as well be a current-gen Yo-Noid!, but I am saying that what I have played seems to have very little to do with the original NES game. Of course, other than a few backgrounds and creatures, the NES game had little to do with its mediocre arcade parent, too.

But really, the creatures are barely recognisable (actually, I think I've only fought the giant crustacean worms), the story really isn't in-line with the NES game and it just feels...lacking. Mind you, I did also only play the Wii version, but I honestly doubt the PS2 version was much better as the Wii version is a port of that.  Luckily, it's available on teh Wii virtual console, so at least you can get "the real thing".

I'm just horribly unimpressed that such an amazing game wrought from a crappy arcade title could be turned into a mediocre current-gen remake by the same publisher that released Ninja Gaiden 2. Actually, come to think of it...I'm not surprised.




6: Jedi Knight

Jedi Knight was a rare gem. It brought together a lot of elements from other shooters (a few obscure) to create a truly awesome Star Wars gaming package,and it's sequel, was pretty damned good, too. Unfortunately, I have yet to play Jedi Academy, and it's pretty rare finding it for the old XBox.

In Jedi Knight, you play the role of Kyle Katarn (Jedi Knight is a sequel/spinoff from Dark Forces), the alleged mercenary who uncovered the Death Star plans.

In the first game, Kyle becomes a Jedi (obviously), so aside from all the neat whiz-bang Star Wars guns, you get to use a lightsaber and force powers. The powers available to you include healing, jumping, speed and, of course, choking. Oh, lightning, too.

At any rate, while the acting usually sucked, the stories of both games were quite good and the gameplay was fantastic. What really stood out, though, was the level design. Jedi Knight had some pretty massive levels that were rare to find after games went 3D. Jedi Knight also has an expansion called Mysteries of the Sith in which you play as another Jedi, Mara Jade. It includes some new weapons and force powers such as the ability to throw your lightsaber.

Jedi Knight 2 was released to the PC and Xbox, and was developed by Raven Software (Soldier of Fortune) using the Quake 3 engine and, if I remember right, it incorporated some of their internal middleware, Ghoul 2. Lightsaber combat was much improved, and use of Force Powers was less clunky, but some of the puzzle elements from the first game were more or less gone.
 









The final game in the series is called Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, and unfortunately, I never got a chance to play it. My computer's too slow (actually, I just need a soundcard with audio acceleration)

5: The Terminator: 2029

The Terminator: 2029 is one of the best Terminator games ever made. Screw Future Shock and Skynet (the former an excellent game, the latter a good attempt), this game was completely different.

The game was presented in a first person perspective, but you could only make single moves through the mazes that would make up each mission, However, combat was in real time. Objectives ranged from defending something, destroying something, assist a retreat...and I think that's about it The game featured all of the Terminators from the films, and some new ones, too. The tanks were especially daunting, but not unkillable. Furthermore, the game follows the story of the first Terminator movie from the future. It doesn't follow Terminator 2, though, at least not so far as I remember. I don't recall John Connor having a CSM101 T-800 reprogrammed and sent back in time during the game's story. Nope.

The truth of it is, I'm rooting for Bethesda to get this license back. All of their Terminator games rule in comparison to the Hollywood-related dreck. Even if it was the farthest thing from innovation like Rampage (an actual Wolfenstein 3D clone) or Skynet, it was still a lot better than what we're getting. And it would kick some serious ass with co-operative online play.



4: Shadow Warrior

Released in 1997, Shadow Warrior is probably one of the most offensive shooters ever made. It takes the piss out of...well, everything, and it's actually self-deprecating, too. It's also the last game that 3D Realms would make using the Build engine.

You play Lo Wang, a ninja assassin who gets screwed over by his employer, Zilla. As a result of this, he goes on a revenge spree. A somewhat short revenge spree, but a pretty wild one. The game featured weapons with multiple fire modes, turrets and vehicles. However, it's also one of the few shooters that put huge focus on melee combat (I think the only other in the 1997/1998 release period was Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight). Because of all of the wacky stuff this game has, it deserves a sequel. And because it ended on a cliffhanger, it kinda needs one.  C'Mon, admit it, you want some Wang.
 








3: Blood

Blood is the last great Build Engine game, developed by Monolith (the guys behind Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, Aliens Vs. Predator 2 and FEAR). Like Shadow Warrior, it featured a morally flexible main character. However, instead of a misogynistic ninja who cares more about his “sword” than decorum, you get an undead psychopath who is turning on the very deity that he worshipped. 
Aside from Blood's extremely twisted sense of humour, the game ramped the action and gore up to 11 with akimbo weapons and a high level of difficulty. The game took place in the late 1920's, and the environments supported that time period, and despite the game using the Build Engine, it looked pretty good. While many of the creatures were facsimiles of something else you might have encountered in many other shooters, many of the weapons were quite ingenuitive, such as the spray-can flamethrower which also doubled as a firebomb.

Its sequel, Blood 2, used the same engine (LithTech) as Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (although much enhanced), but it was significantly shorter. While the violence wasn't quite as intense, it had a pretty interesting multiplayer setup that was kind of like a Team Fortress knockoff. Unlike Blood, Blood 2 took place in the future, and featured modern weapons. Much to its chagrin, the game was released after Half-Life and got the same ritual rim-jobbing that almost every other shooter released between Half-Life and Halo received.

2: Dynasty Warriors

Dynasty Warriors (well, Dynasty Warriors 2) revitalised the brawler genre by making each level a 3D open plain on which to wreak havoc with one of many characters based on real (or assumed) generals, strategists and nobles from the era of Three Kingdoms China (late 2nd to late 3rd century). Pretty neat.

There are a lot of games in this series – seven core games and multiple spin-offs, which has essentially killed the series. Gamespot clearly won't even review the 7th game because of the bias the series has generated.

This has a lot to do with the fact that the combat system is viewed as tired, although Dynasty Warriors 7 has provided an answer to this. Unfortunately, it's a mediocre one.

Dynasty Warriors needs to be shut down for a few years, analysed and then rebooted in a definitive form – something that's a cross between the core game and its spin-offs, and the combat system can't have any corners cut (like how ¼ of the officers are sword users and almost everyone else has their own weapon).



1: Syndicate

Syndicate is an action-strategy series developed by Bullfrog (Peter Molyneux's former EA studio) and released by EA Origin. The premise is that you are an executive working your way up the corporate ladder by means of world domination. From a dirigible, you control a squad of heavily armed and upgradeable cyborgs that you will use to accomplish this goal by fulfilling objectives such as assassination, abduction and annihilation of other corporations.


There are many weapons to use, but few are actually available; you'll have to research the rest. And research costs money, so it's imperative that you ensure that your tax revenues will cover the costs. If not, well, there's no harm in raising them.

For its time, Syndicate was revolutionary. Not only for its blood-soaked concept, but because of the amount of carnage that you could cause in real time. Unlike Bullfrog's god simulators, Syndicate doesn't have a moral compass of any sort, only discretion or lack thereof. Aside from walking around, you could also steal cars and every vehicle and decal was destructible. In the sequel, Syndicate Wars, you could destroy buildings, as well. Syndicate also has an expansion titled American Revolt, in which you have to restabilise the Americas.

Syndicate is one of the best games that I have ever played. It seamlessly draws together strategy, roleplaying, action and even economic simulation, and until Dungeon Keeper, being bad had never
been so good.

Syndicate was originally made for the Commodore Amiga, but was later ported to DOS PC. However, it didn't stop there. It was also ported to the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, Super Nintendo, Atari Jaguar and Panasonic 3DO. Syndicate Wars was originally made for DOS PC and interestingly enough was also ported to the Sony Playstation.

There is a rumour that the long-worked-on EA project called Redlime that is being undertaken by Starbreeze Studios (The Darkness, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay) might in fact be a remake of this, but so far, only rumours have circulated.

Here's hoping.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Big Update - Aug. 5th, 2011

Hey everyone, as the title suggest, this update is frickin' huge.

First things first:  the Beyond Good & Evil review is finally up.  It has been finished since the beginning of the month, but because of a major glitch that erased most of the reviews, I had to painstakingly restore the page review by review.  Now I really wish I had a newer computer.

Anyway, as the sign of the incompetent man-whore, Baldrick, says, GET IT HERE

Also, I didn't have time to brag about this, but I met Carrie Fisher (aka Princess frickin' Leia for the people who know Star Wars but not the real people that play the fictional characters) when I went to see her show "Wishful Drinking".  If you haven't seen it on HBO, TMN, whatever, you have to.  It's very, very funny.  Better yet, see it live and get front-row seating; she interacts with the audience, it's very cool and much better than the HBO representation.

There's a book, too.  To be honest, I haven't read any of Ms. Fisher's books, but at least one - Postcards From The Edge - has been made into a movie. 

So, what does this have to do with gaming?  Well...it's autograph #2.  And not on Lego Star Wars, but one of my favourite Star Wars games - and games in general - on the XBox, Star Wars: Battlefront II.  And she personalised it :D  I was also hoping to get my Star Wars Trilogy and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back autographed, but to no avail.  Meh.  Well...not really "meh", it would have been cool, but she has better things to do than sign a million and a half things that everyone hands her.

So, here's the personalised autograph:

It's a crappy pic I know, so I'll tell ya what it says:  "For Nate.  Carrie Fisher". 

Next up, new review poll.  The title has changed, it's going to be based on the voting and writing time periods.  But the product is still the same, so there.

So, the List is almost done, then after that, a new editorial about game length and then if nothing else, the Metal Gear NES review.

So, until the next posting, take care, play some games and don't play in the street.  Unless you're playing street hockey.  If so, watch our for the braindead ex; the last thing the world needs is another dented up classic car.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review Poll Results for August

Hey everyone!

While the reviews page is being revamped, it's almost done!  In more positive news, we actually have a clear lead for the review pool for August's review.  This month, it will be Mass Effect for the XBox 360!

That said, after the reviews page is fixed, there will be a few articles.  And the Beyond Good & Evil review will be with them, that's a promise!

First up is my long awaited list of ten games that need a reboot, followed by another article about a game being signed.  After that, will be the posting of my Metal Gear (NES) review followed by an editorial about the length of AAA games.

Hope to see you back soon!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Update 08/02/2011

Hi, everyone!

To my fellow Canucks, I hope you're enjoying the long weekend!  So, I realise I'm supposed to have a review up.  Unfortunately, I actually have to fix my entire review page as two thirds of it has disappeared.  No worries, I have the screens and text backed up to my hard drive.

That said, the review is done, it just needs to be posted.  As you can imagine, I'm severel annoyed by this.

So, what's coming up?

Well, after the review, I'll be posting a list (*shudders*) of the ten games that I would most like to see either a modern sequel or a reboot, then an article about another game Igot signed by Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia to the uninformed) and then a review of Metal Gear for the NES.  Oh, and I'll need to determine what the monthly review title will be and post a new poll. 

After that, who knows?

Take it easy guys, enjoy the rest of the weekend (if you've got it off).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Update

Hey guys,

I've been pretty silent as of late, so I figured I'd give you all an update of what's going on.  First off, I actually have three articles on the go, and one of them is a freebie for a local newspaper to incentivise them into considering the creation of a gaming column (with my advice, of course).  This one will be kept under wraps until they've actually read the article and gotten back to me. 

The other two articles are a review for Metal Gear NES and a top ten list (I hate lists, but this was a challenge from a guy who's list I slagged, and I owe him the courtesy to return the favour) of games that I feel deserve a(n actual) reboot.

I will try to hammer out the Beyond Good and Evil review in the next couple of days.  I've beaten it before, so playing it again is more of a memory refresher.  Plus I still have the save file from when I beat it, so I could always go back to that if I so desired.

So, to the gentleman who I slagged (or at least his list), sorry it's taking a lot longer than anticipated.  Digging in the old memory sometimes requires breaking through rock with a shovel as it were.  But the articles are in the works.  The Metal Gear NES review is bottom priority, so expect it last.

That said, sally forth with "paddles" in hand and kick some ass.  When you're done, all should be right as Heavy Rain (hur hur hur).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Editorial: A Criticism on The Video Game Industry Ad War

Date: 07/12/2011
By: Nate

Ever since the dawn of gaming, there have been ad campaigns geared to sell games and systems; it's a necessary part of the sales process; whoever can create knowledge and exposure about a product will generate sales first.

In the North American games industry, these ad campaigns have seemingly turned into an ad war, selling the gamer things they “must” have instead of the games they really might actually want. This war is waged in many ways. Ads come in all shapes and sizes, including game previews and, possibly, reviews.

Why not? A review is a brilliant selling point. It's also a legitimate way to have your competition unfairly criticised. It doesn't mean that reviewers are bought – and in fact, it's more likely that they're coerced over all sorts of opinions; Kotaku, for example, has been blackballed by Sony, and one of the 2K Games' marketing tools recently blackballed the entire reviewing industry on Twitter.

This ad war, however, is so pervasive that we're starting to lose big titles from Japan again like we were between 1985 and 2001. It's a hell of a gulf, but the market also didn't exist back then. It does now. Unfortunately, the big North American players don't care. They want it all to themselves, so they are using all of their buying power to acquire as much adspace as they can to attempt to sell their product. A consequence of this is that their opponents can't sell theirs.

And they're really only selling a handful of ideas – namely first-person shooters and rehashed sports titles, although anything Microsoft, Sony, and Hollywood want sold will always find adspace.

First person shooting and sports games have always been a constant. I think part of it is because sports games are actually pretty dynamic, and there will always be fans. Especially of hockey, American football and baseball. FPS's, on the other hand, are a different kind of animal.

The reason for this is pretty simple: It's the easiest genre to get immersed in because you see it from the perspective of the character that you're playing.

Many of the best selling games are played in the first person; Call of Duty, Halo, Borderlands, The Elder Scrolls and even the rebooted Fallout franchise. Luckily, three of these five titles actually have very different things to offer, but the Halo and Call of Duty franchises are both tactical shooters. And they sell far more.

If it weren't for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo peddling their own wares as it were, I don't think we would have as much diversity as we do. However, Sony seems to have the only legitimate ideas at the moment as Microsoft is keen on selling mediocre games for its broken Kinect, and Nintendo would rather sell you garbage games from an external developer for your Wii than make a good title based off an existing intelletual property, or make a new one.

And Hollywood is all too happy to get Activision, Sega and EA to make rushed titles based off of half-baked super-hero movies.

Sports games, like the biggest sellers, don't evolve much either. And one franchise in particular, NFL, doesn't have to. Why? Because EA somehow got the right to run an oligopoly (which is illegal, in theory) on NFL games, thus almost completely shutting out their competition, 2K Sports. While 2K has other (and arguably more brilliant) avenues of earning income, to essentially lose professional licensing to exclusive contracts is shameful.

Even when the oligopoly didn't exist, the professional sports titles from these developers obscured more interesting alternative sports games like the overlooked Deathrow for the XBox. At least sports games are more dynamic, but you're essentially paying for little more than a new roster every year.

Roleplaying games are no different; as much as I may praise the Elder Scrolls, Borderlands and Fallout, there is little room for much else when one of these monsters gets released. That said, Final Fantasy 13's ad campaign was not nearly as extensive as either of these. In any case, because these blockbuster titles took up all the adspace, other games slipped through the cracks. A perfect example was the brilliant Sacred 2, which turns Diablo on its ear.

So why the ad war?

Reason one: Cut off the competition's ability to expose potential buyers to their product. If no one knows about it, no one cares. Reason 2: Create a virtual embargo on the competition. If you make it hard for them to sell their product, they'll take it to another market – usually one that is much leaner.

Realistically, it's most likely a case of “how gullible are you?” If you, the gamer, is willing to purchase incomplete games – and you know they are when the publishers are releasing day-one downloadable content, or DLC, or worse, putting it right on the disc making you pay for it if the game is used – and keep buying new iterations of these games, why should publishers stop foisting this crap on us? Ethics has nothing to do with it. It's all about money.

And there are two reasons for this: Budgets are skyrocketing (and they really are) and anything that sells well is a safe bet. Additionally, it paves the way for simple DLC at rediculous costs to bolster profits. Even if a few people download a map pack with 3 or so maps, it doesn't take very long to make those maps unless brand new game modes, weapons and gameplay options are added – which is rare.

At the same time, how much of the cost of the game is factored into marketing? Ten percent? Twenty? Fifty? I think this is equally important if publishers are going to piss and moan about astronomical budgets, because they could take another two or three million out of the marketing budget to make a better game, why won't they?

But FPS's aren't the only games that sell well. There are still platformers that do well – Mario is proof of this – and many first person action games do fairly well, especially open-world – aka “sandbox” - games.

So how come companies aren't making more clones of Super Mario Bros. or Grand Theft Auto? Because Super Mario Bros. isn't flashy enough and open world games require large virtual worlds to play in. In case you didn't notice, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Halo don't have the square mileage anywhere near the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, Mercenaries 2 or Red Faction Guerilla. It takes a lot of time and bug testing to build worlds of that size and depth.

FPS's have the highest technical standards of any genre. They also tend to be among the most expensive to make, which is why few even try to develop anything like Far Cry 2 or Boiling Point. And a lot of people seem to think that the pizzazz that these games offer must translate to another genre entirely for the game to even be “good”. If companies are so concerned about the bottom line, why do so many push to make this kind of game when the risk is so high? Well, because Call of Duty: Black Ops has made over one billion dollars.

The thing is, the guys that have the best profit margins are the independent developers. And they make all sorts of games. While making money is still not guaranteed, development costs are significantly lower. Mind you, the end product isn't as flashy, but you don't need flash to make a great game. Rygar and Double Dragon III on the Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom were proof of that. In fact, both of them, while being uglier than their arcade versions, are both far superior games because of their deeper gameplay and improved story elements.

There are far more games available that have both deeper gameplay and storylines than many of the blockbuster titles. These are overlooked for various reasons, although marketing and availability both play a huge role in their success or lack thereof.

And you'll learn about what studios not owned by Activision, Electronic Arts, Disney, Warner Bros., Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are doing.

If there's a shining ray of light, it's the independent developers.

Their games aren't like everything else, so these guys have something different to offer. While I have not played Angry Birds, a lot of people have. And they love it. A lot of people have played Call of Duty: Black Ops, too, but I highly doubt that Activision's profit margins are as good on most of their other games.

But they – along with Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Electronic Arts and Hollywood – have won the North American ad war; they seem to dominate whose ads run when and where. And they all release a lot of first-person, tv, movie and licensed sports games

The problem is, with so few genres dominating the industry – or at least the Western side of it – there seems to be less room for anything else.

I'm not going to suggest that this will lead to anything quite as radical as games being buried in the desert and an industry going into a coma for a year or so, but the fact that the biggest companies on this side of the ocean are taking the fewest risks – with every genre, not just shooters – is pretty sad.

Of course, there's no need to take risks when you've beaten your competition in the ad race, is there? And yet it's the independent developers that are either making money hand-over-fist on their little projects or incurring reasonable losses.

We need to remember that at one point in time, Nintendo was a little independent developer (at least on this side of the Pacific). Now, they're a big independent developer as well as a publisher.

While I doubt that we'll start to see an Eastern lock-out, we will lose out on awesome titles. It's already happening – think Xenoblade for the Wii. It's like the days before the Playstation 2 where a lot of titles were just not released because it was deemed a major loss to localise it for a different market. We gamers do not need another Sin and Punishment incident, where we have to wait until it's emulated to play it.

And we need the diversity. It keeps our hobby fresh. I realise that I (and everyone like me) am now the niche gamer, but there's still a lot of niche gamers who appreciate more than just shooters, streamlined adventure games and short-bus RPGs.

So, how do we fix this? Outside of behavorial modification, I honestly have no clue, but maybe this raises an important question about our culture: Do we really know what we like as individuals? It's a good question because it's taken me a long time to answer it as a gamer.

I think an inability to think critically about value versus desire is the problem here, and this problem affects more than just buying video games. It affects everything from the food that we eat to the officials that we elect.

There's a second and possibly more important question: What are the consequences if we don't fix the problem? Our need to fit in with perceived popular opinion may eventually hurt our options as far as our hobby goes – let alone our existence in the real world. We never think twice about anything unless there's definite proof that it will harm us. It doesn't matter if it's food, pharmaceuticals or elected officials.

So, to put it into perspective, many of the more unique games that cater to diverse palates come from either Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. If they can't afford to localise because they're being economically locked out of a market, they won't. North America is less than half a billion potential buyers. What do they need us for? Plus they've already got a market to sell in. And importing isn't an option if you can't speak Polish, Japanese or Korean – let alone if region locking is imposed.

Diversity makes the world go round, whether real or virtual. It keeps things fresh. And due to the fact that we don't place an embargo on another culture's games like some other countries have been known to do, our market is one of the most diverse. The problem is, if this keeps up, it will produce an embargo – whether or not it's intentional.

This is something we need to change.

There are really only two key factors to deal with here, too: Their money and our ignorance. It's pretty easy to fix the latter point. Don't believe everything you read and hear and the hell with the hype. Do your own research. Assess the value of things based on how they relate to you, not your friends – or worse, their friends. You'd be absolutely amazed with the games that you'll find if you only look past the ad bombardments and challenges toward whether or not it makes you cool.

In short, buy for you.

A Celebrity Moment

Hey guys, I have some interesting news for you:  I now possess a game with an autograph.  Specifically, Hugh Jackman's.  No, it's not for sale.  And while it isn't Todd Howard's or John Carmack's, I won't be giving it away, either.

So the skinny:  My partner, Kris, is a fan of celebrities.  Mostly people you've never heard of like Alanis Morisette, Leah Michelle and Stevie Nicks (sarcasm).  She loves getting pictures, memorabilia, etc.

Anyway, someone else you've never heard of, Hugh Jackman (sarcasm), is performing in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre in downtown Toronto. 

He's doing a one-man show, which, as far as I know, is playing until the 17th or 18th of July.  So if you're in T.O., go see it!

Anyway, Kris sees this one-man show being advertised and she wants to go and get his autograph.  I figure I can capitalise on this (not in a monetary sense so much as fame/infamy), so I decide to pick up a copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Not a bad game, either.


So, as you can see (sort of; god my phone takes bad pictures), he autographed the manual of my X-Men Origins: Wolverine game for the XBox 360.

Everyone who was there got something autographed, despite his somewhat prick of a rep who said he wouldn't sign anything other than tickets and programs.  I understand why the rep was being a prick - people get stuff autographed and then sell it.  What's the point of memorabilia if you aren't going to keep it?  Sheesh.

Now, as it happens, Wolverine in fact does not suck despite being a licensed game.  It is buggy as hell, though.  Shame on you, Raven.  You generally make less buggy games.  Like Hexen 2.  And Heretic 2.  And Soldier of Fortune.  And...you know, I'll just quit while I'm ahead.  Especially since it's not as buggy as CyClones (very old game that Raven did for SSI).  Maybe I'll give it a review.  Maybe I won't.  But it sure is fun playing a Wolverine game that's actually as brutal as the comic book can be. 

In fact, I'd hazard a wager that it's the best Wolverine game so far.  I mean, Adamantium Rage was like pulling teeth, and the Wolverine game on the NES was nigh-unbeatable.  But at least I got to Sabretooth.  Did you?

Getting back to the point, it's actually kinda neat having a signed game.  While I am by no means a celebrity worshipper, I am aware that Lance Henriksen will be in Toronto in August for a huge fan convention.  And I have Red Faction 2.  Which he does voice work in.  Rather underrated game if you bought it on XBox and/or Gamecube, which are the definitive versions - regardless of what Gamespot, 1Up or Gamespy believe.

I'm not sure if this adds credibility - after all, a gamer plays games more than collects or turns them into memorabilia (which I didn't exactly do because I got the manual signed, not the disc).

That said, I'd like to thank you, Mr. Jackman for clearly enjoying giving autographs to your fans.  While I respect your right not to, I'm glad that you didn't exercise that right.  I wish you all the best; you're a very talented man and you deserve respect for your ability alone.

Now, stay tuned for a long awaited editorial about the ad war going on in the gaming industry.  It will be up within the next 24 hours.  I'm going to be passing it by my neighbour's partner who's in marketing, so her perspective will undoubtedly be invaluable.

To quote the great Steve Smith, "Keep your stick on the ice", and I look forward to your perspective on my perspective on what the biggest companies in our favourite industry think of...well, perspective.  When I unleash it, or course.

Edit:  It does not look like my neighour will be home this evening, so I will be publishing the editorial tonight at midnight.