Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 in Games.

2010 was a crazy year for games. Lots of shit going on all over the place, and as a gamer I've decided to give quick reviews and whathaveyou for what I bought and played in 2010. Leaving out the stuff I have from previous years and whatnot.

I rented some games in January, for the first time in over a decade, but I won't really be covering them. They were Bayonetta, Darksiders, and MiniNinja. All three were fun, but not something I could see myself committing to spend sixty bucks on.

My 2010 year in gaming began in February when BioShock 2, Dante's Inferno, Aliens vs. Predator and Heavy Rain were released.

BioShock 2

The BioShock series, along with the Resistance series, is what got me to give first person shooter games another try after not really caring about them for a very long time. BioShock isn't like a Call of Duty or a HALO, or any of the psuedo-military shooters out there, as the narrative plays a huge role and it falls more into the dark fantasy genre than a war-like or military genre. BioShock 2 isn't really a sequel, as you don't continue on as the same character from the previous game and instead play as another individual set in the same world. I think the stories were connected, but I don't really remember how. It takes place eight years after the first game, and you play as Subject Delta, a prototype Big Daddy that apparently was forced to commit suicide and is resurrected. The game was quite fun and the overall narrative is very pleasing in the end, and very twisted which is always a plus for me. One of the downsides to BioShock 2 is the graphics. It's running on the same engine as the previous installment, but for some reason or another, it looks a lot worse. A lot of muddy textures and detail pop up happened a lot. There were also some very hilarious issues with the physics engine that involved a man doing an endo on the back of his head after I killed him (located on the right) and some humorous twitcher glitches, which you can see in the video below.

Despite these humorous glitches and some minor graphical issues, the game still played really well and the narrative held me through from beginning to end. Which is all I really ask of games anymore, and it's becoming harder and harder for the more "elite" games to do that, and I'm finding it easier to enjoy games that used to be known for being relatively shitty.

Dante's Inferno

I don't have any neat pictures or videos about Dante's Inferno, but I did like the game. It was crazy, hellish and offered some really interesting moments. One of which was the first giant cock of video game, or at least it was the first time I had seen a giant cock in a video game. Lucifer's pecker hung to his knees, I shit you not. It was just there, flopping about while you're trying to kill the bastard fallen angel. Anyway, the game was designed around the same make up of God of War, and told the story of a Crusader/Templar Knight that broke his vows to his wife while on the Crusade, thus throwing her into Hell. Literally, Lucifer comes for her. Then you follow the path created by Dante Alighieri's Devine Comedy. It's a very interesting visual interpretation of the Christian mythological destination known as Hell and is full of all sorts of nasty demons and Cleopatra, who, like Lucifer, is also showing off her gigantic assets.

I do have to admit, at first, the idea of making an action adventure game based on Dante's Inferno was an odd one. The poem doesn't really translate to the video game medium all that well, but through the minor changes they made (making the main character a templar for instance) made the game work for me. A funny side note to it is: I let a friend borrow the game after I finished it, and he got freaked out by it to the point that he couldn't finish it.

Some of the best aspects of the game, or one of them at least, was taking the metaphor of "beating death" and turning it into a virtual reality. You actually do beat death after being killed in an elaborate boss battle. You kill him with his own Scythe after taking it as your own weapon.

Aliens vs. Predator

I wanted to really like this game. I did. But it kinda failed as an experience that could have been so much better than what it was. Why it raised all the controversy that it did is beyond me. The violence wasn't that over the top and was in perfect harmony with what had been established in both series of films. You can play as either a Space Marine (from Aliens) one of the xenomorphs (from the Alien franchise) or a Predator (from the Predator franchise, duh) but the end result is a lackluster video game that fails to capture the essence of either film franchise, but melds perfectly into the mehness of the two Aliens vs. Predator films. There's no tension, there's no buildup, and it's just a bit of a messy FPS game. Which is really, really sad. Though, I did play the crap out of it and had fun.

Heavy Rain

Hyper-analytical hat is going on. I wanted to like this game. I really did. I love horror -- yes, I consider this game to be horror, regardless of its lack of anything remotely supernatural -- but this game failed to reel me in from the get go. Which is a damned shame, because the originality of it, the presentation of it, and the design that went into it is all unique and pretty much awesome. But, I'm a consumer of fiction, and fiction takes precedence over everything when there's a narrative to be followed, or dragged through, or to be bored to death by.

Psychological thrillers, as critics and film studios call them, are a fun little sub-genre of horror that I really do enjoy. I'm something of a fan of Thomas Harris' Hannibal novels, and I love movies like Se7en, Zodiac (not minding the David Fincher connection there for a moment) and several others that are escaping my brain right now. So when it comes to this type of fiction, I'm going to hold it up against the things that impressed me the most, and not just compare it to other video games out there.

The writing was dull and uninteresting from the get go. You play as a wide range of characters (from what I understand) but you start out as a boring as fuck drawer of buildings and such, and you meddle around doing random uninteresting things that you do in daily life. You know, showering, doing some work, making some coffee, wandering around aimlessly in the back yard, all before the big tragic event happens. And said big tragic event in my eyes was nothing more than a cheap pop. First, you're presented with uninteresting character to play as that you have no emotional connection to whatsoever, and the game doesn't do much in terms of character building to devote an attachment to that character, then his child gets hit by a car. It's a cheap pop, which is a wrestling term if you hadn't realized so far. A cheap pop is something you do that will get an instant reaction out of an audience. Wrestlers do it by talking about the city they're performing in, or the local city's sports team that just won or lost. It gets an instant reaction out of people. As does anything tragic happening to a child in the first few frames of a movie. People, especially in this country, have abnormal attachments to children, and by doing something godawful to a child in any entertainment medium, you're going to get instant empathy from certain audiences. But, for me, it just doesn't work. I'm a writer, and I knew what they were doing when it happened, and I just groaned and rolled my eyes.

The game continues doing every day tasks, changing diapers, taking your kid to school, and all this stuff, until it gets to the main plot about a guy that's kidnapping children and murdering them. Which is kinda interesting, but it's not the kind of serial murderer fiction I care to ingest because it's associated to the cheap pop. Then there's the fantastical science fiction aspects of it that are the same reason I can't enjoy television shows like CSI and the like. The other aspects of the game try to adopt the prime time drama atmosphere and the psychological thriller atmosphere by presenting to us a real world looking environment. Until this detective/investigator guy shows up and he has a futuristic, I Am Robot (the Will Smith filmed version) detective gear that breaks the already established real world environments the game has delivered thus far. You even get to create a VR bouncy ball to help you wait in the police station.

Aside from a fictional standpoint, the game was pretty cool. Visually, it was beautifully designed (well, the character animations were a bit stiff, but other than that), and the gameplay was intricate and quite innovative. But, I'm not the kind of person that's going to give all sorts of accolades based on innovation and prettiness. I'm always much more focussed on the fiction I'm being told, and this one didn't sell me a good story. The voice actors were unconvincing, the dialog was pretty shoddy, and the overall plot was more akin to a Hallmark film than a serious psychological thriller piece. It really does play out like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books I read in gradeschool, and the dialog shows it. You're given a lot of options in terms of what the character says, all of it has recorded audio, but in doing that they broke the natural ebb and flow of human conversation.

And then this happened:

I was attempting to make the character walk up a flight of stairs to the second floor of a hotel. She absolutely refused, turned around and began walking up an invisible flight of stairs into the sky. She never stopped, just kept going. That's about when I gave up trying to find something to keep me interested in the game.

Final Fantasy XIII

I don't have a lot to say about this game, 'cause I haven't finished it yet and I have to start over. My PS3 gave up mid-year, and I had to replace it. In doing so, the firmware update said THIS IS NOT THE HARDDRIVE I'M LOOKING FOR and I had to reformat it, losing everything. What I can say about it is that I liked it. Final Fantasy has gone from the old JRR Tolkein inspired RPGs that still populate the land, to a more Star Wars influenced Space Fantasy world while covering everything in between. FFVI and FFVII were more steampunkish than Middle-Earth based, and I quite enjoy that. I discovered later that I hadn't even made it out of the so-called twenty-hour tutorial for the game yet, and that kinda took the air out of my sails in starting over. I'll get to it, but not any time soon, I don't think.

God of War III

What can I say? Some people have hobbits, I have a god killing spartan. The God of War series met its ultimate conclusion this year with the spectacular God of War III. A game that really made me question the necessity of badly written, overly CGI ridden Hollywood films every step of the way. For instance, go rent and watch the remake or the original of Clash of the Titans (the original actually inspired the God of War development team, as can be seen with the inclusion of a kraken in God of War II, a mythological monster that doesn't exist in Greek mythology) then sit down and play God of War III. I loved every minute of the game, including the end -- which apparently left a lot of other gamers and critics feeling a little flat. The entire presentation of the game felt very polished, even the opening credits sequence that also recapped the first two games in the series, and did so artfully.

To catch up, God of War is about a Spartan warrior that became a commander of an army at a very early age. He finds himself in a battle he's inevitably going to lose, and essentially, sells his soul to a devil. That devil just happens to be Ares, the God of War, who then uses Kratos to his own means. He eventually leads Kratos to do something that should not be done (he slaughters his own wife and daughter) and vows revenge on the God of War, but not before fulfilling the duties of the other gods for ten years. Ares attacks Athens, which angers Athena, and she helps Kratos (along with several others from the Pantheon) to retrieve Pandora's Box and eventually slay the God of War. Athena and the other gods then make Kratos the new God of War, but that doesn't last long, 'cause then he starts doing the same thing that Ares did. The gods take away his powers and try to kill him, but Gaia (who, for the sake of the game's narrative, has been rendered a titan) revives him once again and sets him on a path to get revenge on the gods. A tale of revenge that culminates in God of War III, where Kratos eventually destroys all of them.

The game is really a sword and sorcery piece in the vein of Robert E. Howard's Conan set in the insane world of Greek mythology, and it plays out quite beautifully, and in perfect tone with a lot of the tales from Greek mythology. Except the gods get theirs in the end.

The image to the right is one of those funny glitches you don't expect to happen, but happens anyway. Like in the Grand Theft Auto games from the previous generation, the ground disappeared beneath Kratos' feet. I had a good laugh at it, so I took a picture. be continued tomorrow...

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