Thursday, December 20, 2012

If I die on the Canadian Front, bury me with... Well, you know the rest: New Releases for the First Half of December, 2012

Arctic Combat

(PC) A free-to-play first-person online shooter set in a near-future war between Russia and the United States fought in the Arctic region.

Must we fight the Russians yet again? Admittedly, this really isn't the game I should single out for this, since in Arctic Combat making the main belligerents the United States and Russia is actually neccessary for the whole “combat in the Arctic” premise. Geographically and politically speaking, there aren't a whole lot of countries that would be at least semi-plausible leaders in a war against the United States in the Arctic region, and a game where the United States had to fight Unspecified Middle Eastern State #76-B's invasion of Alaska or struggle for dominance of the Arctic Circle against the mighty war machine of the tyrannical Norwego-Canadian Empire would be sort of silly. (Than again, Homefront actually got made.) 

Screenshot from early beta version of Arctic Warfare, final release may differ
Still, it's getting a bit repetitive. At this point I'm pretty sure there've been more video games about Americans fighting Russians released in the past decade than there were during the era when they were actually directly hostile to each other. It's like modern videogame development takes place in some mirror universe where, instead of dissolving in 1991, the Soviet Union embraced the even more oppressive and anti-Western ideology of Supercommunism and became more hostile to the United States than ever.

Vampire Slayer FPS

(Xbox 360 Live Arcade) OK, that's not a title. It just isn't. Maybe something like this would fly in the 70s, when it was perfectly acceptable for a game's title to be a dry summary of its premise and games like Boxing and Air-Sea Battle filled the shelves, but those days are past. I picked on Killzonefor having a title that seems like it was selected at random from a list of military terms, but at least that's still a title and not simply a description of the game's subgenre. This is more like releasing Gears of War, Europa Universalis III, and Dante's Inferno, as Burly Man Third-Person Shooter, Early Modern Period Europe Strategy, and Stuff I Drew in My Math Notebook When I Was 12.

Look, for all I know it's a fine game. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But you shouldn't publish your book with a cover that just says Spy Thriller Third-Person Omniscient, either.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

A Chilling Vision of Things to Come

A few days ago saw a grim date in American history, one that will long be remembered as an ominous turning point for America- nay, the entire world- and looked upon with horror by future generations cursed to live in its cold, bleak shadow...

'Cause it was my birthday on Wednesday! And it was a pretty nice birthday, in spite of some sad events that have marred the past year and contributed to the meager output of Pointless Side Quest in 2012. If you like this place, I apologize for that, and I hope to make 2013 a much more interesting year.

If you're reading this, thank you; being able to write things that people actually read means a lot to me, even if I haven't been able to do so here as much lately, and I hope you'll keep reading here for a long time to come.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Location, location, location: New releases for the week of 9-2-12 (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Hearthfire)

Hearthfire is another downloadable expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unlike previous expansion Dawnguard, which added a series of new quest and enemies, Hearthfire is about what the hero of Skyrim gets up to during his downtime, allowing you to build and design your own house. You can have useful facilities like alchemy labs (presumably one used for the actual, magical sort of alchemy, as opposed to the sort of home-based chemistry facility that about a third of the guys I knew in high school are probably doing prison time for by now) and greenhouses (again, presumably...), as well as display cases to show off the exotic weapons and items you've found in your adventures and a trophy room to display the exotic creatures you've killed with them.

You design your new residence yourself and can either oversee its construction personally or hire a steward to do it for you. You can even start a family by having your spouse move in and adopting some kids.(Biological kids are not an option, unfortunately, since by the time the player has unlocked the ability to build a house excessive exposure to the draconic spiritual energies of the Thu'um shouts have already left the protagonist sterile.)

Though unsurpassed on the field of battle and imbued with the mystical might to flense the flesh from men's bones with but a word, the Dragonborn's ignorance of proper high-altitude baking temperatures would be his undoing.

It sounds nice, and having a location where I can show off all the cool stuff I've acquired in my adventures is something I've long wanted in an Elder Scrolls game. That said, it is sort of an odd man out placed alongside the premises of prior Elder Scrolls releases and expansions. Consider:

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim As a bloody civil war rages across the land, you must battle an army of resurrected ancient dragons who have returned to wage war against all of humanity, led by a colossal soul-eating dragon-god who's commonly referred to with epithets like “World Eater” and has just returned after millennia of banishment beyond time and space in accordance with ancient prophecies about the destruction of the cosmos. You become the Dragonborn, a legendary warrior with the blood and soul of a dragon whose very voice has the power to lay his enemies low.

The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard To save the world from an eternity of darkness, you must battle a monstrous host of vampires who seek to cast the world into everlasting night through an ancient magical ritual that will permanently BLOT OUT THE SUN. You can become a member of an ancient order of vampire hunters, or transform into a terrifying immortal creature of the night yourself.

The Elder Scrolls V: Hearthfire You need a place to keep your stuff and kill time when not busy with the above. You can become a foster parent or an amateur gardener. An amateur gardener with the soul of a dragon whose very voice has the power to lay his enemies low who may or may not also be a vampire, but still.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Decision to allow R18+ games immediately reduces Australia to hellish post-apocalyptic wasteland

The following article originally appeared at Robot Geek and is completely fictional, although if you actually need to be told that I doubt this disclaimer will do much good.

Australia’s notoriously strict censorship of videogames has received shocking vindication in the aftermath of the Australian’s government’s recent decision to allow the release of R18+ games in the country, a decision immediately followed by an eruption of videogame-related violence and social decay that reduced the country to a nightmarish post-apocalyptic wasteland less than a week later.

By law, every game released in Australia required a classification from the Australian Classification Board, a government body that regulated media content. Previously, the board refused to give any classification to games with content that would result in an R18+ (Restricted to 18 and over) rating, preventing an official release. A bill creating an R18+ classification for videogames was finally passed by the Parliament of Australia on July 18th.

What happened in the immediate aftermath remains unclear, due to the rapid collapse of Australia’s communication infrastructure and the country’s subsequent reversion to a preliterate culture dominated by savage nomadic warlords, heavily armed bands of murderous neo-barbarians, and the insane god-kings of despotic Bronze Age city-states, all struggling for survival in the crumbling ruins of a once-advanced civilization. However, according to the still-fragmentary reports that have trickled out of the country, several major cities were already in flames by early July 19th as hordes of videogame-maddened Australians took to the streets in what one surviving observer called “an orgiastic spasm of unimaginably savage Dark Sector-inspired violence.” The chaos escalated into a cataclysm that laid waste to huge swaths of the Australian countryside, destroyed most major cities, and caused the utter dissolution of Australian society, reducing a prosperous nation of 22 million people into what an official United Nations report describes as “a desolate hellscape where only the strong survive.”

June 21th: With the Australian military thrown into disarray by the collapse of the central government and local law enforcement incapacitated by an imported copy of Dead or Alive: Dimensions, Perth is turned into a burning ruin as long-standing rivalries between Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners escalate into open warfare.

How the R18+ rating had such rapid effects remains a mystery, since the bill would not have actually gone into effect until 2013. Several possible explanations have been offered, including a sudden, uncontrolled release of years of frustrated, pent-up hunger for gaming violence caused by gamer excitement in the aftermath of the bill’s passage, the hypothesis of some physicists that the social and moral degeneration that Australia would have suffered in the years following the decision eventually increased to such overwhelming levels that its collapsed mass tore a hole through space-time into the past, and anti-videogame activist Jack Thompson’s controversial “portal to Hell” theory.

Australia’s future is uncertain. Reversing the decision allowing R18+ games is impossible, since both Parliament and the Australian Classification Board ceased to exist with the dissolution of the Commonwealth of Australia as a sovereign state after the fall of the capital city Canberra to the bloodthirsty armies of Lord Colossus the Despoiler- formerly Duane Harris, assistant manager of a recently closed GAME Australia location in the Canberra suburbs- on June 20th.

The entire country is now under a strict blockade maintained by an enormous international naval task force, rumored to include the entire US Third Fleet. In a recent press conference, US President Barack Obama insisted that the ships are there solely to render aid to an American ally and “have absolutely nothing to do with any rumors involving supposed expansionist warlords, a ferocious race of rapidly breeding radioactive mutant kangaroo-men who have already made beachheads in New Zealand and Indonesia, or alleged battles in the Tasman Sea that are classified and didn’t happen anyway where one or more American nuclear aircraft carriers was destroyed by an orbital ion cannon that doesn’t exist because the army of vaguely Abrahamic techno-religious fanatics that controls it doesn’t exist either. So just drop it already.”

Critics of violent or sexual content in videogames have now gained considerable credibility. The most prominent is former New South Wales Attorney-General Greg Smith, who had been one of the principal opponents of allowing the release of R18+ games in Australia and managed to escape the country via Sydney Airport just hours before the city fell to a cannibalistic horde of New South Welshmen dressed in cloaks of flayed human skin and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings promotional T-shirts.

June 27th: In Adelaide, the new Parliament of the State of Victoria gathers for its first legislative session since its “reorganization” on June 24th. Issues facing the new Parliament include the poor condition of the State’s road system, public health problems related to widespread cannibalism, and the ongoing controversy over whether the remains of the previous Parliament should be displayed on pikes as a warning to outsiders or simply devoured.

Now widely hailed as a visionary, Smith has been proposed as a possible prime minister for an interim government-in-exile. He is reportedly holding meetings with the government of the United Kingdom, the United States, and the alpha males of the packs of feral humanoids who dominate northern Queensland about a possible joint military expedition to retake the country.

In a speech shortly after his escape, Smith said, “At last, do you understand? People claim that censorship of games is unjustifiable and old-fashioned. Tell that to a mother who’s lost her child because his friends started fooling around with real guns after playing Grand Theft Auto. Tell that to the hundred-kilometer wall of human torsos that’s encircled Brisbane since the city was conquered by an army of loincloth-clad barbarians and renamed ‘South Goroshire.’ Tell that to someone whose entire hometown was massacred by thousands of pale, bloodthirsty maniacs who were out ‘grinding’ for human heads to build a five-story pyramid of skulls on the Melbourne Cricket Ground honoring their dark god Namira, Daedric Prince of insects and ancient darkness. They understand the importance of this issue, I assure you.”

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Baleful Glare at E3 2012, Part 3: Star Wars 1313

Star Wars 1313 is a third-person shooter set in the Star Wars universe. You play as a bounty hunter hunting dangerous fugitives from justice in the criminal underworld of Coruscant's Level 1313, far below the surface of the city-world. (So probably no cameos from that four-armed guy who ran the 50s diner from Attack of the Clones, sadly.) I've commented at some length on Star Wars previously on this blog, which you can read here.

This seems promising. I applaud the idea of a Star Wars game that isn't about Jedi and/or an appendix to the plots of the six movies, having grown somewhat weary of both, and I like the bounty hunter premise.

I just hope the protagonist is cool. The last time somebody was hyping up a Star Wars videogame starring a new character having adventures involving the criminal underworld of the Star Wars universe, we got Dash Rendar.

Dash Rendar, in case you're not familiar with him, was the protagonist of the Nintendo 64 (and PC, but no one remembers that) game Shadows of the Empire, part of a larger multimedia spinoff project set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Shadows of the Empire wasn't just a few new tie-in products, it was supposed to be an Event- practically a new addition to the original trilogy with everything but an actual theatrical film. A novel from Bantam books, a videogame, a series of comic books published by Dark Horse, trading cards, action figures, toy ships, Micro Machines. and- perhaps the loftiest laurel that can be placed upon a franchise's triumphant brow- a comic strip in Nintendo Power.

Truly, a fitting successor to Han Solo.
The problem was that it could not include Han Solo, since he spent the entire time frame of the new storyline flash-frozen in Boba Fett's trunk. But without Han Solo alongside the other heroes of Star Wars, you've got no cool, cocky, somewhat mercenary but basically good-hearted women-want-him-men-want-to be-him rogue. All you have left are the Jedi, the aristocratic female love interest, the droids, and the inarticulate alien sidekick, and if you've seen ever the prequel trilogy you know how that turns out.

The solution, of course, was to bring in a substitute Han Solo. Consequently, Dash Rendar was born, created according to a simple formula. First, take Han Solo and file the serial numbers off. Then continue filing until all interesting or memorable character traits have been filed off as well. Then fill the resulting void with nothing and come up with a reason for said void to be present at the Battle of Hoth so the “tripping Imperial walkers with harpoon cables” sequence can be crammed into yet another videogame as part of LucasArts' ongoing efforts to dethrone Normandy as the most reenacted battle in videogame history.

The Shadows of the Empire videogame is pretty well-regarded today; indeed, it's by far the most commonly and most fondly remembered part of the Shadows of the Empire project as a whole. It owes none of that success to Mr. Rendar.

Where was I? Right, that Star Wars game at E3.

LucasArts promises “a bold new take on the Star Wars galaxy, intended for mature audiences.” I'm of two minds on this. On one hand, while I have no problem with dark settings or stories, or with the sort of content people usually mean by “mature,” that sort of thing can go awry when you take an existing franchise where that sort of thing generally isn't the norm and start trying to add it. On the other hand, something in the Star Wars universe “intended for mature audiences” could be interesting if it's done well and doesn't just mean that there's lots of blood spraying around when you shoot guys and a cutscene where the hero calls some Hutt crime boss a “motherfucker.”
Anger, aggression, the dark side are- ah, the hell with it.
(Though now I kind of want somebody to make a Star Wars/Dead to Rights: Retribution crossover where Jack Slate teams up with Han and Luke to go on a bloody, profanity-strewn rampage through the criminal gangs of the Star Wars universe, just so that I can hear Luke Skywalker roar “SHUT YOUR FUCKING HOLE!” at some poor goon in the Mos Eisley cantina as the prelude to some horrendously brutal lightsaber kill. Just once before I die, that's all I ask.)

In any case, I'm curious to see how this turns out.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Baleful Glare at E3 2012, Part 2: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a new spinoff of Metal Gear Solid starring everyone's favorite guy who stands in for Solid Snake when Snake is too busy doing cool stuff offscreen that we don't get to see to be the playable character, Raiden.

Actually, as one of the three people in the English-speaking world who actually liked Raiden even before he made his transformation from Who the Hell Is This Blond Guy Who's Not Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2 to terrifyingly deadly sword-wielding cyborg cutscene ninja in Metal Gear Solid 4, I'm glad to see Raiden getting his day in the sun. It's a pity that it had to be accompanied by the most gratingly stupid name for a game since Toki: Going ApeSpit, but you can't have everything.

Yes, I know that “revengeance” actually is a real, albeit archaic, English word. That's not an excuse.

The game is set years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Raiden- who seems to have adopted the three-packs-a-day Lucky Strikes Grizzled Badass Voice Training regimen at some point- is working as a military contractor in a war-torn country. There's an invasion or coup d'etat by an army that appears to be led by an evil bald cyborg. Much swordplay ensues.

Featuring Eric "Butterbean" Esch in a special guest appearance!
First thought: Holy CRAP, this is bloody. It's not like the previous Metal Gear Solid games were perfectly sanitary, splattering-fluids-free affairs, but this seems to be kicking it up a notch. On the one hand, it makes sense, since your main weapon this time is a sword, the developers have promised that you can cut through almost any object in the game, and the plausibility of the sort of PG-13 “guys get hit and fall over” violence possible in a game where you're using guns or your fists starts to fall apart when you take an ultrasharp futuristic blade shown to be capable of cutting through giant stone pillars and start hitting human beings with it.

On the other hand, a lot of that blood is spewing out of damaged armored vehicles, which makes less sense than virtually anything whatsoever. (Yeah, we've already seen something similar in Metal Gear Solid 4. That merely pushes the what-the-fuckness of it back a step.)

It looks pretty cool, with Raiden using his superhuman cyborg ninja agility and swordsmanship to cut a swath through hordes of enemy soldiers and robots, a slow-mo mechanic that lets Raiden make deadly precision strikes, and all sorts of crazy stunts and feats of badassery putting me in mind of Devil May Cry or Vanquish. I also think giving a new game starring Raiden a very different style of gameplay from mainline Metal Gear Solid games is a good idea since, assuming it's done well, it makes Raiden a character who's interesting and exciting in his own way, rather than returning him to his original Metal Gear Solid 2 role as the Curly Joe to Solid Snake's Curly. (Which would make Big Boss the Shemp in this analogy, I suppose.)

Despite showing initial promise, the U.S. Army's research into Jell-O-powered armored vehicles was eventually abandoned after the disappointing performance of several prototypes under field conditions.
However, it doesn't look particularly Metal Gear. It sounds ridiculous for me to say that the sort of feats Raiden pulls off in the trailer are too incongruously wild, flashy, or over-the-top to fit in with a series that's previously featured psychokinesis, nuclear-armed mecha, a Soviet colonel with the same electrical powers as Ernest in Ernest Goes to Jail, ghosts, and a man who commands an army of bees, but some of them kind of are. I don't mind, as someone who find Metal Gear interesting but doesn't have any strong investment in it, but I can see why some more devoted fans might react negatively to it.

Also, kudos to however created the trailer. I never thought I'd see the day when I'd have the words “badass” and “Depeche Mode” appear in the same thought together, but I've been proven wrong.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Baleful Glare at E3 2012, Part 1: Beyond: Two Souls

E3 2012 has come and gone. Just like we did last year at Pointless Side Quest, except this time actually in the same month as the show itself, it's time to take a look back at what this year's Electronic Entertainment Exposition had to offer.

Beyond: Two Souls

The debut trailer video, starts off in a small town police station where a police officer has brought a young girl with a shaved head, who was found unconscious by the road. She's silent and seems almost catatonic, and he's trying in vain to get her to talk when a cup of coffee sitting on the desk rises into the air and hurls itself across the room. Then the cop goes into the other room while the girl starts talking to a hovering POV camera and says “They're coming,” a heavily armed SWAT team shows up, and... Well, the screen goes black and leaves us on a cliffhanger, but based on past precedent in the eternal struggle between spooky young females with psychokinesis and squads of heavily armed paramilitaries I'm guessing most of that SWAT team will be going home in Ziploc bags.

My initial hope upon seeing a mentally disturbed bald female who seemingly has telekinetic powers was that this was some sort of Young Jack Chronicles prequel spinoff of Mass Effect, but no. Instead, it's a game from Quantic Dreams called Beyond: Two Souls, about a woman named Jodie Holmes who's on the run while accompanied by some sort of supernatural entity called “Aiden.” Jodie Holmes is voiced by actress Ellen Page, whose name I'd never heard of before but is apparently an actress from the talkies that the kids are into nowadays.

(Actually, having looked up her film credits, I have seen her at least once before when she played Shadowcat in X3: The Last Stand. Her performance as a girl in black leather being chased by a huge guy with a giant flower pot on his head was one of the high points of the film. If I was talking about the first two X-Men movies that would be a joke, but... )

It's not clear from the trailer exactly what Aiden is- aside from not being a big coffee drinker, presumably- but the game will involve using his supernatural powers to protect Jodie from her pursuers, controlling both characters at different points. Said powers include telekinesis, which scales up from merely rudely refusing beverages to stuff like throwing cars around, what looks like some sort of mind control- or whatever unpleasantness a dude's eyes rolling back in his head after being touched by an eerie glow signifies- and protective force fields, among other things.

It looks like it could be pretty cool. On the other hand, it's made by the same developers who did Heavy Rain, which didn't interest me; I'm not a fan of the sort of PC-style adventure games that seem to be Heavy Rain's closest analogue and am generally skeptical of the idea that games ought to mimic other media. On the third hand, what we've seen and been told about the game so far seems to suggest that Beyond will be more conventionally game-y and less of an interactive movie/mundane daily task simulator, which has more appeal to me. On the fourth hand, that's exactly what I would expect people trying to promote the game to say.

Yet, on the fifth hand, I think my negative feelings towards Heavy Rain probably stem in large part from the more obnoxious elements of the game's boosters rather than the game itself, which is hardly fair to the people at Quantic Dreams. It's not as if David Cage is the one pontificating about how I'm a subnormal philistine ruining the gaming industry because I don't want to use quicktime events to simulate carrying out dull, everyday tasks when I can already do those dull, everyday tasks in real life and gain the added bonus of actually getting them done, after all. So I'll try to keep an open mind on this.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Oh the pain, William, the pain! (New releases for the week of 5-13-12: Max Payne 3)

At last, fans of dark, gritty third-person shooters about rogue cops mowing down hundreds of people in slow motion won't have to resort to playing Dead to Rights: Retribution when they want to enjoy the genre on a current-gen system.

It's sort of remarkable that there hasn't been a Max Payne game in eight years, considering how popular and influential they were, but at long last he's back, now working in the private sector in Brazil. Presumably the New York Police Department decided that keeping him on the force after his second three-figure body count killing spree was too much of a lawsuit risk. Or maybe the entire Police Department was disbanded by the city government as a cost-cutting measure once the violent death of every criminal in the New York Metropolitan Area over the course of the first two games made it superfluous.

In any case, he's now working in South America as a bodyguard for the wife of a wealthy Brazilian guy, still struggling with the demons of his tragic past. I'm assuming they went with the regular ending of Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne and not the secret one shown for beating it on the highest difficulty setting, which means that Max is now 0 for 2 on the “the lifeless body of the woman he loves not lying in a bloody heap in front of him because he couldn't save her” front. Then the woman he's working as the bodyguard for is kidnapped, and Max takes to the streets of São Paulo, Brazil, to get her back.

I'm wondering- and this is meant solely as an observation, not a complaint- if the developers were influenced by the 2004 Denzel Washington movie Man on Fire. (Which is a great, underrated movie that I highly recommend if you like action/thriller films or have ever wanted to see Denzel Washington cut off a man's finger while Oye como va is blasting on a car radio.) The similarities are striking:

1.The hero is an American expatriate and psychologically damaged stone-cold killer with a terrifying capacity for mayhem and a horrifically violent past who is now working as a bodyguard in Latin America.
2.The girl he's supposed to protect is kidnapped by dangerous criminals.
3.This displeases him.
4. Refer to my previous remarks in Part 1, in re “psychologically damaged stone-cold killer, etc.”

I'm pretty pumped about this one. All the trailers I've seen look great, and it's nice that it's available for PlayStation as well as Xbox.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bringing grave misfortune: New releases for the week of 3-4-12 (Street Fighter X Tekken, Mass Effect 3)

Street Fighter X Tekken

(PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Crossover between the two beloved fighting game series. This game uses primarily Street Fighter-inspired gameplay mechanics- 2D, fast, lots of projectiles and over-the-top moves, everyone yelling at the top of their lungs at all times, etc.-while Namco will be putting out its own game, Tekken X Street Fighter, with more Tekken-like gameplay later this year. I've been informed by competent authority that the official pronunciation of the title is “Street Fighter Cross Tekken,” which does appalling violence to English orthographic conventions but at least makes more thematic sense than my previous guesses that it was either “Street Fighter Ex Tekken” or “Street Fighter Times Tekken.” It also saves me from having to do any horrible math jokes about how Tekken X Street Fighter and Street Fighter X Tekken are actually exactly the same game when Namco's game comes out, which is a relief.

In keeping with the tradition that fighting games are the one place where the otherwise universal requirement that PlayStation 3 owners be given the shitty end of any stick is reversed, there are a number of characters exclusive to the PlayStation 3 version. Some of them are pretty cool, like Cole McGrath from Infamous.

There's also Mega Man, triumphantly returning to fighting games after being excluded from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to make sure that there was space for other Mega Man characters like Zero and the all-important Tron Bonne. Except this version is inspired by the Mega Man on the original American box for the first game, legendary not only for looking nothing like the character in the game, but for being the ugliest son of a bitch ever to appear on a videogame box.

The fan response to this seems split between intense amusement at the sheer goofiness of it and intense anger at what some fans feel just adds salt to the wounds of Mega Man fans after his exclusion from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3. Count me among the former group; if you can't screw around a little in a crossover between Street Fighter and a franchise where one of the fighters is a freaking bear, where can you? I I just can't get mad at a company that is apparently now being run by Calypso from Twisted Metal or some evil wish-granting money's paw.

Honestly, though, Street Fighter X Tekken's Mega Man doesn't really do the almost militant unattractiveness of the original model justice. The fat, somewhat slovenly-looking guy called “Mega Man” in the game is still practically Fabio, Brad Pitt, and Cary Grant combined compared to the hideous wretch from the original Mega Man box art. The new guy seems a lot more jovial and fun, too, whereas the original has a look on his face that seems to cry out, "WHY WILL DR. LIGHT NOT ALLOW ME TO SELF-TERMINATE? WHY?"

And really, can you blame him?

I Am Alive

(PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade) Wait, when did this become a thing that actually exists? This is a game I remember hearing about being in development years ago, and getting delayed, then it just seemed to drop off the radar screen into what I assumed was oblivion. Hearing that it was actually out was really weird, like walking into the local GameStop and being told that they just got a new shipment of StarCraft: Ghost in stock.

Mass Effect 3

(PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) The conclusion of the science fiction RPG trilogy. I'm avoiding spoilers, so I just hope that the massive reaper attack on Earth portrayed in the trailer and the demo is legit and not another cruel Halo 2 trailer-style tease, where we're promised a globe-shattering apocalypse that leaves whole continents in flames and turns the world's greatest cities into charnel houses and end up getting a foppish alien clergyman leading a handful of ships on a minor vandalism spree instead. If you show me the entire state of South Carolina being engulfed in a colossal firestorm visible from space ninety seconds into the cinematic trailer, it had damn well better be a lifeless hellscape of drifting ashes, unburied corpses, and radioactive glass if I end up there during the actual game.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Bioware promises that new edition of Mass Effect: Deception will actually be based on Mass Effect

Mass Effect developer Bioware has been in damage control mode since the embarrassment it suffered due to fan backlash over the numerous errors and continuity problems in the recently published tie-in novel Mass Effect: Deception. In response to numerous complaints, Bioware has announced that the book is being re-edited and that subsequent printings of the book will be revised to eliminate these errors. Now, in a new press release, Bioware has issued what its spokesman described as a “preliminary” list of corrections that will be made in all future printings of the book. Among the more noteworthy errors from the current edition of Mass Effect: Deception that Bioware has promised to correct are:

Various references implying that the Mass Effect universe is actually the future of the alternate timeline created when Biff Tannen gave a 2015 copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac to his past self in Back to the Future II.

Saying that the volus are not a distinct species, and are actually just ”asari who’ve let themselves go.”

Claiming that the Illusive Man’s real name is Antonio "The Plunger" Barbagelata.

Repeated statements that the Reapers, a race of hundreds of hostile, ultra-advanced machine intelligences millions of years old who travel through interstellar space in ships over a kilometer long, were built by the Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois in 1992.
Referring to the homeworld of the asari race as “New Jersey.”

The (completely unauthorized by Konami) appearance of Revolver Ocelot, who originally appears as an agent of Cerberus but is later revealed to be a double-agent working for a heretofore unknown organization called “the Minutemen” that has secretly ruled the human race since its founding by Theodore Roosevelt, Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor Franz Joseph I, and the reanimated head of Oliver Cromwell  in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War.

Dialogue inconsistent with previous portrayals of several alien races, such as giving all batarians heavy Scottish accents and depicting turians routinely addressing each other as “broheim.”

Describing game glitches as if they were actual in-universe events, such as a battle where a krogan warrior gets “stuck in the wall.”

Numerous timeline errors including references to the supposed involvement of the Systems Alliance in the Iran-Contra Scandal over 160 years prior to the Alliance’s actual founding, statements that the first military use of mass effect field technology by humans occurred during the Franco-Prussian War, and the book’s opening narration describing the events of the story as taking place “between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas.”

Inaccurate descriptions of mass effect fields, which are actually a technology that can temporarily increase or decrease the mass of matter within a given area by running electric current through an exotic substance called Element Zero, as “an energy field created by all living things” that “surrounds us and penetrates us” and “binds the galaxy together.”

Apparent confusions about quarian naming conventions, as evidenced by the presence of quarian characters named “Rael’Koris vas Greeter nar T.G.I. Friday’s” and “Tali’Vael vas Center Field nar White Sox.”

Widespread use of coins made of the highly radioactive isotope polonium-210 as currency by criminal enterprises trying to avoid using credits. While this does not, strictly speaking, violate existing Mass Effect canon, actual polonium-210 is incredibly toxic and so radioactive that a single gram of it will quickly heat itself to a temperature of 500°C, making its use as a medium of exchange improbable.

Referring to the turians, salarians, and asari races as “fightgars,” “smartingtons,” and “sexanoids,” respectively.

Incorrectly attributing the characteristically slow, monotone speech patterns of the elcor race- actually the result of the elcor having a naturally cautious, deliberate temperament due to their evolution on a dangerously high-gravity world and a language that expresses emotions and nuance through body language and pheromones rather than tone of voice- to marijuana use.

A scene in which Conrad Verner successfully petitions the Citadel Council to grant Ambassador Donnel Udina emergency powers and create a clone army.

Describing the appearance of the Citadel as “like Deep Space Nine, but way cooler.”

Several chapters of hardcore sex scenes, which have been removed entirely due to their explicit content, noncanonical pairings, and misconceptions about both asari and human physiology.

Chapter 8 in its entirety, which appears to be simply a series of excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird with all instances of the name “Atticus” replaced with “Saren.”

We attempted to contact Bioware to inquire about other notable errors in the book that were not included in the press release, such as calling Element Zero “kryptonite” and the implication in the book’s closing scene that the entire Mass Effect series actually takes place in the imagination of the autistic kid from St. Elsewhere, but have received no comment from Bioware as of this time.

An earlier form of this article originally appeared at Kuribo's Shoes, the greatest and possibly only fake video game news site on the Internet.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

In which my displeasure with Square Enix grows to the point that Final Fantasy XIII-2 plays second fiddle to a platformer from 1993: New releases for the week of 1-29-12


(PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Action game about an ancient demon-hunter cursed with immortality. His immortality is an important gameplay mechanic: you can be damaged, dismembered, or even decapitated but can never actually die.(Though you can still lose if your non-immortal partner is killed.) Luckily, you can pick up and reattach lost limbs as needed, and even roll back to your torso if your head gets cut off, so that the action can continue and the game doesn't turn into an undead version of Johnny Got His Gun.

(Speaking of still-living severed heads, why has there never been a game based on Re-Animator? What kind of universe are we living in when Hudson Hawk, Krull, The Lawnmower Man, Congo, the Noid, Chester Cheetah, and the red circle on bottles of 7-Up have all had games made about them and Re-Animator never has?)

It sounds like an interesting concept, I suppose, but there's only room for one video game hero with re-attachable limbs in my heart, and that's the one and only Plok: adventurer, warrior, flag connoisseur, harmonica virtuoso, Renaissance man, and guy so badass that no enemy can knock one of his arms or legs off because he removes his own limbs so that he can hurl them at his foes. Accept no substitutes.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

(Xbox 360, PlayStation 3) I've detailed my waning love for Final Fantasy and Square in general before and won't repeat it in detail here, except to say how odd it feels to be so indifferent to the release of a new Final Fantasy game when there was a time when such an event would have me ablaze with anticipation. It's like going through puberty in reverse.

Iron Brigade: Rise of the Martian Bear

(Xbox Live Arcade) Expansion for the tower defense game Iron Brigade, aka Trenched, from Double FineProductions. I like tower defense and have heard good things about this game, so it's a shame it's an Xbox 360 exclusive.

Speaking of things that seem to have been shoddily jury-rigged together,* do you ever get the feeling that some games are named by coming up with a bunch of titles and subtitles independently, and then just picking one of each at random? Presumably the name Iron Brigade: Rise of the Martian Bear makes some sort of sense within the context of the game's story, but outside that context it looks like the guys at Double Fine were playing MadLibs around the office when they remembered that they were supposed to have come up with a list of proposed titles for the new expansion by the end of the day and decided to just go with whatever was already written down.

*(I kid, I kid. A good friend of mine has an Xbox 360, and it was a technological marvel until its most recent red ring of death occurred after the warranty ran out and he decided he just didn't give a damn any more and went back to PC games.)

Gorilla Gondola

(iPhone) I have no idea what this is about and have nothing to say about it, but I include it here because I have no idea when or if the opportunity to have the phrase “Gorilla Gondola” appear on this blog will come again.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Come, embrace the dahkness!: The Darkness II

I thought I'd take a look at some recent game trailers, using a somewhat generous definition of “recent” to mean anything for a game that hasn't actually been released yet. (So that Final Fantasy Versus XIII trailer from 2006 is still technically eligible.) So, without further ado, let's have a look at one of the story trailers for:

The Darkness II

Sequel to the 2007 first-person shooter, coming out in February. I'm surprised it took this long for this game to appear, considering that the first one was fairly successful and had an ending that stopped just short of having INSERT SEQUEL TAB A INTO AMBIGUOUS ENDING SLOT B INDICATED BELOW appear during the credits

This trailer is introduced and narrated by a rather agitated, unhealthy-looking guy whose delivery and general demeanor sort of strike me as what Quentin Tarantino would probably be like if he were hopped up on meth. He fills us in about the nature of the Darkness, the backstory of protagonist Jackie Estacado and his girlfriend Jenny's murder at the hands of the New York Mob, and other helpful info.



:20 It's explained that the game's eponymous evil metaphysical force is the primordial darkness that prevailed at the dawn of time. It didn't take kindly to the whole “stuff exists now” trend that the creation of the universe kicked off, and was even less happy about the arrival of life.

:40 Throughout history, the Darkness has wreaked havoc on the world by using human hosts. Each host foolishly imagined he could master the Darkness for his own ends, only to inevitably becomes its slave. Insert joke about marriage here.

1:32 I immediately began giggling like a schoolgirl as our narrator tells me said that the power of the Darkness makes Jackie “a god” “when the lights were out.” I guess I was naïve to have assumed that Jenny was into him for his sparkling personality.

1:50 Was the first game this violent? I realize that sounds like a ridiculous question to as ask about an M-rated game that prominently featured the protagonist's ability to rip people's hearts out of their chests and the like, but the move we see here where one of the Darkness' tentacles/mouths lifts a guy up, plunges into his stomach, and then erupts from his chest – having presumably torn its way through his torso en route- seemed more extreme than I recall.

1:55 The Darkness flings a broken-off car door at a guy with such force that it actually cuts him in half. That sort of thing is why most automobile manufacturers stopped building car bodies out of monomolecular-edged tungsten carbide plates in the late 70s.

General thoughts:

One complaint, not so much about this video specifically as for the story trailers I've seen for The Darkness II in general: Needed some Mike Patton. They're bringing him back as the voice of the Darkness, so I'm sort of surprised we never hear him. Maybe there's going to be some big reveal in the game where it turns out that the Darkness' sinister, demonic Norwegian-black-metal-singer-vomiting-up-his-own-lungs voice voice was really just a cunning disguise, or perhaps the result of a bout of laryngitis, and they didn't want to spoil the surprise when it's revealed that the Darkness actually sounds like Jeff Foxworthy or speaks with a heavy Boston accent or has started to refer to Jackie as “broheim,” or whatever. We'll see.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Episode 2 of The Definitive, Absolutely 100% Petty Complaining and Pointless Digression-Free Guide to Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Revengeance

Greetings, and welcome to the second chapter of our look at the fighters of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3! Joining me once again is my esteemed colleague, screenwriter of the popular-by-indie-video-game-parody-standards films Press Start and Press Start 2, man behind the monthly internet series Press Start Adventures, and guy I know because I went to elementary school with his cousin, Kevin Folliard.

In the groundbreaking inaugural edition of this feature, we delved into pressing issues like the suffocating omnipresence of Akuma, Albert Wesker’s deep emotional issues and unfortunate musical tastes, horrible 1990s comic book crossovers that may or may not have actually existed, and what the hell the deal with Tron Bonne being in the game is. Join us as we delve once more into the characters of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, beginning with perhaps the most colorful and flamboyant character of them all:


Tron Bonne
Yes, I know this isn't Sentinel. Tron Bonne's power to insert herself into places where the presence of someone else would make more sense is so mighty it extends beyond the games themselves.
Kevin: I’ve noticed that many gamers tend to gravitate towards incredibly cheap, unbalanced characters and then consider them to be especially badass, awesome, or important. Case in point, a freaking Sentinel! A mindless drone at the bottom of the barrel of the Marvel Universe has become one of the poster children of this franchise.

John: Mindless drone or not, at least he’s still got more personality than Ryu. There, I said it. “Fighter in a fighting game who fights a lot because he’s really into fighting” is not a personality, Capcom, even by fighting game standards.

Kevin: Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 is a game we’ll all remember fondly, but for literally a decade, gamers were playing Sentinel Vs. Sentinel and taking it waytoo seriously. As such the Sentinel and his rocket punches got a free pass onto the roster of MvC3.

John: Plus, unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 3, in the previous game you could have multiple palette-swapped iterations of the same character on your team, so a three-on-three all-Sentinel battle was entirely possible. The game, helpfully, actually was prepared with enough Sentinel palette swaps for this contingency, so you could have giant robots in a wide array of colors duking it out together. It was like watching a Mobile Suit Gundam spinoff series sponsored entirely by Skittles or a really violent, mechanized United Colors of Benetton ad.

Kevin: I do give Capcom some credit. He’s not as obscenely godly a character as he once was, and he’s a fun oddball fighter in a decently balanced game. I look forward to playing as “Dark Sentinel,” a totally separate and even more overpowered addition to be featured in UMvC3: Arcade Edition!

John: Oh, I do hope Capcom doesn’t stop with “Ultimate” and brings back the tradition of releasing tweaked versions of the same game with ever-larger mounds of adjectives piled on them. Ten years from now, I want to be able to do a revamped version of this article to celebrate the release of Xtreme Maximally Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: The Fate of Two Worlds: Super Transcendent Lorentz-Contracted Hyperspeed Special Platinum Edition when it comes out.
Finally pushed too far after years of ridicule and ostracism by his coworkers at Santa's workshop, Herbie the Misfit Elf turns to the dark side.


Kevin: While the Fantastic Four themselves remain ever the glaring omission from Capcom’s Marvel fighters, at least their powers made it into this game. While I’d rather have the courageous quartet themselves, Super-Skrull is pretty darned cool with his grabs, slams, pummels, and flames. I only wish I could understand what he’s saying. Prior to his Inferno special attack I’m absolutely convinced he exclaims “He Loves Me!” Perhaps on the Skrull world it is customary to burn those who love you to a nova crisp as a sign of dominance.

John: Super-Skrull clearly has a deep fear of intimacy, most likely as the result of self-esteem issues that cause him to feel unworthy of being loved and afraid that any close emotional relationship with another person will inevitably end in betrayal and abandonment, that drives him to repel people who try to get close to him. This is all too common, sadly, though Super-Skrull’s particular symptomology is somewhat atypical- most people suffering from fear of intimacy deal with it through avoidant or self-sabotaging behaviors intended to prevent the formation of close emotional ties with others, rather than by joining an interdimensional combat tournament and setting people on fire.
Frank West
Frank West during his award-winning reporting from the Siege of Sevastopol, 1854. He's covered wars, you know.

Frank West

Kevin: Photojournalist Frank West is the protagonist of the popular Dead Rising, in which he fends off hordes of zombies with shopping carts, baseball bats, and Serve-bot Helmets. He actually first appeared as a fighting game character inTatsunoko Vs. Capcom, where he uses his merchandise-inspired weaponry to fell the likes of everyone’s favorite anime characters Yatterman II and Gold Lightan.

John: I feel obliged to point out that, unlike Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom managed to incorporate Zero into the roster- and Mega Man’s distaff counterpart Roll, for that matter- and still find space for Mega Man. They didn’t feel the need to shoehorn a fourth-string character like Tron Bonne into things, heedless of who might have to pay the price for their folly, and her absence didn’t make the sky fall.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Kevin: Frank was actually cut from the original MvC3 late in development, but he makes his Ultimate debut in the upgrade sequel. What this means is that now, not only can we deliver the final blow to the game’s boss, the omnipotent Galactus, with a steel pipe as Mike Haggar… we can now use Frank to crack him in his cosmic groin with a Louisville Slugger. Somewhere the Silver Surfer is shedding a glinting gray tear, running down his aloof visage. It never used to be this easy, eh Norrin?

John: Actually, what most people outside the sporting goods manufacturing industry don’t realize is that all Louisville Sluggers have been imbued with the Power Cosmic since 1905, when their inventor Bud Hillerich secretly agreed to become a Herald of Galactus as part of his company’s endorsement deal with Honus Wagner. The Hillerich & Bradsby company doesn’t really talk about it much in their promotional materials, though.
Frank West
With the undead in hot pursuit, Frank West must call upon his extensive running training at the Lupin the 3rd Track and Field Academy to make his escape.


Kevin: Dante, the red-coated protagonist from the Devil May Cry games has long been requested by Capcom fighter fans to make it into a crossover fighter. Fun fact: Dante has more special moves than any other character in any fighting game ever at a whopping forty-plus distinct special attacks! Those of us who have been playing the game are mostly familiar with Dante teleporting up over our heads, slamming us with his sword, levitating us into the air with gunfire and entering into a cycle of incredibly repetitive and obnoxious attacks that may or may not end with him performing his hypercombo twice in a row.

John: So he basically subjects you to the last century of the Chicago Cubs condensed into a few seconds, then.

Kevin: What many do not realize is that in spite of his show of bravado and arrogance, Dante is actually deeply insecure. Frequently seeking validation with that nagging question “I’m good, aren’t I?!? I’m good, aren’t I?!? I’m good, aren’t I?!?” It is thought that much of Dante’s insecurity derives from his being the only fighting game character to wear a “bro,” or “mansierre” if you will. But this is highly speculative.

John: Your lack of insight into the human heart continues to disappoint me, Kevin. Or half-human half-demon heart, or whatever.
The damage continues to mount as Dante's hypercombo enters its third hour.

Dante’s parents died when he was very young- his mother when he was 8, and his father even earlier. Clearly, he’s desperately reaching out for the love and approval that he was deprived of as a child. He had no strong adult male role model to provide him with encouragement and instill self-confidence as he grew up.

This lack of paternal validation as he came of age, combined with the effects of hegemonic mainstream gender narratives identifying manhood with aggression and violence- which, in the absence of personal experiences with protective or nurturing male figures in his own life, he is unable to imagine any alternative to- has left him with a deeply insecure sense of his own masculinity that he tries to compensate for by constantly seeking reassurance from others about his fighting prowess.


That band he’s got wrapped around his chest underneath his jacket is sort of weird-looking, though. I have no idea what the deal with that thing is. If I hadn’t already reached my Saturday Night Live reference quota in my comments about Albert Wesker last time and the sketch was less than three decades old, I’d be tempted to make some sort of joke about Dan Akroyd and his “elaborate network of trusses.”

Flames with the power to consume whole worlds rage as the power of the Dark Phoenix...DAMN IT! Forget it, I'm not finding and uploading ANOTHER damned JPEG file. I doubt anybody will even notice.

Kevin: The fiery Jean Grey is one of my all-time favorite superheroes, so I was stoked when I first heard she was going to make the cut of MVC3. My excitement has since cooled a bit as I learned that she essentially dies in three hits.

John: I figured they were just trying to be true to her characterization in the X-Men comics.

Kevin: Granted, this is a balancing technique to counter her ultra-powerful Dark Phoenix form which is activated when she gets K.O.ed at combo level 5. Unfortunately, it turns her into something of a gimmick. A back pocket character, who is never on point and tends to just sort of sit in reserve until you’re ready to send her off to slaughter. But nevertheless she can be quite a force to be reckoned with. Personally, I like to use her when I’m pissed off at the game’s aptly named “Very Hard” Mode. As sophisticated as the game’s AI is, it does not understand the term “Dodge this!” Even if Dark Phoenix says it forty-five times in a row as she pins poor souls in the corner with double fireballs until they’re dead.

John: This seems like as good a time as any to bring up one of my complaints with the game. Like many fighting games, characters have some word or phrase that they’ll shout when they unleash their projectile attack. The problem is that in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 many characters can do their projectile attacks in quite rapid succession, and in many situations it can be a good idea to do just that, in which case your character will call out his single stock phrase for that move every single time, endlessly. It get’s very repetitive after a while- if a projectile-focused character takes the field, the fight can end up sounding like a skipping CD or a really Urkel-heavy episode of Family Matters.

Forget the unimaginably advanced super-technology in Dr. Doom’s armor, or the literally godly might of Thor, or the power of the Dark Phoenix to incinerate entire worlds- the most astonishing superhuman power on display here is the sheer lung capacity some of these characters have.

Thus ends this episode. Join us again next time as we dig-still deeper into Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3! Will we somehow unravel the mystery of forgettable Lovecraft pastiche Shuma-Gorath’s repeated appearances in this series without resorting to lazy Japanese stereotypes about tentacles? Will anything be able to slake my thirst for vengeance against Tron Bonne? Will we finally overcome our insecurity in the face of Mike Haggar’s overwhelming masculinity and actually finish the entry for him that we previously implied would be included this this time? There’s only one way to find out!

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