Halo: A bit of a stretch.

Halo: A bit of a stretch.

First and foremost, I would like to make it clear that I am a stout believer that a video game should never stand on its multi-player facets alone.  Games like Modern Warfare 2, for which there is absolutely no reason to play the single player campaign, are still fun to play but not worth sixty dollars to hear 12 year olds swearing about how I’m a noob.  Even an MMO (it’s in the name) should be fun to play alone.  That being said, I am going to split this into two separate sections:  The $30 single player and $30 multi-player.

Singleton:

In the past, Bungie and their halo franchise have provided a fun and entertaining story.  You, a big bad Spartan, are taking on the entire covenant army to save the Earth.

Never got past the cover.

Cool right?  In Reach, being a prequel in the series and even further in the past, you should be kicking so much butt that Master Chief won’t even be necessary.  That is almost true.  You are the new kid in a group of six lesser Spartans, I’ll refer to them as the uncool kids in school, who are on Reach (the planet) to take care of a pest problem.  It quickly goes downhill from there.  I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have not played the game but that is slightly impossible.  It’s fairly evident that Reach will fall, there’s even a book about it.  Don’t focus on the end, that’s depressing.  Instead, let’s talk about how we get to this fateful end.

The campaign feels, like all of its predecessors, too short but is oddly the perfect length.  Given a difficulty curve like a titration graph, Reach makes you feel good then takes that feeling and shoves it down your throat.

SCIENCE!

Repeatedly.  That aside, Reach does have a decent story included.  Of the Halo series, it is the only one that made me actually like the characters in the game.  It’s true that you, Number six, have the personality of a fishtank, but that’s an overdone cliche standard in video games anyway.

In addition to the above average story, the campaign goes above and beyond, quite literally, to provide experiences that are noticeably unavailable in the multiplayer.  My favorite level in the campaign was when Number 6 was jammed into an experimental space ship and shot directly into outer space.  Why, you might ask, would they put him there?  He is a Spartan, he shouldn’t be flying.  WRONG!  He should always be flying.  Well, thrusting about, but you get the point.

Duffman is thrusting toward the problem!

Flying around in a fighter jet shooting down other ships if incredibly entertaining and I hope that, someday, Bungie decides to include this as a multiplayer variant, but they probably won’t.  Sadly, this mission is very short lived and you soon set foot back on ground with your puny legs.  Like other Halo games, Reach does have a flair for vehicle combat.  Driving around in tanks is still fun, as well as the entire gamut of Warthogs, pickup trucks and forklifts.  Most of these are pretty short, unless you’re clever enough to find a way around their roadblocks.

Artist’s rendering.

Unlike the previous Halo games, Reach does provide a bit more imperative to play intelligently.  There is a lot less ammunition lying about Reach, forcing you to think twice about picking up the rocket launcher with 2 shots or the DMR with a lot more.  Also, there is a lot more attention to detail and overall glamor within the game.  I noticed primarily on a level sans gravity.  In a covenant space ship you jump around, floating from place to place, killin’ some grunts, but when you shoot them there’s not splatter but instead form into little blobs.  I found this to be a nice touch, one among many (forklifts being another).  The rest of the world is incredibly detailed and, often, beautiful.

Overall, the single player is pretty good.  Not incredible or original in any way, but still good.  If you liked the first three, you’ll probably like the one that came before all of them.  Now, on to multiplayer.

Multikill:

“BRB. Mom say’s I gotta take out the trash.”

The multiplayer experience is pretty disappointing, and mostly through no fault of Bungie.  The main fault for Reach is that it was made for the Xbox and thus connects to the Xbox live (XBL) community, where never a more wretched hive of scum and villainy will you find with an average user age of 15.

Other players aside, Multiplayer work best when treated like playing Monopoly:  Its only fun when you can make others in the same room suffer along with you.

ProTip: There is no get out of hell free card.

Reach does have a few very fun games modes, but you have to rely on those playing with you to vote for the fun one, which is apparently not the one you thought it was.  You wanted to play Race?  You’re playing Sniper battle now.  The only way to have a chance at playing what you want is to have 3 people tagging along to pad your votes.

Even if you get a map you want, which has a high probability since the game shipped with a trifling 8 maps, you probably won’t be playing someone at your skill level.  There must be a bug or something in the Reach matchmaking algorithm, because it is incapable of finding people that match your rank.  After a few nights of extreme Reach action, I have yet to find opponents that resulted in anything besides a complete steamroll, which can result in a very unfun experience.  Though, having jet packs is pretty cool.

In short, the Multiplayer of Reach is more of the same.  Yes, the graphics got an update and there are a few aesthetic changes to the overall system but is still the same old Halo everyone remembers and tolerates.

In conclusion, if you haven’t already gotten Halo: Reach…you really aren’t missing out on anything.  The single player is fun, but there are better options in the discount bin at Best Buy and the multiplayer really isn’t worth the screaming children you have to put up with.  If you are really into Halo, go now and buy the Legendary edition and feel good about yourself, the rest of us are going to McNellie’s.

Warthog concept art.
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Metroid Other M: Old, new, but nothing borrowed.

Posted on Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 12:28am
Similar to the proposed cover for the sequel.

From the people that brought you Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball (Team Ninja) comes the latest installment in Nintendo’s classic Metroid series, aptly titled Metroid: Other M.  The game takes place after Samus Aran’s second encounter with the Metroid (In Super Metroid for SNES) and claims to tell the “Cinematic story of Samus Aran’s past.”  Very much a throwback to both classic and more recent games in the series, Other M strives to provide an experience that young and old gamers can enjoy, with all the plasma shooting, morph ball rolling, and item collecting expected from a Metroid game.

No nunchuck required!

To achieve this mixture of the archaic and new, Wii style, Other M introduces a new and “innovative” way to use the Wii-mote to control Samus.  The game switches between a third person view with automatic aiming that allows the player to (somewhat) awkwardly control Samus’ movements with the D-Pad and a stationary first person view with full gun control firmly in the hands of the player, all depending on the orientation of the Wii-mote.  Holding the controller sideways moves the camera to the third person view, often forcing Samus and enemies out of frame, while pointing it at the screen shifts to first person and allows the player to look everywhere along with the capacity to shoot missiles.  While at first this sounds cool, the Wii-mote’s sketchy motion sensor can be easily confused when the player attempts to switch between these frames of reference, which does present a problem if the player happens to be in the middle of combat.  This issue is somewhat alleviated as you become used to the control set, but can still be a problem even for an experienced player.

So pret–IT BURNS!

While flailing about with the Wii-mote, be sure to take in the world around Samus.  The Wii takes every chance it can to show that it can be as gorgeous as other next-gen consoles.  Cinematic cut scenes are filled with fantastic visuals of flowing Nebulas and wonderfully detailed interiors of space ships, along with a few shameless sweeps of Samus’ unsuited figure.  Other M does, however, noticeably lower those standards when the player takes control.  While still better looking than something you might find on Wii Sports, this does create an awkward impression as the game attempts to transition between game and cinematic, giving the same feeling as someone splicing handy-cam shots into a high-budget Hollywood movie.  It flows, but gives a slight bump to remind they player that they are, in fact, playing a video game.

Sadly, the in game graphics are not the only lacking element of Other M.  While the out of game backstory is fantastic, the in game story is noticeably worse.  The game gets credit for being the first in the Metroid line to attempt to include plot somewhere besides the instruction manual, the writing will need to improve if Nintendo tries again.  The two story lines to have one connecting factor that should be removed completely:  Samus’ voice actor.  I’m unsure if she was intentional or not, but The woman voicing Samus speaks in a monotone staccato that sounds like she is struggling to read and speak the words at the same time.  (I know Samus is blonde, but not that blonde.)

oooo, shiny…

Combine that with the fact that her voice is just plain annoying and you may find it better to turn on subtitles and mute the TV rather than listen to her deliver the majority of the dialogue.

One other thing of note are, what I have dubbed, look puzzles.  After you experience a few of these, you will know instantly by the accompanying sense of terror of what you have encountered.  The first thing that happens in these “Puzzles” is that you are locked into first person view and forbidden from continuing away from it until you convince Samus to lock onto whatever thing the game wants you to see.  At first, they’re simple things.  An obviously out of place emblem on a space ship, a weird shaking thing, but they get worse.  Eventually, you are wasting 10-20 minutes playing detective trying to lock-on to the particular green stain that will advance the game.  They serve no purpose but to waste time and could be easily cut entirely without anyone missing them.

Do you see what we’re looking for?

Despite a few mild annoyances, Other M is like any traditional Metroid game.  There’s plenty of 2-d platforming and morph ball rolling through questionably placed shafts for any diehard fan.  It is, overall, too easy, compared with other Metroid games, especially when auto-aim does all the hard work for you.  This does allow anyone, regardless of skill, to breeze through the game and experience the wonderful journey into the Metroid universe.  This is a game for anyone, old fan or new to the series, and should provide at least a few hours of entertainment.

100% completion.

Megaman 10: GUAHHHHH!

Oh MegaMan box art…

Recently released for download on the Wii’s virtual console and for PS3 (360 owners will have to wait until the end of the month), MegaMan 10 is a veritable blast from the past. Like something ripped straight from an old NES cartridge, this sidescrolling platformer stays true to its classic roots.

MegaMan 10 looks and works very much the same as the originals (after the first) did. The story is negligible, something about Roboenza, but is otherwise the same.

How do robots even get sick?

You are still the Blue Bomber with your trusty arm gun ready to fight your way to the eight robot masters and give them what for, after which you viciously rip off and cannibalize their weaponry for your own use.

Traversing the levels in 10 is, by far, the most difficult part. The difficulty curve, like many MegaMan games, is incredibly varied. Some levels are incredibly easy to travers while a select few (notably Strike Man’s) will leavy you screaming at the TV for hours on end. Unlike its predecessor from 2009, MegaMan 9, the game is doable and offers some chance of seeing the end credits.

Also of note is the reintroduction of Protoman, MegaMan’s longtime counterpart, as a playable character something unheard of in the previous installation. Playing as the mysterious android leaves something to be desired though. Protoman is exactly like Mega Man, except that he is red, wears a scarf, and brandishes a shield in addition to his arm cannon. The shield allows Protoman to block projectiles while jumping but at the cost of a slightly slower fire rate and a high pitched whilstling that you get to hear every time you die, which will happen.

Since the advent of full 3d game environments, the classic 2-d sidescrolling platformers fell to the wayside, with development studios preferring to make their games with a more realistic tone. After that the almost primitive 2-d games were tossed aside for their more valued upgrades. Recently, though, downloadable gaming has enabled 2-d games to flourish amongst the 3-d behemoths. Games like MegaMan 9 and 10, the nostalgic return to the Final Fantasy universe FFIV: The After years, and the incredibly artistic Braid, each of which are only available via online download, have tapped the growing generations of gamers childhood memories and continued to make something worth buying that anyone can enjoy. Hopefully, this reestablishment of 2-d gaming will continue on for many years to come.

Protip: Beat Pump Man first.

Heavy Drama

Japanese Box Art

The PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain is by far one of the best story based video games I have ever played. Hands down. I was sold on it during the install screen, before I even started playing, where I was taught to make an origami figure with paper included in the box.

I made this!

Before you start getting all angry and shouting “Halo is the best game ever!” let me explain. First off, when I say story based I mean that quite literally. It doesn’t rely on having you run around shooting everything that moves for hours on end to advance the story but goes in the opposite direction. On average you’ll spend about 20 minutes on a scene before you move on to the next giving the game a very fast paced movie like feel. Really, Heavy Rain is so different from any other game I have ever played that there’s nothing to possibly compare it to.

Heavy Rain starts with you exploring your house and setting up for your son’s 10th birthday. You go through your tutorials learning the basic control scheme, how to beat your child fight, gently set plates, etc. After some backstory about your wife and two sons you end up at the local mall and are asked by your wife to watch your ten year old son while she buys shoes. He runs off and you suffer the classic “parent loses child in crowded place” scenario. After a few minutes of frantic searching (and I do mean frantic) you see him across the street, call out and he runs into traffic. The story picks up two years later with you now separated, depressed, and drifting away from your other son, a swift change from the happy-go-lucky tone of the prologue. After that, the story is up to you. You are introduced to three other playable characters (a hard boiled cop, female insomniac, and drug addicted FBI agent with sweet glasses)

They see dead people. And evidence holograms. That’s the important part.

and told that a serial killer known simply as the Origami Killer (he leaves bits of origami with those he kills) has killed seven children in the past 2 years. After that the story falls squarely into the players hands. From what I’ve seen so far, every major decision you make affects the story somehow. That’s not to say that whether you drink the orange juice or beer in the fridge will have a major impact on the story, but saving the hooker from certain doom probably will.

Advancing through the story also involves thinking quietly to yourself and talking to other people. At any time you have control of the character you can press the thoughts button to see what they are thinking. As you meditate on your thoughts they swirl around your head until you press one of the corresponding buttons to hear the full thought. Usually, these thoughts will entail your goal for the moment or the general mood but nonetheless they are cool. Conversation works much the same way, with your questions and responses floating around your head until you pick one (or don’t) but instead the words on screen are the subject of the question you are going to ask or the tone of your answer. At first this seems like nothing more than a cool effect and it is but it still greatly adds to a move when your responses are shaking wildly while a gun is pointing at your face.

I love haggling.

On to something a bit more down to Earth: The control scheme. The controls for Heavy Rain were originally a point of contention for me but I have learned to love them in this game. First, like no other game before it, the only set controls are the walk button and the walk directional control. At first, the walk mechanic is somewhat odd and can lead to awkward situations with the character if you happen to want to turn around, which is a surprisingly daunting task most of the time, but eventually is something you get used to. Everything else in controlled by context sensitive quick time events, such as press x to punch bald guy in face, flick analog stick to right to open door, or shake controller to shake orange juice. Don’t dis the game just because I mentioned the dreaded QTE because this game is based around them. In Heavy Rain most QTEs are not necessarily time sensitive unless they logically should be, like when fighting or driving a car the wrong direction down a highway.

PI Scott Shelby, a poorly dressed, overweight ninja.

Even in such situations you wont die immediately if you miss a button but instead you drift slightly closer to death so that if you miss too many in a row you probably will die, which is still cool because then you play as one of the other characters just with the first one dead.

What this does introduce into the game are what can only be described as the most intense action scenes in a video game that I have ever experienced. In the first fight sequence, I feel like I am fighting for my life and am drawn into the game as you wrestle with the controller to hit the next button that flashes on screen. At the end, I was left with my heart pounding and my hands shaking from the adrenaline rush of the whole thing. You might think this would stop after you started learning where to expect such scenes but it doesn’t. Each fight, chase, etc. is just as exciting as the one before it if not more so.

With these scenes and some unexpectedly good voice acting, Heavy Rain is able to create moments of panic, sadness, fear, paranoia that manifest into the player to bring about a genuinely unique experience. Heavy Rain has been described as playing an interactive movie but it has more than a two hour trip to the theater can give. This PS3 exclusive (of which I’m now 6 hours into) is, for all intents and purposes, infinitely replayable and gives an experience far different from any other game available. It would be no surprise if in the future Heavy Rain was looked back upon as one of the first video games to be seen as an artistic masterpiece.

What does this have to do with anything? Absolutely nothing.

BioShock 2: More of the Same

Before installing BioShock 2, I had only played a tiny portion of the original BioShock but I had enjoyed what little I had and only stopped to do bad computer technology. The whole plasmid, shooting not-magic stuff from your hands was always an entertaining idea, not to mention shooting up Rapture’s various shooters up, so I decided to give the sequel a try.

The BioShocker

From what I have gathered thus far the 2 games are linked only by title and location, so no need to read the Wikipedia article for the first just yet.

BioShock 2’s intro cinematic is, behind only the F.E.A.R. franchise, the creepiest thing in a game I have ever seen. It starts out with you looking into a vent shaped peculiarly like an eye (some kind of symbolism, perhaps, that goes right over my head) out of which crawls Eleanor, a little girl with incredibly vivid glowing yellow eyes. After you get her out of the vent she runs off and you chase after her to discover that she is draining what looks like blood (which I now know to be ADAM) from a corpse and then drinking it from her giant syringe.

Seriously, what are they teaching kids in school these days?

She then climbs on your back and you walk through a party. After you frighten most of the party-goers you rough up some guys with your giant drill arm. Did I forget to mention that you play as a Big Daddy? The Alpha series model, to be precise, the first Big Daddy to be bonded with a Little Sister (The girl you just watched drink a man).

That’s you, on the right. With the drill.

After you drill through a man you are hit with some green glob which freezes your monstrous form. Then you are introduced to Sophia Lamb, the girl you’ve been spending your time with’s mother and defacto leader of Rapture, who informs you that the girl is her daughter and she will not let you have her. Sophia then orders you to shoot yourself in the head, to which you agree and do. Normally, this would permanently put someone out of commission but you only take a ten year nap. After that, it’s time to get up and get back to work in a now ruined rapture. Why no one threw you out with the garbage rather than save you in a closet for sentimental value is beyond me, but I’ll ignore this plot hole, the only hole not caused by the drill on your arm.

The rest of the story, or at least as much as I have seen, if fairly straightforward. Eleanor is trapped by her mother and misses you so you need to spring her but to do that you need ADAM which you can only get by stealing another, modern Big Daddy’s Little Sister, which leads to the awkward line: “New Goal: Pick up little Sister”, which is probably why the newly introduced Big Sister’s are after you.

BTW, the cake is a lie.

The Big Sisters (formed from a discarded Little Sister) are just like you except smaller, faster, and harder to kill. Really it’s only the helmet that’s the same, so expect to get punched in the faceplate more than a few times by these clever girls.

Honestly, I would expect someone covered in metal to be better equipped to take a hit than the protagonist from the previous game, a mere human (with some gene implants), but you to go down after a few taps with a crowbar. In fact, very little has changed from the previous BioShock. You still have EVE powered lightning shooting plasmids (and presumably bee shooting ones as well), still fight the same drug addicted splicers in the ruins of Rapture, and are still drenched in neat water effects and too many religious references. Even the Ammo Bandito and Carnival of Value are still there to comfort the weary fighter in the night. The only real difference I’ve found thus far are that you now lack a right hand and, like a 50s era machine girl, you strap guns and drills to your right arm to kill everything.

Bioshock 3: Under the mask.

One real thing the developers did change was the “hacking” system. In BioShock, there was a neat pipe laying mini-game where you lined up pipes to flow the hacking fluid from the in port to the out port which resulted in control of the system. In BioShock 2, hacking has been reduced to a reflex based “land the arrow in the green part” task. Hacking is no longer a challenge because anyone with any timing can complete them, rather than the minor puzzle of old. I will miss that viscous blue fluid that flowed through the machines.

Now to take a step back for a moment, the two most annoying qualities of BioShock are things not attributes of the gameplay. The first, and the lesser, is a minor glitch that I hope will be fixed in updates that causes a remapped use key to be displayed incorrectly. At first this doesn’t seem like a major flaw but when spending ten minutes trying to hack a door when the on screen text tells me to press ‘F’ when I should have been pressing my remapped ‘E’ can be frustrating. The second, and by far the worst, is the Games for Windows/Xbox Live integration. I realize that Microsoft wants to extend their Xbox Live system to computers and not just their consoles but I don’t want that, that’s what Steam is for. Having to jump through hoops (including entering the product key repeatedly and signing up for Xbox Live) just to start the game, not to mention the drama ruining achievements. The new overlay may be fine for some but I do wish that I could not have to deal with it.

Overall, if you beat the first BioShock and enjoyed it you probably will enjoy the sequel. If you haven’t, play the original BioShock instead. It’s cheaper and more or less the same, but doesn’t have the clanking of your giant metal feet. If you do plan to get it, I would suggest obtaining a copy for console so that you can play it even when you don’t have an internet connection, otherwise you’ll have to stop the next time the network goes down.

Totally NOT a spoiler.

Bayonetta: A story of Sin and…well just that.

I suggest you watch this at least once, for hilarity.

I started playing Bayonetta with few, if any, preconceived notions about it in my mind. I knew that she user her hair to clothe and kill things and that the game had an M rating for blood and gore, ‘intense’ violence, strong language, suggestive themes, and, the crowd favorite, partial nudity. As of this point I’m sure that the naughty bits were included solely to get the game to M and make this a must have for pre-pubescent teens with a slow internet connection.

The game starts off with you and some other person (presumably a witch) falling on a clock tower killing angels. There’s some backstory but you don’t notice that because you are KILLING ANGELS! First, disregard any notion of what you think God’s most holy servants and army look like because, according to SEGA, you are wrong. Angels are not some beautified version of a human or anything close. They’re eagles. Kinda. They resemble something that would happen if an eagle, a crusader, and a lava lamp had a three-way, which, considering the overall theme of Bayonetta would not be an entirely impossible idea.

This is what a devout life gets you.

What Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee say’s about the game’s fetishized tendencies is entirely true. You have a woman wrapped in skin tight…hair who prances around taking it off for you, the player, to see every press a button.

This is a common occurrence for Bayonetta.

She walks in what can only be described as a “Stripper runway strut.” Consumable items are all lollipops which she sensuously sucks during every cutscene where she has one. She even has glasses and a bun for the “sexy librarian” crowd. Even in the first scene of the game you are treated with her exploding out of a nuns robe and then giving you a close up of every conceivable angle of her adult parts for about 10 minutes while she beats on some Angels. If you so desire you can pick up a weapon from a defeated enemy and swing around it as though that’s how you make your living at night, kicking and shooting things also of course. I think my favorite part, however, is when I had to pull a lever. No you might think “What’s so bad about that?” She could have easily just pulled the lever with her hair or arms like a sane person but no. Bayonetta decided that the only way to pull it was to kick her leg up, wrap around the pole and bend over backwards to close the loop. (see it here)

As far as the gameplay goes, it is incredibly simple and I can otherwise only bridge parallels between it and Devil May Cry, minus the incredibly difficult part. You have a large number of combos available but you end up using the one that only requires you mash the Punch button until a demonic leg comes out from your hair and kicks whatever you were punching’s ass and the a few of the techniques you can buy from the store, all of which end with (literally) a snapshot of Bayonetta in a suggestive pose for a second. As for the store you buy things using red orbs halos that you collect from defeated enemies and benches and crates and flowerpots and everything else in the world. I have no idea who decided that halos were a “Very Rare” metal because you deal with these things in the thousands. The cheapest thing costs 5000 halos and techniques cost at least 15k. I’m sure that Rodin (pronounced Rodan), the proprietor of the Gates of Hell bar and store, is shafting you and selling these things for a serious profit in the Inferno (read hell), though I suppose you get what you can when you are fighting the armies of God.

“Sorry, I need to buy more lollipops.”

I think. It is never really clear what is going on in Bayonetta. From what I’ve seen Bayonetta woke up in a coffin at the bottom of a lake 20 years ago and has been fighting angels to avoid being dragged back to hell. Then some stuff happens and you see a lot of fanservice. I hope that once I finish the game I’ll understand why I was fighting a two headed dragon in a church only to have part of the church (the part with you in it) ripped from the ground and flown around, climaxing (yes, that’s the technical term) in you throwing the church back at him after a dreaded quick time even or Press X to not die sequence. Generally speaking, I would miss such events the first time every time because they just pop up randomly so that you don’t finish without seeing the “sorry you died” scene and racking up a skull and crossbones continue (which costs you style points at the end of a level and nothing else).

Despite all that the game is surprisingly entertaining and fun to play. I am continually surprised by each astoundingly awesome move that Bayonetta comes up with. Nothing is more satisfying that watching a difficult boss be destroyed by a gigantic spinning torture wheel, or other such devices. Once you get past the fact that she is shooting guns from her feet (my answer is she’s a witch) you realize how cool it is that she is shooting guns from her feet and you don’t question it. If you want story, character development, or anything artsy save yourself 50 dollars and go buy Killer 7. If you do want a game that entertains and lets you battle Angels with bondage gear get Bayonetta. Just don’t let your girlfriend see it or she will think you are cheating on her.

I don’t know where she keeps that.
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