Yet I can tell you without shame in my heart, or doubt in my words that I love “Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.” Truly love it.
While I realized this the moment that I heard “Long Tall Sally” blasting from a helicopter stereo in a glorious tribute to the greatest sci-fi action movie of all time (“Predator”), it’s not even the game’s love of everything sci-fi 80s that stirs these emotions in me. Rather it’s something deeper, more real.
It’s because “Blood Dragon” reminds me that add-on content doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but can actually be fun.
Too often downloadable content is seen as a necessity, or worse a money grab. “Blood Dragon” is the antithesis of that idea. It was the brainchild of a group of developers who saw the opportunity to release the necessary DLC content for “Far Cry 3” as something more than an obligation to bang out some new items, or a side story in the same environment, but instead they took the chance to take all of the original game’s well developed mechanics, and use them as the foundation of something that would not only be creatively satisfying, but that could be as enjoyable to make as it would be enjoyable to play.
In this case it just happened to be a tribute to the world of over the top 80s video games, science fiction, and cartoons. Every aspect of the game is dipped deep into the well of 80s nostalgia, as the cutscense are straight out of an 80’s NES game, there’s a VCR filter over most of the proceedings, and the amount of film references is nerdgasmic. Seriously, if you took a sip of watered down light beer for every “Terminator” reference in the demo, you’d die of alcohol poisoning three minutes in. It’s like the proper video game adaptation of so many franchises we never got, all rolled into one.
But again this isn’t about the content of “Blood Dragon” specifically. It’s about how all other developers need to take notice of “Blood Dragon,” and remind themselves that the moment they feel bored doing DLC, they are probably doing it wrong. Before I saw “Blood Dragon” I honestly never considered that DLC could be a good thing for gaming, but just like “Bioshock Infinite” did for sequels, “Blood Dragon” shows the benefit of preserving the mechanics of a great game, but changing everything else to produce something that doesn’t give you more of what came before, but something more original that reminds you why you loved that game in the first place.
So while the neon infused hyper retro world of “Blood Dragon” should be enough to get anyone to play it (especially as you don’t even need “Far Cry 3” to do so, making it more of a standalone add-on), the real reason you should pick it up when it is released on May 1st is to show developers that gamers are tired of downloads that just put armor on horses, and instead crave expansions that actually expand and explore the possibilities of a franchise.
2012 in gaming isn’t a year that is easy to sum up with hyperbole, or one sweeping statement.
It was far from the greatest year in gaming (very, very far), but even still, when I was compiling this list, I had to make some heartbreaking cuts, and felt I was disrespecting some very good games. For every cheap money snatching blockbuster we got this year, we were also gifted with some genuine surprises and accomplished franchise extensions (many of which make up this list). The end result of one step forward and one step back for an entire 12-month period may not have moved gaming ahead, but the constant motion made choosing the best of the year a dizzying experience.
Somehow, though, I was finally able to narrow it down to 10 games that I feel comfortable saying are the best of 2012.
10. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
On the surface, it looks like all there is to “Kingdoms of Amalur” is a standard RPG coat of paint and a souvenir of the high profile closure of “38 Studios.” It’s not the type of game that makes its first impression with its looks, but rather its personality. The game’s speedy free flowing combat system never ceases to be entertaining throughout the very long adventure “Amalur” provides.
An all-star team of developers and outside talent (fantasy great RA Salvatore penned the story) may have been behind “Amalur,” but nothing feels old hat about the game, and it instead comes across as something closer to a fresh faced group of young talent, with heads full of new ideas creating something against the grain. It’s one of the more surprising, and certainly among the most pure fun, releases this year.
9. Xenoblade: Chronicles
If “Amalur” looks standard and done before on the surface, then “Xenoblade” is practically a fossil upon first viewing. It’s a member of the dying JRPG genre, and was featured on the outdated Nintendo Wii, which would normally spell either doom or obscurity at best. Yet after a wave of hype from the Japanese market, and several thousand petition signatures later, audiences everywhere were greeted by something that felt like meeting an old friend, and finding out that you have just as much fun with each other as you used to.
“Xenoblade” pays tribute to all of the great JRPG conventions that shaped it, but it just as carefully takes note of all the things that made those game’s grow stale as well, and manages to mold new forms for them so you are left with a game that somehow makes you nostalgic for things you never knew before. Your party becomes your family thanks to a great relationship system, and the character building and combat mechanics keep things fresh as you explore one of the more unique worlds available for the genre all in pursuit of finishing an equally gripping story. The era of JRPGs may be over, but “Xenoblade” reminds us why it had a dynasty in the first place.
8. Sound Shapes
I love new, bold ideas in gaming, and “Sound Shapes” may have been among the newest and boldest this year. It has nothing to do with its basic gameplay either, as “Shapes” traditional 2D side scrolling system is fairly ho-hum. Much like a new “Mario” release though, the real draw doesn’t lie in the mechanics, but rather the design. “Sound Shapes” employs a minimalist graphic style that is charming, but only serves to give substance to the soundtrack that defines the experience. Several different musical artists contributed to the music (and the design) of the levels, and as a result we are provided one of the first games since the brilliant “Rez” that feels like an organic and physical product of the soundtrack. It’s more of an interactive soundtrack than a fully loaded video game, but it’s artistic value is unquestionable, and I wouldn’t want to know the person who couldn’t have fun with it.
“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author)
I truly, truly hope that the above quote is correct because this week in video games we saw a case of a dangerous old way of thinking and a potentially new idea of thinking that if carried over to other projects, and taken in as a new idea, will stretch the limits of what we once believed to be standard, or even possible.
Ironically whereas “Hitman” is a game ideally about subtlety, and the art of skill, it’s story has all of the approach and delivery of a blunt hammer to the face delivered by a laughing lunatic. On the other hand, a game like “The Walking Dead” (which often asks the player to smash something in the head with a blunt object) delivers a tale so refined that we must now be careful how we speak of other game’s stories while praising them so we don’t accidentally lump them in the same league with “The Walking Dead” and therefore lose perspective.
“Hitman” is a dangerous game, and I’m not talking about the controversy surrounding the sexy nun enemies, or the general violence of the title. Instead it’s a dangerous game because of its disgusting and obvious story and stroytelling that,despite a couple of here and there moments of quality dialogue, fails to inspire a moment of emotional reaction, whatever that emotion may be . Whereas previous games in series wisely shunned a grand plot in favor of environment and mood as the larger themes, “Absolution” tries to go another route by making its presentation more of a high production, low grade movie. It’s every effort in that respect is so insultingly awful, it is the first game that should have not received the traditional M rating, but rather IM for “immature”.
Didn’t think that was funny? Well now you know how I feel as I tried to suffer through some of the most horrid attempts at sexual references, characters, plot, and of course comedy that have ever graced video games. It’s not even the content I’m against, but instead the delivery. It aims for Guy Ritchie, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, and instead ends up with an effort more in line with the works of Roger Corman. The only difference was Corman’s schlock knew it was bad and had a sense of style about it, whereas “Hitman: Absolution” seems either unaware of how bad its bad really is, or otherwise doesn’t give a damn and couldn’t be bothered to make what’s there work.
“The Walking Dead” on the other hand? Don’t be surprised if the fifth and final episode in the game’s first season just won the series overall game of the year honors, as its use of characters and plot, and more importantly the player’s involvement in those aspects, is nothing short of revolutionary. The game works off of the same promise of “Mass Effect” or a TV show like “The Wire” where all the pieces supposedly matter, and what you do in the end will be just a reflection of the steps you took to get there.
Unlike “Mass Effect” though, but much like “The Wire”, “The Walking Dead” achieves this as suddenly your choices do come to bear upon you as you now are faced with the prospect of facing the tough moments that defined your journey in a fresh light, and only in the end when you see the ramifications of them are you given the gift of hindsight that allows you to regret, smile upon, and always question your choices, as the end results, and your reactions to them, give you something that few games ever have, and that is a better sense of who you are, and the person you’d maybe rather try to be.
Does a game like “Hitman” have to do the same? Well it would be nice, but that’s not the point. The point is that a title like that handles its story with a dangerous indifference can no longer be accepted. This is not the NES where a brief kidnapping of your girlfriend by some thugs leads to all the motivation you need to reach a single frame resolution and expect satisfaction. You don’t have to have a masterpiece story, but don’t try to pass an entire adventure that is framed by the mentality of the average thirteen year old boy, and done with all of the effort exhibited by the average two year old boy, and honestly tell yourself it is the best you can do without expecting to receive both the mixed reviews and mainstream public backlash you are getting now.
And if you do decide to be dumb and lazy in the same week, whatever you do don’t release that high profile game at the same time as a title that provides a blueprint for the future of the medium and expect to save face in the minds of either your peers, your critics, or your fans
That, and I’m sure the creators of “Hitman: Absolution” can understand this, would just be silly.
While we’ll have to wait for the initial sales figures, considering how much of a critical hit it has been already, “Halo 4” is looking to become another runaway successes for the famous franchise. Having now played it, I’m thrilled at how the game truly does invoke that feeling of the original titles while not coming across as the cash-in of a well established formula that it so easily could have been. While it’s not quite so simple, we can thank this in large part to the efforts of the series new developer, 343 Industries, who have admirably taken over from the great Bungie.
When I first heard that there was to be a “Halo” game not made by Bungie, I got worried. Now that I step away from it though, I see that it really was the only way that “Halo” was ever really going to flourish again. In fact, the more I think about it, if we’re being honest, there are a lot of classic franchises that have gone stagnant and could use a fresh start courtesy of a new developer. Here’s five of the biggest examples.
The “Castlevania” series was forever altered with the release of “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”. Gone were the days of the incredibly challenging and linear, classic 2D side scroller, and in came a new “Castlevania” game that emphasized exploration and advancement, similar to the “Metroid” series (coining the term “Metroidvania”). It was such a success in nearly every respect that it changed the outlook and direction of the series for years to come.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that was way back in 1997, and the series entries ever since have mostly fallen into the realm of knock offs of “Symphony of the Night” or misguided 3D action romps that are at best average, and at worst “Castlevania 64”. As all time great a developer as Konami is, they don’t seem able or willing to make a truly noteworthy entrant to the franchise anymore. It’s just impossible to believe that with the series rich timeline and incredible gothic atmosphere there isn’t a significant amount of fuel left in the tank. Whether it be a glorious and long overdue return to the series roots, or something else entirely, it’s time that one of the greatest series of all time reminded everyone why it is just that.
Who should develop: From Software, the makers of “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls”. I salivate at the thought honestly, as both “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls” feel like the direction the “Castlevania” series should have gone in long ago. They feature larger than life bosses, a variety of spooky enemies, and a “make you regret that you can’t stop coming back” level of difficulty. The series would fit the developer like a glove.
The James Bond franchise has seen more developers than the role itself has actors, which may help to explain why we still haven’t gotten a significant game from 007 and crew since the legendary “Goldeneye”.
That’s not to say that every entry has been as bad as the recent “007 Legends”, some like “Blood Stone” and “Everything or Nothing” are actually decent, but rather that the it is in dire need of a rejuvenation that no developer has been able to conjure since Rare. Even when they are not great, when we are treated to a Bond movie every 4 years or so, it always feels like an event, and consistently entertains in one way or another. Considering the wealth of material that the James Bond franchise has, and how much of that can easily translate to games, there is no reason that a competent developer shouldn’t be able to produce that same effect for Bond video games.
Who should develop: There’s a ton of candidates I would love to see take a stab at this, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Remedy (“Max Payne”, “Alan Wake”). They’re a developer that exceeds at creating atmosphere in their games, and when making a good Bond game, your first job is to perfectly capture that iconic James Bond atmosphere, without messing up the gameplay too bad. They’re not a huge developer, exactly, but the impossible level of polish and charm they put in their titles would be very welcome for a Bond game.
At times the “Star Fox” series feels like the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s. Always so close, and never quite there. The original “Star Fox” was revolutionary for its graphical style, while 1997’s “Star Fox 64” had everyone believe that Nintendo had the next great franchise on their hands. From there, though, 2002’s head scratching “Star Fox Adventures” threatened to take the series into an ill-advised and unwanted new action-adventure direction, while every other release has been either a rehash or re-make of the originals, which in all fairness have been good enough to remind us of the series potential, but not great enough to put it over the top.
It’s time then for some new blood that can realize that the lack of games in the rail shooter genre, and the name power “Starfox” still has, and make it all come together for a glorious return to form. The last couple of “Star Fox” installments have produced quality with little to no effort, so it would be interesting to see what the result of an honest new full effort push would be.
Who should develop: This one is tough, but I’ll go with Ubisoft Montpellier. The development team behind the brilliant “Rayman Origins” can pull off that difficult mix of cartoon looks and intense gameplay that “Starfox” needs to succeed.
Ever since then, a few different developers have attempted to re-imagine the franchise and, with only a few very specific successes as exceptions, have all failed in providing any of the quality of the originals. “Silent Hill” was originally defined by its dread filled atmosphere and psychologically challenging scares. In shying away from an action first mentality, it provided a gaming experience that you almost regretted playing, but couldn’t help but be captivated by. The mystique and intrigue the series maintains is as thick as the fog that made the town itself famous, and there is still a lot it has to contribute in the right hands.
Who should develop: There were talks recently of Hideo Kojima taking over the series (which might actually happen), and while that would be fun, while I’m dreaming I’ve got to go with Frictional Games, the developers of “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” and the “Penumbra” series. They’ve been quietly making revolutionary and truly terrifying titles for years now, and a shot at more mainstream, big time success with the next “Silent Hill” game would be incredible.
The WWE Series
Along with titles like “Goldeneye” and “Mario Kart 64”, wrestling titles such as “WWF No Mercy” helped to make the N64 the system for multiplayer gaming. Of course that was in the heyday of wrestling, and of developer AKI who had a great feel for how to make a wrestling title sing with its gameplay. Since then the series has been passed off to Yuke’s, and while 2003’s “Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain” is one of the best wrestling titles ever, even the most hardcore of wrestling fans have been left feeling cheated by their most recent offerings.
Much like the “Madden” series the complacency of recent WWE titles has removed a real sense of urgency from the games that have taken the competitive spirit a title like that needs to thrive. Respectable attempts to keep the series fresh have been made, but attempt doesn’t mean success, and Yuke’s is sadly failing, even if their intentions are for the best. This game needs a new story mode, a new engine, and a fresh perspective. In short, a complete overhaul.
Who should develop: It’d be fun to see AKI, now Syn Sophia, do it, we don’t know how much of their team from the original is still in tact, plus this is about fresh starts. Instead, why not Team Ninja? The “Dead or Alive” fighting series has always been over the top and incredibly fluid with a variety of unique personalities, which are a few of the most important elements you need for a good wrestling game. Not to mention a Team Ninja developed WWE game would be original to say the least.
Carrying on from the first part of this series, comes the greatest horror offerings in video game history. If you can squeeze a session with any one of these gems in-between your “Friday the 13th” marathon, or your fifth viewing of “The Thing” this Halloween, you owe it to yourself.
19. Clive Barkers Undying- It’s incredible what some great audio design can do for a game. “Clive Barker’s Undying” has a lot going for it (including a great story and a generally unsettling atmosphere), but special props have to be given to the audio which sets the mood so well, it actually generates a bulk of the game’s scares by itself. It takes a hell of an effort for a semi-fast pace first person shooter to cause the wide variety of scares you get with “Undying,” which is why we’re all lucky that it is a hell of an effort that we got. One of the few games that I wouldn’t mind seeing getting the HD remake treatment, “Undying” seemingly takes glee in how much it scares you.
18. Sweet Home – Until the invention of the internet ”Sweet Home” managed to go unheard of for many in the US, as it was only released for the Famicon in Japan. However, looking back at it now, it’s hard to not admire how ahead of its time the game was. Based off of a movie of the same title being filmed roughly around the same time of the game’s development, “Sweet Home” is a traditional RPG style game that has you investigating a haunted house with a team of five characters (each with their own abilities, naturally). Made by Capcom, it’s pretty easy to see the “Resident Evil” aspects inspired by this one, right down to the slow door openings. What really makes the game memorable is how disturbing it is for an 8-bit title. There is a pretty clear reason this game wasn’t released for the NES at the time, and playing the game now (via available fan translation) is odd because you’re not expecting a game of this era to go out of its way to be so terrifying.
17. Penumbra Series – A huge cult favorite, and a bit of a cheat as this is actually three games, the “Penumbra” series is a good example of ambition exceeding limitations. Initially designed by a team of four people, the “Penumbra” series follows the journey of a man who receives a letter from his supposedly dead father that takes him to the barren, fiercely cold area of northern Greenland. What makes the games so incredible is the use of physics in just about every aspect of the game. As your main survival method is stealth, you have to be aware of your environment at all times to survive. The use of physics based puzzles and combat situations are varied and exceedingly clever, and have rarely been topped since. “Penumbra” falters in parts where combat is forced, and taken as a whole the series is up and down (the third chapter is particularly weak), but you’ll rarely find a more clever game of its type.
16. Dead Rising- The zombie genre is basically its own animal in the world of video games, but one of the highlights of the undead revolution in games is Capcom’s “Dead Rising.” Anyone who grew up watching “Dawn of the Dead” always wanted to see how they would fare against a mall full of zombies, and Capcom obliged them with this title in 2006. The highlight of the game is the variety of weapons available, as if it isn’t bolted down, it’s probably a weapon. Obviously trips to the hardware store or gun shop are a given, but it’s the more absurd items like giant gumball machines and bowling balls that highlight this playground of destruction. I’m also a fan of the game’s photography system which rewards you for well timed zombie shots, and the game’s creative achievements which are some of the best on the 360. If it weren’t for a truly bad save system and some control issues, I’d have “Dead Rising” far higher.
15. The 7th Guest – The game that moved more than 2 million copies and helped to popularize the CD-ROM as a gaming device, the “The 7th Guest” is a classic haunted house horror story that is as important as it is entertaining. A truly bizarre tale involving an eccentric toy maker with haunting visions of dolls, and a mansion where 6guests are invited under uncertain circumstances, the “The 7th Guest” is a an adventure title in the style of “Myst”. Much like that game, the “The 7th Guest” is filled with mind bending (but rewarding) puzzles that help drive one of the stronger horror narratives in gaming. The somewhat corny acting and graphics are more charming than annoying as you can really appreciate it in a nostalgic type way, and, more importantly, the sense of achievement is still very much alive. If there was a gaming history school, like a film history school, the “7th Guest” would definitely be on the curriculum.
Fun Fact: There are only three months out of the year.
If you’re saying duh right now, then you must be a major video game developer.
This week brings us the highly anticipated releases of both “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and “Dishonored.” While two Triple-A incredible games in one week is usually a cause for celebration, it does highlight one of the problems the industry has where the majority of the best games come out sometime between October and December. Like clockwork, it seems that every year the 4th quarter takes our last dollar.
In a way it’s kind of fun as every single week seems to bring us one great game after another, until the holidays roll around and you hope to suddenly get caught up with the gaming blitzkrieg. In another way, though, it’s a principle that really works best for either people in the industry or kids who still make Christmas lists. For the rest of us, it kind of forces you to suddenly have a lot of free time, and a lot of money just to keep up.
It also hurts games like “XCOM”. “Dishonored” and “XCOM” are both amazing titles, but there’s little doubt that between the two “Dishonored” is the much more appealing title for the mass gaming public. A game like “XCOM” that’s a resurrection of a semi-obscure PC franchise, and features a fairly strict learning curve and about a third of the advertising budget of “Dishonored,” has a much harder road to sales success than is necessary for such a stellar game. When you factor in the upcoming releases of sequels to established franchises like “Halo IV” and “Assassin’s Creed III,” you’re looking at snowball’s chance in hell type prospects.
Maybe a game like “XCOM” coming out in July doesn’t guarantee its financial future, but it would be nice to not have to have to choose between two incredible full price games in the same week, only to have to keep doing so throughout the rest of the year.
So would you rather see big releases spread evenly during the year, or are you a fan of the holiday rush?
While you can put a book down, or tell yourself its just a movie, there is an element of participation involved in games that makes the scary ones that much worse. Even if it is in the virtual sense, you are the one in the game, and the horrors are happening to you.It may have taken a while for developers to truly catch on to the potential of the genre, but ever since there has been a tidal wave of terror that has left many a gamer fumbling their controllers in a cold sweat.
As October rolls around then, and Halloween dawns on us, it is time to celebrate the greatest horror games of all time. I’ve got a list of 31 total, starting here, one for each day of the month. They are loosely ranked, with the main factor being the overall experience.
Although, being absolutely terrifying also doesn’t hurt its standings.
31. Deadly Premonition – Awful graphics, controls, gameplay ideas, acting, and just about every other technical malady you can think of plague this game. But, just like horror movies, not everything has to be perfect for a title to be memorable. There is just something so compelling in the way that “Deadly Premonition” handles itself, as it clumsily (but oddly beautifully) blends horror and black comedy in an open world environment. The game’s story is completely out there, and sucks you in just to see what’s next. It’s almost like the developers intended to make a bad game, but accidentally ended up with something greater than the sum of its parts (much like many a great B-Movie). You’ll either love this game or despise it, but it is impossible to forget, and makes for something every gamer must try even if you hate yourself for doing so.
30. Nocturne – In what will be something of a reoccurring theme on this list, “Nocturne” is brimming with flaws. Sporting one of the worst cameras ever in a video game, and some equally bad controls to match, “Nocturne” is slightly unplayable these days. But if you gut your way through it you will find some of the best horror environments of all time. Carried by the games great story, “Nocturne” comes off like a mix of the “X-Files” and the old Hammer horror films of the 50s. A technical disaster that did so much else right, this is one game that is begging to be revisited.
29. Dino Crisis 2 – The first “Dino Crisis” looked and felt a lot like “Resident Evil” with dinosaurs. It was fun, and had moments of genuine creativity, but the series peaked with “Dino Crisis 2.” The survival concept of the first game went almost completely out of the window, and in its place came pure action bliss, as “Dino Crisis 2″ became one of the few, and greatest, arcade style horror games of all time. The variety of weapons, enemies, and levels turns the game into one new fist pumping moment after another throughout the, all too brief, runtime. It may not be scary enough to go higher on my list, but it’s fun enough to still warrant playing through to this day, which is not something you can say for a lot of similar games from that era
28. Siren- The Japanese have a good mind for horror, and “Siren” is definitely a pure Japanese horror game. While the game more than liberally borrows from “Silent Hill” in many aspects (especially the story) the look and feel of the game carry an appropriate level of dread. Bonus points are applied for the great “Sightjack” feature that allows you to take over the view of an enemy in order to best avoid them, which is necessary as they can’t be killed in the strict sense. At the end of the day, “Siren” is undeniably a clone of many superior works, but the things it copies are so rarely copied in video games that it still feels fresh.
27. Alone in the Dark – In general, video games do not share the same luxury of fine wines, and tend to age horribly. Long cited as the first survival horror game in the pure sense, “Alone in the Dark” isn’t necessarily unplayable, but its dated gameplay and graphics take much of the original impact away. More than just a textbook video game entry however, there is still a lot of great design decisions to be found in “Alone in the Dark’s” carefully constructed house of scares. Much like an old black and white horror flick, what this game has lost in fright, it makes up for with an odd charm and timeless sense of style. It’s impossible to call yourself a horror fan and not give the original “Alone in the Dark” a go.
26. Rule of Rose – If famed horror director Dario Argento made a horror game, it may look like ‘Rule of Rose.” One of gaming’s few entrants in the psychological horror genre, “Rule of Rose” is a disturbing romp through an abandoned orphanage that features an almost incomprehensible plot that actually makes the entire experience better for the dreamy effect it creates. I’ve rarely played a game that felt so unnerving, and makes you feel as unwelcome. Unfortunately this is another case of bad design ruining the overall game, as “Rule of Rose” puts its full effort into story and style and leaves players to suffer through a general gameplay hell that will make all but the most patient give up in disgust. It still remains too unique to be anything less than noteworthy, though.
25. Slender: The Eight Pages – I almost feel bad putting such a new and simple title above something like “Alone in the Dark.” However, “Slender” truly is horror design at its most pure. Featuring one enemy, and no combat system, the only thing you can really do in “Slender” is walk and collect the eight pages that are scattered about. But every turn could make you face to face with the Slender Man himself, which could spell your doom, and ensures you will be jumping constantly while playing. Uncompromisingly terrifying, this is minimalist game design at its very best, and with any luck will start a new trend of horror games not trying to rely entirely on action gameplay as a backbone.
In case you haven’t been to Google lately, we’re currently celebrating the 46th anniversary of “Star Trek.”
Of course, providing the influence for one of the more entertaining and complete Google Doodles in some time is pretty far down on the lists of long term accomplishments for the classic series. Of those, one of the greatest has to be the cast of characters assembled on the show, which is such a motley combination of personalities that debates on favorites still, sadly, wage on with frightening ferocity to this day.
Of course many of those same fans have also wondered how they and their friends would fare as part of a space crew. The sad truth is, many of us would likely destroy the craft after getting hammered on that mysterious blue alcohol stuff and start randomly flipping switches while making the traditional sound effects.
The world of video games, however, is filled with capable crew members. In fact, I can think of a few that would I even trust enough to helm the U.S.S. Enterprise itself.
Captain: Nathan Drake
You could say that Nathan Drake’s lack of the “official” captain rank, as well as his inexperience with the finer points of space travel would make him a questionable candidate. However, as Captain Kirk himself taught us all, the real qualities of a captain lie in his fearless nature, magnetic personality, ability to seduce women of all varieties, and flawless fist fighting skills. Nathan Drake has all of this in spades, and no matter what the job (he was once the man who climbed a wrecked train in the snow with a bullet in him, remember) I have faith that he is the only character capable of leading such a crew.
Red Shirts: Lemmings
The red shirts of “Star Trek” got no love, but without their countless sacrifices, our heroes of the U.S.S Enterprise would have fallen many times over. Much like those noble crimson clad heroes, lemmings are equipped for a variety of tasks, but their main job in life is dying over and over. The best part is they do it with glee, without a shred of discontent to be found amongst them. When I’m looking for a staff of generic, replaceable, overly loyal crew members to fill my ship with, it has to be the lemmings.
Doctor: Mordin Solus
Ok, so “Mass Effect” is basically the “Star Trek” game we never got, so this is kind of a cheat. Oddly enough, however, the video game world is not flush with capable, traditional doctors. Mordin Solus can not only heal a broken limb, or cauterize a wound, but his interstellar work experience has given him invaluable experience into dealing with every type of galactic calamity that may arise for a variety of species, while retaining the ability to keep a calm mind not motivated by personal conflict, and instead focused on what is best for all. Combined with his ability to project fire and ice from his bare hands at will, Solus is the only sawbones I want on my video game away team.
Second in Command: Gordon Freeman
He and Solus would have both been great candidates for the number two position on the crew, but Freeman has long proved himself as not just a capable man of science (even though the one experiment we saw him in went horribly, horribly wrong), but a leader of men as well. For reasons never quite explained, Gordon Freeman is a multi-talented, never wavering killing machine that has the ability to quickly decipher a variety of on the fly brain teasing situations. Frankly, he gets it done like no other video game character. While he doesn’t have the personality to lead a crew, he’s a better second in command than anyone can hope for.
Engineer : Cid Pollendina
There’s been many variations of the Cid character, and while many of them were engineer types, and some people prefer the gruff Cid Highwind from “Final Fantasy VII,” to me the only engineer your team needs is “Final Fantasy IV’s” Cid Pellendina. He’s a little more fun loving than some of the other Cids, yet his work ethic is unwavering, and unlike Cid Highwind, you never have to worry about him falling into a bout of alcoholism, or for his nicotine withdrawals to interfere with his work. Also you can only really trust an engineer with a full beard.
There’s a school of thought that says that a good lieutenant is always learning, fiercely loyal, and ready to step up and take charge at a moments notice. HK-47 has many of those qualities, but only if the mission is killing meatbags. Otherwise this assassin droid has a slight attitude and tendency to question orders, which can tend to discourage all but the most sociopathic of crew morale. However, sometimes you want an officer who is going to question your decisions, yet ultimately follow your final orders with machine like efficiency. HK-47 is that officer.
While lacking a physical form, though you wouldn’t believe it due to some creepy fan art out there, Cortana was made for communications duties. A constant source of information, whatever Cortana doesn’t know she can learn. Plus, much like the average smartphone, she can be taken anywhere and is ready to help whenever you need it. While she has lost her virtual mind in the past, making her something of a potential loose cannon, Cortana’s otherwise high level of artificial intelligence and intense loyalty make her the only real candidate for the job.
In any case, she’s much better choice than SHODAN.
I was lucky enough to grow up a gamer during the NES era. I say lucky not just because, as a child, the NES was this mythical monolith of unlimited entertainment potential, but because I’ve been lucky to see video games evolve from the big bang moment that was Nintendo’s first console. In that time, what’s impressed me most evolution-wise isn’t the technological advancements the industry has enjoyed, but the artistic ones.
Writing quality would probably be the biggest improvement. Recently, I started playing “The Witcher 2,” and I’m finding it to be a watershed moment in video game storytelling. Sure, some of the dialog is groan-worthy, but the overall tale, and the brilliant way in which the game weaves it, is simply astounding. While it may be a beacon of writing quality in games, it’s far from the only port in the harbor. Games like “Braid,” “Bioshock,” and “Heavy Rain,” to name a few, have all gone far and beyond to prove that at their best, the stories of video games can bring out all of the same emotions as the stories in books, films and theater.
Except for humor.
Of course, I’ve laughed while playing games before, but it’s rarely been because of a specific joke made. Instead, by their general nature, video games are just light-hearted entertainment sources. Hell, the mascot of the entire industry might just be an underdeveloped Italian plumber with a hatred of reptiles, incredible jumping abilities, and a hard-on for elitist blondes. So for an artform that isn’t supposed to take itself too serious by its very nature, why is good, pure comedy so hard to come by?
Let me backtrack a little bit from that statement. I know that funny video games exist. I also know that comedy is perhaps the most subjective form of entertainment there is. What makes one person’s sides split causes another’s lips to droop. But still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t works of comedy in other mediums that are generally considered to be undisputed comedy classics. Like “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters” or “This is Spinal Tap.” What is gaming’s equivalent? Well, type “funniest video games of all time into Google” and the consensus answer would seem to be “Conker’s Bad Fur Day.” I’ve covered Conker before, but just as a refresher, “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is simply the raunchiest, most parody-filled, brute force comedy video game ever made.
And it’s not that funny. Well, I mean it is, but at best it’s a decent episode of “South Park,” without any of the clever context. “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” was a machine gun of jokes that figured if it fired enough rounds, one of them would hit just about everyone that played it. Even worse, it aimed that gun square at the stereotype that gamers are only 14 year old virgins, and made its name from it. And yet, to this day when people reference it, they use the words “Adult Humor.”
I probably don’t need to tell you, as there is a good chance most of you have seen it at least once already, but the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, “The Dark Knight Rises,” hit theaters this weekend, and is attempting to bring the series full circle by pulling off the rare cinematic feat of releasing a third movie that equals, or even surpasses, the quality of the two that came before it.
The history of movies is plagued with bad third installments (“The Godfather Part 3,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Spider-Man 3” to name a few) and very few successes. While this can be attributed to a number of factors, the fact remains that a complete movie trilogy usually falls apart at number three. What’s odd is that video games do not share this problem. In fact, the history of video games has shown that the third installment can sometimes yield a truly great game, if not the greatest of the series.
Don’t believe me? Then take a look at some of the greatest third games of all time.
The “Tekken” series hasn’t quite disappeared off the face of the earth, but the series’ heyday has long passed. “Tekken 3” was the pinnacle of the series’ excellence, and to this day remains one of the most perfectly designed fighting games of all time. “Tekken’s” established gameplay style reached absolute excellence, and did so with one of the greatest roster of fighters ever assembled. “Tekken 3″ also added a couple of very fun game modes in Ball Mode (a competitive beach ball contest) and Force Mode (a “Final Fight“style brawler), that were so entertaining in their own rights, it seemed like Namco had finally resorted to rubbing it in other fighting game developers faces.
“Tekken 3″ remains the 8th highest rated video game of all time on Game Rankings.com, and more importantly is still fun to play today. The first two “Tekken” games were good, but thanks to “Tekken 3″ they are also largely irrelevant.
“Grand Theft Auto 3″
I dreaded writing this list, because I knew I’d have to include this game. The truth is that I have nothing more to say about “Grand Theft Auto 3.” Over the years I’ve exhausted every single combination of words to describe how “GTA III” is one of the greatest and most revolutionary games of all time, and how its overnight release changed the entire video game industry. I simply can’t go on anymore about its amazing gameplay that is bested only by its mature storytelling, which is further overshadowed by the incredible little design decisions that permeate the entire game. I’m also sick of mentioning “GTA III’s” classic line up of characters, and those unforgettable radio stations that lent “GTA III” one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time.
And of course, I can’t fathom bringing up one more time how this, the third release in an otherwise previously non-noteworthy series, completely stunned everyone who never saw it coming and changed this franchise from cult hit at best to worldwide phenomenon considered both the most popular in its field at the time, and the most artistically sound as well essentially making it “The Beatles” of video game series.
Yup, I’ve just got nothing more to say about “GTA III.”