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Blacklightning

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  1. Tommy Tawodi (Prey 2006) Prey is probably the lesser known of the two big profile development hell scenarios that have come out of 3D Realms. If that sounds hard to believe looking at the game as it actually released, you should probably know that there playable builds dating back as far as 1998: Despite its troubled development history, though, it really isn't all that bad a game. The worst I can say about it is that it can come off as disorienting, gimmicky and tech-demo-y at times, but even that works hand in hand with its own setting, working hard to sell it as alien both figuratively and literally. Sometimes things are made to be unfamiliar just for its own sake - weapons are unconventional in either design or function if not both, enemies are mostly bipedal but can go from zero to absolutely monstrous really fucking quickly, and level design can border on non euclidian thanks in large part to its usage of portals and magnetic pathways. I can't think of many other games besides the Metroid Primes that have really nailed the feel of exploring a genuinely alien world, and graphically speaking it is a true technological marvel in a way most launch window titles struggle to pull off, even if it does have that signature Doom 3 "oh my god I can't fucking see shit it is so goddamn dark" look at times. You know, shared engines and all. One thing I've been avoiding covering until now is that because Tommy has Native American heritage, that translates into playing around with spirits because of course it fucking does. What this usually translates into is that he can separate his spirit from his body and move independently of his physical form. This is usually as a means of solving puzzles, because your spiritual self is immune to forcefields and is unaffected by the aformentioned magnetic paths, but can otherwise interact with the environment normally. Because the spirit has a bow and arrow, though, you can also use it for combat purposes if you can hide your physical body somewhere safe first, which can actually be a better option sometimes because your spirit has a separate resource that functions as a health bar when used this way, and you don't actually die when it runs dry. It does tie into what happens when you ACTUALLY die, though, and I think it might form my biggest criticism of the game. When you bite the dust, you're sent into a spiritual realm that acts as something of a post-death minigame where you shoot at colourful bat-looking creatures with your bow, and the amount of red and blue ones you manage to hit determines how much health and spirit you respawn with. Yes, a singleplayer shooter with respawning mechanics. The developers try to make this off as a tagline, as if it's supposed to make dying fun (no seriously, it's on the back of the fucking box), but it comes off as irritating and tedious instead, and honestly sucks a lot of the stakes out of the game knowing that even in canon there's nothing the aliens can do to kill Tommy completely or so much as inconvenience him more than just being flung right back into the same skirmish with MAYBE a little less health than before. Despite that, though? I'm glad they tried, because history is littered with the corpses of games that tried playing things too safe to appeal to broader audiences only to fade from memory because they were boring and stale as a result. And I think it's better any day to strive to be ambitiously unique for it to turn out not to be the best move, than to just do the same shit everyone else is doing and not have any way to stand out. The absolute worst that will happen is that people will learn from your example why people don't do that, which is honestly kind of a necessary evil in the industry either way.
  2. Jet (Sonic Riders) Like it or hate it, any time a racing game is made that allows you to punish other racers requires a catch-up mechanic - Blue Shells for example, have long been a necessary evil in the Mario Kart series because 1st place faces no opposition from in front of them, so if 2nd and 3rd place get into a squabble, 1st place increases their lead and no longer faces any opposition from behind either. This is absolutely not a hypothetical situation. People dominated with 30 entire second leads in Sega Allstars Racing because nobody had tools to keep the leader in check. If in no other respect, Sonic Riders is a stroke of conceptual genius because one, racers always have access to their entire kit without the need to find items on the track, and two, challenging the leader is ultimately as simple as following them. The main gimmick of Riders is "turpulence", a windy half-pipe left in the wake of the lead racer. Anyone behind them can ride it for a burst of speed, and even perform tricks off the outer edges of it to refill their hoverboard with air, which is the single resource that all techniques in the game draw from and is at a relative premium for everyone without access to it. So maintaing a lead is a challenge of knowing your character's routes well, carefully rationing the air you DO have access to through capsules and stunts and picking just the right time to drop a tornado in the path of someone just about to overtake you without letting the resulting speed drop give an edge to the others right on their tail. While I love it on a conceptual level, there are aspects of it that definitely could have been done better - you're automatically locked on to the turpulence's path whenever you cross it instead of having to manually and skillfully trace its path through the level, and the exact air usage of many moves seems unnaturally strict for what they actually do, not to mention I'm not sure why you should need to spend any for something as simple as fucking drifting. It isn't like you can just run on empty sans special moves like say, F-Zero GX - you have to continue on foot if you run out of air, which is a much bigger disadvantage than it sounds for a Sonic game. In fact, Sonic Riders is pretty rough around the edges in general in spite of its ideas, sometimes in ways it had absolutely no right to be. Drifting never feels like a smooth motion like it does in just about every other racing game of note, corning hard and jankily and then shooting you straight off as if you hit a boost pad whenever you release the button. For the longest time I thought grinding was fucking broken, but for some reason you have to press the jump button, then press it again as you come into proximity with the grind rail instead of just landing on it? And even then you don't preserve any momentum between jumps whether you're on a rail or the track, so the timing for each jump is a lot different than it immediately appears while playing it. And although Riders uses rings for increases in speed in a similar manner to Mario Kart the cap is at a hundred rather than ten and you lose ALL of your fucking rings if another racer hits you once or you fall off the track, which is a lot of investment to put into a resource that can be immediately stripped from you at any moment, especially if the leader drives off the track and takes almost everyone behind him along for the ride. Regardless, it's still a good game as it is, I just think it was onto something much bigger that it didn't get a chance to capitalize on - because the sequel flipped the script and used a completely different (and frankly much worse) gimmick, never returning to turpulence in its true form again. So in a sense, the main lesson today is the same lesson it's always been for 21st century Sonic - you should ALWAYS be polishing what you already have, because throwing the baby out with the bathwater leads to both ridicule and failure and leaves you without a core foundation to build a franchise this fucking big apon.
  3. Magnum Revolver (BLACK) BLACK is a game concocted by Criterion, who you might better recognize as the masterminds behind the Burnout series. And as one might expect, it was made with the intention of ticking all the same boxes that Burnout did - instant gratification, crunchy sound design, and a metric shit-ton of raw destruction. What results is a game that is flagrantly just gun porn, and lots of it, to the point that the arsenal gets a lot more love than anything in the game, even the characters (and frankly, you can tell it influenced my choice of sprite today). The title screen alone is probably enough to register as NSFW in some communities: Unfortunately when your game only has a single focus, and that focus isn't how the game plays, it tends to suffer really badly as a result. While some might appreciate its sound design, it is singularly the most boring and generic first person shooter I have ever played in my god damned life. I am dead fucking serious when I say there are CoD games more entertaining and inspired than this, even though they're the poster children for bog standard military shooter tropes. It's bad enough to play that shit completely straight - it's worse still to be horrendously fucking bad at them. I'm still not completely sure what the plot is supposed to be because you spend most of the game shooting russians with all the radio dialogue drowned out by explosions and gunfire, divided by incredibly boring and hard to follow FMVs between missions of the same two guys talking in an interview with most of their faces obscured and stock images and footage spliced in. If the focus was simply to have sweet, punchy guns to shoot, why was any of this shit even in the game? It could have been an arcade or score attack shooter, or it could have just refused to take itself seriously at all, shit, BLACK even could have been intentionally campy with it and still been much better off for it. I could forgive that much if the gunplay was any good, but even that is mediocre at best. Most of the guns have absolutely ridiculous spread, making it almost impossible to consistently hit shit beyond a few metres in front of you. Imagine playing Deus Ex with the Rifles skill permanently set to Untrained and then being forced to shoot at shit from across the map with the assault rifle and you almost have an idea of how badly BLACK handles it. This is already bad enough, but the guns aren't even hitscan, which means you can miss distant targets even if you DO happen to get a bullet directly in their direction, and the enemies all take a really silly amount of damage for how hard it is to him them with these fucking guns in the first place. The one saving grace is that the first bullet in a spray is always accurate, which often means that a game that should be about going nuts and letting loose instead gives you assault weapons that are only effective in single shots at a time, and even then only if you land headshots, and even then headshot detection is so inconsistent that enemies can appear to be shot in the head multiple times without much real difference. BLACK's fixation on gun porn even has implications on the gameplay - which is to say, it actively works against trying to play it most of the time. Most weapons in the game have a lengthy cocking animation when selected regardless of the circumstance, so if you're in the middle of a firefight you're inevitably going to get shot a few times if you need to swap to one better suited to the circumstances. Reloads are even worse, because in addition to taking a long time for anything beyond a pistol they also BLUR THE ENTIRE FUCKING SCREEN EXCEPT FOR THE WEAPON while you're doing it, so in addition to not realizing if you're about to run into an enemy, you might not even be able to see the fucking level geometry and temporarily get completely lost until the PC orgasms over the thought of a fresh mag in his russian-perforating AK. And honestly, even when some things are working as intended it comes off as a silly juxtaposition to its otherwise serious setting, where some shit just explodes for literally no reason, like safes and sandbags, and shooting at a sniper or RPG emplacement can often cause the entire building to detonate basically unprovoked. Once again, you can't have that shit both ways - either make a shooter that's down to earth or one where the setting is as over the top as its mechanics, otherwise one will detract from the other and both will be worse off. I don't think anything in the world will offend me more than the fact that in spite of how fucking awful this game is, it somehow got favourable reviews and seems to be beloved by much of the gaming community. For fucking what? Because the guns sounded good? Did they even do THAT right? They're loud and obnoxious and it gets old pretty fucking quickly, to the point that I dread having to fire them after a certain point because it legitimately gives me a headache. Fuck this game. Fuck it to hell, and fuck everyone who still believes it accomplished even a single fucking thing of note.
  4. Sometimes it feels like comedians have the easiest fucking job in the world today. Some of them don't even really have to write actual jokes about modern affairs anymore - you can just run a clip of a political gaffe completely unaltered and in context, and the absurdity of the shit they spew on a regular basis will often draw laughter just by itself. Reflecting on it a little more made me think back to some of the earliest years I spent on the internet interacting with other people, who shared much the same sentiment towards videogames - often the best way to get a point across was to make it funny, and often the best way to be funny was to be blunt as a fucking brick. A lot of this did lead to dozens of people trying to be internet tough guy at once, and admittedly it had a tendency to create a lot of drama that didn't really need to be there, but there's a part of me that still feels slightly nostalgic for those years, where it wasn't yet socially inappropriate to just murder a motherfucker with words to make a point, even if they weren't asking for it. Some internet personalities embraced this way in covering videogames themselves, which brings us right back around to the angriest gamer you've ever heard... The Angry Video Game Nerd A character concocted by one James Rolfe, AVGN holds a fair bit more influence over my outlook on things than I'd probably like to admit, and is probably the reason I find the bad easier to pick out than the good in any given game. He originally started out as the Angry Nintendo Nerd before he was picked up by Screwattack, and his schtick was mostly picking on shovelware in the NES library - "playing the shitty games so YOU don't have to", or so the saying goes. And true to the opening paragraph, AVGN was at his funniest when showing a game exactly as it was and letting it speak for itself, albiet with his profanity overlapping it. Out of all the episodes I've watched, I don't think a single one exemplifies this better than the one that got me into him in the first place, the Dick Tracy episode: Usually when he cuts from the game, it's to elaborate on his thought process a little more, engage in dramatic cartridge smashing (or system smashing, as it was in the 32X episode), or just to playfully vent about the given situation some more. But he sometimes has a bad habit of going off on some extended skit that is almost irrelevant to the game at hand, and to be perfectly honest I can't think of a single time it's actually been funny? He was so close with the Atari Jaguar episode, but he milks out what should have been just a cut and dry gag of a character breaking the fourth wall and instead milks out out with almost two minutes of shooting at gifs with various peripherals and teasing his cat with a laser pointer. That's pretty tame compared to some of the shit he pulls in later episodes where he more or less draws it out into short films in of themselves, to the point that I've started just shutting off videos out of habit once he runs out of game to cover because I already know the video is just going to go downhill after that point. Some people can pull off this kind of irrelevant humour practically without thinking about it, like Jontron, but James is definitely not one of those kinds of people. Are his fans just too nice to tell him that or something? I think one last thing that's unique to AVGN, though (besides his unique perchant for shit jokes, of course, and I mean that in the most literal sense and not as a jab), is that he's very much a sole survivor of the old guard of his era. He wasn't the only person from back then who based himself around openly raging against terribly designed videogames, and he even had many copycats trying to flock to the success he had doing it - but he's one of the few people I know of who's STILL doing it, yes even today, without even a single controversy to his name. And believe me, there were controversies. And I think this is a better indication of his true character than anything he shows as a character - he has no ulterior motives, no histories of abuse, not even any tendencies to beg for likes and subscribers. He's just a guy that loves doing what he does, and I hold a hell of a lot of respect for that, and I probably still would even if he DID stagnate somehow. Judging from the Ecco video he put out not long before I made this post though, I'd say he's still got it.
  5. Ethan Thomas (Condemned: Criminal Origins) Condemned is a first person game that blends elements of shooting, brawling and detective elements, the lattermost of which was still a fairly new concept in the mainstream space at the time. One would think that lends this game a perchant for testing the player's observation and deduction, but sadly the detective work is mostly scripted window dressing - you can only equip detective gadgets in specific areas and use them on specific objects and surfaces, and even then all the deductive work is made for you by a voice over the phone. At that rate you might as well have just not bothered and made it all cutscene based for all the difference it makes, and that really is a rotten shame because Phoenix Wright had already proven by now that this kind of gameplay could work pretty well - why not add a combat system on top of that for the full cop experience? Actual fighting is a deceptively simple affair, consisting of no more than a single swing at a time and a parry mechanic to act as a defensive option, and a self-charging tazer that can work as a wildcard to swing fights in your favour by giving you a chance to disarm enemies or simply land a cheap shot while they're squirming. This actually works a lot better than it sounds, once you start getting a feel for the variations in the enemy's mo-capped animation, whacking them in the face and parrying their inevitable frenzied counter to land a second whack in their face and repeating until they fall over, somehow never actually getting repetitive in the process. At least, not until the mid-late game anyway, where they start throwing in buff motherfuckers with absolutely stupid amounts of health, nevermind the few boss encounters sprinkled occasionally throughout. If there's any reason to fault the fighting in this game, it's certainly not because of the core mechanics of them - they're pretty goddamn superb despite, even arguably because of, their simplicity. No, I feel like Condemned's biggest problems, if anything, come from its weapons, several of which have options outside of combat. For example, the fire axe can break down weak doors, the crowbar can pry open lockers that usually have guns in them, sledgehammers can break padlocks and shovels can force open some electronic locks by jamming into the cords at their base. Most of these are pretty mediocre in a fight, usually because they take a long time to swing despite doing a crapton of damage, but you're usually incentivied to carry them around over most other alternatives because of their ability to open routes, some of which are absolutely mandatory to progressing through the game. You would think you could just keep a utility weapon in storage while packing a more well-rounded weapon for fights, but you can't actually hold more than one weapon in this game at all in this game, which seems like an incredibly strange ommission in a game that can punish you for having the wrong weapon at the wrong time, both in terms of combat AND utility. At the very least it would have been nice to be able to holster a pistol just in case - what the fuck kind of detective doesn't have a place to stash a gun when they're not using it? The AI of most given enemies though, isn't necessarily just about making a beeling straight for you and bashing your brains in, which leads into this game's other big feature - enemies actually attempt to be stealthy in a way that doesn't disadvantage the player, which is something you don't see a lot of in FPSs period, much less first person brawlers. Much like any attempt at stealth, human or AI, it can look somewhat goofy if you know what they're up to, or they run through open ground to get to their hiding spot of choice, but the fact that they can seek out areas obscured from your line of sight at all instead of some dumb invisibility mechanic is something that doesn't get played around much with, as is their propensity to rush you when your back is turned or to throw a sucker punch once you approach the corner they're hiding behind. You only have to lower your guard for a few seconds for the AI in this game to show its true colours, which somewhat unfortunately means the milage you get out of it varies a lot player by player - someone who actually understands their habits or is paying close attention to them will probably just see a long string of goofs instead. So yeah, long story short - competent brawler, nice atmosphere, great lighting for a launch title, kinda just wish the detective stuff got more love than it did.
  6. Halfway through the list now! Still never thought I'd have the patience to sprite daily for this long, but it seems to be working out!

  7. So before I start today, I have two milestones to announce. The first is the introduction to the Xbox 360, and with it the seventh generation of consoles. The second, and probably more important, is that this marks a rough halfway point in my list. That might sound a little weird for a game that came out in 2005, but the seventh generation is by and large the longest lasting one out of any in recent memory, lasting nearly an entire decade as opposed to the 4-5 years most other gens get. This would also be around about when I could finally start buying games with my own money, without the common sense to avoid impulse buying shit, so needless to say there will be a LOT of games centred around this one generation to cover. Can I just say though, goddamn games are getting pretty long by this point? It's getting pretty hard to digest games down into a few paragraphs when you usually have at most an hour to review them in your spare time, and I'm almost certain I've made mistakes already, so here's to hoping I still do an okay job of it in a day per game as I always have. Without further ado, we open up gen 7 with: Jack Dark (Perfect Dark Zero) Time has not been kind to this game. Granted, I don't think there's a single developer out there that wouldn't struggle trying to match the legacy of a game like Perfect Dark, AND it had the added problem of recently having been snatched away from Nintendo platforms, given a two generation gap between titles and given the burden of holding up a console launch to fuck with its public perception all the more. Now that we're long past all the hype and fanboy backlash and can speak on it with almost no bias, I think it's fair to say now that... even on its own merits, it's not all that good? Even visually speaking, although all the usual hallmarks of a generation leap are there like a jump in polygons and more elaborate special effects, it doesn't really rock all that interesting a look and if anything detracts from it with some of the new advances it's made, such as this god damn motion blur you get when turning now that keeps you from actually making out distinct shapes at all unless you're almost at a complete standstill. I suppose that's lesson number one already: making a game look prettier shouldn't come at the expense of being able to fucking play it, and although PD0 is hardly the worst offender, it's still notable enough that I can't ignore it completely, especially in the leaf cover in the jungle levels that make it just obnoxiously fucking difficult to see anyone. Weapons overall feel like they're just designed worse than the Perfect Dark arsenal, and I'd argue PD64 already had a handful of issues yet to resolve in the first place. PD64 might still have a glut of full-auto weapons it overrelies on in between its more unique and gimmicky picks, but even when just spraying out bullets rapidly was their only job (like the AR34) at the very least their design was inspired and their sound design was still a thing of beauty - I have a hard time remembering most of the weapons in PD0 because most of them are flagrantly just real world weapons with fake names, with a handful of precursors to PD64 weapons that somehow manage to lack most of the charm the originals had like the Falcon, Magsec and the Laptop Gun (...okay fine, the Laptop Gun is still cool). And I could deal with less inspired weapons if they were at the very least designed particularly well, but there really aren't all that many weapons that have good synergy between their primary and altfires. An AK with a launchable bayonet? A magnum that can fire a silenced shot for the sole purpose of making the gunshot sound like it came from a different direction? A heavy machinegun - one, mind, that reduces your speed when you have it equipped - that can... drop caltrops? A P90 with a scope, but not the accuracy to be able to act on the scope's zoom without missing like 75% of your shots? It almost feels like the firemodes were picked at complete random, without any regard to where and how the gun was supposed to function. And we haven't even gotten into the inventory system yet. See in PD64, your weapons were based on the level - what you started with, and what you could find along the way. In PD0, you have to choose your own loadout before actually entering a level, and they often don't tell you what kinds of threats or level design you're actually going to be encountering. So that often means bringing a really boring jack of all trades weapon like the scoped/silenced P9P pistol to every mission just to make sure you have bases covered and don't get surprised when stealth or sniping turn out to be the only viable options. And to make matters worse, you have a very limiting inventory system that keeps you from packing an arsenal for every situation - you only have four inventory slots, and anything bigger than a pistol takes up multiple fucking slots, and if you want a loadout with the intention of dual wielding you need separate slots for both fucking weapons, unlike PD64 which bunches them both up under one slot. What purpose does limiting the amount of weapons you can carry this way serve but to fuck with your ability to accomplish basic tasks? Why do this at all when the original game already worked just fine? I could get past that if the levels were any good but jesus christ I don't even know where to start. It's bad enough that they repeatedly devolved into a habit of slathering bland grey surfaces onto everything, but they're also even less forgiving of mistakes than PD64 was - they have a tendency to throw fail states into just about every mission, oftentimes forcing you into a tedious crawl to make sure you can get past without issue, especially when stealth is a borderline or literal necessity for clearing it. It's not to say PD64 didn't make you restart an entire level for messing up things besides dying, but PD0 does it a lot more often with the added problem that stages can take like 10-20 whole minutes apiece to clear, especially on higher difficulties where you have to milk your dwindling regenerating health for everything that it could possibly be worth. And it's so stingy with checkpoints that I often forget the game even HAS any, and it might as well not have for all the difference it makes sometimes. As usual, the biggest shame about this is that after defining a whole console generation by itself and being one of the most beloved shooter games of all time, this was what killed the series - just a single mediocre launch title. And I can't believe i have to say this, because it seems like some people -executives mostly - take stuff like this as a sign that nobody has interest in the franchise anymore, but people don't dump on Perfect Dark 0 because they're tired of the IP, it's because it's a mediocre game. That's it. People need to learn to distinguish the two badly, because publishers keep letting good ideas and franchises go to absolute waste because they can't figure out what the fuck they did wrong or even whether they were at fault. That, and it would save them the trouble of milking out Halo constantly for their first party FPS fix, effectively killing one franchise to make another stagnate and making both worse off.
  8. Neo (The Matrix: Path of Neo) Much like Enter the Matrix, if there's anything lacking in Path of Neo it's certainly not ambition. Rather than act as a side story, though, this game summarizes all three films by itself, acting as a complete retelling of Neo's story all throughout and even a few events that happened offscreen, such as the training sessions he takes right before sparring with Morpheus. Some diversions of this kinda are great. Most aren't. You might have already heard of the most infamous examples, but for those of you who'd rather see for yourself I'm going to put the rest of the story stuff in spoilers: Okay, stupid writing aside, how does it play? Long story short, like mollasses. This game is full of slowdown in every sense of the word - the bullet time mechanic from Enter the Matrix returns, of course, but most key impacts are also sold with very long, uncomfortable pauses, usually to segue into other moves, and that's all on top of a framerate that closely resembles a late N64 title whenever the bullets start flying. Say what you will about Enter the Matrix, but despite how it looked it ran at a pretty crispy 60fps and didn't drop frames all that much, so how a game that came out much later, right at the tail end of the Xbox's life, and still ran this bad is something that honestly beggars belief. What remains is a game that lacks pretty much any concept of flow because it just keeps PAUSING whenever you get to the action, and frankly would still feature a lot of stop and go even when it's functioning correctly. Fighting in Path of Neo features exactly one combo, and a shitton of scripted attacks that trigger more or less at random when you land the final hit of said combo. It's more or less just button mashing with QTEs mixed in, because whenever you have an opportunity to perform a scripted attack the game will basically pause outright for 2-3 seconds with a button prompt for executing it - as such it never really feels like fighting actually has any semblance of strategy, and frankly it feels like most of it unfolds almost automatically as it is. I haven't even mentioned gunplay yet either, which works on some really bizarre automatic targetting system that sometimes locks onto shit you aren't even remotely looking at or have any active interest in shooting at, which can be irritating if there's an undetonated fire hydrant at the end of a hallway opposite to the group of SWAT officers currently lighting your ass up. The nicest thing I can say about Path of Neo is that it's an improvement over Enter the Matrix - but anyone who's ever played EtM will tell you that's not a huge bar to clear.
  9. Shadow the Hedgehog Oh fuck no. Do I really have to talk about this game? Ugh. Let's get this over with. Right from the very word go, ShTH is a designer's worst nightmare - a concept concocted by clueless executive chasing every fad at once without even the slightest clue of how any of them gel with each other, much less their own series, so they leave the onus of figuring that out only to the people they pay to make these games for them. The end result is a game that is constantly at war with itself, in identity, mechanics and setting alike. I'm sure it doesn't need to be said that there's a limit to how dark and edgy you can make a game about cartoon hedgehogs that get around by rolling down hills, so it seems poignant to point out that the very reveal of this game started out with taking a gun to their own legacy. ...ahahaha, did you think that was a fucking metaphor? No, they literally shot up a projection of their own legacy - the one that people far and wide adored them for in the first place. You cannot make this shit up. It's as if to make a point that they absolutely did not give a shit about it anymore. That it was unimportant to the making of this game. And believe me, that shows. It shows a lot. Irregardless of how you feel about Shadow as a character, I think most would agree that Shadow is defined very heavily by Shōnen archetypes, to the point that he's basically a furry DBZ character (to the point that I think Iizuka emphasized that he's the Vegeta to Sonic's Goku? Correct me if I'm wrong there). On his own terms he is already disproportionately strong, at least as fast as Sonic, perform energy-based attacks in the form of "chaos energy", and depending on where you look, even fly unaided and travel through god damned time. So even on the absolute most basic level, it begs the question of why the fuck anyone thought needed guns and vehicles to accomplish anything his basic abilities could already feasibly handle on their own - even IF you suggested his game needed a bigger focus on ranged combat, right from the start he already had a NAMED attack designed specifically to attack from range, and already looks more powerful than anything a bullet can muster. Why the fuck wouldn't you just design a moveset around moves like that intstead? Well, instead of doing that, ShTH takes an approach to game design that you're probably going to start seeing more of as the years pass by - they created a new problem just to justify a new solution, rather than working with what they already had. In ShTH's case, it was to give most enemies ludicrous amounts of health and making physical attacks, including the Homing Attack, deal amounts of damage tantamount to absolute fucking worthlessness, in order to justify full automatic weapons that can wipe out health bars in seconds. Even WITH this concession, though, most elements of gameplay in this game don't seem to be designed with each other in mind. Sonic is a series designed with speed and flow in mind, but you have to constantly come to a stop to engage enemies because among things, you have no fucking way of knowing who Shadow is aiming at so you have to come to a complete stop to ensure you don't waste very limited ammo spraying and praying as you run past. Oh, "very limited"? Yeah you can only hold one gun at a time and don't get ammo for the others whenever you're holding one - because apparently something as fucking simple as an inventory system was lost on these absolute god damn hacks. The worst part of this game by a large margin, though, is its level progression. ShTH has a RIDICULOUS amount of levels for a Sonic game, but you don't play all of them in a single playthrough - rather, they're laid out Lylat Wars style, in that actions you perform during a level will change which one you venture to next. This is fine - great, even, and I'd like to see a Sonic game return to it one day. Level progression is also based on a rudimentary morality system - you will go further north if Shadow turns evil, and south if he turns good. Strange, maybe even a little nosensical, but okay, it can still work. The biggest problem when addressing this system is the actual requirements to determining your route. Most are stage dependant, but are almost always fucking awful unless it's the neutral route (which is just "get to the level exit - you know, what you SHOULD be fucking doing in a Sonic game). Often the mission will just be helping out one faction by wiping out the other. And I don't mean "killing key enemies to make the lesser ones a non-threat to your allies". I don't even mean "enough that you could conceivably be considered more friendly towards one than the other". I mean EVERY. SINGLE. GODDAMNED. ENEMY. IN THE FACTION. EVERY LAST ONE. What should be a platforming game about getting to places as fast as possible becomes an incredibly awful and tedious scavenger hunt unlike anything the franchise has ever experienced. Even Emerald Hunting in SA1 and 2, for all the infamy it has, still gives you a fucking indication of where to look, and never makes you hunt down more than three of the fuckers at once. Oh, and did I mention the fact that no matter which faction you choose to side with, both sides are almost always still shooting at you regardless? Even simple gratitude seems to be lost on the AI in this game. This is assuming your path from one level to another even makes any narrative sense, which it pretty often doesn't. Nothing in your playthrough takes into account the events that happened previously, leading to frequent plot holes and inconsistencies if you happen to deviate from anything but a very specific path at any given time because they all assume you took the mission immediately previous to it on the same morality scale instead of making concessions for the specific path you took through the game. And worst of all? Even none of THIS shit is relevant, because once you have every ending in the game, ShTH just throws you a final campaign that renders almost everything else that happened throughout non-canon, making its tagline about a choice between good and evil completely fucking worthless. This, from a game that was made to tie up Shadow's story once and for all, and to smooth out any plotholes that yet remained. Honestly, there's only one self-own in the series of greater magnitude than that. We'll get to that soon.
  10. Guildmaster Wigglytuff (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series) God. It feels like nobody, not even Gamefreak, knows what they have with the PMD games. Am I really the only one who genuinely prefers them over the main games? Is that really a controversial thing to suggest? Alright alright, fine, I'll elaborate. You remember what I said all the way back on page one? Well if I had to pick one word to describe PMD's gameplay, it would definitely be "imposing". In just about every game in the series, dungeons are long, trecherous slogs, where packing and preparing beforehand are key and a single mistake can potentially doom the entire expedition. And not everyone can handle strategizing their way around Pokemon 10-15 levels higher than them - fine, I get that. But I still wouldn't have it any other way, because it makes EVERYTHING feel like a genuine accomplishment, even the little fundraising side missions you do in between encounters with the main storyline. I won't say it's absolutely perfect. Hell, there are a LOT of things I wish they would change, because I honest to god believe it could stand toe to toe with the main series if Gamefreak and Spike Chunsoft took it seriously, even though it has steadily been improving with every successive game. For example, you only directly control one Pokemon in your party at any given time, leaving the rest to be controlled by AI. There are aspects of their behaviour you can influence, such as their aggression or which specific moves they're allowed to use, but positioning and strategic moveset application means a LOT in PMD fights, and simply put, you're almost always not given the options to utilize it to its fullest extent, and often it feels like it could have been as simple as allowing players to go through every party member's actions a single turn at a time whenever they're not just wandering around looking for loot and exits. What makes this lack of strategy all the more annoying is that there is a great deal of importance placed on getting through confrontations with minimal losses, and again, can mean the difference between living another day or having to restart an entire 20 floor dungeon from scratch - quite literally, in the first few games, losing either yourself or your partner to fainting is a failure state, even when you have other team members to carry on. And it doesn't help that you also lose almost everything you were carrying, which is a layer of punishment none of these games need and it pretty much forces you to reload from a save for how much time and money it wastes getting back up to that point again. I also think that, despite quite obviously being fashioned after a roguelike, I think it could sometimes stand to be more... well, roguelike? Granted, I totally expect some aspects of it to have limited options - making character portraits for nearly a thousand Pokemon is already a pain in the ass, nevermind the eight or so frames you need to make for major character's mood portraits. But just the same, I kinda wish something like Zero Island was a standalone mode or a side game you could pick up and play at any time, where you're given a literally random level 5 Pokemon instead of one of a selection of existing starters and a few fan favourites you can choose from in the story mode, then forced to clear a gargantuan dungeon with only whatever resources and party members you can gain along the way. It would be nice to have some element of it I can play at any time without having to invest in it beforehand, in much the same way I would get out of The Binding of Isaac or the survival mode in Puyo Puyo Tetris, not so subtle foreshadowing. One aspect of PMD that unquestionably shines above the others, though, is its writing. It's something that I wish that I could explain in better detail, partly because it's hard to talk about without spoiling it and partly because I'm honestly pretty bad at talking about characterization to begin with, but PMD is just so goddamn good at creating likable characters out of their pocket monsters where previously they were just somewhat intelligent animals with a one word vocabulary, and I would honest to god have the audacity to say they all trounce the main series's writing by a pretty fucking huge margin - yes, even Gates to Infinity, widely upheld as the absolute nadir of the series for its comparitively mediocre writing and smaller roster. They're really good at getting you invested in its setting and its characters, and will always set you up for a real tear jerker of an ending whenever it can help it, even when you know exactly why ahead of time. There is a single digit's worth of games I can say that about and genuinely mean it. I am dead fucking serious. Look, at the very least, you owe it to yourselves to try Explorers of Sky and see for yourselves, because so much of the gaming populace is really missing out on what should be considered a classic in its own right, and I think that just might be a sadder truth than any ending that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon can muster.
  11. Point Man (F.E.A.R) Okay, real quick now. Can I just say that I've really come to hate the idea of a protagonist in a first person game not really being an actual character to speak of? And I'm not saying that just because that makes it really fucking hard to find reference art of them - even though I'm not the best at eloquently explaining why, as it's probably been evident through my mostly gameplay-focused writups so far, I feel like games as a whole suffer when they don't have a central character to rally around. It doesn't always need to be someone on the same tier as Sonic or Duke Nukem or even fucking Ryo Hazuki - Doom has a character that is only ever heard grunting and only ever seen through a headshot in your HUD, and still shows infinitely more character and presence than Point Man ever will. One of the reasons I bring it up here is that FEAR screws up even the concept of a silent protaganist, because the game mostly treats you as just a camera with a gun mounted to it, without even the implication that you're interacting with them at all like most characters of that type do in order to envision the player in that character's shoes, like they would with say, Link. And this has a tendency to, among things, cause problems that could be easily solved if Point Man were in any way capable of communicating danger or objection - for example, there's a level early on where you're operating as part of a squad, and have to take a detour to open a gate for them. You find a brutally murdered dead body in the control room for that gate, and because your character can't tell them what's going on, the rest of your team also gets murdered immediately after that gate opens and everyone acts surprised that they didn't see it coming. It's a layer of stupidity that honestly defies belief, and it happens CONSTANTLY throughout the game. Of course, one only needs to look at the boxart to know that the narrative isn't exactly the focus in this game, but it's something that's always bothered me about this game's writing above all others, which would probably not acknowledge the player's presence at all if it honestly could get away with it. Like most high profile shooters of its day, feedback is the name of the game in FEAR. Big, punchy guns, flying bodies and gratuitous gore, sometimes to the point that it takes me out of its otherwise realistic-looking setting. It's already one thing to be able to borderline drive a ragdoll corpse into cartwheels with an MP5, but being able to blow people to pieces with a fucking shotgun is honestly just ridiculous even for the day this game came out. There's no doubt that it's all satisfying gunplay, but you can't be both Doom-esque ridiculous and Counterstrike-esque down to earth at the same time, especially if it means most enemies are literally fucking identical clones besides their weapon choices - pick one or the other and spread it across the whole game, otherwise they actively work against each other. You can't suspend disbelief enough to take it seriously, and you can't switch your brain off enough to just have dumb fun with it. And it's about now that I point out, in a game where you mow down clones by the dozens and are constantly looking for creative ways to wipe them out through some combination of your arsenal, bullet time powers and the environment... this is supposed to be a fucking horror game. FEAR tries occasionally to justify that label through occasional segments of inactivity, plagued by the most c-rate horror tropes I could possibly fathom. We're talking absolute bottom of the barrel shit like creepy ghost girls, jumpscares, rooms full of blood and stuff like that, sometimes stuff that isn't even scripted all that well - you might sometimes hear a scare chord and not know what the fuck it's supposed to correspond to, because FEAR usually assumes you're facing a specific direction when you enter its trigger area instead of just triggering the scare when you are looking at it. The closest the game gets to being actually scary is a handful of dark sections with invisible motherfuckers that honestly, are just more annoying than anything else. I get that horror shooters have come a LONG ass way since FEAR and this is me probably more punching downwards in hindsight, but sometimes I wonder why the horror aspects of this game didn't get more attention if they clearly intended there to be enough of it to classify as a subgenre. It's like calling Halo a driving game based on the fact that it has jeeps you can hop into.
  12. Paragon (Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects) Marvel Nemesis is a fighting / beat em up game published by... oh for fuck's sake, YOU guys again? Marvel must have thought they'd struck gold when grabbing a publisher as big as EA, but as we all know by now, there are few companies out there that deal with them and come out completely unscathed. Some of the unluckier ones end up losing their IPs, their studios and entire fucking brands - of course, given that Marvel is still around these days, it's safe to assume that the worst that happened is they got one medicore-to-crap game out of it and then backed off. The closest equivalent to Nemesis I can think of is Power Stone, in that the arenas are full 3D, the perspective is mostly isometric and there's a shitton of debris everywhere to use against your enemies. Frankly you'll be using a lot more than actually bothering to engage enemies directly, because the fighting is embarrasingly basic in this game, and usually consists of just using the same 2-3 hit string over and over until enemies can't fight back anymore. In fact, the movesets in general feel like they're designed to meet quotas rather than to represent any of the characters in question - every character *has* to have a 2-4 hit button mashing string that ends in a launcher, every character *has* to have a meter burn variation of it that barely looks and feels any different to it, almost every character *has* to have a projectile move that uses the same input, and so on and so fucking forth. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for characters that share the same inputs, in fact a recurring criticism I have of most fighting games is that characters have different controls for no particular reason at all but to fuck with the learning curve and artifically pad the game out more - but you still need to differentiate the moves themselves while you're at it, otherwise it devolves into absolutely homogenous sludge like this. You can put Spiderman and Hazmat into the same match and were it not for their postures you legitimately wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Speaking of characters, this was to serve as the introduction of the titular Imperfects, a series of anti-heroes created by experimentions from the big bad of this game, but the game doesn't actually get a whole lot of use out of them - they only have a single boss fight each and don't appear anywhere else in the game's narrative, so you don't even get a grasp for their backstory outside of a pre-baked FMV, spending most of the game fighting generic aliens instead. They do, however, tie into a certain system of edge that was very much the style of mid-2000's games. And before I get into the specifics of that there's something I want to pick on first, because it's a choice that to this day still beggars belief: you make a Marvel game with the intent of being dark and edgy... and you kill off the fucking Punisher in the opening god damned cutscene? What the hell were you guys thinking? Okay okay, back to my point. At any given point between missions, you have a choice of up to four different characters - one who is currently relevant to the story, while the rest get optional challenges after you complete their story arc. At regular intervals throughout the story, you have to pick a character for a "last stand", but you don't fight as that character - you fight against them, usually as one of the Imperfects, serving as the opportunity to play the aformentioned backstory FMVs. You have to do one of these fights to progress, and once you win one, that character fucking dies and is removed from your roster (except for The Thing. For some reason he gets better). If you have to take an edgy approach, this I feel is the best way to go about it - it makes the stakes feel a lot higher when you know not everyone will survive the journey, though I feel like it would the system would have a little more agency if most of it weren't predefined in who gets killed by who, and consequently, having unlocks hidden behind fighting as those characters in the story which you have a very limited number of opportunities to obtain. So close, but sadly, still no cigar there. So in the end, yes, plenty of edge, but still no actual substance. It probably won't be the last time I say that here - the worst offenders are still yet to come...
  13. Garcian Smith (Killer7) Final game of the Capcom Five. When people think of Grasshopper Manufacture, this is one of two games that usually comes to mind - weird enough that it could conceivably have been designed by aliens or some ancient eldritch entity, but not in a completely aimless kind of way that outright makes the game awful. Key among this strange design philosophy would have to be its bizarre, distilled control scheme. Ready for this one? The button to move forwards is the fucking A button. Your character moves along a set path until they reach a fork in it, during which you have to manually select a path to take from a series of options onscreen. You can pull out your gun at any time to aim from first person if an enemy shows up, so the best one can describe Killer7 genre wise is some odd mashup of rail shooter with bits and pieces of point and click and inventory puzzles, but even THAT doesn't accurately sum up the weirdness of this game and how, despite its stubborn refusal to follow any kind of trend or standard from the industry at large, still manages to be pretty consistently good all the way through. Of course, those conventions usually exist for a reason, and you can only flaunt them so much before something starts to suffer for it. For me, most of them revolve around usage of the Smiths themselves. Specifically, you don't really have good reason to use them most of the time - usually you'll just run Dan for his damage output, occasionally switch to KAEDE if you have enough space to shoot something far away, and then only touch the others if there's a situation with the level design only their abilities can solve, which to be perfectly fucking frank is the absolute worst way to design a character's abilities in any game. Because it essentially boils their entire purpose in the game down to being just a keycard with a gun for all the difference it makes. Parts of this boil down to the self-imposed design restrictions Grasshopper gave themselves, of course, so just giving Coyote the ability to jump at any time for example might not have worked out so well, but giving characters abilities that are almost exclusively context sensitive seems like an absolute pisstake of a compromise that leaves you no real reason to invest blood into levelling them up - cos you're certainly never going to develop them to a point that they can out-damage Con or Dan. Then you get to the boss fights, which regularly flaunt the game's OWN rules and conventions to the point that many of them are almost literally totally different games. Traditionally boss fights are designed to test the player's accumulated knowledge and skill up to that point, so if you're going to flaunt that expectation the very least you can do is design them with mechanics that are either self explanatory or can be safely picked up on over the course of the fight. The mid bosses are usually enhanced variations of the basic Heaven's Smile template that, credit where credit's due, manage this just fine, but the level end bosses are pretty awful in this regard and at best, tend to come off as pretty awkward to fight. There's a boss that doesn't react to damage at all unless you shoot them in their wings of all things, another one that punishes you if you draw your gun too early, and probably the best case in point here, one that determines victory or defeat based on the quantity of shots landed, not the actual amount of damage dealt, in a limited space of time. Something that the game doesn't warn you of in any way beforehand, and to make matters worse, railroads the Smith with the lowest rate of fire into the fight first, effectively forcing you to take a death before backtracking and bringing Con out. And while we're on the subject of death, it forms pretty much this game's most annoying mechanic. You don't actually game over if you lose all your health most of the time - that Smith just becomes temporarily unavailable. To get them back, you have to bring Garcian out, trace your steps ALL the way back to the closest room he can reach from the place that you died, collect their head and do a button mashing minigame to revive them, all the while praying you don't lose Garcian himself because you DO game over if he dies, then drag your newly revived character ALL the fucking way back to where you were from the last safehouse you visited to try it all over again. Once again here - punishing the player for dying is one thing, but tedious and irritating backtracking shouldn't be the end result, especially if the route to and from your last location is reduced effectively down to non-gameplay from all the opposition you've removed between both points since. There would be so much less trouble involved if you weren't automatically sent all the way back to a safehouse just for losing ONE Smith, even when you still have the rest of the party on standby. It's still a great game all things considered - just don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense, especially on your first playthrough.
  14. Anya Romanov (Stolen) If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Stolen is perhaps the best endorsement a game can have. Unsurprisingly for its name, it styles itself primarily as a catburglaring game, but it also steals a little bit from just about every other major stealth game of its time, from Thief to Splinter Cell and even elements of Metal Gear Solid thrown into the mix. The end result I feel, is an awkward mishmash of ideas that don't gel together as well as the developers probably thought they did, with a budget that seems to have gone mostly into their theme song which they must be pretty fucking proud of because they keep reusing the thing in just about every action sequence that happens within. I feel like the biggest area this shows are area transitions - areas are only rendered one room at a time, and the area beyond doorways is rendered as an indistinct black void, so it's difficult to tell whether you're about to run right into a guard's line of sight whenever you move between rooms. Stolen tries to remedy this with a Sonar visor that allows you to peek through a door, but it pulsates almost sickeningly in a way that makes it difficult to tell which direction a guard is facing or even whether they're moving towards or away from you, made all the worse by the fact that it can only render when it detects sound, so you won't be able to detect stationary guards or cameras at all. Sometimes this means whistling to create sound that the Sonar can pick up, which guess what, also attracts any guards nearby. It's a lot of needless over-engineering that could have been solved with a fiber optic cable ala Splinter Cell, or being able to peer through the keyhole, or I don't know, not rendering only a single fucking room at at time and just being able to look through an open god damned doorway. The MGS side of things mostly comes from its minimap system, but unlike MGS, cameras and guards don't have positions and visible vision cones on the map by default - you have to shoot every one of them, individually, with a Tracker from your silenced gun to be able to see where they are and which way they're facing at any given time. Tools like this are strewn about the map without any real context to why they are there, so pretty early on this becomes a puzzle of determining where the limited resources you're allocated are supposed to be used - which you have no way of knowing if you're playing a heist for the first time. This is a pretty common problem in stealth games, but at least in most of those games you can choose your own loadout to some degree, so you can plan for contingencies that you're more comfortable with. You can brute force a room to some extent, and the game even encourages you to take down guards via chokehold if they're in the way of something you're trying to steal, but not only do you get a score penalty for knocking them out, they don't even stop being a threat even when knocked out - they wake back up on their own an indeterminate amount of time later and radio in, putting the entire fucking level on alert. Which means you better get used to hearing this a lot too, because alerts take a LONG time to run out: Honestly, the only thing I truly appreciated about Stolen is the ending. This isn't me being smarmy and saying "hurr hurr game is best when not playing it" - the ending is a fucking FANTASTIC accumulation of all the events that had led up to it, and that's not something I get to say often about a videogame. For anything else though, you're better off playing Thief or Splinter Cell.
  15. Spy Vs Spy Let's address the elephant in the room right away. Self depreciation is a big part of MAD Magazine's humour, and I don't think they've ever made any real secret of it. I can still remember when they railed on Hanson and the MmmBop song when it was still at the peak of its popularity, and they got a lot of hate mail for it - I should know, because they open their mags with responses to mail from readers, and most every accusation of them being despicable hack writers was met with paraphrasings of "yep, that's us lol". Frankly I don't think I'm doing their writing enough credit, because in context it was legitimately hilarious. Fast forward to August 2005, issue #457. Their front page attraction is "50 worst things about videogames", which in general was an article they were already unusually blunt and on point about when articles like this of the day were usually massive generalizations from people who didn't really understand the medium, but to link this ramble back onto the subject at hand, the VERY FIRST entry was, and this time I'm quoting directly: Think about that for a moment. There's self depreciation for a gag, and then there's outright telling your audience that a game was a complete fucking waste of your characters. If that isn't a big red flag for the kind of tripe we're getting ourselves into here, I don't know what is. To tell you the truth, I'm not actually completely sure what the overall focus of the game was supposed to be. It's clear that the game takes nods and inspiration from the original Amiga title, which was a game that the Spy Vs Spy brand of humour better played into with its focus on placing traps for your opponent to stumble into while looking for a series of four mcguffins to win the game - even back then, the game was at its absolute worst when you were fighting directly, so believe it or not, legitimate subterfuge played into getting the edge in a match. In the campaign of the Xbox version, though, it's scarcely even a consideration - most stages are littered with non-Spy enemies without much rhyme or reason, and while I can occasionally appreciate them on a purely aesthetic level alone, like the robotic machineguns hidden in pot plants in the first level, it contributes to an atmosphere and gameplay style that lacks any of the subterfuge and wit Spy Vs Spy had as a comic, or even all the way back in its 8-bit outings. When traps DO come into play, they're almost exclusively scripted. Here's what will almost always happen without fail - the enemy spy sets a trap, you pass through the trap without triggering it (sometimes by going around it, usually just by sneaking), you trick the enemy spy into triggering it instead in via cutscene and the stage continues as normal, like the entire thing is just an afterthought they have to shove in to be able to claim it's a Spy Vs Spy game. It seems like a consolation to have traps featured in the campaign at all because much like the Amiga version, they were built for a multiplayer environment - in fact, the level design itself feels like it was built to try and dual purpose as both singleplayer levels and multiplayer arenas, and somehow manages to do an incredibly shit job at both of them, because the hideouts for every player spy (think the lobby areas in Counterstrike where you buy all your gear) all lead into a central hub area within naked eyeshot of each other. The second level is absolutely ridiculous for this because the Black and White Spy spawns are directly across the room from each other, not even 5 metres apart. Almost all fighting happens in this one hub alone, and anyone who happens to walk out into the level at large is never seen again because people don't have either the means or a reason to actually get out there with all enemies already centralized in a single room. This focus on multitasking absolutely DESTROYS this game and any potential it could have had to be a decent title. All of this would be bad enough if the fighting were any good, but it isn't - it's atrocious, in fact. All ranged combat in the game is handled by this autoaim system that isn't explained all that well to the player. You can be directly looking at and facing a hostile target at any given time and it'll still be a crapshoot whether you weapon will actually shoot in their general direction at all, so a lot of actual firefights will devolve into either spraying and praying, or taking the shitty aiming system out of the equation entirely and using a melee weapon or the flamethrower. It's not even the only thing in the game that feels like it just straight up doesn't work - the audio is incredibly inconsistent and cuts out channels frequently, leaving you with no music, no sound and sometimes just no audio period. I don't think I'll say it much over the course of this list, but Spy Vs Spy feels like a game that shouldn't have been made at all, and nothing at all would have been lost if they just stopped.
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