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ITT BL reminisces over his entire game library

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Tal'Set (Turok Evolution)

Just for transparency's sake: this is the first and only Turok game I've played. So I honestly can't comment on how it stacks up to previous games in the series, as I've heard it apparently... just doesn't. Only on how the game works on its own merits. So by those standards? I won't say it's awful, but let's just say that when a game gets its own episode on Wha Happun, it tends not to be for good reasons.

Let's start with the good. I fucking love the arsenal in this game, even if it leaves you with just a bow and a pistol for a little longer in the early game than it ought to. It's chock full of the diverse late 90s / early 00s wackyness that shooters of the time were best at, like a shotgun that could chamber and fire up to four shells at once, a silent flechette gun that unfolds into a triple goddamn minigun, a rocket launcher that already just fucking blankets an area in explosions with a secondary fire that fires drills into one target and rips them to shreds, and even the humble Tek Bow has explosive and poison arrows whenever you're not using it to quietely pop people's heads like watermelons from a distance. It's honestly the perfect blend of straightforward and gimmicky shit that an FPS arsenal should strive to be, and I don't think there's a single thing I can fault about their design - only their handling.

If I could sum up Turok Evolution in one word, it would be "janky". And it goes down to many of the same reasons aiming is so awkward in Ocarina of Time, a whole page ago - huge deadzones closer to the neutral position of the stick, so attempting even the slightest aim correction causes wide, jerking movements that will often sail right past the target you're attempting to aim at. Now imagine that you have to play an ENTIRE FUCKING GAME like this, and worse still, you don't get aim assistance of any kind to make up for it. And then to top things off, your aim is constantly swaying in a gentle left and right motion, enough so that it will cause you to miss scoped shots constantly, and you have absolutely no means of steadying your aim. It feels like a lot of the difficulty in this game is designed around the idea that most enemies WILL get at least one hit off on you because your aim constantly flings back and forth right past them while you're trying to focus your aim on them, and that's not even accounting for all the times they'll sideways roll to avoid fire or take cues from scripted sequences to duck behind cover and shoot around corners.

It's also unforgiving for many of the same reasons Duke Zero Hour is - namely it doesn't have any fucking midlevel checkpoints at all, with a side of instant death sprinkled in here and there whenever the game decides it wants to test your first person platforming chops. Sometimes Evolution gets around this by throwing you levels in tiny, two minute long chunks, but often there are points throughout the game where they throw 10-15 minute long gauntlets at you, and while ammo is given very generously in this game, health isn't - so it isn't unheard of to have to milk health pickups for every drop they're worth, sometimes having to backtrack halfway into a level to get some and make sure you don't go into an upcoming firefight only half prepared. That shit is not fun. It should not even be a consideration in the game's design, though honestly it could very well be because the game just didn't have enough time in the oven and could have been fixed with another few months of playtesting and polish.

So yeah, pretty classic case of dev hell - hearts and minds were in the right place, but developers simply weren't given enough time to iron out the game's flaws. Honestly, it's a wonder the game even looks as great as it does for its time, awkward aiming aside.

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Hotrod (Burnout series)

I like to think of Burnout as one of the last truly amazing traditional racing games out there, and once again it circles back to the Road Rash school of designing them. In most other games, running into a wall at a bad angle will usually mean at worst a momentary inconvenience as you have to stop and steer to face the right way down the track again, but in Burnout will instantly become a mangled wreck that pingpongs all over the place and becomes a hazard to literally everything else on the road, including other racers. Wiping out this way is immensely more punishing, but incredibly cathartic all the same, causing such chaos to all the traffic surrounding you that there are even entire modes dedicated to causing as much damage as humanly possible with a single crash.

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Some might say "but why would I tempt fate like that if the objective is still to come first"? And the answer is quite simple - because you need to in order to go fast. All cars in the game have a nitrous boost, and the game rewards crazy, reckless driving by filling up your boost meter whenever you do by way of drifting, passing dangerously close to other cars and driving in the fucking oncoming lane, just to name a few. So the process of collecting boost fuel and the process of creating spectacular crashes works hand in hand more often than not. Starting with Burnout 3, Criterion would take it a step further and allow you directly ram into other racers to cause them to crash, giving a boost reward for every solid impact and giving a whole new meaning to the idea of aggressive racing that honestly, very few games have ever captured since. Which is why it pains me to say this is a series that once again, has fallen victim to the draconian oversight of EA Games.

Probably the last time Burnout would see the spotlight was through Burnout Paradise, a pseudo open world title in which literally every junction was the starting point of an individual race or challenge. Honestly, on a personal level I hate this, because it's presented in such a way that the game has no actual objective or driving force (pun VERY not intended) behind it, and the emphasis on finding your own route to the finish is incredibly misguided because doing any kind of pathfinding requires you to take your eyes off the road - and if you've learnt even a single thing about road safety, it's that you should absolutely fucking never do this, especially at high speeds. Regardless, people seemed to like this for some reason, so good on them - it's the last real Burnout game we'd ever get either way. EA would try to consolidate its mechanics under Need for Speed until THAT fell flat too, all because EA could not accept that maybe, just maybe, it's okay for a game to turn a modest profit - not even to fail, just to merely make more money than it cost them - instead of turning gargantuan mountains of cash every title.

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Tricky and Krystal (Starfox Adventures)

Starfox Adventures is the last Rare game made under Nintendo, and honestly, they could not have parted on a sadder note. There are a few conflicting stories on the development of the game itself, but the facts as I understand them are: the game originally started out as an original IP for the N64 named Dinosaur Planet, Nintendo meddled in its developed and insisted it be a Starfox game on the basis that the lead character beared a passing resemblance to Fox, and the Microsoft buyout of Rare forced them to bring the game to a VERY abrupt finish to wrap things up in time for their handover. What remains is a branded Zelda clone that can be completed in a day, with small amounts of Starfox mechanics and references awkwardly wedged in between, and a game-specific language that's closer to pig latin than anything else and serves literally no purpose but to make you feel like you're watching a movie in the wrong language.

In fact Adventures sometimes feels too much like it's trying to be different simply for difference's sake in its setting. Like eggs instead of heart pickups and beetles instead of regular currency and whatever the fuck a bafomdad is in place of extra lives or even just an equivalent thereof like Zelda's fairies. And the game dedicates more time to overexplaining the backstories of these Harry Potter sounding knockoffs than their actual function, which quickly gets annoying in the earlier stages of the game and honestly makes me dread finding new items more than anticipating them. Look, there are better ways to establish worldbuilding than to fucking DROWN players in it whenever they do any single thing of significance, and if even a single fucking person cares about learning the absolute tiniest specifics about every individual item they ever pick up they'll hunt down that lore in their own god damned time. Just leave a few books and text logs lying around ingame, for fuck's sake.

Even when you get around to actual fighting, the game doesn't respect your time and patience any better. Most enemies have a shitton of health, requiring you to abuse one of a selection of scripted combo strings you get by mashing the attack button and holding a different direction on the stick depending on the string - in effect, creating a problem that didn't need to be there in order to justify a solution that shouldn't exist. Ocarina of Time had the right idea here, in that it didn't need this kind of button mashing because individual attacks were already significant on their own, and chaining them together was just an incidental part of exploiting an enemy's given vulnerabilities, not the absolute most basic interaction with almost every grounded enemy you fight. This would bother me less if all these strings had similar effectiveness, had different usages between them or so much as caused enemies to react differently, but the strings in Adventure work in tiers that are objectively worse than one another, leaving you with almost no reason not to just spam the twirling move over and over again. It's completely and utterly shallow, and it honestly pisses me off that later Zelda games would fall into this exact same trap too.

Even once you get past the idea that Adventures is a shallow Zelda clone, you still have to remember how frantically they had to wrap up development of this game. It's clear to see that some parts of the game are visibly unfinished, and probably the most flagrant example of this is the fact that the game ends on an absolutely ridiculous, anticlimactic Deus Ex Machina that prevents you from actually fighting the main villain of the game at all, just to shove them aside for an Arwing fight with an established adversary instead. Honestly though, I'm not entirely sure if even just more time in the oven could have saved Adventures, because many of its flaws are cast as intentional design decisions that were unlikely to change anyway. I don't think anything will bother me more than not knowing for sure whether Nintendo or Rare are more responsible for how the game ultimately turned out, but I think most can still agree that the said end result was kind of mediocre either way.

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Rayne (Bloodrayne)

If Bloodrayne is a testament to absolutely nothing else, it's that sometimes, a solid main character can attract you a following even in the absence of a competently designed game. This won't be a revelation to most of you, being Sonic fans still in spite of the franchise's output in modern day - Bloodrayne has a cult following all its own, and for the life of me I can't fathom any other reason besides "I just like the character, dude". There must just be something about a half-vampire, latex-clad chick with gigantic elbow blades that scratches an itch that a certain audience can't find anywhere else. Personally, I don't think she's any Duke Nukem - she does spout mid-fight one liners every now and then, but the actress's delivery of them makes them really hard to hear sometimes over the sounds of gunfire. It has its moments, though. There's something darkly hilarious about cutting a Nazi's arm off and having Rayne deadpan quip "you dropped something" in response, and her sarcasm shines a lot brighter in pre-fight confrontations where there isn't any background noise to mess with it.

That being said, good fucking god it takes so long for this game to develop into something interesting. Most of the earliest sections of the game take place in a swamp, presumably to give players a rude introduction to some of Rayne's vampiric traits. The game doesn't give you any medkits because Rayne can simply suck blood from any humanoid enemy, but you also take constant damage any time you enter a body of water. Not even holy water, just regular ass water. The game abuses this fact to push the player into platforming puzzles that in retrospect, honestly just look incredibly silly and forced, and sometimes just force you to tread water anyway on the basis that you can suck a mutant dry to get that health back later anyway. But worst of all, it leaves Rayne without any real foils to bounce her banter off of, at least not particularly well. It takes over an hour to get to that point, well into your first confrontations with the Nazis, and it just reeks of a game that isn't paced very well at all, laden with incredibly simple and samey looking map design that you can get lost in way too easily without referring to your aura sense for objective markers regularly.

Actual fighting in Bloodyrayne is laughably basic, mostly just running up into any given enemy's face and button mashing until at least one of their limbs falls off, occasionally just drinking them instead while using their body as a human shield. You do gain additional attacks as the game progresses, but they're only ever executed as part of a sequence of attacks, and could debatably be called a downgrade overall because the extra attacks make Rayne wait longer between them, going from an incessant flurry to a slow-ass chain that might pay off if you land the 3rd and 5th hits. Sometimes you can mix it up by shooting them up, but Bloodrayne has some of the most RIDICULOUS autoaim I've ever seen in a videogame, seeking out targets you aren't facing and targets that aren't even fucking onscreen, to the point that you can use Rayne's aiming as an earlier warning that enemies are nearby than your own fucking two eyes in many circumstances. You don't even need to manually select weapons most of the time. Rayne will just pull out another gun the moment one in her inventory runs dry. And to top it all off, Rayne has the completely unexplained ability to dialate time, playing the action out in slow motion for absolutely no cost. You can play through almost the entire game in bullet time and the game will do absolutely nothing to stop or restrain you, making fights even more of a joke than they already were.

It quickly becomes incredibly difficult to die in a fight unless you're actively trying to get killed - so instead of trying to rebalance that, Bloodrayne instead resorts to fake difficulty further down the line to try and keep players on their toes, usually just resulting in unavoidable deaths in the process. There's a scene later into the game where you have to get to the end of a very long bridge from the middle as it's collapsing, and for the life of me I don't actually know how you're supposed to escape it consistently. I can't even remember how I got through it in the end, bar that I'm pretty sure it was actually a really, really stupid solution. And this is all just talking about Bloodrayne 1 - the sequel, in addition to being an incredibly gimmicky piece of shit built almost exclusively around using your grapple hook move to fling people into deadly hazards, takes this kind of bullshit to the absolute extreme, to the point that one of the penultimate bosses legitimately requires you to farm enough blood and ammo to be able to damage it in short bursts to the point that I'm pretty sure it takes half an actual god damn hour to completely kill.

What pains me most of all is that I don't know if I can genuinely suggest an alternative to Bloodrayne. There are games where vampires are the core focus (Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines), very simple 3rd person slasher/shooter hybrids (Warhammer 40k: Space Marine) and even shooters that barely require any input of your own to aim (Tomb Raider), but nothing to my knowledge that is all of these things at once. So I guess until someone does, Bloodrayne will still have a place in the industry, however niche it may be and however flawed the games themselves are.

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Tommy Vercetti (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)

GTA is a franchise that doesn't really need any introduction. It's a game that has sailed by and large on the coattails of controversy, in the shoes of a gangster in a sandbox of crime. It's a game that doesn't put any hard restrictions on what you can do within the game's mechanics - you can kill and steal whatever you want, and your only real concern will be whether you can deal with cops after the fact. This is probably best exemplified by the game previous in the series to this one, which let you do the nasty with a prostitute and then immediately murder them to get your money back. Yeah, it's that circle of hell we're getting ourselves into now. Regardless of the trends it may have set, Vice City is... honestly pretty dated by today's standards, and I don't mean that just because all the animation looks like it was made by an underpaid intern even by the standards of the time it was first released.

One of the trends that GTA set is something I'd like to dub "space for space's sake". It's a pretty big open world for its day, but it doesn't actually have a whole lot to do in it whenever you're not seeking out missions. Occasionally there'll be pickups, weapons and powerups hidden in various nooks and crannies arcade style, and a series of 100 collectibles scattered all about the map, but most of it is just open space that serves literally no purpose but to increase the amount of time it takes to travel between destinations - and the overwhelming majority of missions involve this in some capacity, often requiring you to start at a mission vendor's place and then to travel up to halfway across the fucking city just to get the mission's events started proper. I've known some missions to do this twice in a row, like with the first mission with you and Lance defending Diaz in a drug deal forcing you to stop at a car park along the way just to pick up a gun, which you could very well already have by that point. It's genuinely better just to have a map that's tight and dense than one that's big but spread thin, and this is an issue that STILL ruins a lot of open world games today.

Probably VC's biggest problem, though, is the way it handles critical failures like dying or being busted. Whenever either of these things happen, you don't just fail the given mission you're working on - you lose everything except your money. All your armour, all your ammo and every single gun in your inventory. And there are a lot of missions you need to be VERY heavily armed for, so you can't just jump right back into the mission for another attempt, rather to either hunt down one of the free guns scattered about the map or to buy a new arsenal from scratch from one of the gun shops, which you ALSO can't afford to do because the lattermost portions of the game require you to buy up incredibly expensive real estate to be able to access the missions within. The only alternative is to load from a previous save with all of your weapons intact, and then travel all the way back to the mission start for another attempt.

No matter which method you try, every death costs you a fucking god awful amount of time, and it wears thin on one's patience extremely fucking quickly. I for one believe a failure state in a videogame should be punishing, but this is penalizing the player in ways it absolutely doesn't need to or benefit from, and unlike older games that pride themselves on an arcade style of play it isn't even fun to get back to where you were when you lost your progress - it is literally just fucking driving from point A to point B multiple times without pissing off the cops along the way. And that's even assuming you remember to update your save between every mission, which guess the fuck what, ALSO requires you to drive from point A to B because you can only save in predetermined spots. Honestly, it could have been just a Driver-esque mission structure where you already spawn exactly where you need to be with exactly what you need to complete it, and it would fix a ridiculous amount of problems with this game. Because to be perfectly frank? The design of this game does NOT benefit from being open world. There, I said it.

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Dark Samus (Metroid Prime trilogy)

I think I can count on one hand the number of games that have gone through a change in genre and lived. Much of the time it's an ill-thought attempt at chasing trends spearheaded by execs that have never touched a controller in their lives, destroying the fabric of a beloved IP to pander to an audience that still has no interest in them even after the fact. Some people might argue some of those things are still true, but it's hard to argue that the Metroid Prime games scratched a few itches that had thus far been neglected in the Nintendoverse. Not only was it the first Metroid since the fucking SNES, it's also to my knowledge their first first party first person shooter... fuck that's a lotta firsts. Regardless of the genre switch, Prime still keeps a lot of the metroidvania trends intact, throwing a confused and disoriented player into a world with a lot of twisting routes and leaving them to figure out how to navigate it almost all on their own - sometimes coming off as a where-the-fuck-do-I-go simulator, but almost always stumbling apon something new every time you look for another way around.

Similarly to Unreal, the Primes manage to weave its narrative in near-complete isolation mostly by way of Samus's Scan Visor, which can analyze objects and creatures in the world for text-based exposition at the player's own pace. They have a tendency to go absolutely obsessive with these in the earliest parts of most games, like the frigate at the start of Prime 1 having almost every standout object have a scannable log to go with it, including corpses with detailed, medical-correct causes of death, many with subtle foreshadowing to the nature of the boss you're about to face. It's a disappointment to me that they can never maintain this absurd level of detail throughout the entire game, but they still nonetheless feature impressively thought out biomes and biologies of all the planets you visit, and they will still surprise you every now and then with otherwise insignificant looking objects that have neat Scan-based exposition hidden behind them. The best part is that all of this is largely optional, with a few exceptions, and the Scan Visor will even isolate targets of increased importance among all the other clutter if you just want what the game needs of you and nothing else.

The Prime games has one of my favourite kinds of fighting, which I've probably summarized quite a few times by now - the actual "hitting people" part of fighting is deceptively simple, so strategy in fights often revolves around movement - notably evasion and careful positioning - instead. However, this game is honestly just begging for a rapidfire option. Samus can fire the default cannon as rapidly as you can press the button, and most enemies and bosses are designed around the idea that you're going to be blasting them constantly as quickly as you can without compromising your mobility, which makes playing this game a pretty fast track down to RSI-ville. That's before you get into the Metroid Prime Trilogy compilation with integrated motion controls in all three titles which, while objectively the best way to play them as far as responsive controls goes, will still leave you with a pretty nasty stiff wrist by the time you're done with all of them.

You know what can absolutely get fucked, though? Right before the end of every game in the series is a hard barrier that you can't pass without a collection of mcguffins hidden throughout the game's world, requiring you to do an absurd amount of backtracking and searching over beaten ground that the game never needed to have. They were already perfectly paced up to these points, why do they always insist on shoving in this stupid fucking padding at the absolute last minute? Just make the bosses the requirement for the endgame like they were in Super Metroid, christ, it's not that hard.

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Snake and Raiden (Metal Gear Solid 2)

MGS2 might very well the the biggest bait and switch in all of fucking gaming history. Some people in modern day don't seem to understand why Raiden is looked down apon so much, but for that you need a bit of perspective back when the game was first released - Metal Gear Solid 2 had lots of previews in gaming events up to the day it came out, and the first time people ever saw Raiden was only when they had the actual game in their system and the controller in their hands. Everything after the Tanker section was a complete surprise to everyone but the developers, and that swap only happens like an eighth of the way into the game. And while on some level I have to commend the guys at Kojima studios for keeping a secret like that so well, it needs to be said that it can - and did - set false impressions of the game early on if not handled carefully, and those false impressions can backfire REALLY hard.

Gameplay speaking, MGS2 is unconventional in a lot of ways that it absolutely didn't need to be, and in ways that can make basic engagements an absolute pain in the ass. By default shooting is handled relative to the camera, which can often change unexpectedly Resident Evil style, and even then only changes which direction you're facing laterally when you pull the trigger, which is a lot of precision to ask of the player even when you're aiming at targets that are onscreen. Alternatively you can and probably will aim through first person instead, which requires you to hold the fire button down to prep a round and fires when you release the trigger, which is... not how firearms work? There are loads of layers of mechanics that would have been completely unnecessary had you just been able to move and aim independently by default, like almost every other fucking shooting game ever made. It's not to say a stealth game of all things shouldn't have difficulties in engaging enemies when it's supposed to be a last resort, but one need only make the AI smart and cooperative with each other to accomplish that, and MGS2 was on a GREAT track towards that, from enemies that line up and fire in formation and flank where able to, to even doing breaching procedures when they think they have you cornered in a dead end room.

That being said, Kojima has a thing for writing and setpiecing in a way I don't think any other developer can really replicate. It's so strange to see his brand of silliness permeate what is otherwise a political and espionage themed narrative and not feel like anything is out of place, almost like layers apon layers of easter eggs. That being said, sometimes I wish the characters of his games could just shut the fuck up once in a while. It's been a long-standing meme that Kojima games are overwhelmingly drowning in codec dialogue and exposition, and although in the process of exploring its points it makes some that are still terrifyingly relevant today in Deus Ex esque fashion (HUGE endgame spoilers, before you click that link), it does so with such long, exhaustive speeches through two character portraits that it becomes incredibly difficult to absorb after a point, leaving the end result as a mixture of confusion and overwhelming boredom when it decides to dump 10 minutes of exposition on you at once. It feels like it could have solved so many problems if Codec calls just played out in the background while playing the actual game and the map design was paced accordingly.

All in all if you can deal with a videogame that desperately wishes it could be a movie instead MGS2 is still a neat game. Just expect to have your patience tested a lot.

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The Hero of Winds (Wind Waker)

Wind Waker stands as kind of an interesting outlier in the artstyle department as far as Zelda games go. Though I think most backlash to it is kind of petty and juvenile, it still needs to be said that they kinda set themselves up for it with tech demos that originally looked like this:

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God damn if they didn't make the cartoony look work, though. It would have been so simple just to make a game with no textures and call it a day, and I doubt anyone would have questioned it, but it's the unique approach to lighting - dubbed "cel shading" - that really makes Wind Waker's look. A 3D image that looks like a moving cartoon has long been seen as a holy grail for media over the ages, and although it wasn't exactly the first application the approach would see (even as far as the Gamecube was concerned, Cel Damage would come out first), this could be seen as the first step towards achieving that in earnest. Even putting technical achievements aside, Wind Waker was expressive in ways no other game in the series was - though to be sure, more of an artstyle triumph than a technical one.

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I know I alluded to it earlier, but I still gotta bring it back up - I really, genuinely don't like the way the series gravitated away from single strikes, because all the auto combos feel like mindless flailing fluff. Especially because, like Starfox Adventures, one of them is factually better than the others, in this case because it has an integrated Spin Attack which you normally need to either charge up or perform a complicated full circle motion for first any other time. Sure, you could just use jump attacks, but on most enemies it completely knocks them over immediately and you can't hit them again until they get back up. Wind Waker, at the very least, helps diversify things by way of Parries, more or less glorified Quicktime Events that are prompted by certain enemy actions and cause Link to strategically dodge and counter when met. I prefer this kind of QTE because it's not just a fucking arbitary button press, rather it works off the game's own mechanics - it's always the A button, which is what you use to jump attack. The failure state isn't predetermined so much as executing a jump attack too early instead of the scripted counter and getting predictably punished for it.

And that brings us to the world of Wind Waker. From the absolute most technical definition of "correct", Wind Waker has a world several times the size of just about any other game to that date - but the overwhelming majority of it is completely empty ocean, so you spend the majority of the game sailing through literal nothingness, occasionally steering around randomly generated obstacles when the game decides you've been out too long. The main gimmick of the game - the ability to control which way the wind blows - serves mainly to keep wind in your sails towards your destination, but every time you want to change directions you have to come to a full stop, pull out your wind waker and perform a song for it, remembering all the while which direction your destination is relative to you, and it honestly doesn't feel like it needed that many steps when you could have just, oh I dunno, pointed the fucking conductor's baton in the direction you want the wind to blow, and saved the songs for more complicated or specialized applications like the songs tended to do in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.

Though Wind Waker is a game that is overall feature complete, it's also a game that was rushed for a deadline, and there are definitely places in the game where it shows. Despite every quadrant on the map having at least one island or landmark to visit, there are only a scant six fucking dungeons in the entire game (and that's even counting the ones you don't acquire any mcguffins in), and the game later culminates in a hunt for Triforce shards that only serve to pad the game out and force you to backtrack and sidetrack all over the fucking map looking for them, not to mention pay an absolutely extortionate amount of rupees to have the maps leading to them translated in the first place. And it still suffers from some issues that were still there all the way back in Ocarina of Time, key among which the godawful fucking aiming system. I still consider this game a classic all the same, easily still on par with OoT - but there is SO much room for improvement, it makes you wonder just how much better the game could have been with time.

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Vexx

This will be Acclaim's last game on the list, a 3D collectathon platformer somewhat closer in vein to Jak and Daxter than Mario or Banjo. Thankfully, this game runs light as far as layers of collectibles go - just Wraith Hearts to function as level keys, and a pair of unlockable abilities required to get certain hearts. I have to pick on that point right away though, because the first of those is literally directly behind you the moment you first gain control of your character, inside a painting, and you can only get inside that painting by way of a portal above which is beyond your jump height. The intended solution is to jump on a torch in the middle of the room and fucking damage boost up to the teleporter. If that doesn't immediately set the stage for the kinds of bullshit this game can throw at you, I don't know what will. It's bullshit in ways that it can't possibly be by accident, which the game's own manual reaffirms by practically gloating about the exact poor placement they like to use certain types of enemies in.

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In fact, this game just loves its cliff faces, high floating platforms and tightrope-thin segments in general way too much for its own good. It gets off on the idea that the further you progress into any given segment, the more likely you are to immediately die for missing a single jump, and that's including the segments that aren't suspended above a bottomless deathpit in their entirety. You would think that to be cause to just try, try again, but 1) you have limited lives in this game, 2) extra lives never respawn, and 3) the game remembers how many lives you had last time you saved, instead of just assuming a default count whenever you reload. So not only is it a struggle to collect certain hearts at all, you're under a constant gauntlet to keep what little resources the game doles out and make them last the ENTIRE GAME, irregardless of how consistently you play it. You can make a challenge in dragging resources out over a long period of time or make a challenge in just beating a section at all, but you cannot fucking do both. Never do this. Never, ever, fucking EVER do this.

As far as combat goes, Vexx has a pseudo Devil Trigger mode wherein beating enemies up fills a gauge, and once it maxes out you can pop it to temporarily increase your speed and fire energy blasts that instakill lesser enemies. The game makes a big deal out of the fact that you can combo enemies to increase the amount of meter you draw out of them, but literally all combos in this game after a point devolve into spamming jump kicks to infinitely juggle the poor bastards without any threat of retaliation. I like the idea of a moveset that flows together naturally depending on where the last move you used leaves you (such as the uppercut putting you in the perfect position to perform a jumpkick followup) instead of a predetermined sequence of attacks (such as the chargable ground pound which for some reason requires you to attack twice first and then intentionally delay the third hit), but it honestly feels like there aren't any games out there that can get it completely right without relying on some kind of crutch.

I think worse than anything though, is the fact that Vexx just doesn't really build up to anything. Not counting incidental minigames, there are only four  real boss fights in the game out of the 81 hearts you can collect and nine worlds you can visit, and three of them are completely skippable and don't have any real narrative significance at all. In fact, I can't think of a single event in this game that DOES advance the plot until the final boss, save for a single midway FMV that happens once you collect a certain number of hearts. And honestly, it feels like a complete and total waste of its setting. Acclaim had a very nasty habit of rushing its developers to a deadline whenever they published anything, and as you might observe by the fact that they are no longer in the fucking industry at all, this habit would start to come back and bite them really hard with showings like this.

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Vanessa Z. Schneider (P.N.03)

This game is the first of the infamous Capcom Five, a series of games Capcom pledged as Gamecube exclusives to help bolster Nintendo's failing third party support before quickly becoming a part of that same failing statistic and becoming multiplatform instead. PN03 is one of only two exceptions - whereas Dead Phoenix was never released at all, Capcom likely never saw the point in porting PN03 because it's... honestly, kind of mediocre, and falling in line with the running theme we've had these past few games, it's in large part due to the fact that the developers simply weren't given enough time to work on it. And whereas in Vexx and Wind Waker most people can only use knowledge of their early releases to explain their lack of content, PN03's unfinished-ness is obvious right from the outset, with FMVs that all use ingame models and animations, almost exclusively text-based dialogue, very plain, sterile aesthetic design and boring level design that reuses sections of level surprisingly frequently.

On a basic level, it's a shooting game with tank controls, in which you're a contractor following the orders of a mysterious client as you work to take on the minions of an AI that was responsible for the death of your parents. It has a similar issue to Metroid Prime in that your primary fire shoots as fast as you can tap the button, and expects you to do so in nearly machinegun-like rhythm in just about every engagement. Moving and shooting are mutually exclusive in this game, for reasons I'll touch on later, but this game still maintains a similar focus on evasion between shots.

Evasion which, need I remind, takes place in a game with fucking tank controls.

PN03 gets around the problem simply mapping sideways dodge moves to the left and right triggers. So essentially, most fights boil down to planting yourself in place, spamming the fire button like crazy, and then cartwheeling out of the way the moment you see any sign of an enemy preparing to fire back. For special situations, Vanessa has a few meter burn moves that will usually wipe out any enemies in your line of sight and make you completely invulnerable while the animation is playing out... but for some baffling reason, all of them require fighting game esque command inputs with the D-pad. In spite of the fact that no suit in the game has more than three special attacks. It truly is a spectacle of pointless over-engineering that could have been solved simply by allocating a special move to each direction on the Dpad instead, and probably would have been infinitely more responsive as a result.

One thing I've always liked about PN03 though, is the animation. Despite almost never speaking ingame, Vanessa is a character that just oozes style. Her running animation is just about the only straightforward thing about her movement - everything else, from dodges to backpedals to even her idle animation, functions in a rhythm that looks like a constant dance, and the fact that she shoots energy blasts out of her palms instead of with physical guns - a cut from the original prototype that otherwise would have come off as incredibly lazy - is actually weaved into her motions incredibly well, and is always one of the first things I recall when I think back to this game. It's just a shame that the distance some of these moves cover is incredibly inconsistent, and that the writing in this game is so shoddy and rushed that they apparently didn't even have time to fix spelling and grammar errors. Because it's honestly hard not to think of Vanessa - and PN03 by proxy - as the original Bayonetta, and tank controls be damned, it's a crying shame the game wasn't given enough time to see its own identity realized in full. Can you give it another shot Capcom? Please?

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Niobe and Ghost (Enter the Matrix)

I don't think I've ever been as excited for a licensed game as I have been for Enter the Matrix. The Matrix was, and still is, a fucking cool as hell property to work with, blending acrobatics, martial arts and gunplay into a slick cocktail all its own, and people spent decades trying and failing to replicate its charm in the scheme of action flicks and games both. Enter the Matrix seemed groundbreaking from the outside in that not only were the Wachowskis themselves involved in writing and directing it, they even had an assortment of live action FMVs filmed explicitly for this game, alongside the work they were doing on Reloaded and Revolutions. Most games of this type usually just directly adapt their respective films directly, so for one to act as its own perspective of their events, to supplement them rather than adapt them, is a take that doesn't get explored much - so when you do something that daring right out of the gate, with a property that's taking the world by storm and would be highly desired by just about any developer or publisher, maybe don't hand the fucking game off to the guys whose only real pedigree in the genre to date was Messiah?

This game, on a strictly technical level, gives you a lot of cool actions to perform and only explains like half of them, leaving you to mostly just flail around when it comes to actual fighting. In spite of the fact that melee fighting alone has a complexity somewhere between Shenmue and Soul Calibur, there isn't even a fucking move list to refer to, nor a mode in which to polish up and learn on techniques to start with, in spite of the fact that digital sparring sessions are pretty common in this universe. So when it comes time to kick someone clean over a railing to their deaths, perform a sneaky neckbreaker or even so much as approach enemies without being given unnecessary ventilation, congratulations! There's a pretty good chance you won't know how to do at least one of those things! To make matters worse, this is yet another game that functions on tank controls. What the fuck was it with people back in this era and trying to make acrobatic combat work with tank controls??? It's already difficult to get the contexts for acrobatic shit like wallruns working properly, and now you wants to add slow turning into the mix? What was wrong with just holding a direction on the left stick and having your character move in that direction relative to the camera? Why the fuck were people still doing this post-N64???

And all that jazz about live action cutscenes? In massively stark contrast to Reloaded and Revolutions, most of the filmwork is pretty low budget trash, featuring acting all round that is somehow even more wooden than the source material despite featuring a lot of the same talent. And whenever the game isn't parading these around - which it does a lot less than you might think - the game looks absolutely hideous and animates strangely and jankily in ways that really shouldn't be possible for mo-capped animation. And this awkwardness even has gameplay implications sometimes - for example, if you drop an enemy's health to zero while they're swinging at you with the butt of their gun, they'll only drop dead after the animations finishes, essentially giving them a free hit if you spray them with bullets from up close. And I don't know exactly how they transferred the data onto all the models, but I can only assume it was a lot more information than the animations actually needed, because the Gamecube version in particular - the one I owned specicially - had two discs. TWO DISCS, for a game that is four hours long! How do you fuck up a port THAT badly?

Well, this probably won't come as a surprise, but our running theme for the past few games is still going - this game was given shit all development time and suffered badly for it, because it needed to release alongside The Matrix Reloaded and promote one another. And honestly, this was a much needed wakeup call for me when it comes to the concept of licensed games - bar a few rare exceptions, they only ever exist as glorified, paid promotions for their source material. As glorified merchandise, and not much more. And I don't think anything exemplifies this case in point more in Enter the Matrix than the fact that the ending cutscene for the game is literally just an ad for The Matrix Revolutions.

As far as I'm concerned, the world still needs a great Matrix title. But also as far as I'm concerned, as long as it has to piggyback off a main film while it's still relevant, we probably won't get it.

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Kyle Katarn (Jedi Acadamy)

Believe it or not, Jedi-themed Star Wars games actually weren't all that common starting out. In the beginning, most of them were shooters of some description from Dark Forces onwards, and when the actual Jedi started crawling out of the woodwork it was mostly on the backs of these games rather than an effort made completely from scratch. Jedi Academy in particular is something of a pseudo sequel to Return of the Jedi, in which Luke Skywalker has taken it apon himself to rebuild the Jedi order after the fall of the Empire, and you play the role of a student that works their way up the ranks in the midst of a scheme by the Sith to do the same. And although the aesthetic options for making your own Jedi are expectedly kind of limited, the limited amount of points you can spend often forces you to specialize rather than master all the powers evenly, and much like System Shock 2 or Deus Ex this can lead to a number of fun self-imposed challenges even after you beat the game for the first time.

So it needs to be said that making a melee focused game out of a first person shooter really has no right to work, but Jedi Academy somehow just... does? In fact, many people have gone on record saying it's their favourite variation of lightsaber combat out of any Star Wars game ever made, and it's all down to a Contra-esque simplicity that is hard not to envy - your character simply swings their saber in the direction you're moving. For example, advancing will cause your character to attack overhead, while strafing will swing to the left or right respectively. It honestly feels like flailing on many levels, but once you grasp the idea of swinging in a way that your saber doesn't intersect the enemy's in order to land hits, it starts to click. Which is why it begs the question that Raven still felt the need to add blasters into this game, because your lightsaber makes them feel overwhelmingly redundant, and in many cases you're even punished just for using them because enemy Sith have the ability to deflect shots right back at you, and you lose the ability to do the same whenever you pull a gun out.

That all being said, this is a game that was obviously built for PC first and foremost, as was the overwhelming trend back then - so among various hiccups in optimization, the console versions struggled somewhat to deal with the sheer breadth of weapons and force powers in this game. For point of example, I had the Xbox version, which allow you to hotkey two abilities to the black and white buttons and allow you to use a third that's currently selected by clicking the left thumbstick, which in addition to being exactly as awkward as it sounds to use on command only covers three powers of your choice out of the twelve possible, and that's before you take weapons into account. The alternative is to cycle through equips one at a time to get to where you need to be, which the game often expects you to do while you're being shot at. In the end, this usually leaves your only option down to overspecializing, usually spreading duty between Force Heal, Force Push/Pull and Force Speed, maybe swapping the lattermost out for personal taste. I'm not saying the game should have been dumbed down overall to be playable on consoles, but at the very fucking least a weapon/power selection wheel would have done so much better than scrolling through either of them a single entry at a time.

It's really hard to criticise the game much beyond that. Some sith are ridiculously powerful to the point that abusing quicksaves feels like a necessity in some levels, but it's a pretty solid game overall. It's not hard to see why it's held up as a classic by Star Wars fans.

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Darth Malak (Knights of the Old Republic)

KOTOR is a game that initially seems to have nothing going for it, in much the same way Earthbound did. Without all the bells and whistles you get later in the game, combat is so basic that it literally plays out automatically, trending somewhat more towards the likes of an MMO than a traditional RPG - like classic Runescape, just clicking on a guy and intervening only to ensure your health doesn't drop below zero. But like any great RPG, its writing lifts the game above its mechanical flaws and allows it mostly in that respect, with moments of subtle foreshadowing cascading into a brilliant plot twist that turns the entire narrative on its head and teaches a tale of redemption that honestly, I don't think anything in Star Wars media has matched, game or no. The game does branch out later into various special attacks, skills and party members, in a way that encounters do actually start requiring some semblance of strategy, but frankly it feels like it should have ramped up a lot earlier than it did.

As was quickly becoming the trend for games of this type, just about all the dialogue in this game is voiced over, but KOTOR also cheats and cuts corners in the process - much of the dialogue is spoken in alien languages, which quicky turn out to be random smatterings of gibberish spliced together to form imaginary sentences that your player character can understand by virtue of being a C-3PO tier multi-linguist. This might not bother me so much, if there was a wide variety of samples to choose from, but I can only hear MUCHA CHAKA PAKA so many times before I notice the samples repeating, sometimes multiple times in the same sentence, and have to endure this repeatedly over the course of a ~30 hour long game. I think it's saying a lot that I genuinely would have preferred characters not make audible noises at all over this, if it came to a point that Bioware only wanted to selectively give characters actual voice lines.

And for all the options you get to develop yourself and your party's abilities, after a certain point it begins to feel a lot like tedious micromanaging. This is probably somewhat me rambling about genres and mechanics I never really appreciated or understood, but I never really bought into the D&D school of all stats and abilities in the game being based on a separate series of other stats and intermingle to the point that you have to raise up like three other traits to make one any semblance of effective. And it's honestly very difficult to gauge how much use you're going to get out of some of these skills when many of them, like hacking, repairing and persuading, are VERY dependant on context that you won't realize the first time you play the game through. And I haven't even gotten into Force based skills yet, which can get you killed very quickly if you don't have the right selection of later into the game. I also realize this is me speaking in hindsight, with the knowledge I only have today that alternatives even exist at all, like perk-based or resource-based growth, which Bioware likely had no means to be aware of that early.

Be that all as it may, these are mostly nitpicks that I really had to struggle to find when it comes to a game as large and consistently good as it is. It's pretty hard not to recommend KOTOR if you're into the genre, and even if you're not there's still plenty there to enjoy. Just be patient with the game's opening stages until it starts to click, and you won't want to put it down.

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Lloyd, Genis, Colette and Kratos (Tales of Symphonia)

This is a game of such ridiculous scope that it can casually take a whopping eighty hours to complete, and needed to be split across two discs to be stored in its entirety. I don't think I've ever played a single game this huge before or since, and honestly as far as I'm concerned it's some of the best the JRPG genre has to offer, filled with all manner of narrative twists and turns, a diverse roster for many personal tastes, a pretty decent amount of replay value in spite of its sheer length, and even the ability for multiple players to control indvidual characters on the field of battle at once. I want to stay on the lattermost point while it's relevant though, because as much of a nice bonus as it is, it feels like kind of an afterthought. The camera is usually built to focus on one character at a time, which can leave your character of choice completely offscreen if you're not 1P. Worse still, a party isn't guaranteed to have more than one character at certain points in the story, much less the full four, and the first player is the only one who can control anything when outside of battle. I dunno, it feels like a missed opportunity that if you're playing this with multiple people like I did, everyone else is going to be idle for most of the game, and even with a full party controlling it can be awkward even though on a technical level the combat benefits a lot more from three other party members that aren't braindead AI.

As far as the actual fighting is concerned, ToS is an entirely different beast to a lot of the JRPGs that I've played in that there's absolutely no turn based mechanics involved - every character is constantly doing their own thing whenever you're not personally controlling them, and every motion and attack is one that you perform in real time. Much of the fighting revolves around Artes which come in two flavours, traditional magic with a casting timer and more straightforward special attacks, and the latter can be used to form complicated combos on enemies by linking them together based on context and ability to cancel them into each other. Which is something I wish could be played around with more often, but MP limits prevent you from going as wild with it as the game is clearly designed to, with the best and flashiest of them easily draining a good quarter of your bar on their own.

Your only recourse of recovering it is to either use default attacks (which give you ONE MP back per hit, which quickly becomes less and less effective when your MP bar starts growing into the hundreds) or to use MP restoring items to refill, which requires pausing the game and interrupting EVERY player in the process. In fact this need to menu can really fuck with the flow of the game in general, especially when multiple members of your party are dead or dying and you have to revive and heal each one of them, individually, one single item use at a time. A quick, maybe context sensitive mini menu to use mid-fight would have done SO much to help this game, for just how well fights can flow in any other circumstance.

The only other problem I can really imagine I have with the game is that the abilities and techniques you require are influenced by a really confusing system based on a balance between strength and technical. You're required to go through this system in order to obtain moves and perks that are mutually exclusive to one another, but the game doesn't demonstrate the exact combination of things needed to get one, and to this day I'm still not entirely sure how one is supposed to figure it out without using some kind of walkthrough. When a mechanic becomes mystifying to that kind of extent, does it really even need to be in the game? What was wrong with just gaining abilities on simple level ups like just about every major RPG in existence? It's not like you can equip more than a handful of them at any given time anyway, so players will have to specialize regardless - this is just another layer of micromanaging that doesn't really need to be there in any shape or form.

Otherwise, ToS is a structurally sound and captivating game that will keep you occupied for a VERY long time, even if the presentation could stand to be better outside of fights. Oh yeah, and that 80 hour thing? That's just doing a standard playthrough. Good luck trying to 100% this beast.

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Emerl (Sonic Battle)

What a wasted opportunity this game was. It had all the right ingredients to be Sonic's answer to Smash Bros - simple gameplay hooks with a higher skill cieling, a diverse cast spanning eras new and old with movesets in line with their skills and personalities, and even a campaign mode that will last quite a while by the standards of most other fighting games. So if I had to name just one reason it doesn't compare, it'd probably be because Sonic Battle simply just doesn't go far enough to build apon its core mechanics, to the point that almost irregardless of character, most skirmishes will play out the same way - heavy attack, intercept, spike, aircombo, repeat until dead. Simply put, this game is in dire need of more options, or at least more engaging ones, because I have legitimately seen matches of Divekick with more excitement than this.

For all the character variation this game has, the balancing is an absolute joke, both in the respects of characters you should never be caught dead using if you have a choice (Rouge and Gamma, and Sonic to a lesser extent) and in the respects of characters that just flagrantly break the game in ways I'm shocked weren't caught in playtesting (Cream, Shadow, Tails to an extent). Cream in particular is legendary in that she can 0 to death somebody just by spamming B in midair, and can heal back nearly to full in the time it takes for an enemy to respawn and find her on the field again, making her borderline unkillable whenever she gets the first hit in, to say nothing of the fact that her healing also recharges her instakill gauge RIDICULOUSLY fast. Shadow might not have the same survivability, but he has a Chaos Blast move that can almost instakill by itself and can come out of basically nowhere. I like to think this awful balancing could have been fixed with time or even another installment, but then again so could many, many other problems about it. Like I dunno, having more viable moves besides Heavy, Intercept and Air Attack.

The first thing most people remember about Sonic Battle in general though, is Emerl himself. Emerl is the only character who is constantly growing throughout the course of the game, not just in terms of abilities but also as a character himself, learning and adapting to everyone he meets and bonds with. Whenever Emerl is in a fight, even as an opponent, he gains a random skill or facsimile of everybody else in the match which you can then mix and match during downtime, effectively creating a brand new movest from bits and pieces of everyone else's. And these skills can be literally - and I do mean literally in its most pure sense here - any aspect of the character short of changing shape to match them. You can mix up attacks, adapt movement techs, mimic simple running speeds and jump heights, and hell, you could mimic a character's fucking idle animation if you so chose. And yes, with enough time and patience, you can bootstrap a moveset even more broken that Cream is on her own. In fact, it feels like a mark of pride to have found that kind of synergy on your own and raised Emerl to be that strong by the endgame, and I'm sure I can't be alone in thinking that.

These mechanics alone to me, honestly make Sonic Battle the best blend of a fighting game wearing RPG clothes I've ever seen. It's just a huge pain that the core mechanics of this game needed so much work to be able to stand up to the likes of Smash, and a crying shame that the Emerl system has never been re-used even for games that clearly could have benefitted from it (hey there Sonic Forces, don't think I didn't notice how lacking Avatars are). At the end of the day it feels like Sonic Battle gets more clout than it deserves simply because its only other comparison in the genre is Sonic the Fighters, which is obscure as shit, painfully generic and honestly, just kind of crap to play.

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Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden)

Ninja Gaiden is a breed of game that seems to fade in and out between generations, like a slow rhythm of breathing that nobody dares to tread on until someone sets a trend worthy of bandwagoning on. It's a style of game that is not only incredibly difficult, but very intentionally and proudly so, becoming a rallying cry for gamers who simply aren't challenged or engaged by anything less and daring the rest of the populace to get on their level and "get good". And that I feel, partly feeds into the success of games like this where it happens - it's not just developers making a game for people to buy, it's developers issuing a challenge, throwing down the gauntlet to anyone who could ever dare take on balance teetering masterfully on a razor's edge - balance that is intentionally weighted against the player, but still against all odds, completely fair if one puts time into mastering its mechanics and tactics. It can kinda make a game like this difficult to critique to be perfectly honest, much like critiquing the reasoning and realism in a comedy - much of comedy is funny because it is absurd, much like people find games like Ninja Gaiden entertaining because it kicks ten tons of crap out of them. Nevertheless, I think there is one glaring flaw I can point out with relative certainty. This game lives on in infamy because many people can't even get past the first level, and it's all down to one enemy.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus — DarkStation

No, not him. I mean these guys:

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"Those brown ninjas all over the fortress you slaughter by the dozens?", I hear you ask. "How would they ever bring a run to a halt?". Simple answer: they don't. And that's the problem.

Contrary to what you might have expected me to say, Murai is actually a very well designed boss, debatably the best designed one in the game. He has fast attacks that deal smaller damage that stacks up, and harder hitting ones that will wipe you the fuck out but have windups that can be reacted to. That's the important factor to consider in basically any boss design - patterns and tells, that a more advanced player can adapt to and exploit accordingly. Part of introducing more mechanics to the player though, especially ones that are targetted against them, is introducing them in a safe space that doesn't pose any immediate danger to them, and Ninja Gaiden does not fucking do this. Most players stumble on Murai because he has a strong attack that can break guards, and a powerful grapple move that is completely unaffected by guarding, which are mechanics that are introduced for the first time in his boss fight and things that not a single one of his minions knows how to do, even the more advanced ones in white robes. In fact, the enemy ninjas only use guardable attacks, straight up conditioning the player into a guard-heavy playstyle that Murai is perfectly designed to exploit. It's an absurd design snafu that honestly, I don't understand how it doesn't get more attention than it does. It pushes Ninja Gaiden's early game from "tough but fair" into straight up Driver territory, putting players into a test they haven't even been taught how to solve yet by giving them a boss with tells they have no means of recognizing. That's not good game design - it's just bullshit, plain and simple.

It's the one and only mark I can bring myself to bear against this game, because honestly once you're past Murai the game holds itself up pretty well. Though I still have to give honourable mention to the military intervention roughly in the middle of the game, where I shit you not, the game expects you to fight two actual god damn sword-proof tanks and an attack chopper, alone, practically back to back, with nothing but a fucking bow and arrow. To this day I'm still not entirely sure how the game expects you to find time to nock and fire arrows without the mounted machineguns mincing you alive, even with the revelation that this chapter gives you explosive and armour piercing arrows JUST to make these fights beatable. Once again, another problem that could have been solved or at least mitigated just by making moving and aiming not mutually exclusive. How long did it take for developers to start fixing this problem outside of FPSs again...?

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Rikimaru and Ayame (Tenchu: Return from Darkness)

Probably better known by its original PS2 version, Wrath of Heaven, Tenchu is a pretty stark contrast to the ninja title just last entry - slow and methodical stealth, rather than intense and bombastic action. And also in contrast to many other stealth titles on this list,  Tenchu doesn't rely on gimmicks like light levels and environmental objects to keep the player hidden - just good old fashioned positioning and line of sight. On some level I can't help but admire the simplicity of it, a degree of which few games off the top of my head pull off quite as well as this. I just find it a shame that, in spite of the overwhelming amount of limited use tools the game offers to help you complete tasks, you're still often left wanting for more options for dealing with many situations.

It needs to be said that level design in this game is cramped as all fuck. There are a few levels that give you the breathing room needed to flank and outmanuever guards to get in their blind spots, but the levels come up on guarded chokepoints quite frequently, and it's not unheard of for levels to devolve into literal corridors with patrols running up and down them. This is already bad enough, but the camera is barely equipped to deal with the tight quarters of many encounters. Often you have to cling to walls and peak every corner you go around to make sure you aren't about to run into an enemy you had no other way to see in advance, and actually getting close enough to initiate a stealth kill often means little more than camping in spot for about a minute or two to observe the pattern they turn to and from your enclosure before making a move. You could make a game about watching traffic lights and it would probably have the same appeal. I'm just greatful for whatever small leniencies the game DOES give you. Enemies don't immediately turn alert if you enter their field of vision, especially from a distance, and you can stealth kill them from any angle - including from above, mid freefall - provided they haven't drawn their sword yet.

Tenchu has such a strange tendency towards sadism that I honestly question whether it's supposed to be a stealth game sometimes. There's rarely any benefit to ignoring and bypassing guards, in fact the game actively incentivises killing as many enemies as humanly possible because you're graded on your kill count at the end of the mission and rewarded accordingly. Even IF you get past the idea of playing for score and simply experiencing the story, you're still expected to murder a minimum of nine people every level (more, if you happen to mess up stealth killing them) because doing so fills up a meter depending on how effectively you kill them, and filling it up completely is the only way to unlock additional techniques that work outside the ninja tools you organize for yourself between missions. Even playing for stealth's own sake often won't get you all the way, because the game introduces frequent boss fights that force you to grapple with its awkward swordplay whether you like it or not.

At the end of the day, it's basically Hitman's school of design - play to a high standard, or die and learn a little more that you need to every attempt, absolutely no middle ground. Despite their cramped and sometimes overly linear nature, levels can take quite a while to finish, and having to start them all the way over can be pretty disheartening, especially when the difficulty often peaks near the end with the boss fights. It's just a shame bosses themselves can't be dispatched in a stealthy manner, but we'll get to that in an entry much, much later in this list.

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Garrett (Thief 3: Deadly Shadows)

Thief 3 is a goddamn fucking masterpiece of stealth design in every possible field I can conceive. It has great pacing, amazing sound design, well crafted visuals and moody lighting, to say nothing of all the gameplay hooks that stealing everything that isn't nailed down and selling it to keep your gear stocked up for the next task entails. And that, honestly, is the most frustrating thing for a game to be on this list in particular, because it really doesn't leave me much to learn or reflect on. No one point I can bring against this game - like the inability to drop bodies unless the engine decides there is a certain amount of space to accomodate them, which is irritating when it prevents you from dumping them in a closet or something - really stands out enough that I can draw it into a paragraph like I can with most other games. And as I'm sure I've mentioned before, mistakes are more valuable to me as learning experiences than successes - it's very difficult to me to comment on a game that does almost everything it set out to do correctly, because it's incredibly easy for a good game to make its players take what we have for granted.

I guess I could start with the main departure this game has from the first two Thief games - the addition of a hub world. You traverse it a lot between missions, and although I struggle to outright call it badly designed, I feel like it's very much a love it or hate it affair. Point number one is that the goods you steal aren't directly converted into monetary value the moment you pick them up. Instead, once you get to the hub, you have to seek out fences in the world to sell your stolen goods to for profit, and each fence in the game specializes in two different types of loot - for example, gemstones and artwork are separate categories that you might have to visit separate fences across the city for, dodging patrols and picking pockets along the way. Some people might see this as unnecessary hoops to jump through to make use of all the shit you already rightfully stole. I don't entirely disagree, but at the same time, I don't entirely care? Because if nothing else it gives you better excuses to explore the hub for exploration's sake when exploring between areas, which itself can net you extra goodies and even side quests if one keeps careful eyes and ears on their surroundings.

And everyone talks about it, so I might as well get this out of the way too - Thief 3 has a level called the Shalebridge Cradle, long upheld as one of the most genuinely terrifying non-horror levels in all of gaming. It's something that is better experienced than described, and I don't feel like I can talk about it much even in spoilers because I don't want to risk ruining it for anyone who might eventually experience it as intended, even accidentally. I just think it says a lot how important its presence is to this game that the 2014 reboot shoehorned in an asylum level JUST to be able to draw from the same influence Shalebridge did. For comparison's sake, I don't think Thief 2014 is a bad game by any means, but putting it alongside Thief 3 almost seems unfair.

And that's all I can bring myself to talk about the game. Look, it's a classic alright, and you don't have to take my word for it - just about anyone else will say the same, and you can still get it on Steam so you can speak for yourself too. It's one of if not THE single best game in the genre, and anyone who respects stealth as a focus should play Deadly Shadows at least once. That's really all there is to it.

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Madotsuki (Yume Nikki)

Honestly, Yume Nikki has all the makings of the same tier of trash Octolris occupies - premade, easy-use game making framework (RPG maker) designed around abstract shapes placed around maps with no apparent rhyme, reason, pattern, narrative or even so much as an ultimate objective. In many ways, one can struggle to even call it a videogame - and yet, that plays into many of the game's biggest strengths. As it turned out, there are people who like the concept of a game about wandering aimlessly and just want something to help them chill out and take their mind off things, something that even the most basic of walking simulators don't usually accomplish because most of them shoehorn in some incredibly obnoxious and pretentious writing into the mix to draw attention to the question of whether there IS a point to playing it (yes, Dear Esther, that's you I'm talking about). It's not for everyone. It's certainly not for me - but I can still appreciate that this kind of game has a place in the industry regardless, even if I doubt people would pay actual money for it.

That being said, there are still definitely issues. I don't have a problem with a game where wandering around is the entire gameplay loop. What I do have a problem with is a complete lack of signposting and landmarks. Even if you're not playing it with the intention of gathering every effect in the game and seeing the ending, finding new areas beyond the 12 entrances available to you right when you start dreaming is often a complete accident because almost nothing fucking stands out in this game, sometimes not even the floor tiles - there are many areas that don't have floors at all, just a parralax background that scrolls independently of your movement. To make matters worse, most maps in the game don't even have defined starts and ends and will loop infinitely once you walk over an edge, making it incredibly easy to get lost when you're actually trying to retrace your steps to a fork in the road you discovered in a previous dream. This is annoying even if you play the game with the intention of just wandering for wandering's sake, because you can only jump back into the same 12 screens so much before you get sick of them and long for more of the more hidden ones that require that you explore them deeper.

And that's before you get into the fact that one of the screens - acting effectively as a hub between many of the other more hidden areas - is a literal fucking maze.

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It's not just painful to traverse - it's painful even to LOOK at, and any given time your path cross here you end up stuck there for quite a while trying to make some semblance of sense of the layout, and while you're trying to keep your eyes from bleeding over Virtual Boy sickness you still have to avoid various NPCs still blocking your paths trying to touch you all the while, which if they do, force you to wake up and start the entire dream over from scratch. It's bullshit. I hate the maze. Everyone who ever plays this game hates the maze. If you've played this game, you probably hate the maze too. It is honestly the one thing I would subtract from the game in its entirety if I had to pick just one to improve the entire game overall - it's THAT fucking bad.

So I mentioned something about collectible "effects" earlier. Essentially they're all transformations that change the apperance of your character. They're only occasionally useful for finding new routes or getting around the dream world, and I think the biggest sin this game commits is that you don't get more use out of them. The game doesn't even attempt to explain that most of them have a manually triggered secondary effect, nor the keybind for actually activating them, which is annoying when they DO have actual applications (like Medamaude teleporting you to the starting hub without waking up). But even WITH this knowledge, most of the effects are mechanically just easter eggs that don't help you in any form. You'll get the most use out of the bike above all the others because it doubles your movement speed and Madotsuki honestly walks way too slow without it, and you can find it within minutes of starting if you know where to look. And switching effects is just irritating in general because you always have to go through several redundant menus to access your inventory - a quirk of the engine more than anything else, but irritating just the same.

In the end, Yume Nikki is a good game if you're just tired and want to play a game without switching your brain on too much, and you don't mind being creeped out a little in the process. Yes, it has some horror vibes in there, but honestly, how many non-RPG RPGmaker games don't? Just be prepared for bullshit if you intend to play it to the end, because actually finding shit consistently is annoying and can sometimes depend on literal RNG even if you're not aware of it.

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Josh and Shannon (ObsCure)

From the outset, ObsCure feels like a homage to tropes of B-rate horror flicks, from jumpscares to a cast of supposedly teenage protaganists, which I'm sure elicits a groan from a few people here. About the only notion here that's absent is the propensity for characters to split up - in fact this game does the opposite in that it's a traditional horror game designed around same screen coop, and circumstances willing, you're almost always playing in a party of two, preferably with a human player in control of the second (though for its time, the AI doesn't do too badly and will if anything, be babysitting you most of the time). Now right off the bat I have to clarify, "traditional horror game" for the standards of this game's time translate into "Resident Evil clone", and frankly, the lack of tank controls is the one blessing the game gives you mechanically speaking.

One of these mechanics is pseudo fixed camera angles - the camera does follow you around the given area, but you can't actually change where it's pointing. This kind of thing worked for Resident Evil originally because nearly all of your enemies were slow, shambling zombies whose strengths were only in numbers and within arm's reach, and whenever there were exceptions you could count on enemies having either slow, dodgable projectiles or an obvious tell that they're about to lunge. Most common enemies in ObsCure will at least match your running speed and have a tendency to leap at you from completely offscreen with little warning beyond the sounds of their footsteps, which is complete and utter bullshit and leads to you taking forced hits a lot. What are you supposed to do, shoot at an enemy that isn't even onscreen without any indication of their exact location? lol, fuck that. This is to say nothing of the fact that the camera angle won't even necessarily have both player characters on the same screen, much less any of the enemies in the area. Moving and fighting relative to a camera that you're no longer displayed on is difficult and fucking annoying, and should never be a consideration in any game's design, coop or not.

Even in situations where you see the enemy first, there are a few little niggles that can really fuck with your ability to fight properly. In the early game, there are enemies you can deal with entirely with baseball bats and iron bars, but to be able to whack the ankle biting fuckers you have to get in very close - within whacking distance of your own team mate, which will usually lead to at least one incident of friendly fire because there isn't much in the way of effective feedback for knowing when it's completely dead and downward swings will no longer register. In fact, this game just has a feedback problem in general. The game's main gimmick is that every enemy in the game has a "black halo" that will reduce all damage done to them unless you shine a flashlight on them and boost it to chase it away, Alan Wake style, but unlike Alan Wake there isn't a clear indication of when weapons will do full damage until the visual effect dissipates well after it stops guarding them, to say nothing of the fact that there are bosses that can block bullets even WITHOUT the halo and don't seem to react any differently when they do. And while we're on the subject of halos and flashlights, using both a weapon and a light at the same time requires you to stickytape them together, which as far as I can tell is irreversible so the joy of finding a new weapon is always tempered by the fact that you need to find ANOTHER flashlight and ANOTHER roll of tape in order to be able to actually use it in a way that doesn't simply just waste your ammo.

After all that, the last thing to bring up is the sound design. It's actually... really good? Its work with leitmotifs is my favourite in the whole genre, and most of it is punctuated with a choir of children that give it a haunting feel quite unlike just about anything else I've ever played - and certainly, nothing I expected when I walked into a game like this.

Even putting the music aside, the sound design will still constantly have you jumping at shadows all the time. Even long after you've cleared every enemy from any given room, there is never any time that you feel truly alone with all the random noises playing around you, which is exactly the kind of paranoia a horror game should always strive to accomplish if you ask me - it's honestly truly stunning how few games there are that seem to get this simple thing right, and how many never seem to bother at all.

In the end, ObsCure is a textbook example of "fun but flawed". If you have a mate it's still great to play despite all the bullshit - it just leaves one wondering how much better it could have been.

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Nick Scryer (Psi Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy)

Psi Ops occupies a niche that for lack of a better label, I'm dubbing "gimmick shooters". Shooters whos entire design process, PR and identity revolves around a small number of gameplay quirks, fishing overwhelmingly for a unique approach to gameplay to stand out as opposed to just making a good game and letting that sell itself. If you played plenty of shooters through the Xbox / X360 era of gaming, you've probably seen if not played a few, and they still occasionally trickle through in modern day with titles like Control. I bought games like this all the time because being perfectly honest here, growing up I was a total sucker for gimmicks. Most of them, in hindsight, were crap. And although there are clearly elements that were neglected over the developer's obsession with their mechanical quirks (the story being mostly an excuse plot, as one example), I like to generally think of Psi Ops as an exception.

The gimmick of Psi Ops is that Nick is a jack-of-all-trades psychic soldier, and probably its best known power is telekinesis. Now it needs to be said that telekinesis is one of my favourite ability concepts in all of fiction, so when I say that its application in this game makes me nerd the fuck out, I feel like that carries a bit of weight to it. Some games use it for finesse and some games for just launching shit at other shit, but very few are capable of both, and none of them pull it off quite as well as this game does. What makes it all the more impressive is that it's actually a deceptively simple system - whenever you grab an object, your camera always follows it, so your aiming stick becomes a moving stick instead that moves the object around independently of your own movement. Then whether you throw it or not depends on whether you're moving the object when you release the button - if you're not, you just drop it. It's honestly a fucking incredible system that still holds up years later, and opens up a lot of creative ways to kill someone - not just throwing crates at enemies, but throwing enemies at enemies, or hurling them off ledges and against walls, or even just immobilize them in the air and ventilate them with a gun in your spare hand. Of course, it helps that this is one of the earliest games I've played with ragdoll physics, something Psi Ops exploits to beautiful effect unlike a lot of games I know of that use it as a crutch. Even just blasting motherfuckers normally is still satisfying all its own, with enemies doing all manner of flips and rolls whenever they bite the dust.

Of course, "jack of all trades" implies more trades than just one. Using mind drain to make people's heads explode will definitely get a giggle out of you the first few times, and mind controlling a troop, making him blast his mates into oblivion and then walking them into a fatal trip through a crusher is one of the fondest experiences I think I'll ever have with a gimmick shooter. But the more this game goes on, the more it feels like the rest of the powers were made just to fill a quota and to have individual abilities on every conceivable button on the controller, not necessarily to benefit the game in any impactful way. Pyrokinesis by comparison feels like a boring-ass projectile and not much more, Remote Viewing tends only to be useful when the plot demands it, and Aura View's primary purpose seems to be just to avoid invisible cunting instakill mines that are strewn about lategame levels without warning, which is a problem that could have been fixed by just not scattering invisible cunting instakill mines around the level and reserving an entire button press for something more practical and mundane, like I dunno, being able to use medkits and psi hypos without having to pause the fucking game for it.

Psi Ops is very much a game designed as a power trip, which is why the bosses annoy me so much because they have an immunity to almost fucking everything - most of the time, they can only be harmed by telekinetically throwing shit at them, which is fun when it causes people to crumple into a heap or burst into a brilliant flame, but not when objects just bounce off them for a fingernail's worth of health each hit. Everywhere else, the game is fun. Great, even, as long as you can get past the bad acting and writing.

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Yukimura Sanada (Samurai Warriors)

Honestly, to some extent, you review all Warriors games when you review one of them - sometimes to a mystifying degree, these games are steadfast and stubborn in their core mechanics, passing on quirks and flaws both over entire console generations, with the most notable differences between them being that advances in technology allow them to display more enemies onscreen at any given time. It was only when I rewatched footage of the first Warriors game I'd played that I realized just how far that gap had grown since then and now. Good god, what the actual hell is this FOV???

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This field of view probably represents some of SW1's biggest flaws - it's really hard to just see shit in your immediate vicinity, and enemies do not give a single solitary fuck whether or not you can. Compared to better and more modern games like Hyrule Warriors, enemies absolutely do not fuck around in this game either, and depending on what the composition of the enemy army is it's not uncommon to be blasted all around the battlefield by unnamed mooks if you let your guard down, much less generals, who are usually every bit as potent as you and can stucklock the absolute shit out of you if they choose to gang up on you. The worse of these by far are Strike Ninjas, big-ass sumo motherfuckers who can cleave clean paths right through squads with a series of palm strikes. Under the BEST of circumstances, you can expect to lose an entire third of your health at once if you're hit by one, and it's not unreasonable to expect to be instantly killed by them later into the game.

Which segues into probably the running meme of all Warriors games: that the entire gameplay loop is "just mash X". It's never been quite that simple, but it highlights an underlying issue that I DO have a problem with. Most characters have a move that could singlehandedly handle tasks like crowd control, stunlocking or juggling, but all of them are buried under X presses, rather than letting you perform key moves individually. For example, Yukimura here has has a move that hits in a 360 degree angle and positively WRECKS whole squads of enemies, but it requires you to press X 3 times and then mash Y until you get to the end of the combo that he performs it in, which gets longer the higher in tier your weapon is. Almost every Warriors game ever made has this same fucking problem, and some in fact get worse at it, with characters in SW2 have moves that require something to the level of SEVEN OR EIGHT X moves before reaching the one they actually need for the given situation, which is plenty of time for an officer to just walk up to you from your flank and hit you just once to interrupt the whole string. What is so wrong with letting people perform individual and very fucking important moves on command that Warriors games have consistently not fucking allowed it at all for over fifteen years?

This is of course, just issues with the combat by itself - I haven't even talked about mission structure yet. See, in most battles you're given opportunities and objectives as the fight unfolds. You're taught the consequences of ignoring these pretty early on, by permanently killing your commanding officer for ignoring an otherwise innocuous gate opening between him and the enemy and dooming you to a bad ending later into the campaign. But these objectives run completely at odds with the core design of the game, which is to create a power trip and allow the player to slaughter enemies by the dozens - even when these objectives don't directly involve saving another officer's life, they usually run on invisible time limits that you're punished for missing, and these time limits are strict enough that you almost never have time to indulge yourself and wipe out everything en route. Often the game will expect you to completely ignore enemies and run right through enemy lines to complete key tasks in time, which in addition to being completely counterintuitive and stupid from the perspective of a wartime environment, just isn't really all that fun. Yes, LESS fun than just mashing one button and occasionally pressing another when you need something better than stunlocking. Hey, look at all these hundreds of enemies you don't have time to kill! What a fucking tease.

The last thing to bring up is its character creation, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's genuinely harder to make a character than it is to play them in their designated campaign. Rather than just picking them a weapon and an assortment of abilities to start with, you're expected to play them through an assortment of training minigames to determine their stat spread, and your health remains persistent throughout all of them. If you run out of health at any time, you gain a stat penalty instead, which can happen a lot because even though there's an option to skip a round and rest to regain health, a training companion of yours will frequently interrupt and FORCE you to go back to training in a random minigame of his choice, usually with the absolute worst possible timing to the point that I'm not convinced he wasn't intentionally programmed to be a cunt. And the worst part? At the end your character has to try out for a clan that each specializes in two of the training minigames, and if you don't get at least 100 points total between both games (they're worth 100 each, up to a maximum of 200), YOUR CHARACTER IS FUCKING DELETED AND YOU HAVE TO START OVER AGAIN. I can't think of any other character creation system that has inspired rage quite like this game has. What the fuck were they thinking?

If nothing else, Samurai Warriors is a great game for completionists. There's a lot of characters to play and unlock, and each has their own individual campaign, giving multiple perspectives through Koei's interpretations of the Feudal Japan era, and plenty of opportunities to defy history itself and play What If with characters that were clearly meant to fail before the end - once again, like Yukimura. And if for some reason you play through everything else of note, there's an endless mode that randomly generates dungeons for you to complete too, loaded with enemies, officers and traps all over the place. Honestly though, I just wish there was a lot less X mashing in this game at the end of the day.

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Riddick (Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay)

Butcher Bay is a licensed game that, without prior knowledge of the movie Pitch Black, you probably wouldn't realize is licensed at all. And I don't mean that just to say that the license is somewhat obscure, more that it's actually a genuinely good game when you get right down to it, balancing elements of shooting, sneaking and bashing that regularly change focus in their near entirety throughout the course of the narrative, but never to the point that the genre or the mechanics of the game outright shift in the process. Which is strangely a rarity as far as this industry goes - a game that can handle multiple widely different angles with just one set of core mechanics, rather than just swapping them out on the fly as the situation demands. This game comes SO close to perfecting it, but has a bad habit of spoiling it with some design decisions that either aren't explained well or just feel like they don't work right half the time even when the methods ARE known.

Starting with the most obvious part, you're an inmate, and most weapons electrify you unless under special circumstances, so it goes without saying that in many encounters, the enemy will have a weapon and you won't. Fair enough, but sneaking around behind them and snapping necks isn't always an option - there are several points throughout the game where you'll knowingly have to take down dudes with assault rifles with your bare hands. Rifles that can lay you out in seconds if you're unlucky. Often your only option is to get right up in their face and bait them into trying to whack you with their gun, which you can then counter and cause them to shoot themselves with it to kill them instantly. The counter is the same button as just punching them, though, and the timing and positioning for this move to the best of my knowledge is never made especially clear, so usually what will happen instead is that you press attack  too early, throw a punch instead, MAYBE land it but end up being immediately wasted afterwards. CONSTANTLY. Honestly, it feels like part of the reason they put the stun gun in this game is because the counter doesn't work nearly as consistently as it's supposed to, so they give you a cheap get-out-of-trouble-and-easily-kill-the-guy-that-put-you-in-trouble-free card to make up for how often you'll be forced to restart from checkpoints because of the counter just not working.

Even in fights with other melee based enemies, not only is it never entirely clear how to land hits consistently, the AI flagrantly cheats in many punchups, especially the boss-based ones. I've known some of them to counter with an undodgable, unblockable hook sometimes when you hit them while they're blocking - and on its own this would be fair enough, because it would act as a punishment for flailing predictably without a strategy. But they can also block when they're in the middle of a fucking swing, so even just outplaying them and striking when they're visibly wide open doesn't always work. The victor in any brawl in this game seems to be determined simply by whoever knows how to block and attack when the enemy is recoiling from hitting it, leading to fights that are either incredibly inconsistent or super campy, making both fighters wait and see who hits first. Neither of them are good options - stalemates like this are the reason grabs were invented, and it feels like Butcher Bay really could have used similar options for dealing with them. Unless you use the Ulaks in its sequel Dark Athena, in which case you can legitimately win fights just by button mashing, to the point that it's debatably a better option than actually trying to play the game.

I guess the moral of the story is to not make one attack button do as many jobs as possible if the purposes don't line up. Honestly, making a separate button for counters could have solved so many problems with Riddick it isn't even funny. It's still a great game to play when it works, but otherwise you better get really comfy with your checkpoints.

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Shujinko (Mortal Kombat: Deception)

Okay, I'll be totally honest - I've had a few opportunities to cover Mortal Kombat until now, but I've skipped over it for two main reasons. One, as I've already demonstrated, because I disagree with the workings of traditional fighting games on a fudamental level, and I can't bring myself to condone the overwhelming cultrue of elitism their inner workings have inadvertently created. Two, because besides their perchant for shock value, they don't even really do anything interesting in my eyes. There's a whole world of lore hiding behind the scenes that largely went unexplored because I feel like fighting games are always only half the games they need to be, just brawls for brawling sake without any of the context a larger game would provide. Deception is unique among fighting games in that it's an incredibly rare instance of solving the latter in the genre - giving you an open world to explore, while still preserving all the existing mechanics and balancing a fighting game likes to focus on in the form of fight scenes sprinkled intermittedly throughout the narrative. So fans of both sides are satisfied, right?

Unfortunately, while I really love the precedent Deception was trying to set, Midway kinda dropped the ball on it. I do believe it's entirely possible - honestly, probably even pretty easy - to separate worldbuilding and fighting into separate stages every way that a traditional RPG would, but Deception takes a lot of unnecessary steps and design snafus that really drags the whole thing down. For example, the world is running on a constant clock - some events only occur at certain times, and NPCs have their own schedules which might preclude you completely from doing a given task until the time is right. You can meditate to pass time faster - so fast, in fact, that you can completely skip over your window of opportunity, which is more irritating in some cases than others. For example, there's a character you need to unlock by being in a specific spot in a specific minute during a specific day of the week, and if you miss it you have to skip over the entire week to get back to it, which even while meditating is still something like 5-10 minutes real time. Even worse still when you consider the character is Liu fucking Kang, a mainstay in almost every other MK game of note and who Shujinko is specifically designed to be the next generation of - their words, not mine.

Shujinko himself is designed sort of like a more virtuous Shang Tsung, in that his main gimmick is that he can transform into other characters he's sparred and trained with - presumably as an alternative to designing some kind of party system, so the story can revolve mostly around one character and his Navi expy. However, you don't get to choose which fighter you get to use for any given fight - it's pre-selected for you whenever you get into one, and even considering the fact that every moveset is given a lengthy walkthrough of their key moves any time you unlock a new one, nothing really prepares you for being thrusted into a character out of the blue, especially one that might not be in your personal tastes or might just be objectively worse in general. This is before you get into the fact that even by fighting game standards, Deception's mechanics are kind of lacking, which I think is the first time I can say that here without any kind of controversy - ever since MK4, Mortal Kombat games had been forcibly limiting the damage potential of their otherwise gamebreaking combos instead of actually balancing fighters in a way that combos could eventually END, and in Deception's case it was a combination of damage scaling down whenever moves were used repeatedly in one string, and the inability to launch an enemy more than twice in one string before control is forcibly taken from you long enough for an enemy to hit the ground.

Midway would try once more in Armageddon, with an unnecessary focus on shallow beat-em-up gameplay in the overworld mode and the inability to play as other characters at all, before the story focus would completely remove any overworld element and just play out expensive, lengthy cutscenes between every fight starting with MK9, which to this day still feels like a missed opportunity to me. I maintain there's still nothing wrong with fighting games with some semblance of gameplay outside of the actual fighting, and that Deception's flaws were completely unrelated to the merging thereof. Why the hell is this approach to gameplay STILL so unexplored?

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Goldeneye (Goldeneye: Rogue Agent)

Goldeneye for the N64 is long held as a classic in its field - depending on who you ask, some people will say it's even better than Perfect Dark which succeeded it on its own engine, but few will disagree outright that it's one of the best shooters ever made. EA surely knew this when they made Rogue Agent, because it has absolutely none of the same substance - so if I had to hazard a guess, probably named it this way because they knew the name alone would move copies. What this game packs instead is edge. Lots of edginess, but no actual balls, which is honestly just the worst kind of edge - this game kills off James Bond himself within the first 10 minutes of gameplay and doesn't even have the guts to make THAT stick, revealing that the entire opening mission is just a simulation. Guys, this isn't the kind of thing you can walk into half-cocked. You either go whole ham with it or dodn't bother at all. The purists will still recognize that their well is poisoned, and the edgy fanatics will recognize that you're being a pussy about it, and neither camp comes out of things satisfied. Say what you will at Conker's Bad Fur Day, at least the only real punch they pulled was bleeping out most of the curse words.

Moving onto gameplay, it probably won't come as a surprise that this game released the same month as Halo 2, because this game leans on dual wielding HARD. All but maybe four weapons in the entire game are dual-wieldable, regardless of specialty, so get used to seeing yourself do one handed reloads a lot. I don't have problem with this premise - I do like the idea of dual tasking regardless of the level, or simply just doubling up and just hosing a huge area down with dual SMGs, but the truth is there are some incredibly strange flaws in the way this system is designed. For starters, even when you're packing two weapons you still have only one crosshair, which is important to note because the crosshairs expand and contract based on the accuracy of your current weapon - and the state of your crosshairs is based on your least accurate weapon, so if you happen to be packing an otherwise reliably accurate pistol and a double barreled shotgun you won't have a fucking clue where your pistol shots are going to land. One would think you could just swap to another weapon based on the situation, but you can't even do that - Goldeneye has a backup pistol with infinite ammo, but not the ability to holster a weapon you find in the environment for later, which considering many of them are specialty weapons like sniper rifles, rocket launchers and cover-penetrating railguns, it's a baffling design choice even when said speciality weapons ARE placed exactly where they're the most useful, which they might not necessarily be.

And the aiming. Dear GOD, the aiming. It's the single most stiff gunplay I think I've experienced out of any first or third person shooter I've ever played, beating out even Turok Evolution on that front. Without aim assistance of any kind it's a struggle to hit anyone, much less in their soft and sensitive heads, made all the worse by the fact that the game expects you to land very difficult shots on the regular for rewards. How the fuck do you land a headshot while moving down a zipline when you can't even do that reliably when standing completely still? Even taking away the amazingly janky aiming, the weapons themselves are already ridiculously inaccurate outside of the pistols and can fly upwards of half a screen away from your centre depending on the weapon and how you handle them, so it often doesn't really feel like gunfights have much actual skill involved that concerns you besides shooting in somebody's general direction and praying, maybe occasionally backing off for cover when your health needs to regen.

So long story short, EA being EA again. This could have been almost anything besides a James Bond game, and it probably still wouldn't be visibly much different - because to them, the name of the brand was the only part they were actually using, occasional cameos from old villains aside.

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