Monday, October 31, 2011

Lollipop Chainsaw grindhouse trailer.

And I still don't hate it!

The Games of November 2011.

This is it. The big enchilada. This is the month for major releases. September, what did you have? Resistance 3 and Gears 3? Not too shabby. October, you weren't half-bad, what with the delicious Dark Souls and fantastic Batman: Arkham City - but there ain't no gaming month like November.

No month in 2011 is so similarly jam-packed with fabulous gaming as this. A new Bethesda RPG, Naughty Dog's next release, a new installment in an ancient and legendary franchise and the latest commercial leviathan to fly under the Modern Warfare label. Protect your wallets behind the Greatshield of Artorias, but even that will not avail you! The games of November are coming, they won't leave without your time and money, and I for one couldn't be more pleased.

* * *

November 1st
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Hype-O-Meter : Day one.

If Uncharted 3 maintains the standards of quality the series has become known for, it will be an instant frontrunner for 2011's Game of the Year - and in a year like this, that is really saying something. I expect this to be the most fun I've had shooting folks since BioShock 2 - and then there's platforming and puzzle solving and the best story presentation in the industry, oh my!

November 8th
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
PS3, 360
Hype-O-Meter : Damn you, Kojima - take my money!

Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 are two of my favorite games of all time. Yes, they're from the last generation. Yes, 2 descends into some real post-modern storytelling, no, I almost definitely won't find time to play them this year. I don't care. Damn you, Kojima. Take my money. Take all of my monies.

November 8th
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
PS3, 360, PC, Wii
Hype-O-Meter: For me? Nil. For the industry? Infinite.

There ain't no seller like a Call of Duty. Since Modern Warfare debuted in 2007, the Call of Duty label has commanded billions of dollars in sales, its yearly updates choking the crucial Christmas season in its merciless military kung-fu grip. This is because these games are the standard-setters for multiplayer. Gears and Halo may provide us with a new multiplayer game type (horde mode), but Call of Duty simply co-opts these into its own well-established, highly populated framework and bam - this is the game the kids in the frat house will be playing until, well, the next Call of Duty.

November 11th
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

Bethesda do not have an infinite quantity of credit, with me. Their games are buggy, their stories are often formulaic and shallow, and - in Oblivion, at least - their systems of leveling and balance leave much to be desired.

I don't care. I must admit, after sifting through its media and reading previews, I have bought into the hype that Skyrim could be the Elder Scrolls game that lives up to the game we foster, wrapped in swaddling in our fertile gamer minds. A rich, full world teeming with smallfolk and small stories. A grand scope and inspired scale, a leveling system that makes sense (and doesn't require you jump everywhere you go to increase your acrobatics skill) and a game that's not rife with technical errors. The fantasy world that lives and breathes within our imaginations - I want to play that game!

I choose hope.

November 15th
Assassin's Creed: Revelations
PS3, 360, PC
Hype-O-Meter: Day one.

Ubisoft have this very weird thing going on where they put out an excellent, triple-A open-world action game every single year - or have been for the past three years. What's doubly remarkable is how markedly improved each iteration of the Assassin's Creed franchise has been. II was the game Assassin's Creed should have been, and Brotherhood so refined and expanded on what was offered in II, I cannot suggest that Revelations will be anything another gorgeous, fun, romantic, inspiring romp through renaissance-era Italy and Constantinople.

It'll be delish.

November 15th
Rayman Origins
PS3, 360, PC, Wii, 3DS, Vita
Tempt me not, gorgeous 2D platformer!

If Novembered weren't chock-full of games I have to buy day-one and play into the ground - if this were August or July or May - I would day-one Rayman and deliver you a tasty review. As it is, I can't imagine I'll have time for it - but that doesn't mean it's not worth mentioning.

Previews of the title have been uniformly positive, and if nothing else it is a gorgeous, 2D platformer. For the most part, that's all I really need to know. I'll almost definitely check it out some day - but not now.

November 20th
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Hype-O-Meter: I want you. God help me, I do.

I want to love Zelda again. I played the gold cart when I was a kid, and thoroughly fell in love with A Link To The Past, which I maintain is the best Zelda game there's ever been. Yes, including Ocarina of Time - I blaspheme, I know.

I've tried to get back to good with this long-term, on-again off-again romance. I didn't mind Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, but I've never felt as strongly positive about Zelda's forays into the third dimension. Twilight Princess simply didn't stir me as the early games did - and I suspect Skyward Sword will suffer from the same disconnect - but as with Skyrim, I dare to hope.

I want to love Zelda again - and previews and trailers of Skyward Sword have left me with an appetite for this newest entry. The deciding factor, I think, will be where I'm at with Dark Souls and Skyrim when December rolls around. If all my reviews have been writ? I think I'll take a trip to Skyloft.

* * *

And that's November. This month is all about kicking the crap out of our holiday buying dollar, and so you've likely noticed that every game listed above is a sequel to a known IP. There's not bright-eyed newcomer in the bunch - because what's important to the publishers right now is that they get their greatest chunk of our buying dollar, and sequels sell. Fortunately for us gamers, the inverse of The Movie Sequel Rule applies - and a sequel is generally a very good bet, when it comes to gaming.

There remain unanswered questions about some of 2011's expected releases - where are AMY and I Am Alive? Both of those are due out nowish, but we've not seen hide nor hair of them - I suspect they'll make an appearance in 2012, if they don't drop on the networks during December.

I for one am more than a bit relieved they won't be dropping this month. November's quantity of quality does not border on the ridiculous - it has breached such borders and is running wild in the valleys beyond.

Uncharted 3 drops tomorrow! Eeee!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Awesome posters!

Today Kayla and I attended the Central Canada Comic Con. In my head, it's about 1/25th the size of the San Diego Comic Con - it's in a room that's about 300ft by 125ft, with a third of that space going to areas where you can meet celebrities (William Shatner was there! Brent Spiner pulled out!), and for some reason they had a wrestling arena set up (Brett The Hitman Hart was there!). Another sixth of the space was reserved for artists, graphic or otherwise, and the rest of it was booths of collectibles and nerdy knicknacks.

We did an efficient circuit of the collectibles area (I was on the lookout for a Momohime), and gave the booth selling cheap knock-offs of Nintendo characters a wide berth. In the PnP Games space they had a bunch of officially licensed Nintendo stuff - including a 1up mushroom I had planned on getting, and a stuffed Boo that Kayla liked.

After scouring the knicknacks and paddywacks, we toured artists' alley and oh my God I found some awesome posters!

Okay, so there's this dude - Arthur Suydam - and at the Con he had like, a hundred posters of various comic book and pop culture icons done up in zombie style. I got The Man With No Name, signed!

Bam - framed - on the wall, with you.

Finally, we turned back towards a spread I'd noticed earlier in the day - mostly because it had the Brawlin' Ladies poster, which I recognized from the internets. I think Kotaku had it up once, and I've had a copy on my computer ever since. I thought I might end up doing a video game art post one day which would require it. Turns out now's a great time to show it - and I met the dude who made it! (He was very shy.)

Bam - framed. I was also about to buy this Venture Bros piece,

but then I noticed this lovely painting. The dude who drew the above stuff had the booth with his girlfriend, and given that the only place I could track it down online was this other DeviantArt page - and she said that some of the stuff at their booth was hers - I can only imagine she was the one who did it:

Gorgeous! Framed!

And I bought Kayla Boo. Between Boo and Chewbacca she's developing a healthy collection of pop-culture themed plushies her boyfriend bought her.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Personal note.

Social obligations. No time. Sleep now, post tomorrow.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Oh crap, this trailer makes me want to play Skyward Sword.

How did it do that?!

COMIC - Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

I've said a few times before that I bear significant love for Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - and this comic is an excellent example of why. It's not uncommon for SMBC to elicit genuine belly laughs from me, but I also value the site as something that claws through the miasma that is modern life and extracts a few nuggets of insight.

This is a good one.

It's like this generation's The Far Side.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Want to see a dude get his spinal column pulled out his ass by demon arms?

Then watch this Darkness II trailer! Pret-ty gross.

Very... Japanese, shall we say. I've seen enough hentai to know how this will end.

Time for another little chat. Halloween style.

Today I did a bit of blog maintenance. In the reviews page (on the sidebar) I've put box shots and verdict lines on every single review I've ever writ - which is a lot of reviews, when you take the time to scroll down the whole damn thing. If you want text-only, without box shots to clutter up the place, we've got that too.

As I neared the end of my janitorial journey, I had to put in the box shot and verdict line for one Siren: Blood Curse - and it occurred to me that, given our proximity to Halloween, there is no better time than right now to remind you of it.

I still feel that's one of the best reviews I've ever written - it was part of a two-pack of reviews I submitted to a small gaming site back when I first started writing again. It was my argument that I could write again, and I often compare my current reviews to that one - and feel that it doesn't reflect well on them.

Often - given that the landscape of gaming changes so regularly - what was true of a game when a review is written ceases to be true the moment a better-looking, better-written, better-playing, better-acted or better-designed game comes out. Not so with Siren.

As I point out in the review - at the time - Siren had no true competition in the pure survival horror genre. Now, nearly four years later, it still doesn't. It's still the best survival horror game on the current generation of consoles, it's still available on the PSN, and its demo is still a useless representation of the product's actual strengths.

Friends, once again, I suggest you check out Blood Curse. Here is the first - and best - review I ever wrote, as food for your thought on the subject.

* * *

REVIEW - Siren: Blood Curse.

"I know Mommy's scary - but don't cry, Honey."

It's excusable to be blissfully unaware of the original Siren, which tanked so badly in North America we were never given the opportunity to turn up our noses at the sequel. It boasted one of the worst localization efforts ever assembled and thirty hours of the most arbitrarily, obscenely difficult survival horror gameplay you'll ever have the misfortune to suffer through. It was also mercilessly intelligent, and made the genius move of combining the already stress-fueled survival horror genre with the tense, thoughtful gameplay of a stealth title. Along with a smart, creepy mechanic that allowed the player to see through the eyes of his enemies, Sirenwas an effort rife with originality and promise that was bogged down by some profoundly bad choices.

The current-gen re-telling addresses every issue of the original, courting the North American market directly (instead of as an afterthought), and while the pendulum has perhaps swung too far in the opposite direction the result is an accessible, clever, disturbing experience.

Siren: Blood Curse is at once - intentionally - foreign and familiar. The large, uniformly Japanese (and badly dubbed) cast of the original has been replaced with five Americans and a few of the cursed village's denizens. Beyond the simple, unobtrusive benefit of characters that speak their native languages, the change of cast hits the intended mark of making the whole experience more approachable to a North American player. Wandering around a very Japanese village as an American invites you to feel the same cultural disconnect the character must be suffering, and forgives you for being supremely creeped out as the undead muse to themselves in an alien tongue.

Speaking of the shibito (literally, "dead person"), they're a smart, purposeful variation on the standard video game zombie. Somewhere between the classic, numb shamblers of Dead Rising and the super-charged rage junkies of Left 4 Dead, the shibito are infinitely creepier because they retain so much of what they were before. The creators know well that the closer a monster is to identifiably human, the more monstrous it becomes. They remember their routines, they remember who they were (are?), and worst of all they remember whom they love. They also seem pleased as punch to be dead - gleeful, curious, and cackling wildly as they bludgeon you to death.

Often your pursuers aren't just nameless, stock zombies. They have names, their own histories, their own desires - and once you grow intimately familiar with them it becomes that much more horrifying to see them approach, lines of blood streaming from empty eyes. I know you, I cared about you. And now I have to kill you - as many times as it takes.

Beyond the lighting, Blood Curse's technology won't impress anyone - and in the end, the pursuit of a merely serviceable graphics engine has worked out just fine. Unlike some triple-A titles I could name, Siren's grasp is firmly within its reach, and the payoff is an experience of uniform quality. Objects don't suddenly appear, and there is no texture pop to draw you out of the experience. That simple, workmanship quality seeps from the pores of Hanuda Village, and everywhere you look you discover attention to the smallest minutiae of detail. The important thing is that the village feels like a very real place, where things have gone very wrong. It's filled with obscure archives to collect - which flesh out the story - and weapons. Siren takes itself pretty seriously, but it's got enough of a sense of humor to let you put a noodle cleaver to deadly use.

Unlike any other survival horror title, you don't collect persistent weapons throughout the game. Each mission is designed to toy with your fear in subtly different ways, and you are armed or disarmed accordingly. If you watch your back while brandishing a snub nosed revolver as one character you may feel like a powerhouse of undead destruction for a few minutes, but that's only so the designers can then ask you to feel the contrasting panicked tension of a defenseless ten-year-old, lost in (that old survival horror standby) a creepy hospital without her mother. Compared to more linear games it may sound arbitrary and forced, but Siren masterfully alters its expectations of you from level to level, and gently points the way forward.

I say 'gently' because for the first two-thirds of the game you can open your map and be told precisely where to go and why. This is a drastic (and mostly welcome) change from the incomprehensible original, and while purists will mourn their beloved lack of accessibility, it instead asks you to focus on what you should be worrying about in the first place - exploring the environment and sneaking past the enemies set in your path. This also has the effect of dulling the accomplishment you may feel at solving the puzzle, but in the end the trade is in the gamer's favor. Success in combat is uncertain enough to render the stealth element necessary, but easy enough to allow for experimentation. In the end, the most efficient and satisfying rout is always to creep up on your deceased foe and belt 'em in the back of the head with a good, heavy weapon. Should you have to retrace your steps a few minutes later though, be careful - nothing in Blood Curse stays dead for long, and that nurse you brained with a bedpan is likely back at her desk, frantically scribbling endless loops.

The game's presentation is uniformly "good" (excellent music!) and the mechanics work well, but - fine-tuning the original's innovations in the survival horror genre aside - they aren't what makes Siren a great game. As a whole, Siren actually does become more than the sum of its parts. A keen eye for detail and a thoughtful, measured approach to fear permeate the game. Themes of love and destiny drive the otherwise impenetrable narrative forward to a conclusion I can only describe as mind-bending. At the end of the first Terminator movie Sarah Connor asks the audience to ignore the paradoxical plot by saying "a person could go crazy thinking about this" - but Siren makes no such suggestion. It demands you go back and examine the facts, to try and make sense of the madness, only to discover the pieces fit together perfectly but form an impossible answer. It's insane, and ultimately one of the smartest games I've played in years.

It doesn't just expect fear will manifest by placing you in a cursed, creepy town and asking you to negotiate the walking dead. Instead it continually takes standards and toys with them. The first enemy you face is a symbol of responsibility and service, and he's coming to kill you. The first character who allows you a feeling of confidence and power is the first to abandon hope. Every time a mission featuring ten-year-old Bella appeared I would gird myself, and make ready for another classic moment in gaming - future tastes of the genre will be held up against the standard she sets. Her story is constantly riffing horror on one of the game's most instantly relatable emotions - the love between a parent and child. The game asks you to imagine what you might feel as a wee tot trapped, alone in this nightmare, before it begins playing with its own conventions and finally turning all previous emotions on their head for the game's crescendo of fear in Chapter Ten. After five or six playthroughs, that level still manages to twist my stomach into knots before the game releases you into another brightly saturated, mournful daylight scene.

Even breaking the game into episodic chapters was a smart move - Siren isn't a title you can just sit down with and power through, despite its relatively short length of 10-12 hours. You could, physically, but emotionally you wouldn't want to attempt it. It's easy to play, and hard to experience.

There is a plethora of action-horror games on the market today. Dead Space, Resident Evil, Condemned, even BioShock qualifies. But when it comes to true survival horror, Siren has snuck its way ahead of the legendary Silent Hill's latest outing to become the best of this generation. It's beautiful, disturbing, thoughtful, stressful, and unfortunately it seems to have crept right past most gamers' notice.

-survival horror + stealth gameplay? Oh God, yes
-beautiful, nightmarish atmosphere
-an astounding soundtrack
-a brain-twisting plot
-classic survival horror and adventure gaming
-they dialed back the difficulty
-easier to digest than the lengthy original

-they dialed back the difficulty
-not as complex or epic as the lengthy original

I cannot recommend Siren: Blood Curse highly enough.

REVIEW - inFamous: Festival of Blood

If inFamous and inFamous 2 are each twelve months' worth of comic-book story arc - meaty and satisfying meals of gameplay and narrative - Festival of Blood is a little two-issue affair that will only really appeal to collectors. It's a two-hour side story - a tongue-in-cheek Halloween-themed episode of your favorite TV show that suddenly posits the existence of undead. It's Sucker Punch having some fun - and it's fun for the player as well - but Festival of Blood draws very little sustenance from the lively, vital body of inFamous 2.

A skimpy pinch of new abilities, a fresh (see: spooooky) color palette, new enemies and a legitimately interesting story are the stars of the show. Sucker Punch have always provided a good, workmanlike narrative that suitably engages the player - and Festival of Blood's truncated tale is as good as a B-side in a comic book serial or TV show. The story of Bloody Mary, her gruesome history and her terrible mistake of going against hero Cole McGrath is fun enough to see us through FoB's proceedings, but has no real lasting resonance.

After having been bitten by the malicious matriarch of the vampires, Cole begins to notice some changes.

He can turn into a flock of bats and fly at will - which instantly makes the lack of Lightning Tether or Ice Launch abilities acceptable. Whooshing over the city and coming to know when, precisely, you should re-form into your earthly body takes a bit of practice and becomes suitably satisfying when mastered. In order to power his flight you have to suck the blood of the innocent populous for a full recharge of your canopic jar or stake vampires for a much smaller portion, but that's pretty much it for interesting new powers.

Elsewhere, every new gameplay mechanic on offer is simply one from inFamous 2, dressed in a Halloween costume.

Staking a vampire when it's down.
Kicking any normal enemy to finish it off.

Vampire sense, to detect vampires hiding in crowds.
Cole's pulse sense, revealing enemies disguised as pedestrians.

Finding jars of blood to increase the capacity of your canopic jar.
Discovering blast shards.

Finding parts of Bloody Mary's story hidden in vampire glyphs.
Finding dead drop recordings.

Using vampire sense to detect a hidden vampire and one-shotting him with a stake to the back to see him lose control of his shape-shifting, turn into a monster and die with a roar.
is actually pretty awesome.

Festival of Blood sees the use of the game's entire first two neighborhoods - a goodly amount of real estate to run around and break up vampire feedings - and the act of playing the game retains the easygoing, comfortable pleasure that made inFamous 2 such a stunning success. The only real misstep is that, once you've read five of Bloody Mary's vampire glyph stories, an upgrade to your vampire sense provides the same ability as Blast Shard Sense at the end of inFamous 2 - the direction of the nearest blood jar and vampire glyph can always be brought up on your minimap - and you can simply fly straight to it.

This drains your blood supply, but upon picking up a jar it is completely refilled. After you've found one, just ping for the nearest jar and take to the skies again. It took me about fifteen minutes to find every single jar last night before I tackled the last two missions.

Another missed opportunity are the inclusions of a few indoor sequences that do little to leverage inFamous's greatest strength - its platforming.

In inFamous (and Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood, come to think of it) some of the best platforming in the game could be found within directed, contained interior sequences. inFamous used dimly lit sewers to highlight the grace and precision of Cole's platforming abilities, and one would expect Festival of Blood's occasional foray into the crypts beneath New Marais to similarly champion the best facet of the game, but these sequences are simply long corridors you have to fight your way through.

Shame, that.

If you're a fan of inFamous or you're just up for a fine few hours of vampire-killing action to celebrate Halloween, you could do much worse than inFamous: Festival of Blood. It's nice to be back in New Marais with Cole and Zeke - a pleasure to spend more time with them and leaf through a new inFamous story - but there is little and less on offer here, when held up to its more ambitious counterparts.

We live in a world, after all, where the brilliant Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare exists for the same ten-dollar price point. When campy, fun, supernatural-themed DLC can take on such scope and depth and completely change the way a modern classic is played in the process, I can't suggest that anything less is a true success.

Taken on its own merits, it's fine. A decent story - and fun to play - with several familiar inFamous gameplay tropes done up in holiday masque. Compared to the best similar fare on offer, however, ivory-skinned Vampire McGrath is very pale in comparison.

  • very fun gameplay - it's more inFamous 2!
  • new art assets and color palette do a great job of dressing up New Marais
  • you can drink the blood of pedestrians. It's very brief and weirdly sexy.
  • bat flight is way more fun than it should be
  • great voice work
  • a fun, indulgent little story
  • detecting a vampire hidden in a crowd of pedestrians and staking him is pretty awesome
  • there's very little new content here - you can find every canopic jar and beat the game in about 2.5 hours
  • not much in terms of new gameplay mechanics
  • indoor sequences fail to capitalize on inFamous's strengths
  • doesn't even compare to other, more ambitious fare
  • ten dollars is pretty dear, for what's on offer
  • it feels as if there was a great deal of potential to do more with this


inFamous fans will find some fun at the Festival, but it's a far cry from required reading and doesn't compare to its more ambitious competition.

Grand Theft Auto V officially announced.

Whenever an iknling of news occurs about GTA V- more often than not rumor, up to this point - you may have noticed that I never post about it. A Game Informer article does a series of spotlights on noteworthy developers, for example, and cites Sam Houser's current project as GTA V.

Oh my God! Stop the presses! Rockstar is making another Grand Theft Auto game!

Well, of course they are. To me, that was never in question. It's like Activision making another Call of Duty or EA making another Madden - they're cash cows, and it's going to happen. It's not news that it's happening again.

This week, however, rumors turned to fact and Rockstar officially announced that V is coming, and they'll have a trailer out on November 2nd. That I am willing to post about - though I'm not a huge fan of posting about a video that hasn't appeared yet. Anyway...

* * *

If you want to pay attention to said rumors about the project, it takes place in the Rockstar equivalent of Los Angeles, and will feature multiple protagonists. Good, says I.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was the best of the series, as far as I'm concerned. The ability to drive from one bustling metropolis to a highway that snakes through forested, rolling hills before opening up onto a desert, through tiny one-horse towns before eventually discovering another gigantic city is something I've wanted to do in video games since I appreciated what a video game could, potentially, do.

I don't feel multiple protagonists will actually serve Rockstar well - it goes against the sense of attachment we build up for Tommy Vercetti, Carl Johnson and Niko Bellic - but I shouldn't think ill of Rockstar's potential, here. This is the open world game, and they are masters of the form.

Between Uncharted 3's launch and this trailer, November 2nd will be the most delicious of days.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Well. duh.

Money don't get everything, it's true..

It's payday! Yay!

In keeping with hallowed tradition, I celebrated the occasion with the spending of money. The gods were pleased.

Kayla and I tooted around a commercial district peeking at this and that - I picked up a PSN card at HMV, and remembered to look for a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I'd forgotten that it bothered me that I didn't have a copy of the film in my library, riiight up until I saw a trailer for The Rum Diaries:

And it was like "oh my God, Johnny Depp is doing another Hunter S. Thompson story. I have got to see that - and why don't I own Fear and Loathing?"

The only copy of F&L in HMV was a Criterion Collection copy - and though I heavily endorse the Criterion Collection and all the extra, thoughtful bells and whistles that are included, I didn't want to spend forty bucks on it. I decided we could poke around elsewhere.

By the end of the day I had secured myself a copy of Fear & Loathing ($20 at Best Buy) a copy of The Crow (which hasn't been available on bluray in some time) and a twenty dollar PSN card with which to purchase inFamous: Festival of Blood.

Festival of Blood is proving a comfortable, pleasant treat for the moment. I suspect I'll be able to put it to bed tomorrow and maybe fire off a short review.

Speaking of reviews, I'm displeased with the Arkham City one. It's not that any of my points are invalid, just that the thing - as a whole - feels a bit... disjointed. If I were writing a review of that review, I could not in good conscious recommend a purchase.

I'll tinker with it tomorrow, if I'm feeling perky.

inFamous 2: Festival of Blood launch trailer.

Mmm, yeah. I woulda' picked this up yesterday, but something came up. Good thing today is payday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

REVIEW - Batman: Arkham City.

2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum was noteworthy for simply being a Batman game that wasn't terrible. In fact, it was excellent. Not only were its mechanics perfectly serviceable (exploration, puzzle-solving, stealth) or utterly remarkable (combat), it succeeded in presenting a quality, fleshed-out and familiar-enough-to-be-immersive rendition of the Batman universe.

Arkham City completely one-ups its predecessor, in every regard.

If one holds the game up to the representatives of almost any one genre, it suffers in comparison. Its world - a beautiful, gothic cobbling of an old wrecked downtown neighborhood - is too compact to impress against the likes of inFamous or Red Dead Redemption. It's not an open-world game, specifically. Its combat lacks the frame-specific needs and tactile feel of a Devil May Cry, its platforming is a watered-down Assassin's Creed with flight controls, but it's also not - specifically - a brawler or platformer.

If Batman owes its design and structure to any one franchise, it is Zelda or Metroid - and when compared to those, Arkham City is a stunning success. Put simply, you explore an overworld and gain access to "dungeons," lorded over by Gotham's finest supervillains - upon leaving one, you will invariably be in the possession of a new gadget that grants you access to ever deeper areas of the city.

Great! Good start - I love games like that - and the icing on the cake is that this game is called Batman.

"The challenge of making a Batman game isn't just that it needs to be a good game - a game that would be enjoyable if the licensed property weren't attached - but that Batman himself has been passed through so many hands over the years. The most famous departure from what we consider to be Batman was certainly the camp TV series from the 1960s, but even some of Batman's most important aspects - his rule of never killing, for example - were added at a later date by folks far removed from Bob Kane. How does one plug in to our unspoken expectations for what The Dark Knight should be, when there have been so many changes - so many interpretations of the source material?"
-Batman: Arkham Asylum review (2009)-
With a much larger playground to offer, Arkham City has a much larger canvas to fill, and it does so with nimble strokes drawn from the past twenty years of Batman interpretation. This piece of background music will instantly bring to mind Tim Burton's films or The Animated Series, while that swooping score is much closer to Christopher Nolan's more recent films. Art direction leans heavily on the comic books and Burton's bolder style - which does a wonderful job of making the player buy into the world - and there is story, story everywhere.

A mark against Arkham Asylum and a great deal of Arkham City is that, while it does an exemplary job of assembling and capably realizing our unconscious expectations of the Batmanuniverse, it often offers little in terms of original story. While a great deal of our love for Batman is due to style, atmosphere and archetype, what we really remember about the shows and comics and movies are the excellent stories. Mad Love, Heart of Ice, Batman Returns, The Killing Joke - 2009's Arkham Asylum cannot hold a candle to these classics. While a great deal ofArkham City's narratives are similarly familiar water to tread, the Joker arc is one of the best Clown Prince stories I've ever witnessed.

I will never hear the words "that actually is... pretty funny!" the same way, ever again.

Elsewhere, I find myself pleased with the amount on offer here, in terms of fleshing out character and context. Asylum provided too little exploration of its villains, but here a great deal is showcased through the chatter Batman picks up through his cool surveillance gear. The Joker's goons talk about how screwed up their boss's relationship is with the crazed Harley Quinn, and you may overhear Two Face's boys discussing how your most recent-run in with Dent bodes for them.

It all serves to make Arkham City feel like a living and legitimate window into the Batmanuniverse, in much the same way the cast's familiar (Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy) and otherwise remarkable talent (Steve Blum, Grey DeLisle, Corey Burton) elegantly evades one's cynicism and immerses them in the title's reality. It does feel a bit off-putting when a thug heckles you in Nathan Drake's voice - recognizing Nolan North does the game a disservice, there - but he does a fantastic job as The Penguin, while Hamill has never been better as the Joker.

As with the best adventure games, there is a massive amount to discover beyond the central narrative's bonds. Doing searches of your environment will often uncover a small, crucial twist on a story you thought you knew, by way of tiny tableaus or discarded evidence. Be sure to check out Harley's Asylum uniform in Joker's lair, then look at the floor to the left - I don't think thatlittle chestnut's been breached in any other interpretation of the character.

Very nice.

Gameplay has been similarly expanded and refined, entirely to the title's benefit. Story missions see a mix of navigation, combat and (sometimes utterly devious) puzzle solving while side missions content themselves with focusing on a single facet of the game's mechanics. If you wish to invest twenty or thirty hours in a playthrough of Arkham City, the game has more than enough content to keep you occupied.

The optional puzzle solving and Riddler trophies see the greatest growth, here, with four hundred puzzles, collectibles and riddles to find and solve for completists. Psycho killer Victor Zsasz tasking you with zipping across the city in order to find a ringing phone before he executes a victim is a suitably grim task, but it's simply a cleverly-disguised race minigame, which tests your skills with the fantastic tempering of Batman's glide ability and the proper use of the grapnel boost (which sends you flying off a rooftop, wings out).

The intricacies of Batman's diving, swooping flight are taught with another sidequest, soon revealing it to be a much more supple and responsive mode of transport than it seems at first blush. In the City, curiosity leads one to discover all sorts of delicious, meaty stories and situations that await them off the game's beaten path - and using City's pleasurable navigation to find them is a welcome indulgence.

Least changed but most refined is the combat, which sees the addition of a few neat moves and a bit of context-sensitive coolness, but small tweaks and amendments to its formula make it a much more intricate and unforgiving beast. It is deeply satisfying to counter three enemies at once and send them all sprawling to the pavement, and a sweet thrill to successfully evade and counter a blade-wielding thug's flurry of slashes - made doubly impressive by the fact that no one else has ever done combat in the same way as Rocksteady's Batman. It is mechanically unique - which alone should exclude it from success - but it's intensely pleasant, and wonderful to watch.

The combat system fits the game, the world, your enemies and most importantly the protagonist perfectly. Batman isn't about superhuman simplicity (inFamous) or flashy, smashy combos (Devil May Cry, God of War) - he is about confidence, strategy and perfect, patient timing.

The vicious aggressiveness which would serve you well in any other game will get you killed inArkham City. Batman's best defense is not offense but patience, and your ability to adapt to whatever the fifteen goons you're facing are (sometimes literally) throwing at you. The moment you find yourself losing your temper with the game and attempting to be too aggressive,Arkham City will beat you bloody. When you find yourself getting your bell rung by a series of blows you failed to counter or evade, don't throw a blind punch at the nearest goon.

Back off. Stay calm. Let them come to you, grab the first guy's fist out of the air and wipe the floor with them with careful, adaptive precision - because you are Batman, you keep your cool, and these thirty muscle-bound, two-by-four wielding henchmen are no match for you.

It's all too rare, that that can be said of a game. It's so different, yet it succeeds. Batman's combat is deeply different - mechanically, emotionally unique - while managing to be exceedingly fun, flashy and rewarding. Rocksteady deserves a standing ovation for that alone.

Batman: Arkham City is an exceptional piece of work, from tip to tail. It delivers a breakneck story that had me all but ignoring the side quests until my second playthrough. Its serviceable technology is entirely bent to the task of realizing a beautiful, involving world, occupied by wonderfully well-realized and deeply drawn characters.

More than merely a great game with classic structure that harkens back to Metroid and Zelda, Arkham City strikes out on its own in terms of substance, with mechanics pioneered by Batman alone. Its résumé reads like a wish list of gaming: a fantastic central character, an involving story, a stunning beginning and a moving ending. Artistically striking, structurally comfortable and mechanically unique. Wonderfully fun in all its facets - oh, and an open-world game that really rewards exploration.

Love for its source material bleeds from every scrap of dialogue, every perfectly-cast villain, every elegant explosion of violence from its hero, which can do no less than inspire the player to invest further in its wonderful world. Arkham City is a title of uniformly high quality, with no weak link about which to complain.

This is one of the best games of the year. Plus, it's Batman.

  • a spectacular vision of Gotham and its denizens, cobbled together from decades of Batman source material and interpretation
  • one of the best casts of the year
  • Mark Hamill outdoes himself as Joker
  • making your way around the city with the grapnel gun and glide mechanics is fun on a bun
  • excellent music
  • the boss fights are a huge improvement over Asylum's - constantly switching style and mechanics
  • in fact, the overall production values are great
  • the Joker's arc is one of my new favorite Batman stories
  • one of the best openings I've ever seen, and I loved the ending
  • a ridiculous amount of collectibles and side-puzzles to solve
  • lots of interesting side-quests with cool stories of their own
  • it's like a holiday turkey, except the stuffing is made up of every important Batman villain ever
  • fantastic - and fantastically unique - combat, which is very satisfying and challenging on the harder difficulties and New Game+
  • it's got a New Game+!
  • Arkham City feels alive thanks to its dense population and amount of peripheral narrative
  • I'm Batman

  • you can only go through New Game+ once, then you need to start up a New New game to open it up again
  • Nolan North using his normal voice as a thug really takes you out of the experience
Arkham City is an excellent game from any angle, and one of the best titles of 2011.

I do, in fact, have one real problem with Arkham City.

The below paragraphs were part of the review. As I was tinkering with it this morning, it occurred to me that I shouldn't even be including Catwoman's content in the review, as anything but a sub-note, in my 'the good' and 'the bad' sections.

I wouldn't review Dead Space 2 and complain that the day-one weapon DLC unbalanced the game. I wouldn't review Assassin's Creed and include DLC components as a plus or a minus - but Catwoman's campaign - four small, challenging missions interspersed throughout Arkham City's story, felt different.

It seemed an important and necessary part of the Arkham City formula - like the sequences in Heavenly Sword where you played as Kai, but without the shitty gameplay - and I am pissed off that what feels to be such a crucial component of the game is relegated to downloadable content. So, here's what I wrote in (and cut from) the review:

* * *

My biggest disappointment in Arkham City is the fact that Catwoman's content is contained within a one-use download code. I'm a supporter of EA's Project Ten Dollar, and have no difficulty with such day-one deals supporting ancillary content (American McGee's Alice withMadness Returns) or online features (Dead Space, Battlefield 3), but - to me - there is something rather different about Arkham City's implementation.

Catwoman's content consists of interesting chunks of narrative and play that feel very different from Batman's campaign. It twists directly into the story of Arkham City and compliments Batman's heavier gameplay with Catwoman's lighter feet, fleeter fighting and sharper dialogue. It feels a necessary and important part of these proceedings, and I am bothered that it is not truly a part of the game proper.

I said that Arkham Asylum would be considered a modern classic, and Arkham City is of such similarly uniform high quality that it too deserves the attention of future gamers. This is a title I expect I'll be pleased to show my child and perhaps even their children - but in order to present them with the full experience, I would require the PlayStation Network to still be active and Electronic Arts to still be prepared to allow me to download a ten or twenty-year-old bit of code.
That seems unlikely - and it seems wrong that such an important part of the game's content could be rendered inaccessible for future generations.

In terms of right now, it's fine - great, even - but as someone who plays and values video games as more than just the entertainment of the moment, it's very like having an excellent book with a few important chapters that I may never be able to share in a decade's time.

* * *

But - again - going by my review rules, downloadable content does not count. I can't let it be part of the review because Rocksteady did not make it truly part of their game. If a 'game of the year' version of Arkham City follows, as it did with Arkham Asylum, which includes Catwoman's content on the disc, I should be most pleased.

As it is, I reckon I'll just put a note in 'the bad' suggesting that Catwoman's campaign should have been on the disc.

Uncharted 3 launch trailer.

Two minutes and twenty-seven seconds of pure hotness. You feel like you can just reach out and touch it-ouch! Ooh. Too hot.

Oh riiiight. Today is Tuesday.

I've been waking up in the wee hours of the morning this week, as I'm on day shifts and that wrecks me - so when my older brother wandered by at 4:00am, as I was plucking away at the Arkham City review, I was awake for it.

My brother is... in a challenging place, shall we say. I do my best to keep him in cigarettes and don't complain when he borrows my games (much - I can't abide disc-case scratches) or notice that he's had several thousand times my experience with those hundred-dollar surround sound headphones of mine. It's not unusual for me to supply him with games, but for the most part (I think Bad Company 2 was an exception) I do my best to limit this to his birthday and Christmas.

Today, at 4:00am he pokes his head in and says,

"This is kind of a weird question, but... you're not getting any new games soon, are you?"

"Well... not until November first, I guess, no."

"Oh, okay."

"What? Why?"

"No reason." He starts to walk out.

"Chris, what's going ohhhh... No. I'm not getting Battlefield 3."

...a position I'm suddenly reconsidering. I wish I knew how big my paycheque will be tomorrow. I can get the Jurassic Park trilogy later, I'm sure.

Skyrim live action trailer.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Oh my God this is a thing that is happening.

It deeply disturbs me that on August 8, 2011, Adult Swim put a twelve-minute pilot of Black Dynamite: The Animated Series up online for viewage and I had no idea.

I have scoured my usual sources to view it, but all for naught. Fortunately, this is the interwebs and it does exist - but I can't embed it, and the only place I can direct you is here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Please, let this actually happen. I would buy the shit out of this, ya dig?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

This Tuesday, Jurassic Park will exist on bluray.

I love my movie library.

It (currently - I need to expand) takes up a bookshelf, every square inch of space stuffed to capacity with blurays and a rare DVD, in cases where a notable film lacks a bluray version. My family has taken to popping in when I'm at work and selecting something to view - something I rather enjoy, as many of the films I've purchased were largely due to the expectation that they would watch them - and two or three times a year I'll get asked where my copy of Jurassic Park is.

"I don't have it," is all I can tell them.

"You don't?"

"It doesn't exist on bluray. We've got an old VHS copy from like, ten years ago somewhere - but that's it. It's not out on bluray yet."

They look at me like I'm crazy. It's crazy that Jurassic Park isn't on bluray. Well, this Tuesday, it is.

Jurassic Park is a major movie for my family. It's one of those rare ones that we can all agree is a tip-top show, worthy of watching tonight, and it's always bugged me that I don't have the definitive version to share with them.

Well, come Tuesday, I can. Unfortunately, as with the Alien trilogy, it will only be available in an "ultimate trilogy" pack consisting of all three films. I don't know about you, but I don't particularly want the second and third Jurassic Park shows. They sucked - but if you're going to have a collection of anything, you may as well be comprehensive about it - and if I want a copy of Jurassic Park available for my family to view, I'm going to have to suck it up and pay fifty bucks for it.

For the record, I'll be happy to. This movie's existence on bluray has been far too long coming, much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp. It's a goddamned crime that I can't watch that in HD.

"Don't touch that squirrel's nuts!
It'll make him crazy!"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Game Diary - Arkham City (again).

A remarkable thing happened, as I was playing Arkham City on Thursday night - I watched the credits roll.

The game had me in an environment that certainly spoke to things ending soon, but in terms of narrative it didn't feel anywhere near the time. It didn't feel like we had even completed act two - but there was a good boss fight and an excellent, poignant cutscene and then the credits started.

It was a genuine WTF moment. I had likely put no more than nine hours into Arkham City before this event. I get home and I have perhaps two or three (four if I push it) hours to indulge myself in gaming - and after a mere three such sessions, the game was over.

Much insight can be gleaned by comparing one game to another in its genre. Despite there differences, I feel there is something valuable in comparing and contrasting say, Killzone 3 with BioShock 2. At the same time, this automatic comparison-making can blind us to the essential truth of a game - as with Rage, for example.

Rage is a sort-of open-world post-apocalyptic first-person shooter. Thanks to its genre and the bit of wandering you are able to do, it begs comparison to Borderlands and Fallout 3 - but doing so does Rage a disservice, because despite the superficial similarities, the game isn't comparing itself to those games. Rage is an essentially linear, level-based corridor shooter in the classic id style.

Rage is Rage and it's not really like Borderlands or Fallout 3 in the least - and holding it up to those standards, seeking to see where it fits in that outline, offers no service at all.

In the same way, Arkham City isn't any other open-world game. It's most precisely the sequel to the mostly-linear Arkham Asylum, and compared to that it is incredible. This game isn't the least bit concerned with being Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto or inFamous.

By way of example, you can't beat any of those games in nine hours - but don't let that immediately be a strike against Batman. This is both the game's fault, and mine. Allow me to explain.

I made mention in my (last) Game Diary post that Arkham City is chock-full of little side quests and collectibles. You'll be swooping over the city and your awesome always-on listening device will allow you to listen in to some men on a nearby rooftop, begging for someone to save them from certain doom.

"Ah!" I would tell myself, "a sidequest! Well, I'm sorry, peripheral narrative, but if I don't get to Mr. Freeze the world is screwed, so I'll deal with you later."

It was like this for the entire game. The narrative - despite (or perhaps because of) multiple descents into the campiest of dialogue - impressed very firmly upon me that the mission I was on at that precise second was the most important thing I could possibly be doing. I don't have time do deal with those Riddler trophies or political prisoners - I've got a world to save!

To put it another way, this game is so good and I was so involved in its central proceedings that I ignored two-thirds of it.

I'm going through it again now on New Game Plus - an addition I adore, which in this case makes the wise decision to intensely increase the challenge - snuffling through the streets of Arkham like a bloodhound bent on perimetric play. I'm finding a ton, and it is here - where I'm not funneled along by the narrative - that the game actually keeps its central promise.

When you hear someone cry for help, smash into the concrete behind their attacker and wreck that dude along with the thirty thugs who appear out of the shadows before taking to the skies in search of further wrongdoing? When you take time out of your busy day to solve a dastardly Riddler murder room, and so save an imperiled medical professional? Well, you're Batman, aren't you?

Arkham Asylum gives that to you, if you can bring yourself to walk away from the (gripping) main story.

* * *

Allow me to also add that, as I was playing Rage earlier in the month, I was often bothered by and complaining about the fact that I wasn't playing Dark Souls.

I'm not having that problem with Arkham City. This game is exceedingly entertaining and fun, and until I have thoroughly gorged myself at its trough of interactivity, I doubt I shall return to the gloomy ruins of Lordran.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

DOOM 4 "indefinitely postponed"? You bastards!

Kotaku's got a source that led them to believe
"... that, at a recent "company wide" meeting held in Dallas, Bethesda and parent company Zenimax made the decision to "indefinitely postpone" development of Doom 4."
At news like this, I can only tighten my mouth and sigh.

You bastards. Six years we waited for The New Thing From id - and it turned out to be pretty good - just not as oh-my-God-awesome as each new entry in, say, DOOM are. Now that id have gotten this 'new IP' bug out of their system and they're ready to settle down to guaranteed-blockbuster DOOM 4, publisher and parent company Zenimax pulls the plug.

That's frickin' crazy.

Rage was a new IP - and new IPs always struggle on the current gen. DOOM is a legendary property - a guaranteed multi-million seller - and you're canning it?! Where's my inversed awesomeface? Ah, here we go:

(1) That's idiotic.
(2) Screw you, Zenimax!
(3) No, seriously - that's incredibly stupid and you guys suck.

Hm - and here I wasn't planning on writing a Monthly Hate post - but I hate this unconfirmed rumor to the very depths of my passionate, entitled-ass gamer soul.

Game Diary - Batman: Arkham City.

Let me first say that Arkham City has a fantastic opening. I'd go so far as to call it the best opening of the year, even when compared against Dead Space 2's exemplary offering. I love it when a game gives me an ambitious, modern riff on the game-opening-in-the-style-of-a-movie thing that Metal Gear Solid pioneered back on the PS1, and Arkham City's knocks it out of the park.

The first trophy is easily one of the more badass moments of the year.

* * *

The game itself is, at the moment, lovely. They've largely corrected the boss fight problems of Arkham Asylum, flinging yourself around the city feels great, and there's a ton of stuff to see and hear and do and investigate.

There seems to be a glut of little side quests to discover and complete, but I must admit the narrative has gripped me witch such a fervor that I can't bring myself to ignore the story missions for more than four minutes. Yes, I understand Zsasz will kill someone if I don't chase down his phone booth, and I understand that these guys on top of that rooftop ten yards away really need my help, but you need to understand that the Joker's pulled some serious shit, and I have somewhere to be!

I suspect the game's dalliances beyond the central narrative will see more attention from me on subsequent playthroughs, but for now I'm thoroughly enjoying this wonderful carnival ride of Gotham's greatest villains.

Very, very pleased with this game so far. I am finding the combat more of a challenge - but I want to spend more time with that before I sound off on it.

Personal note.

I picked up On Stranger Tides today at HMV. Like I usually do, I walked into the store, found the one that said 'blu-ray' on the cardboard sleeve, paid for it and walked out. When I opened the thing at work I noticed it was in a DVD case.

"Why the fuck would they do that?" I asked myself. Beneath the external sleeve, on the case itself, it only said 'DVD' - no mention of bluray - so I opened it up. Inside there was indeed my bluray copy of the disc... so just now I'm poking around on Amazon to find a pic for this post, and I discover they're selling a DVD/BR combo pack in DVD packaging and a separate version in bluray packaging.
And I'm like auuuuggggghhhh that is gonna' bug the shit out of me and I know one day I'll just end up buying it again so I can have it in a bluray case. Such is my level of insanity.

* * *

Last week I worked Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I had Saturday off, and this week it's Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That's eleven goddamned days with one day off in between. That's cruel and unusual, by my reckoning (and yeah, I know people work much worse hours than me - but let me bitch).

This weekend I actually have (!) two days off in a row - but it's also a weekend in which I must switch from this past fornight's evening shifts to next week's day shifts - meaning I don't get to enjoy my weekend sleeping in and staying up late. I have to spend it going to sleep early, getting up early and being exhausted for two days in a row.


* * *

For some reason I'm feeling very pinched and stressed out lately. I'm pleased that when I get home I can tumble headlong into Arkham City, but I'm bothered by the thought of all the things I should be doing. I have two emails, for example, that I really want to write responses to - but when I get home I'm so burnt out, I tell myself "just play a little Batman and come back to it when you're feeling emotionally centered."

By the time I'm feeling emotionally centered, it's 3:00am and I really shouldn't be writing anything.

Le sigh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

So I picked up Arkham City.


The next thing from Double Fine is..!


(Bites lip.)

Another Kinect thing...

A party game...

Is... this what we have to look forward to from Double Fine from now on?

Is this Tim Schafer's new thing? The dude who made The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Psychonauts and Brutal Legend?

...Tim, are you a... are you just...

...are you going casual? 'Cause we love you, man. I know you need to make money, but... we loved you, man!

Oh God, Tim. Just go. Do what you have to do. Make your millions with KinectaParty and then come back to us. Come back home and make wierd, cool stuff again.

If you love something... (sniff)... set it free..!