21
Jul
13

BioShock: Infinite Review

I, like a lot of people, was disappointed with BioShock 2. It was a competent game, don’t get me wrong. The shooting was pretty good and the story was OK. But it didn’t grab me to nearly the same degree that BioShock did. Returning to Rapture already knowing a great deal about its history was not the same as the first trip down to this sunken Dystopia in the Bathysphere.

When I first read about BioShock Infinite, I cringed a bit because it was set in a different place. I wondered if this was a sequel in name only. Let me assure you: it is not. Ken Levine’s singular vision is back for this, the third game in the series, and it means the quality of the game, especially its story-telling and character development, has returned to that of its groundbreaking original predecessor.

The world of Columbia is breathtaking, quite literally wrapped in the flag. Every home, every street is decked in stars and spangles: an homage to red, white and blue. Your first half-hour in the sky-bound city instills a sense of safety and calm. “What could possibly go wrong?” you’ll think. “I’m surrounded by rich white people, and it looks like a 1950s Fourth of July Parade around here.” It makes it all the more jarring when it goes to hell in an instant, and as the trappings of the “perfect” society Father Comstock has created burn in the fires of revolution, the rotten foundation collapses all the more quickly under the heavy weight of its nationalist façade.

If you’ve played a BioShock game before, you’ll find the mechanics familiar, but the combat has gotten tighter and more exciting. It does get a little repetitive due to the slow trickle of new Vigors. For example, there was one Vigor I didn’t pick up until I was well into the third act and had already established my preferred fighting style.

You’ll fall in love with Elizabeth. She’s a strong, sympathetic character: a mix of Rapunzel and Jade (Beyond Good & Evil). Wide-eyed and naive at the outset, and awestruck with the outside world. As she explores the world, she is heartbroken by the oppression and dehumanization of the underclass in Columbia. She wants to help the downtrodden in this candy-coated society, which is strongly influenced by the ideals of Adolf Hitler and the Klan’s White Master Race, with a big helping of Jim Crow laws of pre-Civil Rights America. She knows that her power to open Rifts has the potential to help these people, and she decides the chance to change Columbia’s fate for the better outweighs the potential risk. She’s smart, beautifully designed, and though she’s your ward, you don’t have to spend the game protecting her. In fact, using her abilities wisely is the key to getting through some of the tougher combat sequences in the game.

Booker is a stronger character than either of the previous two BioShock protagonists. He is proof that the silent hero is a relic of a bygone age. I want the character I play to speak up. Just because I am guiding him through the story doesn’t mean I want him to be an empty vessel. I felt his reactions and dialog were appropriate to the circumstances and generally in line with how I felt as the player.

The Lutece twins provide some much needed levity in this otherwise dark narrative. I was delighted whenever they turned up, and their oral sparring was one of the highlights of the game for me. The opening sequence, especially, which invokes Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” was a real treat.

Some of the other characters I wasn’t all that impressed with. By the time you meet Daisy Fitzroy, the leader of the rebellion, she has already transformed from a submissive house servant into a Black Panther. All of her development happens in the form of audio logs you pick up along the way, making her character abrasive and hard to relate to. I feel this makes a turn in the second act less impactful than it would otherwise have been.

I also didn’t have any strong feelings toward Comstock, which is less than optimal considering he’s the primary antagonist. Again, you’ll find audio logs scattered about the world in which he spews his hateful beliefs with zealous righteousness, and he’ll taunt you over the city-wide loudspeaker system throughout the game. However, he’s physically absent from most of the game, probably due to spoiler-rific narrative elements, so you never really feel that he’s hot on your heels when he’s pursuing you. Nor do you feel that he’s one step ahead of you later on when you’ve decided to track him down and confront him instead of fleeing.

In fact, Songbird, Elizabeth’s prison guard, creates most of the anxiety you feel throughout your escape from and eventual pursuit of Comstock. Songbird evokes more emotion than most of the secondary characters in the game without ever saying a word. His pursuit of Elizabeth is dogged, and very much invokes the Big Daddies’ protective nature of the Little Sisters in BioShock and BioShock 2. That said, the encounters with Songbird were a bit too scripted for my liking. Preferable would have been something like Resident Evil: Nemesis, wherein he could show up at any time, and you’d actually have to fight him off or elude him until he lost track of you.

I can’t really speak about the boldest aspect of the game, the ending, without spoiling it. It uses a well-worn idea from Science Fiction with great effect. I vastly appreciate its physical manifestation in Infinite, also found in the brilliant To The Moon. Succinctly it is a thoughtful ending to a fantastic game, superlative to the somewhat routine endings of its predecessors.

To Ken Levine and everyone at Irrational Games I say, bravo. Easily the best game I’ve played this year, and the best game in the BioShock series so far. I can’t wait to see where you take us next.

18
Nov
08

Quite Dissapointing: A Quietdrive Retrospective

Originally posted in the comments of the AbsolutePunk.net review of Deliverance.

I’ve been a Quietdrive fan for a long time. Since 2002, actually. The band recorded their first EP in my buddy’s basement in Minnetonka, MN. It was a six-track post-grunge romp. I’d be willing to bet most current QD fans have never heard that album. I still queue it up sometimes: “KB” and “Something That I’m Not” still bring a smile to my face. Did you know there was a mix of “Something That I’m Not” that had Kevin Truckenmiller singing “Brandon’s gay” at the end of the song? That’s just to put into perspective how long I’ve been a fan. Not as long as some, but longer than most. Anyway, even then they were a really promising act. Smart, good-looking kids with a knack for writing hooks.

Quietdrive really hit their stride with their 2003 Demo. It has the track “Handsome Devil’s Benediction,” which builds to one of the most powerful climaxes in modern rock, and my favorite QD track, “Irreversible.” They still play these songs at some shows. Honestly, this was when I was most excited about QD. They really seemed to nail the kind of sound that so many bands try so hard to do – catchy, sophisticated and edgy.

I first heard Sneaker 2 Bombs when I was home from college. It was a side project that Kevin had started up with Matt Kirby. The stuff they wrote was catchy, simple, and lighthearted. It was like Dashboard Confessional had taken over QD… but in a good way. I really liked “Take a Drink,” and “Both Ways.” But, I always preferred the grittier sound of Quietdrive proper.

I was overjoyed when I heard about them signing with a major label. Then there seemed to be an identity crisis in the band. Many of you may remember how they struggled to find themselves a new name in light of a change in musical direction and a new phase in their career. They cycled through a couple of different options; first dropping the Quietdrive moniker altogether and becoming Sneaker 2 Bombs. Then there was some nonsense about becoming “The Neverending…” Eventually, they settled back on Quietdrive. I took this as a good sign that the edgy rock I’d heard on the 2003 EP was going to be refined and be the primary sonic direction of the band. I was completely wrong.

Instead what we got on When All That’s Left Is You were reproduced (see the tempo changes on “Get Up”) and slightly dumbed down (see the change in lyrical content of “Rush Together”) versions of a number of Sneaker 2 Bombs songs, plus a couple of new decent tracks, and a Cyndi Lauper cover. I like When All Thats Left Is You… as a Sneaker 2 Bombs record. You could hear what had been Quietdrive trying to sneak through on “Rise From the Ashes,” but other than that it was largely absent.

Sometime later, at a bar in Minneapolis, I tagged along with the same kid who recorded their first EP to see them. I asked one of them (don’t remember if it was Droo or Brandon) how being on a record label was going. Whoever I was talking to was generally dismayed about the lack of control they had over the first record, and indicated a desire to return to some of the old sounds of Quietdrive. I was heartened by this talk! Could it be that the band I was so keen about would actually deliver on that promise they made in 2003?

When I first heard “Pretend,” I was hopeful. The tune still wasn’t as edgy as I’d have liked, but I decided to give the guys the benefit of the doubt. I still really like the song, and have listened to it countless times. It was a really solid rock song. When a buddy told me the title track for the new album was up on their website, I typed in the URL, crossed my fingers, and waited.

As “Deliverance” washed over me, my hopes were dashed to the floor. This was not Quietdrive. This was some other entity that had stripped itself of what was unique and had replaced it with something mundane and cavity inducing. Still, I forgot about the song and moved on with my life. When the album was released, I came back, hopeful again that I’d find something inspiring in the ashes. When I heard “Believe” my spirits were lifted. The title track even grew on me a bit. But as I listened to the rest of the album, I slowly came to understand that Quietdrive would probably never again offer me what I want from a band. The lyrical content of this album is mostly drivel. And believe me, I know drivel. The tunes, while catchy, aren’t exactly sophisticated. I can only figure that this is a band that doesn’t want to be taken seriously. They write songs about being in love with or losing the ubiquitous unnamed girl, and that express emotion on the most remedial of levels. To be brusque, their intended audience seems to be teenagers or others with naive or simplistic ideas about love and life.

Perhaps for some that’s enough. I demand more from my music for the most part. I want allegory and entendre. I want insightful lyrics about the struggles of being in a relationship, and making it through the day to day shit. Not a bunch of BS about getting shit-faced and forgetting a nameless girl’s birthday. I can liken it to the step backward that Story of the Year took on In The Wake of Determination. What’s particularly alarming to me is the verbiage on the QD website about how proud they are of this record. They may have worked tirelessly to create this album. But for me, and for a lot of people who aren’t hopelessly devoted, it falls tremendously short of expectations.

27
Oct
08

If you thought U.S. censors were strict…

If you’re ever in a situation where you have to decide whether or not to move to Germany, here’s something to keep in mind. Every video game you play may be watered down to get it past the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, or USK, right down to the box art.

Above, Germany’s box art for Left 4 Dead. Below, everyone else’s:

Via Kotaku

16
Oct
08

Prove my point: Day 3

EA CEO John Riccitiello is out there reinforcing my point again, this time with Gamasutra:

Everyone gets that we need some level of protection, or we’re going to be in business for free… [But it was] a minority of [anti-DRM] people that orchestrated a great PR program. They picked the highest-profile game they could find. I respect them for the success of their movement.

I’m guessing that half of them were pirates, and the other half were people caught up in something that they didn’t understand. If I’d had a chance to have a conversation with them, they’d have gotten it… There are different ways to do DRM; the most successful is what WoW does. They just charge you by the month.

[INSERT FURIOUS RANT HERE]

via Game Politics | via Not funny… ever

15
Oct
08

EA CEO: Until you guys stop pirating, you’re gonna have to deal with DRM

I don’t want to beat this point to death. But, as long as game industry executives continue to give me evidence to support my previous claim, I’m going to report on it.

The following is excerpted from Yahoo! Media & Money’s coverage of EA CEO John Riccitiello’s while at the Dow Jones/Nielsen Media and Money Conference.

On DRM: In September, EA lifted some of the DRM protections on its popular release Spore after players began posting complaints on Amazon (NasdaqGS: AMZNNews) and other sites. Riccitiello said he felt the controversy was blown out of proportion, but he does acknowledge the inconvenience to users that DRM creates. “We’re still working out the kinks. We implemented a form of DRM and it’s something that 99.8 percent of users wouldn’t notice. But for the other .2 percent, it became an issue and a number of them launched a cabal online to protest against it.  I personally don’t like DRM. It interrupts the user experience. We would like to get around that. But there is this problem called piracy out there.”

Translation: “If you guys would just stop pirating software and stealing money from us, we wouldn’t have to use DRM. It’s all your fault we have to resort to this.” It’s almost like the “we only hit ya ’cause we love ya,” defense.

Once again, we have the industry rationalizing its use of stringent DRM that hurts ONLY legitimate consumers by pointing the finger at the ever-present threat of piracy. I’d love to see some solid numbers on how much money EA lost due to piracy, explicitly because people who were stoked about Spore refused to subject themselves to its overbearing DRM. To boot, you tell us that only a small number of people were upset at all. Which doesn’t do much to explain the Amazon rating of the game…

It’s been said before, and far more eloquently, but go f-ck yourself EA.

Yahoo! Finance | via Kotaku

11
Oct
08

Pirates? Wrecking my preferred platform? It’s less likely than you’d think.

To pull a phrase from my preferred Presidential candidate: “Let’s just be clear,” if the PC gaming industry is in trouble, and I’m not convinced that it is, it’s not the fault of pirates. Game publishers are just using that tack to justify treating their customers like common criminals.

There’s been a lot in the industry news lately about the pirating of software. In the spirit of the RIAA, Activision has taken to suing individuals for owning pirated copies of Call of Duty 3. In most cases the individuals pleaded guilty and settled with Activision. How did all those lawsuits work out for the Recording Industry? I’m pretty sure it didn’t strike fear into the hearts of pirates everywhere, though Activision is reportedly bullying those they’ve sued into settling.

Then we’ve got this little gem regarding from Ubisoft Shanghai director Michael de Plater regarding the delayed release of the PC version of Tom Clancy’s EndWar -

“To be honest, if PC wasn’t pirated to hell and back, there’d probably be a PC version coming out the same day as the other two,” he said, talking of the voice-controlled RTS.

“But at the moment, if you release the PC version, essentially what you’re doing is letting people have a free version that they rip off instead of a purchased version. Piracy’s basically killing PC.”

He’s essentially saying that if they released the PC version on the same day as the other platforms, potential customers would just download the pirated PC version instead of buying the console version. That’s right, not only is piracy killing the PC platform, it’s depriving publishers of console sales. So, de Plater is saying that PC gamers are all a bunch of pirates who will always choose to steal the game instead of legitimately purchasing a copy, even for their console, given the choice.

First of all, I call shenanigans. I think Game Politics hit the nail on the head -

So, PC piracy is affecting sales of console editions in a significant way? Does that even make sense?

Did game consumers throw down $300-600 for Xbox 360s and PS3s in order to play bootlegged versions on their PCs?

I have no statistics to back up this claim, but I think I’m part of the minority of gamers that has both a current-generation console (the Wii doesn’t count) and a powerful “gaming” PC in their home.

When I make the decision about my preferred platform for any given title, it mostly boils down to genre, and to whether I have the extra $10 to give to Microsoft for an X360 game. For the most part, I play first-person shooters and strategy games on PC, and pretty much everything else on X360 (third person action, platforming, turn-based RPGs, Sports, etc). In my opinion the respective control schemes, mouse and keyboard versus gamepad, and respective screen size, 21-inch monitor versus 40-inch television, are the deciding factors. It’s NOT about whether I can pirate the game or not.

The Spore DRM fiasco is the manifestation of this line of thinking – that PC gamers will download any given game for free if they can. So we’re all treated like pirates and theives. As consumers we are expected to put up with limits on the number of times we can install the game, needing to have an internet connection to register and play the game, faulty registration servers, etc. Meanwhile, the pirates are laughing at all the poor saps who wanted to support the industry, because they’ve already cracked the DRM and have been playing for weeks.

We’re still waiting for the gaming industry to provide reliable and accurate figures on how much money they’re losing to PC piracy, since they’re using it to justify their waning support for the platform and their treatment of its proponents.

Here’s the kicker, though. This past week the story broke that Fallout 3, which is going to be a serious Game of the Year contender, is already available for download on the torrent sites – for X360.

Also see Stardock President Brad Wardell’s blog post on this subject.

10
Sep
08

The holiday game-storm

It’s September folks, and you know what that means! Unless you have a ton of disposable income, you’re going to have to start picking and choosing which new games you’re going to pick up on release day!

I mourn the long summer months when the big releases dry up. But at least when the odd game is released, either because it’s been pushed back from the previous Christmas season, or a publisher wants to capitalize on the lack of competition, you can generally afford to pick it up right away.

But now comes the deluge. The anticipated releases of this calendar year will increase from a trickle to a flood over the next two months, and I’m already getting anxious about the decisions I’m going to have to make. I’m banking on games that are going to give me a lot of playtime and replay value to get more bang for my buck, e.g., Fallout 3. But then titles like Gears of War 2 leave me salivating. I guess renting is an option for some of these, but good luck finding a Blockbuster that’ll have these titles in at all during the first six months after their release. Besides, a number of them are PC games. What is a poor gamer to do?

My wish-list follows, in order of release date.

  • Civilization IV: Colonization – Sept. 22 – PC
  • Silent Hill: Homecoming – Sept. 30 – X360
  • Sonic Chronicles – Sept. 30 – DS
  • Fracture – Oct. 7 – X360
  • Dead Space – Oct. 14 – X360
  • Fable II – Oct. 21 – X360
  • Far Cry 2 – Oct. 21 – X360
  • Fallout 3 – Oct. 28 – PC
  • Gears of War 2 – Nov. 7 – X360
  • Call of Duty: World At War – Nov. 11 – PC
  • Left 4 Dead – Nov. 20 – PC
  • The Last Remnant – Nov. 20 – X360
  • Chrono Trigger DS – Nov. 25 – DS

The games in bold I’ll almost definitely pick up; all others are pending critical response and available funds.

What are you guys stoked about this Christmas season?




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