Tag Archive: review


This week, two and a half years after it was released, I finally completed the final entry in the Final Fantasy XIII saga. Lightning Returned into my heart and gave me  more than a satisfying conclusion to the giant cliffhanger we were left on in XIII-2. Outside of the ending, though, I can’t really say I  really loved this game experience.

(What a tease this commercial is. She doesn’t have her OG XIII outfit in this game)

 

Lightning Returns picks up 500 years after XIII-2 where Lightning went into an eternal crystal slumber. Lightning is woken up by the God of Light previously mentioned but never seen, Bhunivelze.He charges Lightning with collecting the souls of everyone left alive on Pulse within 13 days before the world ends – and that’s where my problems with LR begin. The plot and writing are pretty bare-bones and so is the world you inhabit. In order to collect souls you need to “make people happy” which equates to doing fetch quests. Tons, and tons and tons of fetch quests. If forced to add all of them up I’d guessimate there were Infinite Fetch Quests. You talk to bland NPCs, in one  of the game’s FOUR locations, or you talk to a woman in a sexy chocobo costume and read quests off a literal quest board, and you fulfill the requirements to collect a soul and gain stats.  Outside of four or five major quests that involve characters from previous games and give large portions of plot that move events forward to Lightning figuring out her true powers and who the real enemy is, all the other quests give a few sentences of lore about the world. The bit of data the NPC gives that details the apocalypse or the people left is usually repeated somewhere in the datalog or by Hope, making it even more worthless. Most of what they had to say was so interesting I spammed X to move on to next quest.

That may seem harsh but the game itself conditioned me to rush through certain parts. The 13 day time limit Bhunivelze gave Light? It’s a real-time limit! Each ‘day’ in the game lasts one hour in real time. You are given a skill, Chronostasis, that stops time for a few minutes but that skill has limited uses. When not stopped, time will progress during dialog, when you run around so painfully slowly on the map and when you travel via train between the 4 locations in the game. I always felt rushed and pressured to be as  precise with my time as possible. It’s not like the world was so beautiful I wanted to wander around and look at it but I still didn’t like being pressured by an every growing checklist of quests or constant annoying reminders from Hope on how much time I had left.

The pacing problems of the game don’t just stop with the time management and slow running. By the last few days enemies are so powerful that I, having done almost all the fetch quests in the game, had a seriously tough time fighting them. by the Final Day every enemy has all their stats multiplied by up to 300%. Upon my first death I found the root of  the issue. In place of the enemy mob on the map was a floating crystal hourglass which, upon inspection, told me if the enemies of the area were too hard I could give up my quest and start a New Game+ right there. I’d carry over my stats, equipment and abilities but would need to do over every fetch quests I had already completed. The fetch quests would you the stat bonuses AGAIN so the grind was as endless as the quests!

What a terrifying idea! Redoing my 28ish hours of gameplay just to beat the last dungeon? Instead of balancing the enemies in some respectable way or giving Lightning some way to power up her skills that isn’t based on random drops the devs really thought “just do it all over” was a better idea? No thanks. You also get the option to start NG+ if you don’t complete those Big Story Missions in each of the four areas before the end of the world – but the game never tells you to go out and explore those areas first. I was trying to complete ALL the quests in the first town when suddenly I ran into mobs that one hit KO’d me and I was told by an IRL friend to travel to a new town.

Finally for the positive things about the game. By now if you follow video game news even a little bit you’ve seen the trailers, read the articles about her stint as a REAL LIFE model or at the very least you’ve seen THAT DRESS, so you know the major mechanic that drives gameplay in Lightning Returns is Playing Dress Up! Aside from the fact that I avoided most dresspheres that had Light only in a pair of panties and a bra, this was legitimately one of the best parts of the game. I think most fans of modern RPGs really enjoy customization of how their character looks and this game gives it to you. You can change the color of individual pieces of  an outfit, and you can add accessories to make your own look. I wish you could equip more than one accessory, like a hat AND glasses. Alas :(. There are dozens of dresspheres in the game and each has between zero and 2 abilities innately equipped. Defensive ones might have Mediguard or Steelguard, another might have Fira and Thundara and so on, with many combinations and color swaps. Later they start coming with abilities that passively boost something, like adding Quick Stagger or giving her +10% HP.

Those buffs help you in the other good part of the game: Murdering All the Things. LR places Lightning in the spotlight like never before. Your party has been reduced from three main members in the first game, to 2 + a pet to Lightning alone (for the most part). Instead of switching between 6 paradigms with multiple roles set in them (Tri-Disaster with 3 magic using attackers, Combat Clinic with attacking and healing) you switch between only 3 dressheres and each of those only have 4 skills that are mapped to the face buttons.  I felt it really reduced the amount of strategy you could achieve in previous games but the addition of a blended action RPG feel (free movement and evasion skills) felt good. One light nitpick here is you don’t gain skills from leveling up but from new dresspheres and enemy drops. Because of that I didn’t have and debuffing skills for long time. None of the enemies I fought dropped them until I had already fought several major bosses that I really could’ve used them for.

In the end, the original FFXIII is still my favorite out of the series but it was so very satisfying to take it to the conclusion. The MMO-like progression with the ton of trivial fetch quests were not engaging, the limited time rushes you to an under leveled conclusion because the game wants you to do a NG+ as early as possible. The dresspheres are a treat and the battles are fun (until the end of game when they are a chore). The CGI scenes are definitely where the money went and they spent ALOT; They’re gorgeous. Most importantly Hope Estheim, the best character in any Final Fantasy, really lives up to the meaning of his name. If you haven’t played it yet, go play dress up.

Drew Droege once saved my life.

Many moons ago, before I became the stable and established man I am now, I was working a temp job at an office that was being shut down by its parent company. I was there for 4 months or so and I spent 7 of my 8 hours a day there packing boxes. Emptying 6 ft tall filing cabinets that were screwed to a pulley system so that approximately a million of them could fit into one room. Packing human resource files, tax returns, extra shoes left at a desk and knick knacks. I did that alone, in rooms painted the color of corn starch for hours. I had reached a point of insanity where my only option became to launch myself head first down the elevator shaft of the 50 story building. Then Drew Droege saved my life.

I found his treasured and  far too short-lived podcast Glitter in the Garbage and those days suddenly became bearable while listening to Drew and his 2-4 guests per episode improv skits “live” on air. His guest list pulled from such talented comedians as June Diane Raphael, Phil Lamar, Sam Pancake, Bryan Safi, Beth Crosby and so many more. The improv was always fun and funny. But secretly my favorite part of each episode were the openers where Drew told a story from his life. Whether it was a snippet from his high school days about his manic teacher, an anecdote from his first paid job as an actor at a summer camp or some gossip about an annoying baby from earlier that afternoon  these short informal bits were so enthralling. They were only a few minutes long but these peeks into his brain always interested me the most; they gave me something to connect to as oppose to just laugh at.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns felt like the opening story of each episode of Glitter in the Garbage stitched into one coherent thought and it was a beautiful one. Drew’s one-man show that he so graciously shared with us east-coasters at the Ars Nova space this past week, showcased Drew as Gerry, meeting some old friends and one new one, the night before they were to attend a wedding. Drew bounces around the stage, living out his side of a hilarious, alcohol and coke-fueled conversation. The laughs come pouring out of the crowd as Drew lambastes the fakeness of people too afraid to be real, inexperience of youth , too dumb to know their gay history and  he tan pants suits of suburbia as it tries to reel in and tone-down bright gayness of he and his friends.

Like his GitG intros, a line of truth runs through all the humor. In the first half Gerry laments the upcoming marriage of his two friends as a sort of death. They’re going from shit-kicking, glue-gunning, Fire Islanding, GAY men to some humdrum boring married couple. In the next half we learn that Gerry’s emotions stem from the fear of uncertainty and of being alone while his friends partner up. The setting of this show might be different but this is a conversation I’ve had with many a queer friend. “Why be normal? We’re losing our sense of self! We’re becoming like THEM!” all comments I’ve heard but without the humor or personal insight drew displays in this show.

This show was a great treat.  I hope to see him live again soon.

Drew Droege

distant_worlds_logo Last week on April the 24th, I embarked on a journey to celebrate the music of Final Fantasy. I traveled from my hometown, battling giant bugs and goblins, boarded a Mystery Train where I gained more party members, my bros Matt and Rachel. Together we took on the slightly cliché but always necessary JRPG Ghost Ship as we took a ferry to the far off continent of Massochiechie.  We battled the usual mobs like Angry Old Men Why Won’t Let Us Get On The Boat and Seasickness.Finally we reached our destination, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We bolstered our ranks with more party members, Jon and Courtney, and let ourselves feel the Real Emotions of the concert.

I was excited as a Final Fantasy fanboi could be to be able to attend this concert. The concert hall was packed, maxing out the capacity of three mezzanines. The sound of styluses tapping  3DSs filled the air until the conductor, Arnie Roth, took the stage and a hush fell over the crowd. The night took off like a golden Chocobo right out of the gate as the performers played FFVII’s Bombing Mission and bits of the games’ opening sequence were projected into a large screen as accompaniment. A crowd-pleaser for sure. Soon FFVI’s Character Medley shined some light on each of the characters by playing a small piece for their themes.Balab Garden: Ami calmly reminded me of my of my pre-teen crush on the chicken-wuss and just how cool FFVII was before disc three.  Closing out the first half with as big a bang as the opening the orchestra hit us with a one-two combo of J-E-N-O-V-A and one of 200 bird-centered ditties, Swing de Chocobo. The montage of sassy chocobo tail swinging, flapping around the world map and jumping out of afros on Gran Pulse was incredibly adorable and matched the hilarious up beat music.

Let me take a second here to just air something out. I’ve only had one Encounter  with any other video game concerts before, the Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses back in February. I can’t say I have much experience with them. But I have plenty of experience with other concerts and with being a human being so I can say with authority that the conductor, Arnie Roth, is kind of a douche.

He oozed this sleazy air of false platitude and condescension, like he was a used car salesman who thought his car was too good for you. He named dropped working with Uematsu as many times as he could and humblebragged about “working directly with SqaureEnix every day!” But he just seemed like another otaku. He also seemed like someone’s dad who had just looked at all the trending Final Fantasy hashtags and wanted to let us know how hip he was: “I would love to play some FF15 music IF IT WOULD EVER COME OUT, AMIRITE?”  “Final Fantasy IV, aka the game with the MOST characters in ANY GAME EVER IN THE WORLD, LOL”

But most revoltingly, he was a total ass! First off he stops playing FF5’s Main Theme four seconds in, turns to the audience with the biggest shit-eating-grin and says “Let’s start that over. And this time the [guy on the drums] will try to come in on time.” Then when the song starts over he stabs at the drummer with angriest gesture for him to begin. Later he chastises the pianist is if she were a child when she starts to play the notes she knows he’s going to ask for because she knows the goddamn game he is going to play with the audience because they’ve done this show before and rehearsed it. “NO, Listen to me then play”

Yes, messing up is not something the performers should be doing when the show is live but yelling at them like dogs should definitely never ever happen. Sounds like The Extreme but you gotta believe me unless Maybe, I’m a Lion…(I’m not)

After intermission they brought FFIX to the forefront with a very touching and beautifully performed Roses of May, theme of Garnet Queen of Alexandria. I was introduced to FFXIV with an operatic theme and footage of MMO players battling huge Eidolens  I was hit with sucker punch as they played The Theme Love from FFIV. I remember rolling my eyes as I played the game with the spoony bard, the love triangle between Totally Not Gay Cecil, Kain and Rosa, and the annoying twins who got stoned. But when I heard that theme I felt my heart swell. FFIV was one of the few Final Fantasies on the SNES or younger that I played to completion and LIKED! Apparently its deeper in my heart than I remembered.

FFX’s To Zanarkand brought a hush over the entire building. Everyone felt the burden of the Summoner as the scenes of  Yuna Sending all those who died in Kilika  when Sin attacked. The tone shifted towards a triumphant rise as a Battle Medley and series theme medley rounded out the night….or it did until Roth came back out for his ONE AND ONLY encore, One Winged-Angel (where the aforementioned pianist yelling occurred).I was honestly hoping for Eyes of Me or Liberli Fatali or anything from FFXIII-2 but the rest of the audience went wild for it. Everyone loves Sephiroth…I guess.

The songs hit all the special places in my garment grid. When I hear those songs from my computer I am transported back to that particular game’s most memorable moments. experiencing them from a live orchestra took that nostalgia to another level and even made me think about some of these games I’ve known for years in brand new ways. But from the technical issues (the  percussion in Man with the Machine Gun was almost the only thing audible) and the attitude of Mr Conductor, and the length of the performance! (Symphony of the Goddess cost the same amount and was twice as long, didn’t have any flubs and the conductor was amazing and gave four encoures!!) I probably won’t be going to another of these Distant Worlds any time soon.

The Zelda Univserse is a pretty convoluted one, with canonical time travel, reincarnations and parallel dimensions all existing and connecting each of the games into one story. Even so, a direct sequel revisiting the same kingdom from an older game isn’t thing that happens frequently. The Phantom Hour Glass and Spirit Tracks were all sequels to, and took place in the same instance of Hyrule as Wind Waker. Similarly to that trio of games, A Link Between Worlds brings us to the familiar world of A Link to the Past, and has us confront a new danger in a new time.  The characters are chibi and have puffy cheeks, the map is overhead and the woods are to the north of the castle and town like the first game. But pretty much everything else in the game is different and I think I that’s why this is the first Zelda game I’ve enjoyed playing since Minish Cap.

 

If I were friends with The Legend of Zelda on Facebook we wouldn’t even be in a “Complicated” relationship. I would probably unsubscribe from seeing all its post and block it from seeing most of my pictures. I just haven’t really liked most of the games in the series. The gibberish squawking that characters make when you speak to them  in “voiced” games drives me nuts; the writing takes itself far too seriously during most important story segments and I often lose interest in the long dungeons and puzzles.  I don’t have the nostalgic love for the Hero in the Green Tunic that could keep me interested in the lackluster gameplay and repetitive dungeons. When I tried to play A Link to the Past as a youth I gave up pretty quickly.

Luckily for me ALBW changed up the formula in a way that really brought out the fun for me. The game ditches the traditional “did you find this item in this dungeon? Well you’re going to need it to complete this dungeon” model of exploration for  a more open ended “Rent (or buy) whatever weapon you want whenever you can afford it and go where you please” system. Of course there are hints telling you what item you’ll need to take on which dungeon, but it feels really nice to blast enemies in the earlier part of the game with ice rods and giant bombs. There is a ton more Rupee to be found in this game as well so grinding through one dungeon can typically get you enough to buy one weapon out right, which lets you keep it even after death. The dungeons are, for the most part, very short and I was able  to complete 2-3 per sitting. A major positive this version of Zelda had over the others were the inclusion of the Hint Ghosts. Essentially, by paying Play Coins, players can get hints from nerdy looking ghosts that populate the dungeons and overworld. The hints range from useless tidbits like “There’s an entrance around here” to very specific clues like “Use the arrow when it’s eyes are glowing.” It really helps in those moments where you could spend ANOTHER 14 minutes trying to figure out a puzzle by retracing your steps and using all your items and hitting your sword against all the walls, or just talk to a ghost and move on.

Along with those changes to the series’  systems, the addition that sets this game apart from the others is the use the Merge mechanic. A bit less than halfway through the  game an Evil Clown (no, not that one) tries to destroy Link by trapping him in  a 2D painting. Thanks to the power PLOT Link not only survives the magic assault but gains the ability to walk along all walls as a 2D painting for a limited time. Most of the game’s puzzles revolve around, finding a point to become a painting to get to another location. This is not just reduced to something as obvious as using a wall to cross a path when the floor has been destroyed. There are plenty of smart puzzles involving moving platforms and perfectly timed wall merges.

 

ALBW_paint

I think the painting art is secretly my favorite thing about the game

 

 

Other Zelda titles I’ve liked were Link’s  Awakening, Oracle of Seasons and Minish Cap. I played Phantom Hour Glass up to defeating the last dungeon and going back to the MAIN one but soon became completely disinterested in the game that just wouldn’t end and wouldn’t stop with the filler material (I’d even gotten used to the silly stylus-only movements). I completed  A Link Between Worlds in about 3 weeks of casual play. With the exception of the Desert Fortress/Dungeon I always felt a sense of progression, of accomplishment. Whereas is the past with Zelda games I begin feeling like I’m climbing up a steep hill very quickly. The open-ended structure and constant positive feed back of being able to complete dungeons and dispatch of enemies how I see fit was such a rush.

 

A Link to the Past is a pretty good answer when guessing the favorite childhood game game of a 26 – 34 year old video game enthusiast (Battletoads x Double Dragon 4 Life) but this sequel is my favorite game, so far, set in that version of Hyrule.

 

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

Last week a hot tip in the Twitter-verse alerted me to the fact that the Lightning Returns demo had leaked via the 360 Marketplace. However MS swept up that mistake before I could paradigm shit into Combat Clinic. I was pretty crestfallen for the next few days, being so close to My Savior and then having her yanked away from me. My desire only grew stronger.

Cut to yesterday, January 21st and the twit-o-sphere taunts me again of LR news but something it new. This time the tweets are from more than one source and have pics of what look like in game locales in them. “SHE REALLY IS RETURNING” I said to no one in particular. And started the download on my 360.

The first thing I see after booting up the game is the greatest and most annoying enemy any RPG maker has ever designed: The “Click Any Button To Continue” screen. The screen that has haunted me since XIII’s initial release. A useless screen that is followed by another 13 unnecessary button clicks to get from  starting the software to loading your save file. Somehow I overcame this foe.

The demo starts right in the middle of the action, jumping into a scene already in motion between Lightning, who is corresponding with Hope via bluetooth, and Snow, who has become the king of an S&M leather fetish club. The visuals are pretty sharp and impressive. Where XIII-2 improved over XIII but used a lot of  blurring and smokey effects, LR has a lot of sharp dynamic lighting.  During the RPG-level witty banter between Light and Snow I get into my first fight.

Battles allow for free movement but Lightning seems to only *walk*  back and forth, never run, so she doesn’t feel as free as the cutscenes make her out to be. She does charge down at the enemy when you press a physical attacking button. 2 tutorials later and I had learned about Staggering an enemy, a familiar concept to XIII vets, and using items to heal since Light is no longer healed between fights.

I was then allowed to change around the Schema (Dresspheres, equipment and abilities) and man oh man talk about jumping into the deep end. Not only can you change  what attacks Light could perform with each dressphere, you could change the armor and weapons for each, steal skills from one Schema to the next or unequip Schemas entirely. The menu is just as dense and bland as XIII-2 Crystarium and Monster ability pages so I was just overwhelmed with percentages and numbers and scrolling text and gray. So much gray. Eight minutes of fiddling later and I had equipped the Dragoon Schema, give the Red Mage’s Deprotect skill to the Heartstealer and give all my magic The Savior for a boss battle I knew was coming from trailers I’d seen months ago.

Just as I expected a Ruby Dragon-looking monster showed up as the next enemy and promised to be a tough one. The game suggested I take her down with magic so I spammed Thunder and Blizzaga as The Savoir and switched the Red Mage to use Deprotect and Ruin. Once she was close to Staggering I moved to Dragoon, popped an enFrost potion and went to town on her. Took the boss down in under 2 minutes and got my  5 star rating! I felt pretty pumped.

Next I kept following the cursor on the map, moved Light down 2 hallways….and the demo ended. Just like that. In front of a door with unseen enemy troops stalking me, the game just stops. I get a nice screen telling me to pre-order the game to get the FF7’s Cloud’s armor (while supplies last!) and then it’s back to the main menu.Image

(Completionists will want to link their facebooks or twitter to the demo and post the pic of their boss kill time to unlock a free Dressphere in the full game. Instructions on how to do this here SquarePortal)

As a mark for seeing how the visuals have advanced this was  great trailer for LR:FFXIII but as a demo..this sucked. Only 2 enemy types to be found in the area, both of which barely attack or put up a challenge. Simply attacking with magic 3x will kill the Fuzzballs and the Cat Demon Things can be Staggered before they attack twice. And before I could blink it was over. I literally spent more time in the menu trying to understand my choices then decide on how to make my Dresspheres do the most for me. This leaves an especially bad taste in my mouth after spending 7 hours in the Bravely Default demo on my 3DS. In that I fought 4 bosses and explored 3 short dungeons.

If I weren’t all ready so goddamned hype for Lightning to Return this demo would not have don’t much for me.

Lightning finally Returns to NA on Feb 11th and EU Feb 14th

 

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Thanks to the horribly drug that is a Steam Mid-Week Sale I was able to get my hands on Cellar Door Games’ breakout hit, Rogue Legacy about 2 months ago. I was trying my darnedest to hold out until January and buy the game for my underused Playstation Vita but I’ve heard too many positive things about the game and I loves me a sale. This game is definitely worth 4 times what I paid for it.

I’ve seen many web publications describe Rogue Legacy as a ‘Rogue-like,’ but since I never heard of the game Rogue those comparisons fell on deaf ears. A more console-gamer-friendly label for this game is a Medtroidvania. It has the familiar look and playstyle of the classics of the NES and Genesis, you run from room to room in a 2D view inside a castle filled zombies, skeletons, spike traps, flying eyeballs while finding powers and power ups.

The first twist comes in that instead of saving at statues of angels or a in a pod, you go as far as you can in the dungeon and when you die that character is gone forever. After the game over screen you choose from a small pool of possible heirs that your last character somehow had time to spawn before entering the castle. The children are cobbled by a random selection of available classes, spells and traits and so  choosing between them is as strategic as timing jumps over traps. Will you choose an Arch Mage who can cycle through multiple spells, but is near-sighted? Or the dwarf Hokage with massive attack but who has vertigo which flips the entire screen on its X-axis? Maybe you’ll get lucky and you’ll get a Barbarian Queen with a huge HP pool who has Peripheral Arterial Disease – which makes floor spikes completely ineffective.

Each time you enter the castle it will be with a practically new character which it fitting since the castle will also be different each time. The mechanic that gives the game it’s Roguish namesake is a completely randomized dungeon that changes the layout of traps, rooms, bosses, enemy types, chests and everything else whenever you enter with a new heir.  The gold you collect before your next death is carried on by the son or daughter you choose and you can buy stat power ups, new classes, armor and runes as you see fit. But whatever you don’t spend is paid as a toll to reenter the castle for another round of fun. The true goal of this game is staying alive long enough to get enough gold to buy the things you want.

 

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“Well how the heck am I supposed to beat the game if everything resets when I die?” You might ask. And the answer is, however you want. The game gives you the tools to decide how you will play. You can find just enough to unlock a class and set of armor you like and then memorize the enemy attack patterns and trap speeds ala a Megaman game, and just rush to the nearest boss, or you can grind it out, amassing huge stock piles of gold and becoming powerful enough to stomp on every weak enemy. Or something in between.

What makes this game such a success is that you always WANT to go back in to the castle. The controls are simple, the visuals are  simple but  clean and and the gameplay is addicting. Oh! You were only 56 coins away from getting that new helmet you wanted that lets you gain health with every kill!  Guess you better go back and start all over but this time, not use an air dash when there are Ice Wizards around.

 

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What I most love about the game is the customization of in-game aspects and a similar freedom with how you literally approach the game.  Of the two dozen or so possible traits I quickly found my tactical favorites like P.A.D and dwarfism getting around easier, Hypergonadism for perma-roid strength that lets me knock back pesky enemies,  O.C.D. which restores MP when you do what comes naturally and destroy chairs and candle sticks in the rooms. I also found some just for fun faves, like Nostalgia which gives everything a sepia coloring, like a flashback scene in a cartoon – or the Gay trait which has no gameplay effect at all!

I’m able to play the game how I want and just grind away, collecting stats and items for 30 minutes to and hour at a time, before choosing to actually attempt to progress in the story.  I’ve seen other players choose to become better  at mechanic level and avoid enemy attacks and plow through the game at lower levels. My style would’ve been even  more suited to the PSV’s portability but I do not regret getting the PC version and may even buy it again if the Vita version has some bonuses.

This is definitely a must buy for lovers of Metroidvanias, Rogue-likes, Megamen or any 2D platformers, who don’t mind (or  maybe even love) a bit of grinding. It’s charming, fun and very addicting.

My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something and/or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be really new when so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway. It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I want to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

 

 

About 24 hours ago I sat through the ending and some of the credits of Bioshock Infinite. I exhaled deeply and let the anger and anxiety from the final onslaught of almost endless enemies that was the mini-horde mode of a last battle escape me. I let the total mind-fuck of an ending wash over me as I strained to understand it. After I came to my own conclusion on what the ending might mean I asked myself a question I don’t normally have to get to the end of a game to know the answer to:

“Did I like that game?”

Image (pic source: Irrational Games)

As a preface, I feel I need to admit a few things. First, I never completed the first Bioshock. It was one of the first games I bought for my 360 a few years ago, but I was expecting a completely different experience. I thought I was in for an action shoot ‘em up with magic powers, not an FPS/ survival horror hybrid.  Second, before getting Infinite, I had no real intention of playing it. The years of hype and previews did nothing for me. It wasn’t until all the glittering reviews of the game came in that I began to feel interest. Even then, I managed to stay spoiler-free the entire time.

Now that I’ve said that, after hours of meditation, the answer I came to for myself was no, I didn’t enjoy this game. Bioshock Infinite eventually develops a great story and has a wonderful but severely underused protagonist in Elizabeth, but both these aspects were muddled and hidden by the BIOSHOCK branding covering everything else.

Pretty much all of the reviews I read and watched, including all sources from Joystiq to Destructoid to personal Youtube channels, all championed the story of Infinite. Many said it was the greatest story of the generation, already awarding it game of the year accolades. However, just as unanimously none of these reviewers really exulted the gameplay. In fact many people straight out said they dreaded walking into an area when a battle would likely happen (very clearly telegraphed with chest-high walls, sky rails and ammo crates) because of how uncomfortable the controls were. Or how they gritted their teeth and bared it just to make it to the next segment of the story.

My feelings towards the gameplay are a little more severe: I hated every aspect of the gameplay that I was in control of. The fighting was a little sloppy and derivative, but everything else from the exploration to story development was sabotaged by the controls. Infinite begins looking like a deep story about a city-state literally falling into destruction before our eyes, and then the actual and much more compelling plot about the complex relationship between the player character Booker, the trapped Elizabeth, the mad despot Comstock and two time traveling siblings comes to light. But most of the story is hidden away of Voxophones (aka audio diaries). Why? Because that’s how it was done in the other Bioshocks. In the older games that idea fit into the world because almost everyone is a frenzied murder or possessed by a parasitic creature so there isn’t a lot of chance to interact with other people. But Infinite is filled with NPCs who talk and gossip and sing and are available to give. This is completely insulting to the best aspect of the game.  This decision affected me directly because I missed about half of the diaries and missed HUGE pieces of the plot specifically about the Lutece siblings

The world and gameplay never seem to connect. The floating city of Columbia exists above and succeeded from America after the American Indian Wars. The Christian, Anglo-Saxon majority oppresses and segregates the small population of black people, called Vox, and the Irish who aren’t brought up in the story much. You find yourself in the middle of a revolution…but still in a video game. One early plot point has the player trying to collect guns for the revolution because guns are how you win a war, right? But in the very city that these live in there are vending machines that dispense soda that can give you super powers. There is nothing special about Booker. He uses coins he finds in the garbage to buy Vigors and with a bit of planning, is able to murder hundreds of faceless soldiers with lightning and fire, or demonic crows and he can repel bullets. Why didn’t the Vox just steal some of these? Or buy some of those since they do live and work in areas where Vigors are sold? Or even mention them?

Another gameplay feature I feel took away from the story was the fact that game was in first-person POV. An integral part of gameplay is that Elizabeth will point out important objects, horrific sights or destinations as she travels with you. However, she is also pretty much always behind you and off screen when she does this. There were many moments when Elizabeth would call my attention to something while I was about 10ft ahead of her, I would turn and her AI programming would tell her to run to catch up to me and I would have no idea what she was pointing out. If I was lucky I could walk back and she would repeat her statement, but 80% of the time she would just interact with a different part of the stage and I would never see what she first thing she pointed out. This problem could easily have been addressed with a Gears of War style “Press X to look at the important thing” feature. The idea is actually used a few times to show the player an really huge image like a castle, but not used enough when there’s so often multiple things happening.

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My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something, or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be terribly noticeable (so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway). It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I wanted to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but  I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

This past Wednesday, the 27th, the Museum of Modern Art opened a new addition to its gallaries named Talk To Me, in which the various ways humans communicate with the devices we use in our everyday life are broken down and reassembled. The men and women over at Kill Screen Magazine (a gaming mag that I’ve really only heard while listening to some Brainy Gamer Podcasts) got the chance to cohost the opening night of the exhibit and did so by throwing a party in the MoMA that I attended with a friend. Thanks to the folks at Joystiq I knew there would be games available for playing throughout the museum. I also expected a bit of, ya know, information sharing to go with the games from the developers or producers.  I was unpleasently surprised by the actuality of the event.

 

The first sight to greet you, after picking up your sweet wristband and complimentary tote bag, is a projection of the game Limbo on to a wall and a guest playing it. Studded throughout the main and second floors were areas where you could get in line to play bit of an indie game. In front of the gaming corners were place cards that explained what the game was and when  was released and other such minor details. There were 2 desks where you could pick up your complimentary wine or crappy local beer. I frequented these places often. And aside from the over-dressed people attending there really wasn’t much else from the gamer hosts. The most interesting spots were the ‘Button’ and ‘Reach for the Heavens’ game locations, each of which were games that you had to play with your entire body. Button was a Simon Says sort of affair with instructions on a screen and a huge button at the feet of the players. The instructions ranged from “Hold your button down fore 11 seconds” to “Touch something orange in the room.” It was definitely fun to observe and take part in this wacky take on the party game genre. Reach for the Heavens was a grid-based Red Light/Green Light that was set in the garden area of the museum.

 

Everything else was kind of just, “Stand here and play this until you get bored or someone on line yells at you.” No dialog at all was initiated between the hosts and the guests unless they were explaining how to play the two games I mentioned above. The Talk to Me exhibit itself was interesting and at times great, but the part that interest me the most fell short. I mean, I’m the first person to defend games as an art form and a medium used for telling stories and making money like any other, but I wanted to do more than just LOOK at some games. I can do that just fine in my living room