Friday, 26 October 2012

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Might Actually Be... Good!? Now With Bonus MGS4 Hate!

After finally getting to see some lengthy, high-quality gameplay clips of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I have to say that I’m very much looking forward to it. The fact that I’m fairly excited for it all of a sudden feels strange and a little bit wrong. My favourite MGS game is the 2nd, mainly due to its incredibly powerful post-modern storytelling, I’m a huge fan of 1 and 3 due to their masterful character development, tense stealth gameplay and willingness to innovate in almost every way and I dislike much of 4 for removing all of these qualities in the name of pandering to the whining, mindless dipshits that make up 99% of the Metal Gear fanbase. Judging from what I’ve seen of Revengeance, it seems to embrace everything I disliked about MGS4 while turning it up to 4000, so why do I seem to like it so much?

I’m guessing that part of my willingness to accept this game stems from the fact that it’s a spin-off, and it seems to be doing exactly what a spin-off should do: Using familiar characters and tropes with new settings and gameplay styles. The dropping of the word “Solid” from the title suggests that it is not supposed to be seen as part of the main series; the Acid games made a similar omission when experimenting with a vastly different style of gameplay. To me, as soon as a title is branded as a “spin-off,” any and all expectations associated with previous entries in the series, outside of a few characters or settings or themes, should be forgotten and the game should be allowed to stand on its own merits.

The fact that Revengeance is a spin-off means that it will have a story almost completely unrelated to the main series. One of the things I hated most about MGS4’s plot was how it so brazenly retconned much of the series past, MGS2 in particular. Giving answers to questions that were designed specifically to not be answered, tying up loose ends that never needed to be addressed and generally taking all of the vast, wonderful intrigue of MGS2 and shitting on it in the name of ridiculous fanservice. MGS4 had the same effect as Bioshock 2; it wasn’t just a bad story in itself, it also made previous games worse by association. So the fact that all of this will be avoided by not connecting the story of Revengeance to the main plot will allow it to be as ridiculous and over the top as it likes without potentially damaging the previous entries in the series. As much as it still feels wrong that Raiden was transformed into a totally badass ninja in MGS4, I’ve pretty much gotten over it and feel that we might as well have him do something cool, now he’s here. I’m apparently one of about 7 people who understood his true purpose of representing the player in MGS2 and everyone else just unironically hates him so it was probably for the best that he’s become a bit cooler anyway. I mean, it’s not like Kojima has all that much integrity left, nowadays. MGS4 was made specifically to passive-aggressively insult his fans, anything after that has to be better, and having the playable character as a ninja is a good first step to achieving that. Which brings me to my next point…

Every gamer has a list of ideas that they would love to see, or would make themselves should they ever become a game developer. Mine features such obvious choices as a GTA-style sandbox featuring pirates and a Dragonball Z game that feels as frantic and involving as the anime, and the 2 at the top of my list are a fast-paced stealth game and a game that genuinely makes you feel like a badass ninja, both of which Revengeance looks set to achieve.

There’s been much outcry from the MGS fan base, or The Cunt Collective as I like to call them, over the fact that the game is “all-action.” Now, aside from the fact that even a Gears of War-style action game with Kirby elements would be fine in a spin-off, the gameplay I’ve seen seems to suggest that stealth is a viable option, allowing the player to either sneak up on guards and slit their throats or rush in for a big sword-fighting fuckfest. In fact, it puts me in mind of the recently released and fucking awesome Dishonored, a title that most reviewers are lavishing perfect scores on like it’s a bacon sandwich that uses more bacon instead of bread. If Revengeance could take this choice-laden style and speed it up a bit, I think we could all agree that it’d make a pretty excellent game.

I like ninja games. They just don’t like me very much. Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi have both kicked my arse so hard it felt like I’d spent a weekend with Jimmy Saville as a child. I’m a big fan of Tenchu and it definitely nailed the stealth aspect of being a ninja but the combat aspect was somewhat lacking, to put it nicely. My point is that there isn’t really a ninja game that makes you truly feel like a badass ninja in both stealth and combat. The aforementioned Dishonored does a fantastic job of making you feel like a badass assassin. The first Metal Gear Solid truly made you feel like a badass secret agent. It seems like such an easy thing to do with ninjas and yet no-one has done it, but the tidbits of Revengeance I’ve seen so far seem set to change that. This part is more speculative than any other; it just looks cool, at this point. It could be like one of those shirts that looks amazing on the hanger but seems designed to prominently showcase your man-breasts when you put it on but I’m nothing if not an optimist!

The simplest reason why I’m looking forward to Revengeance is because, although it looks very different, it also looks fun. Remember that? Remember when games were about just enjoying yourself instead of abusing strangers online for their poor skills or differing opinions? The fact that the game doesn’t look exactly the same as the old ones shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a new one; an idea that seems particularly ludicrous given the critical praise for MGS4, a game that made a conscious effort to step away from the gameplay style of the older MGS games. I have very little problem with change if it results in a good product, Resident Evil 4 is my go-to example of a game that benefited hugely from a complete overhaul. The problem with MGS4 is that the changes were almost universally to the detriment of the experience. I mean, who truly enjoys the shadowing section in Act 3? Or seeing the once vibrant and atmospheric Shadow Moses reduced to a depressing shambles in Act 4? People might tolerate them in the name of convincing themselves the game is perfect as I admittedly one did but they are Just. Not. Fun! Yeah, they were included ironically to insult the fans but ironic awfulness is still awful. The shift in tone in Revengeance looks set to create a fast-paced, thrilling experience, which I’m all for. Different Bad.

An important point to note is the fact that Revengeance seems almost entirely designed to be mindless fun. Just look at the choice of developer: Platinum Games, a company perhaps most famous for creating Bayonetta, a game with all the depth of a fucking teaspoon. Think about it: That was a conscious choice. The message of MGS2 seems all too fitting here; people seem hesitant to question anything. In the same way we should question Raiden’s design in MGS2 or the focus on weaponry in MGS3 or the neutral conflict in MGS4, it’s worth looking at the reasons behind this choice instead of assuming that game design just happens by accident. The fact that Kojima chose a developer focused on creating soulless action titles suggests that he’s abandoned all of his attempts to create something meaningful and is now just making empty action-filled games. My biggest hope for this title is that people realise that it is a mindless action game and treat it as such. MGS4 didn’t contain any messages or themes that weren’t about Kojima’s depression or his hatred of Metal Gear Solid fans and yet people still attempt to analyse it as a serious piece of art in a hilarious and cringeworthy display of ignorance. Hopefully, the choice of developer and game design decision should inform people that Revengeance is a shallow piece of entertainment that is solely meant to be enjoyed as mindless fun. And maybe birds will fly out of my arse and feed me burgers.

Of course, this could be all for nothing. I’m just going off of trailers and tidbits here. Who knows what the full game will be like? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Kojima used pre-release hype to deceive his fans; Revengeance could turn out to be another sprawling post-modern masterpiece. Speaking as an ardent fan of Kojima, though, I would say that his days of innovation and subversion are, sadly, pretty much over, with any spark of intellectualism beaten out of him by rabid fanboys baying for action, and that Revengeance looks set to be a simple, mindless ninja game. Maybe that’ll be enough. Maybe it will be awesome.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Demos: Torchlight II and Resident Evil 6

Due to the fact that I’ve been out socialising with hot chicks, drinking enough Jim Beam to scare away Billie Joe Armstrong and generally having a debauched, hedonistic time recently, I’ve become a little bit more of a casual gamer. Not in the COD and FIFA way, fuck no, I haven’t been drinking THAT much! I did, however, manage to play a couple of demos recently: Torchlight II and Resident Evil 6. I’m approaching these games from 2 vastly different perspectives. One is a sequel to a series I’ve loved since I was 9 and the other is a recommendation from a friend that I had very little prior knowledge of. One is an action horror game, a genre I’m incredibly familiar with, and the other is a point and click RPG, a genre I’ve never touched because, well, read the first sentence. And most importantly, one is very good and the other is, well…

Let’s start on a positive note then, Torchlight II! My only real knowledge of this title is from reading arguments on the Internet over whether it’s better than Diablo III so I was a little hesitant to play a game with a fanbase consisting almost exclusively of what seemed to be immature wankers but if I was going to give either of them a chance it was going to be the one that wasn’t made by Blizzard. I tend to start most games with some prior knowledge of the series or the developer so it was nice to go in with a completely clean slate for once and give the demo a chance to shine on its own merits and it performs its job admirably, installing quickly and, despite the obligatory intro cinematic announcing some kind of threat to humanity you’ll need to stamp out eventually, dumping you right into the action almost immediately.

The best thing I can say about this game is that it has a level of self-awareness rarely seen in videogames, in that it knows exactly where its strengths, and the strengths of the genre, lie and plays to them almost religiously, these being combat and exploration. The combat is extremely simple, you click on a thing you want to die and it does. At first it seemed overly simplistic but it’s really no less complex than any game that uses auto-aim or lock-on features. Admittedly things can get a bit clusterfucky at times but that’s just an occupational hazard of real-time RPG combat. Much of the game’s strategy seems to come from your use of equipment and items, as most of the fights seemed to descend into tanking damage and hammering the right mouse button until the bad men stopped touching me but then again, I did play on Normal difficulty so maybe I’ll need to put a bit more thought into my playing style should I purchase the full game and play it on a more manly setting. One feature that I really like is that you get to choose a pet at the start of the game, as I tend to like having some friendly AI around in RPGs until they open their fucking mouths so having a partner that’s both useful and quiet is a total godsend. Your pet also represents a wonderful example of “dynamic difficulty” in that you can choose how useful they are; you can make them aggressive if you fancy breezing through a certain section and passive and lovely if you’ve got something to prove.

I've never liked point-and-click games because traditionally they’re incredibly slow and clunky but once again Torchlight seems to tackle my preconceptions almost exactly by making movement fast and fluid; I’ve heard this game described as a “dungeon crawler” and while there certainly are dungeons I was zipping around them all so fast it felt like I was wearing a fucking jetpack! The decision to shun both linearity and any focus on story was indeed an inspired one; many games of this nature are so worried you’re going to miss out on their epic, emotional and almost universally stolen from Tolkien stories that they might as well mark your mission objectives with great neon signs shaped like testicles while simultaneously tempting you with a vast open world that you’ll never get to explore. Torchlight knows that its story is most likely going to be God awful and that we’d all rather be pissing about in a game like this and damn well leaves us to it, giving us only a small insignificant mark on the map to guide your way. It’s like it’s saying, “Yes, you could collect 5 vials of badger sperm from Cockend Forest for Drongo the Elder but that group of mangled orcs over there are giving some pretty damn dirty looks!” Trust me, the fact that I, a normally story driven “gamer,” enjoyed a section in which I spent half an hour on completely the wrong side of the map bashing armoured wolves in the face with what looked like a cross between a staff and a shotgun is a big shiny point in Torchlight’s favour.

There are a couple of other minor things I liked about this game. The interface, for one. I’ve always been put off playing World of Warcraft by the fact that the HUD looks like a tax return with sick on it so I appreciate a game that can keep things accessible and intuitive, and a system that a complete novice of the genre can figure out in 5 minutes with minimal tuition is definitely doing something right. I also love the fact that I have the option to play single player; it’s nice that a game doesn’t look down on me for wanting to go at my own pace and having a mortal fear of friendship and contact with strangers, for once. Torchlight also hits that rare sweet spot where it works both as a casual and hardcore game; I can imagine both getting in a quest or 2 while waiting for the housemates to shower and spending 8 hours perpetually grinding in search of that sonorous God voice telling me I’m now “more skilled” than I was before, and I can’t say that of too many games.

In conclusion, Torchlight II’s demo is a fine example of how to do a demo right: A good chunk of gameplay demonstrating mechanics and style in a positive light. I imagine I’ll be purchasing it as soon as my pathetically low bank balance improves.



I've not been looking forward to this. I’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil series over the past few years. RE4 was an incredible game in every way, bringing innovation and a wealth of new ideas to a series that desperately needed them and yet its success has been something of a double-edged sword. Capcom didn’t seem to realise that the main reason people liked that game is not because it had more focus on action and violence in particular but because it had new ideas, and instead took away the message that people wanted the series to become generic and samey and, well, like RE5, a vapid game which shoehorned in every generic trope of AAA gaming that was mildly fun at the time but currently has all the lasting appeal of Carly Rae Jepsen. Well, Capcom have taken that message to its absolute extreme in Resident Evil 6.

The game itself is split into 3 campaigns. Let’s get any positive thoughts out of the way first: I kinda liked Leon’s section. The atmosphere is reminiscent of RE2 and Nemesis but with a slightly more modern vibe. The return of zombies is particularly welcome; their behaviour is similar to that of the Ganados: more functional than Romero-zombies but without the ability to use heavy firepower, which is pretty much the perfect compromise. Combat is standard over the shoulder fare but the newly introduced ability to use melee attacks without stunning enemies first is extremely welcome. People might say that it’s too actiony, mostly because of the abundance of admittedly fucking cool wrestling moves mixed in, but to me the decision between going all guns blazing to stay safe or get up close and throw some fists to save ammo takes me right back to situations in the Spencer Mansion where I had to choose between using precious handgun clips to fend off the hordes or becoming a knife wielding Jill Sandwich. The ability to map all of your health items to a single button is also a great addition. See, I have no problem with innovation if it benefits the gameplay. Making things more convenient is fine if it fits in well; the idea that horror gaming HAS to have poor controls is outdated and ridiculous. I mean, if you can’t be scary without sabotaging your own game then you’re probably not a great game designer. Older survival horror titles had poor controls not to purposefully prohibit the player but because that’s literally all the developers could manage. If anything as sophisticated as modern over the shoulder 3rd person shooting was viable in 1996 then “tank controls” would still evoke the image of a giant phallic gearstick and nothing else.

That’s not to say I don’t have problems with it. Mandatory combat is hardly fitting of the Resident Evil series, even 5 gave you the option to run away most of the time. The quicktime event in which you fumble for keys is just lame; QTEs were fun in the last 2 games because you were fighting huge monsters or engaged in close-quarters knife battles, not doing menial tasks like we’re Ethan fucking Mars. Also, whoever thought it was a good idea to make it so that zombies only pop up after you’ve walked past them deserves to spend an eternity in Hell. But really, these are all just niggling little complaints and I did ultimately enjoy this section and would be happy to play through a whole game of this. So far, so good!

These next sections may be a little shorter, as the 3 modes share a lot of mechanical features. Next we get to play as Jake, a new character who is apparently Wesker’s son, a fact I guessed from his immeasurable levels of both palpable evil and raging camp. I’m glad he’s involved in this one though; I’ve always wanted to play as a version of Wesker that looks more like an emaciated Wentworth Miller. He’s accompanied by Sherry Birkin and I’m extremely glad that they’ve allowed me to retain some of my memories of old school RE by keeping her as an innocent little girl instead of gluing bowling balls to her chest and cranking up the jiggle physics.  Not a lot to say here, the most effective description I can give of this section is that it really really reminded me of the blisteringly average Operation Raccoon City. I did worry when I played that game that the next ‘proper’ installment might go in that direction and as I fired a variety of heavy weaponry at armed human enemies from the cover of chest high walls I realised that my pessimism had been confirmed, as usual. It’s functional but extremely bland. If that’s your thing then knock yourself out!

Soon enough though, Operation Raccoon City starts to look like a wonderful distant memory. As glorious patriotic trumpets wail and Chris Redfield tries his absolute hardest to pull a heartfelt, inspirational speech out of his finely toned ass, we’re treated to absolutely the most generic, plain, COD and Gears of War wannabe garbage I’ve ever had to misfortune to play. This is the absolute nadir of modern gaming; if this doesn’t bring about another Great Video Game Crash then nothing will. I’m sorry this isn’t very funny or interesting but I really can’t express enough hatred for this section. The other sections and ORC and RE5 had at least some semblance of similarity to earlier games, or at least a sense that the improvements were a natural progression for the series. This just feels like a bare faced rip off of vastly superior titles in the hopes of attracting similar sales. Say what you like about Call of Duty and Gears of War but people like them and buy each instalment religiously because, at some point in time, they did something original and fresh that made people take notice and built upon it, something that Resident Evil managed at one point.

I mean, how many average gamers could name another 90’s survival horror game besides Resident Evil or Silent Hill? No-one, because all of the games that copied them were forgotten for simply that reason, they were copies. It’s almost as if Capcom has lost faith in itself, saying that real horror wouldn't be popular while Slender is a massive Internet phenomenon because yay for logic, but after 2 creative renaissances in RE1 and RE4, giving up on innovation and following the herd is fucking pitiful. Sorry to get all “inspirational Facebook quotes” on you but the innovators are remembered, those who just copy what’s popular at the time without adding anything new and daring are forgotten, and rightfully so. I’ve heard a lot of people say “Don’t be resistant to change, man!” when defending this section but I’m genuinely not; I’m personally fine with change that benefits the product. I loved RE4’s innovation because it was just that, innovation! Chris’s section adds literally nothing to anything except my growing desire to self-harm and drink myself to death. People are praising the fact that the game has “something for everyone” but I’m sure most people would prefer to see a game do one thing well than to see it half-arse everything, I can play Gears of War for great cover based shooting and don’t need every other game to have a slightly worse version of it, as well. If every game does everything then what’s the point of a videogame industry? Why not just lump Capcom, Konami, EA, Ubisoft and Activision into one big company, have them make “Videogame: The Videogame” once a year and get it over with?

Of course there’s always the argument that it’s just a demo and I should still give the full game a chance. No, just no. Literally the only point of a demo is that it’s supposed to give a good overview of the game and ultimately to convince you to make a purchase; the first half of this article should be proof enough that an IP that’s completely brand new to me can convince me to give up cold hard hooker money on the strength of its demo alone, so if a new entry in a series I’ve loved since childhood was any good then it’d simply be a formality before I threw my money at Capcom’s big stupid evil face. When your game is even failing to overcome the usually toxic power of pure nostalgia then it’s probably just not very good.

I almost certainly won’t be purchasing this at launch but I kind of want to play Leon’s segment so maybe I’ll wait until it’s like a tenner pre-owned in CEX or a close friend has killed himself half way through one of Chris’s speeches and acquire it then, especially as each segment is apparently almost as long as RE5 was. Other than that I won’t be holding my breath.

Sunday, 23 September 2012


This “review” will be spoilerific. Thought I’d put that here because no matter how old something is, there’s always that one guy who throws a “DUDE, SPOILERS!” tantrum so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bioshock is one of those games that everyone who’s ever stood near an XBox at some point seems to know, love and idolise so given that I’m a cynical bastard by nature and tend to distrust the opinion of the majority after the Transformers movies, Mrs Browns Boys and Coldplay all became popular, I avoided Bioshock like a particularly rashy Asian hooker. But lo and behold, sometimes the unwashed sweary masses can be somewhat right, it’s actually pretty good!

You play as the faceless, voiceless and sexily named Jack in his journey through the underwater city of Rapture. We’re guided on our epic quest by Atlas, a man we should all know right from the start will turn out to be evil, just goes to show how much a cute little Irish accent will do to make you trust someone. I’m honestly not sure whether making it incredibly obvious that Atlas is the villain from the start is a comment on the blindly-following-orders nature of modern gamer or whether they didn’t hide it very well and just made a predictable game but still, you have to follow his orders to progress. One of the more impressive aspects of the game is the city itself. The sheer amount of detail that obviously went into accurately capturing a 50’s/60’s vibe, in architecture, decoration, in-game advertising and soundtrack, is laudable to say the least. It’s one of those cities that feels much larger than it actually is, proving that sheer solid game design will always trump the sandbox method of just copy and pasting miles and miles of anonymous cities and countryside.

I’ve heard that the gameplay is basically ripped wholesale from Fallout and System Shock games but I haven’t played or even seen very much of these games so I’ll be treating Bioshock as a separate entity. The basic combat is somewhat standard, you start with a useless melee weapon and gradually acquire the usual collection of handgun, shotgun, and machine gun and yeah yeah we’ve all been here before! Of course it’s technically sound but what isn’t, these days? A feature that does separate Bioshock from other generic shooters is the use of what are known as Plasmids. These are basically little balls of magic you can shoot out of your hands, for some reason, and give you the ability to do everything from shoot fire, lightning and bees at your enemies to hypnotising them or turning security cameras on them. Granted, they do lose their effectiveness as the game progresses and gunplay becomes more prominent but they’re still fun and somewhat useful. The game continues its pretensions to having RPG elements with the use of Tonics, power ups you collect through the game, and like many RPG power-ups they offer minimal noticeable aid, I played through the entire thing paying little to no attention to them and I did fine, maybe they’re more helpful on higher difficulties, who knows?

There are also 2 forms of currency, regular money, used to buy ammo and health items and such, and ADAM, a supposedly rare substance collected by murdering massive fuckers in sea suits knows as “Big Daddies” and killing/saving, depending on the ending you want, the adorable children they protect that’s used to purchase further upgrades and tonics. This is another aspect of the game that I didn’t bother with too much. The game bombards you with messages telling you how important ADAM is that you’ll basically die in shame without it but I did fine on the bare minimum. I suspect this has more to do with the game’s discussion of Capitalism than gameplay necessity, especially as the hassle of killing the Big Daddies vastly outweighs the positives that ADAM offers. Notice I used the word “hassle” there and not “challenge.” Nothing in this game is challenging due to the fact that life restoring “Vita Chambers” are placed every 5 feet and are completely free to use, reducing every encounter with a tough enemy to running into the room, firing a few shots, dying and repeating until it’s dead. Admittedly it takes a while to figure out and even to accept that this is the case but once you realise there’s very little reason to fear any of the enemies or to have any sense of caution at all, the game is pretty much broken and any sense of flow or tension goes right out of the window. Which sounds much worse than it is. It’s still fun, just not very hard. Also, the fact that your character is completely without a voice or an appearance or even a name that you don’t have to search the Internet for does wonders for immersion. The lack of speech, thought and reaction on the part of the protagonist has the Half-Life effect of allowing you to project your own personality into the role and makes the story feel like it’s your own; a cliché at this point but very true for Bioshock.

For the most part, the story is pretty solid. Rapture is shown to have been a Utopian society, filled with all of the greatest artists and scientists of the World living in peace and utterly excelling until human nature takes over, as it always does in these cases, when  a couple of guys get greedy and the whole places goes to shit. You’re tasked by “Atlas” to take down one of them, Andrew Ryan, a sort of all powerful businessman who rules over Rapture, and of course Atlas is also a villain and you then have to take him down too. The game deals with Objectivist philosophy; Ryan created Rapture as a place where society’s elite could follow their passions and profit from their work without the “parasites” of regular society interfering, a philosophy that I feel is presented in a somewhat neutral way. I've heard it said that Bioshock represents an attack on Objectivism but that’s not entirely true, I mean, the guy built a fully functioning city at the bottom of the freaking ocean, it must have some benefits. The real message here seems to be that taking any philosophy to extremes will have disastrous consequences, so it comes off as more of a discussion of Objectivism and human nature in general. The negative side of Objectivism is more obvious in the various “artists” you meet throughout the game, an insane plastic surgeon and a man who wants pictures of dead people for his “masterpiece,” for example; showing the ugly side of what can happen when people are allowed to indulge in their… erm, “art” without interference or a good slap in the cock.

This next part is probably going to be more of an analysis than a review. It’s my opinion that the game is entirely too long. Not in an “it’s crap and should be 0 minutes long lulz!” kind of way. I’m saying that the section after Andrew Ryan’s death is completely unnecessary and actually serves to ruin the fantastic game that’s come before it. Sometimes you just need to know when to stop; taking the piss out of someone is funny for a bit but carry it on for too long and they start crying and everyone forgets you were funny at one point and remembers you as a bellend.

Here’s how I would have ended Bioshock: Put the final boss fight after Ryan’s death. You know that feeling of completion and closure you get when you see Liquid collapse at the end of Metal Gear Solid? That’s just what was coming as Ryan died, and I fully expected the boss fight with Fontaine to follow, the fact that it didn’t just felt anti-climactic. It makes sense, I mean, the overall message of the game is literally shouted into your face by Ryan and you feel nice and angry about being betrayed and just plain ready to kick some ass. The moral choice system works here too; Tenenbaum uses you to kill Fontaine and leaves you to die if you’ve been a dick to the Little Sisters and helps you to escape if you’ve been nice to them. The fact that each of the endings work just as well with 3-4 hours of gameplay removed can’t be a good sign.

The section that does take place after the scene with Ryan just feels like padding, as if someone finished the game and thought, “Nah, not long enough.” Which it would have been, it’s roughly double the length of any Modern Warfare game even without the last section. Also, the revelation that you’re under mind control is nothing more than lowest-common-denominator garbage. The player just doing what they’re told because it’s a videogame and you’re supposed to follow the narrator should be enough, and surely it’s much easier to arrange a plane crash than to arrange for a sleeper agent to be created years in advance just in case something bad maybe happens? It certainly ties in with the players struggle against the Objectivist Ryan; I mean, all of his ranting about you being a slave would make a lot more sense if you were acting under your own free will and just following orders because of reasons, and makes very little sense given that you had literally NO choice but to follow orders. I suppose they didn’t think that moron action gamers could pick up on this and had to explain it in a ridiculous literal way, which would make sense if this was Gears of War but the rest of the game is actually a fairly intelligent philosophical discussion so why even bother creating a thoughtful and artistic game if you’re just going to flake out at the last minute and pander to the idiots? I guess padding and slotting in some extra mindless shooting, fetch quests and that pathetic “dress as a Big Daddy” escort mission were more important than crafting a complete story that makes sense.

Actually, the mind control thing creates a few plot holes. For example, “Atlas” gives you the choice to rescue the Little Sisters or harvest them for extra ADAM. Now, surely it’s in his best interests for you to get all of the ADAM you can to help you along your way so why in God’s name wouldn’t he just say, “Would you kindly rip their fucking spleens out?” I mean, he’s already been controlling you enough; this wouldn’t have been a deal breaker. At least if you’re not under mind control, actually being given a choice makes some sort of sense. Also, if Fontaine does have you under some kind of absolute mind control, why not just say, “Would you kindly not get the fucking antidote!?” The game seems to suggest that Fontaine’s control is broken after you realise it’s him and not Atlas so if that’s truly the case then why do we need the antidote? As it stands, there seems to be some kind of remnant of his control that can somehow cause you to die but not follow his orders any more. I don’t know why, it’s basically written off as “a science thing” and ignored while you do another fetch quest. The ability to make any kind of allegiance with Tenenbaum while under Fontaine’s ‘control’ also makes no sense, something else that would have been far more easily explainable if you weren’t under weird genetic mind control.

For that matter, let’s say for example that you’ve spent the entirety of the game treating the Little Sisters in the same way that Dawn French treats chocolate eclairs. Why on Earth would she actively help you to escape, in this case? The fact that she’s using you to kill Fontaine is fine, but why would she just leave you to your escape instead of sending a bunch of Big Daddies round for a mega-drill bukkake? You’ve already been betrayed once, it wouldn’t have been a push to have it happen again, and it would certainly have added some weight to the decision to harvest Little Sisters on your next playthrough, as it stands it’s just “Escape as a good guy” or “Escape as a wanker.” Either way you’re not locked under the sea slowly starving to death.

Don’t try and tell me that the bad ending, which I obviously got, makes any kind of sense. Am I supposed to believe that a society constructed a fully functioning city under the sea but couldn’t create a vehicle capable of sending one man to the surface without leaking its entire population? Maybe it was him blasting his way out that leaked all the Splicers but if that’s the case then the whole city would drown and there can’t be a sequel. I’m not sure exactly how deep Rapture is but I’m sure it’s not deep enough to escape a nuclear blast and still be hospitable in time for the sequel set 8 years later. Unless it is deep enough, in which case I’ll shut my fucking mouth. The good ending makes much more sense but really, if you’re going to do multiple endings AND make a sequel then all of the endings should work and make 100% sense in the context of the sequel. I don’t think there even should have been a sequel, to be honest. Despite all of the plot holes and silliness towards the end there are no loose threads or unanswered questions and nothing to suggest that a sequel was necessary other than publisher greed, all a sequel could possibly do is retcon and spoil the plot of the original and diminish its effect in the name of pointless money-spinning. You also have to question the sense in simply having “good” and “evil” endings. This is probably intended to be a criticism of the extreme nature of Objectivism but most people playing aren’t going to be fucking Objectivists and are far more likely to be a mixture of the two, saving Little Sisters when they can but harvesting them when they desperately need a health upgrade, and reflecting this in maybe one more neutral ending would have been swell.

Lastly, the final boss fight is something of a cruel joke. All through the game, the importance of collecting a wide variety of plasmids and tonics and upgrades is emphasised so a good final boss fight for a game of this nature would be one that allows you to win in a variety of ways. But no, you fight a big fuck off hulk thing in a clusterfucky environment in which all of your plasmids are pretty much useless so if you haven’t stockpiled health kits and grenade rounds as I luckily did then you get to die 50 times and have an uncomfortable conversation with your landlord about why there’s an XBox controller embedded in the living room wall.

So overall, a great game with fantastic gameplay, environments, story and themes ruined by roughly 3 hours of the videogame equivalent of a cat shitting in your face. Also, Ayn Rand. 

Sonic Adventure

If there’s one important lesson that the Dreamcast taught the games industry, it’s that any console is only as good as its games. All of the advanced graphics and ahead-of-its-time online play means absolutely nothing if the console gets most of its use as a really expensive ornament, a lesson I wish Sony and Nintendo would hurry up and learn before releasing any more handhelds, and the fact that the Dreamcast had roughly 6 games makes its failure seem reasonable in hindsight. However, it did leave us a few wonderful games to remember it by, one of which is Sonic Adventure.

I’m sure if you even have a vague idea of what Sonic’s about then the plot shouldn’t be too tough to take a stab at the plot. The main storyline follows Sonic and Tails quest to stop Dr Eggman from taking over the World, this time by collecting the plot convenient Chaos Emeralds to give magical powers to his wobbly spunk monster. Subplots involve Knuckles’s attempt to reassemble the Master Emerald, Amy running away from a robot, another robot named E-102 shooting things and a bizarre man-child-cat thing named Big fishing for his best friend. It’s hardly expert storytelling but the occasional crossing of the characters paths makes the events feel natural and adds a sense of reality to the story. There’s also some surprisingly deep character development; yeah, Sonic is a catchphrase-spouting macho douchebag who’s somehow still loveable but E-102’s struggle to accept his purpose in life or Tail’s struggle to be independent are just a little more thoughtful than you’d expect from what is essentially a kids game. Just don’t expect the same amount of complexity from the overall plot; it wouldn’t be a Sonic game without the good guys triumphing now, would it?

The one word I would use to sum up the gameplay in this title would probably be “varied.” Each of the 6 playable characters has similar control schemes and level styles but with vastly different gameplay styles, an impressive feat on its own, ranging from Sonic’s usual high-speed shenanigans to treasure hunting as Knuckles to a bizarre fishing mini-game as Big. The fact that you have to play as Sonic first to unlock each of the characters in his Story mode undercuts the “choice” aspect somewhat; if you just can’t wait to do a spot of fishing in an amusement park but haven’t unlocked Big yet then you get to either do some more running or risk being taken away by men in white coats at Alton Towers. Even within the levels there’s a huge variety of mini-games, from kart racing to snowboarding to pinball, it never once feels like the game is running out of ideas or stagnating. One mini-game that I’m not so fond of is the Chao Garden. It’s universally lauded as one of the best aspects of this game but I just can’t see the appeal, but if you’re really itching to engage in a little Tamagotchi lite involving little puddles with faces then you’re in luck!

It’s worth noting that this was the first Sonic game to make the transition from 2D to 3D. It’s often pointed to as the point at which the series started to go downhill but for me it’s the point at which it started being playable, mostly due to my absolute loathing of side-scrolling. Besides, blaming the fact that Sonic Unleashed sucks dick on the fact that it’s in 3D is like blaming Germany’s poor weather for Hitler’s less than tolerant behaviour. My continued love of the game is perhaps due to the fact that it mainly takes place in a very small set of areas; I’ve always said that the most memorable videogame settings are those that the players gets to know and love intimately; there’s a reason that everyone loves the Spencer Mansion but couldn’t tell you where any of Resident Evil 5 took place, and the Adventure Fields fulfil this role nicely. Although the technical restrictions of the time meant that nothing quite as vibrant as Liberty City was yet possible, the inclusion of cars and NPCs you can interact with give the areas a feeling of life and energy. I could and probably have spent hours just wondering around the place enjoying the atmosphere, a feeling sadly lacking from the sequel with its focus on universe-trotting adventures, and putting the gateways to the actual levels within these areas makes things feel far more natural than just carrying you from area to area in cutscenes. It could easily be said that the gameplay is buggy and the controls are fiddly and that’s certainly true but it’s endearing in a Skyrim kind of way, like a cat that constantly throws up on itself or the cast of TOWIE.

This is another point that may go without saying for a Sonic title but the music is particularly worthy of massive praise. The decision to switch from playful childlike 8-Bit music to Jun Senoue’s full-on rock music was indeed a wise choice, fitting extremely well with Sonic and Knuckle’s badass personas in particular. The tracks for each area just seem to fit perfectly, from beautiful melodic rock guitar work in the first beach level to the heavy industrial metal onboard the Egg Carrier to somber African style music in the jungle, I really can’t think of a bad track. The vocal tracks featured also have the great honour of single-handedly giving me my first taste of genuine rock music, featuring as they do what I now consider to be my All-Star Tag Team of Underrated Rock Vocal Gods: Johnny Gioeli, Ted Poley and Tony Harnell. I listened to “Open Your Heart” and “It Doesn’t Matter” more times than anyone can possibly imagine, perhaps they even changed my life forever. It’s telling as the quality of these musicians and songs, Senoue and Gioeli in particular, that even people who didn’t like the gameplay of this title and future worse Sonic titles always squeeze in a sneaky, “The music is fucking awesome, though!” when describing them.

It’s been a little shorter than many of my other reviews but it’s quite a simple game: A set of minimalistic stories holding together a ton of fun. Getting hold of a Dreamcast version would be more hassle than it’s worth but it’s out on XBLA and PSN as far as I know so what are you waiting for?

Sleeping Dogs

If anyone needs proof of the on-going power of traditional advertising in today’s society then the fact that I bought Sleeping Dogs on release should do the trick. I didn’t buy this because it’s a sequel to a series that I buy every sequel of out of habit, in the same way you order a coffee whenever you’re in Starbucks even if you consciously know you don’t want one, and I certainly didn’t buy it because the developers released a few pictures of vehicles and gave extensive bullshit packed interviews about how “expansive” and “engaging” their game would be without showing us any of the fucking content. No, a brand new IP released some cool trailers and adverts that gave me a massive raging hard-on for the game and I couldn’t throw my money at the poor acne-afflicted Game employee fast enough. Little lesson there for the games industry, there: Instead of complaining about piracy, maybe, y’know, make your games look appealing and people might buy them, maybe.

Part of the reason for my sexual arousal over this game is the fact that it’s a sandbox game set in Asia, namely Hong Kong; something I’ve been hoping, nay praying for, for quite some time. You play as Wei Shen, a hardened undercover cop sent to join a Triad gang with the hopes of taking it down from the inside, following the “How to be like GTA: 101” structure of doing odd jobs for increasingly powerful members of your gang, inexplicably gaining their trust almost immediately and somehow causing all of them to value you over their lifelong friends and gradually increasing your rank within the organisation, with your wealth and quality of housing increasing in proportion to your position within the gang. The game’s story elements are similarly generic, consisting of power struggles within the gang, battles with other gangs over protection rackets, drugs, everything you’d expect. The fact that you play as an undercover police officer is somewhat refreshing, the clash between Wei’s duties as an officer and his growing attachment to his gang members offering a new twist on the “kill and steal until I’m the most powerful” formula so prevalent in the Grand Theft Autos and Saints Rows of the world.

The city of Hong Kong presented in Sleeping Dogs is worthy of some praise. Although it’s not as expansive as Liberty City in GTA4, for example, the city still feels enormous, the high rise buildings and complex road system and heavy traffic giving the player the impression that the city is perhaps much larger than it really is. Plus, with the reduced size comes an increased focus on detail, even the smallest of back alleys and pathways look like they’ve been given close attention and the detail in pedestrian and traffic behaviour for example gives the feeling, vital to a sandbox game more than any other, that the city is alive and real. Sure, you’ll never see anything as convincing as a giant and a dragon fighting each other in Skyrim but it doesn’t really need anything so obvious, Sleeping Dogs has slightly more subtle ways to make the city come alive. The night market right at the start of the game is a perfect example, people are walking around and talking to each other and trading and the feeling that this city would carry on fine without you shines through strongly. I’ve noted before that impressive graphics are kind of expected these days so I won’t make too much of a point about them but they did stand out to me more in Sleeping Dogs than any other title I’ve played recently. The water effects are particularly stunning; if you can find me a more wondrous sight than weaving through traffic on a Hong Kong motorway during a torrential downpour then I’d love to see it, although it’d have to be Yoshiki playing a drum solo with an orchestra on Godzilla’s face while it smashes through a Coldplay concert to impress me any more than the water effects in Sleeping Dogs.

I didn’t go into this game expecting much originality in terms of mission structure and the game obliged my pessimism handsomely. Most of the missions consist of fetch quests, giving people lifts, engaging in melee combat and gunfights, little puzzles and chase sequences ripped wholesale from the Yakuza games. They’re generally very unchallenging and there’s a little more busywork than I’m comfortable with in a game like this, picking up girlfriends from shopping trips and taking guests to karaoke doesn’t do much to satisfy the whole “gangster fantasy” the game builds up with its more exciting missions. Many of the missions also don’t make use of the expansive city the game takes place in. I’d have thought the first thing to do when you’ve created an awesome city would be incorporate it into missions as often as possible but far too often the missions take place in buildings and enclosed areas and the city itself is relegated to a commuting zone. There was certainly potential to make use of the city; one particularly memorable motorway car chase was absolutely exhilarating and I would have loved to have seen the city itself used more often to create a similar experience.

Melee combat has always been somewhat clunky and difficult in sandbox games and this is a problem that Sleeping Dogs tackles admirably. The combat system lies somewhere between Yakuza and the Batman Arkham games, one button to attack, one to counter and one to grapple. It’s very possible to win every fight using just these most basic of attacks but there’s a vast array of combos and special moves on offer as upgrades, as well as occasional weapons and environmental attacks more suited to The Punisher than a fun little action game. These fights are great examples of what’s known as “dynamic difficulty;” in that you can make these sections as hard or as easy as you like: You can take every enemy one-on-one with bare knuckles if you’re one of those house brick eating “hardcore gamers” or just throw them all onto meat hooks if you’ve got somewhere else to be. Shooting sections are far less common than in equivalent games set in America, seeing as how Hong Kong is a slightly more sensible place that doesn’t serve assault rifles with their Big Mac and fries, but when they do show up they’re entirely generic cover based “we’ve all been here before far too often” deals. It would have been refreshing to see a big budget action game without shooting sections; the melee combat is probably strong enough the carry the combat requirements alone, but I guess action games just don’t sell these days if they don’t meet the gun porn quota.

The driving sections are similarly mediocre. The controls are functional but somewhat clunky, which isn’t a problem during the commuting sections, due to the simple fact that the city is fun to travel around, but during the many mandatory chase sections and races they can become a tad irritating. This problem is less prevalent during chases on large open roads than it is during races along smaller and narrower streets, during which it’s entirely possible to lead for 90% of the race and then have one crash, made impossible to recover from by the fact that it takes about 4 hours to do a 3 point turn due to the awkward control scheme, cost you the race. That said, as long as you don’t mind replaying a couple of the races a few times it shouldn’t be a big problem, for most people. The missions also feature several stealth and puzzles sections that I feel were severely underutilised in this game. For the most part, the stealth sections suffer from the COD problem of being impossible to fail but one towards the end, during which you must sneak out of a popstar’s apartment after bugging all of her equipment, just leaves you to it and it’s actually fairly tense for a couple of minutes, more of that would have been nice. The puzzles are, for the most part, just a matter of waggling an analog stick around but the number puzzle was actually kind of challenging and fun at first, until they repeated the same one over and over. Maybe include a couple more in the sequel, guys?

One normally vital aspect of sandbox games that Sleeping Dogs falters on harder than any of my recent attempts to get laid is in its sidequests. Good sidequests should be both fun and worthwhile. The fun aspect is woefully missing from singing karaoke, white-knighting women and doing infinite drug busts and the only reward is money and ‘face,’ the only privilege of which is apparent respect and being able to wear nicer clothes. This leads to the bizarre situation in which you can be Supreme King of the City but if you haven’t pulled enough insurance scams for minor acquaintances then you’re not allowed to wear a fucking blazer without being laughed at by pedestrians, which tends to somewhat undermine the feeling of omnipotence that progressing through a sandbox crime game is fundamentally built on. In fact there’s very little to spend your money on at all. You can buy clothes that you can’t wear and cars, which is a bit like selling pens with pictures of semi-naked women on them in a Newcastle nightclub. The lack of motivation of actually do the sidequests, coupled with the somewhat pedestrian story, leaves the game with very little replay value, the exact opposite of what sidequests are supposed to achieve.

Ever since having my life changed for the better by GTA Vice City’s immense collection of 80’s gems, one of the most important aspects of any sandbox game to me personally is the soundtrack. This is another area in which Sleeping Dogs falls somewhat flat, with a metal station consisting of a bland inconsistent selection of tracks, 2 good Opeth tunes and that Trivium song that was on Saints Row that everyone was sick of 3 years ago, a Kerrang! station that might as well be renamed “Hipster’s Paradise” and a classic rock station with awesome Queen and Thin Lizzy tracks and very little else worthy of note. This may have been a budget issue, and as much as the lack of great music disappoints me if you can’t understand a game designer’s choice to put all of their funds into developing a good game instead of wasting them on music then stop playing games and buy an iPod.

My usual tendency when dealing with wholly unoriginal games is to crucify them, see that overlong hate letter I wrote to Modern Warfare 3, but what Sleeping Dogs lacks in innovation it makes up for in sheer fun. Just don’t expect much in terms of replay value; it’s the kind of thing to blast through in one sitting during a long weekend or a summer spent entirely indoors. If that’s the kind of thing you’re after then you’ll very much enjoy Sleeping Dogs, as I did.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

I should point out to begin with that I won’t be going into detail with the plot or gameplay of any of these games, if anything I’m assuming you’ve played at least 2 of them already if you’re the kind of person who can read and doesn’t fuck small rodents. This is more of a review of these versions of the 3 games; I’ll be attempting to answer the question: “Is it worth spending valuable heroin money on this package?”

Metal Gear Solid 2 stands as one of my favourite games ever, with fantastic gameplay and a masterful, multi-layered Post-Modern storyline, so it goes without saying that if you haven’t played it then you absolutely should and this collection is as good a reason as any. But how does it compare to the original? Well, in graphical terms, to my eyes anyway, very little has changed. I imagine if you put the PS2 version next to this one you’d maybe see a clearer picture but the difference is not massively appreciable on its own. You could say that this stands as a testament to the sheer graphical quality of the original; it was untouchable back in its day, probably one of the PS2’s finest graphical achievements. Even now it still holds up; I’d certainly prefer this graphics-wise to the parade of generic first person shooters with their fifty shades of grey and nothing else colour schemes that infest modern gaming like a swarm of unoriginal insects. I know Metal Gear Solid’s never been Parappa the Rappa style-wise but the sunset alone should be enough to win over even the most hardcore fans of dirt stained military complexes. With such strong graphical foundations to build upon, there was very little that could be done to improve the experience other than polishing things up a bit, and Konami have done that admirably.

It’s worth noting that the version included with this package is the ironically named Substance, not Sons of Liberty, which is one of the main reasons that this version is worth acquiring. I imagine far fewer people are familiar with this version so it’s worth discussing. The first major addition is a set of VR Missions, ranging from weapons and sneaking to elimination and bomb disposal, in a VR simulator, the Tanker and the Plant. You can play as a variety of Metal Gear characters, a feature presumably added to satiate every variety of Metal Gear fetishist, and the large number and huge variety of these missions make them something of a time sink, but a very fun one, of course. The second is called “Snake Tales,” a set of 5 non-canon short tales starring Snake (doesn’t the name make much more sense, now?) performing various tasks in the Plant. Now, these missions aren’t particularly interesting, gameplay-wise. You’ll be doing the same kind of thing that you always do in Metal Gear Solid, a bit of sneaking, a bit of escorting, a bit of mandatory shooting. More of the same, really. One disappointing aspect of these sections is the fixed difficulty; I’ve played the main story on every difficulty and I’d say the Snake Tales are set somewhere around Hard Mode, which may be too much for more casual fans, especially with the complete lack of radar. The stories are a mixed bag, ranging from shameless rehashes of the Plant storyline to monster hunting, but the lack of voice acting and cutscenes give them a decidedly rushed and low budget feel.

One incredibly disappointing omission from this particular version is the Skateboarding level. Not that anyone spent any great deal of time playing this section but it was a fun, brainless little level that I’m sad to see missing. Plus, that song! In fact, here, listen to it now, I’ll wait:

See, wasn’t that AWESOME!

The REAL reason I was interested in this collection was for this version of Metal Gear Solid 3. Again, it’s the upgraded version, Subsistence in this case, that’s included in the collection, and one of the features I was desperate to play this game with is having a rotatable camera on the right analog stick. Sounds trivial, I know; most 3rd person games rightfully have rotatable cameras by default but it was a glaring omission from the original game. For a game that’s so focused on an almost sandbox-type feel, in which enemies could come from anywhere and you had to be watching every direction to avoid Soviet prostate removal, fixing the camera was a ludicrous design choice. Hell, it even made several of the indoor sections virtually fucking unplayable; making it so Snake was running towards the camera meant that the player couldn’t see the dangers lying ahead, resulting in what The Great One termed as “leap of faith” gameplay. The game is just much more playable and fun with a rotating camera. A* Konami! As well as the updated camera, the graphical improvements feel slightly more prominent in this game for some reason; that may be because I’m finally able to view larger areas in one go or it may be because I wasn’t too fond on the graphical style of the original. Who knows? But yeah, it feels slightly better, now.

The only other additions to this version are the original Metal Gear games for really old consoles. Now, I understand their importance to the series development and as much as the stories of these games fascinate me, anyone who has discussed video games with me before should know how much I absolutely detest “retro gaming” in almost all of its forms. Probably something to do with the fact that my first console was a PS1, which I would consider just outside the realms of retro gaming for maybe another couple of years, and the old-school NES-y feel of these games outright repulses me. But, you know, they’re there. So if that’s your bag you should enjoy being able to play them without shaky emulation, for once. That’s something.
The extras in this version of MGS3 seem to have suffered the most in terms of removal of content. Obviously the online mode is gone; any online game with a core user base of 7 players was never going to inspire recreation, and things like the Boss Survival mode and the cutscene viewer are all gone, not a big deal to me. What is a big deal to me is the removal of the obscenely fun “Snake vs. Monkey” mode. Seriously, hunting monkeys in the jungle, what could be more fun!? I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker though, a mild game changer at worst; being able to play with a controlled camera was always a far bigger deal than the extras with Subsistence anyway, and considering a PS2 copy still costs £20 minimum, picking up this collection to experience MGS3 in its true form is highly recommended.

The final game included in this package is Peace Walker. I’m sorry if this section seems woefully short but I honestly didn’t play much of Peace Walker. The story fascinates me in a similar way to the original retro Metal Gears so I really wanted to get through it but I just found it virtually unplayable. It’s very much a case of little nit-picks accumulating; enemies turn around and trigger alarms the second you get close, rendering CQC useless, the stiff and wooden animations and jerky movement controls, the imprecise aiming, all just adds up to make this a frustrating experience. I’d previously played Portable Ops on PSP and found it about as playable as a Kinect game would be to a man with no arms and legs who doesn’t own a television so I was hoping playing a console port of one of these games would make things easier but exactly the same problems came up. Still, expecting them to completely remake the game is probably a bit much for a package that’s already pretty good value and I guess it was nice of them to port it at all, I guess. I’m sure most MGS fans will enjoy it a lot more than I did.

In summary, I would highly recommend this collection. For the absolute completest, the original versions of Substance and Subsistence are still superior to those found here but for the more sensible and sane among us, the opportunity to play a slightly graphically superior MGS2, the ultimate version of MGS3 and a port that you may or may not enjoy for less than £30 in most good retailers is a deal second only to The Orange Box is terms of sheer value-gaming goodness ratio. It’s nice to see Konami get at least one of their HD Collections right! 

Games as Art and Achievements

The argument of whether or not games should be considered art is as old as gaming itself. There are usually 2 distinct replies. A high and mighty “Games are not art, they’re toys!” from film and literature enthusiasts and a knee jerk “Duh, games are like totally art! Go play Heavy Rain/Braid/Journey etc. They’re like so frickin’ arty!” reaction from ‘gamers.’ And yet, ironically enough, approximately 0% of these conversations actually discuss any of the genuinely artistic qualities within the videogames being discussed. I find far too often that a discussion about whether or not games should be considered art is actually a discussion about the value of videogames as a medium in general.

When Roger Ebert says that videogames can never be considered art, he hasn’t considered the artistic qualities of a wide range of videogames and come to an informed opinion. He simply doesn’t like them, and as such chooses to dismiss and insult them, and their fans, in a way that he knows will hurt them the most. As most ‘gamers’ will blindly defend any perceived attack on their beloved past time in fear of having it invalidated as *gasp* a simple past time, this was obviously particularly effective. 99% of the “games are not art” arguments will come from similarly uninformed people, and as such it’s easy enough to dismiss them as such. So if the question is “Are videogames a valuable medium for entertainment and storytelling?” then I would say yes, obviously. Perhaps even more so than movies or books in many cases, mainly due to the heightened interactivity and immersion that comes with gaming. If the question, however, is “Are videogames genuine pieces of art?” then, in most cases, I would say no.

For most of my time as a videogame enthusiast, I hate the word ‘gamer’ and refuse to use it in a context that isn’t ironic or insulting, I would have followed the trends and simply said that all games are definitely art, pointed to something with pretty graphics and told the person questioning me to perform a sex act on a close relative. It certainly wasn’t Roger Ebert or the people on Fox News shouting their stupid opinions that made me change my mind. It was Hideo Kojima, a world famous game designer, saying that most games are not art that made me question my previously held beliefs. I’d reference the interview but this is a blog and not coursework, but his basic point was that the lack of symbolism, deeper meaning and focus on creating a pleasurable experience that must always reward the player for their actions basically prohibits many games from being considered art, despite being composed of artistic elements. This viewpoint is worthy of consideration because 1. The genuine artistic qualities of games are being discussed instead of their general worth, 2. Genuine reasons are given for his opinions, instead of just saying “THEY’RE NOT ART! LALALALA” and sticking his fingers in his ears like most “games are not art” arguments would consist of and 3. He actually knows something about videogames, which shouldn’t be much to ask in a discussion specifically about videogames but you’d be surprised.

So after considering the viewpoint that most games are not art, I did a quick scour of the Web and put together a very basic and incomprehensive list of features that would qualify a piece of work as art. Seriously, like 5 minutes of work made me realise that 99.9% of videogames are not art. Surely that would have been easier than spending your life arguing on forums, idiot gamers!? Again, if you want references then become a lecturer, start a course on videogames and I’ll put them in when I write essays for you. Actually, do that anyway. Preferably in Coventry. PLEASE?

A very obvious point would be that a piece of art should communicate something to you. It could be a message, an idea, an emotion. Anything that you can take away and apply to your own life or that makes you think differently about something. Now let’s look at the messages that videogames transmit to their audiences. Call of Duty says that killing is cool. Burnout says that driving is cool. Grand Theft Auto says that killing while driving is cool. Not exactly Shakespeare, is it? I know these are hardly the games that people would point to as “art” but I’ve genuinely heard people whose opinions I respect say that ALL games are art, so I just thought I’d get that one out there. I did say that only most games are not art so I must consider some games to be art. Yes, I consider many games to be genuine art, but I’ll mainly be looking at 3, here: Portal, Silent Hill 2 and Metal Gear Solid 2. Now, it could be said that these games are just as superficial as those listed above; Portal makes jumping look cool, SH2 makes fighting monsters cool and MGS2 makes blonde hair and androgyny cool. Well, kind of. You could say that, and admittedly most people do enjoy them in this way, but you’d be somewhat ignorant to do so. A small amount of deeper thinking can reveal Portal’s subtle criticisms on the nature of gaming, MGS2’s commentary on information control and questioning all that we see around us and SH’s discussion on the effects of domestic abuse, bullying and the burden of illness on loved ones. Bit better.

Another characteristic of art is the communication of ideas in a non-literal way, using symbolism and metaphors to get your message across instead of asking your audience to accept everything at face value. Again, this is something that many games struggle with. Kojima pointed to the fact that a horse in Shadow of the Colossus, a game normally pointed to as artistic, is just a horse, it doesn’t represent anything or contain any deeper meaning, and as such cannot be considered an artistic quality. This idea can be applied to many supposedly artistic games. Heavy Rain, for example, is a game that many ‘gamers’ point to as artistic, for some completely unknown reason. In that game, your son is hit by a car. From what I can tell, the car doesn’t represent anything. The event marks a downward spiral of luck in Ethan’s life, yes, but I can’t really see any way to link that to a car. It’s just a car. If some trauma in Ethan or The Origami Killer’s pasts had been linked to a car or it was presented in any significantly meaningful way then maybe it could be considered an artistic scene, but it can’t because it seems to be more of a coincidence than anything, a running theme of Heavy Rain but I’ll leave that for another time. Compare that to Silent Hill 2; for example, towards the start of the game you find a flashlight on a mannequin wearing your wife’s outfit. Later on, when you find that your wife is actually dead, the flashlight goes out. This is a wonderful piece of symbolism suggesting that James’s hope of finding his wife alive is all that is ‘lighting’ his way through the town; the extinguishing of the light representing James’s total loss of hope. See how that’s more effective than just having one of your main characters think, “I’ve lost all hope!” as Heavy Rain does? Metal Gear Solid 2 has a particularly ironic instance of symbolism in the much loathed protagonist Raiden. He is a girly, naïve, Virtual Reality obsessed rookie, longing to be Solid Snake. He’s actually supposed to represent the player, desperate to play as Solid Snake and indulge in mindless killing. Making all of the hate towards him particularly hilarious, as Kojima points to an androgynous man-girl and says “That’s you! See how stupid you look!” It’s like the representation of young people as Shia LeBeouf in the last Indiana Jones movie except much less insulting.

You’d think this would be an easy one but apparently not: A true piece of art should be made specifically to communicate ideas, emotions and messages and not just to make money. And of course, when you look at companies like EA, Ubisoft or Blizzard, it’s hard to imagine that artistic integrity even comes into their Top 100 List of Company Priorities; 1-99 are most likely variations of “Make money” and “Screw over gamers” and 100 might be to make a game at some point. Maybe. If there’s time, I dunno. Of course, there’s no way to measure the artistic integrity of a developer but if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t touch women very often and reads/watches developer interviews then you can get a rough idea. When you read interviews with David Cage in which he rants about people buying his game pre-owned or interviews with Cliffy B in which he genuinely has the nerve to COMPLAIN about 8/10 review scores then I can be sure that their intentions are a little less artistically grounded than those of Team Silent, who discuss character and monster design and the meticulous reasons behind them, or Valve, whose in-game commentaries reveal some shockingly detailed game design.

An interesting point raised by Kojima is the fact that videogames, by their very nature, are forced to reward the player for doing well. This is a problem unique to videogames; when Stephen King sits down to write a novel, at no point does he have to consider: “How can I reward the reader for reading it well and punish them for not reading it properly?” Any videogame that solely focuses on rewarding the player for doing well, without any overarching themes or messages, would be hard-pressed to receive an “ART” stamp from me. I mean, a set of challenges with a simple goal in mind is not art, it’s an obstacle course. Would you argue that an obstacle course is art? This train of thought has led me to disqualify games I’d previously considered to be extremely artistic from being considered as art. Dark Souls, for example, is set in a vast, gorgeous world, full of beautiful architecture and intricate enemy designs, particularly impressive when showcased in the Art Book included with the Limited Edition. However, that same box also contains a Behind the Scenes DVD, on which a developer states that the main aim with Dark Souls is to challenge the player and create a feeling of achievement upon completing the various tasks. That’s all; no mention of themes of humanity or morality, themes which do exist in the game but were ignored in favour of showcasing the game as a glorified set of monkey bars. This is the case with most games, the (vague) handling of important issues and beautiful artwork are certainly artistic qualities, no-one can deny that, but the fact that they are forced to co-exist with decidedly inartistic, and usually gameplay friendly, features somewhat disqualifies them from being considered genuine pieces of art as a whole.

That’s not to say that genuinely artistic games can’t reward the player, but it can’t be the main focus. Some games, however, do actively try to leave their players with a feeling of dissatisfaction, this is something that MGS2, Portal and SH2 do to varying effect and obviousness; you could classify these games as “post-modern art,” art that actively tries to do the opposite of what the player, in this case, would hope for or expect. Raiden’s revelation that his mission was all scripted and that he must continue knowing that he’s essentially serving the “bad guys,” James’s revelation that he killed his own wife, and the revelation that GLaDOS is “still alive” and that all of your actions were part of her plan, a triumph and a huge success, you might say, are examples of the audience’s expectations being subverted. This is distinct from a plot twist in that all of the events previous to the revelation make sense in hindsight, as opposed to a Shyamalan-esque plot twist which makes the rest of the story seem ridiculous after its revelation, as well as being intentionally designed to upset the audience where a plot twist is supposed to be a pleasing surprise. It could be said that the wonder of videogames is that they can be enjoyed on different levels; even in these situations, many players will still feel a sense of satisfaction after they’ve “beaten” the game, whereas those paying more attention will feel the sense of betrayal and disappointment so vital to post-modern storytelling. Players who do feel some sense of achievement may have somewhat missed the point of the story but that’s just personal interpretation, developers like Kojima may openly criticise them in long-winded exposition but if that’s what they got from the experience then fair enough; the messages are still there alongside the sense of accomplishment and as such, the game can still be considered artistic.

So, given that a focus solely on gaining a sense of achievement and victory so fundamentally undermines videogames as an artistic experience, I find it wonderfully ironic that gamers simultaneously demand that the general public views videogames as a legitimate art form, while accepting and celebrating systems such as Achievements, Gamerscores and PSN Trophies, and complaining when they’re not included in new titles. It seriously baffles me that players so righteously defend the notion of having their ego stroked by a machine, reacting to a lack of Achievements with the equivalent of “No Achievements? NOT GAME! HOW WILL I KNOW I’M ENJOYING MYSELF IF THE GAME DOESN’T SPECIFICALLY TELL ME!?” while also demanding that video games be viewed as art, a medium in which the importance of competition is non-existent, in favour of placing prominence on themes and messages. As mentioned earlier, videogames are the only medium which places any importance on competition and the idea of reward; you can’t get points for reading a book well or looking at a painting better than someone else, by simply comparing videogames to other art forms you could immediately disqualify them from classification as “art” on the spot. But as I also said, any game that downplays the importance of achievement in favour of exploring more important topics can definitely be considered art, and as such if you’re the sort of ‘gamer’ who takes pride in your Gamerscore or your World of Warcraft level or gaining all of the achievements in a particular game then you lose all right to demand that games be considered art by anyone. It’s as simple as that.

So any game that focuses on simple achievement is not art. So what is it? Well, you could just say it’s a game and move on but where’s the fun in that? If you must give simple Skinner Box-esque games a higher classification than “game,” then I’d prefer to call them “Sport” instead of “Art.” For example, an online Call of Duty game is very similar to a poker tournament, in both cases you’re playing against people you may or may not know for recognition, a sense of accomplishment and prizes. No-one’s playing to learn anything about themselves or The World; it’s simply play for the sake of achievement and various forms of profit. I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could argue that poker is an art form outside of certain psychological factors; it’s a game of skill and chance, much like Call of Duty. *subtle dig*

Particularly bamboozling is the inclusion of Achievements and Trophies in games in which the very idea of achievement is mocked. Metal Gear Solid fans, for example, have tried for years to get Konami to put trophies in MGS4, ignoring the fact pretty much all of the enemies, the PMCs, Militia and the Paradise Lost Army, are neutral mindless killing machines trained by Virtual Reality and First Person Shooters, who are fighting for literally no reason, that are designed to represent the brain dead action gamer of today, just wanting to fight and kill without paying attention to the deeper meanings as MGS fans have done for so long. Knowing Kojima, trophies were consciously left out of the game in order to emphasise this point; the demand for trophies can therefore be seen as a validation of Kojima’s bleak view of the modern gamer. Portal used a slightly more subtle and adorable method to make the same point with its infamous promise of cake. I know it’s now uncool to say “The cake is a lie” in any capacity but it’s shocking how many people used this phrase like mindless sheep without thinking about what it actually means. To me, the cake is a representation of phenomena like Trophies and Gamerscores. Think about this: what is your reason for progressing through a video game? For many people it would be the promise of Achievements and Trophies; Portal is saying that this, as a motivation, is no more meaningful than just being offered cake. Of course, the game can’t physically give the player cake, so it’s giving you nothing in reality. Exactly the same reward that Trophies and Achievements give you. The constant repetition of the phrase “The cake is a lie,” to me anyway, is basically screaming at the player, “Your Achievements are meaningless!” A point driven home when the song at the end tells you that everything you did was part of GLaDOS’s plan and you haven’t done anything she didn’t want you to. So what have you achieved on your own? Nothing. Kind of makes all of the accumulated Gamerscore points a little bittersweet, doesn’t it?

Overall, it can be seen that gamers are indeed trying to have their cake (sorry) and eat it when demanding that games feature reward structures and be considered art by the general population. So which one do you want, gamers? You can’t have it both ways.