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by Rick Dakan

20 May 2010

I want games to be imaginative and creative, to show me something that I haven’t seen before, or a to present a new perspective on something that I thought I was familiar with. Part of that can come from the game’s look and setting but only part of it. To really succeed, a game has to not only contain imaginative elements, it has to inspire the imaginations of those of us holding the controller. Lost Planet 2 has some striking creative pieces: giant monsters, exciting exoskeletons, and a few inspired settings. But these are mere window dressing for a core gameplay experience that not only doesn’t inspire my imagination, it actively mounts an all-out offensive against it.

Lost Planet 2 wants you to play co-op. That’s great, co-op games are fun, and I like it when developers really support it. It does cause some initial confusion that the only way to start the single player campaign is to create what looks like an online game, even if you’re not connected to the internet. But that’s just a user interface issue. Then the game begins, and you’re teamed up with three AI controlled comrades, who have their names floating above their heads. Names like, Redx4, Death Summer, and Mr baykal, that are meant to sound like fake gamer tags. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Because it’s really not. Seeing your friends’ gamer tag when playing co-op is okay because you know he’s there, you have a whole host of associations with that person, and you can hear their voice. Who are these AI goobers with lame gamer tags? How does this do anything other than rip away at my already fraying suspension of disbelief?

by G. Christopher Williams

19 May 2010

Like most gamers, I have been thinking an awful lot about the switch. I think that usually such thoughts are characterized by questions like, “How do I get to the switch?” or more irritatingly, “Where’s the damn switch?” However, what I have been pondering is a more fundamental (and maybe less obvious) question, “Why do I always want to flip the switch?”

A lot of gamers complain about the overuse of the switch in games. It is a kind of cheap way of turning an action game into an adventure game. Finding the switch, figuring out what it does, and using it effectively is a way of adding a puzzle-like element to games that otherwise seem to merely be celebrations of violence and combat. Tomb Raider, in particular, seems to have made the switch a central element of gameplay, at least as important to that game as the combat, if not more.

by L.B. Jeffries

18 May 2010

There has been a rash of FPS titles with horrendous plots lately, so it might be helpful to talk about an FPS that had a pretty simple but fun story that actually worked with its game design. As a genre, the FPS has never really required much thought in terms of writing. It can certainly feature it, but technically even Doom explained itself pretty well in just one paragraph. The concept of “demons, gun, get to it” does not really need a lot of explaining. Yet today something like Modern Warfare 2 comes out, and it’s an incoherent mess. Every mission is pulling some James Bond crap or taking place as a part of the world’s most unlikely invasion, which is a shame because the best parts of Modern Warfare and the other Call of Duty games were the moments that just felt like being a soldier. Star Wars: Republic Commando dodges these narrative pitfalls despite the fact that it even takes place in a science fiction setting. A squad-based FPS relying on a fairly nuts & bolts design, it is a great example of a game that won’t make you roll your eyes while playing.

The setup is pretty simple. You’re the leader of Delta Squad, and you have three other clone commandos working closely with you. There are four general commands (follow me, attack, go here, secure area) and hotspots scattered around the map where you can order a commando to snipe, grenade, or plant bombs. You have four basic weapon types and a fifth slot for whatever alien weapon you pick up. Most maps will feature a couple of different hotspots to drop a squadmate, and you can always leave them to their own devices. You can also set up ambushes by getting aliens to follow you or take a more aggressive approach. It’s all very simple and fluid, which means that complex maneuvers aren’t exactly an option because of gameplay that is always fast and easy. Writer Gatmog points out in his review, “I liked the way squad commands felt intuitive, but I wouldn’t call it tactics. It doesn’t require any real problem solving by the player: simply mousing over points on the map will show “hot” areas, or actions a squad member can complete. Clicking on these points will issue the associated command, but it’s not like you get the option of storming a room with thermal detonators or sneaking in quietly. The objectives and their solutions are completely transparent” (“Attack of the Commando Clones”, Tales of a Schorched Earth, 2 Feb 2005).

by G. Christopher Williams

17 May 2010

After last week’s look at the vast reaches of outer space, we decided to change the focus of our discussion from the heavens to the depths of the ocean.  Arguably one of the most fully realized spaces in contemporary gaming, Rapture is almost less a city than it is a mood, a tone, an atmosphere.

Our crew discusses our responses to the latest iteration of the terrifying but often sublime undersea city as it appears in Bioshock 2.

by Nick Dinicola

14 May 2010

Games make good companions to other media and vice versa because games present an entirely different way of experiencing a story. The first hand experience that we get from games can make us more easily relate to the hardships of a character or expand on the world of a movie in unintentional ways. Or, after watching a movie with a similar story, we might find ourselves sympathizing with the enemies that we so carelessly dispatch in droves in games. In either case, certain combinations of these two different media benefit from the experience of each other and here are a few examples that I’ve collected.

As a general rule, I didn’t want to promote a movie and game combination that developers themselves used to promote their game. So no Heavy Rain and Seven, or Kane and Lynch and Heat, or Borderlands and The Road Warrior, etc.

//Mixed media

Was Super Bowl 50 a Golden Bowl?

// Channel Surfing

"A pop culture play-by-play of the biggest TV event of the year.

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