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October 3, 2012

Let's discuss even more video games.

You know me.  I love video games.  I love the potential they hold.  I love their ability to transport me to new worlds, and play as new characters.  I love how much impact and gratification they can give me.  It’s a medium that I think deserves a lot of respect.

That said, sometimes -- and more frequently, as of late -- I hate video games.  I have a number of reasons, and it’s because of those reasons that I’d rather be a writer (a book writer, not a game writer -- although I wouldn’t mind a bit of overlap every now and then).  As much potential as games have, there are just things that can be better done with a book than a game, because by design there should be a focus on gameplay -- on player-game interaction.  A fair trade-off, assuming the game is a competent one…but there are other issues.  An abject refusal to satisfy on even an elementary level of thought.  The industry at the mercy of creativity-stifling trends and absurd budgets.  And of course, the homogenization of titles into cinematic dudebro brown and gray shooter-action-parkour-stabbing sandbox entertainment.  I know that both books and games have their own separate issues, but I’d rather deal with the former’s problems than the latter.

Why do I bring this up?  Why do I have a creepy picture of Commander Shepard?  Why do I insert third funny thing here?  Because the theme of this discussion is “hating on video games.”  Because you can’t know true love until you know true hate.

Hit the jump to see three games that make me feel the hate…and one that makes me feel unrelenting love.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3!

Several months ago, I made a post about the key to success in UMvC3.  In a nutshell, it’s all about making sure your opponent has as little fun as possible -- and as such, you’re having maximum fun.  Well, in theory.

I’ve discussed the matter with my brother (the “battle maniac” between us), and his sentiments mirror mine, as well as those of some dedicated players in the fighting game community: UMvC3 -- and its vanilla predecessor -- are kind of garbage.  There’s so much garbage you have to deal with, and you have to be as cheap and unfair as possible to win, and there’s such a huge disparity between the good characters and the bad that you’re better off using about a fifth of the fifty-ish roster -- maybe a quarter if you’re really good, or a third if you have a loyalty to a character bordering on horrific fetishism.

I kind of hate this game, but…oddly enough, it’s the fighting game I’ve played most since its release than any other, and I actually don’t mind that much.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate dealing with X-Factor Level 3 Strider with his Ouroboros activated (though it’s not so much a hassle as it is watching orbs fly about while you sit in a corner blocking and waiting for his super mode to wear out).  I hate dealing with characters that make you play “which way do I block now?” minigames, and will constantly make you play that minigame because they’ve got more mobility than the average F-22.  I hate Dante and Vergil so much in the game that a part of me finds pleasure in the fact that they’re getting rebooted into oblivion.

And yet, I keep coming back.  Maybe it’s because I use characters that I like, such as Haggar or Phoenix Wright.  Maybe it’s because I enjoy breaking ninjas in two with Hulk.  Maybe it’s because I love landing a Level 3 Hyper with Captain America or Super-Skrull.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that at the end of the day, even with all my brother’s training and skills, I can walk away with a smile and an 80% win ratio because I vaporize his glass-jawed team with a well-placed Shinku Hadouken. 

I may be a little passive-aggressive.    

Borderlands 2!
(Or: The Appropriate Samuel L. Jackson Quote)

I hate Borderlands 2.  I mean it.  If my uncertainty about The Dark Knight Rises taught me anything, it’s that I can pinpoint both things that I like and things I dislike, even in products I ostensibly hate.  But with Borderlands 2 -- a game that has resulted in less-roomy trousers for the public and reviewers alike -- I don’t think I can find anything positive to say, or like, or gush about.

Okay, that’s not true.  I like the “scrapyard future” aesthetic, and the comic-like visuals are kind of cool.  But that’s it. 

I want to like the game.  I’ve tried to like the game -- I started a co-op playthrough with my brother, but was so put-off by it that I refused to play again.  But the constant praise and hype and compliments (“Oh, this game is hilarious” and “Oh, this game is so deep” and “Oh, this game has a great story and an awesome villain” and “Oh, this game is so much better than the original”) made me think that I should give it another shot.  I should stick with it, because it WILL get better.  I’m pretty sure that was the same argument that was used for Final Fantasy 13, but I gave it another try.  And after playing on several occasions and even starting a new solo playthrough, I’ve decided it’s not worth it to reach some distant horizon, or some much-adored “good part of the game.”

I don’t think Borderlands 2 is hilarious.  Claptrap is impossibly annoying, and very nearly broke my spirit the first time around; after getting past him, I wasn’t rewarded with anything besides masked goons shouting random lines, or NPCs speaking in funny voices, or things that felt like the developers posted signs telling gamers to “laugh here” and “be endeared there”.  “Oh, Sir Hammerlock speaks like a British gentleman!  That’s hilarious!”  “Oh, Dr. Zed is actually a terribly unqualified doctor!  Amusing!”  “Oh, this boss has a funny subtitle!  Hnnnnngh!”  Am I missing the joke here?  Am I just not picking up the subtle nuances?  I have yet to even crack a smile when playing the game.

And now it’s question time.  *takes a deep breath and prepares the proper music*

Why are Vault Hunters so damn impressive and worthy of civilian fawning?  And if they’re so special and valuable and key to saving Pandora from Handsome Jack’s tyranny, why does Sir Hammerlock send me on a mission to collect yeti fur for his hat?  Why am I treated like a hero who “faced Handsome Jack and lived” when the only thing I faced was a decoy rigged with explosives that killed the other three Vault Hunters?  How do they know I faced Handsome Jack?  Outside of the ability to summon sentry guns or trap people in bubbles, what makes a Vault Hunter any different from any jagoff that picks up a gun -- especially if they see fit to send me on errands?  Why is the most varied mission I’ve encountered so far to punch a guy standing next to me?  Why have reviewers praised the variability of missions when the most I’ve done is near-ritualistic slaughter of masked goons?  Why does Handsome Jack feel like such a far-removed presence from the game?  Why can’t I see his clutches on the world more readily, instead of taking people’s word for it?  Why isn’t he established as a strong threat immediately instead of some asswipe that somehow got my cell phone number?  Why is Handsome Jack’s tyranny such a bad thing, considering that Sancturay seems to be doing pretty fine?  Why is so much of the landscape dominated by masked goons?  

Why have reviews applauded the game for its unpredictable enemies and the player’s constant need to change tactics when I’ve blown through ninety percent of my playtime 1) backing up and shooting enemies that do a suicidal charge at you, 2) sniping big guys and rushing enemies, 3) circle-strafing monsters that leap at you, or 4) abusing the short cooldown of my Phaselock so that I can back away, wait for a recharge, and then headshot a helpless enemy and restore my health?  Why do I have to steer with both control sticks to drive a buggy, but still end up careening off ledges?  Why can I come to an immediate after boosting off a ramp in spite of physics’ claims to the contrary?  Why is this game so adamant about reminding me about how “badass” I am?  Why do Badass Tokens give me such piddling stat bonuses?  Why do I have to play to eternity to unlock cool subsets of my class’ power?  Why am I being punished for trying to enjoy the game immediately?  Why do Maya’s quotes when she gets a kill make her sound like a sadist?  Is she trying to mirror what the player’s feeling at the moment?  Is she unaware of my crippling apathy?  Why does Zer0 the ninja make a Yu-Gi-Oh! reference?  Does he even know what that is?  Does it have any context with Pandora or whatever's going on in-game?  Why are there so many boxes to open with so few worthwhile items in them?  Why am I consistently getting worse guns than the ones I have?  How are people --and enemies -- I’ve never met constantly calling me?  Why is Claptrap so annoying?  Why is this mission-control woman warning me about being wary of traps WHILE I’m being ambushed by a Badass unit by way of springing a trap -- and why does she act like a smarty-pants know-it-all for warning me when I handle him by backing up and sniping him in the face while he charges at me?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Borderlands 2 makes me angry.  A sentiment I’m sure you’re feeling towards me for that great wall of text (with the proper retort ready).  If you enjoy the game, great.  More power to you.  If you don’t…you’re not alone.

*clutches reader hands whilst eyes begin misting up and sun rises* You’re not alone. 

Resident Evil 6!
(Or: …Why?  Also, Spoilers to Follow)

I’ve only started playing this game -- though I’m almost done with a co-op playthrough of Chris’ campaign -- but I’m pretty sure I hate it. 

Borderlands 2 makes me angry, but Resident Evil 6 just makes me…sad.  Sad and tired.  I have to start by asking a simple question: who is this game for?  Is it for the diehard Resident Evil fans?  No, that’s impossible, because this is such a markedly-different beast from even RE5 that it may as well be from a different franchise.  Is it for RE newbies looking to get in on the action?  Not too likely, considering that everything RE6 does to cater to modern tastes has been done far, far better by other games.  Is it trying to do survival horror and cater to its fans, in spite of Capcom’s claims that it doesn’t sell anymore?  Is it trying to appease action lovers -- and if so, why are so many of its mechanics so obtuse? 

These are questions that Capcom needed to have answered long before they even started working on the game, because the final product left me wanting for the days of Jill sandwiches. 

From a story perspective, Chris’ campaign (and the four campaigns as a whole, I’m guessing, but I’ll get to that some other day) is a failure.  It’s like they didn’t even bother trying to create an original story; they just aped lines from bad action movies and games, and bank heavily on some truly trite conventions.  Chris is now a grizzled, drink guzzling, temporarily-amnesiac soldier who inevitably drives the bartender to say “I think you’ve had enough, sir.”  He goes from an ugly duckling in RE1 to a beautiful jackass in RE6, a growling, cold-hearted moron who gets his entire team killed because he wanted to chase after and kill a giant snake…even though his target was supposed to be Ada, and that was who killed the rookie he’d gotten attached to (but really, his death shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who knows how to breathe). 

The structure is weird and unnecessarily out of order, showing Chris with amnesia, then without, then with, and then over it.  What was the point?  Why not axe the amnesia and go with a linear progression?  And why is Ada such an annoying antagonist (and I use that term loosely)?  Why do we have to waste so much time chasing her only to have her zip-line out of sight at the last second?  She’s like Carmen Sandiego, only with an impossible-to-understand motivation.  Come to think of it, why is any of this happening?  Why turn the world into zombies and mutants?  If Neo-Umbrella has its army of super-soldiers, isn’t their work done?  What’s the point of doing anything besides send its army out to conquer the world?

Ignoring the many, many, many nitpicks that have arisen (and will continue to arise), the gameplay is not something Capcom should be proud of -- and considering that gameplay is one of their strong suits, this does not bode well for the rest of the game.  It takes at least three button presses to do anything that should just take one.  Instead of just setting your dodge roll to X, you have to aim, tilt the stick in the right direction, and then press X.  And you have to be careful not to just land on your back and enter a downed shooting mode, because then you’ve completely eliminated the purpose of the dodge roll: getting the hell out of a tight spot.  The cover system is borked, too -- you have to hold L1 near cover, then press X, and while holding L1 you tilt the left stick to fire from cover, except even the act of aiming is much harder than it needs to be.  Ammo is insanely sparse and even the average enemy is a damage sponge -- but luckily you can use melee attacks almost without impunity for far superior damage.  And all it costs is the credibility that a series already famous for its ineptitude had left.  But I suppose it’s worth it for a chance to power bomb mutants.

Chris’ campaign goes on for a long, long, long time.  It’s just one long, continuous blur of explosions, mutations, overwrought gravitas, and nonsense aims at global disasters…and yet, even after nearly finishing the campaign 24 hours ago, I hardly remember anything about it.  I remember Chris being an ass and Piers being the (ignored) voice of reason and Finn and the other soldiers being redshirts and Ada being a bitch, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve gotten anything from it.  Nothing important done.  Nothing amazing experienced.  Nothing gratifying.  Nothing but shooting and running, and a room full of exploding Beyblades.  Nothing but frustration and gloom.

Maybe what makes me saddest is the fact that all those resources went towards making Resident Evil 6 -- a horrific mess of a game.        

Kirby’s Epic Yarn!
(Or: I Wish This Was My Reality)

I went with my brother to GameStop so he could get RE6 on day one (plus I needed to renew my rewards card).  I went in hoping that I could grab an old DS game, but apparently the store had daken the once-healthy supply of DS games and relegated them to parts unknown.  So I decided to settle for a Wii game.  And wouldn’t you know it, that yarn-skinned puffball beckoned for me, offering a respite from the dull bombast of my impending play of RE6.

Let me tell you something.  I don’t care how old you are or how tough you are.  I don’t care if you’re a hardcore gamer, casual, or not a gamer at all.  I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, or jellyfish.  You will never, ever love anything more than this game.

I know what it looks like: this is a kid’s game (though as discussed, there’s nothing wrong with that).  And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the game isn’t worth your time.  It’s rather easy.  It’s impossible to die.  Because Kirby’s hollow now, he can’t suck up enemies and copy their powers.  But here’s the thing: if you think of it as a conventional platformer, you’re missing the point entirely.  Yes, there are enemies in your way, but there’s often no reason for you to kill them.  The story is basic, but strangely satisfying…and occasionally offers some genuine laughs.  The aesthetic is reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, but taken to an even higher degree; whereas Sackboy and his world were made out of random materials, Kirby’s Epic Yarn emphasizes the potential of those random materials.  It’s an interactive, shifting, unpredictable world, one that few games have reproduced in the past decade, at least -- I’d argue that there’s more fun to be had seeing what happens if you tug on this tab, or jump up on that platform, or swing from that button than conquering a boss in your way.  It’s a game that de-emphasizes combat, and puts a grand focus on exploration, and enjoyment, and most of all satisfaction.  It can -- and WILL -- put a smile on your face.  And at the risk of sounding cliché, it’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

You can also turn into a UFO and a tank that shoots rockets, so there’s that.

To say that I love this game -- again, in spite of barely owning it for 24 hours -- would be an understatement.  It’s mechanically sound, which should be a given (this is Nintendo we’re talking about, people), but it’s infinitely more rewarding than cheating someone out of a victory, looting the corpses of masked goons, or doing whatever the hell Chris is trying to accomplish.  We all know that the Wii’s not the most powerful console around, but yet again it actually works within its means to create an amazing, imaginative, intuitive, and all-around fun product.  But you know what?  It makes me feel hate all over again.  Why is nobody (sage indie developers aside) learning from them?  Why is the industry constantly chasing after those CODBlops dollars?  Why are games constantly trying -- and failing -- to make me feel like a badass, up to and including outright telling me I’m a badass?  Why does RE6 exist and expect to have seven million copies sold by virtue of its ass-backwards approach to everything when all gamers want is to have unique -- and FUN -- experiences?

And that, my friends, is why I’m out to be a writing hero.  Because sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- video games really, really suck.

See you guys around.  I’ve got a game to adore...and two and one-eighth of a depressing game to finish.

4 comments:

  1. UMVC3: Why yes, Mr. Payne. It IS entirely possible that you're passive aggressive.

    Borderlands 2: Thank you...thank you...

    Resident Evil 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32uUNUypjYs

    Kirby's Epic Yarn: The girliest game I've ever admitted to enjoying.

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  2. I just had to get all that bile about Borderlands 2 out of my system. I just don't understand why that game is so popular, or why everyone says it's so much better than the original game (which in itself was ALSO pretty bad, IMO). I guess I wouldn't hate it as much if I was playing 100% co-op, but playing alone gives me time to really take in the game -- to analyze and process it at my own pace. And because of that, I realized that if you think about Borderlands (either one) for even five minutes, it's not exactly the "Game of the Year" everyone calls it.


    As for RE6...yeah, I've given up on it. I had a hunch about a certain plot point, but I thought to myself, "No, no, that's stupid. There's no way they'd put that in there -- that's just ridiculous!" Lo and behold, I head to a wiki to deny my suspicions...and then I find out that's exactly what happens.


    I have Kirby's Epic Yarn now. I don't have to put up with your shit any more, RE6.


    Also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iprotlPKLNw

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  3. A few months ago Chris G. of the "Soul Fist" spamming fame. Had a very eyeopening interview regarding Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Just watching this made me realize that what we think is cheap... isn't really that cheap. It's all about making silly errors.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4et5xOKj9tQ&list=FLhyvPLYXmnzz0cWC3DR6Aow&feature=mh_lolz



    This game is about team synergy and using crazy characters like Mr. Wright are entirely possible if you give him the proper cover. Heck Maya alone makes it hard for people to come in on him on the front. Doom's Missiles or Task Master's Vertical arrow to name a few.


    As far as Strider's level 3 Uroboros push-blocking routes it hard. You keep your eyes peeled for a teleport (and if you play wright you should be watching for those anyway!) Watch the part about how easy it is to wait out "Lame Stuff" while taking minimal damage.


    UMVC3 is actually a very well balanced game. As well as a game can be without having a cast that lacks diversity. Marvel 2 went through a lot of changes once people figured stuff out. At some point Iceman was top tier. Now he is decidedly mediocre. Wesker may be a beast, but people are on to his games. They start to do things like snap him in, anticipate his magnum spam... etc...


    Defense and zoning is super important in Marvel. And you can't really blame Capcom for not being able to win in a 3 v 3 game if your team isn't balanced. As an example. If you mix Arthur as an assist to throw Magic Armored Torches behind a combo machine he will make them gods. Even if you tap them out of a combo (a cardinal weakness of combo monkeys) the torch hits, and they can just pick up where they left off..


    Obviously like any strategy, once you lose a character, it will start to break down... but hey. That's teamwork.


    As much as I would love to have Mr. Wright and Frank west on the same team. It's a death sentence. They both need tender loving care to become monsters. Like most lawyers, success comes from having solid information and powerful friends. I like pairing him with two jack of all trades like Cap and Taskmaster. I imagine a Bruiser and a Speedster would do fine too.

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  4. Oh, don't get me wrong -- Strider's annoying, but I barely register him as a threat even WITH X-Factor Level 3 Ouroboros. I know that by the time I reach Strider, I've pretty much won the match; it's just that he's the kind of character that makes you sit in the corner and wait until he's done going boosh-boosh-boosh and acting as if he's actually doing anything useful. One of my favorite strategies is to just wait out Strider's offense, wait for that teleport where he goes over your head, and then smack him with a launcher into a quick combo. Next thing I know, the match is over.


    I'll admit that I probably got a little too hasty splitting the game into haves and have-nots; like you said, what's important is the team, not just one character. On paper, Haggar sounds pretty awful (and before vanilla MvC3's release I thought he'd be the worst of the bunch) -- but put him on a team with Dr. Strange and fire off his Bolts of Balthakk assist, and he's got a good way to start applying pressure. Plus with Haggar's new OTG and Super-Skrull's Tenderizer assist, he actually has a pretty good reset. It's a bit disheartening to know that the MAYOR OF EARTH isn't god-tier, but as-is I think he's a great character, whether he's on a team or not.


    I guess what I need to do most is start branching out. I want to (and probably need to) learn how to play Chris, so I can have a nice assist, get in some zoning, and maybe see if he makes a good anchor. (Plus if he works well with Wright and Haggar, I can build "Team Normal Dudes".) And I know it's against my nature, but I suppose I'll have to bite the bullet and start fiddling with speedy characters. Maybe I'll see what X-23 can do...

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