How Destiny Keeps Me Hanging On

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There’s been a crap-ton of press and online opinions published about Bungie’s highly-anticipated MMO/RPG/FPS mash-up in the month since it’s been released and almost all of it has been negative. Yet it’s a month later and a ton of gamers still appear to be thoroughly wrapped up in it in spite of the complaints about lack of content, a weak story, recurring server problems kicking players (fuck this one in particular), resemblances to their previous franchise Halo, and a seemingly poorly-thought-out loot system at the core of the gameplay.

Usually, when a big game launches and everybody hates it, it quickly fades into the oblivion of bad memory and cautionary tale while we move on to bigger and better things. But with Destiny we’re still playing and still bitching. Why? Why are we playing a game that’s supposedly nothing but a disappointing cluster of unwarranted hype and fatal flaws? Because as much as some of us hate to admit it and contrary to all of our online training about what supposedly makes a game good or bad, we are having a really good time and a lot of the main complaints translate to “we want more”.destiny stats

In spite of some of Bungie’s rookie MMO mistakes, Destiny is a brilliantly put together game that may very well represent a new standard in the way shooters integrate multiplayer into their gameplay the way Halo redefined the basic mechanics of the FPS back in the day. And contrary to a lot of players’ perception, there is a ton of ground to cover in-game and plenty to do, provided you are not the kind of gamer who rushes through the story and then moves on or is content to sit in one spot for hours on end farming just to raise meaningless numbers rather than really experience the game. You get out of Destiny what you put in. And I’ve put a lot in.

Going in, my plan was this: I was going to recreate my female Awoken Warlock from the beta because she was cooler than my first character, a male Exo Hunter (who was still pretty cool). I was going to play through every story mission and Strike en route to the level 20 cap, kick some ass in the Crucible, and then create a new character, repeat, and move on to something else; that copy of Uncharted 3 sitting right next to my PS3 that’s been staring me in the face every day for months, perhaps. Level 20 comes up on you real quick, but it turned out that that was only the beginning of Destiny’s scheme. It’s been over a month and I’m still building my first character.

Why? All I’m doing is the same missions, the same matches, the same strikes, and the occasional patrol to farm materials and kills. Am I such a zombie to be satisfied doing the same crap over and over again? What’s the point, man? The point is that I’m getting constant rewards for my efforts, which lead ever upwards and into more rewards. The questionable logic of level 2 enemies dropping loot as good as the big bosses aside, Destiny’s exchange and upgrade system is so layered and brilliant in some ways it’s almost impossible not to admire once you comprehend it.

A lot of players whine (or is it whinge now? People type “whinge” a lot online but I’ve never actually heard that word come out of a human mouth) about all of the useless drops and the rarity of actual quality items. But the useless drops can be broken down into components that are used to upgrade your favorite stuff. And your favorite stuff doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of some random drop. There are a ton of factions offering up a variety of handsome legendary gear to suit both your playing style and your style style. Why marry yourself to a powerful shotgun that was assigned to you by chance when you’d rather be sniping? Sign up with a faction after you reach level 20, or stick with your default friends in the Vanguard and Crucible, rock their bounties, and earn those Marks and reputation to buy the loadout of your dreams.

destiny armourAnd when you get bored of mere legendary gear, keep an eye out for exotic weapon bounties (be prepared to work once you get them, though) and the black market weekend warrior, Xur, who offers weekly bargains on some of the coolest gear if you can find him on the Tower. Save up them Strange Coins and keep in mind you can only equip one exotic weapon and one exotic piece of armor. Choose wisely before purchasing.

By the time I got to this point, I was level 27 and had been playing daily for weeks. Now it’s really time to grind. Legendary and exotic gear offer some seriously tasty buffs; the kind you really want in the Crucible. But to get them, you need to level up and upgrade them. This takes materials, some of which are extremely hard to come by.

Ascendant materials are what’s going to hold you back, as the best gear needs a lot of them to max out, but by killing it in the Crucible and hitting the Strike playlist good and hard you earn more Marks. Marks you can use to buy more legendary gear, which you can break down into ascendant materials to upgrade your stuff. Participating in Public Events while out patrolling for bounties, chests, and materials can also pay dividends.Destiny Screenshot

Basically, what I’m spelling out is that while putting in over 80 hours and 17,000 kills over the course of hundreds of games in the past month I have not for a minute felt like I was mindlessly playing just to play. I was always working towards specific goals and there’s always been something demanding my immediate attention. Having maxed out my original Voidwalker subclass, I was leveling up my Sunsinger tree to get sticky grenades, then to gain the ability to resurrect myself for undead retribution on my killers (and an extra life edge when soloing hard missions), then to gain a second grenade, then to upgrade my carefully chosen gear to minimize cooldown and make me a beast.

The result: a freakin’ nightmare for high-level enemies and PvP opponents capable of sentencing most anything to death on a whim with a single well-aimed toss. And if you strike me with a full super meter, I shall become more powerful then you can possibly imagine; by which I mean I’ll wait for you to turn your back and then rise up, wreathed in flames like a phoenix with instant cooldown capabilities, and rain incendiary death from above on you and anyone else who incurs my wrath. Feels good, man.

Then there are the special events, in which you have a couple weeks to nab extra snazzy-looking gear by gaining favor with special factions. This really ups the urgency as you rush to complete as many bounties as you can to up your reputation and get that wicked armor shader or shiny accessory to proclaim your accomplishment to all who look upon you going forward. I gotta tell you, after cleaning up in the Queen’s Wrath event (although a tag-team of Lizard Squad and shitty U-verse service held me back from achieving the max level), I was royally purple and golded up with a matching auto rifle and burning sun gauntlets I got from Xur. My Warlock looks fabulous.

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And ready to serve any fools at the local corpse-dancing rave.

Compulsory repetition notwithstanding, Bungie has done a great job of making the player want to keep striving for more in the game. This isn’t some Grand Theft Auto nonsense where they expect you to spend twenty hours after the story searching for some hidden collectibles to get a useless achievement (if that). Every activity in Destiny serves a purpose to advance your character and the game is designed to reward flexible gamers by encouraging them to fully explore its features.

You may be a lone wolf who resents other players taking your kills while you endlessly patrol and explore, the social type who feels lonesome without co-op partners, a compulsive achiever only interested in obtaining the highest possible numbers for your avatar, or perhaps you may just want to kill your fellow gamers in the Crucible. But to make the most of Destiny, you are going to have to step outside of that comfort zone. To maximize your rewards you need to put on different hats. For some gamers, this may be a problem, but for someone like me who wants to get the most out of each and every game he plays, it’s a great design. Yet the haters must hate.

Destiny Loot Cave

Pictured: a cheaper alternative.

Now, I’m not telling anyone how to play or what to like, but I would suggest that if you buy an online-only video game designed around a unique fully-integrated multiplayer interface with a massive world to explore and are content to spend most of your time shooting low-level enemies in a cave on the very first level, I’m not sure the game is the problem so much as the way you are approaching it.

Bungie’s latest has some very real issues -some of which have been pretty promptly patched- but it still represents an exciting new phase in console gaming; one where a shooter isn’t just a game where you rush through a campaign by yourself or with some friends in a few hours and then kill other gamers for a few weeks before getting bored and moving on.

Destiny is something that persistently gives you something cool to work towards and a variety of ways to achieve it and it’s still a work in progress. Will I be getting the DLC expansions? Probably not right away; I think that at about 100 hours I’m going to need a break. Nathan Drake is still waiting on me, after all. But that empty Warlock subclass slot is eating away at me and I have a feeling that at some point in the future I will be back to take in the rest of Bungie’s vision, and by then it will likely be a better and more complete game than it is now. And pointless story/dodgy loot system aside, that’s kind of a scary thought.

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I’ll Miss You, Custom Soundtracks

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Back in the day, I had a choice to make: to upgrade from my old and busted PlayStation to either the next logical step on the Sony console ladder for more of the same or try something different and give this new Microsoft Xbox thingy a go. Seems like going with the safe choice would be the obvious answer given the rise and precipitous demise of so many upstart consoles over the years, but I couldn’t get the possibilities of the Xbox off of my mind.

The biggest factor in my choice to convert to Microsoft was the kind of exclusive games they were offering, specifically Morrowind, Knights of the Old Republic, and Halo, but what was arguably the clincher was the promise of custom soundtracks. This idea kind of blew my mind at the time.xbox menu

Video gaming is something I consider to be my first love and still my one of my best friends, but music is my wife. Get the two together and now I see this metaphor going in some really inappropriate directions so I’ll just say that the idea of putting my favorite music in my favorite games was best summed up with two words: yes please!

The concept came about thanks to Microsoft’s almost-a-PC approach to their console that has since been aped by the competition across the board. The Xbox’s hard drive allowed gamers to rip music CD’s onto it, and some games took advantage of the newfound multimedia capabilities with awesome results.

One of the first games I bought was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x, and I bought it specifically because it had custom soundtrack support. I had spent way too much time downloading wicked tunes onto my new video game system and I was not going to let it go to waste. The Tony Hawk games are known for having pretty bitchin’ soundtracks already, but when you spend hours and hours playing a game and hearing the same dozen songs over and over, it inevitably gets old.

You can only “Bring the Noise” with Anthrax and Public Enemy so many times a day before even a collaboration of two of your favorite acts of all time bores you. Patching in the hundreds of songs I’d loaded onto my Xbox reinvigorated the game for me big time. Even if I hadn’t liked the game, the excitement I got from creating the soundtrack and having it integrated seamlessly was a great feeling.

This wasn’t like playing a CD in the background while you game. The game started the song when the level began, ended it when the level ended, used them in the menus; the music of your choice was part of the game. The Grand Theft Auto games actually patched any playlists it found on the hard drive into the in-game car radios so that you’d hear your own music collection while channel-surfing, which was really cool.gta sound menu

A lot of my memories from the Xbox/early 360 years are linked to my custom soundtracks, it’s kind of crazy. Playing WWE SmackDown vs Raw and creating a customized wrestler’s entrance with any walkout song and syncing the lights and fireworks to it was amazing, smashing cities in Godzilla: Destroy All Monster Melee while Ministry’s “New World Order” blasted, Bad Brains’ “I Against I” kicking off another split-screen thrashing session with a friend in Tony Hawk, finishing up a mission in Conflict: Desert Storm and having Fugazi’s “Break In” set the perfect mood as my team rushed to the extraction point; there weren’t a ton of games who supported this feature, but all of the ones that did have special kinds of memories for me.

Naturally when I got my 360, the first thing I did was rip a bunch of CD’s to it to create custom playlists. Unlike the original Xbox, the new one had a menu button that would allow you to play any music you wanted during any game. And with a USB port and wireless connectivity, streaming tunes from your iPod and computer made it easier than ever. But it wasn’t the same.

Yeah, I had an awesome time making a badass girl-powered soundtrack to inspire me to kick butt as Ayane in Dead or Alive 4, some thrashy stuff for mowing down my fellow gamers without mercy in Gears of War multiplayer, and an eclectic collection for adventuring in Kameo and I really enjoyed all of those games with my own music, but playing music over a game’s own soundtrack somehow just isn’t as awesome as a game designed to make your music its music, you know?

Not only that, but during the past gen the in-game soundtrack and voice acting became really vital the experience of most games as storytelling took center stage in a lot of titles. The wrong music could really spoil the mood in that kind of game the same way the right music could make experiences in older, simpler games more memorable.

walking dead zombie clem

“Oh. I just died in your arms tonight. Must have been something you saaaid….”

I mean, are you going to be playing Mass Effect and getting romantic with your crew member of choice while Slipknot screams about slitting your throat and fucking the wound in the background? Or perhaps have Puffy AmiYumi extolling the virtues of eternal friendship in saccharine J-pop harmony while beloved companions in Telltale’s The Walking Dead are torn apart before your eyes? No thanks. From a comedy standpoint, it’s freakin’ gold, but it would kind of spoil the intended dramatic effect.

Even in some shooters like the Halo games, the in-game music is such an important part of the dramatic tension and epic feel in the narrative that it would just seem wrong to put some random playlist in its place. Video games have become art, and with that distinction, the appeal of a custom soundtrack has lost a lot of its appeal to me. When I started running out of room on my hard drive, the music was among the first things I discarded. It felt a little bit sad.

It’s not that I would trade in the more sophisticated approach of modern gaming for the simplicity that lent itself to custom soundtracks, but I can’t help but feel nostalgic from time to time for that brief era where seamlessly combining my favorite music and my favorite hobby in digital bliss made for some really great times.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate brought the feature back and I was considering getting it based on that alone. But since I already bought DOA5 once and it was goddamn unplayable (literally; the game froze at least once an hour), all faith in Team Ninja is gone. I’m not buying a game again for custom soundtrack support when the first version was broken. Custom soundtrack revival: denied.

So yeah, I’ll miss you, custom soundtracks, and I don’t think we’ll be meeting again. But for that moment in time, you made my life and my games that much better and I’ll never forget the good times we had. But from here on out, I think my music collection and my game collection are going to have to remain separate and in some ways, that’s probably a good thing.

Five Nerve-Fraying Sequences from Resident Evil 4

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A while back, I did a list of some of the scariest moments from the original Resident Evil. That game stands to this day at the top of my list of memorable horror experiences in video games, but I have only dabbled in the sequels. I skipped the second due to being a late-comer to the PlayStation era and having too many other games to play, but I managed some time with Nemesis at a friend’s house and was duly impressed, but having bought an Xbox for my next console, I was denied the opportunity to play the most highly-regarded entry in the series yet.

Resident Evil 4 attained instant classic status when it was released in 2005 on the Gamecube, presumably during one of those brief phases when Nintendo tries to show how not kid-friendly they can be. Eventually, the game made it to every other platform that wasn’t the one I owned, including PC and iOS. It wasn’t until 2011 when the game was brought into the next generation with a HD re-release that I finally got a chance to see for myself what everybody was talking about. Having finally gotten around to revisiting the last great Resident Evil game for the first time, I was not disappointed (aside from that stupid laser thing they used in the first movie). These are the moments that made me grind my teeth to nubs with anxiety and are going to stick with me for years the way they’ve already stuck with most gamers.

Village of the damned

resident evil 4 villageWhat sets apart Resident Evil 4 from previous games is that it doesn’t rely on jump scares or shocking imagery. It puts the player’s character in legitimate danger in terrifying situations and lets the horror happen naturally. Very early in Leon’s journey to rescue the president’s daughter, Ashley, from a mysterious cult you enter a village full of people who clearly ain’t right. So you go in and figure you’ll just shoot them all and be done with it. It’s the first chapter of a video game. Easy peasy.

Rather than going with the same ol’ same ol’ Romero-style living dead, RE4 confronts the player with mindlessly psychotic humans more reminiscent of Romero’s The Crazies. The very much living peasants communicate with one another and slowly-but-inevitably advance on Leo in a very unnerving manner, growing in numbers the whole time. Before you know it, you realize you have nowhere near enough ammo to empty this village and are in full retreat mode. And to quote Stephen King: you’re not running, you’re scampering. Running implies purpose. The first time you play this, you’re just panicking in fear for your virtual life and aimlessly fleeing to extend it a little more.

The game doesn’t tell you what to do or where to go and I was just getting re-used to the terrible Resident Evil control scheme. Every path is a dead end, all of the exits are locked, old men are chucking hatchets at me, every turn seems to be a dead end with another crazed mob, you can’t attack and move at the same time, and dear God that dude with a bag over his head has a chainsaw! I died about a dozen times before I figured out you had to enter a certain house to get a cutscene and then just survive long enough for a tolling bell to summon the lunatics elsewhere. It’s the kind of old school “fuck you, figure it out” difficulty that you just don’t see very often anymore and while it drove me nuts at the time, it made for one of the most memorable opening chapters to a video game ever.

Who’s a good doggie?

resident evil 4 wolvesNot you. While Leon searches for Ashley yet again, he receives a transmission from that creepy little wannabe-Napolean bastard Salazar taunting you by proxy with an invitation into his hedge maze. Who even has those anymore? Anyways, this can’t be good. And of course the creepy becomes horrifying when you find that the maze is being patrolled by Colmillos, wolves infested with the Plaga parasite that are probably the single nastiest thing you encounter in the game.

This section is beyond panic-inducing. You can hear the snarling coming from all around you as you creep along through the narrow rows, sure that there’s one behind you all the way. Every time you turn a corner, you’re expecting to be face-to-face with a too-wide mouth full of teeth. While a lot of the enemies in RE4 are content to advance on you slowly and rely on numbers and hardiness to wear you down, the wolves come flying at you like terrifying guided missiles.

When you draw a bead on them, they actually dodge to the side before diving on you for a classic “wagglethestickwagglethestickwaggletheOHSHITIJUSTDROPPEDIT!!!” workout that ends with your heart beating like you just ran a hundred yard dash even though you were really just working a joystick. What I’m saying is, I hope you brought a goddamn shotgun. This is definitely the most viscerally scary section of the game. Apparently, they skip it altogether if you play on easy mode because you couldn’t possibly handle this awesomeness if you choose the wimp option.

Asthma kills.

So at one point you end up in a lab with some resident evil 4 regeneratorhorrible monstrosity lying on a table in a locked room. Surely this demonic creature is dead and therefore a non-factor. Surely. Even knowing what’s going to happen, it’s hard not to get freaked out when you hear smashing sounds and turn to see the door is now wide open with a walking nightmare filling it.

Regenerators are one of the scariest things ever. They move very slowly, letting their upsetting toothy grin do the heavy lifting, but true to their name they don’t go down easy. You blow their head and limbs off; they grow right back. And worst of all, they have this horrible labored breathing that assures you always know when one is around even when you can’t see them, making every moment a torture chamber of dread anticipation. This is a prime example of Resident Evil using sound to induce terror even when nothing scary is onscreen.

To take one down you need to kill the individual invisible Plagas parasites all over its body. There is a special scope you can attach to a rifle to locate the targets, but since I didn’t have a rifle on me at first the terror of Regenerator encounters was heightened by the fact that I was wasting so much precious ammo firing blind while the beast tirelessly pursued me. In Resident Evil 4, ammunition equals life like water in the desert. Damn you, you vile asthmatic bastards!

What have they done to Wolverine?

resident evil 4 garradorIn another moment you totally saw coming, Leon and Ashley find a man (or something) in an iron mask with his eyes sewn shut all bound up Hannibal Lecter-style in a cage. And I’ll be damned if the switch you need to flip to progress isn’t in the cage with it. Well, it’s a damn good thing that creepy looking sumbitch is all chained up, yeah?

Walking into that cage is one of those moments where you know what’s going to happen, but you’re freaked out anyways. As soon as Leon gets close enough to properly induce a panic attack in the player, the Garrador bursts free and brandishes his gigantic metal claws at you, I hope you had the common sense to leave Ash at the top of the stairs. Since he’s all armored, his only vulnerable spot is the exposed Plagas on his back and since he’s blind, any sound-generating movement or action on your part will send him hurling at you with claws a-slashing to dice you proper. If you don’t move, he’ll find you soon enough anyways.

I was too stupid to figure this out the first time I encountered one, but the bells in the room can be shot to send the Garrador running that way, exposing his back to Leon for some easy Plagas-busting. Instead, I used incendiary grenades and mine thrower to take it down the hard way. I died lots. Thankfully, I figured out the smart way when I had to take two at once later on.

Why did it have to be bugs?resident evil 4 insect

It’s not a proper video game adventure without some sort of subterranean excursion, so our hero takes to the sewers beneath the Plagas-worshipping Los Illuminados’ castle fortress. Naturally, something extra nasty is waiting for him down there and I don’t just mean the excretory leavings of an entire community of parasite-infested zombies, cultists, and mutated creatures.

Say hello to the Novistadors. Their name translates to “The Unseen”, which is fitting because these guys have active camouflage, making them difficult to spot as they move quickly on floors and ceilings. At least until their eyes glow as they drop they become visible, which is crazy creepy. Once they reach you, they jump right up in your face and spray you with some sort of nastiness until you shake them off and give them a lethal dose of lead.

In addition to a very tense ambient noise soundtrack, the unsettling calls of the creatures are everywhere in the sewers. Along with the dark, confined surroundings and splashing footfalls of extremely aggressive invisible enemies this makes one a tad uneasy. Once you complete your tasks, the entire sewer begins audibly buzzing with insectoid insanity which creates an irresistible need to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE.

In fact, I’d say that Resident Evil 4 does a pretty damn good job in general of making the player desperate to get through each ordeal, if only to greet the next one. Even though Leon is usually well-armed to take on his enemies, the game still manages to inspire sustained dread throughout. It’s definitely held up exceptionally well over two console generations. Beating the game felt like a huge weight was lifted from my chest. Good riddance to a great gaming experience. But wait. Ada Wong has her own story mode too now…

Well, shit. Here we go again.

Five Characters Who Would Make Fox’s Gotham a Better Place.

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I definitely had my doubts about whether giving Batman the Smallville treatment was the best idea, but after a few episodes, I think it’s safe to say that the approach they came up with for Fox’s show about the formative years of Gotham’s most famous residents is shaping up pretty well. But there’s always room for improvement.

Although the show predictably opens with the fateful night at the theater that led to the eventual creation of the Batman, rather than focusing on young Bruce Wayne the star of Gotham is a rookie James Gordon, still many years away from being the Commissioner, making his way through the mire of corruption that is the Gotham City Police Department. Naturally, our heroes split time with some of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, who occupy various stations around the city prior to their eventual rise to supervillaindom.

Many of the usual suspects are already accounted for at this point, but we’ve seen them all time and again in countless incarnations. Gotham represents a whole new approach to the Batman mythos; one that’s more down to Earth and character-based than what most of we’ve seen in the past. In a weekly serial format, that opens up a lot of possibilities for characters that often get overlooked in film or animated adaptations in favor of more recognizable or zany alternatives. Here are five characters I’d like to see from Batman comics that could help make the show a real winner. Continue reading

5 Current Image Comics that are Putting Marvel and DC to Shame

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A while back talented Scottish purveyor of all things gritty in comics Mark Millar launched his own narcissistically-titled comic universe, Millarworld, declaring that “the Big Two has just become the Big Three”.  I was thinking that may actually be closer to reality than we think, but it’s got little to do with that particular creator striking out on his own. Image comics has been quietly putting out killer books for years now and it’s picking up steam fast.

Since its founding in 1992, Image has been the home of popular titles like Spawn, Witchblade, and The Darkness, all of whom successfully found their way to other forms of media, as well as highly-regarded cult series like Invincible and Chew. And they aren’t even on the list.

One thing sets the company apart from the big guys is that they are dedicated to complete creative control and ownership for the writers and artists they publish. Marvel and DC’s histories are littered with creators being screwed out of their rights to their own creations and left out in the cold as well as solid artists and writers being railroaded and having their works abandoned and/or dissected after they are booted from them. Jack Kirby practically created the Marvel Universe and he’s only just now getting his legal props twenty years after his death.

The Big Two’s corporate approach and deep pockets have allowed them to saturate our culture while riding on the backs of talented individuals, but Image is the company that works with the creators to make comics as art first and profit second. This talent-friendly approach may leave them a little short on making the Big Three a reality, but this reader’s comic subscription count currently reads Image: 4, Marvel + DC: 0, and I’m hoping to get caught up and adding the fifth soon.

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Mandatory Viewing: Six Unmissable Samurai Epics

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Samurai films (aka jidaigeki or chanbara) are an essential part of any film fan’s international cinema diet. Japan has a long, long history of supplying art both philosophical and visceral by utilizing their nation’s exceptionally turbulent history and the many shades of its warrior caste as a storytelling backdrop. The stories and themes are universal and have supplied Western filmmakers with inspiration and material for longer than most of us have been alive.

Films ranging from Star Wars and A Bug’s Life to any number of westerns owe their existence to classic Japanese period dramas -some of which were inspired by Western writers like Shakespeare- creating a great give-and-take dynamic that has allowed storytelling as a visual art form to thrive worldwide for decades. This week, I’m taking you on a tour of my favorite samurai films and franchises of all-time from the arthouse to the grindhouse to the present day blockbuster.

I’ll be focusing more on iconic action-packed tales for chanbara newcomers rather than deep philosophy, but feel free to sharpen your katanas and chop into the comments section with further viewing recommendations because there’s a nearly bottomless well of quality in this genre. Dozo.

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Diary of a Disgruntled Gamer: I Am (Not) Legend

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September 9, 2014:

Dear Diary,

I bought that stupid lame piece of crap Destiny last night. I waited in line since 6:00 AM yesterday even though I could have just come in at 6:00 PM to get my number and come back for the midnight release because that shit is for noobs. REAL gamers camp out so that the entire day’s worth of foot traffic in the shopping center where their local Gamestop is located can laugh and shoot confused glances at us in our unwashed glory and be jealous of our lawn chairs. Social disdain is my fuel. Obsession is my mistress. Or it would be if I had a wife. Or a girlfriend.

Right off the bat, I knew I was going to hate this game. But people on the internets were talking about it and how much it was going to suck and I didn’t want to be the only one complaining about it second-hand so I had to have it. One does not simply buy a game they are going to enjoy when countless strangers are discussing something else online. Anyways, I fired up the game with a heavy-hearted sigh, downloaded all the downloadables, and was rewarded with the first of many blatant insults. “Press X to Play”. That’s what was on the title screen.

If I didn’t want to play the game, I wouldn’t have put the disc in and started it up. What is this bullshit, Bungie? I played every single Halo game and hated them all (except pistols-only split-screen two player versus mode on Blood Gulch in Combat Evolved, which was amazeballs) so I think I know what makes a great game. And this “Press X” shit is just another unnecessary hoop for gamers to jump through. This was a poorly designed game right from the get-go. And don’t even get me started on having to select the location you want to go to in order to go there.

destiny menu

Really, Bungie? A cursor? Jeez, this is RIDICULOUS!

 

September 12, 2014:

What the actual fuck, Diary?

In spite of having established from the very first screen that Destiny is the worst game of all time I spent over 30 consecutive hours playing it following my fateful encounter with Bungie’s little trained seal act regarding requiring its PAYING CUSTOMERS to “Press X” in order to play it. Fine, Bungie; we’ll do it your way. ART! ART! ART! [claps flippers together] Ten hours later, I’d already beaten the story mode. In a multiplayer shooter. Ten hours. Unbelievable. And I wasn’t even speed-running.

Apparently the gamer is expected to enjoy the experience of playing the video game so much that they will want to play it more, but any moron knows that’s not how this works. You rush through the game as quickly as possible just to see how good the graphics are in the cutscenes, stopping after the first hour or so to post a negative Metacritic review, and then you take to the net to compete with other gamers and see who can hate the game the hardest. Replayability is for casuals.

Still it was eating a hole in my brain that there were skills left unmaxed so I pressed on. How could I possibly face a stranger online knowing that his character was possibly a higher level than mine? It’s like a Destiny penis, and mine needs to be the biggest. But while grudgingly engaging in various in-game activities I noticed something really disturbing; there are girls in my virtual domain. Who let them in?

 

September 12, 2014:

Diary, this is getting out of hand.

I keep seeing these avatars that appear to be slighter of frame underneath their space armor and possibly even have boobs. Not REAL boobs like the mostly-exposed DDD’s that all girls in video games are supposed to have, but like…..normal size ones under clothing. At first I thought it was just gay dudes pretending to be girls and white knights trying to get laid, or at least bros who just like to look at girl butts when they dance, but some of them had, like, real girl names in their gamertags. I’m scared.

I mean, I always knew feminists were trying to take over my video games, but to actually see them PLAYING video games? I don’t know how to react to how far out of hand this thing has gotten. I tried messaging them to get back in the kitchen, and when that didn’t work, I propositioned them sexually with my trademark smoothness, but they just ignored me! I thought it might be because they might want the D too much to handle my swag, but what if they just don’t give a fuck what I have to say? Nah, why entertain such an ignorant thought? Everyone knows women are all super-sensitive and shit. Just like we know they don’t play real video games. Wait a minute….

female gamer pc

I’ll bet she’s just doing it to impress her boyfriend.

 

September 13, 2014:  

The revolution is coming, Diary,

I see the rest of the internet has caught on. Destiny is the cash grab of the century. They expect people to pay $60 for a game with a story of merely comparable length to other shining examples of the genre plus a leveling class system and challenges that invite replayability along with the kind of multiplayer that made Bungie famous in the first place? As if just having fun or the game being good was the point. Oh, and they’re planning these so-called “expansions”. So basically, we all just paid for an incomplete game. Gee thanks, Bungie; way to railroad the media into forcing honest gamers to buy your half-finished product.

 

September 14, 2014

Some tryhard was defending that piece of shit online, saying he was “having fun” playing it. He just doesn’t get it. He thinks that the spaceship interface and loading screens serve to replace the usual “watch a bar fill while condescendingly obvious gameplay tips cycle onscreen” clichés with immersive traveling sequences that make the overall experience appear more seamless. Look, when I want immersion, I’m talking about killable children. That’s why Elder Scrolls games are the worst experiences ever. No child killing, no immersion. Do you see any children at all in Destiny, much less killable ones? Game. Set. Match.

And anyways, these losers who play shit games because they “enjoy” them are missing the point completely. I watched all the trailers and all the commercials and read all of the major gaming site news and they promised me the Moon. Sure, the Moon and a few more planets are actually playable, but these companies always try to put their product in a good light. It’s almost as though they’re getting paid…

destiny live action

Notice the dust physics which are NOT PRESENT IN THE GAME!

 

September 16, 2014:

Holy shit, Diary,

I’ve been looking around the net reading about conspiracies in the game industry and this thing is bigger than any of us knew. I just found out that Bungie is being financed by bigger companies like Activision and Sony who PAY other companies to create advertisements in order make their game look good. SO THAT WE’LL BUY THEM! And they just pocket the profits. I know, right?! I’m thinking of calling it “Destinygate”.

I mean, think about it. The tagline is “Become Legend” but I don’t feel legendary. I’ve been playing this game for an entire week and I’m all max leveled with all legendary gear. I saved the universe or whatever three times over and I went outside today for the first time since the day before release day to ask random people if they’d heard of me and not one of them said they had. That is blatant false advertising. Kurt Cobain is a legend and everybody has heard of him, but I don’t even think it’s possible to shoot yourself in Destiny. Just one more way this game is bullshit.

When I called my mom to tell her to come do my laundry, I explained the problem and she told me I was a legend to her, but I think she may be patronizing me. She’s also told me point blank that I was the handsomest boy in my entire high school but none of the girls ever want to talk to me about how much better they have it than me, having boobs and being able to be victims and get sympathy and all. Why would my mom tell me I’m handsome and a legend when girls don’t like me and nobody knows who I am irl? And she hasn’t even seen all of the other boys at my school. She might be part of it. I’m calling it “Momgate”.

September 17, 2014

It’s happening, Diary,

Apparently this whole thing is about industry corruption. These companies are just making games and hyping them up so that people will buy them just to make money for themselves. It was like that the whole time and nobody suspected a thing! I always thought money was just a thing that my mom gave me to buy video games and go to the movies and Taco Bell with, but I guess it’s at the core of this whole “business” thing.

And to make it worse, these people in the media are also paid to tell us things about games and some of those people are having sex with other people. And some of those people are THE VERY SAME PEOPLE who make video games. It’s like they don’t even care about us just because we don’t have sex with them. So these feminists who are taking over video games are making games and having sex with the media people who are hyping up these games that are being sold to us for money. It’s all connected. I fucking knew it. I guess some chick named Zoe Quinn is the reason Destiny sucks balls hardcore.

quinn kitty rainbow

These cats are actually the founders of Bungie. BUSTED!

 

September 20, 2014

I’ve learned my lesson, Diary,

Through this whole ordeal I’ve learned about this thing called “hype” and how feminists are controlling the industry with their vaginas in order to make our world more inhabitable for them and how it’s RUINING GAMING FOREVER. Female avatars! Just thinking about all of the extra animations those poor developers had to do just to please these social justice warriors makes my head ache. Or that could be the withdrawals from going off my medication because my prescription ran out just before release day and I’ve been too busy playing a game I hate because of self-imposed peer pressure while arguing online, researching conspiracies, and posting multiple bad reviews on Metacritic and Amazon using several accounts because I need to offset all of those delusional fools who think that a game being “fun” is the same as it being “good”. I pity those fools. It seems like that’s some kind of reference I’m too young to appreciate.

Now I know that I can’t trust the objectivity of a person who seeks financial gain through sale of a product. As Kanye West (or somebody) said: “don’t believe the hype”. Even if a game’s marketing suggests that you are going to “become legend” by playing it, it doesn’t mean it will really improve your chances with girls (who STILL don’t respond to my way sensitive requests for nude pics because I’m not some big game journalist) or make strangers admire your accomplishments. That’s just crap they say to get your money.

What we need to do is stop listening to so-called “professionals” and pay more attention to anonymous message board postings and Metacritic attackers. Those guys know what’s what.

destiny reviews

Yeah, Bungie, where is the heart? And the loot and RPGish elements that permeate the entire game? I rather have burned $60 too! I kind of do want to take a nun to a strip club, though…

See, these people get us. The DumperMcnipplez’s of the world with their cunning swine-related metaphors and people who have apparently been blocked because of their excessive honesty and now use screen names that invite attempts to block them again while they hide behind proxies. These are my heroes now. At least until I find out that 343 Industries sent Anita Sarkeesian to enslave random internet posters to sabotage their rival with bad reviews. My God. Nobody’s safe.

Let Them Eat Cake: Ten Absurdly Awesome Portal Moments

portals

A couple weeks ago I went out on a limb and declared that out of all of the gaming bounty delivered unto us during the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Wii era of gaming, Portal is the series that defined the term “must play” for a generation. These are the two games that every single gamer owes it to themselves to play regardless of genre preference.

Having already written extensively on the subject of the games’ flawless gameplay and deceptively simplistic narrative depth, I feel like to drive home what memorable experiences Portal and Portal 2 were I should craft a list of moments in the game that lit up my brain’s pleasure center like a Christmas tree.

Those little touches of cleverness, humor, and insanity are what made a simple game about a woman solving physics puzzles at Aperture Science Labs while being abused by the psychotic artificial intelligence GLaDOS into one of the best stories of the last ten years in any entertainment medium. Take a trip down recent memory lane with me to celebrate, won’t you? Spoilers follow .

 

Impossible is Nothingportal impossible

Early in the first game, you enter a test chamber and are confronted by GLaDOs’ disembodied voice declaring the following:

“The Enrichment Center regrets to inform you that this next test is impossible. Make no attempt to solve it.”

With us being indomitable gamers and our avatar Chell representing an intellectual juggernaut of freedom lust, the puzzle was solved with ease nonetheless. Our droll praise for being “resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism” served as icing on the cake we were never to taste and helped established the game’s knack for extremely dry sardonic humor.

 

Educated Opinion

In the early stages of Portal 2, a rejuvenated GLaDOS hounds the player with a stream of delightfully catty abuse while facetiously assuring Chell that she’s not holding a grudge just because she killed her in the last game. I could have picked from any number of hilarious quotes here regarding Chell’s weight, parentage, and general lack of quality as a human being, but my favorite has to be the following tidbit delivered in that glorious computerized female monotone I so love.

”That jumpsuit you’re wearing looks stupid. That’s not me talking, it’s right here in your file. On other people it looks fine, but right here a scientist has noted that on you it looks stupid. Well, what does a neck-bearded old engineer know about fashion? He probably – Oh, wait. It’s a she. Still, what does she know? Oh wait, it says she has a medical degree. In fashion! From France!”

BURN!

 

Victory Candescence

As the first game develops, the player realizes that something sinister is afoot. Our hostess becomes more condescending and unbalanced and her claims become increasingly ridiculous. And did she just say we were going to be baked, or was that just something else about cake? Time to get out of here.

The game finally comes to a head when you, having completed all tests, end up on a moving platform staring at a furnace at the end of the line with GLaDOS assuring us that the portal gun will be unharmed by your incineration. Chell manages to portal her way outside of the testing area, while the crazed AI proceeds hilariously to play off the attempted extermination as another test.

 

Shootin’ Blanks

During your campaign to take out your original captor once again in the sequel, Wheatley –another rogue AI- leads you to the manufacturing plant for the turrets GLaDOS is using as part of her defenses. Turrets are one of life’s little pleasures in Portal. Sure, they are constantly scanning the room looking to fill you with lead as soon as you peak your head out, but they are oh so charming and cute while they do it. The finished turrets in the plant are rolling down a conveyor belt into a scanner where the defective ones are catapulted into a furnace, screaming all the way.

Chell replaces the good turret being used as a scanning template with one of the bad ones who are begging for bullets, asking if blindness is normal, shouting “blam blam blam!”, or just chuckling insanely to themselves, causing the innocent operational turrets to be thrown to their doom screaming “whyyyyyyy!?” while the should-be rejects wonder aloud how they’re getting a pass.

The whole procedure was so funny I must have spent twenty minutes just standing there listening to the endless line of turrets chatter. Naturally, the labor comes to fruition when a gloating GLaDOS greets you with a room filled with harmless turrets who then proceed to self-destruct.

 

Logic Bombed

Portal 2 eventually forces the once-adversarial human and machine duo to work together to overcome Wheatley after he’s corrupted by exposure to Aperture Science’s mainframe after Chell replaces GLaDOS (who is put into a potato battery) with him in hopes of obtaining his help to escape. Instead, he turns on you and renders the player a lab rat once again.

After you rescue GLaDOS from a hungry bird (thankfully with her slow clap processor still functioning at optimum sarcasm levels), she devises a simple ploy to crash the bad AI by posing a logical paradox (a circular question with no possible answer) to him while being careful not to think about it herself, lest she perish.

What she didn’t anticipate was Wheatley possessing the intelligence of a Twitter post. Thinking about a paradox spins your brain in circles and will theoretically overload a computer system that runs on logic, but for someone subsisting by simply pulling answers out of their rear end with no thinking involved, it’s no sweat.

 

The Great Pastry Deception

You knew it was going to be in here. The original Portal meme was born out of GLaDOS’ constant assurances that when you complete testing, you will be given cake. This is already funny in itself, but it remains a theme in the entire game as your delightful digitized villainess continues using cake as an incentive to return even after she blatantly attempts to murder you.

Once you escape the testing area, you begin to encounter graffiti -presumably left by other Aperture survivors- aiding in your escape, most memorably the repeated line “the cake is a lie. The cake is a lie. The cake is a lie.” This unhinged bit of legendary black comedy is a big part of what put Portal on the pop culture map.

 

Mantis Men

In addition to Wheatly and GLaDOS, part of Portal 2 has Chell accompanied by old message recordings from Aperture’s insane founder, Cave Johnson. His cheerfully flippant displays of the past human rights atrocities in service of science that led to the creation of our favorite twisted AI’s, among other things, add necessary backstory and provide plenty more laughs. This is my personal favorite.

“Those of you who volunteered to be injected with praying mantis DNA, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Bad news is we’re postponing those tests indefinitely. Good news is we’ve got a much better test for you: fighting an army of mantis men. Pick up a rifle and follow the yellow line. You’ll know when the test starts.”

 

Best. Boss Battle. Ever.

The end of Portal has you finally coming face-to-face with your tormentor’s hardware. As she assures you of your impending demise, an object detaches from her, giving you time to figure out the strategy you’ll use to defeat her by incinerating her components before she floods the chamber with deadly neurotoxin and begins firing rockets at you. Each of her components has its own personality ranging from adorably inquisitive to Mike Patton’s savage inhuman snarling.

But, as with the rest of the game, the highlight is GLaDOS’ passive-aggressive commentary. Although you’re racing against the clock to defeat her, I wouldn’t do it too fast. It’d be a shame to miss out on any of the myriad gems of abuse she doles out before going down for the count.

 

And Stay Out!

My favorite moment at the end of Portal 2 is something that took both games together to build up to. In the first game, Chell is given a heart-engraved “Companion Cube” which she uses to solve puzzles. GLaDOS then demands the player drop their “friend” into an incinerator before they can progress and then proceeds to heap passive-aggressive abuse on our heroine for her heartless betrayal of an inanimate object.

After Aperture’s resident psychotic soulless servant of unsavory science is reinstated to her rightful control of the facility at the end of the sequel, she comes to the logical conclusion that killing the “dangerous mute lunatic” is too much trouble and sends Chell to the surface; a world that appears barren and lifeless. As she steps out alone into an unknown world, the door behind her pops open to expel a familiar “face”. It’s your Companion Cube, scorched but intact!

It’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious and somehow touching gesture from a digitized being who has clearly begun to develop some form of sentimentality over the two-game struggle with the player character, and it’s the absolute perfect note to end Chell’s journey on.

 

Last Serenades

Another highlight that set the first game above almost every other game was the end credits. Seriously. After witnessing the demise of Chell’s lovable antagonist, the player is treated to an ending scene showing that deep in the facility somewhere, GLaDOS lives and she’s got cake and a musical message for you as the credits roll. “Still Alive” was an instant classic among gamers and was the kind of delightful surprise we just don’t see very often.

Portal 2 offers a lovely bonus tune from your good friends the turrets on the way to the surface before once again treating you to GLaDOS’s musical stylings. I’ve read people saying that Valve should not have attempted to duplicate that magical moment from the end of the first game, but honestly, I’d have been sorely disappointed if it didn’t happen. Just like in the first game’s ending song, “Want You Gone” is full of both heart and humor and serves as one of the most perfect endings of any game ever.

Manifesting Destiny: Bungie’s Multiplayer Evolution

bungiemp

If you are reading this instead of playing Destiny right now, my condolences, but I’ll ask you to kindly wait until you finish reading this article and then go out and get with the latest innovation in first person shooters, because if you’re a fan of the genre you aren’t going to want to miss out on Bungie’s latest addition to a career that has been defined by exceptional world-building and constantly-evolving multiplayer functionality in the Halo franchise. Let’s take a trip down memory lane for some perspective before we come back around to look at their newest addition to a legacy of awesome gaming.

Every Halo super-fan knows it was originally conceived as a real time strategy game, which would have been a tragedy that robbed gamers of one of the greatest shooter franchises of all time and Microsoft of the foothold they needed to get their Xbox brand off the ground. Halo: Combat Evolved impressed mainly with an amazing story, extraordinary enemy AI, and some of the smoothest gameplay ever seen in a console shooter. But what a lot of people still remember to this day is the flawlessness of the multiplayer.halo combat evolved

Playing Combat Evolved split-screen for the first time was an experience as magical as the first time you fired up Goldeneye on the N64. It was a literal game changer. When you hopped into a Warthog with a friend in cooperative play and drove around the map running over and gunning down any living thing you could find together, the feeling was unlike anything else at the time. And adding that vehicle combat to competitive play? Yes, please.

In competitive play the mixture of sprawling maps and intimate little arenas lent itself to any type of game you wanted to play, as did the wealth of options available to players to customize matches. If you and your buds wanted to play a deadly little game of hide-and-sneak, have a balls-to-the-wall shootout, a demolition derby, or a sniping contest, you were covered. The weaponry was well-balanced and the original Halo might still be the only shooter where most players are perfectly content to go into PvP combat with just their sidearm. The deadly scoped pistol was the perfect tool for almost any occasion that involved shooting someone in the head.

As much as everybody loved the first game’s multiplayer, it was locals only. A lack of online functionality was the closest thing Combat Evolved had to a flaw. Halo 2 could have –and some might say should have- simply taken the exact same mechanics, added online play, and had an even bigger hit with minimum effort. But instead, Bungie decided to expand upon it, implementing an intriguing dual-wielding mechanic in which some guns were single-handed and could be doubled up on or paired with any other one-handed weapon and fired independently.

halo 2 dual wieldThis added a massive layer of complexity to the multiplayer dynamic. A lot of people missed the consistency of the original pistol, but I couldn’t get enough of mixing and matching different combinations of weapons. For instance, Covenant plasma weapons are great for taking down shields while good old-fashioned human lead-chuckers eat up health like nobody’s business. So with a plasma rifle in one hand and a SMG in the other, you could trash an opponent with auto-fire in seconds if you lit them up with the rifle first and then finished the job with a sub-machine spray. More conservative competitors could go with a charged plasma pistol to take down an enemy’s shield with one go with a single headshot from a standard pistol in the other hand to finish the job. Also, one Needler equaled fresh meat; dual Needlers equaled murder machine.

A lot of gamers (me included) still swear that Halo 2 was the highlight of the entire series, and it remained Xbox Live’s strongest game even after the 360 dropped; until the next game came out, of course. Halo 3 was the first game of the franchise to disappoint me as a single player story, but adding four player campaign co-op helped salve that wound and Bungie once again changed up and rebalanced the entire game to keep the competitive multiplayer as fresh as ever.

Gone was the dual-wielding, and in its place were awe-inspiring new maps (and upgrades on classics), killer new weapons like the vehicle-decimating Spartan laser, and a renewed sense of balance and strategy built around controlling power weapons and mastering the long range burst-fire of the Battle Rifle. At this point a map editor was added along with the ability to review and record your gameplay so you could create and share clips of your exploits online.halo 3 multiplayer

Like its predecessors before it on the original Xbox, Halo 3 proved its quality as an indisputable system seller for the Xbox 360 and is a game that people bring up often when they discuss perfection in a multiplayer shooter. For most gamers, this was the peak. You’d think Bungie would be done tinkering with the formula by now, but you’d be wrong.

For some added co-op flavor, the spin-off game Halo: ODST introduced Firefight, in which a team of players could take on waves of enemies together in an attempt to survive as long as they could. No matchmaking was a big bummer, though, and since it was an extension of Halo 3, ODST only included extra maps to add to the content of the main title rather than anything else that was its own in PvP play.

Firefight made a big online splash in the next game with lots of customization and matchmaking. Halo: Reach had a ton of great features on hand for their co-op showcase that extended the life of the game a lot for me while the competitive multiplayer underwent yet another massive shift in basic gameplay mechanics with Armor Abilities and custom loadouts now part of the mix.

With any given player able to choose extra abilities like active camouflage or jetpacks and begin with their weapon of choice in their hands rather than the standardized loadouts of the past, the strategies and tactics players perfected in years of Halo 3 were now caput and even the precision of the beloved Battle Rifle was replaced with the recoiling semi-automatic DMR, one of many new weapons added to the mix. People weren’t pleased, but being a fan of improvisation over glassy-eyed perfunctory tactics, I was, so screw them.

halo reach jetpackReach also featured Generator Defense, a multi-tiered objective-based battle where opposing teams took turns as invading Covenant Elites storming a Spartan base defended by the other team. Whoever did a better job protecting their base during their turn on defense won the match. This and Firefight were where I spent most of my time on this final Bungie Halo title.

I was a big fan of the various change-ups Bungie implemented from game to game during their run with the defining multiplayer shooter franchise of the last two console generations. Whereas Call of Duty puts out new games every year with only minor tweaks to gameplay, new Halo was something that only came along every few years and it was always a whole new game. It always felt like Halo, but there was so much changed from game to game that it was kept fresh in a way that made every release special whereas annual franchises are something people seem to buy and play out of habit with most of the installments blending together.

And that, dear readers, brings us to this week, where Bungie’s Destiny awaits us. It’s been four years in the making, and if the beta was any indication it’ll be well worth that wait. The PlayStation faithful will finally get a chance to fully experience what the studio that helped put Microsoft on the console war map can do for them. And what they’ve done is almost entirely remove the barrier between the single-player and multiplayer experiences.

Destiny takes the silky smooth gameplay, believable enemy AI, and sci-fi aesthetics that made Bungie’s last franchise such a massive hit and adds role-playing element like branching class abilities and stats along with a new seamless multiplayer interface. It functions sort of like a MMO on a basic level. While playing through the story, the player will randomly encounter other players and teams that are currently exploring the same area, which is really cool.destiny multiplayer

The various activities in-game are all linked through space travel, meaning rather than exiting to the main menu to change from single-player to multiplayer, the elements are all integrated through your ship. While orbiting you can choose to go to the Tower where you can gear up, hang out with other players, and trade in loot, or explore the planet and undertake story missions or Strikes (larger scale co-op battles taking the place of Firefight), or go to the Crucible to throw down with other players in a variety of match types. For most competitive modes level stat boosts are wiped to make everything fair, but for the hardcore there’s the Iron Banner tournament, where the strongest can really test their mettle.

So Destiny is basically Halo meets Borderlands meets Defiance with no wrong way to play. Be a loner, be a competitor, be a teammate, be an explorer, be a loot whore, be a dancing machine; it all depends on what you want out of the experience. Me, I’m going to do a little of everything. Bungie appears to have built something really amazing here and I’m excited to get back to playing it. And now that I’ve said my piece, I recommend you go do the same. And you, Bungie; you get back to innovating and changing the face of multiplayer shooters as we know it, ‘kay?

Portal is the Definitive Franchise of the Last Generation

portal

We’ve seen a lot happen in the past nine years of gaming. Video games became widely accepted as a legitimate art form, and in addition to the prettiest graphics ever we started seeing new kinds of games that fully utilized the medium’s capacity for interactive fiction on a level we’d never seen before. It’s been a good decade for us.

But with so many choices out there, how does one decide on a single franchise to represent the unheard-of bounty that the PlayStation 3/Wii/Xbox 360/PC wars have bestowed upon us? Do you go for the epic ambition of a Mass Effect? Part of me wants that desperately, but BioWare may have blown that at the literal last minute. Plus, some gameplay aspects of those games may not age so well. Grand Theft Auto? Maybe if V’s story had built upon the artistry and completeness of IV instead of focusing so heavily on impressive-but-unnecessary detailing of the environment. Nope. How about the mass appeal of Call of Duty? Bro, shouldn’t you be out skipping the campaign to go spawn-camp or something? It’s a Tuesday, there must be a new one releasing today. Go get it.

No, no, no. The definitive must-play franchise to define a generation must be timeless if not nearly flawless. It must be so good that there is almost no valid criticism available to level at it. That leaves two candidates in my mind: Irrational Games’ Bioshock and Valve’s Portal. Each were born in the early days of this console gen and released superior sequels towards the end, and all four games are pretty much beyond reproach as they combine artistry, creative storytelling, flawless mechanics, polish, and brash intellectualism that refuses to lower itself to a level where it can be fully understood without a substantial period of mental digestion. These are games that are the equivalent of timeless literary classics.

portal gif

With an added bonus of possibly breaking your brain.

So going forward, which first person science fiction masterpiece takes the award in my book? Well, I suppose the spoiler for that is right there at the top of the article isn’t it? While Bioshock may have refined the first person shooter beyond its previous reach, Valve literally redefined the entire genre with Portal. A shooter with no actual violence that functions as a puzzle-platformer with a narrative to rival anything that came before it from any genre; how does this even exist? Portal takes the cake. No lie.

There is so much depth and enjoyment in the simple story of an unwitting test subject struggling for her freedom against a lovably psychotic AI with a sadistic passive-aggressive streak a mile across it almost hurts to think about it. Portal’s ultimate brilliance and what sets it apart from the Bioshock games is that Valve did so very much with so very little. Some creative physics puzzles utilizing their standard Source engine, some exceptional voice acting, and a lot of imagination was all it really took to make a game that was created as a practical afterthought to accompany the murderers’ row of PC classics that made up The Orange Box collection an instant hit and the highlight amongst a set of near-flawless games.

portal 2 co-op gif

Sometimes, you’ve gotta take a minute to appreciate the simple joys in life.

Portal is the kind of game that could potentially be made by anyone and can be enjoyed by everyone. The amount of resources to create a Bioshock, a Grand Theft Auto, or a Mass Effect is astronomical. Be it crafting and balancing effective combat powers, arsenals of weaponry, or recording countless hours of voice acting from dozens of actors, CG cutscenes, and endlessly diverse landscapes; this stuff is hard, expensive, and complicated to make. Why not spend most of your time in sterile-looking rooms where all you do is jump and make portals while a computerized voice chides you and have every bit as much fun? Sometimes less really is more.

Valve’s Spartan approach to crafting this story stands in direct contrast to the rest of the industry’s MOREMOREMORE philosophy the same way that understated independent films stand out against big blockbusters. Reservoir Dogs was a cheaply-made film consisting mostly of people talking, but I think most of us would rather watch that than Waterworld, yeah? And that’s the lesson that should be learned from Portal and carried forward into the next generation: creativity and style can beat spectacle. Handily.

Mind-bending physics-based problem solving lessons aside, Portal’s sparse narrative contains layers and depths that the likes of which most writing-heavy games like GTA V and any number of RPG’s can’t even conceive of. While this uncompromising combination of depth and simplicity leads to a lot of misunderstandings, these misunderstandings can lead to debate and discussions that help further the cause of games at art so there’s no real downside.

For instance, one analysis I read of the feminist undercurrent that flows through both Portal games declared the antagonistic artificial intelligence GLaDOS to be representative of the strong, independent, successful woman while the protagonist Chell was the obedient “domestic icon” doing as she’s told. This makes me want to punch kittens to death. Not because I hate kittens, but because that kind of inane backwards thinking makes we want to annihilate that which is most innocent and pure before this shitty world can corrupt it.

Chell, of course, represents stoic independence in the face of imprisonment. She strives and achieves in spite of the (literal) machine arrayed against her. She does what she has to do to progress and then when asked to lay down and die, she instead enacts her escape, ignoring every line of bullshit fed to her in favor of climbing towards freedom on her own terms. In my mind, she’s a silent protagonist not because she has no personality, but because she’s never given a good reason to respond to the constant abuse and condescension hurled at her. Rather than argue with a foe she can’t reason with, she responds instead with actions that serve her own purposes.

glados mute lunatic gif

Over the course of both games, GlaDOS is revealed to be the epitome of the “power corrupts” adage. This is illustrated particularly clearly in Portal 2 as a simultaneous metaphor for America’s broken two-party system functioning on the illusion of choice. When you replace GLaDOS with your robotic partner in crime Wheatley, the two AI’s immediately switch roles. Wheatley becomes a power mad slave to a corrupted all-powerful operating system while GLaDOS –stripped of her authority- becomes vulnerable and conciliatory towards the woman who “killed” her in the first game, aiding in her escape and even saving her life.

How often do we hear politicians tell us that the person in power is corrupt and crazy and bringing us down? How often does the same politician take up the same role once they are in power? Every single time, you say? Meet the new boss…same as the old boss. So while Chell retains the role as the quintessential feminist breaking free of the bonds forced upon her, GLaDOS represents what happens once the struggle is done and systematic integration is achieved: the same thing that happens to everyone else when they’re put in charge. The strength of choice is retained by the individual struggling for personal freedom, not by integrating into the system that’s designed to keep them down. Not bad for a video game.

The elegance of this narrative cannot be overstated. Okay, maybe if I put it all bold in caps and underlined it with like 5 exclamation points, but it’s really damn good. And there’s more. The most important aspect of all in making the Portal games instantly memorable classics is the intelligent satirical humor and charm that accompanies every part of the story.

portal companion cubeFrom the insistence that you cherish your Companion Cube early in the first game (it even has a little heart on it to scientifically maximize affection) to GLaDOS’ cruel demand that you incinerate it for her amusement to her final gesture of kicking the same scorched cube out of the facility after you as your only “friend” in an apparently empty world, both games are almost unbearably clever and filled with arid comedic brilliance from front to back.

So if you have been putting off these games for any reason, now’s the time to catch up before Sony and Microsoft start actually putting out games on their new platforms. If there’s any modern series that every single gamer owes it to themselves to play, Portal is it. Both are games that appear to be designed to stand the test of time and deserve to be remade every couple of generations down the line to show the kids how it’s done.

This generation has seen no better combination of complex simplicity, innovation, intelligence, gameplay, satire, writing, problem-solving, world and character building, artistry, and everything else that makes video games art. These games define the word “classic” and I hope to see them inspire more creative people to think outside of the box and make interactive fiction that makes us think, feel, and have a great time all at once without relying so heavily on killing stuff. And that’s not even taking into account Portal 2’s cooperative multiplayer, which pretty much redefines that concept as well.

Enjoy your cake and victory candescence as we move on to the next console generation, Portal. We’ve done great science together and I’ll miss you. I fear it will be a long time before we see your like again since Valve refuses to count to three because they are horrible people (who are constantly creating instead of rehashing). Maybe they’ll throw us a bone and give us a Mantis Men spin-off at least. What I do know is that if at some point in my short, sad life I don’t get to go back to Aperture Labs, I will be very disappointed, but I’ll understand. Portal was born of this magical place and time in gaming history and as the definitive experience of that generation, maybe it’s best that it stays there. In our hearts. For science.