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For thoughts and such that aren't in the news.

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The Future of Cryptocurrency

The death of MTGox is the greatest thing to happen to cryptocurrencies in a long, long time. You might ask why considering the numerous calls for regulation and unbridled chaos its dissolution has left. The unfortunate reality is that roughly $400 million USD in Bitcoin was lost and isn't coming back. No one except the people responsible at Gox can fix that. As crypto users, however, it's our responsibility to ensure this never happens again by keeping online exchanges accountable, decentralized and transparent. MTGox screwed customers over by withholding withdrawals, leading many to wonder where their money was (and still is, for that matter) and ensuring their was confusion as to what was really happening. Shutting down and reorganizing isn't the answer to fixing the problem.   A core point of BTC, to avoid placing currency in unstable banks, was thrown out the window the moment MTGox became popular. I get that folks wanted to protect their hard-earned scrap, but an online wallet handled by programmers that were way in over their heads wasn't the way to do it. MTGox was a trading card site that somehow became the most popular cryptocurrency exchange on the net. MTGox used outdated security protocols and a shifty proprietary wallet system; there were red flags everywhere. And while Bitcoin industry leaders have recently assured users this will not be repeated, it's ultimately up to us to keep cryptocurrency use alive.   As mentioned before, the first step is doing away with online wallet banking and centralized institutions. We've all seen how that's worked out for physical currencies and Bitcoin users. Banks are not secure; offline wallets are far safer alternatives. While I understand the fear of unreliable hard-drives, the simple solution is to back-up your wallets to various safe locations. An online wallet is an even bigger gamble than the crypto gaming sites. If you're worried about thieves hacking and stealing your coins, encrypt the wallet. It's as simple as that.   The second step is to decentralize the currency system. In other words, every coin on the market needs to divest itself from Bitcoin. Each altcoin has a purpose and use. The value of said coins should not be dependent on Bitcoin. Achieving relative independence can be done through more exchanges that convert cryptos to and from existing world currencies. It will be a challenging process but can ultimately make adoption easier and strengthen the overall health of the market. Bitcoin is important, no doubt, but other coins need not be tied into BTC since they're not being backed by the grand-daddy currency.   The third step is to make widespread adoption a feasible, desirable option. This means opening more markets and businesses to cryptocurrency use. Imagine paying for your coffee with Dogecoin or buying a brew at the local bar with Litecoin. Some entrepeneurs have already taken the initiative and integrated crypto payment systems. We have to take it a step further, however, and solidify cryptos as a viable means of payment. We don't need to back these coins with precious metals or cash, but it's important to stabilize the crypto economy in order to introduce the coins to a larger audience. Paperless payment is the future.   Step four is simple: introduce your friends and family to cryptocurrencies. There's been this prevailing notion that cryptos are for the tech elite and geeks. While some technical knowledge is required to mine, the general process can be easily taught in a matter of minutes. All it requires is you to help guide the way and get them thinking in the way of the future. Cryptos shouldn't be made cryptic when we, more than ever, need to bring in new users. If they start with Dogecoin, that's perfectly fine. If they wish to start with Bitcoin, that's fine too. Help your friends find the coin they enjoy and like to use. It's all about founding crypto communities before we get to the Moon (a shibe-ism, if you aren't familiar). Locking out potential adopters makes little sense when cryptos offer so much promise.   Where will the future take cryptocurrency? That's a good question, but the growing market rebound from the MTGox scandal has already shown that we're a resilient lot. No budding currency is going to progress without extreme growing pains. When all is said and done, we've come a long way in providing a glimpse at an alternative payment system not dependent on weakening banks. And even though there are bad eggs, we've made a lot of progress without regulation. What currency can claim to have experienced the same growth cryptos have? We're on the edge of a new digital frontier. It's up to us to keep pushing the boundaries and make this frontier a home.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

How I Learned to Leave Bitcoin and Embrace Dogecoin

For the longest time I was an ardent supporter of Bitcoin. Like many of the libertarian and tech-savvy users of BTC, I saw a future of paperless, bankless money just waiting to be explored. That is, until I spent my 1.8 BTC on a new Nvidia GPU for my rig. At the team each coin was worth about $140 or so. In my mind, it was a great investment. I hadn't paid any direct energy fees (yay college tuition!) and essentially received the card I mined for free. And then a few months later, I decided to check how much BTC was worth. It was a rude surprise to see they were worth over a grand a piece.   This made me upset for many reasons, chief among them being that I'd felt I had made a poor choice in my investments. And then came the feeling of remorse that I'd gamed the system of bizarre user-centric values for my own personal benefit. It felt no different than the barons who currently only millions of dollars worth of BTC, albeit I'm much poorer than they. With that blast-off of coins and the eventual difficulty increase in mining due to ASICs, I left the land of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency for months. I attempted mining Litecoin but that only ended in futility. I even considered returning to BTC but ASICs had made my GPUs more or less obsolete.     And then along came Dogecoin. I'd heard of this meme-based cryptocurrency as it made the rounds on tech news sites for its sheer preposterousness. Dogecoin, based on the titular doge meme, is as ridiculous as it sounds. But there are more than a few fascinating reasons to take the altcoin quite seriously. For one thing, dogecoin is as newb-friendly as it gets. Even those with virtually no tech experience can hop along and experiment freely. And because dogecoins essentially have no real limit on how many can be mined, it's relatively easy for anyone to start mining.   The other, more important reason dogecoin is a true contender is the community. I've never encountered a friendlier e-coin community than dogecoin's userbase. The folks here are genuinely kind and generous. Every one has a light-hearted approach to the coin and welcomes new users with open arms. Despite the high number of new member threads and beginner questions on Reddit, there's always someone willing to answer and guide new shibes (as well call ourselves) into the fold. While dogecoin mining is the easiest to jump into, having helping hands to assist you is never a bad thing!   Generosity from the dogecoin community has even sent Olympic delegations and individual members to the most recent Winter Olympics in Sochi. Just ask the Jamaican bobsled team or the Indian men's single-luger and they'll tell you dogecoin helped get them to Sochi. It's a remarkable feat of the online community to rally together and donate so much money. And from the way things are looking, this trend will only continue as new shibes and old ones alike continue spreading dogecoin across the web.     The most interesting part of dogecoin's growing power is how quickly it's become a top-four or top-three cryptocurrency. In just these past two months, dogecoin's risen 1000% in value. While it's still only worth about two-tenths of a penny, that's impressive considering it was worth .00025 cents several weeks ago. And even more BTC and other altcoin users are trading their stocks for dogecoins! What started off as a joke is becoming a widely-accepted e-coin. Because it's not scarce and finite as Bitcoin is, dogecoin makes more sense as a daily currency, only reinforcing the potential value of this internet phenomenon.   As you can tell, I love dogecoin. The concept is bloody brilliant and could only have spawned from the internet. Heck, it's based on a meme declared dead as of last year! It's clear that doge has found a new residence inside our online wallets. Time will tell if dogecoin can continue its surge in popularity and value but, from where I'm standing, we'll reach the moon soon enough! For more information on dogecoin and advice on how to get started, check out this Reddit page. If you'd like a few dogecoins to start fueling your rocket to the moon, get a wallet and I'll send you some! For now, that's all. Shibe on!

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

2013's Best Of: Awesome Albums Part 1

Taking stock of the past few months in gaming, it's easy to see that 2013 has been one of the most generous, star-studded, quality-packed years. The same can be said across a number of other media industries, whether it's film or music. But when you have so many different things to sort through and watch, play or listen to, it gets tough to find the real gems. Over the next few weeks I'll try to sift through 2013's massive releases and highlight some of my personal favorites that are worth checking out.     Awesome Albums (Part 1)   The Wonder Years: The Greatest Generation     What does it take for an album to really stand out? How can a band truly define a genre and transcend norms to create something unique? These questions get harder and harder to answer as musical tastes evolve. For instance, when I was just a wee young lad, pop-punk was all the rage. I never subscribed to the genre but all of my friends seemed obsessed with bands like Yellow Card and blink-182. Now that I'm older I find myself going through each band's catalog, trying to recapture whatever magic I missed in my youth. Truth be told, I sometimes struggle to find what kids really liked about them. I guess it was the combo of raucous attitudes and a rebellious tone that really sold pop-punk's success.   Fast forward to 2013 and there are barely any relevant pop-punk bands left. Those that remain have slowly lost ground and continue to lose relevance amidst the rise of alt-rock. Unless you're All Time Low (which seems to have an eternal fanbase), it's nigh impossible to try and resurrect the long-dormant pop-punk genre. That is, unless you're The Wonder Years. Few bands have had as meteoric a rise as The Wonder Years and they've rightly earned their new-found fame. Tackling themes of post-collegiate disillusionment and problems that adults who grew up with blink-182 now face, The Wonder Years have curated a rabid audience.   From what I've experienced at their concert and other firsthand accounts, the fans know each and every lyric of the songs. I've even had the chance to join in on a number of the songs they've played, which speaks to the band's ability to resonate with the youth. The Wonder Years are nearly pitch-perfect for my generation and the previous one, but I can already see the younger listeners growing in numbers. The music is mature with all of the catchy pop-punk hooks and none of the filler. And as time goes by, The Wonder Years only get better.   This leads me to my current Album of the Year, The Wonder Year's The Greatest Generation. Few records are as perfectly paced or written as well as The Greatest Generation. The Wonder Years really did a fantastic job with Suburbia and the Upsides, but their newest album is on a whole new plane. It makes pop-punk relevant again while redefining the typical lyrical content. The Greatest Generation is a deeply personal album for lead singer Dan 'Soupy' Campbell, tackling depression and anxiety. But these themes are interwoven and outed to highlight how common they are among the recent generations. Soupy wants to relate to you on an intimate level; The Greatest Generation does that at every chance it gets. Listen to the whole album for the best experience (especially to appreciate the last track), but if you have to pick a few tracks to give a quick spin, here are the album highlights: Passing Through A Screen Door, Dismantling Summer, The Devil In My Blood Stream, Chaser, Cul-De-Sac.   Brick + Mortar: Bangs EP     Brick + Mortar are an odd lot, to be sure. Founded by front-man Brandon Asraf and drummer John Tacon, the duo is a fusion of darkly-tinged electro-pop and lo-fi rock. They emerged from relative obscurity with hit single Bangs and have since played at Coachella and many other venues to acclaim. Their newest release, the Bangs EP, is the kind of album you'd have to hear at least once in your life. It's perfect for the end of summer or when you just feel like tripping out. While not every song on the Bangs EP is my favorite, few debuts are as strong or well-composed as this. Brick + Mortar have proven their ability to meld genres into a gritty, dark, seductive hybrid.   A few of my album favorites include the titular Bangs, Keep This Place Beautiful and the heartfelt No I Won't Go. Like many songs from this EP, No I Won't Go has a fairly deep story behind it. Brandon rasps a fight against addiction against the backdrop of an insidious bass-and-drum combo. It's darkly beautiful and terrifying, a paradox that perfectly highlights how skilled John and Brandon are at creating meaningful pop. And in many ways, you feel the duo is speaking to your own faults and problems. Bangs EP is personal, tripped out, mechanical but smooth, and altogether chilling. You likely won't hear anything quite like it for a good while.   Balance and Composure: The Things We Think We're Missing     Balance and Composure wasn't a big favorite of mine for a long time. I didn't get why this gritty rock band was so popular. Their debut album, Separation, just wasn't doing it for me. A few years later the quintet comes out with the sophomore The Things We Think We're Missing. Somehow, Balance and Composure heard my feelings of discontent and produced one of my favorite rock albums of the last five years. Hitting the blunt force of a hammer, The Things We Think We're Missing has some of Balance and Composure's best writing and musical composition. Having listened to the whole thing front to back, I finally see what the buzz is about.   The album opens with the hard-rocking Parachutes and seldom lets up from there. The album channels 90's grunge and elements of classic rock, as well as numerous contemporary influences. You can see the DNA of Nirvana in a fair few of the songs including Notice Me. The latter half of Balance and Composure's second effort is easily my favorite. It starts with the heavy Cut Me Open that leads into the stellar Reflection. Seriously, Reflection is darn near flawless. It's the reason you should give The Things We Think We're Missing a chance. I'm Swimming and Keepsake are great songs in their own right but lack the staying power and brilliance of Reflection. All that said, Balance and Composure have truly crafted a fantastic rock album that'll stand the test of time. This deserves a hallowed place on your shelf beside the top rock albums of the past few decades.     That's it for Part 1 of my Awesome Albums of 2013 round-up! Stay tuned for more amazing musical pieces you need to snag. Part 2 Teaser: letlive, Haim, Artic Monkeys, CHVRCHES.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Drunken Robot Pornography

I don't often recommend instant, full-price purchases before I preview or review something so when I do, you know it has to be special. I'm about to do exactly that, the rare thing I seldom do. You should be playing Drunken Robot Pornography. Why? Because of the name. I'm not kidding, play this game. Have some faith in my recommendation!       Okay, FINE, I'll tell you why you should really be playing a game called Drunken Robot Pornography (hereafter referred to as DRP).     If there's anything to classify DRP as, it's a first-person bullet hell shooter. As you might have guessed, that already makes it pretty unique. I can't rightly point out many other games that fall under this tiny, niche subcategory. It's an adjustment for sure, but once you settle into the groovy rhythm that developer Dejobaan Games has created, you'll find there's a lot to love in DRP. It's quirky, humorous and chock full of the sort of addicting action shooters have sorely lacked for the past 5 years.   The premise is straight up bizarre; your robot bartender has burned down your bar after having been granted sentience. The bartender (Tim was his name) decides to steal the exotic robo dancers and attack Boston with giant, 30-foot tall Titans. These mechanized warriors are massive beasts fitted with more missiles, lasers, guns, shields and vulnerable appendages than you can count. Since everything is your fault, you have to go toe to toe with the Titans, wielding naught but a gimpy little laser rifle. Luckily for you, there are oodles of power-ups and martinis to collect to help you rack up the score and robotic body count.     Gameplay is as straightforward as it gets. Use the WASD keys to walk, Space to jetpack around and the mouse to perforate enemies. Kill as many things as possible and never stop shooting because if you do, you'll probably die. DRP is here to kick your teeth in, even if you're a veteran FPS player. Hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of robots will swarm you in seconds to main and dismember you. You can never let off the trigger finger as enemies will continuously spawn until you kill the boss Titan, a task seldom made easy with so many drones to wipe out.   Taking down a Titan requires you to first destroy the extremities. Once you've nipped them off, you must destroy the core. Basically, spray all of the bullets in the Titan's general direction and you'll probably destroy it. Just make sure you do all of this before the timer ends. Want to top the leaderboards DRP has? Try and kill as many robots as possible and collect all of the martinis. It sounds simple but is absolute chaos in practice. Good chaos, mind you.     Right now DRP is in alpha, accessible through Steam's Early Access option for $10. It's not complete but what is on offer is quite impresssive. I seriously haven't had this much idiotic, frantic fun in quite a while. And, despite the name, the game is suitable for all ages. It's incredibly fun and requires twitch-precision. Coupled with a low price point and the ability to make your own Titans, Drunken Robot Pronography is something you need to experience. DRP is already addicting, and if Dejobaan adds multiplayer......just imagine the insanity!     So yeah, that's why you should play a game with the name Drunken Robot Pornography. Did I sell you on it or are you still cautious?   Steam Link: http://store.steampowered.com/app/209060/?snr=1_7_15__13

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Review: NRA Varmint Hunter

I have often pondered the means of offing a furry little critter in my sleep. Do I plug it with 12-gauge buckshot, cut it down to size with a round of 5.56, or set it alight with a home-made flamethrower? If I was to answer "yes" to any of these, I'd be a certified psychopath. Luckily for you, I'm not. Unlike some folks, I'm a big animal person and not an avid hunter. But what of those friggin' garden pests? How does one actually dispose of pesky garden-variety rodents without attracting the attention of PETA and the WWF?   Why, just have a seat and let the good old National Rifle Association explain the best way to kill varmints with its premier varmint hunting simulation, NRA Varmint Hunter. And yes, I know I used the word "varmint" more than was necessary in that last sentence. Because 'Murica.   The best way to kill varmints is to stare at a serene background that looks vaguely 3D, passable for a Windows 98 game. See that little brown blob standing there? Just guide your rifle's scope with the mouse over the blob, press Space to shoot and R to reload. If you somehow manage to miss it, press Space again. That's the entire extent of NRA Varmint Hunter's experience. Point, shoot, reload and repeat. Not satisfied that you don't get any trophies? Have some points so you can feel better about killing innocent animals. I'm absolutely appalled that the NRA somehow approved this for store shelves.   I really wish I was kidding when I say this is the worst game ever made. Forget Big Rigs for a moment; NRA Varmint Hunter lacks the basic necessities to even be called a game. Sure, Big Rigs didn't work in the slightest, but it was at least packing more value than the entirety of Varmint Hunter. All you do is shoot at small brown blips that could barely pass as animal caricatures. When they die, they fall over or rocket upwards and vanish. That's it. No sense of accomplishment or purpose. Just the lingering feeling of buyer's remorse and regret for killing the cute little critters.   Perhaps one of this game's best features is the multiplayer. In the awful-looking game menu it clearly says multiplayer, yet clicking it will take you to a website redirect. Why is this non-functioning aspect, required of every modern shooter, the best feature? Because it ensures none of your friends will ever have to experience the soul-sucking dreariness that Varmint Hunter demands more than $0.00 for. Misery does not love company when it has to with the NRA's "critter huntin' sim".   Mercifully, Varmint Hunter offers "realistic reloading" and "animal behavior" features. Because what can be more fun that staring at little standing varmints while cocking the bolt of a static, unmodeled rifle? Catapulting the varmints into the air when you hit one, I guess. How realistic! There's supposedly a second environment (besides the default green grass) but I've yet to trivialize my life to the point of switching play fields. There are plenty of other buttons listed in the menu but as you might have guessed, none actually anything of genuine worth.   With the mind-meltingly bad visuals, banal gameplay, life-crushing mechanics, broken multiplayer, price tag of anything more than free, awful shooting and horrific animal massacre, I am forced to award this game with the worst of trophies......     THE MIGHTY POO AWARD Overall Score: 5/5 Craps       Pros:   + The multiplayer doesn't work   Cons:   - It exists - The NRA is selling it - Everything else in the game - WHY DOES THIS EXIST?     If you somehow leave NRA Varmint Hunter happier than before it entered your disc drive, I will regret ever associating with you. Varmint Hunter is an insult to mankind. Just watch the video...    

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Being 50 Cent: Blood in my Shoes

Heroes are the ultimate archetypal foils to everything that is considered “evilé. They stand against criminals, villains, demons, and entities that are considered inherently bad. In pop culture, the hero is the greatest thing a person can aspire to. Video games follow a similar pattern, featuring heroic characters who defy all odds to save the world, win the girl, and blow away the baddies in cinematic fashion. The hero I“d love to be has none of those storied qualities; he isn“t noble, amiable, or gracious. My hero is brash, abrasive, and downright cold when he wants to be, because that“s how he rolls. If there“s one hero I truly wish I could be, it“s 50 Cent from none other than 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand.   Fiddy is about as heroic as a testosterone, steroid-induced, gun-crazed rapper gets. He wins my vote because of his pure awesomeness. When players tackle the great Blood in the Sand, they find themselves in Fiddy“s ripped off shoes. His payment for a random concert in the Middle East doesn“t come through, the replacement diamond-encrusted skull is stolen, and a whole army of generic terrorists is after Fiddy“s head. Solution? Kill everyone while screaming as many four-letter profanities as humanly possible. Fiddy doesn“t even try to be subtle; he points guns at his allies, knifes mercenaries after breaking their arms, and listens to his own music as a background soundtrack. He“s the most self-centered bad boy in the universe, and I love him.     Fiddy“s power stems from his seemingly bulletproof body. As legend has it, Fiddy has survived more gunshot wounds than most soldiers do in the worst parts of Afghanistan. Blood in the Sand allows Fiddy to take at least 500 shots before a lick of health is lost. Meanwhile, Fiddy can enter a Matrix-esque bullet time (called Gangsta Time) and assassinate entire battalions of enemy fodder. It“s fantastic to listen to him mutter about someone stealing his skull as he rams a shotgun down someone“s throat. Fiddy also has back-up in the form of G-Unit. For some reason, his whole music crew seems to be packing more heat than the entire US military, and boy do they use it! With Fiddy“s invulnerability, great music, and toughened G-Unit, there“s no reason not to bet on him in a fight.     But not all that glimmers is skrilla. Fiddy“s attitude is about as likable as a mule that repeatedly kicks you in the nuts. He“s hilarious to listen to, but absolutely no fun to work with. I would be a nicer guy so I could get in good with the arms dealers. After all, you can“t trust anyone in his world. I love his bulletproof bod and oodles of ammunition, but I would be a better person. I would also limit the amount of times I call someone derogatory names, considering how many Klaznikov rounds they empty on me. And yes, Fiddy really does call them Klaznikov“s. I guess I should add proper English to the list, eh? Well, I“ll probably still keep the colorful language since it just sounds puerile and cool.   Is 50 Cent heroic in the least? Probably not. I mean, he made his own video game because he felt like it. As if he wasn“t legendary enough in the rap scene, he just had to immortalize his “gangstaé life in a weird Gears of War meets The Club third-person shooter. What kind of hero asks for his own statue while holding the sculptors at gunpoint? Fiddy. But I can“t argue with the amount of bad guy blood he leaves in the sand.  

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

2D or not 2D: The Rise and (Not) Fall of 2D Gaming

As a modern consumer of electronic entertainment, I like my video games to look “cutting edgeé. Crank up the tessellation, I say. Add those high definition textures and give me more draw distance. And why shouldn“t I demand perfection? Most AAA-quality video games push sexier visuals, more sumptuous special effects, and more immersion within highly-detailed and interactive 3D environments. In our day and age, the better it looks, the better it sells. As we pioneer new frontiers in the realm of 3D entertainment, what happens to those games which reside squarely in 2D worlds?   If there“s one thing that“s true about consumers, it“s that nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions for companies and developers to tug on. For this reason, a number of studios and game developers refuse to make their games in 3D. They continue the trend of old school 2D side-scrollers, classic adventure games, and more. While bigger companies focus on pushing technology to its ever-expanding limits, smaller studios and independent developers have filled the niche role of delivering games that don“t need fancy 3D graphics to get the job done.     One studio that“s bucked the trend of 3D gaming is Capybara Games. The young studio was one of the first development teams to exploit the Apple family of touch-based products for a classic 2D adventure game. Dubbed Sword and Sorcery EP, the game was a critical and financial hit. Capy won over millions of gamers with Sword and Sorcery“s beautiful pixelated art and whimsical visuals. The key to Capy“s success is that it developed the game for mobile devices, not consoles or PCs.   On handheld platforms, users expect far less from mobile games. Titles like Angry Birds flourish with simple 2D art and addicting gameplay. The mobile device market has provided the means for 2D games to succeed. 2D games don“t tax most mobile hardware and generally feature strong, on-the-go gameplay hooks. While some 2D games can be found on consoles and PCs, the expectations are generally defined by users who want the latest and greatest in 3D gaming experiences. Since mobile markets tend to price their offerings at a fraction of the cost of console/PC games, studios can focus on crafting better gameplay mechanics that fit mobile devices while sticking to 2D art-styles.     This brings us to the question of whether or not 2D art in gaming is declining. The answer is a resounding no. If anything, 2D games are expanding at a remarkable rate due to the rise of the mobile market. Most consumers have a smart-phone or a device capable of playing games and apps. This allows small, independent studios to release 2D games that might struggle to find a home on consoles and PC. Factor in the always-popular nostalgia factor and the mobile market has ensured that 2D gaming will persist despite the advances in 3D-rendering technology.   If these 2D games find financial and popular success on mobile devices, there“s a chance that consumers will be willing to play more 2D games on consoles and PCs. Telltale“s The Walking Dead mega-hit resurrected the dying adventure genre. There“s no telling where the future of 2D gaming will go if the mobile market continues to expand. Even if our 3D world, the potential for 2D games burns bright!

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

The End of THQ: What's Next?

I really hoped this day would never come. The financial gurus and forecasters sang death knells long before today, but I refused to lose hope. And now, it's come to pass; THQ has been dissolved and will be no more in the next few weeks. It's hard to see one of my favorite publishers be pieced apart at auction, but I'm optimistically hopeful for the future of THQ's IPs that were sold off.     Now that THQ is gone, what will the future hold for the proud new owners of THQ's amazing properties?     Of the five main sales that headline THQ's auction, the most surprising (and potentially beneficial) was that of Koch Media's acquisition of Volition and Metro. Volition, one of the most talented studios in the industry, will be a boon to a company with quirky, creative studios like Deep Silver. Volition almost seems like a perfect fit, considering the pool of potential buyers. Koch also gained a potential FPS mega-hit in Metro, a personal favorite of mine. While Deep Silver has landed in some hot water recently for the racy Dead Island: Riptide Zombie Bait Edition, I'm confident Kock will learn from its mistake and properly handle the marketing and release of Metro: Last Light.   SEGA also made a powerplay with the purchase of Relic. SEGA already owned Creative Assembly, well renowned for its Total War franchise. Acquiring Relic will cement SEGA as the leading publisher of AAA real-time strategy titles. By and large, SEGA has done well with Creative Assembly's releases. If they leave Relic to its own devices and properly market the studio's impressive offerings, there's little doubt SEGA will have a bright future ahead.   Ubisoft may have made off like a bandit with its purchase of THQ Montreal and South Park: Stick of Destiny. The Canada-based Montreal studio numbered nearly 500 employees and was said to have been THQ's largest studio. Ubisoft will now have access to a massive pool of talent, should they choose to keep the studio intact. I do wonder how they'll deal with the South Park RPG. While I'm sure they can properly promote the game, I'm curious to know if they'll devote the required assets. Ubisoft's purchases could make them huge net gains in the long run. They just have to manage their new assets correctly.   Crytek's acquisition of Homefront was little surprise, considering they're developing Homefront 2. Until I see the new title in action, I can't speak to this franchise's future. The original Homefront was deeply flawed and forced the shutdown of developer Kaos Studio. Crytek has a lot to prove with the upcoming sequel. As for Take 2? Well, who knows! Take 2's purchase of Evolve might be a fantastic sign, given its unparalleled pedigree with Rockstar.   While it's disappointing that THQ is no more, I'm confident the studios under its former direction will blossom with their new owners. I can only hope that studios like Vigil can find a new home before its too late. THQ brought in unbelievable talent and it would be a shame to see it all wasted.     What do you think of THQ's auction? Sound off in the comments below!

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Debunking the Call of Duty vs. Medal of Honor Debate

Inevitably, there“s one major annual contest for game superiority between two rival publishers, EA and Activision. In all of the potential genres where the two companies could butt heads, the main battleground is the First-Person Shooter. While Activision continually releases new iterations to the Call of Duty franchise, EA mixes things up with the Medal of Honor and Battlefield franchises. If it was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 vs. Battlefield 3 last year, it“s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 vs. Medal of Honor: Warfighter this year. Or so everyone says. The truth, however, is that the contest between the two games really doesn“t offer grounds for comparison. Yes, both titles are modern military shooters, but each takes a vastly different approach to the subgenre of military FPSs than the other.   Starting with Black Ops 2, you can immediately see the familiar Call of Duty template; an epic, sweeping campaign, the ever-popular IW 3 engine, and the sacred cow of the entire series, multiplayer. With the latest in Activision“s venerable series, developer Treyarch has promised a better campaign by adding a moving narrative (no less penned by David Goyer) and new mission mechanics. For the first time in Call of Duty“s history, players will now make decisions that not only affect mission progression, but also affect the outcome of the plot. Making certain decisions via stand-alone Strike missions (battles that the player can direct or fight in at will) or key events in the story will determine what ending gamers see. It“s an interesting concept that is rarely explored in the largely-linear FPS genre.     Black Ops 2 is also set 13 years into the future, meaning future weapons and combat drones are the name of the game. Unlike Medal of Honor, Black Ops II is much more focused on the (potential) future conflict over rare earth elements. When evil-doer Raul Menendez takes control of the world“s combat drone tech, he uses it spark World War III between China and America. This is a massive conflict, engulfing entire continents in a global war for supremacy.   When it comes to multiplayer, Call of Duty also has a fundamentally different philosophy, and that is the philosophy of the lone wolf war hero. Seldom is team-work emphasized in multiplayer matches. It“s all about individual players hoofing it across maps to slaughter any targets standing in their way. Sure, there are killstreak awards that are available, but these are usually players for players who get the most kills. Call of Duty isn“t the kind of game that really caters to a strong team-based dynamic, and that“s perfectly fine. I enjoy that option just as much as I enjoy team-centric games like Battlefield.     Medal of Honor: Warfighter, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. This is a grounded, authentic experience that places gamers in the shoes of contemporary special forces operators. While Warfighter features drone technology, we aren“t going to see UAV bombers or aircraft on the scale of Black Ops 2. No, Warfighter is all about the current War on Terror, albeit in a fictionalized manner. Tapping real-life scenarios, EA and Danger Close want to tell the story of what it“s like to be a Tier 1 operator fighting against the global threat of terrorism. This is a game focused on small-scale battles won by the elite scalpels of the military. Whereas Black Ops 2 seeks to instill awe with grandiose spectacles, Warfighter wants to grab players with an emotional look at how war affects soldiers, families, and everyone at home. To put it simply, Warfighter is a far more intimate experience than the Hollywood spectacle of Black Ops 2.     Medal of Honor: Warfighter also takes a different approach to multiplayer. While the 2010 Medal of Honor reboot mirrored the lone wolf philosophy of Call of Duty, Warfighter wants to bring team-work to the forefront. All players are inserted into two-man fireteams. With a battle buddy, players became lethal weapons and are offered bonuses such as faster respawns, added firepower, and bonus support actions that benefit your team-mate and combat buddy. It“s an ingenious system that organically encourages players to work together to accomplish objectives. Fighting alone is a less-than-stellar idea when you consider the advantages of working as a fireteam. Again, this is a drastically different approach to multiplayer than Call of Duty, and I love and appreciate Warfighter for that difference.     When you try and take sides in the war for FPS dominance, you“ll end up losing. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor are both unique experiences in their own right, and to dismiss one or the other because the competitor is ”obviously the best“ is silly. Play and appreciate both games for their differences and unique approaches to the shooter genre. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor want to engross you in their unique worlds; you shouldn“t reject either of them just because the debate is there.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Why I'm Absolutely Stoked For Sleeping Dogs

I'll admit it; when I first heard of the newest entry to the True Crime series, I let out a groan. I thought to myself, "Another flawed open-world crime game? I think I'll pass." It wasn't until I got a better view of just how awesome True Crime: Hong Kong (renamed Sleeping Dogs) is that I realized I'd made a huge mistake in passing it off. Sleeping Dogs is a gritty, violent, mature open-world action that game that features a whole host of illicit activities, a deep melee system, and a truly impressive recreation of Hong Kong. What's not to like?     Sleeping Dogs follows Wei Shen, an undercover cop, as he infiltrates a triad to try and destroy it from the inside. To gain the triad's trust, Wei must do the gang's bidding and kill, steal, maim, intimidate, and dismantle Hong Kong's rival triads. How he does this is up to the player. Whether you want to shove people into fans or chop at enemy gangbangers with meat cleavers is up to you. United Front Games has implemented an extraordinary hand-to-hand combat system that allows Wei to utilize the latest in martial arts techniques. Using a simple scheme of Attack, Grapple, and Counter, Wei can disarm opponents and break every bone in their bodies. If karate-chopping isn't your thing, the undercover brother is also proficient with firearms, though I feel you'll be missing out on some of the greatest-looking melee combat to grace a video game. Wei can also use the environment to his advantage by throwing enemies onto sharp poles, grinding them in fans, or lighting them on fire (among other things). Yeah, Sleeping Dogs is bloody.   While Sleeping Dogs is all about brutal, graphic violence, there are plenty of other activities for Wei to partake in. He can run cockfights, race against street rivals, date women, and generally cause a ruckus about the city. What's really piqued my curiosity is how Wei's status as a cop will affect his reactions to life as triad member. Will he be rattled by difficult moral conundrums, be driven to bloodlust by killing, embrace his identity as a triad member, or become something inhuman? While UFG and publishers Square Enix haven't focused on Wei's development, morality and evolving Wei's character will likely be integral components of the experience. If UFG can pull it off, Sleeping Dogs may be the most compelling open-world crime drama to hit the markets in a long time.       Like many other gamers, I passed Sleeping Dogs off as another generic open-world game. After Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, it's hard for me to imagine playing another criminal underworld-driven title. But Sleeping Dogs has done the impossible. By crafting a complex, rewarding combat system and a thriving version of Hong Kong teeming with new experiences, UFG and Square Enix have gotten my attention. I can't wait until the mid-August release date hits; I'm really looking forward to experiencing Wei Shen's Machiavellian approach to justice. Look for Sleeping Dogs on August 14, 2012.     Still not convinced that the close quarters combat is awesome? Check out the trailer below!  

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Spec Ops: The Line Review and GIVEAWAY

DISCLAIMER: As I wrote this review, I found it difficult to put into words the emotions I felt from playing Spec Ops: The Line. As such, prepare for a lot of anecdotal discussions and open-ended questions. While this may be a review, it's a broader introspective evaluation on the modern shooter and the player's role in said genre. Prepared? Then read on.   Developer: Yager Studios Publisher: 2K Games Release Date: June 26, 2012 (out now) Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC ESRB: M for Mature   This review is based on the PC version of Spec Ops: The Line.   "War is hell," said General William Tecumseh Sherman. It's a quote that modern shooters often toss about, but one which no video game has ever embraced the meaning of. Most developers glorify tearing hands, feet, and other limbs off of generic enemy soldiers with as much gore as humanly possible. Through the glorification of war in gaming, the meaning of life is cheapened with half a magazine of 5.56 ammo. In these war games, there are only heroes and villains, with the most morally-grey aspects of war reduced to cheap marketing tactics like Call of Duty's "No Russian" mission. Spec Ops: The Line has taken all of these tropes of the modern shooter and thrown them in my face with disturbing clarity. After playing, nay experiencing, Spec Ops, I may never play a shooter with the same mindless power fantasies ever again.       The premise behind Yager's cover-based third-person shooter is almost mind-boggling simple and generic. A US Army commander by the name of Colonel John Konrad has led the Damned 33rd Infantry Battalion into Dubai to evacuate the populace from history's largest sandstorm. Players, taking the role of Captain Martin Walker, are to investigate Konrad's whereabouts and, if necessary, save the Colonel and his men. Spec Ops even leads you to believe that this generic premise is indicative of the entire experience with the opening helicopter pursuit sequence. The sense of deja vu is undeniable; I've been here, shot helicopters down with a mi***un, and done this turret sequence so many times before. Once you get to the ground, however, Spec Ops mutates into one of this generation's most morally, mentally, and emotionally taxing shooters. At the games conclusion, I was left battered and bewildered by everything I had seen. The conclusion only serves to make the games unsettling events that much more horrific. As much as it may have impacted me, Spec Ops is first and foremost a game, so is it any fun to play?     To say Spec Ops is fun belies the game's contradictory, complicated nature. At every point during the campaign, I felt the juxtaposition of a shooter framework with a strong anti-war sentiment. In everything from the shooting to the graphic dialogue and horrific war crimes committed, I felt uncomfortable. Yager clearly intended this game to disturb and unsettle. Enjoyment and fun are not the words I would use to describe my experience with Spec Ops. I would describe my five-hour trip through hell as uncensored and raw, striking nerves the whole way through. Whether I was gunning down rogue American soldiers or deciding the fate of a CIA agent and a group of civilians, Spec Ops made it tough for me to want to continue playing. But I had to see it through. I had to see what shade of monster Walker was becoming.   While all of this may sound like I'm rambling, these thoughts are the predominant reason for my constant pursuit of Konrad and the truth. I had a hard time stomaching the thought of killing civilians and murdering countless US soldiers. While this may sound trite in lieu of "No Russian", believe me when I say the dead will haunt you throughout the campaign...and perhaps beyond. For every enemy you kill, you constantly ask yourself why you're shooting dozens of people. In all the chaos, Walker can only defend himself with ***ue notions of wanting to be the hero, of trying to be Dubai's savior. But what of us players? Why are we massacring virtual meatbags that scream for mercy, drag themselves on the ground missing limbs, meatbags that have casual conversations about sharing gum? Are we truly the desensitized monsters that men like Konrad have become? I wish I knew the answer.     By the time the credits roll, you'll wonder yourself whether Konrad was ever the true antagonist. No matter what choices you make, Walker still becomes a sa***e, ruthless killer. If you've seen Apocalypse Now, you understand just how insane war is. That madness is not lost on Walker or the two men he fights alongside with, Lugo and Adams. All three men experience the conflict differently, and all three will change from the people they began as. Does Spec Ops change the player as well?   In these reflective moments, the jarring reality that this is just a game readily becomes apparent. There is a constant barrage of achievements that applaud me for the decisions I did or didn't make. While it may not bother some, I felt like it broke the immersion when a pop-up announced I had 'crossed a line' or 'aimed high' on targets. Isn't this game supposed to be more than just a game? In some ways, being a shooter has ensured the full impact of Spec Ops will never be realized. Since we are simply playing a game, it only leaves lingering doubts in our minds once we put the controllers down. For many gamers, Spec Ops may never resonate with them in the same way that it struck my nerves. I sincerely hope, however, that they at least have an open mind to the horrors that await them beneath the sands of Dubai. If you can walk away unmoved by what takes place, you may already be more of a monster than any of the Damned 33rd or the Delta soldiers.     Mechanically speaking, Spec Ops is a fairly competent shooter. It plays a lot like Gears of War, where players take cover behind sturdy objects and use big guns against enemy targets. Where Spec Ops differs is in the flow of combat. There's a relentless push forward, a constant thrust urging players onward. That's carried over into the relatively quick kills and brutal executions that emphasize and reward speed. I found myself stressed and overwhelmed by constantly having to progress forward, fearing I would be quickly overrun if I cowered behind cover. I never felt like camping behind objects was safe as the enemy AI, however basic it can appear, always outflanked me and tore me to shreds. If I have one complaint, it's the quirky control scheme. Some of the buttons are mapped to more than one function, making it possible to sprint into cover when you actually meant to sprint around a target. The cover system, which people have also complained about, didn't really trouble me. Once or twice I was left exposed to enemy fire, but I didn't really feel like it was a major issue.     The weapons themselves feel powerful and deadly. When I pulled the trigger, soldiers often crumpled or doubled over, coating the walls in red, messy spatters. It felt awful to gun down people who were likely as desperate as I was to survive. In the end, however, I had to regard the violence as a mercy upon my foes. The way they begged for help or clutched massive wounds didn't make it any easier for me to execute them. Even more disturbing was the fact that I was treated to additional (typically scarce) ammo for finishing them off, forcing me to do the deed. If Yager wants to bother players, this is a great way to do it.   The aforementioned squadmates, Lugo and Adams, are great companions on this trip to insanity. They offer constant tactical feedback and aren't bad shots themselves. They can be given a few commands to help alleviate Walker's pressure, but act independently for the most part. The banter between all three soldiers is always interesting, well-written, and appropriately frantic when things get absolutely FUBAR (and they really get bad). Players will likely recognize Nolan North's voice as Walker. I felt North did an admirable job taking on a much more mature character. Though the (sometimes gratuitous) swearing may offput some, I recommend you grit through it to see the shocking conclusion.     There's multiplayer in Spec Ops, but I recommend you skip it. The game works when the servers aren't being slammed, and there are some cheap thrills in modes like Chaos (free-for-all) and Buried. However, it's clear the singleplayer was the focus of development. I felt like the MP didn't carry the same weighty feeling of combat. It also lacked the emotional impact that the narrative hit home. If you purchase Spec Ops, stay for the campaign, not the compe***ive multiplayer.   The technicals behind Spec Ops are fairly strong. The visuals, though lacking when compared to games like Battlefield 3, are suitably gritty and do the job well. Some of the character models look great, and the ruined city of Dubai is beautifully rendered. When the dust kicks up from explosions and gunfire, the air is obscured and a tactical element is layered onto the shooting. The particles aren't just for looks; they can really come in handy when the defecation hits the oscillation. The audio is absolutely fantastic. With a fully-licensed soundtrack and some haunting musical scores, Spec Ops succeeds in mooding you out. Everything here is meant to unsettle you, and the soundtrack does an admirable job fulfilling this roles. As I mentioned earlier, the great dialogue is well acted. The sound effects are also great; they really add to the visceral impact of combat and the narrative. If you're expecting the next generation in A/V though, you'll be disappointed. Then again, if you're coming for that, you're not playing the right shooter.     Is Spec Ops the best shooter of 2012? Probably not, but that's for a reason. Spec Ops is a criticism of the modern shooter, taking the fundamental concept of the war game and inverting it. It may seem like a blatant copy of Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, but don't be fooled; there are far more horrific things to experience in Spec Ops than you may expect. Prepare to have your moral and ethical codes challenged in this game, and always remember that not everything in Dubai is as it seems. But this you already know. The rest you'll just have to figure out for yourself. Welcome to Dubai, gentleman.   Pros:   + Incredibly deep story, filled with hidden intel to unravel more of the mystery + Forces players to make a number of difficult choices at any given time + Great audio and a few beautifully rendered scenes set Spec Ops apart + The multiplayer is not the focus of the game this time around   Cons:   - The multiplayer is also incredibly barebones - Some odd control bindings can cause trouble - Occasional bugs and technical glitches here and there   Overall: 8.5/10 Great   Spec Ops is a great, mature third-person shooter that actually makes you regret the choices you make. A deep story is coupled with great dialogue to create an excellent campaign.     GIVEAWAY:   Want to win a Steam copy of Spec Ops: The Line? Simply tell me what you thought of Apocalypse Now and why you're excited to play Spec Ops. Winner chosen randomly on July 6th at 9 PM Eastern.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

How gaming is servicing our service members

There's a common thread among war shooters these days; they all go for big explosions and massive set pieces. The stark reality of war doesn't fit in with the gaming world's picture of big-budget blockbusters and guns-blazing combat. While video gaming may emphasize the violence and carnage of virtual battlefields, gamers also tend to remember the memorable lead troopers who charge onto the field, machine guns roaring and grenades flying. Yet we sometimes forget the real service members who sacrifice so much on a daily basis. If you watch either of the documentaries, Restrepo and The Battle for Marjah, embedded below you'll find an unglamorous view of combat that games rarely depict.   The Battle for Marjah:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1zBZWGKJJY   Restrepo:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geBMq4qJP2c   The everyday heroes documented in these films have been through hell and worse, often forfeiting months of time with their families and the comforts of home. When they return, they often can't find employment at a job or have experienced severe psychological damage, leading to difficulties in reintegrating into civilian life. One film, To Hell and Back Again, depicts a wounded warrior's return home from Afghanistan and it isn't clear as to which is more hellish; the war or the reintegration. While we may remain ignorant of the struggles of veterans and soldiers around the world, two gaming giants have taken proactive steps to make sure we never forget. Activision and EA's Danger Close, though rivals in the FPS market, also understand that giving back to our troops should be one of our primary goals. With the Call of Duty Endowment and the recently revealed Project HONOR, EA/Danger Close and Activison have done just that.   The Call of Duty Endowment fund, founded in October 2009, is designed to help returning veterans find employment. While unemployment may be a pressing concern nationwide, veterans face a particularly staggering challenge finding a job. Veterans aged 20 to 24 tend to have a 30-31% rate of unemployment (Sept. 2011) compared to the national average of 15% for the same age group. Between 130,000 to 150,000 soldiers leave active service each year, so that means roughly 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers can't find work. For all of the the mortars, gunfire, bombs, and ambushes they've endured, they come home to find a public work sector unwilling to grant them unemployment. That's a tragedy, one that the Call of Duty endowment has vowed to fix. By raising millions of dollars in the CODE fund, Activision actively supports veteran employment training programs, CODE advocacy, awareness of veteran unemployment issues, and job fairs. The CODE program has made its mission to support returning soldiers with the tools and resources they need to find employment stateside. It's a great way to give back to soldiers who have given so much and face major obstacles in returning to the civilian world.     In a similar manner, EA and Danger Close have established the Project HONOR program. Project HONOR, which seeks to give back to the families of fallen soldiers and their dependents, receives charitable donations from major military arms and gear manufacturers/distributors, including London Bridge Tactical (LBT) and Magpul. In particular, LBT has spearheaded an initiative to sell Medal of Honor-themed gear, with 100% of of sales going to such organizations as the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. EA, Danger Close, and the Project HONOR affiliates are dedicated to aiding those who have answered the call and sacrificed on behalf of the American public. Though our debt to our service members will never be repaid in full, this is the least we can do to honor their memory and valor.     As Americans it's easy to detach ourselves from the world around us. Surrounded my technology, gaming, movies, and pop culture, we have more than enough to distract us from the inconvenient truths. However, we should never forget the sacrifices soldiers make on a daily basis. They are subjected to some of the worst physical and mental abuse possible. How are service members undeserving of a comfortable life just like everyone else? Thankfully, there are people who remember and also want to ensure the public doesn't forget its heroes.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

The Official Krater Review

Krater just came out today but I've been playing the heck out the beta for the past couple of weeks. If you've never read my preview or heard of the game, Krater is a cross between Diablo and X-COM. It also happens to take place in Sweden after some horrible Apocalypse-like event. Krater focuses on giving players a team of three lovably odd characters to control and slay monsters with. Each character fills a specific team role, such as a medic or heavy melee attacker. They all have bizarre things to say and really add flavor to the whole experience, but is the experience any good?     The first thing you'll notice is Krater's distinctive art style. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but I like it. It mixes cartoon-like characters with intense bloom, particle effects, and washed out landscapes contrasted with flashy neon lights. In some ways, Krater's carefully crafted environments take me back to Fallout: New Vegas, with the glitz and glam mixed with dust and dirt. I dig it, and you might too if you have a video card capable of DX11 features. While you'll probably be zoomed too far out to appreciate all of those details, it still looks great overall.     Another part of the Krater experience is the soundtrack. In short, it's my one of my favorite parts of the game. There's (what I'd assume is) Swedish rock, 8-bit music, and a driving electronic score. All of it is grimy and fits the tone of the game perfectly. In some ways, it actually adds creep factor to the odd inhabitants of post-nuclear Sweden, as it never allowed me to feel entirely at ease with its muffled synths and subtle beats. The soundtrack really adds atmospheric ambiance to a game that already has it in spades.     The audio in general is fairly strong. There are strange, discomforting voice overs that seem to switch between English and Swedish on a whim. I don't know why this is the case, but I dare to ask too many questions. Krater just is, and I love it for whatever the heck it is. The environmental sounds and combat noises are suitably appropriate. They aren't as noteworthy as the soundtrack but certainly sound great overall.     None of Krater's presentation would matter if the gameplay wasn't good. Thankfully, I'm happy to report that Krater does a pretty good job of being fun. While it sometimes has response issues, particularly with unit commands, I generally enjoyed hacking and slashing my way through underground cellars and mysterious caves. The squad can be adapted on the fly through a quick menu. In fact, every element and stat can be checked or managed from various menus, each of which can be found at the bottom of the screen. Players can customize their favorite troops with stat-boosting implants, equip new weapons recovered as loot or purchased, and swap out role types to better balance squad dynamics. It's an extremely flexible system and allows for adaptation in the face of overwhelming odds.     One of Krater's unique quirks is the permadeath and injury system. If one of your little mercenary buddies is knocked down, he/she needs to be taken to a doctor ASAP. A permanently-injured party member can seriously debilitate a player's squad in intense battles. If a mercenary is killed off completely, that unit is gone, including all of the experience it gained. Thankfully, there's a recruitment system where players can purchase new battle buddies to add to their squad. Unfortunately, these soldiers are raw recruits and must be leveled up from scratch. While I didn't have any issues with the system, it could certainly pose a cumbersome challenge on a higher difficulty.     As of this review, the multiplayer aspect is not completed. As such, I can't evaluate what could be the biggest selling point for this game. Krater is fun as it is in singleplayer, so I can only imagine it'll be a blast when players buddy up and go journeying about the wastelands. Still, for the $15 price-tag, there are plenty of quests and side missions for players to stick around the solo mode. It's good to get your money's worth, and even better to exceed it. Krater manages to do both and is an excellent value. Even if you get the $20 version, which comes with the soundtrack and a powered-up Medikus, you're still getting a great deal.     Despite the number of ARG competitors about (Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, etc.), Krater sticks out among the crowd. It takes a squad-based approach to a usually solo affair and brings a quirky sense of humor and style to the genre. While it may have a few minor issues and bugs, Krater is a fun title and brings a fresh take on the ARG genre in an affordable, attractive package.   Score: 8/10

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Why Prometheus is a failure

Before I go on about Prometheus, I must stress that I really loved the Alien movies. As a big fan of those films (except for the latter entries following 2 and 3), I was excited to finally discover the fate of the Space Jockeys. Alien and Aliens were both masterful executions of suspense horror, intertwined with moments of intense action, violence, and elements of the sublime. Both films are counted among my top scifi flicks of all time, and the chance to learn more of the lore through Prometheus really jumped out at me. But boy was I misled by the intense trailers and positive press surrounding the film. Instead of getting the movie equivalent of a hot rod, I got the gelapi.     Prometheus centers around man's beginnings as a team of explorers race to find our makers. Employed by the Weyland Corporation, the team of engineers and researchers is led by a cold, calculating Weyland commander portrayed by Charlize Theron. The premise is high-falutin' and sounds fairly interesting, right? If you're an Aliens buff, you already know Weyland isn't the world's most honest company. Why on Earth would they come to some godforsaken moon where man supposedly comes from? These questions, among others raised by the film, are either left unanswered or given completely unsatisfactory resolutions. Nothing in this film really makes sense from the plot perspective, and the way events are portrayed is often disorienting. I get the impression that Ridley Scott was intentionally as cagey as possible in order to set Prometheus up for a sequel. With all of that in mind, you'd hope the heady cosmological and theological questions raised help to make up for the movie's vague explanations. Sadly, they don't.     What's worse is that the film's content really doesn't have anything to fall back on. The cast of characters shows little signs of development and all are caricatures of how real people behave. While some of this should be expected for a Hollywood film, it makes the entire cast look like a bunch of morons. Take, for example, the biologist. [mild spoiler alert, though it doesn't really mention any plot details]         If the biologist's behavior is anything to go by, the entire crew of Prometheus is already screwed. And indeed, most of them die because of their own idiotic behavior and wooden dialogue. Seriously, the lines in this movie really do kill. They're delivered with such forced candor and emotion that it's hard to imagine the actors were really trying with this film. None of it's believable, and it lacks the realism of Aliens, where the marines actually did real marine-like things. They didn't take off their helmets whenever they felt like it. They didn't wander off alone like morons when the aliens are hunting them down. Just like the original Alien (which was actually good, mind you), Prometheus's characters do stupid, stupid things.     My biggest issue with Prometheus is that it lacks a general sense of focus. Aside from the bad script and wooden cast, it felt like the movie tried to move in too many different directions. What made the Aliens movies great was the singular objective of survival against a hostile alien species. There weren't half-arsed glimpses of humanity's origins. There weren't (unresolved) complex theological questions raised that diverged so far off the path as to be irrelevant. Most importantly, the movies added just the right amount of tension, shock value, and violence to make a great film. Prometheus fails at all of these core elements.     In summary, Prometheus is just a bad film. It tries to take a philosophical approach to the horror genre but fails miserably. The characters are unbelievable, the gratuitously violent moments are forced and uninteresting, and the unresolved plot threads are boring and ill-explained. My recommendation: skip it.   Score: 5/10

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Loco's Top Five E3 2012 Picks

This year was relatively quiet in terms of hot announcements. Publishers like Namco and Nintendo induced yawns over their lackluster showings for new products, and I couldn't help but feel that this year was much tamer compared to past events. Nevertheless, there were a few standout titles that really stole the show.   1. Watch Dogs   I was utterly blindsided by this one. While Beyond: Twin Souls had everyone talking, Watch Dogs is the true surprise of the show. It came from out of nowhere and shocked the crowd with its incredible visuals and seamless hacking/shooting mechanics. It's like Deus Ex, Grand Theft Auto, and Splinter Cell all had a sweet baby. Based on the gameplay shown, Watch Dogs could be the biggest release of 2013.     Gameplay Trailer (Strong Language Alert):       2. Far Cry 3   Following on the heels of Watch Dogs, Ubisoft once again brought another crowd-pleaser to this year's E3. Far Cry 3, which is quickly becoming my most anticipated title of the year, awed gamers with its luscious tropical setting and stunning visuals. Vaas also made his presence known, goading protagonist Jason Brody in the nudity and language-filled trailer shown during the press conference. Suffice it to say, this Far Cry is not like the others. It's crazier, bloodier, and grittier than any of the previous titles.     Gameplay Trailer (NSFW):       3. Borderlands 2   We all knew Borderlands 2 was going to rock. However, the public finally got another closer look at the highly-anticipated loot-a-thon and the previews have all been positive. As it stands, Gearbox has a potential shooter-of-the-year winner on their hands, breathing life into the barren Pandora and bringing guns galore back into focus. In a world of humdrum military shooters, Borderlands 2 is the booster shot of fun we all desperately need.     4. Assassin's Creed 3   At this point, there are enough Ubisoft titles on the list to make any gamer wonder if the list ever ends. Once again, Ubisoft pulled all of the stops out in their presentation of their most ambitious Assassin's Creed yet. Powered by a new engine and featuring an epic, sweeping scale, AS3 is looking to set a new bar in the platforming-adventure genre. Even better, a PS Vita companion title was announced and the previews indicate it's every bit as good as its console counterparts.     5. Metro: Last Light   Resident Evil 6 debuted as the survival horror shooter of the show, but everyone knows the true honor belongs to Metro: Last Light. If you've never played Metro 2033, prepare to be stressed. Ammo in this world is both a currency and a lifesaver, and with Last Light, every shot truly counts as players face against bandits and demonic mutants. The post-nuclear war, irradiated lands of Moscow aren't safe above or below ground. Metro knows this and ensures Last Light will have you dripping in sweat, whether your hallucinating an airplane ride with ghosts or running from a hulking, charging beast. This is horror done right.     What were your favorite E3 games? Let me know in the comments below!

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Max Payne 3 Review

It's hard to miss an old friend when you don't realize how much he or she has impacted you. In the same way, I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy Max Payne 3. The familiar grizzled cop and bullet-storm pastiche was my jam back in the good old days of shooter yesteryear, but times have changed. Gone is the era of Quake-style shoot-'em-ups, Unreal arena-FPSs, and most certainly gone are bullet-time powered third-person shooters. This shine of bullet-time wore off long ago and it has only been poorly imitated (or used in generic ways) in recent modern FPSs. Thank god for Max Payne 3, then, because it blows the living crap out of every bullet-time powered shooter out there. Forget Dead to Rights or The Matrix's slow-mo scenes; Max Payne does it better, and the third time truly is a charm for Rockstar.     The first thing you'll notice when booting up Max Payne 3 is just how depressing this game is. Max hasn't been doing well in the few years since we last saw him. With his entire family dead, booze and painkiller's have become his roughest vices. Max downs both like candy drops, shrugging off their hallucinogenic and perception-altering affects. Still, you can see the his age and grief reflected in his body. Rockstar has ensured players see every pained expression and wrinkle on his face. Max's life has been tough, and his body clearly shows it.     The third title in the storied franchise centers on Max's bodyguard employment for a rich Brazilian family known as the Branco's. The figurehead of the family, Rodriguo, is a popular builder and has earned several awards, including his attractive wife (hint: she's not there for the man). Naturally, said attractive wife also enjoys Brazil's nightlife and wears flashy clothing that sets her apart from the other loathsome, rich trash. In a sequence of events only possible in Max Payne, she ends up being kidnapped and Max blows up half of Sao Paulo looking for her. If you're looking for a much deeper, more complex and involving plot, look elsewhere. Yes, there's plenty of intrigue and a few decent shocks but it's nothing you haven't seen before. No, come for what Max Payne 3 does best: shooting.     If Rockstar wants to do one thing incredibly well, it's the combat. Every gun is a powerhouse in Max's tired hands. You'll feel the kick of every SMG, handgun, rifle, or shotgun as you mow down hundreds of bad guys. When Max swings his revolver around, you can feel the weight of it in his hand as he physically adjusts his body's balance to account for the metal mass between his fingers. When he pulls the trigger, your adrenaline pumps as the bullet speeds along and gloriously makes contact with an enemy target. To make the combat as visceral and exciting as possible, Rockstar has also utilized motion capture tech and the Euphoria engine, allowing for incredibly realistic animation and physiological response to being shot (think action movies where bodies twitch for each impact). In English, Max Payne 3 lets players shoot up people real pretty-like.     The most important part of the combat, however, is the bullet time. Much like the old games in the series, bullet time fills up with kills. The more Max shreds, the more foes he can stylishly dispatch using his signature bullet-dodge and slow-motion abilities. A final killcam also highlights the brutality of combat, showing each and every hole a bullet makes in an enemy. If players wish, they can 'bullet-time' the cam and slow it down to enjoy the savagery on-screen for longer periods of time. Not that I would encourage such behavior or anything.....     The singleplayer campaign clocks in at around 7-10 hours, depending on what difficulty you choose. I went with Normal, disabled the auto-aim, and faced some fairly stiff odds here and there. The initial five or so chapters (of the 14 available) go by fairly quickly. Around the midway point, however, the difficulty ramps up. Expect a few frustrating deaths here and there. I had to learn certain enemy positions before blindly charging in with bullet-dodge; not doing so got me killed. All in all, the main story is a fun, well-scripted excuse to throw some awesome set-pieces at players. In particular, the siege on one guy's office is likely one of the best gunfights in gaming history.     Visually, Max Payne 3 is a stunner. Particle effects have been turned up to 11 here and everything reacts beautifully to the impact of bullets. Dust and debris kick up as windows and sparks fly all around Max. It's an aural spectacle, especially in cramped environments where a rapid-fire SMG or shotgun is a necessity. The audio is equally strong, with voice-overs matching the quality of the game's production values perfectly. It also doesn't help that the weapons sound fantastic. The music is appropriate, though it's sometimes difficult to hear given how often I was squeezing the trigger.     Rockstar has also boasted about its much-talked about multiplayer, calling it the most cinematic online experience possible. Thankfully, the experience is mostly fun, partly in thanks to the social media service Social Club. Social Club allows players to join up with crews and play on teams in any of the games varied modes. It's great to feel like a larger part of a gang, given the nature of Max Payne 3's enemy-gang tendencies and various factions. The MP modes, such as Gang War and Payne Killer, are all fairly interesting. Each has a different objective set, such as eliminating a hidden target, assassinating Max Payne and his partner Passos, or straight-up killing. No matter your fancy, Max Payne 3 will satisfy. Unfortunately, I wasn't as satisfied with the implemented bullet-time. While it actually works (in a multiplayer game!), I can't say I entirely understood its workings. That may be because I'm ill-experienced with these kinds of things but I'm fairly certain it doesn't help the games pace much. Regardless, the multiplayer is still a blast and ties in nicely with the singleplayer storyline.     Max Payne 3 is Rockstar's homage to movies like Die Hard and Hard Boiled. It's part John Woo, part Bruce Willis, and all action. The violence is brutal, visceral, and satisfying, ensuring gamers blow up every single thing from here to who knows when. While the story may not be entirely original, it's still well-executed and drives the exciting action at a steady pace. The multiplayer, while somewhat handicapped by the bullet time, is still a great diversion from the singleplayer. It will no doubt have its fans among many of the players.     Final Score: 9/10

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Where is Six Days in Fallujah?

Many people have forgotten the existence of one of the most hotly debated video games this generation, Six Days in Fallujah. Developers Atomic Games recreated the events from the Battle of Fallujah as accurately as possible in this survival-horror shooter. However, the timing of the game's release wasn't right and Six Days was placed on indefinite hold. A couple of years ago, reports surfaced that Atomic was still developing the game despite a drop in publisher support. Two years later, there hasn't been a single mention of the game anywhere, aside from an interview with one of the soldiers who helped with the project. What happened to Six Days in Fallujah?     When last we heard from the developers, Six Days was finished. Konami, the publisher that had actively taken an interest in releasing the game, dropped support after a firestorm of controversy surrounding the game. You might wonder what sparked debate around a Middle East-centric wargame when there's Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. Quite frankly, the difference is that neither of those games actually portrayed real events as they happened. Six Days went the opposite direction and portrayed the events in Fallujah exactly as they were reported, even down to the names of the casualties. This real-life portrayal of war in a video game promptly put the ambitious project to rest, silenced indefinitely and trapped in a limbo state.     I think it's time the public finally saw Six Days in Fallujah. With documentaries like Restrepo and Battle of Marjah, Six Days deserves every bit the chance to impact the American audience as those powerful films have. To me, Americans have a fundamental disillusionment with the realities of war. There aren't respawn points where dozens of terrorists toting RPGs pour out. There's no censorship of the brutalities war does on the body. War is bloody, filthy, and it needs to be shown the way it really is. If we're uninformed of the truth, how can we sympathize or help those returning with PTSD, TBI, and other disorders and injuries? We need to put ourselves in their shoes, and Six Days wanted to do exactly that.     Six Days in Fallujah was also co-developed by soldiers themselves. Atomic went straight to those who had taken part in the battle and asked their advice. After hearing the soldiers' sides of the story, Atomic set about developing an accurate portrait of the conflict. The soldiers even stated that they wanted the game released so that the American public could understand what that hellish nightmare was like! Atomic also stressed that politics and disrespectful portrayals were not part of the game. Combat followed the rules of engagement and never sought to improperly portray and side of the conflict. So why is America so resistant to Six Days in Fallujah?     While I can understand the natural sensitivity to a game portraying such a recent conflict, I actually think it will help us to understand what really happened. The Iraq War was something not many Americans invested the time to research and examine. As such most couldn't grasp how horrifying and disturbing the war truly was. Six Days in Fallujah is the kind of media we need in order to dispel some of the ignorance surrounding the Iraq War. It's high time someone stepped up to show what really happened on the ground. But this is just one point of view. Do you guys think it's a good idea to release Six Days in Fallujah, given the nature of the Iraq War and the controversies that surround the game?

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter

Most people have never heard of Zero Point Software. If you're one of the few who has, you're part of a small handful of people who have witnessed the genius business model of crowd-sourcing firsthand, long before Tim Schafer made over $3,000,000 for his adventure game on Kickstarter. Zero Point, responsible for the upcoming sci-fi FPS Interstellar Marines, turned to crowd-sourcing when they realized that they needed the community's help to build their dream shooter. This is their 'proposal'.   Early alpha footage from the Unreal engine version.   Taken straight out of the pages of a future novel about space marines, Interstellar Marines is the evolution of the space shooter. Full immersion is Zero Point's goal, and if the teased gameplay is anything to go by, they've done an excellent job. The Unity-powered game shines with excellent particle effects, great lighting, and a visceral feel to movement. The camera bobs and the HUD (which is actually a marine's helmet) completes the picture of immersion. And the best part of all this? You can try a demo of the game right now without any downloads or paying a single dime.     Zero Point believes in letting the community evaluate their work before allowing them to make donations. Interstellar Marines has been sectioned out into what Zero Point calls 'slices'. Each slice samples different elements of the game, from the marine and alien designs to the multiplayer combat mechanics. Don't want to pay for the game just yet? Don't worry! You can try several other demos, including the Running Man combat training exercise where players go head to head against enemy drones in a large obstacle course. If your internet is fast enough, you can also play the game straight from your browser. That means Instellar Marines is available anywhere you go.   If you do decide to donate, there are tiered rewards. The game is planned as a trilogy and becoming a Spearhead member grants you access to all three games (should they be released). In the mean time, all paying members enjoy early access to each slice and have extra benefits, including special status on the forums and unlockable support medals. Zero Point wants to make sure donors are rewarded for supporting Interstellar Marines. The developers have also made a point of making the coding and development cycle transparent, posting regular status updates from the team each week. It lets gamers see inside the process, from concept to execution. Have a suggestion? Ping it off them and it might make it into the game!     While Interstellar Marines isn't guaranteed to be released, the crowd-sourced development cycle allows gamers to see inside Zero Point's work. It creates a level of transparency that most studios don't offer when they build their games. It's also novel that Zero Point releases slices of the game for curious players. It's a chance to demo what they have to offer before you commit to a hard purchase. Hopefully, more Kickstarter projects follow Zero Point's example and involve the community. It's the best way to keep the project open and alive.   Want to try the game for yourself? Head over here and pick up a free account! It'll get you access to several slices of the game. Not impressed yet? Watch !

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

 

A look at Spec Ops: The Line

I wasn't sure what to expect from Spec Ops: The Line. It's been touted as the gamer's alternative to the gung-ho antics of war shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. In Spec Ops, the narrative is the key part of the tapestry which holds the whole game together, or so I believed. Then, I got my hands on the demo. After roughly twenty minutes of gameplay, I will say this right now: Spec Ops: The Line could be the biggest shooter of the year.   The demo starts with a fairly generic rail shooter sequence where you gun down half an army's worth of choppers. You fly into a sandstorm and the segment ends, leading players to an earlier point in time. From here, we got our first glimpse of the city of Dubai. To say the least, it looks like a dump after the sandstorms hit. There are wrecked cars everywhere and wasted bodies lying in heaps, but no one seems to be home. That is, until you hear a faint transmission coming from down the road, straight towards the heart of Dubai. You know that what lies ahead won't be pretty but you forge ahead into the unknown.   You can actually use the sand as a weapon too.   As you've probably guessed the quiet doesn't last for long. I was fighting against local militia forces almost as soon as I had found the transmission source. In my pursuit of the insane Colonel John Konrad and his "Damned" 33rd Battalion I had stumbled upon the opposing survivors of Dubai. Led by a CIA agent, it's clear that these guys don't like me or Konrad's men as US army bodies litter the ground around me. The fight against these survivors takes me into the city and the battle is bloody, bitter, and brutal. I cringed once or twice at the sheer impact that the bullets had on targets. While it's nothing you haven't seen before, it's a difficult choice to make to just go on a killing spree. But the enemies aren't going to wait for you either; they pepper cover with powerful weapons and try to outflank you and your squadmates. It's a minor tug-of-war to see whether you can juggle the enemy forces and your men at the same time.   Time to run!   Your team-members, Lugo and Adams, are both fairly competent. They offer numerous wisecracks and call out useful combat information if you're in a pinch. You can also order them to do different things, like stunning an enemy or healing each other should one of them go down. They're also good at suppressive fire but don't expect them to be nailing hostiles left and right. That's more or less your job.   Conserving ammo during firefights is also a must. It goes by quickly and the weapons you find aren't particularly accurate. The AK-47, for instance, kicks like a mule but can't hit the broad side of a barn. The other rifles and SMGs also tear through the limited ammo you carry like nobody's business so make sure you keep a keen eye for ammo crates and weapons lying around. The combat certainly isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination and having no ammo won't help your situation.   You'll be seeing stuff like this a lot. Get used to it.   Visually Spec Ops is gorgeous. The colors appear saturated and have this otherwordly feel to them. While it's more trickery than anything, I felt like I was definitely an unwanted invader in someone else's backyard. The lighting also shows off the impressive technical prowess that Yager has doctored up in the Unreal 3 engine. Everything looks like it belongs in this war-torn hole. The bodies and spray-painted messages on the walls all seem to indicate that everyone in the city has lost it. What people remain have gone feral, and the brutal action only highlights how graphic the violence and terror is.   The audio is excellent. Those who are fans of Uncharted will instantly recognize Nolan North's talent as protagonist Walker. The other squad members also deliver strong voice-overs and their dialogue is expertly written. Every weapon in the game also has a pleasingly grim quality to it. I felt the bullets each time I pulled the trigger, and that viscerality is important to immersing the player in Spec Ops's broken world.   Situation is pretty FUBAR.   Spec Ops: The Line is shaping up to be an excellent game. There's a staggering attention to detail and the narrative really intends to draw players in. While I didn't witness any of the much-touted moral decisions, I look forward to getting my hands on this game soon. From what I've seen, Spec Ops is shaping up just fine.

Harrison Lee

Harrison Lee

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