Ghaleon

This is not the sexism you're looking for.

This is ridiculous. Completely, utterly ridiculous.

A while back I read an article that covered how some people have complained that "The Last of Us" a game for the Playstation 3 set in a zombie apocalyptic, is sexist. Having played the game, I found that accusation to be completely stupid, so I didn't bother looking up why people were saying that. While browsing today, I ended up reading an article which elaborated on their reasoning. As I suspected, the reason behind the claims that The Last of Us is sexist are so nonsensical that I'm still having trouble comprehending the fact that there are otherwise thinking, rational people out there who buy into such obvious bullshit.

Unfortunately I cannot elaborate further without going into some spoilers of the game's story, so if you have plans to play this game, I suggest you stop reading here.

Ready? Okay. From this point on, there will be spoilers.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The game stars two protagonists: a grizzled 40-something survivor named Joel and a no-nonsense, determined 14 year-old girl named Ellie. It's Joel's job to escort Ellie across the country because Ellie is somehow immune to the zombie infection that's threatening to wipe out humanity. By helping Ellie reach the right people, it's hoped that Ellie's immunity can be passed on, thus saving the human race.

Ellie is a very tough girl for her age, and proves on more than one occasion that she is perfectly capable of holding her own. At one point in the game Joel is severely wounded, and Ellie saves him from that situation. From that point on, the player takes control of Ellie directly. The next scene has her hunting deer in the wilderness to provide food for Joel, who is still recovering from his grievous injury. It's here that Ellie meets a couple of survivors and barters the deer she just killed in exchange for antibiotics.

After Ellie fends off a zombie attack with the help of one of the strangers, it's learned that the strangers are from a group of cannibals who have a personal vendetta against Ellie and Joel. Ellie then single-handedly takes on the cannibals, leading them away from Joel. After killing at least a dozen of them all by herself, she is eventually captured and locked in a cage.

Ellie manages to escape and sneaks through their compound, where she is eventually trapped in a building and cornered by the cannibal leader. That confrontation plays out as a game of cat and mouse, with each vying to gain the upper hand. Ellie succeeds and ends up stabbing the man to death.

Now, here's where the accusation of sexism comes in. At that moment Joel enters the room and has to stop Ellie, who has gone berserk and is furiously stabbing the cannibal leader. Once Ellie comes to her senses she breaks down in tears. Joel comforts her.

That's it. That's the "sexist" part. Because Ellie cried, and there was a man present when she did so, people are saying this makes her a sexist caricature.

I just have to ask: do the people making this accusation have emotions? At all? Or did they honestly expect a 14 year-old (of either gender) to be able to go through all that without all that trauma reaching a breaking point? She's a 14 year-old kid, not the fucking Terminator. Of course she cried. Any human being who is not a sociopath would cry in such circumstances. It would have been highly unrealistic for her not to cry after what she went through.

What we have here is a form of reverse-sexism. The assumption that a woman can never show weakness or emotions, especially around a man, or that automatically makes her a sexist portrayal of women. So unless a female character has a heart of stone and can stand atop a mountain of corpses with a cold, unfeeling look in her eyes, she can't be counted as a feminine character. In the case of The Last of Us the fact that Ellie had an emotional breakdown after her horrific experience somehow completely negates everything she'd done up to that point, including facing the cannibals by herself, fending off the zombies, and saving Joel's life.

What makes the accusation itself sexist is also the underlying assumption that Ellie crying is a female reaction; that if Ellie had been a 14 year-old boy he would have been too manly to cry. It's sexist because it takes a highly emotional situation and makes it entirely about gender. In their blind zeal, the accusers do not see the scene for what it is: a human reaction, not a male or female reaction.

These people are seriously confused about what real strength is. They see it in terms of action hero cliches. In their minds, Ellie was strong because she wielded a gun and killed a bunch of people and monsters, and she became weak when she allowed herself to vent her emotions. No, it's the opposite that is true. Ellie is not strong because she can use a gun and knife a man to death. Ellie is strong because she is willing to stand up and face the perils that lay before her. Even if she never so much as looked at a gun in this game, she'd have still been just as strong.

When faced with overwhelming odds, she did not run away. She put her life on the line to protect someone she cared about, when she could just as easily have abandoned Joel to his fate. That is her true strength. Yes, she cried in the end, but that does not in any way diminish her strength. It merely shows that no one is invincible. It shows that no matter how tough you try to be, eventually it all catches up with you. When Ellie cried, I didn't think she did so because she's a woman, but because she's a human being.

To strip this scene of all context and reduce it to matters of gender is not only gravely missing the point, it also sets an unfair standard. The accusers are basically saying that it's never okay to cry, under any circumstances. That it automatically makes you weak, and if a woman happens to cry, for any reason, it makes her a sexist character. In other words, the argument either devalues or denies the existence of human emotions, while viewing the ability to kill without feeling or remorse, a trait of serial killers, as the true measure of strength. Perhaps this says something about the video game medium, where killing hundreds of people in such a manner is not only common practice, but often rewarded with achievement points.

It's rare for a video game to portray the kind of emotional strain such violence can have on a normal human being. Perhaps that's what makes Ellie's tearful scene so striking. Gamers are not used to this kind of thing, and so they judge Ellie by the standard of ultra-violence they're used to. By that standard, Ellie is weak because she's not like one of the many stoic video game protagonists for whom killing a dozen people counts as a slow day.

There are many, many, many many many examples of sexist portrayals of women in video games, but Ellie is not one of them.
Ghaleon

Diablo 3: Why I'm coming back.

I was surprised when they announced that Diablo 3 was coming to consoles, but thought nothing of it. After all, if the game is as disappointing as ever, does it really matter what hardware is being used to run it? Then I started reading the reviews, and what I learned actually has me excited to play this game again.

From what the reviews say, the loot system has been completely redone. In IGN's review, the reviewer got his first legendary item while he was level 12. LEVEL 12! He accomplished in his first couple of hours what had taken me nearly 200! In their video review, the reviewer stated that his first complete run of the game yielded 10 legendary items. I purchased a copy of Diablo 3 for Xbox 360 the very instant I read that.

In truth, I really like Diablo 3 as a game. It was just the frustrating, broken, and entirely fruitless item hunt that drove me away. Since that's been fixed, I actually can't wait to get my hands on this game and play it again. I'm a completely shameless loot whore, and it's rare that I find a game that can scratch that itch. It's just sad that I had to wait for the console version before I got to play Diablo 3 the way it (in my opinion) is supposed to be played.

It's not so bad, though. I prefer consoles anyway. I am absolutely awful with a mouse and keyboard. Could never get used to them. Put me behind a mouse and keyboard in a first-person shooter and watch me stumble around like a drunken buffoon while desperately trying to hit something. I guess my brain just wasn't wired to comprehend that control scheme.
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Ghaleon

Diablo 3: Why I quit.

It's been over a year since I last played Diablo 3, and until now I had absolutely no interest in ever playing that game again. The reason why is short and simple: it stopped being fun.

As an aside, I played the original Diablo on my brother's PC (it was actually the first PC game I ever played, if I'm not mistaken. Unless a demo of Hexen counts). I didn't have an opportunity to play Diablo 2.

I originally bought Diablo 3 after reading some positive reviews. It turned out my brother was also playing it at the time, so that was another reason for me to devote my time to it. I created a Demon Hunter, which surprised my brother. In these kinds of games I almost always play as a wizard, or some kind of magic-using class, so playing as an archer was an interesting new experience. I picked the Demon Hunter mostly because I liked his back story and his character model looked cool. It also helped that, for some reason, I really love his voice.

Anyway, I ended up sinking an absurd amount of time into that game, completing it three consecutive times to unlock Inferno mode. The thought of all those shiny legendary items I'd collect once I reached the endgame kept me motivated. I didn't mind how tedious going through the game so many times in a row was, because the endgame loot hunt was going to be awesome.

I was sorely mistaken. The endgame of Diablo 3 on PC was a frustrating, broken mess. All those legendary items I'd fantasized about? Let me put it this way: after clocking an ungodly amount of hours, completing the game 4 times (yes, I even played all of Inferno) and spending more time farming monster over and over again than I consider sane, I got TWO legendary items to drop naturally. One was a helmet that was only a marginal upgrade over the one I was using, and the other was a staff that was weak compared to lower-rarity items of that same level range. Also my Demon Hunter can't use staves, so that was also annoying.

That's when I discovered where the true item hunt lived: the auction house. My farming runs became less about finding an item I can use and more about finding things I can sell on the auction house, so I can use the gold to buy a piece of equipment I can actually use. Then came the Real Money Auction House. As desperate as I was, I refused to spend real cash-money on a new crossbow for my character. Diablo 3's endgame could be more aptly titled "Auction House: The Game."

As if to add insult to injury, whenever a way was found to make the item hunt more efficient (or even, dare I say, fun?) Blizzard would patch the game posthaste, weakening the skill, strategy, or farming location to near uselessness. Eventually I got fed up and stopped playing entirely. I moved on, feeling more than a little burned by the poor experience I had.
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Ghaleon

Review - Shin Megami Tensei IV

Shin Megami Tensei is a long-standing RPG series, as old and venerable in its native country of Japan as the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy series. It wasn't until Nocturne, the third title in the main series which was released in 2004, that Western gamers got to (legally) experience the SMT universe. Western gamers are probably most familiar with the spinoff Persona games, most notably Persona 3 and Persona 4, which became smash hits and solidified the SMT brand in the West.

Shin Megami Tensei IV has the challenging task of introducing Western gamers to the mainline series, further opening the door for SMT to hopefully become as big a brand over here as it is in its native country. While Shin Megami Tensei IV has certainly done an outstanding job in the gameplay department, I feel the game widely misses the mark where it counts the most.

You play as Flynn, a silent protagonist from a peaceful realm known as the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. Every person who reaches the age of majority is required to undergo the Gauntlet Rite, where they're asked to put on a mystical gauntlet. If the gauntlet accepts you as its master, then you are inducted into the order of Samurai, a warrior caste with the duty of vanquishing demons. Because you're the main character and it would be a very short game if you were sent home, you can imagine what happens when Flynn takes the rite.

From then on the story loses relevance and impact at an alarming rate. We're introduced to three fellow samurai: Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau. It should be quite telling that, even though I've clocked a good 90 hours into the game, I can't say much about them because they're so forgettable. Walter is brash and outspoken, Jonathan is calm and reasonable, and Isabeau is ... well, she so rarely says or does anything of note that I don't really know what her deal is.

Herein lies the greatest flaw of this game. From the very instant these characters open their mouths they become instantly bland. There are no dimensions or hidden depths to them, only their one-note character traits. To compound this, none of them evolve over time. This is a shame, because a little character development would have gone a long way. Walter, for example, clearly has a chip on his shoulder due to having been born in a lower class family, but because this facet of his character is never truly explored, it's difficult to empathize with him. Contrast this with characters such as the Black Samurai and Nozomi who, despite their limited appearances, manage to show more personality than the entire main cast combined.

It doesn't help that the plot can be best describe in two words: wasted potential. There is certainly the makings of a great story here, but the game spends next to no time fleshing out the characters and very little time exploring the implications of the things that are happening around the heroes. Therefore, when a big plot moment comes it has no real impact. Something happens, the characters comment about it a little, then you move on. There is never a feeling that the events of the game are having an impact on the world or the characters personally. The only character/plot device which comes close is the Black Samurai, but she appears so infrequently that its easy to forget that she is even in the game. That's a shame, because the Black Samurai makes an excellent foil for our heroes on the few occasions she does actually get to appear on screen.

The saving grace of Shin Megami Tensei IV is its gameplay. If you can look past the lackluster characters and story, you'll find a truly exceptional RPG experience that is genuinely fun, if not downright addictive. As a Samurai, you have the power to summon demons to aid you in combat. These demons take up three slots in your party, and you can mix and match them however you like. You may gain new demons to command by talking to your enemies and convincing them to join you. Talking to the demons is tricky business, as they have distinct personalities and, much like talking to complete strangers in real life, it is difficult to guess which response might please or offend them.

Once you've gained a few demons, you may then fuse two or more of them to create an entirely new demon which inherits the special skills of its fusion materials. Fusion is the best way to amass a party of strong demons to help you overcome the challenging battles ahead. This is where the addictive quality of the game comes into play. It's quite easy to become so lost in gathering more demons and fusing them to create the perfect team that any faults in the story seem irrelevant. This makes leveling up particularly rewarding, as each level your character gains unlocks more powerful demons for you to create via fusion.

A side note: One may be tempted to think of Shin Megami Tensei as a Pokemon knockoff, or "Pokemon with demons." However, the SMT series invented the monster collection genre back in 1987, 9 years before Pokemon was released. Therefore, it would be more accurate to say that, if anything, Pokemon is a Shin Megami Tensei knockoff, or "SMT with yellow lightning rats."

Combat can be a grueling experience for the unprepared. Even if you are adequately equipped, you may find yourself taking a severe beating if the enemy manages to get a preemptive turn. It's not uncommon to find your party decimated, if not killed off outright, by enemies quite a few levels lower than yourself simply because they got the first turn. Unless you've mastered the game to the point where you have an absurdly powerful party, each new battle could potentially be the one that ends you, or, at the very least, forces you to spend a revival item on one or two of your demons.

To mitigate potential frustration, you're allowed to save anywhere. Even if you haven't saved in a while, you can pay Charon, the Ferryman of Souls, to revive your party and put them back exactly where you left off. You may pay using Macca, the in-game currency, or Nintendo 3DS play coins. If that's still not enough, dying a few times unlocks an easier difficulty setting. This allows the game to be accessible to newcomers while still providing long-time fans with the nail-biting difficulty that Atlus has become infamous for.

Fighting demons is a strategic affair. Your party's combat turns are represented by icons known as press turns. You get one for each member in your party. Taking an action depletes a press turn, and the round switches over to your enemies once you've used them all. Land a critical hit or attack an enemy with an elemental spell they're weak to and you will only use half a press turn. By exploiting enemy weaknesses in this way, you can easily double the amount of actions you can take during your turn. Critical hits and weakness exploiting also has the possibility of making the one who just attacked smirk. A smirking party member will do more damage with their next attack and has an extremely high chance of dodging an enemy attack.

The press turn system works both ways, however. If an enemy gets a critical hit on you or hits one of your party members with an elemental spell he's weak to, they get more turns and can smirk as well. Also, if your attack misses or you hit an enemy with an element they're immune to, you'll use up two of your press turns instead of one. If you're unlucky enough to have your attack reflected back at you or drained, you lose all of your press turns immediately. Therefore, it's a good idea to create a party with a diverse array of attacks and elemental defenses to gain the maximum advantage.

In summation, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a definite must-buy for fans of JRPGs. While you're unlikely to be moved to tears by the stirring narrative, the addictive monster collecting and party customization combined with a challenging combat system is enough to pull a player in and make him wonder where the time went when he looks up from his 3DS and discovers that hours have passed.
Ghaleon

This is not the racism you're looking for.

This is a subject I've been meaning to talk about for a while. Lately I've been reading reports on gaming sites about people claiming that certain games are racist, or promote racist stereotypes. The three biggest examples I can name off the top of my head are Resident Evil 5 being set in Africa, Far Cry 3 being set on an island filled with black people, and Borderlands 2, because it has a thirteen year-old girl who speaks in black lingo.

The only instance where I think the people shouting "racism" have a leg to stand on is Resident Evil 5, though only some of their arguments have merit. The game merely being set in Africa is not, in and of itself, racist, nor is killing black zombies. Killing black zombies who are wearing grass skirts and throwing spears at you, however ... yeah, it's hard not to see some racism there.

With Far Cry 3, the complaints of racism stem from the island's black population being helpless to win their own war, and needing the white protagonist to help them out. So, you mean ... just like every single mission-based video game ever? In any game that has a mission structure, or relies on quests, the populace is collectively helpless and requires the direct intervention of the player to get anything done. One could argue that story-based video games in general are based on this standard. It's extremely common for these games to have countries, military organization, villages, etc, that cannot handle the threat they're facing, and only the protagonist is able to get things done. Every quest giver you meet in an RPG falls under this as well.

That is a necessity for such games, because if everyone could solve their own problems, then there would be nothing for the player to do. So now, because it's black people doing the asking, it's suddenly racist? I don't buy that.

The other argument raised against Far Cry 3 is the character Citra. It's said that her portrayal is racist, with a side helping of sexist, because she has sex with the protagonist and also betrays him. The problem with this mindset is that it assumes that a black person can never be the bad guy in your story, or be in any way shady, or else it's racist. That's just silly. If you truly accept that black people are as diverse as everyone else, then it should go without saying that some are going to be good and some are going to be bad, just like everyone else.

That a character in a story is bad or shady and happens to be black is not racism. It only becomes racist if it's implied that such a character is bad BECAUSE he or she is black.

Which brings us to Borderlands 2. With the previous two examples I could kind of see where the people were coming from, but in this case I find the arguments raised to be entirely without merit. The game has a character named Tiny Tina, a 13-year old demolitions expert who helps the protagonist on his journey. Tiny Tina is ... interesting, to say the least. She is borderline insane, at least bisexual if not lesbian, and is more gifted with demolitions than anyone her age has any right to be. Your first encounter with Tiny Tina involves her skipping merrily around a bandit she'd captured, singing a twisted, made-up nursery rhyme, and then setting off explosives she'd set on the guy while singing "Pop goes the bandit!"

One quest you can do for Tiny Tina involves her torturing and executing a man. If people found anything about Tiny Tina disturbing, I'd assume it would be the fact that a girl her age is not only a cold-blooded killer, but derives a twisted satisfaction from torture and murder. That would be an argument I could actually get behind. Apparently, however, torturing people and blowing them up is just fine, so long as you don't say "badonkadonk" while doing it. If there's one thing about people in general that never ceases to amaze me, it's their backwards priorities.

It is argued that Tiny Tina's use of black lingo is racist, never mind that she never says anything disparaging of black people, and the kind of language she uses has long ago transcended racial barriers and become more or less common among people of all types. If Tiny Tina is racist because she says "bitch ass," then every white rapper and every non-black person who has ever used black slang is in trouble. The idea that certain slang must remain exclusive to black people and can never be used by anyone else is itself a form of racism, because it assigns value and credibility based solely on the color of someone's skin.

What also takes away from their arguments of racism is the fact that Tiny Tina's use of black lingo is not her defining characteristic, nor does she speak that way exclusively. She also speaks in a faux british accent, eats crumpets, and holds tea parties. I suppose she's racist towards British people as well. She also expresses sexual desire towards women, so I guess she's a homophobic character on top of all that.

Another hole in their argument is that it ignores the entire rest of the game and the context found therein. Pandora is full of crazy people, and Tiny Tina is the living embodiment of what such an environment can do to a little girl. Everyone in the game is deranged in some way. Everyone, that is, except for Roland, a main character who actually is black. Roland is perhaps the most normal person in the entire series, comes off as something of a father figure to those who follow his command, and almost single-handedly united Pandora to face a larger threat. Even Marcus, a guy who would gleefully shoot you in the foot for asking for a refund, expresses admiration for Roland. He was also one of the playable protagonists of the first Borderlands game, so it's been demonstrated that he is a battle-worn veteran who is fully capable of holding his own.

Roland is one of the few examples in video games of a black character done right. He is intelligent, competent, and an admirable man. Note that I said "admirable man," not "admirable BLACK man." Roland is such an effective black character because his race does not define him. He's not "the black character." He's an experienced soldier who happens to be black. This puts him above walking cliches like Barret from Final Fantasy VII or Cole from Gears of War.

I find the arguments of racism against Borderlands 2 to be particularly mind-boggling, because Borderlands 2 is perhaps one of the most inclusive games I have ever witnessed. The characters are composed of a mixture of races, and none of them are defined by their race. If you listen to the audio logs, there's even gay people. Though only heard briefly in recorded conversations, their portrayal in those conversations is worlds better than either the total absence or prancing stereotypes we typically see in other games. Tiny Tina herself is attracted to women and is completely at ease with her sexuality. If anything, I think Gearbox should be commended for their work.

What I find most insulting is the people constantly shouting racism for nonsensical reasons. Racism does exist, and we should condemn it when it surfaces, but these people are jumping at shadows. They do not even seem to understand what racism actually is. They look only at superficial things (a white person said "badonkadonk!" Racism!) and are blind to the deeper context which separates true racism from a silly little girl saying "badonkadonk."

There is plenty of reason for people to criticize video games for its portrayal of black people, but this is not it. In their zeal, they're condemning one of the few games that actually got it right. This is particularly sad because this level of paranoia is creating an environment where it's safer to never include black characters at all, for fear of being accused of racism. I don't want that.

For the most part, these are examples of one seeing racism only where one is looking for racism. I think that says more about the people flinging the accusations than it does about the ones being accused.
Ghaleon

The problem with gay fiction.

After having just finished reading a book, I went looking for something else to read. If you're curious, the book I just finished is The Hollow City, by Dan Wells. I'm quite fond of Mr. Wells's work, despite its flaws. I'd recommend reading his John Cleaver series, starting with the first book, I am Not a Serial Killer. If you like that series, I would also recommend reading I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.

For a change of pace, I thought I'd browse the gay and lesbian section of the Amazon Kindle bookstore. It was part curiosity and part research. One of my goals as a writer is to create good stories that feature gay characters, but I've always had trouble portraying them right. I was interested in reading fiction within the gay genre to see how others do it. So, here's my reactions from browsing the selection in the Amazon Kindle store.

Why is no one wearing a shirt?

Seriously, that annoyed me. But, as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. I downloaded samples of dozens of books, and even purchased a few books that managed to interest me from their samples. I've read several such books so far. Their content ranged from sappy romance to outright pornography, but out of all the material I've looked at, none of them contained what I was looking for in a story ... which is to say, an actual story to speak of.

All the books I've seen are variations of the same thing. The protagonist is miserable for some reason. Maybe he was fired from his job, or was injured, or suffers from some kind of psychological ailment (post-traumatic stress disorder seems popular). Or maybe he's just a geek or a loser. Then, out of the blue, he runs into his designated love interest and spends the next hundred pages describing at length how sexy the guy is, then they rush into a shallow relationship based on little more than the fact that they're both horny. Some more skilled authors are able to imply some kind of deeper connection, but the emotional side of the relationship tends to take a back seat to gratuitous descriptions of how drop-dead gorgeous the other guy is, or gratuitous sex (or both).

Seriously, some of these books make Twilight seem like good literature, and that saddens me.

While looking into this phenomenon, I discovered that gay fiction has basically been overrun by female authors. The bulk of gay fiction released today is actually written by straight women for a straight female audience, which actually explains a lot. The men in these stories tend to be idealized, as if all men are actually caring, nurturing, and openly affectionate when the women's backs are turned.

All of which I actually don't have that big of an issue with. None of those elements, by themselves, ruin the story for me. What DOES ruin everything is when the author gets so caught up in describing her protagonist's rippling muscles, tanned skin, and large penis, that she completely forgets to add an actual plot to the book. Any attempt at a plot is usually a thinly veiled excuse for the two guys to have lots and lots of sex. Though, when I think about it, maybe South Park had a point.

Perhaps I'm simply reading the wrong books.

I've developed some rules to help me weed out the pointless wank material. If the protagonist meets his love interest in the first chapter, I skip it. If the author spends several pages relentlessly describing a) how unbelievably hot the love interests is, or b) how EVERY SINGLE THING the love interest does is sexy (such as drinking water, sitting in a chair, or just BREATHING) I also skip it. If the protagonist falls instantly in love, with no reason given outside of how physically attractive the other guy is, I'll buy a paper copy of the book just so I can have the pleasure of tearing it to shreds with my bare hands, then burning the shreds.

I do not resent the existence of these books, I just wish that I could find other books which have gay characters that are well-rounded, have actual personalities (hint: hair color, eye color, muscle mass, and cock size are not personality types), and motivations which (shock and horror) have little or nothing to do with their love interests. I want to see gay characters who are PEOPLE, who are individuals in their own right, not just idealized pretty boys who exist only to give come-hither looks to their designated love interests.

Maybe it would be an interesting challenge for me to write such a story.
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Ghaleon

Pointless game is pointless.

So I got Borderlands 2. I'd pre-ordered it and have been playing it obsessively ever since. I play as Axton, the Commando, and have recently finished True Vault Hunter Mode. All that's left at that point is to kill the bosses repeatedly for a chance to get rare, legendary equipment.

I was actually looking forward to that, since I'm a loot whore at heart. I love me some rare loot. I had no idea what I was getting into with this game, though. So, a warning to all of you Borderlands 2 players out there, if you you intend to farm the bosses, make sure you don't have any plans ... ever.

Here's my most recent, spectacular failure. I tried farming the game's final boss because he has a chance to drop a really nice shotgun I've been lusting after ever since I'd first heard about it. I wanted that shotgun. I REALLY wanted that shotgun. So when it turned out that I could pretty much devote the whole weekend to getting it, I was all over it.

3 days later, 26 hours of constant farming and roughly 400 kills of the final boss, and I now have ... nothing.

You heard me (or rather, read me). Nothing. Zilch. Nadda.

Now I'm no stranger to long, tedious farming. I think the worst farming I've ever done was in World of Warcraft. I once spent an entire MONTH in one forest area, killing bear people, raising my ranking with a certain faction, just so I could get a rather pointless trinket that let's me summon one of the bear men to throw lightning at my enemies for a few seconds. I did it mainly so I could say I did it. That farm was so time-consuming that most people either didn't bother or gave up partway. It was an endurance test, if you will.

But, now that I think about it, that farm was actually more rewarding, since I was guaranteed to eventually get what I want. It just took a hell of a long time to collect all the points necessary. Borderlands 2, however, is completely random. If the Random Number Generator God doesn't favor you, you're screwed.

I had something of an emotional breakdown at the end. I suddenly realized just how much time I'd put into this pointless task that has no guarantee of a reward. My whole weekend. I just spent my entire weekend doing this one thing repeatedly, and I have nothing to show for it. I would have felt a little better if I'd gotten at least ONE legendary item, even if it wasn't the specific one I wanted, but no.

I could have done so many other things. I could have watched TV. I could have read a book. I could have wrote at least a couple of new chapters for the book I'm writing, or edited the manuscript I'm currently polishing. I could have watched a movie. Several movies. That realization led to an "oh my God, what am I doing with my life?" moment, and I decided to stop playing Borderlands 2. I probably won't pick it up again until the DLC packs are released.

Which illustrates just how pointless the farming was. When the new content is released, there will be more bosses and higher level equipment. So, basically, on the very day I download the new content all of that gear I would have spent Goddess knows how long farming would have been rendered obsolete anyway.

Anyway, that's one weekend lost that I will never get back. I'm going to have a drink and finish reading Mockingjay.
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Ghaleon

Review - Darksiders 2

Following in the wake of the Darksiders, the story chronicling the journey of War, Horseman of the Apocalypse, Darksiders 2 has us once again riding forth into battle. This time another Rider takes center stage, and his name is Death.

Set parallel to the events of the first game, War is in the custody of the Charred Council, the ruling body in charge of maintaining balance in the universe, awaiting punishment for the crime of starting the apocalypse early and wiping out humanity. Before the Council would make its fateful decision that would send War to Earth to redeem his good name, his elder brother Death has already set out on a quest of his own to prove his brother's innocence.

The first Darksiders achieved sleeper hit status for its successful blending of game styles. Some Devil May Cry mixed with liberal portions of The Legend of Zelda resulted in a satisfying brew that managed to be more than the sum of its parts. Darksiders 2 adds more elements to the pot, tossing in Prince of Persia platforming along with a Diablo loot system and RPG mechanics, including experience levels and skill trees. Death will scale walls with cat-like agility, collecting ever more powerful weapons and armor with which to slaughter the forces of darkness.

Where the first Darksiders focused primarily on the machinations of Heaven and Hell, Darksiders 2's narrative is more personal. Death is on a mission to redeem his brother, and along the way is faced with the specter of his own past deeds. Nearly all the major players from the first game are either absent or relegated to brief cameo appearances. Even Earth itself, where the original game took place, is mostly absent from Darksiders 2. Instead Death's journey will take him to otherworldly planes such as the world of the Makers and the realm of the dead. The environments are far more open this time around, with hub areas where you can talk to NPCs and buy and sell gear.

All of these things add up to an experience that is unlike the first game, but similar enough to be comfortable to fans of the original. This allows Darksiders 2 to feel like a fresh take on the series, rather than just more of the same. Where the first Darksiders fits snugly in the action-adventure genre, Darksiders 2 feels more at home among action-RPGs.

This game is not without its flaws, though, and its most glaring one is the storyline. As mentioned before, the plot of Darksiders 2 has little to do with the original. Death may be trying to save his brother, but that plot element barely comes up, and when it does it's mentioned in passing. War himself does not appear in this game, so there is no interaction between him and Death. We never get a sense of how they relate to each other as brothers, which saps the urgency from Death's mission.

Other plotlines, such as the restoration of humanity and Death dealing with the shadow of his past deeds, are so small as to be rendered irrelevant. Little happens in the way of plot advancement or character development. The plot of Darksiders 2 can be summed up thusly: you need to get somewhere, but there's something preventing you from doing so. In order to remove the obstruction you must complete several dungeons to gather the necessary components. Rinse, repeat. What was meant to be a thrilling tale of personal redemption and brotherly love instead feels like a giant hamster maze.

To be fair, the first Darksiders also did this, but at least then we were rewarded with more substantial plot advancement. In Darksiders 2 the payoff for all that dungeon crawling is much smaller, and I couldn't help but feel a little shortchanged.

Those who are in it for the action, though, will be too busy slicing and dicing the forces of darkness to care. Here is where the game truly shines. Combat is fast and fluid. Death leaps about the battlefield, cutting down his enemies with precision and grace. Depending on how you assign your skill points, you may instead opt to summon minions to fight on your behalf while you pick your opponents off from a distance. When it comes to combat, Darksiders 2 is by far superior to its predecessor. Action RPG fans will be thoroughly pleased with how this game plays.

Overall, this is a more than worthy continuation to the Darksiders series. My only gripe is its comparatively lackluster story. It seems to assume that the player has read the tie-in novel and thus does not explain key things, like who the Crowfather is, and fails to give entities such as Lilith and the Nephilim a proper introduction. Darksiders 2 is clearly trying to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but it goes a little too far at times, to the point where this feels more like an alternate reality story than a proper continuation of the first game's plot.
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Ghaleon

Reaction - The Dark Knight Rises

Here are my spoiler-free reaction notes for The Dark Knight Rises.

Things I liked:

I enjoyed Nolan's interpretation of Bane, which I think does justice to the character. If your only exposure to Bane was from the Joel Schumacher film, you'd think he was a juiced up meat-head with barely two brain cells to rub together. In the Batman cannon, though, Bane possesses genius-level intelligence, which is part of what makes him so formidable. I liked Nolan's focus on that aspect of the character. He tries to give Bane an air of quiet menace, and mostly succeeds. Nolan's Bane not only has a physically commanding presence, but when he looks at you there is a sense that his mind is calculating all the ways you can die.

This film has possibly the best version of Catwoman I've ever seen. She is great in every scene she's in, and makes a worthy sparring partner for Batman.

The action scenes are very well done. The climax especially feels larger in scale than that scene in the previous films.

Things I Disliked:

The film tries to outdo its predecessor in scope, but as a result it loses cohesion. Nolan tries so hard to create this big, epic story that it loses some of the depth and gravitas which made The Dark Knight so good. He does too little with his characters. He brings a villain who could have been the best in the series, but not only does he not use Bane to his full potential, he makes him downright inconsequential as the film goes on. He brings the perfect foil for Batman in Catwoman, but uses her as little more than window dressing. She sort of has her own plot, but the film only pays lip service to it.

There is a "twist reveal" in the film's climax which I think really should not have been there. It only complicates the plot and adds nothing of value. It's cheap, it feels cheap, and it should have been cut out.

For God's sake, somebody throw a pie! I get that the film is supposed to be "dark" and "gritty," but there is no law that says everyone must be on depression meds in your dark and gritty movie. One of the reasons I enjoyed Catwoman so much is because her character is the most human out of the entire cast. At least she occasionally cracks a smile.

I think Nolan missed the point of what made his previous films so excellent. He replaced character growth with wallowing self-pity. He replaced exploration of the human condition with a story that revels in its black, black, none more black narrative. It's like when some writers get it into their heads that tossing boobs and swear words into their works will somehow make it "mature." Similarly, The Dark Knight Rises seems to think that darkness for the sake of darkness will somehow make it deep.

I never got a real sense of what the villain's end goal was. Bane's motivations are nebulous at best, and that deprives the film of tension. The twist reveal gives us a definite answer to that question, but it's so cheap and lacking in weight that I wish they'd taken the time to give Bane a clearly defined purpose. Even The Joker had a method to his madness which was expressed in his every word and action, and that's part of what made him such a compelling villain.

There are attempts made to tie this film in with Batman Begins, which I found to be very weak. It adds nothing to the story whatsoever.

Overall:

I think The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest film of the trilogy, but it's still good enough to stand on its own. It's certainly a sight better than the majority of the dreck Hollywood throws out. The Dark Knight Rises has all the elements of the previous Batman films, but it lacks the humanity which made them excellent.

P.S.: Am I the only one who thinks this film has the perfect porno title?
Ghaleon

Review - Spec Ops: The Line

Before we begin, I should be upfront about one thing: I hate military shooters. I'm actually not a fan of shooters in general, which gets kind of awkward in a medium where you can hardly take two steps without tripping over one. Military shooters, however, I have a special distaste for. On the whole, video games' take on armed conflict far too often embraces juvenile gun porn and nationalistic revenge fantasies. You're the good guy who gets to play with Uncle Sam's expensive toys and gleefully put some ventilation holes in the heads of filthy, evil foreigners. If you're looking for depth or nuance to go with your killing, you're out of luck.

So when I started Spec Ops: The Line my expectations couldn't have been lower. The game opens with Captain Martin Walker (you) in a helicopter operating a gun turret. The sand-covered scenery flashes by as you furiously unleash streams of lead into enemy helicopters, sending them spiraling to the earth in chaotic whirls of fiery death. My immediate thought was "oh, this is one of 'those' games." You know, the kind of game where you're some death-dealing god who's always in the right, because America is awesome, damnit!

The cliches pile on when we meet the two members of your unit: a wise-cracking white boy and a stern black man. "Oh, here we go!" I thought as I preemptively got out my mini American flag so I could wave it after every headshot. At first the story proceeded just as I'd expect, only Spec Ops seemed to take special delight in showing me images of horrific violence. It's not very subtle about it either. At one point you come across a dead body, and as the camera eagerly zooms in to show you every gruesome detail an achievement unlocks that's titled "The Horror." Given that, can you really blame me for dismissing the "horrors" on the screen as cheap shock value meant to get a rise out of me?

Then something unexpected happened. I'm not sure how much I can say here because I really don't want to spoil it for you guys. Let's just say I played a section that, in any other military shooter, would have ended with a "mission accomplished," an unlocked achievement, then on to the next wave of bad guys in need of some bullet acupuncture. Spec Ops, however, did a complete reversal of that. You are shown everything, and ... I mean ... everything. You can't skip it. The game even takes away your ability to run so you have no choice but to slowly take in the terrible sight before you.

If Spec Ops wanted to shock me, then it succeeded. I guess you can say my shriveled, jaded, desensitized gamer heart grew three sizes that day, but I felt actual guilt over what I just did. From that moment on you watch helplessly as Captain Walker begins a slow spiral into madness, and any camaraderie between his men is stomped under the crushing weight of the horrible things they've done and continue to do as they follow the orders of an increasingly unstable commanding officer. What began as a mission of mercy has, by this point, morphed into something dark and sickening. The game even asks you during the loading screen, "can you even remember why you're here?"

Even the game's title screen reflects this tonal shift. I took a break at one point, and when I started the game up again the title screen's American flag was in tatters, the city it overlooked was on fire, and vultures were pecking at the remains of a dead soldier. Did I mention that the story is a little dark?

You may have noticed that, so far, I haven't said much about the actual gameplay. That's because Spec Ops: The Line offers fairly typical third-person shooter fare. It's standard cover-based Gears of War shooter gameplay with some "tactical" squad commands thrown into the mix, though I can't seem to find sarcasm quotes massive enough for my use of the word "tactical." You give orders to your squad mates with a single button. You can order your white boy to snipe a distant target or have your black man throw a flashbang grenade at a group of enemies. The latter command, however, can only be used when the game feels like allowing it, displaying a prompt to let you know when the command is available.

The game also uses sand as a gameplay mechanic, with windows in some areas you can shoot out in order to bury your enemies. Aside from a few instances when I was directly told to do so, however, I never had a use for it. The few times I did end up using sand against my enemies was by accident, without even realizing that I'd done it. There are a few instances when you're forced to fight in a sandstorm, which makes for some epic-feeling firefights.

If you've ever played a third-person shooter before, you'll feel right at home with Spec Ops. Whatever risks the game takes with its dark storyline is counterbalanced with a staunch unwillingness to do anything truly new in terms of gameplay. Which is not to say that Spec Ops doesn't play well. What it lacks in gameplay originality it makes up for in ambiance. The sand-choked streets and buildings of Dubai offer some wonderful scenery and the music is appropriately blood-pumping, especially when a certain DJ is picking out the tunes. While the mechanics of the gun battles may be unadventurous, they are comfortable. All of this adds up to a genuinely fun shooter experience.

Whatever pleasure you get out of the furious gun battles, however, only serves to leave a bitter taste in your mouth when you're called to task for some of your more reprehensible actions. Another departure Spec Ops takes from its military shooter brethren is its choice of enemies. Since it's set in Dubai, you'd expect to be gunning down hordes of Jihad-happy Muslims, but instead you'll find yourself fighting U.S. soldiers as the primary enemies. The characters display shock, grief, and doubt at the thought of fighting those who are supposed to be their brothers in arms, and one loading screen message snidely asks "how many Americans did you kill today?"

At certain points you can listen in on the humanizing conversations between your enemies. I once eavesdropped on two U.S. soldiers sharing a heartfelt conversation, one of whom expressed nostalgia for his hometown and the need to find peace wherever you can get it. I actually started to like that guy ... and then I had no choice but to blow his brains out. I didn't want to. It had to be done.

"Do you feel like a hero yet?" the game's loading screen asks. My answer was no. No, I don't feel like a hero. Certain sections of the game made me feel uncomfortable, yet I say that not as condemnation, but as high praise. Spec Ops: The Line is a breath of fresh air which brings something unique to the military shooter genre. Here is a game not trying to be a popcorn action flick, but a poignant exploration of the human cost of war. Where other games glorify war almost to the point of deification, Spec Ops looks at its darker underbelly and shows the price in bodies one has to pay for those shiny achievement points.

Spec Ops also deserves praise for its narrative in general. It's rare that I find myself playing a shooter more for the plot than the actual shooting, and that Spec Ops managed to hook me with its story is perhaps the greatest commendation I can give to it. If more military shooters were this well-written, I'd be a fan of the genre.

I'd daresay that Spec Ops: The Line is one of the better arguments made in favor of video games being just as valid an artform as film. The game made me stop and think before I pulled the trigger, and made me question if I should even pull it at all. In this way, Spec Ops: The Line is one of the few games rated M for mature by the ESRB that I would actually consider to be a mature game, by which I mean intellectually and emotionally mature and not just a collection of blood, guts, breasts, and swearwords thrown around haphazardly in the childish guise of maturity.

The video game medium needs more titles like Spec Ops: The Line. While the game is not perfect, it's a heartening sign of the potential video games can achieve when they decide to grow up and use their interactive nature to explore the human condition.
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