Top 5 (or 6) Games of 2010

Yes, I know I’m late to the whole “Game of the Year” deal, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Admittedly, I have not played every game release in 2010 on my very modest budget and lack of every gaming platform on the market, but I did play plenty of games that I really enjoyed the hell out of. 2010 came with some surprising classics that have innovated on the tired market that games have been subjected to in recent years. The following games are put into no particular order. I love them all more or less, equally…

  • Red Dead Redemption

It’s really a shame that there aren’t more Western themed games. One could always find a copy of Mad Dog McCree and start memorizing exactly which windows the bad guy will pop out of, or even play the original Red Dead Revolver. But the fantastic thing about Red Dead Redemption is the complexity and tone the game chooses to deal with for a Western, presenting its content with class, style, and integrity. It starts with a seemingly simple story about a man on a mission to bring back his wife and son. The specifics are little muddy and so is the background of the main character, John Marston. We find that he used to be a bandit of sorts, but quit all of that to start a family. The fact that he chooses not to reveal his situation with the characters, but willingly becomes an  errand boy for various shady folks at first seems like a fault of the storytelling, but it becomes apparent through much of the dialog and the various situations what the central theme of the game seems to become and what drives the motivation for Marston to the brink. The wild West is dying and is stubborn to change. Who would trust a man is seemingly working for a government bent on industrializing and modernizing the West? John understands this and thus skirts the issue on why he is seeking help. The game has a methodical pace that flows extremely well, and when it reaches the truly final end, it just feels so right.

Having a gameplay system that works solidly, with intriguing side missions, and a multitude of other business to take of all set in a beautifully rendered landscape backed with an incredibly soundtrack really makes this game a complete package, and easily one of the best games of the year.

  • Mass Effect 2

I’m pretty sure that the world of Mass Effect, if it isn’t already, will become a staple in the science-fiction world. It breathes so much life into its characters and its universe, it is hard not to be captivated by all of it. The game is brimming with completely entertaining and interesting back-stories, people, and aliens. The side-missions and loyalty missions, which no doubt take up the bulk of the game anyway, are the story’s greatest assets. It also doesn’t hurt that the game look gorgeous.

The third-person shooting and combat is incredibly tight. Cooperating with your squad-mates to unleash a barrage of biotic, tech and soldier powers at once never got old. Having differing classes with unique abilities added to my number of play-throughs, as did the various choices in conversation and actions.

Every step of the way, Mass Effect 2 presented an awesomely solid, mature science fiction game that felt like a huge breath of fresh air from the soul-suckingly generic science-fiction forays of previous games.

  • Alan Wake

I really don’t know what it is about Alan Wake that I love so much. I do know that playing it allowed me to enjoy some of my favorite moments playing a game this year. Alan Wake is dark, frightening, exciting, fascinating, and baffling. The story within a story (sort of) led to questions throughout the entire experience. It was like a finger constantly curling back and beckoning me forward, that I could not resist. What helps are the characters in the game. Admittedly, almost all of them are more interesting than Wake himself, but of course that would be the case, as Wake is played as a sort of everyman. His agent Barry, being one of my favorite characters of the year, tags along for a little bit, but never becomes an annoyance, but rather a welcome presence.  The Twin Peaks inspired atmosphere comes complete with a great cast of screwy characters. There are two insane brothers who are “rock gods”, a super shady psychiatrist, a creepy old woman, a douchey cop, an oddball radio host, a ghostly writer, and a woman is utterly obsessed with lights (and for good reason).

The main enemy in the game is darkness itself. It covers the town making things insane, including machinery and cars. So naturally your best weapon is light. This concept is used to full effect. Flashlights, lamp posts, fireworks, car lights, flares and flashbangs all help to fend off the inky blackness. I never got tired of bursting light at an enemy then immediately popping a few bullets into him, as he disintegrated before me. And it was terrifying every time a car flew down the street looking to take off your head. The movement helps the game become wonderfully fluid. The dodge move is cool as hell, bringing back memories of Remedy’s Max Payne, and the shooting feels like it has impact. The game looks incredibly and the lighting effects are the best I’ve seen. The world is chock full of interesting tidbits and little treasures, like the TVs and radios that play awesome side jokes and story elements. Alan Wake is truly a unique experience that I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of.

  • Tropico 3

It was probably the music that got me hooked into playing so much of Tropico 3. It was so cheery and relaxing that it got me to play a remarkably interesting city-sim, with a twist. Unlike  SimCity or CitiesXL where the city itself is usually the main focus at a macro level, Tropico 3 usually goes down to a mirco level, where the people on your tropical island can decide the ultimate fate. The player too has an El Presidente avatar that can go to construction sites to boost worker morale, or make speeches to the people from his mansion balcony. But it becomes very interesting and problematic how one citizen can turn a decent island into a violent warzone if the player isn’t careful.

The options on how to run your island are pretty diverse. A player could be a kind and giving presidente, or malevolent and rule with an iron fist. If a citizen is upset with conditions, they will probably start a peaceful protest. The player must make a decision, whether to fix the problems they are having, or silence the leader of the protests, potentially scaring the others into cooperation. If the player does nothing, the protesters could form a rouge  militia group who hides the forest and occasionally attacks farms and factories. The more damage they do, the more people are will to join their cause. Construction workers aren’t happy, nothing gets built. No good economy, people won’t migrate to the island. Fights always occuring? You can forget about any tourists boosting the finances. Does this sound like a crazy city simulation? That’s because it is, and it is awesome.

  • Super Meat Boy and/or VVVVVV

Fuck you, you magnificent bastard.

VVVVVV is fun on just about every level. The controls are tighter than a [Expletive Deleted; Editor’s Note: inappropriate] on a Sunday morning. The levels are challenging but never beyond the realm of unrealistically difficult. For the two hours it took to complete, it was a joy for every second of it. The music is great, and the Intellivision style if bright and clean. There is not much to say than that VVVVVV is just pure fun.

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Minecraft: The Adventures of…

That's what it is!

I  appeared in a brand new world, completely conjured from blocks. I don’t know where I came from but I suppose my first natural instinct is to survive. I looked around this brave new world and see the normal aspects of nature. Hills, mountains, trees, water, and animals. I started where any naked human would start. I built myself a shelter. The question first in my mind was: out of what, and how? The trees could provide me with lumber for a nice house. Something that would sustain me for the coming days while I figured out my destiny. Fortunately I was much stronger that any normal human, and was able to break apart the tree trunks merely with a few strokes of my hand. After destroying a forest for my materials, I set to making my shelter.

The blocks seem to stick together quite nicely without the need of an adhesive or nails. This made the construction go much smoother than I anticipated. After only a few minutes, my quaint wooden hut is complete. Though it felt somewhat dark inside. I could punch out a hole for a window, which I did, but how much can a window do when the night has fallen. I needed torches. However, I had only wood. I needed to find a source of fuel and fire.

The world before you, is yours for the taking...

Before I set out, I fashioned myself a workbench for tool making. There I created a pickax made of the excess wood in my inventory. I then ventured forth into the wilderness to find precious coal. The world was strange, yet somewhat familiar. The landscape changed so rapidly sometimes, and I feel that I could walk forever. I passed endless trees and lakes before I approached a large cliff. I looked up the daunting face and there I saw a peculiar deformity in the rocks. Can it be? I had found a small pocket of coal right in front of my eyes. I knew I must reach it somehow. I looked around, yet all I saw was dirt. At the time, it would work. I broke apart the nearby hillside collecting mounds for my excavation project. I finally had enough and began piling the dirt under me, higher and higher, until I finally reached the coal. I pulled out my wooden pickax and smashed the bricks to reveal bits of coal everywhere. My search was complete.

I found my way back to my humble abode just as night began drawing near. The squarish sun was setting to give rise to a rectangle moon. The night was cold and unforgiving. The only light came from the torches in my hut. It was quiet that night, until…they, came. I never saw them at first. I could only here them. Their sounds were terrifying and cold. They were the sounds of pure evil. The sounds of creatures who wanted nothing more than to kill. I heard a hiss in the distance and peered through the hole I deemed a door, when I saw two red eyes in the distance, slowly drawing near. I hastily went to my workbench and made a makeshift wooden door. I bolted the door immediately to the frame before a disgusting and grotesque spider lunged for my throat. Had I not been as quick, I would have surely been destroyed. All night I saw them through the windows. Standing there, waiting for my flesh. There were some more spiders. Others were creatures who might have been human once, but are no more. All I could do was wait for the safety of day. I stood and I waited. I held my ground.

OH FUUUUUCK!

The next morning I exited my home. The creatures were gone, but  I knew they would be back by night, so I had to work quickly. The day before I had seen what looked like a cave, not far from my hut. I decided to explore. I had my torches and my pickaxes. I had found some stone earlier and made new, stronger pickaxes. I approached the mouth of the cave, when out of nowhere, a musical queue of horror rang through my eardrums. I don’t know where it came from or what it meant, but it was not going to stop me from going in. I went as far as the light from the opening would go when I placed my first torch on the wall. The torches would be my light, and my ball of yarn to escape the labyrinth if need be. I ventured further and further, finding coal as I went. My hope was to find other materials as well, but after quite a bit of time in the cave, I heard the most gut-wrenching, heart-stopping sound. It was the sound of a zombie. So, this is where they hid when the light of day burns their rotting flesh. I had to be careful.

Well, hello cave. Ready for me to penetrate you?

I pushed a little further, the sound of the zombie echoing through the corridors. I placed yet another torch, and, as the light illuminated the walls, the zombie that had been haunting me suddenly appeared, dragging its decaying body along the floor. It crept towards me with surprising speed, lunging for my brains. I took out my only weapon, a stone pickax, and swung at the demon. It hit, but it did not kill. I swung again. And again. And again. Finally, with the blood of the creature dripping from my face and hands, the monster disappeared in a puff of dust. This was my first trial. I had defeated my greatest fear. There was nothing that could stop me now. Nothing, except, for my own madness.

After the battle, the cave showed me its true wonders. I began to find vast amounts of iron, and even gold and diamond. I found my way back to the entrance with my inventory stock full of precious materials. I went back to my hut as night fell, and began to plan what I was to do with everything I had found that day. I was going to change the world. I was to build myself the most glorious of courtyards. With a castle and a royal mine. I was going to build towers as high as the sun, in memorial of myself and my greatness. There was no limit to what I was going to do. I would conquer the land, the sky and the oceans with my power. I would start immediately.

After much timed had passed:

What...are...you?

What am I to do with this place. I am constantly building. Constantly adding. My city stretches far and my mine deep, and there will be no point at which I stop. This is where I believe I am to be mad, for only a madman would continue. Then I accept my madness. I shall be called the Duke of Madness and I rule over all that I see. I suppose I just long for another human. To witness that which I had created and to help with my building. To give input and ideas. We could rid the earth of monster and go on many adventures. We could sail into the sunset finding the wondrous of lands. Lands we have never seen before. That no man had ever seen. We could change the world together.  Someday soon, someone will be dropped into this maddening world as I have.

Fortunately the creator will add multiplayer any day now.

My kingdom. My land.

The End.

http://www.minecraft.net

Façade. People’s Problems Are Hilarious

Oh...you kidder, you!

I recently came across a Let’s Play from user YouTube kazztawdal. He was playing a “game” I had never heard of, but intrigued me quite a bit as he explained it in his first video. Apparently it is a “artificial-intelligence-based interactive story” where you are a friend who is visiting  your favorite dysfunctional couple, with some super duper clever dichotomous names, Trip and Grace. GET IT!? Kazz, tries his damnedest to get these two to work out their problems with valiant effort, and while I won’t spoil it, his adventure does result in some fantastic situations.

The characters seem to react in a range from appropriate to making no sense. They jump to conclusions and sometimes completely ignore the player. From the quality of the game itself, to the phrases he tries in conversation, it becomes a beautiful work of art. Kazz’s third attempt with prior knowledge of the couples hidden secrets is one for the hilarity-history-books.

There are nine short episodes.

Watch the first video here.

The Joy, The Love, The Frustration, The Anger, The Tears, The Springs: Super Mario Galaxy 2

"I slipped on some star shit!"

Mario, you and I are on shaky terms these days, and do you know why? We used to be the best of friends. I would press A and you would jump exactly where I needed you to go in a quick and orderly fashion. I feel like we’ve grown apart because the communication just hasn’t been there recently. I would tell you to jump forward, but you would kind of, jump and float a little in the general direction but not quite how I meant. If I wanted to do a power jump, I have to face you the opposite direction of where I wanted you to go, because, Mario, you go backwards for some reason. This is something I got used to. It was not a big deal. What was a big deal was that new mushroom you ate that one time. It turned you into a Spring Mario. This is where we no longer could be friends. You broke me then.

I do like Super Mario Galaxy 2. I really do. It’s fun, and the levels are clever and interesting. But it’s like a beautiful field of flowers that are soft and fun to run through barefoot, when suddenly, a swarm of bees relentlessly attacks your face, and you try to swipe them off with your hands, but your hands keep missing and swinging past your shoulders because you never know how far away your hands are from your face. Except that it’s embarrassing to get so angry at the bees because they are all bright and colorful, have large shiny eyes, and are smiling and screaming “I’m a-so a-sorry!”, then blinking quickly, giggling as they fly away.

Oh god! Giant Mario is destroying planets!

The business leading up the total breakdown of sanity started with one of the “special” worlds, or rather one of the Prankster Comets. A Prankster Comet takes a  normal galaxy and turns into some sort of time trial, or kill-all-the-enemies world. That’s fine and swell, but underlying is the most devious of inner-workings. When you don’t finish in time, whether or not you actually lost all of your health, it’s one life down the drain. I’ll accept that. It’s not good, but I can understand where the concept if coming from, even if running out of time should not “kill” you, as it does. The worst of the Prankster Comets is when you have to murder and collect the coin of every living thing that you find. This would have been a total joy if the enemy had not always been that fucking thing that shits a rock out of its damned mouth at the most perfect angle. The rock hits Mario and he decides to go flying twenty feet in the other direction, most notably over a cliff, or off the fucking planet. You’re always timed, giving you exactly as many seconds as possible to actually win, and it always comes down to the last second every time, and to accumulate the most points quickly you have to string bouncing from one enemy to another. Good luck with that; Mario doesn’t give a fuck which direction, or how far you want to go.

Those levels are shitty, but tolerable. And I’ll be honest, only one level; only one obstacle conjured the rage and fire of a thousands suns. It starts with some evil contraption called the Spring Mushroom. Fuck the Spring Mushroom. Fuck everything about it. It’s not clever. It’s not fun. It’s not game changing or innovative in the least. It is simply, a piece of shit. With the Spring Mushroom, you constantly bounce around. No, not up and down. Fucking around. All over the damned place. Back and forth, and side to side. Into lava. Into enemies. Into obstacles. The directional stick becomes near obsolete because it does not care. Then it gets even worse: to jump higher, you press A at some point when the spring compresses. Sounds easy, right? It’s bullshit. So here is the level in question done right:

The designers put a 1up mushroom right above the checkpoint because they know that people will die over and over and over on this shit. It looks easy. It seems easy, but in practice, it’s not (I suck at Mario). I constantly press A. The spring won’t work. I hit the chomp. -1 health. The chomp pushes me into lava. -1 health. I have to go back and try again. Same shit, again and again.

Was it me? Was I having a bad day? Do I suck at this stuff? I was playing the entire game just fine up until that point, then all of the sudden, I couldn’t hit the A button at the exact right time? Did I lose all of my motor skills for that 30 minutes it took me to get through that? What happened? I’m going to look past all of the reasons that are my own fault and say that the Spring Mushroom is awful design. The randomness of direction that it decides to take is absurd. The precision for the spring is unclear. The description says, “Push A at the right time to jump higher!” Great! Does that mean press it right before to anticipate the spring? Do I press it at the compression of the spring? There was no consistency to whether or not it would work. I bounced on the main area practicing the big jump, over and over, nailing it every time. Then when I decided to go down the platform, it suddenly decided that my thumb on A was not good enough for it. The chomps had their way with me. I cried.

Mario, please stay away from the Spring Mushrooms...

In conclusion, I suck at Super Mario Galaxy 2. The jumping is fine when the camera allows you to see depth, or how far away from something you are. Countless times I’ve missed platforms or enemies because I miscalculated their distance. It’s probably just me. Video game journalists absolutely love this game, and I can see why. But I went so crazy playing this game sometimes, it ruined the rest of the beauty. I found a disgusting hair in my delicious soup and I threw up everywhere because of it.