Michael Leri may hate fedoras with a fiery passion, but he loves to watch dumb comedy, play video games, and edit together videos. He still hasn't seen Die Hard or Forrest Gump, but don't tell anyone.
You can follow him on Twitter @OrangeFlavored to see all his retweets of The Iron Sheik and the occasional tweet to Ed Boon about Mortal Kombat.
Here at Xpress Magazine, we posted an article listing ways to save our dying planet. Those are nice but they didn’t touch on the bigger issue. Although global warming is a false ploy pushed on us by liberals who want to get elected, California is quickly drying out. I’ve done my civic duty by compiling a list of some less obvious ways to make sure you aren’t wasting water like a terrible, spongey human being.
If it’s Yellow, it’s Mellow but if it’s Brown, it’s Probably Still Mellow
It’s a classic biblical saying but with a small twist. This is a gimme. I’ve been following this ever since I stopped wearing diapers. It’s been a great, water-saving four years.
Put Deodorant on Everywhere, Everyday
You sweat a lot unless you’re a pig or dog (shoutout to all my literate pigs and dogs). Deodorant makes you not sweat. If you don’t sweat, you are saving water and simultaneously watching your water bill plummet. Cake it on your eyelids, crotch, back, both sets of cheeks, and any other exposed area of your skin that might start to perspire. If you bottle it in enough, you might not ever have to drink again.
Drink Gatorade™ Exclusively
But if you do fold and have to drink something, make it Gatorade™, the environmentalist’s drink. Gatorade™ is made exclusively from Gatorade™ and electrolytes, neither of which are water. The sad downside is that your sweat won’t be cool and colored after flavors like MANGO EXTREMO™ and FROST GLACIER FREEZE™ because you will have already followed step two of this water-saving plan. But that’s a small sacrifice because you’ll be hydrating and saving the environment in style.
Don’t Watch The Big Bang Theory
It isn’t advertised much but every time someone watches The Big Bang Theory, executive producer Chuck Lorre and his writers drown a bunch of kittens and record the sounds to make a script. Yes, that’s sad for the kittens but think of all that wasted water. Think I’m lying? Where is The Big Bang Theory filmed? California. Where is the drought? California.
Move to North Korea
I just said the drought was in California. Think about that. Guess what isn’t California? North Korea. You may ask, “But Michael, isn’t it a terrible dictatorship led by the power-hungry Kim Jong-Un that oversees a propaganda-fed, poverty-stricken population?” Nope! Last year’s documentary The Interview documented the assassination of their leader, meaning it’s probably a great democracy now filled with equality and, more importantly, gallons and gallons of clean drinking water. Culture and hydrate yourself by moving to North Korea, your new home.
I can already hear the oceans refilling after reading this but if this doesn’t work, I hear there is water on Mars.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: February 26, 2009
Average Scores: 51, 53
I love Will Arnett. If I could only send out six invites to my next birthday party, I’d send at least four of the invitations to his house to make sure that he got the message on the off chance that he’d actually show up. While I’ll completely ignore his role in BoJack Horseshit, his representation as G.O.B. in Arrested Development and his guest appearance in this, the literal greatest video of all time, are the perfect embodiments of the loveable idiot. My love of Arnett and my gaming passion hasn’t intertwined until the release of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, which puts Arnett into the armor as main character Matt Hazard. This seemingly perfect fusion is anything but; this game is a huge mistake.
Or a collection of huge mistakes if you want to nitpick. Coincidentally, none of these blunders stem from nitpicking because the game is almost immediately busted from the start. The sad part is, the game knows it.
Matt Hazard is a video game character that knows he’s a video game character. He rose to fame in the 8-bit days only to sell out and crash into the digital dirt with the release of high definition gaming consoles. It’s stupid, meta, and admittedly a great premise, but the game almost does my job for me by making fun of itself at every turn. Games have done the whole “hey, look at this dumb video game thing!” and Eat Lead pulls that cliché a lot, however I’ve never seen a game cold-heartedly jab at itself this intensely.
Hazard insults the boring level layout, the dumb tutorials, and tears into the game’s one original mechanic all within the first hour. It’s almost as if these started out as legitimate jokes to developer Vicious Cycle Software and then became a sad, grim reflection of its troubled (maybe even arrested) development.
It’s like the fat kid in fifth grade acknowledging the fact that he is fat in hopes that others will not find fun in teasing him. Its initial humor wears off as it becomes a dark reminder of something more bleak and serious.
Although childhood obesity is much more funny than anything said in Eat Lead, and that should tell you a lot. Besides the aforementioned hackneyed jabs at video games, the actual moment-to-moment dialogue is cringeworthy. The crude animatronic animation can’t distract the viewer from the awkward dialogue that makes up every scene. Here’s a rough exchange between Hazard and the stereotypical Russian bad guy:
Russian: “I snuck a nuke into America right under your hoses!”
Hazard: “It’s ‘noses.'”
I’m not even sure what the punchline is supposed to be there. He mispronounced a word. That’s it. There’s a craft to having dialogue that’s simultaneously terrible and god damn amazing. However, that takes skill and nuance far past anything found in this game. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which was the right way to do a game parody, showed this by having intelligent cringeworthy dialogue. It paid off; that game was hilarious. Nothing of the sort is in Eat Lead.
Blood Dragon could lean on its shooting mechanics as well as its script while Eat Lead doesn’t get either luxury. Firing a gun is a general approximation of what you might hit because of the huge boxlike crosshair. The slightly racist enemies might die if you hold down the trigger long enough. At least they are nice enough to only occasionally use cover. Cover is optional to foes that spawn behind you as well, since almost every firefight has a surprise posse roll up from some closet in the back corner to pump you full of holes. Counting on these idiots to have self preserving actions and be fair, would be probably too much to expect.
I did expect more from you, Will Arnett. I know it ain’t easy being white, but come on! Putting out a game with you as the protagonist shouldn’t let me down after I’ve picked up the controller. I’ll still love you unconditionally and continue to watch this video and pretend that you’re talking to me, but this should be the perfect marriage of you and video games. Sadly, this game is a product of its time where putting out a haphazard (now that’s wordplay, Hazard) Gears of War clone was enough to call it a day. It’s almost as if I forgot its release date and expected a bad game from 2009 to magically achieve greatness in the drastically different gaming landscape of 2015.
Millions upon millions of people flock to AMC’s The Walking Dead each week, much like an actual flock of zombies. Millions of people also flocked to Telltale Games’ brilliant adventure game based on the series. You’d think going two for two would be a good place to call it quits but that would just leave you and me with any sense in this situation. Some individuals lacking foresight and good ideas disagreed and that’s how The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct got pushed out of a crusty sphincter and plopped onto shelves.
I know I make a lot of poop jokes in this column. A lot. I guarantee that at least three jokes involving poo will get edited out of this specific piece, but this is the closest games I’ve played in a while that actually resembles a pile of number two. It’s extremely brown, dry, and covered in a lot of blood.
By that, I mean that the game’s color palette is made up exclusively of a fairly accurate crap shade of brown that only gets its only color from the blood that splashes out of each debrained zombie. Maybe they aren’t even zombies. These could just be what regular people from Detroit look like. I don’t know. I’ve never even been there.
The redneck main characters do sort of look like Detroit people, although with heavy dose of homoerotic tension in every scene. I don’t watch the show but these two hillbilly survivalists, Merle and Daryl (aw how cute, their names rhyme), spend the whole game looking for each other and argue in between the implied gay sex scenes. That’s about as much as I could gather from the barren plot that mainly pushes you to gather gasoline and car parts. I assumed it was a love story and a poorly glued together one at that.
Wait a minute…
Upon further research, I just found out that Merle and Daryl are actually brothers. I still stand by what I said because an incestous love story is more interesting than whatever I was actually supposed to be paying attention to. And besides, they are from the south. Incest is basically a right of passage there. It’s frowned upon to not take your sister to prom and almost impregnate her.
These inbred twins travel from one ugly city to the next looking for gas and – you guessed it – each is filled with zombies, which is where the game crumbles. The game can’t figure out whether it wants you to kill or fear the flocks of zombies so it haphazardly keeps one foot in each ideal. Given that you can endure the sluggish controls, you can easily pimp slap a walking corpse to its second death but the game cheats when faced with greater numbers in order to artificially inject some difficulty.
If you wander too close, you’ll get grabbed and enter one of the most broken game mechanics within the past decade. As you grapple with these Detroit people (remember that joke?), a cursor appears that you have to line up with a target that allows you to murder a single zombie. You’ll do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again until you frustratingly perish in this conga line of death or escape through a succession of lucky strikes. I made up for the lack of consistency in this mechanic with my consistent stream of obscenities because fuck this stupid garbage shit for garbage people.
I don’t feel for the garbage people who purposely bought this game. They deserved what is coming to them. I do, however, feel for the people who accidentally purchased this instead of the other infinitely better Walking Dead game. That would be like expecting a steak dinner but instead getting just about anything from Arby’s. And that’s what this disaster is in a nutshell: an Arby’s when compared to the fine dining that is the other Walking Dead game, the television show, or the comic book series. You have three other brilliant ways to absorb this franchise. Don’t make Survival Instinct the one you choose.
Platforms: PS4, Playstation Vita
Release Date: March 3, 2015
The first OlliOlli was the perfect arcadey skating game. Plain and simple.
Nailing kickflips and crooked grinds was a sublime way to pass the time before bed or while pooping. A long list of increasingly difficult challenges and huge array of tricks allowed this game to have replay value, but in small chunks to fit the platform it was made for, being the Playstation Vita.
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is the follow-up coming only a year and change later, sporting a slick new look and promising a multitude of added features. Piling on bullet-point worthy features may sound like a boastful press release, but they each improve a game with an already incredible foundation.
The pure art of OlliOlli 2 is how it forces the player to step their game up. There are no upgrades. There are no skill points. The more you play, the better you will eventually get at extending combos and destroying your old high scores. Timing, patience, and skill are encouraged with progression, and so is that rewarding fuzzy feeling of mastering something that once stood as a challenge. In a world where experience bars dominate each release, it’s refreshing to see an experience bar that is a bit more intrinsic.
Points are important though, because they make up the whole crux of the game. Achieving lengthy combos is possible through linking tricks together and finding ways to add to the almighty point multiplier. In the first OlliOlli, this was only possible through chaining grinds in between tricks. Once you stuck the landing, your combo ended, which limited how you could rack up millions of points.
OlliOlli 2 adds some new basic tricks, but manuals, reverts, and grind switching all open up combo-extending possibilities and subsequently provides a wealth of new strategies. Manuals and reverts (which can be linked) yield ways to add to the multiplier on the ground, which gives more choice and opens up the level design. Worlds no longer have to have endless grind rails because these new moves give more ways to link combos together that don’t require a grindable surface.
Grind switching, which allows the player to switch grind mid-rail, is a smaller addition, but a great one nonetheless because it widens the set of available skills and is another way to increase the multiplier. Including manuals, reverts, and grind switching may seem small, however they add an exponential amount of depth because each new skill becomes yet another tool to master.
The depth will showcase to players willing to put in the time to see it, which is an easy given considering the amount of content OlliOlli 2 has. In addition to the score-heavy Daily Grinds and Spots, there are five worlds with five normal levels and five hard levels apiece. Once all challenges are completed, RAD mode is unlocked, which is a super hard mode for the Tony Hawk-iest of Tony Hawks. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but knocking out challenges one by one takes multiple runs through levels that already have splitting paths. The variability of the gameplay and the dozens upon dozens of challenges gives OlliOlli 2 plenty of replay value for those willing to seek it.
I say “seek it” because most levels need to be unlocked through achieving certain hard tasks. OlliOlli 2 is a difficult game, yet never frustrating. Sure, some levels require clairvoyance and path memorization, though the extremely quick restart timer alleviates any possible aggravation. You don’t even have time to get mad because you’ll already be rolling on your next run.
No matter the trial or world, OlliOlli 2’s funky fresh visuals pack heat. Simplicity carries the visual style since it is only made up of a few colors, however the brightness pairs well with game’s inventive fantastical worlds. I didn’t expect to be skating through a zombie roller-coaster or a Pacific Rim-esque graveyard, yet I was delighted that these unique world ideas allow for some clever visual change-ups from the usual Earthy locales. The soundtrack is also a highlight, featuring smooth tunes that feel right at home in a skateboarding game. It’s a kind of soundtrack that you can sit back and, say, write a review to.
OlliOlli 2 is just about as good as it can be. Striking that balance between keeping what works, streamlining what is there, and adding new content is tricky, but developer Roll7 did exactly what needed to be done to ensure OlliOlli 2 was the definitive OlliOlli experience. The tiny additions like ramps and a new graphical style deserve props but reverts and manuals drastically better the game by adding an abundance of new strategies. OlliOlli 2’s best features are being simple, deep, and replay-able, which make it a fantastic arcade-y skateboarding game, and the ultimate portable experience. Tony Hawk should be jealous.
+Girthy amount of content
+Intuitive trick system is easy to immediately grasp but has layers of depth for differing skillsets
+Pretty, minimalistic visual style and catchy soundtrack
My dog pissed on me once. I don’t know why. I usually have to pay a tiny Asian woman to do that. However, this showed me early in life that your favorite things won’t hesitate to drop trou and use your body as a glorified toilet. However, nothing has prepared me for the Cleveland Steamer that Aliens: Colonial Marines begrudgingly dropped upon my chest.
Disappointment in the Alien franchise isn’t new to anyone who is loves that universe. Outside of the classic Alien and Aliens, there hasn’t been much to rally behind. Sure, last year’s video game Alien: Isolation was fucking fantastic, but that does little to offset Alien 3 and the Aliens Vs. Predator. Whoever wins, we lose but no one won that shit.
Aliens: Colonial Marines pretends to be some sort of canonical sequel to Aliens, the film where the xenomorphs are an actual threat. These penis monsters will attack you in droves, attempt to slap fight you, and then they explode. Forget the acidic blood. It’s just Kool-Aid here. Actually, you’re more likely to die from Kool-Aid induced diabetes than the xenomorph blood in Colonial Marines.
Let us not forget that one xenomorph killed an entire crew except a cat and Sigourney Weaver. That speaks to how damn badass Weaver was and still is but mostly to how terrifying and deadly a single xenomorph is.
When there are literally hordes upon hordes of these literal dick heads and the most they can do is scratch and lightly annoy you, there are some fucking issues. “Annoying” shouldn’t be the word for this kind of creature. “Terrifying” and “phallic” are usable. Not “annoying.” Imagine being that guy aboard the Nostromo and saying to the crew, “Gee, guys, this alien is just… she’s just kind of annoyi–.” You’d be jettisoned before you even finished your sentence.
It fits as well with the universe as well as shooting fits into video games, as to say it doesn’t fit at all. Weapons have no kick, but, then again, I guess you don’t really need to have hulking guns to take down these glorified rabbits. You’ll be exclusively shooting and pushing buttons for duration of this elongated torture, so it’s a drag that it’s all terrible. Button pushing is actually a highlight and is, in comparison, the best thing ever. I think Stockholm Syndrome is finally settling in and it’s my only known syndrome but my favorite.
I can’t succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to… just about anything else in this game. The game looks abhorrent and is easily a contestant on the “Worst Looking Game of 2001” despite coming out in 2013. The puppet people animate like Chuck E. Cheese’s animatronics and are about half as sexy and appropriately convey just as much life as those pedophile-esque robots. In fact, Michael Biehn confirmed as much in a post-mortem interview.
Bastardizing the anti-war message in Aliens without any gravitas is bad enough but completely retconning the film’s canon is pretty much unacceptable. Let me reiterate that. They didn’t want to tell their own bad, fucked up story. They wanted to actively fuck up the beauty of the film 27 years later. Somewhere in the Marianas Trench, James Cameron just winced a bit knowing his classic was being tampered with (but then he stopped caring because, hey, he’s a billionaire).
They say it is better to be pissed off than to be pissed on, but no one said anything about being both. My dog at least was a good dog for the rest of his years after he gave me a golden shower while Colonial Marines deserved to be euthanized right after its initial install. It disrespects the franchise that already disrespects itself enough. The most colonial thing about Colonial Marines is that it resembles a colon in the fact that it stores a lot of poop within the disc it is delivered on. I can’t even muster a cliché Aliens quote to end on.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Average Score: 40, 32, 52
I didn’t think it would happen, on the first Teardown of 2015 no less, but a game for this column finally broke me. I didn’t finish Escape Dead Island. However, I didn’t need to endure the entirety of the game to come to the conclusion that Escape Dead Island is a massive runny puddle of lukewarm diarrhea. In other words, its long list of imperfections make it the perfect game for this piece.
I pride myself on completing these games. Every single one of these broken messes. No matter how many controllers I’ve almost destroyed; no matter how many aneurysms I’ve almost had, witnessing the end credits means that I’ve come out on top on these games which started from the bottom.
Bottom-dwelling games, like Escape Dead Island, fall into the category of leechers, biting off its main franchise (Dead Island) without also grabbing the features that people liked about it. Escape doesn’t have any leveling mechanics, quest structure, four-player co-op, or a weapon-crafting system like Dead Island did. What it does have is… well, it really doesn’t have much of anything to actually do. You run to a place, grab a keycard, then run to another place. It’s like running useless errands, but these errands are for Hideki Tojo, and you’re also covered in giant, hairy spiders.
Now, go Google Hideki Tojo is so you can understand that joke.
Combat and stealth are a crap shoot filled with crappy shooting. Wonky aiming makes the all-important headshot a farfetched dream, while hitting a zombie with a bat is always a nightmare. Clubbing a pack of zombies never works, except when the game flips a coin and decides that it does. There’s no rhyme or reason;. Just some twisted glitches in the code that can only be lightly likened to “luck.” There are no pointers to give in combat because no strategy is consistently effective.
And that’s why it broke me. The extreme difficulty spikes didn’t come down to skill. It boiled down to how much I could run past the bullshit and pray that I could get away unscathed. The laggy controls can’t keep up with faster zombies near the end so, at a point, when pitted against a room of brain-dead flesh- eaters, I quit. I don’t hate myself that much to go through that.
But I did hate myself enough to play about 90 percent of the game. Even after all that time, I’ve been racking my brain to come up with a reason of why Escape Dead Island exists. It can’t be for profit. No one would buy a garbage fire this hot and… garbagey. It can’t be for its gameplay, of which it has none. And the gameplay that is there is either mindless, frustrating, or both. It can’t be for its looks because it makes vomit look like a Jackson Pollock painting. It can’t be for the story because, it doesn’t really have one, unless you count non-sequiturs and cringeworthy acting a story. If that counts as a story, then this is some Shakespeare ass shit.
Actually, it’s just ass shit that doesn’t deserve a second of your time or any more of my time. I apologize that you had to even think about this game and I apologize to myself for playing this wretched filth.
Remastered games generally give titles a second chance to right the wrongs of its first release or at least yield a more convenient way to access the classics. There’s a reason why companies keep gussying up old titles and putting them on new hardware. Considering its title, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected wasn’t able to be revived as a classic since Saints Row IV wasn’t a classic to begin with.
Re-Elected might mark the first time a remaster actually performs worse than its last generation version, despite it hardly looking better than an average looking Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 game. During my 20-hour playthrough, I had multiple disconnects in co-op, which kicks your hub world, around 6 or 7 hard locks, and more than a few progress-stopping bugs. This is supposed to be the better version and yet, every single time I inserted the disc, I had to worry about it exploding inside of my Playstation 4. Most remasters add something to the games’ performance. Saints Row IV: Re-Elected‘s biggest new feature is a wealth of horrible bugs.
Glitches aside, Saints Row IV has other issues. The super powers granted to the gang makes traversal a breeze. Zipping around and leaping from building to building makes car jacking irrelevant as on-foot movement is much more flexible and swift. And that much carries traversal far but not far enough.
The digital city of Steelport wasn’t made with these powers in mind, which leads to instances of tight squeezes and irritating losses in momentum. You’ll be cruising along quite quickly thanks to the improved frame rate, but you’ll inevitably hit a literal wall or some general junk that abruptly halts any flow. Games like inFamous Second Son crafted cities around the game’s available set of powers and it’s obvious that Steelport wasn’t constructed with the same amount of care.
Offensive powers like stomping and ice balls are good fun as well, but nothing really meshes with shooting. Don’t mistake that as a burn towards the shooting; it feels smoother than most others in the genre, but it isn’t on the same wavelength as the power set. You’re either shooting or performing heroic feats; there is no in between. There’s an odd disconnect between wanting to use your powers and guns in tandem. Switching just isn’t quick enough to form a cohesive gameplay experience that seamlessly integrates gunplay and superpowers.
Even though the shooting feels great and has an inventive weapon layout, the entire game suffers from an uncomfortable amount of familiarity. Saints Row IV has the exact same visual style as Saints Row: The Third. It’s set in the same city, it has the same HUD, it recycles a lot of the same jokes, and enemies still annoyingly juggle you around when you take a hit. All of this copied-and-pasted content is not only inexcusable, but does little to drum up excitement while doing anything. You’ve done these activities before in the same place. Saints Row: The Third was an incredible game but seeing IV ride so closely on The Third‘s coat tails is as disappointing as it is boring.
The story follows the same template of being simultaneously disappointing and boring. The Saints have continued up the chain of command by conquering the White House. After brandishing the entire crib in the Saints’ iconic purple hue and throwing in a few strippers for good measure, an alien race known as the Zin invades Earth and holds humanity hostage. This alien race has jacked the gang into some sort of Matrix-like simulation, forcing the purple crew to kick some alien ass and save the human race.
An alien invasion feels like a natural progression for the series but this threat doesn’t seem to go beyond an intriguing premise. The Boss (that’s you) must free the other members of the Saints and stop Zinyak, the Zin’s nefarious and drastically underutilized leader. That’s it. It’s overly simplistic and doesn’t really evolve over the course of the game. Because of this, the overall plot can feel monotonous after nearly every banal, run-of-the-mill mission, scarcely finding new ways to motivate the player to keep trekking on.
Not even the once-amazing writing can save the narrative. A solid joke appears once every few hours, but it does little to distract the player from the numerous flat debriefing segments and portions of the game where nothing important or interesting happens.
The only events that are interesting come in the form the game’s included downloadable content (DLC). How the Saints Save Christmas is a delightfully funny holiday-themed mission pack with some solid writing, cheery atmosphere, and most importantly a new setting. Enter the Dominatrix is a mockumentary take on the unfinished DLC for Saints Row: The Third. It’s unmistakably unfinished, but the fourth wall breaking humor and friendly self-deprecating jokes make this short campaign worth seeing through. Including the DLC is an ironic cold reminder of how muted and bland the main game is.
Saints Row IV: Re-Elected drops the ball more than it drops the bass and it has a gun that shoots dubstep. Remasters generally improve the experience, add new features, or a combination of both. While the included DLC is appreciated, Saints Row IV is still disappointing on most fronts and even more so now given its rampant buggy-ness. Performance issues aside, it’s also not a game most people would want to see serve another term in office. With a performance like this, impeachment should be inevitable.
+Some solid jokes are buried in the dialogue
+Upgrading and moving around the city can be simple fun
+The Dubstep Gun
-New, game-stopping bugs and “new” visuals don’t match its peers
-Repetitive mission objectives
-Lame story with no real meat
-Borrows far too many jokes, environments, and missions from Saints Row: The Third
Video games, at their best, craft amazing, interactive worlds that yield escapism at its finest; the dark, blood-stained hallways of the Ishimura mining spaceship in Dead Space; the waist-deep Bostonian snow of Revolution-era America in Assassin’s Creed III; the dense Soviet Union rainforest filled with a myriad of dangerous wildlife in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Universes like this can become deep sandboxes that let the player absorb what they want and find their own stories. It is the beautiful quality that video games have over other mediums – the ability to soak in the finest details of the world at a leisurely pace.
But there has been almost no convenient way to document this exploration in video games. In the real world, we can take pictures of what we see fit to share. Everyone has a camera in their pocket so when the moment strikes, click. Saved. Uploaded. Immortalized. Leaked. Photography has trickled out to the masses and reached a point where every handheld device has some sort of a camera in it.
Video games have now latched onto the Instagram-ification of our lives through the Share button on Sony’s Playstation 4, which allows players to easily take their own screenshots and videos and share them online. Some new games have taken it a step further past normal screenshot taking through a slowly-budding feature called Photo Mode. Photo Mode was added post-launch to inFamous: Second Son, a Playstation 4 game, and allowed the player to freeze time at almost any moment, frame a nice shot, add effects or filters, and use the Playstation 4’s Share button to, like its name, share the gallery of fresh pictures with the Internet. Then, the critically-acclaimed The Last of Us: Remastered, inFamous: First Light, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor followed quickly after, aping the feature and improving on it each time.
This new wave of photographers do not even have to be experts around a camera anymore, such as Justin Dugger. Dugger’s light photography experience was not something that needed to translate much into his Photo Mode work, nor did it have to for him. Naughty Dog, developers of The Last of Us: Remastered, picked Dugger’s entry in their contest as the best character photo out of the thousands of entries they received in August.
Dugger’s formula for composing the winning photo followed one simple rule: find a way to showcase the game’s grim tone in one snapshot.
“The game has such a rich palette of genuine emotions that are thrown at you from the very start all the way to the end,” says Dugger. “I really wanted to focus on the character dynamics specifically of Joel and Ellie [the two protagonists] while documenting that universe. You can see the dirt on their faces. They’re worn down and completely beaten. You can see the ruggedness and mental exhaustion in Joel’s face while Ellie has that kind of quirky, ‘glass half full’ expression.”
Part of the reason Photo Mode was able to take off is because of the sheer graphical horsepower of modern gaming machines. Freezing time and zooming in and out dares the player to carefully pick apart any inconsistencies that the game might show. Polygon counts are ridiculously high now when compared to any previous video game generation, making any immersion-destroying graphical hiccups or glitches harder to find.
Even Naughty Dog’s critically and commercially successful hit Playstation 3 game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves from 2009 used thirty-seven thousand polygons for its main character and was praised for its awe-striking visuals. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Naughty Dog’s upcoming Playstation 4 game, is more than doubling that already incredibly high number. For comparison, Jak’s character model from Naughty Dog’s 2001 PS2 game Jak and Daxter had four thousand polygons and was lauded for its gorgeous visuals. More overall polygons usually translate to more visual fidelity and more fidelity makes the potential for gorgeous, convincing photos to skyrocket.
“Often times in games, there are small details that people don’t notice,” continues Dugger. “Photo Mode really opens the door for admiration of video games on a microscopic level which really hasn’t been possible before. Recently there has been this uproar of debates on mechanical and political aspects of games while pushing the games we’ve come to love behind this wall where we are negligent as to what they are: beautiful, visionary works of art.”
“Art” is the linking word between Justin Dugger and Kevin Patag, the person who took home the overall grand prize in the same photo contest Naughty Dog held for The Last of Us: Remastered.
“Photo Mode is pretty much another way of sharing art within art,” says Patag. “Photography is an art which people use to share moments in their lives and of others. It is not much of a ‘need’ but a ‘want’ to let other people see things or moments that they might or might not have experienced or relate with.”
But art in video games is not limited to photos. Not even in Photo Mode. It was more of a Video Mode for popular YouTube personality Grant Voegtle. Voegtle edited together a video trailer in August with a “less is more” approach that was entirely shot using Photo Mode, the Ken Burns effect, and one of the solemn tracks from The Last of Us: Remastered’s beautiful soundtrack. This unorthodox use of the tools garnered over two hundred and twenty-nine thousand views on YouTube in only two months. Thinking outside of the box was just something he says he had to do and it was easy, given the flexibility of the tools and his artistic mind.
“When Joel was carrying his daughter, Sarah, by the exploding gas station was the exact moment when I said ‘Holy shit. I can make a trailer where time is frozen and I’m rotating the camera’ and I decided right there that I had to do this,” says Voegtle.
Real-life photographers do not get the liberty of freezing time and manipulating shots. Jason Gregory, the lead programmer at Naugthy Dog, says that each form of photography shares parallels with each other.
“The core elements of a good photo remain,” says Gregory. “Lighting, composition, framing, subject matter, and grabbing a moment at just the right instance are all critical elements of a good photo or screenshot. In Photo Mode you have a lot more control over your subjects as you’re literally pausing the action to take the “photo” but all other aspects of a good photo must be perfected and you have to pause at just the right moment for something to truly be awesome.”
Gregory mentions that sharing these moments has been an essential part of our lives these days.
The relative simplicity of photo sharing is now in all walks of life so it is only natural that games mirror this. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all make taking and sharing photos only a few clicks away for the user and now Photo Mode is a digital reflection of that culture.
But it goes past Instagram, past Facebook, past social media in general for some. For Conz Porter, the winner of the action shot in the Photo Mode contest in The Last of Us: Remastered, it boils down to what this is all about at its core: the need to share creativity of any kind regardless of medium. Porter’s experience of growing up in Alabama made it a struggle to creatively blossom in an area that he says is stuck in the 1920s, so the online components of sharing pictures became a much-needed muse.
“It’s the same way Instagram allows us to connect and inspire, but through video games,” says Porter. “If it wasn’t for Instagram, I wouldn’t be so driven. Seeing other artists’ works inspired me to create art at a time when I stopped caring for my art and had given up on the idea of me being able to share my art with the world in this lifetime. I get so much love and support from all around the world on Instagram. So the same thing goes for photography in gaming. I hope to inspire as I have been inspired.”
Porter’s envy of California’s arts and drive to create in his artistically archaic state pushed him to inspire his mother to publish her first poem book, which was started by her great grandmother. Only a year ago, this was just an impossible dream to her.
“I’m trying to get her in frame of mind that it’s never too late. The world is yours with infinite possibilities,” says Porter. “Basically what I’m saying is nothing is impossible. Our society needs these experiences and photos shared with the world. This is a new world. A new era. Everyone has a cell phone, some kind of computer and/or game system, and soon the Internet will basically be mandatory, so take advantage of literally having the world in the palm of your hands. #PS4Share.”
Sony’s #PS4Share hashtag was coined at the console’s inception, not only pimping the console’s Share button, but also foreshadowing how important the social aspect of the PS4 would be. Sony says that button has been pressed millions upon millions of times, which can easily lead to more potential photographers. Photo Mode is yet another gateway for new hobbies to sprout, where accidental experimentation can lead to stunning pictures, and where the same game can be artistically warped through each individual’s creative filter to conceive something entirely original. By publishing three of the games that support Photo Mode and creating an entire button dedicated to sharing, Sony has led the charge in user-created video game pictures; a territory previously dominated by the real world. With a strong precedent set, it is just up to other video game companies to share that mindset
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Average Scores: 83, 84, 84
I saw the Gamefly envelope resting on my bed and my heart sank into my gut (which could have been Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew now that I think about it). I had one thought: “Fuck. This better not be another Ninja Gaiden game.”
It could have been My Little Pony Sim 2014 or “Game of the Century” Cory in the House, one of which is a real game; I did not care. Just not another Ninja Gaiden game, please. Thankfully, I was greeted with this on my PS4 dashboard upon inserting the mystery disc:
No more garbage combat. No more cringeworthy stories with awful one-liners. I was free.
Well, not entirely free. I still had Metro: Last Light: Redux to play… again. I had already suffered through the regular version of Metro: Last Light last year, but Ukranian developer 4A Games had the bright idea of remastering this “classic” to reach a new audience on new consoles with prettier visuals.
But no one was complaining that Metro looked like hot street trash. Hell, not many were even complaining about Metro at all. To my surprise, Metro was met with great reviews and decorated with awards from the media and fans alike.
It looks great and knows how to set a mood – I will give it that – but playing it was more frustrating that riding an actual metro in San Francisco. However, it did have the same amount of brown coat-wearing drunk white dudes. A mere coincidence, probably.
Metro tosses you into a myriad of narrow tunnels, each filled with more things to shoot than the last. The problem is that sneaking or shooting through these situations is always a headache. Stealth sucks because of the shoddy enemy intelligence. They are either brain dead stupid or hyper intelligent super soldiers. Or, to break this down more: all human enemies possess the mind of Stephen Hawking or the mobility of Stephen Hawking. There is no middle ground.
The mutated freaks, which I can just assume is what most Russian men look like when they do not get their hourly vodka shots, take home the grand prize in being generally about as pleasant as putting a toothpick under your big toe and kicking the nearest wall. They will sprint right up in your grill and mosh like some metal heads, lopping off large amounts of health and even larger amounts of patience. Escaping is not an option because backpedaling makes the main character, Artyom, move at half his normal speed. So the most natural movement that someone would use when confronted by horribly disfigured beasts is significantly hamstrung when you need it most. It does not make a lick of sense.
In a game where you can shoot dog-size bears and bear-sized dogs, this is what made the least amount of sense: not being able to move at a consistent speed. When the playing part of your video game sucks, that is not a good sign. However, the nearly-transparent strokes of a well-made game are in the periphery but lost in the thick, burnt weeds of the nuked-out landscape of stupid design decisions.
But maybe I am just ignorant to this whole game’s message. Maybe this is just how Russia operates. Maybe this game was an accurate representation of day-to-day Russian life: it is frustrating, filled with awkward sexual encounters, and dangerous to explore the irradiated surface without a gas mask. Maybe it is a just another reminder of how awesome America is. You know a good post-apocalyptic game? The Last of Us. You know where it takes place? America. That is no coincidence. Suck it, Putin. I am putin you, your country, and your country’s representative game in its place: back in the mail and to Gamefly’s headquarters because I am not ever playing this game again.
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 14, 2014
There has been nothing worse in gaming than Resident Evil‘s fall from grace. Of course it would take the series’ father to rectify the many mistakes Capcom made in recent years with the once-coveted franchise..
Shinji Mikami, one of the key figures behind the first four (good) Resident Evil games, promised a return to the roots, a spiritual successor, if you will, in the form of The Evil Within. The Evil Within wears its Resident Evil 4-ness on its sleeve in multiple ways, but Mikami’s latest project knows how to take from the best and carve new ground at the same time.
If there is one phrase that I am gonna have to edit out of this review ad nauseam, it is going to be “like Resident Evil 4.” The over-the-shoulder, third-person shooting against zombie-like creatures? A lot like Resident Evil 4. Boss encounters? Still a lot like Resident Evil 4. The overall design? Almost ripped straight from the book – nay, bible – of Resident Evil 4.
And that is completely fine since Resident Evil 4‘s golden formula holds up well especially with The Evil Within‘s improvements. Carefully picking shots while a horde of Haunted – not zombies – shamble towards you is a tense experience that is always rewarding. Options are readily available to player in the form of multiple weapons, the opportunity for stealth, and the way the environment can be used against the enemies. Because of this, the combat has a compelling loop that has the ability to allow you to craft your own playstyle and it further evolves through the well-paced upgrade system.
And the kicker is that it is different every time. While conserving ammunition is always the name of the game, each scenario always brings something unique to the table.
You will be escaping bosses, fighting bosses, solving minor puzzles, or adjusting to some other unique wrinkle in the combat, which keeps the game incredibly fresh at every turn. It does not grow stale because you are never doing the same thing for too long; an impressive feat considering the game’s long running time. New enemies types get paced out well and demand different skill sets and when the game starts mixing these types of enemies up, it also begins putting them in different scenarios. It does not always work in the game’s favor, such as rooms or enemies that specialize in one-hit kills, but it hits enough times and hard enough on those times to maintain a phenomenal sense of pacing.
But those one-hit kills can usually lead to a bit of frustration. The Evil Within is more difficult than the average game and that helps with overall tension, but the difficulty can sometimes get a little overzealous. Often time, there will be “kill rooms,” which chop you into mincemeat at the slightest mistake. For most of the game, they are mostly manageable but they begin to increase in number in the final few chapters of the game.
Same thing goes with the multitude of boss fights. The gorgeously-designed hulking beasts work better than they should as boss fights and can be a healthy change from the norm, but almost all of them have “that move.” That move that can kill you in one hit regardless of your health. Telltale signs signal when these moves are happening that allow you to get out of the way, and that much is great, but getting offed in a single hit is not always fun. Again, while manageable for most of the game, this is very predominant in the game’s final hour or two.
The Evil Within‘s tension has a similar slight drop off within the last chapter but that does not negate its consistent effectiveness for the first fifteen hours. Horror games usually pick one motif and stick with it such as specializing in survival horror, action horror, or psychological horror. The Evil Within blends all three in a way that comes together beautifully.
Ammunition is always scarce and the twisted enemies are deadly, which lets it become more like a survival horror game. Shooting and being strategically offensive is reminiscent of the best action horror titles like Dead Space 2 and Resident Evil 4. And, finally, the game messes with your head in ways that evoke an extremely uncomfortable mood that would make Silent Hill proud, giving it a good psychological horror angle. Jump scares, getting chased, and unkillable beasts are all remarkably effective and the way in which all these horror pastiches are delicately glued together makes The Evil Within incredibly exhausting to play. It is unrelenting in the ways that make you want to put the controller down but amazing enough to force you to keep playing, which is what the best horror games do.
Although the story does not have all the same successes. Sebastian Castellanos, the slightly-gravelly voiced, no nonsense protagonist, has been sent to investigate insane asylum. He and his posse get sucked into some alternate universe before the engine has even cooled, leaving them to survive this tangled illusion of reality and escape.
The jarring transitions that send the characters from level to level cement the fact that this place is not quite right and further feeds the notion that everyone is going insane. Each person is going through their own personal hell and the hazy confusion surrounding everything makes for an intriguing premise to figure what the hell is actually going on. This premise leads you from chapter to chapter but, even after a few reveals, it cannot resolve itself in a way that is digestible or satisfying. All of this works fine until it actually gets around to explaining itself. It just shuffles its feet in the dirt, draws “wait for a sequel!” in the sand, then scurries off. It is all about the journey in The Evil Within because the destination is not all that satisfying.
Graphically speaking, The Evil Within checks almost all of the necessary boxes. The disgusting but beautiful visuals allow the locales to have an appropriately dark atmosphere. Moving through claustrophobic caves and navigating a deserted mansion hits all the right notes through great lighting and creepy level layouts. The soundtrack, or lack thereof sometimes, also helps build a mood through its subtle strings or high-adrenaline “escape” music. Everything The Evil Within does visually or aurally is done in service of the mood and atmosphere.
The Evil Within is the next step for Resident Evil that we never got thanks to the series’ drastic dropoff in quality. That is alright because we got something much better. The satisfying combat loop, the uneasy atmosphere, high replayability, and amount of scares make The Evil Within worthy of carrying the torch for a new generation of horror games. It may be Resident Evil 4 with a mask but this new and improved update on the classic formula has allowed The Evil Within to become a noteworthy new face in the horror genre. Let us hope that Shinji Mikami does not abandon this franchise and let it die.
The Evil Within:
+Incredibly tense atmosphere with three different styles of horror
+Long game that (mostly) keeps itself fresh over the span of a dozen hours
+Refreshing combat that juggles different playstyles
+Very replayable with multiple difficulties and a solid New Game+
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Average Scores: 43, 50, 49
I am sorry, dear reader. I have failed you. But not as much as I failed myself.
Just a few weeks ago, I made a promise to not play another new Ninja Gaiden game. I lied. I goofed. I fucked up. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z shot through my mailslot (not a euphemism) at my house, waiting to be the next game that I had to suffer through. It sounds like some sort of coincidence coordinated by Satan to ensure I am primed and ready for hell with a constant stream of shitty Ninja Gaiden games. I mean, I just played through Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge a couple weeks ago. I feel like I need a purple heart medal for enduring that game. It still gives me ‘Nam flashbacks.
Speaking of, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge set the bar high on how low to actually set the bar. The series almost could not get any worse. Muddled combat, bland art, and an abhorrent story will do that to a once-pristine franchise. Yaiba takes all of those poorly executed aspects and makes it look like the developers sat back and thought of ways to make every facet even worse.
Besides the insultingly braindead platforming, melee-focused swordplay makes up most of what you will be doing in Yaiba. Cutting up the ugliest monsters could not be more sluggish and frustrating. Yaiba, the main character, moves like he is covered in glue but also somehow like he downed a bottle of uppers. Spastic sword combos are unresponsive and sludgy, resulting in many quick deaths at the hands of wonky, abysmal controls. Getting Yaiba to do what you want when you want is a Herculean task in and of itself, and doing it in time to avoid the hordes of stupid enemies is a task no human should withstand.
The enemies in this game deserve their own special circle in hell. Most games have an enemy type that sucks. That is fine. Every single enemy in this game is that enemy. That one enemy that sets you on fire; then that other enemy that grabs you; then that other enemy that suicide bombs you. It is almost literally a laundry list of the shittiest video game enemies rolled up into one game. It is appalling. Do not even mention the bosses to me, because I will probably fall into a fugue state and start talking in tongues that, regardless of language, rightfully slam the game.
Fuck it! Too late! I am going to complain about the bosses too, but not in the way you think. While, yes, they are frustrating battles of tedium and frustration over reflexes, the rampant unfunniness of each is unsettling. Here is a joke that channels a part of Yaiba‘s sense of humor: ahem… PANTIES!
Why are you not laughing? See, the joke is that I said “panties” and just that alone that is comedic gold. Platinum, even. Just saying a word is a joke now. It does not even need context or thought.
Many of Yaiba‘s “jokes” are just saying a thing or being overly brash. It is all full of lazy, overly enthusiastic references that barely, even in an inebriated state, resemble comedy. It is the Bobby Lee of video games. I bet Yaiba has even drunkenly shit its pants at a party.
And that is what the Ninja Gaiden series is left with – being the guy who shits himself at a party. Ninja Gaiden used to be the life of the party; he was the dude that would bring all the beer and the women. Now he cannot even limp around without looking sluggish and unresponsive. He is almost literally the guy who loved high school because nothing else happened with him after senior year. Good luck with nine years of community college, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.
It had been years since the outbreak. I had not seen an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia since the start of the apocalypse. Mac had just lost his “mass” and Frank did not want to do the dishes. I wish my problems were as petty in these times of suffering. My short, dry sentences (that you need to read in a Max Payne-like solemn tone) should reflect that.
During my daily search in the Castro for canned food and some god damn Wi-Fi, I saw something horrifying. It was an old poster for the Folsom Street Fair, the last one before the outbreak. But next to the poster was a herd of zombies. A flock? A horde? I am going to go with a business of zombies.
This business of zombies was creeping ever so steadily towards me. I panicked. I peed a little. But that could have helped because I disguised myself as one of them fit right in. Another terrified survivor blending in by sheer luck (and the lack of hygiene) handed me a pamphlet, one telling me that this was the first annual Zombie Walk in San Francisco.
The Zombie Walk is a popular thing to do in other big cities like Toronto, but San Francisco has never seen one until now. People “dressed” up as the living dead patrol the Castro district in search of “canned food” (I am assuming the flyer meant brains) for people less fortunate than themselves.
One of the zombies I stumbled across had a great disguise. He could have fooled me. He almost did. Good thing I did not have a shell or two loaded into my shotgun. His name was Greg Todaro. Greg just moved to the city in January and wanted to join because of his love for the long-dead TV show The Walking Dead.
“It was a lot of fun,” says Greg, as he tried not to disturb the business of zombies. “Some of the people in San Francisco get surprised by us but some take it in stride, and we are just walking around like everyone else.”
Greg’s enthusiasm was the end of him since nearby walker noticed and began to gnaw on his neck. I kept my cool and played dead – and peed again.
The business of dead San Franciscans began knocking and grunting by nearby restaurants on the street, disturbing the customers as they ate their rations, and took pictures of the passing once-living humans. These distractions allowed me to sneak and shamble up to the front of the pack where I met the lead zombie, Ilan Kaim.
Ilan wondered why his kind did not have a Zombie Walk in San Francisco; so he took it upon himself to start one.
“It allows people to express themselves and have good time,” groans Kaim as his few ounce of humanity oozed through his rotting pirate costume outfit.
His aim was not only fun but to gather food for the people in need, which came to fruition thanks to a food bank in Marin.
A zombie’s natural instinct is to spread its disease, which is what Kaim plans to do with the Zombie Walk until he breaks a record. Infecting a few dozen people for just one year is not enough for him.
Other survivors managed to break free from the zombies, one of which was Jennifer Xiao, who said she was lucky to be alive. Her courage was put to the test when she was take selfies in front of the desiccated piles of flesh.
“I’m glad I survived,” says Jennifer between breaths of relief. “I just wanted to take pictures with the zombies. I’ll definitely come back next year.”
I wanted to say the same. That I would return next year for supplies and the chance to live on the edge when the near-apocalypse already has me teetering on its pointy tip. But I cannot. I was foolishly bitten at the end of the journey as I tried to document this first annual Zombie Walk in San Francisco. I will turn soon but as I wave farewell to my humanity, maybe next year I can say hello to the chance to walk among my new undead brethren.