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MiniReview: Dead Space

When I first heard about Dead Space a year or so ago, I was intrigued. Not only was a sci-fi survival horror title outside the norm, but it was being made by an internal team at EA.

Long story short? Dead Space is a winner. The atmosphere, plot, and production values are all top notch. And it's got the same 'new game +' sort of mechanic that Resident Evil 4 had, so there's even some replay in there for ya. On top of that, the developers did some truly groundbreaking things in the fields of audio and player immersion... it's probably the best entry in the survival horror genre since Resident Evil 4.

If I have any complaints at all, it's that the 'normal' difficulty is way to easy, and that the story drags a bit in the middle. But ultimately, it's a great title, and well worth the hype.

Hopefully, this game represents EA's decision to unfuck themselves, now that they effectively own something like 40% of all companies making games. And hopefully we'll see another entry in the Dead Space saga...

RANT: The Culture of Stupidity

Today, a friend of mine posted a video on a forum I frequent. It showed a British man interviewing people on the street in America, asking them to name a question that started with a U, or what countries were in the Coalition of the Willing, etc. Obviously, it was a comedy piece, designed to make Americans look stupid. And, of course, in such a piece any person who actually did know the answers to these questions would have been edited out, but even so, many of these people were so very wrong that is was, well, laughable.

Reactions to the video were mixed... some expressed anger at the Brits for mocking us, and putting together such a salacious piece. Others solemnly noted that it was all to easy to make Americans look stupid. Still others merely hoped aloud that this video wasn't totally representative of the majority. For my part, I took this video at face value. Americans are foolish... but it's not entirely our fault. Those in power have spent a lot of time and effort making this the case.

Years of conditioning have created a society structured to keep it's citizens distracted and ignorant, so the powers that be can have free reign over our tax dollars. Worse, the promise of the media age, (free information for all), has been perverted by those with their own agenda. There are now two sides to every fact, a 'right' way and a 'left' way, if you will. One side calls Iraq a civil war, the other sectarian violence. Semantics are used to squash arguments, and obfuscate the real issues.
American politics now more closely resembles fascism that democracy. That sounds like a exaggeration, but it really isn't.
A handful of geographically challenged morons aside, Americans as a whole aren't stupid. Mostly we've been confused or distracted from the important issues of the day. Most Americans can't even find Iraq on a map, or tell you how their tax money is spent, but Paris Hilton enjoys a 75% facial identification rating. That's higher than Jesus from da Vinci's Last Supper.

It is my opinion that America, and the world at large, are at a crossroads. A new age of global communication is dawning, and with the coming of this age lies the potential for all people to know and understand one another in a way that physical distance, and boundaries political, geographical, and lingual all once made impossible. At the same time, there exist forces in this world desperate to hold on to the old ways, to maintain their hold on the power that has been given to them, or the power that they have stolen away. In this new age, we can one of two paths...
One is the path of distraction and ignorance, in which we allow the global corporations, so called 'news networks', and partisan obfuscation to manipulate and control our minds. Where the truth becomes largely a matter of what channel you're tuned in to, and where we enjoy 'freedom' in name only.
The second, and more difficult path, is that of education and enlightenment. Compulsory education aside, it is the duty of free thinking people to learn all they can about their world, especially as relates to the choices made by those they have placed in a position of authority. It behooves all the men of the Earth to learn all that they can, and to share all that they know. To spread fact as fact, regardless of how the truth may sting, and to keep opinion or speculation firmly in it's own realm and identified as such.

Our government does not want the latter. And why would they? Intelligent people question, analyze, and protest decisions made by their leaders. Far easier to lead a nation of fools, kept busy by reality television. It may be no coincidence, friends, that education in out country is in stark decline. But whether by design or by accident, the effect is the same... we are being made into a nation of docile fools, our children the first victims. And our government is at best unresponsive to this trend, and at worst, duplicitous in it's execution. When those in power no longer represent the interests or the will of the people, when the people have no true voice or recourse in selecting a new government, it is the duty of the people to change this government, by force if necessary.

"...when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." - The Declaration of Independence

If you ask me, folks, it's half past time for a new revolution.

"The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance." - Thomas Jefferson

You're Doing it Wrong:Seriously, Alone in the Dark, What the Fuck?

Episode 2, Sequence 5. It's possible to get stuck in a WIDE variety of really stupid places, but the worst one by far is when you can get stuck while trying to drive through the plate glass window towards the end.

That's just fucking retarded.

Re: Civilization 4: Colonization

Reprinted comment from, in response to this Variety article:

Fritz compares his distress at Colonization to N'gai Coral's outrage at Resident Evil 5. "A game about colonization", he says, "is 100 times more messed up." He laments the lack of outrage at this title, pointing to various attrocities commited through the ages by European colonists.

In essence, what Fritz is saying is that issues that have a possibility of being provocative, controversial, or even (god help us) offensive, have no place in games. Which is, if you'll pardon the expression, FUCKING STUPID. Fritz acknowledges the game likely won't have an 'atrocity button', letting you throw small pox laden blankets to the natives, but for some crazy reason, he seems to take offense at the mere NOTION of colonization. He even talks about how it's possible to peacefully resolve your conflicts with the natives... but, no. Still offended. Lastly, he talks about how he's for the first amendment, and how he believes 2K has the right to release the game, before saying they SHOULDN'T.

You can't sanitize history, Mr. Fritz. Well... you can, it's been done. But you shouldn't. It leads to bad places. Nor should you sanitize a video game ABOUT history. I'm sorry if the events of the 1400-1800s offended you, sir, but you seriously need to grab hold on some reality. The claim that a Civilization title is in some way obscene is just absurd.

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You're Doing it Wrong: Alone in the Dark

What kind of museum stocks this much hard booze? In this one employee kitchen alone, I found 15 bottles of Jack, Vodka, and various other hard liquors. That's just silly. I know you've got to give us shit ot burn so we can make use of the fun fire engine and puzzles, but maybe a trip to the fucking gas station would be in order if we need to get blotto?

InsomniaReview: Alone in the Dark (360)

I'm going to skip over giving a summary of the game's production cycle, because frankly, you probably don't care.

I got REALLY excited around Alone in the Dark around the time details game out regarding it's survival horror, item combining mechanics. I watched all the videos I could find on it, which showed off it's impressive fire mechanics, and all sorts of interesting uses for tools. However, as is the case with many exciting next-gen games, the hype has failed to live up to the promise.

The fire mechanics are exactly as interesting and useful as advertised. As are the variety of different ways you can combine items you find scattered around the game. You can shoot or bash open a locked door, use fire to clear a barricade, or combine several items to make an explosive to blow/burn your obstacles away. It's a mechnic that really fits well into the survival horror genre, where the main attraction is scavenging up the resources you need to progress and stay alive.

The problem, however, is the components you need to make these useful items are almost everywhere, which takes away from the sense of scarcity or urgency. Bottles of lighter fluid and double sided tape lie scatter along side the road at every turn. Ironically, scraps of cloth that can be used for molotov cocktail wicks are less common. And what's worse, you can usually empty a locker of it's contents, wait a few seconds, then open it back up and GET MORE STUFF. In the end, it makes the game almost too easy. I've never once run out of ammunition for my pistol, and actually ended up throwing away a stack of nearly 100 rounds to make room in my inventory. And since some of the 'tougher' enemies can only be killed by applying fire to a certain part of their body, you'd think they'd be hard to kill. You'd be wrong, however, since you can just use the aerosol flamethrower or exploding bottle almost willy-nilly, and find more supplies in short order.

Compounding that issue is your lack of inventory space. In most survival horror games I can recall, you once in a while would have to make a hard choice as to which item to take or leave. In Alone in the Dark, however, since items are so plentyful, you get to pick and choose constantly. And not in the fun way, usually. It doesn't really upset gameplay, but it is aggravating. In any other game like this, a lack of inventory space would add to the paranoia, but in Alone, it just frustrates as you walk past boxes of healing spray. Maybe that's just me, but my survival horror instinct blanches at having to leave good supplies unused and undisturbed.

Being able to hop in and hotwire a car in Alone is, to my knowledge, a first for the survival horror genre. And it's a great idea. The cars are well detailed too, and bristle with points of interaction. Some useful, some just fun. You can turn on the radio, dome light, and high beams, all without ever turning on the engine. You can raid the glove box for supplies, move around the seats, and even pierce the gas tank to drain it of it's contents (although with all the other bottles of gasoline lying around, you'll never really need to.) The cars fall apart, however, when you start trying to drive them. They handle poorly, for starters, and collisions are handly oddly within the game's engine. Worse still, it's possible to get your car 'wedged' on a hill, which makes it impossible to move.

The first driving sequence in the game, a break neck chase through a rapidly disintegrating New York, is painful. Frequently I'd hit an oncoming car, have to put the car in reverse to go around him, and end up failing. Even when I did manage to avoid all the obstacles the game threw at me, I might find myself inexplicably falling through what APPEARED to be a solid road. This is especially common after jumps... you'll look like you're just BARELY going to make it, only to find yourself falling through the environment.

And that brings us to another of Alone's features... the DVD skip feature. Which I employed after my 20th replay of that shitty driving sequence. The game allows you to skip forward or backward in the chapters as you see fit, but restricts playing the final chapters of the game to only those players who have completed enough of the game. I've heard some people gripe and grumble, but I was always in support of this feature. I'm paying $60 for a game, and god dammit, I should get to play it however the fuck I want.
I've actually been suggesting similar features in games since MGS2. Remember that one boss fight where it's Raiden with a Stinger vs 100 Metal Gear Rays? I loved that fight, and did it over and over. It's a hard fight, but I had mastered the MGS2 controls to the point where I could have done it all damn day, if it would let me. But, in order to play those blissful 5 minutes of Metal Gear Meyhem, I had to keep a save file at a specific point, which I would have to reload every time.
So, the DVD skip feature IS a good one. But it's also one I personally NEVER planned on using. I HAD to use it, because the driving was shit.

And that brings us to the story. Whenever you use the DVD Skip, or load a saved game, it treats you to a 'previously... on Alone in the Dark' vignette. The entire game is set to a haunting and epic score... one of the best ones in recent memory. It really fits well to the game, although it occasionally starts, stops, and swells at odd moments. And the game itself is broken up into 8 'episodes', which seem to want to capture the "Lost" style of cliffhanger television. Sadly, the game didn't seem to pay any attention to the fucking WRITING on that, or any other show. While the overall plot and characters are interesting, the interaction between them are just STUPID.

The main character, Edward Carnby, has amnesia, a mysterious past, and some sort of connection to all this crazy evil that's going on. Which is cliche, but I can forgive it because using the "protagonist only knows as much as the player" dynamic can really pop for immersion. But that's where the good news ends. The dialog is juvenile, at best. Carnby randomly degenerates into swearing every other syllable. At one point, when the inevitable female lead offers to tag along with Carnby into certain doom, he says, "Don't fuck around, or I'll shoot you myself." Dude seriously needs a hug. But it's okay... by episode 4 they're making out. Despite the fact that they've said MAYBE 50 words to one another.

The game leaves a LOT unsaid... which is fine to keep any air of mystery. But when people just aren't fucking TALKING to one another, it gets creepy. Driving around with Sarah in the passenger seat of a car, almost completely silent except for the occasional quip, makes me feel like I'm driving her to an abortion clinic.

Then there's parts of the story that are just ODD. For example, when first confronted with the fact that some sort of evil presence has possessed people and is speaking to him through them, Edward doesn't even bat an eye. Nor does he ask "What are you?"... he askes "WHO are you?". Like it's going to say "Greg Smith, nice to meet you. Yeah, I can make zombies I can talk through. Neat, huh?" And nobody else seems to be batting a fucking eyelash as the fact there's suddenly monsters everywhere, and New York is torn apart. Sure, they'll tell you "It's dangerous out there", but nobody seems overly concerned until they're getting killed. Characters will watch you do something COMPLETELY insane and survive, like rappeling along the side of a building while it's exploding, and not comment about it. And worst of all, the game occasionally take the reins and makes you watch, helplessly, as some poor schlub gets killed while Carnby looks on, silently. It's really fucked up.

Then there's the occasional cutscene glitch, where the first few second of a scene will get skipped (nothing important, but it makes for an odd transition), or where what should be a stunning look out over the city turns into a blur because the textures didn't load fast enough.

The only times you do see emotion from someone, it's similar to Carnby's "cap a bitch" outburst... it's like everyone in the game is schizophrenic. And, who knows. I haven't beaten it yet... maybe that's the whole thing. But for now, it really stretches credibility. How hard is it to write some lines like "What the hell IS that thing?", and sprinkle them in now and then?

Alone in the Dark gets VERY high marks for it's ambition and scale. Few games developers even TRY to push the envelope anymore, and Eden Studios is to be congratulated. But glitches, a wacky script, and the bad driving sections (or, perhaps more accurately, the unfinished mechanic) hamstring what could have been a solid 10 down to a 7 or 6. I have a feeling that's not entirely their fault... Atari has a history of shoving it's children out the door before they've learned to walk, and since the company looks to be going bankrupt (again), I'm sure they were desperate to launch this game. Hopefully it won't be the death of the series, however, since this title really breathes some new life and new ideas into the Survival Horror genre... they just needed to be better executed.

Personally, I'd love to see a sequel. Despite it's flaws and cringeworthy moments, the game is fun, well paced, and unique. I hope Eden Studios gets a chance to improve on what they've done right here, and eliminate some flaws. At the very least, Alone in the Dark is a good example of some ways the survival horror genre can be updated and improved for the next generation of games.

VERDICT: Rent it, for certain. You can beat it in a weekend, and it's worth a play. Buy it if you're a fan of Alone in the Dark, survival horror, or quirky games.

Dear Sony, Fuck You.


A number of months ago I bought a PS3. I opted NOT to purchase an extended warranty, since, hey, it's not MICROSOFT I'm buying from! It's Sony! Right? Haha! Ha! Haaaaaaaah...

I wasn't even going to spring for the damn thing, because, at the time, (Nov. 07), there wasn't a damn thing worth playing on the thing I could get on the 360. I ended up springing for it because I didn't want to miss the boat on backward compatibility, which turned out to be a wise move. See, the only model Sony even MAKES anymore is the 40gb version of the PS3... and it's not BC at ALL. (Apparently they still make 80gb models, but you can't find them anywhere, and they use software emulation anyway.)

Anyway. So I ended up buying a 60gb, used and refurbished, from Gamestop. It then happily sat on a shelf for damn near 8 months, seeing little action as a PS3. It was used as a PS2, from time to time. Also, it's enjoyed quite a bit of activity as a movie player/media center. But it wasn't until GTA4 that I really started trying to play PS3 games on it.

And guess what? It's fucking BROKEN.

Now, I'm not sure who to blame here. Sony, certainly. For all their high and mighty speechifying about producing the superior console, at the end of the day they hamstrung their own system, putting me in this position. Gamestop? Perhaps... I'm not sure if what's wrong with my system is a result of their refurb process or Sony's hardware. Myself? Well, I did try to hold off as long as possible, but when faced with the prospect of not being able to play my lovely library of PS2 games on the new system any longer... I folded. I suppose I COULD have just bought a new PS2 for $100... but FUCK that. It's 2008, and I'm tired of dicking with memory cards.

So here's where I am now: My PS3 plays PS3 games... sometimes. Mostly, it crashes withing a few minutes of gameplay, but I can, once in a while, coax it into giving me several hours of gametime. I've talked to Sony, who have said, basically, "Uh... we dunno what that is. Give us $150 and we'll fix/replace it."

Now, here's the good news: They say they'll either fix my system, or give me a new 60gb. Which is nice. Having to pay $150 is less nice, but bah. I'm already $600 deep. What's another buck fiddy?

Now that catch: Sony MAY decide that the problem is 'my fault', and tell me to go fuck the devil in Hell. And keep my $150 for their trouble. Sony's reps were kinda sketchy as to what might 'disqualify' me from getting my shit fixed. So I'm going to try to coax my way through MGS4 before putting myself before the whimsical god that is the Sony Repair Center. And I'm going to ask, point blank, if it being a refurb is going to disqualify me.

...and before you ask, yeah, I thought about sneaking this one back into Gamestop as a trade in, and picking up another 60GB for the difference, which would be about $200. But... you can't actually find a 60GB hardly anywhere. So.

All in all? I am NOT pleased with this system. It's a giant waste of money, and if it wasn't for the fact that METAL GEAR FUCKING SOLID is on it, I wouldn't own one today.

Mr. Kojima, I love you. But I'm NEVER going through this shit again. Not even for you.

You're Doing it Wrong: GTA IV

It's been a while, but I feel this needs to be stated.

First off, stop having my fucking 'friends' call me every five minutes when I'm on a murder spree. If I wanted to have people nagging me constantly to hang out with them, I'd have kept all the needy bitches I knew in high school around.

And second, WHY in the name of holy FUCK are trees made of a 5th dimensional material that is impervious to harm? I can knock down a telephone pole with a god damn motorcycle, but a 4 inch thick sapling will annihilate the front end of an SUV doing 120mph?
Maybe Rockstar has some kind of mysterious grudge again Newton, and seeks to prove his laws of motion wrong. I don't know.

InsomniaReview: GTA IV (360)

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 7 years, you already know the name of the terrible threat to the American way of life that reared it's ugly head in the later months of 2001. No, not Osama bin Laden. If he was really that big a threat, I imagine we'd still be looking for him. Besides, his cousin is running for President or something, so he can't be all that bad. No no, I'm speaking of Grand Theft Auto 3.
Since October of 2001, the Dark Lords of Rockstar been corrupting our youth, degrading women, glorifying crime, and training our children to be murders/homosexuals/communists/liberals. Or, at least that's what the cable news networks have been telling me. Personally, while I have noticed that the world has become a much more horrible place in the last 8 years, I'm pretty sure we can attribute most of that to a wasteful and incompetent government. But, hey, if people want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend all the world's ills come from a video game, they can go right ahead. But enough about the rediculous claims of right wing decency mongers and absentee parents. On to the game.

I don't think we need to go over the history of the GTA series. You either know about it by now, or you don't care. If you really need to know what's going on with Rockstar and Take2, wiki it. And likewise, we don't need to spend too much time on the series' backstory, since each entry features a new protagonist and independent plot. And while GTA IV does return to Liberty City, you'll barely recognize her from GTA III. 7 years of console graphical upgrades and Rockstar's talented graphical department have made this faux New York a real sight to behold. I'm even told that Liberty City now resembles NYC to such an extent that even the street layouts are nearly identical. That's pretty impressive. It can be difficult to find a nice vantage of the city, however, and more often than not, you'll be too busy driving from one end of the city to the other for a mission to take in the view. And while the city itself looks spot on, some of the character models just look strange. A little 'uncanny valley', perhaps. Not the worst I've ever seen, by far, but it can be a bit disorienting when everything else looks so realistic.

Aside from the streets and people of Liberty City, then next thing you'll spend most of your time interacting with is the cars. Here, again, this title shines. The cars have a decent variety to them, and are much more believable than previous GTA titles, overall. Rather than just crumpling bumpers, cars can now be smashed up to a frightening degree. Smash into a telephone pole at 80 MPH, and you'll see about a two foot indentation in the front of your car where you hit it. Cars also explode a lot less often. When they do catch fire and explode, it's a sight to see, but let's face it: It's far more realistic for your engine to quit on you than for your vehicle to turn into a fireball. Pyromaniacs might hate the new addition, but I like it. Trying to evade cops after a difficult mission, only to have your car spontaneously explode was a frustration I had with previous GTA titles. GTA IV also seems to have taken a page from their competitor, Saint's Row. Every once in a while, Niko will forget to "buckle up for safety", and a sufficiently fast head on collision will send him flying out of the windshield. It can be pretty amusing, (depending on whether or not your on a mission) but the amount of damage you take from the event is usually minimal. That's a little freaky.

Aside from a few tweaks here and there, the bulk of the game is what you've come to expect from GTA. You do missions for a contact, who eventually introduces you to a new contact. Occasionally, a mission will introduce you to some new gameplay feature. There is the addition of being able to choose whether or not to kill certain targets. I'm not sure how much it affects the events of the game overall, but I doubt it's anything major. But aside from a few minor feature additions, it's the same GTA we've been playing since 2001, and that's a little disappointing.

The story behind the missions, however, is noteworthy. With San Andreas, Rockstar made an attempt to make GTA a series crime story. One with elements of morality and honor, even in the criminal underworld. That trend continues in GTA IV with the story of Niko Belic, an immigrant who comes to America to live the American dream. But it isn't all he thought it would be, and in the process of discovering what it's REALLY like in America, Niko's tale gives us a chance to look beyond our preconceptions. It's part crime drama, part satire, and part cultural analysis. And while I'm all but sure no 'serious' literary critics will look beyond the game's title and reputation to discover what's beyond the cover, GTA IV has a solid story at it's core. That's refreshing for any new title in an industry dominated by silent protagonists and stereotypes, but it's especially nice to see it in a game like GTA. It makes you think there's hope for game writing after all.

Aside from the constant, unrelenting grind of doing missions for your contacts, GTA IV does offer a few additional diversions. Throughout the course of the game, you make a number of friends and/or girlfriends. At any point when you aren't on a mission, you can call them up, and offer to take them out somewhere. And if your friends have a good time, eventually they'll offer to do you favors, like sell you discounted weapons, or send a taxi to your location. However, for some odd reason you can only go out with one friend at a time. This phenomenon, which I've taken to calling a 'man-date', means that maintaining all your friendships can take up a lot of time. Eventually, it becomes clear that this is just another "drive to point a, see a cut scene, drive to point b" mission.
As for the activities themselves, they vary significantly. Going out to eat is an empty experience, you drive to pick up your friend, drive to the restaurant, walk in, then immediately walk back out with your buddy telling you how they liked the meal and drive him home. Going out for drinks is pretty much the same, but at least there you get to see some amusing drunken conversation and stumbling, and drunk driving is a unique experience. Aside from that, a number of locations have mini-games, like darts or pool you can play, but they get old after the first time. The only activity of note is the 'shows', which are cut-scenes that can, on occasion, be pretty amusing. In particular, there's a comedy club that features performances from actual comedians, such as Katt Willaims and Ricky Gervais.

But that's pretty much all there is to Liberty City. Aside from these fixed areas, there's not much to do on the streets except go to the next mission. And even those missions don't typically bring any variety with them. And unlike San Andreas, there's no territory control or posses. Sure, you've got a bunch of friends, but you can't exactly call them up and ask them to cover your back on a mission. While exploring the city, you might eventually find something interesting, amusing, or useful, but by and large there's no reason to go anywhere aside from the icons on your map.

The multiplayer is also pretty bland. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, etc. No multiplayer co-op. There is a cops and robbers mode, but from what I heard, it's not that great. Basically hide and seek with guns. Why not have a game mode where one team plans out a robbery, and the other teams responds as the cops, driving to the location in SWAT vans or helicopters? The cops gain points for every criminal killer, the crooks gain points based on how many of them escape, and with how much cash.

All in all, it's a pretty fun game, but it's also a game you've played before. The details have changed, but this is still GTA III. All the new gameplay elements that were introduced this time around were just window dressing, and they even went back a step from San Andreas in more than one area. Hopefully, GTA V will see some major steps forward, since presumably they won't have to worry about developing for unfamiliar consoles. If not, GTA risks turning into a more violent and controversial version of EA's Madden franchise... a game that comes out year after year, and takes no risks.

VERDICT: Rent it. If you're not sick of it after a week, go buy it.