Thursday, March 3, 2016

Top 10 Games of 2015

2014 was a remarkably dry year for games. Destiny was the only standout and that game has quickly lost all, if not most of it's replayability thanks to a content drought and absurd microtransactions. I had hoped that 2015 would be a good year for games, and to my surprise and relief, it was actually pretty good. While there were definitely fewer great titles overall, the titles that were good gave you more bang for your buck. Here's the list. Disappointments and all.

10: Star Wars: Battlefront

Star Wars: Battlefront was a huge disappointment. The overpriced season pass, the lack of meaningful single-player, the lack of space battles, and the overall lack of content is depressing. Titanfall had the exact same problem last year. Even all that said, the game is gorgeous. The sound design is probably the best I've heard in a video game period, and the minute to minute gameplay is actually pretty satisfying if not repetitive. Make no mistake, this is not a fantastic game and I would argue that it's probably best to avoid it. That said, there is fun to be had, even if it is fleeting and leaves you wanting more.

9: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid has a storied history with ... well, story. As such it was surprising to see gameplay take a front seat for once in a Metal Gear Solid game. Personally, I was so annoyed with the overbearing cut-scenes of Metal Gear Solid 4 that I was expecting to give this one a pass. When I finally did get around to playing it however, I was pleasantly surprised. The gameplay is more robust than it's ever been. The world is fun to traverse and it's a fun sandbox. All that said, it was disappointing to lose so much of the narrative. The previous game had too much story not enough game, while this one has too much game not enough story. It's strange. It's fun, no doubt. Just a little bittersweet.

8: Bloodborne

I hate Dark Souls. I absolutely detest it. I feel that it's challenge comes not from challenging game design, smart level design, or particularly well thought out encounters but by it's clunky controls and cheap deaths. It keeps players invested because it makes them angry with it. It encourages you to trudge on not because the gameplay is fun, but because conquering such a broken landscape yields a sense of accomplishment. It always struck me as unfinished. Bloodborne is the exact opposite. It's challenging, yeah, but it's not hard because it's cheap. It's hard because it's well thought out. The controls are also far superior here than in previous games in this "lineage." The look of the game is great too. Pick it up. It's Dark Souls if Dark Souls wasn't a master of Stockholm Syndrome.

7: Batman: Arkham Knight

I played this game on Xbox One, so I can't speak to this game's abhorrent launch on PC. As such I'm just going to go by my experience on console. Arkham Knight is a great game. The narrative is mostly stellar barring one extremely obvious and disappointing plot twist, the gameplay is robust and snappy, and the overall product is just incredibly solid. The use of the Joker was clever, the story beats from the comics were great, and they really nailed the Batman feel here. Batmobile was a fun addition, whenever it wasn't being forced on you, and the side missions while repetitive do offer immediate rewards upon completing them, making them more enjoyable than before. Again, the game is absolutely broken on PC, but I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the actual game behind the endless bugs.

6: Ori and the Blind Forest

Platformers are seemingly dead nowadays. Not many people are making them and even fewer are doing them well, so I was pleasantly surprised at just how well done Ori and the Blind Forest was. Controls are tight and responsive, the art is visually stunning, and the story is actually really enjoyable despite it's simplicity. There's not much I can say about Ori and the Blind Forest other than it's a very good platformer. There are literally no problems with it. Though I suppose I could have done with fewer frustrating sections. It's very good.

5: Destiny: The Taken King

Destiny: The Taken King is what Destiny should have been in 2014. There's actually a story, there are actually likable characters, and there are genuinely fun single player missions. I enjoyed my time with the story's narrative, something I couldn't even pretend to say about the vanilla release. The new weapons are fun and satisfying and the new supers are really interesting too. Here's the HUGE caveat. While the Taken King is actually a great improvement over Destiny's formula, it is still not fantastic. Right now there is a content drought and with few things to do, the game has grown stagnant. The reason this is number 5 and not 10 is because they are ultimately going in the right direction with it unlike Battlefront.. When I was interested in playing the Taken King, I loved it. When I wasn't? Well, I would have rather played Halo.

4: Rocket League

Rocket League is soccer with cars. It's stupendous fun. It truly is a classic game experience in a world saturated by film wannabes. This game would have been right at home on the PSOne and it's great fun. There's not much I can say, honestly. Soccer. Cars. Back flips. Turbo. What else do you need?

3: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Rise of the Tomb Raider is better than it's already great predecessor in nearly every way imaginable. The story, while a bit derivative and "tropey" at times, is very fun and very entertaining. The gameplay is far more robust than it was before and the lack of a tacked on multiplayer actually serves to the strength of the very strong single player. While I still feel that sometimes it's a bit repetitive, when it breaks out of those few ruts, it's fantastic. Though I'll admit, I miss the old tough as nails Lara Croft. Hopefully she'll be here next time. 

2: Fallout 4

There just aren't many games that can immerse me as much as Bethesda games can. They're expansive, detailed, unpredictable. Everything that an open world RPG should be. Many have criticized it's streamlined RPG system but I never felt like it made the game any less fun or any less immersive. Bethesda games are my one chance every few years to feel like a kid again, and Fallout 4 allows that. The gun play is better than previous installments, the characters are fun and interesting, and the world is beautifully detailed. There are several bugs, but I personally have never experience any game breaking ones. Obviously this is just my opinion, but I really enjoyed my time with Fallout 4. I only wish I could play it for the first time again.

1: Halo 5: Guardians

I love Halo. I've loved Halo since I was a child. When Halo 4 came out in 2012, I didn't realize just how quickly the multiplayer would fall apart. The campaign level design was novice at best, the post launch support was abysmal. Needless to say, 343 didn't exactly make a great first impression. In 2014, the Master Chief Collection launched in the most broken state I've ever seen a game launch. Things were looking bad. Then BAM. Halo 5 comes out and it's actually good. Dare I say great.

The story is where opinions differ, some liked it some hated it. I personally really enjoyed it. The co-op focus allowed for better level design in the campaign and they knocked multiplayer out of the park. The controls are perfect, the gameplay is balanced, the weapons feel right, the game-modes are well constructed and highly customizable. Forge mode is essentially turning into it's own game engine, and 343 is constantly adding new content to the games sandbox for free. Adding classic weapons like the CE Magnum and Halo 2 Battle Rifle into the multiplayer suite and with several more updates on the horizon including the reworked Firefight mode completely for free. A complete single player. A robust multiplayer. A thriving custom games scene. And constant support after launch for free. This is Halo at it's finest. I still have my issues with it. The cliffhanger ending feels a bit cheap and the microtransactions while minimal are irritating just by their presence, (I also personally dislike 343's art style, btw) but ultimately, Halo 5 is a complete package. Lots to do, lots to create. Almost feels like what Destiny should be. Shame. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Top 10 Games of 2014

This year was rather disappointing. Not only did several big budget games launch in a clutserfucked state, but we had the GamerGate controversy, several system hacks, and some real let downs. That said, this year wasn't all bad. Despite all the nonsense, there were some pretty fantastic games this year. So, as we do every year, let's get started on the best games of 2014.

10: Titanfall - 360 - Xbox One - PC

I'll be the first to admit that I got bored of Titanfall fairly quickly. There wasn't much to the game, it was the only game to play for a decent amount of time and I got fatigued. That said, it is a solid foundation. The gameplay is great and ultimately, that's what matters most. Everything aside from the story is solid and the movement mechanics are the stuff of dreams. If only there was more game. Perhaps then it wouldn't be at number ten.

9: Super Smash Bros. - Wii U

Smash Bros. is a fun game. Ultimately, that's all that matters. It's not all that much different from Super Smash Brothers Brawl, but this franchise sees new installments so infrequently that it's always refreshing to have a new one, even if the gameplay doesn't really differ all that much. Good roster, nice stages, pretty graphics and it's one of the best reasons to pick up a Wii U. Not to mention it's one of the few games this year that's legitimately fun with local co-op.

8: South Park: The Stick of Truth - PS3 - 360 - PC

Surprisingly, this turned out to arguably be the best licensed game of all time. It feels like you're actually playing an episode of the show. It's all the jokes, crude set ups, and insane ideas you've come to expect from South Park, but set against the backdrop of a turn based RPG. It's charming, it's funny, it's fun. It's South Park. The mechanics are surprisingly in depth, nothing feels cheesy or phoned in, and it emulates the show perfectly. A must play, especially for turn based combat fans.

7: P.T (Silent Hills Teaser) - PS4

While this game is technically a demo, that doesn't change the fact that it was one of the most memorable experiences I've had this year. It's genuinely terrifying. The formula is tired, the idea of looping first person horror games is a little done to death, but the execution here is brilliant. The sound design, the incredible graphics, the cryptic nature of the whole thing; it's pretty great. You don't expect any less from Kojima [Unless it's Ground Zeroes.] Regardless, it's a terrifying experience that definitely recommend. 

6: Alien: Isolation - 360 - Xbox One - PS3 - PS4 - PC

Another horror game, though higher on the list since this is more of a traditional game. The hopes for a good Alien game was high, but the expectations were low after the blunder that was Colonial Marines. Fortunately, they got it right this time around. Tons of fan service to the films, great gameplay, and genuinely chilling moments; this is what survival horror games should strive to be. The game does drag on a little too long and there are some times when it can get frustrating, but it achieves what it sets out to do. 

5: Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (New 'n' Tasty) - PS4 - PS3 - PC - Xbox One

I love Oddworld. A lot. So when I found out that Just Add Water was working with Oddworld Inhabitants to remaster Abe's Oddysee for next generation hardware I was excited. Fortunately, my excitement was well placed. New 'n' Tasty turned out to be a fantastic reworking of the PlayStation classic. Though the game is a retelling of Abe's Oddysee with shiny new graphics, it's not simply an HD version like the Tomb Raider, Last of Us, and GTA V remakes we also saw this year. This was a new game from the ground up telling a classic story with classic gameplay. If you're a fan of worlds that are indeed a little bit odd, I'd recommend it.

4: Halo: The Master Chief Collection

This game launched in a horrific state. Upon release the game was completely broken on the multiplayer front and the singleplayer had a few notable issues as well. I'd actually go as far as to call it the worst state a game has launched ever. That said, the value here is pretty fantastic especially now that everything is functioning more or less as it should. This is the new gold standard when it comes to remasters and collections. With four campaigns, 100+ maps, 5 different multiplayer sandboxes, access to the Halo 5 Beta and Halo 3 ODST coming later this spring along with a free remastered 'Relic' map, it's worth the money. The story is great and the multiplayer is phenomenal [when it works.] Regardless, this inclusion is a huge caveat. The value is just too high to not include it.

3: Bayonetta 2 - Wii U

What is there to say about Bayonetta 2? It's a fucking masterpiece. It's sexy, it's fun, it's beautiful, it's funny, it's over the top, it's just fantastic. I would argue this is the best spectacle fighter in existence. No other game in it's genre really comes close. It really needs to be played to be truly appreciated. It's a niche kind of game, but there's a lot to love about it. And no, it's not sexist.

2: Sunset Overdrive - Xbox One

I absolutely adore this game. The music, the inventive gameplay, the style, the guns, nearly everything. It harkens back to everything I loved about video games in the late 90's. The Tony Hawk Pro Skater/Crazy Taxi era of crazy video games that didn't need to be overcomplicated and just wanted to be have fun. A great story, great humor, great gameplay. It's all fantastic. Sunset Overdrive lost the number one spot on this list only by a microscopic amount. This and my number one pick are basically equal, but this game loses the edge only slightly. 

1: Destiny - 360 - Xbox One - PS3 - PS4

What started out as one of my biggest let downs of the year quickly became my absolute favorite new hobby. With the release of The Dark Below expansion, Destiny evolved into something entirely new. One could argue that the game is bare bones and that the content is lacking, but quite honestly, I find myself coming back as often as I possibly can. The base game is fun, there's always progress to be made, always an adventure to be had. Whether it's fighting an unexpected infinite army of Ascendent Acolytes emerging from the legendary Loot Cave while hunting Urzok the Hated on the Russian plains of Earth or earning the exotic Dragon's Breath from dominating my best friends in Rumble. The game's story might be a little dry and light, but the stories that belong to the players and the narratives that players form for themselves are truly fantastic. This is what games are about. Visiting worlds and forging our own paths. I've met great people through Destiny, and reconnected with old friends. I've had some of my most memorable moments in gaming just in the last few months lost in this world. Wether it was #DrunkRaid or something as simple as getting 39 kills in Crucible, Destiny is something special. It's cool to hate it. It's the new kid on the block. I get that. But I can't pretend I'm not having a ton of fun with some great friends on a regular basis. Fun that I wouldn't be having otherwise. I only hope that Bungie can keep it fun. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Destiny Alpha - First Impressions

At Sony's E3 presentation, it was announced that Bungie's new FPS would be playable within the week of the conference. I've had a considerable amount of time with the Destiny alpha and I thought I'd give you my first impressions, as a longtime Halo fan who was both excited and skeptical before-hand of the game's goals.

New and familiar.

The game plays like you would expect, shoot, run, jump, melee, and it all feels very responsive and tweaked to near perfection. What struck me with the most happiness was the fact that it wasn't as easy as I was expecting. There is some serious challenge here and I found it in the only Strike available in the alpha. Damn, was that hard. In a Strike, fight through hordes of enemies and eventually fight a boss. I never got to the boss. 

It's easy to pick up and understand, but it seems like there are advantages to really practicing. Supers aren't really that easy to pull off and while they are very powerful, they do require a uniquely great sense of timing and precision. 

The world is massive and this is only the Alpha, which only lets you explore Old Russia and the Tower, the social hub of the game. I was playing on a friends PS4, so he's had considerably more time with it than I have, and we managed to come across several areas that neither of us had seen before, in the hours of gameplay online or first hand gameplay. We found caves with unique enemies, hidden chests with money and guns, and buildings that took us to dilapidated highways and abandoned shipyards. The variety in the environments are remarkably enjoyable and they all feel like they belong. It's a big game.

The world is massive and that means you'll need to traverse quickly. The inclusion of the Sparrow, a speeder hover bike mount that you can summon at anytime outdoors, is a wonderful inclusion. It's really fun to drive and it's incredibly useful in competitive multiplayer.

Speaking of competitive multiplayer, the Alpha ships with only one mode: Control. This is a typical, stay in the area and control zones, type of game, but the style of gameplay really switches it up. The inclusion of magic, summonable vehicles, and a vertical movement mode really make the game feel unique and though the game mode itself might be familiar, it's new and fun enough to warrant a many binges. 

There are other vehicles available too, including a Fallen Pike, which is essentially, your Sparrow but way more powerful and way more satisfying to fly. It's got guns and an ability to strafe left and right on a quick dash. This vehicle controls like no other vehicle I've ever driven in any game. The way it sways through the air is immensely satisfying and I wish I could drive it forever. 

The ability to emote is another thing that makes this feel really great. It's a hybrid MMOFPSRPG. You will encounter players on their own missions as you explore the world of Destiny. The world is a matchmaking lobby and it's seamless and satisfying. 

Public Events breathe life into the world, especially when several of you team up for a unified goal. It's such a satisfying experience, I can barely form the words to describe it. It's Halo meets Borderlands meets Lost Planet meets Shadowrun. It's friendly to the familiar and inviting to the unknown. Anyone looking to experience a unique game this year really needs to check this out. Destiny exceeded my expectations in every way possible and it did so in only one map. 

What's difficult is that Destiny isn't really easy to explain. Hearing about it doesn't do it justice and neither does watching gameplay of it. It really is something you need to play and immerse yourself in to believe. Fortunately, this alpha is a free way to do that for people looking to give it a chance and the beta coming July 17th can be accessed just by pre ordering the game.

There are several ways to experience Destiny for free, is what I'm saying, so if you can, try it out. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

If the game turns out to be a more lush version of what I've seen today, I'd gladly buy this game for every console I own. I believe this has the power to be a game changer and I'm excited beyond belief to get my hands on the beta this summer. Hopefully, I'll see you there.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Top 10 Rise Against Songs

With "The Black Market" just a few weeks away, I thought it was fitting to go through a list of my absolute favorite Rise Against songs. Before I get to the list, let's set some ground rules.

I: My list will not be based on commercial successes, just my personal favorites.
II: That doesn't mean that commercial successes won't be on it.
III: Some might surprise you.

Let's get started.

10: Elective Amnesia

A hidden track on Appeal to Reason, this song starts off softly and builds up into anthemic chorus of energy and anger. The lyrics follow the same build up, starting in a soft poetry and evolving into an anthem. Mix in a trademark Rise Against political message about the environment and the inevitable doom that awaits humanity if we continue to be careless in our existence and treatment of the planet, and you've got a killer track with some killer insight.

9: The Approaching Curve

The most unique song on The Sufferer and the Witness, this song is almost entirely a spoken word poem, and it's pretty awesome. It's about a couple that looks perfect from the outside but in reality is going through the same things we all deal with. Or is it? That's what I love about this song. It can be about a lot of things. It can be literal or metaphorical and both interpretations are deep, but opposites. A literal interpretation would make the song grim, but a metaphorical interpretation could make it strangely uplifting. 

Tim's voice is surprisingly fitting in the spoken verse, which makes the chorus all the more impressive. It's a unique gem that's usually overlooked. It's probably the only song they have that's even remotely like this, which alone justifies it's placement on the list. Given the complexity of the lyrics, it more than earns it's place. 

8: Under The Knife

Also from Sufferer and the Witness, this song starts off with a riff that demands your attention and promptly sucks you in. It uses surgery and anesthetic as a physical representation of the struggles that people find themselves in when they're lost in their own problems. It's about moving on with your life despite the hardships that come your way. Of course, that's just one meaning. 

This is another song that's tough to decipher. It's extremely poetic in the way it's written. It's a song that very much reflects your mood when you listen to it. It's got a great riff, a beautifully written chorus, and it packs a huge punch.

7: Everchanging

This song is so spot on, it's scary. It's a song about love and how people grow apart. You'd be hard pressed to find another song on planet Earth that has more relatable lyrics regarding love. It's so well composed and well written that it deserves it's own "Top 10 Three Second Intervals of 'Everchanging'" list. It really is that good and the fact that it's also available in an acoustic suite, which more accurately captures the feel of the words, means this song is a no brainer for anyone looking for phenomenal songs, let alone good Rise Against tracks. The entirety of The Unraveling is pretty strong too.

6: Life Less Frightening 

This track off of Siren Song of the Counter Culture is both cryptic and straightforward all in one go. A nice instrumental introduction fades into a pretty great chorus. Like many of Rise Against's songs, this one is very open to interpretation. Though it's lyrics are tougher to capture, the music here is all amazingly well composed. From the introduction, to the chorus, to the soft instrumental bridge, to the build up to the final chorus, to the fading exit, it's a great track from a great album.

5: Architects 

Though 2011's Endgame wasn't as diverse as their previous albums, there was no shortage of brilliance in it. The record's opening track was a great example. Make it Stop was a close second with it's anti bullying message along with it's advocacy for gay rights, but musically Architects is just a cooler tune. A song about a generation of rebels refusing to give up the rebellious fire in their hearts, Architects captures the essence of what punk rock is about without alienating those who might not care to listen to it. Not only does it have a direct line of criticism to Against Me's "Teenage Anarchist" in it's bridge, it's also got some of the most powerful lyrics in a final chorus in any song I've ever seen. 

An unapologetic anthem for rebellious attitudes, Architects is a gem. Uplifting and empowering, it's a great listen for anyone trying to get pumped up for any occasion. 

4: From Heads Unworthy

It was a tough choice between this and Re-Education (Through Labor), but as good as that song is, I had to give it to this one simply because it's so under-appreciated. Mixing themes of love and rebellion against the powerful, From Heads Unworthy is a song that says what we all want to say and challenges us to progress and build a future where it's message isn't a call for action, but a remembrance of actions already taken. 

A ridiculously palpable chorus, an awesome tonal shift in the bridge, and an overall catchy melody, this song is a great song for any occasion. Top it off with an empowering final crescendo and you've got a winner.

3: Voices Off Camera

A great album always has a relatable song, and Voices Off Camera is nothing but. A song about the intricacies of social anxiety and feelings of alienation, this was one of the first songs that made me realize that music had more power than just a pleasant sound. Dealing with everything from fear of success and the expectations we put on ourselves to self imposed failure, Voices Off Camera is an introspective view of the individual who doesn't fit in. 

It's an anthem for the counter culture and it's pretty brilliant. 

2: Satellite 

Another under-appreciated gem off of Endgame, Satellite is a song about uprising. A song that lets the listener know that actual revolution and real change begins only when we take action. At least, that's how one can interpret it. Like many Rise Against songs, this has themes of politics as well as love. What doesn't change though, is the tone. The chorus is designed form the ground up to pump you up and get you excited. The song is empowering, and the best songs are the ones that make us feel like we can punch the moon. 

While it's lyrics and execution is fairly simple, Satellite is exciting, it's uplifting, it's energizing, and it's anthemic nature never gets old. 

Before we move on to number one, let's see some honorable mentions. These are songs that almost took number one, but ultimately couldn't stand up against the final number one choice. 

Honorable Mentions-
-Prayer of the Refugee
-Join The Ranks
-Heaven Knows
-Chamber The Cartridge

1: Survive

The Sufferer and the Witness was an amazing record and Survive is evidence. It's uplifting, it's powerful, it's strong, it's loud, it's relatable, it's depressing, it's sad, it's empowering, it's happy. It's a reality check. It let's us know that no matter how hard we might think we have it, we can always overcome it. It's how we overcome our problems that define us. What's great about this song is that it doesn't undermine the emotions of those who might relate to it. It doesn't say that your troubles are meaningless because you have it good in comparison to others. It tells us that life doesn't always go as planned and that life is hard, but we can't let it destroy us.

It's a powerful song, in lyrics, in composition, and in tone. It pulls no punches and the bridge is a barrage of tough love and it's great. There are many powerful Rise Against songs, but Survive might be the strongest. I still have yet to hear a song by anyone in general that's as personal and as heavyweight as this one. Songs like these save lives. I know that first hand. 

Thank you, Rise Against. I look forward to your new ventures. If I can understand the future by understanding the past as Satellite says, I have no doubt that "The Black Market" will be one hell of a record.

Tim McIlrath

Friday, May 23, 2014

There Are Literally Zero Things Offensive About FAR CRY 4's Box Art

Uh oh, white skin means racism?

This is Far Cry 4's box art. Currently, it is being called racist and offensive by many people in the gaming industry. People are actually arguing that because it shows a light skinned man in a position of power over a slightly darker skinned man. It's being called offensive too because he's using a religious statue as a throne which is apparently 'desecration.' 

I apologize in advance, but if these are your arguments then they are automatically invalid and deserve absolutely no attention given to them. I'm sitting here using all the brain power I have deliberately trying to find something even remotely offensive about this box art and I just can't do it. It's a typical box art. What, do people think he's gay because his clothes and pose are a bit flamboyant? Why is that offensive? I seriously can't find anything here that's even mildly offensive or off putting. 

What about Far Cry 3's box art? It shows Vaas, a hispanic man, asserting dominance over a white male buried in the sand. Is that racist? In order to subvert racism do we need to have characters all be the same race? Wouldn't that ALSO be racist? Is it sexist too because there are no women on the cover? Holy shit, there are no women on the cover of Far Cry games, they must be sexist. It's the same leap in logic that's being made here.

Uh oh, sand is offensive?

The folks at IGN addressed the issue admitting they could see why people had an issue with the box art and that nobody's opinion should be 'written off.' I vehemently disagree. There is absolutely no controversy here. It's just people being oversensitive and overly politically correct. I'd honestly even go so far as to say that the actual racists are the ones calling this racist. When I saw Far Cry 4's box art, I saw a man who is clearly the villain, asserting his dominance over a henchman on a well constructed piece of art. All they seem to see is a white guy over a non white guy. Also, that statue may or may not have slight religious significance, so blasphemy too! Since when do we care about religion in games? Did we forget about how BioShock and BioShock Infinite portrayed both extremes of Atheism and Christianity? I genuinely don't get the controversy, and it's largely in part because there is none. 

Like the Mass Effect "gratuitous sex scenes" before it, this is a non-controversy and we should seriously stop taking any argument against that even remotely serious. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Best and Worst Spider-Man Games of All Time

With the Amazing Spider-Man 2 in theaters this weekend, I thought this was the perfect time to return to this page. I've been a fan of Spider-Man for longer than I can even remember and it was also one of the reasons why I got into gaming. So, to honor the wall crawler, I thought it'd be fun to rank my favorite Spider-Man games of all time, from worst to greatest. DISCLAIMER: This is strictly based off of the ones I've played. While I have played the genesis and gameboy advanced Spider-Man games, I'm going to focus on the most memorable ones, so basically, PS1 and onward. Let's go!

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Ehh, I'm not sure what to say about this one. I bought it on launch day because it had been such a long time since I had that web swinging fix that only a Spider-Man game could deliver, but this was just disappointing. Keep in mind, I'm also in the minority because I actually thought the film the game was based on was actually fantastic. The game just falls flat. Webs stick to clouds, the story is written horribly, the voice acting leaves much to be desired, the gameplay feels more like it's trying to emulate the Arkham games than it feels like it's trying to be a Spider-Man game, and the gameplay mechanics are kind of dull. Web Rush, which is a mechanic that puts Spider-Man on an automated path during gameplay is as about as lame as it sounds.

The camera's super close to Spider-Man during gameplay which unexpectedly makes the game feel less open. The lack of mission variety coupled with how dry the game is definitely makes this the worst game to don the Spider-Man name. At least, of all the ones I've played. It's worth playing, but not worth a buy. NYC is empty and lifeless which is the worst mistake you could possibly make in an open world game.

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (2007)

I'll be honest, I don't have much experience with this game. It's basically Marvel Ultimate Alliance with exclusively Spider-Man characters, villains and heroes alike. This game wins points for being the only game that lets players play as Doctor Octopus (my personal favorite villain) but aside from that nugget of positivity, the rest of the game is rather bland. I'm gonna be lenient though, because this game is clearly marketed for kids. It's not the WORST thing ever, but it's still pretty bad if your expecting a great game. 

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Okay, now we're getting to the good stuff. Spider-Man 3 hit theaters on May 3rd 2007 and it was awful. It was the first time I remember walking out of a movie I was really excited for thinking, "That wasn't nearly what I was hoping for." It's also the last time that's happened to me as well. So my hopes for the game were high. Not only was it a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed superhero games ever, it was based on a film that was the sequel to the best Spider-Man film to date. 

The game is pretty good. I know, it's missing a lot of what made Spider-Man 2 great, and that's why it's not higher on the list, but they really did make some cool improvements. The swinging was fine tuned and improved from it's predecessor, the fighting was pretty cool, and Manhattan was a great open world. There weren't many things to do, but I really appreciated the open approach to boss fights. You could fight most of the bosses anywhere you wanted. Want to fight the New Goblin in the subway? You can do that. Grand Central Station? You can do that. Empire State building? You can do that. The map was designed really well and the graphics were pretty decent too. The quicktime events got stale real quick and the story, though decent, felt kinda dry in comparison to the last installment, but even so Spider-Man 3 was a pleasure to play. If my disc wasn't broken, I'd probably play it more often.

Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro (2001)

Oh, PSOne. I miss you so much. This was one of my favorite games growing up. That said, it's also not very high on the list for a few reasons. It's a sequel to Spider-Man, duh, but it lacked a lot of the soul that went into that game. The level design here, while definitely reminiscent of it's predecessor, ultimately felt bland. This is likely due to the fact that, unlike Spider-Man, this game was developed by Vicarious Visions, and not by Neversoft. I feel like the developers were trying too hard to emulate the first one that they missed out on putting their own unique stamp on the series. That aside, there are some great moments here. The variety of levels, costumes, and ways to play is pretty amazing. 

It's got some great moments too. The introduction of The Lizard was fantastic and the game gave some great attention to lesser known villains like Hammerhead. The Sandman fight is particularly great. There's a lot to like here, there's just less overall. It's definitely worth picking up though. Especially for Spider-Man fans.

Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)

A cell shaded open-world Spider-Man based off of the Ultimate comics that let you play as Venom? Yes. A million yeses. I'll be honest here, Ultimate Spider-Man has it's fair share of problems. Venom's gameplay is kinda empty and the city in general doesn't have much to offer, but the way the game goes about telling the story, the way the comic book cell shade compliments the script, and the way the game progresses is unique to the point where it saves a lot of the games faults. Venom's gameplay might be empty, but it's also the only open world game that lets you play as Venom, so kudos on the devs for that. 

It really is just a fun universe to explore. The Ultimate comics were among my favorites growing up and this game did a pretty great representation of them. It could have been better, but for what it was, it was pretty damn great. 

Spider-Man (2001)

This was the first game I ever played in the Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube generation of consoles, so I'm very fond of it. (Actually, I think I played Dragon Ball Z: Budokai first, but you get what I mean.) Yes, your webs attached to the clouds, the voice acting was silly, and the story was a bit off, but damn was this fun. "Looks like the freak wants to play," is tattooed into my memory at this point. I'm not sure what else to say about it. It had a lot. Great cheat codes, a Spider-Man bowling minigame, the ability to play as the Green Goblin (WHICH ROCKED!) It was a solid movie based game. The levels were fun and distinctive, and some missions were straight up Metal Gear Solid. Infiltrating Oscorp was one of the most tense experiences I remember having as a kid. I haven't played it in a while, but I think it holds up. Though I'll admit, nostalgia is a big factor here.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

This game is critically acclaimed. For many people, it's the best Spider-Man game based on the best Spider-Man film and it's a great combination. I don't really disagree. This was the first game in the franchise to introduce contextual web swinging. Your webs attached to buildings for the first time ever and not to clouds. It was revolutionary. The city had lots of different crimes to foil and many different mission types. Who could forget delivering those pizzas with that amazing soundtrack? It also melded the movie universe with the comic universe brilliantly. Including Black Cat and some pretty great encounters with Mysterio really made the game's story stand out. 

The story felt genuine. There were some issues however. The fight with Doc Ock in the end was a little disappointing and though the web swinging was revolutionary, it was the first iteration of it's kind and consequently hasn't aged as well as the future titles. That said, this might be the best game in the franchise. That said, there are still two other games that have a slight edge. 

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (2008)

What do you get when you take the web swinging mechanics made famous by Spider-Man 2, integrate a moral choice system that changes the outcome of the game, and set yourself free from any need to run parallel to a movie storyline? This. I loved this game. The combat was top notch, the story was incredibly comic booky (in a good way), and there were some great fights. Venom is treated fantastically here and he's portrayed as one of the most fearsome foes int Spider-Man has to face. Appearances by Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Symbiote Black Cat also make for some kickass encounters. 

I know, I'm in the minority here. Most critics slammed the game, and I even gave it a 6/10 back when I used to do reviews, but now that I reflect on it, it truly is one of the best Spider-Man games there is. The only thing I can think of that marred the experience was Spider-Man's voice acting. The acting isn't bad, it's really just the sound of his voice. Other than that, it's great. The graphics, the story, the gameplay, the combat, the characters, the mechanics. Switching between the black suit and classic suit alter gameplay and allow for some really interesting combat combinations. Like a fine wine, Web of Shadows only get's better with age. So what could possibly be number one? 

You all saw this coming.

Spider-Man (2000)

The game that really started it all. The only game that I can think of whose quirks and problems actually add character to the game. It's old. It's wonky. It's silly. It's awesome. This game has more than most AAA games nowadays. There's memorable moments, memorable music, memorable levels, memorable characters, memorable fights. Everything is memorable. The fight with Scorpion in JJJ's office, chasing Venom across Manhattan's sky scrapers, that beast of an introduction by Stan Lee that caught me way off guard when I first played it, lore hidden throughout the levels like the Green Goblin's lair, the horror that overcame you when you first heard the voice of Monster Octopus, the way the last level turns everything on it's head, the secondary story mode that alters the plot, coming face to bowl with Mysterio, Carnage's awesome introduction, using different elemental upgrades to change the effects of your webbing to use for different scenarios, dozens of costumes each with their own game changing attributes, etc. 

There's so much here. It may not have the AAA flash that the modern games do, might not have the deep and inspired story lines, the open world, and it doesn't even have the traditional building focused web swinging, but this one game on PS1 has more content and more character than most AAA games do. That's special. That's worth commending. That's Spider-Man.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Halo 4's Biggest Design Problems

This article will probably be of no interest to you if you are not an avid fan of the Halo series. I'd probably be willing to bet that unless you're on r/halo, you probably won't understand or care about this article. There will be spoilers of the previous Halo games and some severe 'nerding out' as some may call it. If you're not a Halo fan, or you are and haven't played some previous games, click away from this article.

***Alright, Let's Go***

I'm in the minority here, but I actually really liked Halo 4. It wasn't quite on par with the rest of the series, but it was an amazing game for a studio that had never made a game before. The gameplay was pretty nice, though a little clunky, the soundtrack was decent, and the multiplayer was a nice change of pace although I'll admit it could have been better. The story, I felt was Halo 4's strongest asset. It was awesomely constructed and surprisingly powerful. However, it was not without fault. 

I will address the biggest problems of Halo 4's campaign. By addressing these issues, we will know exactly what we want from the next Halo game.

Quicktime Events

To the credit of 343i, the use of quicktime events in Halo 4 was fairly limited, but I still don't think it was necessary. There's a belief in the game industry that quicktime events serve to immerse the player in the game because it allows the player to take part in cinematic events that couldn't be achieved through the basic skeleton of the main game design. When we see button prompts on screen during a dramatic scene, we're not focusing on what's happening. Instead we are focussing on the buttons. This works well for DDR or guitar Guitar Hero because music is sequential and it doesn't tell a narrative or pull you into action scenes. With FPS games, it just takes you out of the game. In the beginning of Halo 4 there's a section where you climb an elevator shaft and when you reach the top, an Elite grabs you. The game tells you "Press RB to kill Elite." The problem with this scene is that it's awkward and out of place. Climbing the elevator shaft is extremely clunky and awkward and the struggle isn't satisfying. 

In Halo: Reach, Bungie had a similar scene in which a Zealot Class Elite get's the jump on Noble Team. The difference here is that the scene isn't interrupted by button prompts. It's not a quicktime event, it's a cutscene that allows you to fully appreciate the sequence and it flows seamlessly back into gameplay.

The same goes for the end of Halo 4 in which Master Chief defeats the Didact solely in a quicktime event. It's not satisfying and it feels disconnected. Imagine the Warthog run at the end of Halo 3 being a quicktime event instead of an in game play space. It wouldn't be nearly as satisfying. Part of what makes games great is our ability to directly participate in these epic scenarios. Taking down Scarabs in Halo 2 and Halo 3 were fun and satisfying because we could do it ourselves using the tools the game's sandbox gives us or whatever tools we choose to use. 

We could use the Hornets to fly above the Scarab to board it or drive off a natural ridge onto the top. Maybe use a rocket launcher or a Gauss Hog to take out the limbs so we can get in on foot. We have all these choices that are eliminated in quicktime events. Just press RB and watch the same scene every time.

This sequence is so fun, I play it more than GTA V.

We need variety not only in gameplay, but in choices. When we play Halo 5 there needs to be a variety of different ways to achieve one goal, several different paths. Halo 4 did this okay throughout the game, but we need more and we need to get rid of quicktime events. They don't serve a purpose that benefits the game. If 343 finds a way to utilize quicktime events in a unique way, by all means try it, but at least give it to us in a beta where we can decide wether or not it's actually beneficial. 


Forerunner architecture in the Halo universe is usually symmetrical. I understand that, but there needs to be some variation. There were so many points in Halo 4 where I felt like they made half a level and mirrored it. The levels, particularly the Forerunner sections felt very ... designed. In the previous Halo games, Forerunner architecture was symmetrical in their base form, but often added asymmetrical elements to design. 

Construct, a multiplayer map from Halo 3.

Construct from Halo 3's Multiplayer mode was a Forerunner map and was largely symmetrical, but offered distinct discrepancies to give the illusion of symmetry while also offering the variety of asymmetric level design. 

The component of asymmetrical/symmetrical symbiosis was entirely missing from Halo 4 in both Campaign and Multiplayer. Maps were either entirely asymmetrical or completely mirrored and it lead to an unintentional feeling dread whenever players would enter a Forerunner space because they knew it was going to be another boring level. And ironically enough, even the asymmetrical levels were often used twice and to make them feel like separate places they added an air vehicle in one of them.

Leave the rampant level prefabrication out of Halo 5. We don't want to play in the same spaces over and over again. We want new spaces to explore and we certainly don't want to explore the same place twice in the same game unless there are differences that effect the game in a beneficial way. It can be done well. Take the Storm and Floodgate from Halo 3.

The Storm


These are two separate levels in Halo 3, but both levels take place in the same environment. You probably wouldn't even notice that they are the same place unless you're paying attention, but that's the point. We shouldn't be obviously aware of the corners you're cutting. 


There are more buttons in this game than in the entirety of the series before it. Buttons aren't necessarily a band thing, but when combined with RAMPANT LEVEL PREFABRICATION it becomes a nuisance. Having to press a button on two sides of a symmetrical room basically means we have to play through the same sequence twice when once would have made enough sense. There are many times where you'll need to press buttons multiple times, but what's weird about it is that it's not always consistent. In the older Halo games, pressing a button just meant you pressed a button and the door would open or the bridge would activate, but in Halo 4 there's an animation for Master Chief actually pushing the button ... but only sometimes. Some buttons I guess aren't important enough to warrant animations. It's a weird inconsistency. The buttons wouldn't even be so bad if they just didn't duplicate them and make us sit through an animation. It's the tediousness of it that makes it annoying. These decisions are obviously made to pad out the run time of the game, but consequently, it only prolongs the least interesting parts of the game.