Gaming Clichés We Couldn’t Live Without: Aliens Do Not Come In Peace. Ever

Aliens

Sure, movies are guilty of these sorts of shenanigans too. Ever since those vast Martian deathly death-bots OF DEATH strode about the place in War of the Worlds, aliens have had a bad rap. They are not kindly extraterrestial visitors, with magical glowing fingers. They will not be right here. They are not E.T. What they are, is murderous vengeful invaders.

Remember that nasty bugger with the outer space dreadlocks in Predator? He was mean.

It’s much the same in the gamingverse. Space Invaders, which was released in 1978, introduced us to this fact early on. With our horrific Seventies hairstyles and fashion sense, we were an impressionable bunch, and the game left a lasting impression. And a decades-long legacy of alien scum. Visitors! Shoot them all! Right in the space-crotch! That was the message. It still is.

Two guys from Gears of War's Locust horde gurn sexily for the camera. Fine figures of men, both of them. Shame about the fangs.
Two guys from Gears of War’s Locust horde gurn for the camera. Fine figures of men, both of them. Shame about the fangs.

Since then, beings from space (in all sorts of shapes and sizes) have been public enemy number one. From Contra, to Halo, to Gears of War, to all manner of others in between, they are there. Trying to shoot/eat your face. The future-tastic science fiction bent that action games and shooters often take demands so.

Why? Perhaps because they’re so versatile. After all, it’s safe to venture that nobody has ever met an actual alien. As such, designers can bring us all kinds of lumpen horrors from the depths of the devil’s y-fronts. Generic enemy soldiers can grow tedious over the course of a game’s campaign, but there’s no danger of that when these things are your foes.

Recently, their position as gaming’s favorite back-pain has been usurped by the zombie. These festering fiends are being mowed down by the million as we speak, in horror games, shooters, arcade titles, all sorts of indie and big-name capers. Lest we forget, though, the aliens were there first. From the moment they began shuffling towards us in awkward angular patterns so damn slowly in Space Invaders, they have hated us.

I’ll concede, you’ll come across the odd alien sidekick. For the most part, though, I wouldn’t turn my back on them.

Gaming Clichés We Couldn’t Live Without: Saving (Part One)

Saving

Well, this time, it’s something that many of us literally couldn’t game without. Not unless the futility of beginning a several-hundred hour adventure anew each time you load up is appealing.

Which it isn’t, if anyone’s keeping score. I’d rather thrust my ‘nads into a bee’s nest.

But first, a nostalgic ramble. The more decrepit gameaholics among us will remember a time when saving progress wasn’t an option. Well, kinda sorta. ‘PASSWORD’ screens are now a thing of the past, but this rudimentary system was at least some way of continuing after powering off the console. At certain instances in the game, it would display a hideous set of random letters and numbers. These we would have to either instantly memorise like some kind of Rain Man or write down for later.

Congratulations! If you have fond memories of an old notebook from McDonalds that you filled with passwords for Super Hang-On! back in the early Nineties (your particular recollections may differ), you are officially old as hell. In video game years, at any rate. Think on, young ‘uns, with your conveniently placed ‘Save Game’ menu options or even –and many of us oldies still suspect that this is some kind of witchcraft– auto-saving.

The game could not, and would not, stop for any man. image source: www.gamefilia.com
The game could not, and would not, stop for any man.
image source: www.gamefilia.com

Have you ever wondered why just about title that features auto-save feels the need to tell you upon startup that this game will save your data automatically? It’s because that very fact alone BLOWS MY MIND INTO TINY FRAGMENTS OF SQUELCHING BRAIN-MEAT every time.

Back in the cloying sands of time, this was the way forward. Password input for the games that featured such, or an increasingly desperate bid to complete in one session those that didn’t.

No, mother. My twelve-year-old self still doesn’t give a rat’s ass that my lunch has been stone cold on the table for twenty minutes. The final boss of Gunstar Heroes has viciously murderised me ten times in a row, and I cannot stop until I have finally put a bullet through his body.

Gaming Clichés We Couldn’t Live Without: Points and Highscores and Leaderboards, Oh My!

Gaming

Just what, pray, is a ‘ gaming point’?

Do points mean prizes, as many hosts of craptacular game shows have tried to convince us over the years? No. Not in any material sense. I had a hankering for that speedboat, myself, despite the unassailable fact that I live a good hundred miles from the nearest ocean. But it was not to be.

Although that may be a bad example, as designer toasters and all kinds of terrible can result for contestants of The Generation Game or such. Still, in video games, points are but an arbitrary number. They stand there, in number form, in their box in the corner of the screen, mocking us.

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As with Survival Mode in the last installment, though, it is difficult to imagine gaming without them. Oftentimes, in the case of arcade games and such, they are the only manner of progressing. Will points make you eligible for MENSA membership? Can you add highscores to a CV, or to your application for Supreme Emperor of Earth? No, and very no. Practical purpose or otherwise, we damn well NEED them.

Imagine, if the very thought of it won’t shatter your mind into thousands of shards of confusion, any form of endless mode without them. At what point, while holding back the limitless oncoming hordes, would you have the epiphany why in holy hell am I doing this? If a score wasn’t being recorded, it would become the biggest exercise in futility since that guy who tried to train a one-legged elephant to tapdance.

It is the same driving force that galvanises gaming’s achievement hunters into action: they’re there, and I want them. Once leaderboards are coerced into the equation, the replayability of many a game is increased severalfold. But why?

Gaming Clichés We Couldn’t Live Without: Survival Mode

Survival

It’s just you and your stockpile of ammunition against hordes of ghastly beasts from the depths of the devil’s underpants. Well, sometimes you may be joined by a friend or two, but it’s the whole ‘alone and vainly attempting to hold back the nasties as they claw at you’ aspect that is the essence of one of the most simple yet effective ideas in video games: survival mode.

Oftentimes, this will be an unlockable extra, perhaps something you are awarded after completion of the main story. It will offer a fiendish variant on the gameplay of the title concerned, and can take all kinds of forms.

Arcade shooters and such (twin-stick shooters especially) are ripe for a survival addition. In this case, you need only keep the waves coming, and leave a liberal coating of power ups and weapons in the arena. For rabid high-score chasers, this is an effortless way to increase a game’s longevity tenfold. The simple likes of Dracula: Undead Awakening are the natural home for this sort of thing. Indeed, that macabre little oddity was made solely of such modes, and I found it had far more lasting appeal than any other PlayStation Mini I own. However much more ‘content’ they technically had.

Survival Mode 2

But in the futuristic world of 2013, a time when we have fridge magnets and Hot Pockets and all kinds of impossible wonderment besides, we also expect something a little more sophisticated. At the very apex of survival mode badassery, I’d say, is Gears of War’s Horde. This sends in escalating waves of the Locust, while at the same time lending a certain tactical aspect to proceedings. Alongside the gore-tastic gunplay, you must also manage your resources (money dropped by mangled foes) to construct, repair and upgrade your defenses. As these matches take place in rather sparce arenas, there’s scope for some creative approaches to the task of ‘don’t die,’ and it is monstrously addictive to play.

Survival Mode’s twin brother, Endless Mode, also deserves a mention. He is not as psychotically violent as his sibling, and much more handsome and charming. This is more of an extra for puzzle games, in which you continue until a harmless ‘game over’ screen instead of your own hideous death. But either way, where would so many video games be without this mode?

Spin-Offs: The Good, the Bad and the Dire: Metal Gear Rising- Revengeance

Metal Gear

Since its inception in 1987, the Metal Gear franchise has had one central theme: tactical espionage action. Its studly and stubbly hero, Solid Snake, is a masterful saboteur, able to complete missions undetected while grossly outnumbered and outgunned. In short, stealthy shenanigans are key.

So imagine our surprise when Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was revealed as a ball-busting actiontacular hack and slash romp, with all the drama and set pieces of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire filmography.

Revengeance was unleashed in a blood-leaking series of explosions early this year, by the always-demented Platinum Games. These are the guys who previously brought us Bayonetta and Vanquish, so there was no doubt that another lunatic and over the top action game was on the cards. This one marks the return of Raiden, the sadly-not-Snake protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

Set four years after the events of the fourth installment, Guns of the Patriots, this spin-off sees Raiden fighting against the military might of Desperado Enforcement. The plot is the brilliantly convoluted nonsense we expect of the series, involving children’s brains being surgically removed, military coups and an army of VR soldiers.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance 2

Revengeance is noted for its completely frenetic arcade action, involving muchos katana combat. The opposing horde of mecha-soldiers can be dismembered with your weapon, in a slightly disturbing and impressive Matrix-esque ‘blade mode.’ This allows for precision attacks to an absurd degree; even inanimate objects in the environment can be finely sliced apart.

The game does share some elements of Metal Gear Solid. It’s a cinematic experience in every sense of the word: the rock-tacular soundtrack, the melodramatic cutscenes, the… girly-haired cyborg man and assorted Metal Gears trying to mangle him. It’s still quite the stylistic departure, but it’s one that’s worth experiencing. Style over substance, perhaps, but there’s certainly a heaping helping of style to be had here.

Spin-Offs: The Good, the Bad and the Dire: Mario Party

Mario

Ah, Mario. You family friendly, garishly coloured party animal!

The moustachioed maestro has been holding these events since 1998, arguably birthing the entire ‘minigame compilation’ genre in the process. But while so many that followed were cynical, half-assed money spinners, Mario Party is oddly engaging.

Any set of minigames (which isn’t a bag of balls) needs a premise, a purpose; something to hold these little hors d’ouvres together. Nintendo Land’s carnival hub and general theme did this rather well, but what exactly do these ‘parties’ consist of?

There’s no jelly and ice cream, or terrifying-looking clown making half his youthful charges wet themselves as he makes lumpen balloon animals while grimacing like Hannibal Lecter. As such, Nintendo clearly don’t agree with me on what defines a ‘party.’ But I suppose a rather limp board game-based romp will do too. You select a character from the usual band of Mushroom Kingdom dwellers and a futuristic, interactive ‘board’ on which to play, and the game begins.

Each player takes turn to roll the dice (literally, the standard Mario block-headbutt has to be employed) and travel the corresponding number of spaces on the map. Landing on blue squares will earn you coins, whilst red spaces will detract some from your score. At the end of each round –everybody having taken a turn each– a minigame will ensue, with teams or otherwise determined by the spaces everybody is on. Further coin-age is gathered by winning these.

Mario Party 9 Header

The games themselves are the usual party game fare, and have been remixed, removed, updated and added to through every installment of the series. A little gimmickry has also been added along the way, depending on the console in question (“Hey there, Needless Wii-mote Waggling! How have you been? Still sucky? I thought so.”). The lengthy board game business in between can often drag, meaning that the free-play selection of games themselves is a preferred choice for many; though each must be unlocked by encountering it during a match.

Still, it is often said that no local co-op can inspire fury, mother’s-weight-problem insults and controller cord stranglings like a few rounds of Mario Party. When a cheeky item or chance event steals one of your precious stars (the real key to winning), you’ll be all kinds of un-amused. Among even the best of friends, it’s a hilarious and infuriating experience like none other in gaming.

Whether ten iterations of the series are necessary is another matter entirely.

Multiplayer Madness Retrospective: Streets of Rage

Streets of Rage

Ah, Streets of Rage. Sega’s seminal punch-criminals-in-the-groin ‘em up. The nostalgia is strong with this one, as Darth Vader once wheezed asthmatically.

This scrolling beat ‘em up franchise made its inaugural appearance on the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991. The first game (brilliantly and melodramatically named Bare Knuckle: Furious Iron Fist in Japan) introduced three young police officers, Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding and Adam Hunter, and their mission: to rid the streets of hoodlums at all costs. Their ultimate aim is to infiltrate the fortress of the criminal kingpin, ‘Mr. X,’ and plant their trendy, garishly coloured ‘cool’ trainers –this being the early nineties, after all– squarely in his colon. Or something to that effect.

The later two installments of the trilogy (released in 1992 and 1994, fact fans!) deviated little from this template. A couple of playable characters came and went, with craptacular kangaroos and bearded elderly robots getting involved. New special attacks were introduced, dealing extra damage at the cost of a middling drain of your life bar. But the core experience remained inherently Streets of Rage.

An experience, moreover, that reaches its true ultra-violent and hilarious potential in co-op. Brawlers such as these are always best in multiplayer; it’s far too gratifying to work in tandem to dispatch a horde of oncoming goons. These games are already vintage classics for their deft blend of weighty combat, inexplicable electro soundtracks and increasingly peculiar settings, but this is a step beyond.

Streets of Rage Header

The co-operative mechanics of all three titles are, let’s be frank, ballache-ingly bad. Similar scrolling beat ‘em ups like the Simpsons Arcade Game let you perform co-ordinated tag team attacks (Bart and Lisa’s combined running bulldozer… thing, for instance). Here, you can bodily throw your ally into opponents, or take an absurd feet-first leap over their shoulders. The latter of which is almost entirely impossible to aim, and generally useless.

This is… desirable, you ask? Most certainly. Such ridiculous touches add much to the entertainment value. With the ever-present threat of friendly fire, a stray fist to your friend’s face can spark a treacherous, hilarious battle mid-stage. Still, the first-come-first-served nature of weapons and items promotes teamplay… or it doesn’t.

Most pertinently, though, the games are still as enjoyable and mindless to play through as they ever were. For best effect, though, grab a friend and mop those unfortunate spillages of rage off of the streets together.

Why the PlayStation 4 Will Win the Next Gen Race

Race

The announcement of Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 4 finally became a reality and, as anticipated, it sparked endless debates over the internet about anything and everything related to the console and the announcement itself and the waters are still not calm right now. And probably won’t be for a long while, but I think they cooled down enough to let us think about the bigger picture: what are the chances of the PS4 to win the next-gen race? Pretty big, I’d say and there’s just one reason why!

Regarding the current generation of consoles, the PS3 is usually considered the loser of the war. Wikipedia data says that Sony sold about 70 million consoles, compared to 76 million Xbox 360s and 100 million Wii consoles sold. Other data, however, claims that the PlayStation 3 sales have surpassed the Xbox 360 sales in January 2013, and either way, Sony can’t be considered losers, having in mind that they launched the PS3 one year after the Xbox 360.

And we get to today’s main reason why the PS4 will win this generation’s race at least when it comes to hardcore gaming: it’s coming first!

If Sony learned something from the current gen console, it’s one thing: whoever comes first has the biggest chances to grab the biggest piece of the pie. Developers start making games for the console earlier and the game base is, from start, larger, therefore more appealing to potential buyers. We also should have the troubled economy in mind and many gamers will probably not afford to invest both in the PS4 and the Xbox 720 (or whatever its name will be). So if they will want a bit of next-gen gaming, they’ll get the PS4 and maybe never feel the need or have the buying power to invest in the second next-gen console.

Of course, just being the first with a crappy console doesn’t make you a winner automatically, but I really doubt that Sony will come with a crappy console. The PlayStation 4 has some incredible power that will drive the quality of gaming forward, so there will be no problems on this side.

How would things change if Microsoft confirms the rumors and announces the Xbox 720 soon, with a release date close to that of the PlayStation 4? Well, that would change things a lot and we would no longer have a clear winner – at least not one easy to guess.

Both Microsoft and Sony have a solid fanbase in North America and Europe (Japan is clearly “won” by the PlayStation), so things would probably be pretty even. The winner would be decided by those who have no preference and just want quality games. And this is when an important word comes into play: exclusives. Then, the console with the most exclusive games would clearly win the race.

But until then, the PlayStation 4 can be considered the first next-gen console being released (sorry Wii U fans for not considering this console, but I’m actually talking about hardcore gaming here) and the longer it stays on the market without a competitor, the biggest its advantage over the Xbox will be.

What do you think though? Will the PS4 win the next gen race or you feel that Microsoft still has some Aces up their sleeves?

The Lonely Mac Gamer

Mac

I would like to preface this by saying that I’m not much of a computer person at all. I can do what I need to do and find my way around things. I’m not cranky grandparent that wishes technology never Mac progressed and cannot fathom how to copy and paste bad, but I’m not going to be giving anyone tech support anytime soon. Let us begin.

I’m a gamer. I own a Mac. Everyone knows that Macs are bad for gaming. This is largely due to the fact that most computer games are PC only, but why? Why don’t developers put their games, or at least ports of their games, on Macs? Some developers, like Blizzard, are great about this, but most aren’t.

All three of Blizzard’s flagship franchises (Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft) are available for Macs and that’s a wonderful thing. There are a couple of other bright spots, too as companies like Feral Interactive’s sole existence is to bring PC games cross platform. Unfortunately, they can only do this with so many games.

There are some great games on Macs, such as Civilization V and Rome: Total War, but there aren not nearly enough to make Mac gaming worth your while. I would love to be able to play Company of Heroes 2 when it comes out, shoot arrows into horseman while War of the Roses, or watch massive Samurai armies clash in Shogun 2: Total War (which has proved to be the best in the Total War franchise). It would also be great to be able to go back and play games from my childhood. In middle and elementary school Age of Empires consumed a great portion of my gaming life. Sadly, that cannot happen again.

I know that many gamers say that if you want to play video games, don’t buy a Mac. While gaming has been a lifelong passion of mine, it doesn’t run my life. The reasons why I own a Mac to begin with (besides the fact that I was gifted one) revolve around all of the things that I like about it that are non-gaming related. I enjoy the operating system (I think it is easy to use and looks good), I enjoy Garage Band (I’m in a band and it comes pre-installed for free), I appreciate that I don’t really have to ever worry about viruses or trojans, or basically anything harmful.

PC developers of the world: millions of people around the world own Macs. Some of us are gamers. If you make quality games available to us, we will buy them and we will play them. It cannot possibly be too difficult or too expensive to at least send a port our way and you can even use another company to do it. So why don’t you?

The Problem With The Maps of Black Ops 2

Maps

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2’s multiplayer modes have further built upon the foundation that has been set in previous games and tried to add new innovations as well. There is one problem though (well actually, several), there is not a single memorable multiplayer map. On the flip side, there are not any maps that I veto every time that they come up either, but I almost wish that there were.

With the maps of Black Ops 2 it feels like Treyarch has been too conservative. None of the maps are terrible, but there isn’t a single classic map among the group. No Crash, Backlot, or Afghan. Nuketown is back . . . sort of. There is Nuketown 2025, but it is limited to one play list and it doesn’t come up nearly as often as it should. When Black Ops 2 first launched, this same playlist was dedicated to all things Nuketown and it was great. They’ve changed things for the worse.

Hijacked could be so much better.

All of the maps feel a bit too similar to each other. All of them look fairly generic and are similar in size. There aren’t any really small or hugely enormous maps; everything fits into a similar range and that is disappointing.

Treyarch was dealing with a world in which America was under attack and there should have been some really cool and interesting looking maps. Unfortunately, like THQ’s Homefront, there simply were not any compelling maps that took place on U.S. soil. Aftermath, which takes place in a ruined L.A., looks really bland – the color pallet is incredibly dull.

Hijacked is a small map that takes place on a yacht with two raised areas that give players a good enough line of sight to contribute, but enough clutter in the way to keep campers from soaring up the scoreboard. On paper the layout sounds reminiscent of Nuketown, but somehow it feels worse and not nearly as fun. 

Turbine is another map that at first glance feels like an older CoD map (Afghan to be specific), but plays nothing at all like it. Both Turbine and Afghan take place in a rocky, desert valley, have very circular flows, and feature a crashed plane in the middle. Unfortunately, like Hijacked, Turbine takes a step backward instead of a step forward from its spiritual predecessor. There is simply too much clutter everywhere.

A look at Turbine.

There are not enough open areas, so almost no combat takes place outside of narrow corridors and that limits the amount of participants in each mini-battle. There are not many places to comfortably camp, which is good, but there are not many places to properly snipe either, which isn’t good because it limits play styles.

There is hope though, but only some. There will be four DLC map packs, but there haven’t really been any classic, memorable CoD maps that arrived as DLC. Maybe Treyarch will realize that its multiplayer team should actually bring its creativity to work instead of leaving it at home.