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Friday
Jul082011

Shadows of the Damned Review

Shadows of the Damned is immature, occasionally frustrating, unpolished in spots, and, most importantly, oodles of fun. It’s the type of game that’s going to make you work a bit to enjoy it, but for a certain type of gamer it will be more than worth the effort.

Much has been said of the dream team of sorts that came together to develop Shadows of the Damned. Suda 51, known for such wonderfully bizarre titles as Killer 7 and No More Heroes, acted as Executive Director and Writer. Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil series, was the “Creative producer”, whatever that means. Finally, Akira Yamaoka, sound designer for the Silent Hill series, worked as the sound designer. This trio of talent, with the help of the rest of the folks at Grasshopper Manufacture, created a game that clearly shows the influence of all of its creators. 

Your character is named Garcia Hotspur. His precious girlfriend, Paula, gets brutally murdered and then kidnapped (yes, in that order), by Fleming, lord of the underworld. He’s hard to miss - just look for the dude with three skulls stacked on top of one another. Garcia, of course, must delve into the underworld to come to Paula’s rescue. Luckily he happens to be a demon hunter already, so he knows how to kick some ass.

The setup is basic, but the magic is all in the execution. The gritty grindhouse aesthetic and knowingly immature writing make something that’s both gory and extremely cheesy at the same time, like all of the best B-movies. Whether Garcia is threatening to carve his name into some demonic baddie in his thick Latin accent or traversing the shadowy depths by using the writhing, half-naked form of his giant girlfriend as a bridge, the straight delivery of the absurd material is sure to have you cracking a smile. A certain tolerance for dick jokes and stupid humor is very much required (your phallic gun slash constant companion is named Johnson quite deliberately), but it only rarely becomes too much. I usually have a relatively low tolerance for dumb laughs and I found most of Shadows of the Damned’s writing plenty entertaining.

Anyone who has played No More Heroes might expect nothing less than absurdly humorous greatness from Suda 51, but the best part of Shadows of the Damned is that lurking behind the entertaining facade is a game that’s actually fun to play.

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Tuesday
Jul052011

Within Temptation - The Unforgiving Review

Within Temptation have managed to carve out a healthy reputation for themselves despite the fact that they’re often thought of as “that other band that’s kind of like Nightwish”. Such a categorization is blatantly unfair, of course, as it’s an injustice to the talent of the lead singer and the power of some of the melodies the band has created, but it is at least understandable.

Symphonic metal is a crowded genre. It seems especially popular in a few strange European lands where so many imitators have sprung up all over the place that one imagines the want ads simply overflowing with requests for violinists and choir singers. 

Unfortunately, most of these bands seem to have no idea what makes this style of music compelling in the first place, content to stick with the formula of “big ass choir + big ass string section + repetitive metal music + dumb, melodramatic lyrics = symphonic metal”. There’s precious few unique ideas out there and even fewer bands that get the mix right. It’s not a matter of simply mashing the component elements together. You have to weave them carefully in and out of one another, achieving a delicate balance of soft and hard, metal and melody, epic and personal. 

Nightwish is one of the few bands to consistently achieve this feat. Tuomas Holopainen, the genius behind the Finnish symphonic metal masters, has mastered the creation of songs that deserve the verb “composed” instead of merely being “written”, integrating the melodic and the metal in a way no one else can seem to match. 

With this in mind, placing Within Temptation on a pedestal next to Nightwish is not the insult it might at first appear to be, even if the implication is that the Dutch band plays decidedly second fiddle to the true masters. Within Temptation have historically been good at what they do, but there’s a reason they’re not considered the leader even though their band was actually formed in the same year as Nightwish.

Sharon den Adel and company built their band’s sound on a foundation that could be generously described as “melodramatic”. There was something compelling about the almost absurdly over-the-top nature of their music, but that same quality robbed it of the emotional punch of Tuomas’s compositions. When thinking of Within Temptation, I always conjured the image of a listener sitting alone in a tiny chair in a huge empty room being somehow beaten over the head with an orchestra.

That’s an amusing way of saying that the driving force behind their music has long been choir, strings, and vocals. Everything else has been backgrounded and the result left one wondering why such a band needed two guitarists. It was catchy, generally well done, and fun music, but it was hard to take seriously. 

With The Unforgiving, Within Temptation have managed to evolve their sound into something far more mature and whole without sacrificing any of the fun or epic feel that made them interesting in the first place. The result is undoubtedly the strongest album they have yet released.

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Thursday
Jun302011

This is not a review of: F.E.A.R. 3

It isn’t technically all that important for a small site like mine to worry about such things as journalistic integrity, but I do my best to do right by them anyway. There’s a reason why this isn’t labeled a “review”. My experience with F.E.A.R. 3 includes only the single player and in the grand scheme of the game’s feature set, that’s not a comprehensive look at all it has to offer. Thus my reluctance of doing a traditional “review”.

Precisely this same train of thought strongly compels me to share my thoughts on the game anyway. You see, F.E.A.R. 3 is designed as a multiplayer experience first and foremost.

“Surely you jest!” I hear you mocking sarcastically. “A shooter that places multiplayer on a higher pedestal than single player? Such things have never been heard of!”

The truth intended by your mocking is correct, of course. The single player shooter is a sad and abandoned animal, having been neglected and forgotten in favor of the far more lucrative multiplayer shenanigans that comprise the overwhelming majority of the online gaming scene these days.

F.E.A.R. has always been different to me. I’m not sure it actually is different, as this isn’t the first F.E.A.R. to place a heavy emphasis on multiplayer modes. I still remember being miffed at how many of F.E.A.R. 2’s achievements centered around its multiplayer efforts.

I never had an interest in F.E.A.R. 2’s multiplayer, and I have none for F.E.A.R. 3’s either. They may well be fantastic, and I do, in fact, hear from proper reviews of F.E.A.R. 3 that it is a far better game when shared with a friend. That doesn’t change the fact that I don’t want to play F.E.A.R. with others. I want to lock myself in a room, turn off all the lights, and soak up the wonderful horror atmosphere. Even the shooting itself seems secondary to me, more a way to relieve tension than the primary draw. 

F.E.A.R. 3 moves the focus squarely to action, and specifically action with other people.

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Wednesday
Jun222011

Child of Eden Review: An Interactive Artistic Masterpiece

Child of Eden is one of the most fully realized instances of interactive art the gaming world has yet seen. Labeling it as simply a “video game” seems to do it an injustice somehow. It clearly strives to be something more; to convey a message, to impart a certain feeling upon the player unlike any lowly game they’ve ever played before.

However successful it may be in these attempts, Child of Eden’s artistic aspirations are also worthy of note for more pragmatic reasons. When viewed as a $50 piece of art that uses a controller, an HDTV, and a good sound system as its mediums, the experience is untouchable. There’s simply nothing else like it available today. Playing it transports you to another world, another mindset. It’s a magical experience that you can relive over and over again, just like getting lost in the depths of a good painting.

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Monday
Jun202011

Indulgence Reigns: Creativity and Limitations

I’m not much for nostalgia. If you know me or have read my writing in the past, you’ve probably figured that out. I value my memories, but I’m perfectly content with leaving them in my head and moving on. I accept change as a positive thing. The gaming landscape shifts, new techniques are discovered, and things, in general, improve. 

Memories are vital. They are to be cherished. Clinging onto them in the foolhardy hope that things stay the same so as to relive those memories instead of embracing the creation of new ones, however, does nothing but harm both the medium of gaming and your enjoyment of it on a personal level.

That said, as glad as I am that we have gotten past some of the unfortunate design trends from the early days of gaming, there was a benefit to the stifling technological limitations that created so many of that era’s annoying quirks. Most creative minds will tell you that restrictions are great for the imagination. They’re annoying, sure, but they force you to be your best and to think outside the box. 

Well, the technology of gaming’s past was nothing if not restrictive. There’s an almost magical simplicity to the best the retro generations have to offer that modern games just can’t match.

The culprit is indulgence.

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