Game Overview: ABDN Reviews MGS4
Aug 29th, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

(SPOILER NOTE: Tim’s review, my review, and some of this post have MGS spoilers. Read at your own risk)

I’ve taken a few excerpts from Tim Rogers’ brilliant review of Metal Gear Solid 4 and I’m going to talk about them a bit. He totally threw us for a loop, revealing the game that is NOT ABDN’s best game of all-time, but revealing a game he firmly believes not to be. Let’s get started:

“If it’s a fact that Metal Gear Solid 4 sucks on purpose, we can hardly blame Kojima for that, either. Given his previously well-documented disinterest in the series, its having been promoted as his “opus” must have turned his stomach. It’s clear that Kojima’s priority was the game’s plot, and making sure it “satisfied” fans: like the world’s fattest kid circa 1989 winning a Toys R Us shopping spree, Kojima struts zombie-like into the warehouse of his past work and proceeds to remove absolutely everything from the shelf, dropping one item at a time into his bottomless shopping cart. He eventually gets up to the cash register, leaves the cart unattended, pulls his smokes out of his jacket, and steps outside.”

In this point I can’t help but hope that Kojima was in fact making a disappointing game on purpose. Sure, MGS4 wasn’t terrible, but after all the hype, after Metal Gear fucking Solid 3, I found myself thinking “Really? After that, this is what you bring to the table?” MGS3 was so good that I suppose surpassing it was either impossible for Kojima or, as Rogers says, not even the point of what he was doing. He made MGS4 because he had to. He made MGS4 basically a checklist for unanswered plot points because he ultimately wanted to be DONE. May Hideo Kojima never have to have as much control over or make another MGS game. The man, despite what Rogers thinks, is brilliant. I like to think it’s just a question of him finding a project that truly interests him again.

“By act three, the game has abandoned its neat little idea in favor of a far neater one: we are now following a guy through a European city. Snake is wearing a trenchcoat, looking like Gillian Seed from Snatcher (the fans swoon), and it’s quaintly foggy. Ironically, this proved to be our Absolute Favorite Part of the Game. Since age nine, we have wanted to wander a European metropolis after curfew, letting a shady man obliviously lead us to his shady headquarters. This is the reason we studied Russian and Chinese in elementary school while everyone else was busy pretending they knew something about sex. We carried this dream in the palm of our hand until college, when it dawned upon us that we could Actually Die from doing Stuff Like This, so we started writing about videogames in the first-person plural instead. Metal Gear Solid 4 manages to get the mood and the pace of Euro-man-stalking just right. Our target is “Side A”, and the enemy troops enforcing the curfew are “Side B”. We are “Side C”. The level design in this part of the game is ferociously cute: both we and Side A are in violation of Side B’s rules; while avoiding Side A’s detection, we have to ensure that Side A avoids Side C’s detection. This ends up pretty fascinating, whether you have watched the opening cut scene or not. Eventually, you get to the goal, and suddenly you’re riding shotgun on a motorcycle in yet another ropey on-rails shooting sequence. It’s like waking up from a dream about the Bahamas to find out you’re actually in Bermuda. Instead of intimately sharing military secrets with a woman you picked up at a poker table, you’ve got your mother asking you to shoot a helicopter down.”

I feel the need to interject that, despite Europe being compelling to Rogers and the ABDN crew, it’s rather dull compared to the actual MGS gameplay that I wanted. The gameplay of MGS3 was not about following a dude, although it’s also not too far. The dynamic of hiding from two forces is decently interesting, but its perhaps marred by the game itself. You CAN just take off the trench coat and continue running around in your octo-camo. You can just stun all the guards instead of sneaking around. Hell, you can just kill all the guards, so long as your mark doesn’t see it happen. The gameplay isn’t quite as compelling as the other sections, to me, even if the locale IS. Wandering throughout a European city in actual MGS fashion would be quite fun and worth exploring in the inevitable, but hopefully not Kojima-directed, MGS5.

“We will disclaim, right here, that we have, for the past decade of jacked-into-the-netness, chuckled and rolled our eyes whenever anyone complained about the length of the cut-scenes in a Metal Gear Solid game. Some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “gameplay” (like that’s a real word); some people said they just wanted to enjoy the “atmosphere”. It puzzled us, to the point of rubbing our bellies in amusement, that someone would dare to want to play Metal Gear Solid with absolutely no invested interest in the characters. It’s not that the story and the characters are necessarily great literature so much as they’re insperable from the game’s progression and atmosphere. If you only like the game mechanics, you’d be better off playing Pac-Man — it’s basically the same thing. Conversely, if you only like the story, you’d be better off reading a book. (Crucial: notice how we recommended Pac-Man for players who only like Metal Gear Solid as a game, whereas we recommended any book in existence for those who enjoy it as a story.) If nothing else, the original Metal Gear Solid had a dignified flow to it: the characters were all rough sketches, all vaguely likable. Conceptual Bullshit was kept to a minimum, and by minimum, we mean “Maximum, in Hindsight”. There was a fucking “boss” who you didn’t fight, who you instead met and talked to, and he died six hours before you even knew he was a boss. The game shows you this level of virtuosity for a while without once flexing its muscles in the mirror; at a certain point, it starts delivering soliloquies about love blooming on the battlefield; by this time, we are so into it that we can’t give up now. The game has worked its spell on us.”

Rogers brings up a vital point about the REASON people play a Metal Gear Solid game. It makes sense that a blockbuster like the MGS series is not only attract people who firmly agree with the gameplay environment, but I too marvel at the people who complain about cutscene length, but claim to be fans. The game IS about long cutscenes. The game certainly has a specific aesthetic created by its controls and actually interactive portions (ie: the parts where there aren’t cutscenes), but without the context, I would think it’s quite boring. Then again, I’d say I’m a person who is mostly motivated by story. I’ve played abysmal games just to see their endings in the past and I continue to play mediocre and great games, like MGS4, just to see what happens at the end. It’s absolutely true that divorcing MGS from its cinematics is divorcing the entire reason for playing from the game. It just makes no sense otherwise.

“Hindsight will tell us that, in concept and execution and everything in between, Metal Gear Solid is better than Metal Gear Solid 4, though this hardly matters. What matters is that we have grown up, and Metal Gear Solid has grown down.”

This is absolutely true. I would have to take a second to very firmly point out that MGS4 is, by no means, a bad game, it does suffer from something no other Metal Gear game does: sequelitis. It tries too hard to be what is iconic Metal Gear for its fans as a conclusion to such a degree that it is less Metal Gear for doing so. Think of the Solid games starting with MGS. Sure, that wasn’t much more than a rehash of the elements of MG2 (in fact, elements of the MG games continually repeat, but that’s actually a major theme of the game (how brilliant is Kojima to make “laziness” translate into “artistic purpose”?)), but getting serious, it’s plain that MGS2 is radically different from MGS. You have a totally new protagonist running around through an environment that is fundamentally different from Shadow Moses. The game felt different enough to warrant significant fan backlash causing low sales of the third, also fundamentally different Metal Gear Solid 3, where you, the player, are now in the past, the tech is old and different, changing the game from Pac-Man to something slightly different. Snake is not the same Snake (although he arguably/genetically) is, you now have a camouflage system, you have to eat to maintain stamina, and you have to treat your injuries.

Meanwhile, here comes MGS4. There are some slight gameplay tweaks here and there with octo-camo and the Drebin weapon system, but you’re not doing anything fundamentally different from the past games. You even have a stage where you revisit an old locale. MGS4 suffers because it is too much like the MGS games of the past. Kojima should have continued to grow as he did with MGS3 instead of regressing to the asinine and stupid with monkeys in diapers and god-awful stupid cutscenes. See Rogers’ treatment of the fried egg dilemma in the same review for more on that.

“…the (seemingly) hour-long sequence in which Ninja Raiden Riverdance-Duels a gay vampire in order to buy Snake, Otacon, and their pet robot enough time to escape from the hell of South America via helicopter is a chief offender: look at those moves! The moment we, as a “player”, behold a scene in a “videogame” and think “Man, someone should make a videogame out of that”, the ghost is essentially given up.”

Also (mostly) a first for MGS4 is the sequence where we cannot control Snake’s (or Raiden’s) bad-assery. The only notably awesome action sequences outside of MGS4 I can think of that we did not, in fact, get to control happen in Twin Snakes (this was widely hated) and in MGS3 in one scene. There is ONE scene in MGS3 where Snake beats up on the Ocelots with CQC. Every other time Snake tries to be fancy with CQC in a cutscene, The Boss, Volgin, whomever, seriously kicks his ass and makes him look like a moron. EVERY OTHER TIME. The player should not ever wish to control a cutscene in a game. Games are created to allow us to control the cutscenes. This is the failure of Quick Time Events too, in my opinion. Too much abstraction involved with making the protagonist look amazing.

“Eventually, the game turned us off to the concept of entertainment in general. Eventually, the game makes us start drinking.”

While MGS4 was, by and large, a disappointment to me as I became a victim to hype and high expectations resulting from playing MGS3, it is not this bad. It’s got its rough edges and, as Rogers loves to state in his review, the cutscenes are a train wreck of awkward acting and dialogue that would make almost anyone embarrassed to be seen playing the game (I’m looking at you Johnny…while I’m at it, you too stupid monkey in diapers), but I still stand by my review stating that you should play it. I’m pretty sure that my review was full of disappointment over finishing a great series off with less of a bang, but more than a whimper, it’s definitely worth a play.

(Just when you thought they were over, welcome to another MGS-full post)

PC: What Would People Do If They Knew That I’m A…
Aug 28th, 2008 by Dan

In what is probably the most interesting news story I’ve seen in a while on Kotaku, it seems that there is a new game called Guitar Praise – Solid Rock that revolves around the Guitar Hero concept, retooled to have a tracklist of entirely Christian music.

It’s both a hilarious and good, I suppose, to have such a popular gameplay mechanic ripped off (stolen, if you will) and put in play for God. It’s (religious games) been done before with hilarious result and mocking by the AVGN here and here.

Regardless of how you feel about the religion, I suppose it’s not so bad after all. It’s a market whose fans might not get to play the other versions because they don’t like the music, so why not broaden it and allow them the fun of music they enjoy. Those of you at home keeping score realize that I’m just waiting for someone to independently make some sort of ska music game and realize that I know this is a good sign, even though it could be a cheap knockoff. Follow the link for the full tracklist.

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: The End of an Era
Aug 27th, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ’em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to be able to talk about the official end of the NY Yankees as the dominant force in the AL East. We’ve already seen them start losing to the Red Sox over this decade as the Sox have ended their long drought and started putting together some really impressive seasons, but should this season continue in the same vein it’s been going so far, this might be the first time in a long time that the Yankees do not make the post-season. At six (SIX!) games back in the wild card race, the Yankees realistically have no chance to catch up, even though they’ve got thirty games left. The AL wild card will most likely go to the Red Sox while the AL East pennant will go to the Rays.

It’s hard to really correlate why or when these things started happening to the Yankees, but it seems to me that there are a few things that I would point to:

1. Joe Torre

Swapping Joe Torre for Joe Girardi was supposed to be the magic bullet that would right the wrongs of a team on the decline. What did it do instead? Make a team set in its ways have to learn a new management style and either modify their game to be more like Girardi’s or end up forcing Girardi to manage in a way that’s unnatural for him.

2. Lagging offense

A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, Nady, Cano. Most, if not all of them are all-stars. They all should be performing much better than they are. Why aren’t they? It’s hard to really pinpoint or decisively say anything about where the holes are, but here are a few thoughts that could point to what’s going wrong.

A. Complacency

Win enough seasons as the Yankees (and boy were they dominant in the past ten to twenty years) and you stop thinking that you can be beat. Could it be that the Yankees, despite only making the playoffs due to the wild card last season just aren’t in the proper state of mind to win? Who would have suspected that the Rays would get so awesome and ruin the easy wild card for the Yankees?

B. Age

The Yankees aren’t exactly old hens. They’re definitely not the spring chickens that the Rays are though. Is it possible that the squad whose “experience” is so lauded is starting to hit that inflection point where experience cannot overcome the deterioration of their bodies?

None of these is really quantifiable nor do they necessarily apply over a long season where you could conceivably be able to adjust your mental state. Regardless, there is something wrong with the Yankees organization that cannot be explained by the tremendous amount of money and talent that is invested in the team.

Farewell Yankees, may you continue to be obnoxiously overrated and have disappointing seasons. Welcome to a new era for the AL East, one where there are at least three competitive teams and where you will actually have to play well to be dominant.

Extra News

Team USA wins the gold in men’s basketball!

The Phillies pull ahead of the Mets in the NL East. Marlins fail to capitalize with a loss to the Braves.

Evan Longoria on the cusp of reentering the Rays lineup.

Game Overview/Bookmark This!: Consoles I Have Known
Aug 26th, 2008 by Dan

Todd Levin of the Morning News has written a great set of articles highlighting how video games have shaped and affected his life. I love articles like this detailing the way that these things that I love, these things that I’m so often told are a waste of time, are written about in a way that shows that they really do have an effect, both good and bad, on our lives.

First article
Second article
Third article
Fourth article
Fifth article
Sixth article

Embedded Reporter: Sid Meier’s Colonization
Aug 25th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

What you just saw was what will most likely be the opening cinematic for the upcoming total conversion game Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization. With how much I played the original Colonization, it’s only a matter of time before I find myself awake at 0500 simultaneously thinking “One more turn” and “Holy cow! Is the sun really rising right now?”

The original Colonization was really a strong representation of what the settling of the New World must have been like. Here’s hoping that I’m still able to dump my stores of cigars or rum into the ocean to protest rising taxes

You Can Quote Me On That: Tim Rogers
Aug 23rd, 2008 by Dan

If you know me or read this site regularly, you know that I’m a huge fan of Tim Rogers of I don’t universally agree with him, but I do universally love how the things he says about game design and video games in general make me think critically about games both as entertainment, as examples of good design, and even as an art form. Today’s quote isn’t really all that thought-provoking, but it does bring up a rather good point:

It’s a lot like the iron boots in modern 3D Zelda games: you have these 200kg boots in your inventory; you’re swimming in water; you open the menu and choose to put the boots “on”; you sink to the bottom of the water. Are the boots only heavy when they’re on your feet? (Maybe they’re magical.) It’s not a puzzle; it’s not “thinking”. It’s just “there”.

-Tim Rogers in his Ikaruga review.

Sure, video games do require immense suspension of disbelief and Rogers does harp a lot on modern Zelda and Nintendo design in general, but it’s true when you think about it and pretty funny.

Game Overview: Rock Band 2, Super Mario RPG VC, Lazy, Dangerous RPG DLC
Aug 22nd, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Rock Band 2

It may technically still be summer, but we’re right on the cusp of the most exciting game season in the year, the Fall release schedule. Did you realize that Rock Band 2, a game I’d say might be the first official big Fall release, comes out on 14 Sept. for the Xbox 360? That’s only tree weeks and a few days away. I can’t believe that one of my most anticipated titles for the year is so close to release, but I’m also a bit disappointed. Rock Band 2 is coming out a bit too soon. The 360 version is coming a bit early, but the others and the instruments should be coming out either just before or just after the year-old mark for Rock Band. I know it’s not their fault. I know that Guitar Hero: World Tour is the real reason that the game is coming out too soon. I just hope that Harmonix is able to make this release complete enough that they can get by with their actual dream of releasing a music platform sustained by DLC.

While we’re on the topic of music gaming, Sony leadership surprised the video game industry with an announcement of instrument standards. There will no longer be a situation like GH3 and Rock Band on PS3 where people who bought GH3 for a spare guitar were left out to dry while the 360 owners were able to use their GH3 guitars in Rock Band. This is great news, we don’t need a million sets of plastic instruments cluttering up our living rooms.

Super Mario RPG

PAL territories are getting their hands on Super Mario RPG on the Virtual Console this week. This is excellent news for those of us in North America who have been desperately waiting for its VC release. It’s only a matter of time now.

Tales of Vesperia

As reported by Kotaku, Xbox 360 RPG Tales of Vesperia has kind of a dangerous precedent its setting by allowing lazy players to buy experience levels, gold, items, or skills for real-world money. Sure, ToV isn’t an MMO, so this isn’t going to throw the economy off balance, but it just seems a bit strange to go and sell an easier time in your game. I don’t support it at all and I hate monetizing these trivial things that should not be sold.

That’s it for this week’s edition of Game Overview, stay tuned for more video game news over the next week.

Filmmakers Bleed: Tropic Thunder Review
Aug 21st, 2008 by Dan

It’s the most random and hilarious plot I’ve ever heard of in recent history and I got to see it a couple of weeks ago. Tropic Thunder features a stellar comedic cast and absolutely no need to be serious at all with their subject matter.

Ben Stiller directed this movie and he also stars in it alongside big stars Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr., each of them actors playing soldiers in this crazy movie. The plot happens to be about these actors who are starring in the movie Tropic Thunder, inspired by the war memoirs of a Vietnam veteran. They’re having a real problem finding proper motivation and so the director decides to take the advice of the veteran who wrote the book and put them in a “real” war situation to milk real performances out of them. They do actually end up in a real war situation and comedy ensues.

The show is absolutely stolen by Downey, Jr. in this movie, mainly due to his character. Downey’s character is an extreme method actor who doesn’t break character until a project has been fully completed, so in order to play this black man from the book, he has his skin dyed black and he spends most of the movie speaking in a stereotypical 60’s black man accent and style.

Other characters are moderately funny, but not as memorable nor interesting as Downey, Jr., especially Ben Stiller’s character who has really one key, classic moment involving a panda. I must take exception to the memorable comment though, since Tom Cruise has a character in the movie that will absolutely floor you with laughter, he’s so awesome.

Is Tropic Thunder worth seeing? It’s funny and the funny kind of grows the after you’ve seen the movie, but it’s ultimately pretty shallow (no kidding…it’s a comedy) and perhaps not worth paying full movie price to go see. Wait for the rental or go if someone else is offering to pay.

Wednesday Morning Quarterback: Men’s Basketball, Hustling Woes, Pennant Race
Aug 20th, 2008 by Dan

You’ve probably heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20 on Monday morning, so just imagine how well I can call ’em two days later on Wednesday. That’s right, it’s time for Wednesday Morning Quarterback, your weekly sports round-up.


Delaying my post for the day has given me the opportunity to comment on the American victory over Australia in Olympic Men’s Basketball. Many speculated that this would be the game that gave Team USA some trouble, and they were right in that respect. Team USA struggled in the first half, but a clutch three-pointer in the last few seconds of that same half put the US in a winning state of mind. Kobe and Team USA burst out with 14 straight points (nine coming from Bryant) and the rest of the game was in America’s hands.

Argentina (gold medalists from the 2004 games) and either Lithuania or Spain will be the next challenges for the Men’s team on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Let’s hope that the Redeemed Team (as the media is calling them) is able to keep the momentum going. There’s no space for error in these final matches.

B.J. Upton

The Rays have been having some problems with their star players recently, but this time it doesn’t come from injuries. There have been at least two benchings on recent memory of center fielder B.J. Upton for lack of hustle and he continues to make some very lazy and stupid mistakes. I applaud Joe Maddon, the Rays GM, for benching Upton as punishment for his indolence, but I’m not so sure that it’s having any effect. More similar incidences (although not as blatant, hence, not as punishable) have been taking place that show that Upton might just be getting petulant and not quite caring that his team’s 4.5 game lead is plenty tenuous, especially against the Red Sox. Which brings us to…

Pennant Races

AL East remains firmly, but not definitely in the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays. Strong performances against the always tough Angels in two games already have kept the Rays exactly where they want to be. They’re not quite in the clear yet, with series against the White Sox, Red Sox, and Twins remaining this season, but I can’t help but think that they could clinch the AL East for the pennant. We probably won’t be seeing a magic number for the Rays until they hit late September, but I’m excited, especially since the Crawford and Longoria injuries haven’t slowed them down.

Meanwhile, my precious Marlins sit four games back from the first place NY Mets, having dropped close games against the Cardinals and Cubs to put them so far back. The Phils sit only one game back, waiting for the inevitable meltdown of the Mets due to their piss-poor bullpen, especially with Billy Wagner’s potentially season-ending injury. All the Fish have to do to get themselves back up to speed is play well in non-league play in their series against the Giants, Cardinals, Astros, and Diamondbacks. The Giants and Astros should be easy play, but the rest should be much tougher, even though the Marlins traditionally play well against the Diamondbacks, mainly because the Diamondbacks are actually in the pennant race against the Dodgers. The rest of the series are against the Phillies, Mets, and Nationals, which make for some key, very important series over these last 5.5 weeks. If they perform well, I just might get my dream of seeing an all-Florida World Series.

Saturday Night Fever: Howl at the Moon
Aug 19th, 2008 by Dan

As I said yesterday, I had myself a great time at the Howl at the Moon dueling pianos bar this past Saturday. What exactly is a dueling pianos bar? Well the main crux of it is that you have two pianos each with an entertainer playing them. They’re supposed to take requests, play them, and make them entertaining in some way, either by competing against each other, as you saw yesterday in the Roger Rabbit example, or by inviting audience participation on stage in some way.

The performers at Howl have a tough job, if you think about it. They’re responsible not only for playing the music, but knowing all sorts of classic songs, singing them, and making you laugh in the process. Not surprisingly, they do so with great skill as I was even entertained by songs I didn’t know based on their antics on stage.

Below is an example of them performing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band:

So the entertainment is sweet, but what about the rest of the details? There is a cover charge that varies based on time and day of the week ranging from free for women on Wednesdays to $5 before 2000 on Saturdays (I don’t know what the cost rises to after 2000). This is decently reasonable, especially considering that during Happy Hour specials, you can get your drinks super cheap. I’m not sure if I left Happy Hour at some point, but I had something like five or six beers (Yuengling) and spent $20, which averages to about $3.33-4 per beer, which is reasonable for an entertainment venue. Their beer and cocktail selection is good, but nothing amazing and service is pretty good (and part of the show too).

Howl at the Moon is a great bar to go to in general (I’m not a fan of cover charges, but I know I’m not in Ithaca any more) and the entertainment is top notch. If you ever happen to be in the Inner Harbor/Power Plant sector of Baltimore looking for a fun night, definitely hit up the Howl at the Moon bar.

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