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Weird to see Benedict Cumberbatch with a Southern accent (Photo courtesy touchedmuch)
It’s been a surprisingly movie-filled week! I don’t usually talk about the sporting events I watched here, but that was a hell of a Ravens game yesterday, wasn’t it!
12 Years a Slave – What an intense movie. Extremely well-acted and a brilliant counterpoint to Django Unchained. Where Django took revenge for slavery, 12 Years a Slave makes it a hell of a lot more personal and is that much better for it. The flick is tough to watch sometimes, but it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year (so far).
Little Big League – My favorite of the baseball movies that came out when I was a kid. Holds up remarkably well as an adult. I don’t know if Min liked it as much as Kate and I did, but it’s pretty solid.
Love Actually – I expected it to be good and romantic, but I really didn’t expect the nudity or the swearing. I thought it was tame and PG-13 type stuff, but I think it’s way more interesting this way in that it’s not sanitized or too safe. Good movie!
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Terry’s back in the field! Andre Braugher does deadpan so hilariously, but the popping and locking was even better.
The Mindy Project – Heck of a dance number in the middle of that episode.
The Amazing Race – So the finale for season 23 is on my DVR and I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS! I’m thinking that the Afghanimals might get eliminated and Jason and Amy might win. We’ll see!
Almost Human – I love sci-fi shows. Love ‘em. I dig shows about robots too. This is the perfect match for me. It’s pretty much a police procedural in the future at this point, but that’s cool with me. Robots! With senses of humor!
Homeland – …I dunno. Everyone’s just so unprofessional and irrational in this show. I liked that the episode was an abbreviated retelling of the first two seasons, but I hate so much about this show this season and I really hope Brody either doesn’t make it out of Tehran…or he turns on the US and becomes the big bad for season 4.
I really just love “Hannah Hunt” by Vampire Weekend. I’m sure I’ve posted it here before, but we’re doing it anyway!
Well Played 1.0: Video Games, Value, and Meaning – Read the essay on Ico and I’m partway through the Super Mario Bros. one. Nothing groundbreaking yet, but I love reading this kind of stuff about games anyway, so I’m not too bothered by it.
Super Mario 3D Land – Played the first level to activate SpotPass, but I’ve been focusing on beating Phoenix Wright first so that I can get to Zelda and finish Pokemon too. So many 3DS games!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies – Case 3 is DONE! The culprit was who I thought it was (it was really kind of obvious, actually) and I wish that I hadn’t accidentally ended up spoiling the final culprit for myself, but Case 4 is certainly intriguing so far (astronaut defendant!)
Pokemon Y – Beat Lysandre (almost lost my Min pokemon to a Mega Gyarados. He held on with 3 HP) and I’m in some cave now. Gotta get the gyms and the elite 4 done, but I’m on the home stretch. Did lose my Pidgeotto, Sawyer. Replaced him with a Marowak.
XCOM: Enemy Within – I’m on my eighth save file trying to get it going right. Game 7 was going really well…until I failed the first part of Progeny and Daniel and David died. Then I completely wiped on Slingshot’s first mission, losing Katie, Molly, Lee, and Kunal. Another wipe meant I had to restart. MEC suits kick ass. Can’t wait to get it going again.
Hashtag Stay Hungry
Remember that charity thing a million years ago? Here’s the picture we took with Adam Jones. Pretty cool.
30 for 30: The Band That Wouldn’t Die – I don’t remember if I classified the last 30 for 30 I watched as a movie or not, but for the sake of filling out this section, why not, right? As for the documentary itself, what a neat portrait of football in MD. I would never have realized the depths to which the city loved that old team and how heartbroken they were. Made me really excited to see the band at that Ravens/Jets game I went to.
The Amazing Race – Between current episodes, lunch break episodes, and episodes with Katie, I’ve seen about 20 to 25 episodes of the race between posts. Not regretting a single episode. It really is an addictive bit of television and the only reality competition I can (more than) comfortably stomach.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Best new show of the year, by far. “Terry needs nutrients!” “Where’s the buckle, Santiago?”. Brilliant stuff. Very funny. Why aren’t you watching this? The fireman/police rivalry reminds me of the parks/libraries rivalry in Parks & Recreation
New Girl – “Hey Jason Street” made me laugh so much. If you don’t get it then you haven’t watched enough Friday Night Lights. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t find the inclusion of Coach to be as well handled as Adam Pally’s integration into The Mindy Project. Having both Coach and Winston just makes me feel like the writers don’t know what to do with either of them.
The Mindy Project – It’s quietly one of the funnier shows on television, but it seems that it’s going on hiatus in January. It’s a bummer because of how funny everyone on it is, but the show is kind of all over the place right now and some time off could help. Just don’t get rid of Adam Pally!
How I Met Your Mother – The oddness of separating the cast and squeezing the whole season into a single weekend has produced some ridiculously funny moments, but also some clunky, uninspired episodes. I think it’s ultimately successful, but it’s still been a weird decision.
Parks and Recreation – I like that Leslie got recalled and success isn’t guaranteed for everyone, but it’s been an oddly paced season because NBC keeps releasing episodes in bursts (and then Parks is also headed for hiatus, I think).
Homeland – This season…It’s been a clusterfuck. Just poorly paced and unnecessarily confusing. The twists are sometimes satisfying, but I find it less and less believable that Carrie could possibly work for the CIA. I also find the show’s dedication to the Carrie/Brody romance to be…ill-advised.
How about some silliness? Here’s Dan Deacon’s 50% reduction of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop”
We Can't Stop by Dan Deacon
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Katie gifted me a Kindle and I immediately picked this up for my first read. I first heard of Junot Diaz when he guest DJ-ed on Alt.Latino and I found him so intriguing that I wanted to read Oscar Wao. Turns out it was a fantastic idea. I may not be Dominican, but the book so beautifully captures life in the diaspora. It felt a lot like parts of my life felt and it was perfectly written. I would recommend it to anyone.
Assassination Vacation – This one was read on the bus rides to and from New York Thanksgiving weekend. I wish that the sections on not-Lincoln were better developed, but the book was a fascinating look at aspects of American politics, presidents, and assassinations that I’d never come across before. Very interesting.
ell Played 1.0: Video Games, Value and Meaning – Read the intro and a few pages of the chapter on Ico, but this appears to be a collection of scholarly essays about video games. It was free and it looks like it’ll be interesting enough to read.
Pac-Man CE DX + – I blew through the achievements while waiting for Katie. Still the best Pac-Man game ever made.
Spelunky – I got in a daily challenge like, weeks ago. I. Am. Rusty.
Organ Trail – This is pretty much exactly Oregon Trail, but a zombie mod. Decent, but also…slow
Samurai Showdown – I play this a few minutes here and there to kill time while on my phone. It’s a decent RTS, but the lack of control and bad AI makes it unnecessarily difficult sometimes.
Rayman Legends – Brilliant 2D platforming, as you might expect, with fantastic music to boot. I was pleasantly surprised how much fun Katie, Min, and I had playing this for a bit.
XCOM: Enemy Within – Haven’t really passed the opening few months, but I’m loving the MEC troopers. Loads of fun to use. The game is also paced very differently (much harder!). I should turn off some of the Second Wave options I’ve turned on…
Plants vs. Zombies 2 – Do not like playing this on my phone at all. Would rather play on my desktop.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds – Unbelievably perfect music combines with impressive graphics and framerate. I need to put more than an hour in before I can render a judgement, but it will be favorable.
Super Mario 3D World – Perfection. This game is the Mario game you’ve been craving. Tons of fun with multiple people. I can’t wait to try it with Katie. We’ve just got to find the time…
New Super Luigi Bros. – Played this on the gamepad while people were sleeping (Wii U is so cool!). These levels are devious, but actually really good.
Pokemon Y – I saved the world from Yvestal, but now I’ve still got to beat the 8th gym and the Elite Four. Interest is on the rise, but I also realize that I’m not as close to done as I think I am.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies – I’m on day 2 of case 3, but there have been enough fun twists and turns that I’ve been really captivated by the case. Can’t wait to see how it ends. I bet Professor Means was the murderer…
Watched all of the 7 Minutes in Heaven clips that were out there. So funny! So awkward! So great!
Sorry, guys. No movies this week.
The Walking Dead – Glenn remains the best thing about this show. Getting the rope around the fat zombie, hooking up with Maggie, and overall being funny and awesome. That part where he tries to be all cool in front of Maggie was hilarious and understated.
Homeland - Terrorists attempting to kill terrorists! It’s exciting. Alcohol makes for very bad decisions. I really hate using polygraphs as a plot point. Don’t we already know that they’re unreliable. Man, this show is so good, though
Up All Night – Line of the week (I watched like three episodes this week): “It’s like hair coming out of hair!” (referring to the birth process. It’s as gross and awesome as you’d think). When Up All Night makes a masturbation joke I laugh. When 2 Broke Girls does it I cringe and feel grossed out. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about which show is better/funnier.
2 Broke Girls – “What you need is a good nine inches” WTF? When this show tries to be edgy and funny I just get grossed out. I’m not bummed out about the fact that my DVR often doesn’t record this.
Fringe – Best line of the week: Referring to an experiment that will blow up a papaya named Mr. Papaya: “This is unpleasant because he is the friendliest of fruits”. Fringe is so schlocky and bad and awesome that I love it. I really dig having something X-Files-y in my life and they’re just now starting to hint about the multiverses. Can’t wait to see the alternate realities!
Glee - Meh. Ok episode, but I don’t really know West Side Story so a lot of the songs didn’t really appeal to me. Better quality than anything in S2 though.
New Girl – Kind of funny how poorly they all hit on Cece, but I really hope the “will they, won’t they” stays firmly in the “won’t they” phase (w.r.t. Nick and Jess).
Community – Great episode. They’ve gotten back to their stride. This was a totally awesome, non-gimmick episode. Good on you, Community.
Parks and Recreation – Model UN stuff was really funny. I could watch Aubrey Plaza in this role all day. April’s role has really grown and I love it
Prime Suspect – Great episode this week with the abusive mom. Chilling! This show is pretty good. I’m liking it a lot for a cop procedural.
Persona 4: The Animation – The Social Link episode was AWESOME. They’ve done a fantastic job of converting the game into the show. A lot of the interface stuff carries over and I’m a real sucker for that.
7 Minutes In Heaven – The clip above is of this show. They’re these brief interviews that are super hilarious and awkward. It’s hard to explain without watching them, but I love it.
Listened to a lot of my old Fall Out Boy tracks. Not the greatest band in the world, but their tunes are so catchy!
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Been learning a lot about how Mindy Kaling came to The Office and how her career path has gone. Pretty funny and still a good read.
Dungeon Defenders – Beat the game! Min, Jason, and Lee all helped me do it. Lots of fun.
The Binding of Isaac – I’m up to five mom kills, but the game has gotten much tougher (it specifically tells you it does after five kills). I’ll keep going because this is a fun little game to pop in and out of.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Beat the game. Not as satisfying as U2 mostly because the Chloe/Elena subplot was better in 2, but still a fantastic game. A fine swan song for the series if this was the end. We’ll see what Naughty Dog does in the future.
Batman: Arkham City – Finished most of the sidequests. I suppose a second playthrough will earn me another trophy, but I’m not dying to do it.
Resident Evil 5 – Dave and I beat the Ouroboros boss of Chapter 5-1. We’re closing in on the endgame. I think he’ll like the ending. It’s still plenty of fun to play, except for that boss. I brought a rocket launcher to speed that up. He takes forever, but maybe I’m just doing it wrong, I dunno.
Ico – Got in about an hour of this. Absolutely beautiful game. The way Ico and Yorda interact is neat, if not a little awkwardly animated. The save points with the bench are so sweet and nice. I like this game a lot. It’s fantastic.
Metal Gear Solid 2 HD – Started the HD edition of this game. Dave is mad because I bought this and he got it for me for Christmas. My response: Why are you buying me Christmas presents already? It’s only November! Wait until December, dummy! Thanks for the thought, though. I would have really enjoyed it. I got three dog tags, but I don’t know if I’m gonna try to get the rest. It’s kind of tough and it would take forever.
When we last left Dan and Pankraz, they had just showed up in Coburg to be bodyguards for Prince Henry. It seems there’s some strife within the castle, as the king has two heirs and the queen clearly favors one son over the other. It’s some serious Jacob and Esau-type stuff and an example of a family gone horribly wrong. The princes are either apathetic (Wilbur) or total jerkfaces (Harry), but it doesn’t really matter anyway, we’ve gotta guard Harry after all.
While “playing” with Harry (he just acts like a jerk and tricks Dan), Harry gets kidnapped from his secret passageway, forcing Dan and Pankraz to chase after him in a panic. Well, to be fair, Pankraz tells Dan to stay put and goes searching for Harry, but at this point Dan isn’t about to just sit idly on the wayside. He’s got Leo in his party, after all, and he can fight too.
Chasing after Harry leads Dan to some ruins that he successfully navigates as he meets back up with his dear old dad. Pankraz joins the party as you tear on through the dungeon. You encounter Harry, Pankraz goes off to clear the way, but Dan and Harry are intercepted on their way out by the Bishop Ladja, Slon the Rook, and Kon the Knight. This is yet another moment where the game uses its mechanics to express a feeling of helplessness, because Bishop Ladja is one tough son of a gun! You can only watch as the Bishop absolutely destroys Harry, Leo, and Dan’s HP and the battle inevitably ends with your destruction. That’s when the great Pankraz shows up to save the day. Except that Ladja has the kids held hostage. He will kill us if Pankraz tries to interfere. In a strange twist of honor, Ladja promises not to harm the children if Pankraz surrenders. His love for Dan is too great, so he surrenders and we’re treated to more video game storytelling.
There are a few major video game deaths that are hailed as heartbreaking or emotionally affecting. The murder of Aeris, the endings of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and the ending of Metal Gear Solid 3 (I was inches away from crying, it’s ridiculous) all come to mind. I think that if Dragon Quest V had come out on the SNES stateside we would have the death of Pankraz to add to that list. The helplessness of the Ladja battle was enough for one days worth of intensity, but now Horii does it again, and with the benefit of the battle screen, not as an in-game cutscene, as a Ladja orders Slon and Kon to kill Pankraz. This doesn’t end quickly, Pankraz is very strong, as you might remember. This means that you, the player, have to watch Slon and Kon slowly whittle away Pankraz’s health as he stoically takes it all. Each turn has a little something to say about Pankraz’s pain or his suffering. It’s agonizing because you can see how ridiculously easy it would be for Pankraz to just start fighting back. Eventually the Great Pankraz falls. His last words: Dan’s mother is still alive. He’s been searching for her all this time. Ladja sends a fireball at Pankraz, incinerating him and leaving charred ground where he once stood. He then turns his attention back upon the player. He’s got other plans for you.
To be continued…
Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.
Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’ve instead started a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:
Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation
Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!
Constant through all these years of transitioning video game consoles has been and always will be the PC games market. Despite all those cries of “The PC market is dead!” I’ll tell you one golden rule about the PC market: It will always exist for as long as people use PCs, which seems like it would be indefinitely, the way that technology is going. I will concede that the PC gaming market is not in its golden years like it once was. The reasons for this are many, including more powerful home consoles whose games look comparable to PC games, the advent of the laptop, and the general weakness of any non-gaming rig due to lame motherboard graphics processing power.
However, despite these issues, the PC has always managed to produce great games and it will always continue to do so for the foreseeable future, simply because the markets have not converged enough yet. In fact, the four PC games that I will be talking about in this generation are all mostly games that either just plain don’t work well on consoles or just plain control better on the PC.
One final note before we begin, X-COM: UFO Defense will not be appearing on my list, even though it’s a staple of top PC lists everywhere. The simple reason: I’ve never played it. Maybe one of these days it’ll be on Steam or something and I’ll get a chance, but for now I have no idea how it plays. Also on the never played list: Fallout and Baldur’s Gate. These games might be so awesome they replace what’s on my list, but I don’t know any better at this point.
The first game we’ll be looking at today is one of the most popular games in the entire world. This game is so popular that an entire country more or less enjoys it as a national past time, complete with comedy routines that revolve completely around mimicking in-game sounds. It’s the game that’s sweeping Seoul and supposedly getting a sequel this year, StarCraft.
I still remember the first time I tried to play StarCraft. Note that I said tried…
We ran a pretty pathetic rig back in those days. I’m sure it was decent at some point, but our 90 MHz (seriously!) junker couldn’t quite run anything! StarCraft installed and I even managed to get it to boot, but playing it…well it ran at a snail’s pace. I even remember trying to play it with my friend Tony over the Internet on our 14.4 modem (I know…). Needless to say, I never quite got around to beating StarCraft back then, but once we updated to a 1 GHz computer (holy cow! an order of magnitude better than our “100 MHz” machine!) I was finally able to experience Blizzard’s masterpiece.
Blizzard may have started their RTS days making Warcraft games, refining mechanics and storytelling ability with their Tolkien rip-off world, but they really came into their element once they took it into outer space. The single-player campaign tells the brilliant story of the Protoss, Terran, and Zerg as they all jockeyed for control of the known galaxy. Whether you were controlling Jim Raynor for the Terrans, working with the heretic Zeratul of the Protoss, or the converted Queen of Blades, Sarah Kerrigan, for the Zerg, you always felt like things were plenty cinematic (even though briefings were just talking heads) as the plot twisted and turned. As far as I’m concerned, StarCraft was really the only real original story that Blizzard was able to tell. Warcraft III borrows heavily from SC (come on…Arthas becoming Undead totally mirrors Kerrigan! Don’t even get me started on how the Protoss and Night Elves are nearly identical…), as it well should, since the betrayals and battles make for a very compelling storyline. Trust me when I say that the game that launched ten years ago was a masterpiece whose continuation I cannot wait to see later this year (hopefully!).
As far as gameplay goes, SC goes far beyond what most other RTS designers were doing at the time. Sure, most RTS games, Warcraft included, had multiple factions that the player could control, but rarely did these factions vary in essential gameplay concepts. They all had comparable infantry units or heavy units that had more or less identical firepower to each other. In fact, a lot of the time, the faction choices basically just represented which art style you preferred most and had little to no impact on gameplay. The three races in StarCraft absolutely bucked this trend. If you played as the Terrans you were required to play a fundamentally different game than the Protoss or Zerg were playing. The magic that made SC so special was that you basically had three games packed into one neat little package.
Even with these great innovations, everyone knows that SC has survived this long for one reason alone: competitive online play. Blizzard was wising up to Internet gaming not too long before SC’s launch, so it was no surprise that StarCraft launched fully capable of online competition via the awesomely free Battle.net matchmaking service. Sure, people had direct connected through phone lines to play RTS games before, but this was unprecedented. Now you could just log on and see who else in the country was on and just go up against their army. It took great study and care to actually be competitive in the online SC community, but B.net was a great idea by a company devoted to high quality releases.
I think the only thing I have to say to really make this sink in is that you can make a living in S. Korea just by being a professional StarCraft player. I rest my case.
Blizzard was also really great with cinematics, even way back in the day. Check out the opening to SC: Brood War:
The next game on the list has been a favorite of mine since I was in grade school. Granted, the version I will be featuring today is the latest iteration (beat the release of the current generation by about a month), but that’s only because the latest version has come back and shown us how truly amazing the series is. There’s nothing like a game that will have you awake at 0500 with the sun streaming through your windows as you tell yourself, “Damn, I gotta go to sleep…I’ll get on that after this next turn…” That’s right, I’m talking about Civilization IV.
#2 Sid Meier’s Civilization IV
If you’ve never played a game in the Civilization series, then you don’t know the meaning of gameplay addiction. I’ve played many games until ungodly hours of the morning, but the game series that has made for the most red-eyed, bleary mornings has got to be Civ. If it weren’t for Civilization IV, the best of the series would have been the sophomore outing, Civilization II. Not that III was no good, but it just kept too much the same while not making enough different and new, which is, I believe, why IV succeeded so well in the series. It took everything that was bogging down the Civilization series, gave it a quick boot to the head, and came at it from a new, amazing angle.
I have to give great credit to Soren Johnson for reinvigorating what some may have felt to be a stagnant series. Civilization IV benefits from the direction he took it, making multiplayer a focus, getting rid of corruption and civil disobedience, adding great people, removing infinite city sprawl (ICS!), and attempting to diversify combat. Sure, sometimes the game is still slow, you still see unit stacks of doom, despite siege weapon deterrence, and the occasional phalanx might do serious damage to a battleship, but once you start going in and messing around with your own custom governments, you’ll see what an improvement Civ IV is to its predecessors.
A relative rarity for these lists, Civ lacks any story whatsoever other than whatever narrative you happen to create as you play. At the end of the day, you’re fully in control of your empire and more or less in control of how the AI treats you. For example, I know for a fact that Gandhi is secretly a war-mongering bastard. I have experienced his nuclear fury (granted…it was in retaliation for nuking him first, but still…). I’ve also seen the great Julius Caesar reduced to groveling at my feet as my armies marched into Rome (always satisfying) and I cannot emphasize how much of an aggressive, back-stabbing asshole Montezuma is, but these things do not make a game story. Plenty of the games don’t even feature any of these leaders, if you choose them not to. It’s a testament to this game’s character that I am able to have such fond memories of battling AI for world dominance without anyone but my own computer controlling them.
I would tell you to go out right now and buy Civilization IV to experience utterly refined game design and fun, but I don’t want to be held liable for the drastic decline of the rest of your life as you sink countless hours into building up the mighty Persian empire. Just remember that I warned you about this when it’s now 0723 and you’re still saying “Once construction on this wonder completes I’ll save and go to bed.”
Here’s some video of diplomacy gone bad:
A GREAT trailer compilation:
My absolute favorite PC game in pre-current gen era is actually a bit of a surprise to me. If you would have told me before I ever booted up that wonderful piece of software that I would love a first-person shooter. It’s like someone opened the faucet of creativity and poured it on this wonderful game. If this game is still as awesome when it’s 50% depleted, it will still kick more ass than most games on the market today. My favorite PC game (really up to the current gen) of the generations preceding this one is Half-Life 2.
#1 Half-Life 2
Valve is used to revolutionizing the medium. Gordon Freeman’s first quest was game of the year when it launched and Half-Life 2 received similar acclaim. There’s just so much about the game that it just exudes perfection. From the moment the game opens and the G-Man deposits you on the train into City 17, Half-Life 2 just never stops. Every character has inherent life and realism in their actions, the voice acting is superb, and the story just flows so well.
I could ramble on and on about how awesome HL2 is, but instead I’m gonna focus on something that only a few other games in the ENTIRE history of gaming have ever done (Ico’s the only one I can think of, but be sure to add more if I forgot some), add a sidekick that you not only genuinely care about, but is also totally useful, lifelike, and, most importantly, not annoying.
Alyx Vance is, bar none, the greatest character ever created for a video game. Game designers create tons of NPCs, especially female ones. It is so easy to go the cheap route: plenty of T, plenty of A, but, from the get-go, Valve knew they were gonna do something else. Alyx is a pretty girl, mind you, but in a much more restrained, realistic way. She wears normal jeans and has no cleavage, which is, quite frankly, pretty rare in this business (see Naomi Hunter in MGS4 for a blatant example of the opposite). Even so, if you were to go to a Valve message board, you’d most definitely find tons of posters stating how much they love Alyx. How did Valve do that? Quite simply by paying attention to real human emotion and interaction and by hiring amazing voice talent.
Voiced by Merle Dandridge, Alyx is given more than enough life by her voice acting, the way she reacts to situations, the way she urges you forward, and the way she interacts with the other expertly characterized NPCs. When Alyx is scared, you can not only see it in her amazingly animated face, you hear it in her voice. It’s present in abundance, yet it’s also understated. It’s perfect, really. She truly is your companion on your journey (even more so in Episode One).
Half-Life 2 brought life back to PC gaming and the FPS genre for me in such a big way. Never in my wildest dreams as an RPG player would I have imagined that an epic, fun, and good story could be told in that context. It just goes to show you that a masterful game can exist in just about any genre, it just takes talent and like ten years of time and devotion.
Enjoy the haunting opening to HL2 that drew me in right from the get-go:
And that, my devoted readers, is that. Be sure to tune in later this weekend (it may be Sunday instead of Saturday) to see the runner-up for the PC category!
There were certainly a lot of games between the 16-bit era and the current gen, but I, surprisingly, don’t have a whole lot of games on the list. It’s not that the medium entered a dark age or anything like that, it’s more that following the SNES era, I didn’t have the systems that were releasing all the AAA titles. This is why you’ll have to forgive me for missing highly-acclaimed masterpieces like Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, I just haven’t played them.
I hope you don’t think that the Nintendo 64 or the Gamecube didn’t have any good games, they just weren’t seeing too many titles outside of first- or second-party releases and, statistically, the system with the most games released on it has a higher chance of releasing good games (usually because the system getting the most releases is the most popular and the AAA devs will produce for the most popular system).
That being said, the first game we’re going to examine today was, in fact, a Gamecube game. How about some hints?
1. The main character of this game makes a cameo in Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
2. The storyline spans from the Ancient Rome to the present day (present day of release)
3. H. P. Lovecraft
Our only runner-up for today is the absolutely insane, but awesome Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Runner-up: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
With a development time that almost approached eternity itself (I know it’s cheesy, leave me alone), Eternal Darkness, originally announced for the N64 back in 1999, finally launched on the Gamecube at the end of May in 2002. Being the all-around wuss with respect to horror games or movies that I am, I was among the multitude of players that didn’t go and buy the game and contributed to its commercial failure (lucky for all of us, Denis Dyack doesn’t see this as a discouraging factor from releasing a sequel). By the time I had finally grown a pair, it was two years later during my senior year of high school. Playing through this game, which did genuinely freak me out at times, I found myself thinking, “Man, I should not have waited to play this sucker, this is a great game.”
“Flesh. Bone. Bound together with the oddest magical incantation. This wretched book is where it all began so long ago. Before time, before humanity.
I am Doctor Edward Roivas. I am a clinical psychologist. I am also dead. This is not my story, nor even the story of the Roivas family. It is the story of humanity. Like it or not, believe it or not as you will. Your perceptions will not change reality, but simply color it. Humanity has been on the edge of extinction for two millennia, ignorant of so much and dependent on so few. The Guardians grow restless. Their time once again near. Whether by fate or misfortune, my family has crossed their path, and they didn’t take kindly to it.
Their attention turns to my granddaughter, for she is the last of my line and the last hope for humanity.”
So begins Eternal Darkness. The player starts out in the shoes of Alexandra Roivas (whose likeness in contained within some of the girlie mags you can use to distract guards in MGS: TS) whose grandfather has just been brutally murdered within the confines of his mansion, located in Rhode Island. The police are clueless as to who might have committed such an atrocity, so Alex takes it upon herself to begin investigating the death of her grandfather and she starts by searching the Roivas mansion for clues.
In her quest for clues, she stumbles upon the aforementioned Tome of Darkness, a book bound of human flesh and bone, reminiscent of the Necronomicon, and begins to learn of the truth of her family’s legacy, the identity of the entities responsible for her grandfather’s death, and the fate of the rest of the humanity. Let me give you a little hint: it doesn’t look good for our species. Gameplay evolves by finding chapters of the Tome of Darkness, each detailing the exploits of different key players in the history of the Eternal Darkness.
Exploring those oh-so-cheery themes of Lovecraft, just about every one of these characters meets some sort of gruesome, grisly end once they’ve completed their chapter. Some do useful things for Alex in the future, some are fated to simply die in obscurity, their actions proving ultimately very futile. Also a factor of Lovecraftian literature, the fragile sanities of these characters play a prominent role in the overall gameplay.
On top of your more typical life and magic meters, Eternal Darkness features a sanity meter. Encountering the many unspeakably horrific beasts employed by the ancient evils you combat results in a constant drain on your fragile human sanity. This, inevitably, leads to strange occurrences within the game world itself. Walk into a room with a low sanity meter, you might find yourself spontaneously falling apart, slowly losing limbs until your head falls off. The screen will flash white, your character will say “This can’t be happening,” and you’ll find yourself at the entrance to the room, 100% in tact. I’m not gonna give away the really good ones, but there are a myriad of sanity effects to unnerve even the most steely of players mixed throughout the game, some of them fourth-wall breaking. Those are truly great sanity effects, as they immerse the player even further into the game. As your avatar loses his or her sanity, so too are you tested to see if you can keep your wits about you.
There are ways, later on in the game, to restore your sanity since an empty sanity bar results in health drains instead, but to raise your sanity meter for the sake of your own sanity really isn’t in the spirit of the game. If you’re not being freaked out by the statues that are suddenly following your character around, even though they never did before, then what’s the point?
Control and combat are a little loose for my tastes, but then again, that’s why it’s only a runner-up. This game is absolutely about the sum of its parts, as story cannot exist without gameplay, the sanity meter is just a gimmick without story and gameplay, and the loose controls are still better than most and make for a satisfying experience.
Will Eternal Darkness freak you out? Yes, at times it will. There’s nothing you can do about it. I knew about a particular freak-out moment beforehand. I knew exactly when it would trigger (it was story-based), and I was still freaked out when I encountered the event. That being said, don’t let something like being a little freaked out prevent you from playing the game. I’m about as horror-averse as they come and I still loved the game. The story is just too good to pass up.
Here’s a great US commercial for the game that I think just totally embodies the spirit of the game:
Tune in on Tuesday to see some of the best in RPGs for the last generation!