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Embedded Reporter: MGS4 Review
Jun 16th, 2008 by Dan

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

After a week of mentioning Metal Gear Solid 4 at least once in every post, I’m sure you’re getting damn near sick of hearing about Kojima’s latest masterpiece (or so I hear, can’t play yet :sob:). Let’s close off the MGS4 references for the short term with the video reviews posted by both Gametrailers and IGN. Enjoy!

One other little treat, this is one of the funnier Flight of the Conchords songs that I’m saddened didn’t make it onto the CD:

Game Overview: 16-Bit All-Stars Runner-Ups Part 3 / Sony: MGS4 Launch
Jun 12th, 2008 by Dan

Here we are at the last of the 16-bit era’s all-stars that couldn’t quite crack the top three.

This game is distinctly famous for Shigeru Miyamoto claiming that this game “proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good,” which he later apologized for claiming that he was expressing some frustration at Nintendo pressuring him to make changes to Yoshi’s Island to make it look more like this game. Another, more obvious clue, is that I talked about this game in my instruction manual editorial. Our last runner-up is Donkey Kong Country.

Runner-up: Donkey Kong Country

This will be one of the few times that you hear me say this, but Shigeru Miyamoto is wrong. Donkey Kong Country was the much lauded return of Donkey Kong to the video game spotlight and what a job it did. They looked at the aesthetic of the original Donkey Kong and they absolutely brought most of that to this new game. The most obvious transition from original to SNES was the strong use of the barrel. Donkey Kong’s chief weapon in the first level makes a return as one of the most prolific items in the game. You save progress in them, fly around the world map in them, rocket through the levels in them, regain party members from them, and have a projectile attack a la the original game. The mortality of the player characters were even brought over from the arcade game with both Donkey and Diddy dying after one hit, much like Mario (Jumpman) did back in the day.

I love Donkey Kong Country because it took the conventions for how a platformer is done, pulled from Mario 3 and Mario World, and took it to brand new heights. Sure, it didn’t have the branching paths of SMW or the innovative power-up management system of SMB3, but it had pets done way better than Yoshi, tight, almost simultaneous two-player action, secrets hidden around every corner, and that trademark Rare humor (or should I say humour?) that’s long since left the company (probably left when the Stamper brothers left).

DKC was and still remains one of the coolest Christmas presents I ever got. I still have the t-shirt that came with the game as a pre-order bonus (thanks Mom!). If you’ve never played it, you should go back and try it out.

A great Sega-bashing commecial:

The kid in this commercial is wearing the t-shirt I got as a pre-order bonus:

One of my favorite video game intros:

Wow, what a journey the 16-bit era was. My most formative gaming years spanned this generation, setting up my future video game habits and tastes, most notably, my voracious love for RPGs. This era’s a real tough one to follow, I mean a good chunk of my top games of all time came out of this period. Tune in tomorrow to see which console games make my top three in the post-16, pre-current gen time period. I can tell you right now, regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised by the number one game, but can you even come close to guessing what else will be covered in the week to come? Go ahead and leave a comment with your guesses.

I hope you all remember that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots launches today! Go and buy it. If you don’t have a PS3, go get an 80GB model (backwards compatibility for the win!) and a Dual Shock 3 and then buy MGS4. What are you waiting for?

M$: Squeenix RPGs on the Way / Sony: MG Week MGS Retrospective / Abbreviated Wednesday Morning Quarterback: FL Marlins Finally Overcoming Slump?
Jun 11th, 2008 by Dan

We interrupt your regularly scheduled sports updates to bring you trailers of three Square Enix announced RPGs for the Xbox 360:

The first is The Last Remnant:

Next we have Star Ocean 4 (AKA Star Ocean: The Last Hope):

And last we have Infinite Undiscovery:Of the three, The Last Remnant impresses and attracts me the most. Star Ocean has never really been a franchise that calls to me, but it also looks kind of neat. Infinite Undiscovery, on top of being an Action RPG (confirmed by IGN), seems to have pretty weak production values compared to the other two. Granted, Star Ocean didn’t really show any in-game footage, but its pre-rendered stuff looked better too. Maybe Infinite Undiscovery is always running in-engine?

All of these games are being released “For the Xbox,” but Square Enix has been relatively dodgy on the question of exclusivity with some games and I think they’ve even confirmed that PS3 versions would hit at some point with others (I’d have to go check and, well, I don’t care that much. The implications are clear though: Square Enix wants a greater market share. There could even be some Sakaguchi animosity hidden beneath their decision, since he’s more or less enjoyed a monopoly on the Xbox 360 JRPG market.

In other gaming news, Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out tomorrow! Two new MG Retrospectives have come out since I last wrote about them:

Part 4:

Part 5:

And last, some sports news:

Hanley Ramirez has finally been swinging that bat and knocking the ball over the fence. The past few games have seen his homerun count put him in the top 25, last I checked. Keep it up buddy.

This current series with the Phillies will be a vital test for the Marlins. With the Phils in 1st place, each game we lose will push us further away from the coveted top spot. We started out strong last night with a 5-4 win. Let’s keep it up for the next two.

Embedded Reporter: Courage is Solid
Jun 9th, 2008 by Dan

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

So in just three short days the world will see a simultaneous release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots! Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: MGS2, MGS2: Substance, MG Portable Ops, MGS: The Twin Snakes and MGS3 were all released in North America before they saw release in the Land of the Rising Sun. Another little bit of trivia is that Hideo Kojima prefers the English voice acting over the Japanese voice track.

Below is the MGS4 trailer that was actually shown in theaters. It’s pretty slick, but I’m so mad that I’m gonna have to wait until the end of the month to even pop this sucker into my PS3…

Remember everyone: Courage is Solid

Game Overview: MGS5?
May 23rd, 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.

Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out in a few short weeks and it will be the end of an era. Twenty years of Metal Gear and we’ve finally hit the end of the series. :sigh: What a great time…wait, what?

Video game news has been abuzz since about last week when Konami made it clear that there will, in fact, be a Metal Gear Solid 5, despite Kojima’s statements in the past that MGS4 would be the last MGS game ever. While gamers are used to having Kojima claim to be done with the series permanently, they certainly didn’t expect to see another announcement so soon.

The basic gist is that while it may not be a “Solid” game (as in involving Solid Snake), there will be more Metal Gear games, even if the numeral isn’t exactly 5. Kojima wants his production company, the aptly named Kojima Productions, to be involved with the game, but he would be willing to put someone else in the actual role of producer.

My reaction is, predictably, bittersweet. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see more Metal Gear games, right? Then again, how would the series proceed without Solid Snake and with his entire story told? I can say from the get-go that I wouldn’t want to see the series keep on extending the story of Snake with Snake retired and whatnot, but then again, would another game that had nothing to do with Snake even really be a Metal Gear game? I suppose if I stopped to think about it, we did have that in Metal Gear Solid 2. Sure, we played as Snake for a while, but the story had just about nothing to do with Solid Snake, aside from him actually appearing in the game. In the end, it was still a good game without Snake being the player character, so I suppose it could work.

I think the main concern that I would have with a new Metal Gear game is that I would want Hideo Kojima involved. Anything made without his strong input in some way would be objectionable to me. We’ll see what happens.

Embedded Reporter: Metal Gear Retrospective
May 19th, 2008 by Dan

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

You may or may not realize that Metal Gear Solid 4 is a mere month away, but Gametrailers has and they’ve started one of their amazing Retrospective series last week about Metal Gear. Episodes one and two are up, so check them out below already!

Sony: MGS to a City Near You
May 13th, 2008 by Dan

Check out this news post at IGN!

I’m totally gonna go to NYC for this

Sony: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
May 4th, 2008 by Dan

SPOILER ALERT: This review may cover plot points that will spoil MGS3.

Whoever wins, the battle does not end. The loser is set free from the battlefield, while the winner must remain there. And the survivor will live out his life as the warrior until the day he dies.

-Big Boss to Solid Snake

The Story

Metal Gear’s story completely revolves around the subjects of loyalty and betrayal. From the absolute first game for the MGX all the way to Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake is always manipulated and even betrayed by the very people he has put his trust in. MGS 3 explores what is probably not the first betrayal in the MG canon, but the first important one. Kojima hops into his way-back machine to take us to 1964, the height of the Cold War. Our protagonist, the man who started it all, the man who will become Big Boss, the man who is the genetic father to Solid, Liquid, and Solidus, and the man who first takes the codename (Naked) Snake. It turns out that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not really averted at all by removing missiles from Turkey. No, it was a direct result of the US returning a valuable weapon’s scientist to the USSR. Well guess what, the US wants Sokolov back and so begins the Virtuous Mission.

Naked Snake is air dropped into the heart of the Soviet jungle and instructed to keep a low profile as he recovers Sokolov. On his support squad are Major Zero, the movie-loving Para-Medic, and last, we have Snake’s mentor, The Boss. If you’ve been reading this review at all, you can probably guess what happens to Snake as he begins his escape from Russia with Sokolov. The Boss betrays Snake, her team, the Cobra Unit, abducts Sokolov, and Snake is hurled off a bridge with a broken arm by The Boss where he is eventually recovered by US forces and taken home.

On their way out, the main antagonist, Colonel Volgin, nukes the former research facility that Sokolov was working at using missiles The Boss gave him as goodwill gifts, steals the Shagohad super weapon, and flees with Sokolov, the Cobra Unit, and Ocelot. Snake is debriefed by Major Zero a week later. Both Snake and the Major are in danger of being executed for treason. Khrushchev is not happy about the nuke going off and the US government does not believe that Snake was not involved with the defection of The Boss, his former mentor. Major Zero, Snake, and Para-Medic have one last chance: Snake must infiltrate Soviet Russia yet again, rescue Sokolov, destroy the Shagohad, kill Colonel Volgin, and, to prove his loyalty, kill The Boss. Because The Boss leads the elite Cobra Unit, the mission is given the name Snake Eater and the main game begins.

In many ways, this story is truly the masterpiece of MGS to date. Big Boss was a character born out of the 8-bit days, so his personality and his motivations seem very one-dimensional to anyone who remembers Metal Gear. Naked Snake’s (the future Big Boss) betrayal at the hands of The Boss is absolutely meant to parallel Solid Snakes betrayal at the hands of Big Boss and shows the unfortunate and inevitable chain of events that plagues every protagonist of Metal Gear games. Naked, Solid, even Raiden have all had to murder their mentors and masters as a final test to prove their worth. The final battle between Snake and The Boss gave me chills, I could not believe how well-acted and well-put together it was. MGS3’s ending is also amazing. You honestly have no soul if the end of this game, from at least the fight with The Boss onwards does not touch you in some way.

I raised you. I loved you. I’ve given you weapons, taught you techniques, endowed you with knowledge. There is nothing more for me to give you. All that’s left for you to take is my life, by your own hand. One must die and one must live. No victory, no defeat. The survivor will carry on the fight. It is our destiny… The one who survives will inherit the title of Boss. And the one who inherits the title of Boss will face an existence of endless battle.

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Gameplay

If you thought MGS2 had its gameplay down to a science, wait until you boot up Metal Gear Solid 3. The camera, I think, should be the first things we talk about. MGS and MGS2 featured fixed cameras that restricted your view to preset, dynamic camera angles (less dymanic, more static in MGS) that oftentimes concealed guards, but was assisted by the super-accurate radar, complete with vision cones. Well Metal Gear Solid 3 takes place in 1964. There are no nanomachines or soliton radars to show you where all the enemies are. You have sonar and a motion detector. One makes an audible beep, the other is only useful when enemies are moving. Both can also pick up wildlife. If you haven’t yet figured this out, MGS3 takes out a large degree of the guard stupidity where you would be able to tell exactly how far a guard could see based on his vision cone. It’s another added bit of realism that is quite difficult to get used to at first, but eventually really adds to the game as it starts to feel like less of a game.

On the topic of realism…Snake now has a stamina bar that determines how well he can aim, how long he can hang, and will, I believe, begin to drain his life bar if fully depleted. Stamina is recovered by eating the food scattered throughout the jungle, from snakes to frogs to mushrooms to flying squirrels and more. These animals can be shot dead (or knifed dead, exploded dead, punched dead, etc.) and stored in that way or tranquilized and stored in cages to keep fresh or even use as weapons (ie: throwing a poisonous snake at a guard to freak him out and/or poison him) Food can spoil and actually give Snake indigestion, which brings us to our next point. Snake’s health bar can be artificially depleted through injury. Bullet wounds, cuts and gashes, broken bones, poisonous animals, leeches, and indigestion can all afflict Snake and he must either repair his maladies in the CURE menu or you can also just save and quit and let time do the healing for you.

Even more controversial than the stamina meter is the camouflage system. At any given moment in time, Snake has a percentage bar in the top right corner telling the player how well Snake is blending in with his surroundings. High camo ratings means the enemy cannot see you, even if you are on the floor right in front of him. Of course, if he runs right up next to you and you’re not 100% camo-ed (which is impossible with included camo) you will be spotted. It doesn’t sound all that bad at first pass, but since camo options are handled in the pause menu, it amounts to a whole lot of pausing and unpausing just to swap face paints or camo suits. The new system does help add to the realism and make for smarter guards, but your willingness to suspend disbelief can be tested when, like I said, a guard is standing right next to you, but your forest colored pants are preventing him from seeing you.

The same basic weapons and accessories/items are included, but with a 1960s twist. There are no laser sights and there is no C4, but you get dynamite instead. Included is a new “Backpack” system, where Snake can only hold eight items and eight weapons accessible from the in-game menu, each with individual weights. The more weight he’s carrying at a given moment, the faster his stamina depletes. Items and weapons are swapped using an option in the pause menu.

Snake also still has the option to go through the entire game without specifically killing one human being through his own actions (mostly). As you all know, this is one of my favorite features of the Metal Gear series and it actually made me start GTA IV this week wondering if I could get by without killing anyone (you can’t).

One last word on the setting. MGS has typically had Snake infiltrating modern facilities and bases, not traipsing through the jungle, which I feel is a bit weaker of a locale. Hiding in the grass is cool and all, but I just love sneaking through futuristic settings instead of through the jungle, where I get bit by leeches and have to burn them off with a cigar. MGS4 should include a nice mix of both the more open jungle environments and the typical closed MGS locations, which should be a nice change of pace.

Liquid and Solid hunted down Big Boss, trying to sever the tie that bound them to him. Unless you kill me and face your past, Jack, you will never escape. You’ll stay in the endless loop — your own double helix.

-Solidus Snake to Raiden

Graphics

As mentioned before, MGS3 instead deals with a jungle setting, which means that we get a nice green, damp, jungle-y look. The color is a bit washed out on my PS3, but I’m wiling to forget that. The character models all look superb and only showed their last-gen limitations sparingly. This is one of the best looking games on the PS2 though, it’s not to be missed.

You’re a soldier! Finish your mission! Prove your loyalty!

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Sound

Jungle sounds! Birds, frogs, snakes, etc. They all sound about right. The strength of MGS3 lies in its superb soundtrack. If you ever go to my last.fm page, you may have noticed that I very recently received about six CDs worth of Metal Gear Solid soundtracks, which I am loving to death. The music in this game continually wows me as I listen to it.

The voice acting in this game continues to hold up to the high levels of quality one would expect. Snake, still voiced by David Hayter, is still the man and his team is still funny, if not just a wee bit less interesting this time around. There are still funny moments though:

“Sigint: Uh, Snake… What are you doing?

Snake: I’m in a box.

Sigint: A cardboard box? Why are you…?

Snake: I dunno. I was just looking at it and I suddenly got this urge to get inside. No, not just an urge – more than that. It was my destiny to be here; in the box.

Sigint: Destiny…?

Snake: Yeah. And then when I put it on, I suddenly got this feeling of inner peace. I can’t put it into words. I feel… safe. Like this is where I was meant to be. Like I’d found the key to true happiness.

Sigint: …

Snake: Does any of that make sense?

Sigint: Not even a little.

Snake: You should come inside the box… Then you’ll know what I mean.

Sigint: Man, I don’t wanna know what you mean! Between you and Para-Medic, is everyone but me that is hooked up with the Major strange!?

Snake: …

Sigint: Yeah, well, anyway, I suppose even that dumbass box might make a decent disguise if you wear it inside a building.”

Overall

I’m still absolutely in love with the Metal Gear Solid series, even after three games. The characteristic humor is still there (when you die you get a message that fades into “Time Paradox.” this message can also be prompted by killing Ocelot, a character in the later (chronologically) MGS games), the gameplay is still 100% superb, and the stories all get better with each game. I’m starting to approach a bit of a bittersweet point with MGS4, since I’ve heard it’s the pinnacle of the series, but I don’t want it all to end. Should you play Metal Gear Solid 3? Absolutely.

There’s only room for one Boss… and one Snake…

-The Boss to Naked Snake

Game Overview: GT What? – Game Drought
May 2nd, 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.

So a little game flew in under the radar on Tuesday known as Grand Theft Auto IV. I’m pretty sure none of you have heard of it, but I picked it up and it’s pretty fun so far. Nico Bellic is, by far, the best GTA protagonist I’ve ever played as and the city itself is just so much fun to get around. I told my brother when I first got it, but it’s super eerie to drive around the game’s “Hove Beach” when I’m so used to driving around the real Brighton Beach where my sister-in-law used to live. Correction: it’s so eerie to run over pedestrians and shoot cops around the neighborhood where my sister-in-law used to live.

Now that GTA is out, surely there must be a huge influx of…what? Nothing? That’s right, GTA has basically scared away the month of May. There are almost no high-caliber launches until June, when Metal Gear Solid 4 comes out. Now, this may be because the Summer is typically slow for game releases, but I’m pretty sure that, Nintendo aside with its ballsy pre-GTA Mario Kart Wii launch, is about the only company who would want to even think about competing with Rockstar this month.

Of course, if GTA IV is the 100-hour ordeal that they claim it to be, then you should be more than set for the month, stop complaining. If you don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360, go play Mario Kart online, it’s the best online service they’ve got on the system. If you’re a PC gamer, there was a Team Fortress 2 patch recently (or it will launch soon) and at least Mass Effect PC comes out at the end of the month.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my MGS soundtrack CDs have all come in and I’ve got plenty of gaming and Slope Day-ing to do. Enjoy this video review of GTA IV from IGN.

Game Overview Special Tuesday Edition: Obsessive 100%
Apr 22nd, 2008 by Dan

If any of you clicked over to Leigh’s post at Sexy Videogameland about obsessively completing games, then you already know where I’m about to go with this post. If you didn’t, here’s yet another link.

Call it a personality disorder, but I have an obsessive need to unlock the full 100% potential for video games that I enjoy. I know what you’re thinking, if he’s gotta include the “enjoy” caveat, it’s not really obsessive then, is it? Let me tell you, that caveat did not come easily. It took years of mental conditioning to be able to realize “Hey, I want to play too many other games to go at this pace on such a crummy game…” Once I did finally realize that forcing myself to 100% complete a game that, honestly, wasn’t worth it, I’m was able to log off of Gamefaqs and get onto another game that will eat up my time. You see, since I’m a university student, I do have more time to play than 9-5ers, but I don’t have as much time as when I was in high school because of classes, exams, homework, and trying to maintain a social life (kids, stay away from World of Warcraft).

Where do I draw the line? Mainly wherever it’s going to just take too much time to be worth it. I loved Final Fantasy X, but when the game asked me to dodge lightning something like one hundred times in a row to get an ultimate weapon, I said screw it. My party was tough enough that I wouldn’t need that one ultimate weapon just to kill Sin. If it wasn’t, I would train up and make do. There were other, less time-consumingly stupid sidequests that I could go waste my time on.

The advent of the Gamerscore on Xbox Live! has brought up some really interesting issues too. Before achievement points and worrying about increasing my Gamerscore (I know it’s low, but I don’t have the time to be a real achievement point whore), I honestly never worried about fully completing an action game or a music game. I’ll tell you which achievements I can resist though – Guitar Hero 3’s asininely stupid ones like playing through the career mode on a controller instead of the guitar (really? play through on my controller for ONLY 15 achievement points), winning 500 matches (grind, anyone?), or even playing through a song on expert with the sound settings turned down (no sound in a MUSIC GAME?). The Rock Band achievements are much less idiotic. Fully completing cities, completing career modes, achieving milestones in the World Tour mode, these are all acceptable to me.

My first Xbox 360 JRPG introduced a new dastardly trick to entice me to get full completes on games that don’t deserve it. Lost Odyssey, mind you, is not one of them, but my progress to the end of the game has been halted by the achievement point list that includes optional bosses and leveling up all the characters in my team. It’s definitely brilliant because those side quests, in other RPGs, usually include neat story details about the characters that you wouldn’t see otherwise, they give you sweet weapons and armor, and they also satisfy my need to fully complete an RPG that I love.

Just because I’m able to resist these urges more and more nowadays doesn’t mean I’m fully out of the woods. I was trying to burn through MGS and MGS2 to complete the series before MGS4’s launch in June, but now that I’m on MGS3 and June’s far away, I’ve taken it upon myself to hit up Gamefaqs to find out where all the Kerotans (strange little frog thingies that you have to shoot) are and all the different types of food so that I can get a whole bunch of sweet bonuses after I complete the game. Persona 3: FES launches today, but will be in Gamestop waiting for me tomorrow, and I have no idea what I’m gonna do about all the Social Links. After reading Leigh’s article, I convinced myself that I should just play the game naturally, but then I went and watched the 1UP show and learned that the Social Links that you max out contribute to your ending. How could I not try to max them out and get the best possible ending now?

I will admit that part of my completionist nature comes from the fact that I have a lot of games on my plate and I want to get to them all. If I can beat them all 100% the first time through, then I don’t have to play them again to see the stuff that I missed. People usually ask me about this when they see me browsing Gamefaqs or another walkthrough when playing a video game, either asking “Why don’t you just finish the game if you can?” or “Why are you looking at the guide? Why don’t you figure it out yourself?”

The answer to both has to do with enjoying the storylines of games oftentimes a lot more than the gameplay. If it’s a good game, I want to see as much of it as possible, so I bother with the sidequests to learn more about the characters. Anyone who has ever wandered through the Phoenix Cave in Final Fantasy VI knows how incredibly moving (maybe this is just me) it is to see Locke passionately search for the one thing he has heard can save Rachel. Most people, I like to think, were moved when (SPOILER ALERT) the Phoenix failed to revive Rachel (/SPOILER ALERT). It’s little touches like this that go to flesh out just why Locke is so committed to protecting Terra and Celes once he meets each woman.

If it’s a bad game, heck, I just want to be done. I don’t care about figuring out the strategy to kill a poorly designed boss with a character I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about figuring out the proper path through a bland Zelda-ripoff temple. It’s just not satisfying since by that point I’m playing the game only because I like to finish what I start.

Adventure games are the exception to this. I oftentimes love the game, I’m just not willing to try and figure out how I’m supposed to use the chicken with the tree to save the monkey in the swamp. The game type just asks you to think too much like the designer to complete mentally unnatural and unintuitive tasks. Yahtzee makes some good points about Adventure game design in his review of Zachkand Wiki that I totally agree with.

In the end, I guess I’m not that bad about obsessively completing a game, but when the design is just so well-done as to encourage the player to do it, I honestly can’t resist. When you have a screen full of little glass windows to smash open for Super Smash Brothers Brawl, who can resist the urge to just go for the unlockables? Those trophies and stickers are also so cool…

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