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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)

Game Overview: Post 16-Bit, Pre-Current Gen Runner-Up Part 1
Jun 14th, 2008 by Dan

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!

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

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