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LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (THE CODEX ADMIN STRIKES AGAIN)

Forward: I am the Codex Admin.  And I.  Am.  Back. 

Lego-Marvel-cover

You know what I miss? Pure, wacky, unadulterated, unrestrained fun.

You know what I found in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes? Pure, wacky, unadulterated, unrestrained fun.

I’d been in a rut for the longest time, if I’m being honest.  Not only in the sense of what to do with my particular range of abilities, but what to do with myself on a daily basis.  Eating, sleeping, watching TV – all a monotonous routine.

And then I came across my copy of LEGO Marvel, and joyous celebration was had.

For you see, being one of the most recent entries in a long line of LEGO game adaptations, LEGO Marvel is the refinement and distillation of a quietly brilliant formula: combine straight-forward platforming, clever puzzles that harken back to classic adventure games, and collectable hunting into a single family-friendly experience.  It draws influence from games old and new, and offers experiences that anyone who comes across this game can enjoy.

Everything about the game is intricate, that much is clear off the bat.  Despite being part of a genre and style that certain gamers would call “childish” or “simple”, the trick here is that it simply seems simple; take the character list, for instance.  It isn’t just a matter of dropping several famed Marvel characters into a world and sitting back, but rather culling from every corner of the comic universe and narrowing down hundreds of characters to an impressive 155 – from heroes like Ant Man and Polaris, to villains such as Magneto and Dormammu.

Then, as if the sheer act of gathering these characters together was not enough, developer Traveller’s Tales goes a step further and actually does something with them.  The company I rarely associate with interesting storytelling, manages to tell an interesting and delightfully eccentric story.

Mysterious Cosmic Bricks are raining down all over the planet.  The threat of Galactus, a god-like being who eats planets, looms over all.  And a consortium of iconic Marvel villains have banded together to take advantage of the dire situation.  Enter our heroes.

The previously noted ensemble cast turns out to be important, as the act of characters teaming up and separating to deal with specific crises drives the plot – all while the broader story about the intended use of the Cosmic Bricks churns away behind the scenes.  The Avengers, the Fantastic 4, SHIELD and company all play a part in working to thwart the forces of evil.

From my perspective, it’s a glorious and unexpected homage to pulp adventure stories – and therefore, right in line with its comic book origins.  The heroes are larger-than-life characters with an inspiring drive to succeed, the villains are dastardly and over-the-top without undercutting their genuine threat to the world, and the whole story plays out as a globe-trotting quest complete with one-liners and thrilling action.

It’s less about theme or message, than it is about the interplay between characters and the fun that can be had when the unique qualities of comic books are embraced rather than rejected.  It’s about letting us beat the living bejesus out of Abomination as the Hulk.  It’s about letting us run around an underwater base, or an island fortress, or even the sentient Statue of Liberty.  Hell, the whole concept of the finale – wherein the boundaries between friend and foe, good and evil, break down in favour of “Let’s save our own asses and worry about the details later” – feels right for something that is an extension of a beloved comic book universe.

It is firmly about fun, and not screwing that up.  Not graphics, not edgyness, not “cinematic quality” – fun.

This extends to the rest of the game, by the way.  Outside of the story, most of my time was spent soaring around the open world recreation of New York City, and most of my actions revolved around doing activities to gain either Gold Blocks or Tokens.

Gold Blocks are effectively the milestone markers of LEGO Marvel, as they unlock the game’s various side missions and contribute to overall completion.  Tokens, on the other hand, have more immediate and practical applications – they unlock new playable characters or drivable vehicles which can then be bought with the series’ currency of Studs.

It’s a lengthy post-game for those in the business of 100% Completion: 250 Gold Bricks, 115 Character and Vehicle Tokens, numerous in-mission collectables, the task of getting True Believer status (re: collecting a set number of Studs) for each mission – to say nothing of the Stan Lee In Peril encounters.

Ah, yes, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo – although in this case, he is more of a supporting or secondary character.  He crops up often enough that it feels that way.

But it all manages to stay fun, even if it comes down to busy work at times.  The key here is character, something Marvel and Traveller’s Tales both know well.  To get all of these items, to see all you can in this game, you must rely on the extended cast and their varied abilities – which means finding a combination of characters that appeal to you personally.

I came down to two standouts: Wizard, because of his all-around usefulness and distinctive purple costume; and Howard the Duck, because… he’s a duck in a suit who quacks when he jumps and carries around a rocket launcher.  Some things are just awesome.

Awesome – I think that word summarizes it all.  Deadpool playing the part of narrator and cameo character, without sacrificing his fourth-wall breaking charm? Awesome.  The game containing both a complete story AND an extensive line-up of characters that puts even past LEGO games to shame? Awesome.  Alternate costumes or even alternate incarnations of certain characters? Awesome.  A range of side missions showing off other famed characters that didn’t make it into the main story? See above.

Even with some instances where the game crashed or the camera got stuck in an object, even though the demands of a constant open-world on TT’s game engine must take its toll, I still came away from this game smiling.  Sometimes funny, sometimes inspiring, sometimes just worthy of a “Holy shit, is that really…?” or a “Wow, that was cool!”

And again, Howard The Duck with a rocket launcher.  Nuff said.

9/10

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A Day in the Limelight – Tails

Miles_'Tails'_ProwerName: Miles “Tails” Prower

First Appearance: Sonic 2 (1992)

Role in Franchise: Perpetual sidekick & ally to titular character, Sonic the Hedgehog.  Often playable, rarely headlined his own game.

Notable Qualities:

For one, having an incredible intellect (IQ of 300, by some accounts) despite being 8-years old.  Has constructed functioning mech suits, regularly maintains his own biplane.

Also, has physical abilities comparable to that of Sonic.  Can match Sonic’s running speed by spinning his twin tails (hence the name), and can use the Chaos Emeralds.  Unlike Sonic, Tails can actually swim.

Finally, seems comfortable with his role in the franchise.  Usually relegated to either supporting Sonic’s efforts or acting as part of a larger force.  Never bemoans his situation or feels he’s treated unfairly.  Just embraces his role as a friend to Sonic, happy with his lot in life.

Overall Reception:

Generally loved – partly because he’s a loyal and capable sidekick, partly because when people see an orange cartoon fox they go “Awww…”  Biggest complaint is that Tails’ popularity allowed for more unpopular characters to be introduced.

Like Shadow.  Or Big the Cat…

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Then and Now: Spec Ops The Line

338699What is it? A 2012 third-person shooter by Yager Development.  Set in Dubai after a destructive sand storm isolates the city.  Focuses on actions of Captain Martin Walker & squad in their reconnaissance mission, as it takes a turn for the worst.

Then:  Loved by critics, divided up players.  Reviews praising the story’s difficult subject matter and subversion of war shooter tropes.  Mild complaints overall about the game’s controls, cover mechanic, enemy distribution, degree of difficulty, reason for difficulty – basically anything not story- or character-based.

Three camps of players emerged:

A) “This game’s great for how harsh and intelligent it proves to be.”

B) “This game’s hypocritical for being a war shooter about war, and it upsets me.  Also, it’s clunky as all hell.”

C) “Just another average shooter.  Don’t bother with the story.”

Now: Appreciated and respected by many.  Complaints mostly about the “railroading” of player into morally compromising situations to force guilt – debated on many a forum.  Generally seen as good game worth anyone’s time, that verges on greatness.

Also seen as the final death knell for any non-Call of Duty war shooter.  General absence of such games since 2012 suggests it succeeded.

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Call of Duty

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Video Review:

On the way…

Written Review:

When I think about how the first-person shooter has evolved, my first instinct is to turn to Call of Duty.  The little-remembered 2003 war epic turned a niche genre – the military shooter – into a full-blown phenomenon, earning millions for publisher Activision and resulting in an avalanche of competing products.  It has received ten spinoffs, nine official sequels, an expansion pack, and at least one compilation with over 100 million total game copies sold.

Like it or not, Call of Duty was the explosion that changed the shape of gaming.  And the original game was the spark that set it off.

I doubt that Infinity Ward knew for certain what kind of force they were unleashing when they fired that first shot, for good or ill.  When the close allies and acquaintances of Vince Zampella and Jason West departed 2015 Inc. for greener pastures, their greatest concern seemed to be making games the way they wanted to.  If I recall correctly, their time spent designing Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was marred by clashing interests and the inability to add features or design levels as they saw fit.

Inspired (or perhaps filled with anguish) by their experiences at 2015, Infinity Ward’s original 22 members sought to improve upon the formula of their spiritual predecessor.  For their first project since the company’s creation, the team decided to play on the emerging trend of World War II-centric epics that were sweeping the world post-Saving Private Ryan… except with one key twist.

This new project would be about teams of soldiers overcoming the odds.

Team-based game design, save for in the multiplayer scene, had not yet emerged in first-person shooters.  In fact, Medal of Honor had made a point of focusing on the exploits of lone soldiers combatting the Nazi army, defying any notions that the war could be (and ultimately was) won by entire nations’ armies.

Thus, Call of Duty had the advantage in terms of innovation, as well as apparent grasp of realism.  In a time when graphics were still moderately blurry messes of pixels, here was a game claiming to not only be about the exploits of the Allied forces but which actually allowed the player to briefly inhabit the time and space necessary to experience these exploits first-hand.  No one had seen done it done before, but everyone wanted a piece of the action.

So, with all this build up and with the potential in the game’s premise apparent, Infinity Ward went forward with the release of the final product… and the rest, as they say, is history.  Many sequels later, one important question remains unasked: does Call of Duty (the original, that is) still matter?

To deliver such a verdict, we must first examine where all the trends and tropes began.  Call of Duty opens with images of war-torn Europe: abandoned villages steadily demolished by gunfire, foggy forests shrouding the clash of armies, the sound of death’s approach as bombers fly over advancing Soviet troop carriers.  The air is rife with both reverence and solemnity; as the superimposed text states, “In the war that changed the world, victory was not achieved by one man but by the lives of many… Across the battlefields of Europe, many nations united to reach one goal: Berlin.”

This, for the most part, is our setting: the final push by the Allied forces into Germany, circa 1944 to 1945.  The campaign follows the exploits of the American, British and Soviet armies – in that order – as each gears up for the most significant campaign of the war.  Save for some timeline hopping in the British missions and much of the Soviet section being set around the Battle of Stalingrad (1942), this is as streamlined and straight-forward a war epic as one can get.

First, I have to congratulate Infinity Ward for doing what other companies had not: focusing on more than one army.  World War II was not won solely by the Americans, nor were they the key driving force for victory; that is more attributable to the British and French efforts in Nazi-occupied France, and the westward push by the reformed Soviet army.  Thus, to accurately portray and honour those involved in such a grim conflict, you truly would have to acknowledge that America was a small part of a larger organization.

But the decision to acknowledge other nations’ efforts goes beyond simply righting a cultural error.  By cycling between each army, the game goes a long way towards contextualizing the player’s actions as being part of a global effort.  Over the course of the game, you control three different characters: Private Martin of the 506th Parachute Infantry Division, Sergeant Evans of the 6th Airborne Division, and Private Alexei Ivanovich Voronin of the 13th Guards Rifle Division.   To put it in perspective, the concept of one person (the player) carrying the war effort on their shoulders makes a lot more sense in real-world terms when it’s several distinct characters on several different battlefields taking on several different missions.

Those various mission play out in typical shooter fashion: you start out at a fixed point, move from objective to objective, wipe out countless enemies, and reach the assigned “end point” of the level.  The context of each mission, however, is what shakes up this established formula and what ultimately gives Call of Duty its edge over other games in the genre.

See, the international focus also has the distinction of granting Call of Duty a certain broader and more modern appeal than its contemporaries, not only because many different people are represented but because you’re tasked with doing different things with each group.  The American missions are focused on capturing and holding territories for the broader Allied advance, the British sections are espionage-based with an emphasis on sabotaging the Nazi war effort, and the Russian portion of the game is essentially one violent yet honour-bound push against the Nazi army to reclaim the homeland from enemy hands.  Values like loyalty, perseverance and teamwork get thrown around a lot in gaming, but here such ideals can be sensed in the very game design.

Frankly, I’m surprised not as many people defend this game (and its increasingly mad sequels) with the argument that globalization and international co-operation in any form doesn’t see the light of day much in gaming.  It is a miracle that any game managed to address the issue, but a game released in 2003 tackling it head-on? Damn near revolutionary, if you ask me.

All that global good will, however, is not the game’s only appeal – not by a long shot.

2003 was an interesting year for gaming, in that it contained many sequels and fondly-remembered classics but only incrementally advanced the industry.  Call of Duty, in particular, stands out both as a notable advancement in shooters and a firmly rooted classic shooter in its own right.

It advanced what we know and what we expect about first-person shooters not by being the first game to introduce set-piece moments, but the first game to do them extraordinarily well.  Set-pieces being scenes of intense action that are typically found in blockbuster films, there had to have been doubt about whether or not Infinity Ward – a very fresh-faced and “green” developer – could translate such cinematic intensity to the language of gaming.

And yet as we look back, that is exactly what Infinity Ward managed to do: translate the sensibilities of an old-school action-packed war epic into the rules and restrictions of the first-person shooter genre.  Within the game’s 25 missions (8 for the Americans, 7 for the British, 10 for the Soviets), the developers managed to included tank battles, multiple car chases, a segment in which the player fires a flak cannon solo, an entire level that felt reminiscent of GoldenEye’s opening sequence, an chaotic uphill battle on the shores of Stalingrad, and (from what I gather) the siege of Red Square as visualized by Enemy at the Gates.

Which is to say nothing of the ordinary gameplay, where the other great thing about Infinity Ward’s gamble shines.  Shooter design in the modern age means a two-gun limit, a single-minded approach to level design not unlike a funnel, the clear “implication” that hiding behind cover and firing off potshots is the only way to have fun, and the overwhelming difficulty presented by trigger-happy cover-abusing enemies.

Shooter design in the original Call of Duty, meanwhile, is a lot looser about the rules of combat conduct.  The two-gun limit still exists, but a pistol is automatically included on your person as a “sidearm”, thereby eliminating the debate between having a backup weapon and having the far more useful standard weapon.  Levels are less a funnel and more of a wide map with specific objective markers, thereby allowing for more variation in how you get from Point A to Point B.  You can, in fact, run into a room or field guns-ablazing and survive (though the presence of the lean button does suggest a more tactical approach).  Enemies still enjoy their cover, but they will pop out or charge depending on the situation.

It’s very much the time in which Call of Duty was released that determines much of its success.  We had not yet seen the bullet hellstorms of more modern shooters, the oversaturation of the market with pro-American recruitment vehicles and anti-Middle East propaganda.  It was a simpler time, when the only war people were really concerned with was the one that everyone agrees needed to be fought – be it for honour, or the economy, or for the preservation of millions of lives.

Now with all that said, it is by no means perfect.  Being an artifact of a more simple time, it gets points for not descending into the madness of current politics – but the tradeoff here is that the complexity of its themes is practically non-existent.  To put it into more relatable terms, the game doesn’t really fail in any manner.  It just lacks something deeper, something that appeals beyond surface level.

For instance, the idea of focusing on the more notable forces of the Allies is nice. The idea of focusing solely on their victories and the hind end of World War II, however? Not as effective as, say, using the guise of a first-person shooter to explore the failings of the Allied armies and compare them to the very enemy they fight tooth and nail.  Granted it was 2003 and such a high concept wouldn’t see daylight until Spec Ops: The Line shattered our reality, but courting the idea would have been an incredible shakeup of the traditional war epic.

Speaking of shakeups, I also wish the game’s visual palate had the bravado to pull one off.  This is not a condemnation of the Quake III engine as used here; everything may not have aged very well, but it runs at a smooth rate and captures your interest most of the time.  It is also not my way of disliking an older game’s look just because of its age.  It’s just that when you’ve played one colour-drained shooter, you’ve played them all.  The European setting, complete with authentic stone architecture and rustic forests, may have a lot to do with this but some creativity in this regard would have been nice.

Setting aside the complaints, there is enough to praise that I can safely answer my earlier question.  Yes, Call of Duty still matters and it needs to be experienced to truly understand what has been gained – and lost – with modern gaming.  What began as a simple deviation from Medal of Honor has become something almost damnable today, but the original’s good intentions and solid design are what protect it from passing into obscurity or being lumped in with its offspring.

Well done, Infinity Ward.  You truly proved that no one fights alone.

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An Extra-Special Announcement from The Codex Admin

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Greetings from this deep, dark corner of the Internet journalism world.  Normally this is the part where I go on a lengthy tangent about how circumstances or the nature of my life has lead me to make an executive decision about how to run this site, but I felt that in this context “short and to the point” was probably the best way to go about things.

So, to that effect, here’s the lowdown: we – meaning Gamer Codex as a whole – are about to make a major shift in the production of articles in general, and reviews in particular.  We’re getting rid of our review score system.

I’ll give the three of you who read our stuff a moment to recover from your shock.

Yes, Gamer Codex will no longer release review scores of any kind with our articles.  It’s partially our way of honouring the words and ideas of famed critics like Bob Chipman, Anita Sarkeesian or Yahtzee Croshaw, but mostly… it’s just a conveniently good move.  I remember giving Call of Duty: Black Ops II a flipping 9.5, something which made sense on a technical level but which has, over time, become something of a sore spot for me because of the game’s severely compromised themes and implications.  Conversely, denying games like Poker Night 2 or Spec Ops: The Line the qualifier “great game” because my review system tells me they have technical or creative flaws is true injustice in a nutshell.   Games can be innovative, creative and culturally significant in other ways besides graphics, controls and range of content – indeed, those three things aren’t really as important to a game’s success and impact as one might imagine.

With that reasoning in mind, I have decided to make a bold decision and remove the review scale entirely from the process.  Instead, when we release a game review, it will be less of a rundown of a game’s particular features and more of a critical analysis of a game’s themes and cultural impact.  That way, we can set a strong example for other journalists trying to get into the industry by essentially saying, “If you really care about gaming journalism, take a look at this”, while also distinguishing ourselves from the plentiful sites trying to get their review scores on Metacritic to feel powerful and connected (you know who you are).

People can disagree if they want, but all I have to say on the matter is this:  if talking about games and examining their meaning matters less than a god-damn number, then there truly is no hope for the future of gaming or games journalism.  Neither will never be respected and treated as mature fields if we don’t address the products we release in this particular manner.

There’s another big announcement I have for you, which is more of a publishing detail; namely, that our reviews are going to come in Standard, Video and Short-Form flavours.  What I am planning is to release normal-sized written reviews in pairs every month, along with 8-to-10 minute video reviews for each and “bite-sized” articles where I briefly discuss several games.  That way, people still get their fix of critical content on a regular basis but with the added bonus of having choices based on available free time and personal interest.

Editorials based on real-world developments or any given subject I (or other writers, should they appear) choose to write about are less certain, at this point.  Obviously I can’t predict what will be news-worthy in the gaming industry at any given time, and I can’t say I’ll have strong feelings for these hypothetical subjects.  So there is a very real possibility that articles like In Defense of Tropes vs. Women will be a once-in-a-while proposition – sorry about that.

Anyway, that is all for the moment.   We’re bringing in a wider range of review-type articles, we’re shifting to a new style of review, and we may or may not have editorials and opinion pieces in the works.  It’s still a work-in-progress so keep your eyes open in the coming months, and remember… gaming is for everyone to enjoy.  Don’t be a dick about trying to “protect” the old ways – that road leads to prejudice and loneliness, my friend.

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In Defense of Tropes Vs. Women: Why Anita Sarkeesian Has A Point

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First and foremost, I have to get this out of the way: up until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Anita Sarkeesian or seen any of her works.  This is a new development for me, and I find it significant enough to dedicate an article to.  I don’t know her personally, I can’t say I am capable of judging her on a personal level, and I am a newcomer to this discussion.

With that said, this is my one and only disclaimer.  If you hold issue with her for whatever reason, I cannot advise you to keep reading if your intent is anything other than intelligent discussion.  This is an editorial in defense of the importance of her series Tropes vs Women (particularly as it pertains to video games), with the implication apparent that I am a newly-determined supporter of Ms. Sarkeesian.  For the yahoos out there who have trouble with big words, here’s the gist: F**K OFF if you’re here to complain, whine, harass or otherwise cause suffering.

Now, those like me who are only now joining the discussion are likely to be wondering who exactly Anita Sarkeesian is, and why I had to be hostile just now.   Sarkeesian is a newly-arisen video blogger who uses her blog Feminist Frequency as a staging ground for the critical analysis of how women are portrayed in various mediums.  Like Channel Awesome’s own Nostalgia Chick, Sarkeesian’s goal is to explore how certain tropes tied to women in media have formed and why they pose an issue in the big picture.

Very reasonable, very sensible, very necessary in an age of growing pains – especially with regards to gaming’s struggle to “grow up”.  No medium is inherently perfect and critics need to exist so that the moderators of the medium can understand what works and what needs to change.  From co-writing an essay entitled Buffy vs. Bella: The Re-Emergence of the Archetypal Feminine in Vampire Stories to producing analytical videos about “The Smurfette Principle” or “The Bechdel Test”, Anita Sarkeesian has done her part in the quest for gender equality and basic human decency.

More recently, she started (and accomplished) her own Kickstarter campaign to gain finances for a new series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games.  With over $150 thousand to spend, Sarkeesian went about filming and producing this new, insightful look into how certain stereotypes concerning women have become common place in the gaming scene. So far as I can tell, critical reception of the series has been largely positive and there are 7 more episodes planned on top of the existing four.

For the record, I have watched the series to date.  It’s good – a bit dry for some tastes and perhaps lacking the visual energy of other webseries, but this is one of the rare straight-faced analytical web series that stands a good chance of not only surviving but thriving in the melting pot of Internet personalities.  Sarkeesian gets the material, she’s well-spoken, and the show definitely looks good with effective transitions and high-quality video clips.

All of that sounds like a resounding recommendation, right? Anita Sarkeesian for the win, long live Tropes vs Women and any similar series, and so forth? SO THEN WHY THE F**K ARE PEOPLE THREATENING TO RAPE, MURDER OR ASSAULT HER?

I do not understand why this is the gaming community’s – indeed, the Internet community’s – reaction to the well-intentioned commentary of an intelligent, impassioned person.  Actually scratch that – I do understand what is happening here, I just don’t want it to be the case.  See, for the longest time the video game industry was largely targeted at and made for male audiences.  To publishers, young boys were the most prominent and profitable demographic, and to capitalize on that fact their games usually played out as male power fantasies (hence why a female equivalent of Double Dragon is unheard of).

Why does this CliftsNotes history lesson matter? Well, those young boys eventually grew up – if you hear someone like Bob Chipman (another class act/outstanding critic who you should really check out) refer to “Generation NES”, these are the people he’s talking about.  While the 80s and its games are not necessarily to blame for how misogynistic some of “Generation NES” turned out, the fact that some of the key titles of the era were inherently masculine-centric with rather regressive views on femininity does not help matters.  Now we have 20 or 30-somethings whose ideas of gender politics isn’t defined by the extent of their education or their internal morality, but by archaic values imparted by an interpretive medium.

Let me be clear: I love gaming, I am proud to be a game critic, and I support the growth of the medium.  I do not blame the games, but rather the inability (or unwillingness) of society to teach gamers to differentiate between reality and fiction, for what has happened here.  Ms. Sarkeesian has done her best to make a solid and respectable case for why this is a problem, and why we the gamers need to change this or that paradigm for our own betterment – and for the betterment of the games.

Even taking into account how they grew up, I still can’t get into the mindset of a person who would say this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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I mean, who would? It’s insane.

So, if you want my highly intelligent and well thought-out response to these egregious statements, here is what I believe these individuals deserve as a rebuttal:

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Yes.  Nothing more and nothing less for you miserable f**ks.

Feminine traits are not a sin.  Wearing pink, showing visible emotion, not having an active role in physical activities – things typically grouped under the “Feminine” heading – are as much a part of male existence as female existence.  In fact, headings like “male” or “female” don’t really have a place anymore at all – we are all just human beings choosing to emphasize what traits feel right to us. Anita Sarkeesian emphasizes her analytical prowice and her care for equality.  I emphasize my compassion for people I care about and my desire to improve the entertainment industry.

So to close out, here are some facts about me as proof that I can walk the walk:

  • When I was young, I owned a “Soccer Barbie”.  I have no regrets there.
  • I tear up and outright cry a lot more than I let on (Treasure Planet and The Iron Giant being notable triggers)
  • I think that Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake have gotten far too much flack as actors
  • I enjoy baking bread over physical labour or computer maintenance any day 
  • Blue Valentine is one of my favourite films of all time
  • Once on a whim, I sought out and watched Bride Wars.  Not bad, not great, but I can at least say I’ve seen it.

I am the Codex Admin and no one has the right to judge me on my choices or beliefs.  Give Ms. Sarkeesian the same courtesy.

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The Codex Admin’s Perspective on Some Games from 2013

You may be wondering why this article is appearing in lieu of a proper review, given that I’ve now reverted back to a bi-weekly review schedule (after having reverted back to a weekly schedule that didn’t last).  The short version is that I’m a busy man, what with school work piling up and various forms of sickness to deal with.  Also, Daikatana is a crappy, crappy, crappy game that is as time-consuming to play as it will be to write about.

So, this is basically a consolation article.  In what spare time I have had, I’ve managed to play several hit games from this year that, for scheduling reasons, won’t see an official review until 2014.  Because the process required in analyzing and reviewing a game is sort of lengthy, I thought it best to just get to the bottom line and recommend which games to play and which to avoid.  I’m including my preliminary score, what about it warrants said score, and why I am unable to properly review at this point and time.  That’s not to say I won’t review any of these games, just that I won’t review them right now.

On that note, here we go.

1. Saints Row IV

What’s the approximate score?

four_half-stars_0

Why’s that? 

Of all the games on this list, this is one of two entries that can be defined as “pure, unadulterated fun”.  It’s the super-powered, hyper-kinetic, tongue-in-cheek wish-fulfillment adventure I’ve always wanted in a game… and I’m wasn’t even a fan of Saints Row when I started playing.  Even coming into the series fresh-faced, you can sense the love its developers have for its characters, its world, and for the potential antics one can get away with if granted super-powers.  Barring some difficulty swerving and some noticeably second-hand graphical assets, this is easy to recommend.

Why can’t I review it?

In-between the respectably awesome Splinter Cell: Blacklist and the disappointingly mediocre mess that was The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, this wonderful gem of a game was my way of unwinding.  As such, I didn’t get enough written material for a proper review, much as I’d love to analyze the hell out of Saints Row IV and see exactly why it appeals to me.

2. BioShock Infinite

What’s the approximate score?

3-stars-out-of-5

Why’s that?

At the risk of attracting scorn from other gamers and critics alike, I’m just going to throw this out there: what was the point of that ending? Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty, this one factor all but ruined the experience for me because of how scatter-brained and unfocused it turned out to be.  Setting aside that debatable issue, the core gunplay felt merely average, the level design was standard for a shooter, and the Skyline mechanic – the one true bright spot in the game design – was woefully underutilized.  It may have strong actors and an intriguing premise complemented by deceptively soft visuals, but what’s the point if the player just doesn’t care about the experience?

Why can’t I review it?

This is one of those games that you really need to dig into to properly review.  There’s multiple difficulty levels, including the nostalgia-inducing 1999 Mode, and some randomization applied to the gear players end up accumulating.  Basically, research time is needed to fully explain the game’s failings, and I simply don’t have the schedule for that right now.  Also, I’d rather keep my head attached to my shoulders, rather than mounted on a pike by irate fans.

3. Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

What’s the approximate score?

four-stars

Why’s that?

This is the other game getting the “pure, unadulterated fun” label.  5th Cell’s love, respect, and knowledgeable nature when it comes to the DC Universe meshes well with the Scribblenauts series’ “Draw What You Want” philosophy.  The resulting experience is a light-hearted adventure starring hundreds upon hundreds of classic (and obscure) comic book characters, complete with a healthy dose of randomized puzzles in each world and fun dialogue calling back to DC’s vast history.  The only real downside, aside from some missed opportunities in the form of voice acting or game-changing plot twists, is that the Mxyzptlk challenges mess with the game’s careful balance of player influence and logical puzzle design.  It hampers on the experience a bit, but it’s nothing (truly) game-breaking.

Why can’t I review it?

See my sentiments about Saints Row IV above to get the gist.  Between reviews, it was a nice and welcome diversion from very serious fare, but it was ultimately a casualty in the battle against my soul-crushingly busy schedule.

4. The Last of Us

What’s the approximate score?

five-stars

Why’s that?

Look, I expected to call this an over-rated critical darling, but I can’t deny Naughty Dog’s cinematic chops or risk-taking approach to game design.  Despite my minor misgivings about the ending, I’m prepared to call this an excellent exercise in balance – the beautiful visuals complement the grim morally-ambiguous narrative, the understated dramatic score fits with the cautiously hopeful tone, and the stripped-down shooter mechanics don’t overshadow the surprising sense of player progression or the variety of strategic options in gunfights.  It’s a game deliberately designed to raise eyebrows at modern shooter design, the nature of interactive narratives, and various other satire-worthy issues in the industry – and it looks pretty to boot.

Why can’t I review it?

I only just finished the campaign and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer yet (damn you, Online Pass!).  I’m one of those completionist critics who really hates not experiencing all that a game has to offer, so don’t expect an in-depth review any time soon.

5. Payday 2

What’s the approximate score?

3-5-stars

Why’s that?

This is a very interesting, but very broken game.  It’s clear from the get-go that Overkill Software really wanted to step up their game after Payday: The Heist turned out to be the unexpected success it was, and in terms of general game design this ambition pays off.  The heists are certainly more varied and complex, the dynamic events throw morbidly fun wrenches into the best of plans, and the player progression system is much more refined and user-friendly (despite the decision to make money both the currency for equipment and upgrades being, well, frustrating).  However, I can’t forgive a single-player mode with such basic friendly AI, or a multiplayer suite filled with game-ending bugs and connectivity issues.  If a game makes me cautious about going online for fear of crashing my PS3, you know something is very wrong.

Why can’t I review it?

I’m only ranked at Level Five, and I haven’t played through all the different types of heists.  Essentially, if I were to review the game right now, it would be rife with generalizations and half-baked criticisms that any writer with half my skill would balk at.  I don’t want to half-ass my reviews, so I’ll need some more time.

6. The Showdown Effect

What’s the approximate score?

3-stars-out-of-5

Why’s that?

I don’t dislike this game, I just think it should be grouped with Japanese role-playing games and real-time strategy games: stuff that sounds interesting, but isn’t meant for me.  Its love for the 1980s shines through with its colourful aesthetic and over-the-top stereotypical characters, but the core side-scrolling shooter gameplay doesn’t feel like it lends itself to balance or player progression particularly well.  Basically, it’s a “shape up or get the f**k out” sort of game, but without the necessary fun or upgrade mechanics to make it relatively fair.  Also, the online matchmaking is frustrating at times.

Why can’t I review it?

It’s just not that interesting to analyze.  The time I’ve set aside for reviews is valuable, given what else I have to deal with, and a straight-forward blend of Team Fortress 2 zany goodness with mid-rate bullet hell gameplay from days of old just doesn’t come off as a priority.  That said, the New Year may lend itself to a review period when this does get some time to shine.  We’ll see.

7. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

What’s the approximate score?

3-stars-out-of-5

Why’s that?

If the issue (well, an issue) with the Metal Gear Solid series is that it has relied far too much on exposition dumps and not enough on character actions, Rising: Revengeance is a case of taking an idea far beyond the necessary extreme.  I will accept the lower-resolution graphics engine, I can get past the difficulty essentially expected of a hack-and-slash game, I can even forgive the conflict between the game’s cluttered level design and the fast-paced nature of controlling Raiden… but at what point should I start caring about the story or characters? Is the game meant to be a parody of the overly-serious yet oddly-fantastical series it spawned from, or is it just a goofier (and somehow more melodramatic) rehashing of old elements even Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4 got tired of?  I just don’t see the point beyond, “Hey, let’s have that cyborg ninja guy hack through hundreds of nameless enemies, and explain it all with a bargain-bin script based on what Kojima did”.

Why can’t I review it?

If that tirade wasn’t clear, I do have a lot to say about this sad excuse of a spin-off.  However, as with The Showdown Effect, I just don’t have the interest in reviewing it right now.  I played through most of the game in March, and I haven’t returned to it since.  Also, despite feeling irritated by its narrative the key word I’d use to describe the experience is boring (after that would be repetitive).  It just kind of grinded on me after a while, in a way that only a tedious game could.

There are also some games of which I’ve played no more than an hour .  Here is how I have felt thus far:

Dota 2 – I like this particular art style and the challenge of such a competitive MMO, but it would take more time to really get immersed (and to finish the necessary tutorials)

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – I stopped playing earlier this year, but I’ll admit the neon visuals and self-aware tone make me want to give it a second look

Knights of Pen and Paper - Its promise of back-to-basics turn-based role-playing seems interesting, but it’s not my cup of tea

Papers, Please - This sh*t be intense, and in all seriousness the tense atmosphere combined with a respectable difficulty curve makes this feel like a classic in the making

Rayman Legends - When I get the chance, I really want to progress further and experience all that the game has to offer: tight platforming, fantastical visuals, unique level design, the whole nine yards

Rogue Legacy - While I respect the passion for its rogue-like roots, I don’t know if it will have the same lasting impact on me as something like The Binding of Isaac.

State of Decay - I’ll return to this as soon as possible, partially for how it handles resource management and character progression but mostly because DAYZ is the much harsher alternative

Are there any games you’d like me to address? Do you think I’m out of my damn mind for one opinion or another? Feel free to send me a message on Twitter at @KMH1138 or email me at gamercodex2012@gmail.com.

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