Double-Up Discussion: Catch Aliens, Free-Diving Hunter

In the spirit of moving forward, it’s time to get back to the games.  Today I will be discussing two iOS games because my wife would like her iPad back.  Granted, there is a reason I haven’t been able to keep off the thing, and these two games are it.  There is a lot I have to say about these titles, though so strap in.  This might get a little on the long side.

 

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First up is Catch the Aliens.  Just from the logo here, you get a distinct sense of awesome.  I don’t want to burst that bubble, but you do play glorified dog-catcher.  That is alright, though, since the game itself is actually a lot of fun.  There are two modes of play: Casual Level-Based and Competitive Endless.  Now, these terms are advanced language, and in gamer-speak they translate to “singleplayer” and “multiplayer”.  In what I am coining as the “singleplayer” mode, you play by yourself and clear a space station room by room.  In the second mode, or “multiplayer”, you compete with friends on Facebook for scores.

Now, as you play, you are confronted with room after room of fairly cute aliens that scamper around and cause a nuisance.  These guys vary in color and “ways they piss you the fuck off”.  That second quality is key.  Now, your method of controlling the alien-catcher is to sort of lean the idevice, like you are gingerly erasing an etch-a-sketch.  If you don’t know what that is, your parents should be smacked.  Either way, I was using an iPad despite the fact that this game was meant for an iPhone.  That would make the game more responsive where I felt like I was wrestling a bull to the ground by its horns.  It added to the game itself, but for quality performance I recommend something with a smaller face-area.

And stay in that bubble!

And stay in that bubble!

Despite all this, the game was still a lot of fun.  Levels are small arenas with up to 4 aliens running amok, and you have to catch them by tapping them with your forcefield alien catcher.  You tap them and BAM! instant bubble.  Of course, if you are too slow to catch the others, they will free the ones you’ve already caught.  This causes issues as you have three green dots at the top of the screen.  Each time an alien is freed, the dots turn red.  If they all turn red, you lose and have to restart that room.  It gets frustrating, but there is a certain strategy to the game: yellow aliens just run around, kind of slowly.  They can be caught last.  The guys you want to go after first are the spitting purple aliens, which can pop bubbles from across the room, or the speedy green aliens.  To catch the speedy guys, you’ll need a speed boost, or you’ll have to get on the inside of their turn out of a corner.  The rest of them can be mopped up thereafter.  There are also red aliens with horns that you have to tap twice before catching, but they aren’t too fast, just a little annoying and take a bit of time.

Now, accomplishing three challenges in each room grants you stars.  These stars are required to progress to the next floor, each floor having more rooms than the last.  The challenges are Life, Order and Sparkles.  Yea, that sounds like the motto of My National Socialist Little Pony Party, but that’s because it’s not really called sparkles.  That is just what I call it.  See, when an alien is freed, you lose life.  Hence, no life lost gets you a star.  There is also a certain order you are “supposed” to catch the aliens.  If you get it right, you get another star.  Every time an alien is caught, it emits a cloud of little sparkles, which you then collect and store.  Get enough of these and you will get the.. um.. sparkle star.

This game also has some optional in-app purchases, and I can see how extensive play would necessitate a high-level of skill or concession to buying your way up the spacestation.  It isn’t in-your-face, but after each level, there are ads which take up the whole screen.  maybe on the iPhone it would be less irritating to eliminate them, but on the iPad the word ‘iPad’ and the wifi meter get in the way of closing the ad.  Grrr…  Not blaming the developer on that one, I am the guy using the giant older brother of the device this game is meant for.  The best part about this game, however, is that it is free on the app store.  You can get to the game through Panipurisoft’s site.  They also have a facebook page.

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I think I downloaded a broken version of this game, because there were no in-app purchases that I could find.  It terrified me.  I sobbed-heavily with my new found freedom to PLAY A FUCKING GAME!!!  It was majestic, it was awesome.  Thank you.  Thank you.

The game itself is pretty cool, too.  When I was in the military, I knew a Hawaiian gentleman who told us about his exploits with free-diving.  It sounded like he was evolving into a fish, honestly, and he has a general disdain for octopopuli.  I don’t know how to pluralize that, so fuck you, english.  Either way, it sounded like something intense and soothing at the same time.  Now, that gentleman only dove with a snorkel and a knife.  This game doesn’t have as much faith in your lung capacity.  You have a snorkel and a speargun.  Now, the much-needed tutorial feels a little basic, but it gives you what you need.  The controls are wonky as hell, but they make sense, and once you get used to them, they react well and make sense.  At first I was cursing mightily, but this game requires practice, honestly.  Putting a little time in sharpened my aim with the speargun and honed my agility with the diamond.. space… non-joystick.. of mystical..  That thing!  The fucking thing in the lower right hand corner!  That is what you use to control your diver! JEEZ!

DUN DUN.  DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun.... oh you get it..

DUN DUN. DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun…. oh you get it..

Now, the rest of the game orbits you in the form of the admittedly cluttered UI.  Starting top-left you have your level and lung capacity, bottom-left is the dive button over top the speargun trigger, center-right is a compass, further right is the.. ahem.. control reticule, tucked beneath the swim button.  Top-right you see the UI toggle and then your score.  Now, in a game where you swim with a spear gun, there should be no surprise you catch fish.  Of course, this ends up being like a low-tech alien abduction to them as they are speared and wriggle around until you reel them in.  The game process goes like this.

Just snorkeling here.  Nothing to see.

Just snorkeling here. Nothing to see.

You start in a third-person view.  Pressing swim will make you move forward while you control with the reticule, roving for prey.  Once you find a fish you want to go after, hit the dive button and slide down a little on the reticule.  Maneuver yourself until you are heading toward a fish.  As soon as you dive, a timer will come up on the screen, starting at the max for lung capacity.  As you hunt your prey, the timer ticks down.  If you let it tick out, you might black out before you can resurface, which freezes the game for a full minute, but it is tough to have it happen if you pay attention.

Once you start closing in on your prey, you will eventually see an exclamation point appear over their head.  Hit the trigger!  If you hit, you enter a battle-mode of sorts.  During this mode, you have to hold the reel button, which replaces the trigger after firing a spear, while the fish is stationary.  It will still be wriggling to get free, but it won’t be swimming around.  If you reel in while it is stationary, its life (a red bar) goes down.  If you reel in while the fish is swimming, your line’s strength (a blue bar) goes down.  If your line loses strength, you lose the fish.  Catch the fish and it adds to your score, and every 5 fish you’ll gain a level.  Each level will grant you one more second of lung capacity and you will also gain better gear!

Now gear has some stats of its own.  These are swim speed, gun strength, gun reach and … shaft speed.  They are all.. pretty self-explanatory.  Except that last one.  I am sure it makes sense and I am sure it’s relevant.  I have no idea what it does besides make me giggle incessantly.  It doesn’t help that I leveled up a bit and got Depth Max brand gear which has a high shaft speed and makes my gun stronger and shoot further.  I am so sorry it’s come to this.  Ok, let me get control of myself.

The art of this game is fantastic.  Each fishing area has its own challenges from increased depth to sharks.  I tried hunting the sharks, but their only real function is pissing you off, since they can eat the fish off your lines.  Fuckers.  Lucky this isn’t FarCry3.  I would C4 your ass in a heartbeat…  But each area is unique and has a sort of excitement, like you’ve found another great hunting spot.  The music is a sort of asian-keyboard reggae.  It is relaxing and enjoyable, but it’s odd.  Just listen to it, ok?  This game is worth its 1.99$ price, and if you like those outdoorsman games by Cabelas etc., you should try this out for a fresh new take.  I have never played a firt-person fishing game, but it is really fun.  I just hope this doesn’t get bought out by EASports or something.  They would fuck it all the hell up.  Of course, this might be cool on a Wii U or something.  The developer has a Facebook page here and a website, with free demo, here.

 

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Zeno Clash 2: Much More ‘What’, Equal Parts ‘The Fuck’

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Zeno Clash 2 is a perfect example of what happens when an imaginative group of talented developers find a publisher and can make a game the way the always wanted.  Granted, it is fucking bizarre as pink dancing hamsters in tutus tearing apart two cows having a threesome with a Scottish midget, but there is just as much fun and blood involved as the above description.  This game is fun.  It is a ton of fucking fun heaped into a bizarre surrealist world and topped off with guns.  Not to mention, the storyline is interesting as fuck.

So Ghat makes his comeback in this sequel by doing the opposite of what he did in the first one.  Literally, the fucking opposite.  Where before he was trying to kill father-mother and break up the family in order to avenge FM’s baby-thieving, now he is trying to save FM from a much-deserved ass-kicking and reuniting the family.  I honestly think this guy just likes to fucking beat shit up and kill motherfuckers.  I mean, that is what he did as a Corwid, and he hasn’t changed anything but the fact that now he no longer wears a mask.  I would hypothesize that this shows that Ghat is willing to face who he is and give into his dark, true self, but that would almost be too fucking involved.  I think he just likes to fuck shit up.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom.  See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

City of Halstedom, pronounced Hal-stom. See also churning homestead of wanton fucking insanity.

Halstedom has been taken over by the North Golem, Kax-Teh.  You know, the guy you brought to Halstedom to deal with Father-Mother?  The North Golem, the guy with the Rubick’s cube from ZC, has built a jail, the colonnade-adorned head building, to incarcerate criminals in the town.  Makes sense, guy’s a natural fucking philanthropist.  Except one thing.  These people have no idea what this concept of “law” is.  It is literal anarchy.  Whoever wants to rule can, if they can get enough support from other thugs and people in the area.  So he is literally forcing these foreign concepts of law and order onto a city of people that have trouble with the concepts associated with a can-opener.  They are children, and he is ruling them with an iron fist from his head-palace using concepts none of them can understand.  Very little about any of this makes much sense.

With FM behind bars, you would assume that everything should be alright in the world, but Ghat is a more motiveless malignancy than Iago, so he gets tired of starting bar-fights all the time.  Luckily, Rimat, a woman wearing a rice paddy hat from FM’s family, decides to start some shit.  See, after everyone found out about FM’s treachery and baby-stealing, the North Golem told them who their real parents are and where they could be found.  Many went to him, but a few did not.  Rimat was one of those who didn’t.  Her opinion was that you cannot change the past, so she cannot change the fact that she was raised by a giant, hooded man-bird.  And, honestly, she has a compelling point.  This is something that many adoptees have to come to terms with, but Rimat, given the chance to go back to them, prefers to stay with the familiar.  She chooses to stay with those that she grew up with.  Very interesting.  So together with Rimat, Ghat helps to break FM out of jail and seek out the various members of the family.

After they’ve found all their brothers and sisters, they then turn their goals against the golems.  As it turns out, the golems are just the servants of some infinitely wiser entities, and they were put in place to keep the Zenos from leaving their land of Zenozoic.  The term “zenos” is used to describe anyone from this place, too.  I would want to keep these guys out of my backyard too.  I mean fucking look at them!

Ugly is a polite term for these people

Ugly is a polite term for these people. I mean, the police force wear flour sacks on their heads leaving you to imagine the horrors beneath!

Above is one of my favorite features of this game.  Normally, the gameplay is something like a free-roaming RPG, but there will be these areas where you’ll be pitted against a ton of enemies.  Unlike other games such as Half-Life 2 or any FPS by Flying Wild Hog, these arenas are not resolved with a sword or by gutting people with a machine-gun.  These battles are most often resolved with combo attacks and flying double-fist strikes.  Massive battles like this are resolved like street thugs would back in the 1920’s:  Everyone has a nasty brawl and the victors are the ones who are right.  Sometimes you will have some assholes sitting back, picking people off with a rifle or a grenade launcher, but hit them hard enough and they will drop it.  Of course, if there are weapons like rifles and grenade launchers, why even get into pitch brawls like that?  Simple, the guns in this game are few and far between and there isn’t oodles of ammo laying around.  It’s actually somewhat realistic in this way.  Of course, why not grab a club?  Those are around too!  This game forces you to deal with someone via fisticuffs.  Weapons that you have to strike someone with, including guns without ammo, will break and shatter.  The most reliable way to deal with your issues is to beat them to a bloody pulp with your bare hands, as God intended.

The landscapes in this game are absolutely magnificent and always always always have elements that make you curious, intrigued and outright confused.  As you wander these landscapes, you might be wondering if you are on Mars.  Actually, the game gives you ample reason to believe that it might be Earth, but the game has numerous regions.  Each region can be explored and explored freely.  Some are more open than others, but each area has its own unique look and feel, and each area has its secrets and stashes.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

The two-headed monkey riding on the back of a fire-spitting vulture region made the muculosaurus in the desert seem low-key.

Two features adding to this are stashes and skill points.  Stashes are places where you can find items (food to heal, totems to fill the special attacks meter, weapons etc) which fulfill a variety of uses, mostly combat-oriented.  These stashes look like giant, horned clamshells and function much the same way as chests.  The art director for this game should be drug-tested hourly.

The other feature are the skill point totems.  These appear as skulls hanging from a crude stand and can be found nearly everywhere.  A couple time I revisited regions only to find a new skill totem that wasn’t accessible without equipment I found elsewhere.  These totems are well-hidden too, almost as if they hired someone from Flying Wild Hog to put in the secrets.  When you interact with these totems, half the present skulls disappear and you get points equal to the number of skulls obtained.  Once you have the points, you can go ahead and start pouring them into the various skills: health, stamina, strength, leadership. Health is health, stamina dictates how many punches you can throw before getting weak, strength is how hard you hit.  Leadership is the most interesting skill, though.  Throughout the game, you will switch out between various characters that will help Ghat and Rimat on their journey.  The higher your leadership, the more powerful the allies that you can recruit to your quest with you.  These guys are useful, too, especially when you find yourself suddenly confronted with a massive mosaic of faces as seen above.  You will be fighting ALL those fuckers, often in close-quarters.  With little space to run and twenty mother-fuckers trying to kick your ass, you will need some friends to mix up the melee.  I poured nearly all of my points into leadership.

The skills are accessible from the map screen, where you can also find some collections.  There are a variety of things to collect, all of which are random and make little sense.  They are a ton of fun, and when you play, you’ll likely see how they add their own pieces of flavor to this game.

Make a left at the canyon filled with testicle-chinned shrimp, pass by the butthole-licking tribe of barbarians and we'll arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people.  Remember to pack sandwiches!

Turn left at the canyon of testicle-chinned shrimp, pass foot-collecting barbarian tribe and arrive at the city of mechanical, two-headed monkey people. Remember to pack sandwiches!

Do not play this game thinking you will not be saying “What the fuck” every five seconds.  This game is just as whacky, if not moreso, than the first, but its gameplay is memorable and awesome.  I honestly hope they take this formula and apply to a remake of Double-Dragon or Final Fight.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have a fighting-style free-roaming first-person RPG like this one in a vast post-apocalyptic, future cityscape where gangs tear eachother apart?  You could have some guns in there, but they might be so rare that they are almost a form of currency, so battles are largely solved with blades and fists.  Just food for thought to give Ace Team.  This game itself is a hell of a thing though.  It feels like the greater narrative of morality and law being waged by the golems is the true story, and the rest of the world is made to be ridiculous so a seeking mind is almost forced to latch onto the golems and interpret their story.  Then Ghat comes in and fucks shit up, believing, I guess, that true freedom requires the death of law.  Whatever you glean from this game, it is likely to be memorable.  And the best part is that its Special Edition currently on sale for 2.99$ on Steam, although it is deserving of every cent of the 24.99$ usual asking price.  Go get it now! Seriously!  It’s fucking awesome!

Shadow Warrior, Better the Second Time

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As with movies, games that were remade from an older title fall into two categories: epic or fail.  Shadow Warrior takes the material from the unrepentantly indecent original and sculpts it into an experience that adds to and surpasses the original.  And the way they did it is what makes this so awesome; Shadow Warrior uses the same corny sense of humor, but tempers it with a snarky, demonic sidekick. Devolver Digital has recreating an old washed-up title down to a process as simple as “give it to Flying Wild Hog.”

When SW kicks off, you main character is driving down the street listening to The Touch by Stan Bush.  People seem to like those songs from the 80’s, but not everything out of that era is worthy of remembrance.  Shit, not much out of the 80’s and even some of the 90’s is worth remembering, so this guy listening to some shitty 80’s music in a badass car on the way to a deal is a little off-putting.  Honestly, at first I was like, “God, please don’t tell me that’s the main character.”  But this game is filled with demons, so despite my pleas of “don’t make me play this guy”, I was forced to play as Lo Wang. I let out a nervous giggle and soldiered on.  Of course, this was the only thing that I, as a gamer, found distasteful about the game.  Its humor, on the other hand, is another story entirely.  If I were asian, I might be pretty deeply insulted by most parts of this game, but the way the game also makes fun of the original seems an attempt to apologize for it.

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Huh, they misspelled “POWAAH!”

 

As with most games, the first level gives you an idea of what to expect, and it is fucking awesome.  It’s about an hour worth of slicing enemies to tiny pieces with a katana as they shriek and gush blood all over the carpet.  Your katana behaves like a magical limb-detaching wand, and at first I was really surprised by how horrible and gory the game is.  That lasted about 10 seconds before I was laughing my ass off at how ridiculous it really was.  2 parts Tarantino, 2 parts Jet Li and all Wang, baby.  It also displays how good at hiding shit in plain sight FWH really is.  At one point there is a statue behind glass in one of the main corridors, and I walked past it wondering why it was the only glowing statue in the whole place.  This statue is one of several types of collectibles that the game hides from you: money statues, bowls of blood, Ki Crystals and fortune cookies.

The statues give you money, but are not the only source of funds.  The other source is an ancient chinese method called “finding that shit lying around.”  As you collect money, the game totals it and lets you use it to buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons.  There are 3 different upgrades per weapon with 6 upgradable weapons: a pistol, machinegun, shotgun, crossbow, flamethrower, rpg.  One of the things I love about this game is a logical conundrum that I call the “Dimensional Sphincter Improbability”.  Essentially, unless you have a magical asshole that also links to an alternate dimension where you store all your weapons, it’s highly fucking improbable that you can carry an arsenal this vast.  Hard Reset, FWH’s inaugural title, solved this issue by making these weapons varying configurations of the same two weapons.  Shadow Warrior just stores these weapons in an off-screen pocket dimension that follows Lo Wang around at all times.  Of course, this game makes no apologies, and why should it?  It is a remake of an old, less-than-classic game.  Fuck logic.  Your first weapon, though, is the best.  The katana is an awesome part of this game, and you start the game dicing people up and flinging shuriken.  There is one problem with all of this.  The money has the square hole, which is distinctly Chinese, but the katana and shuriken were weapons of Japanese origin.  This game is a bizarre cultural amalgamation of two cultures.  Maybe the enemies in the next game will come from Korean lore?

The next big K-pop group, "Puppets of a Delusional Overlord"

Massacring these blood puppets was more fun than my ethics should have been able to tolerate.

Next, you have the bowls of blood.  This part makes me a little uneasy, and I filed it under “shit I won’t think about too much.”  Every once in a while, you will come across a secretly ensconced bowl of blood suspended by demonic power on a spiked shrine built of the corpses of your enemies victims.  So, naturally the first thing you do is drink it.  At least, I assume you do, and I am pretty sure it is never outwardly stated exactly what Wang does with it, but what else is there to do with it?  Rub it all over your body?  Either way, you get these bowls and they grant you Karma, which, in turn, is used to upgrade yourself with all kinds of abilities.  I spent the most of my first karma points on Ki attacks with my sword, which are badass attacks that allow you to cut through demons like lightly-chilled tofu.  These attacks are rewarding as fuck, too.  Get off a good divider of the heavens attack and your enemies basically explode while is great for taking off legs.  Your enemies will crawl off a bit, which makes it easy to deal with their friends then come back for the karma of beheading them, too.

Ki crystals are giant crystals that glow with ki power, something that fuels the demons’ magic.  Luckily, it also allows you to use Ki powers like self-healing or making a defensive bubble.  While not overtly useful, if used properly the powers become as deadly as the attacks.  Each of these collectibles allow you to buy new weapons, powers and abilities that make gameplay deeper and more entertaining.  The best part is that the abilities flow perfectly from gameplay, and the controls are beautifully intuitive.  As soon as I had the abilities mapped to my brain and the controls, I was ripping through enemies.  When I was finished, their army was measured in liters rather than kilograms.

After a battle, every arena tends to look like this.

After a battle, every arena tends to look like this.

Finally, there are these fortune cookies. Each of them gives you 5 health, which is nice, and then slips you a Confucius-style joke that will make you face-palm so many times your head will turn black-and-blue.  Generally, the humor of this game is pretty terrible, and it would even get to a point that is indecent, but the demon in your head makes it a little better.  He is an ancient, which is some kind of immortal asian demon.  The one you befriend is named Hoji, and he was banished from the shadow realm.  His story is one of Romeo and Juliet turned Pygmalion and Galatea, but with a dark twist.  He provides some comedic levity to balance your character’s ego a little.  With Hoji by your side, there is someone to keep Lo Wang from being the same person he was in the first game.  At one point he even says “Sorry, I used to be a prick.”  In the context of the game, he could be referring to his recent personal catharsis, but it also feels like a reference to that previous life.  Given the fact that this game also has more Easter eggs than grocery stores in late March, it’s not too much of a stretch.

Your enemies are also a throwback to that old time, when Nukem was the duke and consoles were for kiddies.  Many times, this game just throws you into fights where you are like “o shit I’m gonna die” and the entire time I was having flashbacks to plays of Descent and Doom.  Your first enemies are humans, but the game is fast to switch them out for an army of demons.  And those old games seemed to have a habit of throwing demons in as a foe for shooters.  I mean, look at Quake.  I had no fucking clue what the fuck I was even fighting, and the recent(ish) Quake 4 changed over to aliens instead of demonic foes.  Honestly, whatever.  Shadow Warrior made it cool to kill demons again and gave me as much of a thrill as Bioshock did.  Then there are these massive bosses that the game throws at you.  I played a little Duke Nukem Forever, and the giant-boss battles were just a little too… Duke.  They seemed so focused on the fact that the boss was massive and it played well enough, but it was just uninteresting.  Just felt like I was firing bullets into a river to dam in an attempt to damn it shut.  I didn’t feel  badass, just felt like damage control.  Boss battles in this game follow a sort of rhythm and you can measure your progress visually.  You also feel badass at the end for taking down this giant enemy.  It doesn’t feel one bit frustrating and is well done.  The battles are the same method as those found in Hard Reset, and I greatly enjoyed them.

Alongside the enemies, the game takes numerous flares from old-style games, like the card-key search.  Back in the days of Doom, it was standard procedure to be sent out after a set of keys to the complex you were running and gunning through.  Lo Wang finds himself running through arenas of foes searching for colored shrines to destroy in order to get past mystical demon seals.  It really brought me home, and I feel like this is an experience that new gamers will enjoy while old gamers can get all nostalgic.  On top of all this, Shadow Warrior had a spin-off game with Viscera Clean-up Detail: Shadow Warrior.  That is another indie gold mine and a lot of fun, so check it out.

Obligatory scenic screenshot

Obligatory scenic screenshot

Every ounce of this game screams with a righteous fire that burns through every expectation that I had.  It is a vein-bursting experience with fun gameplay, amazing music and a storyline that plays an artful, melodramatic chord against the game’s wang-fueled humor.  The game is ridiculous and over-the-top in a way that made old kung-fu movies so popular.  It doesn’t matter that this game is goofy and ridiculous, it is still a lot of fun, and in a lot of ways it is a shrine to the old generations of PC games and a fist-bump to their players.  It almost feels like I just sat down with the developers, had a few beers and talked about the “good old days of PC gaming” and how gamers nowadays wouldn’t understand.  This they would understand.  And it is really something special, even though it is so, so ridiculous.  Not to mention, the game leaves one of its main enemies wide open for a sequel.  Zilla, your former employer and demonically-enhanced lunatic, escapes in a helicopter.  You slice the other guy’s throat, though, so you get that satisfaction.  This game is 39.99$ on Steam, and I whole-heartedly endorse paying this money.  I got the game when it was on sale, so I lucked out, but it is a title you are guaranteed to enjoy.

With all that being said, the thing that boils my blood over this game is its developers.  Seriously!  How dare they make something so good!  This sets fucking standards!  They literally have made 3 fucking games.  FUCKING 3!  A game where you shred through hordes of demonic minions with righteous blazing fury, one where you blow your way through level after level of robotic minions that are spliced with human bodies and … a game starring a pink panda and a yellow lizard.  Ok, so that last one is still in development, but I am totally fucking serious.  These guys should be given some other old-school titles to revive, like SiN or Blake Stone!  I feel like the only fucking guy that even remembers Blake and his battles with Aliens of Gold!  Shit!  Oh well, I am sure all that is just around the corner, Devolver Digital just needs more money for properties acquisition.  I wish I could just give them money.  LoL!  Be so much easier than waiting for games to come out.

The Forest, Sandboxing With Naked Cannibals

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do.  When in The Forest, you run like a Kenyan or die like a dog.  In fact, I am pretty sure most dogs have better deaths, but I am not here to debate that shit with you.  The Forest is fucking brutal, and you feel it every bleeding second.  It starts with your character pulling himself from a plane crash covered in blood and it ends… well.. I haven’t seen it end happily yet.  But the title screen shows two heads tied up on a stake with intestines that connect through the mouths and wraps around the necks.  And they are upside down.  Yea, shit gets nasty.  This game is also in pre-release, so remember that there is a lot that is still missing.

At the start you are on a plane ride from a presumably civilized location to god knows where when the plane is ripped in half rather suddenly.  It’s not exactly like there is a fucking smidgen of turbulence, just a loud bang like something hits the plane.  I am going to venture a guess here and say that someone threw a homing spear and it tore the plane in half.  With all the bodies and everything that seem to litter the forest, the locals have some kind of vastly successful marketing campaign that lures in hapless morons so they don’t go hungry.  Cause cannibals can’t eat each other!  That’s how they get diseases!  On the plane with you is a little kid.  He is cuddling your arm until the plane breaks apart, then he is white-knuckling the arm rests.  When you come to, you are laying in the aisle and this mostly-naked wildman is standing over the kid.  No worries, he picks up the kid’s bloodied body and carries him off into the untamed wilderness.  It’s ok, though.  Plenty of happy-endings start that way, right?  I am sure he ends up in a Disney-Pixar plot line where his father’s death in the plane crash is the tear-jerking opening.  And the fucked up reality is that I am really fighting cannibals and mutants in the woods for years to come.  Magical.

Don't worry, kid.  It's more aero-dynamic without the front!  We'll just get there faster!

Don’t worry, kid. It’s more aero-dynamic without the front! We’ll just get there faster!

Once you are able to get up, you need to look around you.  This is likely the last solid chance you get to search the wreck.  All about you there is soda, booze, some food and a cellphone.  This cellphone is very important because it sets a keynote for what useless, shitty inventory items look like.  It doesn’t really do anything except tell you the weather, the temperature and how far you’ve walked.  Let me repeat that: In a game where you spend your time OUTSIDE IN THE FUCKING WILDERNESS you are given a goddamn cellphone – a separately programmed mechanic – that tells you if you are cold and what the weather is like.  Of course, that step-counting feature is the major point, I think.  It lets you know just how many steps you take to get between the forest line where you cut trees, spot natives and run for your fucking life.  Naturally, useless.

Now, I died numerous fucking times right out of the gate.  The game tells you to page through a survival guide and see how it might help you, and it does at first, but it fails to mention there are cannibals creeping up behind you preparing to gnaw your ears off.  Like chewy little snacks…  I started right next to a cannibal village the first few times, and walked right in just like “Hey guys, nice grass huts!”  They tore me apart.  The second time I kept my distance, and they overwhelmed me before I had the chance to build a fire.  Strangely, fire is what keep these loonies at bay.  They see it and back off like, “SHIT! He has gypsy magic!!”  Before getting the fire together, though, the guide has you build a little stick shelter to sleep in.  This is how you save your game, so it’s important, but don’t sleep right away.  You’ll wake up at night with cannibals gnawing on those delicious ears again.  The last tutorial shows you two plants: a blueberry bush and a bush with black-colored berries on it.  I specify because the first is edible, the second will fucking kill you.  Important.  And these are not the only edible plants in the game, just two of them.  The rest you have to figure out by trial-and-error!  And I mean, most survival books are specific to a section of the world or a continent and give you a wide variety of things to eat in those places.  Whoever wrote this book just kind of implies that there are other things out there you can and cannot eat: either madly sadistic or profoundly lazy.  Not to mention, you can eat certain animals in this game but not others.  Why can I eat rabbits and lizards but not the fucking frogs and birds?  And why not the shark that washed up on the beach?  I know I would be using that for days.  Just cook it up really really well and add some salt from distilled seawater.  Maybe some seaweed for flavor.

Each year hundreds of people survive in the wilderness, except you.  You're fucked.

Each year hundreds of people survive in the wilderness – except you.  You’re fucked.

This is one of those places that the game is still vastly unfinished.  I am sure that there will be more added to this book given time, but right now it is pretty useless for finding food.  Your best bet is killing animals for food anyway, clearly not a game made by vegans.  Although there is a vegan mode where the cannibals won’t eat you.  Makes it a little easier.  The primary role of the book is to help you build things.  Those ghost-walls you see up there are what happens when you place something.  It creates an image of what you are building and you bring materials over to it, building into the image.  Really neat, overall.  Of course, you need to be careful where you place things.  A ghost-image cannot be removed right now, not that I could find anyway.  Then there is the matter of cancelling an object.  Say, you want to build a fire.  In your panic to avoid slipping into the stomachs of cannibals, you accidentally select the head-on-a-stake effigy.  You’ll have to go back into the book and then exit or select something else to cancel the head.  Now I was panicked, and that is the story of how I got a head-on-a-stake next to my cooking pit.  It’s a little unsettling, but it’s a great conversational piece that adds seasoning to my skinned rabbits and lizards.  The most frustrating element of building is you have to look back into the book every time you want to plan out a section of wall or build a fire.  This makes sense the first time, but it gets old after the thousandth fucking time.  I would have memorized the best method for building a fire after having to read the book a bazillion times.  Early on all your construction should be fueled by soda and candy bars you got from the crash and luggage around it.  This gives you food and energy enough to get a good bit of a citadel plannedand built before the cannibals become too much of a problem.

O, yea, effigies?  That shit is fucked up.  One way to keep cannibals at bay aside from filling your camp with campfires is to set up little effigies.  Effigy is a nice term though.  Really, you are creating survivalist outsider art with the limbs of your fallen foes.  Fucked up and brutal.  The best part is, they only keep the fuckers back as long as they are on fire, which they stay lit for like, an half hour at most?  Then there was this problem I had where it was raining almost constantly.  So, apparently I am in a sub-tropical rainforest.  Those aren’t fucking common, but they exist.  This might help me pin point where The Forest takes place.  There seem to be no tropical plants that I can determine, and there is a shore.  The natives like taking body parts and wearing them like feathers plucked from a peacock.  The animals tend to be small and there are a lot of lizards.  At first I would think Russia, but there aren’t any wolves and it can’t be Africa since no one is black.  That would be racist.  Then again, nobody looks asian, but some pacific islanders look white, right?  Best guess, this takes place in Oceania, not too far from New Zealand.  What likely happened is all the hipsters and vegans banished the meat-eating people to an island and there they went fucking crazy and started eating people.  Of course, that was years ago, so they’ve all but forgotten about them except in stories and tales.  This is why you find hikers and campsites out here where no one in their right fucking mind could ever consider camping.  I assume they are hikers because they are miles from any roads and there aren’t any off-roading jeeps or anything.  Then again, they could have come in by plane, given there is a lake nearby and the seashore is accessible.

There is also an interesting crafting system that reminds me of the Zork games where you combine different things to create something else, like a bottle of booze and a rag makes a molotov cocktail.  Of course, there aren’t a lot of recipes to figure out at the moment.  The survival book naturally doesn’t tell you how to build any of these things, either.  I remember reading the military Field Manual on wilderness survival, and that shit is comprehensive.  I would have bought a better manual if I were this guy.

Welcome to my home, you can have a seat over by the head-on-a-spike.  His name is Wilson.

Welcome to my home, you can have a seat over by the flaming head-on-a-spike. His name is Wilson.

Of course the cannibals in this game are the early enemies and the source of a lot of fun.  Before the mutants come and ruin your life, the cannibals are just funny as shit.  First off, they run around shrieking and generally acting like they think they’re zombies.  They’re all naked, including the women, so seeing some boobies every once in a while is nice, even if they are weird and dirty.  Remember all the booze from earlier?  Use a few of those bottles to make molotov cocktails, and let it rip.  These things take out cannibals like nobody’s business.  You’ll need the rest of the booze to make bombs for use against the mutants.  When you die, you also go to this fucking cave full of terrifying shit, but I don’t want to talk about that again.  The least the bastards could do is just let you die.  It really does say a lot about a game, too, when you can take one guy’s arm and smack his friends to death with it.  There is a little problem with killing enemies with fire, though.  The enemies will die and their corpses remain standing.. and breathing.  You can smash them apart with your axe, and the legs even stay there.  Then there are the women.  Sometimes you will kill them with fire and they will change from a hairless weirdo to a woman with hair.  Then you smash them apart like a blood balloon and their body parts turn into male body parts.  It is just a little weird.  All the mechanics are there, but the models and art have to catch up.  Generally this game screwed up where Minecraft excelled.  The Forest chose some spectacular graphics not realizing that all that detail leaves HUGE fucking holes.  There are so many graphics bugs in the game that going into them at length is its own fucking essay.  Minecraft had crappy graphics that were ridiculous by comparison to other games at the time.  But it worked and did its job so well that it is a gaming sensation.  The graphics were simple and clean.  This allowed the developers to move on to other, more important things, thus Minecraft had more to start with than The Forest.  Right now, this is a great game, and 14.99$ on Steam is pretty reasonable for where it is in development.  I would wait a bit on this game, though, if you expect a good and complete game.  Should you choose to invest right now (and I would advise waiting until it goes on sale again), don’t wander too deep into The Forest and it’s still pretty fun.

 

 

Black Ice, Warning: Incoming Game!

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Remember those days when we imagined all the different ways that life would be different inside a computer?  Any male product of the 1990’s would remember Reboot: a show whose name is invoked, intentionally or not, when an old series gets updated and made dark and gritty.  It was about the denizens of a cyberworld inside a computer where things were fine and happy until some jerk decided to play a game.  If that were the case, my computer’s inside city is a post-apocalyptic nightmare ruled over by the churning wheels of a citizen-rending machine known only as Steam.  But before all that happy-go-lucky bullshit there was a guy who envisioned a world destroyed by cybernetics and supercomputers.  Where the ultra-wealthy elite do as they please with the world, ruling from corporate arcologies where they look down and see an infinite sea of light reflecting the scintillating beauty of the stars above.  This vision of the future, as seen in Bladerunner and Shadowrun, is called cyberpunk.  Black Ice takes place in the minds of those called hackers, and it is a love letter to that vision of a future age.  Garrett, the developer behind this game, shared some of his own thoughts on the inspiration driving this title.

Black Ice was inspired by many things, but mostly Neuromancer by William Gibson and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I wanted to experience the hacking as described in Neuromancer, but I also wanted to find cool loot and blow stuff up.  I think it’s obvious that I took a lot of inspiration from Diablo 2 and Quake 3, but I also looked at things like the Android: Netrunner card game and older games like the original Rise of the Triad. I want you to feel dread at what’s going to come out of these servers, to risk it all for the potential of awesome loot. I want you to feel great because you found an awesome ability combo and are wrecking servers that used to give you trouble. I want you to feel OP.

– Garrett, Developer, Black Ice

Jacking into the Supermesh can be a bit overwhelming at first, since you start the game at level 0.  The game is far from perfect right now, but it has a good thing going.  Check in options that you have the tutorial activated your first run.  It will give you an idea where to start, level you up and secure you some first-level loot as well.  But after running the tutorial once make sure you don’t have it active anymore, or else it will run every time you play.  Irritating.  Sure, in most versions of a cyberpunk future you are dealing with a massive computer network cybercomplex known as “the matrix”.  Gibson used it, Shadowrun uses it, the Matrix used it: at this point the matrix is an irritating trope, so I am glad someone saw fit to call it something a little different.

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Towering cybernetic arcologies etched with fluorescent dreams and backlit by scintillating points of data

Once inside the supermesh you will see block after block of fluorescently lit data archives.  These are the servers.  Each one is owned by a company or organization and each one holds a dark secret and terrible power, and you can read about them on their little terminals.  But don’t get too distracted; there is a lot to get a hold of.  Each attack you possess costs you RAM.  Think of RAM as stamina in other games: every action you take aside from pressing ‘wasd’ costs RAM.  Sure, your RAM replenishes but how quickly depends on your talents.  You also have a health bar, experience and an actions hot bar.  You can slot actions into your left/right click and numbers 1-5.  You will also be able to slot abilities into spacebar and shift.  While I went with the age-old gaming medium of shift to run, space to jump, you will certainly have options open as you can slot any ability anywhere.  You could have 6 different types of lasers, an icebreaker and a rocket pack and play the whole game that way.  Your arsenal depends on your hacking style.

Each of your attacks and abilities is governed by a talent.  This is like the character sheet for your standard RPG, but this one is a bit more extensive.  There are a lot of things to consider while you are running the supermesh. You have your hacking talents ( hack speed, hack time, hack range) which govern how you attack servers.  Increase your hack speed to speed up your hacks.  Decrease your hack time so there is less time on the clock when you start the hack.  Increase hack range and you get a larger playing field.  Now, when you hack a server, you run up to it and activate your icebreaker.  Why the fuck is it ice?  What is with all the fucking ice?!?!?! Is it cause the ground is light blue like ice or something? No.  Fuck no.  Those playing Shadowrun are aware that each server deploys Intrusion Countermeasures to detain or kill anyone trying to gain unlawful access to the data on the server.  Your icebreaker lets you tunnel into the server and gain access in a matter of seconds.  In the meantime, you have to deal with Black Ice, the ICs designed to kill the operator.  These are what you shoot, nuke and destroy in the game.  You main enemies.

Your next series of talents are what I have dubbed your general talents (Movement speed, Loot Find, RAM, Health) these let you do various things, mostly self-explanatory. You want all of these increased as much as you can get them.  Some items increase your RAM incrementally or by a percentage, each is displayed separately.  Your next round of talents will be your combat talents ( attack speed, accuracy, critical hit chance, weapon damage, weapon range).  Again, all self-explanatory.  The last round of talents are really just secondary combat talents (Damage returned, chance to pierce, drunk projectiles, knockback power, homing, chance to ricochet, damage reduced, chance to colorize, RAM returned).  A lot of your talents cannot be increased by level, so watch what items you slot.  You don’t want to give up an icebreaker that has a nice range if you really need space to move!

When you see this fucker you better run.  It's a shark that fires missiles out of its jagged-toothed mouth.

When you see this fucker you better run.  UFO shark is gonna shoot you with missiles!

Some points to consider while leveling up.  While having an ass-load of RAM is good, some abilities will reduce your RAM by a percentage.  This means the speed you’ll run out of it will not change ever.  So the best stat to level up if you want a good bit of RAM every time you hit that button would be RAM return.  This will increase the rate that your RAM bar refills.  There are a lot of talents in this game, so don’t be afraid to experiment with each of them.

Personally, I did a lot of experimenting with ways to play this game.  For example, nothing is more annoying in battle than being unable to find the attack you want right before some cyberweb crawler leaps at you and takes you out.  This is frustrating.  So I arranged my abilities and weapons so my attacks would be easier to access.  In order to activate my icebreaker, I have to hit 5.  Essentially, I cannot hit that button by accident.  Your supermesh cybercity will be arranged so that a level 300 server is just next to the level 80 server I want to hack.  If I am finishing off the target server and accidentally attack the level 300 server just next to it, I might get my bits scrambled before I can exit the hack range.  I have had my bits scrambled a lot, and every time that happens you lose bitcreds, in-game money.  So placing my icebreaker in a tough to hit spot helped me stop doing that shit.

Another fun fact you might notice while playing is that you can crack multiple servers simultaneously.  This helped immensely when I was level 50 – 70 and was getting bored.  Cracking one server at a time is a slow leveling process, and you have a long way to go until you can attack your final server, the aptly named Finality, Inc.  It is the giant silver server guarded by a roving warship of doom, called a S.H.A.R.K. and topped with a spinning cybernetic skull.  Can’t miss it.  Anyway, being able to take several servers at once gave me the ability to level fast as shit.  I got from level 51 – 80 in a matter of hours; each server provided a healthy boost of around 1000 exp.  Activating several servers simultaneously allowed me to create a giant Venn Diagram of death.  Pure magic.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don't like video games.  I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

Enemies in the red, orange, blue field are assholes that don’t like video games. I nuked them with a logic firebomb.

However, I still wasn’t leveling fast enough.  I got frustrated and went to the store to sell a fuckload of goods.  After cracking a few hundred servers, you inventory gets a little full.  So you go to these giant solid-colored store servers.  I hadn’t bought anything until level 47 and boy was I surprised when I did.  I realized that I could buy some crazy missile attack that allowed me to blow up anything in sight. I also got a secondary, slow-firing shotgun attack that fired missiles instead of pellets.  That shit hurt a lot.  Now I was cracking 2 servers twice my level.  At my best around level 50 I was able to take down a level 110 server and a level 160 server at once.  Anything more than that and it gets really dicey.  These attacks even let me take on the dreaded sharks, and that got me even stronger weaponry, since Finality Inc is a level 500 server.

Now I am pushing level 99 and I am able to take on three level 150 servers at once, but I generally just take a level 175 server and a few smaller ones with it.  An important factor to note in server crashing is that when you attack more than one server at once, each server’s ICE will attack the others.  This means that if you grab a spam server, all the other ICs will be bogged down trying to fight the little guys.  Most other servers will kill off a spam server for you, and you can just watch.  Granted, you would normally get experience per kill.  If ICs kill eachother, you get nothing for it, however, you will still get the exp when the server goes down and the loot inside.  But this means that you can use two or three larger servers against eachother, but be careful!  Each server is killing each server and any IC not engaged in combat will lock into you if close enough, so it is best to keep within the range of enemies you can feasibly take down.  I still shy away from servers at the upper 200 levels.  Utilize these tactics well and you will turn all your enemies into a neat little pile of cybernetic death confetti, just make sure not to get your bits scrambled in the process.

It's like a party for you imminent demise! YaY!

It’s like a party for your imminent demise! YaY!

Black Ice is a great game, but it is in pre-release status, so it is far from perfect.  It has a modern-classic feel to it, though, and will definitely get you back to reading some Neuromancer.  It is available on Steam right now for a cool 9.99$.  Not bad considering it is a good time.  At the moment you’ll be plowing through servers like you’re some kind of bit drinking data vampire after a camping trip in the Australian outback, but it is a lot of fucking fun.  My favorite thing is standing on top of a server, looking out and seeing the ghostly outlines of the numerous servers I’ve crashed.  Sometimes destruction is its own form of creation.  This is another game that includes a photo-sensitive mode designed to aide those suffering from light-sensitive seizures that still want to enjoy it.  For those that care, this one is firmly planted in my favorites on Steam.

I was driven up a wall by one thing in this game, and it wasn’t the web crawlers.  The thing about this game that got me so frustrated is the distinct lack of anything.  It is a lot like being in an actual server: lights, a droning noise some soundtrack but there is no life!  Can we have the game elements of this one already?!  I mean I don’t want to go trade war stories with Mr. Rodgers or anything, but when I am cracking servers just to have someone to associate with, you know there should be a little more variation.  Whatever, maybe I can just go hang out at Finality, Inc.  Live every week like it’s shark week!

Hard Rest: Blood, Fire, Twisted Metal

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This is not something that should be stated lightly, so I understand to what I am committing myself.  This is the best game ever made.  It is at least the best game I have played since Half-Life 2, and almost certainly before it.  People need to know about it, and moreover, why I feel I can say that.

Take Bladerunner, add Half-Life 2, toss in a dash of Mass Effect and drop of Bioshock, and you are only part of the way there.  First, the game takes place in the cyberpunk city of Bezoar where the people live in fear of robots lurking just outside their walls.  These robots are sentient AIs that have a profound disdain for anything squishy and full of blood.  The only other people you see in this game, aside from a diabolical villains, are civilians getting ripped apart and thrown through the air.  When the machines invade the city, your character is sitting at a nondescript, roadside drinking stand sucking down some strong drinks.  It rains all the time in Bezoar, which is in Germany, and the streets are filled with explosive objects and devices.  Bezoar is apparently in Germany, but I thought the climate there was more akin to Pennsylvania’s.  You work for ‘THE’ corporation, though they never really say which one.  Seems as important as the name of the numerous slaughtered civilians, though.  You are a CLN Officer and you exist to protect the people of Bezoar, but mostly to destroy anything threatening them.  Now, I might add here that there is some seriously fucking dark snippets of humor to be had if you look for it.  There are sales consoles that try to sell you things and plead like a jilted ex-girlfriend about ‘how good you could have had it’ when you walk away.  They vend things like clones that will work for you until you want to go back to your job.  Then they will have the clone eradicated for you when you come back.  I feel bad for the cl0ne right before bursting into laughter at the thought of a being created to work for me, whose sole existence is filled with droll work that I don’t want to do and is then released of its duty only in its own summary execution.  Dark. Terrible. Unethical. Hilarious.

Now, the fun doesn’t even start there, technically.  The fun starts with the weaponry.  Imagine you are a GameDev and you want to put in an ass-load of weapons to use. Your team creates an array of cool guns, but you can only get, maybe, 10 of them in there. Not to mention, there is the frustration of having to switch between all those fucking things.  What did they do for the weapons? They took them and sorted them into two groups: matter weapons and energy weapons. As a result, you technically only carry two “guns”, but each gun morphs into five separate fire modes.  Watching the guns warp from rifle to shotgun to grenade launcher to RPG is a lot of fun, too.  Honestly, the graphics are very pretty, so you won’t be at a lack of eye candy.  So, you only have to worry about collecting 2 ammo types: blue and red. Blue for energy, red for mass.  Now, that’s not all, folks.  Getting bored with all the bassline weapons?  Go to an Upgrade Terminal and Spec those babies out! With some money system called NANO you are able to upgrade, no clue what it stands for other than making my shit cooler. You can get guidance mode for the RPG, x-ray view for the Railgun (which shoots through cover), make your rilfe fire more ammo etc.  There are 3 upgrades per weapon.  I loved the gravity field for the Grenade Launcher.  Sometimes you can suck two guys together and they smash into one another and explode.  AH! Fucking fun.

plasma

Yo, dog. I heard you liked lasers..

Ok, so, something that bears noting.  See the GUI? Yea, that circular thing in the lower left-hand screen.  That is it.  No unnecessary visual clutter through the screen.  Just that sleek little reticule down there.  Occasionally, a face might appear telling you something about where to go or who to kill, and they’ll appear as holographic chat boxes. But it’s mostly just this.  The rest of the screen is used for watching your many enemies swarm at you by the thousands. And boy do they swarm!

The enemies come at you hard and fast.  The little fuckers have sawblades on the front of them or little helicopter bots and look like something a preschooler cobbled together.  Either that or they are exploding little balls.  They come at you in goddamn droves of whirring, clinking jumping metallic rage.  And they dodge your shots, too!  And even from the get-go they are pouring out of ventilation shafts.  Hitting these suckers with the shotgun induces an intoxicating bloodlust, too, where you storm around blasting through enemies with force.  But the bigger guys take serious firepower, and the mortar and the grenade launcher are your bestfriends for quite a while here.  The upgrade for the mortar makes a field surround anything caught in it, so you can launch electrifying shock ammo and singe their shoddy paint-jobs right off.  Or hit them with the aforementioned gravity shot and the large charging enemies are held in place as you launch round after round at them.  Later on you fight cops in flying cars that look almost spot on for Deckard’s squad car.  They can be a bitch to fight as they also come in swarms, but they are SO MUCH FUN to blow up.  There is even an achievement for blowing them up. There are many other types of bots to battle and they explode themselves sending scrap and screws ricocheting off of surface.  My best moment was when I launched a rocket (just after getting the RPG) into a crowd of the little guys down a narrow catwalk.  The whole group exploded and one came sliding out and stopped at my feet, dilapidated, then proceeded to explode.  I was in love.  Bosses in this are beastly, too, typically towering over you and reaching for you like a tiny, sociopathic CLN doll.

He followed me home, mom! Can I keep it?

He followed me home, mom! Can I keep it?

Also, explosions.  You will blow up more enemies than you will ever realize and bathe in the shower of their remains.  Cars, tanks, electronic fistures, lights, signs, cameras.. I mean, even things that shouldn’t be blown up were automated so you could blow them up.  Typically, enemies near explosions fucking die ( duh ) so there is usually never a short supply of shit to destroy. After periods of explosive dry spells, however, they typically make it up by filling a room with explosive objects and filling it with tiny, murderous robots.  These Devs must be spectacular lovers, cause they know how to give you just what you were thinking you wanted.  After the original game itself there are also MORE types of explosives added to give you a little diversity, too!

Now, the main character talks, so if you were expecting a silent-hero that you could fantasize about being, wake the fuck up, assholes!  Wake up and smell the cinders.  I love his dialogue because it reminds me of my all-time favorite character, Garrett from the ORIGINAL Thief series, not that watered-down Stephen-Russell-wannabe cocksucker they put in that monstrous pile of horseshit that came out a couple months or whatever ago.  I mean the crotchety, dry, sarcastic, antisocial prick that avoids the Keepers and all responsibility as best as humanly fucking possible. A guy just trying to pay his rent.  Well, Major Fletcher is a guy just trying to get back to his hard liquor.  The artistic cut scenes portray this well, too.  Each loading screen plays out across an animated comic strip that tells what is going on. Sure, the story is pretty piecemeal and at times a little uncertain, but Half-Life 2 made you have to read tiny scraps of paper on a board in a cluttered lab in order to ascertain a fucking inkling of what Gordon’s motivation for the wholesale slaughter of asthmatic aliens actually was.  For all we know, they might have actually been trying to save us from a polluted atmosphere and unlivable conditions. Either way, this main character talks during the game and gets you thinking that maybe you are just another voice in his head, which is a possibility since he straight up downloads people to his brain.  No big deal.

All told, this game is an adrenaline thrill ride that had me shouting, panting and wiping the sweat from my eyes.  I have never screamed fuck as much as when I was playing this game, but it drew me in. Deep.  It places a gun in your hand and points you at a seemingly endless stream of mechanical monstrosities.  Granted, you do kill flying cop cars at some points, but you never see the cops leading you to assume that they could just be symbols of authority with mechanized voices.  The lack of flesh in the rubble supports this theory.  At the start menu I found myself debating whether or not I should play since this game startles the fuck out of you and makes you feel the effort of blasting through a horde of terror-bots.  And at the conclusion of each playthrough, you stand victorious over the demolished remains of your foes, wiping a gritty mixture of their grease and your blood from your unshaven face.  Metacritic on Steam gave this game a 73 out of 100 for this title. I bought it thinking it would be some ‘ok’ level meh-coaster I would eventually wade through.  You assholes on the Metacritic are bastards who want all fucking FPS’s to be Call of Cuty or Halo.  You can all eat shit and die in a gutter.

There is always the one fucking thing that chaps my ass about a game, and this piece of gaming greatness is no exception. So what made it that much easier to mash robots into silly putty? Fletcher. Major Fucking Fletcher.  Whose goddamn idea was it to name this guy after Jim Carrey in Liar Liar?!  All I could think about was that guy with an RPG each time the corporate nanny-lady shouted at me.  I know, Fletcher is the last name, Fletcher Reed was the character in the movie. Well it all ends up being about the fucking same Mr. Logical Shitstain!  You’re running around with some big-brother-esque nanny lady in your ear screaming Fletcher stop talking to yourself!  Fletcher go kill the mad scientist!  Fletcher go order us take out! I mean, the least satisfying thing about this is that I don’t get to put my boot down her throat, but I fucking suppose they had to slide this one past some level of societal decency.  Unlike good ole’ Sin back in the day. I’ll just chuckle to myself psychotically now. Heh heh heh…

Personally, I preferred the red gun. More explosives.

Personally, I preferred the red gun. More explosives.

Zeno Clash, Untamed WTF

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Zeno Clash is what would happen if Guillermo del Toro dropped acid and wrote a videogame storyline.  This title is full of weird enemies, surreal visuals, somewhat disjointed story elements and a world so bizarre it defies logical explanation.  I tried to explain the game itself to my wife and she said it defines “what the fuck”.  Yet, everything I just described is merely the flavor of the downright bad-ass, knuckle-cracking time this game provides.

First, your character.  A human named Ghat that starts of the game having savagely disfigured a creature known as father-mother, the leader of a clan in this town. The town of Halstedom.  Father-mother’s clan runs the city alongside the Northern Gate Gang.  It seems like this place is a veritable hive of scum and villainy as nearly everyone is part of either the clan or the gang, and there are very few laws being observed to the outside observer.  At least, few laws outside whatever father-mother says.  This leads one to submit to the supposition that father-mother (henceforth FM) is the monarch of the town, or at least influential enough to be a sort of leader of Halstedom.  Not to mention, FM has his entire clan convinced that he’s their father and mother.

Now, why Ghat has decided to take on FM is beyond me, especially considering that FM is a 10-foot-tall peacock creature.  Regardless, he escapes Halstedom with his hide intact where Deadra, crazy-horny heartthrob, follows him and helps him in his journey.. by being as flighty as possible.  And by horny I mean she has enormous fucking horns coming out the sides of her head. No, seriously.

The horns must be great for extra doughnut storage.

The horns must be great for extra doughnut storage.

Now, I am not saying I would hide my sexuality from her in abject fear of her getting naked, but those horns would definitely do a number on my bedside table.  I, mean, she probably never goes indoors, for that matter, but they do come off once, if memory serves.  This being the only point where she is shown laying down looking dreamily into Ghat’s eyes.  She is very naive considering she follows a known felon, who may have killed the only being either has ever known as father or mother,  into the wilderness and away from the safety of the only home she’s ever known.  To her credit, however, she is handy with her sawed-off shotgun and has some nice legs.

Despite the weak central female character, whose only function is to harass Ghat about FM’s secret and stand defensively out of the way of fights, the game still delivers in the place that truly matters.  Gameplay.  And here I introduce Metamoq and the Corwids.  The Corwids are these guys Ghat describes enigmatically as being not insane, but having chosen to be what they are.  So, they are fucking insane and do everything from eat people to bang their heads on trees.  There is one guy that walks in a straight line and refuses to let anyone change his course.  You find him later dead when he met the only nemesis a nutcase wearing giant iron boots has: a tree.  And he runs into a fucking tree in a desert after making his way OUT OF A GODDAMN FOREST! Sorry.  That is in no way important to the plot, but it was one of many WTF moments in this game.  These not-crazy, but actually fucking insane, mask-wearing guys have some members that border on intelligent.  Ghat was a Corwid for a while, which is how he knows so fucking much about them.  Since each of them seems to really only do one thing, I am going to say Ghat’s “thing” was beating the fuck out of bitches with his bare hands.  He never says what inspired this ascetic lifestyle either, nor what he did before that.  At some point he meets Metamoq, a growly-voiced, mask-wearing, sentient booger that teaches Ghat how to beat people with his fists.

And beat people he does.  This brings me to the best part of the game, its combat.  You can punch and kick people.  You can get super hard wind-up punches in.  You can dodge and strike ’em in the ribs.  You can even knee ’em in the face.  Much fun to be had.  You might expect a fighting game made with the source engine to be less maneuverable , or maybe generally difficult.  Not so, and the first-person fighting makes things challenging in a way that doesn’t make it less enjoyable.  Although this game holds a number of features reminiscent of older-generation fighting games like Double Dragon (ie slide-in versus screens and free-style fights and health bars), it fails to devolve into the button-mashing frenzy of those older games.  And you can’t just use the “powerful attack” all the time since stronger enemies will just dodge that slow-ass punch.  But timed well and as part of a combo, those attacks become devastating cards in a deck of whoop-ass.  I discussed this with my brother, The Game Pirate and he said it reminded him of a game we played on the Nintendo 64 called Hybrid Heaven, and equally WTF-inducing fighting game.  But where Hybrid Heaven focused on using the WWF’s finest spine-splintering attacks, Zeno Clash focuses more on its use of boxing-type moves.  When you get tired of fisting everyone in sight, you can pick up any of a number of imaginatively fucking-weird guns.  They are slow to reload and have shitty rate of fire, but this is a brawler at its heart, and even grenades are tough to use against enemies who do the logical fucking thing and run away.  They also tend to hide if you have a gun and favor moving through cover to get to your position, rather than making it nice and easy by running across the giant open field to get in fist-range.  Some of the boss fights All of the boss fights are weird, and most of this game will leave you scratching your head.  But don’t let that stop you because it damn well might.

So at some point you wander through a dark wasteland on the other side of a desert and find this guy named Golem waiting for you.  He calls you and Deadra by name and says he was left by a long-dead race of wise people.  Why everyone always thinks the “long-dead race of ancients who are wiser than us” thing makes sense I will never know. But if they were all that fucking wise, why are they ALL FUCKING DEAD?! Anyway, this guy has a human torso and a head, arms and feet made of blue playdough.  He follows you around and even helps you kill a blind assassin, who uses squirrels with parachutes and powder keg backpacks to kill you.  Then at some point he sits down and starts working on a fucking Rubick’s cube.

Big, strong AND he maintains his mental acuity

Big, strong AND he maintains his mental acuity

You bring him with you back to Halstedom and after finishing off FM, he reveals the secret FM has that Ghat is too much of a pussy to tell.  Y’know, that the father-mother guy everyone is defending steals babies from their beds and raises them as his own. Also, he’s a guy.  And he replaces the babies with baby pigs.  You even run into a woman that seems perfectly happy with a new baby pig, too.  Just bringing up baby Peter, or whatever.  Once FM lays dying, the big blue guy pulls out his Rubick’s cube and it starts to glow.  He says that he can help bring peace by bringing everyone in as part of a new connection that can never be broken.  Screen zooms out, you see this weird guy with a telescope standing next to a completed Rubick’s cube and everything ends.

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Shiny naked metallic dude, just looking at everyone else with a telescope like he has nothing to hide. Whatever, not the weirdest shit in the game so far.

Now, this guy looks remarkably like one of those metallic shadow zombies that infested the wasteland where you find Golem.  So part of me thinks his idea of peace is quite a bit more morose and sad than his words imply.  All that just makes me want to play the sequel even more.  Just bought it and set it to download.  No game has had me as excited to play as Zeno Clash has since Half-life 2, and perhaps Hard Reset, so hopefully the sequel upholds all these points while gracefully embellishing upon them and simultaneously polishing its rough-points.

So, given everything about this game and how much fun it is, what bothers me the most about it?  I have never said ‘what the fuck’ more times in more ways and for more reasons than I did while playing this game.  I mean, the blind assassin first shows up and fights you from atop the head of this floppy elephant/brontosaurus.

Is it just me, or does that thing have hairy testicle sacs hanging from various spots on its face?

Is it just me, or does that thing have hairy testicle sacs hanging from various spots on its face?

The whole father-mother thing.  Baby thievery being the basis for an entire city!  Using squirrels as purveyors of fiery death!  Giant horn-headed chick! Mostly-naked masked men dancing in the woods!  There is a point where a Corwid spins in circles and plays music while hopping on one leg!  Grenades are human skulls hollowed out and filled with explosives!  The only non-caveman humans in the game seem to be wearing rice paddy hats for no reason! Did I mention this game was made by a bunch of Chileans?  That rifle’s sight up there is a piece of wire! Regular-sized crabs spit vomitous goo!  The giant chicken-dragon also vomit green goo!  You can get a double-slingshot-crossbow as a ranged weapon!  The ammo for said crossbow uses rocks that have faces!  The faces have noserings where the trigger mechanism attaches!  Oh, that rifle is reloaded by inserting a long rod with an orange-hot end into a metal loop on the back of the chamber and shutting a little door with it!  This game deserves a what the fuck of the year award for the year 2009, when it was released.  Seriously.  I don’t think I will ever say what the fuck as many times in a row ever again.  Oh, right there’s a sequel.  The thing is, even this element of the game gives it a unique-ness that really cannot be matched.  You could say that anything this bizarre couldn’t be called ‘art’ or ‘artistic’, and it doesn’t really have a deep moral meaning outside of ‘beat up baby stealing assholes with your bear hands’.  But if you think bizarre cannot be artistic, just look at anything by Salvador Dahli.  How about all that crazy, though awesome, music out of the 1970’s?  (Pink Floydd, Led Zepplin, Jimmi Hendrix et al)  This game’s unique approach and winning gameplay are guaranteed to lock you in and wtf you until the games conclusion.  Which makes no more sense than nearly anything else about it. Surrealist art. Period.