Thursday, March 11, 2010

Favorites of a Video Game Geek #2: Firepower

This will otherwise be known as the blog where I assure, "Nope, I'm not dead!"

I know it SEEMED that way since I've been away from making an entry for so long, especially after I made my promise of more entries here this year. :( But! I am back, I was never dead, and I will be here more often. Seriously. Stop laughing! >:(

What can I say? It wasn't just the case crap got in the way, I had a general malaise from writing. (I have been writing for my book and researching every chance I could...the blog fell to the wayside as a result, tragically.) Again, though, I'm back. :)

Let's talk shooters.

No, not the kind you drink, buddy. First-Person Shooters. In the world of video games, the FPS has been subject to great criticism and moral outrage by non-gamers for their violence. Gamers like me, meanwhile, know the FPS as a genre of video game that has enjoyed dramatic evolution since "Wolfenstein 3D" (which I've talked about before) and has generally raised the bar for quality for the industry in general. These games put you INTO the game and help create both connection and immersion into the game's characters and environment. You'd have to play some bonafide classics like the "Half Life" series to understand what I'm talking about. I feel the desire to share with you two more recent examples of the FPS that knocked me on my duff, and in a good way...and both are for the Xbox 360. And no, I won't be paid for my testimonial, either. Dammit!

(What I have to say is also from the perspective of the single player experience...I don't make enough money or have the time to play any games online with others. Yes, I know I'm missing out on a lot. Don't give me any shit!)

First was "Halo 3", appropriately enough the first game I played for the 360. Appropriate because that out of an already-considerable library of titles, this one embodies the console the most in the hearts and minds of gamers. The fact the previous two installments of the series were the highly praised and best selling standard-bearers of the 360's black and blocky predecessor helped a lot. "Halo 3" continued the trend and concluded the story of the Earth-Covenant War, the Master Chief aka Spartan-117 -- the John Wayne of future gunslingers -- his search and rescue of Cortana, and the mystery of the Forerunners and the Halo ringworlds (it doesn't answer EVERY question to the mystery, though...that's what more sequels are for!), and the conclusion is as bittersweet as it is triumphant only because it had to have an ending. Every moment of this game is damned pretty. Not in a anorexic model kind of way, but a "Holy crap, that's awesome!" kind of way. The action is relentless and pauses only for a few seconds here and the gamer can catch their breath, I suspect. On more than one occasion before my brother and I split for the console a couple of months ago, I had to wonder: couldn't "Halo 3" have been made for the original Xbox? Not long after I started playing, even without delving into its multiplayer, I realized the answer was a very big 'no'.

Strangely enough, the general structural blueprint for how one progresses through this game isn't far removed from the previous games. This IS 'combat evolved', but outside of driving and flying and blasting Brutes to dust with a tank (fun, fun, fun!), you don't get to do...well, more. Think I'm kidding? SLIGHT SPOILER IN THE NEXT SENTENCE...YOU WERE WARNED! The final stage of the game is where you drive a Warthog to beat the doomsday clock, just like the original "Halo"! Could this game have been made for the Xbox, anyway? Again, big 'no'. It's safe to say Bungie and Microsoft said 'nay' to changing anything about the control and gameplay mechanics, which were pitch-perfect in the first two games, and are again here. I enjoyed this game and will play it again, without a doubt. But maybe any real evolution to the games will come in the next true sequel to the series? We'll have to see.

"Bioshock", fittingly enough, is also something of an evolution, but in a direction that confirms that the uninitiated have no idea how creative video game makers can be. Ah, what a long, strange, dark and thoroughly satisfying trip this was! I can't go too much into the story, which is what drives this game, only because it's best you not be prepared for the stunning turns it takes. The general premise can be best described as this: literally drop into an undersea city unknown to the rest of the world to experience Darwinism at a frightening, genetically-engineered level. The law of the jungle meets Frankenstein. Part of the lure of this game is you can be as nice or as ruthless as you want, like "Grand Theft Auto", in the unique gameplay dynamic between the player and the Little Sisters, sweet little girls who are essentially small storehouses for a unique substance you need to survive. If you're a teddy bear like me and you'd never hurt a little girl, you'll become emotionally invested toward the need to help them instead of 'harvesting' them to build yourself up.

HOWEVER! In order to get to a Little Sister, you've got to bop your way through the most jaw-droppingly scary mini-boss ever created for any kind of game: the Big Daddy, a lumbering DNAgent who looks like a deep sea diver...FROM HELL! The initial reaction you'll have to the first time you run into one of the Bouncer types of Big Daddies as he escorts a Little Sister will be, "Pfft! What a slow-walkin' ox! And is that a drill he's got instead of a right hand? I've gotta be faster than he is, and I can blast the guy from long range! There has to be a catch...?" Even if you're careful, NOTHING will prepare you for how damned ferocious this guy is when you piss him off. Seriously, my first reaction to this behemoth when I tried my luck was, "What the...! Oh, no way...HOLY SHIT!" Then I was dead. When I realized every Little Sister I had to find had one of these brutal guardian angels at their sides, I knew I was in for a wild ride. With solid control and unique gameplay mechanics involving both weapons and Plasmids, graphics even better than "Halo 3" (the water alone is a thoroughly amazing achievement...yes, I said water!), scares that easily rival "Resident Evil" and even "Silent Hill", a truly compelling and twisting story, and a gothic world that looks like Steampunk mixed heavily with an Art Deco afficionado's nightmare, with a chilling musical score and mood to match, "Bioshock" is a game that truly sucks you in like a whirlpool to the ocean depths. Yes, there's already a sequel out. And yes, I'm gonna buy it when it drops in price!

A nerd more famous than me, Adam Sessler, once said that video games are more fun than people. He was kidding, of course...I think? I'm no introvert, I do get out into the sun often, and I like people. When they're not stupid. But I'm tempted to say that truly great games like "Halo 3" and "Bioshock", along with other examples of the compelling First-Person Shooter genre, are serious competition.

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