Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekly Shlockness with John Mikula

                It has come to my attention that some of you (mainly Mike….actually, only Mike) see my clever jabs at MMwMM as a ‘tired gimmick’ and feel that I should ‘mix it up’ a bit. I would love to abandon my integrity and write Weekly Shlockness with the same redundancy and contrived nature that Mike McGee does but I like to give my readers something though provoking and meaningful. Sorry Mike, but I’m afraid I can’t stoop to your level; however, I must borrow from the book of McGee and use one of Mike’s own tired gimmicks by prefacing this column by saying I haven’t had much time to play games this week. I played a little more Resident Evil 4, and I got around to trying two games that I’ve never talked about on this blog before. That’s what we in the biz call ‘whetting your appetites’.
S-T-A-L-E. If you're going to insult me at least do it correctly.
                I haven’t finished Resident Evil yet, but I am still managing to have a fun time with it and I’ve noticed a couple things about the nature of this game itself. Playing this next to Silent Hill has been an interesting juxtaposition because it demonstrates two schools of thought behind the survival horror genre. There’s the more controlled and atmospheric approach which usually tend to have more of a psychological horror effect, and then there’s the intense, split second approach which will usually have an emphasis on the action.
"I often stop to enjoy the quiet subtleties of the resident evil franchise"
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Silent Hill (and even Amnesia) utilizes the former of these two survival horror types. Every enemy you face in Silent Hill is treated with the same consideration you would give to every other enemy. Although they’re sparse and slow they’re still threatening and they take up quite a bit of ammo to defeat. I found myself asking “is it worth it” whenever I was faced with an enemy. The answer is often no, but I still wanted to kill every bad guy because if they did get their grubby hands on me then I’d be screwed. Ammo is important in a game like this because you’re always saving up for whatever is around the corner despite the fact that you need it now.

Resident Evil (at least Resident Evil 4) takes the more intensive route. I never feel afraid of using ammo in this game, but I do try and be efficient about it. If I see dudes coming, I’m going to blast them, but you have to blast them in the right spots to do the most damage (shoulders, ankles, wrists, all the usual spots). You do this not because you’re not afraid of using your ammo but because you’re afraid of running out of ammo. The scariest time I had this with game was when I sold my pistol for what I thought was a really good pistol. Turns out it was a magnum and it uses a completely different type of ammo. I was left running around this castle trying to figure out how to make my five shotgun shells last until I can find the merchant again or find a way to stuff my fifty handgun rounds into my magnum. There is also strength in numbers with a game like this. Twelve dudes to fight is a lot of dudes, and when they start flanking you and you get backed into a corner just trying to see past the waves of people coming to eat your skin it gets a bit a bit intense. Moments like that are why Resident Evil 4 is still a viable survival horror experience.
"I'll show you a viable survival horror experience! Gyahajghah!"
With all of that esoteric bullsh*t out of the way I can now tell you about some of the other games I’ve been playing this week. Even though I bought it many, many months ago I finally got around to playing The Binding of Isaac. In The Binding of Isaac the player takes to role of a small boy who gets locked in his basement by his psychotic Christian mother after the voice of god tells her to do so. At that point the game becomes a dungeon crawling rogue-like where you blast back deformed creatures with your tears. What’s interesting about The Binding of Isaac is that even though it’s a rogue-like at heart it still isn’t like anything I’ve seen before it. Granted I’m not that into rogue-likes, but I know that most of them are turn based, Isaac is not. I know most rogue-likes let you build your character RPG style before you enter the dungeon, Isaac does not. A lot of rogue-likes are stats based in their combat, Isaac isn’t. “So John, what is Isaac if it’s none of those things?” I hear you asking. Well my dear reader I’ll tell you what The Binding of Isaac is.
It's the most hear felt, feel good comedy of the summer
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The main components of this game play like a top down shooter. You enter a room and you use your mouse to aim tear blasts at your enemies until the room is cleared and you can progress. The rogue-like elements come into play from the randomly generated dungeons and the items you can find. There is also permadeath, so once you’re dead that’s it, you’re dead for good. At that point the dungeon resets, you lose all of your items and you must start all the way back from the beginning. I’ve mentioned the items a couple of times now because they really seem to be the heart of the game. By opening treasure chests or buying them from vendors, the items are what allow you to customize your character. They can change your attacks, movements speed, health, and secondary skills not always for the better. There’s at least a hundred items in the game and it’s fun to see what kind of crazy effects you’ll wind up with by the time you die. I don’t even mind that the game doesn’t let me customize my character from the beginning because my lives don’t usually last that long anyway and the randomness adds an exciting element to the mix. The shooting is pretty standard and can get challenging when the enemy count raises; but really, it’s not about the shooting, it’s about surviving the torrent of random bombs and piles of sh*t and all the other wacky, twisted things that happen in this game. I’ve had a lot of fun with The Binding of Isaac so far, and I’ll recommend it to you if you’re looking for a cheap, good time without all of the gonorrhea.
I can't make the same promise with this game
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The other game I’ve been playing this week is the original Twisted Metal. Now, I’ve had a long and dirty history with this franchise dating back to my very early years on this planet. Twisted Metal is one of my favorite franchises of all time and I’ve played each of the game to a great extent except for the granddaddy of them all, so I’m sure you can understand my excitement when I saw this gem sitting in the middle of a rack at my local Disk Replay. After playing for a good couple of hours I can safely say now that Twisted Metal is a franchise that has gotten better with age.

The single player and the multiplayer modes of any Twisted Metal game are often two completely different beasts, with this game being no exception. I played this game on the solo campaign and I did not have a good time. The vehicles do not handle nearly as well as they need to in order to be remotely accurate with the weapons you’re supplied with. Unlike the newer games, your car needs to be moving forward in order to rotate around, which means that if your opponent is off to your side you’ll have to rev your car forward a bit until you are able to turn to face them and by that time the other vehicle will have already sped off. It gets very frustrating. Even more frustrating are the weapons. The newer games put a good amount of homing capabilities on the basic weapons because it gets pretty hard to be accurate with a missile going eighty miles per hour. The weapons on this game have basically no homing to them at all. You have to be deadly accurate if you want to hit anything but that paired with the horrible controls for the cars and it becomes almost freaking impossible to win a match. It’s also worth mentioning that the graphics are so bad that it becomes a hindrance. If an item pick up or an enemy car is more than a few meters away they become nothing more than a handful of pixels on screen and it becomes really freaking hard to spot anything on the tiny, tiny maps.
Heath Ledger can kiss my ass. Sweet tooth is the only clown for me
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But then there’s multiplayer and the game starts to redeem itself a bit. In multiplayer all of those problems I mentioned earlier are still there, but your opponent isn’t the computer. In single player, your enemies don’t consider the over pixelization of the graphics or the ridiculous car handeling. They know how to play and stop at nothing to win. Whereas in multiplayer, your opponents have the same handicaps that you do, so the game becomes less of a challenge and more of a fun mess to slop around in. Hell, I had fun with a couple of buddies experimenting with some crazy meta rules like ‘who can go the longest without banging into a wall’ and ‘who can figure out what Hammerhead’s special does’. While the game has plenty of problems I still liked it. I got nostalgic chills when I saw that polka doted ice cream truck rolling down the street shooting missiles at stuff. Oh Twisted Metal! I can’t stay mad at you!

My name is John Mikula, and I thank you for reading Weekly Shlockness.
Need I say more?
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