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heavy rain

First of all, I want to apologize for the delay of reviews.
There has been some technical issues that has put a stop to our productivity, but that will change.
Sorry about that.
We’ll be up and running with weekly posts on fridays from now on.

Videogames used to be an arcade thrill in pixels back in the days.
You needed to think fast and learn how the stages/laps proceeded. It was all about skills and wits and not as much variation. Today, gaming has reached a whole new level and with games such as Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, they became a lot more an experience than actual hardcore button-mashing.
Heavy Rain is at the peak of this progression and is in an easy (although not very justifying) way described as a movie which gives you, as the player, options to alter the story with quick time events (QTE’s).

The story takes place in 2011 and a serial killer, known as the Origami Killer, is on the loose.
The killer kidnaps young boys between 9-13 yrs of age. Since the cops have not yet managed to catch the killer or rescue any child, they all end up dead by drowning, with an orchid and an origami animal by his side, the signum of the killer.
Ethan Mars is an architect and a father of two sons. When one of his sons dies in a tragic accident, he loses himself and becomes depressed and isolated.
Madison Paige is a journalist that suffers from insomnia and involuntarily gets dragged in into the investigation of the mysterious killer.
Norman Jayden is an FBI agent that uses ARI technology (Added Reality Interface – a pair of glasses and a glove that can trace otherwise invisible leads on crime scenes) in his investigations, but to a high price.
Scott Shelby is a retired cop that has become a Private Investigator that now hunts the Origami Killer.
Lauren Winters is a former prostitute that has lost her son to the killer and decides to find the murderer.
These five persons fates will intertwine and the plot will take many turns before it unravels itself.

If you usually plays shoot’em up and action/adventure games, this one might seem a bit dull. To be honest, I found it a bit slow for my own taste, but it does not stop me from calling it a masterpiece. And by masterpiece, I refer to the atmosphere and the dramaturgy. This game truly is remarkable as it delivers a plot worthy of any well-produced crime/triller movie and the characters are not made up, in a physical way of speaking. The faces you see can easily be found if you search the internet for the actors behind the characters. Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid) is made up. So is John Marston (Red Dead Redemption), Sam Fischer (Splinter Cell) and Cole McGrath (InFamous).
These characters are “real”. And they certainly feel real in the game. No Final Fantasy bullshit, where everyone has to be homogenically supersexy and beautiful. No, these are REAL people and that is what gives the game credibility and it’s own, more authentic sense of beauty.

The score is good, but WAY too overdramatic for my taste. At one time, you have to take Ethan through a crowd of people at a train station and since he suffers from agoraphobia (fear of being in open spaces, in a crowd, to sum it up) this is a crucial moment. And the music gets REALLY dramatic at this point. Not anything creeping, like there’s a tension. It’s more like “For fuck’s sake, destroy the ring, Frodo!”.

The trophies are excellent, as far as I know. I’ve beaten the game once (which gives me at least ten more times to do it) and of all the trophies, there are only four(?) of them that are not secret ones. When you’re having an option in the game (save him/her, do NOT save him/her) you might get a trophy, depending on your actions and decisions. This gives the game a replay value, not only for the sake of the trophies, but for you to find out what would happen in you’d done things differently. And trust me – the “what if…”-factor is big in this game.

The only thing I can complain about is the voice acting. I don’t find it as convincing as it could have been. It’s good, but not good enough. The lip-sync is great and the credability on that point is great, but I just wish the sorrow, anxiety and anger could have had a better portrayal. A big plus for the fact that the voice actors are the same people that gave faces to the characters. That, on the other hand, gives it a credability that stereotypical (Solid Snake, Mario, etc) can’t deliver.

This game is not to be played as a game, as much as it should be viewed as a criminal thriller where you participate through QTE’s.
It is a kind of experience no other game will give you and I strongly recommend that you play it.
Not only for the different take on videogame experiences, but as to get perspective on how home console videogames have evolved through the aproximately 40 years they have been around. From “The Brown Box” of the 70’s, to our modern PS3, 360 and Wii.

Why movies and videogames mesh splendidly…

Keeping it real – Real faces, real voices.

What if…? – The re-play value is really cleverly designed.

“Cutie” – This is what Quick Time Events were made for.

Light, camera, action! – A new strain of videogaming experience.


Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game

I was browsing through the Playstation Store, when I stumbled upon the demo of this game.
Sooo, let’s see… Big, fat pixels in HD, 8-bit music…yeah.
Yeah I’m hooked.

Written by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim is a comic in six volumes, that started in 2004 and the 6th book was finally completed this year.

The story takes place in Toronto, where the 22-year old boy Scott Pilgrim lives. He is the bass player of a band called Sex Bob-Ombs (SMB2, anyone?) and together will Stephen Stills (the talent, guitarist and singer) and Kim (female rough neck and drummer) they try to become famous. In the midst of this, Scott meets Ramona Flowers, to whom he falls in love. The only this standing between Scott and Ramona are her seven evil exes that he has to defeat in order to date her.

A movie has been released, based on the comic and the game was produced and co-released with the movie. As soon as the game was available for download, I got the demo and tried it out. My expectations were met and surpassed.

The music is written by the band Anamanaguchi and is a strange, but ingenious combination of chip tunes and punk rock. I’m not a huge fan of punk rock, quite the contrary, but this is actually really good. The soundtrack was released in the US just a few days ago and I’m looking forward to get my hands on that. Check out their MySpace page here.

One of the first things that come to mind when playing this game is the challenge. Not that the enemies are particularly hard to beat, but the levels are intriguingly long. When you level up (oh, yes, it’s one of those games) you gain new abilities which comes in handy when dealing with exes and other frantic brawlers. If you use these techniques right, you shouldn’t have much of a problem maiming your way through. The controls are really simple and easy-to-use, so the only one you can blame for messing up, is yourself. Well, except for the counter move. It more like a 50/50 chance to succeed with that one.

Another great add-on to the game play are the several shops that you pass by on your journey. You can eat sushi, fajitas, drink coffee, energy drinks, etc. Every item gives you a few points in either strength, defence, speed and/or willpower, topped with some extra experience points. When I played River City Ransom (beat’em up for NES) I enjoyed the small shops you could enter and buy food and beverages, so when that part returns in this game, 21 years later, I’m getting a fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside.

Since I have a Ph.D in trophy prostitution, I checked out the trophy list pretty quick and I must say – this is the weakest link in this game.

No co-op trophies, no knock-out-50-enemies-with-thrown-bottles-trophies, etc. You have one trophy for clearing the game with Scott, but what about the other three characters? I’d like to have trophies for, let’s say, “beating the first level without losing a life”, “beating the second level…” and so on. The aforementioned “throwing bottles trophy” got my senses tingling as well. You only have two boss-related trophies, which leaves five bosses out. That’s a bummer, if you ask me.
That put aside, I think it’s a great game that manage to capture that cozy retro feeling and since I am such a huge sucker for pixels, this goes down as AWESOME in my book.

The game is packed with gamer easter eggs. As the picture above suggests, the NES gets its fair share of tributes throughout the game. It’s Super Mario, Kirby and Mega Man, to name a few. If you get this game and have a history (and hopefully a present) that involves NES games, you should recognize the details as they occur.

And last but not least – Read the comic!
For the love of all that’s funny and/or holy, read the comic
before you play the game! You’ll enjoy the game sooo much more if you do so, trust me. I believe it’s a good order to start with the comic, play the game and last but not least, see the movie.

Why Scott Pilgrim kicks ass…

Bookworm True to the comic.
Take fighting to a new level Experience points. Period.
Gucci who? Anamanaguchi’s music is awesome!
Hip to be Square Pixel perfection.


Progressive Videogame Music

Booskaboo is a band based in Gefle, Sweden and were formed in December 2008.
Adam and Mattias had thoughts of starting a band playing music from classic videogames, so when they met their old friend Nakadai from the kung fu they were practicing years earlier, they decided to make it real.

Both Adam and Mattias had been playing their respective instrument for some time, so Nakadai decided to play the drums. All that was missing now was the fourth member, whose role would be essential, since most NES games used four channels for the music.
Six months later, they met David through a friend. It turned out that David was just as much a videogame nerd as  the others and since he played the keyboard, the band could be complete.

They’ve still only done a few gigs in their home town, but to great joy and their repertoire is expanding, with music from platforms such as Playstation, Sega and Amiga.

They have channels on both youtube and myspace. So far, there is only live footage available, but new material are bound to show up pretty soon. Anyways, check it out!


Borderlands [Max]

If I say the words The Final Frontier, let us blatantly ignore Star Trek and think about the Wild West. In Borderlands the frontier is pretty much that – only the Frontier has moved on to other planets and you fondle, drool over and caress a bountiful of high tech weapons. Want a shotgun with a TFT screen zoom? Deal. How about a machine gun that spits fire and eats energy shields for breakfast? You got it.

There’s no denying that Borderlands is a first person shooter, but when playing it the first thing that comes to my mind is Diablo, the old click-and-kill RPG classic from 1997, where once you had finished the main story and started the game again, you would keep on going at a tougher pace and pick up new exciting character boosting items. And you kept going, and going, and going. Borderlands picked up on this simple but spellbinding concept and brought it to its weapons, but I’m getting ahead of myself, let me back up a bit:

Borderlands starts you off as one out of four characters, all with their own play style, attitude and strengths. Brick for instance is a berzerker that can throw himself into a fit of rage that while lasting lets him sling devastating punches to his enemies while hollering like The Hulk on crack. Roland, is a soldier that brings his portable turret which brings large bonuses to his co-players, and this is where the game really gets great: You can play co-op with up to four players, either online or via split-screen. My PS3 has actually had to be sent in for repairs twice because overheating after long sessions of Borderlands. Sad? Yes. Worth every penny? Undeniably so.

As you disembark Marcus Kincaid’s rusty ol’ bus in Fyrestone and the last notes of the tone-setting intro music play, the story takes you on a hunt for the rumoured Vault, plowing your way through competitors, monsters, animals and territorial gangsters and what not, often guided along the storyline by a one-wheeled droid that you’ll soon learn to build a love-hate relationship with.

The game and story slowly builds up under the first few hours as you walk around the beautifully landscape surrounding Fyrestone; all rendered in beautifully gritty brown CEL-shading giving it a cartoonish feel that really works in favor of the game, and before you know it you’re hooked: just one more level, one more monster, enemy or boss to kill; one more sweet weapon drop, one more skill, one more level of weapon proficiency and GOD DAMN IS IT MORNING ALREADY??! Yeah, that’s addictive for you.

The story line is a bit sparse given all the side quests you need to undertake to get skilled enough to continue but it is never a problem, there is a slew of interesting, rough-edged characters to meet and be amused by and they often have new things to say. I was amazed at how many sound bits that have been recorded for the game. I actually had a peek and there are near 7000 sound bits in the game. Now there’s something for other game designers to pick up on. The ambient music of the game is also well balanced to bring you emotionally deeper into that Badlands-feeling without being repetitive or disturbing.

Although Borderlands stands fine on its own for single player it is really in co-op it shines. The more player the tougher the monsters become, the better the items enemies drop are and your players’ skills really compliment eachother. Suddenly the rush of storming a town together or nervously sneaking around unknown territory to take out whatever awaits is boosted to new levels.

Borderlands have brought in several good existing concepts but has also brought something new and interesting to the game mechanic: Second Wind. If you get shot down you have some time as your sight dims; to make a kill on an enemy which brings you back on your feet, unless a friend is along and can revive you. This is a great adrenaline booster and works perfectly!

Many that have played Borderlands are sure to draw some parallels to Fallout 3 and not without reason. It’s a far stretch to say Borderlands is Fallout 3 with co-op but it does give a general direction. Another thing they have in common is the style of DLC. Both have several packs that increases your maximum character level and provides more quests and areas to explore, although I encourage you to read up on which ones you want, they’re not all worth every cent.

As for trophies, Borderlands gets a meh-rating. They aren’t impossible and do not involve endless hours of online gameplay to get which is a bonus, yet many of them are uninspiring ones such as reach level this, level that. We can live with them, we could have lived without them too. There’s at least one secret one too that is near impossible to figure out on your own which is just plain annoying.

Without dwelling on more details I have to say that Borderlands is a game that will stay in my collection and brought out from time to time, characters in the game are charmingly flawed and have a lot of different things to say, the gameplay has a great flow to it and at times pushes you to find new strategies to take down enemies and the story although no masterpiece, works to pull you along.

Having said that, I have to go sit down right now and play some more right now. HEY LOOK AT ME EVERYBODY – I’M DANCIN’!

Why Borderlands is greater than borderline…

Oh you like that huh? – All the exploding dwarf heads you could wish for.
This is my rifle this is my gun! – Bullet love and a big bag of death.
Are you talking to me? – Great variation in voice acting and sound bits.
Once more with feeling – Dangerously high re-playability.


Borderlands [NKD]

As a kid I watched a lot of cartoons.
Transformers, Thunder Cats, Starzinger, you name it. Time passed by and I grew older, but my interest for cartoons never receded. I’m 28 years old as I write this and I still watch cartoons. I sometimes fall back on Transformers and reminisce, but it has generally been replaced by anime of various kinds.

Videogames has also been a part of my life growing up, so when I finally played Dragon Ball Z: Budokai for the Playstation 2, I got really excited. Okay, it wasn’t a great game, but I was into the DBZ series and first and foremost, it looked like a cartoon. Well, it was cel-shaded, but that’s cartoon enough for me.

When I got my hands on Borderlands a few months ago, I was truly flabbergasted. Not only was it cel- shaded, but it was HD, FPS and RPG in one! I know I sound like a typical fanboy, all worked up over the latest release of a Star Wars movie or a new Final Fantasy game, totally totally oblivious to a critical and analytic way of thinking. That might be part of the truth, but this game actually lived up to my expectations.

The graphics are as close to a comic I’ve seen in a game so far. You have the stylized, striped shadows, the small “ink” details emphasizing body parts and the typical outline and it works perfectly. Nice details, but without getting too messy (unlike the armor of our bitter protagonist from Darksiders). Since it’s an FPS, you get a huge emphasis on the weapons and they surely deliver on that point too. Every weapon is unique, due to the “weapon generator”. The same goes for enemies and equipment too, so there’s a lot to pick from. The only downside is that you could get a shotgun with 4.9x zoom, while your sniper rifles tend to stick around the 1-2.5x range. I fail to see the logic in that.

A small detail to care about, considering the vast amount of weapons you’ll find. To top it off, you can also find weapons with different elemental attributes, with incendiary, explosive, chocking or corrosive additional damage. Trust me; you’ll find you weapon of choice.

Another thing that I like about the game is all the comments and one-liners you get from the characters, vault hunters and bandits alike. Every time I got a critical hit on one of the badass enemies (that is actually what they’re called), my character use to say “I don’t think he liked me”, followed by a sadistic laugh, which always made me laugh as well. Shared fun is twice the fun, right? I looked closer into the voice samples and I found out that it’s not only the weapons they have shitloads of. Every character have a couple of hundreds(!) different phrases and that alone gives a variation you surely appreciate.
Satisfaction abounds.

While running around in this desolate wasteland with tumbleweed and all that, you need some good ambience, right? Well, the composers responsible for the score made a great job. You get that ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ vibe while running around shooting skags and bandits and it really does the trick. To get a glimpse of its splendor, check out the awesome intro, with a great song from the band Cage the Elephant:

As you play the game, you’ll soon notice that you have a shitload of challenges that you can complete as well (shoot 2500 skags, get 500 critical hits, etc) and I’m still trying to complete the list, with great pleasure. You get experience points for completing these challenges, so it’s a good idea to check them out once in a while. Unfortunately, these challenges do not reward you with a trophy, once fully completed. Despite that, the trophies aren’t so bad. Sure, you’ve got the standard complete-an-episode thing going, which is just as classic as it is cliché nowadays.  You still got some goodies in there though. All in all, I like the trophies and they fun to achieve.

Since the game was released, they also released three DLC’s; The Zombie Island of Dr Ned, Mad Moxxi’s Underground Riot and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, in that order. As DLC’s they were abundant and contained a lot of hours in gameplay, although it could get a bit repetitive at times. In Dr Ned and General Knoxx, you’ll have to travel back an forth on the map, completing one quest after another, but you can tell that the latter was the latest DLC to be released, due to it’s size and variation, in spite of the repetitiveness. Moxxi’s Underground Riot is just an arena add-on, where you can fight in three different arenas, completing different challenges. It also has a cool storage place, where you can buy space for up to 39 items, in case you’d have 4.000.000 dollars to spare. Let’s say you find a kickass gun, or mod, that you want to save for a later occasion (or character), you can just store it there.

The Video game magazine LEVEL wrote; “This game is for those who enjoyed Fallout 3, but would like to play in co-op”. I fully agree. It’s a fun game with a great tempo and if you’re into first person shooters, you should definitely try this one out.

Why Borderlands is greater than borderline…

You were saying..? Twice the fun with one-liners.
Slave to the grind Experience points in an FPS is a winning concept.
More…give me more! More guns and equipment than the US Army.
Can we do it again? Game plus!

June 2018
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