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Uncharted 2: Too Cinematic for its own Good?

For gaining such critical acclaim and winning Game of the Year awards, I didn't feel I'd have anything new to say on the title. Everyone must have covered every angle, down to Chloe's creepy beady eyes. However, I believe the gamewas being lauded more for its technological spectacle than for the game part of it.

Gameplay Shameplay

Uncharted 2was a 3rd person shooter with some platforming. Uncharted 2 alsowas a cinematic experience sometimes, with dazzling action setpieces thatwere more for the eye than the thumbs. Raising the cinematic expectations so high, I think Naughty Dog found themselves in a rut. Ifelt like I wasgoing through the motions of the generic gameplay just to get to those cinematic moments. In fact, I played through the combat and platforming sections,in fast motion. This had the benefit of reducing the amount of sluggishness Drake has, due to the reliance on player mo-cap animation (which was also a problem of Grand Theft Auto 4). Because of the many great movie action scenes, the problems of the combat and platforming came to front and center.

Platforming section, ready, steady, GO!
While level design and environments were more creative compared to the first game, that couldn't stop how this game had the same predictable structure of shooting and then "platforming". Therewere still very few portions where the combat and platforming mixed to give the gamean identity. Therewere the Gears of War shooting bits, and then the Tomb Raider "platforming" bits (although that might be a disservice to Tomb Raider). As Naughty Dog themselves said, the "platforming" segmentswere the lulls to relax the player. But to me, I didn't feel relaxed. I wasbored (and slightly offended) by the hand-holding, no-fail-state navigational experience that I couldn't even call platforming without laughing. It's so conventional, you could make a drinking game out of every time Drake landed on a platform and it broke (to prevent backtracking).

The clear disconnect of structure (40% adventure, 60% action) still makes me hold out for when the Uncharted series will have a great "game" on its hands. Oh did I forgot to mention the puzzles? Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw said it best, "puzzles which I usually solve by opening your journal and having it bold-faced tell you the solution; so the only thing being tested is WHETHER OR NOT YOU STILL HAVE EYEBALLS IN YOUR FACE!" There is only one single moment I could remember where you're platforming and in a combat scenario, which is when
you're hanging off a street lamp and enemies come from all directions high-and-low. This is the only time where you had to actively platform around the street signsto avoid being shot in the back. Unfortunately for the rest of the game, I felt like I wasmoving from one movie set to another. So, what about the story?

Uncanny Valley


Yes, the story. Wasn't it supposed to be "the best"? Amazing voice acting? Characters "so human and believable"? Amazing cutscenes? Amazing mo-cap work?

Cutscenes are so last-gen, man
Yeeeaahhh. I thought we moved on fromdeclaring the story of a game can only be shown through cutscenes
11 years ago.Uncharted 2 had few moments where the storytelling and gameplaymelded to memorable effect, such as the Tibetan village or where you're dragging Jeff Gerstmann across street alleys while avoiding incoming gunfire. Most of the storytelling was done through cutscenes, and that was a shame considering how many animations were piled on. However,what becameabigger problem was when another character from the cutscene transitioned into gameplay.

The graphics of Uncharted 2 were breathtaking at times, to the point of photorealism. Which caused much higher expectations for logic. When in that sameabove video of dragging the wounded Jeff you see Elena get hit with an RPG and then again and again, you lose the suspension of disbelief that she's a living, breathing character in this world. Whenever a story character was with you, they couldn't be killed by enemies, yet, in cutscenes they're completely fallable like any human. Of course, micromanaging non-playable characters would be frustrating if they could die, but the game lost its attention to detail that had been revered so much.

It felt like "cutscene over, characters over too". The disconnect is very jarring for such a photorealistic and detailed game. If you're going to be a 3rd person shooter with emphasis on story and characters, you should learn from
the very best. Naughty Dog got the narrating through gameplay part right, but forgot to putenough meaningful character interaction during gameplay e.g.when Drake sees a statue and does a mom joke to Flynn while he's trailing behind. To ruin the best storytelling moment in the game (the intro) with a rehash, but with added Drake unwitty narration felt like Naughty Dog was uncomfortable with Drake just shutting up for a second. They further ruined it with how fast in Chapter 15 he's fit for shooting duty. I wouldn't be jumping around with a gunshot wound to the gut.
Still the king of 3rd person shooters.

I'd like to think Max Payne 2 heavily inspired similar hallucinogenic episodesin my personal 2009 Game of the Year (GoTY), Batman: Arkham Asylum. Tangent aside, I'd like Naughty Dog to learn that interactive storytelling is the future with the technology we have now, not mo-capped cutscenes. Max Payne gamesare very cutscene-heavy also, but they also know how to tell a story while you're playing to great emotional effect.

Will the Real Nathan Drake please Stand Up?

After having formed my opinion on how the gameplay isn't anything to write home about and that the storytelling isn't quite there, we conclude on my biggest issue with the game. Nathan Drake, the protagonist of this pulpy adventure. Naughty Dog stated the character was a nod to previous heroes of the pulp genre, from IndianaJones all the way back to the 30's.This is where they fell into another rut.

Swashbluckers, ahoy!

Nathan Drake is a kitchen sink, borrowing fragments from so many similar characters, he loses his identity. Is Drake a thief, a simple adventurer, aplayer, a psychopathic maniac, a super athletic jumper, and a puzzle-solver? Nope, not buying it. I won't belabour the point about him being
the most sadistic protagonist in videogaming history, and instead move straight to his inconsistencies. This guy has no problem in starting his own genocide, but he suddenly grows a conscience when he doesn't want to shoot museum guards.He makes ridiculous leaps of faith that you can't gauge because this isn't a platformer, but to always grunt and heave each time? When did chronic smokers learn to be that athletic? During gameplay, he can die off very small heights, but survivemuch higher heights because they're part of a cutscene?!

This massive disconnect in thecharacter from cutscene to gameplayjust didn't jive with me, and made me feel more disconnected than with Niko the psycho in Grand Theft Auto 4. Nathan Drake just isn't a very consistent character, and it doesn't help that Ihate every single unwittyremark that he pulls out of his bag of cliches. I'm sure if you watch Zero Punctuation, you know how
someone can hate such a character even more than me.

There's Still Hope, Naughty Dog


I still have hope that Naughty Dog will one day be able to deliver a great game to go along with the great characters, cutscenes, and cinematic moments. I'm a little disgusted in how many GoTY awards this game rewarded, though. It makes a statement that gaming critics would rather award a game that tries to be a movie, instead of just being adamn goodgame like Demon's Souls or Batman: Arkham Asylum. I hope that Uncharted 3 is enough of a great game that I wouldn't mind replaying any part of the game, instead of skipping to the best action scenes like some Hollywood blockbuster. I like kitchen sinks!

Good luck, Drake, you'll need it.

What Were My Favourite Films of 2009?

This is going to be fun.My criteria for the list is, these films have to be great for a second viewing. Or, 50th.


1. World's Greatest Dad

This film is just so goddamn amazing to me. Unfortunately, I can't even describe the plot of the movie, because it's a huge damn spoiler. Robin Williams is an unpopular poetry teacher (and never-published novelist) who has to deal with the worst son ever, but then he gets the perfect chance to write a great story and become famous. Just that, there's something deeply wrong with the novel. This is the film that has gotten me into watching any dark comedies I can find. World's Greatest Dad is very easy to put as my favourite, because even though I'm not a 50 year old washed-out novelist and poetry teacher, I can connect with the message. Be true to yourself. That might be a cliche, but true honesty hurts, and this film will remind you why. It's just so easy to put this as number 1, because I was moved so much just like last year's Waltz with Bashir.

Not just that, it's one of the most original screenplays I've ever witnessed. It has the most daring plot twist ever, because you never see main characters in a movie kicked out that fast. It's a golden rule of Hollywood to NOT have such a plot twist dealing with a main character, that fast into the movie. I wish I could talk to someone who has seen the movie. From the beginning with "THE END" credit titles to the almost perfect ending, it's just edited so damn well. Every single scene is damn memorable and funny as hell. Borat did that for me, making me love every single scene (yes, even the nude wrestling scene). If a film can make me love it for its whole runtime, not being able to pick out a flaw, I feel I've seen something special. Robin Williams gives an Oscar-worthy performance. That's all that needs to be said.

I can overhype this film so much, because I feel I can defend it to the end of times. It also has a distinct visual look, with the school's colours (red and yellow) being very prominent throughout. I think the only people who might not like the film are people who might not be feeling the deadpan comical tone, or are disgusted with a German scheisser-porn loving pervert of a son, but that's what makes it so special. I love movies where music makes the film. I've also seen it 5 times, and never get bored of it. It's just so damn quotable, and I think that's the mark of a timeless film.


2. District 9

I showed this film to my roommate the other night. Halfway through it he said, and I quote, "This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen; I've never seen anything like this". District 9 might be a critical darling (and overhyped to some people) but just like The Dark Knight, everyone loves an artful action blockbuster movie.

The plot is a perfect sell for anyone. "An alien spaceship comes to Johannesburg in South Africa. But they're not there to take over Earth, they just want to go back home". Africa? Ok, that might be interesting, is what might some person might say. It's not just the incredible documentary feel, the incredible action scenes, and the flawless CGI Prawns-human interaction, that made me love the film. It's the fact there is so much humour to Wikus van de Merwe's character, the way he says the F word, how he loves his job to the point of making great jokes. I love when you start with an unlikeable-but-entertaining protagonist and they become more relatable. I love that moment when he's a fugitive, and he's just staring at the spaceship while hiding in the grass. I love how he transforms as a character and literally. I just love Wikus' journey, and yet he's able to crack jokes at the most inappropriate times.

Sharlto Copley gives an Oscar-worthy performance. Bloody hell does he go the mile in this film. All ranges of emotion. The ending is so heartbreaking. I'm not sure about a sequel, but I can see a lot of potential for the world to expand even more. I also love that this was made on $30 million and that it never shows.


3. 500 Days of Summer

Finally, a relationship movie for guys. The thing with this film, it rings so very true for many young couples, just like how Revolutionary Road does to married couples. My friend said that the "Reality/Expectations" scene was such a stomach-punch. This stands out from other romantic comedies in that, there's an autobiographical truthness to it, that comes from the screenwriter's past. "75%" of it actually happened, and it's always the true stories that give the most creativity to fiction because you can't come up with such stuff.

The second half of the film is where the impact comes, and it leaves its hooks into you. Moving from one day to another, like ( 408 ) to (34) flows so well without breaking up the narrative. How Tom (Joseph Gordon Levitt) misreads the whole relationship gives a brilliant twist, so you don't expect what will happen next. It's also a damn gorgeous film, with the lighting, and colours. Very good feast for the eyes.

Most of all, when the movie ends, it's so inspirational for me thinking about my life. I might even write a short story that is somewhat similar to this film. Just because it's inspirational, this movie will stay with me for a while. Watching this film a 2nd time is even more rewarding for an experience because of the non-linear narrative. Plus, the DVD commentary is a must-listen, because it's just four guys talking about how true the movie can be.


4. The Hurt Locker

If this was just another post-Iraq war movie, I'd have to compare it to better works. But because of its focus on a bomb worker and the life he has to go through, this film totally sold me because I'd never seen that perspective on a war. He's not really a soldier, he's just like some plumber. Get the job done, that's it. With unforgettable set-pieces like the sniper stand-off, how can I not love it? It's also for all the Call of Duty 4 players out there who remember "Ghillied Up". Like 500 Days of Summer, the creativity feels like it must have been somewhat autobiographical that allow some scenes to be so unforgettable.

This is just a great companion piece to District 9 for its documentary look, and especially to Generation Kill. Jeremy Irons just gives again, an Oscar-worthy performance for someone who has to NOT care about the really tough stuff he has to do, like negotiate with a confused suicide bomber who doesn't want to die. When he develops a relationship for a bootleg movie-selling, confident kid and that takes a very sour turn, you feel what this unemotional soldier must be going through.

Just like District 9, without an out-there protagonist, these films wouldn't be as memorable or critically-loved as they are. They'd be soulless action movies, which is why I have to put up 2 great action blockbuster movies in my top 5, so people know that you can still demand for a great FILM from an action movie.


5. Paranormal Activity

This is a controversial pick, because people judged the film based on how scary it was to them. Not on the fact of how good the film actually is. And just like The Exorcist, you don't need the film to be scary for it to be loved. Because this is about a couple living in a supposedly haunted house, I think this film will resonate if you are watching it in your home on the DVD. Some people will find different parts scary based on the context. Like in my apartment, I can hear people walking up stairs, so that's the scariest part in the film to me with the running-up-stairs sound effect.

Forget if you found the movie scary, it's just a great film that's foreboding and claustrophobic like never before. Completely believable performances from the 2 main actors root this generic story with a certain pinch of heartbreaking when the end comes. Also, it gives you those "HOW DID THEY DO THAT?!" moments, where you're impressed with the filmmaking. None of the effects feel cheap in a bad way, they just feel like very simple but highly resonant effects. Making footsteps on baby powder. Making an Ouija board set on fire. The time spanning shots. Please also, watch the original ending, and not the "in-your-face" theatrical ending. It's much more subtle, and gave me a lot to think about. How the couple is reduced to a mere statistic on the wall of weird is kind of depressing.

While [Rec] was the best horror movie last year, Paranormal Activity is a great companion piece to it and clearly the only big horror movie success of this year.


OH WAIT, I JUST REALISED THESE ARE ALL INDEPENDENT FILMS! 2009 WAS THE YEAR OF GREAT INDEPENDENT FILMS, I guess.

Avatar - what a disappointment.

Avatar sucked. I was disappointed coming out of the cinema.
Bear in mind, I went into this movie completely fresh. NO REVIEWS, NOTHING OUTSIDE OF THE TRAILERS.
Saw it in 3D, but not IMAX.

Ok, time for pretentious opinions.
$500 million won't buy you an interesting alien world. It won't buy you interesting characters. It won't buy you an interesting script, plot, or story.
Pandora, the world itself, is bereft of creativity. There's hardly a single sci-fi concept here that's kinda new here. It's all prehistoric animals, and blue aliens. And the only blue alien race I care about is this:

Asaris  NavisAsaris > Navis


Avatar won't be remembered for anything than its visuals. And that's too bad. Because we all used to love James Cameron, no matter how pretentious he has become now.

What did I not like?


This is James Cameron's worst film to date. I know that's easy to say, because all of his films are great. If this was George Lucas, I'd say it's a step up from the prequels. But seriously, what makes James Cameron's sci-fi films stand out? Because they have cool characters and drama to go along with the cool sci-fi concepts and ideas.

My problem with the amazing graphics is (just like Star Wars prequels), if you don't have characters or a story worth investing in, it feels like you're watching a very long videogame cutscene. I was genuinely bored through a good portion of this movie. That's worrying for a film with a world so colourful and dripping in details.

The plot. Why tell Jake Sully to learn how to acclimate to the Navi culture when the military will swoop in anyway when the plan fails? No need for 90 minutes of Jake Sully. When I can predict every single minute of a film, that's just depressing. Jake Sully had a great backstory, with being paraplegic, replacing his dead twin bro. Aaaaaaaand, that's about it. The villain in the film, like really? Even Guile (Street Fighter) looks less stupid! I don't care about any of these characters. The only character worth a damn, even if she's part of the predictable parade, is the Neytiri blue Navi chick. There's some excellent mo-cap work done for her. When she's crying, you feel it.

The Navis. Replace them with Africans, Native Americans, Pocahontas, or any other marginalised tribe, and you've got these aliens figured out. They have a chief, the jockey, the comic relief, the disapproving dad and his hot daughter. It's as generic as it gets.

The sci-fi in this film is just insulting. "Unobtanium", honestly? At least Star Trek tried, with the red matter. You won't even explain how humans jack into the Avatars? Oh yeah, show a generic multi-coloured tunnel. Even the Matrix bothered to show a needle. Ghost in the Shell, a wire. How do the mountains float? I'll admit though, the hair connecting to every living thing was pretty cool.

The mechs? Done way better some years ago, with Matrix Revolutions. Done way better many years ago with Neon Genesis Evangelion.


This is Cameron's Disney movie. In a bad way. The plot, characters, and story are a joke. Good sci-fi films are not good because of their cool ideas or concepts. They're good because there is human drama around the ideas, so we can be attached to the weird stuff. Go watch Solaris, because the idea for it is so weird, and without great characters, story, or drama, that movie would have failed. James Cameron even admits in the Solaris commentary, that he'd never be able to make such a subtle and deeply profound sci-fi film such as it. Oh, how dangerous those words would come to be.

What did I like?

The Navi chick.
The vistas.
Jake's training scenes. The "run, Forrest, RUN!" scene is great.
The 3D. Even though it's not convincing me that all movies need to be in 3D.
Teh graphixxz!

Disappointments of the Year

Aside from the visuals, this is another disappointing blockbuster to add onto the list of 2009. Public Enemies, Wolverine, Watchmen, Transformers 2, Terminator Salvation (I liked it quite a bit), Star Trek (yeah I'm one of those), and now Avatar.

For the people that liked it

Don't watch it again. I don't want you to see the problems with the film, second time round. I don't want my review to ruin the good time you had with the film. You had a great night out with your friends, I don't want to spoil that.
If you enjoyed it, good for you.
I'm already trying to forget this movie, and it's working. Just another forgettable disappointment. Moving on.
This is not me trying to ruin your parade. Honestly, you're the one doing that the second you click on this blog with such a header title like "Avatar - what a disappointment".

What's the sci-fi action film of this year worth watching?


Go buy the District 9 DVD now. It's out!

What else?

Go watch the " 70 Minute review of Star Wars: Phantom Menace". I died in laughter!

Why BATMAN is my Indisputable Game of the Year!

Let's not forget, everyone was super sceptical on this Batman videogame before it came out. There hasn't been a single good 3D Batman game. There hasn't been a single great superhero game (Spiderman* games are only good for the swinging). So, BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM had a lot going against it. How will the game keep true to the Batman character? Will the gadgets have lame gameplay? Would the combat system be a generic beat-em-up? Would the story suck? Who's ever even heard of Rocksteady Studios?

NO ADDED JUNK


Thankfully, it was the exact opposite of those questions. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM is a tight experience, with game design that sticks stringently to its goals. There is no Batmobile driving sequence. There are no Quick Time Events. There is no co-op. There is no multiplayer. There is no big Gotham city open-world where you do side-quests to pad out more hours. Rocksteady was confident in its single-player campaign, to not have to add any obvious filler.

That's major confidence from a fairly unknown developer studio.

I'M THE GODDAMN BATMAN!


So, what should a Batman game be? A platformer? A brawler? A detective game? Or, be like other clever developers, and dip into all those genres? Not many games combine different gameplay genres, or when they do, they're bloated. There's been only one game that I remember that did it well, which was BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. Most games just rely on what they're good at, and stick to that. I think it's called the "if it's not borken, don't fix it" paradigm that has led to the most generic games ever.

BATMAN: AA isn't that. The developers put excellent gameplay that defines every aspect of the character. Due to this, everything about the game feels fresh. From the insanely refreshing and satisfying freeflow combat system (Batman's the best at martial arts, and it shows) to the exploration of the world with your grappling hook (he's gotta perch like a bat, too) and other geekgasm gadgets (no Bat credit card), you know you're playing a Batman game.

The Batman combat is just genius. Instead of combo mashing, every single face button is a tactic. Little input = big output. You must be an economical businessman with your button presses, especially when it comes to the Combat Challenges. Is it the only game where there isn't a single-button-mashing combo? The variety of moves leads into the animations, with some of the most beautiful mo-cap work I've witnessed from a protagonist. Animations never get old, because they hardly ever repeat. They're dynamic. This again is a huge achievement, to not have "animation fatigue" even in this HD era of having hundreds of animation cycles.

Stealth gameplay could've been screwed up so bad. How many good stealth staple games are there really? I have to give props to Rocksteady for making the most universally simple and elegant stealth system that anyone can pick up. This is the new wave of aggressive stealth. The artificial intelligence is great, which allows you for sandbox SPLINTER CELL-like gameplay where you're toying around with the enemies, and then snapping up the last enemy who's peeing his pants. When you're on a gargoyle, you feel so Batman it's creepy. SPLINTER CELL CONVICTION is also going along this new wave of aggressive stealth (which is resonating a lot more with people who've always wanted to try these games), so let's see what grandpa Sam can muster up. Wait-and-pounce stealth is dead.

Character gameplay even comes down to how Batman never kills, and so never clashes with the overall story unlike in UNCHARTED (let's face it, Drake is Marcus Phoenix in a half-tuck, and a superhero because of his unbelievable jumps of saving grace). To me, it didn't feel like the game was ripping off other games' specific minutia. Sure, if you're reductionist, you could say it's a mix of SPLINTER CELL, TENCHU, METROID but it never plays like one of those games. That's a huge accomplishment and shows Rocksteady are confident in creating Batman-centric gameplay. I want to see enemies' heartbeat in SPLINTER CELL now. I want to glide in every game now. Also, it's beaten TENCHU in the grappling hook department and is making SPLINTER CELL run for its money.

LET ME TELL YOU A STORY


Of course, I wouldn't forget the excellent storytelling. Notice, I didn't say the word "story". It's still a great plot, of Batman being stuck in a prison for 1 night with the Rogue's Gallery, but what shines is the multiple venues of storytelling used. There is soft storytelling through Joker on the intercom or on TVs and the audio interview tapes. Then there's the typical hard storytelling through cutscenes.

Hold on though, there's a new type of storytelling too. Non-linear storytelling. This was experimented with PRINCE OF PERSIA 2008, but felt disjointed at times. Here, you're going from one part of the island to the other, and while the game's missions are not linear, there is still interactional dialogue and reactions. For example, after the Medical Pavillion mission, you can go back and find out that the Doctors haven't escaped but instead have boarded themselves up behind desks! They stay there until the end of the game! Nearly all of the characters give context-dependent dialogue too, at certain points of the game. All the personnel of the island are free to talk to, at any point of the game, so for example Aaron Cash can cheer you on to finally beat Joker when Joker's "party" starts. Because of such reactionary dialogue, it can make the Arkham Island come alive no matter how dreary it is, and showcases that Paul Dini can also write games.

Blah, blah, ALWAYS WITH THE HERO SPEAK!


Now, I won't say it's the most original game ever, but for this year, I feel it sticks out against the crowd. For such a bold game, it also excels on execution which MIRROR'S EDGE (the most original game of recent times) and other original IPs couldn't be. It is in the very rare club of a first game being nigh-on perfect on Day 1 release, like last year's DEAD SPACE. There is no need for a sequel, or any improvements needed other than very superficial ones like more bosses. It also helps that it's the best superhero and licensed game ever made. Riddick, you now have a friend.

I'M IN CONTROL OF THE ASYLUM!


All the reviews of the Batman game have been very favourable. The only negatives about the game are things that are very nitpicky. Batman's figure covering a large part of the screen (there is a non-Batman centred camera). Yes, the Titan bosses repeat a couple of times, and yes, there aren't 20 types of enemies, but this is par for the course with nearly every action-adventure game ever made. Plus, as long as they're fun, I don't see the criticism of some good repetition. One that everyone can agree on is that the final boss battle is shallow but it does show how unpredictable Joker really is. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM is so damn good, people are finding it hard to find legitimate criticism. Usually, with triple A games, you can bash the character gameplay or story, but here it's just damn good.

You also have to remember, a great game has to be as great for newcomers. It should be as pick-up-and-play as MARIO. Because of the excellent controls and simplified systems, BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM happens to be that. BATMAN: AA is definitely up there with MARIO games in terms of being accessible for everyone. Most of the games this year can have very specific audiences, like all of the shooters. Shooters are not every girl's best friend.

THE LONGEST JOURNEY


While most games up their pacing by putting more variety through newer locations or "palette-cleansing" gameplay (turret sections, vehicle sections), BATMAN: AA goes about it by completely changing the level design of Arkham Island at times. Rocksteady didn't feel the need to up the variety by letting you go to Gotham city (even though, you sort of do at one spoilerific point). Enemies appear where they weren't before, like snipers or crazed inmates. Poison Ivy's vines blocking away paths. Scarecrow, period. Batman's armour and face takes a ton of damage throughout the course of the game (for once, it's not a gimmick!). Because of such pacing and setpieces, the non-linear world never gets boring through the amount of backtracking you'll do. There's always something to look forward to.

Thanks to the magnificent pacing and every single moment being memorable, the game ends just at the right moment. So, while you might spend 15-20 hours with the game, it feels you've been through a lot with the characters and the island. This is one night you and Batman won't ever forget.


OVER? IT HASN'T EVEN BEGUN!


Because it stands out amongst the pack of games this year and had the MOST TO PROVE, this is easily the Game of the Year.

No sequelitis.

Totally new gameplay, like the freeflow combat where animations never recycle.

Most fun stealth gameplay ever.

Non-linear backtracking that's always interesting.

Great storytelling.

And that it's damn memorable! Every moment in the game was given love and care, from Harley Quinn's office to the Riddler.

Everyone loves the game, which is not something you can say for a game franchise other than MARIO. This is a great game for people not privy to Batman's loving cape. The best games are the ones where everyone finds something to love, and for 2009, it's BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM, in my opinion.

* except for Spiderman: Web of Shadows [credit: 100th_bullet]

No games to play makes Moeez a what?

It was an inevitable decision to make. To bring the 360 over, or not. I decided not. Now that I'm 2 months into my course, DEFINITELY NOT. Medicine is intense, and fast.

Instead, I've been writing new short stories, and watching movies. I'm not ready to show off my short stories, but I am ready to talk about the movies I have watched.

But first, I'll comment on the state of the gaming industry, with one simple sentence. Action games have called out the death of action movies. When you have games like Prototype, Uncharted 2, and Modern Warfare 2, who needs action movies? Why bother watching a crap action movie, when you can interact with a not-so-crap one? This realisation came to me during Prototype. With a game that has so much, will all the mayhem you can cause, a movie adaptation would need a $500 million budget.

Like, the most memorable part of Modern Warfare 2 is there's a scene where it's raining helicopters. RAINING HELICOPTERS! :o

So, action movies have more to prove now than ever. Which is why you get something like 2012 now, where they have to destroy the ENTIRE WORLD to prove they're still one step ahead of videogame epicness. That movie was so much fun, I want to see the Washington monument fall down again and murder millions of people! :P

That's all on that. I have nothing more to say about games, since the divorce.

So, movies then?


I've been on a comedy bent. Thanks to stagevu, I've been checking the best of them. Best teen comedies, best dark comedies (that's a favourite of mine).

World's Greatest Dad : Perfect dark comedy, too bad it's not out in theatres. Robin Williams strikes gold. Genuinely heartfelt stuff in there too. Honestly, it's the best film I've seen this year. Just too entertaining, great soundtrack, great scenes, great performances. This is the first year where I think a comedy film deserves a Best Picture over other navel-gazing, performance-heavy Oscar bait.

Observe and Report : Controversial dark comedy, starring Seth Rogen. His most unique film to date. This is dark stuff. An overconfident, bi-polar mall cop who just wants to prove himself as a real cop. If you like character studies of flawed characters, you'll be into it. I loved it, even if you might not be into it.

The Proposition : Gorgeous, but boring. The pacing was dead at times, which is my main problem. The characters are amazing, though, especially Ray Winstone. It's a perfect Western film though, insane cinematography and setting. Brutal violence. But it's very hard to get through the whole film in one setting, because of the languish pacing. Not enough Guy Pearce (dude from Memento), and he's not so badass until the very end.

There Will be Blood : Wow, PT Anderson's most ambitious film to date. It's definitely a masterpiece. A period piece around California when oil first struck big. The first 20 minutes of no dialogue with DD Lewis reminded me of 2001, but done way better. Great journey of a scrubby man going down the spiral of evil fortunes and backstabbing. My favourite part of the film is the static filming, reminding me of old-school where it was all about the actors rather than the camera.

Happiness : Pretty tough dark comedy. I'd go to say, it's a black comedy. The laughs are very few. And I didn't like it. The paedophile story was the most intriguing and disturbing. Honestly, too many characters to flip through. It's not enjoyable until the very "I came!" ending.

Moon : Overhyped sci-fi. Sam Rockwell is great. Cinematography is great. Story is hard to follow at times, even though it's stupidly simple. I wouldn't recommend it, there's nothing deep to it. I've seen better clone stories in a Simpsons episode. If you want a deep, low-fare scifi movie, check out Solaris instead. Even if you hate Clooney.

Syriana : Speaking of Clooney, he's in this. With a huge beard. Intense political drama set in Middle East, all about oil and corporations. It can get kind of complex, but that's what I like about it. Not hugely memorable, but the Prince Nasir character was interesting. The unemployed Pakistani kids was a great tale. Sad ending. Had a fun time, and if you liked it, check out Tom Hank in Charlie Wilson's War.

Antichrist : Very emotionally draining film about two characters. Willem Dafoe, and Charlotte Gainsborough. There are no other humans in the film. Great performances, great visuals. It's one of those "bad things go to worse" plots. My favourite aspect is how nature, usually a lovely thing, is made evil. "Nature is Satan's church," and you'll believe it. Very gruesome sexual violence. If you liked Hard Candy, this is right up your alley.

The Departed : Finally saw this movie. If I hear that Irish-sounding rock song again, I'll...whatever. I saw it just to compare to the original. Prefer Infernal Affairs more, but Scorsese still holds his own in the character-building department. The ending, didn't like it. Caprio still is a great OTT actor.

2012 : Best execution of disaster movie ever. Instead of being a flood/volcano/global warming movie, it's everything! If you like good plots or interesting characters, stay far away from this movie. But if you love great FX, great sadistic visuals of your favourite landmarks getting murdered and murdering other people, I'd recommend it. Only for cinemas, though.

Heathers : Damn it, I love Winona Ryder in this. An excellent teen school dark comedy, about student "suicides". Won't spoil it, but surprising seeing Christine Slater actually act. I've only heard him from the terrible Uwe Boll films. If you like Mean Girls, but with more angsty narration and much darker comedy, you'll love the heck out of this.

Election : Wow, another excellent school dark comedy with Matthew Broderick (when he was still relevant), and Reese Witherspoon. Much like World's Greatest Dad, it's a surprisingly emotional journey for the main character. Plot is about student elections, with insane rivalry. Very off-beat, and memorable. No matter how in the dumps Broderick gets, he's always lovable.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High : This has hit number 1 of best teen comedies. After seeing it, I wouldn't agree, but it has some genius moments of rude humour. Sean Penn, as a stoner since 3 years old, is the most memorable character. Mr. Hand reminded me of my own history teacher!

Bronson : If you want to see A Clockwork Orange for the new generation, check it out. An absolutely Oscar-worthy performance from Tom Hardy. When I say A Clockwork Orange, I mean brutal violence, clas.sical music, and psychotic characters in prison settings. And it's a TRUE STORY about Britain's most famous prisoner!

Choke : Sex comedy, with Sam Rockwell again. He has sex addiction, and needs help. Same setting as Fight Club's opening of group therapy. Very interesting story, and it's more about the character's relation to his mom. Their history together. The Jesus turn was surprising. Hot chick. Lots of sex. So, if you're into that...

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies : If you want an excellent DC action animated movie, this is it. Completely satisfying. Much better than the dud that was Superman: Doomsday. GO BUY THIS NOW!

The Prestige : Even though I saw it in cinemas, I wanted to see it in 720p. If YOU haven't, you must. Absolutely mesmerising psychological thriller set in the days of magicians and scientists. Knock-out performances from Wolverine and Batman. Nolan at the top of his game. Insane script, making you pay attention very closely. I can't wait for Inception. If that trailer doesn't have you excited or give you the chills...


So, let's review. Best movie of 2009 IMO? World's Greatest Dad, so far. Biggest disappointment? Moon. Film I still need to see? Hurt Locker. Film I couldn't care less about? Avatar.

I Haven't Played the Game, but I Have an OPINION!

Humans are social beasts. We thrive on communication, and feedback. However, we also thrive on gossip and information from secondary or even tertiary sources. This is why we're not journalists or news reporters. We're simply enthusiasts for the medium. Which is why, we can be misinformed very easily, when our hands are off the product. We are only going by what other people tell us.

HANDS OFF

The majority of us enthusiasts are not in the gaming press. So it's inevitable to bandwagon around the press' opinions as our own. Imagine if you will the analogy that we enthusiasts are represented as clouds, floating above the earth. We are just fluff. The earth is where the gaming press has their hands on concrete gaming evidence. Without concrete evidence, many variables can "cloud" our judgement. It's only when we have the game in our hands, can we become rain and hit the earth.

THE BARRAGE

Since the Internet, the climate of gaming has forever changed. Before with magazines, they'd be our only doors to news and information about the videogame scene. Now, everything you ever wanted to know about videogames is on the click of your fingers. So with more doors open to you at any point of time, you're bound to think that you can know everything about a videogame before it's out. You never have even touched the game, but with the amount of Internet outlets and press people's opinions, you can go off your sniff on what's good and bad.

Which is why many gaming companies realise this vulnerability, and are architects of their own games' coverage to such a high quality with trailers/screenshots/quotes. You can be misled by the culmination of hype from gaming websites and media, and feel like when the game's reviewed, want to let out your assumptions. You want to be the better on the horse race that your choice was right.

I KNEW IT!

In the game's review and release window, your opinion can finally come out the closet whether it is fan-gushing or hate-mongering. You think you've seen enough to form your own hands-off impressions. You also might feel inclined to spread your propaganda to other soapboxes, without ever having concrete proof. This is when you transform into a troll, and are there to either put the game on the pedestal or sink it under the ground without ever having a grain of truth. We are all victims of this (I'm currently an Uncharted 2 and Assassin's Creed 2 troll), because we want to seem smart and be centres of knowledge even if it's not first-hand. Pretention is an eventual side-effect of knowledge. You also want to be in on the act, before the hype for the videogame dies down after its first month (which is a sad case in itself).

MISLED BY THE PIPER

Not exclusive to reviews, news about games is in danger to gossip because of the ability of the Internet. It doesn't matter if the news story had a first-hand journalist behind it, now websites (Kotaku, Destructoid, and other blogging outlets) can throw around headlines around the story spread through secondary and tertiary sources. Commentators will comment on such "news", and spread that around so much that eventually it will stand as gospel "truth" (e.g. Gerstmanngate). There are now places where you can watch the whole game from beginning to end (Youtube, Justin.tv), without paying a dime.

This is the danger of the more avenues opened from the Internet, where there's less first-hand impressions and more reliance on analysts and footage. When you're relying on analyst websites, something has gone wrong, no matter how reliable they are. If you've heard/seen this much about a certain videogame, you'd think you know the whole caboodle?

THE EMPEROR WITH NO CLOTHES

Videogames are a unique beast of entertainment. They are interactive, through controller interfaces. Fortunately, no videos or reviews can tell you how your hands and brain would react when you're actually playing the game. No amount of discussing particular game mechanics or headless speculation on video websites can allow you to get the full dish on the game before it's released. None of these venues can sum up everything the game has to offer.

Unfortunately, you also can't convince sceptics of a game how good/bad it is, without handing them the game yourself. You could say "Brothers in Arms have some of the most emotionally brutal moments ever in a game!", but it means jack to the sceptic who hasn't touched the game. What might impress you about a game might not impress or even make someone else hate the game. You can't know every single secret hidden in a game that may give you an amazing moment, as evidenced by the recent Batman Arkham Asylum.

Really, who wants fanboys or trolls to fall flat on their faces for having the wrong knowledge about a game or being misled? Who wants these speculators to be made fools, post-release of a game? You have to sympathise with these gullible enthusiasts for letting hype and hyperbole take over them. So, who really wants these uninformed, hands-off humans to end up like the emperor with no clothes?

I do.

To conclude, what have we learned from this piece? What nugget of unpretentious knowledge can I impart to you? You shouldn't solely rely on websites or bloggers for your gaming purchases? Form your own opinion for once? That for opinions, everyone has their own and you should keep that in mind? No, you already know that by now.

The following advice might not be new to you, but it's a universal QFT (Quoted for Truth). Whenever a person starts going crazy over a game in a forum or comment, just say...

"HAVE YOU PLAYED THE GAME? IF NO, SHUT UP!"

(Update blog) I'll be in PRAGUE for the next 6 years!

Yo, peeps! It's been forever, or at least it feels like it. I think everyone has now seen my darker side of when I actually talk about games I have a problem with. It's not like I'm PMSing that caused the spur of rants in my recent blogs. Anyhoo, yeah I'm in PRAGUE now.

It's in the Czech Republic. Just google map it. Gorgeous city. Pretty much like London. Gothic architecture. Metro underground, trams, and buses.

Excellent public transport, btw, it's much easier than London's maze. Less people here too.

Of course, I'm also ready to dish out some dirt on this beautiful city.

First, what's with 1/3 of people having dogs?! That's a lot of dogs. And also, the SMALLEST ones. I haven't seen chihuahas, but it's pretty ridiculous. I saw a woman with a dog IN HER PURSE! Either people here are REALLY lonely. Or they like dog poo everywhere. Because of the so-many dogs, there's dog poo literally on every footwalk. And you know what? No PICK UP YOUR OWN DOG'S POO signs! If you walk here, you better beware. I mean it!

The girls. They weren't kidding when they said that Czech girls are beautiful (I meant HOT). Every single girl here in Prague is hot. Not just Aryan blondes. They run the whole gamut. And what does having lots of hot girls in Prague mean for the exploitative ad business? This (slightly NSFW).

Clubbing. I've now been to clubs for the 1st time ever. The one in the middle gets drunk hard. The one on the right always keeps his cool. Not the best of experiences. I don't drink. So when you're sober, you realise how immature and pointless clubs can be. When girls are there just to have fun by themselves or with mates, they're not trying to send signals to guys by dancing. As soon as a guy is near a girl dancing, he thinks she's interested. And it gets real awkward. Anyone sober at club probably relates to this. So, along with drunk men, comes fights. They were pretty stupid macho male territory business. But really, there's a good side to clubbing. And that's actually dancing. I did it, I'm sure my friends caught it on video. I went wild (sober). I took over the dancefloor. Yes, a nerd like me. I showed them what's what. Hehe. Maybe it was a song I liked (I usually hate trance/electronica). When you're that exhausted, you lose your inhibitions. So pretty much I knew what it must've felt like to be drunk. Anyway, I did it because I got a thrill, and I was getting mad exercise. My tongue ended up so dry. I was completely exhausted.

But I don't feel like I want to repeat it. I've had my fill.

So yeah, that's about it with the dirt.

So why am I living in Prague now? 'Cause I'm in the medical school university here. Charles University, 1st Faculty of Medicine. Medicine might not have been my long-life dream (I know it is for everyone!), but it's the one way to get to my dream profession: PSYCHIATRY.

And I'm having fun. 2nd week in, things are going great. Learning Czech language on the side, with another hot (I meant beautiful) teacher.

As you can see above, I also have fun taking pics of the weird things around here. This grafitti is right next to our Dean's building. So it's hilarious. I guess the Soviet Union wants their Czecho-Slovakia back. Yeah, if you didn't know, Czech "Republic" used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Who knew having Tescos here would be a saviour? Not many people here speak English well, so while I don't know the Czech language that much, I might as well survive on some Britishness.

So I'm doing real well here. Know my way around. Made many new friends. Some from Canada. Oh, Canada!

We have Internet now, in our apartment. If you want to see what our apartment looks like in shaky cam, check out this video. That's before anyone was living in it, so it was a few weeks before we settled in properly. I've been Skyping my family all the time, thanks to the Internet.

It feels like a good challenge living away from your family, but with friends. I've been really getting into cooking. I do the dishes (and love it). All that household stuff is great for someone like me who isn't quite OCD but still got a little of it in my genes from my uncle.

But let's forget all this life business. What about games? Ok, so my Xbox 360 isn't here. But when I go back to UK, I'll get my 360 over here.


What games I haven't talked about yet should say a lot. While I'm not playing them, I'm constantly thinking about Batman: Arkham Asylum (done), Far Cry 2 (not done), and Prototype (done). My early GoTYs would be Plants vs Zombies, Batman, and Prototype. Yeah, I said Prototype. I'm just happy we finally have a proper anti-hero game. It's one game you have to experience yourself, before you judge it. It's the biggest adrenaline rush you'll get, and it provides a unique experience with some innovations, so it's easy to see why GoTY. Batman is one, but not for the reasons everyone else thinks. Despite what they say, it does some things new that could influence future non-linear games. I won't tell right now, that's a teaser!


What games I haven't played, that I want to? Uncharted 2, just to check out if it's really TEH BEST SINGALPLAYA EVAR! You might remember, I didn't think too fondly of the first one. Lame platforming, tedious shooting, boring setpieces, and clearly not as cinematic/omgwtfawesome as Uncharted 2. Halo ODST, because the music sounds amazing. And it harkens back to the moods of Halo 1 with the loneliness. Brutal Legend. Yeah, that's obvious. Probably 20 reasons why. And I'm not even into metal. Borderlands. Because I love Gearbox. And Mikey Neumann's writing. And games that don't take themselves too seriously (hello, Fallout 3). And FPSRPGs. Demon's Souls. A hard combat RPG, that looks a little like Oblivion, yet is made from my childhood Tenchu-loving creators (From Software)? Hell yeah. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Ninja Gaiden 2, but actually more balanced? And co-op? Plus, less of the gore which ACTUALLY became a problem in obscuring your vision and the level in the 360 version? I'm always up for supporting the series that is the king of 3D combat. Dante's Inferno. Dead Space was my GoTY last year, simple as that.


What can you expect from me, in terms of game blogs? It's an editorial. That's very self-explanatoy in it's title. I Haven't Played the Game, but I Have an OPINION!

Na shledanou. That's bye in Czech.

Why Grand Theft Auto 4 is almost a Bad game (CONTINUED)

(Author's Note: Read the first part here. There is a 20,000 character limit, so that's why this blog post is split into two.)

Playing the Missions


So, onto the missions themselves. There are two types: shooting, and vehicle chases. Sometimes they have both! Ooh, the variety! No, but the missions get redundant/repetitive REAL fast. Chasing people brings out how badly scripted the whole thing is, to the point where you can't even flank. The ones that stick out are extremely hard to remember, because of the amount of crap and frustrating missions. Rockstar KNEW this, because they have a "mission replay" counter, and they add extra dialogue the 2nd time around for a mission.

Outside of Stranglehold, this is the worst cover system I've witnessed in a game. I'm actually right now trying to think of a worse one. The problem is with the inconsistency of some objects you can take cover against. In cover-based games, it's pretty obvious which objects you can take cover. However, in an open-world game like this, it's not obvious and you pay for it by dying while fiddling around with your Cover button. Most of the cover shootout areas felt very claustrophobic, and you don't have the ability to move from cover to cover, which is again outdated. Every shooting section felt like whack-a-mole, with a lock-on system no less, which made the game extremely unchallenging and more of a chore.

Everyone made me believe that "Three Leaf Clover" would be amazing, but then I realized they must have hated all of the missions in the game that they thought it would be worth putting up the only shooting mission that is fun, on a pedestal. People even mention it's like Heat, but I don't remember going into subways in that film. I told them, "Have you played Kane and Lynch? The two bank heist missions in that game are 10x better than Three Leaf Clover or at least they haven much more variety". Kane and Lynch is already the best (and most enjoyable) interpretation of Heat or any Michael Mann movie I'll ever see. With better shooting, health, weapon switching and cover mechanics to boot.

I'm not saying this is a bad game. I just enjoyed very little of it. The ratio of good missions to bad must be like 1:15. I can't point out specifically any part of the game I thought was more awesome in this game compared to any other game. Which just means, the game doesn't stand out against the crowd. Could Mafia II overtake it, as the best crime open world game?


A Few Good Elements


The Radio. That's the one overriding good factor. Listen to the Journey Station while murdering everyone on the street. Listen to healthcare issues, while someone gets chainsawed. Hear Laslow, the perfect right-wing lunatic. Hear Mr. T's law trials in the form of Judge Judy. The satire in the radio is just excellent, which is why I'm always confused why the main story and characters are so damn serious. This bi-polar split made me feel that there was no creative director for the game.

Good writing. Nothing Oscar-level, though! The story is nothing special and lacked an overall theme or message. Is it a revenge story? An immigrant story? Commentary on the American dream? A crime epic? Since all of these themes were scattershot, I couldn't really grasp what the game had to say. But the dialogue was good. Even though the only memorable dialogue to me was from all the trailers already shown. Ookayy, eef yuu put it dat vay, I'm eeeeeeeeeen.

Solid writing as every character is suitably over-the-top and yet believable. I won't say great characters (the few I've listed in the next paragraph), because they were all wannabe gangsters, that had nothing unique to them (you tell me the difference between Faustin, Jimmy Pegorino, Ray, that old dude in the hospital). Nothing memorable about them, except for maybe their quirks like Faustin always snorting drugs. So, I guess, what I'm meaning to say, the characters have really good mo-capping performances. Even though most of the characters in GTA 4 are way more unlikeable than Kane and Lynch (take that, Jeff!), I appreciate their great performances.

A few great characters. Little Jacob may be a drug dealer, but he's so tolerant and lovable! Packie might be a kid gangster always getting in trouble, but his accent and positive, humorous attitude are for the win! Brucie might take bullshark testosterone and is too alpha macho for his own good, but he never tried to get into the murdering business like everyone else in the game. Roman may be annoying and frustrating and stupid and gambles too much and gets kidnapped a bajillion times, he's your conscience to move away from Niko's past and just lead a good life.

Niko himself is actually quite deep, even though he's so stuck for revenge that not even SPAWN would care. He always need money for no reason other than to buy nice clothes. No, you can't buy expensive cars even.

Nevertheless, he has moments of introspection after the killings he does, and even helps the pathetic Dwayne out of depression.

Notice how I only really liked the lighter-side characters? Maybe because the serious stories and characters came off as pretentious, predictable, annoying, and pointless.


What's Fun about Realism?


Why was it the most unrealistic parts of the Euphoria engine I found fun? Pushing down people to death (yes, you can do this!), and standing proudly over their bodies. Dragging people down the road as they hold on to my car door? The Indiana Jones "truck hustle". The very end of the game where you jump from a flying jet ski into a helicopter!

See, there is a debate about whether a game can be realistic and still be "fun". I can prove many already successful examples of that, and GTA 4 isn't one of them. Realism isn't meant to be fun, but it can be intense; such as your weapon jamming in the middle of a firefight (Far Cry 2), dying in a few shots (SWAT 4), and healing up your body through a detailed damage system (Call of Cthulhu).

I mean, Grand Theft Auto games were never meant to be realistic. They were cartoony-looking for a reason, to downplay all the violence that is central to the game. And now with this 4th entry (6th? 8th?), they played exactly into the censoring crowd's hands and made the game more disturbing than it should be, just by having the Euphoria engine, realistic blood spray, and graphics. I feel really bad killing people in this game. Swearing is through the roof, which would make Kane and Lynch blush (take that, Jeff!).

If you're going to spend a $100 million budget for a new graphics and animation Euphoria engine, why not make them fun? A realistic driving model, having to get armour for every mission, using a phone for a lot of things while not being able to pause, and having an almost unplayable framerate on top of all the action, shows they spent more time on the tech than the gameplay. Graphics over gameplay, as we call it. Just like sty.le over substance in the films business.

The violence is taken way up to such realistic levels that it's gruesome to kill people in this game. I guess that's an artistic achievement, of making such sensitizing violence in a game. However, this doesn't make the game enjoyable. It feels like work. There is a difference between a challenge, and homework.

Finally, my last piece of criticism and possibly the most important.


Is this Game Bi-Polar?


The game's bi-polar tones. It has an utterly amazing and always entertaining satire of American life on the radio and in the world through the NPCs, bundled with a pointlessly dark murderfest of a story that drags on forever to no meaning. The radio talk shows, billboard ads, NPC talk, and the world is so over-the-top that it's the only part where Dan Houser's writing shines. To be topical, they even had healthcare satire which even though kept on repeating on PLR, was just so poignant.

However, the main story itself is so pointlessly serious, and heavy-handed, I just couldn't get into it. The gangsters are so generic, and forgettable. Niko is such a lapdog, yet he's a man of action only when he wants to be. I'm not playing this for a dramatic crime tale, because I've already experienced those (The Darkness, Max Payne, Kane and Lynch, Mafia). I thought I was in for some brilliant satire, mindless fun, and stupidly memorable missions.

There clearly wasn't a game director or creative director behind this, to let the themes stay or have a natural conclusion. This is the problem with game development when you have 200 people working on a game, and there's no overarching auteur to steer everyone into the whole point of the game. Imagine if other games had conflicting design like this? Duke Nukem had mindless killing, but the Duke would be moping in every cutscene. Max Payne would have gritty voice-over and a tragic story, but he would have Final Fantasy magic powers, and had stupid dancing idle animations.


Conclusion


Hopefully, you get what I'm saying by now. Grand Theft Auto 4 is a game of missed opportunities, misleading freedom, annoying linearity, outdated gameplay, and bi-polar storytelling. Nearly all of the missions just sucked. There's not a single innovation here. There's barely anything worth writing home about. You're not missing out on much from the status quo by passing on this game. It's still a game worth playing, because of some fun with the Euphoria engine, but the focus here is not on mindless fun like previous incarnations; it's on misplaced realism. The most fun I had with this game were the lighter side such as the few characters, the few unrealistic missions, and the unrealistic lengths of the Euphoria animations.

Every good thing I have to say about GTA 4, there is a bad point to counter-act it. I'm now scared for Max Payne 3 and Red Dead Redemption, and I'm going to check if it's not the same team. Please, Rockstar as the publisher, don't screw up the sequels to my favourite character-driven games!!! :(

Grand Theft Auto 4 and Assassin's Creed are now red flags for me to not follow the design teams. Both games seem to adore creatively dry linearity and lack of choice. Both games have only 1 solid mechanic. Both games are examples of graphics over gameplay. Both are products of wasted development time for the tech, instead of the gameplay content. I'll be cautious before I play games made by these guys.

Even if I lose some friends over this inconsequential blog post, I at least had fun writing it.

Why Grand Theft Auto 4 is almost a Bad game (Part 1)

(Author's Note: Because of 20,000 character limit, this blog post in split into two. Read Second Part here.)

After playing so many fast-paced sandbox games (Prototype, Crackdown, Infamous, Far Cry 2) recently, I couldn't really get into GTA 4 at first. It has a deliberately slow pace, even down to story progression. Even after adjusting to the slow pacing, I kept on noticing problems that kept popping up. Which was weird, because I heard this game was on many people's best games of 2008, and it got 10s from some reputable websites. Maybe I was missing something, maybe I hadn't gotten to the "holy frickin' awesome!" parts of the game. Sadly after 50 hours with finishing the game, they didn't come.


Linear Murder


Grand Theft Auto 4 is very misleading. I thought it was a sandbox game, where you can tackle missions in any way possible. Turns out, my playthrough of the game will be exactly the same as yours, since all the 100 or so missions are completely linear, down to the orchestrated car chases. What I personally consider sandbox games are the ones where you're given a lot of choice in going on about the same task, which could be through multiple gadgets (Batman: Arkham Asylum), going stealth or Rambo (Far Cry 2), pathways (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory), or side-missions (Knights of the Old Republic). Only once do you get a choice in who to kill, which ends up in different consequences. You can not sabotage any mission like the recent Far Cry 2 or Hitman franchise. Frankly, I was getting a lot of Assassin's Creed, and I didn't like it. GTA IV felt outdated to me in this linear mission's aspect, and the fact there is no sandbox game to speak of.


Open World?


Not open. You get an island to mess around in, but you're locked from other islands, much like Infamous. I can't go into the police station or hospital, even if they're standing right in front of me. There are internet cafes, but they become useless when you get a laptop in your safehouse. There are restaurants, but they're pointless and take more effort than just going to a hotdog stand. Speaking of the stands, there aren't enough of them considering this is a dramatization of NYC, AND when you need more health all the time because you get hurt very easily. Some buildings have iconography of being a restaurant, but you can't go into them. So, even if Rockstar put a lot of effort into making all their buildings unique, you as the player are confused which ones you can interact with, and are therefore resigned to check the map for confirmation.

There is no exploration. This is not Oblivion or any other game with a slightly bigger world where you can find out stuff off the beaten path. You can't discover a single shop, club, or restaurant. For weapon shops, you can't buy any of the weapons unless if the game has made you use them in a mission. Then they're "unlocked" in the weapon shop. It's a huge tease, and is another example of bad design. Why not just show weapons that you CAN access at the time?

Another mark for GTA IV feeling outdated.


Sandbox Variety?


For a character who always needs more money, there isn't much to do.

I was surprised that you could count all the types of activities outside of the missions on one hand (clubs; restaurants; indoor games; wanted criminals). You do get errands or "jobs" from people, which consist of being a taxi cab rider, assassin, or a drug runner but I barely got into them since I never needed more money. Which is ironic, because Niko in every cutscene says, "I always need more moneeeee!"

So, if Assassin's Creed can be criticized for giving no choice in how you go about your missions or tasks, so should Grand Theft Auto 4. But hey, the game got 10s, and previous games were apparently great, so Rockstar deserves the blind love assigned to them by fans groveling at their knees.

As a complete n00b to this franchise, I can only go by what other people tell me, and they say previous games had a lot more choice and exploration.


Lead by the Hand


From the moment go to the end of the game, you'll be seeing tutorial information constantly. This felt like a multiplayer-focused game that has singleplayer, just so you can become comfortable with the mechanics when you go into real battle. I don't even remember there being an option in the menus to disable the tutorials.

Not being able to discover any single thing in the game, and the pacing of weapons/locations to unlock, felt too dishonest to me. Doing missions in a very specific way, and the mission pacing completely dictated by the designers by forcing you down missions for people you'd hate reduced all the scope of what this game should be able to do. It just reinforces how little choice you have in the game and how anti-sandbox the experience is. You're just playing the game to the designer's intentions, rather than what we expect from sandbox games. Very misleading, much like Assassin's Creed.


Just Not Memorable Enough


For being 50 hours long and having more than 80 missions, GTA IV is just not memorable enough. The dialogue to me wasn't either. The only memorable stuff was already in the trailers, like all of the 3 famous Niko Bellic quotes. C'mon, that's a little pathetic for a game with such a huge script. The very few memorable characters (Packie, Brucie, Little Jacob, Roman Bellic, Bernie) are outweighed by the majority of wannabe movie gangster parodies (Vlad, Faustin, Ray, Jimmy, Dmitri, etc).

There are some damn memorable dark and emotional moments like Niko kidnapping the Anceliotti's daughter and the friends' mission where you dump a guy's dead wife (he did it) in the river. These are very few moments to justify the darker, more serious tone taken with this new GTA game. However, there's hardly any comedy bits other than the excellent Brucie, which makes the story come off as an overly heavy-handed, disengaging mess. Also, Niko's a psycho.


Niko Bellic: The Immigrant Story That Never Was


I'm genuinely surprised at a game involving immigrants to not explore the issues or even give you an experience of what it'd be like to be one. There aren't any immigrant jobs like plumbing, car washes, or pizza delivery. The plumbing could have been a Pipe game, the car washing could be just clean up the whole car with the analog stick, and pizza delivery fits perfectly with the bikes in the game. There are so many other vehicle jobs I'd like to do, like helicopter rides for tourists or be a bus driver temp.

I know these activities don't really ascribe to the notion of being a gangster as what the GTA games try to be, but it would add a lot to Niko being an up-and-coming immigrant hitman. It would make you hate them and they should be boring mini-games or stale gameplay, which is a great metaphor for the real thing. So, before you're called up for a high-paying murder mission, you have to do measely tasks and live through the daily grind. That I think would be far more relevant and give more social commentary that the non-gaming public would respect. "So, these games aren't just about killing everyone? You mean there is some actual exploration of modern issues in real life through this virtual world?" I'm waiting for that GTA game.


Gameplay of Frustration


What about the mechanics? Combat, driving, phonebook, and health. Guess the only one of these I enjoyed. Nope, it wasn't the framerate-dipping combat. No, it wasn't moving the tank-like, unresponsive Niko around anywhere. Nope, it wasn't the flicking through the thousands of Contacts with the d-pad. Nope, it wasn't running around to the very limited amount of hot dog stands or having to fetch armor from weapon shops for EVERY single mission. All of these problems made me have to retry missions constantly, and all added to just bad experiences.

Which leaves the driving. Apparently, this is one aspect many previous fans didn't adjust to. It became more realistic, but for me as a PGR player, it fit. If you've played those PGR games, you know it's all about the Left and Right Trigger balancing. There is actual weight to the cars, but they look like low-riders in action with the body-frame always bobbing up and down. Bikes were even more fun, because you can go so fast that you murder the motion blur and framerate. Then crash to see Niko fly in hilarious, unrealistic fashion. I'll touch the "unrealism" later on.

I only liked driving in this game, similar to liking free-running in Assassin's Creed. Rockstar, did you purposefully try to make as bad a game as that?


Buddies


The whole tamagotchi Sims thing with managing friends and going with them on mundane dates got redundant real fast. Very quickly you notice the comedy or cabaret clubs don't have much content, yet the game forces you to see everything available or then you lose respect with these "friends". You only ever get to date 2 people out of a possible 20, and that's because they are actually cheat codes (Carmen and Kiki). Carmen's health boost only works OUTSIDE of missions, which just sucks.

At least Kiki's service of clearing your Wanted level works right? Yeah, it works on missions, but in many missions, she'll keep on saying "Sorry, Niko, this time they're really out to get you". And no, going on a date with her extremely recently didn't even work. Which missions it works and doesn't is inconsistent, because it worked perfectly for "Three Leaf Clover" which is a mission where you end up with a 6-star rating but doesn't work for the Gerry mission where you get a prison snitch out of prison (no, there is no actual prison breakout like in Kane and Lynch :(). Did I even mention how difficult it is to drive, and get to Kiki in your phonebook to remove the Wanted rating, when she's all the way down in the Contacts section?! Shouldn't Kiki be the first Contact during a mission? Handling the phone is very frustrating, to say the least. Again, GTA IV felt outdated in this aspect compared to other games where you handle several NPC relationships (Bioware, Bethesda).

The reputation stuff is just another pointless mechanic. So what if Brucie likes me 70%, but respects me 90%? None of this had any effect, other than either they stay as my friend and bug me every now and then, or just un-friend me like some Facebook weirdo.


Disconnect with Niko


I've never been this disconnected when playing a character in a game, even compared to first-person shooters. Niko is likeable to an extent because he wants to keep on the down-low from his traumatic past, but as soon as he didn't want to let it go in the second to third Act, I just couldn't care less. The more I played, I couldn't empathise with this hired killer "off the boat" who always had a hard-on for more money. He's a man of action and I get that, but do you need to punch everyone you don't like?

Also, I don't particularly believe that he's unwilling to do these errand-boy missions, and the money doesn't sound like a good enough excuse. The blackmailing from EVERY gangster so he did their missions was also unconvincing. He's a psychotic serial killer, deep inside. On top of all the unconvincing motivation, he has some of the most unresponsive controls I've ever witnessed. His tank-like walking and steering to rotate him, the cover mechanic being so shoddy, and him dying very easily was not very empowering or enjoyable to play as him. Dressing him up was the only hilarious fun I could have with him.