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gdw0908 Blog

Dear Hack n' Slash Creators,

It has come to my attention that the creators of hack n' slash games have forgotten what makes them so good - the brutal fun of button pounding that is supported by an interesting (read: no necessarily good/deep/profound) story and character development. No, this has fallen by the wayside and instead the emphasis has been placed in exactly the wrong attribute: length of the game. You see, Vanquish of this gen was a superb game - I paid full price for admission. It lasted 6 hours, but was perhaps some of the most engrossing 6 hours of my gaming this generation. The only gripe I had against it was the repetitive nature of the bosses. It boiled down to a giant mech or the spider-bot. The rest of it was so much fun and so superb I did not feel one iota cheated for the price I paid.

However, after playing a few current gen hack n' slash games it has come to my attention that the glory and yore of old has fallen by the wayside of a disturbingly unwanted trend: longer games. I will be the first to sit here and wax intellectual as to whether or not the game's length will directly correspond with the sales. The main argument here (obviously) is Call of Duty. With a paltry 4-6 hours of campaign it sells gigazillions of copies and is played years later by a cultish following.

However, hack n' slash games have never been designed to be marathon events... so why do developers see the need to extend this experience? To coax more sales... well, when done right I could see how this could easily be accomplished. However, the trend that I find disturbing is the fact that it is all bolt-on length that not only infuriates me but also makes me loathe the last 1-3 hours of (almost) every hack n' slash game I have played this gen. These games were meant to be digested in small chunks and last somewhere between 6 and 15 hours. Anything longer than that better have some sort of leveling system and/or the ability to create/customize your character in a hack/slash/rpg kind of way. These games should be able to be completed in a single (perhaps extended) sitting. They are the offspring of the gems of the arcade days of old... button mashers. However, for some reason the creators and devs seem to think they need to pad these games with useless and nonsense padded/tack-on length to justify the cost to the consumer.

Examples include God of War (HD Collection), Devil May Cry 4, and most recently, Bayonetta. Here's my case against each:

God of War: Okay - so you battle all the way to the end and low and behold the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching fast. Thank god... oh wait, we have a slight detour through Hades??? Wait, you mean another whole level full of maddening crap that almost killed platformers off completely? Yeah, this made a lot of sense. Platforming with souls of lesser beings who are knocking you all the way back down to the start of the level is hyper-realistic when you think a demi-god is fighting his way out of Hades. Add on top of that the spinning spike poles and you lost me to infuriating level design and tack-on length that really does nothing to add to the game. The one saving grace of this entire experience is that God of War 2 got the whole Hades level right the second time around!!! Yay, we can learn from mistakes. This makes this experience a little less egregious and a little more forgiveable.

Devil May Cry 4: Oh, this may be the greatest of all offenders. You see, you start the game and go from point A to point B as one character. Things happen, you switch characters, and traverse from point B to A encountering the exact same boards, enemies, and consequently bosses. They essentially made you play the game twice. This was such a maddening experience that I almost quit playing it there. But no - it had to be/get better... after all, it was Devil May Cry!!! So once you get back to point A more stuff happens and you switch back to the original character. Then the most egregious of violations occur: you must fight your way through hordes of enemies and bosses in a consecutive chess-board-style game to get to the last boss. The layout and insertion of this level just makes literally no sense to the flow of the game, and having to beat 4 bosses with no checkpoints and/or power-up buying makes it as infuriating and hateful as fornicating with a wood chipper. What did this do to add to the experience of the game? Absolutely nothing... it in fact made me regret buying the game all together as well as spending the time to buy it. I indeed felt like I just wanted the game to end instead of wanting to finish it to get the rest of the story or see what happens.

Bayonetta: Yeah, I'll admit - I missed the boat on this one. I just finished playing it years after release and despite the satisfying and tight (suggestive, you got it SEGA!!!) combat, it left a sour taste in my mouth. The over-the-top sexual references were cool sprinkled in, but shoving it in your face every 60 seconds was too much. However, the main gripe for me was the level "Tower of/to Truth" - where you essentially spend an entire level fighting every single enemy you encounter plus every boss you have encountered up to this point. While this made sense in terms of the actual level design... you never fully understand how/why the bosses came back to life and manage to haunt you and try to impede your progress. This is just another poor "we couldn't think of anything better to do so um... MORE LENGTH!!!" approach that developers are essentially using as a cop-out to pad the length of their game.

In closing, I have absolutely no issue with the length of a game as long as it makes sense. However, work it into the character's story and/or game plot. Do not throw me into an arena of misery because you think the game needs a few more hours of length to justify the price tag. If you make a game that flows and is enjoyable start to finish - I will come running with my $64.14 in tow... however, if you want to anger me; take my money and end your game with a bunch of tacked-on, nonsense padding so you can say it takes more than 10 hours to finish your game.

If you take the latter route, I guarantee you I will roast you on board on in my reviews for starting off strong and losing all sense at the end of the game. In fact, it is more important to put your best foot forward at the end of the game rather than starting off strong in my opinion. Otherwise, you have just wasted that last 6-8 hours of my life.

Free Back to Karkland (x360) code

Hey there followers!!! I recently saw "Act of Valor" and got a free code for Back to Karkland for BF3 on the xBox 360. I have the DLC already, and do not own a 360 - so first come, first serve!!! Just message me, and I will copy the email in a PM to you and you should be able to enjoy the free DLC :) Take care,

-G$$$

MW3 Review

Modern Warfare 3 Review

Overall: 8.8/10

Difficulty: Easy

Time spent to date: 40+ hours

Bottom Line: The most CoD Activision could cram into an annual release

Pros:

+ The story and campaign are engaging, fast-paced, and smooth

+ Some of the best controls in the genre

+ All of the characters are back from the second Modern Warfare

+ New game modes and online tracking system

+ Horde/zombie mode has been added

+ Spec Ops offers more co-op, online fun

+ Online play seems to be more balanced

+ Online tracking gives players a ton of content, stats, and ways to connect

Cons:

- No "real" innovation

- Short campaign

- Potentially awkward end to the storylines

- No dedicated servers

- To get full functionality of online tracking, you need to pay for subscription

Call of Duty has been chastised for the past few years as being an adrenaline packed rehash. While it may be true that the newest installment of the CoD series does not offer anything completely new or innovative to the series or industry, it continues to refine a formula that has made it the behemoth of a franchise that it is. From the tight, responsive controls to the over-the-top story, Modern Warfare is back in full force and ready to monopolize all your free time and ruin any personal relationships you may have spent years building.

The campaign offers more of what made the first two Modern Warfare games a blast to play. The game picks up immediately after the finale of the second game, and launches you immediately into the middle of the action. You again switch between two factions throughout the game, so be sure to pay attention. The Delta Force is constantly fighting to secure and save America's soil while the disavowed Task Force 141 works quietly to track down and kill the illustrious and ever elusive, evil Russian, Makarov. This back and forth between task forces is not new to veterans of the series, as the two storylines eventually collide like two high speed trains refusing to use their brakes on the same track. This ultimately makes for a very enjoyable and action-driven conclusion to the game, which CoD has become known for.

As you battle through downtown New York or fly high above Russia in the president's private jet you will feel as if you are in the middle of a Michael Bay production. Globetrotting and tracking down those evil Russians is standard fare here, but is portrayed in a much more comprehensive and emotional way. The settings are diverse and the missions are fun, making the (potential) conclusion of the series as fun to finish as it was to begin all those years ago. Lengthwise it will top out between four and eight hours in length, depending on the difficulty played on and how many achievements you want to get. These hours will blaze by in a flash, and you will sit there wondering truly what happened to the time that has been spent hunting down and destroying evil across the world. There is also a sense of urge to continue playing despite needing adequate sleep for work or spending time with loved ones. However, as fun as the campaign is no one buys Call of Duty for the story… well, maybe except for me. The multiplayer arena is where the bulk of the time players will spend in the game. This will be accomplished around the world and billions of potentially productive hours will be wasted, killing productivity and ruining lives.

MW3 is perhaps the ultimate home and life-wrecker due to the addictive nature of the competitive online play, surpassing all of the previous games with ease. There is a multitude of modes, games, and training to do online with friends, strangers, or simply by yourself. The only real shame here is the lack of dedicated servers for the online play, which ultimately creates a lagged experience for those not playing in their immediate region or a host with a slow connection. For a franchise that nets billions over the life of its release, it is a shame that Activision decided to keep the dedicated servers out of the equation. However, this may be the only glaring blemish on the online play of Modern Warfare 3.

As stated before, the online content is where the bulk of MW3's value lies. The competitive online for Modern Warfare 3 has been balanced to appeal to the hardcore players, the rambos of the online world, as well as the newcomers to the franchise. This is accomplished in the addition of two new strike packages that add additional perks to your arsenal or don't reset your killstreak counts when you die. This levels the battlefield for players of all skill and is a very welcome addition, effectively removing the heavy reliance on high count killstreaks that dominated the team success/win rate in MW2. The various modes also tend to be increasingly friendly to the various styIes of players, and the maps reflect this – something that seemed missing in Modern Warfare 2.

On top of the cIassic online modes available to the Modern Warfare franchise, there is now a survival mode that allows players to face waves of enemies until the survivors die. Many will compare this to modes in other games, but this is the first time I've found the mode to be engaging and satisfying. It doesn't feel forced or overdone, but rather an extension to the normal game with an unlimited wave of foes on a multiplayer map. There is also a new online service for tracking your stats, connecting with others, and honing your skills through tutorials known as the "Elite" service. These may seem like small changes, but they add a lot more to the overall experience and move CoD to an "online social media" experience compared to what you used to have access to.

The Elite service shows how online shooters are now becoming as social as Facebook and other social media outlets on the internet. There is a free version of the online Elite service as well as the premium service that give premium members access to the DLC for the year plus specific premium features. Premium features such as clans, an online TV channel, more detailed leaderboards, and specific contests to win prizes and other swag online are just a few that come with the subscription. While the value of being a paid member has yet to be seen until the DLC schedule is announced, this is also used to distribute a number of community based intelligence, information, and even new game modes available under "community playlists" as announced on the service. The free version offers the basic information that all players would like to see such as leaderboards, stats, and the ability to modify their custom cIasses from a computer instead of logging in on their console. As the experience and social medium grows, apparently so does Call of Duty.

Call of Duty has grown to be a franchise that people hate because of its success. As a gamer, I really wanted to dislike the game and jump on another franchise bandwagon for online, military competitive play. People will also scoff at the fact that there is in fact nothing "new" added to Modern Warfare 3, but that was never the true intention of the game. What the newest installment does accomplish is taking the formula of previous games and refines it to a point where there is a greater balance, more appeal to players of all skill levels, and literally the addition of hundreds of hours of content packed into a single offering. While not all players will utilize the content available, those who choose to explore the game in its entirety will be amazed at how much there is to do with the newest release. If you are a fan of military shooters, Modern Warfare 3 is a game that caters to almost every niche and player profile out there. Everyone can find something they like and get lost in it for hours, which is what has made the game the most lucrative entertainment release of all time.

Battlefield 3 Review

Here is my latest - the game is great IMO... but lacked the polish of even some of its competitors. Sad, but still a great game nonetheless!!!

Battlefield 3 Review (PS3)

Overall: 8.0/10

Difficulty: Hard

Bottom Line: A spectacular visual feast, but has polish issues

Pros:

+ Absolutely stunning visuals and realistic physics

+ Great multiplayer experience

+ Mission design keeps things fresh and moving at an amiable pace

+ Flow of the story is expertly paced and engaging

+ Integration of vehicles into story is well done

+ Environment destruction keeps the game fresh in both campaign and multiplayer

+ New vehicles including jets in the multiplayer

Cons:

- Technical glitches create major issues in campaign

- Campaign story is derivative and uninspiring

- Co-op cannot be played locally (split screen)

- Long loading times

Battlefield 3 lives up to its name and hype, delivering the most realistic graphic and physics engines to date. This is one of the most scrutinized and criticized releases of 2011, with many people and critics questioning whether or not DICE would be able to deliver a game that was portrayed in the various videos that surfaced at the trade shows in 2011 showing the lifelike gameplay and video clips. After playing the game, all doubters have been silenced. The game looks and plays as beautifully as a shooter fan could have hoped, and this was all thanks to DICE and their Frostbite 2.0 engine.

Utilizing the new Frostbite 2.0 engine, Battlefield 3 displays some of the best graphics to date as well as the promise to be able to destroy just about any structure in the environment given the proper munitions and placement. This sense of realism not only creates a more engrossing experience, but also prevents the typical "camping" points of enemies and cowardly players from being exploited over and over. This is accomplished with a single, well-placed rocket or high caliber round from a vehicle and watching the destruction and rubble come tumbling down is just as fun as watching your surprised opponent scramble for additional cover.

Battlefield 3 brings a new first to the series in the form of a story driven campaign, the first time this has graced the franchise. The campaign boasts stereotypical heroes, villains, and situations while keeping the experience unusually gritty and real. The story will leave you thinking "I've seen/read/heard this before" but does not detract too much attention from the missions. This is mostly due to the excellent mission design that leaves you aching not for the gorgeous story cut scenes but instead to reload your weapon and get back into the fray in the boots of the protagonist. Whether you are driving a tank across the desert, dog-fighting with Russian MiGs over the deep blue or sneaking through an earthquake demolished city there is a great variety of missions to keep the player engaged. This ultimately saves the otherwise boring and washed-out campaign by creating a lot of tense moments. Despite the campaign having a high level of difficulty (hard is comparable to Veteran in most other games), the long loading times in between the frequent deaths create a disjointed experience and pace issues. If this becomes a problem, the player can just drop the difficulty unless they are trophy hunting for the completion on hard.

Once the campaign has been completed in roughly six to eight hours the player can dive into the meat of the game's offering – the multiplayer universe. This gives the player the choice of online cooperative mission play or competitive multiplayer. The cooperative multiplayer allows users to team up online but offers no split-screen options, a major gripe for certain groups of players. There are six missions and each is varied based on objectives and/or waves of enemies that you must survive, providing a nice mix for those who enjoy a variety of experiences. It feels a little tacked on, but is a fun option if you want a change of pace from the typical single or multiplayer experience.

The online, competitive multiplayer is everything that was expected and what it should be. Boasting the condensed four cIasses, DICE has swapped abilities across the cIasses to create a more balanced experience and less exploitation of the previous cIasses. Examples of this are the assault group now having the defibrillator and the support group being armed with a light machine gun and extra ammo for his squad. These little tweaks make a world of difference when playing the game with a squad, as each cIass has its role on the battlefield and encourages teamwork more-so than any other game out there.

When you couple the newly established cIasses with a variety of different modes such as conquest (capture and hold), rush (destroy/defend objectives), and team deathmatch there is a ton of different content that will take you at least a hundred hours to see all the different maps in each of the various modes. The online play is the one experience that allows the player to truly see what all the hype surrounding this game is about. The polish and execution of the maps and interface is truly one of the best in the genre today.

Some say that beauty is only skin deep and Battlefield 3 is not without blemishes despite the gorgeous skin and solid gameplay it hides behind. It does suffer from a few glaring issues despite all the innovation and realism that DICE has crammed into this release. Chief among these are the technical glitches that are experienced within the campaign. In a mission that takes place during the dead of night where flares are shot into the sky, there are areas that will turn your screen entirely white. This makes it near impossible to progress through the rest of the mission and can only be remedied by aiming down the sights of your selected weapon. This hinders your movement and also results in untimely deaths and many long loading screens.

Another issue is the cooperative multiplayer mode. There are six missions, but must be played with players on separate consoles. This means there is no longer a local split-screen option, which makes you wonder if this could have been fixed if the developer had more time to finalize the game. Six missions also seems a bit… barebones for lack of a better word. It would have been nice to play cooperatively through the campaign, but that is a debate for a different time.

There are also issues regarding the stability and logic behind the multiplayer match-making system. Players who were completely new to the game were matched in lobbies with the highest ranked players in the game, causing a one-sided massacre of those trying to break through into the Battlefield experience. This was overly evident during the first few weeks of release, but also causes great frustration when it breaks your squad up across teams or squads in the actual lobby. While not major issues, and promised to be patched in the upcoming months – this should have been fixed as of day one with the magnitude of the release and high profile of the franchise.

Scores of 9.0 and above should not be taken lightly. I wanted to give Battlefield 3 such a score, mostly because it creates an atmosphere of war that can only be described as the feeling I had the first time I watched "Saving Private Ryan"; it is gritty and real, holding nothing back in terms of pushing games as close to reality as we have seen thus far. You leave the game and online matches feeling as close to war as you can without actually being deployed by Uncle Sam and serving your country. However, the lack of polish leaves Battlefield 3 a few steps ahead of the competition but nowhere near what it could have (and should have) been.

Ultimately, Battlefield 3 lives up to its franchise's prestigious pedigree and will provide fans of shooters and the Battlefield franchise with hundreds of hours of fun and competitive action. The flaws mentioned above will eventually be fixed or overlooked when players consider what the core competencies of the Battlefield franchise are; a realistic strategic shooter that allows players to use actual military tactics to humiliate and ultimately trounce their enemies on the battlefield. There are no heroes or one man armies on the modern day battlefield, and this game captures that better than any other game out there while providing an amazing experience no matter what mode you choose to play. If you are willing to step onto the most realistic battlefield without actually enrolling in the armed forces, Battlefield 3 will set the standard for what modern military shooters should be for you. See you on the Battlefield…

Blogs on BLOGS!!!! Also, Resistance 3 review

Well, as most of you know, I recently turned 30. As such, I decided to start my own blog on Blogspot.com. Seeing as how my life revolves primarily around work, video games, and sports - I decided to keep the bulk of my posts related to video games or other things that catch my eye. I'm not completely unlike a crow... but if you are interested and/or want to follow me, see my links below:

http://lifeaintnovideogame.blogspot.com/

I also have a new review up on Resistance 3. Linked below, I really liked the game but felt it just fell short in certain areas that are critical to games in this dog-eat-dog environment we are currently gaming in.

http://www.gamespot.com/ps3/action/resistance-3/player_review.html?id=776665

Battlefield 3 Beta Impressions and Analysis

The beta has finally hit the store, and after a few hours of playing, the game is shaping up to be exactly what most of us expected... for it being a beta. The haters will in fact hate, but keep in mind this is one mode, one map, and it is one of the smallest maps that focus on infantry rather than the "typical" Battlefield-style maps and play. I assume this is to try to lure some of the console players away from the CoD upcoming release, but let's not speculate on this topic and move on.

There are a few inherent issues with the BF3 beta for the PS3 and consoles in general. First, there are no vehicles... and that is due mainly to the fact that the map chosen is "too small" for vehicles. Whether or not you believe this is a completely different ball of wax than how the game plays. The animations are for the most part smooth, and the textures are like nothing I have seen before. From the "hurdling" animation to the way the recently killed fall to the ground and twitch, the game

This map focuses entirely on infantry, so it plays almost exactly to the Call of Duty games. This is not a bad thing, and the maps show off a number of technical and strategic advances. You start the board out in a park that sits outside of a subway terminal. It is completely open, with lush gazebos and foliage for you to crawl through and hide in. Once the two sets of M-Comm stations have been destroyed the battle moves into the subway, whose entrances have been razed by warfare and explosives. As you crawl and run through the rubble, you find yourself in a dark and poorly lit subway. As you creep up, you see scaffolding and a number of barriers that seem right at home. Beautiful lighting with flickering fluorescent lights line the cars... it feels like you are there, and the echoes that come from deep within are even more-so impressive once the two teams engage.

As you enter the subway, you hear the clap of sniper fire. The clap and whizzing of the bullets is something that I have not experienced in this manner. The echo of the clap resonates throughout the tunnel and the bullet sounds as if it nearly took your ear off. The great thing about this map is it showcases how prone should be used. You are able to advance among the rubble and waist-height cover to get close enough to take out the snipers you would normally not have a chance at killing with an SMG or assault rifle. If you are not into the "open area fire fights" there are plenty of corridors for you to engage the enemy in. These are just as strategic, and require patience and teamwork to get the best of your enemy. I was hiding behind a wall that was blown up by an RPG, throwing me to the ground... and that was when I realized this game was going to be something special. You could see the water pipes to the bathrooms in the next room still there, and there was rubble spread everywhere around the explosion. I was then put down by the other 2 members of the RPGer's squad and commended them on their effort at my expense.

All the praise above sounds great, but this is a beta and not without flaws. There are a few major bugs/issues that need to be fixed. First and foremost - there are glitches that allow players to hide below the floor when prone and continue to kill people. There is also an issue with the way you identify team members - they do not show up as "friendly" until you aim down your sights or put your crosshairs over them. While not a really big issue, this results in a lot of friendly fire and/or constant reliance on the radar. These are all minor things that will be discovered and/or fixed in the next few weeks. They have already been reported on the boards and DICE has noted they will be better in the final release.

Let's just hope that DICE is able to iron out these issues and give us the polish that we deserve and expect from them upon release on October 25, the day my life may officially digress into an online cesspool of wins, losses, KDR, and trying to obtain all the unlocks DICE plans to provide us. Until then my friends, stay frosty!!!

3 Decades of Games, Fun, and Life

So here I sit on my 30th birthday, at work and completely unmotivated to do what I should be doing. Reflecting back on the past 3 decades of my life, I have realized that there are a lot of trends that you can see and it is really hard to believe how far things have come since 1981. I may have grown up on the outside, but I still keep the mentality of a vibrant teenager who wants nothing more than to have his parents drive him to a midnight release and play hooky from school the following day. Part of this mentality is what my wife loves about me and other times she will roll her eyes at me and tell me sarcastically that I love my games more than her (which isn't true… mostly).

I can remember each of the major systems I've had over the years, from the Atari consoles to the NES; Genesis to the Playstation; GameBoy to GameBoy Advance; and now the Playstation 2 to the PS3. The technology has been amazing and we've seen some great failures along the way (ahem, Virtual Boy and Sega CD). I have seen giants like Sega fall from hardware and software A listers into software-only B/C list developers/publishers.

No matter what happens going forward I feel blessed to be one of the few generations that has been able to see the progression of games from pixilated messes with great gameplay into what could be mistaken for real life. The true aficionados will go back and continue to play those games, but those of us who grew up with them will always have a place in our hearts for those games that bruised your thumbs, egos, and taught you how to be resilient. There were no cheats, difficulty levels, or coddling to us in our gaming experiences. You either got good enough to survive or you died… A LOT!!! Perhaps this is what has changed the most in gaming in my mind, as developers aim to reach a wider audience and create an experience that could be more widely accepted and enjoyed by the general public.

A gamer that used to prefer the action/adventure genre, and completely swore off the FPS genre… I'm now the polar opposite. I find hack and slash games to be rather shallow and poorly designed on a whole. I don't know if this is the fact that in my mind the genre peaked with the original Devil May Cry or if I'm just at a different stage in my gaming lifecycle. I find the online multiplayer aspects of games to be the most enjoyable parts of the games I play. This is where I am able to not only enjoy the game, but also partake in the social aspects of gaming. This takes me back to the days where there would be 2-6 of my buddies in my basement playing Loaded for the PSX or GoldenEye for the N64. I still tear up a little bit when I think back to those days and how we would play from the time we got home on Friday after school until my parents could no longer stand the noise and yell down "HEY KIDS, GET TO BED… GOOOOO… TOOOOOOOOOO… BEDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!" Maybe this is why I have turned to the "dark side" of gaming and fallen into the trance that is the military and overall FPS experience.

In the end, all of these memories and experiences mold who you are and what you have become. I guess that I would say I'm a gamer, always have been, and always plan to be. The coroner may have to pry some sort of controller from my dead, lifeless hands one day. However, games did not just provide me entertainment… no, they have taught me some great lessons in life. Keeping in mind that these things helped me through life and were also instilled in other aspects of my upbringing, I sincerely think video games help keep people grounded and also instill certain values. From the hand-eye coordination it takes to be able to play some of the games to the critical thinking and problem solving skills, video games have something more to offer than just being an expensive hobby or raising the censor's eyebrows. In fact, I think of games as interactive books and movies and they tend to replace those activities to a point.

Keeping that in mind, moderation is a key concept in the video game world. Scratch that, moderation is key in ANY aspect in life. Too much time spent in any one activity will degrade the other aspects of your life. Video games are no exception, and it is purely up to the parents of the children to keep this in check. As an adult who plays video games, it is up to me to make sure I have everything I need taken care of and to not neglect the responsibilities and people that matter to me. When executed correctly, video games can completely enrich a person's life and also provide a variety of benefits that may not be available to people otherwise. I don't plan on quitting games any time soon, but I'm sure through reading this you already knew that. I'm looking forward to seeing what the current generation of consoles and even the next generation will bring us as gamers and the technology that will be available in total. Maybe in another ten years, I'll reflect back and see that I am able to add these leaps and bounds in narrative again… maybe things won't change too much… or maybe the gaming industry will collapse. That's the crazy thing about life… you never know what is next… which also makes it a little bit like a video game.

The most important lessons learned from all the games I've played and all the forums I've participated in:

- Early adopters get screwed in gaming hardware. It is better to wait for those to come out than be out the money you paid. RRoD, 3DS price breaks, slimmer models, increased functionality… all these come at a price. Buyer beware…

- Fanboys' opinions are about as legit as Donald Trump's comb-over; just because there is hair there doesn't mean you're getting the whole story. Proceed with caution…

- Whether you love them or hate them, popular franchises sell games because they are good (maybe not GREAT… but good). Move on and stop wasting your time on trying to convince the world they are not good.

- Good games will be forgotten in time, great games will weather decades without any dispute as to where they stand in the all time list.

- System Wars is where rationale goes to die.

- The internet is where you can find some darn good people that have the same interests as you. It also houses a great deal of creepsters… pure dice roll on this one. I've met people online through gaming forums that I talk with more frequently than my friends from high school and college.

- Career people and post college graduates will never be better at Call of Duty than 12-yr olds and college students. Just aim for a 1.0+ KDR…

- Pre-Orders are for MUST HAVE DAY 1 purchases ONLY. I got sucked into the whole pre-order craze and in the end feel nothing but shame and emptiness for it.

- Moderation is the key to any activity you do in life; whether it is exercise, video games, school, work, or other social activities it is important to keep a healthy balance between all aspects of your life and the things you enjoy.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Overall: 7.8/10

Difficulty: Hard

Time to Date: 10-20 Hours

Pros:

+ Great story

+ Memorable moments abound

+ Sensibly violent in a not "over the top" kind of way

+ Perfect length

+ Immersive and finely detailed environments

+ Fun and challenging puzzles

+ Superb sound design and voice acting

Cons:

- Instances of poor level design

- Trials feel tacked on for added replay value

- Replay value is lacking

- Difficulty is like a workout rubber band

Bottom Line: Lords of Shadow proves it is not just another God of War clone, offering the best 3D experience in the franchise.

Fans of Castlevania have been awaiting a 3D entry in the series that does the franchise justice since the inception of 3D gaming. Lords of Shadow not only brings aforementioned fans a game worthy of their attention, but also the Castlevania name and nostalgia that console gamers have swooned over for two decades.

You set forth on this journey of revenge, love, and betrayal as the founding member of the Belmont clan and a member of the Brotherhood of Light: Gabriel Belmont. Gabriel's beloved has been taken from him forcefully by the demons and monsters roaming the lands. These creatures came and stole what was dear to Gabriel after a great war between the dark monsters and the humans' heroes and titans. He has vowed to bring her back using whatever means necessary, which ultimately leads him to pursue the God's Mask. This mask has the power of reviving the dead and is fragmented, with each of the pieces residing with the three Lords of Shadow. Gabriel sets out with his trusty Combat Cross and a determination that not even God himself could stop.

Those who say this sounds like more of a hack n' slash clone or a reboot than a true Castlevania game fear not, Kojima and Co. have taken proper care to keep the faithful happy. All of the nostalgia is here: the array of secondary weapons, quintessential monsters and oversized bosses, and all of the traditional Castlevania locales. These categories span the original Castlevania through Super Castlevania IV, which covers a lot of content. Instead of just mashing elements together as other 3D games have in the past, Kojima took a much different route this time around. Lords of Shadow is able to mesh and include all the critical elements of Castlevania's past as part of a deep and dark story that gives gamers insight into the start of the Belmont clan and legacy of the Vampire Killer.

Those familiar with the Castlevania games will definitely recognize the subtle cues to the game's 2D heritage that Kojima and his team have seamlessly interwoven. The greatest example of this method is executed in the form of the 3D environments zooming out and creating a 2D point of reference. Pinnacle moments that are in every Castlevania game and utilize this gameplay facet in Lords of Shadow are the climbing platform sequences and running up the castle chains to reach the Castle towards the end of the game.

One of the main issues Lords of Shadow suffers from is not the 2D platforming, but in the areas when you need to navigate jumping, climbing, and shuffling in 3D. Scaling massive walls and leaping across huge chasms proves to be some of the most visually breathtaking, yet oddly infuriating experiences in the game. These sequences usually result in a trial-and-error experience that can drain your health bar and patience alike, much like the original 2D games did. This subtle nod to the classic games (while appreciated) should have been remedied for this series reboot instead of forcing gamers to suffer through the frustration of design and control issues from the 8-bit and 2D iterations that are present in Lords of Shadow.

These glorious and nostalgic moments are not the only similarities the game shares with its 2D predecessors. The difficulty of the game is that of the lore of original game's legacy. Sections of the game can ramp up and prove to be exponentially more difficult than the previous sections just passed. This can also result in a forced checkpoint restart during a boss fight or replay long sections of the game due to a moment of weakness or ill-timed quick-time-events (QTEs). The most frustrating of these restarts prove to be the QTEs, especially the ones where you have to time a button push almost perfectly to defeat a boss at the end of the fight. If you miss once, it ends in an instant death and you must start the fight from the last checkpoint. The only good news regarding these punishing defeats is the death animations are entertaining, but having to fight a battle three or four times gets frustrating.

The QTE system is not new to the genre, but is handled in a different manner. There is a small circle around where the event will take place on the screen and a larger circle will quickly zoom in on the smaller circle. The goal is to get the zooming circle into the smaller circle to trigger the event. This is an example of a new approach to an old concept and it works really well in this capacity. This is much appreciated as opposed to the button-mashing used in most games, and the timing changes based on the animations and situation Gabriel is in.

Lords of Shadow doesn't innovate within the genre, but rather focuses on refining elements already found in the genre in ways not usually found in a hack-n-slash game. The controls are a superb example of this, as they feel disjointed and awkward at first. However, once you get used to them they become more natural than the typical control setup you are used to from games in the genre.

Another refinement is the use of magic in Lords of Shadow. Gabriel now has a slew of attacks and abilities that can be drastically altered via light and shadow magic. The initial moves and commands at Gabriel's disposal are purchased and upgraded via experience points and when used in conjunction with magic. This may sound familiar to those who are fans of the God of War series, but it is executed in a much different way. Instead of having certain abilities or spells available, different attacks are used in conjunction with light/shadow magic will yield vastly different results. This can vary from Gabriel gaining health back based on damage dealt, or turn an ordinary dagger into an explosive projectile.

There are also areas where Lords of Shadow suffers when compared to other games in the genre. This includes a pacing issue present for the first quarter of the game. Certain areas take too much time while others are a chapter that merely consists of walking through a passage and fighting a boss. This creates a feeling of unease and leaves the player confused as to how much time to block off when playing the game to get an adequate session in. This pacing issue is remedied throughout the final three-quarters of the game, but the pacing in the first quarter could be significantly improved upon and has caused many players to quit the game altogether.

Lords of Shadow is not a perfect game in any sense, but is a surprisingly good (perhaps even great) game. There are issues with level design, difficulty as unforgiving as a 50-lb rubber band from the gym, and sections of unforgiving platforming. In light of this, the game does more right than wrong and offers gamers something that has never been done before: a legit 3D Castlevania game WORTH PLAYING. Lords of Shadow provides hack-n-slash and Castlevania fans an experience that may start slow, but picks up steam and offers one of the greatest denouements of any 3D action/adventure game offered to date. With a little polish and shine and a few squashed bugs, the game would have easily been a game of the year contender despite the strong showing of games released in 2010.

Those who choose to miss this Kojima rendition on a classic series will miss one of the best illustrations of how to keep a long running franchise's nostalgia intact while bringing it into the current technology of gaming. Lords of Shadow is a showing of the great things to come and provides some insight into the future direction of Castlevania for fans of the franchise and the hack-n-slash genre as a whole.

Dead Space 2 Review

Still catching up... but here it goes my latest review:

Dead Space 2 Review

Difficulty: Just Right

Time Spent: 15 – 25 Hours

Overall Score: 9.3/10

Pros:

+ More open and varying environments

+ Protagonist finally found a personality and some emotion

+ More weapons and variations to dismember and kill

+ Greater variety of necromorphs, all equally frightening

+ Excellent pacing and progression

+ Sound design creates tension and the overwhelms the senses

+ Movement in zero gravity now 360 degrees of movement instead of linear

+ Story progression feels naturally like an extension from the original

+ Visceral and graphic damage and death sequences

Cons:

- Level design feels derivative at points

- Some of the characters are less believable and forgettable

- Necromorph spawning and difficultly can feel "rubber-bandy"

- Multiplayer feels a bit "flat" after extended amounts of play

- No real "rewards" for playing the multiplayer and leveling up

Bottom Line: Despite Visceral changing the key components of the formula, Dead Space 2 improves on every aspect of the original while providing a horrifying experience.

Dead Space 2 changed everything we knew about Isaac Clarke and the original game. The game moves the action from a claustrophobic, creepy, dark mining ship to a more open, sprawling moon space station. Our mute hero now has a voice, personality, and a lot of dialogue lines that we never saw in the first game. The necromorphs have evolved from basic mutated and infected humans to all types of human-esque and non-human mutations. Finally, where the first game was pretty secretive about the antagonist who was up to no good… in the second game you pretty much know from the start, but is everyone who they seem to be?

Taking such a bold and different direction for a sequel of a well-received game was a huge risk for Visceral. The good news for consumers and fans of the first game is that it was executed in a way that pleases fans and those new to the Dead Space universe at the same time. There is enough information for those new to the series to pick up the sequel without needing the backdrop of the first game to understand the events taking place. Visceral has placed little cues and details to please those who have been with Isaac from the start, while Dead Space novices will think of these details just as superb additions extras to an already excellent game.

The story not only depicts a story about a besieged colony, but also a man tormented by choices and guilt from the past. These parallel stories are seamlessly interwoven in a way that layers the game into two very separate storylines and yet never feels forced or tacked on. This back-and-forth between the main storyline and Isaac's internal struggle may sound and feel complicated, but it's not due to the presentation. The internal struggle is triggered through hallucinations that periodically occur between Isaac and Nicole, usually creating an uneasy feeling in the player when they occur. The flashes have an eerie red glow, and often there are disturbing visions and premonitions that present themselves throughout (or shortly after) the hallucinations. This internal struggle only accounts for about a third of the story, as the larger portion of the story revolves around the events and downfall of "The Sprawl" – a mining colony on Titan, one of Saturn's moon.

The main story has a lot of charismatic characters that are eager to assist the already renowned Isaac Clarke as they exhaust every alternative in an effort to survive in this new and large environment. These characters often vary in terms of helpfulness and background – from the insane survivor suffering from dementia to a steadfast heavy equipment pilot. The depth of the story is presented in a way that can cater to the player's desires, meaning the story can be as shallow or deep as the player wants it to be. Examples of this depth are the audio and text logs that can add backdrop and additional information regarding the outbreak and various references to familiar ideology and thought provoking moral dilemmas.

To further immerse players in the expertly crafted story, the developers tweaked the pacing as well. While most players slinked their way through the original game without ever (or rarely) using the run function, Dead Space 2 forces the player to progress in a variety of ways. From crawling through engineering vents to running from seemingly invincible enemies to creeping through a dark corridor, Dead Space 2 leverages the variety of its environments and utilizes the locales to dictate the situations and pace of the game. This variety in pacing provides further depth and can get the player out of their comfort zone, which increases the tension and puts an emphasis on the survival feeling of the game. One of the frequent shortcomings of games that change pace so often is the lack of a control scheme that allows precision movements at both slow and high speeds. Fortunately for us, this was taken into consideration by the development team throughout the process.

The game controls exactly like the original, allowing you to gleefully dismember necromorphs with both primary and secondary firing of all weapons while using stasis to slow them down. To supplement the projectile weapons are the more degrading melee and stomping attacks Isaac has become well known for. The ability to use telepathy to throw and move objects returns as well, often forcing you to use these objects when ammo is scarce to impale or crush necromorphs. While there is an ability to run, it should be reserved for the most urgent of times since you can easily find yourself surrounded by various creatures looking to eat, transform, or just detonate themselves and you in seconds if apply the running function too liberally.

This time around, the controls also seem to be affected by the equipment that Isaac employs to survive. The various weapons and suits have more "weight" to them than in the original, giving the use of the store and inventory a tactical feel. Isaac seems to move quicker in certain armored suits and is easier to navigate with lighter weapons, which gives the game a strategic and more genuine "feel" than the original.

There is one exception to the controls and gameplay of the original: the zero gravity segments now grant you 360 degrees of movement via suit boosters. This replaces the straight line, disconnected movements of the original that caused many players nausea and disorientation. This new scheme allows the player to fully experience how an engineer would move about outside of the space station or in zero gravity chambers and also give you a more realistic feel of being vulnerable while moving around. This was the original game's biggest flaw, and Visceral has not only taken the consumer feedback to heart – but integrated it in such a way that it further instills terror and unease into the player while addressing a universal complaint.

The biggest change from the original game is the environment where the action takes place. While many feared the drastic change of environments would result in a lost feeling of nostalgia, claustrophobia, and terror from the original; the developers have successfully integrated familiar cues and design from the original to keep the experience true for those loyal to the series. The expansion of level design gives the developers a chance to experiment with varying scenarios and provide further insight into how people live life on these mining stations. The environments still offer sequences of the same cramped, corridor sequences that made the original a dark, mainstream hit while also providing some open scenarios that you would find in more traditional third person shooters. This keeps the feeling of repetitiveness at bay, which was another flaw of the original game that has been addressed by the development team.

Even with the fine story, environments, character development, and controls, Dead Space 2 would not be the success it is without the two elements that will inevitably cause players to lose sleep. These elements are the creepy score and sound effects and the moments where you will pick your jaw up off the ground. While these elements can be employed independently, they universally have the greatest impact when united in a symphony of terror.

Who would have though a nursery, that typically brings great joy and happiness to people could be twisted and turned to incite nightmares? This is now a place where you watch a distraught mother cradle her baby (now a necromoph) in her arms only to have it detonate seconds later. If the graphic nature of this image is not already mentally taxing enough, when you add the hollow sound of the detonation and the splattering and dripping of flesh and blood after the fact it takes the experience to another level. The death sequences and animation are also full of graphic depictions of Isaac futilely scrambling to escape death, only to fail in the end. This is combines with a series of crunches, screams, tears, and spattering that will turn the stomach of event the most desensitized gamer. The game is full of these intense moments that ultimately compel you empathize with Isaac and each step he takes through his hopeless existence.

Dead Space 2 has added a multiplayer option to the game, which many fans feared would take away from the campaign or story experience. Visceral countered this by having two separate teams of developers: one for the story or campaign and an entirely separate team for the online experience. The online was beta tested for over four months before going live, with many of the suggestions of the beta testers being integrated into the final product. This game mode pits a team of CEC Security members against and endless army of necromorphs. The online relies heavily on tactical teamwork to achieve the objectives if you are on the CEC side, or team coordination to prevent the objectives from being met if you are the necromorphs. While initially fun and exciting, the online tends to lose steam the more you play, as there are few rewards and incentives for continuing to return to the game mode.

No game is without faults, and Dead Space 2 is no exception. While the multiplayer is a nice change of pace, there is not enough variety or a big enough user base to really keep the attention of the gamer for an extended period of time. While this part of the game is a step in the right direction, before it becomes an online behemoth it has a long way to go in terms of variety and reward for the player to keep playing online.

The online mode is not the only place where a few issues were noted, as the single player mode has a few problems as well. Despite being in an overrun and infected colony where necromophs far outnumber the human survivors, at times the necromorphs can seem to be endless in numbers. This can result in the player feeling like they are in a survival or horde mode in an online third-person shooter instead of being in a survival horror campaign. Typically, these occur at the least opportune of times and can result in mass hemorrhaging of your ammo caches and health supplies.

Other times the necromorphs seem to be invincible, getting through your volley of discharges without ever taking damage, getting stunned, or being severed. This can prove to be discouraging when you see the shot pass through the model and still have it not react as it should. While these issues do go lengths to create an intense experience for the player, at times it can feel cheap and unbalanced. This is especially true when you play on higher difficulties, are low on life or ammo, or have not seen a store or ammo supply location for over an hour of playing.

These small flaws do nothing but provide surface blemishes on a package that not only lived up to the reputation of the original, but surpassed it in every single way. Dead Space 2 is a fabulously crafted masterpiece in the survival horror genre and has raised the bar for all contenders to live up to. Whether you are looking for more a campaign based game with excellent controls, a balanced and fun objective based multiplayer experience, or are trying to get the most bang out of your dollars spent, Dead Space 2 will provide endless hours of fun, terror, and strategic dismemberment until Visceral deems the population worthy of another one of their finely crafted tour de forces in this dying genre.

The day(s) online gaming stood still

April 20, 2011 – It is a date that will live in infamy among the 74 million plus users that it has affected. Not only has it been a huge disturbance for those addicted to online play, but it also has significance in a more serious right. With righteous might and extreme prejudice, governments shall converge onto Sony for their overall negligence and shoddy security for a network that requires you to enter sensitive, vital personal information just to gain access to a free service. Okay, I'm done being overly-dramatic… but the fact that it was done on 04/20 is not coincidental in my mind.

However, my satirical draw on Franklin Roosevelt's famous "infamy speech" and the overall degrading of Sony is not the purpose of this piece. No, no, no… it has a larger purpose. It is embodied by the fact that people are raging left and right on boards, social media, and whatever other outlet they can think of about their inability to play games… online. Not that they got a Red Ring of Death (RRoD) or Yellow Light of Death (YLoD), and can no longer PLAY GAMES, but rather they cannot play games… online.

These people are (in fact, as evidenced by the boards and posts) more upset about not being able to play Killzone 3 or Call of Duty: Black Ops online than the fact that they are substantially at risk for identity fraud and/or credit card fraud which caused the outage. This boggles my mind, being an IT security and auditing professional and a consumer that has regularly had a credit rating of over 720 since turning 18. However, I digress – for there are bigger fish to fry, and until we know the true impact of the PSN compromise… speculation is merely going to turn into a childish game of "telephone" or "he said, she said" and do no good to anyone. EDIT 04/28: It has been announced that "key personal information" or KPI was encrypted, and Sony also never stored any CSV (security) codes for any credit cards in their system. First bit of good news since the service went down on 04/20 – coincidental… I think not. Lousy stoner-hackers...

My trolling of boards and sites has led to the discovery that there are in fact system wars popping up left and right – just like the riots in Los Angeles of the early 1990's. That is to be expected whenever ANYTHING negative happens to a major console in the middle of the current generation wars, and the opposition can use this tidbit to degrade the other fanboys. This is not what I found interesting about the whole situation, however.

What was interesting is an even mix of PS3 users saying one of two things:

- "oh, I'm catching up on my backlog of single player games"/"the outage is a blessing in disguise to get through games that I haven't had a chance to play offline"; and

- "O-M-G, I NEED TO PLAY ONLINE!!!! WHEN WILL THE PSN BE BACK UP"/"Why do I even own a PS3, it is useless without the online multiplayer!!!" *queue confused look on this last comment*

This leads me to break the majority of these responses into two groups: the first group is probably an old-school gamer in their mid-to-late 20's and very similar to me in their habits and tastes; the latter group is probably largely an under 20 new-school gamer. Differences are plenty, but the main difference is the new-school gamers are by far superior at multiplayer games than the majority of my generation. In fact, they have basically been raised on this aspect of games – which I suspect is the reason so many of them are on the proverbial ledge, waiting to jump off at any moment and developers concentrate so many resources on this aspect of gaming (and for replay value purposes for us old-schoolers).

The point of this observation is not to argue the stereotypes of gamers based on their ages; as that is one that has been debated for years. However, I'm more interested in the emotional reaction to the PSN outage and how it has affected the various types of gamers. I find the emotional reactions of gamers to be not only insightful, but also to be very interesting and reflective of their overall gaming personality.

There are pages upon pages on forums and social networks of outrage and cries of foul play. All of these are primarily from those individuals who play (or enjoy most) the online-based games, which are primarily the new-school gamers (new-school I would consider to be younger than 21 yrs of age). Hateful posts of how Sony has ruined their lives and stolen the precious joys from their hearts make it seem like they have lost their true love, or had their innocence stolen by some means of trickery. No, there is still much gaming to be done, multi-player gamers… you just must look inside these closed cases!!!

The old-school gamers and those who do not rely heavily on multiplayer seem to have taken the outage a lot more peacefully. These gamers not only adapted, but many have found solace in the outage. They may have comments about the PSN not being available, but the majority of the disdain is for the unavailability of content that can only be obtained through the store. There were also miserable gripes of the inability to update their trophies and playercards, but these sorry souls need to find some real problems to complain about. They then resonate that this will "give them the ability to concentrate on their backlog" and "finish the campaigns of games they used to only play online."

The main reason why I point both of these out is because I started off in the "new-school" frame of mind only to retreat back to the "old-school" frame of mind. I then started reflecting back on some of the first true multiplayer game experiences I had to see where the true difference and rift was created. It took me down a deep, dark trail of my past. It seemed scary at first, but then I found some great memories and moments that had been (almost) forgotten for good… and I'm glad I went on this odyssey through my gaming past.

Ah, I remember back to the early and mid 1990's… I was so young and full of gusto, eyes wide with speculation of the next great games and systems. The kids on the block would all gather at the house that had just procured the newest system (with extra controllers, of course), waiting to get their turn at the shiny new hardware and launch titles. Unspoken law dictated that a multiplayer game was purchased upon obtaining a new system… and this is how everyone was able to ante up and share the great games of the various systems with everyone in the neighborhood. Parents were glad to buy into our overall madness and sickness, as it was also cheaper on them to have one system per household instead of two or three like most other neighborhoods had. It was an almost fool-proof plan… almost, until there were no longer only two choices. Things were simple in the days of Genesis vs. SNES – we switched off, often trading systems and game libraries. Then on nights when the moons and planets aligned, there were massive battles of games and systems in the form of massive sleep-overs. The poor parents of the household got no sleep, children were scolded, and champions were crowned until the wee hours of the night. Yes, life was good… everyone was on even ground – apples were compared to apples and oranges to oranges. Everything was right in the land.

Then, something catastrophic happened… the console market expanded and we all were forced to choose sides due to the rising cost of gaming. The Playstation (PSX) became a favorite… a must have for all gamers, but a handful resisted. The N64 soon followed with such games as WaveRacer and GoldenEye 64, a close second depending on how loyal your allegiances were with Nintendo. Sega soon fell to the side, and was no longer accepted in the circle as the Saturn was shunned and overpriced for most of us. This did not stop the affluent children from picking it and finding that it offered little value for the money, but they were stuck with their poor decision. No one was on even ground – game costs were rising and we had to pick and choose what games we could get the most enjoyment out of throughout the neighborhood. The glory days of our Genesis and SNES domination had ended, and all we could reflect back on was the six-button controllers we loved to use for Mortal Kombat and MK:II. There were no longer even matches… and everyone specialized in different gaming genres.

Some of my fondest memories of gaming were not online, but still involved multiplayer experiences. The memories that my friends and I most often reflect back on were the trips to the arcades to play VirtuaCop, Killer Instinct, Street Fighter II, and Time Crisis. We had LAN parties when we all gathered in a single room with interconnected PC's (yes, we congregated PC's… not laptops) to play Diablo, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, and Unreal Tournament. There were also the great sleepovers of middle school, riddled with late nights of GoldenEye 64, Mortal Kombat 3, Street Fighter II: Turbo, Street Fighter Alpha, Tekken 2, Tekken 3, and eventually in college… Tekken Tag Tournament and Soul Caliber (DC).

These gatherings had no need for such fancy technology as Bluetooth headsets or Turtle Beach/Tritton surround headsets with built-in microphones. No, there was endless trash-talking the way it happens on a blacktop basketball court in the Bronx, SoCal, or even the steaming areas of southern Florida. Yes, not only were you busy pummeling your best of friends on the screen but also degrading them with your hateful (yet playful) words of their lackluster skills and inability to stop your killstreaks, break a combo, or compete on a rudimentary level as you endlessly chained together moves and kills like a finely crocheted quilt.

Ah, those days… those were long before the days of online chatting and gaming. You actually had to get together with friends to have these grand times, the way we now meet for drinks and occasionally reminisce three or four times a year. I almost feel bad these new-school gamers will rarely know gaming the way we old-school gamers do. In fact, my little brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters charity once told me he and his friend were hanging out, shooting some hoops, and decided to play some Gears of War (or maybe it was Call of Duty). They then departed ways to their separate homes to play with each other online. This is the sad truth of the current state of games for me... and I wept for hours for them.

After the outage started, I later asked them what they were planning on doing during the outage they said "I'm not sure" with looks of desperation on their faces. I asked if they had even beaten the single player campaigns of the games they play online and they told me "Nah, they're too hard on Normal and don't have co-op... and we won't play it on easy." Really… games like Call of Duty and Killzone are too hard on Normal or lack co-op? I think my head instantly exploded… for these are rather simplistic games even on Normal and co-op is not really what a campaign is all about. These are common-place to these new gamers, but where was the sense of the lone adventurer??? Where was the mystery and suspense???

You want hard games without co-op??? Try playing Mega Man or Kid Icarus, you want co-op games that are impossible… check out Battletoads. Those are hard games, even on easy. You want something to break your spirit???? Try Devil May Cry 3 on normal, and when you can't beat it on normal – drop it down to easy and find out it still really isn't that easy. And don't cry to me that Demon's Souls is hard – it's not. Demon's Souls is rewards caution and patience while punishing reckless abandon… which is why so many people found the game's difficultly to be so castrating. Discussing game difficulty is another topic for another time, but I remember what hard games were like. We never quit on them, and we have some pretty good memories of trying to beat them even if we failed. Then there are the games that we all beat over 50 times. For my friends and me, it was Twisted Metal 2 on the Playstation. Crude, fun, heart-racing co-op action that kept every player engaged from the title screen until the time we turned off the console. Yeah, we had beat it so many times, but there was so much to do and so many ways to kill everyone… it just consumed hundreds of hours of our lives at a time. We finally had to retire the disc when it became so scratched it would no longer play, and we all wept and gave it a proper burial. It had four M-80 firecrackers tied to it, and detonated it just like the drum-bomb detonator in the game. We wept, but it was a good sending off.

Today I live 500+ miles from my old Pennsylvania friends. We still talk and play games over the internet, usually playing Call of Duty every Tuesday night. Some of us throw a few back, there is plenty of heckling and trash talking, and it makes me feel like I am still in the close proximity of the friends I had to leave behind for personal and professional reasons. The internet bridges the awkward phone calls and even sparser visits back to the land of my roots and nights of gaming with my old friends. However, none of this will ever replace those memories I have of the early days. No, those are golden nuggets that shaped me as a gamer and solidified a lot of the friendships I still hold dear to this day. So for those young and new-school gamers, give it a try sometime… you never know what you may find. You may find internet gaming community to be as lifeless as I am starting to find it these days.