The Tirade

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Owls and Newts

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So last week I made a reference to Knights of the Old Republic, a game by Bioware.  Bioware, as you may or may not know, is a company which makes the dicks of fanboys grow hard as they prepare to take one long, painful shaft up the bum.  Seriously, people, BioWare’s games are as follows:

Baulder’s Gate, Baulder’s Gate 2

Neverwinter Knights

Knights of the Old Republic

Mass Effect and some kinda expansion pack

Sonic and the “Who the fuck cares? They made a goddamn sonic game.”

Admittedly, there isn’t a bad game on that list (No, the sonic game doesn’t count because it’s sonic.  We know it’s epically retarded from the moment a blue hedgehog was involved.), but none of them really stand out as “exceptional” or “genre-defining.”  Just a sort of basic-quality “good.”  I suppose, upon further inspection, that I really shouldn’t have expected as much as I did out of “Mass Effect” because, well, just look at the track record!  But we’re not here to talk about Knights of the Old Republic OR Bioware.

We’re here to talk about Knights of the Old Republic 2.

Yes, yes, their stories are connected (kinda) and this is the sequal, but the story was so much better than the story of Knights 1, and the depressing part is, the story was never finished!  In fact, KotoR 2 was in so many ways a better game than Knights 1, it’s distressing that Bioware gets this credit for being such an awesome developer while Obsidian is known as their lap-dogs.  Obsidian, known for Neverwinter Knights 2, Fallout universe’s next installment, and KotoR 2, are basically the bitches who pick up the franchises Bioware is “too good for.”  Well now they’re playing lapdog to Bethesda, but Bethesda’s actually made genre DEFINING games (The Elder Scrolls: Arena and The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall were some of the first, if not the first, sandbox games ever created), and created the holy grail of RPG design: The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind (a wholly imperfect game with a world that I still get lost in… even though I know where everything is!).

Anyways, my point is: Obsidian usually takes the scraps of good games other people made, and tries to make them even better. Having not played NWK2 or the new Fallout thing (the Fallout universe is fascinating, but iso graphics just piss me off) I really can’t judge them as a whole, but they succeeded with KotoR 2.  See, unlike the first in the series, KotoR 2 does something fantastic and something new.  Actually, two things new, but first you have to learn about the game system before I describe what makes KotoR 2 have such a wonderful storyline.

KotoR 2 is Star Wars d20, simplified and dumbed down for the console tards who bought it (read: me, though that’s not fair because I’m an exceptional optimizer at d20).  Basically, the game rolls a d20, adds modifiers, then decides whether you hit or missed.  Then it rolls damage from a certain number of a certain kind of dice, adds modifiers, then decides how much damage you did.  You get a party of three, where you control one active member and can pause at any time, you get a handful of “feats” which can be combat oriented (but really you just have the one, possibly Flurry but more likely Critical Strike just for the 5-20 threat lulz), and a handful of “force powers” (but really you have a host because you went Consular/Jedi Master since everything else is a waste of fucking time and energy).  You can switch between your active party members, and the ones you aren’t controlling are run by some AI that couldn’t outsmart a 2 year old.

Anyways, you get weapons which can be upgraded several ways (and the sheer staggering possibilities are insane.  There’s usually three or four upgrades you want to put in your weapon, but you don’t have enough slots for them all.  I’m not kidding, obsidian knocked this one out of the park), such as new crystals for your lightsaber (cyan, silver, viridian… oh so beautiful), energy focusers for your pistols, and, erm, blades for your swords.  They really did a great job duplicating the way D&D demands higher level weapon.  And sure, some options are clearly better than others, but there are still several “good” options and usually not one option that’s clearly better than the others… except your personal crystal.  Oh god, your personal crystal.

Anyways you can also wear armor (which interferes with your force powers, so… no) plus a host of shields and other little goodies you collect that make things insane (circle of saresh, which btw is why you play Jedi Master instead of Sith Lord) and deflect laser bolts, whatever.  It’s star wars!  Oh, one more thing: a conversation mechanic which not only makes sense when it keeps track of light side vs dark side, but which also changes your influence with certain characters, unlocking even more dialogue!

So right, our story begins with you being unconscious, and waking up in a dead mining platform in the middle of podunk no where.  Everyone else is dead, and while you start looting the dead bodies for teh lootz (c’mon, light or dark this is the whole point, right?  loot and xp!), one of the dead bodies gets up and talks to you!

It turns out to be this old woman who’s about dead, who tells you some pretty cryptic shit and then says, basically, “we need to GTFO.”  Your character agrees, which is entirely unsurprising, and so you make your way forward and run into this guy, Aton Rand, who’s in prison for… something.  Anyways, you let him out and he tries to do some fancy shit with the comms system, which fails (typical) so you have to go dig around in the old mining shaft with all the old mining robots trying to kill you.

What happens next is this brilliant investigation thing in which you find out who sabotaged your ship, killed all the Peragus staff, and kept you asleep while preparing to steal you and collect a bounty on your head.  Hint: it’s epic, and it made me fall in love with the story.  Anyways, now you kill the first boss (sigh… that was like a great chapter in a story with its own climax and resolution), and you gtfo onto this weird-ass republic cruiser that showed up out of nowhere.  Deux Ex?  Sort of.  While on board, this guy, Darth Sion (not to be confused with Scion, the manufacturers of the worlds most ugly cars, at least until Cube: Mobile Device arrived on the scene), orders his Assassins to murderlize you.  They epic fail, while you figure out that basically, this cruiser had picked up an unidentified space ship, moved a Sith Lord to a Kolto tank (healing tank) without knowing wtf he was, and then the Sith Lord broke out, took command of the ship, got a bunch of assassins to run it, and came here looking for you.

At this point it’s starting to come out that you’re either the last or one of the last of the Jedi, and the Sith are currently trying to hunt you to extinction.   We know that your character has a rough past with the Jedi, and that not happy things have happened.  Anyways, Sion himself decides to take you on, and Kreia says some wise-ass shit that makes you think “HOT DAMN this is a character!” and you decide to crawl through some kinda fuel tube to get to your ship.

Here you hook up permanently with some robot T3-M4, and you blast your way to your ship, take off, and Kreia mysteriously appears on the ship.  I mean, serious rule of cool shit going down here, and we find out how she survived later (hint: another avoided deus ex!).  From there, you manage to escape the ship, but someone blows up the rest of Peragus and takes the republican vessel down with him.  Sion is down for the count, and now Kreia, Atton, and yourself start talking about wtf is going on.

You land at a planet called Telos, which was once orbitally bombarded to submission by Revan himself (yes, Revan is canonically male), and you get to land at the orbiting platform which heads the “telos restoration project,” A project to save they dying world of Telos from, well, Death.  This is the first real instance of the “multiple paths” system.  Previously, on Peragus, your light vs dark was dealt with by, well, not being an asshole.  I suppose I want to berate Obsidian for the stupid “kick the puppy” bullcrap that makes you dark-sided, though I must admit they do a decent (not fantastic, just decent) job of portraying evil as me-centric while good is them-centric.  I also can’t rip into them for stereotyping evil, not with the shennanigans about to be pulled.

Anyways, you have the choice of working for the righteous and honorable Ithorians, a group of slugs who want to bring life to Telos, and the evil, scumbag Czerka Corporation, who wants to bring money to its pocket books.  We’re asked to side with whomever will get the job done, and to be honest I lean towards Czerka, even after working for the Ithorians… and that’s saying something.  The game tries to paint Czerka as a blood-sucking evil enterprise while the Ithorians are working heart and soul for the planet, but with the amount of money Czerka is dumping into Telos, unless there was literally zero planned governmental oversight I can’t imagine them failing.  Especially since there are (reportedly) many other lucerative projects that are waiting for the Telos project to be completed before they can be green-lighted.  The Ithorians, on the other hand, are easily bullied and simple.  They couldn’t restore a slightly rusted table, let alone a planet!

So whichever you chose, you eventually meet with the Exchange, who admits they don’t have your ship, so you fly down to the surface, get shot down, meet Bao-Dur (great guy, great mechanic, some of the worst voice acting this side of the original Godzilla dubs), and trundle along until BAM!  You meet up with some mercs who want you dead.  Hint: those are the guys who shot down your shuttle.  Anyways, you go through this long dungeon like thing (linear, of course) and meet this weird HK-50 droid that blows up.  Or maybe it’s an HK-51, I forget.  In ANY case, the point is that there’s a race of assassin droid hunting you down, and they’re created here.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, we’ll get to the cut content when we get to it, eh?

Anyways, you steal ANOTHER shuttle and fly to some kind of polar base and get shot down AGAIN, this time by the HK-50 droids, who walk up to you and you kick their ass in a fight.  Then you have a meeting with Atris, and the real story of this game starts to get under way.

In this meeting we discover literally EVERYTHING that has lead up to this moment, that left you trapped on Peragus with the Sith hunting you.  You were exiled by the council for going to war with the Mandalorians… and you were the only one of those who left who decided to come back.  At the same time, the Jedi severed your force connection, but wait, there’s more!  Atris… loved you.  Here she says something along the lines of “you chose war over the council, over…” and she stops.  She was about to say “me” and the dialgoue directions really point out that Atris loved the Exile… and that perhaps the Exile loved her back.  I’d like to take this moment to note that canonically, the Jedi Exile is a female.

The vast majority of this level is all dialogue, and about half to three-quarters is skippable, but any idiot who’s playing KotoR 2 for the combat is a… well… an idiot.  This level, while mostly (again) dialgoue, reveals so much about the major players in this conflict.  Kreia is far-seeing, and knows Atris, as well as what Atris is up to.  Atton has some past “issues” with Jedi (this comes up later), and then there’s the Handmaiden.  The Handmaiden basically says she was born of some guy and some woman who shacked up.  Her dad was Echani, same as all the other handmaiden’s sisters, but her mom was… someone else.  Mysterious, eh?  Kreia and Atris are two of the most manipulative creatures I have ever encountered, but god DAMN Kreia is a fantastically written character.  This is genius in its purest form, ladies and gentlemen.

There’s also some cut content which reveals two things: 1) the Handmaiden is chasing you (if you play male) because Atris ordered her too (and the sisters think that the Handmaiden betrayed them), and 2) Atris is why you were aboard the Harbinger (remember that cruiser mentioned earlier, taken over by the sith lord?) in the first place.  Atrist gets a lot more manipulative, so stick around!

Anyways, we get to a nice little trial scene, which is fantastic and wonderful.  But wait, what’s this?  You were devoid of the force when you entered the council chambers?  So the Jedi didn’t isolate you from the force!  Well, well, well, this’ll take more investigation, now won’t it?

I’d like to say that this is something KotoR 2 did the best out of any game I’ve seen so far.  The Let’s Play over on Something Awful touched on this, and I’d like to continue it: the final boss of Telos is Atris.  The climax of everything that happened on Peragus and Telos is right here, in this chamber, when you talk to Atris.  No combat, no nothing.  How many of those other developers would’ve said “ah, we need BBEG fight NAO!”?  Instead, the chapter closed with a dialogue tree, a test of wills between you and a jedi.  This is why so many people complained about the game, by the way.  It was all together deeper and more complex than your average idiot could handle, quite unlike the original KotoR, which had all the depth of your average Prisoner’s Delimma, which is to say, idiots think it’s amazingly deep and complex, while intelligent folk (hopefully all of my readers) see it for what it is: superficial philosophy, touching on exceedingly basic principles.

Another fantastic thing about Obsidian, and why i want to see their writers poached by Bethesda (I’m going to play whatever fallout crap they peddled to Obsidian because it’ll be fantastically written) is their ability to open a storyline.  Throughout this game you’ll find that a great many storylines, main and side, pop up.  The problem is, these lines don’t usually end.  Whether this is some fault of the writers, or if it’s because Lucastards pushed the release date is unclear.  However, there is a written end to the story (that I happen to like) which leaves a great many questions unanswered.

Anyways, back to the story.  After Telos we’re given a handful of options, Dantooine, Nar Shaddaa, Korriban, or Onderon.  On each planet we discover more about our past and where we’re from, as well as why we’re where we are today.  Dantooine and Onderon are about planets about to secede from the Republic and Civil War, Nar Shaddaa is a little more gritty, and Korriban is what’s left over after Civil War.  After this, you revisit Malachor and finally the game ends.

The small twists and turns along the way make this game very much worth playing, in my opinion, even though the end isn’t finished.  If you complete KotoR 2 and still have questions, let me know and I can tell you what the real ending is 😉

Written by superglucose

August 31, 2009 at 7:39 am

Posted in 1

Photograph

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It was a chilly afternoon, as most stories do not often start during chilly afternoons. A young man takes a shot from his polaroid camera and patiently waited till the photo was developed. His pale fingers touch a clean tip, the corner freezing ever so slightly. He shakes it, frantically hoping the photo would develop faster, and shards of ice fell off, shattering into each other and falling as diamonds would onto the snowy floor.

He looks at it, the slowly developing photo, with its blotches of undeveloped film. You couldn’t really tell which one was which. Well, I couldn’t. The white photo spots were practically the same color as the winter background he had attempted to capture in said photo. I always tell him that he couldn’t really capture our beloved Winter in such a simple medium. But he insists he needs it. He needs a picture.

After looking down at his unfinished photograph, he goes back to waving it like a mad man, showering the area with more snow (not like it really needs more). I have to cling onto his collar to even keep on his shoulder.

Jack looks at it again, the slightly more developed photograph (not me, sadly. I think he’s used to seeing me on his shoulder when he goes out now). The tinge of blue from the sky is starting to show. More ice crystals start to form from the held corner, sparkling against the light.

“Bah. It wasn’t a very good picture anyway,” he says. He throws the polaroid picture on the floor and walks away. Wind spins around him, brushing snow over the fallen photograph. Now, I know most of you will probably be bothered because big ol’ Jack Frost is littering and doing bad stuff to Mother Nature and all. But really, Jackie’s not big. Or old, for that matter.

He reaches home and drops his coat by the door. It’s been many years, or so he says, since he moved out of his parent’s home, and he’s adjusting… slowly. Really slowly. For many of the months he sleeps, refusing to leave his icy cottage. And I am left with nothing to do but care for his slumbering body.

Jack makes us some hot chocolate and does it just the way I like it, which is not very hot at all. One would venture to say I like it chillingly cold. But so does he. He sits on the couch, and I on his end table. I think if I sat on his couch, I’d just sink right in. Not saying I’m fat–I’m really not, I promise–but his couch is ever so soft.

We sit there in silence, sipping away at our formerly-hot-now-cold chocolate. There’s really not much to do anymore, now with the Spring season coming in, and all his beautiful snow turning into rain, his intricate frost patterns melting away. It’s really quite depressing, but what must be done must be done. It was beautiful while it lasted. I think that’s what made him want such a lasting piece as a photograph. Winter itself is so temporal, with all its memories melting against the cruel sun. No love for the cold Winter days.

I am not sure what my Jack wants from a simple photograph. Doesn’t he have all of winter encompassed within me? He used to say this every day, but it has been many moons since he had looked upon me that way. I have grown as jaded as he.

Before I can say something, he gets up. He looks at me, his little winter sprite, and sighs. No love from the cold Winter. She leaves as quickly as she comes, and Jack is dissatisfied with his love being as flighty as she is. He retires to his chambers and slams the door, ice falling to the ground and making a mess of the floor. I’ll clean it up later.

Maybe next year will be better, I think to myself as I fade away, becoming nothing against the waking Spring light.

Written by Mint

April 14, 2009 at 1:25 am

Posted in Stories

Urgent!

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What is it with game developers these days? They hype and hype and hype, and deliver a product that is so close to perfect and yet leaves us with a resounding “meh.” I can think of several games which were on the brink of something fantastic, and yet utterly lacking on just a couple of points. Fable was outstanding and amazing in most ways, especially how it delivered the story, but the unusable ranged combat, broken magic system, and tiny, linear game world with a short story doomed it to being merely ‘good.’ KotoR 2 was incomplete, starting off as one of the most epic tales ever spun in Star Wars history, but eventually petered out into nothing as the storyline was never finished. Oblibbions, supposed spiritual successor to Morrowind, had the same open world vibe as Morrowind, but everything was too samey and fast travel just executed it all… along with the fact that, well, the crown of immortality and keyless ‘key only’ locks. It seems to happen most often with the RPG genre, and I can’t for the life of me describe why. Maybe it’s because RPGs are inherently more complicated than other games, as they’re really the only type of game that absolutely must have a storyline that flows seamlessly with the plot?

On that I’d like to take a sidebar for all you people who complain about there not being kids in games or not being able to kill kids in games: grow up. Look, you can’t sell a game where kids can be killed because the current political climate of every game-releasing nation won’t allow it. And you know what? It’s not that big of a deal. It does not hurt game play and if you complain about it I will hunt you down and stab you, because there are much better things to complain about. The fuck you want to murder kids for anyways?

Right so anyways, which game am I on about today? Riiight… Mass Effect. Mass Effect couldn’t be deeper in the uncanny valley if it tried, which it did. First comes the character creation, which is fine and includes some (extremely) basic roleplaying options, which come into play later. Sort of. Then comes the epic intro scene, in which cheesy dialogue lines are sprayed by self-important nutjobs, Captain Anderson and Admiral Hackett, as they discuss how you’re perfect. After this lavish praise, there’s some more epic awesomesauce and then it drifts into the helmsman “Joker” talking to Lt. Kaiden Alenko. This intro scene has a bit of cheese but is overall very good at setting the stage for the game… after all this game is all about doing something exciting and amazing and then being bored for an extended period of time.

Then you’re dropped off on a planet where you have to secure some kind of artifact or something from an attack by the Geth, who haven’t been seen for a long time. There’s a SPECTRE there to watch you, and supposedly he’s going to be testing you to see if you can do the job. This makes no sense however, as he immediately sprints off to solve the problem for you leaving you to wonder why you were even brought along in the first place. Fortunately he dies before the problem is solved, killed at the hands of Seran, another SPECTRE who’s gone rogue. You go through the first area and kill off hoards of Geth, learn to play the game, disarm some bombs, and get possessed by an ancient artifact. At this point I was already bored with the story.

First I want to take some time out to talk about level design. Calling Mass Effect an RPG, especially a Persistent World RPG, is crazy. Mass Effect is, at its core, a first person shooter with some sort of RPG element haphazardly tacked on at the end. It is this gameplay which first firmly places Mass Effect in the uncanny valley, the fact that each level up path has one (and exactly one) special ability to go with it, that all the upgrades are basically identical, that the numbers on your guns mean next to nothing (beyond “higher is better”), that you’re forced to have certain abilities as class abilities, and finally that you can only use your health packs once every like ten minutes. Even the level design was horrendously railroaded. It is impossible to find one level in Mass Effect that isn’t linear, “go from point A to point B, shoot everything in between, flip a switch, go from point B back to point A, shooting everything.” That, my friends, is Halo, which is not an RPG.

Second I want to talk about how this story started and what they should have done differently. Once upon a time I took a Java class, and I wrote what is now known as the “people generator.” Not the “random people generator,” but the “people generator.” This program worked in such a way that if you inputted someone’s first and last name, as well as their haircolor, and ran the program, it would tell you their first and last name as well as their hair color. There was no further point to the program, nothing you couldn’t do by writing the info down on index cards and reading that info a second later. Mass Effect’s opening “background selection” felt like the People Generator. It’s like the game said, “oh, what kind of badass are you?” and I said, “I want to be… “survives anything” badass.” A few seconds later, the characters are going, “Shepherd is “survives anything” badass,” which has no addition to the plot and is never discussed again, except through random completely interchangeable dialogue options later in the story. Easter eggs are awesome when you find them because you feel smart, you feel like you figured something special out. In Mass Effect, these little blurps always felt like someone placed an easter egg right in front of you on the table, and asked, “where’s the easter egg?” I felt patronized, and most of all, bored to tears.

If Eden Prime is under attack and I have the ability to clear the whole mission myself, wtf is our military doing? Also, why am I alone? This is a Human colony, and everyone is talking about how Eden Prime is a symbol of Humanity’s ability to colonize, so why the hell isn’t there something more substantial defending its spaceport than a handful of easily thrashed marines, and for that matter, why is our tiny ship the only ship that’s coming to help? Couple that with the fact that the guy who’s supposed to be evaluating your abilities jumps on ahead of you and dies and the game starts off with the stench of the contrived. Eden Prime was overwhelmed because otherwise Shepherd couldn’t be badass, Nihlus ran off and was killed because otherwise there would be no difficulty for Shepherd in getting into the SPECTRES, and Saren had to try and blow up the artifact rather than take it with him because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to enter the main quest. When your characters are doing things for the sake of moving the story forward, there’s a problem. It breaks flow, and is bad storytelling. Characters need in game motivations, reasons to be doing what they’re doing other than “the story must progress.”

You go back to the big central area of the planetary government thing and are told, “By the by, we don’t believe you that Saren is evil and stuff, so find us evidence or shut up.” What do you do next? Find evidence, of course! Someone’s already been investigating Saren, for whatever reason, and fortunately he has a lead, which you pursue and find evidence that Saren considered Eden Prime a victory. Confronted with this, the Council 180s and declares Saren a criminal and orders you to find or elliminate him. What happened to trials? I guess it would have made more sense to me personally if the game had been decided that Saren was under arrest, and then Saren skipped bail, and then you were after him. The decision is made by the council in a matter of seconds though. They’re presented with evidence and immediately make you a SPECTRE. Once again the game’s authors just shatter immersiveness and flow, making the story feel ridiculously rushed.

So in tradition Knights of the Old Republic fashion, they hand you three planets you must travel to and you go to them in whatever order you want. This supposedly ‘huge’ game world is huge, probably about the size of two Morrowinds. Unfortunately, it’s empty. There are dozens of systems to explore, which for the most part is just reading a boring diatribe on the average temperature and day length, finding out there’s no minerals there, and going to the next system. Occasionally you find some kind of dog tag or something like that, which supposedly creates these ‘mini quests’ which really aren’t quests at all. It’s like the COG tag thing from Gears of War, except stupid. er. Stupider. Sorry about that, I was confused for a moment.

At each stage of these three planets you learn pretty much nothing about the plot, except that Saren is doing some weird shit all over the place. You never even find out why Saren is doing this weird shit! For example, on the planet Noveria, you meet Matriarch Benezia, who reveals the big shocker that Saren isn’t controlling people’s minds, but that his ship is. Which is interesting, and plot relevant. What is Benezia doing on Noveria, you ask? The best answer I can give you is, “she needed someplace to be.” The plot line of Noveria is that the containment failed on a station that was researching… well no one knows what. But whatever it was was getting loose, and so Benezia went there to… help the situation or something like that. Except she didn’t go help the trapped people, and instead just sort of sat around in the bottom levels of the base doing absolutely nothing. This leads you to a situation in which you can either free or kill the last Rachni queen, which is a great side-story and all, but it’s a bloody side quest Benezia’s involvement is so token it’s absurd, she just is sort of there as a way for the developers to say, “see? This belongs in the main quest, I swear!” Oh, you may say, but that’s just one third of the total missions. Not true, every single mission is like this.

Therum. Benezia’s daughter is working on some Prothean artifacts. You go to her but who’s there first? The Geth, with a bloody fleet. Why? You never know. Liara obviously would respond better to a kidnapping than her mother asking her to come over for tea, according to the writers, which makes so little sense it is mind boggling in its absurdity. Besides, there’s this huge battle over her to gather her up so she can make the huge revelation that she doesn’t know anything relevant. A huge mission and absolutely no story significance other than Liara is now a part of your party. That is a side quest, with some Geth thrown in so we can make it look like a main quest.

Feros. You arrive and the Geth are attacking some city some ways away, for the purpose of attacking the city. Did any Human fleets respond? Hell no! Why not? Because, um… because otherwise Shepherd wouldn’t be so gorram badass. Well aside from the fact that Earth’s navy is about as useful as Santa Claus when it comes to protecting Earth colonies, why are the Geth here? Because Saren was here. Why was Saren here? One express purpose: to feed someone to some plant thing which almost (but not quite) taught him something important. However the plot line of Feros is, “this big plant took over the population, kill it to save the population!” Saren’s involvement is token, once again just so the writers could poke you and say “main quest!” and then sprint across the playground giggling.

Let’s review the plot lines of the three main quest planets: Noveria, someone was trying to control a massive, sentient insectoid race called the Rachni, and it blew up in their face. You have to contain the problem, and either let the queen live or die. Therum, Saren hates Benezia’s daughter and wants to capture her for no reason. Also he set up a random-ass base in the middle of nowhere so he could do so. You save her. Feros, a human research company discovered that there was a plant that could control people’s minds, everything went to hell in a hand basket, and you had to kill the plant.

Exactly one of these makes sense for the main quest, but is inherently stupid for one reason: the person you rescue has no plot significance at all, which means that of the three main quests, exactly zero of them have any plot relevance at all. Finally, you get to go to Virmire, which is where there’s actually a main quest.

Throughout this whole game Mass Effect gives the vibe of a game that’s trying to rip off Morrowind, and isn’t doing a very good job. For instance, in Morrowind the first thing the main quest giver tells you to do is go level up by doing quests for other people. This is done by Mass Effect by, well, the admiral calling you every thirty seconds and sounding like a goddamn douchebag. In Morrowind, the first quests you do for Caius Cosades are only tangentially related to the main quest. You’re asked to find out about the sixth-house cult and the nerevarine cult, and the quests come when people with the information you need have things they want in exchange for their information. This is mirrored by Mass Effect in that your quests aren’t related to the main storyline at all. I’m not saying this was on purpose, but it’s definitely something I noticed: Mass Effect’s storytelling seemed to try and duplicate Morrowind’s, but fell short in every way.

Now Virmire is the best planet in the whole main quest, and is also the biggest let down. Reread that sentence, and weep for that is in essence Mass Effect’s story in a nutshell: “the best part was also the biggest disappointment.” Virmire is the best planet because it is the first time you’re actually doing something against Saren, and it’s also the biggest letdown because the game’s storyline almost turns from “evil guys over there, kill they ass” to something deeper, a gray area in a struggle between good and evil. On the planet Virmire, you go rescue a bunch of spies who report that Saren is close to unlocking the secret to countering a genophage. Now, the Genophage was used by the Turians to kill off (read: drive to extinction) a sentient race called the Krogan, of which there is a member in your party. There is also a member of the Turian race in your party, and everyone’s talking about this.

Obviously, the Krogan in your party (Wrex) is pretty excited at this whole, “let my species reproduce again” thing but understands that any Krogan that are born will be slaves to Saren. So he’s conflicted and understands that the research station must be destroyed, but he doesn’t like it. Pretty much everyone else is going, “ra, ra, kill the krogan!” There were two great ways this story could’ve been taken and one way that it was taken.

First: Saren’s been working for Sovereign, and realizes that Sovereign intends to kill everything. Saren recognizes that Sovereign is unstoppable at the moment, but under the guise of building Sovereign an army with which to help take over the galaxy he’s building an army of Krogan because he believes the Krogan could fight back.

Second: Saren started working for Sovereign because Sovereign knew how to reverse the Genophage. Saren, a Turian, has always felt guilty over the xenocide of the Krogan, and he wanted to make amends for his species by reversing the terrible deed.

Third: Saren started spawning the Krogan to force a quasi-ethical choice for Shepherd, only there’s no real choice because the only choice is “kill all the Krogan again,” and it doesn’t even make sense that Saren would be working on the Krogan anyways since he already has more Geth troops than he needs, and he can always simply recruit more Krogan anyways.

So the story at Virmire becomes, “Saren is making an army, and you have to blow up the production facility.” Sweet! We’re finally facing off against Saren! This marks the first time in the whole main quest, in the whole game, that you actually manage to stop Saren from achieving an objective that would have helped his cause in one way or another. Long story short: you blow up the production facility, figure out what Sovereign is (a reaper) and what its goal is, and start chasing Saren to see who can get to the holy mcgauffin first. Hint: him.

Going back to the council, they tell you that you’re wrong (for the umpteenth time… they told you you were wrong about everything and anythign you did in this game), that the Reapers aren’t a threat, and then they ground you and lock you out of your spaceship because apparently you’re not a SPECTRE anymore. They kick you out for… apparently for letting Saren get away despite the fact that it was you and a small spy team versus Saren and Saren’s personal armies. Plural. More than one. So you hijack your own ship and bust out of the station, with everyone pissed at you because… well it’s never explained except that it might cause war with the Terminus systems, though who the fuck the Terminus systems are is never explained, nor why you’d be risking war with them.

Anyways you end up on the plant Ilos, where Saren is searching for the conduit which is located on the planet somewhere. He starts digging around trying to figure out exactly where it is, and you follow one step behind. Eventually you find it, but not before you discover exactly what the reapers are and what they plan (giant machines, kill everyone), and how it’s all part of some cycle. There are other interesting facts about the game world thrown in here as well, like how the mass relays were actually Reaper technology, and other stuff like that. In the end, it’s just that the Reapers apparently eat sentient life and so they’ve come to activate the gate and eat, cause they’re hungry. Fine. Next you jump through the conduit, end up in the middle of Citadel Station, and stop Saren from activating the conduit by killing him. Game over, except the end.

The end! Here’s a choice for you: establish a new regime of government dominated by humanity as an autocracy over every other species, or continue the current regime of government, an autocracy dominated by three other species? If you’re like me, you’ll realize you aren’t given a choice. Especially since I had to set up an autocracy dominated by humanity since I decided that keeping everyone from dying was more important than saving a council that had been a thorn in my side from the beginning of the game. The end of Mass Effect didn’t feel like I was choosing anything, more that I was going to get something shoved into my orifice, and I could choose whether it was a glass or plastic dildo. That’s not a choice, because I’m still getting fucked.

While we’re on the topic of the council, they are the most frustratingly written pieces of shit in this game. The only words out of their mouth are “you’re wrong” or “you’re an idiot.” I swear, you find a Rachni queen, and if you kill it, they demand to know why you didn’t try to keep it alive. If you release the Rachni queen, they bitch at you for releasing it. Not even once do they show concern that someone was keeping a Rachni queen alive somewhere, at least not until you touch it. The giant mind-controlling plant? You get bitched at for that despite the fact that there was no way to do anything different. They also bitch at you for saving Benezia’s daughter, because… well they just stop offering reasons after a while. It’s more of a generic conversation that goes like this:

Shepherd: Yes, council?

Council: You fucking suck shepherd, you should’ve done this totally differently.

Shepherd: what do you mean by ‘this’? You’re being really vague, and I don’t know what yuo’re talking about.

Council: STFU and don’t do it again.

Shepherd: What is ‘it’? What do you want me to not do again?

Council: As always you’re free to do whatever you want. Council out.

Your conversations with Admiral Hackett are even more perplexing.

Hackett: You need to do this thing for me.

Shepherd: Uh, ok, I’m not a member of the ANS anymore bro. I’m a SPECTRE, I work for the council, not you.

Hackett: You’re still a member of the ANS.

Shepherd: Not according to you, the council or Captain Anderson.

Hackett: Well you’re still human so you have to help us.

Shepherd: Um… huh?

And as for Ambassador Udri or whatever, he’s just a blight on this game, and his only job is apparently to tell you you’re stupid for everything you do. The world is just not enjoyable, with everyone who has any authority alternately telling you that you’re wrong or stupid, or trying to tug at your heart strings. In the end, I told Joker to fuck the council because I hated them, and when Ambassador Dumbass wanted me to make him king of the galaxy I just wanted to introduce him to my pimp hand… or more accurately my pimp assault rifle.

All in all, this game has some great side quests and a few moments that were almost exceptional scattered throughout the game next to moments that were exceptional. The storyline is shit, however, and is completely contrived and forced, much like the more recent Harry Potter novels. Every step of the way I feel like I’m being shoved down a ridiculous path that I don’t want to take. The dialogue system contributes to this, along the lines of Ass Effect over on Something Awful. I feel like if I select the dialogue option “console him” my character is just as likely to say “Fuck you you whiney bastard now on your feet asswipe” as “I’m sorry you lost your mother, wife, and kids.” This never leaves… and in the end I felt like I wasn’t playing the game, I was watching someone else play it and occasionally giving him ideas on what to do.

Written by superglucose

April 14, 2009 at 12:25 am

Posted in Reviews

The Kid Inside

with 2 comments

I make no excuses: persistent world RPGs are the best games known to mankind. I really hate feeling godly, like nothing can touch me, if I haven’t earned it which is something that all (repeat: all) other styles of RPGs contribute to. Take it in this manner: if I am playing any JRPG or WRPG, the next area is not unlocked until I can physically handle whatever challenges are there. The game is always designed about my mowing down hoards of minions until I finally get to a (hopefully) epic boss battle. This is an RPG formula that has worked for a very, very long time, but is completely bucked by The Elder Scrolls series (except Oblibbions, but whatever, I like to ignore that game) and a handful of other games. In Morrowind, for example, the world does not scale to you. Sure, random encounters scale, but if you piss off Divayth Fyr at low level, he’s not “character level +5” or “character level +15” to make it a challenging battle, he’s “100 in all magic stats, 999 HP and MP, full daedric” whupass regardless of what level you face him at. This makes finally wiping his carcass across the floor to get the only Daedric Cuirass or set of Daedric Pauldrons in the game not only rewarding (ooooh… shiny armor) but satisfying, except that Fyr is one of the most badass characters in a game ever, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s the feeling that you personally unlocked new areas by working hard that gives persistent worlds their awesome feel. While I can go into the sixth-house base on Red Mountain at any level, it is highly unlikely that I’ll survive getting there or back until a much higher level. This makes it feel like the world is the world, and that I am just a player in it (however powerful I may be) and makes the epic feeling of being able to murder the entire population of Ald-Ruhn that much more amazing.

That’s why the game of Freelancer holds such a special place in my heart: it is one of the first persistent world RPGs I have ever played, and I enjoyed it immensely. While the atmosphere of the world leaves a little to be desired (ok, a fair amount) I find that I can forgive its universe of most of its shortcomings by how many things the game did right. Faction reputation was brilliantly done (if a bit buggy), the ability to go anywhere in the universe after you finish a certain story mission (which isn’t instantaneous like I’d want, but at least it eventually happens before the end of the game) is wonderful, especially the feeling that maybe you shouldn’t be in certain areas (seriously, try flying an Anubis with any loadout in the home system of the Corsairs). It has a few immersion breaking elements, such as the fact that no matter how high level you get the ships in Liberty space always suck ass, and that at a certain point you can almost sit perfectly still indefinitely without any risk of dying, but on the whole I feel like a part of the world.

Now a simple description of what the world did wrong: space is not 2D. This is the biggest, most massively glaring flaw in all of Freelancer, that the space is 2D. Everything in Freelancer exists on the same plane no matter what, which is frustrating to no end. The second flaw wasn’t really apparent until playing Morrowind. In Morrowind you could spend thirty minutes going through the inventory screen of the various weapons that your merchant was willing to sell… some of them were obviously overpowered (which was solved by giving them a huge price) and some of them were obviously completely worthless. Freelancer commits the oh-so-common sin of restricting the equipment you can buy, in a way that doesn’t make any sense. Liberty was supposed to have the highest tech-level ships in the game, but their ships were, stat wise, the worst. In the end there was no difference between the ships you could buy because they were all obviously better, there was no, “should I go with a light fighter to be maneuverable or a very heavy fighter to tank?” The very heavy fighters were always significantly better than the light fighters, in every way. This eliminated most (but not all) of the tactics in choosing a ship and loadout. What’s so disheartening about this is that this is a complete 180 from Starlancer, Freelancer’s prequal, which always gave you access to different ships, but in the end all the ships were viable (and yet I always chose to fly the Phoenix…). Also the story missions were linear. This wasn’t an issue in and of itself, it’s just that I really didn’t want to be forced to do a certain story mission just so I could be allowed to buy the next level of ship.

For all those things Freelancer did wrong, you’d think it sucked as a game, right? Actually, the universe was surprisingly immersive. There were the beautiful backdrops that’d have me flying to certain locations and then just watching everything peacefully, there were the random encounters that didn’t feel random (though at times felt way too frequent), there was the comm chatter that really helped give the sense that there were other people flying alongside you, and there was at least some semblance of an economy. I know a lot of complaints about the game were that the economy was static, but to me that made a fair amount of sense. In a lot of games you are working on a relatively micro level, in which you’re selling large numbers of non-consumable goods to relatively small towns, but in Freelancer you’re selling relatively tiny numbers of goods to planet-sized populations. Since you can see other convoys of three ships that each carry some inordinate sum of goods that is approximately ten to a hundred thousand times what you can carry passing by every few dozen minutes, it makes quite a bit of sense that your small-scale trading vessel has no appreciable impact on the economy. A lot of people are annoyed by this, but this is the kind of thing I love in persistent world RPGs: I’m big, and I’m bad, but I’m not God. Fable, on the other hand, wrecked this: the ‘dynamic’ market was so influenced by what the player did, it was possible to make infinite gold by buying and selling one good to one merchant and what you buy and sell has a massive impact on the prices for those goods. Plus the faction rep system really helped make it feel like the universe was taking notice of you. If you ran a dozen missions for the Corsairs murdering the BHG, the BHG would get all pissy and try and kill you if they saw you. Clearly the faction rep system was not perfect (the BHG would, at no point, decide that you’ve murdered far too many of their pilots and run like little kids), but for the time the game was released it was brilliantly done.

On to the storyline. The Freelancer story begins in the game Starlancer, though Freelancer does not continue the story per se, it’s just that they occur in the same universe. So Starlancer was basically, the eastern nations (except Japan, cause the Japanese rock) went to war with the western nations (who, of course, get Japan on their side, because again, the Japanese rock). Tits go up, the Alliance begins losing the war, and a new volunteer squadron is formed. You play as a pilot in this squadron and almost (but not quite) singlehandedly (and boy do I mean singlehandedly) win the war for the Alliance. Unfortunately, reread the “almost (but not quite). So the Eastern Coalition comes back and wtf pwns the Alliance, who think there’s nothing wrong with how they live life. That’s what they all say before they blow you away, so the Alliance shoves a bunch of folks in freeze-o-pods and fires them with a giant cannon to the far away Sirius sector. The ships are named the Liberty, the Bretonia, the Rheinland, the Kusari, and the Hispania.

So the Liberty arrives first, selecting their favorite planets that are towards the middle of the sector, followed by the Rheinland, the Kusari, and eventually the Bretonia. Bad shit happens aboard the Hispania and the descendants of those vessels end up in two totally different places starting two totally different criminal organizations that traffic in two totally different contrabands. Each of the vessels takes up the culture of their homelands and makes nations with the names of their vessels, so Liberty is the most technologically advanced across the board with the service based economy and most of the banking power, Rheinland is the industrial might, Kusari ran out of land and resources but has highly developed optical technologies, and Bretonia is lead by a queen and plays second fiddle to all the rest, except that she’s allied with Liberty who’s the most powerful. Oddly enough, Kusari and Rheinland are constantly at war (is there a historical animosity between Japan and Germany?) and frequently beat the ever loving shit out of each other. Anyways they just had a recent war which left a lot of people dead and a lot of sectors of space irradiated (yeah just roll with it, k?).

So in enters you, Edison Trent. You’re born on the planet Leeds and you work with this guy, Tobias, but you go out searching for the deal of a lifetime. Eventually you end up on Freeport 7, which is run by a sweet organization called the Zoners, and you make the deal of a lifetime with some guy named Lonnigan. He now owes you a million credits, but before you can do anything unusual ships come and blow up Freeport 7. Fortunately you make it to the escape pod (Lonnigan too, but he’s badly wounded) and end up on Liberty, without money, cargo, or ship. This is where Jun’ko Zane comes on the scene. She’s a spunky, balls-to-the-wall asian chick (hmmm… who does that remind you of?) who works with the NSA equivalent (again, who does that remind you of?) and offers you a job. Ok, so I didn’t really have anyone in mind with the whole “who does that remind you of” schpiel, but whatever, ok?

You accept her mission which is basically, “convoys getting hijacked, protect them, find out where the attacks are coming from.” Get used to escort missions, you do them forever in the story mode. Anyways, as you launch in space and meet this guy named King, a Rheinland cruiser comes in to dock because the President of Liberty (a chick named Barbara Jacobi) is going to meet with the Rheinland chancelor to discuss export treaties. Some group called ‘the order’ gets wind, and they take out their deep seeded grudge of large vessels by torping the capship. Well, the Liberty Security Force or Liberty Police Incorporated or Liberty Navy (really not sure which one is supposed to be involved here, their duties seem to overlap a lot) take exception to this whole “assassination” thing, and you, now being an official employee of the LSF, are ordered to start shooting the Order ships. The rest of the mission is boring, with you destroying a pirate base, blah blah blah no more story here.

So there are a couple more escort missions until you find out what’s really going on: Liberty doesn’t like the Alien Artifact trade because, um, they belong in museums? Since these ‘artifacts’ are so common that you can run into full transports of them carrying something like three hundred thousand units of alien artifacts (which I assumed to be crates of trinkets of a certain large size), I’m not sure what the big deal is. Either way, Jacobi doesn’t want them imported except through official (OFFICIAL) channels, and someone’s smuggling them in. So you brutalize some idiot who was smuggling some artifacts in because you thought he was the guy you were looking for, and while he’s threatening to sue, you leave his chunk of hull behind to go save some major station. Apparently the smugglers almost brought down one of the major stations in the area, and the response was to send yourself and another fighter (King) to go face off against the pirates. This is not the first, nor is it the last, time that the orders of the Liberty Navy will make zero sense, and it’s not for some story-based reason. It’s so you can feel ‘important.’ So with the cheap “hi, you matter” storyline aside, you go and capture this guy and take him to some battleship somewhere, and he escapes. Juni (Jun’ko Zane) flips out about this and starts yelling at any and everyone about security, and decides there’s a security leak somewhere. So she decides to move a shipment of alien Artifacts through some nebula reasoning that if there is a leak the convoy will get jumped. Guess who’s running escort?

Sure enough the convoy gets jumped, by Outcasts which actually makes no sense at all with the rules of the universe. Outcasts are drug smugglers, Corsairs are artifact smugglers, and the Outcasts are jumping a shipment of artifacts? Whatever, this is totally irrelevant because basically you fight off the Outcasts in what is probably the hardest mission in the game (yeah, mission 3. This game has variable difficulty throughout the missions, some are simple and some are ridiculous). You manage to get the artifacts to the base you’re shipping ’em to, and all hell breaks loose. Rhineland ships pop in to the area, deep inside Liberty territory, and start bombing the research station you’re on. As if this wasn’t enough, you’re ordered to get out there and defend the base, as the immaculately named Captain Walker shows up with some cruiser support. You win this battle but the Liberty Navy is pissed because Walker defied orders

Up until this point there have been a lot of bad signs. Before the first mission, Lonnigan apparently went crazy and escaped from the medical facility. Before the second, he apparently killed someone to escape again. Before the third, you watch the Liberty Navy execute a fellow Freeport 7 survivor for no reason, and also you find out that the LSF is calling Lonnigan the head of The Order, which is clearly propaganda. Before the fifth, Juni starts telling you that people you’ve flown with, Walker, King, have been declared KIA for several years, and that someone’s messing with the LSF and Navy records. Then some guy comes up to you and offers you the chance to buy an artifact, and gets killed for the effort. As the officer who murdered him points his gun at you, Juni points her gun at him telling him to stand down. The officer gets shot by Juni, and you start running away from Planet Manhatten, but not before grabbing the artifact. Something you’ve done (probably surviving, but definitely not the fuzzicide) has pissed off the Navy, who’s bringing in battleships to keep you in Liberty. Walker arrives with his cruisers to buy you a chance to escape, which you sort of do. You meet a friend of Juni’s in the Badlands, who tells you basically that the artifact you have is unusual because it’s active. He advises you to get in touch with a Dr. Sinclair who operates in Bretonia, and you run like little pansies from the Naval fleet that showed up to blow up the station you were hiding on. After escaping out of Liberty space, some Bounty Hunters decide to try and collect your bounty, but a group called the Liberty Rogues staves them off. From here you head to Leeds and meet up with your old friend Tobias, who gives you a lot of money.

Juni eventually finds the location of Dr. Sinclair, who you go search out and save from a Rhineland attack force. You bring her back to Leeds, and she gets busy working on the artifact, soon declaring that she can’t figure it out herself. In the meantime, the Rhineland Navy is trying to capture Dr. Sinclair from you. This causes Rhineland to invade Bretonia just as you, Sinclair, and Juni run the hell away from the entire Rhineland fleet in an attempt to meet up with some Outcasts, the drug smugglers of Freelancer who were busy shooting you before. This lets you meet up with the head researcher dude, Dr. Quitaine, who’s some sort of super genius on xenoarcheology. For those of you who aren’t so hot on your roots, that means alien archeology. Anyways, he determines that the artifact is active, but that you need to get the Proteus Tome in order to activate it and figure out what it does… a tome that is safely kept in the bowels of Kusari space.

Now you enter Kusari space, and fly some solo missions before Juni hooks you up with the Blood Dragons, some kinda rebels who are against the corrupt and evil Kusari government, blah blah blah. Important story fact: yousa gonna be shooting at Kusari for a few missions. After several missions with you trying to take on Governor Tekagi, you finally manage to bring him down and steal the proteus tome, losing one of your major agents which sucks. You’re rescued by a man named Osiris, who is the leader of the Order, and everything becomes clear.

This artifact everyone’s been fighting over is a Nomad artifact. The Nomads are a species that were left behind by an even more powerful species to guard the spacelanes of a truly massive jump gate network that connected the galaxy together, possibly other galaxies. Artifact in question? It’s a power source for a super-huge jumpgate in a sector that’s on the fringe of the Sirius sector. These Nomads are pissed off at humanity for… well for existing, and have the power to take over human bodies and posses them. So these evil alien demons infiltrated Rhineland and started trying to spread their influence and even started a war with Kusari in order to weaken humanity in the sector, because despite the fact that infiltration is working perfectly, it’s taking too long and direct war is the fastest method to cleanse the sector. Add to this the fact that it is possible to take down Nomad ships, and that they aren’t, in fact, that tough, and we get a weird combination of cliché and originality. On the one hand, they’re alien demons who have the power to posses humans and have been infiltrating and influencing governments (Yeerks, from the Animorphs), but on the other hand, humanity would kick their ass for sure if there was a straight up war.

Basically the next few missions are inherently useless… they’re, for the most part, “time to go save the world!” In one mission your job is to rescue Jacobi, in another you rescue an informant, and frankly it just gets kind of dull at this point. Of course then Quintaine finds out that if the jumpgate is activated, all the nomads will be sucked into it and flung across the galaxy, but not the humans. Pseudo science is common in science fiction: it’s what keeps science fiction interesting. Jump gates are far-fetched, but if you can accept that there are “jump gates” then you can accept there would be massive jump gates. To accept that these jump gates mysteriously force certain ships to go flying across the void but completely do not affect the other type of ship is a stretch. In the end, that’s the final few missions: fighting the nomads to activate the artifact and suck all the nomads into the gaping hole that’s caused by this new jump gate, and have them fly across the galaxy, never to trouble Humanity again.

The storyline is, frankly, really good if you don’t mind cliché. Despite the fact that major characters die left and right when you start reaching the end (a personal pet peeve… it’s fine if a few major characters die, but I swear when one dies every mission it’s just boring) it’s still a gripping plot, leaving you wondering what’s going on even in the end. Enemy ships look alien, and their guns are definitely alien (you get to equip them later on in the single player!), but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Why did the eyes of Governor Tekagi glow purple? Why didn’t any of the human ships fly through the jump gate? Why were all the Nomad ships in the entire sector, even those not in the system where the jump gate was, pulled into the jump gate? If they were all forced into the jump gate, why are they still flying around in certain sectors? Why was the Liberty Navy killing off the Freeport 7 survivors, especially if Jacobi (the president) wasn’t infested at the time?

Freelancer carries the stench of the unfinished and unpolished. It felt like it was rushed out the door, and considering Microsoft was the publisher, this isn’t even remotely surprising. I will not deny that it is possible this is the story as the writers envisioned it, but it just doesn’t feel like a story for an RPG. Instead it feels like the kind of story you’d get in a Sci-Fi (I refuse, REFUSE to call it “sci-fy” because that is beyond stupid) original movie, or maybe a first person shooter (read: Gears of War). On second thought, it’s got an actual ending that isn’t just set up for a sequel, which makes it infinitely better than any first person shooter story.

Written by superglucose

April 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Posted in Reviews

Freak Out!

with one comment

You’re probably wondering why I’m here.  So am I, so am I.  Well some girl from a forum somewhere saw my writing and decided that I needed to write here.  And parrot her.  And blog on Facebook.  So at the end of the day I’m swamped with writing and it’s all her fault, so if you get a chance throw your shoes at Jo like she’s George Bush at an Iraqi press conference!  So since you’re probably wondering why I’m here (not that it makes a whole lot of difference to ya), it’s to contribute storyline reviews of games I have played.  Some I love, some I hate, all will be made fun of, all will be reviewed regardless of how long it takes.  So sit back, relax, and see if you can catch all my subtle references sprinkled with an extra helping of TLC!

So everyone’s played Halo: Combat Evolved and there are probably two reactions to it: “best game EVAR” and “it’s for stupid fanboys who live in frathouses and froth “best game EVAR” whenever anyone brings it up.” Oddly enough, I belong in both camps, as I thoroughly enjoyed the game and believe that it is the pinnacle of split-screen co-op fun. The game’s mechanics are basically this: pick up a gun and shoot at shit, occasionally jumping to dodge and hopping into vehicles and throwing grenades. I am not here; however, to review the game play. I’m here to review that pesky ‘storyline’ that interferes with your shooting aliens.

 

The game starts with a nice intro, actually. You’re aboard the ship “Pillar of Autumn” which has a nice ring to it despite meaning absolutely nothing, and you’re on the run from this alien Covenant. They’ve somehow managed to follow you to wherever the hell you ended up, and that freaks the captain right out. Cortana, the shipboard AI, then basically says, “Uh, dude, we weren’t exactly stealthy, and they’re faster than us.” This is strike one against Captain Keyes, the second strike being his last name. Keyes.

 

Anyways now Keyes wakes up the crew and orders everyone to battlestations, and since this is a military vessel that means the Marines get called in. Sergeant Avery “Black Sergeant” Johnson then gives his famous speech, which since Legendary is the only way to play, includes, “What we will let ’em have is a belly full of lead, and a pool of their own blood to drown in!” Then you wake up, from your cryogenic sleep. The Covenant board the vessel and try and take you asleep because well, you’re a Spartan. Unfortunately for them, you’re awake (though unarmed) as you run to the bridge. Here Captain Keyes does some jawing and Cortana basically boasts that she took out five covenant ships.

 

This kind of breaks the realism of the game world. If Cortana is able to best the odds and take out five ships to her one, how in the name of hell is Earth losing this war? Just make a dozen Cortanas on a dozen Pillars of Autumn and you win. No Spartan project was even needed, just Cortana, over and over again, taking on twenty covenant capships and taking out five for every one that the UNS loses.

 

Either way, at this point Captain Keyes is alerted that the fire control for the main cannon is offline. While this begs the question, “Why in the hell does the Captain need to know that, and why didn’t Cortana know to begin with?”, we’ll ignore that because Captain Keyes makes a momentous decision: time to scuttle the Pillar of Autumn. So he downloads Cortana into your armor and hands you a gun, warning that he doesn’t keep it loaded. This is strike three against Captain Keyes: why does he carry an unloaded weapon in the middle of a battle?

 

So you walk out the room and conveniently step on the corpse of someone who’s carrying, I shit you not, 132 bullets for the handgun you happen to be carrying. Now you begin the level called, “Pillar of Autumn” as you fight your way off the ship. Basically you find out that the covenant are waiting for the UNS escape pods to eject, and then using the airlocks left behind to dock, breach, and board. They’re looking for something (you) and aren’t really interested in killing off the humans at this point, which is odd because in Halo 2 there’s a huge trial scene in which some major honcho gets his stomach burned off for letting the humans set foot on the ring.

 

Anyways after digging about on the ship for like an hour, you manage to find your way off, leaving a massive trail of broken corpses behind you. You hop in an escape pod and don’t even sit down to prove what a badass you are (come ON bungie, make him badass, not retarded). So at this point you are plummeting towards the ringworld that you found in an escape pod. Hint: no one survives.

 

So after the crash landing you wake up to Cortana yelling at you with a bunch of dead marines about you. Fortunately their ammo is still usable, so under the advice of Cortana you run to the hills carrying the ammo and grenades of your fallen comrades. Here you meet up with Avery “Black Sergeant” Johnson again, and a chick who’s piloting a cargo vessel who goes by “Foehammer” (again, great ring to it) somehow manages to drop off a Warthog. I’m really not sure how the UNS managed to save all the resources you end up using in this game, but I’m not complaining because I love driving the warthog. It’s one of those things I’m amazingly good at, and always have been. Anyways now you go riding through dustclouds and barren wastes to rescue your fellow marines. After this you, yeah, you guessed it, chase the blue-skins back into their holes. Then Foehammer comes to pick you up and you leave.

 

It turns out that crashing a ship into a planet (!) isn’t enough to kill off Captain Keyes, which to me is the fourth strike against him as what kind of moron can’t suicide a space ship on a planet? Anyways he’s been captured, and Cortana insists that we must rescue him so we can mount a resistance. Resistance to what? We don’t control this ringworld, and neither do they! No one, not even us, knows where the hell we are! A guerrilla movement is just what we need to get shot. Despite the irrefutable logic of trying to run and hide, we’re ordered to board the prison ship Truth and Reconciliation to rescue Captain Keyes. Strike five: he got captured. Worst. CO. Ever.

 

At this point one of the most beautiful tracks in video game history begins playing, the Truth and Reconciliation suite http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uta7ujswLUw. You’re ordered to take a sniper and kill all the covenant so that the Marines don’t have to soil their pants, not that it matters because you’re playing on legendary which means that all the marines will die anyways. If you’re not you need to cut off your hands and give up video games now because you’re too much of a pansy. Anyways you fight up to the ship and the grav lift drops down a bunch of Covenant enemies, including a pair of hunters.

 

Now, I’m going to take a time out and talk a bit about the Hunters. These are supposed to be the most difficult enemies in the game, and yet if you so much as touch them on this level you’re doing it wrong. You should not be shooting them or punching them. Lead them to the cliff and do some bullfighting with them and let them kill themselves! In order to make these things challenging, my friend and I had to make a rule, “no punching.” But even still they’re laughably easy because you just circle them (seriously) and repeatedly punch them. They can’t do anything. On the later levels it’s acceptable to actually punch them, but under no circumstances are you to shoot at them. Bonus points if you get one hunter to kill the other! (yes, this is possible).

 

So now you hop onto the grav lift with a bunch of fresh marines and board the Truth and Reconciliation (GREAT name for a ship). While here you find out that the Covenant elites have these awesome cloaking devices that are somewhat ruined by the massive glowing swords they carry. Seriously. So then you go find Keyes and all the other captured UNS Marines, and Keyes immediately takes charge of the situation by grabbing a needler and personally attempting to lead the charge off the ship. This is why co-op is immensely easier than singleplayer by the way. In the singleplayer, you have to single-handedly kill off every covenant in the ship before Keyes finds them, because the old man has this brain aneurysm that causes him to explode into a million tiny bits whenever a covenant so much as looks at the guy next to him funny. That’s strike six, by the way.

 

You run and gun your way through the amazingly well-named but poorly-laid-out ship, until you reach the controls to some covenant boarding ship. Keyes takes the controls of the ship despite the fact that he can’t even hit a planet while piloting, and proves his incompetence by ramming the exit doors of the ship no less than twice. Strike seven, you motherfucker.

 

So now Keyes finds out that the Covenant, who outnumber us eleventy billion to one, are looking for some kind of control station for the ringworld. Keyes, in all his tactical brilliance, assumes it’s a weapon and that we, humanity, should have it first. This is almost a strike against him except that he ended up being right for once in what is undoubtedly the shocking twist of the game. Foehammer, the tastefully named black woman in the tastefully decorated dropship, does us the favor of landing us in the middle of a battle. All this means is that you get to paint the ground purple (the Covenant bleed purple because their blood is apparently permanganate based as opposed to humanity’s iron based) as you fight your way to the control room. Well, actually, you’re fighting your way to the “Silent Cartographer” which is a stupid, stupid way of saying “map room.”

 

Once you make it to the map room, you find out where the control center is, and you’ll never guess what the next mission is! It’s called “Assault on the Control Room” and it’s where you attack the control room of the Halo superweapon, because it is indeed a weapon. Now the fact that it’s called “Assault on the Control Room” implies that Keyes thought a frontal assault into insane odds was a good strategy, which is officially strike eight. So you’re dropped in the middle of Bumfuckistan and it’s freezing. You drive a bunch of vehicles (a tank) around and eventually fight your way into a control room, surprisingly enough, only to find that there’s this parasite, see? And it wants to eat everything, see? Only it was locked up, see? And now Keyes is going to go free it, see? Seriously, who among us was shocked that Keyes was going to do something epically stupid? If you just raised your hand you shall be shot.

 

Anyways you now end up in another level with a fantastic name that means next to nothing on further examination. 343 Guilty Spark is one of my more favorite levels because of its unusual diversity. In this level you start off fighting covenant, then switch to flood, then Marines (at least, I do), then back to the covenant. So Keyes has found the flood and he’s going to go release them before the Covenant do, god damnit. Well the Covenant aren’t far enough behind him, so you end up shooting through a bunch of them. Cortana notes that the covenant seemed to be trying to seal something inside, to which Master Chief gives a big, “who cares?” and plows on ahead anyways. Continuing on you find that most of the level is blown up, fucked up, or on fire, and sometimes is all three simultaneously. This makes getting around something of a bother and ends up with you going through a veritable maze of corridors. You finally get into the last area the captain and his soldiers made it to, only to find that they’re all dead. Watching the final few moments that are recorded, you notice that, well, they all died. So now the Flood attack you as you run out, and 343 Guilty Spark, a small camera on an anti-grav plate, comes up and says “hi!” He teleports you to pick up some artifact from some library, and this begins The Library.

 

Once again I shall take a time out to talk about the gameplay a bit. The Library is one of the greatest levels in gaming history, especially when co-oped. It is so great that Valve decided to take it and remake it with Zombies instead of Flood and release it as a full-length game. Granted, the second or third time through it it begins to lose its charm, but that first attempt at getting through The Library on Legendary will go down as some of the best twelve hours of my life. Steffy and I had so many epic moments in which we’d be backed into corners punching our way to victory, only to notice that the last one stuck a plasma grenade on us and the other had just fallen prey to a thousand shotgun blasts.

 

Aside over, it’s here that we learn the big secret that Bungie refuses to officially say, “Yeah, you’re right” about: Humans = Forerunner. Without going into it too much, humans = = forerunner. So after this shock is done, you get to pick up the index and are taken back to the Control Room for your reuniting with Cortana. As you go to activate the index, Cortana says something along the lines of “you’ll kill us all!” and you start to think that maybe activating Halo isn’t such a hot idea. 343 Guilty Spark is a little upset and tries to kill you, beginning Two Betrayals, so named because you betray 343 who, in turn, betrays you. Cortana suggests that you blow up some generators to buy for time as you find a way to blow up the installation, and blow up generators you do. A brilliant idea strikes Cortana: Captain Keyes is a full blown retard who can’t pilot to save his life, which means that as he tried to crash the Pillar of Autumn he only really scuffed it up a bit. The ship’s engines are apparently still in tact and can be used to blow up the whole installation! Unfortunately, you need the captain to go with you or at least give you his neural implants (I like option B) in order to activate the self-destruct sequence, and the infamous captain has gone and gotten himself captured again for strike nine.

 

So Cortana teleports you across the the ringworld where you find the Truth and Reconciliation. Its now been gutted and there’s a small-scale war going on between the Covenant and the Flood, the Covenant not being quite as stupid as Keyes and recognizing the Flood as a Bad Thing. You’re inside the T&R but end up jumping out of it because bad shit hits a high-powered fan. With this you fight your way to the Truth and Reconciliation through hoards of Covenant and Flood, and Captain Keyes makes a bunch of really cryptic comments which Cortana whiles away as “he’s delirious with pain!” You find the captain has turned into the flood and you get to punch his skull out, making the whole game worth its sweet while for that one beautiful moment. After this you grab a Banshee and fly the little bugger out, damaged, to the Pillar of Autumn’s carcass.

 

Once inside you find out that 343 has beaten you here. One thing that plagues the Halo CE storyline is baddies who seem to have this psychic projection of your objectives on a level that’s just depressing. Why would 343 know that you would come here, to the Pillar of Autumn? Why would he have come here himself? It makes sense that the Flood are here (they want to rebuild the ship) and that the Covenant are here (stop the Flood), but why 343? The only possible explanation is “the plot demands it!”

 

Anyways your self destruct sequence is overridden by 343 who, for some reason, doesn’t want you to blow up the ringworld. He attacks you, and you fight your way to the control center as 343 basically tells you, “Oh, and by the by, you humans are the Forerunners who happened to survive, blah blah blah” and goes on about finding the lost history of our people. Whatever. You make it to the engine room in which you blow up the fusion reactors. Pseudoscience abounds here as any decent physicist would tell you that you’d need to disable containment rather than, well, blow up the reactors. Blowing up the reactors would merely stop the reaction from occurring, in which case shit would not blow up. Another odd note: why the bloody hell are the reactors still running? This place is a charred-out-shell which Keyes was supposed to be blowing up by suiciding into the ring world! Captain Keyes gets a tenth strike from beyond the grave for his epic fail in ramming a planet with his ship.

 

So the ship is blowing up, the planet is going to go with it, and the Covenant are desperate to kill you to keep you from getting off. You grab a warthog, Foehammer finally dies, and you fly off safe and sound. That’s the end of Halo: Combat Evolved: a single ship’s reactors blow up a ringworld.

 

Overall, I enjoy the story of Halo: CE. It is far from perfect, and is clearly not a terribly good story, but it’s an enjoyable one none the less. I liked Cortana, Foehammer, and Avery “Black Sergeant” Johnson a lot, and even cheered when I heard that the Captain was delirious with pain. There was the definite character development for Cortana, from cocky AI to AI just trying to live to see Master Chief’s next paycheck, and the Covenant managed to be the baddies without coming across as the most evil villains evar. While there was some internal consistency issues (what with 343 being at the Pillar of Autumn), for the most part the story was believable within the rules the setting laid out. I guess the main complaints I have with Halo: CE’s storyline is that the Captain is retarded and annoying, and every action he takes grates me on the inside. Sure, lots of other games I sincerely believe that more stories should mimic Halo: CE because it is, in the end, a decent-to-good storyline that serves the purpose of giving us a reason to run around shooting shit and then blowing it up.

Written by superglucose

March 18, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Editorials, Reviews

Fruit Pit – Cough Drop

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Fruit Pit 01 - By Brian L

Fruit Pit 01 - By Brian L

 

Look out for more Fruit Pit Comics by Brian!

Fruit Pit comics updates every two weeks.

Written by applecannon

March 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Posted in vart

Airports

with 2 comments

Airports are up there on the list of the most fascinating places you’ll ever go. And no one ever notices, because they’re too busy knocking each other down, trying to make their way from gate C17 to A32, which is on the other side of the damn building (blast these poorly designed floor plans).

But the next time you have an exceptionally long layover, and after you’ve eaten and spent the last of your batteries –yes, both the laptop and the cell– talking to your loved ones, take a walk around. No, seriously. Pretend it’s a garden or something, and all the people are uprooted, angry flowers. Walk slow. You’ll be surprised to see how much life can be simplified, all into this little building we call an airport.

I see airports as perfect complements to casinos. In casinos, you have all the excitement and fun and very rarely are things every expected to go in your favor. Casinos will hand you a slice of key lime love, and all you have to do it grab it and run. Run with it, till you’re all out of cash.

Airports, on the other hand, represent angst. Anxiety, boredom, annoyance and hate are examples of obvious emotions that run high. If I knew any better, I would say Satan made airports to fill our souls with pockets of rage. Certainly not enough to make you the next Jack Ripper, but just the right amount to get your blood boiling. Hell’s slowly tainting our angel cakes.

And those things, whatever these “things” may be, never really go your way. In fact, they probably would go more your way in a casino.

But it is in an airport that you see the true resilience of a person. Casinos make you love yourself. Love your love. Airports make you love the passengers, the stewardess who helps you re-book a flight, even the cafe boy who does your coffee the wrong way.

Okay, maybe not the cafe boy.

The point is, when something goes right in a casino, it’s something monetary. When something goes right in an airport it’s just… different. Some sort of happiness money can’t buy.

So much human interaction, and happiness, is lost in the sea of anxiety within our need to get to Gate A32.

Speaking of which…

A woman brushes past a man, her briefcase bumping into his worn jeans. In any other situation she would have stopped to brush her bag. But she’s at an airport, and she needs to make her next flight.

She reaches her gate, and looks up at the bold white letters. Well, white and yellow. White for the destination (Boston, MA) and yellow, for the sign of a 4 hour delay.

An exasperating 4 hour delay. She checks her cellphone. Dead. And her watch. 8:47 PM.

She goes to get dinner, dragging her ever-heavier briefcase in hand. She stops at a Starbucks, tempted to pick up her favorite double shot espresso. But the line is long and there are no signs of those familiar round tables. In fact, there’s no place to sit. She loves on, circling around a group of boys who are moving to LA to become the next best rock band.

Her eyes catch a restaurant-bar, the type that is filled ith destressed passengers who drink their flight troubles away. She sits down and orders a gin and tonic (they don’t serve kir royales).

And another. And another.

The bartender glances at her. He’s at least 5 years younger than her, and he has a thing for older women. But she’s just another pretty face in the sea of icy business women who visit his bar to drink up before a first class flight.

A man sits next to her and orders a beer. Tasteless beer, might I add. But it’ll calm his nerves before his goes to meet his wife, I mean ex-wife, for a divorce agreement that is not going his way.

She strikes up conversation, something light about the press conference on the screen. He thinks Obama’s the best thing since sliced bread. She disagrees, but doesn’t tell him. Instead, she nods and smiles. Her drink is almost done, she she’ll only have to listen to his banter a little while longer.

Frankly, if the American society was going to act this way about their new, black poster boy, she should have just voted for McCain to spite people.

She finishes her 4th gin and tonic and pays, leaving a large tip and winking at the bartender as she picks up her briefcase. She thinks he’s kinda cute, but probably gay.

Striding out of the bar, the woman passes a man and a girl talking about graduate options for a biology major, after college of course.

A man in another cafe looks up as our heroine passes. He nudges his friend and whistles, his eyes gazing at the back of the business lady. And what a cute behind.

Gate A32. The woman looks around, and all the seats are full. Well, all the proper seats. Airport rule #32: people skip seats, so you skip seats. You don’t touch the skip seats. In fact, sometimes you’d rather stand than sit on those.

There’s a small double seat with a very inviting side desk that calls for her. The man in the other seat is lost in thought, frantically typing away on his new macbook pro. No one could ever tell he was a programmer. To her, he was a cute corporate hunk enveloped in his work.

So she reluctantly sits down and crosses her legs as she pulls out her iPhone, eying the oblivious man beside her, who types in an incoherent language in a black box on his screen.

In front of the woman, a nervous student frantically jabbers on her blackberry. The girl seems aggrivated and upset. And, from what the woman gathers, the kid seems to be talking about… stagflation? Yes, the 1980 stagflation period in relation to the current economic recession. Kids these days.

The man finally glances over when she accidentally elbows him, while playing some odd tilting game on her iPhone. She’s really into it, and he looks over. He snickers. She looks up, defensively. She’s played this game.

But it’s not what she expects. He’s not a business man who works in Boston with a wife and two kids. In fact, he’s single and he’s using Boston to get to New York City. To visit his friends, no less. Apparantly, the cheapest flight he could grab had 3 lay overs. Frugal programmers.

They talk for a little more, as the sea of people pass by them. She’s growing to be interested in his line of work, or whatever nonsense seems to be coming out of his cute lips. He knows she doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t really matter. No one really gets it the first time around.

Neither of them realize their flight is starting to bard until the stewardess calls for the third seating group. She was in business.

He was second priority seating.

As they part ways, and she reclines in her plush chair (while he shoves his way back, laptop in hand), she pulls out her headphones and closes her eyes.

Besides, it’s the destination that counts.

Written by Mint

March 9, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Stories