Metal Gear and Me

Not many game franchises mean much to me. I blow through games quickly and tend to forget them. As I’ve grown older, my skill has gotten better and I just have a natural tendency to blitz through games.

Some games buck that trend. Zelda, Mario, Souls, Yakuza; these games are so well made and intriguing that I actively look for each facet of them. I want to experience every minute detail they contain.

Then, there is Metal Gear Solid. There hasn’t been many other games that have echoed different areas of my life. My first taste of MGS was with a PS1 demo disc, but I didn’t get into the games until the PS2 and MGS2.

I do still remember playing the living hell out of the MGS demo with my sister. We thought it was so expansive and daunting. We were scared to proceed, but interested in what the game held. The graphics were gorgeous and the atmosphere was second to none.

Still, I never did get MGS on PS1. I either was too disinterested in the PS1 (being raised a Nintendo kid) or just plain forgot about it. Whatever the case, when I entered middle school, I found myself without many a friend.

I’m Otacon in this picture. Dave was in love with Snake’s name being David.

I met a kid named Dave would introduced me to a lot of great games. Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights and Metal Gear Solid. The first time I hung out with him, he beat MGS in an hour. He knew every inch of Shadow Moses and was able to show me exactly what was so special about the game.

It looked absolutely incredible. I didn’t realize that action games could be so in-depth and cinematic. While I didn’t actually catch any of the story (since he skipped every scene), I loved the way the bosses were set up and how the game focused on an espionage story.

At that point, I did finally want the game. What prevented me from taking the plunge was the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I was a bit of a graphics whore back in the day and that game was easily the best looking game on the market.

I was determined to get it. I tried buffering as many videos as I could online (I had dial-up!!!), but I mostly fell in love with the sound effects. I remember finding a theme for Windows 98 that augmented the task bar to look like MGS font and included every codec sound effect.

Anyway, this was around the time I started to get into reading reviews. I had found IGN64 when I was younger, but my internet access was so limited that I didn’t really frequent the site. In 2001, things were picking up a bit, speed-wise.

I favorited IGN and Gamespy and looked to them for coverage on every game. MGS 2 just happened to be the biggest damn thing in the world, so I was ingesting every bit of info I could. When it was announced that a demo would come with Zone of the Enders, I waited patiently to get that game.

While it wasn’t a bad game (not great, either), I spent more time with the MGS 2 demo then any human should. I had beaten every difficulty level and found every stupid little secret. I was so blown away by how detailed the “Tanker” was. I needed to know what came next.

At that age, I wasn’t ready for the bombshell Kojima would drop on us. I never had an issue with Raiden (seeing as how MGS 2 was my first Metal Gear), but I couldn’t understand what the plotline was about. I thought the ending was anti-climactic (it was written in the IGN review!!!) and I was angered that the plotline was mostly mumbo jumbo.

Still, I had enjoyed the gameplay enough to get interested in the series. While I still didn’t end up grabbing MGS on PS1, I did catch wind of Nintendo doing a remake of the first game. Since I liked the improved AI and mechanics from MGS 2, I figured getting the first game on the same engine would be for me.

You really didn’t mind me? Huh…

While it took a few years to come out, I had spent time online playing Unreal Tournament 2003 and meeting some nice people. The best of those were two younger girls named Mai and Kim. I grew attached to them, despite our distance, and I spent a lot of my time fantasizing about them.

Flash to when Twin Snakes was released and I was now in high school. During my biology class, we began to learn about the human Genome project. Much to my surprised, a lot of the plotline in Metal Gear Solid tackles ideas about how the human Genome can be manipulated.

There was also the curious case of a voice actress having the name Kim Mai Guest. I saw these things as fate giving me hints. There was no way this was purely coincidence. Metal Gear knew exactly who I was and what I was doing.

Hyperbole aside, I really fell in love with the characterization of Snake and his struggles against FOXHOUND. I loved the cutscenes as a child and my growing fascination with Japanese culture and Eastern philosophy seemed to hit a fever pitch.

After completing Twin Snakes, I was dedicated to the series. I didn’t want to miss anything else that came out. I wanted more Solid Snake. Learning that Metal Gear Solid 3 was just around the corner, I was ecstatic. How lucky was I to have 2 Metal Gear games in one year?

Oddly, though, that Winter didn’t go like I had originally thought. I had been a pretty bad kid in high school. I was falling in with a bad crowd and doing really idiotic things. I had become a thief and was constantly getting suspended. I was treating my own family like shit and manipulating teachers into letting me escape class.

So at the end of sophomore year (in 2004), I had changed schools. I had a growing depression that I was unaware of and ignored. I just felt miserable when I walked into this new school. I spent the first few months before winter break basically alone.

People were interested as hell on my first day and then quickly brushed me under the rug. It was hard to me to come to terms with being an “outcast” and not bonding with anyone. So when Christmas came along, I was gifted two games; Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metroid Prime 2.

Returning after New Years is where my life changed a bit. I had met my current best friend, Jim, at lunch. I’m not quite sure how we managed to get in touch, but our chance meeting was met with lots of discussion about games and music.

Jim’s favorite series of all time happened to be Metal Gear Solid. When I told him I had yet to play 3, despite owning it, he told me to immediately do it. He was so infatuated with the game that he didn’t understand how I let it slide past me.

Ch-chow!

I still tell him to this day that if he were a Metroid fan, I would have been more inclined to play that series. I didn’t want to let my new friend down, so I dove into MGS 3. At first, I hated the game damn. Kojima’s decision to stick with the old camera style didn’t mesh with how much more expanded the game was.

After breaking a controller in rage and screaming a lot, I kept playing. I forced myself through those opening hours. I wanted to make sure I had something to bond with this kid over. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, I was enjoying myself.

I also found myself bonding immensely with Naked Snake. The story of the birth of Big Boss seemed to resonate more with me. While Solid Snake was cool, Big Boss had actual emotion. He had talent, skill and passion. He was also a bit of a klutz.

Instead of following in the footsteps of Solid Snake, Kojima decided to flesh Big Boss out more as a human. I understand, now, that this was all deliberate, but at that point, I had never seen a protagonist like this.

My own sadness and misery were paralleled by Big Boss. He had lost everything he ever loved in the world. Worse still, he was put in charge of ending it. The Boss was so brave in the face of absolute death; I wondered why I couldn’t be the same way.

After finishing MGS 3, I was in love. I loved the entire experience. It quickly became one of my favorite games ever. It also cemented a friendship that still exists. Metal Gear grew from being the cool, new, flashy series to something more personal for me.

I could just cry right now…

Ever since 2004, I began to take gaming more seriously. I was no longer playing solely for joy. Now I got into how reviewers processed information and what qualities of game design I enjoyed.

I dug deeper into why I played so much and why I felt more attached to Japanese style narratives then American ones. This brought about a new found interest in Martial Arts cinema. This also brought me closer to Jim, who was a bring proponent of kung fu.

While college would see us part for a few years, we stayed in touch and kept similar interested. Music, films and games were what we loved. Every time we hung out, we’d talk about one or all of those.

College sort of mirrored my high school life. While I wasn’t committing petty crimes, I was pretty alone. I had made some friends who seemed to bully me more then I liked, so after 2 years, I came back home.

This was in 2008 around the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. If anyone knows the history of Metal Gear, you should know that Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the horizon. Since I was back home and could hang out with Jim, I got to finally get a taste of what the PS3 had offered.

He obviously bought the game and invited me over to play it. Even though he had already finished it, he watched while I played. Under such close supervision, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was floored with the quality that Kojima had on display.

Quality like a guy taking a dump in a garbage can.

Never had a game looked so damn realistic. The cutscenes were so flashy and over the top and the action was more manageable then previous entries; Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything a fan could have hoped for.

While I don’t really care for the game, presently, that experience of playing it with Jim and seeing this whole new world of PS3 opened my mind to the possibilities of the next generation. I figured things could only get better from there.

In a lot of ways, they did. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the next major installment in the series. When I learned it had co-op, I nearly cried. Jim and I could finally play the game together. We both loved Metal Gear and to be able to help each other made me overjoyed

The only problem was that I didn’t own a PSP. Jim has a big problem with spending, so he actually had ended up with multiple PSPs after his trip to Japan. He also really loves collector’s edition consoles, so the unveiling of a camo-themed PSP piqued his interest.

In addition to getting the collector’s edition of the main game, Jim also got the camo-themed console. It came with Peace Walker, so we were set to play the game. I don’t think I ever had as much fun playing co-op with him or anyone.

You guys ready to limbo?

I loved the increased emphasis on gameplay over story. I liked the neat comic panels that took the place of full motion cutscenes. I also loved the ridiculous extras and Monster Hunter missions. Peace Walker was a great game.

When the HD version came out, we beat it a second time. We even made sure to S Rank every mission. Our love of Metal Gear needed to be reflected in that Platinum trophy. I didn’t want to stop until every small bit was vanquished.

Now we can skip ahead to the present. While Jim and I were super excited for Metal Gear Solid V, we didn’t really play into the idea of Konami splitting the game up. When Ground Zeroes was released last year, we both took a pass on it. While we wanted to play it, we figured it would be better to just wait and get the entire experience.

Neither of us owned a PS4, either. We weren’t about to shell out to get a single game (even if Ground Zeroes was on PS3), so we played the waiting game. This paid off as Konami announced a PC port for MGS V.

PC has always been our preferred platform, even if Metal Gear has had a terrible past on it. Seeing Ground Zeroes running on PC was incredibly tempting. We nearly plunged during the 2014 Steam Winter Sale, but the $20 price tag was still a bit high.

Earlier this year, a random sale saw Ground Zeroes dropped to $10. Without thinking, both of us quickly bought the game. We were both amazed at how many touches Kojima thought to add.

Games have had a huge problem escorting people and allowing you to shoot. MGS V not only lets you aim and crouch, but you can flat out sprint with hostages. You can lay on your back and fire any weapon you desire. There is a neat “reflex” mechanic that allows you to silence foes before an alarm goes off.

The control scheme is just so smooth. The scale of the island is massive. Ground Zeroes may not be long, but it is incredibly dense. It opens up so many possibilities that I can’t believe other developers didn’t tackle first.

In an industry going towards more linearity and scripted sequences, it’s refreshing to see a game with near limitless freedom. You are basically put in a map, given a target and told to go. It’s intimidating and exhilarating. It makes you feel like you are Big Boss.

Or like Solid Snake being Big Boss; either one.

Our memories or too fresh to really say if Ground Zeroes will stick with us, but we are both waiting with bated breath for Phantom Pain. Since this is going to be Kojima’s last Metal Gear, both of us need to experience it.

Jim has even gone overboard and purchased both the Japanese and English collector’s editions along with the Japanese themed console and a CE of Ground Zeroes. He is making sure that he does not miss the monumental conclusion to the Metal Gear saga.

And for me; I just want to know how the whole thing ends. What other facet of my current life will Metal Gear reflect? Each game has seen me create incredible friendships or strengthen my inner acceptance.

Without Metal Gear in my life, I wouldn’t be half as engaged with gaming as I am. I wouldn’t have found my best friend and I definitely wouldn’t be a better person. I have Kojima to thank for that.

It will be sad to know that a true Metal Gear won’t exist after V, but I’m ready to accept reality. All good things must come to an end and while I really hope MGS V doesn’t echo the end of my life, I can guarantee it will be the end of a certain chapter of my life.

What’s In a Character? – Agent 47

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I’m beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn’t really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn’t show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don’t have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game’s issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it’s sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn’t really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren’t really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn’t really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn’t really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn’t shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It’s just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it’s time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn’t happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47’s DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It’s a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It’s a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it’s cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn’t longed for a world where he doesn’t assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it’s enemies. It also remakes some of the first game’s missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can’t say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn’t get a single hint of development in any facet. He’s never really angry and he doesn’t explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It’s kind of a bummer, but whatever.

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn’t been entirely kind to it. I’d rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn’t really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You’re a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47’s DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim’s survivors. It’s really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47’s personality in Blood Money. When Diana “betrays” him, 47 lets out a, “YOU BITCH!” That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It’s something, even if it’s vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn’t exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn’t why I’m writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn’t deserve that. It’s basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 “modern.”

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn’t to say there aren’t moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He’s wonderfully acted, but he’s so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person’s actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren’t supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You’re just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It’s similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it’s violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn’t even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won’t let anyone take her. It’s basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn’t much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I’m also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That’s beyond pointless; it’s padding for the sake of making a “cinematic” game. I don’t want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I’m sure you’ll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don’t know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn’t evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their “genetically engineered agent” backstory, but all of that doesn’t matter much. It’s just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It’s surprising how we’ve seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I’ve never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn’t to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I’ve never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don’t think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.

I Need a Bigger Gun

As we progress into the future, games become more and more limitless. When hardware or storage capacity used to hinder developers, new formats and emerging cloud gaming have basically done away with old constraints.

Have you ever noticed how most newer games lack unique or memorable arsenals? With all the power at their fingertips, developers still rely on the tried and true Doom arsenal to pepper their games with variety. Nothing against Doom or iD Software, but that was 1994.

We are in the year 2015. The fact that I couldn’t recall any weapons from the latest Call of Duty is a tremendous problem. Even if the first game relied on period accurate weaponry, the series was known more for how it changed the way we utilize the guns more then the guns themselves.

Yes! That gun I’ve used in every game for the past 4 years!

Even with that, Call of Duty is eternally boring with it’s selection of firearms. You have the general ”Weapon” category and then everything to broken into sub-catregories. Rifles, Machine Guns, SMGs, Snipers; you name a real life gun, Call of Duty has it.

While this may make sense for a Tom Clancy game with it’s focus on realism, Call of Duty should be pushing the boundaries of the genre. The games are the most popular thing in the medium and collect ridiculous amounts of money every year. You’d think Activision would want to spice things up a bit.

To lay off that franchise, what about any other games? Grand Theft Auto is guilty of phoning in the weapons. I remember the stupid glee I had when I first obtained the chainsaw in GTA: Vice City. About the coolest weapon I found in Grand Theft Auto V was a golf club.

Even Assassin’s Creed has basically stopped innovating in terms of arsenals. Since Ezio introduced the dual hidden blade, every subsequent game has contained it. Ubisoft then started throwing in items that took away from the idea of stealth (who the hell wanted bombs?).

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looks to remedy this problem, but I don’t know if one game series is enough. As popular as those games may be, shooters still reign supreme and have been stagnant for a long time. I don’t want to always rely on an M4 or ACR in my games.

I used to love old-school shooters with their insane, unrealistic and creative weapons. I loved how, when Half-Life took a turn for a more realistic style, the weapons remained unconventional. I truly love how Unreal introduced two firing modes.

Even their “real” guns had different modes.

Painkiller, a game which was seen as a bit vapid back in the day, has probably the best arsenal of any shooter around. There are only 6 weapons, but each gun has an alternate mode that is basically a new gun. It doubles the arsenal without bombarding the player with different models or information.

To that effect, Halo has always been fairly inventive with it’s guns. While some are basically analogues for genre staples, the Needler and the Plasma pistol are wholly unique. The pistol is also god damned incredible with how well it balances the multi-player (as far as the first game is concerned).

Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena never had issues with balance as their arsenals were diverse and different. Obviously a rocket launcher was in both, but each game had a different feel and different fire rate. The rail-gun was a much faster sniper, while UT’s plasma rifle and ripper have never been replicated.

You can dig through iD Software’s past and find plenty of different guns. Quake had the lightning gun, Heretic had a damned staff and Doom introduced the world to the BFG 9000 (later upgraded to the BFG 10k for Quake 3).

And all was right with the world.

Then I go to my PS4, boot up Killzone: Shadow Fall and see weapons that can be replaced with any real world equivalent. It really makes newer games feel completely dated. What about when future warfare becomes a reality? Now these weapons will be old-school and worthless.

With the likes of old-school shooters, most of those weapons will never exist. Even if you could produce a facsimile, the game’s weapon would remain an entity unto itself. The fun wouldn’t be lost or feel lazy.

I would just like to see shooters try harder. The genre used to be a trailblazer for graphical technologies and creativity. Now, we pretty much have a paint by numbers system for creating first-person games. I don’t want that to be the standard.

Comparison – Demon’s Souls Vs Bloodborne

With the release of Bloodborne, I finally believe that the true “next-generation” is here. While the game may not be dramatically different from it’s predecessors, the attention to detail and general streamlining of game mechanics makes it an extraordinarily engaging game.

Everything about the limited story, combat system, upgrades and level design is polished beyond what I could have expected. I’ve always been a big fan of the Souls games, but Bloodborne really does take it to an entirely different level.

Is it really that insanely good, though? How does Bloodborne compare to the grandfather of souls, Demon’s Souls? Both were made under the direction of Hidetaka Miyazaki and they share a lot of aesthetic choices. They also both have similar structure in world design.

Now, to point out something like graphics would be asinine. Since Bloodborne is a PS4 game and Demon’s Souls is a fairly early PS3 game, there is already a clear winner in terms of graphical fidelity. You can look at other aspects, like art design or graphical density.

Bloodborne has so much going on in various levels that the game cannot push more than 30 frames-per-second. While this is a bit disappointing, the game runs mostly smooth throughout. Certain actions can trigger slowdown and co-op often hinders the refresh rate, but the game works damn fine by itself.

Demon’s Souls was not so lucky. While there are a bunch of areas that are flawless, when you run into any densely packed area, the game shutters. I’ve seen framerates as low as 15 frames-per-second a couple of times. They never seem to crop up in the middle of a boss fight, but they do occur randomly in levels.

Fluidity is what makes Bloodborne so damn addicting. The combat is kicked up to a different gear and is hard to grasp, at first. Everything goes so fast that you need lightning quick reflexes and proper knowledge of your character’s limitations and advantages.

Demon’s Souls was the first in this series, so it obviously doesn’t have as many options. What it does have is purity. Enemies are not given crazy attacks that you will never block and all of your moves are limited enough to give you clear control. You will precisely know what to do and will rarely hit the wrong button.

Having said that, the options afforded to you are vastly different between the two games. Bloodborne is absolutely a melee game. While there are some ranged options, they will not be the linchpin of your arsenal. Your assassination of targets will require you to get up close and personal.

This is facilitated by the silver bullet system and firearms. While that sounds like it would be a tremendous boon, your firearm is only able to carry 20 bullets (disregarding upgrades). This gives you extremely limited amounts of ranged capability.

You can find other items, but they also require bullets. One item even utilizes 12 bullets, only being able to fire a single shot before going away. This change from diverse ranged options coerces  players into fighting the beasts hand-to-hand.

It also eliminates any “cheese” tactics or glitches. You cannot rely on developmental oversights to see you through a rough challenge. It makes every victory solely yours. Even with co-op, you still need to pull your own weight.

Demon’s Souls is not so lucky. Being the first of it’s kind, obviously something was going to go unnoticed. Bow and arrows allow you to tackle enemies from a distance, but with their cost being so low, you end up being able to carry 500+ arrows very shortly into the game.

There are also some problems with level geometry that will allow you to shoot arrows through walls. This nearly eliminates the challenge associated with certain encounters. While you could make a point of saying this is similar to old-school game design, the legacy behind the Souls games looks a bit fabricated with these glitches.

There are also a host of magic attacks in Demon’s Souls that nearly become dominate over other weapons. Since the AI of the enemies is fairly slow, you are able to shoot off a lot of magic attacks with ease. You can restore your MP, as well (via rings or items), so you don’t ever need to stop if you’ve prepared correctly.

On my first playthrough years ago, I never even saw a few of the bosses. While I was a coward, I was still able to “cheese” them out with fireballs and arrows. It trivializes some levels. Practicing self-caution does make the game more enjoyable, but one of the basic tenets of game design is lacking.

Bloodborne has seemingly fixed that by not including magic or ranged weapons. It also fixes the AI by making them far more aggressive. Instead of passively waiting for attacks or walking off of cliffs, the AI will rush down the player and keep them on edge.

This allows little time for healing or flicking through inventory. Your strikes need to be quick and your recovery planned. The infamous running away tactic from the souls game is mostly fixed, too. Once you aggro an enemy, you (9 times out of 10) will have to kill them to stop their pursuit.

As for healing, Bloodborne follows in the vein of Dark Souls by making healing a dedicated button. Instead of putting it to an item and allowing different levels of healing, this ensures that you will always have a way to get some kind of health boost.

What it does away with is the unlimited refills. You need to keep killing enemies and collecting blood echoes to get more vials (or you find a bunch in the world). Dark Souls and it’s sequel would always refill your supply of healing flasks upon dying.

Demon’s Souls relies on consumables. This bloats the inventory by having various types of grass that do differing amounts of healing. It also arbitrarily inflates the difficulty level. If you happen to run out of grass and have no souls, you won’t be healing.

That might seem like a personal opinion, but Demon’s Souls is a bit difficult. Many players have vanquished the steep learning curve, but the game can often times be frustrating. Instead of dying of your own ineptitude, you end up failing because you cannot get ahead.

Bloodborne does go back to that a bit, but your foes drop a lot more blood echoes then any enemy ever dropped souls. Level ups also require more, but most items are fairly cheap while the enemies have plentiful blood echoes.

Speaking of leveling up, Demon’s Souls employs 8 different stats to give to your character. Bloodborne cuts out the fat and only asks you to deal with 6 of them. It may be more fulfilling to govern magic with 2 additional attributes, but the gains start becoming obscured and the process feels more daunting then it should.

Bloodborne clearly explains it’s skill points and allows you to power up faster. This doesn’t inherently make the game easier, but it does allow one to have a more gradual difficulty curve instead of hitting spikes along the way. Bloodborne does seem more well-rounded in that regard.

Demon’s Souls is uneven in difficulty. The first area is overwhelming and even the next level you choose will be threatening, but you tend to get the hang of it after a few times. Then the middle sections of each world become a bit easy before ramping up with the final boss.

The only problem is that the final boss of the first world is hard even at extremely high levels. You never get the feeling that your stat distribution was worth the investment. The False King can still one shot you, so it comes more down to raw skill.

Skill is what makes the Souls games work. While it would be nice to actually feel your character power up in Demon’s Souls, the unbridled sense of success has never been topped. Even if Bloodborne ends up feeling fairer, Demon’s Souls has a better sense of accomplishment.

Co-op can make things dramatically easier. Bloodborne suffers a little in that you can summon more players to your world, but it also allows you to directly summon friends. Demon’s Souls is very specific in it’s execution of multiplayer.

The invasion mechanic is frustrating, but it does also keep you on your toes. To eliminate those invasions, you have to play in soul form, but that reduces your total health. It makes for a strategic element that is absent in Bloodborne.

Bloodborne changes that by actually giving you a way to stay connected, but forego invasions. You won’t actually be able to get invaded in early levels; as you progress, a bell maiden will appear that summons invading players.

Co-op also makes that maiden appear, which then gives you and your cooperator a reason to explore the world. She is often hidden quite well, so finding her is a small reward unto itself.

It still is revolutionary in that it makes single-player minded people actually want to participate in multiplayer, but the lack of an ability to get together with friends is a big fault to me.

I get that the point was anonymity, but Bloodborne becomes a lot more enjoyable when you grab a friend to suffer with. You both can directly talk and feel like you’re bonding with each other over such a dark world.

Speaking of worlds, the design of both games is truly remarkable. While I personally prefer the way in which Bloodborne‘s paths weaver together, Demon’s Souls truly feels labyrinthine at times.

That sense of being lost makes the exploration very palpable. You aren’t always finding anything, but you feel compelled to look. Some of the dead ends can be frustrating, but the game remains fun despite it’s shortcomings in structure.

There are far less realistic touches and more of a sense of game construction. Not every area is brimming with content to discover, but the roads all lead to a specific point. Figuring out which road will take you there is the hard part.

Bloodborne makes it’s central city feel real. There are better indications of where a path ends via large gates and there is limited use of bottomless pits. There are even tons of shortcuts for the player to discover and use. Trekking down an unknown walkway will usually lead to something worthwhile.

Demon’s Souls just doesn’t have that. It’s secrets are vague and limited in supply. Bloodborne has a secret in nearly every area. Backtracking even comes into play, but feels more organic then most games can muster.

This works in conjunction with how buildings are set up. The classrooms in the middle of the game have hallways that only lead to doors. There is no other purpose, but it is built to feel like an actual school.

The mountain peaks have caves that sometimes contain nothing. It looks enticing, but real life doesn’t always have a prize at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes, just the simple act of looking brings joy, which Bloodborne captures.

As for enemy design, both games are basically equal. After a few playthroughs, the general enemies may seem boring, but their first impressions are terrifying. Both games also start off with humanoid opponents and then expand into various creatures from some nightmarish vision.

The only reason I would say that Demon’s Souls falls short is because of it’s controls. The enemies in each title are menacing and not easily conquered (except for a few). Demon’s Souls is a slower game then Bloodborne, so it’s combat doesn’t pack the same punch. That doesn’t mean the enemy design is lacking.

If anything, the bosses have great build-up, better than Bloodborne in a lot of cases. Demon’s Souls also has a tremendous spark to introducing new enemies by clouding their appearance with environmental cues. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on that tactic.

For Bloodborne, you can basically see every foe before you kill them. Their design and size are what fill you with fear or confidence. Their movesets are all distinguishable, so you never leave wondering what happened. Bloodborne doesn’t rely on jump scares, either, something the Souls games have perfected.

Quite honestly, that area is a tie. The combatants fit each game world to a tee. You won’t leave either experience feeling like you disliked an aspect of it’s enemies. Some of them will piss you off, but you will learn to respect their attack patterns and strike with efficiency.

This all adds up to the end game. I understand that not every final boss has to be a ball buster, but Demon’s Souls lacks a true closing battle. The lore surrounding the final encounter is very detailed and interesting, but the battle is basically a gimmie. You walk in, slaughter the guy and leave. Game over.

Bloodborne also brings tremendous attention to detail in it’s lore, but the final encounter isn’t a push-over. If anything, it’s last boss is the hardest thing in the game. You square off against one of your kin and it becomes a battle of skill over style.

Facing off against a literal equal makes the last moments of Bloodborne truly memorable. After all these years, I remembered the difficulty of Demon’s Souls last boss, but I could barely muster an image of him in my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how emotional I felt after Bloodborne.

But both games do offer truly compelling narratives. Their ambiguous approach to storytelling makes their moments seem unique. Each second of the game is your own. Even if the developers have a concrete story, you’ve carved your own path in their work.

That allows every player to fantasize about what piece goes where or how a particular NPC fits into the role of things. That nothing is spelled out also makes discovering any detail more rewarding.

At the end of it all, both games are worthy experiences that I would tell anyone to play. Demon’s Souls was more unique in it’s time, but it hasn’t aged poorly. Certain aspects are outdated, but the game doesn’t overstep it’s boundaries. Every mechanic and design choice is deliberate and counter-balanced (apart from Magic).

Bloodborne is the culmination of surprising success taken to it’s max level of polish. I do truly wish that the game ran at 60 frames-per-second, but the sense of speed and precision is unfounded in any of the Souls games.

It also has intricately laid paths that have no set order. It makes for an experience that truly will be solely yours. It may have taken 6 years to happen, but I finally believe that Demon’s Souls has gotten the sequel it deserved.

Also, you can make randomly generated dungeons in Bloodborne. You can literally play it forever and never see every combination. That is fantastic.

Side Note: I do love Dark Souls. I was just disappointed with it’s technical failings and more grandiose map design. It was an amazing world, but Demon’s Souls had unrivaled freedom of choice for it’s time.

Dark Souls seemed to limit that. Regardless, I would still say that Dark Souls was a worthy successor. I just always wanted a more true sequel to Demon’s Souls, something that I feel Bloodborne delivers handsomely.

Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.