I Will Survive

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Doing the right thing doesn’t always bring peace. When you’re a homeless person with a record, any threat to your safety becomes a threat to your life. Even if you know you’re breaking rules and causing trouble for others, when you lose the comfort of your safety net, all bets are off. Without a bed to sleep in, you might as well lie down and die.

Last night, I was assaulted by one of the men at the homeless shelter where I work. He had continuously broken our curfew rule and he wasn’t happy when I suspended him. Giving him a slight benefit of the doubt (and not wishing him to freeze out in the cold), I granted him permission to grab some of his belongings. Even if he was lying to me and himself, I wouldn’t want to bring harm to him.

Sadly, he didn’t feel the same way about me. I was helping another resident and his man turned around and slugged me. He got in a few more hits before I even realized what had happened. I’m thankful that someone else was in the room with me, or else I may have eventually retaliated and caused a serious problem.

What strikes me the most is the fear I saw in that man’s eyes. As he knocked me over and proceeded to walk towards me, I could see a killing intent beaming from his pupils. If I were a weaker person, I may have died in that room. While it frightens me to the very core of my being, it also makes me terribly sad that some people feel the need for physical violence.

When the world doesn’t go your way, resorting to such hostility isn’t going to solve your problems. You’re refusing to look in the mirror and see that your own behavior is causing your misfortune. I won’t claim I’m a saint, but I’m not the reason you lost everything in your life.

I do feel somewhat responsible, but mostly that I let such a violent man back into the shelter. I should have known this would occur; the guy had a history of coming in drunk and mouthing off to staff. He clearly has no respect for anyone, let alone himself. I can’t escape the thought that one of my female staff members could have been injured due to his guy’s belligerence.

I am mostly sharing this story, though, so that I don’t forget that moment of shock and horror. Certain events shape our lives and while I don’t intend on becoming a victim, I’m not going to shake this off like an accident. To walk past this like I’m some tough, emotionless robot is the wrong thing to do.

I also want everyone on this site to know that I feel stronger in my resolve to speak my mind. I may have taken a few hits to my face, but if your first hit doesn’t count, then expect me to keep ticking. I guess I’m a literal tank as I don’t even have any bruises or cuts.

Some of you may take issue with my articles, but your retorts lack substance. You’re dealing quick blows in a gut reaction without weight. You need a clear mind before you can harm me and your reasoning needs to be sound. Sure, I have my biases when it comes to some games, but I’ve do my research before posting.

I may have made mistakes in the past, but that isn’t happening anymore. I know who I am and what I’m setting out to do; I wish the naysayers would do the same. Be more constructive with your criticism, because my plate armor isn’t even going to kink when you strike.

And to the people that do enjoy my work and support me; I extend a tremendous thank you. As with this assault, I’m grateful that some people are able to put aside their own bullshit and reveal the beauty inside. I didn’t even need to exchange words to get their help and that overwhelms me.

Like I’ve said, I’m not saint, but I would have never thought others would put their own safety on the line for me. Clearly, I’ve done something right by them and I’m doing something right by you. Thank you so much for everything. Your kind words and continued support mean a lot to me.

Freedom: What’s The Whole Story, Again?

Freedom is something we all strive to obtain. Whether it is freedom from our parents, freedom from paying bills or even just psychological freedom, most humans take great efforts to be on their own. The topic, alone, is ripe with opportunities for deep storytelling. Why is it, then, that most open-world games lack any kind of proper narrative?

I’ve played a huge chunk of the free roaming titles out there; Assassin’s Creed, Fallout 3, Oblivion, Dead Rising, inFamous, Prototype, Red Faction: Guerilla, Grand Theft Auto 3/4. I’ve enjoyed some more than others, but I almost never have any idea about what is going on.

Assassin’s Creed is one of the few to include a very thought-provoking story. Other than that, though, I really have no idea what the “vault” is or how the hell Alex Mercer created the demon within. Even when cutscenes are sprinkled in the mix, I still can’t figure out what’s happening.

The game that started this craze, Grand Theft Auto 3, doesn’t even really have a coherent plotline. It begins with a failed bank robbery and the main character getting gunned down. He then turns to the mob to find the girl who betrayed him and I get lost. How do you go from the mob to random drug dealers and then back?

Grand Theft Auto 4 made huge strides in the presentation of a narrative, but even that failed due to rudimentary mission structure. Niko Bellic would often talk about how he didn’t like killing people and that he needed more money to live, but the missions would make you murder upwards of 100 bad guys and give payouts of around $40,000. Why would you even continue at that point?

Red Faction: Guerilla starts off as a fairly interesting take on terrorist actions, but then it devolves into something involving native Martians and how some woman was hiding amongst the Red Faction for years. I don’t even know the characters names, but the writers were definitely pulling at threads when they through that mid-game twist into the mix.

inFamous takes the cake for the worst story, however. Not only do I have no idea whom Sasha is, but the whole duality system the game plays up with differing moralities amounts to nothing. Regardless of what action you pick, the outcome of every event is the same. If you stop the train or blow it up, everyone hates you. If you save the group of people or the single person, your girl friend dies. What is the purpose of choice, then?

Easily the best plot line I’ve seen in any of these games comes from Assassin’s Creed 2. While there are some bits that I don’t understand (mainly the entire middle segment), the way the game follows Ezio’s growth from a headstrong young adult to a combat hardened assassin is fairly breath taking. Not only is it epic in scope, but it almost acts as a character study. Hell, it even brings to light how people take advantage of their every day possessions (such as family).

I’m not sure what the problem is with writing a story for open-world games. Maybe it has to do with player freedom? The Zelda series still offers a fairly in-depth plot, but allows players to explore the world at will. Maybe it’s with character customization? If that’s the case, then how do you explain Rainbow Six: Vegas 2? (Even if that plot has little cohesion).

Where I think the problem lies is with the increasing trend of shooters becoming the dominant genre in the industry. Everyone sees that Call of Duty sells by the bucket load, so developers are trying their best to offer different gameplay experiences first before worrying about plot lines. It shows with linear games, too.

Rockstar had to restrict the freedom of players for L.A. Noire’s story to even work. That just goes to show you how far scripted events and plotting can go to make a narrative effective. You don’t often see films taking non-linear paths, but they usually don’t work (Crash is a prime example).

Do I have any solutions to the problem? I think hiring more unknown writers would do the trick. Recently, F.E.A.R. 3 came out and boasted a script helmed by John Carpenter. It stands as one of the worst examples of story in a videogame that I’ve ever played through. If you give some lesser known person the ability to weave a tale, I’m sure they would try their best to make it special.

My other solution would be to completely strip plot out of free-roam games, though that seems incredibly drastic. Not every single title in the genre is awful (especially not Assassin’s Creed), but developers just seem to start off with bangs and then fizzle out over the course of the game.

Whatever the future holds for soapbox/free roam/open-world games, I’m honestly not very eager to keep going. I like sitting down and getting my mind wrapped around the experience. It’s hard to keep me intrigued when the most introspective and in-depth thing going on is an explosion.

DEMOlition – F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn

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Today’s game is F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn. To give some background, Monolith released F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin last year to lukewarm critical response and not much fan reaction (at least from what I heard of the game). F.E.A.R. 2 was a follow-up to their critically acclaimed F.E.A.R. from 2005 (which also happens to be one of my favorite PC shooters).

My personal opinion on F.E.A.R. 2 (God I hate acronyms) was simple: Hate. I found the game too dumbed down and easy for my tastes. The level design was too bright to illicit any kind of frightening reaction other than a gut response to something randomly popping in your face. The A.I. was so stupid (compared to the first game which has some of the best A.I. around), the guns lost their visceral edge (they no longer produced all the intense smoke effects from the first game) and the level design was just the generic scare tactic style that Monolith overused in the first game (where random things pop out at you).

Well, wouldn’t you be surprised to hear that I actually enjoyed this demo of the new DLC expansion? Before I start delving into the good stuff (gameplay), let me set up how the demo starts. The game begins with an extremely grainy and otherwise unimpressive intro that looks almost exactly like the intro to the first game (making me think this was a remake).

This demo shows the main villain of the first game (he may also be in the second, I never cared to beat it) spouting out some nonsense about how you can free him. After about a minute (and a short little clip of your character doing some cool things), your character stands up from some explosion (possibly the end of F.E.A.R. 2).

This is where I immediately began to feel the presence of F.E.A.R (no pun intended). The first game had such a dark and atmospheric setting about the game that you always wondered what would happen around each corner. This DLC pack seems to fall back on that design and makes your awareness limited to what you can see with your flashlight (which, thankfully, doesn’t die on you).

The surroundings are laid out in a manner similar to the first game, which means they are built like an office building. It was definitely good to feel like I was playing a direct continuation of the first game instead of a sequel that forgot where its roots were.

Soon after moving a bit, you fall down through the ceiling and are confronted with your first enemy. Being without weapon, you have to melee him and take his crappy pistol. I was a little confused as far as button placement went, but melee ended up being mapped to B (just like Halo), so it wasn’t hard to set myself to one control scheme.

The only problem with melee being B is that the rest of the controls don’t follow Halo standards (or even Call of Duty or Battlefield, for that matter). When you pick up the pistol, you know RT is fire, but switching weapons is relegated to LB, with RB being grenade and LT being iron-sights (zoom). This is one of the places where I felt a bit disappointed in the demo. There is no option to bind your own controls, so you are left with a scheme that seems to be esoteric to Monolith games.

Even so, when you fire off a round with the pistol, the guns instantly feel familiar. F.E.A.R. 2 forgot about making their gunplay as impressive looking as it was handling, but Reborn doesn’t make the same mistake. Bullets impact with a splash of blood and the walls will crater when shot. Everything is definitely great looking in terms of technical value, so your guns feel heavy and realistic (just like in the first game). Sometimes your shots don’t seem to connect, though, so that does feel strange when you are missing your mark, but have a dead reticule on the enemy.

When you kill your next soldier and round another corner, the game pops-up to remind you of F.E.A.R.’s patented slow-mo ability. This ability never seemed to bother me in the original (often getting me out of ridiculous jams), but it definitely makes the combat extremely easy in this demo. Even on hardest, popping on slow-mo for 10 seconds can allow you to clear a room of 5 people.

The recharge timer for this slow-mo has been changed from the first game (probably in the second, I just can’t remember). It seems to charge a bit faster, meaning you will always have it in a rough spot. It’s just too bad the A.I. still can’t match the quality of the first. It outpaces vanilla F.E.A.R. 2, though. While I was sitting in a corner and picking off guys, I started dying randomly and turned to see a soldier behind me. Me somehow worked his way out of the scuffle and began to take me out, which is definitely neat.

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A.I. Tactics like cover were missing in F.E.A.R. 2, but are back in Reborn.

As for how to deal with sneaky soldiers, this demo gives you a small bit of the arsenal available in the final DLC. Along to the pistol, you are given a rather simple SMG, 3 grenade types (being proximity, frag and flame), a shotgun and a nail-gun. Yes, a freakin nail-gun. Plugging enemies in the head is so intensely satisfying that I just relied solely on this for the rest of the demo (though it does come a bit towards the end).

As for the rest of the A.I., they just kind of sit around and take your bullets. It’s not like killing them isn’t fun (especially with particle effects flying about), but challenge is not something F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn offers. What it lacks in difficulty, it makes up for with its set pieces.

After killing a few generic grunts, you jump down another level to a sniper waiting (which is easily killed by slow-mo shots) and some tank like people. These tanks don’t pose much of a threat, but waiting for them to turn corners is pointless. You are in a small area that is made of wooden walls, so the tanks just kind of bust through them. It definitely leads to some, “OH S@&^!” moments and the game feels more like it is trying to set up impressive battles like the first game.

The demo closes with you sliding down an office building, but making careful jumps from desk to ceiling pillar so as not to die. It’s very hectic and the camera is never straight, so you are always being cautious with your jumps. This also hints back to the first game, where most of the puzzles were based on moving your character instead of trying to flip a switch and press-on.

In the end, I felt rather amused and happy with the demo. F.E.A.R. 2 put a bad taste in my mouth, but this DLC seems to be correcting a lot of the issues the original title had. While the A.I. might not be up to F.E.A.R.’s level and the guns still aren’t perfect, at least Monolith realized that their level design was lacking. Simply darkening the game and going back to basics has done a lot in making me get sucked into the game world, so I commend them for that.

If you played F.E.A.R. 2 and enjoyed it, you will definitely be pleased with Reborn. The DLC should be releasing on September 3rd (Source), though no price is announced (I say expect 800 MS Points/$10 PSN). While the pack only comes with 4 levels, having them as good as the demo was would make for an amazing little download. I may actually want to finish F.E.A.R. 2 and get this pack, myself, that how much I enjoyed it.