Angry Robot

Waiting for the other shoe to drop…

Monday: Wii gets stolen.

Saturday: Xbox comes down with the red circle of death.

Next week: DS eats my face? Thumbs lost to flesh eating virus? Mac goes on a killing spree? Your guess is as good as mine!

Tonight I’m Gonna Write Lists Like it’s 1999

Six Things That Made Gaming Fun in 2007

  1. The Wii. My hands-down favourite party trick this year was turning people on to the joy of leaping around my living room while flailing their arms like over-caffeinated octopi.
  2. The DS. Frantically slashing my way through heart surgeries and turnip farming turned my daily subway ride from a dreaded trek into a too-short playtime. (And yes, I’m well aware that both the Wii and the DS were squeezed out of Nintendo’s gaping vagina long before 2007, but what can I say? I came late to the party.)
  3. Guitar Hero III. The great gaming equalizer. Turns out everyone from my wife’s formerly game-dissing soccer teammates to my mom wants to rock out to “Welcome to the Jungle”.
  4. Skate. Tony Hawk can shove his “grind your way up the Statue of Liberty” bullshit challenges up his cartoony ass. This Zen-like wanderfest proved that all you need to enjoy an afternoon of skating is a board, some tunes and a desire to hunt down some sweet lines.
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Again, another pre-2007 pick. But this was the game I played the most and enjoyed the most this year. So suck it.
  6. Mass Effect. Admittedly, a bit of a mixed blessing. Cheers to the great story, fully fleshed-out universe and fluid conversations. Jeers to the mind-numbingly dull side-missions, the snoozefest combat and those endless fucking elevator rides.

Two Old-Skool Games I Enjoyed More This Year Than Assassin’s Creed and GRAW 2 Combined

  1. Indigo Prophecy. A compelling story, an emphasis on emotion over action and a strange mix of real-world banality and supernatural creepiness all combined to make this a truly adult game.
  2. Pikmin. Growing and caring for an army of plant-like helpers so that you can solve a series of puzzles and repair your ultra-adorable spaceship may sound dorky (I believe I tried to sell someone on it by using the ill-advised sales pitch, “It’s a game about time management!”), but trust me, this one’s more addictive than crack-flavored Mountain Dew.

Three Love/Hate Games

  1. Bioshock. The critics went on and on and on about the art deco style, the twisty storyline and the complex morality. But nobody seemed willing to mention that you could see the single plot twist coming a mile away, the moral choices really didn’t matter and that – at the end of the day – it was basically just another first-person shooter with a few spells. Fun for a few hours, but an artistic masterpiece it ain’t.
  2. Crackdown. I couldn’t get enough of the Incredible Hulk-style leaping, but those story missions and gang battles were about as complex as a sundial.
  3. Online Gaming. As much as I like the idea of ditching AI in favour of genuine human intelligence, I just can’t get over the cries of “I raped you” from all the 14 year-old hillbillies on Xbox Live. And that moronic “ZOMG” leet lingo makes me want to sit every World of Warcraft player down and force-feed them English Grammar textbooks until they start shitting gerunds.

Two Games That Made Me Want To Claw My Eyeballs Out

  1. Two Worlds. So much hype. So much potential. And in the end, it turned out to be Oblivion’s retarded little inbred brother.
  2. Tenchu Z. I actually didn’t expect much from this one, but I’ve got a soft spot for ninjas, and I really, really, really hoped that would be the installment in the always-disappointing Tenchu saga that would finally deliver the throwing star goods. It didn’t. In spades.

Four Games That All Those Other Year-End Lists Tell Me I Really Should Be Playing

  1. Portal
  2. Rock Band
  3. Super Mario Galaxy
  4. Call of Duty 4

The Five Most Over-Used Game Review Phrases in 2007

  1. “Cinema-quality graphics.”
  2. “Contender for Game of the Year.”
  3. “Addictive multiplayer experience.”
  4. “Revolutionizes the genre.”
  5. “Masterpiece of epic proportions.”

The Five Most Under-Used Game Review Phrases in 2007

  1. “Chock full o’ ninjas.”
  2. “Kafkaesque.”
  3. “Halo meets Everybody Loves Raymond.”
  4. “Kinetoscope-quality graphics.”
  5. “Hot antiquing action.”

Top Ten Disappointing Things About Halo 3

10. They replaced the needler with a potato gun.

9. The endless product placements. I was okay with the Mr. Lube decals on the Warthog, but the cutscene where Master Chief declared he was “going to kick some extreme ass… right after I deal with my extreme thirst!”, and then chugged a frosty Mountain Dew™ was a tad gratuitous for my tastes.

8. To be honest, the whole gay love triangle subplot seemed a little tacked-on.

7. The way Master Chief took on an entire alien invasion single-handedly, and then, despite overwhelming odds, managed to emerge victorious. What is he, some kind of one-man army? Ludicrous.

6. Way too much Nickelback on the soundtrack.

5. I have a sneaking suspicion the only reason this one sold so well is because of all the people who bought it just so they could sign up for the Bratz Fashion Designer Superstarz beta test.

4. Only the people who dropped $130 on the Legendary Edition can unlock the “For The Same Amount Of Cash, You Could Have Bought Malaria-Preventing Mosquito Nets For An Entire Mid-Sized African Village” Achievement.

3. Cortana’s ongoing refusal to get her tits out for the lads.

2. The big plot twist where the Chief gets busted down to private right before the last climatic battle. Call me crazy, but ending an epic war trilogy with a potato-peeling minigame seems like a bit of a letdown.

1. Just didn’t live up to the high gaming standards set by 50 Cent: Bulletproof.

"Is the dark side stronger?" "No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive."

Maybe it’s because I’m currently spending my days at home playing peekaboo with my seven-month old daughter, but it took me all of about two seconds to go with the rescue-the-adorable-moppet option. Which is odd, because whenever I’ve been given a morally questionable gaming alternative in the past, I’ve leapt to the dark side without a moment’s hesitation. Usually while cackling.

And lately I’ve been given that choice in an awful lot of games. In fact, it seems almost as if the whole good-or-evil branching plotlines approach has spawned an entire mini-genre unto itself. For me, it started back in the golden age of PC RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout. I remember firing up Baldur’s Gate, telling myself as I stared at the (seemingly endless) installation screen that I would venture forth into my new virtual world as a paragon of decency, charity and kindness. Five minutes later, there I was, pilfering gold pieces and leather armor from a friendly innkeeper.

A few years later, the consoles caught up and suddenly the shelves at the local gaming emporium were filling up with black-or-white morality plays such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fable, Jade Empire and Deus Ex. Even the MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft allows you to side with either the nasty Horde or the noble Alliance (again, I chose the dark side, logging many hours as a troll voodoo priest, an undead warlock and an orc hunter).

So what’s the appeal? Obviously, having a “good” storyline and a “bad” storyline in the same game makes for some serious gaming value. Play it once as a helpful sort, then go back and do it all again as a total dick – it’s like getting two games for the price of one!

But I think there’s more to it than simple replay value. Games are at their best when they offer the illusion of freedom and choice. And for most games, this usually consists of little more than the choice between using a shotgun or a sniper rifle. But morality play-esque games take that sense of freedom and apply it to the realm of ethics and decision-making to (ideally) create a substantially more complex world that gives your choices real and meaningful consequences.

Of course, the sad truth is that even within this mini-genre, the choices usually come down to oversimplified nice/nasty duality. You can be a choke-happy Sith Lord, or a zen-like Jedi Master, but that’s it. Nuanced shades of grey have no place in these black or white cookies. That seems to be changing with games like Bioshock and the upcoming Mass Effect, but for now, there’s not a lot of subtle ethical gaming dillemas out there.

Nonetheless, I still find these styles of games vastly more interesting than your average linear offering – if only because they allow your decisions to guide the story and have an impact on the wider universe within the game itself. And it’s this idea of “impact” that really resonates with me. A game like Oblivion offers up a huge amount of surface freedom. You can go where you want and do whatever you want – but I found that the world of Oblivion rarely reacted to my actions, except in very obvious ways. Sure, if I was caught pickpocketing, I’d get tossed in the clink, but the wider game world went about its business in pretty much the same way, no matter what my choices were. On the other hand, Fable – for all its (many!) flaws – managed to give the sense that your actions had reprecussions on those around you, even if it was as simple as having people run in fear when your badass self wandered into town. Maybe this is sheer ego – the idea that my actions should have a impact on everything and everyone around me, but it seems to me that if there’s no discernable widespread reaction to your actions, why bother putting in the effort to either toe the line or step right over it?

But that doesn’t really explain why I like playing the bad guy so much. It could be that the appeal of making a dodgy moral choice is based on the idea that we play games as a way to experience something that we can’t experience in the real world. We spend all day following the rules of society – picking up our garbage and saying “excuse me” – so maybe the ultimate in otherworldly fantasy isn’t dispatching dragons with a fiery bastard sword, but instead, being a rude jerk. In other words, if you can’t indulge your inner asshole in the real world, might as well do it in a vitual galaxy far, far away.

Then again, it might just be that the bad guys always get the best storylines. I’ll guess I go test that theory – it’s time to tackle Bioshock again, and this time, those Little Sisters better not be hoping for any mercy…

Virtual Vocations – The DS as Career Counselor

Probably my favourite new gig so far has been taking up a scalpel to slice and dice an endless stream of patients as a talented but troubled surgeon in the ludicrously fun game Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Admittedly, I could do without all the endless pre-op soap opera nonsense, but a bad case of verbal diarrhea is a small price to pay for the chance to chop out tumors and salvage dodgy hearts.

Defense Attorney
Real lawyers spend their days slogging through dense documents and parsing legal jargon, but that probably wouldn’t make for the most entertaining game. Luckily, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney skips the paperwork and goes straight for outlandish plot twists, tense cross-examinations and some seriously hilarious dialogue. Just don’t start a new case before bed, unless you want to be up until three in the morning yelling “objection” at an uncooperative judge.

Private Investigator
A proper PI story needs two things: a twisty-turny hardboiled plot and plenty of gritty style. And fortunately for would-be gumshoes, Hotel Dusk: Room 215 delivers both in spades. With its sepia-toned look, head-scratching puzzles and tightly written dialogue, Hotel Dusk feels less like a traditional game and more like an interactive noir novel. Twitch gamers will probably find it too slow-paced, but anyone with an interest in a mature and atmospheric detective experience should check into this seedy hotel.

Dog Trainer
Nintendogs is pretty simple. Pick out a little fuzzy friend. Teach it a few tricks. Take it for a walk. Feed and water it. Give it a bath. Toss the Frisbee around. Enter an obedience contest. Then, repeat. Over and over again. Sure, it’s very cutesy and adorable the first few times, but eventually it starts blurring together into a haze of doggy boredom. All in all, an interesting failure.

Life of Leisure
Another interesting but ultimately flawed game is Animal Crossing: Wild World. This cartoony Sims-style game plunks you down in the middle of a small village, where you can redecorate your house, make friends with the locals, design clothes, search for bugs and generally kill time. Just like Nintendogs, it’s fun for the first few hours, but the lack of depth and repetitive nature makes it hard to recommend. And as my wife said, “Why would I want to play a game where one of the main goals is to pay off a mortgage?”

Feel like whipping up a gourmet feast, but don’t want to shop for groceries, wash dishes or actually eat anything? Then you need Cooking Mama, the only game that turns boiling pasta into a stylus-stabbing frenzy. Yes, it’s basically just a collection of follow-the-directions mini-games, and there’s not much to do once you’ve unlocked all the recipes, but if you’re looking for a quick three-minute game fix (nothing beats frying octopus dumplings while sitting on the toilet) then this is the game for you.