Resident Evil – Operation Raccoon City – PS3, XBox 360

RE - USSEnough of these Resident Evil games that force me to play as heroes! It’s high time we had a game that put us in the dark black combat boots of the true underdogs—that’s right! The true victim of this whole Racoon City affair is the little, downtrodden, mom-and-pop multibillion dollar megacorporation so hell-bent on destroying the world for a few bucks that their company slogan is, “We put the ‘harm’ in ‘pharmaceuticals.’” Operation Raccoon City follows Umbrella-hired mercenaries as they root out the true threat behind the Zom-pocalypse, any survivors who might impeach Umbrella’s good name.  What’s that? A game where you hurt innocent people in order to save the reputation of a faceless corporate entity? It makes sense, in a way. I mean, that whole “hero who saves the world” trope does have a sort of inherent liberal bias, so it’s about time they started making Republican games, too.

RE - GameplayAt the beginning of each mission, the player chooses one of six cartoonishly villainous rogues, who all wear masks, presumably to prevent them from obsessively twirling their moustaches in the same way you put your dog in a cone to keep him from biting his stitches. And if the facelessness didn’t clue you in that they were evil enough, one character is literally named after James Bond’s nemesis organization, SPECTRE.  You then have a standing mission of erasing any evidence that Umbrella caused the outbreak in the city, as though in the wake of a zombie epidemic, people aren’t immediately going to turn to the mad scientists in charge of creating biological abominations for the U.S. government. “Mom! Dad’s turned into an undead cannibal!” “Oh Christ! Is this because we didn’t throw out the romaine lettuce?” “I don’t know. We better check his blood pressure pills. GlaxoSmithKline might not have been honest about those side-effects!”

RE - Ada

Your mission: kill a cameo hero that we know will escape unharmed.

Of course, this game does more than simulate rooting through your house looking for that iPod you’re pretty sure you kept.  Most missions have some sort of main-series cameo, the likes of which include William Birkin, Nikolai Zinoviev, Claire Redfield, Ada Wong and Leon Kennedy.  Umbrella tasks you with murdering most…well, all…of them, but since each character has to die in a different game or survive indefinitely, they’ll usually just run away until your team gets distracted by some shiny object and abandons the assassination to look at a statue of a raccoon. There’s even a mission where you have to fix the broken Nemesis, although since it’s an action-shooter game, “fixing” Nemesis somehow involves riddling him with bullets. A case of “every problem looks like a nail,” I guess.

RE - Nemesis

Arrgh! What I wouldn’t give for a good aerrating!

The game is actually pretty fun.  It’s a bit on the easy side, but some games have to be. At the very least, it’s not much of a time commitment, although in the spirit of corporate power, Capcom seems to have locked half the game behind DLC.  Without that, Operation Raccoon City feels a bit anemic, so I wouldn’t expect a feast.

Containment: C

Corruption: B

Lights Out: S

Gone Rogue: A

Expendable: C

Redemption: A

End of the Line: B

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Resident Evil: Code Veronica (X) – Game Cube, Dreamcast, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360

RE - Veronica

I’ve made it this far! Game number six of the classic Resident Evil games before the format went the way of the dinosaurs, whalebone corsets and Mega Man. After their crowning achievement that is Code Victoria, the traditional escape-room-with-monsters format went right back into the Capcom vault until, presumably, indie gamers crowdfund a shitty game preying on nostalgia and Capcom watches that Kickstarter counter climbing and showing them exactly how much money their fan base is still willing to give to them.

RE - Tyran

Early in the game, you’ll find BOW Grenade Rounds. If you don’t save them for this guy, you’ll end up living some horrible Groundhog Day life, trapped on this plane for eternity.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica (or Code Veronica X, depending on your console of choice) stars a smattering of Redfields (what is the collective noun for Redfields? Let’s see…a murder of crows, a pod of whales, a flight of dragons…I’m going with a magnum. Does that sound right? A magnum of Redfields?). Chris and Claire, the Redfield siblings, play against the Ashford twins, who are essentially Jamie and Cersei Lannister if they were raised by Norman Bates.

RE - Twins

These two look so inbred, they’re probably their own incestuous parents.

Also, taking cues from Nemesis, which gave Jill a sexy hispanic mercenary boyfriend, Code Veronica gives Claire Steve, an immature, unstable loon who is tempted to violate her personal space while she’s asleep. Eh. I suppose we can’t all strike gold. Fortunately, they finish him off within the story, which is code for, “No more major protagonists! We don’t want to do a Resident Evil Zero for every dipshit who spends three minutes as a playable character!” Still, after a quick tap dancing lesson and strapping a pair of high-quality Dutch clogs to their feet, they throw our protagonists into a situation where a poorly-timed noise means the difference between life and the retirement plan of the typical plate of sushi.

RE - Steve

Really? Capcom gave me this? …Fine. Are we doing this or what?

Reprising his role as Chris’ mentor and would-be murderer, Albert Wesker shows up every so often to do villain things in dark gasses and show us that a virus that turns everyone into mindless undead cannibals can somehow turn one guy into the next incarnation of Neo. Personally, he gives me hope that some day I’ll get a cold that gives me a raging case of pyrokinesis. Wesker appears on the back of the box over the blurb, “Discover key plot clues!” How bad did Capcom think this game was that they thought the most exciting, interactive thing players could do would be to understand the dialogue?

RE - Alexia

No, I won’t kill you. In order to make the point that Chris is the stronger character, we’re just going to pit you against my unstable brother Alfred.

Code Veronica ups the usual stakes of Resident Evil by introducing not one, but two complexes with self-destruct mechanisms. Curiously enough, after a false ending halfway through the game, you actually get to return to the site and witness the aftermath of one of these explosions, which apparently have wrought all the devastation of a garbage truck driving past the building while the driver emits an especially prolific fart. Most of the elevators, equipment, and booby traps still work, and save for the occasional bit of rubble fallen across a door, the place seems pretty much intact.

E

10:28:10

38 saves 48 retries

Yeah, by now it’s probably no use hiding how bad I am at these games.

Resident Evil Zero – Game Cube, Wii, PS3, PS4

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Rebecca’s hot, but you have to take Billy too if you want the handcuffs.

“Traaaainnsss! TRRRAAAAIIINNNS!” God…a zombie game that starts on a train. What’s next? Fighting ghouls in an open field of grains? Perhaps being stalked through a hospital full of the creatures hungry for sprains. Oh! I got a good one: Resident Evil 8, opening on the Raccoon City Stock Exchange, where the living dead are on the move for capital gains.

Hey, Capcom took my idea for Resident Evil 6 starring a grown-up Sherry Birkin.

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Zoinks! I sure hope we don’t get lost in this creepy train, Scoob!

My favorite thing about the first section of this game has got to be picking up a map for the train. I mean, it’s a train. Who maps a fucking train? It’s practically a one-dimensional vehicle. You know what? Let me draw a map of the train right now: ————— Mischief managed, there, Harry Potter. You know where everyone is? On the train. Right there. Look, not to be judgmental, but if you’re the kind of person who needs a map for a train, maybe we should just chalk up your being slaughtered by leeches as nature taking its course. Survival of the fittest.

Anyway, Resident Evil Zero: Aptly named because that’s how much ammo I had by the end of the first section. Have you ever tried going after a shambling hoard of corpses in one of the old-school RE games with just the crappy knife they give you? I’ve never felt so much like a post-op hernia patient than when I’m systematically trying to plunge my arm into those fetid, rotting garbage disposals.

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Step one: work together to find a way around a train. Step two: team up to fight leeches.

Here’s an idea, guys: everyone on the planet has seen zombie movies—they’re not going to bleed out if you slash them enough. GO FOR THE GODDAMNED HEAD! They’re zombies! For the love of all that is Rebecca Chambers fan hentai, they TELL YOU WHERE TO AIM! “Braaains! Braaains!” (You ever see a zombie movie where they actually, specifically eat brains? No!)

Knife combat seems to be less a thoughtful inclusion in the game and more some rogue coder’s attempt to overcome the deep-seated scars after a childhood encounter with a drunken mohel.

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The innovative partner system allows you to waste ammo at an all new rate as your dumb-ass partner blasts a bird with a grenade launcher you forgot you had equipped.

Ahem. Anyway, I suppose if I’m going to play through all the RE games (give or take), I ought to say something about each one specifically. Okay, “Resident Evil Zero is Capcom’s first attempt to introduce a partner mechanic that no one ever asked for or wanted.”

The plot follows Rebecca, the hot, kid-sister type who serves as Chris’s sidekick in the original, as she works her way to the Spencer Mansion. She teams up with Billy, the mistaken-criminal with the heart of gold. He pulls a daring jailbreak, cleverly spying his chance to escape when his guards are devoured by monsters. It turns out Umbrella was pulling experiments on prisoners and he was likely on h is way to be given the full Albert Wesker beauty makeover. That was kind of a cool element.

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Ah hell yeah! Who could say no to free leeches?

The villain is obviously auditioning for a better role in a Final Fantasy game. Picture the standard disgruntled employee type. Except when you work for a grocery store and your boss shortchanges your time card, you steal a few grapes and walk out with a few office supplies. When you work for Umbrella, they assassinate you, and you get revenge by stuffing a few dozen genetically engineered leeches into your pockets and wreak bloody havoc with a biblical-style plauge.

Seriously…I wish I could wreak bloody havoc when I was mad.

The game follows the series’ usual formula in Capcom’s unerring, Mega-Man-style manner. However, they do get rid of the magic boxes to store extraneous items. Instead you just scatter your junk on the floor like some redneck family’s lawn.

Final Rank:

Wait…what? Did I miss something? I didn’t get a grade. What the hell!

Tales of Symphonia – Game Cube, PS2, PS3

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A game so bland the best screenshot is the box art.

Some games end not with a bang, but with a whimper. And then some games end with a string of texted excuses why I can’t play tonight, but I promise to turn it on in a few days if I find the time, until eventually it just stops calling to me and I can move on with my life. Such is the way with Tales of Symphonia. Honestly, I’ve heard so many great things about the Tales series, that I really wanted it to turn into a heated love affair, but I felt like I went in expecting a blind date with Natalie Portman and ended up with Dora the Explorer.

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Like many, I am often troubled by games that try to portray pertinent information in well-written moments within the story. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia babbles on like a fucking schizophrenic on open mic night.

The story opens in the world of Sylvarant, a pleasant, green thriving fantasy world that apparently needs to be saved from wasting away. Colette is a young girl chosen to lead the quest to restore mana to the world, which will save it from a perilous lack of questing, if nothing else. But instead we’re going to follow her friend Lloyd, who has no major effect on the plot at least 75% of the way through the game, and doesn’t seem important in any way other than he’s voiced by the most recognizable actor. Together with a cast of characters too bland to be generic anime archetypes, Lloyd and Colette travel the world, fighting their way through…literal tourist destinations. (But don’t let that fool you. This is less “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Niagara Falls” and more “Visit the Mystery Spot: Exit 255 at Chernoble.”) Anyway, the whole quest turns out more sinister than the entire world believes and Lloyd, Colette, and company take steps to upend the whole thing. I have to be honest, I didn’t get to the end, but I’m willing to put good money on “the power of friendship” being a major theme at the end.

Yes, you heard me right. I couldn’t get through this game, even though it dangled enough potentially interesting plot lines to keep me invested like a Nigerian Prince asking for just one more good-faith payment. Unfortunately, the Chibi-anime art style makes even the adult characters look like ten-year-olds. Outside of pre-teen players, there’s a very special group of people who get invested in a cast like that, a group that includes Michael Jackson and Jared from the Subway commercials. One character I found particularly obnoxious, Raine, one of the few adults and Lloyd and Colette’s teacher. If you combine the worst qualities of a know-it-all pedant with the insufferable nature of someone who you know is just pulling things out of her ass, that’s Raine. Then make her a chronic child abuser who beats the shit out of her (actual) ten-year-old brother whenever he strings together enough words to best Groot in a verbal debate.

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So uh…we gonna do this or do I have to buy you dinner first?

Just when I thought I couldn’t despise Raine more, there was a scene that required the characters to approach a unicorn trapped in a lake. Now, having written my masters thesis on the significance of eviscerating a unicorn in T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (no, I’m not joking. You can look up the article), I happen to know what the game refused to state outright lest it lose it’s G-rating: only virginal women can approach a unicorn. By this point, the party had three female characters, Raine, Colette, and Sheena. Sheena, one of the side characters who ends up being the most important character in the game (even though they never acknowledge it or treat her as such) just happens to be the only character with even a little bit of charm or enough cleavage to still have a good time when everything below the waist is off-limits. She had just joined our party, though, so Raine knew nothing about her except she was a summoner and prone to clumsiness, and yet she still had the nerve to say, “Well, I can’t approach the unicorn because I’m an adult, and Colette is certainly not going to approach the unicorn alone.” So yes, ladies and gentlemen, Raine, in this children’s game, is now slut-shaming strange teen girls, all the while claiming that premarital sex is her personal privilege.

Sheena

Sheena, the only character in two worlds to own breasts.

Tales of Symphonia wears its influences on its sleeve. By itself, that’s not a bad thing. I’m a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and he basically wrote Medieval fan fiction. The problem is, like everything else in the game, it’s watered down for a pre-teen audience. The developers just took Final Fantasy IX, X, a dash of V, and Xenogears, chucked them in a blender, then filtered out everything that didn’t fit into their juvenile, young-adult novelization schema of a video game. That would be like doing a remake of Silence of the Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is in rehab for his Kit Kat addiction and Buffalo Bill is sneaking up on farms and shearing sheep in the middle of the night. Yes, it’s kid-friendly, but if it’s supposed to be “disturbing and horrifying,” it kind of misses the mark…then flies hundreds of meters past it, nearly misses “comical parody” and buries itself by pure accident between the ass cheeks of “hackneyed mess of writing” and “just did this for a paycheck.” Why would anyone care about Final Fantasy X if we never had to worry about the value of summoner’s lives? What use is Xenogears if they cut out the question of humanity’s struggles and desires versus God’s arbitrary plans for us?

But hey, good gameplay can make up for this second-hand, watered-down beer pissed out of a drunken game developer before passing out in his kid’s bedroom, right? Well, that’s true, but Tales of Symphonia doesn’t have any. Despite being an RPG, leveling up and equipment raise your offensive and defensive capabilities about the same as suddenly sprouting an eleventh fingernail in your armpit. At one point I realized I had been playing for three hours with a character who didn’t have any equipment, and I just couldn’t tell based on his performance in battle. The game throws a lot of information at you about combo attacks, techniques, cooking skills, switching active characters, etc, but skills and techniques take time to charge and cost tech points, so it’s literally always a better strategy to run straight at the monsters, mashing the basic attack like you’re trying to exact vengeance on the A button for murdering your family.

Stales

And yeah…here’s another screenshot. Look, I gotta be somewhere. We done yet?

Even exploring the map is frustrating. The camera zooms in close enough to bill your insurance for a colonoscopy, making navigation a little challenging. And it isn’t an oversight, either, since they’ve added a function for zooming the camera out to see where you’re going, but only if you find a magic rock in each area of the map. I’m sorry, but that much dick move from developers who are obviously closet pedophiles makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable. It’s like going 75 on the freeway and suddenly you realize a nest of wolf spiders are crawling out of the defrost vent of your car, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, you really want out. Fortunately, Tales of Symphonia commits the cardinal sin of reminding me of a far superior game and makes me wonder why I don’t just go play that one…so in short, look out in the next few weeks for a review of Xenogears.

Skyrim – PS3, XBox 360, PC

Skyrim

One of countless beautiful images that aren’t actually taken from real gameplay.

Writing this about halfway through my hiatus, it’s probably a good idea to look back and see how productive my break has been. Let’s see…I sent out submissions for my novel and got about three form rejections and a bunch of non-answers…I got fifteen pages into a play and ran out of plot ideas…oh! This one is fun—I regularly spent my days having nine-year-old kids swearing at me like they’ve got one night of shore leave and want to get into a brawl before visiting the whorehouse. No, I wasn’t playing Call of Duty online. I was substitute teaching fourth grade. Yeah, take that, my parents’ generation; a lifetime of video games made me a pacifist, and one semester of being a responsible adult shepherding the minds of our nations future gave me fantasies of having the authority to draw and quarter children. So after a few weeks of “break,” I began slipping into an existential despair void of all meaning and purpose to the point where I imagined I might soon have to fight against the heroes of a Final Fantasy game. So I did the most reasonable thing I could think of; I played Skyrim.

Skyrim Bear

Fuck you, bear.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, saying, “I need to devote time to my writing” and then popping in The Elder Scrolls V is a lot like those girls in high school who told me, “I’m not ready for a relationship right now” before diving tits-first into bed with some douchebag who’s favorite brand of cigarettes are “found on the side of the roads.”

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Yep. A hundred plus hours of beautiful scenery, which sadly is more than we’ll ever see in the real world.

Skyrim expands on the world of Tamriel, taking players to the far northern province. The country is split into several holdings, each ruled by a jarl, proud, stately noblemen and women dedicated to preserving law and order in a bountiful world with a necromancer for every corpse and a clan of bandits for every shopkeeper, and where 95% of the castles, outposts and other government infrastructure have been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Personally, it doesn’t seem like having such a large and thriving criminal population would work well in a feudalist, capitalist or communist society, but Skyrim operates on a quest-based economy where everyone has an item they need retrieved, a cavern they need explored, or a foe they need slaughtered. Hey, it’s not my place to ask why all these vindictive spelunkers have misplaced their shit. My biggest concern is whether or not the potions I found in these ancient tombs have passed their shelf-life. You know, considering the completely dysfunctional nature of my idealized fantasy worlds, it’s a wonder I don’t vote Republican. I mean, there are so many thousand-year-old monsters awakening from their slumber to unravel the fabric of existence that you’d think Skyrim was the United States Senate.

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Yeah, a flying mammoth looks weird, but I guarantee that at least two or three NPCs have a prophecy about it.

Anyway, you play as the Dragonborn, the legendary warrior with the soul of a dragon who will save the world from a magical apocalypse caused by Alduin, the king of the dragons. At least, that’s what the game told me. Fulfilling my role as the archenemy of dragonkind, I once encountered a drake fighting two bears. I killed both bears to catch its attention, but the dragon immediately took off after a deer like a cat chasing a laser pointer. Not to be ignored, I chased down my ancient enemy, only to find him about five minutes later, a short distance from the deer corpse, completely absorbed in mortal combat with a mudcrab. But honestly, who hasn’t turned aside from their ultimate destiny in favor of a seafood buffet? Still, I have to wonder how many times I get ignored for something that crawled out from under a rock before the “it’s like dating in high school” joke gets old, and I have to ask some serious questions about my life.

skyrim mudcrab

Me versus the true dragonborn.

The game follows Western RPG format, meaning it tries to simulate the experience of tabletop gaming without all the pesky social aspects and no way to interact with the game but for a selection of one to three dialogue options thus robbing you of any creative thought or character personality. But if you’re fine playing a character with a personality as vivid and dynamic as a bucket of rocks, there are plenty of skills to practice. In particular, I played as a mage this time, something I rarely do. I might advise against this in the future. I played through the game once as an archer and remember that around level 30 or so, my arrows could tear through bandits like hollow-point shots from a .50 caliber Desert Eagle punching through 2-ply toilet paper. As a mage, though, you’re given an arsenal of spells that do a pre-determined amount of damage despite your level, which is more like trying to punch through a concrete wall using nothing but your forehead and a jar of aspirin. I’m not saying you can’t get by using only the basic skills, but you don’t see a lot of fourth grade music students learn to play a diseased recorder that’s been inside more kids than the combined clergy of the Catholic Church and end up playing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Skyrim Spider

Wait…this isn’t a Skyrim screenshot. This is a picture of me cleaning out my basement here in Duluth.

I thought playing a mage might solve a few problems for me. Carrying around weapons and armor had always severely limited my inventory—a severe problem in a game full of more junk than an old lady’s attic. But not only did I still end up spending more time on inventory management than when I worked as a clerk at Sam Goody, I ended up repeating simple battles for hours on end because I came armed with what amounted to a taser with a dead battery and armor that wouldn’t protect me from a pan of bacon sizzling in the next room. But somehow, I still managed to work my way up to the Archmage of the College of Winterhold, a sweet package that gave me Indiana-Jones-amounts of time off for the purpose of adventuring, and absolutely no responsibilities to teach, help anyone, or maintain the day-to-day operations of the college (so basically, like a regular college administration job). Meh. It looks better on a resume than “substitute teacher” and “hobbyist video game writer with delusions that he’s funny.”

Shadow of Mordor -PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, PC

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Shadow of Mordor is, quite simply, an Assassin’s Creed clone. Forgive me for going straight for the punchline like I could only afford five minutes with a prostitute, but the fact that Monolith Productions spent ten minutes alone with the Xerox machine in Ubisoft’s office is actually more of a starting point than a final judgment. See, creating a clone of a well-known game tends to present a problem when that game already has a nasty habit of cloning itself. What exactly can you do when trying to emulate a game known for glitches, repetitive meaningless tasks, combat that ramps up the difficulty so slightly that old men race their wheelchairs across it, and a story that aspires to be the novelization of it’s own movie adaptation? Turns out, you can make a halfway decent game.

I say halfway, though because that’s about as far as they got. Monolith cleaned up a lot of the trash lying around Ubisoft’s apartment, but one can only do so much after the carpet has developed a healthy substrate of mycelium and the mushrooms just keep growing back. The story, for example, reads as eloquently as a Trump tweet and contains about as much Tolkien lore as one can glean from finding a copy of the Silmarillion during an especially problematic bowel movement. It opens on Talion, a ranger of Gondor (a job description about as endemic to Middle Earth as “LGBT Bible Salesman of Kansas”) who suffers the obligatory wife-and-child-murder scenario in the opening scene, thus absolving him of any pesky responsibility that would prevent him from romping through the Mordor countryside murdering orcs (because let’s be honest, the one thing we took from the Star Wars Holiday Special is that Chewie is a deadbeat dad who neglects his family as long as it’s not Life Day). He then gets himself possessed by an elven wraith whose true identity will both momentarily amaze die-hard Tolkien fans and confuse anyone who didn’t feel like reading the Bible of Middle Earth. Together they romp through the Mordor countryside, shoving Talion’s sword into so many Uruk-hai that if his blade doesn’t kill them, they’ll probably contract Uruk-HIV and die of Uruk-aids anyway. Rinse and repeat for thirty hours, then kill Sauron in a climactic boss battle that makes Inglorious Basterds look like an introduction to European History course.

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Just a scratch.

Gameplay closely resembles Assassin’s Creed, except Shadow of Mordor doesn’t need to dig up a steady supply of Borgias to assassinate—instead you declare genocidal war on all things green and smelly and you have no end to the supply of Uruks to break your falls from high places. Literally. There’s no end. Many of the monsters you kill come back to life, which gets frustrating when you’re trying to whittle Sauron’s army down to nothing, but to be fair, you come back when they kill you, so I’ll allow them the handicap. Shadow of Mordor also trashes the combat from Assassin’s Creed, so gone is the feeling of trying to beat your way out of a refrigerator with a tire iron, and instead you get more of a feel for how Batman would get on in Middle Earth—both combat and stealth seems to have been lifted straight out of Arkham Asylum. It skews the stealth unrealistically, to the vein of assuming Sauron’s entire army is recovering from Lasik surgery over the same two-day period. At times, Talion would run full-bent towards them, stab them in the face, and then sneak around behind the orc who just witnessed the death, only to hear that orc say, “What was that? Did something move over there?” Absurdly unrealistic as this may be, I wholeheartedly approve of the change. Assassin’s Creed went the route of realistic, which broke the mechanics—sitting on a bench or pushing your way into a gaggle of whores sounded like a really cool assassin stealth technique, but most guards were still smart enough to figure out that there weren’t too many giant hulking men in huge white cloaks carrying more cutlery than a Ginsu commercial through Renaissance Italy.

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The Force has a strong influence on the weak mind.

When you’re not punching holes in the Uruks like you expect to find a prize inside, you travel around the Mordor countryside picking up trash and cleaning up graffiti. These mini-quests do nothing other than give you minute amounts of experience points and, of course, to clean up the place a bit and make Mordor great again. While it sounds useless, again, it’s an improvement over Assassin’s creed where you chase after boxes of useless cash. At least the XP gives you access to new abilities, and while many games grant you abilities that end up being longer, more complicated ways of accomplishing what is easier gained by punching enemies in the face, I actually found myself using almost all of the skills I unlocked by the end.

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This is lame. Why am I not riding a fucking direwolf?

Mordor apparently isn’t big on diversity, and you only really fight four different monsters throughout the game. But that’s fine, right? After all, Tolkien used excruciating detail—sometimes so excruciating that his readers actually felt right there, suffering Gollum’s torture—but he didn’t invent more than a handful of species of monsters. So it’s okay if we only get to fight orcs and uruks, wargs, spiders, trolls, dragons and balrogs. Except we never fight anything nearly as interesting as a dragon or a balrog…the swarming, skittering monsters are zombie-like ghuls instead of spiders, the giant hulking monsters are called graugs, not trolls, the bipedal wolf-like monsters are carragors, not wargs, and the game doesn’t mention orcs other than to say, “these ain’t them.” But don’t worry…there’s literally no end to the supply of Uruk-hai willing to fight you, and each one of them has a nice little speech to deliver before you get to start the battle.

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Man-swine! Let me go into extended detail on my displeasure with our previous encounter, be it for my demise or your return from yours.

Apparently the version of the game I played is not the one I was supposed to. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 editions are, from what I read online, the PS4 edition after being dragged through a mud puddle and then stored for a week in the rotting carcass of a sperm whale. But what it lacks in aesthetic value, it more than makes up for in loading and saving times, making Shadow of Mordor a great game to play when you have a few dozen small chores around the house, but you’re only willing to use the time going in and out of menus to do them. When you account for menu transitions, listening to each uruk tell you its life story, reloading after it kills you, and watching the WWE of Mordor as the uruks kill each other and level-up during death transitions, a 40-hour game quickly turns into about eight or nine hours of gameplay.

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Tinder profiles in Mordor.

The game touts its Nemesis system, which as far as I can tell is a fancy way of saying “we randomly generate enemies, then assign them a name.” Although this feels to me like Monolith’s main selling point is something I did with Lego guys when I was six, the enemies do feel like they have a little more personality than the goons in other games, and the names sound Tolkien-esque (One notable uruk goes by “Ratbag,” clearly inspired by the orcs from the book, Shagrat and Gorbag), even if I have to ride whatever the hell a caragor is in order to kill them. Supposedly, the PS3 version’s Nemesis system functions about as well as a cassette tape in an MRI machine, but I suspect the nearly three-hour update required when I first booted the game fixed some of that. Just add that to the game’s non-play-time counter.

Lego Lord of the Rings – Wii, 3DS, NDS, PS3, PS Vita, XBox 360

helms-deep

They’ve reigned in Legolas’ showboating. A little.

By now, these Lego game reviews are becoming somewhat of a crisis for me. What do I talk about? A licensed game? A corporate tie-in? A movie parody? A series of games so identical they make the Republican National Convention look like a celebration of diversity and globalism? A chance to play with Legos as a grown-up without having to worry about cleaning them up when I’m done? A series of relatively short games I can play when I need to write about something quickly? Probably a combination of all of those. The Lego Games are a lot like Will Ferrel DVDs in that respect—short, easy to get through, with a few humorous parts here and there, and something I’ll put on my shelf without looking at the extras and knowing that I’ll more likely than not never have the urge to come back to it.

rohirrim

Let’s mow down some motherfuckin’ orcs!

What then, if they adapted the best movie of all time? No, not Revenge of the Nerds IV. Not Ghostbusters either. Nope, not Cool Runnings. Or Back to the Future (although…). Or Star Wars…wait, yes on Star Wars, but no on this game. I’m talking about Peter Jackson’s epic take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, the beautiful modern-Medieval epic metaphor about the loss of our relationship with the natural world due to the effects of ambition, politics, and the desire for control over others. Yeah, it turns out it makes a pretty good game about plastic toy blocks.

plastic-lave

So if the lava is 1300 degrees, how hot does the air have to be to melt plastic?

Lego games are starting to remind me of my time among in Korea. If you spend enough time with them and give them the proper attention, you start to wonder how people have trouble telling them apart. The earlier games were more combat-intensive, if you can consider a hunk of plastic the size of a ping-pong ball to be capable of combat. These games, most notably the Lego Star Wars games, had boss fights reminiscent of a poorly lubricated rock-em-sock-em robot set, whereas the boss fights became somewhat more complicated as the gameplay shifted more toward puzzle solving. At the extreme other end of the spectrum is Lego Jurassic World, a thrilling man-v-nature fight for survival against vicious predators in which the dinosaurs calmly stand by as you set up convoluted Rube Goldberg contraptions that will lead to their untimely re-extinction, sufficing to snarl kindly if you get off-track from your mission.

nazgul

No, I am your father.

Lego Lord of the Rings meets these halfway, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on puzzle-solving than is healthy for a story that lists “Medieval Combat” at the top of its resume. Characters have skills and abilities which help you solve logical, intuitive puzzles such as catch-a-fish-to-throw-at-the-bird-to-distract-the-nazgul, catch-fish-to-throw-at-gollum-so-Sam-can-tie-the-rope-around-his-neck-so-Frodo-can-stab-him-with-Sting, and gather-fish-to-throw-at-the-wall-to-open-the-gate. And if you’re not into piscine-themed puzzles, enjoy such classics from the movie like Galadriel’s gift to Frodo. “I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you when quest items are hidden where other characters cannot access and need your help to get to.”

mt-doom

You know what protects your ring better than a smooth, unguarded pathway leading to a ledge over the only thing hot enough to destroy the One Ring? ANYTHING!

One think I thought novel of this game was that it told a more fluid rendition of its source material, rather than the Greatest Hits parade of other Lego games. You begin in the prologue, fighting against a Sauron that makes 300’s Xerxes look like a member of the Lollipop Guild. Once completed, you begin a long, arduous climb up Mt. Doom realizing that Sauron, the Ancient and Most Powerful of the Maiar, Lieutenant to Morgoth the Valar of All Things Corrupt, Fell or otherwise Evil, Etc, actually did very little to protect the One Weapon of All-Power and item that housed his mortal essence, and was easily outdone for security by a Dutch toy company. From there, each film seems to play about six levels to the usual five, and the traditional hub world for Lego games is replaced by a completely open map of Middle Earth that the player can travel to go from level to level, receive side quests, buy characters and items, and get completely turned around in despite the trail of phantom Lego studs leading you to your next destination. Levels are segmented and shorter than in other games, and often give you the choice between groups of characters, offering a timeline with a little more control and reason than the books give you.

mumak

That still only counts as one!

Puzzle-solving aspects alternate between the overly simplistic “stand here and push Z” (and during a handful of boss battles, just “stand here”) and “Throw fish at the wall to move forward,” which is about as intuitive as scraping a hedgehog across your keyboard to restart your computer. For those of you hoping for clunky, plastic Medieval warfare, there’s still a fair amount of that in the game, although it handles like old men swinging their walkers at each other, Legolas’ arrows have all the force behind them of an old Nerf dart blown out of the end of a wrapping-paper tube, and most of the battles come down to puzzle solving anyway. The humor starts out strong, but withers up like a dead orc near the end, and the game is riddled with glitches. So what reason, if any, remains to play the game?

It’s a scenery smasher. And in the end, don’t we all just want to hulk out and take revenge against all those Legos that refused to separate, even when we had the special separator tool? Take that, Lego environment! When I’m finished with you, you’re going to wish Climate Change had gotten to you first!