Tuesday, July 26, 2016
laws" if you prefer that term). Hence, it might not be able to use WMDs aside from the nuclear arsenal it was provided with upon activation. One setting which explores this idea in more detail is "Reign of Steel," a table-top RPG for the GRUPS ruleset. In a nutshell, it's the Terminator circa 2029, except with the focus pulled out from southern California to a global view. Depending on what part of the world you're in the robot conflict looks considerably different. Local administrative AIs are given a degree of latitude as to how to deal with humans. Some, such as the AI in charge of Mexico seek to destroy all organic life, while the AI in charge of England allows humans to live in a robot dominated police-state. Others still allow humans to live so long as they keep their ecological footprint to a minimum (i.e. hunter-gatherer societies). In essence it's a kitchen-sink for every robot apocalypse that has ever been created in entertainment media. You could if you wanted have the computer game Earthsiege, the movie "Oblivion," the anime OVA "Casshern: Robot Hunter" and the short story "Second Variety," more or less all on the same planet just separated by geography and (to a lesser extent) time.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Split between Criminal Origins and its direct sequel, Bloodshot, these two first-person action/horror games are a bit unique in that they are set in the modern era, but focus on melee combat. The player takes the role of Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent attached to a special serial crime unit. His assignment is to track down "Serial Killer X," a serial-killer killer operating out of the fictional rust-belt urban sprawl known simply as "Metro City." While investigating the scene of a murder, Ethan's sidearm gets swiped by the lurking Serial Killer X, who then proceeds to use the weapon to murder two police officers, thus framing Ethan for the crime...I guess...I mean didn't they check trigger for fingerprints? It's not like Serial Killer X wears gloves...that, and I'm not sure how Ethan is supposed to clear his name if it involves murdering a bunch of violent homeless people...
Glaring plot holes aside, Condemned does an excellent job of setting the mood. Whether it be a subway, library, museum, burned out doll factory *shivers* or huge cabin in the woods (b-b-b-bear?), players will spend the majority of the game poking around abandoned, rundown buildings, mostly at night, while fending off attacks by deranged squatters. It's never clearly explained in the first game why these individuals are so psychotic, the police dismiss them as being drug-crazed. However, there are some subtle hints early on that it isn't a simple narcotics induced crime wave. Dead birds turn up all over the city, and odd bits of metal can be found hidden everywhere.
During development, this game was entitled "The Dark," which is an apt name considering how many foreboding, poorly lit and claustrophobic environments there are in the game. It also featured a much stronger supernatural element. The player could even cast spells in the game that would open doors or steal a weapon out an opponent's hands. A tiny bit of this made it into the final product in that Ethan seems to be gifted with clairvoyance, or some similar psychic power. I kind of like how they ultimately chose to ground the setting though since, in my opinion, preserving the plausibility of the premise makes the experience a lot more terrifying. It's a pity the developers backtracked on this when in came to the sequel.
As I said before, the storyline was not one of Condemned's strong points, but what it did excel at was the gameplay. Guns are rare and have severally limited ammo, so the player has to depend a lot on improvised melee weapons such as fire axes, sledgehammers, crowbars, flat head shovels, chunks of rebar, locker doors, boards with nails in them and pretty much any other bludgeoning object you can possibly think of. The AI is no slouch either. Enemies will seek out ambush points, block and even feign attacks to throw the player off. Breaking up the action is an occasional forensics segment in which the player must locate clues regarding Serial Killer X in order to advance the story. It's fairly straightforward stuff since Ethan's lab partner, Rosa, does most of the analytical work, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless. The sound design is also great (an often neglected feature in video games). Here the incomprehensible ranting and raving of adversaries mixed with the sickening crunch of a lead pipe to the face add a lot to the already creepy atmosphere. What little music there is in the game is also a perfect fit for the setting.
Friday, July 8, 2016
Unsurprisingly, there have been a large number of direct adaptations of the Aliens franchise with wild variations in quality (even between platform ports). For example, the Amiga and Apple IIc version of Aliens are pretty different, as are the Sega Genesis and SNES versions of Alien 3. As far as good Aliens-themed games go, the general consensus seems to be Alien vs Predator 2, Alien: Isolation, and the original DOOM total conversion mod. I've also heard positive things about the Nintendo DS title Aliens: Infestation, but I haven't had a chance to play it myself.
Incidentally, during the pre-production of Alien 3, H.R. Giger did a bit of design work on the alien for that movie. Not wanting to simply repeat himself, the artist added some new features to the creature such as a "finger brain," consisting of numerous tendrils along the top of the head that would movie in rhythmic patterns. Additionally, his new alien design had hollow tubes that would emit haunting windpipe noises. I don't know how scary this would have been on film (none of he designs were used because of concerns over production costs), but it's bizarre stuff, totally unlike anything found on the planet Earth. Hence, "alien" in the truest sense of the word. I can understand why filmmakers would be reluctant to take those kinds of risks, but if you're going to make a tie-in game you might as well try to make it stand on its own merits.
Friday, July 1, 2016
On the arcade front there were titles like Rastan (a side-scrolling action game), and Golden Axe (a classic from the beat'em-up genre). Obviously, a big part of these kind of games is the physicality of the characters. Showing off precise muscle definition sometimes came at a price. No steroids here, I'm talking about titles like Sword of Sodan, a game that has some of the biggest, most detailed character sprites you'll find on the Sega Genesis. They look cool, but they come at the expense of fluid controls. Ironically, there's a grain of truth here in that real life body builders sometimes focus on muscle mass and definition at the expense of agility, resulting in a strong, but somewhat clumsy individual. The movie director of the original "Conan the Barbarian" noticed this when he cast Arnold for the role and asked the then seven time Mr. Olympia champion to do more calisthenic exercises (like jump rope and horseback riding) rather than focusing solely on weight lifting. The results were mixed, with Arnold nursing a sprained ankle through the later part of the production shoot. He really doesn't have that "panther-ish" grace that Robert E. Howard used to describe the character.
Bakshi’s stylistic choices make it hard not to also examine the movie in a social context, and it’s pretty eclectic. For one thing, adherence to the Frazetta style makes this one of the few fantasy flicks I’ve seen wherein the male characters are almost as sexualized as the females, give the minimalist wardrobe. Hero Larn finds himself in need of rescue several times, and despite the ceaseless efforts of the screenplay to turn her into a damsel, heroine Teegra is a pretty resourceful character. Other depictions are less progressive, though. Ice lord Nekron is pretty unambiguously gay, but his implied homosexuality – specifically, the fact that he finds Teegra undesirable – is presented as an evil attribute. And what can be said about the dark-skinned, animalistic “subhumanoids” other than an acknowledgement of how clearly fantasy often caters to exclusively white audiences?As odd as it might sound, the recently released Age of Barbarian: Extended Cut reminds me a lot of "Fire and Ice," except if it were CGI instead of rotoscope animation.