Sometimes I Just Want to Punch Stuff

Friday, February 10, 2012 at 11:00 am
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I'm all for video games as art and elevating the medium, but I think we sometimes forget that the word "game" is right there in the title. I've been playing a lot of fighting games lately and, just the other night, as my eyes glazed over and my thumbs instinctively beat out the right patterns to put together my best combos, it occurred to me that I was using video games for something I hadn't done in quite a while: I was having some good old fashioned, mindless fun.


Now, don't get me wrong. The majority of the time I prefer for my video games to be the total package. I want the great gameplay, an engrossing story, believable characters and a sweeping soundtrack all rolled into one. And I'm happy that the industry is moving in a direction that accommodates those tastes.


But is it really so wrong to want to aimlessly bash hordes of baddies from time to time? Or maybe shoot dudes in the face without some hackneyed military conspiracy yarn weaving through the background while a meticulously crafted orchestral score punctuates all of the big set pieces?


Of course it isn't. That was a rhetorical question. But I feel like, somewhere along the line, I
(along with many others) forgot how to let myself just unplug and enjoy the ride.

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Online Passes: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm
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The battle for used video game sales continues, spurred on by all the latest advancements in technology. More recently, publishers have begun including "online passes" in many of their games, one-time use codes that grant access to (usually) multiplayer content.


While the internet has made it easier to track down and purchase a used title, that same modern marvel has allowed publishers to lock out portions of their game in order to encourage new purchases. If you don't buy a game new, chances are pretty good that you'll need to fork over an additional $10 to take your second-hand copy into multiplayer.


Several types of online passes have surfaced and, more recently, there have even been rumors of next gen consoles locking out used copies of games altogether.


This type of action being taken against used sales is pretty unique to video games. I've never had to jump through hoops to enjoy a used movie or CD, for instance. But the question remains: Is it fair? And, if so, where should we draw the line on gating content for used sales?


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Why Do We Love Bad Games?

Friday, January 27, 2012 at 11:00 am
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If you haven't read my review of Amy just yet, allow me to summarize: It is a poorly constructed, buggy mess. Tasked with giving the game a fair and balanced assessment, I simply could not overlook the multitude of problems that arose both technically and from a design standpoint.


That being said, there is still a dark, masochistic corner of my heart where a morbid sort of affection burns dully for Amy. While I would never recommend someone fork over their hard-earned cash for the game in its current state, a part of me is willing to admit that I kind of liked various bits and pieces.


But some of the gaming community has taken that bizarre fondness a step further. A quick search of the Gamefaqs message boards yields dozens of posts wherein the authors profess their love for Amy and recommended their fellow survival horror fans ignore the reviews and go download it immediately.


Those people are daft.


Then again, maybe it's wrong of me to fault someone for loving terrible things. I'm guilty of this myself from time to time. (I quite liked the Bionic Commando reboot, for instance. Yeah, I said it.) This makes me wonder what, exactly, makes someone cling to such a monstrosity. No matter how bad a game is, there's always someone willing to stand up and defend it.


In this week's Infinite Ammo, I ponder some of the possible reasons for this contrarian behavior.


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Dreamcast: My Next Gen is Old School

Friday, January 20, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Following the E3 2011 Wii U announcement, it occurred to me that the next generation of consoles is, quite literally, just over the horizon. Given the most recent crop of systems, it also occurred to me that this next generation will likely include overpriced hardware, a shortage of supply, an abundance of patches/updates and sparse initial libraries.


Rather than get hyped for whatever new hotness we'll be playing in a year or two, I instead found my thoughts turning to the consoles of old; specifically the Sega Dreamcast. Other than a handful of sessions in college, I (Along with the rest of the world, it would seem) pretty much missed the boat on Sega's last attempt at a home console.


A month after returning home from E3 and I found myself picking up a used Dreamcast for a measly $35. After that, I discovered rather quickly that getting into a console you skipped over initially can be just as exciting as picking up the newest piece of hardware on the shelf.

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The Evolution of the Complex Hero

Friday, January 13, 2012 at 10:00 am
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John Marston raises his pistol and points it at the U.S. Marshal, demanding to know where his family has been taken. The grizzled cowboy is informed that his family is safe for the time being but, if he wishes to see them remain that way, he must help the authorities locate his former mentor and bring him to justice.


Marston scowls, threatening to kill the Marshal without hesitation if he discovers he has been lied to. The Marshal knows this outlaw-turned-family man speaks the truth. In the weeks leading up to this meeting, Marston has been a very busy desperado. He's shot down an untold number of settlers. Most were from the wrong side of the tracks, but some were innocents. He's robbed trains, played both sides of a bloody revolution and dropped a stick of dynamite into more than a few gang hideouts.


Marston is by no means your typical "hero," and that's what makes Red Dead Redemption's leading man so damn interesting. He's got a lot of layers. And while his quest can be boiled down to the quintessential "rescue the princess [wife and son]" story arc, his motivations and means for achieving them are complicated.


The video game hero has come a long way in the past 30 years. As the industry has matured, so too has its members' thirst for heroes who see the world in more shades than black and white. Life is never that simple, so it's no surprise that we would want our digital lives to be just as complex.


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Video Games' Unsung Heroes of 2011

Friday, January 6, 2012 at 10:00 am
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Looking back over the past 12 months of video game releases, it's hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed. The AAA blockbusters got rolling early in 2011 with only a few lulls in the action leading up to the monstrous holiday window.


We saw a lot of big titles this year--both new IPs and a ridiculous number of high profile sequels--as well as some pleasant surprises that managed to sneak under the "awards show" radar.


It's this second group of games I'll be focusing on for this week's column. While pretty much every gaming site on the planet is releasing their annual "top 10 of the year" lists this week, I instead want to take a gander at some of the games that might not be receiving as much attention.


With so many stellar releases this year, it's hard to fault anyone for overlooking a few of these gems. So let's give it up for the little (relatively speaking) guys.


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The Unbeatable Backlog

Friday, December 30, 2011 at 10:00 am

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I saw the monster again last night.

Every time I sit down to play a new game, it rears its ugly head. I'm not talking about some beastly creature with glowing red eyes, grasping claws and gnashing teeth, but it's certainly a horror I've grown to know well and fear completely. It's humongous, nasty and damn-near impossible to kill.


Some call it "The Unscalable Mountain." In parts of India it's known as "The Growing Fiend." I met a guy in Georgia once who called it "Harpo."


To the rest of us, it's simply known as "The Backlog."


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Farewell, Sweet Multiplayer

Friday, December 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

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I think multiplayer and I are breaking up.

We used to see each other every night. I'd get home from a long day at work and multiplayer would be there waiting for me, ready to help me forget about all of the everyday stuff that piles up and gets me down. For a time, we were inseparable.

 

But eventually, for no reason I can really pin down, I started seeing multiplayer less and less. Sometimes a full week would go by without multiplayer even crossing my mind. I was too busy gallivanting around town with various single players or, even worse, I'd occasionally curl up with a book or two.

 

Multiplayer and I still see each other from time to time, but we both know this relationship is going nowhere. We want to "remain friends," but I just don't know if that'll be possible. I certainly hope so. We had a lot of good times together.


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Pining For The Days Of Scarcity

Friday, December 9, 2011 at 10:00 am
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One of my earliest gaming memories is of visiting family in South Carolina and playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out on my cousins' Nintendo Entertainment System. I had played video games before, but what makes this memory particularly potent is that, while getting my butt handed to me by Glass Joe, I started feeling those first stirrings that would eventually drive me to becoming a lifelong gamer.

 

Pac-Man was fun at the bowling alley and a visit to my buddy's house down the road was always good for a round of Pitfall on the Atari, but this was my first experience with Nintendo's wonder machine and, by god, I was falling in love with it.

 

What followed is a series of events I'm willing to bet many 30-year-old gamers can easily relate to. My family eventually got into gaming, even though the slow drip of content would be considered quite humble by today's standards. But I think that's what made playing those games so special.

 

It seems like some members of the modern generation take gaming for granted because it has always been a part of their lives. All of the recent advances (better consoles, mobile gaming, social gaming) have improved the hobby, but I also feel like that kind of access has come with a cost.

 

Gather round, children. Grandpappy Winslett is going to reminisce about the good 'ole days.

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Dark Souls Hates Me (And That's Why I Love it)

Friday, December 2, 2011 at 9:00 am
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I wake to find myself abandoned in a dingy cell with nothing but a rotting corpse to keep me company. I, myself, am undead (or hollow, as the residents of Lordran prefer to call it.) The moans of my fellow captives echo down the corridor, mixing with the thunderous footfalls of an unseen monstrosity lurking somewhere nearby.

 

A bit of assistance from a Good Samaritan allows me to exit my cell and enter the world of Dark Souls with little more than a broken sword at my disposal. I feel weak, ill prepared, directionless and alone.

 

It's not uncommon for a game to begin this way but, unlike those other titles, Dark Souls seldom lets the noose loosen. There are brief moments of triumphant joy but, all too soon, you'll be smacked back down to the bottom of the food chain, your fleeting sense of power washed away by yet another landscape filled with creatures way bigger and far badder than you've ever been.

 

Following is a die-ary of some of my favorite moments in which Dark Souls attempts to grind the player into dust.

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