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I’m so excited. In February, I wrote about a game called Disaster Report. A couple years ago, I read about a possible sequel to it. And it’s finally here. I bought it used for $10.

Raw Danger!

How can you look at that exciting box art and not be blown away with excitement and anticipation?!? You get to run away from a flood and hold hands with a girl! Look at that Biohazard logo down there! You can’t mess with biohazards without a protective bandanna and necktie! I bet there will be all kinds of action and excitement and awesomeness in this game. Even the game’s title contains an exclamation point! I can’t wait to play it. Box art has always been a great way to tell a lot about a game:

Pac Man Box Art

After all, Pac-Man* always was my favorite medieval-jogging/yarmulke-eating game of all time.

There is not a word in the English language strong enough to fully encompass my utter loathing of Gamestop. I can’t stomach them. I can’t stand their upper management, their store management, their stupid employees, or anyone who has at any time willfully had anything to do with this chop-shop of video game retailers. This is one of the things that has been hard-wired into my DNA over the last few years. It is Pavlovian; mention Gamestop and my heart rate increases, the adrenaline flows, and I’m ready to bite someone’s head off. If I woke up tomorrow to find out that there were no more Gamestop stores anywhere on the face of the earth, not only would all life on the planet positively benefit, but then those storefronts could be used for something that had less of a negative impact on our culture; like a crack house.

I know this, logically. I understand this about myself. That’s why I have no idea what came over me the other day when we were at this unfamiliar mall and I spotted a Gamestop. In what could only be described as not only a lack of reasoning – but a full-on bout of temporary insanity – I turned to my wife and said, “Let’s go in here for a second.”

And God help me, we went in. Against every fiber of my being and my wife’s pleading. Perhaps it was the Gamecube I recently acquired. I wanted a cheap used game for it. I was getting to the end of Super Mario Sunshine, and my wife wanted something else that looked like a game she would watch me play. How could I turn that down?

So we went in, and we eventually settled on a copy of Luigi’s Mansion for $14.99. It was a rip-off, I know. This particular game had probably been sold by Gamestop already 3 or 4 times. But we were on vacation, dammit. Something weird happens when you are on vacation. You make bad decisions with money. Not that I’m justifying anything here.

Anyway, I take the game up to the counter, and pull out a twenty. The counter monkey rings up the game, and then pulls a different game package out from behind the counter. I notice this package has a price tag of $12.99 on it. The counter monkey quickly rips off the sticker and tells me “$15.89 with tax and everything”.

“Wait a minute,” I tell him, jokingly. “I saw the $12.99 sticker on it! You can’t fool me.”

“Yeah, well that one was behind the counter,” said the moron.

“Well…” I’m a bit confused now. For one thing, why would the price go up on a used game? “I think you should give me the game for $12.99, since you’re selling me the copy behind the counter.”

“Yeah well,” this asshole started getting that snarky, Gamestop Smirk on his face now. “We don’t change the prices of the games behind the counter.” I was getting angrier. My synapses started firing correctly and I was beginning to remember why I hated this place.

I blinked. “Why don’t you change the prices of the games behind the counter?” I asked.

Here’s the kicker: “‘Cause it’s like… a pain in the rear.”

I wanted to strangle this moron. Slowly.

“Why would you even increase the price on a used game?” I asked.

The moron shrugged his shoulders and just stood there. “That’s bullshit,” I said as I grabbed my money and walked out of the store.

Later, my wife told me, “If at any time in the future, for any reason whatsoever, you walk into a Gamestop ever again, I will physically drag you from the store.”

I love my wife.

Epilogue: I purchased the same used game on Amazon for $7.89 (plus $3.49 shipping) when I got home. And there was much singing and dancing. Screw Gamestop.

Just hours ago, Rockstar Games released the first trailer to Grand Theft Auto IV. It looks wonderful.  Real even. And they are going back to Liberty City.

Kind of a bold choice, seeing as this will be the third time they’ve used Liberty City as a major part of a game. Lots of kids on the Boards are up in arms about it; they wanted something new and fresh. And in a way, they will get it. Just from the few seconds we see of this new imagining of Liberty City, it seems as though it will make the Liberty City of GTA 3 look like a neighborhood.

We see who everyone is currently assuming is the lead character, speaking with what sounds to me like an eastern European or Russian accent, saying, “Life is complicated. I’ve killed people… smuggled people… sold people… Perhaps here… things will be different.”

Different. Groundbreaking. Something new and… yes… fresh indeed.

I think I have it. I’ve figured out the premise for GTA IV. Think about this – GTA 3 was about working for and against different factions and gangs in a city. Vice City was (while being a moderate ripoff of scarface) all about taking over shit and building a criminal empire. Same thing for San Andreas. Building an empire. Owning everything in sight. All three have been about rising up through the ranks of different criminal organizations and becoming powerful.

Boring.

GTA IV will be groundbreaking. You will start out working as dumb muscle for some crime boss or another. He will send you on a few missions, and then soon enough he will (gasp!) betray you. You will be hung out to dry. Sent to prison. Almost killed. Left for dead. Something like that. You get the idea. And it is at that point that the game will take on a whole new level of play.

You will muster up what is left of your pride… patch yourself back together… and go out looking for a job.

That’s right. You’ll be so jaded with the whole crime thing, that you will give up and go straight. At this point, you have to wake up every day, go to work, deal with customers, pay your rent, file your taxes, start a family, get a second job, take in a stray dog, have a couple of kids, a mortgage, and a 10 year old family sedan.

After all… the best revenge is living well.

I just got done playing through Rockstar’s PS2 game “Bully” for the third time. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which being that I have no money to buy any new games, and even if I did, I cannot justify spending $49.99 on some mystical new game that I want when it, in fact, does not exist. There hasn’t been anything out that I’ve wanted to play in a while now, and moreover, I cannot stand the thought that, for a mere $200.00 more, I could buy a Nintendo Wii, which I actually do want. Badly.

Not that I can find one anywhere in this city.

So, for the last several months, I’ve been replaying games that I’ve already beaten. But only the really good ones. I’ve been replaying some of the cream of the crop of PS2’s all time best games; Prince of Persia, Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Indigo Prophecy, the GTAs, Black, Beyond Good & Evil, God of War…

And I have to say, even after replaying all of these great games over the last 7 to 9 months… Rockstar’s “Bully” still holds a place at or near the top of my favorite PS2 games of all time. And that is the main reason I’ve played through it three times.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story. It comes from my love of movies. I’m willing to overlook some of a game’s technical flaws for a good story. If you can make me actually care about the character or characters that I am controlling on the screen, then I think you have done an admirable job.

Even a game like Disaster Report – which many players have derided for its non-responsive game play, awful graphics, and (sometimes) laughable voice acting – will beg me to finish it, just to figure out the why of what is happening. In other words, to get through the story. Of course, by the end, you get to see what is possibly the cheesiest cut scene in the history of video gaming, which is its own reward. Let me set it up for you:

Your character, the female love interest, and the photojournalist have all outrun a tsunami by climbing to the top of a building where, for some reason, armed thugs are still trying to shoot you with high powered rifles, despite being in mortal danger themselves. Anyway, the building is going to collapse, being pummeled with the entire strength of the Atlantic Ocean, and these armed thugs are getting ready to shoot the female love interest. You try to get to her to save her, but alas, you trip over a pipe and fall down. The armed thug pulls the trigger. The photojournalist, despite being a smoker, is apparently faster than a speeding bullet, and throws himself in front of the female love interest, taking the projectile in the stomach. The photojournalist yells, but the cigarette stays in his mouth. The love interest runs 10 feet her right, stopping behind no cover whatsoever, where she will obviously be safe from the armed thug. Meanwhile, back at the ledge at the top of the building, overlooking the ocean several stories below, the photojournalist gets shot again, and utters the best line ever to be uttered by a person who is about to be killed by an armed thug on the top of a building.

“Aww crap. Leave me alone.”

The armed thug shoots him, and he falls off the ledge. Marlboro still stuck in his mouth. To be honest, I have very little recollection of what happened right after that because my wife and I were laughing hysterically.

And I will even give a cheesy game like that a decent review simply because they had a pretty decent story idea.

Bully, however, went way beyond my expectations. Not only is it a beautifully detailed game, but it has a great story. An epic tale, really. Even when compared to GTA: San Andreas, Bully stands up as possibly the greatest Rockstar story ever told. The difference comes from the other characters in the game. Bully has a character model for each and every character in the game. There are no randomly generated characters. The effect this has on gameplay is one of immersion.

For instance, I was running to class one morning, and I saw one of the girls (one who likes my character) kissing another boy. It got me genuinely irritated. So I walked over to him, grabbed him by the shirt, threw him up against a nearby wall, and rammed my knee into his crotch. It was really satisfying. And just.

That’s really what Bully is all about: justice. It’s wasn’t a “Columbine Simulator”, as Jack Thompson would have us believe. It was about the injustice of high school, and one boy’s fight to set things right again. The gameplay is smooth and responsive, the fighting (and there is a lot of it) feels just right, and it was one of the funniest games I’ve ever played.

I’m not one of those people who wants a sequel made, however. I think a game this good stands on its own merits. The story of the game feels complete to me, and doesn’t need a continuation.

No, the reason that I keep telling people about this game is that it didn’t sell as well as it should have. Neither did ICO, Beyond Good & Evil, or Indigo Prophecy. But we, as gamers, must make a stronger effort to spread the word on the hidden gems in a game world overrun with first person shooters and sports games. If no one buys these good games, the game studios will never make more.

And then we’ll all be playing Madden.

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Public Discourse

The Humans in the Wa… on Detached
Jonathan Woolbright on Preparing For War
Jonathan Woolbright on Amateur Hour
Jonathan Woolbright on Suicide in the Morning
Craig on Unfaithful