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by Ethos

Call Me Lameish – Donkey Kong Returns Review (Welcome to the Jungle…)

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Ethos and I had a chance to get together and return to Donkey Kong Country.

It was fun.

Anything else you hear about our time together is filth.

Dirty, slanderous filth.

Enjoy.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Review – Treyarch Has Their Revenge

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops needs no introduction. After Modern Warfare 2 set world-records in sales last year around this time, the world has been well aware of the franchise’s existence. Call of Duty is one of those games that even your non-gaming buddies know about, and even play from time to time.

However, Black Ops is not a game made by Infinity Ward, the people who brought us Modern Warfare. Rather, it’s from Treyarch – the World at War people. Y’know, the game that bridged the gap between Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2.

Let it be known straight away that Black Ops is a much better game than World at War. For that matter, it’s a better game than either of the Modern Warfares. Or, to put it simply, it’s the best Call of Duty yet. Yes, it’s built on the same foundations that made the previous CODs so good, and it largely shares the same mechanics and conventions. But even still, Black Ops features the most polished, robust multiplayer experience yet, as well as the most tightly-written and coherent campaign.

STORY

Like every Call of Duty, Black Ops’ campaign mode is intense. Set during the Cold War of the 60s, (territory largely untouched by videogames until now) you’re whisked from one intense, world-changing combat scenario to the next with breakneck speed. However, unlike previous games in the franchise, Black Ops actually knows how to pause – however briefly – to develop the events and characters that these bombastic battles and setpieces are based around. It’s for this reason alone that Black Ops has the most satisfying campaign mode ever seen in a Call of Duty game.

In Black Ops, you’re given a tangible protagonist to work with – Alex Mason, a SOG Operative. At the outset of the game, Mason finds himself strapped in a chair, in a creepy room with a bunch of TV screens flashing numbers. Two mysterious men with muffled voices are interrogating him, attempting to extract information that, supposedly, has the power to stop a war before it starts. From there, the story is pieced together by a series of flashbacks, as Alex is questioned about his history of clandestine operations during the Cold War. The method is effective, and character driven – rather than simply playing to see what fantastically high-energy sequence comes next, chances are that you’ll find yourself interested in knowing how the story develops.

Those who played through World at War’s campaign mode will be happy to see the continuities that Treyarch has preserved in Black Ops. A major player in the story of Black Ops is Viktor Reznov, who gamers will certainly remember as the German-hating Red Army soldier from the Soviet campaign in World At War. Dimitri Petrenko, who you actually controlled during the Soviet campaign, also makes a reappearance. Reznov is the best character in Black Ops by far – and his story is the most emotionally involving. My favorite part of the campaign is an eerie flashback to the final days of World War II, in which Reznov and his men are commissioned to take out a German military base in Russia. The sequence ends with a surprisingly gruesome and disturbing scene that I won’t spoil here – but suffice to say, it more than ¬†justifies the actions of Reznov, as well as Alex Mason throughout the game. This sort of character-involved form of narrative is precisely what was missing from games such as Modern Warfare 2.

GAMEPLAY

Obviously, when it comes to Call of Duty, gameplay is king. It’s no secret that the competitive multiplayer modes are where gamers will spend the majority of their time with the game. For those interested, I wrote a decent bit about Black Ops’ insanely addicting multiplayer suite about a week ago; for more detailed impressions, hit the link and have a read.

To sum up, the competitive Call of Duty experience is at its finest in Black Ops. It’s more or less what we’ve seen before, but added tweaks and adjustments make this the most polished. Those who spent any time with World at War’s online multiplayer will be glad to hear that kills earned through killstreak rewards (dogs, napalm strikes, et cet) no longer count towards a player’s overall killstreak. Those fresh off of Modern Warfare 2 will be happy to see that shotguns are now primary weapons, and dual-wielded shotguns are no longer game-breakers.

And once again, I have to give a shout-out to the four new Wager Modes. They are both a fun diversion from the normal straightforward hecticity of normal online matches, as well as fantastic and addicting in their own right.

The campaign mode, of course, features gameplay as well – albeit increasingly short segments tied together by dialog and scripted scenes. That’s not to say that it’s an entirely passive experience, though – especially on higher difficulty levels, your combat skills will be tested. Also, Black Ops does a better job of mixing in more objectives than simply mowing down wave after wave of enemies. One particularly interesting sequence puts you in the shoes of a CIA agent directing a small ground force of troops from the air above, using radar equipment. During this level, the gameplay shifts from above to the ground with very slick transitions, allowing you to play as a ground soldier as well as the directing agent above. Vehicle segments, which have remained absent from the Modern Warfare games, are back with vengeance in Black Ops, and they provide some of the game’s more intense moments.

Like World at War before it, Black Ops features an entirely unique game mode in the form of Zombies. Once again, you and up to three other people stake out in a run-down military base and fend off wave after wave of undead scum. The mode is almost exactly the same; you use the points you earn slaying zombies to buy weapons and ammo, as well as open up doors to new rooms, making the overall arena larger and larger over time. Weak barricades can be rebuilt, but essentially all their is between you and and the hoard is your trigger finger. It’s fun, intense, and undeniably addicting. And this time around, it features 100% more cheesy one-liners from the faceless soldiers you play as.

But oh, wait! There’s more still. Many reviewers across the interwebs have refused to “spoil” it, but I’d feel downright remiss if I didn’t mention Black Ops’ wonderful little easter egg: Dead Ops Arcade. It’s a top-down arcade rendition of Zombies, complete with charmingly MIDI arcade music, tons of power-ups, high scores to rank up, and a random gorilla who steals your shit at the end of every game. That is to say, it’s entirely and completely awesome. You’ll have to reference the internet to find out how to access it, but hey, we don’t have any problems with that in this day and age, now do we?

If you haven’t gathered, Black Ops packs in a ton of gameplay value for your buck. And it’s all quality.

GRAPHICS

Like every other aspect of the game, Treyarch has found a way to push the envelope a little further in the aesthetics department. Character models, for example, are notably more detailed and expressive. Textures are rich, water effects are fantastic, and the game never slows for a second, no matter how much is going on at one time. (During the campaign, at least.)

Also, like no Call of Duty before it, Treyarch has managed to put together some impressively atmospheric sequences in Black Ops. A particular sequence that comes to mind is when Alex Mason and his crew explore a downed ship carrying a chemical weapon – superb lighting effects, eerie music, and a copious amount of dead bodies make this one of the more memorable levels.

SOUND

The sound of war is hot and heavy in Black Ops. Once again, the sound design is quite superb, and only enhances the bombastic action of the setpieces. Aside from sound design, Black Ops features very strong voice acting that keeps the action believable. There are plenty of voices you’ll recognize, even – Sam Worthington (the Avatar guy) voices Alex Mason, and does a fantastic job of it. Ed Harris is slightly less impressive as Mason’s CIA handler Jason Hudson. Other notable voices include Gary Oldman as Viktor Reznov (probably the best performance in the game) Topher Grace, and Ice Cube. (Not as obnoxious as you’d assume.)

CONCLUSION

You won’t find a much more complete entertainment package than Call of Duty: Black Ops. From the intensely engaging campaign mode to the insanely addictive multiplayer, from the cooperative mayhem of Zombies to the charmingly unexpected Dead Ops Arcade, this is a hell of a bang for your buck. Treyarch as outdone both themselves and a certain Infinity Ward with this one. If you’re a fan, don’t miss out. If you’re not a fan, this won’t change your mind. If you’ve never played, this is the best place to start.

Scatter Storming. Issue #042

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

It has been over a month. That is FAR far too long for any human being to go without a Scatter Storming. If you’ve been experiencing shortness of breath, paranoia, and/or excessive and violent vomiting, then this is your cure.

Plus, how could I let a week with such an awesome acronym as this go without a Scatter Storming? I couldn’t. I mean seriously, just pronounce it. SACITSTOW. Sack-its-toe. Best thing Riddles has done all year.

Speaking of all year…

…Er, I’m starting to ramble, so I might as well begin.

Best Riddlethos of 2010 Awards

Of course we’re doing it again this year. If you don’t remember last year’s masturbation fest, we spent a week devoted to praising ourselves for the best articles we thought we had written.

The only problem was that the task took a lot more effort than we expected, and this year we have twice the content to sift through. We’re starting earlier, but I’d like to get some fan feedback too. Do you guys want to vote? If you do, do you want a shortlist or the full spectrum to vote from? Putting that aside, do you guys have any ideas for categories? Last year we had…

  • Top 5 Hey! Look! Listen!s
  • Top 3 Scatter Stormings
  • Top 5 Theme Weeks
  • Top 10 posts by both Ethos and Riddles chosen by the other
  • Riddles’ Arbitrary Banner Picks
  • Lameish is new to the site, what sort of say should he get? Have there been enough Call Me Lameishs to justify a category? WHAT TO DO!??!?!?

    The Sly Cooper Collection

    The Journey There -
    If you follow me on Twitter (Riddles doesn’t, the prick), you already know that I had a bitch of a time trying to find the Sly Cooper Collection. Talk about under the radar. There was no word about it after its small announcement until a quiet release date was set for November 9th in late October. Come November 9th, a closeby EB Games told me that the computer told them November 10th. The girl was reasonable, however, and told me that she’d sell me one if they were sent any. She checked and there were none. No matter, I thought. I’ll go to the Gamestop near my house tomorrow.

    I did that and the guy there said they while they DID have them in, his computer told him November 11th was the streetdate and so he refused to sell me one.

    Fuck you, I thought. But I said nothing except a sarcastic “thanks” and left the store. I called the other store that I could convince myself was close enough to visit and talked to a very confused girl who didn’t know what the crap I was talking about. At one point she asked me if I was looking to buy a system bundle. I really don’t know how she arrived at that from “The Sly Cooper Collection”.

    The point is that I didn’t get one that day either.

    The one by my house sold it to me the next day, but it’s always bizarre when it’s that difficult to spend your money on something you’re actively looking for. It makes me wonder how many copies the game could possibly sell.

    Fortunately, despite the sketchiness of its availability (it wasn’t just me, even IGN had a hard time finding it), the collection is awesome and way more polished than the extremely disappointing Sands of Time glitchiness that Riddles accurately described.

    Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus -

    Platinum’d! Granted, it was even easier than Ratchet & Clank to platinum, but still. It is a very fun game, but there were a few things that make it obvious that it’s 8 years old and the first title in a series.

    First of all, even in HD, the models look terrible during cutscenes. Overall, the game is extremely pleasant-looking, but the production values of the in-engine cutscenes are a little cringe worthy. Sly’s voice being the only exception.

    Apart from visuals, the physics and collision detection feel distinctly last-gen. I definitely died (or at least didn’t make a jump) many times when it wasn’t the fault of a lack of skill. To compound that, death comes very easily. By that, I don’t mean that the game is difficult – it’s definitely not – but that when Sly gets occasionally hurt, he instantly dies. There are a few exceptions to this, and late-game upgrades soften this a little bit, but it is a frustration when bad collision detection causes an instant death and you’re thrown back to the beginning of the level.

    But don’t let me paint the wrong picture, Sly Cooper’s first outing is also a blast. It’s vibrant, varied, humourous, stylish, and – quite simply – fun.

    Sly 2: Band of Thieves -

    I’ve just started this, but I can instantly feel the improvements in terms of visuals and controls. The game looks fantastic and Sly controls like a dream in comparison to the original title. I’m not sure yet if I’m sold on the switch from straight platformer to Infamous/GTA/Mario/MGS hyrbid, but I’m appreciating the gameplay improvements. It also looks like it’ll be a cinch to platinum. Hot.

    Oh, but I don’t like Murray’s new voice. Far less personality. Boo.

    Murfreesboro Review

    It sucks.

    Rare Nintendo Glitch

    I wish this was a clever pun that had to do with Rareware, but it isn’t. It’s actually just a description of a glitch I witnessed while my super hot girlfriend was playing Super Mario Galaxy. We had already beat Galaxy 2 together (I’m talking 241 stars) and so she’s been playing the first one by herself.

    She’s tearing the game to pieces, but the game decided to fight back in a very hilarious way.

    During one of the many Bowser fights, the king of Koopas made a menacing jump like he usually does. Only this time, he didn’t stop jumping. He just kept flying into space.

    I must say that watching Bowser slowly float away with an angry look on his face was a very funny image. Erika wasn’t so jovial however, pleasantly stating, “fuck you, Bowser. Come and fight me like a real man, you big pussy.” Not making this up, folks.

    Anyway, I know that glitches in most modern games like Fallout: New Vegas are more common than pathetic lives in Murfreesboro, but Nintendo glitches are practically unheard of, so I thought it was worth mentioning. Also, I think it’s hilarious and adorable when my super sweet girlfriend runs her mouth like a sailor.

    Speaking of not actually Rareware

    I’ve been playing Donkey Kong Country! Now that reviews are out, I can tell you guys that. I’m about 5 worlds in and apparently 38% complete, although I’m sure that percentage relates to everything including the impossible collectibles.

    Seriously, I’ve only got 100% of the KONG and puzzle pieces in one of the levels I’ve played. And I’m relatively good at finding shit and I’ve been looking. Because of The Sly Collection, I’ve been a little distracted, but I still hope to beat (not 100%) it tomorrow and get up a review at the same time. Lameish also got a chance to secretly play it with me, so expect his far less written and more far entertaining Call Me Lameish on Monday.

    Hell, if that’s all the case, maybe we’ll make next week Gran Turismo 5 Week since god knows that Riddles won’t be smart enough to play one of the greatest platformers ever made.

    “Oh yeah, I hear it’s good,” he’ll say. “Maybe I’ll get around to it,” he’ll say. “I’m glad you like it,” he would say were he polite enough. But that’s the most we’ll get out of him.

    Fuck it, let’s do this.

    I declare next week as Gran Turismo 5 Week!

    Hijacked!

    Back to the PSP

    Now that I’ve given Abe80 his PSP back (I never did beat all three stories of Birth by Sleep), and now that 4 Heroes of Light has started reusing locations (boo, the game was so good before that…), I’ve gone back to my PSP Go. Man, what a great design. I’m sad to hear that the PSP 2 will apparently be a giant. I’m aware that the PSP Go is a massive failure, but I genuinely prefer the design.

    The point is that I’ve returned to Lunar after fuck knows how long. It’s still great. REALLY easy though. And it takes a lot for me to say that, I generally like easy RPGs.

    Riddles Sucks

    We’ve been too nice recently.

    That’s all, folks!

    I need to make the covers before this Starbucks closes! Look forward to a Donkey Kong Country Returns review tomorrow. That is if I’m able to beat it by then!

    Prince of Persia HD has issues (Welcome to SACITSOTW)

    Thursday, November 18th, 2010

    Well, here we are. It’s technically Thursday at this point, and at 2:01 AM, even my bedtime is fast approaching.

    In any case, welcome to Screw Assassin’s Creed, It’s Sands of Time Week. Or, simply, SACITSTOW.

    You may ask, “why? Why give Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood the cold shoulder? You love Assassin’s Creed, don’t you?”

    Well, yes. I do love Assassin’s Creed. I was excited for the third installment. I still want to play it, eventually. But, there are three reasons that I decided to drop the game for the theme week:

    1. I’m still addicted to Black Ops, and I’d like to finish/review the game

    2. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time HD was released over PSN two days ago. As many of you know, the Sands of Time is one of my all-time favorite videogames. An HD re-release is like Christmas come early for me.

    3. I resent Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood for releasing only a year after Assassin’s Creed II. Give me some breathing room, man

    4. I’m kinda broke. Oh wait, that’s four reasons.

    So, yes, the theme week has shifted its focus to the Sands of Time. And why not? It’s a great game, and it has new relevance. And it only costs $15, which is four times less than the new Assassin’s Creed.

    I downloaded the game on Tuesday night, and tried it out on Wednesday morning. I didn’t play too far; I stopped shortly after releasing the sands. Initial reactions? Well, unfortunately…

    The game, for whatever reason, is plagued by audio issues. Voices in cutscenes always seem to work fine, but aside from that, it’s a crapshoot. Footsteps are muffled, sound effects for smashing objects has a weird echo, as do enemy voices. Sometimes, the audio cuts out entirely. (Or perhaps it’s just so horribly muffled I just can’t hear it.)

    So yeah. Obviously, this is pretty unforgivable. Couple it with loading hitches (which never occurred in the original game) and the occasional game crash during loading times, and you have a game in desperate need of a patch.

    However. Aside from these rather damning issues, I still found myself enjoying it for the visuals alone. Make no mistake, the game looks nice running in 720p. It’d look nicer running in 1080p, but I’ll take what I can get. Everything is (obviously) much crisper and cleaner looking, with more vibrant colors and much improved textures. Stonework, in particular, looks fantastic – text and symbols etched into the walls of the Maharaja’s castle pop out nicely. Even the character models, which were subpar even by PS2 standards, clean up very nicely. The Prince has never looked better.

    So yeah. It’s pretty enough. But, as much as I hate to say it, you might want to wait for a patch with this one.

    More to come.  I have some ideas for the week. Not all of which involve Black Ops.

    ~Riddles