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by Ethos

Most Surprising Game 2010 – Ethos

Friday, December 31st, 2010


Finally this gem gets to win one of these instead of just being the runner-up. Riddles mocks me for loving this title, which I find especially delicious because not only has he never played it, but he would love it.

Anyway, multiple people tried to draw my attention to this game before its release, but I shrugged it off. For whatever reason, the previews didn’t excite me. One might say I even had unbridled apathy for Darksiders.

To be honest, I don’t even know what possessed me to buy the game. Maybe it was some misguided attempt at spite. I’m capable of that. I mean, I bought and beat Bioshock secretly the moment Riddles gave up on trying to get me to play it. So perhaps it was the fact that I had told so many people that I wasn’t interested.

In any case, I’m very pleased with the end result. I was expecting a moderately fun title, and got an involved, epic, addicting, and attractive new IP. Perhaps the puzzles never got particularly difficult and the framerate could have been smoother after acquiring the horse, but the game as a whole surprised me greatly with its quality.

People who like to toss around “derivative” as an automatic negative mention the Zelda-style items and puzzles, the God of War combat and upgrades, and the portal gun to use as points against the game. But Darksiders uses these things so unabashedly, that it doesn’t make sense to me as an insult. Even forgetting the game is the “mature” Zelda that many of us have been waiting for since the Spaceworld 2000 demo turned into Wind Waker, it is still a game unlike any other regardless of its obvious influences.

Darksiders was the most pleasant gaming surprise for me in 2010, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

Also, here is a link to a relevant Penny Arcade comic I posted when the game first came out.

Runner up: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

This could have be in the running for number 1 if the second half of the game wasn’t just retreading your steps. But despite that massive disappointment, the game shocked me in its ability to be such a powerful throwback to the JRPGs that started the craze.

4 Heroes never holds your hand. If you don’t read the instruction booklet, you must explore the mechanics for yourself and rely on your critical thinking skill and the occasional tip from townsfolk to hone your strategy.

On that note, the game pleasantly emphasizes exploration as a necessity for progression. While there are scripted scenes, a full appreciation for the story and culture of each area only comes from talking to people.

The result is feeling engaged and challenged and responsible for how well you’re doing. As opposed to say, FFXIII, which just pushes you through a tunnel until after the game is complete when the thing finally becomes a game.

Anyway, this is rambling too long for a runner-up, but the game is good. Way better than I expected.

Best Atmospheric Experience 2010 – Ethos

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Mass Effect 2
*WARNING: Many extreme Mass Effect 2 spoilers are detailed below*

Very few games can control my heartbeat like Mass Effect 2. It plays the thing like a harp. Slowing down, speeding up, sometimes stopping completely. At the beginning of the game when Commander Shepard is running through the collapsing Normandy and finally makes her way to the bridge, the fearless commander is forced to slow to a walk. The music cuts away, and all that’s left is the sound of Shepard’s breathing through her helmet and spacesuit while the player notices a beautiful and horrible view of a closeby planet because the majority of the roof of the spaceship has been ripped off.

This is just one example, and unlike God of War III’s tactic of saving the best for first, this moment is consistently matched and conquered throughout the experience.

Choosing to kill Samara or her daughter, boarding and exploring a dead reaper, stumbling upon a cannibalistic slave society, hearing Harbinger’s voice issue philosophical threats as you flee a structure set to explode. This is a game that is so alive and thick with atmosphere that it is the only game in which I don’t mind being a little scared from time to time. Granted, Mass Effect is very rarely a scary series, but the point is that I’m so drawn into the world that it’s like I have no choice but to trek on until completion.

While some people love to play through multiple times to see all the possible reactions and outcomes, I’m so sold by Mass Effect’s atmosphere that I can’t do it. I have played through 1 and 2 one time because it makes no sense any other way to me.

Mass Effect 2 is dark and depressing and epic and varied and occasionally a little twisted, and you can feel it with every step. I might prefer the first game, but Mass Effect 2 is an atmospheric masterpiece.

Runner up: Darksiders

I could chose Heavy Rain, but I’m going to use an excuse that I just bashed earlier in these awards and admit that I hate that game too much to pick it. Epic Mickey even had a fair shot at #2, but I’m too let-down by its technical shortcomings.

Darksiders surprised me in not only how much fun it was, but in how dense some parts of the world felt. It was nowhere close to Mass Effect territory, and I can assume improvement for the sequel, but it would be silly to deny that I didn’t feel the hopelessness and ruin throughout the experience.

Darksiders jumped from creepy to epic to surprisingly pretty with ease, and the world felt cohesive and exciting to explore. Not to mention that the lead character, War was treated by enemies with fear and respect along with the typical malice. Not a common reaction from terrifying looking baddies.

As I talk about it, maybe this – more than DeathSpank – was the second game that Riddles was too stupid to play. He likes God of War, he likes Zelda, he likes pretty things and great atmosphere, and he pretends to like good games, so suck it up and buy this one, Olivia!

Oh, and both Mass Effect and Darksiders have good music. That helped the atmosphere in both.

Best Visual Experience 2010 – Ethos

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII

Yes, we all know the game sucks.

I’m just more of a man than Riddles so I can give a deserving award to a game that doesn’t deserve any other positive award this week.

Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful. It has bustling cities filled with well-designed trains, robot dragonflies, pockets of mysterious green light, unbelievably tall buildings, yet beautiful beaches and lakes. It has rocky terrain that opens up into a small grassy haven looking over a vast ocean. It has Pulse that is filled to the brim with wild, untamed life: Massive stemmed flower giants, beautiful cavern waterways, animals chasing and eating each other, beasts the size of dinosaurs, sprawling fields with pockets of tiny paradises.

It’s almost more impressive how the game managed to drain all this beauty of any personality within the game, but from a pure visual standpoint, the graphics and art direction are top-notch. (Did I do a better job of describing art direction this time, Glenn?)

But forget the world, let’s move onto the annoying, one-dimensional, gimmicky characters. From that description, obviously I don’t care for their personalities, but FFXIII includes some of my favourite character design of the series. Snow and Hope I could do without, and Vanille is just Rikku or Selphie with a different skin, but Lightning, Sazh, and Fang are three designs that deserved fantastic personalities.

Despite the vapid story they would tell, I shouldn’t have to explain the majesty of Final Fantasy’s CGI cutscenes. The direction and detail are mind-boggling. Complete visual treats. The opening minutes of the game made me say “holy fuck” out loud. Of course, I didn’t know that the game would be so disappointing, but my response was based purely on the spectacle.

Oh, and Lightning’s cape NEVER clipping on her sword hilt as she ran? That’s a visual achievement I’ve never seen before.

Runner up: Darksiders

It was very difficult to choose between Darksiders and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for this one. Ultimately my HD-whore side won out.

Darksiders may not have the technical excellence of Uncharted 2, but it makes up for it in great use of colour, scale, and design. Darksiders takes the over-the-top nature of God of War, but inserts it into a colourful Zelda-like world and makes it all fit. Therefore, sticking a knife into a bleeding eyeball to open a door to solve the next boomerang puzzle just seems to work. War’s horse just has an epic feel, the bosses are grand and well-designed, and the world breathes personality and variety.

God of War III may have moments that are the best visually I have ever seen, but it is hardly consistent in this way. After the opening 45 minutes, nothing compares. Some moments in the game actually seem sub-par for this generation. Darksiders is visually consistent and always surprises and excites.

Scatter Storming. Issue #016 “Let’s Qubit!”

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

ss016Way back when I wrote for Lusipurr.com, I “went” to E3. Somehow, miraculously, I was also in Toronto working on a gameshow for the Discovery Channel. It was called Qubit. The cover is a still taken of me when I was standing in for the host while the control room was figuring some shot out. Anyway, that show was sort of the start of my new position in my current job. And since that’s been my life this past month, I decided to make it the cover. How is it working out? Me and my attempts to make the covers for this feature relevant, I mean. Am I selling it? Anyway, let’s talk about me and my gaming brain.

Serendipity -
Mass Effect 2 Week is next week, meaning the game comes out then. Also, I have a week off of work. This pleases me. My new job doesn’t allow me to go in with no sleep so much anymore, and when I got my hands on the first Mass Effect, I played it until 6am on a regular basis. Now I can do that without worry. Excitement.

Final Fantasy V -
Originally I was going to play FFVI, but another issue with my brother (how many times has he screwed me over on Riddlethos?), and it turns out my FFVI case actually holds a disc of The Office. Great show, not helpful for gaming. But if you read this site a lot, you already knew that. I also decided to play FFV for my first JRPG Relapse title because I’d rather have a more concentrated play session with FFVI as I want to give it a fair shot. JRPG Relapse week is to compare the (potential) evolution of the genre, and I think FFV is a better choice for a snapshot.

Aaaand, Darksiders again -
While I’m excited for this week, I definitely miss Darksiders. I should beat it just before Mass Effect 2 comes out.

That’s it! I gotta play FFV before bedtime, which is soon. G’night, mother fuckers!

Darksiders: Almost 20 Hours In.

Sunday, January 17th, 2010


Yup, while Riddles played relevant games to the theme week and will have his verdict probably late (that asshole), I played a lot of Darksiders this weekend. I’m fairly certain I’m in the “final stretch”, but in these sorts of games, that could be another 5 hours of gameplay, so I’m not banking on beating it tonight.

However, my feelings on it are largely the same since my initial impressions. I’m starting to see some of the complaints that I didn’t before, however. With more enemies and now riding the back of a literally blazing fast horse, the framerate has more moments when it starts to hiccough. Also, while I think the puzzles are better than most describe, it is becoming noticeable that there’s barely a difficulty curve with them. In fact, the puzzles in the dungeon I’m currently in are only difficult because the most obvious route is correct, and my Zelda mindset is always trying to think outside the box. Again, that’s not to say they’re all bad, but this latest dungeon is an example of the worst.

One complaint I do not understand, however, is one about the bosses. So far, I think they’ve been fun, epic, frantic, and very enjoyable. I suppose they’re largely easy, but I definitely wouldn’t call them pushovers, and they are all absolutely exciting.

I’m on the fence about backtracking for optional additional items and collectables. No, the locales aren’t quite as packed with mood and personality compared to Zelda, but they are impressively varied, and fun to explore. Also, War – the hero – isn’t as boring as I expected. He’s determined and noble, but not a goody two-shoes, and no matter what huge baddie is after his head, they all address him with a pinch of respect. It’s a cool atmosphere that way. Anyway, I plan to review it if I can finish it next week while a review would still be relevant, so I’ll wrap up these impressions here. For now, get excited for JRPG ridiculous next week and probably a late verdict from everybody’s favourite Riddles!

Scatter Storming. Issue #015 “Ryan’s Apocalypse”

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

ss015No, my name’s not Ryan nor am I trying to change my name yet again. Ryan’s Apocalypse is a short story I wrote 3 or 4 years ago that essentially asks the question, “does it even matter if the world is ending if your own world is crumbling around you?”. This picture was taken by a friend with that short story as inspiration. Now my world isn’t crumbling either, but I have been notably exhausted and stressed the past two weeks. But hey, at least the cover art for this issue is semi-sorta-relevant, that’s better than most weeks. Anyway, it’s almost been a month since the last Scatter Storming – yup, it was December 16th, people – so let’s talk games.

Darksiders and Beyond –
I didn’t get a chance to play any more Darksiders last night, as a pile of dishes and a new episode of Scrubs just edged it out on the priority list. Still, something I didn’t mention in my first impressions was a feeling I got while playing it. It wasn’t a feeling specifically relating to the game, but I just felt like my love for games got a kick-start. Not that I ever stopped loving gaming, but it was just something that was always there. A known fact that I played games, like when love becomes a habit. I think I have Riddlethos to thank in part for that spark, actually. Writing for this site makes me try games that I wouldn’t necessarily, and also seems to help me finish them. But I had a moment while playing Darksiders in which I just had instant appreciation for my favourite hobby. The work that went into the game, the obvious inspirations from other games that likely struck a chord with the developer. It was just a cool moment and if Darksiders can bring that about, I’m itching to play more.

I was right -
I started this issue when I started my workday around 11am. I made the cover art, wrote the intro and half that last “story” and thought to myself, “I’m probably going to finish this at 9pm”. Bloo-ya!

Sands of Destruction -
Anybody know about this game? I’m going to talk about a preview in an upcoming Tingle feature, but it wasn’t even on my radar until recently. I don’t know much about it, but it looks like pure handheld action RPG classic-ness. What does the buzz seem to be? Is there any?

I don't even have the horse yet!

I don't even have the horse yet!

Seriously, Darksiders -
I want to play more, and it’s all I’ve really played since the break on account of my crazy-ass new job. But it all seems to be slowly settling, so back to gaming for me! Which brings me to…

I’m excited for next week! -
I’m a genius. JRPG Relapse Week? It’s brilliance! It’s the genre that got me started, and I’m excited to dive back into it after a small taste over the break.

That’s it! I gotta go home, man. I’m really starting to live here. And because I forgot to say it at the beginning: I’m back, bitches! Suck it!

More like Dark-shazam-siders!

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010
It's more awesome than it looks

It's more awesome than it looks

Masturbation Week is finally over! Woo! Like Riddles said, this week marks a return to normalcy. Well, the closest to normal that Riddlethos can get, anyway. Hey! Look! Listen! and Scatter Storming will be making their glorious returns. Can you believe it’s almost been a month? I can! More importantly, nothing will be awarded anything.

Well…except for when Riddles declares a winner of his little Bayonetta competition.

…And I suppose Bayonetta will sort of be awarded a score in its review.

Fuck you, all right?! I’m rusty!

Anyway, back to the point. Where the crap did Darksiders come from? I think I read a random article about it once a few months ago. Then nothing. Then impulse purchase. Then AMAZINGNESS. Seriously. Imagine taking Link, injecting him with that titan stuff from Arkham Asylum, then slapping God of War combat that is more fun and presented in a more appealing art style with an overall more enticing presentation. For whatever reason, Darksiders just does over the top epic best. The music doesn’t always beat you over the head, but it’s always good, and the puzzles don’t feel thrown in. Sure, they might be directly ripped out of Zelda, but they are still quality.

Seriously though, I got a boomerang in the first dungeon, then lit bombs on fire with it by passing it through a lantern. Then the game’s version of Navi said his version of “Hey! Look! Listen!” and gave me hints on how to beat the mini-boss.

But man, this is the “dark” Zelda I always thought I wanted as a kid. Now, I don’t really want that for Zelda anymore, but Darksiders has that fantasy covered anyway. Sure, I find keys in chests to unlock doors, but does Link unlock doors by SHOVING THE KEY INTO AN EYEBALL?!?! No. No he doesn’t.

This is also a title that uses an incredible art style to make it look visually stunning. It’s probably nowhere near Uncharted 2’s level of technical excellence, but Darksiders is still one of my favourite games to look at this generation. No foolin’. But I think I’ll beat and review it this week, so I should stop going into so much detail and go back to work.

For now, I’ll leave you with a Penny Arcade comic I found after I made that “Link injected with titan” comment.