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            Can you handle it?
by Ethos

Most Addictive Game 2010 – Riddles

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Holy crap, I’ve played a lot of this game. And I have the feeling I’ll be playing this game for many months to come. As a gamer, I’ve never been one to become addicted to games of competitive nature. Or of any nature, really – even Final Fantasy XI failed to suck me into its online fantasy world. But Call of Duty, for whatever reason, has an effect on me that no other game or franchise does. That is to say, it has the ability to make me spend many, many hours shooting at people with naught but an experience gauge to indicate any progress at all.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is the ultimate entertainment package. The campaign is an intense, intriguing eight-hour ride through heavily fictionalized Vietnam war sets.  The online multiplayer suite is more impressive than its ever been, complete with the awesome new Wager modes. The Zombie mode is back from World at War, and it’s been amped up to whole new levels – making it, impossibly, even more addicting than it was before. I can’t even begin to count how many hours me and my roomates have sunk into that one.

Call of Duty is a very accessible franchise – even the most casual can pick it up and have fun – but in spite of this, it maintains a level of depth and complexity that hardcore gamers (such as myself) can appreciate for hours on end. Black Ops is the ultimate refinement of the Call of Duty formula, and it bears more content, perhaps, than all three of the previous games combined. In terms of pure entertainment value, it’s a monumental achievement, and I can’t wait to see how Treyarch – or even Infinity Ward – plans to top this one. Call it mainstream, call it whatever, blahblah. There’s a reason Call of Duty is so damn popular. Black Ops is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. Easy choice.

Runner up: Red Dead Redemption

It was between this and Mass Effect 2, and I decided to go with the underdog. Red Dead Redemption is a well-crafted sandbox game ripe with activity and exploration. In spite of this, I found myself losing interest in the game around the 15-hour mark, and then I sorta just dropped it. But, for its time, Red Dead Redemption is a very addicting game – whether you’re taking down bandits, shooting birds out of the sky, skinning critters, or staking out in the local saloon and murdering everyone who dares cross the threshold of the door. (I did that a few times, it was fun.)

Hey! Look! Longview! #56

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Well, subtle is definitely not my middle name. But, truth be told, we’ve never been much for subtlety here at Riddlethos.com. We generally prefer blunt and obvious stupidity. Just part of our unique charm, I suppose.

Or… whatever you’d call it. Maybe “charm” isn’t the right word.

But already, I digress. Welcome to the fifty-sixth edition of Hey! Look! Listen! As per usual, I am your host Oliver “Riddles” Motok, and I wish I had the money to buy Green Day Rock Band. I also wish I had the money to go to the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival this weekend. But alas, I have neither of  those things, which constitutes an epic musical fail. Oh well. Maybe I’ll start a cover band.

But, for now, I suppose I’ll settle for sharing some goings-on in the world of videogames. It’s a distinctly pre-E3 climate right now (obviously) which always produces a sort of energized lull that’s difficult to define. So instead of trying to define it, I think I’ll just write some stories.

Know Your Enemy: Proof that Final Fantasy XIII is Composed of Pure Evil

Apparently it wasn’t enough for Final Fantasy XIII to merely suck; now it destroys PS3s.

Or, at least, that’s what a group of people in San Fransisco are claiming. When they attempted to save their game for the first time, their consoles supposedly froze and died forever. They went to Sony first, who told them it was Square Enix’s fault. They went to Square Enix, who told them it was Sony’s fault. Point being, neither company was kind enough to fix the bricked consoles, so now they’re being sued in a class-action lawsuit. For $5 million.

Well. Thank god Final Fantasy XIII didn’t do that to me, at least. Talk about insult to injury. If you’re interested, the full PDF of the suit is available here. (IGN)

Welcome to Paradise: Red Dead Revolver Ships 5 Million, GTA IV Sells 17

Take-Two discussed their second quarter financials today, and happened to let slip the fact that Rockstar’s latest blockbuster, Red Dead Revolver, had already shipped 5 million copies. Now, granted, that’s shipped, not sold – but still, it’s big. It’s a big number.

Y’know what’s even bigger? 17 million. And, according to Take-Two, that’s how many copies that Grand Theft Auto IV has sold since its release back in April 2008. That is a lot. A lot lot. Holy freaking hell.

And… that’s about it. I just felt like throwing some numbers around. Moving on!  (IGN)

Jackass: Tomonobu Itagaki to Announce New Game at E3

You probably know who Tomonobu Itagaki is. If not, he’s the Ninja Gaiden guy. Not the old side-scrollers, but the bloody 3D re-imaginings. And I know you’ve heard of Ninja Gaiden before, because the first game was released no less than three times. Hell, even Ninja Gaiden 2 was released twice.

Oh, yeah, and he’s also responsible for the Dead or Alive games. The fighers and the slutty volleyball spinoffs.

Anyway. The thing about Mr. Itagaki is that he’s sort of a douche. He’s very much full of himself, which is made painfully obvious in pretty much every interview that he’s ever done. And, while being full of yourself is bad enough, what makes it even more obnoxious in my eyes is the fact that the guy really hasn’t done anything that amazing. Ninja Gaiden is, more or less, a hack-’n-slash actioner that uses gratuitous sex and violence as its primary selling point. Revolutionary, eh? Now, to be fair, it’s a very solidly built hack-’n-slash actioner, but it’s still nothing to write home about, and never has been. Admittedly, I haven’t played Dead or Alive – but from the looks of it, and given the general opinions on it, I’d wager you could say the same thing.

Itagaki happily made games for Tecmo for a long time. But, a few years back  - late 2008, if I recall – Tecmo and Mr. Itagaki ran afoul of eachother. My memory’s a bit hazy, and I’m too lazy to look up the specifics; but if I recall, Mr. Itagaki and quite a few other employees filed suit against Tecmo demanding unpaid wages and bonuses. They won. Itagaki left Tecmo, and he’s been relatively quiet since then – although, he’s always assured us that he was at work on a new game.

And now that I’ve written a 300-word mini-bio on this jackass, I might as well tell you the actual news part: he’ll be showing off his new game at E3 2010. Yep. He announced it in a blog post over at the website for his studio, Valhalla Games. Read it here, and be amazed at how douchy he makes himself sound in just a few short, matter-of-factual paragraphs. (Gaming Today)

Nice Guys Finish Last: Yakuza 4 Coming to North America

Well. Much less torturous waiting this time around. Apparently Yakuza 3 sold pretty well in the west when Sega finally brought it over. Well enough, at least, for them to give Yakuza 4 the same treatment.

Yakuza 4 was released in Japan back on March 18, 2010; it’ll be on American shores in the springtime of 2011. Good news, eh? Eh?

Frankly, I don’t really care that much. The only experience I have with the Yakuza series is when I played the demo for Yakuza 3 at Ethos’ place. But, be that as it may, he and I share one fantastic memory of the franchise, and it can be described in a single word: Karaoke. (Kotaku)

Waiting: New Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Trailer is Incredibly Awesome

I really, really want this game. I never even played Heavenly Sword, and I fucking can’t wait for Enslaved. This new E3 trailer seals the deal. Watch it, and be impressed.

Now, c’mon. Tell me you weren’t impressed. At least a little.

Well golly, it looks like I’m drawing close to that non-existent 1000-word limit!

Seriously, there’s no limit, I just have to stop at some point. So. Might as well be now?

And just so everyone knows, I’ve totally had my Green Day music library on shuffle the entire time while writing this. So, ideally, you’ll be listening to Green Day whilst reading. But I’m going to guess that none of you are, and frankly, that’s a shame. Because they’re awesome.

Sunday Soapbox: Let’s Play in the Sandbox!

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Now, while I may have failed at writing… well, anything this week, I did happen to pick up a copy of Red Dead Redemption. Sure, I didn’t pick up up until Saturday evening, but, did get my hands on it. (Xbox 360 version.) And, I did play it. In fact I played a decent 5-hour chunk, and while I feel I need more time to provide decent impressions, I also feel like now’s a great time to talk about “Sandbox” games in general. What makes a good sandbox game good? What works in a sandbox game and what doesn’t? What are some examples of good and bad sandbox games?

For the hell of it, let’s first define a “sandbox” game. On Wikipedia, a sandbox or “open world” game is described as follows:

The term sandbox refers more to the mechanics of a game and how, as in a physical sandbox, the user is entertained by their ability to play creatively, boundless of artificial structural constraints, and with there being “no right way” of playing the game.

Yeah, I referenced Wikipedia. Got a problem with that? In any case, the above description is pretty darn accurate. Sandbox, free-roaming, open world; they all mean the same thing: a game in which you’re allowed to freely traverse a massive, open gameworld, and interact with that game world however you see fit. Think Grand Theft Auto. Assassin’s Creed. Infamous. Prototype. Fallout 3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. And, of course, Red Dead Redemption.

So, what is it that makes a sandbox game fun? What makes a good sandbox experience, as opposed to an average one?

In my opinion, the most important requirement for a sandbox game is also a very simple one – there has to be a wide variety of things to do. Quests, tasks, missions, whatever they may be – but in order for the player to shape his own experience within the sandbox, you have to give him the appropriate tools. If you present them with a massive, open world to explore, and then populate it with only four or five different activities, then the player will quickly become bored. Plain and simple. And yes, I am glaring at the original Assassin’s Creed right now.

I’ll take this as an opportunity to discuss Red Dead Redemption. As Ethos stated in his insomniac edition of Scatter Storming, there is indeed, a “shit ton” to do. And, for now at least, it’s all fun. There are bandits to kill, Sheriffs to aid, property to buy, poker to play, horses to ride, treasure to hunt, movies to watch – the list could go on and on and on. And this is what’s opened up in the initial five hours – I highly doubt I’ve seen all there is to see. It’s quite shocking, really. And a lot of fun.

Another crucial component of a quality sandbox game is this: the ability to impact the world around you in a noticable, meaningful, or profitable way. Preferably all three. In Red Dead Redemption, if you perform noble task, you’ll score with the noble folk – including local Sheriffs and other such influential people. However, if you go for a more aggressive, self-serving, or violent approach to things, you’ll get in close with the seedy criminal factions. In Assassin’s Creed II, city guards will treat you differently depending on how many people you’ve stabbed lately. And, not to mention, your financial contributions can restore an entire town from slums to splendor.

A bad example would be the original Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed II is one of the best sandbox games I’ve ever played, which makes it that much more ironic that the original Assassin’s Creed is probably one of the worst. I’ve already called it out for having nothing to do within its massive world; but in addition to that, what you do has absolutely zero effect on the world at large. Kill as many people as you want, be they civilians or assassination targets, and nothing changes. And, aside from stabbing people, there really isn’t any meaningful way to interact with the world of Assassin’s Creed. I know it’s a bit late to be on the Assassin’s Creed hatewagon, and that’s not really my intent here – it is, though, one of the better bad examples.

If the player is expected to spend all of his time within the bounds of a single, massive gameworld, then it had better be a good world. And by “good” I mean endearing, believable, and attractive – make the player want to explore it. Red Dead Redemption pulls this off quite impressively; night and day, a bustling virtual populace makes the world seem very much alive, and very much like a real place. People talk aloud about current events in the world, passer-byes on horses shout hellos, bandits attack on the road, drunken idiots attack prostitutes – some of it sounds trivial, and some of it ridiculous – but its the small, quirky things that make a world feel alive and endearing to the player. A big city filled with mindless, shambling mutes doesn’t quite cut it – and, while I could glare at Assassin’s Creed yet again, I think I’ll take the opportunity to glare at the much-overrated Infamous.

Gameplay in a sandbox game is, perhaps, the greatest challenge. Why? Because gameplay mechanics have to be solid enough to hold up for a long period of time, (as many hours as the player chooses, really) and they have to be able to work in a variety of interchangeable gameplay scenarios. Since there’s no traditional level design, you can’t ever really use gimmicks – such as, say, a level on the back of a massive Titan. No offense to God of War, or course; just using that as an example of something you generally won’t find in a sandbox. So, this being the case, the core, “day-to-day” mechanics (as it were) have to be strong. And, once again, Red Dead Redemption is a shining example of that. Combat is nothing new – in fact, it’s suspiciously similar to that found in Uncharted – but it’s solid, fun, and bloody. The “Dead Eye” ability, while just another incarnation of Bullet Time, is still incredibly awesome. It has to be used sparingly, but that makes it all the sweeter when you activate it, and deliver head shots to five different bandits with your double-barreled rifle. Horse riding is surprisingly enjoyable; perhaps because of how beautiful the rugged Western landscapes are, and thus how beautiful the sites are.

Oh, wait... this one was ALMOST a sandbox game. Sorry.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do, though, when building a sandbox game is this: maintaining a narrative that can move at the player’s pace, yet retain its focus as a whole. Sure, you want a compelling story to accompany the world you’re in – but, you also don’t want to be hindered by it. It’s a tough line to walk, but once again, Red Dead nails it. Basically, the story is advanced whenever you decide to take on a story mission. These missions are often simplistic, and short, but they always add something to the overarching story. Even if it’s just a three-minute conversation during a carriage ride into town, you’re always given some valuable bit of information or character development. And, since these missions are generally short and sweet, that means you can keep the story moving at a brisk pace – if you want to. But you probably won’t want to. You might want to spend 45 minutes or so completing two or three story missions, and then an hour or two riding around, shooting at game, fending off bandits, picking flowers, or trying your hand at the (highly addictive) poker minigame. Think it sounds simple? Well, it should be, but not many games get it this right. In Infamous, the story takes a backseat for hours at a time while you carry out overly-elongated story missions that do very little to advance the actual plot. If you don’t have a compelling story to accompany the world, players will lose interest.

Sandbox games can provide some of the most memorable gaming experiences, since they’re largely shaped by you, and how you choose to exist in the world around you. But, like any genre, there’s a big difference between a good sandbox game, and an average one. Or… a bad one. With the advent of current-generation hardware, the genre’s become quite a bit more popular than it once was. Frankly, it’s a trend that will probably continue to grow. With games like Assassin’s Creed II and Grand Theft Auto 4 selling in the several millions, the people have expressed their love of the sandbox genre. But hey, if games like Red Dead Redemption are any indication, this could be a good thing.

Scatter Storming. Issue #032

Friday, June 4th, 2010

So I’ve had some pretty fucking terrible insomnia the past few days. And apparently my body is being extra cruel by not letting me employ my usual “wrap my sleep schedule around” technique, as I woke up wide awake at 2:30pm for no reason despite not being able to sleep until 9am.

Therefore my current plan is to try and finish some tasks that have been on the back of my mind before I sleep in hopes that it will ease my brain. Probably a terrible idea, but I’m grasping here. The point is that finishing this Scatter Storming is one of those tasks. So I can’t promise this will be any good, I can just promise that it will exist.

I’ve been playing Red Dead -
Unlike the perpetually disappointing Riddles, I bought Red Dead Redemption on Tuesday, and while I haven’t been playing the hell out of it, I have definitely sunk a few hours in. So far, I’m really digging the voice acting and – surprisingly – the visuals. There’s a fair amount of texture pop-in, but the sprawling landscapes, authentic towns and beautiful sunsets really do create a pretty enthralling world. To be honest, I’m really in to it so far. There’s a shit ton to do, there’s a lot of genuine humour to be found if you’re looking, and there are stats and challenges galore. Now, while this is often assumed, I’m reserving final judgement until I beat it. I specify that for this game in particular because a common complaint I hear about GTA 4 is that it starts off with a similar sense of enthrallment and immersion, but then just gets repetitive and boring. So I have that fear. Still, I wasn’t interested in playing GTA 4, and I was interested in playing Red Dead, even without the Riddlethos factor. Riddles claims to be buying the game on the weekend, so maybe we’ll have IMpressions then, but I’m not holding my breath.

Godfuck it, I’m tired -
And I really don’t think I have anything else to say, I just need to crank this thing out.

Oh right! –
Fucking Brave Story has made up for introducing the stupidest character ever by having a sidequest to defeat a giant enemy crab. And if there was any confusion as to if it was a coincidence or not, there is dialogue after the quest’s completion that goes something like this:

A: How did you defeat the giant enemy crab?
B: We stabbed it in its weak sp…oh never mind

I was impressed.

That’s it. Fuck off and enjoy the absolutely hideous picture of me on the cover. Seriously, that’s got to be one of the worst pictures of me ever, and there are some REALLY bad ones.

Alright, well…

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I thought that Riddles would be posting a HLL today, so I was holding off on my Scatter Storming. No dice, eh Riddles? Oh well, I’ll still give you all my Scatter Storming tomorrow, but for now know that I’ve been playing Red Dead and I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would. Still, the thing about GTA is that it looked interesting, but it also looked like it got boring fast. I’m definitely very far from final judgement, but I can’t deny that I’m definitely enjoying myself so far, and I’ve been impressed with the dialogue.

Welcome to Riddlethos Redemption Week

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Welcome one, welcome all to yet another week at Riddlethos.com. For the none of you who are keeping track, this happens to be Week #44. And no, there’s no real significance behind that number. In fact, there’s none. At all.

Anyway. It’s Riddlethos Redemption Week here at Riddlethos.com, as the hastily-made banner up top indicates. (If you can’t see it, then stop using Internet Explorer, please.)

Perhaps you recall Alan Wake Week? Maybe not, it wasn’t that exciting. For anyone, really; neither Ethos or I fell in love with the game, and Ethos ditched it as soon as Mario Galaxy 2 fell into his hot little hands. As for me, well, I’m actually almost done with the game, and I have a review outlined. It’ll be late, yeah, but I still want to voice my definitive opinion on the game.

Point being, though: we both somewhat regret devoting the week to Alan Wake rather than Rockstar’s critically acclaimed blockbuster, Red Dead Redemption. So, in order to redeem ourselves, we’re having a Riddlethos Redemption Week. In honor of… well, you get it. Horrible pun, horrible. But hey, do you expect any less from us?

Alright. Well, right now, I’m about to go (hopefully) finish Alan Wake. And then I will review it. And who knows, maybe afterwards I’ll go grab a copy of Red Dead. We’ll see.

Oh, and to all our American readers: Happy Memorial Day! I hope your respective employers were kind enough to give you the day off. Like mine was. Mwa-hahaha.

Hey! Look! Listen! #54

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Oh, hey! It’s this column!

I know I only missed a week, but it feels… longer. But, then again, last week felt like it lasted for 327 years, so that might be why. In any case, I’m back, and sincerely happy to be here. I have seen the world outside, and it’s a far less pleasant place than Riddlethos.

Generally speaking.

I actually *don’t* have Alan Wake at this exact moment, but that’s only because I rushed home to begin work on this very article. Still grabbing it tonight, and I’ll have impressions up by tomorrow evening at the latest. Or, if I’m feeling crazy enough, tonight. (Don’t count on that one, though. Just throwing it out there. To torture you.)

Final Fantasy XIII Sells 5.5 Million, Square Enix Has Record Year

I didn’t realize until now, but during its 2009-2010 fiscal year, Square Enix released a numbered Dragon Quest, a numbered Final Fantasy, and two Kingdom Hearts games. The result? Money, and lots of it.

In an earnings report today, Square Enix announced that their games division had seen a 128.4 % increase in sales over the previous year, to 109,949 million yen. Operating income went up 254% over the previous year to 23,814 million yen. All considered, it’s the best fiscal year they’ve had since the Square and Enix merger in 2003.

Impressive, eh? You can thank Final Fantasy XIII, sad as that is to say. It’s sold a combined 5.55 million units since its release in Japan last year. Perhaps even more absurd, though, is the four million strong that Dragon Quest IX pushed – seeing that it was only released in Japan.

So, despite the apparent loss of their ability to make good RPGs, Square Enix isn’t going anywhere. And that’s all I’m really taking away from this. (IGN)

Square Enix “Looking Into” Releasing Vs. XIII on 360

Totally called this. Not that it’s much of a “call” these days. Publishers tend to release games on multiple platforms. It makes sense, and it’s not as difficult to do as it (apparently) once was.

During an investor meeting, in which financial matters (such as those in the story above) were being discussed, Square Enix’s president Yoichi Wada had this to say concerning Final Fantasy Vs. XIII’s multiplatform-ness:

“We’ll be looking into it internally until right before the formal announcement.”

Looking into it. Alrighty then. You know what I’d like to see, now that I think about it? A breakdown of how many copies that Final Fantasy XIII sold on the 360. I have a feeling that, if I could see one, I might be able to predict their decision. (VG247)

Aggregate Ranking Roundup: Alan Wake, Prince of Persia, Red Dead Redemption

As you’ve likely gathered, it’s Alan Wake Week here at Riddlethos. But, Alan wasn’t the only contender for the “honor” – a certain Prince and an assortment of outlaws from the Old West made fine arguments in their favor. Now that the week is here, how exactly are the three games faring in the critical realm?

Sitting comfortably on the first place position is Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. It’s currently holding down a 95.79% aggregate score on GameRankings. (It’s worth noting, I suppose, that the PS3 version only has a 93.36%). Impressive. Most impressive. Only based on twelve reviews at this point, but still. Maybe we should have made this Red Dead Week. Oh well.

Coming in at number two is our very own Alan Wake, with an aggregate score of 84.40% And that’s based on 40 reviews. Solid. Quite solid. I’m excited to judge for myself.

And, at number three, everyone’s favorite Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands with a 76.00%. That’s only based on five reviews, yes, but… disappointing? The reviews are actually largely positive. But, frankly, when I play Prince of Persia, I’m expecting a masterpiece. Then again, after 2008’s rather underwhelming reboot, maybe I… shouldn’t. Ah well. I’ll buy it and play for myself eventually; frankly, I’m hoping it drops in price as quickly as the last game did.

Aw, C’mon: Mass Effect 2’s Mining Streamlined

I didn’t do a whole lot of mining in Mass Effect 2, which I know did me no favors. (You gotta do it if you want to get higher-level weapon upgrades.) However, the reason I didn’t do much mining in Mass Effect 2 is because it was slow. Very. Very. Slow. It was actually kinda fun in an odd way, but god damn… was it ever slow.

Anyway. I think you catch my drift. The reason I’m writing this story is because BioWare released a patch for the 360 version of Mass Effect 2 (PC patch coming soon, supposedly) that addresses this exact issue. And according to Gaming Today’s Phil Owen, “The scanner now moves very quickly, and the scanner itself is much larger… talk about streamlining.”

Well fuck. That would have been nice four months ago, BioWare. Then, maybe then, I could have acquired that awesome [insert high level something or other here] that I always fucking wanted. (Gaming Today)

Oh, For Fuck’s Sake: Nintendo Attempting to Make New Zelda “Easier to Play”

I haven’t been reminded of this fact terribly often lately, but it remains: I hate, hate, hate, hate Nintendo. So much. So much. So. Much. It started with childish gimmicks like motion controls. Then it was instructional DVDs teaching us how to play games. And now? Well, now they’re taking my once-favorite franchise of all time and… doing god-knows-what. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who created Zelda, was recently speaking with a German gaming site Gaming Media about the illustrious, unreleased Zelda title for the Wii. (1UP transcribes). During said interview, he claimed that Nintendo was “creating a new way to play the game.” Excitement? No. Definitely not excitement. Why? Here’s why:

“We are trying to make Zelda, which has become very complicated, easier to play.”

Complicated? Complicated?! Complicated?!

Pardon me while my mind explodes.

Ahh, that’s better.

Okay, maybe I’m thinking of the wrong Zelda here. You know, the fucking bread-and-butter of action-adventure games? Crawl dungeons, fight baddies solve puzzles? Again: bread-and-butter. BREAD AND FUCKING BUTTER.

BREAD AND BUTTER IS NOT COMPLICATED.

Oh man. I just… have no words. Link… what are they doing to you over there?

It’s just… I have these awful mental images of everyone’s favorite Hero of Time being chronically sodomized by grinning, aging Japanese businessmen. For a while, I imagined Miyamoto merely sitting on the sidelines and watching; perhaps with a sort of subdued distaste. But now? Well, now’s he’s part of the action. And I just can’t handle that.

…and now that I have concluded the most disgusting tangent ever written on Riddlethos.com, I will take my leave. Goodnight, everyone. Enjoy the mental imagery.