A Throne of Games – Volume 3 – A Storm of “S” Words.

When last we left the historie of the consoleflict, King Atari had perished in madness and the kingdom of console gaming fell into chaos and disarray.

It was a wasteland. No one purchased new consoles, and merchants refused to sell them. For all intents and purposes, the idea of video gaming as a central activity was dying.

In this time of desperation and blight, an Arcade Clan of the East rode in. One that would attempt to seize Atari’s now empty throne for itself. It was a clan of great ambition and long lineage that saw the fallen crown, and realized it only had but to reach out in order to claim it.

Fallen Crown of King Atari

I mean, it’s a pretty nice crown. A bit bloody, but that comes out with some club soda.

But the greater problem still stood. In this barren land devoid of life, any potential ruler would have to either be extremely powerful or extremely lucky in order to restore faith and renew the potential of gaming in the eyes of the populace.

It was fortunate then, that this Clan’s words were to “leave luck to the heavens”, for it only dealt in power.

What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.
(But it helps if you bring Robot Buddies)

Even as the first king fell, Clans Nintendo and Sega – both having found success in the Arcadean Wilds – entered into the conflict of consoles in their native land, a place where the sun rose red. In Japan, Clan Nintendo’s Family Computer and Clan Sega’s SG-1000 arrived to do battle with their hosts on exactly the same day. Battle commenced immediately between the two and an early setback for Nintendo’s “Famicom” (as it would be known), poorly shod steeds, caused their hosts to crash into the mud even as they could begin their charge.

Clan Sega gained precious ground as Clan Nintendo ordered a full retreat and a costly re-shoeing. The battle was far from over though, and with their great beast Donkey Kong at the front of the legion and the might of their Cross Technique, Clan Nintendo soon claimed victory in its small island home. With the success of this victory Nintendo, now Lords of the East, set their sights on further conquest.

Not wanting to anger the King of the West, Nintendo first sought to work under King Atari, not yet realizing the mad monarch’s ill turn. However, their prior work with House Coleco was cited as a betrayal and the King refused the foreign House and any aid they might have brought to their flagging fortunes. Undaunted, the Lords of Nintendo began planning their own invasion of Western shores.

THE EMPEROR, THE FOOL, AND THE VIZIER (Sakaguchi, Miyamoto and Yokoi)

Putting the Assassin’s Creed Franchise Under the Knife – Part 2

Now for the rest of the stor(ies).

So, shortly after Assassin’s Creed 3 released I started an intense analysis into the bloat that’s suffocating the series like Jabba the Hutt’s fat rolls on a Twi’lek prostitute. I only got to cover some of the series-wide problems – the lacking difficulty, the broken economy – in a general way while zeroing in on some of the terrible unorthogonal design practices that were very apparent in the “third” game in this five game series.

Now that Ubisoft has announced AC4: Black Flag, and AC3’s DLCs are getting released (and getting the attention of Fox News) I’m returning to finish what I started – a complete breakdown of everything Assassin’s Creed in a reverse chronological order. But for context, it’s probably best if you read the first part of this.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations: Overclocking the Animus Melts the Motherboard

Like I said in the first part, I never actually got around to Revelations. While friends who did assured me it was mostly more of the same, it would be pretty pompous to comment on the gameplay of a game never played.

However I’m not totally clueless about it. Not wanting to be left behind in case I missed anything important when going into AC3, I did the only sensible thing a person does when pressed with a lack of information about fictional characters these days: I turned to the internet.

ALL HAIL THE INTERNET! GIVER OF IMDB ENTRIES, CAT VIDEOS, WIKIPEDIA AND er, porn.

Thanks to wikis, fansites, and these videos from Gamespot, I caught myself up on Revelations (BEGIN SHAMELESS PLUG Just like you can right here on CLR with such series recaps as The Walking Dead! END SHAMELESS PLUG).

Here’s the thing, and I’ll make this as brief and spoiler-free as I’m capable of, with Revelations Ubisoft started to reallllllllly stretch the believability of their fictional framework. Now I know, I know, suspension of disbelief and all that jazz. But that comes with a caveat – the creators have to maintain it.

The plausibility of the Assassin’s Creed series hinges on the audience buying into the animus, the virtual reality device that lets its users explore vivid recreations of past lives embedded deep within their genetic memory. It’s a good meta-fictional construct as it keeps everything the player does in the past relevant to modern times while giving them some narrative wiggle room when they play around with the conceit, and it was given thorough explanation in the first game. They even tossed in a couple Minovsky Physics rules in the sequel to make the pseudo-science more believable: if one of Desmond’s ancestors impregnates someone (and by definition, they must) the animus’ viewpoint sticks with the progeny as genetic memory and passed through the DNA of his bloodline, and at least some knowledge from the memories a user is reliving can pass into their waking state (called the “Bleeding Effect”).

In Revelations, Ubisoft bent both of these rules almost to the breaking point, and the overall fiction suffers for it. The main issue is complicated and nitpicky, so I’ll explain by delving into a cyberpunk story everyone knows, The Matrix.

During the 1999 action romp that is The Matrix, all of the heroes are running around inside the titular virtual reality construct, one so vivid that being injured inside of it hurts their physical bodies actually lying in chairs somewhere in the real world. As Morpheus says, “Your mind makes it real.” However, the film goes a step further when Joey Pants’ character Cypher betrays the group and unplugs his former allies in the real world, which kills them in the matrix . . . somehow?

The problem is basic: this doesn’t make any physical sense.

When Switch says “Not like this.” she very well may be referring to the implausibility of how she’s about to die.

The only way this works is if the characters’ conscious minds (i.e. their souls) are somehow in the matrix rather than just being connected to it. It’s this moment that makes The Matrix films less “Cyberpunk Science Fiction” – where unplugging would just disconnect you from the server and the user would be fine – and more “Philosophical Science Fantasy”, which isn’t a bad thing per se, but it is a different genre. The sequels delved into this concept more heavily (Neo’s mind is stuck in the Matrix when his body’s disconnected for a while) and this may be why they felt a bit like a betrayal of the original premise – but that’s beside the point.

Right at the start, Revelations does something similar when a previous occupant of the animus, Subject 16, shows up to talk to Desmond, who’s trapped inside of the machine’s Safe Mode . . . somehow. The Subject 16 Desmond encounters may just be a copy of the thought patterns of the original person (a sketchy idea in of itself), but he acts more like a fully conscious person – he’s capable of receiving outside information he should have no way of knowing, he comes to new conclusions based on this info, and he even puts forth the idea of jumping into Desmond’s body through the animus as if this was Being John Malkovich, which just makes the animus seem downright magical.

All of this is rather incongruous with how the animus is portrayed in the first few games; this isn’t a machine that “makes it real”. When you “die” in the Animus, Desmond isn’t injured in the real world, he’s simply disconnected temporarily and restarts at an earlier checkpoint. It’s also a bit silly as it means Subject 16’s entire personality (memories and all) was transferred not only onto the original Abstergo Animus, but was a small enough a data file to be brought into the Assassin’s Animus, which they did on a portable hard drive no larger than than one you can purchase at Radio Shack during AC2.

I suppose all this can be handwaved with “The animus is based on Precursor God Technology, and they can send messages through time, so anything’s possible!”

AC Revelations Memory discs

Which you have to do to accept the proto-animus CD’s that Altair somehow figured out how to store his memories on during Revelations, which just begs further questions like: Why didn’t he include this information in the journals he left behind for the Assassins in AC2?

When you resort to narrative techniques equivalent to your teacher shushing you when you ask a question rather than explaining them through the story naturally, you’re running into trouble. But it is Ubisoft’s story and they’re going do whatever the heck they want with it. Considering the ending to AC3 and what we already know of Black Flag, my guess is they’re relying on some of this “Magical Animus” stuff brought up in Revelations to make AC4 work – since the protagonist in AC4 is one of Desmond’s ancestor’s but the game starts with the player as working for Abstergo it implies a similar transfer of data ala Subject 16.

I don’t want to prejudge AC4’s meta-fiction as being too silly to live just yet, so I’ll hold out hope that Ubisoft’s writers at least explain everything as well as they did in AC1. Not likely perhaps, but I’m being optimistic for now.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood: The Problem is well, the Brotherhood.

I bitched about the Assassin Recruits enough in my review of the game, so I won’t belay the point: they’re a good idea, just insanely overpowered.

Ubisoft’s mitigated this to some degree in AC3 and even did some neat stuff with the concept, making each recruitable assassin a unique character with their own back story and specific skill (my favorite being the one where they disguise themselves as redcoats and escort you like a prisoner to access secure locations), and take a lot more effort to unlock. They also (thankfully) removed the arrow storm ability which wiped out all enemies withing sight.

But they’re still as broken as they ever were, and they still slow down the game flow. Because the fundamental problem is still the same as it ever was: it isn’t the strength of the recruit’s skills, it’s that they can be reused too often.

Hey what’s up, we just got back from a two minute mission a thousand miles away, hope you didn’t have a chance to actually, you know, kill someone yourself?

The main method Ubisoft uses to keep the Brotherhood recruits from being too powerful is by incentivizing the player to send them on missions into neighboring territories so their skills can’t be activated. After a few minutes of gameplay they become available again with a little bit of extra cash to add to your coffers.

But Assassin’s Creed isn’t exactly a six hour explosion-fest like Call of Duty. In my experience they’re actually fairly slow paced games with bursts of high adrenaline. It’s a perception aided by the huge worlds, the many different side missions, and the fact that these are (or at least were) arguably stealth games so methodical actions should be rewarded more than blindly charging into situations.

For the most part, I just don’t use them because it feels like they basically play the game for you. So they become yet another pointless mechanic on top of a pile of them (a problem mentioned last time).

What’s ridiculous is that the solution is ludicrously simple: you should have to pay for the ability to use the Recruits, not the other way around.

Ezio Makes it rain

You want to rain death without effort, then you’re going to have to make it rain.

AC3 has the right idea in making the recruits NPCs with personalities, and importantly, lives outside of the brotherhood that they’d likely want to maintain. With the exception of special instances when they’re doing you a favor, paying for their time (as well as costs to keep their notoriety down) makes all the sense in the world. Considering that there are few enough costs or money sinks in the games as is, paying for the recruits expenses and rewarding them for their efforts would do a lot to both keep them from being used too often, and to keep your wallet from fattening as much.

The scaling is obvious too. When recruits are low leveled, it costs less to hire them and when they reach higher levels, it costs more. A rate of 100 Money Units (since each games uses a different currency) per level would work for using them in the field, and the rewards you gain when they succeed on away missions should be reduced or limited to non-monetary compensation (like reputation or something).

This would kill two Templars with one poison dart, and it’s an idea that’s just sitting right there out in the open!

Assassin’s Creed 2: The Notorious P.O.S. that is Notoriety

The other major issue mentioned in my Brotherhood review that’s been dragging this series down is actually from AC2: the Notoriety system. It’s far too simple, and far too easily managed to be something more than a minor hassle when, in theory anyway, keeping a low profile should be one of the primary goals of an Assassin stalking through city streets.

There are some obvious things that could be done to fix this – make fewer wanted posters and heralds spawn, make it cost more to bribe them – but these are quick fixes when in truth, the entire system needs to be reworked with a focus on two different aspects.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t make these posters harder to find, they should. They also need to make them reduce your notoriety far less, like by 10% instead of 25% (the current level).

First, there need to be more actions that increase your assassin’s notoriety and they need to be things the player either wants or needs to do.

The biggest problem with the Morality system in Red Dead Redemption for example, was that unlike in Grand Theft Auto, there’s no pressing need to behave lawlessly. In GTA you’d often need to get around quickly so you’d make like the game’s title and steal a car, getting cops on your tail and leading to exciting gameplay, but in Red Dead, you just whistle for your horse (something present in AC3 as well) and off you go!

There’s unfortunately no real “car theft” activity for our hooded stab-masters to partake in, and the current notoriety increasing activities – pickpocketing, carrying bodies, chasing couriers, or attacking guards in the open – are generally unnecessary outside of mandatory cases in missions. So the only real solution involves adding more actions that raise notoriety at all. Partly by putting back in some stuff from earlier games that was removed in AC3 – pushing beggars (small children in AC3) out of the way, stealing horses, and the crazy loons from the first game in the form of drunks wandering at night (since they have a fancy day/night cycle now) – as well as bringing back the delineation between gently pushing aside civilians or shoving them out of the way, and making fast travel more restrictive (by limiting it to point-to-point transfers only) so you have more chances to get into trouble.

New notoriety raising measures could include: men defending their lady’s honor (since they have “lover” NPC pairs) where should you bump the woman, the guy starts a fist fight; ruining someone’s job, as there are lots of open air workers milling about and you can totally screw with them at no risk; NPC criminals already on the run from guards who toss their stolen goods to you, (even if you just let the guards take it back without resistance it’ll raise their suspicion); VIP civilians, such as priests or upper class nobles that not only may have personal escorts, but whom even hassling or knocking aside whilst riding a horse is considered a major insult lest you apologize quickly.

Assassin's Creed 2 Stab

And stabbing them? Well that’s just going to get everyone all up on your white wearing tuckus.

With enough of these events in place, and if money is made scarcer to incentivize thefts and muggings (which they might be doing with AC4’s pirating focus), or if they do figure out an appropriate car theft analogue, notoriety could become much more involved than it currently is.

Now we get to the second part: making the system itself more nuanced.

Currently notoriety works on four levels: 0-Star inconspicuous, 1-star Suspicious (guards take notice after a while), 2-Star Wanted (they notice you more quickly), and 3-Star Notorious (instant notice) to represent the city guard hunting our assassin protagonists.

What’s needed are more intermediate steps that change a different parameter – the city’s (or perhaps the entire game world’s) security layout and crowd size. What I propose is adding three more stars, making it a six star system, perhaps on a separate scale that requires different methods to reduce. At each intermediate star the guard reactions don’t change (so at both 1 and 2 stars guards react the same) but there are fewer civilians on the streets (reducing your ability to hide), more sentries are added to patrols and stationary posts, more zones are labeled as restricted, and checkpoints are added to major choke points that require either a disguise, bribes, or other forms of subterfuge to get through. At the highest level – full panic, essentially – the streets would be empty of civilians to blend in with, those quick corner overhangs will be withdrawn, and several hiding spots are removed or have bells added to them.

There are other things that could be done too – not hiding bodies creates a timer till they’re reported which will raise notoriety unless your recruits dispose of them for a small cost (another way to keep them active but not game breaking), permanent yellow zones in addition to red zones (most likely the richer quarters of town), and bringing back “stalker” enemies from Revelations (without the Notoriety reduction, but to prevent a notoriety increase after they flee) – but the general idea’s always the same – the system needs to be more involving.

Right now the biggest problem isn’t that it’s a bad idea, just that it’s too easy to ignore.

Assassin’s Creed: Free-Running Needs Cost to be Alive

My appreciation on the Le Parkour aspect of Assassin’s Creed has changed over the years. Back in the first game, I was certainly dissatisfied with how blind baby simple it was. “You hold two buttons and push the control stick? This is coming from Ubisoft, the folks who made Prince of Persia: Sands of Time? THE game that pretty much MADE parkour popular in gaming?”

Altair Assassin's Creed Free Running Leap

I guess I was expecting Altair’s adventure in the heart of the holy land to be a Stealthy Free-Roaming Free-Running Platformer. I wonder who could’ve given me that idea, eh, Ubisoft?

It turns out the game I was expecting was Mirror’s Edge. That came out the following year, and while having plenty of flaws of its own (first person was probably a bad choice) the spot on parkour mechanics weren’t one of them. They were that excellent mix of “easy enough to pick up, difficult to master” that I love, even though I know I may be in the minority about this aspect when comparing the two games.

Like I said though, my view on this evolved with the games. By AC2 I accepted that Ubisoft was never going to go the route of making its running-jumping-climbing-on-buildings system much more complicated than they had made it in the first installment, and by Brotherhood some of the level design was getting complex enough that even with this highly automated system, it felt like more of an actual game when you were hopping around the world.

However, the system still always felt like it was missing something, even once I got over my initial dismay and came to enjoy it for its merits.

It simply lacked cost. Lacked risk. Unless you took a blatantly dumb jump, all the strenuous or complex physical activities the avatar on the screen performs are the simplest to accomplish for the player holding the controller. But even knowing what it was that bothered me about it, I was unsure of the best way to resolve the issue.

Until Ubisoft solved this quandary of mine with another game!

Not in any Assassin’s Creed though. Heck, not even in Prince of Persia. Quite the opposite, since their cel shaded PoP travesty in 2008 held your hand more than a field trip buddy in 3rd grade.

No, the game that illustrated to me what was so fundamentally wrong with how Assassin’s Creed locomotion system was something that came out last year: I AM Alive.

I am Alive

I really just need to sit down and write a review of this game. I’ve mentioned it’s excellent design before.

In I AM Alive, the player’s avatar is similar to those featured in AC in that he can climb up and over just about everything. The big difference is that he can’t do this continuously or without cost – it tires him out, as you might expect such physical exertion would. This tiring effect is represented by half of the giant bar on the top of the screen, the left half, which not only reduces as you scramble up surfaces, but also suffers “wounds” if you over exert yourself by pushing past the zero point (which begins to drain your health at the same time).

This mechanic is absolutely brilliant. Not only does it make the REI rock wall portions of level navigation more engaging by adding an element of strategy, it does it without adding any complexity to the control scheme. It’s exactly the addition to Assassin’s Creed’s climbing system that’s needed for the same reasons.

Heck it could even make other systems in AC more interesting. In combat an energy bar could be used for your Assassin’s more spectacular instant kill moves so you’d have to manage when best to use them, or even if you want to stand your ground and fight since the energy pool would drain and make you less capable at fleeing. It could also make your armor options more dynamic too – imagine a lighter set of clothing that increases your attack speed and stamina at the cost of taking more damage, or heavier armor that does just the opposite.

It’s the simplest addition to add to the game that would dramatically improve practically everything about it, and best of all, if Ubisoft did include a stamina bar they couldn’t really be accused of lifting it from somewhere else, as it would come from one of their own games!

The only real question lies in justifying it’s inclusion into the series at such a late point, but AC4 provides the perfect means to do this. First off, saying it’s an upgrade to the animus that more accurately simulates life is a no-brainer. More to the point though, since AC4 is going to be a high seas adventure, and real sailors actually did have to manage the food and water they brought with them as they sailed, it could easily be an extension of whatever mechanic they’ll have to manage your ship needing supplies.

AC4 Kenway Swimming Underwater

Besides, since they’re already including underwater swimming into AC4, it’s likely there will be a new stamina/breath system anyway. Why not just make it so it works everywhere in the game?

The only thing Ubisoft has to worry about with such an inclusion is the cry of making their game too complex for the average, casual player – that this would add an unnecessary RPG element to an action game essentially. But did adding RPG elements like experience points hurt Farcry 3 any?

Nope. They did not. If anything, adding such elements only made what would’ve been an otherwise good game that much deeper, and considering the fact that AC4 already looks to have several elements ripped out of Farcry 3 – a large continuously open world that’s also a chain of tropical islands – why not this one too?

This is exactly what Assassin’s Creed, not only on a per game basis but as a series, needs most. Depth.

Because that’s truly the biggest issue of the franchise. Aside from the focus away from sneaky assassinations and toward full throated action, aside from the waning difficulty with each successive installment, and aside from the increasingly convoluted story and creeping feature list. These are all problems that have sunk game series’ before, and they all need to be addressed, but really, if there was a sense of actual depth and complexity to what it is the player does in AC, then much will be forgiven.

That’s really what I want to do, personally. I want to forgive Assassin’s Creed for getting so far away from its original, fairly flawed, but still rather fascinating first entry. Presumptuous of me I know, but as a guy who’s spent over $200 bucks (and as many hours) on this series, I think I’ve at least paid for the right to toss in these two cents about how Ubisoft would convince me to do just that.

If they don’t? Well, then nothing changes. We get our next AC as a pirate king, then one hopefully set during the French Revolution, then one set during Roman times, then one set during the Ming Dynasty and so on and so forth because Ubisoft seems determined to make AC into CoD before Hollywood capitalizes on it with what’s probably going to be a disappointing film adaptation.

All we can do as fans is ask that they at least try and make each installment in their annualized historical exploitation machine a bit better than the one before. The best way to do that is to write them out.

Assassin's Creed Feather

Because unlike what the games themselves insist, sometimes the pen is mightier than the spring loaded dagger.

These are my reasons, but as I’m only one man I must ask: what are yours, if any?

Until next time folks, keep on stabbing!

Video Game Review: DmC: Devil May Cry

DmC: Devil May Cry

Release Date: January 15th, 25th, 2013
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows PC
Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Allegorical Spectacle Brawler
ESRB: M for Mature
Campaign Running Time: About 10-12 Hours on first run

CLR [rating:3.5]

Shout at the Devil

In the late nineties Hideki Kamiya was tasked with making a 4th sequel to Capcom’s hit Resident Evil franchise. Bored with the slow pace of the series and its protagonists who alternated between stoicism and haplessness strung together by thrice Google Translated dialogue, he wanted to try something new. Though he wanted to keep the supernatural horror, the game had to be fast and stylish, and its star had to be as effortlessly awesome as the manga heroes of his youth.

In a word, it had to be cool.

Thus Kamiya abandoned his directive and made an altogether different game: Devil May Cry, a razor sharp action extravaganza centered on the demon hunter Dante. It was a roaring success, followed by three sequels, an anime series, and enough knock-offs to form a new sub-genre of monster brawling where the competitors one-upped each other in an arena of grandiose fight choreography. As a new crown jewel in Capcom’s post-millennium lineup, the company famous for making the same sequel six times naturally wanted to keep this party train rocking all the way to Money Mountain, but there was a fundamental problem.

“Cool” isn’t static. It’s a writhing concept, constantly defined by the new and shedding the old like a snake’s prom dress (see Disco, Hair Metal, and Pogs for further reference). So even though DMC was certainly cool in 2001, by 2010, when God of War 3 out-bossed, Dante’s Inferno out demoned, and Kamiya’s own Bayonetta out-spectacled the series that started it all, it was plain to Capcom that they needed to be like Lady Gaga, steal from Bowie and reinvent themselves. In the limited imagination of large corporate entities, that means only one thing . . . (you guessed it) a reboot.

To this end they turned to British developers Ninja Theory, makers of the criminally overlooked Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and gave them a task of Fonzarellian proportions: to make Dante the king of cool one more time.

DmC: Devil May Cry

A sneak peak at Justin Beiber’s upcoming experimental death metal pop.

So what was it that made Dante (and thus Devil May Cry as a whole) so beguiling in the first place? Was it the over the top melodrama of the manic manga plots? Was it the J-pop haircuts or the brightly colored leather? The ludicrous campiness that could exceed even Adam West’s Batman when it wanted to?

Well, yeah. These aspects were all factors in the series’ appeal, but what made Dante truly cool is a simpler and older concept than the overblown absurdity he came to represent with each successive installment. Dante was, like James Dean before him, a handsome rebel fighting against the very concept of authority. A romantic notion that always had potential for exploration, but the series’ obsession with the superficial elements of “being cool” came at the cost of having as much depth as a Lilliputian puddle: Dante’s always been a rebel, sure, but one with neither cause nor clue.

DmC: Devil May Cry

The one exception being the combat system, which has always had enough complexity and challenge to be interesting while being stylish.

Thus when it came time for Ninja Theory to stick DMC into the Lazarus Pit of what is the modern reboot, the obvious tack to follow was to add some heft and weight to this series with nothing but disdain for the concept, but without losing the panache and pomp that made it fun in the first place. It was a dangerous tightrope act, one that had to balance loyalist desires for more of the same with enough fresh ideas to attract new fans. As any acrobat knows, you need the right tools to keep from falling into doom when walking a wire, so Ninja Theory took one straight out of the Chris Nolan playbook: an undercurrent of social relevance.

For in this remixed rebirth of DMC, Dante’s brash attitude is retained, but it’s now speckled with the punk rock edge and reckless nihilism of Sid Vicious. His nemesis, the Demon King Mundus, is no longer cartoonishly summoning an army from Hell for the sake of capital “E” Evil, as he already controls the world through the far more sinister forces of leveraged debt, addictive energy drinks, and agenda driven 24-hour cable news. His twin brother Virgil, always the more serious Blue Oni to Dante’s red, is now the head of an Anonymous styled anarchist organization attempting to tear down Mundus’ establishment, in what can only be a direct appeal to Occupy protestors.

At the same time, the rules of the mythology are thankfully streamlined and made clear. Dante and Vergil’s heritage now takes a page from El Shaddai, as they are explained to be Nephilim, the progeny between a demonic father and an Angelic mother (as opposed to a human one), accursed by both sides of the eternal spiritual war sketched in Christian Apocrypha. Likewise, Dante’s battles against armies of malevolent demons tearing through a modern cityscape – a prospect that defied analysis previously – are explained to occur on a parallel plane of reality to our material one, Limbo. In Limbo, a twisted mirror of our own world, hellish creatures reside hidden from human sight, and in a page taken straight out of They Live, subliminal propaganda hides behind every advertisement.

In general, the narrative, whilst following the all too common “origin story that molds the hero from humble roots into the incarnation the audience already knows” outline, now has genuine merit. There’s an actual character arc, for one thing. Dante and Vergil actually grow over the course of this journey, and for once we get to see their sibling relationship play out in a friendly familial manner rather than as a Racer X rivalry. Heck there are even a couple twists on well-worn tropes tossed in for good measure, including a hostage exchange that’s initiated by the heroes for once.

DmC: Devil May Cry

Limbo’s landscape exhibits a terrible intelligence; deforming, collapsing and expanding as necessary to waylay Dante as he explores this woeful wonderland. It’s also a visual triumph more often than not.

Of course, not everything is a radical departure from series formula. The cast is still the same quartet of every game: Dante, Vergil, The Doomed to Fail Badguy (Mundus), and A Mysterious Woman That Drags Dante Into It All (Kat, a Psychic-Wiccan Dream girl). You’re still going about slaughtering demon hordes in linear stages that require multiple playthroughs to fully explore with unlockable difficulty modes and costumes.

The now classic hack n’ slash on steroids gameplay is also aped. You’ll still toss foes into the air with sword strikes and keep them aloft with a hail of bullets from your twin pistols and perform elaborate flowing combinations of attacks that are only limited by the player’s timing, imagination, and finger dexterity. If anything, the combat is more fluid (if not objectively better) than ever, since the best mechanics from the series, including a grappling chain that functions like DMC 4’s Devil Bringer, are retained. Weapon switching is also made instantaneous by assigning the two different “element” types to the trigger buttons, allowing for increased variability and strategy during combos.

DmC: Devil May Cry

One of the few obvious missteps to the combat is the new Devil Trigger attack. Visually, the high contrast looks spectacular, but the mechanic itself – freezing enemies in place – is just boring.

Overall, DmC is a triumph for Ninja Theory. They nail the execution of both gameplay and narrative, creating a wholly satisfying experience that encapsulates everything good about the series while updating it with enough Westernized modernity to give it a flair all its own. To keep to the earlier metaphor, they make it across the tightrope to the other side . . . though one wonders just how high off the ground they ever were in the first place.

For this is a success bereft of any real risk. The total retention of the traditional gameplay keeps the highlights, but also all of the fundamental problems: it’s still a game of fun at first, but increasingly repetitive combat scenarios, and the difficulty starts at such a low level (this is the easiest game in the series save perhaps DMC 2) that it struggles to maintain interest as you progress, a situation exacerbated by a dearth of decent boss battles. More distressingly, while it’s good to see Ninja Theory present some social commentary – few games even attempt it – they strike at easy targets, with neither enough wit to be salient nor enough viciousness to be cathartic.

While it’s nice to see a game that literally serves many of the intangible ills of modern society on a platter to be struck down by the player, the reduction of all too human sins and sinners into quite literally DEMONS FROM HELL! blunts the subsequent destruction of expiation. Even if you don’t like Bill O’Reilly, presented here as the incredibly thin parody of “Bob Barbas” (a clever name at least), he isn’t actually Satan. Nor are the other targets of scorn presented, from the sugary soda, the mindless debauchery inducing club music, the Orwellian network of security cameras, or the investment bankers.

Okay, I’ll grant them the bankers. They might actually be Lucifer incarnate.

DmC: Devil May Cry

Seriously the game basically has you attacking the concept of Fox News. Subtle this isn’t.

I suppose the real problem here is that any substance gained through this exercise in Liberal Shedenfreude still only goes skin deep. That the difference between the removed high camp and the new obtuse Juvenalian satire is so negligible it’s interchangeable. What seemed like it would be a bold dive off a cliff into the unknown bungeed back to what it always was: a light romp of super powered mayhem that only half-heartedly tries to leave a deep impression.

Then again, even these callow attempts at stapling deeper meaning to a bit of dumb fun are an improvement over the status quo. At least Ninja Theory had something on their minds when they sat down to make this, and the story does end on an intriguing enough note that future installments could prove interesting indeed. Mostly, the game is still a blast to play.

And it’s still cool.

Considering the capricious nature of cool, and the fact that we’ll likely see Capcom attempting this in another decade to lesser effect, that’s enough. So if you’d like to have a bit of fun that at least takes a swing at all the constant frustration and ennui we call modern life, give Dante a shot and get the party started.

Just don’t invite Bill O’Reilly. He’s not going to like the “Pin the Sword in the Pundit” level.

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DmC: Devil May Cry Trailer

Backlog Video Game Review #2: XCOM – Enemy Unknown

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

Release Date: October 9th – 12th, 2012
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows/Mac
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Turn Based Tactics/Strategic Alien Defense
ESRB: M for Mature
Campaign Running Time: About 20-30 hours on initial run, with moderate replayability and multiplayer.
Auteurs Attached: Jake Solomon (Lead Designer)

CLR [rating:4.0]

Taking Command over a Forgotten Battlefield

As with every year, 2012 produced a large number of games to play, and not nearly enough time to play them all. As January is a month of limited releases from the industry, it’s a good time to take a moment and cover a few of the titles that were missed the first go around. Welcome to the ‘Backlog Review.’

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

Redundancy in game development is a funny thing. On the one hand, both gamers and producers seem to absolutely love sequels, prequels and spinoffs. They’re like the children and cousins to an original property, forming a family; a dynasty of success that jibes with our concept of evolutionary fitness.

On the other hand, gamers get very wary of reboots. Still relatively rare in the industry, reboots are gaining ground as the preferred form of sequelization since they can resurrect series long thought dead and buried. As with all resurrections game reboots come in different flavors based on how well the deceased has been brought back to life: you have the zombies, mindless resuscitations beyond saving, the vampires , where superficial elements from a game are glammer to prey on fan nostalgia, the Frankenstein’s monsters, of cobbled together mechanics old and new, and of course the very rare saviors, the games returned to the mortal coil purified, better than they were in their first life.

Thus, when 2K Games announced a few years ago that they were rebooting the much beloved and highly influential mid-nineties alien blasting tactics game X-Com as a first person shooter, the villagers gathered their torches and pitchforks. Decrying it as yet another example of publishers turning anything and everything into a FPS to capitalize on the casual market, the fans were more than ready to go Van Helsing on this blight against the natural order.

But 2K hadn’t revealed their full hand. In an astonishing display of foresight for this exact reaction, they had secretly contracted Firaxis, makers of the much beloved Civilization series, to create another X-Com, one much closer to the original source material. A complete remake, in fact (albeit with a different subtitle).

In other words, they had already been hoping for the redemption of a messiah.

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

If nothing else, they made the Chryssalids scarier, I’ll give ‘em that much.

For those not in the know, XCOM (both the original UFO Defense and Enemy Unknown) starts with a common premise: Aliens are invading Earth and only YOU can stop them! It would be incredibly trite, except for the details of how you go about it. Rather than give the player a tank or a gun and tell them to get to work all on their lonesome, XCOM is actually a (relatively) realistic take on the idea.

The standard military response proves ineffective, so a council of nations bands together to form the “Extraterrestrial Combat Unit”, or XCOM, a secret organization that’s half SHIELD, half the Manhattan Project. As the commander of XCOM, you operate independently and act internationally to combat this threat by researching alien technology, sending out fighter jets to shoot down UFOs entering your airspace and task forces of soldiers from around the globe to kill or capture hostile combatants. At the same time you must manage the organization itself, balancing the funding you receive from council nations with the costs of building your underground fortress, hiring recruits, and constructing futuristic weaponry as you try gain an edge over a vastly superior foe.

Essentially, you’re Nick Fury, E.T. Smasher, and you’re playing very large scale games of Risk and Chess against the aliens from Independence Day.

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

We got Brent Spiner! We can get you too!

As the original howling commando knows, it’s a complicated task for one person to manage an endeavor like “saving the world,” so to simplify matters your role of commander is bifurcated into two distinct arenas: the “Geoscape” (or base) – where you run XCOM and send interceptors at UFOs through a world map – and the “Battlescape” – where you control squads of soldiers on combat missions. At first this dichotomy doesn’t seem that dissimilar from most tactical games, which often have an organizational component between fights. Where XCOM differs from games like Final Fantasy Tactics though, is in how substantially one arena impacts the other.

Successful field ops let your soldiers bring back alien technology or captives which you then dissect and examine to create new technology to give your fighting men and women so they can defeat tougher aliens and so on. Likewise, failing missions causes countries to panic and possibly pull their funding, limiting your resources and thus your ability to counter the next attack effectively. It’s a closed loop Ouroboros of progress, both positive and negative. One prone to dangerous cascading failure spirals should you suffer too many successive losses, and when enough countries pull out of the XCOM project, it’s game over.

This ability to win battles but lose the war, especially on the higher difficulties where the combat quickly becomes very unforgiving, creates tension for every decision you make, really nailing the sense that you’re managing a war effort. Combined with permanent death for your soldiers and you have a game weightier than a lead lined coffin and more engaging than a shotgun wedding.

But all of the above applies to both XCOM’s new and old, and none of it answers the most pertinent question, “Is Enemy Unknown better than the original UFO Defense?”

That answer is simple: No. It isn’t. The original game still has more . . . for lack of a better idiom, depth of character, more maturity, and more balance overall; it’s a fine wine aged well. Enemy Unknown is using the same grapes, but it’s a champagne; wholly enjoyable on its own, but meant to be consumed quickly as aging will likely leave it flat.

Primarily, the difference lies in the Geoscape of Enemy Unknown, which guts strategic intricacy and mystery to favor speed of play. Gone are multiple bases, radar ranges, enemy activity in unwatched territory, and multiple bogeys appearing at the same time – everything is narrowed down to semi-randomized missions that pop up in sequence. Some strategy is still required to succeed, but it’s really about reacting to events without making too many mistakes; a game of “Whack-A-Muton,” whereas the original was more simulation and focused on proactively investigating and eliminating threats.

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

The introduction of some ancillary characters, like Dr. Vahlen here, also helps breathe some life into an otherwise dull menu selection process.

But while Enemy Unknown discards much of the large scale strategy of the Geoscape, it zeroes in on the tactical Battlescape and manages to pull off a minor miracle: making a complex turn-based combat system as exciting and intuitive to control as any real-time firefight you’ll encounter in a Cliffy B. cover shooter, and without losing much depth. This is the area where Enemy Unknown excels, and becomes an almost completely different game.

There is a similar paring down of options during ground combat – you don’t have to manage “time units” or equipment weight for example – but for the most part, this streamlining results in a tighter, more enjoyable experience. The basics are still present; you still have to think your way through difficult fights using smart tactics against dangerously intelligent foes by taking advantage of destructible cover. But the now mixed unit classes (and their special abilities) give you a different set of tools and options, while the smaller squad size amps up the importance of making better choices (especially since the game is hard). At the same time, the superb presentation through what lead designer Jake Solomon’s calls the “glam cam” – a series of scripted camera angles that highlight key moments in a battle – makes it easy to enjoy the spectacle of it all.

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

Boom! Headshot. Yeah, the glam cam is awesome.

Overall, it’s simply easier to enjoy XCOM:EU more quickly than the original, but this is both its greatest accomplishment and its biggest flaw.

On the one hand, it’s critical and commercial success is likely a watershed moment for Tactical RPGs as much as Final Fantasy 7 was for JRPGs; it’s proven to developers that a genre primarily built for and around hardcore gamer desires – intense difficulty and methodical gameplay – can find a larger audience. Just as the original X-COM was highly influential by setting many tactical game standards for quality, EU sets a standard for approachability. I expect we may see more entries into the genre as result, and that’s a good thing.

On the other hand, it is a shallower experience. While there is an addictive replayability to EU, it burns out far quicker than the original, which has the timelessness of Chess or Monopoly – you can still pick it up today and enjoy it. Partially, this lies in the stripping down of strategic elements and the non-randomized maps. But in truth, the key element missing from EU is simple to describe but harder to reproduce: mystery.

XCOM – Enemy Unknown

The big mystery for many fans was why all the supposedly international soldiers spoke with American accents to which I can only say: DOESN’T MATTER THE GAME HAS JETPACKS.

The original UFO Defense was like anything else, a product of its time; a time that just so happened to be the mid-nineties. While this means it had one of the cheesiest and Liefeldian intros in existence, it also managed to capture the eerie spookiness and secret conspiracy of The X-Files, one of its obvious influences in tone (just look at the name). It did this with blunt methods like haunting music and sound effects, but more importantly, it had mysterious design. During your first playthrough of X-Com, you’re never given hard goals or objectives; figuring out how to beat the game is actually one of the objects of the game.

It’s perhaps unfair to blame EU for this though, most games lack mystery these days; the only recent major release I can think of that relied on obfuscation of its objective is Dark Souls. In fact, that’s sort of EU’s best defense: it’s hard to blame it for anything. Most of its flaws are only in comparison to the original game and make sense given modern trends. If it went by any other name, it would play just as sweet; were it to doff its moniker, it would retain its perfection and glory owed.

Why, people would even say it reminds them of X-COM!

Unfortunately though, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is trying to live up to that standard, and thus it’s really all we have to judge it on. Though it looks far prettier, plays more easily, is getting plenty of deserved attention for revitalizing a genre and a franchise, and even succeeded in quelling most fans fears, it simply isn’t the Jesus reboot 2K wanted it to be. More a Life of Brian, really.

As long as you can look at the bright side of life, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

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XCOM – Enemy Unknown Trailer

Backlog Video Game Review #1: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Release Date: Episodic Downloads from April 24th to November 21st 2012, Full Release December 4th, 2012
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Windows/Mac, iOS
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Decision Focused Zombie Adventure
ESRB: M for Mature
Campaign Running Time: About 2 Hours per Episode, 9-10 total
Auteurs Attached: Sean Vanaman (Writer/Producer)

CLR [rating:5.0]

A Gut-wrenching Work of Shambling Genius

As with every year, 2012 produced a large number of games to play, and not nearly enough time to play them all. As January is a month of limited releases from the industry, it’s a good time to take a moment and cover a few of the titles that were missed the first go around. Welcome to the ‘Backlog Review.’

In 2004 Neil Young (no, a different one) asked a question to the collected audience at that year’s Game Developers Conference, “Can a game make you cry?”

By harkening back to his employer’s original mission statement, Young was grappling with a common grievance about gaming as medium of expression: a lack of deep, emotional resonance. His solutions to this supposed problem were primarily technical: games needed better graphics to convey more nuanced emotion and appeal to a wide audience, complex AI to react more realistically to players, fewer cutscenes, and notable innovations. He probably had his company’s then upcoming (and now very canceled) LMNO in mind, a title with big names like Stephen Spielberg and Doug Church attached, which was to follow the model he proselytized.

The gaming industry reacted predictably to Young’s words: they argued. Weren’t there examples of tear inducement in gaming already? Why would games even want to “make you cry”? Shouldn’t we be having fun with our games? Even if he was right about the narrow emotional palette of gaming, was his approach correct? Only a major AAA studio release seemed capable of delivering in the manner he described, but why would they do so if they could make as much or more money on the simple spectacle games they knew to be profitable?

That last question was answered at least, with the release of David Cage’s Heavy Rain. While it stayed in the Uncanny Valley long enough to obtain part time residency and had a one-note atmosphere so oppressively despondent even the most Panglossian Pollyanna would call a suicide hotline, Heavy Rain did get many a gamer to pay for the privilege of weeping like they were watching an extended Hallmark commercial. As a theoretical exercise Heavy Rain was a success, but it required such exceptional means – a large budget, a long development timeline, and an iconoclastic director with the full support of a major studio – that it seemingly also proved such experiences were going to be exceedingly rare.

But over the course of 2012, Telltale Games produced a title that more fully engages a player’s empathy than Heavy Rain ever could, while at the same time providing a total antithesis of Young’s methodology. With their licensed tie-in to Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, Telltale proves once again that worthwhile emotional experiences in gaming have nothing to do with fancy graphics requiring billion dollar budgets, but everything to do with well-crafted narrative and smartly written characters that you give a damn about.

You know, the old fashioned way of doing things.

Walking Dead Video Game

Sometimes, a simple pre-scripted hug is worth more than all the world’s most complex emergent systems combined.

First things first, though technically set in continuity with the comic books, this The Walking Dead avoids stepping on the toes of existing canon by occurring slightly before either book or show and using a brand new cast (aside from a couple of early cameos by Glenn and Hershel Greene).

At the outset, we’re introduced to Lee Everett, a University of Georgia history professor convicted for murder and currently en route to his home for the foreseeable future: West Central Prison. It also happens to be the day a zombie apocalypse is breaking out! After a nasty Walker induced car wreck and an even nastier Walker induced One-Cop-Lunch, Lee escapes his bonds, twists his leg and flees to a nearby Atlanta suburb looking for help from anyone who still has a pulse.

Lee doesn’t find help. Rather he meets someone who needs it more than himself when he encounters Clementine, an eight-year-old home alone while her parents are out of town in Savannah. After an altercation involving Clementine’s former(ly living) babysitter, Lee resolves to protect the young girl as they venture out and try to survive in the hostile world of Kirkman’s undead opus.

Walking Dead Video Game

I know folks can get pushy on black Friday but this is ridiculous!

The gameplay of The Walking Dead is nothing new if you ever played an adventure game. You’ll walk around the various environs collecting items with a point and click interface, solve puzzles, and talk to people with Alpha Protocol style dialogue trees whenever the characters start arguing (which is pretty much every conversation). Occasionally you’ll shoot, stab, or chop a walker in the brainpan with whatever Lee happens to be carrying at the time through quicktime events. It’s a goulash of mechanics borrowed liberally from previous Telltale titles and their forebears.

While neither the interface nor mechanics are new, there is major break regarding focus. Puzzle solving still exists, but it bucks the oft insane and convoluted conventions of the genre in favor of simplicity and practicality. As a result, the puzzles are more a buffer for character development and tension building between the major plot points, thus highlighting what the game’s really about: consequential choice.

Walking Dead Video Game

If this had come out in the nineties, Lee would have to attract a bear to eat the zombie by covering it in honey obtained from a Voodoo priestess’ math riddle competition. Since it’s not, he can simply jam the sharp part of the axe into its head. Thank god.

As could be expected given the circumstances, Lee is confronted with one dire situation after another and the player is continually forced to make decisions affecting the fates of the characters stuck in the brutally violent Danse Macabre that is the plot of a given episode. This focal shift makes it difficult to call this an adventure game in a traditional sense; it’s much more an interactive decision engine driving along a linear narrative path.

A game devoted to moving a story forward through a plethora of player decisions means that it lives and dies entirely on the skill of its writers. For most developers this would be a death sentence, but this is Telltale Games, a company entirely devoted to, well, telling tales. Narrative is their thing, and head writers Sean Vanaman, Mark Darin, and Garry Whitta fire on all cylinders throughout each of the five episodes in order to prove it.

From a plotting perspective, The Walking Dead serves as an object lesson on how to tell any serialized story, not just semi-interactive ones. Each episode manages that amazing balancing act only seen in the best serialized fiction: strong singular plots seamlessly weaved into slowly building overarching story that (thanks to the condensed arc) moves at a relentless pace with absolutely no filler. While there are certainly better individual episodes than others – episode two is fairly easy to predict and episode four doesn’t live for itself so much as build up the subsequent finale – they’re remarkably excellent throughout and at least equal to, if not better than the best moments in either the comic or the show.

Strong structure is all well and good, but the conventional wisdom these days is that plots don’t matter nearly so much as characters, and this is where the star that is The Walking Dead shines brightest. Over the course of the five episodes Lee encounters a robust menagerie of misfits trying to survive the zombie-caust with him, like Ben, the luckless high school student, Molly, a lone wolf survivalist, and Chuck, a no nonsense rail-riding hobo. A heavy mortality rate of often extreme violence means the lineup changes often, expanding and shrinking in direct relation to just how screwed the characters are, so the fact that all these characters are well defined is all the more impressive.

Walking Dead Video Game

The worried looks on their faces are quite justified, this is a series where no one in the cast has plot armor. No one.

But as good as these side characters are they’ve got nothing on the real stars of the show: Lee, Kenny, and Clementine.

Lee is our everyman, either an idealist or a realist depending on how you play him. It’s a difficult role to pull off due to his status as player avatar, since he can always make different decisions and can’t have a totally fixed characterization, but the excellent dialogue make all of the choices feel natural and justified. Actor Dave Fennoy’s marvelous vocal performance grounds Lee with so much life, it becomes very easy to bond with him as a unique individual; rather than being a bland digital pair of pants for the player to wear, you’re guiding a man through this journey.

Kenny, a Floridian fisherman watching out for his wife and son, is the counterpart and foil; a mirror for Lee during the many moral quandaries the group encounters, while at the same time a portrait of an average family man in desperate times. Depending on how events unfold Kenny proves either a loyal companion or a seething pile of anger and mistrust, creating a fascinating mutable friendship. Essentially, Kenny is the game’s Shane, but thanks to the interactive component, you get to determine (to some degree) just how much of a jerk he’s going to be!

But it’s Clementine who pushes the game from a well-executed drama to the indelible bit of genius that it is. No child in any game has been portrayed as perfectly as Clementine. She’s incredibly endearing, never annoying, and while serving as an innocent super-ego to Kenny’s more cynical id, still feels like a real kid.

This is rather important since most of Lee’s (and thus the player’s) motivation centers on the paternal bond between Lee and Clem, your main goal throughout every episode is the same as for any parent: to protect, provide, and care for someone other than yourself. If this relationship didn’t work the rest of the game would fall apart, but it does, and it’s why the game has such resonance – Clem is why you’ll care. She’s the beating heart of the whole experience.

Walking Dead Video Game

If you play this game and don’t bond with the polygons and scripts that form this little girl like she was your own daughter then all I have to say is . . . Hello Mr. Burns!

Telltale wisely shies away from giving the player too many Sophie’s Choice moments lest they become de rigueur, so the bulk of your decision making occurs in small conversations that alter how much a person likes or trusts Lee. Such nuance is tricky to convey, but it’s handled with aplomb here. First, the presentation is excellent; the cel shaded art design is fairly simple given current standards, but the well-defined facial expressions and animations convey plenty of emotion, and this is backed up with excellent voice acting and music. Secondly, the player is informed about the important choices being made as they occur through little pop-up messages like “Clementine will remember that” or “You chose to lie about Lee’s past.”

Such messages are blunt, but the technique allows the game to stay focused on quiet decisions and moments, on the people rather than the zombies. Furthermore, by making the player acutely aware of their choices – bolstered by post episode stat screens comparing your picks against other players – and by using some misdirection – some messages matter, others don’t, and you won’t discover which is which until after the fact – it creates a real sense of personal responsibility and trepidation over every choice you make. This responsibility, as much as anything else, is paramount to creating a deeply involving experience.

Walking Dead Video Game

Having to watch what you say around Clementine lest you hurt her feelings, proves that games have finally broken the Guilt barrier previously reserved for overbearing moms and the Catholic Church.

Assuredly there are some flaws too. Telltale’s using the same engine they have been for years, and it shows its age whenever the animation hitches during quick camera cuts, and Lee could use a run command as his ambling is slower than a turtle walking through tar. As noted earlier, this is a remarkably unoriginal game from a design standpoint, but thanks to the well-worn Zombie apocalypse setting and the fact that this is a licensed tie-in, the same dearth of innovation creeps into the narrative a bit – if you’ve watched the show or read the book, much of what Lee and company face should feel familiar.

But these issues are negligible at best. The Walking Dead makes no pretense to push gaming forward or get clever with its narrative. Like The Shawshank Redemption or Frank Capra films of old, it’s a simple, somewhat schmaltzy story with common, relatable themes, working precisely because even if you’ve probably heard it all before, it’s told so well and has so few flaws that you won’t likely care. It’s bound to be placed in the small (but growing) list of game narratives, alongside Planescape Torment, Thief, and Silent Hill 2, that no self-respecting gamer should miss.

Mr. Young might have been correct to ask whether a game could make you cry, but he was definitely wrong about how to go about achieving the result. While I won’t say for certain that The Walking Dead will turn the manliest man into a blubbering sob factory since that just causes folks to don their emotional armor, I know I was broken up by the time the credits rolled.

It’s a precision strike to the solar plexus of the heart, a beautiful testament to the best and worst of humanity, and it’s not only a high watermark for Telltale, but one of the best games of 2012. Whether you’re a gamer, a fan of the show, or just someone who likes a good yarn, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Besides, there’s a little girl who needs your help, all alone in desperate world. You wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings by abandoning her, now would you?

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The Walking Dead Trailer