Friday, December 12, 2008

Banjo-Kazooie: Oral Fixation?

Long time, no post! I apologize - I've been bogged down in work lately, so instead of having time for new games I've simply been replaying Fallout 3 and seeing just how badly I can muck up the storyline (turns out you can kill Three Dog after the GNR quest, and then some boring DJ takes his place. Fun stuff!). However, it's now Dead Week on campus!

In the spirit of things, Dead Week and all, I meant to pick up Left4Dead. However, funds did not permit and so instead I downloaded Banjo-Kazooie from the XBLA to get some nice nostalgia time in.

Now I'm loving this silly little romp through my younger years of gaming. Turns out I remember where all the extra honeycombs are hidden, I can still find all 100 notes on each world, and I even beat Clanker's Cavern without resorting to the GIVETHEBEARLOTSOFAIR cheat for the first time ever!

However, I have noticed an odd pattern: Banjo-Kazooie has something of an oral fixation. Mouths and biting are EVERYWHERE. Seriously! You walk through the mouth of a big Gruntilda statue to get into the lair, Mumbo's hut has a skeleton mouth as a door, that poor masochistic turtle in the swamp has a mouth-door as well ... wtf?

On top of that, there is a big fixation on enemies attacking you by biting or eating your character, starting off with that frickin' stalker shark in Treasure Trove Cove. Not to mention how many puzzles are solved by Banjo and Kazooie force-feeding eggs machine-gun style to the cute little NPCs ... the more I play, the more mouth-symbolism crops up, and I'm not sure what that means.

Perhaps the Rare dev team was feeling particularly hungry that day.

Edit: Oh, and one more thing? The little flowerpots in the graveyard in Mad Monster Mansion that groan "thaaahnk you" when you lay eggs in them? I just reached them; totally sounds like "fuuuuuck you."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fatal Frame 2: Why I Can Never Live in Japan

So every other Friday, I get together with a handful of fellow gamers for a Chase/Bite meeting. Chase/Bite, named for the animation cycles of the "dragon" in the original Adventure game, is an academic gaming discussion group/social outlet; we pick a game, play it, and discuss it, much like a book club. And tomorrow night, we decided the game of choice should be Fatal Frame 2.

Now let's go ahead and get this out there - I scare easy. I 0ften enjoy being scared, although not always at the time, but it's no real task to set me on edge. I especially have problems with movies like The Ring and The Grudge, where eerie Japanese spirits endlessly terrorize the protagonists, who are all but helpless to fight back. Apparently I'm a glutton for punishment, because in spite of this I readily agreed to try my hand at Fatal Frame 2.

Fatal Frame 2 follows Mio, a young Japanese girls fighting through a village where eerie Japanese spirits endlessly terrorize her, and she is all but helpless to fight back. That's my formula to the letter! Mio is accompanied (and sometimes searching for) her twin sister Mayu, a codependent whiny little thing who attracts danger and dead people like a frickin' magnet. They are trapped in a deserted village deep in the woods, a village once protected by a series of rituals involving twin girls. The two sisters are tormented by the spirits of the villagers, some of whom are peaceful spirits and may even help out from time to time, but most of whom died in horrible ways and are out to return the favor.

The only weapon our little Mio has is a specially-designed camera which has the ability to exorcise ghosts. However, it is worth noting that before she got the camera, the ghosts were content to simply drift around aimlessly; they only get all poltergeist on her once she finds the camera. Nice job, sweetie. Next time, just paint a target on your back and wave your arms around a bit, huh?

The game is outstandingly good at creating atmosphere. Much of it comes from the eerily empty village and the ambient noises (creaks, whispers, and that u-u-u-u-u-h noise that the girl in The Grudge makes); however, some of it is simply due to the fixed camera angles. When the camera is so out of the player's control, it becomes very easy for the game to sneak ghosts up on the character and freak them out miserably. To further screw with the player's head, the game often has camera angles that show suggestively vacant areas where something *might* be, maybe ... but seldom is. Then when something is there, the player promptly freaks right out.

That's the beauty of the game - there are no slavering hordes of zombies or undead nurses throwing themselves at the player at every turn. Instead, the ghost appearances are relatively few and far between, striking only when the player has had enough of a break to let his guard down a bit. The ghosts are masterfully designed, each one with its own unique and macabre look, and toy with the player by wandering by just out of range, not attacking until the player's nerves are wound to the breaking point.

I know I did not deal well with my nerves being so wound. While exploring one of the many spooky houses (a slow process, as I am unfamiliar with Japanese architecture and was forever confusing doors with windows), I discovered a subterranean basement ... with a well in the middle. Knowing the game was about to ghost-bitchslap me, I ran right up to the well to force whatever was there to face me ... and there was nothing there. Just a well. Full of pride at my nerve, I strolled away ... only to have a dark-haired woman crawl up out of the well Samara-style and try to take me apart. I did NOT react well.

In fact, about anytime the camera's filament went red (an indicator of a hostile spirit), I broke into a mantra that went something like "oh-fuck-oh-fuck-oh-fuck-oh-fuck" and continued indefinitely until the spirit was dealt with. Ghosts definitely lower the quality of my speech, although not the quantity.

The game's atmosphere is pervasive in a way so strong, it cannot be readily alleviated. I even tag-teamed the game with a few other Chase/Bite members to try to break the mood. No dice! We only succeeded in freaking each other out - one of us would see a ghost the others had missed, and start panicking, causing the rest to panic as they searched for whatever was wrong. It was an impressive domino effect that left us gibbering fearfully for much of the evening.

The game's plot is impressive, if a bit confusing - twins with similar names frequent the plot, so we were not always sure who was who. The cutscenes are well done and add to the horror element, and are often intercut with flashes of terrible things happening in rooms the player has not reached yet. There are apparently several available endings, although our team has yet to press on to the end. Being that afraid for so long is exhausting, and I was running out of swear-mantras. We had to take a break.

Fatal Frame 2 definitely challenges the player, and summoning up the grit to push on through the creepier parts of the game is definitely an impressive feat. Anyone who loves a good scare will love Fatal Frame 2 ... but probably not until after the fact. ^^

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fallout 3: NPCs - The Good, the Bad, and the Hopelessly Lovestruck

Alright, I've managed to invest a *little* more time into developing my little post-apocalypto-Meg into a person of merit. I've resigned myself to tunnel-crawling, even though it screams "suicide!" at every turn. I've learned to run right up to any bad guy so I can boom-headshot them in as little time as possible. I've figured out a few unclaimed beds I can fast-travel to anytime things get a little too intense, and I've learned to spot an ammo crate no matter how dark of a corner it's been stashed in.

But beyond that - I've been having fun! I'm not totally sure when this game went from painful, demoralizing slog to amazingly fun fps/rpg, but it might have been around the time I one-shotted a feral ghoul and his head went off like a chinese firecracker filled with eyeballs. It was an amazing moment!

So now, the Capitol Wastelands are more open to my explorations instead of to my constant, tragic death sequences. I'm slowly widening my area of exploration, and I even successfully completed a quest - raiding the Supr-Dupr mart to help Moira write her book. She didn't actually pay me, like I was hoping for, but she was super-grateful and let me keep everything I found. This means I now have more ammo than I can handle since I cleaned out all the raiders staked out in there. About damn time I had my own cache going!

Helping Moira alludes to my favorite part of this game thus far: dealing with the NPCs. Being something of a soft touch, I've been pretty friendly to just about everyone I've met. I'm helping Moira with her book, looking for Lucy's lost brother Ian, and politely extricating myself from any discussions with the Confessor of the Church of Atom (the overly religious make me uncomfortable, even in video games, but I'm not going to insult his religion either). Everyone seems to like me, as I confirm their reasons for being who they are and living how they live. But on the flipside, my friend Huck talked Moira into abandoning her book and becoming a traitor, and convinced the Confessor to commit suicide! Going a step past that, my friend Randy just blew up Megaton and took the whole lot of the NPCs out in one fell swoop!

My favorite part of dealing with the NPCs, though, has to be the things I can do with the Black Widow perk I took early on. I met a rather ominous man named Burke in Moriarty's Tavern who offered me wads of money to take a detonator, leave Megaton, and blow the bomb to pieces. Being as Megaton was the only haven I knew of, I was desperate to save the place from his machinations. So I picked the dialogue option enabled by my Black Widow perk - calling him "lover" and seducing him until he decided to betray his boss to save the town and win me for himself. I seduced a man with a single sentence and made him renounce all he knows for me! How cool is that?

Now, several levels later, I've returned to Megaton to restock only to have Moriarty present me with a love letter ... from Burke. I laughed for five minutes. This game just keeps getting better!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fallout 3: Surviving the Apocalypse for Dummies

I honestly didn't mean to buy Fallout 3 - really! Everyone else and their mother had their calendars marked, but it slipped by me somehow. However, in the two days since it was released, everyone and their mother has tracked me down and raved about the game. Curiosity got the better of me, and I had to check it out. Goodbye, free time; hello, strangely compelling post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Now I really can't write too in-depth of a review right now, and there's a very good reason for that - I haven't been able to get very deep into the game. Don't get me wrong, I'm a pretty adaptable gamer; however, it feels like Bethesda handed me an instruction manual with half the pages ripped out and waved me away. As soon as Vault 101's door rolled shut behind me, I wandered blissfully into the Wastelands, totally inexperienced but expecting the game to walk me through a bit of it until I got my bearings. Nope! Nothing. No tutorial, no handy mentor, nothing. Here's a BB gun and a jumpsuit: go nuts.

I understand the logic behind it - it's a very realistic look at survival in a post-apocalyptic world. You pretty much start out as an Average Joe with no real powers or abilities and try your damnedest not to die. If you ever wondered how you'd manage in such a situation, Fallout 3 shows you just how that scenario works out. Turns out that if I do survive the apocalypse, the post-apocalypse is gonna do me in. I got killed by a scorpion within the first five minutes of leaving the Vault. Go team me!

The game's expectations have me stuck in a twisted sort of loop. I'm not really able to complete my quests, because I have no ammo to survive them. I can't afford ammo because I have no caps (the currency of Fallout 3). I have no caps because I can't complete the quests and earn caps, because I have no ammo to survive said quests!

On top of it all, my little Fallout avatar is just like me - short, blonde, and too nice for her own good. Nice to the Nth degree, even, seeing as all the "nice" answers are not just nice, but saccharine, give-you-diabetes nice. Everyone I run across wants me to help them with their problems, and I keep saying yes for some odd reason. I have errands to run all across the wasteland, and have yet to complete any of them, which just makes me feel guilty for not helping the NPCs. Are you getting that? I'm worried about hurting the NPC's feelings; what does that say about me?

I decided to narrow my questing options and just focus on saving my father (Liam Neeson, who causes my character to have vaguely Oedipal thoughts. Daddy issues, anyone?). However, whenever I followed the recommended path to get to where I needed to be, it led me right through a camp of Super Mutants who proceeded to shred me into little naive pieces with a gattling gun over and over again. I finally broke down and looked up a walkthrough online, and it told me I wasn't supposed to travel overground, but through the subway tunnels!

There had been no mention of tunnels! In any other game, somebody would have chimed in after my first tragic suicide run through DC: in the Mario games, Toad would have popped up in a helpful little speech bubble. In Bioshock, Atlas would have come in on the service radio and suggested I try the tunnels, since the streets are full of death and all. But in Fallout 3, no one's gonna pop up and go "Hey! Listen!" until you get the point. Either you figure it out your own self, or you die. A lot. That's a pretty steep learning curve.

In spite of all my complaining, I'm not hating this game - far from it! The world is absolutely beautiful, even in its desolation. The attention to detail is staggering, and the people that inhabit it really appeal to me (even though it seems every other person I meet wants to take me apart). I even like little avatar-me, in spite of her less-than-endearing habit of dying frequently, and in slow-motion nonetheless.

I can't wait to see more of Fallout 3 and make something of my little virtual self. But first, I need to get on the far side of this learning curve ...