Max Payne 3: 193 Hours Of Shooting Men In The Face

Here’s a fun fact about me: in the approximately 100 days since the release of Max Payne 3, I have spent 193 hours and change playing it. That’s about a third as much time as I’ve spent at my job over the same period. Even I’m a little shocked by that number – I think it might be the most time I’ve spent on one leisure activity ever.

I’m pretty sure I own that shirt.

Sure, there’re some extenuating circumstances (I’ve tried to quit smoking two or three times over the past 3 months and nothing helps with that first day on the patch like sitting slack-jawed in your dark room), but at the end of the day I have to face that number. 193 hours, which is about 2 hours a day. Not the healthiest amount of time. Still, I’ve read a bunch of books in the past 100 days, gone out with friends, had some dates, and in general led a pretty fulfilling life.

I’m not trying to explain myself to you, reader. What I’m much more interested in (and I hope you are too, because that’s the trip we’re taking together) is why I’ve stuck with this one repetitive, bloody, grim bullet ballet for so damn long.

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Dragon Age: “Oi, mate, a darkspawn nicked me mobile!”

Dragon Age: Origins is a game about people with accents living through an invasion of hellspawn and

Dragon Age: Origins is a game about making “difficult” decisions and defending a swamp kingdom while

Dragon Age: Origins is a game where you play psychotherapist to a rag-tag group of

Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) is a game. It’s well crafted, weaves an engaging story and is based on a strong gameplay system. It also suffers from a completely overpowering atmosphere of grimness, imbalance, and some pretty goofy sex scenes.

The logo, with its bloody dragon, screams "These ain't your daddys dragons!" about as much as a picture of a dragon doing a kick-flip over a dead knight would.

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When There’s No More Room In Hell, The Dead Will Totally Get Killed By Electric Rakes

When Dead Rising was released in 2006, I went with my friend to buy a copy at Best Buy. When we asked an employee to get the game for us, he chuckled and said, “Oh, so y’all gonna roll up a blunt and kill zombies all night, huh?”

That’s not my strongest memory of Dead Rising. That would probably be the first time I got a baseball bat and played homerun derby. Or when I threw a bunch of plates at zombies until I finally killed one. Or the excavator. Or throwing a pie in a zombie’s face, and then taking a photo of it.

What I remember most about Dead Rising, though, was that it was fun. Even parts that sounded tedious, like escorting a bunch of scared little civilians, ended up being fun and tense and cool. The psychopathic humans were honestly creepy, especially the huge lady cop. And, okay, the overarching story about Americans needing more meat so they come up with bees that can clone cows or something was dumb. Who cares? You could dress up in a cool suit and drive a sportscar over tens of thousands of zombies.

Frank West, hero of Dead Rising. This guy is so cool, I named a sandwich after him at my local sandwich shop. It's turkey with American cheese. I didn't say I had good taste.

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John Marston and Son

NB: This article contains big, fat, juicy Red Dead Redemption spoilers. If you absolutely, positively cannot enjoy a game when you know how it’s going to end, don’t even think about reading this, pardner.
Just so we’re all up to date here, here’s the recap of RDR‘s story: John Marston, ex-outlaw, is enlisted by government agents to head out to the territory of New Austin in order to kill the remaining members of his old gang. To ensure cooperation, the feds have “borrowed” Marston’s wife and son. Gunplay ensues.

I’d like to use this article and this other article as today’s jumping off point. Both of them make the case that the character of John Marston is one dimensional and the game suffers as a result. One claims that he talks too much and says nothing, the other says that without the drive to reclaim his family and ranch, there’s nothing to Marston but a cool hat.

They’re both right, but, in my opinion, they’re wrong to say that it hurts the game.

"Good, bad, I'm the guy with the played out quotes."

For the claim that Marston is one dimensional, I urge these men to look at the genre we’re invested here. We’re in the land of the Spaghetti Western, that of the Man With No Name. What was his motivation in any of Leone’s films? Sure, maybe he looked at a crying child once in a while or tried to find gold, but at the end of the day, it was all about that fistful of dollars. Have gun, will shoot banditos.

Marston may be single-minded, but it’s that single-mindedness that keeps our game on track. I think the current focus on grand sweeping stories can be harmful to video games, especially ones like RDR. At its core, every mission boils down to “Ride here, shoot him, hide from that, ride there, shoot that”. Sometimes in a wagon, sometimes with a shotgun, sometimes on a boat, sometimes with throwing knives. You want a tight story with a laser focus if that’s the extent of your gameplay. Expand it too much, and the cracks start to show, and I lose interest.

Of course, Mexico fucks it all up. When Marston hits Mexico, all of a sudden you have no idea what you’re doing other than a vague “Go find these guys you’re supposed to kill by talking to these two people”. There’s a brewing civil war, people are scared, and Marston finds himself working for both sides. The only problem is that neither side or the game acknowledges this. You can help rescue the leader of the rebeldes, and then immediately go help the Mexican commander transport valuable ammunition. The other problem is that the only way that Rockstar could find to keep Marston motivated is, quite frankly, dumb as heck. Walk up to one side’s leader, and he says, “Yes, senor Marston, we will help you find the man you seek!” Then you go and kill a bunch of rebeldes/soldiers, and come back to “Senor Marston! Mexico has won a great victory today! We must celebrate! oh by the way i haven’t done anything about the guy you’re looking for try doing the next mission” and Marston makes an empty threat and walks off.

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Grand Theft Auto And The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Ludonarrative Dissonance

Red Dead Redemption is the latest opus from Rockstar Games. The “open world sandbox emergent gameplay” style is the most popular form of game today (it’s not hulking no-necked muscle men, who have been around since video games were created, and OWSEGP has even begun sneaking into their little kingdom), and Rockstar is the master. They’ve grown alongside the technology, from the top-down mayhem of Grand Theft Auto to the Scarface tribute that was even better than the actual Scarface video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and finally reached an apex with Grand Theft Auto IV, an incredible realization of New York City in (cop) killer form. They also made some stupid games about being mean to kids, table tennis, and a rogue cop who shoots his way through a massive conspiracy (twice), but why would I play a video game about things I could do in real life????

GTA IV was impressive and a blast to play, but not without flaws. Sure, you had the City That Never Sleeps to play around in, but you also had about twelve virtual “friends” who would call at inopportune times, demanding that you go bowling with them while discussing The American Dream. Compared to the Grand Theft Auto game immediately prior, San Andreas, the terrain was less varied, the clothing choices for your man (as moms everywhere call all video game protagonists) duller, and there were no bicycles or planes to dick around with. Oh, and the ludonarrative dissonance*.

*I actually just read that here today. So don’t think I’m all that much smarter than you.

Ludonarrative dissonance is a fancy way of saying that there’s “a conflict between a game’s story and the mechanics the game uses to tell that story“. Grand Theft Auto games are, at their heart, about running around a city killing innocent civilians and cops and basically being one great big domestic terrorist. In fact, it’s almost impossible to avoid it. Pedestrians have a tendency to jump in front of cars, it’s easy to scrape a police car and set off a high speed chase by accident, and if you play nicely and follow traffic laws and right of way… you might as well watch grass grow.

So you’re watching GTA IV‘s various cutscenes (Rockstar always does these well, so they’re not a chore), Niko Bellic the eastern European immigrant expounds on his desires to leave criminality behind, to start fresh in America and become an honest man, to give up violence forever. Then the cutscene ends and you run outside and shoot an old woman in the head, causing her to drop her grocery bag. You hijack a car and turn on the death metal radio station and drive on the sidewalk, mowing down entire families. It cheapens the story Rockstar’s trying to tell, to say the least.

"Somewhere, a Jamaican stereotype is calling me, asking if I and I would like to shoot some darts. Later on, Jacob. Later on."

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What The Fuck, Seth Schiesel?

Originally there was going to be a preamble here, a little somethin’ somethin’ so I didn’t just launch into the meat of the issue.

But fuck that. Check this out.

Yes, Mr. Schiesel, a man whose Opinions on Video Games matter to me, has decided that the best use of his limited space is to discuss the latest FarmVille. If you don’t know what FarmVille is, how did you even find this website, grampa? I bet your modem is just a handwritten page of binary handed off to the Pony Express man, addressed to The Internet.

Sure, as far as video and computer games go, FarmVille is huge. And I’m sure FrontierVille will be just as huge (although possibly not since they’re asking their market to commit to two big time sinks).  I can see the merit of some reportage on this. But surely, Mr. Schiesel, there have been at least a few big releases in the past month. Couldn’t you have better spent your time and ink on those instead?

The Characters of Nier

Way, way back in the mists of time (May 27th, to be exact), I concluded my barely literate and amateur level analysis of fatherhood in video games with a post on Nier. But one post is never enough, so let’s talk about Nier some more. Guess what? We’ve got spoilers ahead, children. As the atheist said to the pope, deal with it.

Today we’re discussing the characters. Later this week (he said, uncertain of the veracity of the statement) we’ll do a breakdown of the first two endings and what makes them some of the most satisfying video game endings I’ve seen recently. And after that, we’ll move on to other pastures.

With me? Good.
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