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If you read my review of the abysmal Sonic the Hedgehog game, you'll know I've been a fan of the Blue Blur for a long time; he was a large part of my childhood, and it saddens me to see the guy in such dire straits. While the series bottomed out with Sonic 2006, it seems the hedgehog is slowly getting back to his feet with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood and Sonic Unleashed. I haven't played Sonic and the Black Knight so I can't say whether or not the upward trend continues or Sonic falls flat on his face again. To sum up my feelings (excluding the 2D games):

Sonic Adventure -- good, but had a few flaws; fishing sections were awful
Sonic Adventure 2 -- good, surprisingly dark, shooting sections were awful
Sonic Heroes -- inane, too many characters, treasure hunting sections were awful
Shadow the Hedgehog -- dark, excessively so; confusing plot, repetitive as hell
Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 -- absolutely no redeeming factors whatsoever
Sonic and the Secret Rings -- storybook cutscenes were cool, controls needed a lot of work
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood -- excellent story, characters were well-written; game could've been longer and more nuanced
Sonic Unleashed -- excellent, but Werehog sections should've been replaced with more speed sections

Those last two weren't enough to breathe new life into the franchise, but I think Sonic has a chance to make a comeback here if he keeps following this path. That's assuming his fans let him.

I don't think I've seen a video game character with such a temperamental fanbase. There are multiple groups constantly clashing with one another: those that like the 3D games, those that hate the 3D games, those that Sonic is dead, those that think Sonic is doing okay, those that think Sega will never make another good Sonic game, those that think Sega will, and on and on and on and on and on. Lately, however, it seems that everyone thinks the games suck. Seriously, Worst. Games. Ever. Who cares if the Daytime stages in Unleashed were awesome? The werehog  totally ruined everything, like syphilis, and Chip was the worst sidekick ever, Sega should totally go back to 2D and make a game like Mega Man 9 but then again they shouldn't because Sonic is dead.

Sometimes fans nitpick everything just to have something to bitch about -- I know, because I used to do it. It appears that Sonic fans have decided that every game from now on is going to suck, so they put themselves in an "I'm going to rip this apart like a wolverine on meth" mentality. Sega does share a large part of the blame for getting lazy and being thickheaded, but the constant variations of "this shit sux" from the fans is equally infuriating.

Grand Theft Auto IV tells the tale of Niko Bellic, a cynical Balkan who has come to Liberty City to search for the man responsible for betraying his old army unit. To make matters worse, Niko's cousin Roman has become indebted to the Russian Mafia, forcing Niko to intervene and become embroiled in the seedy underside of the American Dream -- kind of like Scarface, only with less swearing, less enterprise, and less fun. While Niko's story is one of the more interesting of the GTA franchise, I quickly found myself not giving a crap due to Rockstar's stagnant writing and the lack of immersion.

One of the biggest problems is with Niko himself. While it's nice to see the main character be a little introspective, Niko is a thoroughly bitter man, believing himself to be nothing more than a thug. He never cracks a smile, never laughs, never has any fun. I don't know about you, but I mainly play video games to have fun, not to listen to a grumpy man bitch about how much life sucks.

The gameplay is repetitive -- I mean, how many times do I have to provide security for a drug deal gone bad? How many times do I have to escort someone? How many times do I have to be in a car chase? I've done it all in the previous games, and at this point I'm tiring of it. While there are a few places that allow you to make different choices (usually as to whether someone will die), but it doesn't mean a thing until the very end, and even then it's a no-brainer as to what your choice should be.

The game is full of stuff that makes no sense to me, like the fact that your character can watch TV. Anybody that utilizes this feature desperately needs to get a life. There are also various activities you can do, like bowling or playing darts with a friend, but what's the point? While there are perks to getting on someone's good side (like getting access to weapons anywhere), it's mostly just a waste of time. I actually started turning the cell phone off just so I wouldn't have to hear from these people.

I'll say what I said when I played the latest Silent Hill game: this series is beginning to stagnate. If the designers don't find a way to mix things up, eventually gamers will get sick of the same thing and go somewhere else. That might not be now, but someday.   
  
I love the Internet. It's the only place where anonymous individuals can get bent out of shape over the reputation of other anonymous individuals. Apparently someone on DeviantArt set up an account displaying all of the naughty works of an artist called Bleedman, in order to damage his reputation (according to Bleedman's fans, anyway). Bleedman is a topic for another day, but what's amazing is the length his fans will go to wrintheir hands over his "reputation" -- so the man draws smut for money, so what? There are about a billion things worse than this, and besides, it's not like Bleedman's a prominent politician or a priest. Listen to me Bleedman: let your freak flag fly, like I do. You'll feel so much better about yourself.  

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I've been playing Sonic Unleashed for some time, and you know what? It's actually pretty damn good -- in fact, I'm going to say that it's the best 3D Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2. While it's not enough to return the Blue Blur to his former glory, it's definitely a step in the right direction. The daytime levels (where you play as Sonic in his normal form) are spectacular -- the speed at which you zip through these levels is mind-blowing, and the environments themselves are quite pretty. The graphics are great, and I think this is the best looking Sonic game so far. Part of that is because the humans are done in a cartoony style (reminiscent of Pixar's Ratatouille) and not that godawful realistic style in Sonic 2006, so Sonic and his friends don't stick out as much. The soundtrack isn't bad either, being mostly comprised of orchestral pieces rather than the usual rock. Even more surprising is that the voice acting is good -- at least, in comparison to the other games. Perhaps they actually got some half-decent writers for this game.

If there are any flaws, they all show up in the Werehog (nighttime) sections. These parts play more like God of War, with the player smashing hordes of enemies and engaging in quicktime events. It isn't bad, but it's nowhere near as fun as the daytime levels. It doesn't help that the Werehog can jump as high and as far as a midget -- more often than not I found myself falling into a pit or a lake because I missed a ledge. There are also a number of glitches: sometimes when I performed a finishing move I found myself sucked into a dimensional void that was hidden by a wall. Thankfully it would spit me back out when the combo was done. The quicktime events can be very unforgiving: usually you have only a split second to input a button, and unless you have the reflexes of a hyperactive six-year-old, you're going to miss it. The only way to lengthen the reaction time is to lower the enemy's health, but when you're surrounded by baddies, it becomes difficult to concentrate.

Finally,  I liked the little hubs where you can walk around and talk to people; it made the game a little more immersing and reminded me of an RPG. All in all, Sonic Unleashed is a solid, if flawed, game. I think if Sonic Team keeps improving like this, the hedgehog might have a chance at reliving his former glory.

But some of the reviews from the "professional" critics baffle me. I agree with the assertion that the Werehog levels are unnecessary and the game would be far better if it was just Sonic running all the time . . . but then some reviewers become extremely nitpicky. One critic complained that the controls were "unresponsive" and the gameplay depended too much on trial and error. I don't know if he was playing the game with his feet or what, because I thought the controls were fluid and responded well. And too much trial and error? What, like every other game in existence? If I remember correctly, Super Mario Galaxy was nothing but trial and error, yet that game was praised nonstop.

One ludicrous critique I've noticed in several reviews is that Sonic is now too fast. Can someone help me with this logic? First he was too slow, now he's too fast -- he's supposed to be fast! That's his defining characteristic, people. And the whining about the difficulty needs to stop. Ninja Gaiden was hard. Shinobi for the PS2 was hard. Devil May Cry 3 was impossible unless you were obsessed or had the Special Edition. This game is not hard. Just admit you suck at it and nobody will think less of you. Seriously, I watched the IGN video review (which gave this game a lower score than Sonic 2006, which is psychotic), and it's safe to say that a double amputee could've played the game better. Look, it's a pity the reviewer lacks thumbs and eyes, but that's no reason to give the game such a low score, now is it? Then there are the complaints about the voice acting, the hubs, the fighting . . .

You know what? I think I'll list some guidelines that I want all critics to follow when reviewing Sonic games from now on:

1. STOP REFERENCING THE FACT THAT SONIC GAMES SUCK AS OF LATE

Yes, it's true that the games have been below average for a while now (and I refuse to speak about 2006), but prefacing each review with an anecdote or recap of how far the hedgehog has fallen from grace is tiresome. Ever since Shadow the Hedgehog was released, Sonic has become the whipping boy of the gaming world, with everyone and his monkey comparing him to some once-billionaire who now gives blowjobs to sailors for money. If you write a review with that mindset, of course you're going to notice the negatives a bit more.

2. STOP CRITICIZING SONIC GAMES FOR THINGS YOU PRAISE IN OTHERS

Many have denounced the hub-worlds in Unleashed as shallow and inane . . . yet the hub-worlds in games like Super Mario Galaxy or the Jak series are praised and seen as a plus. Why the inconsistency? I don't notice any difference between the hubs in, say, Super Mario Sunshine  and Unleashed. I think experimentation like this is a good thing: it could take the series in a positive direction.

3. STOP RELEGATING THE SERIES TO THE WII AND DS

I've also seen opinions that Sonic is best suited for the Nintendo Wii or DS. Please, please stop this. You're basically saying that the 360 and PS3 are only for "hardcore" gamers who play Serious games, and that the Wii and DS is for "casual" players and little kids. Don't get me wrong, those systems are great, but they don't have the processing power of the 360 -- do you think you could get such blazing speeds on the Wii?

4. STOP WAXING NOSTALGIC

If I had a dollar for every time someone said that Sonic should go back to 2D, I could buy my own continent. The original Sonic games were great, but they weren't flawless -- I'm sure someone can come up with some frustrating aspects. You don't improve games through regression. Does anyone realize that if Sonic actually does go back to 2D, the franchise will die because other games will be evolving while it stays stuck in the past?

Here's something I'd like to see: have Sonic Team work with BioWare and create a hybrid of Sonic Chronicles and Unleashed for the 360 and PS3 (which will give the developers plenty of power to work with). Gameplay can consist mainly of the on-rails stuff that was done well in Unleashed, but there can also be RPG elements: free-roaming, dialogue choices, multiple endings, towns to explore, etc. I think it could take the series in an exciting new direction . . . provided people don't needlessly harp on it.

In conclusion, Sonic Unleashed isn't as bad as the reviews say it is, and a lot of critics need to lighten up.

Night of the Werehog

www.sega.com/sonicunleashed/notw/us/

A short movie starring everybody's favorite hedgehog. What's funny is that this is far better than any of the games Sonic's been in recently.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2006

Note: This is a loooooooooooooooooong post, so you might want to take a few breaks, or something.

I've always been a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. Don't get me wrong, I love Mario too, but Sonic has always held a special place in my fanboy heart. Perhaps it's because the first console I ever owned was a Sega Genesis and the first game I played on that console was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I grew up during the famed console wars between Sega and Nintendo and it seemed, to me, that Sonic was aimed at an older audience, thereby making him cooler than Mario (I was a kid at the time, so sue me). The games were damn good too: with the blistering speed (for the time) Sonic could produce, the awesome music, and the pleasing environments, I immediately became a video gamer, eventually mutating into the monstrosity I am today. While Nintendo did greatly dampen my Sega love with the release of Super Mario 64, it surged again when Sega created the Dreamcast, and with it, Sonic Adventure in 1999.

Unlike his plumber counterpart, Sonic didn't translate as well to 3D. For one thing, the camera was prone to awkward angles, which made falling into some endless abyss all too easy. Also, some of the adventure aspects were frustrating -- for example, at certain points you have to search for a statue and place it in a niche to access the next level. The problem is that the statues can be damn hard to find: they blend in with the environment, so it isn't hard to fly right past them.

Another annoying thing is that one character you play as (Knuckles) is forced to search for jewel shards as part of his campaign. The game slows to a crawl during these levels, as you do nothing except glide around the stage, climb up walls, dig underground, and follow a radar to the crystals. I never understood why Sonic Team put these episodes in the game, and I've never cared for it.

While the game hasn't aged well, there were some neat aspects to it. The addition of voice actors was a ballsy choice, but I still support it, despite the somewhat painful quality at times. There was also a pretty bitchin' soundtrack that I still listen to today. Finally, there was an actual story to go along the gameplay. Usually, the Sonic games would outline an abstract plot, like "Dr. Robotnik wants the Chaos Emeralds to complete his doomsday machine, blah blah blah" and nothing more. Here we actually get several plot lines, one of which pieces together the motivations of one of the primary antagonists. At the time, I thought it was a portent of things to come: complex plots, fleshed-out characters, stuff that would appeal to an older audience. All in all, a fun but flawed game.

It was popular enough to warrant a sequel, the creatively named Sonic Adventure 2. With this installment, Sonic Team disposed of all those bothersome adventure stages that required you to search for statues and all that. We also got two new characters: Rouge (a female bat) and Shadow (a goth version of Sonic). Like the previous game, the music was pretty good, although not as memorable.The storyline was a bit darker this time around, dealing with revenge, loss, and a bunch of other not-so-kiddie-friendly themes. There's a part where Robotnik actually pulls out a gun and threatens to kill Amy Rose (another character) unless Sonic brings him a Chaos Emerald. The next level has you fighting your way through baddies while Robotnik taunts you over the PA system about how you're moving too slow and the like. It's a surprisingly dramatic moment, one I hoped would be repeated in later games. In addition, the ending is kind of bittersweet -- sure, Sonic and his friends save the world and Shadow redeems himself, but it's implied that he dies while doing so.

However, the flaws were much bigger this time around. Robotnik and Tails now share similar stages, in which they walk around in bipedal robots and shoot stuff. It's about as fun as it sounds. The controls are really clunky during these episodes, mostly because the mechas have all the mobility of a skyscraper. The camera is uncooperative, all too often switching to an angle that makes it impossible for me to judge the distance between two platforms. Worse, those annoying search quests are back, only they've been doubled. Yes, now Rouge is tasked with finding stupid shit, just like Knuckles. Even worse, certain levels have time limits, causing the player to tear their hair out in frustration after failing to beat the clock for the 500th time.

Time passed, and Sega released Sonic Heroes, a game that went back to basics in terms of story and gameplay. This time Robotnik is simply bent on taking over the world with his massive Egg Armada, and it's your job to go from one end of the level to the other. No twists, no tricks, just a simple story with simple gameplay. In theory. In reality, it turned out to be a bit of a clusterfuck. To me, this is where the Sonic franchise started to go off the rails, and there are several reasons why:

1. Dumbing down the story. I'm not expecting Final Fantasy-caliber storylines here, but it's really simplistic here, especially when compared to the earlier entries.

2. No variety in gameplay. The schtick is that you can play as different teams, each team consisting of three characters. The problem is that every team is going through the same levels, doing the same things (except for one, which I'll get to later), fighting the same bosses. There's almost no difference at all, except in difficulty.

3. Too many characters. Let's count the number of characters from game to game -- in the original Sonic Adventure we had four major characters, not including Robotnik (I realize there were actually six characters, but if you played the game you'll see why I'm not including them). They were: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy Rose. In SA2, we were given Shadow and Rouge, in addition to having Robotnik as a playable character -- excuse me, Eggman, as he's called now -- why? It's probably the least intimidating villain name out there, except for maybe "Dr. Binky". Anyway, that's seven characters. Now in Heroes we have the addition of Cream the Rabbit, a robot named Omega, Big the Cat, and the Chaotix, a team consisting of a bee, a chameleon, and a croccodile. Robotnik isn't playable anymore, but that still gives us TWELVE characters. Think about it: do you really want to play a game that has you taking control of twelve goddamn characters?

4. Too many goddamn characters! I can kind of see why they included Cream, since she was part of the Sonic X anime that was airing in Japan around this time, but Big the Cat is a miserable fucktard. Did I mention him? He was one of the characters in SA, but he was as fun as castration. It wasn't so much his character (though he's about a second away from asking, "Which way did he go, George?") as it was his gameplay. You know what you did for the entire campaign? Fish. Because when I think "Sonic the Hedgehog", I think "Bass Masters". He's useless as far as i'm concerned. Team Chaotix is even worse, as their sole purpose in the game is to...collect stuff. What the fuck? Does nobody realize how boring this is? It's like a goddamn homework assignment, which means that playing as Team Chaotix is a waste of time. Unfortunately, you have to play as them, otherwise you'll never unlock the final boss.

I'm probably making this sound worse than it is -- in fact, the game is just really mediocre. One of the biggest things about this game was that it included the return of Metal Sonic, who was last seen in Sonic CD. The problem is that I never fought him, because I can't finish the damn game. To unlock the final episode you have to collect all seven Chaos Emeralds in these bonus stages, kind of like in the original games. The problem is that these stages are available only on the odd-numbered levels, and you have to collect a key to access them -- if you get hit once, you lose the key, which means you have to find another one. And when I finally do get to the bonus stage, I can't catch up to the fucking emerald! I probably could if I tried, but I don't have the patience for this kind of thing.

After that, Sega and Sonic Team decided to create a little spin-off, starring Sonic's moody rival, Shadow. The premise is that Shadow managed to survive his fall to Earth, but has amnesia as a result. Because of the events of Sonic Heroes, Shadow isn't sure if he's the real Shadow or just a clone. There's no time to sit and ponder, however, because Earth is being invaded by an alien race called the Black Arms, led by Black Doom, traveling across the galaxy by way of the Black Comet -- I bet it took the writers an all-night brainstorming session to come up with those original names. Black Doom commands Shadow to retrieve the Chaos Emeralds for him; in exchange, he'll reveal the truth about Shadow's past.

I was surprised at the maturity level of the game. Besides the dark tone, the game was also rather violent (compared to earlier Sonic games). Probably the biggest shocker of all was that the characters swore. Sure, it was only words like "hell" and "damn", but it was still pretty jarring. Then again, Sonic does say "shit" in the Sonic X anime. While I applaud Sega for aiming at an older audience, this is all abandoned in the next game, so why put it in? Another interesting concept is that there are multiple endings, ten of them, not including the "true" ending. The problem is that the endings don't really differ from each other, and you have to get every ending in order to access the final episode. Therefore, I found myself trudging through the same levels over and over so I could make a single decision that slightly altered the morality path I was on. It was boring after the third time I had to do this, and it became excrutiating by the sixth. Finally, Shadow is able to use guns and drive vehicles, neither of which I used because it seemed like a gimmick.

While the game was looked down upon by critics, I think it was just mediocre. There are some good ideas here, with some memorable songs sprinkled throughout, but on the whole it's forgettable. Later, Sega released Sonic Riders, a racing game I can't give an opnion on because I shut it off after ten minutes. Which brings up to Sonic the Hedgehog 2006. If you lived through my boring ramblings, congratulations! It only gets worse from here.

Sonic the Hedgehog was hyped to the hills by Sega and Sonic Team, saying this game was a "return to the roots" for the franchise. No more guns, swearing, or any of the stuff that plagued the earlier games, just Sonic running like a maniac and destroying enemies. Critics were excited, Sonic fans were excited, I was excited. Here was a game that would restore the hedgehog to his former glory, a game that would show that Sonic could work in 3D, a game that fans could be proud of. We all waiting in nail-biting anticipation.

Finally, the game was released -- and the shit hit the fan.

Opinions ranged from "bad" to "fucking god-awful", and it was due to a variety of reasons: the game had bugs, the camera was awful, the controls were unresponsive, the story was shit -- it goes on and on. At first I thought, "Well, it's just a few critics. I'm sure it's not that bad." When more and more people -- including the fans -- started to voice their displeasure, I was convinced that this was the worst Sonic game in a long time. I decided that I wouldn't waste my time playing such a POS, but then I read about aspects of the story that seemed too good to miss (I'll get to that later). A little voice inside my head was saying, "C'mon, how bad could it be?" So, being the idiot that I am, I rented a copy and started playing.

Folks, it's just as bad as they said. It's just as bad, and so much worse.

The game starts out in the country of Soleanna, ruled by Princess Elise. I must admit that the graphics and animation in the opening cutscene were quite good, although I question the decision to replace Sonic's legs with stilts. Besides that, the biggest problem here is that all of the humans are rendered in this ultra-realistic style, like Final Fantasy; Sonic, meanwhile, remains the same. So, when you put together realistic people with a giant, blue, anthropomorphic hedgehog, things look a bit  wierd, to say the least.

Elise is busy opening the "Festival of the Sun", a celebration that honors Solaris, the sun god that Soleanna worships. Unfortunately, Robotnik appears and kidnaps the princess for the "power she holds within" or something like that. He's also been done in that realistic style too, making the poor bastard look like the love child of Liberace and Elmer Fudd.

Luckily, Sonic arrives to knock the mechanical tar out of Robotnik's minions. Watching Sonic zoom around and destroy robots, one may mistake the opening cinema for a scene from some direct-to-DVD movie. It's a nice moment that doesn't last. Anyway, Sonic manages to rescue Elise before she is promptly kidnapped again. This girl is already making Princess Peach look like a badass.

My first mission is to search for clues as to Elise's whereabouts, and it's here that the game starts to fall apart. I haven't even gotten to the first zone yet and things suck already. I'm supposed to talk to the townspeople, but almost all of them have nothing useful to say. Oddly, they all make these grunting noises and have the habit of jerking and waving their arms around, like the entire city is afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome. While some of them give vague clues about where I have to go, others offer sub-missions requiring me to run around in a certain amount of time or destroy something in a certain amount of time -- you know, filler. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the godawful load times.

Here's how things usually play out: I talk to a person, which leads to a ten-second load time. They tell me what I have to do, and then the game has to load some more. After I succeed or fail there's even more loading, then the person congratulates/scolds me, which is followed up by -- you guessed it -- more loading.

Which begs the question: what the fuck is the game loading? It isn't exactly a system (hedge)hog. What's worse is that these missions are necessary to proceed, because I need the rings I receive as a reward to buy shit that will get me to the next level. What's the point?

So I buy the shit I need and I finally access the first zone, only to find that the controls were designed by someone with severe brain damage. Nudging the control stick registers as a frantic jamming, so I find myself rocking the stick back and forth to compensate. Other times the control is too stiff, like when I'm jumping off a spring pad: even if I push on the control stick several times, I can't move more than an inch, so I have to resort to using my homing attack to propel myself forward. This is fine most of the time, but at certain points I have to land on a thin platform, ending up roughly ten miles past my target.

The camera is one uncooperative son of a bitch. All too often it switches to a "cinematic" angle in order to make Sonic look as awesome as possible, but the downside to this is that I usually end up falling off a platforn or smashing into an enemy because I couldn't see what was in front of me. Other times, the camera decided to swing behind an obstacle; whether it was trying to make the game more challenging or just piss me off, I never found out. Either way, it succeeded.

Eventually, Sonic manages to rescue Elise, and the two of them decide to take a break and jerk around in a field. No, not that kind of jerking around. This field appears to occupy some part of the space-time continuum where everything is straight out of a romantic fantasy: chirping birds, flowers everywhere, petals floating on the breeze -- the only thing missing is a unicorn. Elise is sad because it's hard out here for a pimp -- um, a princess. Elise's father would constantly tell her to "Be strong and don't cry." While it sounds like pop was a cold-hearted asshole, there's a reason he never wanted Elise to cry. Believe me, when you find out what that reason is, you'll be trying not to cry too. Sonic tries to cheer Elise up by telling her to "Just smile!" Yeah, thanks. Then they run through the field -- well, Sonic runs, Elise stumbles because she's wearing high heels.

Alas, this syrupy nonsense comes to an end when Sonic is attacked by a hedgehog named Silver. I had my ass handed to me more than once, since Silver used psychokinesis to fling Sonic around like a rag doll. After the fight, Silver tries to kill Sonic, but is stopped by . . . Amy Rose. Yeah, I was wondering where she came from, too. I'll explain later. Anyway, Elise is kidnapped again, so it's back to Soleanna to do some meaningless tasks. This time, I have to find out which of the five lieutenants in the city is really a captain. Now you'd think that the captain would be wearing an insignia that identifies him as such, but then you'd be applying logic to a game that has none. Turns out that the captain is the guy who gave me the task in the first place. What the fuck? He goes on to say that he wasn't sure I was trustworthy -- dude, I rescued your princess twice and saved the fucking world numerous times; what do you mean I might not be trustworthy?

So the next level has Sonic snowboarding around, trying to find Robotnik's base. Before I forget, I should mention that you can take control of different characters during the stages: here you can control Tails and Knuckles. Knuckles fares okay, simply because he can actually fight, but Tails is miserable. His main attack consists of throwing this weird bomb that's a bitch to aim and does almost no damage. Plus, he drops like a stone whenever he runs out of energy when flying. This led to more than a few situations where I died because I missed a platform by a foot, which led to colorful language.

The three find Robotnik and Elise, the former rambling about Solaris and the power Elise holds. Robotnik tells Sonic to put his Chaos Emerald (oh yeah, Elise gave him a Chaos Emerald, did I forget that?) into a control panel, which he does. Sonic is quite trusting of this megalomaniac, since the last time this happened he was jettisoned into space and nearly blown up. Lo and behold, Robotnik traps the trio and activates something he calls a "Solaris prototype", which will allow him to control time and space and become master of the universe, or something. He activates Chaos Control and warps Sonic and the others to an unknown location. 

Seems they were transported to Judgment Day, since the city they land in is little more than an inferno. Shadow and Rouge appear (again, I'll explain later) and reveal that this is actually the distant future. To get back to the present, they need to use Chaos Control again, but one Chaos Emerald won't cut it. So Sonic and his friends set out to find another one.

Have I mentioned that whenever your character hits a wall, they stop dead in their tracks? It's annoying as hell. It doesn't matter if I'm going at a light jog, Sonic still acts like he slammed into that wall at 100 mph. That's another thing: Sonic isn't all that fast. Sure, he might give an Olympic sprinter a run for their money, but he's supposed to be the fastest thing alive!

Speaking of speed, there are a few times during the game where Sonic manages to run along at some very high speeds, showing off the kind of fast-paced action that's possible using next-gen technology; but it's ruined by the horrible controls. If you thought controlling Sonic was difficult before, try doing it at break-neck speed while avoiding obstacles and jumping over chasms. If you miss a jump, you die. If you hit too many obstacles, you die. I had to repeat this stage numerous times because I overshot a platform and died. The save system sucks, too. You are not allowed to save during the levels, only between them -- so if you forget to save and lose all of your lives, you could be sent back 20-30 minutes!

I don't think I've ever played a game with this many flaws.

Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails find their way to an abandoned database, where they find Silver, Blaze the Cat (from Sonic Rush), and a hedgehog that resembles Shadow telling them that Silver must destroy the "Iblis Trigger". Iblis is the creature that is wreaking havoc on the world right now, and this mysterious hedgehog says that it's Sonic who released Iblis. This explains why Silver has been going all homicidal on the Blue Blur. Tails checks the database and discovers that everything went to shit when Elise died in an explosion on Robotnik's battleship. Why did everything go to shit? I'll, um, explain later. I swear!

Sonic and his friends find that there's a Chaos Emerald located in an active volcano, so they go after it, naturally. And I end up getting pissed off, naturally. A big problem is that I can't stick to the surfaces I'm running on. I try pressing the control stick towards the wall, away from the wall, up, down, and just leaving ti alone. No matter what I do, I end up in a pool of magma.

Alright, so I finally make it to the Chaos Emerald, only to have it swallowed by Iblis. The boss fight takes place in an enormous arena, which would be cool if I weren't confined to a fraction of it. Long story short, Sonic gets the Emerald and everybody is transported back to the present.

Eventually, Sonic saves Elise and they escape from Robotnik. Before I forget, some levels have Sonic carrying around Elise, like a groom carrying his bride over the threshold. It's appropriate, since there's a disturbing subtext here: Elise frequently looks at Sonic with enamour, she hugs him, she pours out her heart to him -- there's a special move that can only be performed when Sonic carries Elise, called "Aura", which "combines the power of our hearts" (according to Elise) and allows Sonic to walk across water, like he's Jesus. Anyway, Sonic is attacked by Silver and Elise is captured again. Thankfully, Shadow appears and distracts Silver long enough for Sonic to make his getaway. He rescues Elise again when she jumps from Robotnik's ship, because, I guess, she's tired of being a liability.  
  
After the two make their way through Tropical Jungle -- by the way, the stages have really creative titles, like New City, Castle Town, and Dusty Desert. I wonder how many all-nighters the writers endured before they came up with these names? After they make their way through the jungle, things go smoothly for a while, until Robotnik threatens to destroy Soleanna if the princess doesn't surrender herself. Elise refuses to bow to this madman's demands and immediately gives in --  wait, what? I busted my ass for nothing? Thanks a lot, Elise, you can fend for yourself from now on.

But the game won't let me quit, the bastard. Instead, I must find a Chaos Emerald in an old castle, because the plot requires I do so. Before I do that, Sonic must complete three trials. Fuck, why can't I just go into the damn castle? I have to jump through hoops to accomplish the smallest task in this clusterfuck -- in real life, I don't have to complete a riddle if I wanted to go to the store, so why should I in a game?

The trials consist of the following: the Test of Intelligence, which should really be called the Test of Trial and Error; the Test of Courage, where Sonic must destroy a bunch of enemies without getting hit once; and the Test of Love. That last one is interesting, because Sonic must choose between his two "loves" -- Elise and Amy Rose. I chose Amy; at the very least, she's the same species as Sonic. The guy who gives me the trial says that "this person will help you in the upcoming battle." Which is a crock of shit, since neither of them show up in any battle. Thanks for including something else that's utterly pointless, Sega.

Sonic bumps into Silver, who has had a change of heart and now wants to help. Wonderful. Why did he change his mind? I'll exp -- look,  just forget it. Despite Silver's help, Robotnik's battleship explodes anyway, because . . . the warranty ran out? Sonic is devastated -- it's nice to see him expressing emotion over such an event, but it's quickly undone when Silver reminds him that they can use Chaos Control to go back in time and save Elise. Yeah, why have a dramatic death with potentially earth-changing consequences when we can have the player undo the whole thing?

Long story short: Sonic rescues Elise, defeats Robotnik, and shares a laugh. See, Elise is all bummed out because of this whole thing, but Sonic tells her to "Just smile!" Then a butterfly lands on his nose and they laugh and laugh -- golly, what a knee-slapper!

Remember all those scenes in Star Wars Episode II where Anakin and Padme are rolling around the grass, laughing and supposedly being cutesy and romantic? Except it comes off as fake and stiff? Yeah, this is just like that, except replace Anakin with an anthropomorphic hedgehog, which makes it about a billion times more uncomfortable. It doesn't matter that he isn't a human, she loves him for him! Never has true love been more disgusting. How would they even do it, anyway? Would Elise give birth to humans, hedgehogs, or some kind of horrible mutation?

I think I'm going to be sick.

What's funny is that the music ("Sweet Dream") that plays over the end credits is pretty damn good. Except for the implied bestiality, of course.

Did I mention this is only the first episode? Hey, you might be tired of reading this, but I'm the one who had to play the goddamn thing.

So the next episode has us playing as Shadow. He basically plays the same as Sonic, except replace the superspeed sections with driving. Look, I don't want to drive cars! I want to run at really high speeds with controls that work -- if I wanted to drive cars, I'd play Grand Theft Auto IV.  At least I don't have to repeat these sections over and over because I accidentally bump into something.

The story goes something like this: Shadow is contacted by the government and asked to rescue one of their agent, who turns out to be Rouge. She's stolen something called the "Scepter of Darkness" from Robotnik, because, I guess, someone had to. They're cornered by Robotnik and his minions, and in the ensuing fight the scepter is shattered, releasing this black goo. The goo takes on the form of Shadow (except he's missing a mouth, which is kind of creepy) -- yeah, it's the same hedgehog that convinced Silver and Blaze that Sonic was the Iblis Trigger. His name is Mephiles and he seems to recognize Shadow. Mephiles thanks him and then promptly sends Shadow and Rouge to the future -- the same future that Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles ended up in. Shadow and Rouge discover a deactivated Omega, which is supposed to be sad or something. The game plays just like the Sonic campaign: go into the volcano, fight Iblis, get the Chaos Emerald.

The difference is that some stages have Rouge flying around, looking for keys. When is Sega going to learn that that's Mario's thing, not Sonic's? I'm tired of having to search for shit in hidden places just to open a door or something. I wouldn't mind so much if these parts were properly integrated, but the transition between them has an almost audible "clunk". 

Shadow decides to remain in the future and await Mephiles, while Rouge and the others return to the present. She finds Omega and gives him a Chaos Emerald, telling the robot to basically sit on his metallic ass and wait for Shadow. Back in the future, Mephiles tells Shadow that humans will grow to fear him and eventually imprison him, but Mephiles is willing to help Shadow, provided the latter becomes the former's bitch. Shadow is all "Hell no," which pisses off Mephiles so much he transforms into a hedgehog that looks like the offspring of a geode and Satan. I will admit that Mephiles has one hell of an evil laugh.

The battle between Shadow and Mephiles is surprisingly non-linear, in that it takes a bit of thinking before you can attack Mephiles. He starts out as Shadow's shadow, and you must make him "real" again. To do this, you must fill up your "Action Gauge" and activate "Chaos Boost" , at which point you can "defeat" him and continue the "game". It takes a helluva long time to fill up the guage, and since it runs out quickly it takes somewhere around ten minutes to kill this guy. Suddenly, Omega shows up and kicks ass -- by the way, why the hell did his voice actor go with a high-pitched nasal tone? He sounds like a bee humming a kazoo.

Mephiles retreats to modern-day Soleanna, so Shadow and Omega follow. After meeting up with Rouge, the three decide to go their seperate ways: Shadow will question Robotnik, Rouge will search for Mephiles, and Omega will practice his disappearing act -- and he does quite well, I must say.

Shadow tracks down Robotnik, not exactly a mean feat considering the doctor chooses to travel in the most conspicuous train ever. While Shadow could easily outrun the train, the developers figured that wasn't annoying or difficult enough, so Shadow must ride a motorcycle. Never mind the fact that the motorcycle is a thousand times slower than Shadow -- if you don't use it, the game ends for reasons beyond human comprehension. The motorcycle is, naturally, a piece of shit. It's like trying to steer an out-of-control jet fighter made of lead and ass.

Shadow finds Sonic under attack by Silver, so he must engage Silver in combat. It's just like the boss fight in the Sonic episode, except with trains. I'll admit I chuckled when Shadow uses Chaos Control to bitch-slap Silver. All of this comes to a head when Shadow rips open a portal and bids for silver to follow him. You'd think these guys would learn that screwing around with the space-time continuum has some severe consequences. Also, how does Shadow know where (and when) to go? Does he just say, "Take me to a convenient plot device"?

The two of them end up witnessing the failure of the much ballyhooed Solaris Project, where it's revealed that Iblis and Mephiles are two seperate components of Solaris. It appears that Elise's father was trying to control Solaris, and no, I don't know why. Perhaps he was bored. Silver goes after Iblis, while Shadow seals Mephiles in the Scepter of Darkness, which explains why Mephiles knew Shadow. So, there's one plot arc you needn't worry yourself sick over.

Back in the present, Shadow must find another scepter so he can seal Mephiles once and for all. After performing a series of menial tasks that I can't be bothered to cover, Shadow gets another scepter and teams up with Rouge and Omega to pursue Mephiles. Along the way, Omega confesses that he is the one that will capture Shadow in the future, which isn't shocking or anything. If Omega was Shadow's friend I would be shocked, but Shadow doesn't have friends -- he has acquaintances he dislikes less.

They find Mephiles and try to seal him in the Scepter of Darkness, but it fails because the script says so. Mephiles creates a bunch of clones, which gives Shadow an excuse to go completely apeshit. Why didn't he display this kind of power back in SA2? Probably because he wasn't a "good guy" back then -- or at least, what passes for a good guy.

A minor note: Shadow's theme song is worlds better than Sonic's. The latter's theme is a mixture of hip-hop and soft rock, and I can't listen to it for more than ten seconds. Shadow's theme, on the other hand, is ful of those pounding drums and rockin' guitars that you'd expect to be in Sonic's theme. It's funny (and pathetic) that a supporting character comes off better than the main protagonist.

Now we move on to Silver's episode. The gameplay is different from Sonic and Shadow, in that Silver uses his psychic powers to fight enemies and solve puzzles. It's fun to hurl shit around, but it isn't fun to constantly run out of psychic energy when levitating from platform to platform.

Silver's story is that his world was devastated by Iblis (what he calls the "Flames of Disaster"). He and his friend Blaze are constantly fighting this immortal being, with no reprieve in sight. One day, Mephiles appears (in his Shadow form) and informs Silver that he can stop the Flames of Disaster by killing Sonic, which Mephiles says is the Iblis Trigger -- this should sound familiar, as the same thing happened in the Sonic episode. It isn't clear why Mephiles wants Sonic dead, as I don't think he knows who Sonic is; if anything, you'd think he'd want Shadow dead, as he's the one who sealed Mephiles in the first place.

The trio travel to the past -- or the present, depending on your point of view -- to search for Sonic. Silver gets a warm welcome courtesy of Amy Rose, who mistakes him for Sonic. I think Amy needs some contacts, because she's mistaken other hedgehogs for Sonic for a while now, even when there's no reason to. Shadow I could understand, since he kind of resembles Sonic, but Silver looks nothing like him. Anyway, Amy offers to help Silver find the Iblis Trigger, not knowing they're both looking for the same person.

As you know, Silver ends up fighting Sonic, but Amy intervenes at the last minute. She states that  Sonic would never destroy the world, and that she would choose Sonic over the world. Admirable, except if Sonic ever did try to destroy the world, she'd be screwed. No, not like that. Silver speaks with Blaze, asking if it's okay to kill one person to save a thousand. Presumably, Blaze and Silver would now engage in a riveting philosophical discussion concerning morality -- how thin is the line between good and evil, do the ends justify the means, and so on. In this POS, Blaze simply says "Yes" and that's that.

A minor note: the player takes control of Amy at times in addition to Blaze. The latter I can understand, but why Amy? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to have her in Sonic's episode? The answer is yes, it would, but that would fuck up the "three characters for each episode" theme that Sonic Team has, plus it would interfere with the -- *gag* -- love story between Elise and Sonic. Who wants that?

It's around this time that the worst puzzle in the world rears its ugly head. One stage requires me to roll a giant billiard ball down a hallway and into a hole so a door can open. The problem is that there are several huge holes before that, and if the ball falls into any of them, you have to start again. Plus, the ball explodes if it's jostled too hard -- so even pushing the damn thing is a pain. Worst of all, the ball can only take ten hits before it explodes, so you can't be too cautious. It took me twenty minutes and at least fifty tries before I could get that goddamn ball into the right goddamn hole, and I was seriously considering leaving the game unfinished. My stubborn gamer's pride won out, however, and I managed to finish the level.

Later we get the whole Shadow vs. Silver fight, along with the revelation that Iblis was actually sealing inside Elise, who was only seven years old at the time. Silver swears that he won't be Mephiles' pawn anymore, and decides to help Sonic save Elise. As you know,  Elise dies, but Sonic and Silver use Chaos Control to travel back in time . . . well, Sonic does. He gives Silver his Chaos Emerald so he can return to his own world and defeat Iblis.

Silver does manage to defeat Iblis, but he's unable to seal it inside his body. Blaze, on the other hand, easily accepts Iblis. I'm unsure why -- maybe it has something to do with the fact that she's pyrokinetic. Whatever the reason, she disappears, leaving Silver behind. It really sucks, since she was one of the least offensive characters.

Finally, finally, after an ungodly amount of time (and writing), we have reached the final episode. It's a doozy, so buckle down.

Despite Shadow's berserker rage, Mephiles survives, and decides to put the final phase of his plan into action. While Elise and Sonic are nonchalantly taking a stroll back to the city, Mephiles warps in behind them and shoots out a beam of light into Sonic, killing him instantly.

Wait a fucking minute!

Are you telling me, that after all those years of fighting Dr. Robotnik and his creations, after fighting Perfect Chaos, Metal Sonic, Shadow, after surviving countless life-or-death situations, Sonic gets taken out by a fucking crystal hedgehog that never appeared in the series prior to this game? And in the back, too! What a fucking cop-out.

Elise, devastated at the loss of her One True Love, bursts into tears, which releases Iblis from her body. Yes, this is the reason why her father told her to never cry. Are you kidding me? What does crying have to do with it? I can see if she died, but crying? Wouldn't the tears extinguish the flames? Why not anger, since fire is a violent element of nature?

Mephiles uses the Chaos Emeralds to merge with Iblis, thereby forming Solaris, the same sun god that the people of Soleanna worship. Solaris turns out to be a giant dick, as he starts tearing apart time and space immediately. Hey, you'd be pissed too if you had to be in this abortion of a game.

Every character in the game (except Blaze, because she's dead) appears in a rift caused by Solaris; when they see that Sonic is dead, everyone grieves in a vague sort of way (except Amy, who is allowed to show real despair). Robotnik says that Mephiles' goal all along was to fill Elise with despair so she would cry and destroy the seal on Iblis. I have to say, Mephiles went through a lot of trouble just to make her cry; he also relied on a shitload of dumb luck -- how did he know Sonic's death would affect Elise so much? Why not destroy Soleanna; wouldn't that make Elise cry? Why doesn't he just kill Elise, since that seems to release Iblis anyway? Why did he enlist Silver's help when he ended up killing Sonic himself? Why do they have to be tears of despair? Couldn't he have broken Elise's arm or shoved an onion in her face? How would he know how to release Iblis anyway?

This game makes no fucking sense!

Okay, deep breaths . . .

Robotnik points out that Solaris can't be defeated in the present, since it exists in all the timelines at once. What does that mean, and how would he know -- oh forget it. Silver says that if Solaris can't be destroyed in any one timeline, they should take him out all at once. Shadow agrees, but they need Sonic's help, because . . . the script says so. So what should they do? Collect the Chaos Emeralds, of course! I'm starting to think they should be renamed the Deus ex Machina Emeralds, since they can do whatever the plot rquires them to do. Does Sonic need to transform into Super Sonic? No problem! Does Robotnik need to power an enormous weapon of mass destruction? No sweat! Does Elise need to bring Sonic back to life? Piece of cake!

Every playable character sets off to find a Chaos Emerald, but it won't be easy. For one thing, space-time rifts keep forming, making the situation difficult for the player, as it's a one-hit kill if you touch these things. Worse, if you lose all of your lives with one character, you must start over from the very beginning, and collect all of the Chaos Emeralds again.

Once the emeralds have been found, everyone gathers around Sonic's corpse. This isn't creepy at all, by the way. Elise implores Sonic to come back to life, for everyone's sake and for her sake, and then SHE KISSES HIM. OH MY GOD.

I am speechless. This wasn't an affectionate kiss on the forehead, mind you -- I'm talking mouth-to-mouth contact. Who, in their right mind, thought this was a good idea? You know that feeling that "Brrrr!" feeling you get after seeing your grandma and her bridge partners soaping each other up in the shower? Multiply that by a thousand and you'll come close to the feeling you'll experience after seeing this.

Sonic transforms into Super Sonic, because Elise's kisses are that good. He expands his power, which allows Shadow and Silver to transform into their super forms -- why is it always male hedgehogs that have super forms, but no one else? We must break free of the male hedgehog power structure! Anyway, the three of them to open up a large can of whoop-butt on Solaris.

So this all-powerful, interdimensional being, this god that "eats dimensions for breakfast" as Robotnik puts it, is a fucking pushover. All you do is switch between the three characters and pummel Solaris until he dies. Some attacks are ineffective until a certain stage of the battle -- why, I don't know. I ceased giving a damn a long time ago. Since Sonic, Shadow, and Silver are invincible, you can jerk around as much as you want. The only thing you have to worry about is running out of rings, but switching to another character immediately fills them back up, so the final boss fight isn't challenging at all. It's a letdown of epic proportions.

When Solaris is defeated, Elise and Sonic travel to the birth of the Flames of Disaster, which barely give off any light at this point. Are you telling me that this tiny candle flame is the cause of all of this? Piss off. Elise says that if she puts out the flame, Solaris will never exist, but the two of them will never meet. Isn't that tragic? No, no it isn't.

Sonic tells her to "Just smile!" because that line is so awesome. Seriously, it's up there with "I'll be back." Elise blows out the flames, thus erasing the events of the entire game. That's right: everything I accomplished was UTTERLY POINTLESS. It's the rancid cherry on top of this shit sundae. The ending starts out just like the opening, which is odd, since there shouldn't be a festival -- Solaris doesn't exist, right? Sonic watches Elise from a nearby rooftop, with the moon shining brightly behind him -- it's, admittedly, a kickass image, which is ruined by everything that came before it. Roll credits, the end.

This was, hands down, the worst game I have ever played. It's bad enough that the gameplay is buggy, the stages are uninspired, the camera is flawed, and the loading times are awful. It's bad enough that the story centers around a romance between a human princess and an anthropomorphic hedgehog. It's bad enough that the last act hits the reset button on the plot. But the worst thing, the most jaw-dropping thing, has to be the fact that several people looked at this product and said, "Yeah, that's good."
 What the fuck was Sonic Team smoking?

I didn't know how dire the situation was for the Blue Blur until I played this clusterfuck. Sonic Chronicles and Sonic Unleashed had better make up for this. What the hell does Sega need to do to make a good Sonic game? Replace everyone at Sonic Team with competent people? Hand the franchise over to Nintendo? If Sega keeps pulling this shit, than the series is dead, and I really, really don't want that to happen.

For you non-Sonic fanboys out there who don't understand my anger and sadness, let me put it to you this way: picture Shigeru Miyamoto smashing Mario over the head and masturbating over the twitching corpse. Picture the entire Bungie team stabbing Master Chief to death with rusty nails. Picture Hideo Kojima tying up Solid Snake, setting him on fire, and then tossing the body in a pit of scorpions. That's what it's like concerning Sega and Sonic.

I suppose, in the end, it doesn't matter. Still, it's depressing to see a beloved childhood icon destroyed because his creators don't know what the fuck they're doing.

"Call of Juarez" review


The video game industry is saturated with Space Marines, aliens, and Nazis, and angsting teens wielding oversized swords, so it's a breath of fresh air to be able to strap on a six-shooter and ride across the plains of the Old West. Unfortunately, good Western games (like Gun) are hard to come by, and the current-gen consoles have been lacking thus far. Now we have the Xbox 360 game, Call of Juarez, an FPS that has you switch off between two characters as the story progresses. Players can sneak around bandit camps and pump varmints full of lead, as well as partaking in duels.     
 
First, the good things: the scenery is quite beautiful, even breathtaking. Whether you're traveling through a forest or a town, the level of detail is remarkable, except for a few instances (which I'll get to later). The voice acting is good, if hammy at times. Finally, the combat system is solid, with some superb hit detection at work.
 
The story concerns Billy Candle, a half-Mexican teenager that is looked down upon by his fellow townsfolk and stepfather due to his ethnicity. Billy once tried to search for the legendary "Gold of Juarez," an Aztec treasure that is said to be buried in the border town of Juarez. But, he failed, leaving him even more bitter and depressed than before. Billy tries to cheer up by visiting one of the local prostitutes, but he's discovered by the saloon owner, prompting the formation of a lynch mob.
 
It's here when you're trying to outrun a group of bloodthirsty thugs that the cracks start to show. Billy possesses a whip, which he can use to wrap around branches and swing across gaps like Indiana Jones. The problem is that you must stand as close to the edge as possible if you want to hit the branch, plus it only works if you whip certain spots. It takes several seconds to locate these spots, because they're small, which usually results in an extreme case of lead poisoning. That's not all, either: because of the first person view, it's difficult to tell when to let go of the branch, so I end up shattering my spine several hundred feet below. Eventually, Billy discovers the dead bodies of his parents, with the words "Call of Juarez" painted on the side of their barn.
 
The next level introduces Reverend Ray, a gunslinger-turned-pastor and Billy's step-uncle. Coincidentally, the reverend discovers the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law at the same time as Billy. Assuming Billy is the killer, Reverend Ray decides to act as God's holy sword and smite down those unworthy of redemption. In other words, he's like every right-wing fundamentalist, with the addition of weapons. For some reason, he chooses to use a pair of revolvers that he's left in a chest for twenty years; he doesn't even clean them. I guess Reverend Ray isn't worried about losing his hands.
 
The game alternates between two different styles: Reverend Ray shoots a bunch of guys, ending the level with a quick-draw duel. Billy sneaks around a bunch of guys, ending the level with...more of the same. Obviously, Reverend Ray's levels are far more interesting. While the game says you can "fight or sneak" as Billy, the kid is as tough as tissue paper, plus he uses a gun in only one or two instances. Most of the time, you're stuck with a bow and arrow. It's silent, but slow and weak, unless you manage to get a headshot. A big problem is that the enemies have a huge line of sight, which results in a lot of restarting. I say restarting because there is no way to hide from any of these assholes; they blast your ass to oblivion long before you can find a hiding spot.
 
As the game goes on, things begin to get frustrating. A big problem is that the whole thing is so damn linear -- you don’t go to different towns, you don’t get any side missions; it’s just run, shoot, sneak, repeat. Even Reverend Ray starts getting boring. Billy? I lost my patience with him long ago. I think it was around the time I had to sneak around a fuckload of renegade Apaches. By this time I threw up my hands and just started using my bow to snipe these assholes. One weird thing is that I could hide in the bushes to elude my attackers, but the bushes are so sparse it’s impossible not to see Billy. For some reason the Apaches use rifles and shotguns, but Billy insists on using his nigh useless bow and arrows. What the fuck?
 
Eventually, Reverend Ray manages to track down Billy and send him headfirst into a river. Something bothered me about this sequence: when I was running after Billy in a cornfield, I noticed the corn stalks were completely flat, something you’d see in an early PS2 game and the like. This is the Xbox 360 -- what, did the programmers get lazy and say, “Fuck it, we’re not making realistic corn stalks”?
 
Anyway, Billy is rescued by some Mystic Native named Calm Water or some such shit. This guy has some major language problems, as he keeps saying things in whatever his native tongue is, then repeating it in English. Dude, pick a fucking language and stick with it!
 
Billy is thinking about running for the border, but Calm Water says that Billy should face his fears and yadda yadda yadda. Apparently Calm Water thinks a teenager with a lousy bow-and-arrow can hold his own against dozens of armed bandits. It’s no wonder Calm Water lives on his own: the man is clearly insane. Calm Water is willing to teach Billy how to face his fears…right after Billy hunts some rabbits for him. Hmm, maybe Calm Water isn’t as crazy as I thought -- tricking Billy into hunting food while he puts up his feet and smokes a peace pipe is actually pretty shrewd.
So I hunt those little bastards and head back to camp, only to find that Calm Water has accidentally set fire to it. Some spiritual guide -- the man is the Jacques Clouseau of the Indian world. After putting out the fire, Calm Water thanks Billy and then proceeds to talk his ear off. He spouts nonsense about being brave and whatnot, but eventually tells Billy he must climb up Eagle Mountain and grab a feather from the eagle’s nest. Why? Because, silly.
 
So I climb up the goddamn mountain, a difficult feat since it’s easy to misjudge distances, plus this eagle keeps trying to kill me. Seriously, it’s like the eagle is rabid or something. I want to shoot the thing but I can’t, since it’s a noble creature or whatever. It’s here that the game’s graphical flaws start to show, because the nearby mountains all look like ugly mounds of dirt with random green smears and trees stuck into the sides. But anyway, I get the feather and bring it back to Clear Water, only to find that the idiot has gotten himself stabbed to death by the same bandits pursuing Billy. Knowing Clear Water, he probably tripped and fell onto the knife.
 
Meanwhile, Reverend Ray is starting to believe that Billy was telling the truth, so he follows Molly’s kidnappers -- oh, did I forget to mention Molly? She was Billy’s love interest, but her father broke it up because Billy was half-Mexican. It doesn’t matter. After a long stagecoach chase (a very, very long chase), Reverend Ray kicks generic ass like he did in the previous levels. While he’s doing this, Billy has been captured by a man called Juarez, who turns out to be the leader of the bandits chasing Billy. Juarez reveals that -- gasp! -- he is Billy’s father! I’ve never heard of that plot twist before! What fucking brilliance!
 
Juarez is looking for the legendary lost gold of Juarez -- that’s the town, Juarez, not the person, although Juarez (the person) is named after Juarez (the town). Are we clear? Juarez believes Billy knows where the gold is, since Billy wears a pendant (given to him by his mother) that is supposed to lead to the treasure. Why didn’t Billy’s mother get the treasure for herself? Because, silly. Billy pleads ignorance, so Juarez beats him up by waving his fists in the general direction of Billy’s POV.
 
Billy is given an ultimatum: find the gold by sunset or Molly dies. Since Billy is released at sunset, you’d think Molly is pretty much fucked (not like that!), but time decides to be considerate and prevent the sun from actually setting. Every exit out of the region is blocked by bandits, but some of them are willing to look the other way if you bribe them with a certain number of pesos.
 
Fool that I am I started searching for pesos. I looked by the abandoned church -- nothing. I looked in the cemetery -- nothing. I covered every inch of space in the level, and guess what? NO FUCKING PESOS. It isn’t until later that I find out I’m supposed to talk to this boy to proceed. The problem? He’s hidden behind a wagon. Great fucking game, guys. Top notch job.
So I help this kid bury his dead father for this key to the church, which leads to a trio of gravestones, one of which marks the spot where the gold of Juarez is buried. Oh, and I never found any pesos, which means that the whole “bribe the bandits with money” plot point was just a red herring. What the fuck? What is the point of putting something in a game when it never comes into play?
 
It turns out there’s a big rock sitting on top of the entrance, so Billy does the logical thing by tying his horse to the rock and pulling it off. Just kidding; he pushes a boulder off a cliff by swinging into it (realistically, Billy should’ve broken about a dozen bones), which knocks the rock away from the entrance. Billy must have one mean intellect when it comes to physics, since he would have to know how much force to apply to generate the correct trajectory the boulder would travel, as well as where exactly to hit it so the boulder would hit the rock.
 
After that improbable event, I made my way through some very dark caves, evaded some traps set by the Aztecs (I’m not kidding), and discovered the gold of Juarez. Juarez (the person) shows up to gloat and then tries to kill Billy, the latter managing to escape and find Reverend Ray. More fighting occurs. At this point, I was tired of the whole thing. I’m doing the same thing over and over, just in different locations.
 
Juarez threatens to kill Molly if Ray interferes, so Ray is forced to retreat for now. But the good reverend returns later to Juarez’s alcazar, armed with purpose, a sense of justice and a fucking Gatling gun. I admit I enjoyed this part, if only for a break in the monotony. After recreating the final scene in The Wild Bunch, I shot some more bad guys before finally finding Molly, which resulted in Juarez setting the place on fire.
 
Billy, armed with that fucking bow again, manages to save Ray and Molly, and then engages his father in a duel. Except, whoops, he was wearing armor. Juarez shoots Reverend Ray (no! He was the only character worth a damn!) and then engages Billy in fisticuffs. Why doesn’t he just shoot Billy? Because, silly.
 
After a ridiculously easy (and stiff) fight, Billy embraces Molly while a dying Reverend Ray waxes poetic about how he wishes he could redeem himself, blah blah blah. In a twist you can see coming a mile away, Juarez gets up and tries to stab Billy, but Ray shoots him in the head (Juarez, not Billy, unfortunately) and the game ends. Billy looks forward to the future and fuck it I’m done.
 
While there are a few bonus missions, there’s no reason to play the game again, which is good, because it was a boring, linear waste. I’m probably making it sound worse than it really is, but this game had a lot of potential, potential that was thrown away in favor of designing a mediocre product. I’m still waiting for that breakout Western game. Rent if you must, then forget about it.

Fan tributes fucking suck

I wasn't going to post this, but after some thought I decided otherwise.

I've been hanging around the ScrewAttack forums lately (a site that hosts Angry Video Game Nerd videos --if you don't know who that is, kill yourself), shooting the shit and whatnot. One fan (let's call him "Forger") let it be known that he and a few others were going to create "new" AVGN episodes by editing Nerd quotes over gameplay footage. In his own words:

"I, alone will be personally creating a new series of videos on my YouTube channel called Forged AVGN...[p]lease don't go bashing my videos, as I am a fan, just like you, who is trying to create some videos, sort of as a tribute to AVGN...I am using footage from actual AVGN episodes, but re-editing them, seamlessly [sic], to create a brand new review hence the term 'Forge.'"

A tribute, right. No problem there, but when someone made a dick-ish comment, Forger blew an artery:

"NO! NO! NO! NOOOOOOO! I'm revamping AVGN's Reviews with different games and passing them off as HIS WORK...not MINE...his...It's going to be a series called AVGN: The LOST REVIEWS, or w/e seems like a good title...NOT MY REVIEWS...AVGN's...I'm just the editor...His videos + Gameplay from DIFFERENT GAMES THAT HE HASN'T REVIEWED YET = NEW (Forged) AVGN VIDEOS, Created By AVGN and edited by a FAN!!!!! So go hump a cow you Nazi lover!"

Ease up on that rapier wit, wordsmith! Anyway, Forger posted his first "tribute" on YouTube, which was a review of Super Punch Out! I will not give a link to the video, as I refuse to waste anybody's time on such feckless drivel. It was beyond awful. I don't think I've seen work as sloppy and amateur as this since my high school play. Of course, this didn't stop a horde of idiots from making comments like, "I lold so hard!" Jesus, has the national IQ dropped so low that people are actually entertained by this shit?

When someone had the balls to criticize, Forger started whining like a petulant teenager, saying, "I'm NOT COPYING, I'M TRIBUTING! JUST LIKE AN AMV!" An anime music video? That's his fucking inspiration? Those painfully stupid...things that have characters lip-synching to the lyrics? Excellent choice, sir.

Forger revealed that he actually was a petulant teenager, screaming (in all caps) that he was fourteen and he had made short films and he knew about trial and error and that he was fourrteen and he wanted to be a filmmaker and he was FOURTEEN!

After banging on his keyboard like a retarded chimp about tributes and fourteen, it was suggested that Forger make his own series of video game criticisms, which prompted more inane rambling about "fan re-edits" and how people thought tributes were funny, or some crap like that.

You're probably wondering what the point of all this is. My point is this: fan tributes fucking suck. Some are good, but most are so lacking in creativity it would be more worthwhile to watch sloths fuck. If you put the time and effort into filming the gameply and editing it together, why not go whole hog?

In conclusion, idiots make me angry.


 
  
  

 








 

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This "film" (and I mean that in the loosest sense) all but confirms that George Lucas has completed his transformation from a somewhat competent director to soulless cannibal. I do have a grudging respect for the man, however; the fact that he squeezed this feckless crap into theaters instead of directly to DVD exhibits the Death Star-sized balls this man has.

The movie is sort of a pilot to the upcoming TV series of the same name, which detail events between Episode II and Episode III. Because we need to know everything about our dubious heroes. The "story" concerns the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt's son by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), which prompts the Jedi Council to task Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) with rescuing the infant. Why? Well, Jabba controls a number of space routes that are vital to the Republic, and if Jabba sides with the Separatists, the war is lost. This is something we will hear roughly several thousand times before the movie is over.

The movie focuses mostly on Anakin and his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein). Yes, Anakin is now teaching others how to be petualnt whiners. Anyway, Ahsoka is a spunky teenager with GIRL POWER that spends most of her screen time getting on Anakin's nerves: she calls him "Sky Guy," he calls her "Snips," and they bitch at each other endlessly. They're the original Odd Couple!

That brings up another point: while Lucas always had a tin ear for dialogue, here's it's absolutely wretched. Ahsoka has obscene nicknames for everything; besides "Sky Guy" she calls R2-D2 "Artooie" and Jabba's son "Stinky." In one scene, Jabba refers to his son as his "little punky-muffin," which makes me question Jabba's reputation as a ruthless gangster. However, I'll admit I got a chuckle when Anakin said, "This smells like Count Dooku to me." Indeed.

Possibly the worst aspect is the art. At best, the characters look vaguely creepy; at worst, they're downright fugly. One disturbing thing is that hair never seems to move, as if its been painted on or carved out of wood. Count Dooku looks like his entire body was squeezed in a vise, while Anakin sports a perpetual frown and an impressive chin-ass. The animation is stiff and unnatural, which achieves the effect of making everyone look like marionettes.  

Everything else is a blur of marching droids, explosions, and generic lightsaber battles. Any suspense is sucked out by the fact that we know who's going to be in Episode III, so why should we care? The only mildly interesting character was Jabba's uncle, Ziro the Hutt. This guy looks like a drag queen, an image that isn't helped by his Truman Capote voice. Alas, his purpose is to be the film's Odious Comic Relief, making him the Jar Jar Binks of the Hutt world.

If you want to know who drove a stake through the heart of the Star Wars franchise, then point your finger straight at its creator.

The Dark Knight

Fucking awesome, go see it now. Heath Ledger is unbelievable in this.