Category Archives: Videogame

DmC: Devil May Cry – A Videogame Review

Okay, hands up who still cares about DmC? It was first released over three years ago, which was in itself about three years after its initial announcement, and feels like it’s been around forever. It’s certainly been on my hard drive forever; it was free on Games for Gold a while back and has since been hanging out in my pins with Dishonored and Hitman and the like. This week, however, I finally got round to playing it, and having not read any of the wanky think pieces about it because I honestly couldn’t have cared less I’m now going to write my own wanky think piece. Such is life. Prepare for some inevitable wank about the other two at some point, since they seem like they’ll be very wank-heavy, but now I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh yeah, an irrelevant video game.

underwater

Upside-down Rapture is not a sensible place for firearms, young man, now put it away.

First, a bit on the actual ‘game’. Gameplay wise it’s not as deep as previous entries but the combat is still pretty fantastic, which is always a good start. There are enough weapons to have variety without too many to bog you down, it’s not infeasible to use every weapon in the game in the same air combo, and the enemy variety means you have to switch up your tactics fairly often to tackle different situations. Grappling around is fun, the camera doesn’t seem actively worse than any other game in this genre, and the general visual style of the game is amazing. It often resembles a high contrast Escher painting, with buildings twisted and contorted around, and the series of levels that are set upside down are particularly great.

It does sort of run out of ideas towards the end of the game, unfortunately. There’s a level which boils the in-betweeny platforming bits down to literally a straight line, and the last few missions take place in a massive office building, which is visually boring and padded to all baloney. The semi-final boss is a complete rehash of a previous one but with a worse framerate and a character design made up of Play-Doh and Stickle Bricks, and none of the other bosses are all that fun to fight either. There’s nothing to rival fighting a God in space with a fire dragon, that’s for sure.

Basically, while there are issues, it looks lovely and plays extremely well. So now that I’ve qualified it as A Good Game, let’s talk about fanboys.

devil trigger

Note: dumbing down of gameplay is not automatically a bad thing. If your game is impossible to play, maybe it’s not as good as you think it is.

Fanboyism is one of the dumber things to happen in the last twenty years or so, as the internet’s anonymity and ease of use makes it super easy to cultishly defend or attack anything and everything. You see it with Star Wars, you see it with My Little Pony (bizarrely), you see it with fucking real life actual politics for fucks sake as a racist cinnamon bun slow dances his way into the Oval Office, and you saw it with DmC. New Dante was unveiled as a gaunt, deathly pale, black haired Hot Topic frequenter, and fanboys lost their shit.

However, while certain screaming morons got worked up over his fucking hair colour, the issue among most sane people was that Dante seemed like every background extra from Twilight rolled into one. This was a dumb decision, not because it was radically different from the original Dante, but because the change was stupid; Original Dante had evolved into a wisecracking joke character, which was a perfect fit for an insane action game about demons and air combos. You don’t put Hamlet in a John Woo film, and so after some sensible changes the original Starving Mournful Emo flavour was gone for a more suitable Handsome Punk Rock Douchebag one. If anyone is still complaining about his appearance they can be officially ignored, because it now looks fine. Good, even.

dante comparison

Still a twat, but a better kind of twat.

This change didn’t happen cleanly, however, and there are obvious remnants of his old woe-is-me mopey nu-metal persona littered throughout the game. Most of this is in the concept art, as is to be expected, although the flashbacks can get a bit grim; there’s one where he’s in a public bathroom clawing his own chest out while screaming, with ‘anarchy makes sense’ and ‘WAR’ graffiti reflected in the mirror. There’s also hints of a drinking problem, schizophrenia, and a trailer-trash mentality within the opening montage, along with jarring mentions of sexual deviancy that seem to come out of nowhere. This tortured soul shtick doesn’t mesh with the newly confident and brash Dante, and the whole game suffers from a similarly bipolar tone. Even the name didn’t make it out alive.

Let’s start at the beginning – the main bad guy (a dude in a suit in a giant tower) blackmails the President with something irrelevant and smells (?) Dante from across the city. This sets out the stall immediately for buckets of stodgy, lazy writing that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is. Blackmailing a President is Captain Planet levels of hokey villainy, and he randomly senses Dante for seemingly no reason other than there’s now a digital camera in the vicinity that he can spew exposition into.

Anyway, Dante is out partying, and he’s troubled by visions of Demons in everyday life, leading normal humans to think he’s a bit deranged. He goes back to his trailer with some strippers and shags them because he’s a rebellious delinquent, dammit. A random girl conveniently appears to tell him a Hunter wants to kill him just as the Hunter shows up and attempts to kill him by dragging him into an alternate reality that for some reason also wants to kill him. We learn he is not deranged at all, removing any subtlety from that idea completely. His trailer is also alone and on the end of a pier, because why not.

fairground pier1

A terrifying neon-nightmare LSD demon pier, but a pier nonetheless.

Lack of subtlety is a recurring theme in this game, it seems. There’s an alarmingly derivative They Live scenario going on where some humans are secretly demons and if you can see in Demon Vision or whatever it is, billboards and posters change to show their real subliminal meaning. Shame, then, that They Live wasn’t very smart about it to begin with, and ripping it off wholeheartedly just makes it even less interesting. Adverts for an energy drink with a buff man change to show a fat slob with OBESITY and STUPIDITY plastered everywhere, and the drink itself is actually demon’s piss (or vomit, but it barely matters). The news channel is a secret prison for traitors with OBEY YOUR MASTERS showing on every TV screen. The workers in the financial building are “barely human anymore”, having been “corrupted beyond recognition”. It’s all so obvious and blunt.

The problem is the uber serious tone, which makes the surface-level satire seem like it was written by the Goth Kids from South Park. If it was a bit more devil-may-care (heh) about everything, some of the They Live shit wouldn’t be as cringingly lame as it is. Dante does have some shit puns, true, but they’re delivered with venom instead of the silly camp that they should be. Remember that bit in DMC4 where Dante puts on an incredibly sexual flamenco routine to celebrate shooting a floating dog head? The equivalent of that in this game would be when Dante trades “fuck you”s with a screeching larvae who then vomits all over the stage. It’s just not as fun.

stupid satire

Awesome level, stupid satire.

It’s also strangely muddled, with a hundred potentially interesting elements that all get wasted by minimal attention. One of the most obvious examples is the presence of Demon CCTV cameras that are supposed to be watching and tracking Dante through the city. Unfortunately, there are several major issues with this concept – firstly, the Big Bad wants to kill Dante and has sent out Hunters in order to find him. Mate, you have cameras. You don’t need to ‘find’ him when you have him on a video feed that he doesn’t know about. Secondly, they only appear in one level and you remove three in the entire game. Thirdly, Dante is running away from things for the duration of about one level, and is actively seeking out and goading the Demons in the other nineteen. These three things combined make the camera idea pointless in concept, execution, and tone. Why is it in the game.

Another abandoned idea is the city that wants to kill him, but only ever does so in linear ‘run through this set piece’ sections while the walls sort of cave in but not really (this also follows the confused camera logic of ‘find Dante’ while he’s in a city that knows where he is). There’s a whole underground rebellion thing which I’m fairly sure is just made up of three people, including Dante, that gets taken down halfway through the plot. The Raptor News network, so called because Fox is an animal and that’s about it, only exists for about three missions and an intro cinematic. The inevitable final boss happens simply because it has to and is tacked onto the end of an otherwise finished plot. Dante’s hair slowly turns white for absolutely no reason other than because it was white in the other games, which begs the question why it was ever black in the first place. An old wizard appears midway through a level, fixes some platforms with his magic green eye, and blurts out some critical exposition before buggering off into a portal. The female companion has psychic powers because she has to for the plot. Every boss fight is crap.

pandering2

How to exploit fanboys? Annoy them then pander with DLC. Quids in.

It very much feels like what it was – a project that was one thing to begin with (a normal Devil May Cry), then something vastly different (a modern, technology based, dark-and-edgy masterpiece of social commentary), then it kept juddering back and forth between the two until sort of settling vaguely in the bland middle ground. It’s still got all the gothic statues and weaponry and mannequin-like enemies of the old games, but there’s also a level where you fight a giant Bill O’Reilly head made of pixels. It’s got Vergil in a trenchcoat and katana, but now he’s also a hacker and wears a fedora.

If they’d gone all in on either style it would have felt a lot cleaner and more focussed. Instead, the plot is confused, messy, and underdeveloped, while the dialogue is either bland, characterless exposition or unfunny crude humour, and often slaloms violently between the two, leaving the tone as confused as a Jewish pig. The whole thing feels like something your edgy thirteen year old cousin would write while listening to early My Chemical Romance albums. The presence of Combichrist, a band so edgy your ears might start self-harming, doesn’t help.

city2

Please don’t self-harm with a seven foot scythe. Do it with crayons.

It all reeks of edge lord ego with any semblance of self-awareness drained away, which makes a whole lot of sense when you realise it was the first game written and directed solely by Mr Tameem Antoniades, a man who once said “if I do my job properly, [it will] break the myth that all videogame stories are trite and will never stand up to the best that theatre and film have to offer”. Cheers Tameem. You didn’t. It doesn’t. It’s shit.

The enduring image for me in DmC is when, during the groan-inducing masturbatory studio tour in the credits, one of the devs slowly rides off on a skateboard while flipping the bird at the camera. The creators thought they were doing something so smart and cool, so progressive and punk rock, so deep and clever. All they did, though, was make an action game.

Better luck next time.

angels

Maybe take out the finger-handgun-penis routine as well, that won’t have helped.

Hotline Miami – A Videogame Review

Warning: this review contains spoilers for Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Proceed at your own risk.

Also not recommended for people easily offended by blood, gore, swearing, or mentions of butts.

splash

“Man this is great, I really hope it doesn’t disappear up its own butthole”, I said out loud about halfway through Hotline Miami, the pulsating techno music pounding in my ears as I rhythmically mutilated my way through hordes of faceless mobsters, often getting mutilated right back. The exciting moral greyness of the premise with its endless possibilities, the high as a kite 80s neon kitsch, the gameplay hitting all the same buttons as Super Meat Boy did all those years ago. The combination was almost perfect, if veering a smidgen too close to butthole territory. All was going well.

Suddenly the music stops. You’ve beaten your foes. There is nobody left. All around you are corpses, rarely in one piece. The high fades as you begin to come down, both figuratively and literally. You descend the stairs back to the entrance way, stepping over your dirty, messy past. The distance to the butthole lessens.

A loud noise escapes your mouth and you manage to somehow physically injure yourself while playing a videogame, you daft twat, as a giant black van smashes through the silence and straight into your characters face. Gizzards splatter across the tiles like badly made spaghetti.  You start again. You get hit by the jump scare truck again. You start again. You get set on fire. The butthole looks at you menacingly. You start again.

screenshot5

This game is VIOLENT. I really can’t stress that enough.

Hotline Miami is, at its core, very very good. Broken, dreamlike, 80s neon aesthetics are right up my alley, so to speak, despite me having never existed anywhere near close to the time period they’re supposed to ape. The gameplay is frantic and bloody, never giving you a moments peace in the best possible way. It has some of the most brutal and disturbing violence ever depicted in a game despite only being top down pixel art, but uses it in such a fashion that it never turned me off from the game. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m such a sucker for dark, twisted mystery plots, especially ones with cryptic murder messages left on your answering machine. It should be exactly my cup of tea. Unfortunately, there is a butthole looming. Hotline Miami has plans for the butthole. This game has its fat, and when Hotline Miami starts indulging its chubby side it manages to charge straight up its rear at a pace most rocket engineers would call quite alarming.

It first began to smell suspiciously of anus when Richard the chicken man (heh, Richard is Dick and chicken is cock and penis is funny) asked me a simple question; “do you like hurting people?”, he quizzed, with a look of fiery disapproval that only an expertly crafted rubber chicken mask can convey. “Well”, I thought, “given that this main character I’ve been playing has been specifically written so as to have literally no character other than a yellowish Varsity jacket, and that what I’m playing right now might be a dream but it also might not be, and that every other part of this game might also be a dream but also might not be, I don’t think I’m able to answer that question”. I paused. “Oh wait, you’re talking to me, the player, aren’t you. Aha, very clever. Yes, I see now why you wanted to venture up your own butthole, it’s because it’s a lot easier to gloat from inside your own rectum”.

screenshot3

These guys, clearly not learning their lesson from the man who’s taking a kip on the floor without a head, are about to get a very rude awakening.

It stayed roughly on the level for a while after that, nose barely touching the sphincter, until I suddenly discovered that the entire game up to this point had been a warped reliving of events from the mind of a man deep inside a coma, Life on Mars style. Huh.

“Alright”, I thought, “bit of a tonal shift, but this is excellent. It was hinted at that this was a dream the whole time and I’m perfectly fine with it. It also explains why there was random VHS static every so often, and why that one bearded hipster bloke had four different but strangely identical jobs and then got killed in four different but strangely identical ways by that same angry bald guy. Good. I’m on board. Let’s be having you, rest of the game.” I press on.

So I escape the coma ward, somehow, discover it was the Russian mob all along, kill the Don’s purple attack panthers and sexy blonde one eyed ninja pirate woman by throwing a bunch of trophies at them in scenes strangely reminiscent of Kill Bill 2: The KillBillening, and beat the game. I am satisfied. The story came to a sensible and non-butthole-related resolution. I even recommended it to some friends, so impressed was I.

Then the epilogue started. I was surprised. The butthole was now held firmly, precariously open. It’s ready for entry, captain.

screenshot6

“Please don’t put pizza up my butthole, George”

The first thing you see in the epilogue is the word ANSWERS in massive capital letters. You’ve got a hand up your butt. You start the epilogue as a boss character you killed halfway through the game. Elbow deep. The epilogue continues and it’s made clear that this guy is not going insane, or in a coma dream, or taking several hundred buckets of legal highs. This character is trying to find out ‘the truth’ behind the phone calls, implying that the mafia wasn’t the real source. Up to the shoulder blade, you’re getting dangerously close now. A chapter involves you going to the same room as the earlier boss fight and killing the original main character with such force that his head violently explodes across the floor, then leaving the building. There we go, boom, zip, blown straight up there, you’ve disappeared into your large intestine never to be seen again. It was fun having you, Hotline Miami. Hope the weather’s nice in there.

When you’ve already got your main character outed as an unreliable narrator in your main plot and when he’s most definitely not killed in this confrontation in the real canonical events, and then you go and add your second character, the one supposedly to ‘get some answers’, and you make him an unreliable narrator as well? It’s shooting yourself in the foot then sucking on your toes until all your blood is in your digestive system. The level of arse dwelling is maddening, to the point where you’ve been there long enough to have started selling real estate in your gastric pits.

I kept playing anyway, to see where this dickwittery was going. After a while, I found myself stood in an empty basement talking to two ratty looking janitors, where it turned out it was them all along. They told me it was for laughs. I then left. Credits. Fuck off Hotline Miami.

I went to the Wiki for answers.

screenshot4

These screenshots all tend to look the same after a while but MAYBE THAT’S THE THEME ooooOOOOooo spooky noises etc.

It turns out that the actual plot is locked behind secret collectible things I had literally no idea were even there other than a cryptic message on an owl mask. This is on top of it being hidden in the epilogue after the credits had already rolled while you’re playing a completely different character, one who interacted with the main fella a total of one time and maybe one of them may have killed the other but maybe it was the other way round and really who’s to say at this point. On top of this, the two actual villains are plebby nobodies operating under the guise of a cult that’s never mentioned and who are modelled after the two creators of the game, in a decision I imagine came about after a particularly smug mutual masturbation session.

Hotline Miami ends up being another graduate from the University of Self Satisfaction, with other notable alumni consisting of Spec Ops: The Line, a game that attempts to tell you fourteen different variations of the same story at the same time and the most rational one ends up being that the grumpy sandy man in Dubai is literally walking into literal hell for realsies, and Bioshock Infinite, which I’m surprised didn’t go cross eyed and implode from a combination of misplaced moral pride and casual dismemberment.

All of these games end up trying to tell you off for playing them, a move that I’ve come to particularly hate since if you do that you’re now looking down on me for buying your bloody game. Alright, I won’t next time. Mission accomplished?

Every line of dialogue can be seen to be directed at the player, which means the plot ends up being completely pointless and only serves to make the developers look like absolute thundering cockholes who make out with their own bathroom mirrors in the morning because it’s got a picture of their face on it.

screenshot1

Our cock-headed hero has managed to block one of his exit doors with a parade of idiotic mobsters. Brilliant.

Amazingly, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is apparently even more up its own arse than Hotline Miami 1: Turns Out It Was The Right Number All Along. Now I haven’t played the sequel, but given that the original was crawling up there so hard it was basically vomiting its own eyebrows out by the end I could scarcely believe this news, unless little brother wanted to strain just that little bit harder and pretzel itself around for round two. To find out how correct an assessment this was, I went back on the Wiki and scrolled down through the main characters page to find a random line from near the end of the second game.

This sentence is incredible. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of digestive spelunking, and I can’t believe it actually exists. Knowing this series it could just all be a fever dream and not matter at all, but with that rationale out of the way I shall provide to you the very first thing I read about Hotline Miami 2 in full. Ahem.

‘As Miami is nuked, the final shot of the game is Jacket in his sparse jail cell, playing with his ball as he’s obliterated.’

This event apparently takes place three years before the events of the original game. Yes, this is the main character of said original game. No, I don’t understand.

The Wiki then goes on to fellate this nonsense with praise for how thematic it is, how it parallels the movie Drive (which is also a bunch of violence trying to be smart but not actually doing anything with it and ending up as a very pretty pile of pretentious piffle), and that it’s somehow meta, where because he was trying to entertain himself that’s like the player playing the game or something. This Wiki was written by twats.

It doesn’t matter if that scene’s just a bunch of typos accidentally strung together to mean something it shouldn’t, if it’s another weird coma dream, or it’s actually what actually happens. I have no interest. It sounds like a bunch of complete cocking bollocks from a set of writers drunk on the success of their original vaguey waguey spooky mystery VHS synthwave drug ‘n’ violence game that was super awesome because nobody could understand it, and not for the actual reason which was because it played like a buttered blowjob. No, it was because of the story. Great.

A-pretzlin’ we go, lads.

screenshot7

“No mate, I’m up my own butt. Call an ambulance”

A Review Of… Ninja Baseball Bat Man

(Originally published in Issue #2 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2014. Read that version here, on pages 40-41.)

No, I’m serious. There is a game that exists with that combination of words in that order. Just let that sink in for a while. This really is the kind of reboot Batman needs, but unfortunately this is just ninjas and baseball, which is clearly an inferior product to a latex personification of capitalism.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man (or Baseball Hand-to-Hand Fighting League Man if you’re Japanese and love ridiculous rambling titles) is an arcade side scrolling beat-em-up released in the 90s, similar to classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage. If you’ve ever played a game like this before you’ll be right at home, punching endless amounts of dudes in endless amounts of alleys, except here you punch with a bat and the dudes are all anthropomorphic baseball paraphernalia. There are still alleys though, so at least something remains.

nbbm-screen2

Above: anthropomorphic baseball paraphernalia. And some planes.

Honestly, the game begins and ends with the title. It sounds like they went through some deep scientific study to find the single coolest sounding title possible and reverse engineered a game out of it; the whole thing is essentially ninjas with baseball uniforms wielding bats and fighting the contents of the New York Yankees merchandise booth. I say essentially as despite being conceived in America the game was made in Japan, and so has been filtered through all the craziest parts of Japanese culture with elemental super moves, giant planes with eyes and flying stadiums all showing up at various points. This is like if the creator of Samurai Pizza Cats started flicking through American TV channels with his head lodged in a mountain of cocaine and looked up for long enough to catch a glimpse of the World Series out of the corner of one blood stained eye, before slumping back into his powder and shouting the design document to a group of confused interns who’d never heard of sport. If baseball was more like this I would probably watch it.

There are four main characters to whack people with, each a different colour and silhouette to make them stand out from the psychedelic orgy on screen; a tiny fast hitter, a long reaching poker, a big fat bloke with a baseball jammed halfway down his bat and a boring all rounder who looks like the red Power Ranger and plays like a digestive biscuit. They’re different enough to want to actually use all of them, especially since the core gameplay can get quite repetitive. There’s only two buttons, one to jump and one to hit, so naturally the movelist is a bit limited despite some supers looking powerful enough to shake the Earth from orbit.

While the act of hitting stuff can get old, the stuff you hit is so packed with character the game never gets actively boring. Mischievous looking baseball bats carrying other smaller baseball bats, spider droids conceived from an affair between a baseball and a Droideka, squids in scuba gear that hit you with squeaky hammers and what appears to be the Beagle Mafia are all enemies here,  and special mention must go to the boss battles. I won’t ruin the surprise too much, but when one of them gets made into a sad looking handbag at the end of the fight you want to keep playing just to see what they can come up with next. Pity that most of them are cheaper than your mum on a Friday night, randomly taking half your health whenever they feel like it as if you’ve forgotten to pay your taxes this month.

nbbm-screen4alligator.png

Here we see Roger the baseball man fighting Mechanical Alligator with his friends, COME ON, COME ON and COME ON.

This brings me to the main sticking point with the game; there are more spikes in its difficulty than on the bottom of its shoes, and really isn’t very long to boot, clocking in at just over an hour. This was almost certainly due to it being an arcade only game, designed to steal quarters from kids who want to know what being on drugs feels like. The only way to play the game nowadays is on an emulator, and since you can put infinite coins into an emulator without costing yourself anything, the artificial difficulty is gone and you can just run headlong into things over and over again, like a man trying to break down a wall with the bridge of his nose.

Happily, however, this makes the game much less frustrating than it would otherwise be. I can’t imagine how much money you’d need to spend to see the spectacularly anticlimactic ending, but the constant threat of random death would take its toll after a while. So instead of potential brain haemorrhaging you get to just enjoy the wackiness, which due to the length doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

So overall, it’s an enjoyable if short experience that’s much less annoying than it would’ve otherwise been, even if the emulation can get spotty and potentially cause an epileptic fit or two. It’s also called Ninja Baseball Bat Man. I can’t stress that enough.

nbbm-screen3

I’m not even sure where to begin with this, but for some reason my eye is drawn to the Allen key that the green baseball thing in winklepickers is holding.

Now for something completely different; while researching this article  I noticed there was a Kickstarter campaign for some kind of Ninja Baseball Bat Man comic. Having checked it out, it looks pretty damn suspect.  A total of 24 backers pledged $1278 over its 45 day period, despite meeting its goal of $1000 within 4 of those days. The spread of pledges is bizarre with everyone contributing $40 or below apart from two people who gave $300 each.

And then there’s the art. It’s godawful. I mean just look at it. It looks like one of those early internet flash games where nobody had any talent, or something from a particularly crap preteen deviantART profile where they only have access to their own eyes once every fortnight to work out what shapes and colours are supposed to be. This has even worse proportions than some of Rob Liefeld’s atrocious contributions, although at least there aren’t a zillion pouches cutting off the blood supply to every part of the body.

nbbm-awfulscream

Everything is wrong. Everything. Why is he driving with a melting dinner plate. Why is the car as big as a house. Why does he look like a Mr Potato Head knock-off that’s been run over. I just… the mind boggles.

Confused and aghast, I looked further into the history of NBBM. Apparently it was originally the vision of one American bloke called Drew Maniscalco and designed to be a competitor to Super Mario Bros. of all things, but was given to the Japanese arm of the company who actually knew what they were doing and promptly redesigned basically everything. It seems that this guy always wanted a shitty Batman knockoff where everything is baseball themed, and genuinely thinks it’s the best thing ever (seriously, a veteran baseball player living a dual life as a baseball related superhero is something DC would’ve laughed at back when they were doing fucking Kite Man storylines). If this is seriously what he always wanted then I’m glad the Japanese took it off him. I don’t want Dragon Ball Z redone by someone who’s only artistic tools are crepe paper and a photocopier.

nbbm-awfulcover

I still can’t get over how terrible this is. Sorry Monique.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.