Tag Archives: Videogame

A Word On… FIFA Ultimate Team

I’m not sure there’s a single game in existence that can make me as angry as FIFA can. Football is random enough as it is when tiny dirigibles can become key tactical elements, but FIFA takes it to another level on the uncontrollable bullshit spectrum; players will do things you didn’t tell them to, decide to tackle the air beside the ball they’re dribbling with instead of taking a shot, or be suddenly incapable of hitting the ball with their foot in a straight line, something which is ostensibly their profession. On several occasions I’ve found my defenders hanging out next to the other teams corner flag, presumably for a cup of tea and a chinwag. The FIFA subreddit is basically a support group for abuse victims at this point, summed up by a recent post which said bluntly, and fantastically, that ‘FIFA is shit’. He’s a happy bunny, that one.

james-gameplay

This probably ends in a ball boy scoring an own goal or something equally daft.

So if FIFA is shit, as was so eloquently put, why is it so popular? Well there’s the obvious reason that it’s football, one of if not the most popular sport in the world where teenagers who can’t spell the word ‘offside’ suddenly get access to the hottest of cars and the fastest of women for approximately six months before their lives spiral into a terrifying storm drain of money, tattoos, and shit punditry. Every child aspires to be Phil Neville, I can assure you.

The other reason is it’s by EA, and they have the official FIFA license so you don’t have to play as Blatan Dimbrasandwiches for Redchester Unite-reds, unless someone happens to take cocaine. It’s basically popular by default at this point, and every September the new FIFA cycle judders into view, proudly displaying its new set of over-hyped non-features like a peacock with used cars for a tail. This year’s instalment had a story mode called ‘The Journey’ where Definitely-Not Marcus Rashford gets to play a year of football while his dickhole friend acts like a dickhole and Harry Kane mumbles some verbal pies into your ear. It’s a glorified tutorial mode, and for some reason exists alongside the previous Be A Pro mode, which is functionally identical if you ignore the crucial fact that the latter has more features and customisation. The Journey does have the vocal wizardry of Kane though, so there’s that.

hunter-rashford

B…brother?

The final and most important reason for its current popularity, though, is Ultimate Team, a morbidly evil combination of football, casinos, stock markets, and the promise of building the titular ‘ultimate team’. That last part is what draws players in, being a natural extension of typical manager modes where you build a team from nothing to win the top prize. The other parts are where EA makes their money – you can buy packs with either real money or an earned in-game currency, which when opened gives you a random selection of players and other items based on how much dosh you threw at them. The standard pay-to-win format is in here, where you don’t earn enough in-game money for it to ever be worth spending on hopeless crapshoots, so you just buy points and get endless amounts of players instead. Somewhere in the swarm, you’ll find Messi. This is clearly the best way to play the game, because why would you ever want to experience steady personal gains when you can just buy your neighbours fucking yacht instead.

But then what are you going to do with these millions of human beings, who are for some reason inexplicably attached to trading cards, panicking, screaming eternally from inside their virtual cardboard hell prisons? Well, Frank, you sell them on the virtual trading market. Obviously. It’s not slavery, it’s business.

This is where human players can make loads of in-game currency through normal stock market ideas of buying low and selling high, amongst other sneaky tactics such as the bizarrely named ‘sniping’ method of buying something for cheap as soon as it’s put on the market. This phrase has probably spawned from children playing CoD, since I don’t think American Sniper was a film about the trauma of excellent fiscal investment choices.

walkout

“I think this business card presentation might be a bit overkill, Mr Reus”

Each games platform has a different market with different organically shifting prices, meaning that the oft forgotten PC version (the one I’m bloody playing on) has prices that can easily be double what you’d get on a console. Handily, match earnings are exactly the same. This means that not only does the PC have a massively smaller player base, leaving online play feeling a bit like a ghost town with a couple of randomly jabbering Austrians in the corner, it’s a lot more difficult to actually make your ‘ultimate team’. I’m fairly sure I’ll never get my glorious Gareth Bale card, simply because the game will have died before I’ve even had the chance.

Anyway, once you’ve sniped your way through the marketplace (not like that) and come away with a hatful of virtual coins, what do you do with them? Well common sense would dictate that you then use that money in the virtual market to buy the players you want to play with. Unfortunately, YouTube claims otherwise.

It turns out there’s a staggeringly massive market for FIFA YouTubers, with most not even bothering to play the actual football game they’ve bought. Instead, they spend their days reacting hilariously to random chance that’s happening in front of them by screaming at the top of their lungs at pack openings, jumping around the room, dressing up, making stupid faces, screaming again, and generally being normal functioning adults. Hopefully they blow out their vocal chords at some point when they pull a spikey horned satanic version of Ashley Williams or whatever the hell EA are doing this month.

twats

Four perfectly normal, natural, sensible, reserved, adult reactions. This image was saved as ‘twats.jpg’ by the way.

Some more sober channels feature variously aged children giving mildly obvious tips about how to make money in the marketplace, which can be helpful at times; I’ve seen a few give hints about players that are cheap now but may be worth a lot in the future. Fairly standard investment stuff, but still useful.

What aren’t useful, however, are the grotesquely misleading titles and thumbnails these things tend to have. One guy (who for some reason appears to want you to know he has a carrot, despite never appearing on screen with one) claims to be able to ‘double your coins!!!’ with a thumbnail of a Photoshopped picture of a large number doubling. I watched this video, and the doubling of coins is done by spending 500 to make 1000. The fake thumbnail has the number 50,000 doubling to 100,000. You will need to do this method 100 times without the market changing against you in order to do that. Good fucking luck with that.

Other bullshit includes telling you how to ‘100% make coins!’, which is an embarrassingly easy thing to do when those words are in that order, or being able to make ‘1k coins in 1 minute!!!’ in ‘the best trading method in FIFA 17!!!!’. This was done by buying a player then selling him for 1k profit within 60 seconds. Note that he does this once, and so has accurately made 1k coins in 1 minute. The implication, however, is that you can now do this for every minute, thereby making 60k an hour, or 1.44m a day. This is clearly absurd, but don’t let reality get in the way of manipulating kiddywinks for YouTube likes.

youtube-channel

I don’t know what’s worse, the dubious advertising or the glaringly obnoxious colour scheme.

So now you’ve got a hundred quadrazillion coins sitting in a fake virtual bank account that you can’t do anything with. You’ve bought 14 Ronaldos to use just in case three get injured all at the same time in a flexing competition. Your team is literally the best it will ever be. You now have nothing else to do but play the game.

Unfortunately, this brings me back to the start, where all of my hypocritically childish bitching began. FIFA attempts to be a solid competitive game, but it just isn’t. It can never be one. You can learn how to get better at a fighting game, for example, since it’s all very tightly controlled and doing the same thing twice will end with the same results. Scientifically speaking, it is repeatable.

No such luck in FIFA, as it’s a game based on chance and statistical probabilities. This is fine in something relatively simple like poker, but in FIFA there are 22 players on a pitch at once, each with about 50 individual statistics that have to be used to determine what happens. Then there’s positioning, how long you held down the power bar, which direction you’re facing, and so many more subtle complexities that makes it basically impossible to know exactly what’s going to happen when you press a button.

This isn’t helped by FIFA’s AI problems. Conspiracies abound about ‘scripting’, which is where the game basically decides who’s going to win the match by goalkeepers suddenly becoming octopuses or strikers developing severe allergies to running forwards. A less strict version of this is ‘momentum’, where teams supposedly swing back and forth in ability to make games more interesting. This would be fine in a spectator sport, but FIFA is a videogame. Randomly changing the numbers behind what you’re actually seeing so you don’t know if your team is prepared to play football or if they’ve rocked up for water polo instead would be immensely frustrating. Watching your monstrous defender with his 82 inch pythons muscled off the ball by what can be accurately described as a bearded baby is something that just shouldn’t happen, and, while it’s unlikely any of this maniacal overload scripting rubbish exists, when all the glitchy nonsense starts to pile on you often feel like you’re fighting against the game rather than controlling it.

smalling

Case in point, there is no ‘applause’ button.

With all of this random bullshit, with all of this manipulative wankery, with the inevitability of a PC graveyard, you might be asking why I even play FIFA Ultimate Team. To be honest, and this might come as a surprise, most of the above is slightly exaggerated for comic effect. I know, who would have thought.

The game is, generally speaking, great. The above clip of Smalling crossing his wires and daydreaming a lovely performance of the Bach chorales is a one in a million instance that just happened to be caught on video and shared in the screaming echo chamber of Reddit, and while you’re well within your rights to hurl your TV out of the window when it happens to you, most of the time you’re going to lose because you’re in a bad mood and not concentrating. There’s a phenomenon in games called ’tilting’, where you start to perform badly and get annoyed, meaning you perform worse, which makes you more annoyed, and now you’re stuck in a suicidal one-more-go mentality where you won’t stop until you’ve finally won. This is not EA’s fault. Go for a walk, have a wank, do anything. Come back when you’re not being quite so shit.

It’s true that some matches do feel as if they’re fighting actively against you, but the little moments of satisfaction in a tight game you edge 1-0 make everything worthwhile. FIFA might kick you in the balls when Giovinco scores a backheel from the halfway line, but you’ll be back for the trading, you’ll be back for the atmosphere, and you’ll be back for the goals. As I alluded to when jabbering about Football Manager, it’s addictive not in spite of, but almost because it isn’t fair.

Now go pay for Messi, you bellend.

marco-scream

I don’t know why one of the promo pictures was Marco Reus shitting out an egg, but there you go.

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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.

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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.

A Word On… Modern Visual Media and Why They Suck

 (Originally published in Issue #4 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2015. Read that version here, on pages 12-15.)

Why does everything have to be a movie? Don’t get me wrong I like movies, but whenever a book, game or even TV show becomes a hit there’s instantly talk of when the movie version’s coming out. It’s indicative of the steaming pile of sequel factory bullshit the blockbuster movie industry has found itself in, and videogames aren’t far behind either.

For starters there are books that have absolutely no right to become movies, like the unbearable Fifty Shades of Grey. Like any film based on sex, it would have either had to be Pornhub: Extended Cut or two pasty personality sieves gawping at a dildo for two hours in various vaguely hospitable settings. However, the critical issue with Fifty Shades is that the book is absolute putrified garbage, written as fan fiction to fucking Twilight of all things before they changed some character names around and fed it to sex hungry mums whose husbands were too busy eating mud and kicking themselves in the testicles to notice they were married. If a book is lacking in plot, characters, material that can actually be released in a cinema, or general noticeable quality, then it has no purpose being a film. It’d be like trying to make an action thriller based on the contents of my shower drain.

storytelling-shades

If it’s not just a shit adaptation of shit material then it’s movie execs wringing as much money out of a franchise as they can. Endless sequels, prequels and duringquels effectively split one story into eleventy billion parts for maximum dollar and minimum customer satisfaction. Harry Potter started the trend and sort of got away with it since the book was legitimately too big, but since then films have been all too happy to stall for time like lawyers at a strippers wedding. The second Hunger Games film was the movie equivalent of a fat moggy getting stuck in its own catflap, Twilight existed for about 8 films longer than it should have, the Marvel cinematic universe is currently making movies just because it needs to keep existing, and The Hobbit padded a fairly short book with mine cart races and stoner wizards. Modern movie franchises are like public bus services; short journeys, loads of stops, irritatingly expensive, and a decent chance of finding a homeless man masturbating with a paper bag in the back row.

But while book-to-film adaptations are getting progressively stupid and pointless like when a dear relative passes into their ninth decade, videogames have a much more chronic problem; they’re beginning to think they are movies. Little Jimmy Ubisoft likes to dress in Momma Paramount’s dresses on occasion and is slowly hatching a plan to kill her off in a freak golfing accident so he can replace her in society, even though he’s about 8 and smells of Wotsits and fear.

Games publishers talk bullshit. When a game claims it’s ‘cinematic’ it means it has expensive graphics. When a game claims it’s ’emotional’ it means it has an over-complicated, under-acted story. When a game claims it’s ‘immersive’, it means it’s paranoid about being shit and praising itself for doing its job. Listen: if your game is not immersive then your game is bad. Immersion is broken by inconsistencies, so if the players are noticing physics glitches and graphical weirdness or it controls like a crab at the helm of a 747 it’s going to pull you out of the experience no matter what the experience was to begin with. If you advertise a visual media as ‘immersive’ you may as well advertise the fact that it makes pictures appear on a screen.

storytelling-tombraider

‘Cinematic’ is even worse. It means nothing and screams of the desperation of marketing departments trying to ride the coattails of a medium they passed by in profitability somewhere in 2009. More worryingly, however, it implies that marketers or developers or whoever think that visuals are the only important part of a film. If this was the case every film would just be a procession of flashy lights, tits, and fireworks. I can’t be certain, but other than some experimental student art films I highly doubt there has ever been a movie that hasn’t at least tried to tell a story of some kind, no matter if it was good or not. A film can look decent while still being absolute shit, such as every single thing Michael Bay has ever done in his entire career, but the best films have more than that: an excellent plot, clever use of music and set design, good dialogue etc. When a game claims  it’s ‘cinematic’ it’s often artistically good at a level of shallowness not offered by most tea-trays. Controls and gameplay don’t matter since people don’t need to play it, only sit entranced by a giant noisy screen while their body fat slowly fuses to their seat.

Then there’s the insanity of transferring a videogame franchise into a film, which boggles the mind. Videogames aren’t particularly known for their excellent storytelling, and if one is it’s often at the expense of gameplay complexities, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons or The Walking Dead series. If a game has an excellent story in its own right then a film spin-off is pointless, as the story has already been told in a visual medium so all you’d be doing is removing any user interaction and throwing Ryan Reynolds in for Nolan North. On the other hand, if it hasn’t told a good story then you’re removing the pop-ups from a pop-up book and leaving behind a story nobody cared about in the first place. Films that tell a different story but set in the same universe are fine and have the potential to be interesting provided they don’t magic up a story out of thin air using a franchise name, of which Battleship is the logical stupidity black hole. If all you’re going to do though is regurgitate the same Mass Effect story with no customisation or moral choice then at least one of the creative teams involved has wasted literally years of their life.

Even ignoring all of that, why is cinema the bastion of quality anyway? There’s nothing intrinsically better about films than games or books, and the industry is now as bloated and overconfident as Jabba the Hutt. The critically ‘best’ films aren’t the most successful and the most successful are normally pretty crap. Transformers 4 grossed over a billion worldwide but is so absolutely atrocious in almost every possible way I wouldn’t be surprised if  Michael Bay was just seeing what he could get away with without being fired. The reason Marvel has taken over the box office isn’t because their films are universally amazing must-sees, it’s because they deliver a solid, consistent 6.5 out of 10 every time, with the occasional 8 sneaking in there to make up for the hopeless gibberish that was Iron Man 3. Marvel has made a TV series in the cinema, so people want to come back and watch more of their favourite characters get into hijinks in their armoured pyjamas. Unfortunately now every studio wants to do this, and it’s absolutely not going to work.

storytelling-transformers

To sum up – pretentiousness runs through the industry like a clogged artery through an obese dog stuck in a McFlurry machine, the majority of content is trash of the highest degree and the good stuff is either lost in the crowd or swiftly dogpiled by the higher ups for sequels if they made any chunk of money at all. While that may very well be a description of modern Hollywood, it’s also a perfect example of the giants of the videogame industry. Two of the biggest media industries on the planet are circling each other down the drain with blinkers bigger than Quentin Tarantino’s ego, caring little if at all for customer satisfaction or end quality. If that’s not a terrifying thought, then… well, go and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or something. I heard it was scary.

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

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”.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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