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Finishing The Force Unleashed

Polished off Star Wars: The Force Unleashed this afternoon, and it was a pretty fun thrill ride from start to finish.

I have to admit that I had heard the gameplay had some problems before I started it, so I set the thing to Easy and I'm glad I did. The developers have a real over-reliance on snipers and people firing from a distance which wouldn't be so bad except that it's far too easy to get knocked down and fall into a gang rape as you bounce back and forth between enemies. There's nothing more frustrating than getting ping-ponged without the chance to really do anything, and even on Easy it happened to me more than I like.

The Force Unleashed and getting an early look at Halo Wars

I'm still catching up with games from 2008 that I never got a chance to get around to… this week, I'm trying Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on the 360. I'm definitely a Star Wars fan (although less so since the new trilogy ruined everything) but I've got to say that so far, this one fits into the canon pretty well and I really like the tone. Playing as Darth Vader's secret apprentice is a neat concept, and LucasArts nailed his character design—his costumes all exude a sort of low-level wraith-like quality, and although I'm sure that there are only a finite number of ways to carry a lightsaber, this new "behind the back" style is pretty hot.

Man vs. Man: Kanji Tatsumi's sexuality in Persona 4

A young man in profile with long, silvery-blond hair and a black jacket and pants. He's looking up, and off into the distance.

In Sexuality and Homophobia in Persona 4 from Gamasutra, Samantha Xu examines the tension between Persona 4's "rough-and-tumble teen" Kanji Tatsumi and his flamboyant alter-ego:

Kanji is feared by the locals and maintains a confrontational machismo toward the other characters throughout the game. He is a loyal son and employee at his family's textile shop, and it's not until the debut of his alter-ego Shadow Kanji that we are made aware of his inner sexual turmoil.

Xu looks at how homosexuality is viewed in Japanese culture and interviews people at Atlus USA who worked on Persona 4, game journalists and Sex in Video Games author Brenda Brathwaite. Brenda likes many things about Kanji's portrayal, but one thing she dislikes is "the game's juvenile nature in dealing with his sexuality."

 

 

Are nonlinear, open world games a dead end?

Far Cry 2

I've been noticing lately that I've developed a fairly strong preference for short, linear games over the more open world "sandbox" style ones. Taking a look at some of the games I've played recently (e.g., Call of Duty 4, Gears of War 2, Portal, Mirror's Edge, Grand Theft Auto IV, Far Cry 2, and Fallout 3), I can see a clear pattern emerging in terms of what games I'm more likely to go back to, or in some cases which games I'm simply more likely to continue playing through to completion.

I'm also starting to believe that the whole idea of the nonlinear, free roaming game as some sort of holy grail for the medium is a bit bogus. We've already seen some pretty damn amazing open world games, but what I'm discovering is that there doesn't seem to be anything particularly earth shattering about these games that, for me, makes them feel that much more profound than the more scripted stuff.

Learning Street Fighter II, slowly

Street Fighter II HD Remix

I see a lot of things slowly. I sometimes have to consciously work out what things are, and I miss many things in my environment simply because I don't have enough time to notice them: people on bicycles, for instance, or something I'm looking for on a shelf, or vacuum hoses. ("What's that thing—a snake? No, it's too big to be in anything but the rain forest. And it's not moving"). While needing time to process what I'm looking at is more of a problem in real space than when looking at a screen, I've found a tool that helps me learn Street Fighter II skills by slowing the game down to something that's more my speed.

GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 8

We celebrate the new year (four weeks late) by previewing 2009's most (and least) anticipated releases. Plus, we tell you why you need to play the Community Games gem CarneyVale Showtime, and is Midnight Club Los Angeles worth a second look? Don't forget to stay after the show for a little something we call "GameCritics Unleashed."

Download: Right click here and select "Save Target As..."
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Please send mailbag questions to podcast (at) gamecritics (dot) com.

Gaming pet peeves

Metal Gear Solid 4

In an effort to prepare for Metal Gear Solid 4, I've recently been playing some of the earlier Metal Gear Solid games. And while it's been really fun for the most part, it's also brought to mind some of my gaming pet peeves, not just related to MGS but to games in general.

What triggered this for me was being reminded that MGS doesn't allow the player to pause during cut scenes. I was at the end of MGS2 when I suddenly found the need to pause the game. I think I knew at that point that I couldn't actually pause, but I had no choice but to try. So I hit the start button and suddenly the game fast forwarded to another section, apparently bypassing a whole bunch of end-game exposition. As a result, I had to reset the game, load my most recent save, and fight a whole bunch of enemies and go through a long boss fight just to get back to the cut scene that I missed. It was absolutely maddening, and it baffles me that the developers wouldn't include such an obvious feature, or why any developer wouldn't include that feature, especially in a game that is so heavy in cut scenes.

A digital art exhibit about disability

Time lapse sculptural image of Mat Frasier kickboxing (Copyright Simon McKeown).
©Simon McKeown

On January 24, the Wolverhampton Art Gallery will exhibit a "moving digital sculpture" that will examine how disabled people move. The exhibit, created by disabled digital artist Simon McKeown, is called Motion Disabled and uses state-of-the-art digital motion-capture technology to animate five disabled people doing things like walking, using the phone, kickboxing, and chopping vegetables. The actors include web developer Steve Graham, mayor Frank Letch and Mat Fraser, an activist, actor, writer, musician and comedian. (He wrote, composed and starred in Thalidomide!! A Musical and co-hosts the BBC Ouch! Podcast).

While not about gaming per se—I don't know if this project's artist is the same Simon McKeown who worked for Reflections Interactive on Stuntman and the Driver series or not—Motion Disabled uses digital animation to pose some critical questions, as the artist points out: "[D]o we value difference? How do disabled people's bodies fit into current versions of normality? And, is physical disability about to become Virtual?" In an interview with Dr. Paul Darke for the Outside Centre's radio show, he said:

[T]he disabled people I grew up with—the disabled children that I grew up working with—were becoming a rarity, in effect. That the effects of screening at childbirth and the medical intervention if you like...in the future...you won't be able to see how a disabled person walks because they won't be in existence.

Spotting Lara Croft's life pack in the wild

This is sort of a games thing, but it's also a family thing… anyway, the wife is playing Tomb Raider: Underworld right now (not linear enough!) and my son was watching her pilot Lara through some ruins for a bit. He really enjoys watching it, and since the bulk of the action is Lara climbing up walls and jumping chasms, we think it's fine to let him take a short peek once in a while.

So anyway, my son and I were at the airport the other day walking down one of the concourses when he suddenly grabs onto my leg and starts pointing at a wall.

"Dad, look over there!"

I looked in the direction he was gesturing, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I asked him what it was he was talking about.

"Right there on the wall, it's a life pack just like in Tomb Raider!"

Mounted near the bathrooms was a portable defibrillator in a red box, and I have to say, the package inside looked a lot like a life pack. As a dad who plays games as much as I do, that was definitely a pretty cool moment, and I couldn't help but crack a big smile.
We didn't run over and collect it, though.

Has LittleBigPlanet lived up to its promises?

LittleBigPlanet

Having received LittleBigPlanet as a Christmas gift from my dad, I've finally been able to experience the game that many have been touting as the first must-own PS3 title. Now that I've sunk a significant amount of time into Media Molecule's little opus, I thought I'd share some of my impressions.

First and foremost, LittleBigPlanet is a thoroughly charming, feel-good game. It's almost impossible not feel at least somewhat upbeat while jumping around with the cute sack people. The snappy soundtrack, the funny expressions of the sack folk, the playful toy box-style aesthetic, the humorous tutorials, everything comes together to form a remarkably charming package.

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