This week, it's some good old fashioned game talk. Amnesia The Dark Descent! Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker! Alan Wake! Plus: Games are too buggy, Richard sings (twice), and stay tuned after the credits for some impromptu Halo: Reach chat. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim "Let's Grow a Beard Together" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: Returning to light your darkest hour, the GameCritics.com podcast episode 44. I'm Tim Spaeth; our panel tonight, a sexy foursome. Give it up for Chi Kong Lui.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey. What's up, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: Brad Gallaway:
Brad Gallaway: Hey, everybody.
Tim Spaeth: Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: Good evening.
Tim Spaeth: And Richard Naik.
Richard Naik: Buenos noches, gentlemen.
Tim Spaeth: Buenos noches, Richard. This week deep-dives into a trio of games, including the terrifying Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Also Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and we return to Alan Wake to get the perspective of our resident Horror Geek, the aforementioned Mike Bracken. But first, as always, it's our Quote of the Week.
[A cat that sounds suspiciously like Tim Spaeth meows].
Tim Spaeth: All right.
Chi Kong Lui: That happened live. What happened? You got some new tricks up your sleeve, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: I have been working on cat sounds. They're fun, and I have just done one in public. I think it was startlingly accurate. All right. Climb up here, Filipe, buddy. Thank you.
Now, for our new listeners, we like to warm up by dissecting a recent quotation from a member of the gaming industry or press. This quote is chosen by my assistant Filipe, now on my lap. None of us are privy to the contents of the envelope that he just handed to me. I am opening it now. [Sound of envelope opening]. I'm reading the quote. Ah! This week's quote comes from a gentleman named Chris Avellone. Does that name sound familiar, anyone?
Mike Bracken: No.
Brad Gallaway: It does.
Tim Spaeth: Chris Avellone is the senior designer at Obsidian Entertainment, developers of the recently-released Fallout: New Vegas. Here is the quotation:
"I think when you create a game as large as Fallout 3 or New Vegas, you are going to run into issues that even a testing team of 300 won't spot, so we're just trying to address those as quickly as possible. It's kind of like the bugs of the real world. The sheer expanse of what you're dealing with causes problems."
Now, let's put this in some context. Fallout: New Vegas is, by all accounts, buggy as hell. In fact, several reviewers have said they couldn't even finish it, due to crashes and corruption of saved games. Chris Avellone is saying: "Hey, look. Our vision, our ambition, is so enormous that bugs are inevitable. They're part of the deal." So, my question for you gentlemen tonight: Are bugs an acceptable price to pay for these massive game experiences?
Richard Naik: No.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, would you care to elaborate?
Richard Naik: Well, first off, the only other Obsidian game I've ever played was Knights of the Old Republic II, which was also buggy as shit. So, one, I would have to look at the developer, rather than big games as a whole. I've played other large games like the first Knights of the Old Republic or Dragon Age or even the original Fallout 3 that were not as buggy as Fallout: New Vegas is reported to be. I have not played that, I want to make it clear, but no. I want to say that that is absolutely not an acceptable price to pay for such a large game.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, you have long been a champion of the consumer. What are your thoughts?
Brad Gallaway: Well, I'm going to have to agree with Richard. I have played Knights of the Old Republic II, which I did find to be quite buggy. I haven't played Fallout: New Vegas, because I heard it was really buggy and I stayed away. Oh, and also I played Alpha Protocol, also from Obsidian. That was pretty buggy, as well. So I think thatin the industry they are pretty well-known for being bug-prone, as it were.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: And there's several examples of games that are large, open-world games that are just not even remotely in the ballpark of the level of bugginess that Fallout: New Vegas is reported to be and along the lines of what Obsidian generally turns out. They're just known for it.
I do agree that these big, huge, humongous open-world games are probably a lot tougher to test. I'm not a tester myself, but I think, just logistically and looking at what's there, I can certainly understand. But I think that if you're going to create one of those, you have to take it into account that you're going to need a larger than usual testing department.
And I have to take issue with the fact that people were finding bugs within half an hour or an hour of starting the game on day one of release. How did your testers not find these things? I'm sure that they were busy finding lots of other things, but I don't understand how consumer Joe Blow can pick up Fallout: New Vegas, go home, and within an hour report game-crashing bugs. That just boggles me. It's one thing to have a really obscure quest towards the end of the game that maybe not everybody's going to see, so maybe you wouldn't catch bugs in that one, because you're priorities are elsewhere. But it seems like you would really catch the stuff at the beginning, at minimum. I'm not even talking about the rest of the game. I just don't know what they're doing. I think they just needed to triple the size of their bug-finding team.
Richard Naik: Yeah. And, again, what really gets me about that is that the original Fallout 3, it had some bugs and some problems here and there, but nothing that really broke the game. At least for me, the game never crashed on me completely. There were a couple graphical artefacts or just weird dialogue errors that I ran into. It does happen, but the fact that the original Fallout 3 was generally pretty playable and that New Vegas is based on the same engine that Fallout 3 was made with—I'm sorry. That just—
Chi Kong Lui: It's inexcusable, really.
Richard Naik: Sorry, the Avellone thing just does not fly with me.
Chi Kong Lui: That's one of the benefits of these mid-level updates. It's not even a full sequel. One of those benefits should be that the development should go smoother and, in turn, have less bugs and less glitches and progress forward. But it's a huge step back, for some reason. So, yeah.
Richard Naik: It just sounds to me like Knights of the Old Republic II redux, where they made the sequel—or at least ostensibly a sequel—to a great game and then just made something else that had a whole bunch of problems with it. So, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Whatever they're doing, they're not benefiting from the original team's development. [Chuckles]
Richard Naik: Right.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. It would be one thing if this was the first time it happened with Obsidian. Fallout, genuinely, it's a huge game: there's tons of potential areas for bugs and stuff. But Obsidian has this rep. They are well-known, like I said earlier, so it's almost like you've cried wolf so many times we can't believe you anymore, because every game you turn out is buggy as hell. So I get that he needs to speak the PR speak and cover his tail, but like Richard said, it just doesn't fly. And for consumers to buy a game that is unfinishable or that has multiple crashes, I don't care what he says. That stuff should've been caught, for sure. He shouldn't be selling that game.
Richard Naik: And for $60, too. It's a full-price purchase, that you're getting all that stuff with.
Tim Spaeth: And a full-price purchase that you can't return. You can't take New Vegas back to the store and get your money back, once that shrink-wrap is torn open.
Brad Gallaway: Very true. And in this case, you can genuinely say it's a defective product. You literally could say that, and you still couldn't get your money back. It's a scam. It's terrible.
Tim Spaeth: I don't know. It's scary, and it's more than just Obsidian, isn't it? This is a trend: Developers using the first three months of release as another beta test, or a gamma test. This year, we saw Stardok release Elemental on the PC, which I didn't play. I don't think any of us played, but by all accounts, it was a disaster upon its release. APB came out this year, the massively multiplayer cops and robbers game. Such a mess that it put the developer out of business, Real Time Worlds. I would argue that Civilization V, while playable, was an unfinished product. Features that were promised were not there. Allegedly, they'll be added later. The AI was a joke. Whether these companies are running out of time or running out of money, probably both, I feel like there are just too many games going out unfinished, and it's deeply disturbing to me.
Chi Kong Lui: That's so sad, too: Civilization V. I mean, five, for God's sakes. [Chuckles] Get it right, already!
Tim Spaeth: Exactly.
Mike Bracken: That's because the Civ people will play it, regardless, those people who are so addicted to it.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I blogged about this a while ago, and I honestly think that a lot of this, with consoles, anyway, has to do with the level of connectivity these days. Developers didn't used to have that back door. They had to get it right the first time. It was pretty rare that you would have a game that was so broken you couldn't finish it back before consoles were online. Honestly, I see it as a crutch: "Everybody knows. We'll, let's get it as good as we can and we can have a patch available for download later."
And even though people are saying that's not how they're approaching the problem, I think it's pretty clear that it is. Those examples you mentioned, Tim, and those other examples, too. Just recently, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow had a few seriously game-breaking bugs. You couldn't finish the game, and data would randomly corrupt. There's been a few other games recently: Fable III had a few bugs that would just randomly delete saves for people. I had a friend whose game was randomly corrupted about 15 minutes before he finished the game.
Mike Bracken: Oh, that's just a blessing.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, maybe in that case it was good. But in general, I think developers are really looking at these ethernet chords as their escape hatch, and I think it's just bullshit. It should not be accepted.
Chi Kong Lui: They need to go back to the old days, where they had to pay up front for the cartridges, for Nintendo to manufacture them. So if anything screwed up, the publisher basically had to take it up the butt on that one.
Tim Spaeth: Oh…Mike.
Mike Bracken: Yes?
Tim Spaeth: Are you okay?
Mike Bracken: I am. I'm super.
Tim Spaeth: Do you support Chris Avellone?
Mike Bracken: No. I think Chris Avellone is full of fucking shit.
Tim Spaeth: Yes!
Mike Bracken: No. I understand it's PR speak; he has to come out and say this. I'm sure nobody there can be happy about the amount of bugs we've all heard about this game. Again, it's Obsidian. They have a reputation for this. It's just to the point now where when they put out a game, you expect that there'll be a lot of bugs in it. You either go out and buy it day one and put up with them, or you wait three months until they figure out how to fix it and then buy it after they've fixed most of it, and play it then.
So I don't know. I'm with Brad. I think that connectivity has made it so that these guys now treat these games like PC games, where: "Well just patch it," because they're always trying to rush everything out the fucking door to make the investors happy and to get it out in the right time frame so the profits show up on the right quarterly report and this and that. We're seeing a lot of games now comes out with really, really terrible problems that somebody who's getting paid to be a QA tester should be catching. All I can say is, if Obsidian ever gets asked to work on something for Skynet, I hope they turn it down. I'd hate to think of Skynet with Obsidian-level bugs in it. We're all fucked if that happens.
Richard Naik: Yeah. I was going to say, the connectivity as a lifeline has been a problem with PC games for a long time, too.
Mike Bracken: Mmhm. Yeah, now it's just moved into the console arena. This is why I never played PC games: I didn't want to have to deal with constantly figuring out how to fucking upgrade my graphics card every year, and I didn't want to deal with patching games. I loved console games because you put them in and you played. You didn't have to download anything; you didn't have to wait for them to install. It was plug and play.
Brad Gallaway: Those were the days.
Mike Bracken: It's not that anymore.
Brad Gallaway: I should probably say, just to be fair and to piggy-back with what you were saying, Mike—I'm glad that I remembered this in time—I actually have spoken to a number of actual bug-finding people, QA people, and very often the story is: "Well, we found those bugs and we knew about them, but management didn't care."
Richard Naik: Yeah, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: So I don't think that we want to really put it on the people who are actually doing the QA. I'm sure that they're really working hard and they're doing a really, really super thankless job.
Mike Bracken: It's a thankless job, yeah. [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: Totally, totally. So, in fairness, every time that I've talked to an actual QA person, they've said: "We knew it was buggy, but the producer or the management or the publisher just said 'Fuck it' and shipped it." So I think that is definitely a factor as well. We don't want to make it sound like it's only the QA people.
Mike Bracken: No, no. I would in fact say it's always not the QA people. I always assume it's management, because they're the ones who answer to the accountants and stock people and all that. So I think it's always them. I think anybody who tests games is crazy because it sounds like a horrible job to me. [Chuckles] But it's also thankless.
Richard Naik: Yeah, that's not something I could ever see myself doing.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: It's dudes in suits and corner offices screwing it up for the rest of us. I think that's what it comes down to.
Mike Bracken: Always. It's always The Man.
Tim Spaeth: And the greatest shame of all of this—the greatest shame of all of this—is that there is a game with voicework by Wayne Newton that I'm not playing. And that is a travesty. So, that's our Quote of the Week. Let's move right into our first game. Just some good old-fashioned game talk tonight. I'm very excited about it. We're starting with Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The reason we are talking about this game, Richard Naik, is that you tweeted that you were too frightened to finish it, and I am captivated by that comment. Richard, tell us about Amnesia. Tell us why it was too terrifying to finish.
Richard Naik: Well, as I said, Amnesia is the only game that has ever scared. Normally I don't really go for horror games. I spent a little bit of time with Resident Evil 1 or 2 and then one of the Silent Hill games, way back in the PS1 era. But other than that, I don't really go for horror stuff, so Mike, if you want to choke me through the Internet right now, I'll totally understand it.
Mike Bracken: Nah, I'm nice.
Richard Naik: I saw Amnesia on Steam and I thought it looked pretty interesting, and it's actually only $20. Based on what you get, that's actually a really good price. So I gave it a whirl, and part of me really enjoys it and part of me wishes I had never played it. This game turned me into such an emotional wreck. After my sessions of playing it, I was honestly a little bit hesitant to open doors, each time I got done playing it.
I really both love it and hate it at the same time. I love it because every single piece of this game, from design to the subtle use of audio and visual effects, to the writing, to the pacing. Especially the pacing. It's paced extremely well. But every single piece of this is just done…it's pitch-perfect. I love every bit of it. And it was so good, I almost could not handle it. I had to imbibe a large amount of alcohol in order to get myself to actually be able to finish this game.
Tim Spaeth: So, let me stop you right there, because I want to get to the drinking. I want to talk about the alcohol.
Richard Naik: Okay.
Tim Spaeth: But before we do that, for those who haven't played this game, is it a first-person shooter? Is it a third-person survival horror? What is it?
Richard Naik: It's a first-person adventure. I'd call it an adventure game. I guess you could call it a first-person adventure survival horror: see how many different genres you could throw in there. But it's from first-person perspective and it plays similar to a point-and-click adventure game, I'd say. You pick up random items and you use them to solve puzzles and stuff to advance through the game, so I would call it a first-person adventure, but really, you could play genre bingo with it.
Chi Kong Lui: What was the initial sell for you? Why'd you decide to pick it up? What features?
Richard Naik: I saw it on Steam and I watched the trailer, and that was really it. Every now and then I'll just look through there and see if there's something that catches my eye.
Chi Kong Lui: So what about the trailer, though, captured your eye?
Richard Naik: If you watch the trailer, it's a segment where you're running away from this monster that's chasing you throughout the castle. I don't know. I can't really give a detailed description of it. It was just something that said: "Oh, this looks kind of interesting," so I downloaded it and played it, and I was just a tad jumpy afterwards.
Tim Spaeth: So the initial event that terrified you. You start chugging wine…was it directly out of the bottle? Did you pour it into a glass? What was the—?
Richard Naik: I did pour it into a glass. I have a Cardinals 2006 World Series glass that is normally my wine receptacle that saw a fair amount of use. I did not drink that much. I drank maybe a third…well, I guess, maybe about half of the bottle. So don't think that I'm an alcoholic, or anything.
Brad Gallaway: Too late.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, really.
Richard Naik: Okay. But there is one moment that probably got me thinking that I wasn't going to be able to finish it. Like I said, there's this monster chasing you throughout the castle. You wake up in this dark castle; you have no idea who you are or why you're there. One of the only things that you find out is that there's this thing chasing you. You don't know what it is; you just know it's bad news. The first time you encounter it, you're in this watery hallway and it's dark and the monster shows up behind you. You have to run through this series of hallways, and it's a maze, so if you take the wrong way you're basically screwed.
When I finally got through and I got to the door, it sends you into this really serene area, as opposed to where you just were. The music is very soothing; there's a fountain right in front of you. There's no monsters or anything. So I was sitting there catching my breath, letting my heart slow down a bit. I had my notebook out, and I was like: "Wow! That was amazing!" I was going to go write it down.
I have a black cat, and I was playing with the lights off, because the game at the beginning recommends that you play with the lights off. So I couldn't see her sitting on my desk, and when I reached for my pen to write in my notebook, she took a swipe at my hand. I jumped out of the chair and fell backwards onto my bed and just laid there for a few seconds, contemplating the kind of emotional state that this game had put me into. So that was the point where I was thinking: "Maybe I really shouldn't play this for my health." And then eventually I did something else that was very detrimental to my health in order to finish it. But I'd consider it an even trade-off.
Brad Gallaway: You killed the cat, didn't you? Is that what it was? You killed the cat?
Richard Naik: No, I did not kill the cat. The cat was sitting right here. I don't know where the hell she went, but she's alive.
Chi Kong Lui: Did you start playing with the lights on after that?
Richard Naik: Yes, I did start playing…I turned the lights on.
I turned the lights on; I took the headphones off; I used the speakers.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: If that makes me a wuss, then I am a wuss, but at least I fucking finished it.
Tim Spaeth: Played in broad daylight, turned on some Barbara Streisand in the background.
Richard Naik: I actually turned on some of the music from The Muppet Movie.
Brad Gallaway: "Rainbow Connection?"
Richard Naik: Oh, yeah. I've had the lyrics to that shit memorized since I was seven.
Mike Bracken: It's not easy being green.
Richard Naik: [singing]: Why are there so many songs about rainbows? [speaking:] Okay, I'll stop now.
Mike Bracken: Oh, my goodness.
Tim Spaeth: Just to be clear for the audience, that was Richard singing, not me.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. We've become such a musical show.
Richard Naik: Yeah. When your ears start bleeding, you can blame me and not Tim.
Chi Kong Lui: Actually, that would've been more appropriate coming from me. I don't know if you know this, but a bunch of people, mostly from Europe, think I sound like Kermit the frog.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: I was going to actually bring that up with you, at some point.
Tim Spaeth: I think you sound like a strong, masculine human being.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't take offense to it. I actually think it's a great thing. I think the worst offense in any podcast would be to sound like a nobody, or not having a recognizable voice, so I'd rather sound like Kermit than sound like nobody. [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: That's fair. You stand out; you're unique.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Tim Spaeth: You're part of the flavor of this podcast. So, let me ask Mike Bracken a question.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, you're the Horror Geek.
Mike Bracken: Right.
Tim Spaeth: Do you feel like horror video games can convey the same sort of tension that a horror movie can? Are you buying what Richard is telling us here? Do you think that this is possible for a game to have this effect?
Mike Bracken: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think games have an opportunity to maybe even do it more than films do. In a good game, you're putting yourself into the role of the main character, the person who's in danger, the person who's facing this unknown, terrifying thing. Whereas in film, you're always watching someone else and there's that layer of safety between you and what's happening. People still get scared at films, but I think in some ways it's probably easier with games, because you're controlling it. You're making things happen.
So definitely it works that way, d I think it's always hard for me, because I'm desensitized. I'm totally jaded. Nothing scares me. I've seen so many horror films and read so many books and played so many games that…Peter Straub once said that he didn't look at horror writers to get scared, but just to see if they could dance—how they wrote, basically. That's how I look at anything from the genre now. Sometimes something'll creep you out a little bit, but I couldn't even tell you the last time I was scared. So I think Richard has this cool thing in that he's not a horror person, so he totally goes into it and it works on him in a totally different way than it would work on someone like me. But that's cool; I'm envious of that, actually. I wish I could find something that scared me.
Chi Kong Lui: But I thought you said Human Centipede scared you, didn't it?
Mike Bracken: No, no. I liked Human Centipede, though. But, no. Human Centipede managed to gross me out at one point.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, okay. I see.
Mike Bracken: And it wasn't the point everybody thinks, were they're sewed together ass to mouth. That didn't bother me. But there's a scene where they're going up the stairs, and they're trying to crawl up these stairs and you can hear them ripping apart. That was pretty gross.
Richard Naik: But the way you describe it about the player actually feeling like they're in imminent danger, that's exactly how I felt. The only types of enemies in the game are the thing that's chasing you and then there are these other zombie-type things. The first time you run into one of them, you're in this really dark basement. You can't fight them, so you basically have to run and hide. It just gets to the point where I get down; I go to a corner; I turn the lantern off, and I'm just siting there. I wasn't thinking about trying to kill them; I wasn't thinking about trying to solve a puzzle. I was just thinking: "Please, just make this fucker go away."
"When I turn around and look in that direction, I don't want to see that thing." Eventually he just walked away and I was just like: "Ah, fuck. I'm going to have to do that 30 more times, aren't I?"
Mike Bracken: That's really interesting. Sometimes I think that these horror games, the problem is that they make you powerful enough that you have option to fight and kill these things that scare you. So the idea of a game that actually forces you to just run away from this monster, that you don't have any chance of killing it or stopping it, that certainly makes it creepier, I think.
Richard Naik: Yeah. You are totally powerless and really, that sense of helplessness is what the alcohol helped alleviate.
Mike Bracken: [Chuckling]
Richard Naik: First, I was hiding in the corner. I'm like: "Ah, shit. Shit, shit, shit. Just go away." But then after the wine, I'm like: "Ooh! Look! There's a thing out there! I'm going to go throw a rock at it!" And then he would kill me, obviously.
Mike Bracken: [Chuckling]
Chi Kong Lui: If Richard becomes an alcoholic, Brad, we're going to have to take some responsibility for that.
Brad Gallaway: I know. I was just going to ask you if the site had liability coverage for that. Do we have a sponsored rehab?
Richard Naik: Oh, don't worry. I haven't had a drink in four days, so you're fine.
Chi Kong Lui: For the folks who don't know what we're talking about, Brad and I forced Richard to finish the game, because he didn't want to finish it for his review. But given the score that he gave it, we felt it was important that he finish it. [Chuckling]
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I wanted to apply a little editorial pressure, that's for sure.
Richard Naik: Yeah; yeah. I'm glad you did, honestly.
Tim Spaeth: I didn't know about this. Explain this. You guys reached out to Richard and said: "Get back in the foxhole"?
Brad Gallaway: Richard approached me and he said that he really, really, really liked this game a lot and we were discussing a review. He told me that he wanted to review it, but he wasn't done. With my understanding that the game was actually relatively short…what is it, Richard? Six or eight hours or something like that?
Richard Naik: Yeah; it's about six to nine hours, depending on how much time you spend hiding in a corner.
I took nine hours to finish it.
Mike Bracken: You were drunk.
Brad Gallaway: So anyway, he says: "I can't finish it because it's so scary, but I want to give it top marks." I'm like: "Well, you got to be able to defend it if you're going to give something the top of the scale. Editorially, I cannot let you run this review if you haven't finish the game, because you wouldn't be able to defend the entire game. That's just not acceptable." So I strongly encouraged him to finish it. And then, Chi, I guess, did you e-mail him also, or what did you do?
Chi Kong Lui: No, I just gave you my opinion. I didn't contact him.
Brad Gallaway: I wanted to check myself to make sure that my instincts were right, so I ran it by Chi and said: "Chi, what would you think if Richard ran this review without finishing it?" and Chi was on the same page as I was. So the consensus was to be a responsible….
Chi Kong Lui: Suck it up; suck it up. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, you got to man up and finish it. I totally appreciate that it was scary, and there's been plenty of times when I've just not wanted to play scary games because I'm kind of a wuss when it comes to those. But when you're going to start talking about giving out tens, you got to walk the talk.
Richard Naik: Yeah, yeah. So I'm a wuss when it comes to scary games, too; hence the hesitation. But one trip to the grocery store and some liquid courage later, and I finished it. I'm not sure I'll remember all of it, but I finished it.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] I don't remember finishing it, but I did! When I woke up, there were credits.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: This is going to be one of those cases where the backstory of the review is going to be more interesting than the review.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: So we're running short on time for the segment; I just have two more questions. One for you, Richard: Now that you've played Amnesia and you've had time to soak this experience in, are you going to go back and explore more horror games or are you done for a while?
Richard Naik: Absolutely not.
Like I said, the horror games that I have played were nothing like that. To be honest, if Amnesia's the standard that I'm going to set for horror games, then I imagine that I wouldn't be as impressed with other horror games. So, no, I doubt it.
Tim Spaeth: Fair enough; fair enough. My last question is: Is that really what Human Centipede is about?
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Seriously?
Brad Gallaway: You don't know, dude?
Mike Bracken: Dude, basically these two American girls end up in Germany and they end up broken down and they go to this strange doctor's house to use his phone. He's trying to make a human centipede, so he's already got a Japanese guy down in his basement and he drugs them and puts them down there and he sews them together ass to mouth, and they're a human centipede.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: [The writer/director is] working on the sequel now, where he's going to have six people or 12 people or something in it.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Oh, my God.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: What happens when they get to part 3? [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Oh, he was going to do three, but I guess he decided not to do a third one and he's upping the ante in 2. His name is Tom Six. He's actually a really interesting guy.
Brad Gallaway: I heard he's going to branch out. He's dropping the whole centipede thing; he's going to switch over to a different kind of bug.
Mike Bracken: Yeah; yeah.
Brad Gallaway: It's going to be like: Human Potato Bug or Human Dragonfly.
Mike Bracken: [scoffs]: Human Bedbug, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I think I've actually seen that movie already. It wasn't good.
Mike Bracken: It's actually funny, because my site ran a horror porn review recently and it was a Tom Byron film, and he did a porn version of Human Centipede called Human Sexipede, and his PR people got in touch with me the other day, because they want to send me a copy.
Brad Gallaway: Awesome.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Did you guys ever review Edward Penishands, by any chance?
Mike Bracken: No, no, but I've seen it.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: And with that…[chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Let us out the segment and take a break. We'll compose ourselves. When we return, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and another look at Alan Wake. More GC dot PC, right after this.
Welcome back. We turn now to Brad Gallaway. Brad, your love for Metal Gear Solid 4 is legendary.
Brad Gallaway: [scoffs]: It is; it really is.
Tim Spaeth: I can only imagine the anticipation coming back to Metal Gear for Peace Walker on the PSP. It's been out for a while, but you're now just getting a chance to talk about it. And we've never really talked about Metal Gear on this show before, so I think it's a good opportunity to get into it. Tell us a little bit about Peace Walker.
Brad Gallaway: Sure, sure. But I do think I need to give a little bit of a preface, for people who aren't familiar. To start at the beginning, I am definitely a Metal Gear fan, so I want to start off by saying that I'm a big fan of Hideo Kojima and I've always really loved the Metal Gear series. I've played all the games, as far as I know. But when it came round to Metal Gear Solid 4, I hated it, hated it. I cannot state enough how much I disliked Metal Gear Solid 4, to the point where I physically had flaming diarrhea after playing that game.
Mike Bracken: Wow.
Brad Gallaway: It did not sit well with me at all.
Richard Naik: Flaming diarrhea?
Brad Gallaway: Flaming, yes. Impressive and painful, and I don't want to repeat that. So I was really traumatized after that, and knowing that Peace Walker was coming, I have to say and be really honest with you guys, I just didn't really feel like playing it. I was so burned on Metal Gear and I was so bitter with what went down in 4 that I was just like: "Fuck it. I just don't care anymore." Metal Gear Solid 4 killed all love I had for the series, a love which I thought would have never died.
But I had so many of my friends playing it and were talking about it.
Chi Kong Lui: Dying in the battlefield. [Unknown] [Chuckles]
Richard Naik: It was a love that grew in the battlefield and then died.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Not going there; not going there. But when it came out, I had a ton of people say it was really great and it was good, and everybody was trying to get me to play it. I was tempted, because it's very rare that I have multiplayer opportunities, but I just couldn't do it. It took me this long, really, to get past that distaste to finally give it a try, and I'm actually really glad that I did. It's actually a really, really good game. It surprised me, and it's good enough that it settled my tummy.
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: It really reminded me of why I liked Metal Gear Solid in the first place, and for that, I'm actually really grateful. So for people who are not familiar with Peace Walker, it is on the PSP only, and it's a game in two parts. There is the traditional third-person espionage action Metal Gear stealthy, combatty, veteran of the battlefield action. So there's a really good campaign that you can go through from start to finish. The story is a really good entry. I've heard some people say they didn't care for the story; I thought it was fine, and actually, after what went down in Metal Gear Solid 4, it's fucking Hemingway.
The other part of Peace Walker is a weird little strategy element to it, where there's a lot of grinding to be done, a lot of number work, a lot of upgrading. It's almost like there's two separate, completely different parts, but both of them are really good. I take my PSP with me sometimes when I'm reviewing PSP games, and I know that a game is really good when I start being late to work because I'm in the car and I'm playing and I'm like: "Well, just one more level. Wait, wait, wait—I got to finish this boss. Oh, wait, I got to save this thing. I got to upgrade this thing."
When games start doing that to me, I know they're really good. I haven't had that happen for a while, but I got to say, I was actually late to work a couple times playing Peace Walker in the car, which I probably shouldn't admit on the air, but it's true.
Chi Kong Lui: What? You're driving and playing at the same time? [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: No, I'm parked; I'm parked. You get to work and then you park. And then I park someplace where nobody can see me and then I bust out the PSP and I start playing a little bit. Before I know it, it's one minute before I'm supposed to be where I'm supposed to be, and it's like: "Ah, shit. Okay, sleep mode. Let's go." So that to me is the sign of a great game and, like I said, I was late a couple times.
But the main campaign, I think, is really good. It's actually a direct sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3. In that game, they talked about the original Big Boss and his relationship to the boss, which, if you're not really a Metal Gear fan, is really too complex and too in-depth for me to get into. But it was one of the high points of the series, I think most people will agree. And so they continue that, which was a little bit surprising, but I think it paid off. They also get into how Big Boss went from being a hero to the main villain in the Metal Gear Solid series, and that's also pretty convoluted, but they do a pretty good job of detailing what goes on there and how he builds his army of mercenaries in Outer Heaven, and so I thought that part was really, really cool.
I liked a lot of the action. A lot of the levels were really old-school Metal Gear, like on the PS2, so I felt like I was really being sneaky and using my weapons. The gameplay just felt really tight. It felt like a return to form for me in a way that Metal Gear Solid 4 just didn't even begin to approach. A lot of the silliness and stupidity of Metal Gear Solid 4 is gone. A lot of the bosses are pretty cool in Peace Walker, and it just has more pride. It has more sense; it has more respectability to it. I [unknown] myself playing it, and I just kept thinking: "Wow, this is really cool. Why did I ever not like this?" And then of course I would look at my case [at] Metal Gear Solid 4, and I'd think: "Oh. That's right. I remember."
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: But it's really good, and I would definitely recommend it to anybody who is a fan of the Metal Gear series. Now, the other half, the strategy part, is a little bit weird. If anybody is a fan of Monster Hunter, you might actually find yourself being really familiar with this part. There's a lot of similarities. So what happens is, in the course of the Big Boss going through the story mode, you have these balloons, and it sounds really ridiculous, but it's a real thing. It's an actual piece of technology in real life, where you strap it to somebody and it shoots them up in the air and then they get picked up by a plane or a helicopter above.
So as you walk through these levels, you knock these guys out that are the enemy soldiers, and if you think they've got some stats that you need or you think you want to add them to your team, you knock them out and then you stick this balloon on them, and then they just go shooting off into the stratosphere and then you reclaim them back at your base. What you do is you assign these dudes that you kidnapped to different roles at your home base. They can be in the med center; they can be just a straight-up combat soldier; they can be intelligence; they can work in the mess hall, believe it or not.
As you collect these guys, you up your stats in these various attributes, and then you can develop new technology. You can actually capture vehicles on the battlefield. If you find a tank—a tank is one of the bosses—you can take out the commander of the tank. You actually get to keep that tank and bring it back to your base, so you use it yourself. As you go through the game, I don't think this a spoiler, but you can actually assemble your own personal Metal Gear to have, to use on missions.
It takes a bit of doing. You have to salvage the right parts and stuff, but you can totally do it, and it's really interesting to cultivate this army. You hear about it in some of the later games—the Outer Heaven forces that Big Boss assembles—and it's kinda cool to actually be able to do that. You can send them on missions; I think you can have eight or ten teams that are strike teams you can send out to do these missions. You can have these different vehicles and stuff, and you just build your little empire. It's pretty fucking cool, actually.
It's definitely not going to be for everybody, and I've heard a lot of people say that they don't like how much "grinding" there is, as far as sending your teams out to get experience and increasing their stats and so forth. But if you are that all strategically inclined, it's fairly stripped down, but it's deep enough that it's going to keep your attention, I think, and it's a good contrast to the actual third-person action of the main game. So, in total, I thought it was a really, really, really fascinating, really interesting game, really well put together and, like I said before, a real respectable return to form for Metal Gear. So I'm just really, really pleased with it.
Chi Kong Lui: A lot of the more interesting features that you described, how does it play out? It seems very complicated.
Brad Gallaway: It sounds complicated, and I think that's one reason why it took me so long to get around to it. I think in all the reviews that I read previously, I didn't really read anybody accurately describing what it was like, so I went into it not knowing what to expect. But what happens is, most of it is menu-based. So when you get back to your home base, you have this whole list of soldiers, and you can see their stats: some of them are better at combat, some of them are better at intelligence, or whatever. You put them on different teams where you want them to go, and again, this is menu-based.
There's a selection of missions you can send them on. I think it's called the Outer Ops missions. So it has nothing to do with the main storyline; you send them to other countries. You pick a mission to send them on; you can assign up to eight soldiers per mission and you just say "Dispatch," and then they just go. Then you keep on playing the main campaign or whatever, and when you come back from your mission, they're back and it says: "Here's the results." It's percentage-based and it's numbers-based and stuff, but it's all really simple menus. You don't get to watch reenactments of those battles or anything. It just gives you a summary at the end, but if you're a stat-head or a gear-head or something, it's pretty cool to go through. There's a lot of stuff to work through. It's pretty interesting.
Chi Kong Lui: It sounds right up my alley.
Brad Gallaway: I was thinking you might actually get into it. It's deceptively deep. There's a lot of gear that you can put together, but you have to do well on certain missions to unlock some of it, and you can level up all your guns. You don't need to. I've heard a lot of people say that they didn't really like having to grind their way through the game, but to be honest, going through the main campaign, I wasn't grinding anything and I was blowing through it.
People were saying the bosses were really, really hard and you could only take them down in multiplayer, which is totally not true. I definitely think that it's a little bit of a shock when you finally get to your first real boss because they have really long life bars, but there are definite strategies to take them down easier and so far…I'm almost completely done with the game, and I have not had to do multiplayer to get past anything. I've been able to do it single-player, and honestly, it's not been hard at all.
I should probably say that I have spent a lot of time with the Monster Hunter series, which is renowned for being phenomenally difficult, which it is, and so I think compared to Monster Hunter, Peace Walker is like a piece of cake. It's not even a comparison. The only reason I even bring up Monster Hunter is because not only are there similarities in the design of the actual strategic parts of the game, but there also is a crossover happening. There are some secret monsters from Monster Hunter making an appearance in Peace Walker, and Solid Snake and The Boss will be appearing in a Monster Hunter game later. So there's definitely some cross-pollination going on. But as a fan of both, I found that the game was easy. It's really easy. I don't understand what people are saying how it's really difficult. I didn't find that to be true at all.
Richard Naik: That does sound pretty interesting. It's one of the things that make me wish I owned a PSP.
Brad Gallaway: I wouldn't say: "Buy a system for it," but I definitely think that if you ever do get one, this would be one of the ones to pick up, for sure.
Tim Spaeth: Mm. Why do you think Kojima came back to Metal Gear Solid? I didn't play Metal Gear Solid 4. My understanding is that it's kind of a definitive conclusion to the series. Could this game have fit with a completely different intellectual property, different character, different story, something completely new? Did it have to be a Metal Gear game?
Brad Gallaway: No, I don't think so. I think the bones of this game are so strong. It's just a really well put together game. The action parts hold together great. They're really well-constructed; the controls are good; the level design is great; the strategy parts are really interesting. I think you could've slapped anybody in this game and it would've worked. This would've been a great kick-off point for a brand new franchise. I definitely don't think it had to be a Metal Gear game at all.
And actually, that was one of the things I was really surprised about. Kojima was quoted many times before the release of Metal Gear Solid 4 as saying he was sick of working on the series—
Chi Kong Lui: [Chuckling] Right.
Brad Gallaway: —and that Konami wouldn't let him go. I don't know that he ever said they were forcing him to, but I think it was kind of made clear, if you read between the lines of the various interviews he gave. And when I was playing through Metal Gear Solid 4, that was all I could think about. I was like: "Wow, this is really stupid. Man, that was a bad decision. Ah, this is terrible. Oh, I can't believe he did this." It to me felt like he was kissing off the series, which is understandable. I wouldn't want to be tied to a project for 20 years, either.
I just don't know what the difference was. Maybe he felt bad about what happened to Metal Gear Solid 4 and needed to make a comeback, or he felt like he owed the fans more, or I don't know what. But it just feels like a true Metal Gear game. There's little bits of silliness and stuff, and there's the usual craziness that you find in that series, but it's not absurd and it's not terrible and it's not stupid the way that 4 was. It got its pride back somehow. I don't know how, but I'm glad that it did.
Chi Kong Lui: Was it a different development team?
Brad Gallaway: No, no. Kojima was the executive producer and I think he had a PSP team. I don't think it's the same people that worked on 4, necessarily, but I think his hand was definitely in it. I went back to check and read some more interviews just to make sure I knew what I was talking about. And, yeah, he was as involved in Peace Walker as he was in 4, apparently. But he must've had a change of heart somewhere down the line.
Richard Naik: I seem to remember—and, Brad, maybe you saw this in the interviews that you read. First off, I agree with you 100 percent about Metal Gear Solid 4, and I seem to remember an interview that Kojima gave a while ago, where he actually said he was disappointed in it. He was disappointed in how it turned out, and he said that in explicit terms. Did you see anything like that?
Brad Gallaway: I didn't come across that specific quote, but I actually was digging for one and I just didn't have enough time tonight. But I think after this podcast is over, I'm going to see if I can dig it up. That's the only thing that makes sense to me. It's such a different tone; it's such a different feel. It seems to me like he really was trying. I was actually speaking to somebody else who's a really big Metal Gear fan, and we were comparing notes. That person's quote was: "Kojima's trying again," which to me made perfect sense, and that seems very true, so I agree.
Tim Spaeth: And now, is this it for Metal Gear? Are there no more games announced?
Brad Gallaway: Well, there's off-shoot with Raiden. Metal Gear…anybody know the subtitle of that?
Tim Spaeth: Oh, the watermelon fighter. Yeah, yeah, that's right.
Brad Gallaway: Metal Gear: Rising. That's what it is, Rising.
Tim Spaeth: And he's fighting watermelon. That's the direction they're going, right?
Brad Gallaway: Ninja mutant watermelon, Tim. Come on. It's not just watermelon.
Chi Kong Lui: Kinect-enabled.
Tim Spaeth: I didn't read the novelization, so I didn't know. [Laughter] Kinect-enabled.
Brad Gallaway: Niice. Nice.
Tim Spaeth: Our one and only Kinect comment for the remainder of the year, I'm sure. Well, Brad, thank you for sharing your tales of Metal Gear with us. I have a feeling you are going to be heavily involved in our next discussion, but we'll start with Mike Bracken on Alan Wake. We talked about this game a few months ago, and Brad was at the time the only one who'd played it. We all kind of nodded our heads and smiled. But, Mike, as you now have your Xbox back, you're going through the backlog and you have recently finished Alan Wake. Talk about your experience.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I did finally finish it. It was one of those games that…it was kind of odd. When it first came out, I wasn't…Even before it came out I'd posted some stuff about it on my site and everything, but I wasn't super interested in playing it, I think because primarily people were talking about how it had sort of this Twin Peaks vibe to it and I'm not a big Twin Peaks fan. I was never really into the show. I like David Lynch, but Twin Peaks didn't really do much for me, which is probably sacrilege to a lot of people. I know people who just love that show.
But anyway, it's kind of a horror game and everything, so I knew I would check it out eventually. So I finally got around to it. I got GameFly to send it to me, after waiting for forever, for some reason. Even after Brad had said he didn't really like it, I decided to give it a runthrough anyway, and I actually kinda liked it. I wouldn't call it a great game and it wouldn't be in the running for my Game of the Year or anything like that, but there are some things in there that the game does really well and then there are also things that it does horribly, horribly wrong. [Chuckles]
So I think part of the allure of it for me was that it reminded me of John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, which was about a writer who has disappeared and Sam Neil has to go find him, and he's this horror writer and he's writing, it's sort of a Lovecraftian story. He's writing this stuff and everything's becoming real that he's writing, and he's writing like the Elder Gods into existence, basically, to take over the world and make everyone insane.
Alan Wake isn't quite on that same story level, but it is kind of an interesting B horror movie in a video game form that isn't your traditional zombies or a typical action game. So I definitely like that. I like the fact that the gameplay mechanic…now, I know everybody gets on it because you basically kill these monsters by shining a flashlight on them and that removes the shadows from them that make them invulnerable and then you shoot them with a gun, and I agree. That's what you do through the whole game and that's like: Well, why am I still doing the thing I did at the beginning of the game at the end of the game? Why is there no innovation in this as it goes along? But I found the mechanic fun and satisfying, and just different enough that it made it interesting.
My biggest complaint about the game is Alan Wake is the biggest douchenozzle main character in the history of the world. He is the biggest jackass. He is the most unlikeable dickhead [Chuckles] I've played in a long time. So it does certainly ruin the thing for you, and it's funny, because he takes himself so fucking seriously in this game, this guy. He's this crappy pulp writer, basically, but to hear him talk, he's like Hemingway because he's sold a couple books. But, yeah. I was kind of pleased with it, and I don't know. I wanted to talk a little bit about it, because I couldn't remember exactly what Brad didn't like about it and I didn't go back and listen, so I wanted to compare notes.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, you know, Mike, everything…I think that's the first thing I want to respond to. I definitely agree that Alan Wake is the biggest douchebag in all of gaming.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Brad Gallaway: In fact, I refuse to even call him "Alan Wake." He's "Alan Wank."
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Brad Gallaway: He's just a complete wanker. He's rude; he's snobby; he's got attitude.
Mike Bracken: He hates his fans.
Brad Gallaway: Totally!
Mike Bracken: He's a complete dick to the girl who's his fan in the beginning of the game.
Brad Gallaway: I know! All she does is say great things about him, and he basically just pisses all over her. He's rude to his wife, who helped him become a star. He's rude to his agent, who's helping him and supporting him and stuff. He's rude to everybody, and I'm like: "Why the fuck would anybody want to help you?" Every time he [died?], I was like….
Chi Kong Lui: Do you think that was intentional? Sorry.
Mike Bracken: Uh…
Brad Gallaway: Uh, I don't know. Mike, what do you think?
Mike Bracken: I don't know. I think part of it was intentional, but I think it went too far. Whoever they got to do the voice acting I think took it to a whole other level. I think they probably wrote him to be a big celebrity who was maybe not the nicest guy.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Mike Bracken: But I definitely think the voice actor took it somewhere further than they probably intended.
Chi Kong Lui: Like, they were probably going for the flawed anti-hero, right, but still likeable? [Chuckles] And people just hate him, right?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And they completely fucking missed on that. [Chuckles] He's not a flawed anti-hero, he's a jackass.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it's painful. That, to me, is one of the big problems with that game. I just don't fucking like the guy, so it's kinda hard to hang out with him throughout the whole game. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I found, for me, that what made the later parts of the game more tolerable was Barry, his agent.
Brad Gallaway: Yes, yes.
Mike Bracken: When Barry first turns up in the game, I'm like: "Oh, I can't wait for this fucking guy to die, because he's just a fucking rip-off of Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon 3, basically."
Chi Kong Lui: [Chuckling] Oh, man.
Tim Spaeth: Jeez.
Mike Bracken: But then as the game goes on, you start to really kinda like Barry, and there were a couple times where you think maybe something bad happend to Barry, and I was like: "Oh, no! Not Barry!" So, yeah, it's funny. He's cool and the sheriff lady is pretty cool. The log lady—the light lady is not a good character, either, but I don't know. There's something about the game. I know they had talked originally about it being open world, and I'm really glad they didn't do it.
I think if they had made that game open world, it would've messed up the whole thing. Even though you don't like Alan, the story is interesting, I think, because you don't really know how it's going to play out, what's going to happen at the end, and then the end is a little bit of a disappointment because it just basically sets up a sequel. It doesn't answer all the questions you want to get answered, because they want to make more games.
But I was afraid at certain points…I spent the whole time thinking: "How is this going to end?" and I had all these theories about what was going on and everything, and none of them were right, so that was cool. But, yeah. He's such a jerk. [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: You know, Mike, I'm going to have to take the opposite side, as far as the open world thing. I kinda wish that they had stuck with it.You can kind of see hints of it here and there, but I was really disappointed. One of the things I brought up in my original coverage on the podcast was the game felt so needlessly repetitive. I don't know if you noticed or not, but they send Alan back into the woods at every opportunity.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: It's like: "Oh, we're back in town, investigating. Now I go back to the woods."
Mike Bracken: Now back to the woods, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: [Chuckling]
Brad Gallaway: There's like four or five times when they send him back to the woods because they want to run you through another linear "through the woods" level.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: And it just got so repetitive and dumb and boring. They incorporate the car, the vehicle mechanics, and there's this map. You can kinda see what they were going for, and I think it would have been a little bit like Deadly Premonition, to tell you the truth. I think that's kind of the feel they were going for, but man! When they changed up halfway or whatever and they turned it into this level-based affair, it just was so boring to me. I just was not into doing it over and over and over and over. I think a third of that game could've been lopped off and it would've been a better experience, because you're not doing the same thing so many fucking times.
Mike Bracken: Part of the problem there is that the levels are so fucking long.
Brad Gallaway: Totally.
Mike Bracken: They put you back in the woods, and it's very linear and it's easy to find everything in the game because there aren't very many branches off of the path and any time there is, you can rest assured there's something theree you're supposed to find. But, yeah. Some of the levels, even if you don't die, just going through them from beginning to end, running through the forest, it'll take two hours to go through a stage. So it's really long that way.
My argument about the open world thing is, I look at these open world games like GTA and Red Dead Redemption and Oblivion and everything, and they're great, but my problem is that it's easy to play those games and just get caught up in all the sidequests and crap. I know people who never finish the main game stories in those games. They just do sidequests and then just goof off in the open world. I think for me that would've diluted what makes Alan Wake cool, [which] was the story, and that main story, and if they'd made it open world, they'd've had to put a lot of other stuff in that would've almost detracted from that narrative they had going.
I would've been all in favor of them having levels in the city, in the town or something like that, instead of just constantly running through the forests. I mean, the forests are beautiful. They did a really nice job recreating Washington, but I just worry that if they had done it open world that you would spend a lot more time doing meaningless things to fill up the open world component and it would dilute the main story.
Brad Gallaway: Well, see, that's an interesting point. This isn't really the topic, but I think a lot of open world games get that wrong, and I think that the problem is like you said. They stuff it full. They make these big worlds and then they think: "Well, we have 50 million square acres, so we need to send the player on a million missions."
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Brad Gallaway: For example, Red Dead Redemption, like I just played, went through, to me that should've been a six hour story, but instead they send you on all these bullshit missions just because they want you to play more of the content, whereas I think it should've been strictly up to the player to choose whether they want to do those or not. I think a good contrast—I bring it up again—is Deadly Premonition. You haven't yet played Deadly Premonition, have you, Mike?
Mike Bracken: No, no. I haven't gotten it yet.
Brad Gallaway: See, that would be an example of a game that I think actually really understands the proper way to do a story-driven, open world game. You have the world and it's open, but at the same time, if you simply follow the story, it's really fast-paced, it really holds together, and they don't ever force you to do missions that are bullshit. They just send you on things thata are totally central to the story, and there's a minimum of travel but it really adds to the atmosphere of being there.
So if something like Red Dead or some of these other games did that same thing, where certainly have the content there, by all means, but don't tie it into the story. Don't force me to do it. Leave it there if I feel like doing it, but if I just feel like doing the story, then let me get to the story in six hours and make it really tight and exciting. I think that's a better way to go, and I think that if they had done that with Alan Wake, I think it would've added something. I think that there's something missing, in terms of being lost in the town or kind of searching. I think I was kinda craving something like that in Wake.
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Brad Gallaway: And the hyperlinear, one level after another setup, it just made it feel too much like a run-and-gun, and, of course, you kill 85 million of those shadow creatures, so that didn't help any, either. It was just too much combat, and the levels, they weren't conducive to anything ele but combat.
Mike Bracken: It's a game that needs bosses. If you think about it, there are not really any bosses in that game.
Brad Gallaway: You didn't like the big tractors?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. That's what passes for bosses in there. They're not really bosses—they're just terrible. So, yeah. The other thing I hated that drove me insane was why when one episode ends and the next starts, even if it's at the same place from the end of one to the next one, why do I lose my big flashlight and all my guns all the time? Why do I have to start [unknown]?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, I hated that. Hated that.
Mike Bracken: Why do I have to go back and get them all from scratch again, and all my ammo and everything? That was annoying. I did like the end, when you get to the point where you're then doing the words, where the words are turning into things. I think that was a big missed opportunity. I wish they had put something like that into the game earlier and incorporated it into the gameplay in a different way, since he's actually a writer and he's supposed to be making all this stuff happen through his writing.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, totally, totally agree. That was to me the biggest obvious thing they missed. He is a writer, like you said, and into the story, his status as a writer is supposed to be influencing the entire world, yet you find these pages of a book that you didn't write and you don't really do anything with them.
Mike Bracken: No.
Brad Gallaway: And you don't even really do anything with words until the end, which, like you said, is a missed opportunity. But it's funny, because I know you haven't played the DLC, but in both pieces of the DLC—and there's only two—they totally use that mechanic all the way through, and it's way more interesting. It was way more effect to the gameplay. It makes the game at least 32, maybe 33 percent better with those words in there.
Mike Bracken: Uh-huh.
Brad Gallaway: It seems to me like the DLC should've been in the game in the first place, and if they'd gotten rid of some of those stupid walking through the forest levels, Alan Wake would've been just a much better game in general, I think.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter]
Richard Naik: That's a very exact measurement.
Mike Bracken: Yes—32, 33 percent.
Brad Gallaway: 33.
Mike Bracken: 33. [Laughter]
Richard Naik: 33.2 percent.
Mike Bracken: So, yeah. It's weird. It's one of these games where you look at it and you just go: "Yeah, I know this has problems, but for some reason, I had fun with it." You look at it and you know it has issues, but yet you still have fun, so it's really bizarre to me. But I did. I like the game, even though I hate Alan Wake—I hate the guy. He's an ass.
Chi Kong Lui: It seems like you guys are almost in complete agreement.
Mike Bracken: And we just feel differently. [Chuckles]
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, yeah. Mike, his glass is half full and Brad's glass is half empty. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Which is so odd for me. I'm never the "glass is half full" guy, so this is like pod Mike or something. It's bizarre.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: I would like to see them try a sequel. I would hope they would go back and learn from the things that didn't work. You know what else I thought was cool? There were a couple things in the game that were cool, like I thought Night Falls or whatever the show was, those were interesting in a weird way, as just something you find in a game. The way they actually had them acted out, like they were Twilight Zone episodes was interesting.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. You're talking about the little, the mini TV episodes that you can watch when you find a TV.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. Those were interesting, and I did like the setpiece where you go to the old rocker guy's place.
Brad Gallaway: Concert, yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. That was probably the best gameplay moment of the game, I thought. That was actually pretty inspired. But, enh. Interesting game, but definitely flawed and I just wanted to chat about it and see what you thought, because I couldn't remember, and see if we were on the same page, even though we feel differently about it.
Tim Spaeth: So you would like to see an Alan Wake 2, if perhaps they could just get rid of Alan Wake.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Maqybe they could just have Barry in it. You could just follow his agent and his wife around, because they're nicer people and they're more interesting. No, I don't know. They can even bring him back, because I don't know. I enjoy hating him now, for some reason. [Laughter] Now I make fun of him while I play.
Chi Kong Lui: The series needs its own Raiden: another character.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah, exactly. He's a complete jerk, but I don't know. Somethng about that game just really appealed to me.
Richard Naik: They could have Joe Pesci do Barry's voice.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. And that's the funny thing about it. Some of the writing is really not good in the game. When you find his manuscript pages, you can tell the guys who wrote the manuscript pages aren't real novelists, because they're pretty poorly written, for the most part. But yet, some of the dialogue in the game is pretty funny. Granted, they will cram pop culture references to Stephen King and horror writers and stuff down your throat in the early going. But some of the other ones, like when Barry's running around and he's got the Christmas lights on and the big miner head light thing, and they're talking about the Eye of Mordor are actually sort of funny. I don't know. It's a really, really odd game, I guess. I don't know. It's got things that it does well and things that it does really poorly, but yet, for some reason the good for me outweighs the bad.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. For me it was one of those "so close to being cool, yet not." It just whiffed, but not by much. Like you said, a lot of the elemnts really worked and you can kind of see the appeal of some of it. But man, the main game was just not there for me. But again, I don't want to be a shill for selling DLC, but there's a ton of Barry in the DLC. He's a really big character in both of the DLCs, which to me, like you, was a big plus because I really like Barry.
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Brad Gallaway: They used the writer mechanic a whole heck of a lot more; the setpieces are way more interesting. They're more cerebral and more surreal, and so that to me appealed with the whole general premise of Alan recreating the world. It's like: Man! If you had done some of this stuff in the main game…If they took that stuff out to make it DLC, that would be the biggest crime ever. They basically cut their game off at the knees by taking out the most interesting stuff. I sincerely hope that they actually came up with that stuff after, rather than taking it out.
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Brad Gallaway: But either way, it shows that they were just off base. That stuff should've been there from the get-go, and then again in the DLC, they don't really bring it to a conclusion, anyway. So they're kind of setting up the sequel, but to be honest, I don't think I would really be up for a sequel. They would have to really, genuinely—
Mike Bracken: Even after the DLC?
Brad Gallaway: I don't know. You know, I don't know. I just don't know. I just don't think that they can do it. They're too far afield. I think there were hints of brilliance, but I'm not convinced—even after the DLC, even though the DLC was the best part of the game.
Mike Bracken: Hm.
Tim Spaeth: Well, guys, we need to wrap things up. I have one last question for you, Mike: Now that you've cleared Alan Wake, you have cleared Halo: Reach, what is next on your Xbox backlog adventure? Tell me it's Borderlands.
Mike Bracken: Borderlands is on the list, yes. Depending on what GameFly sends next, Borderlands is in my top 5, Castlevania is in my top five. I forget what else is in there.
Brad Gallaway: Deadly Premonition has to be in your top 5.
Mike Bracken: Deadly Premonition, I'll move it up, yeah. I need to play that.
Chi Kong Lui: Dragon Quest IX.
Mike Bracken: Dragon Quest IX is here; I have that. I've been playing that.
Richard Naik: Amnesia.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah, well. You guys are loading me up, man. I've been playing a lot of games. [Chuckles] But not quite Brad-level, but a lot. Yeah, I'm working my way through Ys: Oath in Felghana here, and I've been playing Dragon Quest IX and I just finished Halo: Reach. Yeah, I've been busy.
Tim Spaeth: Man.
Chi Kong Lui: Even had the time to bust out a review on Ys Seven.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. You'll have Ys: Oath in Felghana review in a couple days, probably, so yeah. I'm busy. A busy guy.
Tim Spaeth: Glad to hear it, and I look forward to doing a Borderlands follow-up.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Just as we did an Alan Wake follow-up, we'll do the Borderlands follow-up, and that will probably be a three hour show.
Brad Gallaway: I will not be on that show.
I will not. Do not count on me being on that show.
Mike Bracken: What if I hate it? Maybe then?
Brad Gallaway: If you hate it, I'll be on the show.
If you hate it, but I cannot do two people loving that game on this podcast.
Richard Naik: See, I already kind of enjoyed it, so you've already got two.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: You're off the podcast; we are [unknown]
Richard Naik: Fine. I'll take my bottle of wine and go hide in a corner and cry. How's that sound?
Tim Spaeth: All right. Before the violence breaks out, let's wrap things up. Before we close out, I just want to acknowledge: you guys may not even be aware. We are celebrating two special events on this episode. The first is we are celebrating our two-year anniversary of doing this podcast. It was November 2008 that we began this venture, and, and, not only that, but the episode that you are listening to right now, if you combine all of the special episodes in with the numbered episodes, is our 50th broadcast. So I think we owe ourselves a round of applause for making it to number 50. Even though it's technically not number 50, it really is number 50.
And I don't really want to make a big deal out of it, but I do want to thank our audience, because we have, believe it or not, an incredibly loyal audience. I actually know several people who have been listening to this podcsst from day one, who are not my mom.
And it means a great deal to me, personally, that anyone would take the time to hit the "play" button on the website or subscribe to the show or download it or comment on it at GameCritics. We do this show because we love talking about this stuff; it's our passion. We also do it for the women, but mostly the passion.
So to everyone listening, I want to pass to you my deepest, most heartfelt thanks and guys, I want to thank you again, for inviting me on this little journey. So thank you to you, as well.
Mike Bracken: Well, thank you for doing it.
Chi Kong Lui: Are we supposed to start clapping. [Applauds] I thought you indicated we should be clapping.
Tim Spaeth: Woo! [Unknown]
So I figured we will do something special when we get to episode number 50, but I just wanted to acknowledge this event tonight.
Mike Bracken: Which'll probably be by next Christmas, at the rate we're going lately.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] Exactly.
Richard Naik: I was going to say, episode 50 might be the year end show, depending on what we actually do.
Tim Spaeth: I looked at a calendar. If we stay on track, every other week, it'll probably be in January, is what I'm thinking. But I will plan something special for that and for our end of the year show, but that's all we've got for you tonight. So let me go around the horn real fast and give everyone a chance to say a final thought. I'll start with you, Richard Naik. Any last words for the audience?
Richard Naik: You know what? I was really hoping you wouldn't pick me first, because I really don't have anything to add. I…it…yeah. Blank.
Tim Spaeth: That's embarrassing.
Richard Naik: It is embarrassing.
Tim Spaeth: Mike Bracken, how about you, sir? Can you beat Richard?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I can. If you love Halo, check out Halo: Reach. And you should definitely check out Alan Wake. Even though it has problems, it's worth at least a rental.
Tim Spaeth: If you love Halo, check out Alan Wake.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yeah, do it that way.
Tim Spaeth: Brad Gallaway, final thoughts?
Brad Gallaway: Jut a quick plug for a game I'm playing now, which is called Faery on Xbox Live Arcade. It's a really cool, Gothic kind of RPG. Really digging it, so thumbs up to that. And also, in terms of the podcast, a big thanks to everybody who listens and puts up with our bullshit week after week. Like Tim, I'm also surprised that people come back, so I'm really glad that you do and thanks very much for supporting us. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: I don't believe anyone comes back; I want proof.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: I have statistics; I'll send them over.
Mike Bracken: Send them. Are there any outliers?
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] Chi Kong Lui?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, the outliers.
Tim Spaeth: Our owner and founder, Chi Kong Lui, the man who started it all.
Chi Kong Lui: I wanted to thank Mike for bringing up the Human Sexipede thing, so I didn't have to. So, thanks for that, Mike. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: You're quite welcome. If there's any porn to be brought up on the show, or swearing, I handle that.
Richard Naik: I have a final thought now.
Tim Spaeth: Well, you have to let Chi finish his thought, and then you can jump in.
Brad Gallaway: Jeez.
Richard Naik: That's why I was saying "Go ahead."
Chi Kong Lui: All right, let me finish my thought, then. To the long-time listeners who think I sound like Kermit the frog, it ain't easy being green. That's all I got.
Brad Gallaway: You know that's going to be somebody's ringtone next week.
Mike Bracken: Yep.
Tim Spaeth: Okay, Richard. Now you may speak.
Richard Naik: [singing]: Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide. [speaking]: Okay, that's it.
Tim Spaeth: [singing:] Please let it stop. I can't take anymore.
[speaking:] Okay. Now, that's the end. I want to thank you all one more time and we'll see you next time for episode 45. Until then, I'm Tim Spaeth; good night and bonne chance.
Mike Bracken joins the call.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, how are you?
Mike Bracken: Oh, super. Sorry. I had to finish Halo: Reach. I was at the very end.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]
Chi Kong Lui: That's not a good enough excuse, man.
Mike Bracken: That was a great excuse. I didn't want to leave my Xbox running for two hours while we recorded this.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: How was it? Were you moved emotionally?
Mike Bracken: Oh, I did; I cried tears. Tears, tears, tears. So sad. Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Are you sad that you spent time with it?
Mike Bracken: No. By the time we got to the end, I liked it better than when it started, but it's still…dude, it's just fucking Halo.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: So instead of Master Chief, you're a different guy in a Spartan outfit.
Chi Kong Lui: So if it's just Halo, does that mean you're exhauted by the end from all the repetitious levels, and you're just tired, and you're worn down by the ending because it was just so…[Laughter]
Mike Bracken: This is probably their best ending. I haven't played ODST, but of the main three games and then this one, this was probably their [best ending]. Although it's like watching Revenge of the Sith: you know how it's going to end, because stuff that came after it came before, so it's like that, but I thought the ending was okay. It was better than some of the other ending they've done. It's still the same thing, though. I don't know. They don't tell very good stories.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] They get so much credit for telling the worst stories.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah.
Richard Naik: I've never understood that. I like the Halo games well enough, but they're not necessarily noteworthy for storytelling, by any means.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Brad Gallaway: No, no. Bungie can't tell a story to fucking save their life. I can't believe that people actually give a shit about Master Chief, or any of that stuff. It's the most poorly-told fucking pedestrian bullshit I've ever seen.
Mike Bracken: I always thought Master Chief was the most boring character. It was funny, because when Halo 2 came out, everybody bitched that you played Arbiter, but I thought the Arbiter was a million times more interesting than Master Chief.
Richard Naik: Yeah, because the Arbiter has a story. He's an actual character.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: He's not a great character, but he's a character.
Mike Bracken: But he's way more interesting than Master Chief.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: He has actually some motivation to what he's doing, other than: "I'm just a badass space marine." So, yeah. And this character's actually even worse than Master Chief.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] In Halo: Reach?
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: How is that possible?
Richard Naik: Does he just not even talk?
Mike Bracken: He barely ever talks. I don't think he ever takes off his mask, that I can recall. So basically it's the same thing. You're supposed to project yourself onto this character.
Chi Kong Lui: But the big sell is all the other characters are more pumped up, more fleshed-out, right?
Mike Bracken: But they're not; but they're not. Your squadmates are just walking clichés.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right, right.
Mike Bracken: There's a Spanish guy and Russian chick with a cyborg arm, and the commander who's very noble and you're the lone wolf who had a past who's the new guy in the group. So, it's not. I mean, they're not terrible, but yeah. And, look, I don't expect any kind of great fucking storytelling from Halo at this point. I just want a game where I can shoot fucking the same grunts and elites and brutes that I've been shooting since the first Xbox came out, and that's fine. But, I don't know. It just always freaks me out that people hold this game up as the pinnacle of sci-fi storytelling in video games. It's like: "Dude, it's bad space opera."
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] It's the theme music, man. The minute people hear the theme music, they assume that it's epic. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yeah!
Chi Kong Lui: Because it sounds epic. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: This game's really weird, too, because I don't know if I had a bad copy or what, or if they did this intentionally, but there are cut-scenes where things happen and there's no sound, except for the people talking. They're in the middle of action scens and there's a ship crashing, and you don't hear any music or any kind of ambient noise or anything like that. You just hear the little bits of dialogue and the rest of it's silent. I need to ask someone if there was something wrong with my copy or if they did that on purpose or what, because it was bizarre. It just seemed really weird to me.
Tim Spaeth: It sounds artistic to me.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking it's totally Bungie trying to be really pretentious.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: I'll be interested to see what they do next, but…
Chi Kong Lui: Did you try the multiplayer?
Mike Bracken: Oh, I did; I played three hours of multiplayer in the last couple days, which is unheard of for me. It's all right. It's fucking Halo multiplayer. It's the same.
Richard Naik: I'm guessing it's not appreciably different from Halo 3.
Mike Bracken: Not really. There's some new modes and stuff. They did like how Gears of War 2 had Horde? They have something called Firefight that I haven't really gotten a chance to try, but apparently, you go on these misions and try to survive waves of harder and harder enemies and everything like that. But they have one game where you fucking pick up these flaming skulls and have to get them to the base and shit like that.
But most of the time, that just devolves into people don't even bother picking up the skulls. They just shoot the shit out of each other, instead. I actually almost won that one, because I was actually playing properly. [Chuckles] But I played a lot of Slayer and shit, but it's the same stuff, man. FPS multiplayer, especially with Halo, it just hasn't really evolved in any super meaningful way that I can see.
Richard Naik: Yeah, well wait till Portal 2 comes out. There you'll get your evolution, hopefully.
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Brad Gallaway: Seriously? I don't have any hope for Portal 2 at all. It'll be the same thing.
Richard Naik: Really?
Brad Gallaway: The same thing [unknown].
Richard Naik: Well, yeah, but I'm talking about that with multiplayer, though. The first one didn't have that.
Brad Gallaway: Enh. Whatever.
Mike Bracken: Did you like the first Portal, Brad?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I liked it. I thought it was good. I didn't understand that…people tried to make a big deal out of there actually being a character, that there was much of a story, because I thought there was no story. You had to dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and then get an FAQ. The gameplay I thought was pretty cool. I think they've done it, though. I don't see…I don't know. Whatever. It'll be fun to play through, but I'm not expecting anything from it.
Mike Bracken: Cool. All right. Well, I'll quit holding up the taping of the show with my Halo: Reach stuff.
Brad Gallaway: That's [fun?] That's very considerate of you, Mike.
Chi Kong Lui: That's one segment in the bag, right there. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Fabulous.
Richard Naik: It's always great when the segments just kind of happen.
Chi Kong Lui: I was intentionally dragging that one on, at this point.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. No, I didn't hate Reach or anything like that. It's exactly what Halo fans will want, minus Master Chief. So, to me, it's like calling it the Friday the 13th Part V of the Halo series, because everyone bitches about that, because it wasn't actually Jason. The crazy ambulance driver was pretending to be Jason and killing everyone, but you look basically like Master Chief. You have the same weapons and armor as Master Chief, so you might as well fucking be Master Chief.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Same as it might as well be Jason in that movie. Halo fans will dig it for what it is, and I didn't hate it. I had a decent time with it. Glad I didn't spend $60 on it.
Tim Spaeth: Mm. Is Master Chief in the game? Is there a cameo?
Mike Bracken: No, no. I don't want to spoil anything. There are characters who turn up in the Halo trilogy in it. One big character at the end finally makes an appearance and stuff like that, so that's kinda cool. But it's all happening prior to everything that happens in Halo 1 through 3 so you're seeing the prequel of what's going to happen. And I'm guessing now, wasn't the book Fall of Reach, Halo came out and then they did the novelization that all the nerds were then quoting like the Bible?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I read that book. It actually was a pretty good book, but yeah. They go through the whole creation of Master Chief, whole thing. They get into his backstory before he's a Spartan and everything, so yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, so this doesn't go into any of that, but it's on Reach and everything like that, so I'm guessing it ties in somehow. I never read the book, though. Just couldn't do it. Just couldn't be seen carrying around a Halo novelization.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: I took a dust jacket from Twilight and I taped it to the outside.
Mike Bracken: Ah. There you go. That's what I would have done, too, just to hide my embarrassment.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.