I dislike reviewing a video game’s writing, particularly when it’s delivered neatly in cut scenes and audio clips beyond player control. The inclusion feels extraneous to the game, a narrative there to generate a compulsion to play I don’t need. I, and I think many other people, can enjoy a video game on the merits of the game itself.
However when you’re witnessing something like Watch_Dogs 2, a line must be drawn. When you’re aware of the sheer weight of the time, money, and human endeavor invested in making something so utterly cack-handed as the writing of Watch_Dogs 2, you reach a limit. People were paid to write this. Someone decided that this level of ineptitude was not only acceptable, but should be financially rewarded. If you want a critique of the actual game, head here. This one is dedicated to the writers at Ubisoft.
Watch_Dogs 2 places you in the shoes of Marcus Holloway, a young hacker and all round cool-cat. He has mad parkour skills. He fights with pool ball on a robe (a needlessly complex weapon – you can achieve the same results with a roll of pennies in a sock). No doubt Marcus has been furiously focus tested to be as ‘hip’ and ‘with it’ as possible.
After the tutorial mission, Marcus is drafted in to cool-kids hacker ring DedSec, which operates out of the basement of the most insultingly fake nerd hobby store I’ve ever seen (it sells regular Monopoly, for Christ’s sake), to wage cyberwar against malicious corporation Blume and its corrupt usage of ‘ctOS 2.0’, an operating system connected to the entirety of San Francisco. Marcus is himself a victim of this system, having been given community service in relation to a robbery despite being innocent, solely because ctOS 2.0 found him to be probabilistically suspect. Marcus comes forward as a liberator, aiming to expose the corruption of this system and the tech companies that have partnered with it.
The Diary of The Night of The Dawn of The Evil Living DedSec
DedSec is formed from four (later five) other members, each of which is badly written in their own unique, colourful way.
Sitara is the artist/propagandist in resident. Sitara constantly espouses the importance of art having ethical purpose, yet seems to only produce meaningless graphics or visual parodies on zombie film titles (Dawn of the DedSec is a common one). She also talks about pursuing art for art’s sake and not being concerned with money or brand-popularity, but quite happily sets up vending machines in all the hacker bases to sell her t-shirts and freaks out when someone misuses DedSec branding.
Josh is the autistic in resident. Someone at Ubisoft must have watched MR ROBOT and realized people who spend all their time on the internet tend to not be that good at ‘banter’, as Marcus is, incessantly. Hence, token neuro-atypical. Too bad the best they could do to convey that autism is have the voice actor sound like he’s half asleep. Aside from Josh being unable to understand metaphors (something he seems to ‘get over’ later on), none of the autistic tics are conveyed. He even seems completely fine with physical contact. I know the whole autism-as-a-superpower thing is getting stale, but if the replacement is autism-as-bad-acting-and-writing, then please pop-culture, regress.
Wrench is meant to be the engineer of the party, building the fancy hardware for DedSec. Wrench is nonsense. His magical mask that reflects his emotions in real time is an expression of his techno-punk aesthetic that is actually a piece of pretty good design, except for a single mission where his wearing of it is a product of an insofar unmentioned social disorder, which is forgotten as soon as the mission is over. He often waxes lyrical, yet is incredibly inept at it, belying a lack of practice. We’re told he likes to break things, but all we ever seem him smash is a toaster.
I wanted to like Wrench when he was introduced. Violent anarchist meets jury-rigged hi-tech fashion statement? Sign me up. But all the balls Ubisoft attempted to juggle are dropped, despite Wrench being, along with Sitara, one of characters pushed to the fore. The at-first-excruciating, later numbing back and forth he has with Marcus is too clean and desperately referential to pop-culture to be immersive, while too phony and forced to be wacky or humourous.
A later addition to the crew is Ray, an unnecessarily enduring character from the first Watch Dogs. I cannot comprehend why Ray is in this game. Was he really popular in the last one? We don’t need him to here to create continuity between the games – DedSec members talk enough about the events of Watch_Dogs to establish that. Maybe the person at Ubisoft who saw MR ROBOT also figured Watch_Dogs 2 needed a parallel to Christian Slater’s character? Ray does just about fill those sinister-hobo-come-mentor shoes, but the writing is so half-hearted and sloppy that Ray’s positioning as Marcus’ mentor never really matures beyond his character introduction in Watch_Dogs 2. The later conflict the writers attempt to set up between Ray and other members of DedSec is poorly executed, having personal disputes set up and absolved at the start and end of single missions, preventing any worthwhile narrative arcs of internal conflict actually playing out. Overall Ray just seems to add nothing to the group dynamic that is followed through enough that it legitimizes the late introduction… so why introduce him at all?
And lastly, Horatio is the token ‘black male who dies in the second act’ in resident. That isn’t even a spoiler – the fact that he never chimes in during side missions, despite being amongst a very talkative cast, is an obvious death-flag from the get-go. Of course, his resultant lack of presence means when he does die, tragically (in Marcus’ arms no less) we don’t care because we barely know him.
And all these poorly written characters chatter in your ear throughout the game, exchanging banter so full to the gills with pop-culture references that the try-hard atmosphere is often cloying.
Suffice to say the cast of Watch_Dogs 2 aren’t reflections of real hackers, let alone real human beings. So what are they reflections of? The more quirky, ‘colourful’ cast is quite clearly an attempt by Ubisoft to set themselves apart from the moodier tone set by Watch_Dogs – which is fine. It might be coming entirely from a place of corporate greed rather than artistic purpose, but let’s be honest, artistic endeavor is the exception, not the norm, in this era of video gaming. The issue with Ubisoft taking this route is that much of the gameplay and narrative runs completely counter to this light-hearted tone Ubisoft purports to strike.
The Hypocritical Oaf
The secret theme of Watch_Dogs 2’s narrative is ‘contradiction’. Marcus and DedSec positions themselves as liberators, having been victimized by ‘the system’ and aim to free others by exposing corruption. However the game presents mass murder of civilians and security guards just doing their jobs as a perfectly acceptable means to achieve this. It’s alarmingly jarring that so many of the game’s guns are lethal, let alone that guns are offered at all. Not only does the shooting part of the game suck, but giving the player the capacity to murder to achieve Marcus’ ends while DedSec watch in stony silence is so dissonant with the narrative that the inclusion of this lethal play style is not just an oversight, but a detraction, especially when you consider the game’s experience points are supposed to be followers keeping track of DedSec’s actions. On top of this, DedSec and Marcus seem to have no problem intruding on people’s personal data to suit their ends, something they seem to despise in corporations.
Even if you manage to play the entire game without ever harming an NPC, a cut scene later on will still force you to take out a power grid, risking the lives of tens of thousands, which is quickly brushed away with a single comment of doubt before being never touch upon again.
Marcus isn’t just a hypocritical psycho because he kills the people to liberate the people. His central motivation is contradictory. His very reason for going after Blume in the first place is because their ctOS 2.0 labeled him as 84% likely to commit a cyber-related criminal act, and yet his response to this wrong is to prove it right by committing cyber-related criminal acts, on top of massive property damage, mass murder, grand theft auto (not the game, idiot), and a series of other crimes. Marcus’ motivation is a blatant hypocrisy.
Lastly, the game’s ‘enemy’ is a wide range of corporations and institutions, partaking in ctOS 2.0’s exploitations, crushing the little guy underfoot for profit. We all know Ubisoft would quite happily engage in such malpractice if it meant increased profit margins. Furthermore a few pieces of the random NPC dialogue in the game’s rendition of San Francisco deal with people being distracted from the misdeeds of the financial elite with vacuous culture and social media apps. How ironic that is. If there were anything to distract people from the real misdeeds of a “1%” it would be something like Watch_Dogs 2. The game’s maker is the very enemy it pits you against.
Give me Liberty, or give me DedSec
There are other parts of the writing that are bad, such as some suspect implications about afro-americans, a consistent sycophantic tone, the lack of understanding of how hacking works or what the terms mean, and just how unhappy the people of San Francisco are, but these are all just extraneous pieces of evidence. The rootkit of the problem is clear; the writing in Watch_Dogs 2 is terrible, and should be denounced as such.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. Perhaps the Ubisoft writers kept getting pressured by higher-ups to cut, change and rearrange storylines and couldn’t get storylines to be coherent or characters to be complex in that environment. Great! Add spineless to their list of failings, and incompetent to the failings of the higher-ups. I won’t hear it. I will not hear it. Watch_Dogs 2’s writing is a giant middle finger to creative endeavor, and the world is worse for it being made. DedSec should have stayed BuriedSec.
‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming
Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.
In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.
It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.
Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.
And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.
It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.
No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more.
How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?
Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.
One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?
Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.
Real Friends Raid Together
Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.
After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.
If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.
After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.
Max Raid Battle Rundown
The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.
To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.
If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.
The Fruits of Victory
Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.
Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.
Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.
15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter
On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.
“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”
On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.
The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.
Taking the Narrative Back
Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.
Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Snake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.
Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.
Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.
A Whole New Meaning to Survival
When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.
Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.
On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.
The Beginning of Product Placement
The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.
The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”
When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.
A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank
At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.
Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.
2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.
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