Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Games of The Decade (2000-2009)

The decade which brought about tons of new advancements for gaming. They have been more cinematic, dense, and also a first on console gaming was communication upon many others around the world. I never had enough time or money to play a lot of games but I have played enough to make my personal list of the best of what the 1/10s of what the 21st century offered!

Here is to the new decade!

10. Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Jedi Academy(2003)

This game will probably the only place to have great Star Wars lightsaber matches that's not located in the backyard with toys. It lacks the problems that plagued Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (elevators, vague puzzles, etc) and provides much improvements. As opposed to using a gun for the beginning levels, the protagonist already has a lightsaber. Eventually you can use two sabers at once or even the Darth Maul-esque staffsaber for more flexibility.

After an introduction to force powers, it's on out to quick and fun missions involving helping Chewbacca or stopping a train. Along the way, Sith will come and fight. The dynamics of lightsaber fights and the flexibility of picking and leveling light and dark side force powers makes each clash more engaging. This ties on to the multiplayer which the fights are challenging and a quick slip up can change the outcome.

9. Brothers In Arms: Road To Hill 30 (2005)

You can say that this is the video game version Band of Brothers. In a certain extent, it is. Instead of following the members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment's Easy Company, it's about the 502nd and what happened to them during the invasion of Normandy. Although the main story with the non-officer characters in mind being fictionalized, it's an interesting story of responsibility and brotherhood during times of danger.

To make the plot work in this game, real life areas and battles are provided. From the capture of St. Mere Eglise, to Lt. Col. Robert Cole's Medal of Honor awarded march in an open and hostile field close to the town of Carentan and finally the Battle of Bloody Gulch (specifically Hill 30), it's exciting to witness important battles that would slowly help end the Nazi regime. The real time tactics of controlling a squad and authentic elements also contribute to the World War II game nobody wanted to compete against.

8. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005)

Until Splinter Cell: Conviction comes out, Chaos Theory is still the best one I have played. As opposed to the stiff animations in the previous two games, controlling Sam Fisher feels very smooth. It feels like I am the Third Echelon operative. This had a big graphical jump where it can match with some games today. Sam's suit can get wet from being in the rain for too long, more detail on the models and the visual modes have more fidelity and look more realistic. Being linear in the big picture, the subtle varied paths to complete and objective are very impressive and something that its successor lack.

7. Call of Duty (2003)

Before it went modern, it was part of the World War II game breakout. With members from the 2015 team (Medal of Honor: Allied Assault), it's expected it would be as good but at the time exceeded and broke boundaries for games based on one of the most important conflicts in history. No undercover work but took influence of Allied Assault's Omaha Beach level and put it throughout the whole campaign. All about intense battles from the eyes of a regular soldier aided by other many and helpful teammates.

The game keeps on the tension with Hollywood like events including amazing car chases and the stunning march up Stalingrad; where I have only ammo to carry and seeing men being slaughtered. A fun multiplayer with the barebones modes helped keep it going for a while. Although people transitioning to the newer products, everybody can play the intense single player and not feel bored that no one is around.

6. Shadow Complex (2009)

It's this decade's Metroid/Castlevania: Symphony of The Night. Providing a very similar reward system to its influences but it has certain characteristics that makes it fresh. It's embraces nostalgia but doesn't do so for the sake of itself. Being a tie in to Orson Scott Card's Empire novels, Chair Entertainment made a very interesting backdrop that would aid the books. Utilizing a control system that's simplistic and effective against the many enemies and weapons that contribute to many situations (especially the awesome foam gun), I really had fun playing this game when attempting to gather 100% items. Challenges and some time trial based courses, there is a lot more to do in the Xbox Live Arcade hit.

5. Counter-Strike: Source (2004)

It's Counter-Strike! With the Source engine! Purists or devotees will say it's not as good when compared to its version 1.6 predecessor. Although it will probably never be equally comparable to its older counterpart, it's just fun though to have the addictiveness of what made the series fun along with the always exciting physics.

4. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne (2003)

Although the original Max Payne brought about a mini revolution in first providing the bullet time heavily influenced by The Matrix movie, having a very classic film noir influence with using a hybrid mix of real time and comic book style plot development, and graphics that looked amazing at its time (especially on Sam Lake providing the many and sometimes faces of Max); Max Payne 2 made it even better.

It's a more engaging and complex story about Max's romantic obsession with Mona Sax and the high profile gangster conflict in between the protagonist's trouble emotions. The bullet time had a very necessary upgrade with shoot dodging unconnected with the easily refillable hour glass and the reloading (although animation wise unrealistic) much less of a timer hog in the mode. Stronger voice acting, better graphics that stand very well today, and the chance to play as Max's muse. Those and many other improvements just made the game simply better.

3. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)

METAL GEAR! Despite Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots being released, the most memorable iteration of the Metal Gear franchise was the second Solid game. Most of us probably began with the first Solid on the original PlayStation as opposed to Metal Gear or Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Supported by very impressive visuals and a movie like soundtrack from famed composer Harry-Gregson Williams, it was considered one of the games to look out for.

Great experience to play as a bad-ass super soldier throughout. When Sons of Liberty was released, most if not all of us expected to play as Solid Snake all the way especially with all the new moves he has recieved since the Shadow Moses incident. But Hideo Kojima does the most unexpected with something crazy: Play as some guy named Raiden. Kojima-san effectively done it well of trying to mess with our minds. Starting with Raiden and the ongoing communications between him and the "Colonel." It seems all over the place but after looking at the big picture of long plot based cutscenes and codec conversations, the story is clear with discussing the emergence of comm. technology and the future of mankind. If I can have any very cinematic game, this is it.

2. Halo 3 (2007)

The first Halo was great and Halo 2 provided some improvements but had flaws from being much better than its oldest counterpart. When the third one came out, I felt that classic Halo spirit along with the noticeable Halo 2 like additions. Fighting the Brutes in this one is very reminiscent of the Elites from the original. This game's Brutes are equally formidable and intimidating as their once allied partners. They defectors are now friends and some of them including the interesting Arbiter can aid the Master Chief in stopping the Covenant Prophet of Truth from destroying the universe. The campaign especially when playing cooperatively online with friends (and sometimes on Legendary difficulty) is exciting from beginning to [non-Legendary] end cutscene which was emotionally heartbreaking that the Chief''s trilogy journey has ended and reached a full circle.

Even with the epic conflict finished, there is always multiplayer. It's great to have the assault rifle back. Even if there are dual wielding and very powerful melee weapons, there is a Halo multiplayer mentality; probably something Halo 2 tried to recreate. Slayer never gets old especially in well constructed maps (and DLC maps) against 16 players or 8 for team based combat. The additions of a theater mode and user generated Forge helps extend its lifetime (unless Halo: Reach has them and more). After playing many hours online, I realized I will never sell this game.

1. Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)

Killing people with rockets, having some prostitute action, and smashing vehicles is a great thing to do when I am not focusing in the missions of a Grand Theft Auto game. In the fourth installment, it's always exciting to play the story quests. Besides having variety, it's exciting to listen to the dialogue between the characters of the world and protagonist Nico Bellic. He is a very detailed and dense character who has struggled to leave his murderous past behind and part for The American Dream. His mentality and his behavior are reflected on both the player and the many well thought out themes that some games lack. Niko Bellic is lovable character and if the most important created in this decade

Lacking the arcade flavor of the previous iteration, this follows a more realistic path with very noticeable changes including stricter (but justifiable) car handling and the physics system backed by NaturalMotion's Euphoria animation engine. Running over a person never gets tireing in this game; they don't fall flat, they flail and tumble naturally. Multiplayer doesn't remove the feature as it's also fun the player model get run over by a friends fast car while running for a helicopter.

Although I don't regularly replay anything single player, this is still the one I always go back and hear memorable characters, experience well constructed plot points, and awesome gameplay. Certainly one of the best games I have ever played.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Top Three Favorite Records of 2009

I don't need to explain them. These are my favorite albums I heard this year. It's four not three but Converge has to be in the spot but Altar of Plagues stole my heart this year because it felt so lively while still being very heavy and dark. I can feel many emotions while listening to it which I haven't felt in a long time.

3. Coalesce - Ox/Converge - Axe To Fall (TIE)
2. Baroness - Blue Record
1. Altar of Plagues - White Tomb

Other stuff of the second half of 2009 which I thought were great too.
  • Liturgy - Renihilation
  • Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough
  • Portal - Swarth
  • Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
  • Blacklisted - No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me
  • Iron Age - The Sleeping Eye
  • Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back
  • Vivian Girls - Everything Goes Wrong
  • Rise & Fall - Our Circle Is Vicious
  • Marduk - Wormwood
  • Between The Buried & Me - The Great Misdirect
  • the_network - Bishop Kent Manning
  • A Storm of Light - Forgive Us Our Tresspasses

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Blacklisted - No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me (review)

Happy birthday kid

Being the lone wolves of hardcore can be a challenging case for Blacklisted. The struggle to defy the common usage is constant and if followed, the band would have to put steps ahead of the derivatives to stand out while still trying to sound excellent. Once trying to make a name for themselves with their Cro-Mags influenced mosh fests like ...The Beat Goes On (2005) and later initiating a lonely strike of individuality on Heavier Than Heaven, Lonelier Than God (2008) which garnered acclaim throughout the extreme music industry, a year later as a very stealthy release where only the people who care will know a new album rose and would try to expand their repertoire. Notice I said try.

No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me follows Blacklisted into experimental territory where like Heavier Than Heaven, this differentiates itself from its predecessor. But for this case, the changes seem odd. If you enjoyed the the quick minute bursts in the previous album, it's nonexistent here. It's not fucking angry anymore. You have George instead of just doing scary shouts, he does the Southern-esque howling experimented on the Peace On Earth, War On Stage (2007) and Heavier Than Heaven but to a fuller extent (aka 100% of the record). It shows George's capabilities as a vocalist when he tells his stories of loneliness and trust. When you listen to the music though, some of the songs including "The Problem Is G.(eorge)" and "I'm Trying To Disappear" feel like they should have been suited for a solo album instead of a Blacklisted album.

As I said, Blacklisted dwells forward into experimental territory. The songs are slower and more thought out to create some separation from other groups. By listening, there is a sense of more metallic influences present (especially some prog sounds) while sticking to its hardcore and experimental sensibilities. It makes up something solid yet doesn't have that pure lygreat energy that I loved in their 2008 masterpiece. It's a really good grower.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Portal - Swarth (review)

South of Heaven

I never knew that the down under was really down under. When the country of Australia who recently released a censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 with all the visceral visual elements mostly nonexistant, you would think they would be all goody two shoes on trying to censor more things like death metal. Luckily it hasn't happened and might never at all. It's appreciative that there are bands oceans apart from their big continent counterparts who love the craft. Portal being the most common recently with just providing a sound that feels like the fantasy iteration of Satan arrived on Earth and is fucking dirty and sludgy.

In a simplistic sense, it's death metal. Beyond the understanding of what they are trying to show the listener of what they want to do, it's what they actually do in Swarth which is the most intriguing. Someone who even just listens to Cannibal Corpse at the least will think of this as noise due to it's almost early Bolt Thrower sound that seems to be intentionally clouded to the max. If you listen to a minute of a song through a computer speaker and hate it, then there is a problem. Just get a good set of headphones and try to pay attention to how it's structured and the unity of the group's playstyle. It becomes easier at that point.

There is no clarity but there is subtlty to the songs. Guitars buzz with no signs of compression but excells in creating many fast and heavy grooves that can make the legends jealous. It feels like a constant wall of noise to where only the people who want to digest will appreciate it. The rhythm of both guitarists and the bassist's styles have no bounds and will devise any type of weird yet cool riff to create pure cacaphony. This is complimented by the drums which further make the evil sound more terryfying. Blast beats galore on the title track but it's unpredictable to which type of move will Ignis Fatuus will do next. The vocal delivery by The Curator completes the haunting circle with distanced growl of words that only himself can make sense of.

To be honest, this is my first record from Portal and was more or less a forced listen. It started to be an annoyance but would later become very likeable within more replays. I tried to describe as best as I could but the issue that there is so much content that it challenges the listener's orthodox approach to listening where it's about experiencing it than reading a review like this. It's a very difficult record to decipher yet if you want to dwell into a territory like this, Swarth is the excellent package. Portal solved the problem of that you don't need avant-garde sounding electronics or orchertra to create an apocalypse or Silent Hill.


Swarth is now available on Profound Lore records!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back (review)

Did He Move Or Something?

West or East, there are prominent bands within those scenes; hardcore, metal, whatever. But the central zones are of lesser prominence. But within this decade, bands like Colorado's Cephalic Carnage and Cobalt have created sounds that are characteristic from their seabourne conterparts. Another one from Salt Lake City, Utah has some popularity especially in playing at every Dudefest. Gaza brings influences from everywhere and create cacaphonous chaos brought about by their debut I Don't Care Where I Go When I Die. Now coming back with their sophomore, it's been anticipated (especially at the Deibel magazine forums) that He Is Never Coming Back would surpass the Coalesce death metal infused barrage of noise from their first.

The common trait of Gaza is inconsistency, putting whatever into the plate while still trying to make something enjoyable. This album brings forward some of the opposite and making an their established sound streamlined. "The Kicking Legs" has beats of progressive metal, sludge, and grindcore; the whole song though feels like it has structure of what it's trying to be. There is no obvious blatant "we wanna sound like that at this part" section as this second outing is more subtle in presentation. The full songs are supported by cleaner progressive interludes that help give breathing room for the listener who might have been blown by the insanity and the rants about Jesus.

The song dynamics and the craziness that fills the record is assisted by a unique simple production style. Like When I Die, Never Coming Back tries to defy modern extreme music production by making it feel flat yet gritty and dirty. This though follows the format to a larger extent but lacking any punch or clarity for this case can make the listener sleepy instead of engaged. But acknowledging that it's meant to be this sort of fashion, you can actually get used to it like no problem as it's all about the songs.

It's a possible annoyance that a new listener can have the feeling that it's enhanced white noise. This is their own set of chaos with what they want to perform, not what what others bands or people expect. We cannot never try to taint their objective or else we will destroy the individuality of what Gaza is trying to deliver.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Week of Gaming Madness 2009: The Future

Finally finished with my Modern Warfare 2 week blog about some interesting things related to the game. I have discussed so much about the story on Giant Bomb, posted my best time for The Pit (19 seconds!), and whatever that I can contribute to the game. After beating it, there will be a sequel; probably a trilogy based series with the next one being a sort of Return of the Jedi vibe. It will likely be so and that's good but when it comes out, will it just be same old?

To be honest, Modern Warfare 2 is similar to the first Modern Warfare. Tutorial in the second one feelt like I have done the same thing already just with no flashbangs. That and some other things like multiplayer feels much the same too; while still being great. The framework for the multiplayer is just the same. Deathmatch is still deathmatch and hardcore is still the same challenging playlist. No real defining perk additions besides the new kill streaks but they feel like helicopter but en masse. Titles and emblems are cool and all but does it really matter when people who just want to play the game? Very likely not. It's a pleasure but not a Christmas present that every kid on the street has or will get.

But being a Call of Duty game, what is there to expect? Nothing. Hopes to Inifnity Ward to blow our minds again with not just the same thing but with something special and spectacular.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Six: Spoilerific Chaos

I have completed the game a couple of days back probably by day two after release. When having a first playthrough on the hardest difficulty, it's very challenging to understand what really has happened because enemies are just bastards but reasonable bastards as opposed to the previous Call of Duty games. When before you had to be precise with what you would do, Modern Warfare gives more open air for the gamer to finish the situation because there is no grenade spam or respawing. Just you and probably a squad against a large force of Russians. But is it Makarov's Russian force or the actual country retaliating back?

Just like a high octane and big budget movie, there are plot holes being buried under the guns, killing, and total fucking destruction. An interesting thing was how people interpreted the storyline. It led to personal conspiracies of who is calling the shots. Most commonly was Giant Bomb doing a special podcast based on the single player campaign of Modern Warfare 2. They took it step by step of what happened but the confusion occurred especially in Vinny's case with the airport massacre. A regular player will get confused of what just happened and if they don't pay close attention to the loading screens and the in-game shock events, they are going to think it's dumb or something in particular. If trying to digest the story, the game wants the playerthrough think who is the real culprit of the airport scene and Washington D.C.. Is it really Makarov completely doing this? But after killing Shepard, it's pretty obvious that he done it. Makarov was part of Shepard's maniacal plan but Makarov's motives haven't really been revealed besides getting revenge on the people who killed Zakhaev from the first Modern Warfare.

Hope for the best that Makarov is a bastard to kill in the third chapter of the Modern Warfare series albeit the airport sequence wanted me to kill him at that moment. Although seemingly to be very prominent in the promotion, his screen time is very limited. He is the target that needs to be eliminated, but Shepard had to be stopped because he was initiating an unnecessary conflict for his own personal purposes. Probably due to losing his men from Al-Asad's attack in the first game and wanting to be a hero for invading Russia if America survives. In order to do so, he must recruit people; for that to happen in a world that can be relative to ours, the country needs to be attacked so people have the mindset to survive and protect their loved ones. It's crazy that someone of a prestige rank would want to deceive the U.S. by trying to encourage the U.S.. Just like the guys at Giant Bomb, it can be an allegory to our suspicion of our government.

These are dark time for Soap and Price. Now international fugitives after the death of Shepard. I can relate to the original Star Wars and Halo trilogies. The first feels triumphant, the second is the exposure of defeat and evil, and the third is the state of redemption and balance. How is Infinity Ward going to end the blast? One side can be more counter-terrorism or plain terrorism but for the benefit to make the world at peace again. Makarov, this time it's war.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review

Yo Oscar Mike!

Two of the three words mentioned are one of the most said phrases in what is considered the most anticipated game of 2009 and probably in video gaming history so far; beating Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the forth child by veterans of the modern first person shooter genre known as Infinity Ward. Originally following in the footsteps of Medal of Honor and the intensity of World War II, the new world decades away from the great war is specialized by the folks at IW. Unlike the historically written cases where events were already written, the Modern Warfare series gives the developers in making a more free form interpretation of what our future may be later on especially with countries like the United States of America in conflict within the Middle Eastern zone. Along with an interesting narrative in relation to our current situation outside our homes, the first game excelled in expanding the single player and multiplayer experience by making very fluid and engaging moments of action that is still rivaled by other shooters. When a sequel comes, everyone who has been a fan of Infinity Ward's work and/or the Call of Duty series expects a step up. Just like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare before it with going into new territory, Modern Warfare 2 does the same and then some.

Taking place five years after the original Modern Warfare, Ultranationalist member and terrorist Imran Zakhaev is still dead but yet his spirit hasn't been forgotten when Russia ultimately becomes controlled by the said political party with Zakhaev being recognized as a hero and martyr. Peace exists on both sides of the Earth but one man who was a major associate of Zakhaev named Vladimir Makarov wants to end it by any means. It's then up to the multinational counter-terrorism unit Task Force 141 led by Call of Duty 4 protagonist Captain "Soap" MacTavish to stop Makarov from creating any catastrophe.

In Call of Duty tradition, the player follows multiple protagonists with Task Force 141 operative Sergeant Gary "Roach" Sanderson being the most prominent. Roach will assist Captain MacTavish to such missions including retrieving a lost module in an airbase located in the Russian mountains and saving hostages in an oil rig. Aside from 141's activities, the perspectives of both the character and the environment changes where the action hits home with such characters like Private Ramirez and the United States Army Rangers defending Washington D.C. from invaders.

The plot discusses issue of terrorism may not be destroyed by a gun shot to a leader's head which explains Makarov's intent of revenge. By playing through, it's a bit vague of what he is going after but his introduction in Modern Warfare 2 especially in the controversial airport massacre level, it's good indication that he is someone that should be despised. It also deals with the theme of escalation where it becomes very prominent by the second act. With that being dealt with, it's doesn't try to go very subtle on events as it tries to shock you every couple of missions. The game provides little to no breathing room. Sometimes it's excessive but for something that has a strong Jerry Bruckheimer vibe (as opposed to the more realistic narrative of Call of Duty 4), it's acceptable.

Being a Call of Duty game, it follows the tried and true format just like usual. In cases where successors sticks to its guns, it can feel feel boring but for Modern Warfare 2, it's constantly exciting. The content is dense when shooting at the enemies with from a moving helicopter or clearing a room full of baddies and even civilians. You will witness tanks assaulting hostile houses while your squad moves up and takes down the enemy. When an area of enemies is defeated, you know they are defeated as this sequel lacks one of the most common issues in single player; which is the infinite waves. When playing, the game can trick the player that there is no end to enemies but in execution, it is very likely a large force. It doesn't force the player to move up and find a checkpoint to end the battle but encourages to eliminate the opposing force with excellence

The lack there-of makes the very challenging veteran difficulty less annoying and more enjoyable; while nonetheless very challenging. The battlefield and the AI seem to be one with each other as they know how to flank and take the upper hand instead of just being cheap sharpshooters. The design is still linear while having open room for both sides to take part and conquer. Still being stuck into two weapons only with grenades, the player can use new gadgets to get the upper hand including the addictive UAV Predator missile which can exterminate numerous foes at once without consuming too much ammo.

Task Force 141 infiltrating

Similar to the first Modern Warfare, the sequel contains specific varied sequences where you might have to defend a building from an invading force or stealth-fully get from point A to point B. It also includes controllable vehicle scenes which includes Roach and Soap having to escape by means of snowmobiles. The sequences and how the enemies currently act keeps the pacing going at a constant rate. When comparing to the lengths of both Modern Warfare games, the second one goes on faster yet can be finished about the same time as the original. Never a bad thing though because it's short and sweet.

Though great and all, I can safely say that Modern Warfare 2 bears so much similarities to its predecessor. There is no actual blatant improvement as opposed to the changes from Call of Duty to Call of Duty 2 to Modern Warfare. But when the campaign being much larger in context, it's very minor.

One of the biggest reasons that the first Modern Warfare became really popular was its multiplayer which contained very fun playlists as well as a role playing game like leveling system where people are rewarded with weapons and perks that can change the tide of a match by doing special tasks and challenges; and as well as kill people. It gave people an initiative to keep on playing especially when taking part in the Prestige Mode where they build up their rank all over again and again and again. That never went away in Modern Warfare 2. The framework is still the same with such popular modes such as team deathmatch and headquarters with its regular and hardcore settings (although old-school is gone). New modes include a third person perspective creating a new and interesting way to play the game; it feels very odd to view your player model yet feels fluid and and reactive during action.

Most of the new maps feels varied and exciting to play through. Some range from the symmetrical (Highrise) and the very condensed (Scrapyard, Rust). Old favorite from both Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2, Brecourt (now titled Wasteland) has returned with a new face lift. Some of these maps fit for specific playlists where Rust is great for small term deathmatch while Terminal is euphoric for domination.

The leveling and rewards system has improved with subtle changes. No more always unfair active perks such as juggernaut and martyrdom, people must die constantly in order to get some of these boosters. With kill streaks, there are now death streaks which can help get a player who might be trailing to get back into the game. It can help new users to get comfortable with the already ready and hardened multiplayer community. The kill streak system has improved with providing more types of rewards including a supply drop that can contain ammo or a random kill streak or even commandeering a gunship for the player to take down enemies right from above. Another interesting kill streak reward is the tactical nuke which destroys everybody and ends the game with the winning team containing the person who used the reward. But at 25 kills, it will be very rare for anybody to witness it. That leads to the initiative for the player to wisely pick which streak will fit for their playstyle as the limit is to three.

Besides destroying the opposition itself, people can destroy the opposition's rewards. Similar to shooting rockets at the chopper in the first Modern Warfare, people can now destroy the opponents' gunships, planes, and even the UAV recon plane disabling any chance of the enemy to find you. In order for everyone to have a equal chance, they make the rewards penetrable to destroy. It causes the rocket launcher to be a necessary weapon as opposed to originally being a perk. The explosive launchers as well as machine pistols and shotguns are moved to the secondary weapon side while the usual rifles and machine guns are still primary. A new weapon in both single player and multiplayer called the riot shield provides a new way of how to play the game where the shield-man is creating a defensive line for people behind him. Being indestructible, it can benefit objective based games where teamwork is necessary.

Some new identity based additions also exist in multiplayer with now titles and emblems that can help characterize any player.

The snowmobile getaway

The newest mode to Modern Warfare 2 is the cooperative capable Special Ops mode which was influenced by the bonus Mile High Club from the original Modern Warfare. It's simply a challenge mode with different types of objective for the player(s) to complete. The mode uses assets from the main campaign and as well as the first Modern Warfare. It can be played alone or with a friend through split-screen or online. The differences with playing alone and with a buddy is key with some missions where communication is golden. Some of these include a mission influenced by the ghille suit mission in Call of Duty 4 where the goal is to get from point A to point B. The environment though is very dense with heavy foliage causing enemies including camouflaged ghillied enemies to blend in completely. Having a friend for a case like that can really help find the snipers. It's an exciting mode with so much tension and fun that it can encourage players to play it again and probably at a harder setting.

Despite being a sequel on the same generation of consoles as Call of Duty 4, it looks fantastic from the dark and torn Washington D.C. to the faces of character like Soap and ally Ghost. Running at 60 frames per second, it can add so much visual fidelity while still being consistently smooth. You will be amazed and speechless to what you will see. The sound is a big improvement as well with such things as the believable ambient-scapes and battle chatter from your teammates. The game recruits popular talent including sci-fi hero Lance Henricksen and video game voice veteran Keith David as prominent characters throughout the campaign. The voice of Soap (played by Kevin McKidd) is probably the strongest video game performance this year after never hearing a word from him while playing Call of Duty 4.

There were controversies before the launch of the game but it doesn't stop Modern Warfare 2 from being absolutely fantastic. There are some problems that plague the game but it's very little as opposed to the seemingly larger than life campaign, the fun Special Ops, and the still addicting multiplayer. Infinity Ward always knows how to make an exceptional product since day one and this game doesn't end the mark.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Four: WOLVERINES!

No review yet. I am working through my single player playthrough on veteran difficulty. It was the case with Call of Duty 4. I am a fan of the franchise from one to now yet as I played the first Modern Warfare, I picked veteran after ignorantly thinking that it's the easiest. What a dumb ass am I! Although with hardships trying to move forward to get to a checkpoint before a new wave of infinite soldiers, I succeeded with almost 1000 gamerscore with every mission done on the difficulty. I tried World At War but the issue is that it was too cheap with not just infinite enemy respawns but with the issue of grenades and just hoping for the best that I can get to the next checkpoint. I opted out.

With Modern Warfare 2, veteran is still balls to the wall hard but there are benefits to it (will keep brief). No grenade spam and no respawns! It keeps the game going for the determined yet gives them a time of their life.

Hopefully a review can be written tomorrow or else I might be distracted from multiplayer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Three: Release Day

I got it, playing it, and loving it. Review tomorrow.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Two: Big Title or Small Title?

Tomorrow is the day. It will be the anniversary of the Marine Corps.' formation and most commonly, the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Sometimes it's weird to say or type that whole phrase instead of just having Modern Warfare 2. Ever since it's announcement back at the Game Developers Conference in early 2009, people have been in debate if the game should be placed under Call of Duty or try to be separated from the main series as now part of the Modern Warfare. If you see something like Wikipedia, they were debating about the names and constantly moving to each one in between the announcement and now. Recently Activision finalized the public title on the regular edition of the game by adding the Call of Duty name to likely get customers who would buy Modern Warfare 2 if it had the franchise title.

I know the gaming industry just commonly says it Modern Warfare 2 and it's fine because I say so too but there's an interesting question lingering in my head... Would the game sold more copies with just Modern Warfare 2?

I guess people who might not be the most hardcore gaming fanatics in a local Wal-Mart would question Modern Warfare 2 when they seemingly never heard of Modern Warfare 1. If they added the Call of Duty name, it would have reminded them of the previous two games which were CoD 4: Modern Warfare and CoD: World At War. It would have likely gave them the initiative to buy it.

Just having Modern Warfare 2 doesn't equal bad sales but a majority of fans of the series will get it and will be strong nonetheless, although lesser than what you would compare now with having the largest quantity of pre-sales in retailer GameStop. Just like Call of Duty 4, the sales would increase by game reviews and word of mouth from a fan to one who is curious of what is up. But for the case of Activision, it's not enough for them to earn more money as opposed to just slapping Call of Duty and frolic in their pool of cash.

For the sake of success, having the name is necessary because gamers of different stages know what Call of Duty is and will get it but to get the sales from a crowd who are just playing whatever is popular or not very knowledgeable in gaming yet wanting to enjoy something. People though will still just call it Modern Warfare 2.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part One: Release date?! Pfft!

Ah yes the most anticipated game of 2009 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is coming real soon into our boxs of graphical intensity. After Infinity Ward's CoD 4: Modern Warfare was well received from fans of the series as well as people who play the game only because of its popularity, for sure the sequel will be much more popular and infamous than it's engaging predecessor. For a moment, the pre-release buzz of the sequel almost feels like 2004 all over again with Halo 2 with some interesting and controversial additions. It includes the abandonment of PC specific traits such as mods and dedicated servers, the playable airport massacre, and the F.A.G.S. debacle. One thing that stands out that just happened recently is the selling of Modern Warfare 2 before its November 10, 2009 street date.

According to news blogs such as Joystiq and Kotaku, GameStop who is promoting Modern Warfare 2 have stores in the east coast including New York already selling copies in advance to the public. Not to reviewers or whatever but to people who would have been waiting in line on Monday night to actually play the game. It was initially believed that Activision told specific Gamestop stores to sell the game according an employee of a Bowling, Ohio store. Activision later responded that no GameStop had any special permission to sell it in advance.

I feel that there is something missing from what just happened. Was the employee at GameStop lying about it and just selling it for the sake of so? Is Activision lying (and with what's up with Activision it doesn't seem that surprising, but I digress)?

Tens of thousands of people are already playing the game according to the leaderboards. I don't seem to understand why is that so when Activision is trying to follow the release date. Isn't there some sort of fashion of suspending or banning someone who tries to get online before the release date? It raises my suspicion...

For a couple of seconds, I thought of this situation as a leak of sorts but the problem is that it's really not. Leaks are more obvious in what has led to where this advance sale feels like a mystery. Leaks are not being sold to the public for oodles of cash they are just free but in a different context. There was a leak for Modern Warfare 2 and it was free to download but it came at a heavy price especially to the culprit but anyways...

I don't see the point of having a release date for the public to pay when you can just sell it days or probably weeks before. One problem with something like that is the lack of unity and respect for the product that was planned to be only coming out on that day. It might have worked for the Ohio store for probably short term economic reasons but that's stupid when the publisher seemed to want the game to be released on that day, not daty before. In the future we will have Blizzard release Diablo 3 suddenly into the digital distribution market as they finish the product. Another reason is that it's very anti-anticipation based where a majority of gamers who will wait will be jealous and then discouraged when they finally play it when other impatient gamers have already mastered the format.

I don't know what's happening with this hoopla and I am angry that it's very unfair but what can you do with a game that contains the largest pre-order sales at GameStop. What can we do? Nothing really. Still indeed horrible news.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rise & Fall - Our Circle Is Vicious

Live The Storm
During the last years of World War II, the United States Army and the German Third Reich fought against each other in the cold woods of Bastogne, Belgium. It was a breaking point as it shown the last stand for the German army before their downfall months just after with their moustached chancellor commiting suicide in the country capital of Berlin. Besides Belgium holding what would become an important event in the European theater, the country contains a hardcore band that brings in the chaos to the rest of their world thanks to Jacob Bannon's Deathwish Inc. label. Rise & Fall's Our Circle Is Vicious has been in development for more than a year after their touring in 2008. Being in isolation in their rehersal house in the forest of Chimay to their full production in Kurt Ballou's Godcity Studio at Boston, Massachusettes, it would seem that they are trying to make it awesome as they can. Well it is so.

If you keep on hearing about Rise & Fall but never had the chance to listen to their previous work including Into Oblivion (2007), this new outing is the one you will hear. Being still based on their hardcore roots, they know how to execute their attack throughout no matter the tempo and the approach. Starting from chord strikes and chorus hooks on "Soul Slayer" and the almost chase scene like "Built On Graves" with higher string presence, it goes gutter sludgy with "Harm's Way" and "In Circles." The breakdown elements in the slower songs that help change tempo in the faster songs compliment the dynamics and the varied approaches Rise & Fall go. With the quick bursts on energy it's needed.

You deserve to listen to this because these cats are what will bring modern hardcore forward while still looking back at what made them build the beast. It will grow and grow.


Our Circle Is Vicious is available now on Deathwish Inc.!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Converge - Axe To Fall

This time they are built for war
Being active since the 1990s but gaining prominence not just from the hardcore scenes but the metal scenes all around the world during the new millennium with 2001's mathcore monster Jane Doe, Converge knows what they want in a new record and we all love it every time. The only thing we can do about it when we wait is just never expect anything and enjoy everything during initial listen. It's been the case when Converge signed on to Epitaph Records where mostly constructed of punk. With You Fail Me (2004) and No Heroes (2006), they treaded different grounds with left turns including the AmRep/NeurIsis induced You Fail Me title track and the doom and thrashtastic "To The Lions" from No Heroes.

Seven albums later and almost two decades long of intensity and traveling the world, Converge has something new out for us to drool over. A recent case just weeks before the release (or the full stream at the band's own MySpace) the review watermarked copy of Axe To Fall was leaked onto the internet for a lot of people to keelhaul over. Even if downloaded by the masses, Converge finally made something that not only make the owning of the album well worth it but made the most engaging record I have heard this year.

Official music video, probably NSFW
I can safely say that if you have listened to past Converge albums, you can say it's an amalgamation of them and then some. Combining the technicality and unpredictability of Jane Doe, the ferocity of You Fail Me, and the extreme metal tendencies of No Heroes (along with nuances of 1998's When Forever Come Crashing), they wisely balanced their use of what they have learned in the past to make an effective product while still following their of tradition of following experimental paths. Odd that some of these songs sound similar to songs on their previous two albums. The benefit of this is that these songs feel more developed than their older pieces. It includes the out-slayered Slayer-esque "Cutter" ("Vengeance","No Heroes" and "Black Cloud"), the grooved up "Slave Driver" ("Lonewolves"), and the fast "Losing Battle" ("Heartless").

Besides some great familiarities, the album continues to take different directions outside the main sound spectrum. If you have listened to the stronger bands on singer Jacob Bannon's Deathwish Inc. label, you can hear some pure influences of Disfear and label alumni Trap Them on "Wishing Well;" death' n' roll more bastardized. Apparently enough the differed songs consists of the more slower tempoed epic tracks than usual to balance out the overall heaviness to create a more varied and open album. "Cruel Bloom" brings a folkpocalypse sound with seemingly distanced brooding/depressing piano and acoustic guitar while providing an almost ethreal like feeling with the guest vocals including Neurosis' Steve Von Till. The finale "Wretched World" tries to set the listener on a ethreal (it even sound like a credits song to an epic RPG that was cut for not being overcompressed J-Pop or some obvious reason) journey of layers upon layers of drums, vocals, and guitar helped by members of Genghis Tron, The Red Chord, and Cave In.

The most intriguing thing about Axe To Fall is the high amount of guests that contributed to the album. They range from just doing backing vocals for one line (Himsa's John Pettibone on "Cutter") to almost full contribution to writing the song (ex. 3/4 of Cave In on "Effigy"). Besides people of metal/hardcore bands such as Tim Cohen of 108 and Blacklisted's George Hirsch, Converge brings in members of indie rock groups including Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor and lone female anagramed musician "The Rodeo" which even if unexpected is exciting that Converge will try someone else that doesn't shout for once.

With each Converge album, production gets better and better. Maybe No Heroes is a bit less just with the weird inaudibility of guitars and bass in places but it's good that Converge learned their lesson with this new outing. Being produced, engineered, and mixed by guitarist Kurt Ballou at his own studio, he makes the album powerful and as well as dirty. Guitars are now audible with cutting riffs and shiny leads, bass can give hope to conventional metal production that the instrument still matters and the drums have a very loud scooped feel while steps back in terms of giving the other instruments a chance. Vocals are just harsh as usual with Jacob's incomprehensible barks of destruction which says to any new listener that it's not about trying to understand what he is saying but to understand the feeling of his performance. Mastered by Alan Douches give a good amount of loudness to the intense album but at occasion passes the distortion mark which makes me question his skills.

Although with a minor fault, it's very small when compared to the larger than life sound that fills this album. I can say indeed that Converge's Axe To Fall is one of the albums to listen to of 2009. Fun for everybody because it's plain awesome. Don't waste your time downloading it from a blogspot, go freaking buy it!


Axe To Fall is available now!

Official Converge Website
Official Converge MySpace

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baroness - Blue Record

Color Me Blue
The Georgian sludge metal scene has gained some prominence within extreme metal. Built up from the NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) influences of Eyehategod, England's doomy Black Sabbath and even New York's Swans, the Georgian scene has turned into a characteristic entity while still praising the evil yet Southern rock grooves. Throughout the second half of the decade, there were lauded releases from bands like Atlanta's Withered (Foile Circulare, 2008), Savannah's Kylesa (Static Tensions, 2009), and most notably Atlanta's Mastodon (Crack the Skye, 2009). It's though not all perfect in the world of downtuned drugged bastard music. Some including me thought Mastodon's over-ambition for an almost pure progressive sound has caused them to stray away from their roots too obviously (which I felt made the record good yet very underwhelming). Is it because of their rise to major labels (Relapse Records to Reprise Records) to appeal to less metal nurtured audiences or just want to separate from being pidgeonholed in a scene? Who knows?

One band who recently had some press in magazines such as Spin and most commonly being the cover story on US extreme metal mag Decibel (November 2009) is Savannah's Baroness. Rising to prominence with their First (2004) and Second (2005) EPs and as well as a split album with Unpersons (2007) and being praised with the debut LP Red Album (2007). Their mix of progressive rock and sludge metal can make a first time listener question Mastodon clone but by multiple listens of their previous work and their latest LP Blue Record, Baroness makes excellent strides in creating what they are.

Jake Leg
With a gaze of the beautiful cover art by guitarist/vocalist John Dyer Baizley, you can expect a great and wondrous journey. Starting from the beginning of "Bullhead's Psalm" to the end of "Bullhead's Lament," they deliver their A game to the best of their ability with every song. For fans of the group, Blue can be considered simply a very well refined Red Album; although not a reiteration of their 2007 debut. The most obvious difference from the previous work is how Baroness keeps momentum on making hook after hook after hook throughout the 45 minutes without droning out on being boring. They provide a sound that can be appreciated to a larger audience but they do it so well and effectively that the "sold out" issue is nonexistent.

Guitarist/vocalist Pete Adams replaced former guitarist Brian Bickle a couple of months back and I questioned if Baroness can still do it without it's former lead guitarist. By listen of Blue Album, I had my question answered with a yes. Pete contributes so much harmony vocals especially in "The Sweetest Curse" and the folk acoustic "Steel That Sleeps The Eye" where it's better to have both John and Pete sing/shout at the same time instead of just having one doing the responsibilities. Besides his voice, he can make very good clashes with John on twin leads with very noticeable support by bassist Summer Welch and drummer of Brian Bickle, Allen. When the album is best as is when all the elements are crunched up into one five or so minute song. The spectacular results are well established in the "The Birthing"-esque "Jake Leg" and the mid-paced galloping rhythms of "A Horse Name Golgotha."

A Horse Called Golgotha
Even with an outro, the penultimate song (The Gnashing) truly ends the album with great build up to the climax with elegant melodies, rhythm shifts, and well thought out patterns. Everything felt engaging and well made and nothing felt like filler. Is it best metal album ever? Probably not but I can say Baroness' Blue Record is one of the best metal (if not general) records of 2009.


Blue Record out now on Relapse Records!

Official Baroness MySpace
(features Blue Record stream)
Official John Baizley MySpace

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coalesce - "Wild Ox Moan" Dissected

Lasting for more than a week even if I have discovered this recently, Coalesce has issued a contest where anybody can win prizes for having the best remix and/or rearrangement of their OX song "Wild Ox Moan." Although great to win crap including a special LP version of OX, I feel that people including me who are trying to get into music production, specifically extreme metal, can understand how can we make a good sounding track with this song as good reference.

It's great that engineer Ed Rose dissected the main elements of the song (guitars, vocals, effects, etc.) for us to understand in a technical manner. Notable elements include the panned bass guitar, the room and close drum mics, and the use of vocals with how having either just the main vocals or the backing vocals can affect the performance especially in the 02:38-02:58 section.

I am trying to understand extreme metal production and trying to make my own sound. Thank goodness someone would break down a song or else most of us would be overproducing/underproducing which can respectively lead to constant clipping or inaudibility. Most of us recording music in a DIY fashion might not sound good as OX but at least it's a stepping stone for success in the future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Doomriders - Darkness Come Alive

Doom, Gloom, and Rock & Roll?
Aside from the very metallic hardcore tendencies, Converge's Nate Newton has a primary side project when Converge is not playing a show. Doomriders contains the bassman on guitars as well as Cave In drummer J.R. Connors playing very fun and catchy death 'n' roll and punk influenced stoner rock ever since their 2005 debut Black Thunder on Jacob Bannon's Deathwish Inc. Four years later with occasional live performances and splits with Coliseum and Swedish d-beat kings Disfear, Nate and the riders finally have time to record new attractive material before their holds on their main bands and their own new pieces.

Darkness Come Alive in terms of how it's recorded differs from Black Thunder as the latter was recorded live with all instruments present and playing simultaneously while Darkness followed conventional tracking. Although it feels like the fun and jam factor disappeared, it resulted with songs having more detail and attention resulting with a good amount of focus. The first half of the seventeen songs have good hooks especially in the harmony chorus in "Come Alive" but the second half is where the riders step up in their riffing game. "Jealous God" stays doomed up yet has a melody that can encourage the crowd to flood the group sing along and "Mercy" as well as "Bloodsucker" adds the Black Flag esque hardcore element to the stoner fuzzed grooves. Thank goodness those grooves are audible as I thank Kurt Ballou for having clarity and dynamics instead of density and intensity.

Good thing Nate actually pursued Doomriders as he deserves some prominence when doing his work on Converge and even in Old Man Gloom. Show your glory!


Monday, September 28, 2009

the_Network - Bishop Kent Manning

No LAN support in this network
It's intriguing to listen to bands that I never heard before especially with cool sounding names (except for badly vaguely named metalcore bands). The_Network has a cool sounding and looking name albeit they are a metalcore band. Good thing that they sound pretty good for following a Botch/Converge attack with a essence of individuality. Already established in Blackmarket Activities with 2007's This Is Your Pig's Portrait and the split EP with UK band Throats, the_Network comes back with a Kurt Ballou production of a conce... excuse me a narrative journey.

Starring a man on a destructive path from his manipulative lead of an evangelical church to his goal for self realization and redemption, t_N provides an facsinating lyrical story where it flows through with anger and rage from vocalist Mike McGee. He does what he has to do while knows he cannot flood the rest of the sounds surrounding the album. Following the aformentioned influences, t_N takes some left turns with influences of post-hardcore and post-metal; most notably evident on "Corpse Paint" where it contains an Isis like buildup and goes to a almost poppy melodic like chorus to immediate doomy verses. Most of the time, it's constant math influenced chaos. To differentiate from their older peers, very metal riffing is added to the hardcore sensibilities in songs like "Easter Just Stopped Showing" where it almost sounds like a death metal song with the notion of how deathcore should sound like instead of what Suicide Silence deafens.

They do what they want to do and it seems to be working. Is it sophomore album of the year? Hell no! It doesn't break any modern mold in the musically department yet it's awesome though to listen to something imaginative lyrically such as Bishop Kent Manning. In the name of Jesus and Satan, do listen!


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gnaw Their Tongues - All The Dread Magnificence Of Perversity

Jesu For Strange Cats
One of the intriguing things about uncomfortable music is that it can get the listener (if open-minded) to get sucked in and try to digest the universe that is composed in a song. Can range from just simplistic ambient noise to the recent soothing yet cacophonous hits of Tilt and The Drift by Scott Walker. People who doesn't listen to extreme music would commonly call the the various genres in the umbrella term as unpleasant; likely because the closest thing that they would consider extreme would be something out of Disturbed. More known in Europe, the amalgamation of the sounds are presented in such bands like The Axis Of Perdition and recently Gnaw Their Tongues with its latest full length monster of a machine.

Consisting of Dutch lone wolf Mories who takes extreme to another level with his arsenal of everything hard and destructive, he wants the listener to visualize the enviroments and what can create the dynamic wall of noise. "Broken Fingers Point Up In Vain" imagines a doomy symphonic end of the world scenario where everything built by man is collapsing down to the ground. The first song when popping the disc in creates a strong and hollow Silent Hill like mood if the very bloody and dreary environments filled with surrounding industrial scream existed. Although some spoken word it doesn't have lyrics but for this case, it's beneficial as it's about listening to every little detail from the agonizing cries to the subtle drum patterns.

If there is a flaw then it has to be the songs simply put. Dread is great and terrifying, it wants to be really cacophonous albeit it's so likeable that it drains the "I am fucking freaking out and going fucking insane" scary factor. It's more like being the cameraman to a well thought out horror movie as opposed to waking up in what could be hell on earth (minus the Cyberdemon). Also the song names sounding cool also feels silly and vague ("Gazing At Me Through The Tears Of Urine, WTF?!). Nonetheless if you wanna love shitting bricks on music, All The Dread Magnificence Of Perversity is still extreme beyond extreme and evil beyond evil.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Weekend Nachos - Unforgivable

Once low key yet strong fanbase in the Eastern hardcore scene but recently had wider appreciation with Relapse Records' Scott Hull modern powerviolence/grind collection known as This Comp. Kills Facists, Weekend Nachos I hope is enjoying the larger reception. Even with finishing songs for the compilation, it didn't stop their 2009 Spazz-y attack as they begun making a "full length" of traditional yet still intense grind and powerviolence known as Unforgivable.

As I said, this album is traditional filling up the usual guidelines influenced by the early U.S. grind bands both musically and artistically. So expect a grotesque black & white Vietnam photo to start off. When initially listening to it you can expect the fast, slow, and blast tempos to fill up almost every song when the creamy smooth guitars and bass flow with the still goofy vocals. Every other band does the same thing but why should you or me care about this band Besides powerviolence being less common than grindcore obviously, they have some chops to deliver excting stuff which is highlighted in standouts like "Pain Over Acceptance" and the 2 minute epic "Nights".

Nothing special or bad, the Nachos made a nonetheless enjoyable Relapse debut album which by small doses can be kept in grind enthusiasts' LP player, CD player, or iPod. Give it a go you might like it.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Trash Talk - East Of Eden

Hardcore punk is fast and devastating just like all extreme genres but instead of having dominant thrash riffs or super progressive double bass drum patterns, it's all about a purely unified attack of d-beats, heavily distorted chords, and in your face shouts where it can match with the most kvlt of music. Sacramento's Trash Talk has been a down-low band while being infamous for aggressive hardcore/powerviolence/grind releaseswith drugged up terror of sludge lasting less than an full EPs worth (S/T only last less than 15 minutes). Releasing a single song into the public is a bit expected but the extremeties present in East of Eden's "East Of Eden/Son Of A Bitch" is well worth listening because it feels sort of reminiscent of the first two releases Walking Disease and Plagues while having the DIY cloudy tones of the S/T; think of Napalm Death's Scum but slightly refined yet still fucking dirty. Blast beats, doom sounds, and traditional necessities feel cohesive and powerful even if it lasts 2 minutes.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shadow Complex (Xbox 360)

Hike After The Summer So They Don't Get You!
First person shooters are of what the first decade of gaming in the 21st century is about since its baby steps since the 1980s but during that time, gaming was still in its baby steps. Unable to process such modern graphical enhancements such as motion blur, specular highlighing, and megatexturing, game systems stuck with mostly flat 2 dimensional planes where it was left to right; from point A to point B. Games using this basic format of progression including Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night (Sony PlayStation, 1997) and Metroid series including the acclaimed Super Metroid (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1994) took the linear gameplay of past games and made the whole game open ended for gamers to find new content including weapon upgrades and hidden rooms anytime. Now we go to 2009 where that influence is brought into effect in the Xbox Live Arcade exclusive Shadow Complex. Only for 1200 Microsoft Points and the last game of the Arcade's Summer Of Arcade program filled with addicting gameplay that defies the interpretation of what Xbox Live Arcade is and what can it really be in the future.

Taking place within Orson Scott Card's 2006 best seller Empire to tie into the sequel Hidden Empire (2009), it starts off in Washington D.C. with a military officer failing to attempting to save the Vice President with a powersuit built by the main antagonistic terrorist group the Restoration. Then the player follows an everyman named Jason Fleming who agrees to hike with his new girlfriend Claire in the Washington state forest but later encounters her captured by the Restoration and their plans to attack major cities including San Francisco. Jason finds himself into a conflict he never wanted to be part of and is made to save Claire and stop the Restoration's plans once and for starting with only a flashlight and a backpack.

It's simply put as girl gets captured, the protagonist must get by any means to save her. By no means it's original but it's entertaining to see how it goes to save her. There is some backstory elements within the cutscenes and in game respectively that help Jason's character progression and give cohesion to people who lack knowledge of what Empire was about. The plot overall is more on the side and although in this day and age of gaming it's a disadvantage, it's also a benefit because the game's intention is to get the user to digest the story by personal choice and really try to engage in the gameplay in which Shadow Complex is all about.

Following in the spirits of the aforementioned Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and as well as some other adventure games such as Out Of This World (PC, 1991), it's all about exploration where the player can find new weapons, power-ups, and upgrades that can help destroy enemies easier, unlock new rooms, and find more of the 110 items throughout the game's large and detailed map. Some of these areas can only though be accessed through particular weapons including missiles and the extremely useful foam gun which can also freeze enemies in their position and can lead to explosive ends. Although linear in some senses especially trying to completely beat game the players can backtrack to any area of the complex and can search for any missing upgrades by using new gear and the bonuses in leveling up can extend the gamers' imagination in finding ways around and to even finding exploits. The first playthrough can encourage a scouring of every little duct or cave for the 100% completion achievement but it's all about playing it again to play with different variables. This is where the achievement system comes in where Shadow Complex features some by doing a specific action multiple times including kicking small robots named bombas and getting multiple headshots; but those can't compare to the non-pointed master challenges where it's a test to hardcore gamers to do such things as completing the game at 100% under three hours on Insane difficulty to finding the hilarious secret ending.

The campaign can last up to 6-10 hours within the first playthrough but as you get familiar with the complex it will be an easier time the second, third, and such times to a possible 30 minutes or less as some have found a way.

Besides the main campaign, there is also the Proving Grounds game mode where it helps new users to getting familiar and to master weapons and upgrades and test them with twenty-one different trials separated by seven trials in three packs with each getting difficult. It's addicting to get the platinum medals and to get high scores on the leaderboards even if trial and error can be very apparent in this mode. Practice makes perfect.

Running under Unreal Engine 3, Chair Entertainment provided an excellent job in making a detailed game for release on Xbox Live Arcade. From the natural woods to the artificial yet clean underground hallways, Chair made an interesting complex with variation all around as opposed to being constantly industrialized gray. Character models mostly looks attractive and detailed although not including Claire in some cases where she looks like a different person in every cutscene she is in; it might be the lighting or the angle of the shot but it feels so awkward looking at her after her first appearance. Supported with well-executed voice acting from everyone to the loud weapon sounds, the presentation is excellent especially in the Arcade field.

IGN Original Trailer of Shadow Complex

Playing in a 2D space, Shadow Complex mainly plays in the format where most enemies are in the foreground with some exceptions of where enemies for example enemies from the background and enter the fight. The player can get Jason to shoot them with the background auto aim feature using the right analog stick; it works but when trying to get a precise shot or at least getting a hit it's a challenge upon itself especially when the target is lethal.

You will start off with only a flashlight and will shortly get weapons to fight against strong enemies ranging from infantry soldiers to mechanized bipedal tanks in which some though can be easily defeated with reading hint pop-ups revealing their weak spot. If possible, you can eliminate them with instant kill close quarter combat but it can be deadly up close to especially at harder difficulties. Even on normal difficulty, the enemies can kill you within a few seconds if you don't find cover or kill them fast enough. Taking cover is one part of what makes Shadow Complex tactical as opposed to other side-scrollers. You can aim for headshots or if possible kill with obstacles including bombas, electical cables, or flaming vents. When you do kill people especially larger enemies, there is a sense of relief and the the urge to kill more especially with them having entertaining rag-doll death animations.

Even with a game like this, there are had to be issues. Running on Unreal Engine 3 there are some short comings including the common late texture loading and the motion blur in some cases can be distracting and makes the screen look unclear. There are some texture errors especially at the ending with 100% completion in which Jason has white hair with purple highlights as opposed to the regular black. Enemies sometimes don't see my presence unless I am very close to them or just fire a bullet in their general direction. Occassional rag-doll/environment collision glitching as well but that and the others are too minor when compare to the game's large amount of high priority advantages.

I will go off and say that Shadow Complex is an heir to its influences and brings new forms of gameplay to a new gaming audiences. Despite it's little shortcomings, Shadow Complex is a watershed and a forerunner for possible major projects to be made in Xbox Live Arcade. From the guys who made a very casual underwater game named Undertow (2007) to something big and amazing like this sold in a format mostly selling seemingly smaller formatted games, Chair Entertainment made the best Xbox Live Arcade game.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Burnt By The Sun - Heart Of Darkness

Always bet on Dave!
Drummer Dave Witte and vocalist Mike Olender quit Burnt By The Sun for a short time but returned to record one last ditch effort with the band before ending it once and for all. It's the swan songs for this act but I cannot say Dave=good music no matter fucking what even if his contribution to whatever band his takes part of is good. Heart of Darkness by Burnt By The Sun is great because it's great in what it delivers without being placed in a template of mainstream metalcore; although they almost reached that particular stage. For a couple of dynamic moments into the first song "Inner Station" you wouldn't be even thinking of metalcore anymore, you will think of awesome.

They are excellent in playing each of their respected instruments but what makes this final effort so heavy is the well placed hooks from all departments. Ranging from Coalesce to Discordance Axis (Dave was there!), they know how to make something catchy with the grooved up fuck you riffs on "There Will Be Blood" to the sweet short bursts of grind-y vocal and drumming on "Beacon". This reason alone garners an 8 but another important factor is the unpredictability as influences come all across while staying consistent and extreme. Every listen feels like I encountered something new which I might have missed before.

If I can find the song that sums up Heart is the first written track "Goliath" where it's follows fast and slow tempos with the multiple notions of good breakdowns with signs of AmRep noise rock followed by sludge and thrash with technical death metal tendencies within 3 minutes. If they can make so much brutality within that time frame while not sounding messy and filled with too much sounds everywhere, I know there is hope for newer bands doing the same.

The review might get you interested but it's all about the listen and BBTS's final album will destroy your ears; the non Metallica way.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Converge - No Heroes

The new Converge album (Axe To Fall) is coming October 20, 2009 and I had the idea to review previous albums of bands releasing new material in the future. I thought that it should start off with No Heroes.
Hard to challenge something considered a watershed album especially with Converge's case for Jane Doe that was the most honest emotional math roller coaster ride in hardcore to date which paved the way for a new generation of kids of both punk and metal to cross over. After years of touring all around the world post 9/11, they released You Fail Me which solidified their message that they still got the spirit and energy by doing what they do instead of trying to succeed the heavy reception of Jane Doe. It carries on to their 2006 album No Heroes with excellence and larger appreciation than ever before.

From "Heartache" through "To The Lions", Converge does the hot and heavy with riffs reminiscent of their extreme influences. The nihilistic thrashing on the titled song, the Cave In noisy prog rock tendencies on "Orphaned", and the post-metallic build ups of "Trophy Scars", they and the other 12 songs on the album deliver the goods with seemingly no effort done. Ben Kollar's drumming succeeds the math-y tendencies in Jane Doe with pure attack and focus which can even make the prog death drummers jealous. Jacob's completes the Converge circle with shouts the topics of sacrifice outside our home. He is skillfully relentless and loves being so.

Official music video of Converge's "No Heroes"

While entirely awesome, there are certain songs that are just entirely masterful and being the top songs on No Heroes. "Bare My Teeth" manages to put noise rock, jazz drumming, and thrash and sludge influenced hardcore riffs into two minutes which if it was longer, it would have been the most boring one available. As opposed to short and fast, there is the long epic "Grim Heart/Black Rose" where it's a journey into sadness of death and mourning filled with clean yet gloomy guitar and a great singing contribution by Only Living Witness vocalist Jonah Jenkins. It builds up to the quick and immediate punk mix of anger and sorrow where it suddenly dies down to no emotion. Converge no matter the focus of music they do, they know how to make great songs with enough content to avoid the shoegazy sleepy time of other bands and such.

Although it feels like a regression from Jane Doe and in most senses is, You Fail Me and especially No Heroes is supposed to say that's not the point for Converge of this time. Even if beneficial to follow what Jane Doe did and expand the mathcore sensibilities, Converge does excellent on doing what they do while trying to have some subtle left turns which is for the better. It's all about enjoying on what the have and indeed it's enjoyable!