Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Near Horizon: March 2017

And now February is out of the way! I'm hoping to be clear of the worst of winter. Honestly, it's been really warm and decent over the past few weeks. I've been walking basically every day for miles and playing Pokemon GO at my local park. It's been awesome.

Okay, let's get to it.

Obsidian Productions News

The DOOM Chronicles:
I didn't get as much done as I'd have liked to on this one, although this story is now approaching 100,000 words, which is kind of crazy. I'm almost done with Part Three of Episode One. After that, they'll be descending into Hell itself. Now, I'm going to be trying a new approach to tackling the writing. Basically, I'll be dedicating every week to something. This first week of March will be dedicated to The DOOM Chronicles, the second week will be dedicated to Gathering Darkness, the third week a currently secret project and the fourth week S. A. Lusher related stuff. Then back to The DOOM Chronicles on the fifth week, and so on and so forth. Hopefully I'll get more done this way.

Gathering Darkness: See above.

Machinima: I'm sorry to say that I've ceased all machinima-related activity and have taken down anything relating to machinima. The reason I have done this is because I'm simply too busy right now, and machinima is a pretty time-consuming process. I'm really sorry to have to do this, as I'd LOVE to keep going, but it's just too much work. Something had to be cut, and machinima made the most sense. Someday, I will get back to it.

S. A. Lusher News
Secret Project:
The secret project I mentioned earlier is being shelved as well. Good thing I didn't talk about it in depth. The reason for this is, again, time. Also, since there's no real pressure to write this project right now, combined with the fact that I want to take my time with this project with few other distractions, I figure it makes sense to put it back on the shelf. Someday I'll return.

WattPad: I've started a new page dedicated to S. A. Lusher on WattPad. You can find it HERE. Currently, Project Syn is available and complete. I plan on spending the next bout of time simply editing and putting up older stories. Here's a list.
  • Final Message: A short story set in The Shadow Wars universe, technically, although it has no direct relation to it. It's a Sci-Fi/Mystery and I believe I posted it here once before, way back in the day.
  • Liberation Road: This is a contemporary horror novella I wrote back in 2011. I still think it's kind of okay and I hope people will like it. Basically, a guy gets trapped in a very small town in the middle of Kansas and weird shit starts happening.
  • Shadows: This is a contemporary horror novella I wrote back in 2013 and had published at the now defunct Damnation Books. When new management took over, I managed to get the rights back. I don't think this one is very good, but I honestly really like the concept. I want to rewrite it someday, but I guess this current version is readable if it got published. Essentially, a group of people get trapped overnight in an office building by a strange entity that will not let them leave.
  • Dead Frames: This is a mystery/horror short I wrote a few years back. It's nothing special. A detective discovers true terror when he is asked to investigate a bizarre death.
  • Beneath: This is a pretty short story. Contemporary horror. Two guys get trapped in a parking garage at night and crazy shit happens. I think this one is the weakest one, but tell me what you think, if you agree or not.
  • Hazard Lights: Another short one, but I still like this one. It's a contemporary horror. When a guy pulls over in the middle of the night to investigate a derelict car, its hazards flashing, you guessed it, crazy shit happens. It's got a cool monster and you might recognize the way the monster operates if you've read The Shadow Wars.
  • Unknown: This will be the first of the stories that I'll actually be working on, writing-wise. It's a horror/mystery novella. I wrote the first five or so chapters back in 2011 and although I thought I had a really neat idea the first time, now...I'm not so sure. But again, we'll see. I'm curious to see if people like it or not.
I also do plan on bringing The Shadow Wars back to WattPad at some point, and also I plan on writing some new material for The Shadow Wars. Keeping very quiet about that for now, since it's going to be a long ways off. As in, if we're lucky, I might be able to get to it sometime this year.

Other News

Just one other big piece of news, really. I've begun pre-production on my second pen-name. I've selected the name, (I think it's a good one), and I've selected the first story. This is what will start taking up most of my time from now on, as I really need to get to work on it and get going on this, since, you know, it'd be nice not to have to wonder: Am I going to be able to pay the bills three months from now?

All I can really say about it right now is this: It's a Post-Apocalyptic Survival/Horror novel, totally original, unrelated to anything I've ever done before. I'm going to try and get it published through an independent press that seems to know what they're doing. Pending on how it goes, it'll either be a series or a stand-alone. Either way, I'm going to publish a shitload of books through a publisher or a shitload of books myself, like I've been doing. So, if you like my writing, it's a win-win scenario for you!

The only other thing I want to say is that I'm sorry for being so inconsistent and out of it lately. If you've read the previous posts or my Obsidian Productions Newsletters over on WattPad, you know the story as to how the past six months or so have kind of been rough for me. In addition to all that, about two weeks ago, I stopped taking some secondary psych meds I started taking in November. (Don't worry, checked with my doctor first.) Although I am feeling better, sharper and clearer, and my sleep is better now, I'm having some anxiety issues, and my nightmares are back. The anxiety issues have been lessening day-by-day, and I'm hoping they'll be gone soonish, but that's why everything's been so erratic.

Thanks for the support!


Game Talk #13: Area 51

I had to admit that as a young child, I was obsessed with the idea of Area 51. I mean, it's such an enigma. I've always been in love with the idea of conspiracies and hidden truths and creepy monsters being experimented on and government cover ups. Now, I did love the Area 51 arcade shooter games, but that was more because of the gameplay. It was just fun as hell and I almost never got to experience it.

Technically speaking, this game, made by Midway and released in 2005, is a canonical reboot of those arcade shooter games.

As another example of my love of Area 51, my first day in eighth grade was spent reading Area 51 by Bob Mayer. I read the whole damn nine book series at least twice. Probably more than twice.

So when I saw that trailer for Area 51 packaged with Psi Ops, I was like:

So obviously I got it as soon as I could. I remember having dreams about playing this damn game. That's how much I wanted to play it.

Unfortunately, I can't honestly remember how I felt about it when I played it. I know that I enjoyed it and I got about three quarters of the way through the game, but then I stopped for some reason.

So I'll tell you what I thought about it this time through, since I purchased it last year and played through the whole thing this time around.

Let's start with the basics. It's a first person shooter and it must have been a big deal when it came out because it featured the voices of David Duchovny, Marilyn Manson and Powers Boothe, with Duchovny voicing the main character.

In the game, you play Ethan Cole, a member of a military trained hazmat squad. Officially, you and your other three teammates are called in to Area 51, which is now in lockdown, to find another hazmat squad that has gone missing. As you penetrate the subterranean portions of the legendary Area 51, you find the scattered remnants of the base's internal security forces and science personnel, who are besieged by a seemingly unstoppable onslaught of mutant horrors. As you push further into the base, you discover that nothing is as it seems and an apparently simple mission suddenly becomes a gruesome struggle for survival.

There's a lot I like about this game.

Right away, it seems very cinematic. The intro plays a little like a movie, with the names of the primary voice actors intercut with some badass shots of the protagonist gearing up and heading for Area 51. It framed the game nicely and got me amped to play.

There's a lot of cool stuff sprinkled throughout the game, a lot of collectibles. You can find a great deal of conspiracy theory stuff, like where crop circles came from and the reality of the moon landing and flying saucers.

The gameplay was usually varied enough to keep it interesting and they weren't stingy with the story. You usually got another piece of it fairly often, not a lot, but enough to keep you going. Also, there were these cool little commentaries from the protagonist in between each chapter, although sometimes the dialogue got a little poor or corny.

Also, I didn't feel cheated by the game really. It was a solid overall campaign experience. It felt like a full game. I'm not sure how long it took me to beat, (I couldn't find any kind of runtime calculator and I'm terrible at keeping track of time while playing), but overall it felt like a satisfying amount of campaign.

There was a multiplayer mode, but I never tried it and obviously can't anymore so I don't know how it turned out.

I do wish they would have put in campaign co-op, though. That would have made the game a lot more fun.

Now, some things I want to complain about.

The game is too dark fairly frequently and there's no way to change the brightness of the game. A couple things that should be fucking mandatory on games: subtitles, volume control and fucking brightness control. Psi Ops had this
problem too, even worse than Area 51.

One thing that I don't really have a good grasp on is the controls. They got the job done but I felt like they could have been a lot better. A lot tighter. But I don't know if these controls were good for the time and I'm just spoiled by our amazing controls nowadays or if they were lame back then, too. I can for sure say they're worlds better than fucking Psi Ops.

Also, the story itself is a little incoherent. I mean, at one point, all these bad guys with guns start showing up and there's no real explanation for them. I guess they're the Illuminati? There's hardly even any kind of like 'announcement' for them. I mean, normally, when a new enemy emerges, there's like a cut-scene or something. Maybe there was but if there was it didn't leave an impression.

The biggest disappointment of the game is honestly that it didn't take off. Technically, there was a sequel, Blacksite: Area 51, but it seems to have about as much to do with this game as this game did with the arcade shooters. And clearly they were planning to do a lot with it. Even before the game came out, they had announced that fucking Paramount Pictures were going to release a movie adaptation!

So what happened?

I don't know but I imagine it must have been poor sales. This could have been a cool franchise, just like Psi Ops could have been, and it's obvious that the game designers had a lot more ideas and potential, but I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

So, just like last review, if you find a cheap copy of the game, give it a play.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Game Talk #12: Firewarrior 40k - Fire Warrior

I want to talk about this game because I come at it from a very weird angle compared to a lot of other people who experienced it.

Whenever I bring this game up, almost everyone who has actually heard of it usually reacts poorly. They go on about how it was a shitty, awful, terrible attempt to shove an otherwise great intellectual property into a lame First Person Shooter.

But that isn't how I saw it.

Back in the day, (the game came out in late 2003), I often frequented Blockbuster. Ah, the memories. The cover of Fire Warrior caught my eye one day. I mean...holy shit, just look at it.

Like, I was in love. It looked epic. Plus, they were running their whole 'Who needs Halo?' campaign. I think, (not sure), that by the time I found this game, I had already played Halo. (I didn't get my hands on Halo until January '04.) I was so in love with Halo that I wanted another game like it. I mean, who wouldn't? And hey, if they were willing to claim that this game was a Halo Killer, then it must be really amazing...


Well, anyway, before we talk about the actual game, let me further explain my view of it. At the time, I had no idea that Fire Warrior was part of a larger universe. I had no idea that Warhammer 40K was a thing. So I came at this game with totally fresh eyes and no expectations. At least, no expectations in terms of how good it stacked up to other content from that universe.

So, let's talk about the game now.

How is it? If you asked me when I was sixteen, I'd have said it was fucking badass. If you ask me now, well...I beat it, so it at least kept my attention for that long.

All in all, as an FPS from 2003, it isn't really bad. I'd say at least above average, though the auto-aim element is probably the only thing that made it playable. But apart from the gameplay, it has a fairly cool story...sort of. Okay, let's take a look at the story.

In the far distant future, you are Kias, a young Fire Warrior and a member of the tau. A race of what might be called 'peaceful warriors', they only seem to attack when provoked. It seems like the tau were modeled around Japanese culture to a certain degree, but I could be wrong about that. (I'm not that familiar with any cultures, honestly.) After a brutal war between the tau and the Imperium of Man, who are a bunch of religious fanatic dicks that worship technology now, a shaky ceasefire has been signed. Unfortunately, that ceasefire is broken when a tau Ethereal, one of their leaders, is kidnapped and brought to a miserable mining plant called Dolumar IV. This sparks a conflict as the tau race to rescue their leader. As Kais, you engage in a brutal conflict with the humans and this is to be your Trial By Fire, or basically your first real mission. Things escalate and shit gets even crazier, but this is the basic premise.

Too bad that most of the story seems to have gotten lost in the echo.

I wasn't too sure what was going on the first time around and I managed to follow the seemingly bare-bones story fairly coherently the second time around. Fire Warrior is a game that, in my eyes at least, stood the test of time. For the most part. It was still fun, at times fairly challenging, even on the easiest difficulty, and overall a decent game.

One thing that was very interesting, however, was something I only discovered near the end of last year. After playing through Fire Warrior again, (I beat it this time! I never beat it the first time around), I did some research online and found out that they had hired someone to novelize the game.

Now, on a little side note here, I'd like to say that I've read more than a few video game books and, well, they fare better than video game movies. But sometimes not by much.

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that this book was excellent. It's since become my favorite video game novelization. (DOOM: Knee-Deep in the Dead, a novelization of the very first DOOM game, was formerly number one.) The book has a few flaws, though.

For one, the author insists (or probably it was the company that owns the IP insisting) on making frequent references to tau words. Namely, measurements of time. Now, from an understanding standpoint, I get it. I can figure out context clues. I can tell what these words roughly translate to, so I didn't lose any information or story, but honestly, it's just jarring and annoying. Not to mention inconsistent. I mean, they have Orca Class dropships. Come on, Orca? As in, the human creature? Or all the other words that are in English that the book uses. I get that it's meant to make the reader become more immersed in tau culture but honestly I thought the story itself was written well enough to get that job done fine. I have a clear idea of tau society and culture without needing to read a made up word every couple of pages.

Another thing that was kind of annoying at first, but I came to understand why it was done, was that frequently, a brand new character would get introduced. We would get slammed through about a page of information on this character, their back story and what they were doing, and then, not much later, they'd get gunned down by the main character, Kias. At first I didn't like this, because it, too, was jarring, but I ultimately have come to appreciate what it was used for: breaking up the story because honestly, it gets tedious writing about one character gunning down a bunch of others.

But otherwise the book was great. I loved it. It was exceptionally well written. I also came to realize that Fire Warrior is actually an extremely unique game. I mean, how many other games do you get to play as an alien? Or, more specifically, an alien gunning down humans? Or, even more specifically, playing as an alien gunning down humans and it isn't a gimmick or a comedy? It's very rare and it came out very well for this game.

A little more on the book: it fleshed out the story a LOT. I didn't even realize all this stuff was going on and it did explain some of the back story of everything and the mythology of the Warhammer universe.

There is one part in particular that I'd like to talk about. It's spoilerish so, if you haven't played this game and want to experience it without spoilers, stop reading.

Okay, so, in the Warhammer universe, there's this alternate dimension of pure evil and chaos. That's what it's referred to as: Chaos. It's basically Hell and it's inhabited by chaos demons and they want out all the time. So, this game manages to pull an excellent twist in the same way Halo kind of did. The first half of the game is a pretty standard shooter. You're shooting the human bad guys, they're shooting back at you, the plot makes sense.

And then, suddenly, basically out of nowhere, a bunch of crazed Chaos Marines, who are huge, bulky, winged, glowing crimson, shrieking demon horrors, pop out thin air and start killing EVERYONE. And I do mean everyone: tau and humans alike are caught in the crossfire.

Suddenly, you have to set aside your differences and work together against the Chaos menace. I thought this was fucking awesome and it made the game significantly more interesting. There was also a really good build up to it. Several times you came across some of the enemy soldiers talking about not wanting to back to their ship because something fucking weird was going on. And then, when you boarded their ship, you started finding evidence of something else killing the humans, besides you. It was a great mystery.

So, that about wraps up what I have to say on Fire Warrior. My recommendation: if you can find it for cheap, give it a play. It's a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Game Talk #11: Second Sight

Second Sight.

I can't remember how I discovered this game but I imagine I saw the cover for it at Blockbuster back in the early 2000s and decided I needed to have it. I mean, look how cool that cover is. I'm in my late 20s now and I still love that cover.

A little while ago, I compiled a list of all the games I used to play from my PS2/Xbox days that were any good and I've been slowly going through that list, playing them again, seeing whether or not they were in fact as good as I remember, or if I just didn't know what 'good' was back then and the game was actually crap.

With Second Sight, it was, well...kind of a bit of both, I guess. Let's get started talking about this game.

In Second Sight, you play John Vattic, a man who awakens with no memories, severely wounded, in a high-tech research hospital. As you escape, you begin having flashbacks to a military operation in Russia that occurred six months ago. You also begin regaining supernatural psychic powers that help you combat a group of shady, paramilitary personnel who want you back for a top secret black ops project.

That's a fairly enticing plot and...it sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it? A man who has been captured by an enemy, paramilitary organization who has lost his memories and slowly regains them, as well as a slew of psychic powers, all while fighting this organization?

Yes. It sounds exactly like Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy.

Apparently, Free Radical had no idea that Midway was working on essentially the same game. And it wasn't like there was a lot of room in the field. If say, for example, two companies happen to unknowingly be working on a military first person shoot at the same time, no one would bat an eye.

But before Psi Ops or Second sight, both of which came out within mere months of each other, there really wasn't a game in the 'you can control things with your brain' genre. And there hasn't really been since, (unless I'm missing some secret cache of games in the genre.)

The difference between these two games is that Second Sight is better. Like, a lot better...in some ways. I think that, in general, Psi-Ops had better controls. (Which is sad, considering how much I complained about the controls of that game.)

If you want to read the whole story of Second Sight, as in, the story of its creation and legacy, there's a great article here.

I just wanted to give my thoughts on the game.

Also, although it would be very easy to lie here, I'm going to admit that I didn't finish the game. I didn't beat it the first time around and I got a little past the point where I gave up in my teens and then gave up again. I'll get into the details of why below but I finally just watched a walkthrough for all the pertinent story-related details.

One of the first things I noticed as I fired it up and started playing was that Second Sight must have had a huge impact of me and my writing. I'm a big fan of memory loss and grim, bald, miserable protagonists and something about the aesthetic of Second Sight must have stuck with me.

So what's good about the game?

The story. It's fairly coherently, as far as 'no memories, jumping back and forth through the past and the present' goes. It keeps you guessing and manages to put enough story in there to keep it interesting.

The atmosphere. There's a wonderful atmosphere in the game. It switches between a grim, rainy present tense on the east coast of the States and the frozen, miserable tundras of Siberia six months ago. The environments themselves range from a high-tech research hospital to an old, abandoned Siberian town to a leaky, rusty asylum to rundown slums. There are a lot of places to go.

The length of the game. It felt like there was a satisfying amount of gameplay to the game, a satisfying amount of story in the campaign. If I'd actually had money back then, I don't think I'd have felt ripped off to spend the 50 bucks on a new copy of Second Sight.

The powers. They're really cool! You can go partially invisible, pick shit up with your brain (including people), possess people, walk ahead to open gates and doors and operate computers as a shadowy spirit figure and heal yourself. That's all awesome. They definitely put more thought into it than the Psi-Ops team.

The end. The end of the game has an interesting twist that I think they manage to pull of very well.

Now let's talk about the annoying shit because wow there's a lot of it.

The loading system. Okay, so, most games made after the year 2000, you can save your progress within the level. Even if it's a checkpoint system. So when you turn off the game for the night because you're tired and you've got shit to do in the morning and then you can fire it up and load somewhere close to where you once were before.

But not fucking here. In Second Sight, you turned off the game, it doesn't fucking care how far into the level you were. You could have been like three seconds away from beating that level. You turn it off, YOU HAVE TO RESTART THE LEVEL.

The aiming. Holy SHIT the aiming is terrible. Like, they have a 'lock-on' style aiming system and that is what makes the game even remotely playable. If you want to go for a headshot, GOOD FUCKING LUCK because damn is the joystick so sensitive. You just barely, barely push it up and it just jerks up above their head.

Here's another gigantic fucking sin against gamers: infinite guards. INFINITE. FUCKING. GUARDS. The game is kind of stealthy, so you can sneak around, but if you trip one fucking alarm, then you will find yourself facing LITERALLY an infinite amount of guards. They just keep popping into existence! It's FUCKING BULLSHIT. If this hadn't been a feature, I probably would have beat the game. Seriously, this is the number one flaw of the game.

There should never, ever, EVER be a game with respawning fucking enemies unless it's like an MMO or wave-based combat or something. I cannot tell you how fucking infuriating it is to carefully, tactically sweep and clear a whole area...and then the alarm gets tripped and suddenly EVERY GUARD YOU KILLED IS BACK AND GUESS WHAT, THEY BROUGHT FRIENDS!!!

The voice acting/dialogue was pretty bad at times. This is something is shared with Psi-Ops, it could get extremely generic and cheesy. The script needed another writer.

There were some problems with the story. So, you learn that John Vattic is basically just a scientist with no formal military training. So he goes from a pencil-pushing scientist character to like a badass in no time. I mean, even before he gets psychic powers he's sniping bad guys and mowing them down by the dozens with a machine gun and sneaking into enemy compounds...it's just ridiculous.

The control and camera angles are kind of shit. The game starts out in a fixed camera angle kind of deal, but luckily you can switch it to more traditional third-person following camera, which makes the game at least playable but holy shit, for a fucking stealth game it gets so annoying when you're trying to keep an eye around a corner or over a wall and the camera simply will not sit still, like it keeps wanting to shift in some direction you don't want it to.

Also, I said earlier that I liked the aesthetic of the game, and I do. But...the faces. Wow. The faces. I mean, just look at this.

Yeah, it's just...so...yeah. And all the faces look like this. It's a little silly and I think they could have done a better job for such a serious game.

Well, that's about all I have to say. I think it covers the larger pros and cons of Second Sight.

I'd say, if you can this game, give it a try. It's a challenge, sometimes an unreasonably annoying one, but it's a good game with a great story.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Game Talk #10: Psi Ops - The Mindgate Conspiracy

Let me start out by saying that I played Psi Ops when it first came out and I was so totally in love with it. I was even planning on penning my own fan fiction sequel but I never even got started on it.

Probably for the best.

I got my hands on a copy last year and played it for the first time in about a decade. I was pretty amped to play this, but almost immediately I began to see some serious flaws in the game as a whole.

The first thing that popped out was the voice acting/scriptwriting. Holy fucking shit, this game is riddled with some of the most poorly delivered, overtly cliché lines I've heard in a long, long time.

I'll give you an example.

One of the first lines in the game is delivered by the protagonist after waking up in a jail cell with no memory and being approached by a mysterious woman.

"Who was she...ugh, she seems so familiar...oh well, at least she gave me a gun and not a kick in the nuts."

Imagine this delivered in a very over-the-top, '80s action movie, poor acting style. Seriously. One of the first things heard in the game. And it doesn't get any better from there.

So, let's start with a synopsis and you'll understand why Psi Ops started out so cool. You are Nick Scryer, a man who has been taken prisoner by an underground, rogue agency of power hungry PSI Elites, or men and women who can use psychic powers ranging from mind control to moving objects with their mind to making fire out of thin air. They have been culled from around the world and want nothing more than total domination of the planet. And they have a plan to get it. Nick's memory has been wiped in order to get him through the detection grid and into the The Movement's network so that he can take them down from the inside. Sara, a woman who frees you from your cell, is a double agent inside The Movement and your contact. But something has gone wrong and you never regained your memory. She awakens your powers and you slowly gain them and your memories back over the course of the game.

Sounds fucking awesome, right?

Well...it was supposed to be.

Right away, I realized that the controls were pretty shit. Movement and aiming, absolutely key functionalities in a third person shooter, are crap. It's hard to aim, it's hard to move and you have to keep moving because people are always fucking shooting at you. I constantly found myself getting mowed down because I was trying to make my PSI powers function. Because, I mean, come on, once you learn how to pick a guy up with your brain and throw him across the room or set him on fire with a flick of your wrist, why bother shooting anyone anymore?

I almost gave up on the game when I realized how bad its controls were, but I persevered and beat it again.

This is a game that could have been great but it falls so, so, SO far short of delivering. Besides bad controls and honest-to-god awful dialogue, the story itself is fairly incoherent. You kind of just get slammed from one segment to the next with very little in the way of explanation. Not to mention the story just feels...rushed. Like, it seems like there was an absolute wealth of potential ideas that could have been added in to flesh the story out a lot more. So much was hinted at and almost none of it was delivered on.

For example, there's this big mystery of your missing memories. It's hinted that you did some terrible things in your past, and they actually have a cool hallucination level where you're in a graveyard and your dead friends are rising from the grave to come after you. There's also a really short cut-scene where you remember yourself doing some kind of fucked up shit, but that's really it. It had no emotional impact at all and the protagonist didn't even seem to care after being upset about it for like two seconds.

Another thing that bugged me was...okay, there's this rule in writing. This might seem like a minor gripe, but it really stuck out at me. So, a lot of novice writers, when they're trying to work in information to be delivered to the reader, or in this case the player, they make a very rookie mistake. They have characters chatting, like in the background or something, and they're stating very obvious facts that, in the real, actual context of the world, makes no sense. Like, there's no reason these people would be discussing these facts in passing conversation.

It be like if say, for example, I wanted to get across to the reader where someone went to high school, and so that person turns to their best friend, who also went to the same high school, and casually states, "I went to Parker High school, you know?" Like, there's no reason for that question to occur, it's merely there for the protagonist to overhear and thus for the reader to gain information.

There's this scene in the game where the main antagonist, some rogue General, is talking with his second in command about another character who just died, another powerful PSI Elite. And the General says, "He was very powerful in mind control...I never had any PSI powers of my own, you know..."

WHY would he say this to his right hand man, who has been working for him for DECADES? Did he think the man had forgotten or something? It's obvious they only had him say that because the protagonist was listening in and thus, the player was listening in, and they wanted to pass that information along.
I would have written it off as lazy writing, but it gets worse!!! Not long before this conversation, your contact plainly informs you, in a far more logical way, that the General has no PSI powers of his own and uses the PSI Elite as pawns to do his dirty work.


Again, a small gripe, I know, but it really stuck out.

So, on top of a poorly written story, they have a gigantic cliffhanger ending. There's a big, mysterious twist that isn't fully explained at all and they even have a TO BE CONTINUED... screen before the credits. I'm not joking. And there was never a sequel.

Also, one of the absolute worst transgressions against gamers happens during the end of the game. In one of the levels, with literally no warning, no tutorial, not even a HINT, suddenly, there are invisible mines that instantly kill you if you touch them. The only way to see them are to use a power that gives you a kind of second sight (that you hardly ever use anyway!). The only way to disarm them is to throw a body into them, and bodies are kind of in short supply. Seriously, there was ZERO reference to these things abruptly cropping up in the gameplay. I was walking along suddenly BOOM I turned to a flying wave of shredded flesh and blood. It took me like three times to figure out what the fuck was happening.

I get adding new challenges to the game but what the fuck?! How were we supposed to figure it out? Every single time a new layer was added to the gameplay or a new feature or element of any kind was added in, there was some kind of tutorial or warning or even a simple dialogue cue by another character. This time, flat out NOTHING.

Finally, this isn't necessarily bad so much as it is ridiculous and embarrassing and sometimes hilarious. Facial expressions. Holy shit, they needed to do a better job on these. I mean LOOK at this:

They look a lot more ridiculous in the actual cut-scenes. Pics don't do these faces justice.

So that about covers the bad things. Or the big, obvious bad things. There's a lot more.

Psi-Ops had a lot of good ideas and I have to say, the ability to pick people up and throw them across the room with a flick of your wrist makes the game worth playing at least once. The other abilities range from fun to annoying to 'you'll use them literally once and then never again' unless you're really into strategic gameplay.

I feel like there were a lot of potentially good elements here. Unfortunately, they are assembled very poorly. It's like someone had a kick-ass model set and they lost half the pieces and put together the rest with haphazard care and spit.

I mean, take the amnesia angle. Overdone, sure, even in 2004, when the game came out, but there's always the potential to make it interesting. And...it just felt like it hardly went anywhere. I suppose if you comb through the game and compile a list of every recovered memory, every mention of his memory and past and every result that could be tied to Nick Scryer's memory, you'd get an appreciable list.

But that's just the problem. None of it felt like it had any impact on the game.

The boss battles were decent and some of the effects were just cool. You have the ability to make people's heads explode. You can do this almost on command, though you have to do a bit of set-up.

There are also cool environmental kills. You can fry guys on exposed machinery, throw them into incinerators and blow them up with explosive barrels, also, you can throw them off of buildings or into each other.

Easily the best thing to come out of Psi Ops is, inexplicably, the excellent band Cold made one of their greatest songs and a badass music video for this game! Check it out here.

Ultimately, this was something I should have left in the past. I was in love with this game when I played it back in '04 and I was so looking forward to a sequel. Unfortunately, one never surfaced. I imagine it had to do with a lawsuit that someone slapped Midway with. You can read about it here, but basically someone claimed Midway stole copyrighted material to produce Psi Ops. I don't know if it was true, I wouldn't put it past them, but the judge ruled in favor of Midway. Not that it mattered since they were slapped with another, much larger lawsuit of lying to their investors. Obviously they fucked up on that one because not much later, the whole company went bankrupt.

Honestly, I'm confused as to why the idea of brain powers as a game mechanic has never taken off. If there was one thing that was at least somewhat satisfying in that game, it was the mind powers. Why isn't 'psionic abilities' its own genre in video gaming? The only other game I've ever played that had mind powers was Second Sight.

Psi Ops probably could have been a half-decent franchise and I'd honestly like to see a modern remake, though it would have to be significantly more fleshed out and the controls would have to be upgraded a great deal because, even for 2004, they were shitty.

I guess I can recommend this game, but only if you can borrow it or find it for really cheap. I managed to beat the game in three hours. Now, granted, I kind of knew what I was doing and I was playing on the easiest difficulty, because I don't get off on difficulty like other people apparently do. I'd rather just have fun and experience the story first and foremost.

On a little side note here, I don't think difficulty should factor significantly into the length of the game. How many times have I heard about an FPS that has a 'solid, 10-hour campaign' and I beat it in five hours and the defense is, "Well, uh, you only played it normal, YOU CASUAL FUCK!" And it's like, seriously, you expected me to spend FIVE hours dying over and over and expect that to be fun?

For me, going back again and again and again until I finally get to the next checkpoint is like trying to read a book, and someone keeps forcing me to read the same page over and over and over again until I 'get it right'. I know it's not a perfect analogy, but it's how it translates for me. I just want to experience the fucking story! There are some games where I like beating it on the hardest difficulty setting, because the gameplay gels well enough with me, but it's pretty rare nowadays. Probably because I don't have a dozen hours a day to pour into games anymore, I've got books to write.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Machinima Talk #2: The End

(For the interested, this is a custom-made banner that I created for this article.)

If you're curious, you can watch THE END right HERE.

It isn't very long, just shy of two minutes.

Short review: I liked it!

Longer review: For the most part, I don't really have anything bad to say about this. For those of you who didn't watch the video, it's bleak footage of a soldier walking through a frozen wasteland, narrating the events leading up to the shot. He explains that he and his squad were hunted down by a creature. The footage is intercut with flashblack clips done up in a grainy, horror style of him and his squadmates running and being cut down by an Elite with a sword. It ends with him being tired of running, deciding that this is the end. And the Elite appears behind him and kills him.

Really, you should watch the video.

Any real complaints I have about it are just nitpicking, honestly. It's pretty low quality, clocking in at just 240p, but you've gotta remember that this is from mid-2008. 480p had just been released and 720p wasn't even an option yet. Not to mention, this is done by what I imagine to be a teenager who doesn't have a shitload of money to drop on a high quality capture device. They were pretty rare back then.

The cinematography is pretty nice. There's only really one time I noticed an awkward pause in a panning shot, which is pretty forgivable since I know how damned hard it can be to get it just right. There's a great scene where one panning shot fades perfectly into the next, switching from present to past. It's executed very nicely.

The voice acting is pretty good. Apart from coming in very clear, the flat, monotone narration is solid, coming off as genuinely exhausted rather than from a lack of voice acting ability.

I remember thinking when I first saw it that this was more like a trailer than anything else, and that it would be an awesome series. I even tracked down the guy who made it at one point and asked him directly, and he said he had no intentions of making it. I said that that was too bad, I was hoping for more, and he gave me back kind of an angry answer, something like "Yeah well life sucks sometimes."

Maybe I was imagining it, or maybe he was just having a bad day, or maybe it was a sore spot.

This is purely speculation, but I think that last one was true.

In doing a bit more research on this post, I discovered that it was intended to be a series. HERE is their old website. You can plainly see on the right side of the screen a list of upcoming machinimas, and there it is: THE END THE SERIES.

So what happened?

Obviously something bad happened. The site hasn't been updated since late 2008 and the final post seems to be a positive one, looking forward to a future of making much more machinima.

I did a little bit more digging and found their original YouTube channel again. You can check it out HERE. It seems that they posted a few more Halo machinimas and their final video, posted in December of 2009, was a short stop-motion film. And then...nothing.

In doing the research, I noticed that the channel was still active. Four days ago from this post, there was some activity. So I reached out and sent a message to see if there was any way I could get information on what happened. Unfortunately, I haven't received back any response.

All I have is speculation and I figure there's a good chance that Barcode Films fell apart simply because it was a group of friends who liked making machinima and when they tried to get more serious about it, discovered that there wasn't really a long-term way to make it work. I've seen it happen more than once.

Either way, it's too bad. Based on The End, it seems like they were headed in the right direction and may have had some cool ideas.

Final Review: 6.5/10

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Game Talk #9: Halo Wars & Halo 5

So, Halo Wars first.

I don't really have too much to say about this one. I remember the first time I saw the trailer, sitting at my desk in my room, not all that long after getting out of high school, and all of a sudden it had arrived. I think I was looking up information on Halo 3 for a fan fiction, and bam! There it was: the trailer for Halo Wars.

I pretty much shit bricks.

Fast-forward to me actually playing the game. Well...it was fun. At first. Kind of. I was really into StarCraft way, way back in the day. In fact, StarCraft might be the first game I played for longer than an hour or two in one go. I was enraptured by StarCraft, so I was at least somewhat familiar with Real Time Strategies.

I never ended up actually beating it.

The biggest problems I had were with the story honestly. I mean, I know there are a lot of people who would scoff at the idea that a bad story could ruin an otherwise good game, but that's just how it is for me. Halo 4 is a great example of this very idea at play.

It wasn't even necessarily that the story was bad per say, although I'll be honest, it's been at least three or four years since I played this game and I don't own it anymore, so I don't plan on playing it, (or the sequel for that matter) ever again.

I think what threw me off the most was the fact that you ran into The Flood something like twenty years before the first Halo game. And yeah, I know that they kind of wrapped it all up in such a way that it still fits into the timeline but...I dunno, this just doesn't gel well with me. Prequels pretty much never seem to go over well and again it's really just a personal preference against prequels. Just off the top of my head, The Thing (2011) sucked beyond belief, and well all know how well the Star Wars prequels went over, and Cube Zero sucked. I'm sure there's lots of examples.

So yeah, I'm just going to end this here because, like I said, it's been years since I played it and I don't remember too much of the plot beyond being mildly entertained and often frustrated. I just thought it'd be really weird if I reviewed all the other Halo games, but not Halo Wars, especially having actually played it.

So, ultimately, it wasn't for me and I wish they hadn't made it a prequel.

Okay, Halo 5.

I'm going to be up front: I didn't play this fucking game.

After Halo 4, I was pretty bitter, but I wasn't completely out of the game yet. I began to hear that 343i admitted that they dropped the ball on Halo 4, and they were planning on fixing everything. And I believed them. For a little while I believed them, and I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe not pre-order it or buy it on Day One, but not too far into the future.

Especially after I started seeing the Hunt the Truth campaign ads. I mean, it looked pretty cool. But, as we all know, that isn't how it turned out. What was to be an epic rivalry, a showdown to the death, apparently culminated in a seriously lame fight.

There's a lot that's to be said about the shortcomings of Halo 5 that I only know about because of some basic research, but I'll tell you the absolute, number one failure that killed Halo 5 for me, the one thing that made it a certainty that I wouldn't purchase Halo 5.

No split-screen.

Seriously, I probably would have snagged a copy otherwise. I've looked into it and the best they were able to come up with as to why they had to drop split-screen was because the game couldn't run full true 1080p, 60FPS without it.

Guess what? I don't fucking give a shit about that and I think a lot of other people don't either. All the previous Halo games looked and ran fine without having to sacrifice split screen. I'd definitely, definitely rather have a game that looks and runs a little shittier than sacrificing the ability to play couch co-op. And as for everyone who sits there with their bullshit excuse: Couch co-op is dead and you fucking old losers need to get with the times!, well, I invite you to go fuck yourself because A) Shockingly, not many people have the ability to throw away another fucking grand or so on another console, another controller, another TV, another copy of the game and another subscription to Xbox Live just so that they can play in the same fucking house. And B) 343i knew they fucked up because they've stated that they're seriously considering putting it back into Halo 6.

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the things that apparently went wrong with Halo 5. The Act Man can say it a hell of a lot better than I can, so just check out these videos below. In fact, just go watch every single video he has related to Halo 5 and you'll get a way broader picture of why it's a shockingly bad game. Halo 5 is to the Halo franchise what AVP was to the Aliens and Predator franchise.
So, yeah...Halo 5 was a failure, I think. But honestly I won't know probably for a long time, maybe never. The only way I'm going to play this game is if Halo 6 comes out, it looks really good and has split-screen capabilities. Then, because I don't usually play sequels to games without first playing all the games before it at least once, I'd pick up a dirt cheap used copy of Halo 5 and run through the campaign.

The worst part about this is that I didn't want to hate Halo 5, I wanted it to succeed, I wanted it to be so awesome, I wanted it to be every bit as awesome as the original Halo Trilogy. Or, shit, I at least wanted it to be, you know, passable. I mean, I get it, shit gets watered down this far into a franchise, but that doesn't have to mean it needs to suck. I've played every single Halo game (with the exception of Halo Wars), split screen co-op with my wife, several times. We've beat them all on Legendary at least three or four times. Obviously there's a lot of love for the franchise on my end, but it just seems like 343i just doesn't know what they're doing at all.

And on top of all that, I can't fucking make machinima in Halo 5, unless I want to either have only one character, or never have more than one character on the screen at once because I don't think I know even a single person who also owns Halo 5 and on top of that, I don't want to have to rely on other people to get on their consoles and take the time to help me make a machinima and have to trust the internet connection not to stutter or crap out. So...yeah, that really sucks.

So...yeah. Sorry to end this first series of Game Talks on such a sour note, but this is where it all sits at me for right now.

Fuck Halo 5.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Game Talk #8: The Master Chief Collection

So, right off the bat, fuck this collection.

It took me a while to pick this one up, so I managed to avoid the initial batch of fuck-ups that made the online mode basically unplayable for weeks. But it didn't stop there.

One thing I'd like to take a moment to speak about: Making games is hard. I get that. Even when you've got hundreds of highly skilled pros and millions of dollars, it isn't easy. It's time consuming, laborious and grueling. More often than not, games are a labor of love. Although I don't have extensive, in-depth knowledge of how games are made, I've picked up some facts here and there, and I know how crazy it can be.

I'm also fully aware of how god-awful the gaming community is when it comes to a sense of entitlement. A lot of people make a lot of dumbass assumptions and flip out when everything isn't immediately perfect and hand-delivered to them right away. Not every gamer, hopefully not even most, but enough that it's a problem.

Keep in mind that I very actively try to erase entitlement from my life, because entitlement is a waste of time. Besides causing a lot of problems and making you look like a jackass, it's a completely unfounded belief. The universe doesn't owe anyone shit.

So, anyway.

If you've read my Production Notes about the making of Not Alone, you know that I ran into a lot of problems with the Master Chief Collection. And that's really the core of the issue. That, and the fact that it's just really clear they cut as many corners as they thought they could get away with. Even after the whole thing with multiplayer being virtually unplayable for weeks upon weeks, there are still a lot of glitches out there.

Both my wife and I have had several different stats wiped out, reset to zero after racking up hundreds of grenade kills or melee kills or any of the other stuff the game tracks, for no apparent reason. More than once.

Then there's all the cut corners. Customization in Halo 3 was reduced to almost nothing. In actual Halo 3, you could customize your armor set, swapping out different parts to create a more unique look. In the MCC version, you are forced to get one set. Then, on top of that, you are no longer allowed to choose your emblem. And it's like this in all of the games.

On top of that, I kept running into weird, unfixable glitches in Forge Mode. And then I found out that there's no Theater mode in Halo 1 or 2. I actually get not putting Forge Mode in either of those games, because they didn't exist natively in those games originally and it would take a lot of work, but come on, 343i, you could have at least put in theater mode.

The list goes on, really.

What did I like about it? Well, it was basically functional, (eventually), and gave me easy access to almost every Halo game, and access to older versions of Halo online multiplayer, so that was cool. It also made machinima a lot easier after it cut out the need for a capture device. And Halo 2 remastered was just fantastic looking. The cutscenes were stunning...although I have to admit, one thing that stood out A LOT was some people's faces.

This is the best picture I could find as an example. Really, it's kind of hard to tell just from pictures, but just go watch some cutscenes from the game to see what I mean. The worst are Miranda, Lord Hood and that one Marine freaking out on the bridge, right before you get the tank. Sergeant Johnson looks good, at least. I'm not quite sure how to explain it, it's just that there's something really...off, about some of their faces. Something creepy. There's probably some uncanny valley going on.

Anyway, I try not to complain without offering some form of being helpful, so here is how I think they could have handled the whole thing better.

Don't fucking make The Master Chief Collection.

Seriously, it's obvious that they crammed for this, no doubt desperately trying to put everything together to make the Halo 2 anniversary release date. They shouldn't have done that, because holy god does it show that they didn't have nearly enough time to do this.

They should have simply released Halo 2: Anniversary Edition as a stand-alone title for 40$ just like they did for Halo: CE Anniversary Edition back in '11. Then make Halo, Halo 3, ODST and Reach backwards compatible, and THEN, when Halo 3's ten year anniversary comes around, release something like The Master Chief Collection, and be working on it slowly but surely in the background alongside other projects. Because MCC's release was pretty unacceptable, and the way they handled it afterward was unacceptable as well, (they made a few token repairs to the game and threw ODST at us for 5$).

But I can't say I blame 343i necessarily. I'm sure it was Microsoft that was pressuring them to get it done on time for the ship-date.

So, overall, I can't really recommend this game...not that has any bearing seeing as it's been over two years since it released and we've all moved on. (Well, for the most part.)

The Master Chief Collection is also unique in that it was the last Halo game I ever purchased.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Game Talk #7: Halo 4

Oh boy...Halo 4...

How the hell do I even begin this one?

Like I said last time, I enjoyed 343i's first effort at a game. The Anniversary Edition of the first Halo game was well-handled and, despite the fact that a lot of people were uncertain about Halo being handed off to a new company, I was optimistic.

I mean, 343 Industries was put together specifically to handle the Halo series, and it was being led by a former Bungie employee, Frank O'Connor. I mean, Microsoft was pouring hundreds of millions into this, and why not? It was their fucking flagship franchise! Halo was a fucking money printing machine for them. So of course they would only hire the best and the brightest to continue work on it? Right?


Well, apparently fucking not.

So, let's start at the beginning. The information coming out about Halo 4 looked good. I liked the promos, the posters, the trailers. I was wanting to believe that this was going to be a good game, a good continuation of probably my favorite game franchise to date. I bought the game as soon as it came out. And, in preparation for it, I went through the campaigns of every other Halo game to date (with the exception of Halo Wars).

I was ready.

I played through the campaign by myself. I always do that when I get a new game: I play through the campaign on normal difficulty with no other worries. I simply want to enjoy the experience of the story the game designers have crafted. It's pretty easy for me to get sucked into a story, so the first time I played through, I wasn't really noticing a lot of the problems. But then, when I went through the game with my wife and I saw everything a second time, I realized that something was up. Even in the first run through, I could subtly feel that something was off, something had gone wrong. Then I played a third time with a friend of mine.

By then, I spotted several problems.

Let's get started, shall we?

Okay, so, the first thing that immediately jumps to mind. The Didact, the main antagonist. How did he manage to trick the Master Chief and Cortana into releasing him? When he's released, there's just a very brief hand-wave of 'he's mimicking the Infinitiy's signal' and then OH GOD HE'S RELEASED. And then he has The Force. I'm not joking. The main antagonist of a Halo game has The Force. He uses it on Master Chief as soon as he's released and...for some reason doesn't immediately kill him, despite the fact that he easily could.

Or hey, maybe we should talk about the past? Maybe we should talk about the fact that, according to the history, the humans used to have a massive, galactic empire over a hundred thousand years ago. Then they started warring with the Flood. After who knows how long of warfare, the Flood started infecting Forerunner worlds, and the humans show up and burn the worlds because of the infestation. Apparently, the Forerunners take this as an act of war and go to war with humanity for ONE THOUSAND YEARS, ultimately almost wiping out the humans and discovering, far too late, the humans were only trying to save them from the Flood. And then the Flood proceeded to begin wiping them out, thus forcing them to build the Halos.

Does this not make sense to anyone?

So we're supposed to believe that somehow the Forerunners, those occupying the worlds that were infested by the Flood, which takes some time, (not a lot, but SOME time), NEVER ONCE tried to communicate the threat to the rest of the Empire as they were being overrun?

Or the fact that, apparently, the Human-Forerunner War went on for A FUCKING THOUSAND YEARS and not once, during that entire millennia, did A) The humans somehow never manage to communicate the threat of the Flood to the Forerunners or B) The Flood, who had up to this point been infesting Forerunners worlds, thus causing humans to burn them, thus triggering the war, apparently...stopped infesting Forerunners worlds? or C) The Forerunners somehow never figured out that the Flood was even a thing until it was too late?

This strikes me as a half-baked fan fiction devised last minute at three in the morning while drinking too much coffee, or booze. Seriously, this is like something someone shat out and just never tried to polish up even in the slightest. This is fucking stupid.

But it gets stupider.

Then we discover that the Master Chief is actually the direct result of a hundred thousand year long plan, set into motion by one of the last Forerunners. Somehow, she set into motion something something evolution something something you are the chosen one Master Chief. Seriously, apparently the Forerunners were powerful enough that they could engineer events a hundred thousand years later to make it so that she could awaken a power in Master Chief. The power to NOT turn into an insane screaming robot powered by a digitized human soul. Seriously, that was the gist of it.

Sound familiar?
So here's a question.

If the Forerunners had the ability to do ALL THIS SHIT, why didn't they just, I don't know, DO LITERALLY FUCKING ANYTHING ELSE? Why not fucking kill that crazy asshole Forerunner 'Didact' instead of just letting him go into stasis? Take ten seconds to ask the humans, 'Hey, why the fuck are you attacking us?' and then figuring out that the Flood is a thing?

Not to mention, I have a huge problem with this idea. Apparently, Master Chief is The Chosen One. Basically, all this shit he's done is because of destiny, because he was preordained to do be who he was and do what he did. Does anyone else see a problem with this? How about the fact that it basically diminishes Master Chief's accomplishments down to nothing? He didn't do all those things he'd done because he's that good, that skilled, that dedicated and determined. No, he did it cause that's what's supposed to happen.

It's complete bullshit.

Now let's talk about Captain Del Rio. This character is very strange. He's an asshole...but he doesn't really need to be one. Every time he flips out and starts yelling at the Master Chief or growling at him through gritted teeth, it comes out as very forced. The first time I played it through, I hated this asshole. He was trying to stop the Master Chief and Cortana at every turn when they were CLEARLY in the right. WTF was his problem? Even his own officers thought he was a dick.

Then I started to realize that something was wrong. Why was he flipping out all the time? Did he really hate the Master Chief that much on...what, on principle? Because he's weird? Different? When I thought about it, I realized that he kind of had a point. In the larger scope of things, he was technically wrong, but the logic behind his actions weren't really all that strange given the situation and the information he had access to.

I read an article that I really wish I could find again, a review of the Halo series in general and one of its bigger problems that became extremely prominent in Halo 4. The series had become about Master Chief and Cortana. It didn't start that way. In the beginning, Halo was about...well, Halo, and the ancient Forerunner-Flood War and dealing with the remnants of that war due to the incompetence/ignorance of both the Covenant and the humans.

But that began changing. Ultimately, the series became about Master Chief and Cortana and...I've got to admit, the Master Chief is not a good character. He's a good video game character, in the sense that he's someone you want to play as, but not necessarily someone you want to get to know. I actually liked the idea of developing the Master Chief's character more, and this could have been done without necessarily making him the focus of the story. I get the feeling people will argue that Halo 4 was about the Didact and the Protheans, I mean the Prometheans, and yes, they were the main antagonists of the story. And it could have worked, except that in this version of events, Master Chief and Cortana are the only ones in the whole galaxy that can possible stop this evil threat!

I can also see the argument that, well, that's how it's always been. But consider the first Halo. At the end of it, Master Chief and Cortana were eventually the only ones who could stop the Flood because at that point, they were literally the only ones left on Halo, the only ones left to get the job done. Not because they were preordained superheroes who everyone should believe in with fanaticism rivaling even the Covenant's belief in the Prophets or the Prophet's belief in the Great Journey.

The reason for this is because the Master Chief and Cortana have become the center of the story. And in order for the story to continue, the Captain's justified concerns have to be glossed over by forcing him into being a foaming-at-the-mouth asshole who flips out over the slightest provocation.

So those are the largest things that immediately come to mind. Here's a few other things that bugged me.

A lot of people have bitched about how Halo 4 is 'going Call of Duty'. Well, they're not necessarily wrong. During the first level, there's a gameplay section that very much resembled a section right out of the newer generation of the Call of Duty franchise. And wow, the end was very reminiscent of the ends of the Modern Warfare games.

Here's the thing, imitating Call of Duty isn't necessarily a bad thing. Modern Warfare 2 remains the best First Person Shooter campaign I've ever played. The thing that makes it so great was the level of immersion the gameplay allowed and reinforced. Everything about it was meant to make you really feel like you were there. So I'm not against Halo imitating this part of CoD. The problem is that they really half-assed it. They lifted a scant few features from CoD because they 'looked kinda cool', (I imagine some fucking 343i employee saying this in a boardroom meeting or something), but failed to understand the basic concept of why it works in the context of CoD. This is exactly like all of those Hollywood producers that are suddenly scrambling to make their superhero movies rated R and 'edgier' with more cussing and slapstick humor because Deadpool did so well! While failing to fucking miss the actual point of why Deadpool did so well.

Here's something that I'm surprised no one talked about. Did everyone miss how Halo 4 tried to be Mass Effect? Here's the very first thing I immediately noticed that got me thinking about it.

Mass Effect 3: Eden Prime
Halo 4 Multiplayer Map "Complex"
Now, I'm willing to grant that Mass Effect 3 and the DLC pack this photo came from were released in March of 2012 and Halo 4 was released in November of 2012. Not exactly enough time for imitation, given how long it takes certain things to get done. Well...probably.

But this is just what got me thinking about it. Then I realized that I recognized the voice of the Didact. It's the same voice actor who voiced Harbinger, the primary antagonist (sort of) of Mass Effect 2. And then I got to thinking. Halo 4 is suddenly about an ancient evil rising from the depths of the past to start turning humanity in machine hybrid creatures 'for their own good'. Is this starting to sound familiar?
This didn't make any fucking sense either.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the sudden shift in tone and storytelling, the sudden obsession with the past, the Forerunners, an ancient, mysterious race of super advanced aliens that mysteriously died off, all of it seemed to be an attempt to update the face of the Halo franchise.

I get the feeling that, when they were sitting down for the first time, trying to figure out what the hell to do with Halo 4, they looked at what they thought was their competition, BioWare and Mass Effect, and decided, "Well, I guess that's what's selling nowadays! I mean, look at those sales figures!"

Again, ironically completely missing the point that Mass Effect didn't sell because it had an arbitrarily complex story and universe, but because it was actually a meticulously constructed, well-crafted, intricate story with a similarly well-crafted universe that could be enjoyed by both casual and hardcore players alike. If you didn't give a shit about codex entries or inter-species politics or galactic history or anything beyond the surface of the story of Mass Effect, you absolutely did not need it to enjoy the game as a whole.

So, 343i tried to suddenly cram a bunch of useless crap into the story without even seriously thinking about it. I mean, I remember thinking, "Who the fuck is this guy?" Because the story almost kind of acted like you should know who he was. Apparently there was some required reading. So...yeah, that was stupid.

How about the gameplay?

I'm not a gameplay expert, so this is all I'll say. I found myself running out of ammo and waiting for my shields to regenerate far too often. If you're the kind of smartass who has a lame, incredibly ignorant response of "I guess you should suck less" I invite you to go fuck yourself in the urethra. I didn't have this problem with any of the other games. What's worse, a lot of the guns just felt...weak. Not a great idea. Weak guns makes for unsatisfying gameplay in a fucking shooter.

Then there are the levels. For some reason, they went with the idea of "Okay, how about, instead of a reasonable number of appropriately sized levels, we just have fewer really big levels?!" This was a fucking stupid design. I know that Halo 1 and 3 only had ten levels apiece and that Halo 4 had eight, but apparently that makes a world of difference. I found myself just getting fucking bored, like "When will this level fucking end!?" It seemed to take forever to get through a level. I'd rather have twice the levels at half the length because they just dragged on and on and ON. I shouldn't be getting bored playing an exciting, action-packed FPS. Especially not one in a legendary saga like Halo.

And there's the multiplayer.

It's actually the best multiplayer of any Halo game.

Not what you were expecting, right? Well, I actually really liked the Halo 4 multiplayer. What little of it I played. It was fast-paced, felt well-balanced, with well-crafted levels and was just generally a lot of fun. And yeah, I liked the CoD knock-offs they added in.

The problem here was that I hated the campaign so fucking much that it just turned me off of the multiplayer.

And, of course, there were Spartan Ops. I remember being excited because the campaign felt pretty short. And then when I heard 343i actually admitting that the campaign was short and that they were going to make up for it by releasing free, story-expanding DLC, I was excited. I thought, "Huh, maybe they can pull this back from the brink? Maybe...? (Please.)"

But no, they didn't. I played through a lot of Spartan Ops and fuck, it was so uninspired, so boring, so repetitive, so generic that it wasn't even worth the trouble of making. All they did was chop up campaign maps slightly and give you incredibly generic mission objectives while sending wave after wave of enemies after you. This was practically Firefight but somehow more boring.

So, as you can tell, I hated Halo 4. A lot. The biggest problem is that it just didn't feel like a Halo game. It felt like another, lesser game pretending to be Halo. Another huge problem I had with it was that 343i felt that it was a good idea to explore the past, and by that I mean the Forerunners. This is just generally a terrible idea. Writing 101: Prequels don't really work. At first glance, that might not make sense. Let me explain.

Remember back when The Clone Wars was just this cool, mysterious thing that sounded so badass whenever it was vaguely reference in Star Wars? And then remember when the prequels came out and actually showed all that shit everyone vaguely reference and IT. FUCKING. SUCKED? Okay, granted mostly it sucked because George Lucas doesn't know how to write dialogue and had a hard-on for CGI, but the general idea here is that when you only show bits and pieces of something, it tends to be cooler than if you show the whole thing because everyone fills in the blanks for themselves.

Case in point: the Forerunners. For a long time, they were just this mysterious group of ancient aliens that built these immense, technologically-advanced installations. But, in spite of all their power, their galaxy-spanning empire, their tremendous technology, they still died off. The first Halo Trilogy very smartly never revealed too much about the Forerunners, and thus they remained interesting, because they were only half-glimpsed through the shadows of time.

Then, in Halo 4, we fucking get to see one. And...he's lame as hell.

The face of disappointment.
This just looks ridiculous. And the Librarian looks even worse. And obviously it's much more than just skin-deep problems. These characters are 'epic' in the way that a 14-year-old thinks of the word. Everything they say is overwrought and too dramatic. This can actually work, consider the first encounter with Sovereign in Mass Effect (major spoilers).

At first glance their motivations might be kind of interesting, but if you think about it for even a little bit, it just comes off as stupid. Like, they couldn't have thought of something better? This is HALO 4 for fuck's sake!

Personally, I think they should have just gone with something totally new. A fresh, brand new threat and not something from the past. Because that very rarely works out. I know it's difficult to come up with something basically brand new, but come on, no one ever said writing the story of a multi-million dollar franchise was going to be easy.

So yeah, Halo 4, I hate it.

One other thing I want to say. I know there's people out there who, for some reason, feel the need to say: STOP RAGGING ON HALO 4, I BET YOU COULDN'T DO A BETTER JOB! or something like that, as if, somehow, that proves I'm wrong. Here's the thing, writing stories for video games is not my job. It's not most people's jobs. And I know it's not easy. It's actually very hard, harder than writing books, (which is what I do, and I'm only semi-okay at that). But guess what, it is their job, and they have every motivation to actually do their job well instead of winging it given the millions upon millions of dollars Microsoft is pouring into the project, which is what it felt like they were doing.

But who knew that Halo 5 would make Halo 4 look like Halo 3?