Asura’s Wrath contains one of the most brilliant player-directed narrative sequences in videogames; a fist fight. The two brawlers dance about the screen, one trying desperately to explain his actions to the other among a flurry of attacks. To evade them, the player must nail the timing for the increasingly frequent on-screen button prompts as any mistake is punished with a fist to the face, interrupting the dialogue and completely ending the conversation.
The first time we see Wei Shen is through the monitors of a Hong Kong PD drug sting as he tries to conduct a transaction. When the sale goes bad, we take control as he charges through a densely packed fish market chased by a squad of uniforms. Unable to elude arrest, he gets thrown into lock-up and reunites with his childhood friend Jackie, now a low-ranking member of the Sun On Yee, one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the city. Jackie promises to make an introduction. When Wei’s pulled into interrogation, we learn the setup for the story, and the linchpin connecting the game’s mechanics, systems and narrative; Wei Shen is an undercover cop, just back from fifteen years in America, trying to take down the triads. Sleeping Dogs is a bloody saga of betrayal and loyalty as Wei Shen takes down the Yakuza from the bottom up.
[JOURNAL ENTRY. APRIL 5.]
I decided to write down my stories, in case they become the last ones told.
My squad was taking a breather after a tough firefight when a giant green behemoth charged through the burnt out husk of a Japanese office building and battered the front door into splinters. I’d never seen this alien before. Several of my soldiers were completely unprepared for another engagement- their magazines down to their last bullets and vitals were starting to wane. They had been scattered about the map, rummaging through the crumpled bodies of the large-headed Sectoids and the businessman-impersonating Thinmen trying to scavenge whatever loot they could to take back to HQ before starting the search for the lone Thinman that had retreated out of sight. The brute ran for the cover of a nearby planter, trying to keep its head low and prepare for its attack.
This review is for the XBLA version of Spelunky. There is an extremely similar free version online, but this critique pertains to the specific changes made for the console release.
Embrace Death and Rise Above It
Most great things are difficult to qualify in words. You can tell somebody that the Mona Lisa is a great painting of an ugly lady, or that Blade Runner is a great movie about robots, but that does nothing compared to watching Rutger Hauer deliver his final soliloquy while slowly deactivating in the rain. It’s not solely what something is objectively that’s important, its the lasting effects of experiencing something that make it impactful. With that said, Derek Yu’s long-worked-on Spelunky (there’s a free version online showing just how long it’s been tweaked) is not simply an indie platformer hell-bent on crushing your spirit, even if sometimes it’s hard to see past that.
Post-launch dlc has to be handled very carefully to succeed. Not only does every piece need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of its core game, but needs to be created in relation to the pieces that have already been released. In the two story additions to Mass Effect 3, we were given missions that were designed for very specific purposes- they expanded the universe fiction. Problem is, even though they do so in different ways, they’re both filling in gaps to a story that is already closed. The third piece is Bioware’s opportunity to get away from Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending and flex its creative muscle on something different. ‘Omega’ reminds us why Bioware are among the best storytellers in the industry.
Videogames were changed forever when Bungie released Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001. In that seminal release, the world met Spartan II cyborg Master Chief as he is awakened from cryo sleep to fight against the alien Covenant. We also met Cortana, the AI that would accompany Chief and become the voice in his ear as he fights. Among many of its revolutionary ideas was its holy trinity of combat that mapped guns, grenades and melee onto an intuitive control scheme that provided a deep and flexible options and allowed players access to large maps and vehicles. As the series progressed, it implemented a suite of online features and pared down gameplay into tighter design. At the end of Halo 3, Master Chief re-entered cryo sleep aboard the UNSC’s Forward Unto Dawn as it drifts aimlessly through space with Cortana watching over him. The trilogy complete, Bungie flexed their creative muscles on Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, two games that would expand the structure with new modes and matchmaking options.
When I try to make a concrete decision as to what my favorite game of all time is, the answer tends to change from day to day. More often than not, however, Bioshock is the first thing that comes to mind. My initial arrival in Rapture was a swift kick to the face, forever opening my eyes to how it feels to be in an atmosphere so thick I could taste it. Not since that precious moment so many years ago had I experienced a world so fully realized and enticing as presented in victorian Dunwall.