2012 is winding to a close, and while there may be a few weeks left in the year, for all intents and purposes the gaming industry has slowed to a crawl until the first week of the New Year. Because of this, it’s time for year-end lists!
Last year had some truly great, landmark games. Dark Souls, Rayman: Origins, The Witcher 2, Bastion, and Skyrim were all experiences I enjoyed, most of which I still play over a year after they were released. 2011 was slightly less spectacular, but still a pretty big year for the games industry as a whole. Beyond just the games released, we saw a new Nintendo console; we saw Kickstarter become both a viable option for funding, and a major risk to take; we saw indie and free-2-play games blur the line between “retail” and “downloadable” quality; and we saw major discussions open up about how games are made, and more importantly, how women and violence are portrayed and treated in the medium. These are all watershed moments that will be remembered and discussed for years to come, and that really excites me and makes me proud to be at least a small cog in this machine.
But what about the games!? Well, as I mentioned, a lot of what I played in 2012 were games from last year. This is mostly because I’m kind of a weirdo and like to obsess over a game for long periods of time. But also, when it comes to “big” games, I sort of ignored the vast majority of them, and instead focused on the rather amazing year it was for the indie game scene. There was some immensely high-quality stuff this year, and indie games absolutely dominated both my time and my Best of 2012 list. So, without further ado, here are my… Continue reading “The Best and Worst Games of 2012”→
Sorry for the lack of a brand new Low-Down this week folks I unfortunately was unable to get one done in time this week. With that being said though I did have the chance to go back through and put together an unedited version of last weeks episode. Be sure to check it out below and like always and if you like you are seeing be sure to subscribe to Powercords on YouTube!
As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, Halo 4 is a great game. Our very own Marshal Ellison awarded the game 5/5 for a whole host of reasons so you should probably go read his review. As for myself, the “number 2” Halo fan ’round these parts, I agree wholeheartedly with Marshal’s assessment: it’s an amazing experience.
But now that the needles have stopped flying and the Covenant have been beat back once again (for now), it leaves one lingering question: where does the series go from here?
Warning: Story Spoilers Past This Point. You’ve Been Warned.
In my opinion, Halo 4’s campaign is the best since the original Halo: Combat Evolved (with Halo: Reach at a close second); it had all the elements that made the first game so great — a new, alien world; heretofore unseen enemies, using powerful weapons and technology; open environments filled with vehicles, guns, explosives, and multiple pathways with which players can utilize to take down their enemies. Everything that makes Halo a great series.
But Halo 4 comes with its own identity, and its own ideas. Specifically, 343 Industry has brought character development and cinematic narrative to the forefront. Now, if you know anything about me, you know how I feel about cinematic story delivery in videogames; specifically, I don’t like it. But Halo 4 was to strike the special median between story and gameplay that only games like Red Dead Redemption, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Mass Effect have for me in the past. Seeing Master Chief grow over the course of this latest campaign was actually much more compelling than I was expecting. At the end of Halo 3, Master Chief was essentially the same thing he was from the first moments of Halo: CE: a killing machine bred for war. He was a badass, and had his own character quirks (he’s got more than a fair share of luck on his side), and has always been immediately recognizable, but he hadn’t grown much.
By the end of Halo 4, however, we see an entirely different man. Notice the use of the word “man.” For a long time, people wondered if our favorite Spartan II was but a machine, or perhaps a cyborg, with little personality and single-minded in his devotion to his mission *cough*Solid Snake*cough*. But by the end of Halo 4, it is clear he is no machine, but a human with emotions and a devotion to his only companion through the past 4 games: Cortana. In Halo 4, Chief’s primary goal is to keep Cortana safe, and get her home so she can be fixed. We spend hours behind the visor, sharing and taking on the urgency of Chief’s mission. But while humanity may have been saved once again by the super soldier, Cortana dies in the end. This is the first time we’ve witnessed John fail his mission. Ironically, after an event that would leave any other man cold and hollow, John 117 shows more humanity than we’ve come to expect from the Spartan. Visibly distraught, even through all that armor, it is clear this is not the “Master Chief” we’ve come to expect, nor “John 117” the soldier; he’s simply a man named “John” who has lost the only person he ever cared for.
Clearly, there’s a lot of story analysis to be had from the few hours of campaign. Hell we haven’t even scratched the lore-surface, nor the massive scenario implications of the events that take place in Halo 4. In brief, having beat back both Covenant and Forerunners alike, humanity now stands as the dominant force in the galaxy. Throughout the story, the Forerunner mastermind, the Didact, makes allusions to, and grand accusations of, humanity’s rise to dominance. What exactly this foreshadowing means isn’t clear, but it isn’t the only subtext going on here either. In the opening cinematic, Professor Halsey is detained and being questioned about the nature of the Spartans and Master Chief’s true purpose. It is once again reinforced (after having been slightly explored in Reach) that the Spartan II program was set up to breed super soldiers that would quash rebel insurrection around the galaxy. Chief was made to kill other humans; We just got lucky he was there to protect against the Covenant invasion.
The point of all this is, it opens up a lot of doors and makes me wonder: where does the series go from here? It’s been stated by 343i that Halos 5 and 6 will be darker in tone. ODST,Halo: Reach, and Halo 4 are already significantly darker than the original Halo trilogy, so I’m curious just how “dark” it’s going to get. But considering all the new wrinkles made in 4, we could be in for quite a surprise story-wise. We’ve got a beaten and broken Master Chief, humanity on the upswing, and the threat of both a human rebellion and/or a psychotic Spartan II meltdown on the horizon.
Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves behind chief’s visor, this time taking orders from Prof. Halsey (in order keep Cortana’s voice around), but perhaps pointing our DMR’s at rebellious humans before ultimately taking on the Prometheans/Forerunners, and perhaps finding a way to restore the lost Cortana. Of course, I’m just speculating and this reflects my own personal hopes for the series, but let’s face it: Halo 4 ends with the galaxy in a very different place than we’ve ever seen it.
So what does that mean for the gameplay? Well, hopefully, it means we’ll see something completely different.
This is a somewhat difficult point to articulate, but Halo 4′s greatest strength is also it’s biggest weakness: it feels too much like Halo.
Halo 4 is amazing in that it not only looks like Halo, andplays like Halo, it also feels fresh and new at the same time. But this was 343i’s only chance in hitting that perfect mix — the fans wanted more Halo, but can we really take another 2 full games worth of the same ideas and gameplay? 343i has their work cut out for them, and find themselves at a crossroads: more Halo, or find a new direction?
I worry that 343i’s intention is to simply keep the series at a constant pace, despite the new directions taken in 4. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if this was a transitional experience, giving us enough of a mix between new and old ideas so that we have a point of reference for the next game; “It’s a lot different from Bungie’s Halos, but it still feels a lot like Halo 4” is something I’d like to hear come games 5 and 6. Specifically, I want to see 343i put their own spin and identity on Halo. We’ve already got a new art direction, new music, a new story, new enemies, new technology, new lore, a new threat, new weapons *deep breath,* a new dimension to Chief, an opening for a new AI character, and new faces to recognize NOT TO MENTION a new take on multiplayer…
So specifically, where do I want the series to go?
For starters, really pair down or nix altogether the use of the Covenant. Yes, that’s right: give the Covies the boot. Why are we even fighting them again in the first place? Why are the Elites with them? Where are the Brutes? What became of the Arbiter? Look, we’ve spent 6 games fighting these suckers. I know it’s an odd thought not seeing their iconic silhouettes or using their familiar weapons, but just look at how well 343i integrated the Prometheans in Halo’s universe and gameplay. Sure, the Covies got a visual overhaul, but they fought in the exact same way as they have for the past 6 games, and with the same weapons (which, by the way, no longer sound like the used to). I was actually disappointed when we learned a few months after the E3 reveal that the Covenant were going to be featured heavily in the story. I want to see what Halo can do with new enemies, and to me, the Promethean were proof the series doesn’t need the covenant to be fun or “feel” like Halo.
So let’s get some new enemies to fight. I’d love for the Promethean Knights and Crawlers to return, maybe this time alongside Forerunners or other Prometheans. Or hell, the aliens from Marathon, or have us fighting other Spartans– I don’t care, just give us something new to fight! And while you’re at it, some new weapons as well.
Finally, I’d like to see the level formula mixed up. Reach and 4 gave us larger arenas to fight in, as well as memorable set pieces and a wide array of weapons and explosives, and Halo 4 especially had some new level design ideas to take advantage of the Promethean’s new tactics. But for the most part, we were doing the same things we’ve always done: take warthog to installation, enter installation, escape, enter massive battlefield, take out key points, rinse, repeat. Besides a few clever vehicle moments and some sweet behind-the visor QTE’s, Halo 4 fit mostly into pre-existing level design philosophies. Which, to be fair, is extremely impressive and a triumph for 343i, but let’s face it: Halo is 11 years old. It might be time for some new ideas.
What if we were given even more freedom? What if the battlefields were truly massive? I could imagine a game where there was an open “over world” of sorts, with smaller, more focused areas where the gameplay would resemble the level structure of previous Halos. I’m not talking Skyrim or GTA, but perhaps the team could further utilize their Metroid Prime talent and inspiration to allow for more exploration, some non-linear gameplay, and maybe even the “find a new weapon/ability to access new areas” paradigm. I know this is all just what if’s and daydreaming, but seriously, there are some really cool places 343i could take the series without sacrificing the soul of the series. And I didn’t even touch on the ways the multiplayer could evolve.
To be fair, it’s possible with Halo 4 being on the Xbox 360, 353i had to stay within the constraints of the hardware, not to mention meet certain expectations of the fans. Hopefully, the transitional elements of Halo 4, paired with the switch to next-gen hardware, will not only make for an even prettier Halo experience, but facilitate some creativity as well.
At any rate, Halo 4 is probably the best Halo since Halo. As it stands, it is on the top of my short list for Game of the Year 2012. 343i has taken one of the most beloved franchises to new heights, and I look forward to (and sincerely hope for) a new, exciting future of Halo.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well, on everything from the story, to the multiplayer, to the campaign, to the future of the series — what are your thoughts, reactions, hopes, concerns, etc.? We here at Power Cords love talking about Halo, so please, indulge us!
Where the hell were we this week? So much happened, so many big pieces of news hit the internet. But we weren’t here. It’s possible we were just busy with Halloween stuff.. or perhaps there are other forces at work and secret plans being hatched… hmmm….
We weren’t completely silent though; we had an awesome new Halloween-themed episode of The Low Down featuring Casper, the friendly ghost! And I reported on my weekly gaming with this week’s Gaming Journal entry. But that’s not all that happened on the internet this week…
Things I Read
Obviously, first and foremost: Disney bought Lucasfilm, and the entire Lucas empire(Skywalker Sound, Light and Magic, LucasArts), for like a gajillion dollars; with the aquisition came the news that an entirely new trilogy — episodes VII, VIII, IX — were on the way, with Episode VII scheduled to hit sometime in 2015. Included in this annoucement was the news the George Lucas would be only filling an advisory position. The internet went fucking NUTS over this news; People’s reactions have ranged from ecstatic to scared, to pissed, to totally ambivalent because ho my god, Star Wars is old news. Personally, I’m kinda interested in three news movies. I like Star Wars, I dig the fiction and the universe, and I I’m excited to see what some new minds could do with the property. We’ve got no word on what to expect from this trilogy-trilogy, and probably won’t for a while. I wonder if it will be anything as good as KOTOR, though…
I read a bunch of Halo 4 reviews. I’m really looking forward to the game, and the universal praise is both reassuring and exciting.
Early PS4 dev kits have reportedly hit developers this week. Word is, Sony is insisting on calling the system “Orbis” instead of the somewhat obvios “Playstation 4.” I’ve already talked about my feelings on a new console generation, but between this, Microsoft “Durango” devkits being leaked a few months ago, and the Wii-U hitting in just a couple weeks, we might as well start getting excited for this new round of hardware.
Things I Watched
I watched the finale for the Halo: Forward unto Dawn live-action series. It was awesome. Watch the whole series here, and peep the finale below.
Speaking of Halo, the latest episode of Red vs Blue ONCE AGAIN knocks it out of the park. What’s gonna happen next? What do Church and Carolina have planned?
I watched a baby do kung fu and kill his stuffed dragon.
Awesome games that came out this week
The big one is Assassin’s Creed 3 — The reviews have been decent-to-good, and seeing as how I’ve only been marginally interested in the series before, I’m probably gonna hold off on this one until next year. Still, if Assassin’s Creed is your jam, pick it up!
Painkiller HD —Painkiller is the modern-day DOOM. Guns, monsters, and non-stop action — no more, no less. It’s over the top, and insane, exactly my kind of shooter (unless it’s Halo or Half-Life, of course).
There isn’t really all that much more to report on. Like I said, some big news but we’re nearing that part of the year where announcements slow down, games start coming out non-stop, and we start thinking about year-end lists, and our plans for next year. And my oh my, what plans we have…
This week it was Halloween! Sadly, I was unable to get any time with my holiday-standby series, Castlevania. However! I still got plenty of Halloween gaming in with DOOM, and DOOM II.
Not much to report; they’re DOOM. If you’ve ever played a game in the series, you know what you’re getting into: frenetic demon blasting, monster closets, and massive guns. I was surprised at just how well the experience holds up. It harkens back to a time where first person shooters were much more goofy, over-the-top, and self aware. They were about gameplay and just being all out nuts rather than linear, overly-cinematic light shows centered around set pieces and “realism.”
Anyway, I beat both Halloween night. Took me a few hours, but was well worth it. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m considering picking up the recently released Painkiller HD pack from Steam. Very similar in terms of gameplay, atmosphere, and setting. Look for more on that in the weeks to come.
The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles
As mentioned last week, I have been feeling the black hole-like pull of Bethesda’s RPGs trying to rope me back in now that I’ve knocked out Dark Souls. To quench this thirst, I re-installed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion last weekend. Now, I love The Elder Scrolls series, and I love Fallout 3; but Oblivion feels so drab and boring compared to Morrowind and Skyrim. Hell, even Daggerfall feels more dynamic in terms of environments, quests, and things to do and see.
That’s not to say I don’t like Oblivion, it’s a gorgeous game still to this day, and having a PC that can play it on entirely maxed out settings is great. But it’s just one big green forest. There are some planes here and there, some coastal hills and a few big rivers and lakes, but it’s just kinda meh to look at. So instead of wondering around Cyrodiil, I opted to play through The Shivering Isles expansion instead. I have never completed the main quest in Isles, so this felt like an entirely new TES experience for me.
The landscape is far more varied and interesting — at times being very reminiscent of Morrowind at times. The characters and dialogue are FAR more interesting than the somewhat cliche fantasy tropes of Oblivion. I completed the main quest and enjoyed my time in the realm of Sheogorath, but overall the gameplay, music, and world design of Oblivion are nowhere near as good as the other TES games I’ve mentioned. As it stands, it’s probably my least favorite of the series, even with the enhancements from The Shivering Isles. I’m thinking I’ll give Fallout 3 a go sometime over the Holidays, then return to Skyrim once I’ve returned peace the the Wasteland…
But none of the really matters seeing as how Halo 4 comes out in four days, and is getting ridiculously great review scores.
Anyway, that was my week’s worth of gaming. What did you guys play?
Games Played This Week: DOOM; DOOM II: Hell on Earth; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion/The Shivering Isles
As I mentioned in the last Low-Down, David Fincher is the producer of Halo 4’s launch trailer and it is now out. It is an awesome blend of CGI and live-action sequences and lets the audience get a better look at both our villains and our hero. I was very surprised to see the depth they went into Master Chief’s past and personal history perhaps alluding to the amount of character development and growth that we see in both the Chief and Cortana this time around. You guys be the judge! Be sure to check out the video below!