Several entries in this journal are in reaction to essays found in Well Played 3.0, which can be read here.

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Title: Playing Ico: From Involvement Through Immersion To Investment.

Author: Drew Davidson

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 02/22/14

Ico is one of those esoteric yet unanimously praised titles in the video game industry. Its story premise and gameplay are definitely odd, and I know a lot of people who wouldn’t be interested in the slightest to play the game; they probably would probably play it for less than an hour and lose interest due to the quiet atmosphere, simple control scheme and gameplay, “boring” puzzles, and vague story. Some gamers just want to play something with action and visual pizzazz that offers immediate satisfaction and straightforward storytelling. That’s absolutely fine. I enjoy those kinds of games every now and then too, but Ico…this is something that doesn’t come by often, and it may seem like another weird, Japanese avant-garde game on the surface, but it truly is a one-of-a-kind game (especially for its time) worth playing to experience one thing games are only beginning to explore in greater depth now: emotional attachment.

Ico accomplishes this feat with no discernible dialogue between the two main characters of the story: you, a young boy with horns banished to an ancient castle, and Yorda, a mysterious girl in white that the boy finds locked away in a cage. As Drew Davidson said, the objective of the game is to help, protect, and cooperate with Yorda as you guide the boy to defeat all the shadow monsters chasing her and try to escape the castle. Through this journey, you form an attachment to her from physical interaction, visual messages (i.e. what you see her do), and a general underlying sense of purpose that you must keep her safe at all costs. For the first thing, I like this example of physical interaction he points out:

“One of the most meaningful gameplay elements is the holding of the girl’s hand. Players even get a small burst of force-feedback from the controller when the boy  and girl join hands. This feedback is a subtle, yet effective way to show players that they now are holding hands and won’t lose each other. It adds a meaningful and tactile dimension to the game that illustrates a very haptic part of a relationship, the trust, safety and comfort of holding hands.”

This “physical interaction” also be applied to you helping her up ledges, catching her as she jumps across chasms, and running along with her in tow. There’s one thing to protect someone in a game where they are hidden or not right next to you, but taking care of a stranger who trusts you and remains by your side as you fight for and assist her at all times provides a greater sense of intimacy and attachment between you and Yorda than most AI companions.

The visual messages help you come to know Yorda better as a character just by her actions; “the girl moves with a willowy grace and has much more hesitant body movements as well as softer intonations,” Davidson says. This is something that might get some people up in arms since it’s stereotypical (Davidson points this out too), but having Yorda be like this makes her connection with you all the more strong. As the boy – watching her graceful movements and beautiful presence – you naturally want to protect her since she is so important, which gives you that aforementioned “underlying sense of purpose” as a player; this is the primary objective as you solve puzzles and fight off your foes in Ico, and the meaning behind it is something you come to really care about compared to the many arbitrary and shallow objectives some games (like first person shooters) offer for the sake of creating action.

That was quite a tangent, but I would also like to briefly discuss Davidson’s three-part process of properly playing a game from start to finish. I think his model is largely accurate and can be generally applied to any gaming experience (it’d probably look different if we were talking about games in the strategy, arcade or MMORPG genres). I especially like how he brought up that players sometimes never make it through all the stages, which was the case for me with games like Resident Evil 6 and Assassin’s Creed III. I may have gone through the stories of both games, but I never went into the immersion phase with either of them. I became accustomed to the control schemes but disliked the uninspired third person shooter gameplay (in Resident Evil 6) and below average story, pacing, and boring objectives (in Assassin’s Creed III); I never truly reached the investment stage because these games didn’t hold my interest. I remained in reluctant immersion, pushing forward to finish the games just for the sake of finishing them. But games like rain, Resident Evil 4, and Journey are examples like Ico that let players become attached to their companions through gameplay and unique methods of character development. And overall, this is just one reason why Davidson picked Ico over hundreds of other games that could have been examples for his Involvement through Immersion to Investment model.

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Title: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Becoming A Hero

Author: Drew Davidson & Richard Lemarchand

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 03/10/14

In the host of essays I’ve read, this one has become one of my favorites so far. Drew Davidson provides a concise retelling of the plot of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that serves as the groundwork for his argument that the game’s an excellent example of fusing interactive and narrative elements to create an engrossing, entertaining experience. Having played it for myself several years ago, I couldn’t agree more. Before the game came out, I distinctly remember how great I thought Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was at the time. Drake, Sully, and Elena’s adventures take them to beautiful islands in the Pacific, where they’re looking for the treasure of El Dorado. Backed up with gorgeous visuals, solid third-person shooting mechanics, a good balance of platforming, simple puzzle solving, and shooting action, and an Indiana Jones-like story with a humorous and fun cast of characters, I thought that the sequel would be more of the same on a slightly better level. I couldn’t have been more wrong since Uncharted 2 – as I like to tell everyone – blew me out of the water. It surpasses its predecessor in every way possible.

I could talk about the dreamy gameplay that’s even tighter and smoother, the massively improved level design (especially evidenced by Naughty Dog’s impressive use of their ‘Dynamic Object Traversal System’), the pacing of the narrative and how it integrates itself with the gameplay so well, and so on. But for this particular entry, I want to touch on something that really stood out for me in my experience with the game that Davidson and Lemarchand talked about: the IGCs (In-Game Cutscenes).

You could say I had played a decent amount of video games up until Uncharted 2, and one thing I could’ve said about every game I played is that I knew when I was in control of the experience and when I wasn’t. There was (and still is in many games) this defined line between interacting with (gameplay) and watching (cutscenes) a game. QTEs (Quick Time Events) take this a step further by implementing a scripted scene during gameplay that requires certain button presses; it’s something that can’t be done during normal gameplay that feels like a hybrid of gameplay and a cutscene. Sometimes they’re done brilliantly (like in the Metal Gear Solid games and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron) and sometimes they’re just terrible (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 6). But with QTEs, the player still knows they’re constantly in control (albeit in a different fashion). The prompts to push a button(s) pop up on the screen, instantly informing what must be done. And while I like QTEs when done right, Uncharted 2 has something even better called IGCs. As Davidson put it, they “are intricate moments that combine real-time interactivity (or briefly non-interactive but real-time rendered moments) with techniques from the language of cinema.” They create moments that are in-game like QTEs, but without explicit prompts or indicators that tell the player they’re in control. Therefore, coupled with the game design, IGCs tricked me when it came to figuring out when I was in control and when I wasn’t. These moments blew my mind at the time because I’d never experienced anything like them up to that point.

It’s just one example among many of why Uncharted 2 is a smart blend of cinematic and interactive entertainment. I could talk about the IGCs during the first level (which had me pushing buttons and moving sticks at every moment just in case) or the last level where I was surprisingly in control of Nathan Drake running across the collapsing stone bridge in Shambhala. However, the best example of this is Chapter 5: Urban Warfare (discussed on page 90) when Nate is picking himself up in an alleyway when, suddenly, he starts to run toward the screen from an incoming vehicle. Now, although this moment was paused for a moment to tell the player how to use the controls, it was nevertheless a shocking moment for me since I thought this was all going to play out as a cutscene. But no, it was an IGC. I then proceeded to run down the alleyway and shoot back at the vehicle for 15 seconds or so. When it finally exploded in flames, the IGC makes itself apparent again as Drake rests for a moment (something I couldn’t do during normal gameplay). Then I control him again as I move forward a bit, and then a completely cinematic cutscene plays that perfectly transitions from my movement, having me second-guessing just for a moment if I was in control or not.

The IGCs in Uncharted 2 are memorable and stand out to me, as they were something that had me marveling years ago at how future games would use them differently. Killzone: Shadow Fall, Dead Space 3, and even Knack or Call of Duty: Ghosts are some of those future games that use IGCs to varying degrees, but for me, no game has yet to match how Naughty Dog masterfully implemented them in Uncharted 2.

Title: Titanfall Angry Review

Author: Joe Vargas (AngryJoeShow)

Source: YouTube

Date: 03/18/2014

Prepare for Titanfall! In the past few months, that phrase that has been repeated over and over for this game, and it has had so much coverage that some people are simply sick of it. You could even say the hype surrounding it matches or exceeds that of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which a lot of the people at Respawn Entertainment (the developer) previously worked on at Infinity Ward. Unfortunately, I don’t own an Xbox One or think my computer would run the game well enough, but I did have the chance to play Titanfall’s multiplayer for about 30 minutes. And fortunately, that was enough time to gain a decent point of view as I look at Joe Vargas’ extensive and critical 30-minute review of the game.

As is “AngryJoe’s” (his popular nickname) wont, he begins with a humorous clip of his friend and him doing a silly, mock shootout with cheap special effects and all. When they call in their Titans, the scene transitions to both of them sitting together over a game of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” with rock-hard faces of determination as if they were in the heat of battle as Titans. As always, a great, funny start to his review.

AngryJoe is quick to praise where Titanfall generally excels, specifically pointing out how it truly feels like a fresh, innovative spin on the FPS genre that hasn’t been seen before. He backs up this claim with how well the developer balanced the field of play, making the fights between people playing in Titans or as foot soldiers always feel fair and equal. A key word he uses here is how “seamless” the combat is and how that separates the game apart from typical FPS franchises (like Call of Duty and Battlefield) by being accessible to the most hardcore and casual gamers and its integration of excellent map design and “parkour” (being able to run along walls, jump effortlessly from building to building, etc.). As someone who got a taste of this, I completely agree with what he’s saying. Although I didn’t have much time to adequately master the unique parkour mechanics or how to use a Titan, I still felt like I was doing well in the matches I was in. Titanfall makes all players feel accomplished whether they win or lose, and that’s something that eludes other FPS games.

He also points out the Titan gameplay itself, being a major thing that sets it apart from other shooters. Being in a huge robot should feel empowering, and it does here. You wield gigantic weapons of mass destruction, possess an ability that deflects missiles and bullets back to their source, and can stomp on foot soldiers and rip other players out of their Titans. Even still, you are always vulnerable to a quick death in this state, which encourages players to constantly interchange between Titan and foot solider to certain situations. The game design here is brilliant, and AngryJoe acknowledges it.

He goes on to praise other things like the Burn Cards (which are somewhat like perks/power-ups that give unique abilities to your soldier class and Titan), but he immediately transitions to a surprising and very negative viewpoint, lambasting the game’s so-called “campaign multiplayer.” He considers it to be very shallow, confusing, unnecessary, and even obtrusive to the multiplayer experience. A prime example of this is that many of the multiplayer matches follow a pattern of story missions on different maps, and once you finish playing as one faction in less than two hours, you get to experience the other side’s perspective for another two hours. After this, it’s rinse and repeat, and you replay the same story missions over again. He compares this to how Brink’s multiplayer was structured, and that’s no compliment. He also points out how even if you “wipe the floor” as one faction and the other side is supposed to win according to the story, they will still win. It doesn’t make sense and kind of defeats the expected consequences of whoever wins or loses. I played 3-4 matches for myself, and although this is something I’ll have to play for myself before I make a judgment, I didn’t pay attention to the story or what was going on with the dialogue since all I cared about was just playing the multiplayer itself. If you actually have to repeat the same missions again on certain maps, I can see how that could be irritating.

Overall, AngryJoe thinks Respawn Entertainment has a solid foundation on which to build their new IP. With a beautiful and rich universe (in dire need of expansion) and incredible titan/foot soldier gameplay, the next game needs to improve by adding a single player campaign, more modes and options in the multiplayer, and vastly expanded reward and customization systems. He gave the game a 7/10, and despite the glowing reviews I’ve seen from some of my favorite game critics like Adam Sessler, AngryJoe has given me a better perspective on how I shouldn’t set my expectations too high when I do get the chance to buy the game myself. I’ll be preparing for Titanfall, but with a more reserved mentality than most people.

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Title: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review: In Need of Reinforcements

Author: Joe Juba

Source: Gameinformer

Date: 03/19/14

Hideo Kojima has kept us waiting, huh? The Phantom Pain isn’t due for quite some time since it is scheduled to arrive in 2015, but we’ve been given an early taste as to what to expect in the future with Ground Zeroes. Out of genuine curiosity due to the conflicting reviews and controversy surrounding it, I decided to go ahead and purchase a physical copy for my PS4 despite the ridiculous asking price (I did get a $10 gift card though, so I suppose that eases my guilt a bit). I also played it right before I wrote this journal entry and beat the main story mission in less than 90 minutes. So, in this rare event where the stars have aligned to give me this perfect opportunity and window of time, I can justifiably react to Gameinformer editor Joe Juba’s review of the game and list down my thoughts on it.

He points out that he originally thought this looked like a full-fledged Metal Gear game, but after finding out that it was just a prologue, he was nevertheless excited to play it. But after getting his hands on it, he calls it a “disappointing and unsatisfying glimpse into the future of this series.”

Well, that’s a bit blown out of the proportion if I do say so myself. Sure, a couple of things disappointed me about this game, but they certainly do not trouble me that The Phantom Pain will not live up to expectations. In fact, I am even more excited for it now that I’ve played this. Let’s move on to see what he means by this.

He instantly praises the gorgeous visuals, which is a given. This is easily one of the best looking games to date, which runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second with brilliant weather effects, interesting camera angles, and impeccable detail. There’s no doubting that The Phantom Pain will be even more visually stunning with bigger environments and much more places to explore.

But then, Juba begins his critical points where the game falters. He acknowledges that games shouldn’t be judged by their price or length as long as they provide a good experience, of which I agree. I recently played The Last of Us’ DLC called Left Behind, and even though it was a bit on the pricey side at $15 for a 2-3 hour experience, I left satisfied and impressed. I got my money’s worth. Now, I can’t say the same for Ground Zeroes just yet since I haven’t replayed the main mission or explored any of the side content, but if Juba is correct in that replaying the main mission doesn’t offer anything substantial and that the side missions lose their appeal quickly, then – as Juba says in here – this is going to leave me a bit hungry.

While I might agree that the lack of a boss fight, memorable dialogue, or interactions with new characters were disappointing, I wouldn’t say it wasn’t “exciting.” Yes, it lacks depth in terms of its story and side missions, but the gameplay itself was fun for me to adjust to as I played. And although the objectives in the main story are linear, I, for one, like the multiple ways in which you can approach them in different directions and with stealth or full-on combat. I’m motivated to play through this at least 3 times through to get the full experience, and – judging by my first time through – I wouldn’t say that this freedom in how you approach the objectives is merely a “brief detour,” but a way to explore the huge map even further with lots of things to experiment with.

And how wonderful it is to just play the game. The stealth, movement, and shooting mechanics are extremely tight and satisfying (with only a few hiccups with the added ability to snap to cover), and Juba thankfully points this out. He also happens to like the new “Reflex Mode:” a new mechanic that slows down time for a few seconds if you’ve been spotted, giving you a chance to kill the enemy before he alerts the whole base to your presence. I’m indifferent to this mechanic and am going to try it with it off later on, but I think it’s a suitable addition to the controls. However, one thing that Juba didn’t talk about is how perfect the user interface is. Navigating through all the options at my disposal with the iDroid or just looking at the on-screen indicators for all sorts of things gives the game a refined and elegant look. Although this isn’t necessarily part of why this game is good or bad, I still think it’s important to point out.

In the end, Juba gave the game a 7/10. He thought the visuals were fantastic and that the gameplay serves as a solid foundation for the next game, but the weak story and side content are just disappointing. Although his score for the game seems to contradict his opinion on the game (sounds more like a 6/10 to me), I would give it the same rating (so far) for slightly different reasons. I’m not disappointed with the story because – given the fact that this game is a solo stealth mission where you basically have to rescue two, unconscious hostages – I didn’t expect much in the way of dialogue or plot progression. I came into this game to get a taste of the gameplay and visuals to come, and that’s what I mostly got. However, that being said, I still don’t think the price justifies the kind of experience that Ground Zeroes offers, and what it’s offering is – as everyone says – a lengthy demo with 4-5 hours of replay value that serves as a taste for the next game (I just bought it, again, out of curiosity). Either way, the beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder for this title. It’s most certainly worth the price of admission if it were $15, but at $30? I don’t think so, but gamers will be the judges of that.

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Title: Heavy Rain – How I Learned To Trust The Designer

Author: Jośe P. Zagal

Source: Well Played 3.0

Date: 03/20/14

Heavy Rain is like Limbo. No, they’re not similar in the sense of their aspects like story, gameplay, or graphics (in fact, one could argue that they couldn’t be any more different from each other), but in the sense that they’re avant-garde games. They defy many traditional game design tropes in different respects, such as how the user interface looks (Limbo), how the narrative branches and plays out (Heavy Rain), and so forth. With Heavy Rain, I only played its demo several years ago because I didn’t plan on buying the full game. I found it to be a bit too slow and boring back then, but if I had the time, I wish – being ever so slightly older and wiser – I could play through it due to its novelty and the “interactive movie” experience it offers. Although I find some moments in the game (as I was reminded of when we tested it in class) to be rather bizarre or just plain awkward, Heavy Rain is just unique and different, and it genuinely piques my game critic side; I really want to further experience what it has to offer, especially after reading Jośe P. Zagal’s essay.

He makes a great case for the idea that one should forget what they know about games before playing this one. And he’s right because several things we expect to be in every game are absent in Heavy Rain. One of his strongest points is his first one, which involves meaningful choices in games. He starts with this:

As players we have become incredibly adept at recognizing the kinds of choices we make in games and the impact we expect these to have on our overall experience. We are well-versed in discriminating and categorizing the choices we are presented with, and then deciding, which choices we want to make, when and how. Thanks to increasingly more effective signposting by game designers, we distinguish between those choices that matter, and those that do not.

How true that is! I can think of multiple games that do this. The inFAMOUS series is a perfect illustration. They have stories that are tailored by your decision to be good or evil, and when you’re presented with the chances to do these, you know exactly how important they are. The games go as far as to pause during these moments as a player is prompted to pick either the blue (good) choice on the right or the red choice on the left, giving time for him/her to reflect on and easily choose what path he/she wants to go in. You are also able to “distinguish between side-quests and missions that are required for making progress in a game,” quickly figuring out what things should be done/collected that are fairly necessary to gain more power and what can be accomplished later on. Anyway, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Dishonored are good examples as well, but there are several games that are moving away from this to different extents.

The Walking Dead, Spec Ops: The Line, Dark Souls, and even Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 present meaningful choices in the same manner as Heavy Rain. In all of these games (again, to vastly different extents), there are moments that had me questioning whether what I was doing was right or wrong and if it was consequential to the grand scheme of things. However, Heavy Rain is a game where you’re just about constantly in this state. It certainly does generate a sense of unease, but at the same time, it’s a wonderfully different feeling that we don’t normally experience when playing games, and it’s exciting.

Zagal points out something that I distinctively remember about playing the demo, and that is the swordfight you (as Ethan) participate in with your son. You could press all the correct buttons and soundly defeat your son, but it’s his birthday…come on, no parent would actually let their kid lose on their special day, right? I remember when my dad used to let me win when we used to have lightsaber fights, played a racing video game, etc. It builds confidence. So, when I was presented with this interesting scenario in Heavy Rain, I chose to lose. There are games that prompt you to press a lot of buttons to prevent a character from doing something regrettable (like in Black Ops II), but this game encourages a player to do what would normally be considered failure (not pressing all the buttons correctly), and I love how he brings up that quote by Miguel Sicart.

“[The act of achieving is] present in those players who compete fairly against the challenges of the game and against other players, respecting social norms and rules, and for whom victory is a desirable state in the game but not the most desirable- for that would be enjoying the game, alone or with others.”

I’m not one to speak on Heavy Rain since I haven’t truly played it, but – despite some issues with the game in regard to supposed holes in the plot, the awkwardness of certain scenes and acting in the game, etc. – this is a game that did make strides. It was something that succeeded in being very new and very uncommon (perhaps unheard of) as a video game. That alone is worth studying this unique case.

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Title: inFAMOUS: Second Son Review

Author: Sammy Barker

Source: Push Square

Date: March 24, 2014

When inFAMOUS first came out, it was a revolutionary game for superhero, comic book-inspired games. It provides an open world environment in the fictional Empire City (similar to the real-life Detroit) that serves as your playground. As Cole MacGrath – a “Conduit” with electricity powers – you can rapidly scale the buildings, zip along power lines, and hover across rooftops. There are all sorts of side missions and collectables to obtain and new abilities and upgrades to be earned, and depending on how you approach them, you can heavily influence the story and the actual city itself, which becomes either cleaner and brighter by your good actions or more devastated and gloomy in response to evil deeds. Granted, it’s a black and white morality system that lacks depth, but nevertheless, the impact the player has on the game is undeniable and exciting. So, when inFAMOUS 2 was released, it didn’t necessarily make any advancements in storytelling or the morality system, but everything else – the graphics, fluidity of traversal and combat, side missions, etc. – was an improvement in every single way, refining what was already established in the first game.

Now that inFAMOUS: Second Son is out on the PS4, we can see if Sucker Punch’s (the developer) has fulfilled its promise to deliver on advancing the series forward with new ideas instead of just refining its core formula. Sammy Barker, Push Square’s lead editor, has reviewed the game to see if this is true, and since I have played about five hours of it, I believe I can fairly respond to his praises and complaints.

Interestingly, he begins with describing how well the DualShock 4 is integrated with the game, pointing out how natural it feels to use with (what I’m assuming he’s referring to) the overall controller layout and touchpad. I can attest to this, especially when it comes to the touchpad. Sucker Punch made it their goal to make it a pretty major part of the controls, because it is used with a single press to absorb Blast Shards or energy for your powers. To destroy DUP (the enemy government organization) mobile command centers, you swipe your finger up on the touchpad to reveal its power source, hold it in place, and rapidly pressing ‘R2’ to destroy it. Most of the others are only brief moments of interactivity that don’t add too much to the experience, but they’re nice touches, and the normal control scheme itself feels so comfortable to utilize.

Barker then transitions to talking about the new protagonist that has replaced the brooding and serious Cole MacGrath. His name is Delsin Rowe, a rebellious and sarcastic character that brings a much-needed liveliness to the playful and outlandish nature of the series. With more fleshed out side characters and Troy Baker (Joel in The Last of Us, Booker DeWitt in Bioshock: Infinite, etc.) as Delsin, the cast is more believable and convincing than before. This is something I agree with and am genuinely surprised about. I thought that Delsin (based on his primary traits), who’s a graffiti artist that wears a denim jacket and beanie, would be like a stuck-up, annoying hipster. However, I’ve discovered that he’s actually quite humorous and likable. To me, he’s like Peter Parker with a more mischievous side. Also, I love how Sucker Punch made him a Native American. I think ethnic diversity in games is something that should be strived for in the future, but it needs to be approached without making it look forced. His race is never mentioned once nor does it define him as a character. It feels completely natural, and his background and introduction as a new character is just like how Cole MacGrath was introduced. This is how all developers should approach this, and Sucker Punch nails it here.

However, like the past two games, the morality system in Second Son is still the difference between day and night. He says he wishes that there were more morally gray decisions to make, which the developer said they had worked on. In my experience so far, I completely agree with Barker. In relation to this, being good or evil will change your playing style. For example, if you’re good, you’re rewarding for taking down enemies alive, which is harder to do, whereas being evil rewards headshots and sucking the life out of foes. This was present in the last games, but (I’m not sure if Barker agrees with this), but I think this one makes the playing styles even more different, requiring players to approach combat (and even traversal) in different manners depending on how they play.

He points out the new and bizarre powers like smoke and neon. Unlike the past games where electricity is mostly in use, Delsin can switch between four powers in total throughout the game. They accommodate different playstyles as well, with (for example) smoke being more powerful and deadly whereas neon is more precise and rewards patience. They also provide different means of moving about the city, with smoke allowing Delsin to speed through vents and neon letting him scale buildings in a flash of color. It adds a greater sense of variety to the gameplay with several sets of powers, and I’ve only used two so far.

Combined with the many side missions and large open world of Seattle, the amount of time spent exploring the city, taking out DUP influence in districts, and even playing a little minigame that involves using the Dualshock 4 as a can of aerosol will have players constantly moving around and spending hours doing these little objectives. I can say that at least half of my time in the game has been used doing these tantalizing side missions, and the incredibly breathtaking graphics only incentivize me to do this even more (I see more of the city in the process). Barker says, “The crystal clear resolution certainly helps to impress, but it’s the lighting that’s the real star of the show. While there’s no day and night cycle, you’ll get to explore the city at various different time periods, and the title is at its beautiful best when you’re sprinting across the skyline in a foggy musk, with morning dew giving the pavement below a glitzy gleam.” He continues, saying, “Given the pace of the release, it can be hard to appreciate just how good the game looks at times, but you will find yourself stopping to stare on occasion, as there are a couple of locales in particular that set the bar incredibly high for the likes of Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica to beat.”

I can’t agree more with Barker, especially after seeing Second Son’s Seattle during the night. The lighting of car lights reflects on the wet street pavement, distorting in direction and length depending on Delsin’s location. The puddles even mirror buildings and other objects and undulate as raindrops pour down. The face motion capture, the draw distance of the environment, the meticulous attention to detail in representing Seattle…all of these things are just a few given that describe the graphical prowess of this game. This is a true display of the PS4’s power.

I must conclude here lest I ramble anymore, but Barker concludes by saying that the game is an advancement for the series in nearly every way that’s getting closer to simulating what it would feel like to have superpowers. The plot is a little forced (with the morality system still being binary), but there’s a greater depth to this title than its predecessors. He gives it an 8/10.

I can say I agree so far. For me, this is – without question – the best inFAMOUS yet. It makes the same strides that inFAMOUS 2 made by improving nearly every aspect of the game’s formula. That being said, I’m noticing that the moral choices you have to make are very straight forward, but I do think small advancements are being made on the storytelling and character development front than before (I find myself connecting more with the characters in this game than I did in the others). In other words, Sucker Punch has played it pretty safe by not trying too many different things, and while this is disappointing since this is a new generation of consoles, Second Son is nevertheless a darn fine game that’s the best in the series, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

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Title: What’s Wrong with Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes’ Ending?

Author: Lucy O’Brian

Source: IGN

Date: March 24, 2014

Lucy O’Brian recently wrote an opinion piece lambasting Ground Zeroes narrative, which depicts a female character’s purpose for being there and eventual death as immature and terribly handled. I’ve already played the game as I discussed in a previous entry, so I feel compelled to challenge her accusation as ungrounded (pun intended). However, I issue a warning. There are spoilers ahead as I address this sensitive and serious topic boiling among gamers at the time of this writing.

The story goes like this: Big Boss’ objective is to extract two important individuals from a prison camp: Chico and Paz. They’re young people who possess sensitive information and have a deep history with his past. It’s a dangerous mission, but it must be done.

When Big Boss finds Chico first in a rain-drenched cage after taking out the surrounding guards, he discovers that he’s been tortured extensively, especially evidenced by the metal bolts hammered into the back of his ankles (rendering him handicapped). After carefully extracting him via an assisting helicopter on the nearby coastline, it’s time to save Paz. She’s had a troubled past with Big Boss and has betrayed him in many ways by working with the enemy, but nonetheless, he wants to save her.

After sneaking past a host of soldiers and cameras with unprecedented stealth, our hero stumbles upon a makeshift prison cell in a generator room. Paz is inside, and she’s in worse shape than Chico. She’s clearly suffering and in a mentally unstable state, so Big Boss escapes this place quickly to complete his mission. A cutscene begins once they’re in the helicopter with Chico and a medic (who previously checked the boy for his injuries), and all of them discover in horror that Paz has had a bomb planted in her stomach region. Instead of shying away from the gore to ensue, we can see the medic performing the grueling and urgent surgery on Paz (without anesthetics). He sifts through her intestines as she screams and squirms in shock, and eventually retrieves the bomb. Something else major happens in between this, but what needs to be noted here last is that she suddenly wakes from her unconsciousness (due to the surgery) near the end of the game. She stumbles over to the helicopter doors and opens them, confusing and worrying everyone standing around her.

She manages to barely whisper that there’s another bomb inside her. Then, in the blink of an eye, Paz intentionally falls out of the helicopter a few seconds before she explodes as Big Boss and Chico reach out for her in vain. She saved Chico and Big Boss’ lives as the game abruptly concludes.

Paz’s circumstances in Ground Zeroes made me pity her greatly (despite the fact that I barely got to know her through the main story), and the surgery performed on her is, no doubt, one of the most squeamish scenes in video game history. As indicated, this drama takes place at the ending, and O’Brian thinks that it was “exploitative and cheap considering the context within which it was presented” and that it’s “a nasty little punctuation mark on a series of acts of sexual violence against the game’s only female character.” It’s revealed in the story (with audio logs) that a mysterious villain named Skull Face was behind her torture, who also put the second bomb in her sexual region and forced Chico to rape her. It’s disgusting, but even still, I didn’t come away from the game with O’Brian’s impressions. I’ll briefly explain why.

She says that Hideo Kojima (the game director) is pulling an “age-old narrative trick to give his male protagonist a purpose” by making Paz a catalyst. He uses “rape as a plot device [that’s] quick and easy as [heck] to implement and further, it lends a sense of gravitas to a story; a sense that the writer has crossed some dangerous line and we ought to congratulate him or her for that.” She’s right that the gist (emphasis on gist) of this ending is a typical narrative device, and if she were coming from the perspective of someone who has never touched Metal Gear Solid that only plays through Ground Zeroes once without going into its other features, her article makes complete sense and has valid claims.

But this would mean she’s at fault for having this negative experience. For starters, the audio logs and lengthy backstory texts available in Ground Zeroes expound on who Paz is, her history, and her character depth. Another game in the series called Peacewalker sets her up as one of the main characters too. So, if she’s not thoroughly introduced as a character in the main game, players should at least read and listen to her backstory provided in Ground Zeroes and read up on Paz as she appears in Peacewalker. After all, the game itself may be accessible to new players, but the story is purposefully made in mind for players who have played the past games. All of them have been like this. I know because I made the mistake of playing Guns of the Patriots before the other three games! Even though I didn’t play Peacewalker, I briefly read her backstory and understood her importance to the story in Ground Zeroes, which is why I also felt for her as she died and realized that this serves as the rational and poignant foundation for Big Boss’ descent into villainy. Paz isn’t exploited in this game as a shallow female character just so Big Boss has reason for his revenge in the upcoming Phantom Pain. It only appears this way, so for those who look at how Kojima even managed to put her in this one and a half hour main story, he did it expertly and maturely. It gives you intense reason to loathe the sadistic Skull Face who will be the main antagonist in the next game. It showcases the worst kind of horror and tragedy when those who align with heroes cross paths with the enemy. And finally, I think it adds and establishes real and believable gravitas and seriousness to the admittedly outlandish nature of the Metal Gear Solid story as a whole. O’Brian says this too:

“[Paz’s situation in the game] made worse by clumsy, almost gleeful handling of the material. In one instance, rape is used as a reward in a side objective: those who are  prepared to trawl through the map and collect all the hidden audio tapes will find one where they can listen to Paz being sexually assaulted before she is forced to copulate with the underage Chico.”

That’s not it at all. The audiotape in itself is a reward in that it further explains what happened to her and how insane Skull Face is (who is the one that forced Chico to rape Paz). Kojima isn’t just rewarding players in some sick way with sounds of her being raped. He’s trying to get players to rightfully pity Paz and Chico while hating Skull Face; he wants players to despise and realize rape is a truly terrible thing. It’s all about context, and O’Brian seems to imply that Kojima had perverted motives for Paz’s inclusion in the story here. To me, it seems the other way around. She seems to think that Metal Gear Solid or any art form should not handle sexual violence with what she calls mere shock value. I think I agree with this, but Ground Zeroes is different. I believe Kojima – who has already handled similar serious issues and topics in his past games – knows what he’s doing here and has good reason to portray Paz the way he did.

She says she’s not pro-censorship of this kind of material. She just felt like Ground Zeroes didn’t do it appropriately, and I can see where she’s coming from. However, I feel like the game handled this sensitive and controversial content appropriately as a fitting prologue to whatever dark things await us in The Phantom Pain. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps I’m right, but since she actually played Peacewalker and I didn’t, you would think that our opinions would be reversed since I know less about Paz than she does! In the end, this is a compelling debate to engage in, which is another reason why video games – as one of the greatest art forms – can spark worthwhile debate, conversation, and even change in video game culture and the industry.