Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Getting Vanquished with viral marketing

As much as I love my vidjagames I'm as cynical as the next guy when it comes to marketing and advertising. It's one of the main reasons why I don't watch TV as nothing gets me more riled up than the latest pretentious arsery of car commercials.

The recent Halo Reach campaign was also full of bullshit. Nothing stinks more than trying to make a product or game seem holier-than-thou or emotionally moving when you go around and shoot alien fools in the face.

But this recent gem from Sega that puts a personal slant on the trailer for Vanquish struck me as pretty cool and interesting. Type in your postcode and you should see your street appear towards the end of the trailer, being obilterated just like San Francisco is in the beginning of the game. Try it out below.


It's the first time I've been impressed with an advert about a videogame. It's nothing groundbreaking but by offering some interaction rather than smacking you in the face with its message, I feel a little more receptive to its presence.

Is this an indication of a new type of marketing? Or just a one-off by someone bold enough to push through a crazy idea to fruition? I bring this up because I'm intrigued as to the current trend of interactive content prior to a game release.

With Dead Rising 2: Case Zero we have a prelude to the main game and also the ability to transfer content over from to the main game once it's released. The same with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit - the demo allows you to begin levelling up and will transfer that progress on acquiring the full game. Could advertising be next on the agenda? What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Comic Jumper, Dead Rising 2 and moooovin'

I hate these guys SO MUCH

It's been a while since Comic Jumper came out for XBLA and it's offensive presence in my mind has remained despite other, more important games, and real life stuff popping up in the meantime. I reviewed it for GamePeople and XBLAFans were kind enough to republish it on their site. I have to admit that it's not my best work by any stretch. When a game infuriates me so much, as Comic Jumper did, it can be very difficult to condense your thoughts into something readable and cohesive. I task I didn't quite live up to.

I know my problems with the game's attempt at parody and portrayal of women is in the minority (this is only a videogame we're talking about right? So those subject don't really matter...) but the core gameplay itself was so unbalanced, uninteresting and dull that I'm baffled as to how it could get such high scores across the board. Anyway, if you want to read a much better dissection of the game's problems then check out Jeffrey Sandlin's review over at Bitmob. It hasn't got anywhere near the attention it deserves - give it a boost and make him happy!

After that nonsense I was pretty much convinced that Dead Rising 2 would be an equally difficult experience. I'd played only a brief part of the first game and as much as I enjoyed Case Zero, I thought the long and winding road of a full Dead Rising game would piss me off something stupid. Well I'll be Betty Ford if it hasn't blown me away with its madcap play and surprisingly meaningful moments. I don't mean in any full on, Nier-like meditation about a father-daughter relationship and the bitterness of the apocalypse. Rather, the blend of sheer fun you can have within DR2's setting is contrasted wonderfully with some of the psychopath encounters.

Dressed up in gore, slapstick comedy and pathos, these moments can contain some bizarrely poignant scenes. Slappy the mascot springs to mind immediately and despite being an absolute bitch to kill unless you're at a high-level, his final few moments were surprisingly melodramatic. Elsewhere this theme is repeated with survivors and psychopaths alike. Others are more overt commentaries on America or the West in general and although laced with irony and humour, still have a subtle power to them (well, to me at least).

This is what I love most about Dead Rising 2. You can be hacking down zombies with an augmented chainsaw motorbike one moment and then taking on a load of anti-socialist Southern Hicks the next - all the time searching for the next dose of Zombrex that your daughter needs to stay alive.

My review is over at GamePeople and it will be the last frequent contribution I make for that website. I'm moving on in order to widen my experience at other sites and I wish the editors over there all the best for the future. I'll still be maintaining a presence, probably once a month at the most, so I won't be gone completely but my days of providing large amounts of content are over.

My new gig is with Strategy Informer and you can check out my review for History: Great Battles Medieval over there. It's strange to be giving a score to a game after years of writing for a site that doesn't deal with them but I'm enjoying the challenge of writing mainstream copy instead of more niche and focused material. Hopefully it will help me improve my writing and put a stop to the bad habits I'm sure I've fallen into (just count how many times I write 'certainly')

So what happens here? Well, I'll still be farting out more navel-gazing guff when I can and I'll be putting some thoughts together about Vanquish pretty soon. This won't be a usual review (cos that'll go up on Strategy Informer) but more likely concentrating on the Voltaire elements that the game does its best to hide. Yes, I can even try to find some soulful stuff in Vanquish - what madness. If I get round to it I may even try to spruce up this plain old blog to look something like a proper site. I hear animated gifs are all the rage these days...


Jeffrey Sandlin on Comic Jumper:


Thursday, 21 October 2010

Vanquish - Review

Vanquish is a fast and frenetic ride that barely lets up for breath or to explain its reasons to the player. Delve beneath the power-sliding acrobatics, bullet-time action and explosive set pieces though and you’ll find a backstory that hints at Voltaire’s Candide and tells a tale of good intentions gone badly awry.

This subtle narrative is easily missed and the backstory which explains the immense space station and the hostilities between the US and Russia is hidden behind the amazing gameplay and abilities of the ARS suit.

It’s a shame that this level of detail is obscured so much but understandable considering the Vanquish’s nature. You wouldn’t want characters or locations getting too heavy with exposition while giant robots stomp towards you and big chunks of scenery are flying all around. Every moment in the game is tuned perfectly to make it as entertaining as possible - these nuggets of story feel all the more precious if they’re chiselled out of the dark corners of the game.

Those gems can be hidden in plain sight - the Doctor you’re trying to rescue is called Candide and there are many parts of the game, some intentional and some by accident that draw parallels to that work by Voltaire. The French philosophers work criticised Gottfried Leibniz and his concept of optimism and did so by being sarcastic with an erratic, fantastical and quick-moving plot. Identical aspects to Vanquish’s gameplay and dialogue.

I don’t think the writers of Vanquish set out to directly pay homage to Voltaire’s work but it puts the ridiculous setting and story into an interesting context. From destroying Pangloss collectibles (Pangloss is Candide’s mentor indoctrinating him with the mantra of “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds’) to the depiction of a corrupt government and the frailty of best intentions.

That last point is the most obvious in Vanquish’s story. The relationship between Gideon and Burns evolves and breaks down at certain points and the twist, though obvious and hardly groundbreaking, still shows conflict and politics ruining the best of Man’s achievements.

When you stop firing and look at the scenery it’s amazing where you find yourself. At first I assumed this was a generic space station with grey metallic walls and floors that did nothing to differentiate itself from one level to the next.

A few Acts in and I realised that the US space station was a giant, circular Halo-like world with massive residential and industrial areas. For all intents and purposes a huge world orbiting the Earth. This was the 51st state of America and it puts the gory destruction of the opening cinematic into perspective - an outer colony of the States used to destroy one its own. A poetic use of a superpower’s technology - collecting solar energy to fuel the population expansion - turned on itself.

The decision to use the Russians as enemies isn’t just a way of using a cliched action-movie rule-set to get laughs, it’s just logical. This is a future that’s a natural extension of the present - all wars or disputes are about resources and as Russia owns a large proportion of petroleum it’s not hard to see this eventually escalating into conflict. And yeah, having a bald, thickly accented dude that says ‘Dosvedanya’ can’t be beaten for dramatic punch and hilarity.

The dialogue is equally fascinating. It’s overloaded with clichés and grisly one-liners that could easily be interpreted as stupid but actually parody the entire genre of space marine shooter, including Vanquish itself. Gideon himself, during one of the final encounters asks Ivanova that the increasingly bizarre situation is starting to sound like a bad videogame - actually the only instance where the 4th wall is broken.

It’s a restrained approach and shows that Platinum thought about every part of the game with great care. Eat Lead layered the parody on with a shovel and lost all humour by such blatant acts. Vanquish allows itself one throwaway quip and concentrates on being a great videogame first rather than pushing satire into your face with a big neon sign.

As a whole this game comes together to create an experience on many levels. The one that everyone will enjoy involves power-sliding under massive robotic behemoths, taking down enemies while looking cool and enjoying the corny lines spat out along with a cigarette. What I enjoyed the most was peeking behind the curtain, seeing the bizarre references to a French philosophers work and the story which, despite its smoke and bluster, is all about the fallibility of good intentions.

That kind of hidden depth is what makes Vanquish one of my favourite titles of the year. Along with Dead Rising 2, it can appear shallow and exalt itself with explosive videogame features to the most ridiculous extreme - and yet both of these titles hold precious moments of insight and unexpected allegory that, hardly meaningful, was still a joy to experience. And that is what Vanquish is in a nutshell - a joy to experience from beginning to end.