Wednesday, 27 January 2016

IC2S Playlist Update 27/01/2016


First up this week is "Fickle" by Countless Thousands, yet another song from their debut album We're Just Really Excited to Be Here. I really enjoy this song because it's just so enthusiastic, but that's not the only reason I chose it for this week's playlist entry - Countless Thousands are also launching their first Kickstarter campaign this week! As you can probably tell, I really love their music and am definitely going to be backing this one as soon as I can. I will post a link to the campaign on the blog sometime after it goes live (probably at the start of next week's playlist update).


Secondly, we have "The Sound of Failure / It's Dark... Is It Always This Dark??" by The Flaming Lips from their album At War With the Mystics. The Flaming Lips have a real talent for making really unorthodox songs sound awesome, and "The Sound of Failure" is one of my favourites. It's also one of their longer songs, which naturally draws me towards it a little more. It's also one of their more depressing songs - The Flaming Lips tend to be rather quirky and optimistic, but At War With the Mystics was definitely more of a depressing album (eg, "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song", "Mr. Ambulence Driver", "Vein of Stars", etc).

...and with that, the IC2S Playlist now has over 7 hours of music! Wow, it's hard to believe that I've managed to take it that long in less than a year, but that's how it is. I have no idea if anyone other than myself has actually listened to it, but either way I enjoy throwing it on shuffle at work every once in a while.

Monday, 25 January 2016

#OscarsSoWhite: Why We Need to Learn to Pick Our Battles

If you've read even a couple of my posts on this blog, then you're probably aware that I'm a staunchly left-leaning "SJW"-type person. However, with that in mind, I am absolutely sick of the "#OscarsSoWhite" controversy which has been dominating the news cycle for the last week. Initially I was fine with it - it is certainly odd that we haven't had a non-white acting nominee in 2 straight years now, which is a situation which is certainly ripe for discussion. However, my problem is that the prevailing discussion soon turned towards the Academy itself being racist by not choosing any black actors, which is really straining things as far as I'm concerned. Thankfully, Mark Gollom posted this very good article on CBC which covers all of the things I have been pointing out since this story first broke. In light of this, I think it's finally time for me to throw in my hat as well on this story.


First of all, it has to be said that the real "objective" importance of the Oscars is ridiculously overstated. It is certainly the most visible stage for film appraisal, but not winning or getting nominated is only really important for the financial incentives and exposure it provides. The "best" movies or actors in a given year is an incredibly subjective question, and I'm certain that the average moviegoer's list would look absolutely nothing like what the Academy comes up with most years. The fact that Mad Max: Fury Road made the shortlist this year is nothing short of a minor miracle, as it doesn't fit the "Oscar-bait" mold which most nominees must adhere to in order to stand a chance.

Furthermore, many deserving actors get snubbed every year and it always causes some kind of backlash. Will Smith and Michael B Jordan didn't really have a lot of buzz going their way, especially in comparison to the actors who did make the extremely-limited slate. Furthermore, Idris Elba was never going to get nominated, and that is down to film-making politics - Beasts of No Nation is breaking the "established rules" of film distribution, so like TRON's visual effects snub, it was never going to be recognized by the Academy. Compared to last year, these aren't shocking at all, unlike the lack of major recognition for Selma, which left me absolutely flabbergasted, especially considering that it had some of the most positive buzz going into the awards (not to mention that most of the Oscar-bait from that year totally floundered).


#OscarsSoWhite activists need to start looking at the bigger picture if they want to solve this issue. They can start by directing their criticisms at Hollywood's movie studios, which is where I would argue this whole Oscars racism issue stems from. Think about it - we have a severe lack of non-white actors because Hollywood studios think that there will be financial repercussions if they cast a minority in any major roles. This isn't some sort of conspiracy, it's just an attitude which has created some major inequality throughout the entire industry. At this point, it's so obvious that it is basically a no-brainer. From not casting black actors in lead roles because "foreign people are racist and it'll affect our bottom-line", to the disgustingly frequent practice of white-washing characters because studios refuse to finance a movie without a bankable cast. Furthermore, it is believed that Selma was overlooked, not because of Academy racism and favouritism, but because of a lack of promotion:
"Selma’s studio, Paramount, had mailed free DVD screeners to Oscar voters — but not to guild voters. Which raises the possibility that, with Selma having opened so late in the season, maybe not enough voters have seen it yet."
This is just another look behind the curtain at the subjective nature of the Oscars. How the heck did Paramount not think that Selma was a legitimate Best Picture contender?

The final big issue here is that Will Smith and Michael B Jordan's "snubbed" performances are in the Best Actor category, which is widely regarded as being one of the most competitive categories in the entire awards ceremony. Due to traditional wisdom in Hollywood favouring male leads, there are basically always going to be tons of Best Actor candidates. Furthermore, with Hollywood preferring white male leads in general, we end up with less bankable non-white actors, meaning that it's significantly harder for an actor to get to the status of being competitive enough to actually stand a chance of getting a Best Actor nomination. In general, this sort of systemic favouritism of white males not only screws minorities throughout their entire careers, but it also is a prime factor for why women have a harder time making it in Hollywood as well.


In general, I think that #OscarsSoWhite is on the right track - there is certainly some very obvious cases of systemic racism within the film industry. However, by directing their efforts at the Academy, activists are missing out on the real root of the problem. We need to see studios and agents more willing to take risks on non-white actors, more diverse screenplays and casting, and more of a concerted effort to actually tell the stories of other people. Furthermore, we as the public need to continue to support films which do try to take these sorts of risks - Hollywood might finally be starting to understand, but it is going to take a very long time before a strong stable of talent is fostered instead of getting passed over.

Unfortunately, due to the current public discourse, all people are going to remember of this incident was that black people were playing the "race card" again to try to get ahead, even though there were legitimate issues to discuss. This is why I'm always telling us SJW-types to "pick your battles" intelligently, because the causes that we choose to fight for are arguably just as important as the actual messages in terms of public perception. If we want more people to sympathize with our causes, then they need to realize that what we're saying is correct, rather than give them some dumbed-down talking point that any troglodite can disprove.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Afterthoughts & Greatest Moments

AFTERTHOUGHTS
This has been quite a journey that we have embarked on. It literally took me months to complete all of the games in the franchise and, at times, felt like I had taken on a second job, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience which has given me a new appreciation of the franchise. Seeing how the gameplay has evolved and gotten more complex was very interesting, and actually improved the original Metal Gear Solid in quite a few ways for me (especially the key cards and backtracking which I found annoying in my first playthrough, but which are refreshing compared to previous games in the franchise). I also got to experience a few games that I had wanted to play but never actually got around to - namely, Metal Gear, Solid Snake and Rising.

It was also interesting to get a better look at the Metal Gear story. The franchise is notorious for having a supposedly "incomprehensible" story, but I have always found this to be a ridiculous assertion. The series' overarching narrative is certainly extremely complex, convoluted and doesn't make a lot of sense at times, but it isn't all that hard to follow in each game. Also, considering that the overarching story was made up from game-to-game, it's nothing short of a minor miracle that the story is as satisfying and reasonably coherent as it is, especially with the numerous retcons which have occurred in each new installment.

If I have time at some point in the future, I might also do a bonus review for the two Metal Gear Ac!d games, as they were both very fun and unique experiences. Other than those two games, Ghost Babel for the Game Boy Advance and Portable Ops Plus for the PSP are both ripe for a potential bonus retrospective... hell, maybe even Snake's Revenge for the NES as well if I'm feeling extremely masochistic. We'll see if any of these entries actually happen (I'm long overdue for an entry for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for that franchise's retrospective series), but perhaps one day. I'll try not to say "Kept you waiting, huh?" though.




Friday, 22 January 2016

The Rebuttal: Telekinetic Rape!

We're starting up a new column here on IC2S (to go along with Quick Fixes, Retrospectives and Reviews) which I have decided to call "The Rebuttal". I get a lot of stupid bullshit in my Facebook feed; I'm sure that you do as well. Sometimes however, we get something that is a new level of stupid though which can't just be ignored - it needs to be corrected. That is where The Rebuttal comes in. Here, I will attempt to give a reasoned analysis of the post in question and hopefully dispel some of the ignorance it was fostering. Got it? Okay, let's get started...

Oh look, feminism! Who would have guessed?


This was posted on a parody Facebook page called "Meninists" (sigh), and shared by a friend who thought that the 4chan reply was funny. Honestly, on a certain level the snarkiness of the reply is kind of funny, but that is only the case because of what the feminist wrote. Personally, I think that this is a great example of the issue of "not explaining yourself" and "picking your battles poorly" which I have suggested that fellow feminists should be careful of if they want to have a better public perception. Saying that "men can rape without laying a hand on a woman" isn't one of those things that is going to get you to say "oh shit, maybe I do need feminism!", but rather it's going to raise a lot of eyebrows. At worst, it's hyperbolic and trivializes "real" case of sexual violence. At best, it's a poorly worded argument and weakens the definition of what constitutes "rape". Personally I'm feeling that she tried to come up with something that would sound profound and compelling, but ended up wording things really poorly which made her look somewhat ridiculous.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid V - The Phantom Pain (2015)

So finally we come to the most recent entry in the Metal Gear franchise - and likely the final entry for that matter in the eyes of most fans. Would Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain manage to bring the series full circle, while charting an ambitious new style for the series? Read on to find out. (Since this game is quite recent still, I will point out that there are MAJOR spoilers throughout this article.)


DEVELOPMENT
First off, it must be said that The Phantom Pain was fraught with an incredibly troubled development which is almost as intriguing as the game itself. We still don't have all the details, but a sketch of the events which transpired has developed over time, which I will briefly recount here. Shortly after the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, it was revealed that Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus had been brought together to create Silent Hills, an announcement which people discovered after exploring the mysterious, acclaimed tech demo P.T. Fans of that series thought that this was a sign of a return to glory for Silent Hill, which had been languishing for 2 console generations by then after a long string of bad-to-mediocre releases.

However, only a few months after the announcement of Silent Hills, disaster struck. After a corporate restructuring Konami had begun to scale back its AAA gaming publishing, choosing to instead focus on less-risky mobile games and licensed slot and pachinko machines. While we don't know the details of what happened, this caused a rift to grow between Konami and Kojima. The red flags started rising when "A Hideo Kojima game" was removed from all Metal Gear promotional art for The Phantom Pain and on previous Metal Gear games. Soon, Kojima announced that he would be leaving the company following the completion of The Phantom Pain, which instantly caused panics over the status of The Phantom Pain and Silent Hills. Ultimately, Silent Hills was cancelled after an agonizing couple of weeks of silence, with P.T. being pulled from PSN shortly thereafter in spite of massive backlash, while Konami insisted that The Phantom Pain would be unaffected.

The exact causes of the split between Konami and Kojima are uncertain, but it can be inferred that money was a prime factor. Perhaps due to Konami's desire to downsize their console gaming presence, there have been many reports that they were uncomfortable with the high budget on The Phantom Pain, which reportedly surpassed $80 million. This might also have been a major contributing factor to Ground Zeroes' separate release, in an effort to recoup costs quickly. On a related note, timing was also likely an issue - Konami likely wanted the game to be released within a certain budgeted timeframe, and Kojima's vision was too ambitious to fit comfortably into these restrictions. Ultimately though, this lack of transparency on Konami's part has damned them in the eyes of the public, even if they do potentially have reasonable motives (I mean, if Kojima Productions had become too expensive for them to maintain then fair enough, but if you don't say a damn thing to us about it then we're going to side with the creative auteur behind our favourite games).

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

IC2S Playlist Update 20/01/2016

Bloody hell, did I ever have a "week". A friend and I got into a heated argument with a MRA on Facebook (he self identifies as an MRA-leaning egalitarian, but if you're familiar with MRA/feminist circles, you'll know that "egalitarian" is just a term which has been unfortunately co-opted by MRA-types to make them sound more reasonable). It was more-or-less a waste of time, but I did get some interesting insight into the MRA mindset and the crazy things that they believe (eg, holy shit guys, did you know that there's a minority conspiracy to become the real social powers?). It has gotten my circle of friends talking about these sorts of social issues, and I wouldn't be surprised if I write up some sort of post inspired by it soon.


First up this week is "Fear of the Dark", the title track from the 1992 album by Iron Maiden. I have been going through Iron Maiden's albums on Spotify and have been fairly impressed by what I have heard so far. The band has such a long history and so many albums, it will probably take me months (if not years) to parse through everything and get a good feel for everything. In celebration of this expanding appreciation for the metal juggernaut, I have chosen one of the band's better known songs, "Fear of the Dark", for no better reason than because it rocks.


Secondly this week we have "Why Shouldn't We Kill Ourselves?" by Showbread from their newest (and final) album Showbread is Showdead. I was actually going to choose a Showbread song for this week, but lo and behold, they suddenly unleashed a new album unexpectedly, making them into a must-include choice this week. If there are any bands in the Christian music industry which can be truly classified as "punk", I think that Showbread would be one of the few to deserve the label. They are exceptionally strange and always raging against the state of Christianity, the music industry and the status quo, without turning into a bunch of whiners like Five Finger Death Punch. I have only listened through Showbread is Showdead once now, but it is very similar to their debut album 'No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical'.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid V - Ground Zeroes (2014)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the 10th game in the franchise, 2014's prologue, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes! I actually wrote a review for this game back when it first game out, but in... er... retrospect it was more of a justification for the game's length rather than a real review. As a result, I'm going to make sure to cover more info on the game itself. How does it hold up now that the price has dropped significantly and with the game being given out for free on a couple different occasions now? Read on to find out...

(For the sake of this review, I used the PS4 version as my benchmark. I can't comment on the PS3/Xbox 360 versions.)


DEVELOPMENT
Even prior to the release of Peace Walker, Kojima teased the idea of Metal Gear Solid V. His team was busy developing a new game engine which would become known as the Fox Engine. The freedom of the Fox Engine would allow for a fully open world Metal Gear game, a notion which Kojima had been attempting to achieve since Snake Eater. With work on the Fox Engine wrapping up and the next generation of consoles approaching, the decision was made to make Ground Zeroes a cross-generational game.

Prior to the game's official announcement, Kojima went on record saying that his next game would deal with delicate, even taboo, issues which might not make the final cut in the game or which might be so shocking as to negatively impact the game's sales. Ground Zeroes was finally revealed in the summer of 2012 through a Japanese trailer which consisted of the game's opening cutscene. This was also the venue where Kojima announced that the game would be running within an open world setting, emphasizing player freedom to approach their objectives. It would also be available on a very wide release, with the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC all being able to play the game.

Some confusion began to grow as the game's development continued. A trailer for a game called The Phantom Pain by "Moby Dick Studios" was quickly deciphered to be another Metal Gear game in simultaneous development. After some speculation, it was officially announced that The Phantom Pain was a part of Metal Gear Solid V, causing people to believe that this game and Ground Zeroes were going to be a single game. However, it was later clarified that they would be 2 separate games, with Ground Zeroes serving as a smaller prologue.

The game then began to encounter some major controversy. The long-time English voice actor for the Solid Snake and Big Boss, David Hayter, was replaced by Kiefer Sutherland. Fans bristled at this revelation and threatened to boycott the game, to no avail. Fans also complained about the game's addition of "reflex mode", which allows for a chance to eliminate guards after being spotted without setting off an alert, and a fast-regenerating health mechanic, both of which were seen as making Metal Gear too "casual".

During the game's initial release, the PlayStation versions received the "Déjà Vu" mission as a console-exclusive mission, whereas Xbox versions received the "Jamais Vu" mission. These two missions were timed console exclusives, which were unlocked for free for both consoles a few weeks after release. Naturally, the announcement about console-specific missions riled up some fans as well.

Probably the biggest source of controversy around the game though arose from Game Informer's Metal Gear Solid V cover story. In their commentary, they stated that the game was comparable to the Sons of Liberty demo, but paid for separately. Furthermore, they commented that they had completed the main mission in 2 hours, but some testers had run it in only 5 minutes. These comments caused fans to react extremely negatively, with people claiming that Konami expected them to drop $30-$40 for a demo with only 5 minutes of gameplay. These complaints were fresh in the public's minds when the game finally released in March of 2014 (although the PC version would not be released until December).


PLOT SUMMARY
In the aftermath of Peace Walker, the UN has requested to inspect Mother Base for the presence of any nuclear materials. MSF initially turned the request down, but Huey took it upon himself to reverse the decision to try to make MSF appear to be a beacon of peace. As a result, Big Boss and Kaz prepare for the inspection by hiding ZEKE and their nuclear warhead, and evacuating civilians and heavy equipment offshore.

However, as they prepare for the inspection, Miller discovers that Paz survived her encounter with Big Boss. She has been captured by Cipher for interrogation and is now stationed in Camp Omega in Cuba. Hoping to rescue her, Chico sneaks into the enemy base, but is captured in the attempt. The Intel team attempts to discover Chico's location, but after some time a cassette tape is received which contains a distress call from Chico. Big Boss and Miller suspect that the request is a trap, but with the inspection bearing down on them and the sensitive knowledge held by Chico and Paz, they have no choice but to attempt a rescue.

As Big Boss infiltrates into Camp Omega, Skullface, the leader of the Cipher special forces unit XOF, departs by helicopter and then heads out to sea to perform the UN "inspection". Big Boss witnesses the helicopter convoy heading out and then moves to retrieve the prisoners. Making his way through the base, Big Boss locates Chico and then takes him to the shoreline for extraction via helicopter. Chico laments that Paz is already dead, giving Big Boss a cassette tape of her being tortured. Undeterred, Big Boss heads back into Camp Omega to locate Paz. He finds her in the basement of the Admin building, chained up in the boiler room. He sneaks her back out to the extraction site and then heads back towards Mother Base with the two rescued prisoners. However, on the way back, Chico discovers that Paz's gut has been stitched up. Big Boss realizes that she has been rigged with a bomb and orders a medic to come inspect her. After a painful surgery without anesthetic, the bomb is extracted and thrown into the ocean.

Contact is soon lost with Mother Base though. When they arrive, they see that the base is on fire and that many of the struts have collapsed. The helicopter lands on one intact strut, which allows Big Boss to save Miller and a couple other soldiers before evacuating. Miller blames Paz for the destruction of MSF, but she stands up and reveals that there is a second bomb before jumping out of the helicopter and exploding. Despite her sacrifice, the blast radius knocks the helicopter out of control and sends it careening into the path of an XOF helicopter, causing the two aircraft to crash and putting Big Boss into a coma...


GAMEPLAY & DESIGN
First off, I have to say that in a lot of ways it is fair to call Ground Zeroes a paid-demo, as it really is a stripped-down tech demonstration for the game's main act. That said, it does have quite a bit of content to experience which helps to justify its stand-alone price point. For one thing, there are 7 different missions in this game which can all be replayed and experienced in a number of different ways. The main "Ground Zeroes" mission alone should easily take up 1.5 to 2 hours to beat on a first playthrough. In addition, unlike many open world games, all of the side-ops are well worth trying out. They all have their own interesting little stories and fairly unique objectives which make them both fun and challenging. For my own part, I have probably sunk at least 8+ hours into this game.

Of course, the "Ground Zeroes" mission is where most of the gameplay lies, and it is thankfully very fun. It is reasonably lengthy and offers a ton of player freedom. While you're supposed to rescue Chico first, you can actually choose to go for the more difficult approach and rescue Paz first, which adds a whole new angle of challenge and difficulty to the mission. The other side-ops change up the gameplay quite a bit, tasking you with eliminating targets, retrieving intel or even killing body-snatchers.

In terms of mechanics, Ground Zeroes plays similarly to Guns of the Patriots in many ways. The radar and all associated systems have been completely eliminated, meaning that reconnaissance and situational awareness are now crucial to stealthy gameplay. The controversial reflex mode is a major boon in this department - with most of your aids now excised, having that last ditch effort to land a headshot is extremely helpful, without feeling absolutely broken either. Of course, if you're just too damn "hardcore" for this pansy-ass bullshit, then you can just turn it off. And then eat some nails, presumably.

If you do get stuck in a straight-up gunfight, Ground Zeroes' combat is extremely refined. Gunplay is very fun and smooth, not featuring any of the stuttering which was common in Guns of the Patriots. Enemies' animations when they get hit are notable for how surprisingly good they are, with shots to various parts of the body staggering them in that direction. CQC has also seen another makeover, with standard combat chains actually being a viable option, rather than having to rely on chokeholds and hold-ups to get anything done. You can also steal enemy vehicles, such as a jeep, truck or LAV (which has always proven extremely useful to me when extracting Paz).

Despite the game's philosophy of providing player freedom, there are some annoying design decisions which go against this idea. Probably most importantly, the lack of ability to customize your loadout is a major problem which hurts replayability. Sure, you get some bonus weapons at the start of the mission when you replay it, but they're very limited in variety. There's also just a lack of meaningful weapon variety in general, with nearly everything being procure-on-site. The game also locks its 2 bonus side-ops, "Déjà Vu" and "Jamais Vu", behind a collectible hunt. This is rather annoying because this locks off a good 30+ minutes of content (for just a single playthrough) which most players aren't going to bother to unlock. It also doesn't hurt that "Jamais Vu" is arguably the funnest side-op in the whole game.


STORY & CHARACTER ANALYSIS
Like most Metal Gear games, Ground Zeroes opens up with a very impressive cutscene which shows off a Alfonso Cuarón-style continuous tracking shot which shows the player around Camp Omega. Here we are introduced to all of the key players, including the enigmatic villain of the game, Skull Face. Most of the story is told in a rather simple, straightforward manner, but the story itself is fairly compelling. A lot of supplementary information related to backstory is sectioned off in the game's optional and collectible cassette tapes (including all of Paz's secret tapes from Peace Walker). While it will take you over an hour to listen to all of the tapes, I would definitely recommend that you do so, as they fill out the whole political situation surrounding the game's story very well, lend it additional gravitas and show the various characters' motivations. The interrogation cassettes are also rather important as they flesh out Skull Face's character, especially considering that he is basically a shadowy figure off-screen for the whole game.

Of course, there is one very lengthy and difficult-to-listen-to cassette tape which details the torture inflicted upon Chico and Paz, which features Paz being gang raped by the soldiers, having Chico be forced to rape Paz (with Skull Face twisting it into a sick reward for the boy, who you must remember had a crush on her) and having Skull Face be heavily implied to insert a bomb into Paz's vagina. The amount of suffering that she endures is unimaginably awful, and the fact that this sequence is an unlockable "reward" caused a fairly big controversy. Claims that depictions of sexual violence were being used as a "reward" for the player were rather overblown, as I'm sure that most players will concede that these are hardly a "reward" at all, but rather plot explanation. You could definitely argue about the necessity of such depictions, but this was one controversial aspect of the game which I think was overblown from people who didn't actually play the game.

It's also worth realizing that all of the torture inflicted on Paz ties into this game's main theme, which revolves around the ethically bankrupt actions carried out by governments. Camp Omega is clearly intended to be a representation of Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and the tortures inflicted on the characters are meant to be a commentary on the moral shadiness of American anti-terrorism methods. The game compounds this idea with its theme song, "Here's to You" (which was previously used in Guns of the Patriots' closing credits). The song is about a pair of anarchists who were executed by the American government in the 1920s, who are believed to have been executed for their political beliefs rather than any actual actions the pair might have committed. The song plays at a few key moments throughout the game, particularly during the opening and when Paz is being tortured by Skull Face.

With these themes in mind, I don't believe that this game is truly about Big Boss, as it may seem to be at first glance. In my opinion, this game is all about Paz. She is the one invoked by "Here's to You", the martyr who is killed by the government, and the only character who has a real arc in the game. In her own audio tapes at the end of Peace Walker she reveals a conflicted desire to turn on Cipher and live as a true student of peace, but those dreams were lost. She also revealed a dislike of Chico, but when the two of them are being tortured she seems to warm up to him a lot. She even comforts him throughout their torture, even when he is forced to rape her and even though she is receiving the brunt of their depravity. She also refuses to break throughout the interrogations until Skull Face presents her with an offer - Big Boss's life for Zero's location. Betrayed by her own organization and perhaps looking to redeem herself for her previous actions, Paz sacrifices her own life to help ensure Big Boss's survival. This is further demonstrated by her willingness to throw herself out of the helicopter at the end when she realizes that they didn't find the second bomb planted on her. All of the suffering she is inflicted with makes Paz seem like something of a Christ-figure in this game. It's easy to miss all of these plot points though if you don't dive into the game's audio tapes. Without them, this is a simple story about how Big Boss rescues a couple of targets. With them, this is a story about Paz's struggles, her choices, her strength in the face of evil, and her defiance until the end.


Ground Zeroes suffers a bit as a prologue though. If the purpose of a prologue is to set up the events which unfold in the greater story, then Ground Zeroes is rather inadequate. Judged from this game alone, you'd think that The Phantom Pain would be primarily concerned with the dark side of nationalism/government control, but those plot points are never raised again. The only way that the two are really connected in a meaningful way is that it sets up Big Boss's desire for revenge, but if you want a really tight narrative (especially in a two-part release) then you should at least try to work in the other themes in the game, rather than just the simple motivations. This is, of course, not entirely this game's fault, but it is a strange point which makes some of the more fantastical elements of The Phantom Pain more awkward, especially after the extreme seriousness of Ground Zeroes.

All-in-all, Ground Zeroes is a very fun, but limited game. Questions of the length and value of the game persist long after its release. It is definitely a fun experience, but it really does feel like a rather large demo when all is said and done. Luckily, it is also quite cheap to acquire these days, making questions of value less of a deal-breaker for more people. For my own part, I'd recommend checking it out before jumping on board with The Phantom Pain, but be sure to experience the main story and the side-ops for maximum enjoyment.

7.5/10

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Rising - Revengeance (2013)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to be covering the ninth game in the franchise, 2013's Raiden-based spin-off Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance! After a troubled development cycle and some major fan backlash, would this game manage to prove itself worthy of the Metal Gear name? Read on to find out...


DEVELOPMENT
The original version of the game which would eventually become Metal Gear Rising: RevengeanceMetal Gear Solid: Rising, was announced in 2009 at Microsoft's E3 press conference. After the praise Raiden had received for his portrayal in Guns of the Patriots, there was a strong fan demand for another game in the franchise with him in the lead role. Kojima actually wanted a game with Gray Fox, but staff and fans pushed him to focus on Raiden instead. The game was intended to bridge the gap between Sons of Liberty and Guns of the Patriots, explaining how Raiden became a cyborg ninja, how he rescued Sunny from The Patriots and how he retrieved the body of Big Boss. A trailer was released the next year featuring Raiden absorbing robotic enemies' power cells and with a gratuitous amount of watermelon-cutting. According to the development team, the game would allow fast-paced action while remaining a stealth game at the core, with the ability to "cut anything".

However, the game was quickly finding itself running into trouble as it was simply not working well as a stealth-action hybrid. To put it simply, it wasn't working at all and by 2011 Kojima pulled the plug on the game, but not before concept work on the bosses and script was completed. The project was then handed over to Platinum Games, of Bayonetta fame. Considering their previous history with fast-paced action games, this was a fantastic move. However, fan reaction was very negative, as the shift from stealth to pure action was seen as betraying the series' roots. To these fans, the shift in direction had effectively "ruined" a game that they hadn't played.

Under Platinum Games, the game was retitled, reworked into more of a pure action game and set post-Guns of the Patriots. Stealth was essentially removed except for optional instant stealth-kills and some cutting-based environmental kills that the player can pull off. Platinum Games also upped the game's framerate to 60 fps, a request that Kojima himself asked for as Rising was originally going to be only 30 fps. It was also revealed that the cutscenes, settings and story were written by Kojima Productions, while Platinum Games focused on the gameplay.

A year after the game's initial release, the game was ported to PC, the first game in the franchise to receive a PC release since Metal Gear Solid: Integral back in 2000. All subsequent Metal Gear games would receive PC ports as well.


Friday, 15 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid - Peace Walker (2010)

Welcome back to part eight of the Metal Gear retrospective. In this entry we're going to be covering Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the second canon installment on the PSP. With the franchise effectively wrapped up in Guns of the Patriots, would Peace Walker find a reasonable justification to keep the franchise alive? Read on to find out...

(Note, I will be reviewing this game based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3, and will consequently be directing quite a bit of commentary towards the work put into the port. That said, I played the PSP original as well back when the game was released, so I can give some comparisons on how the two different versions perform.)


DEVELOPMENT
Shortly after the completion of Guns of the Patriots, Kojima Productions went back to work on another Metal Gear game. Considering how definitively Guns of the Patriots wrapped up the series, there was some concern about whether another game would be able to justify itself as something other than a cash-in or that it might unravel the series' narrative once again. Peace Walker was announced alongside Metal Gear Solid: Rising (a Raiden-based spin-off which was going to tell the story of how Sunny was rescued from the Patriots), and it was stated that these two games would essentially be Metal Gear Solid 5, although Kojima publicly considered Peace Walker the true series successor. While Rising ended up languishing and was ultimately cancelled and then repurposed into Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance years later, Peace Walker proceeded much more smoothly, with Kojima at the helm once again.

Peace Walker was revealed to be another prequel game, focusing on Big Boss and the establishment of Outer Heaven. In fact, it sounds to me like Peace Walker and its immediate successors, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain might have been the first Metal Gear games which were made with future installments in mind, as this quote of Kojima's original vision for Peace Walker's story suggests:
"Solid Snake's storyline has ended with Metal Gear Solid 4. But there's still a lot more when it comes to Big Boss' storyline. The Cold War was a time where people, neither good nor evil, were manipulated by various factors, and they became good or evil. The same goes for Liquid Snake, and we'll get to see just what happened to him."
Obviously if you have played Peace Walker, then you know that Liquid Snake does not feature at all, but this promise would be fulfilled 5 years later when The Phantom Pain was released, suggesting to me that Kojima had a very grand vision for the future of Metal Gear and for filling in the gaps between Snake Eater and Metal Gear.

Another interesting note about the game's development is that this is the first Metal Gear game to be specifically targeted towards younger gamers, which saw the game secure a Teen rating from the ESRB. This was an especially baffling distinction for me, because Portable Ops' content was no worse than Peace Walker's (and in fact, Peace Walker was a lot more frank and juvenile when it came to sexual/suggestive content). This makes me wonder if the split-second decapitations in one cutscene were enough for Portable Ops to get pushed over the edge, which would be rather ridiculous if it was the case. That said, there is an unspoken rule in the ESRB that subsequent games in a franchise will almost always get the same rating as the previous release, unless they intentionally go for something higher or lower. This doesn't really affect the game much either way, but it was a rather strange note in the game's development.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

IC2S Playlist Update 13/01/2016


First up this week is "Space Oddity" by David Bowie from his 1969 self-titled album. I picked this song for really obvious reasons, seeing that David Bowie passed away suddenly and tragically this week. I can't really call myself a huge David Bowie fan by any means, but he was one of those huge presences in popular culture which is always there, but one which you never really consider that they're going to fade away - even moreso considering he was only 69 bloody years old. The release of The Phantom Pain has also helped to make this death more impactful for me, as Kojima wove David Bowie references all through that game.

"Space Oddity" is probably the most popular Bowie song, with Chris Hadfield's cover being a particularly fantastic tribute. I have some fond memories of this song, as my brother and I sang it a capella in the back of my parents' van on the way to Niagara Falls... we probably were really annoying our parents with our crappy singing, but it was a fun and oddly-distinct memory that will forever be associate with this song. Plus, y'know, it's just a freaking great song. You will be missed David.


Secondly we have "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" by The Beatles from Abbey Road. Holy shit, The Beatles are now on Spotify! I believe that I lamented months ago that I wanted to include this song on the playlist, but couldn't as The Beatles weren't on Spotify... no longer though! Getting the rights for The Beatles must have been a big coup for Spotify, and gives me some hope that perhaps one day I might get to add some Tool tracks to the playlist.

As for this song, it's fantastic. It's shockingly heavy, having far more in common with modern hard rock/metal than a 60s rock song. As a result, it's probably my favourite Beatles song.

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 4 - Guns of the Patriots (2008)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the seventh entry in the franchise, 2008's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. After years upon years of convoluted storytelling and epic moments, it looked as if the Metal Gear franchise was finally drawing to a close, with a storyline that promised to wrap up Solid Snake's story for good. After all the batshit insanity that had characterized the franchise up until this point though, was it even possible to produce a game that could tie together the disparate elements of Metal Gear lore? Read on to find out...


DEVELOPMENT
After the completion of Snake Eater, Kojima announced that he would be retiring from the Metal Gear series (he had previously made this declaration after Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty, but he seemed to actually intend to go through with it this time). Shuyo Murata, co-writer of Snake Eater and the director of the Kojima-related Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, was announced to be the game's director. However, Kojima soon took over directing, writing and producing the game with Murata after some extreme fans became absolutely livid, sending out death threats to get Kojima back in charge.

Guns of the Patriots was officially announced in 2005 at a Sony press conference and then at E3, where it was revealed to be a culmination of the Solid Snake storyline, tying up all the story arcs for the characters and bringing back most of the surviving fan favourites. It was also announced that the game would be a PS3 exclusive as the franchise had been fostered on PlayStation hardware for the last 3 entries, although he was open to potentially porting it. Over time, it was also revealed that Snake would be significantly aged for this appearance and that this would be the last game in the Metal Gear series. An emphasis was placed on stealth within an "evolving battlefield", with the option being there to befriend a faction to sway the tide of the battle. This was summed up by the philosophy of "No Place to Hide", forcing the player to utilize faction allegiances and the new OctoCamo system.

The game also had a few scenes of female nudity which were cut - specifically, the Beauties were supposed to be naked, and the female undergarments that Snake finds at the end of Act II were actually supposed to lead to a naked female soldier. These were cut to avoid a potential AO rating though (I can understand the Beauties as that would have been ridiculously gratuitous considering how much the camera lingers on their clothed boobs and butts already, but I don't see how the naked female soldier would have been something that would land the game an AO rating).

Shortly before the game's release, Kojima revealed that the PS3 hardware hadn't left him entirely satisfied. His development team had entirely filled up the 50GB Blu-Ray disc limit for the game and had still been forced to compress elements to get it all to fit, reducing the quality of (for example) textures. The PS3's Blu-Ray drive and limited HDD space also necessitated chapter-by-chapter installs to reduce load times.

The game was released on June 12, 2008, early in the PS3's lifecycle. As a result, it predated the release of the PlayStation Network trophy system, meaning that the game had no trophies to acquire. Fans requested this feature to be patched in for years, but it seemed that this would never happen. However, in the summer of 2012, it was finally revealed that Konami was going to patch trophies into the game. The news was welcome, but people who have played the game can tell you that the amount of work required to get a Platinum in this game is insane - you have to beat the game at least 7 times and put in at least 100 hours of work to receive it. Considering that the game had already been out for 4 years and that some players had actually done the requirements to get the Platinum already before the patch (with no compensatory reward), it's simply not worth the effort to acquire it in my opinion. The trophy patch coincided with an option to fully-install the game instead of having to install at the start of every new chapter, filling in one of the game's biggest complaints on launch.

Guns of the Patriots also played host to the next generation of Metal Gear Online. It was the first online shooter that I really got into and I used to play this all the time. It was slower-paced and far more unique than most online shooters of the era (this was when Call of Duty was really starting to take off). I have many a fond memory of laying down Playboy traps to catch enemies off guard and then take them out, as well as being the deadliest sniper in most matches that I played in. The game played well, but it predated the uniform adoption of PSN synchronicity across online games, meaning that you had to log into 2 separate Konami accounts to actually play online. It could also be very difficult, as headshots were lethal with basically any weapon. Unfortunately, MGO's servers were shut down around the time that the trophy patch was released. Still, it was a very fun experience that I will always remember very fondly. Playing through Guns of the Patriots' areas which were reused for maps in MGO brought the memories flooding back...


Monday, 11 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid - Portable Ops (2006)

Welcome back for part six of the Metal Gear retrospective. In this entry, we're going to be covering Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. As the first canonical entry in the series on a portable system, would this rather ambitious game carry the signature Metal Gear gameplay over the PSP successfully? Read on to find out...

(Note, I did own a copy of this game for PSP and actually beat it 3 or 4 times on that system, but I have since sold my PSP and copy of the game. As a result, I would have bought the game for PS Vita, but Konami refuses to make it available for that system for some reason... likely due to some licensing agreement. Consequently, I was basically forced to use an emulator in order to play the game again, although this didn't impact the review negatively. That said, if you can play this game on PSP or PS Vita, I would recommend it. The game is meant to be a mobile experience, and I found the emulator I used did not handle the game particularly well - the game seized up during a couple boss battles, almost to the point where I had to throw in the towel, and using the thermal goggles rendered the game unplayable.)


DEVELOPMENT
Prior to Portable Ops' release, Konami had already released two Metal Gear Ac!d games on the PSP which, while rather fun, played far differently than any main series game and were explicitly non-canon (in addition to the Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel which was released on the PSP as well). This all changed though with the announcement of Portable Ops, a game which promised to carry over the gameplay of the Subsistence re-release of Snake Eater, while also bridging the narrative gaps to make way for Guns of the Patriots. In fact, the game was largely sold on the idea that, in order to fully understand the plot of Guns of the Patriots, players would have to complete Portable Ops first. In interviews, many of the people involved in the game were quoted saying that Portable Ops' story would complete Snake Eater and lay the groundwork for the creation of Outer Heaven.

Portable Ops' development is also notable for being the first time that a canonical game in the franchise was directed by someone other than Hideo Kojima. The game was directed by Masahiro Yamamoto and written by Gakuto Mikumo, with Kojima serving as producer on the project. Kojima had wanted to have this sort of hands-off relationship with the Metal Gear series since the release of Metal Gear Solid, so I imagine that he found it refreshing to finally hand the reins to someone else for once while he focused his attention on Guns of the Patriots. In addition to being touted as a major piece of the franchise's story, the game also saw the introduction of a number of new systems which would go on to become staples in the latter games in the series, while also borrowing heavily from Subsistence's multiplayer component, Metal Gear Online.


Saturday, 9 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 3 - Snake Eater (2004)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the fifth canonical installment in the franchise, 2004's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater! After all of the controversy surrounding the release of Sons of Liberty, would Kojima manage to win the fans back with a back-to-basics prequel? Read on to find out...

(For this retrospective, I played the HD edition re-release on PS3. Unlike Sons of Liberty, there aren't really any HD re-release issues worth noting, but I will comment on the improvements which were added in the Subsistence re-release. Also, this happens to be the Metal Gear game which I have the most familiarity with: I played the original PS2 version around 7 or 8 years ago, two different versions of the Subsistence re-release, the HD edition and even the PS Vita version as well... in fact, I think the 3DS version is the only release I haven't played before. All told, I have beaten the game around 10 times total so I'd hope that this makes me a fairly knowledgeable source on this game.)


DEVELOPMENT
While Kojima has almost always made every Metal Gear game with the intention of not making another, he had actually intended for Sons of Liberty to be the last game in the franchise. With this entry, Kojima decided to go for a very different feel by setting the game in the jungle and far away from the enemy base. Perhaps due to the negative response over Raiden in the previous entry, Kojima elected to make the main character of Snake Eater be Big Boss, meaning that he could do whatever he wanted to in the game and that fans would be pacified by a character who resembles Solid Snake.

Snake Eater was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 game, but the lifespan of the PlayStation 2 ended up being much longer than anticipated. As a result, the game was scaled down somewhat and made to function on PS2, which was quite the technical accomplishment - Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty were both such claustrophobic games because of technical constraints, so the fact that they were able to portray a lively jungle setting on PS2 hardware was astounding. In order to compensate, the game's frame rate was slashed from 60fps to 30fps (ironically, this higher framerate would actually be restored when the game did hit the PS3 in the HD edition re-release). Many fans had also requested a fully-3D camera for Snake Eater, but Kojima decided to stick with the fixed, top-down camera in the game's initial release. His reasoning was that this was a part of a "Metal Gear Solid trilogy" and felt that some consistency was required as a result. This would be the last game in the franchise (thus far anyway) to do so.

In early development, the game's story revolved around the space race. This theme was ultimately scrapped, but elements of the Cold War space race still persist within the game's story, between the origin of The Fury and The Boss's secret attempt to be the first person sent into space. The game was also going to be set on August 24, 1963, Kojima's birthday, but was pushed forward a year in order to incorporate JFK's assassination. Kojima had also intended in include many more Cold War-era spy gadgets into the final story, but his team's planned visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. was cut short due to the Beltway Sniper Attacks (a shooting spree that I can actually recall hearing about frequently as a 12-year-old child).

Snake Eater also had some interesting bonus additions which would only be available on the PS2 releases of the game. First of these is the Snake vs Monkey mini-game which crossed over the franchise with Ape Escape. There was also an easter egg dream sequence mini-game known as "Guy Savage" where you have to fight vampires, which was inexplicably removed from the game in subsequent re-releases.

Two years after the game's initial release, an expanded version of the game was released called Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. The main difference to the main game is that the player can now choose between the fixed camera and a 3D interactive camera, which by itself was enough to warrant a purchase. In addition, the game also featured 1 or 2 bonus discs (depending on whether you bought the limited edition or not) which would not be present in later re-releases of the game. The first bonus disc (Persistence) featured the first incarnation of Metal Gear Online, plus it had an expanded version of Snake vs Monkey, a theater mode and full versions of the MSX Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (marking the first time that this game was available in North America). The second bonus disc (Existence) had a 3 hour version of the game's cutscenes mashed together to create a miniature film version of the game's events. The Subsistence release of the game would go on to be the basis of all subsequent re-releases and is widely considered the "definitive version" of the game.


Friday, 8 January 2016

Gun Control, and Why Partisan Politics Need to Die

As you have probably heard by now, during this past week President Obama has taken executive action to try to push some more gun regulation in the US. Predictably, there has been considerable backlash to this decision, particularly by the NRA and Republican Presidential candidates. However, this condemnation obviously has nothing to do with the actual content of Obama's action, but rather partisan politics at their absolute "finest". This is an effective demonstration on just how politicians treat us like dog shit for their political ploys, why politicians can't have any sort of integrity and one reason why our democracies are so horrifically ineffectual. For the good of the public, this is my short diatribe on why partisan politics need to die now.

Before moving ahead, I guess I should probably clarify exactly what I mean when I say "partisan politics". At its broadest, partisan simply refers to identification to a political party in general, but in the last few decades it has been twisted into a political strategy. Now, politicians have to solely serve their party's interests and refuse to compromise with their opponents. In a Canadian context, this quote by Stephen Ledrew from The Globe and Mail illustrates our own partisan politics quite well:
"Party loyalty is a crutch for those with lazy minds, and stark partisanship simply makes public discourse cheap and ill-informed. For example, how often has one heard that Stephen Harper is an elitist Conservative, not reflecting Canadian values? How often has one read that Justin Trudeau is just a Liberal scion who represents a last-ditch attempt by his party to resuscitate itself to its former glory? Or that Thomas Mulcair is a tax-and-spend NDipper? Certainly often enough to persuade an outsider that party labels are a major factor in political decision-making in Canada. But will voting by party label provide good government to Canada?"



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid 2 - Sons of Liberty (2001)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the fourth game in the franchise, 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty! After the massive, genre-defining success that was Metal Gear Solid, would Hideo Kojima's big follow-up manage to deliver on the expectations of fans? Read on to find out...

Before we go on further, in the interest of disclosure I feel that I should mention that when I first played this game 7 or 8 years ago it was easily one of my least-favourite entries in the Metal Gear franchise (in fact, the second most popular post on this blog is about me complaining about how poorly-handled the main character is). I had only beaten it the one time though, so the replay required for this retrospective has given me a much-needed refresher. I was especially curious to replay it because, in recent years, the game has gotten a major reassessment and I have heard it hailed as Kojima's "masterpiece". Has time softened my attitude? That's another thing for you to keep an eye on as we continue onwards...

(I originally played this game on PS2. For the purposes of this retrospective, I played the Substance re-release contained in the HD re-release on PS3. In case you're curious, the only real differences between the standard release and Substance are a bunch of VR missions and some very negligible differences in the environments.)


DEVELOPMENT
After the massive success of Metal Gear Solid cemented Solid Snake's exploits in popular culture, the world was eager for a follow-up as the game left many plot threads dangling. Shortly after completing Metal Gear Soliddevelopment on a sequel began in 1999. Not really having another story in mind kind of came back to bite Kojima in the ass as he tried to figure out what direction to take the game.

The game was plagued with real-world issues which made settling on a story difficult. Apparently the game was originally meant to involve nuclear weapons inspections in Iraq and Iran, with Snake having to take out Metal Gear on board an aircraft carrier within a time limit. Liquid Snake was also supposed to be the villain, probably because Kojima expressed regret over killing him off when he found out how popular he was. However, this plot was dropped after about a half a year into the project when tensions in the Middle East made such a story unappealing. The aircraft carrier concept was carried over into the final game though, being reworked into Sons of Liberty's prologue "Tanker" chapter.

The final game also received some major cuts as it was set in Manhattan and released mere months after 9/11. As a result, a major scene near the end of the game depicting Arsenal Gear crashing into Manhattan was removed, as was a scene where Raiden causes an American flag to cover Solidus Snake's body. Raiden's name was also altered in the Japanese version, as there were concerns that "Raiden" was too similar to "Bin Laden". Bizarrely, the game was originally going to be titled Metal Gear Solid III, with the Roman numerals representing the Manhattan skyline. Naturally, if they had actually decided to carry through with this, then 9/11 would have screwed this idea as well.

Also, no mention of Sons of Liberty's development would be complete without mentioning the marketing. Kojima pulled off one of the biggest trolls ever when he centered all of the game's hype around Solid Snake. Raiden was a periphery character in the marketing and the people who actually noticed him, naturally, expected that he would be nothing more than a supporting sidekick...


Wednesday, 6 January 2016

IC2S Playlist Update 06/01/2016


First up this week we have "Blind" by Korn from their self-titled debut. I have a bit of an odd history with Korn: I saw them live in 2011 when they were double-headlining a concert with Disturbed, but didn't really care for much of their music. However, I grew to really like the band's (former, at the time) guitarist, Brian "Head" Welch, his conversion story and fantastic side-projects The Whosoevers, Save Me From Myself (the book and the album) and Love & Death, which make significantly better music than Korn proper. Through Head, I have retroactively been finding more interest in the band, and actually can appreciate a few of their earlier albums now. Their first, self-titled album is arguably their best though, and so I figured it was appropriate to put their first big hit, "Blind", on the playlist as it exemplifies the best of their sound.

I was pretty torn between a couple other songs though. I had been seriously considering "Ball Tongue", although deferred from it because I only really like the first 40 seconds of it. I was also really mulling over "Daddy", but decided against it for a couple reasons. First of all, it's excessively vulgar. More importantly though, it's a rather strange song with some really sloppy craftwork. However, it makes up for this by being extremely passionate. By the time that "mother" is singing softly while Jonathan Davis literally bawls like a baby, you can tell that this is a really special moment and that Jonathan is working some major issues out in front of us. For that reason I rather like it, but it just wouldn't work particularly well on its own in a playlist.

...so, uh, yeah I picked "Blind" this week.


Secondly, we have "Hearts of Iron" by Sabaton from their most recent album, Heroes. The album recounts the accomplishments of exceptional individuals during wars, from archetypal war heroes (Audie Murphy), to brave medics (Leslie "Bull" Allan), to the lesser-known efforts of units who fought back in spite of overwhelming odds ("Night Witches", "Resist and Bite"). "Hearts of Iron" is an interesting choice in all of this as it recounts the heroism of the German 9th and 12th armies, who fought through the Soviet army to allow German refugees to surrender to the West. I like that Sabaton acknowledges that, even if you're on the losing side of a conflict and have been in support of a horrifically evil regime, you can still be a hero by doing good and saving innocent people. Not only did this action allow these refugees to get on the nicer side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, but this also allowed these innocents to avoid the Rape of Berlin, an action which I would put up amongst the most despicable actions of the entire war. Considering that we have mythologized the Second World War as being a "good" conflict and placed ourselves upon the moral pedestal, it's absolutely despicable that these sorts of atrocities have been swept under the rug of history for not fitting into our narrative. War, even one that is justified, is still a source of great evil and should be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear Solid (1998)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the third, and arguably most popular, game in the franchise, 1998's Metal Gear Solid. This game often ends up in the top 5 in "Greatest Games of All Time" lists. Does it still retain its legendary status more than 17 years since its initial release? Read on to find out...

(Note, I have beaten this game once on an emulator in 2007 or 2008 and have experimented with a PS1 copy of it a few times on PS2/PS3. For this playthrough, I decided to try the game out on PS Vita. It played very closely to the PS1 version with no real detriments. The lack of L2/R2 buttons required a bit of experimenting, but I ended up remapping them to the right analog stick with considerable success. If you play the game on Vita, I'd recommend keeping it on digital mode, mapping movement to the D-pad and left analog stick and then mapping L2/R2 to the right analog stick, as this is a very intuitive solution and considerably better than using the awful touch controls.)


DEVELOPMENT
Following the completion of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake in 1990, Hideo Kojima moved on to other projects. While he did have plans of putting out a third game on the 3DO in 1994, he instead worked on his own original IP, Policenauts, which would further develop his talents as a director and storyteller. Policenauts is also notable for having a number of references to the Metal Gear series, and actually marked the first appearance of Meryl Silverburgh, who would later be carried over into Metal Gear Solid. By the time that Policenauts was completed in 1995, Kojima was looking into another Metal Gear for the 3DO, but the console was in a decline. As a result, development shifted onto the original PlayStation.

Given how much time had passed since the last Metal Gear release, and not to mention that there were two different continuities depending on the region where each game was played, Kojima decided to give the series a very "soft" reboot and titled the game Metal Gear Solid, retaining the events from the previous games, but not requiring a knowledge of them to be appreciated.

The developers tried to make the game as accurate as possible, utilizing SWAT team members as advisers. The game's artists also put a lot of effort into small details within the environment with the aim of making the experience as authentic as possible. Levels were also occasionally designed using Lego pieces to conceptualize the game's spaces. Kojima also wanted to have persistent bodies that would have to be hidden by the player and a dynamically-altered soundtrack. These ambitions were unachievable on the PS1 hardware, but would become possible in subsequent games in the franchise.

Following its initial release in 1998, Metal Gear Solid also received a number of re-releases and a remake. In 1999, a re-release called Metal Gear Solid: Integral was released in Japan with some slight improvements to the game which had been missing from the original Japanese release, but present in the North American version of the game (such as different difficulty levels and the first person camera). The game also packed in a series of simulated gameplay challenges that would be repackaged in international markets as Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. A remake was also released in 2004 called Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. The game was developed by Silicon Knights and exclusive to the Gamecube. The Twin Snakes' gameplay was updated to match Sons of Liberty, and featured re-recorded dialogue and altered cutscenes. As a result of the changes to the original game, including some major tonal dissonance and gameplay-breaking elements, this remake was not particularly liked amongst fans of the series. The game also received one more "pseudo-remake" in the form of the Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel, which is essentially an interactive retelling of the game.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear 2 - Solid Snake (1990)

Welcome back to the Metal Gear retrospective! In this entry we're going to cover the second canonical game in the franchise, 1990's Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. How would Kojima build upon the foundation he set up in 1987's Metal Gear? Read on to find out...

(Similarly to the first game in the series, I will be reviewing Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3 on Original difficulty. Also, unlike Metal Gear, which I had gotten about 30 minutes into on a couple occasions, I went into this game completely blind and relied heavily on a guide to complete it.)


DEVELOPMENT
The NES port of Metal Gear ended up becoming a big success for Konami, despite being an inferior bastardization of the MSX version. As a result, Konami ordered the creation of a NES-only sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake's Revenge, without the knowledge of series creator Hideo Kojima, who had been busy stretching his storytelling and directing talents on the cult classic Snatcher series. In fact, Kojima didn't even know that Snake's Revenge existed until a fateful train ride where he met a member of the game's development staff. In the meeting, the developer asked Kojima to make a "true" Metal Gear sequel. While he hadn't planned on making a sequel to Metal Gear, by the end of the train ride Kojima had come up with the game's storyline and got the go-ahead from Konami. As a result, Solid Snake was considered the Japanese sequel on MSX2 and Snake's Revenge was considered the North American sequel on NES (similarly to how Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels was the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). In fact, the game would not see an official release in North America until 2006 when it was included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence.


Friday, 1 January 2016

Retrospective: Metal Gear (1987)

Kept you waiting, huh? It's finally time for the Metal Gear retrospective! I've spent way too much time over the past few months getting through every canonical game in the franchise and then writing up my analyses, so hopefully you enjoy the fruits of my labour. For this retrospective, we'll be only looking at the 11 canonical installments in the Metal Gear franchise, and then I'll cap everything off with some final words, a ranking of the series' 10 greatest moments and my personal ranking of all the games in the franchise! First up is the game which started it all, 1987's Metal Gear for the MSX2.

(Note, I will be reviewing this game based on the HD Edition re-release on PS3, which I beat on Original difficulty to try to get the "authentic experience". I will also mention that I hadn't completed Metal Gear before this playthrough and was relying heavily on a guide, so my review is probably going to be somewhat skewed as a result.)


DEVELOPMENT
A young Hideo Kojima joined Konami in 1986 as a planner, but was having trouble getting his ideas completed. After the cancellation of a game he had been working on for six months, Konami asked Kojima to come up with a war game for them for the MSX2. Due to hardware limitations, Kojima was becoming frustrated by the lack of bullet and enemy sprites he was able to get on screen at once. A massive film buff*, Kojima took inspiration from The Great Escape and decided to make a game where the goal was to avoid combat as much as possible. Konami wasn't too keen on this idea, and Kojima nearly left the company due to internal friction, but eventually these differences were sorted out and the game was completed and released in 1987.

Shortly after Metal Gear's completion, the game's code was given to a separate team to release a NES port without Kojima's knowledge or consent. The heads at Konami specified that they wanted this version to be as different as the team could make it, and gave them a 3 month development window. The resulting game was markedly different and much shoddier, with notoriously bad Engrish and with the game's Metal Gear boss being replaced by a supercomputer, among other questionable changes. This already-inferior port was further tarnished by being ported again to the shoddier Commodore 64 and MS-DOS, resulting in two practically unplayable versions of the game.

As I played the PS3 re-release, which is very slightly changed from the MSX2 version, I can't really give much commentary on the NES port or its bastards, but I will link to this review for an analysis if you're interested. For quite some time though, the NES port was the only version of Metal Gear available in North America, and actually received its own non-canon sequel, Metal Gear 2: Snake's Revenge. Suffice to say, that game will not be covered in this retrospective.