28/10/09

As enjoyable and fulfilling as beating people’s heads in with large, blunt instruments, and watching their brains fly about everywhere as a result might be, there’s always the risk of going through the nuisance of getting arrested and locked up for the rest of your mentally unstable life.
-unless you live in one of certain states of America, where the government can legally butcher you over it.-
Enter video games.
Of course, you have to weed out the boring ones with silly things like story or moral choices and other such garbage.
UNLESS
you’re an interesting person, moderately to decently pleasant to have around. In which case Rise of the Argonauts might be something for you.

And I say ‘might’ because giving a game a Greek-Mythological setting doesn’t necessarily equal perfection, as it should. I know.
As the title suggests, the game tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts, or at least it pretends it does. I’m actually fairly certain that after the designers decided on the name and setting, they gave a copy of the ancient myth to the writers who read it and said ‘This is really good stuff! We could use some elements of this in the game!” And the fact that I put ‘some elements of this’ in bold AND italics should show you the gravity of these words.

You play as Jason, who in this version of the tale is king of Iolcus and who is about to marry Alceme, the princess of Mycenae. However, your bride is shot just before your wedding is sealed with a kiss, and your palace comes under attack by masked mercenaries. Your first objective is to kill everyone who opposes you, but the fact that it’s an objective seems, to me, futile, as the only possible way in the game to go from point a to point b is by swimming in the ocean created by the bodies of those foolish enough to stand against you. The opening level serves as a tutorial to teach you about your three weapons -spear, sword and mace, in that order- and your shield.

Once everyone of the zillion mobs is dead, you face your bride’s assassin, beat him, and interrogate him. You end the interrogation by smashing his skill in with your mace. Next you see a scene where you cry over the loss of your bride so loudly the frikkin’ GODS show up to comfort you. Four of them, to be precise: Ares, Hermes, Apollo and Athena. They tell you the only way to bring back the girl is by retrieving the Golden Fleece from Tartaros. Not Colchis. Tartaros. The deepest pit of the fucking Underworld. To do so you travel to the ‘lost Oracle of Apollo’ that ‘noone has ever found’ but that you just come across by following your gut, leaving your advisor and uncle, Pelias, in charge. For those of you unfamiliar with the original myth of Jason, Pelias is the brother of Jason’s father, Aison, who kills him and takes the throne of Iolchis from him while Jason is away. Pelias promises the throne to Jason if he brings him the Golden Fleece.
Now, if you didn’t know that, Pelias’ evilness in this game is evident in the sinister, plotting voice he uses, if not the big-ass scar running down the side of his face.

Anyway, the Oracle tells you to find living, mortal descendants of the other three Gods who decided to help you (Ares, Hermes and Athena) so their blood can be used in some mojo jumbo to open a gateway to Tartaros. On your journeys you uncover a secret cult of Hekate, originally named the Black Tongues, who wish to conquer the world and who are responsible for the death of your bride and cutscenes show us that Pelias is the grandmaster of this cult surprise surprise.
You will sail to three places on the Argo, a steampunk ship, and along the way collect the descendants, and four Argonauts; Greek heroes who join you on your quest. This means that, in good old party-based games, you select two of them at the start of each mission, and they accompany you until the end of that mission. They each have their own skills and talents -Hercules is a giant who can rip people apart, Atalanta is an archer, Pan uses sorcery and Achilles is a nimble spear-fighter- that all seem to be variations of the same theme: make enemies dead. I did not find any advantage or disadvantage over choosing certain argonauts over others so I stoically went with the hot chick and the hulking brute every time.

And yes, you read correctly. Achilles is a member of Jason’s crew  and party. I really, really blame Brad Pitt for this travesty, as well for the fact he is the single most insufferable character in the game. There’re good ways to do arrogant characters, and making them annoying to the point you wish they were real so you could throw them down a life volcano and then drop a nuclear missile on that volcano, then shooting each of the remains with a rocket launcher isn’t a good way to do arrogant characters.

Story aside, the game completely took me by surprised by the sheer fact it doesn’t suck horribly. Combat is pretty standard: press left mouse button for a quick attack, press right for a heavy attack, and switching between three weapons every now and again makes for a surprisingly refreshing experience. And as I said, using a large, blunt instrument to smash someone’s head in is always a fulfilling experience.
What I really liked, however, was the way the four gods were incorporated into gameplay. Through the course of the game you will fulfill certain ‘deeds’. Call them achievements if you’re an Xbox 360 whore. Many of them are rewards from optional quests, but a lot are tied to the main storyline, or are simply unavoidable, like murder five million people kill a number of human opponents. These deeds can then be dedicated to one of the four gods, which increases your favour with that god. This means that a bar for that god fills up, and once it’s fully, you gain a point. This point can then be used to purchase powers derived from that god.
That’s right. Rise of the Argonauts wants to be an RPG, but instead of one experience bar, you now have four. And it’s your choice which ones you fill in. Each god has a certain area of expertise and upgrades a certain aspect of Jason. Ares will make your attacks more vicious, and grant you mace-specific powers. Hermes will increase your speed and give sword powers. Apollo will give protection and healing and improve your shield, while Athena lets you strike enemies from afar with her father’s (Zeus’) lightning, and improves your spear.
Another way to improve your favour with the gods is through the dialogue system. You can decide Jason’s personality by choosing his lines during dialogues with other characters. The compassionate options will give you favour with Apollo, the wise, rational options does well with Athena, the selfish, cunning options scores you Hermes-points and Ares really digs violent reactions. The fact that you can only ‘specialize’ in just under two gods was the game’s attempt at replayability, but given the linearity, and predictability of the story, I simply couldn’t give a toss to go at it a second time.  Especially since I could get through pretty much the entire game without using any one of the godpowers.

Rise of the Argonauts is a game that seems to have a lot of things in common with Mass Effect, but just fails to execute those things properly. It’s not a bad game, mind you. It’s just mediocre. Great fun to play through a first time. However, it really wants to incorporate a lot of RPG elements, while at the same time it is trying very hard not to be an RPG. I applaud it’s creators for setting the game in the very awesome, yet vastly underused Greek Mythology setting, but they almost immediately lose those kudos by wanting to incorporate every popular Greek myth, while at the same time completely disregarding the story line of the myth they base their game on. For example:
-Achilles is a gladiator in Mycenae, with Patroclos being his pimp manager.
-Daedalos is an engineer and master-smith working in the Mycenaean  arena.
-Centaurs don’t have a bloodlust.
-Pan is a satyr, not a god.
-Medusa is a high-priestess of Athena, who turned into a monster because of her own vanity. Her gaze doesn’t petrify. At least not in the literal sense of the word. You can, however, beat her by showing her ugliness in her reflection in your shield, so bonus points for that.
-Jason and his wife live happily ever after. What spoiler? OFCOURSE they do! It’s a fucking law of physics the story ends like that! The sheer lameness of the ending scene killed me a bit inside.
-The biggest disappointment, however, goes to the role of Medea. She is not a love interest, as that would screw with Jason’s ‘I love my bride so much I’m willing to enter hell for her’ ideals. Despite this, she is presented as the game’s Moody Goth Chick(tm) sorceress character, who used to be a Black Tongue herself, but now fights them. After encountering her, however, she just sits in a room on the Argo and occasionally feeds Jason snippets of info on the Black Tongues. The sheer fact she wasn’t a possible party member was a huge let down, as everyone knows the awesomeness of Moody Goth Chicks(tm) can end nations.

All in all, Rise of the Argonauts makes for a fun game to set your mind of things. The story can be appealing to anyone who likes fantasy, but isn’t too obsessed by Greek Mythology to not weep when it is butchered by Americanizations, like myself. The combat is fun and fulfilling and the dialogue system would’ve been unique if not for the fact that Mass Effect was released a few months earlier, and fun if the main character didn’t look like he’d yell ‘THIS IS IOLCUS’ every five minutes, before kicking someone down a well. Unless you’re a games collector, like myself, who insists on having as many dvd cases in their games’ rack as possible, I’d suggest renting the game, instead of buying.
Except for us Belgians, that is, where the renting of games is illegal.

In other news, I’m very much dying to get my hands on Dragon Age: Origins next week Thursday. Luckily the train-people are on strike that day so I can not possibly get to Uni classes, providing me with quite a bit of unscheduled free time hayuk hayuk hayuk.
Happy All Hallow’s Eve.

07/10/09

To say I hate violence is probably a lie. I, too, enjoy a good action movie, and pretty much every game I own -and they are legion- includes violence at one point or another, the exception perhaps being Solitaire.
No, violence in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Violence creates rivalries; rivalries create a goal; goals create motivation; motivation drives a character and characters are the core and heart of every work of fiction. Plus, it makes for some really good action moments.

Keyword here, however, being ‘fiction’, also known as ‘not real’. This is abouts where I draw the line in as far as violence goes. What I do hate is people physically and psychologically hurting or ending the lives of other people.
Wars are pretty much a necessity in most any RTS game, but the real world really can do without them (no, really). In fact, after 5000+ years of civilized carnage you’d think that we’d’ve grown out of the nasty habit, but nooooh.
Not to mention rape, abuse, extortion, bad poetry, Tokio Hotel or plain old beating the shit out of your friend/neighbour/wife/random person with a different melanin count… Civilization? My fat arse.
(I’d like to point out here, though, that my arse isn’t all that bloated. It is, in fact, much like the rest of my body: skinny enough to fit in the opening of a mailbox. I hate winters.)

Anyway!
Humans are about as civilized as, er, uncivilized humans (sucks being the only known sentient species when you need a simile, I know) We may have super-advanced computers that can do a gazillion calculations in a split nanosecond
-and when I say ‘we’, I of course mean NASA-
when it comes to social interactions, we might as well dress in animal furs and live in caves, growing grotesque beards.
Do you want to see Angelina Jolie with a grotesque caveman/tramp/pedophile beard? That’s right! Didn’t think so!
So, to prevent that atrocity from ever happening, we should stop acting like ultra-territorial chimpanzee-gorillas pumped up on testosterone and GROW THE FUCK UP!
‘We’ here having the meaning of the entire human race.

I mean, there’s probably a reason alien life hasn’t made contact with us yet. They probably don’t feel so comfortable letting us near their shiny motherships out of fear we’d press the big, red “SELFDESTRUCT” button and blow the things up because we ‘like the pretty lights’ and because we want to give inter-celestial warfare a go, ’cause it ‘sounds fun’.

That’s how wars have started in the past. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany had invested heavily in his military, which more or less means it was Christmas Eve and he just got a bunch of new toys, but he can’t play with them yet because he was expected to sit at the Christmas dinner with his mommy and his daddy and all his uncles and aunties and his grandparentses, just to paint a picture here.
So he pushed his pal, Franz-Josef of Austria-Hungary into starting a wee border dispute now known as ‘World War I’.
That’s right. One. That means humanity’s been moronic enough to repeat the whole damn thing twenty years later.
Fucking Nazis.
Fucking revanchists.

Now, I’m not a patriot at all. Belgium sucks penis in so many ways it’s obscene. However! It does show us it is possible for a nation to exist without attacking another nation and engaging in a major war.
For the record, yes, I am personally acquainted with numerous Belgians who claim to be happy in spite of having to live with the idea that our ace fighter pilots (HAH!) are not setting other countries on fire from the air.
Afghanistan
Fuck
NEVER MIND!

Anyway, WWI and WWII were the only major conflicts Belgium as a sovereign nation was in involved. And each time they were in the role of a buffer state between Germany and France (read: everyone’s bitch).
And this, by the way, solely because the Belgians like the French more than the Germans, probably because the French have the superior croissants and wines.
One could argue that the Germans have the better beer, but one’s point would be moot as we already have the best fucking beer in the world.
I think.
Going by proxy-info here, as I don’t drink beer. Not anymore at least, as I found out that if I wanted to drink something that tastes like piss, I might as well piss in a glass and drink that.
I did the math, turns out it’d be cheaper that way, plus I wouldn’t have to leave the house to buy more piss.
Actually, I didn’t do the math, I just sat down for five (5!) seconds thinking what to say next, and I came to that simple conclusion.
Now, either my brain is huge, or I missed something obvious, but noone seems to have come to the same conclusion I have.
One could cite the effects of the alcohol as a reason to drink, but I’d have to ask them the timeless and deep-philosophical question: ‘why?’
As soon as I feel the pressing, uncontrolable urge to make a complete and utter fool of myself, by dancing on a table in a bar, and puking in women’s bosoms, alcohol will be the first thing I’ll try, but don’t hold your breath.

Which brings us back to violence.

What? Too fast? Fine then. Alcohol, stupid drunken acts, drunken violence, violence. There.

As for fictional versus real violence, the next ‘worrying mom’ I hear who goes ‘Violence in movies and video games makes our children violent’ gets clobbered. (see what I did there?) No! Fuck you! If your kid is fucked up enough to shoot someone’s brains out, it’s because your kid’s fucked up enough! Games and movies have nothing to do with it! Stop trying to make up excuses for being a crap parrent!
If you listen to your kid every now and then, and I don’t mean sitting in the same room nodding every now and then, but actually LISTENING, you might learn that there’s stuff BOTHERING your kid.
If he’s between the age of 8 and 27, this is NATURAL! His body is going through various CHANGES!  There’s feelings and emotions your kid can’t deal with himself and he fucking NEEDS YOU!
Now, if your kid is fucked up in the head, these feelings and emotions, when left unaddressed by a caring hand, might cause him to shoot people’s brains out. The only role video games would have played in this would be giving him an average idea of which gun best to use, but even if he didn’t have games, he’d probably go on wikipedia for that.

That’s right, wikipedia kills.

Seriously, now get off us gamers’ backs and stop calling our hobby ‘the work of satan!’.
Violence has been part of human pass-times since before the fucking Romans, and now that we have finally found a way to have violence without actually hurting someone, you want to abolish it? What, are you fucking stupid?
What frightens me most is that these people are often the same people who think the war in Iraq is ‘a good thing’.

Stupidity, like the urge to hurt others, seems to be something that will never truly leave us and will claim billions of lives in the future. Like cancer. Or religions.

*shrugs*

It’s 20:43. I’m off to play some violent video games. Cheers.

-Ty.