Standing Tall and Peace Walking High

Well, this is it. After having only known it for half a year, I’m finally breaking up with a dear friend of mine.

Goodbye, Metal Gear Solid series! *Sniff*

Hahaha no, let’s not be melodramatic. The great thing about a video game franchise is how you can take the parts you like and stuff the parts you don’t away in a box, or a bag, or up your cat’s ass, and just not play them if you hate them so much. Which is kind of what I’m going to do with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Here kitty kitty…

Now, keep in mind my opinion about the series so far has been this:

Solid 1 – Loved.
Solid 2 – LOVED!
Solid 3 – Initial hate, but warmed up to.
Portable Ops – Liked
Solid 4 – Don’t have a PS3, haven’t played.

So I went into Peace Walker expecting that it would at least be the best one on the PSP. Instead it’s the one game in the series I can’t find it in me to love, no matter how much I want to. If you want to know what’s wrong with it, well, here’s a list and I’m gonna try to be brief:

1. The camera controls absolutely suck. No matter what control setup you have, either the camera controls are uncomfortable or they cause other things to be. Portable Ops had this problem too but in that there were convenient ways to get the camera into a good place (and most of the time it would automatically default to a following-behind-you view), in Peace Walker the camera never repositions of its own accord which means its never showing you what you need to see, and in pitched situations it can be a pain to try and run and also swing the camera around.

2. Opening your inventory no longer pauses the game, I kid you not. While I’m on the subject, your inventory is extremely limited–you can only carry two guns with you. Every other weapon has to be thrown or placable (like a grenade or a mine). You also can’t carry duplicate items like you could in Portable Ops. This isn’t much of a problem in the sneaking levels, but in boss battles its a pain, especially as it makes you dependent on supply drops because you’re almost garaunteed to run out of ammunition.

3. Recruiting soldiers, and all the crap that goes with it, has gotten more convoluted since Portable Ops. In that game, recruiting people was fun and profitable but it didn’t dominate the game. In Peace Walker, it does. You effectively can’t even find certain items unless they’re developed in MSF’s labs first. An example: In Portable Ops, if you needed more Big Rations you could raid the hospital. In Peace Walker, five-star rations automatically downconvert into whatever you’ve teched up to. There are some items you actually have to develop for the plot to advance, but you can’t develop them until your levels are high enough, and this leads to lots of grinding.

4. In Portable Ops all the missions were single-map affairs, which meant they were compact enough for a portable experience (and pretty forgiving if you messed up and had to restart or abort). Peace Walker seems to think its a console game and all the main missions are multi-map affairs. And if you fail or have to restart, you go all the way back to the beginning of the first map and lose any items or prisoners you picked up (Portable Ops let you keep these things if you aborted instead of restarted). Peace Walker is pretty unforgiving, in other words.

5. The Surround Indicator (Portable Ops answer to the Soliton Radar) has been turned into an item that you have to equip, meaning you can’t use it at the same time that you have, say, rations handy anymore. I’m not sure at what point Hideo Kojima decided he didn’t like radars (MGS3 had a similar problem) but I dislike the way he actively discourages their use.

6. Some of the cutscenes are interactive. This isn’t so bad, except some of them you have to “interact” with to get past them (by pressing the right button at the prompt, similar to Dragon’s Lair). What’s worse is, when you replay an area you also have to rewatch all the associated cutscenes. You can skip them sometimes, but if they have an interactive part then you can’t.

7. And this is the big one: a lot of core changes have been made and really, Peace Walker doesn’t actually feel like a Metal Gear Solid game anymore. You can still put your back to the wall but there’s no more scootching along it or peering around corners (well there is, but in a far more roundabout way), no more first-person view, no more climbing into vents or crawling under houses. Now the only “stealth” seems to consist of hiding behind stuff, or else of more action-based stealth such as throwing magazines and causing distractions. To be honest, with the large amount of options it gives you for traps and weaponry, not to mention the revised CQC system, it almost feels like you’re not supposed to be sneaky anymore, but rather like you’re supposed to subdue the bejeebers out of everyone. And then there’s the bosses. Bosses in previous MGS games always had a sort of “arcade” feel to them. Here, they’re slow and ponderous, and not especially fun to fight–especially as most of them have the exact same pattern.

I’ve read comparisons that claim Peace Walker was trying to be Kojima’s answer to either Call of Duty or Gears of War. I’ve never played a game in either of those franchises, but if Peace Walker is really anything like them then I don’t believe I want to.

One closing thought: In the past, I was able to stick with Metal Gear, even when it was going in directions I questioned (such as Metal Gear Solid 3), for two reasons: One, the games were fun, and two, the storylines are some of the best in gaming history.

I think it goes without saying that Peace Walker fails at the former. As for the latter, here’s all I’ve got to say: after the thirty-third time a kidnapper caught me from a blind spot during the Chrysalis battle, I gave up. I took the UMD out, put it away, and haven’t touched the game since then. That was it. The storyline was really going nowhere, and I didn’t care. I didn’t care about Paz, I didn’t care about Chico, I didn’t care about Big Boss or his obsession with his mentor, I didn’t care about the future of the MSF, I didn’t care about any of that. It wasn’t interesting, it was dull and pointless. If I really wanted to nitpick, I could point out the millions of ways Peace Walker contradicts the series canon. But who cares? The bottom line is, there was nothing in this game that made me want to continue. My brain kept saying “turn this dog turd off.”

And that is exactly what I did. And then I put in Portable Ops, to convince myself that I wasn’t just imagining how good it was. Not only was it actually good, but the sour taste from Peace Walker made it even better! The funny thing is that Portable Ops was a game with a rushed development cycle which was intentionally geared towards Multiplayer with the solo campaign pretty much tacked on, and yet it somehow turned out much better than Peace Walker, the game that was given a kingly treatment in development! It just goes to show you that time does not equal effort and haste does not always make waste.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play a few VR missions in Solid 2.

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The premiere of Voltron Force

So I’m catching the premiere of Voltron Force on Nicktoons. It’s rare for me to catch a show on premiere night, so I decided to do this one differently by recording my thoughts as I’m actually watching it.

I must admit, I thought the original Voltron was okay (though the Japanese Beast King Go Lion was better), but the previews for this new version has me interested, so I figured I’d see how it turned out.

So, without further ado:

10:30 PM – The premiere!

Well okay, this got off to a bang. Right off the bat we see the Lions battling a Robeast. Yes, this is how it should start! And it uses a remix of the original music!

A rap theme song? seriously? Okay, first mark against this show right there.

Keith has a miniature version of Voltron’s sword. Cool.

10:40 – The first commercial break. So far this show seems promising. I’m tempted to dislike the conspiracy aspects and Lance’s being an ass, but I get the feeling its all leading up to something so I’m gonna see where it goes.

10:47 – Second commercial break. Okay, my guess about Lance was right. I like that the plot is so tight and is going places instead of just dragging things out. I hope it keeps up.

10:57 – So, this series sort-of confirms that the Lions are capable of independent action.

11:05 – I can feel my enthusiasm kinda slipping around this point. I don’t like Larmeena (sp?) because she seems like the token “strong girl we put in just to please the feminists who isn’t gonna have any real personality outside of being a girl with testosterone.” The conspiracy plot worked at first but now I’m starting to see some holes (like, you know, the fact that Lance and co built a secret base within Sky Commander Wade’s military school).

11:16 – I liked the part of the soundtrack that was a remix of the 1980s soundtrack. But all the new music sounds derivative and admittedly rather dull. Why can’t Americans make good cartoon soundtracks anymore? The rest of the show is fine though.

I noticed a bit of a plot hole though: If Sky Commander Wade had the Lions locked up in a Galaxy Alliance facility, why are they back in their traditional resting places on Planet Arus and can be gotten to from the old access shafts?

11:22 – A minor nitpick: The only comm system Pidge and Keith have is those wrist thingies? Wait, the tow-ship they’re driving doesn’t have an inter-ship comm system? For that matter, the lions themselves should have one, so Pidge and Keith should be able to communicate (I suppose you could say Wade’s meddling knocked out the Black Lion’s comm tho).

11:33 – Lance claims that when the 1980s team first flew Voltron they were “inexperienced young hooligans.” Pointedly not true–they were all experienced pilots. That’s why the Galaxy Alliance chose them.

11:36 – I’m starting to dislike the new kids. Shit hits the fan and they’re all like “this is awesome!”?

Sky Commander Wade is starting to seem kind of “eh” to me to. Under everyone’s nose he was developing a secret robot army that he personally controls? That, and his general personality up to this point… how did anybody not know that he was a villain? If his career is not totally shot after this episode, then I’ll quickly lose respect for this series.

11:48 – The movie is almost over, and honestly I’m wishing it would hurry up.

I gotta be frank, it started out promising, but the further in it goes the more I feel like “this is a typical modern cartoon.” I mentioned the music, the plotholes, and some things I don’t like about the characters, but another thing I’m not liking is how everyone behaves like they’re autistic. Like they’re having the exact opposite reaction to everything that they should have.

And now the Wade has his own super-robot. That’s just face-palming to me.

And about the art: Generally, I like this show’s style (except for how the humans are drawn… the stylization sucks), but I really wish it would stop doing that split-screen thing. It’s not awesome, it just makes it confusing. I hope they stop doing that.

12:00 – And now the movie is over. Overall, started out promising, then kind of ehhed out in the middle, then seemed like it was getting good again near the end. I might very possibly watch just one or two regular episodes to see if the show doesn’t have promise.

Besides the stuff mentioned in the blog, one other main complaint I have is that Daniel, Vince and Larmeena seem kind of half-assed. We don’t really know anything about them, and Lance accepts Daniel and Vince into the fold basically just because the script said so. Larmeena, we don’t know the story behind her. Instead Princess Allura gives us some nonsense about fate and destiny–concepts which, by the way, were never mentioned in the original series, but seem to be common fallbacks whenever American writers need to explain something.

To be honest, I really expected to hate this more than I did, because its an American sequel to an anime, but while its not superior to Go Lion, it wasn’t outright reprehensible either.

So, that’s the premiere of Voltron Force. Peace!

So I finally saw the new Battlestar Galactica

Some of you might remember this review I wrote awhile back for the 1978 series. In it I said I’ve never seen the 2000-something “reimagining” of BSG.

Thanks to the BBC, I’ve now seen the pilot movie.

And… it wasn’t overtly stupid, or offensive or repulsive. It didn’t have me going “get this shit off my screen” or turning off the TV in disgust.

It just bored me to hell.

I’m gonna sum it up like this: in the 1978 pilot, the whole thing about the colonies being attacked and people’s shock and fear-driven attempts to survive, all the begging to be taken onboard the Galactica, all that social stuff, was handled within the first 30-40 minutes of the movie.

In the new series, that’s the entire pilot episode. So the new director needed two hours for a story that Glen Larson told in 40 minutes.

To be honest, this is a continual problem I’ve noticed with entertainment post-2000. Stories are less efficient now, and seem to feel like they need to draw out everything in order so that we “get the full impact.” Directors think that we’re all autistic or something. To be honest, that’s the problem with all American television and everything that comes out of Hollywood, right there.

Who knows, maybe this show gets better later. But I doubt it, and I don’t really have the inclination to check anymore.