Monday, May 30, 2011

L.A. Noire Review


Film Noire is a genre that is neglected way too often in the film scene lately. I think the last really good Film Noire movie was the Departed. Even that didn’t have the same flair as the great films of the past like The Maltese Falcon and even the more sci-fi Blade Runner. It seemed, like so many genres, that the best of Film Noire was behind it. However, video games are an entirely different matter. The film industry no longer sees old school science fiction movies and westerns as profitable, but game developers still gave us Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption. Now, we have LA Noire.

LA Noire may very well be one of the most talked about games this year. With their incredible new technology that utilizes the actual face of actors while they perform their lines, allowing the players to see every minute detail in the performance, is one of the highlights of the game. The influence of the classic film noire movies of yester-decades could only be more obvious by putting the word Noire in the title. I was so psyched to play this game. For the first time in the history of video games, players were actually going to play as a detective. Not a cop mind you, a detective. To me, LA Noire looked to be a game of the year winner in the making.

In LA Noire you play as Cole Phelps, a war veteran who joins the police to fight the good fight against crime and corruption. Cole has a very strict code of conduct and is bound by his moral and ethical code. A White Knight in city filled with vermin. His own department oozes from the seams with black lichen of sticky corruption. Cole starts out as a patrolman walking his beat in downtown 1940s Los Angeles. Soon Cole progresses through other cases as he is promoted through the ranks of the LAPD. You’ll work Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. Each desk gives you new cases to solve, new witnesses to interrogate, new clues to unravel, and new partners to familiarize with.

The individual cases are all well done, taking place on the dark side of the L.A. The city of angels, they call it. But Cole will find himself more likely to be nudging shoulders with sinners rather than saints. Each case has a mystery to solve. You will need to comb over crime scenes searching for valuable clues that unravel the mystery. When your clues are secured, you will need to follow up on leads in order to find new locations and new persons of interest. Thanks to the help of dozens of HD cameras filming the actors’ performances, facial expressions are realistic. The subtleties of holding back information and lying through your teeth are not always obvious. Interrogations take a keen eye, a sharp wit, and that good old fashioned feeling in your gut in order to pick up on the subtle nuances of a liar. Do you trust they are telling the truth or do you think they’re holding something back? Perhaps you have proof of their lie? The investigating and questioning aspects of this game are indeed the highlight. There is a certain satisfaction to picking the right option, and especially catching someone in a lie. When a case is solved correctly, your captain will congratulate you for a job well done. If you screw it up, be prepared to yelled at and sent down to the minor leagues pal. This ain’t a game of checkers. Its chess and all the pawns will need to be in the right place if you hope to succeed.

Homicide proves to be the most impressive series of cases, as you follow along a trail of murders which may or may not have historical significance. Your partner is tied for the best damn partner in the game, hard broiled alcoholic veteran Rusty Galloway. These cases are brutal, the clues occasionally heart wrenching, and the results are never what you expect. Some of the most poignant interrogations occur on the Homicide desk, including one such interrogation involving a twelve old girl about her recently deceased mother.

It’s not all detective work and investigating though. You will need to drive around the beautifully crafted recreation of 1940s LA. Cars drive like tugboats and bathtubs, but once you get the hang of it, they’re not too bad. Still, getting in major accidents and hitting pedestrians can sometimes ruin the immersion, so it may be prudent to allow your partner to drive from time to time. Even so, make sure to drink in the fabulous city while you can. Each building, each road, has been faithfully replicated as the Hollywoodland of old.

Driving is a bit of a buzz kill, but it is not the only one. In fact, this game is littered with small disappointments, and the occasional massive misfire. The action scenes typically involve car chases, dark alley shootouts, foot races with your suspects, and the occasional tight rope maneuver. Though tackling a fleeing suspect is always satisfying, the car chases suffer from the bath tub mechanics. Unpolished shooting and cover mechanics leads to shoot outs becoming more frustrating than they’re worth. The balancing act tight rope scenarios will leave you scratching your head. All in all, the only gameplay mechanic that came together really well were the investigations and interrogations.

The story is a complete and utter mess. It starts out one way and ends completely different. Not even in a good way. I don’t know who the hell wrote this story, but he is just terrible. The third act suffers from some of the most dumbfounding writing flaws I have ever seen in a movie, TV show, novel or video game. The story starts out great, connecting you with golden boy Cole and introducing what seems like a massive conspiracy that he needs to uncover. Sadly, these plot points established throughout the game go absolutely nowhere, and by the end of act 2, you may find yourself utterly despising Cole Phelps as I did. I have never ever turned a whole 180 degree turn from liking a character to hating his guts in the way I did Cole. The game only recovers for a short time before a series of more and more bad decisions occur, utterly ruining any hope for a full recovery. The game ends with one of the biggest ass pulls in the history of literature, and following that, continues to get worse and worse. The third act shifts the gameplay, story line, themes and virtually everything in such a way, that is feels like you played the first two portions of one game, and then played the last third of something completely different. It is completely and utterly astounding that some of the design choices that were made were even approved, and yet they were.

All in all, LA Noire is a disappointment, but not a major one. The key selling feature of this game is the detective gameplay, and in that area, LA Noire succeeds in every possible way. The driving, shooting, and a host of other mini games may not be as well done as the detective play, but it is not bad enough to force players to quit prematurely. The overarching story line may be dog shit, but individual cases are done very well in nearly every way. It should also be noted that LA Noire was the first video game ever to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, a designation I’m not entirely certain the game deserves.

I give LA Noire 7.5 out of 10.

Pros

· Investigations and Interrogations are fun, challenging and oh so satisfying.

· Individual cases feature well told stories.

· Cast consists of great characters played by some grade A talent

· Phenomenal acting all around.

· Great use of new technology.

· 1940s LA replicated with accuracy and loads of details.

· Music is fitting and stylish.

· Can be played in color or black and white. Nice touch.

Cons

· Assorted gameplay features, such as shooting and driving, never achieve their full potential.

· Arson is way too short. Not nearly enough Herschel Biggs.

· Plagued with numerous baffling design decisions.

· Side quests lack value.

· Los Angeles is surprisingly closed off. Not enough freedom to experience the city.

· Cole becomes a total douche over the course of the story.

· Third act falls to pieces in every possible way.

· Story is poor. Plots never pay off. Massive “ass pull” during the climax. Monumentally disappointing ending.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fanboys Rejoice: Russell Exits Uncharted Movie


David O. Russell, the helmsman of the upcoming film adaptation of the much beloved video game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, has backed out of the director’s chair. When Russell was brought aboard, there was a lot to be happy about. He was the director of Three King’s which was a good movie, and The Fighter, which was just a flat out amazing flick. However, when Russell began talking about where he wanted to take Uncharted, it was clear that this ultimate boon was more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Russell’s ideas clearly had very little to do with the Uncharted franchise. Sure he had Nathan Drake as the main character, but that’s about it. His story involved Drake and his father and uncle traveling the globe looking for buried treasures. The Drake’s come from a long line of treasure hunters, you see. It was just in their blood. Mark Wahlberg was set to star as Drake with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as his father and uncle respectively.

So the premise of the film is close to Drake’s Fortune, but it’s kind of like the difference between GI Joe and Rainbow Six. Yeah their mostly the same with some significant differences here and there, but if you set out to make a GI Joe movie, why make something closer to Rainbow Six? It seems to me that Russell was aiming to do the same thing here, just replace GI Joe with Uncharted and Rainbow Six with National Treasure.

The casting seemed a bit wonky too, didn’t it? Mark Wahlberg as Nathan Drake? Really?? Look, I like Marky Mark, I think he’s a great actor, but Drake he ain’t. Robert De Niro as Sully certainly has merit, but remember kids, De Niro wasn’t going to play Sully, he was playing Drake’s father. Since when does Drake have an uncle? Well if he does I’m relatively sure he doesn’t look like Joe Pesci. And let’s not forget when Russell infamously commented that the game’s story wasn’t needed as a blueprint for the movie’s story, basically confirming that they had no interest in making an Uncharted adaptation. They probably just wanted the name recognition for bigger profit potential. Wahlberg assumed that because they were spending gallons of money securing choice cut talent that somehow translated to the game’s story “not being watered down.” Stupid man.

It was obvious to the fans of Drake’s Franchise that Uncharted was destined to follow suit in a long line of video game adaptation failures. Man it’s sad when you look back and say, “You know, Mortal Kombat really is the best video game based movie.” Fortunately, Russell backed away due to creative differences. The Naughty Dog team is closely involved in the production, so it is very likely that they were not pleased with the potential outcome and muscled Russell to either play ball or take a walk. For my money, I’d say Russell made a wise move. A bad movie adaptation based on a phenomenal game is not going to look good on your resume bub.

All in all, I’d say that this is a good thing. Yes this means that the Uncharted movie is being delayed for a bit. Yes this could mean that it gets stuck in development hell. Would that even be a bad thing? It’s probably for the best that an Uncharted movie never gets made, in my humble opinion. But then again, it could mean that the producers attach an incredibly talented director who actually respects the source material and is *gasp* a fan of the franchise. We all know how unlikely that one is. Personally, I’d love to see John Favreau with this project and Nathan Fillion taking the lead role. Yes Nathan, you have my support. A Nate for a Nate I say.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Preview


There has been lots of information swirling the web about Mass Effect 3 recently. Tons of new delicious information about the final act of the most ambitious RPG video game series ever made has caused puddles of saliva at the feet of every sci-fi gaming nerd to have been intelligent enough to play these amazing games. I am a massive fan of the franchise and of Bioware (though their business strategies of late have caused me to become a little concerned), so there is naturally a pool of my own drool engulfing my feet up to my ankles.
Mass Effect is the best game I’ve ever played. Being such a huge sci-fi fan, it’s no surprise that I would say that. Mass Effect 2, although amazing, was a bit disappointing to me. It lacked a lot of RPG elements and the story suffered from some amateur writing mistakes. I was also not fond of their decision to abandon literally every single aspect of Mass Effect 1. I understand it is an import aspect of the second act of the hero’s journey to tear the hero away from what he is familiar with, but I was still mad about losing my favorite bad ass Alliance trained warrior woman to the pit of cameos. All in all, I did not feel that Mass Effect 2 was the sequel ME fans deserved.
Thankfully, everything I missed about ME1 is making a return in ME2. Ashley, Kaidan, Liara, Garrus, and Tali return as your team in ME3, along with newcomer James Vega, and a host of others yet to be revealed. With that info, I was sold. Shepard will also be once again in the service of the Alliance, and David Anderson (my favorite non-squad member of the series) will be returning, this time in his combat duds and armed with an assault rifle. RPG features will be making a return in a new enhanced form which includes (but is not limited to) a more complex level-up system and weapon customization. You can now customize your guns changing both the functionality and appearance. Every weapon from Mass Effect, including DLC guns and heavy weapons will be returning, and better than ever.
Bioware has also promised a smaller squad in ME3 than the team in ME2. With five slots already confirmed (remember, Ashley and Kaidan can’t occupy the same slot at once), that should leave 3 or 4 more characters to be revealed. The bulk of the ME2 cast will not be making a return as permanent squad members, but rest assured, Bioware will have temporary companions akin to Lair of the Shadow Broker type quests sprinkled throughout ME3. So if Miranda isn’t on your team permanently, she will still join you for one more adventure, one that will likely resolve her character arc and her romance with Shepard. As bad as I feel for the gamers who liked the cast of ME2 better than the original companions, I can’t help but chuckle at the folks who thought the suicide squad was intended to be the main cast of the trilogy. Take that ME1 haters!
Combat will also be getting enhancements featuring more shooter elements like SWAT turns, blind fire, and the ability to jump and roll. New melee attacks will offer an increase in your fisticuffs and enhanced enemy and squad AI will keep you on your toes. Levels are designed to be much larger for the final fight. Levels now are wider and multi-tiered and will include ladders to reach higher areas.
With all of these amazing enhancements, the question now is, “What is the story?” Bioware is remaining mum on the specifics promising very few spoilers throughout the marketing campaign. However they are offering a little bit. The story will begin where Arrival left of taking place two months after the final events of ME2. Shepard stands on trial for his past actions, likely his dealing with Cerberus, killing SPECTREs, and his war crimes against the Batarians. If you haven’t played LOTSB or Arrival, sorry for the spoilers. During the trial, Earth his attacked by none other than the Reapers, the immortal race of sentient machine ships that devour and destroy entire civilizations. They have finally arrived and they are not happy.
Earth is lost, and the only thing Shepard can do is escape with his life and the lives of his crew. His task is to gather all of the other races in the galaxy to take the fight to the Reapers and try to retake Earth in the process. The task will not be simple as the rest of the galaxy has their own problems. The Turians are being hit harder by the Reapers than Humanity. The Salarians are deciding the fate of the Krogan and the Quarians are in the process of retaking their home world from the Geth. The galaxy is on the brink of civil war while full scale war with the Reapers has already erupted. Species loyalty will need to be gained in order to battle the Reapers and send them crying back to dark space once and for all. Every major action you have taken will lead to dramatically different conclusions. Four distinct endings exist with many, many variables in between.
Now that you know what Mass Effect 3 is offering, it’s time for some speculation. As far as the squad goes, we know that Ashley or Kaidan, Liara, Garrus, Tali and Vega are confirmed. I predict we will see about eight characters in total (actually 9, but only eight at a time). I expect to see Wrex making a return despite the heavy rumors of his role being strictly temporary. As of right now, everyone from ME1 is returning except Wrex. Also, there is a strange lack of Vanguard roles on the squad (Jack and Jacob will not be on the squad). Wrex also has some unfinished business with Aria. If you listen to her dialog she strongly hints at a hidden past as an Asari Commando, and says “better luck next time,” an obvious reference to Wrex’s tale about his old friend Aleena. If Wrex isn’t on the team, how will we get that issue resolved? And who will be our token Krogan? Not Grunt as there are too many soldiers on the team already. I also bet that Anderson will be on the team. Game Informer saw him on Shepard’s team in gameplay footage. Bioware dismissed it as being a placeholder, but why give him combat duds for ME3? Why ask him to join your team in ME2? Why resign from the council in ME: Retribution? Why have him on the squad at all? He’s not going to be a temporary teammate, mark my words. He’s in as a full time companion. I also predict at least one more new teammate, probably a Batarian.
As far as the story goes, I can’t even begin to speculate where it’s going to go. There are so many unanswered questions with any number of results. What’s up with the Klendagon weapon? What about the dark energy that is forcing stars to die faster than usual? Are the Batarians in league with the Reapers? What is up with these beings of light mentioned in the Klencory codex? Why do the Reapers do this? Where did they come from? What are they after? What about the Citadel? Are the Keepers still a threat?
All in all, Mass Effect 3 sounds like it will be the big crescendo the franchise deserves. And with the heavy emphasis on ME1 in the squad makeup and reworking of features, I expect the game will be what I wanted from Mass Effect 2, the sequel we deserved. For the first time since Mass Effect 2 was released, I am eagerly awaiting Bioware’s next game!
However, even amidst all this excitement, I am still very concerned for ME3. ME2 did not turn out even remotely how I hoped it would, and Dragon Age 2 introduced an idea that Bioware is inching further and further away from RPGs and focusing too much on “mainstream gamers.” The rumors of multiplayer I find to be unsettling to say the least, and with the confirmation of same sex love interests for both male and female players, it looks like certain romance interests will all of the sudden be bisexual. Which is weird, kind of. I just hope Ashley isn’t bisexual. It doesn't fit her character.
Bioware will need to tread carefully with Mass Effect 3. It seems that every game they release, their fan base shrinks and so does their credibility. I remain cautiously optimistic for ME3, and I truly hope that their poor reception of DA2 knocked some sense into them and their new “mainstream mindset.” I did love DA2 and all, but it really was the weakest Bioware game ever made. If DA2 is usurped by ME3 on that front, well, kiss your butt good bye Bioware.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thor Review


I’m going to be straight here. I never liked Thor. Out of the entire Marvel Comics cast of characters like Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, the X-Men, Hulk; Thor lacked the non-gayness of the rest. Yeah, I kind of thought Thor was a bit faffy, sue me. However, I never doubted his importance to the Marvel Universe. As one of the first and most important of the Avengers, I can certainly understand why people like him. I find the mythology of Thor outweighs the execution. Until today.

Thor revolves around, guess what: Thor! He’s a brash, arrogant, selfish, and vain young man who is a bit of a warmonger. This would-be king of Asgard is banished from his realm after his faults cause irreparable damage to the balance of peace in the 9 realms. Thor now must find new meaning in his life on the boring and mundane world of Earth.

Let me start off with the positives of Thor. Thor is a great character, no doubt better than his comic book counterpart. He has some significant faults, but these faults are balanced by his charm and good intentions. Yes he may be a warmonger, but he is looking to protect his people. He may be a brute, but he’s a charismatic brute. Chris Hemmsworth performance as Thor is spot on. Balancing action, drama and intense emotion looks simple for him. Not to mention the dude just looks like Thor. In my mind, this guy is the only person capable enough to play Marvel’s resident God of Thunder.

Tom Hiddleston steals the show as Loki in my opinion. The filmmakers wisely chose to avoid classic villain stereotypes, which would have been all too tempting to do with Loki, for a more nuanced and complex character. His desperation for acceptance drives him to cause a little chaos in the lives of those he both resents and loves. In a way, his schemes are more derived to just be a little shit than a mastermind. It turns out though, his idea of a practical joke are damaging to Thor’s life and fortuitous for his. Natalie Portman plays Dr. Jane Foster; a rather unconvincing astrophysicist who’s completely unexplained theory interweaves her fate with Thor’s. Portman does a great job playing the nerdy, cute-but-awkward scientist. The problem is that her character doesn’t have a genuine importance to the narrative. I also don’t buy her as an astrophysicist. Student? Sure. Scientist? Not really. Perhaps it’s her youth, or perhaps it’s the characters childlike inquisitive nature (a quality that really worked, I might add), but she just feels too young to be queen scientist. Also, her “theory” that brings her to find Thor is either never explained, or is explained way too late for anyone to give a shit. Or maybe is so early that by the time it was relevant, I had already forgotten. Either way it was handled poorly, because I sure don’t remember it.

The supporting cast is stellar as well. Colm Feore is an impressively dark and evil villain, the leader of the Frost Giants. He’s so menacing and often speaks in such a quiet, rumbling voice that sends chills down your spine (oddly appropriate considering he is a Frost Giant). Idris Elba plays Heimdall the watcher of Asgard and guardian of the Bifrost Bridge. He does an awesome job with his subtle looks and glares that show his doubt in the political landscape shifts of Asgard. The warriors three are pretty cool guys, despite their lack of screen time. I like that their all larger than life archetypes, providing a good contrast to the very realistic family and political drama of Asgard. My only problem is that these guys could have been taken a step further on that scale. The lovely Jaime Alexander portrays the strong and sassy Sif, a determined protector of Asgard, with a healthily implied soft spot for Thor. And then of course Anthony Hopkins is Anthony Hopkins. What else is there to say? Other than his performance in one scene in particular almost made me cry.

Asgard is also quite awesome. It’s this beautiful idyllic city made of gold. A land truly fit for a god. Somehow, this realm manages to feel both sci-fi and swords and sorcery fantasy. That’s no small feat. The downside of Asgard is despite its beauty and grandness, once we actually get into Asgard, the world is kind of small. Only two locations are ever featured, the royal palace and Heimdall’s bridge. Obviously that’s more of a nit-pick than anything else, but would have been so hard for Thor’s allies to meet at a tavern instead of the same palace room that shows up every other shot?

Earth is the buzz kill of the film (art imitates life!). Thor arrives in Butt-Fucking-Egypt, New Mexico, population: 6 or less. The town is more empty and lifeless than a town in a low budget RPG. This is presumably to emphasize the isolation of Thor, but he adjusts so well to Earth so fast, it’s hard to belief he feels so isolated. The personal journey of Thor and his romance with Jane is put on hyperdrive. The movie could have greatly benefited from an extra twenty minutes of character development sprinkled throughout, but then again, a lot of the Earth stuff just leaves you clamoring for more Asgard. Fortunately, Asgard is frequently revisited while Thor is on Earth, once again balancing the film’s structure.

Outside of the obvious incredible performances, the best part of this movie is its balance. It keeps action, drama, romance, and humor on an even keel. Each character has good and bad qualities, creating complex and deep dynamics between them. We have quite a few more action films to be released this year, like Green Lantern and Captain America. As of right now, Thor is the one to beat. Good luck you guys, because Thor is a great film with a great villain. If Red Skull can top Loki, I’ll be very impressed.

Thor is an enjoyable and fun ride that has the right amount of depth and complexity, balanced by great action and witty humor. Marvel continues their great pedigree of immensely entertaining and intelligently crafted movies based on their great characters. It should be interesting to see what comes from Avengers with so many excellent main characters sharing screen time with one another, but between the two Iron Man films, Hulk and now Thor, I have no reason to think that Marvel can’t pull it off with flying colors.

Thor gets a 9/10.


Pros:

Stellar Acting

Great Sense of Balance

Awesome Action

Genuine Humor

At least one amazingly cool and unexpected cameo

Dramatic, Deep, and Emotional Character Journey

Great Villain!

Movie made me like Thor.

Cons:

So much going on that story loses focuses

Thor’s inner journey feels a bit rushed. Acclimatizes to Earth a little too easily.

What was Jane’s theory?

Humans lack narrative relevance.

Earth=boring. Back to Asgard please!

Darcy is really annoying.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Star Crossed Galaxy #2 Free Preview

Star Crossed Galaxy #2 has got a free preview available through Drive Thru Comics. Click here and get your free copy that hints at where issue 2 is heading. Also Twilight Pop Presents #2 is available which includes some SCG pages for your viewing pleasure. More info should be coming on issue 2 as it nears completion. Make sure to visit the Twilight Pop Productions Blog and join our forum too. Fan feedback is always welcome!


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Video Games and Art: An Unfortunate Truth


I love video games. For as long as I can remember, I have been an avid gamer. From Nintendo all the way up to Xbox 360. For the longest time, I thought games were nothing more than a fun and challenging way to spend your spare time. My opinions of games changed around the time a purchased a PlayStation console some time in 1998. I had bought Metal Gear Solid as my first game for the system. I was amazed by the story, the conflict, the dark hero, the themes, the music, everything was pitch perfect. I am not ashamed to admit that Metal Gear Solid made me cry a little. I have never before felt such emotion in a video game before. Later that year, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released for the Nintendo 64. Once again, I was taken on yet another emotional journey filled action and adventure. The depth and complexity of both games stories made me realize something I had never considered before: video games are in fact art. Little did I know that more than 10 years later, I would realize that I could not have been further from the truth.

To clarify, I do not subscribe to Ebert opinions on why video games can’t be art. It seems like every time he attempts to justify his position, he merely proves that games should be considered art. Ebert believes that in order for something to be considered art, it needs to make a statement, and needs to bring about a subconscious emotional reaction to what is being seen. For someone who considers movies to be art, he has no legitimate right to say that games are not art. My reasons for accusing games of not being art are very different.

I believe that in order for something to be art, it needs to meet certain criteria first. The first is it needs to be generally artistic in nature. It needs to be something created form nothing, or from very little. Video games have this one in the bag. Art also, as Ebert believes, needs to make some kind of statement. It also needs to be able to bring about an emotional response of some kind. Again video games have performed the necessary criteria here. Finally, if something is art, it can be analyzed, discussed, and interpreted by those who are fans of the art form. This is where video games lose its merit.

Gamers like to believe they think games are art. Studios and critics like to believe that games are art as well. They are lying to themselves. They want to believe, and yet they refuse to treat games like art. When I think of some of the most recent culturally significant works of art in video games I think of four games: Fallout 3 by Bethesda, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series by Bioware, and Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games. Each game should be art. The designers clearly made them to be art, but unfortunately, the industry is so mired by immaturity that it is hard to take even the most brilliant works in gaming seriously.

Fallout 3 told a story of a young man (or woman) growing up in a post-apocalyptic world. Raised inside a subterranean Vault to avoid the disaster of nuclear holocaust that was present on the surface of what was considered Earth, this young hero left the confines of the Vault and ventured out into the unknown searching for his (or her) father. The story featured parallels to the bible and featured a Messiah-like protagonist. At the end of the story, the hero either lived as a wretched and selfish individual, no better than anyone else out in the wastes, or had sacrificed his life for a better tomorrow. Gamers despised the ending, likely due to the fact that the hero died in the end, or was a selfish jerk. I had the pleasure of discussing the story of Fallout 3 with Gears of War 2 writer, Joshua Ortega. He and I shared the same opinion that Fallout 3’s story was brilliant, and we came to the conclusion that the hate it had received for its poignant ending was nothing more than “haters hating.” Over the years, it seems like there are more haters playing games than those who have the capacity to understand Fallout 3’s artistic merits.

This brings me to Dragon Age. Dragon Age: Origins was praised by nearly everyone out there in gaming. It featured an amazingly well written story and deep moral choices that forced the player to question their own ethical and moral code. In the end, the dark world of Thedas was solidified in a final choice that no matter what your decision was, pretty much made you feel like you lost something. As lauded as the game was, it seems that both players and critics shared an immature obsession with the sex scenes that took place between the player character and his or her desired love interest during the romantic subplot. That didn’t bother me at the time. It wasn’t until Dragon Age 2 did I truly realize how bad the “are video games art” debate truly was. Dragon Age 2 is universally despised by the fans and not nearly as well thought of by critics as its predecessor. They complain that the story is awful and there is no villain, and there is no point to the entire game. Did anyone ever stop to think about the themes explored in the game? Did anyone ever stop to consider what the story is actually about? No. They think because there is no arch demon-like super nemesis that there is no villain. No one ever bothered to contemplate on the outcomes of oppression, the results of loss, the notion that your best friend may be a terrorist. Why would they? Isabella has tits. That’s enough, right?

This brings me to the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect was an amazing game that suffered from some significant technical issues. Although the story, the characters, the narrative and the themes were all masterfully handled, very few people were able to look beyond the technical hiccups to appreciate the artistic qualities that were done right. Mass Effect 2 is released, delivering a more complete game, but as a work of art goes, Mass Effect 2 was lacking. The narrative felt disconnected, the characters were shallow and one dimensional, the story suffered from dozens of plot oversights, and to be quite honest, I have no clue what the theme of the story was. Mass Effect 1’s theme was humanity proving itself to the rest of the galaxy. That’s what the whole story was all about. Mass Effect 2’s theme was “it’s a suicide mission.” That’s not a theme. That’s a set up. And yet, Mass Effect 2 is considered to be miles beyond the original in every way. It’s an amazing game, sure, and is certainly just as worthy of artistic praise as the first in the series. However, when Mass Effect 2 wins more “Best Story” awards than Mass Effect 1, I can’t help but feel that the industry does not understand what a story really is.

The worst part of Mass Effect is hands down their own fans. You cannot even look at a forum thread on their website without seeing someone saying something along the lines of, “Man I can’t wait to have Tali take off her helmet and tongue my Spectre.” Both Mass Effect games included sex scenes to culminate the romantic subplot of game’s story. Ever since then everyone is obsessed with the alien lesbian sex and the ability to bang Liara until she’s green in the face. I understand that a lot of people are just saying things like this to be funny, but when statements like that start appearing in so called reputable video gaming periodicals like PlayStation Magazine, it becomes easy to realize that industry is far too juvenile to harbor any sort of art form.

The swirling immaturity within the industry is reinforced when watching the Spike TV Video Game Award show. Award ceremonies are typically designed to recognize the accomplishments that studios and designers have made when creating their games. Unfortunately, the most recognizable ceremony has far too many celebrities hyping their next big project, commercializing the industry further. Not only that, but if five minutes of on air time passes in VGAs without a gay or sexually themed joke, or some hot celebrity wearing the right outfit to properly showcase her impressive cleavage, then the show has failed.

What the industry needs is someone or some organization that treats video game like art. Their needs to be some type of advocate. When they review a game, they shouldn’t resort to innuendo and lesbian jokes, but should instead discuss the themes or art design of the game. The video game industry needs maturity. Not from the designers or publishers, as they seem to really want their game to be art, but from the fans, the critics, and the accolades. Don’t have awards that are called “The Baditude Award: Only Given to Games that Piss Bad Ass!” Have awards that emphasize the art. Best Story, Best Art Direction, Best Score, Best Voice Actor. Winners should win based on performance, not commercialization. Video games are not art, but if the industry and fans allow it, they will be someday very soon.