One Hit Wonders #4: NA NA HEY HEY KISS HIM GOODBYE by Steam (Fontana Records 1969)


cracked rear viewer

Singer Gary DeCarlo died this past week at age 75. Who the heck is Gary DeCarlo, you may well ask? The name may not be familiar, but the song he sang that had a two-week run at #1 in 1969 sure is:

The song was written by DeCarlo and his friends Paul Leka and Dale Frasheur in the early 60’s when they were in a Bridgeport, CT doo-wop group. Later that decade, when DeCarlo was looking for a B-side for a single he recorded, he dug up this old tune and it was put together in the studio. The band Steam in that video wasn’t really a band at all, just some dudes lip-synching DeCarlo’s hit!

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was resurrected in 1977 when the Chicago White Sox organist at Comiskey Park began playing it whenever the Sox’s opposing pitcher got knocked out of the ballgame. Soon other sports…

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Horror Review: The Evil Within


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The Evil Within’s announcement was met with huge expectations for being an original horror title directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, benchmark of modern horror videogames. Over the years he personally directed a few projects with very fluctuating results, but his leadership of the Resident Evil games was competent, and they only really squandered when he cut ties with the series after his involvement right after Resident Evil 4, which many regard as one of the best games of the last decade. No pressure in this new intellectual property then.

And I’ll just straight out say it. It’s a disappointment. It would be hard not to be one. But it’s not a normal disappointment. If it were I’d give it a passable review and say that people might enjoy it just for the effort. However, The Evil Within is, pardon me, utter piss. I realize negative reviews are very “in” nowadays and people do them just for the sake of it, but this one is sincere. I wouldn’t buy something on retail price crossing my fingers, HOPING, it would be such a mess. I spent cash on this shit. This money was invested. I wanted it to give some return in the form of entertainment. Which was wishful thinking, of course.

First of all let me talk about the technical issues. Full disclosure; I played the PC port; not a good option, apparently. To be honest I only had one issue with it, but I understand that “it is not a good port” because this piece of trivia was bombarded on me by my peers. So don’t buy the PC version, it’s bad (maybe until they release some patches). That being stated, we’re left with “the game”. The real horror.

Probably under the pretense that this would make the game scarier, the development team decided that the camera just had to be forever stuck on letterbox view. This is not just pretentious, it is an OBSTACLE. It takes maybe a third of everything in your field of view. Your eyes are hindered by two monstrous gaps of black bars, top and bottom. And you need to actually look at stuff to be able to pick them, so you can only imagine how this is cumbersome on the playing experience (By items, I mean ammo, medicine, documents, same kind of thing that was in Resident Evil). Are you a fan of collecting stuff? A perfectionist maybe? You’ll either spend more time than you should inside one map to make sure you’ve gotten everything or you’ll forget that. Chances are you’ll miss items either way. This camera is out of this world. It is a monster incarnate full of spite toward you. Catching inbound enemies is an equally hard job, as the lack of proper vision of your immediate surroundings makes it hard to realize if you’re being chased, or to know exactly how many enemies are around you. This might lead to some unintentional scares if that fancies you, but fact of the matter is that it’s simply put, bad camera mechanics. And let’s not talk about the obtuse amount of film grain. That being said, this title is not entirely offensive on a visual scale. The art and graphics are quite nice, even if hamfisted on the gore. It’s just too bad it’s so hard to see it properly.

Apparently it actually covers something around 45% of the screen

Actually, it seems to cover something closer to 45% of the screen

A document early on the playthrough makes a point of telling you that the protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos is one of the fastest ever policemen of Krimson City to rise to the rank of detective (I feel like the name of the city might have been suggested by me when I was 14 and thought I was really death metal) . You will quickly notice though that Detective Castellanos isn’t the physical marvel he is laid out to be. The act of sprinting in the beginning takes a full 3 seconds from top speed to complete exhaustion. At his best, Sebastian can run for ten seconds before needing to stop and breathe in the middle of a full herd of enemies (which he WILL do if you rely on sprinting too much). He’s not a very good shot either, even at ranges close to point blank he’ll miss often unless you upgrade his weapon. Walking is awkward, running away is awkward, shooting is awkward. Some of these can be improved by buying common sense into the game in the form upgrades for the character with green goop. Seriously, that’s their currency. I confess to maybe having missed something, but I don’t think that part was ever explained.

If you think objectively about it, Resident Evil was awkward. Even the fourth one. The controls were always strange at best. It comes to me that, while people were begging for a new, good Resident Evil, Mikami acknowledged their wants and needs. That’s what The Evil Within is. I mean, the zombies are there, the alien controls as well, and it’s ever so slightly scarier, which was another major complaint, since some viewed the Resident Evil series as having swayed from survival horror to mostly action with some horror elements. In this sense, people got just what they asked for: A survival horror made by Mikami that is very much like Resident Evil. However since Resident Evil 4, Mikami directed two titles, a four year gap between each of them (2006, 2010, and The Evil Within in this Gregorian year of 2014), and the other two were not even close to being horror games. So what we got is a newly released outdated survival horror with ten year old survival horror mechanics.

B

What happened!? I heard there was a good game in here!

The sad realization is that maybe Shinji Mikami isn’t a master of horror. The Evil Within isn’t very scary past the few initial chapters, where you’re completely powerless (and maybe this was this game’s real element, which in my opinion he failed to realize). Some of the more tense parts orchestrated by him come from trial and error, when some scripted event or other makes you face something new, something you’re totally willing to fight against. Then, upon closer inspection, you notice your head has just been pulverized by this new thing you perceive. So it occurs to you that you don’t fight this thing, you run from it. Of course, that’s after you died. Not very fair, honestly. The story is intriguing, but extends itself far too much. My interest was gradually lost on what could be a great mixture of body and psychological horror. It failed because while the art was on the right spot, the writing lost its way and somewhere it just became a zombie game. And I hoped it would pick up again. It never did.

It seems The Evil Within has few redeeming features and is somewhat obsolete in a very weird way. The space reserved for its image projection is malevolent. The gameplay is unimpressive and clumsy. It is artistically well intentioned, but ultimately poor. It does have, however, a very nice character in the form of an otherworldly and cryptic nurse that helps you through the story during dreamlike sequences. Her personality and oddities make her seem like a character from a Suda51 game, maybe something learned by Mikami in his time working with Suda on Shadows of the Damned. Man, now that’s a good title. Suda is really good, isn’t he?

The-evil-within

Payday 2


Payday2_logo_white

A little while back, a little studio called Overkill put a game on Steam called Payday: The Heist. The release completely passed me by. In fact, I was totally ignorant even of the existence of the title until a group of my friends all bought it and decided to start robbing banks together. They were so taken with it that they demanded that I join them, and I couldn’t have been happier with the purchase. We passed many nights (and into the early mornings, sometimes!) trying to grind our way through harder difficulties, and try to learn more advanced ways to stealth through the various ‘heists’, which included stuff ranging from your standard-issue bank job through a Left 4 Dead inspired hospital mission called, fittingly, No Mercy, where a shadowy anonymous buy was willing to pay bank in exchange for a sample of infected blood.

The game was marked by a number of good ideas. It includes minor RPG elements in that your account ‘levels up’ as you play more heists, granting access to useful abilities. In the original game, most of these bonuses were tied directly to weapons and armor and your ability to last in combat against the inevitable waves of police and SWAT forces that would attempt to keep you from escaping with your ill-gotten gains. Being stealthy at the start of a heist by using silenced weapons and preventing any civilian hostages in the area from escaping to summon help could pay significant dividends as you waited for your large thermal drill to bore its way into this vault or that one. A variety of weapons and gadgets rounded out your heisting arsenal, modeled off of real-life weapons augmented by just a bit of fancy. The game included multiple difficulty levels for every heist which would affect the number and types of enemies that spawn, and add other random factors that could make heists substantially more challenging. Indeed, that random AI Director feature of the game also helped its replayability dramatically, as heists could play out very differently if things went right – or very much wrong.

Payday 2 improves noticeably upon almost all of this. The heists are now more elaborate, including multi-day criminal enterprises (such as a ‘Watchdog’ mission where you must first secure a shipment of cocaine against an FBI operation, then in ‘day 2’ load the coke onto a drug boat at the docks, all while under police assault), and a wider variety of possible objectives – your crew are no longer strictly robbers, but rather highly skilled specialists for higher, men of limited principles and significant hardware.

The skill trees (Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician and Ghost, respectively) now include a wider variety of abilities, many of which can be directly employed for greater speed or stealth in the missions. Now, being a high level player with access to the best gadgets can make the simpler heists significantly easier, allowing the players to focus on the greater challenges of high difficulty level multi-day jobs. I personally find it very rewarding to try and work through missions in a stealthy way. Not only can some rewards become greater when you don’t have to battle you way through police lines, but the heists can also (often) be done cleaner and more quickly with the application of stealth. Returning is the oft-failing thermal drill which is the centerpiece of a number of missions where you try to gain access to a safe or other place you shouldn’t be, but this can now be circumvented if your technician is skilled enough to deploy shaped charges to blow off hinges, or if your ghost has an ECM Jammer that can bypass electronic security. The Mastermind can talk down inquisitive guards on the other end of the phone, easily intimidate and control civilians, and provide a slew of buffs to the group, and the Enforcer can (among so many other things) bring a powerful rotary saw to slice open less-imposing lockboxes, ATM machines, and encroaching enemies who draw too close.

Also notable in Payday 2 is a more credible electronic opponent. In the original game, the challenge was typically increased by sending more powerful units earlier in the mission, legions of ‘special’ units, and an unending stream of SWAT goons and their guns. To an extent, this is still completely true. However, the enemy now employs lesser raw numbers in favour of better tactics, and more threatening enemy units. Of course, stealth your way through the missions, and you may never have to suffer their wrath…

Payday 2 is not by any means a perfect game, however. The mission select is now done through an interface called Crime.net, which is a black and white overhead map of a city on which missions appear as ‘pings’ (as if the job just became available, complete with a timer before the job eventually disappears). Because of this system, if your crew is in favour of running a particular heist, it quite literally might take as long as half an hour of ‘browsing’ Crime.net for it to appear (or perhaps even longer!). In the most recent update, Overkill added some very basic filters to the Crime.net interface, allowing you to opt out of missions below a certain difficulty level… but this seems woefully inadequate. Though the game contains 10 heists, they re-use a couple of maps between them, and some of them are completely basic – there’s almost nothing to them. These are offset by some very complex heists higher up in pay scale, but some of them start to feel less replayable after a couple of solid nights with the group. This happened in the first game too, of course, but it’s much more annoying now with the obstacle of Crime.net possibly throwing you copy after copy of an undesirable heist that you are totally burned out on… instead of something you’d really like to do. I frankly do not understand the creative choice behind not offering better filters for this system.

While it is true that the police do not attack in such great numbers as before, they do still leave a lot of artifacts around the map, with corpses, piles of ammo, and miscellaneous gear (such as riot shields) strewn about, and I have seen the game start to chug on systems that are powerful enough to run many other contemporary games without issue. By its nature, this is probably something that’s hard for this game to overcome, but it’s a frustrating problem to have when the key resource that you need to enjoy this game to its fullest is friends who can also play it with you.

Yes, Payday 2 has in-game voice chat, and yes, you can jump into public games with strangers anytime you want. Some people might really enjoy doing so, in fact, and I don’t really mind it…. but I would much rather gather a group of 3 friends to roll with and work in tandem to complete heists. The AI team-mate can be valuable in combat because of their accuracy (though sometimes the team AI seems bewildered in a way the police AI rarely is… failing to respond even in a dire emergency) but is also frustratingly useless as they cannot transport filthy lucre, or drugs, or whatever, cannot advance mission objectives, and will occasionally blunder into unwinnable firefights against a legion of police in the middle of the street… where they can’t even be reached for a quick revive. As a result, you really want a full party, regardless of how you have to get it.

One thing to admire entirely about Payday 2 is its price point. At $29.99 on Steam (it’s also available on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the physical media involved means your price point will be $39.99 instead), this game has real value, though I can’t necessarily recommend it if you don’t have at least one friend who would be willing to buy the game as well and commit to playing it with you. Your mileage may vary with teaming up with strangers (I’ve had a mixed bag of results, myself) but I wouldn’t have purchased the game without friends I knew for certain would play, so I certainly won’t tell you to do it!

What I Played Today: Majesty 2 and MLB 2K11


MLB 2K11

I bought MLB 2K11 on the first day of its release… and, having played hours upon hours of it, I’ve been dying to review it ever since. The core problem, however, is that there’s really not that much to say about a sports game. Especially a baseball game. Especially a baseball game that doesn’t really boast any new features over its predecessor from the year before. It’s the tightest baseball simulation with the best graphics that I’ve seen. You know, since last year. It still uses the one-touch control system that basically lets you play the entire game with only single presses (or maneuvers of the thumbsticks. Whatever.) to take any action. I would say the ease with which the game can be played is its best feature by far…

And it’s hard to criticize the game, since they’ve culled the irritating features over the years, until the tight baseball simulation is basically all that remains.

It’s worth noting that unlike other sports offerings (Madden, I’m looking at you!) MLB 2k11 does a fantastic job of keeping up with the big league rosters if you’re playing in an online format, or if you just hop straight in and want to play a game of baseball.

As you would expect, the game has all of the modern game modes. Many of the big achievements revolve around the My Player mode, which is also one of the most fulfilling modes… depending on the position you prefer. I would say, tentatively, that I’ve spent more time in My Player than in Franchise or Play Ball this year. It really is kind of fun to work your way up from AA ball into the big leagues, and then to carve a name out for yourself from there. I like this mode in MLB far better than I ever have in Madden, and I really can’t recommend it any more strongly.

Oh, and it’s worth noting… out of all of the 2K Sports offerings for baseball, this one is easily the best. It runs mostly alike to the 2K10 effort, but as you would expect, it’s a little tighter, and a touch better looking… and, really, with not much else to improve on that’s the story of the game. If you like baseball, or you have some hankering to play it, this game is definitely for you. If you’re looking to gain 1000 GS then this game will disappoint you with the amount of time required to earn some of the achievements. If you’re *that sort*, I wouldn’t bother with this title.

Majesty 2

The self-described fantasy sim game, Majesty 2, makes its triumphant return on Steam. I bought the gold collection when it became available partially out of nostalgia, and partially because I desperately wanted a strategy game to play that I hadn’t worn out. I could always return to StarCraft II, but for some reason Majesty 2 caught hold of my imagination, and drew me back in.

The outstanding feature of Majesty 2 as opposed to your generic RTS game is that much of the action is not under your direct control. Your armed forces consist of guards, who will defend your town and your palace in a very automated, very uninspired, way… and heroes, who do their own thing, unless they’re being paid. You can throw out contracts of various types (examples include ‘destroy target’, or ‘explore region’) in the form of flags, for which you announce a bounty you’re willing to pay. In an ideal world, your heroes will help you out, and dash to the rescue. Of course, the interest level of your heroes and their personal gumption depends both on their hero type and their hero level. For example, the Rogues from the Thieves Guild are a bit on the cowardly side and flee at the first sign of real trouble, while the Rangers Guild and its heroes are particularly excited about exploring the wilderness and battling beasts.

You personally control the construction of town structures and fortifications, and choose the path through the single player campaign; a rich experience which takes its decent share of time. This experience can actually get a little repetitive; you’ll want the missions to end a bit quicker, at the very least, no later than halfway through the campaign. No doubt if you’re better at the game than me, this will never become a problem.

L.A. Noire

Strictly as a tease… I’ve been playing a great deal of this game lately. A full review from me is forthcoming.

Quick Take: Magicka


Quick Take

If you ever asked yourself how much fun it would be to randomly combine 10 different “elements” to create an absurdly large array of spell effects this game answers the question. For the rest? Don’t ask questions.

Unfocused Ramblings

I have, upon reflection, a soft spot for games that are developed by groups of Swedish students. I mean – in a broader sense, if you can make a game that people will enjoy, then why not? And through the magic of Steam, this game becomes available to the world. I know a lot of people have already played Magicka, and but I’m hoping more people will take the plunge into it.

So what is Magicka? It’s a humorous adventure-RPG-ish-game set in a world that parodies a number of mythologies as well as aspects of pop culture. You’ll see a ton of references to pop culture icons like Star Wars, 300, and literally dozens of others. The opening movie which introduces the setting and the premise is chock full of pop culture references and popular memes, and it doesn’t slow down from there. The player takes command of a nameless mage clad in an obscuring robe who has been taught at the academy of magic, and learned to wield eight ‘basic’ elements in order to weave together ever-more-impressive spells. If that weren’t enough, you quickly learn about two basic combines which produce two other, we’ll say “hidden”, elements (which, themselves, are frequently used to create still more sophisticated spells). With these ten building blocks, tens of thousands of combinations are possible. And, since the game doesn’t really force you to progress forward, and even your most tenderly beloved allies are valid targets for your spells, the game really does encourage you to play with these elements until you create something you really like. And from there, to use that spell until you get tired of the animation… and develop something new… and so on.

And yes, there are some big booms available in the more sophisticated spell combinations.

On top of just randomly mixing and matching various elemental building blocks to create beams, balls, streams, and walls, there also exist a repertoire of ‘Magicka’; defined spells that you learn the combination to which have particularly powerful effects (such as Revive, which restores a dead ally, Haste, which allows your mage to run at incredible speed, or Grease which deposits some very flammable fun on the ground).

Your mages can collect weapons from time to time which have some special effects, but for the most part, the game attempts to steer clear of any kind of level-up or power-up type stuff. The focus is very much on the interplay of the spell combinations, and the limitless fun you can have blasting your friends up, over, and through the landscape elements using your magical powers.

All of that sounds good, right? Well, it is. But the game does have some problems, and I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you about them before you shell out your hard-earned cash for a copy of Magicka.

The single-player version of this game just doesn’t stand up well on its own. For several reasons. The most important one is that it’s very easy to kill yourself in Magicka, and if you do so when playing solo, you’ll find yourself regressing to a checkpoint that could be a good ways back. Quit the game? You’ll end up restarting the entire chapter. This glaring weakness still exists in multiplayer, but with a team of four, you can revive your comrades and hopefully not all die at once. This is tough in single player.

– There are some bugs. Let’s not mince words about this. In addition to wacky things that can happen with spell effects (many of which will send you or your enemies flying around the screen) the game seems to crash occasionally, and it just doesn’t feel quite as polished as you might expect from EA’s latest release.

– They made some inexplicable choices with the multi-player, such as not being able to reconnect to a game in progress, and the cut-scenes not being skip-able except by the host (and they’re pretty lengthy cut scenes at that. You can skip ahead of the cut-scene even if you’re not hosting, but you just stare at a loading bar until the cut-scene ends anyway).

– Despite having its own tutorial section, Magicka really doesn’t teach you much about how to play. Pay close attention to the controls it does show you, and don’t be afraid to experiment, but also don’t spend a lot of time looking for the game to guide you… because it won’t. That having been said, it’s not a crippling problem since experimentation is half of the fun in this title.

– Although the game is clearly more friendly for multi-player use, you’re definitely going to prefer putting together a group of four friends as opposed to playing open multiplayer. Friendly fire is a huge part of this game, and you’ll enjoy it more with your friends. Trust me.

The Bottom Line

Personally, I love Magicka. It’s a great multi-player experience and the combination of spell effects is a lot of fun. But it’s not a polished experience; it has some bugs, some of which are frustrating, and as a single player experience it leaves quite a bit to be desired. For what you’re going to pay for Magicka, however, you’ll feel as if you’ve gotten your money’s worth.