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The Thumbs Ups of 2011

In a bid to cover off all those things I didn’t find the time to write about this last year (and to actually get a post in for the month of December) I present my inaugural ‘Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down’ lists for 2011. These are the things that either surprised me by being better than they deserved to be or against-all-odds-style fuck ups. Wouldn’t you know it, but both the best and the worst things to happen to me this year involve dragons and Skyrim isn’t even on this list.

Starting small and moving up, I have to say the first thumbs up of 2011 has to go to Breaking Bad. Why? For someone who doesn’t give a damn about any of the things the show is ostensibly about – drug dealing, family drama etc etc – to sit down and plough through 4 seasons in a week it means it’s got to be doing something right.

While Breaking Bad took about 3 years’ worth of nagging from everyone I’ve ever known to try the show, The Walking Dead only took about six months before I got the hint. Now I do like my zombies, despite how they’ve become the most ubiquitous thing under the sun this year, but TWD is something I can recommend to regular folk and be reasonably certain they’ll enjoy it as well.

Could say the same thing about Warhammer 40K: Space Marine too. Here I was thinking you’d need to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy it (which, incidentally, I am not) but it ended up being every bit the game Gears of War is, albeit a little more light-hearted, and despite a campaign that falters at the final act. It is with genuine sadness that I say the DLC took too long for this game – its latest Chaos-themed update and a teased Dreadnought mode in January will go mostly unnoticed due to the neglect it saw for a long time post launch. And that is not something I often say about DLC.

The guys at Relic have a strong pedigree however and it was never likely they’d release Space Marine as a complete dud. I was less sure the newly minted ‘Netherrealm Studios’ could deliver on their simply titled Mortal Kombat reboot however. As an MK fan from the early ’90s I feel perfectly justified in saying that everything the team has turned out post-John Tobias has been garbage. While MK 2010 doesn’t hit all the notes I felt it could have, it certainly hit a shitload more than I was expecting it to. And although I have no idea where they go from here, this solid release has done the unthinkable for myself and many others- returned the MK name to some semblance of respectability. If only Sega could turn the same trick with Sonic.

Saving the best for last, I give an extremely well deserved double-thumbs up to every nerd this side of Kentucky’s new favourite thing in the world, Game of Thrones. No I hadn’t read the books. Nor did I really read at all. That changed, though, and the show would deserve my props of that basis alone. That’s not the only thing it’s changed either. For example, I rarely buy BD-ROMs and have never pre-ordered them. Until now. And never have I anticipated a second season of a show anywhere near as much as I am longing for April 2012. Anything else I could say about the show I’ve already said so let’s just leave it as 2011’s overall highlight and leave it at that.

So this article ended up a bit tame. But coming up next is my Thumbs Down list, and man, some things have really pissed me off this year. Check that out when it goes up, hopefully before the clock strikes 12 if I get ’round to it. It’ll have sharper teeth, I’m sure.

And as one final thumbs up before I kiss this stinkin’ year goodbye I’d like to thank Yurik86 at Deviantart for the sweet wallpaper I used for the title image of this post.


Here we are again…

…it’s always such a pleasure. And now I feel dirty. For lack of anything more insightful I’ve stooped to rolling out the most cliche of internet / gaming tropes – the Portal reference. The truth is while trying – in vain apparently – to recall what has happened since the last two weeks or so since my last post nothing terribly important comes to mind. Sure I dallied with Crysis 2 and endured to varying degrees of unpleasantness Fast Five and Thor. But all I really did that still bears any meaning was labouring through Portal 2. How lame is that? This is why these catch-up posts after periods of inactivity are so hard for me.

Twitter’s general sentiment has led me to believe that I’m not alone in shying away from Portal 2‘s co-op. For me, most my friends are on XBL and none of the friends on Steam I’d want to have such a confrontational 1-on-1 with have the game. Then there are those poor souls cutoff from the world on PSN. Shortly after release I was feeling a bit silly buying the full-priced Steam version instead of picking up the PS3 disc and redeeming a PC copy for free. Not anymore. So anyway like so many other solely single players, I’ve finished Portal 2 and just bought an iPad. Guess what happens next?

I picked up Geoff Keighley’s $2 iPad app ‘The Final Hours of Portal 2′ of course. Really I could go on and on about how those traditional publishers crying bloody murder over the declines in circulation and digitising of media could learn more than a little from this brilliant piece of digital journalism. But I won’t. Suffice to say that I think it was worth the cost – like the game itself – and while short did manage to leave me with a smile on my face afterward. The takeout I’d like to pull out form this is that Portal 2 had a surprisingly fraught development process. Gameplay / puzzle mechanics (there were no portals at one point…), sure, but mostly on the story front. The game went through a few iterations and the more I think about it that really shows in the finished product.

Spoiler alert, but the revelation that GLaDOS was once an ironically stupid human was novel enough. Novel, but not organic. Or believable. The whole thing was rushed and unbelievable. The exposition is laid out on a platter and with no subtlety at all, there’s an ‘oh no!’ moment when she – at that point in potato form – figures it out. Hours after we have, mind you. For a super-intelligent AI whose character is premised on being smart, that slow reaction wasn’t thought out properly, the fact that she was in a potato notwithstanding.

Not to turn this into a review either, but I will say the game was short, but brilliant. Just how I like them. There were moments where I was flabbergasted with the quality of storytelling and often at the same time as being blown away by what Valve still manages to squeeze out of its almost-decades old Source engine. While the telling was exceptional, the story itself was just good. Stephan Merchant’s Wheatley outshined everyone’s favourite homicidal AI and that came from behind for me.

What now for me then? Crysis 2 has failed quite miserably in keeping my interest, despite the praises I continue to sing for its predecessor. Shogun 2: Total War and Civilization V both arrived but between lapsing back into Call of Duty: Black Ops and attempting my 5th expedition into Half-Life 2 I didn’t have much time for then. And my biggest grievance after all that would be the fact that my copy of Mortal Kombat did not arrive before the very long Easter weekend (and still hasn’t arrived). Until it does turn up I’ll just drift along in this zombie-like state. Probably stopping to give Brink a go if it gets here first and maybe even accord some attention to my PSP or iPad. Too bad none of them sound terribly exciting for a mid-Friday morning with a weekend coming up.


Mortal Kombat’s missing Motaro

The new Mortal Kombat game, now unambiguously banned in Australia, could have been forgiven in Goro were the only superhuman boss character included. Shao Kahn is integral to the story and playable (?) so there was really no way to excise him. Shang Tsung is presumably in and in his youthful, toned-down form. This leaves Goro as the sole four-armed boss character who the player can’t pick up and use. It’s what all PR to date would have had us believe and that would have been cool, if not ideal.

But I don’t think the rumoured final roster, ripped from the recent PSN demo, has escaped anyone’s notice. Assuming that the text files contained therein were not an elaborate hoax – and the MK Team doesn’t have the combined IQ to pull something like that off, I’m pretty sure – it seems like Kahn has been bumped up to proper final boss and Goro demoted. Seeing as the Shokan prince has a bio and an ending while Kahn only the former. Surprising me though was the inclusion of Kintaro.

History lesson; Kintaro was the savage lower-class, tiger-striped Kuatan fiend and successor to Goro who served as the second last challenge (mini-boss although not quite apt) in Mortal Kombat II. That was by far my favourite MK game and Kintaro my favourite MK boss. However the years have neglected him a bit. He hasn’t made a subsequent series appearance outside Shaolin Monks and Armageddon, but those games included everyone. All key characters, before and after MKII, have been seen a lot more frequently. I guess not many people apart from me actually liked the guy.

But now it seems that, like Goro, Kintaro has a bio and an ending in ‘Mortal Kombat (2011)’ which would seem to strongly suggest he’s a playable character. I’m of course tickled pink but there are two design oversights, I think, in this inclusion. First off, he was a badass in MKII. He was more of a badass than Kahn. I’d even go to the length of saying he was the most difficult fighting game boss ever. No, seriously. But now if he’s a playable character, and if Mortal Kombat: Armageddon has taught us anything, he will be a pale shadow of his former self in the name of ‘balance’, a concept which Mortal Kombat has none of to begin with.

However it also shines a very bright light on the only remaining significant roster omission in next month’s MK reboot: Motaro. If we’re assuming this game is a retelling of sorts of the original MK trilogy, why, or more pressingly how, can you go and include the boss of MK2 but exclude the boss of MK3? Goro was an iconic feature of the first MK game and is well known across gaming at large. His spot on the list was assured. Kintaro’s was not, but they’ve gone and included him anyway. As much as I’d hate to admit it, Motaro, a centaur of all things, probably has a bigger role in the MK mythos, and is so more deserved of a spot than the tiger-man. And yet he’s apparently ruled out. If it was just Goro then the list would have seemed less than ideal, but palatable. With only Motaro out it now seems like it has a single curious and bizarre omission.

That’s from an overall design perspective. It’s pretty obvious that if Motaro’s not in, it’s that there was a technical issue with him having four legs. But really come on? Is that any kind of excuse? They peddled it for Armageddon, and it didn’t make any more sense back then. Now, using Unreal Engine 3, there shouldn’t be any physics and or collision problems with a poorly-coded engine written in-house as there were in 2007. Still once it becomes known to the masses that the centaur general is sitting the game out, I bet that’s the line Netherrealm PR will trot out.

This is all assuming that those leaked factoids were genuine, of course. The demo build was supposedly quite old but I never believe that. Why would you wait till a month out from release and publish demo code that’s a year old? I think devs consider it carte blanche for framerate hiccups, muddy textures as well as anything more serious – they can just say it’s all fixed in the final shipped version. In any case there won’t be long to ponder this. I really just hope that if a game dev claims, in 2011, that they cannot manage a character with the lower body of a horse the community hangs them out to dry. Because they’d deserve it.

Closing off the demo looks fine – definitely not a solid game but that will be a different rant. I think I’ll have fun with this game either way, pending incidents with customs, but it doesn’t hold a competitive candle to Super Street Fighter IV. Between all the infinite combos and arbitrary nature of what’s safe and what isn’t I don’t get why more people haven’t declared it’s broken-ness already. *sigh* See you in April, boys.


My Return to Xbox Live

Things were simpler a year ago. My original launch 360, bless its soul, had RROD’d on me, I had a decently powerful C2D GTX 260 combo in good working order and I’d recently picked up a cheap Slim PS3 from Japan. My PC had become my primarily platform, thanks mostly to Steam, and the PS3 served as backup for those pesky console-only titles. I thought I had the best possible setup. I was wrong.

I’d tried to live without it for the longest time but now I realise that this last year or so I’ve really been missing Xbox Live. Missing my friends, one button invites, achievements with APIs that can follow me around the net. There was a measure of substitute with Steamworks, although only some games used it, and barely anything cohesive on PSN. In fact my year of Super Street Fighter IV on the PlayStation was one of the most frustrating experiences ever. Getting people into a game and accepting invitations from others… could it have been any more convoluted? Even though the PS3 version of the now-banned Mortal Kombat is getting fighting games favourite cameo with the inclusion of Kratos, my gut would feel yucky buying a multiplayer fighter for Sony’s mess of a machine.

And on a completely unrelated note, Forza Motorsport 3 is absolutely a better game than Gran Turismo 5 although I fear that argument warrents its own article.

So starting to think that the Xbox 360, as a platform, offers a better overall experience is an interesting conclusion. I’d previously considered PC to hold that accolade, and comparing Dead Space 2 on console to PC there really is no discussion about technical proficiency. Textures and resolution are paltry by comparison. However if you take matchmaking and DLC into consideration, I wonder how much weight that extra visual fidelity actually caries?

Against the sheer fragmentation of platforms and standards on PC – EA friends list, I’m looking at you – I’m beginning to see the graphics as less and less of a consideration. Not that its mode was worthwhile to begin with, I never once played DS2 online on the PC. And, by pure arrogance on the publisher’s part, I’ll never play the ‘Severed’ DLC. Thanks a lot guys. Even Steam seems to now show contempt for its customers – again most likely by publishers’ edict – by charging ludicrous prices for games. Ozgameshop.com can now match day-and-date better prices for 360 versions of new releases than Steam can despite being exempt from printing and licensing overheads.

Half the fact that the cohesive nature of the Xbox platform feels so good is undoubtedly that the situation on the PC is so broken. Nevertheless I’m switching over to the 360 as my primary, despite it costing me a new console, some visual bells & whistles and despite costing me a yearly subscription to boot. Certainly wouldn’t have anticipated declaring this a year ago, but for the bunch of reasons I’ve mentioned – and no doubt a bunch more – I’m not regretting a thing.

So come on friends, add my Gamertag Ichorid4.


Mortal Kombat OFLC submission confirms Quan Chi, Kabal and Baraka?

So surprise, surprise, Mortal Kombat just got banned by the Australian Office of Film and Literature classification. However, based on the below except from the submission’s comments, doesn’t it seem like Quan Chi, Kabal and Baraka are now all confirmed as playable characters? Double-edged win if you ask me.

  • Kung Lao throws his metal hat into the ground and it spins like a buzz saw. He grabs his prone opponent by the ankles and drags their body through the saw, explicitly slicing them vertically in half. Copious bloodspray is noted. Kung Lao then holds up both halves of the corpse as blood pours out.
  • Jade explicitly kicks an opponent into the air and plants her fighting stick into the ground. The opponent falls backwards onto the stick and is explicitly impaled, with the stick protruding from their chest. Jade then explicitly tears her opponent’s head off, with bloodspray noted, and explicitly plants it on the stick.
  • Stryker tasers his opponent and then explicitly shoots their head off with his gun. Blood and gore is noted.
  • Quan Chi explicitly rips his opponent’s leg off, accompanied by copious bloodspray. As they lie on the ground, he explicitly beats them with the severed leg for a prolonged period of time.
  • Scorpion explicitly slashes an opponent horizontally in two at the waist, with blood and wound detail noted. He then explicitly decapitates them and kicks their body over. As the severed head falls through the air, he explicitly slices it vertically in two.
  • Mileena throws two blades at an opponent, which explicitly lodge in their chest. She slowly approaches and explicitly rips their head off, causing their severed neck to spray blood as their body topples. She then explicitly bites into the severed head before throwing it to the ground.
  • Kabal uses long hooks to explicitly pull out an opponent’s Intestines before explicitly impaling the opponent on two spikes.
  • Shao Kahn uses his hands to explicitly rip an opponent’s body vertically in two.
  • Baraka explicitly lodges a blade (attached to his wrist) in an opponent’s stomach and hoists them above his head. He spins them round and explicitly decapitates and dismembers them, accompanied by copious bloodspray.
  • Kitana uses her ‘folding fan’ weapon to explicitly dismember then decapitate her opponent, with copious blood flow noted.

Emphasis mine. Thanks to Ausgamers for the info and wiigotaproblem for the mad fanart.


Shao Karnage: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iOS

Following on from my last post about the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 port for iOS that was only revealed at the last minute before its actual release, I thought I’d put up some impressions.

Content-wise, the game is scant. You get the above characters, which is fine for a downloadable game, along with Ermac and Jade as unlockables. A good mix of MK3 stages are included and on top of the standard arcade mode, there’s ‘Shao Karnage’ which is basically a deal-the-most-damage-for-points stage against series boss Shao Kahn. I found the name a clever pun as well.

Gameplay is very similar to Street Fighter 4 for iOS in terms of controls. You get onscreen buttons for Punches and Kicks, as well as Run and Block and a dedicated Special Move button. Things get a bit cluttered there. AI is nothing to write home about; you can Ice Ball and uppercut as Sub-Zero all day long. Well timed uppercuts from a crouching position are all that’s needed to take down Motaro and Kahn too- they’re both in but unplayable as best I can tell.

What puzzles me is the 3D modelling here. You would think that a port of a 2D arcade game would involve the original spites and any recent iPhone is at least capable of that. Instead we get everything remade in 3D. Characters are redone, perfect in terms of frames and hitboxes as best I can tell and stages too are completely recreated with polygons too. The question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of what could easily have been a copy and paste emulation port? 

I’m enjoying this mobile release as much as I can, but it’s really served to pique my curiosity as to why so much time and effort was needlessly invested in it. It’s only a hunch, but could it be the promised Mortal Kombat HD Arcade Kollection is not, in fact going to be re-shooting real actors for 2D sprites, as is currently thought, but rather going for an all out 3D approach? There is a 3D sticker on the leaked PS3 box shot so who knows…


Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iPhone?

So in my last piece of Mortal Kombat news for the minute, apparently Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is coming to iOS with Street Fighter IV-esque controls, 11 fighters and the rumour of Goro and Shao Kahn as bosses. Sounds good, but if they DLC-ed it up to the Mortal Kombat Trilogy character count that’d be even better.

Let’s hope it plays half-decently when it comes out, apparently before Christmas.

UPDATE: Here are some screenshots and, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t those look like 3D models and not the digital still sprites used in the original UMK3? Why would they bother going and remodelling everything instead of just using the original graphics? Surely modern iOS devices could handle it…


Speaking of Mortal Kombat, There’s Now A Tournament Edition

Well if this wasn’t a surprise. Releasing a ‘Tournament Edition’ of the upcoming Mortal Kombat is an ingenious way of making part with even more of my cash come next April, even if it borrows a whole piece of… hardware.. from Street Fighter’s… erm.. arcade (?). Far be it for someone like me with more arcade sticks than consoles to use them with (a stick catalogue post is surely coming) to buy another one, particularly one with a bat top and no doubt poor construction quality, but it has that classic MK ‘X’ layout. I don’t have a stick with that. So there’s my excuse.

Alongside the Tournament Edition there’s also a ‘Kollector’s Edition’ that comes with Scorpion & Sub-Zero figurines in lieu of that massive controller, and I’m torn as to which I actually want more. Could always get both; one for each system. But then I’d be pressed to decide which I buy for which. A 360 stick would certainly be a better investment- guaranteed Windows compatibility for emulators and what have you, but I’d likely be playing the game primarily on my PS3. Ahh, choices.

In other news, I’m disappointed that ‘Klassic’ costumes for Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Reptile are pre-order-only DLC. Hell, I’m upset they’re DLC at all. What’s the point of a reboot if not harkening back to what made the series great in the first place? And if it wasn’t those rad Ninja (sorry Sub) costumes I don’t know what to say. They went and made Sub-Zero Chinese again after being, at different times, Caucasian, Outworld-ian and also a member of the extinct species of ‘Cryomancers’ (this was around the time the MK storyline went to hell). You’d think that if they went back to a character’s original ethnicity they’d at least go and dress them in their original liveries. Apparently not. I hope this isn’t the first of many gratuitously stupid oversights going on at MK headquarters but suspect those started long before this title was even announced.

Anyway I’d better retire my thoughts on this title before the K key breaks on this arthritis-inducing Apple keyboard I’m forced to use during daylight hours.


Mortal Kombat Can Fool Me Twice, If It Likes

Much like my last job, I can summarise my relationship with Mortal Kombat with the abused wife syndrome. That is, shabby treatment continues but I keep going back. Or at least used to – I left my wretched job earlier this year and abandoned all fondness for the once-loved franchise years back with the release of Mortal Kombat: Deception. For my part, in both cases I’ve been better off. And yet all it takes to lure me back in is the promise of a return to form in the guise of 2011’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ reboot. It’s a promise made many times before and never delivered upon. Sigh. I really am a glutton for punishment.

You know what else? Kratos of God of War fame, after dipping his feet in the slightly milder waters of fighting games with his cameo in the quickly-forgotten Soulcalibur PSP port, now enters the arena to throwdown with Scorpion, Sub-Zero and friends. As if Yoda and Vader weren’t enough in that last game… are fighters really that bad off that they need every man and his dog to step in and represent whatever supposedly more popular world they came from? I mean really, one would think after a history of solid, well-loved titles that the Mortal Kombat name could stand on its own. Oh, wait…


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