Jurors: No, we simply can't countenance such an inconsistent story!
Murder Dog: Narrative Cohesion Is Just One Of Many Things I Desire to Annihilate.

my interest in any truly structured long-form exercise here is more or less sapped so we'll hurriedly push past the brush and thistle to attempt to address the main points after one and a half playthroughs on hardcore. nota bene - i would have understandably played more if not for my analog stick succumbing to drift, and i would have also liked to squeeze in both a playthrough on standard as well as a professional playthrough in the interests of some nebulous due diligence i inexplicably feel i owe, but honestly the changes to professional seem mostly dull & the idea of learning the perfect parry timing in the game's second half on a ps4 with wobbly frame rate has less and less appeal the more i zero in on the idea. the ps4 version also has a significant problem with whatever technique they decided to use to render scope magnification, with a net result of halving the frame rate which is simply unacceptable for the kind of game this is - you're not zooming over swathes of land in search of a singular lonely target, you're scoping to try and land a bullseye that's five meters away! needless to say this made the regenerator sections tedious as all hell.
alterations to the core mechanical skeleton in RE4R are 'well-considered' but i hesitate to describe them as necessarily meaningful since an uncharitable interpretation would view this as a particularly hasty process of reverse engineering and applying tried-and-true bandaids to stem the hemorrhaging. free movement necessitates expanded enemy aggression, which inadvertently dilutes enemy behaviour, which means the designers had to inject elements of inconsistency to prevent easily optimized patterns of play, which calls for emergency defensive measures to keep encounters fair and level. this shifts the scope of its mechanics from thoughtful aggression to somewhat reactionary kiting. stack up enough of this over the course of a 12-20 hour playthrough and encounters start to blend together, something which becomes a rather serious issue once you get to this game’s fatigued rendition of the island. a shift in combat methodology towards reactionary gameplay wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself since you could argue it’s capturing some of re4’s more experiential qualities, but 1.) lol and 2.) brazenly inviting so many explicit grounds for comparison only serves to crystallize the qualities that made the original so special.
while many practical adages and tenets can be ascribed to and extracted from the original, it's difficult to say it doesn't subscribe to this overriding idea that 'less is more'. stop to consider the implications of this for one second and you might even recognize that the original doesn't have an overwhelming bestiary; there’s only a sparse handful of enemy types in spite of the notoriety of so many of its encounters. it’s commendable that a game built on minute alterations of one enemy unit can be described as constantly escalating and endlessly varied. one ganado on its own is never a threat, easily incapacitated with the swift slash of a knife, but as an enemy unit they are allowed to take on greater meaning through level design, decisions centered around resource management, and their method of deployment. in this sense, the original game has something of a beat ‘em up philosophy in its encounter design. there’s a comforting sense of rigidity set in place by its core mechanics which is then expounded on by the implementation of RNG which can alter the output of actions in ways both dramatic and subtle. a plagas eruption might force you on the retreat; a critical headshot might have robbed you of the roundhouse kick you were looking for; the enemy might have launched from your kick in a way that opens you up to risk if you tried to strike them on the ground. RE4R’s RNG, meanwhile, is most apparent in the way it approaches enemy staggers, and while it’s not something i’ll address too much since you’ve read about it everywhere else, it’s clearly a thorny inclusion which appears to be influenced by, at a minimum, the focus of your aiming reticule, the damage value of your weapon, the enemy’s health pool, and dynamic difficulty considerations which are holdovers from the previous two remakes in this new chronology. we might never know exactly how it’s calculated, but its effect on the game at a macro and micro level is easily observable and will make or break the game for some.
the point is no challenge in the original comes across as repetitious the way it so often does in RE4R and what’s frustrating is that there are moments which offer compelling grounds for expansion but which are rarely capitalized on. red cultists in the original are simply hardier and more physically resistant enemies, which is a misfire, but the remake reinterprets these enemies as summoners who can outright conjure plagas eruptions. it’s a frankly brilliant idea, so it’s shocking that it’s only leaned into a handful of times, two of which are seemingly explicitly designed to be skipped for speedrunning purposes. it’s the kind of change that could really serve to flesh out this game’s identity much further, and it feels wasteful to not consider the ways in which this type of enemy can add a layer of decision-making to its combat design.
there’s no discussion of RE4R without a discussion of the knife (which i mostly think is appropriately satisfying if entirely boring), but rather than exhaustively assess RE4R’s knife or semantically compare knife usage between games, let’s change gears for a second here and just consider the knife in the original. the knife can deflect projectiles, interrupt enemy advances, set up contextual attacks, strike grounded enemies, crumple them – anything that a handgun can do, a knife can do at close range and without wasting ammunition. it’s the ol’ reliable, a fundamentally ‘safe’ option with an appropriately attached high degree of risk. given its newfound metered dependency in the remake, your safe option isn’t the knife anymore – it’s actually the bolt thrower. with its negation of aiming reticule focus requirements, ranged approach which shields you from close-quarters damage, silent nature (a veritable rarity in this title), semi-consistent staggers at the cost of slow firing speed and loading speed, and nigh endlessly retrievable ammo, the bolt thrower is, if anything, a safer option than the knife ever was in the original. deploy it carefully and meticulously, and the most risk you’ll ever be at is if you’re intentionally firing bolts into the ether; they’ve even programmed it in such a way that you’ll often be able to retrieve it from difficult to reach places should you miss.
in addition, you might consider the game’s bolt thrower to be evidence of RE4R’s interrogation and consideration of the lineage of titles which the original inspired – and i do sincerely hope it’s a cheeky homage to the agony crossbow – but it’s also a lesson in poor adaptation. a signature weapon from the evil within 1 & 2, the lynchpin the agony crossbow rests on in the original game is a crafting system dedicated entirely to its output, giving its litany of options distinct value and decision-making potential while reserving its use for player discretion. the second game dilutes this by more broadly allowing you to craft other types of ammunition in addition to bolts, which is the trap upon which RE4R is similarly founded with its crafting system. the system in and of itself is already mostly a needless addition without much interesting balancing relevance, but there's a smaller problem specifically in relation to the bolt thrower - on replays with a more comprehensive view towards where and when your knife could break in relation to its usage and the positioning of merchants, it’s all but certain you’ll be reserving kitchen and boot knifes almost exclusively for the crafting of bolts. it’s a question which at every turn mostly answers itself. the mines which attach to the bolts are interesting since they can be positioned in fun ways with foreknowledge and they also explicitly signal you’ll lose a bolt, but for the most part it’s a safe resource you can be sure you’ll never lose sight of, which is notable if only because it seems to be the opposite of what this game intends to go for. with an eye for long-term planning in relation to bolt usage and knife usage, it’s almost unbelievable how sections of the game i had really struggled with on my first playthrough of hardcore (largely spent surviving minute to minute with shells and rifle ammunition being luxuries) became almost trivial on a second go of it. despite reaching a high level of proficiency in the original, it’s telling that i still never approach things the same conservative way that i often would in RE4R.
in some ways, metered knife dependency the way RE4R approaches it might be the wrong question to be asking. after all there’s nothing stopping players from running away from engagements to seek repairs most of the time if they were so inclined, and there’s precious few chokepoints that make errant knife usage legitimately hazardous. there’s another version of RE4 out there that’s a bit different – it’s called dmc1 – and what’s notable about it is that it remains one of the strongest instances of meter dependency you could reasonably conceptualize in a game. devil trigger is an important resource that you need to tap into – you can build it only by engaging with the combat system, and it allows for a lot of freedom in battles while being tightly designed to prevent abuse, making resource management an ever-present consideration. it was also seemingly designed with a view for a long-term playthrough, perhaps with the intention of allowing players to turn to macro strategy. it’s tempting to ascribe the same quality to RE4R as well, but with every workaround that’s currently in place – whether it’s foreknowledge of merchants, the ability to return to them quickly in certain cases, or kitchen knives/boot knives which will conspicuously be more present in enemy drops thanks to extremely gracious dynamic difficulty if your knife is close to breaking – it seems more clear that it’s intended to act as a measure to get people panicking as a result of the jams they’d enter in their first playthrough while introducing a very slight layer of decision-making. it’s questionable how true this is – after all, every prompt where you could use a knife is very explicitly signaled, which is a distinct contrast from the purpose of something like fuel in REmake or matches in the evil within 1 – but i suppose it’d get people into the groove nonetheless. but if only there was some way to introduce meter dependency to discourage certain actions and reinforce careful thought in a way that was truly interlinked with the game’s mechanics without handing out this many get-out-of-jail-free cards…
ahem, comparisons to resident evil 6 have run amok since the release of the demo and to be sure, this is the only resident evil game since to squarely address action game mechanics, but ironically (and perhaps controversially) most of the comparisons reflect on RE4R poorly. despite its disorganized presentation and severely unsystematic approach, resident evil 6 is still one of the last capcom action games to anchor itself on player agency, and it has an enemy suite which is designed to match this. they're legible in their behaviour and they're consistent in how you can affect them. the game's most compelling qualities might be relegated to side content in its fantastic mercenaries mode versus the vulgar bombast presented in its campaign, but even those mercenaries scenarios are fledgling score attack exercises with legitimate thought given to the waves of enemies converging on your location. mess around a bit and you’ll find a game teeming with an onslaught of strong enemy types which is at no point at risk of illegibility, in which the effect your actions can have on enemies is always consistent, in which enemies still adhere to more classical ideas of encounter design, and in which the resource management imposed by stamina (versus the knife) yields just as many meaningful decisions on a moment to moment basis with similar consequences for misuse without throttling the strongest aspects of the game or precluding the player from engaging on those terms. the game is, almost to a fault, an intentionally spearheaded evolution of principles which are enshrined by both the original re4 and re5 – it’s fundamentally the same type of game. RE4R, meanwhile, belongs to a different caste of games in this regard by eschewing clarity and consistency for a middle ground which neither matches the deliberate rhythms of the original nor the dizzying highs of re6’s combat systems.
if i had to pick a favourite element of RE4R, it would be everything to do with luis, but if i have to choose something else i’d have to pick something which i haven’t seen much discussion of yet – the treasure economy. or at least it would be in theory, because regrettably and frustratingly, it’s still emblematic of a lot of the game’s issues. in the original game, treasure becomes an afterthought on subsequent playthroughs – you know where it is and you attempt to maximize the benefits you’ll reap by virtue of your patience, or you don’t bother and you forego the PTAs. seeing a fitting grounds for expansion, RE4R opts to introduce more layers to treasures – now, the way gems are laid in treasures can be optimized to provide higher payouts depending on the way you’ve combined gems, but it could take even longer to put together. this, combined with a lower turnout on PTAs in hardcore, makes for a tantalizing risk/reward economy – you’re always just on the verge of upgrades, and the treasures are massive boons, but if you’re patient you might be able to reach an even greater payday. the issue is that for all the touches of inconsistency present in the game, treasure is once again consistent for some reason. once you know where things are located on playthrough 1, you’ll know where they’re located on playthrough 2 – why include the gem payout table at all if people are going to go through the same rhythms again so they can optimize their payouts? if they had kept a system in which the treasures were consistent, but the gems were randomized across playthroughs, this would have been a wonderful system which i think would have served as an intelligent expansion of the original’s tenets because it would have kept players constantly thinking. further harming this is the fact that treasures are easier to find than ever, and the spinel trading system is subject to a lot of the same considerations which mostly leave something to be desired in spite of how strong the working concept is.
RE4R is not a bad game, but it’s a frustratingly risk averse one – we’re talking about a game whose hallmarks include attache case tetris and they have decided to include an auto-organizer at the click of a button. its best qualities are rehashes of either the game it’s based on or of contemporary third person-shooters that still arguably retain more to unpack and think about (the evil within 2, dead space 2, debatably the last of us). it’s a shock to the system to play a modern TPS that isn’t meandering in pace or languidly focused on some misguided appropriation of cinematic expression to its detriment, but even RE4R’s slower-paced moments – total anathema to the game it’s in conversation with – still present SOMETHING different that sticks out in my memory, some kind of hook to latch onto. there’s a late game section which uncharacteristically wrests control from your grasp and forces you to march forward which, for a few moments, taps into a new idea which the game could have called its own if it had the gumption. instead it opted to pay homage to the original's action game legacy - it's not the wrong decision per se, but without that substantive design backing it up, i'm not certain it was the right one.
- admittedly great soundtrack though, not exactly an aesthetic quality of the original that shone.
- love the new merchant
- narratively it's tonally confused but there are a few moments that make me think they're a little in on the joke. i'd submit it's not quite as self-serious as you'd expect from one of these remakes but that doesn't mean it has as much fun with the source material as you'd like. the villains are charisma voids here since they don't show up to talk their shit ever and it's telling that they dumped like half of salazar's most iconic lines into his boss fight since he had no other opportunity to reference them. come on guys, do something new, even re3make abandoned the most iconic line from the original game because it was the right thing to do.
- environments look great from time to time, enemies...much less so. the artist who likes object heads and sharp teeth got their hands on re4, now just you wait and see what he does with re5
- oh yeah they're remaking re5, no question about it. funniest decision of all time. im willing to betray all my principles on remakes to see that. at this point im just along for the ride, they haven't put out a resident evil game i've really liked in a long while.
- there's an interesting wrinkle in this game's narrative - it's this newly introduced thread about the capacity people have for change, which i think is a somewhat fitting idea given the parasite motif, but all the strongest changes are basically just reserved for luis and ashley and no one else gets anything neat. not sure where they were going with this ultimately.
- what's up with the minecart section in this. even re6 has a traditional minecart section and that game also has free movement so don't bother trying to say they needed to script it here
- the thing i was really looking for here was some REmake level thread which justified its existence - something that showed they gave a lot of thought to the original game's mechanics and intended to evolve it while providing a fundamentally different experience. REmake is very much a Side B to the original RE1's Side A - you won't get value from it without understanding the original title it's in conversation with. regrettably, this was not the case and RE4R's remixes of the original game's content are much more pedestrian and conventional.
- good on them for making krauser a boss fight this time and i enjoy the krauser encounters in the original
- i'm really underselling how much i enjoyed luis in this game
- separate ways dlc...zzz...

what if we made counter-strike but it had the lightning pace & matchup knowledge required of fighting games. you have to put up with ubisofts abysmal pc client, occasional server issues, an extremely steep learning curve, and years of iterative liveservice grievances, but the reward for your patience, composure, and penchant for masochism is one of the most dynamic & fierce multiplayer shooters you could sink your teeth into. skirmishes are claustrophobic, intensely layered, and verge into eerie; when communications are in disarray and the information economy siege is founded on fails to tick properly every environment tends to feel like it's haunted, almost voyeuristic. you never know what hole operators are peeking at you through, or if they're inverse rappelling from above a window with laser sights trained on you. just as the cruelty of hunt: showdown ate up a lot of my time in 2022, i expect 2023 to be the year of siege standing in for my personal go-to multiplayer vehicle

i can't say i anticipated enjoying this as much as i do but sometimes my tastes skew far more plain than i posture them. DRG is really charming. in my eyes it's the first cooperative game since L4D2 to really match that game's quickfire energy with accessible yet layered strategizing; the four available classes are idiosyncratic to such an extent that you might feel naked in any given operation without even one of their toolkits. it smartly pairs lite-monster hunter mission variability & team synergization with 2010's procgen & terrain destructibility to create these delicious scenarios where blue-collar panic is the norm as you shuffle and squirm in pitch-black subterranean sprawl. it's you and your dwarven brothers against hordes of starship troopers bugs, a wealth of toxic environs, and really all manners of cave fauna...as well as plenty of other surprises (both the extent of enemy and mission variability were genuine delights to me). i have a fondness for these kinds of titles - one where environment is integral to engagement, not just as a means of circumnavigation but as something that can be excavated, twisted, molded, and manipulated to create opportunity. the missions where you have to construct labyrinthine pipelines (and then RAIL GRIND ON THEM) or clumsily build connections to power machinery throughout convoluted geometry that has been torn apart by explosive combat, awkward digs, or meteor intervention set my brain alight. no more words only rock and stone.

being an axl main is awesome. everyone hates you and routinely skips past playing you for the simple crime of forcing them to play a bit of neutral. you prevent them from running their twenty second lockdown pressure drills for a bit and it’s the end of the world; they’d much rather go up against the litany of other rushdown characters who can all do that or the guy that can eat your healthbar in three decisions.
the game is fine. as far as its pace is concerned, strive is essentially rocket tag, and that’s a fine thing to enjoy. it just comes at the obviously infamous cost of representing a departure from xrd (or prior entries but i won’t pretend to be knowledgeable in this arena). this has invited natural comparisons to street fighter (super turbo in particular) and samurai shodown, but i think the core system mechanics manage to carve their own niche within the high damage subgenre. for all the debate around simplification, it seems clear to me that arcsys’s goal was to create a fighting game that the majority of people familiar with the genre can learn simply through relevant match experience, avoiding the confines of the training room and bringing the title in line with an older arcade experience. again, totally fine thing to be. i do think i prefer xrd’s brand of bullshit but not because it’s inherently more cerebral or anything - matches just tend to feel more dynamic. it’s an instance where strives emphasis on creatively using meter’s hundreds of applicable permutations to open holes in opponents defense is somewhat negated by the lack of opportunities to tap in per round and by how viciously quick some of these rounds can close out.
i strongly dislike the menus, user interface, and lobby system, but this aside it’s curious to me that strive represents an artistic departure from the rest of the series as well and this aspect has mostly been swept under the rug by the community. i assume this is fine for most because it’s pretty and because we will never escape the fondness gamers have for the metal gear rising/anarchy reigns soundtrack. still, its very much an intentional continuation of xrds aesthetic sensibilities - understandable given that titles landmark reception - but it feels worth mentioning that we are at this point quite far removed from the grungy, muted, and punk tone of earlier entries. but giovannas hot so who can say whether this is bad or not

not morally egregious per se but rather a depressing culmination of a decade's worth of design trickery and (d)evolving cultural/social tastes and otherwise exists as insipid twitchcore autoplaying bullshit that should come with a contractual agreement binding its devotees to never speak prejudicially about mobile games or musou ever again lest they face legally enforced financial restitution. just play nex machina man. or watch NFL. been a fun season for that. fuck the review man let's talk sports in the comments

fully automated gambling is a mainstay of digital entertainment, but whenever its presence is established in other titles i never once felt the need to participate. too much time, too little reward. i imagine most players feel the same given the achievement stats for new vegas, a title where hustling on the strip is the game’s core motif. and yet in spite of my disposition, i found myself spending an inordinate amount of time in red dead redemption II playing poker. when i wasn’t playing poker, i’d be hitting blackjack, and if i wasn’t betting against the dealer i’d be making my bones in dominoes. on paper, none of this served any real practical purpose. unlike the brisk pleasures of most computerized gambling, a round of poker in RDR2 takes much, much more time – your opponents need to shuffle the deck, lay out the cards, or place their chips on a bet. sometimes their decisions won’t be near instantaneous, and in all cases, the victor will smugly reap the spoils of their bet, dragging their hoard of chips inwards. as if the protracted length of gambling wasn’t enough, RDR2 axes the high-stakes poker variant from the original game, so even in the best-case scenario – a six player poker match, no player leaves early, and you rob everyone of their chips – you can only stand to net $25 dollars in profit. a handsome sum in 1899, but a pittance in contrast to RDR2’s other revenue streams, especially when you factor in the time investment. it’s all too likely you’ll end up losing money if you gamble poorly. why bother?
i still gambled a lot though. no matter the inconvenience of the supposed realism on offer, i wanted to fleece people. i wanted to stop and think about my decisions, and i wanted to withstand droughts of bad luck only to tap in when fortune was turning in my favour. and i guess uncle’s smug aura at camp made me want to rip him off all the more. the defining trait which enables this engagement is also RDR2’s greatest strength: the level of verisimilitude it aspires to. the slowing-down-of-affairs intrinsic to RDR2 is somewhat uncharacteristic of rockstar, but they’ve thrown their immense weight behind a kind of granularity not often observed even in comparable massive AAA productions. i honestly think it saved the game for me. i had to force myself through gritted teeth to finish the first red dead and GTA IV, and i’ll never finish GTA V at this rate, but conversely for close to three weeks straight i lost myself in rockstar’s portrait of the old, dying west, however illusory it was.
GTA is very much predicated on extreme player agency in real-world facsimile. the dedication the team committed to this vision creates this inherent friction where in the absence of real limitation, the world rarely feels alive but feels more akin to a little diorama or a quite literal playspace. the devil is always in the details with these titles, but i find the fetishism for the microscopic to be little more than framing at best and rote at worst. maybe if you walk the streets of san andreas in GTA V and get lost in a suburb, quietly observing the mundane (they need an umarell minigame in these games), a lived-in feeling really does exist, but this does not feel like genuine intent so much as it feels like supporting the foundation of american pantomime.
while the quotidian is nothing more than a byproduct in GTA, its function in RDR2 is the games essence. new to the series are various impositions which carefully stitch together simulation elements, asking for a stronger degree of investment from the player than past rockstar entries, both in a literal and abstracted sense. hunger and stamina have to be continually managed for both the player and their steed, money is harder to come by than prior rockstar games, and every activity (hunting, fishing, crafting, cooking, gambling, weapons maintenance, chores + camp support, horse grooming, even just simple travel given that fast travel isn’t immediately present) represents an innate time investment – gone is the sense of casual gratification, tightened ever so slightly more for the sake of a more cohesive world. naturally i’d be remiss to not point out they’re intrusive to only the mildest of degrees - it’s certainly the ‘fastest’ game ive ever played with a simulation bent - and rockstar’s aim here isn’t necessarily to rock the boat but instead one of vanity, to impress with their technological prowess and visual panache.
i understand that rockstar titles are now once-in-a-generation events subject to whatever epoch of games discourse they are releasing in but it is with great amusement that i look back to two strands of dominant conversation at the time of the game’s release: that it is too realistic for its own good, and that its mission design is archaic. both are conversational topics that, at least from my perspective, miss the forest for the trees with critical rdr2 discussion, and at least partially feel like people taking rockstar to task for GTA IV & V’s design after forgetting to do so the first time. firstly, everything addressed as cumbersome in rdr2 is polished to a mirror sheen; whatever truth might be found regarding rockstars digital fetishism impacting personal enjoyment loses a bit of edge when one considers that the inconveniences imposed on the player are essentially operating at a bare minimum. for every measure of sternness here there is a comical remedy. players might be expected to have attire fitting for the climate zone they travel in lest they suffer core drainage, but the reality is that preparation is easy, conducted through lenient menu selection, and at no point is the player strictly via the main narrative made to trudge through the underutilized snowy regions. even a snowy mission in the epilogue automatically equips you with a warm coat, negating the need for foresight. temperature penalties are easily negated for lengthy periods of time if you consume meals that fortify your cores. you don’t even really, honestly have to eat. the penalties associated with the ‘underweight’ class don’t obstruct players very much and individuals can forego the core system entirely just to rely on health cures and tonics alike, meaning it’s a survival/simulation system carefully planned out so certain kinds of players don’t actually have to engage with the systems at all. the most egregious offender for the audience, then, is time investment, for which my rebuttal is nothing so eloquent: just that it’s barely a significant one. there’s something genuinely fascinating about this undercurrent of somewhat strained response to an AAA production making the slightest of efforts to cultivate a stricter set of systems for immersion only to be met with the claim that it goes against the basic appeal of games, something which i at least find consistently prescriptive, contradictory, and totally self-interested. that breath of the wilds approach to open world design predates this is probably at least somewhat contributory - after all its priorities are to filter reality and freedom through more sharply accented and cohesive game design, far from the totalizing rigidity of rockstars work – but it’s not a case of one needing to mimic the other when it’s simpler to state that the contrasting titles just have different priorities. all this is to say that RDR2 is really missing something without some kind of hardcore mode, which would have probably increased my personal enjoyment exponentially and led to a tighter game.
secondly, the complaints regarding mission design are reductive and downplay a much, much broader foundational problem. there are a lot more missions that i actually liked compared to the usual rockstar fare this time, in part because character dialogue is mostly serviceable and not grating, but also because several of them are content to serve characterization or to convey some kind of tailored experience. all the best missions bring the combat to a halt rather than a crescendo. serve on a mission alongside hosea, for instance, and the odds are unlikely you’ll end up drawing your revolver. likewise certain missions are focused entirely on camaraderie, narrative, or some other kind of unique quality. this works really well in spite of the game’s tendency to anchor the proceedings to the mechanically dull yet market-proven gunslinging. it’s unfortunate to center so much of this game around combat when the shooting rarely, if ever, registers as more than serviceable; pulling the trigger feels great, but its repetition, lack of intimate level or encounter design, and oddly weighted aiming reticule underscore a game in need of some kind of revision. strangely enough there are many options for mixing melee approaches and gunslinging in a manner that feels close to appealing but is never leaned on because it’s just not efficient, paired nicely with level design, or geared towards survivability. likewise, the scores of ammunition types and combative crafting options feels redundant in the face of the simplicity of the ol’ reliable revolver and repeater, the lack of genuine ammunition limitation (you’re always able to stock more ammo than you could ever reasonably need) and every enemy’s total vulnerability to precise aim.
but the fact that there are genuinely enjoyable missions that focus more on the game’s verisimilitude is indicative of my chief takeaway from RDR2: all of my favourite components of the game managed to make me finally understand the appeal of the rockstar portfolio, and all of my least favourite components reminded me that i was playing a rockstar game, with a formula and brand reputation that now serves as a millstone around the neck obstructing genuine innovation or risk. for one thing, it was absolutely lost on me until RDR2 that these are open world games which are concerned with a loose sense of role playing but don’t much care for the implementation of stats, skill trees, abilities, or what have you. because these systems are handled with more care than in the past, i found there to be genuine pleasure in this complete reprieve from the mechanical, with an emphasis towards simply just existing and being. without the admittedly illusory constraints of the core systems or the time investment required from its activities, i may not have stopped to have felt any of it – it would have been every bit as inconsequential as GTA. but RDR2 demands to be soaked in. its landscapes really are vast and gorgeous. the permutations of the weather can lead to some dazzling displays; tracking and hunting down the legendary wolf at the cotorra springs during a thunderstorm is imagery permanently seared into my brain even after dozens upon dozens of hours of play.
however well-intentioned it is though, this emphasis on simulation betrays a tendency towards excess that is profoundly damaging and saddles RDR2 with a lot of detritus where a sharper lens would have benefitted its approach to simulation. this is especially bad when considering that a good deal of these extraneous elements are where the crunch surrounding RDR2’s development is most inextricably felt. broader discourse often struggles to find a way to discuss bad labour practices without either treating it as a footnote in the history of an otherwise ‘good’ title (thereby excising its role in production completely) or only writing about it from a pro-labour critical stance, but RDR2 makes my work in reconciling these threads easy: it’s just too sweeping in scope for its own good, and it’s difficult to see how mismanagement and crunch resulted in a better game. after years of these scathing reports and discussions, it’s hard not to let out a grim chuckle when you reach the game’s epilogue, which opens up an entire state in RDR2, only to realize that all this landmass has zero main narrative context. new austin and the grizzlies are massive regions, perhaps not pointless in their inclusion per se, but the campaign has difficulties integrating them yet leaves them present in their totality. it’s a wealth of untamed land included for its own sake.
this is especially frustrating because the game’s structure is suggestive of, strangely enough, sly cooper. the van der linde gang moves further and further away from the west over the course of the game into new and uncharted territory and in each chapter, comes to grips with the surrounding locales trying to pinpoint where the next great score or heist may present itself. every time seems like a small reinvention. the atmosphere at camp changes, new dialogues present themselves, new opportunities, and the narrative is content to settle on one small pocket of the world rather than its sum. perhaps it’s not the rockstar modus operandi but when i realized this was the game’s impetus, i thought it would have been a fantastic way to try something different, for a change – to focus on a small number of higher density regions with a bit less sprawl. i think at least part of why i feel this way is because the narrative is not one bit committed to its stakes. they want you to feel like an outlaw on the run, the law at your heels, the world shrinking around you, and your freedoms slowly being siphoned away, and yet there’s no tangible consequence in RDR2’s worldstate for sticking around valentine, strawberry, or rhodes – three towns that you wreak significant havoc in – like there is for even daring to return to blackwater, the site of a massacre which kickstarts the events of the game proper. obviously the ability to return to blackwater would break the story on its hinges, which is treated as such, but it’s hard to say why any other town gets a free pass.
anyways i find it somewhat ironic that after a journey replete with as many peaks and valleys as the old west it's modeled on, it's the comparatively muted epilogue which is still holding my attention and adoration. the first game's epilogue was, similarly, a striking coda to a wildly uneven experience. after screeching to a halt for its final act, RDR1's culminating grace notes center around a hollow, self-gratifying act of vengeance which succinctly underscored the alienation & ennui of the world you were left stranded in. it was a weirdly audacious swing for rockstar to take in 2010 - to explicate the ever-present emptiness and artificiality of their worlds as part and parcel of RDR1's thematic intent – but in spite of my dislike of the rest of the title, i found that it resonated with me.
RDR2 has a somewhat similar ace up its sleeve. following the game's highest point of intensity, the player (now with john marston taking the reins instead of arthur morgan) is thrust into a narrative scenario ill at ease with the game's prior formal language, seemingly begging at all turns for the player to put up their guns. every triumph in the epilogue chapters won by means of gunslinging bravado is, as a result, sharply dissonant; the score is often explosive, almost mythic in the way that it recalls RDR1, but there's a sort of uncanniness present because, in leveraging its prequel status, one has total clarity as to where this path eventually leads. like in RDR1, the throughline here is still one of inevitability.
complimenting this is the epilogue's equal amount of focus afforded towards john struggling to acclimate to the simple pleasures of domesticity. a natural extension of john’s unexpectedly genius characterization in RDR2’s narrative up to this point as arthur’s perpetually irresponsible and imprudent little brother, this focus on smaller-scale character study allows for his character to be more fleshed-out than he ever was in RDR1. similarly, the missions present in the epilogue are afforded more variance than anywhere else in the main game, taking the title’s previously established simulation elements and bringing them to the forefront of the proceedings. taking your wife out for a nice day in the town is probably my favourite mission in the game - it felt tender in a way that i have never once come to expect from these titles.
it's a taut novella that honestly represents some of rockstars finest work, so naturally it's only accessible after some 40-70 hours of ho hum debauchery and mediocrity. no reason to waste more time on this so let’s carve through the more important bullet points quickly. arthur is a wonderful protagonist, likely the best rockstar has conceptualized for how he compliments the structure of these games. he’s someone who isn’t a lone wolf nor a second-in-command, but rather a mover and shaker who is third in the hierarchy and remains blinded by both loyalty, cynicism, and self-hatred. it’s a reasonable enough marriage between the game’s pressing narrative demands and the freedom to act that a rockstar title is built on, disregarding the horrid implementation of a trite morality system. all the little flourishes animating his character are excellent – the journal he writes in quickly became one of my favourite features of the game. roger clark’s performance alone is enough to carry the game’s writing when it sags, which it often does – clemens point and guarma are terrible chapters. side quests are also largely bad, save for a few that present themselves in the beaver hollow chapter - up until this point they are rife with the kind of desperate attempts at juvenile humour rockstar built their empire on. it’s less good that so much of arthur’s arc is connected to the game’s worst characters in dutch and micah. rockstar’s writers just do not have the capacity and talent to bring the vision of a charismatic leader to life in dutch – they want you to believe in the slow-brewing ruination of the gang and dutch’s descent into despotism but the reality is he starts the game off as an insecure, inept, and frayed captain and only gets much, much worse as the game chugs along. micah is just despicable and not in a compelling way, an active thorn in everyone’s side who no one likes and whose presence makes everything worse. reading about the van der linde gang’s initially noble exploits in-game and contrasting it with an early mission where micah kills almost everyone in a town to retrieve his revolvers is actively comical and it never really stops gnawing at one’s mind. just registers as a total impossibility that not one person in the gang considers this guy an active liability to continued survival. i think he’s someone who can be salvaged since he’s already an inverse to arthur and implicitly serves as a foil to john but not enough work was done to make these elements of the character grounded or believable. cartoon villain level depravity, dude sucks.
the rest of the characters range broadly from underused & underwritten to charming in a quaint way. arthur and john are the highlights, i liked charles and uncle, the rest...mixed bag of successes and failures. javier and bill are more well-realized than their RDR1 incarnations, but most of their character work is tucked away in optional & hidden scenes. sadie is one of the few other characters to be given narrative prominence towards the end, and she kind of really sucks. the list goes on. despite this, lingering in camp is so easily one of the game's strongest draws - wandering around and seeing hundreds upon hundreds of little randomized interactions is a delight, and there's no doubt in my mind that i still missed scores of them.
those more inclined to cynicism probably won't be able to reconcile any of this game's messy threads, and its strengths will likely be eclipsed by its tendencies towards waste as well as its tactless emulation of prestige drama, but for a time i found my own pleasure in the illusion of the west. i think i felt enthralled by it realizing that this was the closest to a great experience rockstar had in them, knowing that they're only likely to regress from here on. rockstar has an unfortunate habit of only being able to conceptualize one’s relationship to their environment if it’s predicated on danger, but at its best RDR2 is able to overcome this, however briefly it might last.

burial rites for the exiled and forgotten. what else can i do to save these people?
painterly in a way that eludes a lot of similarly inclined first-person shooters, genuinely really striking images presented here and accompanied with an eerie soundscape. it’s shackled to linearity both in rhythm and in how it opts to supply the player with resources, which admittedly may not have earned it the warmth it deserved back in 2009, but there’s an appreciated pointedness to its pace which perfectly accompanies its relatively short runtime. frankness is ultimately its greatest asset; most of the nonlinearity here is deployed through the vignettes comprising its narrative, portraying the north wind’s genuine tragedy with a leanness & brevity that underlines the humanity of its limited cast. as your journey shifts from something seemingly corporeal to metaphysical and impressionistic, it is this comfort with being construed as folkloric which allows its final moments to not only register as meaningful, but to provide this unexpected & poignant catharsis. really loved it.

i was just shy of 1cc'ing the original ghosts n' goblins a year ago and fell off practicing because life got in the way & it wasn't exactly the most pleasurable game to 1cc. i feel a lot more motivated to try and actually best this one after a couple of runs. in theory ghouls n' ghosts is easier than ghosts n' goblins but it's more accurate to describe the latter as uneven; across its campaign there were scenarios you could trivialize through exploits side-by-side with segments which were often brutally difficult. ghouls is a lot more consistently fair as an arcade title, but consequently there isn't a single segment you can cheekily sidestep here. you have to play by the game's ruleset, which naturally means there are still some quite onerous stages to overcome. aside from this now very natural difficulty curve, the movement is silky smooth, its aesthetic is immaculate, and challenge always resides in that idealized zone of strategy and reaction. the treasure chest system is hilarious once you come to grips with what's actually going on and will probably only continue to unfold its intricacies across repeat playthroughs, and unlike the original i never felt like my run became fucked just because i picked up a different weapon. might be the gold standard for the kind of arcade experiences i gravitate towards?

this game requires no introduction anymore so i'm not beating around the bush. drakengard has been on my mind a fair bit recently - on the off chance you'll forgive a second log i think it's worth examining some of what the title accomplishes uniquely well, or what it's able to achieve with respect to the various titles that it's in conversation with. first of all: there's nothing quite as flatline-inducing or revealing of the author's own tendencies as reading that drakengard was intentionally poorly designed, a commonly held idea in various hobbyist communities frustratingly stemming just as often from its supporters as from its detractors. not only is this a frightfully pedantic and dull reduction of the text - it's also just an elaborately constructed fiction masking deeper truths. for instance, i think it's plain as day our burgeoning critical language still struggles with titles seemingly antithetical to traditional enjoyment, and are only able to escape from suffocating evaluative lexicon through irony or genre labels. survival horror isn't normally 'fun' & people appear willing to understand this so the genre gets a normative pass en masse, although it seems worth mentioning that the longer they exist in the public eye the more their mechanical frameworks get totally demystified by the public, arguably reducing them to vehicles for pleasure and gratification anyways, resident evil being the prime example.
drakengard, of course, isn't survival horror. it's largely a musou with some horror trappings, but it's rather plain about its affectation. however, because the traditional 'game' part of it is in such conflict with its aesthetic, we end up with the idea that this dissonance is a result of intentionally languid, engineered dissatisfaction. oh wow that wacky yoko taro wanted you to feel bad so he made his debut game bad. bzzzzt. wrong. square enix wanted a commercial success with drakengard. if they didn't, they wouldn't have requested that a project starting out as a simple remix of ace combat (owing massive inspiration to electrosphere in particular, another game that combines peerless arcade bluster with bleak narrative proceedings) would incorporate elements of its contemporary blockbuster peer, dynasty warriors. none of this is to say that drakengard can't be an awkward game, but it's in large part due to a friction with cavia's inexperience/lack of technical expertise, their attempts at holding true to their initial vision for the project, and square enix being desperate for a worthy competitor to koei tecmo's success.
here's where i'll stake a claim on something potentially contentious and risible. on the basis of the title's struggles in production & development, it is somewhat shocking that drakengard is not just 'not bad', but is a totally competent musou game. given the milieu in which it released, you might even dare to call it 'good', or 'well-made'. i'll double down with something absolutely no one wants to hear: most people have no point of reference because musou is rarely put in its historic context, appreciated for its strengths, or even, broadly speaking, played. disregarding popular experimental offshoot licensed games which carry their own unique magnetism, dynasty warriors has an especially prevalent stigma in contemporary action game circles, and few seem willing to return to reevaluate the franchise. if we accept this as the case, we can begin to understand why nostalgia is the primary driver of fondness for early musou, and why you always hear dynasty warriors 3 is the best one. 'load of bull', you say, 'drakengard is not good', you say, 'dynasty warriors sold millions and is beloved for inventing the drama; surely it's better', you say, but take a look at these admittedly small sample sizes (evidence A and evidence B) and you tell me which is actually the niche ip at present. one of these broader game worlds got a FFXIV collaboration. it was not dynasty warriors.
anyways the idea that drakengard could be a respected peer to dynasty warriors - or even, perhaps, better - is not ahistorical. drakengard came out in 2003, only a few months after the release of dynasty warriors 4. by this point in the dynasty warriors timeline, your only sources of inspiration for the musou canon are dynasty warrior 2 and dynasty warriors 3. they're fine games for what they are - content-rich, pop recontextualizations of romance of the three kingdoms that fold the intense political drama, grandiose character dynamics, and poeticizing of feudal history intrinsic to the novel and morphs them into larger-than-life battles of one against one hundred. it works for that series, but having played dynasty warriors 3, it's also very simply orchestrated. DW3 is kinetic and energetic, sure, but form is not function. as a still nascent series, DW3 has yet to experiment with elements that would come to define later entries, such as a strong emphasis on field management - its presence in 3 is largely muted and, dependent upon your stats, can often be negated. it is mostly a game of fulfilling your objectives, grinding up your stats, and engaging in undemanding combat pulling the same strong combo strings against some unique generals and a multitude of carbon copy generic ones. and i happen to appreciate it for what it is, but there is no question in my mind if you slotted that exact same mechanical framework into drakengard's tone and setting, it would be similarly deemed bad on purpose.
other than its tone what does drakengard do differently from this purely mechanical perspective? honestly, not too much from DW3! archers are still often priority targets, because if you don't prioritize them you will get knocked off your horse dragon. mission structure is usually quite similar, arguably with a bit less back and forth. combos require virtually the exact same input. the camera in both games is kind of fucked up. aside from abstruse unlock requirements and a...unique, system of progression, the biggest differences are mostly relegated to additions rather than subtractions. there are more enemy designs than just grunt soldiers. you can dodge now. the game is weapon-driven rather than character-driven ala DW3, which allows for its own form of unique experimentation. the soundtrack is excellent, i'm not accepting complaints. to aid in breaking up the pace, there are aerial missions that play somewhat comparably to panzer dragoon on-rail segments which are actually quite fun; likewise, the hybrid missions allow for angelus to be used as a means of offence in ground warfare and rain hellfire from above. it keeps things relatively varied. there's no troops to manage because caim is fighting a losing war and willingly formed a pact with the only being capable of potentially turning the tides, and the game is content to use the musou form to communicate ideas about caim and angelus to great effect.
of course, it's the narrative which gives drakengard a lot of its greatest texture (and is also demonstrative of its greatest strengths and appeals as a DW clone), but we can save discussion of that for some other time; for now it's more important for me to say that it's not quite the outright condemnation of violence through ludology that so many claim it is (it's far more interested in more subtle forms of violence than the explicit and ceaseless murder it depicts anyways). really, this was just a self-indulgent exercise in placing drakengard in its historic context once and for all, away from all the retrospectives it's been getting as a result of nier's runaway success. drakengard is a game that won't be for most, but it's a game that's lingered in my memory long since i first played it. it takes an, at the time, relatively new genre, and through sheer passion and dedication spins it into a uniquely transgressive idea while still remaining an enjoyable title to let unfold. if it feels numbing or meditative, that's more or less the exact emotional resonance that something like DW3 is targeting - drakengard just uses it to achieve more things than a sense of gratifying white noise. it remains peerless because of all of its contradictions, because of how messy and thorny it is as a game, and because we'll never see anything approaching this utterly unique interplay of emotional rhythms and macabre, uncanny storytelling wearing the skin of its crowdpleasing predecessors ever again.

originally had this scored as much lower because the author of the thread where you can download this recommended you try out a much rougher version first because it's more challenging, and not the rebalanced 1.31 version that's actually fun to play and teaches you its systems. imagine that!
this is an interesting one. night slashers x is a fanmade revision of data east's night slashers, replete with the usual tweaks and adjustments you'd see in a project like this such as widescreen support and a four player co-op mode. but they've also made a significant overhaul to the original game's rather simplistic suite of mechanics. the original night slashers was essentially a final fight clone (honghua's animations are without exaggeration 1:1 with guy's). so aside from the horror trappings which inform its aesthetic, the only component distinguishing it from a bevy of similarly inclined beat em ups is its treasure-lite sensibilities. mob waves are intense, difficult, and uncompromising, but boss encounters are plentiful, fair, & challenging. night slashers is very much a beat em up which reduces its capability for player expression as a result of teetering-on-unfair encounter design, but the end result is a manageable title which asks the player to strip down to only the barest necessities for each combat encounter and to carefully engage in hitbox outfighting and counterpunching. of course, this description reflects the game at its best when more careful examination reveals this may not exactly have been the intention. there's a suite of chargeable attacks which are almost completely incompatible with the title's whims; charging takes far too long and enemies are far too zealous in approach, rendering it largely superfluous as a means of offence. likewise, your two shmup bomb-eque special attacks are both conveniently introduced 'get-off-me' panic buttons which decimate the calvaries of the dead while incurring significant damage to the player, which should act as a deterrant to player abuse, but can quickly be overcome through modern emulated credit feeding. even disregarding that, it's still clearly a mechanic introduced through necessity in a game with mobs as dense as these. these mechanics both depict a game that isn't exactly designed sharply, or even with honest intentions at heart, but with the right mindset one learns to quickly ignore these infelicities. you surpass night slashers by rarely resorting to the charge attacks, having a plan for every encounter, and using foreknowledge of the stages to manage health for future encounters - you have to know ahead of time when is the best moment to strike with a special attack. the end result is a simplistic & snappy albeit broken game that nevertheless manages to thrill with its contradictory ruleset.
X, meanwhile, should be the better beat 'em up in theory. widescreen support allows for increased environmental legibility and allows for more careful circumnavigation of mobs, rebalancing some encounters means they often do not skew as much towards nickel-and-diming you, and there's an immense amount of additional content this time around. but i think it's also just this complete and total testament to fangame maximalism. every new mechanic under the sun that could have been implemented is here. wake-up attacks, recovery, blocking, dodging, counters, input commands, smash bros-esque combo strings and grabs, a meter bar separate from HP tied to your specials, risk/reward mechanics tied to regaining meter, counterhits...the list goes on. likewise, this is the most insane roster of guest characters ever conceived? ash williams from the evil dead, i understand, but what's ortega from saturday night slam masters doing here? or kurokishi from guardians: denjin makai ii? or aska from tournament fighters? it boggles the mind. total indulgence. it's technically a bit more fairly designed, but it's this immense deluge of newly introduced options and heaps of 'polish' that ironically detracts from the kinetic flair of the original night slashers, irrespective of any enjoyment to be had here. the length of the campaigns are vaguely similar despite some extended segments or newly introduced levels in X - so why does it feel like X is so, so much longer than the original?
at the very least, as a fangame, this is an impressive effort - and it's a better translation of what makes the original night slashers enjoyable than streets of rage remake is for that franchise. but sometimes less is more, and maybe sometimes cruel is more, too.

they made me work my ass off for a few nip slips. chica featured on the cover is not in the game. im pretty sure girl 2 called me a super pig pilot. reward for completion is a lady gyrating her hips on loop to the credits theme. surprised this made it onto this site given IGDBs policy but the panties stay on at all times in sexy invaders so maybe that's part of the reason why. deeply amusing seeing the nintendo logo before slotting this bad boy in. the intersection of established arcade design & early 90s digital eroticism is as always conceptually interesting but totally insubstantial & boring, at least in practice. they hadnt yet realized that the strongest & most powerful gamers are volcels. lady killer (1993) better

everyone even the least bit inquisitive about beat 'em ups as a genre should play this, full stop. i cannot think of a more textbook representation of the idea that for a beat 'em up, encounter design is level design; divergence from this principle in final fight 2 results in perhaps the most anemic beat em up i have ever been subjected to. absolutely lifeless brawling in overlong stages as you contend with wall-to-wall waves of three polite barely dissimilar crooks at a time. devoid of any spirit even compared to some of its home console contemporaries. sure FF2 has a couple of things going for it compared to its predecessor but streets of rage 1 came out two years before this and while it is comparably centered around simplistic crowd control, it thoroughly overpowers this game on the basis of its encounter design, aesthetics, soundtrack, pace, etc. shout outs yuzo koshiro. FF2 does have maki though so who can say whether it's bad or not. bring her back in SF6 capcom i'll be very grateful

against all odds, i squeezed in multiple matches today on PC. i wasn't able to find anyone to link with for its admittedly interesting 4 survivors mode, but i managed to squad up with a few intrepid brazillians and was subsequently able to access a lot of regular team match games. team match is split into two playlists: there's one mode that's essentially permadeath, and there's a mode which rotates missions for your team to carry out successfully in which you have infinite lives. all of my experience was with the latter. as a result it's difficult to tell if umbrella corps is actually capable of living up to its tactical shooter billing, but my strong impression is that it isn't, which is why most of its extremely sparse, sporadically active community prefers the multi-mission mode. the game is so brisk in pace and so homogenous in its weapon selection that stopping for even a second to pretend it's truly tactical would be dishonest, radial menus rife with commands be damned. the modern warfare xp progression system similary disincentivizes even the slightest pretense of strategy here since you recognize you'll be locked out of some interesting tools for a while, and it won't be an even playing field while you're out there.
but as a scuzzy and unsanitized arcade deathmatch...it's honestly a good time. detach yourself from the nightmare unity engine vibes and what you find is a PVP/PVE title in which every map does its utmost to replicate the skin of your teeth scrambles inherent to rust in modern warfare 2. every map is small, cluttered, and anarchic, and the multi-mission mode is structured around completing various objectives in these cramped locales within short three minute windows. sometimes it's a traditional deathmatch; occasionally, it's oddball with briefcases; sometimes it's collecting DNA samples from UC's repertoire of enemies, pulled from all corners of the resident evil world, and from time to time you'll be playing king of the hill. it's a roll of the dice every time, but it's varied enough in these offerings to keep things exciting. getting used to the wildly shifting perspectives and claustrophobic field of view is arguably the toughest adjustment, but it effectively complements frenzied close-quarters skirmishes, arguably makes this one of the only third person shooters i've played in which toggling which over-the-shoulder perspective you resort to is important, and denies you an ease of environmental legibility which would reduce tension. it's impossible to overstate just how quickly you move in this game; even crawling prone is faster than crouchwalking in some games. my favourite implementation here is a jammer auto-equipped on each player. while the jammer's active, the zombies present in a level will ignore you, but if you take enough oncoming damage to break the jammer, every single one of those NPC enemies will start descending on you at once. it's insane. i kind of feel like multiplayer games forgot to have decent soundtracks over the years too, so it's nice to revisit all of these recontextualized locales from past entries and listen to some throbbing tunes. just running around the village from RE4 with my bizarre sci-fi ice axe and parrying opponents who try to swing at me with their bizarre sci-fi ice axe. lovely.
it remains a highly difficult game to recommend because there are basically only ten people, if that, left playing it...similarly, its single player mode is in shambles, existing as nothing more than repackaged multiplayer mechanics absent of the mayhem other players can provide. i like it though. it just needs like, thorhighheels level clout to have some form of multiplayer renaissance. that's not my job, it's his.