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Thilina started gaming on a Game Gear and really likes cottage cheese. Among his favorite titles are Timesplitters 2, Super Smash Brothers Melee and and Splinter Cell: Conviction.

Location:Saskatoon, SK

stories by Thilina Bandara

Crysis 2: Language and fleeting illusions of reality and choice.

Video games are fundamentally made of two parts: gameplay and environment. On the former, Crysis 2 is near flawless; it feels just right in its challenge and mechanics, but it fails in its attempt to technically cram so much into the latter. Gameplay is a language the player uses to communicate to his/her environment, and the entire experience hinges on the appropriateness of what is bieng 'said', to that which will recieve your 'words'. Crysis 2's gameplay is an immaculate language, but it gets lost in translation. Thus the parameter for the following analogy:

Call of Duty: Black Ops Campaign Review: Great but not good.

So here we are, annual CoD week, where the millions of red-meat induced, overactive salivary glands of gamers soak living room floors worldwide, and I am 65 dollars poorer. Treyarch’s new entry into the CoD series is everywhere in the media, and if you haven’t heard of it already then you live in a cave, though I’m sure Activision’s purported “larger than ever” marketing budget for Black Ops has a cave drawing strategy, so you really don’t have an excuse. It’s a gigantic game full of unique game modes, and more content than you could ever ask for, but modes don’t sell me on games, good old story-driven single player fun does. So here be a review of the Call of Duty: Black Ops campaign.

Halo: Reach: Campaign Review

Nine years of doing one thing will make you a master of your craft, so it should be no surprise that Halo: Reach is Bungie’s best Halo game to date. One thing you wont expect though is how much better it is in comparison to previous Halos. Bungie’s last attempt at the Halo universe has them crafting the most sophisticated gameplay you’ve ever played in a shooter, while adding their best story yet. My gripes about the series were ALMOST all resolved.

Splinter Cell: Conviction Review: Contextual Gameplay

The last great stealth-action game I played was Batman: Arkham Asylum, where you puppeteer the fantastical caped crusader, swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle, incapacitating your enemies using metal, batshaped boomerangs. While that game was brilliant mechanically, it was designed to make you feel like an unstoppable god-like spectre of fear in the face of your hapless enemies. In Splinter Cell: Conviction, you literally are one of your enemies. The game escalates nicely to a point where Sam Fisher, a now self-exiled ex-Third Echelon splinter cell agent, will take on enemies who are current splinter cells, fighting for the organization who turned its back on him. This homology between you and the enemies adds a stress Batman: AA never really had. This tension forces the player to fully utilize the skills you have as an experienced Sam Fisher. Its tense, its fast and oh so satisfying in a murderous bad-ass sort of way.

One more opinion, and the pains we go through for validation.

Roger Ebert, an excellent writer who has seen a lot of movies, recently wrote an article in the Chicago Sun-Times titled “Video Games can never be art” (http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/04/video_games_can_never_be_art.html). It contains both his opinion on the subject, and his critique on a presentation by a Kellee Santiago at the TED conference, in which she defends video games as art.

Mirror’s Edge Review: A fat plumber in sterile dystopia.

The humble beginnings of what we know as an action game can be traced back to the platformer. Mario Brothers and alike trained us in the simple rhythm based, left to right progression model: Start to finish in only one line. Control inputs were limited to simple jump, duck, run, with an additional ‘fire’ when earned. While the action game is older and technically matured (3D, polygons, etc.), there is a large contingency of gamers that still craves that simplicity. Mirror’s edge is that blend of the new cool with the old fun.As a human avatar, Faith, your objective is to platform across tops of the buildings, in subways, and through construction yards, using jump, duck, run and the occasional fire buttons when you earn a gun. While having that nostalgic formula, the permutations of controls allows for deep, engaging gameplay.Mirror’s Edge is a testament to the appeal of simplicity of game design. Fortunately, it may also be one of the best games you play this generation.What I liked: Vicarious…freedom: As a ‘runner’, your character must travel, on foot, through inconspicuous avenues to carry out the deeds of a repressed counterculture. While the story is pretty much the standard forecast of the future from the government-hating, conspiracy-theorist’s manifesto, it does provide a convenient excuse for the sense of complete isolation the player feels while traversing a playground of ledges, pipes and open vents. The immersive first person, HUDless perspective is enhanced with visual effects like motion blur and first person eyes that have to adapt to sudden shifts in light intensity. The sound design also helps in the experience by concentrating on transmitting ambient environmental noises rather than music.The gameplay is intentionally designed to make you feel alone, totally vulnerable when introduced to enemies, and sometime predatory in your actions. Fortunately, the game does leave you alone a lot, which allows the player to understand Faith’s limits. This does, like it or not, lead to a lot of trial-and-error. Traversing the platforms using the environment is dependent on which combination of jumps and wall-crawling you can think up. Its in your best interest to try them all out, because when you do find an efficient method, the game cleverly rewards you by literally showing a sensory representation of maximum momentum. This freedom of control combined with the sensory expressing interface provides a truly impressive gameplay experience. Awe: IGN’s Michael Thompsen (http://pc.ign.com/articles/941/941749p1.html) called this game sublime, and he pretty much nailed it. The white contrasted with bright colour scheme provides for a striking, surreal experience. The game runs on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, which famously gives textures a greasy, shiny venire (see Gear of War character’s skins). This shiny style, however works extremely well with this game world because the narrative takes place in a hyper clean, spotless future. The game world is surrounded by an eerie aura of deliberate sterility wherein every square inch of concrete seems unmolested, while at the same time, begs to be manipulated by the character. The sky is always clear and the rooms are brightly lit and coloured, but of course, the appearance is meant to be ironically benevolent considering the heroine’s circumstances. Consistently striking colour choices with a solid complementary graphics engine make Mirror’s Edge is a masterpiece in art design.What I didn’t like: Disconnected presentation: The concept behind Mirror’s Edge’s story is an interesting, albeit derivative, take on the future of an unregulated big brother. Considering the circumstances we face today, the themes are relatable. The problem lies in the presentation of the story. While the in-game first person cut scenes are effectively immersive, these are few and far between. The developers rather opted for horribly animated, cell-shaded, third person e-surrance ads to explain the convoluted, messy story. The fatal flaw in the presentation is the total disconnect wherein the player is constantly being pulled between engaging gameplay and laughably awkward animations, while having to somehow follow a poorly told story. In the end, I’m sure the game is just as fun if you skipped the cutscenes entirely. The story itself has interesting potential for a sequel and I hope it will be told with better consistency than this game."Pull trigger to fight": Mirror’s edge has the perfect elements to be the anti-thesis to the macho, meat-grinding goregasms most mainstream titles strive for. As a young, female lead against armed soldiers, it would have been gratifying to be able to confront enemies not using a gun at all. While the game does give you the ability disarm an enemy, the last half of the game is flooded with useless gun combat. I know that it is possible to beat the game without having to use the gun, but to players like me, this task seemed needlessly hard to accomplish. It also doesn’t help that the hand-to-hand combat is clunky and inconsistent. While this maybe just a testament to my skill, I did have to kill some enemies, but I really didn’t want to. I felt kind of guilty when I actually gunned down a police officer for the first time, but by the end it really didn’t bother me. What I don’t understand is why the game bottlenecked me into these situations? Where is the punishment this outlaw character deserves for killing a police officer? I wish this game had more options on top either disarming or killing. I hope to see some environmental manipulations, or stealth aspects in the next instalment of Mirror’s edge. I think more non-confrontational paths better fits the world, and would provide for a richer experience. Overall: I could go on about how much I liked this game, but as I said before, the game is essentially an exercise of the senses; which means you just have to try it yourself. Its slick level design, simple controls and unforgiving trial-and-error gameplay harkens back to the halcyon glory days of 8-bit platformers. New dog, Old tricks.

Gears of War 2 review: A different language in story-telling.

The original Gears of War was a huge leap in game design. It was an almost perfect way of controlling a digital avatar in a 3D space while not sacrificing camera control or intensity. The bar has been raised for shooter controls and Gear of War will always be emulated. So how does Epic make an almost perfect shooter better? Well, essentially more of the same. What Gears of War 2 does is try to make the context of those tight controls feel more epic and more literary. Check on the former, not so much on the latter. Cogs vs Locust: Let the cubes of meat fly.     What I liked:   Everything stuck to the wall…: What took me so long to review this game? I just never found a need to beat the single player. Hoard mode is why. To the game’s credit, the 6 months of co-operative wave destruction of online Hoard mode was enough to warrant the purchase of this game. The inclusion of a multitude of multiplayer options, including competitive, co-operative story and co-operative multiplayer is an amazing feat in itself. This is just one example of the unbelievable amount of creativity there is to the game overall. There are so many great ideas fleshed out in the single player campaign in terms of gameplay and environments. I also found large variations in the enemies and it helped that, at the least, the AI was as good as the first game. The variety in the game never allows players to be bored and makes the already solid gameplay feel fresh. While I do admit I was reminded of Bioshock, Resident Evil 4, and Halo 2 throughout various parts of the game, it never elicited the usual “ZOMG RIP OFF!!!11!” commentary from me. I don’t know how the game transcended even my cynicism, but I have a hunch that I was just having too much fun to care. Overall, the game is a big boiling pot of amazing ideas that were cleverly organized throughout the campaign especially, which kept me engaged.   (Point A à FUN! à Point B) X : I get bored very easily with games. I need quick gratification at all times (eg. Peggle, Call of Duty multiplayer, Smash Brothers) or I just move on to the next game. This is why I was pleasantly surprised by my many hours plastered to the campaign, never getting bored or feeling under whelmed. It was a perfect balance to me, and the principle reason for this was the game’s pacing. While being incredibly linear, the direction was dictated very cleverly through the environmental changes. Aside from the odd ‘Y’ prompts that help you find a switch or lever, I was happy that the game seldom walked me through every step. Too often in non-open world games do I get taken out of the game world by watching an arrow at the top of a screen or a mini-map. Gears of War 2’s effective pacing eliminates any tedious bread crumb trails. The objectives are very quick, always rewarding, and kept you immersed. Overall, the clever, dynamic game world design ultimately makes the game more fun to play. And what else can you really ask for in a game?   What I didn’t like:   “A Sci-Fi Channel original movie…..”: Creativity at Epic studios seemed to end in the gameplay department. The story is ultimately unsatisfying and poorly told. While the gameplay is great at giving a contextual narrative, the literary narrative is non-sequitor and inconsistent. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that Dom’s story and characterization was shallow and seems so out of place with his character that it doesn’t leave a meaningful impact with the player. Marcus’ character arch especially goes nowhere and contributes to the shallow Cops and Robbers tale, lacking any morality or thematic depth. The world has a large potential for interesting morally-driven science fiction, but I fear the third instalments will not reconcile the step back this game was in terms of story.  I’m sure there is better fan fiction out there for this universe. Anyone??!?!     Overall: Gears of War 2 did not disappoint. It was FUN! Not very cerebral, not overly pretentious, just plain fun. My eventual appreciation for the game is, however, an incredible surprise to me. While usually being a story snob towards gaming especially, I have been reminded that maybe not every triple A title needs a to tell a literary classic to be enjoyable, just most of them. The only inclusion that can exempt a game from needing a deep story is, as in Gears of War 2’s case, tight gameplay. Unlike books, or movies, games have a 2nd dimension of interaction; control of the character. Gears of War 2 does this 2nd dimension so well that, in a way, the gameplay itself is telling a poignant story to the player. Games have the potential to be more effective story tellers than movies, but as it stand right now, that transcendence has not happened yet. Story-telling is one of the oldest traditions in human existence, and thanks to interactive media, it is still evolving. Fortunately for Gears of War 2, the gameplay language trumped the games literary shortcomings, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a fun and rewarding videogame experience. Sounds like reasonable expectations to me.