Wednesday, December 15, 2010

EPIC MICKEY: Warren Spector's "Howard The Duck".

Epic Mickey
Disney/Junction Point Studios
Nintendo Wii
Rated E for everybody (in other words, if your kids won't go to bed, try sicking this one on 'em)

If you're a Disney fan, you've most likely heard by now about the new videogame title Epic Mickey, an exclusive title for the Nintendo Wii released just this 30th of November in time for the holiday season.

Delighted with the results of their first successful major collaberation with an outside company with Kingdom Hearts, a title so massively huge in both scope and popularity that it has gone on to eclipse co-creator Square Enix's own virtually classic Final Fantasy series to become the most popular videogame franchise on the surface of the planet -- not to mention having (apparently) finally learned that merely licensing their creations to be slapped on to a game does not instantly guarantee a successful title -- Disney has once again decided to take the plunge with another collaberation, this time with the help of Junction Point and Warren Spector, the designer behind such classics as Thief, System Shock and Deux Ex, and is hoping lightning will strike twice.

Ignoring their usual "let's wait and see how well it's received first" tactics normally reserved for projects they consider risky and experimental, Disney has launched an enormous advertising campaign this time around, including making collectable editions of both the game (which comes with a making-of disc, console skins and statue) and its official hint book, and plastering the game's images all over Disneyland's shuttle fleet. They're even created a special collectible brush-shaped Wii controller just for the occasion.

I picked up my copy on its launch date and have successfully completed it.

So... is it worth the hype and your hard-earned cash? And is it as brilliant as word-of-mouth claims it to be?

Now before I start in on the details on this title, let me just go out on a limb right now and openly state that Epic Mickey is easily the most absolutely atrocious piece of crap I have personally had the displeasure of playing since the equally horrific King's Quest: Mask of Eternity, and like that other title easily goes down as one of the absolute worst games I have ever played in my entire life. As a matter of fact, it actually manages to beat out even that earlier title simply because it is far more ambitious and so obviously had a lot of huge hopes pinned to it. After selling strongly for its first week or so, the game instantly lost steam the second word got out that it was a burnt Christmas turkey as opposed to the delightful holiday stocking stuffer everyone was expecting. Warren Spector was suddenly in deep, deep trouble when word immediately got out regarding the visuals and camera being so dreadful that Epic Mickey's would-be audience could not even enjoy the natural act of simply looking at his game. But then Spector found himself in deeper trouble still; Epic Mickey has, of course, become a notorious title, a whopping embarrassment of a project that immediately flopped big time after players everywhere ran gagging from their Wiis.

I hear Spector is not taking criticism of this title well: he apparently lashed out wildly at just the camera criticisms alone on MTV, and stands fiercely beside his obvious labor of love. Well, all I have to say is that, as it's his game and he obviously haves his own free copy of it, he is more than welcome to it and to love it to death as much as he pleases, because he may very well be the one and only loyal fan to the horrific mess that is Epic Mickey. If you dare sit through this game, numerous questions will be guaranteed to race through your mind. Here's a sample of what I caught myself wondering as I fought my way through Epic Mickey before finally hawking it in disgust:

1. How did this game manage to get such fairly reasonable scores with critics? It scores something like a 76 on Metacritic alone, and yet it doesn't even score that high. Did Disney pay off critics to write positives on Epic Mickey? Or is it that the reviewers didn't even bother to play beyond the first couple of levels or so when they gave it their official verdict?

2. Were the game testers for Epic Mickey all a bunch of stoners on crack and having a pot party while trying this thing? I keep hearing stories from Disney folks that the title's testers were all supposedly enjoying it so much that they didn't want to give it back. What on earth possessed them to think that this game was actually fun? What were they on that was so strong that they were supposedly so convinced of this game's brilliance? Did Disney spike the refreshments they personally provided for them? Or was that all deliberately made-up hype?

3. Who was the one in charge of quality control here, and exactly what kind of weapon did Spector hold up to their noggin in order to convince them that this title was ready for commercial release? I honestly can't imagine any self respecting professional in their position actually greenlighting this thing as being properly completed. Gameplay as boring and monotonous as all get out, graphics so dark that you can barely see what's going on, terrible controls, awful framerate slowdowns and easily the worst camera in history, and yet they thought that the thing was genuinely FINISHED? What kind of inhuman monster of a slave driver is Specter to get them to let it go out in this condition? And it's not as if the troubles with this title are so slight that they could have missed something.

4. Exactly how many gobs of cash did Disney waste on this monstrosity? Apparently it's one of those "undisclosed sum" ordeals, which means that it was insanely expensive and that the company is understandably paranoid regarding revealing how much they spent to make it because they know that the world will be sadly shaking their collective head in disbelief. Like you do after struggling through this thing, which can only be described as a unique form of torture from which you've gotten more entertainment value from root canals. Geez, all that money for this, you keep muttering to yourself in disbelief. What I could have done with money like that.

For those of you who don't know, here's the basic setup: master wizard Yen Sid -- using a magic brush, paint and thinner -- created what appears at first to be a tabletop model of Disneyland, but is in reality a special world called Wasteland, a place where forgotten cartoon characters of the past can live and dwell in peace, unsure of how they came to be there, but knowing that everything would be alright. Retired Disneyland park attractions also appear there as well. Mickey Mouse, sneaking in undetected, observes all this with fascination. After the well-meaning old wizard retires for the evening, Mickey approaches the table because he just can't resist the temptation to play with the brush. At first, it appears that he has created a little figurine of himself, but then his delight turns to horror as the little blob he has painted suddenly becomes a nightmarish version of the famous Phantom Blot (The "Shadow" Blot). In his panic to get away, Mickey accidentally knocks over the thinner, which dissolves into the tabletop Wasteland and ruins it. Many years later after achieving fame and fortune, Mickey is suddenly dragged violently out of bed one night by The Blot down into Wasteland itself, and the adventure begins.

Does this all sound like The Sorceror's Apprentice Part II? Of course it does. Both Disney and their collaboration team have bent over backwards to make sure that nothing in this game clashes with nor interferes with established Disney lore, always a must. What's unique about this project is that it allows the designers to run amok with the Disney archives and pull an American McGee's ALICE on Disneyland.

Indeed, the ALICE influence is all too blatantly obvious at the start of this game, right down to the sinisterly twisted opening laboratory setting and the background music, which at this point borrows heavily from Chris Vrenna's now virtually famous score of that earlier title. It also explores the same maturely crafted psychoanalysis story that encourages the player to look thoughtfully deep inside his or her self, just as ALICE did. And at first I had "ripoff" sirens searing through my brain faster than your average California Screamin' ride. But once you get outside and get to experience Wasteland itself, you'll find that, while the game still wears its ALICE influence boldly on its sleeve, the game settles down and becomes a far friendlier terrain for all ages to explore. In fact, all of the hype, previews and trailers Disney has been throwing at us all year now make the game seem a lot darker and more terrifying than it really is.

There is far too much detail for me to go into here regarding why this game is so terrible, and for me to attempt to do so and explain all the reasons would require an entry of, uh... well, epic proportions; trust me, you have to actually see the game in action for yourself to understand why it's such a disaster. So instead, let me point you over to a Youtube link kicking off a series of videos by an individual who had far more time and (fairly reasonable) patience on his hands to dedicate to this appalling travesty. (IMPORTANT NOTE: the individual in question uses a lot of extreme profanity throughout these videos, so parents please take note.) The videos are like the game itself; they start off harmlessly enough and seem fairly promising, but by the time they've progressed to the point of reaching the end the game has shed all pretense and revealed itself for the trash it truly is.

Epic Mickey is a title so awful that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it ends up replacing the Atari 2600 failure E.T. as the most embarrassing moment in gaming history. It is a woebegone and dangerously overhyped dungheap that isn't worth the CD it's printed on, a misfit, a mistake that will be foreverafter known, not as Spector's beloved place in Disney history, but instead as his own personal Howard The Duck. This game is a tremendous artistic and financial risk tossed to the winds. It is the most worthless, ridiculous electronic waste I have ever seen, and remember, I have been playing videogames since the moment they first came out with Pong.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

SILENT HILL - SHATTERED MEMORIES: "Shattered" Memories? Non-existant more like it

Konami (Sony PSP)

Reviews have generally been warm to this game, and after reading several of them I figured I'd go ahead and give it a try. I was in the mood for a really spooky game (a rarity these days, unfortunately), and it seemed as if the apparently impressive Silent Hill: Shattered Memories might strike the gong. And for the first twenty minutes or so, I had thought that I was going to get my money's worth. Unfortunately, the game begins to collapse all too quickly.

This feels like a really odd thing to say, but my experience in playing this title reminded me strongly of an article I once read by Roger Ebert reviewing The Village. Ebert, upon seeing the movie, had made several comments about it which nailed a lot of my own reactions to Shattered Memories right on the head, among them the statement that it was "based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn".

He had also gone on to add,"Critics were enjoined after the screening to avoid revealing the plot secrets. That is not because we would spoil the movie for you. It's because if you knew them, you wouldn't want to go. The whole enterprise is a shaggy dog story, and in a way, it is all secrets. I can hardly discuss it at all without being maddingly vague". You're not supposed to talk about the secrets in Shattered Memories. Magazines were even more vague about them than they normally would be, and you're not supposed to spoil any of it, especially that big secret ending that the Silent Hill series is apparently so well known for, for any of your friends or anybody else preparing to play it. And, like the makers of The Village, I'm sure that the game's creators all feel the same way: it's not because it would ruin the game for you, but because it will instantly guarantee your not being suckered into plunking down your hard earned cash for it. So I'm going to be a good sport and try not to give too much away, although to be frank that really isn't saying much since there really isn't that much to give away in the first place -- it only merely seems like it for the first hour or so.

In the beginning of the game we are shown old videotaped footage of a happy father, Harry Mason (aren't they imaginative?), and his equally happy daughter, Cheryl. Clearly their relationship and togetherness knows no bounds, supposedly. Then, late one snowy night, we see Harry's car crash somewhere within the always-spooky town known as Silent Hill. Luckily, he isn't hurt, but his daughter Cheryl is missing. Off he goes to search for her, as all good videogame daddies do, and the gameplay begins.

As Harry, you wander on and on alone through a remarkably detailed town containing disturbingly few inhabitants and lots of atmosphere, solving lots of puzzles along the way. And the further you go, the more Twilight Zone-ish both the story and the situation become. Is Harry crazy? Is he hallucinating? Why all the sudden shifts -- which do come across as incredibly creepy? And, most important of all, what really HAS happened to Cheryl?

At first, the title is a technical marvel. Loading times are ingeniously placed and next to nil, so aside from the occasional slight hiccup the game runs smoothly and without interruption so impressively that you hope other game designers will take their cues from it and adopt the same technique. The cell phone mechanic is ingenious and holds a lot of promise. You'll be even more impressed once you learn just how unchanged the game is from platform to platform; all of them are exactly the same aside from graphics quality. And, at first anyway, the character situations are genuinely intriguing and not a little unnerving as we see sudden... abrupt forks taken, and I'll just leave it at that.

And every once in a while at certain points, the game suddenly switches to a tense moment which have led many critics to praise the game, the moment that turns it into -- as one put it -- true terror. Everything will suddenly freeze up, and you suddenly discover the hard way that you're not alone after all; a horde of bizarre zombielike creatures are after your hide, and you are completely unarmed. Your only option is to run as quickly as you can, desperately rushing through doors and hallways, throwing obstacles down after you in an attempt to slow them down, your only defense being the occasional torch you may be lucky enough to stumble across along the way that will keep them at bay, but only for the short time it remains lit.

Does this all sound exciting? It is -- but only up to a point.

For the first couple of levels or so I was genuinely enthralled and thought the game was really good; after that though, the whole thing shed its mask and revealed itself for the truly shallow title it actually is. No amount of ultracool atmosphere can absorb the fact that you eventually realize that, unless you're being chased, you are absolutely safe. There are no threats whatsoever while you're exploring. No traps. Nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero. And when you are being chased, by around the third round the whole exercise of trying to evade the monsters becomes one big exercise in headache-inducing tedium, especially after you realize that there is no limit of lives you have: if you're caught, you simply try all over again until you can get it right. This completely neuters the situation of any feelings regarding real threat, as there really isn't anything at stake. Add to this the fact that you realize that you are in fact running through a giant maze that merely gets bigger and more annoying with each level, and the whole exercise quickly becomes a tremendous snore. You're simply wandering around trying to solve puzzles that hinder your progress safe in the knowledge that nothing is going to harass you in the least until that moment when everything ices over and you roll yours eyes thinking, "Oh for Pete's sake, not again" as you are thrust into yet another tedious chase sequence that's even longer and more boring and irritating than the one before it.

As if to add insult to injury, the "puzzles" in question are... how can I put this? Well, they're absolutely pre-school and an insult to your intelligence. The only way you'll get stumped on them at all is if it's because you're expecting the answer to be far more complicated than it really is. Here's an example: you know how a lot of games have put some variation of "Simon" into them as a form of minigame or puzzle? And how some of them have actually been cute and entertaining (Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep's ice cream machine) while some have been merely inept (the "drumming duo" bit in 9: The Last Resort)? Well, did you think that any game could actually SIMPLIFY the "Simon" concept any more than it actually is? Well, Shattered Memories accomplishes just that. It actually simplifies it! You'll know it when you actually encounter it, and when you do, you'll be thoroughly disgusted that the creators actually believed this posed some sort of challenge upon your person. When "solutions" are needed they aren't even discovered in other areas -- they're ALWAYS just RIGHT THERE in the same area as the puzzle! The only way the entire process could be made any easier was if Harry had been given a step-by-step solution book at the beginning of the game which automatically flashed the answer right on the screen before your eyes the moment you approached a puzzle. Or phone text messages perhaps (which, come to think of it, I seem to recall happening).

The whole thing drones on and on and on in this precise same fashion throughout a game that takes only about a couple of hours or so to complete in its entirety. Harry trudges through the snow. He moves objects. He flips switches. He runs with a torch. He checks his cell phone. He frets over Cheryl. He learns events. He grows confused. He encounters a cop who is just as confused about him (aren't they always?). He sees strange occurances that defy logic. A couple doesn't recognize him. A lady converses with him. Same lady asks him to follow her off to wherever. Doors need to be opened. A school has to be explored. A bridge has to be lowered. Instructions have to be discovered to lower it. Someone answers the phone when Harry calls to ask for them. Isn't it just so convenient that they're available to answer the phone and give them right then and there, in the dead of night at some ungodly hour, right when Harry needs them to.

So we have impressive game mechanics ruined by boring gameplay, unexciting chases, and puzzles that might as well not even exist. That leaves the story. And boy, does it ever do its best to zonk you out, even giving you a good start on occasion here and there. It seems to be getting pret-ty trippy for the longest time. Trippy, but not at all scary. But, again, I'm reminded of that exact same Roger Ebert review of The Village I mentioned earlier in which, without his giving anything away, he states his reaction to that movie's ending by saying.......

No, wait, I just can't quote that review again just in case you haven't read it. This game's too broad a target. I'll just say that his reaction was again exactly like my own to this game's ending, and that I realized what a waste of time this title really was, not to mention that much-ballyhooed secret ending. Seriously. All you see, all you learn and experience, it all comes to naught. It's a huge cop out, a scam, as far as I'm concerned. And speaking of "cops", I think that if that cop you ran into really wanted to help, she would have simply said, "Nothing to see here, please keep moving along, thank you."

Welcome to the page

Welcome to the dubiously titled Your Stuff Sucks. As I'm sure you've guessed, it's a webpage dedicated to what I personally feel are the absolute worst that entertainment has to offer.

Multifaceted, Your Movie Sucks isn't just limited to movies. It will also be reviewing games, books, etc. that I also feel are equally wretched. Please feel free to dive in and enjoy.