“There was this Eastern European guy in Liberty City” – A Grand Theft Auto IV Retrospective Part 3

Grand-Theft-Auto-V_-3In Part 1 of the retrospective, I examined the role of Liberty City in the Grand Theft Auto IV experience. In Part 2, I examined the role of the voices, the NPCs and the sounds, of Niko and the people he surrounds himself with. Warning: Part 3 contains minor spoilers for Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption.

Grand Theft Auto IV ends with a moment of mourning for Liberty City and for what Niko Belic has done. “So this, this is the American Dream,” the contract killer whispers moments after the credits roll and it’s a solemn, if somewhat expected moment. Standing before the Statue of Happiness with the corpse of his final enemy before him, Niko realizes that the chance to start over again, to make your own way, can only be earned on blood money and over the broken dreams of his enemies.

It’s not the most well written of finales mostly because it’s a theme GTA IV had beaten to death by this point but it works. In the moments following Niko’s victory, some of the remaining characters call to congratulate you and talk about the things you and they have lost, depending on the chosen ending. Mallory speaks about her unborn child, Packie weeps for the death of his innocent sister, Roman will talk about his future. It’s an ending for these people. There’s nothing left of Liberty City because of one assumption: Niko Belic is going to start over.

4214-gta-iv-screenshot-subway-escapeNiko’s future, attempting to go straight, is interesting for a lot of reasons, namely that it’s a deliberate attempt to end the psychotic violence of the game. Previous RockStar games, namely the earlier Grand Theft Auto had attempted to leave the games with the protagonists at the top. They were free to make money, engage with their worst impulses and continue to use the world as their own playground. It was the truest way to leave a sandbox game, turning the world into a never ending last day of Rome.

Since Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar has been obsessed with its heroes trying atone or just to go straight. It’s an interesting idea. After killing hundreds, maybe thousands of innocents and low lives, the morally compromised hero tries to enter a life of relative peace. There’s a natural struggle between what we’ve done and who we want to be and RockStar tries to examine the balance between those forces.

rdr_honorfame_01Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar’s first blatant attempt to examine the nature of retirement from crime. John Marston, a grizzled ex-con, hitman and killer is recruited by the federal government for one more hit before letting him go back to his family. Much like Grand Theft Auto IV, Marston is a character with a voice and a place. He’s sympathetic to the twisted compromises men need to make on the prairie but has a world weary sense of pessimism when dealing with the many people who need his help. Marston is driven almost solely to return to his family and he’s immoral enough to not be concerned about the lives he ends on the way back to the farm.

In the final hours of Red Dead Redemption, Marston returns back to the family farm and leaves the world of bullets and booze behind him. For several missions, John, his son and wife, engage in very little combat, mostly driving cattle, moving supplies and fighting off animals. It’s a serene moment of pastoral bliss, highlighting the intense, gut-wrenching and brutal violence, even by the standard of other Rockstar games. Marston’s ultimate fate is meant to emphasize the way it’s impossible to escape the consequences of violence you commit. There are consequences for a life of crime and it’s impossible to walk away from justice.

grand-theft-auto-v-screen-capture-2Grand Theft Auto V is singularly obsessed with the idea of the getaway. In the opening scene, Michael’s crew is focused less with breaking in and robbing a currency exchange than they are with clearing a path out of the streets, dodging cops and planning an escape out of an ambush. Michael’s situation, now with a new identity, a new home, and more than enough money to cure his mid-life crisis, is all about the perfect escape. He’s lived and he owes few people but he’s just bored. Franklin, looking for an escape from a tense family life, dangerous neighborhood and a personal life which has wounded him more than he lets on, is brought into Michael’s orbit. Then there’s Trevor, a man who’s escaped by leaving behind more bodies, more blood and more drugs and has built his future on little more than impulse. He kills because it’s what he wants to do, he’s good at it and he’s better at not getting caught.

It’s not until later in the game when the idea of the clean escape falls apart. Trevor’s arrival in Los Santos and the chaos he immediately wrecks in Michael’s life drives everyone deeper into a life of crime and consequences. Michael’s tenuous relationship with the FIB and IAA starts to come to a head and the consequences of living a life outside the law have a very tangible punishment. Everyone’s a slave to their past in Los Santos and it’s impossible to escape the life you’ve once lived. It’s a theme which has resonated very potently in pop culture for the last few years, whether in “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” or the film which had a clear influence of Grand Theft Auto V, “Drive.”

“Drive,” much like 2007’s “No Country For Old Men,” is predominantly about the inevitability and inescapable force of violence and it’s ability to push people together or pull them apart. In both Grand Theft Auto V and “Drive,” plans and rules only mean something until they’re broken. Torture is only unethical until we need it. The five minutes are yours only until a man comes into your hotel with a gun. You’re only retired until you walk back into the game.

While Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t have a single antagonist able to be the focus of the anti-heroes’ violence, all of them put the characters into situations where they have to pay for the violence they so willingly use. Grand Theft Auto V is all about actions and reactions. Michael destroys a Russian woman’s house and is indebted to an insane mobster for his impulsive actions. Trevor curb stomps Johnny Klebitz and finds that the Lost motorcycle gang will never stop wanting revenge. Franklin gets involved in one bad coke deal and finds that his neighborhood will never be safe again. Retirement needs nothing because karma is always coming in Grand Theft Auto V.

5608-gta-iv-algonquinSo why does Niko get out? How does he walk away from the chaos and the many, many bodies he’s left in his wake? While setting up the jewelry store heist, Lester and Michael look for potential help on the big score and Lester mentions a still unknown criminal who made waves in Liberty City but they know the man just disappeared, gave up on the game. He’s out, he disappeared, he found his craft. We know Niko is safe, we know he found what he’s looking for. Grand Theft Auto IV gave Niko Belic and us the ending RockStar thought we needed. In an immensely cynical game, filled with bite, bile, rage and blood, stuck in a world consumed with fear and uncertainty, RockStar gave the protagonist an ending worthy of the statue he stands before at the game’s end. The problem is that the cynicism of the game overwhelms the player, leaving us thinking the natural thought we have for any protagonist in a violent game: of course, they’ll return to killing.

In it’s excellent retrospective on Grand Theft Auto III, Gameological Society editor John Teti said the cynicism at the core of the series is damaging to RockStar’s most recent games, saying:

RockStar sort of acquired this us against the world attitude, I feel, after
Grand Theft Auto III, both against the huge popularity of it and the
condemnation of it and I think it’s affected their future games negatively.
What was sort of cynical and clever in Grand Theft Auto III has
metastasized into a more ham-fisted, lazy cynicism in their more recent
games.

It’s that cynicism which makes Niko’s survival so difficult to imagine, so impossible to explain. The cynicism intrinsic to Grand Theft Auto IV, moreso than the heavy driving controls, repetitive mission types, obligatory long travel times, sticky aiming and often racially caricatured NPCs, which sinks the game and destroys it’s characters. There’s no optimism in Liberty City, no hope and no chance of escape and it’s a fate RockStar embraced moving forward. No one escapes, no one is at peace, death is always coming and it’s all thanks to Grand Theft Auto IV.

“You can’t follow every order” – A Grand Theft Auto IV Retrospective Part 2

3769_gta_ivIn part 1 of the retrospective, I examined the role of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV, namely the conflict between control and openness the game world. 

There is nothing more shocking than the moment players take their first steps as Niko Belic. Niko has a real sense of weight, a presence in the world. He can’t stop on a dime, he rounds corners, subtly shifting his body weight to his side, leaning on one leg and raising his often busy trigger finger to prep for one more kill. Every moment in controlling Belic has presence, a place. He’s not of Liberty City but he is Liberty City, a weapon in the hands of the highest bidder.

There’s a real disconnect between the player and Belic which never entirely goes away in Grand Theft Auto IV. Belic is a killer, a man trained to extinguish lives and, after seeing the atrocities in an unnamed Eastern European war, lacking the moral compunction to think about his actions. Players demand freedom, control of their destinies, fate and action. Niko pivotally lacks that control, seeing his actions as an inevitability. Niko kills, has killed, will kill again.

3In a way, Niko is guided not only by the hand of the player but by the voices of Liberty City. He’s controlled like a marionette by an ever increasing number of low-lives, from the soon-to-be-pinned coke dealer Elizabetha Torres, the perpetually chasing his past Packie McReary, the soon to be gone Jon Gravelli and the man grabbing at an impossible dream, Jimmy Pegorino. The story of Grand Theft Auto IV maintains a consistent tone of failure, both personal and of the American Dream, by focusing on these characters, eternally looking to seize something a country promised and the entitlement which comes with our perceived privilege.

Where previous franchise entries focused on characters seizing power through brutality and deviancy, Grand Theft Auto IV is defined by the disconnect intrinsic between a guarantee and fruitless action and that disconnect is defined by two distinct American moments, the rise of “The Sopranos” and the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Much of the final act of Grand Theft Auto IV draws heavily from “The Sopranos,” namely with paranoid mafioso Phil Bell and the escalating tensions between the Alderney and Algonquin mob families but the game never shies away from the show’s idea that what we’ve been promised is long since gone. Tony can never be the gangster his father was. He’s wracked with guilt, self doubt, stress and depression, constantly at odds between his fraying mental state, family constantly being pushed to its emotional breaking point or the pressures of the throne. Tony tries constantly to sit in his castle, look out over his kingdom and be content but he can’t. The dream is gone, long dead before the time he made his first kill.

In the above video, Tony and Dr. Melfi discuss Tony’s view of himself, namely the conflict he’s internalized between what he does and how he tries to embrace and avoid connecting his actions with how he feels about them. Tony has tried to embrace this life where he’s disallowed to acknowledge what he does and the impact it has on his psyche. He establishes that he wants to be “Gary Cooper, the strong silent type” and sees anyone who doesn’t follow the same credo as weak although he sees that weakness in himself. It’s an attitude many of the characters in Grand Theft Auto IV identify with, none more acutely than Niko. As the game progresses, Niko’s connections with key characters, namely Roman and Katie McGreery shows that he can acknowledge his emotional separation between what he does, what he’s forced to do and how he feels about it. In “That Special Someone,” Niko acknowledges the emptiness of the life he’s built for himself, saying “What am I good at Roman? What is my trade? I deal in death because that is all that is open to me.” It’s a rare moment of candidness for a man players have spent over 20 hours killing with but it shows the power of human connection. Niko’s violent actions have had real psychological consequences and by acknowledging them, the brutality in the game’s climax is heightened and given unexpected emotional weight.

GTA-IV-grand-theft-auto-iv-15673900-1280-720The dream Americans, Tony Soprano and to a lesser degree, Niko Belic, all believed they’d be working to crumbled on September 11, 2001. Before then, America was invincible, invulnerable to the seemingly never-ending conflicts and bloodshed in the Middle East. In one day, it was impossible to ignore those conflicts anymore as the War on Terror began in earnest, focusing on killing anyone who didn’t believe in what was perceived as freedom. The Other was to be feared, wanted you dead and was ready to kill themselves to get at you. No cost was to high to destroy what you held dear.

An atmosphere of fear looms over Liberty City. When Niko drives Roman home in the game’s first mission, Roman acknowledges recent terrorist events in the city. Hove Beach has been separated from the rest of the city, driving into the airport is enough probable cause to send in a SWAT team and weapon dealers have been driven into hiding. Beyond that, there’s a real sense of “us against them,” an attitude former President George W. Bush epitomized in his speech post-9/11, and it’s shown in much of the game’s dialogue. Before she’s taken down by the feds, Elizabeta Torres sees enemies all around her. Jon Gravelli wants to protect what was once his from the new crime syndicates while he still has the power to issue orders. Many of the news reports attribute acts of violence the players commit as the actions of terrorists.

gta_4_breedbeeld_wallpapers_1920x1200_03In a way, moreso than any of the characters, the constant blare of the radio is the greatest, most prominent voice in establishing Grand Theft Auto IV’s themes and ideas. A nonstop parade of delusion, fear and disbelief, the radio stations and DJs of Liberty City embody the narcissism and purposeful ignorance of the world outside of its own self-contained bubble. Serving as something a greek chorus, the music of the game’s many stations goes a long way in establishing the bizarre American culture clash which occurred after 9/11, namely a renewed sense of self importance and meaningless celebration and the aforementioned “us against them” spirit.

On The Beat 102.7, Nas’ “War is Necessary” combines the rapper’s   worldly conscious views and his focus on posturing street cred which was so intrinsic to the NYC rap scene he came up in during the ’90s. It’s a song about fear and taking power, never fully supporting violent action or discrediting the results of order being created at the barrel of a gun. The new remix of Audio Two’s “Top Billin” tries to find a connection to the New York, and by extension Liberty City’s, street past, where  hustle led to radio play, and a new culture of privilege built on the past, echoing the conflict between Dwayne Forge and Playboy X. There’s a sense of division to much of the music playing on the radio in similar ways, between the murderous, empty debauchery of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights,” to the haunting, drug addled nostalgia for a past which never was on Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses,” to the sexual frustration and violent frenzy of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to the pumping beat of empty promises of LCD Soundsystem’s “Get Innocuous.

That sense of division, the conflict between how we feel and how we present ourselves is paramount to all of the voices of Grand Theft Auto IV. Niko, surrounded by the sounds of a city trying to come to terms with trauma anyway it can and the looming shadow of the expectations of how a gangster should behave and feel, is defined by the horrors he’s seen and the rare moments of hope he can gain by finding people who care.

Next Up: The Grand Theft Auto IV retrospective concludes with the death and rebirth of RockStar.

“After the war, I thought nothing of doing bad things” – A Grand Theft Auto IV Retrospective: Part 1

GTA-IV-grand-theft-auto-iv-15673914-1280-720Grand Theft Auto is the ultimate male escapist fantasy. Grounded in a heightened reality of prostitutes, car chases and sweltering machismo, the series gives the player the ability to assert authority and control at the barrel of a gun. With only two weeks left until the release of Grand Theft Auto V, I stepped back into this world by replaying the previous entry, Grand Theft Auto IV and looking at a game which defined a console generation and offers clues to the next step. I’ll be trying to focus on some of the game’s elements and themes in each new post and how each worked together to create one of the most important games of this console generation.

Released in 2008, near the beginning of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 life cycles, Grand Theft Auto IV was a media event. Virtually every outlet covered the game, paying particular attention to the way Liberty City, a pastiche of New York and New Jersey felt like a living, breathing character. IGN gave the game a perfect 10, world’s worst grandpa Peter Travers reviewed it as a movie in one of his worst pieces of writing and others called for the game to be burned. This was all to be expected by Rockstar Games, which had become the focus of media’s distrust of the video-game industry following the “Hot Coffee mod” debacle of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Controversy and game worlds were the primary focus of the media but no one noticed how the game tried to bridge two exceedingly different worlds.

grand-theft-auto-iv-screen3Grand Theft Auto IV exists in the precarious place between the past and future of open world games and that’s the world between scripted and unscripted moments. In a way, Liberty City feels vibrant and living. Traffic changes as days turn into night, you’ll bump into sleeping homeless people in Chinatown and women are catcalled on the streets and respond viciously. It’s enough to often make it feel like the world is responsive and bustling, used to just one more gun toting psychopath carving a new home in America.

That is, until it’s not. Outside of the free wheeling rampages and lazy drives, Grand Theft Auto IV is rigidly and tightly scripted. Missions such as “The Snow Storm” feel as if players should have a limitless freedom to confront holed up gangsters but basically boils down to wandering derelict hospital halls with assault rifle roaring and the live-wire chase and shootout of “No Love Lost” show the rigid scripting of the even through cutscenes. Player control is severely limited and the game expects player responses and are designed to challenge those.

grand-theft-auto-4-niko-shotgunSome of this sort of scripting is to be expected. The game notably and simply provides a player tutorial for the first few missions, introducing the concepts of driving, shooting, escaping police and other ideas. It’s a long tutorial, easily stretching for over three hours and the game constantly introduces new elements inorganically. There’s a lot of one and done concepts throughout Grand Theft Auto IV, with characters using the subway to steal cars, the knock out sucker punch, the melee weapon counter attack, and pulling over cars while masquerading as a police officer.

Many of these are used exactly once but the intelligence of the game’s design is the little things these concepts teach. When tracking down a van full of stolen televisions in “Crime and Punishment,” players see the way traffic reacts to a police car with sirens blaring, usually pulling over and getting as far out of the way as possible. It’s a useful skill, one a canny player can use during car chases to clear the roadway or simply to navigate traffic as quickly as possible. It’s one of the rare concepts the game explains subtly, without a pop-in. There are lots of small lessons in playing Grand Theft Auto IV, whether strategically using the police cars, pulling a gun on a driver to stop traffic or using 911 for your own selfish needs. The intersection between hand-holding and player self-teaching illustrates the game’s difficulty balancing the ways players can control the situations the story forces them into.

4590-gta-iv-screenshotThose scripting issues show the delicate balance between player control and scripted set-pieces which have become such a harsh focus of criticism during this console generation. Rockstar as a developer seems to have a difficult relationship with players in particular. On one hand, Grand Theft Auto IV is a sandbox designed for maximum player enjoyment. There are guns everywhere, cars waiting to be raced, crashed and destroyed and a seemingly endless number of diversions from bowling to delivering drugs but there are still boxes designed around them. Players can’t find the carbine assault rifle until “Hostile Negotiations” and players are unable to reach Alderney until driving Playboy X home in “Blow Your Cover.”

It’s an intentional design, one clearly meant to emphasize story over player control. A consistent theory has floated around the internet for years in which Rockstar, dissatisfied with players happier to use their games as violent toy boxes than as stories, focused Grand Theft Auto IV on requiring players to complete quests before being able to access the good bits. It fits in line with the company’s more recent offerings, notably the more story focused Red Dead Redemption and the ultimately linear L.A. Noire, but there’s more going on in Grand Theft Auto IV’s intentional design choices, and it’s one aimed not only at limiting player control, but also limiting the protagonist, Niko Belic.

Next Up: It’s time to examine Niko Belic, the face of Rockstar’s changing focus, as well as the characters he surrounds himself with in Part 2 of the Grand Theft Auto IV retrospective.

Anita Sarkeesian, the Damsel in Distress and why I’m embarrassed to play video-games

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a girl I had spoken with for a while. She had gotten off work and wanted to talk before going to bed and I was happy to hear from her.

“So, what are you doing?” she asked me.

“I’m messing around on the internet,” I said.

Except, I wasn’t. I was playing Far Cry 3.

I lied because I was ashamed. I don’t like being a white, heterosexual male gamer because as a group, we seem pretty awful. We act like we’re victims because we’re fans of a medium that caters to our basest instincts and when someone calls us on our generally misogynistic, insular shit, we get all up in arms and it’s terrible.

Anita_Sarkeesian_smilingFew people have stirred up a shit-storm amongst the gaming community as much as the late, great Roger Ebert and Anita Sarkeesian, the host of Feminist Frequency’s fascinating “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” web-series, hosted on YouTube.

I think Sarkeesian scares gamers because she’s a woman and that hurts more than anything else. As I previously stated, gamers much like comic book fans, are an insular group, one dedicated to a very specific fandom which attracts a very specific fan and not one that’s welcoming to people who are willing to join or comment on the fandom itself.

I wish it wasn’t the case because Sarkeesian has a lot of interesting things to say in the first two parts of the “Damsel in Distress” series so far. The focus of both parts is more on the proliferation of the trend and less on reasoning behind said trends. There’s no stopping either of the tropes because they’re so embedded into our culture and pop appetites. It seems as if Sarkeesian realizes this and she more than anything else hopes that developers realize the power their products can have to change perceptions of women in pop culture. She also brings up the notable and incredibly interesting issue of the trope speaking just as much to the motivation of male characters as it does to the objectification of females, with characters such as Max Payne in “Max Payne 3” and Kratos in the “God of War” series are motivated less by the rescue of the women than in reclaiming their manhood and regaining their traditionally prescribed masculinity.

But not everyone seems to want to listen. Before the first entry of the series was published some dick made a disgusting flash game about viciously beating Sarkeesian and the abuse didn’t stop there. Her previous video on the trope attracted an unbelievable amount of replies, from nebbish, angry assholes who describe her as having “eyes that make you want to punch her in the face,”to some guy who loves taking quotes out of context and misses all the subtlety, to noted “that guy in your freshman dorm who’s never showered or fucking shut up since we moved in” male rights ass-hole and patronizing YouTube personality, The Amazing Atheist. It was all embarrassing but inevitable and I was ready to expect the worst when her next entry dropped.

It went worse than expected. The new video, released May 28 and embedded at the top of this post, was briefly taken down by YouTube after it was repeatedly flagged by harassers. It’s been brought, thankfully, back but the criticism hasn’t stopped. Gawker’s video-game arm, Kotaku, has hosted one of the liveliest, most ridiculous debates of Sarkeesian’s work and is the host of some of the most gruesome misogyny I’ve seen on the site.

Picture 2 Picture 4There’s a defensiveness to many of the comments that isn’t uncommon when this sort of debate occurs and it’s something we’ve seen before in things such as the “Fake Nerd Girl” and cosplay discussions several months ago.

I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with Sarkeesian, feminists or any critic of a work. That’s a person’s right. I was a little uncomfortable with the way she seemed to target Shigeru Miyamoto for Nintendo’s early use of the damsel in distress trope but I understood her point, accepted her view and didn’t feel the need to attack her point or claim she was trying to destroy my precious toys.

Picture 1I’ve asked far too many people far too many times to be more accepting of new people into video game and comic book fandom. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to ask people to consider their privileges, their prejudices and their preconceived notions of gender. I’m sick of doing that. I’ve done it for too fucking long. I just want people to listen, to think and to be respectful, to consider the perspective of someone who may have a different opinion or experience of themselves. Don’t attack, don’t redefine the argument, don’t question intentions, just consider. And act like a fucking human.

RIP LucasArts

super-star-wars-return-of-the-jedi-02Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm has turned the company into one of the biggest content producers of our time, even moreso than the company once was but it signals something different for many. With comics now a part of two of the largest media producers on the planet, there’s been a concern that business dictates art in the worst possible way.

Today, Disney closed LucasArts, the videogame arm of LucasFilm and a 30 year institution which released some of the greatest games of all time. LucasArts used to be a seal of quality, one that represented unique designers with a perspective, an eye for melding the cinematic with gameplay and the ability to create a tight experience rewarding for every player. It’s certainly a company that I have fond memories of and until the early 2000s, had a sterling track record that was interrupted by licensed flops such as “Star Wars: Kinect” and bevvies of other pap. I’m not here to remember the failures though and this is about celebrating a titan cut down before it could prove itself to its new owners. Look into your heart Disney, you know it to be true.

Maniac Mansion

“Maniac Mansion” is, to borrow a turn of phrase, an adventure game for the morbidly impatient. There’s so much not only to do, but also needs to be done, that it’s neigh impossible to figure out everything in your first go but that’s sort of the genius of the game. An homage to ’80s slasher movies but with a touch of camp charm for some much needed humor, the game works where series like “Monkey Island” often fell short. It’s fun, challenging and occasionally, legitimately thrilling.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventuresindiana-jones-greatest-adventures-02
A standout in the realm of LucasArts’ massive catalog of action-platformers, “Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures” mashes the only three movies that matter into a single great cartridge. While the “Super Star Wars” series was renowned for its difficulty and massively long boss health bars, this just feels right and nails the character so well. Blending platforming, twitch shooting and whip action that feels straight out of “Super Castlevania IV,” it’s one of the best movie-licensed offerings on the Super Nintendo.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire

“Shadows of the Empire” is one of LucasArts most ambitious console releases. A third person shooter/flying simulation/uncomfortable 3D platformer, “Shadows” is well loved for being such a bold step forward for the Star Wars license as well as the company. It’s flawed though. There are some far too slippery controls, jet pack platforming requiring pin-point accuracy and hit detection that could be described as wonky at best but when the game clicks, it really works and is a fun battle through some familiar characters and situations.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader38He’s in your sights and you cool your thrusters to match speeds. As you line up, a pack of TIE-Fighters picks you up and there’s no time. Shots start nailing your tail, sending shocks up your arms and you knock out the bogey, jam on the orbital break and pull a hairpin turn  to get out of your pursuers’ sights. There’s no time to rest though and you break off from your team to take out the bastards who put you as dead to rights.

“Rogue Squardron II” is my favorite game of all time because it gives you those moments. A beautiful launch title for the Gamecube, you’re immediately thrown into the cockpit of some of the most iconic cinematic spaceships and sent into dogfights throughout the galaxy. The controls are tuned to give the player complete control of each ship and it’s up to the player to figure out how to defeat the hordes of foes arrayed against you. It’s relentlessly difficult but never unfairly so and mastery of each ship gives players the necessary edge to complete the missions made famous in the Star Wars but the real joy is the little moments the player makes for themselves. Taking those last few shots to nail a bomber before escaping from your enemy’s sights, pulling up as hard as you can to blow out the thrusters on a hovering platform, shooting down a pair of massive Star Destroyers after your companions have long sense returned for repairs all provide a charge that few games could ever script out for the player.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

The fastest selling Star Wars Game ever, “The Force Unleashed” feels now like the end of LucasArts. Eschewing so much of what made its games great, the freedom, the intuitive gameplay that goes hand in hand with plot, the compelling, likable characters, “The Force Unleashed” is a fun to play disappointment. Recalling “God of War” and “Devil May Cry” in its brutal and over the top combat system, it’s a game that feels forced into the franchise’s canon and out of place with the series. Protagonist and bad hair-cut enthusiast Starkiller downs Star Destroyers with the help of the Force and a series of really frustrating quick time events, relentlessly murders Jedi and takes on hundreds of stormtroopers without even once having to jump down a garbage chute.

The game is scripted within an inch of its life with long, unskippable cut scenes and unintuitive and frustrating pattern based boss fights. While much of the gameplay asks little of players but to creatively smash together their favorite Force powers, everything lacks impact, importance or heart and after dropkicking your 519th Jawa, nothing can make you sympathize with the dickish protagonist you’re stuck with. It’s a fun game but a lack of agency, inspiration and engaging action, it ends up somehow being less enjoyable than watching Episode II. And in the words of Liz Lemon, seriously, that one was just the worst.

“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

What if Bizarro took on Etrigan: 8 characters to bet on seeing in “Injustice: Gods Among Men”

“Mortal Kombat” developers NetherRealm Studios just showed off the first gameplay footage of their new fighting game, “Injustice: Gods Among Men,” a tournament brawler starring the heroes and villains of the DC universe. The original announcement of the game was greeted by mild excitement from fans but the recent gameplay footage has me worried. The game appears to be a bit too casual for hardcore fighting game fans like myself but does feature the heroes and villains that could make for an engaging and deep fighting game.

With only six characters announced so far, I figured it might be high time to start making some educated guesses, hopeful wishes and probably terrible jokes about which rogues and and defenders might be showing up. With those, we’ll also be giving predicted odds over whether they’ll be showing up and what their abilities could be.

1. Darkseid

The near all powerful lord of Apokalypse is certainly one of the most dangerous villains of the DC Universe and he’s had a long rivalry with Superman.  The multiverse has been a little too safe since his disappearance after “Final Crisis” and NetherRealm may cash in by bringing him back.

Vegas Odds: NetherRealm did develop a model for Darkseid for their game “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he could make a great boss character. That being said, he’s out of comic continuity and is a little on the overpowered side. Some work would definitely need done to make him work. I’ll give it 3:2 odds.

2. Grifter

One of my favorite heroes of the New 52, Grifter is the most wanted man on Earth. An ex-special ops killer turned mercenary turned criminal has aimed his trademark pistols at the invading Daemonite army. If he’s going to survive them, he’s also going to have to unleash his latent psychic powers and duel with the other heroes of the universe that want to take him down.

Vegas Odds: DC has been pretty proud of Grifter, despite the fact that the book hasn’t sold incredibly well. They are releasing a collectible bust of the character and has put a high profile but not particularly talented  writer on the title. Putting Grifter in the game may be a marketing push but his mix of gunplay and psychic powers could mirror Deadpool’s from “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.” That being said, he’s still not that well known of a character. I’ll give him a 5:1.

3. Elongated Man

The stretchiest character to ever serve on the Justice League, Ralph Dibny has always been one of the most human characters in the universe. He’s an incredibly intelligent, very humanistic hero who has mentored many others in what it takes to be a hero. His ability to stretch his body is a bit of a relic from the Silver Age but he’s an enormously fun character.

Vegas Odds: Dibny hasn’t really had much of an impact on the universe since he was one of the many innocent victims of familial homicide in “Identity Crisis.” He briefly appeared as a zombie intent on killing Hawkman in “Blackest Night” but he’s bound for a comeback. Even with that, Capcom’s intent at a stretchy character with Super Skrull in “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was unpopular, despite being one of my favorite characters in the game. Its unlikely we’ll be seeing the poor widower so he’s getting a 10:1.

4. Deathstroke

The greatest mercenary in the universe has never come across a hero he didn’t think he could take down. He’s been at it for years and time has only sharpened his strategical genius. Deathstroke is always ready to reload, relax and get ready to draw blood from every man, woman and child who opposes him.

Vegas Odds: Things are looking pretty good that we’ll be seeing the Terminator in “Injustice.” He appeared in NetherRealm’s “Mortal Kombat vs. DC” and he’s still a pretty popular and dreaded enemy of the Justice League and the Teen Titans. He’s a pretty solid bet at 2:1.

5. Superboy-Prime

A Superman from a world that was never meant to have superheroes, Superboy Prime is another of the most dangerous forces the universe has ever had to deal with. He’s unleashed hell on the Teen Titans, battled Superman blow for blow and taken up the armor of the Anti-Monitor to unleash havoc on a world that didn’t understand him.

Vegas Odds: As cool as it would be to see a Superboy bereft of morals and capable of defeating nearly anyone but it is pretty unlikely that we’ll be seeing the villain. Like the Elongated Man, I’m giving him a 10:1 and hoping for more.

6. Nightwing

Dick Grayson, the former Robin and current Nightwing, has never struggled with the fact that he’s always been a hero in over his head. That’s never stopped him from doing as much good for Gotham and the world at large, joining up with Batman Inc. and serving time as the Dark Knight while Bruce Wayne struggled to return to his own time.

Vegas Odds: Nightwing is a popular character and all but I can’t imagine much of a way that NetherRealm would want to differentiate Grayson from Wayne and would just leave him off the list. We’ll give him a 5:1.

7. Atrocitus

There are few creatures as capable of rage as the Red Lanterns and only Atrocitus has the will and power to lead the group. His capacity for violence is legendary and he’s rapidly becoming one of the most prominent intergalactic forces in the DC universe.

Vegas Odds: Decently likely. The Green Lanterns have prospered under the rule of DC’s head scribe Geoff Johns and its drawn attention to the other Lantern teams. Atrocitus could serve as a useful and very neat bruiser to oppose the Emerald Knights. That’s worth a decent 3:1 spread.

8. Hank Henshaw aka Cyborg Superman

The almost-victor of the War of the Supermen, Hank Henshaw was briefly able to hold the role of Kal-El. He is also awfully contrived and terrible.

Vegas Odds: Thankfully awful. 15:1.

“Papa don’t kill Terminators” – 7 ways “Tomb Raider” could have avoided the sexual assault trap

The constant videogame news stream has nearly gotten to the point of players knowing the whole game before they even pop a disc into their console. Unfortunately, this is ending up causing a lot of controversy that may have been otherwise overlooked. Let’s take the “Tomb Raider” rape scene for instance. In an interview with Kotaku, the unreleased game’s executive producer said that the intent was to reduce and debase Lara Croft, “turning her into a caged animal.” And of course, what better way to do that than attempted sexual assault.

I’ve hated on a lot of writers, directors and artists for the use of sexual assault as a plot device but really, I don’t think its an enormous problem when its treated with respect. The problem with the Tomb Raider controversy was the way that it nearly implied that the only way to turn the character into a killer was to make her a rape victim, rather than a determined, self made treasure seeker. Of course, even that can be problematic when we look back at what Lara Croft is primarily known for.

We all know that we don’t need female characters to be defined by trauma, particularly sexual trauma. With that being said, let’s find some other pop culture examples of female heroine’s origin stories and see how they’d work out in the Tomb Raider reboot’s premise. At the end of each entry, we’ll port the character traits over to Lara, assuming that the basics of the game, namely that it takes place on an island where the prime objectives are survival and escape, hold true.

1. Sarah Connor – Terminator

Where “Terminator 2” gets a lot of credit for its still amazing special effects, the first “Terminator” film is vastly forgotten, despite the incredible characterization of Connor. Her transformation from bystander, to confused participant, to terrorist, to robot killer, to savior of the future is a joy to watch and her moment of catharsis is so well earned. We, as viewers, know just as she does, that the future can be saved.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s time on the island is guided by another, more experienced character. They eventually die, forcing Lara to become a killer and survivor in the unforgiving environment.

2. Kate Kane – Batwoman

Kate Kane would have been a hero even without putting on the cape. After quitting an illustrious career at West Point because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she joined with her General father to hunt down the terrorists that killed her mother. Of course, things weren’t what they seemed and Kate was forced to kill her own sister, putting her into a tailspin that turned her into the brutal but compassionate Batwoman that’s become a fan favorite.

Characterizing Croft: Whoever ended up marooning Lara on the island may have some secret motives, particularly related to the Croft fortune. She has to figure out how to survive and get back home if she’s going to protect what’s hers.

3. Hitgirl – “Kick-Ass”

I hate Mark Millar’s “Kick-Ass” so much that it physically hurts me to even mention it. But, y’know, she’s raised by her dad to kill. Its really lame and exploitative.

Characterizing Croft: Someone else on the island teaches Lara to be merciless, killing everyone in her path. Hey, its not good but at least its not attempted rape.

4. Katniss Everdeen – “The Hunger Games”

Speaking of things that I really don’t like, the protagonist of the eponymous teen series at least had a strong base for a developing character. Katniss had trained to survive in the depressed village she grew up in and her development to one of the champions of the games required her to use those same hunting skills for murder.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s trained well with her trademark dual pistols but she’s never had to turn the barrel on an actual person. To survive the trials of the island, she’s going to have to do just that.

5. Miranda Lawson – “Mass Effect 2”

Sure, Miranda was a cybernetically augmented cloned killer, but what motivates her abilities is a single minded desire to do what’s right by her more vulnerable sister. Her dedication to protecting the one innocent is even enough to help her break from Cerberus.

Characterizing Croft: Sure, maybe she would have been able to simply stay alive on the island. That’s not going to be enough when someone close to Lara disappears and she realizes that she’ll do anything to get them back safely.

6. Talia al Ghul – “Batman Incorporated”

I mentioned last week that I adored the way Grant Morrison finally gave Talia a motivation for her attack on the dark knight, a quest to find out who she is and with the goal of getting out from under the long shadow of her father.

Characterizing Croft: The best characters are the ones that have motivations that we can associate with. Lara’s potential quest to find out more about her lineage and where she fits into the Croft family could be a deeply compelling reason to help keep her alive on the island.

7. Ripley – “Alien”

Ripley doesn’t seem as if she’s going to be the one to survive the first encounter with the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” but she’s the only person to get out alive. How does she do it? Pretty simple really, she’s smarter, braver and more willing to make the harsh decisions than anyone else on board.

Characterizing Croft: You know what turns Lara into a killer? Necessity. She’s going to survive, going to do what she has to do to get off the island and she dares anyone to stop her.

I have mixed feelings about you, dad!: 35 fathers to think twice about celebrating

I get sick of seeing the lists that come out every year about “great TV” dads or “WORST TV DADS” (the capital letters say that this is both funny and original). I’m a man who likes moral ambiguity, who enjoys the fact that no one lives in absolutes. I also abhor really dull lists. Hopefully, this isn’t one of them.

1. John Marston – “Red Dead Redemption”

Rockstar finally created their best game and one of the best games of this console generation with Red Dead Redemption and wrote their most well developed character with father, rancher and bounty hunter John Marston. The former outlaw turned government blackmailed killer is a complex man looking for redemption but the amount of blood on his hands is ultimately what damns him to his fate. John’s not a good man, just one trying to do his best.

2. Walter White – “Breaking Bad”

The great debate that will rage years after Breaking Bad goes off the air will be what Walt’s motive was by the time the show entered its third and fourth season. Was Walt motivated by continually protecting his family and providing for his daughter or was his moral corruption all in the name of giving himself even more control and power in a life where he once thought he had none?

3. Wayne Malloy – “The Riches”

Eddie Izzard’s fast talking, sarcastic ass kicker was the driving force of the somewhat hit-and-miss FX comedy-drama “The Riches” and his motivation to have his own life constantly puts his own goals before the best of his family. He steals, fights, lies and gambles, solely to escape the fate he thinks has been decreed for him yet the feelings he has for his children and wife are the only bit of earnestness and truth he ever shows.

4. Reed Richards – Fantastic Four and FF

Reed and Sue Richards may be some of the most respected scientists and heroes of the Marvel Universe but great parents they are not. Whether its accidentally letting a witch babysit their Omega-level son, abandoning Franklin to deal with Norman Osbourne and Venom during Dark Reign or just sort of letting The Thing deal with their kid rather than parent him, Reed Richards might be a great scientist but he may be the epitome of the absentee parent.

5. Admiral James T. Kirk – “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

Speaking of absentee fathers, Kirk isn’t exactly the worst. It appears that he didn’t exactly know about his son but in the race to hold onto genesis and fight off his archenemy, Kirk finds out that he still has value both as a man, a soldier, a friend and a father.

6. Captain Walker – The Who’s “Tommy”

The father of the album’s eponymous messianic figure, the Captain returns home only to murder his wife’s lover and cause his son’s deafness, dumbness and blindness. Making matters worse, he leaves his son to be bullied by his cousin and molested by his uncle. The captain disappears from the record after “Tommy, Can You Hear Me” so the best we can really say about him is that he’s not quite as awful as Uncle Ernie.

7-12. The dads of the Pride – Runaways

Whether they’re homicidal mob bosses, turn of the century time travelers turned gang leaders, alien traitors, black magicians, child abusing inventors or telepathic mind-meddling mutants, the fathers of the children who would become the Runaways were willing to kill billions in order to save their children. The twist that concludes Brian Vaughn’s first run of Runaways finally gives the Pride the characterization that deeply enriches the characters and makes the villains just as sympathetic as their heroic children.

13. The protagonist – Cursive’s “The Ugly Organ”

Admittedly, the way that Cursive presents the protagonist from their landmark album “The Ugly Organ” marks him as a man who is a victim of the infidelities and minor tragedies that people inflict on him. That being said, there’s a sense of self pity, a sense that he knows that somewhere in the past, he knows he may be serving pittance for his crimes. On “Sierra,” he faces the life that another man has in his place, taking care of a daughter that doesn’t even know who her father is. Things might be looking up by the end, where he does step away from the edge rather than end it all.

14. Darth Vader – Star Wars

He’s a dark lord of the Sith who has tried off and on to kill or corrupt his son and ignore his daughter. He does have his moment of redemption a second too late to save his own life and succumbs to his injuries in his sons arms but ultimately, he’s another absentee dad who killed probably a few too many younglings.

15. Cancer Man – “The X-Files”

Let’s run down some of Cancer Man’s crimes real quick: killing JFK, killing MLK, fixing the NBA finals, ordering the kill on the first EBE the world comes in contact with, ordering the hit on Mulder’s father, ordering the hit on X, ordering the hit on Deep Throat, using the alien rebels to kill off the rest of the Syndicate,  attempting to kill both of his sons on multiple occasions, attempting to kill Krycek on about 45 different occasions, blackmailing Scully, blackmailing Skinner, controlling AD Kersh, surrendering the planet to the Aliens and writing really bad novels. That being said, he thinks he’s helping to save the human race, helps save Scully’s life and gives the best speech about boxes of chocolates ever. Cancer Man is an appallingly bad father but as a man, he’s wonderfully focused on the greater good and he’s so broken and personally ruined that its hard not to sympathize with him.

16-35. Every Disney Father

Everyone of these guys are near incompetent single fathers who are alternatively unable to control their children or offer them any usable advice. Its not so much that they’re irresponsible, its just that they’re barely functional as people, much less ones who should be raising others, yet they’re heaped with praise and unearned affection by their children.

Tossing Controllers: 8 Obscene Difficulty Spikes

I can do many things but keeping up with modern videogames is not one of them. That’s why the Playstation Network is a god send for me. Having the chance to download HD remakes of some of my favorite 16-bit games and replay my favorite JRPGs.

That being said, there is one thing that I’ve forgotten about classic games: designer expectations for players. With little time to know how people would play the game and little thought for the diversity of different players that would play their games, many classic 8 and 16-bit games featured moments when games went from playable to almost unbelievably difficult. Let’s count some of the most memorable of these moments.

1. Earthworm Jim – For Pete’s Sake!

Don’t let the video fool you, “For Pete’s Sake” is one of the most frustrating levels of the 16-bit era. Whether you’re getting crushed by asteroids, knocked into almost unbelievably small pits by ferocious plants, having to perform pixel perfect whipping feats or being mauled by the dog you’re meant to be escorting, this level is an endurance round and it heralds the infinitely less fun levels you’re about to have to deal with.

2. Donkey Kong Country – Snow Barrel Blast

You’d be excused if you thought the first Donkey Kong Country was easy after the first three worlds. That becomes infinitely less true after the first level of World 4, which requires insane reflexes as you blast from barrel to barrel trying to reach the end across slippery slopes. Making the whole thing worse, there’s a shortcut that’s almost impossible to find that makes the whole level a joke. It adds insult to your self-inflicted injury.

3. Ninja Gaiden – Act III

I’m not saying Ninja Gaiden is easy. The first two acts are certainly a challenge but Act III is where the game earns its notoriety for legendary difficulty. After passing through a fairly easy level on the docks, players are thrown into the mountains where they’re attacked by hawks, snow leopards, soldiers with rocket launchers and some challenging jumps that need to be made without a second thought. Its a challenging level that demands that players be at the top of their game.

4. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – Spider Ball Guardian

This is the moment where pretty much everyone quit playing Metroid Prime 2. The fight is just so frustrating. You’re either constantly taking super heavy damage, hoping that the Ing will sort of fall into the next section of the fight or just struggling to figure out what to do in this fight that’s so hard that even the game’s director said that he couldn’t finish the fight. That being said, Nintendo made this fight, and the rest of Echoes for that matter, considerably easier.

5. Battletoads – Speeder Bikes

The difficulty on this one is legendary and part of what makes the fight so memorable is the fact that the levels leading up to it are all just fairly standard, if a little tricky, beat-em up stages. The bikes, however, are where things get crazy and make the game almost impossible. I’ve played this thing for almost 15 years and I still can’t get get past the speeder bikes which require not only lightening fast reflexes but also that players memorize the different jumps, turns and ramps that populate the extremely long track.

6. Illusion of Gaia – Mu

In one of the first, and most difficult, action RPGs on the Super Nintendo, the little played Illusion of Gaia goes from a challenging game to a downright insanely difficult one when the protagonist, a psychic named Will, wakes up on the fabled mystical island of Mu. Things get even worse when you’re asked to track down a pair of vampires who have kidnapped your friend, all without being able to transform into your more powerful alter ego until damn near the end of the level. Its insanely difficult and features almost no healing items to help players against the insane threat of tougher monsters and the hardest boss in the game.

7. Batman: Arkham City – Return to the Steel Mill

Sure, it comes fairly late in the game, but attempting to reenter the Steel Mill toward the end of Arkham City is where the game finally pulls off the training wheels. Suddenly, the whole city is against you. Thugs armed with sniper rifles, armored guards and difficult to reach areas make it feel like the Joker’s plan is finally coming together. Players can’t be blamed if they just start flying by the snipers or taking an occasional bullet instead of sneaking through the area.

8. Wolfenstein 3D – Episode 6

Another example of when one of the first examples of the genre is also one of the hardest, Wolfenstein 3D suddenly goes from an intense, fun to explore adventure shooter into a game that suddenly needs to be played at a snail’s pace. Whether its the endless, difficult to navigate mazes, enemies that take more bullets and harder to find guns, ammo and health packs, its a tough fight and that’s just when things start to get intense.