Category Archives: playstation 2

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: Grandia II

games I regret grandia II ps2

At this point, I’ve covered twenty-five games I’ve regretted parting with. Of them, the ones that hurt the most are of the RPG ilk. I’m sure you’re super surprised by that. Looking through what I’ve already talked about, that means seven open, still bleeding, albeit slowly, bullet holes: Beyond the Beyond, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Brave Fencer Musashi, SaGa Frontier, Breath of Fire III, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, and The Granstream Saga. By their nature, RPGs are massive beasts, and I know that younger me did not see everything they had to offer, especially when you consider I barely started the Faerie Village mini-game in Breath of Fire III before trading it in for something else. Might as well pile on more hurt by adding another RPG to the list then.

Grandia II makes no attempt to stray from the traditional Japanese RPG story: Ryudo the Geohound, a mercenary of sorts, along with his bird, Skye, accepts a mission to accompany a songstress of Granas named Elena as she ventures towards Garmia Tower. Naturally, things go awry quickly, and an accident at the tower requires the two to work together to stop a greater evil. I’m a sucker for forced, unlikely team-ups, which is why I immediately think of Dark Cloud 2 and Wild Arms when I read that plot summary and remind myself. Though the naive nun with a demon inside of her does make this adventure a little different. Plus, there’s a lot more cursing than you’d ever expect; imagine if Final Fantasy VII‘s Barret Wallace was the star of his own game, able to freely speak his mind at every scenario. Yeah, like that.

Grandia II‘s battle system is both simple and sophisticated. At the bottom right corner of the screen is a bar with icons representing the characters in your party and the enemies you’re battling. It’s sort of like the Active Time Battle system, but not quite. The bar is divided into two parts: a long waiting period, followed by an arrow indicating when commands may be entered, and a then another waiting period, followed by a second arrow at the end indicating when the entered commands will happen. That second waiting period is where you hope to often get in an extra attack to kill a monster or interrupt whatever command the enemy punched in. Theoretically, if you wanted to, you could devote your characters to executing consecutive canceling moves to repeatedly knock a boss or generic enemy lower on the action bar, basically preventing them from making any moves in that fight. Other standard options include using items, casting magic, evading, which you do by moving to a new pre-picked location on the battlefield, running away, or letting the computer auto-determine your choices.

Something else that I really liked about Grandia II–and this was before my time with any of the Elder Scrolls games–is that characters learned new skills through…reading. They had to read books to learn magic and additional techniques. Clearly, I had found a game that spoke directly to me. The books and skills within even grow in level as your party battles and gains experience points.

From the sounds of it, Grandia II is not terribly long, somewhere are the 30 hours completion mark. I don’t think I ever hit double digits though, as I remember picking up the title for fairly cheap along with a few other big RPGs, like Dark Cloud 2 and Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, meaning my attention was easily taken away from me, more for the former than the latter, of course. Looking over the rest of the series on good ol’ Wikipedia, I have this strange, flimsy feeling that I also either played or owned Grandia Xtreme at some time in my life, but it no longer sits in my collection today. That could be my mind just trying to come up with an excuse to write about the game’s hero, Evann, a young ranger, voiced by none other than Superman himself–Dean Cain. Lisa Loeb is also in it. Hmm, we’ll see.

Grandia II originally came out on the Sega Dreamcast, but my copy was a port for the PlayStation 2. I don’t recall it looking amazing, though it was certainly colorful, like a bigger, better Star Ocean: The Second Story, bursting with polygons, but it was more the battle system and kooky characters that had me hooked. I wish I can remember when and for what I traded this in for. Hopefully not for that copy of Godai: Elemental Force. Gah. The shame.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

The Incredibles wants you to cross the line and suffer the consequences

the incredibles ps2 final thoughts violet's crossing

After all my years of gaming, I can only recall a few specific moments vividly by name or the tears that I cried as they truly frustrated me, the man with all the patience in the universe. Allow me to name them. That boss fight against Moldorm in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, especially when it could knock you off the level itself, forcing you to retrace your steps. The entire realm of Aquis from Primal, which is all about swimming, but not about good swimming controls. Lastly, there’s that wall jumping section in Super Metroid, which, to this day, is a mechanic I still don’t have down pat. Well, we can now add “Violet’s Crossing” from The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2 to this curmudgeonly list.

I’m actually going to talk a bit about the entire second half of The Incredibles, but I feel like “Violet’s Crossing” is such a special case of fail that it needs its own paragraph or two. Allow me.

For a level that many YouTubers seem to get through in about nine minutes, this one took me forty-one minutes and change; also, I stopped counting how many times I died after twenty or so, especially since you can kill Violet within seconds of gaining control. It’s a stealth mission and the only time you are in control of Violet by herself. For those familiar with the movie, her power is turning invisible, but the game limits this to only a few seconds. Four or three, tops. Your goal here is to reach the end of the level without being caught, as she is killed instantly when spotted, taken down by a single laser beam bullet. Guards are on high alert and can hear her sneaking by if too close or if she brushes against some foliage.

I like stealth, but I guess I should say that I technically like good stealth, and I’m thinking about Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Mark of the Ninja mostly. “Violet’s Crossing” is a terrible stealth level, seemingly created by developers that have never played a stealth videogame in their collective lives. There’s no map, the guards have no vision cones or indication of where they are looking, and you have very limited control of the camera–I wonder if I’ll say the same thing when I revisit Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Throw in a super short period for using her invisibility power, as well as one-shot kills, and this turns into a frustrating spout of patience, of creeping inch by inch forward, hoping to hit a checkpoint and not have to repeat everything over and over. By the end of it, I felt like an AGDQ speedrunner, following a specific path and doing certain button presses, knowing they’d work because I had memorized how the guards moved and where one had to go to avoid them. However, instead of waiting what felt like an eternity for Violet’s Incredi-power meter to fill back up with invisibility juice, I spammed another secret passcode.

The level immediately after this is probably the most fun I had with The Incredibles, as Dash and Violet team up to pilot a bubble shield ball thing and mess around with physics. Basically, you get to bounce around in a bubble, taking out enemy soldiers, turrets, and machinery, while occasionally hitting some sweet jumps. After this, it is back to the same ol’ same ol’, with Mr. Incredible fighting that very same tank mini-boss he fought a few levels back multiple times in a row. It’s maddening, especially since the only way to stay alive and not lose progress and have to do all this repetitive busywork over again is to spam health cheat codes. But get this–The Incredibles is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even have a full health or invincibility cheat code. All you can do is keep typing in UUDDLRLRBAS for 25% health refill….25%. Which depletes quickly when battling a fire-spewing tank. I mean, c’mon, the Konami code used to grant you 30 lives in Contra and dress Qwark up in a tutu in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal.

Ironically, the final final fight against the Omnidroid is not too difficult and kind of fun, so long as you keep an eye on everyone else’s health meters. Plus, after you beat it, you can continue running around the area, throwing rocks and leaping into burning trash bins, as the credits roll. For some reason, it reminded me of a Tony Hawk level. Or maybe my brain was so relieved to be done with this draining process in poor controls and faulty design choices that I was already beginning to think about what to play next. Please note that I did not actually go play Tony Hawk next (more on that in another post).

Oh, and somewhere about halfway through the game, I unlocked “Battle Arena” in the menu option. No, it’s not a local multiplayer slagfest. In it, you play as Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl, placed an arena to face round after round of enemies, culminating in a final tank battle, everyone’s favorite from the main campaign. Why would anyone do this? Well, to earn more bonus items, also known as uninteresting concept art. Here’s the kicker: you get one bonus item at the end of each round, so if you want all twenty of them you’ll need to beat Battle Arena as both superhero spouses. No thanks.

I’m sure it is obvious now from this post and the previous one that I have not had a good time with The Incredibles. A part of me is deeply curious if anything got better in the sequel The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer, but maybe I should just retire my superhero cape at the ripe age of thirty-one. Also: no capes.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #4 – The Incredibles

2015 games completed The Incredibles PS2 004

Punch, stretch, dash, and hide
The Incredibles are here
A super letdown

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

New ways to celebrate mediocrity with The Incredibles

gd incredibles playstation2 impressions

I ended up getting a copy of The Incredibles videogame for the PlayStation 2 last summer as part of a small birthday celebration for myself. Please note, I also snagged Suikoden Tactics and Star Ocean Till the End of Time with this, and, of the three, it’s the first one I’ve actually put into my system to play since that package arrived. Yup, some seven months later, I’m just blindly trusting that these used videogames from Amazon arrived in working condition. I mean, yeah, I’ll find out eventually.

Anyways, The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar film. I say that now, in 2015, with total confidence, and have been saying it since the movie saw release in 2004. Y’know, a decade ago. I also suspect that I will continue saying this for many more years, possibly all the years. There’s a lot of reasons why The Incredibles is incredible, and I’ll list a few for those in the know: Brad Bird, monologues, subsurface scattering, Syndrome’s hair, that little kid on the tricycle, capes, no capes, the colors, 1960s homages, the mysterious Mirage, and so on. It’s a funny story about superheroes, but also about family and what it can cost to stay together, to be happy. I watch it every few months as it is one of my top 31 favorite ways to eat up time.

I promise I’ll talk about the letdown that, so far, is The Incredibles on the PlayStation 2, but I first need to lay some groundwork. First, the movie. I was in college and saw it on or around its opening weekend with a girl I was dating then, who we will call the Giraffe, and it instantly blew me my mind. Like, sure, I understood the concept of a “children’s film for adults,” but here was something else, something bigger. It didn’t dumb itself down for the wee ones, and it kept the serious moments super serious. Fast forward a bit, and I’m on my way home from a Spring Break trip in Las Vegas, NV, unfortunately taking a red-eye flight back to Camden. Now, I’m already terrified of planes, and so while everyone else slept, I sat staring at the back of the seat in front of me, sweating like a pig. Until I discovered my girlfriend’s GameBoy Advance and a copy of The Incredibles for it. It didn’t pass all the hours, but it definitely helped; alas, the GBA version is quite different from those released for consoles, playing it as a straightforward side-scrolling beat-em-up, and you can see it in action over here.

I knew that The Incredibles for PlayStation 2 was not the same game I had played on that flight many years back, but it still seemed promising. The movie’s entire makeup is perfectly designed for a videogame: you have a small cast of characters, each with varying special powers, ending up in dangerous situations, all trying to save the world from a man-boy gone mad who has an army of goons and robots to toss at you. Alas, it turned out to be a vapid, uninspired retread of the movie, with an out-of-nowhere difficulty spike, which forces one to use cheat codes to get through it. Hate to remind Syndrome of this yet again, but you do need special powers to be super.

Here are my biggest problems so far with The Incredibles, and mind you, I only just completed stage 8 (of 18 total), meaning I’m a little bit over one-third of the way through it, but boy howdy I’m not thrilled about what’s to come.

It’s boring. The levels are extremely linear, and the one or two occasions it allows you to explore reveal nothing, save for maybe a single “secret bonus item” unlock collectible, which devolves into uninteresting concept art. It’s certainly no this. At this point, I’ve played as Mr. Incredible six times, once as Elastigirl, and once as Dash. Wait, real quick–the game and its manual seem to go out of its way to never refer to Elastigirl as such, calling her Helen or Mrs. Incredible only, strangely stripping her of her identity, even labeling her this in a level that takes place before she gets married. The levels for Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are of the action adventure style, with slivers of variety, such as a turret sequence, and the Dash level was an atrocious free-runner style thing that I’ll have more on in a sec.

It’s confusing. Look, I know the movie inside and out. I have to imagine anyone coming to this game also knows the movie pretty well or would at least see it first before playing the action game based on it. If they didn’t, well…this will make zero sense. Small, condensed scenes from Pixar’s film are used between levels to bridge the gaps, but it does little to explain why so-and-so is here, doing this, wearing that. One level you are playing as an overweight Mr. Incredible in his old-timey blue costume, and the very next level you have him looking fit and all donned up in Edna’s new design. I know how he got there, but many won’t if they are relying on this for plot. Also, you rarely get told what to do in a level or where to go next, though there are only so many options at hand.

It’s too difficult. Maybe this is my fault, coming to The Incredibles and assuming it was a child-friendly beat-em-up with additional elements, but certainly something easy. Most levels, based on a quick scan of YouTube replays, take about eight to ten minutes to finish, while I was averaging more around 30 minutes. This is due to many deaths, but also frustration at overly difficult sections, sequences I just can’t imagine a young gamer getting through without repeated tries or external help. In some levels, if you miss a platform jump, you have to return to the start of the scenario yourself and start again, and it doesn’t help that the camera makes it challenging to tell how far a jump is. In that level where Dash has to race the school bus, the checkpoint systems seems oddly tiered, often working against progress. The only way I was able to beat the Omnidroid in stage 8 “Volcanic Eruption” was to spam health replenish and Incredi-move cheat codes. I don’t know, maybe I’m just terrible at games, thinks the dude that did beat Yama on a Daily Challenge last year.

The short of it is this: The Incredibles is not as incredible as the movie. I’m going to finish playing it, because that’s who I am, but like that tricycle kid hanging around the Parr’s driveway, I’ll still be waiting for something amazing to happen.

Bouncing from era to era for key items in TimeSplitters

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Get ready, but I’ve never played Perfect Dark, and the only time I’ve spent with GoldenEye 007 was something like ten years after its release, being all illegal…with an emulator. Don’t think I even got past the first level, that oh-so-iconic dam. Shh, don’t tell anyone. Good thing I’m only posting this on my secret, private NotePad blog on my computer’s desktop and not a powerful, crippling entity like the Internet. The fact is I never had a Nintendo 64–I went the PlayStation 1 route, see–and so I missed out on just about every single big release from that system; my childhood BF-not-F had one, but we mostly ate up  wrestling games, as well as the multiplayer mode in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.

And so when I read or hear the comparisons of TimeSplitters for the PlayStation 2 to those two previously mentioned name-heavy franchises, I kind of just shrug my shoulders. Because I don’t know left from right. That said, TimeSplitters is a bunch of goofy fun, even if it is a first-person shooter boiled down to a mostly multiplayer focus. Speaking of that, here’s the modes you can expect to hit X on at least once: Story, Arcade, and Challenge. I didn’t include the map editor there because map editing on the PlayStation 2 is a little scary, so I’ll just advise y’all to keep your distance and fire with precision.

Story mode in TimeSplitters is a big lie, even more so than in The Tiny Bang Story. The levels work more in a “time attack” manner than following a narrative and exploring at your own pace. Basically, you pick your level and difficulty (easy, medium, hard), and either a male or female character to play as. These levels are themed across nine fictional locations spanning the years between 1935 and 2035. The goal of each level is to grab an item–let’s just go ahead and call it a MacGuffin–and then make your way to the exit, which is generally not where you started. The split second you pick up the item, deadlier monsters begin warping into the level, making the return trip that much more hazardous. On easy, you can complete each level in a matter of minutes, and the main point of this mode is to unlock Arcade mode elements, like multiplayer bots, additional multiplayer modes, and so on.

Arcade is the multiplayer hub, and you can play against bots, but it’s still pretty soulless. Yes, that’s a remark coming from someone who ate up bot multiplayer sessions in Red Faction II and Killzone. The bot AI can be tweaked to five different levels of smarty-pants, but it still just feels like mindless chaos, like there’s no strategy at work. I imagine four-player multiplayer sessions are more lively. The standard modes are there in various forms, like capture the flag (well, capture the bag here) and deathmatch.

The Challenge mode can only be unlocked by beating all the Story missions on at least the easiest of difficulties, which is, obviously, pretty easy to do. It’s the best thing in TimeSplitters. Right now, I have three challenges in total unlocked: one involving killing zombies in specific ways with a time limit, another is murdering a bunch of duck-men before time runs out, and the other tasks you with holding onto a bag for a total of a minute in a three-minute arena filled with opponents. These are neat and fun; however, the difficulty in these challenges is beyond believable. So far, I have only beaten the zombie one, and it literally came down to beheading the last zombie a second before time ran out. For the bag one, I don’t think I’ve held onto it for longer than a total of twenty seconds so far. Bah humbug.

If there’s one thing that still stands out with TimeSplitters some fourteen years later, it’s that the game moves fast. Like cheetah speeds. The action moves at at extremely spiffy frame-rate and high resolution, still looking good for its day. In fact, it moves faster than more recent first-person shooters–sorry, BioShock Infinite, but you dropped your walking cane–and almost feels like your character is skating on ice, blasting away enemies and monsters with polish.

Something to not praise though are the outrageous character designs, which often have the men looking macho and powerful, while the women are given Twizzler-sized waists, large breasts, and sexual poses. Even the robotic forms. Still, there are some funny names to smile at, like Hick Hyde and Ravelle Velvet, but none of the characters, as far as I can tell, play differently from each other. The choice is welcome, but the gender portrayals are too stereotypical.

At this point, I’ve unlocked a good amount of TimeSplitters‘ content, but other than giving a few more Challenge missions another go I think I might call it quits. Again, the multiplayer isn’t filling me with joy or excitement, and I have no interest in replaying the Story levels on tougher difficulties because it just feels unbalanced and punishing. It sounds like later games in the TimeSplitters series, of which I have none, treat the story more traditionally and weave it better into the action.

My tentative schedule for Extra Life 2014

gd schedule extra life nashville MTA schedule

The weekend draws nearer, and I’m trying to hammer out some kind of firm plans for what I’ll be playing for 24 hours (for the kids!–please donate). I feel like if I don’t at least have a tentative schedule I’ll just flail about aimlessly and spend more time trying to find something to play than actually playing. It’s nice to have things to look forward to, which is why I’m putting Deus Ex: GOTY edition later on in the schedule. Ideally, I’m hoping to play each game for at least an hour, though some games might not demand such devotion, and others might suck me in for longer. We’ll see.

Gaze upon the plan, which could–and most likely will–change as everything goes down:

  • HOUR 1: Aquaria
  • HOUR 2: Hack, Slash, Loot
  • HOUR 3: Legend of Grimrock
  • HOUR 4: You Have To Win the Game
  • HOUR 5: The Tiny Bang Story
  • HOUR 6: Botanicula
  • HOUR 7: DragonSphere
  • HOUR 8: FTL: Faster Than Light
  • HOUR 9: Gunpoint
  • HOUR 10: Krater
  • HOUR 11: To the Moon
  • HOUR 12: Proteus
  • HOUR 13: Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
  • HOUR 14: SteamWorld Dig
  • HOUR 15: Eschalon: Book II
  • HOUR 16: Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut
  • HOUR 17: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • HOUR 18: Titan Quest
  • HOUR 19: System Shock 2
  • HOUR 20: Papers, Please
  • HOUR 21: Tiny Barbarian
  • HOUR 22: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE
  • HOUR 23: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE
  • HOUR 24: WHATEVER KEEPS ME AWAKE

EDIT: I expect to start streaming 9 AM Saturday, October 25, and won’t stop playing games until 9 AM Sunday, October 26.

Other games in my Steam library that I’ll dabble in if not everything above takes an hour to play or keeps me entertained enough, especially during the wee early hours of Sunday morning:

  • Crayon Physics Deluxe
  • Delve Deeper
  • Jolly Rover
  • Maniac Mansion Deluxe
  • Might & Magic: Duel of Champions
  • Offspring Fling!
  • Snapshot
  • Teenagent
  • Tobias and the Dark Scepters
  • …and more!!!

If I get tired of streaming from the laptop, I’ll turn to my consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 2) and a comfy couch, with a few goals in mind:

  • Hit level 70 with Whisper, my demon hunter in Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Xbox 360)
  • Start a “hardcore” run for Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360)
  • Um, Dark Souls? (Xbox 360)
  • Maybe I’ll finally do some alchemy in Ni no Kuni (PlayStation 3)
  • Recruit more peeps in Suikoden II now that I got my castle (PlayStation 2)

Alas, none of the above console stuff can be streamed, so I’m hesitant to do it, as I feel like being “on camera” is part of the whole Extra Life experience thing. Regardless, I have plenty of games to keep me entertained through the night. I just hope I have the endurance as well. Please tune in when you can!

Metal Gear Solid 2, an unpredictable mix of gloss and dross

comparison-mgs2-pc-snake-raiden

I wish I could remember whether I knew about the big early twist in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty or not before I deep dove into it. At this stage, it just seems like one of those known certainties that everyone who games is aware of. I was certainly reading a lot of gaming magazines at the time, though the Internet was not yet the spoiler battlefield we have to crawl through today. Plus, at the time, I had other priorities to worry about: drawing, failing at drawing, crying in bathrooms, girls, making friends, losing friends, throwing up in bathrooms, and pondering the future. Hideo Kojima’s second cool action guy game in the Metal Gear Solid series came out in November 2001, my freshman year of college at Rowan University when I was still rocking my original PlayStation and using a dorm-mate’s PlayStation 2 to experience things like Grand Theft Auto III.

In fact, I remember exactly when I got my copy of Metal Gear Solid 2 and for how much; the receipt is still in the case, though now very faded after about twelve years. I snagged it on November 22, 2002 for $16.99 at the Deptford Mall’s GameStop (the receipt says the cashier’s name was Jay–hey Jay!) and then visited a girl at a candy store before heading home to immerse myself in nanomachine-driven mindfuckery and yellow-green gummi worms. That was also probably roughly the last time I played it, completing it over a few days or so while juggling school, dates, something of a social life, and the impending Thanksgiving break.

All right, imagine if I’m telling you this plot summary via Codec and you can use the analog sticks to be silly and zoom in on my face. You start out by reprising your role as Solid Snake, ex-FOXHOUND operative, who is now working with his Shadow Moses buddy Otacon to stop the production of Metal Gear machines by the military. Currently, Snake sneaks aboard a tanker supposedly housing Metal Gear RAY, an anti-Metal Gear machine. Spoiler alert, but after this section runs its course, the story begins somewhere else, starring someone else. Big Shell, a massive offshore clean-up facility, has been seized by a group of terrorists calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty” and demanding a large ransom in exchange for the life of the POTUS. You now play as Raiden, a greenhorn member of FOXHOUND fresh out of VR training and ready for his first real mission.

There are many things that stand out when you go right from Metal Gear Solid to Metal Gear Solid 2, and I’m not just talking about the graphical uptick that greatly allows characters to emote more voicelessly. The goal remains the same and always has since the beginning: sneak, scurry, crawl, cartwheel, and occasionally shoot your way past enemies until you’ve reached your destination. However, Metal Gear Solid 2 really ups the ante, giving both Snake and Raiden new tools, new ways of traversing, and new perspectives. My favorite was being able to hop over guard rails to a floor below or, if needed, just hang there until the enemy walks past. You can also dive into a roll, if you need to get under a desk real fast. Plus, there’s the first-person shooting perspective, which is vital for using the tranquilizer gun, as well as looking around corners. That said, the controls are still tough to master and do not work 100% of the time (I won’t even go into how many times I’d try to pick up an unconscious guard only to immediately drop them back down); in line with that, I’ll also never master holding up an enemy from behind and then walking in front of them, weapon still drawn, to make them nervous. I got less than five dog tags total during my replay.

I continue to find it easier to simply die or jump off into the water after being spotted in Metal Gear games, rather than try to hide and wait for the enemies to go back to their standard patrol routes. For one thing, in Metal Gear Solid 2, the enemy artificial intelligence got a serious boost, as they will hunt you down, call for reinforcements, double-check areas, and so forth. Their vision cones also extend a bit further than what the radar actually displays, which leads to me getting spotted more often than I wanted. Still, one of my favorite moments is when Snake leans against a wall and accidentally knocks over a fire extinguisher, alerting a nearby guard. In fact, I had more trouble dealing with guards and flying gun-toting drones than boss fights, which is probably the completely opposite with all the previous games in the series.

The action in Metal Gear Solid 2 is mostly solid (pun intended), but it’s the story that many remember (or continue to disbelieve). It goes to some zany places, and I truthfully don’t know how I swallowed it all the first time I completed it, doing naked cartwheels and reliving the past. That said, that’s one of my favorite thing about this series, the clash of super series tech talk and then the ghost of a dead twin brother in the arm of your enemy. Fighting a tentacle-wielding ex-U.S. President after taking down a bunch of Metal Gear RAYs. Learning about top-secret military weapon technology while hiding in a locker and masturbating to pin-up posters. I’m so looking forward to Giant Bomb‘s playthrough, especially given the moments in the original game that Drew scoffed at; he has no idea what’s in store.

There’s a lot of bonus stuff to experience on this copy of Metal Gear Sold 2 from the Legacy Collection. Not sure if it was included in the original or not. Sadly, there’s no skate-boarding mini-game from the Substance version, which I’ve always heard was silly fun. Included though are a bunch of VR missions, Snake Tales (five story-based missions featuring Solid Snake as the main character), and some kind of cutscene remix tool. I dabbled in each a wee bit, but think I’m sated for the time being.

Truthfully, this final summary blog post exists so I can continue sharing my end-game screen statistics with y’all:

WP_20140911_005

I also believe my code animal grade was…elephant? Which was what Drew got for his recent completion of Metal Gear Solid. I think elephants are pretty cool, but I feel like it’s a “bad” grade. Let’s compare rations across the series so far though:

  • Metal Gear – used 57 rations
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – used 27 rations
  • Metal Gear Solid – used 90 rations (the photo I took is a little blurry and hard to decipher)
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – used 69 rations

I’m not exactly sure what those statistics say about my skills, but at least I didn’t need to heal as much as a I did in the previous game. Either way, rations are yummers. I look forward to eating more of them, as well as snakes, in the next cool action guy game in the series. When will that happen, I muse out loud as I glance at the calendar and see that 2014 is dangerously close to closing. I don’t really know. My goal of playing through all the Metal Gear games this year is, alas, teetering on the edge, and I didn’t bother upgrading my grip strength to level 3.

Escorting Emma Emmerich is not very enjoyable

escorting emma emmerich

I remembered next to nothing about Emma Emmerich and her little side story involvement in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I wrote next to nothing because, for some reason, I did recall her cute, chatty parrot. Just not her. I suspect this has more to do with how she throws a wrench into the game’s stealth-heavy gameplay rather than her somber life story and damaged relationship with big bro Hal. Plus, she’s completely dismissible, which is a shame since the game forces you to protect, only to watch, via a cutscene, as she succumbs to her untouchable fate.

See, after taking down the Twilight-loving Vamp yet again, you rescue her from a part of Big Shell that is beginning to flood due to explosions. That’s not really a problem for Raiden, who can swim as good as any otter these days. However, Emma is terrified of water after a traumatic experience as a kid, and she’s also been injected with something that makes her legs extremely weak, meaning Raiden has to carry her on his back while underwater, as well as pull her along when on dry ground. Yup, you are now an officially unpaid babysitter, and you need to get Emma over to the computer room at the bottom of Shell 1’s core; it’s not a far walk, but it’s a troublesome one nonetheless.

The underwater parts were not as tricky as I initially feared. You just had to memorize the path and make sure you went up for air more frequently than before because Emma’s got teeny tiny lungs. I ran into frustration in the sections of Big Shell where enemies were on patrol. First, I tried to sneak her past everyone, but kept getting spotted; the moment the enemy is on us, Emma just sits down and gives up, letting the bullets mix with tears of defeat. That meant I had to get down and dirty and simply murder everyone and everything (sky-high cyphers) just so we could creep leisurely from one strut to another. Ideally, it’s not how I wanted to do things, but sometimes you got to snap necks to ensure the weak-kneed make it out alive.

Oh, and there’s one part where a bunch of bugs are covering the floor and walls near an elevator. Emma refuses to go any further until the bugs are gone. You have two options: clear away the bugs with the coolant spray or knock her out and drag her body along. I did the former, but when doing some light research for this post, I found many “gamers” touting proudly and triumphantly that they knocked her lights out. For shame.

All of that naturally got me thinking about other escort missions, and how I really do loathe being put into the somewhat awkward position of the sole protector of someone who is more fragile than an ancient vase teetering on the edge of a wobbly desk. Here are a few standout examples of escorting gone wrong from other games I’ve played:

In BioShock, towards the end of the story, you have to escort a Little Sister somewhere. Not a problem, you think, given that these ADAM-wielding tiny girls are invincible at every other point in the game where you’ve encountered them. Except no–this Little Sister is special and can take damage from enemies. Strangely, she pays little attention to the chaos of bullets, lightning bolts, and Splicers around her, content in just walking around and stabbing corpses with her needle.

Musashi: Samurai Legend made you feel the weight of the escort mission. No, really. Every time you saved a Mystic–a kidnapped maiden who would, upon saving, help strengthen Musashi’s legendary sword–you had to literally carry her to the level’s exit. And still fight off bad guys. Sometimes you could use her as a weapon to push goons back, but it was often easier to dump her on the ground, clear the area, and then pick her back up again. Rinse and repeat a few more times. Yeah, way too unnecessary.

Now, I’ve only played Dead Rising 2: Case Zero and Dead Rising 2 across the whole franchise, but both of those games have survivors to rescue and bring back safely to your headquarters. Some of them are on a time limit, which is not a big deal, given that everything in these games is timed. However, these trapped bags of fresh flesh feature some of the worst artificial intelligence I’ve come across, and if you don’t babysit every single step they take they’ll most likely run themselves right into the middle of a horde and get themselves eaten to death. Similar to Mushashi: Samurai Legend, you can pick them up and carry them, but that leaves you with few options for clearing a walkable path. I think I ended up rescuing only 12 in Dead Rising 2 in the end. Not surprisingly, these problems also pop up in Dead Island.

G-Police is a game I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to write about yet on Grinding Down, but it is overdue for a GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH feature soon enough. Let’s just say that piloting a slow-moving aircraft while protecting a slow-moving car on the ground as it obliviously drives to its destination while people shoot guns at it is not my favorite part of Psygnosis’ Blade Runner-inspired shooter.

Fable III, besides being a bad game, had a bunch of fetch quests in the form of escort missions. Basically, you’d be wooing someone, and they’d then want you to take them to a particular part of the world. Thankfully, once accepting to do this, you can fast travel to wherever is closest to this spot, and the person will also travel with you. However, you must now actually take their hand into yours and lead them down the path; when enemies show up, you must ensure that they don’t get hurt. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is terribly cumbersome, and the hand holding aspect is so glitchy that you’ll often break contact just going over a small bump.

Lastly, there’s a tiny section in VVVVVV wherein you have to escort a fellow comrade back to the teleporter. He’ll follow you when you walk on the ground, but comes to a halt when you flip up to the ceiling. This forces you to figure out how to move him along the path, without killing either of you. It’s a brief, but difficult–and extremely memorable–moment in a game all about moving swiftly from one platform to another.

Well, this post got long fast.

Do you like escort missions, and, if so, are you clinically insane? Tell me about your least favorite escorting scenario in the comments section below.

Solid Snake struggles with investigating the development of a new Metal Gear

Metal Gear Solid 2 initial thoughts

Well, with Suikoden done, I’m moving on to my next target for 2014, which is coincidentally another Konami title–replaying Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. You might’ve assumed I’d go right into Suikoden II, but there is a wee time-crunch hanging over my head. See, Dan Ryckert and Drew Scanlon are playing through the original Metal Gear Solid over at Giant Bomb, with hints that they’ll be tackling more tactical espionage action titles in the series afterwards. And they’re moving forward swiftly. Personally, I’d love to watch them replay Solid Snake’s first outing on the PlayStation 2 after I get to re-experience it myself. Call me selfish, but I don’t want my replay to be tainted by their actions or thoughts in any way whatsoever. Thus, I loaded up Metal Gear Solid 2 the other night via my disc copy of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection 1987 – 2012.

To open, it didn’t go well, and I’m going to call my first hour or so with the game a complete wash. I didn’t even bother saving it once, knowing I’d like to try again and not immediately goof up and get spotted every few steps. I’m not sure exactly where everything went wrong, but the controls are a huge change from the–well, what now seems rudimentary–controls from Metal Gear Solid. The biggest addition is a useful first-person POV, one where you can aim your gun in and strafe. Before, you merely used it to look around the environment, but this new angle becomes vital when using the M9 tranquilizer gun because guards will fall asleep faster based on where you hit them with darts (go for the heads, Snake, not the knees). However, every time I went to use it, I kept trying to hit the Triangle button instead of the now used R1 button, causing Snake to stand still out in the open a few seconds longer than I’d like. I also found it harder to stick to surfaces using the analog stick, with Snake often slipping off cover and getting spotted. Ugh.

Wait, wait, wait. I guess I should actually try to some up the story before getting into the trials and triumphs of my replay. Metal Gear Solid 2 opens with a flashback in 2007, two years after the Shadow Moses incident that went down in the original Metal Gear Solid. Solid Snake and Otacon, now members of the non-governmental organization Philanthropy, are investigating the development of a new Metal Gear by American marines. To do this, Snake sneaks on to the tanker transporting the weapon and must produce legitimate pictures of it.

Of course, as many fans of the series already knows, this was a bait and switch tactic by Konami, and the tanker section is only a prologue, with the main meat of the game starring FOXHOUND’s newest recruit Raiden two years later. His objectives are to infiltrate the Big Shell clean-up facility to rescue hostages, including the U.S. president, from the terrorist group Sons of Liberty. This terrorist group is purported to be lead by Solid Snake and backed up by Dead Cell, a rogue anti-terror training unit. They are also threatening to destroy the facility they have seized.

So, I had trouble on the tanker. I played for an hour, got spotted a lot, tried to fight my way out of alert mode, died, and so on. At one point, because I didn’t remember how hanging worked, I dropped Snake right into the cold, unrelenting mistress known as the ocean. Thinking back to my VR days, I decided to try a few training sessions out and see if they helped any. Once I felt ready, I went back in to Metal Gear Solid 2 with the following repeating loudly and clearly in my mind: getting caught is not the end. See, games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mark of the Ninja really pushed for non-lethal playthroughs, the perfect kind, where you don’t even get spotted once. Well, that seems really hard and also not fun, so I’m not going to worry too much if things go awry rather fast because I darted by some guard’s vision cone too soon. Plus, I’ve found it is easier to simply let Raiden die than try to take out five or six guards or, even more impossible, hide from them; the game does a good job of auto-saving when you enter a new area.

Metal Gear Solid and its earlier brethren spoiled me by providing the radar from the get-go. Here, you have to first find a terminal and download a radar for each new area, which means when you first arrive somewhere, you can only see what you can see, and have to use the AP sensor as much as possible. This makes each new area tougher to initially run through, but also more exciting. There’s some strange new items, like pornographic magazines and coolant sprays, to use, and I am still horrible at holding up soldiers and getting them to shake dog tags free. Well, that’s only partially true; I can consistently sneak up behind a guard and get them to freeze, but then trying to reposition Raiden to take advantage of this always leads to mayhem.

If there is one thing I forgot about Metal Gear Solid 2, it’s that its color scheme, specifically once you get to Big Shell, is phenomenal. I know teal and orange is a bit overdone, but maybe it is used over and over for a reason–it works. I love traveling from one strut to another and being outside on the bridges with the sea gulls and blue sky. The music is intense and stirring, and while there is the occasional bit of still awkward and robotic dialogue (ironically from the Colonel), the voice acting still draws you in despite the ridiculous characters and situations. I particularly like the Rosemary and Jack stuff, which I somehow forgot entirely since I last played this back in college.

Right now, I’ve infiltrated Raiden’s way into Shell 1’s core by wearing an enemy’s disguise and carrying an assault rifle. Now I need to figure out how to work around a retinal scan in hopes of learning the location of the captured U.S. president from a man or woman named Ames, who apparently has a pacemaker. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the rest of this zany plot unravels as I really only remember the most zany moments–naked cartwheels–and not the quiet stuff, like Fortune’s affection for Vamp and the silly detail of Fatman drinking a fruity drink before starting the boss fight.

Frodo Baggins can’t sneak past Sauron’s most terrible servants

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I know I’ve only played a Hobbit-sized amount of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring at this point and already gave it a decent enough blurb in the latest Half-Hour Hitbox feature, but there’s just something about this PS2 game that makes me want to dive a little deeper into it. Writing-wise, that is. I’m still not sold enough to play further, unless someone wants to come over and show a Hobbit how to creep effectively. Plus, I have a really good “game over” screen to share with y’all later, so that’s a fine enough excuse to get me writing about more things related to Lord of the Rings. At least I don’t have to write the word LEGO seventy-eight times.

Anyways, like just about every other Lord of the Rings games, this one starts off in Hobbiton. Y’know, during the safe and quiet times before the long journey ahead. Interestingly enough, from a gameplay perspective, the first hour of the game is extremely dull. You play as Frodo, and you have a long laundry list of miscellaneous chores and fetch quests to finish up before you can leave the green grassy hills of your home for Lothlórien. Personally, I loved this, as you just explore Hobbiton, talk to your fellow neighbors, and learn a few things about what Frodo can do. True, he has a stick and can swing it, but I never attacked a single enemy so far; the game purports itself to be hack-and-slash action, so maybe when you meet up with Aragorn it’ll become more like that. For now, it’s sort of a free-roaming adventure game–fine by me.

Alas, the wandering back and forth had to end eventually. Once you’re done collecting mushrooms, helping neighbors with their multitude of problems, stealing from Farmer Maggot, and giving the deed to Bag-End’s new owner, you wait for night to fall, ready to leave the Shire with Sam to bring the ring to those pointy-eared treefolk. However, your journey is instantly stymied as a Black Rider, also known as Nazgûl, arrives, searching for its master’s ring. And here’s where everything fell apart. You have to sneak past the Black Rider, but you have no control over the camera’s verticality–you can only turn it left and right, which doesn’t help when there are big hills on all sides–so you have to wait until you see a shadow approaching to know where he is, and by that time, you are spotted and it is game over. The first time I died, I learned the hard lesson that many PS2 games do not auto-save frequently, and so I was set back about 30 minutes; we’re so coddled these days where games save when you even hit pause.

I died at the “sneak past the Black Rider” section three times before I gave up entirely and played some other PS2 game for a bit–if I recall correctly, I enjoyed some fifteen minutes of bot-heavy multiplayer in Red Faction II–and each time you die, you get this gloriously unedited game over screen:

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As they say, one does not simply edit text all the way to Mordor.

YOU’RE QUEST HAS FAILED!