Tag Archives: Electronic Arts


From one X to another, we move from talking about the highs of Mega Man X and how much it brought to the somewhat stale format to diving into X Squad, a PlayStation 2 launch title that, if I’m being honest, wasn’t all that good, but still holds a special space in my heart because it was one of a handful of games I owned after acquiring my hard-earned console. Also, by we I of course mean me, because this is Grinding Down, a singular voice shouting into an echo chamber, praying anyone is out there listening. If you are all ears, please, don’t be afraid to say hello. Tell me your favorite Animal Crossing villager or type of sushi roll. Anything.

Well, in X Squad, you play as John G. Ash, leader of the titular group. It’s the year 2037. Graduating at the top of his class at West Point, he excels in both marksmanship and urban-combat simulation, which is probably what got him the commanding role after forming his personalized team of problem-solvers. Something bad is happening, and the X Squad is called in. I think it has to do with a bio-terrorist organization releasing a devastating plague upon a major metropolitan area, but that’s only known from reading a summary over here. There’s not much story to go on from the get-go, with much of the plot kept secret even as you progress through the early levels. The opening cinematic is extremely vague, immediately starting with Ash talking about investigating “the situation” and ensuring that recon is passed on to the right people, but it doesn’t get any more specific than that, which makes it come across as an empty action hero romp–which is most certainly wants to be.

If I recall correctly, X Squad plays a lot like 989 Studios’ Syphon Filter, minus the cool animation you get when you don’t stop tasering an enemy or Gabe Logan’s hypnotizing swaying hips. You can roll in a bunch of different directions, as well as duck or peek around corners to get the upper hand on unsuspecting enemies. That’s all fine and somewhat standard for this type of run-and-gun action title, but the aspect that ends up making X Squad stand apart from its competitors ultimately detracts from the entire experience, offering next to no value. With only a few simple button presses, Ash can bark orders to his teammates, tasking them with things like scouting out an area to backing you up with gunfire. SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs this is not. These commands fall under terms like “follow,” “recon,” and “stay.” Your teammates are never really as helpful as they should be, running into rooms of armed men wildly without even bothering to take cover, but thankfully you don’t need to rely on them 100% to make it through a mission with skin still attached to your bones. Still, the point of a squad is to fight as one singular unit, and that’s not the case here. Ash is better on his own, using his teammates more as distractions than anything else.

Also, X Squad is not a looker. I mean, it was a launch title for the PlayStation 2, and it shows. Besides having a bland, flat look to the environments and character models (save for Ash’s spike-tastic hair), glitches are bountiful, with flickering being a common issue. Sound-wise, there’s a lot going on here. The voice acting is stiff and uninspired, and though I like the inclusion of voiced tutorial prompts, it’s not executed well. Still, the door opening sounds are pretty good. The biggest compliment I can give X Squad is that those are some sick and consistent drum beats playing in the opening level (warning: they don’t kick in for at least a minute, but it’s worth the buildup). Also: really great slap bass lines throughout. Honestly, the OST is the reason to play X Squad, but you could also not play it and simply let your ears enjoy everything over on YouTube. Your call, boss.

Still, all that said, and I continue to lack the words to explain this phenomenon, I regret trading in my copy of X Squad. Maybe it has less to do with the game’s quality and more to do with the fact that the PlayStation 2 was the first console I purchased myself as a working lad, busing tables, and so every early game in my collection was special, regardless if it ultimately was special or not. I’m seeing copies on Amazon for around $8.00, and I sadly think that’s too steep of a mountain to climb. I’d love to see this come to the PlayStation Network as a downloadable, but I think the ship for digital PS2 games on that system has sailed, with no map or fuel reserves or even captain, never to be seen again.

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 games of E3 2017 that have me keyed up

E3 2017 is not technically over yet, but a majority of the big announcements and reveals have come and gone, with Nintendo swooping in yesterday to present a world where a hat can Mario-ize any object, living or not. It’s a fascinating gameplay hook, one that does now have me interested in owning a Switch far down the road. Forget vapor champers and 4K streaming and how good rain looks in your driving game–that hat is where it is at. Still, not a single one of my wishes was granted, and for that I’m a sourpuss. Just kidding, all–I love videogames, even the ones I don’t like, and there’s never been a better time to be playing these digital thingies.

The following is a list of the games announced at E3 this year that have got me all full of excitement and curiosity. They are in no particular order, and no one company “won” E3, especially not Sony, which definitely only won the “Did Not Win” category. Sorry, y’all, if that was confusing, but it’s true. Look into your heart, and you’ll see it’s so.

A Way Out

I enjoyed what Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons did, both thematically and gameplay-wise, and I think I’m going to dig A Way Out‘s focus on cooperatively escaping from prison. This comes from Hazelight Studios and will be published by Electronic Arts. Josef Fares, the game’s creative director, spoke about this project passionately and with excitement, and it is difficult to ignore that and not let yourself stir at the thought about distracting guards and crawling through a tunnel of poop in the middle of a thunderstorm to taste that freedom air.


I’m glad there’s not a new Dragon Age game coming from BioWare. I’m still working on that last one, though I hope to complete it this year. No, I must complete it in 2017. For those wondering, I’m around 60 hours in, maybe three-fourths of the way through. Anyways, this, this Anthem, sure looks a lot like Destiny and Dragon Age/Mass Effect, but it’s third-person and seems more focused on exploration that bragging about some sick gun I found in a cave. I’m interested for sure, but if this is the kind of game that requires a full team of peeps all the time to enjoy…well, count me out. Either way, curious to hear more.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I’ve watched a lot of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds over these last few weeks, fully understanding that I myself might never play this Battle Royale-inspired extravaganza. I don’t believe it requires that big of a machine to run, but now I don’t have to worry about even attempting this on my ASUS laptop because it’s coming, exclusively, to the Xbox One this year. I’m so ready to find a quiet, hidden hole and sit in it until the number of participants left on the island rapidly depletes and then stumble into a firefight unprepared and get killed unceremoniously. You heard it hear first.

Super Mario Odyssey

New Mario is new Mario. And this one keeps on surprising, with the reveal of Mario’s hat friend Cappy able to take over people and items in the environment for Mario to use. It instantly made me think of Brave Fencer Musashi and how you could steal abilities from enemies to help you on your journey. A Nintendo Switch is most likely a long way’s off for me, considering I can still get Breath of the Wild for my little used Wii U, but whenever I do eventually acquire the device, this will be an obvious purchase.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

I’m pretty sure I have a digital copy of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on my Wii U. Let me go check. Yup, definitely do. I think I got it a while back by redeeming some Nintendo Club points before that system vanished. Anyways, naturally, I bought it and have not played it. Looks like I can continue to hold off because an enhanced remake for the 3DS is coming out soon, and that’s probably the better version to play at this point in time.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

The turn on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle happened fast. It all started with people scoffing at the inclusion of guns on the hands of Nintendo’s sweet, innocent original characters, the absurdness of Rabbids wearing costumes to look like those characters, and the fact that no one really knew much else about the game other than its title and that Mario was ready to shoot something. Well, now we know–this is XCOM plus Nintendo silliness. I’ve always been intimidated by permadeath-driven strategy games, but this tone seems gentler and more fun, so I’m interested in seeing how it plays.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

Sigh. Radiant Historia has long been a game I’ve put on my “I will play this game this year” lists…and have failed to do so. Boo to me. The thing is, I really like it, but it’s a game about time travel and manipulating past events, and at this point I’d be totally lost going back to my years-old save file. Might as well wait for Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, an enhance remake for the Nintendo 3DS. I wonder if it’ll have any StreetPass functionality.

Well, that’s that. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few key names here–there’s been a lot to keep track of these last few days–and don’t be upset that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Days Gone, and that new God of War aren’t here. The hard truth is that I have never been excited for them and never will be.

But that’s just me. Now I’d like to hear from y’all…what games are you most excited for, whether this year or slated for 2018? And on a scale of 1 to 100, how upset are you that Suikoden VI is still not a thing?

007: Agent Under Fire stars a boy and his toys


I’m pretty sure that I owned a James Bond game for the PlayStation 2 way back when, but I don’t think it was 007: Agent Under Fire. Might have been 007: Nightfire. This probably explains why there’s no entry for it in the Games I Regret Parting With tag. My memory on this is fuzzy, which I don’t think is surprising for a series that is constantly changing who portrays the main hero every few installments. In case you were wondering, I’m all about Idris Elba playing the next 007. Or Rosamund Pike. Either works great for me though I think Daniel Craig is more than perfunctory. All I really remember about this blurry action game from my past collection is crawling through ventilation shafts and using a technical watch-like gizmo to shoot laser beams at locked doors. So far, in 007: Agent Under Fire, Bond uses a cell phone to do this.

Anyways, I ended up getting a copy of 007: Agent Under Fire for real cheap back in February 2015. Now that I have taken out Final Fantasy IX‘s fourth and final disc from my PlayStation 1, I needed something to fill the void. By void I mean the empty space inside my console, not my heart. I wanted something ideally much shorter than another of my desperately lonely yet time-consuming JRPGs–sorry, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Radiata Stories, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you’ll just have to wait a big longer–and figured this was a good fit, featuring a numbered set of levels, a multiplayer mode that I suspect I won’t be able to play at all due to a severe lack of IRL friends (unless bots are allowed), and nothing else. Let’s start bonding.

007: Agent Under Fire‘s plot is classic international espionage, to the point that, without writing any more words, you could probably guess it wholly. Need some help? Okay, I’ll budge. A major corporation has stolen data that will enable it to clone people, with grander plans of taking over the world by replacing those in important positions. Naturally, this can’t and shouldn’t happen, and in comes Bond–James Bond, that is–to nearly single-handedly destroy the threat of everyone looking the same. He does get some help from series staples Q and M, as well as CIA agent Zoe Nightshade. Don’t get her confused with one of Atlas’ daughters from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series like I initially did.

I immediately struggled with the controls. Remember, this came out in late 2001, a time when every game from the first-person shooter genre was not created from a recognizable and well-accepted blueprint. I imagine that if I went back to things like Killzone or Red Faction, I’d also have the same problem. Thankfully, you can pick from a bunch of different controller schemes, and I found one that was much more in sync with modern layouts. Still, I stumbled here and there when trying to switch between a weapon and a tool, which are separate from each other, kind of like in the Metal Gear Solid series. I tried looking online to find a scan of the PS2 manual (my purchase was just the disc), but only came upon the ones for the original Xbox and GameCube releases; please trust me when I say that the default setup is more evil than Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga, and Sir Hugo Drax combined.

Okay, okay, a part of me couldn’t let this issue rest, so I snapped some high quality photographs last night with my cell phone so everyone can see the difference I’m talking about. Here is the default setting, with, yup, “alt fire” on the select button and “crouch” using a trigger:


And here is what I went with instead to have it line up more with a modern first-person shooter, though it is a far cry from perfect:


Unlike many other videogames constructed around our titular leading man, 007: Agent Under Fire doesn’t correspond to a movie of the same name. It is its own thing, and that’s fine. It does try a little too hard to be mistaken for something of a similar quality, but I can ignore its attempts to throw a heavily polygonal woman at Bond to up the sexiness because the action is quite fun, as well as forgiving. Also, Bond is clearly modeled after Pierce Brosnan, but missing his voice. Aiming is tricky, but this isn’t Call of Duty multiplayer, so you can take your time to set the gun’s cursor just right before pulling the trigger, and it helps that enemies don’t mind standing still for all of this. Many might not enjoy the moderately mindless combat, wanting more strategy and challenge, but I’m mostly concerned with having fun and looking cool while doing it. Speaking of that…

Bond Moves. Besides being the title of 007’s eventual book of pick-up lines and dance regimes, these are specific moments in every level that has Bond doing something cool, followed by the classic bah-dah-ba-bum zinger we have all come to know and love and a 007 symbol in the corner of the screen. EA clearly paid a premium for this bit of music, to the point that your ears will be bleeding by the end of any session from a bombardment of Bond music. It’s good and bad, and some of the Bond Moves are laughable in executive. Imagine lowering a crane to hop across a gap and hearing that iconic tune. These things, as well as other stats, like damage taken or secrets found, go into a final rating score at the end of each level: bronze, silver, or gold. A gold rating will reward the player with a perk/weapon for the campaign or multiplayer mode, as well as place 007 tokens throughout. To get a platinum rating, you must now earn the gold rating again, as well as collect all the tokens. I acquired a couple gold ratings for the early levels, which earned me things like the Golden Gun and Golden Accuracy.

007: Agent Under Fire is not a great or even good game, sitting somewhere between mediocre and slightly better than mediocre, but it’s exactly what I want right now. A more determined player could plow through all the levels–some of which are driving sequences or on rails–in a single evening, but I’m nibbling away at this sub-par linear action game, making it last longer than necessary. I do believe a haiku is right around the corner as I only have four more campaign levels left to see unfold. For now, I’ll end this post with a Die Another Day quote–“I’m checking out. Thanks for the Kiss of Life.”