games reviews

Game Review: Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Well, I did it. It took me literal years, but I beat Youngblood. Not because it was difficult, more because it was … boring. The game picks up in the 1980s, where you play one of BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters, Soph or the Jess (the one I played), living in Paris and taking on the Nazis. It’s a co-op game though you can play it alone, with your sister being AI controlled.

The game’s not bad. The gameplay itself is pretty much identical to the previous games in the series. The guns are mostly the same, but can be upgraded, which I enjoyed. You can steal in or go guns ablazing. The enemies are difficult and you can tell that MachineGames understands how to make a good FPS fight.

My main issue is that Paris is a “hub” and so all of the missions take place in the same locations, which are all well thought out and look great, but the repetition gets annoying after a while. Wolfenstein as a series is linear, and part of the fun is going to all of the new locations. Even New Colossus, which had a hub of the submarine, kept advancing the plot through interesting locations. Youngblood feels like MachineGames ran out of plot ideas and (probably) was pushed into making a co-op game because it was popular at the time. But the plot suffers because of it. The game isn’t as fun or weird as the first two games of the trilogy, and Soph and Jess just aren’t very interesting characters. The concept of guerilla style fighting in the streets is cool, but it just gets old fast, and not enough new gameplay concepts are introduced to keep the series fresh.


I will say, I did appreciate the moment when they finally reunite with BJ and he reveals that he has learned of a dimension where the Nazis lost World War II. This was a huge gripe of mine with the new Wolfenstein trilogy: it sucks that the Nazis won the war. I know, the fact that they won means you get to experience killing Nazis in different decades, but it always fundamentally bugged me. It’s just historical fiction, so I shrug it off. But now the game acknowledges that BJ’s universe is different from ours. It’s kind of a corny twist, but I liked it.

The game also ends with this revelation that Hitler had a doomsday device that BJ accidentally activated, which is slowly killing (their) Earth. The scene is clearly a setup for Wolfenstein 3, which will maybe? get made? Nobody is sure. Youngblood didn’t sell well so they’ve either canned it or are waiting to release it. I hope didn’t can it; The New Order and The New Colossus are excellent games (the former is in my top ten for sure) and the series deserves a wrap up, especially since Youngblood feels like a side story, a la The Old Blood. I’m hoping we get some BJ Blazkowicz in the 90s action, trying to get his family through some portal into our universe.

All in all, Youngblood was fairly average. Good fights hampered by a lackluster story and a strange lack of humor and weirdness which permeated the first two games. Hopefully it didn’t do too bad and MachineGames gets the go ahead for Wolfenstein 3.

Rating: 6/10

games reviews

Game Review: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

I bet you were looking for some action packed screenshot. But NO. Pig and disco ball!

Note: Obviously, spoilers abound after this moment. You have been warned.

One of my favorite things about id Software’s FPS titles is that they have never shied away from being bold and pushing the envelope. The original DOOM was fast-paced, violent, and its hellish thematic landscape was unparalleled at the time. It was weird and warped and never made time to stop and consider what people thought of it. Quake upped the ante with real 3D effects, a Trent Reznor-helmed soundtrack, and a strange Chthulu-inspired darkness (which, sadly, has never been revisited in future Quake games because for some reason they decided to make the sequels boring). But the grandaddy of these games, Wolfenstein 3D, set the bar for id Software and FPS games in general, both in gameplay and in tone, by offering striking imagery, violent gameplay, and, of course, Mecha-Hitler. And that tonal bar continues to be raised in Machinegames’ recent incarnation of the franchise, including its newest offering, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

Simply put, Wolfenstein II is a game of suitable gameplay sandwiched between some amazing, unforgettable story moments, some so crazy you might think the game is jumping the shark. But it’s not: it IS the shark, and it is going right for Arthur Fonzerelli’s ballsack as he jet-skis over it.


The game begins with a cutscene that sets the tone for the rest of the game — that tone being, “BJ Blazkowicz will never die. No matter what. Seriously.” At the end of The New Order, we find BJ lying at Deathshead’s compound, hanging onto life, torso ripped open by a final grenade Deathshead unleashed moments after the ultimate battle ended. In those final moments, seeking clearance to nuke the whole compound into the dirt, Feargus/Wyatt continues requesting BJ give clearance to nuke the compound. We watch as BJ recites “The New Colossus,” staring up at the sky, and, knowing full well that he won’t escape, he says, “It’s clear.” Cut to black, end of the first game.

Now, I should have known there would be a sequel. Of course there would be a sequel, and of course BJ would survive. But I must say, the end of The New Order was perfect for me, and I honestly though the game franchise was being wrapped up with it. But of course everything is a trilogy these days. The New Colossus opens with everyone rescuing BJ, and Set Roth performing emergency surgery to keep him alive. BJ is in a coma for a few months before awakening in an opening sequence very reminiscent of Dead Alive 2: the protagonist, injured, must escape while injured. In BJ’s case, that’s in a wheelchair. It’s a fun and exciting opening moment for the game.

From a writing standpoint, keeping BJ alive seems nonsensical to a game that otherwise buttons up his story in The New Order. But what The New Colossus does is make the game about more than BJ Blazkowicz; it expands upon the Resistance as a whole. BJ, despite being the the character you control, is not the focus of this game. It’s everyone else, and watching them work with or against you is part of the majesty of the narrative.

For the first half of the game, to cope with your grievous injuries, you play in the Ya’at Dichud power suit that Caroline wore in the first game due to her paraplegia. This means that you have 50 health and 200 armor, rather than the usual 100/100 split, which creates some very interesting and tense moments of gameplay early on, as you struggle to figure out how to navigate this game with a lower health. Your target is Frau Engel, or rather, Engel’s target is you, and you spend a lot of the early game trying to build the revolution while also evading Engel and her giant ugly-ass airship, the Ausmerzer.

Much of the first half of the game is a thematic continuation on BJ’s concept of death, specifically Caroline’s death, and coming to terms with hers as well as his own. He frequently states that he is living on borrowed time and that he knows he’s dying. This concept is erratically presented, and doesn’t offer the depth that The New Order did, though it’s nice to see BJ get existential at times. The New Order had a much more coherent core theme of persistence in the face of rising seemingly-insurmountable evil. BJ fought and fought and fought and was thoroughly injured an incredible amount of times, including being stabbed once — in the damn chest! — and yet he kept going, a testament to the iron will of the American spirit. This makes the final scene in that game resonate so tremendously, because after it all, he finally gets to rest. Unfortunately it’s the final rest of death.

But then he’s saved, and Act I of The New Colossus deals with the repercussions of life after near-death. BJ is not well, and presumes he’ll die any minute. Meanwhile, Anya is pregnant with BJ’s twins and so he has to come to grips with dying before they are even born. He doesn’t do a very good job of dealing with it, either; at first pushing away his lady love to distance himself from her, like a cat going off to the shed to die alone, but then there’s a nice cutscene where Anya essentially tells him that’s a shitty thing to do. She’s right, it’s an awful tactic, but one that makes sense after watching BJ’s father be the worst father ever in some flashback scenes from his childhood home.

I’m not sure how necessary the childhood flashbacks were to flesh out BJ’s character. He has such a strong persona as is that we don’t need to watch his father be an asshole to get a sense of where BJ’s rebellious spirit comes from. A voiceover or two would be fine. Plus Machinegames presents a couple of particularly ugly (and arguably triggering) domestic violence scenes early on in the game, and they do not hold back. It’s striking and harsh, in a game which is always pretty harsh, both in violence and in social themes. But in contrast to, say, Frau Engel holding up Caroline’s decapitated head at BJ, which is a shocking but fantastical moment, the scenes with BJ’s father and mother are shocking and awful on a real level, in a way that resonates with many people.

In another flashback, BJ’s father, mad at him, ties his son’s hands to a sawhorse, hands him a shotgun, and forces him to shoot his own dog — a moment that I literally sat on for about five minutes, because I assumed that the game would give me the option to not do it, because it’s terrible. But it doesn’t — it’s a memory of an event that already happened, not the story being told that encompasses the game itself. I don’t think Machinegames is catering to people who can’t stomach scenes like that, but I’m also not sure if they need it, period.

Later in life (and the game), BJ returns to his childhood home after blowing up Area 52 (why they don’t go to Area 51 I still do not understand), and his dad is there waiting for him. It’s a little contrived, but whatever. His dad sent his mom to a concentration camp because she is Jewish, and he’s of course disappointed in BJ. BJ ends up killing him and then he gets captured because his dad knew that BJ would be coming by and so Engel’s big ugly-ass ship shows up, picking the entire house up into the sky. Why BJ didn’t see, or more importantly hear, a giant ugly-ass ship in the sky for the hundreds of miles he drove from Roswell, NM to Mesquite, TX, I’ll never know. It’s not like a giant ship with huge fiery turbines would have a “silent” mode.

Anyway, all of this is for a point. Engel captures BJ, and proceeds to parade him around to the press. And then, much to my surprise, she executes him on live TV. And by that I mean she chops his head off with a sword and it falls into a fire pit. The screen goes black. I stare at the blackness in disbelief. “Either that’s the most ‘fuck you’ ending to a game I’ve ever seen, or something fishy’s going on,” I say.

Now the second half of the game begins. This half I like to call “The Part Where Everything Goes Bonkers.”

Much to dismay, it turns out BJ did actually have his head chopped off, and it fell, but not into the fire pit. Instead it drops into the loving robotic arms of a reprogrammed Nazi drone, which flies back to the Evas Hammer. Set Roth puts BJ’s head into a jar (like you do) and then reveals that Caroline had a supersoldier body just, you know, hanging around, and they attach BJ’s head to this body and voila, new BJ Blazkowicz.

Obviously this game eschews scientific accuracy early and often; the power suit Caroline and BJ wear was made in the early 18th century, after all. And it is hinted earlier in the game that the technology to merge one head onto another body is available, as Set has a monkey/cat hybrid thing that honestly is freaky as shit. But I did spend a lot of time coming to grips with this incredible leap from a thematic standpoint, mainly because for some reason, all I want BJ to do is die. The man deserves it. The rest, I mean, not the death. He’s done so much, fought so much, it’s weirdly unfair that is not granted death. Instead, he’s granted a new life, and my question at that point was, “For what?”

Well, it’s for kicking Nazi ass, of course.

The rest of the game is like Wolfenstein on steroids, and all of BJ’s concerns about death and dying are thrown out the window. Instead, we are treated to one of the best scenes in video game history: BJ, now considered dead by the Nazis, travels to Venus (where the Nazis have a base for some reason), to audition for the part of BJ Blazkowicz in a Nazi propaganda film written by none other than an old, dementia-ridden, paranoid Adolf Hitler (now an extreme recluse), who shifts between berating and/or shooting the other actors in the audition, to hugging the director and calling her “mother,” to placing an ice bucket onto the floor and pissing in it, to puking onto the carpet, to lying on the ground and sleeping. Hitler is lying on the ground, in fact, when it’s BJ’s turn to stage an improvised fight scene with a Nazi guard, and I would personally like to thank Machinegames for, in that moment, allowing BJ to heel stomp Hitler in the head before being quickly killed by the copious amount of guards in the room. I knew it would happen, but who could resist heel stomping Hitler?

After this high point, the rest of the game unfortunately follows a somewhat bland, “let’s start a revolution” type story, and of course BJ is forced to do everything because he’s the protagonist and now he’s got a sweet new bod. It’s not terrible, but it certainly lacks the panache of auditioning for a puking Hitler on Venus, or getting your head chopped off on live TV.

The only other weird scene, by the way, is very close to the end. BJ is aboard the Ausmerzer. And who comes with him? His pregnant girlfriend Anya. I mean like 6–7 months pregnant here! First off, what? Is this what game devs consider a “strong female character,” one who willingly threatens the lives of her two gestating children? Surely there are lots of other people on the Evas Hammer who could help BJ out. Hell, there is a whole section of the ship called “Hacker Central.” Are those two cool ladies who work there not good enough to hack a giant ugly-ass Nazi airship?

So there is a cutscene during this part wherein Anya runs toward BJ after a big door has opened and a bunch of Nazis and mecha-dogs and shit are about to storm in. She tosses a grenade at them and then straddles BJ, rips her shirt off, revealing big ol’ pregnant belly and boobs, and then murders all these Nazis with dual-wielded guns, blood raining down on her and I swear to god I expected her to fuck BJ right then and there. It would have made more sense than this random wanton violence, honestly. Instead she says something like “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Obviously the scene indicates otherwise.

I mean, I get it. This game has BJ shooting a dog, BJ getting his head chopped off, and a babbling, pissing, puking Hitler. It’s crazy as all getup. But in that scene, Anya gets two choices: shoot all the Nazis and say “I don’t want to do this anymore,” or shoot all the Nazis, rip off her clothes, and fuck BJ because she loves killing Nazis and she loves BJ. I mean she even references it earlier on the way to the mission; over the radio she talks about feeling “excited” (read: horny), before realizing that everyone on the radio frequency can hear her. It’s a funny moment, and a Chekhov’s gun situation that could have resolved in that weird, violent sex moment at the end. Instead, we got some disjointed ultra-glorified massacre by a half-naked lady. Oh well. Perhaps Machinegames had to edit it for content or something.

Ultimately, I found New Colossus’ story to be engaging and enjoyable, with a few weird hiccups. It was great to see new characters of all different ages, genders, and races, women and people of color being a large force in the game. Sure, a lot of it had a 1960s stereotypical spin on it — the southern preacher man, the black woman with a huge afro who doesn’t take any shit — but everyone seemed sufficiently fleshed out that it kept me engaged in the world. Typically video game stories don’t do this, so I was pleased.


The New Colossus has a lot of gameplay options, most of which I barely used. Dual wielding is back, but this time you can pick different guns for each hand. There are plenty of upgrades for each weapon, and they all serve their own purpose, for the most part. The machine gun and rifle didn’t seem that much different to me, but I think there’s just a trope in FPS games now that’s something like, “an FPS must have a machine gun and a semi-automatic rifle.” I’m okay with that. There are some large guns that you can hoist around, but not keep, that vary in terms of their usability. The “uber” gun is awesome (though essentially the BFG from DOOM), the laser gun is awesome, the fireball gun is pretty good, and the big shotgun sucks ass. Lastly, there are grenades, a diesel powered sticky bomb launcher that I always forgot I had, a grenade launcher, and hatchets. Lots and lots of hatchets.

Like The New Order and DOOM, The New Colossus has melee takedowns which, like The New Order and DOOM, have like three animations, tops, so they get boring after a while. Plus one of them is literally using a hatchet to chop guy’s legs off, while they’re standing, which is fucking impossible, Machinegames. Come on, read your anatomy and physics books that I am sure you have. The good thing about New Colossus is that you can just run up and take down a guy at full health, rather than stealthing or whittling his health down, which is nice. It does feel pretty cool to run down a corridor hatcheting the fuck out of enemies like a badass. In fact I sort of wished there was a melee dynamic in the game that allowed for more, I don’t know, chain-based melee kills? Sort of like the Arkham Asylum games, but in first person.

It’s up to you whether you want to sneak around a scenario or go in guns blazing. I found that a nice mix was key, especially later when you get silencer upgrades to your pistol and machine gun. Remaining from The New Order is the “commander alert” game mechanic, which I can’t tell if I like or not. On the pro side, I feel like it’s more akin to how actual stealthing would be like: if anyone sees you and starts shooting, or if anyone sees a dead body, they immediately shout and the commanders sound the alarm. On the con side, as far as I can tell, there is A) really no way to stop the alarm short of killing the commanders, and B) no fucking way in hell to hide from bad guys once it’s been sounded. Apparently you can destroy the alarms but hell if I know what they look like, and usually by that point you’re next to the commander so you might as well just shoot the commander. It feels a little clumsy, probably because it just seems like there are no options; it’s either “do not be seen whatsoever” or “run and gun it until you find the commander.”

In addition, there are some body upgrades that help you fight, regain health and armor, and can open up different access points to areas. One particular upgrade — the conceptually disgusting Constrictor Harness — literally constricts your body so that you can fit through incredibly narrow places like pipes and narrow floor vents. Every time I do it I have this mental image of a wormy Blazkowicz pulling himself through a small pipe and it’s gross and I’m glad they don’t explore it in any cutscenes. The other two upgrades allow you to ram into obstacles and people, and rise up to new heights with stilts. These offer some diversity, and many of the maps have different entrance points depending on what upgrade you have (you start out with one but eventually get all three). However, different entrances didn’t seem to matter much in the long run, as they all inevitably take you into the same arena with little difference in logistical choices, and I found myself really only using the Constrictor Harness, with the Ram Shackles and Battle Walker coming in a distant second.

In the end, a diverse set of upgrades and guns and I probably spent 80% of the time using the silenced pistol, machine gun, and laser gun (when available). However, the diversity adds options for mayhem, which is always a good thing.

Bonus Shit

The New Colossus has a buttload of collectibles, including concept art, models, and, by far my favorite, MUSIC. Yes, they recorded some alternate Nazi history 1960’s era pop songs for you to collect and they are all great. Makes me feel awkward, almost, enjoying Nazi music. Fortunately you can just think of it as really good German music. They even have a fictional version of the Beatles called Die Kafer. It would have been amazing to have the Beatles’ actual German version of “She Loves You” as one of the options, but we all know licensing songs out of the Beatles’ catalogue is spendy. Plus like I said, the songs offered are pretty great.

Aside from collectibles, The New Order has a “war map” which you can use to re-enter places you’ve been before and kill “uberkommandants” to help liberate the United States (and Venus too, I guess). As an endgame mechanic it’s kind of clunky and almost immediately repetitive; the ubercommanders are a nice treat but offering endless replayability of new commanders taking up the areas you just cleared out sort of, I dunno, nullifies the whole point of having a revolution, right? Plus the commanders keep coming back to places that they don’t need to — the most obvious being Blazkowicz’ rebuilt childhood home, which is now a movie set. Like, why would they continue going there? There is literally no value in repopulating a movie set again and again and again.

It would have been nice to even have singleplayer maps on the war map that weren’t of the same places I’d been to before. I get liberating the old spots, sure, but it just seems too contrived to liberate an entire country by killing the three or four uberkommandants who just happen to all be in the New Orleans ghetto, which oh by the way was just nuked. Plus once you kill all of them, now you’re just spending time killing commanders and it gets repetitive fast. Alternately, the war map could have made an excellent multiplayer feature, with BJ and the Resistance (including, I guess, a pregnant Anya) fighting Nazis in various game modes. Or maybe expand the war map using DLC? Speaking of…


The DLC for this game are the “Freedom Chronicles,” three games from the viewpoint of characters in the Resistance. The first episode is out now, called “The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe,” wherein you play a football player who has the Ram Shackles upgrade and has a little mini-adventure. Ultimately it is disappointing, as it merely rehashes game mechanics that already exist, and Joe isn’t strong enough of a character for me to give a shit about him. The Cardinal Rule of DLC is that it offers new game mechanics, or a story worth following, and the former does not exist in “Gunslinger Joe.” I’m still playing through so we’ll see if the story ends up being worth it — but I guarantee you it won’t. We’ll see how the next episode plays out.


Holy hell this review was long. I really enjoyed this game, especially the cinematic nature of it. It’s one of my favorite things about Machinegames’ take on the Wolfenstein universe: they have created an 21st century experience and crafted a fine FPS that delves into the psyche of a man we never thought that would happen to. Mistakes and ho-hum gameplay aside, playing through this game at least once is worth it, though if you’re not a fan of FPS games, you might want to wait for it to go on sale.

I mean, at one point you get to kill KKK members with wild abandon. Why not go for it?

games reviews

Game Review: DOOM 2016

TL;DR: A fun, fast-paced game that gets repetitive quick and leans a little too heavily into multiplayer for my tastes.

Hell, or as I like to call it, Detroit. Oh man I am so good with the jokes!

FRIENDS, 2016 is a great year for stuff I liked when I was a teenager. (Everything else, not so much.) Two of my favorite bands from the 90s, Weezer and Radiohead, both released new albums that are pretty good, and now id Software, who created some of the best games of my young adulthood (shoutout to Commander Keen), has released a new DOOM game, fresh off the heels of their pretty amazing Wolfenstein: The New Order. DOOM is not a perfect game, but it is a damn fun game, once you realize that it’s not really trying to reinvent the wheel so much as see how fast it can spin.

The game is simple: you pick up a gun and shoot it, primarily at things that are trying to kill you. Much like Wolfenstein: The New Order, nobody makes a big deal about how many guns or ammo you can carry, though while TNO skirts realism through the use of a historical fiction narrative, DOOM throws realism out the window in absolute deference to gameplay. The DOOM Marine (as everyone knows him — more on that later) slides through terrain like an ice skating meth addict, he can carry over a dozen weapons, including an enormous chaingun and BFG no sweat, he swaps these weapons quickly, and there is no real reloading of said weapons, you just run out of bullets. And that’s awesome. DOOM knows exactly what kind of game it is, and it thrives on the speed and thrill of dealing with multiple enemies trying to kill you. It also thrives on the fact that this speed and thrill helps players potentially overlook some of its weak spots.

DOOM has a “storyline” in the sense that someone was hired to write things to flesh out the story of the DOOM Marine and the world he inhabits. He has reached demigod status in a way, feared by the demons of Hell and searched for by the humans on Mars. It’s flimsy and unnecessary; in the opening scene we see the Marine crawl out of a stone sarcophagus he seems to have been sleeping in for a while. He gets his bearings, finds a pistol, and starts wailing on enemies. Yes, we’re left to wonder, “How did he get in that sarcophagus?”, and the bits of information you get throughout the game answer this, but I think you don’t need them, and that the game itself answers the question fairly easily. The demons kept him there because he’s a threat. That’s it. Once you see how much carnage the Marine dishes out, your question gets answered — if you even had a question to begin with. But like I said, the story is doled out in text bits that you collect but never needs to be read. (I read it, and it’s fine, but it’s like inventing a world that didn’t need to be invented. Again, we’re spinning the wheel faster, not trying to make it a better wheel.)

The best thing about the DOOM storyline is that the Marine doesn’t give a shit about it. In a vaguely meta nod to the concept of the game itself, the Marine doesn’t give a shit about most things, opting to smash and break certain obstacles instead of manipulating or preserving them, as you might in a “fancier” type FPS. I appreciate this fresh take on what has essentially become a morality play within FPS games. Oftentimes when playing an FPS you’ll come across a choice where you can essentially do a Seemingly Good thing, or a Seemingly Bad thing. Either choice means nothing in terms of driving the story, ultimately, but it gives a sense of decision making that tries to keep you invested in the game. But DOOM. DOOM don’t care about that shit. At one point in the game (no spoilers) a character offers the Marine the option to use a computer to power down a thing rather than break it, blah blah blah, the Marine just breaks it. There’s no option, he just does it. I like that touch, because it solidifies the fact that id Software knows exactly what type of game DOOM is. So in this case, storyline is a weak spot, but the game knows it and pokes fun at it.

So what’s the drawback? Well, my biggest issue with the single player aspect of the game stems from the gameplay structure itself, which is essentially large arenas with spawning enemies, connected by hallways with few-to-no enemies. You don’t tend to notice it so much at the beginning, but the further along you get, especially when you start fighting the big bad guys, it really shows. My issue isn’t so much that this is bad — you kind of need this big open areas in this game, especially with the kind of moves you can do, and the types of enemies you face — my issue is that it’s incredibly repetitive, and never makes me feel like I’m immersed in the game. I see the puppet strings, so to speak, and it ruins the illusion. See, DOOM ’93 had enemies peppered throughout the level, and while yes, it was slow-paced compared to its 21st century counterpart, it also felt like these enemies had been there for a while, hunting, wandering, destroying, rather than just appearing, as they do very very often in DOOM ‘16. So the game becomes a “run and gun” type situation, rather than an “explore to find enemies” type situation.

I’ll use SOMA as a counterexample. If you strip out the psychological aspects of the game, SOMA works as a pretty good successor to DOOM ’93 in terms of atmosphere. It’s spooky, it’s dark, and there are enemies hidden around almost every corner. Yeah it takes place underwater but it could very well be on a station on Mars too — it’s basically the same in terms of stakes. In DOOM ‘16, it’s dark-ish, it’s not very spooky at all, and enemies pop out of thin air, often in droves. DOOM ’16 is more focused on what I would consider a multiplayer aspect of gameplay than a single player aspect. And that’s okay. I haven’t even touched on it yet, but the multiplayer section of DOOM is pretty dang fun. And it’s designed to be fun, designed to have you race, jump, outrun, and outgun your opponents. My issue is that the single player feels like multiplayer too. Once I realized that, I began playing the game differently — before, I was hiding behind cover and taking out enemies one by one. I even put points into the scope on the assault rifle because I tend to enjoy sniping from a distance. But, very quickly it becomes obvious that staying put is not a good option for this game. DOOM wants you to go all in, and so I did just that, running, jumping, and generally going apeshit amid tons and tons of demons that respawned ad infintum. And it was fun as hell. Some of my favorite memories of the game now are in the later sections, when I would fly around and shoot missiles at revenants and cacodemons, all willy-nilly, without regard to cover or iron sighting, or any of those tricks I’ve been learning since the first Call of Duty.

In a way it was very cathartic, not having to worry about advanced game aspects that have been growing like ivy around core FPS structure for the past 20 years. But it also made the single player feel like multiplayer, and I didn’t like that as much.

In the end, DOOM is a very solid game, once you learn to let go and just roll with it. Yes there are secrets like the old games and they are fun to search out, and more importantly, many secrets contain vital health and armor or powerups that you might need as you progress through Hell and Mars. But I do think id Software could have provided a more diverse type of single player gameplay, more than just hallways connecting large arenas.

I’d say, buy DOOM when it’s first on sale, so you don’t miss the initial throng of people playing multiplayer. I give it 3/5 cacodemons.

[Also, I didn’t review the “Snapmap” aspect of the game — the part where you can build your own levels. I’ve heard it’s really cool and I’d love to tinker around with it to try and build the type of game I’d like to play.]


An Essay Discussing Why Video Game Movies Are a Fundamentally Bad Idea

(Note: I wrote this nearly a year ago and for some reason left it sitting on my hard drive. I think I was going to post it to my blog. Good thing movies take a long time to make!)

Michael Fassbender as Aguilar de Nerha. You know, 20th Century Fox, that those blades are supposed to be … hidden, right?

On August 27, 2015, Yahoo released a promotional photo of Michael Fassbender dressed in the iconic Assassin garb for the new Assassin’s Creed movie, based on the popular video game franchise. (And more recently, new photos!) While the costume looks great and authentic to the series, I and many video game nerds like me couldn’t help but shudder at the prospect of yet another video game franchise getting a shitty movie adaptation. Super Mario Bros. DOOM. Anything directed by Ewe Boll. Hell, even Pixel. These movies are abominations to gamers, and not just because they are poorly made. It’s even worse than that: video game movies deprive you of the very reason you played those video games in the first place — interactivity — nor do they replace the deprivation of interactivity with anything the video game didn’t already have, resulting in, at best, a worthless shell of a movie, and at worst, Double Dragon.

Dramatic writing is a tricky business. Here you are, presenting a story about a protagonist, and your contract with the audience implies, in part, that you will give them something or someone to invest in, from beginning to end, in exchange for their hard-earned time and money. That’s a hard bargain these days, especially with dwindling attention spans and rising ticket prices. The good news is, mankind has been creating dramatic art for thousands of years, and finding fundamental character investment for an audience is formulaic; give any protagonist an underdoggish desire to achieve something and a few obstacles and you’ve got a story; all that matters now is writing it down. Hell, at this point in human history an audience is so used to dramatic structure that they can bypass simple needs and goals automatically, which is why dramatic writing theory tends to shift from why a character does something to how the character does it.

Video games have exploited narrative since their inception, whether it be implicit narrative (games without an obvious story but which have a story that can be implied, e.g. Space Invaders or Missile Command), or explicit narrative (games that intentionally tell you a story, e.g. the Final Fantasy games, Mass Effect, most RPGs). In the beginning, video game narratives were largely implicit due to the technological limits of the game itself, giving programmers little room for exposition within the game — oftentimes, narrative was written into instruction booklets, or even implied by the name of the game (Space Invaders is a game about … space … invaders). As technology improved, story improved, and the art of constructing a game with a storyline began.

Pac-Man is an example if implied narrative — the narrative being, “A spheroid being needs to get suuuper high to kill some ghosts chasing it.”

In dramatic art, the production team always faces the challenge of making the main character or characters enjoyable to the audience. That is, they need to make the audience invest in the character, otherwise they’ll be bored, or worse, they’ll throw rotten fruit or vegetables at the actors onstage or at the movie screen. Making an audience member invest in a character is an inherently difficult task, as every human being is different and might not be able to see aspects of themselves in, say, a white man who works in accounting, or an Asian woman who is a professional parkourist. This is why the universal baseline for audience investment centers around basic wants and needs that usually require the assistance of another character, as it makes the protagonist both active and need to get something from someone else, which is a pretty common experience for everyone. Watching a character struggle and overcome obstacles to get what they want or need is the most structure of Aristotelian plot structure. Everything else is flavoring, and as I said above, audiences are so attuned to storytelling these days (and writers are very, very talented, moreso than you realize) that they tend to focus on the nuance of character than on the plot, as the plot tends to write itself, once the pieces are in place.

Video games can bypass the challenge of character investment in a way, and oftentimes do, with one simple-yet-fundamental addition, a thing that is wholly unique to video games as a medium: the player controls the character. They are, for all intents and purposes, the character. They have automatic investment because if they don’t push the control stick forward, the character doesn’t move, the story doesn’t progress, and the player, then, has created an inactive protagonist, which is boring. If Mario never moved toward those question blocks in the first Super Mario Bros game, he would never save the princess. In movies, we have to watch the character begin their journey, often predicated by some inciting incident (i.e., a little fire lit under their butts to get them moving), but in video games, we ultimately make the decision to move the character, or to engage in the action ourselves.*

*There is a second aspect to this: namely, whether the player knows that a story exists within the game. This is obvious in film and television— 99% of the time you’re going to a movie to watch a story unfold— but in video games it’s a relatively recent invention. In early, implicit narratives, such as Space Invaders, there is no exposited story and thus no investment to pursue one; instead, the player plays for the numerous other long-cemented reasons one plays a game in the first place. But with more modern explicit narratives, the player is playing with the idea that they will be presented a story with game elements, or vice versa. Thus, their decision to move a character can also be motivated by this knowledge — that the only way we can experience the story is to be involved in it. (To be fair though, games like Grand Theft Auto have explicit narratives but also let you do whatever you want, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

I nabbed this photo from this great article about video game theory! Mario’s future is all right. (Get it? It’s a pun.)

When a movie is turned into a video game, it is often met with mixed or bad reviews. You’ll note on that Wikipedia article that the movie with the highest percentage on Rotten Tomatoes (and thus the most favorably reviewed) is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I’d argue this is because of the CGI, not the story. Several movies on that list — Super Mario Bros, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, etc — are based on highly successful video game franchises, or games that are critically acclaimed, or both. Alone in the Dark, for example, has a 90% approval rating on*. What we have seen time and time again by movies made from video games is a lessening of the art form, a compression, if you will. Book lovers will already know this feeling, as their beloved books become highly compressed versions of themselves on screen, often omitting characters and key scenes for the sake of plot structure.

*Though, to be fair, that’s based on three reviews, all of which were a few years after the game was released. The wiki article itself explains the game’s popularity and critical acclaim in more detail.

On the other hand, when movies get turned into video games, for the most part they are good, sometimes excellent. Aladdin for the SNES/Genesis is often lauded as a great video game, and it follows the story of the movie while also presenting a fun and challenging side-scrolling platformer. The X-Wing/TIE Fighter series for the PC is also often praised for its gameplay. Goldeneye for the N64 is practically a god in the pantheon of first-person shooters. There are always exceptions (Atari’s ET: The Extra Terrestrial game has reached mythological levels of badness), but for the most part, game developers do a decent job of making video games based on movies something a player wants to play, whether the story follows the movie exactly, or diverges completely. Additionally, when a movie becomes a video game, it receives the added pleasure of becoming interactive on a level a movie cannot be by nature of the medium. With Aladdin, the player is doubly invested in Aladdin the character because they know his story via the movie, and because they get to control his actions, which gives the player immediate investment in the game. Movies can become good or great video games because their core structure is storytelling, which can then have a video game elements added to it to enhance it.*

*So why don’t we turn all movies into video games? Because as of yet there is not a video game that can tell a story as good as Godfather II, period.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the few games that actually felt cinematic to me. It has an excellent balance of quality FPS gameplay and well-acted narrative from BJ Blazkowitz.

Turning a video game into a movie has the opposite effect of stripping away the aspects of the video game that made it interesting in the first place. Video games exist primarily as a medium of art wherein the player is the agent of action. Video games are more akin in this respect to being an actor in a play than a movie to be watched. When you think of Assassin’s Creed, for example, you don’t think of Ezio as a third-person character, you think of him as you — in other words, you don’t think of game missions as things Ezio did, but as things you did, because you really did them. You were playing the part. By making a video game into a movie, then, you deprive the audience of that critical different between the mediums; instead of being the character and making the choice to act yourself, you have to watch someone else do it. Where once was active agency, is now a passive viewing experience. Even if the movie is great, then, it lacks the essential aspect of being a video game. Making a movie into a video game adds a template of interactivity to the core of plot structure, but making a video game into a movie removes interactivity from game structure, and part of game structure is narrative. Moreover, the narrative of a video game necessarily requires video game aspects to proceed. Mario needs to jump and squash goombas and climb a flagpole in order to reach the next level, but if that was the only thing that happened in a Mario Bros movie, it would be boring and a waste of your time.

(Hell, even movies within video games — cutscenes — get bashed by players for their length and the fact that they deprive the player of actually being able to play the game. But that’s a topic for another essay.)

Video game movies will always have an enormous challenge ahead of them: make the movie as entertaining as the video game from where it came. Early incarnations of video game movies, like the progenitor Super Mario Bros, attempt to achieve this by being something almost entirely different from the game itself. Sure, there’s a Luigi and a Mario and Dennis Hopper’s cocaine-fueled performance as Bowser, and there are some weird-as-shit giant monsters called “goombas,” but in no way is Super Mario Bros the movie anywhere near the game stylistically. (Plus technically they use Princess Daisy rather than Princess Peach; Daisy was the princess of Super Mario Land. Get it together, Hollywood!) Other movies, like DOOM and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, try to recreate the feeling of the original video game, and while they may succeed on some level, they are still ultimately a passive experience. No matter what producers do, they cannot recreate the active experience of playing a video game. The closest they have come is the 1989 movie The Wizard, starring everyone’s favorite Fred Savage, but that movie A) wasn’t very good, and B) only works because we are invested in the character of Corey playing games because we have been in his shoes, i.e., we have played Super Mario Bros 3 before, and we know it’s one of the best games ever so we want Corey to win. (Okay, maybe I’m biased in that sentiment but SMB3 is the best game ever.)

Fun Fact: You’ll never be as cool as this kid.

Even with that tremendous hurdle ahead of them, video game movies also tend to lack basic Storytelling 101 elements anyway, leaving viewers to wonder why they even get made. In fact, we don’t have a legitimately good video game movie to serve as a litmus test for what makes a good video game movie. We could use Mortal Kombat, since its storyline is basically Enter the Dragon, but even then it is a pale imitation of the Bruce Lee classic, and only enjoyable if you’re one of those 30-something adults (like myself) who likes to wax nostalgic about the 90s (remember Skip-It? blurggghhhh). Instead, we’re left with turds of varying sizes and shapes, each unable to hold a candle to their video game predecessors, and who are effectively outcasts in the medium of film, movies whose only goal is to extract a profit from an audience they think is eager to see B-list actors battle the same forces of evil we battled and defeated (…barely) when we played the game ourselves.

Perhaps Assassin’s Creed can buck the trend of terrible video game movies. Ubisoft has control over the storyline and they don’t plan to rehash any of the games, but instead focus on a new protagonist, Callum Lynch, played by Fassbender, which means the movie won’t focus on people we’ve already played before. This could be good, like a supplement to the ever-expanding AC franchise. Michael Fassbender himself is an A-list actor who has strong roles (and, despite being an android, was the only character in Prometheus that I gave a shit about). This movie has the potential to make video game movies a legitimate force in the movie industry, so long as it provides a good storyline, a solid plot structure, and believable character progression. But even if it’s good, even if it’s great, it will only lead gamers like myself to wonder when the video game adaptation is going to come out, because we’ve already experienced a lot of AC’s story ourselves, first hand, and no matter how good Callum Lynch or his ancestor are at killing Templars, we know we’re better.