Archive for October, 2010

Castlevania Lords of Shadow – “Kratosvania”

From my brief contact with “Lords of Shadow” [playing the demo and watching a friend’s walk-through of several gameplay segments], one thing is certain: it certainly elevates the bar as far as “God of War” clones go. Kojima’s production adds a welcome emotional gravitas to the vampire narrative that is unheard of in its genre peers… having the deep voice of Patrick Stewart as lead helps, naturally. Aesthetically, it’s a mixed bag: the gothic architecture is a delight to look at, but the graphical engine’s color palette is limited, failing to present clear contrasts and constantly ending up in that dead polygon/vertex shader sludge most western games suffer from; Óscar Araujo’s soundtrack thankfully lifts the ambiance from catharsis with some disturbingly haunting moods and epic compositions.

Sadly, the sense of a missed opportunity regarding one of the oldest and most beloved franchises is never thwarted. “Lords of Shadow” is a decent “God of War” clone, but it is just that: a clone. For the truth is simple: traditional “Castlevania’s” action mechanics and “Symphony of the Night’s” non-linear exploration have in them the potential to craft a superior title for the contemporary age. Too bad Konami didn’t get that and stuck with a boring marketing angle. As if all we ever needed was another derivative action game…

Afrika – “For a Brighter Sunrise”

Videogames are usually about action, about competitive confrontation and about the glory of victory. “Afrika” may be a videogame, but isn’t about either of these, it is about mere contemplation. As an intrepid wild-life journalist, you’re invited to journey to the mythical African landscape, bearing the task of shooting stunning pictures of animals in their natural habitats. The game’s inner matrix shows strong simulation character, transforming it into a living encyclopedia of naturalist and realist aesthetic ideals. You’ll find these in the uncanny precision of the camera control (like for like for each of the real-life SONY models), but also in the scientifically correct animal behavior, and naturally, in the indescribable scenic beauty, brought about by graphical and animation works of art that eschew any comparison whatsoever with its contemporary brethren (save but one or maybe two rare examples).

In “Afrika”, you’ll find pleasure in the smallest, most meaningful of details: from the careful study of each species’ habits, to learning how to shoot  the camera professionally and artistically, or by simply inhabiting the atmospheric surroundings. There is really nothing like venturing into the hot savannah in a jeep, as Hokoyama’s riveting soundtrack lunges your safari towards the horizon with a cheerful, upbeat orchestration, and then slowing down, stopping by the shade of a century-old tree,  relaxing, holding your breath, camera steady in hand, waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for that special moment, delighting yourself in the mellow gaze of animals’ gracious movements, their soft fur caressed by the Sun’s warm orange hues, lulled by the now serene, almost quiet soundscape: the gentle water creeks… the mild breeze blowing… the leaves rustling softly… the rhythmic sound of your feet in the earthy gravel as you step closer, slowly… slowly…  and then, click. Interactive bliss.

The remaining ludic logic is “Afrika’s” Achilles’ heel, awkwardly imposing goals and structure in a work that begs a free environment for playful exploration. Nothing however, that can impair the single most important experience the current generation consoles can offer. Its provoking nature starts to explain why it has been so consistently overlooked in the west: there was no European release, and in the US the title was met with ridicule and harsh criticism. A work that focuses solely on taking pictures of animals seems dull, boring and uneventful for a generation brought up to think entertainment a synonym of rifle in hand and shooting down the animals/monsters/aliens/nazis/terrorists. Creative musings and aesthetic appreciation are pleasures thought to belong elsewhere, somewhen in the times of yore, amongst dead media such as photography, painting and sculpture. And some still wonder why videogames are so infantile!

For here is “Afrika”, a game that forfeits all populist and commercial conventions, that is innovative and unique for its time and that shows qualities unheard of in years. Sure, it is slow paced, relaxing and demanding of the player, but that is the only way in which one can relate with and uphold its finest qualities. Consider this: could there be any engagement with Africa’s lavish setting, its awe-inspiring atmosphere, its charming fauna and flora, if one were forced to be on frantic combat mode, gunning down ferocious animals, jumping by trees or looting corpses? Of course not, and proving that is the lack of any emotional gravitas in popular mainstream titles. Daisaku Ikejiri and Rhino Studios should have received multiple awards for upholding the classicist virtues of meditation, beauty, nature and peace, in a form of expression governed by senseless violence and immature escapism. And yet, such is but a fleeting dream, and all remain trapped in the most insidious of logics, unaware of the true value and potential of our beloved interactive art. Death death death win win win pleasure pleasure pleasure more more more again again again… ad eternum. It is saddening to consider that the old war games, battle games and conquest games have, once again, overshadowed one of the finest artifacts of our time, in this medium of ours that needs it so much, now more than ever. For a brighter sunrise, don’t let this continue. Go play “Afrika”.


Status Update – “The Network”

To all those three persons who naggingly insist on reading this blog (hi mom, hi dad, hey bro!), I apologize for not updating it as much as usual (pardon the cliché). Whilst you wait for new articles (simmering as I write these very words), I would consider following me on Facebook (just head to the ‘About Metagame’ page for info), since I have come to the realization that it does serve a point. Meaning, I can write low quality junk about all sorts of things there, and people can read that and praise how special and gifted I am by pressing the like button… or you can just use the comment page to send me to hell and go **** ***** or tell me how I’m a dirty *** of a ***** and so forth. I know, you love me dearly. Thanks mom! Meanwhile, there is an “Afrika” article hitting the fan. Sniff… yeah, almost there.