Prototype

Prototype answers the question of what happens when you make a sandbox game that not only has little punishment for causing destruction, but encourages it. Where other games would quickly spell game over if you caused havoc on the general population, this game gives you experience and skill points for doing so. But the game is far more than just some murder simulator, there is a point to all the madness you cause.

New York. Only slightly more violent than it's real life counterpart.
New York. Only slightly more violent than it's real life counterpart.

Prototype starts out in a chaotic battlefield in what remains of Manhattan, New York. You play as a fully powered Alex Mercer who is fighting both the army and infected citizens. The tutorial type level ends before you get totally overwhelmed by all the powers at your disposal and quickly rewinds to the beginning of the story. Through various flashbacks and flash-forwards, we learn that a virus is spreading throughout Manhattan that turns people into mindless monsters. Alex is also infected with it, but for some reason it has granted him superhuman and shape shifting abilities. Alex also has a nasty case of amnesia, so it’s a good thing he is able to absorb people and their memories which slowly restores his memory as you progress through the game.

You can easily travel to the top of any of the buildings.
You can easily travel to the top of any of the buildings.

Gameplay is broken up into a series of chapters. Each chapter has one main mission that must be completed before you can move on. However, you can spend as much time doing whatever you want before taking on these main missions. In the early parts of the game, it’ll usually be side-missions that involve killing enemies or running through a small part of the city within a certain amount of time. However, as the game progresses so do the number of things you can do in the open world. You can seek out and destroy infected hives or sneak into and infiltrate army bases. The variety does tend to die down about halfway through the game and you may find yourself skipping it to get to the main mission.

Movement is fluid and frustrating at the same time.
Movement is fluid and frustrating at the same time.

Alex controls fluidly to a fault. His main method of traveling is simply running and jumping. Like a parkour practitioner on speed, he is able to run up the sides of buildings, launch himself over another and glide across city blocks. This method of travel feels very smooth, but you can’t help but wish there was a speedier way to get from point A to point B sometimes. Also, running up buildings is twitchy at times, you’ll be running in a straight line and veering off even in the slightest direction can send you horribly off course. In addition to just running and gliding across the city, Alex can also hijack army tanks and helicopters as well. These tools of destruction add some variety to the basic hack and slash combat, and there is something satisfying about taking down army bases and infected hives with them.

Combat is a gruesome affair.
Combat is a gruesome affair.

Similarly, combat is also fluid to a fault. Alex can shape-shift his body into a number of melee weapons you might expect in any kind of action game, the balanced one, the fast but weak, and  the slow but powerful among others. Alex can perform simple 3 hit combos, but things get really interesting when you start powering up your abilities. Nothing is more satisfying than killing off thirty infected with one screen clearing move. Enemies range from one hit kill fodder, to larger beasts that will relentlessly follow you to army tanks and helicopters. Combat will frustrate you at many times during the missions. The problem is you are just one person against numerous waves of enemies. Even with Alex’s powers, he is still within a fragile body. One mission, for example, has you destroying waves of tanks. Normally fighting against one or two tanks is not much of an issue, but when you are trying to handle four tanks, plus infected who won’t let up attacking you, trying to avoid rocket launcher shots and fire from helicopters, you end up the victim of many cheap shots. Most of these frustrating moments are contained within the missions, so you can always get your destructive nature on outside of them and not feel like you’re constantly fighting against an overpowered AI.

Destruction from above in a hijacked helicopter.
Destruction from above in a hijacked helicopter.

Honestly, the most fun I had with this game was outside of missions. While Manhattan is nowhere near as large as say Liberty City, there’s still a decent amount of space to play around in. However, don’t expect any semblance of realism among its citizens. As you progress through the game, the island gets quarantined off and more and more of the populous come infected. Infected parts of the city are rampant with chaos as the few normal people run for their lives and the army tries to fight off the horde. However, on the flip side, the neighborhoods that remain uninfected always remain calm and collected. They go about their normal lives as if they aren’t trapped on an island with no way of escaping and death just a few blocks away. They also must have seen some amazing things in their days to not react at all to someone running up the side of a building and gliding halfway across the city.

There are worse ways to go in Prototype than getting your ribcage smashed in.
There are worse ways to go in Prototype than getting your ribcage smashed in.

Overall the story is what is going to get you through mission mode, and not to spoil the end, but it will probably leave you more confused than anything. The carnage and destruction are really the highlights of this game and to its credit it does it well. However, this charm has diminishing returns and soon you’ll be wishing it had a little more substance. Still, the idea of Devil May Cry meets Grand Theft Auto is merit enough to play the game, just make sure to monitor your stress levels while playing. 

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

“Don’t cross the streams.” “There is no Dana, there is only Zuul” “Are you a god?” “We’re ready to believe you!” If these quotes mean nothing to you, then you can probably skip over the rest of this review as there is a bit of basic Ghostbusters knowledge you’ll need to fully understand this. In what can be described as pure fan service, Ghostbusters: The Video Game does everything it can to give you what is basically the third Ghostbusters movie. From the entire principal cast returning to do voice work, to Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis lending their help to the script, multiple references to the first and second Ghostbuster movies and even using many of the original film’s music, you really feel the immersion into the Ghostbusters’ universe.

One of the many cameos from the first two Ghostbuster films.
One of the many cameos from the first two Ghostbuster films.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game takes place in 1991, two years after the events of Ghostbusters II. You play the role of a new recruit who the other Ghostbusters only refer to as Rookie. The game starts off with paranormal activity that centers on the Gozer exhibit at the museum. A shockwave is sent out, which attracts the attention of Ray and Egon, and which also frees resident ghost mascot Slimer in the process. The team chases Slimer to the Sedgewick Hotel where he is eventually captured, destroying a familiar looking hotel reception room in the process. No sooner had they wrapped up this incident, than they were greeted by a familiar Gozer destructor form. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is wreaking havoc in Times Square and once again the team is called into action to defeat him. What unravels after these events is a plot which, of course, will bring about the destruction of the human world.

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If you cross the streams, expect to get an earful from your teammates.

Gameplay is mainly comprised of third-person shooting. You start the game off with the iconic proton pack which weakens ghosts until the point where they can be captured and sent into a trap. Since there is no ammo in the game, you can continue firing your weapon until it overheats. If it overheats you temporarily cannot use your weapon, you can stop this by manually cooling it down. However if this were the only weapon in the game, the gameplay would get really stale really quickly. Luckily, being the new guy, Ray gives you all the new equipment to test. While some of these new weapons give you the feeling they were just thrown in without much thought, they are all distinctly different so it just doesn’t feel like a slightly different proton pack. You also earn money for every ghost you defeat that you can use to upgrade your weapons. The upgrades are minor and you can upgrade them all fairly quickly, but it’s a nice touch to have them.

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First person mode with the PKE meter.

Similarly, there are different types of defeating enemies to vary things up. While the stronger ghosts are captured, some of the lesser ones you just destroy by depleting their energy. Some are distinctly unique like the gargoyles which you must capture and slam into the ground to break them. There are also first person elements as well when using the PKE Meter. In the game, you use the PKE Meter to scan enemies for their weaknesses, reveal ghosts you normally couldn’t see, find passageways to the next area and search for hidden bonus items you can collect. There is no HUD that displays health, instead like many shooter heroes, your health regenerates when you aren’t getting attacked. If you happen to fall in battle, as long as there is another team member near you, they can revive you.

Egon's character model looks eerily spot on to Harold Ramis.
Egon's character model looks eerily spot on to Harold Ramis.

As mentioned earlier, this game does not try to hide the blatant Ghostbusters’ fan service. This is great for fans of the movies, but also limits the audience of who will enjoy this game who might not understand why a giant painting of Vigo the Carpathian constantly taunts you at Ghostbusters headquarters. But even for hardcore fans it may give you the feeling that it falls a little short of being a total revival for the franchise. At times it feels like it relies too heavily on past movie references. The storyline makes it feel like Ghostbusters 1.5 rather than a true third movie. Some of the performances feel a bit subdued as well, primarily Bill Murray as Peter Venkman. You get the feeling that he isn’t quite putting his all into the role. That being said the performances by Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis feel spot on and there have been more than once instance where I found myself laughing at the writing. Ultimately that is what’s going to keep you playing the campaign mode. The gameplay, while unique, doesn’t exactly carry single player. Since storyline quality can be a subjective thing, if it doesn’t draw you in, you may not find much to keep you playing.

Imagine this hulking beast times 3. That's a good idea of what multiplayer throws at you.
Imagine this hulking beast times 3. That's a good idea of what multiplayer throws at you.

It won’t take long to complete the campaign and it does not offer much replay value, but there is a surprisingly robust multiplayer mode that is available. All multiplayer modes are co-op up to 4 players and they all vary in mission types. For example one mode is a survival type mode, where you capture ghosts until your team is defeated. Another mode however has you protecting 4 relics from being taken away by ghosts until time runs out. Another mode has you destroying ghost spawn points. You can play these multiplayer missions on their own or you can play a campaign which has you playing 3 different missions one after the other. I was very skeptical of the multiplayer mode, but after playing it I found myself really enjoying it. It really does give the game a breath of fresh air after you’ve completed the campaign mode and it gives you a chance to check out other player’s crazy ghost capturing techniques. If you feel the storyline doesn’t carry the campaign mode for you, you can probably find a breath of fresh air playing with other people in smaller gameplay bursts.

One more thing I have to mention. The game does a great job at giving you a creepy atmosphere that you normally don’t find out of games like Residen Evil  and Silent Hill. While you won’t find any pyramid heads doing questionable activities with mannequins, you will find yourself at the receiving end of some cheap scares. It took me by surprise, because the movie, while having to do with ghosts, was never really scary.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game definitely does one thing right. It completely caters to the Ghostbusters fanboy crowd. With anything involving fandom, many hardcore fans may be able to ignore the shortcomings of the game, but those who don’t quote Ghostbusters in every day life may find it hard to ignore them. Take away all the big name actors and the story and you have what feels like a fresh third person shooter with new mechanics, but eventually falls into a repetitious trap. For most people I would say this game is a solid rental. You’ll enjoy the experience and you’ll also enjoy that you didn’t pay full retail price for it.

The Night Before the Grand Opening

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, for the longest time you may have heard about a building specifically to promote Japanese pop culture in San Francisco’s Japantown. After nearly three years, New People, the new J-Pop and anime center that Viz Media invest their hard earned manga sales, will be open today at noon. To celebrate the grand opening, Viz in conjunction with the Japantown Merchants Association and the Center for Asian American Media, held a free screening of Kamikaze Girls, outdoors at the Japantown Peace Plaza. I was there to take a few pictures of the screening and Japantown in general. We’ll have more photos of the grand opening of New People later today, so stay tuned!

Luka’s Somber Dance Ballad

(Note: In order to see the romanized lyrics and English translation, make sure to turn on the Annotations, in the lower right corner of the YouTube player.)

A couple of months ago, we showed you Miku’s melancholy rock ballad. This time, it’s Vocaloid newcomer Megurine Luka’s turn to make you grab the tissue box and yet at the same time, tapping your feet as you listen to the rhythm of this awesome song.

This fan-made music video is called “Just Be Friends” composed and produced by Dixie Flatline and Yeheyuan Studio. (The song is also a bit old; it has been floating in the Internets for a month now, but I stumbled upon it just recently.) This dance song is the story of  a loving couple. It follows their relationship from the good times, to the emotional drift and eventual falling out. The melody and rhythm is incredibly catchy, but the lyrics is very depressing. Even though you can dance to this song, you can’t help but feel the loneliness in Luka’s synthetic voice. Despite Luka’s robotic sounding voice, Dixie Flatline does an incredible job of programming her intonation and diction which made her sound honest and sincere in this sad song.

In any case, the song is awesome and you should buy it when Dixie Flatline releases it on iTunes. In the meantime, you can buy Dixie Flatline’s first album “Fragments” featuring Miku, Rin and Len on iTunes right now.

For more “Just Be Friends” goodness, check out the fan-made versions below.

Chorus Version

Piano Ballad Version

Comic-Con 2009 Report

With a rich history spanning nearly 40 years, Comic-Con International has been attracting fans of all facets of pop culture. What was once a small convention that had an attendance of about 300 people in 1970, this year’s Comic-Con had an attendance of over 125,000. What started as a gathering of comic and sci-fi fans in the basement of the still standing U.S. Grant Hotel, today Comic-Con has taken over the entire San Diego convention center. There are more than 450 different events that cover not just comics and sci-fi, but movies, television, gaming, and anime, Comic-Con truly has something to offer everyone.

Just one of the many crowded aisle in the Exhbit Hall.
Just one of the many crowded aisle in the Exhbit Hall.

This year marked my second time to Comic-Con. Having been attending anime conventions regularly since 2000, last year really opened my eyes to how large Comic-Con is in comparison to even something like Anime Expo. This year was no exception. First timers can really get a scope for how massive it is on Day Zero. The day before the convention opens, they give 4-day attendees a chance to visit the dealer’s hall to get a head’s start on their shopping. The moment I step foot into the dealer’s hall, I was overwhelmed. My first step into the dealer’s hall filled me with an overwhelming feeling. Looking up you see a sign marking you are in aisle 5200, and far in the distance you might make out aisle 100 on the opposite side of the hall. There are booths for video game publishers, movie studios, TV networks, toy makers, comic publishers, vendors and everything in between.

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Pictured: Bumblebee Replica. Not Pictured: The 2 hour line to buy Hasbro exclusives.

For those unfamiliar to Comic-Con, but who might have gone to anime conventions in the past, nothing can quite prepare you for the more popular booths. One booth that stands out in particular is Hasbro’s. Comic-Con has always been famous for offering exclusive merchandise that you can only purchase at the event and Hasbro – makers of such popular toy lines as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony and Transformers – leads the pack. The Hasbro exclusives are so popular that in order to get in line, you need to line up at a separate location and get a ticket to return to the booth. That’s right, you need to line up for a chance to go line up in another line.

Many stopped to admire the overall hunkiness of this Wolverine statue.
Many stopped to admire the overall hunkiness of this Wolverine wax model.

Many other booths share the same kind of craziness. For example network booths that offer autographs sessions from its stars end up feeling like controlled chaos at best and drowning in a sea of people at worst. For example, even though I had a ticket that allowed me a chance to get an autograph with the cast from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, did not necessarily mean it was going to be an easy process. What made things really difficult was that no lines could be formed until 15 minutes before the actual signing, and of course people showed up long before that time. Milling around the booth, it felt crowded but relatively comfortable, that was until they announced the line was officially starting. What followed after that was a massive rush of people trying to get near the front of the line. Feeling like I was about to be swallowed up by the mob, I took refuge near the corner of the booth and was at a point where no one else could cut in front of me. It was possibly one of the most stressful moments of the convention, but in the end getting a chance to tell the cast members of your favorite show how much you enjoy their work and having them respond back to you in a truly thankful way really exemplifies what Comic-Con is all about.

This close from MST3K greatness.
This close from MST3K greatness.

Now all that I have talked about, that’s just the dealer’s hall and there are still many other things I can talk about that one aspect, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course it wouldn’t be a convention without panels. Looking at the panel schedule you’re sure to find many panels you would love to attend; unfortunately, what you find is that so many of the panels overlap each other that you have to choose which ones you truly want to go to. While it is cool to go to panels in the massive Hall H, which seats 6500 people, with its high profile movies like Iron Man 2 and celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. in attendance, I prefer the smaller more intimate panels. Two of my favorite panels from this year were the Rifftrax and Kung-Fu Extravaganza. Rifftrax is a group of 3 alumni from the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show. MST3K was one of my favorite shows growing up and having a chance to be 20 feet away from the original cast far outweighs seeing someone like Robert Downey Jr. on a large screen. They did a live riffing of a safety training video and took suggestions from the audience to what movie they should riff next. Sadly the Super Mario Brother’s movie lost to Dragon Wars in the end.

The second panel, the Kung-Fu Extravaganza was hosted by Ric Meyers, who Fanime attendees may already know very well. For people who love Asian cinema, the panel is sure to entertain you with 3 hours of the best action scenes from films old and new. In fact, because of this panel, I can recommend two great films fans of the genre should check out – Red Cliff and Yip Man. Red Cliff, released last year and directed by John Woo it is a great period piece from the Three Kingdoms era. The second film, Yip Man, is a movie about the life of the celebrated master of the legendary Bruce Lee. Both of these film feature awesome fight scenes that will leave you stunned.

Matt Groening stares at Bender like God staring at his most beautiful creation.
Matt Groening stares at Bender like God staring at his most beautiful creation.

So you got a brief look into the dealer’s hall and panels, which granted make up much of what Comic-Con is all about and yet there is still so much more to talk about. On the gaming side, I got to try out games like Left 4 Dead 2, Brutal Legend, Dragon Age, Singularity, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and Tatsunoko vs Capcom. On the autograph side, among the famous people I got to meet included Matt Groening, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick – the creators of The Venture Brothers, John Kricfalusi – creator of Ren and Stimpy, and Danny Devito to name a few. In addition to what I purchased at the dealer’s hall, I got swag that ran the gamut of free t-shirts and comics, to door hangers and a unique one of a kind Venture Brother’s cup. Among one of the bigger events I missed was the masquerade. It’s such a huge event that you can either watch it live in the hall, or watch a simulcast in a panel room. You could even watch it on a big screen as you enjoy free munchables at a party-like environment that even features a bar to get your drink on.

See you next year Comic-Con! Don't forget to wash the nerd funk from your halls before then.
See you next year Comic-Con! Don't forget to wash the nerd funk from your halls before then.

Of course I’m sure most people will agree that the best thing about Comic-Con and conventions in general are the memories that you forge. Whether it’s staying up all night playing board game and swapping stories with your friends in the hotel room or meeting new people who geek out at the same things you do, it’s always a great feeling knowing that you can celebrate your fandom with thousands of other people. Even our road trip down to San Diego, which consisted of me driving for over 8 hours each way, is something that I wouldn’t want to replace. If you haven’t been to Comic-Con yet, I can’t recommend it enough. As I said before and I’ll say again, even if you have no interest in comics whatsoever, no matter what your fandom is, you’ll find a large group of people to share it with at Comic-Con. I look forward to returning year after year after year as I know that each year will be better than the last. Here’s to you, Comic-Con International! Congratulations on 40 years and counting!