You Found a Secret Area!

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu: Poker without Guns.

There was a time around the 2000s where you just could not avoid poker on television. Thanks to Chris Moneymaker making a decent bank in an online poker tournament, Texas Hold’em Poker got real big and started being the next big TV filler. Every channel had a poker show, from Bravo’s fluff-driven Celebrity Poker Showdown to NBC having a late night poker show to fill in the gaps between Last Call with Carson Daly and Early Today. Even Game Show Network had not one, but two poker shows under its belt.

Then in 2011 there was a lawsuit involving some of the major poker websites possibly being involved in money laundering, and the poker boom was over. While there’s still mild demand for Texas Hold’em, it’s pretty much gone back to the pre-2000s era of popularity.
During this poker boom, there were poker video games being made left and right. Some based on existing poker brands like the World Poker Tour. In some of these games you got celebrity endorsements, or actual professional poker players. Today, we’re gonna cover one of the more notable poker video games that’s not something like Poker Night at the Inventory.

This title screen is preceded by a fancy animation involving poker chips flying everywhere. Clearly the budget was spent on this.

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is a fairly unique poker game. It’s likely the first video game poker game featuring a notable poker player in the title, making it somewhat of an oddity in the sea of poker games around this time. Developed by 5000ft Inc, this is their final released game, and it’s amusing it had to be a licensed poker game. Considering their previous titles were stuff like Army Men: Green Rogue when 3DO were pumping out Army Men games like they were going out of style, this is likely a marked improvement.
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Kid Poker himself, in one of the tutorial videos you could watch to get tips from him about poker. Man, I’m getting Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku flashbacks…

For context, Daniel Negreanu is a famous poker player. Nickname “Kid Poker,” he’s won 6 World Series of Poker bracelets, 2 World Poker Tour titles, and a handful of other tournaments here and there. Often appeared in many of the TV poker shows, he’s probably one of the more charismatic personalities to endorse your poker game. Though, I would’ve killed for a poker game starring the infamous Phil Hellmuth.
Let’s see if this poker game stacks up to the competition, or if it should have folded its hand.

Hopefully this casino isn’t sponsored by Randy Pitchford.

Stacked starts by letting you either play random poker matches with changeable settings, or through the game’s long, challenging career mode. In Career Mode you’re given a stack of cash to start, and any tables to play to your liking, with limits/no limits in place. Some are cash games given to bolster your cash in game, but the others are standard table tournaments with buy-ins where you can win money if you reach a certain standing in the tournament.

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Revisiting Old Secrets: Year One (2012).

Throughout most of 2011, I had this idea to start up a blog about random gaming junk. Stuff that was on my mind, interesting little games and things that I had found. The previous outlets I used for this – community blogs on GameSpot, IGN, and Giant Bomb – felt like I was writing a lot of words to an audience of nobody.

On January 3, 2012, I registered a domain on WordPress.com, and “You Found a Secret” was born. The “Area” was added to the title a few months later, after I realized I was misremembering what finding a secret was called in Quake. Never bothered to change the address, though.

A portion of the original site, courtesy of the Internet Archive. I kinda miss that little intro paragraph on the right.

The next day, the first Secret Area post was published: A repost of an old article back in 2010 from another WordPress blog I’ve since abandoned; but then started proper with the article about MTV2’s infamous Video Mods show. The first month was a steady stream of random articles before settling down to the more standard 1-3 a month I’ve kept up with ever since.

When I moved off of WordPress.com and onto the asecretarea.com domain in early 2019, the process meant that a lot of posts needed some slight adjustment. At first it was just merely updating links so they weren’t directing to the old site. But as I looked back at what I wrote seven years ago, I immediately thought “I could do this better.”

Thus I started my personal “Renovation Project.” Initially going in chronological order before changing it to editing certain articles depending on my mood, the goal was to update a lot of the older Secret Area posts so they were up to a more acceptable standard. I’ve written about 150 or so posts in the eight years I’ve ran this blog, and I was intending to update about 75% of these.

One of my early posts was about a bargain bin shooter called Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima. Made by the guys who also made KISS: Psycho Circus, it’s an entry that I recoiled in horror when I read it initially. There were lots of things 2012 me did that I don’t do now: Belittling game developers, lots of swearing, making terrible analogies like I was a poor man’s Angry Video Game Nerd, the works.

Seeing that post caused me to do some drastic rewriting in spots to seem less harsh and more in my current neutral tone. Another article I wrote about tactical Quake mods was made in time for the then-upcoming Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, alongside mentioning the (now-defunct) Tactical Intervention. A fair share of these older posts felt like something I wrote in the moment as of 2012, and really didn’t hold up nearly as well several years later.

This is what the Renovation Project was to me: To give these articles a new life. To correct a wrong, basically. Rewriting them so they’re more general purpose and aren’t of the time I wrote them. The overall goal is to make these blog posts readable and interesting no matter when you’re reading them.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Music Kits Series 5: Of Masterminds and Missing Links.

I never thought I would ever come back to this. After a steady stream of music packs released throughout 2014-2016, I assumed Valve was done with the whole “CS:GO music kit” concept. After the Radicals Box hit in 2016, there had been nary a peep when it comes to that kind of content.

Then something changed. Throughout 2019 to 2020, Valve started slowly doling out individual kits, which was a better strategy to me as I could basically write about them when I had enough music kits to review. Then in late April of this year, they just dropped a pack of 7 new kits, which means I had to throw those plans immediately in the garbage.

It’s weird. The last major music kit release was in 2016, so to see them go from absolute silence to adding new ones every few months is a surprise. Especially with the spread of musicians we have on offer this time.

While I don’t play much Counter-Strike: Global Offensive these days – Call of Duty: Warzone has been my current vice, as my previous article could tell you – I still find some charm in the game. Global Offensive does things that seem absolutely baffling by modern shooter standards, yet works perfectly well without feeling too old school and too modern. That Valve has mostly stuck with it while adding elements of its competition like character skins makes it interesting to look at as a game, even if I’m not as invested as I once was. But we’re here to talk about the music, and talk we shall.

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To start, I’ll cover the four music kits released in the interim between the Radicals Box and the Masterminds Box. Like before, I’ll cover information about the musician in question, whether the music itself is good, and whether it fits in the context of Global Offensive’s gameplay. I’ll finish it off with a verdict. So let’s get started.

Like before, I’ll link to a YouTube video or to CS:GO Stash if you want to listen along.

The Verkkars, EZ4ENCE

DESCRIPTION: The Verkkars rise through the Finnish charts with a heart-pounding tribute to ENCE. Can it really be so EZ?

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user ThEMaSkeD), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

The first of the interim kits, this was released as a promotional kit after the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice tournament in 2019. The Verkkars are an electronic dance band based in Finland, the same country that Major qualifiers ENCE are from.

ENCE is an eSports team that consists of noted Finnish CS:GO players, including allu, one of the replacements for Fifflaren in the classic CS:GO Ninjas in Pyjamas lineup, and was a fairly reliable player during his tenure with that team. Combined with some other good players from the Finnish CS:GO scene, they came to be the underdogs of the tournament, getting as far as the finals in Katowice.

The downside was that their opponents in that final were Astralis. Or as I like to call them, The New England Patriots of Counter-Strike: A team that you can’t deny their high-tier skill and abilities while playing, but they are absolutely boring to watch them curbstomp everyone. (Surprising no one, Astralis beat ENCE 2-0 in the final, winning their second consecutive Valve-sponsored major.)

This was clearly made as a promotion for the team ENCE, and the title is a reference to a line that people were spamming in Twitch chat about the team when they were at their peak. The song itself is… okay. It’s bog-standard EDM. It really didn’t grab me.

Then the chorus got stuck in my head. The whole song is in Finnish (except for some sampled English dialogue from a tournament that plays during the breakdown), but the tone of the chorus just… hits the right notes to just get stuck in my head in the most obnoxious way.

I put “EZ4ENCE” in a category I’ve called “terrible god damn earworms,” where a specific portion of a song – usually the chorus – gets stuck in your head in all the worse ways and never ever leaves you. The Verkkars’ ENCE anthem is in the same league as Paul Oakenfold’s “Starry Eyed Surprise,” or Paul McCartney’s “Temporary Secretary,” which is quite an impressive feat.

If you’re a fan of the team, it’s a good pack. If you’re not, Mord Fustang’s Diamonds does the same kind of EDM stuff but without the earworm chorus. Even listening to it again for this review has that damn chorus stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

EZ4ENCE, ENCE, ENCE

Dens putted upperbelt

Putted upperbelt…

VERDICT: Only recommended if you’re a fan of the team. Otherwise I lightly recommend it, get it on the Steam marketplace.

Scarlxrd, King, Scar

DESCRIPTION: Scarlxrd blends heavy trap beats with a flow and delivery that creates his own unique subgenre. With this exciting blend his live shows capture the attention of everyone in the crowd.

LISTEN ON: YouTube (courtesy of YouTube user George), CS:GO Stash

AVAILABILITY: Available for purchase as a standard kit for $4.99, a StatTrak variant for $7.99, or on the Steam marketplace.

Okay, I don’t want to be That Person, you know, the one who doesn’t “get” present-day music. But I do not understand the trap genre of music, and I certainly don’t understand Scarlxrd. (That’s pronounced “scar-lord,” if you’re wondering.) He’s a young musician that makes mostly trap music, a sort of electronic rap genre that admittedly I don’t know all that well. Scarlxrd’s style is mixing trap music with some Japanese style and unusual character replacements for flavor.

It’s a shame that it’s not good music. The song itself, also called “King, Scar,” is obnoxious, prodding noise. It’s really hard to listen to, where Scarlxrd basically yells his lyrics in a harsh, robotic tone, while sticking with the very swing-like rhythm of him screaming hey and amplified bass that makes it sound like my speakers are being blown out.

Since I don’t enjoy the song itself, which plays in the main menu, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the kit. Any track that’s just the introduction with the prominent toy box sounds are the best part because it doesn’t go full force, in-your-face about it. But then the vocals kick in and it becomes outright unbearable. This doesn’t even have the “lightly bang your head along” factor that some hip-hop has to me, it’s just too brash to really enjoy as a song, even as a music kit.

Keep in mind, there’s probably good music in this genre, hell probably even by Scarlxrd himself, but this is a bad, bad music kit. If anything, this song now rivals Hundredth’s Free in the “great if you want an obnoxious MVP anthem” category, which I didn’t know there was competition.

VERDICT: Not recommended. Straight up. This will probably be the only one in this list that I can say I actively dislike.
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Some Weekend Writing about Battle Royale and Call of Duty Warzone.

For a long time, I never really liked the battle royale game mode. There was some things about that mode that put me off in various ways. Over the years I’ve tried some of the notable ones, and even some of the off-shoots. Most of them were enjoyable for a pinch, but then I’d drop off of them for some reason or another. But then another battle royale game came out recently. And for some reason, this is the one that got me.
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I honestly found 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare entertaining, yet rote. While I didn’t play the campaign, I did play the multiplayer beta before launch, and while I was having a blast like before, it just felt like I’ve been here before. To me, it seems like Infinity Ward has given up creatively, with this current effort trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle that they did with the original Modern Warfare.
There were still attachments, perks and killstreaks, many of the same game modes, even maps I’ve seen in past entries started cropping up. It seemed the biggest innovation the game had at the time was basically ripping off Battlefield’s long-standing Conquest mode. Yet despite the game being fairly derivative, it was still fun to play.
At this point, Call of Duty as a franchise has been a glimmer of nostalgia more than something I get incredibly hyped for. To me, Modern Warfare 3 was when it started going downhill, what with its busted multiplayer and ham-fisted conclusion of a campaign mode. I was so disappointed with it that I advised people shouldn’t play it way back when I played it on a Steam free weekend in 2012.  

This is pretty much WWII‘s multiplayer in a nutshell: People randomly watching others open lootboxes.
To think this was so common a few years ago.

The only Call of Duty game I played with regularity after that was, surprisingly, WWII. All the others might as well just exist in my mind, something where I play the campaign once, play through some of the multiplayer for a while, then move on to something else that catches my interest.

Love how this is front-and-center. Probably annoying to those who play the standard multiplayer.

In late March, Activision announced something I was worried they were gonna repeat: They were adding battle royale mode in Modern Warfare. I figured that with multiplayer, singleplayer and a zombies mode being in every yearly installment, that trying to make a yearly battle royale mode was the easiest way to kill battle royale’s popularity faster than something new taking its place. After all, this is Activision, a company that clearly sticks to what works until it stops making money.
I was not really interested, until they announced the surprise: Warzone was free to play for anyone, Modern Warfare was not required to play. Now they’ve caught my interest, as I wasn’t really interested in spending more than $20 on a Call of Duty game in 2020. So I tried it, and somehow… it all clicked. After playing several battle royale games, I found the one that worked for me.

Hey, this looks kinda familiar…

Warzone really doesn’t need much explanation if you’re familiar with other battle royale modes. You drop as a squad of 3-4 or play on your own and try to be the last one standing. Search buildings and areas for armor, weapons, grenades and some of the Call of Duty hallmarks like killstreaks and the new field upgrades. Kill, try not to die yourself, seems simple. So you’re probably wondering what makes this different from the others you’ve played. Well, it’s complicated.

Get a little deathmatch in before the match starts. Sure beats randomly beating up dudes for no damage.

There’s a few ideas that Warzone uses that were popular in other battle royale games and makes them work surprisingly well. Stuff like pinging items like in Apex Legends, A money system for buying things like in Radical Heights and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Allowing players to do bonus missions to get money and tactical advantages like in CS:GO. It still has the traditional “muck about in a random part of the map before go time” thing all the other battle royales do, but actually involves combat like a traditional deathmatch mode, which is pretty neat.
But there’s one thing that Warzone does that I haven’t seen others do: Give you a second chance.  
Getting knocked out the first time sends you to a gulag, where you do a one on one fight with another player for freedom. It works a lot like the Gunfight multiplayer mode, but with only one round. Frag the enemy, you’re parachuted back into the warzone to try again. Get fragged yourself, then you’re out for good.

Throwing rocks at your adversaries is oddly satisfying.

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Strife: The Outlier of the Doom Engine.

Doom is over 25 years old. The tale of id software’s first-person shooter causing a new wave of clones and derivatives has been told to death. But id wasn’t just content with making games. They were willing to license their technology out to other developers who would add their own spin and magic to it, sometimes those games becoming big on their own. For example, Raven Software ended up using id’s Doom engine to greatness with Heretic and Hexen using id’s fancy engine. The two were practically inseparable for 15 years after that, using id’s engines for their games for a very long time.

But there was one other major game that used that engine. One that had a troubled development due to a multitude of factors. You could say they had a bit of strife. The result is one of the more ambitious games made on that old Doom engine.

Not to be confused with that other Strife, the MOBA.

Enter Strife. A first person shooter that had a troubling development cycle and came out to little fanfare in 1996. Why did this game get thrown into the world of abandonware? Let’s find out.

Strife had a rough history: Developer Rogue Entertainment consisted of ex-Cygnus Studios people after wanting to make a new game after 1994’s Raptor: Call of the Shadows. The developers had conflicts with their boss, and decided to take their ideas elsewhere. After co-operating with people at id, Rogue got a deal with publisher Velocity Inc, makers of the JetFighter games and Battlezone clone Spectre, to publish their new project. Strife ended up releasing in May 1996, to passable reviews.

Problem was that by 1996, old “Doom clones” like Strife looked incredibly dated compared to the mind-blowing 3D visuals of Descent and id Software’s upcoming Quake, which came out a month later. This, combined with publisher Velocity folding not long after Strife’s release, meant that the game was basically dead in the water, and mostly forgotten by the general PC gaming populace.

more like “Thanks, die”

Rogue would eventually bounce back, making expansions for id’s Quake and Quake IIDissolution of Eternity and Ground Zero, respectively – and helping out on a former id Software employee’s pet project: American McGee’s Alice. In an ironic sense of history repeating, Rogue itself would dissolve in 2001 as the CEO left to go join EA, resulting in the remaining people forming Nerve Software, which is still around making games today.

Back to Rogue’s debut. I found Strife thanks to the now-defunct Home of the Underdogs, which was a common go-to spot for so-called “abandonware” titles. (Other games I found thanks to Home of the Underdogs include Blood II: The Chosen, which I wrote about back in 2012, and the amazing System Shock 2.) At the time, I had made a good amount of progress into the game itself, but at some point, I forgot what I was supposed to do and ended up bumping around in a sewer area repeatedly before giving up and moving on to other games.

After not touching Strife for so long, I decided to give it another try, nearly 15 years later, and see if it was as good I remember it. Turns out it’s… alright.

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El Matador: A Czech take on Max Payne.

The early to mid 2000s were a weird time in the shooter realm. Remedy gave us the wonderful classic Max Payne in 2001, the shooter that popularized bullet time and action movie stunts, a tribute to John Woo. Yet it wasn’t until 2003 when the sequels to The Matrix hit did it really kick off a brief “bullet time shooter” boom.

Remedy would return with a sequel that year with Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Then two Matrix game tie-ins: Enter the Matrix that takes place inbetween The Matrix Reloaded, and Path of Neo, sort of a loose retelling of the film trilogy from Neo’s perspective. After that, Monolith’s classic F.E.A.R. in 2005. But then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened and the trend died as quickly as it came.

Those are most well-known examples, though. A lot of Eastern European game developers took a crack at bullet time, including today’s entry.

Not even a box quote from PC Gamer’s Norman Chan could sell this.

El Matador was one of a handful of games that saw how big bullet time was and tried to make a decent Max Payne clone out of it. Developed by Plastic Reality Technologies and published by Cenega not long after 1C Company bought them, this game came and went, much akin to other budget games. Thrown into the pit of obscurity to be talked about from people like me.

I’ve owned this game for many years, even writing about grabbing it in an old I Bought Stuff entry from 2012, complete with an interesting story inside the box. In what is a trend I need to inevitably break, it took me a very, very long time to actually get around and write about El Matador. Better late than never, I suppose.

Victor solving the problem the only way he can: with bullets.

 

You play as Victor Corbett, a cop for the DEA who after their success solving a hostage situation gets called down to Colombia to help their police forces take down a drug empire. After defeating one of the drug lords, he eventually gets the title of “El Matador,” which is generally accepted among the squad for reasons not completely explained. Corbett eventually goes from place to place, killing drug barons and helping out his squad to end the drug threat.

Sometimes the game throws in these sections where friendly AI help you in your battle, but they’re just cannon fodder that get in the way.

El Matador falls into the standard third person shooter elements at the time. Hold a gun, left click fires, right click zooms in (or scopes in with the appropriate weapon). Shoot dudes until they die, try not to get shot too much yourself, and don’t die. Pretty simple stuff.

Victor gets a bunch of weapons throughout, which are common for a Max Payne clone. From the common pistols and submachine guns to gimmick weapons like sniper rifles and rocket launchers. Since he’s meant to be a cop, he’ll usually start missions with the assault rifle, which ended up being my preferred weapon throughout most of the game. It’s a shame, because in Max Payne he slowly built up his arsenal, forcing you to rely on pistols and shotguns until you get the bigger, better guns later on down the line. I rarely had to use my pistols or submachine guns unless I was completely out of ammo in those other weapons.

Hope you like motion blur, cause this game loves it.

Since bullet time is a core mechanic, Tab activates the slow motion while Shift does a shootdodge. Killing enemies refills the bar even while in bullet time, and Victor reloads weapons instantaneously while in bullet time, meaning certain weapons become literal bullet hoses. This made certain parts of the game a bit easier, though not by much.

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Game composers recycling their own music.

Let’s say you’re a fairly notable game composer. You’ve worked on some bangers and lesser-known hits. You got a good pedigree of work, and you’re suggested to work on someone’s new game. Life feels good.

Though, sometimes your creativity fails you. You struggle to make a new composition and the game’s about to go gold. So you dig into your back catalog of previous works, adjust the tempo and change a few instruments, and bam, you got a new song.

I call this “Game music recycling.” It’s a phenomenon that has existed for a long time, even outside the video game realm, but I’m particularly interested in the gaming side specifically.

Now I’m gonna lay down some ground rules for this. They’re not particularly complex, but they’re to avoid things that wouldn’t really count. So here they are:

  • The tracks in question have to be in a commercially released game. Bobby Prince released a handful of demos of licensed music for Doom that later got reused in later games, but since those weren’t made to be commercially released, they don’t count.
  • The recycling has to come from the same composer. Tim Follin basically redid the theme to Starsky & Hutch for the NES game Treasure Master, but that’s more of an homage than anything.
  • It has to be a full song. A composer throwing in a jingle from another game they made as a tribute doesn’t really give me much to work with.
  • It must come from different games in different franchises. There will be an exception with this first entry, but this is to avoid the obvious of someone blaming a composer for using the same theme in every game.

For this entry, the recycled music are all from composers based in Europe. American and Japanese composers have done similar recycling, which I’m gonna save for future entries. Let’s get started.


David Wise:

This first one was one I didn’t really know about until someone on Twitter pointed it out fairly recently.

I have never played a Sid Meier game. Basically simulations that require me to complex strategy to succeed really bores me and at times feels like it has too high of a skill ceiling to really enjoy anything out of it. It’s why I’ve never played Civilization. But the original Pirates! seemed to have a modest following, and got ported to a bunch of different systems, including the NES in late 1991.

While it was released on several platforms, there wasn’t a distinct soundtrack for each, thus each version has their own unique set of music. This was ported over by Rare, who pretty much one of several go-to contract developers for NES games throughout the late 80s-early 90s. David Wise, at the time Rare’s sole composer, made a simple little ditty for the game’s main menu as you planned out your pirates story.

Cut to a few years later. Rare works on what is one of the biggest games of the year, Donkey Kong Country. The final boss, King K. Rool, takes place on a giant pirate ship. Naturally, this was the most fitting place to rearrange a small tune made for a port of a Commodore 64 game. While it does borrow part of the melody from the Pirates! tune, it does go off into its own tune after that.

The tune would get a second arrangement in the game’s sequel, Diddy’s Kong Quest. Called Snakey Chantey, the tune is a much more deliberate homage to that specific menu track, this time with a bit more of a jazzy sound to it.

Until I was made aware of this, I only had two entries for this article. I’m a strong supporter of the “rule of threes,” and two just felt too little. Then this started making the rounds, and gave me a third entry, anda  good starting piece. Thanks to TheBalishChannel on Twitter for finding this one.

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A little Weekend Writing about Darksiders.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Weekend Writing post. The last one was BioShock 2 way back in July, in fact. While I may not do it every weekend, it did inspire me to write about things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. This one is no different, but it also spurred from a conversation a friend gave me.

Anyone who checks this site at a cursory glance may notice I often write about about action games and shooters. Hell, the last post was Rambo: The Video Game, literally a light gun shooter. I’ve written about them so much that some friends have called me a “shooter guy,” which makes me feel like I don’t write about anything else.

Today, we’re gonna change that. This ain’t about a shooter even though shooting’s in it. This is a game that’s a weird cocktail blend of everything, yet somehow it works without outright falling apart.

I’m probably not the only one who’s confused this with a handful of other games that start with the name “Dark.”

Darksiders is one of many games I’ve bought several years ago and only just now got around to. I got a free code from GameStop’s Impulse service many years ago, back when I had written about Stoneloops! of Jurassica. I never got around to it in 2012, but did end up with an extra code thanks to getting the Humble THQ Bundle, back before THQ got swallowed up by some German conglomerate and before Humble Bundle became Just Another Digital Storefront. Man, 2012 was a much different time. I eventually passed the Impulse copy to a friend since it came with a Steam key.

I played Darksiders through the more recent Warmastered Edition, which was given free to those who already owned the original, which was a nice thing on THQ Nordic’s part. Warmastered Edition is one of several times THQ Nordic gave punny subtitles to the names of their remasters of Xbox 360 and PS3-era titles. (SEE ALSO: Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition, Red Faction Guerrilla: Re-Mars-stered Edition, etc.)

I didn’t play the original, so I can’t do a compare-and-contrast, but if I had to guess, there’s likely some polished graphics and optimization improvements but otherwise is identical to the original release. Perhaps the remaster has bigger impact graphically on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, where they likely run smoother than the 360/PS3 original, but I can’t say.

Darksiders’ story is fairly simple: It involves the spirits of Heaven and Hell fighting for dominance and causing the end of days, which Our Hero, War of the Four Horsemen, trying to stop and make sense of this. Eventually he’s dragged near death, but bargains on one condition: To figure out who done this, with the goal to be freed.

So much detail for something barely seen this close.

I’m gonna be honest: Darksiders’ story is really, really dumb. It’s something a 7th grader would’ve wrote doodling on a notebook while listening to Avenged Sevenfold. The whole game is trying to be edgy and hardcore with its story, but it comes off as incredibly silly. It alludes to The Four Horsemen and uses elements of Greek mythology in bizarre ways. Hell, War broods so much that even Kratos from God of War would tell him to dial it back a bit.

Granted, I did not get this game for its deep, impactful story. I heard it was a good hack and slash game with some elements of The Legend of Zelda, and while I do come off as “the shooter guy,” I try to dabble in other genres so I don’t get burnt out as easily. So let’s dive in.

Time to wreak havoc on these fools.

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Rambo: The Video Game: Torque bow sold separately.

The Rambo series of films are an interesting timepiece. The first film, aptly titled First Blood, features Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam war veteran John Rambo being chased from some irate cops in a small Washington town, and is more of an action-driven thriller. However, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III are definitely action movies in the simplest sense, something that could really only be made in the Reagan-dominated 1980s.

They’re cheesy as all hell, and a little bit unsettling these days – especially the more recent entries, John Rambo and Rambo: Last Blood – but I can appreciate their relevance in pop culture all the same.

Over the years there’s been a handful of Rambo video games, mostly of average quality. One of the more well-known ones was Pack-in-Video’s Rambo game on the NES that was a knockoff of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and many of Sega’s games throughout the ’80s. After Rambo III, there weren’t any games featuring that M60-wielding muscle man, unlike similar action films like Robocop that got games years after the films were relevant. Cut to 2014, several years after the fourth film, and at a time when the franchise couldn’t be any less relevant, and somehow we got… this.

“I’m sorry they sent you to such a hellhole, John.”
“I’ve seen worse.”

Rambo: The Video Game is the most recent attempt to make the action movie series into a video game. With so many years between the last major Rambo game, you’d think we get a really solid adaptation of the film series, right? Wrong. Developer Teyon and publisher Reef Entertainment brought this out to critically negative reviews, from gamers and fans of the films alike.

So, what’s the genre they opted to go for? First-person shooter, right? Perhaps a third-person cover shooter? The answer to that is neither: It’s a light gun game. Considering Teyon’s pedigree – they made a majority of the Heavy Fire series of light gun games – it seems fitting, but also very limiting.

“Let’s commemorate this man by being glad the bastard’s gone, that’ll show him.”

So how does the game piece the story together? Well, our game begins with a cutscene of a military colonel talking about John Rambo at his funeral, retelling his stories of war, while satisfied the man’s dead.

This is amazingly inaccurate it hurts. Not only does Rambo live after the events of these films, it just comes off as incredibly comical and not at all powerful or emotional. I honestly thought this was a reference to a small scene in one of the films, but nope, this was made specifically for the game. I don’t know why they opted to tell the story this way, but it’s really really dumb.

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I Bought Stuff! 11/22/2019: Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2019 Edition (and more!)

Another year, another Portland Retro Gaming Expo. The con’s been getting bigger year after year, with it starting to significantly fill up the space given at the Oregon Convention Center. The consequence is there being a few things I didn’t see, a couple typos I saw on a few signs, and a bit of confusion of where everything was. At least them introducing a quiet room to recharge and relax was a godsend on one of the days.

I tagged along most of it with friend of the site and playing card aficionado Weasel, who now tweets about his daily decks of cards on Twitter. Hell, even in a goodwill gesture I had given him a deck of cards that had the wheel from Wheel of Fortune on the back that I had gotten from a game show convention many years back.

At this stage, I have most of what I want, and anything else available is a bit too much out of my price range. However, PRGE is more than just a bunch of vendors selling their wares. I saw some cool people, got to check out a panel or two, even played some classic video games.

I’m still proud I was able to crash Sonic the Hedgehog in a public place, the loud piercing note blaring through the convention hall.

This is probably the least I’ve spent at PRGE to date. Nothing over $5. Most of my purchases were on Sunday, which I always figured is the “fire sale” days since some of the booths are based outside of Portland and the less they have to take back with them, the better. It helped I also checked many stores in their bargain sections where the most forgotten games are there for a buck.

But there was also a general goal I was going for this year, which I’ll explain momentarily. So let’s get into it.


$2:

      • Call of Duty 2: Big Red One (Xbox)

      • SWAT: Global Strike Team (Xbox)

One thing I’ve been slowly doing is trying to get what is considered the “best” version of a certain game. When it comes to stuff from the early to mid 2000s, 9 times out of 10 that’s on the original Xbox. The Xbox versions of multiplatform games often looked nicer, ran smoother, and came with features not available on any other platform. So these cheapo purchases were the start of this game plan.

Big Red One is a game I got way way back on the PS2 around 2005-06, and it was a decent little title in the Call of Duty series. They basically tried to be more like Band of Brothers, though with it coming out the same year as Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, it came off as a mediocre copycat.

Big Red One is Treyarch’s debut to the Call of Duty franchise. Technically, it’s also Grey Matter’s last, as the studio would be dissolved and have members shifted over to Treyarch after both companies had games canceled on them by Activision in 2005 – Treyarch’s Dead Rush and Grey Matter’s Trinity: The Shatter Effect. Since the actual Call of Duty 2 was a PC and Xbox 360 exclusive, plus there still being lots of people with PS2s and Xboxes, Activision pushed development of this game out in less than a year. Treyarch would do that again with Call of Duty 3 the following year. While both of those are not god-tier games in the series, they’re not as awful as other installments.

SWAT: Global Strike Team was Sierra trying to make some of their dormant franchises relevant in the then-new console space. The game is a mix between a tactical shooter and a more traditional action game. It was made by Argonaut Software, the company best known for using Nintendo’s Super FX chip to bring us Starfox and Stunt Race FX. And a lot of licensed junk afterwards, which this came out around that time. It’s been mostly forgotten by everyone, but it’s probably a decent little time-waster.

Wreckless: The Yakuza Missions (Gamecube, $5)

This game is the most expensive game I’d paid for at the whole con. Which is saying something, really.

While my car combat game experience begins and ends at Twisted Metal, I had heard about this lesser-known gem from various websites and gamers, saying it was a fun, yet oddball kind of game. It’s the kind of game that doesn’t exist much these days except maybe as a Steam Early Access title.

It came to all three platforms – the Xbox got it first, followed by Gamecube and PS2 a year later – but I had heard that the GC version was the “best” version of the three, so I opted to grab that as opposed to the original Xbox version. This happens sometimes: Dead to Rights ended up getting a “balance” update when it got ported to the Gamecube and PS2 after the Xbox original was considered too tough by some.

Since the “best version” of a game is rarely on the Gamecube, this means my collection on that system will consist mostly of Nintendo first-party games and whatever exclusive games there are, barring some exceptions. Unless they were utilizing the hardware to its fullest, like Capcom’s Killer7 and Resident Evil 4, it was barely better than the PS2 version in some cases. It’s a shame, but Nintendo was basically the oft-forgotten middle child during the GC/PS2/Xbox era.

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