Category: Video games and pop culture

“Hey! Video games are cool right?! So let’s trying to make them “hip” and “cool” for these dudes! Cake is a Lie! LOL!”

When TV, Movies and other media want to cover video games in the worst way.

Homefront and its ugly product placement.

Over the years I’ve written about games, I end up writing about games from a certain genre, and that’s first-person shooters. It’s my genre of choice, with enjoyable action romps like Doom and Quake to more cinematic experiences like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Though for every Call of Duty, there’s a clunker of a single player experience, such as Homefront, which I replayed recently.

I tried to play this earlier this year, but then the US-Korean conflict was fresh in my mind and felt like in bad taste.
Christ, 2018 feels like it’s been ten years long.

Homefront is a game developed Kaos Studios, a development team consisting of people who made the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 way back when, were the ones working on this infamous game.Backed by THQ’s ambitious marketing campaign, the game had the chance to be something really, really interesting. Except it wasn’t.

Prior to Homefront, Kaos Studios only made one game: the middling Battlefield clone Frontlines: Fuel of War. After the lukewarm reception that game got, they soon were hard to work on a spiritual successor in Homefront. According to a retrospective over at Polygon, the game was meant to be strictly a multiplayer-only experience – which makes sense, considering the developer’s pedigree – but executive meddling caused a shift in marketing to add a traditional single player campaign, causing it to drown out the carefully crafted multiplayer they had made.

It’s hard to tell in this screenshot, but Connor here kept running in place, stuck on a rock.
I had to restart the checkpoint to fix it.

I decided to replay this, on PC this time – my previous experience was through the streaming OnLive service around 2012 or so – and it hasn’t gotten any better. If anything, it’s much worse than I remember.

All Ghillied Up this ain’t.

Homefront’s single player campaign checks off every single thing Call of Duty did, but somewhat worse: there’s a section where you kick open a door and shoot everybody in slow motion like in Modern Warfare 2, a portion of a stage where you’re picking off enemies as a sniper as you infiltrate an enemy camp ala “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4, even a section at the very end has you using a CUAV drone to pick off targets on the Golden Gate Bridge much like a section in Modern Warfare 2.

It feels like someone up top at THQ said to Kaos, “Hey! Remember that thing that Call of Duty did? Do that!” and did so without having a say in the matter. A shame, really.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to write about the game’s product placement.

This screenshot, from Remedy’s Alan Wake, features product placement from Energizer, slightly breaking the immersion.

Product placement in video games is a sticky kind of subject matter. I can’t think of any recent game that used it effectively short of sports games, and even there it can get pretty bad at times. Homefront is littered with advertisements for so many brands that taints the atmosphere of the game, taking place in a modest town in the middle of the United States. For being part of “the resistance,” you sure see a lot of product placement.

Kaos Studios’ lead level designer once talked about using brands in their game, and how they were allegedly rejected by several companies in doing so. Though it sounded like there’s only a brand or two in the entire game, there are many, many more brands than what they say here. It also looks pretty ironic considering in this interview they condemn Infinity Ward for making Burger Town, a fictitious brand in Modern Warfare 2.

As I played through Homefront’s campaign, I started documenting all the brands I saw. Now I don’t think I got every single bit of product placement here, there’s likely a few I missed because there’s shockingly so many of them. I’m ranking them from the least offensive to the most egregious in the entire game. It gets pretty ugly in spots, so strap in.

 

Homefront starts with a section where protagonist Robert Jacobs – a successful graduate of the “Gordon Freeman School of Character Development” – is shoved onto a bus ostensibly to be retrained as an enemy fighter pilot. That gets stopped short by the supporting allies of the resistance, Connor and Rianna. Though it does give a glimpse of a few Pabst Blue Ribbon banners strewn throughout the city before the bus is flipped over.

 

Not long after Jacobs escapes, they slip through a certain restaurant chain – more on that later – and walk past a Full Throttle vending machine. An energy drink brand by Monster, it’s one of two brands they own that are featured in this game, the other being NOS, which shows up a little later into Chapter 3. Oddly enough, Monster itself is a no-show here.

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Fall Out Boy meets Asphalt 8: This ain’t a crossover, it’s a god damn car race.

So I was playing Asphalt 8: Airborne, a fairly fun if grindy racing game, and suddenly this popped up on my screen.

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Is the title *supposed* to look that weird?

Asphalt 8 meets Fall Out Boy, meant to advertise their newest album? Now that’s a crossover I wasn’t expecting to see.

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Like this car? It’s cool, huh?

Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of Fall Out Boy. I know a few of their songs, but I always kept confusing them with My Chemical Romance and similar “emo rock” bands that permeated the landscape in the mid-2000s. From the songs I have heard from them, they seem to be an passably entertaining rock band, and I’m surprised they’re still going in 2018.

You’re probably wondering why this crossover exists. They’re a pop-rock band that hasn’t really mentioned being big racing game fans, so it seems like an ill fit, right? Well, Vivendi, the French mega-conglomerate, owns Island Records, which is Fall Out Boy’s label; as well as Gameloft, the developer behind Asphalt 8. So while it’s not completely random like, oh say, KISS Psycho Circus, it certainly doesn’t feel like a natural crossover.

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The event goes like this: You join a new racing league, the Fall Out Boy World Tour. In it, you must build enough hype to impress the staff and members of the band to win the championship and earn a brand new car, the BMW M2 “Special Edition,” which differs from the standard BMW M2 in game by having rear spoilers and a cool paint job. You’re given a whole week in real time to do this.

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This nerd deserves a swirly.

However, the fight will be tough as you’ll be facing stiff competition, including one from the “ultimate Fall Out Boy fan,” Adam Knowles. He’ll taunt you throughout, saying he has the best tuned-up vehicle and that you’ll never beat him. As you complete challenges and gain fans, you’ll eventually have to defeat multiple AI in head-to-head races to win the championship and the BMW M2.

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Some of the challenges get pretty tough as time goes on.

So how does this work? You gain fans by completing challenges in each race. Most of them are fairly simple challenges – beat the race in the target time, get first place, knockdown more cars than your opponent – others more difficult, such as requiring you to do 6 flat spins off a ramp or drift for 4,000 yards. Successfully pull off the challenge and you’ll earn fan points and build up hype. Hype increases the amount of fan points starting at 1 times the value, to 1.5 times the value, all the way up to 3x the normal value. Every normal race is 200 points, whereas the championship racers increase drastically in value as the story progresses.

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Guess this race was… DEAD! ON! ARRIVAL!

However, failure will kill fan hype, give fewer points, and end the streak. You can try again but you’ll be starting back at a 1x multiplier; or you can buy out and keep the streak at a fairly costly number of tokens, the game’s premium currency.

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Streaming passes, fans, hype… Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?

Oh, and you need “streaming passes” to broadcast these events (i.e.: race). You’re given three to start, a new one is given to you every 2 ½ hours if you have used one already, though you could buy extra passes with tokens if you were super-impatient.

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Lookat all the pretty boxes

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Suicide Squad: Special Ops: Another dang licensed game.

I’ve been writing a lot about various tie-in games over the past few years. Hollywood Hellfire, Expendabros, Duty Calls, that sort of stuff. A fair share of these are usually just stuff made in flash on a shoestring budget and will likely be forgotten unless people are smart to preserve these artifacts.

Sometimes, albeit rarely, these games actually have installers and can be played from a PC, which surprises me these days. That’s something from the old Shockwave days when you could play miniature games based on Nickelodeon movies and TV shows. (I gotta find those someday…) But this recent one, based on a big comic book movie, was one I wasn’t expecting.

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I have to give props to the blog “I’m Reloading” for bringing this to my attention. It’s one of my favorite blogs because reload animations are solely unappreciated in video games, and somebody’s gotta highlight them. They showed a recent animation to some Suicide Squad game, and they mentioned “It’s on PC.” Cue me scrambling right to the website to give it a download.

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Duty Calls: A silly Call of Duty parody.

The year is 2011. We’re nearing the final stretch of a console generation. We’re seeing awesome games made by awesome people. Here I was, browsing on Twitter like I usually do, until someone I followed retweeted this gem by one Clifford Bleszinski on Twitter one day:

https://twitter.com/therealcliffyb/status/32843951094370304

Naturally, being the curious guy I am, I checked out the website and found out there was a free game. I download the 700MB installer, not knowing what to expect.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Duty Calls: The Calm Before the Storm is a parody game that makes fun of the long-standing Call of Duty franchise. This is very apparent by the logo that makes fun of the old Call of Duty logo, to even that important disclaimer that Activision had nothing to do with it. Because the last thing we need are lawsuits.

Parodying games in other games is a fickle thing. Sometimes you can be right on point and make it funny, otherwise you end up just making half-baked references like “That’s one Doomed Space Marine” from Duke Nukem 3D did. So let’s see how they did with this parody, shall we?

Must be very boring for the army today...

Must be very boring for the army today…

Our adventure begins with an introductory cutscene learning about some secret base, complete with a Call of Duty-style talking about how war has changed, and yet war never changes. Reminded me of that Wizard song from Idle Thumbs. After that, our intrepid shooterguy drops in with an M4 assault rifle and a secret base to find by some random commander dude. So let’s jump into the fray and fight the big bad.

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Kiss Psycho Circus: Glam rock meets the paranormal.

I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I watched that Behind the Music episode they did once, at least. Besides that, all I know about them is they want to Rock and Roll All Nite and have a wonderful time, they made a bizarre ’70s live-action special, and then there was that period in the ’80s where they took off the makeup and were like every other hair metal band of the era. They have a couple good songs, at least.

Naturally, with how popular Kiss was, along with Gene Simmons’ shrewd business tactics, there has to be a video game about them. Enter Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child.

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

This is one of four different covers. I guess they hoped people would buy all four in a way to recuperate the development cost?

Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the Four-Who-Are-One (I wish I was making that up). The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.

Instead of playing as the band members, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band, who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” and your band are the chosen ones to stop them. Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder.

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

I hope you love mystical dialog that barely makes any sense!

After writing that paragraph, most of which I consulted the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story, I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth knowing. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting Half-Life levels of storytelling here.

Here's a goofy little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

Here’s a silly little easter egg: The statue is holding the logo of developer Third Law Interactive.

This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff, my brief search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever. So we’re looking at a small studio with not much notability, which is worrying.

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The Expendabros: The broest movie tie-in game… ever?

If there’s anything I like about video games, it’s when there’s video game tie-ins to movies or TV shows. Most of the time, they get a small developer to make a crappy $60 game on a shoestring budget that’s usually long forgotten. Other times, they’re just dinky games made in Flash as a brief tie-in to an upcoming movie, such as the “Hollywood Hellfire” tie-in for This is The End. Then there’s the times where they go all out and make full-fledged free games, like that multiplayer Half-Life mod made as a tie-in to Underworld. (made by the guys who did They Hunger, no less!) Thus, when I heard about this, I got legitimately excited:

The Expendabros is a genius idea: Take the goofy machoness of Devolver Digital and Free Lives’ Broforce and combine it with upcoming The Expendables 3 and you got this amazing movie tie-in. Expendabros is freely available on Steam, and doesn’t require a powerful PC to run.

Since I had yet to play Broforce, I was skeptical with this game. I’m not one for games with pixel art styles since they’re very overdone, but if it compliments the gameplay like in Hotline Miami, I can let it slide. Broforce is a mash of action platformers like Bionic Commando, with the violent action of Metal Slug and Contra. You have one life and three special items by default, with each “bro” having its own signature weapon and special. You get more lives by saving your bros in cages, and rescuing enough bros unlocks an additional bro character to play as.

The plot is a loose recreation of The Expendables 3: Broney Ross and his crew of Expendables has to stop Conrad Stonebanks from destroying the Expendables, who will destroy them by any means necessary. In the case of Broforce, Ross must shoot and explode his way through enemies while saving his bros, eventually finding the commander or boss of the level before making a dramatic explosive escape. As you go through the game’s ten levels, you fight more powerful enemies, and even ridiculous areas like rooms with saw blades and rocket turrets everywhere. Then there’s this guy:

I'm pretty sure Stonebanks doesn't have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but a man can dream.

I’m pretty sure Stonebanks doesn’t have an arsenal of mechs in The Expendables 3, but a man can dream.

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Pac-Man: The Card Game and Two Challenging Puzzles!

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Board games based on video games were once an interesting art form. People would take classic games like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda and try to adapt them to a board game format. Most of the time they really had to stretch what kind of game they could make out of the source material. Most of the video game board games were designed much like old games based on TV shows, movies, or even personalities like Dr. Ruth and Lucille Ball. Alas, that’s all disappeared in the modern age in exchange for reskins of Monopoly, Risk and Yahtzee with Pokemon or Metal Gear Solid slapped onto it. I blame USAopoly for homogenizing the licensed board games market.

Actual picture of a Monopoly section at a board game store in a mall. 90% of these looked the same, from the materials inside to the back of the box!

Actual picture I took of a Monopoly section at a board game store. 90% of these looked the same, from the materials inside to the back of the box!

Let’s go back to the past, and talk about a little pellet chomper named Pac-Man. Back when Buckner and Garcia were exclaiming they had Pac-Man Fever, and this beloved character was not being slapped into crappy cartoons written by ex-Tiny Toon Adventures writers, Pac-Man was super-popular in the United States. This was mostly in part because of Midway’s (Pac-Man‘s distributor at the time) very aggressive marketing. There were t-shirts, toys, electronic handheld games, and of course, board games.

I could cover the Pac-Man board game by Milton Bradley in 1980, but it’s been done to death. It played much like the arcade game, where multiple Pac-Men could gobble dots for points while being avoided by the ghosts. It’s like Hungry Hungry Hippos, but with a board and actual strategy attached to it. They also made a board game for Ms. Pac-Man, but replaced the power pellets with a die roll, and had only one player take control of Ms. Pac-Man, swapping control to another player when an enemy ghost captured her. Also, the easily losable marbles were replaced with much more sensible chips.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the Pac-Man board games, they’re simple conversions of the arcade game. But the Pac-Man game train didn’t stop there. Enter Pac-Man: The Card Game, and Pac-Man: TWO CHALLENGING PUZZLES!

These are such silly taglines.

These are such silly taglines.

Released around 1980-82, both of these were released to further capitalize on the Pac-Man gravy train. I snagged both of these many many years ago, back when I was using eBay like a madman and buying things left and right. I kinda miss those days, that’s where a fair share of my games collection came from, as well as other obscure stuff I own, like a Wheel of Fortune play-along TV handheld from the late ’80s.

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Video Games according to Life: A Civil War.

It’s time to the return of “Video Games According to TV/Movies.” After a several month long hiatus, we’re back with another one that hit the internet waves several years back. Previously, I looked at David Caruso chewing the scenery and giving us the most meme-worthy quotes as I checked out CSI: Miami‘s Urban Hellraisers episode. (You can check that out here.) As we bring the series out of moth balls, we look at another TV show that depicted video games in the silliest way possible.

This time, our suspect is Life, a short-lived police procedural that aired on NBC from 2007-09. Damian Lewis plays Charlie Crews, a former cop who was imprisoned for 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Now as a police detective, Crews must solve crimes while trying to solve the mystery of who actually caused the crime he was imprisoned for. It’s like Monk, but instead of an obsessive-compulsive man, we have an eccentric ex-con.

As opposed to Urban Hellraisers, which I watched without watching any prior episode of CSI: Miami, I actually did watch the pilot to understand the premise of Life.The acting is solid, Lewis does a fine job showing off Crews’ personality traits. Though, expect to see a lot of “haha technology has changed since he was in prison” jokes, where in the first episode, I saw him fumble with a cell phone and trying to understand how he’s answering phone calls from his new sweet-ass car.

But I’ve stalled enough. The episode in question is “A Civil War,” from the show’s first season. The episode starts with two Persian-American employees of a gas station killed and stored in a refrigerator, with “GO HOME” splashed on the windows in motor oil. Crews tries to find out who caused it, finding out it’s a hate crime by three perpetrators. Later on in the investigation, they find out there’s a third person, Amir Darvashi (Oren Dayan) who was kidnapped being held for ransom, and they ask for help from the gas station’s owner, Nina Myers Mary Ann Farmer (Sarah Clarke).

I'm sorry, but after watching so much 24, it's hard to see her as anything but a psychopath that might kill anybody at any moment, even in a show like this.

I’m sorry, but after watching so much 24, it’s hard to see her as anyone but a psychopath that might kill at any moment, even in a show like this.

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A look back at Xbox: The Next Generation Revealed.

The next Xbox has been revealed. It’s called the Xbox One, it’s heavy on fancy media features and Kinect stuff, and maybe plays games too. But let’s go back, shall we? Before the Xbox One, there was the Xbox 360. Eight years and one week ago, Microsoft along with MTV announced the unveiling of the 360 on TV, with Xbox: The Next Generation Revealed. Which later gets changed to Xbox 360 Revealed, but that title isn’t as catchy.

Our host for this evening is Elijah Wood, which you may know from some series of movies about Hobbits. Along with Wood, our co-host is MTV2’s Jim Scherer joining along in the festivities, being the primary interviewer for most of the special.

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Snoop Dogg’s video game hizzistory.

I found out recently that Snoop Dogg* has a new game out called Way of the Dogg. It looks to be a brawler featuring his likeness. This got me thinking about previous games that Snoop has been in. While it’s not a metric ton of games, it is more than the game history of other rappers like Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. So let’s check out Snoop’s history in video games, because why the hell not?

Note this may not be a complete list. I likely have left out a game or three, so if I did, let me know through the usual channels. That being said, let’s get started.

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