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Terrorist Takedown: More like Stereotype Shooter.

(content warning: Depictions of violence and war within.)

In 2021, it was announced that the previously canceled game Six Days in Fallujah was being brought back. With some of the original development team handling development, it naturally got a lot of backlash now just as it did back in 2009: by glorifying a specific military conflict as a good thing, and feeding into middle eastern stereotypes of them being nothing but terrorists. So much so that the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) asked for major publishers to drop support for the game. It will likely come out to poor reception, if it actually comes out this time.

A promotional screenshot from the original 2009 version of Six Days in Fallujah. Sure looks generic until you find out the game’s backstory.

Seeing this made me think a lot about the glut of military games made in a post-9/11 world. While war games existed before that tragedy – Novalogic’s Delta Force franchise was modestly popular around the late 1990s – they ballooned to being rather ubiquitous once the War on Terror started. We got games like SOCOM, Conflict, lots of Tom Clancy stuff, even Battlefield dipped its toes into modern warfare. There were so many that actual US military organizations started getting involved, with games like as America’s Army and PRISM: Guard Shield. Nowadays, the only franchise from that period still around making similar war games is Call of Duty, but that might be considered a stretch by some.

Why all this preamble? It’s so I can talk about one of those games made by a budget label that cashed in on the War on Terror, and is a bad game, not just on a technical level, but a moral one as well. One game I’ve had for several years, going back to 2013, and this has lately been a year of looking back, so let’s travel to 2003 and look at one of the more bad games.

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Yeah, this cover looks incredibly generic alright.

Terrorist Takedown is the first installment in a franchise made to capitalize on the war on terror. Developed by Polish developer City Interactive, this would be one of their early breakout hits. Nowadays they’re known as simply CI Games, but their overall message has been consistent: Make games based on war conflicts old and new, and sell them in bargain bins everywhere. For Terrorist Takedown however, City Interactive didn’t have much of a presence outside of Europe, so another budget publisher, Merscom, handled the release here in the United States. Merscom even touted that some of the profits of the game would be donated to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which I think is a conflict considering this game’s premise.

Probably the blandest menu screen I’ve ever seen.

There is no story to Terrorist Takedown. You play a bunch of no-name, faceless soldiers as you’re sent from one conflict zone to the next, taking down terrorists left and right by any means necessary. The “Terrorists” in this case are generic middle-eastern soldiers presumably meant to stand in for Al-Qaeda insurgents, but it’s kinda hard to tell in this game.

Charlie Don’t Surf this ain’t.

The missions themselves are rather varied: The first mission has you in a helicopter gunship mowing down anti-air emplacements and random soldiers. The second mission has you protect a convoy from enemy soldiers and RPGs. Each mission is similar in structure: Survive a conflict of terrorists while protecting objectives and not dying. At least it spices things up a bit, from using machine gun turrets to flying a helicopter, to controlling a targeting reticle on a surface-to-air-missile.

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Candy Crush: From mobile game phenomenon to short-lived game show.

As someone who loves the world of game shows, I’m honestly amazed that there haven’t been many game shows based on video games. We have game shows based on board games – Monopoly, Scrabble, Scattergories, stuff like that. We had game shows that used a bunch of video games as its base like Starcade and Nick Arcade (ugh). But rarely one adapted from a single video game.

There’s only been one other attempt to make a video game into a game show, and that was the rather short-lived adaptation of You Don’t Know Jack way back in 2000. Cut to 2017, where a major television network greenlit a game show based on a video game property that, while still big, was well past its prime. And it floundered for nine weeks in primetime.

No “saga”s to be found here.

For a brief period in the summer of 2017, CBS aired a game show based on the hit mobile game franchise Candy Crush Saga. Called simply Candy Crush, it definitely fulfilled my curiosity of “what would a game show based on a popular mobile game be like?” But does it actually work as a game show? Judging by how short-lived it was, the answer is “probably not.” Despite that, I’m still curious about it. I’d seen an episode before when it was still new, but I needed to refresh my memory on whether or not it was any good, or if it deserved to be sent to the trash.

Since this game show is based on a hit mobile game, naturally I had to play a bit of the game show’s inspiration first.

A sample Candy Crush Saga game in action.

Candy Crush Saga, the first in a long-running franchise by King Games, has a fairly simple premise: Using a board of various pieces of candy, one must try to match three of the same kind of piece by swapping two pieces connected to each other. Every level has a goal: hit a score threshold, eliminate a specific number of pieces, etc. Failure to do the challenge gives you the option of either spending gold bars – the game’s premium currency – to get extra turns, or losing a life and starting the level over. Each level introduces new hurdles to the gameplay, and there’s really no end goal, the levels keep going until you get bored or bother to complete them all, of which there’s over 1,000 levels worth.

I’m familiar with match-3 puzzle games – Bejeweled was played many a time in my high school years – but the sickly sweet style of Candy Crush Saga was a bit off-putting to me. It doesn’t help that a lot of the time the game often played itself, where I’d make one move and suddenly set off massive chain reactions for big points. But I understand the game’s addictive appeal, including how friends talked about the progress they made back in the day.

Hearing some guy go “Tasty” when I do big combos is rather offputting, combined with the ’70s looking font being used everywhere.

Fun fact: Until this article, I had never actually played any of the games in the Candy Crush series. Mobile and Facebook games are not something I dabble in too much these days – save for the occasional blog post like the most recent post about Bingo Story’s cross-promotion with The Price Is Right – but I figured it would be wise for me to finally get in on the game just for a better frame of reference on what the show was about. It was alright, but I stopped at around level 147 due to the game constantly losing connection and making it difficult to make progress. I wonder how far my friends ever got.

But enough about Candy Crush the video game. How the ever loving heck do you make a game show out of it? Let’s find out.

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I mean, you’re certainly not getting someone like Todd Newton to host your big money game show.

This show was hosted by actor/TV personality Mario Lopez. Getting a somewhat-notable TV personality to host your game show is the expected for game shows in the modern age, and does surprisingly well despite not having a lot to do. Naturally, there’s a bit of post-production voiceover in spots, but otherwise he seems nice, friendly, and genuinely wanting to be there. He gets a B+ in my book.

Shockingly, this is not Mario’s first foray into game shows, as he hosted the second season of the oft-forgotten, yet fascinating Masters of the Maze in the mid-1990s. Now that’s an interesting kids game show that nobody really remembers.

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Bingo Story presents The Price Is Right: Stuck in Contestants’ Row.

I’ve been struggling to find motivation to play new games lately. I’ve gotten a bunch of games thanks to them being on deep discount, but then I don’t play them and just default to playing Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War instead. However, I did finish Battleborn before its shutdown for a recent blog post, and I did finish Wolfenstein: Youngblood with friend of the site Bobinator from Hardcore Gaming 101 less than a few weeks ago. But trying something new is a bit harder for me lately, more so than normal. This is due to motivation and several outside factors.

Yet during this time, I somehow got roped into playing a free-to-play mobile game for the first time in probably years. Only because it had a game show themed event to it. And anything that combines game shows with video games just piques my interest instantly, so I couldn’t resist trying it.

Well, I will say that developer Clipwire Games clearly didn’t half-ass this art wise.

Starting in February, the free-to-play mobile game Bingo Story got probably one of the most unexpected crossovers yet: A two month long event featuring the popular game show The Price Is Right – one of my favorites, whether we’re talking about the current version, or classic 1980s episodes thanks to The Price Is Right: The Barker Era on Pluto TV – with one of the more unusual crossovers I’ve seen yet. And I played Cookie Jam, a Candy Crush clone that had cross-promotion with Wheel of Fortune late last year for a blog post that didn’t go anywhere.

I don’t think I really need to explain bingo, but it is a fairly simple game: Balls numbered 1-75 will be called one at a time and your job will be to mark the balls called on your card and eventually get a bingo – often times just five across in any direction horizontally, vertically or diagonally; getting the corners of a card, or covering the entire board – a blackout. First to do so wins and gets a prize. At least this is how it is in the United States, it may vary in other countries.

It’s mostly associated as something usually elderly people play, but it is a game that’s somewhat entertaining for all ages if you wanted to play something simple for a little bit. It was definitely something my mother’s family were into, as I was roped into bingo halls many a time while vacationing in Seattle.

While I can’t say I’m a bingo fan, I am fascinated by things related to bingo, including game shows like Lingo, and video games that use bingo elements such as Slingo. So wanting to capitalize on the bizarre nature of this event, naturally I had to try this.

Yeah, this feels like a modern mobile game alright.

I was wondering how the heck Bingo Story was going to incorporate one of the longest-running daytime game shows into a bingo mold, and the answer seems to be “put in the most basic of effort while also doing some relative deep cuts.” Let’s Come On Down and see what’s the next item up for bids, shall we?

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A normal session of Bingo Story in action. Hope this isn’t too convoluted.

Bingo Story plays differently compared to conventional bingo: You’re playing by yourself, and you’re given 30 balls to daub on your marker to make as many bingos as you can. After marking a few numbers on the card, you can activate a powerup that vary from auto-daubing random numbers on your card, to doubling your overall score, to other event-related items. Once all 30 balls have been called, you have the opportunity to stop and take your final score, or spend bingo tokens to call 5 more balls, repeating until you run out of tokens or blackout both cards.

Once done, your score is added to a leaderboard where you can get rewards at the end of the event – usually lasting no more than a few days – where you’ll get rewards like more powerups, various amounts of currency, stuff like that. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ironically, despite being called Bingo Story, there is no story mode to this game whatsoever, the “Story” refers to the game’s motif of using storybook characters to prop up the game’s style. Admittedly I was disappointed finding this out at first, but I learned to get used to the fairy tale motif the game normally has.

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Covering the end of Battleborn: A MOBA with an identity crisis.

I never thought I’d be starting 2021 with an article about a game that’s shutting down. While I’m often behind the curve and don’t play games until years after the fact – some of last year’s posts being about games that are 5-10 years old – this particular game is one of the rare times I was at least fairly current with.

When I’m reminded that a game that I paid money for is shutting down, I might as well give it one last hurrah. It’s a shame the game in question is a bizarre genre mashup, made by one of the more infamous game studios of the 2010s.

If only the game looked nearly as cool as this introductory cutscene.

We’re talking about Battleborn, a game by developer Gearbox Software. At the time, Gearbox was mostly known as the makers of the fairly popular Borderlands series of first-person Diablo-like looter shooters. Battleborn would end up being their first original franchise made by them in the 2010s.

This bundle was released around July of 2016, not long after the game’s release. Being part of the $15 tier, the highest one, was already a warning sign.

My experience with this game was getting this in a Humble Bundle. To be specific, the “Humble 2K Bundle 2,” a collection of games published by 2K, such as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, NBA 2K16, Mafia II and Duke Nukem Forever. Battleborn was unlocked at the $15 or more tier — the highest tier, and a few friends of mine decided to chip in that $15 and give the game a try.

We eventually tried a bit of the game’s campaign mode, then we all dropped the game and moved on to other things. For me, I had forgotten about the game’s existence, even as recent as 2019 when I wrote about a Loot Crate featuring the infamous “Thanos Oven Mitt,” which featured a Battleborn pin as part of that month’s theme. The game just faded away into obscurity.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be writing about the game had the news not broke in 2020 that 2K was shutting the game down on January 31, 2021. In early 2020, they had already shut off purchases for premium currency in the game, and the announcement of the game servers shutting down seemed to feign as much interest as the game did when it was released.

So let’s take a look at the game touted as being “badass,” when in reality it was just bad and ass.

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A lot of action going on at once. Hope you can follow along.

Battleborn is a rather unusual game. It’s a first-person MOBA — think League of Legends or DOTA2 — with some elements of real time strategy and tower defense. 

The gameplay mostly involves killing enemy minion bots and protecting your own minion bots to destroy an enemy sentry drone. Throughout your journey, you’ll kill said enemy minion bots that’ll drop shards which you can use to build turrets or drones, or to upgrade gear to give you and your squad buffs. Defeating enough minions or other players will give you the chance to level up your character with passive buffs for your character’s abilities. Kill enemies without yourself getting killed. Fairly commonplace stuff for the MOBA genre.

These cutscenes really feel like concept art repurposed for the final game.

There is a story mode, split between eight episodes that last about 40-60 minutes apiece, which consist of a bunch of rag-tag soldiers trying to stop an evil villain from destroying a planet for materials. Or something like that, the plot is mostly doled out through an introductory cutscene before the episode starts, and a lot of the plot is told throughout the game, but I couldn’t really tell you what happens in it. All I know that there are multiple enemy types and a few warring factions, which probably remind me a lot of different factions from other games like Destiny 2 or Halo.

The MOBA elements still come in play in the story mode, as you can select a character, upgrade their abilities upon leveling up, and even purchasing a set of gear items with shards that can buff certain character and team abilities. Even the story missions are designed similar to the standard multiplayer, where players are basically defending minions or a boss to get to an objective while killing enemies throughout. 

Players share lives and accumulate points through random crates strewn around the game world, and the points seem to really only matter in giving experience for your character and your overall rank in the mission. Exclusive to the story missions are power-ups you can pick up that can lower your ability cooldowns, boost your overall speed and give you extra shields.

A bit of the “Meltdown” mode in action. Naturally played with bots since finding matches these days is impossible.

Since it’s a MOBA, the game has a versus mode that plays more like traditional MOBAs: Squads of five shepherding minions through enemy areas to destroy sentries, while trying to protect their own. There’s not a whole lot else to say about this, it’s no different than other games in the genre, but it has more of a shooter/slasher bend like Smite.

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Cybermania ’94: An extremely ’90s video game awards show.

It’s that time of the year again. The Game Awards, an awards show that’s ostensibly about giving awards to the biggest games of the year, has come and gone. A continuation of the Spike Video Game Awards from years past, The Game Awards is peppered with occasional celebrity guest talent and reveals for hot new games. It’s more of a spectacle than an actual awards show.

I really don’t enjoy watching these shows. Especially during the Spike era, which was peak “dudebro TV” where one year they literally had models body painted to look like the games being awarded. I wrote about some of the more “notable” moments of the awards show back in 2012 – updated in 2019 – that you can read about here if you wanna see how I felt about them, and how I feel about The Game Awards now.

So instead, I’m gonna head back into the past. To look into the days when video games were just considered a technical marvel and not quite a billion-dollar industry done to shill sneak previews like it’s a mini-E3. An awards show that was only attempted once, yet is quite the embodiment of the 1990s: Cybermania ‘94.

Yep, this is totally ’90s as hell alright. I mean, when you get pop artist Peter Max to do it, what do you expect?

Airing on TBS in late 1994 (natch) and filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood, this award show was the prototype to the future Spike VGAs and Game Awards. In 1994, video games were starting to gain more traction in the United States, especially in the era of 3D graphics and full motion video. The show was made during the peak of the multimedia trend of the mid 1990s, and it shows throughout the whole event.

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It’s like they went “who are the two most affordable and oddball actors we can afford here?”

Our hosts for this event are actors Leslie Nielsen and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. A rather bizarre combo to be sure, which was probably bolstered primarily by the difference of age between the two actors. Both of them were still fairly popular – Nielsen had recently starred in The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and JTT was on one of the biggest sitcoms of the ‘90s, Home Improvement – but the two couldn’t be a worse fit. Nielsen’s age means he’s clumsily talking about future technology as if he’s impersonating Phil Donahue like in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, and Taylor Thomas has the problem of just being awkward and inexperienced next to Nielsen. Granted, it’s probably better than the later game awards where we got David Spade or Joel McHale, but not by much.

Can this style make a comeback, please?

We start Cybermania ‘94 with The Gate to the Mind’s Eye, the third in a series of computer-generated videos that were fairly popular in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Afterwards, the show starts in earnest with Nielsen and Taylor Thomas standing in front of a computer as a Hillary Clinton impersonator tries to turn it on, Nielsen realizing it’s not plugged in, plugging in the power and having the computer explode in front of the “first lady of the United States,” giving her a cartoonish explosive face before walking offstage. This introductory segment is a strong indicator of what the show is going to offer.

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