Hardcore Henry

Who needs plot when you have guns

Also known as Every Shooter Ever: the Movie.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

I don’t remember when I first came upon Hardcore Henry. I want to say 2012, but the first teaser I can find is from 2014. Regardless, I remember this scene quite clearly, and was very interested in the first person perspective. Back then, it was titled Hardcore; the “Henry” wasn’t added until the movie’s first full-length trailer.

Anyway, Hardcore Henry is a fresh take on the action movie genre. There’s quite honestly very little in the way of drama or dialogue or any of that boring character development stuff; Henry has blood on his hands (literally) pretty much in the first ten minutes, and it stays there until the credits roll.

More than that, though, is the first person perspective. Those who know me know that I’m primarily a shooter player; I usually put about fifty hours into the annual Call of Duty and a smattering of other titles here and there. As a result, Hardcore Henry‘s unique camera angle intrigued me. After the film came out, I remember dismissing reviews saying how the first person camera was confusing and nauseating; after all, I assumed that these reviewers simply never played a shooter.

I quickly realized that the reviewers were right, though. One thing that a lot of gamers (myself included) take for granted is view stabilization. Our brains automatically stabilize our views when running (or moving at all), and game developers replicate that in-engine. However, strapping a GoPro to a bobbing head means that the camera picks up everything, including the aforementioned view bobbing. Of course, when the actor is running this is further exacerbated, and at full sprint it becomes hard to see anything at all. I like to think I play a lot of FPS games, and yet the view bob was almost too much for me, often devolving into random streaks of color intertwined with bloody squishes and gunshots.

That being said, the movie was still a fun watch. The characters may have been boring and the view a little hard to handle at times, but the near-constant flow of gore, action, and slapstick comedy made the journey enjoyable nonetheless (quite memorable is the wrong drawer scene in the strip club). I particularly liked the music usage, especially with the random Magnificent Seven soundtrack and the last killing spree set to “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

Hardcore Henry isn’t for everyone. It’s gory, it’s bloody, it’s ridiculous, and it could legitimately incite motion sickness. But for those that can handle it, it’s an enjoyable mess of fighting and action, with few things as mundane as plot or writing or romance. Gamers will appreciate the references and elements taken from shooters, and even non-gamers who like a gory mess will still find fun.

War Thunder

Victory is ours.

With my praising of single player experiences and my emphasis on story, it’s perhaps a surprise that I enjoy this game so much.

War Thunder is a free MMO combat game (or at least, it’s free for PC) that features tanks and planes from various countries. They’re supposed to be implementing sea battles in the near future, and I think there was some talk about infantry (though that seems more like a conjecture than anything else). It’s also the source of what I find to be one of the best video game trailers of all time (second version).

Now the reason I write about War Thunder is simply because it’s eating up a lot of my time. I had wanted to be diving deeper into the science of video gaming as a whole, especially in music, but unfortunately that does not seem to be plausible until my semester closes, mainly because I only have attention for about an hour of so at a time. War Thunder, then, is perfect for these quick bits of time, because battles rarely last more than fifteen minutes or so, regularly going under ten if all of my units are knocked out before the mission ends.

Anyway, what I enjoy about War Thunder is its fairly unique gameplay perspective. It’s certainly neither the first nor the only vehicular combat game; Halo has had its Scorpions since the first title and World of Tanks could be considered War Thunder‘s rival. I’m also not really the right person to comment on these types of games because as far as I know, War Thunder is the only game of this type I play.

Regardless, War Thunder is fun to me, and that’s why I’m writing about it today. I enjoy the sensation of starting on even ground, where territory is lost or gained by giant behemoths of steel and gunpowder. I enjoy the vaguely historic vehicles, able to track certain real developments between generations of tanks (I’m mostly a tanker in-game). I enjoy the satisfaction of one-shotting a hostile tank, or being able to become a wall for my allies as all the enemies focus fire on me. All aspects of the gameplay mechanics appeal to me, as do a lot of the aesthetic choices.

Unfortunately, as a free-to-play game, War Thunder needs to make its money through in-game transactions. New vehicles are unlocked through research points, gained as you play through more battles. Granted, the premium vehicles are more unique than they are better, but there’s also the opportunity to boost research, repairs, etc. Of course, to keep people interested in buying these boosts, research requirements have to be absurd. A Tier I tank, for example, may cost 4000 research points, but a Tier IV may cost 100,000.

Moreover, I’m talking within the same country. War Thunder features the major sides of the Second World War (I believe Italy will be coming soon), which means that there are actually four different ways (in tanking) to go. Because it already takes forever to grind for the higher tiers, that effectively means once you choose a country’s vehicles it becomes hard to start another, particularly if you want to play with friends (the game matchmakes your squad based on the squad’s highest battle rating). This still doesn’t help even if you’re playing solo, because you still have to start over in order to reach those higher tiers.

Some people find this system to be overly grind-y. I’m not in disagreement, but at the same time I don’t particularly mind the slog through battle after battle just to unlock a single tank. The game provides enough gratification for me to keep my attention; in the last two or three weeks I’ve already logged over 40 hours. Since my friends prefer tanks most of those 40 hours have been put into Russian ground units, though I’ve done a fair amount of Japanese planes and started Tier I British tanks.

At any rate, I can see the complaints lodged against Gaijin, but the game’s so fun I really don’t mind sitting through it.

Aldnoah.Zero

Mars Aeternum. …wait…

I promise, I’ll get back to gaming.

I watched Aldnoah.Zero because there was a shitpost of the first episode. Then I read through the premise and thought what the hell, it looks cool, so I watched it.

*Spoilers ahead*

One of the things that the West tends to stereotype anime (and Japan in general) with is giant mechs. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of mech fighting for whatever reason, but I decided to give Aldnoah a shot.

Anyway, its premise is fairly simple. Humans have settled on Mars, discovering an ancient technology called Aldnoah. They break off and form the Vers Empire, and try to conquer Earth (Mars Aeternum, anyone?. In giant mechs powered by said Aldnoah. It’s pretty cut and dried; not much to it.

Now I did enjoy watching this series. I’ve been playing a lot of War Thunder lately (41 hours in two weeks…send help ;-;), and so I’ve become fairly interested in heavy armor. I enjoyed watching how protagonist Kaizuka Inaho’s personal mech (a trainer as opposed to a standard issue, in classic “unique character” tropes) grew and adapted to suit the different situations; they even helpfully call his loadout in the last episode the “final showdown loadout”. I liked watching Inaho defeat the technologically superior Martian mechs with careful analysis and precise execution, and felt deep satisfaction when this ability was compounded by the cybernetic eye he receives in the second season.

Its writing is also fairly compelling, if a little outlandish at times. One of the main points that Aldnoah drives home is Earth’s severe militaristic disadvantages. The series opens with landing castles essentially acting as drop pods from outside the atmosphere; each landing castle lands with the energy of what is effective a nuclear bomb. Moreover, the power that each Martian mech receives from Aldnoah makes it nigh impossible for anyone (except Inaho, because smartness. And plot armor) to engage the Martians without suffering catastrophic losses. By the sixth or seventh time “most” of the Terran units are killed before the Martian is defeated, you go from wondering if there really is any risk at all to the Martian battle plan to wondering if there’s any risk at all Earth.

Which, apparently, there isn’t. At least, not as much as the first season would have you think. When the second season starts, you’re led to believe that the war had been ongoing for nineteen months. That’s to say, somehow the Martians have either managed to be held back by the Terrans or have been holding themselves back for the entirety of nineteen months. The Earth’s surface doesn’t even really look all that tarnished at this point. Moreover, the second season appears to spend far less time on the more fine points of storytelling; none of the supporting characters are really fleshed out further than they were in season 1 and I’m not entirely sure what the Martians’ ultimate motives are.

Whatever, though. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a less important point when you’re really just here for the mech fights. That being said, this series may have been made by the deuteragonist/antagonist.

Slaine Troyard. What a tragic character. As his story is slowly revealed and expanded over the course of the series, you end up feeling more and more sorry for him. In fact, you soon realize that the giant mechs are almost given a backseat to his fall from grace, particularly during the second season. Even as he becomes the antagonist, by the end of the series his hopes and spirit are so broken it becomes almost impossible to hate him. Personally, among the two arcs of Inaho’s rise and Slaine’s fall, I found Slaine’s story to be more compelling.

One of my friends mentioned to me that he tends to be wary around A-1 productions because they don’t really deal with endings that well. I’ve noticed the same in Gate, but since I’m fairly new to anime as a whole I can’t really comment on that. The only other A-1 series I’ve watched is Valkyria Chronicles, and I found that ending to be satisfying and conclusive. At any rate, Aldnoah.Zero was an enjoyable watch. It’s one to turn to more for action and giant mech battles that don’t always turn out the logical way than it is for a deep, meaningful experience, but sometimes that’s all you need.

Battlefield 1: first impressions

The grim beauty of combat

*Minor spoilers ahead.*

Now this is what Battlefield is.

Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, you’ve probably heard of DICE’s ambitious WWI project. It’s a step away from their previous shooters (BF4HardlineStar Wars: Battlefront, etc.), in more than one way. Personally, in my (currently) brief experience, I find it to be a step in the right direction.

First, some background. I’m fairly new to the series, especially compared to some real longtime fans. My first BF game was Battlefield 3 on Xbox 360, and late in its lifespan (if I recall correctly, I bought it after Halo 4 and Black Ops II had come out). I never became quite good at the game; that happened after Battlefield 4 was released, but what Battlefield 3 afforded me was my first glimpse into what a shooter could be. The campaign was forgettable; I can barely remember scenes, let alone the full story (something about a nuke, and shooting your CO, and this really annoying jet segment), but what really struck me (as it probably did most people) was the multiplayer. Earlier, in my KSotR soundtrack analysis, I make a brief comparison and contrast of presented stories and created stories (I distinguish them as “personally driven” and “story-driven”), saying how some games are more conducive to a personally crafted story while others are better suited being presented in a similar way to other media. Battlefield 3, then, with its lackluster campaign and spectacular multiplayer, is a personally driven game, for the most part. If you’ve played any sort of multiplayer game, you’ve got some created stories. For example, I had my first Call of Duty flawless victory in Black Ops II; when one of my opponents left the game in Rocket League, the remaining players had a dance battle; I still accidentally jump off the stage in Worms when I’m trying to use my weapon (and vice versa).

The point is, Battlefield is a personally driven series. More specifically, though, it tries to nudge you in the direction of creating stories with a squad. If you’re playing alone and don’t know anyone in your squad, then perhaps this doesn’t mean much. But if you’re playing with friends and the five (or however many) of you try to optimize your loadouts (or just have everyone run snipers), you get a completely different experience. Maybe you’re screaming at each other because there’s an ATV in one of Shanghai’s skyscrapers. Maybe the five of you manage to clear out and hold an objective. Maybe you just died because your buddy’s a terrible pilot. Whatever the case, Battlefield tries to make a point that the game is about a squad. A central mechanic in Battlefield 4‘s campaign was the ability to give orders to said squad, although personally I didn’t find it to be anything groundbreaking.

At any rate, this is where Battlefield 1 nails it on the head. The campaign is quite possibly the best I have ever seen in the series. Granted, I also played Hardline and 4, so that’s not really a high bar (I have BC2 in my backlog), but it really emphasizes the small squad dynamic that I so enjoy (examples: XCOMFire EmblemValkyria Chronicles). Instead of taking a gritty, Hollywood-esque stance on combat that it had in the last three titles, it puts you on the front lines with your brothers-in-arms, holding back wave after wave of enemies in helpless situations. Furthermore, it dropped the military epic style of storytelling for small, isolated tales with a single character in a single squad, allowing us as the viewers to get just small glimpses into the horrors of war.

That alone would have put it in my good books for a level of immersion, but this is DICE. Despite the (deserved) flak that they and EA receive for incomplete games, terrible price models, and awful customer service, DICE has always been on the forefront of pushing limits in hardware capabilities. The engine is utterly gorgeous. Never mind the general beauty of the Frostbite engine; I’m talking about specifics. The mud on the guns, the battle damage from tank shells, the foxholes created by explosions…

And the sound. My goodness, the sound. In one stealthy segment in the campaign, I crawled belly-down through mud and ferns. I could hear the foliage rustling against Edwards’ clothes, his labored breathing, and – with a surprising attention to detail – the muffled strike of my MP 18 against the dirt. That last one so (pleasantly) surprised me that I spent a few seconds just crawling around listening to it. Forget explosions and gunshots; these small details are what make a good game great. Not to mention the music. I could go on forever about the music, but let’s just say that the move to a dramatic, tense, orchestra was a good one.

I’m nowhere near done with Battlefield 1. I’ve only played five or six hours of multiplayer (though I put in something close to 20 or 30 for the beta), and I’ve only completed “Through Mud and Blood.” But DICE has managed to steal the first person shooter spotlight for 2016, and I’m excited to explore this game to its fullest.

Gate

All hail Rory Mercury

This site may be called “The Ranting Gamer”, but that doesn’t mean I have to do only gaming things, right?

Gate is one of the first somewhat less-than-mainstream anime I’ve watched – that is, an anime that hasn’t quite diffused into general awareness (like Pokémon or Dragon Ball or One-Punch Man); by some of my friends’ definitions, that makes it one of the first “proper” anime I’ve seen. For those unfamiliar with the series, Gate is about a gate opening in modern-day Ginza that leads to another world filled with early medieval-era and fantasy-like technology, magic, and creatures. The allied armies of this world launch an unprovoked attack on the Japanese, and so Japan counters by sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces through the gate. The entirety of the series is about the technologically superior JSDF exploring the new world.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

Now, there are a number of things I really liked about this series. I do enjoy A-1 Pictures’ style, having first experienced it in Valkyria Chronicles. I’m not the most knowledgeable about anime in general (I really only started watching last year), so I can’t make comparisons with any other studios, but there’s just something about the way A-1 does its soldiers and military technologies that really appeals to me.

Of course, the premise has to be promising, and Gate pretty much has that on point. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked the question of what would happen if you took modern technology against an ancient army (I recall one genius coming up with bringing an AA-12 and a Sit ‘n Spin) , and Gate makes all of my testosterone-filled childhood dreams come true. The Battle of Italica, in particular, was some spectacle – especially with the 4th Combat Unit and their use of Die Walküre as a reference to Apocalypse Now. No matter how silly things became, no matter how dumb the medieval troops appeared to be in charging men with automatic rifles, I thoroughly enjoyed watching JSDF kick ass.

The series also handles character development fairly well; or at least, it does for characters that actually receive development. In particular, I noticed how as the show went on we started seeing through Itami’s carefree and slacker nature, and how underneath his exterior he’s actually willing to put others ahead of his own well-being. Furthermore, the characters themselves are likable. Each has their own unique quirk or tendency that defines them, and each brings something unique to the table. Granted, many in the main ensemble of characters (the 3rd Special Recon Team and most of the other-world party members) remain fairly stagnant in terms of how we as an audience perceive them, but at least they aren’t boring.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my personal good points stop. As much as I enjoyed watching the show and watching what was essentially the best kind of RPG in an anime form, I had to acknowledge all of Gate‘s silly points.

For Gate really is silly. I’m not entirely sure whether one would praise its relaxed view on combat and its almost parodying of the age-old idea of disparate forces, or if one would criticize the blatant disadvantage of the home forces and the lack of tension introduced. I don’t understand why the soldiers of the Empire kept insisting on fighting the SDF; as far as I can tell, there were a grand total of three Japanese casualties (not counting the three kidnapped before the occupation), only one of whom was wounded in combat with the Empire. There’s a certain limit to how much one can watch a single soldier open up on a large group of unfortunate, unsuspecting plate-armored troops before you start wondering whether all of these battles are just eye candy (in most cases, that’s pretty much what they are. Not that I’m complaining, though, honestly). There’s also the question of whether it’s glorifying the JSDF too much, but I don’t think that’s really important. After all, how often do we lionize American special forces in movies and video games?

We also have many, many plot points that really need to be explained or closed. For example, what happens when the gate closes again? What was the emperor’s real plan? Why are the natives okay with having an occupying force on their lands? There’s a lot about this series that makes no sense. Perhaps such discrepancies are discussed in the manga or the novels, but the anime leaves many questions opened.

For all of its flaws, though, Gate is still an enjoyable experience, especially if you realize that its initial seriousness very quickly gives way to comedic and humorous moments. I think it’s important that you don’t try to consider it as a gritty, desperate depiction of combat, despite what the marketing media wants you to believe. It’s essentially just like a teenage boy’s fantasies of guns versus swords with elf girls and magic thrown into the mix – without gravity and just for fun.