Final Fantasy Origin (demo)

Censorship in videogames: the Manhunt 2 case

Once there was a little videogame by Rockstar called Manhunt 2, which entered its development stage in 2004. In 2007 this game was submitted to two of the most important rating boards for games, the ESRB (USA) and the BBFC (UK), and both of them refused to give them a certain rating which is the maximum rating allowed for a game to be released in a home console. In the case of the ESRB, the rating given was an Adults Only (AO). In order to release the game on the Wii or the PSP they would have needed up to a Mature rating (M). So Rockstar was forced to modify the game to submit it again. In the USA was accepted after this, in the UK it was a bit more difficult, as the modified version was rejected again. Finally, it was released with a delay of nearly a year because of this issue and the version you can find all over Europe is imported from the UK. I haven’t found information about what happened about the submission to PEGI and I bet Rockstar didn’t even want to try with the Australian ratings board! But anyway, this is enough background information.

I was in Norway when I bought the imported version of Manhunt 2 and my impression was “interesting”, it was a stunning, shocking videogame. I’m sure all the controversies, scandals and the ratings issues just raised the hype and the game didn’t let me down in this respect. You just escape an asylum (just like Arkham) not knowing who you are and just wonder around finding clues, moving slowly by the shadows and executing people with a wide variety of weapons and environmental kills. Of course I wondered how would it look uncensored. The funny thing is that it is a disappointing game in other aspects. Graphics, depth, simple but very hard gameplay. Although the story and atmosphere are very good. However, I don’t want to talk about the quality of the game itself either.

The way Rockstar censored the game was around the executions, they put a lot of noise effects and video filters over the action so you can’t see quite right what’s going on.

All these are old news, my point is that I just played an uncensored version of Manhunt 2 (without any video filters), and I can tell you that the censored version is WAY more creepy, violent, explicit and disturbing! I think this sensation is caused exactly by the way it was censored, it leaves more to the imagination, and the imagination is just being unleashed by the outstanding atmosphere of the game. Your imagination fills in the gaps of the filters, and the filters themselves make everything more creepy.  You might ask: So the game is not violent/creepy without the censorship? Yes, of course it is. However, the gore is minimum and sometimes the camera just goes away. I suppose both these elements are related to the limited power of the Wii or the PSP. We have seen more gore elsewhere anyway.

I think if the objective of the rating boards was to make sure the softest version possible of the game would be released, they failed, miserably. It is interesting to take this point and make a generalization that sometimes do happen: when attempting to censor or criticize something and make a scandal out of it, the outcomes are the totally opposite than the ones conservative people want to make. Sometimes they give more force to what they want to hide. I’ll touch this point again in another post, also related to videogames.


Venezuela bans videogames

As a kid there were two things that encouraged me to explore new worlds and learn English: rock music and videogames. Some days ago in Venezuela, my place of birth, they started to enforce a law to practically ban videogames., with fines from 30.000 to 60.000 US$ and prison time from 3 to 5 years for those who import, sell, distribute and (use?) videogames. That is very sad for me, as Venezuelan and as a gamer. I feel they are closing a way for kids to learn English with games to have more and better opportunities than the ones who don’t develop language skills (it is important to note that before the current generation of game consoles, which are multilingual, we had the same North American releases, in English). The major driving force behind the law is to protect children from violent games, a thing in itself very plausible, but is a total ban we are talking about, ignoring any age rating system that exist or the rights of adults to enjoy these products as well.

The law’s name is Law for the Banning of Videos and War Toys. It is no secret that there’s a huge problem of crime and violence in the country, this is one of the premises supporting the law, as the congress state that “there are scientific studies that prove there is a notorious influence on the future citizen’s conduct and the activities they do in the games”. But how about the incendiary speeches of most of the politicians in the country? And the possession of guns among the civil population and the shootouts in the slums? How about the continuous acquisition of guns, weapons, planes, submarines, etc? The almost declarations of war with neighboring countries?

The politicians at the congress indicate that this law “is not going to solve the problem of the violence, but it opens a space, a positive scenario for the discussion in different areas, nationally and internationally”. These statements only show the shortsighted criteria used by the politicians to make this law, how do you open a space for discussion with a total ban? It’s like in the United States with the prohibition, you only encourage the creation of illegal channels and businesses which is way worse as history has proven. As a gamer, I had to cope up with the problems of distribution of games in Venezuela, there are no GameStops, so there were independent importers who could charge you up to 140 US$ for a game and about 900 for a console (these were numbers I found out between December-February when I went to Venezuela), now with all videogames related economy being illegal, how much should be the price for an original game?

As many of the country’s laws intended to censor something, the solution is to ban, to punish or close,  like they did with the radio stations they closed, with the television channel they had the luxury to close two times, can one be critical? No, the government won’t even try to find a middle ground, to cite a Venezuelan politician: we have a clash of classes.

Some could say that the law is not a total ban, but it’s so vague, so we can be talking about that stomping on goombas or racing a kart while throwing turtle shells is violent and war-like.

So it’s Game Over and no Continues left, it’s a sad, sad day…

Resident Evil 5 Review

Resident Evil (RE), one of the sagas that reinvented horror games and set the bases for a new genre in videogames: survival horror. I played every Resident since 1 in the first Playstation, I really love these games. I will start speaking of other RE’s. Because there’s a lot of reviews out there, maybe I shouldn’t be writing this one, but I think I have some things to say about it, some of them not covered in other reviews. As many of you know, RE4 was the first RE in a new generation, in a time when something weird happened, Nintendo had the exclusivity of RE in the Gamecube (GC), every game released at the time was re-released on the GC, plus a RE1-remake (REREMAKE ;P), a really amazing remake, it has aged really well, they updated the graphics, still prerendered backgrounds and 3D characters; they threw away the horrible-cheesy-terrible-acted-I-don’t-want-to-hear-it dialog and introduced minor tweaks into the gameplay, this one is for me the best RE ever. After that, they released RE Zero, a new RE which was first in development for the Nintendo64, again a mixture between 2D and 3D. Finally appearing in the GC it was the highly anticipated RE4, with later Playstation2 and Wii conversions. Shinji Mikami, the creator of the series was very involved in this new installment, and he changed drastically the formula of RE, this game has 3D graphics for everything, it is the return of beloved Leon S. Kennedy from RE2, takes place in Spain (really funny to play as a Spanish speaker), includes a third person view from the shoulder of the character, weapons customization and a lot of other things, some regard it as one of the greatest videogames ever, it received general praise, good reviews and also sold well. For me it was really a change, but the essence is there, although it’s a lot faster than the previous ones because it is a more action-oriented game; but I regard it as one of my favorites, I played it perhaps more times than the other ones, and I’m replaying it on the Wii just to see this version’s extras. What’s wrong with RE4? The story, for me it went backwards and I could even say that story-wise they wasted one installment, it’s silly, cheesy, it includes Metal Gear Solid-like codec conversations which are terrible, and on top of that, you have to rescue the daughter of the President of the USA, c’mon people, that’s one of the worst common places in the history of storytelling, and when you meet the girl, you’re not going to like her, not a bit.

So, I’ll finally speak about RE5. A lot has happened in Capcom since RE4, series creator Shinji Mikami has left the company, as many other geniuses like the guys of Clover Studio, developers of the masterpiece Okami, they are now Platinum Games. So, some might consider that RE5 could be a bad game or something like that, specially after Mikami’s declaration that he won’t play the game, but is it a bad sequel? Let’s see… altough I have read some mixed and not so good reviews, a new RE is always a must buy for me, I just got it the other day and overall I feel really satisfied with it, the problem I see? Some reviewers also point it out: its length, it’s really, really, really short. I finished it in two seatings, although I’m a hardcore gamer, I think most people can get like 12-15 hours on the first play through. Does it has replay value? You bet.

Starting with the graphics, I haven’t seen Killzone 2, but for me, it’s the best in the PS3 (yes, I’m a PS3 and Wii owner, don’t care about Xbox 360 and/or Microsoft). The most amazing thing is that the game takes place almost entirely in daytime locations and yes, it’s scary despite is more action oriented than RE4. Music and sound, really good, maybe nothing out of this world, but it have a perfect atmosphere, Capcom always excels at this aspect, at least in RE games. Gameplay, and this aspect is deep, I wasn’t very confident in their choice of bringing co-op into RE universe, also two characters always at the same time, one of them controlled by the AI or another human, but I acknowledged that RE Zero experiment went OK. But I have to admit, this is a very interesting piece of gameplay, it also depends on who do you find and play with, In my first playthrough I played the first chapter alone, from 2 to 5 with a guy, and 6 alone. My experience with this player was really satisfying in the sense that it really works if you know how to be a good team and share ammo and health recovery items, so it was a really great experience in this matter, but I think that this is a very random aspect of gameplay as you can find partners over the Internet who are good or bad teammates. As for the AI, I think it’s really well done, Sheva never was stuck in an invisible wall or doing useless stuff (like other AI’s) sometimes she helps, has a very decent accuracy, she can really help you, but just in case, don’t give her too much ammunition or heal herbs or sprays.

Finally, the story, I really like good story in my games, and for some reasons commented above, RE4 was really bad at this. RE5 have a lot darker tone, former STARS member, now BSAA operative Chris Redfield returns in this installment (he’s the main protagonist in the first RE and a secondary one in RE Code Veronica), after pumping up some muscles to be able to pursue and finally to take on Albert Wesker, who is the main villain in the series, and for me one of the baddest badguys in videogames, so only for this confrontation it’s worth to play it, I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but it is already known that this chapter closes the current story arch and the final showdown between you and Wesker it’s here, and man, it’s really satisfying to fight him and that finally you can take him out, once and for all. So, you arrive to a location in Africa, after now extinct Umbrella Corporation research and secrets are available for terrorists in the black market, something like Metal Gear Solid 2, but anyway better than rescuing the president’s daughter XD Then, you meet with Sheva Alomar (African, but Spanish name LOL) who will be your partner in your adventure, you collect your first weapons and the action starts, almost never ending action from the first to the last chapter, I don’t want to say anymore about the story, just a few notes more, Jill Valentine is dead (my dear, beloved Jill) and there will be a plot twist, yes I think just one that for me I kinda expected it, but then again, maybe I’m a little too familiar with the franchise; finally I expected a little more fan service in tying more the argument, but it’s fine.

Final words: RE5 is an excelent game, the only bad thing about it is its really short lenght, it should have had 10 chapters instead of 6, and the cutscenes should have been longer, specially the ending is even shorter than the original Playstation1 ending, the controls are tank-style and clumsy at times, but if you played any other RE’s you’ll get use to them without problems, and there’s even more than one configuration, but I missed classical R1+X button to shoot, and square to run, but at this time, when all the RE’s I have now are played with different controllers, I can forgive this. I highly recommed this game for hardcore gamers and RE fans, but if you prefer Gears of War style game, you’ll probably want to rent it before going to buy it. Would it stay in my library of favorites? Definetly, I give this game 9 STAAARRSSSS out of 10.