Mob Mentality

I love gangster movies. Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface, there’s something about organized crime that’s always been interesting to me. So in 2010, when a game literally called MAFIA was coming out, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

I had never played the first Mafia game, and I couldn’t get my hands on it, so I watched the scenes on YouTube to get a sense of the story. I remember really liking it, the 1930s atmosphere, the way it’s told as a testimony to a cop, it was what I believe to be masterful storytelling, and I didn’t even get to play it!

I picked up Mafia II and played through it over the weekend. Again, the story was perfection. Sure, it was another rise-in-the-ranks story with the Italian mafia, but it was the little things in the campaign that I liked about it. A quick war flashback scene, selling counterfeit stamps, do a little dock work. You could tell 2K Czech wanted to make a game that prioritized story.

Now I was really into the franchise, looking forward to the next game. Finally, I started hearing about Mafia III. The trailers looked great, the story looked awesome, I couldn’t wait to play it.

Now, after having made my way through the story, I feel conflicted. It’s one of those things where you like the game, but you have problems with it. I enjoyed myself, but I was a little disappointed.

When you play each game in a franchise (or in my case, I like to say “experienced”), especially in a row, like I did, it’s easy and actually expected that you’ll start comparing them, and that’s what happened here. As I mentioned, I think the first two were way more narrative driven, and that’s what I really liked about them.

It sounds really dumb, but Mafia III is way more like a video game.

Hear me out. Mafia II is very much an Italian Mafia movie that’s a game. There’s fifteen chapters telling Vito’s story. Despite it being an open world game, there’s little room to do anything except advance the story. There are some collectibles, but if you want to search for them, be prepared to see an objective in the corner of the screen, because you have to load up a chapter. There’s no free roam. It’s clear that they want to tell Vito’s story. Vito came home from the war, and he’s working up the ranks of the Italian mob with his childhood friend, Joe.

As I mentioned earlier, during the game (spoilers, obviously), you get to fight in the war, work at the docks to pay off your father’s debt, go to jail for selling counterfeit stamps, do bare knuckle boxing while in prison, and beat up your sister’s husband for abusing her. And while they don’t sound important, they all are, because it’s Vito’s story. These are all the things that make him who he is.

Mafia III is just a tale of revenge. It’s not really Lincoln’s story. He just happens to be the one killing people. The story doesn’t feel as organic as it did in the previous game.

I think part of it is Lincoln just decides to start his own family. There’s not a whole lot of working up the ranks like with Tommy and Vito. He starts as the boss, and he kills anyone to get what he wants.

He also doesn’t really have many relationships. He just has people he knows. Vito constantly had Joe by his side, there was dialogue and comraderie. Lincoln has underbosses that don’t really do anything except complain when they don’t get territory, a CIA agent he gets information from, and a priest he goes to when he wants to feel bad about his choices.

It’s a good game. I like it and what it brought to the lore. I like that it continues the idea of presenting the story in a unique way (in this game, it’s as a documentary), and that, spoilers, there’s not really any good ending. But it’s not exactly what I expected from a Mafia game.

Can’t wait for Mafia IV.

The Future Of Horror

After moving out of my parents house and coming to California in 2007, I used the money I’d earned working in a diner to buy my first console since the Sega Genesis: the Nintendo GameCube. Growing up, I had very limited exposure to game news. I barely even knew about PlayStation in general, but when I did learn about it eventually, I decided I wanted to play a little bit of catch up with the Resident Evil franchise. So I bought a 3 pack collectors edition box set for GameCube featuring Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil 1 (the remake), and Resident Evil 4.

I tried very very hard to like Resident Evil the first time I played it, but the tank controls really didn’t sit right with me, and the camera angles were hard to work with. I never played a game like this. I wasn’t used to it and I didn’t like it. I wanted to like it, but I just wasn’t. I tried going back to the beginning of the time-line, playing Resident Evil 0, but it wasn’t working out for me. Still, it was the camera angles the tank controls that I couldn’t handle. But there was a third game in that box that I decided to try out before I sold it back to GameStop. I didn’t want to because I wanted to start at the beginning of the story (either 0 or 1), but I figured I might as well.

I fell in love with Resident Evil 4 almost immediately. I played that game close to 20 times in the next couple years, just on GameCube. I had the infinite rocket launcher, I had infinite ammo in a few of my other weapons, I had all the costumes, I beat the game on professional. I LOVED that game.

Loving Resident Evil 4 caused me to go backwards. I now had a new appreciation for RE1 and RE0, and then RE2, RE3, and even Code Veronica. I love these characters. I got to know them, and I wanted to follow their stories, and that’s why even though the most die-hard Resident Evil fans hate RE5 and RE6, I still love them because I got to play as Leon and Chris and follow their stories even further.

So when RE7 was announced and I started learning details about it, I wasn’t sure how to feel. This is a brand new character! Who are you, Ethan Winters? You’re not Chris, you’re not Leon. You’re not Claire or Jill. Heck, you’re not even Sheva, Billy, Carlos, or any of the other one-off characters that I was curious about what happened to. And it’s in first person? That didn’t sit right with me. For a little while, I had to get used to it (but to be fair, I had to do the same thing with moving and shooting in RE6). I played the demo and I started to enjoy it, and then I started getting more and more interested in the ideas behind it. Who were the Bakers? Why were they so obsessed with family? Why do they keep collecting all these people and torturing them? It was exciting in a very Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of way. Most importantly, though, it was frightening.

I don’t think I’ve ever really been frightened by Resident Evil. I’d heard enough by the time I finally got around to playing it that I knew to expect the licker in the window and the dogs jumping in the hallway. Every so often I got a little jump scare, like the regenerator popping out of the oven in Resident Evil 4, but for the most part, I was never really scared. That changed with Resident Evil 7. I actually needed to take a break with the demo. It manages to build tension like crazy. When you when you go down the ladder to check on your friend, Andre, you know something is wrong, and you know that you’re about to see what’s wrong with him, and I had to stop because I wasn’t sure I was ready to find out. The same thing can be said for the game proper. For a good long while, I was very tense roaming through the house, especially without a weapon. Of course, it didn’t last too long. I wanted to beat the game quickly, so I played on easy (and got plenty of ammo as a result), but the fact remained that I was scared. I was scared of Jack bursting through walls. I was scared of Marguerite finding me while I hid from her. I was scared of what Lucas might have in store for me. There was even a moment where I did not hear a molded come up behind me, and when I turned around, he was right in my face, and I screamed out loud. Not gasp, not jump, not even a yelp, I legitimately screamed.

While I may enjoy Resident Evil 5 and 6, I understand why longtime fans do not. It’s a far cry from what Resident Evil used to be. But I gotta tell you, with Resident Evil 7, they’re back, and in some ways, they’re better than they ever were. Sure, the story can get a little cheesy, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless, and it’s tense and frightening.

Unfortunately, there is one downside, but it’s not the game’s fault. Resident Evil 7 reminds me of another long-standing horror franchise that was planning to get a brand new sequel that would reinvent it. For years, I couldn’t get into Silent Hill. I tried The Room, Homecoming, even SH0, but I didn’t really like it. I thought maybe I was just destined to be a Resident Evil guy, but eventually, after playing the original, I finally came around on the franchise. The first was scary, and the next two were even more terrifying. But unlike Resident Evil, I still could not get behind the later entries.

Then came PT. I’ll admit that it was much scarier than the demo for Resident Evil 7, and there were times where I seriously debated even buying Silent Hills when it was done. I mean, I like scary games, but Kojima wanted to make me shit my pants in fear.

Of course, we all know how that turned out. Kojima and Konami had a falling out, which resulted in an unfinished Metal Gear Solid V (of which I’m still bitter about) and a canceled Silent Hills. We would never get to know the story behind Lisa and the crying fetus in the sink.

Because of how scared I was after playing both demos, I knew that this was what Resident Evil and Silent Hill needed. Like I said, most people did not like RE5 or RE6, and I still personally thought SH3 was the last great game in that franchise. They needed to be reinvented, they needed horror injected until it was overflowing.

Resident Evil got their chance, and it was really good. I was impressed. Now, as we look to the future, we can see Resident Evil 8 looming. If they take their cues from the success of this game, we’re in for another great experience. Silent Hill’s future, on the other hand, is unclear. Will Konami learn from Resident Evil’s reinvention? Try to build off of what PT was without Kojima’s involvement? Or will they just crank out another game like Book of Memories? No matter what happens, I think we’ll always wonder what Silent Hills could’ve been.

The Trouble With RPGs

I love RPGs. I like the stories, all the quests, I like getting dropped into this huge open world that I get to explore. I enjoy getting to figure out just who my character is going to be based on my upgrades. I’d probably like them even better if I could actually play them.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll mostly stick to one of the most popular RPGs, Final Fantasy. Just yesterday, I received my copy of Final Fantasy XV in the mail from Amazon. As I put it on the shelf (next to the FFXIII trilogy, no less), I joked with my wife, “Now we have another Final Fantasy that we wanted, but will never play”. It was an innocent joke, but it was rooted in truth. I love Final Fantasy, but I never really play it.

I’ve started a game on every entry in the numbered series, but I’ve rarely finished them. I beat FFI years ago on GameBoy Advance. I nearly beat II, even made it to the last boss, but wasn’t strong enough, and refused to backtrack and grind (that one is on me). I couldn’t get into III or V, but I loved IV, and I beat it on the PSP (Never did beat The After Years, though). FFVI is widely hailed to be one of the best games in the series, but I only made it as far as Mt. Kolts.

I did manage to beat Final Fantasy VII, but only when it came to the PC port for PS4. I have no qualms telling you I used the cheats. 3X speed and God mode were always on, and if I was in a hurry, I’d turn off random battles. When I heard FFIX was coming to PC, I hoped the cheats would make a return as well, so I could actually beat that one, too. VIII is right up my alley (I’m a sucker for a good romance), but I started it, enjoyed what I played, then put it down and never got around to getting back. The same happened with X, XII, and XIII (which I actually almost finished).

Now Final Fantasy XV rests on the shelf, another RPG in a collection of games I will probably never finish (including Witcher III, Chrono Trigger, Persona, and Suikoden). It’s not that I don’t want to play them, it’s that I don’t have any time.

I didn’t have many consoles and games as a kid, so I’ve always felt like I’ve been playing catch up for years when I got into gaming ten years ago. If I’d had a SNES as a kid, I might’ve finished Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy III (VI) just because games were expensive and I had no source of income. But now I’m an adult who doesn’t have the time to devote 50-70 hours to a single game. Games don’t stop coming out and I have a short attention span. Grinding is a chore. If it wasn’t, I’d probably spend at least 5 hours on the game each day and finish it quickly.

So if anyone knows an RPG that grabs me by my face and says, “I’m not letting go until you see credits,” let me know. Otherwise, I’ll just keep collecting them.