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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.

Revenge of the Nerds Micro Review

Revenge of the Nerds (Jeff Kanew, 1984). This movie is very good and entertaining and it has aged well. Check out the musical number in DEVO/Michael Jackson style! Maybe nerds have a bit more respect nowadays, or at least some of them have proven to be very successful people. In a broad sense this is one of those American movies were two very different groups (one of them dysfunctional) clash or battle with each other, and the viewer has the chance to side with one of them. You have the Nerds, of the fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda which are sort of the “ugly ducklings” or anti-heroes of the story and the other are the Pi Delta Pi  and the Alpha Betas which are depicted as the “normal not nerds” kids, for me these are the villains. If you don’t side with the Nerds while watching the movie, then you must have problems.

I’m making this review a bit different by adding the following sort of social commentary. It is really sad to see some things happening in the movie happen today: bullying / cyber bullying. In some learning environments, there is a tacit belief that the stronger or the most apt in sports can and shall dominate other students weaker in these areas. I think I was very lucky that in college I had a very normal and pleasant life, there are no such things as fraternities in the country I studied my Bachelor degree and I think that the fact it was a public university also helps in that because of the high diversity there, these problems don’t happen too often. The previous time I saw that movie must have been like 12 years ago and maybe I didn’t understand it as I see it today. I really hated the characters of the “normals”, I even couldn’t stand them on screen! I already told you it was easy my pass through university, but high school was a different story, there was a certain person who studied almost all the way since primary with me, hated that stupid piece of s+++t. It was the bully of the school and the school even promised several times they would get him out, but they didn’t and no corrective action worked with him. I think now in retrospective that his only presence after some years influenced the environment so everything and everyone were kind of at his service, even girls and teachers. I think this environment did some terrible things to me, as for example I was not very confident in many ways when I was a kid, sucked at sports (except the last two years), my performance just declined with time, I felt depressed some times and well, overall my self confidence was very low and I believe that some of the decisions I took just at the end of high school and at the beginning of college years were affected by this. I think bullies can undermine the lives and hopes of other students who don’t decide to confront them, and also for the student who just go with it. I sadly just confronted him a couple of times, if I were to live again those years I’m sure I would kick his sorry ass very badly. But now I’m proud to say that I overcame most of my insecurities and issues created by high school’s fault. Like Lewis in the movie I decided to take a stand and I even recovered the best girl from the evil clutches of the bullies. And yes, I’m a Nerd!

The Beatles 2009 remasters

beatles_stereo_box_set

OK people! I was really expecting for these to get released since a long time ago, I grew up listening to the Beatles and I have almost all their albums in compact disc. The Beatles as opposed to other major British artists like Pink Floyd, David Bowie or The Rolling Stones, have not had a really digital remaster release of their career, it was a shame really, that all we had as standard editions were the first 1987 masters, the first and only release of their music on CD if we don’t count the Anthologies, Capitol Years Box, and the most recent Love. After Love was released with this very fresh sound everybody was expecting new remasters for the Fab Four albums. I myself had to buy the album Love via an Internet store we have in Venezuela and pay more than 5 times its price because Venezuelan music stores went insane before this and they were always crazy about pricing The Beatles music, the album Love was priced about 15 times its normal price (about $100). But the rants against overpricing in my country are material for another post.
beatles2This music is great I have really fond memories of listening to The Beatles throughout my life, great moments enjoying with my friends especially the tracks A Day in the Life form Sgt Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band and Strawberry Fields Forever form Magical Mystery Tour. It’s funny that I even thought of a classifying system for people who listen to the Beatles, in a broad sense you have the people who likes the first part of their career from (Please Please Me to Help) and the people who likes the second part (from Help to Let it Be), they have two very differentiated stages, you know, when they started “experimenting” when I really think the music turned a lot more interesting, when I started listening to them I really liked the first stage of their career, but from some years ago I prefer the second stage by far. So my theory was like: the first stage is more likely to be liked by children and people in their 60s or more and the other part to people below 60s, of course, this is no proven truth, it’s just silly speculation. I also have my friends who don’t like The Beatles at all and prefer The Rolling Stones over them…

beatles_-_abbey_roadAbout this 2009 remasters themselves, I haven’t listened to everything there is yet as I wait to buy it all later this year as a boxset, but I can tell you that so far I heard, the music sounds louder, and maybe sounds a bit brighter. Maybe, the expectation and anticipation was too high that I was expecting something more impressive, but don’t get me wrong, I love the music and must probably will buy the full boxset of the remasters, I also have to compare the two editions with more equipment, I have heard just a couple of albums with my laptop with its own speakers (Altec Lansing) and the iphone default headphones using Winamp. I would like to share with you an experiment I made putting 3 tracks from both remasters in Soundforge (click to enlarge), we can see that the soundwaves are indeed different, but its only a question of volume that’s changed? Or there’s more to it. Please comment your experience with the 2009 remasters.

beatles

Dark City Micro Review

Originally published on judamasmas s-tumblrs

Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998) must be one of the most underrated films of the 90’s, beign almost a failure at box office performance, it has earned with the passing of the years high acclamation from movie critics (strangely perhaps? like Roger Ebert) and audiences, becoming a cult classic. This movie presents you with a simulated reality story, it wasn’t a new way of storytelling at that time, but for further enjoyment of this movie you have to consider that it was released one year before The Matrix. In this fictional world a race of aliens called simply the Strangers have enslaved humanity without them to realize what’s happening. I said enslaved? it’s better to say that they are having a huge experiment with humans in order to find a solution and prevent their annihilation. The experiments consists in that they are changing the shape of the city every night, or maybe to say night is not so appropriate because there’s no sun (that’s why the movie it’s called dark city), so they change the shape of the city once in a while, replace the people’s memories and swap their location on the city. But the moving force of the movie, speaking in other movie’s language starts when an anomaly or an unexpected value affects the equation. John Murdock is the main character in the movie and he’s a human with the same psychokinetic powers as the Strangers, he’s lost his memories and has been framed with murder by the Strangers. So the movie it’s about him trying to make sense on what’s happening while escaping the firm grip of the Strangers. So, the rating, I give this movie a perfect score, it’s actually one of my favorite movies ever. The performances are excellent, Rufus Sewell makes a good main character but not amazing, but we have the strange scientific in Kiefer Sutherland, the police detective in William Hurt and OH MY GOD!! my love Jennifer Connelly is the wife of the protagonist and she sings! (actually only sings on the Director’s Cut), the Strangers look very evil and disturbing so they are great bad guys. On the effects side, special mention on the morphing sequences of the city. Music is very good and it always emphazises the menace of the Strangers and keeps you on your toes. The story, my favorite part, is simply amazing, it’s based on the always amazing argument, y’know? maybe nothing is real…

Bride of the Monster Micro Review

Published originally on judamasmas s-tumblrs

Bride of the Monster (Ed Wood, 1955) leaves you with the “what the heck I just watched” sensation. Widely regarded as the worst filmmaker of all time, and this movie, originally titled Bride of the Atom was his first horror movie. Having the actor Béla Lugosi in his last years wasn’t at all a recipe for a successful movie. But I’ve seen movies with him that are worse than this one. Béla is your stereotypical mad scientist who has the help of his minion Lobo, played by wrestler Tor Johnson, and has as goal the creation of supermen. But his plans are screwed after kidnapping a girl, event which is simply the downfall of B-movie villains. The performances are not so bad, but there’s one scene with a speech of Béla which is just wonderful acting. What is really bad in this movie is the integration of stock footage with proper footage of the movie, a known flaw in Ed Wood’s movies, and also the most fake and funny monster ever, the octopus, the actors had to fake they were attacked by it, and move its tentacles because that monster didn’t even move! I only recommend this movie to B-movies OR classic horror movies OR Béla Lugosi’s fans; if you don’t watch it, you’re only missing one wonderful Béla Lugosi monologue…

Mars Attacks Micro Review

Published originally on judamasmas s-tumblrs

Finished watching Mars Attacks (Tim Burton, 1996) after a lot of years, 10 out of ten, the final solution to annihiliate the aliens is as stupid as in Independence Day, but think about it, ID is “serious” american cinema and MA is clearly an homage to B-movies. Anyway if we are attacked by superior aliens, they wouldn’t run Windows to be affected by a computer virus. So I find the tactic of MA more plausible. Music is great, Danny Elfman, of course; the cast is awesome, you can’t go wrong with Jack Nicholson; the effects are a mix so the unity is not completely achieved but the aestetic approach is superb, so 50’s it could be black and white. Special mention to the American national anthem played by mariachis, just amazing!

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.

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