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Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2014, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly. There is absolutely NOTHING I would rather be listening to.  If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more.  Congratulations to these tremendous artists.

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                    Listen: Persona Q: Shadow Of the Labyrinth: Maze Of Life

 4. Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth/ Shoji Meguro- Composer Shoji Meguro’s sheepishly long de-railed bullet train of scores in the name of Atlus’s hallowed Shin Megami Tensei :P ersona series carry with them perhaps the very definition of tangential madness. As such, coherence widely varies from listener to listener as Meguro’s rules of play are dictated with little to no regard for order, direction or movement along any legible or explicitly defined curve. Meguro, however, never misses a stop, and his routes of travel though entirely unconventional and round-about seem to have garnered him a rather ardent and staunchly dedicated mass of devotees. It’s so much bigger than that though; in fact, Meguro is an idol, a household name in his native Japan. His work is the stuff of stratosphere legend now, selling out even the largest of music venues. He has become a viable solid gold brand with unmeasured clout. The only thing on the market still yet to bear his name, though largely foreseeable to change, is breakfast cereal, and I imagine it’s only simply because they are still in the test-market stage. For those new to Meguro’s torrential storm of neon washed mish-mashed shapes, Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth is the quintessential guidance counselor for the Meguro novice walking you through the creation of his batter ingredient by ingredient. But while Persona Q offers up its conductor at his most revealing, his answers raise more questions than answers, and that’s a VERY good thing. Because while others would have sat back and gone creatively bankrupt, happy to collect the residual checks their name afforded them, Meguro creates fiendishly onward. He is seemingly lost in the chase of his platypus muse, devising the ever more convoluted ruse and spectacular quagmire in a never ending cycle of catch and release…to be in love.

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                           Listen: A Taste Of The Alien Isolation Soundtrack

 3. Alien: Isolation/ The Flight - Fear is least effective when erroneously channeled through the stomach instead of along the nerve. Too often, scores of this nature target a  part of the body that manifests its objections all too softly. Queasiness, unease and discomfort all begin in that pitted vessel of churning gastric acid, but it is something readily alleviated, something instinctually subjugated by simply turning away, tuning out.

It can only harm you in the dark, but not in the daytime, and certainly not in a situation you can control. European duo The Flight, however, are the mould and caste of an absolute and primitive horror, attaching and binding themselves to the proteins and nerve endings essential to traveling throughout the body unfettered. Terror is only truly effective at the level of neurasthenia, at breakdown, where closing your eyes medicates one side of the searing sensation but greatly swells the other. It is not something you can ignore or medicate. To get rid of The Flight is to expel its rapidly multiplying burrow from your system, and to do that is to rid yourself of you. The Flight’s accelerated rate of disability in the user is key to their genesis, much like the creature they are remolding some 35 years after its initial contact. The Flight, however, isn’t interested in some gloaming retread of original Alien composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work. While certainly some manner of pastiche may have been discussed, The Flight were quick to scuttle those ideas, and instead intend to sow seeds of horror specific to the times in which they live: where true evil and reality lie familiar bedfellows with one another…the lines have been completely blurred. The menace of The Flight’s Alien is no longer as easily definable, no longer as distant, and most of all, no longer as predictable. As of now, it can come from anywhere. The Flight makes possible the vision of developers Creative Assembly by authenticating their voice with authority, delivering what was once thought to be impossible: an exhaustively rewritten Alien doctrine. Never delicate, never expected, The Flight’s score for Alien: Isolation unleashes the brutality of H.R. Giger’s original designs. They enable them to hunt using fear as a mind killer, fear that travels along the nerve and not in the stomach, and a fear that will find you, regardless of sunshine, sunlamp, fluorescent bulb or otherwise.

 

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                         Listen: Fantasia Music Evolved: Meeting The Master

2. Disney Fantastia: Music Evolved/ Inon Zur - One of the most unsettling trends I have seen in all my years working music retail is the slow erosion of classical music from store shelves. I started out working primarily with classical music at age twenty, an age associated more with rocking out than it is an explosion of mid-day Baroque. I was at first a bit resistant to my post, but mostly afraid, because to be honest, classical as a genre is one of the most dauntingly complex in all of music. I feared being uncovered, found out by my customers as they sauntered in with their aged list of esoteric movements in whatever e-major or flat they had VERY specifically outlined. Each point on their list took time to research and dislodge from beneath the soil it had seemingly been buried under. Out of print catalog numbers, Sony Red, Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, my customer’s single written clue a miniscule part of a VERY long trail. When I found their piece, we would often listen to it together, and they would do a play by play of their favorite moments in the composition. I learned classical music very much hands on, and find it criminal that an entire generation might miss out on it entirely, because I have seen my stock and sales decline astronomically in the past 8 years, but there is hope.

Composer Inon Zur whose scoring credits span the length of multiple unabridged volumes of encyclopedia Britannica has joined forces with developer Harmonix, and they have somehow impossibly found THE glitch, THE exploit, THE clandestine inside track granting them access to those youth who once shunned them for no real reason, tossing their literature to the ground just as it was handed off to them. Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is that key. What now though? They finally have a room at attention. You let the master play and let his master marketer interpret. Inon Zur and Harmonix have that rare partnership here, and it is one that is at its absolute best. Where Harmonix once created new devotion for relics of the rock genre, it now does the same for stars of the violin, chamber orchestra, throngs of woodwind and piano. Zur’s newly minted original score plays high level and equal peer amidst some of the most celebrated and recognizable classical themes ever created. Zur brings with him not only his gifts of composition but of conducting and producing as well. His arrangements feel buoyant, vital, at times even coruscant. He has also brought along some very powerful friends: Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields, The London Chamber and Symphony Orchestra to name a few.

The Director’s Cut adds even more color to the overall package as remixes of everything from Tchaikovsky to Dvorak will no doubt make a case to those still on the fence. Each one showcases a different angle from which to view these masterpieces, making them easier on the palate of the uninitiated. It takes only one truly great piece of anything be it music, games, food, movies or books to alter the course of a life, and Inon Zur’s Fantasia: Music Evolved brings with it the possibilities of expansion over extinction, and the hope that new apprentices will one day outnumber the old guard.

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                                         Listen: Strider: Kazakh Theme

 1. Strider- Michael John Mollo - It’s not an easy thing to generate an open discussion amongst flat refusals, and for the better half of almost two decades, the only certain things when speaking with Capcom on the subject of Strider was the brief flashing of cards they held so closely guarded against their chest, and the walls instantly erected around the stubborn inquiry. Capcom’s reasoning, though seemingly strained of logic, is not without merit. Developers are given at most the smallest blinking of a mascot, perhaps a smaller grain of franchise, and rarest of all, the natural born legend. Strider is legend, and the few pieces of software that bear his name exist only because each parcel of space they inhabit has passed a litmus test of platinum standards raised by significant degrees of difficulty as each gets the green light. This makes the road more difficult for others to traverse, and near impossible for new contents to meet in whole. Exposure with even the slightest of lapses or compromises can and often does spell the end. Undoing a legacy of past and most importantly, future. Capcom’s reticence then is understandable. This weight, ALL of this weight lay squarely upon Strider’s brilliant new composer Michael John Mollo. Strider becomes HIS story, in his charge, and ultimately the ONLY reason you have a new canonical entry emblazoned with the Strider logo.

Because without his compositions, Strider is only half of what the storybooks make him out to be. Mollo is the fit that had long gone missing, the absent detente that would finally bridge the title from standard readiness to assured perfection.

Without knowing it, Mollo is of the same ilk and heritage as the long buried Capcom house band Alpha Lyla; he’s not foreign but rather the most native and organically spun element of the entire proceedings. He is one of them and always has been their spiritual successor. Mollo’s work on Strider is no sloppy collage of various diametric applications made to fit inside a grid. Mollo is poignantly, naturally textural, and sensitive to the meter of his scenes, and while he may scrutinize, he never once manufactures. To do this though, Mollo needed to fully understand the subject he was scoring, not textbook memorization, but to actually press the flesh, to know Strider, befriend him, and become him. What would have been a dry stage-left walk-on exercise in another composer’s hands instead becomes fully aware and alive with Mollo, who is by all accounts immersed in his method portrayal of Strider Hiryu. Now indistinguishable from the source, Mollo is also completely free to arrange as he sees fit. His compositions touch on the classic Strider sound flawlessly, but his focus remains resolutely on the sound of the future, and that is what separates, defines and elevates Mollo’s LP: his singular prodigious fingerprint. It takes steady hands to live in the shadows of original Strider composer Junko Tamiya, but Mollo won’t be second to anyone, and seeing as he’s rightfully a part of the Alpha Lyla brood, this is a passing of the torch, and an acknowledgement that Michael John Mollo has been, always was, and always will be the only REAL candidate to further one of gaming’s greatest and most hallowed icons.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here

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Watch: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots E3 2007 trailer

# 1 Kojima Productions/Platinum Games/Konami – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

 

On the surface, Metal Gear Solid as a series looks the part of any other videogame. There are trophies awarded for beating bosses, well-defined stages of progression, and there is always an option to save your progress. One thing, however, stands out rather strikingly and that is, Metal Gear lives in total fear of the gun it carries. It is one of the most important genes found within its DNA, one that separates it from all of its video game counterparts. In far too many games made today, your main objective is to shoot, and to shoot everything. So in effect, all you’re tasked with doing is to fire a gun. You’re made to carry this wide assortment of firearms and proceed to make rubble of everything and everyone around you, no questions asked. This lowly cap-in-hand exercise of wielding pistols to fire indiscriminately into a crowd, exacting both carnage and retribution over and over again, lacks all focus, foundation and any sense of humanity.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Mobs Alive

Inside the world of Metal Gear, however, guns are as dangerous and permanent in their destruction as they are in the reality of the world around you. Metal Gear realizes that violence has repercussions; people will be affected, and the choice to stare down the muzzle of a barrel of a gun is the stuff of last resort. It should be treated as an extreme means to an end, and should be avoided at all cost. It defines a full metal jacket as the absolute worst course of action. In short, Metal Gear, over so many other video games, has a soul, and it has always been a troubled one.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Old Snake

Metal Gear stubbornly takes none of the blind firing squad orders of its video game brethren, choosing instead to focus on the magnification of its character’s very personal struggles: the condition of the psyche behind that trigger, the irreversible consequences of firing it, and most importantly, the unending cycle of melancholy applicable to the gruesome acts of war. Nothing illustrates this point more perfectly than Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots, and while director Hideo Kojima may have done everything to protect his child from the evil, the broken, and the corrupt, sadness inevitably found him when he was young.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Cold Memories

Metal Gear Solid 4 plays without the protection of its surprisingly absent and expected callous: Solid Snake may be well into his advancing years, but you will be made to feel all of his pain. MGS4 follows a man who is functioning, but only with the help of multiple manufactured aids to supplement his many failing original organs. The real battle is now an internal one that silently negotiates for time over confrontation. He seeks out penance and forgiveness, and as his strength fails, it becomes more and more painful to watch. Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the few games to embrace the physical and emotional descent of age, what an individual legacy is actually worth, and that no matter how tall the image of yourself stands in public, what it is like to reconcile the actuality of that stature when alone in the dark. The territory Kojima explores here is bold. While it may not be as all encompassing as he might have liked it to be, nothing in the last generation can challenge its weight, nor the morose scrutiny of its post-modern-when-it-rains Death Of A Salesman drama, nor its matter-of-fact approach to the absolute isolation of death. But wait, there’s more!

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Watch: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance E3 2012 trailer

Playing almost full and perfect counter to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. While not totally barren of the ponderous tomes of its aforementioned forbearer, Rising forgoes all subtlety striking in response to even the slightest of cause. There is reason for it though, and primary to that is the youth in its protagonist Raiden. He’s flippant and powerful, but not so naïve that he doesn’t already have some rather substantial regrets. Rising, however, parries the insurmountable numbness, that terminal acceptance of punishment found in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and argues the evidence in support of its incarceration. It pleads to find redemption through works and effectively skews and alters the perception of its jury. Everyone can change.

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Listen: Metal Gear Rising Soundtrack – Rules of Nature

While I have crowned these two titles for their use of twilight of the tears, black-box theater, I have left all synopsis of the actual playtime (controlling these characters) absent, because as it stands, there is no real separation between the two. Both Rising and Metal Gear Solid 4 stand among a few, very select games able to blend their narrative and action together seamlessly. Playing them is something without equal, even now. The presence of Metal Gear Solid 4’s widely criticized longer cut scenes never felt to me like control had been somehow wrested away. I owned each part as a whole and stood inside the limping Solid Snake and the more athletically inclined Raiden without interruption at all times. There will be those who vigorously disagree, but what can I tell you? This is still the best experience I have had with regards to games across the entire 7th generation, for that matter, period.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid 4 Soundtrack – Love Theme

While it may be desperately light on the Hee-Haw, and insurmountably heavy on any number of philosophical doctrines, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance did not disappoint. Regardless of what Metal Gear’s long-time cagey resident Colonel Campbell once said about it all just being a game as usual, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance prove it’s anything but.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here:

#8 Bioware and the Mass Effect Series

Mass Effect at number 8, you say? Okay, let’s make something very clear about my “Best of Last Console Generation” list. In my mind the winner of the number 10 spot celebrates all the victories of the number 1 spot. No one is truly superior because by nature ALL of them rest at equilibrium. To me it’s fine that Mass Effect is at number 8 because it is like saying it is also at number 1. With that being said, at this late stage in the press coverage for Mass Effect as a whole, you’ve probably reached a rather heightened state of saturation. There’s nothing that I could add to that heaping parfait of praise or criticism.  So when I talk about Mass Effect here, I promise to make it brief. If you haven’t played the games, don’t worry. You’ll learn nothing about the contents of these titles, and that’s the point: I don’t want to spoil it for you. 

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack: The Wards

The proof of a truly incredible game is not about what it does right, not at all. That honor is bestowed on a game once you start making sacrifices for it. It’s once you’re willing to lie, plan your schedule around it, and maneuver out of every conceivable social contract expected of you in the hopes of prolonging the hours spent tilling and terraforming its virtual space. A word to those who have yet to undertake Commander Shepard’s endeavors: you’re going to make a whole lot of people angry. I also recommend that you carry with you a small note pad, because you’re going to have to  keep all of your fabrications in line and consistent. Just a tip.

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack – Illos Ride

My story with Mass Effect is one of sheer abandonment, tossing everyone aside no matter the ties we had. Rather than engage in any of the yearly post-Christmas holiday traditions with family and friends in 2007, I instead chose the N7. I went so far as to cancel my long-running annual Christmas party, seized the cache of funds set aside for itd production and funneled it into a Mass Effect lazy day bank account, so if I missed work, it would be fine: I paid myself to play Mass Effect.

If my alliances with my employer were tenuous, then imagine my siblings and parents – hanging out with them didn’t happen AT ALL. My sisters would beg and plead with me to go to a movie or to dinner, or anything: Nope. My friends, well let’s just say I let the phone ring, then played dumb more times than there were believable scenarios to create. Somebody had to have known.

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack – Afterlife

What’s more, a few years later, as I was about to begin Mass Effect 3, my friend Frank was over to specifically diagnose the many problems I was having completing a perfect play through of Mass Effect 2. His findings were troubling. I would have to start over from scratch if I wanted to do it right. While playing through Mass Effect 2 again would have likely addressed and sufficed Frank’s concerns, it didn’t sit well with me, leaving something, anything undone. Plus you know, I may have left out that a good portion of my crew were also dead. So without even blinking, I erased my hard-won saves from Mass Effect 1 and 2 (those same saves built upon the shunning and repelling of blood relatives and long-time companions) and started over from the ground up. The cycle had begun anew. All this before I had even seen the title screen for Mass Effect 3.

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Listen: Mass Effect Soundtrack: Noveria

If this list were based solely on the most cavalier and unending expulsion of man hours, Mass Effect would stand alone; it would be no contest. If it was based on a single criterion, like say the number of those spurned in my attempts to complete it, Mass Effect’s catapulting friend catcher would have no equal. I have no regrets, and when you sign on to Commander Shepard’s Normandy and Mass Effect’s colossal galaxy of play pretend, it may very well be the most illuminating experience you’ve ever had while playing with toys. It is also likely that this is the first time your G.I. Joe and He-Man figurines have ever undergone indoctrination.

This is serious business you know.

Don’t forget to pick up the spectacular Mass Effect Score right here.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here:

#2. Square-Enix, Eidos Montreal and Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

Have you ever been inside a bookstore and casually wondered WHAT exactly all the people around you might be reading? Kind of interesting, right? But it would be a fairly tedious and dangerous exercise to nudge each and every one on the shoulder to ask them about their favorite authors. Reading is a private exercise, not really meant to be done in public (but it is). Don’t worry, you’re in luck, because I know exactly what a significant portion of the mass literary audience prefers. Though my ad-libbed study is FAR from scientific, it’s part of what I do, and I see it everyday. I see it in the numbers. It has very little to do with the Fiction genre, History, Biographies, Nature, or Travel. It has everything to do with slogans and mantras.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Pangu, City Above The City

Have you heard of Joel Osteen? I wish I were Joel Osteen. Every time I see another one of his books in hardcover, I want to kick myself, then have somebody, anybody in close proximity, kick me again! Why couldn’t I have come up with that? I mean… I have good ideas. Osteen, however, beat everyone to all of them, and has continuously, effortlessly slapped the hardcover straight into paperback with easily dialed clichés like“ You Can, You Will”, “I Declare”, “Break Out” and “It’s Your Time” into print – LOTS and lots of print. I have to give him credit though, because at least his books are complete, which is more than I can say for the author Don Miguel Ruiz, who published “The Four Agreements”, then had a suspect hand in letting loose the “The Fifth Agreement” as if to say, “Oh wait, I forgot one!” You would be wary of any scraggly man on the street yelling at you some ridiculous notion like “Ask and it is given” …wouldn’t you? I don’t see the difference here.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Megan Intro

Actually, I have absolutely nothing against any of these authors at all. They provide a service for millions of people in that they illustrate ways to improve the self, barge past hurdles, renew hope etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So what are people reading? Self-help, self-medication, self-renewal, and I don’t blame them. It’s getting BAD out there.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Penthouse

All this to get to my initial point: put those books down. Remember, I say this because I am concerned for you all. I LOVE my literature, but this sizable demographic, those afflicted with some form of depression, self-doubt, or a litany of disturbances… may I make a suggestion? Want something for the pain right now? Something immediate?  Play video games. More specifically, play Square Enix’s 2011 masterpiece Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now, I will take that a step further and say, if you haven’t played Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then you can’t possibly be serious about getting help, and all these books you’ve purchased in the hopes of overcoming cycles of intermittent despair are actually serving as weights to hold you back. You’ve actually just created another rather large blockade on your path to sound and true wellness. So in this instance, I am advocating against the slower, more methodical burn of chapter upon chapter and workbook page upon role-playing activity, all of which were designed to take you out, layer by layer and bit by bit from your self-spun, self-initiated cocoon. This is not a time to mince words, nor a time to enable the behavior in question to continue. Deus Ex: HR will hold your hand in some manner, but realizes that things need to happen quickly, and that time is running out.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Wayne Hass

Deus Ex; HR brings with it a precise economy and wisdom to its sessions with you, as it cuts all costs through no applicable medications. It’s seen through all of the unscrupulous do-make-say-think greed, through every fatted panel of charlatan and witch doctor, and through all of whom are eager to pounce voraciously on your clouded, unstable vulnerability with hollow two-word creeds. While they might briefly address your problem, more than likely, theirs is a Band-Aid with an already weakened adhesive. These results need to be lasting. Are you familiar with Adam Jensen‘s dedicated 24-hour crisis hotline? Let me connect you.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Picus Funicular Combat

I will not rehash again what I’ve already told you about Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’ve written tirelessly in this very space about and around the circumstances that encompassed some of my ongoing experiences with it, but if you want the short version, I will give it to you: It saved my life. While I can’t quite laugh about it now, I can speak genuinely to the merits of its attack/therapy/counseling mixture. A fragment of who I am today was shaped by this very title.

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Listen: Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Exploration (Hard Fight)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the greatest landmarks in the seventh generation of video games, but it should be looked upon as more than just a piece of software; it should be viewed as something much more precious, something spiritual. It becomes part of you. With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there is no before, after, or during, and you will never speak of it in the past tense. In this sense it is the truest form of therapy: one in which the dialogue is constantly changing and evolving years after the initial ordeal has taken place. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is completely self-aware. It is keen to your person, your weaknesses, and your triggers. It is here to help. Once you’ve spent a few weeks with it, gone back and forth and hashed out all the ugly because that‘s what you need, you will be transformed. I declare.

A very personal and heartfelt thanks and congratulations goes out to Square Enix, Eidos Montreal, and composer Michael McCann .

Don’t forget to pick up the official Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack here.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here.

# 9. Ubisoft and the Assassin’s Creed series -

Say what you will about the first Assassin’s Creed, its ad nauseam parade of derivative objectives, repetitive mission structure, and its dead-eyed, bloodless protagonist Altair – any of these may be chief among your complaints. I hear you. BUT. That’s not the reason so many left unsatisfied. No, no… it all came down to what was initially outlined, what was not so much promised, but alluded to, er promised. There were some rather large dice being tossed about Ubisoft’s conference room shuffleboard set, and even larger bets.

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Watch: The first Assassin’s Creed Trailer

The trouble inherent with big promises is that they remain an elusive and seldom delivered ingredient within packaged games, and Assassin’s Creed’s trail of strewn letters to its many lovers all promised an affair like no other: exclusive, gorgeous, many the gifts and most importantly, hot and heavy. Assassin’s Creed’s first date, however, if you will, is more akin to a blind double date with dinner at a Wienerschnitzel, and a dingy, two- transfer bus ride to your love in waiting. It’s all on your dime though, because the man on your arm just skipped out on the bill. Promises, promises.

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Watch: The Madness Of King George

What I realized though was that UbiSoft ran out of time, plain and simple, because the glimmers of what might and would be coming were nothing short of cosmic. So what if at its inception, corners were painstakingly cut? Despite that, from time to time, you could still glimpse that original manifesto, the pen and paper drawings, the pitch, the frequency: VISION. Working to establish a top-tier brand, something with its very own distinguishing mark and signature are bound to encounter some form of jetlag or layovers, and the first Assassin’s Creed has a pouch full of meal vouchers and has been downgraded to coach more times than even it can accurately account for. That being said, there is absolute euphoria in its purgatory, and it is to be had in large and regular doses spread evenly throughout that debut title. Those blinding glimmers, the flesh of those ideal, proud tenets that were promised to me, MADE me stick around. It didn’t take Ubisoft long to correct the mistakes of its first child as the second seed heralded the deliverance of the goods: Suddenly, Assassin’s Creed had become one of my most beloved, and unbeknownst to me, easily sustained fixations.

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Listen: Assassin’s Creed 2 Soundtrack – Venice Rooftops

The thing is, when I initially committed to take part in the Assassin’s Creed consumerism, I had no idea that the games would become an annualized event, where every November I would be placed into a darker shade of coat belonging to yet another similarly dressed assassin. While I have some disdain for this practice (every sequel should have a few years between entries.), I found Assassin’s Creed’s successive slew of sequels via tired slogans like Brotherhood, Revelations, and now Unity, surprisingly served over the counter and without prescription. Because… things happen when you’re given too much of a good thing, and suddenly I found myself comatose in the intervening months leading up to the next chapter. I had become a willing, violent addict growing increasingly dependent on this drip feed of expensive collectors’ editions, and preposterous bizarro-world exposition. Where else would you find the deranged what-if madness of King George Washington colliding with the imperturbable pfft of a dead Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus? You have yet to play Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Cartel Imhotep, but you will. You won’t be alone either, I will be right there with you, struggling to find more room for which to place my new limited edition 1/6th scale Pharaoh Assassin statue. This really is just the beginning I hope, as I can’t wait till they start in with the acronyms.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please click here.

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Watch: Bayonetta’s 2008 announcement trailer

#5 Platinum Games and Bayonetta - 

In the lead up to this week’s writing, I was busy scouring my shelves trying desperately to pick some lesser alternate candidate to crown in 5th place, my reasoning due to my reticence to place yet another Platinum games title onto this list. I fought it, but ultimately nothing stood above it without me hoisting said understudy onto my shoulders and coaching it with a nickel’s worth of borrowed, cheap athletic wear slogans. The number 5 slot on this list is goes to Bayonetta, and not some hastily assembled upstart puppet regime, which exists solely by the aid of my collarbone.

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Listen: Bayonetta soundtrack – The Gates of Hell

What it comes down to, for me, these days, concerning video games at least, is the level of absurdity, and Bayonetta wastes no time in dialing up the unfathomable, all the while willfully inebriated on the most magnificent of homebrew hooch. Why do stand-up in some dingy club, when you can tour those punch lines outside of its regulated confines, megaphone-main-street-parade style? This is one touring company not to miss, and Kamiya’s cast is a line of color so bizarre, slanted and captivating it’s no matter that his fuchsia rejects his mustard yellow; it’s all about that final shade… the mixture together, and I would wager a guess that Bayonetta is one of the only set of players to talk as loudly as its dressed, the only troupe with real personality for a thousand miles in every direction on any map. Without the characters, you’ve already doomed yourself to drown, but Kamiya’s all-hours house party attracts a very particular, and strikingly peculiar crowd to a room, and all of them are well beyond the dog paddle.

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Listen: Bayonetta soundtrack – Mysterious Destiny

Kamiya’s actors, however, make up but one single facet on his already-heavy key ring. Platinum redefined the pace and expectation of the action genre, adding an emphasis to established MPH on the highway. Everyone knows that when you’re out on a long road trip, it’s unlikely you’ll stick to the recommended postings: you’ll speed, and Platinum treats Bayonetta as it would a tire to the asphalt. Bayonetta discards the pace that the beat-em-up genre set for action games some 25 years earlier: NO MORE WALKING! Now you will get where you’re going in half the time. You won’t feel even a bump, and you’ll be in the best shape of your life.

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Watch: Bayonetta’s Wicked Weaves

Again, I could go on and on and ON about all the things this game does right, but I won’t because Platinum nails it where it matters most, and that is in the hand. Exactly 10 years ago, Tecmo’s Team Ninja completely overhauled the genre with Ninja Gaiden, a game I have played and beaten numerous times and on all its available difficulties. It’s still something I play every year without fail, and it feels tremendous even now when you wrap your fingers around it. BUT… Kamiya has exceeded even that title, usurping the throne while its complacent king sat idly by, staring at his trophies of old. When it comes down to it, the most important position is the one of power, the one that rules. This is Bayonetta’s coronation. Here’s to the centennial, the legacy to come… Long live the queen!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please click here. This week, we have number ten and another tie.

#10 Electronic Arts Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space

I was skeptical when in 2008, video game publisher Electronic Arts announced a duo of high-end titles that were promised to be made and delivered both clean and sober. At the time it seemed too far fetched an idea, and I erroneously dismissed the news entirely. I have nothing against Electronic Arts, but a troubling portion of their previous finished products seemed to end up litter on a very unfinished highway. I won’t delve into all that though, because I am not here to dwell on anybody’s past transgressions. The past is the past, and when someone or something makes a public appeal to make things right, or boldly strives to change ways and habits… you have to at the very least give them a chance to succeed.

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Listen: Mirror’s Edge Soundtrack – Still Alive

Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge both had to fight for my attention, challenge other games more prominently placed for my dollars, and destroy the preconceived notions and prejudices I had placed upon them with no formal sense of reason. While downloading the demo for Mirror’s Edge (downloading, not playing) I sat mildly mesmerized by a PS3 system theme that features the title’s protagonist Faith. That color wash of hot red, the skeleton etching of buildings in the whitest primary dashes, it’s a moment that lasted long enough for me to figure out the allocation of funds to pre-order it, and short enough for me to act immediately on the impulse. The scales rose instantaneously from unregistered pulse to live, blistering fever. I NEVER played that demo, and I didn’t have to. It was all a feeling: there was just something about it.

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Watch: Dead Space’s Announcement Trailer

Dead Space had an even easier time in its rounds of discussion. The game was quick to remind me that there was a complete dearth of REAL survival horror games, and it quickly ran down the litany of failures the current damaged crops had to offer. Dead Space provided an accomplished, fairly decadent spread of airlocks, zero suits, and dismemberments, but what made it stand out was the emphasis it placed on its total isolation. It understood fear is most prevalent without a partner, without another face, and without assurances made solid with another body in close proximity. Mostly, you hear the Dead Space cadet Issac Clarke breathe and gasp for hours on end, and that sound is one of the most UNNERVING things I have ever had to endure. I never considered physical fatigue to be in and of itself an element of terror, but ask yourself, how long can you run? Issac Clarke can run about 30 feet, and then what happens? He’s tired. And then what happens? Well he’s not running anymore, and he considers the cramp in his abdomen to be a much more pressing concern than the legions of cobble-headed Belial giving chase at his back. Dead Space brilliantly simulates the prepping of an assault with trembling hands as they fumble for triggers and safety locks. No one is ever REALLY prepared, and Issac Clarke is the terrifying embodiment of a chicken loose in space with its head cut off. I haven’t been more petrified playing anything in the six years since its release.

Both Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space are beautiful games where design and imagination dictated and trumped all concerns for market viability, and the greatest compliment that I can give to any piece of software is to say I will commit to return to it annually, knowing instinctively that when I do, it will have lost none of its luster.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Three weeks ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed last week please click here. This week, we have our 6th place title.

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Watch: Heavy Rain Launch Trailer

#6. Quantic Dream and Heavy Rain - While I would like to agree with the moniker developer Quantic Dream chose for their 2010 release Heavy Rain, I feel more inclined to believe that this official title was the product of something completely lost in translation. Heavy Rain DOES communicate beautifully the idea of a very cold dousing, one that’s particularly weighted and somewhat threatening. What it fails to address, however, is the severity of its own flood, and how it’s one of the most dangerous and unpredictable forces in all of elemental nature. To be simply “Heavy Rain” suggests an umbrella would suffice to defend against it. No no, I would have chosen “Driving Rain“. It may not have been as flashy for marketing ads and trailers, but it leaves you with some kind of lingering question, and maybe a stronger image as to what sort of malady awaits you behind its doors.

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Listen: Painful Memories – Heavy Rain Soundtrack

There is an official definition of driving rain, and for the most part wind plays an even larger role than before. It’s much more violent, much more angled, and the area of dispersion is much, much larger. That doesn’t do it justice though, either. To demonstrate what driving rain really is, let us use a real world example. It’s October of 2002, and my band and I have just left Austin, Texas for Detroit, Michigan. It’s a 24-hour drive that we will make in exactly 24 hours with no stops, no rest, and absolutely no comfort. An hour into the drive, which we had begun at midnight, it suddenly begins to rain. As we travel further through the night, rain mutates to storm, and the water begins to genuinely threaten the integrity of our already battered hull. The volume of liquid pounding on our windshield makes the contents of the road ahead resolutely indecipherable. At this moment and for the next 90 miles, we’re steering absolutely blind. It’s one of the truest sensations of fear I have ever felt in my life, where even the most innocent and shrug-able maneuver could spell disaster for everyone inside our van, and it could happen at any second. There is no real control; there is no real protection, and there is no real way to know if we will live through the next hundred miles, or be dead in two. In essence, a good driving rain is the equivalent of the brutal exclamation point present in every moment of our lives: We will NEVER ever be in control. This is what Heavy Rain is all about.

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Listen: Driller Thriller – Heavy Rain Soundtrack

Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain takes the consequences of everyday living, momentary unions of chance, and the mounting ever-expanding stockpile of sobering evidence leading to our own conviction. We’re all damaged, we’ve all made mistakes, and the limp we walk with is the proof of our own transgressions against others. Heavy Rain, rather than dress its survival horror with broken blood capsules and Aleister Crowley scribbles, chooses to drain its victim’s sanity by way of depleting personal dignity. You’ll have bottomed out whole before you’ve reached even the halfway point of director David Cage’s story, and much like the driving rain I spoke of earlier, for every moment of the straight line you attempt to walk, you’ll be bent with wind. Money doesn’t change everything, but circumstance does, and in Heavy Rain, those changes are instantaneous and constant with eyes open or shut.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Two weeks ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed last week please click here. This week, lets talk 7th place.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – Stealthy Bat

# 7. Rocksteady Studios and Batman Arkham Asylum - By 2009, I had given up completely on Batman in video games. So it was very strange to me when I found myself literally scrambling to grab the very last copy in town of the collector’s edition for Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was days before Christmas and the weather was all sleet and ice, but that hadn’t stopped me from going to some fifteen different stores even though I was freezing and utterly miserable. It took me about 5 hours with traffic and interminable lines, but I did manage to find that last one calmly perched above the register at one of the most out of the way GameStops in the city. It pays to drive around.

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Watch:  Batman Arkham Asylum’s second trailer

How I found myself in this predicament is simple: I didn’t believe in the hype. I bought a regular copy of the game upon its release somewhat begrudgingly. I shoved it to the back of my nearly stuffed Christmas vault and thought about returning it for weeks. I poked fun at it, scoffed at the idea that there would ever be another Batman game to rival the perfection that was the Sunsoft 1989 Nintendo original. I created a world completely insulated from the truth and reality that was plain for everyone else to see: Batman: Arkham Asylum was in fact the greatest Batman game in the history of the medium. Somehow, enough of this overwhelmingly positive critical reception infiltrated my semi-permeable membrane of a solution that was both exceedingly negative and bordering on outright mockery. Rocksteady had my number, and as I sloshed around in this late December freeze… they also had the last laugh.

The moral of this story? NEVER believe your own B.S.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – The Overworld

There’s not much that I can add to what has already been rapturously repeated by the gaming press about Arkham Asylum and its successively brilliant sequels, but what I really want to drive home is the fact that this IS the ONLY way for you to actually become Batman in any way, shape or form. Rocksteady’s Dark Knight places as much emphasis on stealth and restraint as it does on the knuckle-on-knuckle, seven-on-one confrontations. Batman is, after all, a detective first and Arkham Asylum forces you to drag out both pen and paper old-world style to solve its most difficult of obstacles. I could go on… unexpected branching paths, blah, blah, blah, formidable enemies; objectives are fresh and non-repeating, you’ve heard all of that before. Ugh. BUT.

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Listen: Batman Arkham Asylum Soundtrack – The Abyss Of Fear

What I really want to talk about is Batman’s walk, or better yet his crouch, or even better than that his grappling hook, or what about his takedown? Being. That is what is most important here, and the most fundamental too, because it is the KEY ingredient sorely missing from these twenty long years of middling-to-awful Batman games. Rocksteady are the only ones to realize that this IS the Dark Knight, and that every other hero on the planet is just some wound-up jerk who’s visited and raided thrift store aisles and happened upon some variant form of colorful Underoos. These rejects, they’ve not thought it through: inevitably, by wearing that costume, they’re going to get hit. One night of cracks to the head might not be enough to put them off, but after a week of blows, surely they’ve started to reconsider and even begin to feel silly about the whole thing. There’s only one true hero, and Rocksteady’s camera is one that captures the view from beneath Bruce Wayne’s legendary cowl, and not from the outside looking in. You feel that power because you have it… all of it.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Last week, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed last week please click here. This week, we have a two-way tie for 4th place.

# 4 Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture (TIE)

No More Heroes / No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

 

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Listen: NMH OST – The Virgin Child Makes Her Wish Without Feeling Anything

Rolls of toilet paper are what I remember most about the 2008 launch of Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes. In the games industry, big software releases are usually celebrated events, or at the bare minimum, people are taking pictures in expensive clothes. At the very least, someone’s posing, and music‘s playing. Here, minutes after the release of No More Heroes, Suda 51 has rolled out of bed, gone down to the nearest and most arbitrary of newsstands, and decided instead to grinningly push reams of two-ply into the hands of disinterested passersby. Oh…but someone DID take a Polaroid.

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Listen: NMH2 OST – Shoegazer Watched The Stars

This is Grasshopper Manufacture, take it or leave it. No solicitors welcome, and there is no room for speechless praise. You get toiletries… not Ezra Pound! Gone is that grand statement of arrival, that torturous harangue of expected social engagement, and that sliding, filtered scale of rewards for a job well done. Suda 51 and his adroit development house actually practice the tenets of Punk Rock, so rather than choose a payday of the most sordid type of lucre, and offer a worship tax to some Madonna of publisher marketing dollars… they make the game THEY want to play. And do you think for a minute that the Sex Pistols would have stood around celebrating Never Mind The Bollocks with journalists? NO! And like the house that built it, Suda 51’s No More Heroes is a deeply outspoken iconoclast whose only real desire is to pelt your house with eggs, and is thoroughly content to grate loudly on your very last nerve. This is prank calls, downed mailboxes, flatulent noises of the body and every off-color, crassly constructed joke known to man. No More Heroes isn’t a champion of the liminal, nor imperceptible game experience, and Grasshopper’s NMH protagonist Travis Touchdown knows but one type of volume: one that is raised notches higher for every five minutes of film. You’ll never forget him, you won’t ever want to, and only this studio could have smuggled this brilliant otaku, this idiot savant, under radar and onto market shelves.

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Listen: NMH OST – Shinobu

Suda 51’s brutish meta masterpiece champions and then seemingly challenges the very lowest of lowbrow humor as its full mooned 16-hour duration thrashes and writhes with such indefatigable, youthful presence that you’d not be faulted to think it a live garage performance in some rug-burn basement. Suda 51’s No More Heroes draws a rather fervent cult from those both lanky and awkward, marginalized and disaffected, shut-in sociopaths and the very cruelest of class clowns. Its humor is unrepentant hilarious grime, its political correctness lagging and non-existent, and its distillation of late 70’s early 80’s pop culture unrivaled. No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle are two of the VERY BEST games to hit shelves in the last ten years. Period. This is neither the classy starched bowtie of the musical Maurice Chevalier, the fuss of head dress as seen on Yul Bryner’s Rameses nor the celebrated masks of Tyrone Guthrie’s take on Oedipus Rex. No, not this. Abandoned drive-in showing Band Of The Hand, They Call Me Bruce and Better Off Dead on a loop? Closer.

The question really is, where would you rather be? I thought so.

Stay tuned…

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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