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Rapture posted a blog entry in Teal RalkWarning: Contains Spoilers Sometimes being a competitive gamer gets in the way of being, well, a gamer. As much as I'm practically addicted to Starcraft 2, the hours upon hours a day I put into practicing the game does take away from actually enjoying most other games I would otherwise be playing. Sure, I get to play some fun N64 sessions with my roommates often, but mostly I dedicate my own gaming time to competitive SC2. However, being on spring break this week, I decided to dial back my practice time a bit and instead enjoy what the rest of the industry has to offer. When I decided today this week that I was going to play some new games, I then realized that the only thing I had with me gaming wise was my laptop, which has SC2, as well as other games I've beaten. I needed a new console game, something to run campaign by myself, just like the old days. I have too many multiplayer sessions so I need some alone time with just me and the game, I thought to myself. Thankfully, an opportunity presented itself – my friend had recently picked up the new SSX game for his 360 and, after managing to run to Gamestop after lunch today, I picked up Vanquish (which was release in October of 2010) after seeing that it was on sale for $15 and that the clerk mentioned that it was “severely underrated.” I couldn't resist. First, I want to start with SSX, the latest installment in the extreme snowboarding franchise published by Electronic Arts. Let me start off by saying that SSX comes into my view with a disadvantage – it is not SSX Tricky, the second installment in the series and by far my favorite snowboarding game of all time. I've put countless hours into Tricky, making it one of the most played games to ever be popped into my Gamecube (it was also the first Gamecube game I ever owned, too!). So, unless this SSX was SSX Tricky 2 or something better, it was going to disappoint. Can't beat the classics. Immediately, I felt the prophecy unfolding. The cheesy intro to the game's plot started to dig a hole for itself – apparently, veteran riders Mac, Zoey, and Elise form a team of snowboarders called SSX (which stands for Surfing, Snowboarding, and Cross Country...or something like that) that square off against the just-as-unoriginal Team Griff, which is led by, you guessed it, Griff, a former member of SSX. The objective of the game is to defeat Team Griff on the world's 9 Deadly Descents, winning races and grabbing points by doing insanely awesome combos. Unlike in SSX Tricky, once again setting the highest bar for me in the series, the new SSX felt...well, bland. Yeah, the graphics are good, the sense of speed is there, and the realism is taken up a notch. But the problem is that, well, it's just not very fun. For one thing, the beginning of the game moves at a terribly slow pace, and by that I mean it took me a long time to get myself to run another race after finishing another one. First of all, one of the greatest things about SSX Tricky was that there were a bunch of racers causing tons of calamity down the track, knocking each other down violently, and scoring crazy amounts of points in any way they could. But in the new SSX, that's not all necessarily there. Many races, for example, have 4 or less snowboarders to an event (as opposed to the 6 racers in every event featured in Tricky). Some races were just trips down the mountain against a “ghost” of another snowboarder, the snowboarding equivalent to masturbating while trying to break a speed record set by Ron Jeremy. There's no tension, nothing to stir up excitement. I can't even violently stiff arm opponents as I race down the mountain, mostly because I'm not even racing against an actual opponent half the time! Nope, I really don't enjoy racing by myself, sorry. Then there's the fact that SSX is trying to “reinvent” the franchise. Tricky was fun because it was outlandishly cartoony and over-the-top. But SSX is simply trying to take itself too seriously, incorporating armor and health into the game, as well as items like wingsuits and helmets with flashlights (I've always wanted a game version of one of those!), as well as having more cheesy intros to mountain runs (according to the narrator, apparently Team SSX will simply get the funding it needs to survive by having big livestream numbers on its PornHub account). Oh and, obviously, none of the mountain runs are anything but, you guessed it, downward slopes of snow on top of rock. At the very least SSX Tricky's courses had flavor and personality to them, with warp pipes, ridiculous pipelines, and snowflake combo upgrades galore. Apparently when a franchise is reinvented, that means taking out all the good stuff for the real stuff. Realism does not always mean fun. That's simply the problem here, actually, as I said before. SSX just isn't fun. With Tricky, scoring combos wasn't necessarily hard, but it brought a lot to the game. Characters yelled and screamed at each other, as well as having distinct moves and looks; courses were colorful and amazing rides; graphics bounced off the screen in a way that doesn't make you sick (looking at you 3D technology, god I hate you). But with SSX 2012, I get to look at the same environments over and over while the characters, who all wear similar body armor, lack a lot of personality (no, Zoe pathetically shadow boxing in the helicopter before her first run does not count as having personality) and make no effort to make me care about the game. In Tricky, I absolutely loved suiting up as my boy Mac, stiff arming the living hell out of Elise any chance I got, then seeing the engagement at the winner's platform between the two stir up fire. Instead, I get a cheesy narrator, an annoying helicopter pilot that lets me know that I'm actually a functioning human being with the ability to snowboard (why is it that I need to here from a helicopter pilot, by the way?) and no fun at all. Oh, and the game has absolutely no local multiplayer, and the online multiplayer is essentially time trials against ghosts. So much fun! Thankfully, just before I wanted to return the game for my friend so he could use the money on something more useful, the Xbox randomly red ringed, forcing us to end our SSX session. I happily took this opportunity to pop in Vanquish and give the first two missions a test run. I mean, it couldn't be any worse than a pathetic excuse for a snowboarding game, right (EA, I just want SSX Tricky 2, come on!)? I was certainly right – Vanquish ended up being better than SSX, much better. Yeah, the games are different (who compares third person shooters to shovelware...um, snowboarding games, anyway?), but they're still both games. I can definitely say, without a doubt, that I walked away from the first two missions of Vanquish with a lot more excitement, hype, and fun had than when SSX tried to commit suicide in my friend's console. Thanks red ring of death, high five! Honestly, I think the reason why I like Vanquish so much is that it's more like SSX Tricky than SSX 2012 is. Right from the get-go, the game is completely ridiculous – protagonist Sam Gideon, who's voice sounds like the result of being strangled by a group of orangutans constantly for a period of several months, is tasked with stopped an evil Russian ultra-nationalist from destroying New York City and the rest of the United States after using a huge American space station to destroy San Francisco. A long, but extremely awesome cutscene (which is awesomely capitalized by Gideon straight not giving a fuck and blowing cigarette smoke, while in full armor, at the face of his commanding officer, who looks like an old Marcus Fenix [badass!]) precedes an epic rush into a Russian ship which forces Gideon and the rest of Bravo Company to destroy waves of Russian robotic infantry. To do this, I got my hands on Gideon's DARPA-funded battle armor that makes him the closest this game's universe will get to having Master Chief in its wars. Gideon has access to a pretty standard array of weaponry (a shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, the usual culprits), but they all have a strong sense of power and punch when the trigger is pulled. However, Vanquish's best mechanics are the cover system and the boosted power slide. The cover system, most certainly inspired by the Gears of War series, works very well, if anything a bit quickly. I certainly didn't mind the insanely agile movements that Gideon makes from cover to cover, though. The slide, however, is probably the coolest thing Vanquish has to offer – with the press (and hold) of a button, Gideon races across the ground on his knees. From this position, he can simply blast by enemies, fire his gun, and take cover. If you decide upon the second option, however, Gideon goes into “bullet time,” which is exactly what you think it is. Though Vanquish isn't exactly going to win awards for its story or voice acting, and neither will it find comfort in innovating weaponry in video games (at least give the guns cool names!), the most important thing is that it's fun! Sliding towards enemies so I can give them the business with the shotgun is extremely exciting, while taking pot shots at far away enemies with the sniper feels just as good as it does in any other shooter, if not more so. There are even boss fights! You heard me right, boss fights. The infection of Call of Duty games oddly started a trend of the decline of boss fights and the rise of “set pieces”, which are pretty much just big climatic events that consist of you doing the same things you were doing previously in the mission but with more explosions and curse words. Vanquish, however, doesn't give a damn about trends, so instead I got to face off against a towering robot with some glowing weak points I got to aim at. At first, I fear that the boss battle would simply be just as dated as ones found in older console generations – fire at the weak spot, dodge attacks, rinse and repeat. Vanquish was able to throw a curve ball in this department thanks to giving the bosses much more to do. While I peppered bullets into the number of soft spots on the boss character, I had to do my best to slide away from rampant cluster-missile launchers, gigantic lasers, and direct physical slams from the robot. Even on Normal difficulty, the boss gave me a challenge as ammo constantly ran dry while I barely managed to escape its multiple attacks. Oh, and then it transformed into another form, which was even harder to deal with. No, Vanquish's boss battles are not completely reinventing how those work, either, but again the most important part was that fighting the big Russian robot was a ton of fun. It didn't feel scripted, it didn't feel slow. It took all of my known skills and technology to defeat the menace, and I walked away with a sense of accomplishment. Now, it is fair that I put the new SSX on a bar raised by SSX Tricky, and that it ended up failing to impress me because it was not as good? Of course. I would hope that sequels are better than their predecessors. And is it fair to recommend Vanquish despite having faults even though I do not recommend SSX for also having faults? Definitely, because despite its faults (which are less like faults and more like really hilarious offerings to the comedy gods), Vanquish is still a really enjoyable game. However, for SSX, despite its faults, it is not a fun game. EA, you're going to have to do better than that. As for all of you reading this, give both games a try and see how you like them...but mark my words, beating the living hell out of Russian robots and being a total badass in space armor is much more fun than beating the living hell out of snowboarding ghosts and being a totally bland character dressed in garbage cans and package peanuts.