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A Level A Day – “Red Faction: Guerrilla,” Tutorial Level

A Level A Day – “Red Faction: Guerrilla,” Tutorial Level (photo)

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Truth in title, dear readers: A Level A Day will be my attempt to give my thumbs more exercise every 24 hours. ALAD will be part diary, part analysis and a smidgen of random observation on games that either slipped through the cracks or might deserve reconsideration. I won’t promise to finish every game but I’ll try to track what I think of as honestly as I can, so you’ll at least know why I’m stopping a particular game.

Sunday, December 5, 2010: “Red Faction: Guerrilla, Tutorial Level”

I didn’t play THQ’s sci-fi third-person action title when it first came out. It crept out under my radar and I actually gave my copy away. And, yes, I did smack myself when it wound up being talked up by a bunch of my peers. The reason I’m going back to it is because it’s available as part of the new OnLive service, which lets you stream video games from remote servers directly to your TV. Without an actual disc to play, OnLive gives me the chance to check out this sleeper hit.

“Guerrilla” comes as a soft reboot to previous Red Faction games, which started in 2001 and were well received. The one thing that made the games stand out was their Geo-Mod game engine that allowed for explosive deformation of the game world. With the tech developed by studio Volition, buildings weren’t indestructible and you could blow holes through walls, creating new pathways and thus new strategies to engage the enemy with. So, it’s clear that when THQ decided to go back to “Red Faction,” they decided to focus on extrapolating this technical achievement.

The game’s story focuses on mining engineer Alec Mason, who’s journeyed to Mars looking for honest work alongside his brother Dan. An opening cutscene shows the brothers reuniting and then moves to Dan giving his just-arrived brother the lowdown on status quo of the colonized Red Planet. It’s run by an oppressive military regime called the EDF. “We’re under martial law here. Prison Camps, torture, death squads… people need something to believe in.” As they drive, they watch people being the EDF breach a suspected Red Faction stronghold and then later line people up against a wall. “Forget the propaganda. ‘Free Mars’ is over,” brother Dan says. (This is referring to the aftermath of “Red Faction 1.”)

At Dan’s house-which is basically a trailer on red, dusty terrain-some mysterious visitors pull up. Alec watches from afar and them remarks to his brother that he’s seen the woman before. Dan waves him off, but the woman in question was on a wanted poster displayed at the checkpoint. Think she’s important?

The gameplay basics start getting introduced right away. Alec wields a sledgehammer that can destroy most any structure and you have to bring down a research tower and abandoned lab of deceased scientists. Destroying stuff generates scarp, the economy of the game. I’ve also got explosive charges that stick to stuff. Anything you throw ’em on blows up real good. As I’m going about the ‘sploding and smashing, Alec confronts his brother about the girl, to which Dan says “You know what’s going on. The Red Faction could use a guy like you.” The rest of the exchange goes like this:

Alec: “To do what? What are you people doing out here?”
Dan: “Whatever it takes.”
Alec: “I’m not a terrorist, Dan”
Dan: “You think I am? The EDF are wiping out towns… Alec, we need help!”
Alec: “You got me into enough trouble earthside. I just wanna do honest work here.”
Dan: “That’s what we’re fighting for! If we don’t resist, they’ll take everything.”
Alec: “Enough.”
Dan: “You’ll see I’m right about this.”

An EDF gunship swoops in to arrest Dan and before they even move to run, he gets shot down. This miserable turn of events just incites me to play even further and, even if this intro sequence feels a bit by-the-numbers in terms of how it introduces gameplay mechanics, “RFG” sports one of the best opening levels in recent memories.

It’s funny to be playing “Red Faction Guerrilla” at the tail end of a year where “Medal of Honor” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops” have stirred up political controversies. Alec is basically getting caught up in a subversive anti-authoritarian underground and I’m getting the sense that game’s going to great pains to tell you that you’re doing the right thing. In the first “Red Faction” game, main character Parker was fighting against an evil corporation that was exploiting miners. (One of the game’s sectors is actually named after Parker, who’s gone down as a war hero.) At the end of the 2001 “Red Faction,” The Earth Defense Force swept in to save the day. In the fifty years between “Red Faction 1” and “Guerrilla,” it’s EDF who are actually the bad guys. This turn of events suggest a continuity of oppression, if only incidental, between corporate and military entities. Even if it’s accidental, most video games don’t contain this much subtext. It makes the blatantly manipulative brother death almost palatable and incites me to wonder how much the game’s going to appropriate radical-left political jargon.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.