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IG: V and Then Some Blathering

  • kumada
  • 01/22/2012 10:25 PM
At A Glance

Your mother is dying around you. In three hours, she will be your tomb. Not one for sentimentality, you decide to cut your way out.

On your side you have superhuman reflexes, an intimate knowledge of the workings of machines, and the ability to tap magic from a current of tortured dreams. Arrayed against you are bioengineered angels, skin-clothed terminators, automated defense systems, and what could very well be a head crab.

Iron Gaia: Virus is a tightly paced cyberpunk/horror rpg in the style of System Shock, while also heavily influenced by the music of Coheed & Cambria. It picks up immediately after the events of Iron Gaia, following supporting character Dietrich Slade as he tries to escape the space-station-turned-god that gave birth to him. If that sounds confusing, that's because it is.

Iron Gaia: Virus relies heavily on prior player knowledge of the IG universe. It throws a lot of names and characters and concepts at you at once, and expects you to at least recognize most of them. From a strictly mechanical perspective, it surpasses its younger brother completely, working in a functional ATB, consistent mini-games, balanced combat, and resource management--all without overloading the player. It is a harder game, and the deadline for completing it does make it possible to save your way into an unwinnable state, but the game is also only three hours long. Restarting, freshly fortified with a sense of well-I'm-not-going-to-balls-this-up-this-time, is perfectly possible. Most of the challenge in the gameplay is in developing working strategies and coming up with puzzle solutions, with combat playing a part in both.

IG: V is not flawless. It does have its rough edges. Some of the good-concept-somehow-turned-to-clunky-game-design that was a part of the first Iron Gaia is still evident here (mostly in the form of a game-within-a-game required to continue the plot,) and at least two puzzles are monstrously hard. The entire game takes place in a fairly limited maze of corridors and rooms, and fights to keep this environment from becoming stale by including walk-speed upgrades and introducing new enemies as time goes on.

While generally balanced, some fights in IG: V are brutally hard, and they have a frustrating tendency to come right after extremely long cut scenes. Saves are provided after these scenes, but they don't give the player the option to re-equip, re-arm, or even heal. As a result, a fair bit of the game's challenge (and its horror factor) comes from the constant threat that your healing items will run out.

For all the effort that was put into its combat system, IG: V is still a very story heavy game. Sometimes this story completely hijacks the player's attention, but mostly it cooperates with and enhances gameplay. Battles feel all the more compelling because the player is invested in caring about the characters involved, and the lengthy cutscenes are tolerable because of the interesting philosophical spin they put on the plot.

IG: V is not a first choice for the easily frustrated, but it is a compelling experience. If you've ever liked Shadowrun, System Shock, or rock operas about murder and betrayal in space, give this a shot.

Now, For a Change of Pace, Literary Analysis

Most of you probably do not care. Feel free to skip ahead to the end. There are spoilers lying dead ahead, and the review briefly breaks from analyzing the game itself to analyzing some abstract issues related to the plot.

Still with me?


I've already pretty much established how much I enjoyed this game, but it has forever been the way of the critic to scowl and poke and nitpick in pursuit of a greater understanding of art.

My biggest problem with Iron Gaia: Virus is that it is too gaideny. It knows that it's a side story, and every time the plot tries to break free of that, it remembers that the things it's doing aren't supposed to be as awesome as the things happening in the central plotline, and so it tones them down.

For example, a good half of the game deals with the ominous possibility that Gaia, Slade's Shodan-esque mother/god, might still be alive somehow. She even goes so far as to very nearly interact with him in several abstract and easily misinterpretable ways. By the end, the plot seems to have assumed that she is still alive and is trying to wake back up, but she never has any sort of a confrontation with Slade. Instead, out of absolutely nowhere, another villain is introduced. The Vision. Yes, she's an allusion to the character of Chase from Coheed & Cambria's The Amory Wars, and the narrative even goes so far as to have her quote a few lines. However, you don't get to fight her either. You don't even get to fight the Mengle-esque doctor who you spend the whole game playing cat-and-mouse with. The final battle is with a pile of unstable cells. It's as if the plot had to be coerced into saving all the good bits for Iron Gaia II.

There is still some resolution. In many ways, the denouement of the game is quite satisfying. However, it missed its opportunity to be collar-grabbingly intense. IG:V was content to sit in its quiet little corner and just be a gaiden, which was a shame, because it's way better than that.

My other principal issue with IG: V as a narrative is that it made the awkward jump from using Coheed & Cambria as source of inspiration to quoting it outright. I really don't mind the occasional line, especially as oblique references for fans to pick up on and feel absurdly self-satisfied about, but this happened several times in close succession near the end of the game. It wasn't lamp-shading or allegory or reference, it was trying to tap into the narrative energy of another work, which is only really effective if you do it once. If you have a character that quotes direct from the bible in a really awesome way during a really awesome scene, that's great. But if he quotes from the bible all the time, he becomes "that guy who quotes from the bible" and the things he says get lost in the label.

For someone like me, who enjoys both Coheed & Cambria and IG, there's a lot of fun to be had in looking at the ways IG uses C&C as a reference point but then goes somewhere completely different with its own plot. None of IG's characters are expies of anything in a Coheed & Cambria universe. Some of them occupy the same archetypes (Dr Cross and Dr Hohenberg, Cross' Russian bodyguard and Mayo Deftinwolf, etc,) but the roles they play in the story are all scrambled around, and their personalities are very different.

Delirium Trigger, the song that plays over the main menu of IG: V, sets the tone perfectly. This is because the first few lyrics are essentially a jumping-off point for the game. Lemme just type them out for you.

We're now up here alone. Terror on the intercom. Can someone save us?
Systems malfunctioned. Blast it, this damn machine. Over and out, captain.
Something lurks, creeps on the counter top, somewhere behind you.
Parasitic cyst, I can't stand to watch. It's coming up and out of your chest...

That's good stuff, if it's the kind of thing you like, and the song and IG: V quickly split off into different narrative trajectories after that. However, towards the end, the game quotes this song several times, occasionally forcing the deliberately odd wording of Sanchez' lyrics into lines of rational dialogue. It doesn't quite fit.

A better treatment of the same basic idea is the way IG: V uses the song IRO Bot. It does play during a particular sequence, but I only remember it being quoted once in the story, and then only vaguely. Like Delerium Trigger, it fits the mood of the game because it was unmistakably an inspiration for it, but unlike Delerium Trigger it makes the player work to discover how deep that connection runs.

IRO Bot talks about how "systems lost their mind," and describes "the ride home through perilous." Most importantly, though, it sums up all of IG: V in a single lyric.

My courage goes unlooked.

If it hadn't deliberately relegated itself to the role of a gaiden, giving up a lot of narrative tension in the process, IG: V would have completely overshadowed the original.


Play if you like:
-System Shock
-Coheed & Cambria
-Attention to polish and technical detail

Skip if you hate:
-Poorly defined boundaries between rooms
-Resource management


Pages: 1
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Wow, this is a pretty great review. I'm not sure if your score and text agree with each other, exactly, but who am I to complain. There's a lot of stuff here I wanted to respond to, though because it's really interesting to me obviously.


One thing I want to explain is that...Iron Gaia is very much a story without a climax. The final climactic confrontation between Slade and Carter and the GAIA (each of which is, by the way you may have noticed, one leg of a kind of tripod, comparable to the id, the ego, and the superego...of humanity) that's being telegraphed here was very much supposed to happen in Iron Gaia 2. So this stuff wasn't left out of IGV out of deference to IG1 or out of a sense of "it's a sidestory, can't make it TOO epic", it was left out of IGV out of a sense of "GOTTA SAVE SOME STUFF FOR IG2" exactly as you correctly identified.

(IG2 never happened in large part because...let's just say it's a long story. So yeah, with IG1 and IGV we know what happened BEFORE the climax. And with Systems Malfunction we know what happened AFTER the climax. But the only part of the story that's missing is the climax. The final confrontation between Slade, Carter, and the GAIA.)

"You don't even get to fight the Mengle-esque doctor who you spend the whole game playing cat-and-mouse with. The final battle is with a pile of unstable cells."

Well that's because really that wouldn't even have been a fight. At that point Sigmus is a fully upgraded fallen-demigod of shit wrecking and Dr. Cross is...while extremely smart and extremely ruthless, just a man. So his, y'know...ending...was intended as a planned anti-climax of sorts to build up the Vision. Oh and just to be clear, the Vision and the GAIA are only as "different" as the Father and the Son (in the Christian sense) and even probably not that much.

That said, I think in hindsight that Slade and Dr. Cross are my favorite characters in the entire mythos. Slade because he's my own miniature little Sephiroth, all badass all of the time, and while it has been fairly mocked there's certainly a part of me that is still teenage and still very much drawn to that. Dr. Cross because I think nothing beats a good villain, and Dr. Cross is an ordinary human being who is a hundred thousand times more evil (and more scary) than the GAIA or Sigmus...for that very fact!

My completely oddball misinterpretations of the Coheed and Cambria narrative are in fact much more interesting/compelling/coherent/adult/fully realized than the Coheed and Cambria narrative. This is not because I'm super awesome, it's because as a narrative Coheed and Cambria utterly fails. The Coheed and Cambria story, as a story, is fucking terrible; it is nonetheless the source of a lot of great music and quotable phrases. Taken individually, the songs and their lyrics are great. But when you look at the actual narrative, like in the form of the comics or the novels, it is just really, really an inferior (to everything) narrative. This is not an adaptation of the Amory Wars story, it is the adaptation of a story that I peaced together separately from Coheed's songs while completely and studiously ignoring the Amory Wars story for as long as possible.

Also I am fairly sure that Iron Gaia actually well predated my awareness of Coheed and Cambria, so all of the Coheed stuff was shoehorned in afterwards. So it was much less "here is a game based on these songs" and more "holy shit these songs really, really, really remind me of my game".

As for expies...well, there are a fair share of them, but not in the videogames. Namely, Mayo Deftwinolf, President Will (as opposed to supreme tri-mage wilhelm ryan), Coheed Kilgannon, Chase Kilgannon, Padraig Kilgannon, Matthew Kilgannon, Maria Kilgannon and Al the Killer all literally appear as characters of those names later on in the Iron Gaia/Systems Malfunction saga. Specifically like...several hundred years later on. Even then, with the exceptions of the Beast and Al, they generally have literally nothing in common with the Amory Wars verse characters except their corresponding names. Also, by and large, they're a LOT more interesting and less one-dimensional/forgettable, again, not because I'm some kind of super awesome wild talent of writing but because when it comes to STORIES as opposed to lyrics, Claudio Sanchez can't write his way out of a paper bag. I hope all of this Coheed bashing coming from me doesn't come off as GROTESQUELY ungrateful, they're still one of my favorite bands, I'm just far more attached to my own misunderstanding of their story than to the story itself.

"We're now up here alone. Terror on the intercom. Can someone save us?
Systems malfunctioned. Blast it, this damn machine. Over and out, captain.
Something lurks, creeps on the counter top, somewhere behind you.
Parasitic cyst, I can't stand to watch. It's coming up and out of your chest..."

I read somewhere that these lyrics (from one of my favorite songs ever) are based directly on the movie Alien movie franchise that I so love--particularly Aliens which is my favorite MOVIE of all time. In turn, Iron Gaia: Virus is based directly on these lyrics. It's all very cyclical.

The active quoting of Coheed in this game is hit or miss, because what the hell is Claudio Sanchez ever even talking about (I NEED MAYO I WON'T FAIL YOU NOW i mean like was he really HUNGRY or) and also because he doesn't know grammar (nothing ever does ANYTHING through perilous, yo, because PERILOUS is not and never will be a NOUN). However I do think that the line "Come know me as God" is incredibly important to the conclusion of this game and the entire reality of what Slade is becoming. Because patterns repeat, endlessly, in all things and in becoming a God the Gaia has created its very own Devil. By the end of the saga, who is the worse of the two is fully open to debate. But yes I'm certain that some of the other quoting is probably an overflowing of fannish enthusiasm. Although to be fair there was worse and much more embarassing lyric quoting in Iron Gaia 1.

over and out, connecticut
That's a different game, iirc.
Fallen-Griever, just looking for clarification here. Do you mean 'vindication' as in this supports your review, or 'vindication' as in I have switched over to the 'correct' reviewing style?

Max, those stars are an indication of how much I enjoyed the game and how much I would recommend it to other people. I typically scale the nitpickiness of my critique up or down based on how polished a project is. This is to avoid, say, getting really bent out of shape over a minigame if there's a greater problem with combat, or something like that.

I had to go all the way to the point of academic analysis to find issues with this game, so that should be a pretty strong indication that this is a fun thing to play.

And now, to engage with the very long response:

-Anticlimaxes can be pretty interesting, so most of the frustration there comes from the absent sequel.

-I understood that Cross' death was a way to make the Vision into a badass, but he still could've had a showdown with Slade. In many ways, he would've been an even stronger character for it. The fact that he could go toe to toe with a fully upgraded angel, using bioengineered minions or the Gaia's defense systems or experimental weapons tech or whatever, would really build him up in the player's eyes. Having the Vision crush him afterwards would not only build her up even more, but would also be a little sad. At the end of the day, it's kinda hard not to sympathize with Cross. He may be a terrible person, but he absolutely cares about things, and he spends the whole game fighting a deck that's been stacked against him.

-I don't know that I'd necessarily say either your story or coheed and cambria's trumps the other. They're different mediums, and I choose not to consider the comic books as canon, or any of the parts of YOTBR that Claudio was allowed to write.

-The deliberate mismanagement of sentence structure in his songs I actually find pretty cool, because it puts you off balance for a moment and forces you to give what he's saying a little more consideration and meaning. It definitely wouldn't work in prose (except if you're Hal Duncan,) but it's an interesting extra bit to a song.

-The quoting in Iron Gaia prime, strangely, felt more apt. It was in-universe quoting, from songs that they characters had heard, so it didn't stand out as much to me. Other people may disagree on this one.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
I'm pretty sure that he meant the former, kumada, but it's also possible he meant LockeZ's game as Kentona mentioned. : )

He initially gave Virus a 5 Star review, but he reduced it to a 4.5 because of peer pressure changing his criteria over time. Considering that the only other review for Virus up till now apparently expressed the opinion that it was like the worst game in human history, I'd imagine he'd feel relieved that he hadn't suffered some kind of insane fugue state while playing it.

I don't think there is a correct reviewing style; yours definitely differs from mine and while I prefer mine, I'd certainly say they're both equally valid.

Anyway as for the Amory Wars I didn't mean to shit quite so virulently on something you like, so I'm glad you didn't get too offended. It would probably have sufficed to say that my thoughts on reading The Amory Wars comics not illustrated by Christopher Shy were: "Claudio Sanchez has some cool ideas. I wish he'd hired someone who knew how to write to write this for him." Of course, I can't deny my own fanboy status: I've read "Year Of The Black Rainbow" in its entirety and the literary skills of veteran hack-for-hire Peter David (who I've met...sort of) did not help him much, IMHO.

Now Gerard Way and The Umbrella Academy on the other hand...damnit that little emofag has entirely, entirely too many different kinds of talent. Not. Fair. Most of us struggle desperately to cultivate even one.

~Iron Gaia Stuffs~

Cross versus Carter you say? Interesting thought, I'd never even really considered it until much further down the timeline and down a fork of alternate continuity. Honestly, if it happened circa the GAIA crash-landing, I don't think Carter would even have had a chance. He had no prior warning about Cross, and generally speaking he's far too trusting of anything that's not obviously a killer robot, a fact that Iron Gaia 2 would have explored a lot.

Cross is perversely likable, sitting at the intersection of Magnificent Bastard and Complete Monster (tv tropes links omitted). He also has more than a few CMOAs, not least of which is quoting At The Drive In, which I like to think that he did knowingly.

Anyway, he's also fascinating because he's the prime mover of the whole story, on a certain level. Without his own ambition and complete and utter ruthlessness, you'd not have the GAIA, Sigmus, or Carter, or the whole story really. I realize it's a bit of a retcon, but I thought it was a better impetus for the GAIA's madness than the rather lame IG1 version of it being hit by space junk and going bonkers.
Max, I agree pretty much completely with that stuff about the Amory Wars, YOTBR, and Umbrella Academy. As for Gerard Way, I'm assuming that's f*g in the channer sense of the word, since he's straight. And yeah, he does a much better job with his comic than Claudio, who I wish had just hired Brian K Vaughn.

With regards to reviews, I think it's kind of important to have a spectrum of them. Silviera did not enjoy this game, but it wasn't really his cup of tea. When I'm considering buying a game, I read one positive review and one negative review to try and get a more balanced idea of whether I, personally would like it. Neither one is objectively right. They just reflect an experience.

Incidentally, I meant to say Slade where I said Carter in the above post. Editing that in now.

As for the retcon, I never trusted the asteroid explanation for Gaia's madness, since the timeline was already wonky, and it's known that she was screwing with people's memories. I can certainly believe that Cross thinks he was the prime mover for Gaia's madness, but the personal reality of anyone who has ever been on board that station is suspect.

Especially people who think they got close to the Gaia.
re: IG1 song quoting:

I dunno, the example that sticks out to me (and mind I haven't actually played IG1 in literally YEARS)...

... is right before the first fight with Omegus, IIRC, when Carter just out of batfuck NOWHERE starts singing Head Like a Hole. Yeah, the "I'd rather die than give you control" line fits and is awesome, but "Head like a hole/Black as your soul" doesn't. (Note by "fit" I mean "into the conversation as something that would rationally be said, not fitting as in tone). I'd like to picture that Omegus was just standing there going "what the fuck" as Carter was busting out the NIN karaoke.

re: Max's spoilers,

I'll try to go in further detail after my last class/work study, but I think there's more than enough room given what is stated in IG1 and Virus for both Doctor Cross and the space junk to have played a role in the GAIA's insanity.

Otoko, Carter does have a line somewhere in there about how his memory is coming back, evidently enough that he remembers old rock lyrics.

It's in the future, so maybe Trent Reznor is their version of Shakespeare?
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Carter is a weird friggin' guy. He tears up when he hears "Dust In the Wind". I'm not even joking. Oto re: your example, yes that is the part I find embarassing in hindsight. It's weird because I'm not even a big NIN fan. Never have been. The lyrics just seemed to really fit.

LockeZ did not enjoy this game, but it wasn't really his cup of tea. When I'm considering buying a game, I read one positive review and one negative review to try and get a more balanced idea of whether I, personally would like it. Neither one is objectively right. They just reflect an experience.

LockeZ did not AFAIK ever play this game. O.o

The scathing review is by Silviera and yeah...it's already been...discussed.
Wow, what is wrong with me today? I meant Silviera.

Names: 2, Me: 0
Okay, so here's my (hazy) thoughts on the spoilers discussed above.

FIRST AND LAST WARNING: IG-verse wide spoilers below! If you even think you'll want to play the games yourself, don't read this spoiler!

Humanity's reaction to the extinction event coming their way is two-fold: the Iron Gaia itself and then the Independence Program, a barrage of every civilized nation's entire ballistic arsenal, aimed at the meteor, in an attempt to minimize the damage to those not fortunate enough to be picked in the IG Lottery. We know as much from the journal scene in IG1.

In IG:Virus, we learn that Dr. Cross has perverted the GAIA to perform his experiments. We also learn that, when Dr. Cross illegally boarded the GAIA, the ship wasn't moving because of an issue with the propulsion systems. In the later flashbacks to these first days aboard the station, all the characters never mention the status of the systems, only vague references to attempting to fix it.

What I always assumed as happening is that the GAIA originally and rightfully was concerned with getting the station moving again, because she didn't want to be in the path of the Independence program. This would hamper Cross's plans to use the GAIA as the testing ground for his experiments, so he had to get around this. I believe that instead of actually fixing the propulsion systems and getting the ship moving, he and his team somehow fooled the GAIA into believing the ship was moving. The people on the ground, fearing for their survival, initiate the Independence Program and pray for a miracle...

Flash forward to IG1. For 400 years, the GAIA has believed that she has been moving through space to find a new home while performing Dr. Cross's research when suddenly something hits her. Analysis reveals it to be fragments of the very meteor that was supposed to impact Earth 400 years ago (my theory is a piece orbiting back through the system after being redirected from the Independence Program). Then what is it doing here?

The GAIA comes to the realization that she has been lied to, and she is about to crash into the very planet she was meant to partially save. Meanwhile, a rogue demi-god is doing his best to make sure her and her experiments are wiped from the universe entirely, and he's awoken another fledgling demi-god to assist him. In short, everything she'd done for the last 400 years was under threat. I'd go a little batshit too.

(also: I'm pretty sure the IG2 demo mentions that the Independence Program was a partial success, but the remaining fragments of the meteor that still impacted pretty much fucked Earth's shit up. How that made it to Origin if Origin != Earth, who knows.)
My favorite theory involves some pretty intense time-wobbling, but it's basically that IG is the Mephisto comet (that was its name, right?) and that the impact during IG 1 is the independence program hitting it when it comes back to earth (Origin.) This explains why Origin was fully civilized but empty, and also why the comet and Iron Gaia have approximately similar masses...
The problem with that is that I'm almost 100% the GAIA specifically states analysis of whatever hits it in IG1 to be a piece of the meteor, which you're close on the name of (I think it's Mephistopheles). I think it would recognize a piece itself and say as much in this case.
There is that, which kind of wrecks the theory. Oh, well. I'll have to find another mindscrewey unlikelihood to champion.
There is that, which kind of wrecks the theory. Oh, well. I'll have to find another mindscrewey unlikelihood to champion.

I could be wrong. I'm going to replay IG1 and possibly IG:V this weekend because you got me thinking about the games again so I'll see how good my memory is.

Also, sleep-deprived and behind-on-homework as I am, I looked back at one of my posts and the phrase "Doctor Cross and the Space Junk" jumped out at me as an awesome name for a rock band.
I'm pretty sure that Kumada's actually right on this one, gents. Have to wait on word of god for that though.

Mephistos comet :)

Also, Oto, I kind of want to start that band now.
Iron Gaia: the game that inspired several other games, a tabletop rpg, a LARP, and the weirdest jam band in space.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
Systems Malfunction the band has been bandied about since fall of 2005 without ever coming together. I'm beginning to think it's just never going to happen; we've lost more musicians over time than we have currently.

As for "word of god" I've been silent on purpose; all interpretations are equally valid, at least until there's actually a sequel.
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