Sunday, October 7, 2012
In the beginning there was a mansion, its surrounding property, and a laboratory underneath it. That was it. The game relied on mystery, environment, it's slow-paced, high tension, moody atmosphere. You had to save ammunition (the knife is your friend) not just for stronger enemies, not just in case of a horde of zombies, but because you don't know when you will REALLY need that ammunition; in fact, you were scared to use it. Hence, the genre Survival Horror was born (some people consider Alone in the Dark the first, which may be true, but Resident Evil was the first huge success). Resident Evil 1-4 relied on this Survival Horror system. Actually, it was more or less an attitude.
Yes, I did include Resident Evil 4 as a Survival Horror game because at the beginning you have a basic handgun and a janky shotgun--which belonged to a farmer, most likely--against these people that are not acting entirely normal (yet they're not zombies, which was SO refreshing--at the time) and a gigantic ogre like boss. In Resident Evil 4 there is a real sense of John Carpenter's The Thing-esque paranoia about the odd acting residence (which is essentially very true to the title "Resident Evil" in the sense that you're going against these residents that are, indeed, evil; and the Japanese title still concurs with the game, too). The deeper you go in Resident Evil 4, the less scary it becomes, but that's because you've figured out the mystery and now you're trying to solve the problem. But, the first half of the game is pure horror (the first time you go into the village is probably the scariest the franchise has ever been before and after)--and then even toward the end of the game, there are still some moments of horror that will get you.
Then there was Resident Evil 5: it was about a guy who killed a bunch of angry people infected with parasites and Star Wars' misfit monsters and Agent Smith from The Matrix made an appearance, but he dyed his hair blonde. Okay, I'm joking as you know, but that doesn't mean it isn't the truth. It was a decent action game (and Mercenaries was really fun with a partner) but not a very good Resident Evil game. This was always my comparison: If Resident Evil 4 was the Casino Royale of the Resident Evil franchise (a reboot which saved a dying franchise and breathed new life into it), then Resident Evil 5 was the Quantum of Solace of the Resident Evil franchise (gimmick after gimmick and an exploitation of the previous title's changes: what that means is that Resident Evil 5 said to itself, "Resident Evil 4 changed a lot of things, so I'm going to change even more things." A decent action game, but a horrible Resident Evil game from almost every aspect except for its dazzling graphics.
RESIDENT EVIL 6:
I thought that Resident Evil 5 was the Quantum of Solace of the franchise . . . but I was wrong.
The game starts off without explanation: Leon and an injured girl (Helena) are in a ravaged city--zombies are everywhere and a helicopter is seemingly shooting at you. You make your way through the city only for you to realize that it was just a very interactive title and credits sequence. At the end of the gameplay you see a monster's foot and Leon says something smart like usual and then we see the title--Resident Evil 6--and now you're in the menu where you can choose your campaign or its multitude of special features.
You can initially choose from Leon's campaign, Chris's campaign, or Jake's campaign, but choose wisely because once you pick one you have to see it through to the end. But, before getting into the campaigns, I'll discuss my general thoughts about the game.
The general critiques about RE6 have been quite consistent. Imagine that you have a person with ADHD that loves action movies--but is trying to throw in horror to appeal to the fan base--and is trying to put together a very elaborate plot without the necessary skill for storytelling to tell it. The game is very unfocused; you're not sure who's the main* villain--in fact, not even the villains know who the true villains are. And when you beat the campaigns, only the least important details are explained--and even worse--in mundane manners.
THE C-VIRUS (some spoilers in third paragraph): 1/5
From the very start of the franchise what interested me more than the mutants or the zombies or the ganados/majini, was the virus or the parasite used to create such monstrosities. Resident Evil was about the T-Virus (Tyrant Virus) and, if you take Lisa Trevor into consideration, the origins of the G-Virus as well. Resident Evil 2 was about the effects the T-Virus and the G-Virus (which resulted in a form of unstable biological immortality at the cost of the human soul or consciousness); Resident Evil 3--which takes place at the same time as Resident Evil 2--continued to lay down the foundation of the T-Virus, but as opposed to showing the G-Virus (which only Leon was going against), the game focused on to what extent the T-Virus could be used for biological weaponry. For instance, the Nemesis-T Type was designed by a European branch of Umbrella to prove that T-Virus test subjects could still retain most of their intelligence. And to test out this hypothesis: Go kill all the S.T.A.R.S. members in Raccoon City so we could kill two birds with one stone. Resident Evil: Code Veronica was about the T-Veronica virus (which is a little harder to explain, but it's important to know that it's a variation of the Progenitor Virus which is the basis for all the previously mentioned viruses). I'm going to skip explaining the biological agents in Resident Evil Zero because it's essentially the same as in the first game, and finally go into Resident Evil 4, which was a game changer. The T-Virus was mentioned; Luis said that he had scene a sample at some medical center: that means that the T-Virus has been ultimately erradicated from the world; domesticated, you could say. Resident Evil 4, however, brought in a new type of biological weapon--the Las Plagas. Although many of the Las Plagas experiments in RE4 were accidental and experimental--such as the big salamander in the lake; it was just a byproduct of the experimentations taking place. And then Jack Krauser (who has a previously unknown history with Leon, but was later explained in Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles), who was previously working for Wesker, pretending to work for Saddler, actually did take a gift from Saddler--the Plagas, which he injected into himself--and became more powerful (although I think the arm injure he had obtained against Javier in Darkside was a motivating factor). At one point, he mutated his arm. The point being, all the mutations in Resident Evil 4 made sense. And then we go into Resident Evil 5: the Uroboros makes perfect sense in a biological standpoint, because such a virus would need biological matter to grow in size; but it was the Las Plagas that didn't make sense. Ricardo Irving, for instance, injected himself and became a giant sea monster . . . oh, and he just happened to be on a boat . . . how convenient.
Now, in Resident Evil 6, we have the C-Virus. Unlike in Resident Evil 1-5, I have no idea what the origins are, I have no idea how its biology works (other than it is a conductor of heat in many ways); I have no idea, partially because there are no in-game documentation about this virus or the B.O.W.'s designed from it. That's frustrating, because I don't know about you guys, but in previous games I made sure I collected every single document and I read them. At the time I didn't even like reading books (now I do, but that's not the point), but I still enjoyed furthering my experience. Is it realistic that there will be documents lying around? Probably not, but it's more realistic that some of the insane, ridiculous action sequences in this game which makes the motorcycle majini in Resident Evil 5 look like Christopher Nolan realism. Does CAPCOM think we are illiterate and can't read or don't want to read? Or, are they* the ones becoming illiterate (by the way, the game does have documents, but they can only be accessed through Special Features; I read some of the documents on the B.O.W.'s and they're not really explained intelligently, and the explanation for some of them, like the Chainsaw mutatant, was downright laughable--appearing that a thirteen year old fanboy wrote it without a sense of what they were righting would be perceived as humorous)?
The C-Virus, oh the C-Virus. The C-Virus makes zombies; the C-Virus causes zombies to become obese, causes zombies to grow strange screaming organs in their throats, causes some zombies to become Liker-wanna-bes, and causes some zombies to still wield weapons--guns and bats and golfing clubs--and to still turn cranks occasionally to hinder your process (come on!); the C-Virus causes zombie dogs--which are identical to the T-variation (but what about cats? what about deer? what about raccoons? what about birds? what about animals that escaped from the zoo?); the C-Virus creates gigantic shark mutants, mutants that are three times as large as 4's El Gigante, mutants that somehow--through a C-Virus mutation--grow a chainsaw for a hand which has its heart inside of it (I don't think Neo-Umbrella designed this one through any scientific proceedure; I honestly think it just created itself by a naturalistic evolution of the C-Virus), mutants that are ripoffs of the Iron Maiden Regenerators from Resident Evil 4, or a snake that can turn invisible; the C-Virus causes hosts who inject themselves directly to still keep their intelligence, but to grow a lot stronger and to become mutated--they're called J'avo; the C-Virus causes a J'avo to mutate into a dozen different things, ranging from Bee-headed men that can send bees at you, spider-bodied men, the growth of wings, the growth of two long legs for super jumping, the growth of explosive larvi for their entire body, and more; the C-Virus causes some J'avo to caccoon themselves and then spore new horrors--lizard things (or, you can just say its the dinosaur that killed the fat guy from Jurassic Park), bunky bohemoths with rocks for skin, flying creatures, or a swarm of insects; the C-Virus is responsible for the coolest B.O.W. since Nemesis, Ustanak, the bio-mechanic super freak . . .
But how? The game never gets into the scientific aspects of the virus. That's something that I always loved about the franchise until Resident Evil 5. Now, granted, a lot of these mutations are very cool--but hardly any of them make sense. Unless of course they went through the effort of trying to make them make sense. Why couldn't one of their campaigns have been about figuring out how ONE virus could do all these things? Another big problem is this: the C-Virus is TOO GOOD. It'll put the T-Virus, G-Virus, T-Verinica, Las Plagas, and the Uroboros out of a job. Especially since Ustanak is one of the hardest B.O.W.'s in the series. You see the problem here, don't you?
They're trying to please the fans in unintelligable ways. I'm sorry CAPCOM, I'm not that stupid. And I know there are a lot of other fans who feel the same way.
Those of us who were good at RE4 were probably good at RE5; both games essentially had the same gameplay mechanics, aside from RE5's clunky inventory system. Well, RE6 throws that out the window in almost every way. The gameplay is what wounds the entire game fatally. I don't mind about walking while shooting, but I do mind about the unfixed camera behind the character. It feels like I'm playing a videogame adaptation of a movie in some points of the game. The weird thing is, the creators probably thought they were helping out the player by having a fluid camera behind them at all times, but really it gives me a headache and it's hard to aim my character when I need to run somewhere. The old system had its flaws, but this new-and-supposed-to-be-improved system creates even more.
Oh, and get this. You know how you could shoot enemies in the legs in RE4 and RE5 and they fall to their knees so you can do some interesting melee attacks? Well, in RE6 you can't shoot enemies to their knees--hence, creating less melee variety. I wonder which one of the creators said to the others, "We should definitely get rid of shooting enemies in the legs." It's a really strange decision they made that I don't understand the point of which.
And quick time events. There are tons of them, but none of them are as good as the Leon vs. Jack Krauser scene from Resident Evil 4. A lot of people have complained about this, but I didn't mind. I was just never blown away, aside from the final Ustanak battle at the end of Jake's campaign. That was innovative, I must say.
LEON AND HELENA: 4/5
Have you ever read an over bloated novel that could have been a whole lot better if the author cut out at least 25% of it? Well, that's what Leon's campaign felt like. His campaign is deliberately designed for the Survival Horror Resident Evil fan--you know, the gamers that likely hate on RE4 and RE5 because they have no Survival Horror (or a lack of); "zombies" return only* in Leon's campaign, and it also features some really cool zombie-variations (although I couldn't help but compare most of them to Left 4 Dead's super zombies). Leon's campaign starts off in an intense situation without much explanation, then travels through a zombie infested Tall Oaks, goes to a church which happens to have an underground laboratory underneath (there is sort of* a reason for this), then goes to China (which he randomly and too conveniently reunites with an old acquaintance immediately after the rough landing of the plane, which will undoubtedly make the player giggle with how unlikely the by-chance meeting really is).
Leon's campaign is the heart of Resident Evil 6. Leon knows Sherry, Leon knows Chris, Leon has a thing for Ada (who seemingly is/isn't the villain in the game), and by theory does the most important things in the game. The game's creator(s) deliberately did this because Resident Evil 4 was the most successful in the franchise.
The highlight of Leon's campaign is the atmosphere; the flaw is its overly bloated length (this campaign feels as long as Resident Evil 5 as a whole, and yet there are still two other campaigns--technically three more--to go).
CHRIS AND PIERS: 2/5
The first thing that you will ask is: what the heck happened to Jill Valentine? And who the heck is Piers? The game never answers those two questions, but it only hints at the fact that Chris never gave up the fight against bioterrorism after he saved the world from the Uroboros. It's a little jarring when we first see Chris Redfield; he's lost his memory and he acts like a depressed Tony Stark drinking and smoking himself to death in a bar in some country. Piers was his old partner and he recruits Chris back into the force (why didn't they just have Jill Valentine instead? I really don't know). Piers is one of the least likeable characters in the franchise just because of how bland he is and really has no purpose in the story or the history of the franchise. I would have at least liked some references to what happened to Jill Valentine, but I was left unsatisfied.
To say the least--and without spoilers--Chris's story is structured oddly; but, moving on from that, there is only one strength to his campaign. And that's when he and his team go into a building to chase a snake B.O.W.. It did not contribute to the plot at all (which is good, because RE6 is soooooo plot heavy that it gives me a headache); nope, Chris is just in a frenzy to chase down this snake B.O.W. at all costs (and it's no doubt a shout out to the first Resident Evil game). It's actually when Chris is walking the "screenwriters" path to keep the plot moving when I care the least about what's happening. The problem with Chris's campaign is that they--the creators of the game--forced his purpose in the game (I'd like to say more, but that would include spoilers) by giving him personal vendetta instead of just doing his job. A BSAA operative's purpose is to kill B.O.W.'s and to rescue civilians--it would have been a lot simpler if that's what Chris's purpose in the game was, instead of being so plot driven.
Ultimately Chris's campaign is a narrative mess. They tried way too hard with his personality, his past (by ignoring a lot of it), his purpose, etc.. Instead of just letting him do what he does best . . . kill B.O.W.'s and then--and ONLY then--discover what's going on in the grand scheme of things. The ONLY redemptive quality about his campaign was hunting the snake: that felt like survival horror. Although, on that note, I wish that Chris could have been able to save more of his team. There's no reward in inevitable cutscenes killing off the team. In that sense, CAPCOM is the monster, not the snake. In this Skyrim day and age, players need to be rewarded or punished for in game choices.
JAKE AND SHERRY: 3/5
Let me say this right off the bat. Only one element to this campaign makes it worthy of playing: the Nemesis-esque bio-mechanical B.O.W. which was designed and programmed for one thing and one thing only: to capture Jake Muller. Why? Well, if it hadn't been for most of the trailers of the game, then it would be a spoiler, but since everyone knows, it isn't a spoiler anymore. Jake Muller is Wesker's son. That's why he's important. Sherry Birkin magically finds him in a European country (she wasn't--but somehow was--trying to find him from the beginning. It's hard to explain. It goes back to a similar awkward narrative that the Chris campaign had). And she knows that he has rare antibodies that can save the world. Talk about taking it slow and letting the player discover the mystery on their own, which is a huge problem the game has in general . . . it treats the audience like everyone is a Michael Bay fan and doesn't care about story and characters, but only the spectacle and thrilling events. I think the usually-good-reviews that RE5 had sort of enforced this ideology that not-everything-has-to-make-sense-because-the-fanbase-doesn't-care-too-much-about-logic (why CAPCOM? Are you saying I'm stupid or just complacent with the mundane?)-just-give-them-zombies-and-they'll-be-satisfied. Honestly, I wish the creators took care in their story as if I was watching a Christopher Nolan film instead of a Michael Bay film. I think the Resident Evil fan base is too smart for some of the very illogical "moments"/plot elements in RE6; a lot of which are in Jake's and Sherry's campaign.
What I found most annoying about this campaign is that I thought it would answer the most questions, such as what "Ada Wong" is up to, and Jake's origins and what about the crazy awesome Ustanak B.O.W.? As cool as these questions are, none of them are really answered at all. They're half-baked ideas that never really formed.
When I played the Leon campaign, I thought that Chris's and Jake's campaigns would make sense out of a lot of random B.O.W.'s and plot events; when I played the Chris campaign, nothing was answered, so I was thrilled that the Jake campaign would answer everything. Nope. Not at all. His blood is important and that's all that you* need to know.
There are moments in the game that are better than any moments from any of the other games. In fact, if they had trimmed anywhere from 25% to 50% of the game, then maybe this game would be just as good--if not better--than Resident Evil 4. But the problem is this: think of RE6 as a buffet, but you can't choose what you eat; you have to eat in a random--but set--order. If green beans are first, you gotta eat them. Then cheesecake could be next (AWESOME), and then . . . you gotta eat piss and snot soup (EEWWW), and then some tasty Chinese food, and then fried poop. You see, it's the highs and lows of the game which makes it so disappointing. I could have forgiven the clunky controls and awkward inventory if they cut out all the mundane aspects of the campaigns, making them more to the point, even if each campaign was cut in half. Then it would have been an amazing game.
But it's all the crap (no pun intended) that you're force to eat which makes it so frustrating at times; for instance, in the Leon campaign, there's a part where you have to chase a zombie dog around a graveyard (spooky, right? You're in a graveyard, so it HAS to be spooky--and there's lightning, too) because it has the key . . . and somehow it's smart enough to know that you need it and it runs away and doesn't attack you. And it's all the illogical inclusions of B.O.W.'s (that are cool, mind you, but without purpose) which makes me feel like I'm watching a Paul W.S. Anderson adaptation. Then there are all the pacing issues too. It's such a fast paced game that you can't stop and smell the flowers and enjoy--and be disturbed by--the horrific terrain and scary atmosphere. CAPCOM tried to do way too much. They cannot make this the scariest game in the franchise and a high octane thrill ride at the same time. They need to get off the fence and decide what they want to do. And I hope it's the former, and not the latter for the next game.
WAYS TO SAVE THE DYING FRANCHISE:
In the beginning of my review, I referenced 28 Days Later. The reason is, CAPCOM is trying to cure the franchise without truly understanding. Yes, they listened to some complaints, but ignored others. Yes, Ustanak is an amazing B.O.W.; yes, Chris isn't so bulky anymore; yes, zombies have returned (sort of); yes, they tried. But they weren't very smart in the sense that they don't understand their own franchise and they exploited beloved characters to the point of ridiculousness. Must they deliberately hire a few fans to be the creative directors in the next game? Does it need to come down to that? At this rate . . . absolutely. If they want RE7 to survive. Otherwise, there's no hope left.
Resident Evil is not Uncharted, it's not Gears of War, it's not Call of Duty, it's not a racecar game, it's not an on-rails shooter. Resident Evil, from 1-4, has always been about exploration and horror, stumbling onto a mystery and trying to solve it, and survival. While Resident Evil 5 was not a Survival Horror game, it did attempt to stay true to Resident Evil 4. It didn't take enough risks, mind you, but it didn't step backwards either (the only* gripe I have with RE5 is some of the story decisions and how Wesker could teleport).
Resident Evil 7 needs to take a step back. No they need to take a couple hundred meters back and objectively and subjectively look at the franchise. What works? What doesn't work? Horror works. Too much action doesn't. RE6 had so much environmental action to the point of predictability--such as walking across a bridge, you knew it would fall--but the thing about predictability is that it isn't scary. Actually with the environment going haywire while playing the game, it could be looked upon as a Final Destination videogame adaptation too (really). RE6 failed to understand that having awesomely grotesque monsters doesn't make it a scary game (such as being in a graveyard while there's lightning). Pacing is what makes games scary. Why were the first few games so scary? Not because of what happened, but because of what didn't* happen. In RE6 too much happened.
Resident Evil 7 needs to be shorter (gasp!) and to the point. There needs to be a clear cut villain or two or three (like in RE4), and a sense of exploration and difficulty. If Resident Evil 7 took some RPG elements and throw in Dark Souls-esque difficulty and strategy, it could be the greatest game of all time; but--and this is probably scary for CAPCOM--they need another reboot. They must if they want to survive, because for RE7, I'm going to be smart enough to read the reviews first, and if it's not a good game--and if it's not a horror game--I'm not going to buy it. And I consider myself a diehard fan. I've beaten Resident Evil 4 20+ times and can't think of any flaws; I played Resident Evil 5 twice before realizing it was a little bit of a disappointment; I played only the Leon S. Kennedy campaign to realize that Resident Evil 6 was simply not a great game. RE6 felt like it was essentially an on-rails game: there's no straying from the path and no sense of exploring the area. Why not have a few houses available to go through to see if there is anything of use?
And for the love of God, bring back the merchant. I hate "buying" things on a screen. It might not make a whole lot of sense how he can transport as quickly as you can, but at least the buying/selling process makes sense with the merchant. Also they could give him a backstory too, because clearly he isn't entirely human. And if your character learns skills, then why not have random BSAA operatives around the city which know skills that you can learn from? Maybe Erickson with a broken leg and hiding on a roof can teach you a move or give you a gun if you find him crutches in the city (but without any cookie crumb trail system to lead you the way; let the players find it themselves), and the possibilities could go on forever. Kind of like in Skyrim. And speaking of which, it needs to have a lot more RPG elements.
All in all, CAPCOM needs to slow it down for Resident Evil 7. Resident Evil fans (unless they're fans of the films, too) generally are patient people: that's why they're Resident Evil fans. In the first five or six games, there was a lot of walking around, not knowing what to do exactly; there were a lot of puzzles and a lot of backtracking. So why are the creators treating us like we have ADHD and no attention span and no intelligence at all? Seriously, Resident Evil fans don't need (and generally don't want) non-stop action; we don't need the cookie crumb trail system to tell us where to go (we like finding our own way); we like to play a Resident Evil game and have a sense of accomplishment afterward, like the effect that Dark Souls has--with difficulty comes rewarding accomplishment. Come on CAPCOM. Know who your fans are. Don't assume that we're all Paul W.S. Anderson fans. Some of us expected a Christopher Nolan-esque tale, not another Schumaker game where the characters have rubber nipples on their suits. The creator of the series mentioned recently that the fans and the creators have like two parents trying to do what's best for their kid, and that they're going to disagree with one another. Come on, CAPCOM! That's a very unfair thing to say, because we're the ones who made you successful, and we are--for the most part--flat out telling you guys that you're going too far. If the fans and the creators are like two parents that disagree with one another, then CAPCOM is trying to make our broad shouldered son into a dancer instead of a football player, which is what he does best. Resident Evil is not meant to be as ridiculous as its Paul W.S. Anderson film counterparts, end of story.
IN A NUTSHELL:
1) Great dialogue
2) Terrifying creature designs
3) Enemy variety
5) Really great moments
6) The partner system is fixed (although I'd prefer without one)
7) Imaginative boss battles
8) Fantastic cutscenes
1) Inventory (a step down from RE5)
2) Melee is too convenient, and thus not rewarding
3) Controls are clunky, camera fluidity is irksome
4) Mundane tasks (chasing a zombie dog around a cemetary)
5) Forced plot (they meet up in the darnest spots)
6) No in-game documents (which would help make sense out of some random B.O.W.'s)
7) No typewriters (but it's such an on-rails game, why would it matter?)
8) No treasures (which makes buying skills VERY difficult)
9) No point in exploration (BECAUSE THERE ARE NO TREASURES OR DOCUMENTS!)
10) No merchant (come on, CAPCOM, bring the man back)
11) The C-Virus (the T-Virus has children to feed; you're putting it out of a job)
12) Too long (with too many mundane moments in all the chapters to even revisit)
- On that note, the campaigns are so long that it would be a task to replay any of the campaigns.
13) Not scary (although it had its moments)
14) Confusing plot elements
15) Too much action (seriously, this is Michael Bay's Resident Evil; I'd prefer Christopher Nolan's or Frank Darabont's)
16) Vague B.O.W. origins (a chainsaw arm, really?)
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
69. Roadwork by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
68. The Running Man by Stephen King
65. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
61. Cujo by Stephen King
48. The Wind Through the Keyhole (a Dark Tower story) by Stephen King
toward the middle of the book. It's one of the most terryfing books I've ever read (and as you can see, there's quite a few Stephen King books on my list).
28. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
This third entry in the series is when things start getting bizarre in terms of genre and pacing. If you read the entire franchise back to back, the beginning of this book will likely feel odd and out of place. And then when things start to make sense, the pacing shifts again and now you're back in 1999 in the perspective of Jake--who died in the first novel. The first half of this novel is about Jake trying to come back to Mid-World from New York. Essentially, due to an event from Drawing of the Three, Jake is reborn in another world. And both Roland and Jake know it.
The best way to describe this novel is "genre bending."
18. Danse Macabre by Stephen King
A companion piece to "On Writing." Do you want to write/film horror, science fiction, or fantasy? Don't think about it until you read Danse Macabre. It'll expand your mind a great deal.
The Road is the greatest, simplest Post-Apocalypse story ever written. There's no plot, other than following the road. But it's the story that makes it emotional and powerful. If drinking a stale can of Coke (or was it Pepsi?) is one of the best moments in the boy's life, you know that this world is bleak. I dare you not to cry by the end of this book.
In my opinion, this is the best book in the franchise because it is the darkest and it's the shortest (that's not to say I don't like long novels--but this novel cuts out all the fat and hits the nail on the head). It's a shame that the film strayed so far from what made this book so endearing.
2. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Let me begin by saying that this is a landmark in dark fantasy. A Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings--no matter how intense you think they are--is nothing compared to A Storm of Swords. You could say that the entire series is one long novel and that this part of that really long novel is when the rope really starts to get tight with tension. It takes about two hundred pages or so until the pacing picks up . . . and then you won't want to stop. I guarentee you that.