Saturday, January 30, 2010

REVIEW: The Ballad of Gay Tony

I've decided to review The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned separately. Together, on the single Episodes from Liberty City disc at $40, I'd be hard pressed not to give the package a 5 out of 5, for any reason.

Still though, I can't help but consider TBOGT in the contest of having just played The Lost and Damned. Some differences are a matter of personal preference, Gay Tony being more geared to my liking in terms of fast cars, music styles, and lots and lots of explosions.

TBOGT is the story of Tony Prince and Luis Lopez, partners in the night club business who've fallen under the debt of some of Liberty City's underworld. Of course, that's how it always goes isn't it? Motivations in Grand Theft Auto gameplay is often a very short list, at the top of which is most often money. The general mission lay out can often be surmised as go here, fetch me this, kill these people, and TBOGT doesn't stray too far from that.

Early in, Tony is heavily established as your partner who's almost always gotten himself into a mess. As far as the stories and cutscenes are concerned, most missions involve Luis metaphorically running around with a pooper scooper and taking care of Tony's "business." Still, as nearly every character badmouths Tony while he's not around, Luis defends him. That defense is endearing and ties the player to Tony.

Still, there's the usual mission structure and the usual cast of assholes. Despite that, everything seems a lot more fresh, and every mission feels brisk. Whether you're blowing up a yacht, crawling the length of a train and dodging helicopters, or parachuting after a plummeting blogger, the elements seem endless. TBOGT also outdoes IV's cast of characters in their ego stroking, if you can imagine that.

The Ballad of Gay Tony is a long drink in the desert. It's wide mission variety never has you doing the same thing twice, even though some of the new vehicles and weapons will make you want to. Luckily, replaying missions is available after completing the campaign, and that replayability adds endless value to a campaign that only costs $20 (depending on how you look at it).


REVIEW: The Lost and Damned

I've decided to review The Ballad of Gay Tony and Lost and Damned separately. Together, on the single Episodes from Liberty City disc at $40, I'd be hard pressed not to give the package 5 out of 5.

But maybe The Lost and Damned suffers its counterpart, being the milder, better written tale of what it means to be responsible, even when you're a rough neck motorcyclist who manages to hold what semblance of a family a bike club makes.

In TLAD, you play as Johnny Klebitz, second in command of The Lost Motorcycle Club. When Johnny's captain, Billy, is released from rehab, Johnny sees much of the prosperity he's worked for go to shit.

I say TLAD is the milder, more mature story because of themes worked into the mission structure and the lack of ape shit weaponry and vehicular combat. Players will find themselves launching grenades into the windows of rival gang clubhouses, but they won't be doing any base jumping.

Johnny does a lot of complaining, but I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't complain when they're being endlessly shot at for a leader who's junkie habit has turned him into little more than a maniacal, selfish, jackass. Tensions immediately rise between Billy and Johnny, though that tension is necessarily felt by the player, so much as it is unnerving. If you can't guess what you'll be doing in the final mission by the second or third mission, then I'd have to say "Pay attention, soldier!"

From a writing stand point, I actually remember liking TLAD better than The Ballad of Gay Tony, but as far as quality gaming goes, TBOGT is the way to go. If you're only interested in downloading one episode from Liberty City, I'd have to suggest investing in Gay Tony and his clubs. Despite that, just buy the Episodes disc. It's a much better value.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Too old for Mario or too bored of Mario?

Stephen Totilo wrote a sort of introspective look at why adults play Mario games and it got me thinking about the plumber and why I think I've sort of burned out on the Nintendo mascot over the past few years.

Of course, it seems like a Mario game is released every other month these days, whether it be a Mario sports game, a new platformer in 3D, a new platformer in 2D, a remake of an older Mario game, or even a Mario RPG. All those different ways of playing the venerable platforming hero is enough to give any seasoned gamer a sense of fatigue. Hasn't Nintendo realized they're saturating the market?

The accessibility of Mario to gamers both young and old is certainly a selling point for the Nintendo business, as noted by Totilo and company, but it all comes out to being a little much for me. Having a character that can be exploited so readily and regularly makes that character a bit like white noise. If there's always a Mario game coming out, why should I care about any one specific title?

It doesn't help that the basic formula hasn't varied very drastically over the years. Don't get me wrong, I applaud Mario for leading the way in 3D platforming (and, consequentially, open world gaming), but now what does he do?

Long has the Mario name been slapped on games that might not sell so well under normal circumstances. Think back to Super Mario Bros. 2 and the vast changes in gameplay. Anyone in the know will tell you that the original title of that NES cart was Doki Doki Panic in Japan. Big N knows when to put an original title out and when to spray a fine coat of unoriginality over games (Spoiler Alert: Never!). (Consequentially, they also know not to sully the Mario name with terrible games all the time either).

That's what really brought me to this point in my gaming life. Long have I been a single console gamer, sticking with the Nintendo platform of the time. I opened a Nintendo 64 on Christmas years ago and never owned a Playstation. The Dreamcast, Xbox, and Playstation 2 all enticed me, but I relied on friend for time on those other consoles. I bought my Gamecube in a bundle from Costco. In my first year of college I lined up for what I thought ws going to be the biggest "Revolution" gaming was going to see, and picked up the Wii on day 1. I was happy and entertained by my purchase, but frustrated with the immature online structure. I wanted to play with friends while we were off at college. I decided to become a dual console owner and purchased an Xbox 360.

Little time passed before I realized I wasn't playing the Wii and that it's quality title all consisted of a similar theme: Nintendo's first-party mascot line up.

I guess as I've grown, I still appreciate what Mario has done for me and for gaming, but my senses have been lightly dulled from the constant shaking of the Mario money tree.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Capcom knows cross-overs

I'm not saying I totally understand why Marcus Fenix will be making a debut in Lost Planet 2... but I am saying that Capcom have the video-game cross over market dominated. From the 2D fighting-VS series, to this latest dimension bridging gap, Capcom knows how to reel in an audience.

Maybe they're worried about Lost Planet 2's performance on Microsoft's console, or maybe it's as plain as the developers having admiration for the Gears series (as stated), but it's probably going to move some extra units. Please God, just don't let Gamestop get ahold of this and require a preorder for it.

I suppose I get all of the business decisions that have been swirling madly about the industry of late, but preorder-exclusives are the worst. Why do I have to buy from a specific retailer just to get some exclusive armor that doesn't even work once the game is launched? I hope that most developers eventually decided to side with Assassin's Creed II's way of doing exclusive DLC and make it available to all players eventually.

At a CVS Pharmacy...

While visiting Jenna's parents in Ventura, we ran a couple of errands, including a stop at a CVS Pharmacy. Here in northern California, we don't have CVS but it's about the same as any old drug store you might walk in to.

Of course, we looked around a bit while waiting for a prescription. Doing so set us stumbling across these
Wii knock-off products. I would never have guessed that CVS was backed by the Chinese rip-off artists who surely spawned these products. There were plenty of units too, enough for any amount of customers that wanted to walk in and get the Wii experience for $39.99.

Of course, there isn't much other than the sports games that come with the unit, and who can say how well the "wands" work? Nevertheless, the knock-offs stretch for all the gimicks.

Next to the units on the shelf were the sports attachments for Wii-remotes. The packaging didn't say if they would also attach to the Zone 40.

What does the 40 refer to? Apparently the knock-off unit comes with 40 games built right in! I can't imagine those 40 games are anything more than extremely simple minigames.

Below the Zone 40 was the xtreme fit system. Notice the coloring on the box? Notice the yoga-posing? What about the tag-line? "Fitness made fun!" I bet.

How do these things happen? Nintendo is one of the hardest driving corporations when it comes to battling piracy, but these products were being sold for legal tender in a store in southern California! I admit, when we were in China Town in December, I looked around shops wondering where all the R4s were. How dare I submit to such stupid stereotypes! CVS are the real black-market importers. When will they start carrying the iPhone and PSP knockoffs to go with these atrocities.

Honestly, I just couldn't believe it. They're such terrible derivatives, and shameful too. Won't someone send a letter to Reggie so he can start kicking some asses, might as well throw Walgreens under the bus too while you're at it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I let Alenko die...

I've been trying my best to continue through Mass Effect (the first), especially as Mass Effect 2 is being received so very well, and my connection to my party has been made deeply. I labored long over whether I should head to aid Liutenant Alenko on Virmire or handle the situation at the bomb site.

Of course, in the end, I decided to make the trek backwards and check on the nuke set to blow Saren's Krogan army back to hell. I had fit Kaidan into my party throughout the entire game, but I didn't know I'd be forced to finish with Rex instead. I guess I'm more concerned with whether or not I'll still get the achievement for using Alenko through my first playthrough.

Honestly, I just chose Alenko because he was one of the first party members I encountered. I know that's boring, but whatever, I'm going to play through again with different party memebers for different achievements, but even so, I hated leaving someone behind. Is my connection to Alenko and my feeling of loss directly connected to my experiences with the character over the course of the plot or my experience as the hero, Shephard? Do I really care about Alenko or do I care about my record as the commander?

I'd have to say it's more about me than him. Kaidan was a good fighter, but I did feel like I did a little too much hand holding and I think I miss the equipment Alenko died wearing more than I miss his skills as a fighter. It didn't help Alenko that his stories were boring and his voice actor was just kind of bland.

I'm on my way through to the end though. Ilos looms in the distance, and the events on Virmire only make me wonder if I'll be losing another team mate soon.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I guess I've decided

Well, I suppose I was already leaning towards Mass Effect because Bioshock 2 comes out a little after Mass Effect 2, but the following Launch Trailer really seals the deal. It seems like more and more game companies are getting a handle of how to put together a Hollywood Blockbuster style trailer that really sells a game. Of course, that means nothing if the content in the trailer is never really reached in the game. How much control will gamers have over the action packed into ME2's launch trailer? We'll just have to wait and see. Until then, check out the launch trailer (courtesy of GameTrailers) below.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mass Effect 2 or Bioshock 2?

I have two games that I haven't finished, and both of them having sequels releasing in the next month. This is quite the dilemma.

I've had Bioshock since its release, originally on PC, and later on Xbox 360. Owning two copies of the game doesn't really guarantee that I ever finished it though. Maybe it was the prospect of starting it a second time (or third or fourth if you count my playthroughs of the original demo), that never really got me through. Something about the combat or the way I'm constantly running out of ammo, or the scare tactics just turned me off from the game. I was definitely in to the plot, and I know I wanted to keep playing to see what happened, but it was just taking so long to get through. I'd get lost, or run out of money, ammo, or health (or all three at the same time), and get frustrated. Then of course, something else came out and I stopped playing Bioshock. With the sequel on its way, and my having already played through a healthy chunk of the opening act, my interest is piqued, but there's a challenger on the horizon.

Mass Effect found its way into my hands, specifically because of its impending sequel. I had never played the original, but after seeing a demo presentation of Mass Effect 2, my interest skyrocketed. When I had some walking around money at Gamestop, I picked up a used copy of the first ME and have since made my way through the first two planets. Of course, having to back track due to failures and not saving or the game freezing on me has certainly made it difficult to pick back up and finish. With Mass Effect 2's release on the very near horizon, I'm wondering if I want to pick up the original and get through it to enjoy the next installment. Of course, it hasn't helped that I've been spending a lot of time on MW2's multiplayer in an effort to get to level 70, or that I've also got The Ballad of Gay Tony and Bayonetta to play through.

So what'll it be? While I'm in southern California, and before school starts up again, I'm determined to beat one of the originals to 2010's anticipated sequels. If you're reading PLAY READ WRITE today, let me know what you think and drop a line in the comments.

Monday, January 18, 2010

NBA Jam for the Wii renews my hunt for NBA Hangtime

News of a revival in the NBA Jam line of sports games has got me salivating at the kind of over the top action I remember taking control of on the Nintendo 64. Of course, over the past few months, the interest died down, but hearing news about a revival and modern reiteration for the Wii had me disappointed in that I don't know if I'll ever get to play that title. I'll have to settle for a classic cartridge of NBA Hangtime instead.

I know there's alway eBay, but I'm a little reluctant to just plop down a bid and have it be over with. Having a game I'm constantly looking for gives me cause to head into every game shop I run across and dig through the piles of old carts. I even have an excuse to drive by garage sales slowly if the thought pops in my head.

That being said, I do have to admit that I looked up the price of a cart on eBay and every auction was up for under $10 at the time of writing, with a PAL cart being the closest at $9.50. With the announcement of a new title in the NBA Jam series, I'd think there'd be more interest in the auctions up, but only the one ending soonest had a bid on it. At $5 (after shipping), maybe I'd do well to cast a bid on the cart currently set at a $2 bid.

I'd much rather pick up the game in person, finding it in a small mom and pop store, especially now that Gamestop no longer carries Nintendo 64 items in any way. It sounds stupid, but it's a much better story to tell about the cart some years later after looking through my collection again.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Heading South

While I guess it would be hard for my blog to go on hiatus when I haven't exactly had the most rigorous posting schedule this month, PLAY READ WRITE is going to head south again, this time for my girlfriend Jenna's birthday.

Just because the entire editorial staff here at PLAY READ WRITE is leaving it's home base, doesn't mean I won't still be playing games. If anything, disconnecting my console from the internet will encourage me to make further efforts in single player affairs, like Mass Effect, Bayonetta, The Ballad of Gay Tony, Fallout 3, and Bioshock. I'll also do my best to update and post, even if I'm doing so in poorly formatted fashion from my iPhone.

That being said, PLAY READ WRITE is going to try to lure some new writing in, hopefully fishing extra reviews, news, impressions, and op-ed pieces from the further reaches of my phone book. With a lofty goal of 300 posts this year, and less time to do it, considering school, internship, part time job, and actual enjoyable gaming time, I think I might need an extra pair of hands or two clacking away at a keyboard.

If you're interested in writing even a one off piece for PLAY READ WRITE, please comment on this post with some contact information or send along a note to

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Maisonette 9 and the Ugly Digital Woman

Jenna and I have been slowly playing more and more of The Ballad of Gay Tony, and everytime we start, we head to Maisonette 9 for the dance floor minigame. If you have ever been in Maisonette 9 or seen the dancing minigame on YouTube, you'll know that your consistent dance partner seems to be in serious need of an exorcism, and fast.

That being said, I think I'm actually getting steadily worse at the minigame itself. There's an achievement for dancing at each club perfectly, but without the directions laid out in front of me, I don't think I'll ever get the moves right.

Maybe there's some connection between my virtual dancing abilities and my real-world dancing abilities. As Jenna can attest, I'm totally inept at busting moves, and as such, Luis Lopez seems to lack his smooth abilities as well.

After failing the dance, I set out for the bar and had two shots, then headed up stairs. My first attempt at the champagne drinking game found me waking up in the trash in Star Junction. This fueled an angry killing spree against the cops and a fast getaway.

While some of GTA's mission design flaws (take me here, there, kill these people, escape, lather, rinse, repeat) might be wearing thing, I always find myself marveling at the stories a quick play session can generate.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What's in a name?

2K Boston has changed their name back to Irrational Games, the moniker underwhich they released gaming classics like System Shock. This effectively means that the only 2K Boston title ever published will be Bioshock. Kind of like batting a home run in your first at bat and walking away from the game forever.

Obviously, it's not exactly like that, but leaving behind one of the best received original games with a development house name is a bold gesture. In Kotaku's interview with Irrational Games head Ken Levine, the developer reveals that after the purchase of his studio by Take-Two Interactive, corporate branding was something the suits were looking to do:

What brought "Irrational Games" back, Levine explained, was the desire to evoke the studios' legacy. "We heard from the fans that maybe they missed [us] being called Irrational," he said. Internally the team wanted to change back too. "When we were bought, Take Two wanted some alignment in the branding sense. At first we were like, 'Okay, you bought the company. That's fair.'" That turned them into 2K Boston, part of Take-Two's 2K Games family. "As time went on, we wanted to go back to the original name."
I understand why a publisher would want to align a development house with it's brand name, especially when they've spent a lot of money on the talent and the development the team is capable of, but maybe it's better to let developers maintain their own personal identity.

Levine mentions how his team was eager to make the switch back to Irrational Games, and I think it probably has something to do with the personal efforts they make in their games. Video games allow for more creative input than any other medium, especially when you consider the numerous layers of development games require. Having it's own identity, and a unique name, might encourage more personal effort in making something creative, fresh and new, rather than being a corporate factory for Madden or 2K sports games.

Being part of a larger group and relinquishing some creative ability is necessary, kind of like how I need an internship at Game Revolution instead of making the tiny splash I do here at PLAY READ WRITE, but I think that having pride in your work is important too. Maybe having a name of your own inspires you to do better, or to have more ownership over the product of your work. I hope Irrational Games exceeds even the high bar they set with Bioshock as 2K Boston in their next title.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

MW2 and Whining has a list up entitled "10 Facts I've Learned About Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer," and (jeez, I swear, this'll be the last MW2-related post for at least a week) having played my fair share of MW2 multiplayer recently, I feel qualified enough to comment on the list.

Some items on the list are kind of no-brainers, starting of course with akimbo-shotgun "douchebags." I can't pretend I don't know what author Paul Tassi is talking about, but the same i
s true of every online game you might possibly pick up and play. Who doesn't get frustrated with the Halo 3 player who camps in the caves in Valhalla? Of course, akimbo shotguns are the kind of thing you just need to quit complaining about, shoot from a distance, and pick them up yourself so you can play around with the dualies that remind me of Timesplitters 2.

Complaining about Tactical Nukes, Akimbo shotties, and people who choose to stay at Level 70 instead of prestige just seems so passe. Those things are going to plague a game as widely as MW2. Staying at Level 70 is just a choice between what you want to do with your multiplayer experience and further plays into the amount of balancing that needs to be made. If there is disparities between the levels of players in the game, it's a matter of death streaks versus kill streaks. Really Paul, what's the difference between someone who just got to 70 and someone who's stayed there since reaching the top? It's just something for you to rag on them for right?

I have to agree with the fact that Scrambler is essentially an alert system for the enemy and that there are too many ways to reference yourself to weed in callsigns and titles. Ultimately, with the weed titles, Infinity Ward was playing into the audience they already knew they had captured with the first Modern Warfare. As a gamer and games journalist, I guess I can't really fault them for that design decision, but as a human being, I'm just fucking annoyed.

Ultimately, this list ends up falling flat, throwing itself belly down on the mountain of available MW2-interested readers out there in internet land. Hope to see you online Paul, where I'll immediately start shelling you with my Danger Close-equipped grenade launcher.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Modern Warfare 2 Vs. Timesplitters 2

If you are even the occasional reader of PLAY READ WRITE, you know that I've been playing my fair share of Modern Warfare 2 lately, but I can't shake a feeling of deja vu. To be very specific, the Akimbo Model 1887s are giving me flashbacks of Timesplitters 2, but it might go beyond that even.

Timesplitters 2 was definitely one of the premier multiplayer shooters one console generation ago, even if it wasn't recognized as such by everyone who played games nearly eight years ago. Sitting around my friend Eric's house with a tangled mess of controller wires plugged into a Playstation 2 multitap, blasting away at each other endlessly in any one of the time-period themed maps provided tons of hours of fun. One map in particular was a western themed map with tunnels at one end and an open courtyard with huts at the other end. One hut had a ladder to the roof and jumping off the roof was your only escape plan. I have very found memories of stacking bots against humans in a match with no point goal in sight.

Timesplitters 2 featured dualies of many weapons, shotguns notably being one of the weapon sets you can dual wield. My deja vu extends to the way the guns track as your turn left and right, and with the 1887s Akimbo, you can't aim down the sight. A lot of your play time with the weapon set in MW2 is going to be restricted to one view as it was in Timesplitters 2. Running around and bobbing up and down with your dual shotguns also alludes the motion and pacing of the player in Timesplitters 2 as they trek across a map. As you can see, the two gun share similarities, but I think Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer does a great deal to invoke some of the best multiplayer gaming experiences you might have had in the past.

Modern Warfare 2's action is highly customizable, fast-paced, and frenetic. The playlists are all very eclectic and further add to the mix of playing styles. Timesplitters 2 reflect this with it's Custom Arcade modes that allowed for extremely nuanced control over the match, weapons, and enemy types. Of course, there are no bots featured in Modern Warfare 2, but having an internet connected console certainly handles that exclusion.

Maybe my nostalgic connection between Modern Warfare 2 and Timesplitters 2 is more abstract than I really think. Are there other games you're reminded of by Modern Warfare 2 or other modern games?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mad Catz loses out on Guitar Hero millions

But at least they've got a sense of humor about it! Kotaku is reporting (supposedly from the Mad Catz booth at CES), that Mad Catz was once in charge of the Xbox port of the original Guitar Hero game.

Kotaku's Brian Crecente writes:
"Guitar Hero was a game that we were actually involved with early on and pulled out because of a lawsuit with Konami," Mad Catz president and CEO Darren Richardson tells Kotaku. "We were doing the Xbox SKU and that's why there was only a Playstation 2 launch. That's why. We were in there and we pulled out as a result of (the lawsuit) and (Red Octane and Harmonix) went forward and it turned out to be a success, a huge success."
This is the kind of thing that makes gaming history. In an industry of huge numbers, games, and egos, this is the kind of thing that gets lost and dug up over and over again. Thank god for Wikipedia for archiving gaming history as well as it does. Will someone do us all a favor and add this factoid to the Wikipedia Guitar Hero page? I'm sure it'll be useful for the eventual Trivial Pursuit Video Game edition.

Richardson goes on to poke some fun at himself for the decision, which I have to say is very cool of a Mad Catz CEO to do. Mad Catz and other third party accessories are always the butt of jokes with friends at a gaming-centric get together, but they've made some slightly higher quality peripherals of late, including the Street Fighter IV Fight Sticks (which I am still wanting of).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome to 2010

Welcome to 2010. You might be wondering... hasn't it been 2010 for couple of days now? Yes, it has, but I've been missing. Of course, I managed to make it to 300 posts by the end of last year, but I'm already off to a slow start at the beginning of this year. I'm hoping to make it up over the course of the next 360 days. What's been keeping me away from PLAY READ WRITE lately?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2-- The "shooter to end all shooters" and the successor to [Blank] of [Blank] 4 continues to drag my attention away from... well, pretty much everything else. I never even unlocked the P90 in the first iteration of Modern Warfare, but it seems like I'll actually reach level 70 in MW2. Whether or not I'll enter prestige mode is being left up to fate. I'll have some further thoughts on the multiplayer giant of 2009 later in the week.

Mass Effect-- I bought a used copy of Mass Effect from Gamestop after getting a second copy of Assassin's Creed II (this seems familiar, didn't I write this only a handful of posts ago?), and have since been traversing space to investigate the Geth and Saren. Unfortunately, I seem to have gotten into a rhythm of not saving and having to repeat entire sections of the game. With all of those setbacks, I've only gotten myself through Feros and Noveria, and am now on my way to find Liara T'soni. Good luck to my space crew and to my save files (please no more lost checkpoints!).

Castle Crashers-- Having my brother around before New Years meant that we were going to play some games together. Using some of my Microsoft Points, I snagged Castle Crashers while it was on sale during the Deal of the Day-athon Xbox Live was running. Matthew and I probably spent a good 4 hours playing through the arcade beat-em-up, reminding us of so many quarters thrown into the Simpsons Arcade machine at our local pizza joint years ago.

An unopened copy of Bayonetta-- I haven't even broken the seal, but I can already guess that I'm going to be drawn away from writing a little by what's shaping up to be, in the words of Mintycrys "the best action game I've ever played."

What are you playing as your forge your way into the new year? If you're out there, let the rest of PLAY READ WRITE's readers know in the comments.