Sunday, February 28, 2010

Greed Corp Initial Impressions

I'm still struggling to get the game under my thumb(s) but after playing about 4 hours yesterday and 4 hours today, I think I can write up some quick impressions for a game I would never (ever) play if it weren't for a review. That's not to say that Greed Corp isn't a fun title that has a great turn on Settlers of Catan style gaming. Speaking of which...

//The Settlers of Catan influence is moderate at best. I'm sure developer W! Games has the board game and its expansions in the office, and I'm sure they were seeing hexagons in their sleep while developing Greed Corp, but they've taken the essential board design and made a ompletely different game out of it.

//These computer players are about the most difficult assholes I've ever met, and that's including Advance Wars, and I hate the computer player in those games too. After the tutorial, which doesn't give the player any control, I had to try 4 times to beat the very first campaign level that pits me against one other opponent whose AI is set to the lowest level. You can imagine where it went as the game got harder and I progressed through the ascending levels.

//In truth, Greed Corp has you operate constantly on the side of a cliff literally, and forcing the player to learn through failure is as close to trial by fire as you're going get in video games these days. It's not as if you can't just try again, but hopefully you'll learn from how you lose, and not just throw your controller in frustration like me.

//Soundtrack, meet my friend, custom playlist. While at first I thought the 1920s-influenced soundtrack was a neat touch, it quickly got annoying and unnecessary. The sound effects also got tiring after a short time with the game. As a turn-based title, the game takes a while as your opponents moves play out. The computer also takes its sweet time while it's kicking your ass so having a custom soundtrack of your own tunes will definitely help the process overall.

I'll be sure to post here when my full review goes live at GR.

Politics in Games, "Heartland" Thoughts?

David Jaffe recently spoke with the Kotaku Talk Radio Podcast and some details came up about a project for the PSP that his team had started work on before kind of being pushed aside to form a second party developer (Eat Sleep Play). This project was titled "Heartland" and would focus around the American reaction to an invasion by the Chinese military. Jaffe had this to say about the game in 2007.
"Heartland was the story of China invading America. It was a first-person-shooter where you played a soldier debating whether to stay and fight for America or go AWOL to meet up with your family. We were trying to put in a lot of gameplay that would evoke emotion. You had sequences where you'd go into homes and your commanding officer would tell you to shoot innocent Chinese-Americans. It was very dark and was meant to cause players to consider what it's like to live in America and be an American today."
My thoughts immediately jumped to the outrage over Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" level and the horrific way the media balked endlessly for two weeks over the way that game handled such a "political" topic. Games are the fodder of 24 hour news networks looking to spark a ratings spike. Politics is just another reason why someone might watch anyone specific network, thus it's not very far from any other advertising revenue stream. What would make Heartland any different? What would keep Heartland's scenes of "emotion" from becoming the buzz word that gets the highest ratings?

While I'd like to think is that video games will one day be allowed the same ability to operate as a medium that writes its own rules. Do books have to deal with this kind of terrorizing and harrassment? When the media takes the piss out of gaming as a genre in the name of analyzing the political nature of any given gaming scene, what does that do to the community? It patronizes them.

I'd be interested in hearing more about Heartland, or even seeing more of it somewhere down the line, but let's hope that upon its final release, the game is met with actual discussion and not just endless drone of TV pundits.

This is how they promote Bioshock 2 in Japan?

Couldn't help but repost the insane Japanese marketing piece for Bioshock 2 that involves some wood, a chainsaw, and a Jason-style hockey mask.

As incredibly weird and awkward as this looks, I think the engineering of it, including the way the pieces need pegs to stay together is kind of interesting. Is wood carving on this scale a big thing these days?

Regardless, why Bioshock 2? Why wood carving? WHY JAPAN WHY?!

Post Script (Sunday 10:30PM): As a second thought, Jenna brought up the fact that this sculpture is also a huge waste of trees. What happens to all the shavings and pieces of lumber that aren't used? Beyond that, how long will this "sculpture" stick around before getting tossed in the chipper?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Have you heard of Just Cause 2?

Honestly, I haven't been paying attention to sequel for 2006's bad punchline. "Anatomy of a Stunt" videos and developer diaries have been semi-lackluster and altogether hard to follow. While zipping from vehicle to ground to parachute to helicopter, shooting bad guys all the time, seemed a little on the "bat shit insane" side of things, so I turned down the Just Cause 2 marketing volume quite a bit in my head.

Of course, the announcement of a massive demo with a ton of content to explore has the power to turn the volume back on up, and it has. I love trying things before I buy, especially with video games.

Our hobby is an expensive one, $60 dollars and up, more often than not, and even portable games have crossed the $39.99 retail marks at times. Just Cause 2 was looking to be one of those titles I wasn't prepared to take the plunge on, unless it was a free review copy.

Now with a large demo well ahead of the game's launch, Rico and Just Cause 2 might just sink it's grappling hook into me and warrant a purchase. At 35 square miles of game land and a ton of enemies to hook to things before running them into the sides of mountains, the demo will make quite the splash, or explosion, when it arrives on March 4th.

BFBC2 Takes Project 10 Dollar To A Bad Place

Having found success with their Project 10 Dollar initiative, EA seems to be fighting the good fight with every major title they release. Having benefitted from Project 10 Dollar with some neat (free) DLC for Mass Effect 2 myself, I certainly don't mind the extra motivation to buy all of my games new in box. Of course, there is a way any good thing can turn into a bad thing, and Project 10 Dollar has turned this corner rather fast.

Today, Battlefield Bad Company 2's Project 10 Dollar DLC was revealed today and it turns out it isn't DLC at all. While, similar to Mass Effect 2 in that a code will be included in the game's box, the code won't open up download channels similar to the Cerberus Network. Instead, the code will unlock content that is already on the BFBC2 disc.

I know that when we buy our games on discs, we're only really buying the license to use the content on that disc, and I also know that, legally, there are some things we "cannot" do with the content on the disc. However, I feel that when we buy the physical medium that a game is transported on, we are, or at least, should be, entitled to everything on the disc. Unlocking DLC is kind of bull shit in my eyes. Project 10 Dollar was an impressively nuanced and strategic way to battle the used game market, but I respected the tactic a lot more when it provided extra material. Unlocking multiplayer maps is not "extra content," and when the player is booted out of matchmaking for not having these maps unlocked, I can guess they won't be playing Bad Company 2 much longer.

I know this is why I don't play Halo 3... ever. When map packs are released, and I don't have the Microsoft Points lying around waiting to be spent, I walk away from the game. BFBC2's unlockable maps are essentially day one map packs that'll force players to walk away, should they be picking up the game off of someone else or used in a shop.

I know that calling foul like this might be a little too soon. Common sense would point to the fact that no one will refuse to shell out the extra $5 for a new copy instead of Gamestop's $55 used copy, but I still don't think unlockable codes are the best kind of business. Charging $15 to the smart used-game buyer who might get the game off craigslist totally shatters the market there because they'll be saving a total of $0.

But that's they're business right? Yes, EA will still succeed in crushing used game sales the world round. But doing so might also crush their opportunities in taking the warfare shooter crown from Modern Warfare 2. Did anyone think Bad Company 2 was going to do that in the first place?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DSi XL Lands stateside March 28th

Nintendo announced today that the DSi XL, the oversized DS iteration that will supersize games and allow for multiplayer around the portable, will land in the United States on March 28th. Everytime a new DS is announced and launched, I wonder how this is possibly happening and how long it'll continue for.

When the Gameboy Advance launched, I couldn't help but be as excited as any other 8th grader. June 11th came fast in 2001, and was an easy date to forget that year, but it was important to me and my friends. I had preordered a unit online, but when the actual launch date came around, units were still on shelfs in Walmart. After much pleading, my mom picked up an arctic Advance unit in time for my friend Robert's "Advance Party." We had all picked up new Gameboys and different launch titles. I brought Chu Chu Rocket Advance to the party and we all had a lot of fun despite the fact that our old multiplayer cables didn't work with the Advance games.

Now, as a new DS unit is launched every other year, I can't seem to muster up the interest for any single one. The last actual excitement for a Nintendo handheld launch was around the time of the original DS, and even that was tempered by the fact that no one was sure how two screens would work and that Super Mario 64 DS received poor reviews.

While the announcement of the XL's bookreader capabilities certainly makes it the most appealing e-reading device I've seen (because it can also play games), I still can't see the XL moving a lot of units around launch.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Modern Warfare 2 Manipulates Gamers

DAMNLAG has an interesting post by Zach Rovinsky on the ways Modern Warfare 2 gets players to... play more Modern Warfare 2. Rovinsky goes into some of the psychological factors that go into creating the massive multiplayer success Modern Warfare 2 enjoys.
"To be frank, the competitive online environment judges you; relentlessly. Your every death is a mark of failure for all to see and an unkind statement on your personal ability. Such a situation pushes buttons in people’s heads, especially men’s heads. It taps into core competitive instincts that also drive sport, politics, and the manufacture and sale of expensive cars. What Modern Warfare does is speed up that cycle of play-death-judgment. The sheer speed with which deaths happen makes a more powerful statement on your effectiveness as a man than any other game. Every death is a reminder of every time your father didn’t believe in you or sold you short, so to speak. I hypothesize, with nothing but the Psychology 101 class I got a B in behind me, that the appeal of Modern Warfare 2 is something primal and even a bit oedipal. Men feel the need to be judged better than another man, whether it be by a woman or a scoreboard. Part of Modern Warfare's success is in prodding those competitive instincts to get people to keep playing. The competitiveness is really three quarters the appeal for what can be considered the gaming demographic, but it’s what matters most to the core male 18-35 bunch this series is aimed at."
Obviously, a lot of this mentality/gaming stuff is well documented, and if it's not well-documented, then it's just common knowledge. Leveling is the basest form of drip feeding gamers like hamsters hungry for accomplishment. And having a high score is about as associated with being a macho man as you can get. Don't worry though, many readers have already called out Rovinsky on his terrible writing and how bad of a person he is.

Look everyone, do you really expect any Modern Warfare 2 related article to be Tolstoy? What did you think "MW2 Manipulates Gamers" to be?

Also, as someone firmly under the influence of MW2's multiplayer manipulation, I have to say, prestige-leveling is a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. When the whole prestige system first debuted I thought only a complete moron would want to work their butt off all over again for the weapons they had previously unlocked. Of course, the extra titles and emblems help to maintain a fine level of motivation that has me hopping back online every other day in between a second play through of Mass Effect and whatever game I'm reviewing at the time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

FF VII Remake Really Needed?

Final Fantasy is certainly on the collective consciousness of everyone in and around gaming these days, what with the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XIII for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Of course, when anyone thinks of Final Fantasy, all of their thoughts immediately go to one thing: FINAL FANTASY VII (also known as "The only Final Fantasy the gaming community has every (lied about) playing.").

As the masterminds behind Final Fantasy have been making the interview rounds promoting the latest chapter in the fabled RPG series, every journalist has made it their personal duty to ask them about the possibility of a Final Fantasy VII remake because quotes about a VII-remake automatically generate page hits. There's probably only really about 10 gamers with an unlimited number of internet handles and message board screen names that have made remaking VII a top priority. Is it really that necessary?

Square Enix has made the possibility of remaking any classic RPG a reality with their Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy remakes. That opens the door for any number of unabashedly wasteful projects to be requested of Square Enix. This is completely ignoring the infamous PS3 FF VII Tech Demo from an E3 where everything else that didn't actualize into a playable retail game has been long forgotten. A wag of the finger to Square Enix for teasing gamers with this, but an even more shameful wag to gamers for keeping this wasteful dream alive. If the collective consciousness of the internet were this vocal about cancer or world peace, a lot more would get done. Still, why doesn't the internet play any new games?

I totally get the reasoning behind the rabid fan fascination with FF VII, and I know the fervor is coming from the impending release of a new FF game, but recent comments by Final Fantasy XIII Producer and VII director Yoshinori Kitase make an annoyingly nagging request out to be an impossible one at that.
"If it were possible that we had all the right facilities and the right environment to be able to make and prepare a Final Fantasy VII remake within a year, we'd very much like a go at it! But even Final Fantasy XIII has taken over three and a half years to create. If we were to recreate Final Fantasy VII with the same level of graphical detail as you see in Final Fantasy XIII, we'd imagine that that would take as much as three or four times longer than the three and a half years it has taken to put this Final Fantasy together! So it's looking pretty unrealistic! But if any such situation came about by any remote chance, then yes, we'd do it!"
A 12 year development cycle? Jeez, way to crush those hopes on the PR circuit Kitase! But surely, this man has to feel like he's been talking about a VII-remake for 12 years already, so who can blame the guy.

Honestly, it makes sense. I doubt sales of a VII-remake would ever add up to the sales of a brand new Final Fantasy, what with purists arguing that the original couldn't be touched, or community gamers (like those playing Modern Warfare 2 and whatever else Gamestop is promoting) not bothering to pick up the title based on the fact that it's "just a remake." There are the hardcore, who would surely buy the special edition, the Cloud's Hair edition and the "Giant Sword Collector's Box" edition to boot, but I don't want to think about how scarily devoted those people are, when normal levels of sanity would say to maybe buy the moderately priced edition, enjoy the game, and recognize that you are literally buying the same game you played in 1997.

Please, internet, stop asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake. It's making the rest of us look bad.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

REVIEW: Assassin's Creed II Sequence 12 DLC

It's probably hard for a lot of people to justify paying $4.00 for DLC that last about an hour and a half. I'm probably being very generous for most gamers with that estimate, but even my love for Assassin's Creed II can't put rose colored glasses on me for this transaction.

That being said, I bought Microsoft Points for this DLC specifically, and Assassin's Creed II does have a hidden wrist blade pointed at my heart, albeit in a nonthreatening way.

If you've already played through ACII you'll remember a large chunk of "corrupted memory" towards the end of the game. It's easy to understand this as the Ubisoft Montreal team making their holiday release date in a slightly inventive way. There was plenty of game to be had in AC II as it stood anyways, so charging for these missing sequences doesn't necessarily make Patrice Desilets a dirty Templar.

Anyways, sequence 12 has you heading to Forli to help Caterina Sforza and Machiavelli as the city is sieged and Sforza's children are kidnapped. Not only that, but some monk steals the Apple of Eden! Oh man, don't you hate when the ancient powerful artifact you just retrieved is stolen?!

I would have better things to say about Sequence 12, but there's a reason it was so easily cut from the main body of the game: it is not necessary. One of the first missions has you escorting our two historical figures into the city as it is under attack. This mission in particular demonstrates some of the more important aspects of improvement over the previous AC. What improvements? Direction.

Assassin's Creed II gave the right tools, but it also pointed you in a direction. One of the franchise's strengths is easily the way you move throughout the world. AC II took a page from Grand Theft Auto and gave the player points on a map, making that movement, the traverse, more of a role in mission design and gameplay.

That early mission in sequence 12 has you listlessly following the haphazard and helpless historical star power as they make their way to the castle. You're job is to make sure they get there without being cut to ribbons by the slightly different color guards. Of course, this only confuses and frustrated me as the player. Maybe you'll love stabbing people in the middle of battle, but it seemed like such a waste to me.

The following missions go quickly, until you're left wondering who the four-fingered monk is. The point of the whole story is: buyer beware.


Narrative in Control

What is about games and narrative these days? Somehow they're improving, subtlely, consistently, trying to snake some sort of pop culture title from movies. In truth, I think gamers, especially those who are quick and willing to jump on the pyres of those who would attack and undermine their beloved medium are the ones who want to compare games to movies.

And it's not complete bull shit for movies to worry and reject games. Games are big business the way movies are big business, and books have business but neither games nor movies will sully their own efforts by thinking books their equal or competitor. When Grand Theft Auto IV released on a Friday, Iron Man and Hollywood shuddered. Obviously they knew what kind of business GTA was capable of, but in the end people see movies AND play games, and both titles saw great audiences.

No, I don't think games are as near to movies as they'd like to be. This forward march of the narrative ability in games has me thinking they they're a lot closer in kinship to books. Mass Effect 2, in particular got me thinking about these similarities, though the same arguments could be made about lots of games, including Uncharted 2 and Assassin's Creed II.

Of course, the character development, the dramatic action, building to a climax and the conclusions afterwards, and the setting are all literary likenesses, but these aspects are not significantly tied to only games and books. These are prerequisites of all storytelling mediums. Building an argument for "games and books" isn't going to reach very far when you consider storytelling techniques as a universal criterium of narrative. Then what is it about games that makes them similar too books?

I believe games are nearer to books in aspects that are not emulated by the rest of the storytelling traditions. Instead, the way games are personal bring them closer in spirit to books. We read books by holding them in our two hands. Games are the same. Whether we are playing a portable system, or clutching an Xbox 360 controller late into the night, we control the medium of games with our hands.

We might not believe that books are as active as games are, especially since games deal so heavily in interaction, but narrative in games is very similar when you consider that books have a form of gating games make more complicated. In a book, you have to turn the page in order to continue the story. What happens when you don't defeat all enemies in a game like Uncharted 2? What happens when you die in Mass Effect 2 (not the ending)? You have to start the encounter again. Dying interrupts the narrative, and is representative of not turning the page. Turning the page is the way we interact with the narrative of a book. Games put this interaction at center stage and sell it even moreso than the narrative. This is the established order, although games like Heavy Rain are bucking this staple of gaming narrative by letting the story continue after a character has already died. The bare bones of it all is that we control the narrative of books in the way we determine when it starts and when it stops. If we never pick up a book without finishing it, what does the narrative do? Dies it sputter and die in our consciousness the way Shephard might die from a flurry of lazed fire?

It is also undeniable that we experience books and narrative games in the same way. We are a solitary audience, whose conciousness is unaffected by a commune of people sitting in the dark. When we finish a game, we can be sure that there are many of us who immediately hop online to share our thoughts on an experience, but the opinion of each player is affected by their individual experiences. How successful were they in dispatching Drake's foes, or did the Shepard the individual commanded use powers or brute force of arms? These fleeting differences in gameplay allow for more personal interaction, and thus draw games closer to books in the ability for one reader to interpret a description of a character different from another reader. This argument could be undermined very easily by disbelief, but how does your impression of a place or person differentiate from another in any given book? The same question is asked of players and the tactics they may use in completing any objectives laid in front of them of any different game. How did you beat this section? How did you get to this area?

I may be full of shit, but I know that drawing this connection has enriched my experience in both literary and interactive works of art of late. If you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bioshock 2, Why Not?

Jenna has been wondering why I'm not running out the door to purchase Bioshock 2 every available second. Obviously, Bioshock 2 is one of the biggest releases this early season of gaming, and while it's staked out a good three weeks of being at the forefront of your local Gamestop, I don't see it entering my console of choice any time soon.

I bought the original Bioshock for the PC before I had an Xbox 360, and started it several times over thanks to the demo and saved games being deleted as I restored Windows on my Mac. When Amazon had a two for one deal on 3600 games, I jumped at the opportunity to expand my fledling 360 library with some decent titles. Bioshock was one of those titles.

My first foray into Rapture on 360 was on normal, but being wasteful with ammo and supplies, I quickly found myself respawning in Vita Chambers with a wrench in hand. This got tired fast and I left the game for a new release. About a few months ago, I decided to restart the game and try it on hard at that. I was excited, scared stiff, and motivated to keep pushing through the game. That was of course, until I ran out of ammo and continually threw myself upon the drill end of a Big Daddy.

I know I'm not the only one. Long time Counter-Strike Source pal Bob shares the same sentiment. Sometimes you just don't feel motivated to finish a game. What makes Bioshock this kind of game?

Of course, I've finished Mass Effect 2, and for the time being, there aren't any games that I'll be purchasing new, so maybe it's time to revisit my back catalog and Rapture. Maybe the gameplay will really sink it's teeth into me this time and I'll be spurned right through to picking up Bishock 2 as well.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

REVIEW: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 (ME2) is a good book. The player is sitting alone, media held firmly between two hands, and every time one chapter ends, it only drives the player to keep playing. ME2 is a real page turner. If the action doesn't drive the player, then the character drama does, or maybe the overarching galactic spanning plot.

First, a perquisite: if you care about valuing your experience in ME2, a playthrough of the original Mass Effect will be an investment paid back 10 fold. Reuniting with old friends will mean nothing without it, neither will some of the political issues running in the background of ME2's dynamic plot.

Once you've completed a stretch through the original, you'll be able to notice the subtle but saving improvements ME2 makes over its predecessor. The yawn-inducing vehicle sections have been surgically removed, and any problems you had with cover or combat have been streamlined into a more Gears of War kind of experience, minus the football playing lunkheads.

Ultimately that makes every little RPG experience the player is drip fed with that much more nuanced, precious, maybe even yearned for. What are the RPG experiences? The Paragon/Renegade system and talent building and character bits. I don't think anyone will be able to resist constantly heading to the next story mission, yearning to see what happens next. Of course it helps that a lot of side missions involve running from point A to point B delivering information or lost items. Not much can be missed when there's so little to care about on the sidelines.

ME2 is another game in a long strain of narative renaissance gaming seems to be going through. The dialogue branching, morality, and character development really launch ME2 into some kind of new generation in story telling. The gameplay has been dialed back, maybe refined, and then shot through a cannon, towing a much wider swath of the gaming population with it to the final battle with the Reapers.

All of these elements make ME2 the kind of roller coaster that doesn't scare people away, but still thrills those used to the more dangerous thrill rides. Is this where the RPG is headed? Mass Effect (the original) already differentiated itself and established the RPG genre with all of the shooting and western influences the Japanese RPG has been confusing western audiences without, but ME2 goes one further and allows those too scared of the leveling, grinding, and general work (oh no!) of RPGs to go ahead and jump right in. There's no work at all. My initial playthrough took a round 25 hours, and if you really get into upgrades, the scanning of planets will absorb several more hours. For an experience that will take the everyman gamer 4 times a typical Modern Warfare 2 campaign, ME2 retains a brisk and motivating pace. Now if only Playstation 3 gamers could get in on the experience and fund the Mass Effect 3 development cycle.


Darwinia+ Quick Impressions

I have another review assignment from Game Revolution that was an easy download from Xbox Live Arcade. This one I was curious about because of it's long history on the PC. I'd also heard that there was an extremely long development cycle for the XBLA port.

Blake and Nick were able to get me a review code, so I downloaded Darwinia+ last Friday. Obviously, Darwinia+ is a hybrid of real time strategy gameplay and good old fashioned Lemmings. Honestly, that makes me very nervous. I'm the kind of guy who worries the entire time he's playing Starcraft. How do I know the enemy isn't going to come rushing in when I'm at my most vulnerable? And when a game depends on a mechanic of guarding little helpless sprites as they pass from one point to another, this only heightens a sense of nervousness and fear.

Still, Darwinia+ has been fun, as nerve wrecking as fun can be. I like the graphic style, and the music has been good, though very sparse. I've been playing with OCD and wiping out every enemy. If there's an egg launcher near by, I simply have an entire squad dedicated to the landing zone so no monsters will spawn. This of course slows down much of my engineering time, but there's no time limit to the game and I'm not worried.

I'll be sure to post the link to my full review once it goes live.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Full Review of ZOMB1ES Up On GR

I wanted to let everyone know that my full review of I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMB1ES!!!1 is up over at Game Revolution now. This way, someone out there might actually read it!

Let's face it, I don't think there are too many PLAY READ WRITE readers out there, and if there are, they certainly aren't checking the blog on a day to day basis. Of course, I'm not updating that regularly anyways.

But I digress, ZOMB1ES was my first Xbox Live Indie Games... game, and it was a neat experiment. Of course, everything in that marketplace is about a buck, and ZOMB1ES probably offers more than a few hours of gameplay for only a dollar. That's really not that bad, considering I'm a college student and money is tight. I'll be sure to explore a little further in the Indie Games space and see what I come up with.

Until then, you can check out my full review of ZOMB1ES at the following address:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mass Effect Vs. Mass Effect 2

It seems like Bioware took much of what was criticized of Mass Effect and focused on that until, in the end, they ended up with about as refined a product as you could possibly get. That means all of the lackadaisical driving sections and a lot of the RPG elements have been replaced. Powers have been mapped to individual buttons, and genre sections have been removed altogether.

Even hub worlds are more streamlined, and the narrative is given greater focus. Most of the time, combat portions of missions will take you away from the hub world, and transfer you back once you've wiped out all the get or mercenaries or whatever. I don't want to give too much up front before completing and reviewing the game, but his aspect of hub world and off shoot keeps the player from ever getting lost. While I haven't had any first hand experience with Final Fantasy XIII I have a feeling that experience will be shaking hands with much of what Mass Effect 2 does.

This finely funneled narrative is really what will make all the difference in RPGs in the future. What is the evolution of the RPG? How much of an RPG do you really enjoy? Does anyone really love random encounters? How about an over-world with no real direction? Do you like grinding so you can beat a boss that's standing between you and the end of a dungeon, the continuation of the narrative? Personally, I only really enjoy the story, the narrative, the world, the characters, and those things don't make 20 spare hours of grinding and leveling worthwhile to me, especially when other genres are getting fully competent at telling stories within their gameplay parameters.

I'm nearly done with Mass Effect 2 and a review will be up soon. Suffice it to say, I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience thus far and I will purchase any amount of DLC that is released. Much like Ubisoft with Assassin's Creed II, I just can't help but get enough of the world Bioware has created, or enough of the gameplay either.

Monday, February 15, 2010

REVIEW: Mass Effect

I consider Mass Effect to be the modern equivalent of literature. Slowly, as print dies out, and what used to be print moves further into an electronic medium, story telling efforts are going to be made more frequently in forms we might not expect.

What kind of story does Pac-Man tell, or how deep does the story of Mario and Princess Peach run? These concepts might be gaming lore, but Mass Effect goes further and allows for the kind of connection a reader has with a book through its pacing, attention to detail, and its ability to make a more personal connection with the player.

In Mass Effect, you have a whole world open to you, and the door is swung wide open pretty early at that. While a lot of the original content in Mass Effect is actually very derivative, it's nothing great works of the written word have been guilty of for centuries. Sometimes to create something new, captivating, and interesting, you have to borrow a little from the people who know best. Two professors, on separate occasions, have very recently echoed this idea.

In this brave new world, or galaxy, you play as Shepherd. Whether you decide to be male or female is up to you, much like your back story. This only encourages extra playthroughs, and should be standard in all RPGs. Shepherd is an alliance soldier being accompanied by an intergalactic Council agent on an investigation. Shepherd is heading to the human colony on Eden Prime to investigate a piece of Prothean technology that was unearthed. The Protheans are an ancient race, so this piece of technology is a big find. Another Council agent, Saren, is at the scene ahead of Shepherd. Saren goes rogue, kills your escort and aligns himself with the Geth, an army of artificially intelligent beings that plague the galaxy beyond the veil. Needless to say, you're quickly tasked with hunting the rogue Saren down and solving the mystery of the Prothean beacon. Saving the galaxy sounds so cliche, and Mass Effect's very fully encyclopedia disguises the cliche with a sense of believability.

Essentially, the best thing Mass Effect has going for it is the world it creates around the player, and the way it gives weight to choices the player is presented with. Having heavy decisions means being involved, and that's exactly what the player feels moment to moment. Playing as Shepherd makes the player feel like he or she matters, even in a galaxy full of colorful aliens, some bug-eyed, some monstrous, all entertaining. Choices aren't as black and white like deciding whether to harvest little sisters or save them. Instead they play on the players morality and politics.

That makes all the difference. If you stripped Mass Effect bare of its choices, of it's fully-fleshed world, it would be a third person shooter with some neat RPG influences, a clunky cover system and mundane vehicle sections. But as a sum of the greater works of science fiction and a game that requires the player to question him or herself, rather than the developers, Mass Effect shines.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Obsessing About Achievements

I can't believe I've gotten to this point, but I have to admit that I'm getting a little obsessed over achievements. I partly feel like this means the death of actually appreciating video games for what they do as an artistic piece of work in a burgeoning medium.

Now I'm thinking about playing absolute crap in order to pad my gamerscore. Am I the only one to do this? Studies show that I'm not (there aren't any official studies), but I can't help but feel a little lousy about it all. Why would I want to play the X-men III game? It's only got 16 achievements and it seems pretty easy to get 1000g on it. Why would I want to play Wanted: Weapons of Fate? A bunch of the achievements are glitched and its easy enough to run through the campaign once for the story achievements.

Honestly, if I was going to be obsessed about collecting something, this is an easy way to go. It also doesn't hurt that this kind of thing wouldn't cost me much, seeing as there are a ton of games that I can find used and for cheap that I honestly wouldn't even mind playing through.

Remember Crackdown? There's a sequel coming out for that game, and I played through the original on my roommate's 360 back in my freshman year of college. I could pick up that game for a mere $8 and still get a lot of enjoyment out of it, even though there are probably very few people available to play co-op with. While I might not freak out and try to get 1000g/1000g on that game, there's a fair amount of achievements available there for a second playthrough I can guarantee I'd enjoy.

While sometimes, I see the collecting Grand Theft Auto IV requires for achievements to be the equivalent of one of Bayonetta's torture chambers, there are plenty of games I'd be happy to play again for extra achievement points, like Mass Effect.

Now, I've been noticing a slight trend in making achievements a lot more... well, achievable. The first Assassin's Creed became a collectathon of monstrous proportions, and the game wasn't the best to start with. Despite that, I enjoyed Assassin's Creed II so much that I was hoping to have to work harder to get 1000g on the title. When the announcement of DLC rang out, I was hoping for some extra achievement points, looking forward to a little icon that had "1500g of 1500g" under it. Even Mass Effect 2 has toned down the level of achievement difficulty associated with the title.

Whatever happens, if you see me in a Gamestop eye-balling a used copy of Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End, please stop me. Don't let me walk out with a Pirates game. Just smack my hand and let it fall. The resulting crash will knock me to my senses and I'll promptly run out of the store with a gracious "Thanks" tossed over my shoulder.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dark Void Demo Impressions

I had downloaded the Dark Void demo from XBL a while ago. I figured I'd try it out, especially because I have deep respect game companies and their courage to release new IP these days. The economy is bad enough but I feel like publishers, Capcom of note, are listening to fans and backing new ideas.

Today, I finally booted the demo up and decided to give it a spin. I landed on normal difficulty and took the jet pack for a spin.

Unfortunately, that spin quickly turned into a dive. Here's my problem: it took me all of two minutes to die by the hands of one of the "Watcher" UFOs. For a demo, this is really unacceptable. How am I supposed to know that I should be putting a lot more energy into avoiding the enemy fire, when the only way I can conceivably figure to shoot back is to line up on a direct flight line towards the enemies.

I guess my biggest problem with this Dark Void demo was that I walked away frustrated. I hold no quarter for a game demo which is (supposedly) trying to sell me on a game I've never tried that kills me within the first 5 minutes. I quickly backed out of the demo and let Dark Void fall by the wayside. I wasn't exactly planning on picking up the game, but maybe had the demo been a better experience, I could have at least rented it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

MMOs and I don't match

I've been posting a lot of stuff at for Star Trek Online. The Trek-themed MMO is one of the more hotly anticipated massively-multiplayer-online games. I've been curiously frequently, but never really interested or attracted to any specific MMO.

Obviously, there was a time when I wanted to play APB, All Points Bulletin, an MMO from the developers of Grand Theft Auto. Of course, after I had "been there done that," I lost all interest. It probably didn't help that I was playing the game in one of its earliest beta. That kind of state doesn't really promote a game in the best way, but the feeling I got still stood.

MMOs really rely on your ability to go out of your way and participate in a community, and the APB community was a fledgling pursuit some of the beta members were taking upon themselves. It was hard enough to play the game, why would I want to commit playing time to lurking the f0rums?

I guess I consider MMOs to be love-em-or-hate-em games, and I don't necessarily have hate for the genre, but I just won't ever see myself playing them.

I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 - Impressions

I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 isn't exactly a title I need to spend a lot of time with to write a full review, which I'll be doing for Game Revolution later this week. Despite that, I wanted to write up some quick impressions with the first XBLA Indie game I ever bought.

As a twin stick shooter, Zombies is extremely easy to pick up and play for a high score. The 8bit title screen certainly helps to encourage that pick-up-and-play feeling. I've only played by myself, but I find it interesting that four-player multiplayer is also available. I'd really like to try it out for myself, but I really don't know when I'll get that chance, seeing as I don't know anyone else on Xbox Live that could play with me, or anyone who can spare the time at the start of the school year.

The different enemies, the send up of Geometry Wars, and the color changes, flashing lights, and changing backgrounds help to keep the illusion of changing gameplay, but the flow is generally the same. Of course, the screen is going to get more crowded and switching to the appropriate weapons will be key. The ammo, weapon drops, and power ups all seem to be fairly well balanced, but there is one thing that's bothering me.

Honetsly, I get the whole indie vibe, and while independent games aren't the easiest to get ahold of, I try my best to keep an eye on the development. Still, the low budgets can affect a few items on the development checklist. Case in point, Zombies' music is terrible. Starting out in a garage band and morphing as it goes along makes the title song interesting at best, and annoying and grating at its worst... which is most of the time. Do I get it? Yes, but I just don't want it.

I'll try to remember to post a link to my full review when it goes up on

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bad Company 2 Impressions

My impression of Bad Company 2 don't extend past a measly hour of play time on the available demo, but the experience is not unlike Battlefield 1943, which I spent quite a bit of time on over the summer. It's the same engine, except of course with the graphical upgrades, tweaks, and overlay of the new content present in Bad Company 2.

Comparing the game to Modern Warfare 2 might not be the fairest thing to do, especially considering the demo status of Bad Company 2, but I don't really think Modern Warfare 2 is really past its beta phase either.... Here it goes anyways:

Modern Warfare 2 feels a lot heavier, maybe more stable, while Bad Company 2's controls feel kind of flighty at this point. The way the cross hairs float up doesn't necessarily tie directly to the shots you're taking, unlike MW2's gun shots giving recoil and placing your sights back down slightly further up, instead of simply floating up and staying up.

Of course, you can't exactly hop in a vehicle and tear across the landscape in MW2, but Bad Company 2's vehicles seem to balanced a little weak. The turrets on defensive positions shred the tanks and other vehicles a little too easily. Even with secondary pilots manning machine guns and the like, infantry make short work of vehicle in any shape or form.

I wonder whether or not Bad Company 2 will actually take any of the shooter audience away from Modern Warfare 2. Of course, the console crowd may migrate from one title to the next, but I can't see it happening so easily. If MW2 can't be patched and the experienced tightened and expanded in the right ways, Bad Company 2 will take the cake and run with it, especially after the way Battlefield 1943 captured the shooter crowd this past summer.

Modern Warfare 2 "Daily Glitch Report"

While I don't actually plan on doing a daily glitch report for anyone playing Modern Warfare 2, but it almost seems appropriate at this point. Everyday some new exploit, glitch, or maligned game mode pops up. Of course, no amount of pre-release play time would uncover the multitude of exploits the gaming community could dig up.

Now that the Javelin glitch has been fixed, a new method of cheating every game of MW2 you wander into has found its way to every match I seem to join. This new glitch involves unlimited care packages, or emergency air drops, whichever you manage to get ahold of. I haven't bothered to look up exactly how to use the glitch to your team's delight, but I've seen it performed more times than can be accounted for.

one match, a team mate wracked up enough kills to obtain an emergency airdrop, and immediately laid down in spawn, tossing the red smoke-spewing canisters that signal the drop point for as many crates as can be dropped within the match time-limit. At first, some of the team mates rejoiced and picked up as many crates they could get, but hardly any of them actually managed to play to the objectives the game specified. This made for a lowly match.

Personally, the entire process was extremely distracting and disturbing from the actual gameplay it requires to win a match under any circumstances. The airstrikes were endless, the choppers buzzing overshadowed every gun shot, and the mindless team mates waited around like sitting ducks for crates that merely replenished their ammo. What the fuck is wrong with people?

Honestly, these kinds of exploits ruin the game on so many levels. I'll return to Modern Warfare 2 after I hear these glitches have been fixed... thought I wonder how much time I'll actually be able to play before something else makes me want to run away in fear and loathing.