Monday, December 22, 2008

Gears Of War, Fuck Yeah! Comin' Again To Save The Motherfuckin' Day, Yeah!

I just finished the campaign in Gears of War 2 (fuck yeah!). Holy fucking crap! That was awesome. At no point in the game (and I played through a good bit of it twice) did I ever get tired of what I was doing and want to quit. I only ever put the game down because I didn't have time to plow through it all in one sitting. I'd say it's a non-stop thrill ride, but that might imply that that'd be the only summer movie cliche that applies, and that is simply just not the case; it's also the most fun you'll have all summer, the feel-good hit of the season, and the fun for the whole family. But I ask of you, what kind of fucked up family plays Gears of War together? This is hardcore gaming shit, ain't no Wii goddamn bowling. You'll give grandma nightmares.

I got all the way to the end of Gears 1 solo, and then for the life of me I couldn't kill the last guy. I didn't even know he was the last guy, either. I thought he was just some jackass holding me up until my friend Dustin, aka DeeZee, jumped in to play it co-op with me and said, "Damn, you're all the way at the end." We killed him first try, then. No such difficulties (or ambivalence) about Gears 2, though--though the end section not especially difficult, it was absolutely EPIC, and I knew it was the end this time because there's no way they could top that section without 2 more years of dev time and another sequel.

Oh yeah, I played some WoW and Diablo this week, also. I'm getting closer to the end of Lord of Destruction, with my now level 33 Assassin, and I've got my WoW character up to level 26 now. It's definitely way, way more casual of an MMO than FFXI, at least on the way up to endgame. I've only had to group up for a few quests so far, all dungeon instances, and of course those have all been 100% optional. I like to do and see as much as I can, though, and I scored some nice loot that you can't get anywhere else. Not that it matters; I'm sure it'll all be obsoleted twenty times over by the time I get to level 80. Want to see my WoW character? Check this out.

Pretty cool, huh? FFXI never had that. WoW's got achievements, too, which are always fun.

I'm going out of town, to Germany, for the holidays, but I'm taking my MacBook and DS with me, so I should be able to do a little gaming in the downtime and while traveling. Maybe I can finish Metroid Fusion.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The latest game I picked up

DSC00175.JPG


So, uh, yeah, I haven't exactly been playing much >_>

Mostly I've been playing Nose To The Grind Stone, with my thesis submission date end of next month. But in my down time, or when I need to space out Zen-like, I do this. Makes me happy. :)

(this is my 3rd attempt ever by the way, the first 2 goes were very chunky)

The Recurring Theme Starts Now

This past week of game time has been me playing a lot of WoW. I have a feeling it's going to be a big part of my gaming for a while to come. I've got my warrior up to level 21 now, and I'm starting to get more accustomed to the game. There are a ton of major differences between this and FFXI, but quite a lot of similarities, also, so while I know what I'm doing in the macro sense, I often don't know how to do it yet in the micro.

I've probably spent 40 hours in the game so far, which is nothing for an MMO, but progress is always coming along at a steady clip. I've only been running around questing in two of the game's extremely large (by comparison to FFXI) zones, and I'm not anywhere near done with them. Today some higher level players ran me through Ragefire Chasm, the first instance I came across. I like the way those are set up; in instances, you can go in and kill stuff, and it stays dead forever, as near as I can tell, or at least until you opt to reset the instance. So you can go in alone or with a few people and chip away at the hordes of monsters before you die, and then come right back and pick up where you left off. I also like the flight routes in the game. It's pretty cool to be flying in real time over the zone below you, seeing mobs and other people down there running around.

The auction house, I'm still trying to figure out. It's not set up like the one in FFXI at all. You actually have to wait the full 24/48/72 hours for your stuff to sell to the highest bidder, unless you put a buy-it-now price on the item. I don't have near the knowledge of the game's economy to dig deep into the AH, but what's cool is that I really don't have to, because when I go to list an item, the game provides me with a good starting price for that item.

Again, 99% of the time I've been playing solo so far, but I can still get most stuff done as long as the quests are green/yellow/orange to me, and are not dungeon (instance) or group quests. I'm paying attention to the quest text and other lore as I go along, and I'm really enjoying it so far.

The only other thing I've played this week is Gears of War 2. I'm up to the beginning of act four in my solo playthrough, and just last night I played some co-op campaign with Necovia, AKA Lonesteban. We played through one of my favorite parts of the game so far, the abandoned research facility where the guys jump out of the glass tubes at you. Chainsaw spree! That's a lot of fun.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

For The Horde!

I can recognize the signs of MMO addiction setting in, having been through this once before. There's something about making those numbers go up and making those bars fill, especially in the midst of a huge world with a rich lore. It's a would-be, all-encompassing obsession, an undertow overcome only by clinging to the floating debris of limited free time. As long as the most I can ever devote is a few hours at a time, I should be able to keep my head above the water line. I'm almost to level 16, woot!

Last weekend I plowed through all of the Thieves' guild quest line in Oblivion, leaving only The Dark Brotherhood line that I plan to do sometime later. If you add up all the time on each of my characters, I probably have 130 hours into that game, but oddly, it doesn't feel like I've played it that much. Maybe because that's been over a year and a half or so, but by the time I had 100 hours into FFXII and DQVIII, I felt it. Again, it's amazing how well the world of Cyrodiil is put together. There have been some really cool moments in the quests in the main guild series. I'm expecting great things from Fallout 3 when I get around to that game.

I've been playing Gears of War 2 this week, as well, and I've been blown away. I've made it through the first two of five acts, and I've been continually impressed by the variety of environments I've been through, the set-piece scenarios, and the awesome firefights. There are some caves you are dropped into at the beginning of act two that look absolutely amazing, they're possibly the most gorgeous graphics I've ever seen in a game--it's unreal. Your AI-controlled squadmates seem much more reliable this time around, and maybe it's just my imagination, but even the signature Gears cover mechanic seems improved and not so cumbersome as it was for me before.

It's been a long time since I played the original Gears (I sold my copy a while back), but that game never quite won me over entirely. I sort of went through the whole thing with one eyebrow raised. I can't put my finger on any one thing that they've improved for Gears 2 that has wiped away my skepticism, but there you have it. I can even give myself over to the cheesy '80s action movie dialogue and mid-battle banter, immortal exchanges like this one between rookie gear Carmine and grizzled main character Marcus Fenix:
"Sarge, I heard there are a shitload of locust there."
"More like ten shitloads, rook."

Maybe Gears 2 just hit me at the right time, rubbed me the right way, and I just wasn't as receptive to the original. Now, strangely OCD as I am, I feel like I have to go back and give that game another chance sometime. I'd like get someone to jump into a game of Gears 2 with me (or vice versa) and play the campaign co-op, and I also need to check out the multiplayer some, especially the new Horde mode. So far I only played one of the tutorial matches with bots, which was cool. I had never played anything with bots before.


Friday, November 28, 2008

I levels mah dudes

I've been doing a lot of leveling up lately. I took a character all the way through the Mages' guild quest line in Oblivion, getting him up to level 7 in the process. That doesn't sound like much, but I spent around 14 hours total with the guy working my way up to Arch-Mage of the guild. I don't know what it is about Oblivion, because the game is kind of badly put together and dumb in a lot of respects, but the world they've built there is pretty awesome.

It's cool to see how all the little stories you get from random quests and the main quest lines interweave. Take for example the Count of Skingraad, whom we know from another quest is a vampire. He plays some part in the Mages' guild quest line, too. Then there are the plans by the Necromancers (the antagonists of the Mages' guild quest line) to learn to summon Daedra from Oblivion, which you learn of by seeing books on Daedra and encountering stunted, weakling Daedra in one of your final raids on a Necromancer stronghold. That whole idea dovetails nicely with the plot of the main quest line in the game, about the cult Mythic Dawn which opens all of the Oblivion gates, letting Daedra into the world to herald the coming of Mehrunes Dagon, lord of that plane.

I've created another character to take through the Thieves' guild quest line, he's a Khajit Acrobat. I want to see how a stealth class plays in this game. I might then take him through the Dark Brotherhood line, or create an Assassin for that. That will leave the Arena line, which I'm not really interested in, and the Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles quest lines, both of which require expansions. I think I'll hold off on those and get the PC version sometime for them.

The other night I felt like playing some more Diablo, so I jumped back into Lord of Desctruction, and fought through the middle third of that the fifth act of Diablo II. My Assassin is level 32 now, and I still don't have all of the skills unlocked. I think I've taken too scattershot of an approach with her. If I were to do it again, I'd focus more on one or two aspects of the skill tree rather than all three.

The last RPG I've been playing is WoW. I've got my Warrior up to level 10 now. I don't know what they consider zones in this game, but I'm at the third quest hub, which to me appears to be in the same big zone as the last two, which is called Durotar, and is where all Orcs start out. I've played solo the entire way so far, and only chatted with a couple of people, incidentally. At this point it might as well be an offline RPG, for how I've been playing it. I hear the game can be soloed all the way up to 80 now, but I wonder about the raids that start at around 60 or whatever. Do people still do them? I guess if I get that far I'll find out.

In comparison to FFXI, I'd say WoW is much more of a PC-centric game. Not a surprise since it was a) native to PC, and b) created in the West. The interface is well done, and of course the mouse and keyboard combination is integral to that. FFXI was much more built around a PS2 controller and keyboard combination. WoW is also much more user friendly, due to Blizzard apparently actually listening to their playerbase from time to time. There are handy keyboard shortcuts, lots of options to tweak, etcetera. And you can swim.

I played a little Halo online with some friends this week. We went 5-0 in a Social Slayer playlist, which was pretty remarkable. That's what good communication can do for a team. And finally, I downloaded SSFIITHDR, as I'm calling it. I suck at Street Fighter! I hop on to the online quick match matchmaker, and nine out of ten fights my opponent is Ken. No shit. the remaining 10% of the time is about half Ryu, and an equal distribution of the rest of the cast for the final 5%. I play Chun Li, having mastered Ryu and Ken many years ago, on the SNES. I've won maybe 2 matches online out of the 15 or 20 I've played. This game looks sweet in HD, though. It's too bad they couldn't add in more frames of animation, but that would have totally thrown off the gameplay, which at this point is more familiar to gamers than their mothers' faces.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

WoW, NXE, Oblivion, and Fusion

My brother-in-law is a huge WoW player with like 6 or 8 level 70 characters. He's to the point now where he pays Indonesian players around $100 (a small fortune to them) to get a character to 70 for him so that he can use it to raid with. It's a different world out there. So anyway, I got to catch up with him quite a bit during my trip to Japan, and he's long been trying to get me to play WoW. Now, I'm actually ready to. In fact, Jeff actually gave me a set of WoW discs, one of his own numerous sets, and he's going to be letting me use one of his multiple accounts to play with, as well. So I'll effectively be able to level to 60 without paying a dime. I may even be able to get Burning Crusade and level 70 from that account, too.

Jeff had just gotten Wrath of the Lich King when I was at his place, and I got to play for about an hour. I created a Tauren death knight and dove right into main attraction, working directly for the Lich King to spread his evil influence across the land. I rolled through about 5 quests, and it seemed pretty cool. Previously I have played a Human warrior and Night Elf hunter each for a few hours. I think once I get my account info from Jeff, I'm going to go Horde and create an Orc warrior for my first real WoW character.

Yesterday was the rollout of the "New Xbox Experience," otherwise known as a firmware refresh for the 360. The biggest update yet, almost a complete overhaul, but still just a firmware revision. The big things here are Netflix streaming, which is crazy awesome amazing (for those of us in the U.S.), the party system (not sure if this is relevant to me at all yet), HDD game installation, and most importantly, the ability to delete game trials from your played game history. I played around with the new dashboard some last night. I created an avatar, an Xbox Mii, essentially, and installed Oblivion to my hard disk. I also played the Tomb Raider Underworld demo. It sucks.

Oblivion plays pretty well from the hard drive, with a good bit less time spent at loading screens (though still more than you'd like), and less pauses for loading while walking around the overworld. I finished up the Fighter's guild quest line last night. To this point, through the main quest and Fighter's guild, I've only been using my one character, who is now a level 27 Redguard Warrior. I think I'm going to roll new characters for the Mage's guild, Thieves' Guild, and Dark Brotherhood quest lines. If I'm not entirely burnt out with the game after those and want to do the Arena stuff, I might go back to my Warrior for that. This is all just the base game stuff, I haven't even bought Knights of the Nine or Shivering Isles. Maybe I'll play that stuff on PC someday, although I've still got Morrowind for PC I bought years ago and which never really ran well on the computer I had at the time. I want to play that, too.

On the flight back from Japan, I restarted my Metroid Fusion game. I had gotten stuck somewhere and decided just to toss out that entire save, which was only about 2 hours into the game. I've already gotten back up to speed and past the spot where I had been stuck, in the 3rd or 4th sector of the game. Not a whole lot to say about this now, but it plays pretty well. I just wish it was a DS game instead of a GBA game. Using L and R for functions that ought to be on face buttons sucks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mutants & Masterminds round-up; FFT:TWOTL

As promised, I will write about a few things I've been playing. The first is that last night we wrapped up our Mutants & Masterminds 2 week game in which we played supervillians out to get the infinity gems from the Justice League of America. I played the "Totem" archetype, pissed-off-with-the-man assassin Venoma, part human, part snake. I could spit and bite with paralysing venom, and I have super assassin skills (very good sneaking and notice checks). With our party accepting a contract from a known Columbian arms dealer (who could duplicate himself) to obtain the infinity gems, we set off to infiltrate the JLA HQ and steal the gems. With us was a sentient Simian and a fire elemental, and along the way we caused riots through New York, killed Batman, freed inmates from Arkham Asylum (though the Joker & Mr Freeze were killed in the process), then after successfully stealing the gems we took on the Fantastic Four and some other superheroes who came to try to take them from us. I had the Mind gem, which let me read minds and mind blast people, which was pretty cool. Defeating these so-called "heroes" and then escaping with the gems, we found that Thanos (sp? I'm totally not a comic book person) who had previously wielded the gems in the infinity gauntlet, had the other two gems and was out to complete the collection, and was busy trying to destroy the earth with a bunch of aliens in order to find the gems. Fortunately we found him first, and beat him, but the soul gem decided it didn't want any part of some of my comrades so disintegrated them. Faced with a sentient gem, I spoke to it with mine, and we came to an accord, but when I took it for myself it took over my soul. Then the fire elemental killed me and became a god-like being who ruled the world for a few seconds before the gods decided that wasn't to be and rended her soul and destroyed the gems.

Anyway, it was a hella fun game, and completely different from anything I'd ever played before (though it is most similar to D&D 3.5 ed, being based on the d20 system). It probably helped that the DM was a huge comic book fan because there's no way I'd be able to run a game like that since I am completely comic book ignorant. It is best played as a fast & fun game (often Matt would be like "what are you doing? 5-4-3-2-1") and 2 weeks of it was a great break from our epic campaign of original box set D&D, which will start again next week!

Mutants and Masterminds: 8/10
It loses 2 because I think I should have picked a slightly more skilled character: we hardly did anything much that required assassin-style skills, which is, in retrospect, common for party-based campaigns. Sometimes I felt like there wasn't much I could do, but my bite was surprisingly useful. I was also pretty good at grappling. But you know, you don't really want to grapple Human Torch and things like that.

--

I'm also powering through FFT:TWOTL. I decided that now my BLM had Thundaja opened he should go improve his time mage skills, and that my WHM should go improve her mystic skills, so we're playing switcheroo with jobs a bit! I'm also highly dissatisfied with my Knight, because he's slow as hell. I'm not sure what to do with him :(

My usual party up til now has been: (4) monk, knight, black mage, white mage, and for (5) a thief or a chocobo depending on the situation. My thief seems to be resistant to my white mage which is really annoying, but she's really high level and I don't want to bother to level a different character up :( I'm thinking maybe I'll switch her back to archer instead because they're less likely to get hit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hello!

Hi, I'm one of the "new faces" The Count mentioned below (hope you don't mind if I call you "The Count", right? One gamey-game, two gamey-game, ah hah hah!).

Anyway a little about me: when I was young I wasn't allowed to have a Nintendo because my parents thought it would corrupt my delicate sensibilities. Of course, like all girls, I should be more interested in Barbie dolls and playing house than shooting ducks and working on my plumber skills. This didn't last long, since my school friend had one and I would go over to his place and play Duck Hunt and Mario Bros with him almost obsessively. I particularly liked Duck Hunt. Also around that time, my dad got an IBM compatible PC! It was a 286 and cost him about $8000 and came with a VCR. I think it was around 1985. Anyway, we were allowed to play "educational" games on that (I was particularly good at "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" & "Gumboots around Australia" & "Alpine Tram Ride") but we managed to get some games like "Castle" and "Gorillas" and "Nibbles" and "Capture the Flag" on there. Anyway, a little while after that, when I was around 8 or 9, (1989!) my sister got a Gameboy and there was an even better Mario and... Tetris! And Burger Time and Pokemon and a bunch of other games I would fight over the Gameboy with her for.

In 1998 I got my first own computer, a hand-me-down P90 from my dad, and throughout my HSC (leaving certificate) I became addicted to Warcraft 2 and online MOOs (which I'd actually been playing since about 1996).

Suffice to say, apart from a slight flirtation with Sony's PS2 and PSP, I've been a Nintendo/PC girl all my life, with a 64, GC, GBC, GBA, DS in my history. I also have a Dreamcast which I get out when I feel like some space dancing! My favourite games are the following (in no particular order):
* Knights of the Old Republic
* Baldur's Gate 2
* Final Fantasy XI (which I am on hiatus from while doing my PhD), XII, I, II, IV, VII Crisis Core, Tactics TWOTL (PSP), Crystal Chronicles (best music in a game ever) (GC), the DS CC game too (the rest I haven't really played except X which I hated with a passion)
* Phantasy Star Online (GC ed) (which got me into MMOs)
* Space Channel 5 (Dreamcast)
* Planescape Torment
* Loco Roco
* Patapon
* Starcraft
* Warcraft II & III
* Mario Galaxy, even though I suck at it
* Guitar Heroes & knockoffs
* Portal
* Prince of Persia, SOT
* World of Goo
* Desktop Tower Defense
* probably a bunch I've forgotten ^^;

I'm currently not playing much on the PC because my PC really sucks (was a cutting edge expensive Athlon 1.2GHz when I bought it like 7 years ago but no longer does it) -- I log onto FFXI occasionally but that's it. I was particularly annoyed that when I bought Portal it didn't run very well at all on my computer, understandable UNTIL YOU FIND OUT that the pirated version that cut out all the Valve Steam dumb stuff that I was playing until it was released here ran PERFECTLY FINE! RAR.

I'm playing lots of PSP recently, because it's my recent acquisition baby. Loco Roco stays in my UMD drive and I have a memory stick loaded with awesome. Something I'd like any games people who read this stuff understand is that Australia seriously sucks for release schedules. For some reason we're classified "Europe" so we get everything a year later and 3x the US price. So it really puts the crunch on poor students like myself. And they wonder why piracy is so prevalent in Australia?! Seriously, I'm happy to buy games that are released on time and for a reasonable price (say, the equivalent of the US price, perhaps?) but no way am I going to fork out 1/10 of my fortnight's salary for a new game.

I'm also an avid boardgamer, playing with a group of friends Tuesday nights & play D&D Monday nights with an awesome crew. I can write about my boardgame acquisitions too if people are interested :)

I'm also doing a PhD so I don't have a lot of game time and casual games are really where it's at for me right now.

So that's me. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention -- knitting is also kind of like a game for me, except I get something nice at the end of it to wear or give away :D But I won't update you on my progress there because that's not really what you're here for ;)

System wish list: new computer, PS3
Game wish list: Rock Band, GHWT, Mirror's Edge, Fallout 3, NWN 2 (yeah I'm behind on that one)
Looking forward to: Starcraft 2, Sims 3 (haha)
Finished recently: My Life as a King (Wiiware)
Currently playing: FFVII:CC (PSP), LocoRoco (PSP), FFT:TWOTL(PSP), Planescape Torment (again!) (Mac through VMWare), World of Goo, Wii Fit (ongoing!), PhD (not a game, but it takes up a lot of game time)

PS Nas can you add me to the "email when comments are posted" list please? :D liedra at liedra dot net

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Faces

I've been in Japan lately meeting with friends, a couple of which I've invited to co-author this blog with me, should they have anything they wish to contribute.  I'll leave it to them to introduce themselves, and if they want to contribute gamer cards and backlog info and such, I'll add that to the layout, as well.

Oh, and if anyone else out there is interested in contributing something here and there,  just let me know.  There's no money involved, or anything like that (I think the readership here is like 5 people, lol), but there is stimulating discussion to be had!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oblivion is so broken.

So I'm getting near the end of the main quest line, and I have to escort the new emperor across the city (fuck escort missions). Oblivion likes to autosave every time you rest or go through a door. So I'm going through a door with the emperor in tow, I get through, and get a message that the emperor has died and now all hope is lost... AUTOSAVING. Way to fucking go!

There's no resurrecting the emperor, either. The only choice is to go back to my closest manual save, about an hour back. EXCELLENT DESIGN CHOICE. Why don't we lull the player into a false sense of security by saving every 5 minutes and then fuck them right over with dead end scenarios like your escortee not going through the door at the same time as you (wtf?) and being able to straight up die, forever, when the other dumbass npc with us just keeps getting "knocked unconscious" time and time again, only to rise 3 seconds later?

This is, of course, not to mention the game's larger issues, such as game-breaking monster leveling issues necessitating cranking the difficulty down all the way to play a character that focuses on anything other than brute strength and combat, a wholly worthless third person perspective, clunky combat, and the longest load times since, well, ever. Really, this game is good despite its myriad of attempts at self-sabotage. I hope Fallout 3 was left in the oven a little longer, figuratively speaking.

Edit: Went back and finished the main questline. All it took was getting through the door without a glitch! I'm counting this as beating the game. I want to go and finish all of the guild quest lines as well, though.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October Pick-ups



These are the few things I got this month. Street Fighter and Crackdown both were $12.99, great deals. Rock Band 2 was full price, but 100% store credit on trades that I'd had built up. Bonus points for using a mirror to read this post.

This week I've been pretty busy, but when I have been playing, it's been Crackdown exclusively.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Am The Law (You Won't Fuck Around No More)

The title is a lyric from the Anthrax song I Am The Law, referring to Judge Dredd, but it is also a nice fit for Crackdown. Check the lyrics:
Fifteen years in the academy,
He was like no cadet they'd ever seen.
A man so hard, his veins bleed ice,
And when he speaks he never says if twice.
They call him Judge, his last name is Dredd,
So break the law, and you wind up dead.
Truth and justice are what he's fighting for,
Judge Dredd the man, he is the law.
DROKK IT!

With gun and bike he rules the streets,
And every perp he meets will taste defeat.
Not even Death can overcome his might,
Cause Dredd and Anderson, they won the fight.
When the Sov's started the Apocalypse war,
Mega-City was bombed to the floor.
Dredd resisted, and the judges fought back,
Crushed the Sov's with their counter-attack.
DROKK IT!

*Pre-Chorus*:
Respect the badge - he earned it with his blood.
Fear the gun - your sentence may be death because...
*Chorus*:
I AM THE LAW!
And you won't fuck around no more - I AM THE LAW!
I judge the rich, I judge the poor - I AM THE LAW!
Commit a crime I'll lock the door - I AM THE LAW!
Because in Mega-City... I AM THE LAW!

In the cursed earth where mutants dwell,
There is no law, just a living hell.
Anarchy and chaos as the blood runs red,
But this would change if it was up to Dredd.
The book of law is the bible to him,
And any crime committed is a sin.
He keeps the peace with his law-giver,
Judge, jury, and executioner.
DROKK IT!

*Pre-Chorus*
*Chorus*

CRIME - The ultimate sin,
Your iso-Cube is waiting when he brings you in.
LAW - It's what he stands for,
Crime's his only enemy and he's going to war!

CRIME - The ultimate sin,
Your iso-Cube is waiting when he brings you in.
LAW - It's what he stands for,
Crime's his only enemy and he's going to war!

*Pre-Chorus*
*Chorus*
*Chorus*
----------------------------------
Apparently Drokk is a curse word in Mega-City, according to Urban Dictionary.

But yeah, this pretty much sums up a lot of what Crackdown is about: busting heads for great justice, due process be damned. And it's AWESOME. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun in one of these open-world sandbox games. The entire GTA series (yeah, including IV) feels like a run-up to a game like this in terms of sheer playability. Crackdown doesn't have the razor wit or characters you half give a shit about that GTA does, but it more than makes up for it with it's car-throwing, building-leaping, orb-finding superhero cop gameplay.

There's no bullshit here. No cutscenes, only the barest attempt at a plot, no annoying mission structure requiring you to do A, B, and C before D, and hence no annoying re-starting long-ass driving missions and skipping through the cutscenes just to get to the one staged chase that you keep getting fucked up on by street traffic. Death isn't a huge setback; in fact when you die you get to choose which spawn point in the city you want to start back at, and since they double as supply points, you get to reselect your weapons loadout, too. You have assassination targets that you are free to tackle in any order you wish, but taking down sub-bosses before each gang's leader helps by knocking out the gang's access to better cars, weapons, training, and the like. You aren't even limited to one part of the city at the start; you can go everywhere, but the 'more advanced' districts have tougher gangs. It's eminently playable.

One of the things that make it so much fun is the skill growth. You have 5 main skills: agility, driving, strength, and explosives. They go up by use, basically, but also by doing cool things using them, like finding orbs around the city hidden in little cubby holes or on top of tall buildings, or completing races or just by blowing stuff up. Agility is the most fun, because for each level it goes up, you can jump 5 feet higher. I spend as much time on the roofs in this game as I did in Assassin's Creed. Strength is also cool because you get to where you can pick up big concrete pipes or thugs' cars and hurl them across the city from on top of the nearest big building. Explosive skill widens the area of effect of grenades, rockets, barrels, and such.

Doesn't that sound incredible? I sat down with it the first night at 8 or 9 and I was up until 4 the next morning. Then I got up the next day and I had to tear myself away from the game so we could go run some errands. It's got that same 'just-one-more-little-thing' hook that I talked about with Assassin's Creed, but I think this is even better. Guns and explosions are more fun than swords and knives, but also the amazing mobility of your agent 1-up's Altair's parkour and climbing skills. Also like AC (and again, better), are the scavenger hunt items. Flags in AC didn't amount to shit aside from achivement points. The orbs in Crackdown up your skills little by little as you find them, meaning that you can then reach higher ones, and higher, etc. AC has a better plot, and better style, not to mention amazing graphics, but like with GTA, Crackdown just has more fun per cubic inch of the world. Check it out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Stasis

This week has been much the same as the last as far as gaming goes: lots of Halo online with guys I went to college with, a little Rock Band, and a little Nocturne. Most of my free time the last couple of weeks or so has been spent watching seasons of The Wire, but that's another discussion altogether, and I like to keep this blog focused on gaming.

The biggest thing to note is the progress I made in Nocturne; it was only a few hours' worth, but I made it through a couple of key boss battles and kind of got the momentum rolling once again. There was this gauntlet of 3 bosses ending with a battle against Thor, with no saves in between. Thor kept kicking my ass until started exploiting the game's battle system. Basically, if I go to fight him with a demon in my party who can null his lightning, then every time he uses it, it costs him the rest of his actions for that whole turn. So, finally I managed to down him, and go back to the save point to ensure I don't have to do it again, and lucky for that because the next time I set foot in that area, I get ambushed by Dante from Devil May Cry. It seems he's been set to hunt down a demon matching my description, and then he owns my entire party. Awesome cameo! Anyway, I came back at him with a bunch of phys-immune demons and beat him back so that now he's either questioning his orders or reporting back to Lucifer that I've passed his test. So now I get word that there is a powerful fiend lurking nearby, and I search him out, and find Daisoujou, some kind of Necro-Buddhist monk with a mean sutra who is currently blocking my progress. I'll figure him out later.

Aside from that, I've just been looking at how much I'm going to have to spend to get a nice gaming PC sometime soon. I'm thinking that I'm going to work on cleaning some more of my backlog out over the next few months, and then sometime around my birthday in February, get a nice rig to play some of this stuff on PC I keep hearing so much about. A quick list of stuff I want to get:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. & its expansion Clear Sky
Sins of a Solar Empire
Half Life series
Team Fortress 2
Left 4 Dead
Fallout 3
WoW (maybe)
Oblivion (maybe, for mods)
past games going back 10 years or more
future releases like StarCraft II & Diablo III

There's tons of stuff on PC, and I'm looking forward to, for once, having the capability to dabble in some of it. For now, though, I have to try to save up some cash, or at least refrain from spending too much while I've still got this massive glut of things to work through.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Current Rotation

Most of this past week I've been going back and forth between Halo 3 multiplayer and Rock Band 2, with a little bit of Diablo II and SMT: Nocturne thrown in there for spice. This is the current status quo, and it's hard to imagine it changing much in the near future. Three of those games are the perennial type, ones that you can just keep coming back to forever and ever. The fourth is one of those cursedly long JRPGs that eat my life for months at a time. Perhaps for the sake of progress I should spend more of my time on Nocturne per time spent on the others.

I've gotten a number of remarkable achievements in this Halo 3 Indian Summer I've been having, including the Double Double (2 Double Kills in a ranked free-for-all game) today. I actually had 4 doubles that game. Relatively speaking, I was on fire. I still finished in the bottom half of the scoreboard, though. Tough crowd. Halo multi is a ton of fun, but it's a good thing I don't give a shit about my kill/death ratio, because it's terrrrrrrible. I'm the type of guy that like to just jump on a mongoose and go headlong kamikaze into the other team's base just for the thrill. I also like sticking guys with plasma grenades and blowing up warthogs with rocket launchers. This is making me want to go play some more.

Oh yeah, Tokyo Game Show was this past week. Yeah, I almost didn't know it either, with the lack of just about anything to speak of there. We got Halo 3 Recon announced, and.... ... .... Bayonetta looks kind of cool? Aside from that, the biggest story seems to be that Capcom's RE team is apparently pulling their head out and giving us somewhat of an intuitive control scheme for RE5. Sucks that it's co-op centered. How the hell am I going to find anyone to play with when all my friends are either on US Central or Japan time, and we've all got full-time jobs to boot? And I for one ain't going near an AI-controlled partner. I'd sooner play her with my toes on my guitar controller.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Squad Battle

I've been playing a lot of Halo 3 multiplayer over the last week or so, trying to rank up and get some achievements and medals--just for fun, really. With the new title update that came out last week changing the EXP rank system, 7 new maps I hadn't seen (and more coming soon), and this Keep It Clean--whatever it may be--being teased, now seemed like a good time. It also makes a good compliment to Diablo II and SMT: Nocturne.

I've been sort of drifting from one playlist to the next trying to find something that clicked. I spent a lot of time in the Double EXP Team Snipers list this weekend (and I totally sucked there). In the past I played some of the Lone Wolves playlist, but that just makes me tense since it's a big free-for-all and I kind of suck. Tonight I tried the Team Objective playlist. Huge mistake. You don't go play something that requires a lot of communication and competent teamwork with a bunch of strangers (half with no headset) on XBL. It just does not work.

However, tonight I also discovered the Squad Battle playlist tonight, and I think that's the one for me. It's typically six-on-six Team Slayer and first team to 100 kills wins. It's a huge chaotic mess, and it's a blast. You're usually on bigger maps with lots of vehicles and heavy weapons to play with, and since teams are big, the impact that one great or one sucky player has on the overall outcome of the game is somewhat mitigated. Also, the action seemingly never ends since there are so many people around, and it's so crazy and unpredictable that you never seem to get into that arch-nemesis mode with one particular guy, which does nothing but piss you off . They also throw in some Capture the Flag game variants and probably King of the Hill and Oddball, too. Fun stuff.

I did play some more Nocturne over the weekend, too. I've put in like 10 hours with the game so far, and it's OK so far, but hasn't really grabbed me just yet; it's still early plot-wise. I made it to just past what is apparently one of the toughest encounters in the game, an early boss that is a choke point for many people, the Matador. It took 5 attempts, and a couple of hours of level/money grinding so that I'd be able to fuse a demon I needed for my party and buy the "magatama" I had to have to withstand his attacks (it's a demon thing that fuses with the main character to grant immunities and skills). This game is quite a bit harder and less forgiving than your average Square Enix RPG. Come to think of it, so was Etrian Odyssey, and they were developed by the same team at Atlus if I'm not mistaken.

I need to get farther into Diablo II Act V, Lord of Destruction. I've only done like the first zone and quest so far. I'm trying to experiment with new ways to play my Assassin, but skill points are becoming much further in between as I hit the level 30 range. To this point I've kind of done a one-point-in-everything jack-of-all-trades approach, and so nothing I have is especially powerful just yet. After I finish the game I want to try a Druid or Necromancer, I think.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

September Pick-Ups

Don't look away; I haven't turned my back on my effort to cut back on game spending. I have my eyes focused on my goal and I am looking very intent and giving off a general air of badassery.

Kinda like these guys:

God Of War I & II were picked up cheap, and Yakuza 2 was cheap fresh upon release. Should be a solid dose of testosterone all in all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blasphemy, Heresy, and Apostacy

Killing God (or the applicable god-like being) has been a staple of the JRPG genre since the 16-bit days, if not earlier. A couple of my favorite instances are (spoiler alert?) Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics. Chains of Promathia was pretty awesome, too.

I find the more deicide-centered JPRG plots to be some of the more interesting ones out there. On a related note, I read the book of Revelation as a pre-teen, more for the horror than anything, and I thought it was awesome as an apocalyptic fantasy. Thus, I became interested in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne when I heard the plot's conceit: Tokyo is rent from the rest of the world and rolled up as the the inside of a sphere, it's own little "Vortex World" in a new dimension, with its physical and spritual natural laws still undetermined.

Demons of various types, along with a handful of human survivors, and many souls of the newly-dead, roam the new landscape, and the main character is young man chosen by a mysteriously Luciferian young boy become a half-demon steward of this new world, helping by his actions to determine its future. It appears to go from here toward a multi-partisan conflict between 3 main ethos that the main character can act in concert with, or ignore altogether, and reshape the world accordingly. I read there are six possible endings to the game, and Devil May Cry's Dante guest stars.

The central gameplay device seems to consist of recruiting wandering demons (mostly those encountered in random battles) into the main character's party, leveling them up, fusing them, and using their affinities to exploit enemies' weaknesses. It's close to your typical turn-based RPG gameplay, with a little bit Pokemon flavor in the demon recruitment and management.

It's pretty decent so far, but I do have to knock the environments; the overworld is a total classic RPG throw-back, which isn't terrible, but it has a laughably bad blue peg-looking thing as the party icon that you slide around to go places. The towns and dungeons and such are better, explorable in full 3-D, but they're sparsely populated and can be very bland (when they're not twisted and cool), reminiscent of Crisis Core on PSP and games like Shinobi and Maken X (another Atlus game), among other Japanese PS2/Dreamcast games. However, the demons and other creatures around, the character designs by Kaneko Kazuma, are extremely inventive and cool.

I wonder, though, if even an RPG as promising as this one is really worth the time investment. Would a better way of exploring the three themes in the title of this post just be to read a book? I'm sure there are plenty of philosophy books out there raising these questions, and even some good fiction based around them. Maybe my friends reading this could even recommend some?

Narrative in games has always been a major attraction for me, but these days I have a lot less time to devote, and a lot broader tastes in gaming. I find myself more concerned with a game's central play mechanic in addition to the narrative as a means to satisfy that itch that sends me to my consoles in the first place. Hence the reason I have jumped back into Halo multiplayer some this week, and have played a lot of action-y (especially 2-D) titles and Diablo lately.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You Can Never Go Home (Mega Man 9)

The NES Mega Man games, especially 2 through 4, were an extremely large part of my early days as a gamer.  My friend and I would create and illustrate our own robot masters on 3x5" index cards in the sixth grade.

That said,  I've been watching a few YouTube videos of these games that I haven't played in almost 15 years, stages I'd totally and completely forgotten about, and nothing about it all makes me want to go back and revisit that in the slightest.  Hype nonexistent.  I'd say I envy others their own, but it's just not true.  Classic Mega Man doesn't do it for me anymore.

Strange, considering that last month I went back and played through (and completed) of Mega Man X for the second time ever--the last time being in front of our giant in-cabinet, on-the-floor CRT TV on the living room floor as a 12 or 13 year old kid.  Maybe that leap from 8 to 16-bit was larger than I remembered....

Saturday, September 20, 2008

WTF are they smoking? Assassin's Creed rocks!

I was up until like 1:00 a.m. last night with Ass Creed, because I just couldn't stop playing it. I turned it on around 7:00 or so in the evening intending to monkey around with it for maybe an hour or so before dinner, but I ended up coming back for more afterward and just kept going until the wee hours. It was a case of just one more little thing, oh I'll just go over here and then save and quit, well I'll just grab that flag I saw over there, oh now here's a guy I can eavesdrop on, well I might as well finish up the next couple of investigations so I can just kill the guy next time I play, oh well I may as well just kill the guy now, etc. etc. etc.

It's not a perfect game by any means, but somehow it just rubs me the right way. If you reduce it down to its basics, it's basically a big stealthy collect-athon, but the world is incredibly well-realized. The visuals are among the best I've ever seen, just slick as hell, and the cities in this game are both humungous and full of tiny details. I could do with some more variety in the citizens, and especially in their voice acting. I could also do with more variety in the sub-mission "investigations" Altair has to do before the Assassin's guild gives him permission to execute his mission. Speaking of Altair, why is he such a dick? I don't know if I've ever played as a character I didn't care for as a person. No matter, he does what I want him to, and that's what's important.

But back to the "investigations"--before taking out your mark, you have to hunt around the city for clues as to where they are, what they're doing, who their allies and enemies are, and other general intelligence. You only have a few choices: pick-pocketing someone with some kind of important document, listening in on an important conversation, following one of the mark's subordinates into an alley or other secluded place and "interrogating" them, or finding an Assassin's guild informant and doing whatever errand they ask in exchange for info. There might be one or two more methods I'm forgetting, but the point is that each assassination requires you to do two or more of these, and there are 9 assassinations in all, so you do the math. That's a lot of repetition of these little sub-missions. I've done 4 of the 9 marks so far, and I'm not bored yet, but your mileage my vary.

The other thing this game does a lot, for better or worse, is the collect-em-all thing. Each area in the game has 20 - 100 flags scattered around, and even though as far as I can tell there is no great reward (besides Achivement points) for finding them, I still can't stop looking around for them and going out of my way to pick them up when they're in such out-of-the-way spots as the top of an extremely tall church steeple in Jerusalem. There are also 60 Knights Templar scattered around the game world for you to find and kill (the Templars and the Assassin's are sworn enemies apparently), and lots of viewpoints to find and climb, as well. It's all fun and classic gameplay, but again lacking in variety. If you add up all the, lets call them widgets collectively, there are something like 500 widgets to track down in the game, if you are so inclined. But not much else to do, besides the killing of course. Again, fine for me (for one play-through, anyway), but your mileage my vary.

Let's talk about the combat for a minute. In the last Ubisoft action-adventure I played (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time), I hated the combat sequences, because the were interminable, innumerable, and broke up the good part of the game, which was the environment puzzle navigating. Combat in Ass Creed (a term of endearment if ever there was one) isn't the drag it was in that game. It's a good bit snappier here, and often completely optional. You're not required to rescue those citizens and fight all those guards, nor are you required to kill any guards who give pursuit upon recognizing you as an Assassin. You probably will end up doing it anyway, though, because the combat is pretty fun, and not hard to manage even if the typical scuffle is 4 of them to one of you. Altair has a decent set of moves, and a handful of weapons to choose from to break up the monotony--something the prince lacked.

So yeah, I went into this game not expecting much based on reviews and forum poster's accounts, but I've found it pretty enjoyable so far, and pretty impressive in terms of presentation. Check it out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

GTFO, Fable

I'm done with this game. It's not that it's a bad game, per se, it's just kind of cumbersome in a lot of ways, so that it's been only barely holding my interest with it's middlingly cool combat. The plot is unremarkable to this point, and a lot of the voice acting is shit. I don't like the linearity of the world, either. It's all these tiny zones with narrow paths through them that you are totally unable to stray from. It reminds me of FFX or that LotR 'B-team' RPG they came out with that totally aped FFX. Plus, the game just locked up on my 360, costing me an hour and a half or so of time that I'm not willing to put back into it. I guess the moral of this story is that you had to be there at the time.

I wish Rock Band was getting the new Metallica album instead of Guitar Hero III. They shred pretty well this time around.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Diablo is a Demon

And by that I mean a total and complete pain in the ass. I must have died ten times trying to take his sulfurous ass down. I lost all of my accumulated gold rez-ing my rogue hireling and in death penalties, plus buying potions. Finally I just had to send my shadow warrior in to get one-shotted so I could sneak around the demon's backside and light his ass up with my claws and kicks. In the end he was destroyed at last, and dropped some weak-ass shit that I immediately went and vendored. So, I finished Diablo II proper, and from here it's on to the expansion Lord of Destruction, and act V. Well, my assassin is an expansion class anyway, so in a sense I've already been playing it...


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Retrograde Motion

Gaming as a contemporary experience--being perpetually "in the now"--moves along at quite a fast clip, and it's just about impossible to keep current if your tastes extend to more than one genre. Every now and then you just have to ignore the new for a while and take a closer look at things already past their retail "sell by" date.

Which is what I'm attempting to do now. One look over at the sidebars of this blog will tell you just how many games I have laying around unfinished, and in many cases, unopened. It's entertainment in the bank, and what I find I'd like more of at the present is more money in the bank, which provides a nice secondary motivation for this endeavor.

To this end, I wrapped up New Super Mario Bros. this evening. That only took two and a half years! What is there to say about this game? It's the latest in a legendary series of 2D platformers, the core platforming series in all of game-dom. It's about what you'd expect if you'e ever played SMB 3 or Super Mario World, which is to say it's a rock-solid fun experience.

I don't really know what came over me yesterday, but I wanted to jump into something new. I thought to finally start the borrowed copy of Assassin's Creed sitting on my TV stand, but instead I jumped into a couple of things.

The first was Fable. The original Xbox didn't have much of anything remarkable that couldn't be had on the PS2 eventually, but Fable was one of that handful of Xbox exclusive highlights. Back around the time of it's original release, the hype levels had risen so high that even I--in Japan, and way over my head into FFXI--took notice of the coming 'RPG revolution.'

Well, I think it's fair to say that Fable was hardly a revolution, and the game has apparently taken it's knocks in backlash since, but being an Xbox owner by virtue of backward compatibility (remember that shit, Sony?), I wanted to see what all of the fuss had been about. Also, this game can be had for like $7.99 these days if you know where to look. I've played it for about 5 hours or so this weekend, and I like it. The character models are kind of unsightly, and the menu system is not-so-pretty (though not terrible), and it kind of has that "last-gen-in-a-bad-kind-of-way" look to it overall, but the game is fun.

I like the battle and experience systems. So far I have kind of a jedi-like warrior-mage hybrid character who relies on his weapon primarily for damage but has a few 'force' tricks like shooting lightning, an area-of-effect force push with knock-back and damage, and a teleport to just behind the target so you can cut them down without being countered. So far my good/evil alignment is still around the middle, edging a bit more toward good. I find it hard to be an out and out asshole to people, but at the same time I'm not going to bend over backwards for everyone, like that guy who had been bitten by zombie werewolves and wanted to join my escort party through the swamps. Yeah, that's going to end well. Also, that mother who wants the remedy for her son who ate the magic mushroom can suck it. It would take way too much energy to track down the other mushrooms for that witch to make the remedy.

The other thing I threw in this weekend is Zelda: Twilight Princess for Wii. I basically just decided to sit down with it one good time before blindly trading it in for credit at Game Trader. I thought if anything I'd get the Gamecube version since it'd have a traditional control scheme. I've changed my mind. After about three hours with the game, it seems pretty damned good, Wii-mote and all, plus I read that the GC version isn't widescreen and only allows you to map two of your items to buttons rather than the 3 the Wii version allows. Other differences include the spin attack having to be charged on GC, whereas it's instant on Wii (which is handy), and interestingly, the games environments are all mirrored from one version to the other.

See, Link has always been a lefty, but Nintendo found that playtesters liked to use the nunchuck in their left hands and the Wii-mote (sword swings) in the right hand, and so they mirrored the entire game to retcon Link into a righty for the sake of soccer-moms and shogakusei everywhere. Whatever, I don't care, I just think it'd be cool to have the option to play the GC mirror image, since at places it apparently evokes environs from Ocarina of Time (although that game gets way too much worship anyway).

I'd like to plow through Fable kind of quickly and then pick up and continue Twilight Princess. Zelda's title demo really, really reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, by the way. It's uncanny. Elsewise this week, I finished up Diablo II act III, killing the first of the Prime Evils, Mephisto. Bastard dropped a set piece that I already had. I had to create a Diablo mule, too, so I spent a few hours this week idling in the first act's rogue encampment to get the dude enough playtime so he wouldn't get deleted after 10 days. Good music there, but not as good as Diablo I's Tristram music. I also played some Castle Crashers online with my college buddy Jonathan, jzpeeps. Great game. Definitely better in co-op, though.

Monday, September 1, 2008

PAX 08 & August Digital Bonanza

We just got back from a Labor Day Weekend trip to Seattle, which included an afternoon spent at the Penny Arcade Expo. It was pretty cool, but a little smaller than I had expected (the booths were tiny). There wasn't anything completely new unveiled at the show, but there were plenty of upcoming games on display and playable, if you were willing to brave the lines. I wasn't. I did get to watch a few cool things being played, though: Left 4 Dead, Mirror's Edge, Fallout 3, Starcraft II, Gears of War 2, Rockband 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Wii Music, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, Yakuza 2, and a whole lot more.


This is me beside a V.A.T.S. (I think that's how it's written) from Fallout 3. I don't know what the acronym stands for, but I'm looking forward to find out!

This is one of the panels we went to (yes, I did drag my wife along--no, I don't think she was all that interested). Left to right: Perrin Kaplan, formerly of Nintendo, Jon Davison, former EGM/1-UP head honcho, Cheryl something or other, author of Grand Theft Childhood, and Newsweek's game writer N'gai Croal. This panel was on games' treatment of sex and violence, and how the industry should improve it, while also keeping parents well-informed of which games contain what content.

It was a good time, and I got to meet some cool folks, like Jon Davison there, and also Cheapy D of Cheap Ass Gamer and the CAG-cast, and Scott Benson, the host of Evil Avatar Radio (WACV), the game-related radio show/podcast. All very nice guys, and very generous, considering they provide me with hours and hours of entertainment each week for $0.00.

Below is my August gaming haul. No physical product! The revolution has come, and GameStop shall be first against the wall!







Thursday, August 28, 2008

The world is flat.

The 2D resurgence continues. I completed Mega Man X tonight. I mentioned previously that I wanted to see if Sigma was as hard to beat as I remembered, and sure enough, he was pretty damned hard. I do think I'm a smarter and more patient player these days, though; I'd say he was probably 80 to 90 percent as hard as I remember. I guess I'm a grizzled veteran with some solid battle experience, and not so green a kid like I once was. War has changed... I'm not a hero, never was. Just an old killer hired to do some wet work.

I also capped off my 'Summer of Arcade(PSN)' with the purchase of Castle Crashers, the new 2D Final Fight/Double Dragon/TMNT/Simpsons/X-Men style beat-em-up from The Behemoth, the guys behind the awesome Alien Hominid (also up on XBLA). You can actually play as the Alien Hominid in the game, along with a ton of other characters, as you fight your way through a stylized fantasy kingdom to rescue a gaggle of princesses. It's pretty good. From what I've seen, every character has the same basic move set: light, heavy, jump, block, and magic attack, but their starting weapons and magic attacks differ, which may or may not be just a cosmetic thing; I'm not sure yet.

You also gain XP as you fight along, and when you level up you get some skill points to allocate over strength/damage, magic/mp, defense/hp, and agility/archery. So far I'm playing as the Alien, level 7, and going for max magic (his trusty blaster) and defense. I've read of a bunch of different bugs and netcode problems, but I haven't seen anything yet except not being able to find a game online to join, which could mean problems or nothing at all. Hopefully they'll get it all sorted, and hopefully some of my friends will also pick up the game!

I'm still playing Diablo II, as well. I'm mired (because it's a swamp, you see) in Act III at the moment, trying to kill all the annoying little Tiki dudes and locate the next waypoint that'll allow me to warp back and forth from town--which is important when you're always playing online and the game is re-randomizing every area each time you log on. Oh well, going through each area repeatedly just means more xp and more loot for me, not to mention an easier time later on in the game.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome to the Swinger's Club

The past few days I've been focusing almost solely on Bionic Commando Re-Armed. It is completely awesome, being faithful to the NES original in all the right ways, and making improvements in all the right places.

The bionic arm swing mechanic takes some getting used to, of course, but you learn to live without a jump button (or you get frustrated and quit playing). The game at times demands an incredible amount of precision in your grappling, but for the most part that stuff is confined to times when you are hunting down optional secrets. However, you can really feel yourself getting more and more skilled at flying through the levels grappling from one place to the next, with your feet only hitting the ground when necessary. This is what made Bionic Commando so unique and awesome 20 years ago, and keeps it so to this day. I hope the 3D 'modern style' Bionic Commando game feels this cool.

I finished the game tonight--on easy mode, because I value my sanity--and managed to find every piece of equipment, and every little cleverly-hidden secret, so far as I can tell. There are a couple of blanks left in the database, but I'm thinking those are unlocked by stuff you encounter on the higher difficulty settings.

There are two distinct areas to BCR's challenge factor, a) the environment itself, and b) the enemies. The stages are more or less identical on easy, though there are some phantom safety platforms provided over pits and spikes from time to time, especially in the last two or three stages. Where it feels like there is a ton of difference is in the enemies, the bosses in particular. Most run-of-the-mill enemies died with just a few shots, and the bosses were all extremely easy. Most of them I beat two or three times, since I was running each stage several times to root out all of the secrets. I get the feeling that on hard or super hard mode, these bosses could be incredibly cheap, whereas the stages aren't going to change all that much.

If you're looking for a good challenge based solely on the terrain (or lack of it) you have to navigate, there are the 60+ challenge rooms you can attempt. I've done about 9 or so, and already they're getting into Braid territory where you'll look at it and think "how in the fuck?" Good stuff. I've already pulled off a few maneuvers you'd think impossible at first glance.

All in all, BCR is great. If you liked Bionic Commando, you'll love what they've done with it here. If you're new to it altogether, try the demo. I can see the uninitiated being thrown for a loop to begin with, but it really is worth it to stick with it until you've got the hang of it, so to speak.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Braid Done

Just finished it, 100%. Even got all the achievements save the one for speed running the game. Some of those puzzles are real head-scratchers. It'll be something that looks totally impossible, but if you think hard enough and mess around with the (few) tools at your disposal, you might get it eventually. Some of them involve thinking about the flow of time and your manipulations of time in ways that you're just not used to. Again, it's kind of like Portal, only thinking in time instead of space.

My wife liked the look and sound of the game. The music is pretty nice. I don't get whatever the 'story' stuff is supposed to be communicating, though. There are these jigsaw puzzle paintings that you assemble as you go through the game collecting pieces, and they look like they have some significance, but if you're not the guy who created the game, you're pretty much left out of whatever it is. So yeah, it's a solid puzzle game, but I don't know what the hell it's about (other than solving puzzles for some abstract reason).

For the matter of value, well, that's a tough one. It's got excellent production values and interesting mechanics, but almost zero replay value. Once you've figured out all the puzzles (which took me maybe 5 hours total), there's not much left to do but theorize what it all means and try speed runs, if you're into that kind of thing. Still, there is something to be said for Braid as an experience. It's one of a kind, and for that I'll begrudgingly concede that there is $15 worth of something here, it's just not $15 worth of pure gameplay. Geometry Wars it is not.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

2D Alive And Well

And to think, a decade or more ago, Sony was actively discouraging 2D games on their new PlayStation hardware. Rumor had it even a masterpiece like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night almost couldn't get by their wrong-headed policies at the time.

These days, I'm up to my ears in 2D. Over the last couple of weeks, the stars have aligned, great old ones hidden in the folds of the cosmos have stirred, and a grand convergence has been set into motion. These are but a few of our new bi-dimensional overlords, those whose calls I personally have heard and obeyed: Geometry Wars 2, Pixel Junk Eden, Bionic Commando Re-armed, Braid, Mega Man X, Mega Man Zero, and Diablo II. Neglected altars of worship, soon to have the dust and cobwebs swept away from their forbidding forms include: Alien Hominid HD, Contra 4, Einhander, Ikaruga, R-Type, New SMB, and a number of Castlevania adventures. This is to say nothing of upcoming titles like Castle Crashers, or non-action games that are by their nature 2D, things like Puzzle Quest: Galactrix or 16-bit style JRPGs, which I have a number of waiting to be attended to.

I've completed Act II in Diablo II now, and that Duriel was a tough fight. He tore through my Shadow Warrior minion while I was trying to lay flame traps around him, and I had no choice but to get up close and personal with him, hand-to-hand MNK style, while my rogue hireling feathered him from afar with fire arrows. I was using a combination of health/mana draining charged strikes and the explosive kick finishing attack. I never died, but I did have to use a couple of town portals to get a quick heal and restock potions and revive the minions. My assassin is up to level 22 or 23 at this point.

I got my first couple of PSN trophies in Pixel Junk Eden. Not much to say about this; it's good to kill a few minutes here and there, before or after watching a movie on the PS3. It's pretty relaxing and chill. Coincidentally, it has a swing mechanic, not unlike Bionic Commando Re-armed, which I picked up this week, also on PSN. I bought it immediately to support the team working on it at Capcom in Osaka (I'm sympathetic fellow gaijin trying to carve out a place in Japan). Those guys have a podcast that is just hilarious. Of course I planned to get it eventually, so I thought I might as well help them get the best release week possible. I haven't spent a lot of time with it yet, but I'm liking what I've seen so far. I was a fan of the NES Bionic Commando back in the day.

Mega Man Zero is insanely difficult, so much so that it made me want to go back and see if Mega Man X was also that hard, and I was just better at this stuff when I was a kid. I also was interested in the X series since the only one I ever played was the first, so I found a copy of the X collection for PS2 on the cheap. I've been playing the first game over the past couple of weeks, and it's definitely not easy. I don't think it's quite as tough as MM Zero, but it's no walk in the park. At this point I've taken down 5 of the 8 initial robot masters. These guys will fuck you up if you go in there without the right weapon. I was only able to beat two of them with the plain old mega buster, but once the pieces start to fall into place and you get the appropriate weapons, they go down easier. I remember the final battle vs Sigma being one of the hardest I had ever fought at the time, and I'm interested to see it now, almost 15 years later.

I wasn't too keen on Braid, with the strange aesthetic and high(er) price point, but with the whole internet going gaga over it, and the creator coming off as an honest and interesting guy in interviews, I decided to check out the demo. Well, I'm glad I did, because I like the game. Before I'd even finished the demo I was damn impressed it. Sometimes you just have to see it first-hand to understand. The art style (particularly the character and enemy designs) aren't my favorites, but otherwise it's beautiful in HD, and the puzzles are just nuts. It's mind-bending in the same way Portal was last year.

I'm still not totally convinced this game needed to be $15 with some of the incredible XBLA games that are only $10, though. It's not that I have a problem with spending $15 on a game like this (Puzzle Quest was $15, too), it's just you'd expect things of like quality to be of like price. Is Braid really worth 1.5 times Geometry Wars 2? I guess the question is why do we expect price to be a function of quality/quantity, when at retail everything from Bioshock to the shittiest movie cash-in costs the same $60?


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Addiction--No Laughing Matter

The mind of a compulsive gambler is a very unreal place. Just one more play, it thinks, that'll be the one. Which is how it came to pass that this evening I spent near two hours' time more than I had anticipated with Fable II Pub Games, a clever bit of marketing if ever there was one. I had intended to sit down with it for 5 or 10 minutes just to check it out, since I was able to get it for free, more or less--I just had to pre-order Fable II (which can later be cancelled if I decide I don't want it). But upon jumping into action and noting there were points I was accruing toward 'gambler levels,' I just had to keep going, taking hit after hit, going into Fable II world debt borrowing money for more and more chips to keep playing the slots and that card game (which is pretty cool). The one with the dice I didn't really get to tonight, but probably will when the urge to gamble strikes again.

I was really into the various slots games, betting the max amount of chips each time, racking up more gambling points, more chips, and more game modes, concept art, and achievements unlocked. At this rate, if I ever play Fable II, I should be pretty loaded from the outset.

This thing even ate up enough of my free time tonight that I wasn't able to get in a session of Diablo II on battle.net. There's always tomorrow... and Bionic Commando Re-armed then, as a matter of fact, a game I've been waiting on for a good while. I have to go with the PSN version here, for the superior d-pad.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Diablo II - Act I Complete

I've focused most of my gaming concentration on Diablo II in the past week, bringing myself presently to a point shortly into the second act. My Assassin is now level 19, and I'm mainly going the charge move/finishing move route along with the passive martial arts skills, though I'm trying out some of the traps, as well. To this point I've found a lot of white, gray, blue, and yellow items, but in a dungeon near the beginning of Act II's desert I found a green item, which I take it is part of a set. It's the belt, and it's called Frost something or other. I wonder if it's rare... because I'm playing an online game (even though I always play solo), I could join someone else's game to trade stuff, but I haven't bothered trying anything like that yet. Being only 20% into the games easiest mode, I'm sure I don't have anything special.

Apart from Diablo, the only thing I've been playing to speak of is Geometry Wars 2. I'm second among my friends list, although I'm not sure how the score is counted. It says I have 80million something points, while the guy ahead of me has 82million something, but if you go into the actual game and look at the individual leaderboards, his scores are way higher than mine all around. So, it's not just a simple sum of all 6 scores from all 6 modes; there's got to be some other mechanism at work here. My best mode is still Pacifism, where I've hit 37 mil, and I still can't finish Sequence. Awesome game.


Friday, August 1, 2008

July Indulgences

I swear, I only bought these to check out and then, with all probability, sell.  The material ones, I mean.  But not Diablo.  Anyway, here they are:

 Geometry Wars 2.... all I thought impossible in a sequel, done with panache.

I love the Killzone art.  Those Helghast just look awesome.  I hope the game/series is good.  I also hope ZOE 2 is all it's cracked up to be, but it'll fetch a high price online either way.  Mega Man Zero is tough! Great 2D action, though.

The Diablo Battle Chest, or, my next FFXI-sized addiction waiting to happen.  This is what I've been playing the most of this week.  I've got a level 7 Assassin on the US West realm of Bnet, and I always name my game Covenant, password kujata (keeping it simple if anyone wants to jump in!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Diablo Contained, Tristram Saved

It wasn't until after I killed Diablo and finished the game as my warrior that I realized there is a whole other way to play this game. I had been hoping to continue on as with warrior, but the upper difficulty levels are apparently only available when playing online, and I wasn't able to carry him over. I decided to try out a rogue online instead, and it dawned on me when I hit ESC but wasn't able to pause the game, that Diablo online (whether single or multi-player) is more about the persistent nature of the character than the transient world of the game.

That is, at any time I could take my now level 3 Rogue and restart the whole game anew, keeping my EXP and what items I had on me at the time. Not only that, but all the shortcuts into the deeper layers of dungeon are already available, given that your character is of a level to use them. The idea that the world itself is not to be the main focus of the player is exemplified by its defining characteristic--it is almost entirely randomized from the moment you step foot into it.

Diablo's main thrust, then, is the development of your character over time, in the loot you find, the skills you learn, and the power you obtain with each new level. Completely obvious, sure, but all the time I spent on the offline quest, I was locked into a static (if previously randomized) world. If I wanted be able to die and reload, or save my game and come back later, I could do that. Online, you're in a game world only until you either die or log off, since either occurrence will restart you in a fresh new game (unless you have others in your game who can resurrect you or keep the game alive, of course). The only thing that ever carries over is your character level and, unless you die, all your items. It's a fresh new way to approach the game as compared to what I'm used to, and makes it almost more of a rogue-like. Mind blown. How can Blizzard be so awesome?

In other awesome Blizzard-related news, I picked up a Diablo Battle Chest, so now I have D2 and the expansion on my mac, in glorious 800x600, complete with the no-CD patch. Glory! I love the fact that I can fire up the complete StarCraft or Diablo II at a moment's notice with no rooting around for discs. It's almost worth being nearly a decade late to the party with these games.

Quickly: I got a Mega Man Zero GBA cart for $9 at GameStop. Kickass! It's just what I was looking for in Mega Man Powered Up, but could not find. Zero, and the MMX universe, is much cooler than the classic MM universe anyway (I might have thought differently back in 1993, but I was only 12 then). Also, the Pixel Junk Eden is pretty fucking cool. I'm going to have to pick that up along with Geometry Wars 2 and Bionic Commando Re-armed soon. Assassin's Creed impressions coming up whenever I get a chance to throw it in.



Monday, July 21, 2008

The smell of death surrounds me.

Diablo is extremely gothic macabre in atmosphere. The music theme of the town of Tristram is remarkably evocative of the dreadful and unwholesome with its acoustic guitar chords and arpeggios accompanied by a wailing wind's whistle. It's a favorite of mine. This sort of grim and spectral ambiance has always fascinated me, from Castlevania to the Book of Revelation, Dante's Inferno and the covers of Opeth albums and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Like Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat, I can sink my teeth into this milieu.

It's the dire and woeful without the gore and gratuitousness to completely crush the subtlety that defines the mood. Diablo has plenty of gore, but then, it is an action hack-and-slash full of the rotten, undead, and demonic; in any case, the tone is never compromised by gameplay conventions.

I've fought my Warrior through the cathedral, catacombs, and caves into Hell itself, now at subterranean floor 13. It has ocurred to me that the game is meant to be played through multiple times, new game+ style, retaining character experience and items from one difficulty level through to the next. I've only reached character level 20 or so, and still don't have any gear I'd say even verges on being 'epic.' We'll see what I come across in the final strata of dungeon.

I also haven't decided yet whether I'll continue on after killing Diablo, try another class, or just move on to Diablo II. Hmmm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Lame *drumroll*

It's really a shame about Too Human. I've been keeping up on the buzz (and rancor) surrounding it because I thought it had potential, and I was a big fan of developer Silicon Knights' prior game Eternal Darkness for the 'Cube. I downloaded first tonight an E3 trailer for the game, which I didn't think was too pretty, and then the playable demo.

To put it bluntly, it sucks. It feels like an early-period Xbox/PS2/Cube game with some 360 textures pasted over the top. The character models make Oblivion's look sexy, and the script and voice acting are trash, and that's just the presentation. The execution is even worse. Baldur, when he isn't ice-skating from one mob to the next, feels about as agile as a sack of bricks, with crappy canned animations that keep you rooted in one place all the time while swinging your sword. The arenas range from bland to dull, and I've seen koopa troopas with more interesting attack patterns than the robot enemies in Too Human.

But worst and most unforgivable of all, the equipment and skill tables are two and three layers deep in a slow-loading main menu, meaning that each trip in there to see what you just picked up or to change gears yanks you right out of the game and into janky menu hell. Did I mention that this is a loot-based dungeon-hack game? Now you see where this is going.

Coincidentally, Blizzard's genre-founding 1996 title Diablo (that's from twelve years ago) still plays fast and smooth and is a whole lot of fun, if you can do without things like bloom lighting, polygonal models, and screen-filling resolutions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dungeon Runnin'

Ever buy a game and then, for whatever reason, have it sit and gather dust for a decade without really sinking your teeth into it? That's what happened with my copy of Diablo. I bought it around the time it came out in '97 or '98 based on the demo, and for the life of me I can't recall ever getting much farther than the Butcher, and I have no clue why I never played it much. I mean, I played through all of FFVIII and X in the intervening years. I could have better spent those 150 hours or so on it! Hell, I even played through Xenogears twice (and don't regret that quite so much).

It's not like I don't like hack 'n' slash loot games; I adored Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath for PS2. Just, for some weird reason, I never got around to giving Diablo it's due. Maybe I just gravitate toward a joypad more than mouse and keyboard.

Well, better late than never. I've had my Diablo disc floating around, and I wanted to play it a few months ago, but couldn't install it on my Mac. Then, with the D3 announcement recently, it occurred to me that my wife's computer, slow and lame as it is, does run XP, and is only around half the age of Diablo, and thus should be able to run it well. And it does. It runs it "windowed" in thick black borders due to the game's low resolution, but there's nothing at all hindering play.

I created a warrior, who is now up to level 6, and I've killed the Butcher again and am about to start level 3 of the dungeon. I'd like to finish the game this time, and then later get D2. Incidentally, this and Etrian Odyssey makes two games I'm playing concurrently that center around massive dungeons.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

June Swag

June was a pretty light month. July is looking to be about the same, which is good, since I have already spent way too much money on games over the last year or so.



It was Metal Gear Solid 4 month, and I was further spurred on to pick up MGS3 Subsistence.



June also saw the release of Etrian Odyssey II, and I picked up another copy of Ico, having sold mine a long time ago. The box isn't pictured, because the American cover art is a tragedy.

Another one down, another one down

I just beat Shadow of the Colossus. That last one was a real ordeal. I had to climb that monster probably 20 times before I was able to go the back to the left hand to the right hand to the collarbone successfully, and then once I got to his crown I had to hold on for dear life to gain purchase and be able to stab him good.

The flying desert colossus was also kind of a bitch because I couldn't seem to get Agro (the horse) to meet head-on with its wings so I could climb on. I also had some trouble with the two dog-like ones with the plated armor, because they'll knock you down over and over, and Wander (the boy) takes an eternity to get up after getting knocked down. Most of the others didn't pose much of a problem at all. I'll play on hard mode whenever I come back to SotC.

It's an amazing game, and truly one of a kind. At the moment I don't really have a favorites of all time list (longer than 3 titles, anyway), but this SotC would definitely be a candidate. My only problems are with the camera sometimes being at a bad angle for judging jumps on a moving colossus, and the fact that Agro doesn't always do what you want him to, but I suppose that's just realism. If they ever did a sequel, I'd also expect there to be more than one way to scale and take down the colossi. A little more free-form problem solving and a little less being funneled through a specific sequence of actions would be nice.