Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year-End Recap

It's New Year's Eve, and time to take a look back at 2009. This year, I finished 19 games or stand-alone campaigns within games, which I also count:

Diablo II: Lord of Destruction
Metroid Fusion
Gears of War (Hardcore)
Peggle Extreme
Starcraft (Terran)
Grand Theft Auto IV
Half-Life: Source
Peggle Deluxe
Oblivion (Dark Brotherhood)
Oblivion (Knights of the Nine)
Red Faction: Guerilla
Mass Effect
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Halo 3: ODST

While hardly anything to sneeze at, this is down from my total of 26 for 2008 (15 for 2007), and I should really pick up the pace to keep up with the obscene amount of games I've purchased (or received as gifts) over 2009.

It's been a crazy, insane year for games, adding a couple of platforms and the huge amount of awesome deals available over Steam, in particular. Just today I bought 3 more games for well under $10 each. This brings my purchased list to a grand total of 59! As I move most of them to the newly updated Pile of Shame, I can see I have quite a year ahead of me for 2010. To help thinning out the pile, I've instituted my new one-in, one-out policy. That is, if I want to buy a new game that costs more than $10, I need to have finished a game recently. This should help save money, too. So as it stands right now, I need to finish something before my next purchase, likely Mass Effect 2.

I'm in the middle of about 20 different games right now, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Since coming to Arkansas and New Mexico for the holidays, I've played a little bit of Torment, just trying to get it to work on my parents' PC. It kept crashing anytime I'd enter any place where it was possible to rest, so I didn't get far. I'll have to pick it up from where I left off at home.

I brought along my Mac and DS, but oddly enough I've only been using the latter. I started on Metroid: Zero Mission and Final Fantasy IV (the DS remake). Both are (relatively) modernized versions of classics that I loved growing up. Metroid is made easier by the inclusion of a wider move set and an auto-map, while FF IV is substantially more challenging than the neutered version us Americans originally got as Final Fantasy II on the SNES. It's apparently even harder than the original, putting it more in the realm of something like Etrian Odyssey or Shin Megami Tensei.

Yeah, it's going to be a busy 2010. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Embark: Holiday 2009 & Games Of The Year

I was just packing things for the annual pilgrimage to see family around the Christmas holiday. Not games; I've not yet completely decided what I'm going to take. I'm tempted to try installing Planescape: Torment on my wife's shitty old laptop just to be able to take that with me. I don't have any sort of Windows virtual machine on my MacBook, unfortunately. I am bringing the game files and my saves with me on a USB HDD, on the off chance that my parents' old-by-2002-standards machine can be coaxed into running it. I think it just may.

I've been playing a lot of Torment lately, and I'm still in Sigil, the starting city, though I've got four members in my party now, and will probably soon recruit a fifth. The writing in this game is remarkable, and the way it parcels out the background of The Nameless One irresistibly compelling.

Aside from the aforementioned epic, which roots me to my chair for three to eight-hour stretches, I've done some dabbling this week with Red Faction: Guerilla multiplayer, enticed by a 5x (!) XP period, and Torchlight, goaded by the game's new Steamworks and Steam Achievement integration. I also was forced to rush out to Best Buy this weekend to pick up the Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii for the insane bargain price of $20. It's a hell of a package to begin with, and that good of a deal made me turn in my Borderlands completion token to get it. Now I'll need to complete something else (Torment, maybe) before Mass Effect 2 arrives on January 26th.

At first the Trilogy disc wouldn't load up on my Wii, and I was afraid I'd gotten one of the bum one that has trouble reading dual-layer DVDs, but after a couple of tries it booted up. It was probably just the fact that I hadn't turned on the Wii since whenever I posted about the Legend of Zelda. I actually had to replace the AA's in the wiimote, which is a regular occurrence when I go to get my waggle on. I played through Metroid Prime 1 when it came out on the gamecube, (but never touched either of the other games in the series), so I thought I probably wouldn't replay the entire thing, but that it'd be a good place to jump into to test out the new Wii motion-control scheme. It takes some getting used to, but by the end of the intro space station segment and descent to the planet the game takes place on, I had more or less become accustomed to it, and I actually quite like it. Swapping of visors could maybe done a better way, but it's not hard to come to the conclusion that given time and evolution, such a control scheme could obsolete the twin-stick method--which is really not that great to begin with, merely the best we have at the moment.

Starting up Metroid Prime 1 again, though,... I don't know... I might want to replay the damned thing. It's probably a bad idea; I should probably just move on to the second game in the series whenever I feel like playing it after the holidays.

This week also happens to be a week of Pure White World Tendency for the Demon's Souls universe, so I took the opportunity to jump into 1-1 to go to the execution grounds to the left of the beginning area and kill Miralda and collect some loot. While crawling around the Boletarian Palace now at soul level high 30's, I decided to pay our old friend Red Knight a visit and kill him. It was an especially sweet victory. From there I moved on back to 2-2, the level I have been working on, and got summoned as a blue phantom to someone else's world and shown the way to the boss, Flamelurker, and how to fight him. We killed him and I won my body back and then promptly went and fought him with my own summoned companion.

I wouldn't have won that battle alone, at least not without several attempts under my belt. My companion and I kept trading hate back and forth, attracting the beast this way and that, taking advantage of backstab opportunities as they came, using almost MMO-like tactics. What an awesome game. I think it's safe to call it my Game Of The Year 2009, and since I'm going to go ahead and name it, why waste time? I'll lay it out here:

My 2009 GOTY: Demon's Souls

Runner-Up: Red Faction: Guerilla

See the posts I've made about each game for my reasons why. There are a whole host of 2009 games I haven't even touched, but if I can't be compelled enough to buy and play them, then they don't deserve a spot in the running, then, do they? Similarly, there are some outstanding games I played in 2009 (Far Cry 2, Torment to name a couple) that, were they 2009 games, might belong in one of those spots, but alas; they aren't. I would like to give a shout-out to a few honorable mentions that were just edged out of the Runner-Up spot, though: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II, Demigod, and Torchlight.

For those keeping track:
2007 GOTY: Bioshock, Runner-Up: Halo 3
2008 GOTY: Metal Gear Solid 4, Runner-Up: Gears of War 2

I guess I really like to shoot/slice stuff?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Onward, To A Lean 2010

Here's to thinning out the pack and adding onto it as little as possible in the coming year. 2009 has been nuts, but I think I'm just about caught up to where I need to be (for now) in terms of looking backward. There are plenty of games of '08 and '09 that I haven't even gotten around to picking up yet, but until I finish off some of what I've already bitten off, their status is iffy (Dead Space, Batman, Mirror's Edge, et. al). There are others I will definitely get (Uncharted 2, Assassin's Creed 2), but those too will have to wait.

I've got one completion in the bank as of now (Borderlands) and that's going to buy me Mass Effect 2, I think. If I can manage to knock off some more of the games I'm halfway into (Yakuza 2 is a prime candidate), then I'll start thinking about others.

Meanwhile, I've been distracted by Demon's Souls and Planescape: Torment, and there is little chance I'll be finishing either of those anytime soon. I follow my heart, though. If I feel like dropping a weekend into WoW in the middle of the Fall release feces tornado, then by the Great Old Ones, I shall.

P.S. Far Cry 2

Friday, December 4, 2009


Lonesteban and mine's Internet radio spectacular, Call Of Podcast, is off to a running start. I got a website up this week to host it upon, and I got the RSS feed working through iTunes, as well. We're due to record episode 12 tonight sometime. It's a lot of time and work (and a little money) to put together and present a show, but it's a lot of fun, too, and cool to have a body of "work" to look back on later. I've been dealing with getting that set up and sorted out a lot this week.

The average time to produce and post an episode is probably 4-5 hours, you can figure 2 hours to record, including the pre and post-show chatter, and then 2-3 hours later of playback and editing and processing and posting. There's very little prep or organization that goes into it so far, just a little reading of the news throughout the week (we'd do that anyway). We like to keep it kind of fast and loose, like a real conversation. I listen to a ton of podcasts, and I like most the ones with the least rigid structure.

As a side note, I have feeds to let me know when there are comments on this site or the one hosting the podcast, so either of these places or twitter is a great place to comment or submit questions and the like.

As far as gaming over the last week or so, I've been mostly focusing on two titles, with a tad of Killzone 2 multiplayer thrown in (I just unlocked the medic class for play).

The first of the games I've been working on this week is Demon's Souls. This is a fantastic game. I had it waiting for me here when I arrived back from my recent trip to Japan, and I've spent maybe 12 hours with it so far. It only took a couple to finish 1-1, the first level of the Boletarian Palace, but then I spent probably 3 or 4 times that amount of time playing in 4-1, the Shrine of Storms, playing co-op with other players (visiting their games as a blue phantom) and leveling up so that finally I was able to completely loot the level and kill the demon boss. Later I went back and played through 2-1, in Stonefang Tunnel, in just one sitting and only dying one time, with the help of my own summoned blue phantom, and a well-placed message on the ground in the boss' chamber.

Refer back to a post I made about the original Diablo for more of why I like Demon's Souls so much. The dark, Gothic fantasy, the great music, and the very cool art direction are all a large part of it, but there's also the fact that in this game, there is no cannon fodder. There are no trash mobs. Anything can kill you, and most of the time within two or three strikes, and often enough with just one. Additionally, death means something, and on more than one level. One death, and you go from your physical form to your soul form, losing the ability to summon phantoms for help as well as losing half of your maximum HP, and that's not to mention all the souls you've gained and have on you at the time. Subsequent deaths will just cost you any souls you have accrued since your last (though you can get them back, if you play well enough), but death also puts you back at the beginning of a level with everything in that level respawned.

It sounds punishing and Draconian, and it can feel that way, for sure, but it very rarely feels unfair. The game is very friendly to the methodical player, and very unfriendly to those who would rush in headlong, throwing caution to the wind. There are some skeleton knights at the beginning of level 4-1 that are incredibly tough when you initially encounter them. They come rolling at you and attack very quickly, and can be your death before you know what's going on, at first. But then, after a while, through death and trial and error, you learn how they move, and when they are vulnerable. I rock through them without a second thought now. I've been through that section of 4-1 probably 50 times, and I enjoy encountering them, now.

My other focus this week has been Borderlands. I'm trying to finish it off. It's been too long since I completed something, and I've got a ton more to move on to, as well. A user-created app I downloaded fixes a lot of the gripes I have with the PC rush-job port (which is what it feels like), but aside from that, this game needs help with story and quest direction. Both are pretty uninteresting, and the world is basically one big brown junkyard. It's a good thing the shooting mechanics and crazy loot and off-the-wall guns are so much fun. And I should emphasize how much fun they are, because were it not for them, I'd have given this thing up for the midden heap long ago, but I'm really enjoying my playtime with it.

I haven't done much co-op of the game because A) I don't want to mess around trying to get it to work on GameSpy's shit and B) I kinda prefer to play solo and at my own pace, though with as throwaway as the questlines and story are in the game, I'd hardly be missing anything if I rushed through with some other people. I should probably give it more of a go...