Monday, February 23, 2009

The Fast And The Deliberate, Crushing Hammer Of Doom

Much of the past week I spent playing Burnout and Starcraft, an interesting juxtaposition. One is a seat-of-the-pants, devil-may-care, caution-to-the-wind affair at insane velocities, and the other perfects that feeling of constructing, painstakingly and with much mumbling and hand-wringing, a scenario of ultimate reckoning for one's enemies. Both are absolutely fantastic.

I completed enough events to get my A liscense in Burnout, unlocking several more cars and having fun tearing around the city in the process. Playing GTA or Crackdown or some such, you can never fully enjoy the driving models they present. You're constantly crashing--same as in Burnout--but each and every time, you're out on the street on your feet again and more often than not end up relegated to shitty little hatchback that all the sudden is the only thing anyone drives in the city. In Burnout, though, when you careen off a ramp, over a cliff, upside-down and face-first into a brick wall, you're treated to a dynamic, slow-mo, deconstruction of your car, and then there you are back on the road and burning rubber again. There's nothing stopping you from being reckless as you can be.

I'm at the end of the Terran campaign in Starcraft, on the 10th and what I believe to the the final mission. It goes without saying that this is an outstanding game. I'll just say that so far I've really enjoyed the Terrans and their awesome bunkers, Goliaths, Ghosts, and Battlecruisers. I'm excited to try the Zerg shortly, as well. This game gives me a feeling I haven't had since the days of monochrome green army men out in the yard, those and Battle Beasts. And the Lego army wars I used to set up in the days before I discovered the NES.

I also breifly popped onto WoW last week (a couple of times), to hit level 31 and do a few quests and take care of my auctions. I signed up for another 6 months, might as well use it! I jumped into Left 4 Dead for just about half an hour, in a versus game. It was cool. I got to play as the infected, the smoker, the boomer, the hunter, and the tank. Do people play as the witch? I don't know yet. I need to carve out some time in my schedule for both this and TF2.

Finally, I tossed into the PS3 an (odd) X-mas present from my mom, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga Volume 1 Avatar Tuner. I think that's all of it's titles. I was expecting more of the same from Nocturne, which I quit and sold halfway through, but from the hour or so I played it seems to be a little more to-the-point, with sprucier graphics and more of a plot. I read that it's only 20 to 30 hours, too, which at this point is a plus in my book, for a JRPG.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Zeroing In

I've unconsciously narrowed my focus over the last week, having only fired up a relative handful of games.

Earlier last week I was putting some time into Half-Life. I find it remarkable that as I play through this game that is more than a decade old standard in a now (and then, even) well established and well-conventioned genre, everything it does still feels fresh and not so well-worn. People say this game defined the genre, but it seems more like it set a bar that no one has been able to (or bothered to) reach in terms of environment. In fact, Half-Life is, up to around half-way through where I am, more about navigating interesting environments than killing dumb creatures. This stands as a stark contrast to what most other FPS go for (pedestrian environs and more exciting firefights). I just passed the part where you launch the satellite into orbit and now I'm in some water-filled rooms with a fish monster and a tranq gun. I'm amazed at the sheer variety of scenarios I've come across thus far in the game.

The other thing on PC I've been playing quite a bit of, besides a few rounds of TF2, is Starcraft. I've been trying to replay through to the point I'm at on my Mac installation. Just one more mission to go, I think, and then I'll be back to where I was before in the Terran campaign. This time I'm planning to keep going and hopefully finish the game and expansion. I've still never played Zerg or Protoss at all, yet. Playing through the first 6-7 missions again has helped me get more familiar with the game flow, which is good. Here's another 11-year-old, completely awesome PC game, and another genre archetype, coincidentally. I think I should complete everything here before playing Halo Wars or any other PC RTS (Dawn of War II sounds cool).

Finally, I played a ton of Burnout Paradise this weekend. I've still got like 12 events to win before I get my A licsense, but I've already cleared the city of gate smashes (400/400), billboard breaks (120/120), and super jumps (50/50). I've never completed stuff like that in a GTA or any other open-world game. This game just rocks. You go fast, drift corners, smash stuff up, and when you crash you get a sweet crash scene and then you're instantly back on the road and in motion. This is one of those games that you can't just sit down and play for a little bit. Every time I get into it I'm there for like three hours. It's a great game to play mindlessly or while listening to podcasts or something, too.

One last thing: the HAWX demo. First: what the hell is this shitty third-person 'cinematic' camera mode, and why is it being forced on me for the entirety of the tutorial mission? Why would anyone want to play a fighter jet game like that? Otherwise, it feels pretty much like an Ace Combat game, but it has an XP/level system which apparently ranks you up and into better planes and loadouts. Could be alright, maybe. Feels like a $10 bargain bin pick-up.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I Need To De-frag My Brain

I don't think I can even summon up a complete list off all the games I've played over the last week.  It's been so disparate lately with getting my new PC and installing and sampling tons of stuff--the dust has got to settle so I can see the way forward from here.

Console side first - Thin Lizzy tracks came out for Rock Band last week, so I downloaded those and tried them out.  They're from a forthcoming live album, so it's the first anyone's really ever heard them, though each of the songs (Jailbreak, Cowboy Song, and The Boys Are Back) are fairly well-known.  Love me some Thin Lizzy!  I also played some of the awesome Megadeth DLC, Peace Sells.... But Who's Buying?

On top of that, I played some Burnout the other day after downloading the re-start patch (which institutes a previously unavailable event re-start option, among other things), and got my B liscense.  I also downloaded the Halo Wars demo and have booted that up a couple of times since.  I dig it!  It's like a streamlined-for-console-controls version of Starcraft.  I was a little skeptical--cautiously optimistic--but playing the demo has cemented it for me.  I'm definitely going to be picking that up.  I'm glad, because I'm a big fan of the Halo franchise, and I'd hate to see it shitted up.

PC gaming-wise is where it starts to get a little hazy.  Let me just go through each of the games installed on my computer this week, and you can assume that I've spent an hour or two at the very least with all of them:  Team Fortress 2, Diablo II, Starcraft, Oblivion, WoW, Mount and Blade (demo), and Half-Life: Source.

Mount and Blade is an interesting Indie game.  The closest comparison I can make is Oblivion, but M&B is much more about factions.  You can join one of several in the game, and you actually accrue your own army as you go along.  I played for only a couple of hours so far, but it's pretty cool.  You start out on a giant overworld-style map, and you go around to the tons of little villages and castles that dot the land, encountering armies and bandits along the way that take you into a battlefield mode to fight.  It's your army versus theirs in a full-on medieval battle, done in a way unlike any I've ever seen before.  If you're mounted, you can gallop by enemy dudes and strike them with your sword, or feather them with arrows if you can figure out how to shoot halfway decent; I couldn't!  You can take prisoners or recruit guys from local villages, you can become the vassal of a local lord, or just do whatever, it seems, and the local economy is effected.  Towns become richer or poorer based on how the war is going, or one of several other factors you can no doubt influence.  I want to get back to this one eventually for more in-depth play.

The other main thing I focused a lot on this week was Half-Life: Source, the most-current (for now) version of the original HL game.  I played Half-Life some back in 1999, during my first year at college, but I'm pretty sure that was all LAN deathmatch.  I may have played the first hour or so of the campaign, but that's about it.  I'm beginning a full series playthrough now (probably to continue to about the point when HL2: Episode 3 is released), though, and it's still pretty great, even 10 years later.  I'm to a point now about maybe halfway in (or less), where there's a big tentacle monster in a missile silo, if you're familiar with the game.  Now I really understand people's aversion to headcrabs...

Monday, February 2, 2009

PC is finally here!

That's right, it finally arrived.  My long overdue entry into PC gaming is manifest.  To celebrate, the first thing I did after all the preliminary setup was to go and download Steam, and promptly pick up the Half-Life series, specifically the Source engine remake of the original, and The Orange Box, which of course has the sequel and all of it's....quasi-sequels.

Interestingly enough, on the PC the box comes with a couple of things not in the console versions: Lost Coast, another add-on to HL2, and Peggle Extreme, a Valve-themed version of the popular Pop Cap game.  And so the first game I played on my new machine was Peggle.  The second was Portal; I just played through the whole thing again (for the fourth time, if I remember right) before writing this.  I figured it was a good "training session" to get me re-acclimated to the first-person mouse & keyboard scheme.

I can never get enough Oblivion, so I picked up the full box version, featuring both expansions, as well.  And this is just the beginning.  I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Before the arrival of my new machine, and in the post-Killzone interim, I want back to GTA IV.  I'm somewhere in the middle of the game, and apparently doing things backwards, somewhat.  Most accounts I've heard of people playing the game, they've gotten to the point where they have to choose to kill either Playboy X or Dwayne and then later gone on to do the big bank robbery straight-out-of-the-movie-Heat mission.  Either way, I've past both of those now and have finally opened up the last island.

When I first started playing these games, with GTA III, I used to ignore the missions and such for hours and just go blow stuff up and see how long I could survive with a full wanted level.  That's not where GTA IV shines, though.  If I want to do that I'll go play Crackdown.  I find GTA IV is best when I'm moving swiftly from mission to mission, and not just the main plotline ones, but including the side activities like helping the random people around the city or stealing rare cars for Brucie, or just doing the social activities with Niko's friends and girlfriends (though these get tiresome).

Lastly, Necovia/Lonesteban and I finished up Gears of War on Hardcore last night, getting the A Dish Best Served Cold achivement to unlock RAAM in Gears 2.  That was a lot of fun, and I think it's really telling that the parts we had the most trouble with in the game were the parts where we were forced to go separate ways and couldn't watch each other's back so well.  Still a great game, though.  Gears 2 Horde Mode soon!