Monday, January 25, 2010

Normandy. Requesting permission to dock.

The arrival of Mass Effect 2 is imminent. I am more excited for this than I have been for a game in quite some time. I've been unable to buckle down and concentrate on any one game, so I've been futzing around with a whole lot of them. In no particular order:

WoW - I jumped into this for a bit to see if I could re-kindle the flame. No luck. I did a daily quest and then jumped into an instance and immediately did not want to be there. The group wiped, I logged out at the Spirit Healer, and uninstalled. Maybe I'll be back for Cataclysm.

Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers - This was on sale for $5 on XBLA, and I bit, being a long-time player of Magic in my junior high and high school days. It's a very basic take on the game, bordering even on too simple for a seasoned veteran like myself, but the core mechanics are still solid and fun. To another Magic player, I'd liken it to playing with stock starter decks right off the shelf. I'll be back around to this one here and there. I like it.

Canabalt - I just bought this on my iphone today for $3, and it's pretty cool. You're a guy running across the rooftops of a city under attack from big alien Voltrons (or something). The guy runs, and you tap the screen to make him jump over obstacles and gaps. Very simple, very addictive, great music and art. I'd put this one up there with Drop7 and Galcon. It's a perfect game for the platform.

Sins Of A Solar Empire - Galactic 4X RTS. Basically, you control a galactic empire. It seems incredibly deep, and I only brushed the surface of the 4 tutorials available to beginners. I like what I've seen so far, though.

Borderlands - This game has always given me issues with my graphics card, and after tinkering around with some settings this weekend, I booted up the game to stress test my setup, and ended up running through a couple of leftover quests with my Playthrough 1 clear-saved character. This game gets F-U-N right.

Far Cry 2 - I had a couple of hours to kill and still wanted to stress-test my machine, so I loaded up this beauty and ran through a couple of objectives. I am constantly amazed by how good this game is when I go and play it. Why haven't I been able to stick with it? It's so immersive and atmospheric. I was stalking through some high grass with a high-powered sniper rifle last night, picking off my target's guards one by one, remaining unseen, and it felt great. I love this game.

Shattered Horizon - This is a PC FPS I've been playing a lot lately. It's set in space, and you're a mercenary astronaut taking part in multi-player only battles for control of various asteroids and mining bases in the debris of an exploded moon that is orbiting Earth. You have full 360-degree movement, which makes for some really bewildering firefights. There's nothing else really like it, and it's really fun, not to mention gorgeous.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - I decided to finally see what the multiplayer is all about in the COD/MW series, and I have to admit that I'm surprised; it's really good. The gameplay is fast and frenetic, the frame rate locked at 60 fps, and death even quicker than that. It also does the carrot-on-a-stick routine as well as any MMO. That next unlock is always just a few more games, a few more kills away. Let it be known: the hype is justified. I've been back to this game almost every day the last week or so.

Aaaahhhhhh. That's better. Now that I don't have all of these impressions clouding up my mind, I can hone my focus in on Commander Caroline Shepard's next outing. Can not wait.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Am The Reinforcements.

In the last week I played through Vagrant Story. The last time I did so was in the summer of 2000, but I had held onto my Clear Game save and so was able to start a sort of New Game + with my already powered-up Ashley Riot, though the enemies were no harder than they ever were. It made for a pretty easy playthrough, though lengthy, at about 18 hours, total.

Visually, the game holds up remarkably well for a Playstation 1-era 3D game, even better than Metal Gear Solid. The art style and detailed character modeling go a long way, here. I'd say it actually looks quite a bit better than any 3D I have ever seen on the DS, and that is supposedly at about N64 levels of tech (though N64 games universally looked like shit). The music in Vagrant Story is nice, but the writing is where the real genius is to be found in terms of presentation. Whomever translated the game and wrote the script is very talented.

It's still a very playable game, too; nothing having come along and done exactly what it does in the intervening decade. Vagrant Story is all about weapon types and affinities. There are six families of monsters: Human, Beast, Undead, Phantom, Dragon, and Evil. A weapon will gain strength vs. whatever family it is used against, but lose strength vs the next two families in that list. Since there are six families, one weapon may be strengthened against a specific pair. Thus, one of my swords was used against Humans and Phantoms, but no other types, and I had a greatsword I used against Dragon types and Beasts, and finally a Light-bolstered dagger I used against Undead and Evil enemy types. On top of enemy affinities, there are also elemental ones to take into account, plus the weapon's damage type (piercing, edged, or blunt). You can only carry 8 weapons at a time to swap between, so while you have some room to try out different types (swords, greatswords, daggers, lances, axes, hammers, maces, and crossbows), you do have to have some amount of focus and purpose for each weapon you maintain.

You can disassemble weapons and recombine their component parts (blades and grips), smelt your trained weapons together into more powerful types, and finally socket them with gems that boost various affinities or hit and dodge rates. It's a pretty complex system, and allows for a lot of interesting combinations and a high degree of freedom in what weapons you want to use.

The game plays out as a very long dungeon crawl with a huge number of boss encounters--probably more than any other game I've played aside from MMO's. There is no overworld, but there are outdoor sections, and all the various areas of the game are interconnected like in a Metroidvania game.

Overall, it's a really cool and unique game, a sort of evolutionary dead-end from a time when Square was at the top of their game. Indeed, the director of the game, Yasumi Matsuno, is also the guy behind Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII, which are among the company's best titles ever released, in my book. It's a shame he was apparently forced out of the company during FFXII's development, and that we'll never see his unique vision for the world of Ivalice again. It's far and away my favorite little family of titles to come out of Square.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Dragon of Dojima Vs. The Dragon of Kansai

I finally polished off Yakuza 2 last night, total game time about 27 and a half hours.

I have to say, it was pretty awesome. These games look pretty dated now, being PS2 titles, but they have it where it counts, in presentation and play mechanics. The brawling in Yakuza 2 seems to have a lot more variety than the first, and the story is still very good, though maybe one or two twists past totally believable, in the end. It's a good time.

The semi-open world and RPG mechanics mixed in are all really evocative of a true Japanese city, and that's really cool. How many other games have multiple bars you can go into, order the finest whiskeys, and have the master give you a little history of the brands? He'll even stop you from ordering more if you drink too much.

I already own Ryu Ga Gotoku 3, the Japanese version of the sequel, but I'll probably pick up the localized version when it hits in March, provided Sega doesn't fuck it up by making it with an English dub only or something. It's bad enough they're releasing more than a year after the Japanese version, in the same month as FF13 and God of War 3, and just before Ryu Ga Gotoku 4's Japanese release.

I'll probably also have the wife pick up the spin-off, Ryu Ga Gotoku Kenzan! when she's in Japan this month for her friend's wedding.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Zero Suit Samus

I finished Metroid: Zero Mission on a plane today. As it turns out, there's a whole extra part on top of where the original game ended. I knew something was up when I went to fight Mother Brain without the power bombs and two or three other suit upgrades. Anyway, now I get where the titular heroine is derived from when she makes her appearances in other games.

I was pleasantly surprised by the bits at the end, but I'm glad the shift in gameplay lasted only long enough to make you glad to get back to the norm for the finale.

I wonder how Metroid: Other M is shaping up for Wii.