>And back again

>Really? It’s been almost 2 weeks since the last SFTC post? Damn. I can’t speak for Gred, but I’ve been pretty busy lately doing non-game-related things, and I’m feeling a bit guilty for neglecting this little corner of the internet. So let me get caught up:

1. Finished Ghostbusters on the 360. It is a rare example of a licensed property that takes full advantage of its license, which makes the game better than it actually is. Because let’s be honest here – without the Ghostbusters license, and the full participation of the original cast, and the input of Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis on the script (however limited that participation may have been), the game is seriously flawed, and would probably fly under the radar. The actual act of trapping ghosts is pretty complex and involved, and I’m not sure I ever fully got the hang of it – getting a ghost in the trap felt more like a nice bit of luck than skill. More to the point, though, the Ghostbusters themselves are remarkably frail and fragile, and near the end of the game I found myself spending far more time playing medic than wrangling ghosts. The penultimate boss fight in particular was absurd in this regard – it was literally impossible for me to make any progress against the boss because at any given time, 1-3 Ghostbusters were incapacitated, and the remaning Ghostbuster wouldn’t go over and help me revive them. These are the friggin’ GHOSTBUSTERS, goddammit! Why are they so helpless? Why am I, the rookie, seemingly invulnerable?

That aside, I felt compelled to finish the game – the script is pretty good, actually, and the voice cast does a great job. (It’s a shame, then, that the lip syncing is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen.) And I must admit that the first time I got to run around Ghostbusters HQ, I had a huge dorky smile on my face, and I never got tired of exploring, even if there wasn’t a lot to explore. Getting to use all the official equipment is a thrill, too – putting on the goggles and following the PKE meter never got old. And it should be noted that the proton packs look remarkable.

2. I traded in a bunch of games yesterday for Tiger Woods 10, which I almost immediately regret. I played a little bit of the career mode last night, and the second career challenge asked me to “match Tiger Woods, shot for shot”. I’ve played for literally 5 minutes and my stats are incredibly shitty, but let’s leave that aside because this particular challenge wants me to mimic Tiger’s performance. Not to beat it, but to ape it. I say this because Tiger’s first shot on this particular hole lands at the outer fringe of the green, and when I took my first shot I actually got the ball within a few yards of the whole. AND THUS, I FAILED THE CHALLENGE. The game actually wanted me to hit a bad shot, like Tiger did, so that I could then sink a monsterously long putt, like Tiger did. I don’t want to hit a bad shot, ever. And when I’m only at my second challenge, my stats are horrendously bad – I couldn’t hit a 30-foot putt if it was straight, flat, and funneled directly into the hole. What a completely ridiculous idea. I’m actually pretty good at the Tiger Woods games, I’d like to think – I’ve certainly put hundreds of hours into the franchise over the last 8 years or so – and I’ve never seen anything so stupid and totally misguided as this particular challenge.

It’s too soon for me to comment on the rest of the game – I haven’t seen the much-talked-about rain feature, which I really don’t care about anyway, and the game on the whole doesn’t seem that much different from last year’s iteration, which I thought was pretty good. So it’s probably going to be an effective time-suck for the summer months, which is all I want. I’m just a little annoyed at how stupid the career mode seems to be – if the rest of it is spent trying to be Tiger, instead of just trying to be me, that’s going to be pretty dumb.

3. After hearing the Giant Bomb guys talk about it for a few consecutive podcasts, I felt compelled to download Trash Panic for the PS3. It’s an odd game, to be sure, and definitely more difficult than it ought to be, and yet there’s something compelling about it. I need to spend more than 10 minutes with it, although I’m not sure the game changes that radically the farther you get in. For 5 bucks, though, you could do a lot worse.

>InFamous / Prototype

>Plowed through the end of InFamous last week; that game is a blast. A little simplistic, though, to be sure, and more than a bit repetitive – for all the initial comparisons I’d made to Crackdown, it really feels more like Assassin’s Creed than anything else – but very well made; the story was more than a bit convoluted but it was told well enough, and while the big twist didn’t exactly drop my jaw the way that, say, KOTOR did, it certainly makes the inevitable sequel seem a lot more wide open in terms of what Sucker Punch can do. I’ll happily give it an A-.

And speaking of games featuring regular dudes who suddenly gain superpowers and can run all over the place in big open cities, I played the first 15 minutes of Prototype last night and that was more than enough. I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for it, but I certainly went into it with an open mind; the opening cutscenes are certainly really well done. But once the game started, it all fell apart. The controls are unintuitive, the camera floats around all over the place, and the game actually starts with you in the middle of a fight without (a) telling you what you’re fighting and (b) telling you what you can actually do. It does gradually give you hints as to how to do things, but then – in classic, ridiculous fashion – the opening battle suddenly stops, and then you’re taken to a point 18 days in the past, when all the powers you just learned don’t actually exist yet. So stupid.

At some point I’m going to try out the 2nd Boom Blox game, which is sitting in an unopened Gamefly enevelope next to my TV.

>Wolverine / InFamous

>I would love to go and cover E3 one day, but the truth is that I’m not as good a writer as I imagine myself to be, and I’m feeling a bit too old (33 isn’t that old, but still) to suddenly switch gears and go back to school and then try to get work as a games journalist, especially in this economy. Case in point – I was re-reading my keynote column from the other day, and it felt a little familiar, and some quick checking revealed that I basically rewrote the introduction to last year’s E308 keynote column. This was not willful plagiarism; this was just me being a bad writer. So I apologize, and I embrace my sad destiny, which means that instead of being in Los Angeles for a crazy week of over-stimulation and sweatiness, I get to stay home and play games.

I did not finish Wolverine; my 3rd attempt at beating the final boss ended in frustration, cursing and sending the damned thing back to Gamefly. But Wolverine isn’t necessarily a bad game; I’d say it’s better than the movie, although that’s not saying much. Wolverine’s main problem is that in terms of storytelling, it simply assumes that you’ve seen the movie and the Xmen trilogy, and so you shuttle off from place to place without really knowing why, and there were more than a few times when I had absolutely no idea who I was talking to. Exhibit A – if you hadn’t seen the movie, you would have no idea who Deadpool actually was, because Deadpool’s original identity isn’t even mentioned until you’re in the middle of the first fight. But whatever. You don’t play a movie tie-in for the story, and the game spends most of its time throwing you into insane amounts of incredibly bloody combat (which is a feature missing from the movie). To its credit, the combat is satisfying, but also incredibly repetitive – waves and waves of baddies continually flood in, almost to the point where you could argue the game is padding its length – and the only times you get a break are either when you’re suddenly thrown into an arbitrary block-pushing puzzle, or when you’re watching a cutscene that feels totally taken out of context.

Even with all this, I was still kinda enjoying my time with it – at least there weren’t any moral choices to make – but then I got to the final boss. Wolverine’s boss fights suffer from this incredibly annoying and lazy problem where, when you’ve knocked a boss’s health bar all the way down to zero, they aren’t actually dead – they suddenly come back to full health and become even harder to beat. This is a stupid, stupid cliche and I’ve always hated it, and the final fight against Deadpool is especially egregious. You actually fight Deadpool at least 3 times – maybe there’s another round, but I gave up. As I said before, I kept dying during the 3rd go-round, because Deadpool basically cheats. The fight takes place atop a nuclear reactor, and I’d been able to get up close and throw Deadpool off the side at least a dozen times, but he’d just glitch back to the top – it’s true that Deadpool can teleport, but when he does he’s enveloped in a pink-ish cloud, which (tellingly) was not the case when he’d magically come back to the top of the reactor. Whatever. The game is good with Achievements, which is why I was playing it in the first place.

InFamous, on the other hand, is a quality game from top to bottom. Comparisons to Crackdown are valid – open-world superhero parkour games aren’t necessarily a dime a dozen – but it has its own unique spin and is incredibly engaging. Last night I finished all the missions on the first album and started messing around on the second. The missions, both side and story, are nicely varied, and while they do start to repeat themselves they don’t necessarily feel repetitive. The game does beat you over the head a little bit with the now-obligatory moral choices, but I’ve been being the good guy and it’s not hard to stay on that path. I’m certainly curious to see what the bad-guy powers are like, however, and I suspect that I’ll be giving InFamous another spin during the next slow release period.

>E309: Keynote Wars

>It used to be easy for me to follow E3. For starters, my use of the internet was far more streamlined – I’d just point my browser at Gamespot all day and take in as much as I could without getting fired from my job. More to the point, I’d put a laser-like focus on what Microsoft was announcing while dismissing – nay, mocking – Sony and Nintendo’s efforts without a second thought.

But it’s a bit more complicated now. I’m sounding like a broken record by this point, I know, but I have a personal, vested interest in pretty much everything that’s happening at E3 this year, and pretty much every game journalist has a twitter account which appears to be jacked into their cerebral cortexes so that every single thought and vision gets tweeted, and my RSS feed pretty much exploded yesterday with almost 800 stories coming through. I feel more shellshocked than anything else. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to process all the information that’s coming in; I get a chance to look at videos here and there and that’s really about it.

That said, I did follow along with Kotaku’s liveblogs for each of the major press conferences, because I had to.

Microsoft probably had the most solid performance this year. Certainly they had the most star-studded, even if most of the celebrity appearances felt a bit unnecessary – but then again, this is E3, and if you’re going to go for it, you gotta go for it. Not a lot of jaw-dropping announcements or surprises, save for two that kinda got glossed over (at the time) – Crackdown 2 and Left 4 Dead 2. The footage I saw of Halo: ODST looked frighteningly so-so, although I’m not really that big a Halo fan so what do I know. The Beatles: Rock Band looks fantastic, and even though there’s no way I’m getting them the new instruments look amazing, especially Paul’s bass. Alan Wake looks promising, although I guess I was expecting something a bit more stunning, considering the lengthy development time. And I must admit I’m a little excited for Forza 3, even though I’ve never really gotten that far into the previous 2 iterations. It’s hard for me to get excited about Project Natal in its current state – I need to see it in context. The Lionhead demo looked too scripted, although I must admit I was stunned by the business with the water.

Nintendo’s press conference wasn’t nearly the disaster it was last year, but that’s not really saying a hell of a lot. Kotaku’s liveblog reported that they started off the keynote by saying that one of Nintendo’s missions is to “create surprise”, which (ironically) is precisely why I feel like the Wii is like a novelty item. The first time you play with it, it’s exciting and interesting and, yes, surprising, but once that wears off you realize you’re playing shitty games with shitty presentation and it ends up collecting dust. I couldn’t care less about Wii Fit Plus or Wii Remote Plus – I’m wouldn’t play Wii Sports Resort for more than 10 minutes, and the whole premise behind the Remote Plus pretty much makes me feel like the original Wii Remote was under-designed. And don’t even get me started on the Vitality Sensor. When all is said and done, though, there were some decent game announcements – Super Mario Galaxy 2 is something I’ll be looking forward to, and I’m definitely excited for Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story for the DS. I’m not that excited for the new 2D Super Mario Bros., nor am I particularly excited for the new Metroid.

To be honest, I was probably most excited for Sony’s press conference. The 360 might be my console of choice and the place where I play anything multi-platform, but Sony’s exclusive titles are nothing to sneeze at. From what I’ve seen thus far, Uncharted 2 is probably my game of the show; the brief video of single-player they showed looked absolutely amazing. And I’m definitely going to be looking forward to God of War 3 and The Last Guardian, and I’m certainly intrigued by Rockstar’s PS3 exclusive Agent, even though they didn’t actually show anything. The PSP Go seems awfully unnecessary to me – the real problem with the platform isn’t the design, but the lack of compelling content – and so it was nice to see some PSP game announcements (like LBP, MotorStorm, Gran Turismo). I was especially excited to see that Final Fantasy VII would be appearing in the PSN store (I was led to believe that it would be online last night; alas, I couldn’t find it). The only real problem with Sony’s press conference was that most of what they showed wouldn’t be available until 2010.

So that’s that. As for the rest of the show, please stay tuned – there’s going to be some new and (hopefully) interesting content here at SFTC over the next few days, with some special guest commentators.