3 is a magic number

It’s been very quiet here since the last podcast; honestly, there’s not been a hell of a lot to talk about.  If I were a professional games writer, I’d find stuff to post, but I’m pretty sure that those of you who find your way to this corner of the internet aren’t looking for hot scoops.

I’ve been in a rut, basically.  The initial wave of iPad euphoria has subsided, and I’m no longer buying every game that comes out.  (Well, I did buy Lost Winds 2 yesterday, but haven’t played more than the first 20 seconds of it.)   There are plenty of good-looking distractions to be found in the App Store, to be sure, but I am craving a meal, not a snack.  Or maybe I’m just waiting for the iOS ports of Walking Dead and Botanicula to show up.

In the meantime, I’d been kinda tooling around with my backlog.  Finally finished Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which was a bit dumb.  I mean, it had been dumb for quite some time – I think I ultimately spent over 30 hours in there – but towards the end I just wanted to finish the final boss and be done with it.  I still have at least 20 side quests to finish but I do.  not.  give a shit.  The narrative – to the extent there is one – was boring and uninspired and in any event I couldn’t skip past it quickly enough.   I kinda feel bad for 38 Studios, who are going through some pretty serious money problems; wait a minute, what am I saying?  I hate Curt Schilling.  I feel bad for the non-Curt Schilling people of that company, let’s put it that way.

And I also decided to give up on Tiger Woods 13.  There used to be a time when the Tiger games could easily fill the slow months of the release calendar, but not so much these days.  I appreciate that they’re still making adjustments to the controls, but I can’t help getting annoyed when my perfectly lined-up putt curves away because of some arbitrary stat math.

And yeah, I guess I was also one of the million people who ended up buying Minecraft on XBLA, even though I’d never played the PC version – indeed, I never wanted to play the PC version.  That much freedom is intimidating to me; I have no idea what to do.  (This is is also why the Hitman games tended to scare the hell out of me, too.)  I spent an hour or two with it last weekend; I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was, but I’m still not sure I’m going to do very much with it.

This is all to say that yesterday’s releases of Max Payne 3 and Diablo 3 were big fucking deals for me, and I’d guess that if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably either at work, or just taking a break from playing those games.

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I fired up Max Payne 3 first.  I don’t recall how long I played for; I know I finished the first two chapters.

Gut reactions:

  • It’s probably the best-looking game Rockstar’s ever made, especially with regards to the lighting engine – everything is super-crisp and colorful.  This is also probably the best use of that Euphoria physics/rag doll system first seen in GTA4 and later used to marvelous effect in Red Dead Redemption  when you kill people, man, you fuck them up.
  • It’s really remarkable how well they’ve managed to both keep the game feeling fresh while, at the same time, staying true to the iconic features of the original games – the pills-as-powerups, the bullet-time, the noir.  A lot of this has to do with Rockstar’s incredible confidence in its cut-scenes.  Ever since GTA4, those mid-mission story beats started becoming real treats to watch – the dialogue’s always been great (if a little heavy-handed at times), but the scenes themselves became very cinematic – the camera was always in an interesting place, the motion-capture work was expressive and clear, and the characters themselves were engaging and entertaining.  I never found myself impatient and wanting to skip past a scene, the way I do with almost every other game out there.  Anyway, my point is that when the cutscene is over and Max is back in my hands, it still feels like the original games did – even though it’s got a lot of new technology behind the scenes.
  • If there’s one thing that’s a little off to me, it’s that I’m playing this game on the Xbox360.  I played the first two games on the PC, and the mouse and keyboard always felt intuitive and easy to use.  I also played the ports of those games on the Xbox, and the shift to the controller never felt quite right.  That not-quite-right feeling shows up here as well, which is somewhat of a bummer.  Bullet-time – the defining feature of this franchise – is activated by pushing in the right thumbstick, which is not at all intuitive and, if anything, makes it more of a pain in the ass to use.  On the PC, bullet-time was both super fun to watch and useful from a strategic perspective, but here I find myself using it just because I want to see it, not because I need it.
  • Haven’t yet touched the multiplayer, although it looks interesting.  Will try to give that a good look over the next few days, in between breaks from the campaign.

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As for Diablo 3… well, honestly?  I’m a little bummed.  I played for around 5 minutes last night – long enough to see that the weird latency/lag issues that I had in the beta a few weeks ago were still present in the retail release.  This is especially weird since my PC uses a wired connection to my router.  I haven’t yet tried tweaking the graphics settings – I wasn’t sure if this was a CPU issue or a lag issue – but I know that other people are experiencing similar problems.

I’m debating whether or not to install it on my MacBook Pro; the Mac is mainly for music and writing, and I’m a little afraid of
installing such a distraction onto that machine.  But, then again, if it runs better there…

No matter.  My plan is to focus on Max Payne 3 for the time being, and then, hopefully by this time next week, Blizzard will have solved some of these issues and the experience will be smoother.

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