>Not-quite impressions

>As I wrote yesterday, I was able to score copies of Lost Odyssey and Professor Layton and I promised some impressions today. However, I don’t really feel like I’ve put in enough time with either game to give any sort of detailed analysis. That said, there are some quick things I want to throw out there:

Lost Odyssey
After an hour’s worth of playtime, here’s what I can offer:

  • Even though he hasn’t said very much of anything just yet, Kaim is a pretty awesome protagonist. I love how he’s animated; in spite of his youthful complexion he has the posture and the walking rhythm of a man who has lived for far too long and seen far too much. He doesn’t walk as much as he trudges along (this is most noticeable in cutscenes – when you’re out and about, you can run like the wind); this is a great example of character development without getting into expository dialog.
  • The first real “story” moment takes place in some sort of council meeting, and unfortunately, it is fucking ridiculous. Our world is in trouble because of meteors and magic energy and the Giant Staff? Oh Christ.
  • As a 32-year-old man, I find it much easier to relate to world-weary adults as opposed to spiky-haired rugrats who believe in themselves and have something to prove. I’m not sure I will ever be able to go back and finish Blue Dragon if I keep spending time with Lost Odyssey.
  • Speaking of Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey is quite easy to pick up if you played Blue Dragon; the graphics engine may be different (more on that in a second), but the controls are nearly identical. I was actually a little startled to see that “Start” only pauses the game, and that “Y” brings up your menu – this is exactly how BD did it, too.
  • Also speaking of Blue Dragon, I far prefer Lost Odyssey’s approach to looting. BD made you check out every single goddamned book in a bookcase, every single plant in a forest, every pebble in a desert – and more often than not, you’d get a “Nothing”, which you wouldn’t even realize was important until midway through Disc 2. Here, at least, the stuff you can check out is obvious, and there’s always something worthwhile to pick up. I can’t wait to start getting into the Ring Crafting part of the game; the tiny taste I’ve gotten of it so far has definitely whetted my appetite, and so I’m actually motivated to check out every thing I can find.
  • As for the combat: well, again, I only played for an hour, and the last 30 minutes were spent in a city; I didn’t quite get enough time to really be comfortable with the whole “timing” part of attacking, and I haven’t yet had an opportunity to see how the ring-crafting affects combat, and – most importantly – I don’t have any party members yet.
  • As for the graphics: it’s very pretty. A lot of reviews mention frame-rate dips; I haven’t seen anything that bad. The constant loading before combat may be a problem, though.

In short: I can’t wait to really get some time to sink my teeth into this one. My hour with the game last night was barely an appetizer.

Professor Layton
I brought my DS with me to work today, just in case I got some time; I played for about 20-30 minutes before going to bed last night, and I found only 6 or 7 puzzles. It isn’t quite what I expected it to be, but I am enjoying what I’ve played. I found a puzzle last night that (I think) requires some geometry, which I’ve all but forgotten; I was pleased to have solved two matchstick puzzles, though, because I’m fucking AWFUL at matchstick puzzles. I do hope, though, that there’s more to this game than matchstick puzzles; it’s not a good sign that I’ve already done 2 of them in such a short span of time.

>Glutton for punishment

>It’s been pouring here in NYC for the last 24 hours; yesterday it was fluffy snow, today it’s cold rain. Ordinarily I wouldn’t talk about the weather, except that, as this post’s title would indicate, I am a glutton for punishment. Also, I am a consumer whore.

I had planned on renting Lost Odyssey and then buying my rented copy, as I do get a nifty little discount from Gamefly. However, even with newly-added shipping centers, Gamefly is still notoriously, jaw-droppingly, agonizingly slow, and even if they’d managed to send it out today, I wouldn’t get it until Saturday at the earliest. This assumes that they’d actually send me a copy today; I checked my queue this morning, and instead of being sent off, it was simply listed as having a “Low” probability of being sent out. They changed their notations on product availability a few months ago, but I’m not fooled; “Low” means “not today, chump.”

Additionally, I was interested in renting Professor Layton and the Curious Village since my DS has been boring me to death. (Side note: is it just me, or is it incredibly odd to anybody else that even though 2007 was one of the best years for gaming ever, the DS absolutely stunk up the joint?) This was putting me in a bit of a pickle; Prof. Layton is listed as available, so if I’d put it on my queue, I’d never get Lost Odyssey (since I only have a 2-at-a-time plan and they haven’t yet received my return of Devil May Cry), and I would like to get The Club at some point next week.

This is all to say that I could not wait, and I ventured out into the rain during my lunch hour.

NYC has a lot of everything, except where I work (namely, east midtown); there used to be a Gamestop over on 6th Avenue, which closed down (and was still a pain in the ass for me to get to), and I can’t ever expect to get over to the gigantic Toys R Us in Times Square (the one with the indoor ferris wheel) without wanting to strangle the hordes of tourists who have absolutely no self-awareness and frequently stop in the middle of the sidewalk, or an open doorway, or a stairwell, or what have you. This basically limits my work-day gaming excursions to what’s on 5th Avenue (a still lengthy walk from my office) – a Best Buy, a new Circuit City, and a no-name (but very good) electronics store.

The electronics store has a game section and it’s usually not very busy; however, it also has a shitty selection and is almost always untimely with new releases; they were my first stop and, as I expected, they had neither title.

The Best Buy used to make new game releases completely inaccessible; you’d have to flag a BB employee down, tell them what you wanted, and then go wait in the ever-expanding cashier line while they (hopefully) remembered what you wanted and then give it to whomever you ended up paying. That’s changed and they now have everything on the shelf, but it’s still a Best Buy – they don’t treat videogames with nearly the shelfspace or the attention that they do with DVDs. They did happen to have Lost Odyssey, but they didn’t have Professor Layton.

The Circuit City is brand-new, but their game section is fucking horrifying; the games are arranged on circular shelves that surround a 3-TV pod, and the 360, curiously enough, gets the least amount of shelf space. It hardly matters, though, because the shelves are beyond disorganized; it’s as if someone started to alphabetize, and then said “fuck it” and just threw whatever they felt like into any available spot. After 20 minutes of going through each individual shelf, I did manage to find a copy of Prof. Layton – it was, as best as I can tell, with the “D”s.

So: success! But also frustration, and, worst of all, wet socks. I need galoshes.

Tomorrow: impressions.

>DMCmeh

>My Gameflown copy of DMC4 arrived on Saturday; gave it a quick spin Saturday night and for a bit on Sunday.

Short version: couldn’t care less. It’s certainly very pretty, and it’s nice to see that the UE3 is capable of producing colors other than gray, but as for the game itself… it’s (to me) a generic 3rd person action game that is so rooted in the conventions of the past that it almost feels anachronistic.

I was listening to Major Nelson’s podcast on the way into work this morning, and he has an interview with some Capcom Community dude, and the dude basically said that the game is about “looking cool” and “being stylish”, that you can spam on the sword in order to get through the game but you get low scores for doing so. First of all: computers shouldn’t be judging beauty. Secondly: who gives a shit? Nero is such a whiny little douchebag that it’s a challenge for me just to stay interested in the game itself; now I have to worry about making him jump and leap and prance? What the fuck?

(I know Ninja Gaiden had a scoring system, too, but that game was brutally hard, and just getting through a level was reward enough.)

The camera in DMC4 is fucking terrible, if only because it fucks up your controls. For the most part, this isn’t that big a deal because the camera almost never changes during combat, but when you’re running around, it’s a pain in the ass – you can be running up a staircase, and then when you get out you find yourself running back down because the change in camera also changes your controls.

Taking a quick look at the Achievements – I think I got all I’d care to get, since it seems the vast majority of them involve playing the game a zillion times with multiple characters at various difficulty settings. Who gives a shit? I made it through Mission 6 before I realized I had to start backtracking and I couldn’t have cared less.

———–

I don’t know why, but I have become tremendously excited for Lost Odyssey. I liked Blue Dragon more than most people, although I never bothered to finish it; I’m probably halfway through the 3rd disc and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. Lost Odyssey looks a lot more promising, and engaging, and while a lot of previews are talking about how archaic the game is, my experience with JRPGs is actually pretty limited so I’m not all that jaded.

———–

Will there ever be a Skies of Arcadia sequel, as long as we’re talking about JRPGs? Goddamn I loved that game.

———–

I constantly misspell Odyssey, and for that I blame Oddworld.

>Catching Up

>Life’s been pretty busy lately; haven’t had time for much of anything, let alone gaming, or – more to the point – writing about gaming.  So, then:

1.  Duke Nukem 3D coming to XBLA.  DN3D is what got me into PC shooters; I never did any of the multiplayer or anything, I was simply a slavish devotee of the single player.  And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure I played the whole game – my brother-in-law-to-be had installed the shareware version of it on my brother’s computer, and so I think there might have been a few levels that I never had access to.  In any event, this is even MORE exciting to me than the release of DNF. 

2.  Hey, Microsoft, I’ve got an idea for you.  You’ve said repeatedly that you didn’t include an HD-DVD drive in the 360 because you respected the consumer’s appetite for choice, and that you weren’t necessarily opposed to the idea of Blu-Ray.  So, then:  why not make a Blu-Ray add-on?  I’ll tell you right now, if you make a Blu-Ray add-on and sell it for less than $250, that means that I don’t have to buy a PS3.  We all know that you’re hoping for digital distribution to be the way of the future – and I agree with you 100% – but in the meantime, this is something you absolutely have to do.

3.  Played a bit of Poker Smash this morning before work; it’s a great puzzler.  It’s based on the Bejeweled concept of 3-match, except instead of colors, you’re looking to make poker hands, from 3-of-a-kind on up.  And you’re only allowed to move pieces horizontally.  And the board keeps moving, so there’s an element of time pressure.   And it’s quite pretty, which is an added bonus.  Best of all, I got an Achievement or two during my time with the trial version, which pretty much sealed the deal in terms of me unlocking the full version.  Developers, you should know: alerting a potential customer of a demo version of your game that they’ve unlocked Achievements has GOT to have a measurable impact on sales. 

4.  Mass Effect DLC is on its way.  Goddamn.  Just when I thought I’d gotten that game out of my system.  However… my first impression of this is pretty underwhelming; 60-90 minutes of gameplay, most of which will probably be spent in loading screens and/or buildings we’ve already seen on a million other planets?  Bioware – wake me up when you get something like The Shivering Isles ready to go.

>The RPM Challenge

>I’m crossposting this from my LJ, if only because (1) while videogames are a big part of my life and interest, music is really where it’s at, and as such (2) if I end up doing this, I might not be posting here that much next month.

I’ve gotta say, I’m very seriously considering doing the RPM Challenge this year (which is like NaNoWriMo, except for music). 

And I have to say that instead of being frustrated, I’m instead rather amused at how much of a fuss my brain is putting up, as I sit here and dally and dither about.  If I’m going to do it, I should just fucking DO it; I haven’t even really come up with a good reason NOT to. 

The only thing that comes up is that I literally just found out about this a day or two ago, after coming across it in a friend’s blog. Everybody knows that November is NNWM… I didn’t know that February was “Write And Record An Album Month”.  So part of my brain is going “I’m not ready yet, I’m not prepared to do this yet, I don’t want to just jump in blindly.”  And the other part of my brain is saying, “You’ll never be ready, you’ll never be 100% prepared, so why the hell NOT just go for it?”

I’m sure I’ll end up doing it.  I just need to get used to the idea for another 24 hours, and then I’ll go for it.

And then I’ll bore you all to death.

>The Want List for 2008

>Taking a break from Burnout Paradise. I’m 9 wins away from my Class A license, but mostly right now I’m concentrating on “discovering” everything:

  • I need to find one more gas station
  • I need to find one last race event – not quite sure how I missed it
  • I’ve got 360 of 400 smash-thru things
  • at least half of the super-jumps
  • I’ve found at least 2/3 of the billboards
  • etc.

This is as good a time as any, then, to contemplate what’s on the agenda for 2008. I’ve been listening to all manner of game-related podcasts lately, and they all seem to be asking the same question.

Off the top of my head, my main must-have titles for 2008 are, in the order that they occur to me:

  • Burnout Paradise
  • GTA 4
  • Mercenaries 2
  • Fallout 3 (and if this actually comes out in 2008, I’ll be stunned)
  • Star Wars: Force Unleashed (which I didn’t start to get frighteningly excited for until I saw the latest tech video)

And then there’s also a bunch of stuff I’ve got lined up for my Gamefly Queue:

  • Lost Odyssey
  • The Club
  • Bully: Scholarship Edition
  • Condemned 2
  • Lego Indiana Jones
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction (I’m a big fan of the SC series, but I’m a little nervous about this one)
  • Too Human
  • Midnight Club: Los Angeles
  • Ghostbusters (keeping fingers crossed that this doesn’t completely suck)
  • MLB2K8 (the last 2 editions have been dreadfully disappointing, and yet I keep coming back; I am so very weak.)

And there’s also titles that I would dearly love to play this year, but am doubtful that they’ll see release before 2009:

  • Brutal Legend (remember, Psychonauts was delayed for about 2-3 years)
  • Fable 2
  • Ninja Gaiden 2 (well, maybe this will see release in 2008; I guess we’ll know more at E3)

Now, these are all 360 titles. I will eventually be getting a PS3, if only for the BluRay; I’d certainly like to buy a Wii, but as I’ve said before, right now it’s easier for me to procure illegal drugs than it is for me to buy a Wii at retail price. (To wit: besides eBay and Craigslist, there is a shady electronics store near my apartment that does have Wiis in stock; they’re asking $500. In cash.)

But since I don’t actually own those consoles yet, I’ve not really been following their release calendars with any genuine interest. To be fair, though: any PS3 game I buy would strictly be a PS3 exclusive, and to be perfectly honest, I really don’t give a shit about Final Fantasy 13 (13!!!) or Metal Gear Solid 4. I guess I do care about LittleBigPlanet, but not to the tune of $500+, and my curiousity about Home is more of the morbid variety than anything else.

>DMC4 demo

>Demos are a tricky business. They’re arguably the most effective way of selling a game to a prospective buyer, but you have to very careful about what you actually show off. The Crackdown demo was utterly fantastic, as you were able to quickly level up and see what your character could eventually do; the Burnout Paradise demo was terrible, because it was incredibly restrictive and failed to show off the game’s strengths. (See this fantastic article about that very topic.)

That said, I went into the Devil May Cry 4 demo with an open mind. Let me just say, right off the bat – I’ve never played any of the games in the Devil May Cry franchise. I’ve been repeatedly told in the gaming press that I should be super-excited about DMC4, though; it’s using the Unreal 3 engine, it’s finally on the Xbox360, etc. I downloaded yesterday’s demo like everybody else, because, well, why not? I was home sick and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Now that I’ve played both of the demo’s segments, I am totally underwhelmed. But this is a much more damaging situation than the Burnout Paradise demo. The BP demo was showing off a tiny, tiny piece of a much larger puzzle, and taken out of context it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The DMC4 demo, however, looked to be what the game will ultimately be like, and frankly it looked stupid.

Well, maybe that’s not the right word. The game looks tremendous, after all – the environments are absolutely beautiful and the character designs look incredible. It’s just that the game itself is stupid.

To wit:

  • the main player character is a whiny, petulant douchebag
  • the game’s geography makes absolutely no sense; you are in a sunny seaside town, you open a door and suddenly you’re on a snowy, frozen mountainside; then you open another door and you’re in a burning village, in the countryside (which looks right out of an early level in Ninja Gaiden, actually)
  • for all its technological prowess, it still adheres to well-worn cliches every chance it gets, none more annoying and nonsensical than the arbitrary sealing-off of rooms while you fight bad guys
  • the boss you fight in the burning village is a fucking Balrog, for all intents and purposes
  • right before you get to the boss fight, your character actually whines: “Oh great. More demons.” If your douchebag protagonist is whining about the stuff he has to do – i.e., combat, the stuff that supposedly makes your game awesome – then maybe your game sucks.

It’s staying on my Gamefly queue, because, well, why not. But goddamn, this demo did absolutely nothing to whet my appetite.

>Intro

>So, here I am.

I’d get into the whys and wherefores, but I’ve had a horrendous headcold for the last 3 days and I’m not really all that coherent. For now, I’ll just say – here I am.

For what it’s worth – this blog is a continuation of my old GS blog, except now I get to say “fuck”.

In the meantime:

I broke 30,000 Points the other day. I’ll admit that I did a little bit of padding to try to get to that point, including purchasing Boogie Bunnies or whatever the hell it’s called on XBL, but I do want to say that I broke 30,000 proper on Call of Duty 4, on Veteran. Currently I am pinned down in the television studio, and I suspect that’s where I’ll stay until I get tired of Burnout Paradise.

And as for Burnout – goddamn. As with everyone else, the demo left a lot to be desired, but now I “get” it. I wrote a longer thing about this already, except I hadn’t done any of the multiplayer; last night I hooked up with a friend and we did some of the challenges together, which was actually kinda fun – it actually reminded both of us of the original Xbox’s “Midtown Madness 3”, because that game had an online mode which was utterly free-form and very cool, if somewhat aimless. Anyway, the first 10-15 challenges (which is all we got through) are pretty easy and/or not tremendously exciting, but you can see where it might eventually lead and would certainly be a lot of fun with more people. I’m not yet sure how online racing and road rages take place, though, but I’m sure it can be done. (Right?)

Currently trying to download the Devil May Cry demo, like every other 360 user on the planet; I’ve had it running for 90 minutes and I’m only 8% into it. Ugh.