7 idle thoughts

I took some melatonin last night to help me sleep, and it worked – I did sleep – but I’m having a gawdawful time waking up, the sort of awful zombie nightmare hangover that no amount of coffee can rescue me from.  Which is not to say I won’t continue drinking obscene amounts of coffee; I’m just acknowledging how futile everything feels right now.

What follows are some random thoughts – because that’s all I’ve got right now – that are either too long for Twitter, or are adapted from IM conversations I’ve been having with my buddy (and long-ago SFTC contributor) Greg.

1.  King games – Candy Crush, Farm Heroes, Pet Rescue, and my current nemesis, Bubble Witch 2 – are fucking bullshit, and I hate them, and I hate that I’m still suckered into playing them when they’re objectively and obviously horrible.  The games ultimately feel like carnival contests, rigged against you from the moment you get started unless you pay for power-ups.  Skill is helpful but ultimately useless; I fail most levels not because I’ve messed up, but because the algorithm that governs the randomness of the tools at my disposal makes sure that I can’t win – unless I decide to purchase special powerups (at obscene prices).  I refuse to spend money, though, and so I’m stuck banging my head against the wall.  Ironically, the 30-minute wait to refill one (1) life is actually a godsend, because it means that when I run out of lives I don’t have to reload the page for another 2.5 hours, and I can do something meaningful with my life.

2.  I cannot explain why I’m willing to wait for a game like Divinity: Original Sin to appear in a Steam Sale, and yet I’m actually contemplating buying the PS4 version of Diablo III at full price – a game that I’ve already sunk 100+ hours into on PC, and where I can’t transfer those PC characters to my console.  The aforementioned Greg is playing it for the first time, and he appears to be enjoying himself, and I’d love to play co-op with him, and all the big sites seem to indicate that this PS4 edition is the perfect place to play D3, and that it’s worth coming back to.  I did not want to hear this news.

3.  What the hell ever happened to the Steam Box?  I keep hemming and hawing over the Xbox One but if they announced a Steam Box with decent specs (i.e., better than my 4-year-old PC) at a decent price (up to $700), I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

4.  It’s a goddamned shame that the Burnout franchise appears to be dead.  It’s even more of shame that it had to die so that Need For Speed could live.  I suppose I’m bummed that I’ll miss out on Forza Horizon 2; I can only hope that DriveClub and/or The Crew manages to capably scratch my arcade racing itch.

5.  Likewise, I’m ready for a new PS4 DiRT game.  And if Microsoft wants to woo me back, they could certainly find a way to revive the Project Gotham franchise.

6.  Speaking of arcade racers:  as long as they’re making HD remasters of last-gen games, my buddy Greg and I feel very strongly that Split/Second should get a remastered treatment.  That was a criminally underrated (and undersold) game with a ridiculously fun multiplayer side.

7.  I am not necessarily as down on CounterSpy as my friend Carolyn is, but I see her points.  Truth is, the game was never really described all that well; it’s marketed as a stealth game, and it looks like a Metroidvania game, but neither of those impressions are actually true.  For one, stealth is damned-near impossible – you have to kill everyone you see if you hope to find anything of value before exiting the level.  For another, each level is short and procedurally generated, which ostensibly means that no two levels are alike (even though you’ll start to recognize how the different parts repeat and align).  I also wish it performed better on the Vita than it does, because it’s a perfect mobile title – each level takes around 20 minutes to finish, which is a perfect time for a commute – but the load times are horrendous, and the performance is spotty at best.  It plays much smoother on the PS4, but that’s not where I’d prefer to play it – if I do indeed continue to play it at all.

 

Weekend preview: BBQ edition

1.  I downloaded The Witcher 2 yesterday, in a moment of weakness.  (As it happens, I downloaded it right when the 1.1 patch was coming out, which meant that I ended up downloading the whole thing twice.)  I gave it a very quick 5 minute look, just to see it.  And you know what?  The reviewers weren’t kidding around – this game doesn’t explain anything.  I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and no idea how to do anything.  At a certain point the game told me about meditating before battle, and how to pull up the meditation menu.  OK, but the menu is just filled with runes, without any explanation as to what the runes mean, or why I need to meditate.  The game’s gotten too many great reviews for me to dismiss it so quickly, but when a game makes such a horrendous first impression, what the hell are you supposed to do?

2.  Spent a number of hours powering through Lego Pirates of the Caribbean; I finished the 3rd movie yesterday before powering off.  I’ve played a lot of Lego games – not all of them, but certainly most of them – and Pirates is pretty good, I guess.  Certainly it’s the prettiest.  But it’s also locked up on my 360 more than a few times – Lego games in general tend to do that, but Pirates is the worst offender by far.  I haven’t seen the 4th movie yet and so I’m not sure what enjoyment I’m going to get out of playing the 4th movie, especially since the cutscene shorthand really only makes sense if you know what the scenes are referring to.  Still, it’s fun enough, I suppose, and Lego Jack Sparrow is a sight (and sound!) to behold.

3.  I’m a few races into my 2nd season in Dirt 3.  I’ve been starting to mess around with the assists; I turned all of them off yesterday for a few races, and found that I had a much easier time staying on the road (although the cars felt a lot heavier and stiffer).  I don’t hate the Gymkhana events the way other people do; I’m not very good at them, but they’re certainly a pleasant enough diversion and you don’t have to try terribly hard in order to pass each event and move on to the next thing.  My only real complaint is that one of the announcers has an overtly “dude” vibe and likes to call me “amigo” and I kinda want to punch him in the face, repeatedly.

4.  With all this going on, I’ve kinda put L.A. Noire on hold, and this worries me a bit because I’m afraid that if I wait too much longer, I’m never going to go back.  And that would be a shame.  I’ve certainly cooled off on it a little bit, but it’s still a remarkably unique experience and I’d very much like to see where it goes.

You’re not going to be coming here for your E3 needs, I know, but I’ll be offering up some opinions just the same.  I’m not entirely sure how this year’s edition is going to pan out.  Last year’s had some clear themes – motion control and 3D – and I suppose that the bulk of the media attention this year will be focused on the new Nintendo console and Sony’s new handheld.  2011’s release calendar doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises – we all know what’s coming at this point – so my personal focus will be on what’s coming up in 2012.

Have a wonderful 3-day weekend, everyone.  Stay safe!  And I’ll most likely be on XBL Saturday night, if you want to get something going.

>Disappointing Sequels, and a Rock Band Wishlist

>I’ve done just about everything I can do in Beatles: Rock Band without losing my friggin’ mind, which is good, because there’s other stuff out there that needs to be played.

The good:

DiRT 2

The first DiRT is still one of my favorite driving games, ever. As a confessed graphics whore, it was (and still is) jaw-dropping; it’s the game I was playing both before and after I bought my 40″ HDTV, and for a long time was the game I put in when I wanted to show off the TV. But that aside, the game was a complete package, oozing with polish; the career mode was well designed, the driving model was fun and accessible, the course design was varied and plentiful… even the menus were interactive and fun to play around with. And the replays… wow.

DiRT 2 has some mighty big shoes to fill, then, as far as I’m concerned. And so even though I’ve played quite a bit of it over the last few days and I’ve enjoyed my time with it a great deal, I’m not entirely sure that it fills them. It’s not a bad game, by any means; it’s still incredibly polished, the graphics are even better, the driving model is still fun…. but the package itself feels a bit… small. I haven’t done a count, but it certainly feels like there’s a significantly fewer amount of tracks to race on than in the first game, which is a bit of a bummer. With a graphics engine that gorgeous, I want to see more than the same tracks over and over again. The addition of an in-game rewind – in order to correct mistakes that would otherwise cost you the race – is really the biggest change to the game, and it does come in handy although most of the time I still end up just restarting the whole race if something catastrophic happens. The game has an achievement tracker and also keeps track of other statistics that can reward you with extra XP, and that’s certainly much appreciated. I’m just… I don’t know. Perhaps my expectations were a bit too unreasonable.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2

Speaking of sequels with high expectations, I played M:UA2 last night for about 20 minutes and got thoroughly depressed with how shitty it was. I suppose I could’ve soldiered on, but my gaming time is at a premium these days and I’d rather have a good time instead of slogging through something that ought to be much better. The camera is frequently pulled out way too far, making it hard to see what I’m doing (or even what character I’m playing), and there are certain glitches in the special powers that drove me crazy – there’s an Iron Man/Wolverine combo move that I tried using, and each time Wolverine automatically faced the wrong way, resulting in a waste of accumulated power. Right now this is in the running – along with Puzzle Quest: Galactrix – as my biggest disappointment of 2009. Sometimes you only need a few minutes with something before you realize that you’re wasting your time.

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Was on a forum the other day and the topic du jour was guessing the next band to receive the full deluxe Rock Band treatment. It seemed pretty obvious to everybody that the answer to that question is Led Zeppelin. Having seen now how both Rock Band and Guitar Hero treat their special packages, one would hope that the surviving members of Zep would steer towards Rock Band, but I’m sure it’ll ultimately come down to the franchise that pays them more up front. But it got me thinking about what other packages I’d pay money for:

  • U2.
    U2 is the reason why I decided to teach myself how to play guitar in the first place. But leaving my personal preference aside, U2 is still one of the biggest bands in the world, they have a recognizable mythos, they have a vivid and memorable visual style, and they have an incredibly solid catalog of work; I’d easily be able to find 45 U2 songs worth playing.
  • Pink Floyd.
    Another mythic band with beloved albums and distinct visual flair. That said, there’s a few things standing in the way – for one thing, I’m not sure that David Gilmour and Roger Waters will ever agree on anything ever again, and for another, a lot of their music is on the mellow side; it might be hard to stand up and play Pink Floyd songs for a few hours, even if you’re on the right drugs.
  • The Smiths / The Cure.
    Johnny Marr is one of the most criminally overlooked guitarists of the 20th century, and I would kill to be able to pretend to play his guitar parts, mostly because they’re so difficult to play on a real guitar. Morrissey sings out of tune all the time, though, so I’m guessing it might be difficult to score. But whatever – they’re the Smiths, they fucking rule. And as long as the 30+ crowd is looking to get nostalgic and depressed via plastic instruments, they might as well go all the way and throw in a bunch of Cure songs as well, to keep both sides of the Atlantic satisfied. I suppose I could be satisfied with a gigantic 20-song DLC package with all the great late 80’s / early 90’s “college” music, though, so let’s just leave it at that.