Infamous 2, DNF, and other ramblings

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since the last post, so for that I apologize.  The good news is that I’ve got a LOT to talk about today.

The short version:

  • finished Infamous 2
  • played a bunch (perhaps too much) of Duke Nukem Forever (PC)
  • played a tiny bit more of The Witcher 2, escaping prison and getting to the first real town
  • played a bit of Child of Eden and wished I still did drugs
  • got thoroughly obsessed with Plants v. Zombies
  • did a bunch of Achievement-hunting in L.A. Noire
  • speaking of which, hit the 70,000 mark in Achievements

The long version:

I was home sick for 2 days last week, and that fact directly correlates to the first two bulleted items above.  I had gotten a few hours into Infamous 2 over the previous weekend, and ended up powering through the rest of it last Monday.  I’m a little bummed out about Infamous 2, to be honest with you.  It’s a better package than the first game – it looks better, for one thing, and the first game looked pretty good already.  The game lets you start with all your powers, too, so you’re kicking ass right from the get-go, and the new powers are, for the most part, pretty neat.  The voice acting is surprisingly good, even if the script is kinda hokey.  The city itself is visually interesting.  The “good” ending is satisfying, and shockingly devoid of cliffhangers – I have absolutely no idea how Infamous 3 would start, is all I’ll say.  (I didn’t see the “evil” ending, and maybe that’s where a sequel would pick up.)

So, then, if I was such a big fan of the first game – a game scratched my Crackdown itch in a big way – and the second game is, by and large, a better iteration of the first, why am I bummed out?  I guess it’s because the game is, ultimately, forgettable.  The story isn’t particularly interesting or unique, and the moral choices lack any ambiguity whatsoever – good and evil are very clearly defined and color-coded and you’ll never spend more than a second or two making up your mind.  The city, for all its visual flourish (and let me reiterate that point, as the city really does look fantastic and the sky is especially jaw-dropping)  is curiously devoid of audio – cars don’t make noise, nor do most of the pedestrians, and sometimes the player’s footsteps don’t even register.  I don’t know if it’s just a bug, or if the audio was simply unfinished, but it creates a very strange disconnect – it makes the city feel lifeless.*

I’m glad I played it, I suppose – it certainly filled the idle hours of an unplanned sick day – but I’m also glad I rented it.

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So that was Monday.  Tuesday was a second sick day, and since I’d already finished Infamous 2 and sealed it up in its Gamefly envelope, I was a bit at odds as to how to occupy the hours.  And then I remembered that Duke Nukem Forever was finally out.  And even though I’d read tons of horrible reviews by then, I succumbed to 14 years of temptation, and clearly went against my better judgment and downloaded it on Steam.  (To be fair, the PC version is, supposedly, the least horrible of the 3, at least in terms of visual fidelity.)

Here’s the thing – after playing the first few hours, I’d actually planned to write something of a defense of DNF in this space last week.   Yes, it’s grotesquely misogynistic and sexist and incredibly stupid, even in terms of adolescent humor (which is odd, since it’s rated M and young teenagers aren’t supposed to be able to play it).   It isn’t funny, it isn’t erotic, its cultural references are incredibly dated and probably wouldn’t have been all that funny if it had been released when all those references were still relevant.  First-person platforming is almost always a bad idea, and there’s way too much of it in the first few hours.  Still, though, there was something about it that brought me back to those heady days of 1996, when I was playing Duke Nukem 3D on my brother’s computer on my weekends home from college.  I was trying to put myself back in the mindset that I might have been in if the game had come out in the late 90s – early 00s, and there are brief glimpses in the early hours that brought me back.

Of course, the game is, ultimately, a piece of shit.  I got hung up on a boss a little more than halfway through the campaign and ended up putting the game away for a few days; I eventually beat that boss (no idea how) and then got stuck about an hour later, and that’s where I currently am.  I don’t really want to go back to it.  I suspect that I will eventually finish it, but only because I’m avoiding doing something else.   It’s just that, well, the game makes me sad.  I was one of the many that had been looking forward to this game’s release, and while it wasn’t necessarily in the front of my mind for the last 14 years, I’d never forgotten about it.  When the first few advance reviews came out and killed it, there was a part of me that figured that those scores were somewhat reactionary – they were so aggressively negative that they were almost hard to take seriously.  As it turns out, they were right.  There is absolutely nothing in the game, from what I’ve seen, that would explain what the hell took so long.  The gameplay is dated in all the worst ways, and for a game that goes out of its way to break the fourth wall, it has a surprising lack of self-awareness.

The biggest problem with DNF, I think, is that there’s too much Duke.  Back when I was playing DN3D, I wasn’t really paying attention to Duke at all – I was paying attention to the crazy environments, to all the hidden secrets, and to all the cool shit I could do.  Duke would spout out some one-liner from a movie every so often, and that was fine – it’s just that for all intents and purposes, his bad-assery kinda spoke for itself.  In DNF, Duke won’t fucking shut up, and nobody in the world tells him to shut up.  The world of DNF is a monument to Duke, for some reason, and that gets old incredibly quickly – especially since he’s such a fucking douchebag.

It is true that DNF could never hope to compete with expectations.  But it is also true that the game looks like it wasn’t even tryingSerious Sam rewrote the rules when it came to over-the-top gunplay, exploration and crazy enemies, and this year’s Bulletstorm further refined those rules and created something genuinely unique and fun to play.  DNF was created in a vacuum by people who apparently hadn’t played anything else since 1997, and was written by sociopathic 13-year-olds who love boobs and kicking monsters in the balls.  I still think that there’s a future for Duke – I don’t think Gearbox would’ve spent the time and money acquiring the IP if they weren’t going to do something with it – but I worry that the travesty that is DNF will sully that game’s potential.

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I don’t have all that much to say about The Witcher 2.  I enjoy my time with it, but it’s also somewhat intimidating and I don’t really know what the hell is going on.  I play for 30 minutes at a time and then put it aside.

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I don’t have all that much to say about Child of Eden, either.  It’s trippy as hell, and I suppose I’d have spent a bit more time with it if I were still doing drugs.  I’m sober, though, and as such there was only so much craziness I could stand.  It plays like a psychedelic Panzer Dragoon, I guess.  It’s certainly aspiring to be… something, which is more than I can say about DNF.  I read some review of it that bemoaned its attempts to revive the “Games as Art” debate; but that’s exactly what this is.  You would expect to play something like this in a children’s museum, or something.  It’s certainly interesting, but there wasn’t really all that much to it that kept me involved.

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I can’t explain my sudden obsession with Plants v. Zombies.  It’s been out for a few years now and as a long-time Popcap fan I’ve certainly been aware of it; I think it was one of the first apps I downloaded for iOS, but I never played it.  I guess at some point last week there was an iOS update for it that included a bunch of intriguing features, and that got me interested enough to fire it up, and now I’m a man obsessed.  Which is weird, because my general experience playing that game is one of intense stress and anxiety.  There’s so many plants to keep track of, and so many zombies to plan ahead for, and when a level is really humming along the board is absolutely chaotic.  I’m already dealing with anxiety issues as it is, and so I can’t explain why I would torture myself with non-stop PvZ sessions.  But such is life.  I finally beat the adventure mode on my iPhone, and now I’m thoroughly entranced with the Zen Garden and all the meta-stuff there is to do.  And I suspect that I’ll get around to playing my XBLA and PC/Mac versions as well.

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I ended up doing a lot of Achievement hunting in L.A. Noire this past weekend – I finally 5-starred all the cases, found all the film reels and landmarks, drove 194.7 miles, completed all the street crimes, etc.  According to the Social Club I’m exactly 94% complete.  I don’t know that I will ever find every single vehicle, nor am I sure I want to.  Honestly, it was just nice to finally get to actually explore the world; I never bothered with it when I was actually playing the game, as I just wanted to focus on the cases.  There’s a surprising amount of city to be found, as it turns out; the game itself uses hardly any of it, which seems a bit wasteful.   I do kinda wish that I had the PS3 version; I didn’t really mind the disc swapping when I was playing the story, but in a weekend like this where I’m doing a bunch of completion-ist stuff, it’s somewhat of a pain in the ass.

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I can’t quite remember which Achievement it was that put me over the 70K mark, but, well, it happened.  I’d like to hit 75K by the end of the year, although that might be a little bit out of reach.

 

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*  This is a big deal, actually.  In my experience, open world games live or die based on the worlds themselves.  This is why Crackdown 2 was such an incredible disappointment; this is also why Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece.  Infamous 2 takes place in New Marais, a fictional city inspired by New Orleans; you would think this would be a slam-dunk in terms of atmosphere, but instead it feels, well, dead.

>DNF In Memoriam / A Confession

>I have a confession to make, but before I do I would like to pour out a proverbial 40 on the grave of the apparently deceased Duke Nukem Forever, if this story and others are to be believed. There’s not much that can be said that hasn’t already been said about DNF – heavy anticipation gave way to disbelief, which turned into exasperation – and this was about 8 years ago; the jokes about the development time never stopped, and yet people still cared enough to make them. We all wanted DNF to come out, really, and to have it die at this stage in the development – when prominent industry-types had actually seen it in motion and proclaimed that it looked pretty cool – well, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

I can’t even really say anymore what I was expecting out of DNF, to be honest; the FPS genre has evolved so many times since it was first announced that it was bound to feel dated anyway. But feeling dated doesn’t necessarily mean that it wouldn’t still be fun; last year’s XBLA re-release of Duke Nukem 3D was still totally awesome and it was still possible to appreciate just how far ahead of its time that game really was.

Maybe it’ll get picked up by another publisher, and maybe it will actually see the light of day; in this economy, however, it’s hard to be optomistic about a publisher willing to take on even more development cost for a product this steeped in controversy. In any event, good luck and godspeed to the 3D Realms cast and crew.

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I’m not even sure why I feel the need to confess that I purchased Wii Fit 2 weeks ago. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been feeling like a fat fuck lately, and I happened to be in a Gamestop that happened to have Wii Fit in stock, and as I was in a perfect storm of self-pity and desire for self-improvement due to a shocking, sudden death in the family, and since I had access to a car, and my wife wasn’t totally opposed to the idea, I decided to pull the trigger and go for it.

I’ve been using it for 2 weeks now; I’ve skipped a couple days due to hangovers. I do 20-30 minutes in the morning – yoga to start, some strength exercises to warm up, and then some aerobics to get the blood pumping. I’m not entirely sure I’m making any progress, though; everything is pretty low-impact. But at least it’s a start; I knew I was going to have to trick myself into getting into shape somehow, and this is certainly better than nothing.

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The release calendar doldrums continues, so much so that even the shitty games in my GameFly queue are mostly unavailable. I tried Wheelman last weekend, and gave up a few hours in; the game is actually better than I was expecting, but the missions are really repetitive, ridiculous, and agonizingly long. I got stuck on a mission that still hadn’t ended after 30 minutes of driving around and fending off endless hordes of henchmen, and decided to pack it in. Last night I tried out Ninja Blade, which I rented only because I’d heard that the Achievements were pretty easy to come by; beyond that, it is exactly as dumb as I’d prepared myself for.

The next big game on my want-list is Codemaster’s upcoming driving game Fuel, but the total lack of PR up to this point makes me a little nervous…

>DN3D; Sonic DS; SH:H

>It’s been even longer since my last post than that one was in relation to the one preceding it, so I won’t bother apologizing. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty busy lately and there hasn’t been a whole lot of gaming going on, and that particular trend looks to continue for the next few weeks; considering the bevy of big titles that are about to be released (Fable 2, Fallout 3, and LittleBigPlanet, to name but 3), I am more than a little curious how I’m going to be able to do anything at all.

So, then, let me get to it:

Duke Nukem 3D is one of my all-time favorites, and I am ever-so-pleased to see that after all this time, it still holds up. Obviously the graphics are dated, but whatever – the level design is still fresh, the carnage is still, er, carnal, the weapons are still awesome and the one-liners still put smiles on my face. There’s a lot to be said for the retro-irony factor of playing old games again on new systems, but here’s the thing – DN3D is actually still fun. And I’m not even talking about multiplayer, which is something I never did back then nor am I doing now – the single-player campaign is fucking AWESOME. I’ll say this right now – if DNF was simply a remodelling of DN3D in the Unreal Engine, it would probably still be better than whatever it is they’ve been working on for the last 12 years, and it would also probably be one of the most fun FPSs going.

Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood is something I picked up on Friday, the day before a weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio for a wedding. I had originally intended to rent it, and then I read the IGN review which kinda tore it apart somewhat convincingly, and I removed it from my Gamefly queue; then I read some other reviews which were a bit more upbeat, and since I was in a state of post-anxiety relief and release (I’d bought a suit for this wedding, and in the week between buying it and actually picking it up I’d somehow remembered it as being this gaudy, tacky monstrosity, and when I finally picked it up it instead turned out to be a rather nice suit), I figured, well, why the hell not. ANYWAY. I’ve put a few hours into it, most of my party is around level 6 or 7 (I think) and I’ve pretty much gotten the hang of how the mechanics work, and I have to say – it’s pretty fun. It’s somewhat easy, which is fine, and the story is pretty simplistic for a BioWare game – but, again, this is a Sonic game – who the hell cares? The battle system is engaging and utilizes the DS touchscreen quite nicely. There’s not a tremendous amount of exploration to be done, but what’s there is fine. A solid, engaging title that will certainly keep you occupied on a plane.

I’ve only put maybe 20 minutes into Silent Hill: Homecoming which had arrived in the mail while we were away, so I’m not really ready to talk about it. Having only actually played Silent Hill 4 (which was kinda meh), I’m not a fanboy; indeed, I only decided to pick it up because a friend of mine at work has been talking about wanting to play it for the last month or so, and I figured I’d give it a shot. It is creepy, but not scary, and to be honest, some of the attempts at creepiness are a little lame and cliched; solitary ghost children drawing pictures in delapidated, monster-infested buildings is something that’s been around in the genre FOREVER. The game just kinda throws you into the story without explaining who you are and why you’re there; maybe if I were more knowledgeable about the franchise it would mean something more to me, because right now I’m just a dude with a flashlight in an abandoned mental hospital taking orders from some whiny brat.