approaching austerity; fun with bullet points

It’s been busy times here at SFTC HQ, though not for any particularly good reason.   I spent the bulk of my free time last week working on a quasi-review of Quantum Conundrum, one of my (too) many pickups from the Steam Summer Sale, and the piece itself (as I worked on it) became intensely negative, which might’ve been a bit unfair since the game is not, in fact, a piece of shit, but in any event I didn’t want to suddenly appear here after a long silence  with 1000 words of bile.

Speaking of which, since I realize that it’s been almost 3 weeks since the last post, here’s my complete haul from the Steam Summer Sale:

  • Galactic Civilizations II (super pack) – [why did I even bother?  I saw “turn-based strategy in space” for under $8 and couldn’t help myself.  have I played it yet?  of course not!]
  • Bulletstorm [#10 on my Best-of-2011 List.  looks AMAZING on my PC.  I’ve been playing this a lot over the last few weeks, actually, and I think I like it even better the second time.  A real shame the sequel got cancelled.]
  • Alan Wake (complete pack) – [I played and sort-of liked the first game on the 360.  I tried the first few minutes of American Nightmare on the PC; it’s a little ridiculous.]
  • Quantum Conundrum – [half of me is really appreciative that there are first-person puzzle games still being made; the other half of me hates first-person platforming.  this game could’ve used a bit more focus testing, a bit more polish on the narrative (and maybe a different voice actor entirely, or at least one who bothered to show up and not just phone it in), and maybe it didn’t even need to be 1st person.  I’m still glad I finished it – despite the many frustrating bits, there are some glorious “eureka” moments, too – though I won’t be playing it again.]
  • SOL: Exodus – [This space combat-ish game got a lot of talk earlier in the year on various podcasts, which is how I presume it wound up on my wishlist.  I tried the first 10 minutes or so; it’s promising.]
  • Legend of Grimrock – [I was sorta hoping to wait for the iPad version, but the sale price was too good to pass up.  I played the first few minutes; I need to spend some serious time with a tutorial to figure out just what the hell I’m doing.]
  • Saints Row the Third [which I’ve already finished on the 360 – but how could I pass it up for 75% off?  I’ve been playing this and Bulletstorm over the last few weeks; they’re both so good, though they’re a bit confusing to play side-by-side – I keep wanting to do Bulletstorm-type stuff in SR3, which usually ends up getting me killed.]
  • Indie Bundle 2 (Botanicula, EYE, Universe Sandbox, Oil Rush, Splice) – [bought this only for Botanicula, which I haven’t yet played.]
  • Anno 2770 – [as with GalCiv2 above, I have no idea why I bought this.  I opened it up and played the first 5 minutes and didn’t know how to do anything.]

This splurge is likely to be my last for the foreseeable future, for reasons I’m not quite yet prepared to get into.  (It’s a good reason, is all I’ll say at this time.)  It is nice to have all this stuff to play, though, considering just how shitty 2012 has been so far in the quality-new-release department.  (It’s true that next week sees the release of both Darksiders 2 and Sleeping Dogs, but I only have high-ish hopes for one of those games.)

Splurge aside, my iOS devices have been getting quite a workout lately, too – and for not a lot of money, either:

  • Agent Dash is a free-to-play endless runner (similar to Temple Run), which looks fucking incredible (and is also quite difficult – I’ve installed it on both my iPad 3 and my iPhone 4, and the iPad version is superior if only because you can see future obstacles a bit easier).
  • 10,000,000 is a simple, fun puzzle RPG thing – I’ve beaten it already on my iPhone and so now I’m playing it again on the iPad.  Hoping there’ll be future content updates; this could use some new objectives and such.
  • Wizorb is a Breakout clone done as if it were an SNES RPG that first surfaced in the Xbox Indie Game library; it’s a perfect iOS title (again – it plays better on the iPad, because you can actually see what you’re doing.)
  • Orc: Vengeance is a frankly gorgeous Diablo-ish adventure, which I haven’t spent nearly enough time with.
  • Nihilumbra is a gorgeous puzzle/adventure game – reminds me a little bit of Okami, in a vague way.
  • Finally, the classic game Another World was on sale for $0.99 (down from $5), and I figured I should give that a shot at that price.

Looking back at that last post, I see that I was just days away from playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD.  I ended up spending quite a bit of time with it, and I came away from it with mixed reactions.  It does indeed look great, though ironically it now feels really empty;  the level designs (while pleasingly familiar) seem a bit sparse, and the level selections themselves are hit-or-miss.  (Seriously – the shopping mall and the downhill jam are levels I never needed to see again.)  Ultimately, while I am not nearly as good at it as I thought I was, I am somewhat relieved to see that I’m not noticeably worse.

So, yeah.  I know this post is far from substantive, but it’s a hell of lot cheerier than the depressing QC review I ended up not posting.  (Though, if you really want my in-depth thoughts on that game, I suppose I can be persuaded to whip it into publishable shape.)

Murder, Mayhem and the Matching of Colored Spheres

Couple things to talk about today:

1.  I think I’m done with Diablo 3.  Haven’t touched it in over a week.  It’s basically come down to this choice:  I can either keep re-running Act 3/4 of Hell difficulty until I scrounge up enough gold to buy the equipment I’d need to survive Inferno, or I can just move on with my life.  Starting over with new characters is not really all that appealing to me, either; I’ve played every level so many goddamned times now, and being a wizard or a witch doctor instead of a monk won’t make left-clicking any more interesting.  Ultimately, I definitely got my money’s worth, even if I’m still unsure about how much I actually enjoyed the experience.

2.  My shift from the PC back to the couch meant that I got to play (and finish) Spec Ops: The Line over the weekend.  I wasn’t really planning on playing it;  I only rented after listening to a bunch of Giant Bombcasts.  It’s a hard game to recommend based purely on its gameplay – it’s a third-person action shooter in a military setting, and it’s not like that’s an empty genre that needs filling.  That being said, it takes some very bold moves with its storytelling, and it asks you to do some pretty unsavory things, the repercussions of which are somewhat hard to swallow.  It’s an ambitious game, even if it doesn’t really appear to be at first glance.  It’s also gruesomely, spectacularly violent, and if it makes you feel guilty about all the murdering you’re doing, it also makes sure you see it in slow-motion, where a well-placed head shot literally makes your target’s head explode.  Also, Nolan North says “fuck” a lot and gradually goes insane, which is in many ways the proper response after killing hundreds and hundreds of people (unlike, say, Nathan Drake, who manages to stay calm, cool and collected after killing hundreds and hundreds of people).   As usual, I highly recommend checking out Tom Bissell’s piece in Grantland for further, better-written insight.  (And I’ll probably do a more spoiler-heavy write-up later this week; while the game’s story is based on Heart of Darkness, and while it wears its Apocalypse Now influence proudly on its sleeves (perhaps too proudly – the 60’s soundtrack feels downright anachronistic), there’s another movie whose influence on the story – particularly the ending – is perhaps even more obvious, but to say it basically gives it away.)

3.  Speaking of incredibly dark videogames, I am now fully caught up with The Walking Dead.  I don’t watch the TV show, but my wife is a big fan, and so we’re playing the game together – I drive, she makes the decisions.  Both episodes thus far are quite good – great writing, great voice acting, great art direction.  Tough choices.  And I love the touch at the end, where the game shows you how your decisions compare with everyone else who’s played.   It seems that Episode 1 was pretty even-handed, with the general public mostly split around 50/50 – Episode 2’s results, on the other hand, seemed to be pretty one-sided.  Curious to see how that’ll affect Episode 3’s beats.

4.  All this grisly murder requires an occasional cleansing of the palate, and to that end I am profoundly grateful for last week’s XBLA release of Zuma’s Revenge.  Nothing feels so refreshing after slaughtering thousands of virtual people quite like the matching of brightly colored spheres.  Similarly, I am very much looking forward to this week’s release of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD.

5.  I’m not the Achievement Whore that I used to be, but I guess it’s worth noting that at some point last week I crossed 80,000.

6.  Finally, I just want to give Valve’s Steam Summer Sale a hearty “fuck you.”  I’ve bought too much already, and we’re not even a week into this thing:

  • SOL: Exodus
  • Legend of Grimrock
  • Saints Row the Third (which I’ve already finished on the 360 – but how could I pass it up for 75% off?)
  • Indie Bundle 2 (Botanicula, EYE, Universe Sandbox, Oil Rush, Splice)
  • Anno 2770

 

 

 

 

weekend recap: poor impulse control

I started playing a lot of games this weekend, and that’s not counting all the stupid shit I bought on Steam.  And the sad part is – I don’t know that I’m ever going to finish any of them, not with Gears 3 arriving tomorrow.

Anyway.  The bulk of the weekend was spent with my rental copy of Resistance 3.  I’d not been a fan of the first 2 games – indeed, I only played about 5 minutes of R2 before boredom set in – but the reviews of R3 were positively glowing, and so I figured why not.

I’m enjoying it, for the most part.  It generally looks really nice – not as jaw-dropping as Killzone 3 but it’s got great lighting and terrific art design.  People move nicely, although their faces (outside of cutscenes) are a little weird.  The weapons are probably my favorite part of the game – every gun is immensely satisfying to use, and I certainly enjoy leveling them up as I progress.  Hell, I like that I keep leveling up even if I die repeatedly (which has happened in a few sections, unfortunately – so much so that I ended up moving the difficult down to Easy just so that I could finish it quickly).  The biggest drawback, though, is the friendly AI, which is either stupid, non-helpful, or just plain broken.  They don’t hit anything, and indeed sometimes they don’t even fire their weapons, even as enemies pour into view.  What makes this even more frustrating is that the enemies seem to know this, also, which is why they only seem to target me.

I’m apparently at the end of Chapter 10 (of 20), so there you go.  As noted above, I’m definitely not going to have a chance to finish it before Gears 3 arrives, and frankly I’m not entirely sure I’m ever going to finish it.  But I’ll hold on to it in the meantime; maybe it’ll be something nice to switch back to if Gears 3 gets frustrating.

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I also spent an hour or two with Dead Island, which I’m playing on my PC.  I’d been hemming and hawing about renting it for a while, and after listening to a bunch of podcasts I decided to forgo the console versions and just give it a download on Steam.  I’ve heard it compared to both Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising, but to be honest the game it most reminds me of is Fallout 3 – specifically in terms of the size of the world, the combat, and the questing.  I think this is a good thing.  It’s a bit clunky in spots, and the writing/voice acting is a bit off, but it also feels wildly ambitious and I feel compelled to give it a good effort.

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I’m still plugging away in Driver: San Fransisco, which I apparently haven’t written about here.  I like it!  It’s a bit frustrating here and there, but I love how completely batshit insane it is, and I especially love how the developers really took this lunatic premise and went all-out with it.  And I also appreciate just how much stuff there is to do, which goes a long way towards easing frustration with story missions or races or what-have-you.

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As for Steam sales… god.  I’m such a whore.  Picked up Darksiders and Mirror’s Edge for 5 bucks apiece – both games I’ve already played before on the 360 – and then I did the Star Wars mega-pack, mostly because we also bought the Star Wars blu-ray set and so we had it on the brain.  (Which I’m sure wasn’t merely a happy coincidence on Valve’s part.)  I did the first 5 minutes of KOTOR and turned it off immediately – it felt very clunky with a mouse and keyboard, and I didn’t want my memories of that game sullied by reality.  Also – the Star Wars: Force Unleashed install was something like 24 gigs?  WTF?

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I keep meaning to do another Subway Gamer piece, and I keep not having time.  So here’s a quick taste of what’s been keeping my iPhone busy of late:

Jetpack Joyride might be my frontrunner for most addicting game of the year.

Quarrel is a fantastic word game – anagrams mixed with Risk.  If it had online multiplayer I’d never turn it off.

Monsters Ate My Condo is… I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a pretty insane little puzzler, good for quick 5 minute bursts.

Dragon Portals is something I downloaded for free the other day; it’s an intriguing take on the old match-3 formula.  Not sure I’d recommend it at full price, but for a free download it’s certainly worth checking out.

Weekend Recap: fireworks and saddle sores

Back in the early 00’s, the AV Club used to have a somewhat regular feature called “Justify Your Existence” where they asked musicians one simple question:  “Why should anybody buy your record?”  I’m assuming they retired it because the vast majority of responses went something like this – “Oh, jeez, um… I’ve never had anybody ask me that.  I have no idea.”

To that end, I’m officially taking back anything nice that I may have said in last week’s thing about Alice: The Madness Returns, the sequel that nobody asked for to a game that a lot of people didn’t like.  Somewhere towards the end of Chapter 3 (out of 6!!!) I ran out of steam and patience.  Endless combat sequences stacked within endless platforming sequences, no rhyme or reason to any of it, and anything that may have been fun in the first few hours quickly grew tiresome.  To borrow a quote from Hannibal Lecter:  “Tedious.  Very tedious.”   I forget what exactly it was that got me to give up; it was either one of the incredibly stupid music sequences (similar in every way to the lute playing in Fable 3, except with very poor timing controls), or yet another combat sequence featuring not one but two frustratingly difficult enemies.  If someone were to ask the developers why anybody should play the game, they’d probably say “we’ve got a lot of great art!”  That’s only somewhat true.  There is a lot of great art, yes, but there’s even more dumb art that surrounds it, and it’s all too much.

It’s not that the game is bad; it’s just that it was never edited down, and as a result it’s hard to separate what’s necessary from what’s filler, and ultimately it all blends together.  For every truly imaginative location – and there are a few – there are at least a dozen more that aren’t all that imaginative – or they’re simply repetitive.  The player is continually bludgeoned with awe at every turn until the senses are dulled.

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I got back into Red Dead Redemption, of all things.  Rockstar was having a 4x XP weekend, and I needed something to cleanse the palate after sealing up my copy of Alice.  I’m still terrible at competitive multiplayer, but I still love exploring that world, and it was very easy to level up 4 or 5 times simply running Pike’s Basin over and over again.  I did a little bit of the Undead Horde mode, or whatever it’s called – it’s RDR’s answer to Gears’ Horde mode, and it’s a lot of fun (provided you have enough people – it’s very difficult with just 2).   I’m still amazed that there’s no PC version – I would love to see it on my monster machine.  Oh well.  The summer release schedule is looking pretty slow right now, and I can see myself losing many hours to running the single-player campaign again.

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I’ve managed to avoid doing too much damage in this year’s Steam Summer Sale.  They run sales so often that I more or less already own everything I’d want to buy.  I played a few minutes of Back To the Future Episode 1; it feels a little clunky, at least in terms of the controls.  I like those movies but I don’t adore them, which may contribute to my general feeling of “meh”.

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.

>Weekend Recap: the holiday that wasn’t

>If all had gone according to plan, this post wouldn’t exist.  The plan was to leave Thursday morning to go up to my dad’s house for Thanksgiving, and to eventually return to the apartment on Saturday night, and Sunday would be a day of holiday decorating and football.  Instead, my wife had the flu and I had a nagging head cold, and we stayed home.  And so I played a lot of video games. 

In list form, in descending order of time played:

  • finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
  • got a few hours into Gran Turismo 5
  • kept dabbling in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
  • went and bought Burnout Paradise on the PC thanks to yet another ridiculous Steam sale and got back into it very, very quickly
  • Train Conductor 1/2 on the iPhone is insanely addictive
  • played 2 games of NBA JAM HD with my brother, for old time’s sake
  • and some Pinball FX2 with the wife.

I will give AssBro a more thorough examination later, once I’ve had a bit more coffee.  But I can say, now, that I think it’s the best game in the franchise, and it will most likely wind up at #3 in my Top 10 of 2010. 

As for GT5; I’ll be the first person to admit that what I know about cars could be inscribed on the rim of a shot glass with a dull Sharpie.  But I really love driving games, strangely enough, and while I tend to prefer crazy, insanely fast stuff like Burnout, I have been known to get sucked into a Forza game for hours and hours.  (I do have an aversion to NASCAR, though, which is probably similar to my aversion to country music and the tea party movement.)  I needed to see what GT5 was all about for several reasons:

  1. I haven’t played a game on my PS3 since I finished FF13;
  2. The last time I played a GT game was on my friend’s PS1;
  3. I am a graphics whore (which reminds me, at some point I need to talk about this fascinating article, which I got from the lovely and talented Caro), and if there’s one thing that the GT franchise is famous for, it’s graphics; 
  4. I loved the hell out of Forza 3, and felt obligated to see if GT5 was better; and
  5. After 5 years of development and endless delays, the curiosity was killing me.

After 2 hours of playtime, here’s what I can say about GT5.

  1. It’s prettier than Forza 3, generally.  I’ve read lots of people who have been complaining about how horrible some of the cars look; to my eyes, it looks great.  It’s worth finishing a race in last place just so that you can watch the pretty, pretty replays, which are utterly convincing and gorgeous.  Some people complain that it’s bland; I’ve only been on a few tracks, and driven a handful of cars, so I can’t quite speak to that.  One could maybe argue that it’s a little sterile, or perhaps a little too pristine.  
  2. Is it as fun as Forza 3, though?  Not sure.  It’s certainly more accessible than I was expecting it to be, but that’s relative – when you’re buying a new (or used) car, the game doesn’t tell you what the car’s Top Speed is.  When you’re like me and know nothing of horsepower and weight and acceleration, not giving out a car’s Top Speed is basically a slap in the dick, and I ended up losing a ton of races because I had unwittingly bought the wrong car.
  3. Further to that last point, the game doesn’t really dole out new cars and rewards the way Forza does.  I’m still only in the beginner tier of races in the career and at least half of the events I’m looking at require vehicles that I don’t have, and I’ll have to retry events I’ve already won just to earn enough coin to afford an applicable vehicle – a vehicle that I’ll probably only drive once or twice until I get something better.  Seems odd.
  4. I haven’t raced online, but the fact that the game’s single-player campaign was so horribly fucked up because too many people were crushing the game’s servers is absolutely unforgivable, especially for a game of this magnitude.  And if the game’s developer is telling you to pull your PS3 offline so that you can play single-player without running into problems, that’s just absurd.  PlayStation fanboys love talking shit about Xbox Live and how you have to pay for it when PSN is free, but file this under “You Get What You Pay For” as Exhibit 375. 

I remain intrigued, though, and there’s so much content that it’s sure to get me through the winter.  Although I may pull out Forza 3 again, just to compare/contrast.  My gut reaction right now, though, is that Forza feels more generous and accessible; GT5 feels more authoritative and legitimate. 

I was really looking forward to NBA JAM HD, and when my brother came over we finally got to try it out.  My brother had a Sega Genesis as a kid and we played NBA JAM endlessly.  The new game basically feels like the old game, which is great.  The problem is that it’s really meant to be played with someone sitting next to you on the couch, and my brother lives in DC (and doesn’t own an Xbox).  So, while it’s tremendous fun in the right conditions, it seems pointless on its own.  I felt a little sad sending it back to Gamefly, but it is what it is.

AssBro final thoughts will go up either later today or tomorrow.

>The Path

>This is a link to Joystiq’s not-review of The Path. I read this not-review this afternoon and felt compelled to check it out; I’ve just played a little bit of it and I can pretty much concur. It’s not a game as much as it is a surreal, dream-like experience. It’s also seemingly taxing my PC, which seems odd; I had to turn down a lot of the graphical bizness in order to maintain a decent, still-choppy framerate.

If you have $10 and an open mind, there are worse ways you could spend a few hours.

>Goodbye 2008

>Some random ramblings as I fill in the idle hours at work on the last day of the year:

Was listening to the Giant Bomb “Game of the Year” podcast on the way into work this morning, and it suddenly hit me – I played (and liked) every game they talked about. In years past, there would always be a few titles that would be totally alien to me, and I felt like I missing out; missing Super Mario Galaxy in 2007 would be a good example of that. But not this year – this year I was on top of everything.

I think I may have completed my Best Games of 2008 entry a bit prematurely – I’ve been playing the hell out of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts over the last week or so, and I’m pretty sure I love it. It could be argued that 2008 was really the break-out year for user-generated content, what with Little Big Planet and Spore (oh, yeah, I downloaded Spore because Steam had that stupid holiday sale), but BK:N&B really does it right, in that it gives you some sort of focus and a specific task. Spore’s creature creator is certainly a fun toy to play with, but ultimately the design of your creature doesn’t necessarily have any practical, tangible result (at least not in my somewhat limited experience with it); and on the other hand, Little Big Planet lets you do so much that it’s a bit overwhelming – I’ve barely even touched the tutorials, because I have no idea what I’d want to create. Nuts & Bolts, on the other hand, does a fantastic job of giving you a specific goal, and giving you the tools to achieve it. Whether you build something totally from scratch or if you simply opt to tweak stuff you already have (which is my preferred method right now), it is immensely satisfying to complete a challenge entirely because of your own ingenuity.

Regarding Spore – yeah, I am a whore. Steam’s holiday sale was as good a reason as any to dip my toe into the Spore experience. I’ve only gotten a little bit into the 2nd evolutionary stage – the one where you emerge from the slime and start walking around – so there’s not a tremendous amount for me to discuss. My computer is getting a bit old, too, so I start to get some serious frame rate hitches every once in a while, which is a drag. It’s an interesting enough diversion, at any rate; I’ve yet to see if it really holds together as a game.

I played an awful lot of Fallout 3 over the break, as well; that game continues to astound and amaze. The stories in that game are top-notch, probably second only to GTA4 this year. My only real problem with that game is the engine; talking to NPCs is still just a little bit weird enough to pull me out of the experience, and it was the same thing in Oblivion. I’m about halfway to level 15 right now, though, and I think I might hold off for a bit until some of the DLC arrives and they lift the level cap.

Speaking of RPGs, I’ve also been playing Chrono Trigger before I go to bed lately. It’s a pretty solid game, and I can see why people love it. (I’m a little lost at the moment, though; I kinda rushed through the dialogue at the end of this one section and so now I’m not entirely sure where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be doing, and there’s no real way (short of a walkthrough) of solving that problem.) But I’m starting to have a problem with calling these sorts of games “role-playing games.” Fallout is a role-playing game; you inhabit your character and you can make choices and design your skillset and really play the way you want to play and have the experience you want to experience. However, in Chrono Trigger – and, indeed, in every JRPG I’ve ever played – all you do is level up and give your dude new and better gear. There’s no real choice involved; the story is linear and your little dude will play the same way at the end of the game as he will in the beginning. We need some new sort of nomenclature.

My wife and I hosted 2 parties this December – my birthday, and Christmas – and Rock Band 2 was featured prominently at both. Goddamn that game is fun. I love watching people figure out how to play the drums almost as much as I love actually playing them; at first they’re overwhelmed with all the information that’s hurtling towards them at breakneck speeds, but then they figure out how to translate all that arcane symbology into recongizable rhythm, and then the whole concept opens up for them like a flower. It’s really quite something to see.

Finally, I did the math, and barring some gaming tonight before the ball drops, I will have accumulated 12,060 Points in 2008. I will make no predictions about my point-whoring desires for 2009, other than I’d like to cross 50,000 in a cool way. I crossed 30K by playing Call of Duty 4 on a hard difficulty level, and I crossed 40K by playing the guitar on expert difficulty in Rock Band 2. Maybe I’ll cross 50K by doing something awesome in Brutal Legend?

>Back To The Apocalypse

>I find it hard to believe that it’s really December 19. The year was already moving pretty fast, and now I look up and see that Christmas is next fucking week. What the hell happened?

In any event, the release calendar madness has finally slowed down, and now I find myself with a bunch of titles that I finally have some time to enjoy.

First and foremost, I’m getting back into Fallout 3. I had put it down a few weeks ago for some reason, and when I heard about the forthcoming packages of DLC – one of which would raise the level cap and make the endgame a bit more productive – I felt like my time with the game would be better spent with all that stuff intact, instead of playing it now, finishing it, and then coming back later. (I had originally meant to talk about this very thing in relation to this particular article from MTV Multiplayer.) And I guess there’s a part of me that still does feel that way; I’d like to be able to seamlessly incorporate this new DLC into my Fallout experience. That said, last night I found myself with an empty apartment and a lot of options, and I found myself missing the Fallout experience.

Goddamn, that game is awesome. I believe I said in my 2008 wrap-up that I thought I might be a little intimidated by it; it’s such a huge world and there’s so much to do and I still haven’t totally figured out how good or evil I want to be, even though I’m level 10 and have put in a considerable amount of hours into it already. I put it in last night and it only took me about 30 seconds to remember how it worked and I was immediately hooked, again. I’m trying to stay away from the main quest, and as a result I’ve found a ton of other things to see and explore. I used to do this thing in Oblivion – if I was walking towards my targeted location, and another random, undiscovered location started to appear in my map, I’d always feel compelled to stray away just far enough to see what it was that I’d found, and I find myself doing the same thing here in Fallout. And it’s really incredible to see what Bethesda has crammed in there. I’m currently on a side mission that’s taken me to some pretty awesome locations, and the level of detail in every room is just staggering, and it boggles my mind to think that if I had only made a left turn in Rivet City instead of a right, I would never have seen any of it. And the thing of it is, I’m already well aware that there’s a ton of stuff that I’ve already missed because I went one way and not the other. Absolutely incredible.

Rock Band 2 continues to be a nightly source of amusement at my house; my wife has finally graduated to “Medium” difficulty on guitar, and we’re getting back into Tour mode again. I made a brief mention of this in the 2008 Year In Music post on my other blog; there’s 2 songs in particular that I found in the store that I’ve totally fallen in love with, and I ended up purchasing those songs in iTunes – Maximo Park’s “Girls Who Play Guitars” and Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye.” They’re both fun as hell to play on drums, but they also just kick a lot of ass in general.

I made a special category in my 2008 Year in Games post so as to congratulate myself for not being a total whore and buying the Strongbad Games, even though I’m a big fan of the cartoon and an even bigger fan of point-and-click adventure games. Then, of course, it was announced just the other day that they were releasing all 5 adventures on Steam, and so OF COURSE I went and downloaded them immediately. Steam was acting a little weird last night, though, and I couldn’t actually open Episode 1. But I did check out the tutorial in Episode 5, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into, and of course I’m totally fucking hooked.

I finally beat the single-player campaign in Little Big Planet, and then I started dabbling in user-created levels, most of which are kinda shitty. (It does sound strange to use the phrase “single-player campaign” for a game like LBP, but to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you use the nomenclature you have.) I’m not sure I’m ready to begin designing my own levels just yet; I may end up going back into the single-player to try and find all the stickers and objects that I didn’t get the first time. I gotta say – even though the controls are awfully floaty and the back-middle-front aspect of it can get terribly screwed up, that game’s charm is absolutely impossible to deny. I am fully on board the Sackboy bandwagon.

Finally, my DS is finally starting to come to life again. I’ve been getting into Chrono Trigger a little more, and I’ve also been enjoying the newest Castlevania game. I find it incredible that Konami has basically been making the same Castlevania game for a million years and yet it still ends up being pretty awesome every single time.

And so what are you playing this weekend?