apologies and eulogies

I was going to start this post by apologizing to Dishonored, but before I do I must address this news item that just appeared on my Twitter feed – Kotaku is reporting that as a consequence of the EA layoffs, there is no Tiger Woods game in production for next year, and that the franchise’s future is in doubt:

I have learned, from persons with knowledge of the series’ development, that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 15 is not happening. On any platform. EA’s plan was to outsource that edition of the game, to give the in-house team two years to make Tiger Woods 16, taking advantage of all the PS4 and the next Xbox would have to offer. When CEO John Riccitiello gave his resignation last month, that plan was scrapped as a cost-saving move. The game hasn’t been reassigned to the Tiger Woods team, either. Some of its personnel already have been sent to other teams in the EA Tiburon studio for the time being.

I went to an EA Sports spokesman with that rumor and was told they wouldn’t comment on it, which is not surprising. The latest game came out only a month ago, and publicly traded video game companies have investor relations divisions that don’t want people chattering about unannounced products, especially ones that have been unofficially canceled.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a 16-year-old annual series, one that presumably pays royalties to two parties—Augusta National Golf Club and Tiger Woods himself. It’s admirable that the development team got a two-year window to put out a game that would be truly distinctive, rather than incrementally updating or porting over something after publishing three titles in 33 months. But if EA Sports really does put it the series on ice for a year, that is a remarkable decision.

On the one hand, I think the Tiger franchise could actually use a year off, especially so as to really impress when it finally debuts on next-gen systems.  I distinctly remember Tiger’s first appearance on the 360, which was, to put it incredibly mildly, a half-baked piece of shit.  And while I’m enjoying this year’s edition – to the extent I’ve actually had a chance to play it, which admittedly isn’t much – it does feel a little stale.  But on the other hand, HOLY SHIT.  This is unprecedented.  This isn’t like the NBA Live fiasco, where the games themselves were utterly broken and the franchise needed to be shut down to get its shit together; Tiger might be stale but the game still fundamentally works.   If the franchise is being put on hiatus as a cost-cutting move… man.  That doesn’t bode well.

*       *       *       *       *

Last October, I had to put Dishonored away.   In this blog post, I went off a little bit.   I’d gotten frustrated by a late-game mission, and that was right after I’d finished the previous mission in a hilariously stupid, inept fashion:

The mission required me to attend a masked ball being hosted by 3 sisters, one of whom I needed to kill/abduct.  The recon work in determining which sister to nab was enormously fun, and the mansion itself was a wonder to explore and examine.  But then I actually had to do the deed, and it must be noted that the manner in which I knocked out the sister and carried her to her waiting boatman/captor resulted in one of the most unintentionally hilarious chase sequences I’ve ever had the misfortune of participating in.  Here’s the point, ultimately: while the poor execution in the woman’s abduction was undoubtedly my fault, it was the game’s reaction to what I did that made me wonder why I’d bothered being so careful and stealthy in the first place.   It’s actually a bit difficult to describe just what happened, except to say that in a game that at that point had been remarkably graceful and poised, the game suddenly became very artless and charmless and basically just turned into very obvious AI routines that ultimately were defeated with comically swift decapitations of startled guards.  I’m doing a terrible job describing what happened, I know.  The result, though, is the important thing – all the grace and skill I performed in my stealthy preparation were rendered moot; once everything went to shit I bulldozed my way to the ending and achieved the exact same result, since my mark was never killed.  So why even bother being stealthy?  Why bother performing well?  Suddenly the rich, detailed world of Dunwall instantly transformed into a clunky collection of polygons and AI scripts.

I didn’t actually explain what I’d done, of course; I set up the mission for you and then tried to explain how clumsy I was and how stupidly the game reacted to me, but I never got into the clumsiness.  Now that I’ve finished the game – and specifically completed that particular mission in a much less ridiculous fashion – I don’t think the game was prepared for how stupid I was.  Indeed, I give the game credit for at least letting me finish it in the clumsiest way possible.

So, then, let me explain what I’d done wrong, and then what I did right.  Slight spoilers ahead, but only slight – it’s less about the plot and more about the actual mission.  Think of this as less of a spoiler and more of a walkthrough / what-not-to-do.

As noted above, the mission asks you to attend a masked ball that is being held in a very elegant mansion.  Your task is to find one of three sisters who has committed certain nefarious deeds; as you don’t know what the sister looks like, and since they’re all wearing masks anyway, it is up to you to figure out which sister is the guilty one, and then dispatch her without being caught.  As with all missions, there is also a non-lethal way to solve this puzzle – the sister in question has a secret admirer who is also at the party, and he asks you to knock her out and deliver her unconscious body to her in the basement, where he will ferry her out on a boat, never to be seen again.

Now, the first time I’d done this mission, I’d done some recon work in the upstairs of the house, and I’d been able to figure out which of the three sisters I needed to nab.  And I’d also decided to knock her out and give her to the admirer, rather than just killing her.  But I didn’t quite know how to get her alone, and so, in my haste and growing frustration, I simply put a choke-hold on her in the corner of a dark room and then – hilariously – ran through the house, carrying her, fellow party-goers shrieking in panic, guards chasing me and shooting at me, until I somehow escaped capture and made it to the basement.  It was completely absurd and stupid and I felt dumb when I somehow managed to get credit for finishing the mission.

So this second time, I still did my recon work in the upstairs of the house, but this time I also managed to find (and actually read) the chosen sister’s diary, wherein she revealed her growing paranoia that someone was after her.  And so when I approached her at the party, a dialogue option appeared that wasn’t there before, and I managed to convince her to go with me to the basement so as to avoid being assassinated.  This, as you might imagine, resulted in a much more elegant solution; there was no panic, there was no comedy of errors.  We simply walked downstairs, and when we were alone, I knocked her out and brought her to the boat.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The rest of the game, at that point, was uncharted territory, but I was able to see it with a fresher perspective and much better mastery of my skills.  (And, it should be noted, I didn’t care as much if I had to kill someone.  I still stopped/reloaded if I found myself in a situation where stealth was not an option; I always prefer sneaking around to out-and-out combat, as combat rarely stays one-on-one – inevitably a swarm of guards arrives, and there’s just not much you can do at that point.)  The plot twist wasn’t terribly surprising, though, and the end of the game was actually quite anticlimactic – I sort of assumed that there’d be a big boss fight or something, but in the end I simply snuck around a room, opened a door, and then the game was over.

All in all I enjoyed the game – the art style is impeccable and “Blink” remains one of my all-time favorite modes of videogame traversal.  The story wasn’t as good, and some of the voice acting felt a little dull, but it was never distracting.  Steam usually has it on sale every other month; if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s an easy recommendation at 50% off.

I am now very excited to play the recently released DLC, “The Knife of Dunwall” – indeed, that was one of the primary reasons why I wanted to finally finish the main game in the first place.   And now that I know who this main character is… well, that’s all the more reason to give it a go.

intermission

Not quite ready to talk about the ending and other spoiler-laden topics of interest related to Bioshock Infinite.  I replayed the ending last night just to make sure I’d remembered it correctly, but now I feel like I need to replay the whole game again and see if anything changes, now that I know what I know.

That might take a while, though, and in the meantime there’s a bunch of other games that I’m playing right now that ought to get talked about.

For starters, this week’s iOS hotness is Nimble Quest, from the makers of Pocket Planes and Tiny Tower.  Instead of being a resource sim, however, this is an action RPG played as a game of Snake.  Super charming art style and very, very addicting.

As a fan of endless runners, I’ve also been playing quite a bit of Bit.Trip Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, which is also super charming and has an amazing soundtrack and really goes out of its way to be as accessible and as challenging as you want it to be, and everything about it is great except that it tends to give me a headache, for some reason.   I think the movement on the screen can get a little bit too fast, which makes me squint.  Bit of a bummer, that, but when I need a quick aperitif it works just fine.

I’m still slowly moving along in my Road To the Show career in MLB 13: The Show.  Not much more to report, except that it’s the best baseball game I’ve ever played.

I guess the biggest news – as well as the most welcome surprise – is that Tiger Woods 14 doesn’t totally suck.  I’ve only played a round or two, but I’m very much enjoying what I’ve seen thus far.  The swing mechanics feel just right, and the putting game finally feels fair, and the game feels like it’s been polished and cared for, which is more than I can say for previous editions.  I can’t yet talk about the paywall or DLC courses or whatever – I’m still debating whether I want to buy my rental copy and get an online pass – but this could be a very pleasant way to spend baby nap times this summer.

the first few hours – Tiger 13

Have I written here about my history with the Tiger Woods series?  I know I’ve written about each game I’ve played (see: the Tiger tag), but that’s not quite the same thing.

I’m not a golfer, and it wasn’t really something I watched on TV.  I suppose I only started paying attention to golf when Tiger Woods started kicking ass and becoming some sort of force of nature, and, well, it’s exciting to watch legends at their peak, doing things that no mortal man can do.  I wasn’t alive for Babe Ruth, and I didn’t pay attention to Wayne Gretzky’s career, but Tiger Woods was here and now and only a little older than me, and he was fundamentally changing the sport, and it was legitimately exciting to see.

But I never got into videogame golf until 2002 or so, and that was probably because there was a demo for a Tiger game on the OXM disc for that particular month, and I was bored and figured I’d give it a try.  And 2 things occurred to me almost instantly after I fired up the demo – (1) the game was really fun, and (2) I was really good at it.  And it was nice to be really good at a game, as opposed to just good enough to get to the end.  I bought Tiger Woods ’02 shortly thereafter, and found it a marvelous experience in a multitude of ways – it filled long, boring afternoons; the fantasy courses were a pleasant change from the real-world courses; the Tiger Challenge was a novel take on the career mode; I could listen to my own music instead of the game without missing anything important; and, most importantly, the career lasted long enough to get me through those endless summer months where nothing was coming out.  And, as I said before, I was really good at it.  And so the Tiger games became the annual franchise that I cared about and looked forward to.  Some people have Madden; some people have Call of Duty; I have Tiger.

Well, I had Tiger.  Ever since the console switch in ’06, the new Tiger games have struggled mightily to reach their potential.*  Each year has been one disappointment on top of another, and I’ve started to lose hope.

So when I say that I don’t think I hate Tiger Woods 13 yet, it’s probably a good sign.  Well, let me put it another way – I don’t want to strangle it to death, the way I did with 12.

My biggest grievance against Tiger 12 was how completely out of my hands the game felt at times, especially with regards to the putting game.  I was missing putts left and right, with no discernable reason why.  If the game at least explained what I’d done wrong, I suppose I could understand – but there was no such feedback.  It felt arbitrary and unfair, and while golf (the sport) is frequently unfair, at least that’s just physics and your own skill letting you down.  In 12, the putting game boiled down to getting lucky on an invisible coin toss, which is unfair in the sort of way that makes my eyes bleed.  (The game’s big innovation last year was the inclusion of the Masters, which didn’t really matter to me one way or the other.  It’s nice that it was there, I suppose, but the game went out of its way to kiss the Masters’ ass, which was also probably a good way for EA to distract its customers from the sad trajectory of Tiger Woods’ actual professional career.

The big innovation in Tiger 13 (as there must always be one new thing) is the new True Swing mechanism, or whatever it’s called.  (I ought to know, at this point – you have to press the A button no less than 4 or 5 times before you’re actually playing golf, and I suppose they advertise the name of the swing on one of those splash screens, but my ADD is such that I’d rather look at my iPad in the interim.)  The success of your swing depends on the accuracy and the tempo of your left thumb ‘s movement.  This isn’t totally new –  the last few games showed you how close your thumb moved in a straight line, too – but this tempo mechanic is very interesting and feels a lot more responsive.    It applies to the putting game as well, and while it does take a little bit of getting used to, it does make some intuitive sense at the very least, and so when I whiff a putt I know understand why – it’s usually because I get impatient and push too hard on the upswing, thereby sending the ball off the green entirely.

My big grievance of the moment, then, is the chipping game.  This never used to be a problem.  And I don’t really often end up in the sand off the greens all that much, so it’s not really that big a problem in the grand scheme of things.  Still, though, there’s a major discrepancy between where the game tells you the ball’s going to land, and where the ball actually ends up (which is usually well past the hole, and then ultimately off the other side of the green, so you have to do the whole damned thing again).

As for the rest of the package; well, there’s the Tiger Woods Legacy mode, where you play as Tiger as a 2 year old in his backyard, launching chip shots into a swimming pool, and other assorted important touchstones of the Tiger Woods mythos.  It’s not particularly engaging, and it’s also a little weird, and the more I think about it the more it comes off as some sort of PR strategy towards repairing the Tiger brand – making him human again, making him a little kid again, before the utter collapse and everything that ensued afterwards.

You may be surprised – if you’ve made it this far – that I haven’t talked about the insane in-game purchase stuff.  A lot of reviews went out of their way to really nail EA to the wall over this – how over half of the courses are hidden behind a pay wall, and how you can pay real money to power-level your character and all the rest of it.  Yeah, it does disgust me, sure.  But to be honest, I haven’t really hit any of those obstacles just yet.  (To be even more honest, I’ve really only played the first 2 full 18-hole rounds in the career mode, which (I felt) was enough to let me know how the game felt in my hands.  I might also add that I went -8 in my first round, and -6 in my 2nd, which included some horrendous 3-putts but also a fantastic eagle from 150 yards out.)  I haven’t yet entered my Online Pass code yet, and I don’t yet know if that will make a difference as I get farther into the career.  As it happens, you can still buy courses (or, rather, playtime on courses which are still locked for general use) with in-game currency that you earn through play, so I’m hopeful that as long as I pay attention to my stash, I won’t run into any problems.  (Rest assured, though, that I’ll scream VERY LOUDLY if I do.)

———

* Ranking the Tiger games would be its own column, one which I’m not prepared to get into at this very moment.  But I’d break the rankings in half, anyway, between the Xbox 1 and the Xbox 360.  As I said above, the games on the original Xbox were incredibly fun, approachable, and intuitive, and they featured tons of fantasy courses (some of which were fucking insane), and it was not uncommon to bomb 400 yard drives and get holes in one on Par 4s, and while they weren’t super-gorgeous, they certainly got the job done.  The move to the current console generation was, shall we say, a bit rough; ’06 was a fucking joke.  Off the top of my head, I’d put ’03 at the top of my overall list, and I’d probably put ’09 at the top of this generation’s run; ’09 looked great (not just in terms of graphics – the fonts looked really good, too), and they hadn’t fucked with the controls too much.

Putts

I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf will. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you can get so sore at yourself that you forget to hate your enemies.
– Will Rogers

I am trying to enjoy Tiger Woods ’12, but the putting game is making me angry.  Like, literally angry, like I want to throw my controller through the TV angry, like rage-quitting-and-going-to-bed-angry angry.

The more I practice, the luckier I get.
– unknown

I appreciate that in real life, putting is difficult.  I appreciate that in real life, golf in general is difficult, and there are lots of pithy witticisms about golf being a “good walk spoiled” and all that.  But this is not real life.  This is a videogame.  And so when I correctly line up my putt, and pull back on my swing at the correct strength, and when the putt is three goddamned feet away, I expect to make that shot.  And the only reason why it doesn’t go in is because of some arbitrary algorithm that says that my golfer’s putting skills aren’t high enough to make gimme putts.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve been playing Tiger games for 8 years now; it only matters that this year’s edition of Jervo McNervo has weak putting skills.

The least thing upsets him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows.
– P.G. Wodehouse

Putting business aside, the rest of the game is actually pretty good.  The omnipresent caddy can get annoying, but you can always ignore him.  The career mode is the nicest surprise – it actually makes sense.  You start by trying to get onto the Amateur Tour, and eventually you’ll make your way to the Masters.  You earn XP based on your actual performance in an event, and then you spend that XP on the skills you want to improve.  For what it’s worth, though, I’ve put the vast majority of my XP into making my putting better, and it’s actually gotten worse.

Hopefully this is the last of my Tiger ranting.

————–

Sony finally offered up an explanation of sorts yesterday, none of which made me feel any better about the state of things over there.  What a goddamned mess.  The Twitter-verse made me feel a lot better, though, and this Tumblr post cracked me up:

Tiger Woods 12: the first 10 minutes

Before I get started on Tiger ’12, I want to add my voice to the growing chorus that is (a) disappointed by the PSN outage and (b) utterly perplexed by Sony’s total lack of transparency and disclosure regarding the outage.

Couple things:

Not to keep bringing the console wars into this, but seriously:  you get what you pay for.   If Xbox Live is down even for an hour, Major Nelson and the rest of the Xbox crew are on top of it, tweeting and blogging and keeping the community as well-informed about what’s going on as possible.  Sure, people are going to bitch and moan, but those people are going to bitch and moan about everything.  The rest of us understand that shit happens; it’s just nice to know what’s going on.  It is a service that a lot of us pay for, and as such it’s nice to know that Microsoft is at least appearing to be concerned on our behalf.

On the other hand, Sony’s been pretty much totally quiet.  All they’ve said is that they suffered an “external intrusion,” which sounds downright naughty, but still it’s pretty goddamned vague.  Then there are other theories involving Anonymous, or, Steam, or some sort of custom firmware hack, or maybe the hamster wheel powering the network went offline.  There’s been some concern that PSN users’ credit card information may have been stolen; Sony hasn’t said a word about that.  They haven’t really said anything, and it’s now been almost a week.

(I’ll tell you what – I was going to buy Portal 2 on the Xbox360 anyway, but I’m really glad I did because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play online co-op with anybody.  And if I’d bought Mortal Kombat, or SOCOM 4, I’d be totally screwed.)

I’m not quite ready to be outraged, but that’s probably because I do most of my gaming on the 360, which also has Netflix and all the other online stuff I’d be using.  I’m not a Plus member, so I’m not missing out on whatever I’d be missing out on.  Still, though:  this is embarrassing.

——————–

OK, back to Tiger.

Looking over my previous Tiger Woods posts, it appears that ’09 was my favorite (at least in terms of the current generation – I’m still awfully fond of the original Xbox games in the ’03-’04 era, which were full of crazy courses and had a much more arcade-y sensibility).  ’10 pissed me off right from the very start, and I can’t honestly remember if I played ’11.

In any event, ’12’s biggest change (aside from being slathered in MASTERS-ness, which is apparently a big deal to golf nerds) is the caddy feature, which more or less takes all the challenge out of setting up a shot.  The caddy gives you several shot options to choose from, and then you either pick one of them or set up your own.  I tend to like picking my own, and the problem I’m having is that for the most part, all I want to do is take one of the caddy’s suggestions and move it over a few feet, but if I even so much as gently nudge the thumbstick, I’m suddenly 20 yards away from where I want to be – the “custom” shot defaults to the max yardage for each club, which is a pain in the ass.

I will admit to liking the new caddy putting assist, which removes pretty much all of the challenge of reading the green – not that I don’t want some challenge when I putt, but it’s just that in previous Tiger games the putting game was dreadfully inconsistent in terms of sensitivity and control.  I’ve still muffed a few putts even with this new assist, but I can’t blame the game – one of the putts was messed up because one of my dogs jumped on my stomach during my wind-up and I ended up overshooting a 6-foot gimme by about 20 yards.

Anyway – I’ve played the introductory 9-hole course and went -2, and I’m generally liking the feel of the game so far.  I expect that this will tide me over for the next few weeks, right in time for L.A. Noire.

>And back again

>Really? It’s been almost 2 weeks since the last SFTC post? Damn. I can’t speak for Gred, but I’ve been pretty busy lately doing non-game-related things, and I’m feeling a bit guilty for neglecting this little corner of the internet. So let me get caught up:

1. Finished Ghostbusters on the 360. It is a rare example of a licensed property that takes full advantage of its license, which makes the game better than it actually is. Because let’s be honest here – without the Ghostbusters license, and the full participation of the original cast, and the input of Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis on the script (however limited that participation may have been), the game is seriously flawed, and would probably fly under the radar. The actual act of trapping ghosts is pretty complex and involved, and I’m not sure I ever fully got the hang of it – getting a ghost in the trap felt more like a nice bit of luck than skill. More to the point, though, the Ghostbusters themselves are remarkably frail and fragile, and near the end of the game I found myself spending far more time playing medic than wrangling ghosts. The penultimate boss fight in particular was absurd in this regard – it was literally impossible for me to make any progress against the boss because at any given time, 1-3 Ghostbusters were incapacitated, and the remaning Ghostbuster wouldn’t go over and help me revive them. These are the friggin’ GHOSTBUSTERS, goddammit! Why are they so helpless? Why am I, the rookie, seemingly invulnerable?

That aside, I felt compelled to finish the game – the script is pretty good, actually, and the voice cast does a great job. (It’s a shame, then, that the lip syncing is maybe the worst I’ve ever seen.) And I must admit that the first time I got to run around Ghostbusters HQ, I had a huge dorky smile on my face, and I never got tired of exploring, even if there wasn’t a lot to explore. Getting to use all the official equipment is a thrill, too – putting on the goggles and following the PKE meter never got old. And it should be noted that the proton packs look remarkable.

2. I traded in a bunch of games yesterday for Tiger Woods 10, which I almost immediately regret. I played a little bit of the career mode last night, and the second career challenge asked me to “match Tiger Woods, shot for shot”. I’ve played for literally 5 minutes and my stats are incredibly shitty, but let’s leave that aside because this particular challenge wants me to mimic Tiger’s performance. Not to beat it, but to ape it. I say this because Tiger’s first shot on this particular hole lands at the outer fringe of the green, and when I took my first shot I actually got the ball within a few yards of the whole. AND THUS, I FAILED THE CHALLENGE. The game actually wanted me to hit a bad shot, like Tiger did, so that I could then sink a monsterously long putt, like Tiger did. I don’t want to hit a bad shot, ever. And when I’m only at my second challenge, my stats are horrendously bad – I couldn’t hit a 30-foot putt if it was straight, flat, and funneled directly into the hole. What a completely ridiculous idea. I’m actually pretty good at the Tiger Woods games, I’d like to think – I’ve certainly put hundreds of hours into the franchise over the last 8 years or so – and I’ve never seen anything so stupid and totally misguided as this particular challenge.

It’s too soon for me to comment on the rest of the game – I haven’t seen the much-talked-about rain feature, which I really don’t care about anyway, and the game on the whole doesn’t seem that much different from last year’s iteration, which I thought was pretty good. So it’s probably going to be an effective time-suck for the summer months, which is all I want. I’m just a little annoyed at how stupid the career mode seems to be – if the rest of it is spent trying to be Tiger, instead of just trying to be me, that’s going to be pretty dumb.

3. After hearing the Giant Bomb guys talk about it for a few consecutive podcasts, I felt compelled to download Trash Panic for the PS3. It’s an odd game, to be sure, and definitely more difficult than it ought to be, and yet there’s something compelling about it. I need to spend more than 10 minutes with it, although I’m not sure the game changes that radically the farther you get in. For 5 bucks, though, you could do a lot worse.

>Pure / SW:FU / Too Human

>It’s been a while; sorry about that. Not exactly sure who I’m apologizing to, but I’m putting it out there anyway.

Most of the last week or so has been spent slogging through Too Human and Star Wars: Force Unleashed. I was surprised as anybody to make it all the way through to the 4th area of Too Human; I was even more surprised to be thoroughly turned off by SW:FU by the end of the 2nd boss.

The reviews of Too Human have been more negative than positive, and I certainly have to agree; that said, there’s definitely a great game in there somewhere, and if they can fix what needs to be fixed for the sequel, I’ll definitely sign up. Those fixes are pretty simple to identify:

  • Right stick controls camera; this is not negotiable
  • Better inventory management; for a game with this much loot, it’s not negotiable
  • Faster loading in/out of menus
  • If dying in the game absolutely necessitates having a Valkyrie descend from Valhalla, then at least make the process 3 seconds long instead of 30

I can deal with the repetitive combat and even some of the glitches, if those 4 things are taken care of.

As for Star Wars: Force Unleashed, well, I’m not really sure what can be said for it. It’s certainly very pretty, but it’s also hellishly glitchy, the checkpoint save system sucks, the boss fights are either stupid or cheap, and the rhythm of the gameplay, at least for the little that I played, was all over the place. My expectations for this game weren’t necessarily sky-high, but I was certainly hoping to like it more than I did.

I traded in Mercs 2 (ugh) and Tales of Vesperia (meh) yesterday and thus I only had to shell out $5 for Pure, which is exactly what it should be: dumb fun. It’s also fucking gorgeous. For whatever reason, I’m a sucker for a good ATV game, and Pure is scratching that particular itch quite effectively.

Finished a PGA Tour season in Tiger Woods 09, which I’d sorta forgotten I owned; will probably finish the Tiger Challenge and then call it a day with that one. And I’m still aiming to do all the police missions in GTA4, and I’ll hopefully get to that in the next few weeks, before all the super good stuff shows up in stores.

>Impressions: Mercs 2 / Tiger 09 / Tales of Vesperia

>I’d rush-ordered Tales of Vesperia last week, figuring that with the 3-day weekend, I’d have ample time to mess about with it. As it happened, though, I barely touched it; did a lot of and Tiger 09 and Mercenaries 2 instead.

Mercs 2:
I’m a little concerned about Mercs 2. I’m only about 3 or 4 hours into it, and yet I’ve unlocked almost 300 Achievement Points and my save file indicates that I’m just over 40% complete. For an open world game, that doesn’t bode well at all.

As a huge fan of the first game I had very high hopes for the sequel, but I can’t really say that I’m all that impressed this time around. Graphically, it’s a bit spotty; textures pop in and out all the time, and even when they’re fully in they’re not necessarily all that pretty. The driving model is pretty strange and doesn’t really feel quite right, especially when it comes to braking to a full stop (for all the game’s emphasis on physics, the laws of inertia do not apply at all when jumping out of a moving vehicle). Blowing things up – the hallmark of the franchise – is still fun, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t really had many opportunities to blow anything up just yet (however, I only unlocked the airstrike support option this very morning right before I went to work, so maybe that will change now).

And, of course, the game does suffer a bit from EA-itis – there’s lots of poorly-written and generally unnecessary emphasis on how bad-ass these characters are.

I do appreciate the game’s new economy feature – you can’t just call in supplies and air support willy-nilly now, you need to have enough fuel stockpiled to arrange for this stuff; which means that in addition to the missions, you also need to be on the lookout for fuel, cash and armaments you can arrange to steal via airlift. (There’s a logic flaw in this, though – it costs fuel to get stuff airlifted to your location, but it costs no fuel to steal stuff – and I’ve stolen far more stuff than I’ve ordered, and from farther away than any of the missions I’ve been on.)

That said, I’m a little underwhelmed, especially if the game is as short as it appears it may be.

Tiger 09
Tried to get some online golf going over the weekend, but EA’s servers were a bit wonky and we couldn’t get it to work. That said, there doesn’t appear to be an in-game option to invite anyone from your friends list; you have to create a game lobby and then back out to the 360 guide button, which is where you invite someone. This seems to be a bit too many steps than necessary, and it’s especially confusing when the server isn’t working.

As for the single player – it is definitely the best iteration in the franchise that I’ve yet played. All it really needs, in Tiger ’10, is a graphical upgrade; while the players and the courses look good, the backgrounds and the trees look PS1-ish, and there are issues with the camera during certain shots (especially with long putts where the camera doesn’t always follow the ball into the hole, which means you have no idea what you just did).

Tales of Vesperia
As noted above, I didn’t really get around to this one. I did about an hour’s worth late Friday/early Saturday, and that was about it. I’ll need to spend more time with it when I can put 100% focus into it. What I saw was interesting. Combat is a little tricky, at least in terms of the controls.

>R&C; Duke; Tiger

>1. My wife was out of town this weekend, which gave me full reign over the living room and all the creature comforts therein, and so I had my first real gaming marathon in quite some time. It was as good an opportunity as any to milk the Fable II Pub Games exploit for all it’s worth before it got fixed (and, honestly, after several hours with it, that’s pretty much all it’s good for), and I finally got to finish Braid. (I did end up using a walkthrough for 2 or 3 puzzle pieces, mostly to confirm that I was on the right track – only one puzzle really, truly stumped me.)

But the bulk of my time was actually spent reminding my PS3 that it can play games, and thus taking care of some unfinished business with respect to Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction; and by “unfinished business”, I mean I’d barely started it before I put it down in lieu of… oh, I don’t know, it was so long ago -probably MGS4.

Having never played an R&C title before (aside from a few minutes with the PSP iteration), I was pretty well satisfied with the whole experience; it’s actually genuinely amusing in places (although it does try awfully hard), and the gameplay is pretty solid. I do recall, when I’d put it down the first time, being a bit overwhelmed with all the weapons and gadgets – I think most of my initial combat time was simply spent hitting enemies with my wrench, which shows you how little I know. But soon I was getting the hang of it, and the game was easy enough that I eventually just concentrated on upgrading and levelling up 3 or 4 main weapons, and throwing out a disco ball every so often. Graphically, it’s pretty fantastic, although it’s still obviously a first-generation PS3 game; I am very curious to try out the new downloadable episode to see if there’s a discernable difference. And I may even continue through a second playthrough in the Challenge Mode, just to see if I can get to some of the places I was unable to get to earlier.

2. In an earlier post, I talked a bit about the Oddworld series and how it got me back into console gaming. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention my extreme love of Duke Nukem 3D, which I was obsessed with whenever I was home from college and I could get my younger brother’s computer to work. My brother had gotten the shareware version of DN3D from our brother-in-law-to-be, so I’m not even sure I’ve seen the whole single-player game, but what I have seen, I’ve seen A LOT. Anyway, it looks like it’s arriving on XBLA a lot sooner than I’d anticipated, and I’m very, very, very excited.

3. Tiger Woods 09 comes out today, and after playing the demo, I’m fully on board this time around. The franchise peaked for me with either ’03 or ’04, and every game since then has been more and more depressingly mediocre. Tiger 08 was incredibly annoying, with glitchy controls and the same goddamned courses I’ve already played a zillion times, and I swore I’d stay away from the franchise forever, but the improvements that are featured in the demo specifically address all the things that drove me crazy in the past. You no longer enhance your attributes by arbitrary clothing choices; you get better by getting better, which is an innovation that maybe should’ve been picked up on a little sooner than this. For experienced Tiger players (like me), you are only as good as you actually are, so you can start the game without having gimped stats as in years past. The challenge, then, is not to max up your stats, but to keep them maxed by playing at a consistently excellent level, which is (1) a well-intentioned shift in philosophy, and (2) a great incentive to keep playing. Even better is the club tuner feature, which (hopefully) will correct the problems in last year’s game with respect to the controls; you can auto-correct problems in your swing with reasonable trade-offs in performance (i.e., you can increase the size of the sweet spot at the expense of distance). I was waiting for reviews to come in before picking this up, but I already have over $100 in credit at Gamestop and so I might as well take the plunge.