And also: Killzone 3, Torchlight (XBLA)

Welly welly well:  yesterday was extremely productive on the gaming front.  After I finished Dragon Age 2, I ended up also finishing Killzone 3, and then sunk some serious time into the XBLA version of Torchlight.

Killzone 3:  Firstly, let me say that I did not care for Killzone 2.  It might have been pretty, but that was all it had going for it, as far as I’m concerned.  The controls just felt weird, although I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really all that used to the PS3’s controls when it comes to shooters.  But even so – it felt stiff and unresponsive.  The story was muddled and convoluted.  I didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing, and eventually I just gave up.

(I might also add that the main reason why I bought Killzone 3 in the first place, since I’m not really a fan of the franchise, is because Amazon was offering a $20 credit towards future purchases, and there are going to be a lot of future game purchases this year, and every little bit helps, and there are too many commas in this sentence, and for that, I apologize.)

The good:  Killzone 3 is, if nothing else, absolutely jaw-droppingly gorgeous.  It felt, at times, like someone stuck a gritty shooter into a Final Fantasy cutscene.  It’s true that the game can be a bit too brown at times, but overall the environments are nicely varied and detailed and really just look phenomenal.  The controls are a lot easier to manage than in KZ2; everything feels quick and responsive and precise.  There’s a nice variety of things to do; I know some people are tired of turret sequences, but I still kinda like ’em, especially when they’re done well.  (See also:  Bulletstorm.)  Surprisingly good voice acting, even if the script is a bit ridiculous.  It would be fair to say that it can sometimes take itself a bit too seriously, but it’s never awful.

The bad:  The difficulty level is all over the place.  I played the game on the default difficulty and got my ass kicked left and right; or, alternately, I was killing dudes left and right with little to no fuss.  The enemies can, on occasion, soak up even more bullets than in the original Uncharted, which is ridiculous – how many times must I shoot a man in the head before he stops getting up?  Also – if the enemies and I are using the same guns, then it seems awfully unfair that I can’t hit anyone from more than 20 yards with an assault rifle and yet I can still be one-shot-killed from across the map by that same rifle.  I must say, this game got me as close as I’ve come to breaking a controller in about 25 years.

Torchlight:  I’ve played bits and pieces of the PC version off and on for the last year and a half; I don’t really game on the PC very much and so I haven’t really sunk my teeth into it.  But in any event, I’m familiar with the game, I knew what I was getting into, I wanted to support the developers, and I really want to play online co-op in the forthcoming sequel.   The XBLA port is surprisingly good; the controls are, for the most part, excellent.  The menus can be a little cluttered, but they’re still effective.  The only thing that seems a little off is the number of unidentified loot drops; I’d say that at least 80% of what drops requires an Identify scroll, and that seems a tad high.  This will be a fun time waster for the foreseeable future.

>Progress

>The quest for 50K is going much better than I’d originally anticipated; I’ve got 6 weeks to get 327 points. I’m pretty sure I can get that relatively quickly from Assassin’s Creed 2, with an assist from Left 4 Dead 2. So, hooray for that.

This past weekend was a little weird, gaming wise, but when I think about it it actually worked out to my advantage. The weekend’s primary goal was working on music, but every once in a while I needed a break, and so I’d dive in to something on the 360; and since I’d finished Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign already, I didn’t feel pressured to pick one thing and finish it.

I keep grinding away in Forza 3; I kinda messed up and bought the wrong car for an upcoming race in the Season Play mode, and so now I’m just going through tournaments in an effort to make that money back. I can’t remember if I made the analogy here or in an email, but here goes anyway: Forza reminds me a lot of the Tiger Woods games, in that there’s an absolute ton of stuff to do, a lot of which I’ve already done in previous versions in the franchise. On the flip side, Forza 3 does not in any feel like it’s treading water, the way the Tiger games have for the last few years.

I’m also still running around in GTA4: BOGT, which is making me love the original GTA4 a little less. The game just feels dated; not in its story or setting, but in its actual gameplay mechanics. Combat feels incredibly clumsy, and the game is just brutally punishing if I fail a mission – I lose cash, armor (if I had it) and ammo (which doesn’t get replenished), plus time keeps moving forward so if I had something I wanted to do at a certain time, I probably don’t get to do it if I have to keep doing a mission over and over again. Saints Row will never be confused with GTA in terms of story and emotional resonance, but in terms of having fun and not being endlessly frustrating, it’s not even really all that close anymore. The Houser brothers are starting to make a little bit of noise about GTA5; I know there’s tons to think about in terms of making a great GTA game (story, setting, dialogue), but I would suggest that they also add some refinements, if not a complete overhaul, of the way the game is actually played. Let us recharge our health; let us have mid-mission checkpoints; let us not be punished so harshly for failure.

I’m starting to get really excited about 2010 Q1; specifically, Mass Effect 2. And it occurred to me that I never finished my 3rd playthrough of ME1, so I decided to give that a bit of a whirl. As it happens, I’d stopped playing near the end of the last DLC they released; said DLC was more or less a glorified combat tutorial, which is arguably the least successful aspect of the original game. But whatever – I turned down the difficulty and plowed through the last few missions and got 100 Achievements for my efforts, and then I saw where I actually was in the story, and then I decided to call it a day. (If you’re familiar with the first game, I’d just gotten off the Citadel and hadn’t yet started those first 3 long missions you get in order to advance the story; in other words, I’d have a looooooooong way to go.)

And then, in a bit of idle panic, I downloaded the Torchlight demo from Steam, just because I’d heard it was good and I was curious to see if my aging PC could run it. The short answer is yes, it can, and shortly thereafter I’d purchased the full version and now I’m totally hooked.

This week: Assassin’s Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, and the God of War Collection for PS3.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Pandemic Studios, who very well might be getting shut down today. Mercenaries was one of my favorite games on the original Xbox, and Star Wars Battlefront was a lot of fun, and even Destroy All Humans! was worth a few chuckles. I’m hopeful that Saboteur will at least be a fine farewell from one of the more ambitious developers out there.