Archives for August 2009

Star Wars: TFU for $10?

Amazon’s Deal of the Day is the 360 version of Star Wars: The Force Unleased. At $10, it now fits our criteria from rent to buy. It’s a frustration that’s worth the $10–if you’re into that.

Fall Feelings

As a family man, summers are awesome. The kids are out of school and get to stay up later, we go to all kinds of horrible movies that are tons of fun (G.I. Joe may replace Starship Troopers as my favorite bad movie), and there is the usual family vacation.

As a gamer, summer is a wasteland. Typically what happens is that I manage to purchase all the games I have been waiting to hit the price I am willing to pay for them. Once those are caught up I hit the usual ennui as I find myself stuck with the same titles. Honestly, without Shadow Complex and Marvel vs. Capcom 2 I may have gone insane.

Now that the fall deluge is upon us, there are more games than what would be financially responsible to purchase. On my radar this season are a plethora of games (“Would you say I have a plethora?”).

September 1st
Guitar Hero 5
85 songs, the ability to play any instrument you want at any time, avatar support, and Johnny Freakin’ Cash. Geez, the only way they could make this game sweeter is if they offered a free game with it. Oh wait! Order Guitar Hero 5 before October 1st and get Guitar Hero: Van Halen free! I love Van Halen! Sadly, even though I think Activision is flooding the market with these games and is going to single-handedly destroy the music rhythm genre, my pre-order is in. Also, the play any instrument any time feature is going to finally resolve the usual “Do you want to play Guitar or Bass” that precedes every song.

Section 8
The demo was awesome and everything about this game looks top notch. Here is the problem, it’s a shooter. A genre I already have a ton of quality games to play. If I had to pick, I am more excited about Section 8 than Halo 3: ODST to be honest. However, this game will have to drop to $50 before I buy it. Not a Day One purchase.

September 9th
The Beatles: Rock Band
While I enjoy the Beatles, I’m not a fan. Harmonix always does a great job with these games and I have no doubt that this will be an awesome game and well worth the money. However, with Guitar Hero 5 already pre-ordered, this will have to wait until early next year. Why next year? Wait till November 3rd and I’ll tell you. A game I’m willing to pay full price for, but the timing of its release is terrible for me.

September 15th
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
A criticism I’ve always agreed with is that to enjoy these games you have to accept that Spider-man hits as hard as the Hulk as far as the game is concerned. If they can go more into making the heroes feel unique rather than variations on the same template I may become very interested. Otherwise it looks like a fancier Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Although it might take awhile, I may be willing to pay upwards of $40, but it’s solidly on my radar.

September 22nd
Halo 3: ODST
It’s Halo and thus it has to be on my radar by law. Halo Wars received an exemption because it was not a shooter. Bungie makes solid games, though the series was starting to feel derivative of itself with the last installment. Not a day one purchase, but like Section 8 I’d be willing to pay $50 for it. Unlike Section 8 and Halo 3, I see myself soldily avoiding multi-player. Despite Bungie’s best efforts they’ve made the multi-player experience too painful while the Call of Duty series has done well to reward people just for participating.

October 6th
Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
I have to have one dark horse on my radar, a game that just looks too unlikely to be a win. I played the original Operation Flashpoint on the PC years ago and enjoyed the battles that were more open and allowed me to experience emergent gameplay before anyone knew what that meant. Unfortunately, the game was riddled with poor balance, a difficulty curve that resembled a brick wall, and terrible vehicle controls. I suspect this game will find itself adrift amongst all the other games being released, many of which aren’t even on this list since these are only games on my personal radar. This is a title that will likely drop in price rapidly, and my cheapness frugal spending will allow me to pick it up at a bargain.

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes
I have to get this, the kids demand it. They’re more excited about this than Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Republic Heroes does look like it might be fun in an arcade-like way. Will likely wait until November when we hit “Birthday Season”.

October 20th
Borderlands
I have very mixed feelings about this game. The art and concept seem great, but the idea of combining RPG elements with a shooter is not exactly as new and fresh as they try to sell it. Actually, it seems less “role-play” and more “Diablo” but with an apocalyptic background and first-person perspective. Might be great or it might tank horribly. I’m interested but this is a game that I’ll wait until the post release buzz hits.

October 27th
Alpha Protocol
A definite day one purchase, but more for the setting than anything else. Sadly, there are just no contemporary role-playing games out there. While I love the concept of a role-playing game with a superspy setting, what really sells Alpha Protocol is that it doesn’t tread the familiar ground of fantasy, sci-fi, or apocalypse. I’m hoping the game is a huge success just so it might inspire other games to explore a more modern setting.

November 3rd
Lego Rock Band
I’m afraid this one is going to be overshadowed by Beatles: Rock Band. On one hand, I’m seriously wondering if the music rhythm genre is not already at critical mass. On the other hand, it desperately needs something more kid friendly. There are just too many songs on any of these games that make me wince. Not only that, but I see a real gap forming in the demographics these games cater to. There is a definite need to cater to a somewhat younger audience. Since my primary group for Rock Band is my kids anyway, this might be a natural for our house.

November 10th
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
I have mixed feelings about this. Infinity Ward makes some of the best games in the business and their multiplayer implementation for Call of Duty 4 actually made it fun to show up and play. However, I’m still not keen on spending $60 for a shooter. At some point it will go on sale or just drop in price and I’ll get it for $50. I’m sure it will still have plenty of players.

Defense Grid on XBLA? YES!

Iíve harped about this before, and itís one of the few games released earlier this year that I continue to play. Defense Grid is coming out on XBLA next week for $10. This is a must-buy.

Weekend of Gaming

Man, it sure got here in a hurry. Not that I’m complaining. I’m waiting to travel home (my flight is most likely going to be delayed — LaGuardia is the place where flights go to die) so I can only dream about gaming right now. But when I finally do get home, I’m planning on picking up Shadow Complex and giving that a play-through. I’ve also got a couple games coming from Gamefly, but they probably won’t get here until next week.

So I have a decision to make. I recently finished Fallout 3, so I could pick up one of the DLC packs (probably Broken Steel) or I can go back to Mass Effect, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’m planning on starting over with a fresh new character and playing it start to finish. Any suggestions?

I also will be playing some NCAA 10 as a primer for the upcoming football season.

What will you be playing?

Cheap Game of the Week – Iron Man

ironman1

Overview: The videogame adaptation of one of the best comic book movies ever made.

Pricing: This one is scattered but I think $15 is a good median, typically used. Can be found for $20 new.

Rip-Off Warning: Very little danger here. $20 across most console platforms is pretty standard.

Platform: DS, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP, XBox 360 (Reviewed), Wii, Windows

Is it worth it?: Let’s get a giant disclaimer out of the way. Iron Man is one of my favorite superheroes. The very concept of using technology as the basis for superpowers instead of magic, radiation, genetic mutation, or “scientific” accidents was different and creates a whole new wrinkle in the debate over what makes a hero. Is Iron Man a person or a gestalt entity that you can become by possessing the armor? Is it Tony Stark himself a hero at heart even without the armor? These issues were barely brushed up against in the movie and the game doesn’t acknowledge them at all. Despite the film being heralded as one of the greatest comic book movies of all time, similar care was not taken with the game.

The Hulkbuster throwing a tank, naturally.

The Hulkbuster throwing a tank, naturally.

This is a shame because there is a ton of potential for Iron Man in a video game context, but the game doesn’t seem to know what to do with the character. One suggestion made to me was to treat Iron Man like a “jet fighter that can walk”, and this is a fair analogy but it doesn’t work well. Iron Man is not a plane even though he often controls like one. Your three basic modes are fly, hover, and walk, there is no in between. You can strafe targets on the ground but trying to engage them at slower speeds is nearly impossible. In fact, most problems are solved by merely hovering in place and using repulsors until the target explodes.

Combat should be more satisfying than this, but it’s difficult to enjoy because even if you accept the jet fighter conceit in flight, the controls are just too imprecise to be useful in making Iron Man a tiny dogfighter. He is too vulnerable running on the ground and it also feels silly when he has boot jets.

The missions themselves are repetitive and the difficulty curve is all over the place and often hampered more by the poor controls than intentional design. For instance, a base defense mission is nigh impossible even on the easiest difficulty because of the shoddy controls but the final boss is easily defeated using the same hover in place and blast away tactic used throughout the game. Granted, you might have to fly away and let yourself repair for a bit.

The one highlight of the game is the ability to unlock other Iron Man armors, with the XBox 360 version having the “Silver Centurion” (A personal favorite) and the Playstation 3 version having the Iron Man Armor from “The Ultimates”. Various other suits like the “Classic” or Hulkbuster can also be unlocked.

Allow me to geek out for a moment. This would be the Iron Man "Silver Centurion" Armor

Allow me to geek out for a moment. This would be the Iron Man "Silver Centurion" Armor

Final Judgement: Unless you are just a die-hard Iron Man fan I would PASS on this game. It is another typical hasty movie cash-in that completely squanders its potential.

2 Minute Review: Shadow Complex

shadow_complex01

An old school throwback with all modern bells and whistles

DO: Indulge your sense of nostalgia over a game genre that’s time has largely past. Alternatively, if you’re not a gaming dinosaur, find out why everyone loved Metroid so much.

TYPE: Side-Scrolling Platformer

PLATFORM: XBox 360 (Reviewed)

PRICE: $15

MEAT: You play as Jason Fleming (sidenote: More protagonists should be named “Jason”. It’s an awesome name.) who appears to be an everyman in the same way Steven Seagal’s character in Under Siege was “just a cook”. In a very brief flashback we’re given that Jason’s mysterious background includes some kind of training because his father is some kind of super-spy and/or warrior badass and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Despite his attempt at a normal life he finds himself unwittingly drawn into a plot against the United States when he, and I’m not making this up, stumbles into the base of a homegrown terrorist organization thanks to an outing with his “girlfriend” that was supposed to be nothing more than some hiking and spelunking. I used “girlfriend” in quotes because despite the marketing materials for the game they also establish that Jason and Claire have been dating for all of two days. The lengths he goes through for a woman he met at a bar is nothing short of epic.

I wouldn’t usually bother with the back story, but in this case the story is very much part of the gameplay and it does a great job. For a side-scroller I don’t expect much since you’re artificially confined in your actions, yet the action onscreen and the story presentation flow together perfectly. Your character is upgraded gradually and as you unlock new abilities you can backtrack to previously visited locations to acquire upgrades that were inaccessible before. Despite all the backtracking, the ability to explore a section in a way that wasn’t previously possible keeps the game interesting even though you may have visited the same room multiple times.

Just a minor spoiler, but what you have is a guy who starts out with a flashlight and the ability to jump who gradually ends up with a suit of incredible power armor that gives him abilities beyond that of normal men.

PERKS: In my opinion these kinds of retro-retreads are unnecessary since technology has since advanced enough that we can move beyond the old “side scroller”. There is a reason the Metroid series went first person. The only reason why I’m reviewing this game is because I downloaded the demo just to see what all the fuss was about.

Then something miraculous happened.

The game was just ridiculously fun to play. Save points occur often enough that the game can be played in short bursts, if you can actually force yourself to turn it off, but are far enough apart that there is a real challenge. The controls, for the most part, are excellently done. One of my long-standing complaints with platformers, even those that fuse with side-scrolling shooters, is the lack of precision in controlling the character. Aiming your weapons is a bit of a challenge at first, but with practice becomes fairly simple. I never felt like I was struggling with the controls and that is incredibly important.

The actual “Shadow Complex” is vast with many varied environments, hazards, and enemies. The game has an excellent pace, keeping the player engaged and allowing them to flex some muscle on occasion while making sure they get fresh challenges. I really appreciate that as you acquire new abilities some of the early opponents that are quite difficult become easy to dispatch in a variety of satisfying ways. Naturally, the game keeps ramping up the “bosses” so it never gets too easy but the player is not exposed to a challenge too early either.

The first boss fight sold me the game

The first boss fight sold me the game

SCREAMS: The game is “2.5D”, so there are times when you have side hallways that enemies can approach but you can’t travel down. In theory you can aim and shoot them, but sometimes you have your gun pointed at enemies and other times it’s pointing straight up. In this case the controls try to interpret your intention and it doesn’t always work.

Your ability to “wall climb” is limited, which is ok except that sometimes the game doesn’t register your attempt to jump off one wall to another Jackie Chan style. Also, one of your abilities is a grappling hook which is tons of fun but has the same problem as the wall climb. It can be very frustrating to see your grappling line bounce ineffectually off of a wall or ceiling.

Perhaps a personal preference, the game has many areas that are inaccessible early on that you can later unlock by using upgrades the game gives you. The problem here is that the upgrades needed seem to come about midway through the game, but then come quite often. This is kind of frustrating though because you can see areas that have extras you could get to but have to continually ignore because you haven’t acquired missiles yet or can’t double jump.

A common complaint is that you can trigger the endgame by accident. The good news is that if this happens you can simply end and restart from your last continue. This way you can still get any upgrades you may have missed. You cannot trigger the endgame sequence without at least having the basic abilities to beat it, so the game at least gives players the possibility of winning, though the challenge may be greater than it has to be if they are not sufficiently prepared.

Screenshots will not do this game justice

Screenshots will not do this game justice

VERDICT: Let me be clear here, this is my “2009 Game I Can’t Put Down” and I truly do feel this entire genre is well past it’s prime. This is a game I was determined to hate and love it anyway. You can’t rent it and I would recommend this as a BUY even if you could.

In [Nat’s] Hands: Batman Arkham Asylum

Iíll keep this short. After only two hours of play. Batman Arkham Asylum is my GOTY 2009. I donít know of many other titles that are coming up that may pass this. (Assassinís Creed 2?)

Section 8 Demo

Another game I’ve had my eye on is Section 8 from Southpeak Interactive. In many ways it seems to emulate Robert Heinlein’s vision of Starship Troopers. I guess I’m not following the game closely enough because it was to my surprise to see a demo on X-Box Live this week.

Sadly, they’re not going to let me touch the story, but there is a very satisfying instant action mode that reminds me a lot of the Battlefield style games but with more of a Halo setting. Dropping in from orbit is an absolute scream and I love how they implemented it. I do find the game a bit overwhelming at times and perhaps it needs a tutorial. On the other hand, just blundering around the battlefield was still a lot of fun and I see a lot of potential for this game. We’re way overdue for a new IP in the FPS arena and I think this is a contender.

Cheap Game of the Week – Rock Revolution

Overview: Proof that some people think all they need for a massive success is a “me to” attitude

Pricing: $5, new. Seriously, that’s it. You might be able to find it for $10 if you search hard enough.

Rip-Off Warning: Considering the criteria for “Cheap Game of the Week” this might sound odd, but it can be found for $20. However, when it sells for $5 new that is a huge difference!

Platform: XBox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS

Is it worth it?: Konami has a history of music rhythm games long before we had Guitar Hero or Rock Band, so it would seem that Rock Revolution is more of a continuation of their GuitarFreaks franchise and less of a cheap cash-in, right?

Well, in truth this game has zero to do with GuitarFreaks and is an attempt to jump on what seemed like the insanely popular music rhythm bandwagon. The big oversight on Konami’s part was failing to notice that Guitar Hero and Rock Band were both created by the same development studio and that Guitar Hero’s ongoing popularity had more to do with Harmonix starting the franchise than Activision’s attempt to cram plastic controllers down everyone’s throats (or up other orifices if you prefer cruder visualization)

Rock Revolution is essentially Rock Band with a poor interface, no vocals, and terrible covers of well known songs. Worse, pretty much every song in Rock Revolution is in some iteration of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. This could well be the most unnecessary game ever produced. There is an attempt at a career mode which isn’t half bad, but does anyone care when the actual gameplay itself is so lackluster.

To be fair, the game isn’t terrible, it’s just superfluous. I will say that it is incredibly difficult to calibrate an HDTV with the controllers, but once that is accomplished you can begin a fairly safe journey of mediocrity.

Final Judgement: This is a pass. If you already own guitar or drum controllers there are plenty of cheaply available Guitar Hero and Rock Band copies out there for every platform that Rock Revolution is on. There is no point to owning this game at all. Even with the price difference you are much better off spending anywhere between $10 to $20 more for a much better music rhythm game.

Everybody loves donuts!

Everybody loves donuts! I knew before I even fired my first shot that Shadow Complex would be a game I would purchase today. Mmm. Donuts! Vroom Vroom CRASH! Auuuggh.(This post would not be as confusing if you are remotely aware of some of the latest XBLA offerings).