Archives for February 2010

General Knoxx Arrives This Week

Giantbomb is reporting that the biggest DLC for Borderlands releases tomorrow and Thursday. It’ll be $10. Who’s in? I’ll be there via Steam. [Kotaku has screenies.]

Hundreds of hours?

As I was perusing my daily inbox of gaming news when I came across this snippet from IGN regarding Fallout: New Vegas:

The area to explore is roughly the same size as what you got in Fallout 3 and Bethesda is promising that it will take hundreds of hours to explore.

Now, I don’t know what my total game time for Fallout 3 is, but I’d peg it around 60+ hours. I haven’t explored the entire map and I haven’t played any of the expansions but the thought of “hundreds of hours” is a little daunting. I have other games to play, Bethesda!

In my Weekend Gaming Hands

I screwed up how I played through the first Bioshock. I played through about 90% of the game when it first came and then dropped it cold turkey (for Halo 3 I think). I loved exploring Rapture, fighting the Splicers and being immersed in the Bioshock setting but I left the game unfinished for a couple years. I eventually went back to Rapture and finished the game, but by that point I was so removed from the story that things didn’t really have the emotional impact it could have had. Same thing happened with Mass Effect, minus the immersion and emotional attachment.

So now I have to decide if I want to interrupt the flow of Mass Effect 2 to make my return to Rapture. I’ve heard that it’s just as wonderfully “explorable” (is that a word? Firefox spell check says it is) as the first one. That really excites me. I’m really looking forward to donning that Big Daddy suit. I’d also like to get back to the business of forming the most elite team of alien warriors in the galaxy. I guess it’s good to options.

Decisions, decisions. What are you going to play this weekend?

Just for Fun

20 Works of Geeky Street Art

The BioWare Effect

In my opinion, no company is sacred. A proven track record of good products is likely to attract me to a day one purchase but it only takes a single misstep to lose that trust. I’m not asking for spectacular games, just games that don’t make me regret paying full price. BioWare gets a lot of credit in the industry. Too much credit if you ask me, but they make solid games. The key word here being “solid”. Yet they can’t help but meddle with their own success. I’m often stunned that BioWare gets a pass for design decisions and gameplay mechanics that would push a game down as “mediocre” in most reviewers eyes. Only BioWare could get away with massively slashing a sequel down to bare bones simplicity and be considered genius for it.

When it comes to party-based RPG’s, BioWare is the master. Of this there is no doubt. That kind of system is so complex and difficult to manage that rising above mediocrity is a huge barrier to overcome. Yet I remember Might of Magic VI, the Mandate of Heaven, which essentially rebooted the RPG genre and made BioWare’s accomplishments possible. What happened to 3DO and the Might and Magic series? If you don’t remember or weren’t around the answer is simple. They became victims of their own success.

I think BioWare is working overtime not to become victims of their own success, but they don’t seem to stop and ask what works and what doesn’t. When I first heard about Dragon Age I had this picture of Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) ported into a fantasy setting. That’s not a bad thing. Aside from being the long awaited Star Wars RPG that many gamers had been waiting for, what really set KOTOR apart was that it was great in every way. However, it’s greatest triumph was its least appreciated feature. The controls of KOTOR were incredibly easy to grasp and use. There was complexity there, but you didn’t have to use it. Directing my characters in combat was a piece of cake. Navigating the many menus and statistics was easy. Quite an accomplishment considering I was also playing this on the XBox. The brilliance of KOTOR was that, like any RPG, it was essentially spreadsheet gaming without throwing the spreadsheet in your face. You were able to enjoy the story, the combat, the RPG tropes (new equipment, levelling, etc.) because the interface never got in your way.

Dragon Age is a lot like KOTOR in that it’s a party-based RPG, you can control the individual characters, and you can pause (sort of) combat to issue orders. Unfortunately, the spreadsheet is in your face. The difficulty settings in Dragon Age are “Easy”, “Normal”, and “Hard”. The translation of these difficulties is “Cakewalk”, “Pointless Micromanagement”, and “You don’t play games for fun, do you?”. I started Dragon Age on the “Normal” difficulty, only to find that I spent every battle carefully watching everyone’s health and mana. There are these great battle animations that play out, far superior to even the thrilling battles of KOTOR. I was completely missing the battle and instead carefully monitoring everyone’s status like Lt. Gorman in Aliens.

You can futz with “tactics” if you want. This is where the game really breaks down into pointless minutia though. I don’t want to get into that level of detail in the middle of battle. I want my archer to shoot arrows, my mage to rain mystic death, and my warriors to wade in with big swords and their swinging cods. Furthermore, the “tactics” I’ve selected and the actions of their characters on screen seem to line up only loosely. This is always my complaint about real-time battle systems. Look, either I’m in control or I’m not. If I have to take individual control of each character then let me just pause the entire battle while I adjust each person individually instead of the “switch-pause” tango you have me doing.

My impression is that Dragon Age is adequate graphics, decent story, horrid gameplay mechanics. I finally just put the game on easy so I could get through missions. I’m trying to decide which is worse now. The utter insipidness of the game on easy, or the ridiculous micro-management of normal. Neither mode is hard, but neither is particularly fun either. That’s what really surprises me. Once I peeled away the combat system I find the rest of the game is, well, good. Just not super great. Not “A+++, Perfect 10, 99.5%” or whatever reviewers are doing to fellate BioWare right now.

Which leads to Mass Effect. At least it doesn’t pretend you’re in control of your squadmates. You can direct them to use powers or have them switch weapons, and that works well enough. Sure, it’s a radial menu, which seems to be BioWare’s addiction lately. At least Mass Effect and its sequel don’t have radial menus that open up other radial menus (ARGH!!!! I’m looking at you Dragon Age!) Mass Effect had a neat system going, but it probably was too complex and usually poorly presented. I want to sell off some armor, when I go to the store I can’t see what the armor looks like. I get a colored box that the armor might have come in. Which one was that? Was it the black kickass armor I want to keep or the green camo crap that was worthless? Actually, that was Mass Effect’s other problem. Too much crap. You’d think it was a loot drop grind the way they kept picking up the same worthless pistol or upgrades. There was actually a point in the game, on the first playthrough no less, that if you meticulously sold everything that you didn’t need then you would never lack for money in the game.

Mass Effect 2 keeps “simplifying things”, but to what end? I think they’ve cut too deep. The game feels oddly generic. It’s all about the story now, but this just displays how mediocre writing in videogames still is. It’s not a bad story, it’s just not great. I think it would actually be more interesting if I didn’t have everyone telling me how awesome I am all the time. Hey, I get it, the guy effectively saved all sentient life before. They don’t even talk about that though. It’s a never-ending praise parade of how awesome it is to see me in action. How over the top is Mass Effect 3 going to be? Women spontaneously ripping their clothes off when Shepard walks into a room? They’re not far from it now.

In a lot of ways I think that is what gets BioWare it’s legendary reputation in the gaming media. They provide the ultimate in geek wish fulfillment. You’re not just a Jedi in KOTOR, you’re a secret amnesiac badass who brought worlds to their knees. In Dragon Age you are the last and only hope to keep the world from literally going to hell. In Mass Effect you’re the only individual in the entire universe that can save the entire universe. The Campbellian theme of the “Hero’s Journey” is tossed right out the window. We start at the end of the journey and proceed from there.

This Game You Should Play: Spelunky

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Spelunky is spunky. Get ready for some rambling…Collect gold. Throw objects. Rescue women. Steal idols. Jump. Run. Fall. Throw women. Blow up caves. Buy items. Sacrifice women. Steal items. Die. Die. Die…and die again.

This is only the tip of what can be done with Derek Yu’s wonderful Windows masterpiece. If you think it, you can probably do it. Of course all of this is wrapped up in 8-bit graphics, sound, and music. Nostalgia wins big time here.

Death is something that happens frequently in this game. In many cases, it’s one hit one kill. Taking its cue form rogue-like games every gameplay session is random–and difficult. The fact that it’s different every time possibly is what makes this game so much fun. Frustrating at times, but fun.

The catch? Letting yourself go. Enjoy the experience. This is not a game you play to beat. It’s a game you play to play. Although it doesn’t have much of a narrative, there are little bits of humor in the various enemies, worlds, weapons, and items our hero can carry. Need some awesome swag and the store owner is selling to high. Kill him and take it all. Good luck though. It’s one of the more difficult things to do in the game.

Rescuing damsels in distress can net you one coveted health point via a simple kiss. However, sacrificing her to a god can get you a valuable item that makes gameplay easier. Of course, you can use her to spring traps as well. Let her absorb the arrow.

The point of the game is to descend deeper and deeper into a cave netting gold, gems, and idols along the way. Stealing an idol sets off an Indiana Jones boulder run. Getting to the next level with it nets major money.

There’s gold in them thar hills!

This game is difficult and brutal but it can be beaten. There are even a few challenges and secrets along the way. Just keep playing. The desire to won’t be hard after you’ve given it a spin.

It’s available right now on Windows for FREE and has become somewhat of an internet sensation. Derek is hoping to ride that success over to the consoles as he plans to release an XBLA version sometime this year.

He already has my gold.

Mass Effect 2 First Impressions

Mass Effect 2 14

Since I’d rather be playing Mass Effect 2 more than typing about it, I’m going to make this somewhat short. So on to some bullet points:

  • First things first: I am loving Mass Effect 2. It’s taken most everything that was good from Mass Effect and made it better. And no elevators!
  • I love the look and feel. Mass Effect 2 really has a look of a mature next generation game.
  • The role playing game elements have been streamlined and become almost transparent. This is both good and bad. I like the streamlined skill set (simplified compared to the first game). I’m not a huge fan that they’ve largely removed the loot aspects of the game. No more weapon variety or modifications or armor. All of these have been streamlined, again, with a reduced number of weapons that are almost completely devoid of “stats”. You no longer see how much damage the weapon does or what modifications adds to the weapon. Now you’re just told if it’s “effective against shields” or “weak against synthetics.” Everything is available to everyone (that can use it) and upgradeable through your science officer. I’m getting used to it, but I liked being able to “min/max” my equipment and distribute new stuff to each of one of my guys.
  • The lack of planet exploration has been replaced by a scanning mini-game. It’s tedious, but I suffered through hours at a time of mining in EVE online, so this is practically Sonic mining. I don’t mind it.
  • I love the little details, the nods to the first game and the decisions I made. These little touches are a like Little Debbie snacks. Zingers. Raspberry Zingers, specifically.
  • I have just started “gaining” the trust and loyalty of my teammates and I can see that this process of gaining people’s loyalties become contrived. So far so good, but it is potentially on thin ice.

So this won’t qualify as a full review, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Mass Effect 2 to the Buttonmashing masses.

Weekend Gaming

So it looks like a nasty winter storm is headed our way, expected to hit us this afternoon and blanket us with a thick layer of the fluffy white stuff. Perfect for a weekend of gaming! This weekend I will most likely be focused on playing Mass Effect 2. I’m in the thick of things (and hope to get a post up soon about it) and I’m loving it. If I do happen to take a break from it, it will probably be to play some Left 4 Dead 2 or Modern Warfare 2. I will probably have to get my Spelunky fix as well (more on that later, too).

Are you about to be barraged with the cold stuff? What are your weekend gaming plans?

February Releases

January started the parade of good titles for 2010 and February packs another good, if not compact punch. Here’s what we’ve got to look forward to this month:

Xbox 360 banner

Week of February 8th
Dante’s Inferno
Bioshock 2– I fell in love with Rapture when the first Bioshock came out, but when I finished the game, I felt that I had seen everything that needed to be seen. Not sure I’m really on fire for playing Bioshock 2.

Week of February 15th
Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce
Alien vs Predator
Tropico 3

Week of February 22nd
Risen
Deadly Premonition
Borderlands Game Add-On Pack The Zombie Island of Dr. Nex and mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot– Borderlands is a game I definitely need to get back to. I was really enjoying co-op and now that DLC is rolling I need to get back to it.
Dead to Rights Retribution

Wii banner

Week of February 1st
Family Party 30 Great Games Winter Games

Week of February 8th
Rock Blast– You can never get enough of “line up items of the same color” games.
Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll
Shiren The Wanderer
The Daring Game for Girls

Week of February 15th
Triple Crown Snowboarding

Week of February 22nd
Endless Ocean: Blue World
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing

Nintendo DS banner

Week of February 1st
Puzzle Chronicles
Playmobil: Knights

Week of February 8th
Destiny of Zorro
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
The Daring Game for Girls
Scene It? Twilight– Really, Nintendo? Really?
Legend of Kay

Week of February 15th
Dementium II– I don’t have one, but if I kept a “games I should play one of these days” this game would be on it on the strength of the boxart alone.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth
KORG DS-10 Plus
Ragnarok DS– If this game is online, I may pick this one up.
Crime Scene

Week of February 22nd
Art of Murder– Starring Duff from MTV!
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s World Championship 2010 Reverse of Arcadia

PC banner

Week of February 1st
Iron Roses
Star Trek Online
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat

Week of February 8th
World Of Outlaws Sprint Cars
Bioshock 2

Week of February 15th
StrongBad’s Cool Game for Attractive People– I’m linking this specifically because (a) I love Strong bad and (b) I am an attractive person. This must be a cool game.
Everquest II: Sentinel’s Fate– Glad to see Everquest II is still going strong. With or without me.
Alien vs Predator– Seems like there have been other versions of this game out there, right? How is this not a sequel or anything?
Becky Brogan

Week of February 22nd
Alice in Wonderland
Napoleon Total War Limited Edition
WarBirds Dogfights

PS3 banner

Week of February 1st
White Knight Chronicles International Edition

Week of February 8th
Dante’s Inferno
Star Ocean: The Last Hope International
Bioshock 2

Week of February 15th
Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce
Alien vs Predator

Week of February 22nd
Last Rebellion
Heavy Rain

PSP banner

Week of February 1st
Puzzle Chronicles

Week of February 15th
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3

Week of February 22nd
Metal Slug XX
Dante’s Inferno

What are you picking up?

(Note: As always, all Amazon.com links have our affiliate code embedded in them. If you purchase something through our link, we get a little commission. It’s appreciated.)