The PC Gamer’s Manifesto

Having recently come into possession of something I can only classify as a “gaming PC”, I realize it would be silly to own this thing and not use it to actually play games. Certainly it is very capable of doing my usual Facebook and blogging updates, but it is capable of so much more. However, I also remember quite clearly that it was not a lack of hardware that has turned me into a near exclusive console gamer in the past few years. I’ve still played the occassional PC game, but only as a rare foray since the PC was the obvious or only platform of choice.

Powerful hardware or not, I will turn this machine back around and make it some of the most powerful hardware used to poke people on Facebook if the PC gaming industry doesn’t start to shape up. I’m willing to be enticed away from consoles again, but here is what it will take to get me back as a regular PC gamer.

1. Your game will install easily and work the first time
I am sick and tired of installing games that don’t work, that want me to update my drivers, or doesn’t actually run on hardware that the box claims it supported. I dealt with the old days of trying to switch between expanded and extended memory and constantly trying to keep from getting the two mixed up. Oh how I would love to go back to that problem compared the what the average install has become. In the past two years I have had more games with install problems than not. If anything it seems like this is getting worse. PC games are not a new phenomenon, this should not be hard! Your chief competitor only requires someone to pop in a disc and start playing. I’m not asking for that level of simplicity, but I think asking for an install process that works is not unreasonable. These are games, not enterprise level business applications.

2. You will design games for systems people actually own
I hate the claim “The PC is the largest platform base”. It’s not true because there is so much hardware and operating system variation that is lumped in under “PC”. Laptops typically have integrated graphic cards that are nowhere near the capabilities of what is inside a dedicated desktop gaming computer. Somewhere along the way you must make a business decision as to what kind of market you will support. I hate to point this out, but more and more people are going the laptop route, which means you desperately need to figure out how to support those “lousy” integrated graphic cards or lose a huge chunk of your market.

3. Your copy protection will not keep me from playing the game
I paid money for your product. I kept my end of the bargain. Your end of the bargain is to give me the product you advertised. When I can’t play your game because your stupid copy protection scheme has some issue with my system settings, chosen install location, or some random occurrence based on the position of the stars we have a problem. If I can’t get my money back, chances are good I will not buy a game from you again. Even if I can get my money back, the process of trying to return software is so egregious that I’m unlikely to risk putting money down on your products in the future.

4. Your copy protection scheme must have no impact on the game
I often hear claims about how cracked games have often run better because they’re not running the copy protection software in the background. I’m willing to let that go as hearsay evidence at best, but I also know enough about software to understand those claims are entirely plausible. If your copy protection is making the pirated version of your product the superior choice then you’ve created a self-defeating process. If I see system processes kicking off in conjunction with performance problems while running the game, it won’t take much for me to figure out if its some stupid scheme you’ve got running in the background. If this happens I will avoid your products in the future.

5. You will not treat your customers like criminals
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer physical media and I don’t mind a bit having the disc in the DVD-ROM while playing even if the game is entirely installed on the hard drive. That said, if I own authentic physical media then we should be done. I should not have to verify my identity, be forced to register, or do anything that involves some external process to prove that I paid for the game. This is a huge public relations problem. We already live in a world were many valuable products are locked away until some underpaid struggling college student comes to unlock it for us. We go through security scanners, have security tags removed, and receipts verified all too often for my comfort. When I get home I feel like my domain is sacred. Having your product then come up and ask for identification is a slap in the face.

6. I should not have to mod your game to make it playable
I do not pay for unfinished software. Every piece of software has bugs, every piece of software has issues. The more complex it is, the more problems it has. See, I get it. I’ve been in software development for over a decade. I know what you go through to get a product to market. I do. However, there is a reasonable level of expectation that says I am buying a finished product that will work as advertised. In my world that’s “works as documented”, but it’s the same thing. We don’t want bugs in software, they’re just nearly impossible to avoid. I hate it when I complain about a game and the first response is “You need to download mod [X]“. WRONG! I paid for the game, I installed it, I may have gone through who knows how many convolutions already just to get to this point. Now I have to go spend additional effort researching, downloading, and installing something else? Probably something being offered for free? Mods are not a crutch and should not be required. Having mod support is a nice feature, but the average Joe and Jane are not going to do anything further to your software. Instead they will just perceive an inferior product. As for me, the not-so-average Joe, what I see is a poor effort turned in with expectations of access to my wallet. I have every right to be offended.

7. Your game should not crash at random
Games crash. Software crashes. Even some console games have the occasional glitch. Like I said before, every piece of software has bugs. Even knowing that, you should have a graceful way of handling errors. You desperately need to address memory leaks and not just hope the game’s garbage collection handles it before it crashes, assuming you even bothered to do enough memory management to actually implement garbage collection. It’s one thing to have a workaround to a problem, it’s an entirely different matter to suddenly find yourself back at the desktop for no reason. That doesn’t feel good to the consumer, especially if they were in the midst of an epic battle.

In short, what I’m saying is that your product needs to be usable. I need to be able to judge a game based on how well it plays. Unfortunately, I’m having to surmount many obstacles just getting to the point of being able to even play the game. By that time I’ve already soured on your product. I used to enjoy PC gaming, but what turned me off wasn’t the increasing abilities of consoles but the passive-aggressive attitudes of PC game developers towards their customers, a constant refusal to adapt to the market, and increasing difficulty in actually getting games to work on hardware that was fairly standard.

If you want to call yourself a PC game developer then quit treating your customers like the enemy and give them the products they paid for. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Crushed

Boy, I rarely have a pile of shame this big. Between the holidays, sales, and some Blockbuster stores going out of business around me I have acquired a ton of games just in December. For the PC I now have Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Haze for the PS3, Phantasy Star 0 for the DS, and Shadowrun, Ace Combat 6, Quake 4, Wolfenstein, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Pure, Call of Juarez, Too Human, Lost Odyssey, and Dragon Age: Origins for the 360. 13 games right before my favorite game purchasing season is about to start!

Take Two in the ditch

So everytime I worry that I’m being too harsh about this recession, how it impacts my hobby in particular, I find a new piece of information that only helps reinforce my apparent pessimism. Take Two has announced more losses. Their new strategy is essentially “We’re going to be just like Activision and EA”, which is disastrous.

I swear this isn’t a segue, but am I the only one who remembers the dotcom days? How about the days when everyone was going to beat Microsoft at their own game? How about the days when everyone had the new “Doom killer”, “Diablo killer”, or their product catalog had some kind of upcoming Real-Time Strategy title? Am I the only one who remembers how that played out for most of the people involved?

The big problems with the game market right now is a lack of diversification. As more people jump on the bandwagon they’ll quickly realize there isn’t enough room for everyone. That means someone has to fail. Since Call of Duty came on the scene, the Medal of Honor series hasn’t done so hot. Brothers in Arms made a brief foray, but they’re largely getting dominated by Call of Duty as well. In other words, their just isn’t a huge market for quality World War II shooters. Ironic considering Infinity Ward doesn’t even make World War II games anymore. Likewise, games keep trying to be like Halo and keep finding out, the hard way, that we already have a perfectly good Halo.

I imagine that this may be Take Two’s swan song. I can’t see their being enough demand for three mega-publishers all pushing AAA titles. The problem with the “AAA” concept is that it only works when a handful of these super expensive heavily marketed games are competing with each other and a large number of non-AAA titles. If every title is “AAA” then what that really means is that a lot of money is going to be pumped into failure. In a way that’s good news because it will only kill this failing business model faster. The game industry has always had big releases, we’ll always have “big” games. What we cannot have is nothing but AAA games. There will be no sleeper hits, no innovation, and no risk. Either consumers will flock to one franchise or everything will fail as people lose interest.

So now I’m wondering if 2010 is the year gaming loses the mainstream? Actually, that will probably be 2011. If game publishers fail to move their business forward they’ll lose the public. Some gamers might think this is a good thing, but I think we’ve benefitted by having mainstream status.

2 Minute Review – Guitar Hero: Van Halen

A game that needs no introduction

Do: Play as the legendary band Van Halen

Type: Music Rhythm

Platforms: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, XBox 360 (Reviewed), Wii

Price: $59.99 PS3 and XBox 360, $49.99 PS2 and Wii

Meat: Not unlike Guitar Hero: Metallica, this is yet another band specific Guitar Hero release but with the ability to play all the instruments. Although after Guitar Hero: Aerosmith I said I would stay away from band specific games I am a huge Van Halen fan and I actually didn’t pay for this game. As part of ordering Guitar Hero 5 I received this free.

For anyone familiar with the Guitar Hero formula they should be instantly familiar with the game, though in many ways this game is a throwback and feels wrong after playing Guitar Hero 5. Despite some of the improvements made in Guitar Hero 5, which were carried over into Band Hero, Van Halen is clearly using a system more akin to the earlier Guitar Hero: World Tour. This just seems odd given its release date and the improvements made to Band Hero which was also released after Guitar Hero 5.

Also disconcerting is the total lack of reference to former band members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony, or any songs that were sung by Sammy Hagar for that matter. C’mon guys! I know that David Lee Roth’s huge ego doesn’t like to acknowledge the band was actually successful while he was gone, but “Why Can’t This Be Love?” is a Van Halen classic! 5150 was a great album and it’s total exclusion is glaring to any Van Halen fan.

In fact, that seems to be the biggest problem with the game. It seems to be focused around the egos of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth without any concern over fan expectations. It’s like every distasteful thing fans have put up with who loved their music but presented in videogame form.

Perks: Overall it’s a great selection of music that covers some of the classic Van Halen hits. Without a doubt the opening song should be and is “Panama” which will thrill most fans and is the perfect introduction to Van Halen’s musical style for those that didn’t grow up with their music.

For a band that has often focused on how great a guitarist Eddie Van Halen is, the other instruments are not ignored. There are challenging drum sections, vocals, and bass chords throughout different songs. The game is very guitar focused, but that should be expected given the source material.

Screams: At this point though I am tired of the idea that the other songs have anything to do with Van Halen. After Beatles: Rock Band I think its safe to say that either a band is strong enough to represent themselves based on their own music catalog or not.

Here’s another big problem with the game. Despite the fact that Guitar Hero and Rock Band have both moved away from doing cover versions and moved on to master tracks, some of Van Halen’s songs are covers themselves. “You Really Got Me” and “Pretty Woman”, both made famous by their original artists, are presented as Van Halen’s work. Considering the nature of these games, these seem like odd additions.

Overall, the game really was released too late. Some of the better known Van Halen songs should have been released sooner when Guitar Hero was only about guitar and bass and simply included with earlier releases. Part of the problem with Guitar Hero: Van Halen, is that they may not be strong enough to carry their own game. Maybe they are, but they would have to be willing to use the whole of their music catalog instead of pretending certain events didn’t happen.

Verdict: PASS – There is not enough of a game here to justify a purchase and I wouldn’t even bother renting. Many of the stronger non Van Halen songs are available as downloads in Rock Band already. This should not have been a full game.

2 Minute Review – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

mw2_01

More Modern Warfare!

Do: Continue the story of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Type: First Person Shooter

Platforms: XBox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Windows

Price: $59.99 all platforms

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Meat: Until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out I was not a big fan of the COD series. I won’t go into specifics, I just didn’t particularly care for it. However, Infinity Ward won me over at last with COD4 and I played through many of the single-player missions multiple times and found the multi-player to be a welcome respite from Halo 3′s infuriating design decisions. However, one observation I had about COD4 was that it was essentially two games. An excellent single-player story that had all of its art assets and underlying engine reused for the multi-player portion. This is not a complaint, as I found myself perfectly happy with each “game”, though I would like the two to have crossed a little more.

Unfortunately, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 does little to alleviate this. If you’ve played COD4, you’ve played MW2. As a bonus commentary, if you’ve played COD4 you’ve also played Call of Duty: World At War, just with a different time period and weapons. Essentially you’ve got the single-player game with a strong story focus and almost frustratingly linear level design and a strong multi-player component that practically exists as its own game. As a bonus, there are the new “Special Operations” missions that use many of the single-player and multi-player maps for specific game types, all of which can be played co-op and some can not be played single-player at all.

From a technical standpoint the game is near perfect, which is not much of a compliment since COD4 was already polished to a mirror shine. There are some graphical improvements, especially in the weapon models, but the game will feel very familiar if you’ve played its predecessor.

test

Also, you can just hang out

Perks: Without a doubt this game is about as close to technical perfection as you can get in a contemporary first person shooter. I’m sure you could harp about even more photo-realistic graphics or greater audio fidelity, but in terms of how the game works it’s as good as it needs to be and that’s all I ask.

The single-player story is well designed, at least from a level perspective. They have greatly improved enemy encounters by removing the ridiculous infinite “spawn closets” that enemies used to appear from until you passed a checkpoint. Combat is frantic and remains an adrenaline fueled affair. I want desperately to enjoy the fight itself in a first person shooter, and the Modern Warfare series has yet to disappoint.

Some nice additions to the game are the new weapon attachments, like the heartbeat sensor and thermal site. Both add new tactics to the game and yet are not without their own limitations. The breaching mechanic, while simplistic, never seems to get old. When you breach a wall or door the game goes into a slow motion “bullet time” which allows you to act quickly to prevent the execution of hostages or counter-ambush enemies that were lying in wait. I think they did this just enough to keep it from getting old.

The Special Operations missions are a nice touch and add some replayability if you’re one of those people who don’t enjoy replaying their favorite single-player missions. The Special Operations range from holding off waves of enemies, vehicle chases, single-handedly wiping out enemy forces, and stealth missions. A nice co-op mission allows one player to be the AC-130 gunner while the other player coordinates on the ground.

Multi-player remains the same but with more options. At last you can use more than one weapon attachment and they’ve added additional perks and challenges to keep the on-line portion attractive to the compulsive obsessive. The underlying system remains the same so the learning curve is not steep even with new perks, attachments, and killstreaks. They have done a much better job of balancing the different options available to the players, removing the controversial juggernaut ability and limiting the use of matyrdom. In my own opinion I found the whining about these perks more annoying than their usage in COD4, but the changes have not adversely affected on-line play in the least.

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Screams: Here’s where you need to hold onto your hats, kids, because I’m going to say some very bad things.

Despite my earlier comments about the “No Russian” mission, the rest of the story is a bust after that point. There is no emotional payoff and the rest of the story is more like an alternate history novel than a Tom Clancy knock-off. Despite the criticism of COD4 as a poor Clancy-esque novel, I liked it. The whole concept was plausible and barely utilized my suspension of disbelief. The new story makes some ridiculous leaps, is overly reliant on plot contriavances and macguffins, and some plot elements are relayed in the middle of firefights so you might miss them completely.

While I appreciated COD4′s careful balance between realism and playability, I always felt they kept it just realistic enough that I didn’t feel like I was in an 80′s action movie. Firing from the hip was inaccurate, I didn’t have a health bar, and everyone seemed to be using regionally appropriate weapons. All of that is out the window in MW2. Russians are using weapons that make little sense for them to have, Brazilian gang members are using primitive and oddly high tech weapons at the same time, and US forces come the closest to reality in a “future force warrior” sort of way but still possess an odd amalgation of weaponry. You now have weapons that can be dual-wielded, which might look cool throws any sense of “reality” right out the window.

Also, the game is ridiculously hard. As a compensation for the removal of infinite spawn closets, enemies just start out ridiculously numerous and volleys of bullets will shred you to pieces even on the easiest of difficulty levels. Some of the Special Operation missions seem to be intently focused on being played co-op despite the ability to play them single-player. None of this is insurmountable, but the game can be needlessly frustrating at times. Especially in light of how well balanced COD4 was regardless of skill-level.

A further problem is that none of this ties into the experience you earn in multi-player. Experience points used to unlock new perks, weapons, and equipment is all kept seperate. Want to play local split-screen? Fine, but those experience points only count towards split screen play. Special Operations also does not help you advance. Wait? What? One of the driving forces behind Call of Duty multi-player is the ability to rank up and earn new stuff. Why bother playing on-line if it doesn’t help me advance? You give players the option of doing special operation missions but their is no real payoff for doing them. All you get is…more special operations missions?

I could forgive this system in COD4, but after Rainbow Six Vegas 2 allowed you to earn experience both on and offline I don’t see the point of it. The problem is I want to unlock the different weapons and I want to use them all the time. Single-player or multi-player. I don’t want to be forced to interact with foul mouthed cretins to fully play your game, Infinity Ward. The way the game is designed they have nullified the whole point of doing special operations except for a tiny subset of people who don’t want to play with aforementioned foul mouthed cretins but will still venture to do on-line multi-player with friends who don’t mind getting nothing for their efforts other than bonding time with good buds.

As for the main multi-player portion itself, while the different weapons and abilities are more finely balanced I was worried that the additional killstreak options would further tilt the game towards the more experienced players. The biggest weakness of COD4′s multiplayer was its lack of good matchmaking by skill. This becomes an even bigger problem in MW2 since additional killstreak rewards just tip the scales further towards players who are doing well. This makes MW2 the least newbie friendly game released yet.

Furthermore, Infinity Ward has disabled party chat in some game modes in order to “encourage players on the same team to work together”. This was a huge mistake, as many players relied on party chat to avoid the large number of players who tended to use racial slurs or the idiots who would sing incessantly during a match. Instead I find myself unable to play those modes with friends and when I do play I have the microphone muted and the volume turned down. Well done, Infinity Ward, instead of encouraging teamwork you’ve turned a good portion of your player base into virtual hermits. I have noticed far fewer headsets plugged in during games then before. Previously, people without headsets were the minority, now they are the norm. Clearly something is going wrong.

Verdict: RENT – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a well polished shooter and worth renting, if just to see the fate of the various characters from the previous game and to enjoy the combat and various “toys” available. If you’re not an existing Call of Duty fan then you will likely not feel any need to play the game beyond the single-player game and maybe a handful of Special Operation missions.

A grim time for gaming

Most of the time I prefer to link to Bill Harris then the actual news article simply because his commentary is usually worth considering. However, while I agree with his points and encourage everyone to see what he has to say I have better things to do then reiterate what has already been said. Instead I want to take some of the facts as we know them and shed some very painful light on them.

Electronic Arts just shed a large number of workers. I think the analysis at Dubious Quality is being conservative in saying they’ve released a quarter of their workforce. 2,600 people this year, around 1,300 in this most recent layoff alone. At a time when unemployment has hit double digits in America (I understand these were not just American jobs at EA) this is a terrible time to be looking for a job much less a job in an industry that is struggling to survive.

Hubris has destroyed many large corporations. I was there to see it bring AOL to its knees. Steve Jobs admitted outright that it nearly destroyed Apple. Yet at the end of 2008 and well into 2009 we had one executive after another talking about the “recession proof” gaming industry. How many development studios have shuttered their doors this year? I have actually lost count. Sadly, the nature of the gaming industry means that even beloved companies will close their doors in even the best of times. The epidemic of failing studios this year does not mean good things for gamers in 2010, and probably 2011. The real lesson learned though is that games are not recession proof. No luxury good is ever recession proof.

While people are out of work and budgets are tightening, the gaming industry is selling games at a higher price, targeted the secondary market, and looked at methods to put their hands in our pockets as directly as possible searching for whatever loose change they can find. One use codes, exclusive pre-order bonuses, and other strategies seem intent on making it clear that “buying new” is the way to go. I have to say that my biggest incentive to “buy new” is when a game hits a price I actually think it is worth. I didn’t hesitate to get Borderlands at $50, but the initial $60 asking price is simply too high to risk on a potentially bad game.

Questionable marketing strategies aside, the grim reality is that EA may not have any choice. At this point the gaming industry, like any industry, just needs to survive long enough for the economy to improve. This means less innovation, less risk-taking, and more “sure bets”. This means that we as gamers will have fewer choices and more of the same. After Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sells a bazillion copies do you think Activision is going to tell Treyarch “Hey, people are tired of you guys making the sucky Call of Duty versions, so why don’t we just release every 2 years and you can go back to making games you actually care about”? NO CHANCE! Bobby Kotick is going to milk that cow with his calloused little fingers until the udders fall off.

I see fewer and fewer games of interest to me. I think it’s going to be a rough couple of years for my hobby. The good news is, this too shall pass. Like a kidney stone, it will pass.

The infamous Modern Warfare 2 airport shooting

Controversy can be good advertising. Although I have to give Infinity Ward some credit, when your game has been pre-ordered by everyone and their cat it’s not like you need cheap publicity to sell your game. While I tend to take a cynical view of business many times, this is one time when the facts as we know them seem to contradict the more jaded conclusions being jumped to.

I am, of course, talking about the already famous “No Russian” sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Since the cat is already out of the bag and other websites have discussed this in detail I am going to give a spoiler warning here and move on.

Initially I thought I might skip over this scene, especially after finding out there is no way to avoid conflict with the police. Yet when the police came I managed to take advantage of game logic to avoid killing any of them until the very end. At that point I realized that I was not becoming the player. That I could see myself trying to disguise my non-killing of civilians but when shots are fired in anger am I not going to shoot back? I do think some of the game logic ends up sacrificing some of the impact from the scene, since half a dozen armed men are not going to be able to take on what seemed like the entire Moscow police force and real life can’t exploit AI weaknesses to push on to the next checkpoint without killing someone.

The payoff for the scene was anger. While many have criticized Infinity Ward and said there was a better way to portray how villainous the main antagonist is without such a heavy handed (and heavily scripted) sequence, when I took Makarov’s hand and he casually shot me in the head I realized all my agony, all my regret, all my concern over the consequences of my actions were for naught. Despite trying to hold onto my humanity, trying to be one of the good guys, I was going to die for nothing. Worse, I was going to be used to start a war.

The emotional payoff is huge. I don’t think I’ve been this vested in a villain since I was betrayed by Rhalga nar Hhallas (aka: “Hobbes”) in Wing Commander 3. Videogames have seen their fair share of villains and many of them I would consider far more epic than Modern Warfare’s Makarov, but I hate this guy. I can’t wait to take him down.

Was it cheap, exploitative, and unnecessary? Was there a better way to convey the depths of Makarov’s villainy? I think Infinity Ward was desperate to show there was no nuance to this character. No matter what may have happened in his past, there is no justification for his actions. He cheaply slaughtered his own countrymen and women so that he could turn the murder of an American agent into a full-scale war.

People are not going to like this sequence. They’re going to question motives of developers and producers. I think that’s good. It’s a powerful scene that is not to be taken lightly. I would definitely encourage anyone who feels too disturbed by the content to skip it. I think it’s a fair thing to do. Otherwise, experience it, even knowing what is going to happen, because it has a major impact on the story.

Funny, though, that even though the people at the airport are not real I could not shoot unarmed civilians when I was a “good guy”, even if I was in deep cover. Odd that even though they were not real, I began to hate Makarov right from the start simply because he could so casually slaughter them.

Cheap game of the moment

Obviously I have been slack in getting these out. With the passing of my father, a new job, and even a shift in job responsibilities since starting my time has simply been too constrained. I will continue to report on budget titles as often as I can, but a weekly commitment is simply too much at this point.

Borderlands First Impressions

I’m not good with first impressions because I usually play games too long for a good “first impression” but not near long enough for a review. I want to write about the experience, but I’m usually well past the point where I know if I love or hate a game when I’m ready to talk about it.

The other issue with Borderlands, aside from the fact I am not supposed to have this game, is that I am finding it impossible not to compare it to Far Cry 2 or Sacred 2. The similarity to Far Cry 2 being the overland travel and open-world shooter concepts. Sacred 2 is merely the most recent serious offering into the “RPG-Lite” dungeon crawl loot droppings of Diablo fame.

(Author’s Note: “As for not supposed to have”, I have an annual birthday moratorium where I am not supposed to buy any games, movies, or books. The reason why is unknown seeing as how no one ever buys me games, movies, or books despite that being all that is on my wish list.)

I am so far not encouraged in the ways that Borderlands resembles Far Cry 2. The problems of Far Cry 2 were all about poor execution of potentially good ideas, adding minutia to solid gameplay mechanics, and essentially making sure that anything that could be fun had some element of tedium. I think this was supposed to add tension, but it added frustration and monotony. Shortly after reading the article I just linked to I gave Far Cry 2 another go. After driving for nearly an hour to get to an objective I got out to do an assault. I literally panned 360 degrees to make sure no one was about to ambush me, then as I moved forward I heard that tell-tale engine roar and was run over by a truck that literally spawned out of nowhere! Half my play session for the night ruined by an incredibly poor design. I got rid of the game after that incident.

Borderlands is far more forgiving even if you get killed. Enemies tend to be far less random and it’s usually easy to tell where they are coming from. Maps are sprawling but oddly well contained. I still feel the lack of quick travel is a hindrance. This is the biggest resemblance to Far Cry 2, and the long map load times are going to become a problem compounded by a lack of quick travel. I think quick travel may be unlocked later as there is a “bunny” icon on one of the interface screens that is disabled. Why not have it unlocked from the start is beyond me. I have to slog through the same enemies but at least the respawning is a lot less aggressive and there is some reward for doing it. One of the big issues with Far Cry 2 is that killing random enemies was rarely a reward. Getting a new gun in poor repair or a downgraded vehicle was not an incentive to engage in random encounters.

On to Sacred 2, I think it is safe to say that I am not in agreement with the Buttonmashing official review. This is not a slight to the other writers, in fact it’s a strength of the site, but I found Sacred 2 entirely too boring. Most of it was a feeling of disconnectedness; the game offered too little information and yet had way too much going on. I could never really tell if my actions or decisions were having a discernable impact. There was very little strategy, or maybe there was but the game imparted so little information that it was difficult to tell. My biggest gripe, though maybe not the reason I put the game down, was that loot drops felt way too similar. Improvements were often incremental, there was very little change. Why use that sword instead of this sword? For one, the game was not great in how it communicated to the player as it was, but when you did parse the details it often felt like very little reward was being given. Instead I was hauling a lot of junk that I ended up selling most of the time.

Here, so far, I feel like Borderlands has improved. They have asked me to make tough choices, but they give you the information they need. Furthermore, the weapons are more than their stats. The stats may say “Weapon Zoom 2.0″ but you can test that for yourself. A zoom through a scope may be easier to aim then down iron sights for example. There is a lot of repetition of models, which shouldn’t be surprising and isn’t. There is a lot of junk, but thanks for making it clear that it’s junk! I don’t like how stingy the game is with inventory though. I can only store 12 items at the start? No long term storage? For a game that is all about loot, the inability to keep anything long-term is a huge letdown. Again, maybe this is unlocked later, but why?

Borderlands is not a perfect game, but I will say that it is the game I wanted with Sacred 2 even though one is a first-person shooter and the other is an isometric dungeon crawl. The presentation is simply fantastic in Borderlands, not just the art style but how it does every little thing. I love the graphics on the vending machines, the way that the red chests fold out and present your findings, and even the few characters you interact with. There is some creeping doubts about how it is similar in all the wrong ways to Far Cry 2, and I can only hope that as I continue Borderlands will not fall into the same traps.

My one regret is that I went with the PS3 version of the game, and that’s going to limit my multi-player options. I haven’t been doing much multi-player these days, but I like keeping my options open. As soon as I hit that “installing” screen I remembered why I typically buy for the 360. Fortunately, it too less than 5 minutes to install. I will say that PS3 games do actually look better than their 360 counterparts, but will anyone be able to tell the difference with cel-shaded art?

Halo 3: ODST may be my biggest gaming disappointment this year

Unfortunately, with all the recent events I have not been able to give Halo 3: ODST any decent write-ups. That’s probably acceptable though because I simply cannot give the game enough time to do a decent write-up. Not that I haven’t been playing games, I’ve just been playing everything except this. Halo 3: ODST may be the biggest disappointment this year. The game is chock full of good ideas but is extremely poor in its overall execution.

What I really blame for this is the idea you can incorporate standard Halo gameplay without Master Chief. Bungie gave me the impression combat would have to be more strategic, perhaps more stealthy. Nope. The game is pretty much straight up Halo, except you’re not anywhere near as tough nor can you wield the same kind of firepower.

So here is a pretty decent story hamstrung by an incredibly frustrating play experience. I’m sure the game will sell like gangbusters because its Halo, people will love it because it is Halo, and the game will still continue getting decent reviews simply because it is Halo. If you’re not invested in the Halo franchise? I’d recommend steering clear.

I do want to get back into the game because I want to see how the story pans out. I just don’t have the frustration tolerance for it right now.