Fun Games of the Year 2009

Finally, capping off the long list of Fun Games of 2009 is our final list, the coup de grace of lists, the absolutely definitive “These were the Fun Games” list: The games we had the most fun with in 2009:

James – I think I’ll have to go with Killing Floor for the most fun I’ve had with a game that came out this year. The gameplay is fun because of the teamwork required (up to six players), the variety of weapons, and the amount of action you get out of it. There is nothing like welding a door shut while the monsters try to break the door down and needing to cover your rear from the monsters charging you and your friends. Not to mention the perks you get that level up the more you play. Very, very fun game, can’t wait to get back to it!

Jason O – Let’s just get this out of the way and announce that Red Faction: Guerrilla was my game of the year. However, Batman: Arkham Asylum follows close on its heels. Overall I think this was a great year for games. Phantasy Star 0 has become my goto game for defeating boredom with the power of the Nintendo DS, while Wolfenstein, Borderlands, and Dragon Age: Origins have all become welcome additions to my library. Also, at the point where XBox Live Arcade was beginning to feel like a novelty we had Shadow Complex this year. For me, 2009 was the year of incredulity. Borderlands, Batman, and Shadow Complex each represent three distinct genres or gameplay styles that have little appeal to me and yet all won me over in a big way.

Nat – This was a stellar year for me. Every new title I purchased but one was a complete winner in my book. It’s Batman: Arkham Asylum that was the overall winner. It was close between inFamous and Assassin’s Creed II, but something about being Batman was pure joy. If I were to rate this game it’d be a 9.9–almost perfect. I continue to go back to the challenges and I’ve contemplated a second play-through. I really cannot say much more about this game than what’s been said, but it is a blast to play.

Will – My overall Fun Game of the Year for 2009 is also my winner in the Xbox 360 category: Borderlands. I enjoy FPSes, RPGs, and cooperative play. I also appreciate when I can play a game alone, but have the experience enhanced when others join in the fun. I had two sticky points during the single player campaign: Mothrakk and Old Haven. I sent an invite to a friend in each instance asking for help. They joined my game, we got through the mission, then they dropped out. That kind of flexibility in Borderlands‘ game design is something that goes a long way with me.

Tony – If we went on shear amount of time played, Spider Solitaire would be my FGoTY for about the eight year in a row. But, since this is the Fun Game for 2009, It doesn’t qualify. That being said, I’m going to call Batman: Arkham Asylum my Fun Game of the Year, 2009. I mentioned some reasons why in the Xbox 360 FGoTY post, so I won’t rehash them here, but I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the ending. It may have been a bit over the top, almost cheesy, but I loved it nonetheless. In a year of great gaming, Batman was the cream that rose to the top. I do worry that a sequel will lessen Batman’s impact on gaming but I’m also anxious to see what more we can expect!

So I think we can give, by virtue of two and a half votes, Batman: Arkham Asylum Buttonmashing.com’s 2009 Fun Game of the Year, with Borderlands garnering a respective second place. And let’s be honest and cliche about it: with all these fun games, the real winners are us gamers.

So that was our list for 2009. What games topped your list? And what has you most excited about 2010?

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.

Requiescat in pace: Assassin’s Creed II

6a00e3982444028833012876115b64970c-800wiIn some video games there comes a time where you know that you are going to be in it for the long haul. I remember relentlessly playing Wildstar and even though Killer Guides published a Wildstar class guide, it took me a little longer than expected to find a stopping point. No other game will be played until this one is done. No TV. No Internet. Nothing.

For me it was when the protagonist of Ubisoft’s recent game, Assassin’s Creed II, stumbled while climbing up a building near the beginning of the game. With literally no weapons and assassin’s outfit, I knew that this was going to be somewhat of an evolution story. Ezio was a rookie. He didn’t even know his father’s lineage — what his father truly was in the family controlled city-states of Renaissance Italy.

In the previous game, you played as Altiar an ancestor to Ezio. However, you started that game as a complete assassin. It’s not so this time around. In what amounts to the first underpinnings of the Italian mafia (Ezio’s accent even reminds you of east coast mafia movies), you’re just nothing but a street-brawling, womanizing son of an upper-middle class family. Just what is it that daddy does?

He’s an assassin.

More importantly, he’s a protector of the “Truth” behind the Garden of Eden and its famed forbidden fruit.

Oh, from here on out I must warn you. This will not be a completely spoiler free review. I don’t give too much away like specifics, but there is a game progression.

Inconceivable…

Technically, you’re not playing the game as Ezio, but you are actually playing the game as Desmond who is in turn playing as Ezio. Confused? Baby, you’ve seen nothing yet. Desmond is also an ancestor of Altiar who lives in a very near future from our own. Apparently, a certain group of scientists (we’ll call them the evil Templars who suppress the truth and use it for their own gain) have discovered that the memories of all our ancestors reside in our DNA. They’ve created technology that lets someone “re-live” their ancestors past.

In the first game, these Templars have abducted Desmond (because by genetic makeup alone he is an enemy) to learn the truth behind some historical events that did not go their way. Namely, they are looking for pieces of a device that when separated are pretty powerful but combined well, it’s not pretty. They want to combine it.

This time around it’s a day later for Desmond and he’s on the run with another assassin descendant, Lucy. Conveniently, they have a portable animus with better features — literally called Animus 2.0 — and Desmond needs to jump back into another ancestor’s memory. We return to Ezio. Thank goodness — for now.

Family Ties

Ezio is a bit of an uninspiring bumbler. The second oldest of four children, he pretty much lives off his family’s wealth and has almost no ambition in life except for wine, women, and song. this is where you begin.

And the beginning may take up to four hours. In what possibly may be be the longest interactive narrative and tutorial for a game ever made we get to learn along with Ezio how to climb buildings with ease, fist fight, and equip some armor. His motivation? In a surprising turn of events dear old dad and his two brothers are arrested for treason (think only one outcome), mommy goes into a state of shock, and sis decides grow brain and become the family accountant.

Only at the end of the memory sequence (think levels) when Ezio dons the traditional assassin blade do you realize that he now has a motive, mission, and will to live. We get to follow him over the course of twenty years discovering who he was along the way all the while stabbing people. Lots and lots of people.

For someone who may be well versed in the controls and playability of the first game the opening sequences of this title may be a bit of a bore. It’s saving grace is the wonderful opening narrative that sets the tone for Ezio and his surrounding environment. By the time Leonardo da Vinci fabricates your assassin blade for Ezio and then makes another one for him you know that you want to experience the full effect of being an Italian Assassin.

Big Time BFFs

Leonardo? In one of Ubisoft’s best moves, da Vinci becomes a confidant and gadget maker for Ezio. The scenes and missions with him are truly enjoyable. Towards the end of the game, you realize that Ezio would do anything for Leo. Renaissance bosom buddies. In other words, da Vinci would be Ezios wingman, but Ezio would not be his. They do mention that little known orienttion of the Italian genius, but it’s very minor.

Over the course of the next twenty-five hours (and twenty in-game years) Ezio assassinates, races, follows, climbs, and learns more about how Italian politics is really nothing compared to the conspiracy pulling their strings. Everyone wants a piece of the take even when they don’t truly understand what that “piece” is.

It’s a fixer-upper

Ezio cannot be an assassin all the time and that’s wonderfully handled in the family villa. You restore it to its former glory by collecting items (that have meaning and worth this time around) investing in the village surrounding the city, collecting art from the various cities, and investing in new weapons and armor.

Speaking of income, Ezio is also a little bit of a thief. He can steal from almost anyone, loot dead bodies, and take money from various treasure chests all over the place. This adds so much to the character. Altiar had a sense of honor and ideals where he only stole when necessary. For Ezio, it’s more than a necessity. it’s a way of life. As a side note, there are some in the game who can steal from you.

No one ever got away with stealing from me — and they never stole again.

Anything you can do…

There are some other things that Ezio can do that Altiar couldn’t. He can blend with any crowd of two or more people not just monks. He can hire groups of people to do various tasks: thieves harass, mercenaries fight, and courtesans, well, you know, distract. Ezio can throw money on the ground as well to create a mini-riot of pheasants and guards — another excellent diversion tactic. In the areas of fighting, he can bare-knuckle almost any opponent and disarm them eventually using their own weapons against them.

Free_running-ac2-431

There are a lot of weapons is this game, but really only two or three matter. The rest are good for one or two fights to see what they do and and then they’re off to the weapon’s room in the villa for display. The same goes for armor.

The amazing thing about the final armor and weapon is that they have this almost epic quality in their use. The task of solving six assassin tomb riddles to acquire the gear is one of the highlights of the game — but the last tomb is one of the worst frustrations. Timed events with clunky wall — running control is not a winner.

All roads lead to…

The end of the game has you facing the most powerful person in the known world at that time. It actually was a little bit of a shock (And also relied a little too much on Hollywood end-movie cliche.) However, by this time Ezio has discovered who and what he his. His mission is in full effect. Revenge and free will preservation are his motives–even if he fully doesn’t understand a lot of the history behind it.

We do get to see the history in its full glory. There’s one line delivered by a key character in the end that’s not directed to Ezio but to someone else that has a huge impact on the future of this da Vinci-code laden universe. I suppose that I should have seen it coming but it took me by surprise. “No. Way.” is what I think I uttered.

The only problem with the narrative is that we are left with Ezio in the dark. This may not really matter because all this time the story has been about Desmond. See, there’s this bleeding effect that the Animus has: the patient starts to learn the skills of their ancestors.

Any guess as to who the next assassin in the third game may be?

Next time on in search of…

On a final note, the historical detail behind the cities and their prominent features is amazing. Every painting you collect is real and includes a description of the piece and its artist. I don’t believe that the Renaissance is an area that’s been fully explored in a game setting before. Ubisoft are truly masters of putting you in the place of interesting underused time periods when it’s late fifteenth-century Italy or the time of the crusades. The cites in Assassin’s Creed II are alive with people not just walking around but drunk, playing games, celebrating Carnivale (amazing!), painting walls, carrying all sorts of textiles and produce, and trying to hawk a few florins from you with a song (hint: steal from them instead).

After every assassination, Ezio shows the life he has just taken some respect by uttering the phrase, Requiescat in pace. It essentially means rest in peace. The story may be over for Ezio at the end of Assassin’s Creed II (actually there will be some DLC that’ll fill in some gaps in the memory timeline), but it appears to be just beginning for Desmond.

In the beginning, God…?

I played this game on the PS3 to completion eventually earning my first Platinum Trophy for getting every trophy in the game.

2 Minute Review – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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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.

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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 theyve 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 didnt 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 dont 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 its 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.

Zune Marketplace on 360

Last night, in the middle of a mission in Borderlands, I got booted off of LIVE for an update. I saved my progress and applied the update.

Like most people who got into the preview program, I started playing with the new updates immediately after the update applied itself some 20 minutes later. Unlike most people, who probably went to Facebook or Last.fm first, I went directly to the Zune Marketplace to see how well the transition went.

Zune on PC video history

When I installed the Zune 4.0 software on the day it launched in September, one of the first things I noticed was that all of the videos I had downloaded on the 360 appeared in my download history. This made me happy, as I never understood why the Zune and Xbox 360 had two different video marketplaces. Although I couldn’t access any of those videos from the Zune software, I figured I would be able to when the 360 update went live. As the screenshot above shows, many of them still come up as unavailable. It is likely this will change once the update goes live to all 360s.

Zune on 360 video library

A week or so ago I downloaded the first episode of Battlestar Galactica, 33, from the Zune Marketplace. After applying last night’s update, I checked out my video library on the 360’s newly Zune-branded video marketplace and was pleased to find that episode sitting there, ready to play.

Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my Xbox 360

It only took a few seconds of buffering before I saw Caprica Six and Baltar talking to each other in 1080p. That was quite a step up for me, as I had seen the entire series in standard definition. The video transitions from a somewhat pixilated SD picture to a smooth HD picture quickly. I found the quality to be better than Netflixs HD videos, which is surprising considering how long it takes an HD Netflix video to start compared to the Zunes HD videos.

Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my Zune HD Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my PC

To demonstrate that Microsofts claim of Buy video once, play it on HDTV, PC or ZUNE HD is accurate, in the screenshots above you will see the same TV show running on my Zune HD and on my PC.

As a user of both the 360 and Zune, I am very happy to see how well the video portion of my Zune account is synced up with my 360. I would like to see Microsoft bring the Zune Pass service and some aspects of the Zune Social to the 360 as well.

Dead Rising Megapost

We love us some Dead Rising here at Buttonmashing. At the recent Tokyo Game Show, Capcom basically positioned themselves and Dead Rising 2 as the company and game of the show. We just wanted to create this mega-post and let you know what’s been shared about the game so far.

sword

  • The game takes place a few years after the initial outbreak.
  • You play as Chuck Greene (in another 72 hour period), a former motocross champion, who is is forced to confront the zombie horde in Fortune City (a Las Vegas wannabe).
  • He is possibly motivated by his surviving daughter and he also take part in a zombie-reality show at some point.
  • This reality show also is the basis for some multiplayer play. Think of it as American Gladiators with zombies.
  • Zombies on screen have been increased from 800 to 6,000!
  • There is no more photography (thank goodness!)
  • Weapons are crazier than ever. Think a shotgun attached to a rake, a blender placed on a head, double-edged chainsaws, and wheelchairs with all sorts of weapons attached.

Now on to the videos:

The multiplayer trailer (with an obvious nod to the Canadian developers working on the project)

Some actual multiplayer gameplay:

Shotgun rake gameplay:

Wheelchair gameplay:

Are ya’ ready for some football!?!?

Check out the chainsaws!

Source: Google?

2 Minute Review – Professor Layton & The Diabolical Box

Diabolical Box Art

The Professor and Luke are up to their wacky hijinks again!

Do: Unravel a mystery while solving close to 150 different logic puzzles.

Type: Puzzle/Adventure

Platform: Nintendo DS

Price: $29.99

PL2 Story Screen

Meat: As the sequel to last year’s puzzle/adventure game for the DS, Professor Layton & The Curious Village, Professor Layton & The Diabolical Box comes with some high expectations. You are tasked with guiding the titular Professor and his plucky assistant Luke through a rather substantial tale of murder, theft and intrigue as they attempt to find the Elysian Box, an artifact that kills any who dare open it. This is done by solving upwards of 130 different logic puzzles scattered throughout the tale. Some puzzles are random while some are integral to moving the story forward. Add to that a much larger variety of minigames and you are looking at a game that takes about 12 hours to playthrough with plenty of extra goodies to keep you coming back for more.

PL2 Puzzle Screen

Perks: The art design and music are a slice of whimsy and exotic flair in a world of games filled with too much gritty darkness. While the subject matter in Professor Layton & The Diabolical Box can be quite grim, there is always a sense of innocence about the proceedings. The puzzles in Diabolical Box are integrated into their surroundings much better than they were in the first game, with at least a hint of context given for each offering. Animated cutscenes are sprinkled liberally through the game and are a delight to watch. There has also been an improvement in the localization of the text clues for the word puzzles over the first game, which is a huge plus.

Screams: For a stronger resolution to the core plot. The game spends a lot of time weaving together several plot threads but then seems to rush the ending. The finale is still satisfying but the twists do seem to come out of nowhere and are resolved far too quickly for my taste.

Verdict: Buy. This is the middle game in a trilogy but the story is very self-contained with most of the allusions to the events of the first Layton game summed up nicely.

[2 Minute Review] The Beatles: Rock Band

Do you want to know a secret?

 

We all live in a yellow submarine

DO: The Beatles meet Rock Band. Simple.

TYPE: While my plastic guitar gently weeps

PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, and Wii

PRICE: $60

MEAT: If you’ve played Rock Band almost nothing has changed except the difficulty has been lowered a notch for almost all the songs. The technicality of the songs was much simpler then, but, of course, the songs are accessibe by almost anyone. It’s awesome to the see the evolution of their music as you play each venue they play or as you sit with them in the studio. The dreamscapes (what goes on in the background in the latter half of the game because the group didn’t tour) are so amazing that they can be distracting at first.

beatle_rock_band1252344947

PERKS: style and presentation are top-notch; enough for hardcore Beatles fans; engaging and interesting enough for people familiar with the group; catchy tunes, interesting rewards; a music game that’s accessible for mom and dad; fun with a little help from your friends; 45 songs is just enough for one group; vocal harmonization; got my wife to play late into the evening three days straight

SCREAMS: to have Hey Jude and Let It Be; you’re not really playing a specific character; to have a little more depth; 45 songs is not enough for one game; $60 may be too much for some. The Beatles are the taxmen;

VERDICT: He buys her diamond rings you know. She said so. Im in love with her and I feel fine. I was not a Beatle fan, but the prospect of playing a Rock Band game where I knew at least ten of the songs intrigued me. After one week, I’ve become a fan. I guess the game worked. The title oozes style and substance. A non-fan may not see the substance, but I found the pictures, trivia, group dynamics, and all the history to be very interesting. I think what the game does very well is show how the group was innovative with almost everything they did up until the end. The evolution in their style of music, clothes, and even hair were indicative of the times. I was born in the late 70’s and I guess the biggest compliment I can give this game is that I understand the era in which they played a little better and it’s getting better all the time.

Cast Off Your Dream

On September 9, 1999 I was was sitting at my workstation waiting for the sky to fall. Alarmists were predicting the pre-curser to the Y2K fiasco. It was my task to make sure all the clocks in the office computers would function properly. Planes were supposed to fall out of the sky. Nothing happened.

I had spent most of my high school and college working in the electronics department at the local Wal-Mart, and I was there for quite a few console releases. The Nintendo 64 was the last. I was a huge PC gamer at the time (a game a paycheck) and I couldnt understand all the fuss over the last consolethe Nintnedo 64. People came in at midnight to get it.

On 9/9/99 I had been married a month and was a year and a half removed from Wal-Mart. One of my old wedding buddies was still employed there. We (I still feel a part of the familythey were that good with loyalty) were the best store in the district. Sold the most goods. Made the most profit.

I remember my friend telling me that they sold one Dreamcast. One.

So began the rise and fall of the critically acclaimed Sega Dreamcast, a system that almost killed a company and eventually became a cult console.

I didnt own one until I saw a used system on eBay used in 2004. By then the console had already been proclaimed a failure and I was buying it just to experiment, but more importantly to play a rare imported game that I came across that had become sort of a cult classic itself. I was a closet shmup fan, and I had spent more on the game than the system itself. Ikaruga was and is one of the best games Ive ever played.

Over the course of the next year I came across Crazy Taxi, a Sonic game here or there, Soul Calibur (I still burn to play that onenot the sequels), and Ready 2 Rumble. After a year of play, in a state of confusion I sold the system and the games on eBay for a profit. I kept Ikaruga.

In April of this year the website Thinkgeek came across of a supply of new, unopened systems, and they were selling them for $100. I didnt wait. Since then Ive toyed with the idea of making a MAME cabinet using the console or at least an Ikaruga arcade cabinet.

The Dreamcast is now officially ten years old and it still has a little bit of life in it. With over 660 games it does see a few new releases a year although most of them are homebrew or done by an independent developer. Systems can still be had for a price and there is a relatively large underground market for games.

I have in my possession what I to believe to be seven of the most influential games on the system, and starting tomorrow and over the course of the next seven days Ill be giving a little review of each one.

Do you have any favorite games on the system that you miss? My life with the console is short-lived and maybe some of you have married the system. Whats your Dreamcast story?

Update: