Staying Power

So Tetris was recently made available (again) on the Play Station Network for ten dollars. For the PS3. In 2011.

Is there any other video game that is over 25 years old that, over the years, has had its fundamental game mechanic changed so little but can still demand “top tier” pricing the way Tetris can?

(I still have my original Gameboy Tetris cartridge plugged into my old Gameboy Advance SP and play it at least three times a week.)

Final Fantasy XIII and the platform philosophy

I could simply do an “In my hands” post like we usually do, but purchasing Final Fantasy XIII is a special milestone for me. You see, I hate Japanese RPG’s. I hate them with a passion. The why’s and wherefore’s are worthy of their own topic and I won’t belabor them here, but the end result is I don’t play JRPG’s. I attempted to play Lost Odyssey late last year. I bought the game for my Dad, which he loved immensely and played through it twice. With his passing I felt like it was an easy way to connect with him. I essentially inherited a game that I bought for him as a gift. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get into the game but it feels too much like a JRPG in all the wrong ways.

I am, for the first time, buying a JRPG for the story. Stories are important, don’t get me wrong. However, I want to play a game, not watch a game. I get plenty of stories from movies and books already and I don’t need games for their stories. When a game has a good story that’s just a bonus for me. Even Mass Effect 2, which you largely play for its story, is still primarily a game-based purchase, if such a term exists. However, everything I see in Final Fantasy XIII is just gorgeous. I am hoping against hope that they’ll resist to do the usual anime tropes. You know what I mean. The evil corporation, the needlessly convoluted storyline, the betrayal in the third act you saw coming from the first, etc. I’m sure they will, they can’t help themselves. JRPG’s and anime are addicted to a very predictable plot cycle that has made one much like the other in the past decade. Still, this game is brimming with so much potential that I have abandoned my strict “No JRPG” stance. I am hoping this is a game that will transcend it’s genre, like Dawn of War or Borderlands.

All that said, I bought this on the PS3. I like my PS3, but it’s a massive pain in the butt. The ridiculous installation process and the ponderous and intrusive updates actually make the infamously unreliable XBox 360 hardware look good by comparison. That’s an interesting accomplishment considering Microsoft effectively went into overdrive to deliver the most unreliable console of all time. Yet the 360 dominates because, when it works, it is simply a better game delivery platform. Yet there are games, even multi-platform games, that just feel right on a particular system. I loved Fallout 3 on the XBox 360, but the PC is definitely a better platform if you have the hardware. The 360 is my favorite, but I would lie if I didn’t admit Batman: Arkham Asylum just “felt right” on the PS3. If you don’t own a PS3 I’m sure Final Fantasy XIII will stand well on its own merits regardless. Don’t feel bad playing it on the 360. When someone asks me which version I’m getting though, it’s one of the few times I would answer snobbishly “The Playstation 3, of course.” This is a game that demands it look the best, and I’m going to play it on the platform that is best suited for it. Don’t get mad at me, I wouldn’t dream of playing Modern Warfare 2 without XBox Live and I switched Borderlands from the PS3 to the XBox 360 because I realized I had chosen poorly. I’m not a PS3 snob. All I know is that I want to play a game on the platform that will maximize my experience. Alas, like anyone, I often have to make do with the best I have on hand, not necessarily the best there is.

PS3/PSN Problems Make People Cry

Bumbling irresponsibility, horrible math, and overall stupidity come to mind

Unless you’ve been living under a video-game rock, original PS3 owners (think “fat”) are experiencing all sorts of problems with their console in what appears to be due to an internal clock bug. My guess is that the system goes all bung-holio because the people at Sony don’t know how to do calendar math. Oh wait, they knew how to do it on the newer systems but didn’t really stop to bother with the older ones. My guess is a firmware fix would work. Problem: the PS3 fats cannot connect to the PSN to get it. What’s Sony’s solution?

We hope to resolve this problem within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, if you have a model other than the new slim PS3, we advise that you do not use your PS3 system, as doing so may result in errors in some functionality, such as recording obtained trophies, and not being able to restore certain data.

I see what you did there.

Wait 24 hours for the day to go through the cycle and it works. Brilliant. Reminds me of the Zune fiasco.  In the meantime, no games, no Netflix, no media center, no nothing.

This, of course, affects our system at home. Ironically, since getting rid of our satellite, the PS3 has been our go-to media device. We don’t use it everyday, but Mondays are the days we use it the most. I guess not today. A couple of things:

  • I’m amazed that in 2010, a rather large company that has a computer division cannot due simple calendar math.
  • I’m amazed that many PS3 games will not work because they cannot check in to the PSN for various reasons. Want to play some Heavy Rain? Forget it.¬† (What do offline people do? )
  • We’ll see how Sony responds to this “outage.”
  • At least PS3 users don’t have to pay for their downtime. (Zing?)

It’s for the last reason alone that I’m not royally ticked, just mildly annoyed. Shame on them for allowing something so simple to happen, and shame on them for having so many handshakes for games and movies with their service.

Epic.

FGotY 2009 [Playstation 3]

The Playstation 3 really seemed to come into its own in 2009. Your humble host does not own a PS3, but his blog pals do. Here’s what they had fun with:

Brock – Between playing older PS2 titles on it and working through many of the great exclusives and eventually multiplatform titles, I found my PS3 becoming my go-to game console for most of 2009. InFamous and Uncharted 2 are tied for my picks for the most fun I’ve had on the PS3 this year. Both had me hooked from the first screen and were those rare games where I didn’t play anything else until I had completed the game hungry for more. I also loved Batman: AA and Assassin’s Creed 2 on the PS3, which surprised me as this was the year when I started to switch my multiplatform purchases from 360 to PS3.

Jason O – The PS3 was a late year addition to my house and I’m still kind of struggling with what kinds of games I’ll purchase for it. For the most part, cross platform titles are purchased for the 360, but in this case I actually purchased Batman: Arkham Asylum for the PS3 purely on the console exclusive “Play as the Joker” feature. While I only did this once, I never regretted Batman as a PS3 purchase despite the quirks of the platform. This game belongs on this system. All that aside, the game itself is outstanding. One of those rare games where the genre doesn’t appeal to me but I love it anyway. I typically hate stealth games, but I love the character of Batman and this game finally gets it right. I felt like Batman. The gadgets, the combat, the ease of movement in the environment were all excellent. Yeah, the endgame is a little cheesy, but the ride getting there is outstanding.

Nat – Two years ago I hated…no, loathed Sony with a passion. This year the PS3 was my platform of choice. After the 360 had red ringed for the second time I started purchasing all my cross-platform titles on it. This was a banner year with inFamous, Assassin’s Creed II, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Killzone 2, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. However, it’s Batman: Arkham Asylum that gets my pick for the most fun on this console. I was the Batman. I still pop the title in to play through some of the challenges.

Will – Sony is pretty much unwelcome in my home, as decreed by my Nintendo fangirl wife. As a result, I don’t get to do much gaming on that console. The only two 2009-released PS3 games I played were Killzone 2 and inFamous. I give my FGotY 2009 [Playstation 3] award to the latter title; I enjoyed its comic book-style storytelling and its great graphics (which is sometimes difficult to find in a sandbox title). Its only real weakness is that I never felt like a superhero (or supervillain, depending on your choices). Cole just seems so weak when I have to fire so many bolts of lightning to put the Reapers down, yet very few of their bullets will put Cole down. That is a very minor quibble for an otherwise fine game.

January Releases

It’s the new year and what a year it’s going to be for gaming! The excitement starts this month and hopefully the momentum carries us through the year. Let’s get to the list:

Xbox 360 banner

Week of January 4th
Bayonetta– I’m torn on Bayonetta. On one hand, it looks beautiful and wicked stylish. On the other hand, I’ve never gotten into the stylized-action-game like Devil May Cry or God of War. Maybe it’s time to try.
Darksiders– In a month loaded with triple-A titles, I’m worried I’ll never get around to playing this, but I am definitely intrigued.
Divinity II: Ego Draconis– I didn’t even know there was a Divinity I. Anyone have any info on this game?

Week of January 11th
Vancouver 2010 – The Official Video Game of the Olympic Winter Games– Gotta fit this game in somewhere I guess.
Army of Two: The 40th Day– Another one I’ll probably end up passing, but I wonder what I’ll be missing.

Week of January 18th
Dark Void

Week of January 25th
Mass Effect 2– There it is. This should do just fine to tide me over for quite some time. At least until February. I hope it doesn’t take me two years to finish this one.

Wii banner

Week of January 4th
My Fitness Coach 2 Workout and Nutrition

Week of January 11th
The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces
Crazy Chicken Tales
Walk It Out
Sleepover Party– Walk It Out? Sleepover Party? Have you Wii game makers have no shame?

Week of January 18th
Fast Food Panic
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection

Week of January 25th
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Tatsunoko VS Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars

Nintendo DS banner

Week of January 4th
Fast Food Panic
Learn Chess

Week of January 11th
Daniel X
Sands of Destruction

Week of January 18th
Glory of Heracles– This looks like a solid DS strategy game. Tempting…
Bejeweled Twist– Haven’t you milked us enough already, Pop Cap?
KORG DS-10 Plus

Week of January 25th
Quad Kings
Personal Fitness Women
Legend of Kay

PC banner

Week of January 4th
Divinity II: Ego Draconis

Week of January 11th
The Sims 2: Fun with Pets Collection– Looks like the Sims 2 will not die.
Insecticide
Two Worlds

Week of January 18th
Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventure
Dark Void
The Tudors

Week of January 25th
Hotel Giant 2
Mass Effect 2
Alcatraz

PS3 banner

Week of January 4th
Bayonetta– See above.
Darksiders– Ditto.

Week of January 11th
Darksiders
Army of Two: The 40th Day

Week of January 18th
Dark Void

Week of January 25th
MAG

PSP banner

Week of January 11th
Army of Two: The 40th Day

Week of January 18th
Shepherd’s Crossing
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Week of January 25th
TNA: Cross The Line
Shadow of Destiny

Not a bad way to start the year off. While I think I’ll be grabbing Mass Effect 2, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. 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. Itís appreciated.)

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.

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?

God of War Re-mastered for Your Enjoyment

I just finished my first God of War game on the PSP, and I had a blast. I missed the PS2 versions a few years back. Well, it appears that both games have been given the HD treatment and will sell on one disc next month for $40. Hmm. Anyway, this looks magnificent. Click through for the video.

Preview – The Chronicles of Riddick: Assualt on Dark Athena [Xbox 360/PS3]

Riddick
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

Genre: First Person Action
Website: The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena
Developer: Starbreeze
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Buy it from Amazon

Here’s the deal: You’re a prisoner. There’s a wallet in your back pocket that would make Jules Winnfield proud. You sneak around a prison, stab and punch your way out while shooting any number of guns at numerous bad guys. You break out. (In fact, you broke out a few years ago. Now the break-out is in HD.) All in a sneaky, shadowy way. Then you eschew the shadows for blazing guns during an the Assault on Dark Athena.

The game has been out for a little while now and has been mostly well received. Yahtzee didn’t hate it, so that’s got to count for something. We’ll have a review coming soon.

You can see a trailer video at the jump. We’ve also posted a set of screen shots over at Flickr.
[Read more…]

In [Nat’s] Hands: Tom Clancy’s EndWar

While it may have received average “professional reviews” I came across this title today at Target for $50. Yes, the bluetooth bundle for almost half off. (A little known secret: After Christmas they take a couple titles–many of them AAA–and mark them way down. I missed Fallout 3 by a day.) Considering, they were selling the non-headset versions for the same price, I figured I’d get the bundle.

endwar

I love gift cards.