Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A New Star Wars Adventure

I'll do without the usual unleashing the Force jokes and just move into a first-hand account of this game.

I wish this game were a movie. I really do. The characterizations, emotional depth, and events portrayed in this game really are better than any of the new trilogy of movies that have come around in the last decade. The voice acting is superb, and the animations and quality of the art and visual design are straight-up pimped-out in the full-frame videos.

Having said that, of course any reader will know where I'm going to say next. I'm going to say that the targeting is frustrating, there are game play sequences that are poor, all the action including boss fights that are boring and repetitive, and there's just plain buggy stuff.

But I'm not going to say that. Listen, I don't care how many times I encounter a vanilla Stormtrooper, I'm going to have fun. I can toss him off a cliff, I can throw him into a laser barrier, I can use my lightning combo on him, I can toss my lightsaber. Come on, how can it not be fun? This is a game about beating the crap out of people in imaginative ways. It's like saying combat in Super Smash Brothers Brawl gets repetitive. It's a game about fighting! It's all you do! That's the game! Same thing with all the mini-boss and boss fights. I don't care how many times I knock out some AT-ST variant; it will still be hilarious when I chop it in half and falls apart like a roasted chicken.

There are some flaws with the game, yes. Sometimes the camera plants me right into the wall. I just chalk that up to being a bad player, so I don't put myself in those situations anymore. I've also seen some bugs where on loading a new area the map is just a wide-open square rather than the actual contour of the explorable area. The targeting can be a little frustrating, but I've only ever had a serious problem a couple times.

My biggest issue with the game is not one of game play but I think of difficulty. I have a hard time blocking attacks, and even when I'm holding the block button I fail to block. I don't know if it's that I'm not quick enough or what. And then when I get knocked down it takes way too long to get up. There's a timing thing that you can hit some button to recover from a fall while hovering in the air, but I think I'm just bad at it.

This game is so much better than reviews have made it out to be. I think it suffered a great deal from all the hype. There was so much talked about it being a revolution in gaming with all the physics technology, which is admittedly a little short of the expectation. But a few shortcomings don't make a bad game. If you enjoy action titles and enjoy Star Wars, this is a game not to pass by.

Edit Oct 12, 2008: Nevermind, forget what I said. This game is so incredibly frustrating, I put it up for bid on eBay minutes after completing it.

More Spore and the Hungry Shark!

(Alex just loves that those words rhyme.)

Hello everyone. My name is Nick, and I'm addicted to Spore. So are my wife and son. We're an addict family!

Seriously though, Spore has been just a tremendous amount of fun. Alex has made so many crazy creature creations, and Kasey is an incredible architect. I create the vehicles, and that just about covers it!

I recently made the journey to the center of the galaxy, and wow... That was rough, but it was very cool to achieve that in a game like this. Maybe it's not for hardcore gamers, but it sure was hard!

Enjoy the Hungry Shark!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Force Unleashed Not Firsthand

I imagine TFU would be a great story with a decent game underlying, marred by some lame level design and a few poor gameplay sequences. I imagine it, because I've been without power since Sunday and I can't play it. Could be worse I guess, but even I get sick of eating out and living in the dark. I need my light!

Gamespot and IGN both rate the game as a modest success, but one that falls flat in places. I still haven't picked my copy up -- no point really -- but I will probably still get it. It's unfortunately short (reviews say under 10 hours), with little replayability. The story though is purported to be one that betters the new triology. But $60 seems like an awful lot for just a fun story... We'll see if I can really plop down the cash after spending exorbitant amounts of money on eating out every night thanks to the power loss.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shards of Orr, Again

Fendi, Fendi, whatcha gonna do... Greg and I tore up Shards of Orr last night. I went with the triple Smiter build (hit OwAT0GHD5xkwPQJVfXC1/jETAA in your template manager for the details) on my trio of monk heroes, and Signet of Judgement, among other things, just ripped apart undead mobs. Greg's Spoil Victor helped, too. I used Sight Beyond Sight to protect against the silly blinds that the wizards use all the time. Annoying.

For my troubles, I got crap drops, but I did get my entry in the Master Dungeon Guide checked off, leaving only Slaver's Exile. We need to make a serious attempt on that place.

Oh, like the new Destroyer Shield?

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Day of World-Building with Spore

I picked up Spore yesterday, and spent a great deal of time with it Sunday. It's seriously fun. Very light-hearted and easy to play, each game mode offers a little twist on the central game mechanic -- playing with the best creation tool set yet.

The cell stage is very simple, eat or be eaten. The style of the game is immediately presented, soft colors and cute monsters that you gape at while simultaneously running from. Collect the bits of ruined creatures to gain access to new parts, such as jets or pointy bits to defend yourself. The choices you make and the game you play here echo throughout your species by defining the type of game you're best at -- social, warfare, or a combination of both.

Leaping onto the land as a goofy, bug-eyed lizard, I started life with a handful of others of my species in the creature stage. The exploration gets even more enjoyable as you encounter other species which you may befriend or destroy as you see fit. My herbivorous nature lent itself to social interactions, as I sang, danced, charmed, and posed my way to many friends around my colorful continent. Similar to the cell stage, the more DNA points you collect, the more you develop, allowing a more-complex creature as well as a larger brain. Filling up the development bar allows graduation to the tribal stage.

The hallmarks of tribal involve the use of tools and a funny homage to 2001: Space Odyssey. Your chief gathers everyone together and proclaims the start of social structures, and you commence your dominion over other tribes. Here you cease developing your creature and instead add costuming that affects your social, combat, or economic statistics. You may gain the favor of other tribes by gifting them with food or playing instruments to please them. Make them happy and you ally with them, or give up on making them happy and crush their tribe beneath your boot. The game here plays like a simple RTS where the only resource is food. Conquer or make friends with each other village and you no longer have competition, paving the way for cities, and the civilization stage.

Civilization is perhaps the most fun for anyone who enjoys the creative elements of this game. You now have the ability to create first your epic Town Hall, as well as all the other vehicles and buildings that make up your burgeoning city. I had so much fun creating the aircraft and ships of my own design, as each part is now available right from the start, unlike the creature stage where you have to unlock things. Create vehicles with which to do war or, as was my case, convert heathen cities to your way of thinking through religious conversion. In the simple RTS action, you collect spice from geysers (Thanks Frank Herbert!) and spend those sporebucks for buildings or more machines. After conquering all cities on your world, you enter a new stage -- Space!

I was not prepared for the epic scale of space. I've played Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations, and their ilk. This game is like none other. When you zoom out to the galactic view and watch your home star disappear into a field of thousands of other points of light, all visitable and filled with wondrous creations of possibly your own from past games or other online users... This chapter of Spore blows all the other previous away with its scope, customizability, and wonder.

I attempted to build my spaceship in the form of an Imperial-Class Star Destroyer. While there are plenty of components available to do so, I wondered if anyone had already tackled the problem. I loaded up the Sporepedia and after a quick text-string search for "star destroyer" I found several promising prospects. I picked my favorite and downloaded it, inserted into my game, and I was off.

There are all sorts of things to do in Space mode, besides exploring the nearly never-ending sea of stars. Primarily you have your ship, and can outfit it with all sorts of upgrades: new weapons, better drives, health, and energy storage, bigger cargo bays, and more. Missions are also offered, both from your home world and its colonies, as well as from other space-faring species. Oh, did I mention you establish colonies and meet other space-faring species? You can plop down new cities for your species, and even terraform those planets so your buddies are more comfortable -- and profitable! With regards to other species, you can trade with them, get missions from them, and of course war with them if you are so inclined -- in my game, I found it much more profitable to sell them spice (Thanks again, Frank Herbert!) or perform missions for them to get them on my good side.

The missions have all been interested as well. One found me disposing of shameful wrecks of failed battles for a particularly proud war-loving race. By removing their fallen wrecks, I both helped restore their pride and sold them for profit! Other missions found me eradicating diseased creatures on planets, harvesting helpful plants, and establishing trade routes.

Space can be a little hard to manage -- all the stars kind of jam together in your mind. Helpfully, there are filters that allow you to see where you've been, what systems relate to missions, and so on. Still, I'm unable to find some places where I need to go, specifically when it's a secondary part of an optional mission. But I'm still learning.

My impression of Spore has been overwhelmingly good. I've enjoyed every minute of the six hours I've played up to the Space stage, and that's barely half the game. The wealth of personal and extra-player created content makes replayability worthwhile, and achievements for different play styles reward the examination of all sorts of behaviors within the game. This is a game I will be enjoying for some time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fall 2008 Thick With Game Releases

This fall is shaping up to be just as fantastic as last year's with the quality of video game releases. Last year we saw quality such as Crysis, World in Conflict, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Phantom Hourglass, Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, Mass Effect, Halo 3, CoH: Opposing Forces, and of course the Orange Box quintet. Because I'm having trouble keeping the upcoming releases all straight, here are the following titles that are getting me lit up.


The start of September is the beginning of fall, and what better way to start out by having possibly the biggest PC release of the year in Spore? The more I've read of this game, the more and more excited I am about it. The charm and simplicity make the game very accessible while being broad and deep as well. In this on-again, off-again relationship, I'm way, way on with just six days to go -- it releases Sunday, Sept 7th.

Also in September, and one of the biggest reasons I got a Playstation 3, The Force Unleashed pushes, chokes, and blasts its way on to multiple platforms on September 16th. One of the most exciting action demos I've played this year, TFU has Force elements previously unseen. A sanguine melding of the epic feel of recent classics like the Jedi Knight series with the brutal gameplay of God of War, The Force Unleashed can help but be a hit. The true nature of the game, however, will lie with the level design, something I haven't seen much of yet -- will this be a varied romp through distinct levels inhabited by creative enemies, or a bland series of repetitive worlds with a bunch of Stormtroopers? And what about the story? Will we see a compelling cast of characters and events like The Empire Strikes Back, or a predictable cast of wooden goofs like The Phantom Menace? We'll see in two weeks.

The very same day as TFU drops comes Crysis: Warhead, a simultaneous series of events that proceeded along with those played out in the Crysis of last fall. This time you assume the role of the slightly cliched Psycho as he wreaks havok on the alien-inhabited North Korean-controlled isle. If this just does all the same things that Crysis does with a different stort, it will be worth the budget title cost of $29.99.

Two weeks hence, on September 23rd comes two more great-looking titles, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway and Lego Batman.

September finishes up with a pocket-sized bang as Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood releases on September 30th. I've already described the nearly beyond belief Sega-franchised Bioware-produced RPG on Nintendo DS hardware effort before, and it will finally be available in four weeks. I've very much been looking forward to this title and breaking out my DS for some fun. I can't see how this isn't going to be great, with a great company detailing a classic franchise on the best hardware ever invented for turn-based RPG games.


We're only just to October?!

October starts out cool but heats up in the third week with the exceptional-looking Fable II. The first game, at release a Xbox exclusive but ported to PC as well, was a remarkable action-RPG with deep storytelling and questing, and this new edition aims to improve on the model. Only for 360 at launch, but may be found elsewhere in the future.

Also near the end of October we expect Dead Space and Far Cry 2, and both have the possibility to be classic shooters.

Another exciting, kid-friendly, and accessible game in October is LittleBigPlanet, a cooperative world-building platformer that allows for incredibly creative custom-designed levels with accurate physics that support up to four-player online multiplay. Plus the game is just freaking adorable. This is one that should be lots of fun to play in person with a group, or just have fun with the intuitive sandbox creation tools to make the level of your dreams -- or nightmares!

The last week of October may just be the most exciting yet, where we see the one-two punch of the third installment of two incredible video game franchises: Fallout 3 and Red Alert 3. Early looks at Fallout 3 have demonstrative massive worlds full of wonderous and dangerous things, modelled in incredible and terrible beauty. Red Alert 3 also has incredible and terrible beauty, but in the form of a star-studded cast that includes Jenny McCarthy, George Takai, J K Simmons, Jonathan Pryce, and many more. Oh yeah, and the game itself promises to be a hard-hitting and thoughtful RTS thanks to innovative units, varied maps, and a fully cooperative multiplay campaign. Both release October 28.


Finally, as fall winds down, the releases get even thicker.

Two great shooters, Resistence 2 and Gears of War 2 duel for the most graphic platform-exclusive sequel. Each should have some great action elements from early looks.

Also the first week of November is Tom Clancy's EndWar, which smacks of last year's World in Conflict. EndWar boasts impressive voice controls, allowing you to play completely free of keyboard and mouse. The game has a simple core gameplay of helicopter verses tanks verses transports theme, but expands on that model with support units and tactical combat based in real-world locales. Plus the game looks great.

Other possible releases towards the end of the fall include Need for Speed Undercover, a return to the Most Wanted / Underground roots and away from the poor ProStreet title, as well as a Prince of Persia for next-gen titles, a series I've greatly enjoyed throughout the past few years.

And oh yeah... Grand Theft Auto 4 releases for PC as of November 21st! Have to get the kid to bed early so I can claim my turf in Liberty City!

Monday, September 1, 2008

PAX 2008 Demos and More

Well, I missed PAX again this year. I hope to attend someday, and my hopes are increased due to the rumored PAX East Coast. Hopefully it comes around somewhere close. Course, almost anywhere in the continental US is closer than Washington State.

Among the PAX demos was a hands-on playable demo of The Conduit, a Wii-exclusive FPS that got me excited a few months back. Gamespot reports on the prerelease version available at PAX, and it seems not to disappoint. Markedly, the visuals are very appealing on a platform where pushing the details of environments has been missing. Even in this early stage, the game holds promise. Look for The Conduit in Q2 of next year.