Friday, January 29, 2010

Return to Liberty City on PC and PS3

Finally announced for the PC and PS3 platforms, Rockstar will release their big DLC packages The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony on March 30th. The extra content has been available for nearly a year on XBox Live, but is now trickling down to less-favored platforms.

The packages had wide critical acclaim, but I think I may have moved on from GTAIV. The technical issues and DRM that hampered the title on the PC really got in the way of my enjoyment. It was certainly a good game that I had a lot of fun with when it worked, but it was hard to get past the graphical bugs and continual disk read errors. At $40, unless the games are bug-free, I wouldn't consider subjecting myself to that frustration again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Thoughts on Mass Effect 2

I picked up Mass Effect 2 yesterday and spent a couple hours playing the intro and beginning sections of the game, and I was blown away by the entire experience.

From the beginning, I imported my character, which game me a bunch of bonuses like starting at level 2, and a lot of resources in the form of bonus credits and research materials. The intro also played according to my choices from the last game, and allowed me to reconfirm some of the actions I took. For example, when recalling memories, I could either confirm the previous game action or remember it differently, and I assume that would actually change the fact for the future of the game. The memory recall really brought a lot of the game back and helped cement your place in the world, and was a great reintroduction to your character and the universe. It's great to feel that the game wraps itself around the decisions you've made and will continue to make.

The gameplay is similarly stellar. I was worried a more shooter-y feel would ruin it, but I really prefer it. Controls are sharper, weapons feel better and more impactful, and the visual cues to damage you give and take are great, from the energy bars displayed to blood spatters and reactions to the force of a grenade or shotgun blast. You really feel like you're doing some damage. Now, I was a little disappointed in the "hide and heal" health mechanic. Similar to Modern Warfare health, if you hide and don't damage, you heal up. When you take damage, you apparently grow really gross red veins around your monitor, like it's alive. Very strange. Can I just have a health bar please? It would make medipacks relevant, which I still haven't used yet.

Apart from the core gameplay, the dialog sessions and mini-games are engaging and engrossing. Being able to meet up again with characters from the past and having a drink with them, or the new renegade and paragon options where you can interrupt conversation with an action really pulls you into the world and puts you in Shephard's shoes. The characters here feel like they bow and bend to your will, like you are some incredible force of gravity that warps the world around you, and that's exactly how you should feel, being the star of a game. Of course the voice acting is top-notch, with Martin Sheen putting in an incredible performance and all the other characters bringing a depth and malice to their roles. I've also had a lot of fun with the hacking games, a kind of pattern matching exercise against the clock to either find specified code segments or connect circuits against the clock. A big improvement from the "frogger" recreations in the previous installment.

Only a short way into the game, I can tell this is going to be a fun ride. Although I know the ending will of course be a setup for the already announced final episode in the trilogy, it will be a great time getting there, even if the conclusion won't really be that. But, of course, when that does come, you'll have an even greater wealth of history and decisions to fold into the final chapter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Reviews Are In

Mass Effect 2 releases to general audiences today, and the reviews are in. Overwhelmingly they are glowing, from Gamespot's 9.0 Editor's Choice, to an even higher IGN review, and Kotaku has many good things to say as well.

I was never really doubting the fate of the game, as it was in good hands, and it's not like it's something they've never done before. But it seems like they've delivered above and beyond. We've had a large number of sequels in the past year, making it seem like new franchises are taking a back seat to teams cruising on previous successes. But if the polished and sprawling games like Assassin's Creed II and Mass Effect II are what we get instead of brand-new worlds, I think I'm okay with that.

Hopefully my PC and mostly DRM-less game is waiting for me at the shop this morning.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gratuitous Space Battles Pickup

After writing about the game back in September, I had to try the demo which I just discovered recently. It's pretty fun actually. So fun I decided to get the whole game.

Most of the game consists of building your own starfleets from a number of ship hulls and tons of weapons and other components. You're able to configure your strike fighters and bombers, long-range or AA frigates, support cruisers, or hulking behemoths bent on wiping out your enemies. Once configured, you can issue commands to your ships, and then send them into battle. Once in the fight, you actually have no direct control over the ships. It's really an interesting concept. After the battle, you can view statistics and see what worked and what didn't. Really a statistician's (and nerd's, probably) dream.

Probably the most interesting component of the game is the online level creator. You can build your fleet how you want it, and then issue a Challenge to other players. Through the Online Challenge interface, you can select, download, and play these Challenges and play against other player's fleets. There have been some pretty interesting ones. A rating system for difficulty and enjoyment allows players to rank the levels that they play, and the cream rises to the top, as it were. Cool system for expanding on the missions within the game.

And it's a good thing that there are player-created missions, because unless I'm missing something, there are only a handful of missions within the game. But at least there are the missions you can play with wave after wave of enemies.

That's all beside the point, because the game is really about making huge ships and then making them explode in interesting ways. And this definitely cuts to the chase and gets the job done.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

4^10 and Epic Space Goodness

Wow this is my 400th post. Not too shabby I guess.

Moving on to relevance, just found the Mass Effect 2 trailer. Wow, it gives me chills. Martin Sheen's voice acting is fantastic. I can only hope the rest of the game carries this serious tone, great story, and expert voicing throughout. Enjoy below:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mass Effect 2 Preordered

Lots of buzz around Mass Effect 2, and of course it's coming out next week, very much looking forward to it. The first chapter was one of my favorites from 2008. I hope they don't mess it up too badly by being Modern Warfare in Space. I think we'll be fine, though. They chattered endlessly that DA:O was going to be so dark and scary awful that you'd cry yourself to sleep -- or just not sleep. And see how that turned out? I only virtually killed one child through the course of the game. Hardly gritty noir stuff there. So I don't think they'll ruin Mass Effect too badly.

Over the weekend, I put my money down and reserved a disk-based copy. I purchased Dragon Age over the Internets, but I've learned my lesson about doing that with EA games. They destroy you on the DRM. DA:O was rendered unplayable after literally every patch, and eventually I had to do things that broke the EULA just to play it. So I'll be getting a hard copy and doing DRM like it's 1995 -- with a disk check. It would be pretty cool if they got you to bust out the manual and look up the eighth word on the fifth line of page 22, but I doubt it will happen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Brief Intro to Spirit Tracks

I was gifted with The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for Christmas, but didn't play at all until I finished Assassin's Creed 2. Now that I'm into the new Link adventure, I am just loving it. It has a lot of charm, and I welcome the companion in the form of spirit Zelda. Her witty and insightful comments bring a lot of life to the game.

The game itself has a huge amount of charm, from the environments and towns to little touches like the train and Link's hilarious facial expressions. It's the perfect game to play in and laugh along with.

I've only gotten into the first couple dungeons, but the two boss fights so far have been a delight. I didn't have to think too hard to figure out how to defeat them, but the second was a perfect challenge, requiring you to draw paths and evade your enemy, leaving me with a half sliver of heart at the end. The game so far has been perfectly paced. I'm looking forward to returning to it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

God of War Complete

Even though it's been out several years, I just completed my first ever play-through of the original God of War as part of the newly-released God of War Collection on PS3. The graphical update stands up pretty well, even though some of the pre-rendered movies look a little dated.

My overall experience with the game was pretty mixed. There were high points, and then there were really low points. Some of the platforming sections of the game were intensely hard and unforgiving. In fact, most of the stretch of the game in Hades was ridiculously punishing, including the insta-death falls from the horizontal spinning blades of death. Not content only to test your will to throw a controller in one dimension, the vertical blades of death didn't kill you outright, but only forced you to replay the same stupidly difficult section endlessly until you passed it. My relief was short-lived, as I was then greeted by yet another set of vertical spinning blades of death. Yay.

Prior to Hades, there's a section were you have to kick a box across the room in a race to (once again) avoid instant death. You have to get your timing exact, otherwise you have to play it over again, watching the same annoying intro screen. Then there's the Blades of Hades section (not actually in Hades, but in Pandora's Temple) where you have to tight-walk on wooden beams and avoid more spinning blades. What is with these spinning blades? One mis-step, then, and you either fall off straight away or get chopped and pushed off, and you start over.

So, the platforming sections were pretty bad. However, the fights for the most part were intense and rewarding. Especially towards the end of the game, when your Blades of Chaos are maxed you, you can string together immense combos, working your enemies over in a mix of speed and brutality. It was most rewarding, strangely, in Hades, where the toughest sets of normal enemies meet you, and one brief section in Athens facing pumped-up, towering giants. You have so many weapons and moves at your disposal, you can work anyway you want, and this free-form battle system that aids you just enough to never worry too much about targeting or the camera is the greatest strength and greatest enjoyment in the whole game.

It is then incredible that these fight sections are the briefest of the entire experience. For a game that bills itself as a brutal brawler, you do a whole lot of jumping over ridiculous obstacles. I played the game through on normal, and I never once got offered "Easy Mode" (a result of dying too much) on combat sections. Maybe once or twice would I fail a fight, but then get the right of it, and move on. In the platforming sections, it would take me dozens of tries to get it right. Incredibly frustrating.

The final fight of the game then was just the icing on a terrible cake. I simply could not win. By that time, it was 2am, I was incredibly pissed after pulling my butt through Hades and beating two fights already, and the only way I won was by giving into Easy Mode for the first time in the whole gaming and winning with like three button presses. FYI, Easy Mode is Easy. Why couldn't Normal Mode be Just A Bit Challenging?

Given my experience with the game, I doubt I'll play God of War II, or even look much at the new installment coming out for PS3 in the next couple months. I was originally interested in it, but if they put any insta-death platforming sections in that force me to endlessly play the same section of gameplay again, it's not worth my time.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Platinum Sackboy

Last night, with a little help from my friends, I got the platinum, 100% complete trophy on LittleBigPlanet. So yeah, just about as complete as you can get.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Now They're Just Messing With Me

I posted a couple days ago about the release date on Gran Turismo 5 slipping to a to be announced time. I posted several weeks ago about the impending Toyota FT-86, my new great love in sports cars. Well, it seems that Toyota and Sony Computer Entertainment have teamed up to taunt me with a video of my future car in my future video game. I'd be really upset if I weren't so excited about the prospect of piloting this and so many more cars at some point in the next twelve months.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Soldier of Mass Effect 2

This guy's voice annoys me, but the demo of what the Soldier class can do in Mass Effect 2 really gripped me. I played as a Soldier in my first play around, and loved the assault rifle and pistols. It's probably going to be my route for the second time around, and it's good to see that the tightened up combat in Mass Effect 2 has a place for a dude with a lot of guns.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Suppose It Was Inevitable...

... that Gran Turismo 5 would be delayed again. But, word is, it is. Of course, the date was only really announced for Japan, and rumors are that the delay is for a simultaneous world-wide release. However, the realist in me has to be prepared for the worst -- that GT5 is simply a ploy to get people to buy PS3s, and that the game is not in any way real.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Going on Four Years with Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes is one of those games that just hasn't stopped being fun. Given that it has a great multiplayer component, and the folks I play with are generally pretty good and affable chaps, it's no surprise I keep coming back to it. Also, it puts a huge stupid grin on my face.

Had a match last night, a 2v2 with the humans as the Allies. I was the British and just let loose with some crazy artillery barrages. In particular, this AT squad met with an unfortunate end.

These guys are doomed.

Told you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver Get US Release Dates

Never much of a mystery, it was sure that the US versions of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver would get a March-ish release. However, that's now been confirmed, and both will be available on March 14th. I can say with only a small amout of schoolboy shame that I will be buying both copies -- and taking for myself which my son doesn't want.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Assassin's Creed Complete

Finished up the story mode of Assassin's Creed last night. Managed to collect up all the hidden fragments as well. I really liked the ending, and events leading up to it. Little echoes of the first game, in how Ezio approaches the final fight. The ending added a lot to the fiction of the world, and really gets me excited for the end of the trilogy. There are a few ways they can go with this, and all could be cool. Also, the game had one of the best end credits sequences ever.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Music in Games: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

The games I've been into lately, and many in the past, have had such a great collection of music. LittleBigPlanet sports such a great set of licensed music that make it a joy to leap around playful environments. Assassin's Creed, which of course I've been into a lot recently, has some incredible original music by Jesper Kyd. Since so many games I've been playing recently have great music, I've been collecting tracks from soundtracks included with games (like Dragon Age), free downloads from the creator (Kyle Gabler), or via the Amazon MP3 store (which has great selection and no useless DRM). So I wanted to share some of my favorites below. Which games do you think have had great music, original or licensed?

My current list:
  1. Sia - Breathe Me (Prince of Persia)
  2. Lisa Miskovsky - Still Alive (Mirror's Edge)
  3. Jesper Kyd - Venice Roofops (Assassin's Creed II)
  4. The Daniel Pemberton Orchestra - Rock The Jungle (LittleBigPlanet)
  5. The Go! Team - Get It Together (LittleBigPlanet)
  6. Christopher Tin - Baba Yet (Civilization IV)
  7. Jeremy Soule - Land of the Golden Sun (Guild Wars)
  8. Jeremy Soule - Festival of Lyss (Guild Wars)
  9. Jeremy Soule - Guild Wars Theme
  10. Inon Zur - Dragon Age: Origins Theme
  11. 30 Seconds to Mars - This is War (Dragon Age: Origins)
  12. 30 Seconds to Mars - 100 Suns (Dragon Age: Origins)
  13. Cafe Tacvba - Volver A Comenzar (LittleBigPlanet)
  14. Kinky - Cornman (LittleBigPlanet)
  15. Kyle Gabler - Best of Times (World of Goo)
  16. Shira Kanmen - Downstream (Braid)
  17. Jami Sieber - Maenam (Braid)

New Info for Gran Turismo 5

With the announcement of the official cover to Gran Turismo 5, more details are coming to light from various sources. GT Planet has uncovered more details about game modes and features, including environmental factors like night racing and weather, as well as game modes and cars relating to Indy Racing League and NASCAR. Now that the cover has been teased, the game should be right around the corner, or as my wife says, "Just a couple more years!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

Restoring the Family Lands in Assassin's Creed II

Having just a ton of fun with Assassin's Creed II. There's always something new and interesting to do. The story missions have been a great source of entertainment, and the story that takes you from city to flooded city is full of action, romance, mystery, and more than a few laughs. I've made it maybe halfway through, and the mystery is really heating up, providing more backstory into Desmond's ancestry and the ancient conflict between Templar and Assassin.

However, probably the most fun I've had is filling up the family estates with an incredible amount of collectibles. The Villa Auditore at Monteriggioni holds all the paintings, codex pages, feathers, seals, weapons, and armor that you collect throughout the world. They're all rewarding, especially the art gallery, where you can browse through the Renaissance artwork you purchase and collect in your dealings. The status of the estates provide a valuable mark against you can gauge your progress within the game, and gives a great deal of satisfaction when you can cross something off your list. It's one of my favorite parts of a nearly flawless game.