November 11, 2009

MW2 Week, Part 2

So, I know have my hands on Modern Warfare 2, and have been playing it a fair bit. I've completed the campaign, and gotten to level 21 in multiplayer so far. It's rather telling that I picked up Dragon Age: Origins at the same time... and I've barely touched DAO. MW2 is just that compelling.

The multiplayer, of course, is what I would like to talk about. The single player is cool, is interesting, is technically impressive and fun to play, but it's quite short, and the plot makes me wince. The first Modern Warfare, though the plot was not that mindblowing, had some truly astounding moments and sequences. This one... feels like it's trying too hard. Also, you need to switch off your mind, or you will go NUTS. The connection between events is so incredibly loose, you wouldn't believe it. Gameplay designers, you kicked ass. Writers... you need to be kicked in the ass.

But multiplayer. So the multiplayer of Modern Warfare was pretty awesome, and when World at War came out, Treyarch, who was in charge of that one, pretty much decided that either there was no way to improve on the formula without drastically changing it, or was just lazy as hell. I'm leaning toward the latter- the Russian campaign was the only thing about that game that was truly excellent. It wasn't bad, but it was a pretty meh game. I think I've ranted on that before. If they thought there was no way to improve on the formula, though? Modern Warfare 2 proves them DRAMATICALLY wrong.

The addictive levelling and challenges of the first have been built into every aspect of the game. Perks can be upgraded through use now, and using certain attachments on your weapons can unlock new ones. The secondary weapon slot is no longer exclusively pistols, and therefore people actually care about it now. The grenade slot is no longer just grenades- claymores, throwing knives, blast masks and more fill the slot. The perks are just more balanced, and interesting besides. Everywhere you look, you can customize things- the icons and background on your screen name when you kill someone, your loadout of killstreaks, your plethora of weapon attachments.

It's an amazing experience- the game has been upgraded in terms of every major feature, and just feels better to play besides. It annoys me a little that the guns I wanted in (if you check my earlier post) didn't make the cut, but the selection is stellar, I can't fault it. It's so balanced, it's so intense, it's so involved. And there is just so much to do! When I hit the max level in Modern Warfare, I prestiged, and quickly regretted it- I hate the prestige system, frankly. I only did it because I was pretty much out of things to work on. It would take a long, long, long time to run out of things to work on in MW2. I'm sure some people will do it. Those people, and how little they have to do, terrify the everloving shit out of me.

And perhaps more encouraging? Playing MW2 shows you that there is STILL room for growth. You get a sense for what the core of the game is, and thus can understand what can change. Infinity Ward originally didn't intend Modern Warfare 2 to bear the Call of Duty name, because they wanted it to be its own series. At the time, I thought that it was a commendable virtue, but shortsided- with all that they are improving, how could they expand on it? But there was wisdom there. Maybe Modern Warfare 3 won't be a Call of Duty title, then.

November 9, 2009

MW2 Week, Part 1

Alright. Time to weigh in on an issue I hadn't expected to take a side in. This week is pretty much gonna be all talk about Modern Warfare 2, and we're going to start off with an issue that is NOT near and dear to my heart- dedicated servers.

Why is it not near and dear? I'm a console gamer. I play PC when I have to, but I really dislike it as a gaming platform. And so trust me that I am not being a rabid reactionist PC fanboy when I say that Infinity Ward really kicked the PC community in the balls with their IWnet decision. Unlike some people, I think that IW is within their rights to do so, even if it is a very uncool move. I don't think they owe it to PC gamers to add dedicated server support. I just think of it as a Dick Move. Caps necessary there.

Okay, let's start an unbiased analysis of what dedicated servers do that IWnet can't. One, they are faster. This is just fact- dedicated servers use business-speed internet lines and have all their processing power dedicated to hosting the game. IWnet uses client hosting- someone playing the game is chosen as the host. That means that it's someone on a resident-speed internet line, which is inherently slower, and who is using their processing power for any number of things- firewall, antivirus, autoupdater, a bunch of things, and also playing the game as well, not just hosting it. In addition, the host has a ping of zero- has absolutely no lag or reaction time other than his human limits. It is the other players on the server who suffer if he has a shitty connection.

Two, they are communities. The only real PC game I play anymore (besides old stuff and WoW) is Team Fortress 2. I play it a decent amount, because it just has more content than the 360 version (which I owned before I gave up on waiting for Valve to port the content and bought the PC version [dammit Valve!]). Even with as little as I play Team Fortress 2, I have a casual guild I am a part of, with our own dedicated server. We hang out together, play a few friendly matches. I have servers marked as favorites for their community, too- one server that does a great custom CTF map where everyone is polite and talkative, one server that has some really intense arena play, one server where people just goof off. The permanancy of a dedicated server is as important as its speed- dedicated servers have an identity, and lend identity to those who play on them. There are good servers, there are bad servers, there are hardcore servers, there are casual servers. Being able to choose these is very important.

And third... mods. That's all I have to say. One of the biggest driving forces in PC gaming, one of the biggest reasons people choose PCs over consoles, is the capacity for mods. Mods can subtly modify your experience (alter the UI, change an annoying sound effect), or completely revamp it- new maps, new weapons, an entirely different GAME. Modern PC gaming is BUILT on modding- Battlefield 2 came to be because of the excellent Desert Combat. Counter-Strike was a mod that went commercial. So was Team Fortress. Killing modding could well kill the PC as a platform- not entirely, of course, but certainly reduce it to a shell of its former self.

Is that the goal, IW? No, seriously, is that the goal? PC gaming has been an unpleasant business for a while- pirating, hacking, hardware compatibility. It is a LOT more work than consoles, and a lot of developers have decided it's not worth it. Is IW trying to either bow out of PC gaming, or trying to change it to be... easier?

I hope not. For every arrogant PC gamer pissant, there are the guys who name themselves as boxers in TF2, and run around as Heavys, punching people who are wielding far superior weapons just because they can. I love those people. In fact, I am one of those people.

Fun fact, actually. One time, I was doing that with the name "Lennox Lewis" and I dominated "Mike Tyson". Irony!

"Evander Holyfield" was kinda kicking my ass though.

November 5, 2009

Fifty Posts

Well, more than fifty posts, but about 50 REAL posts, when you set aside the crap. Woooo! Here's to many more. But anyway. I wanted to talk about Left 4 Dead 2 today- the first game since Half-Life 2 Episode 2 to sound like a baseball score. Okay, I stole that gag from Yahtzee. Man. A landmark post, and I've ripped someone else off inside of a paragraph. Encouraging.

Anyway. So, I bought the original Left 4 Dead, and I enjoyed it for a while- I thought it was quite a good game. It was simple, solid fun- a great multiplayer experience. The problem with the game, of course, was that there wasn't a lot there. There were only seven weapons (plus two thrown weapons), a handful of campaigns, and six enemy types (zombie, hunter, smoker, boomer, tank, witch). The core gameplay was wonderful- it was like a delicious zombie B-movie, coupled with Valve's always excellent writing. It was a delight. But there wasn't enough variety, and even with the AI Director, which promised to make every playthrough unique... the game got pretty predictable.

So Left 4 Dead 2 is almost out now, and the demo is free on Xbox Live. There's the whole "paying for the experience we should have gotten with L4D1" that people are bitching about, but I can say I disagree, and don't really wanna talk about it here. It's an argument where neither side is gonna convince the other of shit, and it's just gonna be a bunch of yelling. Pointless. Let's talk, though, about what's improved.

For starters, item selection is muuuch better. The demo likely doesn't even have all the weapons in the game, but I have used some eleven primary weapons, nearly double L4D's six, (3 assault rifles, 2 sniper rifles, 4 shotguns, 2 submachine guns) six secondary weapons over only one in the first, (pistol, magnum, guitar, machete, nightstick, frying pan) and four items over L4D's two (medkit, defibrillator, pain pills, adrenaline). Oh, and a new thrown weapon too, the Boomer Bile. There are now plenty more enemy types, three new special infected and the new uncommon zombies. Of the new enemies... the uncommons vary based on level, so all I've seen is the one from Parish, but it's good, it's interesting. They aren't hard so much as you have to take a moment to think about them. You can't just point, boom, dead, you have to deliberately act against them.

Of the new special infected, I am sold on two out of three. The Charger seems to have a hard-on for me, I got charged by him six times in one game (!!!), but he's a very good addition. If you see him coming, he's avoidable, but he moves very fast, and like many special infected, if he hits you, another player has to help you or it's all over. He's half tank, half hunter- instead of discouraging you from wandering off, he's there to discourage you from sticking TOO close to your allies. The Spitter serves much the same purpose- she spits acid on the ground, making it deadly to stand on, thus preventing camping, and sometimes splitting groups up by trapping one member on the wrong side of the acid pool. She's not very much of a threat, usually, but she can really screw you over. The Jockey, though... I can appreciate what they were trying to do, but in the end, he just feels like a lamer, more pain-in-the-ass version of the Hunter. He grabs onto you, and basically forces you to run away from the group while he rips you apart. He doesn't have a very interesting feel, I think.

Other than those changes (though they are significant) it appears to have remained much the same game. The Witches now roam instead of just sitting and sobbing, and that's a good change, and the one big set piece in the demo level is significantly more interesting than ones from the prequel- having to run to turn off an alarm instead of just holing up and waiting for it to end is much more interesting. I think it's walking a fine line, frankly. They said that it was too much of a change to be an expansion pack, and I play it on 360, where it certainly would have... but for a full sequel, it feels like they could have done more.

It's still preliminary analysis, because this is just the demo, and certain the full game seems worth buying, but I would have liked to see them play around with some core concepts more. Multiple paths through the levels, perhaps letting the AI Director choose those paths- maybe a door that was your way out last time will be locked this time. Barracades that collapse under the weight of a furious zombie onslaught. It's an excellent game, but it plays it too safe. There may be more content in the final product, but the core features are locked- these things aren't going to change. Maybe for L4D3. Oh come on, you know they're gonna make it.

November 3, 2009

Peace and Prosperity

Eternally behind as I am, I finally picked up the Lost and the Damned DLC for GTA IV. I'm quite impressed with it, but I wanted to talk about something in particular that they do- something that ties into my talk of sandbox games and what they are doing wrong from earlier. Y'see, one of the really nice things about GTA IV was its writing- the characters overflowed with personality, especially Niko himself, and their interactions were always a delight. Missions that had you driving along with someone to a job, which were frequent, were made much better by the banter between Niko and his partners as they drove. The normally slightly dull transportation parts were much better because of this.

Lost and the Damned keeps up this trend, but takes it one step further as well. Seeing as, in the LatD, you're a member of a biker gang, you drive in formation with the other bikers on your way to missions. This may not seem amazing, but it's handled very nicely- not only do you have several people for your character to talk with, but it's also much less like autopilot- instead of just driving to wherever, you have to keep in position with your brothers, easing up on the gas when you start to lose them, not taking turns too sharply and causing someone following you to hit a railing. In game, you're a better biker than them- that is, you're a better racer. So you kinda have to ease that up when you're in formation, and I like that. It's more immersive and engaging. Plus, sometimes they decide to make it a race among the gang, and I always kick the shit out of them. Heheh.

But that's all beating around the bush. The point is this- not only is good writing necessary, but if you're going to make a sandbox game, you NEED to come up with some way of keeping the running around from A to B all the time that the player will be doing interesting. That's the cardinal sin that most sandbox games fail. Assassin's Creed, Prototype, and inFamous all tried to keep it interesting through utilizing freerunning/parkour. And in all three titles, it worked for a little while... and then it wore off. It wasn't enough. I haven't finished LatD, maybe the formation gimmick will wear off, too. But it's not a minor detail. If you think about a sandbox game that you found boring, I am nearly certain that when you think back to what you didn't like about it, you remember some boring-ass Fedex mission, or something of the sort.

That's the lesson. If you can make just going where you're supposed to fun and interesting... what happens once you get there will have all the more weight. If, on the other hand, you spend fifteen minutes driving across your giant map in silence, trying not to piss off the cops/army/whatever antagonistic force is in your open world, the player is going to be going into the mission in a pretty nasty mood. I still think we need to scale back on sandbox games, but they sell, so I don't see that happening. So how about, at the very least, you make them more fun to play?

October 30, 2009

Sea of Sand

I'm going to talk about a troubling game trend today... I'm certainly not as bothered by it as SOME, but is it getting a little out of control. I am speaking of the sandbox game genre. Perhaps it's not even right to call it a genre anymore... it's a label of sorts that can be applied to anything. Then again, with all the genre bending going on (FPSRPGs, First Person Platformers, Action/Adventure/TPS...) I suppose it's as qualified to be a genre as anything. So I'll stick with calling it a genre, one that has become overpopulated.

I enjoy sandbox games a great deal. Grand Theft Auto, Prototype, Saint's Row, Spiderman 2, Red Faction Guerilla... it's a genre that can be applied to other genres, and with great effectiveness. It's a simple fact of reality that you can, in fact, wander around the world and do different things. It's a way to make games more immersive, and more interesting. It's a concept that actually been around for a long time- pretty much every RPG has a "sandbox" environment, more or less- but now it's really taking over. And you know? Maybe not as much as some people, but I think we're overdoing it. There are places where free roaming is either not fun or not in line with the story. Frequently, sandbox games will let you wander away in the middle of a task- at the end of a mission, you've cornered the bad guy, and now you need to actually fight him in the middle of his stronghold... only you don't, because you've wandered off to blow up some cars and punch random people. It impedes the experience.

Grand Theft Auto IV, even with its flaws (though they are few), is the perfect example of sandbox done right. Everything that happens, every mission, every job, is a self-contained event that adds to the overall plot. When you stop in the middle of a job, it's because you HAVE to- you're waiting for a response from a contact, or for your car to come out of the shop, or whatever. The pauses in action are always logical. Contrast this with, say, Prototype, where there is a mission where you pump toxic gas underground to draw out a monster, and fight to defend the pump... and just as the monster is about to show, the mission ends, so that you can go rip some chick in half and dropkick a tank or whatever before you choose to let the fight start. It's a very rough continuity break.

And then, of course, are games where the sandbox style has no place. If there was ever a sandbox Resident Evil, I think I would cry. Likewise, if a Mario Kart game ever had an overworld, and you had to drive to your next race, and jack a kart, I would be furious. There is a time and a place... and we're starting to go too far. Control yerselves, developers. If nothing else, mess with your game so that it fits. Don't think you can add freeroaming gameplay without changing the structure of your game.

Genres, as set as they are, are starting to blur. Developers are taking the best parts of other genres, and infusing their own games with them. This is absolutely a good thing. But we need to give this limits, or else you end up with abominations like Dirge of Cerberus.

October 29, 2009

Stop What You Are Doing

It's Thursday, so it's time for the continuation of yesterday's post, as promised. Today, we're going to do three pieces of particularly powerful music from Western games, to contrast the three Eastern pieces we did yesterday. I gotta admit... it was trickier than I'd thought. Western developers don't put nearly as much stock in original scores for games, and that makes it much harder.

Let's start with 4000 Degrees Kelvin ( from Portal. Obviously, it's not the one song from Portal that everyone freaked out about... but that song, though good, is both overdone, and not really evocative of any particular emotion. 4000 Degrees Kelvin, though, which kicks in just as you take the game "off the rails" and start actively defining GlaDoS, the psychotic AI, punches with pounding electronic beats that inspire panic and fear. It's partially the power of the moment and partially that of the music, but when it kicks in for the first time, nearly everyone I've spoken to admits that it gave them shivers. It perfectly captures the moment where you realize the slightly demented, uncaring computer that has guided you thus far is more than just uncaring... it's completely insane and trying to murder you. A very creepy part of the game, and it's represented very well in this song.

Next, we have Something Beautiful ( from Mirror's Edge. It's a much more calm song than... well, really, all the past entries from both posts. Again, though, the really impressive thing is how perfectly it symbolizes the game it was made for. The soothing, simple synthesized sounds match perfectly with the futuristic dystopic setting, where everything is clean and simple... and the emotion of the song is very fitting for Faith, the game's lead- a character who is faced with misfortune after misfortune, but is content that things will work out as long as she keeps running. A melancholic song with an underlying theme of hope. Very nice.

And to wrap it all up... I'm picking the uninventively titled Max Payne's Theme ( though that one kinda cuts off abruptly) from Max Payne 2. Note, that's TWO- the song is the same in the first for the most part, but for the second, they rescored it on violin... and man was that a good call. The one from the first was just a nice film-noir style dark song, quite fitting of New York, without really saying much about the game. The violin, though... it's almost a copout. Anything played with a violin gets +5 to emotional power automatically. The once dark and, for lack of a better word, badass tones of the first give way to the bittersweet sound of the violin, singing of Max's poor luck, how he somehow always makes the wrong choices, and ends up in the worst situations. It's the weakest link on this list, I admit it, but it's still an amazing song.

Notable omissions? ANYTHING with a fake Latin choir (Final Fantasy, God of War, I'm looking at you), any game that takes an existing licensed song (almost all Western games, sadly), and... oh! Dammit! I meant to put Godot's Theme from Phoenix Wright 3: Trials and Tribulations! Dammit! Well, that's a good song too, look it up. It speaks a lot about the character, and the character's a badass anyway.

Maybe I'll do a retro one- there are some pretty amazing SNES titles that I didn't include, for instance.

October 28, 2009

Beyond the Bounds

Alright, that last post was a break from form- only discussed it because that shit was really bothering me. Back to more regular game commentary.

So, one of the things you hear said is that smell is the sense most directly connected to memory. My sense of smell has always been complete shit, I can hardly smell a damn thing, so that's never really clicked with me. Fortunately, that doesn't hinder my discussion of games, as games, obviously, have no scents, except perhaps that new manual smell. So for me, and I suspect many others, the one sense that I connect to video game memories is sound. Sure, if I see a picture of Mario or something, it makes me think fondly of the games for a moment, but when I hear the Chrono Trigger main theme, it's overwhelming. That's a game that I have a lot of history with, and hearing the song fills me with a rush of pride and sadness and so many memories of the game. Call me a wuss or whatever, but when songs that I feel particularly connected with catch me offguard, it affects me pretty powerfully.

And so I thought for this post I would discuss games that not only had particularly good musical scores in my mind, but ones that are unique and emotional enough to really get me going. I'll do five titles, with specific songs in mind for each. It's going to be mostly Japanese developed games, and this is no coincedence- Japanese game developers are more interested and comfortable with making games about emotion. But that's another post in itself, one I don't think I'll write, as I'm not really smart enough to be an authority on that. I did enough cultural analysis (and proved my incompetence at it) for a year with that last post.

First off, we have Time's Scar (, the main song of Chrono Cross. Okay. Honesty time. This song makes me tear up. Not cry, but my eyes water. It's just such a powerful song... the music rising and falling with emotion that lyrics could never match. Chrono Cross, actually, is a game I never got very far in (and will probably pick back up because of this post) due to its pedigree- I came in expecting the sequel to Chrono Trigger, and it is in fact a very different game. Not a bad game, just not what I expected. Personally, I find it easier to sense and connect with the emotion in instrumentals than in vocal tracks- music is universal, free of language and connotation. It is to my mind one of the purest forms of communication. Time's Scar speaks of beauty, of chaos, and getting lost in the flow of things. How appropriate for a game about the chaos of existence.

The second, as the title of this post would suggest, is Beyond the Bounds ( from Zone of Enders 2. It brings back a lot of memories, of course, but unlike like Time's Scar, it isn't so much a concentration of the emotional theme of the game. It speaks a little of the game's theme, but mostly it's just a very beautiful song that fits the game's style perfectly. It's much less chaotic than Time's Scar, which is a constant crescendoing and dimiumendoing, but ZoE 2 is a much more static game- the main character, as opposed to being faced with the denial of his own existence, is confronting the demons of his past, and making new allies, while skirting the edge of death. Hardly a simple story... but what game that takes its story seriously IS simple?

To Zanarkand ( is one you had to know would be on here. This one... actually did make me cry. It's just a simple little piano song... but it speaks so powerfully of crushed hope, of despair, of loss... of sadness. I actually have made non-gamers cry with this song too. It's an incredible song... amazingly beautiful and emotional.

Actually, you know what? Change of plans. I'm posting this today, on Wednesday. Three Japanese songs with some amazing emotional power, not incidentally from amazing games. Tomorrow, Thursday, I will post three Western songs from Western games. Partially, I say this because that's the greater challenge- I already know at least one I'll use, but finding emotional Western music is a challenge. If I was just finding badass tracks, that would be easier. But for now, here are these three, which I encourage you to listen to either before or while you read about them if you haven't... or even if you had. They deserve a second listen.

October 27, 2009

Crossing a Line

Kiddies, be ye warned- in addition to my usual foulmouthedness, I'm going to talk about some adult topics here. Seriously, unless you're mature enough to argue about this stuff in an intellectual way, you won't enjoy this post. That is all.

So, there was a post over at Kotaku- a gaming news blog that I frequent, and in fact comment on quite often (user name Dangeresque over there)- featuring a piece of an interview from the executive producer of Ar Tonelico III. I played the first Ar Tonelico, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a pretty generic JRPG, and for the most part pretty unimaginative, but it has a very interesting concept- your mages don't level in the tradition sense, by gaining exp. Instead, the only way to make them stronger is by getting into their heads, and helping them overcome mental issues and weaknesses. It's pretty sloppily done, but the concept was neat enough to keep me interested. I didn't play the second, had been planning to at some point, and when the third was announced, I decided to keep a hopeful eye on it.

The first title had an annoying amount of sexual innuendo and fan service- it distracted from the game to the point of being a whole feature unto itself, a feature I didn't much care for. I figured that since it was a no-name RPG, they did it to try to get a little attention, and wouldn't need to bother with it in the future so much, once they were established. Then I read this article. In it, the man introduces a new feature for the mages in three- stripping. No, seriously. In the third title, you make your spells more powerful by taking off your clothes. They come up with some stupid excuse that it has to do with having more skin exposed to the air to absorb magic with, but we all know that is bullshit.

First off, let's establish why that is bullshit, just in case someone agrees. Point one- the characters don't get naked, they just adopt more suggestive attire. If you're about to die, and getting naked would make the spell more powerful, powerful enough to let you live... these characters would do it. It's human nature, we have a powerful will to live. Point two- they don't start off in skimpy outfits, they strip as they power the spell along. Why wouldn't you just wear something unsuggestive that reveals a fair bit of skin from the start? Like, shorts and a tank top. That's accepted attire, and by your own system, would give you a lot of power. But no, you have characters in knee-high socks and longsleeve dresses. Come on. And point three... even when they're stripping down, they're not really. The example picture they gave us, which will be used in game, has a girl taking off her skirt to display her panty and garter set beneath. First off, that's an outfit that is pretty much exclusively used to seduce, so unless your spells also get more powerful when you get raped, that's pretty impractical. And second, that actually doesn't reveal that much more skin. Just having regular panties would leave your whole legs exposed. That would be more powerful than the extra effort of stripping down to a seductive outfit in front of someone who is trying to kill you.

So yeah, it's pretty obvious to all I think that this is purely fan service. In fact, this goes beyond fan service... I don't really know the terms, but it's basically a clumsily done cocktease. It's bordering on porn, but in the creepiest, most roundabout way. I've studied Japanese language and culture for years now and it still manages to surprise me how messed up they can be. I have the utmost respect for some of the creativity they bring to the world, but whether it's a result of that creativity, or something else, the creepy extremes that they accept in their media and culture are deeply disturbing. I won't cite any examples, I think we all know the kind of stuff I'm talking about.

So to my mind, there is first the unfortunate fact that a series I was interested in is now pretty much irredeemable. It's too far gone. I'll be avoiding the third, and now I don't intend to play the second either, knowing the direction that the creators are headed in. But beyond that, there is the weirdness of how they are trying to subtly/not-so-subtly sexualize an ordinary game. In America, our video game ladies often have big boobs, and sometimes flirt a fair bit, or have some suggestive animations... but we don't have extended sequences of them naked in the bath, or of them eating a banana in a particularly intense way (of COURSE it's not suggesting anything!). We have porn, we have regular content, and we have content that has mature themes and nothing more. Not to overgeneralize, though I'm sure I am, but Japanese game developers seem content to run the whole gauntlet. They have porn, regular content, and content with mature themes as well, but they also seem to enjoy getting as close to showing porn as they can without getting the rating that would entail, and that creeps me out.

I know this post is pretty overgeneralizing, and I apologize for the crudeness of my argument. I am making my point badly, and making some very unfair assumptions. But can't we agree, at least, that this feature is wrong, and that it suggests a deeper problem with Japanese culture that they think it's totally fine?

EDIT: Oh bullshit! I posted this Monday! Eff you, Blogger.

October 25, 2009

Onward, Toward Oblivion

Okay. So me and the Elder Scrolls series have a nasty history. I picked up Morrowind when they released the pack that had it and its two expansions, after rave reviews and heaps of praise from the masses. That game makes my list of Top Five Most Hated Games (that I've played- obviously, there are some titles where the very concept disgusted me, so I didn't try em). I hated the muddly, brown swamp look of the world, hated the enemies that would ambush you while you slept, hated the awkward combat and the boring landscape and the crappy navigation, hate hate hate hate. There was much rage. It wasn't pretty.

And when I first picked up Oblivion... well, I liked it for a while, but that like pretty quickly turned to a rather intense dislike. Let's get this straight- Oblivion is an amazing game. A really stunning creation. And for the most part, it's a gem. But there are two design decisions that were made- seperately, they're okay, if not wonderful, but when they work in tandem, when they are both in the same game... they inspire utter, utter hatred in my heart. Enemies that level with you- I don't much like this in games, but eh, I can get over that. Not a big deal. But when you can level by raising noncombat skills, and thus level without gaining combat ability, this autoscaling of enemies becomes unforgivable.

When I first played, I didn't know that enemies scaled. And I had a BLAST. I went into the Imperial City, the huge, capital city, and bartered, negotiated, investigated, did all manner of delightful noncombat activities, and leveled, leveled, leveled. And when I finally stepped out of the big city, now level 18, and ready to explore the rest of the vast world... there were bandits in magical armor with flaming longswords waiting to greet me. I had leveled all that way without using any combat abilities- well, not very many, a few. And now I was faced with fighting enemies that would have been challenging at my level if I HAD levelled with combat skills. It literally took me ten minutes of fireball throwing kiting to take down ONE of these bandits. I just didn't stand a CHANCE.

And so I scorned and cursed the game, and cast it from my DVD drive, never to return again. But that's not where the story ends... not by a long shot. I got a new hard drive this weekend, and so I was looked through my current hard drive, seeing what I could transfer to this new, second one. And what do you know... Oblivion was still installed. I had nothing better to do, so I booted it up, started a new character. And this time, I chose to be a combat focused character. Stealth, swords, and destructive magic my specialties. And now I've played around five hours into this character, and I am LOVING it.

I remember, when I picked up Final Fantasy VII for the first time, and I really wasn't digging it. I was still in Midgar- of course things get better once you get out of there, and even near the end. It IS an amazing game, but it hadn't really started to impress yet. And I was bitching to a friend about how it wasn't what I'd hoped. He told me to keep going, but he also told me that I had to approach it with a certain attitude, that I had to have a certain point of view, and that would make the game amazing. At the time, I remember thinking (not saying, I respected him too much for that) that I thought that was a load of crap. In my mind, if you had to approach a game a certain way for it to be good... it wasn't a good game. Its quality should shine through. I didn't use that approach, and I ended up finding out that it was an amazing game all the same.

I think, though, that my attitude there was a bit immature. If you play Ocarina of Time from a graphics whore's perspective, you WON'T appreciate the marvel of the game that it is. If you approach the Metal Gear Solid series looking for concise, logical plot structure, you won't appreciate that to the proper degree either. I still don't agree with my friend fully, but there ARE wrong ways to play a game. Oblivion, I still think, is a deeply flawed game. But if you're willing to work with it, you'll discover it's also a remarkable, wonderful title as well. And this goes for quite a few titles in our medium.

You don't have to play a game the way it tells you to, and you shouldn't have to. But I have yet to see a game that is fully realized in every element- gameplay, characters, story, graphics, art design, level design, stablity, and more. If you can't be open minded, you're... well, a Madden gamer.

October 24, 2009

Shun Goku Satsu

Hey! I can post! Blogger started freaking out yesterday, gave me all sorts of error messages, wouldn't let me post. Glad that's resolved. Anyway, as I kinda hinted earlier, I wanna talk about Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and why it is the best fighting game ever.

Or, at least, the best fighting game for people who don't enjoy memorizing intriquite move lists... that isn't Super Smash brothers. Let me start again. In my mind, there are three kinds of fighting games. 2D fighters, 3D fighters, and the... let's call them brawlers- Super Smash Brothers, Power Stone, and its ilk. I think the majority of people think brawlers are boss. Super Smash Bros is certainly popular enough... they're simple, they're fun, easy to learn, hard to master kinda deals. Regular fighters, 2D or 3D, are quite different from that. They are difficult to learn, and difficult to master. They are a pain in the ass, frankly. I'm not a big fan- I enjoy watching skilled players duke it out, but I don't really find it fun to play. And so generally, I avoid them. I own Street Fighter Alpha 3 for PSP because I felt like I should own a Street Fighter game, Tekken for PSP because it was really cheap, and Soul Calibur 3 because I do like Soul Calibur a decent amount. And now, I own Marvel vs. Capcom 2. A pretty decent number of games for being a genre that I don't like. I respect it, though. That's the main reason. Anyway.

So of those games, I haven't played any of them for at least six months, except of course MvC2 which I just got. The thing is, though? I DON'T suck at MvC2. I'm terrible at Tekken, suck at Street Fighter, shitty at Soul Calibur, but somehow I'm actually ok at Marvel vs. Capcom. Not great, not even good, really. Just alright. But that's way more than I am at any other fighter, and I've only owned the game for two days, so odds are I will get better still.

What is different about MvC2? Well, for starters, each character's move list is maybe a sixth the size of a character's in most fighting games. This helps tremendously. They're also pretty similar to each other, so the end result is that you can learn one character's basics pretty quickly... and then adapt to a new character even quicker. It's also, I think, relevant that there is just an overwhelming number of cool characters to choose from- a factor that makes it more encouraging to try and learn to play skillfully.

The only discouraging factor is the terrible character balance. Cable, Storm, Sentinel... these characters just tower over the rest. There is really no question... and just as unquestionably, Servbot and Roll are a joke. The game has been out in one form or another for... what, nine years? And there has been no work at rebalancing it. I appreciate the deference to tradition, but seriously, it NEEDS it. The game is not balanced. The best characters (the so-called "God Tier") are known. There is no debate. So why not fix it? Ah well. My team {Akuma, Wolverine, Gambit) may not be top tier, but I have fun, and I'm no pushover. Well, unless you're really, really good, heheh.

October 22, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

Sorry about the lack of posting so far this week- I'll get something up today at a reasonable hour (4 am now). One of the reasons I haven't given a post? My hand hurts like hell. Not carpal tunnel... you know when you're playing a fighting game with a d-pad, and you need to do a quarter circle, so you kinda run the middle of your thumb from buttom to forward, or whatever? The old QCF/QCB business? Well, I'm not used to fighting games. I usually hate them, but I finally downloaded Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and it's a special case, because come on. And yeah, now the skin on my thumb is completely freaking raw. PAIN. On the plus side, if I keep this up, I'll get a callous, and be BULLETPROOF.

October 16, 2009

Prototype Spoiler Time

So, I finished Prototype today. A day after I started playing it. I would have liked it to be longer, but I played quiiite a lot, so I'm not mad about its length. Anyway. That's not the concern here. Let's talk about what it did and didn't do right.

Now, I think my record speaks for itself- I'm no graphics whore. But Prototype was UGLY, I'm sorry. Turns out I do have my limits... a PS3 title should not look like this. I still played in, I still enjoyed it, and it didn't really get in the way of that, but from time to time I caught myself stopping, and saying "...Really?" I would call them original Xbox level graphics, but given the number of NPCs on screen and the action flying around, it is better than Xbox, if only through sheer numbers. Fun is fun, though, so let's not worry about graphics too much.

The story, the plot, was piss-poor. It was really, really bad. Okay, the basic plotline was not that awful, and I'll be honest, I'm impressed that they had the stones to do what they did with the main character. It's a classic (I.E. annoyingly cliche) character wakes up with amnesia and mysterious powers scenario, but when you learn the truth about yourself... it's far more harsh than you would expect. 1) You are not Alex Mercer, as you had thought. You're actually a biologically engineered virus that replicates and consumes DNA. You're not even close to human. So that takes some guts to bust that one on you. 2) Alex Mercer, your original host... was actually something of a piece of shit. He infected all of New York with a bioweapon just as a "if I go down you're coming down with me." So it's impressive that they actually didn't try to make you like the character. You're supposed to think that Alex/ZEUS (his military designation)/Blacklight (the name of the project that made him) is a distasteful individual.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that the people you meet and take missions from take your consuming people and ripping them in half in perfect stride. You help a doctor with some research, and transform and then impale people on spikes right in front of him, and he doesn't seem bothered by that at all. Perhaps the developers thought it would be too much trouble, but I would have liked to have had the characters actually be disturbed by it, storyline-wise. You'd have to deal with less nice people, but... well, when you're a flesh-consuming bioweapon, it seems kinda bizarre to be getting help from your host's sister.

And that brings up another weird point... after all the time throughout the story of people not even blinking in the face of your bizarre powers, at one point you make an offhand reference about having killed people in front of your sister, and she flips the fuck out. I don't mind that as a stand alone event, but in contrast to the other people that don't care, and the fact that in an earlier cutscene with your sister, you punch through a dude's chest. It's not like she doesn't know what you do. It strikes me as trying to have your cake and eat it too. It's awkward and clumsy. And when you have such a gutsy premise for a protagonist, you could have at least given him an interesting story to play through. It's a waste, and a shame, especially given that the game is singleplayer only.

Inconsistency is a trademark of Prototype, though. In the interviews before the game came out, the developers talked about how Mercer assimilates the intelligence of those he consumes, and by the end of the game, he's just brilliant, superhumanly smart. I can understand not representing that properly- as a writer and a roleplayer, I know that perhaps the hardest thing is trying to portrait a character that is smarter than you are. But they could have at least TRIED. Mercer learns some things from people he consumes. This is true. But the things he learns are weapons/vehicle skills and memories relevant to his situation. Mass consumption of random civilians heals you, but nets you nothing. That is disappointing. Imagine if you could learn some civilian skills- to drive one of the many compacts going down the road in Prototype's New York, for instance. Or if you had some representation of your IQ going up- maybe an ability to judge the path of aircraft or missiles, or something. I'm trying to think of things that would be gameplay viable, but the options are impressive, and I really wish they were explored.

Another complaint. Mercer generally uses the former of... Mercer, his first host. It's sort of his default, for whenever he's not particularly disguised. So why do the military not have a kill on sight for his face? He's pretty distinct looking, and they certainly have a lot of "Wanted" posters of him in cutscenes. So how come you can walk up to a military officer and he just tells you to push off? And how come, in turn, you can then spin around, still in view of that officer, and run up the side of a building and they merely comment on how weird that is? You have to actually either transform or rip someone in half in plain sight of a soldier for them to go to alert. Except for a few special situations, once they get scanners that identify your genetic signature. That part I quite liked.

Hell, maybe I'll do another one of these posts later. It's a fun game, but I'm not really convinced it's a good game. Well, okay. It's a good game, not a great game.

Invasion, Not Incursion

So, this is not Friday's post. I still owe you guys another post today. This is just corrections and updates on my MAG post yesterday, because I played some more, and also did some reading. And yes, I got the quote wrong- it's "any cowboy invasion" not "any cowboy incursion." I kinda like incursion better, actually.

So first off, it seems that between the developer diaries and the beta, the concept for Sver (their logo has it as an acronym, but all the dev posts just have it as "Sver", so I'll follow suit) has changed. They did refer to it several times as a gang back when it was pre-alpha and alpha. Now, apparently, it's a coalition of veterans of third-world armies. This is muuuuch better. A bunch of guys with lousy gear who have basically spent their whole lives on the battlefield... yeah, I can see why they are standing even with the other two. I can respect that. The degree to which their AKs and SVDs are rusted is a little ridiculous, but artistic license is a valid excuse. Exaggeration to make it stand out. Fine.

I have now unlocked all three assault rifles... and man am I disappointed. They all feel exactly the same! They have unique models and firing sounds, but they all seem to hit with the same power, nearly the same accuracy, and no recoil to speak of. They even all have the same magazine size- including the G3, which does NOT have a 30 round magazine IRL. Okay, two 5.56mm rifles performing about the same, fine. But when a BATTLE RIFLE has exactly the same feel (comparison- a 5.56x39mm round vs. a 7.62x51mm round) as the assault rifles, that's just bad design. I imagine it's an attempt to keep their performance identical to their opposite faction counterparts, but seriously, that's just boring. Dull weapons are inexcusable in an FPS.

Now that I'm paying attention, it would appear that the maps are in four sections, not three. The players are divided into squads of eight, and four squads make up a platoon. Each platoon is assigned an area. So yeah, simple math tells you 128 divided by 32 is 4. The more you know, I guess. The maps are big enough that they're hard to keep track of. The feel of it... is very strange. I didn't know that there were four sections of the map because you have no sense of the other platoons. It's like there are 192 other people on the server just to slow down your ping- you never see them, you never feel the effects of their actions. Maybe they are currently capping it at 64 for the beta or something, but seriously, I never feel like anything happens outside of the little area I'm in. It's very strange. Whenever we lose, it's due to something that happens in my sector.

Level design still seems spotty, my gun still seems too good. Most of my problems are still there. I'll keep updating from time to time- frankly, the only other shooters I have to play are CoD4, which I think everyone is tired of, and TF2, which... it's good, but I hate playing games on the computer. Mostly because my computer is a mess, software wise, but oh well.

Besides, every time I hear that line about fending off cowboy invasions, I still smile.

October 15, 2009

Massively Generic Title

Yarr. I owe you guys a post or two. Let's see what I can do about that, shall we? Cause I've been playing the Massive Action Game (MAG) Beta on PS3, and it is quite interesting indeed. I likes it, but it's a very strange beast.

First off, the game allows you to pick from three factions- Valor, Raven, and S.V.E.R. (pronounced "Sever"). Each faction has a different feel to it, and I don't have any census numbers or anything, but it seems like Raven and Valor severely outnumber S.V.E.R. This is probably due to their core concepts. Valor is meant to seem like the US military (even though they're all mercenary groups)- skilled, experienced, and packing hardware that is tried and true, but still fresh and modern. Like the M4. Not cutting edge, but by the same token, weapons that have already proven themselves. The group itself has the same kind of feel. Unity, strength, honor. Valor.

Then there's Raven- the one I'm in. They're the high tech European guys. I would imagine they're supposed to remind you of the SAS or GIGN- their gear is slick as SHIT. I'm currently wielding a FN F2000 with reflex sight, verticle handgrip and suppresser. I can't do suppressive or wild fire because my gun is too accurate even on full auto. It's terrifying and awesome. Blastin' people in the head with a five round burst from a hundred yards was never so satisfying. Anyway. So they are arrogant, superior, and super high tech. Lots of blues, greys, and blacks. One of my favorite mission briefings from the beta is for when Raven is defending itself from a Valor attack- the briefer makes a very snide remark about being able to defend itself from "any cowboy incursion". It's awesome. Stereotyped European elitist- fun for the whole family.

Then there's S.V.E.R. At first, looking at their weapons- AKs and the like- I figured it would a Spetnaz-alike group- out of date weapons, but rugged, vicious, and with such incredible battle experience that they stood toe-to-toe with the others. Instead, they're pitched as being "like a gang." They graffiti, they vandalize, they improvise. ...Seriously? Why would ANYONE hire these retards? If you have a choice between the SAS and some bangers with AKs, how nuts would you have to be to pick the gang members? Gangs work for what they are- barely organized crime. They do not stand a chance against a professional military organization. It's illogical and frankly pretty insulting to the other two groups. I like AKs, I'm glad they're in the game. But can we get a less lametarded faction for them?

Speaking of weapons, we need to talk about weapon balance. I'm fairly certain the faction weapons have the same stats comparitively, there's no question there. Especially because my state of the art Raven light machine gun (not the F2000, a different gun I've played around with a little) is astonishingly inaccurate. My concern is more about the customizable weapon loadouts. Take my aforementioned weapon- my FN F2000 with reflex sight, suppressor, and verticle handgrip. The reflex sight gives me incredible accuracy and line of sight, the suppressor makes me not show up on radar when I fire, and the handgrip controls recoil. The gun itself is already extremely accurate, fully automatic, and has a 30 round clip. I've also upgraded my character's skill with reloading and stablizing assault rifles. So basically, this gun is like a point and click adventure- point and click, and you solved the puzzle, baddy is dead.

It's ridiculous. I'm not even that skilled of a player, but I'm kicking ass with this terrifying weapon. But, of course, I must have made major sacrifices to have this loadout, right? My other equipment must be suffering? Not in the least. I still have a pistol sidearm, a welding torch for repairing mission objectives, medium body armor, and a freaking ROCKET LAUNCHER. Oh, and I'm about to unlock an underbarrel grenade launcher, and will probably switch my handgrip for that. I may have to get rid of the welding torch for that, I'm not sure. But does that sound even REMOTELY like a logical sacrifice? The weapon loadouts BEG to be exploited and broken. I just want a sexy looking gun. I'm as surprised as anyone about what a terror it turned out to be.

The level design, too, seems pretty spotty. There are two maps in the beta- they are so huge, though, and you deploy in different areas each time, so it took me quite a while to figure that out. Considering this, I suppose they've done a pretty excellent job. However, the brown map (there's a more brown one and a more grey one) has some questionable areas, and one of the deployments (there's left, middle, and right, I'm not sure which this is) is just plain pisspoor. The attackers are expected to rush down a gigantic boardwalk killzone to reach their objective, covered by no less than four bunkers with top-mounted gatling guns and rocket launchers. They do this with no vehicle support, and the whole front line is MADE of chokepoints. It's a defender's dream come true, it's a bloody shooting gallery. Perhaps in the final version they can add a minefield just to add insult to injury. The second time I played that part of the map, I nearly walked away from my console when the match started, and as it turned out, that wouldn't have changed the outcome of the match. It's insane.

And speaking of affecting the outcome of the map... this isn't a design flaw, per say, just a problem inherent with the game. These matches are 256 people- two teams of 128. That's a terrifying, staggering, mind-blowing number. It is a technical marvel that it works, and when you're caught in the thick of a final assault or last stand, the rush is incredible. The problem is... when your teammates don't work with you, don't work together, or if you just get stranded, you count for NOTHING. There are isolated instances where you feel like you made a major difference in the battle, but many firefights will come and go, and you will wonder if you are making any kind of a difference at all. After all, if you were to just quit, it would then be 127 on 128- hardly overwhelming odds. On the one hand, I think it helps people get some perspective on how they really aren't as important as they think they are... but when you can pull off a thirteen kill streak, plant three charges at strategic locations, and jack an enemy APC, and the battle does not change at ALL because of that... it's incredibly discouraging.

I've clocked maybe five hours in the game, and I'm enjoying myself quite a bit. The beta is only up at set times every day- a strange setup- so I'll have to wait until tomorrow to play again, but I am looking forward to doing so. It's a very rough game... its potential is vast, I suppose, but in the short term, that just means it has more problems to work out.

October 12, 2009

Premium is a Good Word

It's been a few posts since I talked about WoW... but guess what! I actually don't have anything to talk about there. I haven't played much recently (comparatively), and though there's some cool stuff going down with Tier 10 on the PTR, there's just not enough information out there for me to make an intelligent assessment. So far, I like it. That's really all I can say.

So instead, I'm going to talk about downloadable content. Believe it or not, I only this weekend bought my first piece of premium downloadable content. The Fortune Pack, for Far Cry 2, if you're interested. That's setting aside digitally distributed games, by the way- I've bought plenty of those. No, I'm talking specifically about addons to games. Oh wait! Map packs for Halo and Call of Duty. I am an idiot, nevermind. That's not the point anyway.

There is a discussion to be had- or rather, that has been had within the community, and will continue for quite some time, about whether developers are omitting content so that they can sell it later. I think I can safely say that at least in some situations, Capcom is. And that's bullshit. We should indeed be angry about that. But you know? That's a very hot topic, the lines are drawn, and frankly no one will give a shit what I have to say. Everyone has made up their minds on the subject, and there's no progress being made. So let's leave that alone, and talk about something a little less scary- how DLC actually works, should be implemented, and whatnot.

First off, we need to note a difference between multiplayer and singleplayer DLC. Multiplayer DLC is veeeery restrictive. Not everyone is going to get this DLC, and you don't wanna just eff it up for everyone who doesn't, cause then you get lots of pissed customers. The tradition is map packs, and given how well that works I imagine it will remain the tradition for quite some time. I'll be honest, maps are not a huge deal for me. I love good maps, I hate bad ones, but the map doesn't really invade my experience that much for me. Personally, I like to see additions to my arsenal or to the game world. And this is difficult.

Obviously, adding new weapons, moves, etc. without giving them to non-DLC players is just plain unbalanced. You really can't put the two in the same room, it's not fair. So then you end up in the bizzare situation of keeping them from playing together, and it all just becomes a mess. I love new weapons, but there's really no good way to do them in a multiplayer situation unless you give them to everyone. Expanding the world, though, is an option I feel like hasn't been properly explored. For example, imagine if you were to add a new mode of gameplay as DLC that only people who'd downloaded it could play. You could have it be in a different matchmaking queue than the regular modes, and there would be no problem! It seems like a good way to expand the scope of your game without compromising the owners that aren't interested.

...This post is pretty long already, actually. Well, I'm getting this up fairly early in the day, so I'll do an extra post today or tomorrow about single player DLC, where your options are far more varied.

October 9, 2009

Angel May Cry

So, I'm a fan of Hideki Kamiya's work. Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, I loved it all. Thus, when I heard that the Japanese PSN had a Bayonetta demo up on it... I promptly registered a Japanese PSN account just to snag the demo. I've played through the demo... seven times now? So obviously, I liked it. But I wanted to discuss... oh, what I liked and didn't like, and what Bayonetta seems to owe to the more recent entries in the stylish action genre... if that is a genre. Whatever.

So, first off... if you think about it? It's actually been a long time since we've gotten an entry in the stylish action genre from Mr. Kamiya. I mean, all he's actually ever done is the first Devil May Cry, and Viewtiful Joe. Since then, we've had Ninja Gaiden, God of War, further entries in the Devil May Cry series... I could name others, but those are the real innovators. And it's pretty clear that Kamiya respects the innovation they've brought to the table... because boy does Bayonetta show signs of their influence. Beyond the obvious context sensitive moves from God of War, because really, EVERYONE uses those now, there are more subtle signs. The quick swap of Devil May Cry 3- sure, a fair few games have quick swap, but look at the implementation- even the UI- and tell me that's not the obvious inspiration. The boss battle at the end of the demo, too, feels very distinctly Devil May Cry, bringing back memories of the Virgil fights in 3 or the Dante fights in 4 (which, it could be argued, were inspired by the Nero Angelo fight in the first, but I think their feel is quite different).

I can't pull up a quote for this one, but I seem to recall Kamiya saying that he made Bayonetta because he couldn't make another DMC, because he didn't have the rights... and in many ways, Bayonetta feels like a response to Devil May Cry, the good and the bad. Devil May Cry had you going to Hell to fight demons, Bayonetta has you going to Paradise to fight angels. DMC's Dante had a distinct cockiness and arrogance as well as a flair for style... and Bayonetta feels quite similar, just... well, sexier, frankly (as in, trying to BE sexier. And succeeding, but that's not the point.). DMC was notable for its on the fly mix of gunplay and swordplay... Bayonetta, you can actually shoot WHILE you slash, thanks to ankle weaponry. And of course, there are even some move mappings that are identical... a taunt button, or R1+Back+Slash (a rising slash in both games) and R1+Forward+Slash (a charging stab in both... Dante's famous Stinger). Bayonetta does a lot better, but it owes more to Devil May Cry 3 than I've seen Kamiya admit.

What's the point of all this? Not much, I suppose... just... well, okay. So I saw a brief interview with Kamiya the other day. It was an enjoyable interview, in no small part due to the man's personality. He's got a playful cockiness to himself as well, but he still is polite and respectful. It's an interesting contrast with (former) genre rival Tomonobu Itagaki, who was cocky to the point of being a total asshole and dickhead. Really, his arrogance did him and his games no favor. Any time a rival was brought up, he had nothing but scorn for them. And frankly... what I would like? I would like Kamiya to acknowledge DMC3 as a source of inspiration for Bayonetta, and a solid game. Even when the game first came out, and got rave reviews, it languished in Kamiya's shadow. In the shadow of the series's brilliant creator. As good as it was, a vocal minority declared that it would have been way better if Kamiya had been onboard, that his absence made it less of a game.

And this leads to a larger point... the problem of changing teams for a sequel. No matter how good of a job the new team does, if the original was beloved, the new team can NEVER please the original fans. They will always scorn it out of some twisted loyalty. And I sympathize with that. I think, groundbreaking and amazing as it was, DMC1 was NOT as good as DMC3. And I'd like to hear a creator, for once, show respect for the work of his successors.

And give them a little shit over 4 while you're at it- that was an embarassment.

October 6, 2009

Aztec Gold

Another one of my "I finally got around to"s, here... this time, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I'd known it was supposed to be quite good, but a game with no real innovations, no multiplayer, and an eight hour campaign with little reason to replay I will NOT pay fifty or sixty bucks for. Sorry, you gotta have more than that. So I finally picked it up now that it's a Greatest Hit, and the sequel looks like something I am willing to pay fifty to sixty bucks for. And though it doesn't melt my face with awesome... I am extremely pleased with the game thus far.

It's an extremely derative title, mixing a Prince of Persia-style gameplay of acrobatics and puzzles with a Gears of War inspired combat system and the backdrop of an Indiana Jones move. All of this is good, but it's not one of those titles that you know is going to rock just from the concept. If the team that made it weren't established already, I imagine they would have had a rough time getting the game off the ground. The concept is solid, but it's not very special. It's the execution that makes it so great.

First off, Naughty Dog tells a good story here, though the story is fairly light and typical. It's not the plot that is appealing, it's the well-acted, well-written characters, particularly Drake. He's one of my favorite protagonists I've played in quite some time... certainly in this generation of consoles. He's fun and charming without actually being suave- women hardly fall at his feet; he's very expressive, letting out whoops of success and managing some very delightful "oh no"s- he comes across as a character that is able to make light of any situation while still seeming realistic. As things are happening to him, he's always taking it seriously, but he doesn't stress about what is done. When it's all over, he wants to have a good laugh about it all. It's a great integration of a coping mechanism, and it makes Drake seem very, very human, and all the more likable for it.

Another point worth noting... I very, very rarely note graphics. Really, pretty graphics are nice, but that is not at all a priority to me. But Uncharted... it really astonished me. The first time I came out of a lake, and realized that not only were Drake's clothes actually wet, but they were actually wrinkling in response to his actions... I was just blown away. It's not poly count here, though the poly count is really something... it's cleverly applied physics and, not exaggerating, perhaps the best animations I have ever seen. Any action you do, there are multiple animations for. For some very basic actions, there are seemingly a dozen or more. It's staggering, and it really makes the game feel like a movie, feel great to watch.

The gunplay is simple but fun, the puzzles are challenging enough to make you think, but not hard enough to break the follow and momentum, and the acrobatics are delightful. Cutscenes, too, are wonderful, if only to experience more of Nolan North's awesome Nathan Drake. Seriously, if anyone but this man lands the role for Drake in the Uncharted movie (unless it's Nathan Fillion, that would rock too) I really don't think I'll see it, despite what a natural fit Uncharted and a movie are. There are no amazing new ideas for the industry, no moments of mind-blowing art design- the level designers set up some very beautiful vistas over and over, but they are not going to change the industry (no offense, they really are very gorgeous!). It's not a game that is going (or did, I suppose) to really advance game design. What it succeeds at is being a technically excellent, fun to watch, delightful to play, relentless single player game with excellent mechanics and characters, and some truly remarkable animation.

I was watching a review of the second, actually, and they summed it up quite nicely- the Uncharted games are a perfect condensation of the best ideas to come out of gaming in recent years, basically. And you know... that's not a bad way to spend sixty bucks. I suppose I would have paid full price for this game after all.

October 5, 2009

Troublesome Tidings

So, over the past few weeks, I've written and scrapped several posts about how Modern Warfare 2 looks a lot better than I gave it credit for, about how the multiplayer looks like a significant evolution of the first, and all around, looks like a stellar product. As it turns out, I'm happy I never posted any of those. Because Infinity Ward just posted a new trailer for the single player, and oh ye gawds.

Okay. Multiplayer still looks effing amazing. I'm sure the mechanics of the game are going to be rock solid, and it is absolutely a first day buy for me. I really doubt anything's gonna change that. But that trailer... was painful. Okay. Well produced, well shot, well acted. I ain't arguing that. But set aside the flash and awe, and look at the part that has military enthusiasts groaning and rolling their eyes. Washington DC being occupied.

Foreign army, terrorists, military coup? We don't know. They haven't told us. But, I'm sorry, that is just retarded. The first had a good action movie feel, while still feeling believable. But the idea of a military force occupying Washington is just stupid. Okay. So first off... they would not MAKE it to DC. Our intelligence network has its flaws, but any major military gathering on any part of the globe, we know about. Period. You could not get the numbers together without us knowing before you left your county, let alone crossed the Atlantic. We have satelites. A lot of them. We have the CIA, the NSA, the DHS, intelligence within the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines, and we have Israel, the United Kingdom, and a dozen other foreign agencies watching our backs. I literally do not think it is possible to militarily catch us with our pants down. A few guys with AKs is one thing. An actual military deployment is QUITE another.

And let's say, by some godly planning, intelligence failure, and incredible freaking luck, you landed a military force on our shore. ...Washington DC is not undefended. It's probably the most defended city in the world. I don't know that for a FACT, obviously, but we have a lot of military and security there. And you know what? We have the best military in the world. We have some of the best trained, if not the best trained (give Spetnaz and SAS their due), we absolutely have the best equipped, and we have a significantly manned, military. On our size, yes, China outnumbers us. But that's why we created the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. I'm being quite literal, by the way- the Chinese are seriously why we created that weapon. As a wave tactics counter.

And the final bit is the footage of some military force holed up in the White House, gunning down American troops with a turret. Not to be rude... but as well as the White House is designed, our SEALs could take it back like THAT. Or Rangers, or Green Beret, or whatever. Our special forces are GOOD. They can take one building. I promise you that.

It's being pushed by Infinity Ward as this big shocker plot reveal, and it certainly is shocking, if only to learn they would be that stupid. I'll wait til I've actually played the game to dismiss the whole single player plot as dumb, but... they better have some serious aces up their sleeves. There is not a single scenario (that isn't completely ridiculous and absurd, like all of Europe declaring war on us or something) where a military force that actually exists on this earth could take DC from us.

September 28, 2009

World of... Alliance.. Craft? I Fail at Puns

So, more World of Warcraft stuff. I'm trying to keep a 1-to-1 ratio or less of WoW stuff to regular stuff- I play a lot of WoW, and its world is fascinating, but if you don't like it, I don't wanna bore the shit out of you. Plus, if this just becomes another WoW blog, there are a LOT of other WoW blogs that are way better, and I don't like those odds. Anyway.

So thanks to PC Gamer, we now are aware of more of the plot of the upcoming expansion, Cataclysm. And we are not happy. Royal "we" there. Y'see, there are some cool details about the plot of the starting areas of the new races, and that's all well and good. And then there is a little tidbit about the fate of the Horde- that is, that Garrosh becomes Warchief and starts kicking everyone but the orcs and tauren out of Orgrimmar.

Okay. Let me get this out of the way. I'm pretty sure EVERYONE who does not work for Blizzard thinks Garrosh is an annoying piece of shit. The first time you meet him is as a Horde player, and he's a whiny little bitch. Through a long quest chain, you manage to get him the confidence to lead. Turns out, this was a big mistake. Not only is he a complete asshole to you (even if you did that quest chain) in every occasion from then on, he's also a racist, smallminded, tactically inept dipshit. That they have Varok Saurfang, god-lord of Warcraft badasses, serving as his adviser only serves to underscore his retardedness.

Originally, we all thought that Garrosh was either A) grow half a brain, because jesus christ or B) by challenging Thrall, thereby help Thrall grow a pair, and then get out of the way so that real characters can have the spotlight. Neither of these have happened. The gunshy Thrall has not learned to be more decisive, and Garrosh has not gotten any smarter. Thrall has his problems, but he's a beloved character, and one of the main characters from Warcraft 3. I really, really doubt they're going to just kill him. So if he's not Warchief, it means he left the post. And if you leave the post, you can appoint a replacement, and why, why, why, why would you appoint Garrosh and not Varok? It's not like Thrall doesn't notice Garrosh's faults. He spends half his time telling Garrosh to shut the fuck up and stop embarassing him in front of major world leaders.

And it's clear, from the fact that he's declaring more than half the Horde "not strong enough" to hang with him, that he's no brighter than he was when he proposed attacking the Alliance and the Lich King at once when they had the strength to beat neither. Blizz has said they want to keep the "war" in Warcraft. But do you really have to do that by making one faction have a universally detested leader?

And to top it off... he IS Horde. And unofficial censuses have shown, the faction ratio is noticably in the Alliance's favor. The Alliance, by and large, are a very classic fantasy organization- the idea of humans, elves, and dwarves teaming up is as old as Tolkien, older actually. The Horde, though certainly not unique, is a far more interesting group, as far as composition and culture. The Horde has always been, culturally, more interesting.

And yet Blizzard's move, for Wrath, is to give the undeniably more popular new race to the Alliance (does ANYONE think more people will roll Goblin than Worgen), which ALREADY has a larger population, and then strip the Horde of its interesting culture and leader. I know the game isn't out yet, and we don't truly know how it will all pan out, but it seems to me this is the point where you start up the slow, sarcastic applause. I am an Alliance player. I am looking forward to the expansion. But I'm also a lore buff, and this whole move just seems idiotic to me. The LAST thing the Horde needs right now is more stupid stuff. The Forsaken were just starting to come into their own as a truly interesting race, thanks to the events of Wrath, and the new Tauren classes in Cataclysm will really make a big difference, as well as getting rid of the terrible starting areas.

My advice for the expansion (not that they'll listen to me, I'm just some fan)? First off, get the blood elves back in the game. Politically, they didn't do SHIT for all of Wrath. Get Lor'themar new voicework, a new model, and have him, you know, do something rather than sit in his empty city and look smug. Either make Garrosh grow up, or have Varok, very early in his rule, pull a coup. Varok is, seriously, one of the most interesting characters in WoW. Beyond the long list of Saurfang jokes (he's the Chuck Norris of WoW), he's an ancient orc warrior who has just seen it all. He's fairly smart, but mostly he has just experienced so goddamn much, and lived through it all, that he's a force to be reckoned with. Yes, he is a voice of moderation, because he sees the wisdom in peace. And I understand, if you want the two factions at war, that's a problem. But really... it's not like Saurfang is a stranger to war. Have King Varian pull some stunt that Varok just will not tolerate- I would imagine an assault on Durotar would suffice- and he will declare war. He's better at that than Thrall, anyway.

Just please, please don't give us Garrosh. I'm not even the same faction as him and his existence in the game causes me no end of pain.

September 25, 2009

Bang for Your Buck

Having seen all the recent info about Modern Warfare 2, I am greatly encouraged about it- far more optimistic than I was. It's going to be very good, and it IS mixing things up, my claim was unfair. Anyway. Enough humility, I'm no good at that. And it's not very fun anyway.

So there's a lot we still don't know, and as an enthusiast for simulated firearms (read- I like lots of guns in games), I am particularly interested in seeing a final list of weapons in the game. But until we get that... here are a few that have not been confirmed as in that should be added, and why.

First off, we have the AN-94 Abakan. A Russian-made, state of the art 5.45mm assault rifle, designed to replace the AK-74, the AN-94 looks rather like the AK family of weapons in its basic layout. However, the individual parts all have a distinct look, a measured mix of black metal and plastic, with a very unique muzzle. So it would look interesting, and unique, which is important in a game. But that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is its firing mechanism- its two round burst fire. Plenty of weapons have burst fire, but the AN-94's burst is so fast firing, a skilled shooter can put both bullets through the same hole. It doesn't look or sound like a burst at all. A very unique, excellent weapon.

Next, a true classic- the Makarov PM. A 9x18mm Russian semi-automatic pistol from the Cold War, the Makarov is a very small, compact pistol with a... I hesitate to say cute, but certainly appealing design. It's not incredibly accurate, but it's a pistol. It works at the ranges it should be used at exceeding well, and its recoil is minimal. And, I mean... Revolver Ocelot used to use one (back before he got the revolver part of his name). Come on. It's a great Commie weapon.

The PSG1... it hasn't been confirmed as in game, but if it isn't, then there is something WRONG with Infinity Ward. Perhaps the greatest sniper rifle in service, the PSG1 is a precisely crafted weapon by the German gun masters Heckler and Koch. It was designed as the ultimate sniper weapon... and it does not disappoint. It matches the most rigarous accuracy requirements in the world while still offering semi-automatic fire with almost no recoil (due to its weight, mostly- thing is pretty darned heavy). And with twenty perfectly accurate semi-automatic shots, if you can't drop your target, you fail at life. It's a good thing this is for the game, though, not real life- this sucker costs ten thousand dollars. Ouch.

And last... another Soviet gun, what can I say, I'm a sucker for them. The PP-19 Bison is a submachine gun that fires the 9x18mm round from cylindrical magazines loaded in front of the trigger. Distinct look. Distinct feel. And thanks to a sixty-four round magazine (!) all those P90 spray-and-pray gunners from Modern Warfare 1 will feel right at home. Though I'm one to talk, with my Skorpion no-ironsights style.

Anyway, there we have four wonderful weapons that should be in Modern Warfare 2. Note that none of them were in the first- Infinity Ward, if you really don't bring back the Skorpion I WILL track you down and get arrested before I can manage to kill you. Hey, it's not much of a threat, but I least I know I can do it if I try.

September 23, 2009

Piecemeal Patchwork

Another major patch has come for World of Warcraft, and you know what that means (if you play it)... another complete mess. Every single content patch manages to screw something up, break some part of the game, or just overload servers with... something, be it inefficiency or whatever. It's maddening. Basically, it means that the game becomes unplayable for the day of the patch, and that's if you're lucky. More often, it's unplayable for several days.

Am I mad at Blizzard for this process? I think they could do more to prevent it, but I think no matter what, adding large, exciting new content for eleven million people to download and try out in one day (obvious exaggeration, they do the patches on different days for different locations, but anyway) is going to lead to disaster. Blizzard has never much pandered to its fans, they've always thought that the game was far better off in their hands, and it's pretty hard to argue with that, honestly. However, they are quite exceptional at customer service, and though patch day sucks, Blizzard does appreciate that it sucks, and is willing to lend a hand. Couldn't loot an epic item because of bugs or whatever? GMs help you out. Lost an item that you were trying to trade in the overwhelming lag? They'll get it back for you. And just plain couldn't log on at all, because the server was literally offline all day? Usually, when that happens, they'll add another day of service to your account. Customer service is great at Blizz.

So the other patch day consideration, of course, is the coding. Is there something in the delivery process or something that makes patch day such hell? ...No, not really. They don't announce patches, partially because they don't wanna be yelled at for a patch being late, but I think also so that those not in the know won't realize the patch has dropped, and thus won't even experience the patch day torment... or maybe more importantly, by not rushing online, won't contribute to it. They give us patches in bits and pieces through their background downloader, usually before the patch actual goes live, and that too saves on bandwidth.

So really, it looks like Blizzard is doing everything right. Is the suckage of patch day unavoidable, then? I don't feel like this should be the case, but damn if I know how to avoid it. Any ideas?

September 20, 2009

World at... Hmmm, No Good Puns to Be Had

So, after a long time away, I started playing Call of Duty again this weekend- both Modern Warfare and World at War. It's been good times, to be certain. But one... definitely more than the other. You see, when World at War came out, I thought it was great. Obviously, not the big evolution that MW was for the series, but it took steps in the right direction, and was an excellent game. Coming back now... Modern Warfare still blows me away. WaW, however... does not. It is, in fact, a very troubled game. I'm going to talk about the multiplayer side of it- the single player is a whole different story, and maybe I'll talk about that some other time.

Let me explain. There are some things that World at War tried that I still agree were great. The dogs, as a killstreak reward, are just plain better than the chopper. Consider, if you will, that the chopper did not miss, headshotted people with frequency, and took a LOT of effort to shoot down. Also, on some maps it was god, some maps it was worthless. Badly designed. The dogs, on the other hand, while not perfect, are quite counterable by a skilled player, about equally good on all maps, and encourage people to work together to watch each other's backs. They also encourage conflict rather than camping- the side that summons the dogs nearly always will follow the dogs to reach the enemy. It keeps things fresh, and is relatively fair. I really like the dogs. Another thing it tried, and was right about, was bolt-action rifles. They just feel good. One shot, one kill on most enemies. They could have made them a BIT more powerful- every time I plug someone in the gut with my Mosin-Nagant at twenty yards and he doesn't drop, I die a little inside (and die a lot ingame, because he's usually brought his aperture sight MP40 martyrdom ass to bear on me with some from the hip spray and pray, oh I'm not bitter).

But it did some very, very stupid things, too. For one... it stuck to the formula in lazy ways. Making it familar to Modern Warfare fans is one thing. Giving it the exact same UI, not even recoloring it, and the exact same challenges, is lazy. And it's irritating. We bought the game hoping that it would be something new. Otherwise, we'd still be playing Modern Warfare (in fact, many went BACK to MW, and I can hardly blame them). Another thing, a lot of its new perks were just plain stupid. Toss Back is good. I like Toss Back. Shades and Gas Mask are perhaps the two worst perks in the game. They are both hard counters to underused special grenades... and that's it. They do nothing else, and yet you expect us to chose them, ever, over a perk that multiples our health or damage, or a perk that gives us two primary weapons? Those two are awful. The Bouncing Betties are even more annoying than the claymores of MW, not to mention historically inaccurate, and Second Chance misses the point entirely, being unbalancedly good.

Oh, and since we mentioned historical inaccuracy... suppressors and aperture sights? No. In fact, I don't know what kind of freak love child aperture sights are anyway- I don't think anywhere in history is there an army that had soldiers so mentally deficient that they had to buy glass lens the diameter of a grapefruit with a "shoot here" mark on them. The red dot was one thing, this is idiotic. If you couldn't figure out how to shoot with the effing iron sights in World War 2, your commissary shot you so that a more intelligent man could take your gun. There were a few silenced weapons- very few, since they were invented by the Americans in WW2. None of them were rifles, none of them were automatic, and CERTAINLY none of them were the modern screw-on silencer, they were built in. In short- Treyarch, stop being so stupid.

I get it, Treyarch. Those bastards that made weapons in World War 2, eh? They didn't make enough attachments for their weapons, and now your photocopying of Modern Warfare is at risk. But you know what? There are other things you could have done. Pretty much every gun used in WW2 went through several, visually distinct iterations. You could have had those be unlockable, with varied attributes from the base version of the gun. Heck, I would have loved to have been able to unlock the Thompson M1928, that's the one that looks awesome (look it up, it really does). But in the end, even this flaw falls behind the wayside. I mean, really, they just can't live up to the three hundred pound gorilla in the room.

Vehicles. Okay, Sequels 101: need to add something to make your game feel different than its predecessor? Add vehicles! No seriously. That must be what they tell developers, because Jesus Christ do they love to shove that shit in our faces. Okay Treyarch. Listen up. Call of Duty. Is not. About. Vehicles. Do you really think that Infinity Ward didn't think of adding vehicles? I promise you they did. And they realized it was a retarded idea. And you didn't.

Okay. Here are the facts. In real life, an infantry gets the shit kicked out of him by a tank. They're no freaking match for them. In Halo or whatever, you're a super soldier with awesome armor, that you can take on a tank and win is a little silly, but okay. In Call of Duty... you're a grunt. And just like a grunt, you die like a little bitch when you fight a tank. Over and over. And that is NOT fun. Hell, it's hardly fun for the guy in the tank, because there are a dozen guys popping out of nowhere like Whack-a-Moles to pop him once with their rocket launchers and then duck back into hiding. Oh, and another thing? The game is played in first person... but the tank has third person view. ...What? So climing into this lumbering hunk of steel, and staring out through a one foot steel slit in the front gives you BETTER perspective? Idiotic.

Basically, there really were a few good ideas at Treyarch when they made this game. But as it turns out... way, way too few. It's better than CoD3, that's for certain. Maybe next time they will produce something good? Who knows.

This bitter, after-the-fact review brought to you by Mountain Dew, the only reason this post is gonna be up before noon. Though, 4 am is pretty damn good, if you ask me. I'll start trying to post before noon now, maybe that'll keep me honest.

EDIT: Correction- the Sten had a few silenced versions, which were automatic. My mistake. Funny that they didn't see fit to put any British guns in the game, though, eh?

September 14, 2009

One A.M. Pessimism

I've kind of put off this post... because I've had trouble finding something to talk about. I haven't been playing a hell of a lot because of trying to start school up properly, and what I have been playing is "let's gear up my tank" in WoW, which does not make for a particularly interesting discussion. Now, I could bore ya with the details of trying to stay defense capped while having enough DPS to generate good threat... but I have a sneaking suspicion you wouldn't give a shit, and I KNOW you have no reason to. So we're not gonna do that. Maybe when I'm feeling more intelligent (aka not at "what the hell a.m.") I'll write something about the experience of tanking, dpsing, and healing- all of which I have now done in a raid setting. It's weird. Anyway.

What I decided I would actually talk about... is why I worry about the upcoming blockbuster titles for this year. In turn, why the big releases don't look so great to me. Yay raining on parades. Stick with me, though- I'm not a whiny pessimistic, I'm just gonna note some things that have me concerned.

First off... Modern Warfare 2. Okay. This is Infinity Ward, this is Call of Duty. That's awesome. I loved 1, 2, 4, and even one of the ones they didn't make, World at War. But MW2 looks to mess up the magic. Why do I say this? Well, for starters, every one of the series that IW has made so far has had some major innovations. 1 introduced an emphasis on iron sights and long-range gunplay. 2 brought in some Halo staples in a masterful way- limited weapon loadout, regenerating health, dedicated grenade buttons. And of course... 4 gave us the Create-A-Class, and that was just freaking amazing. This one adds new stuff... but we have yet to see any real innovation or development of the core gameplay.

But that's not all that has me worried. Two words- akimbo pistols. Okay. It's an arcadey shooter, but its basis is in realistic, modern military combat. In realistic, modern military combat, using two pistols is akin to firing your assault rifle one-handed. Yes, you can do it. But it is incredibly ineffective, and a waste of bloody bullets. It's for action movies, not anything that takes the military even remotely seriously. And medium-range instant kill throwing knives? No. Just no. Do you KNOW how much kevlar these guys wear? You'd annoy them at best.

Next game... Halo: ODST. I am interested in the single player campaign, but A) an insistence to package DLC that many fans have already purchased seems a pretty bullshit move and B) declaring that there is no way it would be full price... then making it full price... smacks of massive corporate exploitation. It feels like Microsoft is trying to turn Halo into the Madden of shooters- a release every year or else, quality/content be damned. And that pisses me off. Also, it STILL has rebounding health. I don't mind rebounding health, but their whole deal was telling us we'd have to fight differently than Master Chief, and it looks like that was just bullshit.

Left 4 Dead 2... I'm not mad at Valve for making a sequel with such speed, they certainly seem to have added enough content... I have other problems. One, I don't like the characters, at least not yet. I loved the cast of Left 4 Dead, dammit, especially Louis. If we don't get some kind of "grabbin' peelz" meme out of 2, I will cry. But it's not even that... it's that I don't actually LIKE the sound of most of the new content. The Jockey, the Spitter, I don't LIKE the idea behind them. Don't let people stop moving, and force them to split up? No. No thank you. And melee weapons are neat, but I really don't care that much.

Just Cause 2. Some critics and reviewers are excited for this title. I would like to remind them they were excited for the first as well. Enough said.

There's probably more I could cry about, but I just can't think of it all right now. There are plenty of titles I'm unquestioningly excited about (Mass Effect 2, Brutal Legend), but I also have plenty of reservations. Maybe all my excitement for Assassin's Creed and inFamous across this generation has made me wary of getting kicked in the balls again (I enjoyed both titles, but... they were NOT what they were supposed to be).

September 9, 2009

I'm the Goddamn Batman

Yes, the quote is overdone, but man is it hilarious. Anyway, I picked up Batman: Arkham Asylum last week, after reading rave reviews and thoroughly enjoying the demo. Mostly, I'm going to focus on what could have been, so let me get this out of the way- it is an excellent game. If it had been a bit longer, and hadn't puttered out at the end like it did, it would be one of my game of the year contenders. Actually, if some of our end of the year titles disappoint, it may be yet. It's action-packed, fun, beautiful, well-designed, and wonderfully acted. This is one of those rare cases where the American voice acting is an absolute treat. It does a lot of things very well. But... I would probably give it an 8.5 were I the sort to give scores, maybe a little higher. Scores, all too often, seem arbitrary, though, so don't take that as my set opinion. Just take it as a guideline to how I feel, which I will explore in more depth here.

Okay, first off... the story. Batman captures the Joker after an astonishing simple fight, and cautiously takes him back to Arkham Asylum. He knows that something isn't right, but he's not sure what... and indeed, the moment he's seperated from the Joker, the madman escapes his guards, and manages to take over the Asylum, releasing thugs, crazies, and supervillains... and the Dark Knight is trapped with them. It's a simple, but thoroughly enjoyable setup- it feels very Joker, very true to the character and his style of plotting, and the real meat of the characters come from their interactions- everyone involved knows Batman, and most of them are trying to kill him... but the way they do it, the way they talk with him, and the minions (or lack thereof) they command give them all a very definitely flavor. I would say the only overlap that bothered me was how overly similar they made Killer Croc and Bane... and frankly, that's more a problem of their origins and abilties than of the writing of the game.

The story does really come apart at the end, though... it all comes down to a super-soldier serum, Joker wants it to make an army, Batman needs to stop him. Seriously. The first time comics used this, it was a boring plotline, and it's been used so many goddamn times. I don't care. It's a mega yawnfest at the end, and the focus brings down an otherwise stellar story. To put it another way... the story is minimalist, the focus is on the characters, and those characters are excellent. But in the end, the game shifts to focus on the story... and since the plot was designed as background, it really doesn't do well in the spotlight.

Side note here... the game was short, and you could say, "Well Six, how could they have made it longer in a natural manner?" The answer is pretty simple- more villains, and don't kill off Killer Croc without even a real fight. I know he's a moron, and I appreciate Batman casually besting him with a trap, but it made for a pretty dull level. Draw that out a little more, and having a boss fight where you had to dodge around while setting up a series of traps would have been excellent. And as for more villains? Heck, you even get bios for most of them as rewards in-game! Prometheus, Deadshot, Ra's al Ghul, and Two-Face all would have made for excellent fights and levels, Ra's al Ghul especially, though he would have little reason to be in Arkham.

Let's talk about gameplay. Arkham Asylum is a blast to play, in just about every element. It has the classic brawling segments so prevalent in superhero games, but a simple yet competent counter system, combined with the need to takedown an enemy (that is, actually knock them unconscious, not just knock them down) and a wonderful emphasis on the flow and momentum of combat makes these fights a simple joy. As Batman, a master of unarmed combat, fighting multiple enemies becomes preferred to fighting one-on-one. When surrounding, Batman can spin and flip, punch and kick, and interrupt any of these moves with a seamless, contextually appropriate counterattack. If this was the entirity of the gameplay, it would lack a little depth, but would suffice. But it isn't. We have the investigation mechanic, which is well done... and the predator gameplay.

You know that bit, in Batman Begins, where Batman's fighting some thugs at the docks, and he's isolating them, taking them out one by one as their buddies panic, and finally one of them screams in frustration and terror "Where are you?!" And then he bursts out of the shadows, declares "here", and then takes him out. That's how Batman does business... and that's how the predator action works. You hide in the shadows, scaring and tricking thugs into splitting up, and then oneshot them, and use that to further terrify your enemies into making more mistakes. Does it work well in gameplay? It is the most fun I have had all year. It is amazing. The game gives you plenty of tools, batarangs, explosives, grabbling hooks and such, and they work spectacularly, allowing you to perform all sorts of delicious takedowns.

There are three problems with it, though. One is that though it gives you the tools... it doesn't give you a lot of ways to apply them. You can use your cable launcher to pull people off cliffs, but not, oddly, to lift them off the ground. You can use your explosive gel to drop ceilings on baddies, or straight-up concussively blast them in the face, but you can't use the detonations to scare enemies away from an area. Really, they're not unreasonable limitations, but when you start capitalizing on the psychological aspect of combat, every missed mindgame begins to stand out. For all I could do, the functions of the tools suggested so much more. And I'm sorry... if I can lift up the entrance to a ventilation duct, and jump in or out in a mere moment... why, why, why would you deny me the chance to play shark, popping out just long enough to seize someone and pull them under with me?

The second problem is the escape mechanic- Arkham Asylum, like most things in Gotham City, is styled with gothic architecture, and there are gargoyles up in the ceiling for you to hide in, unseen. This gives you a great vantage point, both for scouting and for striking... but to put it bluntly, it makes things a little too simple. Sit up there, wait for someone to wander off, pounce, head back to gargoyle, repeat. The game does mix it up near the end- there is one room where the gargoyles have proximity explosives on them (the Joker's figured out your game), and you must therefore fight on foot. This part works tremendously well, and when the game then just goes right back to regular gargoyles again, it's a disappointment. I liked the idea that this sort of easy mode was gone, that I was expected to play better and smarter now. But alas, not a chance. It seems like the refrain of Batman: Arkham Asylum... every element of the game is awesome, but underexplored.

And the third problem is quite simple... the game is too short, and thus the predator segments too few. Far, far too often, you'll notice a pack of enemies, and get excited about the thought of a predator section... only to realize that they are just going to stand there until you get close enough to trigger a brawling segment. It's a disappointment and a missed opportunity, to be sure, even with as good as the brawling is.

Those are pretty much my only complaints with the game. I have finished it, yes, and I would like to play back through it again some time... but I would also greatly, greatly look forward to a more realized sequel using the same engine and mechanics. Fifty points if you let me do a flying kick with my portable zipline this time.