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Video games, PC games, or other interactive media that's currently caught my attention ...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dead Rising (Xbox 360)

I couldn't wait for my review copy of Dead Rising to show up in the mail, so I went ahead and bought it at Fry's ($50 bucks, baby!).

After fiddling for too long with my projector and surround sound setup (I currently can't mount my projector to the ceiling, because I need to re-route some electrical, and I had a dead channel on the audio I had to chase down), I started playing the game around 10 p.m.

Freaking awesome.

I mean, it's kind of like what I expected (and got a taste of from the demo), but it's also a little deeper than I expected. I'm also only 12 game-hours in (~1.5 real-world hours).

It's a sandbox game, but the mini-missions (and mini-game inspiring achievements) make it a lot of fun. I'm currently playing "72 Hour Mode", and since that's the only mode available out of the box, but it's selectable, I'm guessing more are going to be added.

Killing zombies in creative ways (hedge trimmers, strategically placed propane tanks, toolboxes, shopping cart, park benches, barbells, etc.) is great fun, but the fact that there's a deeper, semi conspiracy story that unfolds piece by piece keeps the pace moving. I also found myself interrupted mid-mission as I stumbled across another scenario I'd ignored, and got to choose again whether I wanted to pursue that path.

And I'm glad I messed with my 5.1 audio -- the only way to play this game. The Dolby Digital is incredibly well done, and that positional audio is key to identifying zombies sneaking up on me, and for immersing me in the story as folks run up stairs behind me, cross from the left to right sound field, etc.

Also, some of the in-game mechanics (blender, microwave, etc.) are pretty slick. I like the photo mechanic, and the intro fly by tutorial and the ass-annoying Kent "I'm-not-a-tutorial-tutorial" are decent at getting you into that mechanic without doing too much "Show, don't tell".

Speaking of "Show, don't tell", there are a lot of cut-scenes in this game. Normally OK for me, because they're decently done. But they're not great, and they keep interrupting the flow of the game. I'm getting into a zombie-killing, food-chomping groove, and (at least the beginning), had to constantly drop the controller to watch YAC (Yet Another Cutscene). I wonder what CliffyB would say about these?

Oh, and the aiming mechanic sucks. Horribly. Having to use the pistol to cap a guy running across rooftops was painful. It also speaks to a larger problem, which is the inability to customize controls. I hate that the aiming kicks you over to using the left, rather than intuitive right, thumbstick, and I can't do anything about it. And, I'd like to implement a Halo-esque control scheme when I play (what can I say? Bungie pwns me).

Some of the mini-missions are tough, and you can't turn off "friendly fire", so if you've got a survivor being eaten by a pack of zombies, you're likely to whack them unintentionally (pruning shears are not scalpels, kids!).

And the "Mother's Lament" mini mission pissed me off. Because I'm not sure it's balanced well, starting it is a beast, the difficulty makes staying sympathetic to someone we should be sympathetic to a chore, and I feel the set up is definitely over the line. But I'm sensitive on that front.

Final gripe -- fantastic audio, but where's the voice acting? Seriously, the cut scenese are well-voiced, but the interactions in between are text and Sims-like grunts and noises (I have the same gripe with my favorite X-Men Legends games). C'Mon, this is next gen -- immerse me in the experience!

That sounds like a laundry list of gripes, but it just keeps the game from being spectacular. My gut feel says it's about an 8.4 out of 10, but I need to play it some more to be sure.

More to come ...

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Monday, August 07, 2006

"Dead Rising"; "Ninety-Nine Nights (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Xbox 360 demos for Dead Rising and Ninety-Nine Nights, and these are in my top 3 played demos so far in the life of the console (Lost Planet, a Capcom title like Dead Rising, is the other one).

Dead Rising

Dead Rising (check out my preview here), the creative zombie chop fest hiding a deeper story, plays about like I expected. That is to say, creatively killing zombies is a lot of fun, and the intro cut scene, and cut scenes that play out when you exit the demo field of play (sporting store, movie theater, or warehouse), hint at a deeper story, as I predicted. And once 7 p.m. hits, hang out for the cutscene showing things are about to get a whole lot worse after dark.

If you stay within the parameters of the game field, the demo only lets you play for 15 minutes at a time. But like the Lost Planet demo, Capcom's produced a solid little playtest. There's a lot to play with and explore, and you can whack zombies with a scythe, hunting knife, pistol, shotgun, flowerpot, stuffed bear, garbage can, nightstick, shopping cart, skateboard, and sundry other objects, including a frying pan. With the frying pan (and other "weapons" and environmental objects), you can "upgrade" -- stick the cast iron skillet on the stove, and it's a lot more lethal for bashing zombie heads. Also, check out the microwave fun ...

And there are character upgrades that let you carry more items, too (though those aren't in the demo).

I really appreciate the options being available in the demo -- I love a demo that gives full access to the game control (inversion, etc.) and settings menus that are in the full game (all demos should allow players to invert if that's applicable; I hate all demos that don't).

The controls themselves are a little wonky. I need to get used to the left trigger being the camera, but more confusing is the right trigger/aiming mechanic, that makes you use the left thumbstick to aim, to super sluggish effect. Given how close last week's demo was released to tomorrow's release, I don't have a lot of confidence this'll be fixed.

In theory, I'm supposed to be receiving a review copy of Dead Rising, but since the same folks sent me the October-released Stubbs the Zombie in December, we'll see. I had really hoped to receive the game in time for last weekend to play and provide timely review, but it was not meant to be.

Ninety-Nine Nights

Ninety-Nine Nights (N3) is getting misbilled as being like Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires, which it's not. That is to say, it doesn't suck (I'm sure I'm pissing off some rabid fanboys, but Dynasty on the Xbox 360 really disappointed me).

N3 is amazing. Racking up 5,000-plus kills, leveling up my character, switching out weapons and accoutrements in an RPG-lite kind of way, and exacting mass carnage on the orcs is a hugely good time. The level of detail is amazing, and I like battling different classes of orcs that actually play differently -- from field fodder to seasoned soldiers to wizard orcs that can do some serious damage. You can even see helmets go flying as you knock them around.

And their troll implementation is a like an adolescent, better realization of a Tolkien rock troll than that franchise's games have had. Seriously. (I'm going to rename this the "Piss off the fanboys" post.)

And ORB attacks rock.

I need to work more on commanding my soldiers, but I can't tell yet if that's because of the controls or my lack of familiarity with the mechanic.

And the voice acting (and appropriate emotional intensity) is seriously below the bar, so I'm hoping the final version -- due this month -- corrects that.

Both Dead Rising and Ninety-Nine Nights are really good demos (and available for free to anyone with an Internet connection), so check them out.

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