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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Halo 3

The more I play Halo 3, the more I like it.

And while in my earlier post I said in my first impressions "the graphical fidelity is a bit improved over the multiplayer beta", that's not fair at all -- it's much improved.

As a matter of fact, this is a very pretty game. Playing through lush coniferous forests is a blast, and the detailing on the trees (outer bark, inner bark, etc.) is well-done. No, not BioShock pretty, but much bigger, open, more - things - going - on - at - once pretty.

** Potential Spoilers Ahead **

There's also an attention to detail that I appreciate. Vines and cables that move when I brush past them. My shadow showing my in-hand and on-back (or on-leg) weapons (and the whole weapon - on - back - and - on -leg mechanic; my buddy is able to look at me and yell, "Use the grav hammer!"), the segmented bodies of buggy dudes, the Scarabs.

Speaking of shadows, the lighting is well-done. Kind of G.R.A.W.ish well done. Momentary blindness when coming through a tunnel and turning into the light.

Physics are much improved, too. Vehicles and guns feel and handle differently. Vehicles especially on ice.

Which led to one thing that's not perfect yet -- squad AI. It's certainly vastly improved over the previous games. I like the contextual barks and banter (some hilarious stuff this round), and it certainly feels organic. When I don't like the AI is when they're driving me on ice as I man a gauss gun. We seriously spun out and died almost the exact same way eight times. After the second time, I decided to see how often it would repeat, to see if it was scripted. Turns out it's not, because there was another place on the road we died six times as I let my AI driver do the DUI-ing. But hey, at least I've got an AI driver. That's pretty cool.

And the other new vehicles rock. The Mongoose is going to pwn on capture the flag, as are Hornets. Big Team Battle (or whatever it's equivalent is) is going to get a lot of service from the troop transport-ish jobby.

On the gun front, I'm missing not being able to dual wield needlers, but digging the old SMG being back (and dual-wield-able). I like that I can take turrets off their mounts. I adore the gravity hammer. I'm not so keen on the Spartan laser.

And the HUD is more informative and more minimalistic at the same time. Kudos to them on the usability front for that (but less so on the out-of-game menues; it should not be that complicated to set up co-op campaign).

Good times. I'm bummed I'm flying out for an interview with a games middleware company -- bummed that I'm missing Halo time; stoked that I'm interviewing with a middleware company.

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Halo 3

Yeah, I was there for a lackluster (and poorly handled) midnight launch. I have my Legendary Edition, and have been playing for around four hours.

It's great fun -- especially cooping through campaign with a friend in the same room.

I need to think more about my first impressions, and maybe I'll revisit them.

First, yeah, it's fun, and the graphical fidelity is a bit improved over the multiplayer beta. It's tough to have this game following BioShock (which I've been playing a lot lately) -- it really doesn't compare favorably on the graphics, sound, or story side to that game.

Gameplay is fun, firefights are great, and cooping feels like it matters.

** Potential Spoilers below **

But, cutscenes are ridiculously uneven in quality. Some good stuff, some really stilted, original Half-Life kind of stuff; and more time on Master Chief and the Arbiter (or armored folks) than on believable human beings. And nothing approaching Final Fantasy quality footage.

Another pet peeve is is cutscenes not matching the action. If my in-room buddy (playing Arby the Arbiter) pushes the switch, don't switch to a cutscene of M.C. doing the switching.

And what is with me ending the co-op campaign, and the game barfing about me turning off the second controller?

But my big concern is on the technical side. So many hiccups and stutters I didn't expect. And the audio mixing on 5.1 surround does not sound good. I lose voices in the music or effects, sound stutters and drops out quite a bit, and Guilty Spark is neigh unintelligible.

That sounds like a lot of negatives, but the game is good. That being said, the hype machine has set expectations. So, on some basic fronts, I was expecting a lot more.

More later.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe (Xbox 360)

I downloaded and played through the Spider-Man: Friend or Foe demo on the Xbox 360, and the title has promise. It's kind of a mish-mash of brawler and super lightweight Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

The demo has co-op, and Venom and the Green Goblin are co-playable with Spidey, so you get to try out how they play differently, and tag out as you like.

The combat is super basic, but engaging enough.

On the usability side, the camera is fixed and problematic. I found my self jumping off of a building unintentionally because the camera didn't switch, the level design wasn't intuitive, and the game transition didn't happen to show me where I needed to go.

The game AI isn't bad during combat, but during exploration, my AI squad partner (Venom at the time) jumped off a building a couple of times. Flying partners probably don't have that same problem.

Also on the basic usability side, while I like using the left and right bumpers to cycle through Spidey's powers, it should not stop when I get to the "top" or "bottom" of the available powers -- it should cycle to the next power (interestingly this is regular gripe of mine for a lot of Activision super hero games, MUA and X-Men Legends included).

But I wonder if the biggest problem is the hodge-podge treatment of the license. The intro plays almost exactly like the intro of next year's animated series. The Green Goblin, New Goblin, and Spider-Man's own costume are from the films. Venom and some of the tie-togethers (Nick Fury, Iron Fist, etc.) seem pretty comic-friendly. So, what is it? Is it going to draw in fans of all of those mediums, or disenfranchise each?

And while Spider-Man's voice work is very good, Venom's felt a little off. But I'm biased.

Guess we'll see. I'll be renting this first when it comes out, to see how much more polished it is than the demo -- entertaining as it is.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Call of Duty 4

I've been playing the Call of Duty 4 multiplayer beta.

I should say trying to play it, as it's been pretty much an internal grudge match to do it.

Gameplay and mechanics are pretty solid, I really like the skills and rank progression, and the ability to customize my loadouts is nice.

But the beta doesn't at all seem to care about Xbox Live mechanics like zones, or preferred players, or players to avoid. To be honest, these games have been some of the worst I've ever experienced crowded with foul-mouthed, racist, immature putzes.

I'm a pretty tolerant guy, but this has been so bad that most of my games start with me getting waxed as I'm trying to mute the worst people, then I play pretty well, then I leave the lobby to do a complaint or two -- just about those folks that egregiously violate the XBLA UA (like those vociferous, vitriolic racists; that's not something I think people should play with).

On the upside, I've met a couple of nice folks, interestingly all from outside the U.S. (but currently stateside) -- guys from New Zealand and the U.K. Nice blokes, and less gutterish than my in-country brethren. Sad.

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