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

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

BioShock (Xbox 360)

BioShock, quite simply, is the best game I've played this year, and maybe the best the last two or three years.

The game looks gorgeous, has interesting play mechanics put together in a way that matters, a great story, top-notch voice acting, stellar sound design, and diversity that kept me engaged throughout.

What kind of game is BioShock? At it's core, it's a shooter (First-Person Shooter), but it's a "shooter-plus" -- a shooter plus adventure game (so much fun exploring and figuring things out); a shooter plus RPG (what plasmids am I going to upgrade? Change out? Remove?).

Built on the Unreal Engine 3 (but given the nature of game development and customization, who knows how much of the UE3 is really still there), this is a pretty game. The fifties-deco vibe is well done, and gives a sense of what futuristic technology would look like in that era; and the signs and adverts are hilarious.

Water (one of the things for which I look in a now-gen game) is fluid and conductive (which means I can electrify baddies sitting in water, and get zapped myself if I'm not careful). If you light an enemy on fire, they'll throw themselves into nearby water to but themselves out and come back to attack you.

Which speaks to another strength of the game -- the AI. Enemies alternate between attacking and fleeing when you (for example) light them on fire. Sometimes they sneak up on you (via the ceiling, which creeps me out); sometimes they charge you. The designs of the "Splicers" are horrific and diverse enough between classes to visually cue me in to my attack or defense mechanism.

And there are a lot of options on this front. There are eight slots for weapons, and most have three different ammunition types (standard, anti-personnel, and armor-piercing for the machine gun, for example; or trip mine, fragmentary grenade, or heat-seeking RPG for the rocket launcher).

Then there are the plasmids -- basically your super powers that range from fire to telekinesis -- and those are just the combat plasmids. There are also sets of mechanical (safe hacking, etc.) and attribute plasmids. And you don't have enough slots for all plasmids, and you usually don't have enough Adam to purchase or upgrade the plasmids you want. This limitation (plasmids, ammunition, wallet for money, etc.) creates an RPG-ish mechanic that makes the game more than a straightforward shooter.

There is also a lot of diversity in the title. Far from just combat, there's exploration, puzzle solving, and a recurring mini-game in the form of hacking that is surprisingly engaging and white-knuckling at times.

The other thing the game does well from a design mechanic is that "just 5 more minutes" mechanic. More than once I'd go an hour or two beyond what I'd intended because I wanted to explore something new, take someone down differently, re-listen to audio cues or Foley, and so on. And there are 4 plasmids I still haven't found or unlocked.

And I actually like they way they implemented syringes and snacks and health stations scattered about Rapture. I also liked the various audio diaries and radio intrusions that added to the story (some other reviews have complained about these as too intrusive).

Of course, for me, a stellar story has to be married to top-notch gameplay, or I get peeved (except in multiplayer, where I just get peeved at the idiotic anonymous, socially challenged masses).

Anyway, BioShock delivers on the story front in spades. I don't know how much of this is Ken Levine, and how much is Susan O'Connor and other contributors, but the story rocks. It's full-featured, accounts for the fluidity of the game medium, and moved me along as a player. Stuff of this caliber shouldn't be so rare in video games.

And sound? Symphony orchestra for the score? Mixed (and balanced) surround sound? Some of the best voice acting since Carpenter in Hunter: The Reckoning? Great stuff. I'll try to post more about it on the acting side of my Website, if I can get permission to post one particular clip from the Sander Cohen character, and verify the voice actor.

Is BioShock a perfect game? No, but it's super close.

I mean, it's not all that innovative. Telekinesis? The evolution of Half-Life 2's gravity gun (or Jedi Knight's Force Push). Speaking of Jedi Knight, the electricity plasmid is akin to a certain Dark Force power.

But the way these things are put together matters, and is great fun. Light a Big Daddy on fire, then hit him with heat-seaking RPGs? Freeze an NPC, then bash him with the wrench? Set up trip wires, capped off by a proximity mine near some propane tanks? Good times.

And there are some minor missteps in otherwise great level design. I like how the map is implemented, but on the Arcadia level, the map and the level design caused some problems in smooth navigation that made me pretty frustrated.

And while I like health stations scattered about, I think health packs could have been left out, which would have made for a more frenetic, urgent experience (but leave the snacks, and the related plasmids).

And near the end of the game there's a type of mission that I don't like if it's not implemented well, and while it's implemented pretty well in BioShock, it's not good enough, and frustrated me when it felt like it wasn't possible to complete it with my (and, I suspect, most people's) definition of success.

But honestly, these are nits.

BioShock is a great game, and definitely the best I've played this year, and probably the best I've played in the last few.

Rent: Yes.
Buy: Oh, yeah.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes (Xbox)

After playing Gauntlet Seven Sorrows the other night, when a buddy came in from out of town Monday, we decided to dig out our mutual favorite original Xbox co-op game Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes.

This is a freaking fantastic game, and you shouldn't miss it. Seriously.

The title probably didn't get its due because being an Xbox exclusive in the early days restricted its visibility, and it's licensed fare. And let's be honest, some reviewers hate licensed fare (to be fair, most licensed fare sucks).

Sure, there are some hack-and-slash tropes in the game (a la Baldur's Gate), but this is a pretty game, has great level design, differing feels for each level, fun side quests, and well-done cut scenes (though there are a couple that seem disjoint on the graphical side, but that's only when compared to the others of super high quality).

Actually, the cinematics (I think mostly done by Dragonlight Productions, Inc., who I don't know if is even still around) are high quality, with solid voice work, interesting, cinematic flare, and are head and shoulders above most video game cut scenes.

And the game has prettiest, most subtly effective water I've seen. Last-Gen or Now-Gen. Seriously.

And a game like this, designed to be played together, really shines with 1 to 3 friends questing along.

And there's a whole bunch of "little" stuff this game does well.

Things like the water. Usability things like your most recent saved game moves to the top of your save/load games menu. The game slows down action while you make button assignments, but doesn't stop the action. Your characters change looks (onscreen and in menu) as you swap out armor and weapons. It's easy to buy / sell / drop / give items.

Keep in mind, this was 2003.

You can pick up this game for dirt cheap new or used. I highly recommend it.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gauntlet Seven Sorrows (Xbox)

I've wanted to play Gauntlet Seven Sorrows on the original Xbox for some time.

Due to external happenings and a request from my East Coast gaming buddy Dajoti, I rented the game Friday night.

This is an under-rated game.

I mean, it got middling reviews, but it's real strength lies in multiplayer. Questing through the entire game with a buddy on Xbox Live (or, better, together in the same room) is a lot of fun. Though I wonder if 4-player multiplayer would hold up over Xbox Live -- two player was a bit frustrating as we talked each other into what direction to go next.

This a hack and slash game, with light RPG elements that let you choose powers to purchase and skill points to assign.

There are older Xbox games I would argue look even better (Hunter: The Reckoning; the ridiculously underrated Dungeons and Dragons Heroes; etc.), but Seven Sorrows has some great character designs and detailed environments. There are also decent production values in the not-overbearing back story and cut scenes.

The game's a bit on the short side -- Dajoti and I bulleted through it in around 5 or 6 hours.

And, after playing games like X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, I expect fully destructible environments. Not so much in Seven Sorrows.

Oh, and the game ends unceremoniously. Dajoti were texting each other and saying, "Um, I guess that's the game. G'night."

As an aside, though Gauntlet Seven Sorrows is on the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, my playing on a 360 and Dajoti on an original Xbox caused constant disconnects over Xbox Live. My switching to original Xbox solved the issue.

Overall, a fun game to play with friends.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? No

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (XBLA)

Microsoft and Ubisoft just made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the 1989 arcade, available over Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA).

If you want to read a review about what's OK in the game, go to

From my perspective, this inexpensive (400 points) title does just fine.

No, there's no "updated graphics" option (what, did Rootbeer Tapper start a bad trend?).

But this game -- this port of a 4-player, cooperative upright arcade game -- can be played 4-player co-op.

Oh, you can play 4-player online co-op over Xbox Live. But, frankly, I'm tired of online idiocy.

You can have 2, 3, or 4 people in the same room, on the same console, and play the game the way it was designed to be played.

Getting to offline co-op is a bit wonky --you have to through the "Single Player", join from a second controller, and sign into an account.

And, yeah, unlimited continues can make the game "easy" -- but the Achievements up the difficulty level.

Good, cheap, retro times ...

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Crackdown (Xbox 360)

Crackdown is an impressive, fun, and fully worthwhile sandbox game.

I was irritated about the marginalizing of Crackdown as a "Halo 3 beta pack-in", but I'm sure the cross-promotion hugely helps them both, so I'm fine with it now. Not that anyone asked.

For those who don't know the genre, an open-world or sandbox game lets you wander around the game world, doing what you want, how you want, when you want.

In this case, you can take out the first- or second-level baddies in any of the 3 gangs in any order you want to weaken the kingpins, or you can skip levels or even go right to the respective kingpins.

Or, you can spend all of your time exploring, leveling up your character (almost RPG-like), getting more powerful on the agility (fun faster jump higher), firearms (quicker and more accurate), explosives (big ol' damage fest), strengths (pick up a car with someone inside and throw it), or driving (faster and better handling).

Or, you can run around trying to collect all of the "Agility Orbs" (there are 500 of them, and I'm at ~370) or Mystery Orbs (there are 300 of them, and I'm at, uh, ~40)

You can also create all sorts of your own mini games within the larger game. Like "Volkball" (get a giant sculpture globe through a goal). Or Lightball (basketball), Rocket Tag, Urban Surfing, King of the Hill, Kick the Car, Car Golf, Huge Air, The Runs, and Jerk Sim 1.0. Or, you can just pile as many cars up as you can, and see how many blocks wide the explosion will be. Or you can pile up pedestrian bodies and see if you can walk up them to that second story (or, um, so I've heard).

Achievements are a big part of Xbox Live, and Crackdown has some of the more creative. I like to play through a game without knowing what the Achievements are (to avoid spoilers), and it's fun to get surprised by things like "Shot-putter" (10 points for "Throw any object (other than a grenade) 205 feet or more") and "Mad Bomber" (15 points for killing 500 gang members using explosives).

Online co-op play is a lot of fun in this game (and needed for a lot of the minigames above). It's fun to work through the mission mode with a buddy. And I'm bummed co-op isn't available offline -- a serious shortcoming that would give the game more legs for me (I'm a social gamer, and online doesn't count for me). I also wish there was more multiplayer, and though there's a version of it enabled by the game keeping score of player versus player kills, I'm hoping this speaks to something more formal down the road. And having 4-way co-op with fully leveled agents would be amazing.

Sandbox games often struggle with a cohesive story, and this is one area in particular where Crackdown struggles more than others. There's no story per se, just "kill all of the kingpins". This is unfortunate, because there's actually a decent story hook that gets laid on you as you finish the game -- which I'm hoping speaks to a sequel or downloadable content.

One of my pet peeves with RPGs, on the other hand, is when you can't replay the game as a leveled up character. Crackdown suffers from the same thing, and I'm not sure why Realtime Worlds made that design decision.

Something that hampers the fun of the game (and a lot of the mini games) is inconsistent in-game persistence. I can be stacking explosive barrels and cars for a mega explosion, but if I get too far away from the pile, things start disappearing. To be fair, this may be a consequence of Microsoft mandating to developers that they don't rely on the Xbox 360 hard drive being present. On the flip side, Oblivion seemed to get this right, and that's an older game.

The one thing that I don't enjoy about the game is it's nigh impossible to play the game without hurting innocents. If I want to play through the game as a "hero", it's wicked tough to do it without collateral damage. Lots of collateral damage.

Overall, a fantastic game, with a lot of longevity if you're creative and have an online friend, and hopefully there's incoming downloadable content and a sequel in the works.
Would I rent? Yes.
Would I buy? Oh, yeah!

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Dungeon Master (PC)

I recently discovered the Windows PC recreation of Dungeon Master, Return to Chaos (RTC).

I first played Dungeon Master in the 80s on my Atari 520ST, and it's probably my all-time favorite game. DM was arguably the first realtime 3D RPG, had incredible ~50% sell through on the Atari install base (not sure what the later-released Amiga numbers were), and is an engaging, stylistic game that still holds up today. And Lord Chaos deserves to be in the Villains Hall of Fame (is there such thing? If not, I'm starting it right now).

Eschewing the turn-based RPG tropes of the day, DM bailed on the Dungeons & Dragons conventions and complicated rules to stats that updated based on actually doing stuff real-time in the game world. Monsters are varied, plentiful, and challenging (I think this is where my fear of all things scorpion-esque comes from), and there are a decent amount of puzzles, jokes, and brain teasers throughout. And leveling up is rewarding and makes a difference.

Wayne Holder, Doug Bell, and the other folks behind FTL Games and Dungeon Master are seriously impressive. So's this George Gilbert guy, who recreated the game "mostly as a work avoidance tactic in my final couple of months at university" (I can respect that). RTC includes not only the original Dungeon Master, but Chaos Strikes Back, Dungeon Master II (I'm admittedly not a fan of that last one), and a dungeon editor -- all in a 12MB download.

For non-Windows folks, there's (in theory) a Java version, but I've never gotten it to run (and I debug Java), and versions from other folks for Windows/Linux/Mac/Pocket PC.

If you have a chance, you owe it to yourself to try this game out. Seriously, finding this port has pulled me away from finishing Lost Planet on the Xbox 360.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360)

I'm currently playing Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360.

For those who don't care about the details, here's the short version: Best new Xbox 360 game of 2007 (yes, it's the only one so far), totally worth the purchase, truly now-gen, and easily an 8/10 or 9/10 (it's one of those games that makes me re-think my "actors don't do decimals" rule).

For those who care about details, here we go.

First and foremost, I'm glad Capcom keeps shelling out the quality Xbox 360 love. Both this and Dead Rising are Xbox 360 exclusives, both are fantastic games, both really make you feel like you're playing a now-gen game, and both are critical and popular (if not AIAS) darlings. The detail is amazing (both in-game and in cut scenes). The animations for getting into a "VS" (mech') are intricate and solid. Explosions are the bomb (seriously, sorry). The buggy Akrid are lifelike and freaky (I hate anything scorpion-based; which probably stems from young Atari ST Dungeon Master exposure). Snow Pirate battles are intense, and the AI's not half bad.

Sound is amazing (the Soundelux folks are unarguably incredible). Though 5.1 is not quite as impressive as Dead Rising, it's more than solid. It's not that it's in any way sub-par -- Dead Rising just does such an exceptional job of crossing channels (for example, during cut scenes when an NPC runs from in front of you to behind, then up and over a flight of stairs from your right to left).

And the music in Lost Planet is something else. I'm so glad I picked up the Special Edition SKU to get the audio CD musical score. It does what a good movie score for a good movie does -- remind me of powerful/memorable moments from the film/game. (As an aside, there's a good interview with Jamie Christopherson about scoring the game over at

While the graphics and details are fantastic, the cut scenes don't quite measure up to those in Dead Rising, largely for cinematic reasons. Dead Rising's scenes feel like deliberate mini movies -- directed; composed, and very tight. Lost Planet stumbles a bit here, with the cut scenes tending to "ramble" (cue hero handing coffee mug to girl meaningfully).

In addition, while the overall sound is good, that's largely with the music and sound effects, or in-game audio. The voice acting in the cut scenes isn't fabulous, but I think that's largely due to the directing/composition challenges mentioned above (though there are some painful anime tropes realized in the cut scenes.

Game play is pretty good, if a bit "trudgey" at times. The main mechanic that needs some work is also one of its coolest -- being able to swap out or remove and use VS big guns. The problem is since it's the same "B" button used in all scenarios, you can accidentally get in/out of a suit, or attach/unattach a weapon -- usually as you're running from a massive Akrid, and getting out of (or not getting into) a VS costs you the level.

On the upside, checkpoints are better than I thought they were going to be, so you don't usually have to start too terribly far back. And the grapple mechanic (though I've seen it beat up other places), to me works really well and consistently. It admittedly took some time to get used to, but not much at all.

Overall, a fantastic game. Capcom released a demo of this game nine months ago, and it arguably won at the time as the most solid console demo ever released -- and they just upped the quality from there. More impressive, when they released the multiplayer demo later in the year, they actually listened to gamer feedback, and incorporated changes into the final game. They also did things like include a survey in the Official Xbox Magazine to get additional feedback. Very cool.

Again, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360 is a fantastic game, and a good play throughout.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gears of War (Xbox 360)

I finished Gears of War some time ago, and I've been meaning to post some thoughts on it.

First and last, it's a great game -- fully deserving of all of those Game of the Year Awards its been getting.

Is it perfect? No (what game is?), but it's the best package of what it does (by a long shot), and far better for my money and preferences than a now-gen game like Fight Night Round 3 (10 out of 10? Whatever).

Again, it's not perfect. It's pretty close, and does some things spot on.

Take the look, for example. Epic hit the nail on the head with their whole "destroyed beauty" motiff. The buildings are gorgeous, and I'm genuinely saddened at their brokenness.

And the vibe? A sense of a war that is ongoing, without hope, costly, and brutal? Gears, despite it's Sci-Fi clothes, does this better than most (if not all) WWII shooters.

And, honestly, I'm great with the length of the game. There have been complaints about it's shortness, but I think it's good.

And firefights are intense, can be taken from a few angles, and aren't boring or overly repeatable (except for one sniper level, where the snipers always showed up in the same place; WTF? Why not have 5 possible sniper positions, and randomize the 3 snipers; like a "real" war?).

What I thought needs some work is the story. It was decent (and the writer, Susan O'Connor, is honestly pretty impressive), but I think this was a slightly more graceful truncation of the story than what we all got in Halo 2. I think we'll get to see the whole vision on game 2 or 3, but I think that vision could have been pushed more in the first game.

Also, Gears is not prefectly balanced. It's pretty good, but there are some insane levels that do not match the levels before. And the final boss level is tough, but I'd heard horror stories about finishing it out on the hardcore setting than it actually played out (And when I complained about it taking me 8 times to play through before completing it, Cliff Bleszinski told me, "Well, he IS the last boss after all. He's gotta be a smidge tough, eh?").

But the dark wretches that explode when they die inside a closed-in level like the train? Whatever. I dislike cheap deaths.

And I really like the whole "stop-and-pop" gameplay (as opposed to "run-and-gun"), but the cover mechanic in Gears needs some work. I do not like getting stuck against something while running, or not being able to move out from cover cleanly. Rogue Trooper has dedicated context buttons for finding/breaking from cover and blind firing, and I actually like that implementation better than Gears (I know, I know, but check it out then get back with me, then let's have a mature discussion).

UPDATED: An auto-update was released for the game April 9, 2007, and the getting stuck while do the "roadie run" has been seriously massaged. I need to play it more, but seems to make a positive difference so far.

And I'm honestly surprised how buggy Gears of War is. Knocking a Locust to his knees, then have him slide and flip while crouched unmoving, like some 2D cutout, or bullet tracing feeling like it's calculated on where it was fired, rather than where it hits, etc. (Unreal Engine 3 issue?). Minor, but there are some gripe lists out there in the Internet ether. And the previous patch (at least on paper), seems multiplayer focused; but the upcoming patch is a black box.

The other minor quibble I have is the language. Understand, I don't mind language. But the language in Gears feels forced, non-organic, and yanks me out of the moment. It's like part of the premise was "Let's make an R-rated movie, but make it a game", and that premise led the horse. Feels disjoint.

But it's easier to talk about the stuff that doesn't work than the stuff that does, if for no other reason that -- from a usability perspective -- the better the stuff works, the more unoticeable it is.

Again, this is a great game. Easily a 9 out of 10 (I'm a leader of men so don't do decimals). Buy it, play it, understand that it's for mature audiences, and enjoy it.


And check out my previous blurb.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

I recently finished Marvel: Ultimate Alliance for the Xbox 360, arguably one of the best comic book games to date (though it's in some ways a shiny skinned update to the X-Men Legends franchise, to which I'd given the title previously). And it may have to share that title with Rogue Trooper.

I finished the game for a number of reasons.

First, I was clearing by Xbox 360 plate for Friday's release of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and the upcoming Crackdown demo (then full game) at the end of this month and the end of February (respectively). Second, I want to give Raven Software some feedback on the game, and what I hope to see in the sequel. Third, I'm a comic book geek, and this game really scratched an itch.

And by "finished" I mean I finished the main story. I've also done a bunch of the training sims, but I'm missing about 4. And I'm missing two figures to unlock Black Panter. Mother.

First, a quick reminder of my past impressions:

Those two previous posts focus on some of the needed areas of improvements, so here's more of the positive. And some more areas for improvement.

Overall, this is a great game, and I think Raven really hit the mark. Being able to play with such a huge stable of diverse characters, multiplied by the number of variations that actually change their stats and leveling up, is wicked cool. And the types of costumers are real fan service, too. For example, as a fan of Captain America, it's a big deal for me to unlock the same WWII skin that's on my desk as a Marvel Selects figure. And getting to unlock the Beta Ray Bill variation on Thor is tops. Other skins aren't as great (I think the Iron Spider variation of Spider-Man, due largely to timing, isn't all that big of a deal).

I've seen the story badmouthed in a few places, which I'm not sure I understand. Pultizer-winning it ain't, but it's actually not a bad device for tying together the game, and I could totally see it as a comic book arc. There are a few artificial inclusions (like Atlantis), but better than a lot of games.

And there's a lot of good voice acting in the game, which is nice. There is also, unforgiveably, what sounds like Raven employees doing horribly bad voice over, like during simulation missions (voice over's not that easy, is it, guys?).

I also like how Raven's chosen to mix up camera angles over the traditional 3D isometric view. Occasionally, it's a bit wonky, but works most of the time.

Where the camera didn't work (and needs some serious help) is on same-screen cooperative play. I'm bummed that I introduced to friends to MUA as I finished the game on the final boss battle, which made for a wildy swinging camera, disorienting respawn repositioning of each other, and a generally frustrating, ungraceful experience for my cronies. And this was just 3-way play, and I suffered the same kinds of problems in 2-way play.

The training simulations in a lot of ways seem unbalanced. I was focused on leveling up Captain America throughout the game, but even with that, it was a long time after I found his training sim disc before it was playable. That play balance needs to be tuned quite a bit. Other levels (like Lizard), were serious walks in the park.

The whole My Team mechanic -- where I get create a dedicated super team and increase skills and reputation -- is pretty slick, but needs some tweaking as well. For example, the feature isn't unloocked until you're later in the game, and you're penalized (lose points) if you change out any of your team members. I think the mechanic should be available earlier (or outright), and you shouldn't be penalized if you switch out to characters or skins that weren't available when you first formed your team.

The replayability for the game is decent. But Raven needs to seriously fix the experience. This goes back to the "appropriate cutscene/mission briefing" gripe I've mentioned before (everyone learn from Dead Rising). To get pieces of the the same dialogue for things I've already completed is -- to me, in a now-gen game -- unecessary. Plus, I'd like to unlock some areas, or have things tweaked a bit. Going back into Mephisto's realm should be a bigger deal, because he should be pissed at my last foray into his kingdom.

Again, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a great game -- especially for comic geeks. But even if you're just a fan of great RPGs, this title should be at the top of your list.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I finished Rogue Trooper last night, the Xbox shooter from Rebellion.

This is a great little game, and I'm so bummed that it's likely to never see a sequel -- this thing would be awesome on the 360. Updated graphics, the continuation of Rogue's mission, better enemy AI and a robust multiplayer -- this thing would be pretty sweet (but would probably suffer in the Gears of War shadow).

The thing pretty much played out like my last post about it. There were was some nice diversity of maps (the Petrified Forest in particular), nods to the inspiring comic book elements (Nu-Earth fauna, to-be-later-girlfriend Venus, etc.).

My only gripe is the the end of the game was ridiculous. One of my gaming pet peeves is an insane push to get to the final boss, and then not (as the player) having the opportunity to take out the final boss myself. There are several ways this can be done badly in a game, but I'll let you play to see how it was badly implemented in this game. But even that doesn't detract from how much I enjoyed the whole game.

Oh, and stay to watch the credits. This one of those there's-a-scene-after-the-credits-you-shouldn't-miss things. Not Nu-Earth shattering, but worth waiting for. (Besides, you should always view the credits on a game. Those people put hard work into what you just finished.)

On the whole, I'm really glad this game was made. I'm frankly surprised it was, since the character was ostensibly rested after 1996, and had an arguably lackluster reboot in 2002 (though a couple of novels did come out in 2005 and 2006).

And this isn't the first game for the franchise. There was a 1986 shooter (isometric) from Piranha Software for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. There was also a A platformer for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1990 (Krisalis Software), which I'm not sure how I missed, since I was into both 2000AD and the Atari ST at that time.

Rambling, but all that is to say I hope a fourth game is made from the Rogue Trooper franchise, this time for now-gen systems. I'd do a lot to make that happen.

UPDATED: I just saw Pro-G rated Rogue Trooper 12th in 2006 -- ahead of games like Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and this quote from the reviewer is spot on:
"I don't think I've ever been as surprised as I was with Rogue Trooper. The team at Rebellion have crafted a tactical combat game that hits the target so often that slight wavering now and again can easily be overlooked. It would be easy to dismiss Rogue Trooper as the game where you play as a blue man with a talking gun, helmet and rucksack, but that blue man is one of the greatest video game action heroes."

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Rogue Trooper (Xbox)

I try to play all games comic book related. With the exception of the excellent Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends franchise (all from Raven Software), and the Spider-Man movie games, most comic book video games are lackluster. Or blow chunks (ahem, virtually anything Batman).

Not only am I a fan of comics, I've got an affinity for Brit comics, and a lot of the good ones come from 2000AD, like Rogue Trooper. I've been meaning to play the Rebellion-developed, Eidos-published game (based on the comic) for some time. Since the game is playable on the Xbox 360, I recently rented a copy to put it through its paces.

Rogue Trooper shipped in May of 2006 for the original Xbox (and PC and PS2), and this is a gem of a game that's not getting enough recognition.

This is probably largely due to being a last-gen release 6 months after the launch of the Xbox 360, and in the pre-furor of the PS3 and Nintendo Wii. But I'm bummed this game and development team probably won't get its/their due.

I lost track of time and was up until 5 a.m. playing this game. This hasn't happened in I don't know how long.

The game is a third-person shooter with some surprising depth and mechanics, great last-gen graphics (and better than some of the now-gen), a compelling story that moves the action forward, good voice acting, and stays true to the source material.

Rather than just running and gunning, you'll quickly leverage skills from your fallen comrades (a la their personality and affinities built into rescued and -- uh, liberated -- bio-chips) to spice up the game. You can also collect salvage to build weapons, buy upgrades, and replenish supplies, giving it an almost RPG(ish) (lite) mechanic.

But the big thing -- and here's something that will probably get me some nastigrams -- it's like Gears of War, the Xbox 360 powerhouse that's the biggest franchise (and exclusive) on that console.

Seriously, Rogue Trooper is like Gears of War. Not that I'd necessarily pick the former over the latter, but the similarities are suprising.

Check it out:

Vault over stuff? Check. Use cover? Check. Blind fire? Check. Grenade-arc mechanic? Check. Even crouching and running in Rogue Trooper is like the roadie run in Gears of War (but with out the cool shaky cam dealy). Weird.

The multiplayer (offline, system link, and Xbox Live) is pretty limited, but really fun. There are only two cooperative game types -- basically variations on Assault (get from one end of the valley to the other to control the landing platform, in the allotted time with the allotted lives) and Defend (protect the wounded G.I. in the allotted blah blah blah). But these two variations are pretty intense, have some decent configuration options, and you can easily invite a friend to play online (ahem, Gears?).

There is no adversarial online, which is a bummer, because this game is ripe for it. There's also no online or offline co-op for the story, which is too bad, because (again), the game is ripe for it (but hey, Bungie badly stubbed out the online co-op for Halo 2, so at least Rebellion's exclusion is more graceful). Actually, there's a lot in this game other titles should learn from.

Like the HUD system. If you're not going to be minimalist (like Gears, which I like), Rogue Trooper's HUD/interface/selection widgets are pretty slick, intuitive, and I found myself not thinking about them as I switched and blasted frantically online or off. That's a good sign.

I recommend Rogue Trooper. If you find it in the bargain bin or on the rental shelf, do yourself a favor and put a few hours into it -- this is one of those pleasant gaming surprises.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Soul Caliber II (Xbox)

Since Soul Caliber II got added to the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, I picked this title up to treat myself for Christmas.

This game is still one of my favorite fighters -- and I generally don't gravitate toward fighters.

Seriously, this is the game that made me kind of mheh on Dead or Alive 4 (don't get me wrong, that's a great game, but I expected more visually for Team Ninja's now-gen offering). Now that Soul Caliber II is playable on the 360, I can see the two back to back, and Soul Caliber II holds its own.

This game has got a decent amount of depth, arcade and tag-team elements, and (of course) weapons.

Good times. And this title retails for $10 bucks new. Everyone should own a copy.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gears of War (Xbox 360)

OK, this game is amazing.

It's different -- control scheme, some mechanics I've been trained to expect (dedicated grenade button, jump, etc.), etc. -- but adjusting to that, this has got some cool game play.

The story's engaging so far, though I'm just in the first act, and getting used to the whole mini paradigm shift.

Graphics are slick (and gritty), the action is intense, I think I've adjusted to the whole "Stop and Pop" way of playing, and I really like the damage indicator.

I have not got the chainsaw bayonette or curb stomping down yet. Bummer. I'm going to get pwned in online.

The AI of my squadmates is pretty good, except for one chapter where they kept rushing in and getting killed, and reviving them was costing my life every time. I ended up having to just solo the mission, and I'm curious if it was just me, or if there's a design issue with this particular level.

Really good stuff -- in spite of Circuit City.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

These are updated impressions from my last post.

This game is Fun. It's a good, solid RPG, and I'm starting to level up to the point where it matters, and starting to really kick some comic book tale.

I was worried about Raven falling into RPG tropes (grinding through dungeons, etc.), but even thought they arguably have (Mandarin's castle, "Doom's castle", Asgard, etc.), it's really well done, and there's something cool about seeing these brightly colored heroes traipsing through stonework (or in Mephisto's Lair, Planescape-ish environs). And the Arcade mini games on Murderworld are clever.

And I'm probably too biased in my love for Norse mythology to be objective, but I'm totally digging the Asgard level, and of course I'm playing through it with Thor. And Beta Ray Bill better be unlockable after this, or I'll be peeved.

Something really funky did happen between the Mephisto and Asgard levels though, and I can't tell if it's a design issue, a bug, or a usability problem that caused me to screw up.

** Potential Spoilers Ahead **

The issue is after the Murderworld level, I went to Mephisto's Lair and freed Ghost Rider. When I came back, NPC Hank Pym is talking to Ghost Rider, and asks how Murderworld was (and Ghost Rider answers, "Not as fun as you might think"). Ghost Rider hadn't been to Murderworld (he's unlocked after). Worse, when I'm talking to all the NPC's after Mephisto's Lair, all of the interactions were post-Murderworld / pre-Mephisto, including the mini-quests (which means I couldn't give Wong his requested item or get Weasel out of harm's way).

After dealing with this for 20 minutes (and multiple reloads), I gave up, and decided to re-do Mephisto's Lair (since that's where Fury and Black Widow said I was going). When I activated the teleporter, I was sent to Asgard.

Which is nice that I don't have to re-do the Mephisto level, but a pain that I don't know my Wong / Weasel mini missions were credited.

Heh. I said "Wong / Weasel mini missions"....

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

I am a comic book geek. And Activision's Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a fantastic game for me.

This is just a first impressions kind of thing, as I'm pretty early into it. But having a stable of more than two dozen characters, each with different costumes and skins that changes their stats (and in many cases, their characters altogether) is awesome. The gameplay machanics are solid, and Raven has brought what worked in their X-Men Legends I/II forward into Ultimate Alliance.

That said, even with me being a comic book geek, this game is probably an 8 out of 10. Again, just first impressions, but a lot of what makes the game work for me is the content. The following is going to sound like an ungracious laundry list, but there are a number of missed steps and mistakes.

Missed steps? Oversimplification of some of the mechanics from X-Men Legends I/II. Things like if one of your party dies, s/he "rests" for a while, and you can't pay to bring them back. This can kind of suck.

Also, there are some usability issues in the interface, like not being able to change skins on the fly, like you could in the X-Men games. Granted, this is probably partly because it's not just about changing costumes -- your stats and character change, too.

I am bummed that items aren't shareable. I have special gear for Deadpool, but I need to drop it and have him pick it up to get it to him. Nice.

Oh, and unlocking the build-your-team functionality, but you lose cred if you change it up? And not all characteres/skins are unlocked? Weak.

Probably my biggest peeve is what Dead Rising got me used to (and MUA doesn't have): Cut scenes that show what's happening in the game. If I'm playing with the Fantastic Four, and the cut scene is Nick Fury talking to Captain America, Wolverine, Elektra, Spider-Man, etc. -- that's pretty poor. Or, as I'm playing throughout the game as Captain America, and I keep having these conversations over and over with NPCs (Hank Pym, Bruce Banner, etc.) about the Super Soldier Serum, and Captain America, in the third person? Yikes.

And voiceover for all NPCs? Nope. If BioWare can do this for Mass Effect, Activision should have done it for MUA. Worse, it's sporadic. Sometimes an NPC talks, sometimes not.

And the game's not next-gen. Sure, the 360 version looks good. The cutscenes look great, but the gameplay isn't doing everything I would expect a next-gen game to do. And I'm playing the game on a 108" high-def projector, so it rocks. I think this may be a more painful game on a standard size/def TV. Especially in Co-op. Honestly, I think the Dungeons & Dragons Heroes exclusive on the original Xbox was a prettier (and under-rated) game, with waaaaay better water.

And this game is buggy. Seriously, I've seen more bugs, stickings, and the like in the first 10th of the game than I saw in X-Men Legends I and II combined. In Atlantis, Iron Man wigged out, and looked like that bug in old 2D games where all frames of the sprite showed at once.

OK, so it sounds pretty bitchy, so it's a good thing the content is so good, as is the overall treatment of the license. And it's a solid RPG -- if a bit of a grind.

But it's a comic book grind. And I get to be Cap.

"When Captain America slings his mighty shield! ..."

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Monday, October 09, 2006

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

Since I'm so stoked about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance coming out the end of this month, I've gone back and been playing X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse -- Raven's second entry in the Marvel RPG universe.

This game is so fun.

The two things I really hope they fix is forcing online multiplayer to dumb down to the lowest resolution common denominator (4:3 NTSC on a widescreen hi-def display looks pretty freaking bad), and if I'm at the top of a 10-item menu, pushing up should cycle me to the last item on the list (I should not have to manually push down to get to the bottom item).

The first item is a big deal, the second is a nit.

If I'm playing single or multiplayer at home, this is an awesome game. If I'm playing online with folks with standard def TVs, it's a bit of a painful experience (unless I start a drinking game, like, every time Wolverine falls off a cliff, drink; it becomes self-fulfilling after a while).

Still a great game, and I wish it (and its predecessor) would make the Xbox backwards compatibility list.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

Ooh ... Take a good concept, make it better, merge it with a franchise I care more about ...

Beuno ...

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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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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Zagapain XOR (Xbox 360)

Via my Japanese Xbox Live Gamer tag, I downloaded the Zagapain XOR demo.

It's passable, but I'm not fluent in Japanese, so I'm struggling a bit on what exactly, I'm supposed to be doing.

The intro cut-scene is nice (as are the dashboard set-ups at the beginning of the mission), but I'm not sure if the game "feels" next-gen to me. Plus, the targeting feels a bit off -- kind of like the Xbox Robotech BattleCry.

I'll play it some more and see if I choose to like to more.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chromehounds (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Chromehounds demo for the Xbox 360.

This is next-gen(ish) mech game, kind of sim-ish in tone, and pretty fun.

The demo consists of two brief single-player levels -- "search and destroy" and "sniping".

The demo has no customizing of the mechs (called "Hounds" in the game), but the game play is pretty solid, if not totally next-gen. Lots of things are destructable (from light posts to trees to buildings), but they're canned -- they always collapse the same way after a set number of hits, depending on the objects (kind of like a less-pretty version of Halo 2's warhog demolition).

Actually, the physics in general could use some work. For example, pounding away with big shells at the ground near on-foot soldiers has no effect -- you've got to physically hit them to make a difference. Also, I'm really waiting for a next-gen mech game where falling down a mountain looks and feels "real" -- think the scene in Return of the Jedi where the AT-ST (scout walker) is tumbling about on Ewok logs, before wiping out and exploding.

On the plus side, there is some nice attention to detail, like when I fell down said mountain, I damaged my hydraulics, which caused some stilted movement and sparking, and this was carried over into the ending cut-scene in the sniper level. And the voice acting doesn't totally suck

Also, the brief bits of music are really pretty amazing.

Overall, this game feels to me be a mix somewhere between the phenomenal Heavy Gear PC series and Microsoft's own (excellent) MechAssault II: Lone Wolf.

I'm thinking multiplayer is going to be where it's at with this game -- and it'll be the only new game in town for the summer Xbox 360 mutliplayer front (unless 3D Realms totally fixes Prey's mutliplayer pain fest).

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Prey (Xbox 360)

I've been playing the Prey Xbox 360 demo, which became available on June 30.

Prey is one of the most anticipated First-Person Shooter (FPS) titles for this year, and has quite a history -- 10 years on the making. And overall, the demo is pretty slick.

Built on the Doom3 engine, the lighting and bump-mapping are spec(tac)ular, and despite concerns about Human Head's PC version running in higher resolution than developer Venom Games's Xbox 360 version, the console version looks great.

I haven't tried the online or system link multiplayer yet, so I'll comment on that later

The single player is fun, innovative, and may make you nauseous. There are some neat gameplay mechanics and nods to other successful franchises (game avatar Tommy's wrench is Gordan Freeman's crowbar), and stuff like the Zero-G ability to walk up a wall and onto a ceiling is cool, disorienting, and (played to close to a 100" screen) seriously vertigo inducing. Can't wait to try it in multiplayer.

And the spirit walk gimmick (kind of a tangible version of Psi-Ops mindwalk gimmick) is pretty nifty.

Perhaps coolest is the way they handle dying in the game. Rather than "game over" or restarting at the beginning of a stage (a la Halo), you go to a spirit world where you use your bow to try to tag as many spirits of fallen foes as you can -- the more you tag, the better your health and spiritual levels when you jump back into the game. Kind of a mini-game with a purpose.

There's also a decent amount of humor and attention to detail in the game (in the opening bar scene, you can turn the water on and off, flush the toilets, work the hand dryer, cycle through the jukebox, play video slots and blackjack, etc.).

The game is also dark. I think calls it a "serious, dark story, based on authentic Cherokee mythology."

So what doesn't work? Sometimes, the humor doesn't juxtapose well with the dark stuff. Also, Tommy is a bit chatty. But my biggest grip is the load screens. Akin to Perfect Dark Zero, they provide gaming tips that knocked me out of the mythos moment. I seriously don't know why developers do this.

The bummer is there's no way for publisher 3D Realms to get feedback annd make adjustments to them game. I wish more companies would do like Capcom is doing for Lost Planet -- putting out a solid demo in 2006 for a 2007 game, and soliciting feedback from gamers for adjustments to the title. Nice.

But, overall, Prey is a fun demo, and I'm looking forward to the full game next week. Since it just went gold on June 30, other than the PC download version, we'll have to see if the 07/11 release date also includes the physical media versions.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lost Planet (Xbox 360)

As part of the week of free Xbox Live and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), I'm playing the E3 Xbox 360 demo for Capcom's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition.

I've been stoked about Lost Planet for a long time, and this demo doesn't disappoint.

I hate to box anything in, but think of it as a third-person, next-gen game that mixes the best parts of Starship Troopers (wtihout the communal shower scene) and The Thing from Another World (the 1951 version).

The game feels next-gen (which is impressive for a demo, and a nice change of pace from the current crop of "next-gen" titles), is stylish, has some great environments and effects (it feels like I'm trekking through waste-deep snow; my character pitches depending on where the big bug baddies slam the ground near me), and the mech portions are slick -- being able to change out heavy guns from machine gun to heavy shotgun (and use them myself in a pinch) is a really cool feature.

Think I'll be playing this demo over several times ...

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stubbs the Zombie

It was the best of zombies. It was the worst of zombies.

Four score and seven zombies ago ...

Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt!
OK, so I finally finished Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, the seminal work from Wideload Games. And while the game may not be the cat's meow, it's got a ton going for it, and I really recommend it for the game play and humor.

Why am I playing (and writing about) a last-gen Xbox game that came out in October?

Because (A) I've been hyping the hell out of the "coming zombie game from Halo's Daddy" for a long time, and (B) I was promised a free review copy, so I held off buying it. Which actually didn't show up until mid-December -- after I was well into Xbox 360 insanity.

Not that I'm looking this gift zombie in the mouth (because it's like a gift horse, except bipedal, and undead, and ... Look, similes aren't really my thing; it's like me driving a car with a ladle).

Besides, despite all my writing about the game industry, I've never asked for any freebies, so this unsolicited one for something I was genuinely excited about was pretty cool.

Right -- about the game.

Awesome! Best thing since sliced brain!

Concept, gameplay, and humor are the three areas where this pussed little gem really shines.

Setting the game in a 1950s idea of what the future would look like? Brilliant! Zombie specific powers like being able to toss a gut grenade, detachable possessing hand, unholy flatulance, and exploding cranium? Brilliant! A soundtrack with covers of 50s tunes by today's musical hotties (Ben Kweller, The Raveonettes, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.)? Brilliant!

Oh, and the humor. Read signs. Everywhere. Notice that packages of hamburgers have several normal looking ingredients ... except for eyeballs. Read the menu in the diner level. Read it!

Not that everything on the game play front is pushing up daisies, though. Shambling sucks. Seriously, there are some booooring sequences where you have to watch your third-person zombie move coagulated-blood-slow from one end of a level to another. And forget getting away from a vehicle that's hell-bent on mowing you down.

And the story is seriously lacking. You're kind of thrown into Stubb's rotting skin at the outset, with a teaser of a story that isn't fleshed out enough to keep you going (and the denouement bites) -- so if the game play and humor hadn't been there, this title would have sunk. Luckily, the game play and humor are there. In spades.

And though I like being able to call and shove my zombie brethren, the truth is the game has brain dead squad controls; they're inconsistent, and unavailable when you want them most.

And though they trumpet the game being built on the Halo engine, the graphics, honestly, look like warmed-over death. I put in the original Halo to see if the engine is just that dated, but no (kind of), it's Stubbs. Part of it is I was playing the game on the Xbox 360, so hi-def on a projector really showed off the jaggies.

And the game is playable on the Xbox 360 (thanks, I'm sure, to Microsoft enabling Halo), but there are some levels that are so dark as to be almost unplayable. I had to ramp my projector up all the way and due total light killage to get through them.

And the sound is great (and funny), but it turns the constant screams as heard by someone outside the gaming room (and missing the humor) can be alternately grating and freaky.

All that said, the game is a solid 8(ish) out 10, and soooo worth spinning through for the humor, the game play, and the innovation. And for co-op. Thanks to Wideload for getting how important it is that every game have co-op. Tag-teaming unholy flatulance and a gut grenade is one of those beautiful moments in cooperative gaming.

So, shamble outside and pick up a copy of Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse today. Support Wideload. Support Austin-based publisher Aspyr Media, Inc. Support good game innovation and design, and an innovative model for game development (applying the Hollywood staffing model to game production).

I think you'll find the purchase worth it (it's also available on PC and Mac).

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Battlefield 2: Modern Combat

I recently mentioned I've been playing the Battlefield 2: Modern Combat Xbox 360 demo (among others).

After playing the online-only mutliplayer demo a lot, I decided to rent the full version of Electronic Arts's BF2:MC.

It took the full version of the game to tell me what I already knew from the demo -- It's all about the online mutlplayer.

I mean, the game is pretty good looking, and you get a lot of frenetic action. But the game play is unbalanced, and has a lot of "That would not happen!" moments. (Yes, BF2:MC is an arcade-y take on war, this game steps over a lot of game play lines.)

For example, on the first Chinese level (ignore the offensive faux accents), you can be looking at a blank wall and machine gun turret, and an enemy will blink into existance, take the turret, and mow you down. Over and over and over again.

And this level also highlights how stupid the friendlies AI is. The first time I played the level, in the segment where you trek to the next battle zone via gun boat or jeep, I could not get my guys into the vehicles. I ended up Hotswapping between soldiers to have each one get in the vehicle, and gave up on that, because as I swapped to someone outside of the vehicle to make them get in, the guys inside would get out. I ended up driving by myself to the next zone, being a one-man army, and getting mowed down again.

And, on the same level, my guys were nowhere near the action. So everytime I got mowed down by a baddie, I'd swap out the equivalent of a few hundred yards away, and have to trek back again to get mowed down. It was fun. Not so much.

The second time I played the level (the fist time made me give up on the game that night), the AI was a little better.

I do have to say the Hotswapping feature in BF2:MC is incredibly slick -- both in usefulness and in visual effect -- particularly in multi-sniper situations, or when you need to move between a Special Ops class for mowing down infantry to an Engineer to take out multiple enemy choppers. But I also found myself Hotswapping to take over idiot AI that were "sneaking" as they were getting shot in the back, and though they've removed the "line-of-sight" restriction for the feature, I found myself swapping inadvertently to someone other than who I was looking at. And the Hotswapping mini-challenges do require line-of-site, and shortest path (which, of course, were not the same). What?

Overall, with all its shortcomings, the single player is a solid renter, and the online will keep me coming back for a long time ...

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

BF2:MC; G.R.A.W.; Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360)

One of the coolest parts of the new Xbox 360 incarnation of Xbox Live is the free downloadable demos.

Recently, a bunch of demos hit the network, with Electronic Arts releasing Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (BF2:MC); Ubisoft posting Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.), and Eidos dropping the Xbox 360 version of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend.

I keep getting sucked back into the Battlefield 2: Modern Combat demo (the full version ships today). The game is a visceral, intense, absolutely huge, and less-serious war game ripe for "That's what I'm talkin' about!" moments. For example, me driving a tank over a bridge I know is out, as a guy on a rooftop takes aim at me with a rocket launcher. I drive the tank over the edge of the bridge, but not before I jumped out, rocket whizzing over my head and missing the plummeting tank, as I swap to a sniper rifle and cap the guy on the rooftop. He'd just been served.

The BF2:MC demo is buggy as all get out, so I'm hoping the retail version fixes some of the glitches. Seriously, the demo makes Oblivion look good (don't get me wrong -- Oblivion is a beautiful, engrossing game; but it's glitchy, and I can't currently play it because the "fragmented disk cache fix" isn't working).

The Xbox 360 version of BF2:MC has the content from the Xbox version (prettied up), plus the three new maps and four new vehicles from the Xbox “Warsome Booster Pack” released in December.

A more serious (and much more gorgeous) demo is Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.). This game is intense, and for the less-experienced player, pretty unforgiving. This game plays more like a war version of a chess game (where you're an shootable chess piece), and can be pretty frustrating until you get the hang of the controls and different game play style. I jumped into this after playing BF2:MC, and had to seriously adjust my "who can take more bullets" game style.

Also, this game is a totally different game than the Xbox version of the game -- developed by a different studio, and with a much higher level of quality and overall game play.

In a previous blog, I passed on info that the demo wassn't going to have co-op. But last night, a buddy and I fired it up and were able to co-op -- though he hit that steep learning curve pretty quickly, and didn't enjoy his taste of the game.

Finally, I downloaded and played Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend. I'm warming up to this, and admittedly, I'm not a big non-2D platformer fan, but my issues with the game aren't with it being a platformer -- it's that it doesn't feel next-gen.

The game is fun, and things like the water are fairly impressive. But there are some jaggies, and when Ms. Croft stands on a downed tree, for example, her feet are set apart as if she's standing on a transparent, flat surface -- which looks wonky.

If I'm playing a next-gen game, I really want the physicality of an object to be apparent. I want her feet to land roughly more where they "should" land on a tree trunk.

But I did say the game was growing on me. Lara's got some new moves, and the God of War inspired grappler is a nice addition, and I think swimming handles better than it has in the franchise.

I should play it again, and see if it grows on my some more.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Serious Sam II (Xbox)

Serious Sam is on of my favorite franchises on the Xbox and PC, and blasting through Serious Sam II on Xbox (via online co-cop) is a great way to blow through a Saturday afternoon.

The Xbox version's not going to win any graphics awards, but the visuals are colorful, bizarre, and like the dialog and overall premise, is so ridiculous and non-serious as to be a ton of fun.

The game has a lot of fun with itself, which makes it fun for me. The pace and volume of baddies is absolutely insane, but with co-op in some of the heavier moments, the frame rate does glitch a bit.

Plus, you can generally pick the game up new for $10-15 on sale ($20 MSP), and even cheaper used.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII (Xbox 360)

Microsoft and Ubisoft released a demo of Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII yesterday on Xbox Live Marketplace.

The game is pretty slick, and captures the feel of aerial dogfighting. The opening tutorial is a little irritating (mainly with the "drop manifest" task), but once mission mode starts, it's much more engaging.

I'm curious to see if the full version of the game on-disc has better graphics than the downloadable demo. They're not bad, but not the caliber of the Xbox 360 shots shown in Game Informer Magazine. That's what happened with Condemned, so I suspect the shipping graphics will be better.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Black (Xbox)

UPDATED: This title is now playable on the Xbox 360.

I picked up EA/Criterion's Black yesterday, and put it through its paces a bit.

I've been waiting for this title for some time, from the EA-purchased Criterion Software (the folks behind the Burnout franchise).

Black wants to do for the FPS genre what Burnout does for the racing/wrecking genre -- make it loud, ridiculously unrealistic, and a ton of fun.

Based on the premises "if Hollywood can make a handgun sound like a Howitzer, why can't we", and "the bullets are the heroes", Black has been described as "gun porn" and "The Matrix lobby scene".

So how does it play?


I mean, the wanton destruction is good fun. The guns are gorgeous. Slowly chipping away at a concrete pylon is impressive.

But I have two big pet peeves in gaming:

  1. Stupid AI
  2. Bad usability

On the stupid AI front, I don't like coming down staircase and seeing one of my squadmates (who I can't control) and a terrorist standing -- barrel to barrel -- blasting away at each other until one of them falls down.

That's stupid AI.

I can't remember who died first, but I killed the other one out of spite.

I'm hoping Online Alchemy does something genuinely innovative with their "ground-breaking AI technology for use in next-generation massively multiplayer online games as well as training and other applications."

Hey, how cool would it be if developers could license AI engines and toolkits for other games, like Project Offset and Epic Games do for the Offset and Unreal Engine for graphics, and Havok does for its physics engine?

My second major pet peeve is basic usability problems.

In Black, this plays out when you start up the game and can't skip the developer and publisher spalsh screens. Worse, I watched the opening "thetrical credits" cinematic when I first watched the game, and thought it was really cool. Later, when I restarted the game, I was annoyed that I couldn't skip it.

Worse, when I created a new profile for some friends, I had to watch the mission cinematic in total, and couldn't skip it. And it's looong ...

Skipping cinematics and splash screens is basic stuff, and really noticeable when it's missing (and when the unskippables are long and/or suck; at least in Black they don't suck).

There are also some unneeded extra steps in the options and profile creation set up that are unneeded.

The menus are slick, however.

Oh, and there was some weirdness in the game where the game controlled super slow. Not stuttering, but almost like my guy was underwater. Annoying, that.

I'm only about 30 minutes into the game, so it remains to be seen if these things will keep me from enjoying the game.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Halo 2 (XBox)

I'm not sure how you beat 4-to-8-player Rocketball on Foundation in Halo 2.

Oddball, with a Rocketball variant (3 minues to win; no other weapons on map; toughness and speed with ball on; radar off but ball indicator on).

Crank up the surround sound, bump up the subwoofer, and laugh until someone pees.

We break for that.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Painkiller, Half-Life 2 (Xbox demos)

In the February Official Xbox Magazine, the Xbox demos portion of the list includes Painkiller and Half-Life 2.

I was seriously stoked, because I'm a big fan of what the Painkiller guys did with Painkiller on the PC (frenetic action with a fantastic, oft-missed summary of heaven/hell/purgatory legends), and Half-Life 2 is arguably one of the greatest recent PC games.

So, how were the demos?

They sucked. And blew, while we're at it.

Graphics on both were abysmal, and the Painkiller demo didn't have Y-axis invert (lesson for all demo creators: I understand locking controller configurations for a demo, but if "invert" is germane to your genre, f***ing include it!).

I'm really hoping this is just indicative of pre-release demo concessions; but I don't know that I'm motivated enough to buy the full versions, with the bad taste the previews left in my mouth.

I need to ping some Xbox buddies who have the games and see if they suck as much in the retail versions (Painkiller releases next month).

FYI, though TeamXbox and GameSpot gave high ratings to Half-Life 2 (9.5 and 8.3, respectively), I believe OXM gave it a sub-par rating for ridiculously frequent and slow load times.

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Adam Creighton: Headshot

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