Wednesday, December 31, 2008

MGS4 v. GTA4

Still listening to Giant Bomb's 2008 Game of the year podcast - hey, it's 2 hours long - and the second half of the podcast basically finds the Bombers torn between choosing GTA4 and MGS4 as their game of the year.

I made my choice a few weeks ago, and I found it pretty easy to make. But listening to them discuss MGS4 makes me want to re-play MGS4 again. I forget how much fun I had playing that game, and even though it drove me absolutely goddamned crazy at times (my rant about Act 3 still holds*), it was still an incredibly absorbing experience.

But it's interesting to hear them talk about it because they are long-time MGS fans - or, at least, they are all quite familiar with the fiction that spans the entire series. I am not familiar with the fiction, at all, and I even looked at the downloadable MGS encyclopedia and it meant absolutely nothing to me. And I think that the whole insider-access aspect about MGS is what kept me from being more excited about it. I can forgive the ridiculousness of the storytelling, I guess, if only because it is so incredibly unique in its dedication to being totally ridiculous; the hard-core MGS fans would never accept anything less, and I have to admit that my memories of the insanity of the cutscenes are somewhat more forgiving, now that I'm not actually sitting through them and their excruciating craziness.

If you have a pro-MGS4 stance, I'd love to hear it. Otherwise, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

* I've read (and listened to) a lot of discussion about MGS4 this year, and I must say - I'm still somewhat stunned that NOBODY ELSE IN THE WORLD talked about the awfulness of the Big Mama scenes in Act 3. Nobody even talks about Big Mama at all. Am I just an asshole?

Goodbye 2008

Some random ramblings as I fill in the idle hours at work on the last day of the year:

Was listening to the Giant Bomb "Game of the Year" podcast on the way into work this morning, and it suddenly hit me - I played (and liked) every game they talked about. In years past, there would always be a few titles that would be totally alien to me, and I felt like I missing out; missing Super Mario Galaxy in 2007 would be a good example of that. But not this year - this year I was on top of everything.

I think I may have completed my Best Games of 2008 entry a bit prematurely - I've been playing the hell out of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts over the last week or so, and I'm pretty sure I love it. It could be argued that 2008 was really the break-out year for user-generated content, what with Little Big Planet and Spore (oh, yeah, I downloaded Spore because Steam had that stupid holiday sale), but BK:N&B really does it right, in that it gives you some sort of focus and a specific task. Spore's creature creator is certainly a fun toy to play with, but ultimately the design of your creature doesn't necessarily have any practical, tangible result (at least not in my somewhat limited experience with it); and on the other hand, Little Big Planet lets you do so much that it's a bit overwhelming - I've barely even touched the tutorials, because I have no idea what I'd want to create. Nuts & Bolts, on the other hand, does a fantastic job of giving you a specific goal, and giving you the tools to achieve it. Whether you build something totally from scratch or if you simply opt to tweak stuff you already have (which is my preferred method right now), it is immensely satisfying to complete a challenge entirely because of your own ingenuity.

Regarding Spore - yeah, I am a whore. Steam's holiday sale was as good a reason as any to dip my toe into the Spore experience. I've only gotten a little bit into the 2nd evolutionary stage - the one where you emerge from the slime and start walking around - so there's not a tremendous amount for me to discuss. My computer is getting a bit old, too, so I start to get some serious frame rate hitches every once in a while, which is a drag. It's an interesting enough diversion, at any rate; I've yet to see if it really holds together as a game.

I played an awful lot of Fallout 3 over the break, as well; that game continues to astound and amaze. The stories in that game are top-notch, probably second only to GTA4 this year. My only real problem with that game is the engine; talking to NPCs is still just a little bit weird enough to pull me out of the experience, and it was the same thing in Oblivion. I'm about halfway to level 15 right now, though, and I think I might hold off for a bit until some of the DLC arrives and they lift the level cap.

Speaking of RPGs, I've also been playing Chrono Trigger before I go to bed lately. It's a pretty solid game, and I can see why people love it. (I'm a little lost at the moment, though; I kinda rushed through the dialogue at the end of this one section and so now I'm not entirely sure where I'm supposed to be or what I'm supposed to be doing, and there's no real way (short of a walkthrough) of solving that problem.) But I'm starting to have a problem with calling these sorts of games "role-playing games." Fallout is a role-playing game; you inhabit your character and you can make choices and design your skillset and really play the way you want to play and have the experience you want to experience. However, in Chrono Trigger - and, indeed, in every JRPG I've ever played - all you do is level up and give your dude new and better gear. There's no real choice involved; the story is linear and your little dude will play the same way at the end of the game as he will in the beginning. We need some new sort of nomenclature.

My wife and I hosted 2 parties this December - my birthday, and Christmas - and Rock Band 2 was featured prominently at both. Goddamn that game is fun. I love watching people figure out how to play the drums almost as much as I love actually playing them; at first they're overwhelmed with all the information that's hurtling towards them at breakneck speeds, but then they figure out how to translate all that arcane symbology into recongizable rhythm, and then the whole concept opens up for them like a flower. It's really quite something to see.

Finally, I did the math, and barring some gaming tonight before the ball drops, I will have accumulated 12,060 Points in 2008. I will make no predictions about my point-whoring desires for 2009, other than I'd like to cross 50,000 in a cool way. I crossed 30K by playing Call of Duty 4 on a hard difficulty level, and I crossed 40K by playing the guitar on expert difficulty in Rock Band 2. Maybe I'll cross 50K by doing something awesome in Brutal Legend?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Weekend Recap: pre-Xmas 2008 edition

Kudos to me for not buying Spore this weekend. I was clearly concerned that my lack of willpower would result in a drunk download and I just don't have the time or the money (but especially the time) (and also the money) to get into something like Spore, which ended up not being the greatest game ever made.

My weekend was actually pretty busy, gaming-wise; made a brief bit of progress in Fallout 3, played more Rock Band 2 with the wife (who has gotten quite good at guitar and is even doing ok on the drums), got a bit further in Chrono Trigger, went back and rounded up some hidden objects in Little Big Planet, and started to get seriously sucked into Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

Where do I begin with Banjo? I was curious about it until I tried the demo, where I found myself in way over my head. But then Amazon lowered the already-low price by another $10 or so, and I felt compelled to give it another go.

Having the full game is quite a different experience than what the demo offers; all I remember about the demo was that the game was certainly gorgeous, but I didn't know how to build anything and didn't have the patience to learn. What's nice about the full game, then, is that you don't actually have to build anything, at least not right away; if you fully explore the environments that you have available to you, not only can you procure a number of parts on your own but you can scrounge up enough coin to buy blueprints and parts, thus giving you an advantage in the early competitions. And what's nice about this - especially for someone like me, who was never mechanically inclined and who never strayed from the cover photos on Lego boxes - is that eventually you will hit a wall and will have to start building, but at least you can start from an already well-designed vehicle and then make tweaks as you see fit.

Case in point: this one particular event is basically a giant ski jump, and I have to get my vechicle to fly/glide to a certain distance in order to get a Jiggy. The catch is that I can't just use a plane; once I launch from the jump, my engines cut out. At this point in the game I've either found or bought around 40 different blueprints, but none of them get me anywhere close to the Jiggy threshold. [Jiggy Threshold - great band name?] And so now I have to start experimenting. Putting wings on a heavy vehicle seems like an obvious solution, except the wings cause my vehicle to start sailing well before the end of the ramp and I end up having zero momentum by the time I really need it. Ultimately I end up putting 5 balloons on a moderately heavy pre-made vehicle and manually inflating them shortly before the jump to create lift, and I'm able to glide into the Jiggy Zone, although I'm still well below Trophy Level. Still, though, I learned several concepts about vehicle design, and I was able to invent a working solution, which felt very satisfying.

I have a feeling, though, that I won't be smart enough to beat the game at higher levels of difficulty. But that's why they invented YouTube, so I can look at other people's blueprints.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh great

Spore is available on Steam.


The Wrong Lesson

There was a time when EA seemed to churn out nothing but Madden, craptastical movie license games and sequels. They were all about parlaying brand recognition into sales, with innovation and quality taking a back seat. But under CEO John Riccitiello, EA has been embracing new IP such as Dead Space, and has published innovative, ground-breaking titles such as Mirror's Edge.

The result? They've lost their shorts. Sales are down. So earnings are down. (You'd almost think the entire world was short on cash.) EA's shareholders are pissed. "Not to fear!" says EA. "We're gonna focus our future investments on titles with the greatest 'hit potential'!"

If you're like me, you're worried that focusing on "hit potential" means returning to their old sequel-factory ways. And it may be that leaning back in that direction will result in a healthier balance sheet. But I worry that EA will be too quick to blame innovation and new IP for bad sales rather than another major factor: timing of releases.

I should have bought and played Dead Space and Mirror's Edge, but I didn't. But it wasn't because the words "Star Wars" didn't appear in their titles. It's because they came out in the midst of a flood of high profile, AAA titles. Take note EA! I would definitely have bought both Dead Space and Mirror's Edge had I not already been buried in Fable 2, Fallout 3, LBP and Rock Band 2. Even us gamers with full-time jobs can't buy everything ('cept Jervo).

Look at Bioshock. A new IP which certainly tried some things that hadn't been done in a shooter before. And it was released in August, when it had the whole hype machine all to itself. The result? Mofo sold by the bucketful!

Before EA tosses innovation and new IP over its shoulder, I really hope they'll at least try releasing a few of its more "experimental" titles in the spring or summer, when gamers actually have dollars in their pockets that aren't pledged to Gears of War 4.

Into the SD void

'Tis the season. To gather with friends and loved ones, to decorate the tree, to light the Menorah, to sip a cup of eggnog before a blazing fireplace, to do the Feats of Strength, and to be dragged kicking and screaming from one's delicious HD/surround setup to spend two weeks in a realm of cruel, offline, two-speaker, 4:3, 480p squalor.

That's right. It's time once again to pack the kids (360, daughter, PS3) in the car to do some Christmasing at the parents' house in New York, and then off for a rustic New Years' Eve with the in-laws at their country cottage in Quebec. In both locations, I will be condemned to playing my 360 and PS3 on SD TV's. In Quebec, I won't have Internets. Not even French ones.

Now, I'm enough of a hardcore nerd purist that I'm reluctant to play through any new AAA content on these antediluvian "televisions". So Gears 2, Fallout 3, Fable 2... all off the table. So how best to use the gaming time I do have? What does one play in SD?

I can tell you that there will be a lot of Rock Band 2 going on, since I have a passel of siblings who will be in New York to rock it out. I've also concluded that my time in SD purgatory is ideal for going back and trying great older games that I never got around to, and probably wouldn't otherwise. Better to play them in SD than not at all . Last holiday season, I made my way through COD2 (which was terrific enough that I played it again in HD/surround once I got home), and played through most of Tomb Raider Anniversary (not a game that really flexes the 360's 1080p muscles anyway).

I'm thinking this year I'll finish TR: Anniversary, and maybe start Legend if I'm not all Lara'd out. And while I'm in New York, and at least have XBL access, I'll probably burn a lot of time with Left 4 Dead, because even SD can't take the sheen off that mofo. And of course, Psychonauts is still sitting on my pile of shame. I got a good ways in on the original Xbox, but never actually finished it. (Don't tell Jervo.) I guess I can also try to get through some more GTAIV.

Plus Ima pick up Chrono Trigger for the DS.

Okay, so maybe the next two weeks won't be the fun famine I made it out to be.

Back To The Apocalypse

I find it hard to believe that it's really December 19. The year was already moving pretty fast, and now I look up and see that Christmas is next fucking week. What the hell happened?

In any event, the release calendar madness has finally slowed down, and now I find myself with a bunch of titles that I finally have some time to enjoy.

First and foremost, I'm getting back into Fallout 3. I had put it down a few weeks ago for some reason, and when I heard about the forthcoming packages of DLC - one of which would raise the level cap and make the endgame a bit more productive - I felt like my time with the game would be better spent with all that stuff intact, instead of playing it now, finishing it, and then coming back later. (I had originally meant to talk about this very thing in relation to this particular article from MTV Multiplayer.) And I guess there's a part of me that still does feel that way; I'd like to be able to seamlessly incorporate this new DLC into my Fallout experience. That said, last night I found myself with an empty apartment and a lot of options, and I found myself missing the Fallout experience.

Goddamn, that game is awesome. I believe I said in my 2008 wrap-up that I thought I might be a little intimidated by it; it's such a huge world and there's so much to do and I still haven't totally figured out how good or evil I want to be, even though I'm level 10 and have put in a considerable amount of hours into it already. I put it in last night and it only took me about 30 seconds to remember how it worked and I was immediately hooked, again. I'm trying to stay away from the main quest, and as a result I've found a ton of other things to see and explore. I used to do this thing in Oblivion - if I was walking towards my targeted location, and another random, undiscovered location started to appear in my map, I'd always feel compelled to stray away just far enough to see what it was that I'd found, and I find myself doing the same thing here in Fallout. And it's really incredible to see what Bethesda has crammed in there. I'm currently on a side mission that's taken me to some pretty awesome locations, and the level of detail in every room is just staggering, and it boggles my mind to think that if I had only made a left turn in Rivet City instead of a right, I would never have seen any of it. And the thing of it is, I'm already well aware that there's a ton of stuff that I've already missed because I went one way and not the other. Absolutely incredible.

Rock Band 2 continues to be a nightly source of amusement at my house; my wife has finally graduated to "Medium" difficulty on guitar, and we're getting back into Tour mode again. I made a brief mention of this in the 2008 Year In Music post on my other blog; there's 2 songs in particular that I found in the store that I've totally fallen in love with, and I ended up purchasing those songs in iTunes - Maximo Park's "Girls Who Play Guitars" and Silversun Pickups' "Lazy Eye." They're both fun as hell to play on drums, but they also just kick a lot of ass in general.

I made a special category in my 2008 Year in Games post so as to congratulate myself for not being a total whore and buying the Strongbad Games, even though I'm a big fan of the cartoon and an even bigger fan of point-and-click adventure games. Then, of course, it was announced just the other day that they were releasing all 5 adventures on Steam, and so OF COURSE I went and downloaded them immediately. Steam was acting a little weird last night, though, and I couldn't actually open Episode 1. But I did check out the tutorial in Episode 5, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into, and of course I'm totally fucking hooked.

I finally beat the single-player campaign in Little Big Planet, and then I started dabbling in user-created levels, most of which are kinda shitty. (It does sound strange to use the phrase "single-player campaign" for a game like LBP, but to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you use the nomenclature you have.) I'm not sure I'm ready to begin designing my own levels just yet; I may end up going back into the single-player to try and find all the stickers and objects that I didn't get the first time. I gotta say - even though the controls are awfully floaty and the back-middle-front aspect of it can get terribly screwed up, that game's charm is absolutely impossible to deny. I am fully on board the Sackboy bandwagon.

Finally, my DS is finally starting to come to life again. I've been getting into Chrono Trigger a little more, and I've also been enjoying the newest Castlevania game. I find it incredible that Konami has basically been making the same Castlevania game for a million years and yet it still ends up being pretty awesome every single time.

And so what are you playing this weekend?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

VG Symposium

I'm offering no commentary on this just yet; it's gigantic, I'm very busy and I'm really just posting here so I don't forget about it. This looks to be the beginning of a mega-discussion on all sorts of important videogame topics, featuring quite a few heavy hitters, and I'm sure I'll need to vent my spleen accordingly.

Videogame Symposium Part I - Review Scores
Are reviews primarily a consumer guide, or should they serve another purpose? Do review scores deter intelligent discussion of videogames? Is the presence or absence of a review score the only difference between a reviewer and a critic? What is the role of the reviewer when the Internet is democratizing published opinion? How should reviews and reviewers evolve in light of the emergence and growth of Flash games, small games, indie games and user-generated games?

These questions and more were on the mind of N'Gai Croal, John Davison and Shawn Elliott last summer when they decided to expand their conversation to a number of noted reviewers, writers, bloggers and journalists for a published email symposium on game reviews. (See below for the full list of participants.) The planned list of topics include Review Scores; Review Policy, Practice and Ethics; Reader Backlash; Reviews in the Age of Social media; Reviews in the Mainstream Media; Casual, Indie, and User-Generated Games; Reviews vs. Criticism; and Evolving the Review. Round 1's topic: Review Scores.


Leigh Alexander, Gamasutra/Sexy Videogameland/Variety

Harry Allen, Media Assassin

Robert Ashley, freelancer

Tom Chick, freelancer

N'Gai Croal, Level Up/Newsweek

John Davison, What They Play

Shawn Elliott, 2K Boston

Jeff Gerstmann, Giant Bomb

Kieron Gillen, Rock, Paper, Shotgun

Dan Hsu, Sore Thumbs Blog

Francesca Reyes, Official Xbox Magazine

Stephen Totilo, MTV News

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 2008 VGAs

Do I really want to do this?

I guess I'm doing it.

It's 9:25pm EST on Sunday, December 14, 2008, and the VGAs have been on for almost a half hour, and I guess I'm gonna watch it. I'm trying to watch it; I would estimate that about 90% of the TV time has been either commercials, product placements, or LL Cool J. I don't even know what awards are being given out or who's nominated.

Herewith: some random ramblings as the bullshit unfolds.

...When Mike Tyson came out on stage, I'm pretty sure everybody in the theater got a little queasy.

...Is it me, or did the very brief look of in-game footage in that God of War 3 trailer look a little... early?

...They gotta stop with these skits.

...The "best independent game" nominees are all amazing; I was fortunate enough to play all of them and I'm very glad to seem them all getting their due. I was not aware of any of them being fueled by Dew, though; that's good to know. That technical difficulty snafu announcing World of Goo was a little scary.

...I really wish I didn't have to be embarrassed about watching this show. It's clear that Spike is really trying to make this award mean something, and I'll admit that having all these major announcements during the show is a pretty convincing incentive for me to stick it out. But the writing is terrible and the emphasis is everywhere but on the actual game designers, which is unfortunate. I'd be very curious to see what Spike anticipates the target demo for this awards show to be; I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that it doesn't include me.

...It's 9:41 and they've only announced 2 awards... now they're giving Kiefer Sutherland an award, and now the All-American Douchebags are playing, for no apparent reason. Are they afraid that the people who watch this show will be bored if they actually showed some games winning awards?

...At this rate, I'm probably turning this off after they do the Brutal Legend video, and I can't help but feel like that'll be the last thing they show. Why excatly did they ask Jack Black to host this thing? We're almost an hour into the show and he's been on stage for about 5 minutes.

...EA is doing Dante's Inferno? Really? That could almost be interesting; the brief glimpses of gameplay made it look like a cross between God of War and Dead Space, and that's actually kind of awesome.

...Will Wright deserves better than that intro. (Nice shout out to Tim Schafer, though! W00t!)

...GTA4 DLC preview... That was a pretty bitchin' trailer. It basically looks like a shorter campaign; I wonder if it loads seperately from the main game. What happens to Niko after you start this DLC? Do you never see him again? If you start as the biker, is the city different?

...I'm so glad to hear that the famous celebrities who got paid enough to show up for this thing "really love videogames." That makes me feel like these are that much more authentic.

...Best RPG: I'm gonna guess Fallout 3. And I WAS RIGHT. Will they show any video of the upcoming DLC? No.

...Busta Rhymes? OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY. You're right, Busta - I do hate it when I see a trailer and it turns out to be bullshitty. Uncharted 2 trailer: OK, that was fucking amazing. I am officially on board for Uncharted 2. Also: I think the confetti machine is borked.

...Terminator Salvation gets a big fat meh.

...Mafia 2's music is HORRIBLE. I'm pretty sure those string patches were out of date in 1987. The game itself looks like Martin Scorcese directing GTA.

...Tony Hawk again? 50 Cent? Why?

...Watchmen: Alan Moore weeps.

...Weezer announces for best music game, and I'm gonna guess it's Rock Band 2... although Wii Music looks hott.

...I do like how all the people who accept awards give nice, quick speeches.

...This Kevin James Mall Cop skit is kinda sad. Epsecially if he's here to announce the award for Studio of the Year. I guess it's official that these awards don't mean anything. I have no idea what to guess for this: I'd vote for any of them. But good for Media Molecule. And I meant to say this earlier - why are the Best 360 and Best PS3 categories throw-aways?

....Wait wait wait, they're doing a MONTAGE for the actual fucking awards? 96 minutes into a 2 hour show? What the fuck is this bullshit? Why did Shooter, RPG and Music Game get stage time and everybody else get shafted like this? Jesus fucking Christ. Brutal Legend had better be fucking awesome.

...From Joystiq's live blog, which is reading very much like this one:
10:38PM Dear VGAs, until you pretend that these awards are important no one else is going to believe it.

10:37PM Now we blow through all the awards, because watching the actual awards is SOOO much less fun than watching Kevin James put human joy to death live on stage.
...Brutal Legend! At 10:44pm. Funny with the flamethrowing; let's go and show it. SHOW IT. And it was shown. Can't. Wait.

...Megan Fox announces Game of the Year? Oh I wonder if there'll be another techincal snafu for this. The silver women in the background look exasperated.

My guess: GTA4. Looking back at all these games again, though, I am reminded just how amazing this year really was. Drumroll: I win. Why aren't the Houser Bros accepting?

I think this final skit went completely off the rails.

Weezer brings the hot sauce. That applause sounds canned. I'm done.

Spike: you're getting closer. But you're still a long fucking way off.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Just Because It's Free Doesn't Mean It Can't Suck

Penny Arcade's Tycho says all that needs to be said about Home.

There's one line in particular that really stands out:
There is already a growing school of Home apologetics, fostered by the same Order of Perpetual Masochists who lauded the rumble-free Sixaxis at launch and suggested, hilariously, that Lair and Heavenly Sword were videogames. They're under the impression that because something is free, this places it on some golden dais beyond censure. It's no virtue to give away something that no-one in their right mind would buy. They have no idea what this world is for, and that ambiguity infuses every simulated millimeter of it. (emphasis added)
There were similar debates going on over all over the place; I saw it first-hand in the comments to Giant Bomb's article about Home's impending release earlier this week, at least when I first went over there to check on what people were saying. Tons of fanboys were running to Home's defense without having actually used it, and when people who had used it (like me) said that it's pointless, they inevitably retorted "But it's free! How can you complain about freebies that you never have to use?"

It's very simple, actually. Home sucks. And I'm never going to use it. And the reason why I'm complaining about it is that I'd very much like to use my PS3 for something other than watching BluRays, and I was hoping that Home would be something cool and useful and offer an invaluable and unique experience that would enhance my enjoyment of both the Playstation and the games I play on it. Sony has been struggling in 3rd place for this entire generation and I'm sure many people were looking to Home as the thing that would help differentiate the PS3 from the 360. I guess, in a way, it has - it's proven that Sony has absolutely no idea what they're doing.

Brutal Legend Update!

EA is publishing Brutal Legend; will be released Fall 2009.

I've given EA a lot of shit over the years, but they turned it around in 2008; they worked with a lot of great developers and put out a ton of new, interesting and unique IP. (Of course, they're getting killed financially as a result, because consumers are stupid.) And EA is well aware that they're taking a bit of a risk here; Tim Schafer's games, as we all know, have been critically lauded and have incredibly devoted fans, but almost none of them have ever been breakout hits.

Still - this is great news for Schafer fans, and now I can start setting up the template for the 2009 GOTYs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Scrabble, Rock Band, and some personal inventory

Some quick hits:

1. I am somewhat of a Scrabble nerd. Which is not to say that I'm very good at it, but rather that I very much enjoy playing it. I was a huge Scrabulous fan on Facebook, and I've even succumbed and started playing the EA-sponsored OFFICIAL SCRABBLE Facebook app. Hell, me and Gred and our other friend Jongre started the BAD SCRABBLE HANDS page, which still gets quite a lot of traffic even if we haven't updated it since 2001. I've had my eye on the upcoming US release of the DS Scrabble game, which has been out in the UK for a while - I very nearly bought a copy when I was in London earlier this year. (Or maybe it's not the same thing?) Anyway, this story cracked my shit up.

2. Via the excellent Offworld comes this interview with Alex Rigopulos, the man behind Rock Band.

3. Just for shits and giggles, I scoured my old GS blog and found my year-end recaps for 2004, 2006 and 2007. I'm not entirely sure I know what happened to 2005.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

X-Play hearts Fable 2

X-Play has named Fable 2 its Game of the Year.

My feelings about Fable 2 can be summed up by a quotation from Emperor Nero (as portrayed by Dom Deluise in History of the World Part I): "Nice. Nice. Not thrilling... but nice."

Full disclosure: I'm only about six hours in. But I'm still waiting for the game to grab me. From what I hear the game only gets better (and in fact gets considerably better) from here. But my question is this: If I have to wait for six hours to get to the real meat, is that really GOTY material? Aren't plenty of people going to move on before they get through to the great part, especially in this environment awash with AAA titles?

Now I've also read on the Internets that people who don't lurve Fable 2 may be "playing it wrong". You are now reading on the Internets my view that people who say that naysayers who fail to see a game's brilliance are "playing it wrong" deserve nothing less than a swift kick in the bag. If I'm playing it wrong, you designed it wrong. (I don't mean you specifically... except for you, Mr. Molyneux.)

Anyway, I don't mean to rob Fable 2 of its moment. Huzzah and congrats and all that good stuff. I actually believe that there's a fair chance that I will play all the way through it and fall in love with it, and maybe by then I'll be so enamoured that I'll have forgotten how enthralled I wasn't for the first six hours. So listen up, posterity!

Gred's review of Fable 2 at 6 hours in: B

Which reminds me. I far prefer letter grades to numbered reviews. Note to self for future post...

Who is Gred?

Okay, there are gonna be some changes around here. What this blog needs is some international flavour.

That's right. I spelled flavour with a "u". You see, up here in Canada, if the Queen tells me I have to include a "u" when I bitch about horse armour as paid DLC, well then I'm gonna do as Her Highness commands, God save the crazy ol' broad.

So you know I'm in Canada. What else can I tell you? In a nutshell: I'm an old friend of Jervo's, used to live with him in NYC, and have lived up here since I escaped the U.S. in an air balloon during the early years of the Bush presidency. I also sometimes play video games.

So for starters, let me try to give you a snapshot of Gred the gamer.

Systems owned and selected favoUrite games, off the top of my head:

  • various PCs (Grim Fandango);
  • Atari 2600 (multiplayer Maze Craze);
  • ColecoVision (maybe Smurf, even though I now know it sucked?);
  • NES (probly Zelda 2);
  • Super NES (Act Raiser);
  • Game Boy (Tetris);
  • Genesis (I'm totally flaking);
  • Turbo Grafx 16 (couldn't tell ya);
  • Nintendo 64 (Super Mario 64 (never played Ocarina of Time (I know!!!)));
  • PlayStation (Syphon Filter);
  • Dreamcast (NFL 2K series);
  • Xbox (SW: KOTOR);
  • Xbox 360 (Hannah Montana's Terrorist Hunt);
  • Nintendo DS (Puzzle Quest);
  • PlayStation 3 (LittleBigPlanet).

Truth is, my favourite 360 pick is in flux, so I'm just not ready to commit right now. On we go:

Best Game Evar: Grim Fandango

Other honourable mentions: Battlefield 1942, Psychonauts, Stuff made by Valve, Front Page Sports Football series, the old Sierra adventure games

Recent crushes: Left 4 Dead, GTA IV, Portal, LittleBigPlanet, Bioshock... I guess, you know, the totally predictable this-gen hits. And also MLB 2008: The Show.

Favourite gaming podcasts: Joystiq, CAGcast, 1UP FM (and the late, great Game Theory, may it rest in peace)

Gamertag: Gr3d

PSN: GeeRed

So there's a little background. Stay tuned! You never know when I might have a coherent though about something you're interested it.


If this Gamepolitics article is to be believed, Sony is officially releasing Home tomorrow. Sony previously had been rolling it out in larger and larger numbers, similar to what Microsoft did with the NXE; I somehow got into the beta a few weeks ago.

I've maybe checked it out once or twice since I initially installed it, and the experience hasn't gotten better. It's still unclear to me what exactly the experience is supposed to be. When I see Sony's press releases, describing it as...
...a ground-breaking 3D social gaming community available on PS3 that allows users to interact, communicate and share gaming experiences...
...well, I guess that sounds interesting in theory, but in actual practice it's useless. It's certainly useless without a headset; the canned responses are not particularly robust, and that assumes that you're interested in participating in a chat room with a bunch of teenagers. Maybe it's better with the chatpad thing that's coming out soon, but that's not even the point. There's no real need for a 3D social gaming community; it serves no practical purpose. The gaming community is a robust and diverse many-sided thing but the side that most people end up witnessing, whether in forums or in multiplayer matches, thrives on anonymity and calling each other assholes. You can't get into virtual fistfights in Home, and you certainly can't pwn someone in Home because there's nothing to play other than a few crappy minigames that start to get boring about 20 seconds in.

You can look at advertising, though. And what the press release doesn't tell you is that Home is slathered in advertising. There are game posters and game trailers all over the place, and I'm sure that non-game-specific branding will soon follow, if it's not already there. Maybe you can buy a Mountain Dew T-shirt for your virtual dude and then meet up with your similarly-attired "friends" by the bowling alley and watch a trailer for SOCOM. Boy, that sounds like a great time. Meanwhile, I'll be getting on with the rest of my life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

2008: The Year That Was

I've been blogging in one form or another since March of 2001, and I think it's fair to say without getting into too much detail that quite a lot has changed since then. But at least one thing has stayed the same: I love doing year-end wrap-ups.

I've been looking forward to writing this particular post since I left the GameSpot forums and started SFTC back in January; I got even more excited about it when I realized I could cover all the major platforms this summer. I've been rocking a goddamned EXCEL SPREADSHEET for this post for the last 3 weeks, people.

And of course, here I am, finally writing it, and I'm writing about how excited I am instead of getting on with it.


Here's the raw data.

I played 73 games that were released this year. Of those 73:
I purchased 48 (13 of which are XBLA titles);
I traded in 9 of those titles towards other games; and
I rented 25 games.

Per platform:

360: 52 titles (including XBLA)
DS: 6
PS3: 5
Wii: 3
PC: 2

I "finished" 13 games. This is a tricky criteria, though, because the idea of "finishing" certain titles can be misleading. I finished the story in Grand Theft Auto 4, but I only completed 75% of the game; likewise, I beat Fable 2 but that game can be played forever. I beat one campaign in Left 4 Dead, but there are 3 others that I haven't started. Should that count? In Civilization Revolution, I finished 3 different campaigns as 3 different races - and on both the 360 and the DS - but there's a bunch of other races that I never played as, and even then, I only ever finished a campaign in one specific manner. Sports games are a different matter; I finished an entire PGA Season in Tiger Woods 09, and that took me a rather considerable amount of time, but I didn't finish the Tiger Challenge. Anyway. The games I "finished" are:
  1. GTA4
  2. MGS4
  3. Prince of Persia
  4. Gears of War 2
  5. Fable 2
  6. Tomb Raider Underworld
  7. Professor Layton
  8. Braid
  9. Penny Arcade Adventures Vol. 1
  10. Lego Indiana Jones
  11. Lost Odyssey
  12. Bond 007: Quantum of Solace
  13. Tiger Woods 09
Likewise, I count 10 titles that I didn't play long enough to really get a sense of at all; these were either rentals that I took a quick look at and then bounced back to Gamefly ASAP, hoping to free up my queue for releases that I was more excited about, or XBLA titles that I knew I wanted but didn't have time to dive into. They include:
  1. Banjo-Kazooie (xbla re-release)
  2. Battlefield: Bad Company
  3. Bionic Commando
  4. Chrono Trigger
  5. Midnight Club: LA
  6. Penny Arcade Adventures Vol. 2
  7. Resistance 2
  8. Star Ocean: First Departure
  9. The World Ends With You
  10. Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
And now, on with the business.


Best Action (Platformer): Little Big Planet (Prince of Persia, Mirror's Edge, Tomb Raider Underworld)
I can't tell you how many times I've read that the platforming genre is dead over the last few years. I feel like the platformer might be coming back, and people just don't know it yet. Super Mario Galaxy might be what people have in mind when they think of what platforming means these days, but they're discounting stuff like Assassins Creed, Prince of Persia, Mirror's Edge and Tomb Raider Underworld which for all their 3D trappings are ultimately just as faithful to the tried and true conventions of the genre (go from point A to point B, collect stuff, engage in mindless combat). That said, Little Big Planet is on another level entirely. Leaving aside the part of the game where you create your own levels, the actual pre-packaged game that arrives on the disc is bursting with creativity and joy. And the best part is that your incentive for collecting random doodads is that the doodads end up being stuff you can use to build your own levels with. Maybe my biggest regret of 2008 is not spending enough quality time with this one; every time I play it I end up smiling.
Best Action (FPS/3PS): Metal Gear Solid 4 (Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, God of War: Chains of Olympus)
Nobody is more surprised than me to see this game win in this category. I fucking HATE Metal Gear Solid games, and some of the cutscenes in this game could qualify as the dumbest things I've ever seen. But here's the thing; this game, when you were done listening to crazy people saying crazy things and actually playing it, was fucking badass. I think Snake's OctoCamo suit might just be the coolest stealth gadget I've ever seen, and it couldn't ever exist in something like Splinter Cell because it's completely ridiculous.
Best Puzzle: Braid (Professor Layton, World of Goo, Peggle Nights, Poker Smash)
Believe it or not, this was one of the hardest categories for me to choose a winner. The one knock against Braid is its lack of replayability, but the first time through was a truly mesmerizing, jaw-dropping experience.
Best Horror: Dead Space (Silent Hill: Homecoming, Condemned 2)
I'm not really one for horror games, but I must give credit where credit is due: Dead Space is excellent. I'm reluctant to really call it a horror title - it's startling and creepy, but it doesn't really inspire feelings of dead - but that's the genre in which it was marketed and I'm not going to argue with marketers. It features outstanding production values and rock-solid mechanics.
Best RPG: Fallout 3 (Fable 2, Penny Arcade Vol. 1, Sonic Chronicles)
I haven't finished Fallout 3; I think I might be intimidated by it, actually. But what I've played of it - I'd say I've put in 8-12 hours - is staggering.
Best JRPG: Lost Odyssey (Crisis Core: FF7, Infinite Undiscovery)
It got tedious near the end, but let's be honest - JRPGs are nothing if not tedious. You can't play something for 70 hours and not suffer from fatigue. It's a credit to what Lost Odyssey gets right, however, that it's worth sticking with it for that long. Excellent design, interesting combat mechanics, and those stunning written cutscenes more than compensated for the grating music and cheesy script.
Best Family Game: Rock Band 2 (Boom Blox)
I don't feel right making this my GOTY if only because I never played the first one and everything I've heard indicates that RB2 is basically just a better, more polished iteration of that. Still, I had 16 people in my apartment this past weekend and we played RB2 for about 6 hours, and it might have been the best party ever.
Best Sports: Tiger Woods 09 (MLB09, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds)
Best Tiger game yet. I spent an absurd amount of time with this game over the summer.
Best Driving: Pure (Burnout Paradise, Mario Kart)
This game came out of nowhere, and I feel badly that I stalled out on it about halfway through. Excellent graphics and track design.
Best Graphics: Gears of War 2 (Metal Gear Solid 4, Pure, Little Big Planet, Fallout 3, Braid)
Every time I think I'm sick of the Unreal engine, Epic comes along and reminds everybody how awesome it is.
Best DS: Professor Layton (Sonic Chronicles, Civilization Revolution)
Remember when the DS was getting all these awesome, innovative games? Those days were great.
Best PSP: God of War: Chains of Olympus (Crisis Core: FF7)
Remember when the PSP looked like this awesome handheld system with crazy amounts of untapped potential and not at all like a waste of $150? That week was great.
Best XBLA: Braid (Geometry Wars 2, Duke Nukem 3D, Poker Smash, N+)
XBLA had absolutely fantastic year. I feel a little bad about not giving PSN titles and WiiWare titles their own winners, but there wasn't a tremendous amount to get excited for on those titles, and I only had so much time, cash, and hard drive space.
Best 360-exclusive: Gears of War 2 (Fable 2, Lost Odyssey)
I might have played the most games on the 360 this year, but I'm a little surprised at how few of those games were 360-exclusive. (I'm not sure Left 4 Dead should count as a 360 exclusive, either, since a lot of people are enjoying it on the PC.)
Best PS3-exclusive: Metal Gear Solid 4 (Little Big Planet)
I use my PS3 primarily as a BluRay player, but it's nice to be reminded every once in a while that I can do other, awesome things with it.
Best Wii-exclusive: Boom Blox (Mario Kart)
I think I'm giving the Wii until next summer to start releasing games for the serious gamer (or, at the very least, start teasing release dates). I can't believe how quickly I soured on it; within 3 weeks of owning it I was already bored with it. Boom Blox was a lot of fun until my wife and I both started waking up the next morning with tired arms. I feel bad about not giving Okami more credit, but I only ever got around to spending but a few hours with it before getting distracted and moving on.
Best Multiplayer: Left 4 Dead (Rock Band 2, Boom Blox, Gears 2)
I've written a lot about L4D lately, and I'm reluctant to repeat myself.
Best Soundtrack/Voice Acting: Grand Theft Auto 4
You didn't think I'd forgotten, did you? You didn't think I was going to get through my entire awards without giving GTA4 something? I'm going to be honest here - I cheated and deliberately omitted GTA4 out of most of its applicable categories because otherwise this post would get awfully repetitive. These particular categories, however, had no clear runner-ups; GTA4 had the best soundtrack, the best voice acting, and the best dialog out of any game this year, and it wasn't even close.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Grand Theft Auto 4

Top 10:
  1. GTA4
  2. Rock Band 2
  3. Fallout 3
  4. Left 4 Dead
  5. Braid
  6. Metal Gear Solid 4
  7. Professor Layton
  8. Little Big Planet
  9. Geometry Wars 2
  10. Civilization Revolution (360)

Publisher of the Year: EA (which is astounding for me to admit)

Best New IP (maybe the hardest category to grade): Left 4 Dead
  • Dead Space
  • Little Big Planet
  • Professor Layton
  • Boom Blox
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Lost Odyssey
  • Too Human
  • Mirror's Edge
  • Pure
  • The World Ends With You (I know I didn't play it very much, but too many people loved the shit out of this one)
Most Crack-Like: Civilization Revolution

Most Disappointing: Mercenaries 2

Worst Game Of The Year: MLB2K8

Most Disappointing Platform: PSP/Wii (tie)

Game Design Shortcut That Needs to Stop Being Used: QTE Events (which also is a redundant phrase)

Best Moment: Playing drums in Rock Band 2

Worst Moment: Messing up the progress in an Achievement hunt for Tiger 09

Best Game I Did Not Finish: God Of War: Chains of Olympus

Shortest Time Spent With A Game Because It Sucked: MLB2K8 (10 minutes)

Shortest Time Spent With A Game Not Because It Was Bad But Because I Did Not Care: Resistance 2 (10 minutes)

Maybe I'm Not Such A Whore After All (I Didn't Buy This Game, Despite Being a Huge Fan of the License): Strong Bad games

Just Kidding, I Am Totally A Whore: Penny Arcade games

Most Time Spent With A Game: Grand Theft Auto 4 (36 days, according to

Most Overlooked: Saints Row 2

Best Multiplayer Mode: Gears of War 2: Horde

Biggest Douchebag: Drebin (MGS4), Prince (PoP), the entire cast of Devil May Cry 4 (tie)

Biggest Game I Didn't Play: Spore

Favorite Achievement: Wax Off - Geometry Wars 2

The Big News

The big news, as alluded to earlier, is that Shouts From The Couch will no longer be a solitary endeavor. I am very pleased to welcome the lovely and talented Gred to the SFTC empire, who will be popping in here every so often to wax philosophical about, well, whatever it is that strikes his fancy. I am told he will be making an introductory post tomorrow, so prepare yourselves accordingly.

Prince of Persia sort-of review

I can't help it; I'm still giddy about crossing 40,000. Wouldn't it be nice if the 360 gave your avatar a little balloon/confetti party every time you crossed a significant number?

For the record: I officially crossed 40,000 by getting the "Flawless Fretwork" Achievement in Rock Band 2. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should also acknowledge that I was playing The Police's "Roxanne", which is not very hard at all on Expert. Indeed, I'd accidentally gotten 100% the previous day, but my guitar wasn't signed in as JervoNYC (alas, it was the drums) and I spent the next 20 minutes playing Roxanne over and over and over again and always spazzing out at the very end.

Anyway. I'm here to talk about Prince of Persia, which I finished in about 10 hours, pretty much all in one sitting.

My initial impressions ended up being pretty much spot-on; the game is beautiful and the art direction is truly impressive, and there are some vistas that are truly jaw-dropping. And, also, the controls never felt quite as tight as I wanted them to feel; the Prince doesn't immediately go into a full run, which messed up my timing a bit, and there are certain things in the game that never stopped being "new" - a perfect example being that when you jump to a surface below a ledge, you don't have to press "A" to jump again because you automatically jump up to the ledge; if you hit A during the tiny window between animations, you will inevitably jump to your doom - er, get reset to the last checkpoint. It took me almost 3/4 of the game to stop doing this.

Much has been made of the fact that you can't die in PoP; all this means is that if you miss a jump - and you will, and not always because it's your fault - you are "rescued" by Princess Elika, and you're taken back to the last place you were on solid ground. You're still dying, it's just that the game never stops moving forward. It's actually a nice addition and it ensures that you always have a sense of momentum; it's very hard to put down.

It is a shame, though, that much of your not-dying is because of issues with the controls, which is maybe my biggest problem with PoP, and is certainly the biggest issue with any game that requires precision. The thing that not-killed me the most in this game was whenever I'd jump to a pillar/column. Generally speaking, if you jump to a pillar, you'll automatically swing around to the back so that you can keep moving in the same direction. Sometimes, though, you don't want to move in the same direction, because (a) there are multiple paths to follow or (b) you want to move up instead of forward. In this case, you will swing your body around to the direction you want to face. The problem I had in these cases was that the animation for moving your body around takes a little bit of time and isn't always responsive, and the camera would occaisonally move in the opposite direction. Which is to say - I'd jump to a column, turn left and jump, but the game would interpret that to mean I'd jump to a column, turn right and jump into the abyss.

Other times, there's a jump you have to make that requires a double-jump. The game generally does a good job letting you know when these double-jumps are coming - the visual cue is that the screen starts turning black/white - but sometimes it doesn't, or the window you get is half as long as it normally is, and that just kinda sucks.

The first game in the last-gen series was almost perfect, and the thing that held it back was its combat, which just sucked. The 2nd game was apparently designed to maximize the shitty combat, and the 3rd game kinda refined it a bit but it was still shitty. The combat in this new iteration is generally much better, because you only fight one enemy at a time, and you don't fight very often. That said, it's not without some significant annoyances; you fight each of the 4 bosses multiple times, and with each successive encounter the fighting is broken up with QTE events, which break up the flow and, incredibly, do no actual harm. All that happens if you pass a QTE event is that you go back into combat. Furthermore, near the end of the game, each fight is basically 80% QTE, so your actual window to deal damage becomes progressively narrower until it's a wonder you're doing any damage at all. Even worse is that should you fail a QTE and the princess rescues you, the boss gets healed as well, and this never stopped being annoying.

I should probably back up a bit here and talk about the main point of my initial impression, which was that this new Prince was a bit of a douchebag. Ubisoft has had a real bitch of a time trying to find the right tone with the PoP series, which is odd because they totally got it right in Sands of Time. The 2nd game was all goth and naked chicks and being super intense and hardcore, as if that's what market research said that the franchise really needed, and the 3rd game... you know, I don't even really remember the 3rd game other than it was better than the 2nd one, which I stopped playing less than halfway through because I hated it so much.

Anyway. I think it's fair to say that this year's Prince never truly stops being a douchebag, although certainly there are moments near the end of the game where he lets up just a bit. The game's story is somewhat generic but interesting; there's a few twists but you can see them coming, and here I think there was a pleasant and unintended consequence as a result. (I'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as I can, but you may want to skip to the next paragraph just in case.) The Prince, in this game, is a bit thick; he spends an inordinate amount of time talking about chicks and gold and tomb raiding, and when he's asked about himself he keeps things relatively vague, and while I suppose the game designers thought that would keep him mysterious, it really just makes him appear dense and stupid. I am neither dense nor stupid, however, and as I said above I saw where the story was going long before the Prince did. But what made this interesting is that this lent the rest of the game this accidental air of tragic inevitability that I'm not sure it would have had if the Prince knew what I knew. Two of the biggest themes in the PoP series have been the notion of fate and the illusion of time, both of which also come into play in this game, and I must say I was actually somewhat moved by the game's ending, partially because the Prince stops being such a douchebag, but also because by the time he figured out what I already knew, he did something that I did not expect. The game is set up for at least one sequel (surprise!) but the ending is still very satisfying, and that's not something one sees very often.

(Spoilers over).

The short version is that the game has a decent story but a terrible script. I don't want my Prince to be all "cool" and modern and talking about girls and shit; there's absolutely no sense of time or place in this game, which I suppose would be more frustrating if the game lived or died by its story, which it does not. In any event, the Prince should not sound like he's on a TV show.

I think this review (or whatever this is) comes off as maybe a bit negative, which maybe isn't fair. Or accurate. I really was having fun for a significant portion of my time with it, and that's ultimately the most important thing. But it will not be in my Top 10 of 2008, and I think that's why I guess I'm a little disappointed with it.

Big announcement to come later today, possibly right after I finish posting this. It deserves its own post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

33, 40K

I am 33 years old today, and I broke the 40,000 Achievement Points threshold earlier this morning. I AM KING OF THE WORLD.

Prince of Persia "review" and GOTY posts are forthcoming, as well as a big announcement. For now, though, I am going to enjoy my cup of coffee and wait for my brain to get started; I had a Rock Band birthday party here yesterday and I'm still not fully coherent.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Prince of Douche

I got my hands on the new Prince of Persia today, and I played for about an hour or so. I love the new art direction.


The animations are beautiful, but the control doesn't feel quite right. But I can get used to that, I guess, after a few more hours.


What the fuck is with this guy being a huge fucking douchebag? What the hell is with the writing in games these days?

The thing that made the Sands of Time game so great was its sense of time and place. The thing that makes this game so difficult to deal with is that it might as well be taking place right this very minute, and people today are fucking douchebags. There's no poetry or artful grace in this game; the Prince is a shmoe and Elika is, as all videogame females are, a mystery.

I mean, fuck - even the great Hot Chicks With Douchebags has figured it out.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Zombies ZOMG

Zombies are the new Nazis.

Think about it. Nazis have been the de facto bad guys in popular culture for the last 50 years. They are a perfect enemy; nobody gets offended when you have to kill them. Castle Wolfenstein illustrated this in interactive 3D, and the videogame boom as we know it was born.

I think, however, that we've reached a point in our society where the evilness of Nazis has lost a bit of its power. The videogaming generation did not grow up in WW2, and neither did its parents. When you kill Nazis in videogames, you're not avenging the horrors of the Holocaust anymore, or freeing Europe from the tyrannical grips of a monster; you are killing bad guys in order to make it to the next checkpoint, and Nazis have always been an easy target for game designers because (a) you don't have to worry about cultural sensitivity issues, and (b) who doesn't enjoy killing Nazis? It's just that most WW2 games these days don't really focus on the why; they focus on the experience of the soldier in the middle of the battle, rather than the reason why the soldier is over there in the first place, and as a result, the enemy Nazi soldier is no longer as capital-E Evil because they all look the same and there's so damn many of them.

Enter the zombie.

Zombies have been around forever, but I would point to the 2002 film 28 Days Later as the source of the current zombie revival. (My own personal interest in the coming zombie apocalypse was not borne from movies but from Max Brooks, whose Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z made for highly engrossing and informative reading.) Danny Boyle's film reimagined zombies as less of a slow-moving, brainless dread and more of a HOLY SHIT IT'S COMING RIGHT AT ME AAAAAAAAAA horrorshow, and it seems to have struck quite a nerve; now there's zombie films and games all over the place. In fact, one need look no further than a bonus mode in Call of Duty: World At War to see the ultimate crossover - zombie Nazis.

I bring this up because I spent a highly entertaining hour yesterday with 2 close friends killing hundreds upon hundreds of zombies in Left 4 Dead, and it occured to me in the crazy dreams that ensued later that night that a zombie horde is, in 2008, a far more frightening prospect than a Nazi ambush. And it's also a much more fertile idea for game developers. Nazis can only exist in Europe in the 1940s; zombies can exist anywhere, at any time, and they don't need guns to kill you. They have no political agenda or ideology, they have no apologists, and they never run out of numbers. They can be fast or slow; they can be subhuman and superhuman. ALSO: they can be hilarious (Shaun of the Dead, FIDO).

I'm not saying that Nazis aren't evil; of course they're evil. I'm Jewish, fercrissakes, I'm not suggesting any such thing. I'm simply positing that there will eventually be more zombies than Nazis, and we should all prepare accordingly.

Good Times All Around

Last night was epic.

Last night was the sort of night that makes me seriously reconsider my pick for GOTY. As said previously, I'm refraining from doing the big GOTY post until after Prince of Persia arrives - I'm a huge fan of the series, and with all the positive reviews it's been getting, it could very well have an impact.* But as I've also said previously, I entered the 2008 stretch run still feeling confident in my GOTY choice.

I'm having some serious questions now.

Last night was a night spent with Rock Band 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Let me start with Rock Band 2. My wife and I have a band together: "Lilo and Two Poots", named after our two dogs and their farts. In this band, I play drums (on hard) and she plays guitar (on easy). We'd been hitting a wall in our tour progression, though - Medium is too hard for her on guitar, and there were a bunch of competitions that had Medium difficulty as the lowest available option. And so, as she was out of the house, I took it upon myself to pick up the guitar and plow through the stuff she couldn't do.

And, as a result, I ended up beating the game (I think). There was a 5-song set that we needed in order to open up some new venues, and then there was an 8-song set in Shanghai that would get us on the cover of Rolling Stone. After the RS show, I opened up every other venue in the world, and so obviously there's still a tremendous amount left to do, but the credits rolled anyway. Having only really played RB2 on the drums, it took me a little while to get used to playing guitar again, but I quickly got the hang of it, and I had a friggin' blast. There's so many great songs in that game, and all of the guitar parts are sensible. My biggest problem with Guitar Hero 3 was that the difficulty level often had nothing to do with the actual music that was being played; playing a song on Medium was often times harder than actually playing the actual song on an actual guitar. RB2 does not make that mistake at all - I did my guitar parts on both Hard and Expert last night and the difficulty was absolutely fair; if I screwed up, I knew it was my fault, and if I was able to get 4 or 5 stars at the end, I felt like I'd earned it.

And in the middle of this RB2 insanity, I played some Left 4 Dead with some good friends. We managed to get through an entire story (I can't remember what it's called off the top of my head, but it's the one that ends with the last stand at the boathouse). L4D might not be the most complete game package out there right now; it really just does one specific thing, though, and it does it exceedingly well. We were constantly keeping tabs on each other, racing in to fend off a Hunter on a downed teammate, calling out Boomers, making sure we all had our flashlights turned off if we heard a Witch, setting up gas can traps for oncoming horde assaults... and all the while, the excellent AI-controlled 4th member of our party was watching our 6, healing us when necessary, and never, ever getting in the way. The game is remarkable in its pacing, but also in terms of communication; the three of us were constantly talking to each other, but then (also) our in-game characters would chime in with situationally-appropriate comments which often cracked us up. Not to mention, we all scored a number of Achievements as we progressed, most of which were pretty cool and not really things we were consciously aiming for.

This is a long way of saying that RB2 and L4D are now firmly entrenched in my top 5 of 2008, which is getting more and more crowded with every passing day.

*According to Amazon, I won't be getting my grubby little mitts on PoP until Friday, the 5th.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The 2009 Lust List

I haven't even started my 2008 GOTY post and yet here I am working on a 2009 Lust List. Blame it on Prince of Persia, which arrives later this week (and which is already starting to get some decent reviews). And blame it on my own avoidance of World of Goo, which I finally Steam'd last night; it had been getting all sorts of fawning adulation for months and I could no longer ignore its siren call. And I can't very well hand Braid an indie award without at least trying WoG.

Nevertheless. We are in December of 2008, which means that 2009 is nearly upon us. And as such, it would behoove us to figure out how we're going to be spending our money (and/or divvying up our rental queue real estate). 2007 set an insanely high standard in terms of AAA titles, and while it could be argued that 2008 may not have exactly equalled it in that regard, it was no slouch. So, then: what can we reasonably expect from 2009?

Unfortunately, it's difficult for me, an industry outsider, to say. If one were to only peruse Gamestop's release calendars (as I did), one would never see such heavy hitters as Heavy Rain, Alan Wake, Brutal Legend, The Witcher, and Uncharted 2 (the last 2 being sort-of announced just this morning). 1UP is running a Games of 2009 feature this month, but they're only doing one game per day; I'm sure the other big sites will run similar features as well.

That said, I've done what I can, and what follows is a pretty good idea of what's happening for (at least) the first half of 2009.

  • LOTR: Conquest (multi). I'm hedging my bets on this Battlefront-in-LOTR title, but you never know.
  • Peggle (DS). Never mind that it's been on the PC since last year; it's Peggle on the DS!
  • Star Ocean (PSP). Gamestop lists maybe 5 titles for the PSP coming out in 2009; this is one of two that I was curious about. If it turns out to be a strategy JRPG, though, it's off the list; I do not care for that particular subgenre one bit.
  • Halo Wars (360). My appetite for strategy titles was born purely out of my intense (but brief) love affair with Civ Rev this past summer; Halo Wars is not Civ Rev. And I really don't care all that much about the Halo universe. But this looks to be a quality title, and it will probably be a cold winter.
  • Killzone 2 (PS3). As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important PS3 title of the first half of 2009. Early reports from the Beta are very promising.
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction (multi). I was unaware that this was back on track, but Gamestop lists it as coming out on 2/2/09, which seems awfully soon for a title so riddled with development problems. I am crossing my fingers but not expecting very much, which is kind of sad.
  • Sonic - Ultimate Genesis Collection (multi). Self-explanatory. I've always been a Sega Genesis fanboy, and I probably already own too many of these games as XBLA releases to justify purchasing it, but, well, if you haven't figured out that I'm a total whore by now, you haven't been paying attention.
  • Street Figher 4 (multi). I haven't bought a fighting game since... Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast. I am inexplicably excited for this one, though.
  • Godfather 2 (multi). It's blasphemy that they're making yet another game out of the greatest movies ever made, but at least they're shooting high with this one. It remains to be seen how all the different elements of the game will play out, or if the game even needs the Godfather IP to be successful. I'm moderately intrigued, which makes me nauseous even just typing.
  • DragonQuest 5 (DS)
  • PuzzleQuest Galactrix (DS)
  • Damnation (multi)
  • Chronicles of Riddick (multi). I loved the hell out of it on the Xbox and I will love it again.
  • Resident Evil 5 (multi). I'm not entirely sure how excited I'm going to be for this one. I only ever played the first 20 minutes of RE4 on the Wii and fucking hated it, which makes me one of the only people on Earth to think so.
  • MadWorld (Wii). I have been avoiding coverage of this title for some bizarre reason; everyone seems to think it's going to be totally insane. Maybe it's because it makes me think of No More Heroes, which I never got into.
  • Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure (DS)
  • Alpha Protocol (multi)
  • Phantasy Star Portable (PSP)
  • Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. (multi)
  • Star Ocean: The Last Hope (360)
  • Broken Sword (Wii)
  • Scrabble (DS)
  • Fuel (multi). I loved Codemaster's DiRT but was disappointed in GRiD. I saw some previews for this a little while ago and it looked absolutely insane.
  • Ghostbusters (multi). I'm a little concerned by all the publishing drama it's gone through, and it's probably going to suck. But still. It's Ghostbusters. With (mostly) the original cast, writing their own lines. At the very least, it should be good for a few laughs.
  • Heavy Rain (PS3). I have been told by those in the know that this is going to be 2009's GOTY.
  • God of War 3 (PS3). I'm embarassed to admit that my first GoW game was the PSP title released earlier this year; I have to imagine that this title is going to be ridiculous.
  • Alan Wake (360). If this game doesn't get released this year, I will probably stop caring about it.
  • Final Fantasy XIII (multi). This will be my first FF game. Not sure which platform I'll play it on; if the Achievements are to be as esoteric and impossible as they were for FFXI, I'll play it on the PS3 (which is supposedly the lead development platform, anyway).
  • Brutal Legend (multi). Oh please oh please oh please.
  • The Conduit (Wii). Yet another Wii game that I'm strangely ambivilent about.
  • The Agency (PS3)
  • Just Cause 2 (multi)
  • Bayonetta (multi)
  • Dragon Age Origins (multi)
  • Uncharted 2 (PS3)
  • The Witcher (multi)
  • Duke Nukem Forever (multi). A boy can dream.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Some quick hits as we enter December:
  • Maybe getting up to 40K by the end of the year isn't totally far-fetched. I've got less than 900 points to go, and plenty of Fallout 3 and the forthcoming Prince of Persia to go through, as well as giving Dead Space another, proper go; I suppose I could always try to finish up what's left in Tomb Raider Underworld, if things got really out of hand...
  • Speaking of reaching the end of the year, I'm really just waiting for Prince of Persia to come out before I make my big GOTY post; I don't necessarily think PoP will impact my top 10 one way or the other, but you never know. And I'd love to be wrong about PoP.
  • I finished Tomb Raider over the weekend; as I'd guessed, I wasn't that far off from the end, although I was a bit surprised at how abrupt the end actually turned out. Perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high, but I was pretty disappointed; the game has certain high points but for the most part it feels lazy and uninspired. Supposedly there is 360-exclusive DLC coming up, so I guess I will hold on to my copy for the time being; I would imagine it'll be a bonus level or two (possibly even the Croft Manor puzzle level that's been a favorite of mine in the last two installments).
  • I've only played the first 10 minutes of Chrono Trigger for the DS, which is probably why I'm failing to see this as the greatest RPG of all time.
  • My brother got me the Wii Classic Controller as an early birthday/holiday present. I mention this because having the Classic Controller has finally gotten me excited about owning a Wii again - I'm going to go download Ocarina of Time and Donkey Kong Country. And I think that pretty much says it all, in terms of the state of the Wii this year.
  • I was at a Best Buy on Black Friday - in the afternoon - and the scene was decidedly non-hysterical; indeed, you'd almost never know what day it was if not for various sale-related posters. Anyway, my inability to find a Blackberry Storm very nearly resulted in me getting an iPhone, but cooler heads prevailed, and I was actually able to find and buy a Storm last night in NYC. So far I'm relatively pleased with it; it does the things I want it to do, at any rate. That said:
  1. The contact list is ugly and could use a re-design.
  2. The interface in general is sluggish, although this is supposedly being addressed in an upcoming software update.
  3. There isn't a tremendous amount of apps to use, nor is there a store (that I can find, at any rate) to buy games. It's not a dealbreaker, but having solitaire or sudoku on the go is always handy.
Stay tuned for the forthcoming GOTY post, which will be a doozy.