Tuesday, March 25, 2008

None More Black

Ian:     The moment we've all been waiting for...Here we go, plenty for
everybody...here you are.
David: I never thought I'd see...I never thought I'd live to see the day.
Ian: What do you think?
Derek: Is this the test pressing?
Ian: No, this is it, yes, that's right...
David: This is "Smell The Glove" by Spinal Tap....
Ian: That's "Smell The Glove" that's, that's the jacket cover, it's
going out across the country in every store.
David: This is the compromise we made...this is the compromise you made?
Ian: Yes.
Derek: Is it going to say anything here, or here along the spine?
David: It's not going to say anything?
Ian: No, it's not going to say anything.
Nigel: It's going to be like this, all black...
Ian: No, it's going to be that simple, beautiful, classic!
Viv: Does look a little bit like, you know, black leather...
Derek: You can see yourself in... both sides.
David: I feel so bad, I feel so bad about this...
Nigel: It's like a black mirror.
David: Well, I think it looks like death...it looks like mourning. I mean it looks...
Ian: David, David, every, every movie, in every cinema is about death;
death sells!
Nigel: I think he's right, there is something about this, that's that's
so black, it's like; "How much more black could this be?"
and the answer is: "None, none... more black."

Played some more Condemned 2 last night, and after about an hour or so I felt compelled to turn it off and stick it back in the GameFly envelope, to be returned and never seen again. It's not a bad game, it's just so relentlessly bleak and dark and there's only so much I can take. The game's first few levels are so black that your flashlight barely makes an impression; I felt like I was developing glaucoma.

There's also that slight but glaring plot hole, which happens to be the same one as in the previous game, namely: you're a detective, investigating various grotesque homocides, and yet the game's actual mechanic is about you violently and savagely beating other people to death with your own bare hands (and blunt objects).

I did make it far enough into the game to see what the new CSI business is all about, and it's much improved over the first game; I'm not a forensics expert, of course, and so I apparently did get a few things wrong, but I appreciate the incorporation of "interpretation" - it's not just that you're looking for clues, it's that you are trying to figure out what they mean. Granted, this really only took up about 5% of my playtime, and often times my investigation was hampered by yet another crazy man beating me with a stick, but still: they heard the problems and they fixed them.

Still, though - I'm not sure I'm that passionate about the franchise anymore. The first game was legitimately creepy (especially the department store level); this game is just morbid, and there's a distinct difference. Creepiness is enticing; morbidity is just depressing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Odd One Out

Stupid title, I know. I'm feeling a little braindead, is the thing. See, I just spent the better part of the last 2 days plowing through the end of Lost Odyssey.

Final tally: a little over 70 hours, 4 main characters at level 81. That's a LOT of random encounters, let me tell you.

I'd love to post a well-written, considered review of the game, but I can't, and it's my wife's fault. My wife is incredibly patient and tolerant of my gaming hobby, but in the case of LO, she couldn't take the battle soundtrack anymore, and when the game's random encounter setting is arbitrarily set to "every 5 steps you take", I had to admit: she was absolutely right. There's only so many times you can hear that theme before your brain starts to hurt. And so I spent the last 15 hours of the game with the sound off, and my iPod on. (This made for quite a few comical moments, actually; during one of the climactic battles at the very end, my iPod decided to play "Ripple" by the Grateful Dead, which had to be the most wrong music to be playing at that moment.)

And, really, I wonder how much I missed out, playing the game with the sound off. By the 60th hour or so, I didn't really need to hear the characters recite poorly-written dialog - especially since I'd had the sound set to Japanese because the English voice acting was grating and annoying. It was pretty clear what I needed to be doing, anyway, and to be honest I kinda just wanted to finish the damn thing so I could start Bully and Condemned 2 in earnest.

In a way, that's part of the problem with the mechanics of JRPGs; most of my time over the last few days was simply grinding the shit out of my characters, and that's not emotionally gratifying or anything. I was having fun, sure - I was grinding with a purpose - but it didn't really have anything to do with the game.

(I should also say that I didn't necessarily intend to grind the shit out of my characters. I was attempting to deal with the Temple of Enlightenment, and I kept getting wiped out, so I ventured out and dealt with some other side quests, and by the time I was ready to deal with the ToE, the game's random-encounter setting was off the goddamned charts. Seriously - it took me somewhere between 8-10 hours to finish that dungeon, and by the time I finally got out I'd leveled up my party by at least 10 levels, and so the final final dungeon was a goddamned cakewalk.)

The pacing at the end of the game was a little weird, too; I'd spent 15 hours actively playing and running and killing and puzzling, and then, in the last battle, after the umpteenth press of the "Attack" command, there was suddenly a 20 minute cutscene - easily the longest one in the game - and by that point all I wanted was to get to the credits so I could get my 125 Points and be done with the goddamned thing.

I'm making this sound a lot more negative than I actually feel. I did have some fun this weekend with the game, I swear - it's just that I wasn't playing the game, I was going through the motions because my iPod was a thousand times more interesting than the same battle music over and over and over again.

Anyway. I'm done with it. I got something like 840 points out of 1000, and I'm not totally sure I'm going to try to get the rest - not with Bully and Condemned (and maybe R6:Vegas?) and GTA4 on the way.

At the very least, here's what I can say about it - even with the conditions I was playing under, it was infinitely more satisfying than Blue Dragon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Back in NYC

It's been a while since I've posted here, which is understandable as I was in London all of last week and, therefore, completely out of the game-playing loop. I came home to find a GameFlown copy of Condemned 2 waiting for me, which was nice, except... I played it for about 30 minutes and had to turn it off.

The problem with Condemned 2 is simply that it's relentlessly bleak and ugly and fucking horrifying, and that's not necessarily a mood that I can just jump into after coming back from a vacation. I still do absolutely want to play it, but I need to be in the right mood, and as of yet I've just not been yearning to climb into an abyss of morbid death.

To be honest, I've not really been yearning to play much of anything these days; I do need to finish Lost Odyssey (and I really, really want to finish it), and now that it's been patched I want to start up on Bully. But I'm not, like, making time for those games right now; I've not kicked my wife out of the living room because I've got to get my fix.

That being said, I think it's fair to say that I am officially beyond-hyped up for GTA4, now that the info and screenshots are coming on a regular basis and we're getting massive previews in magazines. I am indeed contemplating taking that week off from work. I've written more than a few times on my old GS blog about my infatuation for the franchise; it's one of the only game franchises that I care about so deeply that I feel protective over it. I might even go as far to say that it's why I enjoyed Saint's Row as much as I did; SR was the most obvious clone there's ever been and nobody was ready to hate it more than me, and yet it was also the most playable and genuinely enjoyable, and it actually raised my expectations for what GTA4 needed to do. If SR had any particular failing (aside from being unoriginal), it was that it was forgettable; I spent a great deal of time playing that game, but I find that I can't really remember anything about the city, whereas I remember almost every inch of GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas, and for me, that's really the make-or-break criteria for these sandbox games - the sandboxes themselves. There's lots of games now where you can simply run around in a nonlinear fashion, exploring at random or just blowing shit up, but the GTA games absolutely excel at creating memorable, believable environments. SR was just a city; it had all the major elements a city needs to be plausible, but the city itself didn't really have any style. GTA3's version of Liberty City may be primitive by today's technological standards, but that city made sense. Vice City was very clearly a place; you knew right off the bat where (and when) you were, and San Andreas took that concept and multiplied it by a billion.

So what gets me so incredibly excited about GTA4, then, is that they didn't take my idea of expanding on the LA/SanFran/Vegas concept of San Andreas and blowing it up to be the entire country of England (although, let's be honest, that would fucking rule - who wouldn't want to blow up Stonehenge? and can you imagine that soundtrack?); instead, rather than painting in broad strokes, they decided to reinterpret Liberty City to be as real and as detailed as possible. Now, maybe it's just because I've lived in and around New York City for all of my 32 years, but I absolutely cannot wait to run around and see what this new Liberty City is like. My favorite moments in playing GTA games have always come from simply exploring what there is to see. I've said it before and I'll say it again; one of my all-time favorite moments in all my years of gaming was going to the cliff behind the mobster's house in GTA3 and watching the sun rise, if only because that was the first time I'd ever been given the opportunity to do something that innocent. (I suppose I'll have no choice, then, but to go down to the Liberty City equivalent of the South Street Seaport and watch the sun rise there, too, since that's something I've actually done in real life.)

Work beckons. Anyway, this post was simply to say that I'm still alive and will (hopefully) be posting more frequently, even if nobody's reading. I actually do have some other things I want to talk about - especially about my initial disappointment in what's happening with GiantBomb.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Quick One Before He Goes Away

Tomorrow I leave for London for a week; family vacation. In other words, plenty of DS time during the down time. I bought Wordjong because, well, I like word games and puzzle games, and that's as good a combination of both as there is on the DS right now. It's fine, I just wish there was more to it; or, at least, that the bottom screen was a little bigger.

And as long as we're talking about word/puzzle games, I would LOVE to see a Scrabble game for the DS, but which would also include Scrabble Blast and Scrabble Rack - both of which are available free online, and both of which would greatly enhance a DS Scrabble cartridge. (Blast is a Boggle-y sort of game, and Rack is an anagram/word finding game, both of which I've spent too many workplace hours with.)

I had just enough time last night to try out my GameFlown copies of MLB2K8 and Bully; I want to keep my queue intact for when I get back, and that would mean having a copy of Condemned 2 waiting to be opened. Quick impressions:

It took me exactly 3 minutes of gameplay to tell me that MLB2K8 absolutely sucks. Say what you will about EA and Madden, and how fucking terrible it is that EA basically eliminated the NFL2K series - and I've said it - at least Madden still manages to be playable, year after interminable year. I was pleased that the MLB2K series was able to snag exclusive baseball rights, if only to serve as a nice "fuck you" to EA, but by the same token, they've done absolutely NOTHING with the privilege; if anything, they've managed to make each successive year's game somehow worse. I will never understand why I should have to re-learn how to play the same baseball game I've been playing for years, especially when the new changes feel incredibly unintuitive and unnecessary, and ESPECIALLY when there are still horrendous problems that never get fixed. MBL2K8 is somehow uglier than 2K7, which seems preposterous. I didn't even get 2 outs into the top of the 1st inning before I knew that it just wasn't worth it.

Conversely, it took me about 10 minutes to realize that I'm going to want to spend some serious time with Bully; I was only able to do see the first few cutscenes and get into a few fistfights before I had to turn it off, but I'm intrigued. When I get back from London, my plan is to finish Lost Odyssey and then work with Bully until GTA4 drops. Sounds like a plan.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Hypothetical Question #1

This image comes from Xbox360 Fanboy's preview of the upcoming Xbox360 game Dark Sector. Dark Sector is not a game I care about, and Xbox360 Fanboy has clearly altered this image with a fake achievement. Which brings me to this inaugural installment of "Hypothetical Question."

HQ#1 - Would you play an Xbox360 game if it had the potential for 2000 Achievement Points, but also had the ability to lower your overall Gamerscore if you played it poorly?