Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A quick and dirty defense

I saw a movie recently; it started out with 2 thugs slicing up a prostitute, featured multiple brutal beatings, and ended with a massive bloodbath, including the murder of the town sheriff. Was this movie considered pornographic? Was there a massive outcry? Were pundits up in arms, talking about how sick and depraved Hollywood was?

Actually, the movie was "Unforgiven", and won 4 Oscars.

When I've surfaced every few hours from GTA4 to check my real-life RSS feeds, I've noticed that my "Games" folder has been filled - and not just from - with story after story about people getting all bent out of shape about GTA4 - it's a murder simulator, it glorifies violence, it - well, let them say it:

The glorification of killing of any police officer is just wrong. I mean, it desensitizes people to the real mayhem that’s going on out on the streets, and we already have a real problem with people not valuing human life.

People don’t seem to have a problem turning guns on cops, and this game — I know it’s just a game, but people sometimes have trouble separating reality from fantasy.

* * *

There’s a new world of entertainment here… But what does it contain? In this case, [protagonist Niko Bellic] kills, maims, has sex, then kills and maims some more, while also stealing various forms of transportation…

What “Grand Theft Auto IV” affirms is the pleasure of eschewing decency for obnoxious violence…

And, of course, there's always the "you can have sex with prostitutes and then kill them to get your money back" line... These kinds of arguments are infuriating, because they fail to address what the game is actually about. It's an easy thing to say; it's similar to how the mainstream media always gets annoyed with bloggers and immediately invalidates anything a blogger says because "they're unwashed and live in their parents' basement."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It has begun

I'm not sure I know how many hours I've put into GTA4 today. I ended up waiting in the midnight line last night; got my copy at around 1:00 or so; ended up going to bed around 3:30. Started playing again this morning at 10:00, and have been pretty much going straight through until now, 5:30pm, with a few breaks in between...

I'm so tired and incoherent. I feel slightly hungover, even though I've been totally sober throughout this whole process. Actually, it's more like: I feel like I haven't blinked all day.

So I'm not really in any position to discuss the game. I can say that I've surprised myself by mostly adhering to the main story and side missions; I haven't really done any adventuring (I guess I'm saving that for when I unlock Manhattan). I've gone on a few dates; I've shot some pool; I've not gotten drunk yet. I've killed people, both accidentally and on purpose; I've also finally discovered what this game's "hidden package" is, and it's a little weird. Appropriate, but weird.

I suspect I'm speaking into the void, now, anyway - you're all either already playing it, or you're waiting to get home to start playing it. (Or, you're not playing it at all, in which case: why not?)

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Wii: telling you what you already know

My Wii code, should you want it, is: 3993 4497 6732 5460. There are lots of things to like about the Wii, but the integration of online functionality is not one of them. I'd had my Wii for 2 or 3 days before I accidentally stumbled across my Wii code, and then couldn't remember how I found it. I've added a bunch of people to my address book, but I have no way of letting them know that I've done so. And, more to the point, I'm not really using my Wii for online gaming anyway; Mario Kart will be a rental, eventually, once I'm done with GTA4.

Oh, GTA4. To be honest, I'm kinda looking forward to the day when I'm able to complete a blog post without talking about GTA4. That said, I'm more looking forward to tomorrow, when I can finally start playing it. Haven't quite decided whether to wait in line tonight or to just show up when the store opens at 10. BLAH BLAH BLAH

Anyway. I'm talking about the Wii, here, now.

It's a shame that I'm only now getting into Mario Galaxy, since I'm about to put it back down for an indefinite period of time; it's awesome. I'm about 12 or 13 stars into it; I played last night for a few hours or so and was kicking all sorts of ass, until I decided to check out the Sweet Sweet galaxy; I very promptly lost about 5 or 6 lives, right at the end. It was my fault for doing so - the level design was tough but fair, and my deaths were absolutely my responsibility, which I can accept - I'd rather it be my fault than a shitty camera or some sort of glitch. The level design continues to impress and astound, and the controls are freakishly intuitive, considering my unfamiliarity with the controllers.

Oh well. Niko > Mario. I can't wait to jump on the hyperbole train; and anyway, that's my train, I own it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Timing is everything

Good news: the second half of my package arrived today, and because it arrived a day late, Circuit City refunded me $38 in shipping.

More good news: Trading in Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party 8 helped me completely pay off my GTA4 preorder.

Even better news: Picked up the Wii component cables, and WOW do they make a big difference. It still doesn't look anything like what I've gotten used to on the 360, but at least it looks respectable. Okami, specifically, looks 100x better. Zelda, on the other hand, still kinda looks washed out and last-gen.

There is no bad news; only bad timing. I've now got a pretty respectable Wii library:
  • Super Mario Galaxy (which is, indeed, wonderful - more later)
  • Super Paper Mario (which is also really good)
  • Zelda Twilight Princess (which is, well, Zelda)
  • Resident Evil 4 (which I'm not sure when I'm going to get to)
  • Okami (see RE4)
  • Wii Play (which I'm not going to get to until my wife fully recovers from foot surgery and can stand on both feet)
Sure, it's not every AAA Wii title, but for a brand-new Wii owner it's certainly got some legs. The problem, of course, is knowing what to commit to with so many options available. I dabbled in Paper Mario and Zelda, but I knew that as soon as Galaxy arrived, that would be my main preoccupation, and so far that seems to be the case. Galaxy is wonderfully unique and inventive, and the praise and fuss was definitely deserved.

Of course... then I saw that IGN posted the first video review of GTA4.

Fuuuuck. It looks goooooooood.

It was bad enough just wanting it without really seeing it in action; now it's just unfair. When I was at my local Gamestop earlier today, I asked what their numbers were for GTA4 preorders, because I was tempted to wait in line for the midnight release; they said they had 400 preorders, and the Gamestop further down the street had over 1000. So I guess that's out. I have to go to work on Tuesday anyway; I suppose I can wait until I get home from work.

So the Wii will have to waiit. And meanwhile, my new PSP is already getting neglected! I am such an idiot.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wii'd: the followup

It's always something. I'd started to track my orders from about 15 minutes after I pulled the trigger yesterday morning, and by 3 in the afternoon I'd noticed that something was screwy; my bundle was being shipped in 2 boxes, and only one box had actually been picked up from the warehouse. By 7, my Wii was en route to the shipping facility, whereas my games were in no man's land; by 12:30 this afternoon, I'd already finished unpacking my Wii and getting it hooked up to the internet, and by 1:00 I'd finished my absurdly frustrating and confusing call with Circuit City's customer service, who informed me that they would absolutely consider refunding my shipping charges once I finally received the package.

But obviously, I can't leave well enough alone; of the 4 games I was waiting for (and obliged to purchase, for purposes of the bundle), only Mario Galaxy was worth caring about. So I ventured out to the local Gamestop and procured:

Zelda: Twilight Princess
Super Paper Mario
Resident Evil 4

First impressions: the Wii itself is a neat little device. Setup was surprisingly quick and painless. The controllers have a nice, appropriate weight to them - especially the remote, whose vibration is very well done. Coming from someone who's gotten very used to XBL over the last few years, the Wii's dashboard functionality is limited, but useful and well organized.

As for the games: before I went to Gamestop, I (of course) tried out Wii Sports, because that's what you're supposed to do when you have a Wii. I'd already played a little bit of it last Thanksgiving, but that doesn't really count - I was playing with my 10-year-old stepbrother, who is a Wii genius, and I was kinda drunk, and only really got about 15-20 minutes with it anyway. Today, on the other hand, left to my own devices (since Kath is laid up recovering from foot surgery), I actually broke a little bit of a sweat. Bowling was actually a lot more fun than I expected, especially since I hit around 115-120, which is what I generally bowl in real life.

I only spent between 15-30 minutes with the other 4 "real" games today; I just wanted to check them out, not wanting to commit to any in particular (especially with Galaxy supposedly on the way, and ESPECIALLY since the Wii is going to be collecting dust after Tuesday). Immediately I noticed that I've been spoiled rotten by my 360 and my HDTV; I've gotten very used to 1080p, and the Wii doesn't even come with component cables, so everything looks like crap. I'm gonna have to get some component cables tomorrow, because JESUS CHRIST everything looks like it has a shitty watercolor filter over it - and it's especially bad in the case of Okami, which features painting as an integral gameplay mechanic.

I also think I need to maybe reposition my sensor bar; right now it's on top of my TV, and when I sit on my couch I feel like I'm not getting accurate readings. When I stand up, it's fine. I don't want to have to play Zelda standing up.

Just checked my tracking details: no new updates since 7:48pm, when it "left origin". I'm going to assume that means that it'll arrive tomorrow. So, then: tomorrow afternoon, I go back to Gamestop, trade in Super Smash Bros and maybe Mario Party 8, get component cables and maybe fully pay off my GTA4 pre-order.

I gotta say: it's nice to be in this gen fully committed. It's financially irresponsible, perhaps, but it's also just nice to be able to fully understand what's happening in the scene right now. I suppose I'm not totally fully committed until I get a PS3, and I'm really only getting a PS3 for the Blu-Ray, but that's neither here nor there - I will be owning one at some point, and I can finally come out from the Xbox fanboy mentality. (Which suited me quite well, I should say - the 360 remains the best option out there right now, and I've yet to see anything to convince me otherwise.)

More tomorrow. (Well, today, technically speaking, as it's now 12:18am.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I am a consumer whore: Vol. 2, Ep. 1

I've been trying to convince my friend Max to get an Xbox360 for the last year or so; he assures me that he really does want one, but he's trying to cut down his debt, and he's hoping to score it during the holidays. However, he blindsided me on Monday by telling me that he managed to score a Wii, thanks to

And so, of course, I had to check out the site and see what it was all about. I've wanted a Wii since launch but they've been impossible to find, and I've gotten used to not having one - especially since there are really only about 5-6 games I'm interested in playing. But, as I said, I felt compelled to check out the site. 15 minutes later, I signed up and set up some alerts; 30 minutes after that, I got my first text message.

Cutting to the chase, then: this morning I got a text message - Circuit City finally had bundles available, and for a pretty reasonable price. And so...


...I got one.

The bundle itself isn't necessarily top-notch, at least as far as the selection of games goes. I got:
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • Mario Party 8
  • Wii Play (for the extra remote)
I will most likely trade in Brawl and Party for Zelda and maybe RE4 or Okami. I'll check 'em out, of course, but I don't really see myself giving a shit about either of those games.

Anyway. I'm glad I'm finally getting one, although I was truly ready to forgo the Wii altogether in lieu of scoring a PS3 later this summer.

And it's not like I'll be playing it very much once GTA4 drops next week.

I am such a goddamned whore.

(Wii friend codes are always appreciated; I'll post mine once I find out what it is.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Weight of Waiting

I am compelled to keep blogging in this space - even more so than on my other, "real-life" blog - because the wait for GTA4 is turning into an all-consuming hunger. I've already taken time off from work for it (even though I have a legitimate and necessary reason for doing so that has nothing at all to do with it), and every time my RSS reader dings, I become inexplicably giddy at the thought of getting new GTA4-related information.

And so today I'm trying to figure out what other soon-to-be-released games I can recall getting this bent out of shape over. This list isn't necessarily reflective of my all-time favorite games (although certainly most of these would make the list); this is simply a list of the games that I absolutely could not wait for any longer.

1. On the 360, there's been a lot of big titles to get excited for - and believe me, I've been foaming at the mouth for most of them, especially Mass Effect - but I guess I'd have to put Oblivion at the top of my list, which was a surprise to me even while it was happening:
I'm not even sure I myself knew how much I was looking forward to Oblivion; certainly I got really caught up in the hype over the last few months; I pre-ordered the Collector's Edition, I sucked up every available preview and direct-feed morsel I could find; I even watched some of Gamespot's 12-hour playtest, which I had originally dismissed as being the most retarded idea I'd ever heard. Here's the funny part - I bought Morrowind - twice, for both PC and Xbox - but while I really appreciated the concept, I never got further than reaching the first quest-related town of Balmora before I lost interest. Between the two platforms I probably put in a total of 8 hours. Why, then, was Oblivion such a coveted purchase? Why was I so deeply enamored with a sequel to a game I'd hardly put any effort into? Was I a sucker for PR? I don't even own an HDTV, so it's not like my inner graphics-whore/crack-addict was going to receive that sort of gratification...
2. On the Xbox, I was tempted to say it's the GTA Double Pack and/or Fable (I was also excited for KOTOR, but not to the same extent, even if its become one of my all-time favorites), but I think it has to be Psychonauts, which had been first announced in 2002 and was one of my primary reasons for buying an Xbox in the first place (along with the Oddworld games, which, sadly, weren't all they could have been). That Psychonauts managed to still be awesome under the weight of years of expectations is a remarkable achievement, even if the Meat Circus ended up driving me (and many others) totally batshit insane.

3. On the PC... well, to be honest, it's been quite a long time since my PC was my primary gaming center, and I can't recall being amped up for a game that I knew I was only going to be playing on my PC. I did get excited for Neverwinter Nights, I guess, but that wasn't an all-encompassing hunger. And I'm not afraid to admit that I've been looking forward for Duke Nukem Forever for, well, forever - and when they finally get around to releasing DukeNukem 3D for XBLA, I will DEFINITELY be going crazy for it.
After that... well, I'm not sure. When I was a little kid with an Atari 2600, I really can't recall getting excited about new releases, because (a) there was no internet, (b) since my parents bought the games for me, I had no choice in the matter as to what to get excited about. If anything, I would get excited to get games that other friends of mine already had. Same thing with my brother's Sega Genesis, which I never bought games for, either. But by the same token, we could play all those old games OVER and OVER and OVER again - we didn't necessarily need anything new when we could keep having fun with what we already had. (Boy, I miss those days!)

So, what about you? What games have you been unable to sit still for?

Monday, April 14, 2008


It's nice having a PSP, even though there's really not a tremendous amount of stuff I can do with it; I put God of War aside so I could play the PSP GTA games, and I haven't even touched the Crisis Core Final Fantasy game yet. The problem is, all those games are somewhat... involving, and you kinda need sound in order to get the full experience, and if you put them down for more than a few days, it's harder to pick them back up and remember what's going on. One of the reasons why I like the DS so much is that, unlike the PSP, there are lots of puzzle games that don't require sound or any complicated set up - if I'm on the subway, or simply playing before bed, I like the idea of simply being in a puzzle, and not having to get involved in some sort of story - I like exercising that specific part of my brain.

Which is why Crush is such a nice change of pace, as far as the PSP goes. I'm already thoroughly entranced by the 2D/3D mechanic because of FEZ which runs along very similar lines, and Crush fills the logic puzzle / no-sound-required PSP void quite admirably. If anything, the game is proving that my brain may not quite be ready for this kind of puzzling; while the game does a pretty good job of easing you into the mechanics, it also ramps up in difficulty at a somewhat accelerated pace - well, at least for me it does.

It's certainly worth at least a rental; there are only 40 levels, so that might not necessitate a purchase. At my current rate, though, it's doubtful I'll see them all any time soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bully for you, bully for me

Was home sick yesterday, which sucked on a multitude of levels - aside from just feeling like crap all day, it was also the first bona fide beautiful day of the year, and all I could do to celebrate was to open my living room window a smidge.

I did get some gaming time in, though, because, well, that's what I do when I'm home sick. And since all I can think about these days is the impending release of GTA4, I spent most of the day playing Rockstar games.

I even put aside God of War on my PSP to get into GTA: Liberty City Stories, and it must be said that while the game itself is definitely showing its age, it's still a pretty remarkable feeling to be playing a fully fleshed-out GTA game on a handheld, especially when it arguably looks better than the original PS2 version.

The vast majority of yesterday, though, was spent getting back into Bully, a game I'd put down a few weeks ago and, for whatever reason, never got around to picking back up. Basically played through all of Chapter 3 and am now a few missions into Chapter 4; I've finished all my morning classes and I think I only have 2 Shop classes and 2 Photography classes left; I've found all 6 transistor radios and as a result I'm almost unstoppable in a fight, even against 5 or 6 jocks. There's a pleasant mix of missions now; some are a little harder than others, but most of them can be beaten in one go. At first I wasn't sure how much of a completist I was aiming to be, but I've all but abandoned the idea of getting 100% now; I'll get all the rubber bands, gnomes and G&G cards (now that I've got the maps) and that'll probably be the extent of it.

One mission cracked me up, and then also kinda made me cringe: Photography 3, I think it was. The mission: go to the seedy part of town (New Coventry) and take 5 pictures of "hobos or dogs". If anybody wants to know why Rockstar's sandbox games "work" on a level that other GTA clones don't, this has to be Exhibit A. Let me pull back the layers on this one:
  • Photography 1 was taking pictures of flags; Photography 2 was (if I remember correctly) taking portraits of classmates. But the idea of having high school students actively seeking out and taking pictures of homeless people as a class assignment - especially when the pictures themselves are graded on how crazy and decrepit the people are - is a spot-on impression of every stereotypically pretentious art student out there, and BOY OH BOY did this remind me of people I knew in high school.
  • But then, when I got to New Coventry, it took me a while to find the hobos, because the seediness of the town ends up making everyone look a little shady and suspicious, and suddenly I found myself making off-the-cuff judgments of character of everybody I rode past.
  • And then, when you do find the crazy people - or, at least, you take enough pictures of random people and suddenly one of them gets marked as a successful photograph - you now recognize what you're looking for, but the fact that the mission is timed lends a degree of urgency to the mission, because suddenly the mission isn't about documenting the plight of the homeless and the poignancy of the human condition - it's about making sure you snap a picture with enough time to get back to class.
Now, not all of Bully's missions have this many levels of subtext to them - in fact, I'm not necessarily sure that this particular mission was intended to be read with this level of detail, especially since all classes are optional - but goddamn, this one (a) cracked me up and (b) made me a little bit uncomfortable. I guess I should be grateful that the graphics are so last-gen, because doing this mission in an Unreal 3.0 world might have made it somehow less subversive than it ended up being.

Still hoping to have it finished before the 29th, because after that I'm toast. I was thinking about liveblogging my GTA4 experience; as it happens, when GTA4 comes out, my wife will be home recovering from a surgery and I'm taking vacation time to take care of her, and her office is giving her a laptop so that she can work from home; she may or may not still be taking painkillers that week, but I doubt she'll be working, at any rate, so the possibility exists that I could play and type at the same time.

There's also a part of my brain that says: "Fuck that. I want to play GTA4, not document the experience of playing it." And you can't get immersed in a world when you're constantly pulling yourself out of the experience.

Maybe I'll just keep a tape recorder handy.

Friday, April 4, 2008

PSP: God of War

I bought 5 games for my PSP yesterday, which is probably a little too much to digest at once. I tried all of them for about 5 minutes - enough to reach a save point - and then decided to stick with God of War: Chains of Olympus.

Before I even get to GoW, though, let me talk about the PSP itself. This is really the first time I've ever actually held one in my hands, so I can't make any comparisons between the Slim (which is what I bought) and the Original (which I didn't). Generally speaking, it's a pretty impressive little machine. The FMV in Crisis Core: FF7 is friggin' gorgeous, so now I understand the appeal of the PSP as a movie-watching device (as much as David Lynch might disapprove.) That said, the clarity of the FMV only served to point out how not beautiful the actual gameplay graphics are - having played 360 games on an HDTV for so long, it's hard to go back to PS2 graphics (as impressive as they may be for a handheld). The sound is also impressive; I fired up one of the GTA games - I think it was Vice City - and the Foreigner song that opened the game's first scene was shockingly pristine.

The battery life leaves a lot to be desired - 5 hours won't cross the Atlantic. I do appreciate, though, that the PSP tells you exactly how much time is left. I wonder if there's an appreciable difference if the sound is off? I tend to play my DS games without sound, which isn't really a problem since you don't need sound for Crosswords, PuzzleQuest or WordJong. Sound, though, definitely enhances something like God of War.

Which brings me back to God of War. I should maybe feel a wee bit embarrassed that my first experience with the GoW franchise is this PSP edition; I never owned a PS2, what can I say? At least now I understand what all the fuss is about. It doesn't necessarily feel that revolutionary or life-changing - in fact, it kinda feels very familiar. What it does do is provide tons of visceral, bloody, acrobatic combat, and it has a pretty remarkable sense of scale. I've of course heard about the titanic size of bosses in the PS2 games, and I must admit I actually laughed out loud when I was introduced to what I thought was the game's first boss - the monster that I was about to fight was then promptly eaten by the game's real first boss, whose head was twice as big as the entire monster he ate.

I'm about 3 save points in, which obviously isn't very far at all. I think the biggest thing for me is that since I'm totally unfamiliar with Sony's controllers, I am constantly screwing up the Quick-Time Events because I can't remember which button is which. (Whereas on the 360, I'm a total whiz.) I get it, though - I get what the game is trying to do, I get what it's about, and (obviously) whenever I get around to getting a PS3, I will absolutely be on board for GoW3.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


So I couldn't contain myself any longer; on my lunch hour today, I went to the Best Buy over on 5th Avenue and bought:
  • PSP slim
  • 2gb memory stick
  • Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • MLB08
  • GTA: Liberty City Stories
  • GTA: Vice City Stories
Total: $400.13. It's burning a hole in my bag; all I want to do is rip open the box and start playing, but I know that as soon as I do, I'll start getting super-busy at work, and in any event, I didn't buy any sort of carrying case, and I don't really want to have it just sitting loose in my bag.

That said. This is a watershed moment: this is my first piece of Sony-manufactured gaming equipment that I've ever purchased. I played a lot of PS1 at my buddy Jongre's apartment back in my post-college years (mostly the Oddworld games, with some Crash Bandicoot here and there), but never owned one myself; I bought a Dreamcast instead of a PS2, and then bought an Xbox; I had a Gameboy and then a DS, which covered my handheld needs, and I'm still holding off on a PS3 until later this year.

The PSP, though... it's strange. I've wanted one ever since they announced it, but then the dead pixel thing happened when it launched and outraged everybody, and until recently there's been almost nothing worth playing on it. Plus, that horrendous "all i want for christmas is a psp" fake-commercial really turned me off - even now I've got that fucking song stuck in my head.

I've seen people playing it on the subway and I'm always curious to see it in action, and yet I never really get that good a look; display units at stores are generally useless, since they're (a) never turned on or (b) playing something I don't care about.

There are other games that I'm curious to check out...
  • Lumines (although I've already got it on XBLA, and I'm not very good at it)
  • the 3d Castlevania game
  • Wipeout / Wipeout Pure
  • flOw
  • Jean D'arc
  • Disgaea (or however you spell it)
...but I'm not, like, foaming at the mouth for any of them, and I'm sure I can track them down on GameFly.

If I have time tonight, I'll try to have a full rundown for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bully; Flatout

This lead-up to GTA4's release is killing me; nothing but crap for new releases. So while I'm bulldozing my way through Bully, I'm also catching up on some older titles via GameFly.

Flatout: Ultimate Carnage is a game I wanted to love; I was a fan of the original title on the Xbox and I was looking forward to the inevitable next-gen entry. In some ways, it's great: it's gorgeous, and even with 12 cars driving through dirt and running over piles of tires and debris, it always maintains a smooth frame rate. However, it's also frustratingly difficult. I won my first few races pretty easily (and the rubber-band AI was actually pretty effective in carving out some exciting victories), and then, suddenly, I was getting my ass kicked left and right, and no amount of restarting (or car-tuning) made any discernible difference. Which sucks.

And as for Bully: I finished Chapter 2 last night. Probably 12-15 hours in at this point. What does it say about me that my main priority with this game was to make sure I attended and excelled in every class? At this point, though, I'm glad I've been so studious - it's unlocked lots of useful skills. My biggest complaint in Bully is that the game clock moves at a tremendous rate, and I feel like there's never any real time to explore or do anything, which somewhat defeats the purpose of playing in a sandbox. Each day in Bully, for me, goes something like this:

8:00: wake up, save game.
9:00: find class, do class.
11:30: save.
1:00: class.
3:30: save.
3:30-12:00 - jobs/missions/errands/exploration.

Which is, in some ways, what real life is like. Except that in Bully, one minute = one second, so each afternoon I feel like I only have time to do one or two things. With so many cops around, truancy is a dangerous option. This is why I feel compelled to complete all my classes, so that I don't have to hang around the school.

Anyway. I'm not sure it will get me through until GTA4's release, but it'll have to do for now.