Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Things To Look Forward To #1

I've been doing release calendar posts for a long time; they serve no other purpose than to remind me of what's coming up and to take whatever steps necessary to make sure I can get everything I want to get, and to give any curious bystanders an idea of what sorts of titles I'm interested in.

So this here post marks several firsts - it's the first one I've done at this location, and - more to the point - it's the first one that covers every console, not just the Xbox.

As we're in the spring/summer lull, it's doubtful that there's going to be much here. I can already pretty much guarantee, though, that any multi-platform release listed here will be for the 360, unless there is some sort of jaw-dropping, mind-expanding reason not to; as I've said a million times, the 360 is my platform of choice because that's where all my friends are, and because I am an Achievement Whore.

This calendar will not include every title; just the ones I'm keeping my eye on. I'm using the Gamespot calendar, for what it's worth.
Bold indicates titles I'm already planning on buying.
Italics means titles I'm curious about and will probably rent, at the very least.
Vanilla means titles that have caught my eye, but I haven't taken any action on yet.

Week of May 25, 2008
  • Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
June 1, 2008
  • Ninja Gaiden 2
  • GRID
  • Lego Indiana Jones
  • Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 (PSP)
June 8, 2008
  • Metal Gear Solid 4
June 17, 2008
  • Secret Agent Clank (PSP)
June 22, 2008
  • Alone in the Dark
  • Top Spin 3
June 29, 2008
  • Playstation Home (Is this a game? Is it free? Is it actually happening, and will it work?)
  • StrongBad's Cool Game for Attractive People (Wii)
July 6, 2008
  • Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution (always wanted to try one of these)
  • UT3 (yeah, it's out already for the PS3, but whatevs)
  • GS lists 3 XBLA games coming out this week that will work alongside Fable 2; yes please
July 13, 2008
  • We Love Golf! (Wii)
July 20, 2008
  • FF4 (DS)
  • Order Up! (Wii)
July 27, 2008
  • Soul Calibur 4 (Here's an example where I may end up getting the PS3 version, because Vader > Yoda)
  • Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (Wii)
  • Spectral Force 3 (360)
August 3, 2008
  • nothing
August 10, 2008
  • Madden 09 (meh)
August 17, 2008
  • Too Human
  • Tales of Vesperia
  • Samba de Amigo (Wii)
August 24, 2008
  • Saints Row 2
  • Tiger Woods 09 (very tempted to give this franchise a pass this year)
August 31, 2008
  • Little Big Planet
  • Mercenaries 2
  • Age of Conan (360)
  • Infinite Undiscovery (360)
  • Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood (DS)
  • Lego Batman
That's far enough into the future for now; release dates are always subject to change.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cross-Platform Recap #1

Gaming recaps are boring, but work just got slow and I haven't written anything in this space in a while. And being that I'm now fully one week into total mastery over this generation of consoles, a little documentation is probably necessary.

PS3: While this was an anniversary gift from my wife, it should be stated that this was bought not for the games but for its Blu-Ray abilities, and to that end I went bananas on Amazon and picked up a bunch of Blu-Ray discs:
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian
  • Juno
  • Walk Hard
  • Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Independence Day
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • Run Lola Run
We haven't watched all of them, but I can say that Die Hard looks fucking fantastic, Run Lola Run looks far better than its previous DVD release, and Life of Brian looks about as good as its ever going to look, which maybe isn't saying much but, well, there it is.

The purchase of the PS3 also effectively means that we're now also using the PS3 as our default DVD player; when we bought our HDTV, we also bought a rather awesome OPPO DVD player that has tremendous 1080p upscaling abilities, but the PS3 does a pretty nice job of upscaling as it is.

As for the gaming side of things: I had to choose between Uncharted and Ratchet & Clank, and I chose Uncharted, but then Heavenly Sword arrived in the mail, and I sorta got sucked into it. I didn't finish it, however. Even though the game is only about 5 hours long, and even though I was almost at the end, the game's difficulty suddenly went from "OK" to "Surprise, you suck at this game" and, well, I hate it when that happens. I get what the game is trying to do with the motion control sections, but it doesn't work, and it's almost never fun. (It also pretty much always caught me by surprise - I tend to slump somewhat on the couch, with my controller pointed upwards, and so whenever one of these sections popped up, it always took me a second or two to realize that I had to suddenly sit up straight and really guide these arrows or cannonballs to their intended targets, which they invariably missed anyway.) That said, the game's production values are off the charts, and I can honestly say that I haven't really seen anything like it (or Uncharted, or even the 10 minutes I saw of R&C) on the 360.

Xbox360: I am a little surprised at how little I've thought about Liberty City since I finished GTA4. All throughout my time playing it, I was absolutely convinced that it was the best in the franchise (it is), and that Liberty City was the most absorbing and interesting city I'd ever played in (it is), and that I'd end up gunning for 100% Completion simply because I'd never be able to stop playing. Well, I haven't really played it for more than 10 minutes at a time, very sparingly, over the last week. Perhaps it's because the PS3 distracted me, but I think another, bigger issue is that the ending of the game, while incredibly satisfying on a story-level, made the end-game feel a little... well, weird. I think I can safely say without giving anything away that Nico is a very complicated character, and unlike the other characters in the franchise, he finishes the story in GTA4 not that different from the way he started it. It's very easy for me to run around in the San Andreas endgame because CJ is basically lord and ruler over the entire land, with unlimited wealth and total power over gravity (assuming there's a jetpack handy). Likewise, at the end of Vice City you've taken over the town, with lots of real estate and fancy cars at your disposal. (I must confess that I've never finished GTA3, but I imagine a similar sort of state exists.) In GTA4, though, Nico may have successfully expunged his demons from Eastern Europe, but he's got a whole new set of baggage and scars once he finishes the story, and so it's kind of a bummer to simply maneuver him through the rest of his unfinished tasks; it wasn't until the endgame that I became aware of the game, and not just the story.

That said, I picked up the Assassin's Greed Achievement last night, and I'm still only a little over 70% complete. Being that the release calendar is looking slim, I'm sure I'll get back into it.

Wii: I am absolutely not surprised that I've barely touched it in the last 2 weeks. Kath and I played a bit of Boom Blox, but we both wore out our shoulders in the process. I think we'll play it a bit more when she gets out of her cast and can finally stand up without crutches, but, then, how many times can you play Wii Sports before it just gets kinda lame? Kath has confessed an urge to try Mario Kart, which I had every intention of ignoring... I don't see any way we can pick up a Wii Fit package before August, nor do I think we'd really use it all that much anyway.

DS: I swapped out WordJong and have moved on to CrossWorDS, which is actually a little disappointing. The Crosswords aren't that hard and the interface is actually quite annoying - it is nearly impossible to have the game register a capital "I", which you might imagine is something of a problem. The New York Times Crosswords interface is the gold standard for text input on the DS, and every game that lets you input text ought to use it. The Word Search part of the game is, well, Word Searches, and the Anagram part of the game - the part I was most looking forward to, as I love anagram games - has the stupidest dictionary I've ever seen. "Gin" isn't a word? Really? REALLY?

PSP: I would forget that I owned it, to be honest. I'm an idiot. I do want to finish God of War, and I do want to start Final Fantasy Crisis Core or whatever its called, but it's at the bottom of my priority list.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fully well-rounded

My wife and I have absolutely no patience when it comes to gift-giving; it's incredibly rare that we can actually hold out until the actual day to exchange gifts. Our 4th wedding anniversary is in a little over a week and being that my wife is currently in a cast recovering from foot surgery, this meant that I was actually tasked with not only buying her a gift, but buying myself a gift as well (at her request, and on her dime). And so, last night, I bought her a 32gb iPod Touch, and she bought me a Playstation 3.

The PS3 is going to serve mainly as a Blu-Ray player, which is just fine with me; ever since the format war ended, I knew I was going to get a Blu-Ray player at some point, and so why not the PS3. I did feel compelled to get some games for it, though, because, well, it can do that, and so I picked up Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Ratchet & Clank and spent roughly 10-20 minutes with both.

Uncharted certainly looks really nice, and it plays like a masculine Tomb Raider, which is just fine. And R&C has moments of near-Pixar-like beauty, although I'm not sure it's anything the 360 can't handle.

It is exceedingly weird to now own all 5 major gaming devices (not counting my cellphone, which I play Scrabble and Solitaire on during my commutes and my PC, which I haven't used in a gaming capacity since I stopped playing WoW). I had been an Xbox loyalist - and rather proudly at that - for a very long time. I suppose I kinda still am, to be honest - the 360 still has the most compelling lineup and I am an Achievement whore, and that shit goes a long way when it comes to considering cross-platform purchases. But it is nice to be able to know that I can finally experience all that this generation has to offer.

And hey - I'll give the PS3 a fair shot, now that I have it. I'll admit that I've been a hater since before it launched, and I maintain that there isn't really anything in the PS3 catalog that's screaming for a purchase right now; in fact, there's really not all that much that I'm thinking about renting, either, except for Resistance and maybe Motorstorm. I will probably end up checking out MGS4, but I've hated that franchise for years and nothing I've seen of this new game has done anything to change my opinion that MGS is fantastically overrated. OK, and I am looking forward to LittleBigPlanet. Still, though, that's not really much of anything to get terribly excited about, and unless there's a terribly compelling reason not to, any cross-platform games are gonna be bought for the 360; that's where my friends are, that's where my Achievements are, that's what I'm used to.

Monday, May 12, 2008

GTA4 wrap-up (spoilers)

Finished the story mode in GTA4 over the weekend. Should've written down my stats; off the top of my head, at the time I finished the story, I was a little over 66% complete, and had put in around 37 hours. I suspect I'll keep playing for a bit longer; I don't think I'll ever bother with getting 100%, but certainly there's lots of Achievements left, and ultimately I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to Niko and Liberty City just yet. Right now I'm doing the Assassin missions and Brucie's races, while keeping an eye out for pigeons and stunt jumps.


I chose to kill Playboy X and keep Dwayne alive; I chose to kill Francis and keep the older junkie brother alive (can't remember his name); I chose to keep Darko alive, which surprised me a great deal (it should be said, though, that my controller has glitched out a lot in GTA4, and Niko ends up walking around in circles a lot when I'm not actually doing anything with the controller, and I think Niko glitched out and walked away while I was making up my mind).

But at the very end of the game, I chose to kill Dmitri, rather than do a deal with him. That felt satisfying. Then, of course, Pegorino had to fuck everything up, and the very final mission in the game was the first and only time where GTA4 fell apart for me.

The mission starts out with a long and somewhat aimless chase sequence - but it's not terribly difficult or unusual, or even particularly fast. Then there's a medium-length shoot-out, which can be made much quicker and easier with some strategically thrown grenades. But then there's a motorcycle chase on a beach, which IS unusual being that you're given the shittiest motorcycle in the game, and you're driving on incredibly wonky terrain, and THEN you're flying a helicopter that you've never flown before, with guns that you've never fired which makes controlling it that much more difficult, and the guy you're chasing starts firing rockets at you, which you didn't know he had, and - at least when I played it - you're SUPPOSED to get hit with one, which triggers the final scene. I fucked up the mission from the motorcycle sequence on about 5 or 6 times, and when you replay a failed mission you're stuck with the same stats as you had when the mission ended, so you're dealing with less ammo and less health; basically, it fucking sucked and I hated it because all my 37 hours of playtime left me thoroughly unprepared for the last 3 minutes of gameplay. /end rant

I'm curious to see how much longer I can stay engaged in the endgame, although certainly the multiplayer is reason enough to keep the disc in the tray. I played San Andreas for months after I finished it, and I think GTA4 is a vast improvement over San Andreas.

I love the ambiguity of the ending. Unlike the previous games, there's no triumphant scene, no winner-takes-all montage; Niko is a man in pain, still, and his life is as unsettled as it ever was. I could definitely see his story extending to at least one more sequel, or for as many as Rockstar would want to make for this generation of consoles; he is arguably the most compelling player character in the history of videogames and his story would appear to be far from over. He is a criminal with a conscience; a compassionate but cold-blooded killer; he is a human being, riddled with doubts and yet focused on the task at hand. I think it's telling that GTA4 is the first time the player has been offered the opportunity to actually make choices; Niko's really the first character they've created where you, the player, can actually feel the emotional weight of those choices, as those choices must weigh against Niko.

In any event, it's a masterpiece, even if that last mission sucked. It's a staggering achievement on a multitude of levels, and Rockstar has raised the bar yet again. I have absolutely no idea how they will top it, but if their previous track record is any guide, they most certainly will.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Giant Bomb GTA5 thoughts; Boom Blox; Metroid Prime 3

1. The latest Giant Bombcast is probably the best one they've come out with thus far; it's funny without being "wacky", focused, and informative. They also have a rather nice discussion about GTA4 that I soooooo wish I could have been a part of; namely, what to expect in the next iteration.

Ryan and Jeff talk about how Vice City and San Andreas were not totally unexpected choices when the franchise moved to 3D - those were cities where GTA had apparently already taken place in earlier games. I'm not entirely sure I agree with their implied assertion that the city came first in those games, and then the story (Jeff mentions something quickly about Vice City seemed like a great place for boating, which was a new mechanic in that game); it seems to me that it wasn't the city but the films they decided to embody. Both Vice City and San Andreas don't even really bother hiding their cinematic inspirations, as it seems pretty obvious that the developers basically picked Scarface and Boyz in the Hood as jumping-off points, respectively.

More to the point, Jeff says that his expectations for a new GTA game have definitely changed since playing GTA4 - it's not the city that's the most important thing as much as it is the story, and I absolutely agree - although it should be said that this new Liberty City is a staggering achievement, on a multitude of levels (technological, artistic, geographic, architectural, the city just feels right), and the city goes farther than any before it towards making the story feel real and emotionally involving.

That said, the city is usually the first thing that Rockstar reveals whenever they're getting ready to release a new GTA game. Jeff talks about London (yay!) as something he'd like to see, but also raises a very interesting question, and one that I hadn't considered - would American audiences be alienated by the switch to an unfamiliar locale, considering how the GTA franchise is famous for its satire of American pop culture? I think it could work if the lead character was an American; certainly that would help the American audience see the city through a foreigner's eyes. London isn't that strange a place, anyway, and certainly there's enough of it that would be recognizable. I also think that Rockstar could do a lot with London, and not just in terms of "Austin Powers and ugly teeth" jokes. They're from Scotland, anyway - I feel like this would be right in their wheelhouse.

Anyway. It's kinda ridiculous for me to be theorizing about GTA5 when I'm still working on GTA4. I haven't had much opportunity to play this week; I'll maybe do a mission in the morning, before I go to work, and then I'll play for an hour or so before going to bed. Last night, for example, I decided to ignore the story and go over to the airport to get the 4-star and 500-foot wheelie Achievements, which I succeeded in doing. I died a few times after that, though, and in the process I lost a ton of money and weapons, and I didn't save my game. The Achievements aren't going away, though...

2. Brought home BOOM BLOX for the Wii last night, and my wife and I played through a bunch of the multiplayer; we had a great time, but both of our right arms are absolutely killing us today. Towards the end of our time we figured out that it's not so much in the arm motion as it is in the wrist, and we only figured that out because we couldn't really move our arms anymore.
The game is loosely similar to Jenga, but more destructive and more responsive. The physics are absolutely spot-on and you really feel connected to the action on the screen; the controls are very intuitive and responsive, too (although not totally 100% accurate). I'm not sure it's a game we'll be playing forever and ever, but certainly it's something we can pick up and play.

3. Had a rental copy of Metroid Prime 3 laying around for a while, and I decided to pop that in just to see if it was worth holding on to. Short answer - not really. The storytelling is sophomoric at best and the controls are irksome. I'm not a huge fan of the series so maybe that's why I was so quick to dismiss it; in any event, I played up until the first boss and then sent it back to Gamefly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What to look out for in GTA5, if EA successfully acquires Take Two


For starters, the radio stations would be replaced by the all-seeing, all-knowing DJ Atomica, the music would be considerably less eclectic, and the ZiT in-game feature that lets you know what song you're listening to would simply be replaced with actual text pop-ins, the way every other EA game does.

After all, your cellphone would actually be an iPhone, or a Verizon LG8600, or a RAZR.

The GTA games are known for, among other things, their incredible attention to detail when it comes to satire, and this goes all the way down to the fake commercials on their radio stations, not to mention the tons of signage and branding for their fictional properties - BurgerShot, Sprunk, Cluckin' Bell, etc. EA, on the other hand, is known for their incredible devotion for gratuitous in-game advertising; it would surprise absolutely no-one to see an EA-published GTA take place in a world with real commercials and real billboards for real products, which you could then buy in-game. Imagine getting a health power-up from eating a Big Mac!

Let's see... we've got the EA Trax soundtrack, we've got the gratuitous in-game advertising... well, I suppose we can extend that to Branded Achievements. Drive for 1000 miles and get the GoodYear Tires Achievement; crash into 200 cars for the AllState Insurance Achievement; snipe 100 headshots and get the Johnson & Johnson "No More Tears" Achievement.

Of course, it would be hard to imagine any wholesome product that wouldn't be attacked from the Jack Thompson side of the fence if it allowed itself to be placed in a game this subversive, notorious and controversial. (It hasn't stopped UbiSoft from putting car commercials in Rainbow Six games or Nextel devices in Splinter Cell games - or car commercials in Crackdown, for that matter, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.) This is a long way of saying that GTA5 can't feature any more killing of hookers for points. (Which doesn't happen in the actual GTA, but I digress, again.)

So the storyline and cast of characters would have to be switched up. Which would mean that instead of featuring a compelling and epic narrative about the troubles of a European immigrant fresh from the horrors of war, we'd get a 10-15 hour story about Bobby Flash, a streetwise white kid from the suburbs who hopes to be a skateboard champion but who runs into a gang from the other side of the tracks, probably featuring tons of ridiculously over-the-top FMV cutscenes that likewise fill up the Need For Speed franchise - hey, maybe they can throw in a Need For Speed billboard or two, while they're at it!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

GTA4: stats recap

Tomorrow, May 5, will mark the first day I've had to go to work since GTA4 was released; I thought I'd put up a brief selection of GTA4-related stats before I turn in for the night. I'll do a fuller recap tomorrow.
  • 51.07% game completion
  • 26 hours, 14 minutes, 17 seconds
  • 51 days (in game)
  • 67 missions passed
  • 6 deaths
  • 410 people killed
  • $430,812 on hand (the vast majority of which came from the Three Leaf Clover mission)
  • Favorite radio station: Liberty Rock (I'm guessing this is tabulated by in-car airtime; in terms of the actual music, my favorite stations are Fusion and IF99; for what it's worth, I didn't bother checking to see what the game says my least favorite station is, as I know it's the hardcore station)
  • 9 pigeons
  • 3 jumps
  • 11 Achievements, worth 95 points