Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pure / SW:FU / Too Human

It's been a while; sorry about that. Not exactly sure who I'm apologizing to, but I'm putting it out there anyway.

Most of the last week or so has been spent slogging through Too Human and Star Wars: Force Unleashed. I was surprised as anybody to make it all the way through to the 4th area of Too Human; I was even more surprised to be thoroughly turned off by SW:FU by the end of the 2nd boss.

The reviews of Too Human have been more negative than positive, and I certainly have to agree; that said, there's definitely a great game in there somewhere, and if they can fix what needs to be fixed for the sequel, I'll definitely sign up. Those fixes are pretty simple to identify:
  • Right stick controls camera; this is not negotiable
  • Better inventory management; for a game with this much loot, it's not negotiable
  • Faster loading in/out of menus
  • If dying in the game absolutely necessitates having a Valkyrie descend from Valhalla, then at least make the process 3 seconds long instead of 30
I can deal with the repetitive combat and even some of the glitches, if those 4 things are taken care of.

As for Star Wars: Force Unleashed, well, I'm not really sure what can be said for it. It's certainly very pretty, but it's also hellishly glitchy, the checkpoint save system sucks, the boss fights are either stupid or cheap, and the rhythm of the gameplay, at least for the little that I played, was all over the place. My expectations for this game weren't necessarily sky-high, but I was certainly hoping to like it more than I did.

I traded in Mercs 2 (ugh) and Tales of Vesperia (meh) yesterday and thus I only had to shell out $5 for Pure, which is exactly what it should be: dumb fun. It's also fucking gorgeous. For whatever reason, I'm a sucker for a good ATV game, and Pure is scratching that particular itch quite effectively.

Finished a PGA Tour season in Tiger Woods 09, which I'd sorta forgotten I owned; will probably finish the Tiger Challenge and then call it a day with that one. And I'm still aiming to do all the police missions in GTA4, and I'll hopefully get to that in the next few weeks, before all the super good stuff shows up in stores.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A re-appreciation of GTA4, because of how crappy Mercs 2 is

When it comes to ranking my favorite franchises - not single games, but franchises as a whole - I have no hesitation in putting GTA at the top of my list. As far as the games in the GTA franchise, though, it's not so cut and dried; all of them have their charms, even if the last-gen games are dated. Still, when I have to think about it, GTA4 is my favorite, even though I tend to think about San Andreas the most.

Anyway. This post is only kinda about GTA4. My weekend was spent with a bunch of new and semi-new 360 titles: Mercs 2, Tiger 09, Tales of Vesperia, Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, and Infinite Undiscovery.

Infinite Undiscovery is intriguing, but underwhemling. Between IU and ToV, IU has better graphics and a better battle system, as well as a stupid story, stupid characters, a noticeable lack of music, and some rough edges.

Viva Pinata feels like an expansion pack, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; I did like the first game a great deal. If anything, my problem with the new VP is that there's too much stuff going on at once, and keeping up with managing everything is more frustrating than challenging. The game does a very nice job of showing you how everything works, and then, suddenly, there's a zillion species that I'm trying to get organized, and most of them have romance or resident requirements that entail getting stuff that I've never seen. Most annoyingly, you get a size increase at level 11; I stopped being able to deal with everything at level 10. I'm not sure that a moderate size increase would have helped me, though.

I made a tactical error in Tiger 09, which is going to haunt me for the rest of the year. I've decided to abandon the Tiger Challenge and simply play the PGA Tour mode, and since my character is a bad-ass and I've set all the tournaments to one round, I've been breezing along. However, I decided to skip one particular low-paying tournament to go straight to a high-paying Major, and after I did so I realized that even if I won every remaning tournament, I'd miss out on one particular Trophy Ball, and thus an Achievement, and that my time-saving choice will actually ultimately mean that I have to play through the entire Tour AGAIN.


I finished the first "dungeon" in Tales of Vesperia; I'm still on the fence about it, although I'm not as quick to return it as I was for Infinite Undiscovery. Not quite sure what it is about that game that isn't resonating with me.

And as for Mercs 2... I'm done with it. Mercs 2 is actually why I decided to get back into GTA4 and go for 100%; I have little patience for bullshit, and Mercs 2 is chock full of bullshit. But even beyond the many design flaws, the technical issues and the stupid story, the thing that finally killed it for me was the in-game advertising. Yesterday I was stuck re-doing a mission that kept going wrong at the last minute, and I happened to look up and saw a movie poster for the new DeNiro/Pacino movie that's coming out. Why a Hollywood movie would be playing in war-torn Venezuela is beyond me, especially since I haven't seen any movie theaters in any of the cities, but more to the point, it was proof that EA felt it was more important to get in-game signage working than to fix all the other problems that game has. The first game generated a lot of good will - it was a GTA clone, sure, but it was striving to do more than just exist as an easy cash-in; it had its own identity and it executed on its vision exceedingly well. Mercs 2, on the other hand, does feel like a cash-in; it feels unfinished, unpolished and, most depressingly, it feels like it was designed by corporate suits instead of game developers.

It was my frustration with everything that Mercs 2 was doing wrong that got me back into GTA4, as a matter of fact, and now I'm back in love with it, if for no other reason than GTA4 understands that RIGHT TRIGGER = GAS and LEFT TRIGGER = BRAKE. Mercs 2 commits many sins, but none greater than fucking up the driving controls and not giving an option to customize them; it took me too long to get used to the Mercs 2 controls, and then it took me a while to un-learn them and get used to doing things the right way in GTA4. Which is ridiculous, considering how much time I've spent with GTA4. DAMN YOU, Mercs 2, for fucking that up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Impressions: Mercs 2 / Tiger 09 / Tales of Vesperia

I'd rush-ordered Tales of Vesperia last week, figuring that with the 3-day weekend, I'd have ample time to mess about with it. As it happened, though, I barely touched it; did a lot of and Tiger 09 and Mercenaries 2 instead.

Mercs 2:
I'm a little concerned about Mercs 2. I'm only about 3 or 4 hours into it, and yet I've unlocked almost 300 Achievement Points and my save file indicates that I'm just over 40% complete. For an open world game, that doesn't bode well at all.

As a huge fan of the first game I had very high hopes for the sequel, but I can't really say that I'm all that impressed this time around. Graphically, it's a bit spotty; textures pop in and out all the time, and even when they're fully in they're not necessarily all that pretty. The driving model is pretty strange and doesn't really feel quite right, especially when it comes to braking to a full stop (for all the game's emphasis on physics, the laws of inertia do not apply at all when jumping out of a moving vehicle). Blowing things up - the hallmark of the franchise - is still fun, but to be perfectly honest, I haven't really had many opportunities to blow anything up just yet (however, I only unlocked the airstrike support option this very morning right before I went to work, so maybe that will change now).

And, of course, the game does suffer a bit from EA-itis - there's lots of poorly-written and generally unnecessary emphasis on how bad-ass these characters are.

I do appreciate the game's new economy feature - you can't just call in supplies and air support willy-nilly now, you need to have enough fuel stockpiled to arrange for this stuff; which means that in addition to the missions, you also need to be on the lookout for fuel, cash and armaments you can arrange to steal via airlift. (There's a logic flaw in this, though - it costs fuel to get stuff airlifted to your location, but it costs no fuel to steal stuff - and I've stolen far more stuff than I've ordered, and from farther away than any of the missions I've been on.)

That said, I'm a little underwhelmed, especially if the game is as short as it appears it may be.

Tiger 09
Tried to get some online golf going over the weekend, but EA's servers were a bit wonky and we couldn't get it to work. That said, there doesn't appear to be an in-game option to invite anyone from your friends list; you have to create a game lobby and then back out to the 360 guide button, which is where you invite someone. This seems to be a bit too many steps than necessary, and it's especially confusing when the server isn't working.

As for the single player - it is definitely the best iteration in the franchise that I've yet played. All it really needs, in Tiger '10, is a graphical upgrade; while the players and the courses look good, the backgrounds and the trees look PS1-ish, and there are issues with the camera during certain shots (especially with long putts where the camera doesn't always follow the ball into the hole, which means you have no idea what you just did).

Tales of Vesperia
As noted above, I didn't really get around to this one. I did about an hour's worth late Friday/early Saturday, and that was about it. I'll need to spend more time with it when I can put 100% focus into it. What I saw was interesting. Combat is a little tricky, at least in terms of the controls.