Tuesday, May 26, 2009

EA Sports Active and the death of Wii Fit / more Sacred 2

It's no secret that I've been incredibly disappointed with the Wii, although it's understandable if this comes as a surprise - I almost never think about it, so I almost never talk about it. It took me almost a year after its release before I was able to get my hands on one, and then, after the initial rush of Super Mario Galaxy wore off, I hardly touched it because there really wasn't anything that compelling to play on it. Eventually I started to accept that as a 33-year-old male hard-core gamer, I was no longer anywhere near Nintendo's target demographic.

Except that as a 33-year-old male hard-core gamer, I'm a bit out of shape. And I knew that if I was going to get up off the couch, I was probably going to need to trick myself into doing it. So I bought Wii Fit a couple weeks ago, with my wife's blessing, and we've been using it for the past month.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really ever fully convinced of Wii Fit's ability to get me to lose weight and get in shape, and the results spoke for themselves - after 3 or 4 weeks, I hadn't lost any weight. Frankly, it was rare if I even broke a sweat. The boxing and hula-hoop "exercises" were the only activities that seemed to raise my heart rate, but they got awfully repetitive (and the sound/music in the boxing activity is just plain awful). And the lack of structure makes it hard for someone like me to stay motivated; it's too easy to slack.

So when the reviews started trickling in for EA Sports Active, I took notice. And this morning, I finished my first workout.


Yes, I broke a sweat. Yes, I worked my ass off. I feel like I burned more calories during this morning's 20-minute session than I did for the entire month I used Wii Fit. The workouts are structured, guided, varied, engaging, and - most importantly - fun. My only real complaint is with the little leg strap that you use to store the nunchuck - it kept sliding off my shorts, and eventually I had to strap it on to my bare thigh. Other than that, though, it looks to be exactly what I needed to get back in shape - I'm very happy I picked it up.


Actually had some substantial game time this weekend, for what felt like the first time in ages. Spent a short time with the InFamous PS3 demo, and I'm definitely looking forward to it; spent an even shorter amount of time with the Tiger Woods 10 demo, which doesn't really seem all that different from the 09 iteration (with the notable exception of in-game scoring, which is a nice touch). Still, a PGA season in Tiger is a nice way to fill in idle hours during the summer.

But most of my time was spent trawling through Sacred 2. I'm now halfway between level 34 and 35; I probably should have written down my stats before writing this up, but I can at least say that I got the achievement for finishing 40% of the side quests (I think that's the achievement that helped me break 44,000) and I'm probably pretty close to getting the Junior Cartographer achievement (see 30% of the map).

I said last time that the voice acting was horrible, and it eventually became so bad that I ended up turing the sound all the way down. This doesn't dramatically affect gameplay, however - I've put in 15-20 hours by now and I couldn't possibly tell you what's going on or why I'm doing what I'm doing. I don't really care, either. To paraphrase Private Joker in "Full Metal Jacket", I'm enjoying meeting interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture... and killing them. The environments have indeed become more varied - they're a bit obvious (swamp, desert, jungle, underground/volcano, etc.) but it still makes for a refreshing change of pace. There are weird glitches from time to time, but nothing game-breaking. The biggest bummer that's affected my experience is the loot management - my carrying capacity is rather small, and because there's no way to stop time in the game, it can be difficult to clear out inventory space without getting jacked by dudes.

So, again - I can't really come right out and recommend it; compared to stuff like Mass Effect and Fallout and Oblivion, it's not even in the same league. But it's also kinda nice to not have to make any moral choices; it's refreshing to simply focus on button mashing and keeping your inventory stocked with good equipment. If you can tolerate that kind of experience, you'll probably enjoy your time with Sacred 2.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Lair of Evil

This post is a few days old already (which means it's ancient history) but it's a very fascinating read about architecture in videogames - specifically, where the bad guys live.

Evil Lair: On the Architecture of the Enemy in Videogame Worlds

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Impressions: Sacred 2

The Vitals: 8-9 hours, level 16.

I've always kinda enjoyed hack-and-slash RPGs; they're relatively mindless but if the combat is satisfying and the environments are interesting it's pretty easy to find that a few hours have mysteriously vanished, and dealing with loot is a fun, diverting meta-game in and of itself. For my money, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance is the finest console iteration of the genre - that game kicked an insane amount of ass. I always felt bad that I kept playing these so-called Diablo clones without having played the actual Diablo games - I picked up the Diablo battlechest a few years ago and, well, they haven't aged well. I mean, you can see why they're awesome but they're still pretty dated.

Anyway, I've put in a non-inconsiderable amount of time into my first Sacred 2 campaign - 8-9 hours is usually the entirety of most console games - and yet I feel like even though I can give you a pretty good idea of what you'd be in for should you decide to try it, it's still too early for me to speak to certain elements of the experience. I have absolutely no idea where the story is going, or what it even is, for starters, and I've only seen a tiny part of the world map; everything I've seen is standard-issue midevil forestry and small towns, with some unexplained and conspicuous steampunk architecture dotting the countryside. I'd love for the environments to be a bit more varied; I'm not ruling that possibility out just yet. I'm reminded a little bit of Titan Quest, actually, in terms of the graphics. Make of that what you will.

Sacred 2 debuted on the PC last year I believe, but you'd never know it - the controls on the Xbox360 are remarkably intuitive and easy to manage. My only real problem with the interface is probably a bug - when looking through loot, there's a "Compare" button mapped to the LB, but it doesn't seem to actually perform that task. This isn't really that big a deal, but I suppose it may turn into one later, when the quality of loot improves.

Combat isn't quite as responsive as I'd like it to be - it can occaisonally feel like it's lagging, like playing WoW on a shitty connection. I've been doing a lot of sidequests, so generally speaking I'm getting one or two-hit kills, but when I get mobbed and my character isn't responding to my button presses, it can get frustrating. It's not a deal-breaker yet, but since games like this pretty much live or die based on how much the player can ignore the repetitiveness of pressing the attack button over and over again, I can see myself getting annoyed after a while.

The biggest problem in the game, by far, is the voice acting - this game very well might feature the worst voice acting I've ever encountered. I'm playing as a female Seraphim (which is what the game defaulted to when I first started it), and every time she opens her mouth (which is never necessary in the first place), I want to jump into the game and punch her in the face. This sin could maybe be forgiveable if it was just her, but the townspeople and questgivers are also this same, paradoxical mix of being too wooden and too expressive. It's so bad that I'm tempted to say you should rent the game just to hear how bad it is. Jesus Christ. Of course, you don't really need to play this game with the sound on anyway - so if you can't handle it, you won't be missing anything.

I guess I'm enjoying it, overall - in this dry season, it's just nice to be playing something - and I'm certainly going to be keeping it in the tray for the forseeable future. But it's got problems, and I'm not sure I'll miss it if something else comes along.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DNF In Memoriam / A Confession

I have a confession to make, but before I do I would like to pour out a proverbial 40 on the grave of the apparently deceased Duke Nukem Forever, if this story and others are to be believed. There's not much that can be said that hasn't already been said about DNF - heavy anticipation gave way to disbelief, which turned into exasperation - and this was about 8 years ago; the jokes about the development time never stopped, and yet people still cared enough to make them. We all wanted DNF to come out, really, and to have it die at this stage in the development - when prominent industry-types had actually seen it in motion and proclaimed that it looked pretty cool - well, it's hard not to be disappointed.

I can't even really say anymore what I was expecting out of DNF, to be honest; the FPS genre has evolved so many times since it was first announced that it was bound to feel dated anyway. But feeling dated doesn't necessarily mean that it wouldn't still be fun; last year's XBLA re-release of Duke Nukem 3D was still totally awesome and it was still possible to appreciate just how far ahead of its time that game really was.

Maybe it'll get picked up by another publisher, and maybe it will actually see the light of day; in this economy, however, it's hard to be optomistic about a publisher willing to take on even more development cost for a product this steeped in controversy. In any event, good luck and godspeed to the 3D Realms cast and crew.


I'm not even sure why I feel the need to confess that I purchased Wii Fit 2 weeks ago. The truth of the matter is that I've been feeling like a fat fuck lately, and I happened to be in a Gamestop that happened to have Wii Fit in stock, and as I was in a perfect storm of self-pity and desire for self-improvement due to a shocking, sudden death in the family, and since I had access to a car, and my wife wasn't totally opposed to the idea, I decided to pull the trigger and go for it.

I've been using it for 2 weeks now; I've skipped a couple days due to hangovers. I do 20-30 minutes in the morning - yoga to start, some strength exercises to warm up, and then some aerobics to get the blood pumping. I'm not entirely sure I'm making any progress, though; everything is pretty low-impact. But at least it's a start; I knew I was going to have to trick myself into getting into shape somehow, and this is certainly better than nothing.


The release calendar doldrums continues, so much so that even the shitty games in my GameFly queue are mostly unavailable. I tried Wheelman last weekend, and gave up a few hours in; the game is actually better than I was expecting, but the missions are really repetitive, ridiculous, and agonizingly long. I got stuck on a mission that still hadn't ended after 30 minutes of driving around and fending off endless hordes of henchmen, and decided to pack it in. Last night I tried out Ninja Blade, which I rented only because I'd heard that the Achievements were pretty easy to come by; beyond that, it is exactly as dumb as I'd prepared myself for.

The next big game on my want-list is Codemaster's upcoming driving game Fuel, but the total lack of PR up to this point makes me a little nervous...