Saturday, January 24, 2009

Weekend Recap: Fallout 3, The Maw, RE5 demo

So I accidentally finished Fallout 3 over the weekend. That's a problem, of course, because when you finish the last quest, the game is over; the credits roll, and that's it, and I still had a bunch of stuff I never finished doing, as well as a bunch of other stuff I never saw. I (fortunately) had a save point right before the last mission, and so I've taken advantage of this rip in the space-time continuum in order to keep playing and exploring. This also means that I can start messing around with the DLC and still be super-powered.

Fallout 3 is a very impressive game, on many levels, but it's also problematic. After all the hours I've put into it, the combat still hasn't ever really felt totally satisfying - come to think of it, I had the same problem with Mass Effect. My favorite thing in the game, ultimately, is simply exploring and finding new points on the map, and yet this is also a little bit of a bummer because everything kinda looks the same. Still - the amount of content and the level of detail is absolutely staggering, and Bethesda did a really great job revitalizing this franchise. I'm going to be keeping this game in my rotation for quite some time to come; I've got a few more Achievements to score, of course, but really there's just so much more in the world that I've yet to see.

Played a bit of The Maw, which is one of the better XBLA titles to hit in some time. It's pretty simple but very enjoyable, although I'm not sure there's a lot of replay value. (I tend to prefer my XBLA games - as well as my handhelds - to be either puzzles or just straight-up arcade titles, as they don't get too repetitive.)

Speaking of which, I actually fired up my PSP this weekend and tried to play the latest Star Ocean title. Unfortunately, I stopped giving a shit about 10 minutes in; endless, unskippable cutscenes plagued the pacing and I'm a little tired of cookie-cutter JRPGs. I would regret buying a PSP more if I remembered I still had it. I came very close to trading it (and all my games for it) towards Wii Fit this weekend, except (of course) Wii Fit was sold out everywhere.

Finally, I fired up the Resident Evil 5 demo this morning before I left for work. Not ideal circumstances for trying highly anticipated titles, but whatever. I saw what I needed to see, and what I saw is that it's basically a hi-def RE4 with slightly less clumsy controls. I'm hoping to try it tonight via online co-op; maybe that'll make the experience less disappointing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Saints Row 2: endgame

So I've done just about as much as I can in Saints Row 2; I'm cashing out at around 70% completion, and while I haven't finished all the activities (and the Achievements that accompany them), I've bought pretty much every store in the game so I'm never going to be short on cash.

The endgame in SR2 is basically just one big crazy fever dream; there's definitely a lot more to do than in GTA4, but it must be said that Stillwater isn't nearly as interesting to explore as Liberty City is. And because SR2 is so much less punishing than GTA4 in terms of death and/or failure, it eventually feels a bit too arcade-y. Which is fine, I guess; it is its own thing, now. The first Saints Row felt like a direct challenge to the craziness that was San Andreas, but GTA4's change in focus was so unexpected that Saints Row 2 really feels truly different. GTA4's seismic shift in tone was so radical that I'm not sure that the GTA franchise can ever go back to the over-the-top craziness of its earlier games; and as such, Saints Row now has the green light to basically go fucking crazy - which, to its credit, has always been its focus anyway.

And so I am curious as to how the franchise will evolve. SR2's story (and city) is a direct continuation of SR1 (however improbable that may be), and your character's journey by the end of SR2 is pretty much as far as that character can go. If we are so fortunate as to get a Saints Row 3, I really only have two requests: we need a new city to play with, and the game will need a bit more technical polish. (Also: the Achievements could maybe be a bit less grueling. I sunk 20+ hours into the game and I've got less than 300 points to show for it.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Things That Make No Sense: The Killzone 2 Demo

This article from MTV Multiplayer explains Sony's justification of its bizarre and counter-intuitive Killzone 2 promotion, wherein the Killzone 2 demo is being offered 24 days before the game's release only for people who pre-order the game from Gamestop.

MTV's Stephen Totillo asks the relevant question:
Why would Sony do this? Isn’t the practice of selling a demo to people who have already committed to order the game contrary to the logic of why one would release a demo?
And Sony gives the following answer:
"Offering a playable demo to motivate preorders speaks to our confidence in the appeal of a game such as Killzone 2. We take this approach when we are convinced that the experience will cement a consumer’s interest in purchasing. Retailers will then merchandise those demos within their stores and online to maximize their visibility. Through this process, consumers are often times able to reserve their copy of the final game, which provides an incentive to purchase and helps seal the deal. We also offer demos on the PSN, which we have done in the past with great success, and will continue to make that available. Killzone 2, for example, will have a downloadable demo launch in North America the week that the game is launching, for consumers who prefer that option.”
Read the first sentence again. Here, I'll isolate it and bold it for you:
Offering a playable demo to motivate preorders speaks to our confidence in the appeal of a game such as Killzone 2.
No, no it doesn't. To the extent that sentence makes any coherent sense at all, it does precisely the opposite. Killzone 2 is one of the most anticipated titles for the PS3 this year - it's also one of the only exclusive titels for the PS3 this year, but that's besides the point - and yet Sony's marketing blitz for it has been, for lack of a better word, non-existent. Which is to say, if you didn't already know about it, you wouldn't know anything about it.

Releasing a demo for a highly anticipated game ONLY for people who have already spent money on it tells me that they don't have a lot of faith in the game; it tells me that if the uneducated and unwashed masses were to get their hands on the demo a few weeks before the game was released, they'd be disappointed and thus less inclined to pre-order.

And really, while we're at it, what is it about Killzone 2 that makes it so highly anticipated, anyway? The first game supposedly boasted fantastic production values, especially for an aging PS2 system, but didn't really get great review scores (Metacritic average is 7.0); and if I remember correctly, the first trailer for it - the one that dropped every jaw at E3 a few years ago - turned out to be a "target render" and not actual gameplay.

Sony has been languishing in 3rd place ever since it launched, and doing arrogant, nonsensical, stupid shit like this only reinforces the idea that they truly have no idea what they're doing. And I say this as a PS3 owner, as someone who really wants the PS3 to succeed and be great and not simply exist as an overpriced Blu-Ray player.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Weekend Recap: Getting Reacquainted

The current economic downturn affects us all in different ways. As Gred wrote last week (in SFTC's 100th post, no less), 1up got bought up by UGO and killed EGM in the process. It's hit me as well; I'm definitely more aware than ever of what I'm spending my money on. If there's any good to be had out of this situation, then, it's that this is a wonderful opportunity to re-explore all the stuff I'd already bought and never finished. I bought a lot of music last year, but I still haven't listened to all of it; similarly, I've got a stack of books next to my bed that I am going to force myself to finish instead of buying anything new. And, certainly, I've got a few games in my library that I never finished, and now is as good a time as any to get my money's worth.

It is true that there are some big titles coming in February (Street Fighter 4, Killzone 2), but there's also some notable DLC coming as well - Fable 2 arrives this week, GTA4 arrives soon after and the Fallout 3 stuff looks so interesting that I'm going to pause my progression until it comes out. (Not sure if the Burnout Paradise car pack qualifies as must-have DLC - the car models are cool, yes, but it's not like it dramatically changes the experience).

Anyway, I spent some time this weekend getting reacquainted with some of these games; I found a super kick-ass sword in Fable 2 which will hopefully come in handy, I did some achievement hunting in GTA4 (finally finishing Jacob's deliveries and the LCPD most wanted missions), and did a tiny little bit of screwing around in Fallout. But mostly, all that GTA4 action reminded me that I really ought to get back into Saints Row 2, which happened to sort-of win Zero Punctuation's GOTY.

[Ed: I just went back through the STFC archive because I know I've written about SR2 before and this next paragraph was starting to sound familiar, and sure enough, I've already written pretty much the same stuff twice (1, 2). But I'll say it again, because it's still true.]

Goddamn, that game is fun. It's also a little broken; I'm currently bogged down in a mission where the shit gets so crazy that the frame rate pretty much just gives up. But the point is: the shit really and truly gets crazy, and I salute it for being so committed and going so completely balls-out in that direction. GTA4 is the superior game, there's no doubt about that, but what I love about SR2 is that even though it's gleefully insane, it's also oddly powerful.

One particular cutscene that I came across last night took me very much by surprise - and without giving away too much, it makes me wonder just how many reviewers even watched it because as far as I know, nobody talked about it at all and yet they all made a pretty huge deal out of a notable, similarly-themed cutscene in Gears of War 2 (i.e., the scene with Dom). Granted, Gears is a somewhat higher-profile title than SR2, and so it was big news that Gears even bothered to put a story in the game at all, but still - this same kind of moment is in SR2, and it works, even though (or maybe especially because) the game surrounding it is totally bananas. SR2 is in many ways the anti-GTA4 because of how purposefully ridiculous the story and the characters are, and yet it still manages to have some heavy shit tucked away where you least expect it.

I need to try some SR2 online co-op; this is definitely the sort of sandbox - even moreso than GTA4 - where you would be saying "HOLY SHIT DID YOU JUST SEE THAT" over and over again.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

SFTC to fill 1UP void

Happy New Year indeed. It's official. The UGO network has announced that it will be acquiring Ziff-Davis's website and related properties, and Ziff is to allow EGM to die a quick death. (Read Joystiq's coverage of the fiasco here.) A broad rash of layoffs at 1up have been announced, including the canning of such industry mainstays as Shane Bettenhausen and James "Milkman" Mielke. Not to mention, many of 1up's long-running and beloved podcasts such as 1up Yours and the 1up Show are done, as well as the relatively young but excellent 1up FM podcast. Whoa.

On the one hand, this isn't really news. The writing has been on the wall for quite a while. But on the other hand, it's hard to embrace the reality of a world without EGM and a good chunk of what made 1up 1up. These guys were passionate, and a lot of them really knew their shit.

EGM has been a staple in video game culture for several centuries now. But with the rise of the Internets, print media has been having an increasingly rougher go of things, not to mention print media in the gaming space. When you have a tech-savvy core audience which is starved for info about the games they love, who pore over screenshots as soon as they become available on the 'nets, it's hard for a print magazine to compete given the necessary delay in getting that info and media to its fanatic technogeek base. Also, word is there's some sort of global war on prosperity going on, and advertising and marketing budgets have taken some of the heaviest casualties. Until this generation I've generally been a one-console-per-generation guy, so I never actually subscribed to EGM. But I read and enjoyed it from time to time. Mostly, it's just gonna be weird not to see it on the stands any more. It's been around forever. *sigh*

As for the 1up podcasts, I was a fan. 1up Yours had begun to lose some of its swagger after the departure of people like Luke Smith and Mark McDonald, who gave it a lot of its appeal, but the recent return of John Davison as a regular was bringing it back to form. I was a weekly listener. Not to mention 1up FM which, although fairly new, maintained a high level of quality and charm pretty much from the get-go. Co-hosts Nick Suttner and Phil Kollar? Axed. Dang.

So happy trails to all. We at SFTC shall do our best to pay tribute to the departed by... I guess by continuing to occasionally post our random brain dumps about gaming.

At least I still have my trusty Lehman Brothers' gaming podcast. Oh, wait a sec...

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Best Achievement, 2009 Edition

Until yesterday, my 2 favorite Achievements were getting all 500 Agility Orbs in Crackdown and getting the Wax Off Achievement in Geometry Wars 2. But it will be difficult for anything to top my first Achievement for 2009; I have never exerted so much mental and physical energy to get 20 Points as when my wife and I played Rock Band 2 for literally 10 hours in a row yesterday, doing The Endless Setlist. I was playing drums on Hard, but my wife was playing guitar on Medium and so that's all we got credit for; that said, she saved my ass repeatedly during the last 3 or 4 songs and so I wouldn't have been able to finish it without her.

(We got five stars on pretty much everything right up until those last 4 songs, and then we just got killed left and right. I think it kinda sucks that you spend so much time playing all sorts of cool songs only to finish with a bunch of speed-metal sludge; I understand why it's there but I'd much rather finish with something a little more musical.)

My arms and legs are totally sore now, and I think I'm going to take an extended break from playing drums. But it was totally worth it; my wife and I climbed a mountain together, and that's a pretty awesome way to start a new year.