Sunday, January 31, 2010

Swimming in armor.

My comparison to Soul Reaver was spot on, especially now that annoying bosses have been thrown into the mix. There is nothing quite like dying several times while trying to figure out exactly what you are supposed to do to hurt one. Realistically, this was my fault. It is common video game knowledge that the new weapon picked up in the dungeon will be instrumental in defeating the monster at the end, I just forgot that I had it. It also doesn't help that War's hit box (yes, I have started playing Street Fighter again, and I have not gotten any better) seems to be larger than his actual size. The pattern that I discovered was throw bomb, ignite bomb with the glaive from Krull, dodge angry burning demon. It was a sound plan, but complicated by a janky dodge move, it took much longer than it should have.

Genetos was an incredible way to spend twenty minutes. It is also free, so everyone should go and get it. It's a shmup, so actual skill will be required to get through it, but it will be worth inevitable cramped fingers from playing on the arrow keys of your key board. Gameplay in Genetos evolves through several generations of shooters (Space Invaders, Galaga, Raiden, Panzer Dragoon, Rez, as far as I can tell) and your ship evolves with it. Different weapons are awarded based on how you play; I ended up with a larger bomb because I was less than judicial in their use and ran out, but there are many other possibilities that I have yet to uncover. It gets a little weird and new agey at the end, but no one ever played a shmup for the story. This would have easily have been worth $10 on XBLA, so to get it for free (legitimately) on the PC is just an added bonus.

And it ran on my laptop fine, which means I will be able to mess with it at work.

Not playing Mass Effect 2 while the majority of my friends list is busy ridding the universe of evil and Captain Kirking their way through alien women hurts a little bit. I suppose actually buying it is an option. Who knows when it will actually show up from GameFly.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Changing gears.

I was slamming on the Y button for several seconds after starting Darksiders, with no results, when I realized that Bayonetta may have broken my ability to enjoy adventure games with simple combat. First of all the Y button doesn't do anything right away in Darksiders; X is the attack button. Secondly, there are about three different combinations and the enemies are idiots. Darksiders dodge is much less of a get out of jail free card, though. Bayonetta could dodge colliding planets with a back flip and hip thrust; poor War has to actually dodge in the appropriate direction.

Comparing the two games is completely unfair. I mean, Bayonetta is killing angels and War is killing mostly demons. No similarity there, right? I had read that Darksiders was essentially Zelda in disguise, but I think it is much closer to the Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and not just because of how angsty the protagonist is. As anorexic as the combat starts out, there is more to unlock, and it is still deeper than anything Link is capable of. The Zelda games are puzzle platformers with fighting elements and Darksiders is a fighting platformer with puzzle elements. (This little bit of self serving semantics prevents me from having to own a Nintendo platform. That, and I think motion control is for ninnys.) I predict it will be an an enjoyable trip through the aftermath of Armageddon, but it will shy away from anything truly disturbing in a religious sense. If you really want to offend some Catholics, wait for Dante's Inferno.

I am looking forward to that game and I know I shouldn't be. It is just God of War with the Greek mythology stripped off and Christian mythology pasted on. I just want to know if they go all the way with it and have Satan frozen in a lake, chewing on the three betrayers. Only one game has ever been so gory that I thought it was too much (Condemned 2 with the bums being tortured in the basement, ew). I wonder if EA has the guts to finish what they started.

On a completely different subject, I just downloaded Genetos, a freeware shooter that looks very interesting. Here's hoping it works on my laptop.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Spirals in the mind.

I was in a feverish and shaky state when I finished Bayonetta last night. Truly, a mind altered by high temperature is not one that should be exposed to imagery so bizarre, fanciful, and, well, Japanese. As soon as the credits were done I shut everything down and crawled off to bed, only to have my thoughts steadfastly refuse to be silenced. Over and over combinations of images ran through it, some from the game, some much worse, until I was desperate to simply lose consciousness. Perhaps I was asleep the entire time, reliving the countless murders that I had stripper strutted through that evening, paying for my virtual sins. Eventually it ended and I awoke just as tired and sick as when I went to bed. Lesson learned, but soon to be forgotten.

Bayonetta actually got easier as the game went along. I found a few sets of moves that I could pull off on a regular basis, and they worked well enough to get me through. I suspect that this will not work on higher difficulties, there is depth to the combat system that I haven't even touched, depth more on par with Soul Caliber and Virtua Fighter. If time were no object, I would play it again, in spite of my dislike for the main character. Bayonetta's combat would have worked with stick people in an off-white box; it's a shame Sega felt the need to tart it up so much. I am most likely falling into the typical American point of view that sex is bad and violence is OK, but it's what I am used to seeing in games. Even the sex scenes in Mass Effect, Darkwatch, God of War and Dragon Age just felt out of place, but at least they were egregious for only a short amount of time. Bayonetta never stops.

I am actually a little embarrassed that I could so easily rattle off four games with with naughty bits in them. Oh wait, forgot about Indigo Prophecy. Now I am really embarrassed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not enough hours in the day.

The list. The list never changes.

It never gets shorter. If anything, for every game that comes off the list two more are added. It is unlikely that publishers are suddenly putting out more good games. My tastes are just broadening, I am becoming less picky, or I need to find something new to fill my time. Regardless, Bayonetta and Darksiders are here right now. Both games are actually pretty good, leggy abominations aside, which is a rare thing for me. Saboteur just shipped, which is supposedly not as good, but I like what I have seen so far. It only gets worse from there: Mass Effect 2 has been missed and will be played later. BioShock 2 and Dante's Inferno are landing on the same day, which means at least one of them will also not get played. There are about seven other leftovers from last year, mostly terrible, but things that I just need to see. For example, I know Fairytale Fights is a bad game, but part of me just needs to know how bad and to try to understand what they were thinking when they made it. Morbid gamer curiosity, I suppose; I like playing the occasional train wreck.

And my body has the audacity to require sleep.

Bayonetta is obviously a game that is designed to be played through multiple times. There are items that I cannot imagine having enough halos to purchase without grinding through at a higher difficulty, and there are challenge rooms that are almost impossible without them. While I will not be paying for this strip tease a second time, I am very glad that I chose to play it at the highest available difficulty right away: Normal. While locking out higher levels from the outset seems harsh, the game is actually prepping you for a harder run. Jumping into hard with no previous experience would be a great way to never play the game again. Forcing players to learn how the combat works first will actually extend the game's life. Success, even in tiny amounts, is much more fun than getting your ass kicked by steam punk angels who spawn out of thin air. Normal is actually teaching you how to play hard. After that is the equivalent of 'Dante must Die' mode, something that I have only seen and never experienced, nor will I even attempt it.

I enjoy having my fingers intact.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

ZZ Top had it right.

Much like that video, Bayonetta has succeeded in making me uncomfortable.

It's not that Bayonetta is hopelessly out of proportion below the waist. It's not the British accent and librarian glasses. It certainly isn't the violence, which is fast paced but missing the visceral-ness of God of War or Devil May Cry. Bayonetta the game makes me uncomfotable because Bayonetta the character makes me uncomfortable. Everything she does is gratuitous, but not in a 'Wow, I cannot believe that I just saw that' way; it's much more of a 'Wow, I really wish I didn't see that.' way. I understand injecting a bit of sexiness into a game to keep people interested, but I don't need almost constant crotch shots and stripper walking between levels. Bayonetta goes from alluring to icky in about a level and a half, and there is a long way to go.

It's a good thing that the combat is better then Devil May Cry or God of War. This is not a marginal improvement, either, it's head and shoulders above either of them. After muddeling along for several hours something clicked in the middle of a fight and I went from spending far to much time on my back (which, I assume, she was okay with) to juggling multiple enemies while dodging attacks and spinning on my head. It was a revelation made possible by the game nor really punishing me for sucking before, just making fun of me. This places it above even Ninja Gaiden, in my opinion. Ninja Gaiden assumes you are godly from the beginning, and if you aren't, too bad, find something else to play. Bayonetta at least gave me the chance to try.

Still, Bayonetta is getting more difficult to look at with each passing hour. You know who got sexy video game girl right?


And she didn't even have guns on her feet and her legs weren't twice as long as the rest of her.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dark Void Review

Where's Jennifer Connelly?

Jet packs are right up there with flying cars on the list of things that, according to cartoons and movies, we should have by now. I am sure that somewhere in some dusty military warehouse there is a working prototype right next to the ark of the covenant, but it will never see public use. Even if it did I wouldn't be able to mount machine guns on it and shoot down flying saucers; it would turn into just another way to get to work, and who wants to do that any faster than they have to? Games dedicated to rocket men are few and far between as well. The Rocketeer comes to mind, and that was bad even for an NES game. Still, expectations were high for Dark Void. Airtight Games is made up of more than a few people who put together Crimson Skies, which was one of my favorite oXbox games, multiplayer or otherwise. Dark Void lacks air piracy, but at least there is (purportedly) flying around and shooting things, which is as good a place as any to start.

Fly around you do, in the very first level, which would be an excellent introduction if the flying was any good. I was not expecting simulator-esque controls. On the contrary, straight arcade dog fights like the ones from Heroes over Europe would have been just fine. The way the jet pack moves is certainly not realistic, but it is also far to slow for what is basically a man flying though the air with his ass on fire. Turning around to catch up with a passed opponent takes forever, forcing the use of special moves to stay on a target. These moves eat up boost meter and are very disorienting, which leads to chasing around single enemies chipping away at their health with an almost uncontrollable targeting cursor for minutes at a time. This is also assuming that another bad guy doesn't fly in behind you and fill you full of holes. The jet pack hero may turn like a much larger plane, but he takes hits like the small, squishy target he really is.

Bonus points if you knew who this was before googling Tesla.

The prologue is definitely a trial by fire, but just as I got a hold of things it ended and it was all taken away. Enter Will, the swarthy protagonist who looks a bit like Nathan Drake, acts a lot like Nathan Drake, and sounds exactly like Nathan Drake. This isn't an homage, this is lifting an excellent character from an excellent game and dropping him into a mediocre game with mediocre writing and below average dialogue (in other words, Indiana Jones 4). It would be easy to overlook if it was just his voice that was the same, Nolan North is everywhere these days and you can't fault a guy for making a living, but Will might as well be the same person. He even mumbles when he takes a hit, only he complains over and over about bruising easily and has nothing else to say. It is quite fitting that Will is an unremarkable character: up until he can fly there is nothing interesting about what he does either.

For the first two agonizing levels Will is nothing more than a thin Marcus Fenix in a game that neither looks as good nor plays as well as other games in the genre. For a game that was supposed to be about flying around there is an awful lot of time spent not flying. When Will finally gets a jet pack (from Nickola Tesla, who wins the character out of left field award) it is limited to giving him a glorified double jump. So instead of a bland horizontal shooter it becomes a bland 'vertical' shooter. This new mechanic probably sounded good on paper, but it is little more than an easy test for vertigo susceptibility. The vertical cover would actually make more sense if it were applied over larger areas instead as killer ladders with pop out targets. It's not a bad idea (mostly because it didn't make me dizzy) but it is not applied well.

What game am I playing again?

Will does eventually get a full blown jet pack, but the controls never get any better than they were in the prologue. It is much easier to hijack enemies flying saucers than it is to shoot them down, and jumping into a stationary turret is even more effective than that. I spent several long sections of a game supposedly about flying sitting in an anti-air gun. Sure, I could have gotten out and tried to actually the use the pack, but it was never worth the effort. The final level finally forces actual flying skills, but it is only for a single boss and then the game is done. Dark Void starts out shaky, and at around five hours it is never given the chance to improve. The questionable flight controls could have been overcome with more time. Instead the game ends just as it is about to begin with a lousy plot twist that matches the quality of everything that came before it.

I expected a lot more from Dark Void. I was looking forward to the easy to learn but accurate flying of Crimson Skies and I didn't get it. I was not looking for just another third person shooter which is exactly what I got. This is yet another action game with flight sections thrown in, and the flying just isn't good enough to warrant wading through everything else. A reasonable plot would have been nice, too, instead I got The Adventures of Nathan Drake's long lost brother, an uninteresting love interest, and Tesla in the Bermuda Triangle. Play it for laughs or gamerpoints, perhaps, but Dark Void is not a trip worth taking if you are looking for anything else.

Monday, January 25, 2010

In defense of my green friend.

Remember when Street Fighter II fought with Mortal Kombat for your hard earned quarters? If you don't, get off my lawn right now. If you do, then you remember that Mortal Kombat was graphic, but Street Fighter II looked better. There were no palette swaps in Street Fighter II (actually I suppose Ryu and Ken sort of count, but at least they had different sprites). Every character was different, everyone found a favorite, and everyone swore their choice was the best. I distinctly remember seeing Blanka the first time and deciding that he was my guy. I wanted to win with Blanka.

It would take years for that to actually happen.

I played Blanka with limited success for a long time, happy to be the one guy who used him even though I wasn't any good. Capcom vs SNK 2 was the first game that I was actually okay at, mostly because I finally figured out how to cancel a jab into a ball, opening up a whole world of two hit combos. Plus I stopped caring about being cheap and abused his bite. This would follow me to Super Street Fighter II HDR, where I based my whole game around face chewing. It did a lot of damage, pissed people off, had tremendous range, was mashable; a perfect griefing move. HDR Blanka is, in my opinion, the best the beast has ever been.

As of late (in this thread) Blanka has been getting more than a little grief. His hit box is wierd! His balls can abuse lag! He is nothing but down back and annoying! You can't do anything to him on wake up!

Suck it up!

Blanka has no fireball, average health, most of his shenanigans only work once or twice before they can be punished, he can be played defensivly but wheres the fun in that, and his head bite has been so nerfed it is barely worth the time anymore! On the plus side, he rides a whale in his ending. A whale! Ken wishes he could ride a whale, and by that I mean ride Rufus like the bitch he is. He has more chest hair than Zangief, bigger thighs than Chun Li and more balls than anyone else. He kicks ass, is electric, and he loves his momma, how can you resist?

He suits my middle abilty play style just fine. I have never seen a Blanka win a tournament, not that I am good enough to actually attend one; I have found that a well played Ryu is my undoing, and there are a lot of those around. To all those who hate him, play a few games as your nemesis and figure him out, there's a lot more there than down back and random balls.

I assumed that Darksiders would not be arriving today, so I rented Bayonetta. Turns out it did, and now I have to choose between one of the four horseman and a girl with long legs.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

That's it?

I am usually not one to complain about a game being too short. One of my favorite games of last year, Flower, clocked in at under five hours, but it packed more emotional buy in into that five hours than most epic length grind fests could ever dream of. That is not to say that a game being short is always forgivable. Look at Heavenly Sword: it was right on the cusp of moving from bad to good when it ended in the middle of the trasition. Leaving the player wanting more is one thing, but this kind of disappointment left me happy that there wasn't any, and that new ip's don't always spawn endless sequels. Once again, this brings me to Dark Void.

It takes a criminally long time to get a fully functioning jet pack, and when you finally do the controls are far to sluggish to keep up with the enemies being thrown at you. Just as I got used to them (got over them being bad and stuck to hijacking UFO's, actually) the pack was taken away for another boring, derivitave on foot level. I survived it, fought a very out of nowhere dragon boss, and then the game was over. No build up, no tension, just one more jet pack level, the death of Will's love interest, and the credits. The one good thing the game has was underused in favor of things that have been done better by dozens of other games. This hurts; I was expecting more from the remnants of Fasa, instead I am relived that a sequel to Crimson Skies was never made. At least they ruined new ip instead of muddying up an old one that I actually cared about.

Reviews of Forza 3 and Dark Void are forthcoming. I find myself in the odd position of having nothing new to play tonight. Darksiders is on the way, which will allow me to get my goth Zelda on, so tonight will be used for either Torchlight (a dangerous possibility because I do need to go to sleep eventually) or Lego Rock Band and Street Fighter.

Shut up, Lego Rock Band is cool.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Penis envy.

It must be very difficult to come up with an interesting male lead for an action game. Lets take a look at the most recent examples:

Master Chief: essentially a walking starship with the personality to match, manages to still get the (electronic) hot chick.

Kratos: serious anger issues, killed own wife and child and has never gotten over it.

Marcus Fenix: unrequited love for Dom leads to unpredictable behavior, terrified to show his lighter side.

Cole MacGrath: power issues, commitment issues not withstanding

Not a one of these would be at all interesting if they were ripped out of their comfy game world, where the only expectation of depth is getting a new attack every few levels, and observed under the harsh light of motion pictures. Only Nathan Drake, of Uncharted and Uncharted 2 fame, would survive this transition. Drake is more than the Indiana Jones rip off he appears to be, though there is a lot owed to the good doctor (Nathan should have starred in Indy 4, sorry Harrison, but you sucked). There is depth of character and history in him that most games don't even bother with. Add in top notch motion capturing and voice acting and Drake is more than an gamer avatar that shoots things while making Lara Croft jealous of his success, he is a person. The natural consequence of excellence is attempted duplication, which brings me to Dark Void.

After a teaser prologe that puts the game's dodgey flight and targetting controls on fulls display, you are introduced to William Augustus Grey. Will is a brash piolet with a romantic past involving the only female character in the whole game. He is often wreckless, has a knack for surviving long falls, and mumbles at himself while under attack. Oh, and he is voiced by Nolan North. At this point the game should no longer be called 'Dark Void,' it is 'Nathan Drake's strange and mostly unremarkable adventures with Nikola Testla in the Bermuda Triangle.' This isn't an homage, or a playful parody, this is plagarism, and it serves to highlight one of many flaws in what I was hoping would be a good game.

When the best thing I have experienced after four hours of play is the transition from fighting in the air to fighting on the ground (not any of the actual fighting, just moving between the two) there is a problem. I stopped playing Forza for this?

Shame on me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

On second thought.

After driving more hours today then are probably healthy the last thing I want to do is drive more, even virtually. On that note Forza 3 has gotten all the time that I have to give it. It is an excellent racing game, but as much as I like them racing games do not hold my attention for long. I have not been driven away by frustration. On the contrary Forza 3 has a very gentle difficulty curve, with the racing line being a crutch that I am not ashamed to abuse. There is simply more to do in the game than I am willing to allow time for. It's good, but it doesn't have me by the throat, so I can now walk away and feel okay about it.

On to (or back to) shooting things. This time it's vertical!

Thursday, January 21, 2010


While walking through an unfamiliar GameStop in an unfamiliar town I stumbled across a tournement edition arcade stick. Sanwa parts, Marvel vs Capcom 2 overlay, the works. As the register monkey made noise about how I was wrong for not liking Demon Souls I stood their looking at it. Leering at it. If it were a woman I would have rightfuly been carted away on the spot for harassment. Twice I returned to the counter just to open the box and look at it. I wanted to open it, her, right there, just to touch the buttons and test the action on the stick. My current arcade stick, my second after destroying the first with a scissors during a fit of street fighter induced rage, felt instantly pedestrian, inadequate. Suddenly all of my problems with poor execution were its fault, not mine for not practicing enough. If only I had this object, I would be better.

The smarter parts of me, the ones that enjoy paying the bills and heating the house, won out, and tomorrow I will leave the great north woods without it. I know that I could get one online at any point, but seeing one in the wild was something that I was not prepared for. Perhaps now it is a good thing that I did not bring my xbox along on this trip. If I had, things might have ended up much differently.

Assuming Dark Void has arrived, I will be putting Forza 3 to bed tomorrow. It deserves one more night's play, but the list is to long to spend any more time on a game whose end is in the hundreds of hours away. If only I didn't need to sleep, I could give the game the time it deserves.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I am sitting in a hotel room containing a television of acceptable size. The television sports 2 HDMI inputs, along with a component input just in case. This morning I had my 360 mostly unhooked, but decided against it, because I did not think I would have time to use it.

Here I am, with nothing to do, and nowhere to be until 11:00 tomorrow morning. Perhaps I will drink.

Driving through the great north woods of Wisconsin with nothing but my high beams and a total trust in my GPS to guide me was oddly reminiciant of what I have been playing lately. The rally courses in Forza 3 are some of the best I have ever seen, rivaling even what Dirt 2 had to offer. They are in my head now, and I had to restrain myself several times from taking the racing line through a blind corner, ignoring oncoming traffic and potential death. Does this make a racing simultor more dangerous than a murder simulator? The odds of me getting a hold of a machine gun with a chainsw welded to the barrel is very small, but I drive a car every day. There is always the possibilty that I will foget what I am doing and take a straight line through an S curve, right?

Sure, right after I get that black Countach.

Dark Void is probably waiting for me at home right now. Bah, I should have brought my 360 and practiced my links in Street Fighter.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The male diamond.

There can be no denying that women have a thing for diamonds. Regardless of how much one costs, where it came from, or how many abused peasents died to wrest it from the earth, the initial reaction is always "oooh, sparkly!" For a long time I thought the male equivilent was chicken wings, for I knew very few men who could turn their nose up at some fine wings, mediocre beer, and some form of electronic entertainment. Forza 3 has proven me wrong; the male diamond is the sports car. Make, model, year and color are all irrelevant, there is a sports car out there for every man, they just need to find it. For me, it's this one:

Ohh, shiny!

Problem is the Countach isn't actually that fast for a racing game. I am not going to win any races in it, but I feel pretty damn content tooling around the Nurburgring pretending I could ever in a million years afford one. Racing games provide the same sort of fantasy relief as any other genre, only based just a little closer in reality then spikey haired clones who wield swords bigger than they are. It helps when tracks and cars look as real as they do in Forza 3. The fantasy is no longer 'this could never happen,' it's 'this could happen if I won the lottery.'

Forza 3: Have your mid-life crisis without ruining your marriage and credit rating.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Drowning in content.

After around seven hours of driving I have completed roughly 7% of the events available in Forza 3. What's frightening is that the races get longer the further in to career mode I get, with actual endurance races on the not to distant horizon. I will probably never get that far; even now my fingers are beginning to itch for something new to play, and in a stunning change of pace I will be playing something curret. Dark Void is on its way, hopefully arriving before I jump in my car for a six hour drive on Wednesday. More time away from my TV, but since I am not flying the trusty box will most likely me making the trip with me. Here's hoping the TV in my hotel has an HDMI input.

Early reviews have not exactly been steller, but Dark Void comes to us from some of the people behind Mech Assault and Crimson Skies, two of the finest multiplayer games availble on the oXbox, so I still have high hopes. It is a crime that there has been no true sequal to Crimson Skies; the game was almost perfect, at least that is how I remember it. I actually had a chance to play Crimson Skies before its release at a vendor conferance (I used to work for a game retailer that has since been bought out by another game retailer, and the combination is less than the some of its parts, but I digress). Crimson Skies was on display and Microsoft was kind enough to sponser a tournament. Being a veteran of Mech Assualt, I knew how to play: circle the outside of the level looking for targets that had been softened up by another player, then kill them and reap the benefits in health and ammo. Yes, I was a kill stealer, but there is no honor in air piracy, so screw them.

It also helps that I managed to remain sober throughout the evening. Winning the tournament netted me a second oXbox, so it was worth it.

Moving the game from a lan environment to the early days of Xbox live was not a good time, however. There seemed to be lag built in to the game, so much so that it was possible for planes circling one another to actually shoot each other down simultaneously. Hilarious to see from a distance, infurtiating when it happened to you. Eventually it killed the commnity, and since then FASA has be disolved, so Dark Void may be as close as I am going to get.

Speaking of online, I should give racing against actual people a try in Forza 3 before I give up on it. Honestly, I am afraid. The times on the leaderboards seem almost superhuman.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The corkscrew.

I don't know very much about racing. If it is on TV and involves a little more than turning left I will watch it, mostly because I enjoy watching things go fast and then taking sharp corners (and it looks really nice in HD). I have played quite a few racing games, however, and the vast majority of the good ones include Laguna Seca. The first time I remember seeing it was in Gran Turismo 2, when to my surprise and horror I stumbled across the corkscrew: the most devious section on any track, ever. This was the age before visual assists like racing lines, so I had no idea how to make it through without simply cutting the corners off and praying I didn't crash. Since then racing games have gotten a little more forgiving, but even with a line that tells me just when to brake and when to hit the gas the corner is still a challenge. I know it is coming, I understand basically how to not die when navigating it, but it doesn't matter. My first attempt always ends up something like this:

Forza 3 is not the first game to allow untimely crashes to be rewound, but it is the first to not limit this function to a few times per race or just going back a few seconds. This unlimited rewind does not necessarily remove challenge from the game, only frustration. Not much is worse than spinning out on the last corner of the last lap of some long ass race. Now I can back the tape up several turns if need be and see exactly what I did wrong. I find it amazing that braking a second to early or late can mean the difference between hitting the corner just right and embarrassing yourself in the sand. By allowing this Forza 3 becomes, more than any other console driving simulator before it, educational. I am not going to learn how to bomb the corkscrew in a million dollar super car, but I do have a better understanding of the level of ability required to do it more than once.

In unrelated news I gave Serious Sam HD a shot on the 360. It is a relic, but a good one, and has benefitted visualy from a good hi-res polishing. No one should try to play the game with thumbstick, however; it's just not healthy, and not nearly serious enough.

One last thing: if anyone knows how to beat a top notch Boxer with Blanka, please let me know, I sure as hell don't. And don't say that the answer is to pick a better character.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Required Viewing

After nearly falling asleep on lap 4 of 5 I decided it was time to turn off Forza for the evening and find something else to do. The game is far from boring, but jumping back into E class cars after tearing through New York in a Shelby Cobra felt like driving my old Prius through the snow: very slow and much less exciting than you would think.

As usual I am several months behind, but I filled the rest of my evening with King of Kong, and it was both amazing and depressing at the same time. Amazing because here are players who have dedicated themselves to being the best in the world at something, and oftentimes succeed only to be one upped by conniving douche bags like Billy Mitchell who have nothing else in their lives to be proud of. On the other hand, there were examples of every old nerd stereotype there is (skinny, greasy, skinny & greasy, fat, fat & greasy, mullets). They have created their own little world as hostile to outsiders as any click they were excluded from in their painful high school years. Without any jocks to keep them in line the nerds are running the place, creating a cadre of middle aged man children who live and breath on the actions of a genleman who needs his ass kicked so much that people should be getting in line to do it.

Behold, douche bag rex.

I am a little jealous. Not of mullet man, mind you, of being the best at something. To know that no one, no one, is better than you at something must be an amazing thing. Of course, until someone better comes along, then it becomes a burden. According to Twin Galaxies, Steve Wiebe (the hero of our story) has once again been passed by the evil Billy Mitchell. Maybe he has gotten over the addiction of being the best and moved on to other things. Maybe he has stopped neglecting his family for hours at a time sitting in front of the Donkey Kong arcade machine in his garage with a camcorder over his shoulder just he case he has a good game. Maybe he has given up the chase.

But I doubt it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

James Bond, with a black eye.

Forza 3 is an amazingly smooth, polished, professional looking product. It oozes suave right down to the british accent of the narrator. It goes without saying that the cars and the tracks are amazing to look at, but the menus are amazing to look at. The logo is amazing to look at. Not since the Wipeout's (and maybe Project Gotham 2) have I played a racing game that is such a tight package of looks and driving. At first glace it is flawless, streamlining even the car upgrade process for those of us who just what to go fast and don't know the difference between a tie rod and fule injector.

However, the way races are set up leaves a little to be desired, mostly because of how they force you to drive. Beginning races are very short, usually around three laps on a track less than a mile long. Cars are very close together power wise in the beginning as well, meaning that no one, including the player, is going to have a significant advantage once you get past easy difficulty. All of this forces you to pretty much drive like an ass hole to have any hope of moving from eigth to first. So much effort has been put into realism here, and it all succeeds, but give me a qualifying lap so I don't have to wade through 7 AI drivers who refuse to give up their line even though I am going much faster. This isn't nascar, I shouldn't have to put a guy into a wall just to make a pass.

Nitpicky? Of course, but all the more needed because Forza 3 is good enough to make me forget about Gran Turismo. It's so close to perfect, and this seems like such a trivial change, that I can't imagine why it isn't here.

I have given up on trying to put together a top 25 of the decade list using the poll from PA. There are too many games to think about; too many good ones, too many bad ones. With a gun to my head, perhaps, but none of you know where I live.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Darkest of Days Review

I am watching you play this terrible game.
Time travel is a bad plot device, used more often than not to make up for running out of new ideas. (We just brought Spock back from the dead, now what? To the eighties!) Even when it is is applied 'logically' it becomes confusing, barely consistent, or just plan stupid so quickly that I believe it should be avoided at all costs. In the game world, only Braid seems to have gotten it right, and that uses time as a game play mechanic, not a crutch for shoddy writing. Taking this worthless plot device and dropping it into a budget shooter that already had the wonderful idea of setting large portions of the game in the goddamn civil war where muzzle loaded rifles are the latest and greatest killing device and you get Darkest of Days - the worst game of any kind I have played since putting fifteen uncomfortable minutes into Fusion Frenzy 2.

There is nothing wrong with a budget title being a budget title, so long as it doesn't pretend to be more than an afternoon time killer. Little games by small developers usually have enough charm to overlook small technical problems, especially if they populate underrepresented genres and are priced accordingly. Darkest of Days' greatest mistake was just being a first person shooter in the first place. The local GameStop bargain bin is already full of budget FPS's, most of which are better than what is offered here. Visually, mechanically, musically, it does not matter: every part of this game is broken. Textures hearken back to PS2 quality: of low resolution and repeated every few virtual feet. All three of the character models are an embarrassment to look at, much less to watch move awkwardly though the bland, ugly world, getting stuck on square tree trunks when then should be bayoneting you in the face. On more than one occasion I watched an enemy run right into me during the eternity it took to reload my rifle and die to my ungainly melee attack instead of shooting me from the relative safety of their bullet porous cover. To make up for being idiots a good chunk of the bad guys can shoot you right through rocks, trees, historically misplaced zeppelins, and the like. Most bad games have the decency of being easy; Darkest of Days is both bad and impossibly difficult in places thanks to inconsistent and broken game play.

I'm sorry, there are four character models.

Listening to the game is almost as bad as looking at it, with musical tracks that consist entirely of four simple bars looped ad naseum and voice acting that makes Resident Evil sound like Shakespeare. Lines like 'My German blows goats' are delivered with such amature earnestness that I almost believed the character speaking had a nazi in a cage in his backyard with a weakness for farm animals. This particular gem was delivered on the heels of a tragically good section. I say tragically because for a few scant moments Darkest of Days managed to be a much better game. After being captured by nazis (who apparently can appear at will, where is BJ Blaskowitz when you need him?) I was dumped into a train car full of scared russion prisoners of war. The lot of us were then forced out, cold and without subtitles, into a POW camp. From being pistol whipped by cranky Germans to being menaced by their hungry dogs, the mood created was one of desparation and panic. Nothing else before this or after worked, and it was quickly ruined by my guides odd fetish with bestiality, which actualy made me dislike the game even more. To waste a section this good was actually worse then never getting better in the first place.

Darkest of Days is worse than a bad game; it is a collectin of ideas that should never be used, and it should be studied as an example of what not to do. Don't use preserving the time line as a central plot point when your idea of preserving it is jumping back to the civil war and murdering rebels with automatic weapons from the future. Don't let the janitor do all of your voice acting just because you have run out of money. Don't drop a PC port of a bad game on a console that is already rife with mediocre examples of the genre, especially when a game like Modern Warfare 2 came out a few months before. And finally don't expect mercy or understanding just because 'this was your first game,' doing so may ensure that it is the only game you get to make.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Maek poast.

Posting just to post (from an airport), which is never good, but nothing much new to say.

Discovered that my Zune had a surprisingly compentant version of Texas Hold 'Em that I do not remember installing. This will hold me for the plane ride home, and I will never touch it again. Perhaps I should reconsider my anti-handheld policy.

I started a review for Darkest of Days and had to stop because I was angry with myself for playing it through. It will be finished by tomorrow; hopefuly it will be more fun to read than it was to play.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Withdrawal (not really)

I think I am doing pretty well.

No games last night, nothing tonight, and nothing tomorrow. I do feel a little sensory depraved, but at least I still have internets. I am also seriously contemplating buying a handheld (again), but that soon shall pass. I don't have enough time for the consoles (and PC) that I do have, adding another would just be silly. I don't spend that much time in the bathroom.

This thread over at PA has been brought to my attention (thanks Folken!) and I don't even know where to begin. To start with, I am going to go through the list and see which of the games I have actually played, then I will get a little depressed because I am sure there are excellent titles that I have missed and will never get back to. It will be difficult to get past the big, obvious games like Ico and BioShock, but some of my personal favorites like Okami and Nocturne should hopefully make it. In truth, go back more than a few months and games start to blend together. I will think of an amazing level or enemy and I wont for the life of me be able to remember what game it is from.

Actually, that has nothing to do with the games and everything to do with me getting old. Everything that is old is new again; the hidden blessing of senility.

Monday, January 11, 2010

MagnaCarta 2 Review

I am trying so hard to be manly.
Years ago, with the release of the XB360 and the advent of high definition console gaming, I thought that all I wanted was more of the same at a higher resolution. For a few years, that's all there was, but being greedy I have come to expect more from games that demand thirty to forty hours of my life. JRPG's, as a sub-genre now completely separate from western RPG's, have stagnated to the point where my initial naive desires are all that actualy get produced. Eternal Sonata had cookie cutter combat with a moderately interesting story. Lost Odyssey, as much as I liked it, offered nothing new beyond almost making me cry on the first disk. Now there is MagnaCarta 2, a sequel to a mediocre PS2 game, which is just as shiny as any other game whose producers had the extra cash to spend on the unreal engine. There is nothing awful here, but there is nothing inspiring or interesting either, and simply being unoffensive is a not a great way to keep up interest for thirty plus hours. It is exactly more of the same only better looking, which I have found will only carry a game, or a genre, so far.

Using the unreal engine is not a flat out guarantee of visual excellence, but it comes close, and for the most part MagnaCarta 2 puts it to good use. On one hand environments are large and well detailed, but on the other there is very noticible pop in and most of the them are revisted several more times than they should have been. The initial hub city is used for almost half of the game, and as good as it looked I grew tired of it and wanted a new city to explore. The same is true for most monsters: after their initial introduction the good looks wear thin and I was looking for new ones to fight; they never came. Characters escape this for a while, but aside from the the main protagonist, Juto, they all wear the same thing the entire length of the game. Apparently body odor is just not an issue when you can summon fire from the sky or wield a gigantic axe.

This attack takes five minutes. Go get a sandwich.
Boss's are, unsuprisingly, the best looking things in MagnaCarta 2 (putting aside certain female characters' assets, which are thankfuly less pronounced then they were in the first game). They are varied and nonsencicly shaped, and some of them even manage to be a little intimidating, but most of them literly drop out of the sky with no introduction or reason for them being there other than to cap off a section with a climax. There are a few big bads that taunt the main character throughout the game, but these are easily the least impressive of any of the battles. A good antagonist creates tension in both story and combat, and the lack of any NPC that you just really want to kill allows boardom to set in much more quickly than it should. There is really nothing wrong with the combat itself. On the contrary the mix of real time combat and jumping between party members for big attacks works very well. Overheating a character to the point where he or she cannot attack is a quick way for them to die off, so button mashing doesn't work. Later boss battles require planning and some rather advaced party and item management, I just wish I felt one way or the other about who I was trying to kill, and that I could skip the ultimate attack animations. I thought we got past that after Final Fantasy VII.

It takes quite a while for the obvious plot twist to occur, and once it does the player is beaten over the head with it until it has lost all emotional impact and just becomes annoying. Even so, the idea that what is right and what most people want are not always the same thing could have led to tough choices for the player, if there were any choices to be had, that is. True to its sub-genre, the only choice the player is given is what order to do meaningless sub-quests in; nothing will effect the main story and the direction it takes. This will work if the story is good enough, but MagnaCarta 2 misses several oppourtunities at poiniancy in favor of warm fuzzies. Lost Odyssey proved that painfully sad moments work just as well if not better than anything else to move along a story and MagnaCarta 2 is simply missing this. When there finally is a tragedy late in the game it is predictable and uninteresting; even the party glosses over it in favor of the next fight. At least the character that dies was never in my party to begin with and doesn't steal my best armor in the process of deserting (I'm looking at you, Alistair).


Recent, less traditional western RPG's have proven that giving the player partial control of a games outcome does not necessarily make the story less interesting. As much as I loved/hated Dragon Age, the story was never boring, mostly because I felt that it really was my story. MagnaCarta 2, just like all the other games before it, just doesn't offer that feeling of ownership to the player. I am not saying that playing a forty hour movie is a bad thing, it just has to be a good movie in the first place. By the time the last dungeon came around I was just waiting for the game to be done, and when even the ending waffled on what could have been an excellent example of sacrafice for a higher cause I knew that it had not been worth my time. There is no love or hate here, only ambivilance, and to not feel anything at all at the end of a game is worse than having hated it the entire time.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Out of the blue.

An odd thing happened while playing Darkest of Days last night: there was a brief moment of quality. Out of absolutely nowhere the game got better, if only for a few minutes. Since no one should actually play the game, I will spoil it for you.

After jumping into World War 2 and killing slowly jogging nazis with a sniper rifle that did almost all of the work for me I was captured by enemies that weren't there thirty seconds ago. Following the customary beating I woke up in a train surrouded by other men, all dressed in prison stripes, none of whom spoke english. The train ground to a stop and we were all ushered out by cold, grumpy germans. No subtiltes, no explanation, just you and a bunch of whispering, scared russians. I knew we were being hearded into a concentration camp, but the character, who had just recently been plucked out of from under General Custer's nose, would have no idea what was going on, which added to an already present feeling of isolation and panic.

Over the next few minutes I was pushed through barbed wire lined hallways, menaced by underfed dogs, and hit over the head several times by guards. No one else in line raised a finger to help, leaving me alone, weaponless, cold, and having no idea what to do next. I still had my map, but it had several large holes in it along with the instructions, 'find your target, don't die.' Big help.

The game had just jumped far out of its own league, almost as if this area was done by a more competant section of the development team just before Activision found them and they were absorbed into another, larger talent black whole. As suddenly as this new found quality arrived, it was gone. My guide, who has been a font of terrible lines and meaningless profanity, shows up with this gem:

'My German blows goats. Take this, you'll know when to use it.'

And then I remembered that I was not playing a good game. Darkest of Days is a terrible game that stumbled ass backwards into a good idea and had no idea what to do with it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What have I done?

Oh wow.

Darkest of Days is worse than Infernal. It is worse than Damnation. It is worse than Turning Point. This may very well be the worst shooter I have played on the XB360. Enemies are almost impossible to distinguish from allies, or even from the rocks and trees they are hiding behind. The plot, in which an agency of time cops (minus Jean Claude, unfortunately) protects the integrity of the time line be resolving civil war battles with rocket powered grenade launchers, is ludicrous. Enemy AI involves either shooting you from behind their cover right through your cover or running straight at you and waiting to be murdered, and when the first wave of mentally handicapped bad guys runs out there are plenty more in the monster closet waiting to appear behind you for no apparent reason. The music and sound effects are a throw back to eight bit days, and not in the nostalgia, rose colored glasses way, in a 'the entire score for a level consists of looping eight bars of music' way.

It is impressive in its awfulness, even for a budget title. Not even the achievements have escaped this taint: there are only thirteen, and one of them is for blowing yourself up with a grenade. Another is for drowning. There are achievements for playing the game poorly.

This game is appalling. I must finish it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Slumming it

MagnaCarta 2 has reached an unremarkable end, showing the same fear of real sacrifice that most forms of media do. Yes, I am one of those people who thought that Wall-E would have been a much better movie if the little robot stayed dead. This need for a meaningless, happy ending is nothing new. Look at Final Fantasy X-2, an entire game based around bringing someone back who wasn't real in the first place, just so Yuna could be a little less depressed. Apparently hot pants and over sized hand guns are just not enough to lift ones mood.

In the spirit of bad games I have decided to forgo Forza 3 for the time being and run though Darkest of Days. Going in, I know it is terrible; I just want to know if it is as terrible as Infernal, which may have been the most terrible game I have finished this generation.

The flat of worst game so far has got to be Fuzion Frenzy 2, not counting Wii shovel-ware. Because really, who does?

0 Day Attack on Planet Earth got a demo play last night as well, and it was not good either. The greatest dual-stick shooter has already been made: Geometry Wars 2, so everything else is playing catch up before a single line of code is written. 0 Day Attack tries to add more variety, with several different kinds of ships to fly around, but it just isn't any fun. Enemies are large but not very detailed; controlling the ship itself is a chore, and it seems to be locked into a multiplayer mode, even if you have no friends to play with. Thank goodness I didn't trust the Squeenix logo and buy it on brand loyalty. Until they release Einhander 2, I will not trust shooters from an RPG company.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

At the finish line.

I checked gamefaqs, because I am past the point of caring about spoilers, and I appear to be in the last area of MagnaCarta 2. There will be a ten minute walk back to buy healing supplies and an area with constantly re-spawning bad guys to deal with (so, so lame) but the final day is coming. If not tonight then tomorrow, and it is about time. A good RGP builds excitement and gets more and more tense towards the end; this one has been dragging for the last five hours, and will likely drag on for three more. Early review: skip it, play Lost Odyssey or wait for Final Fantasy XIII. I can only hope that it pulls out a random final boss like Final Fantasy X, just so I have more to complain about when I write up the review. I'd hate to get all nice and worked up and have to actually give the game a little credit.

Actually, credit will be given to the battle system, as long as the battles are not taking place in cramped hallways that force the camera into the protagonists ass. Proctological exam, the game! Suddenly a limit break sounds much more painful.

Unfortunately, I am now thinking about Cho Aniki.

And I feel dirty.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How to kill an NPC.

JRPG's are never really subtle. There and good guys and there are bad guys, and all of them could pose for women in a pinch. Sometimes the bad guy pretends to be a good guy for a while, but that never lasts past the half way point and the audience in intentionally let in on it just in case they are an idiot. To make this transition, sometimes they will kill someone important to the player, other times they will kill someone just to be a bastard, but removing an NPC by force is a good way to cement another NPC as someone the player wants to kill. It helps if it comes as a surprise, the classic example being Sephiroth killing Aeris. She was in the party for quite a while, Cloud had a rather obvious crush on her (being closer to anatomically correct than anyone else around), and it was an honest suprise when it happened. Other good examples are Kaim's wife in Lost Odyssey and damn near everyone in Digital Devil Saga 2 (and dog meat in Fallout 3, those jerks). They worked because the player cared about the loss, either because it was a detriment to the party of because of carefully manipulated emotional attachment.

Enter MagnaCarta 2. It tries really hard to trot out this cliche as well as it has pulled off all the other ones, but it comes off as uninteresting and predictable. The person who dies was never in the party, had betrayed Juto at one point, and was shown to be sickly when she reverted back to the good guys. On top of that instead of the major villain killing her she becomes another random boss encounter. The party seemed broken up about it, but I didn't care, she was not a character I had any emotional investment in. There aren't any that I care about at all, for that matter, which for a linear story based RPG is not good. None of the characters have developed, including Juto who has found and lost him memory at least twice, gaining all white hair and a rather embarrassing outfit for his trouble. You would think nearly dying would build some character; the only change for Juto is who is master is, which could create some interesting complications that I guarantee the game will skip because it just doesn't have the depth to deal with them.

I am really hoping to finish MagnaCarta 2 up by the weekend, as I am going to be out of town (and away from by basement and TV) for a few days next week. Dragging the 360 along is an option, of course, but hotel TV's are notorious for not having any inputs you can use and checking the fragile thing in with my luggage seems like a really bad idea. Who knows what the machine would look like through an x-ray inspection, I'd hate to be made a (false) example of.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

At the feet of the master(s).

If you have any, and I mean any, interest in Street Fighter 4, watch this:

Now follow the link and watch the following eight matches, they just get better as they go along. By the final round of the final match I was on the edge of my generic office chair, getting hype with no one wintesses who would understand. Guys at this level aren't even playing the same game as I do. Execution is never a problem; the moves and combos they want are just there when they need them. All effort is instead placed into planning and mind games. What you have just seen is not a video game; it is a chess match with fireballs and yoga.

Sublime. And kudos to Daigo for just taking his loss and looking for the next match.

Three more hours of MagnaCarta 2 and not much has happened. Juto, the protaganist, has lost his memory again, and I am now wandering around in his mind trying to find it. Points for effort, but that is about it. I am beginning to think that I have underestimated the length of this game, because what I thought was the plot wrapping up has just spiraled off into another direction. I did the same thing with the first game: at 40 hours I was getting bored but I decided to finish it. How much longer could it be? At 65 hours (and I was not taking my time) the credits finally rolled. It was no longer beating the game, it was not being beaten by the game. A meaningless victory, but a victory none the less.

I don't like playing more than one game at a time, but I may make an exception for Forza 3. I will never finish all the game has to offer anyway, might as well starting marching to the limits of my ability a bit at a time now instead of all at once later. Less chance of violence.

Plus real drinking and virtual driving is more fun than it should be; I could use some Guiness.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stealing from Mega Man.

There are many things that were acceptable in gaming's infancy that simply should not be done anymore. For example, the ending of almost every traditional Mega Man game put you up against a string of reincarnared boss robots. They weren't as tough as the first time because their attacks were unchanged and Mega Man had been pimped by the spoils of their initial defeat, but it really was nothing more than a cheap way to extend the gameplay. This was okay when I was a child and didn't know any better.

MagnaCarta 2 has decided to recycle boss monsters as side missions. If this was new game + I would understand, but it isn't, it is just a way to add a few more minutes to what is shaping up to be a rather short RPG. Most of the boss monsters have no charcater anyway; they literaly drop out of the sky, are given a name, and you are expected to kill them. Nothing more than an over sized random encounter, but it is still annoying to fight them again when there was no reason to fight them in the first place. I have not yet been able to abuse the combat in the same way as the first game, so fights still take effort to win (especially after my only healer has been removed from my party again; I blame the potion vendors conspiracy).

Forza 3 has arrived and I am looking forward to playing it. Forza 2 was a lot of fun until I got to cars that were so overpowered I could no longer keep them on the ground, much less on the track. I never got to the point where I could turn off the racing line either, which is a lot like riding a ten speed with training wheels, but it kept things enjoyable. As usual my queue is backed up, which will see me missing the release of Bayonetta along with a few other January titles. I could probably use a break from video game boobs anyway, so fast cars and terrible shooters will have to do.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Game polio

Saturday nights are great for marathon gaming sessions, mostly because I have nothing else to do and don't have to work on Sunday. There is a downside to four plus hours of not moving, however: game polio. Sitting cross legged for that long leads to legs that simply do not work as they should, which makes last minute bathroom runs much more of an adventure than they should be. Thank goodness for pausable cut scenes, they have saved my dignity on more than one occasion.

MagnaCarta 2 is progressing as expected. There is not much to say about a run of the mill JRPG. It is linear, susceptible to grinding, and emotional manipulative. Lost Odyssey is easily the best of the genre so far this generation, and MagnaCarta 2 is no where near that in terms of quality, but some mediocre stat whoring never did anyone any harm. On the surface it is a very pretty game, running on the Unreal 3 engine is almost a guaranteed way to not be visually offensive. There are problems with textures not loading and some rather jarring pop in when walking through large areas; Gears of War 2 this is not. Some extra love and attention has gone into the character models, which is the polite way of saying that the female characters are on par with Dead or Alive in terms of their attributes.

I can imagine Hitomi being a bit jealous of the princesses hips, but I try not to, and have already said too much.

Street Fighter 4 is on indefinite hiatus. I don't want another stick to fall victim to my frustration. This will last about a week, if past history hold true, and I will be back and my skills will not have improved.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


That Dragon Age piece was originally written about 20 or so hours into the game. I finished it at around 45 hours and have no intention of going back. Things did eventually get better, but only because my character got an ability that could one shot most enemies, and even then there were a few battles that took about an hours worth of reloads to get passed. By the time I got to the last dragon my primary tank had up and left, Morrigan had tried to use our little tryst to bring one of the old gods back into the world (that bitch also left when I said no), and I was pretty much tired of the whole thing. Consequently, the final battle saw me drop the difficulty down to casual. I am a little ashamed, expecially after finding out that I could have been summoning help the entire time, but I am glad that it is done.

It turns out that playing it on a console was not the primary reason for my generaly blase feelings about it; Dragon Age simply does not live up what I expected based on the quality of Mass Effect, Never Winter Nights, etc. This is more on the scale of Jade Empire: good compared to everyone else, but not that good for Bioware. If that sounds like an insult, good, it was not meant to be friendly.

I still love you Bioware, just don't screw up Mass Effect 2.

MagnaCarta 2 actually has me guessing about what is going to happen next, plot wise. The game started out with the hero having lost his memory and got more cliched from there, but at least there is some question now about who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Relatively complicated for a JRPG. The combat I figured out many hours ago, and while it is not as abusable and the first MagaCarta, it is still rather shallow. Kind of reminds me of Dragon Age: I have little control over what the other members of my party are doing. Only this time I was expecting role playing chewing gum and that it exactly what I got.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A fool and his money are soon parted.

So Street Fighter 4 was on sale for $10 on Steam.

This is the third time I have purchased the game, which is more than a little sad. The launch copy was traded in after I destroyed my first arcade stick in a fit of rage.

But that is a story for another day.

As promised, here is part one of the Dragon Age review.

Dragon Age, at one point in time, was a title that allowed me an excuse to maintain a moderately powerful PC. It was coming out eventually, it was going to be exclusive to the personal computer, and it would be a crime not to play it, so I had to be ready. Sometime between when it was announced and now it came to light that it would not be PC exclusive, that the throbbing heathen masses of console players would have access to it. Bioware assured everyone that the quality of the two versions would as close as possible, and I believed them. Why shouldn’t I, Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect are both excellent, why should I not expect the same from Dragon Age? Of course, because November is an evil month, Dragon Age arrived and it ended up at the end of a very long line of games. When its time came up I forsook my now significantly behind the curve and oft ignore PC in favor of a larger screen and more comfortable chair. Having mostly insulated myself from others opinions, I had no idea that this was a mistake. Dragon Age is a PC game, it is best played with a mouse and keyboard on a cramped desk flanked by half crumpled Mountain Dew cans. Forcing it onto a console has done it no favors. I have put to many hours into it to turn back now, so the game I started will be the game I will finish, but I can’t help but feel like I am missing something.

There is certain amount of control that I have come to expect from games based around pen and paper mechanics. Success can hinge on using the right spell at the right time or getting the tank to pull bad guys in the correct direction, so being able to control individual characters actions on a very granular level is required. Dragon Age is a single player game, but the player is by no means responsible for a single character, so the fact that corralling your party into doing what you intend is incredibly difficult is unforgivable. It is possible to pause the action and jump between characters to issue new orders, but only one order can be in the queue at a time. This forces a great deal of switching from person to person if there are specific targets that you want to attack in specific ways. It may sound nitpicky, but when not killing the opposing mage first means eating status effects and direct damage for the whole fight, things need to go as planned. It should also be noted that this particular fault is not specific to the console version. Both Dragon Age’s place far too much emphasis on setting up friendly AI tactics, which are like Final Fantasy 12’s gambit system but more complicated. I want to control my party, I don’t want to write a series of if/then statements and hope that they remember what to do and when to do it.

Combat annoyances are not limited to just controlling the action, unfortunately. Seeing what is going on is very limited as well, and this is specific to the TV based release. Players on the XB360 or PS3 are limited to an over the shoulder camera view much more fitting for an old school final fantasy game than a game that requires actual thought to succeed. There is a reason that there is an isometric view in pretty much all of Bioware’s PC releases up to this point: there is a lot going on and you need to be able to see all of it. This shoulder cam worked for Mass Effect because the combat was, to be blunt, much simpler. In Dragon Age it leads to camera fighting shenanigans usually reserved for movie licensed platformers and being pelted by archers and mages from off screen. It sounds backwards, but by ‘consolizing’ the camera and not touching the combat things just don’t fit together as well as they should. I have read that the console version has had the combat difficulty toned down because of this, but even on the normal difficulty a surprise fight can often lead to defeat. Save often and don’t try to play a bow based rogue if you are looking to have an easier time of things.

As soon as the fighting stops, thankfully, all of my complaints go away. Dragon Age has the same dialogue tree system that has become a requirement of western RPG’s. This time around the good and bad choices are not as clean cut as light side/dark side, which makes for some honest ethical dilemmas. For example, in one mission you are given the choice to either messily sacrifice a mother to saved a demon possessed boy or kill the boy and spare the mother. Neither option is exactly the right one, but a decision must be made and it is up to the player. Afterwards NPC’s will react in very well written exchanges and you can plead your case if they disagree. There is no morality scale here, no absolutes, and the characters and story are much more involving because of that. NPC’s have hours of interactions between both the player and each other, making party shuffling good for more than just maximizing damage output. Much like Mass Effect there is a fair amount of romance possible if the player chooses to take a break from chasing darkspawn to chase something else. I haven’t gotten past first base with anyone yet, and probably won’t because both female characters are more than a little annoying, but it feels much less forced than previous attempts. NPC’s take time to get to know, and I have gotten to like a few of them in the twenty or so hours I have put in so far. I assume it will only get better from here, or that they will all die and it will break my heart, but I am prepared for both.

It is a good thing that the party characters sound good and speak intelligently, because quite a few of them really aren’t much to look at. Dragon Age feels about a year behind other titles in the graphics department. I suppose this makes sense; it has been in development for around six or so years and is using an internally built engine, so it is suffering from a bit of Duke Nukem style ‘out of date before it comes out.’ The character models themselves don’t move very well, which can be distracting and occasionally funny in cut scenes, but it is never out and out offensive; I just expected better. Most of the enemies seem to have escaped the ugly stick, and this goes double for the larger ones. It should come as no surprise that Dragon Age has dragons in it, but I was not expecting the very first one I ran into to be so terrifying. There was a cut scene of it flying to the top of a mountain, which looked really good, but when I antagonized it and the damn thing swooped down and promptly kicked my ass I was stunned. If dragons were real, this is what they would look like, and this is how much ass they would kick. After my three companions were wiped out I tried to simply flee. The dragon, who would have absolutely none of that pansy nonsense, jumped up into the air and landed on me. This may have been the highlight of the game so far, and I didn’t survive it.

As negative as I sound about Dragon Age, it still has monopolized all of my gaming time for several days and will do so until the game is done. Please note that I am referring the game that is on the disc; zero day downloadable content is serious bull shit and not something I will encourage. It is not the complete package that a Bioware title usually is, due at least in part to my own foolish choice of platform. Good combat will usually make or break a game for me, and the fact that I am willing to wade through it to get to the next plot point is impressive; I just wish it were all that enjoyable. I will finish Dragon Age, then be back here with updated impressions, as I am really not ready to apply a number to what I think about it, mostly because at this point I just don’t know. I love it, I hate it, then I blame myself for ignoring my old friend under the desk that has become little more than a file server for MP3’s that I never listen to. Check back in a week or two for a final review, we will see if I make up my mind by then.

A week or two will now be tomorrow.

Oh, and MagnaCarta 2 just hit the second of two discs in only 15 hours. They just don't make them like they used to.