Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'll take option C.

I can already tell which two characters are going to be the romance option for my (heterosexual) Shepard. There is the generically engineered super hottie who is so snooty that I have a hard time walking past her office without flipping the bird and the afore mention bald mega-bitch who, after her side mission, we find isn't quite as hard and mean as we thought; big surprise there. At least the costume the quest unlocked was a little less revealing. After talking to Jack (the second option) just a few times I can tell that this is where the story wants me to go. I plan on leading her on for quite a while and then dropping her like a bad habit right before sealing the deal just to see if she destroys the engineering section with her biotic tantrum. Neither of these characters are anywhere near as interesting as Tali, an alien whose face I have never seen through her gas filled helmet. She doesn't fit into any one stereotype, has dialogue that goes beyond, 'Fuck you Shepard. Wait, I didn't mean that. Never mind, yes I did,' and actually shows you loyalty for things that you have done for her in the past. Tali is one of two characters from the first Mass Effect (Garrus being the other) that are currently in my party, and there is rarely a reason to remove them. Take this exchange between the two of them while walking up stairs in the Citadel for the upteenth time:

Garrus: 'Remember all the discussions we used to have while riding in elevators, Tali?'

Tali: 'I'd rather not.'

Garrus: 'Come on, tell me about your suit and your world's ecosystem again.'

Tali: (deadpan) 'I have a shotgun.'

Garrus: '...'

I think I'm in love. But no, no romance option for her, just because a single rupture in her suit would kill her and she only has three digits on each hand. Come on, Bioware, be creative. Inter-species diddling wasn't taboo in the first game.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's the little things.

I seem to be finding a lot of little things to be annoyed with in Mass Effect 2. This is actually a good condition for me: so much works so well and I am enjoying all of it, so I can't help but focus on tiny issues that a less cynical person would either never notice or just not care about. For example, yesterday I talked about how Mass Effect 2, by design, works well in small spurts. Marathon sessions, however, tend to feel a bit choppy because of the short missions. It is difficult to see the over arching narrative after playing for four plus hours when each individual mission lasts around fifteen to twenty minutes. It almost feels like I am watching a serialized show all at once; each mission has a beginning, middle and end independent of the anything around it. Again, this is most likely intentional. People who will spend four hours straight playing, moving only to go to the bathroom or retrieve libations, are in the minority. Besides, there are plenty of JRPG's that are overly long and preachy, this quick hitting formula is a nice change of pace.

Deadly Premonition has been on my list for quite a while, but IGN's arbitrary review number of '2' has me wanting to run out and buy it. (quick note: why does this guy have a job writing snarky reviews and I don't?) I am more than willing to pay $20 for a box of terribleness, as long as it is so terrible that it wraps right back around to awesome. Actual people who have played it describe it as a throw back to second tier Dreamcast survival horror (Blue Stinger!), and that does not make me want it any less. The Dreamcast days prior to the release of the PS2 were the glory days of my platform partisanship. I have since moved on to a more platform agnostic approach, but the nostalgia for a terrible controller and awful voice acting are strong. Plus, what big, good games are coming to take up my time?

Oh yeah, God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII. Damn you Sony, I hope my PS3 still works after several months of collecting dust.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shorter bits.

I had another drastically shortened session with Mass Effect 2 last night. Usually if I only have an hour I wont even bother turning on an RPG. An hour is just not enough time to get anything done. This also hearkens back to the unskippable half hour cut scenes of PS2 RPG's; there is nothing worse than turning on a game, watching two videos, and turning it off. (Metal Gear Solid excluded, of course). Mass Effect 2 is divided up into much smaller, juicer bits, so it is easier to jump into and out of. This fits with the general slimming down of the genre that Bioware has done elsewhere in the game. They are trying to expand the market for their game while not alienating the old one. For the most part they have succeeded, but there are some things that the great big nerd side of me (that wishes 2nd edition D&D was still used) misses. For example, I have always liked the little numbers that float up after a critical hit in most action RPG's. They are just a little confirmation that all the work I have done experimenting with weapons and powers has paid off. Mass Effect 2 offers no such feedback; just a health meter or three that goes away in chunks with each hit. I liked seeing the numbers behind the scenes. Having that side of the game shut off from me is a little disappointing.

Bioware has also pulled off another personal first for themselves here: they have created a character so unlikable that I will never use her, probably never talk to her, and actually wish that the mission to rescue her was optional so I could skip it. My Shepard is about two degrees shy of Luke Skywalker, so busting into (and then out of) a prison to rescue a homocidal biotic chick felt more than a little out of character. Talking to Jack just makes it worse. She enjoys killing for the sake of killing, encourages you to steal your own ship and become a pirate, jumps around the engineering deck like a monkey, and is generally unpleasent to interact with. Dragon Age had a few clunkers, but Morrigan's dark humor was at least interesting and Alistair's whining could be explained by a rotton childhood. Jack, though, I just don't want to deal with ever again.

Where's Minsc when you need him?

Go for the eyes, Boo, go for the eyes!

And Boo!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Turning point (not the game...)

I really need to decide if I want to be any good at Street Fighter IV or if I am content being boringly average with one character. After a two week hiatus I played in an online fight night and it should come as no surprise that I played terribly. A very good Chun Li player who I had edged out last time walked all over me. It was ugly and demoralizing. The one bright spot was a clutch boxer victory; of course the same player came back with Ryu and beat me in the next match, so my bad match up remains bad. I know why I do not improve: I don't practice and I have never played the game without the entire internet separating me from my opponent. There is a tournament coming up in Illinois that I would love to go to, mostly just to observe, but I do wonder: if I stopped messing around with games that I know are no good and played Street Fighter at least every other day, would I be any good?

And just as I ask this question I get emails saying that Saw and the Army of Two sequal have shipped. Hello mediocraty. Maybe Super Street Fighter IV and its sped up, Saikyo Blanka will be the motivation I need.



Mass Effect 2 only got about an hour of play last night and it was filled with more planet strip mining. I actually do miss the planet exploration from the first game. Yes, it controlled poorly, but things felt larger and it was fun to run over mechs with a six wheeled tank. I do understand taking the padding out, but this is actually a game I want to take my time with, which is difficult when there aren't that many things to take up the time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe

Mass Effect 2 is good, of that there can be no arguement, but what exactly is it? It's not an RPG in the traitional sense of the word, in that I am not hoarding items or min-maxing my character. On the other hand I am certainly playing a role, and it was quite nice to see my old Shepard again. Killing him in the opening cinimatic was a bit rough, but they had to reset my level 47 solider of hot leaded death back to zero somehow. Battles have a decidedly western real time flair to them, but dealing with team members almost feels like creepy Japanese dating sim. (side story: while talking to a new, male crew member Shephard smoothly states 'tell me about yourself,' then leans back on a table, slowly stetches, and leers at the poor guy, waiting for a response. Apparently getting spaced turned my Shepard 180 degress from his previous weakness for blue alien girls. Anyway.)

I have the unfortunate habit of pidgeon holing games within a few hours of play. Mass Effect 2 has refused any sort of classification, and by doing so has created something appealing for just about anyone. I miss the inventory management and constant weapon upgrades, but I still have branching dialogue trees and dozens of planets to boringly mine for resources (I really wish I was joking, but every planet will be stripped clean of anything I can use, there is no prime directive in the Mass Effect universe, so to hell with indiginous peoples). Anyone who is looking for a little more, well, excitement than interseller excavations will see an excellent looking third person action game with a squad that will keep itself alive with even the most general directions. It is a complete product, even more so than the first game, and I find the cross genre appeal fasinating.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BioShock 2 Review

My fishbowl grew legs!

BioShock 2, simply by having BioShock in its title, is in an impossible position. I do not envy those who were given the task of building a follow up to the best game of 2007, but economics being what they are (read: publishers like to make money) someone had to do it. Someone turned quickly into someones as it became clear that recapturing the dark magic of the first game would not be as easy as dropping in an ill advised 'look we can do it, too' multiplayer and calling it a day. There is not only a shortage of new ideas, but the new ideas there are just aren't very good, especially with the first game still relatively fresh in our minds. I attribute most of this to the absence of Ken Levine; there is nothing wrong with the technology in BioShock 2, but there is no soul hiding inside its cumbersome exterior. BioShock 2 is a big daddy with no little sister: slow, loud, and on a short road to coma and death.

The opening sequence of BioShock should be required viewing in 'I want to make a video game 101.' I can think of no other game that grabs your attention and introduces you to a new world as quickly and efficiently. BioShock 2 tries to do the same, but it also assumes that you have played and remember the first game. To veterans of Rapture it will be immediately clear that they are playing as a big daddy, that there will be little sisters running around to either harvest or save, and that the splicers with be skulking in the darkest corners waiting for the perfect moment to get your insides on the outside. With the exception of the protagonists walking speed, nothing has changed. The feeling of been there, done that was never present in the first game (probably because I never finished System Shock 2, shame on me) but it never stops in BioShock 2. Andrew Ryan's failed experiment is old hat, and the first eight hours of the game make no attempt at shaking things up.

Burning Man: The Game.

Everything that is old is here again. There are vita-chambers that conveniently resurrect you from even the most savage beating. It is possible to turn them off this time around, but beyond scrounging for achievement points there is no reason to do so. Most of the same plasmids are present, the same combinations that worked before will work now, but it does seem easier to max out their levels. Adam is more abundant in BioShock 2, mostly because you can escort a little sister on a few harvesting missions before you either tear off her head or cure her. This one new mechanic is about the only way the player will ever actually feel like a big daddy: the little sister gets to work with her over sized hypodermic needle and splicers begin to ooze out of the duct work. They come in force, in greater numbers and with better tactics than anything the first game had to offer. Preparation is key; setting traps actually works this time around and even then the splicers will find a way through. They are hectic, tense battles that highlight everything that works about the game. It is a pity that the random encounters and boss battles never reach the same level.

The big sister debut was not a big secret. She appeared in several game magazines months prior to release. Who was actually in the suit was never made clear, which is a good thing, but I always assumed there was only one, that she was some kind of anomaly that filled the power vacuum created by the deaths of Ryan and Atlas. The first encounter with her, triggered by interacting with the little sisters, is an intense battle. Then she has he audacity to die, and any danger associated with further encounters with the now generic big sister dies right along with her. Making her a common enemy, especially one as easily defeated via freezing plasmid shenanigans, was a mistake. They show up about once per level, eventually two at a time, but they might as well be a slightly more powerful splicer, as they inspire neither anxiety nor fear. It was a wasted opportunity to do something that the first game never managed to do either: make me afraid of an enemy.

Hey, watch where you are pointing that!

For three quarters of its length the game lumbers on, beautiful and contemptibly familiar at the same time. As the big daddy grows in power he becomes indistinguishable from the hero/villain of the first game; just another plasmid wielding bad ass in rapture, this time with a drill instead of a wrench. Finally, when the game had tested even my patience, new things happened and I remembered why I loved the first game. I will not spoil it here (check old blog entries if you must know) but the last two hours of the game almost, almost, make the first eight forgivable. There are surprises, intense battles, missions with more than one linear objective; everything that was missing suddenly reappears and it is finally BioShock 2 instead of BioShock 1.5. I really wonder what part of the game was made first, the beginning or the end. If the ending was made last, congratulations, you made a great save. If it was made first, same on you 2K, you could have done so much better.

Sequels to critically and publicly acclaimed games are dangerous propositions. Yes, they will sell well at first based on name only, but everyone will be looking more closely the second time around and repeating yourself will not be tolerated. For every God of War II and Uncharted 2 there is a KotoR II or, worse yet, Ghostbusters II. While the second BioShock is certainly no worse than the first game, it is no better and misses out on several opportunities to improve. The bar never stops rising, BioShock 2 has simply fallen behind. Is it worth playing? Of course, but it will not leave you with the same fuzzy feeling the first one did. BioShock was a genre defining event, one that is rarely repeated in the same series. While BioShock 2 was not a bad game, I do hope it is the last we see of the series. Eight hours of tedium to get to two hours of excellence is much closer to working for a living than I want my gaming time to be.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Not nearly as sophisticated as I pretend to be.

After a long week full of moderate disappointment, courtesy BioShock 2 and Dante'e Inferno (reviews pending for both) I was actually ready to spend an evening away from my television and in front of someone else's. Instead of hunkering down with my arcade stick and practicing my link combos like I really need to do I ran off to a friends house for a few beers some co-op something or other. I dragged my PS3 controller along, expecting to work on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 or Marvel vs Capcom 2, but we never got that far. After sampling the God of War III demo (attention Visceral games, this is how gore is done) I asked him was Critter Crunch was.

'Just a little puzzle game,' he sneered, 'nothing you would be interested in.' This is the person I dragged into Super Puzzle Fighter just so I could beat him at it. He knew what he was doing.

I will not bore you with all the mechanics, suffice to say it is about feeding small critters to larger critters, thereby causing them to explode and drop gems. There is also an odd 'vomiting rainbows into your offspring's mouth' bonus from very large chains. The game was bizarre, the challenge mode devious, and it was all completely addictive. I think that Critter Crunch has a co-op mode, but we never got there, just passing the controller back and forth as was done back in the days of turbo buttons and cartridge based consoles. It took up an entire evening; had working not been required this morning we would have gone on, adding more beer to the game could have only had excellent results.

It was nice to play something simple again. No religious controversy, no plots based on Ayn Rand novels, no blood, no gore, no over sized demon wangs, no creepy little girls with a thing for corpses. Just a puzzle game, two dudes, and some beers.

This is what happens when you drink too much Delerium Nocturnum

All that being said, Mass Effect II should arrive today or tomorrow. So stoked.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The devil is bored.



As awful as it sounds to say this, the final encounter with Satan was a disappointment. They actually got his look fairly close to what I was expecting, but the scale was not there. Previous encounters, King Minos for example, made me feel small and a little initimidated. Satan should have been imprisoned in a massive lake, frantically trying to free himself with his four wings, freezing himself more firmly in the process. All the pieces are there, but it just feels too small, with the Devil almost looking relaxed in his icy tomb. After the first part of the battle mini-me Lucifer pops out of the big guys stoumach, and after a silly plot twist it just gets less effective. Previous cut scenes had him as a man made of smoke, formless and melevolent. It worked quite well, and it would have made for an interesting battle. Instead, I got an oversized imp with a giant third leg who was a pitchfork away from a childs haloween costume. If you are going to make a game about taking a trip through hell, don't half ass the star of the show.

There is also a blatent sequel tease (in says to be continued as Dante gazes at purgatory). What kind of sisyphean game would that be? Wait, Atlus already made it.

I'm kidding. Or am I?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sold!

Watch this:



Pre-order it here, you know you want to. The Penumbra titles were excellent horror games that made better use of motion based controls than anything I have seen on a console. Plus, it's only $16, you have nothing to lose.

I had prepared myself for all sorts of negative reactions to Dante's Inferno, steeling myself against everything was revulsion to fear to feeling the need to run off to make confession even though I am not Catholic. I was not ready to be underwhelmed. For a game about hell, it actually comes up more than a little short in the shocking department. Combat is better than I hoped, serving as a slightly watered down God of War, but it is less gory or intense than their trailers led me to believe. The Divine Comedy is the basis for almost all modern Christian mythology, shaping what most believers think about when the devil himself is brought up, weather hey are aware if it or not. So far hell looks like a series of scenes rejected from Silent Hill because they weren't frightening crossed with generic lava levels from every platformer, ever.

Granted, I am only a few circles in, so it will hopefully get better (read: worse). I will say that the game is giving equal time to both male and female anatomy. There have been plenty of demon breasts, some with tounges for nipples, but I happen to know that Lucifer's wang is waiting for me at the end. Think about this: it was someones job to animate that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Unpleasent company.

It is actually quite rare that I begin a game and walk away before finishing the majority of it, exceptions being racing games and fighting games, because those either never end or take so long to get there it just isn't worth the time. Even I have standards, and low as they may be, games have managed to come in below them. For example:

Vampire Rain (XB360) - Early in the consoles life or not, this 'stealth against the undead' game wasn't worth more than a few hours.

X-Blades (XB360) - Think Bayonetta with an even more annoying female lead and combat so terrible it was impossible to tell when you hit (or were being hit) by anything.

Turning Point (XB360) - This one wasn't my fault, as I can push my way through just about any shooter, regardless of quality. My 360 red-ringed on the last level, probably out of spite, and I didn't hold on to the game long enough to get back to it. Check out my old review here.

Wheelman (XB360) - Something about this game annoyed the piss out of me. I think it was Vin Diesel.

Infinite Undiscovery (XB360) - The name should have tipped me off, but wow, this is one of the worst RPG's I have ever tried to play.

Two Worlds (XB360) - Strike that, this is the worst RPG I have ever played. It also had the gall to come out right around the same time as Oblivion, which made it look even worse by comparison.

The Last Remnant (XB360) - I played this one for quite a while just like I would play any RPG: clean out all the enemies in each dungeon to stay just on or slightly ahead of the leveling curve. It turns out that the game works the complete opposite way of every other RPG ever. Killing enemies below your ability raises your level, but has no affect on your powers, which will lead you to unwinnable fights with bosses who are the same level as you but do Texas damage. After one such pasting I turning it off and deleted my save, it was not worth it.

Cross Edge (PS3) - Didn't even make it into the game proper on this one, it was just too chibi for me.

Folklore (PS3) - This was not a terrible game, it was just so repetitive that I lost interest. The same thing happened with Odin Sphere: even games that are drop dead gorgeous need to change things up once in a while.

Demon Souls (PS3) - Fuck this game. Seriously.

There are more, mostly RPG's, because a bad RPG is much more difficult to endure than a bad action game, though I did play through both Summoner and Summoner 2 on the PS2, so my taste should not be trusted. Add to this unfortunate list Divinity II: Ego Draconis. I was willing to let the bad framrate, bad voice acting and really bad character models go, but the absent quest tracking and really bad combat pushed it a few steps past even what I can stomach. There were dozens of optional quests in the first area alone, but nothing on the map that indicated where to go to finish them, and the combat, oddly enough, hearkened back to X-Blades.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X, wait, why am I dead? Back in the mail you go.

My journey though hell begins this evening. At first I thought I should prepare myself by revisiting the source material, but then I remembered that the developers barely did, so why should I?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My brain hurts.

Well it will have to come out!

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is going to draw comparisons to Braid, and rightly so. They share a similar look and a similar game play, at least on a rudimentary level. Winterbottom lacks the unbearable sense of self importance that put me off of Brain for months; it's about cloning yourself to steal sentient pies, not stalking a girl who wants nothing to do with you and feeling sorry for yourself when it doesn't work. It is also, after an hours worth of head vs. wall, much more difficult. Levels are limited to a single screen filled with all sorts of obstacles that you need to duplicate yourself to get past. These duplicates will repeat their recorded actions in a loop, unless you disturb them (hit them with your umbrella), at which point they angrily shake a fist and fade into the aether. It starts out simply, with the extra Winterbottoms acting as platforms or pulling switches, but very soon there are pies that must be obtained in a specific order within a very strict time limit, pies that only the clone can get, moving platforms bathed in deadly fire, and anything else The Odd Gentlemen could think of to make pastry purloining more painful. I am reminded of Splosion Man in that I can only play it for about an hour before breakable objects within reach begin to fear for their lives. It certainly warrants being finished, but it may take me quite a while to do so.

As per the yesterday's warning, BioShock 2 spoilers ahead.



While nothing could surpass the 'would you kindly' reveal from the first game, BioShock 2 pulled out two very surprising moments just when I was starting to get bored of nailing splicers to the wall. Delta, one of the first big daddies, has been urged on telepathically by his 'daughter' for the entire game. When he finally finds her she is suffocated by her own mother right in front of him to prevent their reunion. This nearly kills him because of the big daddy - little sister bond. Delta falls, his daughter lands in front of him, staring into his helmet with dead eyes, and the screen goes dark. For the first time it what had been an incredibly predictable game I did not know what was going to happen next. It even crossed my mind that I had screwed something up and was getting a really bad ending.

It turns out that neither of them are all dead, just mostly dead. Delta is strapped to a table, being allowed to die a natural death (which apparently circumvents the automatic resurrection that I had been abusing for hours) and his daughter is once again locked away. A new little sister appears, climbs up onto him and jabs a giant needle into his chest. I thought I was being harvested for adam, instead I found myself looking through the little sisters eyes and guiding her through a small mission. Seeing the world through her drug addled, emotionally conditioned mind was easily the highlight of the game. Finally it was something new, disturbing, and unexpected. It really makes me wonder if these events were actually unused ideas from the first game. Nothing else here proves that the development team had this in them.

Of course, even bad games get lucky once in a while.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

BioShock'ed.

It certainly took its sweet time getting there, but BioShock 2 did eventually live up to at least some expectations. When it finally stopped being too colorful, too slow paced, and too afraid to do anything new (when BioShockk 2 finally began and BioShock 1.5 ended) there were only around three hours left. Three short hours to enjoy what the entire game should have been. I cannot help be feel let down, I wanted a whole game of this, not a single evenings entertainment. It's not like sequels to big games are never bigger and better; God of War II, Mass Effect 2, and Uncharted 2 are all proof that lighting can not only strick twice in the same place but hit even harder the second time. BioShock 2 is more along the lines of Halo 2 and Serious Sam 2: good, but not nearly as good as they should have been.

More on BioShock 2 tomorrow, including a blantent spoiler that I really want to talk about. I would let the little girl out of the bag now, but The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom just finished downloading and I need to figure out if any game is worth a title that long.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Saboteur Review

Boom.

There are, by my unscientific 'pull a number out of the air' count, about a million and one games that are centered around killing Nazis. No other group provides as convenient and guilt free a punching bag (until someone makes a game about beating up KKK members who work for Fox news, Rockstar is probably stealing this idea from me right now). Even so, the well has gone dry enough for the big names to move on to modern age, more ethnically diverse, villains. Pandemic, on the other hand, has never been shy about digging deeper into abandoned territory; they pulled a decent game or two out of Hoth, which is something that had no right to happen after Rogue Squadron. Then they looked at World War II and said, 'maybe, just maybe, one more game.' Much to my surprise, they have pulled it off, and not just because they allow me to 'accidentally' run over french people. The Saboteur is a natural extension of Pandemic's Mercenaries series, another few games that I have enjoyed much more than is reasonable. It is also good not because of who I was killing, but in spite of it, and it still manages to show a side of WWII that actually hasn't been beaten to death.

When I look at The Saboteur with my cynical, critical eyes there really isn't much nice to say. It is not just derivative of Mercenaries, it is Mercenaries, set in occupation era France instead of a nameless modern country being fought over by super powers and a steroid laden Norwegian. The two games operate almost identically: get missions involving blowing things up, blow the things up, repeat until you are desensitized to all forms of violence. In my head I know that Mercenaries 2 was really not that great, but I smiled the entire time I played it, because damn if knocking buildings down with bunker busters is not a good time. The Saboteur takes the same sandbox structure, adds a little more plot, a lot more sand, and a main character that actually has more depth then a silly accent. Taking this formula and giving it a little historical context, even one as over used as this, actually makes it more involving. Many of the sandbox of destruction's faults are mitigated by there being just enough story to provide direction. It is still easy to wander off track and just dynamite everything is site, but more often than not it is caused by player ADD instead of there being nothing else to do.

Boom?


This is not to say that The Saboteur doesn't bring some of its own failings to the table. There is plenty of space to explore here. Not as much as Far Cry 2 or Just Cause, but big none the less, and there is no quick travel function. This means that when objectives are on opposite sides of the French country side you are going for a long drive. The first time through it is not bad; there are plenty of random targets scattered about to keep things interesting. The second and third times, after all the sniper towers and fueling stations have been destroyed, there is nothing to do but drive and focus on how bad the driving really is. The main character is a drunken, angry Irish race car driver named Sean with a shady past and a taste for explosive carnage (and slutty English secret agents). The game stays true the character, with racing playing a large part in both story missions and just escaping from enemy patrols. It's a shame that every car controls poorly, races are scripted to prevent you from winning or losing to soon, and you are generally better off on foot jumping from roof top to roof top than trying to make a getaway by road. I was not looking for a racing simulator, but controls beyond that of previous generation shovel ware would have been nice.

Once you arrive at the target and ditch the car (or turn it into a rolling bomb and take out a platoon of SS) things get right back on track. The Saboteur uses the same color change routine that worked so well in Okami, with new areas almost entirely black and white save for the red of banners and flying limbs. The Nazis seem to have mastered weather control as well, as their strongholds are invariably cloaked in rain and wind. The oppressive atmosphere rivals that of Stalker in its effectiveness, and when the last enemy falls and France explodes back into color it really feels like a triumph. Even the transitions between the areas are handled gracefully, with the color slowly fading the further away from free areas you get. The end result is the game looking much better than it should, at least from an art direction stand point.

BOOM!

Combat in the occupied areas usually begins with some sneaking around, but Sean is no Solid Snake; being discovered is only a matter of time. It is just as well, the sneaking mechanic is inconsistent at best. Some enemies could spy me from blocks away, but I could sneak between two guards and plant explosives on the armored car they were standing in front of without anyone noticing until it was far, far too late. Once the shooting starts there is a simplified cover mechanic that automatically sticks Sean to a wall when he has a weapon drawn. It works well enough, but is only required when the uber-Nazis from Wolfenstein show up and laugh at your feeble attempts to kill them with only two full clips of ammo and a grenade. Up to that point Sean soaks up bullets like he soaks up whiskey, which is probably not a coincidence. Combat can be best described as a serviceable distraction between making things go boom. Destroying towers filled with unsuspecting soldiers never got old for me, and it only got better when I found a tank to roll around in.

The Saboteur is simply more than the sum of its trite parts. As a jaded old man I know there are better games that I should be spending my time on, but the part of me that never grew up and likes to watch things explode doesn't care and just wants to see more. And then just as the inner child begins to tire and look for the next thing Pandemic squeezes in actual character development and real emotional moments, something that 'better' action games often fail to do. I had fun and played in through until the story was done, which is where it ultimately lost me. I had finally gotten my fill of wanton destruction and a reckless disregard for the safety of innocents, which makes this a fitting swan song for Pandemic. I had destroyed enough, and they will not be giving me any more opportunities to do so.

Monday, February 15, 2010

That splicer is smart. I hate him.

The first BioShock, for being being as excellent as it was, had one glaring problem: there was no penalty for death. Dying simply bounced you back a few rooms to the most recently passed resurrection tube, or whatever they called it, and you were on your way. I don't necessarily have a problem with removing the death penalty from a game, however by pulling it out you remove most if not all of the danger from the combat and it can actually become a little boring. BioShock's environments and story were more than good enough to make up for not being afraid to fail, so it became a non issue very quickly. BioShock 2, on the other hand, is not as amazing to look at or explore and its superior precursor, and the resurrection-o-matic is still present. At least this time in can be turned off in the menu, though I have no plans to do so because I am noticeably terrible at the game. Splicers are more intelligent this time around which does add back in some of the alleviated tension. They attack in larger groups, make better use of ranged weapons, and are generally capable of killing you in any encounter. On one occasion I had a splicer kill me, then camp outside my tube and wait for me to come out again. I sat there in my enclosure, looking at him looking in at me and just waiting for me to open the door. As soon as I did he killed me, and then waited for it to happen again.

I was being spawn camped but the AI. This would not do. Being a user, I took the appropriate steps, and reloaded a save. Take that!

I am taking the easy way out again and not killing any little girls. Being a big daddy (and being a big wuss) it just doesn't feel appropriate. The best parts of the game so far have been defending a little sister who is busily skewering a corpse for adam from wave after wave of splicers. It is here, when preparing for an ambush you know is coming, that the combat truly shines. There are cameras to hack, mini-turrets to set up in choke points, traps to set, and many other ways to get ready. When they do arrive, the come from all directions, testing defences, then attacking not you, but the creepy yellow eyed succubus you are guarding. They are interesting battles, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of other encounters.

You know, when tommy gun wielding maniacs don't stand outside a glass chamber waiting for me to come out so they can kill me for the third time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

BioShock 2 is, after three hours, unremarkable. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is nothing new about it yet either. What was awe inspiring last year has become run of the mill, and even the addition of playing as a big daddy is not enough to freshen things up. Everything I have read says that the games takes until the last three hours to be worth it. I have played through games for worse reasons (I have actually finished games out of spite) so there is no reason not to see things through, but I cannot help but be dissappointed. BioShock, from the moment the game was turned on to the credits rolled, was an experience that did not let the player go. BioShock 2 is so familiar that it has done more than breed contempt, it has allowed the dreaded 'boredom' to seep in.

After spending twenty minutes trying to beat Seth with Dan this morning I remembered why I never bothered unlocking everyone in the first place. Seth's AI is, for lack of a better term, bullshit on the level of Mortal Kombat bosses. No one should play Street Fighter by themselves, something that is a weekness of the series and should not be glossed over, but making the final boss as bad as is he is unforgivable, and they plan on making him worse for the update coming out in a few months. At least this time all the characters are unlocked from the beginning so I never have to bother playing with myself to unlock things. Titles and icons are not enough of a motivation for me to resort to joy stick masturbation.

Prediction 1: Juri will be broken, and I will hate fighting against her.

Prediction 2: I will dabble with Adon, but only because he has an incredibly annoyong voice.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Taking a beating.

I neglected to mention yesterday that I finished up as much of The Sabotuer as I am going to do. All of the story missions and side missions are done, I have climbed the Eiffel Tower and lept off to my death, and there are several hundred 'free-form' missions left to find. The Nazis sure have a thing for putting up sniper towers and speakers wherever they go. While these targets were fun to find and destroy while I was on my way from one place to another I do not think climbing from rooftop to rooftop searching them out would hold my attention for long. It is done enough, and there are other things pressing on my schedule.

I am speaking of BioShock 2, which was installed on my 360's hard drive and ready to go, right up until I jumped into a little swiss style Street Fighter trounament. It took most of the night, and I was beaten on by a dictator who know what I was going to do before I did it (and had counters for everything else, as he had previously mained Blanka) for my trouble, but it was still a good time. There is a random only get together this evening which I will most likely skip. It starts a bit early, I still don't have Seth unlocked, by 360 decided to lock up right after beating it with Fuerte yesterday so I have to do it with him again, and I have many other excuses that all skirt around the real issue. In truth, I am terrible with everyone else, and my performance would be an embarassment. Maybe if I landed on Guile or Ryu I might be okay, but with my luck it would be Chun Li, Rose and Abel all night. These are characters that I have never played, ever, and has no desire to learn. It would be ugly.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Surprise, feelings!

I always enjoy it when a developer slips a little emotional moment into an otherwise testosterone laden affair. Sure, Sean has killed hundreds of Nazis, run over a fair share of innocents while fleeing said Nazis, and has a distinct weakness for slutty British secret agents, but that doesn't mean the guy can't have a moment, does it? During the overly long intro sequence Sean has his friend Jules tortured and killed right in front of him. For the entire game he has blamed himself for Jules' death (and it really was entirely his fault), using it as emotional fuel for his revenge. Right at the end Sean revisits the scene of his friends murder, rescues a damsel in distress, and then pauses reflectively over a chair and large blood stain. Everyone else leaves the music quiets down, and Sean calmly blows the every loving shit out of the room with dynamite. As over the top as it sounds, it was effective and humanized Sean rather well. Pandemic seems to have hit a fine balance with The Saboteur between open world silliness and characters that are interesting. I look forward to what they do next...

Oh yeah, Pandemic doesn't exist anymore. Looking at their history, the studio has put out more than a few clunkers (Lord of the Rings Conquest and Destroy All Humans 2 being the worst offenders). Still, it is never good to see a studio with potential go away. Grin suffered much the same fate, only their last game (Terminator Salvation) makes me miss them a little less. Okay, a lot less. It must be terribly unnerving to work in this industry. Every small studio is a single game away from going broke or being bought out by Activision or EA and subsequently digested by corporate monsters. For those who just want to make good games, it has to be frustrating. I couldn't do it, but then again, I can't code, draw, direct, or be very creative. I simply consume the fruits of their labor and try in vain to understand what it took to get the game in front of me. Maybe that is why I am more tolerant of terrible games than I should be. Someone worked on it, possible very hard into the wee hours, who am I to not give them a few hours of my time?

Of course, if the game is shit, I am going to say so. No one is paying for my opinion, I give it all away for free, which I means I have nothing to lose.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paying for less.

So the race came and went and it was less offensive than I had feared. It did indeed end with an explosion, but most things in the game do, so I don't know what I was worried about. The event itself was really not a race, it was a series of scripted events that took a great deal of pressure off of the poor driving mechanics. New cars would appear on the horizon to pass at specific locations, usually accompanied by plane flyovers or racist ribbing from the commentator. The guy in first place doesn't even show up until the last section of the last lap. This is a completely artificial way to build tension and would be unforgivable if this were actually a game about driving cars fast. Truthfully, I was thankful for the pre-determined shenanigans, it let me get back to strapping dynamite to things sooner than I had hoped.

The end must be fast approaching; everyone save the irishman and two female leads are dead. The Nazis burned down the burlesque house that had served has a hideout for most of the game, which seems more than a little out of character. Perhaps they got tired of arm pit hair. Speaking of burlesque, The Sabotuer has an odd bit of DLC that is worth mentioning. If I had purchased the game it would have included a free code for 'The Midnight Show.' All this does is remove the tassels from the female performers. Yup, DLC bewbs. I of course did not purchase the game, nor I am going to fork over 400 microsoft points for virtual ta-tas, which places this bit of DLC right on the same level as Oblivion's horse armor. Although paying to get less of something, even clothing, seems like an even bigger waste of resources.

Now if there was DLC that replaced the annoying french accents of most of the characters with something less grating I would buy it in a second.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forgetting what works.

The Saboteur is not a racing game. The driving it does contain is no match for just about any dedicated title in either the simulation or arcade sub-genres, yet it keeps coming back to it because the main character happens to be a race car driver. If these were optional missions that would be one thing, but I am about to come up to a plot required race that it probably isn't going to let me cheat at. If I was allowed to load the back of all the opposing cars with high explosives, detonating them as they raced beneath grand stands filled with goose steppers, showering the surrounding area with a grotesque mix of innards and pointy helmets, I might forgive it. If it makes me race and win cleanly, things will get ugly, because where's the fun in that? If I wanted to race I would get a hold of Forza again, and even then I would be black flagged on the first lap (if it actually had that feature).

On a whim I checked out the Rock Band store new releases, and my wallet may end up paying the price. For a long time I bought every track that was released, played many of them once, and never looked at them again. After a while my infatuation with the game waned, there were other things to play, and my impluse purchases ground to a halt. It has been a while since I have purchased an album, but the new Megadeath release may push me back to it. Hanger 18 was one of the last songs in Guitar Hero 2, and I remember it being epic in both length and difficulty. I would like to think that I am at least a little better than I was then, so it will be worth it to make a go at it on expert. And if I'm buying one track, why not just grab the whole album to have a little more to play?

Boy, that was a stretch. You know it was a slow day when I have to complain about things I will probably buy and a game that I enjoy all but one aspect of. As a project, I have made it over 40 days writing something down every day and have put up five reviews, which is better than I thought I would do. I do not intend to stop, but coming up with new things on which to bitch is getting more challenging.

I know, I could talk about how the gentlemen who produce Penny Arcade fill me with jealousy so deep and powerful that it's a little scary.

Or not.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A fundamental shift.

Moving from buying every game that I wanted to play to renting them from GameFly was not as easy as it sounds. It was only on the second try that I managed to free myself from the need to play something right now. There are exceptions, of course, most notably in the Street Fighting and plastic instrument genres, but I really purchase very few games anymore. This also means that I must insulate myself from most discussion for days, sometimes weeks at a time. I have yet to spoil Mass Effect 2 for myself, but who know how long that will last, and who knows when I will actually get to play it.

This ramble is going somewhere; BioShock 2 shipped out yesterday in spite of me already having my allotment of games at home/in transit. I do not understand, but I will not complain. Choosing what to play next will also be easy: I am going to finish The Sabotuer before anything else starts, it is fun and I don't care what anyone else says. Next in line was Divinity II, a game that I know nothing about, so it is easily pushed aside for what is supposedly a worthy succesor to BioShock. We shall see; BioShock was very good, and the absence of Warren Spector is not something that will be easy to just get past. I really hope they do not attempt to one up the twist from the first game. Attempting a bigger twist each time is most of why M. Night Shyamalan no longer makes good movies. That, and he is a hack.

All I did last night was drive around Paris and blow up Nazis. Sometimes they were in towers, other times they were hiding in tanks, and at least one just didn't turn around in time to stop me from dropping several sticks of dynamite down his pants. The analytical, cranky side of me keeps jumping up and down, screaming at the top of its lungs that the game is repetative, simple, and that I should not be enjoying myself. Then I drive a WWII era sports car through a crowd of facists, throwing them in every direction, and the pure joy of guiltless carnage shuts him up. I certainly don't love Nazis, but I do love to see them flying, limbs akimbo, on the heels of grossly exagerated explosion.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Darksiders Review

War does his best Dante impression.

In the beginning, when Vigil Games was deciding what kind of game they wanted to make for their premier console appearance, Darksiders was a four player co-op magnum opus starring all four horsemen of the apocalypse, a gigantic sandbox world, devils, angels, and all sorts of other things that were too much for a new developer to handle. They eventually came to their senses, scaled absolutely everything back to more manageable (and fund-able) levels, copied every good idea they had ever seen in another game and dropped them in. It is not enough to say that there are no new ideas here; Darksiders is a greatest hits collection of weapons, puzzles and ideas from other games, most notably Zelda and Soul Reaver, but there are may more. No attempt has been made to hide it, and by relishing in its own blatentness Darksiders has pulled off the developer crime of all crimes: they made a pretty good game using other peoples ideas. Makers of movie licensed games take note, it is possible, you really have no excuse.

Darksiders, if played in the correct company, becomes a trivia contest diguised as a God of War/Ratchet and Clank hybrid. Naming which game every element originated from is actually a good exercise. Zelda is going to come up a lot; with secondary weapons like a boomerang that can target multiple enemies, a hook shot for getting to hard to reach places and puzzles that rarely get beyond 'find key, open door' it is unavoidable, but it manages to never feel derivitive. I honestly saw more of Soul Reaver in the boss fights and overall combat, both of which being slightly deeper than anything Link had to deal with. War is neither as whiny as Raziel nor as awesome as Kain (nor as mute as Link) so he is almost an original character. Almost, because the part of brooding anti-hero who has been screwed over by the gods has already been taken by a bald guy who wears much less clothing, but War still get points for trying. There just isn't much to like or dislike about him. On the positive side, he does make a better candidate for an action game than pestilence or famine, and Death is locked up by the Castlevania franchise.

War does his best Bionic Commando impression.

Combat is shallow and mashy, with one or two abusable combos that will carry players of almost any ability through most encounters. There is a counter system in place, but outside of a forced pratice room I never needed it; War's dodge was more than enough to get out of the way of things and the timing required to counter a move was too strict to bother trying. There were secondary weapons as well, a sickle that can be purchased early on and a glove found much later; the sickle I only bought because I had extra souls laying around and the glove might has well been a margarita machine, all I ever used it for was breaking ice. There was no incentive to branch out beyond the giant sword of swinging death. Usually bosses force some kind of aresenal flexibility, but every boss in Darksiders in a puzzle, often involving whatever gadget was found in their lair. Yes, they had health bars, but each was defeated by figuring out what item to use and then repeating it three times. At this point Darksiders looses the feeling of being an homage and slips right into copy-catting, mostly because it doesn't know when to stop.

Right at the end of Zelda: Wind Waker there is a truly terrible section comprised entirely of fishing for triforce pieces. It throws off the pace of the game, killing any and all momentum towards the final confrontation. Darksiders does the exact same thing, only with a shattered sword instead of mystic triangles. Immidietly after War gets all his answers, kills the demon that killed him in the beginning, and swears some sort of 'I'ma gonna kick yo ass' oath at the main boss he is sent on a boring retread right through all the areas he had already cleaned out. It helps that every sword piece War has to find is identified exactly on the map, and there are quick travel locations provided by Watto the demon merchant near them all, but it is unnecessary and lessens the impact of the final encounter. Darksiders was long enough aready, it didn't need this padding, especialy right at the end when you should be running downhill at the Destroyer, violently flailing your sword at the unfortunte fools who get in your way, not playing pick up sticks for a giant, depressed dwarf.

War visits Middle Earth and has tea with Sauron.

Despite these end game miss steps, Darksiders in a fun enough game to warrant playing through to its cliffhanger ending. Good enough because there is a terrible downside to cribbing your best ideas from better games: the new game is fun and entirely forgettable. The next time a game sneaks a portal gun in I am not going to think of Darksiders, I am going to think of Portal. The same is true for everything else it has to offer: fun, but not something that is going to stick with anyone much beyond the credits because those memories are already spoken for. If Darksiders does well enough to warrant a sequal, and if Vigil revisits their original ideas, then yes, Darksiders 2 will be little more than Borderlands on a pale horse. It will still be fun and forgettable, so I suppose I am looking forward to not remembering it. Darksiders gets a lot right and a few things very wrong, none of which I will give it credit for or hold it accountable to. It made the end of the world a good time, how can you go wrong with that?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Guilty Pleasures.

There are many, many reasons that I should be annoyed with The Saboteur. Too much driving, incredibly spread out objectives and stealth that is encouraged but boarder line useless (and when full blown combat does break out the Nazi's best move to is to call in reinforcements until you run out of bullets) are on the short list of things that I should be ripping on the game for. It is also little more than Grand Theft Auto IV in occupation era France, and I am not nor have I ever been a fan of GTA. There is something almost intangible here, though, that keeps me coming back. Maybe it is the swarthy Irishman who just like to make things go boom. Maybe it is the color change element ripped straight out of Okami, or maybe it is just a simple guilty pleasure. I am enjoying The Saboteur and I have no intent on rushing through it, regardless of what comes out next week.

In an effort to keep my ego in check I jumped on to Xbox Live for a few games of Street Fighter this afternoon. No sooner did I log in than I was set upon by several mediocre Ryus and a Seth who teleported so much I had no idea what to do. It was an ugly afternoon and I do no think I learned much from it other than humility, which is just as important as any combo or counter. Expect that every opponent is better and treat them as such, lest you end up getting schooled by a Vega who knows two moves.

Oh hey, the Dante's Inferno Super Bowl spot. It really is missing something without the 'Go to Hell' tag line. Stupid censors.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A winner is me.

It turns out that I didn't need a mic for the PA Friday Night Street Fights, so I jumped in. I am quite glad I did, because after several long, hard battles with an excellent Zangief I emerged victorious. I don't think that I was better than he was; on the contrary he beat me to send me to losers bracket in a fight that I wish I had recorded for posterity. My Blanka is tiresome to fight, though, and after having to fight me twice more, it just became too much to bear. In was this battle of attrition that affored me victory.

Still, it is nice to win.

Started Sabotuer after the tournament and was pleasently surprised. I takes far to long to get to the open word, with an unfortunate detour into racing, but once I got there I was hooked. The protagonist, a filthy, drunken Irishman, is like an Altair with less class and more explosives. Sure, revenge is there as a motive, but so is the simple joy of blowing shit up, and there are certainly plent of targets. I am reminded of Crackdown's innumerable pickups; every place I turn there is a sniper tower to blow up, or a spot light to blow up, or an armored car to blow up, and an enemy general to blow up. Somehow, blowing things up never gets old. I enjoyed Mercenaries 2 more than I should have for this very reason, and Sabotuer will scratch the same volitile itch.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Picking on the less fortunate.

The difference in ability between players on Xbox Live and the PC is staggering. I understand that the player base on the PC side is much smaller, but my experience last night has led me to believe that nine out of ten PC Street Fighters use the keyboard to play, perhaps hitting buttons with their feet. My win/loss percentage on the Xbox sits at around 50%. Nothing spectacular, and when I lose it is usually to someone who is playing an entirely different game than I am. I have only put a few days on the PC, mostly because it is much more difficult to find a good game, but I think out of three hours of playing last night I lost around three times. This is not because my Blanka has somehow made the jump from pedestrian to godliness, it is because I was playing people who were terrible. Ken's who would stand there doing quarter circles as soon as they got their ultra, hoping beyond hope that I would walk into the move. A Honda who did nothing but torpedo, even though a blocked torpedo is a guaranteed river run, and I hit him with it every single time. There was a Rufus who did nothing but crouch and jab to counter balls that I wasn't throwing, a Bison who had a pension for random ultras, and a Fuerte who decided to forgo mixups for the same move over and over.

He actually beat me the first time. I figured out a counter too late in the last round, so I found him again and perfected him out of revenge.

And while it was fun to spend an evening winning instead of losing in the finals of championship mode to Ryu's, I didn't learn anything. I think I have gotten pretty good at recognizing one dimensional players and punishing them accordingly (unless I don't have a counter for the one dimension...) but this was silly. By the end of the night I was passing up ranked matches with good connections because I had already fought the person and knew what the outcome would be. I did find a Guile who was pretty good, so I followed him around for a while to practice what has been a bad match up for me. Eventually he succumbed to panic and randomness, which isn't much fun to play against, so I left him alone.

There is a PC tournament tonight being hosted by some PA folks. I need to decide if I am going to attend, and if so I need to find a headset before tonight. These are people who are significantly better than I am; the abuse would be good for me. On the other hand Saboteur and Divinity II are at home waiting to be played, with Bioshock II and Inferno next week, and Mass Effect 2 laughing at me for not playing it. It's just not fair.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The ending of our story.

I take back what I said about the possibility and possible condition of a sequel to Darksiders. The ending is a cliffhanger of epic purportions: for many hours you have been stuck as War, the most straight forward and boring of all the horsemen. Right before the credits roll War grumbles that he is not alone and three meteorites are shown plumeting from the sky. From what I understand the origial idea for Darksiders included all four horsement as playable, with four player co-op. Picture, if you will, Borderlands (which was excellent) but instead of a rag tag bunch of mercs you play as demigods bent on detroying both heaven and hell. It is understandable that Vigil Games backed away from this. It would be an incredible investment into an unproven IP. Should Darksiders get a true sequal, and should it include the kind of co-op experience that has been proven possible on a console by Borderland and Left 4 Dead, they should include a free pair of pants with every pre-order, and I would be first in line.

Who am I kidding, I never play co-op anything, but it certainly sounds like it would be a lot of fun. Or it could be like Zelda Four Swords and end friendships in eruptions of bloody violence. Either way, good times.

Quite some time ago I set up a 'blog' for my 360 here, then forgot about it for about two years. Looking at it now I am suprised by what games I played the most. Rock Band, Street Fighter IV, and SSFIIHDR are the top three. Rock Band has the lead running away at 68 days. I must have gotten over my music game addiction, because nothing else in the genre even comes close. What is also suprising, and I think this actually points to a problem in their reporting, is how low Oblivion is. I put an embarassing amount of time in that game, most of which is not reported here. I don't know why it bothers me, other than my epeen being sold a little short.

Virtual sword fighting?

Ew.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A step too far.

Ask most people what their least favorite part of Wind Waker was and you will probably hear 'fishing for triforce pieces at the end of the game.' If they say 'the graphics' thier opinion is of no value and you shouldn't ask them any more questions. This final fetch quest killed any momentum that had been built towards the final confrontation, changing what could have been an emotionally charged last boss fight into an afterthought. Darksiders, while borrowing from everything under the sun, has managed to grab a few things that no game should have, this being the worst. War has gotten all the information that he needs, found out who the bad guy is, that everyone has betrayed him, and managed to keep it quiet to kick ass with the new found knowledge later. Instead of running off and killing things he has to traipse across all the old levels looking for pieces of a sword. Having a flaming horse to ride makes it a little better, but this kind of time sink should either be optional or take place at the beginning of a game, not when things are rolling downhill towards the finale.

I only have three left to dig up, than a boss fight or two, and I will be done. The downside of a game being comprised of the best pieces of better games is that it will be quickly forgotten. Darksiders has apparently disappointed THQ in the sales department, so there will either no sequel or a scaled back one. Take a peek at Xenosaga to know how that will end up. Speaking of Xenosaga, curse Nintendo for buying Monolith. There is a new RPG arriving in the near future that looks an awful lot like a followup to the Xeno games, but it is exclusive to their little system. I didn't buy a Wii for the Silent Hill remake, and I won't buy a Wii for this one, and I understand that it is basically a first party title so I should not have expected anything else...

But it still sucks.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Something old, something old, something borrowed...

It has been a long time since I have seen something that was comepletely new and exciting in a game. More often than not games are just fighting to implement an old idea better than the last time it was trotted out. Darksiders actually one ups this by taking all of its ideas from other places; it is a collection of old ideas, all polished up and put on display with no attempt to hide where they came from. So far there is the general structure of Soul Reaver (which itself stole from Zelda), a hook shot and boomerang also cribbed from Link's arsenal, a portal gun that only works on certain targets, a demon merchant who sounds suspiciously like Watto from The Phantom Menace, collecting souls right out of God of War (which stole the idea from Onimusha, which I really doubt was the first game to use it) and a demon who looks very much like Tim Curry's character from Legend minus the wings. The difference between Darksiders' lovable thievery and, say, Dark Void's abominable copycatting is Darksiders is actually fun to play. All the stolen pieces fit back together into a solid (so far) game.

Side note: I want to see a staring contest between War and Kratos. That shit would be epic.

It's all about enjoying those few hours of gaming I get each day, and as much as I like to complain (and I really like to) it is difficult to come down on Darksiders. I have seen it all before, every bit of it, but it is done so well that the experience becomes a trip down memory lane for people with incredibly short attention spans. No bit of retrospective lasts longer than it should, and then it's on to the next one.

A story that made sense would be a bonus, but you can't win them all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bayonetta Review

Egregious

A brief history of the female form as used in videogames:

Ms. Pac Man: I cannot believe that I linked to that image. Move along, and I'm sorry.

Lara Croft: Ms. Croft is the one of the first and most recognizable of all female videogame heroines. She also has the honor of becoming more normal looking as her games went along. In Tomb Raider Underworld she is almost proportionally correct, and a better character for it.

The Dead or Alive girls: Dead or Alive brought us breast physics, one button counters, and more breast physics. While they have certainly gotten better looking as the years go by, they have not gotten the reality reduction that Lara thankfully received. Instead they gone not one, but two beach volleyball games.

Alyx Vance: With a soft spot for the strong silent type in industrial armor, Alyx gave hope to millions of PC gaming neckbeards hoping that their 'personality quirks' were actually good for something other than trivia and D&D. In spite of this, Alyx is probably the most realistic female character in all of gaming. We might even find out if she and Gordon have a future if Valve can get over their zombie/making lots of money fetish.

And finally, Bayonetta. While all the previous examples tried, with varying degrees of success, to be sexy, Bayonetta may be the first female heroine to be so out and out sexual. There is a big divide between something looking doable and acting doable, and Bayonetta dances straight down the middle of the uncanny valley right up to the point where I found her appearance and actions difficult to endure. With proportions more in common with Jack Skellington than anything human I have ever seen, Baynetta moves in a robotically lusty way from attack to attack, with crotch shots and butt wiggles highlighting a performance that can be best described as egregious. I am not sure what Sega was going for with the character, but making me cringe was probably not it. It's a shame, too: as a game, minus all the extraneous naughty bits, Bayonetta has the best combat I have had the pleasure of killing things with in a long time. The extra attention grab provided by tight pants and bizarre, nearly naked attacks was completely unnecessary.

To say that Bayonetta is a Devil May Cry clone is selling it incredibly short. Yes, there are guns and swords, juggling attacks, combos, and every level is grading your performance, but Devil May Cry's combat never flowed as well as it does here, and it certainly never took the time out to teach the player how to succeed on higher difficulty levels. There are only three choices when starting Bayonetta, and only Normal forces you to actually play the game with two hands. Enemies are forgiving enough that button mashing will work for a while, but as the difficulty level ramps up the player is forced to learn exactly how to dodge correctly, capatalize on openings, and not die from random attacks that can eat up most of your health in one string of hits. The middle part of the game ends up being the most difficult, as the player will either have an epiphany and begin playing correctly or give up and drop the game down a level. After the 'aha' moment it's smooth sailing until the a new game on Hard, but even then there is not the huge, off putting leap that the Devil May Cry's are notorious for. The equivalent of Dante Must Die mode is still there, but more people are liable to get to it because the transition is much less frustrating.

Silly.

Even before being mastering the combat it is much closer to a 3D fighter like Soul Caliber than anything else. There are basic punch/kick combos, but each attack can be extended with gun play by holding down the button. If you dodge while holding the button you can offset the combo and continue it from another direction. Dodging at the last moment slows everything down, creating openings and allowing you to hit characters that otherwise damage you when you get too close (they are on fire), but that only lasts through Hard. After that, slow mo mode is taken away; by then you should be an expert anyway, but to honest, I never got that far.

Bayonetta does stray in places from it's strong points, forcing you into a bad racing segment and worse Panzer Dragoon lampoon where Baynoetta rides on the back of a missile trying to be as cool as the Contra guys (it doesn't work). Both of these sections also last entirely too long, but at least the checkpoints are close enough together that dying to blind motorcycle jumps isn't quite as bad as it could be. The story does itself no favors, either; it is convoluted and bizarre way past the usual explanation of 'it's Japanese.' There are angels, but they may be bad guys, demons, but they kind of help, witches, sages, a little girl with an annoying accent, and some douchbag with a Dr. Who scarf and Link's hook shot. Every cut scene can be skipped, and I suggest that you do so, as it will spare you from both the silly narrative and more of Bayonetta than you really want to see. Many of them are like watching a leather clad train wreck: all over the place but strangely tight and firm at the same time.

Even the monster is ashamed of itself.

Bayonetta the character belongs in a game of lesser quality, her attempts at eyeball grabbing are just not necessary here. Put her in last years Ninja Blade, the one game I can think of that is even stranger than this one but it still fun to play, and she would be right at home. I would have played Bayonetta the game with stick figures on a plain background; the combat is just that good. The character does not ruin the game by any means, but she doesn't do it nor the portrayal of women in videogames any service in the least. I am not some women's lib/feminist wierdo, I played the first Dead or Alive and set my age at the maximum to make Hitomi's boobs bounce off of her head when she ducked the same as everyone else, but I don't like what Bayonetta is trying to do. Sex appeal in video games is nothing new, but this new sexual appeal (and yes, this includes my previous mention of Mass Effect 2) I can do without. Just plain old violence is good enough for me, and that is what I will remember the most from Bayonetta, not some chick in glasses with legs that are too long and an attitude straight out of 'Letters to Penthouse.'