Saturday, April 30, 2011

The bard doesn't do FPS

My mocking of Killzone 3 was prophetic: it featured an ending so phoned in it rivaled the 'endings' featured in Crysis and Far Cry. Not because of how difficult it was, just because it didn't make any sense and missed great opportunities for drama and character development. That four legged battleship thing I talked about took another hour of missions to bring down. What was left of the good guys gathered at the base of the space elevator it was defending and the commander decided there were not enough of them left to make a difference and called it a day. One of the two main characters (Sev, I think) gets all macho and pissed, delivering a version of the St. Cripin's day speech fit for mouth breathing space marines. It worked they all stormed up the elevator, there were a few silly section of zero gravity where the enemies didn't float around until after they were dead and firing a gun didn't throw backwards unto the nearest bulkhead (zero gravity has never been handled correctly in a game). All the while the Helgans are fighting amongst themselves, with the one bright spot being Malcolm McDowell reprising his role of Keslee from Tank Girl. I can imagine him literally chewing on the microphone on the recording booth, spittle flying it all directions as his rants grow in intensity. I don't know how they got him, but the man needs to do more voice work.

After a few final battles in a space station the action shifts to actual space combat. The ship to ship dog fights were the best part of Halo Reach, and this is obviously lifted from there, only you are not actually allowed to control the ship. The final two sections are glorified turret levels; poor imitations of Sin and Punishment or Space Harrier. It was a terrible anti-climax made worse by the game writing itself into a corner. It was afraid to face the consequences of a situation that it created. The Helgan were intent on dropping a new kind of uber-bomb on Earth, killing all its inhabitants. After the final boring fight the ship carrying all the super bombs is destroyed in the atmosphere of there own planet, circling the globe in seconds. Someone makes a quip about all radio traffic being cut off, the main character gets a far away look in his eyes, mumbles 'how many people were down there' and the credit role. If this is all it did I would be disappointed, but not offended. They killed all the bad guys, everywhere, the series is done. Nope, after the credit we see the plant is mostly destroyed, but a few guys comes across an escape pod and welcome whoever it is back.

So, so lazy.

Killzone 3 is far from the only game to write in these intentional, lame loopholes. Most recently, God of War III was guilty: Kratos is dead, and he is okay with that. OH WAIT, HIS BODY IS GONE!!1!11!!WTFBBQ!!

Here is a better ending to Killzone 3: all the Helgast are wiped out and the good guys limp back to Earth in their stolen space ships. Upon their return they are not greeted as heroes, instead tried and convicted of disobeying the direct order to surrender. Helgans who happened to be off planet at the time come forward to dispute the version of the story that makes them look bad, interstellar space lawyers get involved and it drags on for years. In the mean time Sev suffers silently in his cell. Eventually the weight of billions of murders becomes too much and hangs himself.

...never mind, that's too realistic, and therefore depressing. I'll take the happy version and shut my mouth.

And this is the real St Crispin's Day speech:


And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rated M for immature references

Killzone 3 continues to hit all the right notes, and it hits them as loudly and as often as it can, but it is a song I have heard so many times that it has lost all meaning. The plot might as well have come out of the same can as the string beans from a mom and pop diner: arrogant and insubordinate soldier (and his best friend) anger their supervisor by disobeying orders while fighting space Nazis who are bent on the destruction of Earth. People are capture, hyjinks ensue, almost everyone dies, and make sure there is no closure so the sequel is easy to right. With just a little variation this describes nine out of ten shooter, regardless of quality. All they have to distinguish themselves from one another are how they play, and Killzone 3 is still just like every other shooter ever. There are running levels, turret levels, a jet pack level, a forced stealth level. Sound familiar?

Shooters only need to do one things differently to stand out. Resistance had a ridiculous and wonderful weapon selection. The Call of Duty games, all cynicism aside, are excellently paced and very exciting to play. Doom 3 was dark, Serious Sam had a ton of dudes to kill and Duke Nukem has boobs (among other things). What does Killzone have? Well, there is the giant, four legged fortress that I just fought... no wait, that was from Halo 2. Oh, the chase across the snow in a giant, bladed snow mobile... no, every damn Bond game ever has one of those. Plucky female support character? Gears of War. Grotesque melee kills? Also Gears of War. Half assed first person cover system? One of the Rainbow 6 games, I think, I never got into those. The point is that there is nothing to this game past how it looks. I am not going to lie: it looks really, really good, and I am a whore for fancy graphics, so it is tempting to give it a pass based just on its looks.

But I can't. I honestly expect more from a game that is trying so hard to be good than I am getting here. Kilzone 3 is a Penthouse magazine cover that has been slipped over a Redbook: arousing on the outside, but just a big tease on the inside. Plus maybe some recipies or coupons for feminine products and a perfume sample. Who doesn't want to smell nice while gunning down Helgans?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Yes, I still own both systems

Open ended RPG's like Oblivion and Two Worlds 2 are notorious for stealing an evening (or two, or three) of time with you actually accomplishing anything. I remember many hours lost to Oblivion, after which I would try to remember where I was going and what I was doing and couldn't come up with a damn thing. It didn't matter, because I was still enjoying, but every once in a while a game like this needs to come up for air and give the player a little plot to hold on to. Oblivion managed this by building excellent stories into some of the guild quest lines. My favorite series of events from the game actually has nothing to do with the main plot. The assassins guild quests, in which you rise from a nobody being sent out to kill nobodies to assassinating and finally eliminating you own guild because one of them was traitor is to this day better that what most whole games have to offer. It was its own little story with a beginning, middle and end that stood just fine on its own.

This is exactly where the men are separated from the boys in games. Side quests in Two Worlds 2 are just that: side quests. They serve as mere distractions and opportunities to grind for levels or equipment. This is just fine in the short term, but eventually I will tire of killing beasties if I am not given a reason to kill them. It took almost thirty hours to get there in Trinity, but eventually I started skipping things ancillary to the plot. The single missing element would be enough to cement Two Worlds 2 into B-game status, but it is far from alone. The inventory system is so bad it is hilarious: everything is kept in a grid with no indication of how many of what you can wear and what your total armor or damage output is. It still manages to be fun and I will play it, just when I am not playing anything else.

The anything else right now is Killzone 3. It is easy to forget, especially in light or recent events, that Sony's hardware really is the best of what there is right now. Take exclusives from the two platforms that matter and put them head to head and Sony comes out the winner, both in general quality and how fantastic their games look. When developers don't have to aim for the least common denominator the results are almost always superior. Killzone 3 looks amazing, better than the second and better than its competitors by a reasonable margin. What it doesn't do is play as well as, say, CoDBLOPS. The slow areas are too slow, the fast areas are too fast, the plot areas are pointless even by shooter standards. Guerrilla Games has an amazing engine, they just need to let someone else drive next time.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Guilty party's name witheld

While it is tempting to join the rest of the internets in chiding Sony for allowing most if not all of our personal information to be rifled through by internet hooligans (so tempting and so easy) I am going to take the slightly higher road and remind everyone that the only reason this hasn't happened to Xbox Live is because no one has bothered to try. Like it or not, nerds and their kin rule the world from the shadows of darkened basements, and if they want to get their pale skinny hands on your personal bits nothing is going to stop them for long. I have no idea if the Playstation Network was any easier to get into than anything else, though storing sensitive information un-hashed seems like a pretty bad idea, if that was indeed the case. It wouldn't matter if it was the most secure thing ever, they garnered the wrong kind of attention for *GASP* attempting to protect their intellectual property. This was unavoidable and it will happen again, all that companies can do is be as diligent and transparent as they can.

This, to no one's surprise, is exactly where Sony blew it. There are going to be legals goings on when this is all done and it will all be settled behind the scenes by one group of suited demons handing money over to another group of suited demons. No one outside this evil cadre of litigating fiends will know exactly what went down, but it boils down to this: Sony chose to not talk and they should have said something, anything. But to be that one guy who defends big business, I cannot imagine exactly what they would have said. Sony has all sorts of revenue streams, but to admit being caught completely unprepared in one area weakens them all. I imagine the biggest of the Sony bigwigs looking down at the games divisions, asking what is wrong like a parent asking a guilty looking child.

'Nothing!' yells the games division, all the while trying to sweep the broken vase containing 75 million people's worth of personal data under the rug. 'Nothing I can't fix! Really! It's going to be alright! Just stop looking at me!'

It is all going to be alright, just not as soon as Sony would have hoped. Did they screw up? Of course, but I have my doubts that any other company would have handled it any better, and now that the cookie jar of gaming networks has been discovered to be pretty much there for the taking by the digital underground, we will probably get to see them try.

The industries growing pains are mighty, but it will survive. Just keep an eye on your credit cards statements for a  while.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm sure this is funny for someone

I had to look through my achievement history before I remembered playing the first Two Worlds; from the 0 points gained from it is apparent didn't play it for very long. I was pickier then, full of the kind of foolish arrogance reserved for people who run game stores (read: idiotic) so I have no idea if it would pass muster now. Two Worlds 2, on the other hand, is full of all the things missing from ArcaniA. It is a fine looking open RPG with all sorts of pointless quests and voice acting that makes Deadly Premonition look just slightly less terrible. To steal a phrase from a recent, well written Game Informer article, it as an excellent B grade game. If Oblivion is high fantasy, Tolkien worthy shit then Two Worlds 2 is all the D&D campaigns I slogged through in college. Well intentioned but not very well thought out, disconnected but amusing, and better with a beer or three in the tank.

It also has a very non-traditional RPG setting to help stave off unfair comparisons to bigger, better games. I cannot remember paying an RPG set (at least so far) in the African Savannah. This looks more the Far Cry 2 than anything else, just replace the respawning checkpoints with warthogs that will kick you ass with a moments notice. Playing my standard ranger/thief is more difficult than I expected as most creatures will kill me in two hits if I let then get to close, so running away had become a staple of my combat strategy. It feels big, it looks big, but the story is not big enough to hold anything together. This is the wanderlust fueled adventures of a nameless dude (so it really does feel like my old D&D group): fun, but in spurts. It would be foolish to complain about this, as there is still much to play. Playtime is going to be platooned between this, Killzone 3 and Mortal Kombat.

And now, for some lol-Sony.

How is it that the Playstation Network has been down for five days and I am still forced to download a 50 meg patch before I can play Killzone 3? Not only can I not login in, but I can't play until I patch the game, but if I don't patch the game I can't log in, but I can't log in anyway, but it still won't let skip the patch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's finished

I lied, I am going to complain about Mortal Kombat's abysmal online component more.

This game is a wonderful hybrid of the juggle happy MK2 and the dial-a-combo heavy MK3. There is a great deal of depth here: overheads that lead into big combos, powered up moves that require meter to use, x-ray moves that are have super armor (and are a throw, if you happen to be Jax). For the obsessive there are long combos that deal 40% to 50% damage, and for everyone else *cough*me*cough* there are easier ones that top at 25% without an x-ray. The practice room in a great place to come up with things that no one has seen yet. This early in a game's life no one knows what the 'best answer' for any given situation is. Eventually things will homogenize, but right now it is the wild west and there are no rules.

All of this would be true if anyone was able to get online matches the same quality as Street Fighter or MvC3. It doesn't need to be perfect, as neither of these games are, but it needs to be significantly better than it is to be in any way relevant. Instead of tense fights full of mind games and feints like Street Fighter we have mindless teleport and projectile spam. Instead of the life bar crushing combos that are possible ala MvC3 you get the same four or five hit jobs that are safe to attempt through a quarter second of input delay. I maintain that Mortal Kombat, as a fighting game, is so vastly improved over anything they have done since MK2 that it is hard to believe the same people are involved. It is a crying shame that very few people will get to play the game they have made to the fullest extent of its potential.

Now I am done. Barring a patch that inject the very glory of God into the netcode, I will not be going back. There is still plenty to do in the challenge tower. Plus it is about time to start the next terrible game. Two World 2 has been sitting on the 'to be played' pile for quite some time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Secret secrets

I can tell from the achievement list that there are still two entire levels in Lego Star Wars III that I have not found. Hiding things is one way to extend play time, and not a bad way as long as most things can be found the first time through a level with painstakingly turning over every rock and Lego piece on the way through. Lego games have taken this to absurd extremes, but this is the first time that whole areas have escaped me. By hiding them so well it has caused the opposite of what they wanted. After finishing the first of three hidden epilogue levels I wandered around the galaxy map. When I couldn't find anything there I went back into the ship and finally unlocked the planet capture missions. These were all the giant sized super simple RTS areas that I didn't like. Thirty seconds into the first one I quit, found Cad Bane and the dark jedi played by Christopher Lee, and killed every last Lego bastard on the ship. Lego Star Wars III ended the same way all of my forays into the Grand Theft Auto games has: wanton, senseless violence.

Speaking of things that I enjoy.

Mortal Kombat games, going all the way back to the original arcade release, have been know for hiding all sorts of stuff, some of which took months to find. It would have been very easy for the reboot to fall into the same trap that Lego Star Wars III did: hiding to much stuff and have people get bored looking for it. Having all but two of the characters unlocked from the very beginning prevents this, and filling the crypt with mostly useless things that are still interesting will keep in interesting without the actual act of unlocking items getting boring. I doubt that in the age of instant, shared information much will remain hidden for long, but I honestly don't care. The eponymous 'FINISH HIM' after the few online fights that I had were not interesting. I just hit the guy with an uppercut because the fatalities take too long and I have seen almost all of them online already anyway. I really think that all the hidden bits of bullshit in the previous games were there to camouflage what amounted to a weak fighting game. Mortal Kombat doesn't need that anymore, but what is there I can ignore and focus on the actual fighting instead. The game is good enough...

...if you have a person sitting next to you. I am not going to bitch about the terrible net code anymore. Other, smarter, more skilled people have done it and will continue to do so. I will say that it will artificially shorten how long I will play the game, because when I feel like fighting people to potential mortal ends I just ending up fighting it the streets instead. It is really is a shame, because Kitana could easily make a run and by top five bottoms list from a few weeks ago.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's better than cutting myself

The more 'serious' tide seems to slowly be turning against Mortal Kombat, mostly because online play is simply not viable for high end fights. Both Street Fighter and MvC3 have online modes that offer a reasonable approximation of having strangers on your couch (Street Fighter being the better of the two), but Mortal Kombat has some pretty big holes. I was unable to find a ranked match at all and everyone else was in 'rooms' that very much resembled the telnet chat rooms I spent most of college trolling around in. Once you jump into a room you can issue challenges to people or invite them to your king of the hill matches. Even this feels superfluous. Why do I have to get into a room to get a game instead of just filtering all the available games based on what I want to play? This also doesn't touch the actual quality of the net code, which to no ones surprise is any good.

And as much as I bitch, the game is still fun. It is an excellent single player fighting game that has more than enough depth to cater to players of all levels as long as there are people you are willing to share physical space with who you will play with you. For me, there aren't any, so I will play through the story mode and the challenge tower, practice combos with Kitana, learn or two more characters (Mileena for sure, still working on a third) and then go back to playing Street Fighter.

This will also make it easier for me to take a break from it tonight and finish up Lego Star Wars 3, because after that I really should play Two Worlds 2, and Killzone 3 just shipped, and I have to decide to man up and take the drive down to Chicago for the Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament.

I really wish they ran these tournaments on 360, then I could schlep my ghetto SE stick down and it would match my ghetto Blanka. Not that a skinny white guy with short, greying hair and a pension for keeping to himself could ever be that ghetto, but you know what I mean.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Violence for one, please

Mortal Kombat is effectively two games, and I will discuss it as such.

Everything you have heard about the story mode is true. It is the easily the best single player section of a fighting game I have every played because it honestly feels like the story came first and the fights second, instead of a cheesy ending being tacked on to the tried and true ladder of baddies (it has that, too, just in a different mode). Mortal Kombat has a deeper, sillier mythos than any other game, and putting that at the forefront was a brilliant move. The series was in desperate need of a reboot, and that is exactly what this is. Raiden sends a message back to himself just before be pulped by a glowing green hammer, only past Raiden doesn't know exactly what to do with the message. Shenanigans ensue. I got to the end of the events of MK1 and was smiling he whole time. It forced me to use characters that I had never touched, thing on my feet against two opponents at the same time, even deal with an x-ray move from Goro that did 50% damage. It was fun, brutal, occasionally completely unfair; it was Mortal Komnat just the way it should me.

In preparation for play against actual people I stopped of in the practice room to see if Kitana still worked the way she did in MKII. She did, and it no time I was pulling of juggle combos that had people walking away from the machine in disgust back in the day. (note: this is probably an exaggeration, they were only doing about 30%, but that was without meter or x-ray, and they looked damn cool.)

Then I tried to play online and lost to torpedo and teleport spam. On a scale that starts with Soul Caliber 4 on the bottom and SSFIIHDR on the top Mortal Kombat is perilously close to the bottom when playing against random people. It has always impressed me that I can open up a ranked match in Super Street Fighter 4 and have a good fight with a good connection in under a minute. Of the the ten matches I play of Mortal Kombat today nine were almost unplayable. Punishes were missed because I didn't hit the button before the attack I was blocking actually hit. Combos were dropped that I know I can hit. I get hit by moves that I was intentionally baiting because I could not block in time when the move actually came. Eventually I got a match that was at least playable and I killed the guy, but even then I ended up choosing boring, easy combos that I could hit while playing under water. All I have right now is Kitana (I will re-learn Mileena later), and after losing to me four or five times in a row he picked Raiden and tried to spam me with torpedoes.

He then quit mid-match. It was good to be back, even if it was just for one game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's old is old and what's new is old

Mortal Kombat is sitting in my car, waiting. Early reports have been that the online play is not exactly very good, but this is one of the few fighting games aside from Virtua Fighter that I can see standing up well to single player scrutiny. Regardless, there will be plenty of to bitch about, at and around the game. Right now I want to talk about Lego Star Wars III.

The Lego games have always bypassed the need for story or narrative on the strength of their licenses and the fact that everyone already knew everything that was going to happen. It didn't matter that none of the characters actually spoke, you knew who they were and what they would be saying anyway. The humor comes from the little deviations and out right non-sequitors thrown in that they can only get away with because everyone and everything are made up of plastic blocks. This time around they are using stuff from what I assume is the extended universe because I have no idea what is going on or who the fuck half of these people are. I did the the original animated Clone Wars shorts (which were awesome) so I at least know who this weird dual wielding goth jedi chick is, and I know who the four armed robot guy is, but almost everyone else is just a pile of blocks with a light saber. I am not looking for story here, but it is difficult to know what is being lampooned and what actually sprang from the senility ravaged corners of Lucas' mind. For example, a few levels ago I fought a giant worm thing that had captured a jedi. It was an excellent looking level and the boss fight/ending chase was a lot of fun, but I have to wonder if this is something Travelers Tales came up with or Star Wars really did have jedis fighting giant maggots.

I used to like Star Wars, I really did. Then the remakes arrived and I cursed them for their subtle and not so subtle changes. There was a rhythm to the movies that had been broken; watching them felt like driving a really fast car with one flat tire and bad shocks. You still got where you were going, but it wasn't very comfortable. The prequels sealed the deal. I saw each of them once in the theater and then never again. Only Episode 1 received an attempted second viewing (on VHS!) and I could not make it through. The new content has even go so far as to tarnish the rose colored glasses that I look at the originals with. I have come to realize that the special effects were crappy, that Mark Hamill couldn't act, and that no one had any idea where the story was going after they made enough money from the first money to make two more.

But Leia in a metal bikini? Jabba was a pimp, that much is still true.

  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blocky bleeding

The Lego games have been slowly evolving from the first Lego Star Wars arrived in 2005. Each one did a little more than the last, moving form simple platforming to big hub levels filled with enough secrets to make a Mortal Kombat jealous. Branching out into new properties to lampoon helped keep things from getting stale (and Lego Batman is in my opinion the best one they have done to date) but after six years even Legos get old. Lego Star Wars III has moved in an unfortunate direction, adding in the exact same levels that have dragged down better games. Just two areas in I was confronted with a large, boring area with enemy spawns that I had to take over. It was something that I had yet to see in a Lego game: it was boring and it wasn't funny. These are the exact same things that made up the weakest parts of Brutal Legend. It would seem that adding just a dash of strategy to an otherwise action oriented game just doesn't work, or it has yet to be done well.

Keep in mind this is coming from someone who cannot play RTS game to save his life and was beaten by the tutorial level of Kings Bounty Armored Princess.

The Mortal Kombat mention in the first paragraph was not exactly intentional. I am more excited for it than I though I would, and 'Aeris' calling from GameStop to remind me of the midnight open that I will not be able to attend. Fresh off the continual and malicious ass kickings provided by MvC3 I am ready to try again. Mortal Kombat 2 was my specialty when I as young; I was better at it then I ever was at Street Fighter. The demo had the same effect on me as Mega Man 9: it was suddenly many years ago and I was digging through strategy guides for move lists and secrets. I know that it is not the same game; it was much more focused on juggling, and that is saying something because MK2 practically invented it. Still, I am excited to see if the same people who were significantly better than me at Street Fighter and MvC are better than me in this one.

And if nothing else, Mortal Kombat has a compelling single player element. I really hope the net code can keep up.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Simple is better

ArcaniA was, from beginning to end, just under twenty hours. This was less than half of the time I spent on Trinity. ArcaniA is a deeper game, with a customization system that forces you to choose exactly what kind of character you want to play by handing out precious few upgrade points and not letting you change your mind. There were three basic paths: hit things with a sword, hit things with a bow or hit things with spells. Magic would have required every point available for limited returns. Plus spells really trashed the already iffy frame rate. I went with a hybrid ranger/fighter (which is what I always end up playing in RPG's) and by the end of the game I was one shotting undead with head shots from an over powered bow. Trinity had almost no such customization, took twice as long to get anywhere and didn't look as good.

But it was the better game.

I am not familiar with the Gothic series, but from what I understand ArcaniA is a dramatic departure. Previous Gothic's were Elder Scrolls in nature; this one is nothing more that an action RPG trying desperately to capitalize on the success of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Strike one. Strike two is, and I am mentioned far too much already, unacceptable frame rate. The game look reasonable, but not so good that dipping down into the single frames per second is understandable. This late in the 360's life cycle when it is pushing around incredible things like Call of Duty Black Ops looking like shit is unforgivable. Finally, and worst of all, ArcaniA looses track of its own story about ten hours in. Trinity had a very simple story: boy has family killed, seeks revenge, makes friends along the way. It never wavered, providing a backdrop for all the random side quests and holding them together. ArcaniA started out with the main character finding out he had knocked up his girlfriend just before she and his whole village are wiped out. He vows revenge, heads out to improve himself, and then gets caught up in some sort of heaven/hell infighting that is never explained. By the time it is done the main character is the chosen one who needs to finish a job for the last chosen one who happens to be the king that order the original village destroyed but is wasn't his fault because he was possessed by a demon from a necklace that he was supposed to deliver to a tower because he was the chosen one but didn't because he was busy with other things and even then he generals and mages were betraying him. The final boss is pulled out of a hat in the last five minutes, Final Fantasy IX style.

I imagine that he people in charge of the story and the people in charge of everything else never met each other. They probably didn't even have offices in the same building, only communicating via text message every few weeks.

Game dev: WE HAVE A COOL NEW LEVEL IN A GIANT TREE. DO SOMETHING WITH IT.

Writers: DUDE WE ARE SO STONED RIGHT NOW. HOW ABOUT MAGES AND SHIT?

Gave dev: WATEVS. YOU GUYS NEVER SHARE YOUR GOOD STUFF.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oh god, too much

There are occasionally demos that I need to quit playing because I know that going any further will cause my credit cards to leap spontaneousness from my wallet and add another game to the ever expanding (digital) pile of things that I do not have time to play. I played the original Puzzle Quest demo for about thirty seconds too long and it cost me hours upon hours of time along with the purchase of two sequels of dubious quality. Last night at 10:50 I started playing the demo of Might and Magic Clash of Heroes. At 11:00 I knew I was in serious trouble, and it took be fifteen more minutes to wrench myself away.

It was not immidietly apparent what kind of game Clash of Heroes was. It offered some nicely animated, possibly hand drawn sprites in a standard Ogre Battle setup. There was no freedom of movement, just pushing my character along a set path from node to node until something jumped out of a bush and I had to fight it. I was expecting a generic turn based encounter somewhere between Disciples and Armored Princess. What I got was an astounding combination of a tactical combat game and Dr Mario. You move your own units around from column to column, matching them up vertically to attack and horizontally for defense. It starts out nice and slow, then they tell you that you can pull out units to create chains and get more moves, and then they add more unit types, and then they give you equipment for your hero, and then they start throwing spells and story and monsters in. Imagine if Hooters actually had good wings, good cheap beer and the waitresses were all topless, nubile, incredibly intelligent and had no use for your singles. There would be no reason to ever eat anywhere else. Clash of Heroes is the perfect storm of good art, accessible yet deep pick up and play mechanics, puzzle games and fantasy settings, and this was apparent from a fifteen minute demo. Oh, and there is multi-player, too.

I don't know what kind of black magic was used in this game's creation, but it is too much for any one man to handle, so I may never actually buy it. As nice as it would be to get everything in one place, keeping my wings, booze and boobs separate is better for my health and the length of my GameFly queue.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So I forgot about Amnesia (ha, ha)

There was a new episode added to Amnesia recently and I had no idea it was there until I saw a thread about it today. Amnesia was excellent, and more excellent for free is most excellent. I just need to make time to play it. From what little I have read you cannot save and there are no checkpoints, so it is all or nothing horror. Knowing that betting killed by formless water monsters nets me a return trip to the beginning is more frightening than I care to admit, but I will still play it.

...

ArcaniA amuses on a very base level. As soon as I put any thought towards it the thing falls apart, so brain-dead mashing is the way to go (reminds me of Marvel...). There is a very odd disconnect in style between the voice acting and just about everything else. ArcaniA looks and sounds like it wants to be taken seriously. Given a better game engine it might have been possible; as it stands it looks like a very serious slide show. The music does its best to steal from John Willaims and Hans Zimmer, something that just about every fantasy anything does so it is hard to find fault with it. The voice acting, and specifically the voice and attitude of the main character, just don't fit. He is a smart ass, but a modern day smart ass, using words and phrases more at place on youtube than a Tolkein-esque fantasy. Christ, it's like I'm playing Black Knight, the game, an I can't imagine anyone wanting to play a game as Martin Lawrence.

Finally, not like they need this linked anywhere, but this is the best PA strip is quite some time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Calling someone else. Anyone else.

There is bitching to catch up on, and it has only got more bitter with the delay.

I bought Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime based on the demo and a weakness for twin stick shooters. It was supposed to be a short break between the forty hour games that GameFly decided to ship me all at once. The demo level was just fine: an asylum that reminded me just a bit of Loaded (not ReLoaded, which is a good thing). It was the second level of the game so the second of three weapons was introduced, matching a new color of ghost that had just shown up. Each of the three different ghost flavors needs to be hit with the corresponding weapon, which would be fine if the weapons themselves were of equal quality. They are not; only the beam from the first movie is any good. I suppose this does make the same enemies more difficult by forcing the player to use a shitty weapon to kill them, but that is pretty lazy design in my opinion. By the time the third level arrived I was tired of the mechanic, longing for a port of the old Ghostbusters arcade game.

...

Just looked this game up and it has not aged well. I suppose that is another sign of aging: the game that I remember playing in my head is not even close to the way it actually looks. Then again, if getting old allows me to modify what I see in real time to something much cooler I welcome the impending dementia.



...

The other giant red flag that I chose to ignore in Sanctum of Slime was the games reliance on three AI controlled characters to flesh out the team. There is no option to actually play the game single player, which means no effort was taken to balance the game after some idiot had the idea of enemies that can only be killed with one color weapon. I gave up around ten levels in: wave after wave of Skittles colored phantoms were more than my pathetic compatriots could handle. The right thing to do would have have each player stick to a specific weapon with the fourth acting as a buffer when things got out of hand (which that constantly do), but the AI just isn't that smart. It wasn't even smart enough to walk around obstacles to raise me after I died for the hundredth time in a level. Left 4 Dead (at least the first one) proved that a multi-player-centric game could work for the friendless and cloistered. Sanctum of Slime proves that designing your game around four people playing can also be a crutch, especially when no one buys the damn thing in the first place.

ArcaniA, complete with baffling punctuation, is about 30 fps away from being a decent action RPG. Playing it now just makes me think about how awesome the new Elder Scrolls is going to be and how far away it really is.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The other ending of our story

5. Bayonetta (Bayonetta)
4. Vanessa Z Schneider (P.N.03)
3. Karin (Shadow Hearts Covenant)
2. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)
1. Cammy (Steet Fighter)

Honorable mention to Sheeva from Mortal Kombat who missed list the list because she had too many arms. Also Princess Peach and Daisy from Super Mario Strikers for wearing hot pants so out of character it is hilarious.

No, I did not spend all that long thinking about this.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The ending of our story

I have played so many RPG's that their endings have all begun to blend together. It's just a mish mash of sappy good guys win and get the girl and the bad guy who appeared for no reason in the final act is defeated after turning into some monstrous multi-legged thing that attacks with status effects followed by little vignettes showing how happy every one is. There are only a few that stand out, that have stood the test of time and beer and countless terrible games.

Might as well start with the most cliche and syrupy example. Final Fantasy X went through great pains to make sure the disappearances of Tidus and Auron were sad and drawn out. I didn't much care for Tidus as a character so his angst about never having been real in the first place failed to move me, but I do remember a scene right at the end when Yuna reached out for him and their hands passed through one another. Then he was gone and she had to deal with the loss and decide if it was worth saving the world. It was a good bittersweet ending, not afraid to make the good guys sacrifice something for the better of everyone else. This was completely retconned by the bull shit 'good' ending in X-2, but few people besides me admit to having played that game all the way to the end anyway.

Shadow Hearts Covenant is, to this day, my favorite console RPG. Juri is hit with a curse within the first few hours of the game that is slowly but surely destroying all of his memories. You can see it eat at him throughout the course of his adventures as he begins to forget things. The good guys win, of course, but right as they are about to make their escape Juri decides to stay behind. He chooses death over forgetting the women he loves even though she has been dead since the end of the first Shadow Hearts. There is a bit of time fuckery involved and instead of dying he is sent back to the beginning of the first game where he first met Alice and Karin who had been falling in love with him is sent further back and ends up being his mother which is best ignored, but the theme of a good ending costing something is still there.

Eternal Sonata takes place entirely in a dying mans fever addled brain. It just so happens that the man is Chopin and everything in the world is named after a musical concept. The game wasn't that great, but at the end the real Chopin dies and his dream self spends his final moments playing a piano in a field of flowers. It was just a great image of a guy doing what he loved to the very end. As someone who pretended to be a musician in college, it strikes me as a good way to go.

Yes, I tend to read into game endings. That happens when you spend 40+ hours with the same characters.

After those they start to blend together. The illusion of recency makes me want to think that Lost Odyssey had a good ending, but what I remember most about that is game is the immortal main character remembering that he has a wife and kids just in time for the woman to die. Final Fantasy XIIII comes to mind, but that is probably just because Zidane was an absolute pimp. I will say that unless an ending recognizes that victory comes at a price I am not interested, which brings me to the end of Trinity.

Trinity kills off its main character at the end of the final battle, but it does so in a way that makes his sacrifice more complete and tragic than any of the others that I have listed. After retrieving the only item that could kill his murderous, despotic grandfather Aerues learns that if he actually uses the sword he will not only cease to exist but no one will remember that he ever was there in the first place. Think about it: he gets his revenge and no one will know that he did it, even the people who helped him to do it in the first place. Being a fairly one dimensional video game character he finishes the job without flinching and then vanishes from the universe. I want to say that it was sad, but everyone got what they wanted, they just didn't know exactly why. It was a happy ending but it lacked the jubilation that usually comes from overthrowing a cruel dictator.

This was not a very good RPG. The combat was repetitive, there were not enough areas, the side quests were the same four or five ones over and over, the voice acting was mediocre, the character design was generic Tolkien fantasy, and all sorts of other things that I have complained about before.  All of this was redeemed by the last three hours. I wasn't 'moved' because I am a crotchety old bastard who pretends to have no feelings and has seen it all before, but I will say that this is one of the better happy endings I have come across, mostly because it isn't happy, it just is.


...


Speaking of Shadow Hearts Covenant, and of things that I really shouldn't do and that are wildly innapropriate, Karin is the proud owner of (in my opinion) one of the finest asses in all of game-dom. This got me thinking: who would be in the top five? Perhaps I have been inspired by the pending release of Duke Nukem Forever, or maybe I am just sick, but the next time I have nothing else to talk about....





Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wrong again!

My Wrestlemania predictions are not the only thing I have gotten completely wrong recently.

I was convinced that Super Street Fighter 4 AE was going to be a disc release with more that the four announced (leaked...) characters. Today a video was leaked and subsequently pulled by Capcom confirming that it was going to be a download, though price and date were still absent. There was more there as well, including impressive improvements to the replay channel allowing you to send videos of your manly conquests to anyone on your friends list. I like the ability to virtually stalk specific gamertags, assuming you can figure out who people are. It is an impressive collection of things that are still missing from MvC3 and proves that Capcom is playing favorites. Not that I mind, I just wish they hadn't beaten Blanka with the nerf bat again.

Trinity is swiftly coming to a close if proximity to end can be judged by how many secondary characters have been killed off. The confrontation between Areus and his childhood friend from the arena finally happened and was handled in an odd, businesslike fashion. Dorado arrives on the scene and catches Areus red handed consorting with the renegades he was sent to capture. Areus proceeds to kill Dorado's entire army, including the sniveling second in command who murdered his mother and brother. When only Dorado is left he gets off his horse, pulls out his sword and asks Areus if this is the way it has to be.

'Yes.'

And then they fight to the death. No emotional pleas to change sides or stand down, just two guys who stand by what they believe in killing each other. This wonderful machismo would have been better served by a boss fight that didn't totally suck (a lack of enemy lock on kept me from seeing what I was doing most of the time, so I sat across the arena and lobbed spells at him. In other words, I won like a bitch.), but reserving the weepy bits for after the hero's victory was an excellent way to do things. I will be glad when the game is done, but these last few hours have certainly been worth the effort.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Now I remember!

I realized while running through an area for the thirtieth time in Trinity last night why I am enjoying the game. It does indeed remind me of an older, better game, and in such a subliminal way that it was actually the formation that the main characters run in that finally jogged my memory. This will require a little back story...

I was a fierce proponent of the Dreamcast; I loved everything the system had to offer, from its terrible controllers to large collection of excellent fighting games, but it was the inclusion of a network adapter that I was most proud of. Gaming over the 'internet' was almost totally foreign to me. The only previous taste of it was a modem adapter for the SNES (X-Play, I think) that allowed me to play laggy games of Mortal Kombat 2 and Killer Instinct over the narrow, fledgling tubes. It was terrible, but I didn't know any better. With this new system and an ISP supposedly dedicated to gaming (yes, I had SegaNet) I experienced online gaming bliss previously reserved for PC gamers.

There were plenty of PC ports that took advantage of the built in adapter, Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament being the biggest and best. Quake 3 even let you play against PC players. This of course drove me to purchasing the Dreamcast mouse and keyboard to stay competitive. When I moved them over to Unreal and played against other console players it honestly felt like I was cheating. The new online console world was indeed awesome and quite ahead of its time, but it was not until Phantasy Star Online that I was truly hooked. PSO offered the perfect mix of killing things for better weapons used kill bigger things and teamwork. It capped the party size at three which was just fine for me. Any more and I would lose track of who was doing  what but small enough that if someone stole your new weapon when you died and didn't give it back you could remember who he was. I spent hours, days, perhaps weeks on that game on the same character. I can still remember the layout of some of the levels and the music that went with them, not to mention what to feed your mags to get the best bonuses.

Then the second one came out, and it was no longer free to play online. Then the Dreamcast died and SegaNet died with it, and it was years before I played anything online to that extent again. I blame PSO for my short lived addiction to Guild Wars: it played a lot like PSO and was not near as time consuming as World of Warcraft. I gave it a shot when it came out again for the Xbox 360, but it was not the same. PSO worked because I had not expectations for online play and it surpassed all of them. It sounds negative, but by the time the 360 version arrived those expectations had changed and PSO had not. It was an old friend who had aged faster then I had and that wasn't much fun to hang around with anymore.

Such is my wonderful and sad story of PSO and SegaNet. And what does this have to do with Trinity? Trinity looks and works a great deal like PSO. It shares the same basic combat, the corridor laden levels, the size limit on your party size, the way new quests keep popping up in the same areas, the searching and searching for a weapon just a tiny bit better than the last one. It almost is PSO; it just isn't online. Most would see this as a negative, but the online community has both grown and devolved to such a degree that for me it is a relief. I can play my game all by myself, being nostalgic for the days when I could play with random people and they wouldn't all be douche bags.

I have no idea if this was intentional, if this is an homage or my imagination. It doesn't matter, really. It's fun to forget just how long ago 2001 was and how god damn old I have gotten since then.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gotta find my dealer

I really can't think of anything more to say about Trinity, short of not exactly knowing why I am still playing it. the same thing happened with Dark Star One. I think games like these tap into the part of me that exists on an inflexible schedule even though they really aren't very good. Trinity has gone on for about ten hours now with little if any plot movement, and what I did get was 'We need all the pieces of such and such magic doodad, but have no idea where it is. Visit every area you have already been to!' I am at thirty hours and I have no idea how much is left, but am past the point of no return. So this is what true addiction is like.

Let's look at the signs of addiction, according to a five second Google search, with my excuses in bold. Looks like I am out of luck. It's a good thing video games aren't illegal. Yet.



    • Extreme mood changes – happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc
      • You try working in the IT world where you have to explain trivial things to people six months from retirement. Every day. Multiple time.
    • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual, or at different times of day or night
      • Honestly, I wish I could do this, maybe I should start doing drugs.
    • Changes in energy – unexpectedly and extremely tired or energetic
      • See first comment, especially if I am short on Coke for the day.
    • Weight loss or weight gain
      • Nothing here. I have been the same physically since high school.
    • Unexpected and persistent coughs or sniffles
      • Snorting White Cheddar Cheez Its is probably not a good idea. But they're just so good.
    • Seeming unwell at certain times, and better at other times
      • What the fuck is this? Who doesn't this apply to?
    • Pupils of the eyes seeming smaller or larger than usual
      • Hm. I do play my games in a cold, dark, couch-less basement.
    • Secretiveness
      • I have a blog, but do not use my real name anywhere in it. I suppose that counts.
    • Lying
      • I never lie. In person. To people not on the internet.
    • Stealing
      • I lack the courage to steal, or even borrow and not return promptly.
    • Financially unpredictable, perhaps having large amounts of cash at times but no money at all at other times
      • Shit, I have nothing to play. To Best Buy!
    • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
      • Does not having a social group count?
    • Repeated unexplained outings, often with a sense of urgency
    • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc
    • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
      • These last three have to do with actual drugs, but digital drug substitutes. But I do have a pretty good sized stash of Microsoft points for random XBLA purchases

Monday, April 4, 2011

Inaccurate, as always

So my picks were terrible, but they were based on one previous pay-per-view and foolish hopes, but what are you going to do. DirecTV actually cut out entirely for the majority of the Undertaker - Triple H match. This was the one match that I wanted to see, so nothing else could make up for it. Also, there weren't near enough stunner administered, by my count a paltry three, but you can't blame Austin for taking free money/beer. I just find it amazing that the current writers don't even know what to do with him. It's not complicated: he shows up, the crowd goes crazy, everyone who doesn't move fast gets a stunner. Oh, there is always next year.

WWE AllStars thankfully did not disappoint. It is nothing more than an arcade game from years and years ago that has been turned sideways, shined up real nice, and shoved up the candy ass of games that require skill and practice to play proficiently. I wont even go as far as saying that it is the successor to the N64 classic Wrestlemania 2000, because it has very few modes and absolutely no legs, but for a few hours with about six other guys at varying levels of skill and sobriety, it was a blast. I got a bigger pop by KO'ing two people at once with a patented top rope Hulk Hogan leg drop than anything the pay-per-view had to offer. Big Show and Andre could juggle people with moves right out of Mortal Kombat. Rowdy Roddy Piper was actually good (so it didn't reflect very well on real life).

What was most impressive was how much we improved by the time we were done. Dudes who started out literally mashing the buttons as hard as they could were countering grapples and vaulting from turn buckles with ease only a few hours later. There is no high level play here, but what it has is easily accessible and very entertaining. If there were still arcades this would be an arcade game, but since there really aren't anymore I suppose I need to come up with a different name for it: the peoples' brawler.

  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It's that time already?

Chamberlain's Wrestlemania predictions, based on nothing more than having watched the Royal Rumble and knowing who about half these people are.

Rey Mysterio vs Cody Rhodes - Tired of mini-Cena, but he did 'break' Cody's face. Being the first match of the night I am going to have to give it to the face to get the crowed involved. Prediction - Rey Mysterio


Sheamus vs Daniel Bryan - Didn't know who Bryan was until the Rumble, and he turned out to be pretty good. Shaemus seems to be loosing the push I though he was given last year and could need a boost, plus titles rarely change hands as Wrestlemania, so Prediction - Shaemus


Eight Man Tag -  I am not going to list everyone in the match, mostly because I don't know who most of the core guys are, but the inclusion of Santino guarantees that at least some spot of this match will be hilarious. Here's hoping that Big Show and Kane pick up Santino and hurl him at core. Prediction - no matter who wins, Santino wins (Core is going to lose)


Randy Orton vs CM Punk - There are going to be two big turns this year, and this match is going to have one of them. Orton hasn't really been a heel is a while. He hasn't been a good guy yet either and this match is going to push him over the edge. Punk is going to cheat over and over and Orton is still going to win. Prediction - Orton sneaks out a win and makes a transition to full on face.

John Morrison vs Dolph Ziggler plus a bunch of women no one wants to see wrestle - Morrison is awesome and think that he and Ziggler could put on a hell of a match. Here's hoping they get to. I don't know why Snooky is involved in this, and frankly I don't care, I just hope she gets here face smashed in. Prediction - beers will be refreshed every time the women wrestle, Snooky will be terrible, then Morrison will win because he is fresh off an injury.


Jerry Lawler vs Micheal Cole with special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin - Gimmick match, but who cares. Prediction - everyone gets a stunner. Everyone.





Edge vs Alberto del Rio - I don't know who Alberto del Rio is, so I was not happy when he won the rumble. He does have his own announcer, but Mr. Kennedy was his own announcers, and that was much cooler. On the other hand, I like Edge, and I think crazy Edge will make an appearance this evening. Prediction - Edge

The Undertaker vs Triple H - What's this, is it that time already? Time for Vince to dust off the Undertaker for his once a year defense of 'the streak'? I would be lying if I said that his match against HBK last year wasn't awesome, but the man is old. Triple H is not a young guy either, and he has a company to run (as compensation for having to see Stephanie naked. Ew.). Making the match no holds barred give them a great way out. Prediction - No one wins. Double count out after pretty good match. Undertaker disappears for another year and Triple H is running the show in six months.


The Miz vs John Cena - Remember when I said there were going to be two big turns this year? Here is the other one. Cena gets mixed reactions depending on the city they are in and what part of the crowd is shown on TV. WWE needs more heels, plus The Rock just came back. Finally, Miz is awesome, but he is in way over his head at this point. Prediction - Cena beats Miz, Rock comes out, Cena beats up The Rock, and we finally get Evil Cena. And there was much rejoicing.




And there it is: completely uninformed predictions from a guy who watches wrestling twice a year and will not be sober when Wrestlemania finally begins.

Friday, April 1, 2011

So this is what it's like in person

Last night was the first time that I had ever played Super Street Fighter 4 with someone who was actually in the same room. You would think that it would be all good, and it almost was, but it did expose a little something about how I play Blanka. But first, yes, hitting one frame links was much easer without having to fight varying latency. I was hitting Guile's crouching lp into mp, something that I previously could only do in practice mode, almost every time I tried. It caught me surprise each time and I never managed to follow it up with a flash kick or sonic boom; I couldn't believe that it worked. On the down side not having lag to fight through makes it much easier to block Blanka's bullshit. Blocking on reaction instead of blocking via clairvoyance is much, much easier. At least anti-airing with his crouching mp was easier to do.

There was some Marvel played as well. Buttons were mashed, wonderful things happened that no one actually intended. I still hate the game, but beer and slightly stale doughnuts made it at least tolerable. This was also the first time I played against Sentinel with the, shall we say, slightly reduced health.

Heh. Suddenly this


is much, much funnier.

Also, watch this:


The taunt seals the deal.