Showing posts with label Xbox360. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Xbox360. Show all posts

Jan 12, 2009

Aliens: Colonial Marines - Game NOT Over, Man!

Reports that Aliens: Colonial Marines was KIA were apparently only subversive Weyland-Yutani corporate propoganda. According to Dan Stapleton on the latest PC Gamer podcast, Sega PR reps insist that the game is still very much alive and that development is ongoing at Gearbox. Yay!

Nov 24, 2008

Aliens: Colonial Marines Exterminated? Aliens RPG set to hatch?

Dammit! I had suspected that Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines title might be in serious risk of an airlocking, as news on its development has been sketchy at best. Looks like my fears were realized. I'm seriously disappointed though - this is probably my all-time favorite movie license. [sigh] Game over, man! (Sorry, someone had to say it...)

In more uplifting news, Obsidian Entertainment, the development team behind Neverwinter Nights 2 and KotOR II, are apparently working on an Aliens-themed RPG for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC! Until then, I guess I can only cradle my pulse rifle in anticipation.

Nov 19, 2008

Still Alive

Wow - the ol' blog is looking very neglected. Let's start with a catch-up post. We've been pretty busy, and even more so at work, hence the lack of posts.

Left 4 Dead

Most of my gaming group got together last week to test drive the Left 4 Dead demo on XBL. Very freaking fun. We really enjoyed the co-op play, and all the ensuing confusion, complaints, and carnage.

"Bob, why the hell are you three blocks ahead of us??"
"Ack, a smoker grabbed me - help!!"
"No - don't shoot the Boomer yet!! Ahh, crap. Incoming!!!"
Most excellent fun. I loved how the game models zombie-movie conventions. A friend goes down, and another player must go over and spend time helping them up. A "boss" zombie attacks a player, and the others must rescue that player - he can't save himself. All these nuances force the players to act as a team or perish - a great way to foster cooperative play.

My group has been trying to figure out what our next XBL multiplayer game will be, and L4D was a strong candidate. In the end though, most of the group wasn't convinced, due to the lack of any unique single-player content. I'm sure we'll get this game some time, but now right now. Gears of War 2 seemed like another obvious choice, but I think the weak GoW1 story left several of the us underwhelmed. Several others are waiting until closer to the holidays. It looks like Rainbow Six Vegas may be our next XBL venture.


Fallout 3

I've really been having a blast with Fallout 3. We stayed home all of last weekend, and after knocking out a hefty hunk of chores each day, I deliberately carved out a few hours to continue exploring the Capital Wasteland.

The game is simply fantastic, and I'm particularly digging the palpable sense of exploration, the tension of traveling across a hostile, unknown landscape, and especially the extremely well-written quests and story. (I'm level 8 now, and just finishing up the last of the Survival Guide quests.)




Game Night

Our Star Wars Saga Edition session got off to its normal start - namely everyone sitting around chatting, catching up, and generally letting our hair down and decompressing after a long week's work.

Unfortunately, Ken - our designated GM for the evening - had a unexpected hostile random encounter with Neutron Lad and Star Girl (his kids) and we had to close up shop for the night.

This week Ken is busy, so we've got Classic Battletech at Damon's house on the slate. I've been reading a ton of Battletech books lately (Project Phoenix and Total Warfare), so I'm totally jazzed to sling some LRMs, baby!









Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Monday night, Brendan and I headed over to Ken's place to help him playtest MK vs. DCU for his Sci Fi Weekly review. We were all very pleasently surprised.

When this game had been announced, I had been firmly in the "huh??" camp. Suffice it to say, however, that Midway has done a fantastic job of crafting a story that makes the whole premise suprisingly acceptible. In fact, the story (told through a series of cutscenes seamlessly woven into the fight sequences) is very engaging and well-crafted.

The gameplay was likewise satisfying. Midway dropped much of the complexity that had been bolted on to the MK games of late. Gone are all the extraneous weapons, fighting stances, and emphasis on 3rd-dimensional movement. This game feels much more like a back-to-roots, 2008 take on the classic 2D Mortal Kombat games. The move set is simple enough for casual play, and contains enough depth to keep all but the diehard Virtua Fighter junkies engaged. Even given my dislike for the 360's mushy, imprecise d-pad, I still very much enjoyed myself.

The effects and animation were quite good as well. The plastic-doll look that plagued the PS2 MK characters has been overcome, and the whole package is quite pretty. Speaking of which, I must comment on the, er, proportions of the female combatants. The situation was ridiculous enough that we spend half the evening joking about it.
  • "Just think how awesome the game would have been if they'd spent less time on boob-bounce physics." - Brendan
  • "Oh no! Jax, my breasts have achieved fully sentient status!" - Ken, free-forming a Sonya Blade cutscene voiceover, MST3K style

The New Xbox Experience, or, When Wiivatars Attack!

Well, for good or ill, the '08 Fall Dashboard Update goes live today. (Whose idea was it to let the marketing guys spin a moniker for a freaking system update, anyway?) Out of curiosity, I logged onto XBL this morning while getting ready for work. I was pleased to see that the download was acceptably brief.

Unfortunately, though, the first experience you'll be dumped into is my least favorite feature of the NXE, namely the dorky avatars. Sure, it was pretty easy to create a reasonably close, big-headed faxsimile of myself, but why?? The 360's main demographic is late teen to 30's adult males, and what typical adult male gamer doesn't want ridiculously cutesy, childish figures prancing around on their cutting edge gaming console? Ugh...

What I do like, and test-drove this morning, is the full game install to hard disk feature. I popped in Fallout 3, and the process took about 10 minutes max. Upon firing up the game, I was very relieved to hear, well, the damn game! The optical drive on my red-ring-replacement 360 sounds roughly like a hair dryer on "low" setting, and is particularly annoying if you're trying to play a retail game on any audio level besides full Memorex mode.

The NXE: Xbox audio on "11" no longer necessary!




Nov 12, 2008

Left 4 Dead: Demo-licious Demo-lition!

Unfortunately, I got home late last night and the Left 4 Dead demo took forever to download on XBL, so I contented myself with watching some Chuck season 1 episodes with Heather.

I couldn't stand it any longer though, and fired up the demo this morning for a few minutes while the ol' WRX was warming up. Suffice it to say that the opening cinema is fantastic, and serves as a great introduction to the main characters and the more interesting individual varieties of zombies we'll encounter.

Since I only had a few minutes, and am most interested in the co-op modes the game offers, I jumped into the 1P version of co-op play that the demo offers (no online multiplayer in the demo at all from what I could surmise). The other three characters are controlled by (some rather competent) AI 'bots. From my quick taste, I can guess that this is going to be the next multiplayer game of choice for me.

The characters were tasked with making their way from a rooftop haven to a neighboring subway station. I grabbed an Uzi as my weapon of choice and opened the door leading down into the bowels of an apartment building. My 'bot posse and I were immediately assaulted by a number of weak, "everyday" zombies. Note that most of the L4D zombies seem to be very much the fast, rabid 28 Days Later type - no plodding, easy targets in this game! The typical zombie seems to be very easy to take out - in general it's all quantity over quality among the undead.

I shortly discovered that some of the flesheaters are more unique, skilled, and tough, however. The first of these was called a Boomer (I think), and was a huge, bloated and fat zombie that exploded violently when I cut into him with the Uzi. My vision was instantly partially distorted and obscured by the disgusting viscous green gore that splashed out all over us. To our horror, this slime also served to temporarily attract the normal "horde" zombies, and we were almost immediately assaulted by a score of these creatures.

Unfortunately, I actually had to go to work today, so further zombie blasting (and any subsequent Ditlog impressions) would have to wait until this evening. More soon!

Nov 5, 2008

Fable II Winding up - Fallout 3 Here I Come

Got to play Fable II for a good long time last night. I'm closing in on that jerk Lucian - his base are belong to me tonight for sure!

I don't think I'm going to replay the game as an evil character - I think it'll serve me better as trade credit towards my next purchase. I am enjoying the game, but I'm very eager to dive into Fallout 3, as well as work on a few other older games (Half Life 2 and the venerable Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries in particular). Oh yeah, then there's the gabillion other games that are coming out over the next few months!

My next big decision is going to be between Mirror's Edge, Gears 2, and Rock Band 2. Since Zack just got his braces attached yesterday, I'd best cool it with the extraneous spending - at least until we get used to the new budget! I think we mostly have it covered though. We've already eliminated a few unnecessary monthly bills to compensate - namely HBO, Netflix (we don't use it much when new episodes of our shows are airing), and Audible. Plus, we're probably going to dump our copper phone line if Verizon will let us do naked DSL.

Nov 4, 2008

Gears of War 2 More Story-Focused

I just finished reading IGN's Gears of War 2 review. I was very glad to hear that the second iteration of the franchise will be a bit more story-driven. I didn't dislike the first game, and thought the characters' wry quips quite funny, but I do prefer a deeper yarn and greater sense of immersion in the unfolding events. Gears 1 seemed very one-dimensional.

Synopsis: "Here are the bad guys. They come out of the ground. They are Evil(TM), so you should shoot them." No Cliffs Notes (or Cliffy B notes) required.

I actually have yet to finish the Gears 1 story campaign. The swaying perspective of the game makes me a little sick at times (which doesn't usually happen to me in games), and the claustrophobic and at-odds perspectives of co-op splitscreen don't help matters. So far, most of my Gears play has been "couch co-op" with my son Zack and gaming group buddies Bob and Jon. I expect to finish up the final act as soon as Zack and I can carve out some mutual free time - hopefully this week.

I'm also very keen to try out the GoW2 multiplayer. Again, being to late to the game, I missed out on Gears versus play entirely. As an avid paintballer though, I'm a huge fan of cover-based combat systems. Sure, "normal" FPS multiplayer is fun, but its veritable dearth of sane tactics always bothers me. I don't care if I am wearing Mjolnir armor - in a RL firefight, I'm still going to find some cover. It's not like the suit has a self-preservation dampener or something - sheesh! Anyway, I'm hoping my gaming group decides to take the collective plunge on this title - between the co-op and versus multiplayer modes, it would provide a welcome alternative to Halo 3 over XBL.

Nov 3, 2008

Wings of War: Famous Aces Coming to Xbox Live Arcade

I was very jazzed to hear that Fantasy Flight Games' excellent WWI fighter dogfight game Wings of War is coming to XBLA. I had demoed the game at GenCon '07, and was very excited to pick it up.

The board game's Famous Aces starter box had been out of stock for a while though, and my gaming group hasn't been playing many board games of late, so I'd kind of held off on the purchase.

I'm thinking that WoW:FA on XBL will be an excellent online multiplayer time-killer when the weather is too bad to venture out to our normal Friday night game sessions, though!

The game is being developed by Madison, Wisconsin startup Big Rooster.

Oct 31, 2008

Mirror's Edge Demo: My Brain is Officially Blown

Oh. My God. I just finished playing through the Mirror's Edge demo (released today on both XBL and the Playstation Store). Wow.

You've never played anything like this before - trust me - and that's perhaps what excites me the most about this game. We're not just talking new IP - this is an entirely new genre. Maybe one could argue that ME is simply a first person implementation of the original Prince of Persia, but even at this early stage I'd have to argue that it's something more.

Now, I've been playing first person games for what - let's say 15 years now? I'm confident though, that I have never experienced this level of perspective and immersion. Dice has absolutely nailed their design concept.

I can only assume that the camera position and field of view were tuned, tweaked, and tortuously tested. The player is provided with a sense of position, motion, and inertia that, properly blended with an intuitive control set, make precarious, vertigo-inducing rooftop free running feel somehow natural and fluid. As you flow across the rooftops, you are in a body - not just floating along in a disembodied camera, all FPS-style.

Then there's the art design, and its implementation via the in-game engine. The city is beautiful, crisp and bright, yet stark, and the framerate blazes along smoothly. Your Kung Fu is indeed impressive, Dice.

Play this demo.

Oct 30, 2008

Happy Halloween from EA!

That's right, kiddies - apparently the Mirror's Edge Demo Hits XBL tomorrow! I'm sooo hoping this game lives up to my expectations (and doesn't make me barf playing on my 50" widescreen...)!

Fallout 3's "Blood Ties" Quest - 'Tis the Season! (spoiler free)


So it turns out that all my fumbling and bumbling to find The Family was rewarded in the end with a pretty cool quest. Those that know my taste in monsters will realize that this one was right up my alley (and seasonally appropriate as well).

When you finish the quest, be sure to talk to Vance if possible and ask him about, erm, joining the gang - if you dare. You'll be rewarded with a cool bonus Perk.

Fallout 3: Stuck on the Blood Ties quest? Here's a solution.

If, like me, you are working on the Fallout 3 quest Blood Ties and have spend hours searching for The Family without success, check out this blog post from Kelly at Outer Heaven.

Oct 29, 2008

Fallout 3: Megaton of Fun?


So far, F3 really nails the Fallout feel. Especially the opening "character growth" / character creation sequence - that was really well done.

A quick comment on the organic character generation, though. Although it's fun to see what kind of character gets spat out, players may not get what they ultimately want. I tried not to "game" the aptitude test sequence, and did get a character that was pretty much want I was hoping for, barring one weirdly-placed skill focus point. Wisely, Bethesda allows you to tweak your three skill foci though, so all was well. (I think the original Fallout let you do a final tweak too.)

I'm not fond of the real time melee combat - the control feels muddy and mushy - maybe even drunken. Note that this comment is based on solely on baseball bat vs. nightstick scuffles in the cramped quarters of Vault 101 - hopefully melee is less annoying out in the open wasteland. I found this fact strange, because melee in Oblivion had seemed a bit more precise. (That said, my Oblivion character was an archery specialist, so I didn't do as much sword hackery as pointy-stick-launching.) Hopefully, the VATS system will make up for the mushy-melee shortfall, but my jury is still out on VATS.

So far I've played through the (extensive) opening sequence, left the vault, and after a quick scout around the surrounding landscape, made my way to the first town (Megaton).

I'm enjoying the characters, atmosphere, and dialogue so far. The Oblivion-engine facial models though, are still creepy. They are stiff and lifeless - especially compared to Mass Effect's exemplary showing in that area. I find the effect jarring, especially paired with the excellent F3 voice acting and dialogue writing. Given that older games (Half Life 2 comes to mind) have done a much better job with facial animations, Fallout 3 character faces end up looking very dated.

One last early observation - I can't seem to access a description blurb of the items present in Container or Barter windows. Sure, "Sawed-off Shotgun" is self-explanatory, but WTF is a "Schematic: Shishkebab"??

More after additional play time.

Oct 22, 2008

Fable II: Early Impressions


Man, what a whirlwind this morning at work. Need a sanity check - Ditlog take me away!

I got started with Fable II last night. Well OK, I played for like 6 hours… I’m really enjoying it. Not lightning-struck like I’d been with Morrowind or WoW or anything, but definitely enjoying it.

The moral choices set before your character, and their impact on the world around you, seem very well-implemented so far. The world, the characters, and all the events within it seem cohesive, interconnected and believable.

The mechanism for interacting with the average citizen, however, is not. Your character doesn’t talk, and can only communicate with fellow citizens through a short list of emote functions. This leaves the player feeling like a Cro-Magnon, unable to articulate his thoughts to his neighbors other than via mimed threats, idiotic dancing or whistling, or clumsily-juvenile romantic or lewd gesticulations.

Maybe times have changed, but when I was single it took more than whistling a few tunes, striking a pose, and performing a ridiculous Russian dance to convince my intended paramour to come home with me, or even sillier, accept my hand in marriage. (Or maybe I’m just that bad a dancer?) Not so in Albion.

The combat system is button-mashy and light, but becomes a bit deeper as your character gains in experience. I’m enjoying it so far, even though none of the enemies – in any quantity – pose you any tangible threat.

I’m a huge sucker for games that provide a palpable sense of exploration though, and Fable II delivers in spades. Albion is a visceral and wondrous fairly tale land, albeit with a bit of a dark side. One can sprint myopically from one quest to the next, but straying from Fable’s ingenious “glowing bread crumb trail” to check out what’s down the next fork in the path, under a bridge, or behind a copse of trees is almost always rewarding and satisfying.

Oh, one last comment. A few of the press reviews have commented on the frame rate. At this point, I've not encountered any hiccups that were noticeable. So far, the engine is handling Albion's sprawling vistas remarkably well. Now The Force Unleashed on the other hand? Those were some frame rate issues!

More as my game progresses…

Oct 6, 2008

My Bittersweet Affair with The Force Unleashed: a Spoiler-Free Review


Well, I finally finished The Force Unleashed yesterday (on Xbox 360). Let me first say that yes, I enjoyed the game - as did my son. In retrospect, I think there are two major factors leading to the lukewarm reviews the game has been receiving.


Kickin' Butt Old School

Firstly, in many ways the gameplay is very retro. To quote TFU project lead Haden Blackman, "this game is about kicking ass with the Force." Thing is though, one needs to kick an awful lot of ass to get from point A to point B. Distilled down, TFU most closely resembles a modern and more versatile version of classic arcade beat 'em up games like Double Dragon or Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Okay, okay - I can already hear the fanboys screaming (as if millions of nerds suddenly cried out in anger and refused to be silenced.) Bear with me and follow along:

  • You're moving steadily forward along a highly linear path? Check.
  • You are hindered in your progress by hordes of determined, but very similar combatants? Check.
  • Fighting involves a lot of button-mashing, and a few relatively simple combos are available to you? Check.
  • You get to fight a bigger, tougher, more interesting dude at the end of the level? Check.
  • Rinse, repeat? Check.

Now granted, this particular beat 'em up happens to feature some pretty spectacular graphics and sound. And the battlegrounds include cool spaceships, lush alien planets, and sinister space stations. (And it's set in the Star Wars universe too - I almost forgot.)

As I'd mentioned in my preview, the potential exists for the game to come off like a boring button-masher. Don't miss the boat, though - the designers intend for you to wade through your numerous enemies like an orchestral conductor weaving a symphony of dark side destruction. Mix and vary your force powers and attacks, make use of all the interesting combos available to you, and challenge yourself to fling that stormtrooper or punt that jawa just a bit farther than the last time. Because even so, your thumb will probably be sore by the end of your play session - to some extent it's up to you to make it interesting.

You will probably also need to approach the tougher fights like you would those in an old school game. In the end, almost all the bosses and unique sequences require following some kind of pattern or trick. Many of the press reviews complained about such segments of the game, but maybe I'm a little more immune since I'm a crusty old Gen X gamer who cut his teeth on content like this.

Test that boss for weaknesses, watch for patterns, and take advantage of soft spots. Personally, I found the boss battles very interesting and engaging, and once the "trick" was discovered, the difficulty of the fight was much less than at first blush. Don't be too embassased to check GameFaqs either - there are a few spots where the solutions just aren't very evident.

Regarding boss fights, I'm not sure I like the QTE's. That mechanic does allow the designers to involve the player during a cinematic sequence, but I find myself missing most of the action due to focusing on the next button-press prompt. I think my vote is "meh" - I prefer fighting the boss in real time and then watching a cinema after I've beaten them.

One last retro facet is the search for hidden "jedi holocrons" that offer additional experience and power-ups. Some are hidden, and many of the more obvious require a hackle-raising series of jumps and timing to reach. If you really want to max out your character by the end of the game though, make the search for these golden goodies a priority and have fun looking - I did.


Polished, it is Not

The second weakness of the game contributing heavily to the critical raspberries is the lack of general polish and fine-tuning. TFU simply feels a bit rushed to market. Yes, the graphics are beautiful and detailed, the sound and voicework commendable, and the physics modeling excellent. On the other hand, the camera control is often spastic and contrary, the frame rate hitches frequently, and the horizontal tearing is distractingly prominent. Perhaps Lucasarts is simply pushing the 360 to its processing limits, but I'd speculate that further optimization of the graphics engine would have alleviated most of these issues. Topping off the mechanical maladies, the menu system is clunky and annoyingly slow-loading.

The gameplay itself could have benefited from further tuning as well. The timing of many enemies' attacks seemed to coincide exactly to your character's recovery speed, such that even the lowliest EVO trooper is sometimes able to knock you down repeatedly. Hordes of such enemies - common towards the end of the game - find you frequently stun locked and frustrated. Add a sniping Scout Trooper or two to the mix, or maybe several rocket-firing Jump Troopers who hover in silently out of our field of vision, and you're off to the loading screen once more.

It also bothered me that several enemies were only defeatable through spamming a single attack - several force bars worth of the same attack, mind you. Such an arrangement often finds you running in circles, dodging attacks and waiting for your force power to regenerate. Your thumbstick skills will be tested, but such play is a bit one-dimensional.

Now to my final gameplay bitch. I know that the designers were trying to dream up ways to challenge your incredibly-powerful character, but if the Empire really possessed this many Force-immune super-troopers, would the jedi knights have ever posed an actual threat?


Redemption

Despite all these drawbacks however, I still enjoyed the game. Sure, the gameplay can get a little repetitive, but you're repeatedly trashing stormtroopers with Force-lightning and lightsaber slashes. I'll take such tasks over hopping on mushrooms any day.

Speaking of weird flora, the planets (and starships) featured in the game are beautiful and varied, and your enemies behave convincingly and are well-animated and -voiced. The excellent application of physics effects also aids the player's suspension of disbelief.

In the end, after all of all its temptation towards the dark side of game quality, TFU is thankfully redeemed by its engaging story. Lucasarts has somehow managed to concoct a new and interesting character closely tied with major players from the movies, while successfully shoehorning him into the overarching movie plots in a manner both satisfying and uncontrived. I appreciated how the FU story paints Starkiller as a major influence on the events leading up to A New Hope, but not in a way that might raise the ire of lifelong fans. Bravo to Mr. Blackman and his writing team.

Oct 3, 2008

Star Wars Saga Edition >> 4E!


With the release of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, my table-top gaming group spent a long time discussing our options. Many of the players were either miffed at WotC's handling of the release (and seemingly summary dismissal of lifelong players), or unsatisfied with the new rules engine.

We did run a short playtest campaign of 4th Edition. Many of us liked the ruleset, but versatility seems lacking compared to 3.X and the rules for arcane magic in particular just don't suit our Greyhawk-based home campaign setting. Maybe the fit will improve as more sourcebooks flesh out the options available to players, but most of us are heavily dissatisfied with the core mechanics. Time will tell as more 4E content is released.

We certainly have the choice to continue playing 3.5E, but much of the gaming world will be moving on. Personally, I'm worried about the slippery slope - that I might become one of those weird, wild-eyed bearded fat guys off in the corner at GenCon still playing 1st Edition...

Then there's Paizo Publishing's new rising star - the Pathfinder system. Many of our players have taken a shine to Pathfinder, but we're not keen to start learning beta rules, which may change again with the final release next August.

So what to do in the mean time? Hey - what about those cool Star Wars Saga Edition rules that Ken picked up last GenCon? Although I hadn't been able to attend, my group had playtested the SWSE core rules and found them very much to their liking. Saga Edition seemed like a perfect compromise for the time being, so we've made the decision to play SE for a year and see if the final release of Pathfinder suits our taste for our triumphant return to Obsidian Bay.

Between working on my progress in KotOR II while my 360 was out for repair, and my more recent tawdry affair with The Force Unleashed, I was already on a fairly large Star Wars kick. The Saga Edition rules have Force-Grabbed me by the collar though. I simply can't remember being this excited about a RPG campaign for many a year.

Normally, I'm pretty lukewarm about RPG gaming. Sure, it's fun because I'm getting together with buds and gaming, but typically I'd much rather play strategy board games (geeky scifi- or fantasy-themed board games, that is) . Weirdly enough though, SWSE has me gnawing on my dice in anticipation.

One last note - for any readers actually playing SWSE, be sure to check out the Order 66 podcast - very well done and informative.

Sep 17, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Early Impressions

Due to the lackluster launch day reviews, I decided to rent Star Wars: The Force Unleashed from Blockbuster instead of buying it outright. Per the reviewers, the game is about 8-9 hours long, so I'll probably get a dozen hours out of it (I like to smell the flowers and explore all the nooks and crannies).

For new games that I'm not sure I'll like, I'm beginning to think that Blockbuster might be a great solution. If you keep the game more than a week past the due date, Blockbuster charges your credit card as if you'd purchased the title. You then have up to a month to return the game for a refund, minus a $1.25 restocking fee.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a commentary about the game. If you liked the demo, I think you'll also like the game. At this point, I think my opinion matches that of the press - a solid 7.5. The game is fun, but imperfect.

I'm working on the second of nine total missions, and enjoying my dark side rampage quite a bit. The backstory and characters are very engaging, and I'm interested to see how the plot develops. The action is very hack-and-slash, and there is a risk here for boredom through repetition. Many of the reviewers toted the play as a button masher, and one could easily progress through the majority of the game with only the Jump and Lightsaber Attack buttons. I believe that that would be missing the designers' point though. The creative execution of the variety of attack options, powers, combos, and flourishes serves to keep the battering of numerous, similar enemies a fresh pursuit.

Sure, mini-bosses aside, in the Tie Fighter Factory level, you're going to be fighting hordes of only a few types of rebel guards and Stormtroopers. I'm approaching the game like a Sith apprentice would, though. This one gets slashed twice, Force-shocked, and then hurled into a bunker full of buddies (Sith bowling - strike!). The next gets Force-grabbed, battered off the walls and ceiling, and finally impaled by my thrown saber. The last one, to his horror, is stunned by an airborne Force blast and tossed from the catwalk like a discarded doll, into the path of an oncoming Tie Fighter - boom! It's like a ballet, and you're choreographing a masterpiece of sci-fi bad guy destruction.

Sure, the targeting is a little wonky, and the controls and camera slightly imprecise. The tech is also pushing the 360 a little hard - the framerate dips and there is frequent horizontal tearing. Yes, the boss fights can be a little trial-and-error and your path sometimes unclear. In the end though, the story is catchy, the visual and audio effects stellar, and the thrill of guiding a dark jedi through his violent journey is engaging. It's not approaching perfect, but it's fun.

I didn't want to set the controller down at bedtime last night, I wanted to play hooky from work this morning to play some more, and I'm looking forward to swinging a saber around tonight. 'Nuff said.

The Xbox: Fight the Future RRoD

Well, I've received a refurbished 360 back from Microsoft. Not *my* 360, mind you, but a 360 nonetheless.

This one seems to run a heck of a lot hotter than my old one (if my memory serves me). The rear fans are exhausting a blast that feels like output of a hair drier. I'm worried this one is going to red-ring again in a week. Even worse, the optical drive seems twice as loud as the one in my old machine. I know Microsoft had used several different vendors for their drives - this was from the crappy one.

So, yes Mr. Gates got my console back within an admirable 2-week window, but I'm not completely happy. Unfortunately, I think I got an older, inferior build of the Elite console back in exchange. Bleh.

Aug 27, 2008

Three Inconvenient Red Rings

Yes, I've finally joined that club. My Xbox 360 Elite gave up the ghost Saturday after just shy of a year's service. No big deal - I've still got a great list of games to play on other systems - but the Fall Avalanche of Goodness is nearly upon us, and I haven't even received my shipping box from Microsoft yet.

Just this morning for instance, I received the LucasArts Insider email newsletter announcing the September 16th North American launch date for Star Wars: the Force Unleashed.

Yes, I'll have just as much fun playing it later. No, I'm not happy about having to wait for it.

Dec 28, 2007

Mass Effect: Navigating the Hemorrhoid Field

Commander's Log: Stardate 122807

Hard to believe it's been a month since the last Mass Effect post - December was so busy!

Well, I'm still early in the game - maybe a dozen hours or so. I've finished the quests at the Citadel and have traveled on to the frozen planet of Noveria.

The graphical glitches bothered me much, much less during my intervening playing sessions. Everything is more flawed under a microscope, and I was obviously looking too closely. That said, the shadowing effects seem to be the biggest culprit regarding my earlier misgivings. The engine doesn't seem to have quite enough horsepower to do proper on-character shading, so why implement it?

In that vein lies many of Mass Effect's problems. Yes, the game is pretty, the conversations intriguing, the plot engaging, and the combat system promising. The underlying game engine, however, can be a chronic source of posterior pain. Why, oh why were so many of KotOR's nuts-and-bolts problems not ironed out during the development of this game?

Yes, the ME combat system (like KotOR's before it) can be unforgiving and even a bit random at times. I can deal with that. What I don't want to deal with is a minute-long loading pause before resuming combat. Why are the assets for the area I was just inhabiting reloaded each time I die? Could the code not simply check to see if the player were re-playing the same area he just died in? Obviously, if a player were to load a save in a different locale, the game would have to import those resources, but in this case we're replaying the same damn room!

Loading pause aside, I am then forced to re-watch the short video sequence that takes place before the combat is triggered. Every time I die. Ugh. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I've mashed every button on my controller trying to skip the same clip featuring the same bunch of Geth unfolding, jumping up onto a wall, and posing menacingly - for the sixth time. I know they're there - they just killed me. Let's get on with it already!

Then there are the ambiguous "where the hell do I go now?" moments - those places where the quest system seems to forget what you were doing and forgoes implying any sense of direction. I was told to go talk to Guy X, but Guy X strangely doesn't have anything to say to me - now what?? I'm also supposed to go to Place Y and do something, but Place Y doesn't show up on my map. Even so, a deadline timer is still ticking down and I have to save the people at Place Y before it expires. Grr.

Finally, one last rant - this time about combat vehicles that are strangely incapable of shooting up or down. Yes, Commander Shepard - you have a groovy prototype space tank with standard features such as Hypercrystal Ceramisteel Armor Plating, Diminished Mass Effect Jump Jets, Excited Tachyon Pulse Lasers , and a Mark IV Phasing Ultra-Cannon. A weapons turret featuring both side-to-side and up-and-down movement is beyond our technological capabilities however - so sorry!

In a way, I think that EA purchasing Bioware will have a positive ending. Bioware does so many things well story-wise, but their games can be very clunky from a mechanical aspect. In my eyes, the resources that they should be able to take advantage of under EA will hopefully enable them to create the nearly-flawless game we'd all like to play. Until then, I'll continue to be dazzled by the dialog while raging about the rough spots.

Merry Christmas and a Geeky New Year!

So, it's been a while since I posted. Basically, the nuttiness of the holiday has simply been keeping me busy as heck.

We started painting the kitchen in December, and ended up racing to get everything buttoned up before the holidays. There's still a little touching up to be done, but we at least got the room far enough along to be presentable to holiday visitors and attendees to our annual post-Christmas party (which is tonight!).

My parents visited over the holidays, which was great, and everything went without a hitch. Heather had to work on Christmas, but we went in to have lunch with her and her coworkers, and that turned out to be a nice time.

The other thing that's been keeping me busy is the Great Games Deluge of Late '07. Truly, it's been a great fall to be a gamer. Over the last few weeks, I finished Portal (a simply sublime religious experience) and Halo 3 (quite fun as well), and dove back into Bioshock with the intent of finally finishing it up.

The further I get into Bioshock, the more I like it. At first, gorgeous atmosphere aside, the game felt a little rote and repetitive. As the story began to progress, however, I surrendered to the plot and began to allow the designers to lead me through by the nose ring. Great stuff, and a truly wonderful setting rife with ambiance and impeccable art direction. Fear my wrench, you dirty Splicers!

Next on the finish-me list are Gears of War and Half-Life 2. I'm a few hours into both stories and am enjoying them thoroughly. I'm enticed with the possibilities of GoW multiplayer, as the gameplay reminds me fondly of paintball, which the crummy Northeast US weather has been keeping me away from.

Then there's Mass Effect. See my upcoming diary post re. that title.

Finally, the unveiling of the grand '07 geek present pile:

  • Settlers of Catan (new redesigned 4th Ed.) - I'm very much looking forward to introducing my family to this great board game, and also getting my gamer friends together at the table for yet another enjoyable Catan session.
  • Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magical Carrot (card game) - Zack (my 11-yr old son) had originally seen this game at Mepacon, and then bought it for me for Xmas when he came upon it when they were buying Settlers. I've been reading through the rules and it should be a hoot. Great game to play with Zack and my gamer friends.
  • Rock Band (360) - from "Santa" to me and Zack. A definite improvement over Guitar Hero, and I'm excited to try this with a full band of four - this'll definitely get broken out at the party tonight. I've been enjoying playing with Zack, my little drummer boy, and also unlocking lots of songs on guitar Solo Tour on hard difficulty. The RB guitar is a huge improvement over the GH version - finally a neck-button design friendly to actual guitar players!
  • Super Mario Galaxy - Was on sale at Target for $37 after Xmas, and couldn't pass up dropping some of my Xmas money on it. I'm only a few minutes in, but am intrigued so far. Invokes the delightful experience that was Super Mario 64 way back when (so much more effectively than SM Sunshine, which I just couldn't get in to).
  • Call of Duty 4 (360) - Another fishhook-in-my-wallet $37 Target item. Haven't even cracked the plastic open, but am looking forward to doing so. By all online accounts, this game is sounding like a very serious contender for Game of the Year, and I simply love a great single-player campaign.
That's it for now - tune in soon for a post-Xmas-party Rock Band debriefing.