Sunday, May 30, 2010

Monster Hunting (And Gathering), Edits Continue, and Unholy Ghosts  

Jeez, I didn't realize I hadn't updated the blog in so long. This was a pretty crazy week and time definitely got away from me in all the hubbub, I suppose. Anyway, my bad. Let's rectify that right now, shall we?


Games: Still putting time in with Monster Hunter Tri. At this point I've unlocked the four-star offline quests and I've got almost all of them done.

Although I have great affection for the Switch Axe, I have to say that jumping over to the Lance was a smart move. After getting my ass handed to me several times by the Barroth and the Gobul (above), the Lance’s combination of defense, countering, and three-hit combos really turned the tide. Not only was I able to get past both of those beasts, farming them for item drops became quite do-able -- although it’s still tedious.

Right now I'm trying to put together a set of Barroth Armor and upgrade to the Rugged Lance, but I have to be perfectly honest in saying that I really wish the game gave up the necessary elements a lot quicker than it does. I don't see any point in making players grind for so long, really... some might argue with me, but I think the game would be better if you only had to kill a certain creature once or twice to be able to get what you need to kit up.


In other news, we just recorded the latest Podcast tonight, and it should be available for download within the next few days, or so. On it, I give a quick overview of Monster Hunter Tri, host Tim breaks down Super Mario Galaxy 2, and we all discuss whether or not games were better "back in the day". It was a fairly interesting talk and we had to rein ourselves in a bit from going too far afield, but I think we raised a few good points in the end. However, I guess the important thing is to see whether or not you, the listeners, agree…

The next installment of the Podcast is going to be centered on the imminent E3, so if you've got anything you'd like us to discuss (games, publishers, trends, hardware, etc.) drop us a line and we'll try to work it into the script. We will also have a man on the floor at the show, so if there's something you specifically want us to take a close look at, we are taking requests.


Writing: Edits are beginning on the first draft of the recently-completed book. Since editing goes a hell of a lot faster than the initial writing process (at least, it does for me) I'm hoping that my co-author and I will whip through the text in short order. I'm also going to begin revisions on my earlier book (Speaking in Forked Tongues) and except for some tweaking that I might do to the ending, I'm hoping that's going to be quick work as well. If you're interested in reading either of these works when they’re finally published, keep your eye on the blog... more details will be coming soon.


Books: Just picked up a copy of Unholy Ghosts, by author @StaciaKane. Haven’t cracked it yet, but I loved her earlier work and I'm sure this one will be no different. From what I've gathered, it contains the undead, a ghost hunter, a drug lord, black magic, human sacrifice, demons, and I'm guessing there's probably a sex scene or two. I don't know about you, but that particular list of stuff checks all of my usual boxes.

As a brief aside, this book has a blurb from Charlaine Harris on the front cover, and all I have to say about that is… I’M SO JEALOUS!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parent + Game, Monster Hunter Tri, and Viral Survival  

Games: (and also Parenting): I was recently interviewed by @AmandaOchsner for What They Play, a website dedicated to educating families about videogames.

In it, I discuss my views on raising children in a house where parents play games, and why there’s no inherent conflict in being a gamer and nurturing children at the same time. Click on over and see what I had to say on the subject if you're interested... it's a topic I feel very strongly about, and one that I'm not shy about discussing. Also, although I was the only one interviewed for the piece, I do want to say that my views are mirrored by my awesome gamer wife too… Raising kids is a team effort with us, and that certainly extends to our views on how games enter that picture.


In other news, I’m still putting time in on Monster Hunter Tri. I wasn't sure it was going to be worth the effort when I started, but I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen hours deep now and I feel like I'm going to push through until the end. (Well, the end of the off-line single player mode, anyway.)

The Barroth

Progress so far has been interesting. The first six or eight hours were extremely slow, and then I hit a streak where I was knocking out one mission after another. That really did a lot to raise my morale, and taking down the Royal Ludroth after wasting an hour and getting timed out of the battle on my first attempt put even more spring in my step. That joy was short-lived, however.

Regardless of how well you prepare, it seems as though the first time you encounter a brand-new boss-caliber enemy, it's pretty normal to either get crushed or time out of the battle. I went up against the Barroth for the first time tonight, and despite coming loaded for a heavy assault, he still gave me the business. That definitely took the wind out of my sails, but I'll be back...

The armor you make out of the Barroth

All that said, I am a little curious as to how often it will be required to earn a new set of armor before being tough enough to progress. Granted, a lot of it depends on player skill, but from what I've played so far, it seems like every time I made a big leap forward it was after crafting a new set of duds. It hasn't been all that painful up to this point, but I'm starting to creep into the big leagues now and the thought of ‘farming’ some of these more lethal creatures is a little bit daunting, especially with some of the tricks required to harvest particular pieces.


One last little bit of games news, the good people at NIS released Viral Survival on Nintendo's WiiWare service today. I haven't laid hands on it yet, but there’s a video to check out here.

I don't know why, but I've always been fascinated with the ‘collect X things and make a chain’ formula. Flicky is the first thing to come to mind, but Super Rub-A-Dub on PSN was a good one too. Viral Survival looks like a good time, and some of those extra modes look pretty decent.

I haven't taken the plunge, but if any of you readers have feedback on it, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Zombie Blood, RDR vs MH:T, and Clive Barker  

Misc: At the top of the agenda tonight, a first for Drinking Coffeecola - an energy drink review.

Called Zombie Blood, this green-tinged liquid comes inside a plastic squeeze bag made to look like the same sort of intravenous fluids pouch you'd see in a hospital or science lab. The flavor is described by the manufacturers as ‘Lifeless Lime’ and that sounds about right. I wouldn't say that it was really a refreshing citrus taste, but probably something more akin to an unfrozen Otter Pop. It's fairly sweet and has a little bit of a sugary bite going down. Interestingly, the beverage contains milk and soy ingredients although it's clear and not creamy at all.

I have to admit that I did have a little bit of hesitation before taking my first sip, but that was purely psychological on my part. I think I was a little afraid that it would taste like a joke drink; foul, or with some kind of hemoglobin tang to it, but that wasn't the case. After I was reassured that I didn't have to brace myself for a mouthful of yuck, it went down quickly. Within a few minutes, I did notice a jolt of energy (the drink contains caffeine, among other things) and the manufacturer states that it's good for up to four hours of energy.

…Whether that's enough to rouse the dead remains to be seen.

If you're interested, Zombie Blood goes for $3.99 per pouch, and is available at Fry’s, FYE, Hot Topic, a few other specialty stores, or online at this site.


Games: There's been a strange turn of events this week.

I've been eagerly anticipating Red Dead Redemption for quite some time, and my copy finally arrived last Wednesday. I'm huge Western fan, and good Western games are incredibly few and far between, so it was dead center on my radar. I popped it in immediately upon arrival input about an hour into it before I had to go off and do other things. I thought I'd be totally on fire to get back to it ASAP, but here's that strange turn of events I mentioned:

As I was driving around taking care of some errands, my brain kept coming back to Monster Hunter Tri instead.

Since the last post, Tri has undergone something of a shift. The first six hours or so that I spent with it were pretty slow and tedious. Painful, really. However, I'm a fan of big monsters and an even bigger fan of killing them, so like I said before, I set my mind to sticking with it. Shockingly, the dedication paid off.

Don't get me wrong, there are still a ton of things that need fixing or changing from a critical perspective. The game is nowhere near what it should be in comparison to current standards and norms in development, but the niche subject matter has a great appeal to me personally, and the developers have wisely included some new tweaks to the formula that helped stave off the grinding I was afraid was coming.

For example, players eventually gain access to a small farm that can reproduce important bugs or plants that are necessary for item creation. Players also can employ a fishing boat to go and harvest fish for resources, or to hunt for treasure to boost the player's bank account. Both of these things require minimal effort once they’re unlocked, and are each a hell of a lot less painful than physically going out and collecting everything that's needed to craft weapons and armor. They are shortcuts, pure and simple, and Capcom was dead-on correct in adding them. Scouring FAQs has also provided some much-needed information shedding light on some of the game’s more obscure elements, as well.

The end result of all this is that playing Monster Hunter Tri has gone from being boring and painful to being slightly faster in pace and a bit more action-packed. It's still not what it could be (or even what I would want it to be) but I am glad to say that I have been able to enjoy the game more than I expected to. This might turn out all right, after all.

(Oh, and I haven’t been back to Red Dead yet.)


Books: It’s been a while since I really dug into a good book, but I had a copy of Clive Barker's Galilee laying around, and just so happened to have a couple of hours to kill. Putting the two things together, that time flew by.

I'm not going to attempt to describe the book outside of saying that it's enormous in scope and details the history of a family descended from primordial beings. It would take me a series of posts to even begin to capture Barker's work in detail, so I'm going to leave it at that, and just say that it's infinitely more interesting than I've described.

I actually haven't met very many people who have read Barker's writing which is surprising, considering how well-known he is and how many of his texts have become films. More people know him thanks to the silver screen than the printed page I suppose, but if you haven't read any of his books, let me say that they probably aren't what you'd expect -- and I mean that in the best possible way. In fact, I don't think it's even accurate to classify Barker's work solely as Horror since they encapsulate so much more.

If you're in the mood for something incredibly detailed, literate, emotional, and yes, creepy and horrific at times, do yourself a favor and pick up a Barker book. He's easily one of my favorite authors, and after getting a few hundred pages into Galilee, I was chastising myself for having stayed away from his work for so long.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Monster Hunter Tri - Is The Third Time The Charm?  

Games: Started playing Monster Hunter Tri (Wii) today. I won a free copy in a contest via Twitter (Thanks GameZone!) so I had it on hand, otherwise I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it until summer, or even later.

Why not? Well, if You've been keeping an eye on retail shelves, you might have noticed that there are an absurd amount of games coming out lately. I'm not talking about off-season shovelware stuff, I'm talking big-name, big-recognition titles. With all of these things to play and review, the usual slow period enabling me to go through the backlog and catch up on older things just hasn't materialized. I really hope things cool off over the next few months, though. If this pace keeps up and my backlog keeps growing at its current rate, I'll be able to sustain my gameplay habits until sometime in 2024 without ever buying another game.

Anyway, Monster Hunter Tri.

Back when Monster Hunter first appeared on the PS2, I can remember seeing one of the first trailers for it a few months before the game hit. At the time, it was utterly mindblowing and promised potential that players had only dreamed of. Even today, the trailer still looks extremely exciting and full of action.

Check it out, if you've got a minute or two.

Unfortunately, the reality did not match up to the level of action in that trailer. Stiff controls, a very steep difficulty curve and heavy emphasis on grinding for resources flew in the face of the tone set in that trailer, and I quit the game in disappointment pretty quickly. That said, the trailer never left my mind and I would often wonder when developers would tackle something like it.

Many have come close, or at least skirted it. Shadow of the Colossus is one that shares the scale, although not quite the same level of balls-out-ish-ness that's implied. (And don't get me wrong, I loves me some SotC. This isn't a criticism.) Closer to what I was craving was Lost Planet, oddly enough, also from Capcom. The scale was great, it added mecha to the mix, and in general I was pretty satisfied with it, although it did not have the same fantasy- medieval tone. Despite these titles and a few others that have similar themes, none quite scratched the itch that the idea of Monster Hunter instilled in me. It's kind of absurd when you think about it, since the game that inspired this desire didn't even live up to the promise itself.

Now we come to Tri, the most recent (third) game in the series.

Despite having a deep suspicion that it was going to be more of the same, I was thrilled when I won the Twitter contest. I immediately began hoping against hope that Capcom had revamped the formula enough to win me over and finally provide the monster hunting experience I've been after. After putting in a few hours today I can say that it definitely feels better than it was, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm headed towards disappointment again.

Putting all issues about the Wii’s hardware aside, the game still relies heavily on menus and resource procurement/management. For something seemingly all about giant swords and enormous reptiles, there's an awful lot of emphasis put on collecting things and leveling up equipment. Don't get me wrong, I'm no stranger to this stuff, but this all strikes me as a bizarrely disparate relationship between the reality of the game and its image. My eyes are telling me that this should be a high-octane, intense and action-packed title, but my hands are telling me that I'm mining for iron ore, farming small monsters for their pelts, and searching for rare mushrooms.

I certainly haven't given up yet and I will say that it was an enormous relief to get past the extended tutorial phase and start doing quests proper… tackling groups of large lizards and finally getting knee-deep in some combat was extremely welcome even if the action still feels completely stilted and slow. However, I'm starting to wonder how long it'll be before I hit a wall and need to straight-up grind in order to progress. I desperately want to like this game and finally be able to enjoy the kind of adventure Monster Hunter eternally promises, but I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'm headed for another heartbreak again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trent Needs Help, Lost Planet 2, Dementium II, and an Epilogue  

This morning, my fellow GameCritics staffer Trent Fingland reported that his apartment was robbed and tons of his game stuff was jacked by some decidedly unsavory individuals. (What kind of jerk takes everything in sight, but leaves behind a pink DS?)

A few years ago, the same thing happened to me. I had a large amount of my game collection and related items in a storage locker that was broken into and cleaned out. It was incredibly heartbreaking and depressing, and I would have been lost if not for the kindness that GameCritics readers and other people online had shown. A ton of people who I'd never met in real life sent items to me to replace the ones that were taken -- believe it or not, someone was even nice enough to send me a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga completely free of charge!

That kind of generosity really blew me away at the time, and I'm hoping that readers of this blog and will show the same sort of love to Trent -- He's been a longtime member of the site as a reader, and he's been a great asset as one of our newest writers. Man deserves it.

I asked him to send me a list of the stolen goods that were most valuable to him… this list is by no means complete, but he chose these as the things that he'd most like to have replaced. If anyone reading this can spare one of these titles and help Trent rebuild his stolen collection, you will earn my thanks and a huge amount of good karma points for use in the next life.

SMT: Nocturne
Persona 2
Breath of Fire 4
Demon's Souls
3D Dot Game Heroes
Kagero Deception
Final Fantasy X and XII

If you can spare one of these or would like to help Trent in some other way, drop me a line here at the blog, via GameCritics, or through Twitter and I'll share the pertinent info.


Games: Earlier today I finished Lost Planet 2 on PS3. It was a really bizarre experience for a few reasons, but primarily because it started off lukewarm and sort of middling, but then actually managed to get better and more exciting with each successive level. I wasn't feeling too hot on it at first, but the game had completely won me over by the time credits rolled.

An interesting blend of solo and multiplayer styles, it's a fairly experimental title that tries some new things and mostly succeeds. The level design is great, and the graphics are very impressive, and there are a bunch of OMFG moments that will likely remain in many players’ minds for some time to come.

On the downside, the story could have been ten times better than it is with just a little bit of tweaking. It was fairly painful to see some of the missed opportunities in terms of the plot, but I will admit that it did come together in its own slightly awkward way by the time credits rolled. However, one thing that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever is the way the game doles out customization items for player characters. For whatever bizarre reason, Capcom thought that including a random slot machine mechanic as a way of awarding extras was a good idea, and you know what? IT’S NOT.

When I play a game that features player customization, I don't mind having to earn or unlock certain things, but at least give me a few options from the start and for God’s sake, don't make anything random about how a player gets more. Give me a store to shop in, or some objectives to shoot for... anything that has some clear focus and end goals. I can't think of anything more distasteful and painful than grinding for points to spend in a slot machine, and winning worthless crap over and over and over again when what I really want is a new gun or different head to use for my character.

The review will go live at GameCritics soon, but for right now but me just say that I enjoyed my time with Lost Planet 2 more than I had expected to, and the final review (and score) are definitely on the positive side.


In other games news, I've started Dementium II for the DS. A first-person Horror title, I've got to say that it's been creepier and more gruesome than I would have expected possible on Nintendo's handheld. I've only barely scratched the surface of it so far, but I'm liking what I'm seeing.


Writing: Although I ended up being a wee bit off schedule, all that's left to do before completing my second book is to write the epilogue. It will feel great to wrap this work up, and I'm definitely looking forward to it, but first I think I need to catch up on some sleep. I'm already starting to think about what my next project might be, though. I'm kicking a few ideas around, but nothing entirely concrete just yet...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Links, Links, Links!  

Games: If you're interested in reading more about female representation in customizable games, Kotaku reposted my recent blog about Brink’s sausagefest status and there are quite a few comments following after. I haven't read the entire thread, but it seems pretty clear that there are a lot of opinions out there… in any event, I'm not going to get back into that whole issue right now but I will say two more quick things on it:

1> I’m fully aware of the technical requirements in creating 3D models of different genders. If you wrote in to ‘educate’ me, let me just say now that illustrating this issue in great detail does not alter my opinion even a bit. You can stop now. Why? Because...

2> At whatever point in the development process the decision had to be made, Splash Damage decided that having female models was less important than having the other features that were included. There is no denying this -- the developers have said it themselves.

Ultimately, that's where I get stuck… in the current environment and with so many other customization-heavy games offering the choice between genders, the fact that female models were seen as expendable just doesn't sit right with me. It’s just as simple as that.

(Oh, I guess I have one more thing to say… if you left me a rude comment and have now noticed that it's no longer present, I've deleted it. This isn't a public forum, this is my personal blog. If you can't keep a civil tone, then I don't feel any obligation to leave your message up. Just sayin’.)


In other news, my review of Blue Toad Murder Files, Episodes 4,5, & 6 is now live at GameCritics. Click here and read up on this episodic murder mystery/multiplayer puzzler if you’ve got a minute or two.


Moving on, there were quite a few things in the inbox today. Since I'm already half-asleep, I'm going to post a bunch of these here and then get myself to bed…

Uber Entertainment sent in a link to a video for their upcoming XBLA game titled Monday Night Combat. I love the art style, and it seems like a great mash-up of elements. I can't say that I'm the biggest shooter fan out there, but I've always been fascinated with the combat-as-entertainment concept, and it seems like this one covers quite a wide range of bases.


My good friend Matt sent in this link to a video of MGS: Peace Walker. I hadn't actually seen this particular one before, and it's fairly long. It goes into quite a bit of detail about the game's different modes and although I was already going to play it regardless, I can honestly say that it seems a lot more interesting after having watched this clip.


Ninjabee, the folks behind one of my favorite XBLA titles (Cloning Clyde) have come up with a new entry that will be hitting Microsoft's service in the near future. Titled Ancients of Ooga, it seems to share a few elements with its predecessor, while being substantially different. Don't have a lot of info on this one at the moment, but I will be keeping my eye on it.


I've talked about Section 8 before, both here at the blog and at GameCritics, but it still seems as though not very many people have tried it, or even know about it. If you want some specific info, you can read my main review or Trent Fingland’s second op. If either of those pieces raised your interest, you might want to know that the game is 50% off between May 11-18 on Sony’s PSN service. There’s also a tutorial video here, if you'd like to see more. Like I said before, I'm not the biggest shooter fan, but I will say that I had a really good time with this game, warts and all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wake Review, Retro (PSP), Blue Toad, MH: Tri, and the novel's nearly done.  

Games: In case you missed it on Twitter, here's a link to my recently-posted Alan Wake review for Xbox 360. It's certainly not a terrible title, but it is repetitive and fairly underwhelming -- doubly so for a game that's been in development for more than five years. I give credit to the developers for some beautiful environments and a combat style that's sensible and engaging, but it's weak in most other areas. I also have to say that for a game that's been so heavily touted for its story, I found the plot to be poorly-structured and unsatisfying.

(A side note to you preemptive Alan Wake fanboys who’ve been posting negative remarks on the review: At least have the decency to wait until the game hits retail before tearing my evaluation down. If you’ve got a reason to disagree with me, I'd love to hear it. Present your case. Tell me your rationale. I'm honestly interested. However, you really don't have a thing to say until you've actually played the game, you "every other site gave it a 9" tossers.)


In other games news, I've been spending a bit of time with Retro (mini) on PSP. It's a new take on the old formula where players pilot a ship of some sort through obstacles and caves while struggling against gravity. I think the first game of its type ever played was Solar Jetman way back on the NES, and this isn't much different. However, although it's not reinventing the wheel, it's got a clean presentation and it handles well. If you've got an itch for this sort of thing, I think it will be pretty well scratched.


Also just finished off the Blue Toad Murder Files series on PSN with the wife. My review of the first three (of six) chapters is right here. Although it's lean on gameplay, a few of the puzzles are bogus, and the story isn’t as tight as it could be, I admit that I had a soft spot for the dialogue and characters. Some of that stuff just completely cracks me up. The butcher? Pure gold. If the game was a little more robust in terms of how many puzzles were offered and had the multiplayer tweaked, I would have no problem recommending it to others. As it stands, it's fairly flawed, though there's a lot to like if you dig kooky cut scenes.


One final bit on games, I was quite lucky this week and won a copy of Monster Hunter Tri from GameZone in one of their contests.

Though I'm totally in love with the concept of hunting giant monsters, my experience with the original PS2 Monster Hunter was quite negative and I couldn't possibly conceive of any way the follow-up PSP version could have possibly been worth my time. Even so, I still think the concept is golden and reviews of Tri have been very favorable. I'm really hoping that Capcom has tweaked the formula enough to finally deliver the goods. At this point, I wasn't convinced enough to put my own money down on it, but I will most definitely put a free copy through its paces.


Writing: Although it's taken me a little bit longer than expected, I'm glad to say that the end of the second novel I've been working on is in sight. I finished the last chapter yesterday, and all that's left is to write the epilogue. Of course, this is just the end of the first draft and the text will certainly need some polishing up, but it's a great feeling to get to the end of a project like this and realize how much actually got accomplished.

More details to come once my co-author and I get a few more things nailed down, but you'll definitely be hearing more on this topic soon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Brink: No Girls Allowed  

Games: So, a while ago I blogged about Crackdown 2 and how players don't have the ability to have a female avatar. In today’s scene, the developers’ claims of technical limitations preventing them from including a non-male choice didn't ring true with me, and I was quite disappointed to hear that no efforts were being made to include female models. Still, even though the line about tech limits was their story and they were sticking to it, after getting hit by some of the feedback, they hinted that female characters might be available as DLC later on down the road.

Since most games that feature player customization give people the basic choice between male/female characters as a matter of course, I figured that Crackdown’s mono-gendered approach was going to be the oddball exception; a one-off thing, or a blip on the radar that would quickly fade away. Unbelievably, that's not so.

Enter Brink.

A team-based shooter developed by Splash Damage and published by Bethesda, it was recently revealed that Brink has no options for female avatars despite one of its main features being incredibly deep avatar customization. Everything from race to body type to clothing, from the videos I've seen and the interviews I've read, it seems as though there are an absurd number of options for players... except being a female.

Splash Damage HQ

Interestingly, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgewood has given speeches where he's publicly stated that one of the most important things is to be ‘AAA’ in whatever you do. That's certainly a philosophy I can get behind, although I must admit that I'm having a little bit of trouble reconciling the concept that female characters aren't a part of AAA-level presentation.

So what's behind all this? Did Splash Damage think that no female players were going to be interested in their game, so why bother including them? Was it unthinkable to the devs that male players might want to choose a female avatar? Are they somehow biased against females, or perhaps even incapable of properly rendering female 3D models?


Doing a quick search of the Splash Damage message boards, a few of the threads feature ‘official’ responses which basically state that the developers (allegedly) had a choice between having in-depth customization options for male characters, or having less options for both male and female. In the circumstance described, female avatars got the ax.

Now I can certainly understand the realities of operating under a budget and the drive to turn out the best product possible, but I have to admit that there's something very disturbing to me about having a choice between fifty different pieces of upper torso clothing or including an entire gender, and then deciding to go with the clothing. What does such a decision say about the attitude of Brink’s developers, and the studio itself? What message will be taken away by female players who check out the game only to discover that they haven't been given any representation? Not including female avatar options might have seemed like nothing more than a practical choice to Splash Damage, but taking a look at the bigger societal picture and the changing face of today's gaming constituency, it's pretty clear to me that more that should've been taken into account.

Inclusion and respect, or outfits and haircuts? I'll take the former, thanks

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Insane Week  

Just a quick placeholder post... This week has been *insane* and I haven't had time or energy for much of anything, so please forgive the lack of updates. I'm still around, still blogging, and will post as soon as I get a few hours' sleep and a chance to breathe. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Alan Wake Impressions, Edgeworth Fail, Mini Action  

Games: Although it's currently still under review embargo, Microsoft's PR reps have said that talking about and previewing the first episode of Alan Wake (360) is fair game. So, although certain elements of it have been labeled ‘hush-hush’, I can still spill a little...

With the game having been so long in coming, I’m sure that most of you reading this are already quite familiar with the premise -- but just in case: Successful fiction writer Alan Wake has contracted a serious case of writer’s block and decides to take a trip to a remote, woodsy location in “Bright Falls, WA” as a way of relaxing and getting back into his groove. Almost immediately after arriving, Alan's wife is kidnapped and a mysterious evil presence makes itself known by possessing local townsfolk and turning them into shadowy homicidal killers.

The first thing that struck me was that the environmental work is fairly impressive. The woods look convincing, and the mountainous, rural location is believable. Having personally lived in Washington in an area not unlike the game’s setting, I can say that things felt ‘right’. The devs did a great job in capturing the land. The work on light/dark effects is also rather striking in certain areas.

In terms of how the game plays, Wake definitely sports a very marked action bent. When the possessed townies show up, Alan must first de-shadow them with his flashlight, stripping away the protection granted by the evil force. Once that's done, they’re susceptible to standard firearms and can be taken out with a few shots. Standing in pools of light (under a street lamp, for example) refills Alan's health, and spare ammunition and batteries are available in good supply. I suspect that some players may be caught off-guard by the Uncharted-like emphasis on action, but the flashlight/gun mechanic is easy to grasp and adds a nice level of tension since enemies can't be defeated until they've been properly illuminated.

I'd like to say more, but anything else worth talking about at this point would probably be viewed as off-limits. If you're still curious about the title and want to know more about what to expect, I think it's fair to say that if you mashed up Twin Peaks + Alone in the Dark: Inferno + Uncharted you wouldn't be too far off...

In other games news, I’m extremely sad to report that I have officially stopped playing Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth on DS. If you take a quick glance to your right, you'll see that the original Phoenix Wright is on my ‘top ten of all time’ list, and deservedly so. In large part, its ranking is due to Edgeworth himself, and the masterful way Capcom wrote him. Upon meeting him in the first game, he seemed so cutthroat and relentless. Contrary to that first impression, over the course of the game it's revealed that he has an unyielding sense of honor which eventually leads him to become almost an ally of sorts. I had high hopes after hearing that he was going to star in his own title, but the end result has been bitterly disappointing.

The level of writing isn't nearly as sharp and witty as it has been in the past – though to be fair, the Ace Attorney series has been on a downward slope since #1. Besides the dialogue, the cases Edgeworth finds himself involved with aren’t compelling at all. I would literally start getting sleepy after just a few minutes, my fatigue causing me to play at a glacial pace, taking a week to get through what would normally take me an afternoon. It was a hard decision to quit since I've played through the previous four titles, but each one has been worse than the last and this is just the last straw. I never thought I'd say about and Ace Attorney title, but I quit.

Finally, the PSP Mini scene has been heating up a bit lately. That particular section of the PSN store has seen fairly regular additions over the last few weeks, and the quality of the releases has certainly been improving.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me raving about Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. Incredibly cute and funny, the player takes on the role of a delusional vampire whose Princess has been swiped. Tracking down the culprit, this vamp double-jumps his way up long vertical stretches in the pursuit of various creatures in his realm. There's really not much more to it than jumping and trying to string together combos by not touching the same platform twice, but it's incredibly addicting and very well-done. I enjoyed it enough to complete it 100%, and I really can't remember the last time I could say that about a game.

Other Minis that have caught my eye include Freekscape: Escape From Hell, Normal Tanks, and Retro Cave Flyer. I haven't had much time to spend with any of these, but what little I saw of each leads me to think that they will be worth checking out in detail. If you've got a Minis recommendation of your own, leave a comment and let me know!