Saturday, January 29, 2011

The End of Torchwood and Doctor Who, The Lady Killer, and SOCOM Fail.  

TV: This has been a big week for TV viewing at our house. Within the span of a few days, we finished watching all available Torchwood and Doctor Who episodes, and we are now in a holding pattern for the new stuff.


Also, brief thoughts:


>Torchwood: Children of Earth

Wow, where to begin with this one?

I suppose the first thing that needs to be said is that it is absolutely deserving of all the praise it's gotten from everyone I know. This five-episode series was just stellar from start to finish, and had so many rich moments that I feel more than comfortable saying it's probably one of the finest things I've ever seen on television.

Without getting into spoilers, I will say that the ‘children’ in the title is meant very literally in the plot. As a parent myself, I find that I am growing more and more sensitive to programs that deal with child-related trauma, and in this program, there's lots. However, rather than being strictly for shock value, I did feel as though the harsher scenes really led to some deep thinking and good discussions afterwards. Honestly, I don't think a program of this sort would even air in America, so I'm grateful that the BBC seems to be much more lenient and open in terms of what's considered acceptable viewing.

That said, think I'm a little emotionally scarred. There are a few images from this program that were instantly burned into my mind, and even thinking about them right now makes me feel a bit distressed. A handful of moments were utterly horrific, and I have a feeling that I won't be forgetting those anytime soon.

My own sensitivities aside, the plot was excellent, the quality of acting was great, and I was quite pleased with the way the writers took the time to explore the character of Jack Harkness more than they had in the previous two seasons. As a character who is immortal and has already lived for several hundred years, I've often felt as though his potential was largely left untapped as the Torchwood team chased each monster-of-the-week. Jack really took center stage towards the end of Children, though, and there was some phenomenal depth on display.

Kudos to everyone involved with Children of Earth, it was heartbreakingly outstanding.


>Doctor Who, Season Five

So, the new Doctor -- love him. Matt Smith does a fantastic job, and I am 100% on board with his portrayal of everyone's favorite Time Lord. The Doctor's new companion, Amy Pond? Eh, not so much. She's certainly all right, but I find myself not connecting with her, and I think Karen Gillan’s acting style feels a little flat to me.

In terms of the season itself, it was generally good. There was certainly a dramatic shift towards increased production values and tone, which was quite a contrast compared to most of the Tennant episodes. It was very appropriate that the writers sort of said goodbye to that era and started fresh, though.

However. there were a few moments I didn't care for. A big one was the way the rules surrounding the evil Stone Angels seemed to get tossed out the window (‘Blink’ is one of my favorite episodes, mind) and I also didn't care for the underworld adventures with the Silurians. That two-parter could have been condensed down to one episode, and the Silurians themselves were too human for my taste. They didn't even have reptilian pupils, and I'd like someone to explain to me why the females had breasts.

Still, a good season overall.

As for the season finale? Not so good. I have to admit I wasn't really a fan of the running ‘crack in the universe’ concept, and the way it tied into Amy Pond failed to resonate. Worse, I felt as though the writers took far too many shortcuts and gave viewers things that just didn't make sense. Granted, Doctor Who can’t even remotely be called hard science fiction, but you can only fudge things so much before suspension of disbelief just falls apart. For example, the events surrounding the Pandorica were complete crap, and I nearly did a spit-take when the Doctor made his comment about extrapolating the state of the universe from a few particles.

Although i'm a wee bit sour right now, don't get me wrong -- I'm still very much a Doctor Who fan,and still very much looking forward to what comes next. Also, it's worth mentioning that GameCritics will be hosting a special episode of the podcast centering solely on Doctor Who. Look for more information on that soon.


Music: I don't tend to talk about music a lot on this blog for a few reasons, but primarily because I feel as though the vocabulary needed to do a decent music review is an entirely different set of words than the ones that are used to break down videogames. I hate feeling as though I can't do justice to something that I like, but in this case I will make an exception.

The wife picked up ‘The Lady Killer” by Cee-Lo Green, and it's a fantastic album from start to finish. It's one of those rare discs that you can pop in (or queue up on your iPod) and just let play without having to skip over any ‘dud’ tracks. That's a pretty rare thing in my opinion, but I love it when it happens.

Although Cee-Lo first made a name for himself with hip-hop outfit Goodie Mob, he's been shifting styles with other projects, most famously the Gnarls Barkley St. Elsewhere album. The Lady Killer takes a cue from those vocals and infuses its songs with influences from Prince, early Motown, Earth, Wind & Fire, and a number of others. It has a strong R&B vibe from the era when R&B actually meant R&B and not whatever it currently represents. That's an extremely good thing in my book.

If I had to give The Lady Killer a rating, it would certainly be a 10/10 to my ear.


Games: I recently attended a Sony-sponsored media event featuring the PS3's  SOCOM 4, but to be perfectly frank, I didn't see enough of interest to do a full-length piece.

The game is another military-themed shooter with little to differentiate it from any other one, as far as I can tell. It had more of a run-and-gun vibe than I was expecting, but I quickly grew bored with it and ended up spending the rest of the time chatting to fellow journos.

On display and accessible for use were both the Move controller, as well as a 3D TV and accompanying set of special glasses. I gave both a try, and came away thoroughly unimpressed.

As one of my fellow journalists commented at the time, isn't the whole concept of the Move that the motion controls are supposed to be easy to use and feel natural? I had quite a bit of difficulty coming to grips with it, and often found myself pointing straight up at the sky, or struggling to perform basic actions. With the Move, I got picked off by enemies multiple times in a row and quickly grew frustrated. Switching back to a regular controller, I blew through the level with little problem. Suffice it to say, I wasn't exactly motivated to run out and pick up a Move to use at home.

You really want to wear these all the time playing in 3D?
The 3D TV was just as impressive, by which I mean, not. Turning the feature on, I noticed that colors were washed out and that things on-screen were not nearly as sharp and distinct as they were when playing in normal mode. My eyes got tired after a few minutes, and the 3D effect was not only not convincing, but added absolutely nothing to the experience. In fact, it was actually worse, since the graphics were much better running in standard fashion.

I'm not quite sure who Sony is trying to sell these things on, but it's sure as hell not me. If this is the kind of performance people can expect from Move and 3D displays, then the marketing people in charge of the products have got their work cut out for them. No thanks.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Two Worlds II Giveaway, The NGP Appears, and Some Torchwood Talk  


Games: It's been a while since I had a contest here at Coffeecola, and seeing how I’m enjoying Two Worlds II as much as I am, this seems like the perfect time to rectify that. So, thanks to and the wonderful people at Southpeak Games, I've got a 360 copy of TW2 to give away to one lucky reader.

How do you win it?

Post a comment here and tell me what the worst RPG you’ve ever played is, and why.

The more descriptive, the better, and bonus points if it makes me laugh out loud. The winner will be drawn at random from everyone who enters, and the lucky duck’s name will be announced here early next week.

If you're even vaguely thinking about maybe playing this game, go ahead and enter... it's definitely one of the most impressive redemption efforts I've seen in quite some time, and it's a totally enjoyable adventure in its own right -- if you can get it for free here, hey, why not?

(Oh, and if you don't win? Buy it anyway!)


Games: So it took a few hours off of Twitter tonight, and when I got back, my feed was absolutely exploding with talk about the announcement of the NGP – Sony’s next-generation successor to the PSP. This information is literally minutes old at the time I'm writing this, so I'm going to reserve most of my thoughts for later.

…However, I will say that I could not be happier that someone at Sony R&D finally realized the catastrophic error of their ways and added a second stick to the hardware. I mean seriously, how did the PSP ever get out the door with just one in the first place? Additionally, although I know that neither franchise is very popular here in the states, the announcement of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd and a new Yakuza title both got my attention immediately. Between the two of those titles, that's probably something like 300 hours of play right there…

Anyway, I'm rambling on. No further comment at the moment, but you can click on over to the good people at GameFocus to get a quick run-down of the NGP’s tech specs.


TV: The wife and I recently finished the first two seasons of Torchwood, and without any spoilers, I will say that the "series finale" was a little emotional… I wish I could go into it further, but I would hate to ruin anything for those of you who haven't watched the show yet.

Anyway, it's very true that the writing was often hit-or-miss and could be quite inconsistent in terms of characterization at times, but we still really enjoyed the show regardless. In fact, it's a little sad to know that there isn't much left for us to actually watch. Well, at least not right now, anyway.

(On a similar note, we're also getting perilously low on unwatched Doctor Who episodes as well… it may be time to start watching some of the old stuff!!)

At the moment, the only thing left available to us is the “Children of Earth” five-part miniseries and the thing that sucks is that it's really, really good. In fact, although we haven't completed all five episodes yet, what we've seen so far has definitely been some of the best Torchwood overall. Tight scripting, plenty of action, and lots of twists and turns -- this is great TV.

It's really a shame that the earlier installments weren't up to this same level, frankly. From the beginning, I felt as though the series had not lived up to its full potential, but Children of Earth is going a long way towards making up for that. Hopefully the new crop of episodes currently being filmed as a co-production of the BBC and Starz will be of a similar quality -- after all, if there's one thing the world needs, it's more quality time with Jack Harkness.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Worlds II - Quick and Dirty Hands-On Impressions  

Games: If you follow console games at all, it's pretty likely that you've heard of Two Worlds. Released in 2007 for PC/360, it was quickly greeted as a colossal failure and one of the poorest pieces of software to hit retail at that time. The reviews were absolutely scathing, and the title quickly became a running joke in the industry -- even a bit legendary, really.

Naturally, no one expected a sequel, however, a sequel there is. Even crazier, not only did the sequel actually get made, Two Worlds II is about fourteen bazillion times better than what they turned out the first time.

In fact, it's so much better it's not even comparable to the first game. Seriously, everything is massively, massively improved.

For realz, yo. And no, I'm not kidding.

So, here's the deal: SouthPeak sent along a copy of Two Worlds II on 360 and I've put about five or six hours into it so far. (By way of comparison, I put about fifteen minutes into the original before chucking it out the window.) I'm getting through it as fast as I can, but this is a big project. In the meantime, here's a quick and dirty breakdown for those who want to know:


> The simplest way to describe it is that it's a third-person open-world Western-style RPG. It's probably most analogous to Oblivion, although much more fast-paced, streamlined, and guided. To me, those are positive qualities that I appreciate. Does anybody really complain when a game includes a map marker indicating the location of your current goal? I know I don't.

You can also swim, but it's A LOT SLOWER.
> The world (the parts I've seen of it, anyway) seem to be pretty enormous. Thankfully, there are teleport pads sprinkled here and there to make quick-travel a viable option, but the square footage to be explored is quite impressive. After spending a couple hours in one area, I pulled the map back to see how big the total landmass was, and it was damned huge. I hadn’t even covered a majority of it.

> The main character can equip three completely different sets of equipment at the same time and cycle between them with a quick press of the D-pad. Whipping from robes and a mage staff to a bow and arrows to a broadsword and shield in the span of a second without stopping to go into an inventory screen is totally appreciated, and is a great way of keeping the real-time action moving.

There might be some good loot here...
> The crafting system reminds me a bit of a loot-whoring dungeon crawler crammed into a different kind of RPG world, but it totally works. Every piece of equipment dropped by enemies can either be used or broken down into component parts, so weaker dupes of stuff you already have can actually serve a purpose besides being sold for gold. Have four extra +1 swords? Break them all down into iron and steel, and use those materials to give another weapon a huge damage upgrade. It really gives a different spin to the item collection.

T3h z0mb13s!!!

> Apparently the magic system allows for a crazy variety of player-defined spells. I've seen a little bit of it so far, but I don't have enough of the components to actually see the full scope yet. At this point I can change the elements of my spells (ice/fire/water) and the nature of the spell (bolt/area blast) but not much else. Still, it's easy to see how flexible the system can be once I start collecting more goods.


That’s about it for now – I’m still really early in the game so I can't say much more than the quick observations above (estimated completion time without sidequests is around 20hrs, I’m told) but as someone who is a fan of this style of game, I definitely appreciate the tweaks and choices on display. It’s a little rough presentation-wise, but it’s all easily forgiven in light of the cool bits I’m seeing.

You can travel to that tower in the distance in real-time.
More impressions to come, but if you’re the kind of person who's interested in an open-world RPG but felt a little lost, bored, or overwhelmed with Oblivion, this one is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MHFU, Planescape, Aphelion, Two Worlds II, and a Comics Rundown  


Games: It’s been kind of a random scattering of gaming for me lately. Truth be told, I've been enjoying this brief lull in ‘must-play’ releases, and it's been nice to not have any hot projects going. I'm not saying that I want to go on any kind of long-term vacation from games, but this brief break has been appreciated.

I can't say that I haven't been playing anything, though...

For starters, I'm still chipping away at Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on PSP. After 160-ish hours or so, I'm finally on the last tier of campaign missions. Of course, this is the sort of game that you could probably play forever (and if not forever, then at least several human lifetimes) but I'm going to call it done after credits roll. I definitely plan on writing a full review, and it's going to feel quite nice to be able to type the words ‘game was completed’ at the bottom of the disclaimer.

Apart from that, I decided to try and knock out as many of my New Year's resolutions as possible. If you listened to GC’s year-end podcast, then you'll know that one of them was to play three PC games: Amnesia, Aquaria, and Planescape: Torment. I couldn't get Amnesia to run after several attempts (though I will try again) and I haven't gotten around to Aquaria yet. However, I did start up Planescape and it's been a bit of experience so far.

Putting all my cards on the table, I am a console gamer through and through. In the last twenty-eight years or so, I've only completed two full-sized games on PC – Grim Fandango and Star Control II. (Both were awesome.) I'm not ashamed to say that I have precious little PC experience, so coming to 1999’s Planescape threw me for a loop.

First things first, I give great props to GOG for cleaning up the code and enabling the game to run totally painlessly. It was only a matter of a quick download and few clicks, and I was on my way. This hassle-free setup was something that I appreciated very much, especially in light of the struggles I had with Amnesia.

In terms of the game itself, I have to admit I didn't get very far. Playing such a complex thing on the PC was pretty intimidating, and trying to come to grips with the controls felt very alien and unintuitive. In my defense, I'm told (by people who know) that the user interface for the game is quite problematic, and I would certainly agree with that. Performing simple actions makes very little sense to me, and I've already messed up at least one quest by accidentally consuming an item that I meant to give to someone. Coming from a console perspective, I can see a million places where the game could be polished up or made to be more user-friendly.

My problems with the mechanics aside, the story is certainly interesting and the writing (so far) seems worthy of all the praise people have heaped upon it. However, I'm probably going to have to re-start from the beginning (again) to figure out a few more things, and I may just end up putting it on hold for a while. After my initial frustrations, I don't think I'm in the frame of mind to properly appreciate what the game has to offer at the moment.

Two more quick bits before I move onto the next segment:

1> I downloaded Aphelion (XBLI) after reading a review for the just-released Aphelion 2, and it's been a pretty pleasant experience so far. I'm only about an hour into it, but the project seems absolutely huge and several orders of magnitude more complex than what most people attempt on Microsoft’s small-scale service.

Essentially it's a sci-fi-themed RPG that follows conventional structure, but the writing has gotten a few laughs out of me and I absolutely tip my hat to developers Lunatic for implementing things like equipment screens and stats, basic skill trees, and even a rudimentary crafting system. Like I said, it's early days yet, but what I've seen is already streets ahead of the competition. Worth $3? Absolutely.

2> Two Worlds II is releasing later this month, and I couldn't be more excited. I really liked what I saw at the most recent PAX, developers Reality Pump have been extremely forthcoming in admitting the problems they had with the previous game and what they've done to rectify them, and how can you not fall in love with an ad campaign that produces an entire miniseries of video episodes poking fun at itself? It's a hell of a lot better than the “your momma hates…” mess that EA’s been running lately. (and by the way, can you believe someone actually got paid for that? I can't.)

Anyway, If you haven't already seen the earlier adventures of second-banana Gandohar, here's a link to Part 6 -- but do yourself a favor and start off with Part 1. Good stuff.


Comics: I haven't picked up a lot of new titles lately, but one I've really enjoyed is Edge of Doom, put out by IDW. Written by the ubiquitous Steve Niles and illustrated by industry veteran Kelley Jones, each issue is a self-contained story analogous to an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Although now that I think about it, maybe Tales from the Darkside would be a more apt comparison… the little vignettes don't really end well for the characters involved. I've read the first three so far, and each one’s been a real ripper. Definitely recommended.

Another new one I've been looking at is Halcyon, from Image. Not quite sure how I feel about it yet, but it has managed to keep my interest in the first two issues and I'm sticking around for at least a few more.

The gist of this one is that all violence and aggression has been erased from the world, so this renders superheroes obsolete. It's an interesting concept for sure. I see hints where the story can get a little deeper as the series progresses, so my fingers are crossed.

My other regular reads remain Invincible, The Walking Dead, The Sixth Gun, and Echo… nothing new to report here, but they remain consistently awesome, so you should already be reading them.

One last thing to mention, I've had several highly intelligent people recommend Vertigo’s DMZ to me, so now that I've finally put Preacher to bed, I picked up the first collection and flipped through it briefly. I didn't have time to actually read more than the first few pages, but I was really liking what I was seeing. More to come.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's Wrong With The PS3....  

Games: So the wife and I put the baby to bed a little earlier (and easier) than usual, so we ended up with a bit more time left in the evening than we usually do.

After an episode of Torchwood (Season Two, and wow, Gwen is a moron) we were kind of spinning our wheels until I remembered that I bought Heavy Rain'sThe Taxidermist” DLC quite a while ago, and had never gotten around to it. Since we're both fans of David Cage’s games, more or less, that seemed like a good direction to go.

The key word there? SEEMED.

At 9:09PM, I had pulled the HR disc out of my stack, had it spinning in the PS3, and was promptly greeted by a required update message.

I really don't know what I was thinking, since I had kind of assumed we'd be able to play it right off the bat. Naturally, there was an update that needed to happen, just like there ALWAYS is every time I turn the machine on. Then, after the update downloaded, it needed to install.

We waited a while, and after the install completed, the game started up. However, I hadn't realized that there wasn't enough free space on the hard drive and Heavy Rain is another of the oh-so-wonderful forced-install PS3 games. It wouldn't play until I deleted some data.

I have to say, I find few things as irritating as a console game that will not play without being installed to the drive.



Turn on.


This is a very simple concept that has been happening without issue for a few generations now. The fact that I have to turn my system on at least half an hour before I intend to actually play never fails to infuriate me.

Anyway, getting back to the sequence of events... after scanning the drive and seeing what was expendable, I axed the DC Universe Online beta content, and was a little taken aback at how long it took to delete. With that gone, there was enough space to install Heavy Rain, and so that process began.

I meant to time exactly how long the install of the game itself took, but I was getting a little heated by this point and I forgot. Regardless, it took quite a bit of time. In fact, I actually had enough time to straighten up my office and tidy up the rest of the house. I did a few dishes. Literally.

After the game had completely installed, I jumped into the menus to figure out how to access the DLC. As I was trying to navigate, it seemed as though my controller didn't work properly. After a moment or two, I realized that the game now automatically defaults to use the Move as the primary means of interface. I don't even own a Move controller yet, and the console did not auto-detect that I was using a wireless pad. A small issue, perhaps, but still irritating. However, that was not nearly as irritating as finding out that for some reason, the Taxidermist DLC that I had previously downloaded needed to be downloaded again.

After the series of downloads and installs I'd just been through, this one took the cake. Still, by this point I was bound and determined to play the damn thing, so I began to re-download the purchase and walked away to do some deep breathing and calming exercises.

The DLC download completed, installed itself, and the wife and I finally began to ACTUALLY PLAY The Taxidermist at 10:43PM – a little more than an hour and a half after we originally intended to begin.

Now, talking about The Taxidermist DLC itself, I didn't think it was bad at all. It was essentially one scene taking place in a house that had five different endings, and it was definitely creepy and interesting enough to keep our attention for two of those five. We both also found it interesting to return to Heavy Rain after such a long time away from it… the controls felt alien and unfamiliar, but we were quickly reminded of what a great job it does in terms of creating emotion and tension. Was it worth $5? I think I'd say so, considering that I've paid more for worse, and that I picked HR as one of my top games of the past year.

So, we definitely enjoyed The Taxidermist, but we both felt as though we had seen enough by 11:26PM… about forty-five minutes after pressing start.

That's right, it took twice as long to access the content as it did to play it through to completion two separate times.

What's wrong with the PS3? That is.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

PC Woes, Indie Updates, Case West Fumbles, and Preacher Rocks.  

Games: Well, this week was the week I was going to start with making good on one of my New Years’ Resolutions: play three PC games. Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a snag since Amnesia: the Dark Descent stubbornly refuses to play on my system, despite my setup having more than enough resources to do it justice.

I took a quick peek at the Frictional forums for some help, and apparently there are at least a few other people who are having the same issue that I am… the bad thing is that as far as I can see, there is no quick answer or fix.

I'm not tech-savvy enough to figure out how to get the game to work on my own, and I've got zero patience for technical issues like this.

Despite all of the various tech problems that have been popping up with console games lately, they remain plug-and-play for the most part. Futzing around with non-running titles is one of the biggest reasons why I quit the PC scene a decade ago, and I'm really disappointed to find that the same issues are cropping up for me now.

That said, I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel… there's a solution out there somewhere. I'll keep working on it.


Games: On the other hand, I have been making progress on one of my other Resolutions: clear out my XBLI backlog. I've currently got more than two hundred game trials sitting on my hard drive to be looked at, so this project is going to take a fair amount of time, but still...

The first game up was Decay, Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Basically a point-and-click adventure, it's got surprisingly good production values and has a sufficiently creepy atmosphere. I can't talk about the story too much without risking a spoiler, but the gist is that the player is trying to unravel some events that have to do with a serial killer. It's not quite as clear-cut as it seems, though.

Anyway, I definitely enjoyed all three parts, although I began the game under the mistaken impression that there were only three. When I got to the end of the last segment, it became pretty clear that there is at least one more to come. At least, there better be... if there isn't, then that was pretty much the worst ending of all time.

Each section has solid, logical puzzles for the most part and each segment flies by, provided that you don't get stuck for too long. I'd estimate between 15-30 minutes for each.

After Decay, I took a stab at The Adventures of Captain Becky.

The gist of this one is that the player takes control of (surprise!) Becky, and pilots her through a series of very simple one-screen platforming-style puzzles. I don't quite understand why Becky uses a spiked mace for a weapon, but then again, I don't think this game is supposed to make much sense.

The action and structure of the game is actually a little above-par as far as some of these indie games go, though that's not to say it's fabulous. No, I think the real draw here is that Becky is rendered in quasi-Anime “hot girl” fashion, and each level awards her a new outfit provided that the player makes sufficient progress.

Taking this fanboy appeal one step further, the game offers a shockingly-detailed character editor where the player can modify Becky's appearance. I can't say that the graphics are good enough to sell the package, but the level of sophistication that was attempted in this mode alone far surpasses most of what I've seen on XBLI.

If nothing else, it's something different.


Games: My good friend and colleague over at GameCritics, Mike Bracken, has reviewed the recent Dead Rising 2: Case West DLC. If you're interested, click on over and see what he had to say.

I just started this DLC myself, and one of the first things that occurred to me was that I have no idea how Capcom released the game in the state it's in. Everything is basically fine in singleplayer mode, but it's pretty obvious that the developers intended it to be a co-op experience at heart. Given that fact, I have to wonder how it got the green light when my co-op partner gets kicked out of the game every time I save my data.

Not only is it incredibly annoying to have to invite and re-invite, my partner loses their items every time they get booted, meaning that all of the life-ups and weapons they had got flushed. The game also randomly drops aside from the saving problem, so there are clearly some major issues with how this game works cooperatively. I've heard this was also an issue in the full-retail version of Dead Rising 2… What the hell, Capcom???


Comics: Just a quick word on the Vertigo-published series, Preacher. I finished the ninth (and final) collected volume, and now that I've had a chance to read the entire series, it really has been one of the best things I've read in a long time.

It's received plenty of praise since it was first published, and now that I'm familiar with it, I definitely agree that all of the kudos were very well-deserved. If you're looking for a quality comic to sink your teeth into, and you don't mind a read that gets a little graphic and profane at times, Preacher definitely comes recommended. Thumbs-up all the way.


Friday, January 7, 2011

999 Disappoints, and Covering Up Saggy Weevil Junk  

Games: I've been hearing a lot about 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on the DS from people that I pay attention to, and the reviews that have been coming in from everywhere except my site have been pretty stellar. Described as a kind of hybrid between a digital novel and a series of locked-room puzzles, it sounded like it was right up my alley.

Since I figured something like this was going to end up being rare if I didn't snap it up immediately, I took a risk and ponied up for a new copy on release day, but I didn't have time to get to it. Instead, the wife played through it first.

She completed it three times (out of a total of six possible endings, if I remember correctly.) I finally cleared my schedule enough to take it on yesterday, and after spending a couple of hours with it, I'm pretty impressed that she managed to finish it even once.

I know I won't.

I have to say, I'm finding the glowing testimonials on the game to be completely at odds with my own experience. Now, it's granted that I have not finished the game so I can't comment on how mindblowing the ending(s) may or may not be, but the time spent with 999 so far has been so incredibly boring and tedious that there is no ending conceivable that would convince me to push on.

The setup is a good one: nine people are trapped on a sinking ship and must work together to solve mindbending puzzles and escape. Unfortunately, for a game that places so much emphasis on the player reading text, the writing is shockingly poor and there’s so damn much of it that it's completely turned me off.

In what is probably the worst example of telling and not showing that I've seen in some time, the game devotes entire paragraphs to things that could easily be displayed with a frame or two of animation. Even worse, the writers have absolutely no sense of pacing. The characters think nothing of lapsing into painfully lengthy and incongruous conversations at totally inappropriate times and there is no way to make the text go faster if you’re a speedy reader, like me.

Seriously, to everybody who said this was great writing… I’m sorry, but 999 is the opposite of great writing. Really.

I get that there is a lot of love for this game right now and it's getting talked up pretty mightily from all sides, but I just don't see it. I'd hardly call myself an adrenaline junkie and I've got quite a bit of patience for games that require it, but I have to get something in return. So far, my relationship with 999 has been entirely too one-sided and I just can't take it anymore.

I'm done.


In other games news, I completed Splatterhouse last night and will be turning in the full review in just a few minutes. Look for that soon.

I've also been taking a few quick stabs at ilomilo, but I have to be honest and say that it really isn't grabbing me. It's cute and has that weird, semi-forced, off-kilter art-house vibe, but I can only take a few levels of it at a time before I feel the need to move on. it's not bad at all, I simply feel no connection with it.

Finally, I'm strongly considering starting Amnesia as my next full-on game to play, but I think that depends on whether I can get a controller to work with it or not...


TV: To those of you who watch Torchwood, the spin-off of Doctor Who, I need to ask this question:

Where exactly do the Weevil aliens get their coveralls, and why do they wear them?

Welcome to Texaco. Can I fill 'er up?
I mean, think about it... they don't seem to display anything above base animal intelligence, and they apparently pop into Cardiff through some sort of dimensional gate. Doesn't it stand to reason that they would arrive in their natural state, which is (I'm assuming) naked? Yet, every Weevil that's been on the show has been wearing clothing as though they just stepped away from their position at the local service station. Some of them even had shoes. I'm waiting for one to have a stitched-on nametag that says 'Bob'.

If it was just a matter of covering up saggy Weevil junk, it seems as though there could have been a better solution, yet every one is in coveralls. What the hell is up with this?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Son Leaves, Some Game Updates and A Lot On Doctor Who  


Family: Just a word or two to recognize the end of my son’s Christmas visit.

My oldest (age 9) was here for two weeks, and it was absolutely fantastic to see him. Our time together was great, and I was quite pleased to see that he got along famously with our youngest (almost 2.) I was a little concerned there might be some feelings of jealousy or competition between them, but there wasn't a bit. Optimal situation, really.

Before we knew it, the fourteen days were up and we somehow found ourselves in the car and driving towards the airport. It seems logical to expect that after several years of doing this exchange that the drop-offs would get easier, but they really don't. Still, what must be done must be done. The wait until spring break is going to feel like an eternity...

At the very least, I was quite pleased to have been able to do some co-op with him in Monster Hunter… he's going back to his mom’s with a bunch of advanced gear that he wouldn't have had without my help, so all those Kut-Kus, Congalalas and Cephadromes better watch themselves or else they’ll find the business end of a dragon bone longsword sticking out of their rumps.


Games: Speaking of Monster Hunter, I had planned on taking a break from Freedom Unite but found myself coming back to it after a few other portables I tried failed to keep my interest. At this point, I'm around 130 hours into it and just successfully finished the fight against Lao Shan Lung, a dragon that is approximately the size of six-story building.

The battle was visually impressive thanks to the size differential, but a bit of a bore... since the dragon is so big, it doesn't even take notice of you, and damaging him basically boils down to punching a roll of its stomach fat for half an hour. Whee!


In other games news, over the Christmas break, I had a mad craving for the new Splatterhouse revamp form Namco, and as luck would have it, Amazon had it on sale for a ridiculously low price. Something like $20 or $25, if I remember correctly. I haven't finished it yet, but at this point (approximately halfway, I'm guessing) that pricepoint feels perfect.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to say it's bad, because it's not. It's actually pretty good. The combat system is easy to understand and handles well, there are some fun moves to perform, and the whole B-movie/Lovecraft/UNBELIEVABLY GORY mash-up really works for me. I've definitely been enjoying it, but there's no question that the game needs a lot more polish and tweaking before it can hope to ask for $60 retail with a straight face.

It's definitely recommended (so far, anyway) if you can find it for cheap and are a fan of the absurd levels of violence, but don't go into it with AAA expectations. I'm considering doing a full review, so there will probably be more on this to come.


One final games note, I'm only one track away from completing the most recent Trials HD DLC and the damn thing is driving me insane.

This is NOT the obstacle giving me problems.
Trials has always been about the extreme difficulty in the most advanced courses, but there is one particular jump that I just cannot wrap my head around. I have driven flawlessly up forty-foot near-vertical surfaces, I've wheelie-jumped across slippery logs suspended in midair, and I have rocket-boosted upside-down through flaming rings and always come out triumphant at the end with little patience and a lot of practice, but this one particular part has just got me stumped.

I've watched replay videos of people far better than I pull off this particular jump, and it looks effortless. I've consulted with fellow players and gotten specific advice on how to do it, and I've put in over a thousand attempts on my own time and it's just not clicking.

I'm currently taking a short break away from it (blood pressure, you know) and I'm really hoping that things will look a little more hopeful when I resume. I've finished everything up until this point, and I would hate to have the streak broken at this point...


TV: I've mentioned it here on the blog a few times, but the wife and I have only recently become Doctor Who fans. Given my innate level of nerd-dom and love of Fantasy/Sci-Fi, it seems somewhat incredible that I've never even seen a single episode of the show prior to 2010, but it's the truth. However, that problem has certainly been rectified. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, we've seen the entirety of Seasons One through Four, and watched nearly all of the related series, Torchwood. Doctor Who, Season Five is currently on its way to our house as I type this. As such, I realize that the following comments are going to be old news to all you Doctor Who OGs, but hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?

David Tennant, looking... Brilliant?
Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that the end of Season Four was pretty monumentally huge for a few reasons. The first is that the writers stitched everything up in such a way so as to connect virtually everything that happened in all four seasons into one long, immense story arc. The second is that the end of Season Four marked the departure of David Tennant from the show, and from what I gather, he is an extremely well-loved incarnation of the Doctor, if not the MOST well-loved.

Speaking first of the season-spanning storyline, I was quite impressed at some of the tricks and details that the writers had managed to include. Virtually every important character that had been in the series made a reappearance in some fashion by the time things wrapped, and I was constantly tickled by familiar faces popping up. Being a writer myself, I have the utmost appreciation for how much work this must have been, and really, everyone involved deserves an immense pat on the back.

Also, I did want to give special thanks to everyone who gave me advice about the proper way to watch Doctor Who before it started. I wasn't sure if the show was going to be something I'd get into, and a good number of people who were fans recommended that I jump into some of the later seasons in order to see some of the "good" episodes as a means of judging whether the series would be worth my time. I considered that, but a larger number of people stressed that many of the events hinged on groundwork being laid in chronological fashion, and strongly insisted that I start at the beginning if I was to start at all.

Having seen the final episode of Season Four today, I am extremely glad that I decided to start with Season One, Episode One and work my way forward. The payoff was pretty incredible, and wouldn't have been anywhere near as satisfying if I had been picking and choosing my way through the various episodes.

If you are reading this blog, have never seen Doctor Who, and are considering starting, trust me and BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING. There are definitely a few wonky episodes here and there and it takes a little bit for things to get going, but it's absolutely worth experiencing the whole ride from start to finish.

Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston
Moving on to the subject of David Tennant, I’ve said several times that I've never cared for him much, and that remains true. Having had no previous Doctor experience, Season One’s Christopher Eccleston was my first exposure to what a thousand-year-old Time Lord should be like, and I think he did a phenomenal job. He was relatable, yet fiery and alien at times, and certainly had the required level of gravitas that I think the role calls for. Unfortunately, he only lasted for a single season and was quickly replaced.

To use the vernacular: Disappoint GET.

Moving onto Tennant in Season Two, both the wife and I were put off by his manner and his delivery. Personally, I found him to be too lightweight; too quick and flip at times, and did not (to me, anyway) feel like much more than some dude in a long coat running around and speaking way too fast for how thick his accent could get. I never got many serious tones from his performances, and that was something I definitely missed.

Season Three was fine (we knew that Tennant would be replaced at the end of the next season, so we dutifully followed along) but it wasn't until Season Four that I really felt Tennant’s characterization and illustration of the Doctor really started to blossom. In large part, I think his effort was assisted by the Doctor’s companion at that time, Donna Noble. Donna (played by Catherine Tate) was a great foil. Her vulnerability and humanity made her feel like more of a "whole" person than the previous companions (although I liked them as well) and it really helped that Donna's character was not hopelessly in love with the Doctor. They made a great team in the truest sense of the word.

The Doctor and Donna
As Season Four went on and eventually led into the special episodes that precede Season Five, Tennant finally started showing sides of the Doctor which enriched my appreciation of him. Sadness, regret, weakening confidence... even shades of insanity. Reaching this point, Tennant finally started slowing down and really bringing the kind of meat to the role that I could sink my teeth into. It was definitely still largely lighthearted and fun, but the undertones of tragedy enhanced everything that happened.

I can't say for sure whether it was the writers, David Tennant himself, or a combination of both which finally zeroed in on a performance of the Doctor that I could finally get behind, but it was a real shame that it didn't materialize until a few episodes before the actor’s exit. If that kind of acting had been happening in seasons Two and Three as well, I'd probably be a much bigger Tennant fan than I am.

Although he definitely started to grow on me towards the end, I have to say that overall, I really don't see the appeal in his version of the Doctor, or why he seems to be the overall favorite of most people I ask. Is it just the hair? The cute-guy factor? I don't know.

Regardless of my feelings for Tennant, the fact remains that Dr. Who has been one hell of a ride so far, and the wife and I definitely count ourselves as fans despite our long-delayed discovery of the series. In fact, we like it so much that we’re considering dipping into some of the old-school stuff to see what we missed the first time around. If any of you experienced Who folk out there have advice for how or where we should start, I’m all ears.

(Oh, and I’ve heard mention of the Sarah Jane Chronicles and K9 having his own show as well… Any words on those would be quite welcome, too!)