Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ME2: Arrival, Crysis 2, and Gods Eater Burst  

Games: The new (and final) Mass Effect 2 DLC was released today. Called "Arrival", it's about Commander Shepard getting called out to rescue someone in hostile Batarian territory. Apparently, a scientist has some inside scoop about the Reapers coming back, and it's up to ol’ Shep to save the day.

You'll be doing a lot of this.
The entire DLC is about an hour and a half long, so I had plenty of time today to play through from start to finish and still submit a final review. Look for that to go up at GameCritics pretty soon, but at the risk of spoiling my own review, the bottom line is that it's pretty skippable (especially at $7) unless you’re a Mass Effect completist.

I will say this, though: I had more fun in that hour and a half than I did over the entirety of Dragon Age 2.



Games: Over the recent weekend, I also finished Crysis 2 and submitted a full review for that as well. In general I liked it, but that was kind of in spite of itself.

If you ask me, the game shines brightest when the player is using the superpowers of the Nanosuit to take out human enemies by going back and forth between stealth and full assault. The moment-to-moment tactics in those levels are quite exciting and give the game a great feel. However, it's not all roses.

When the squiddy enemies show up, the game kind of forgets what it does best and lapses into some samey-feeling shooting galleries. It's not terrible because you still have access to the suit’s powers, but it's not nearly as exciting, and the developers throw a few too many of these sequences into the mix. The middle of the campaign drags a bit due to these parts.

Also, I have to say that the story was not nearly as good as I had hoped it would be. Despite having a science fiction author involved, the plot was totally forgettable and borderline cliché. It's a good thing that the gameplay had the high points it did, because they really saved the experience for me.

Look for that review soon, as well.


Games: With the two things I mentioned above out of the way, I'm still working my way through Gods Eater Burst on PSP.

I haven't mentioned it here at the blog yet, but it's basically a “lite” version of Monster Hunter with a strong anime slant and combat that runs a hell of a lot faster than it does in Capcom’s game -- not that the speed itself is necessarily a good thing. (Spazzy alert: GO!!!)

Other than a much faster pace of play, it's got actual characters and story, which can be seen as either a plus or minus to certain players. It's certainly on the cliché side, but I'm sure fans of anime won't mind too much.

The big hook to the gameplay is that the player uses a weapon called a God Arc which is a sword, shield, gun and giant mouth all wrapped up into one. With the push of a button, this particular piece of kit can transform back and forth between all four modes, so combat feels a lot different than Monster Hunter’s emphasis on mastery of each separate class of weapon.

The final thing to mention is that the bullets the player’s gun uses can be modified to take on different elemental attributes and fire in different patterns. With a little bit of tweaking, all sorts of effects can be created: missiles that launch into the air, bullets that scream in a circle around enemies, some that are homing, some that leave napalm-like trails, etc. etc. etc.

The variety of effects is mind-boggling and deep, but the interface is incredibly player-unfriendly and the game gives no tutorials whatsoever. I had to get detailed help from another player in order to begin to understand what I was doing, and between that person, YouTube and GameFAQs, I'm just now starting to get a handle on it.

... seriously, it's that complicated.

I estimate I'm about halfway through the game, maybe a little less. I'm still having fun with it, but I'll be perfectly frank in saying that despite the new ideas it brings to the table, it really can't stack up to the depth and stellar level of production that Monster Hunter sports. It's a fun diversion for sure, but it's got no chance of unseating the king.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Crysis 2, Doctor Who, and a Whole Lotta Links  


Games: Still putting time in with Crysis 2. I've got to say, it's pretty damned entertaining.

The high point for me (so far) is the super-suit’s ability to switch back and forth between its two main functions: armor and stealth. This in itself wouldn’t normally be enough to sell me on an FPS, but those abilities combined with the semi-open level design really creates a sort of on-the-fly dynamic that I haven't seen very much of lately. In fact, it may sound a little bit insane, but there have definitely been moments when Crysis 2 has reminded me a little of one of my favorite series, Hitman.

Not Agent 47, but it'll do in a pinch.
Comparing the super-suit to a cloned assassin might not make much sense at first, but when given the freedom to choose between sneaking across rooftops or mounting a full-frontal assault, or between slipping past a group of guards or sniping them one by one (or hell, just launching a rocket right into their midst) that same feeling of using each environment the way I want to is something that few games have attempted and even fewer have gotten right.

It's definitely not total open-world (although I think there is some potential for something along those lines) but there's enough freedom in the game so far to keep me quite satisfied.

I’m diggin’ it.


TV: Started Season Two of Being Human (UK) and it's still fantastic. While I certainly admit the premise of a ghost, vampire and werewolf being roommates sounds pretty ridiculous, it's actually awesome. The writers do a fantastic job of fleshing out the characters, and each episode is just captivating.

Two thumbs up so far, and if you haven't given it a shot yet (and you're open to Urban Fantasy, of course)  it comes totally recommended.


Misc: It's time once again to clear out my inbox, so prepare yourself for an avalanche of links...


> For the Monster Hunter-curious, here is a video of my quest buddy @Gelles22 (using Longsword) taking on a Rathian in Monster Hunter Tri’s arena mode. This particular video is a little different from the norm in that most battles happen in wilderness areas, but it gives a good sense of what the King-sized combat is like.


> This thing has been all over the Internet for a week or so, but just on the slim chance that you haven't seen it yet, it's Kid Zangief putting the smack down on a bully who should really know better. Seriously, watching this video just never gets old, and the Street Fighter sound effects are just icing on the cake.


> Game Informer is hosting a gameplay trailer of the upcoming Batman game, and it looks fantastic. Rocksteady did a superb job with the first, and if these images are any indication, they are going to knock it out of the park once again.

> Hot Blooded Gaming has an interview with quadriplegic petitioner Chuck Bittner from the recent PAX East convention. The man is crusading for developers to include custom button remapping in their titles to help players with disabilities, or just for those players who like to change things up to suit their own preferences. This is a great mission he’s on and Chuck is a well-spoken, enthusiastic guy. See what he has to say right here.


> My Doctor Who sensei @Strident was kind enough to pass along this link to a short micro-episode created for a charity drive in the UK. Called "Time", it's about the TARDIS landing inside itself and creating a space-time loop... Hijinks ensue.

(mini-spoiler: I find it telling that when Amy Pond meets her future self, the first thing she wants to do is get inside her own pants.)

Oh Amy.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dragon Age 2 Podcast, Crysis 2, MHFU Continues, and a Keene Book  


It seems to be a common theme lately that I start each blog I apologizing for being late with the update... that's a bad habit I'd like to break, but I have to admit I've been out of my groove lately. I've got a number of different projects that I'm juggling and the blog is the first thing to go when I run out of free time. (Well, I guess technically it's the second thing after I cut out as much sleep as I possibly can.)

If anybody would like to spot me twelve or fourteen hours of uninterrupted sack time and a few eight-hour days of cracking down on my to-do list, I'd be ever so grateful.

Anyway, getting back on track here...


Games: This weekend, the topic of the GameCritics.Com Podcast to be recorded will be Dragon Age 2. I think anyone reading this blog is most likely crystal clear on my opinion of the game, but the rest of the crew will chip in and we'll see what happens.

Take this, all reviewers who award less than a 9!!!
If you have any questions or comments you would like us to read on the podcast, post them here, e-mail me or send me a message on Twitter. If we use your comment, we'll give you a shout-out on the air.

(Also, my final review of Dragon Age 2 has been submitted to GameCritics, so look for that soon.)


Games: An unsolicited copy of Crysis 2 showed up at my door today (always a pleasant surprise when that happens) and I put about an hour into it tonight.

I've heard that the multiplayer demo available wasn't too well-received, but I never got around to checking it out and I never played the first Crysis either, so I was coming into the game basically as fresh as possible.

First impressions of the campaign? Very positive.

The graphics are outstanding and the level of presentation is hyper-slick. It's an extremely attractive-looking game, no doubt about it.

In terms of play, I'm still just at the beginning stages so I can't make any in-depth commentary, but I've been very impressed with the way it handles and with the abilities offered by the super-suit featured in all of the coverage.

What I've seen so far is quasi-open level design allowing for a good amount of free-form play combined with the super-suit powers: Predator-like stealth, crazy jumping, artillery shielding, a great visor recon function, and a few other things as well. I've been enjoying tooling around each area and just seeing what I could do... while it's all controlled, there is a significant amount of freedom to be had, and that's always a good thing in my book.

I can't say that I had been planning to put Crysis 2 at the top of my to-play list this year, but after seeing the little bit I have so far, I'm quite glad that it showed up.

More to come.


Games: Although I resolved not to talk about it as much after having completed the campaign, I’m still playing through Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on PSP.

I wasn't sure if I would still have any desire to keep playing after seeing credits roll (because I usually don't) but this is one title that is absolutely stuffed to the gills with things to see and do, and that goes double (nay, triple) if you’re a fan of cool-looking gear. Essentially, it's loot-whore heaven, and breaking the cycle is nigh impossible.

While the campaign itself was certainly difficult at times, most of the challenges could be overcome with some patience, practice, and equipping the right stuff. Totally do-able as a solo thing, for sure. However, The developers gave players one more tier of difficulty after what’s available in the single-player mode, called G-Rank.

I will wear this thing's skin. (Uh, maybe.)
I assume that it is intended to be for group play since all of the creatures are substantially beefed up in terms of attack power and defense. These things make even the fiercest monsters in the campaign mode look like pushovers. My goal is to make it all the way to the end and see the Fatalis dragon -- apparently it's the end-all, be-all of the entire game. It probably won't come as quickly as I thought it would, though... I took a pretty good smackdown starting the G-Rank missions, and all of the best gear I had equipped turned out to be unsatisfactory against even the peon creatures.

The cycle begins again.


Books: Horror author Brian Keene has information up on his website for ordering Take the Long Way Home.

At just $7, such a deal. Click on over and check it out, and if you've never read a Keene book, he comes totally recommended by me.

(Plus, he's entertaining as hell on Twitter, so you've got to support the writers that keep on giving.)


Friday, March 18, 2011

Family Update, Gay Sex In Space (Part 2) and Crazy Rich Folks  

Family: Although I haven't mentioned it here at the blog yet, I've been spending most of the last week with my oldest son. He’s here for his Spring Break, so the lack of updates is mostly due to the fact that we’ve been staying up late every night trying to squeeze every last minute out of every day. He's a fantastic kid and I love him very much, and I am more than a little proud to say that he’s cutting his game-playing teeth on Monster Hunter, Trials HD, and a number of other things that might not be traditionally seen as kid-friendly fare.

(Bonus: he's really good at them.)

I might start thinking about introducing him to Demon’s Souls next…. Thanks to @ChrisGreen87 for that suggestion.

The other big reason for my tardiness in posting is that I got hit (again) with one of those incredibly annoying viruses that masks itself as a Microsoft security warning and completely disables your PC’s ability to connect to the Internet. I tried a number of solutions without success and was becoming increasingly frustrated over the span of two days until @JenJeaHaly worked a miracle and gave me exactly what I needed to free my embattled system from the clutches of that vile, vile virus. Whoever comes up with these evil programs needs to be hung up by their short and curlies while being bludgeoned with disabled hard drives.


Games: I recently made a guest appearance over at the Chronoludic podcast. The topic of discussion was Indie games, and I was joined by the aforementioned Chris, as well as @SebWuepper and @MikeDunbar. You can CLICK HERE to check it out if you're so inclined.


"Hey... So, like... What's up?"
Games: A while ago I wrote up a brief piece expressing my dissatisfaction with BioWare’s decision to exclude homosexual relationship options from Mass Effect 2. In response to this, I was recently contacted by writer Mary Goodden from over at GodIsAGeek. She's done a nice piece expressing her own view on the subject, and while I don't necessarily agree with everything she has to say, it's a good read examining other aspects of the issue. Take a look for yourself and see what you think.

(Oh, one other thing while I'm still on the topic of BioWare… I completed Dragon Age II last night and submitted my full review just a little while ago. It's not up at GameCritics yet, but it will be soon. Although I'm sure my previous posts here at the blog will give you a pretty strong hint as to what I thought of the game, my official writeup will dispel any lingering doubts.)


This has nothing to do with crazy rich people, but I stumbled across it during my search and I loved the image. Whatevs.  
Misc: I saw this link posted by @Stillgray a day or so ago, and I have to say that it completely turned my stomach. I'll let you read the gory details for yourself, but essentially the gist is that people who are already millionaires report that they don't "feel wealthy" despite having bank accounts featuring seven-digit (or more) balances. If these people with distorted views of reality don't feel happy with all that money, they'd be positively suicidal if they switched accounts with me.

Seriously, you crazy rich bastards... get a grip.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Do Not Buy Dragon Age II - Part 2  


Games: Sorry to end on a cliffhanger last time, but life can sometimes get in the way of leisure-time blog posting. You know how it goes.

Anyway... Dragon Age II.

So at this point, I'm about fifteen hours or so into the game. I am going to be doing a full review at GameCritics so I won't go into a great amount of detail here, but I will say that if I wasn't going to be submitting a formal review, I would have already quit the game and traded it in for something else. Not even kidding a bit.

In the interest of keeping things brief, here's a quick list of bullet points highlighting the issues I have with it:

> The combat system is still a mess. Removing the lag time before attacks is only a cosmetic difference, and the overall system of pop-in enemies constantly swarming the player is garbage. Requiring the player to spam the attack button while special abilities cool down is both tedious and aggravating.

> The vast majority of quests I've been through have been disposable tasks concerned with fetching something or killing something, and they have very little relevance or significance. The sense of making difficult choices is essentially absent.

> After fifteen hours, there is still no sense of purpose to the game, nor any sense of drama or adventure. There's been precious little conflict, and no overarching motivation to progress what little story there is.

Hope you like mashing the standard attack button.
> The characters are poorly-written and not nearly as interesting as they were in Dragon Age: Origins. The pacing for getting to know them is off, and I feel no camaraderie whatsoever for any of them. I don't even feel annoyed by any of them. Basically, they have no impact at all. Even worse, it's hard to predict how they will respond to choices made, at times feeling as though their like or dislike is completely random.

> The paraphrased dialogue choices are sometimes misleading, and there's no feeling of playing the main character when each dialogue choice is accompanied by a symbol specifically explaining what the effect is – i.e., “humor”, “aggressive”, “Romance” and so on.

> The game spends too much time in the city of Kirkwall, and exterior environments are noticeably repeated, lending the feeling that the development team either did not have the budget or the time to craft unique locations. Furthermore, most locations are glorified hallways with nothing to explore and nothing interesting to be seen.

> The game only lets players manage armor for the main character, far too many pieces are class-specific and unequippable, and the things that can be equipped have very little visual distinction. Party members’ appearance cannot be changed at all, with only weapons and accessories able to be modified.

> The game has crashed on me twice so far, requiring a full hardware reset in order to keep playing. Load screens are also long and frequent, and I often feel as though I'm spending more time looking at load screens that I am playing the game. It's impossible to achieve any sense of immersion at all.

There are other things I could bring up, but long story short, it's pretty obvious that development was massively rushed and a lot of shortcuts were taken with Dragon Age II.

Maybe if BioWare and EA were more concerned with creating an experience that matched or surpassed the original rather than fast-tracking a sequel and spending all their resources on ridiculous DLC promotions, players might have actually gotten something that would have lived up to the big talk prior to release.

The drop in overall quality is staggering on a cosmic level, and there’s no way I’d ever recommend anyone buying this game under any circumstances. For being such prestige players, BioWare and EA should be embarassed and ashamed for turning out such a boring, tedious, poorly-crafted excuse of a game.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Do Not Buy Dragon Age 2  

Games: I had originally planned on posting a rant about Dragon Age 2 tonight, but the day didn't quite unfold the way I thought it would. So, although I don't have enough time to do a full-on posting at the moment, my conscience is screaming out to me that I need to do something in order to warn people against buying it.

This is that something.

I'll go into greater detail later on (tomorrow hopefully) and I will be doing the full review for GameCritics.com, but for the moment let me just say that I think Dragon Age 2 is a colossal disappointment on an epic scale. After racking up around ten hours or so in the campaign, I can honestly say that I have nothing positive to report, and that there is absolutely no reason why anyone should waste their time or money on it.

Do not buy this game.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

ZHP on PSP, and the Hunt for iPod Games  

The weekend turned out to be a lot busier than I had bargained on it being, so I ended up not getting very much done. Sadly, my to-do list is still pretty substantial. I'm also feeling more tired than I usually am Monday through Friday, so I think maybe I'm doing this weekend thing all wrong…


Games: I'd been hearing some chatter about the recent roguelike dungeon crawler from NIS called ZHP: Unlosing Ranger vs Darkdeath Evilman (PSP) and I finally managed to lay hands on a copy. I'm a fan of the genre when it's done well and word on it had been fairly positive, so I had my fingers crossed.

Final verdict: mixed.

I played it for about a day and only got to the third tier of levels, so  I just scratched the surface of the game. However, my general impressions of the play mechanics were very positive. Anyone who's ever played a roguelike will grasp things immediately, and the small tweaks to the standard formula were appreciated. Under normal circumstances, I think I probably would have been inclined to sink some time into this game, BUT I sent it back to GameFly before the sun set.

The reason? The story and characters.

NIS is famous for the irreverent style and wacky personalities in its titles, but I have to say that although I found the original Disgaea to be literally laugh-out-loud hilarious, every game they've put out since then has rubbed me the wrong way. The writing consistently misses the mark, jokes fall flat, characters are pulled from grating anime stereotypes, and the plots don't usually interest or involve me enough to get me to buy into whatever quest I'm supposed to be on.

I don't care how good a game is -- if the plot, characters, cutscenes and general concept are bad, I find it extremely difficult to continue playing.

Sadly, ZHP’s cerebral elements were quite offputting. Not quite as offensively toxic as Valkyria Chronicles 2’s perhaps, but bad enough to instantly turn me off and cause me to focus my attention elsewhere. It's really a shame since I can recognize that the core of the game was solid, but there are just too many titles demanding attention to justify spending time with one that actively pushes me away with its infantile stupidity.


Games: The wife just got an iPod touch as a gift yesterday, so we've been catching up with what we've been missing out on in the mobile scene. I haven't been doing much more than looking over her shoulder, but Tiny Wings and Thief Lupin both looked fairly interesting.

yes, Infinity Blade really looks like this.
The wife also spent some time with Infinity Blade, and that looked pretty damned amazing, at least graphically.

After hitting up the folks on Twitter, I came up with this list of titles that I should check out:

Game Dev Story
Space Miner
100 Rogues
the Doom RPG
Dead Space
Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery

It's a good start, but I'm still looking for more input. If you can think of any other excellent ones that are worthy of a look, I'd love to hear about them. Drop me a line and let me know if there are some must-play gems out there that aren't on this list!


Friday, March 4, 2011

The Doctor Who Podcast, A Healthcare Rant, Wizard's Keep & Soul  


TV: If you’re a Doctor Who fan, then you may find the most recent GameCritics podcast to be of interest. We put aside discussion of videogames for an episode and spend the duration talking about everyone's favorite TARDIS traveler, post-reboot.

Regular cast members Tim and myself are joined by special guests Kimberly Unger of Bushi-Go and Big Red Potion's Sinan Kubba. Won't you join us?


Politics: I try not to talk about politics too much here at the blog, but today was one of those days when I'm just too dissatisfied with the way our society is set up.

The issue on my mind is healthcare, or more specifically, health insurance. I mean, just look at that phrase for a moment… health insurance.


What is insurance, really?

It's paying someone money as a way of protecting yourself from an event that you hope will never happen. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes… it's entirely possible to go your entire life without ever having a severe weather event flatten your house, and I know several people who have never, ever been in an automobile accident. In situations like these, the concept of insurance makes sense.

Applying the concept to a person's health? It makes no sense at all.

People get sick. It's just a fact of life. I've never met anyone who had never been sick, or who had never, ever needed medical care of any kind. Taking a step further, I've never met anyone who will not die at one point or another. The fact that we even have health "insurance" in this country is proof that we've gone too far in the wrong direction.

(At this point I'm taking a deep breath and grinding my teeth.)

I could go on and on about this and I know it's not as literal as I'm making it out here, but I'll just keep it short and say that health care should be a top priority of our country. The US is one of the richest nations in the world, and depriving people of doctors and medicine because they can't afford health insurance is an atrocity. It makes me more than a little sick that our society has failed to get rid of the current profit-based systems we currently have, and the fierce resistance to change in this country is infinitely depressing.


Games: I'm kind of in a holding pattern at the moment. Dragon Age 2 comes out pretty soon, and I have intentions of reviewing De Blob 2, although I haven't actually started it yet since the copy hasn't arrived at the GameCritics West offices.

With two reviews about to start soon, it would be pretty silly to begin anything substantial, so I've been plinking away at Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and slowly working my way towards G-rank -- the highest-difficulty quests in the game. It's slow going since I don't have anyone to go on a hunt with at the moment, but progress is being made.

Otherwise, I've been looking at some of the XBLI demos sitting on my hard drive. At last count, I've got something like three hundred that need my attention, so this is going to be a bit of a process.

Wizard's Keep - XBLI
The first one I checked out was Wizard’s Keep, put out by the folks that created Miner Dig Deep. It's basically a dungeon-crawler with very primitive graphics and a simple level-up system. I put a few hours into it hoping that it would blossom, but no dice. It was as straightforward as it initially appeared to be. I might not have minded shooting through the game just to say that I did, but the combat was too frequent and too annoying to put up with.

Soul - XBLI
The next that caught my attention was Soul. I only put a few minutes into it, but I really liked what I saw and bought it on the spot. Essentially, the player is a soul represented as a glowing ball of energy. The object is to navigate the soul through various obstacles without touching anything, but this is made complicated by enemies that pop out of nowhere and levels that are tricky to traverse. There's also a very strong Horror vibe running through it thanks to the high-quality artwork and some creepy touches like unexpected jump-scares.

I'll be putting some more time into this one, for sure.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emerald City Comicon, Catherine's coming (!!!) and The Walking Dead marathon  


Please excuse the brevity today, but productive time is in short supply and there are a lot of irons in the fire. that said, it didn't feel right letting me update slip, so hopefully this will tide you over until next time…


Comics: This weekend (March 4, 5, 6) is the Emerald City Comicon taking place in Seattle. It's always a great show, and there's going to be an absolute ton of stuff to see and do.

It is by far my favorite show to attend in the Northwest, and if you somehow manage to not make it down this weekend, you will definitely be missing out. Click on over to the website to check out all the details and if you see me on the floor, come over and say hi!


Games: Still playing Ghost Trick on the DS. Still totally loving it. Complete thumbs-up. In fact, a hardcore thumbs up.

In other hardcore thumbs-up news, Atlus just confirmed that the uber-trippy slumber-licious psycho-sexy sheep game Catherine will be hitting the US this summer.

This title is easily one of my most-anticipated of the year, and I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on it. For more info, click the love right here.


TV: If you missed AMC’s excellent series The Walking Dead, your hance to catch up is coming up on March 4th when all six episodes of Season 1 will air back-to-back in a marathon of the undead.

I'm pretty sure that anybody taking the time to read this blog has already seen the series in its entirety, but I figured I'd mention it JUST IN CASE.

Also, I’m beyond ready for Season 2.