Friday, July 30, 2010

Bayonetta Sucks, Monday Night Combat Doesn't, and a Comics Revue  

Games: Started Bayonetta the other night as part of my gargantuan "catch-up" process, and in retrospect, I think it was a good choice. I couldn't stand playing it, so I got to kick it off my list after only three hours or so. Done!

Seriously though, this is one of the most ridiculously over-rated games of 2010. The number of perfect scores it received is absurd, and I would call into question the thought process and value system of anyone who gave it a ten.

On the good side, the graphics are pretty eye-popping, the combat system has a lot of interesting bits to it, and the whole guns-on-feet thing was gold.

On the other hand, it has some of the most wretched storytelling I've ever seen in a title. The bizarre dichotomy between super-serious cutscenes and insanely-over-the-top-goofy during play doesn't work at all, with each side canceling out the energy of the other. I'm usually one who gets a great deal out of story and cutscenes, but they were verging on painful here -- awkward, long, senseless, and adding nothing to the experience.

As for the rest, there was entirely too much going on during play to be able to see what was happening clearly -- the definition of visual chaos. The mission structure was pure Devil May Cry, and the rest was GodHand, except not nearly as cohesive or as well-done as either. The whole thing felt like some kind of arch in-joke the developers were having at my expense, and the combat system wasn't so entertaining that I was about to sit through who knows how many hours of it before the end.

Unpleasantly atavistic, intentionally obtuse, and displaying poor sensibility in nearly every aspect, Bayonetta has been ejected from my 360 in unceremonious fashion, and it won’t be back.


Games: Spent a few hours with the good fellows at Uber Entertainment today. They were gracious enough to invite me over for a good look at their upcoming XBLA title, Monday Night Combat, and show it to me they did.

I'll be talking about it on the podcast this weekend and I'll have a proper interview up shortly, but for right now I can say that MNC is looking like a very impressive title, and one that was certainly deserving of its spot in this year's Summer of Arcade lineup.

Although many people have dismissed it as a Team Fortress 2 wannabe, the similarities are only vaguely cosmetic. After actually having a hands-on, the gameplay was much deeper and entirely different than I was expecting it to be.

In a nutshell, each team of players is trying to destroy the “money ball” of the opposition. This is done by guarding a stream of robots that emerges from each end of the playing field. When enough robots hit the money ball, it's destroyed and the game is over. Teamwork is key, and the mix of character types means that players have several different strategies to choose from. For example, I started as the Assault player and waded into things as if I was playing a standard shooter, but that didn't last long. At all. Switching over to a Tank character, I found that his particular build suited my tendencies better, and I began to see the ebb and flow of the action. It's a much more structured and complex style of game than most people are going to expect.

(Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I do think it needs to be said that the Uber team pretty much wiped the floor with me from start to finish. They took it easy on me for about the first 30 seconds of the first match, and then after that I spent a lot of time as chunks on the ground. Still, it was quite fun.)

For more info on Monday Night Combat, check out the Uber Entertainment website, and definitely watch the videos while you’re there.

More to come.


Comics: I haven't talked about comics in a while, but I hit my to-read stack the other day and it was certainly time well spent.

Whatever Happened to Baron von Shock? – Image

Written by Rob Zombie (yes, that Rob Zombie) this is an extremely interesting book that chronicles the rise and fall of a local TV horror-show host. Imagine someone like Elvira (only male) and you've got the right idea. It's rude, crude, and talks about the excess that comes along with instant stardom. I have to wonder how much of it is taken from Zombie’s own life. I'm guessing probably a lot.

Wormwood: the Last Battle – Avatar

Garth Ennis continues his tale of the antichrist and the son of God hanging out in a bar, talking about life and its various difficulties. In this issue (#4) main character Wormwood talks his girlfriend out of getting an abortion and a pope in hell kidnaps a talking rabbit through a laptop. Don't ask me to try and explain it, just trust me… it's good.

The Last Zombie – Antarctic Press

I'm a bigtime Brian Keene fan. Love his writing, and can't get enough of his books. Love following the guy on Twitter – he’s goddamn hilarious. This book is (obviously) a new entry into the zombie genre he helped kickstart, and while I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for a few more issues, I have to say I'm a little disappointed in it. It's a very slow beginning and I really don't like the artist at all. Visuals are drab and murky, and the lettering is annoying. Not the best first issue, but like I said, I’m a Keene fan. Not going to jump ship quite yet.

Hit Monkey – Marvel

I don't read a lot of Marvel books these days, but how can I possibly resist something with a title like that? All I would've needed to make me happy was panel after panel of primates with guns, and I got that -- sort of. There is some kind of bizarre tangent about a ghost who wants revenge going on here, and I really can't say that it's doing much for me. Even so, monkey with a gun. It's hard to top that.

The Sixth Gun – Oni Press

I love Fantasy and Horror, and I love Westerns. I double-love Fantasy Horror Westerns. Or is that triple? Whatever. Either way, this book seems like a real winner. Only two issues have come out so far, but the plot about a supernatural gun, a gang of undead desperados, a fortune-telling spirit tree and the people who are mixed up with them is a real page-turner. Something about the combination of magic and the old West really turns my crank, and if it does for you too, but you'd be well-advised to look into this one.

Bigtime diggin’ it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dr. Who, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Dragon Age DLCs disappoint, and two hilarious Two Worlds videos.  

TV: I mentioned a while ago that the wife and I were going to start watching the most recent Dr. Who series, and we're nearly done with the first season. (It's available as an instant-watch on Netflix, which is pretty righteous.)

Neither of us were fans of the older series, nor did we know very much about it. Personally, I knew it was about sci-fi time travel, I knew about the TARDIS (mostly because TARD is in the word) and the few little bits I had seen of the older stuff all looked incredibly low-rent and not really our thing. That said, we had been hearing a lot of really positive talk about this reboot so we figured we would give it a shot.

I'm really glad we did.

We are almost done with the first season, and we've been loving it. I think one of the things I appreciate most about it is that there's a great variety in the content -- sometimes it's straight-up goofy, sometimes it's really serious, perhaps even touching, sometimes it's just about the rubber monster. We never quite know what each episode is going to be about, and I love that.

For example, the recent two-parter we watched was almost like a ghost/zombie story set during WWII, but at the same time it gave little bits of history and perspective on what life must have been like during the blitz, there were several really touching personal moments that came up, and the episodes even managed to include teen pregnancy, nanobots, and a happy ending that genuinely made me smile. That's a pretty broad spectrum of areas to cover, yet the doctor managed to pull it off with aplomb.

That's some pretty good television, if you ask me.


Games: I finished off Splinter Cell: Conviction a day or two ago, and after having been through the entire thing, I walked away feeling extremely dissatisfied and disappointed at the direction Ubisoft took it.

In a nutshell, it was shallow, repetitive, and veered so far away from the stealth play that made the series what it is, that the end result was essentially unrecognizable to me. Rather than a smart, sneaky game asking players to get in and out of areas like a high-tech ninja, Conviction is set squarely in shooterville, encouraging gunplay and explosions in a way that these games never have before.

There are already tons of action games in this vein and hardly any stealth titles being published today. If the future of Splinter Cell is going to be another run-and-gun shoot-fest like this one was, then I won't be spending any more time with Sam Fisher -- and that would be a shame.


Games: After finishing Conviction, I decided to clear the backlog and finally get around to the most recent Dragon Age: Origins DLCs -- Darkspawn Chronicles and Leliana’s Song.

I was actually to go into detail about each one, but as I was writing, the effort felt more and more pointless. To make a long story short, both pieces of DLC were extremely shoddy and shallow, and not worth the money they cost. After finishing both and feeling taken advantage of afterwards, I started to wonder if the prospect of DLC for story-based RPGs is even tenable.

In a game like Oblivion or Fallout 3 where the player is essentially free to wander the world, I think adding new adventures and new locations is a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. There are always new places to explore, so expanding the realm is a natural fit.

However, in a game like Dragon Age where so much of the experience relies on time spent with the characters and progress made in the story, it seems much harder to come up with some DLC that doesn't feel like a cash-in.

Aside from the fact that the production level of the pieces I played was rock-bottom, I felt no sense of worth to what I was doing -- no real feeling that the effort I was putting in was amounting to anything. Both DLCs felt like one-offs with no real attachment to the main campaign, and since I completed the main campaign long ago, there was even less reason to play it -- I mean, let's be serious here… I don't think anyone is coming to Dragon Age for the quality of the combat.

Maybe I would have felt differently if I had the opportunity to play these DLCs before finishing the main game, but I'm not sure. A little part of me is thinking that with story-based RPGs of this kind, the main campaign and primary experience is all I'm going to need.

(… so let's hope that developers don't start talking those parts away behind $4.99 unlocks)


Games: I never had the chance to play the first Two Worlds, but I didn't hear good things about it. However, I have been keeping an eye on the upcoming Two Worlds II, and it's actually looking pretty hot.

While we wait to see whether or not the sequel can redeem the mistakes of its predecessor, I want to give SouthPeak huge props for being able to laugh at themselves -- they produced a series of videos poking fun at the first title, clearly recognizing the generally unfavorable way it was received in the games community.

It takes a lot of balls to publicly own up to something like that, and even bigger balls to do it in a humorous way. I respect that. Even better, these videos are actually hilarious. If you haven't seen them, you can click HERE for part one and HERE for part two.

I think you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Walking Dead, The Goon, My Fatty DS, and StealthFail.  

Going to start off with a couple of links to some pretty cool trailers here.


TV: Frequent readers of the blog here know that I am a huge Robert Kirkman fan, but more important, I'm huge Walking Dead fan. I could not possibly be more excited for the upcoming WD TV show directed by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption) and airing on AMC. Little bits and pieces of info have been trickling down the line, but there is an absolutely incredible trailer (edit: link removed) up on my good friend @HorrorGeek’s blog. The quality is only so-so since it was taken with a handheld at the San Diego Comic Con, but even so – WOW.


Film: The second trailer I'd like to bring to your attention also pertains to zombies, but in a much different fashion. Eric Powell’s The Goon has been a comic I've really appreciated in past years, and although it's gone off the rails a bit lately, I still have a soft spot in my heart for it. This trailer over at nifty site io9 does a great job of capturing what I loved most about The Goon, and I have to say that the transition from page to screen (in this instance) looks outstanding. Although I can't say that I read the comic as religiously as I used to, I'll definitely be looking into the film.


Games: A quick shout-out to the good gentlemen over at the GamerDork podcast. The latest installment is a fairly fascinating discussion with one of the members -- a lifelong player who's decided to quit gaming cold turkey. I'm sure that anyone who's been a fan of videogames for any serious length of time will be able to relate to some of the issues that pop up, without a doubt. Click the link, give a listen, and let them know I sent you.


Games: Not really newsworthy, but I figured I'd mention it anyway -- I've been rocking an original ‘fatty’ DS since it was released, and been quite happy with it. It feels better in my hands than newer versions do, and having the GBA cart slot is a big plus for me. (Plus, it still has the fancy Miyamoto signature stickers I got at E3 several years ago, so there's a good bit of nostalgia attached to it as well.)

Nintendo builds these things sturdier than most automakers build cars, and I've never had a complaint about it. Unfortunately, I think it's time to put this thing out to pasture. Over the last month or so, I've noticed that the battery isn't able to keep a charge longer than two or three hours, and that's not nearly long enough on days when I take it with me out and about. Cue sadface.

I had already been making vague plans to pick up a 3DS, but I guess this really is the clincher. Thanks for the memories, old friend... it's been grand.


Games: Still loving Etrian Odyssey 3.


Games: Started Splinter Cell: Conviction on 360 yesterday, over the advice of my good friends @Nightdreamer and @Zolos. I probably should have listened to them.

Although I wouldn't say I'm a huge Splinter Cell fan, I have played every game in the series and more or less enjoyed them. I've definitely had my issues with the formula here and there, but I do like playing a good Stealth game once in a while, and there really aren't that many options.

Now, there are even less.

I realize I'm coming late to the party on this one, but I'm stunned at how much Ubisoft has changed in Conviction. I don't even see it as being a stealth game anymore, and it has very little in common with the previous adventures of Sam Fisher apart from the title.

Rather than being sneaky and patient, the game puts raging-bull emphasis on combat and killing. The new ‘mark and eliminate’ and ‘last known position’ features are nice, but they shouldn't be the backbone of the play experience. I've tried to sneak through levels without being seen and without killing anyone a few times, and failed consistently. When it's easier to toss grenades and dive for cover while headshotting goons than it is to disappear into the shadows, that's a pretty big Stealth game fail. Disappointing, to say the least.

I'm not done with the game yet, but I don't need to see credits roll to know that this is not at all the direction I would have taken with the series, and it's pretty disheartening to see that most of what made the game what it was to get stripped out in favor of yet another fairly straightforward action title.

If it was some other generic action game I wouldn't have a problem -- hell, I might even praise it --  but Splinter Cell is a franchise built on stealth, and stealth is not what's going on here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Etrian Love, A Couple of Reviews, Limbo, and Molly Moon Ice Cream (Sucks!)  

Games: Still playing Etrian Odyssey 3. Still loving it.

Believe it or not, despite all the time I've been playing I have yet to defeat the first boss, but I hope to put him down tonight and move on to the next series of floors.

Also, I don't think I've mentioned it before, but the game now includes a co-op multiplayer feature that lets people team up in certain areas. As a result, Atlus hooked me up with two copies of the game so I could test it out. I had warned the wife that I would need a partner to go questing with me, and good sport that she is, she gladly accepted despite a professed lack of interest in RPGs.

(She’s a hell of a good shot in action games, though. Watch out!)

The funny thing that she actually ended up loving it, and she’s deep in the adventure herself. We've been talking strategy, comparing notes, and keeping tabs on each other's progress. I don't know if she would have been as eager about the previous Etrian titles since EO3 has tons of little tweaks and nice touches that make it silky-smooth to play, but whatever the case, she's into this one.

Etrian Odyssey 3 gets a thumbs up for me, and a thumbs up from my wife. How much more of a testimonial do you need?

At the moment, I'm currently wrapping up my formal review of Limbo, on XBLA. If you follow me on Twitter, then you have no doubt seen me gushing about it over the last two or three days. After having finished the game and spent more than the usual amount of time on the write-up, I really do want people to know that it's an outstanding title. However, nothing I could possibly say would match up to the experience of seeing it in motion and guiding its shadowy little protagonist for yourself.

If you are the kind of player who cares about game design, the artistic quality of gaming, and about games that aren't afraid to try something new, you owe it to yourself to AT LEAST try the demo. Really though, you should probably just download the thing right off the bat and take the day off of work to play through it. It's that good.


My latest review just went up at GameCritics. Click HERE to check out my breakdown of the point-and-click adventure, Secret Files: Tunguska. It's currently available on the Wii and DS, though I think the only people who will really dig it are hard-core Adventure devotees and people who are fans of cats that like salty pizza crust.


As promised last time, my formal opinion of Naughty Bear is now up, too. Click HERE to read it, but in case you don't feel like going over and the entire review, here's the nutshell: Naughty Bear is steaming crap.


Food: The family was in the mood for an ice cream cone tonight, so we packed into the car and headed out to a local spot called Molly Moon. I've heard nothing but raves about the place from everyone I've talked to and it was a blisteringly hot afternoon, so this seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.


We tried three different flavors: salted caramel, strawberry coconut milk, and some sort of cherry. The salted caramel was salty to the point that it was borderline inedible, and my wife did, in fact, throw it away.

I had the strawberry coconut and was really put off by the lack of sweetness. There were vague hints of strawberry and the coconut milk came through pretty clearly in the aftertaste, but my general impression was that it was bland and fatty without actually being pleasant. Like the wife, I also threw mine away. Tossed it out window of our car, in fact -- my gift to the local crows.

My oldest son had the cherry and he seemed fairly happy with it. The wife and I each had a little nibble, and while it was certainly the best of the three, it wasn't impressive by any means. It certainly wasn't good enough that either one of us would've eaten an entire scoop of it.

I have no idea why Molly Moon has gathered such a fanbase here in the area. I mean, I'm all in support of local businesses and handmade foods, but I have never in my life had a scoop of ice cream so bad that I decided to throw it away after a few bites. Until now, anyway. Maybe we came “on a bad night” or something, but if you ask me, trying three different flavors is giving the place a pretty fair shake.

Bottom line: YUCK.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Etrian 3, DeathSpank, PAX, and Too Many Games  

Games: So DeathSpank is out. I saw it at PAX last year and I couldn't see what all the excitement was about, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Time went by, and I never saw anything that really caught my attention. Didn't see much on it at all, really. Then, all of a sudden, it's available for download and everyone in my Twitter feed is talking about it.

I tried the demo earlier this evening, and to be perfectly honest, I still don't see what the big deal is. I'm not trying to bash it or anything, but I sat there and felt… absolutely nothing. No laughs, no interest, no nothing. Going to take a pass on this one, that's for sure.


Buy Two Get One Free is going on at GameStop this weekend. Stop in, if you're so inclined.


Random thought: this is the first year since I started doing reviews that I feel as though there's not enough time left in the year to get to everything that I should play. Of course, there's never enough time to play everything, but I've rarely had a problem squeezing in all of the "important" or interesting titles before. That's different this year.

Not only are there a ton of console games coming out, the indie scene is booming and I have to take portables into account, too. It's hard simply keeping track of what's been released, let alone actually getting copies and physically sitting down to play. It's only July, but my backlog has already doubled and with no end in sight for new releases, it's just not realistic to think that I'll be able to have as complete a view of 2010 as I would have liked.

It's a little depressing, really.


PAX is coming up soon. Complete info can be found HERE, but by the time you read this, it's pretty likely that all of the tickets and passes will be gone if you haven't already bought yours. It's always a great show, and I'm definitely looking forward to attending this year. The actual dates of the show are 9/3-9/5, and I've been talking to a few people about doing a Tweetup of some sort.

For those that don't know, a Tweetup is when people who know each other via Twitter actually get together in person to shake hands, say hi, have a cup of coffee, and so on and so forth. Nothing’s been set in stone yet, but if you're going to be in the area and have an interest in meeting local game folk, let me know.


Just finished up my review of Naughty Bear. I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that my final opinion will be less than favorable, but this game was particularly loathsome to me. I won't spoil anything now, but look for the review at GameCritics soon.


On the complete opposite side of the fun spectrum, I've been putting some time into Etrian Odyssey 3 for the DS, and it's a cracking good title. If you're not familiar with the series, you can find my review of EO2 HERE. That's a pretty damned positive review if you ask me, and as of right now, EO3 tops it in every way.

Although it's not a complete re-envisioning of the series, there have been tons of tweaks and improvements to the formula (so far) all for the better. I've been really impressed with the new classes, especially. While there are some returning types, the really interesting ones are the brand-new Farmer and Prince. Both fulfill multiple functions and really give the player huge boosts, especially in the early game -- and since I'm still in the early game, this works out quite nicely for me.

The Farmer increases the amount of experience players earn, as well as providing a much-needed financial boost by being able to collect rare items to sell and find a much larger number of items in general. This class also contains one of the most useful skills in the entire game, the ability to instantly return to the town from the depths of the labyrinth. Super-mega-ultra-useful.

The Prince is unbelievable at keeping the party healthy. After a bit of leveling, this class is able to award health points at the end of each turn, at the end of battle, and with every step between fights. In a game as deadly as this one, it's not hard to see the value in this kind of ability. The Prince possesses other similar abilities as well, which I'm still exploring.

For players like (me) who've been through the last two games, having characters like these is basically a dream come true. If you’ve never tried an Etrian game, 3 is a perfect place to jump in. It comes very highly recommended if you're the kind of player who likes this sort of RPG, and if you pre-order the game there's a sweet art book that comes along with it. I'm not trying to sound like a shill here, but the first two games are basically impossible to find these days and if you're reading my blog, then you must be a generally cool person -- I'd hate to see you miss out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Reviews, Excitebots, Tournament of Legends, Etrian 3 and District 9  

Games: So I know I promised I wouldn't blog about Alpha Protocol anymore, but I figure a simple link to my official Second Opinion over at GameCritics doesn't really count. Check it out HERE, if you're not already sick of me talking about it.

(Oh, here's my official Crackdown 2 review as well. And yes, Alpha Protocol is better.)


In other games news, I'm a little shocked to say that I've been spending most of my time with the Wii lately. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that my son is here for the summer, but still... The first thing that caught our attention was Excitebots: Trick Racing.

While I can't say that I was a big fan of the controls (tilting the Wiimote to steer flat-out sucks) I have a weakness for racing games that feature anything other than cars. In Excitebots, the stars are animal-shaped robots that also transform into bipedal modes, have grabby claws that come out of their backsides, and can also fly -- seriously, how cool is that?

The actual racing itself has a loosey-goosey quality that I can't say I especially enjoyed, but the game is so goofy and fun that it's impossible not to fall in love with. We blasted through the normal mode in a day or two, and I definitely give it a thumbs up. Recommended.


The other Wii game that we've been clocking hours on is Tournament of Legends, published by Sega. In this particular case I decided to go ahead and do a full review which will run over at GameCritics. Look for that soon, but in the meantime, if you are a fan of fighting games and would be interested in one that doesn't take itself too seriously (while managing to avoid being a parody) it comes highly recommended.

The cast of characters is great, all of the dialogue seems to be taken from cult movies, and it's extremely pleasant to lay hands on a fighter that doesn't take a week to come to grips with. Even better, it goes for $30 brand-new. This kind of quality at that kind of price? It's a no-brainer.


Leaving the Wii behind and moving to the DS for some hard-core action, I've been spending some time with Etrian Odyssey 3. I can't say a lot about it right now, except that from all appearances, it appears to be the best one in the series so far.

it's not an import, this is just a Japanese pic.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to my review of Etrian Odyssey 2. While 2 and 3 are essentially the same structure-wise, 3 has added tons of tweaks and a couple of pretty exciting new features that I haven't had a chance to check out yet. (It takes a little while to get starting characters going, you know…)

I will eventually be doing a full review, but this is the sort of game that requires a pretty significant amount of time to get a grasp on. I was a little hesitant to take it on after remembering the kind of commitment that was necessary to finish each of the previous Etrian games, but after just a few minutes past the starting screen, I was hooked again.

For fans of hardcore RPG's, this is some seriously good stuff.


Film: Just watched District 9 last night for the first time. The wife and I managed to get the kids down at a decent hour, so we figured we'd have a "date night" complete with movie, soda and popcorn. Of course, it took place in our living room so it wasn't exactly the full theater experience, but still, when you've got two kids you need to take what you can get. Anyway, we both thought District 9 was not at all the right kind of flick for a date night, but in general, we both thought it was a pretty fantastic movie.

There are plenty of synopses available online if you don't know what the movie is about, but it seems to me like everyone else in the free world saw this flick already, so I'm not going to bother with explanations. What I will say is that it kept us on the edge of our seat for most of the running time, and that I was quite pleased with the main character. To clarify, I found him to be a very human and believable character -- he meant well, yet often made bad mistakes and had serious lapses in judgment, just like the average person would when trapped in a situation that's spinning out of their control.

I also have to say that setting the movie in South Africa gave it a completely different feeling than it would have had if it had taken place in a more standard setting. It added quite a lot, really. Seeing the grinding poverty and attitude of people onscreen juxtaposed with a large alien presence was fascinating, and completely different than the vast majority of sci-fi films I've seen. That particular spin on humanity gave everything else in the film a flavor all its own.

The movie wasn't flawless, though. For every moment where I felt challenged and curious, there were elements that seemed calculated solely to "sell" the film to general audiences. Of course, I understand that making a film on relatable or having characters that are genuinely alien is a steep challenge, but it was hard not to get stuck on them just the same. For example, the human-like eyes of the alien Prawns seemed like a very overt gesture towards getting audiences to warm up to them. To me, the eyes seemed out of place. While I'm sure this can be categorized as nitpicking of the highest order, I can't help but wonder how the emotional quality of the film might have shifted if the eyes of the Prawns were solid black, or compound.

Another similar thing was the handling of the little-boy Prawn. Adding in children is one of the easiest and most effective ways to connect with an audience, but I couldn't help but get stuck on the fact that the relationship between the father and son seemed like a carbon copy of what a human relationship would be. I mean, it was cute and all, but would these insectile creatures from another galaxy really treat their kids the same way that we do? Feel the same way? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn't, but that aspect seemed too blunt.

I had a few other nitpicks (it's a personal pet peeve of mine when people "transforming" into another species end up changing into an exact replica of the target) but I really don't want to nitpick it. It was a great film that felt very fresh and vital, and was a genuinely new spin on ideas and themes that I hadn't seen before. Really enjoyed it greatly in spite of any problems, and had a great discussion with the wife about it afterwards. Definitely recommended, although like I said, I'm sure you've already seen it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Conclusion Protocol  

Just a quick one tonight. I actually had a list of six or eight topics I wanted to discuss, but I'm currently juggling a little bit more than I usually do, and there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Anyway, I just finished Alpha Protocol a few minutes ago and I have to say that my opinion of the game greatly improved by the time credits rolled. However, I do have to qualify that statement:

As readers of this blog will remember, my initial playthrough was a giant mess of issues and the whole project felt like a colossal disaster. It was only thanks to some coaching from friends via Twitter that I was able to appreciate the finer points of agent Mike Thorton’s mission, and I can certainly understand anyone walking away from this game with a bitter taste in mouth. However, after seeing the thing through from start to finish, I certainly think that there are plenty of bits to appreciate for a player who can get past all the problems.

In case you're considering giving the game a whirl, let me share my learnings with you.

The proper way to enjoy Alpha Protocol:

1>Accept that the game is divided into two very distinct sections: role-playing and combat. Combat is a laughable mess. Simply acknowledge it and move on. The role-playing is a little rough around the edges, but it is far better than the action, and the primary reason to play through the adventure. If you are the kind of player that cannot derive sufficient enjoyment from role-playing or storytelling, stop now and do not consider playing the game.

2>Put a few level-ups into health and hand-to-hand, but Stealth and Pistol should be boosted as high as they can possibly go, as soon as they possibly can. The stealth abilities compensate for frequent occurrences of terrible level design, and a powered-up pistol is capable of defeating any boss with one or two uses of its special attack.

3>Know that the opening cluster of missions set in the Middle East are the worst in the entire game, and that play will not be easy or even enjoyable (outside of dialogue scenes) until the point at which the player’s stats are high enough to have a significant effect during combat. For me this was about halfway through the game, though your mileage may vary.

Once you're on this track, it's much easier to endure past the unpleasant sections and keep the game moving in order to see its better sides -- things like a few instances of really interesting mission design, ambitious effort to craft a story that doesn't involve any (okay, well not ALL) of the usual RPG tropes, and a few parts that really make a player think thanks to in-game consequences and repercussions. Unfortunately, that's a lot of hoops to ask a player to jump through, and (like I did) it's all too easy to make different choices and end up playing the game in a way that is comparable to a bad trip to the dentist.

While on the topic of Alpha Protocol, it was announced today that any hopes of an improved sequel were taken off the table. As of right now, this franchise is dead.

While I can absolutely understand that decision, I have to admit feeling a bit sad about it. There are some genuinely great moments to be found in the game, and despite all its problems (and Lord, there are many) I can't help but think that the developers were on the right track to creating something that should have been much greater than it was.

I can't deny that the game dug its own grave, but other, lesser titles have gone on to spawn a sequel or two. It's a shame that one that seems to hold so much potential won't get a much-needed chance to grow.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ebert, Alpha Protocol, and a Mystery Game...  

Every time I think things are going to start slowing down, they just don't.

I had a feeling it might be a busy few days, but I had no clue it was going to be the barnburner it has. E-mails went ignored, assignments left uncompleted, Twitter left idle for huge blocks of time… shameful, really.

Anyway, I'm quite glad that the next three days will be reserved solely for the family and a little bit of downtime. Well-deserved, I'd say.


Games: So Ebert issued another statement. I'm not going to bother linking to it since I don't want to give the guy anymore clicks than he's already getting, but basically he quasi-faux-recanted some of his earlier statements, although in essence what he's really saying is not that he's wrong about games never being able to be called art, but that he just shouldn't have said anything.

The way I see it, this isn't a "win" for games or gamers, it's just Ebert getting tired of dealing with the subject and backing away from it while proudly holding on to his self-imposed ignorance. I find it hard to believe that the statement was sincere in any meaningful way, especially since he insists that he has no desire to even try a video game despite having ample access to a console, games, and people willing to walk him through them.

I remain disappointed that someone I previously had so much respect for has taken the position he has.


So, Alpha Protocol.

First off, big followup props to @DarthOdium and @ThiefOfHearts for convincing me to stick with the game. Thief made mention of his appreciation for the title several times, and since he is a smart dude who I respect, his comments gave me pause. Darth went one better with his incredibly detailed walkthrough and tips on how to level my character, and his advice was great.

At this point, I've erased my first character and started from scratch, completely re-speccing and changing my play style. I haven't finished the game yet, but I would estimate I'm about halfway. Perhaps a little more.

I'm still considering doing a second opinion review for GameCritics if time allows, but no promises there. In the meantime, my general thought is that the only way to really derive appreciation out of Alpha Protocol is to go Stealth all the way, and put a lot of points into the Pistol ability as well. Level design is still distastefully archaic and there are no end to the problems that occur during gameplay, but once main character Mike Thorton has enough experience under his belt, things almost sort of kind-of come together. At least, it becomes a lot easier to see what Obsidian was shooting for even if they still fell short.

I think the best experience I've had with the game so far took place on a level designed to be a yacht floating in the middle of the ocean. At this particular location, I was finally able to really take advantage of the stealth system and eliminated everyone on the boat without being detected, finding the target and completing my objective in a way that felt both sensible and empowering.

…Of course, the game promptly crapped itself by throwing a logic-defying boss at me immediately afterwards that was both overpowered and running on utterly broken AI.

I'm not going to say that Alpha Protocol is some kind of hidden gem or that my opinion of it has completely changed, but I will say that there are definitely short bursts of cleverness, and it's infinitely entertaining to pop out from behind some cover, activate the Pistol’s special ability, and headshot three enemies while time stands still.

If there was ever a game that deserved to go back to the drawing board and return with a completely revamped sequel, Alpha Protocol would be it.


There's a particular game I'd really like to discuss at the moment, but out of respect for the person who hooked me up with it, I'm going to hold my tongue on specifics until the embargo clears. However, I think it's pretty safe to say that it's a hotly-anticipated sequel that's been getting quite a bit of coverage over the last few months.

As of the time I'm writing this blog, I think I've put around five or six hours into it. Not a lot, but enough to get a good feel for what the game offers -- and it's not much. Honestly, I'm shocked. The original hit consoles back in 2007, and in the three years or so since that time, the developers behind the sequel don't seem to have advanced the formula nor really changed all that much. In fact, it might even be seen as a step backwards.

I'm quite surprised to report that the variety and creativity in the sequel are sorely lacking, and it's not like the series had all that much to spare in the first place. Even so, it strikes me as extremely repetitive, shallow, and not even up to the experience offered the first time around.

I haven't finished the game yet, but at this point I’m sort of dreading it. I heard from other critics that there's nothing to look forward to except more repetition, and I'm kind of wondering how the game got to its final state without someone raising their hand and questioning the proceedings.

There's a story behind it (of course) but the bottom line is that it doesn't stack up very favorably to current standards regardless of the reason... I'll cut it some slack, but there's only so much to cut when hour 1 is exactly the same as hour 6, and neither is as enjoyable as the source material.