Thursday, December 29, 2011

Majora's Mask, American McGee's Alice, and Darksiders  


Games: The other day on Twitter, somehow or another the subject of Majora’s Mask came up between a couple of smart people. (No, I was not one of them.) It was an interesting discussion, but one that I couldn't really participate in because I've never finished the game, nor spent much time with it. Critically speaking, it's one of "those games" that is often cited as an example of X, Y or Z, and because it's so different from the other games in the Zelda series, there is apparently much to dissect in it.

Uh... No.
I did play the game back in the day when it was new, but it's been so long (released in 2000) that I couldn't remember much about it except that I had an intense dislike for it. The details of my experience were basically lost in the mists of time, so I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the game and see if my opinion of it had changed. If nothing else, I wanted to at least finish it so that I could speak intelligently on the subject next time it came up. Shortly afterward, I went online and downloaded Majora’s Mask to my Wii and fired it up.

About an hour later, I turned it off. I now remember why I dislike it. In a nutshell, Majora’s Mask is everything I can't stand in videogames condensed down into one tidy package.

The game starts out in a town filled with people to talk to, and I generally loathe talking to villagers. After talking to people, it's clear that everybody in town has one quest or another they need your help with, and I'm not generally a huge fan of sidequests. I’m also pretty tired of Zelda, so the overly-familiar cast of characters and music does not appeal to me. I don't like blindly searching for things, and the first two quests I got were telling me to go blindly search for things. My little fairy sidekick kept reminding me that we were on the clock, and I hate timed missions. Toss in other little odds and ends like the incredibly dated graphics (wow, crude 3D really doesn't age well, does it?) and the wonky controls from way back in the day when people could not manually move the camera, and I just don't see a way that I can get through the game without losing my mind.

In a perfect world, I would like to sit down and critically explore what it is that makes Majora’s Mask such a perennial topic of discussion, but I've got to be honest here... I can put up with a lot of stuff and my tolerance for getting through certain things is probably better than most, but when a game comes along that pushes every single button I have at the same time, I've got to call it quits.

Just can't do it. Sorry.

Games: Speaking of titles from the past, I just finished American McGee’s Alice, also from 2000. I didn't have a gaming PC at that time and I've never been a big fan of PC gaming anyway, so it has always been one of those titles that I wanted to get around to, but never really did. When I heard that it was a DLC pack-in with new copies of Madness Returns, it was pretty exciting news.

I just completed the review and will be submitting it for publication later tonight. It was an interesting experience, to be sure... for much of the time, playing was monstrously painful thanks to the crude level of technical production. Slippery slopes, jumps that require too much precision, and absolutely execrable combat were all sour elements that I could have done without. On the other hand, I think the general concept and game flow were better than what we got in the sequel. Alice doesn't have the same fetish for platform jumping that Madness Returns does, and it's about 60% shorter -- both great things in my book.

I'm glad that I played it and it was especially nice to be able to compare it to the sequel, but I can't honestly say that it was a positive experience overall, and I don't think that I would really recommend it for anything other than research purposes.

Games: With both of those moldy oldies off my plate, it was time to hit the backlog that I talked about in the last update... with a good number of votes and knowledge that a sequel is coming this year, I went with Darksiders and put about two hours into that so far.

I have to say, I just about fell out of my chair when I started it.

I saw the game in an alpha-ish date at PAX ’08 or maybe ‘09, and at the time, it looked like garbage. Don't get me wrong, I knew that it was nowhere near done, but it was damned hard to imagine that what I was seeing on the screen coming together into anything I’d be interested in.

What a difference some time and polish make!

The leap in quality between when I first saw it and what I was seeing on my TV screen at home was like night and day -- it was almost unrecognizably different, and in a good way! The animation was much smoother, the detail in the environments was a thousand times better, and just everything about it screams ‘high-quality’.

Like I said, I've barely started, but so far it's scratching my itch. I'm looking forward to putting some more time into it, and I'm still trying to get over the shock of how much better everything about it is. Part of that shock is definitely on me since I should have been more willing to give the game a chance, but at the same time, I guess that's one reason why most developers don't like to show their games when they’re so early in the production process...


Press: Quick question for my readers -- lately I've been toying with the idea of running PR announcements and news here at the bottom of each new update. I might randomly add a comment or two, but basically it would just be verbatim releases from publishers and press about upcoming games, events, and so forth. If I did, would that sort of information be of interest?

Let me know!


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Culling the backlog...  


Happy Holidays and a pre-emptive Happy New Year to everyone who reads this blog. Whether you keep up with every post or if you only pop in once in a while, I appreciate the time you take to check out what I’ve got to say. Thank you muchly for stopping by, and thanks for supporting Drinking Coffeecola.

Games: So 2011's over. What's next?

At the moment, I've fulfilled all of my GameCritics obligations and I'm just coasting for a couple of weeks. Although it feels weird to not have fifteen projects burning at the same time, it's nice to take a quick breather from the hectic pace -- especially from all the madness that happens in the fourth quarter.

Personally, I'm not playing anything substantial at the moment; just a little of this, and a little of that. However, instead of starting up something big, it's usually around this time of year that I get the urge to go through my backlog and weed through the accumulated pile. I've got quite a bit of stuff stacked up, so I need to start deciding what I'm actually going to try to play, and what I’m never going to get around to. If nothing else, that "never" stack can stop collecting dust and be put to better use by being traded in for some credit towards a 3DS or a Vita…

(note: not my actual stack of games - just a dramatic re-enactment.)

Here's what's in the stack, not counting all of the XBL/PSN/WW downloads I haven't touched yet:

A Boy and his Blob (shelved @ 30%)
Alice in Wonderland
Boom Blox (thinking about it makes my arm hurt…)
Broken Sword
Chocobo’s Dungeon
De Blob (didn’t like #2)
Endless Ocean 2
Madworld (shelved @ 80%)
Monster Lab
No More Heroes 2
Punch-Out (shelved @ final boss, IIRC)
Red Steel 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Paper Mario
Tatsunoko vs Capcom

Army of Two 2
Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (shelved @ 25%)
Batman: Arkham City (shelved after 4-5 hours)
Bayonetta (started/quit three times, never finished)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (wife’s 20hr save was killed by a glitch, scared me off)
Child of Eden
Dead Space 2 (shelved @ 50%)
Earth Defense Force 2 (shelved @ 50%)
Eternal Sonata
Gears of War 3 (waiting for a 2nd copy to co-op with the wife)
Halo Wars (shelved @ 50%)
LA Noire
Metro 2033
Red Faction Armageddon (shelved @ 50%)
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper
The First Templar (shelved @ 50%)
Velvet Assassin
Viva Pinata 2

Resonance of Fate
Tekken 6
White Knight Chronicles (shelved after 4hrs)
Yakuza 3
Yakuza 4

Bard’s Tale
Disgaea 2
Jak & Daxter: Lost Frontier
Final Fantasy XII (shelved @ 40hrs)
Manhunt 2
Okami (the wife took 65-ish hrs to finish, didnt want to commit that much time)
Sakura Wars
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Spy Fiction
Summoner 2

Sooooooooo…. I’ve definitely got a few ideas about which of these titles still hold interest for me and which don't, but I figured I would throw this list out to you, dear readers, and see if you have strong feelings about any of 'em, either positive or negative.

Are there some in this list I should absolutely get to? Are there some that I can toss aside without a second thought? If you've got any feedback either way, post a comment or hit me up on Twitter and let me know. The great purge hasn't begun, but the time is coming.

(Side note: I will weep tears of blood if/when we finally move to an e-only future and lose the abiliy to trade/sell games we don't want any more. Fizzical m3dia 4 lyfe, yo.)


Writing: Games talk aside, I'm a little ashamed to say that I did not meet my deadline for the edits that were due on my book this year.

I'm not trying to make excuses because I’m big believer in personal accountability, but with everything that was on my plate, it was just too easy to keep putting the book on the back burner and tell myself I’d get to it later. That's exactly what happened, and ‘later’ was a while ago… hopefully the publisher I had lined up will still be interested, and if they are, I'll probably take this time between now and February to buckle down and get it done.

Otherwise, I've got a screenplay that I'll be shopping around and I'm considering starting a collection of short stories. The idea of starting and completing a tale in less than a year is starting to look more and more appealing these days… we'll see, though.  I'm trying to be much more realistic this year in terms of time management, so I think I will have to scale my expectations back accordingly.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The Top 10 of 2011  


Another year, another breakdown of the year's best games… according to me.

Before getting into what made the cut, I went back and looked at what I'd picked for 2010. At the start of last year's article, here's what I wrote:

Looking back, 2010 was an odd twelve months. Catching many players and critics by surprise, a large number of the most hotly-anticipated titles ended up being unexpectedly disappointing, leaving the top honors wide open for a number of lesser-known, smaller-budget projects. Unfortunately, while many of these smaller games displayed promise and creativity, most of them were flawed or uneven enough to give pause. The result? A year where (in my view, anyway) there really was no single runaway pick for the year's best.

So, if you took ‘2011’ and switched it out for ‘2010’, I think that paragraph would be just as applicable for me now as it was back then. Some people may disagree, but for my taste, a lot of the games walking away with top honors right now just weren't cutting it. Of course, your mileage may vary (and probably does) but for me, the ten titles below were the ones that left the best impression and were most deserving.


10> Two Worlds II. review

Although I'm sure the heads of Skyrim fans will explode after seeing that this game made my list and that one didn't, for me the difference was the ease and speed of play, the variety and humor in the quests, and the quality of the characters. Although it's rough around the edges, there were several great ideas implemented in the game's formula and there is definitely something to be said for an open-world RPG that doesn't feel like a slog to play. The combat was fast and easy to get a handle on, the upgrading and modifying was satisfying, and the writers had a sense of humor that I appreciated. It's not the biggest, deepest, or most polished out there, but it did everything just right enough and came together in a package that was easy to enjoy.

9> Deus Ex: Human Revolution. review

The original Deus Ex is one of my favorite games of all time, so I was quite excited to see the franchise revived after a long period of laying fallow. Although it had issues like the absurd energy system (I need more energy bars, stat!) and a strange fetish for tinting everything yellow, it was respectful of the source material and felt like an honest continuation of those same ideas. I also admit that I'm a sucker for stealthy play when it's done well, and popping up out of nowhere to subdue guards silently just never got old.

8>Escape Goat. review

I am definitely a fan of Ian Stocker’s work, and his latest didn't disappoint. I was already intrigued by the concept of a goat escaping from a magical prison, so it was a treat to see that the implementation was just as good as the idea. The quality and craftsmanship on display are superior to the vast majority of what pops up on the Xbox Live Indie channel, and the elegant mechanics clicked with me instantly. What do you get when you combine a barnyard animal, a wall-climbing mouse and a magic hat? A damned good puzzle game.

7>Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. review

When brilliant artwork is married to a time-tested formula, the result can only be a great thing, and in this case, that proved entirely true. Although the core Metroidvania gameplay may seem overly-familiar at first, it's soon made evident that each area in the game was hand-crafted to present a constantly fresh series of puzzles, challenges and environments. Play progression was smooth and confident, there was absolutely zero filler from start to finish, and high-intensity multiplayer modes gave gamers a reason to keep coming back after their mission was complete.

6>Rochard. review

This physics-based action/platformer was quite a surprise. With very little buzz before release, it came out of nowhere and displayed a masterful level of pacing and production. Each puzzle to be solved used the game’s gravity gun in clever ways, constantly introducing new mechanics while building upon the previous ones. The decision to make the main character a portly, Southern mechanic with a colorful, down-home personality was a great change of pace from the usual ‘hero’ stereotype, and the integration of storytelling without interrupting gameplay was spot-on.

5>Fate/Extra. review

While it's true that the PSP didn't get many strong releases in 2011, this was not only a must-play portable, but one of the better games to be released for the system overall. The unique combination of Visual Novel and JRPG genres delivered an interesting story with sci-fi and historical elements, and one which was perfectly suited for pick-up-and-play sessions thanks to a compact design and discrete structure. The new spin on paper-rock-scissors for combat was brilliant, and it was always possible to feel as though progress was made regardless of how much time was put in. Also, it earns special kudos for having an ending which felt satisfying and appropriate for the story mode -- something that's entirely too rare these days.

4>Ghost Trick. guest review

This neo-detective story stars a main character who gets murdered in the game’s opening and then has one night as a disembodied spirit to figure out who killed him and why. It's an original, engaging premise that's matched by equally creative gameplay. In order to interact with the physical world, the character must possess inanimate objects to trigger them in various ways. Figuring out the solution to each puzzle is akin to putting the pieces of a Rube Goldberg machine into place and watching it click and clank in absurd, unexpected motions. It's bizarre... yet delightful. Toss in a cast of eccentric, memorable characters and a level of art and animation that's a sight to behold, and it earns its spot on this list quite handily.

3>Catherine. guest review

It's no secret that I like the unusual and the unorthodox, and both of those labels fit this game like a glove. At first glance, it seems like utter insanity to take a 3D Q*Bert update and combine it with a love triangle that tasks the player with deciding whether to live a calm, orderly life or one that's more chaotic and hedonistic. However, that's exactly what Atlus did, and I was hooked from the start. Thanks to some great writing, memorable characters, and gameplay that was engaging (and challenging) enough to keep interest high, no one who plays Catherine ever forgets it. It is literally like nothing else out there.

2>Mortal Kombat. review

For a fighting series that's been sketchy and irreverent at best (and a pile of absurd, smoking garbage at worst) I was blown away by the incredible step up in quality here. Not only was the gameplay totally dialed-in to a level that's never been seen in this franchise before, the story mode did something that few fighters ever do: it actually took the time to tell a story and fleshed out characters that players have never known very much about. It was, bar none, the best fighting game campaign mode I've ever seen, and the game certainly wasn't hurt by an insane amount of content in the single-player mode. Flawless victory.

1>Dead Island. review

Intense, visceral combat. An open world large enough to explore, yet one that never feels empty or pointless. Fantastic atmosphere and beautiful environments. "Realistic" quests that one could imagine doing if zombies were real. Dead Island offers all of this, and more. Although dozens of games cram the undead into various modes and one-offs where they make for good target practice, very few titles attempt to create a zombie apocalypse in the way often written about in books or shown in movies -- scavenging environments for necessities, establishing safe houses, finding medicine, and so on. Although it's not the perfect simulation I think zombie fans like myself hope for, it comes closer than any other game before it and does it in fine style. For me, Dead Island was the most enjoyable, most unforgettable experience in 2011, and one of the very few that I could not put down until I'd seen and done every single thing. Well done, Techland.


…And there you have it, my top ten of 2011.

Agree? Disagree? Post a comment at the bottom and let me know what you think.

Now, bring on 2012!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Indie Protest - Game Type by Mommy's Best Games  


Games: My good friend Nathan Fouts over at Mommy’s Best Games has just released a new project on the XBL Indie channel called Game Type. However, it's not exactly a game, although it sort of is...

Let me explain.

As any 360 user knows, Microsoft recently updated the dashboard. However, rather than revamping it for improved functionality and ease-of-use, it seems the aim was to barrage the player with incessant multimedia advertising while kicking games squarely into second-class-citizen status.

For developers who create projects primarily available via the Indie channel, burying games deep under a mess of menus is bad enough. Adding insult to injury, Indies are buried even further in an unintuitive submenu titled ‘Game Type.’ With the average gamer barely aware of Indies to start with, deep-sixing Indies like this is basically a death sentence to their sales.

As a way of voicing his protest against this assault on XBLI developers’ ability to earn a living, Nathan’s Game Type is both commentary and criticism in videogame form that puts the absurdity of Microsoft's new design front and center. There's actually a fun little shooter included with the critique as well, but the challenge (just like on the real dashboard) is finding it.

Unfortunately, in order for anyone to see this commentary or to play the shooter hidden within, players have to be able to be able to find the Indie channel in the first place. Given what a complete morass of stupidity the dashboard is, this is a tall order.

To check out what Nathan’s done, here's what you do:

1>Jump onto the 360’s dashboard
2>Scroll over to Games
3>Pick Games Marketplace
4>Go to Games
5>Select Game Type
6>Choose Indie Games

If you manage to find it, I guarantee you'll get a laugh out of it -- and besides, anything calling attention to the new dashboard’s shortcomings is a worthwhile effort.


Podcast: The @GameCritics end-of-the-year podcast is now up! You can check it out RIGHT HERE and see what the entire crew had to say about 2011. We also select the site’s game of the year, and I'm pretty sure that it will catch quite a few of you by surprise.

If you've got a few minutes, give a listen and let us know what you think.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

New Vegas, 2011 Wrapups, Sweet Tooth, Buffy and Angel  


Games: So, it's been a while since I've posted anything. Honestly, I blame Fallout: New Vegas. In fact, I blame it for anything else I haven't gotten done over the last couple of weeks. It's a pretty fantastic title.

My full review of the game just went up RIGHT HERE, so you can see what I had to say about it. While you're at it, feel free to compare and contrast my view with @SparkyClarkson’s writeup.

Also, for those who are interested, I will be posting full reviews for all of the DLC add-ons. At the moment, the first two are done, I'm halfway finished with the third, and I'm still playing the last. It shouldn't be too much longer now.


In other news, the @GameCritics crew finished recording our year-end wrapup looking back at 2011. It was a pretty chunky show, probably coming in somewhere near the three-hour mark.

Although I think it's a good episode overall, it's a shame that we ran out of time at the end. After we had voted to choose our overall game of the year, we had some pretty good discussion popping up that I would have loved to have gotten deeper into. Unfortunately, we had to cut it short, but I look forward to the reactions and comments... I think our pick will be a surprising one to a lot of people. In fact, I think it was fairly surprising to a few members of our own podcast!

While on the subject of wrapups, I'll be doing my own personal top ten shortly. I've played everything I felt like I needed to and the podcast is done, so all that's left is to sit down and actually do the writing. Soon, soon soon.


Comics: I've been reading a fair number of comics lately, some good, some not so good, but I wanted to give a special call-out to Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth from DC’s Vertigo line. I remember flipping through the first issue when it came out, but it didn't grab me at the time. I think it was mostly the artwork that turned me off, but my local Comic Shop Guy (Hi Scott!) talked me into picking up the first collection despite my misgivings and he was right -- it was a fantastic read.

The gist of the story is that a strange virus appears and causes babies to be born as half-human, half-animal. Much of "normal" humanity dies off, and the world is left in a pretty sorry post-apocalyptic state. The main character is an innocent half-deer boy who's been raised in isolation by his father. Upon the father's death, he’s left to his own devices and soon becomes entangled in the mess of humanity that exists outside his secluded forest.

There is much, much more to it than that, but all that really needs to be said is that it's a gut-wrenching, emotional read that resonated with me on multiple levels. Although it's clear to see certain influences in the works, the writing is strong and speaks accurately about the human condition. If I had to compare it to anything, I think the closest parallel would be The Walking Dead in terms of bleak tone and focus on characters, not to mention the collapse of society.

In my book, that's pretty high praise.


TV: The wife and I have still been working our way through Buffy, and just finished Season Three yesterday.

Sorry I almost killed you with a book!
The season started off in a bizarre, everybody-hates-Buffy sort of way, but it ended well. I have to admit, I wanted to see a bit of a different ending for Faith, but I'm okay with where it ended up at the moment. If she never comes back on the show, that would be fine with me. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that we haven't seen the last of her.

Ugh. Not a fan.

We then moved on to Season Four. I was a little disappointed to see the same sort of Buffy-on-her-own thing done again, similar to the beginning of Season Three, but at least this time it didn't take several episodes before the gang got back together. Looking forward to see what trouble our heroine gets into now that she's in college.

After the first episode of BS4, we watched the first episode of Angel to find out what became of him. It was a little on the cheesy side for me, but it was nice to see Cordelia. I've heard that it spirals off into madness by the end of its run, but so far it seems like a good enough start and we're happy to see where it goes. It's a bit on the formulaic side, perhaps, but I'm reserving judgment for now.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Reviews and Unhappy People - a Rant  


Fair warning: I'm in the mood to rant tonight, and I’ve got something to get off my chest.

By the way, this rant isn’t about any one person, game or review in particular. If you think it’s about you, IT’S NOT.

(...and if you still think it’s about you, it’s still not.)

Also, if you're easily angered or not in the mood for a strong, non-Politically Correct opinion, do yourself a favor and click elsewhere... it'll be better for the both of us.


Now that we're at the tail end of 2011, I've got to say that not only has it been a somewhat uninspiring year, it's also ending on a strange note. Recently, I've seen a number of reviews, commentaries, and editorials that seem to suggest that a writer’s “feeling" on a game is an acceptable way to review something.

From my perspective, it's not.

If you ask me what a review should be, it should absolutely include feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are stirred in the player. However, it needs to also include other factors, such as various aspects of design, how bug-free the technical side is, and how it functions overall. On top of that, a good critic will take into account a game’s content in terms of how it relates to others that have come before it. Does the game in question bring something new to the table? Are there innovations or new ideas?

While I have never believed that a reviewer should (or can) ever be objective, I do think that it's possible to temper a personal level of enjoyment with all of the other factors that go into a critical, comprehensive review. If a piece of writing or a final judgment is passed on the game with the overwhelming reasoning for the score being "feeling", then that's not a review, it's being a fan.

To illustrate the point, my game of the year for 2010 (and I repeat for emphasis, my game of THE YEAR) was Deadly Premonition. I absolutely fell in love with it game despite a wealth of problems. However, main character Francis York Morgan was one of the best-written I've ever seen, the story was mature and absolutely intriguing, and the approach by the game's director was frustrating, challenging to my expectations, and genius-level brilliant, all at the same time. What score did I give it in my review? 7.5

If I had gone with my feelings leading the way, I could easily imagine giving it an 11/10 or something equally hyperbolic and absurd. I didn't. Instead, I took note of how much it won me over in terms of emotional connection and intellectual engagement, and then contrasted that with the obvious issues in production, control, combat, and so on. I never stopped saying positive things about the game to anyone who asked, and when given the chance, I was happy to give it the highest honors available to me. In terms of the actual review, I had to be as fair as possible and there was just no getting around the fact that it had warts.

Am I a fan of Deadly Premonition? Absolutely, but taking that particular ball and running with it wouldn't have led to anything resembling what I consider to be a good review. When it comes to a number of games that have been released in the fourth quarter, I can't help but feel as though the concept of "being fair" as I just described has been tossed out the window in service to the giddy excitement that accompanies cracking open the plastic on a blockbuster game and diving in two weeks before retail release.

The biggest and most common example is (obviously) Skyrim, and the staggering number of perfect scores it's racked up - currently thirty 100’s on MetaCritic, on the 360 alone.

Is it a terrible game? No, not at all, but I certainly don't think it's deserving of top marks for a number of reasons. However, a number of paeans to its freedom and beauty beg to differ. I don't dispute the fact that people enjoy the game, but it seems to me as though quite a lot has been overlooked in order to praise it to the degree that most people do. The same can be said of Saints Row: The Third, Arkham City, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 3, and others. Although they don't enjoy the same number of perfect scores (though Zelda comes close) I saw many instances of "fun" being the gist, and short shrift given to potential problems.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – most games are meant to be enjoyed. That's not in dispute. I guess I'm just surprised at how far the tide has shifted towards giving an utterly personal and subjective feeling so much weight while strongly downplaying areas that can legitimately be seen as in need of improvement. Besides that, I can't recall another time in recent memory where people have been so defensive and quick to take offense if a comment gets made about it.

Let’s be perfectly frank here -- how many times have you read a review of a certain game that was dripping with praise, only to hear that reviewer change his or her tune a month, two months, or six months afterwards?

It happens all... the... time.

Questioning a flood of glowing reviews for any title is par for the course as far as I'm concerned, but something about this particular year felt... different. It's almost as though people became insecure about their opinions and positions, and the level of touchiness just shot through the roof. The comments I got were nastier, friends were less friendly, and people who usually seem like calm heads got hot.

It’s been some bad juju lately, man.

Anyway, if you ask me, I'm glad that 2011 is nearly over. Between some surprisingly underwhelming games and the level of sensitivity and raw nerves we’re getting here at the end, and I'm more than ready to get started on 2012. Hopefully tossing out the old calendar and putting up a new one will welcome in some fresh energy, and the gaming sphere can hit the reset button and start over.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

New Vegas, FFXIII-2, A New Podcast, Containment, and Xenoblade Preorders  


Games: Completed Fallout: New Vegas the other day, and although it got a little buggier than I would have preferred towards the end, I still pushed on and rolled credits in support of the New California Republic.

The final segments were fairly satisfying, and the ending was excellent... I really admire how the developers took the time to cap off nearly everything I did while wandering in the wasteland. Getting a big wrap-up of every loose end like that is a pretty sweet thing, indeed. Working on the review right now, look for that before too long.

Prior to beating the game, I was a little concerned about whether or not I'd be able to keep playing after credits rolled, and I got conflicting answers from everyone I spoke to. Even the message boards over at GameFAQs weren't entirely clear, so let me just settle it right now for anyone who wants to know:

You CAN NOT keep playing after the game ends.

Again, for clarity: CAN NOT.

If you intend to start up some of the DLC or if there are still some quests you’d like to get to, then make sure you have a save before the end sequence. The game gives you a big "hold on!" warning prior to passing the point of no return, so pay attention and you'll be fine.

Speaking of the New Vegas DLC, I decided to pop for Dead Money and started that up tonight. I was only able to play for a short while, but I was very intrigued by what I saw -- it's a complete shift from the main game in terms of tone and mood, being very dark, ominous, and oppressive. Looking forward to putting some more time in on it tomorrow.


The new GameCritics Podcast is now available for your listening pleasure... CLICK HERE to see what Tim, Richard, Mike and yours truly have to say about a wide range of topics including Skyrim, Arkham City, Fate/Extra, Corpse Party, and a new segment we like to call Query The Logician.


Sharp gamer lady Anne Lee (@ApricotSushi) has penned a new article explaining why she's NOT excited for Final Fantasy XIII-2… it's a well-written, personal piece, although I daresay it may have the opposite effect of what she intended. Decide for yourself RIGHT HERE.


The excellent gentlemen over at Bootsnake Games have been working on Containment: The Zombie Puzzler for a while, and the iPad/iPad2 version is now available. I've played a good chunk of that version and the upcoming PC version as well, and I can't wait to get my hands on the full-meal deal.

In the few seconds before you click over and purchase it for yourself, you can read my hands-on preview RIGHT HERE, and here’s a YouTube VIDEO to see what it looks like in action. In addition, here's a brief press release:

Action Puzzle Games are awesome. We all love them, and we've played all of them. Why should you care about Containment: The Zombie Puzzler? Well for starters, we ditched the gems. We also got rid of match-three. Containment takes a new approach to the genre, bringing a frantic real-time pace and adding the kind of personality and graphics not normally found in a puzzler.

Containment: The Zombie Puzzler tasks players with surrounding zombies with like-colored survivors. Once surrounded, the zombies are destroyed in a spray of blood and gunfire, rewarding the player with items to be used in the fight. Take too long, and the zombies attack, infecting your survivors and turning them over to the zombie hordes!

Trust me -- Containment is a far cry from Bejeweled, and it's awesome. Don't miss it.


If you were anywhere near the Internet over the last few months, then it's pretty likely that you heard importers or players in other countries talking endlessly about Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) and how utterly fabulous it is. You probably also heard that Nintendo was not releasing it here in the United States.

That's changed.

Apparently, Nintendo will be releasing a very limited amount of the game here in the United States next April, but only through GameStop -- or, at least, that's the most recent information. If you're interested in putting a pre-order in, you can CLICK HERE and get that done.

Based on the current word, there is a strong possibility that the game will pull a Panzer Dragoon Saga, meaning that the number of available copies will be quite small, they will sell out immediately, people who got one will constantly talk about how fantastic it is, and eBay copies will skyrocket in price.

Personally, I have no idea whether or not the game lives up to its reputation.

I haven't had the opportunity to lay hands on it and this is not an endorsement from me, but everyone who's played it speaks of the game in reverent terms, so it's got to be at least pretty good, I'm assuming. I mean, I've fallen out of love with the JRPG in large part, but I keep hearing time and again that this is the game that revitalizes it, so i'm open to seeing what it's all about.

It remains to be seen whether the game delivers or if this is another case of 'too much hype', but if you're at all curious and have no desire to break the bank on what will inevitably be a collector's item later on, then be aware that the time to pre-order is NOW.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dear Diary...  


Dear Diary…

Wow, what an adventure today.

Things started off innocently enough, but that just goes to show that you never know how things are going to happen.

So crazy!

Anyway, I was getting ready to go hang out at the mall when I responded to a comment someone made to me on Twitter. It was about [THE GAME THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED] and I said a few things about it, mostly that I felt many reviewers had gone too soft on the game and that such reviews were shameful.

Now Diary, you know that I use the word ‘shameful’ pretty commonly in discussions and it’s never a big deal.

Different story today, though!

I guess some people have a strong reaction to that word, and it seemed like they were really upset by it. Who knew, right? Well, I apologized and didn't mean it in the way some people took it, so I guess I'm going to have to move ‘shameful’ over to my “only when I'm super-serious" list.

My bad!

Afterwards though, I was really getting the vibe that it was wrong of me to have an opinion on reviewers or their reviews. I mean, people said I was the kind of troll that hates someone just because their favorite game didn't score 9.9736549, and I thought that was pretty strange.

I mean, everybody is a person, and people have opinions. If you hear some music on the radio that you think is awful, don't you criticize that band? If you order a sandwich at a restaurant and it's too disgusting to eat, don't you criticize the chef? I mean, you don't sit there and go, "Well, maybe the chef thinks this nasty sandwich tastes good, so who am I to say?"

Of course you don't, so why would that be any different for reviews or reviewers?

(And by the way, I know you know this already, but I never mentioned any review or reviewer specifically... it was just the whole “game reviews aren’t critical enough in general" thing. You know, the usual.)

There were even a few comments that were really kinda saying that I was trying to act like I was totally perfect and better than everybody else just because I had a strong opinion. I mean, what, is no one ever allowed to criticize anything, ever? Critics don't get to disagree or criticize other critics? Is there some sort of rule that I didn't hear about? Did I miss that day in class?

I don't know about that.

Anyway, mom's downstairs and she's yelling that dinner is ready, so I better go… I'll come back after I eat and fill you in on what I heard about Suzy Robbins in the cafeteria!!



Friday, December 2, 2011

Loads O' Links...  


Games: So, I'm still playing Fallout: New Vegas.

I like this game. I like it a lot. In fact, the more I see of it, the more I like it. I might even go so far as to say that it could possibly be the best role-playing game I've ever spent time with.

Let me explain.

Can't we just talk this out? Oh, We can??
I'm not talking about the best combat system, the best skill trees, the best graphics, or any of that mechanical stuff. It all has its place, but when I'm playing a Western-style RPG, I want to actually be able to play a role. I want to make choices. I want to determine what sort of character I am, and have the world react. I want to feel like things that I'm doing matter.

In this respect, I honestly can't think of any game that accomplishes this better than New Vegas.

(…And although I like to play White Hat, I've seen some pretty despicable opportunities for those of you who like to play Black. That in itself is a fantastic choice to have.)

Besides the level of freedom, I'm just amazed at the quality of the writing and characterization. For example, I am hard-pressed to think of any game (RPG or not) that addresses homosexuality in such a mature and accepting fashion.

Love this guy.
Several characters in the game are homosexual, including a number that will join the player on their journey. In addition, I've encountered several NPCs who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise, and the game treats them as normal people worthy of respect. Their sexuality isn't played up for laughs or ridiculed… they're just people you meet, and no one in the game blinks twice about it.

(For more on this, here's a great piece by @JimSterling, and another great one from Miss Haitch at The Border House. Thanks to my Twitter folks who shared the links… You know who you are.)

This handling of the subject material is absolutely amazing, but apart from that I could also go on about the unbelievable variety of quests, the insane level of detail, and a dozen other topics worthy of celebration, but I plan on doing a full Second Opinion over at GameCritics, so I'll save some of my praise for that.

Although I'm not finished with the game, I've already seen more than enough to put it near the absolute top of the RPG genre, and I've just been endlessly impressed since starting. If you read this blog regularly or you follow my reviews, you know that I have no fear in criticizing a game that deserves it. If you put stock in my negative opinions, then put some stock in this positive one – Fallout: New Vegas isn't perfect, but it is a masterpiece.

In light of this, it's tragic that Bethesda released the game in such a buggy, unpolished state. (And yes, I know that Obsidian developed it, but the publisher is the one who's ultimately responsible for when the game is released.)

I heard several horror stories about how unplayable it was when it hit shelves, and although I did purchase a copy, I intentionally held off playing it all this time until I was sure that it had been patched. I know for a fact that other people did the same or just skipped the game altogether, and that is an absolute shame… if New Vegas had been in a polished, finished state last year, it would have been a monster contender for top honors.


Games: My good friend and colleague @RichardNaik has written a great blog post about Skyrim’s “racism” and why it doesn't ring true. He raises some good points, and it's certainly worth the read. Check it out right here. Don't mess with an Argonian, yo.


Games: Speaking of Skyrim, here are another couple of posts about it.

The first is by Nick Simberg (@TheGameLlama) and he explains why Bethesda’s latest opus is actually a Facebook game in disguise. I don't think he's entirely correct, but I think he is mostly correct and I think he's pretty brave for bringing up a particular viewpoint that I've heard a few people voice but not put into written words.

Friend meeeeeee.....
On the other side of the spectrum, Andrew Groen (@ScienceGroen) says that Skyrim is the sort of game that requires a specific kind of player participation, and that the traditional quest structure isn't really the main focus of play. Personally, I don't agree much with what he says, but Andrew is a brilliant guy and he does a good job of explaining his point. If nothing else, I think it's a good contrast with Simberg’s piece.


Podcast: Recently, I was on Big Red Potion’s end-of-the-year game show episode along with my GameCritics cohorts, @RichardNaik and @ChiKongLui. JoeDeLia (@Slamvanderhuge) also joined in, and the whole thing was hosted by the one and only Sinan Kubba. (@Shoinan.) If you'd like to hear us stumble and flounder as we prove ourselves unable to answer some extremely hard questions, you can give a listen right here.


Games: Just in time for the holidays, AbleGamers has released their shopping guide which lists both hardware and software for people who may require certain accommodations. AND HEY LOOK, New Vegas is one of their top three recommendations… wow, another point of praise. Anyway, you can click right here and take a look at what gets the thumbs up. You may even want to bookmark it for future reference.


Games: Finally, I am a huge fan of Dead Island and in case you are too, you might be interested in knowing that there's a big contest going on and there are some sweet prizes up for grabs. Click on over, take a look, and who knows... you may be dodging the undead on your own two-week tropical vacation!

If this is Christmas, I'll take the lump of coal instead...
If you win, send me a postcard and the blueprints for the Shock Mod.


Thursday, December 1, 2011



I was supposed to post some stuff tonight, but I ended up playing New Vegas all night instead.


Look for an update tomorrow, although I still need to check out two more casinos on the strip... and I've got a meeting with the Legion... and I haven't even met the Brotherhood of Steel yet... Oh, and I still gotta rescue that trooper from Vault 22...  Those bounties? Still need collecting... And... And... And...

This game is not only great, it's HUGE. I weep for my productivity...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zelda's Wacky Controls and Fallout: New Vegas  


Games: Game designer and low-around good guy Robert Boyd (@WereZomPire) has a nice little piece over at Gamasutra about the latest Zelda, Skyward Sword, and why the complicated controls may be more of a hindrance than helping to create an immersive experience. You can check it out here.


Games: After Skyrim bored me to the point that I did not care to continue, I felt a little disappointed... it wasn't so much that I had built my hopes up for that particular game, but now that I've played almost everything I needed to play before the end of 2011 (for review purposes) I had been looking forward to closing out the year with a bigger game -- something I could coast with for a while during my break from the hectic pace of “must review XYZ.”

I was still in the mood for a Western-style RPG, and a quick look at my backlog reminded me that I still had an unopened copy of Fallout: New Vegas that I picked up but never played thanks to the widely reported of glitches and bugs that plagued it. I got it for a song and I figured that if I waited long enough, the game would eventually be patched and playable. I did and it is, so I figured there was no time like the present to jump into it.

To give a little backstory, Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games of all time... you can even check the list on the right side of this page and see for yourself. It had a few problems and there were some things that I didn't care for, but overall it was a fantastic experience and if memory serves, I believe I put well over a hundred hours into it and never felt bored or tired of it until I got to some of the rushjob DLC additions. (Mothership Zeta is just awful…)

In any case, I wasn't expecting much from New Vegas except a lesser, repeat performance of Fallout 3. Now that I've finally started it, I've got to say that I've been loving every minute of it. I may even like it better than the previous game...

At this point I'm about twenty hours into the adventure and quite impressed. Of course, it's not as visually beautiful as the majestic trees and mountains of Skyrim’s Nord paradise, but the quality of the writing, quests, and general game design more than make up for a slightly lower graphic standard.

For example, I got to the town of Novac and was a little surprised at how well all of the various quest threads in and around the area came together to show how much care and effort the developers put into it. I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't played it yet, but I will say that if you take the time to talk to everyone in the town and follow up on all of the leads, just about everything there dovetails quite nicely, and in an intricate fashion.

My good buddy, ED-E. Don't piss him off.

I'm also quite pleased with the new emphasis on followers/party members in New Vegas. Although companions were present in Fallout 3, they didn't come into play until well into the adventure, and I rarely used them since I was too afraid of losing them permanently.

This time around, they see plenty of action and add a great deal of strength to my party thanks to the fact that they only get "knocked out" during battles and revive soon afterwards if you're not playing on Hardcore mode. I've only found four so far, but they're all interesting in their own way and each has much more personality and dialogue than the drones in Skyrim. They've all got their own questlines as well, which I think is just fantastic. In following one of those personal quests, I ended up triggering a series of events that altered my relationship to the entire world. It seems clear that these are just not just token additions, but substantial pieces of the New Vegas experience.

I can already tell that I'm still in the early days of the game -- I've got six or eight "main" quests open in addition to the critical path, and the game keeps "notes" of incidental or tertiary quests that are also available for completion. If the rest of New Vegas is as content-rich and as surprisingly varied as what I've already seen, then I'm guessing I'll be quite busy (and happy) in this wasteland for some time to come...


Friday, November 25, 2011

Gamer Pay, Kellee Santiago, 'Rimming Wrong, and Thanks.  


Games: My good friend and fellow GameCritics staffer Brandon Bales (he of the Lonely Gamer fame) has just come out with a solo video project, and it's pretty fantastic. Click HERE to see Brandon interview Kellee Santiago of THATGAMECOMPANY (fl0w, Flower) and tune in next week for part two. This is State of Play, and it's great, great stuff.


Games: My other good friend Andrew Groen (@ScienceGroen on Twitter) has just put out one of the most valuable games-related articles I've ever read -- how much money do reviewers and games writers actually make?

If you're thinking about a full-time career playing games and getting paid to write about it, definitely take the time to read this piece over at GamesRadar and see if the reality lives up to your expectations. My hat is off to Andrew for doing this piece… everybody I know has asked this question at one time or another, and very rarely have I ever heard a definite answer.


Games: So I've formally bailed on Skyrim. However, after my initial post about being tired of it after fifteen hours, I was inundated with comments from people on Twitter and elsewhere regarding my lack of enthusiasm for it.

How can this possibly be boring? Yet... It is.
 There were two big themes that kept popping up from fans of the game. The first was that I was "doing it wrong" by spending time on quests and not spending more time wandering through the landscape, discovering things as I went.

The second point people made was that I "needed to see XYZ quest”, meaning that the good stuff was elsewhere and I had been putting time into parts of the game that weren’t very good.

To both of these comments, I pose the following question: if I spent fifteen hours doing it wrong and completing bad quests, why is it so hard to find the good stuff?

For a game that's ostensibly about doing things the way that you want to, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me that the way I want to do things is the wrong way. I'm also a little surprised at how much of a pass the game seems to get for having a lot of quests which are less-than-thrilling.

I'm not bringing this up just to rag on Skyrim -- it's not my cup of tea and I accept that, and I also accept that there are loads and loads of people out there who think it's pretty fantastic. That's fine, and I genuinely have no problem with that. However, I do think it's interesting that so many people were so eager to explain to me why I wasn't enjoying the game. After all, isn't it Bethesda’s job to craft a product which is well-made and appealing? Shouldn't a great game be fun and engaging without someone there to explain the "proper" way to appreciate it?

If starting the game and playing it as it's presented to me means that I'm doing it wrong, then I think that points out a fundamental flaw in Skyrim’s design rather than a problem with how I'm approaching the game as a player.

Just something to think about.


Misc: To round it out tonight, I just wanted to say that even though yesterday was Thanksgiving, I thought I would take another moment here to recognize all the great things that I have in my life.

Like anybody else, I think it would be great to have a pile of money or a house ten times bigger than where I live now... all that stuff. But, you know... not really.

I've got the best wife a man could ever hope to have, I've got two little boys that I'm proud of, and I've got a job that keeps my family warm, dry and fed.

Even more than that, I've got a car, a TV, I play games almost every day. I have three grocery stores less than three minutes away, I take hot showers whenever I feel like it, and I've always got clean clothes to wear.

As if that wasn't enough, I have fresh water to drink, I don't live in a war zone, and none of my family members are dying from a disease that could be cured with one vaccine.

I'm definitely no stranger to hard times -- not at all -- but I do recognize that even when things really aren't going my way, the situation can always be infinitely worse. I may not be the richest guy on my block and I don't foresee any tropical vacations coming up soon, but I absolutely recognize the value in the things that I do have, and those things are not only enough, but they are deeply, deeply appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, happy belated Thanksgiving to you, and I hope that you've got things in your life that you are thankful for as well.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Blog: Seb Wuepper on Deus Ex: Human Revolution  


Games: This year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution was quite a title in many ways, and I'm sure that it will be the subject of much discussion when the time comes for everyone to start comparing their GOTY lists… my personal take on the game is right here, but as a special treat tonight, I invited my friend Seb Wuepper to ramble at will and jot down a few words of his own.

Seb is a great guy, and quite amusing to follow on Twitter… he also blogs at Angry German Dude, which you can find right here.

Without further ado, take it away, Seb…


As a prequel to what was my favorite game of all time, this year’s Deus Ex Human Revolution had a lot to live up to. In general, it is a pretty solid and mostly enjoyable game for someone who has been waiting for a contemporary developer daring to tackle a modern take on this formula. While it’s largely well and competently executed, it is far from being a game without flaws.

Unfulfilled promises are at the core of my problems with the game. By tying it into the Deus Ex franchise, Human Revolution promises a multi-layered story with a lot of meaningful choices and how to approach them, a lot of exploration, and gameplay that lets the player chose the solutions to the problems the game throws at him.

The game starts out all right. The first missions are ripe with options and open ends. But by the time the first boss battle rolls along, I sense that something has gone terribly wrong in this game’s development. The bosses were featured prominently in the hype-inducing CG trailers, yet they are completely absent from the main game -story wise- until they start killing the player over and over again. Apparently there is a tie-in novel that gives those empty shells of disjointed gameplay moments some background, but none of that background has made it into the game.

The other characters inhabiting the game are a bit lacking themselves. Especially the antagonists. The literally elusive dragon lady is a paper thin mishmash of cringe inducing Asian clich├ęs at best, and not an inch more in terms of character and motivation. Which feels weird since a lot of other, less important characters are much better developed, even if none of them would win the game’s authors a creative writing award. In a time when games of the caliber of DXHR have come up with quirky, believable characters of Andrew Ryan’s size, this is just not enough. And it’s not like the game hasn’t had enough space for a similar form of characterization with the tons of emails, newspapers, newscasts and other snippets of offhand information the player can stumble upon.

Another thing is the game’s mechanics. They are serviceable most of the time. However the problems only come into full view after the player has spent a good amount of time with them. I am not a fan of simulation and this is not a critique of the game’s lack of realism. But the game world tends to lack internal logic. Case in point, the distinction between “normal” and “heavy” enemies. Normal enemies go down after a few shots, heavies take a few magazines. However both can be taken out by a single round of “nonlethal” ammunition or attack. This is basically a balancing issue - after all nonlethal ammo is very scarce in the game, however in some cases the distinction between normal and heavy enemies is gratingly arbitrary, only marked by slight variations in texture and the weapon they carry. One of the qualities of the original game was that enemies tended to run out of ammo. In DXHR they don’t. Ever. Heavies don’t even seem to have to reload. The game world’s rules work differently for normal people on the street, for enemies, for heavies, bosses and the player character. All of these operate on different levels. Of course those different levels can be learned and applied as such, however they fly in the face of any attempt of the game world at feeling organic.

As does a lot of the AI’s behavior and the “rules” of stealth. Sneaking into a super high level security facility, I can openly murder one building’s staff and security without much of a repercussion in the surrounding area or the building next door. I accept this since it is a videogame trope and this critique is bordering on a demand for simulation, yet I can’t help but feel that in this day and age we should get these things in more convincing ways. Hell, Metal Gear Solid 2 did a better job of upping the ante if a player screwed up being stealthy 10 years ago.

Then there is the unraveling of the main plot. Near the very end of the game, one of the game’s main players pushes a button, and everyone in the world carrying augmentations goes crazy. The cutscene in which this happens is heavily inspired by a similar witnessed in the opening chapters of Metal Gear Solid 4, of which it is known that the lead producers of DXHR were pretty fond. But for once, this scene itself was executed much better in the Metal Gear game, and also this event - a major part of the world’s population suddenly going insane and berserk - is something that flies in the face of the franchises continuity, since such a horrific happening surely should’ve been mentioned somewhere in the games that are set later in the timeline. Of course that’s not the only thing. There is Eliza, the newscaster AI, which seems far more advanced than the AI encountered in Deus Ex. But that is just a minor point.

The main story lacks significant punch. The climax and conclusion happen too fast. A lot of the game’s smaller stories and side missions are well crafted and interesting on their own, but their leading into the main plot feels a bit clumsy in execution. Basically, DXHR excels at being an episodic story about augmentations, but those episodes lack a common plot linking them all together.

The last chapter(s) almost feels rushed. Especially the final level is something of a multi-layered disappointment, as the gigantic arctic research station had been teased all through the game’s pre-release campaigns as well as throughout the game itself. But when the player arrives on site, the game suddenly transforms into a glorified corridor shooter. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the player there is pretty much forced to mow down hordes of augmented people having been driven crazy by the aforementioned event. There is no reprimand, no judging the player’s action when he decides to rather murder all these basically innocent people who could be restored to sanity when the player’s mission succeeds.

What a lot of the game’s levels feel like are missed opportunities. Panchea, the arctic research station, would have been a lot more interesting as a level if it had been built as a final test to the player’s mastery of the game so far. Instead all the level does is pit the player against what’s basically a horde of zombies, rushing him towards the game’s final boss encounter. Which mechanically is the best boss encounter the game is offering, only the aesthetics rubbed me the wrong way, as the look and feel was a bit too much anime inspired for my taste. But that’s only me.

The hub levels suffer from the AI being useless when idle. Of course there are a lot of possibilities to engage in side missions, but the everyday civilians never do much except walking around idly, which contributes to the hubs feeling like huge, pretty but essentially empty spaces. Also, and this is probably the fault of this generation’s consoles coming to their limits, there are just too few people around most of the time. The cities of other contemporary games manage to put up a lot larger crowds of people. This is especially felt badly inside the Hengsha level’s Hive Club, which although being praised as one of the most popular spots in town has only a handful of people around any time the player shows up. I’ve not gone and done a headcount, but the feeling I get is that the Hive club has fewer patrons present than Deus Ex 1’s Lucky Money Club had ten years ago.

A rather minor point is that some AI barks are off. Especially little attention has been given to the game’s police officers, whose vocabulary in addressing the player seems awkwardly limited. “Go away! You don’t belong here!” is what the officer throws at me when my character is wanted by what amounts to the Hengsha level’s police, while walking in my direction. What he should be saying is “Hey you! Sir! Come here, I have some questions!”

Another thing is that the game has a lot of beautifully designed levels. Huge city hubs with a lot of pretty sights, back alleys, stairwells, multiple levels. What I was missing through all of the game was a good cat-and-mouse section, with a powerful force of enemies being on the lookout for the player. Actively. A section where the player has to traverse a huge part of a level without being seen, utilizing the area knowledge gained so far to the best advantage. Something similar does indeed happen, but the police are not actively looking, not sweeping the streets. Avoidance is too easy.

This ties in with another critique about the game’s level design in general. The designers just don’t too awfully much with the levels they got. There are a handful of examples where a friendly space turns into a hostile space, but those are few and far between. Most of the time, the hostile spaces are entirely separated from the friendly ones, and worst of all, this dedication towards one or the other shows. Once the player has traversed the main body of the Alice Garden Pods hotel and has made his way into the cellar, the level design rapidly changes from an open space with a plethora of approach possibilities into a narrow, long winding corridor, the possible approaches limited to a handful at best. Worst of all, this makes the game world feel disjointed and unnecessarily artificial where it should feel organic. I would have much liked to see more levels re-purposed, akin to the second visit to UNATCO in the first Deus Ex game.

Another - minor - thing that irked me was the game’s tendency to have texture only doors turning into working doors later in the game. It’s really just a minor thing that makes the world less organic. There are better ways to wall off not yet visitable places in an open game world than to just deactivate the doors that are in plain sight for any player adventurous enough to discover them.

Probably the worst offense is the very conclusion, offering the player a room with four buttons to push to decide the fate of the world. Not only is this a space that has no other purpose than being a glorified menu screen to choose one of a number of cutscene endings, it also reduces player input to, well, the push of a button. Meaningful interaction and choices with consequences reduced to that - maybe that is a commentary on a certain mode of gaming itself. Push a button to see a video sequence.

While I may have pointed out a lot of the flaws of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, that does not mean that either I dislike the game, or that it is without merit. Quite the opposite actually. Human Revolution features high points that very few other games in recent years were able to deliver.

It is the contrast between those high points and the lower ones I mentioned before that makes the worse decisions the game’s designers made stand out even more clearly.

The Hengsha hub level for one, is one of the best looking, most believable open world-ish futurepunk city levels that gamers could explore. And there is quite a lot exploring to be done there. It’s thematically very interesting, the gargantuan upper city literally overshadowing the entire level. It’s the sort of sci-fi vision that’s seen rarely with this level of intricate detail in gaming. Also, Hengsha offers the highest density of “Deus Ex moments” - the Court Garden hotel with its multiple points of entry, the ramshackle Alice Garden Pod hotel, to name a few highlights.

The adjacent Tae Yong Medical facility mission also stands out as the best designed mission level of the game. Lots of different possibilities, of which few feel too forced, too video gamy. In this level it is actually quite hard to break suspension of disbelief, though I once did that by lopping a huge vending machine around, gazed upon by sheepish onlookers, to reach a higher up balcony.

The strongest suit of the game is creating believable environments. The random AI might not be up to much, the crowds in the cities might be too small, but the stages themselves are designed and decorated so well and there is so much to do and discover in them that these minor flaws don’t matter much. The hideouts of the very poor are damp to a degree that they almost smell beyond the screen. The lairs of the very powerful so intricately decadent, that they truly are a world away from the lower ranks of life.

Once the capacity of the AI is properly understood, it can actually be played with quite well. Combat works if the player is set out to really go toe-to-toe, otherwise, combat is best avoided completely, with the occasional nonlethal takedown - these are silent and instant, nondiscriminatory between heavy and normal goons. Once it is understood that a half-assed approach doesn’t work by far as well - and is much less fun to play - the game really comes into its own.

Another thing is platform. The console version I played first had very long loading times which really hurt a game like this, where saving right before a tight spot and experimenting in approaches is a given. Now that I played the PC version, which really doesn’t have this problem, my overall experience was very different and much more enjoyable.

The best parts of the game are indeed those which offer a multitude of approaches, and there are quite a lot of those instances. The way they are set up forces the player to utilize all tools given, even if other games might have implemented this in a better way. Compared to BioShock, DXHR just isn’t designed with quite as much player agency in mind.

In conclusion I have to say, DXHR is quite the HD upgrade to the formula established by the original game eleven years ago. Eidos Montreal hasn’t changed much of this basic formula for better or worse. There are some deep flaws in the game, not just limited to the boss fights, but grating as those may be, they don’t bog the overall experience down enough to make the game not a very enjoyable experience. Seeing how well DXHR sold, I do hope it signals the industry that there is in fact a market for games using this almost forgotten formula. I also hope that Eidos Montreal gets another shot at the franchise and I am now - after my second playthrough - quite intrigued what their take on Thief will look like when that game sees the light of day somewhere in the near future.


Many thanks to Seb Wuepper for the guest writeup, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@SebWuepper) and when you stop off at Angry German Dude, tell him I sent you.