Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Just a quick check-in --

My plan was to finish off the PAX coverage tonight, but I spent WAY too much time playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I kept telling myself just ten more minutes, and, well... you know how that goes.

My bad, but check back tomorrow for the final games breakdown. Photos will follow after that.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Pax Prime - Day Three, Part Two: The Indies.  


Games: PAX, Day Three – Part Two

Tonight, the indies.


>Qube. This visually spartan puzzler started off life as a student project from a group at Newport University in South Wales. It certainly has echoes of Portal, but takes the concept of testing rooms into a different direction. Wearing a pair of special gloves, the player can activate colored blocks in each section. Each color has a different movement pattern, so the trick is to see what's available, and in which order they should be activated. For people who like to put their brains to the test, this one looks tasty.

Not gameplay, but a cute photobomb!
>Armillo. Take a super-cute armadillo and combine its rolling mechanics with spherical worlds similar to the recent Mario Galaxy games, and that's a recipe for fun. The aesthetics were great, it shows a lot of polish, and it seemed like a perfect game for younger players as well as those who don't mind taking a break from blood and explosions. There was also a nifty two player mode that requires a high degree of cooperation. Good stuff.

>Antichamber. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I just did not get this game. Every other critic I talked to seemed in love with it, but... I don't know, I just didn't see it. Granted, I didn't spend as much time with it as I would have liked to, so perhaps another session is warranted. Oh, what's it about? I couldn't tell you. From what I could gather (and that's not much) it's highly abstract navigation through surreal scenes that seem to change on a whim… one of those things that's more about the journey than it is the destination, perhaps? In a word, enigmatic.

> The Splatters. Crafted by a team with no previous games experience (their skill comes from creating medical simulation software, believe it or not) this one is about sending blobs of colored slime shooting around the interior of small levels and activating bombs arrayed in different patterns. When the blob touches a bomb, it detonates. Detonate enough, and the combo scores start piling up. In order to reach bonds further apart, the blob can gain speed and then rupture itself on spikes or other objects in order to create a splash effect. It's a hell of a lot more fun than it sounds, and it requires much more skill than one would think. In a very polished state already, look for this one to hit XBLA soon.

>Vanessa Saint-Pierre Delacroix & Her Nightmare. One of my favorite Indies at the show. A cute 2D platformer has its levels broken up and placed on different faces of a cube. The player can rotate the cube as well as rotate each individual face so that the character can navigate. Totally adorable and mindbending at the same time.

>Word Fighter. A development team of this game has taken historical writers (Lovecraft, Homer, Agatha Christie, etc.) and given them superpowers and special attacks in order to battle it out in a way that's somewhat reminiscent of Capcom’s Super Puzzle Fighter. However, instead of matching gems, players create words and send them shooting back and forth. The art style was very appealing and the action ran surprisingly quickly. The developers also say they are shooting for cross-platform play, so I can see this one developing quite a cult following if the work goes according to plan.


I was hoping to wrap up my indie coverage tonight, but looking at what's left of my list, I'm thinking at least one more day will be required. Check back tomorrow for the second half of my indie coverage, and the photo gallery is still to come.


Pax Prime - Day Three  


Games: PAX, Day Three.

I am so ready for bed, you don't even know.


>PS Vita. Got some hands-on time with a Vita unit today, and it was impressive. I had seen pictures, but this was the first opportunity I had to actually hold it, and I was struck by how much larger and thinner it was. Flatter, even. Although it resembles the original PSP, it doesn't feel like it at all.

The screen is literally a thing of beauty and I loved having two sticks even though it will get take some getting used to - the new one throws off my PSP muscle memory, and I kept hitting it on accident when I meant to hit X. The game I was playing took advantage of the front touchscreen and it functioned well, but it took a good two or three minutes before my brain could process that actually touching the screen did something. Learning curve, y'all.

The Vita was familiar, yet totally different at the same time. I asked the developer whose game I was playing what he thought of it, and he had nothing but raves. According to his estimation, it was only slightly less powerful than a standard PS3. It may be launching at a higher price point than the 3DS, but as long as Sony comes up with a good selection of games, it's going to be impossible to ignore the WOW factor. It is really, really impressive, no doubt about it. Another plus? No head-splitting headaches caused by 3D effects.

>Dragon’s Dogma. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. Visually, it's reminiscent of a cross between Monster Hunter and Demon’s Souls, but it doesn't play like either one.

How the game works is that the player has a set character. I asked whether there were different classes available or how much weapon customization was included, but the rep at the booth did not know. This character then has two "helper" AI characters along for the ride. The d-pad gives them simple commands like "go", "come here", and so on. Combat feels like standard third-person action with an extra layer of commands to switch between melee and support weapon. (In this demo, a bow or a shield.)

From that point on, it seems as though each level is fairly linear with the player beginning at one end, cutting through groups of rabble along the way, and then eventually ending up at a boss at the end. I asked how open other levels were, and how much a role exploration plays, but again, the rep did not know.

The first section I saw had me face off against a giant gryphon in a field. My support characters kept calling out for me to do cooperative actions with them, but they were always too far away and I couldn't get to them in time. As I was struggling to understand how to cue these actions, the gryphon was tearing my party to shreds. Near death, I managed to grab a hold of the beast and climb onto its back. At that point, the controls shifted and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Suffice it to say, that didn't end well.

The second section I played was underground in a series of caverns. After dispatching some minor creatures, I entered a larger area with a huge manticore laying in wait. This particular battle strongly reminded me of Monster Hunter, although with only a fraction of the depth. I was clumsily hacking away at the beast while my AI teammates were doing their own thing. We brought it down after what seemed like ten or fifteen minutes, and I have to admit that I was disappointed my character did not carve any skins or claws off of the carcass. This particular fight felt very mashy and unfocused.

To be fair to the game, I had precious little idea of what I was doing, but at the same time, I got the sense that the game was designed for a more casual breed of player than either MH or Demon’s Souls.

>Asura’s Wrath. Out of the games I saw that Capcom's booth, this was definitely the biggest question mark. I had no idea at all what to expect, so I think the easiest way to explain how this game plays is to first, click this link. That's basically what the game is -- hyper-cinematic scenes that the player engages in by shooting things with crosshairs or pushing the correct buttons during QTE events.

There was one very brief segment with the player controlling the main character in a third-person brawler fashion, but it was quite shallow and over in the blink of an eye. Based on what I saw in the demo, my impression was that this game is basically a slightly playable movie.


During the last three days of coverage, I haven't even scratched the surface of all of the smaller, indie games that I saw. I'm going to try to cover them all in one giant roundup tomorrow, so stay tuned.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

PAX Prime - Day Two  


Games: PAX Day Two.

Still tired. Still skipping the fancy intro. Here’s the skinny.


>Super Monday Night Combat. The GameCritics crew were all big fans of the original MNC on XBLA, and this sequel only looks better. The graphics have been tweaked, the gameplay has been tweaked, there are three brand-new classes (Gunslinger, Veteran, and Combat Girl, pictured above) and it's now following a more iterative lifecycle. For the initial PC release (XBLA to follow later) the game will be free-to-play and feature microtransactions for those who choose to partake. Otherwise, the developers promise a full experience that won't nickel-and-dime those who've been supporting the game up until now. After launch, there will be regular updates including additional classes, new abilities, and new game modes. I'm not much of an online multi kind of guy, but MNC was one that really clicked with me. I'm looking forward to SMNC for sure.

>Dead Island. Finally, finally, finally got an up-close-and-personal look at this one, and I wasn't disappointed. Players have the choice between playing solo or having up to three partners via system link. (Sorry, no same-system splitscreen.) It's a very heavy on melee and features an open world design for players to explore with a central hub serving as a place to get missions. There'll be plenty of survivors to find and rescue, and each of the four main characters have robust skill trees for customization as the player levels.

>Two Worlds II: Pirates of the Flying Fortress. I'm a huge fan of TW2 (seriously, read the review) and I can't wait for this sizable add-on content that takes a player’s saved character and sends them on an all-new adventure. Interestingly, big things are going on behind the scenes at Topware… for players who already own a copy of the game, this expansion will be available through the usual download channels. However, the publishers will soon be removing all standard copies of the game from store shelves and replacing them with super-deluxe versions (main game, add-on, plus other swag bonuses) for no additional charge. That's a pretty incredible goodwill gesture, and I sincerely hope that it gets more people to give the game a shot. The developers were also showing two more promising games, Scivelation (Sci-Fi dystopia) and Raven’s Cry (pitch-black pirate adventure) but both are very early in the development process so there wasn't a lot of hard info.

INFO BONUS: I couldn't resist asking the developers what the “Two Worlds” title was all about. After all, nowhere in the game does the main character ever travel to an alternate reality, visit another planet, or anything of the sort. After hitting them with the question, they chuckled a bit and explained that the original intent was that the two worlds were the Human and Orc worlds. Essentially, the game was to feature the clash of cultures and species in the story, so it was more about these two races than it was about an actual second world. Mystery solved!

>SSX. After dropping the "Deadly Descent" subtitle, the game now goes by its former moniker and looks much the same as it ever did. When asked about more info on the original dark, militaristic theme in the advertising that suggested a conceptual shift, the developer responded that there never was any combat or weaponizing of the game. Instead, each course was to have a "deadly" run down the mountain that served as a boss battle of sorts. However, rather than fighting, the player simply needed to survive nature down the harsh run. Kind of makes you wonder why they went with the skewed advertising in the first place. Also, there is no create-a-character option, which kind of bummed me out more than I expected it to.

>Rage. I had a hands-on with Id’s new shooter and had creative director Tim Willits there to walk me through it. Tim was great and the game is very impressive visually, but it was a little hard to get excited. Although I spent about thirty minutes playing it, it seemed as though the game would require a much longer period of time in order to really show what it's got to offer. What I saw was another post-apocalyptic-themed shooter and a lot of brown. I'm going to need to see more.

>Skyrim. One of the highlights of my day was the Skyrim hands-on session. Why? Because Elder Scrolls demigod Todd Howard himself was there to answer questions and give advice in person. (He leans towards playing a fighter, and prefers the Redguard class.) What about the game? It definitely looks a lot sharper than Oblivion and the land seemed more populated with various sorts of content and less wide-open space to simply traverse. The third-person mode was much more respectable than it was in Oblivion, as well. Otherwise, I think anyone who's played and Elder Scrolls game knows what to expect… I didn't get to see a dragon or the magic system in action, though. Shame.

>Prey 2. The hands-off demo given really got me hyped for the game. The visuals were sharp, the game is building on the mythology established in the original (apparently former main character Tommy will play a significant role) and the sci-fi bounty hunter spin really hits a positive note for me. I'm quite eager to see more, but everything I saw looked right-on.

>Jurassic Park. Telltale had this one running on several kiosks, but there was basically no line at all. After playing myself, I could see why. I didn't have any idea of what to expect, but the game is essentially one long cut scene broken up by a ton of QTE button-hitting. Dinosaurs are loose! Hit RB to climb the ladder! Push left to dodge the raptor! Watch the talking. Mash Y to run away from the Tyrannosaurus! It was entertaining enough when things were flowing, but repeating missed QTEs got old really fast and I hardly felt that I was playing a game at all.

>Joe Danger: The Movie. The super-nice guys at Hello Games have cooked up what looks like another winner. After the first Joe Danger, the character reclaims his status as Hollywood's top stuntman and this sequel features him filming scenes with all sorts of new vehicles. On display were a motorcycle, a mine cart, a snowmobile, skis, and a jet pack. The developers are mindful that the game was quite popular with kids and families, but are also including challenges and difficulties that will push more score-minded gamers to up their performance.


That's it for today. Check back tomorrow for my coverage of Day Three!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

PAX Prime - Day One  


Games: PAX, Day One

It's been a long day and tomorrow is going to be even longer, so I'm going to cut right to the chase here. No fancy opening, I'm just getting to it.


>Batman: Arkham City. Of course it was awesome, what else were you expecting? Looked great, handled great, and now there's a giant open world for the Dark Knight Detective to explore. There are a ton of bad guys, gameplay has been tweaked to reduce the temptation for players to leave the super-goggles on all the time, and Catwoman is a snazzy addition to the formula. During the campaign, players will be using her about 10% of the time. However, once the required portions are completed, it was revealed that players can go back and re-select her at their discretion. Day one purchase.

> Gotham City Impostors. One team is Batman wannabes, the other team are Joker impersonators. Multiplayer madness ensues. Apart from the superhero theme, I really didn't see anything to make this title stand out for me. Going to pass on this one.

>Lord of the Rings: War in the North. It looks better than I was expecting, but it also looked about like what you'd expect. Three-player co-op, original content that meshes with the books and films. I'd probably play it with my wife, but I don't think I would play through it on my own, if you get my drift.

>Lollipop Chainsaw. A room-based brawler written by Suda 51. I'm not the biggest Suda fan, but watching the main character (a cheerleader) leaping, kicking, and slicing zombies with an excess of sparkles and rainbow special effects was actually pretty cool... I like the visual vibe and it controlled well. The demo was fairly short and my opinion of the game rose after getting a hands-on, although I will say that I had a few warning lights go off in regards to the game's attitude. Obviously, it's not meant to be a serious, deep experience, but there were a few things that made me raise an eyebrow. For example, at one point the word ‘vanillaslut’ flashed across the screen in huge lettering, and at another point, a text bubble popped up advising the player to not try for upskirt camera angles. My time was quite limited with the game so I don't want to jump to any conclusions, but I'm quite curious as to how the writing will turn out. There's (sometimes) a fine line between clever and insulting, and I'm not sure that Suda 51 always knows where that is.

>Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. I'm a big Sly fan and this continuation of the series by Sanzaru Games looked to be extremely faithful to the series. It's about what you'd expect with a few tweaks here and there, but I mean that in the best possible sense. More Sly is a very welcome thing.

>Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. In addition to being a Sly fan, I'm also a Ratchet & Clank fan. The most recent entries haven't been as enjoyable as the older ones (in my opinion, anyway) but this latest addition looks like a great title to play with friends and family. With a strong emphasis on multiplayer (no worries, solo people can still go through the game with a bot) the formula looked familiar enough to keep fans happy, yet was straightforward and approachable enough to welcome young ones and newcomers. It's probably not something that I would fire up during Friday night hardcore game/pizza sessions, but it's definitely something I would want to sit down and play with the kids.

>Starhawk. Fast action combining third-person run-and-gun shooting, building/installation management (!!!) and loads of vehicles. The game's main character runs around blasting aliens and collecting the energy that they leave behind. This energy can be used to call down huge buildings from the sky -- things like anti-aircraft emplacements, AI teammate generators, and all sorts of other buildings. Toss in a whole bunch of things to pilot like cars, a sweet jet pack, or a very Transformers-like battle suit that can go between biped and aerial modes at will, and it's a pretty interesting formula. The developers say that the campaign and multiplayer options have gotten equal amounts of attention, so fans of either should be happy with this third entry into the ‘Hawk series.

>Aliens: Infestation. This game was only being shown on one DS that was held by one person, but it was worth tracking down. Essentially, it’s a Metroidvania that replaces the single-character-exploring-a-world template with an entire squad of space marines and sets it in the Aliens universe. Each character (apparently, around thirty) has their own personality and story. If characters are captured by aliens, they can be rescued before being impregnated by facehuggers. If they're not rescued in time, they're still playable… for a little while, anyway. If you've seen the film, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. I have a feeling that this one is going to catch a lot of people by surprise, but you can say that you heard about it here!

>Aliens: Colonial Marines. At a talk given by Gearbox guru Randy Pitchford, players were treated to a hands-off demo of this upcoming action title that seems very much like a heartfelt homage to the property. While the premise felt a little uninspired (Marines go to investigate and things get CRAZY!) The graphics were super-sharp, the sounds were spot-on, and the aliens looked great. The action was intense and chaotic, just like the sequences from the film and there were a million little callouts to things that fans will recognize. Not much was shown, but my general impression was that the game will be a bit of a roller coaster ride in terms of the character being funneled a certain way and treated to a number of big set pieces. It's not my favorite type of design in general, but it seems as though it would fit this IP just fine. Up to four players can participate in the campaign at the same time, and apparently there will be a multiplayer mode consisting of Marines versus Aliens.

That's it for now. PAX Day Two tomorrow.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

PAX Prime Preview: Prototype 2  


Games: Although PAX doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, there were a handful of events happening in town tonight. Activision hosted a preview at a local hotel near the convention site, and my wife and I got a sneak peek at their lineup.

On display were Goldeneye 007: Reloaded, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, X-Men: Destiny (holy cow, that’s a lot of colons…) and Prototype 2.

There's not really much to report about most of those titles, or at least, they didn't catch and hold my attention for more than a minute or two. However, Prototype 2 was the one I was most interested in, and thankfully, it looked great.

I reviewed the original Prototype back in 2009 and had a lot of love for it, even though it needed at least six more months’ worth of polish. Despite that, it was impossible not to appreciate the sheer power of main character Alex Mercer and that numerous things that he could do. To say that the game had unfulfilled potential would be a massive understatement, and it's pretty clear that the developers must have felt the same way – Prototype 2 appears to have improved on everything the first game got right, and fixed everything that went wrong.

The presentation was a hands-off demo given by the development team and it was relayed that the build we were looking at was pre-pre-Alpha. In spite of that disclaimer, I didn't notice any immediate problems... for something in such an early stage, it looked fantastic.

On display were an array of powers for a new main character named James Heller, and the devs explained how many of the first game’s systems had been re-worked to improve the quality of the content. Instead of the goes-to-eleven, balls-out, constantly-harassed-by-SWAT-teams action overkill the first Prototype tended towards, this rebalancing lets the player control the pace and flow of combat and provides a richer experience.

For example, devouring and absorbing certain targets now leads to acquiring new upgrades and entirely new mission trees, whereas in the first game all players got were brief cutscene flashbacks. There's also a new "watching" mechanic that lets players know when they are being observed. By taking advantage of this extra information, certain missions take on a puzzle-like aspect and players who wish to avoid conflict can participate in an extra layer of slower, more methodical gameplay.

Of course, the game wouldn't be Prototype without a heaping helping of violence, and it’s here in spades. Heller can equip at least two powers at the same time, there’s a new emphasis on differentiation between the types of damage dealt (slashing/explosive/blunt), powers will improve and morph based on how a player uses them, and in general, there's just an unbelievable amount of asskicking going on. After all, if a halfway-powered-up Heller can uppercut the hell out of an attack chopper, I shudder to think how powerful a fully-charged character will be.

One other thing of note: I recently played through a large portion of inFamous 2, and one of the things that bothered me was that I found the parkour and navigation in general to be more time-consuming and tedious than I liked. Prototype 2 easily wins this matchup (just like it did last time) by giving the player the ability to jump a mile straight up in the air, to glide to a point that’s nearly equal to free-flight, and by retaining the option to run straight up walls at breakneck speed. I don't get a lot of satisfaction from simply traversing distances in open-world games, and watching Heller zip around like a greased lightning bolt definitely put a smile on my face.

As the demonstration wound down to a close, I asked if the game would feature retailer-specific DLC powers. The response was that the developers were aware that no one is a fan of the practice -- while they are intending to have some sort of DLC promotion, they clearly stated that they were going out of their way to not punish players by depriving them of one power or another depending on which store they frequented.

That answer? Music to my ears.

I guess the best thing I can say after watching the demonstration of Prototype 2 is that I wanted to play it immediately… most of my fears about getting a sequel with the same unpolished qualities as the first have been mostly laid to rest, and the bits I saw looked pretty damned good. I'm definitely bumping this one higher up on my most-wanted list.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Deus Ex and PAX PRIME!  


Games: Finally got my hands on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and currently playing it on 360. As a huge, huge fan of the first Deus Ex, I've been cautiously excited (emphasis on cautiously) at the prospect of getting another entry in the series that wasn't as awful as… Project: Snowblind, and you know what, I think we may just have gotten it.

(I bet you thought I was going to say Invisible War, weren't you?)

I had basically given up all hope that we would ever get another game like the original, but after putting in a few hours today and getting through the first two major "areas", I've got to say that so far I am incredibly pleased and happy with the way the game has turned out.

As is proper, I've seen plenty of opportunity for player choice between combat/stealth, and I haven't yet found a scenario that I wasn't able to complete in the way that I wanted. Although the game is mostly first-person, it's far from being a standard first-person shooter and both requires and rewards thinking and exploration on the part of the player.

In terms of style, I'm playing as the ultimate Boy Scout at the moment... I haven't killed a single person and every major choice that I've come across (at least, that I'm aware of) has worked out in a mostly positive way. Well, I guess I might have knocked out a detective who was minding his own business in one of the upper floors of the police station, but that shouldn't really count.

It's been great, great stuff so far and I've been enjoying every moment of it.

Although I'm still quite early in the adventure, based on what I've seen, I would have no problem recommending this to anyone. In fact, the only word of caution I would share so far is that it seems Hacking plays a pretty huge part in getting past obstacles. That's to be expected, but I think that maybe the game puts a little too much emphasis on it too early. Luckily, I put some points into the skill right away, and my advice would be that most players do the same.

(Thanks to @SidShuman for the initial tipoff.)



If you’re a gamer anywhere even remotely near the Seattle area, I'm sure I'll see you on the floor this weekend. You gamers who live a lot further out and are making the long trip to the Pacific Northwest? I'll see you there too.

I can't even begin to describe how excited I am to hit the show, really. Tons of cool people will be on hand, there's enough games on the display floor to keep someone busy for days, the parties, the events, and just simply hanging out... it's gonna be great.

I will be doing my usual coverage this year, although I will say that I have more than my usual number of appointments with PR people, developers and publishers. I usually forgo these meetings in lieu of walking the show floor on my own, but there were a lot of things I absolutely wanted to make a point of seeing, and having a booth appointment is the easiest way. Of course, I do run the risk of wasting my precious PAX time with blather, but we’ll see how it goes.

Also, I haven't decided whether I will try to blog each day as it happens, or if I’ll try to do a large roundup at the end… I guess a lot depends on how exhausted I feel, so there is a chance that I won't be updating the blog much (or possibly at all) until Sunday or Monday. Either way, stay tuned, and if you see me on the show floor, come up and say hi!


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Shadows of the Damned, Owlboy, Enclave, and Unholy Ghosts  


I don’t do Facebook, but I know a lot of you do. If that's the case and you're a journo/writer/reviewer/blogger/developer here in the Pacific Northwest, you might want to check out the Facebook page.

Just sayin’…


Games: I’ve just turned in a main review for Toy Soldiers: Cold War and a third (yes, third) opinion on Knights Contract over at GameCritics. Look for those soon. In the meantime, I just started Shadows of the Damned (360) and put an hour or two into it. Surprisingly, I don't have much to say about it so far.

At this point (Area 2-3) I don't feel much of a connection with main character Garcia Hotspur although he's all right, and the gameplay seems a lot like recent Resident Evil streamlined and sped up. The game's use of special "darkness" to introduce the danger zones is kind of interesting, although it's also kind of annoying... without it, the game would be one long string of hallways with only enemies to break it up so I appreciate what the developers are trying to do. On the other hand, it's... just kind of annoying.

In terms of writing and story, I'm too early to really say. I've never been a big Suda 51 fan to start with, so I'm taking this as it comes. It hasn't really grabbed me yet, but I haven't been bored or disaffected enough to consider quitting. Yet.

More impressions later.


Games: I had never heard of it before this evening, but click on over to this blog and check out the trailer for Owlboy. (Scroll down.) That's a pretty sweet old-school vibe they be kickin’ over there, and apparently the game will be hitting PC and XBLA sometime this year.

I sure hope that the developers start reaching out to the press and journalists soon, because I feel like I do a heck of a lot of work trying to keep up with the games that are coming out and to be perfectly honest, I had no idea this game existed. Props to @LaurenIsSoMosh for tipping me off to it.


Books: It's been a really long time since I've blogged about recreational reading, and the reason for that is probably because… I haven't been doing any.

Free time is definitely at a premium these days, but since I've been on a bit of an extended break from Monster Hunter, I've been bringing along a few paperbacks and trying to do the literary thing. I went through at least ten or twelve books that I started and didn't finish because they were either horrible or boring, but I found two that really caught my attention.

The first is Enclave, by my good friend and Nicest Author In The World ™, @MsAnnAguirre. I haven't finished reading this one yet, so I don't want to say too much at the moment. Still, if you're in the market for a post-apocalyptic young-adult story about a young girl and a whole bunch of mutants, this is going to be your go-to.

The other is Unholy Ghosts by @StaciaKane. This one is about a drug-addicted "debunker" who investigates hauntings and banishes ghosts in a world where religion has been cast aside in favor of a new church that deals with spirits living (literally) underground.

Both of these novels are great, but the problem is that they're both so good that I keep going back and forth between them without having gotten to the end of either one yet. I suppose that's a fine problem to have, though… up until I started them, I was beginning to wonder whether I was ever going to find a book that could hold my interest again. Thankfully, these two have restored my faith in curling up on a couch with the printed page, a lamp, a cup of tea, and my wife beside me.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Out of proportion  

Note to Google Chrome users: I'm aware that when navigating to this blog, Chrome users are greeted with a “malware” warning due to a trailer that I had linked to on my good friend Mike Bracken’s Horrorgeek site. Mike has never had any malware on his site, and there's never been any here. I apologize for the false alarm. I've contacted Google about removing the warning, and hopefully they will get on top of that soon.




Anyway, feeling a bit rough at the moment.

The wife and son have been battling a cold over the last week, but my white blood cells have kept me healthy... until last night. A couple of hours before bedtime, I could feel the creeping tendrils of not-doing-so-good setting in. Never fun.

Complicating things, my little boy chose last night to inexplicably wake up at around 2AM, and was WIDE awake until somewhere in the neighborhood of 7AM. Since my wife was feeling sicker than I was, I got up with him and we watched an array of cartoons on Netflix instant… under ordinary circumstances it would have been a neat bonding opportunity, but since I was already feeling rotten, the only thing that really came out of it was that I ended up dragging my ass through work and will be turning in early tonight.

I really, really, really hope he's not interested in another round of late-night viewing… we have to hurry up and shake this illness in time to go to PAX next week and get sick all over again.


Games: Not much to report. I burned through a number of games that were sent to me from GameFly, and was again reminded of how much I enjoy the service. 

I hear a lot of people grousing about not getting their top picks or that it takes a little longer than preferable to get a game sent to them, and those things are valid. On the other hand, since it's basically impossible to return a game "you don't like" (even if it's buggy as hell and doesn't run properly without a patch) I appreciate the ability to try something without buying. 

In a good month, I can run through eight or ten games that I might have considered buying, and if I find out that they're not worth the cash, then GameFly ends up more than paying for itself. For me? Worth it. 


Games: Play-wise, I will be turning in my full review of Toy Soldiers: Cold War (XBLA) either tonight or tomorrow. It's a great game, and every time I tell myself I'm only going to play a level or two, it ends up being another marathon session. Buy the thing.

I'm also really close to the end of Knights Contract on 360. The game has gotten trashed in the reviews and even the two reviewers at my own site didn't have much good to say about it. However, I think it has a lot of good qualities to appreciate despite the fact that it suffers from a few incredibly poor design decisions. 

That said, I do think it has been unfairly targeted for an inordinate amount of ridicule -- even with all of its problems, I've played dozens and dozens of games that have been far worse. As a result, Knights Contract really got me thinking about games that end up being the butt of everyone's jokes without really deserving the honor. I’ll do a longer writeup on that subject soon, but before I do, I'm curious to see what games you think have received negative criticism that's way out of proportion.

If you've got any nominees, post them here and let me know!



Patric, you have not contacted me to claim your Toy Soldiers code. You have until midnight tonight (Pacific) to do so, otherwise I will pick a runner-up and give it away to someone else.
Time’s running out, yo!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Cold War WINNERS!  


As promised, here are the three winners of Toy Soldiers: Cold War codes for XBLA. Thanks to everyone who entered, and the response was awesome! Also, mega-thanks to Signal Studios for the goods!

So, here are the lucky ducks:

2>Patric (Grand Slam/Gung Ho)

Congrats to all three of you! Please send me your email addresses (mine's listed up above) and I'll hook you up with the codes today.

Sorry that not everyone could win, but even so, please check out Cold War later on and you've got my blessing to pick it up without fear... I've been playing it myself over the last week, and it's excellent!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Toy Soldiers: Cold War giveaway and a bunch of links!  


Games: So, the excellent people over at Signal Studios have hooked me up with three codes for Toy Soldiers: Cold War to give away, and trust me, this is a great game worth playing. My full review hasn't gone up yet, but (spoilerzzzz!!!) it'll be a very positive one. You want this.

What do you need to do to win? It's pretty simple.

Since Cold War has such a strong 80s/GI Joe vibe, post a comment at the bottom of this blog and tell me which GI Joe figure/character was your favorite, and why. It can be as short as one sentence, or feel free to write as much as you like. Either way, share that little bit of info with me and I will add your name to the glass bowl currently sitting on my desk. I will draw three names randomly out of the bowl on the 15th (basically, forty-eight hours from now) and if I draw your name, you win!

Of course, not everybody was into GI Joe and I'm cool with that. If you don't have a favorite Joe, then tell me what toy/cartoon character (80s or otherwise) is your favorite and why. I'm all about equal opportunity here. I'll take anything.

So, there's the mission and there will be three winners. Get to it!


The most recent GameCritics podcast is now available for download. The topics are Catherine from Atlus, and what it's like to be a game-playing parent. In addition to the usual crew, we were also quite thrilled to have @ind1fference on board as well, and it's a great listen. If you haven't already, click here and check it out.

(We also have new reviews for Catherine and Dungeon Siege III as well!)


Finally, just a couple of quick links before I sign out for the night...

The first is from FMV Magazine’s Mark Butler. In this article, he expresses some concern about the future of Mass Effect and highlights the ways that it can (and probably will) go wrong.

...So am I gonna see some goddamned action this time?
Needless to say, I definitely agree with a lot of the sentiments here and I'm already bracing myself for what the final installment of the trilogy might turn out to be. Click here and see what he had to say.

The second link isn't really games-related, but I think it will be of great interest to many of you anyway... it's about Finnish sniper Simo Hayha. I had never heard of him before this week, but apparently he was a resistance fighter defending his homeland from Russian invasion and earned over seven hundred kills.

That's an absolutely incredible number, and I can definitely say that this is one guy who should not have been messed with. Click here and check out the full story courtesy of, and appreciation goes out to @ecavalli for originally sharing the link.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pacific Northwest Journos... Gooooooooo!!!  

For tonight's blog entry, I've got a bit of a special announcement.
Just a few days ago, co-founder @AlexRubens and I established a brand-new games-related venture. At the moment, we've only got an introductory teaser page up, but if you are a writer, reviewer, newsie, developer, or PR person based in the Pacific Northwest, I invite you to click on over to…
Although we will be providing in-depth details to everyone who signs up once the site officially launches during PAX Prime, the core concept is to help grow strong connections between the thriving development scene in the Pacific Northwest and local journalists who want to cover and support the industry. With such a high density of games-oriented people in the upper-left corner of the map, it only makes sense to bring all camps together and start capitalizing on the unique, friendly-neighbor dynamic that’s blossoming here – So that’s what we’re doing.

There’s definitely a lot more info coming down the pipe, but without giving too much away, we are proud to announce that our inaugural press event is taking place in conjunction with Signal Studios in Bothell, WA. The subject of this event will be the upcoming XBLA title Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
We already have several other events in the works, so if you are a gaming-type journo person in the Pacific Northwest and you want to get in on the upcoming action, please make sure you register at the site. If you are a local developer and would like to hear a little more about what this mad thing is all about, I invite you to register as well. If you’re down with the Twitters, give us a follow at @PNWJournos and you can keep tabs that way, too.
Things are brewing, so stay tuned and keep your eyes and ears peeled once PAX Prime rolls around…

Monday, August 8, 2011



Games: I'm between major reviews and I’ve got a little time to game casually. I usually look forward to times like this, but at the moment, I'm having problems getting into a groove with anything.

I started with Knights Contract, and despite all of the intensely negative word-of-mouth it's been getting, I actually kind of liked It.

That's not to say that the criticisms aren't fair, but apparently I haven't hit the "really bad" parts yet. I also think the escort mechanic is interesting idea and the magic system is lightweight fun, too. I'd estimate I got about halfway through before I got distracted, and now that some time has passed, I'm feeling kind of meh about getting back into it.

I also spent about two hours with Bulletstorm the other day, hoping that something a little more action-packed would get me going, but the game didn't click with me at all.

It's not that I actively disliked it or anything like that, but I noticed that I was bored almost immediately and I'm not currently in the frame of mind to put up with anything that's not grabbing me after an hour or two. It seemed like a fine enough game, but very little about it stood out to me in any significant way. The story was thin, I didn't connect with the characters, and the whip and skill shots didn't get me jazzed enough to overlook the fact that I was shooting the same group of mutants a million times in a row.

Finally, I jumped into Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I've never been the biggest fan of the series but I have to admit that I was a little curious to see where the storyline would go. The science fiction/historical mash-up is a cool thing in my mind, and the ending to AC2 was a bold cliffhanger… I'm not devoted to the series, but I figured I had very little to lose by giving it a whirl. After about three hours with the game, I'm split between pushing forward and kicking it to the curb.

I’ve heard from people that having the team of assassins and using the crossbow are cool, but I haven't gotten either of those things yet. Everything I've seen so far has been a carbon copy of the stuff I grew tired of in the last game and I've been hoping like hell that some of the new elements would start popping up sooner rather than later. I'm willing to put in some time to further the story and try out the new spins on gameplay, but I don't think I'm going to put in much more unless the game starts throwing me a couple bones.

Also, I just have to say that it is a little annoying to me to see that the game is so completely up its own ass with the Animus and clunky menu system. I mean, I get that the devs are trying to connect the game's structure to its concept, but it took me twenty minutes to figure out how to get back to the main storyline after restarting an earlier mission, and that sort of confusion should never happen. Fancy ideas are fancy, but let's keep it simple with regard to basic functionalty, okay guys?

I haven't bailed on the game yet, but I'm definitely getting close… I suppose I should just pack it in, watch the story bits on YouTube, and get back to Lost Odyssey -- but that's another title that's lost momentum for me. Pausing in the middle of a long RPG is a no-no, for sure. Still, I enjoyed that one more than the other three I mentioned combined, so I shoud probably just suck it up and take advantage of the free time before the end-of-year rush hits.

SIGH... It's just one of those 'nothing seems good' weeks, ya know?


Download Update: Just a quick update to the PSN ‘missing games’ situation.

After a couple of e-mails back and forth with Sony customer service, it was discovered that Locoroco had actually been purchased by my wife, which was why it wasn't showing up in my purchase history. I had completely forgotten that she even had a profile on the old PS3, so that one was on me. My bad.

However, there's been no explanation as to what happened to Super Rub-A-Dub. My wife didn't buy that one and it still isn't showing up in my purchase history. Sony’s response is basically "you never bought it" which I know isn't true, but at this point it doesn't seem like there's anything else I can do about it besides accept the fact that it's gone.

This is the first time I've had a downloaded game completely vanish with no means of recovery, and I'm not quite sure what to make of that. It seems to be some sort of anomaly since the vast majority of my purchases are still on record with the various online services, but I have to admit that the experience has shaken me. I'm not interested in "buying" things that may go bye-bye through no fault of my own, but at the same time, any critic not participating in the download scene isn't much of a critic at all.

I guess the only thing to do from this point on is simply hope that it never happens again, but then my next question is: what happens when we transition to the next generation?

I've spent a lot of money on downloaded games (and so have a lot of other people) and I'm now genuinely curious as to how "permanent" those purchases will be once current hardware is rendered obsolete… I don't have any answers at the moment, but it's certainly something to think about.