Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Soul Caliber II (Xbox)

Since Soul Caliber II got added to the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility list, I picked this title up to treat myself for Christmas.

This game is still one of my favorite fighters -- and I generally don't gravitate toward fighters.

Seriously, this is the game that made me kind of mheh on Dead or Alive 4 (don't get me wrong, that's a great game, but I expected more visually for Team Ninja's now-gen offering). Now that Soul Caliber II is playable on the 360, I can see the two back to back, and Soul Caliber II holds its own.

This game has got a decent amount of depth, arcade and tag-team elements, and (of course) weapons.

Good times. And this title retails for $10 bucks new. Everyone should own a copy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gears of War (Xbox 360)

OK, this game is amazing.

It's different -- control scheme, some mechanics I've been trained to expect (dedicated grenade button, jump, etc.), etc. -- but adjusting to that, this has got some cool game play.

The story's engaging so far, though I'm just in the first act, and getting used to the whole mini paradigm shift.

Graphics are slick (and gritty), the action is intense, I think I've adjusted to the whole "Stop and Pop" way of playing, and I really like the damage indicator.

I have not got the chainsaw bayonette or curb stomping down yet. Bummer. I'm going to get pwned in online.

The AI of my squadmates is pretty good, except for one chapter where they kept rushing in and getting killed, and reviving them was costing my life every time. I ended up having to just solo the mission, and I'm curious if it was just me, or if there's a design issue with this particular level.

Really good stuff -- in spite of Circuit City.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

These are updated impressions from my last post.

This game is Fun. It's a good, solid RPG, and I'm starting to level up to the point where it matters, and starting to really kick some comic book tale.

I was worried about Raven falling into RPG tropes (grinding through dungeons, etc.), but even thought they arguably have (Mandarin's castle, "Doom's castle", Asgard, etc.), it's really well done, and there's something cool about seeing these brightly colored heroes traipsing through stonework (or in Mephisto's Lair, Planescape-ish environs). And the Arcade mini games on Murderworld are clever.

And I'm probably too biased in my love for Norse mythology to be objective, but I'm totally digging the Asgard level, and of course I'm playing through it with Thor. And Beta Ray Bill better be unlockable after this, or I'll be peeved.

Something really funky did happen between the Mephisto and Asgard levels though, and I can't tell if it's a design issue, a bug, or a usability problem that caused me to screw up.

** Potential Spoilers Ahead **

The issue is after the Murderworld level, I went to Mephisto's Lair and freed Ghost Rider. When I came back, NPC Hank Pym is talking to Ghost Rider, and asks how Murderworld was (and Ghost Rider answers, "Not as fun as you might think"). Ghost Rider hadn't been to Murderworld (he's unlocked after). Worse, when I'm talking to all the NPC's after Mephisto's Lair, all of the interactions were post-Murderworld / pre-Mephisto, including the mini-quests (which means I couldn't give Wong his requested item or get Weasel out of harm's way).

After dealing with this for 20 minutes (and multiple reloads), I gave up, and decided to re-do Mephisto's Lair (since that's where Fury and Black Widow said I was going). When I activated the teleporter, I was sent to Asgard.

Which is nice that I don't have to re-do the Mephisto level, but a pain that I don't know my Wong / Weasel mini missions were credited.

Heh. I said "Wong / Weasel mini missions"....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Xbox 360)

I am a comic book geek. And Activision's Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a fantastic game for me.

This is just a first impressions kind of thing, as I'm pretty early into it. But having a stable of more than two dozen characters, each with different costumes and skins that changes their stats (and in many cases, their characters altogether) is awesome. The gameplay machanics are solid, and Raven has brought what worked in their X-Men Legends I/II forward into Ultimate Alliance.

That said, even with me being a comic book geek, this game is probably an 8 out of 10. Again, just first impressions, but a lot of what makes the game work for me is the content. The following is going to sound like an ungracious laundry list, but there are a number of missed steps and mistakes.

Missed steps? Oversimplification of some of the mechanics from X-Men Legends I/II. Things like if one of your party dies, s/he "rests" for a while, and you can't pay to bring them back. This can kind of suck.

Also, there are some usability issues in the interface, like not being able to change skins on the fly, like you could in the X-Men games. Granted, this is probably partly because it's not just about changing costumes -- your stats and character change, too.

I am bummed that items aren't shareable. I have special gear for Deadpool, but I need to drop it and have him pick it up to get it to him. Nice.

Oh, and unlocking the build-your-team functionality, but you lose cred if you change it up? And not all characteres/skins are unlocked? Weak.

Probably my biggest peeve is what Dead Rising got me used to (and MUA doesn't have): Cut scenes that show what's happening in the game. If I'm playing with the Fantastic Four, and the cut scene is Nick Fury talking to Captain America, Wolverine, Elektra, Spider-Man, etc. -- that's pretty poor. Or, as I'm playing throughout the game as Captain America, and I keep having these conversations over and over with NPCs (Hank Pym, Bruce Banner, etc.) about the Super Soldier Serum, and Captain America, in the third person? Yikes.

And voiceover for all NPCs? Nope. If BioWare can do this for Mass Effect, Activision should have done it for MUA. Worse, it's sporadic. Sometimes an NPC talks, sometimes not.

And the game's not next-gen. Sure, the 360 version looks good. The cutscenes look great, but the gameplay isn't doing everything I would expect a next-gen game to do. And I'm playing the game on a 108" high-def projector, so it rocks. I think this may be a more painful game on a standard size/def TV. Especially in Co-op. Honestly, I think the Dungeons & Dragons Heroes exclusive on the original Xbox was a prettier (and under-rated) game, with waaaaay better water.

And this game is buggy. Seriously, I've seen more bugs, stickings, and the like in the first 10th of the game than I saw in X-Men Legends I and II combined. In Atlantis, Iron Man wigged out, and looked like that bug in old 2D games where all frames of the sprite showed at once.

OK, so it sounds pretty bitchy, so it's a good thing the content is so good, as is the overall treatment of the license. And it's a solid RPG -- if a bit of a grind.

But it's a comic book grind. And I get to be Cap.

"When Captain America slings his mighty shield! ..."

Monday, October 09, 2006

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

Since I'm so stoked about Marvel: Ultimate Alliance coming out the end of this month, I've gone back and been playing X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse -- Raven's second entry in the Marvel RPG universe.

This game is so fun.

The two things I really hope they fix is forcing online multiplayer to dumb down to the lowest resolution common denominator (4:3 NTSC on a widescreen hi-def display looks pretty freaking bad), and if I'm at the top of a 10-item menu, pushing up should cycle me to the last item on the list (I should not have to manually push down to get to the bottom item).

The first item is a big deal, the second is a nit.

If I'm playing single or multiplayer at home, this is an awesome game. If I'm playing online with folks with standard def TVs, it's a bit of a painful experience (unless I start a drinking game, like, every time Wolverine falls off a cliff, drink; it becomes self-fulfilling after a while).

Still a great game, and I wish it (and its predecessor) would make the Xbox backwards compatibility list.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

Ooh ... Take a good concept, make it better, merge it with a franchise I care more about ...

Beuno ...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dead Rising (Xbox 360)

I couldn't wait for my review copy of Dead Rising to show up in the mail, so I went ahead and bought it at Fry's ($50 bucks, baby!).

After fiddling for too long with my projector and surround sound setup (I currently can't mount my projector to the ceiling, because I need to re-route some electrical, and I had a dead channel on the audio I had to chase down), I started playing the game around 10 p.m.

Freaking awesome.

I mean, it's kind of like what I expected (and got a taste of from the demo), but it's also a little deeper than I expected. I'm also only 12 game-hours in (~1.5 real-world hours).

It's a sandbox game, but the mini-missions (and mini-game inspiring achievements) make it a lot of fun. I'm currently playing "72 Hour Mode", and since that's the only mode available out of the box, but it's selectable, I'm guessing more are going to be added.

Killing zombies in creative ways (hedge trimmers, strategically placed propane tanks, toolboxes, shopping cart, park benches, barbells, etc.) is great fun, but the fact that there's a deeper, semi conspiracy story that unfolds piece by piece keeps the pace moving. I also found myself interrupted mid-mission as I stumbled across another scenario I'd ignored, and got to choose again whether I wanted to pursue that path.

And I'm glad I messed with my 5.1 audio -- the only way to play this game. The Dolby Digital is incredibly well done, and that positional audio is key to identifying zombies sneaking up on me, and for immersing me in the story as folks run up stairs behind me, cross from the left to right sound field, etc.

Also, some of the in-game mechanics (blender, microwave, etc.) are pretty slick. I like the photo mechanic, and the intro fly by tutorial and the ass-annoying Kent "I'm-not-a-tutorial-tutorial" are decent at getting you into that mechanic without doing too much "Show, don't tell".

Speaking of "Show, don't tell", there are a lot of cut-scenes in this game. Normally OK for me, because they're decently done. But they're not great, and they keep interrupting the flow of the game. I'm getting into a zombie-killing, food-chomping groove, and (at least the beginning), had to constantly drop the controller to watch YAC (Yet Another Cutscene). I wonder what CliffyB would say about these?

Oh, and the aiming mechanic sucks. Horribly. Having to use the pistol to cap a guy running across rooftops was painful. It also speaks to a larger problem, which is the inability to customize controls. I hate that the aiming kicks you over to using the left, rather than intuitive right, thumbstick, and I can't do anything about it. And, I'd like to implement a Halo-esque control scheme when I play (what can I say? Bungie pwns me).

Some of the mini-missions are tough, and you can't turn off "friendly fire", so if you've got a survivor being eaten by a pack of zombies, you're likely to whack them unintentionally (pruning shears are not scalpels, kids!).

And the "Mother's Lament" mini mission pissed me off. Because I'm not sure it's balanced well, starting it is a beast, the difficulty makes staying sympathetic to someone we should be sympathetic to a chore, and I feel the set up is definitely over the line. But I'm sensitive on that front.

Final gripe -- fantastic audio, but where's the voice acting? Seriously, the cut scenese are well-voiced, but the interactions in between are text and Sims-like grunts and noises (I have the same gripe with my favorite X-Men Legends games). C'Mon, this is next gen -- immerse me in the experience!

That sounds like a laundry list of gripes, but it just keeps the game from being spectacular. My gut feel says it's about an 8.4 out of 10, but I need to play it some more to be sure.

More to come ...

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Dead Rising"; "Ninety-Nine Nights (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Xbox 360 demos for Dead Rising and Ninety-Nine Nights, and these are in my top 3 played demos so far in the life of the console (Lost Planet, a Capcom title like Dead Rising, is the other one).

Dead Rising

Dead Rising (check out my preview here), the creative zombie chop fest hiding a deeper story, plays about like I expected. That is to say, creatively killing zombies is a lot of fun, and the intro cut scene, and cut scenes that play out when you exit the demo field of play (sporting store, movie theater, or warehouse), hint at a deeper story, as I predicted. And once 7 p.m. hits, hang out for the cutscene showing things are about to get a whole lot worse after dark.

If you stay within the parameters of the game field, the demo only lets you play for 15 minutes at a time. But like the Lost Planet demo, Capcom's produced a solid little playtest. There's a lot to play with and explore, and you can whack zombies with a scythe, hunting knife, pistol, shotgun, flowerpot, stuffed bear, garbage can, nightstick, shopping cart, skateboard, and sundry other objects, including a frying pan. With the frying pan (and other "weapons" and environmental objects), you can "upgrade" -- stick the cast iron skillet on the stove, and it's a lot more lethal for bashing zombie heads. Also, check out the microwave fun ...

And there are character upgrades that let you carry more items, too (though those aren't in the demo).

I really appreciate the options being available in the demo -- I love a demo that gives full access to the game control (inversion, etc.) and settings menus that are in the full game (all demos should allow players to invert if that's applicable; I hate all demos that don't).

The controls themselves are a little wonky. I need to get used to the left trigger being the camera, but more confusing is the right trigger/aiming mechanic, that makes you use the left thumbstick to aim, to super sluggish effect. Given how close last week's demo was released to tomorrow's release, I don't have a lot of confidence this'll be fixed.

In theory, I'm supposed to be receiving a review copy of Dead Rising, but since the same folks sent me the October-released Stubbs the Zombie in December, we'll see. I had really hoped to receive the game in time for last weekend to play and provide timely review, but it was not meant to be.

Ninety-Nine Nights

Ninety-Nine Nights (N3) is getting misbilled as being like Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires, which it's not. That is to say, it doesn't suck (I'm sure I'm pissing off some rabid fanboys, but Dynasty on the Xbox 360 really disappointed me).

N3 is amazing. Racking up 5,000-plus kills, leveling up my character, switching out weapons and accoutrements in an RPG-lite kind of way, and exacting mass carnage on the orcs is a hugely good time. The level of detail is amazing, and I like battling different classes of orcs that actually play differently -- from field fodder to seasoned soldiers to wizard orcs that can do some serious damage. You can even see helmets go flying as you knock them around.

And their troll implementation is a like an adolescent, better realization of a Tolkien rock troll than that franchise's games have had. Seriously. (I'm going to rename this the "Piss off the fanboys" post.)

And ORB attacks rock.

I need to work more on commanding my soldiers, but I can't tell yet if that's because of the controls or my lack of familiarity with the mechanic.

And the voice acting (and appropriate emotional intensity) is seriously below the bar, so I'm hoping the final version -- due this month -- corrects that.

Both Dead Rising and Ninety-Nine Nights are really good demos (and available for free to anyone with an Internet connection), so check them out.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Zagapain XOR (Xbox 360)

Via my Japanese Xbox Live Gamer tag, I downloaded the Zagapain XOR demo.

It's passable, but I'm not fluent in Japanese, so I'm struggling a bit on what exactly, I'm supposed to be doing.

The intro cut-scene is nice (as are the dashboard set-ups at the beginning of the mission), but I'm not sure if the game "feels" next-gen to me. Plus, the targeting feels a bit off -- kind of like the Xbox Robotech BattleCry.

I'll play it some more and see if I choose to like to more.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chromehounds (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Chromehounds demo for the Xbox 360.

This is next-gen(ish) mech game, kind of sim-ish in tone, and pretty fun.

The demo consists of two brief single-player levels -- "search and destroy" and "sniping".

The demo has no customizing of the mechs (called "Hounds" in the game), but the game play is pretty solid, if not totally next-gen. Lots of things are destructable (from light posts to trees to buildings), but they're canned -- they always collapse the same way after a set number of hits, depending on the objects (kind of like a less-pretty version of Halo 2's warhog demolition).

Actually, the physics in general could use some work. For example, pounding away with big shells at the ground near on-foot soldiers has no effect -- you've got to physically hit them to make a difference. Also, I'm really waiting for a next-gen mech game where falling down a mountain looks and feels "real" -- think the scene in Return of the Jedi where the AT-ST (scout walker) is tumbling about on Ewok logs, before wiping out and exploding.

On the plus side, there is some nice attention to detail, like when I fell down said mountain, I damaged my hydraulics, which caused some stilted movement and sparking, and this was carried over into the ending cut-scene in the sniper level. And the voice acting doesn't totally suck

Also, the brief bits of music are really pretty amazing.

Overall, this game feels to me be a mix somewhere between the phenomenal Heavy Gear PC series and Microsoft's own (excellent) MechAssault II: Lone Wolf.

I'm thinking multiplayer is going to be where it's at with this game -- and it'll be the only new game in town for the summer Xbox 360 mutliplayer front (unless 3D Realms totally fixes Prey's mutliplayer pain fest).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Prey (Xbox 360)

I've been playing the Prey Xbox 360 demo, which became available on June 30.

Prey is one of the most anticipated First-Person Shooter (FPS) titles for this year, and has quite a history -- 10 years on the making. And overall, the demo is pretty slick.

Built on the Doom3 engine, the lighting and bump-mapping are spec(tac)ular, and despite concerns about Human Head's PC version running in higher resolution than developer Venom Games's Xbox 360 version, the console version looks great.

I haven't tried the online or system link multiplayer yet, so I'll comment on that later

The single player is fun, innovative, and may make you nauseous. There are some neat gameplay mechanics and nods to other successful franchises (game avatar Tommy's wrench is Gordan Freeman's crowbar), and stuff like the Zero-G ability to walk up a wall and onto a ceiling is cool, disorienting, and (played to close to a 100" screen) seriously vertigo inducing. Can't wait to try it in multiplayer.

And the spirit walk gimmick (kind of a tangible version of Psi-Ops mindwalk gimmick) is pretty nifty.

Perhaps coolest is the way they handle dying in the game. Rather than "game over" or restarting at the beginning of a stage (a la Halo), you go to a spirit world where you use your bow to try to tag as many spirits of fallen foes as you can -- the more you tag, the better your health and spiritual levels when you jump back into the game. Kind of a mini-game with a purpose.

There's also a decent amount of humor and attention to detail in the game (in the opening bar scene, you can turn the water on and off, flush the toilets, work the hand dryer, cycle through the jukebox, play video slots and blackjack, etc.).

The game is also dark. I think TeamXbox.com calls it a "serious, dark story, based on authentic Cherokee mythology."

So what doesn't work? Sometimes, the humor doesn't juxtapose well with the dark stuff. Also, Tommy is a bit chatty. But my biggest grip is the load screens. Akin to Perfect Dark Zero, they provide gaming tips that knocked me out of the mythos moment. I seriously don't know why developers do this.

The bummer is there's no way for publisher 3D Realms to get feedback annd make adjustments to them game. I wish more companies would do like Capcom is doing for Lost Planet -- putting out a solid demo in 2006 for a 2007 game, and soliciting feedback from gamers for adjustments to the title. Nice.

But, overall, Prey is a fun demo, and I'm looking forward to the full game next week. Since it just went gold on June 30, other than the PC download version, we'll have to see if the 07/11 release date also includes the physical media versions.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lost Planet (Xbox 360)

As part of the week of free Xbox Live and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), I'm playing the E3 Xbox 360 demo for Capcom's Lost Planet: Extreme Condition.

I've been stoked about Lost Planet for a long time, and this demo doesn't disappoint.

I hate to box anything in, but think of it as a third-person, next-gen game that mixes the best parts of Starship Troopers (wtihout the communal shower scene) and The Thing from Another World (the 1951 version).

The game feels next-gen (which is impressive for a demo, and a nice change of pace from the current crop of "next-gen" titles), is stylish, has some great environments and effects (it feels like I'm trekking through waste-deep snow; my character pitches depending on where the big bug baddies slam the ground near me), and the mech portions are slick -- being able to change out heavy guns from machine gun to heavy shotgun (and use them myself in a pinch) is a really cool feature.

Think I'll be playing this demo over several times ...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Stubbs the Zombie

It was the best of zombies. It was the worst of zombies.

Four score and seven zombies ago ...

Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt!
OK, so I finally finished Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse, the seminal work from Wideload Games. And while the game may not be the cat's meow, it's got a ton going for it, and I really recommend it for the game play and humor.

Why am I playing (and writing about) a last-gen Xbox game that came out in October?

Because (A) I've been hyping the hell out of the "coming zombie game from Halo's Daddy" for a long time, and (B) I was promised a free review copy, so I held off buying it. Which actually didn't show up until mid-December -- after I was well into Xbox 360 insanity.

Not that I'm looking this gift zombie in the mouth (because it's like a gift horse, except bipedal, and undead, and ... Look, similes aren't really my thing; it's like me driving a car with a ladle).

Besides, despite all my writing about the game industry, I've never asked for any freebies, so this unsolicited one for something I was genuinely excited about was pretty cool.

Right -- about the game.

Awesome! Best thing since sliced brain!

Concept, gameplay, and humor are the three areas where this pussed little gem really shines.

Setting the game in a 1950s idea of what the future would look like? Brilliant! Zombie specific powers like being able to toss a gut grenade, detachable possessing hand, unholy flatulance, and exploding cranium? Brilliant! A soundtrack with covers of 50s tunes by today's musical hotties (Ben Kweller, The Raveonettes, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.)? Brilliant!

Oh, and the humor. Read signs. Everywhere. Notice that packages of hamburgers have several normal looking ingredients ... except for eyeballs. Read the menu in the diner level. Read it!

Not that everything on the game play front is pushing up daisies, though. Shambling sucks. Seriously, there are some booooring sequences where you have to watch your third-person zombie move coagulated-blood-slow from one end of a level to another. And forget getting away from a vehicle that's hell-bent on mowing you down.

And the story is seriously lacking. You're kind of thrown into Stubb's rotting skin at the outset, with a teaser of a story that isn't fleshed out enough to keep you going (and the denouement bites) -- so if the game play and humor hadn't been there, this title would have sunk. Luckily, the game play and humor are there. In spades.

And though I like being able to call and shove my zombie brethren, the truth is the game has brain dead squad controls; they're inconsistent, and unavailable when you want them most.

And though they trumpet the game being built on the Halo engine, the graphics, honestly, look like warmed-over death. I put in the original Halo to see if the engine is just that dated, but no (kind of), it's Stubbs. Part of it is I was playing the game on the Xbox 360, so hi-def on a projector really showed off the jaggies.

And the game is playable on the Xbox 360 (thanks, I'm sure, to Microsoft enabling Halo), but there are some levels that are so dark as to be almost unplayable. I had to ramp my projector up all the way and due total light killage to get through them.

And the sound is great (and funny), but it turns the constant screams as heard by someone outside the gaming room (and missing the humor) can be alternately grating and freaky.

All that said, the game is a solid 8(ish) out 10, and soooo worth spinning through for the humor, the game play, and the innovation. And for co-op. Thanks to Wideload for getting how important it is that every game have co-op. Tag-teaming unholy flatulance and a gut grenade is one of those beautiful moments in cooperative gaming.

So, shamble outside and pick up a copy of Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse today. Support Wideload. Support Austin-based publisher Aspyr Media, Inc. Support good game innovation and design, and an innovative model for game development (applying the Hollywood staffing model to game production).

I think you'll find the purchase worth it (it's also available on PC and Mac).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Battlefield 2: Modern Combat

I recently mentioned I've been playing the Battlefield 2: Modern Combat Xbox 360 demo (among others).

After playing the online-only mutliplayer demo a lot, I decided to rent the full version of Electronic Arts's BF2:MC.

It took the full version of the game to tell me what I already knew from the demo -- It's all about the online mutlplayer.

I mean, the game is pretty good looking, and you get a lot of frenetic action. But the game play is unbalanced, and has a lot of "That would not happen!" moments. (Yes, BF2:MC is an arcade-y take on war, this game steps over a lot of game play lines.)

For example, on the first Chinese level (ignore the offensive faux accents), you can be looking at a blank wall and machine gun turret, and an enemy will blink into existance, take the turret, and mow you down. Over and over and over again.

And this level also highlights how stupid the friendlies AI is. The first time I played the level, in the segment where you trek to the next battle zone via gun boat or jeep, I could not get my guys into the vehicles. I ended up Hotswapping between soldiers to have each one get in the vehicle, and gave up on that, because as I swapped to someone outside of the vehicle to make them get in, the guys inside would get out. I ended up driving by myself to the next zone, being a one-man army, and getting mowed down again.

And, on the same level, my guys were nowhere near the action. So everytime I got mowed down by a baddie, I'd swap out the equivalent of a few hundred yards away, and have to trek back again to get mowed down. It was fun. Not so much.

The second time I played the level (the fist time made me give up on the game that night), the AI was a little better.

I do have to say the Hotswapping feature in BF2:MC is incredibly slick -- both in usefulness and in visual effect -- particularly in multi-sniper situations, or when you need to move between a Special Ops class for mowing down infantry to an Engineer to take out multiple enemy choppers. But I also found myself Hotswapping to take over idiot AI that were "sneaking" as they were getting shot in the back, and though they've removed the "line-of-sight" restriction for the feature, I found myself swapping inadvertently to someone other than who I was looking at. And the Hotswapping mini-challenges do require line-of-site, and shortest path (which, of course, were not the same). What?

Overall, with all its shortcomings, the single player is a solid renter, and the online will keep me coming back for a long time ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

BF2:MC; G.R.A.W.; Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360)

One of the coolest parts of the new Xbox 360 incarnation of Xbox Live is the free downloadable demos.

Recently, a bunch of demos hit the network, with Electronic Arts releasing Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (BF2:MC); Ubisoft posting Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.), and Eidos dropping the Xbox 360 version of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend.

I keep getting sucked back into the Battlefield 2: Modern Combat demo (the full version ships today). The game is a visceral, intense, absolutely huge, and less-serious war game ripe for "That's what I'm talkin' about!" moments. For example, me driving a tank over a bridge I know is out, as a guy on a rooftop takes aim at me with a rocket launcher. I drive the tank over the edge of the bridge, but not before I jumped out, rocket whizzing over my head and missing the plummeting tank, as I swap to a sniper rifle and cap the guy on the rooftop. He'd just been served.

The BF2:MC demo is buggy as all get out, so I'm hoping the retail version fixes some of the glitches. Seriously, the demo makes Oblivion look good (don't get me wrong -- Oblivion is a beautiful, engrossing game; but it's glitchy, and I can't currently play it because the "fragmented disk cache fix" isn't working).

The Xbox 360 version of BF2:MC has the content from the Xbox version (prettied up), plus the three new maps and four new vehicles from the Xbox “Warsome Booster Pack” released in December.

A more serious (and much more gorgeous) demo is Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter (G.R.A.W.). This game is intense, and for the less-experienced player, pretty unforgiving. This game plays more like a war version of a chess game (where you're an shootable chess piece), and can be pretty frustrating until you get the hang of the controls and different game play style. I jumped into this after playing BF2:MC, and had to seriously adjust my "who can take more bullets" game style.

Also, this game is a totally different game than the Xbox version of the game -- developed by a different studio, and with a much higher level of quality and overall game play.

In a previous blog, I passed on info that the demo wassn't going to have co-op. But last night, a buddy and I fired it up and were able to co-op -- though he hit that steep learning curve pretty quickly, and didn't enjoy his taste of the game.

Finally, I downloaded and played Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend. I'm warming up to this, and admittedly, I'm not a big non-2D platformer fan, but my issues with the game aren't with it being a platformer -- it's that it doesn't feel next-gen.

The game is fun, and things like the water are fairly impressive. But there are some jaggies, and when Ms. Croft stands on a downed tree, for example, her feet are set apart as if she's standing on a transparent, flat surface -- which looks wonky.

If I'm playing a next-gen game, I really want the physicality of an object to be apparent. I want her feet to land roughly more where they "should" land on a tree trunk.

But I did say the game was growing on me. Lara's got some new moves, and the God of War inspired grappler is a nice addition, and I think swimming handles better than it has in the franchise.

I should play it again, and see if it grows on my some more.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Serious Sam II (Xbox)

Serious Sam is on of my favorite franchises on the Xbox and PC, and blasting through Serious Sam II on Xbox (via online co-cop) is a great way to blow through a Saturday afternoon.

The Xbox version's not going to win any graphics awards, but the visuals are colorful, bizarre, and like the dialog and overall premise, is so ridiculous and non-serious as to be a ton of fun.

The game has a lot of fun with itself, which makes it fun for me. The pace and volume of baddies is absolutely insane, but with co-op in some of the heavier moments, the frame rate does glitch a bit.

Plus, you can generally pick the game up new for $10-15 on sale ($20 MSP), and even cheaper used.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII (Xbox 360)

Microsoft and Ubisoft released a demo of Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII yesterday on Xbox Live Marketplace.

The game is pretty slick, and captures the feel of aerial dogfighting. The opening tutorial is a little irritating (mainly with the "drop manifest" task), but once mission mode starts, it's much more engaging.

I'm curious to see if the full version of the game on-disc has better graphics than the downloadable demo. They're not bad, but not the caliber of the Xbox 360 shots shown in Game Informer Magazine. That's what happened with Condemned, so I suspect the shipping graphics will be better.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Black (Xbox)

UPDATED: This title is now playable on the Xbox 360.

I picked up EA/Criterion's Black yesterday, and put it through its paces a bit.

I've been waiting for this title for some time, from the EA-purchased Criterion Software (the folks behind the Burnout franchise).

Black wants to do for the FPS genre what Burnout does for the racing/wrecking genre -- make it loud, ridiculously unrealistic, and a ton of fun.

Based on the premises "if Hollywood can make a handgun sound like a Howitzer, why can't we", and "the bullets are the heroes", Black has been described as "gun porn" and "The Matrix lobby scene".

So how does it play?


I mean, the wanton destruction is good fun. The guns are gorgeous. Slowly chipping away at a concrete pylon is impressive.

But I have two big pet peeves in gaming:

  1. Stupid AI
  2. Bad usability

On the stupid AI front, I don't like coming down staircase and seeing one of my squadmates (who I can't control) and a terrorist standing -- barrel to barrel -- blasting away at each other until one of them falls down.

That's stupid AI.

I can't remember who died first, but I killed the other one out of spite.

I'm hoping Online Alchemy does something genuinely innovative with their "ground-breaking AI technology for use in next-generation massively multiplayer online games as well as training and other applications."

Hey, how cool would it be if developers could license AI engines and toolkits for other games, like Project Offset and Epic Games do for the Offset and Unreal Engine for graphics, and Havok does for its physics engine?

My second major pet peeve is basic usability problems.

In Black, this plays out when you start up the game and can't skip the developer and publisher spalsh screens. Worse, I watched the opening "thetrical credits" cinematic when I first watched the game, and thought it was really cool. Later, when I restarted the game, I was annoyed that I couldn't skip it.

Worse, when I created a new profile for some friends, I had to watch the mission cinematic in total, and couldn't skip it. And it's looong ...

Skipping cinematics and splash screens is basic stuff, and really noticeable when it's missing (and when the unskippables are long and/or suck; at least in Black they don't suck).

There are also some unneeded extra steps in the options and profile creation set up that are unneeded.

The menus are slick, however.

Oh, and there was some weirdness in the game where the game controlled super slow. Not stuttering, but almost like my guy was underwater. Annoying, that.

I'm only about 30 minutes into the game, so it remains to be seen if these things will keep me from enjoying the game.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Halo 2 (XBox)

I'm not sure how you beat 4-to-8-player Rocketball on Foundation in Halo 2.

Oddball, with a Rocketball variant (3 minues to win; no other weapons on map; toughness and speed with ball on; radar off but ball indicator on).

Crank up the surround sound, bump up the subwoofer, and laugh until someone pees.

We break for that.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Painkiller, Half-Life 2 (Xbox demos)

In the February Official Xbox Magazine, the Xbox demos portion of the list includes Painkiller and Half-Life 2.

I was seriously stoked, because I'm a big fan of what the Painkiller guys did with Painkiller on the PC (frenetic action with a fantastic, oft-missed summary of heaven/hell/purgatory legends), and Half-Life 2 is arguably one of the greatest recent PC games.

So, how were the demos?

They sucked. And blew, while we're at it.

Graphics on both were abysmal, and the Painkiller demo didn't have Y-axis invert (lesson for all demo creators: I understand locking controller configurations for a demo, but if "invert" is germane to your genre, f***ing include it!).

I'm really hoping this is just indicative of pre-release demo concessions; but I don't know that I'm motivated enough to buy the full versions, with the bad taste the previews left in my mouth.

I need to ping some Xbox buddies who have the games and see if they suck as much in the retail versions (Painkiller releases next month).

FYI, though TeamXbox and GameSpot gave high ratings to Half-Life 2 (9.5 and 8.3, respectively), I believe OXM gave it a sub-par rating for ridiculously frequent and slow load times.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Doom 3 (Xbox)

Man, Doom 3 for Xbox just rocks.

Gorgeous, freaky, amazing/creepy in surround sound, and a blast in online co-op mode.

Me and Xboxer dajoti just finished playing through the entire game co-op. All games (if it makes sense) should be online co-op.

What a rush.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360)

I'm so glad the Call of Duty 2 Xbox 360 demo is in the February issue of The Official Xbox Magazine.

This game shows that no matter how tired the genre (do we need another freaking WWII shooter?), innovation and excellence are still to be had. And the demo is the same thing that's at in-store kiosks.

Call of Duty 2 is not only the best-selling Xbox 360 game (with 70%-plus of the game market share), it's one of the top-selling games of 2005 (and it came out the end of October).

The demo is disappointingly short, but gives a taste of the frenetic play, importance of listening, keeping your head down (and using those smoke grenades), and generally lets you get "as close to war as you'll ever want to be".

So, they can still make WWII games interesting and important.

I'm curious to see what The Outfit does for the genre -- kind of the "anti-Call of Duty 2".

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Halo Zero (PC)

So, this independent homebrew game, Halo Zero (PC), is pretty fun.

Take the concepts from Halo, and Halo 2, and mix it in with side-scrolling 2D Contra-style gameplay?

In the words of the current Guinness marketing message: "Brilliant!"

It's not perfect; the game's died a few times, and though I laud the implementation of the Halo-favorite sniper rifle, the implementation sucks (there should be one button for zoom, and one for fire; as-is, you wast bullets, and disrupt the pacing of the game).

But, overall, a great romp for a few hours, and a good addition to the Halo universe.

Go to the website (www.halozero.new.fr/), download the game, and have fun, Halo-cum-Contraesque style.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Full Auto (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the Full Auto demo from the January issue of The Official Xbox Magazine.

This game has some potential, and if the final product improves the frame rate (the demo has a lot of stuttering, even in the in-game movies) and adds some polish, this combat racing game could be a lot of fun -- especially online, where you can designate rivals, and go after them, in addition to trying to win the overall race.

The rewind feature is also pretty slick, and could add an interesting game dynamic.

We'll see if Sega ends up with a hit on their hands. And it looks to be quite a leap forward from the Pseudo Interactive folks' last foray, Cel Damage.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Condemned: Criminal Origins (Xbox 360)

I've been playing the demo for Sega's Condemned: Criminal Origins, downloadable through the Xbox Marketplace.

This game is a lot of things I look for in a game -- next-gen gorgeous, new game play twists on a standard genre (survival horror), and excellent use of 6-channel audio.

This is just the demo, so I don't know if the melee combat will get a little repetitive. But if it does, it's going to be brutal, visceral repetitive.

Horror films could learn from this game. It's one thing to sit and watch a movie for an hour and a half, and see something unknown scurry through the dark. It's something else altogether to spend eight hours stuck exploring abandoned warehouses, seeing things scurry away from you, and having to choose to go after them of your own volition.

Oh, and playing this thing at 1 a.m., alone in the dark, with surround sound so I can hear things in the abandoned building creak and break behind me? Creeped ... me ... out.