Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)

(Here are my single-player impressions for Halo 3: ODST. I'd like to give co-op and Firefight impressions as well, but my yahoo friends who also bought the game never have time to play this title, so updated impressions will have to wait.)

First, to get things out of the way, I'm a bit of a Halo Whore. This is partially because of the gameplay, universe, and mythos; partially due to my being impressed with the cohesive marketing juggernaut behind the franchise; and partially due to my affinity for alliteration.

That aside, Halo 3: (I-should-have-been-called-Recon) ODST is a great game -- and an uneven one, all at the same time.

The game is genuinely fun, has some depth, is genuinely different than the previous Halo games, and has more polish as well.

Those strengths are also weaknesses, though, because there are expectations around the Halo franchise, and losing the über-bad-assery of Master Chief takes some getting used to, in addition to the gameplay feeling a bit gimped by removing the the Halo 3 "X-button specials" (especially since enemies still have them).

But I've admittedly got a bit of a skewed perspective, because you have to play a bit more cautiously as an ODST than as a spartan (health doesn't regenerate), and I recently started playing on a level above normal on games (so, "Heroic" on ODST), which made the gameplay and "easy-to-die" experience waaay more stark than it might otherwise have been.

And while the engine feels visually tweaked, and for the most part I really liked things like the HUD mechanics, Modern Warfare or the Frostbite Engine are kind of the technical bars for cutting-edge FPS games, so I'm really looking forward to Microsoft's and/or Bungie's making a break from their current tech to do something technically even more exciting.

Going back to the positive aspects of gameplay, there are some intense, almost amazing moments where you have to retrench in intense firefights that genuinely made me feel good when I finally busted loose and wiped the floor with wave after wave of Covenant. My criticism is I wish the checkpoints were more deterministic, because while playing the game on "normal" mode would make replaying inconvenient, replaying on "Heroic" or "Legendary" is a non-trivial time-suck.

And while I said I mostly like the HUD mechanic in the game, it is a bit confusing, and I can't tell whether the mechanic is slightly different for each ODST member, or if it varied based on environment, or what the issue was, but there were times when it felt like both the standard and enhanced HUDs were versions of unusable in the heat of battle. Which sucked a bit.

Oh, and game designers (all of you), please stop with sucky-ass escort missions. I get irritated enough at bone-stupid AI either running too far ahead or falling too far behind, but when I'm doing a mission where Buck is my gunner, and it's not an AI, but a pathing issue that gets him stuck for 15 minutes in a box corner? Give me a break.

This a rambly, back-and-forth assessment ODST, but make no mistake, it's a really good title, and I'm glad Bungie tried something variant from their previous formulas, and included a lot of the mechanics from other titles (theater, file share, etc.).

Is it worth $60? No -- no title is. But wait until I try out the Firefight and online co-op modes before I decide whether it's any worse than other over-priced sixty-buck games. Oh, and no one should pay $60 for games, between promos, Amazon pricing, etc. -- I try not to spend more than $40-50 for 360 titles, and $30-40 for Wii titles.

And for Halo 3 fans who haven't bought all of the add-on maps, you do get 24 additional maps as part of buying the game -- the 21 previously released, and 3 all-new jobbies. Not bad.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Marvel Ulimate Alliance 2

(First Impressions.)

OK, I need to spend more time with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 ("M-UATU", for those who have been paying attention).

I've been looking forward to it for a looong time, and it's ambitious as all get out -- multiple combinations of players and powers; two continuity arcs re-imagined; truly taking advantage of next-gen hardware (the last one was early in the hardware cycle); hitting multiple platforms and control schemes; and the whole "licensing IP that has rabid fanboys" thing.

And it's fun. But it's not as fun (for me) as the original MUA. I'm trying to figure out if that's because it's not new like the first game was (which wasn't new, per se, but was a good franchise evolution over the excellent X-Men Legends titles). Maybe it's that it's competing with too much coming out at the same time that I'm playing (including stellar same-genre (IP, not game) offering Batman: Arkham Asylum).

Maybe it's because all of the stuff that I mention above is too ambitious, and the project struggles a bit under all of that weight.

For whatever reason, out of my current game queue (which also includes Batman, ODST, Bowser's Inside Story, Scribblenauts), MUA2 is last on the priority list. And I don't know if I'll be able to get it cleared out before I move over to Modern Warfare 2, Brütal Legend, L4D2, and New Super Mario Bros.

What I haven't done yet is multiplayer. Since I'm a big co-op fan, the "fusion" gameplay mechanic looks tailor-made for it, and it feels like they've fixed the camera over the original MUA, this may be a serious additive grace for the game.

Hopefully, more detailed thoughts soon.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

L4D Crash Course

I downloaded and played the new Crash Course DLC for Left 4 Dead with some co-workers last night.

Very different, in that there are pickups (weapons, ammo, etc.) freaking _everywhere# (at least comparatively). It's also very short, plays fast, and throws a lot more special infected (notably, Tanks) at you.

I'm curious as to which of these gameplay tweaks are a nod to those changes in L4D2.

At least it gives you new, interesting achievements, and I still need to check out the online additions to decide how angry I am about paying ~$7 for the DLC ("degree"; not "whether").

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chrono Trigger

I'm on the road a lot lately the last several weeks, so that means I'm DSing it.

Having missed Chrono Trigger the first time around, I'm now playing it on the Nintendo DS, and it's stellar.

Being updated to take advantage of the DS control scheme and touch screen is keen, as is the implementation of dual screen support. I also dig the the real-time battle option.

I'm spoiled; not sure I could have played this JRPG the first time around, but the "DS enhanced" version really works for me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

I'm playing the new Batman: Arkham Asylum game on the Xbox 360, and I've been pretty impressed so far.

This is a solid, dark treatment of the license, the full game is more polished than the demo (which itself was a good concantenation of a few segments of the game to show scope and diversity), the detective mode has been tweaked (and is pretty slick), the art direction is cool (and consistent), fanboy unlockables are solid and slickly implemented, and I like the progression, the open-endedness(ish)ism of the title. And (yay!) the video tweak settings let me brighten the game without washing out the graphics -- very important for playing on a projector.

Mark Hamill (who is the Joker) and Kevin Conroy (who is the Batman, at least until I am), are fantastic -- as is a lot of the primary voice acting (some of the secondary (like the guards) doesn't come close to the caliber, which is unfortunate). Good voice acting makes a game; bad kills it. This is stellar stuff.

And I like that there are subtle things like me being able to move Batman around during an in-engine cutscene, downed enemies are still breathing (they're unconscious, not dead), and the brief (at least one so far) first-person implementation (hey, you get it for free with the tech; might as well play with it; which most licensed fair refuses to do).

It's got a few shortcomings, but nothing that kills the game for me.

First off is I'm not crazy about the muscle-bound nature of ol' Bats -- feels a bit over-done, put - a -space -marine - in - a - batsuit. Also, the skinning of the game is a bit of a weird mix of shiny and muddy, but that's stereotypical of the Unreal Engine (right or wrong). Also, I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I game on a projector, and at that size Rocksteady's particular implementation of the third-person camera causes a bit of a problem with slight queasiness that most other games don't cause.

But overall, the game is solid, I'm enjoying it, kudos to Rocksteady for getting it right, and I'll be tooling through it for a while.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (NDS)

I picked up Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer for the Nintendo DS because I wanted to play a polished roguelike on the handheld.

Liking it so far, though I think after it, I want to find a darker roguelike game. If I can't find one, I may make one.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Xbox 360)

I'm a bit of a Mortal Kombat fan. I'm a comic book fan. I sooo wanted to be a fan of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.

Unfortunately, so many things worked against the title for me, that I'm not a fan.

Granted, since I'm a fanboy, I had expectations. And they were dashed.

The fighting is frustrating, it devolves to button mashing that's not even fun (like Soul Calibur is fun), feels unpolished (art to animations to transitions to performance), the dialog and expositions are stilted and heavy-handed, and it just didn't do it for me.

Now, that said, it is fan-fare -- So I dig seeing my guys and gals in tights in a new setting. And while the characterization and dialog is challenging for the most part, a lot of love was obviously spent just on the Joker -- and he comes across well. There is one cut-scene moment Joker reaction when the main baddy is announced that is money, and makes the whole game worth it. Actor Richard Epcar doesn't take the place of Mark Hamill's joker for me, but he sells it.

The other thing to note is I played the whole thing on the Xbox 360 using standard controllers, and the 360 D-pads are crap -- especially for fighting games.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Conan (Xbox 360)

OK, Conan is an oldish 360 game, and I finished it months ago, but I've been meaning to write about it ever since. Reason for the delay is the final boss battle (more on that later).

This a the kind of game that makes me irritated at game reviews/reviewers.

This is a solid licensed title that is ambitious and has so much going right for it, that -- especially given the stigma for a licensed title -- it's great.

Nihilistic Software should be commended shoving so much stuff into the game -- from the basic hack-n-slash to the much deeper combat and combo system, to entertaining and stretch Xbox Achievements (50 grapple kills, 100 dismemberments, etc.), to technical implementations like environmental cloth and destructibility.

Its tale is knit together by game writing great Susan O’Connor, and has a stellar score from Michael Reagan (Twisted Metal: Black, God of War / II, the underrated music from Brute Force, etc.).

Besides, the fact that you can pick this game up for ~$10 bucks anywhere should make it a no-brainer for Conan franchise fans.

Since few games are perfect, here are a few of the rough edges Conan does fall into: camera, platforming, polish, gratuitousness, and quick-times.


Seriously, I have had very few good fixed cameras in third-person titles. When the camera is not good, don't make it fixed. Conan uses a fixed not-good third person camera.


I like platforming -- in platformers. I don't like platforming in third-person actioner titles. I'm fine with the puzzle mechanic, and lightweight platforming-esque maneuvers that complete said puzzles. But jumping from ledge to ledge with the above fixed-camera implementation? Anger-inducing.


Like I said, kudos to Nihilistic for putting so much into the game. It does feel like in places the polish falls down, with unexpected clipping, some texture issues, etc. that almost made the game feel unfinished to me in places. That may be a horribly unfair assessment, and the reality is all games (unfortunately) have some level of bugginess and rough edges.

Other than that, a few of the environments feel a little bland -- and they feel that way because other areas (think a hall populated with rich props, interesting textures, cloth banners, etc.) are not bland at all.


Some people are probably going to call prude on me for this one.

I'm not talking the violence (which most games let you dial down) -- I'm talking the topless girls you rescue throughout the game. It'd be nice from a philosophical level to be able to "turn off nudity" like you can "turn of gibs" in so many games (and hey, in essence it's the same mesh and animation sets across most or all of the girls, so it should be easy). There are some tween kids I'd say could play a game like Conan despite the violence, but I wouldn't endorse the title for that same demographic, because of its obnoxious titillation.

Quick-time Events.

Developers who use quick-time events, I am convinced, hate gamers. That's my bias, but other than Resident Evil 5 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance coming close to making not totally sucky QT events, I hate these things. What's worse than a cut-scene? A cut scene where you can't passively watch, and can't really control. The industry calls these "quick-time events".

And Conan? While most of the QTs are irritating, the final boss battle implementation is horrific. I finished the game months ago, and it's taken me this long to write the review, because the QTs in that fight pissed me off sooo bad -- and not in a Ninja Gaiden "this is hard and is kicking my butt and I am going to beat it" kind of way, but in a "you are f***ing kidding me? Another cheap interruption?" kind of way.

See, where Conan is strong is its implementation of combos (X+X+X+Y, for example). But to make the final boss quick-time events "harder", devs decided to shrink the time you have to hit the button that you're supposed to mash. Problem is, if you're in a combo, it has to finish out before it registers the QT button, and usually stomps on it. This is maddeningly infuriating, and made me almost hate the game, even though it was just that last, bad implementation that soured me.

Devs: Quick-times are bad. Stop using them. Thank you in advance.

Anyway, pick up the title if you can. At sub-ten-bucks, it's a fun, brainless brawler at the least, and a deep combo license treatment for franchise fans in the extreme.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Legendary Starfy (NDS)

I wanted to grab a quick platformer for my recent cross-continental travel, and I'd heard good things about The Legendary Starfy for the Nintendo DS.

It's a fun, goofy, solid little NDS 2D platfrom title that makes good use of the two screens, and marginal use of the touch screen (in that you need to touch to select some things on menus, etc.

I like the whimsical nature of it, and think it'll be a fun platform offering with decent story and jokes to keep me playing through.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dragon Ball: Origins (NDS)

I'm playing Dragon Ball: Origins as one of the half-dozen titles I'm rotating through my Nintendo DS.

This is a fun little, stylus-dependent game, and it's a great gift to franchise fans. Its implementation style fits nicely with the quirky Dragon Ball IP style (gone grittier in later Dragon Ball Z and GT incarnations).

I totally dig getting reintroduced to longtime favorite characters, and unlocking figures for display and animating, while a little gimmicky, is something I really appreciate.

It's not all perfect, of course -- in particular, the stylus-only combat can be a bit dicey, and I don't like that I have to use the stylus for moving around -- I'd much rather use the D-Pad in a more straightforward way.

I'm probably 10-15% through this overall massive little title, so I'll hopefully write more about it later.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

I'm finally giving up on Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, even though it's a great game.

Co-workers Vince and Mike shamed me into playing it, I'm glad they did, it's awesome, but I've been stuck at the very end for too long, and there are too many good games to play for me to keep beating my head against a wall.

This is a great strategy title for the Nintendo DS not just from the mechanics (air, land, and sea, units are diverse, complex, and surprisingly deep), but for the little morality lessons and characterizations packed into Nintendo's touch-screen handheld. While some of the villains are a bit stereotypical 2D J-pop, protagonists Brenner and Will, in particular, are quite a bit of fun (even if they are bit Captain America and Bucky).

You basically pit your military units against the game's AI or a friend over wi-fi (haven't tried the latter), and try to capture bases and/or wipe out all of the opposing force(s).

I dig the interface, it was easy to get into buying and deploying forces, and (up until the end) has a great learning curve.

Oddly, my favorite part of the game is the story / conversation mechanic. Check out the official Website and click on any of the characters to see it, but in essence it's two 2D cutouts talking to each other, with animation limited to eyes and mouths, and fading out of the listener and fading in of the speaker. Worked for me really well for some reason, and I'm going to play with it some more with mock ups and such for my own projects.

Anyway, good little addicting strategy game for Nintendo DS with high production values, solid story, and some elevating attributes. High recommend.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ninja Blade (Xbox 360)

I played the Ninja Blade demo for Xbox 360, and I've decided this is one of those cases where the demo isn't enough for me to decide whether or not to buy this game.

I mean, I've been looking forward to it -- this is From Software, and the makers of my beloved Otogi franchise.

And Ninja Blade is _very_ slick, and the standard combat would probably keep me well-engaged.

On the other hand, I hate these so-called quick-time events in video games. Why interrupt a gorgeous gameplay moment or cinematic with these annoying QT button presses that steal my eyes from what's happening onscreen?

So, if I get to it, I'll borrow or rent this title before deciding whether to buy or pass.

I need more info.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Orcs & Elves (NDS)

I played id Software's Orcs & Elves, because I'm a fan of the first-person dungeon crawler genre.

While not the best entry in the genre (for me), Orcs & Elves is a fun, engaging, fairly addictive Nintendo DS title -- especially since you can easily get it on the cheap (less than $15)

Originally a mobile (phone game), the Nintendo DS version shows its legacy roots, in that more content should have been created for the latter version.

That said, I definitely like the map and touch-screen inventory management implementation, and spellcasting on the DS is pretty slick, even if a bit gimmicky.

You can use the touch screen to navigate, but I recommend the directional pad, and the implementation of the NDS bumpers for turning (a shortcoming in other genre implementations), is much appreciated.

I wish there were more art assets for the NDS version -- that part, in particular, seems necessarily skimped on.

Overall, it's a very playable NDS title, and I recommend it for both fans of the genre, and people wanting to get their feet wet with it.