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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Today kicks off my week of spring-break, only to open the front door and find about 3 inches of snow piling up. Yeah, snow. I know this spring break is a tad early in the year, but I was definitely not expecting this. I live in Atlanta for godsakes! Anyways, I actually love days like today. The inclimate weather leaves me with nothing to do but hole-up and play video games.

A couple days ago, I hit up Xbox Live and downloaded a slew of new game demoes just to see whats out there. Resident Evil 5, Fear 2, some Tom Clancy wannabe flight-sim, and a few others. Fear 2 was kinda cool, nothing new. Everything else was pretty bland.

However, there was one game that stood out: Braid.

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I must’ve played the demo 4 or 5 times through, with it never getting old. Today’s snowy weather was the icing on the cake. I plopped down the measly $15 (actually closer to $18 due to stupid Microsoft points, thats another topic though), and haven’t been more satisfied by a game in some time. I’m normally not even a big platformer fan, being the self-proclaimed “worst Mario Brothers player on Earth”, but there’s magic in this one. I’m sure there are plenty of reviews out there that outline what makes this game so much fun, so I’m not gonna go in to it right now. All I have to say is that for any of you who haven’t played Braid, skip the reviews, skip the youtube videos, and just download the demo. It’s free, and it’s much more satisfying than some metascore.

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Master Chiefs Everywhar!!

Master Chiefs Everywhar!!

Really? I mean, really? I have not even played the demo for Halo Wars yet, and I already know what the prime downfall of the game is. I wish someone would tell me what marketing genius decided to adapt the Halo franchise to the RTS genre on a platform that primarly controls with two thumbsticks.

HAS THIS EVER WORKED?

I consider myself a PC gamer first and a console gamer second, so I’ve never given past console RTS’s a chance, given that I could always just go play C&C or Starcraft instead. My opinion is that if you even have to mention the controls in a review, the game has failed. Control issues with a game amounts to the same as when you have that brat kicking the back of your seat in a movie theatre. It removes you from the game, and constantly reminds you that you are not actually a badass space marine, and that you should probably be writing a term paper or doing the dishes instead of wasting your life with an xbox. The immersion factor is what motivates you to procrastinate your daily responsibilities and not feel guilty. When you’re having a good time, it is time well spent. Period.

With this said, why would Microsoft allow a developer to take their flagship franchise, the almighty Halo, and drag it through the mud. Perhaps they feel that the Halo name is so strong, and that the sheer marketing momentum of a new Halo game will overcome the complaints of control issues, and still produce a profitable (albiet not fun) product. Perhaps they are correct. However, if this is their strategy, then it will only produce short-term success.

When it comes to an RTS, the mouse and keyboard always wins. You’re not going to rush anyone when you’re too busy fumbling with shoulder and directional pads. And guess what, when it comes to an FPS, the mouse and keyboard also always wins. No matter how skilled you get with those thumbsticks, when put up against the precision of a mouse, you lose. You lose bad. Like headshots-while-flying-through-the-air-and-shit bad. I’m sure there’s some crazy Korean kid out there with Master-chief sneakers that can prove me wrong, but he’s putting a lot more effort into getting good with a gamepad than I would ever have to put into getting good with a mouse and keyboard to pwn him.

However, this is no secret. Gamers know this, and game developers know this. I predict that this is the main reason you can’t play Left 4 Dead on Xbox Live against PC players. It would no longer be fun. The console gamers would have a severe handicap, at which point, the game no longer competes based on skill. In fact, a few companies have attempted to remedy this issue by manufacturing controller adapters for the xbox. According to the review, it even works!

With this said, I will attempt another prediction. Even if you were to get Halo Wars to work flawlessly with a mouse and keyboard setup, all control issues aside, you would be left with a mediocre RTS. The developer focused so much on getting the controls right, I have no doubt that game quality was sacrificed. When I watch youtube videos of squads of Spartans (Master Chiefs) attacking enemies, I can’t help but think of continuity errors. For the last decade, Bungie has showed us that a single Spartan (you) can single handedly beat everyone’s asses. But in Halo Wars, you need a squad of these fellows, and they probably die a lot.

(EDIT: Shortly after writing this blog, I came across this article: http://rtspcgames.com/gaming/halo-wars-controls-better-than-a-pc-rts/.  I think someone is lying to us…)

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Bro Break. Moon Shock.

So, in the event of class, and work, and life, Broquest is on hold. Hopefully during spring break, work will resume to completion.

However, until then, I must recommend a new DS game I am enjoying. Moon. It’s good. Slightly repetitive at times, but perfect for a handheld FPS. Also, I must admit that I’m playing the 1994 classic, System Shock, concurrently with Moon. The art style of Moon reminded me of System Shock, so I gave it a download and have been playing it while slow at work. Because of this, I find myself trying to do many of the things from System Shock while playing Moon and am jolted back to the realization of the games simplicity. Oh well, I don’t think Moon developer, Renegade Kid, set out to dupe System Shock, so it’s not really fair to make the comparison. However, the further I get in System Shock, the more I yearn for a DS port.

Man, what a great game. Moon is good, System Shock is great.

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While looking through some “Black Friday” sales ads this morning, I noticed that Eidos has a new Tomb Raider game out for the Nds. “Tomb Raider: Underworld”. It blows my mind that this franchise is still making money. Do people actually play these games? More so, do people actually get excited out the release of a new Tomb Raider game? Obviously the answer to both of these questions is yes. I remember past frustrations anytime I would encounter a jumping puzzle in an FPS or Third Person game. Every single time they would harvest a fresh crop of expletives from my mouth. But these people who play (and enjoy even) the Tomb Raider series actually yearn for these jumping puzzles!

This boggles my brain.

In my opinion, jumping puzzles in any environment other than a side-scrolling game are flawed. This is especially true for first person shooters. Game developers who implement jumping puzzles ask for accurate, precise jumping maneuvers and foot placement, while in the same instance, don’t let you see your fucking feet. Third person improves the situation quite a bit, but it is still far from perfect. In these games you can see your entire character, and use your character’s size as a scale to judge distances and heights. Generally scale and lack of depth perception is the flaw in the third person perspective. You often see a platform which looks obtainable from your current position, but as soon as you leap into the air you start trying to remember where you last quicksaved. Also, I’m surprised that after all the years of this style game, developers have yet to fix all the clipping and edge dectection issues that plague third person. Anyone who’s ever played Tomb Raider knows exactly how to nudge Lara Croft to the edge of a cliff until she is left hovering in midair like some scantily clad Wiley Coyote. They must be into at least the tenth installment of this series by now, and I would bet money that you can still do this. Additionally, I would bet money that at some point while playing I will curse aloud because of a shoddy camera angle that prevents me from seeing anything useful, and I will notice my head, back, and appendages gracefully disappear into at least twenty solid brick walls throughout the game.

Basically my point is that the Tomb Raider games are built on a foundation of flawed gameplay mechanics and idiotic jumping puzzles. However, people dont seem to mind, afterall, they’re still making (and selling) them. I guess it’s a love/hate thing. Either you can’t get enough of Tomb Raider and eagerly await each new installment, or you only played through the first TR until the charm of the nude patch wore off, then you went back to playing Action Quake over the LAN.

Update: Out of curiosity, I checked Gamespot for some Tomb Raider: Underworld player reviews. Here’s what I found:

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Branston Pickle Review

…if you can keep up.

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Fallout 3.

Here it is, the inevitable Fallout 3 post.

I guess I’ve been playing for about 2 weeks now, off and on. I was right in the middle of a game of SOASE when Fallout came out, and I’ve yet to finish that game. While I don’t entirely agree with the ratings the game has been getting, I do agree that it is a good game. Many reviewers out there shrug off the accusations of “Oblivion with guns” like it is a scarlet letter, but I really feel that it is an accurate statement (and not necessarily a bad one). Overall, Oblivion itself was a good game as well that stole many hours of my life away. While I didn’t find the storyline very original or engaging, it had an addictive quality about it that compelled me to jump into every burning Lord of the Rings eyeball I could find scattered across the expansive terrain. Fallout 3 has this same quality to it. I don’t really care about finding my dad or finding some wasteland kid a new home, but crawling through abandoned subway stations infested with giant irradiated ants and roaches is pretty fun, and at times, suspenseful.

Fallout 3 IS Oblivion with guns.

A very polished, refined version of Oblivion that does away with the idiotic world-levels-up-with-you-so-goddamned-rats-can-still-kill-you-at-level-83 system (which is the reason I ultimately stopped playing Oblivion). The weapons are done right, and VATS, albeit sometimes awkward, can be satisfying. The dialog is just a cheesy as Oblivion and the dialog options are not very clever. The enemies are overall pretty dumb, and the NPC’s even dumber. While these gripes do not necessarily make Fallout 3 a bad game, I feel that they do make Fallout 3 a bad “Fallout” game.

While I am not a diehard Fallout fan like most who complain about these things, I did enjoy the old games quite a bit and will readily admit that the latest installment just doesn’t have “the feel” down right. In the classic Fallout games, a random encounter with and enemy actually got my heart racing as I watched the action points run out as I tried to run away, only to be barraged with another wave of gunfire. In Fallout 3, I just turn and run away, occasionally stopping to eat some irradiated dog meat for a health boost. Also, in the classic games, I enjoyed finding new towns and talking to all the NPC’s to hear (or read) their whimsical, tongue-in-cheek stories. The writing was clever enough to make me save before many dialogues so I could go back and try the different choices, like cheating in a choose-your-own-adventure novel. In Fallout 3, I find it a chore to listen to all garbage the NPC’s spew out of their mouths. I cannot click the mouse fast enough to get through many of the pointless (repeated) conversations, many of which even “advance” the storyline. Bleh, who cares? I know if I just keep finding new places and killing all the inhabitants I’ll eventually find dear ol’ dad anyways.

Finally, the AI. I don’t remember the AI being the shining point of the classic Fallout games, in fact, I remember many instances where I was caught stealing and then had to wait nearly 20 minutes for EVERY SINGLE TOWNS PERSON to take 5 steps away from me so I could make my move, and then go through the whole process again. However, I also don’t remember being able to exploit the age-old FPS technique of “waking up” the enemies and then letting them march at me in a single-file suicide lunch line as I mowed them down one-by-one. However, in Fallout 3, this is what I regularly find myself doing. Thanks to VATS and a high small weapons skill, I can ensure a gory shotgun headblast with each round fired. I literally walk into a room, fire off a round, step around a corner, and wait for the raiders, ghouls, etc. to come pouring through the doorway and shower me with gibs. It pretty much kills any suspense the environment has built up, and is surprising to find in a game that’s received 10/10, A++, 100%, sent from God ratings. (note: the exception to this so far is the fire-breathing ants, those things require slightly more planning ammo.)

Like I said, overall I enjoy Fallout 3. It is fun, and I find myself wanting to play it anytime I get a free minute. For those who have never played a Fallout game, this is an introduction that may inspire you to pick up the old ones (for cheap, I might add!), but you probably won’t enjoy them if you’re looking for more of the same thing. I’ll be very surprised if I actually finish this game, but for now, my SOASE game will stay on hold.

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