Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wrestling With PlayStation - Part 1

I have never done, or said, or written anything without merit. About anything.

Or anyone.

But I always catch some sort of flak when I'm speaking about Sony. Fanboy, the fans chirp. Hater. Etc. Never mind the fact that as a gamer, I am proclived to using EVERY system and not just one of my preference, generally at the behest of my passion, usually to the detriment of my wallet. My friend tells me I'm always hating on Sony. I told him, I have no problem taking the piss out of Microsoft, or even Nintendo when they are deserving of it.

"You can't say I'm hating on them when what I'm saying is based in fact. The notion that they are NEGATIVE facts is indeed a point of contention, but it isn't my fault that they are negative in the first place."

He nodded. He knew I was right. Though, making light of the fact that I seem to always be harping on Sony was his way of trying to come up with a legitimate reason why my 60gig PS3 up and died on me the night before.

Yeah, it up and died. Just like that. I knew it was going to happen eventually.

To make a very long story short, I finally ended up purchasing a PS3 late last year when I found the model I wanted, the only reason I'd EVER invest in a PS3: The 60 GB model. Backwards compatibility with PS1/PS2, mixed media memory card slots, 4 USB ports. I was happy. I played my games, watched my movies, went to town. All was well, though I did notice something amiss.

The system would heat up extremely fast, and while this seemed normal for a console with so much under the hood (an older model PS3 weighs about 12 pounds), I still became concerned. The system would heat up so much that the sound of the fan would literally overpower the sound of dialogue in a movie. It wasn't uncommon for it to heat up to this level during a game, and it seemed that the more graphically intensive it was, the faster this occured. I started having to make concessions like lowering the temperature of my room via the AC so the system wouldn't heat up, or even purchasing a small fan to keep it sounding decent, because it did worry me. At it's worst (and it frequently was), it sounded like a vacuum cleaner. I put up with it because, well, they just don't make the PS3 like that anymore, and despite its problems, I did consider it a pretty sturdily built machine.
Though I always threw caution to the wind.

"I'm just waiting for the day it finally just up and explodes", I used to kid. Kidding was all I could do. Where else was I going to find a new 60 GB system? It's not like swapping this one, or exchanging it was an option. I figured I'd just be covered when the system finally petered out.

And it did.

I woke up on Monday, watched a bit of a movie, played Tekken, and left. I came home, it refused to turn on. I did every bit of troubleshooting imaginable. It wasn't a common problem like the "Yellow light of death" or even a blinking red light. I googled and found nothing. My PS3 was gone. Calling Sony didn't help either. After waiting over 20 minutes for a rep to answer, I was hit with a firm denial. Despite the fact that I was technically still within the warranty period Sony offers, I was informed that my model was out of warranty, and that they would not fix it for free.
I thought it was ridiculous. I tried to argue my case and got nowhere. Despite the fact that I was within warranty, they absolutely refused to honor it because of the age of my model. I would have to pay $150 plus shipping so they could not repair my system, but simply send me a similar refurbished model. I would have to pay $150 plus shipping so they could not repair my system, but simply send me a similar refurbished model. This also meant I would lose my hard drive data. Apparently the "repair" process doesn't involve the transfer of data either.

The rep's smug attitude didn't help matters much either, especially the part when he insinuated that Sony's inability to transfer my hard drive data between consoles was my fault because I neglected to back it up often. The exchange literally went like this:

"I don't understand. If I can purchase a 15 dollar cable from a store, mount the drive myself and view its contents with a PC, why can't a certified technician from Sony do so at a repair center? You're telling me I'm getting the system 'fixed', but you can't preserve my data?"

"No sir."

"Why not, exactly?"

"Hey, I have a computer and I know to back up my files frequently."

"Wait..are you insinuating that it's my fault that my data is lost?"

"..Uh no sir, but--"

"Because you're talking about using a computer, and the myriad of problems those units can have are generally related but not limited to: Hardware changes, frequent software deletions and installations, and other unknown factors in the form of viruses and malicious software from third parties. Exactly HOW does that comparison pertain to a self contained piece of equipment like a gaming system?"


"Or are you telling me that I should back up my PS3 hard drive every time I remove a disc from the system?"

He had nothing else to say. By then, I was personally fed up. Calling didn't help, and I was no less stuck than before I called. I couldn't even self diagnose. Between the console's already known heat problem, and the variety of other factors that could've caused my malfunction, I was stuck. I just knew I wasn't paying to give up my console and data for a smiliar refurb that was going to break down in the same way my previous one had. Backward compatibility or no. The copy of Tekken 6 that's stuck inside can stay there as well.

I eventually decided I would just have to replace it with a new model, and keep the old one until I could figure out how to fix it.

Little did I know it was the beginning of my problems, and apparently newfound relationship with Sony's customer service.

Continue Reading..

Monday, December 28, 2009

"No bareback even in the great outdoors, eh?.."

Yes, Harry did just say that. Yes, that thing is in trash is what you think it is.

Oh how I love Silent Hill: Shattered Memories more and more with each passing second.

Continue Reading..

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aural Elbow Drop.

I own a surround system. In fact, I have since 2004. When the speakers on my "great" television at the time started to die out, I searched frantically for a solution, and lo and behold, my present that year for christmas was a 5.1 surround system of my choosing. Since then I've never looked back.

Sure, I've upgraded my television since then, but sound is the one thing that continues to matter to me. I'm usually the person preaching the contextual value of good graphics, but when the chips are down, I'd take an amazing aural experience over visuals any day. Your eyes can always overcompensate for what you're seeing, but you can't trick your ears.

My favorite example to use is Dead Space...given the choice, which would enrich the experience more; clarity towards already great visuals, or the ability to experience the constant ambient punctuation the game provides, being able to feel the Necromorphs crawling all around you?

With that notion, when I'd finally had enough of my subwoofer not delivering the punch I wanted to, I replaced it. I expected little more than a boost to sounds I was already acquainted with.

I got more than I bargained for.

In a good way.

I was surprised at what I was hearing. I popped in Uncharted 2 and fired up the train sequence. I started hearing things I'd never heard before. Subtleties in the audio made me connect with my surroundings more. I felt more genuine fear at the gunship when it appeared than I had previously. Moreover, it felt like I was there. When everything collapsed and went to hell, my room shook along with the sequence and pulled me in even further.

It was almost surreal, I started replaying things in sequence. Burnout felt more powerful and exciting. DJ Hero turned my room into a club. God of War somehow became even more visceral, deep lows and powerful bass spikes accentuating Kratos' more violent moves.

Even Gears of War 2, a game I've played through countless times with friends simply felt new< thanks to this new thing. In GoW, there is a very constant, very powerful rumbling that spreads itself through the hospital scene that I simply could NOT hear before, despite the fact that I've had surround for years. Old games felt new again.

Especially Dead Space. There aren't even words. I'd already known the game had incredible sound, but now? It was as if Issac was shooting me straight in the eardrum.

It was something that made me with I'd had it much earlier. The audio experience is so rich, so...complete now because of something seemingly so minute an upgrade, that I can only imagine how wonderful Bioshock, or Batman: Arkham Asylum would've sounded my first time through them. No regrets here though.

I'll definitely find out in their sequels.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dante's Inferno.....of War?

I know imitation's the sincerest form of flattery, but c'mon, guys.

Dante's Inferno, Visceral Games' take on the infamous novel, -is- God of War. Yes. I just said it.

I'm not sorry either. Honestly, if Noriko from Heavenly Sword was dabbling around in the "How to Make An Epic Action Game" bullet point list made by the GoW series, then Inferno has gone to Staples, made a copy of it, and dared to stuff it into a decent looking folder instead of laminate it.

I understand the symbiosis of the industry and how we must take an idea or two from each other and expand on it in order to survive, but this is a bit much, even for me. The controls have been copy pasted, the boss battles and enemy encounters are similar right down to the finishing QTE events, and the graphics, while running at a rock solid 60 frames per second, have obviously taken a hit due to this fact.

I almost played the game in a state of utter disbelief, unable to fully enjoy it because I knew where it was all coming from, and unable to hate it because what was on display was very polished. The demo was actually very long and involving, taking me from the beginning of Dante's quest to rescue his love Beatrice, to his entry into one of the many circles of hell he's supposed to endure. It's a concept that is interesting, having been built upon the framework of The Divine Comedy, but it ends up being more unintentionally funny than dramatic. This however, just builds upon what I said earlier.

Everything this game ultimately would like to be, it just falls slightly short in my eyes due to a lack of a tangible soul. The combat is visceral, but lacks that extra oomph it would need to be satisfying. The sense of scale is played up well with convincing camerawork and explosive setpieces, but doesn't feel grand. The game's general design feels so much like God of War and every other action game inspired by it, that it makes me wonder why I'm not playing them instead.

This isn't to say that DI is not a good game however. It's just so blatantly running off of Sony Santa Monica's (the team who created God of War) ideas that it's difficult to justify playing it when the real God of War 3 is merely months away, and even an actual month away from this title's release. There is literally NOTHING I saw in this demo outside of its concept that I found terribly interesting or original, and I don't know if a novel story is enough to warrant a full on purchase. It actually bothers me because I want to see Visceral Games' vision of hell (if the demo's any indication, they've got some things up their sleeve), but I don't know. While Dead Space was a sleeper hit, actually outdoing the series it built its framework upon (Resident Evil 4), this just feels like an impressive knockoff more than anything else. We'll see when February rolls around.

I'll be damned if some of those kills weren't cool though.

No pun intended.

Continue Reading..

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Looking back in time -- GoW Collection Review

Nostalgia is quite the rose tinted lens, and the games I’ve played in my younger years often look better in my mind’s eye than they actually did when I played them. Times change, technology changes, and especially in the case of 3D gaming, it isn’t something that ages well. Indeed, as much as we try and deny it, graphics do matter, and I’ve run into my share of dismay when trying to relive the glory of my past favorites. What looked amazing in my head suddenly doesn’t in front of me on my HDTV. Textures get muddy, animation is stilted instead of smooth, and what used to be sharp was actually a jagged mess. Paradise lost.

Time is much kinder to 2D games.

This logic even applies to my favorite titles. As amazing as I consider the God of War series to be on the whole, even it cannot escape the ever sprinting nature of technology. Even playing the originals on my PS3, smoothed out as they may have been, their hardware pushing nature was evident. The games were large, expansive, busy, lovingly textured, and the animation was excellent, but it came at a price. Resolution was as high as the PS2 could push without any anti-aliasing, the framerate was high, yet unstable, and video sync issues caused the odd torn image every so often. They're concessions we accepted at the time because NOTHING looked like God of War, but now, that just isn't the case. The games themselves have aged well, but their technology hasn't.

Enter Sony's plan to revisit and remaster the two classics, with the promise of eliminating the small technical issues they used to have, and letting us play them EXACTLY as the developers would've wanted.

(Click screenshots to see the original scenes, comparison shots courtesy of Bitmob)

The God of War Collection is finally here, and this means two of the best, genre influencing action games the last gen had to offer are now on display during the HD era. As if having both of these games on a Blu-Ray wasn't enough, they’ve been remastered as well, offering up a new 720p resolution with anti-aliasing, sharper textures, and a perfect framerate to match. To put aside the tech jargon and put it bluntly; they're much better than they were before. Much.

Oddly enough, the sound was left out of the remastering, and while it’s a touch disappointing to not be able to hear the original score in perhaps an uncompressed, dolby digital manner, it’s a small complaint because the sound is still impressive in it’s own right, and the score is still as appropriately epic and dynamic as it's always been.

In case you are somehow unacquainted with the God of War series, (and HOW did you miss it?), you are Kratos, champion of the gods of ancient Greece and all around ruthless soldier who is as mysterious as he is feared for his deeds. The first game has Kratos seeking revenge against Ares, the titular god of war who betrayed him. The second sees Kratos having fulfilled his quest, but due to some story elements I refuse to spoil, see him attempting to reach the Isle of Creation in order to ultimately change his fate. The results of his tenacity aren't pleasant though. Kratos isn't a hero, nor is he even an antihero, and his violent, ruthless methods may be a turnoff for some people. For the rest of us though, it's one hell of a violent, bloody path cut through ancient Greek mythology that takes its liberties where it needs to in the name of an epic story.

I played the originals to death, so my memory of them both, what I felt, I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday. This means it's no small thing when I say that thanks to the remastering, God of War I and II look exactly as I remember them. This is a compliment, because after all, I am talking about two last generation games being blown up way past their original resolution on an HDTV. They were literally the best looking games the PS2 had to offer, but are dated by this point, especially with games like Gears of War 2 and Uncharted 2 running amok. This is to say nothing of the massive setpieces and epic sense of scale for which the series has always been revered, but the fact that the conversion actually helps both titles hold up is a boon. The original game looks just as good as it did on the SDTV I had in 2005, and its sequel actually looks better, dare I say early current gen by comparison.

The only thing that didn’t make a next gen leap were the cutscenes. God of War makes use of three kinds of cinematic, in-game, prerendered, and full CG. While the full CG scenes still look stunning (albeit still in standard definition) the prerendered scenes look atrocious in comparison to the game itself. It’s unfortunate their resolution didn’t get the same upgrade the rest of the game did, because while the transition between the two was near seamless back in 2005, it isn’t now. Players will know exactly what I mean as the game makes the jarring shift from 720p, to a scene rendered in 480p, then back to 720p again.

Gameplay wise, nothing’s changed. The smooth, free flowing combat system is just as deep and visceral as it’s always been, the weapons are just as satisfying to use, and everything feels much more responsive and tight thanks to the improved framerate. Even the game’s platforming elements also feel more responsive because of this, cutting down on much frustration while moving around some of the trickier parts. The seamless integration of button pressing minigames into everything from combat to the puzzles feels just as fresh as it did back then as well, and mashing buttons to escape the jaws of a hydra, or to disarm other foes mid flight (has to be seen to be believed) is still intensely satisfying. Kratos has a no holds barred, visceral style that is as shocking to watch as it is empowering on the player's side, and the fact that the game now feels just as tight control wise as it does visually is excellent.

At the end of the day though, these are still two superb games being brought up to speed for existing fans and newcomers before we’re treated to the close of this trilogy with God of War III come March 2010. While certain bits of the conversion leave a bit to be desired, on a whole, this is essentially the definitive version of two of the best action games ever to grace consoles, budget priced, and with the added bonus of achievements to add a bit of replay value. If you've played through them already, the conversion and added accomplishments are in my opinion, well worth another go, but if you're a complete newcomer to the series, well..

Personally, I couldn’t ask for a better deal myself.

Continue Reading..

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DJ Hero vs. ExpertPenguin -- Dj Hero Review

Well, that came out of nowhere.

Though, you couldn’t blame me for being skeptical.

After all, I’ve been burned before.

The “Hero” series of music games has almost become a caricature of itself by now. With full priced releases every few months that don’t dare to innovate and incredibly expensive bundled instruments that aren’t getting any cheaper, the overall lack of enthusiasm towards the genre now is something we all should’ve seen coming. Plastic instrument games aren’t what they were two years ago (some would say that’s where they peaked) and the current economical situation makes these premium priced games an even harder sell than before. After all, if you’ve flailed around on a plastic guitar for one franchise, you’ve done it for all of them.

But what about something different, like say…a turntable?

A group of people from Europe came to the same realization and offered up their answer in the form of DJ Hero. The good news is, even though it isn’t light on expense, I don’t think anyone will feel shortchanged after taking it for a spin.

I’ll say it up front, DJ Hero is unlike any rhythm game I’ve ever played. From its unique controller, to it’s highly original and well produced mixes, the game somehow achieves a level of familiarity and overall freshness that hasn’t been seen in any music game to date.

The best thing about the game, and this may sound a bit funny, is that it doesn’t feel like what is now a traditional “Hero” game at all. It, in fact, feels more like the series used to before they started overloading on features in an attempt to outdo Rock Band, and the game itself is much better for it. This may turn some party gamers off, as the game is almost entirely centered around a single player experience, but believe me when I say the game is much better for it in the end with one small exception that I’ll mention later.

I was able to get my hands on the “Renegade” edition of the game (pictures in an earlier post), and I honestly consider it the definitive edition of the package. Inside that massive box comes a copy of the game, a special gold and black version of the turntable controller, a Eminem/Jay-Z mixtape, and a very sturdy carrying case that also serves as an actual stand/platform for the controller itself. I consider it the definitive version of the game simply because of the inclusion of that last detail, but anyone who can’t get their hands on that one will still find the game and turntable controller in the regular package.

The controller itself is very well put together, and as far as complexity goes, can range from daunting if you’ve never/rarely picked up a music game, to challenging if you’re well versed in the art of vicarious music making. There’s the turntable itself with three platter buttons for effects and skips that can be manipulated to scratch or spin a full 360 degrees, an effects knob for distorting sounds, a “Euphoria” (think Star Power) button, and a crossfader for switching between records in a single mix. The interface in-game is modeled after a record, with three tracks representing the first song, sound effects, and second song being mixed, respectively. From there, it's matching notes to the beat, placing effects, scratching or spinning where necessary, and using the crossfader to switch to the extreme left or right to isolate a single record in play.

While it all sounds complex on paper, thanks to the mandatory tutorials you have to run, and the game’s gradual but balanced difficulty curve, using this new instrument becomes second nature after an hour or so of play. Of course, there are a bevy of advanced techniques to learn and use, but the fact that it’s still useable on a beginner’s level is a great job on the developer’s part.

It’s a great thing too, because the soundtrack is phenomenal. I don’t even second guess myself in the slightest when I say it’s easily one of the best put together soundtracks in a music game to date. Each of the game’s 93 mixes have been produced from over 103 songs by various professionals, be they in-house or famous ones like Cut Chemist, DJ AM, Grandmaster Flash, or even the inimitable Daft Punk, and it shows. Genres like Hip-hop, R&B, Dance, House, Techno, and even Rock are represented here, and the fact that it’s all original music immediately makes it stand out, even having the effect of making the marriage between controller and screen more pronounced. Usually, when playing a music game, you’re simply emulating, or pretending to be your favorite stars of an established song. Since everything in this game has never been heard before, it actually feels like you’re the one producing, and the sense of satisfaction, particularly when completing a challenging song, is second to none.

If there is one misstep in this, it’s that the Guitar/DJ tracks easily stand out as the worst of the package. Given that the game is, at the end of the day, a part of the whole “Hero” canon, you figure publisher Activision was going to force Guitar gameplay in there somehow, and it feels exactly like that, forced. None of the (thankfully few) songs featuring the dual gameplay mix together well at all, and even though they aren’t bad per se, in a game full of otherwise great and inventive mixes, they stick out like a sore thumb.

On the multiplayer front, aside from the above mentioned, there really isn’t much to speak of. You have Guitar/DJ, DJ vs. DJ..and that’s about it. I can personally tell much of the focus went into the single player campaign, what with a dizzying number of setlists to complete and 255 stars to unlock prizes across the board, but the multiplayer gameplay isn’t anything to write home about. DJ vs. DJ can be played locally independent of difficulty, and the aforementioned is painful to participate in, though the Guitar tracks are challenging on their own (though a bit repetitive). Hopefully in the (inevitable) sequel we’ll see DJs battling tracks on separate mixes, some sort of tug of war mode, or even more of a custom sound element in the future, but it’s a small complaint in an otherwise solid first entry into the franchise.

Visual wise, the game is surprisingly well done. Even though the art style may be hit or miss for some people, there isn’t any denying that a ton of effort was put into it, despite the fact that your attention will be focused mostly on the notes played. Colors pop, the DJs are surprisingly well animated (though they don’t always match up with what’s going on controller wise), and each venue is a spectacle, with flashing lights, effects and camera tricks that pulse to the beat of whatever song you’re playing, with massive crowds that do well to make you feel like you truly are the life of the party.

In case you couldn’t tell before I reached this conclusion, I found Dj Hero to be fantastic. The controller is sturdy and unique, the music is mindblowing, and even though the game hits a snag here and there, for a freshman entry to a new franchise, the room for improvement is definitely there, and as an entire package, is very, very tight indeed. Of course, even DLC is on its way ensuring that the experience can only get better from here on out. I recommend everyone give this game a try, from new people unaware of what the music game craze is all about, to even seasoned players like myself who are all too quick to write the game off because of its radically different focus.

After all, I was one of them. Look at me now.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Unboxing.

It's here.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship..

You know what that means. Stay tuned.

Continue Reading..

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is the "Games" page of my iPhone -- Tier 1.

Why Tier 1, you may ask? I have so many games that they must be ordered by personal ranking. I'm finicky.

But it's definitely something that got me thinking as I looked over my collection. I was after all, one of the many people who scoffed when Apple announced their interest in the portable gaming space. Then again, I've been watching competitor after competitor try and dethrone Nintendo from their pedestal for 20 years now to no avail. It's something everyone says. Paraphrased:

"We're going for the throat of (insert current portable Nintendo platform), and we will beat them at their own game."

Then they fail.

Something's different here though. And if my first page of game apps is any indication, Apple is gaining a momentum that may have a shot at making Nintendo lose some sleep. Sony as well.

Its merits as a worthy adversary in the mobile phone space (notice how every new smartphone released nowadays is touted as an 'iPhone killer'?) notwithstanding, every day, or should I say every week, the device proves its mettle more and more. Graphically, it's on par with a PSP, and it's multi-touch screen gives it the unique functionality of a DS. It used to be that a mobile phone version of a game would be simplified, or cut down in some way,but having played the PSP and iPhone versions of Need for Speed: Undercover, the latter version is superior, somehow edging out the established system in terms of visuals and control.

But why just visuals and control as outstanding points?

Control can be a huge issue with any portable gaming platform. Either schemes have to be shrunk, compromised, or changed altogether--and in each of these cases the gamer ends up feeling the loss more then the developer. Thankfully, due to the multi-touch nature of the iPhone's display along with its built in tilt sensor (akin to a wii remote or SIXAXIS pad) anything from Rhythm Action, to Racing, to even adventure games are possible on the system with enough creativity. While it isn't likely that we'll see a fighting game on the iPhone at any point (they simply demand too much precision and timing for something like a touch screen), the fact that it handles every other genre reasonably well, even sports titles, is quite a feat.

Visuals are the backbone as well, aside from the high definition display that takes up 90% of the phone's real estate, it's hardware makes it competitive with the PSP, which means it edges out the DS visually by default. There's a bit of Mac tech sneaking around inside, and its evident everywhere, from navigating the interface to running the programs themselves. Better yet, the machine continues to become incrementally more powerful as time goes on, and very much like a PC, as the hardware gets better, the games do as well. Can you say having your cake and eating it too?

The App Store, its means of digital distribution, was also a step in the right direction that everyone was also skeptical about. Simply put, having the entire library available at your fingertips, merely a push away not only ensures that the vast majority of the games on the iPhone are cheap due to the lack of physical media (most fall within the $5-$10 dollar range) but they rival the other handhelds' feature sets. I just purchased Rock Band last night and I already feel like it's a more complete, feature rich game than the PSP's Rock Band: Unplugged. Things like online multiplayer, individualized instrument selection, and better priced downloadable music in the store are things the PSP version was inexplicably lacking, and the iPhone version has this for $30 dollars less than what that version goes for. Assassin's Creed is another great example, as the flawed Altair's Chronicles for the DS recieved a much needed visual and mechanic boost during its conversion over.

It's such a force to be reckoned with (Akin to Steam for PC gaming) that I can't help but feel like Sony's PSPgo is an answer to the iPhone as a whole, what with it's download only model, emphasis on the Playstation Network for distribution, and forthcoming "PSP Minis" service, bite sized games for a couple dollars or so. Even Nintendo is showing around their (lukewarm) DSiWare service for the DS, with bite sized games to download as well.

Did Apple get it right? While I can't see consoles committing to this route (or transitioning as smoothly to it over time), I think it's perfect for the portable space.

This was meant to be a small piece, but I couldn't help but think these things when I was arranging the icons this morning. Through the iPhone--and by extension the iPod Touch--Apple not only manged to create a great portable system that can stand tall next to Nintendo and Sony, but in some ways, outdoes their competitors where it counts. It has the base functionality of the DS with the graphical horsepower of the PSP, and its distribution model is fast, easier to manage, and vastly cheaper than the competition while offering practically the same experience.

Color me impressed.

Continue Reading..

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Uncharted is a perfect name on several fronts.

When writing the review for this game, the graphic analysis will read as follows:


There are no words.

This is the best looking game of this generation.

I am delivering a straight kick to the chest of the frustration associated with posting here from my phone (picture resizing and all, click for dramatic effect) just to let you know that I am playing this game, and my mind is blown. Wow.

Continue Reading..

Friday, September 25, 2009

AIM Grabs: Hey Lucien, how do you feel about Halo 3: ODST?

Friends of mine expressed interest. What could I say?


ExpertPenguin (1:46:26 AM): lol
ExpertPenguin (1:46:34 AM): you are all alone on that one
ExpertPenguin (1:46:40 AM): the adverts always work
ExpertPenguin (1:46:48 AM): amazing universe built around an average FPS
ExpertPenguin (1:47:08 AM): I can guarantee you that the commercials carry more emotional and narrative depth than that entire game
ExpertPenguin (1:47:30 AM): I don't want to [play it], it's Halo
ExpertPenguin (1:47:41 AM): and if Halo 2 was a slap in my face
ExpertPenguin (1:47:47 AM): 3 was every single nail in the coffin
ExpertPenguin (1:47:58 AM): and ODST is the dirt being put on the casket
ExpertPenguin (1:48:06 AM): I wish I didn't [Own Halo 3.]
ExpertPenguin (1:48:18 AM): that was another Bungie trainwreck
ExpertPenguin (1:48:30 AM): but that Believe campaign they had swirling around it was something else, wasn't it?
ExpertPenguin (1:48:55 AM): stop watching the commercials
ExpertPenguin (1:49:15 AM): I guarantee you if you watched every Halo 3 commercial, ANd the short movie, AND the mockumentaries
ExpertPenguin (1:49:21 AM): you'd want to play Halo 3
ExpertPenguin (1:49:36 AM): Because it's a compelling and rich universe
ExpertPenguin (1:49:45 AM): with some average games at the center of it
ExpertPenguin (1:50:01 AM): I saw ODST in action
ExpertPenguin (1:50:11 AM): it looks like halo 3 graphically
ExpertPenguin (1:50:43 AM): and has the same overall look to it
ExpertPenguin (1:51:34 AM): like it's strange
ExpertPenguin (1:52:00 AM): I am so turned off to Halo as a game by this point in time, it's insane
ExpertPenguin (1:52:19 AM): and I want to see the story somewhat, but I'd have to play the game, or watch the game being played to do so'
ExpertPenguin (1:52:30 AM): I don't know if I'm willing to make that sacrifice
ExpertPenguin (1:53:03 AM): barf
ExpertPenguin (1:53:11 AM): it looks like a Halo 3 mod
ExpertPenguin (1:53:22 AM): and Bungie STILL doesn't know how to simulate full scale war
ExpertPenguin (1:53:41 AM): all of their attempts at war setpieces look like multiplayer matches
ExpertPenguin (1:55:51 AM): people awkwardly bouncing and running around pristine locales, laden with random scorch mark textures


Yeah. I think I'm good on the 60 dollar 6 hour campaign packaged with the cesspool of the internet's favorite multiplayer console FPS.


Continue Reading..

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Da funk back to the punk, come on..


My return is heralded with the sound of house music.

It's no secret that I'm excited about DJ Hero, but it seems Activision is speaking to me--and by extension, everyone else slightly burned by the direction they've taken Guitar Hero--by letting everyone know just how much effort they're putting into making this game phenomenal for house/dance/techno music lovers.

The picture above speaks for itself with Daft Punk signing on, lending not only their likeness and inimitable style, but a number of exclusive remixes just for the game to pad out an already mindblowing catalog of mixes reaching past the hundred mark.

Tim Riley, Activision's VP of Music Affairs had much to say to Rolling Stone during their interview but these quotes stood out for me:

“They are known to be selective about the projects they get involved with and being able to partner with them in this way is a rare opportunity we are honored to have,” Riley added. “From the mixes featuring their music, to their character models and the amazing Daft Punk inspired venue, the guys have been meticulously involved every step of the way.”


“It’s the next best thing to being at a Daft Punk concert.”

Amazing. Now that I've thought of it, what IS a DJ themed game without Daft Punk? This is love. Those of us who are dying to see the duo on stage again, you know, before 2017, I think we've been blessed. Their tracks after the jump.

Now, I really can't wait.


• Daft Punk “Around the World” vs. Young MC “Bust A Move”
• Daft Punk “Da Funk” vs. NASA “Strange Enough ft. Karen O, ODB and Fatlip”
• Daft Punk “Da Funk” vs. Queen “Another One Bites the Dust”
• Daft Punk “Robot Rock” vs. Hashim “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)”
• Daft Punk “Robot Rock” vs. Queen “We Will Rock You”
• Daft Punk “Short Circuit” vs. Boogie Down Productions “Jack Of Spades”
• Daft Punk “Technologic” vs. Gary Numan “Cars”
• Daft Punk “Television Rules The Nation” vs. No Doubt “Hella Good”

Ah...October 27th..

Continue Reading..

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rock-em Sock-em Cowgirl.

I remember seeing the trailer for this game and not being interested. I remember seeing a woman dive in slow motion, I remember seeing her acrobatic stylings on the television above at work, and writing it off.

I occasionally wonder if I'm a bit too jaded. "Another clone from the house Max Payne built", I said. I watched her outrageous, acrobatic stylings, gunplay and swordplay and remember saying to a coworker of mine - "You know, that looks awesome, but I wonder if the transitions are that smooth in actual gameplay?" I looked away and didn't pay it much mind.

It's funny, because in wondering whether or not I'm jaded, I also realize that I've been very pleasantly surprised at many of the releases this year, games I wouldn't have batted an eye towards just rushing up to me and making it known just how wrong I was.

Wet is another of those games.

Coming completely out of left field from Bethesda of all places, and being developed by Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M), Wet is a game that wants you to have fun. The game is awash in a cheesy, worn down Grindhouse style akin to House of the Dead: Overkill, is rife with blood and guts galore, has completely outlandish and over-the-top scenarios aplenty, cheesy, yet catchy music and dialogue, and the best part is, you're in control of it all.

You play as Rubi, an assassin-for-hire with the agility of the Prince of Persia and the firearm proficiency of Max Payne. From the very start of the demo, you're taught the basics. Leaping is done with the A button, Sliding with the B button, Left Trigger helps run on walls, Right trigger is to fire. Later, you gain the ability to use that huge sword on her back and your battle options increase, but it never gets more complicated than those 5 options.

Which brought me back to the point I made with my coworker about it controlling as well as the trailers made it look. I'll say right off the bat that there is a bit of a learning curve, but everything and then some is possible. Every move Rubi executes, be it a wall run, jump, slide, as soon as you move the aiming reticle over an enemy, the game slows down in order to help you aim (and looks damned cool too.) Sweeping the reticle over two enemies causes her to auto-aim at one while you focus on another, making use of both her pistols. It's actually a great design choice that takes the focus away from pinpoint accuracy and more towards how well you can maneuver her through the environments. Within minutes I was deftly executing movements that would make even Mr. Smith from the movie Shoot 'em Up blush.

Case in point: In the opening room alone, I was able to run along a wall, take out two men, flip off said wall without losing momentum catching another henchman between the eyes in midair, hit the ground sliding across the floor on my knees towards two more, taking one out by the knees before literally using him like a human staircase and backflipping off his face, not only taking him out, but the guy behind him as well.

This was all one extended movement. The moves used were literally, wall run, jump, slide. The interactions made them so much more. Even something as simple as descending a ladder will have her sliding down with her back arched backwards if you choose to pull the right trigger on the way down.

It actually wasn't until I played Wet that I realized just how much other games of this nature like Stranglehold took much of the emphasis away from your spectacle by having you focus intensely on pinpoint aiming. Here, within minutes I wasn't nearly as worried about my guns as I was maneuvering her skillfully enough to dispatch my enemies. With each battle area and stage serving as some sort of interactive playground, the possibilities actually seem endless. One area late in the demo spent a good 30 seconds highlighting all the zip lines, swinging poles, walls, and explosives in the area. My brain could do nothing but contemplate how to turn that area into an extended ballet of death. IT's something you as a player would want to do since successive kills fill a combo meter, not only giving you points but also restoring Rubi's health depending on the situation at hand.

The demo ends with a highway chase that's half gameplay, half Quick-Time-Event, having you alternately hopping from car roof to car roof while precision aiming at enemies. If the previous moments of gameplay didn't sell me, having to break away from my shooting in order to hop off one car the second it capsized , only to land on the roof of another car swerving to avoid another car flipping down the interstate had me completely floored.

If I had any complaint, it was that the camera was too close, providing a limited view or hindered one in small rooms, and that Rubi's agility can occasionally be a hindrance, with her moves either being too sensitive or not sensitive enough. The latter becomes a problem when there's always 5-6 enemies minimum shooting at you at any given time, and the wrong combination of moves can get you mowed down.

That however, didn't stop Wet from making my wanted list for Fall 2009. I don't remember any other game since HOTD:Overkill that simply wanted me to have fun because the creation itself was born from developers having a great time.

Did I mention that I also love her character design? Something about it. So renegade and not overtly sexual like most female protagonists.

Surprise from left field. Nice one.

Continue Reading..

Monday, August 17, 2009

Digital Kid and The Dark Knight

Both this PS3 browser and my phone are swallowing up my posts. This is out of my control.

No more empty promises until I've got something concrete.

Though I will say this in passing, and damnit if I haven't typed this into the window and watched it get sucked into the abyss three times--

Batman: Arkham Asylum is amazing, not in that "Hey this is pretty good" comic book game sense, but as the most fully realized, authentic, nailed-to-a-tee Batman experience I've seen in a very long time, and yes, that is including the last two films, both of which were fantastic.

The setup is simple - The Joker finally gets captured (and it's a term I use lightly) by Batman and dragged to Arkham Island, no sooner than he is a few steps into the prison, the guards are down, the Joker's loose inside and taking over, and it's up to Batman to contend with every single loon he's locked up in that place.

The visuals are top notch and exude creativity, the voice acting is superb (What is it with the Joker ALWAYS stealing the show? Thank you Mark Hamill), the controls are fluid and intuitive, and most of all, it's FUN. What we have coming up is a Stealth/Action hybrid that not only manages to capture the essence of the world of The Dark Knight, but it looks like it's shaping up to be a damn fine game as well.

The best thing about the game is that it truly lets you FEEL like Batman.

Utility belt and all. It's almost like a Batman refresher course in case you've forgotten his abilities.

A superb multidirectional fighting system reminds you just how adept he is at hand-to-hand-combat, complete with impressively segued counter animations, should the need arise.

The grappling hook, batarang, prehensile cape are there to remind you what a great inventor he is. When was the last time you used a weapon or accessory in a game that felt less like a appliance, and more like a natural extension of the character?

Being able to scan an entire area with his "Detective vision" (with detailed, per-enemy information down to their moods) reminds you of his above average perception and situational awareness. You know, pretty much the answer to just how he takes advantage of all those shadows and vantage points you wouldn't have thought of.

A particularly fond memory of these realizations adding up to a cohesive whole:

I was faced with a room full of enemies. 5 to be precise. All milling about, minding themselves. A flick of my detective vision from the vent revealed 5 enemies, all aware, all armed. I set forward, crept behind the first one too dumb to check his 6, and knocked him unconscious. I'm wide in the open though, another flick of my DV reveals several stone gargoyles near ceiling high. I notice one right near two enemies making their rounds. Perfect. I grapple towards them and bide my time.

They're running a tight ship, heading in the same direction. I have to separate them. I wait until they've gotten closer to my vantage point and make my move. Quickly whipping out a batarang, I knock the first one unconscious. This startles the second one, leading him to panic and try to revive his partner. He got it the worst, making the mistake of running underneath the very same gargoyle I'd made my new home. A flick of the Y button, and he was yanked upward into the shadows, strung up like a defenseless pinata. I drop down silently and pacify the still unconscious thug from before.

3 down.

I'd apparently made too much noise, as one of them noticed and started making his way towards the site of my handiwork. A quick tap of RB ziplines me back into the shadows, prime for my next move. These next two are much too far apart for me to be effective. As soon as one's back is turned, I leap off the gargoyle with my trademark glide kick, and nail one right in the back, this makes enough noise to startle the other, so much so that I don't even have time to finish my target, I have to retreat. But they're both worried. My detective vision tells me this much. Hanging from yet another gargoyle, I yank his terrified friend skyward just to spook the hell out of the last thug, and it works. He is literally so flustered, he's taken to firing up at the ceiling. I know I have him.

Right in the middle of his best Rambo impression, I drop behind him without a sound, punch him in the neck and put him in a sleeper hold.

The Joker laments my victory with taunts and chagrin for the hired help.

I am Batman.

Great game. I can't wait.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Status update...

I don't have a computer anymore. I won't until September 7th.

I'm actually typing this from my PS3. Looks like the Blu-Ray/Mixed Media player that also plays games has another useful function, eh?

Does this mean a lack of posting from yours truly though? Not really. I'll be posting here and on Chocolate Lemon to the best of my ability. I've also managed to snap up applications for my phone that handle just about every blogging client I use, so aside from some small transition issues related to just HOW I manage my posts, I shouldn't be too off track.

I also missed half of my self-imposed quota for July, but that's water under the bridge by now.

What's upcoming? I haven't done any of my industry related thoughts in a while, so that's on the block...Upcoming games are of course getting some degree of focus (I'm playing the fantastic Batman: Arkham Asylum game, expect a writeup) as well as more news, even though, when put to scale, it's a relatively tame fall season as far as gaming goes. Many of the hits have been pushed back or are simply not releasing until 2010 (Bioshock 2, Splinter Cell, God of War 3, No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, Super Mario Galaxy 2), but there is some saving grace in the form of some great niche and mainstreamers pulling out their guns. They're guns we'll be able to ENJOY because there ISN'T a avalanche of AAA titles clogging our collective interest and spreading us thin.

I'd also like to try my hand at some videos as well, but I'll save that for when I've got some decent hardware in tow. It's very hard to remember I'm essentially a blogging MacGuyver (iPhone, PS3, USB Keyboard combo, mooching off friends' PCs) at times.

There's also a new category, it's called IRL, for when I have to make a post like this regarding LIFE.

New post in a day or so!


Continue Reading..

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Turtle Soup.

(TMNT: Turtles in Time - Xbox Live Arcade: 800 points, PSN: TBA)

My earlier post, Pizza Time, had a mixture of excitement, and a dose of skepticism. After all, Turtles in Time is a beloved game, both the Arcade version and the SNES home conversion. I booted up the trial (read: unpaid for) version of the game and took it for a spin.

What happened?

After an admittedly stylish and well done rendition of the original intro, I jumped in. The artwork is nice and high res, the title song was different, and I sensed nothing amiss. Selecting my favorite Turtle also proved to be a non issue, and the power ratings adorning each turtle were a nice touch as well, moving the selection past being more than a (mostly) aesthetic affair. The announcement of “Big Apple, 3 AM” also did much to ease my concern that perhaps, this was done to form.

Then the game itself started.

What happened exactly?

I had my share of skepticism with the new art direction for the game ever since I saw it in screenshots, but seeing it in motion is something else entirely. The game looks flat. SNK set out to make a point with The King of Fighters XII that NOTHING can replace good old fashioned sprite art when the chips are down, and this game’s visuals unintentionally solidify this fact. The colors no longer pop, the stage itself has lost its cartoonish charm, and the overall package left a dry taste in my mouth. Gone are each turtle’s signature animations, gone are the incompetent gaits of the foot soldiers, gone are the speech bubbles and general tomfoolery that truly made you feel like you were playing a TMNT comic. Even the meaty, screen shaking effects brought on by your hits and slams are all but gone here, and it contributes to the flat feeling the visuals bring about. Things are happening on screen, foot soldiers are being beat down, but it’s hard to care when every attack seems like it was done with a feather touch.

You can tell they were trying to save it a bit with the cartoonish “THWACK” effects and comic style explosions, but they don’t help the game’s case, they only solidify that perhaps this should’ve been done entirely in high res 2D. It’s a pipe dream however, because the reality is that there is no way Ubisoft would’ve ever committed that much effort to a downloadable title.

It isn’t all terrible though. The 3D visuals are slick, and certain things do pop, such as Krang’s robot coming from the shadows to zap the stage, and small touches like Baxter Stockman breaking the fourth wall by flying up to the screen and laughing at the player before powering up, do well to signal that they wanted to at least retain the charm of the original.

The music is less forgivable though. If ever there were a case for a game’s soundtrack, and just how integral it is for the overall feel of a game, this is the most recent shining example. Anyone who has come within even breathing distance of the game knows how excellent the soundtrack was, and diehards can recall a theme off the top of their head with frightening accuracy. This is how beloved the soundtrack of Turtles in Time was. I expected at the very least, if not the original tunes, an arranged or remixed version of the original music. For them to not even bother remixing, but to REPLACE the entire soundtrack begs the question of why they bothered calling it a remake at all. What’s on play here is not only frighteningly generic, but it changes the tone of the game as well from whimsical to off puttingly serious at times. The sound effects are also flat as well. Explosions don’t pop, impacts don’t even sound half as meaty as the 16 bit home version, and voices sound muted, though at the very least, the voices of some the characters and enemies somewhat emulate the original well.

Gameplay is the only area where things were consistent and improved. While the original moveset is more or less intact, making it easy to jump in and have fun, the one flaw that was improved over the original is depth perception. Because the game is in full 3D this time, there are no longer planes of movement to contend with. Fighting foot soldiers, not to mention bosses feels much more natural because of this, and the game is much better off because of it. This comes in handy especially during multiplayer with 4 other people, where the deluge of thwacks, foot soldiers and flying turtles can create a confusing scene. Speaking of the multiplayer, I’m also pleased to report that it’s mostly lag free, and I had no trouble getting into matches.

You’ll find that most of my problems stem from the lofty expectations I had for the game reputation wise. Despite the faults on display though, I still want the game and would encourage others to play, especially in multiplayer. It is a solid beat-em-up and there is much fun to be had while playing, it just isn’t what Turtles in Time used to be. Taking this title on its own merits, it’s very easy to enjoy, and it’s admittedly the most solid TMNT game I’ve played in years. Playing it a bit longer did help it grow on me, but I didn’t forget I was having the most fun when I put aside my desire for a true remake and took it as is.

At the end of the day though, this game was supposed to live up to the legacy of the original, and it falls short of that mark. It’s not so much a remake as it is a reimagining, and for them to advertise it as the former instead of the latter is where the majority of the disappointment lies, especially as a fan.
Whether or not you’re willing to discard that notion and have a bit of fun anyway is up to you. If you're a newcomer, you have even less to worry about.

Continue Reading..

Saturday, August 1, 2009

King of Fighters XII - Review

It’s the year of the fighting game, of that there is no doubt, we’ve already been treated to Street Fighter IV, the very welcome surprise BlazBlue, and now it’s time for another in the form of SNK’s latest, The King of Fighters XII. SNK claims to have gone back to the drawing board with this one, and with its new, updated high definition makeover, can it truly stand up to its competition?

The answer is: Not really.While KOF XII is a solid fighter, it has a number of glaring omissions and design choices that keep it from the greatness it was hyped up to be.

To start off, the fighting is very solid. It plays just like KOF should (read: like a tangible, heavy Street Fighter) but with a few changes. New to KOF XII is the Critical Counter system, where successive attacks, blocks, damage taken fill a small meter. When it’s full, you can either tap a heavy punch or kick button to initiate a custom combo, or a more damaging version of your super move. The critical counters are simple to execute, and fun to experiment with, much like the Focus in SF4. They’re also very rewarding visually when executed properly, and I can see them becoming a staple of high level play. Taken out however, are a great deal of the offensive options. Gone are the tactical shift, skill bar, dream cancels, and super desperation moves of previous titles. The game has literally been stripped down and scaled back to the basics, ala Street Fighter 4, and while it may be a series of somewhat unwelcome changes at first, it becomes easy to appreciate the tweaks they did make and settle into a satisfying rhythm.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a review about KOF XII if I didn’t mention the visuals. It’s already no secret that SNK went back to the drawing board completely regarding KOF’s look, and for the most part, I can say they did a spectacular job. Rather than modernize it with 3D again ala KOF:Maximum Impact, or even giving it razor sharp vectors ala Guilty Gear and Blazblue, the KOF team went completely old school and animated everything with old-school pixel by pixel sprite animation. The results are more than impressive. Characters move with fluidity and weight, and are large and colorful. The stages, while very few in number are bustling and full of personality. Subtle touches like the animation of fabrics, and the fact that even environmental lighting was considered--in a 2D fighter--will continue to impress even years after this title’s release. Not one of these screenshots actually does it justice, it has to be seen in motion to be believed. The only complaint, if you can call it one, is that while the sprites are very detailed in and of themselves, their dot matrix nature means that despite the high resolution, they can come off as jagged or pixilated when displayed on an HDTV. There is a filter in place that can smooth out the rough edges( I’d recommend the 1 or 2 setting; 3 is too blurry) , but this problem is merely a consequence of the medium used, not any failure on SNK’s part.

That is something I unfortunately can’t say about the rest of the game, and this is where the bad news begins. The core fighting is solid, the visuals are top notch, but that’s all there is to the package.

At about 22 characters, the roster in KOF XII is actually the smallest the series has ever seen. The explanation for this was, due to the massive undertaking redrawing each character proved itself to be, the roster had be cut. This would be something easy to forgive if it were filled with the best of the best KOF had to offer, but that isn’t the case. Series regulars and favorites like Yuri, King, Geese, Billy, Mai, Rugal, and K’ are only the tip of the iceberg when mentioning the amount of missing characters from the roster, and even though there are some series mains inside (Terry, Athena etc), it’s not only a shame, but it’s almost a slap in the face if you’re a fan. How could some of SNK’s most beloved characters not make the cut for KOF’s next gen leap? It’s a strange decision on their part, because if their aim was to have a rebirth of the series, they had to have known that Mai would be at the top of many people's lists for a reinvention. Furthermore, the characters who did make the cut, you’ll find they’re missing moves or had their movesets changed for the worse. Gone are Terry’s Power Dunk and Buster Wolf, same goes for Clark’s Mount Tackle, Kims Haki Kyaku, and Iori, well, anyone who’s mained him for the past 15 years or so is in for a surprise.

A very unwelcome one. The loss of some iconic moves means a drastic change in character strategies, also to the overall feel of matches.

It’s this mixture of questionable and/or missing content that makes KOF XII a package I can’t recommend to anyone other than the most diehard of fighting fans. The “Arcade” mode is a 5 stage time trial with no end boss, and when you’re done with that…that’s pretty much it. An offline and online versus mode are all that remain, and if you don’t happen to have Xbox Live (for 360 owners) then the game drops in value even further. No survival, no true story mode, no 1v1 arcade, not even a mission mode to fill in the gaps. The only thing left to do is fight. Fight through a time trial, fight the cpu, fight online. While this seems like a ludicrous complaint for a fighting game, with Street Fighter 4 providing a ton of content in comprehensive training, survival, time trial modes, and BlazBlue providing extra challenge modes along with a detailed, per-character story mode, for KOF to come up short for any other incentive to play, even with regards to unlockables (everyone’s open from the start, there’s a gallery but no instructions on how pictures unlock) is disappointing.

[Note: at the time of this writing, the online play ranges from decent to nearly unplayable. The netcode is quite bad and I’ve actually had dropped matches in a 1v1 room due to it being unable to handle people coming and going]

In a sense, it’s almost as if the much lauded graphical overhaul has been a blessing and a curse to this game. Every interview I’ve read, the developers’ explanation for the lack of (insert name here) in this game was due to the amount of time it took to create the character sprites. There’s no continuation of the story because of the sprites. There’s a lack of characters because of the sprites, no bonus modes because of the sprites. I hate to say that after playing, I believe every word. While KOF XII is a very impressive looking 2D fighting game, it seems as if the team was too tired to do anything else after completing the art. Even the menus are convoluted and boring to look at. That notion of laziness, it’s unfortunately a feeling that carries itself through the entire experience, and only the truest of arcade driven fighting game fans will be able to overlook this. Everyone else will feel cheated of their $60 after their first run through “Arcade” mode. I’d even go as far to say that the game is vastly overpriced, and would’ve still felt like a bit of a wash at $30, but it'd certainly sting less than it does at this point in time.

In my opinion, calling this a “Rebirth” of The King of Fighters is a bit of a misnomer. It’s certainly a step forward visually, and to some extent technically, but it’s definitely a step backward where it counts, especially as a console release.

Continue Reading..

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick Thought - Another lemming.

Out of any console allegiance, Sony fans get the most offended when you declare their brand anything less than perfect. Fact.

I was speaking to someone the other day.

He talks about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm and tells me it simply isn’t possible on any other system because it’s only on the PS3. I correct him and casually let him know, it’s certainly very possible on a 360, given the right coding, and that it being exclusive is a combination of platform preference (Cyberconnect 2 has traditionally made Naruto games for the PS2) and business (money comes first.). He freaks out on me, ignores both points. and starts name dropping exclusive titles like Uncharted, Killzone, all the while telling me that not one of them is possible on the 360, and that the system has peaked in terms of graphical fidelity.

He declares Uncharted’s graphics as the most AMAZING THING EVER and goes on to tell me the game isn’t possible on any other console because of the power of the Cell. He tells me Gears of War 2 doesn’t look all that great.

It’s a pointless argument, a baseless argument, and whenever I hear people start to name drop the Cell Processor and Blu-Ray disc as reasons for Playstation 3 superiority, my brain shuts off. You people aren’t programmers, or coders. You know nothing. Yes, I said it.

I told him it’s possible with the right kind of coding. Uncharted is a gorgeous game and has a lot going on under the hood of the PS3, but if Naughty Dog were as dedicated to the 360’s architecture as they were to the PS3’s, it would definitely become a reality. This is the case of any developer. Mastering one console instead of spreading yourself thin across several will always yield the best results, no matter what platform you’re working on. I was yelled at for my opinion.

Drinking the Kool-aid of your favorite console manufacturer still seems to be the order of the day. Then again, Sony fans are a bit butthurt. They flail wildly whenever you speak an ill word about the Playstation, or declare it to be anything less than immaculate.

I’ll keep allowing them to lick their wounds irrationally. I know I would be if I spent $600+ dollars on my PS3 at launch and spent 3 years being promised brand dominance that still has yet to be realized. I’m sure it’s terrible watching a modified Gamecube take the lead and be forced to trail behind the breadcrumbs of filthy, monopolistic Americans.

I wouldn't know that anguish. I'm a gamer, not a sheep, and I go wherever the games are.

Continue Reading..

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pizza Time!

TMNT IV: Turtles in Time is one of my personal favorites. Based on the 4 player arcade classic, the SNES version has the reputation of being one of the best beat'em ups of all time.

Of course, with all this popularity, a remake was inevitable, and so goes the transformation from this:


To this:


Now I look at this, and while I'm somewhat excited, I also find myself a bit torn. I'm very much under the impression that no matter how impressive 3D gets, it'll never be able to capture the personality of 2d, and while this seems to capture the brawling, Foot Soldier flinging, "Cowabunga!" filled awesome of the original (arcade!) version, something seems a bit flat. May just be me though. Perhaps it's the absence of that rumbling, screen shaking effect that made every slam so tangible and meaty in the home version?

I'll likely be all over this come June 22nd, so I'll reserve any further thoughts until then. Comparison vid below..

Continue Reading..

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Oh, you wonderful game you...

LittleBigPlanet continues to be...simply amazing. But this is cute. Nice to see Media Molecule continue to pour so much effort into the game long after its release. I can't wait until they release this update.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Quick Thought - Fighters

It seems like 2009 is the year the of the fighting game. Really, for a genre that I thought was on the steady decline, it seems that all of the biggest names of the genre are making some sort of comeback. Just for kicks, here's how it's going down in '09:

-First Capcom stuns us all with Street Fighter 4. It's also no secret that ultra rare (and incredibly broken) fighter Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is going to be downloadable around the end of July. Then mid summer, they drop a ball on us confirming the impossible--Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is coming to the states (only on the Wii), possibly by the end of this year.

-Namco finally decides to make Tekken 6 a definite fall release (on three platforms!) with the added bonus of also releasing Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny(or Soulcalibur IV: Kratos edition) for the PSP.

-Not about to be outdone, SNK decides to revitalize and reinvent King of Fighters with the upcoming KOF XII, bring us back in time with an XBLA version of Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and take us even FURTHER back with KOF 98': Ultimate Match.

-Sensing something amiss (and looking to steal a bit of thunder from SNK, methinks), Arc System Works realizes after the English release of Guilty Gear X2 Accent Core Plus it can't afford to keep milking Guilty Gear X2 like Street Fighter 2,(aside from sega locking them out of creative control of the GG franchise) and decides to take THEIR universe forward with Blazblue: Calamity Trigger.

So yeah. It's a good time to invest in an arcade stick, if you dig this kind of thing.

Or at least a fight pad. I know I have.

Continue Reading..

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Who Ya Gonna Call?


Whenever a licensed property and gaming collide, there are always eyebrows raised. I don't know what it is, the gaming industry and the movie industry borrow so much from each other, but whenever the two collide, it's a mess. Movies rarely translate into good games, and good games rarely translate well into movies. It's just the way things are. So you can imagine my (and everyone else's) skepticism when a Ghostbusters game was announced. How could it possibly be any good, even with the original writers (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) in charge of the story? I expected a potentially funny, but ultimately forgettable gaming experience at best.

Was I wrong?

As a matter of fact, yes.

Because the actual movie is currently stuck in development hell, this is the closest to a Ghostbusters III we’re going to get. With that in mind, I’m pleased to say that for the most part, game succeeds admirably in filling this void. All of the original actors return for their roles (with the exception of two, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis) and their performances are nearly flawless. The game takes place in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters II, and they’ve hired a new recruit to test out their newer, more dangerous equipement. A training mishap or two later, and one of the ghosts, the ubiquitous Slimer, escapes and makes his way back to his original haunting grounds. In the midst of hunting and capturing him, they discover the Stay Puft Marshmallow man wreaking havoc in Times Square, apparently chasing a mysterious woman. But what’s her significance? Also, WHY is the marshmallow man back?


If you found any of those elements hard to follow, you aren’t a Ghostbusters fan, and honestly, that’s who this game was made for. From the minute you boot the game up, you’re treated to the 1980’s version of the Columbia Pictures logo and the nostalgia takes off running with no sign of slowing down. Inside jokes, fanservice, and references to both movies are packed to the brim here, and even the plot itself relies heavily on you having seen the first movie, since nearly every character from the original shows up in some way. It’s well written, practically a love letter to fans, and even though it’s been 20 years since the last adventure, it does a great job of pulling you in like no time has passed at all. I also love the idea of playing as a nameless rookie. By placing you in your own shoes instead of emulating a member of the cast, it's almost like fufilling a childhood fantasy of tagging along during one of their adventures.

Gameplay wise, it feels like a third person shooter with exploration elements--think Gears of War without any cover system in mind, but with a unique twist in the form of ghost trapping. This was the one part of the game that stood to make or break the experience, and I'm pleased to say it's pulled off well. In order to capture a ghost, you need to weaken it with your primary weapon, a proton stream, then when its life is depleted, you wrangle it with a capture beam and wrestle it into a trap. It sounds odd on paper, but in practice, it’s quite fun:

In fact, the ghost wrangling part of the gameplay is easily the best part of the experience, it's so well thought out that you'll eventually slide into a rhythm of weaken, snare, slam, trap, and while the secondary weapons, ranging from a "Dark Matter" upgrade that gives you the ability to slow enemies down, to the "Meson Collider", an electrical based rapid fire weapon all have their own feel and use, nothing beats your default weapon. It's so addictive in itself that it's almost disappointing when the game switches gears near the final act and puts an emphasis on shooting, but it isn't a dealbreaker by any means. Of course, a gaming concession had to be made in the form of having to vent out your pack manually so it doesn't overheat and short out, but even with that dose of realism to keep you on your toes, it doesn't take away from that feeling of being a Ghostbuster.

Speaking of feeling like a Ghostbuster, for all of the hits with the writing and references, it wouldn't have come together quite as well if the visuals hadn't been so on point. It isn't a overstatement when I say it's one of the best looking games I've played this year, textures, lighting, everything looks much better than anyone ever though it would, from your character's incredibly detailed proton pack (that shows off everything from your health, to morphing depending on your weapon mode) to some down right spot-on character likenesses.


The physics are also out of this world as well, the "Infernal Engine" powering Ghostbusters is already impressive in itself with the aforementioned graphical staples, but it’s the physics behind it that makes the package stand out overall. Just about everything in the environments can be broken, smashed, and thrown all over the place, something that happens almost constantly because of the collateral damage caused by your proton gun during even the smallest trapping session. By the time the dust clears, tables will be smashed , windows broken, even flaming embers embedded in the walls from your gun's stream are all present, especially if it's a particularly tough catch. It isn’t limited to your interaction as well, some ghosts will possess objects in the levels to manipulate them, and occasionally, entire areas will simply break apart at will in order to spook you. By the time I reached the New York Public Library chapter, with the moving bookshelves and realizing every single book had been taken into account, I was floored.


Audio wise, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The music is excellent and pulled straight from the first movie, but that's also it's shortcoming, as there are literally only 5 or 6 tracks to choose from. The fact that they're already familiar doesn't help matters either when you've heard the same fight theme several times over be the close of a chapter. Also, while every character is voiced INCREDIBLY well(with the exception of Alyssa Milano, who sounded wooden as all hell), I had an issue with Peter Venkman's character. Whether it was Bill Murray's delivery, or the fact that his lines just weren't that good this time around, I found myself actually disliking him as the game went on, which is strange, considering he was the life, the personality of the entire team in the movies.

Don't let that ward you off though, Ghostbusters : The Video Game not only succeeds in being a great licensed game, but also in being a great game on its own merits. The level of quality and love put into it is almost surreal, and even though it's a bit on the short side (I clocked in at around 8 hours my first time through) and a pinch repetitive, it's well worth a second playthrough, as there are a bunch of collectibles and well thought out Achievements/Trophies to collect. I didn't even mention the multiplayer, which is actually campaign in itself, allowing you to take the role of the original four and indulge in several varied co-op campaigns with three other players.

If you're a fan, this is a no-brainer. If you aren't, I would strongly suggest watching the first movie, but even being a bit lost to the mythology doesn't keep this game from being something worth playing. I can't recommend it enough.

[Multiplatform Note: Between the two next-gen versions, the Xbox 360 one wins by a landslide.The PS3 version just can't cut it graphically.]

Continue Reading..