December 30, 2008

Prince of Persia impressions . . .

I played the game for just over three hours last night.  I was having a good time, but for some reason I got the feeling I have already experienced all the game has to offer.  I hope I am wrong.  Some impressions:
- I don't like the Prince.  I don't like his character.  He's a bit too cocky.  Seems out of place.  Why can't we just have a regular, believable character for the lead?
- Graphically, the game is pretty, but I am not as impressed as I thought I would be.  The Prince's animations are great, the colors vibrant and the cell shaded graphics look very nice, but overall, I have not been floored by the visuals.
- It appears that the entire game consists of entering a corrupted area, working your way up a predetermined path, fight a mini-boss (sometimes more than once throughout the level) then reach the highest point where you "cure" the level, then traverse it again collecting light orbs.  Rinse, repeat.
- My biggest problem with the game is that while traversing the levels can be entertaining and it certainly looks amazing with all the crazy acrobatic moves you are pulling off, ultimately, it does not feel like you are really pulling everything off yourself.  Once you start stringing moves together, even though your character is doing a lot of pretty amazing stuff, all you are doing is occasionally pressing a button, you don't even have to really press a direction on the analog stick.  So the sense of accomplishment is not really as great as it should be, since it at times feel more like a quick-time event or interactive cinematic than you actually pulling off these moves.
- Combat is also very cinematic, requiring timed button presses resulting is elaborate moves.  Combat is also different from previous PoP games.  You only encounter an enemy (read: only one at a time) at pre-determined spots.  This is the only time the Prince uses his sword, as the attack button does not work during the platforming sections.
- You cannot die in the game.  This is both good and bad.  It is good because it greatly cuts down on frustration and loading screens.  If you miss a jump, your partner chick (sorry, in 3 hours of playing I didn't pick up her name.  Something with an "E".  Elika?  Elina?) uses her powers to grab your hand and lift you back up.  If you get swallowed by the black ooze surrounding the levels, again, she reaches in and rescues you.  Same with combat.  Sure, it makes the game a lot easier than it should be, but I think I'll take the lack of frustration over the lack difficulty.
I enjoyed my time with the game last night, but the Prince of Persia series has lost a lot of its magic since the first PS2 release.  They have tried to tinker with the formula too much, changing the Prince for the worse, getting a bit too elaborate with the storylines, too fantastical with the environments.  I hope the next PoP game goes back to basics.  Set it in the real world.  With nice but believable landscapes.  Have a believable Prince as a lead.  Someone a bit more down to earth.  Add some flaws in his execution of moves too.  He doesn't have to be super human.  Make him believable, like Nathan Drake in Uncharted.
Again, this is all based on 3 hours of playtime.  Will update accordingly as I advance through the game.

December 29, 2008

Holiday weekend notes . . .

Well, the Miami Dolphins gave me a great Christmas present by defeating the Jets, winning the AFC East, and advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Wow, what a season!  We went from 1-15 a year ago, to hosting a playoff game this coming Sunday.  That is just crazy.  I don't think it is the bias in me talking, but Tony Sparano should be coach-of-the-year.  And while we're at it, Chad Pennington for MVP!!!  Sure, plenty of other QBs put up better numbers, but you can make an argument that no other player was more valuable to the success of their team than Chad was to the Dolphins.  Thank you Brett Favre for not retiring!!!
On the gaming front, I played through Uncharted: Drake's Fortune again.  After seeing the trailer for the sequel and reading Game Informer's preview, I got the urge to give it another spin.  Great game.
I also played some Far Cry 2 and CoD4.
Far Cry 2 is great in small doses.  During long sessions I tend to get tired of all the traveling and roadblock skirmishes.  But in smaller chunks it is lots of fun.
Playing CoD4 was humiliating.  I am extremely rusty.  During the beta and when the game first came out, I was consistently one of the top players on my team, sometimes of the entire match.  I was totally stinking it up this weekend.  In my best match I had about 10 kills with 3 deaths.  Most of the time I wouldn't make it to double digit kills and had as many deaths as kills (or worse).  I really enjoy this game and want to get back into top form, but I fear I just don't play it enough to keep up with all these players that spend all their time with it.
Last, I just received Prince of Persia, which I had ordered from Amazon last week for $39.  Can't beat that.  It is the collector's edition too.  Will try it tonight.

December 10, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts the last two weeks, I haven't done too much gaming.  (Wait a minute, who the hell am I apologizing to?  Gabe?  Nobody reads this thing!)
I might have overdosed on games in October/November, because I haven't even had the urge to play much lately.  And believe me, it is not from lack of games.  I have barely touched CoD:World at War, I still have plenty of Little Big Planet left, I haven't tried the Time Trials in Mirror's Edge, I am only about 25% done with Far Cry 2, I've only played and finished one "movie" of Left 4 Dead, I have many, many songs left to unlock in Rock Band 2 and I haven't dedicated any time to Horde mode in GoW2.  Throw in the titles from earlier this year that I have yet to finish, and the ones I have yet to purchase (Fable II, Fallout 3, Prince of Persia) and I could be gaming 5 hours a day for 2 months and have plenty to do.  But like I said, I haven't been feeling it.
That's not to say I haven't done any gaming though.  I did finish Mirror's Edge (great experience overall), and I have been playing Half-Life 2 Episodes 1 & 2.
Why Half-Life 2 with all these current games I have on my plate?  Well, because of the NXE's ability to install games onto your HDD.  I went against my better judgment and purchased the 120gig HDD.  Yes, it is overpriced.  Severely.  But the possibility of lowering load times, reducing system noise, and best of all, extending the life of your console by giving the dvd-drive a much needed break, was too much for me to pass up.  So far, I don't regret the purchase.  The 360 is MUCH quieter running games off the HDD.  As far as load times, that is the reason I ended up playing The Orange Box again.
I had read that The Orange Box was one of the games that benefitted the most from installation.  Loads times were cut practically in half.  So, I tried it out, realized I never finished Episode 1 and never even started Episode 2, and next thing you know, I am playing HL2 again and greatly enjoying the game.
I've played very little of CoD: World at War, but it is kinda annoying me.  Technically, the game impresses (that CoD4 engine is fantastic after all), but I can't help shake the feeling that Treyarch really decided to ride the wave of success that CoD4 created.  The game borrows heavily from its predecessor.
The multiplayer is basically CoD4 set in WWII.  But from what I am seeing, so is the single-player.  I am currently by a level that seems to just blatantly rip off one of CoD4's best levels.  It is a stealth based level in which you must use a sniper rifle and follow the lead of your older, wiser, sniper commander.
Are you kidding me?  Seriously?
I am trying to enjoy the game and so far I have experience a few thrilling moments, but I can't shake the feeling that Treyarch mailed this one in and is just riding Infinity Ward's coat tails.
On Monday I played some Rock Band 2 for the first time in over a month.  I was excited.  I set-up my drums, put on my headphones and turned off the lights.  3 songs in I break my bass pedal!  What the fuck!  This is the 3rd time this happens to me!  I can't imagine that my foot is so powerful that I go through these things as if I am stepping on a saltine cracker.  I don't even play with shoes on!  I don't know what is going on.  I cant imagine this thing will be covered under warranty anymore.  Great.
Anyway, that is my update.  The only game I am looking forward to right now is Killzone 2.  The game is looking spectacular.  I have plenty of games to keep me busy until then, if I snap out of this funk.

November 25, 2008

Belated weekend notes . . .

- Devastating loss for the Dolphins on Sunday.  This was our biggest game in maybe the last 10 years and we blew it.  It was a great game for just over 3 quarters, then we had a meltdown.  A key interception, Crowder gets ejected (he didn't really do anything), Joey Porter lost his cool . . . yeah it got pretty ugly.
Matt Cassel was looking like Tom Brady and Randy Moss is just a freak of nature.  Man, when that guy is "on" there is no better receiver in the game.
Even though I was depressed on Sunday, in hindsight, man it feels great to even feel this way at the end of November.  When was the last time the Dolphins played a game that mattered this late in the season?
- On Saturday morning Gabe and another buddy of mine played some Left 4 Dead co-op and we had an absolute blast.  This game might be the best co-op experience out there.  You really need to work together to be successful.  The beauty of it though is that the game doesn't feel designed as a co-op experience.  What I mean is, there are no cheesy mechanics where all four players have to hit a switch at the same time, or sections where you are forced to split up while still aiding each other to pass sections.  The play mechanics don't "force" you to work together.  You can all split up if you want.  You work together out of necessity.  If you don't work as a team, you will die and die quickly.
We made it through one of the "movies" and the final section waiting for the boat to come pick us up was beyond intense.  And difficult!  We must have died about 6 or 7 times trying to pass that section.  Even still, it was a lot of fun coming up with different strategies each time, improvising on the fly when things started to go wrong, and finally making it out of there alive.  I was physically and mentally exhausted as the credits started to roll. It was great.
- I traded in about 24 old games this weekend and picked up Call of Duty: World at War (have lots of credit left over too).  I initially was going to wait a while to get this game and I was going to grab Fable II and Fallout 3 first, but since those two are both single-player games, I decided to go with WoW now that a large number of people are playing it.
I've had very limited time to play games for the past few week (it has taken me what? over 2 weeks and I still haven't beaten Mirror's Edge?) but I did play the first two levels.  My initial impression was not that positive.  More of the same, very linear experience.  But the second level has a pretty intense opening and the CoD4 engine is just fantastic (even though, so far I think CoD4 looks better).  Like I said, I've barely touched this game, but so far it is fun, if predictable.

November 19, 2008

Mirror's Edge updated impressions

I am now by Chapter 7. Despite early frustrations and some inherent flaws, the majority of my times with Mirror's Edge has been euphoric. The last few chapters have been absolutely exhilarating. Now that I am familiar with the game mechanics, I am seeing future moves clearer, even before Faith's "runner's vision" kicks in and points me in the right direction by highlighting something in red. I am creating my own lanes through the environment and reacting on the fly to obstacles and unforseen problems. I actually "feel" like I am traversing these environments in this fantastical fashion. It is great.

When presented with a hasty escape scenario, what used to be fear caused by my unfamiliarity with the controls and play mechanics has now been replaced by the adrenaline rush an actual, cocky runner would feel, having full confidence in their abilities and anticipating the thrill of the chase. Sure, the fear of dying is there (death can come quickly in this game) but it is held back by the exhilarating feeling of soaring through the environment and knowing that your chasers cannot follow.

And in a fantastic twist, last night, that "I am untouchable" rush was once again replaced by fear, when I was being pursued by enemies who were just as capable at parkour as I am. That revelation lead to some of the most intense 5 minutes of gaming I've had in a while. A desperate dash to get away, me frantically scanning the environment to determine where I could go next, hearing my pursuer's footsteps just behind me and not daring to look back, while my ally screams at me to get out through my head-set. Once I finally escaped I threw the controller down and fell back on my couch, much like Faith herself did, exhaling in relief and feeling exhausted.

I think the game's price was just justified by that once section. Bravo Dice. This game is not for everyone, nor is it perfect, but when it clicks, it most certainly is special.


I downloaded the "New Xbox Experience" this morning.  Even for such a large update, one which completely changes the 360 interface drastically, it was quicker and easier than the simplest PS3 Firmware update.  Microsoft has this thing down.
You are first treated by some funky, trippy video which has zero to do with the new Xbox experience.  I hope this is not saved away on my HDD somewhere taking up space.
You then need to create an Avatar by first choosing a preset one to edit.  While the Avatars are more detailed than Mii's, it doesn't look like you have quite as many options to edit them as Mii's.  Also, because they are more realistic and detailed, users are not going to be able to create Avatars that look like them, like you can with Mii's.  The Mii's work so well because they are just detailed enough to let your brain fill in the rest of the detail.  That won't happen with these Xbox Avatars.
Once all that is over with, you get to try out the new interface.  Right from the beginning I liked it.  I actually didn't think I would, since I was resistant to it when it was first shown, but in use, it works well.  As has been mentioned, menu navigation is very fast, even though the interface is much more visual now and there seems to be a lot more on-screen.
It is going to take a few days to get familiar with all the changes, but I already think it is for the better.  Aside from the new Dashboard, pressing the guide brings up a mini-dashboard, which more closely resembles the old one.  You now have a lot more options while using the guide.
One of the things I was most interested in was the Netflix integration.  Unfortunately I was not able to get this working.  I downloaded the Netflix update, I got the code from my 360 to enter on my PC, but I kept getting an error from Netflix letting me know that the code was not working and to try another code.  Since on the 360 you can press "A" to get a new code, I figured you might need to try a few for it to work.  Well, I tried about 20 damn codes and none of them went through.  I eventually gave up.  I will have to try again tonight.
I only had limited time tinkering with the NXE since I had to come into work, but I am looking forward to trying out its many new features (game installs, party system, Netflix).  So far, hats off to Microsoft for this great new re-invention of the 360.

November 18, 2008

Zombie overload

I am in full fledged zombie mode right now.  And the funny thing is, it wasn't planned.
It all started with me hearing great things about the comic book series, The Walking Dead.  I started doing some research on it and I decided to check it out.  Sounded like a great serious take on the zombie apocalypse formula, focusing on the psychological impact on the survivors.  The reviews have been great.  So last Tuesday (on my birthday) I am on looking up the series, deciding if I am going to order it or swing by a local comic shop to pick it up.
During lunch, I meet up with my sister who gives me my birthday present.  What do I find in the bag?  A book titled, The Zombie Survival Guide, a great book that is hilarious in how serious it takes itself and the detail it goes into on how to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Then I check my mail and a new Netflix movie came in.  Land of the Dead.  Of course.  I hadn't looked in my queue in weeks, so of course a zombie movie was up next.
And then of course, Left 4 Dead comes out today.
So, I am armed with a survival guide, reading a great graphic novel on the subject, about to start playing one of the best games based on zombies, and just watched the latest chapter in the "Dead" series, by the grandfather of the genre, George A. Romero.
P.S. - Land of the Dead was terrible.  What went wrong George?  You work better with small budgets?

Weekend notes . . .

Here's a quick overview of my weekend:
-Friday: Happy Hour with my friends after work.  End up at South Beach, home by 4am.
- Saturday: Recovering from previous night's debauchery.  Drinking lots of water. Go to Miami-Dade book fair.
- Sunday: Arrive at Dolphins Stadium at 9:30am.  Begin tailgating at 10am.  Drink copious amounts of beer.  Attend game.  Continue tailgating after game, more beer.
- Monday: Feeling miserable and vowing never to drink again.
Sounds like a good weekend to me.  =)

November 13, 2008

Mirror's Edge quick impressions

Only played for about an hour or so.
- I love the visual style of this game.  The city is gorgeous.
- This game really makes you feel like you are playing a character from the first-person perspective.  Everything from the audio (Faith's breathing) to the quick glimpses you get of her arms and legs, to the motion blur, it does a really great job of putting you in her shoes.
- The controls are tight and feel great.
- I love the music.
- The chase sequences (when you are being chased . . . and shot at) are insanely tense and you really feel like you have to get away in a hurry.  Your adrenaline starts flowing and you feel just like Faith must feel, running for your life, scanning the environment for any escape.
- Stringing together a series of complex moves is extremely satisfying.
- While the graphics are beautiful, the game does suffer from aliasing issues.
- There is unfortunately a lot of trial and error in the gameplay.  Since most of the time speed is a factor, it is not always clear where you need to go and this can lead to your death.
- While the controls themselves are great and react exactly how you would want them too, some of the sections require pin point accuracy.  If you are off by just a bit, you will fall to your death.  This has happened to me many times already.
That is about all I can say at this time.  I spent very little time with it yesterday.  It really is a fresh, unique experience.  The difficulty curve is pretty high and expect to die plenty of times until you know what you have to do.  I get the impression that this is the type of game that is even more enjoyable the second time around, once you know what you have to do.

November 11, 2008

Gears of War 2 impressions

Last Thursday, just before the GoW 2 launch, I decided to pop in the original to re-familiarize myself with the controls and play style.  I haven't used RB to reload since Halo 3 after all.
A weird thing happened.  I found the game dreadfully boring and I stopped playing after 10 minutes.  I shrugged it off.  I have played through the game multiple times after all.  All games get old after a while.
What I wasn't expecting was to have that same feeling while firing up the sequel.  But I did.  As soon as I stared playing my solo campaign, I was underwhelmed.  Graphically, I didn't find the game very impressive.  It looked about the same as the previous title.  And while the original was a fine looking game, we've had Bioshock, CoD4, Far Cry 2 and Dead Space since then.  All of which I consider better looking games (your opinion may vary).  The opening hospital level just seemed bland.  Gameplay-wise, it seemed stale.  I was very disappointed.
I turned the game off and called it a day.
The next day something happened.  I sat down to play, expecting more of the same, and four hours later I found myself completely mesmerized.  I am not sure what happened.  I don't know if the levels got a lot better.  If the new gameplay elements became more apparent.  Or if I just got used to the GoW play-style again, but as I advanced through the campaign I was floored by how much I was enjoying it.  My initial impressions of the visuals being more of the same also went away.  Some of the later levels have simply amazing vistas.  It is funny, I am usually more impressed with vast, open, natural environments like forests, or sections with lots of greenery.  But the most impressive visuals for the Gears series I have found to be the sections that take place underground.  In the original Gears, the single most impressive area for me was the giant cavern in which you meet the Theron Guards for the first time.  That section, with its huge scale and Immulsion waterways was simply breathtaking.  There are many sections in Gears 2 that take that to another level.  The scale of this second game has certainly gone way up, in all aspects: story, stakes, environments, battles. 
Another technical aspect that has impressed me is the audio.  I am playing with my headphones once again (my new favorite way to game) and there were two instances that really blew we away from an audio standpoint.  The first is a really small detail, but as you know, it is the small details that impress me the most.  While playing the single-player campaign, my teammate Dom was speaking to me.  He sounded normal, since he was standing next to me.  But he continued to advance down a path while I stayed behind to search for ammo or hidden items.  As he got further away, I heard his voice change from normal, to having a slight static hint as it transitioned from earshot to Marcus' earpiece.  I found that a pretty amazing detail.  I am not sure if the first game did this since I never played it with headphones and it is harder to pick up those small details with speakers, but I was very impressed.
The second was even cooler.  One of the levels take place in the rain (the rain effect looks amazing btw).  The sound of the rain also sound good.  But I was really blown away as I walked out of the rain, under some cover composed of a small tin roof.  It smoothly transitioned to the sound of the rain hitting the tin roof and the effect was spectacular.  I am not sure how it comes across with speakers, but I can tell you that with headphones it really put me in the game.  It sounded amazing.  Almost like a binaural recording.  That's how effective it was.  I had a huge smile on my face and spent the next few minutes moving in and out of the rain.  I know, I am an idiot.
But, the biggest improvement between Gears 1 and 2 is the story.  And not just the story, but the story telling.  I've commented before on how I felt Epic really dropped the ball in the first game.  The background story for the game was great.  It was really thought out and detailed.  Yet for some reason Epic decided to leave all of it out of the game.  If players had not read up on the story from online sources, all they would have to go by was a small blurb in the instruction manual.  And the actual narrative for the title was weak and was conveyed poorly to the player.  That completely changes with the sequel.  It helps that we have the first game to set this one up, but the story of this game is a lot more compelling.  I find myself wanting to advance to the next section just to find out what is going to happen next, instead of just anticipating my next firefight (which is all players really had to look forward to in the first game).  There is some emotion in it this time too.  The story arch of Dom and his wife actually worked for me and the way it concludes was very powerful.  I still need a whole Act to finish the game and I can assure you, I am completely intrigued by what is going on, what has been revealed, and all the twists that have been thrown at me.  Impressive stuff.
All this and I have yet to try out the multiplayer.  I am especially looking forward to Horde mode, which I hear is a total blast.  So in closing, after a shaky start, I am having a blast with GoW2.  If you're a fan of the previous one, this is a no brainer.  And if you weren't, because it felt shallow with poor story telling, you might want to try this one and see if it works for you.  Just stick it out through the first few segments, it definitely picks up after that.
P.S. - I actually miss the Berserkers and Kryll.  Wish they would have brought them both back at some capacity.

November 10, 2008

Weekend Notes

- It was closer than I would have liked, but the Dolphins prevailed and beat the Seahawks and are now 5-4 and over .500 for the first time in many years. We're only one game out of first place. But then again, one game separates all the teams in our division. You are either tied
for first, or tied for last. It is great to look forward to Sunday's again.

- I played some of the CoD: World at War beta and it was fun. Mostly because it is a carbon copy of CoD 4 with a WWII setting. Seriously, in my first match I felt right at home and even managed a 7 kill streak to call in the dogs (their version of the helicopter for Modern Warfare).

On one hand, I like it because it feels like CoD 4, which is my favorite multiplayer game, but on the other hand, it is SO much like CoD 4 it doesn't feel new or fresh. This game was not on my must buy list and the beta isn't changing my mind, but I can see myself picking it up one day. Sucks that I'll be way behind in the rankings by then and will be getting owned. That's how I felt after doing Prestige in CoD 4 the first time and losing all my weapons and upgrades (my Red Dot scope!!!) and feeling at a complete disadvantage to all the other players that had
these perks. Oh well.

- Since I pre-ordered Left 4 Dead I received early access to the demo. Wow. This game is a total blast. It is fast paced and filled with tension and dread. I managed to play through one of the sections with Gabe and it played great. I can't wait for this one. The control scheme was a bit odd at first but I adjusted fast enough.

Graphically the game gets the job done but it won't blow anyone away visually. It relies more on its smoothness and the huge amount of characters the game can render at one time (when those zombie swarms decide to rush you, wow, it can get crazy!). This should be a total blast with 3 friends.

- Lastly, I spent a good amount of time with Gears of War 2 which I picked up on Friday. Story mode only. I'll write my thoughts on a separate post.

November 06, 2008

Michael Crichton R.I.P

I just found out that Michael Crichton passes away yesterday.  That is just terrible news.
I became a huge fan of Michael, along with millions of others, with his novel Jurassic Park.  I remember reading that novel my sophomore year of high school and falling in love.  I've gone on to read it five times since then.  Each time I have been captivated by it.  Being a huge dinosaur fan as a kid, Jurassic Park was a truly exhilarating read.  Those who read my post on Stan Winston know of the obsession I had with Jurassic Park (the movie), but it all began with the novel.
After Jurassic Park, Michael became my favorite author and I went on a marathon reading session of his novels.  Rising Sun, Sphere, Congo, Terminal Man, Andromeda Strain, The Great Train Robbery, A Case of Need, Eaters of the Dead, The Lost World, and most recently, Prey.  Being that I have always been interested in science and technology, Michael Crichton's novels were right up my alley.  He would go into so much technical detail, either on the technology or medicine behind his novels, that as a reader you conclude that everything he is writing about is completely plausible.  A dinosaur theme park?  The way Michael presented it, sure why not.  I still expect this to become a reality in the next 20 years.  :)
My mandatory Michael Crichton reading is: Jurassic Park, Sphere, Rising Sun, and The Andromeda Strain.  I have read all of those multiple times and I am sure I will read them all again in the future.
I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing.  I still have several of his novels that I have yet to read, so I still have plenty of MC in my future.  He was a brilliant person and one who will be missed.

November 04, 2008

Gaming notes

I've been spending a lot of time at my dad's place ever since his knee surgery last week, so I haven't had much time for gaming.  Some notes:
- The Mirror's Edge demo is great.  The game controls and feels as good as I hoped it would.  The demo only left me wanting more.  I can't wait for this game.  I pre-ordered it for the PS3 since I hear it will be getting exclusive DLC.  Plus, even though the 360 pad is my favorite gaming controller so far, given the title's control scheme and its reliance on L1 (LB on the 360), I find the Dual Shock 3 to be better suited to it.
- Little Big Planet is a lot of fun.  So far I have only played Story mode (haven't touched the level creation tools) and it is great platforming goodness.  It is even better with another player (the co-op sections are fun to solve).  I tried some of the user created levels as well and I was blown away by some of them.  Can't wait to sink deeper into this game.
- I beat Dead Space this past weekend.  Fantastic game.  My Game of the Year unless it gets dethroned.  I'm thinking of playing through it again, but with all these games coming out it might have to wait.
- I pre-ordered GoW 2 and Left 4 Dead.  The GoW reviews have been pretty impressive.  Left 4 Dead just looks like a total riot.
- Not game related, but the Dolphins are at .500 for the first time in forever.  Man, I never thought 4-4 could feel so good.  :)

October 27, 2008

Weekend notes

I only managed to squeeze in about 30 minutes of gaming this weekend (some Far Cry 2), but overall it was a good weekend.  Always a good weekend when the Dolphins win.
I had a severe hangover on Sunday, so I couldn't enjoy the Dalphons' game as much as I would have liked, but the win went a long way towards making me feel better.
I really wanted to finish Dead Space this weekend, but given how I was feeling yesterday I decided to hold off.  I want to make sure I am enjoying it while playing, not feeling miserable.
While laying on my couch in a semi-comatose state I caught the movie Hard Candy on On-Demand.  Wow, dark movie.  Not bad, but certainly a movie you don't come out of feeling happy.
We have Little Big Planet this week.  I never pre-ordered it so I hope that is not going to make it difficult for me to get a hold of tomorrow.  While picking it up I plan on pre-ordering GoW 2, Mirror's Edge and Left 4 Dead.  Just in case.  :)

October 24, 2008

Far Cry 2 impressions

I have been a console gamer my entire gaming life.  I didn't own a PC until I was already knee deep in console games, so I never got into the entire PC gaming scene.  My experience with the Far Cry franchise was on the Xbox with Far Cry: Instincts.  A game which differed greatly in playstyle from the PC version that inspired it.  I am a big FPS fan, but it has all been in the console realm.  I am used to going down a pre-determined path, having clear objectives, and having a linear narrative to work with.
That is why it was pretty intimidating when I completed the "tutorial" section of Far Cry 2 and I was set free on my own.  I didn't have an immediate mission or objective.  I had 50 kilometers of African savannah, jungle, and swamp land waiting to be explored and no invisible walls or artificial obstructions ushering me down a path.  I've played open-world games before, but never from a first-person perspective, with first-person combat.  Bringing up my map I could see various points of interests where I could acquire missions, similar to GTA, but it felt foreign (and liberating) in a FPS setting.
One thing I immediately liked about the game is that everything happens from your character's perspective.  I'm a big fan of this technique, since I feel it is a much more immersing experience.  There are no "cinematics", you experience all story elements from your character's point of view.  When hopping into one of the many vehicles, again, no 3rd person view kicks in.  Even viewing your map keeps you in your character's perspective, since you bring up a paper map with your left hand and can continue to move around while viewing it.  Sure, this is a "magical map" which you can zoom in and out of and displays icons and points of interest, but it works for me.
Another thing I noticed immediately was the impressive technology running everything.  I followed the game's development close enough to have seen all the demos for this game engine and the final product doesn't fail to impress.  You have a huge open word, day and night cycles, solid physics, a dynamic weather system, destructible foliage, great draw distance and a solid frame-rate.  Morning and dusk are particularly beautiful and walking through a dense jungle with sunlight trickling in through the trees above is a sight to see.  Weapon models are very detailed and reload animations are great.  If you are using old, war-torn weapons (the kind you pick up from the enemies) you can see their visible wear-and-tear, as they are often rusty and gritty.  They are also prone to jamming, resulting in great animations of your character trying to un-jam them.  Fire acts like fire and throwing a Molotov cocktail at some bushes is a sure way to start a blaze that can get out of control and char a pretty large area.  All these elements come together to create a realistic, immersing, and totally satisfying experience.
So far I have spent my time tracking down some diamonds (the game's currency which you use to buy new weapons) and unlocking safe houses (unlocking means killing the enemies that guard it).  Once unlocked you can use that house as a HUB to save your game or sleep (which you can use to advance time to a different time of day).  I've only done a handful of actual missions.
Given the large game world, getting from point to point will require a lot of driving.  Vehicles are essential, unless you use the bus system, which teleports you to pre-determined stations across the map.    I actually don't mind driving.  I enjoy it and it makes the game world seem even more realistic.  However, it does introduce my only complaint with the game so far.  Stationed at most intersections are guard checkpoints.  Usually manned by 3 guards.  These guys will engage you on sight.  These battles can vary in difficulty depending on the size of the checkpoint, but on average you can be done with them in a minute or so, and they typically shouldn't be a problem . . . but there is an inherent flaw with them.  After you clear one of these guard posts, if you drive a bit further down the road and decide that you need to make a u-turn and come back, the guard post will be fully manned again, even though you just killed everyone one minute before.  This is not only very unrealistic, but after a while it makes driving around a bit of a chore, since all guard checkpoints will always be manned, no matter how many times you've cleared them, and they are frequent enough to realy make getting around more of a chore than it should be.  I am sure the developers put all these guard posts in the game so that the player does not get bored driving around, but in all seriousness, they are more annoying than fun after you have to battle through the same checkpoint for the 5th time.  I really think they should have had the guard posts stay empty for at least a day until new guards show up.  I mean, the game has day and night cycles already, it would not have been very difficult to program this in.
That complaint aside, I am really enjoying the game.  It really is a fresh experience, a first-person open world game.  I just hope I can get all the way through it without stopping in frustration because of the previously mentioned travel problems.

October 23, 2008

And here . . . we . . . go!

The fantastic - but wallet-hurtin' - Fall games season has officially begun.  We're two weeks in and I am already loving/hating it.
Dead Space last week.  Fantastic game.  Still playing it (close to the end now), and my early favorite for GOTY.
This week we have Fable II and Far Cry 2.  I've decided to hold off on Fable II until early next year (or towards the end of December).  Oh course, this is me we're talking about.  I might own it by Saturday.  But I wasn't able to hold off on Far Cry (even though Dead Space has me enthralled), so I picked that one up from Target last night.  Impressions coming in a bit.
Next week we have Fallout 3, and at the moment, despite all the positive buzz, I have this one right along side Fable II on the "saving it for a later time" category.
Little Big Planet comes in the week after that and that is a definite day one purchase for me (I should probably pre-order it just in case).  A week later we get another PS3 exclusive, Resistance 2.  Thanks to the Beta, I might be holding off on this one for a bit as well.  Maybe.  I have a few friends that are getting it and I would love to be able to jump in with them.  We'll see.
Then it gets ugly.  The first 3 weeks of November bring 3 day one purchases for me.  Gears of War 2, then Mirror's Edge, then Left 4 Dead.  Surprisingly, GoW 2 is last on my list from those 3.  I simply cannot wait for Mirror's Edge.
So far December only has Prince of Persia, thankfully (unless I missing something).  That should leave a window open towards the end of the year for either Fallout 3 or Fable II.

October 22, 2008

Resistance 2 Beta

I've played a couple of Co-op matches of Resistance 2 and I have mixed feelings.
My biggest problem is that it seems that in order to keep the game challenging, the enemies take quite the beating before they die.  They also seem to have severely weakened the offensive abilities of the non-soldier classes (Special-ops and Medic).  For example, in my first co-op game I played as a Special-Ops.  My role was basically to supply ammo to my teammates when they ran low.  It works to your advantage to supply them with ammo, since the only way for the Special-Ops class to get ammo themselves is by supplying others with it.
This particular match only had 4 players.  Myself and three others (a medic and two soldiers -I don't remember if they are called "soldiers" or something else).  We were working well as a team.  I was constantly giving ammo, our medic was constantly healing, and the two soldiers were doing the bulk of the killing.  I quickly realized that in order to succeed in this mode you really have to play as your particular class.  As a Special-ops character, my default weapon was a sort of sniper-rifle, except it seemed to be shooting bb's, because it would take several headshots to take down the "grunt" of the alien army.  And by several I mean more than 5.  Clearly, my role was to support the team by supplying ammo, reviving the occasional teammate when the medic was busy, and distracting the enemies so that the soldier class could kill them.  Seriously, my weapons felt pathetically under-powered.
Once I accepted the fact that I wasn't going to be racking up too many kills, I began to have a good time.  I felt useless at times from an offensive standpoint, but I was enjoying myself.  Our team was playing very well together, even though none of us had head-sets to communicate with.  Everyone knew their role.  It was frustrating when fighting the larger enemy types which literally took about 5 minutes of constantly bombarding with everything we had to take down, but it was fun.
We weren't able to finish the level - after fighting tough for about ½ an hour - because the number of enemies (and the amount of damage they take to go down) was just too much.  When the match was over I realized that it was fun and all, but it felt a bit cheap.  These enemies should not be so difficult to take down.  Make them smarter, increase their number, but having a regular enemy take 6 or 7 headshots is ridiculous.
I then jumped into another game of 8 player op-op.  I chose a soldier this time (I wanted to get some kills!) and I stopped playing after 15 minutes.  Nobody was playing the game properly.  I was constantly low on ammo or health and all the medics or special-ops were doing their best Rambo impersonations.  At one point I was on the ground, needing to be revived and I had 2 medics about 5 feet away just shooting at the enemies, completely ignoring me.  Another time I was out of ammo and standing in front of a Special-op character and he just ran by me to continue the fight.
Oh, and the previously mentioned "hard to kill" enemies only get worse the more players you have.  We fought this one big enemy which had all 8 of us just raining bullets on him for about 10 minutes, non-stop, and he wouldn't flinch.  It was pretty ridiculous.  And I'm not talking about some giant, building-tall creature like was shown at E3, I'm talking about an above-average brute of 15 feet.  10 minutes on CONSTANT fire from 8 different people.  Again, that just comes off as really cheap.
I left the match pretty frustrated.  Frustrated at my stupid teammates who did not know what their roles were, and at the cheap design of the co-op experience.
I have yet to try regular death-match, but when I have Dead Space sitting in my 360, Resistance 2 is not really on my mind right now.  I wasn't as immediately impressed with it as I was the first time I played the CoD4 Beta.  I might be taking a wait-and-see approach to this one.

October 20, 2008

Dead Space Impressions

It happened very quickly.  I went from not really caring about Dead Space, to eagerly anticipating its release.  All in the span of a week and a half.  I've been playing the game for about four days now (360 version) and I am approximately halfway through it.  Here are some impressions.
First, these are the conditions I have been playing with and I think they are essential for getting maximum enjoyment from the game.
1 - Playing at night with all the lights off.  This is the key factor when playing a game of this type.
2 - When at all possible, play when nobody else is home.  Makes you feel isolated.  Not as essential, but it does help.  :)
3 - I've been playing with quality headphones (Sennheiser HD650's).  A quality surround-sound set-up will work just as well, but I really like the intimacy that the headphones provide.  Playing this game with regular tv speakers is a crime.
4 - (Optional) I decided to play through the game on Hard.  This greatly increases the tension you feel when traversing the eerie hallways and locales of the Ishimura (the ship you are in).  Every enemy encounter can mean death and ammo/health become even more precious.
Number 1 on that list is key, but combine them all and I guarantee you'll have a good time (if you like being scared . . . which I do).
I immediately knew I was going to enjoy the game from its opening sequence.  Something about it just caught my attention.  I was very impressed from a technical standpoint.  The character models looked great and the scene drew me in.  Once in control of my character, again, I was impressed.  It "felt" right.  The games first "action" sequence really got my adrenaline flowing and freaked me out at the same time.  I won't ruin it, but I let out an audible "yelp!" towards the end.  It was great!
At this point I have to say, even though all reviews have complimented the game's graphics, I still feel they have short changed it.  I personally think this is one of the best looking titles I have played this generation.  The engine running this game is very impressive.  Everything comes together: great geometry (characters and environments are created with lots of detail), great textures, fantastic lighting, realistic physics, and best of all, a smooth frame-rate.  Then there are all the cool effects, such as the holographic inventory and map, as well as holographic computer monitors, etc.  I cannot express how cool these look.  Then there are the small details, like Isaac (your character) slightly turning his head as you navigate your inventory.  The sequences that take place outside on the ship's hull in the vacuum of space are fantastic.  It just feels like you are actually in space.  A great combination of the visuals and the audio coming together to create the effect.  And I love the seeing the air get sucked out of a room when you open a door leading to the outside.  Just a great detail.  And that is one of the things that has impressed me the most so far with the game, just how much polish and attention to detail it has.  It is in sharp contrast to the last two games I have played, BiA: Hell's Highway and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, both of which had numerous graphical issues and just generally lacked the type of care and "spit and polish" that Dead Space showcases at every turn.
The game, as expected, is also terrifying to play.  Especially if you meet all those conditions I listed above.  I found myself inching my way forward, having my weapon ready upon opening every door or turning every corner.  I really felt the dread that your character should be feeling in his situation.  The sound only enhances the experience tenfold.  I was looking over my shoulder constantly and flinching at the slightest of environmental noises.
The fact that I have a foundation for the story from the animated comics only enhanced my experience.  Similar to how reading the Mass Effect novel enhanced my enjoyment of that game, the same can be said about Dead Space.  I am even looking forward to the animated flick that will be released at the end of the month.  So far I am really intrigued by the story-line and I am curious to see where it goes.
Quick note, playing on Hard is, well, it is Hard.  I have died multiply times, including dying a few times against the very first enemy of the game!  But it does not feel like cheap deaths, I just haven't reacted well in those scenarios.  There are moments when multiple enemies will attack you at once and those sections are brutal.  But in a good way.
The much talked about "Strategic Dismemberment" is cool.  Very satisfying.  And leads to an extremely graphic game.  There is a lot of blood and guts in this baby and it wears its "M" rating proudly.  Definitely not a game for the kiddies.
I am halfway through the game and I am very impressed so far.  As of right now this is my 2008 Game of the Year (of course, this is the time of year when all the good games come out, Dead Space just happens to be the first).  Again, the developers seem to have gotten almost everything right and they really took their time with this one.
I cannot recommend this game enough.

October 17, 2008

Resistance 2 Beta

I received my Resistance 2 Beta Code last night.  I was too busy playing Dead Space to notice though.  I should be downloading it tonight and hopefully I'll be able to try it on Saturday since I have a concert to go to tonight.
I'll be posting Dead Space impressions in a bit.  In a word, fantastic!

October 13, 2008

An easy way to ruin your Sunday: Be a football fan.

Wow, tough loss yesterday.  The kind of loss that ruins the rest of your day.  There are several types of losses, and the Dolphins have experienced almost all of them this year.
Our first loss in Game 1 against the Jets was painful because it came down to the wire.  We had a chance to win, so it is always heartbreaking to come up just short on the last play of the game.
Our second loss against the Cardinals was painful because we flat out got man handled.  We looked absolutely terrible and inept.  Nothing about that game was positive.  We looked bad from beginning to end.
But yesterday's loss to the Texans is the worst kind.  The kind that sticks with you for the remainder of the day.  It hurts more than the others because we had this game won, with less than 2 minutes left.  We had it won.  And we gave it away.  Watching that final Texans' drive was excruciating.  Two turnovers that were over-ruled (granted, both calls were correct, but in the heat of the moment, when you think the game is over because of the turnover, only to have the drive continue, is very frustrating).  A simply amazing catch by Andre Johnson on 4th down in which he wrestled the ball out of our defender's hands.  And then having a QB draw win it with 3 seconds left, losing to the Texans by one point.  That is more painful than any other type of loss.
I actually prefer to get blown out.  With the Cardinals game, at the beginning of the 4th quarter I said, "Alright, we suck.  Lets play Rock Band 2!", and just like that, I put the loss behind me.  But after a loss like this, that doesn't work.  I was miserable for the rest of the day.
In hindsight, we should have lost this game.  The Dolphins won the turnover battle 4-1, yet we couldn't pull away.  We had several lucky breaks (Johnson's fumble as the Texans were in the Red Zone looking like they were going to score, and that extremely fortunately interception/fumble that occurred during our final drive to keep it alive).  Our defense could not stop the Texans' offense the entire game, and aside from those two big plays for us in the second half, our offense looked terrible.
I guess I shouldn't be so down.  We're 2-3 right now and just a few plays away from being 4-1.  Last year we were 0-5 at this point.  The future looks bright for this team.  It is just hard to see that after such a heart breaking game.

October 08, 2008

Hell's Highway Impressions

Well, after about 3 years of previews, developer demos and anticipation, Brother's in Arms: Hells Highway is out and I've been playing it for over a week now.  Back in the day, this game was #1 on my list of anticipated games.  Every delay killed my anticipation a bit, so by the time it was released 2 weeks ago, while I was happy it was out, it was more like a sigh of relief than anything else.  Anyway, on to my impressions.
I beat the game this past weekend.  Overall it was an enjoyable experience, but I feel a bit cheated by Gearbox.  The game did not live up to the expectations they themselves set by showing the game in what appeared to have been "playable" form in their many developer walktrhoughs, and pointing out and highlighting certain aspects of the game that did not make the final version.  Turns out those playable demos were kinda bogus and extremely scripted.  I have no problem with a developer having to show a scripted demo of their game early on, but don't intentionally point out items in those demos to get your fans excited when you know you are probably not going to be able pull it off in the end.
So, what does the game do right?
- Commanding your squad is still a smooth affair.  By holding down the left trigger you can send your squad to any location or ask them to attack a group of enemies.  Quick and simple.  Your squad is aware of what is going on so they will whisper and sneak around when appropriate or hustle when in a fire fight.
- The atmosphere of the game is very effective.  The music, sound effects, ambient noise, and locations do a great job of transporting you to the time period.
- The game is fun to play.  Its squad-based mechanics separate it from the million other WWII shooters and the fact that you cannot "run n' gun" only benefits the game.
- Visually the game does not hold up to today's games.  If this would have been a launch game it would have faired better in the visual department.  Some things look good, but overall it is dated.
- Your squad can still be extremely stupid at times, taking terrible routes to their destinations, often putting themselves in harms way when they could have easily avoided it.  They don't do a good enough job of taking care of themselves unless you give them an order.
- Why can't you still not go prone in this series?
- Enemy AI is weak.  They find their cover and they will stay there for eternity if you let them.  If you flank them they will try to move to new cover, but they are always in "defense mode" and they never advance and are never aggressive, even if they out number you.  Gives the game a bit of an artificial feel.
- Another thing that gives the game an artificial feel is that enemies are never just wandering around the maps, they are triggered by events or when you cross a certain invisible boundary.  This is similar to Gears of War.  All the skirmishes come off at pre-determined and it does not give a very natural feel to the encounters.
The maps can be pretty large, but I would really like for this series to open up the gameplay by giving you greater freedom of how to reach your objective and allowing you to pick and choose your combat spots by having enemies patrolling a map, instead of being triggered by your presence in an area.  As is, all the battles are basically a "puzzle" that you need to solve, since all the cover placement and enemy locations have been carefully chosen by the developer.  That can be fun for a while, but ultimately it kills the immersion and replay value.
Not to spoil anything, but it looks like a sequel will be coming eventually.  I hope now that Gearbox has the foundation set for next-gen BiA, they spend the majority of their time tweaking the engine for optimal performance and really look at opening up the gameplay to make it more organic and dynamic and not as scripted and linear.
Overall, I give the game a 7.5

October 07, 2008

Dead Space

All of a sudden, I am now very interested in Dead Space.

I remember reading about the game for the first time when it made the cover of Game Informer a while back. It sounded interesting and had a sci-fi horror vibe to it (similar to Event Horizon, which I thought was a pretty effecting horror flick set in space). But I have to admit, my anti-EA mind set kept me from thinking the game would amount to anything really special.

They released a bunch of animated "comics" for the game on the Market Place and the PS Store and I have been impressed with them. The voice acting is great and they do a good job at drawing me in. Again, I am intrigued, but not convinced.

They released Developer Diaries about the making of the game. Again, looks promising, but I never added the game to my "Must Have" list of fall releases.

Yesterday I watched Gametrailers' Video Preview of the game and it blew me away. I finally caved and I admit, the game looks fantastic!! Graphically, the engine looks rock-solid, delivering top notch visuals and animation. The game interface is also extremely impressive, with holographic images taking the place of a traditional HUD. It all looks really polished.

So, while I really hate having to add another game to the growing list of fall titles, I am going to have to.

September 30, 2008

Star Wars: Force Unleashed thoughts . . .

I picked up Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the PS3 when it was released.  I finished it over the weekend.  There were some really great moments.  There were also many moments of me screaming at the tv in frustration, declaring "this game sucks!!"  I am going to point out what bothered me, just know that overall I enjoyed the game.  Although you might not be able to tell by this post. :)
- The load times can be annoying.  Especially since the game needs to install first.  There are even load times when you are accessing menu options.  You have to access the menus often too, since you upgrade your force powers and lightsaber as you level up and find new lightsaber crystals, so it is really annoying having to stare at a load screen every time.
- Graphically the game looks very good.  Most of the time that is.  It can look downright amazing in some sections, but you always get the feeling that the game engine is too taxing on your system and there are plenty of graphical glitches and hic-ups keeping the game from really shining in the visual department.  In this one particularly busy battle I experienced the worst case of slowdown I have seen this generation.  It was a total slide show.  I thought the game was going to freeze on me.  Overall the game can use a lot more polish.  There are a lot of bugs and glitches, such as occasions of you getting stuck in the environment, etc.
- The Havok physics and Euphoria engines are used to good effect.  There are a ton of objects to interact with and toss around using Force Grip.  The problem I have though is that nothing in the game seems to have much weight.  The game tries to make things appear heavy, etc., but I always have the feeling that everything has a very hollow feel to it.  This is something I have felt in practically every game that uses physics, it is not isolated to this game.  I don't think any game has really nailed the feeling of an object having mass and being dense and heavy.  Maybe it is just me, but when I pick up a Tie Fighter and toss it at a group of Storm Troopers, while fun, it still does not feel or look as right as it should.
- The controls are mapped well on the controller and if you are not trying to do too much too fast, they work fine.  But in the heat of battle, facing multiple enemies and trying to pull off elaborate combos and moves, they can be extremely frustrating.  They are not as responsive as you would like, yet every button press registers, so I might press Triangle to shoot out a bolt of lightning, nothing happens since I am caught up in another animation, so I press it a few more times, next thing you know, I'm shooting out like 4 lightning blasts in a row, depleting my force meter.  But I can live with that.  What I can't live with is when I press triangle, shoot my lighting, then I immediately begin to press square rapidly to follow-up that strike with lightsaber attacks, except that for some reason, the game interprets the square button as me mashing on the triangle button instead, so I again shoot out about 6 lighting blasts in a roll, even though I was not pressing that button.  That has happened to me countless times and it is very frustrating.
The auto-target for your force grip power is also shaky, especially in the heat of battle, so trying to grab the object you want (and might need in a pinch) does not always work as you'd like.  Then, if you manage to grab the right object, the auto-targeting for throwing said object is just as flaky (again, especially in the heat of battle, when you rely on precision the most), so it can be pretty frustrating.
Blocking seems to take too long to occur, and if you are caught in an enemy's "combo attack", you'll need to sit there and take all the punishment until the end (God of War and Ninja Gaiden have spoiled me on quick blocking).  You character also takes forever to stand back up after getting knocked down, and you are completely vulnerable to enemy attacks during this time, so once you go down in a group of enemies expect to take many cheap hits before you can get back up.
- I can understand that the developer does not want to make the game too easy, but I also want it to be authentic to the source material.  They knew that they were making the game about an ultra powerful sith/jedi, a character who can kick all kinds of ass, so they should have thought of better ways to make the game difficult, without making it cheap, or handicapping the player.
I basically wanted to really see what it would be like to control a rogue warrior who is using the darkside of the force and mowing enemies down with a lightsaber.  That game accomplished that 70% of the time.  But it limits you and weakens your ability in some aspects in order to keep the game from being a cakewalk.  I'm putting on my Star Wars geek hat on now to highlight a few examples:
Your lightsaber is little more than a sword that glows in the dark in this game.  This is a weapon that can cut through metal like a hot knife through butter.  So why does it take so many hits to take down some of the more "advanced" Storm Troopers?  You should be mowing down any Storm Trooper in one or two hits. 
Then there are the Storm Troopers that have some type of anti-force power shield.  So these guys can only be taken down with physical attacks.  They are immune to lightning, force grip, force push, which is just bogus to me.  I don't recall there being some type of "anti-force" technology in the Star Wars universe.
All boss battles and a lot of the larger enemies (AT-ST's and Rancors) end in a quick-time event button sequence.  A lot of these can be a bit jarring, since you could standing off to the side of a Rancor when you get the prompt, press the correct button, and all of a sudden you are standing right in front of him for the "cinematic" finish.  It really takes you out of the game and looks terrible.
These sequences also have you pulling off some very impressive moves and show you using the force in spectacular ways.  Things you cannot do during regular gameplay, but that you would really like to.  Why is it that in the cinematic, you can lift up a Rancor and slam him to the ground using force grip, or lift up an AT-ST and crush it like a tin can, but they are immune to your powers during regular gameplay?  Like I said I can understand that the developers want to keep some sort of challenge, but it feels more like cheap handicapping instead.  Sure, lifting such a large creature should be harder than lifting a Storm Trooper, so let it be that you have to stand still and concentrate to do it.  Incorporate a charge time or something, but don't make it impossible for the player (when clearly your character is strong enough in the force to do these things) and leave those truly awesome force moments just to a simple Simon says cinematic.
Bottom-line, nothing in the game should be immune to your powers, it should just be harder to affect some of the tougher enemies, leaving you vulnerable while you try.  Being able to lift up and toss a Rancor in real-time would have been surreal.  :)
- The best part of the game, as a few reviews have mentioned, is the story.  At first it is adequate, but it really picks up in the second half and by the end, all Star Wars fans should have their jaws open.  There is a lot that happens in this game that plays a pretty significant role in the Star Wars universe, especially for the original trilogy.  There is a lot of fan service for hardcore fans as well.  Very good job in this department.  This was a better Star Wars story than anything out of the prequel films.
- Overall the game overcomes its faults with its positives, but this could have been a game to give KotoR a run for best Star Wars game ever.  However, KotoR leaves the final product in its dust.  Still, when this game is at its best, it is a Star Wars' fan wet dream.

September 16, 2008

Weekend notes . . .

- The Dolphins could not have looked worse against the Cardinals on Sunday. In week one against the Jets we gave up a few big plays and we didn't look great, but at least we were competitive and had a chance at the end. This Cardinals game was over in the 1st quarter. You knew it was going to be a long day when on the Cardinals' first possession they get back to back offensive penalties, setting up 1st and 20, then score on a 79 yard TD pass. Kurt Warner was in MVP form and it looked like he and his monstrously talented receives (Boldin and Fitzgerald) were out there playing catch. Our secondary could do nothing but watch. It is going to be another loooong season . . .

- Once the Dolphins game was 31-3, it was quickly turned off in favor of Rock Band 2. I played a few sets (it was me, Jeanette, and my buddy) and it was loads of fun. We took turns alternating between instruments and it was a blast. Not much has changed as far as gameplay goes (I am using all the original instruments too), but the song selection is great!

- I have been playing a TON of Castle Crashers and I love it! Jeanette is also addicted and we've been playing it every chance we get. Leveling up your characters and finding new weapons and animal orbs is a blast, especially when playing co-op. As soon as it is patched I expect to be able to play with Gabe online.

- Condemned 2 is pretty cool. I'm playing it in short sessions. Playing at night with the lights off greatly enhances the experience, so I don't play during the day.

I am having a technical issue though. I really want to play the game with my headphones, but ever since I got Comcast installed for some reason I am getting interferance from the optical cable of the 360 (I have the 360 connected to a toslink switcher, which I then have connected to my DAC and headphone amp so that I can switch between the 360 and PS3 when I want to use my cans). I must be getting interference from the cable signal since I have to run the 360 optical cable behind my TV stand, because I get no intererance when using the headphones with my PS3 since it is located in the same shelf as the headphone amp so the optical cable for the PS3 does not need to run along the back where all the other many (many) cables are. I have to get this fixed because playing Condemned with the lights off and a good pair of headphones greatly enhances the game.

September 10, 2008

Random notes

- Man I was pretty upset after that Jets/Dolphins game. Overall it was a good game and it was very exciting at the end, but the fact that the difference ended up being that completely lucky TD the Jets got on 4th and 13 killed me. Favre throws up a wounded duck after getting hit and the ball sails in the air for what felt like 4 seconds, and somehow there was a Jet receiver at the goaline waiting for it and no Dolphin players were around to break the play up! How could there not have been any defenders around the ball when it was in the air that long?! ARGH!! So frustrating!

- Finally, the new Madden rosters are out, so I grabbed those last night and finally started a franchise. Played my first preseason game against the Bucs. I won 41-35. Point total was a bit high and surprisingly my QBs were way more accurate than the CPU (I only had about 5 incompletions the whole game). I'll review my slider settings after the preseason is done so that I have a bigger sample size, but it feels good to finally start a franchise. This is why I play video football games. I really hope EA releases the "Sim Gamer Pack" they mentioned on the Operation Sports forums. That will greatly improve the way the game plays (if the CPU sliders actually work of course).

- Speaking of Madden and Operation Sports, I am liking the involvement that the Madden 2010 team is having on the forums. Their lead designer, Ian (screen name: TheFuture), seems to really want a lot of the things the sim gamers of OS want. At least, he is saying a lot of the right things. I am not holding my breath, especially given the short development cycle, but I am real curious to see how Madden 2010 comes out.

- Check out the Little Big Planet walkthrough videos over at Gametrailers. This game looks very impressive! I can't wait!

- I beat Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Great game. I am going to start it up on a harder difficulty and try to work through all of those challenge rooms (man, these things are TOUGH!)

- I am thinking of picking up Castle Crashers when they fix the online problems.

- I picked up Condemned 2 (360) from Target for $20. I enjoyed the first one and thought it was a severly under appreciated launch game.

- This weekend I switched over from DirecTv and Bellsouth DSL to Comast. I had no real issues with DirecTv, but I just wanted a faster internet connection than what DSL could offer. Plus I will end up saving some cash by consolidating my bill.

I went ahead and got the HD package from Comcast (I never had the DirecTV HD package). The HD stuff looks great of course, but I get better picture quality when I get my local HD channels with my regular over-the-air antenna. I guess they need to compress the HD signal for cable (and satelite) so it doesn't look quite as sharp, but since I get iffy reception with my rabbit ears and lose the signal a lot, I'll take the stability over the slight loss in quality.

The standard def channels look better through Comcast than they did through DirecTV. I mean, they still look like crap, but it is an improvement.

My internet connection though is faster. A lot faster. Like, it is probably faster than it should be. The first thing I did after the technician left was do an internet speed test and this was the result:

Wow. That is about 10 times faster than what I had through DSL!

Yes, I am a happy camper. =)

September 03, 2008

More Madden

A few more observations that I've noticed.  Note, I am playing on All-Pro difficulty with some additional slider tweaks (the Madden IQ thing was not my cup of tea).  11 minute quarters.  I have all penalties maxed except for false start, which I have set to 75.  I got tired of trying to get the defense to jump with the fake snap count and always having my o-line jump instead.  If the defense would jump sometimes, it would be worth the risk.  But the defense NEVER jumps, even with offside set to 100, so what's the point?
- As has been mentioned countless times on Operation Sports (and first noted by Bill Abner over at his blog), the "Robo QB" issue is starting to get on my nerves.  The QB throws balls right on the money, regardless of who is throwing.  I just played the Saints and Brees was about 32 of 37 or some ridiculous number like that.  From what I can tell, there are a few factors contributing to this.  First, the QB's are just too accurate.  You rarely see a pass off the mark.  Everything is catchable.  Second, the CPU refuses to throw deep.  I have yet to see the CPU actually throw a bomb down the sideline.  Their deepest pass has been a post to the TE down the middle in which the ball traveled about 25 - 30 yards through the air.  And last, even when you put pressure on them, they still get off amazing, accurate passes.  Throwing off their back foot, moving away from the LOS, twisting in mid-air, the CPU QB's are experts at getting the ball out when under pressure and their passes when doing so don't have nearly the accuracy penalty that they should.
The problem is not isolated to the CPU either.  I am finding my completion percentages to be higher than normal too and I've turned down QB accuracy to 30.  Looks like I have to keep bringing it down, since I average about 70% -75% completion.  But I least I have the ability to tweak that.  Can't do anything about the CPU's pin-point accuracy.
- Something that has REALLY been bothering me is the fact that the CPU snaps the ball way too fast.  You have less than 2 seconds to make any reads on defense and make pre-snap adjustments, because that CPU QB is snapping the ball as soon as he sets under center.  Very annoying.  I've been caught controlling the wrong player, or in the middle of an audible, or the game thinks that I am "run committing" because I was changing my d-line's assignment, etc.  This needs to be fixed because it gets more frustrating by the day.  Then throw in the fact that there is no accelerated clock and the CPU is snapping the ball with 30 seconds left on the play clock each time.  So their time of possession is off.
- There seems to be a glitch in which the game shows the wrong coach reacting negatively to a play.  If my defense makes a big play and recovers a fumble for example, it shows a cut-scene of my coach angry on the sideline, instead of the opposing team's coach.  I've seen this happen a few times.
- The running game can be brutal in this game.  Huge holes close up in mere milliseconds.  But it is a good sort of frustrating.  Some games I've barely been able to move the ball on the ground.  Others I average just shy of 5 yards a carry.  I do think that people get in the backfield too fast sometimes, but it is not too big a problem at this point.
- What is a problem, is that on play-action passes your QB seems to get sacked 80% of the time without having time to make a read.  It is immediate.  Play-action, bam, sack.  Very annoying.
- Being able to save your replays and uploading them online is really cool.  However, once you save a replay I have not been able to view that replay again fullscreen, I only see it as a smaller thumbnail on the top right corner.  That is odd.  You can upload it to the internet and see a slightly larger version, but if it is saved on my console then I should be able to watch it like normal on there.
- Aside from QB completion percentages, number of tackles per player, and the more than occasional weak CPU running game, the end of game stats are looking really good with 11 minute quarters.  Looks like this will be what I go with for my franchise.
- I mentioned this in an earlier post, but man the sidelines in this game are dull, lifeless and ugly.
- Superstar mode is trash.  It is exactly how I remember it from Madden 2007.  This mode has the potential to be fantastic.  If done right, these type of modes can feel like a whole separate game.  In both MLB The Show 07 and 08 I have ONLY played in career mode.  But Madden gets so many things wrong that I won't even go into it here, I'm going to have to do a whole separate post soon.
- EA needs to add a new easy way to get roster updates.  I don't plan on playing much Madden online, but I do want the roster updates for my franchise.  Yet the only way to get roster updates is to start an online match, download the rosters when it prompts you, and then quit the match.  That is just stupid.  I am sure it is also annoying to the person on the other end that is expecting a match, only to have me back out once the roster downloads..
That's all for now.

August 26, 2008


I had a pretty good weekend. The Dolphins beat the Chiefs 24-0 (the real Dolphins, not my Madden team). Granted, it was a preseason game and it means nothing, but dammit, we looked really good and it felt great to look good! I forgot what that was like! You know you're coming off several mediocre years when you end up yelling and celebrating more in a preseason game than you have at any point in the last 4 seasons. :)

I also beat Braid. I think. I found all the puzzle pieces and I got the achievement for completing the game. But it doesn't really "end" per say as far as I can tell. Anyway, the game was quite the experience. I highly recommend it.

I also played some CoD4 multiplayer this weekend. Wow, whenever I stop playing for a while I get absolutely massacred when I get back in. I must have stunk it up for about 10 games before I even started performing decent again. This is still my favorite competitive multiplayer game that I have played.

I checked out the Head Coach demo that is in the PS Store and played around with that for a bit. I like the interface and it seems to be insanely deep (as far as I can tell from the demo). Unfortunately, when I was going to play the week 1 game, the game got stuck in a perpetual load screen. It was loading the game and it did not appear to actually be "stuck" because it kept changing all the facts that were on the screen, but I must have waiting for about 5 minutes for the game to load and nothing. I just turned it off and went to bed. So, all I did basically was get a feel for the menus.

I also tried the Star Wars: Force Unleashed demo (PS3). Everything I have seem on this game to date has been very impressive and the demo continued that trend. Ever since I first played Psi-Ops in the Xbox I dreamed of a Star Wars game being made in that same style. Well, this game is it. I'm a big fan of games that give the player a feeling of empowerment and lets them wreck havoc and this game lets you do just that. The visuals are slick and the control scheme seems solid. I was still in the learning stages so I never felt totally comfortable toggling between all my abilities, but this game has a lot of potential. I'm going to download the 360 version and see which I prefer.

Lastly, after playing through the demo twice, I decided to buy Bionic Commando Rearmed (360). Grin really did a bang-up job with this title. Every little detail about it screams quality. They did not do a half-assed port, you can tell this project was a labor of love for the developer. I have fond memories of the original NES game, but nothing detailed. I remember really enjoying the game, but everything is a haze. So far I am really enjoying Rearmed. It has that great old school vibe and the controls feel great to me. Many are complaining that the controls on the 360 version suck because of the terrible d-pad, and I agree that the d-pad sucks, but I am playing the game with the analog stick and having no problems. The game even supports analog controls (tilt the stick slightly and your character shuffles forward slowly).

The play mechanics remain mainly unchanged, just tweaked here and there. It takes some getting used to though. Your character can't jump after all, and in a side-scrolling platformer not being able to jump just feels wrong on so many levels. That is actually why it took me two play-throughs to buy the game. My first time through was a mixed bag of "Oh yeah, I remember this. Cool" and "Holy $#*@, why can't I &#$% jump! I hate you!". Once you accept the fact that you won't be jumping around and feel comfortable with all the grappling techniques (the advanced tutorial is essential), the game really opens up. And the game is a lot deeper than you initially think. You get many new weapons and items later on so that there is always something fresh to mix things up.

For $10, this game is a crazy bargain. Another recommendation from me. This has been a great month for Live Arcade games. And we still have Castle Crashers to look forward to. Sweet.

I also played Madden (of course) and will put some thoughts up shortly.

August 19, 2008

Gaming update

- I am 3 puzzle pieces away from completing Braid.  If you haven't taken the plunge yet, dig into your pockets and cough up the 1200 MS Points for this game.  Please.  The game is a true gem.  I've spent $60 on games that aren't a third as brilliant as this one.  Support these type of games folks, or we'll be over-run with unoriginal, by-the-numbers crap! 
- Still plugging away at Hot Shots: Out of Bounds.  I'm really enjoying the game.  I tried the new Tiger Woods demo and I don't know, I find Hot Shots to feel more authentic.  Bizarre, I know.  But, aside from the cutesy characters and over-the-top courses, the Hot Shots golf engine and physics are pretty deep.  I also feel that you have to plan your shots out more in Hot Shots than in Tiger Woods.  Especially while putting.  I sometimes take over a minute evaluating the green in HS before a big put.  You have great control of the camera and various angles and you have to actually calculate your shot.  In Tiger, you have extremely limited control in evaluating the green and you mostly rely on a "Putt Preview" that shows you exactly where the put will go and then adjust from there.  I just don't get the same satisfaction sinking a long put in Tiger as I do when I nail one in Hot Shots.  Maybe that is just me.
I do like the analog swing mechanic of Tiger and playing in real-world courses has me intrigued.  I might end up picking Tiger up eventually, especially since I believe Gabe is getting it as well.  Of course, I am still waiting for my Hot Shots rematch!
- I still pop in MLB: The Show every now and then to continue my starting pitcher career.  I am now by my 3rd year and with the Houston Astros organization.  I felt bad leaving my Marlins when my contract expired after my second year, but I wanted a Championship and the Marlins weren't heading that way anytime soon.  Looks like my decision has paid off.  The Astros have made it to the World Series and we're about to enter game 6 leading 3-2.  And of course, I am starting game 6.  I hope I go the distance (and win), otherwise I think I might miss out on the "celebrating" if we win the game after they pull me.  Something I hope they work on for next year's version.
- Then of course there is Madden.  I've had my up and downs with Madden so far.  Now that I have a few more games under my belt, I am getting used to its animations and gameplay, so I am comparing it less and less to APF in my head and trying to judge it on its own.  I've been playing exhibition games for now and spending a lot of time on the practice field.  I don't want to start a franchise until updated rosters are out, as the current one still does not have Pennington on the Dolphins.  I might have to wait until the first week of the actual season to be able to jump into franchise.
Might be a good thing because I am still doing lots of slider tweaks (damn you EA for not including CPU sliders!!!  Worst design choice ever!) and trying to see what quarter length produces the most realistic stats.
At the moment, I am enjoying the game again for the most part.  Will add some updated gameplay impressions later.

August 15, 2008

More Madden . . .

A few more impressions.  I have not been able to play a full game since Tuesday.  Something always comes up and I have to stop playing.  I don't understand why we do not have in-game saves by now.  Is it that difficult to implement?  Most of the impressions below involve graphical observations, etc.  Note, I had my nitpick hat on last night.
- I've probably played about 3½ quarters total since Tuesday (not counting time spent on the practice field of trying some Madden Moments) and I have not score a TD.  So far, in 7½ quarters as the Dolphins, I have scored 1 offensive touchdown.  Come to think of it, that is very realistic!  =)
The thing is, I actually move the ball down the field pretty well.  I mix a combination of runs, short passes, the occasional 15 - 20 yard pass, etc., and I move the chains with good consistency.  But once I get in the Red Zone I can't close the deal.  I haven't missed a FG yet though.
- The more I play it, the less I like the animation and player movement in this game.  Some isolated animations look great (catches, tackles, RB getting away from defender) but overall the game does not look realistic in motion at all.  Running animations are terrible.  It does not look like the runners are even running at full speed (regarding the effort the animation shows), and your players can zig-zag around the field in a very unrealistic fashion.  Sure, that is great for player control (you want your guy to go left, he's going left) but it doesn't really take momentum or physics into account, so it totally kills the realism.
- Kickers' legs move way too slow when kicking the ball.  At the speed their legs moves you expect the ball to travel no more than 15 yards down field, yet the kick-off goes into the endzone.  This is similar to how the throwing animations don't match how far the QB's are throwing the ball.  What looks like the animation for a 10 yards pass sails through the air for 40 yards.
- To satisfy my curiosity, I popped in Madden 2006.  Yes, I still own it.  I prefer to keep it than to get the $1.00 Gamestop will give me for it.  The player models in that game, while grotesquely 'roided out, seemed to display more detail in the jerseys and overall textures and poly count.  The current models look far more human and accurate, but they don't sport the texture detail of 2006.  In 2006 you can see the sweat in their arms and neck and the skin textures were very detailed.  Just an observation, I agree with pulling system resources away from generating these minute details that you can only spot in Instant Replay and using them in other areas, but I wish we could have the detail of 2006 with 2009's models.
- Maybe I was just in a weird mood yesterday, but visually, the game just wasn't looking that impressive to me.  I don't know why because I thought it looked pretty good when I picked it up on Tuesday.  The grass textures and lighting are really the highlights of this game.  I find all other aspects pretty lack-luster at this point.  Maybe it will grow on me.  I think this all stems from the animation.  That is my pet peeve.  If the animation was actually life-like, it would make everything else look better.
- The commentary is a mixed bag.  The play by play by Tom Hammond is completely robotic.  Sounds like the radio announcer without that weird "radio filter" applied to the sound.  Chris Collinsworth however sounds absolutely fantastic!  Completely natural and fluid.  He provides the best commentary in a football game I have ever heard.  Now, that being said, poor Tom's job is much harder to do in videogame form.  He needs to read his lines with a very stable timbre and tone because all his words need to be spliced together to form the play by play.  So a regular sentence you hear from him might be made up of separate sound bytes.  Collinsworth however is free to just talk away because all his sound is played back exactly how he says it.  Eitherway, if not for Tom's robotic delivery, the commentary in Madden would have been a huge win this year.
- Presentation is a step forward as well, although it is still not where I would ultimately like it to be.  But, since I just popped in Madden 2006 last night, it is night and day from that game.  I can't believe how absolutely dreadful 2006 was in this regard!  The new graphical overlays look great and the game does a great job of throwing stats on-screen as the game goes on.  I love that.  The view of the Stadium from the outside before the game is a welcome addition as well.  But the overall presentation still feels bland.  All the cutscenes are really weak.  Last night one of the players tore his knee, the graphic said he was "Out for the season" and the cutscene just shows the player on the floor for a bit, in pain, trying to get up and having a hard time, yet nobody comes to help him.  No training staff, his other players are just 5 yards away watching him.  He finally stands up and begins to hop off the field.  I think back to the really great injury cutscenes of NFK 2K5 and these pale in comparison.  I also think they should not tell you the extent of the injury immediately.  They should keep you in suspense while the doctors check your player out, etc.
- There is very little emotion in the game.  The crowd noise is pretty static and I just don't see the emotion on the field or on the sidelines to make this feel like a real NFL game.  The sidelines in particular are completely void of life, with low polygon player models which are totally uninteractive.  They just stand there looking straight ahead no matter what is happening.  I got spoiled by APF's great, active sidelines.
Overall, I think I am going through 2K withdrawal.  I haven't played a Madden game in 2 years and I have APF fresh in my memory, so I am comparing Madden to that game.  I am hoping I'll begin to adapt to it soon, although I will say this, I do prefer Visual Concepts' vision for what a football videogame should be.  I like the feel of their games more overall.  I like the details they get right.  I like the direction they were taking the genre way more than the direction Madden seems to be going, which is to cater more to the casual and tournament crowd.
We'll see.  I'm going to wait for the opening day roster to start a franchise and I'll see how the game grows on me.  I really do want to like it.  Really.