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.