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.