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.  :)