Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Arrival Review

Meh. That’s how you’ll feel upon completing the downloadable content for Mass Effect 2, called Arrival. If you’re a Mass Effect junky like me, than you’ve already bought the DLC. For those on the fence, you’ll be served just reading a summary online.

Arrival sets the events for Mass Effect 3 in motion. A scientist named Amanda Kenson has discovered a Reaper artifact—it’s never explained how she found it—she’s then captured for suspected terrorist acts against Batarians. Obviously this is a job for Commander Shepard and crew…or not!

One of the biggest problems with Arrival is you’re solo throughout most of it. Sure it’s not necessary to have a full team, but squad tactics and uniting your teams’ powers together is one of the best parts of Mass Effect 2’s combat. Arrival feels like a run-of-the-mill corridor shooter.

Arrival breakdown: Mediocre stealth section to start things off; then for the next 45 minutes open doors and shoot the waves of enemies the pour out. Simple.

Arrival is just plain boring. Everything depicted in Arrival could have been summarized in some form of short story. Yes, Arrival does explain how Mass Effect 3 may be structured (which has been a matter of debate), but there could’ve been a more elegant implantation of this info. Like saving it for Mass Effect 3. Why couldn’t this have been the first mission in Mass Effect 3? Not the gameplay, but the explanation for how Shepard staves off the Reapers’ immanent attack.

It just feels like the Mass Effect “B Team” designed Arrival. It reminds me of the lame Pinnacle Station DLC that was released for the original Mass Effect. Both are poor representations of Mass Effect’s appeal and…ah, I’m done!

The Reapers were coming in 2 days; Shepard changed that to years. You just saved $7. Mass Effect 3—December 2011.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Achievement Locked

I don’t think I care about achievements anymore. Many games feature some form of accolade for the completion of arbitrary tasks.  Xbox 360 has achievements; PlayStation 3 has trophies; even some PC games have achievements, like World of Warcraft. The Wii doesn’t have achievements—I’ve always been annoyed by that. Not anymore.

I’m not sure why. It may be from the lack of need; in that I don’t have many friends that have high gamerscores, so the “competition” factor isn’t there. Could be I don’t play that many games, or that I tend to choose games that have hard achievements to obtain.

I think I may have a simple answer; the more you enjoy a game the more likely you are to want to keep playing it, and complete every task that is offered. Mass Effect 1 and 2 come to mind. I have every achievement for both games, mainly because I just enjoy them so much. I wanted to complete everything and that included getting every achievement.

I think as this console generation has moved forward people care less about arbitrary score systems’ implemented into games. I’ve never bought a game for gamerscore, and I never will. But there is something satisfying about the little “blip” sound achievements make once they’ve been unlocked.

I don’t think I’m the minority. Many of my friends seem to have given up achievement/trophy hunting. Achievements are really just an extension of the game, and they’re made to add to the longevity of a playthrough. But if the game isn’t very enjoyable in the first place, then why try and get any achievements? It is just a meaningless number anyways.

Sure I will try to get all the achievements in Mass Effect 3 when the time comes. Yet that’s because I know I’m going to play the pants off that game regardless, so I think, “Might as well get all the achievements while I pour 100+ hours into this game.”

So the question may not be are achievements more meaningless now they they’ve been in the past, because that answer is probably, yes. What is really evident is that people, like myself, will lean towards getting achievements only in the games that they know they will spend an excessive amount of hours playing otherwise. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

DC Universe Online Review

I’ve played only 3 MMO’s: World of Warcraft, Aion, and now DC Universe Online. DCUO feels like the other two MMO’s I’ve played; I wish that wasn’t the case. Yes the theme is different. The world is certainly different. But the structure, the tried-and-true structure of a Massively Multiplayer Online game is still paramount.

DC Universe doesn’t break the mold. That does disappoint me, and I won’t sugarcoat that fact. There are some things that I do enjoy.

First, if you’ve played an MMO before DCUO’s formula won’t shock you. Well the story is compelling-- to a certain extent—most of your quests will have you fighting a set number of enemies; recovering a specific drop—from enemies; or deactivating/destroying some form of weapon that has been planted by a villain. The structure of each quest is uninteresting and well the voice acting adds a nice touch, some of the performances are horrendous. There is some good voice work by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy’s Joker and Batman renditions. 

Man, if Captain Planet was here...

Make no mistake the full voice acting adds to the story. And many MMO’s are full of text, and you just don’t want to read it all. Whenever you activate a quest in DCUO Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman contacts you. If you’re a villain then Lex Luthor, The Joker and Catwoman will inform you. If they aren’t available Oracle or The Calculator will contact you on the hero or villain sides respectively.

The story of DCUO, written by Geoff Johns, is your classic comic scenario—for a comic nerd. Lex Luthor finally beats Superman and the Justice League into the dirt. Just as Luthor plunges a Kryptonite-tipped spear in Superman’s back to finish the job, Brianiac comes to spoil the party. Lex probably thinks, “oh…maybe killing Superman right now wasn’t such a good idea. I should have noticed Brianiac’s entire fleet was overhead.” Killing The Man of Steel was a bad move. Luckily, Luthor can travel back in time—DON’T QUESTION IT! —In the past he tells the heroes that unless they band together Brianiac will demolish Earth.

Lex Luthor then unleashes creatures called Exobytes (which have the DNA from heroes and villains) loose upon the Earth. Giving Earthlings’ superpowers seems to be the only way to counter Brianiac’s assault. I guess they had to make some story that explains why you can’t play as Batman and Superman in a videogame about DC comics.

The story works because the character creation feature is robust. There’s a good amount of powers and fighting styles to choose from. And DCUO is all about individual style. Your appearance can reference a pre-existing DC hero/ villain or you can create damn near any look you choose. Unfortunately you have to earn the various insignias and emblems that DC heroes wear. Want Superman’s cape? Sorry you’ve got to earn it. Longing to look like DC heroes/villains will take time to emulate as most appearances are tied to high-level gear. 

DCUO's theme is what makes it.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time with DCUO—as shown in my previous articles. And above all else DCUO is for fans of DC comics. Not just the brand, but the world of DC. DCUO’s pores are oozing with comic and superhero references. Just assisting superheroes as they try to stop Brianiac’s invasion is a treat. Well I’ve stated that all I really wanted was to play a game in the DC Universe…it’s not quite what I’d hoped for.

I love embarking on a quest and meeting up with The Flash, Nightwing, Martian Manhunter, and the Green Lantern Corps. But aside from the latter, most of the missions have you either splitting up from your DC companion or in the case of Robin, saving them. There aren’t many quests from beginning to end where your superhero brethren accompany you. And that’s what bothers me. I thought you’d be palling around with DC heroes (or villains if that’s the side you picked), and completing quests in spectacular fashion. As a team. I understand that having someone assist you on every mission may be unbalanced—as character’s like Superman and Martian Manhunter are exceptionally powerful—but that’s why I bought this game. To team up with my favorite heroes, and you just don’t do that enough.

I even felt that the developers were mocking me in one particular instance, in which I was told to head underground and assist Fire (a superheroine who is a walking green flame), and destroy a rogue AI. Within the first encounter—less than 30 seconds in…yes I timed it—Fire said that she couldn’t assist me and that her powers were useless here… WHAT! Then why the hell did you come down here in the first place? Why is she an option to accompany me? It was the culmination of many situations where DC heroes constantly abandon you to do god knows what else. Whenever there’s trouble they haul ass.

That said there were some scenarios I really did like. The Green Lantern quest comes to mind: in which you assist the Green Lantern Corps as they rally against Sinestro. I'm a big Green Lantern fan so obviously this was my favorite quest/scenario. Unfortunately there are few quests— aside from Instances—in which you’re given assistance from a group of superheroes/ supervillains. 

Iconic gear is time consuming to acquire.

The endgame is enjoyable. Like most MMO’s it becomes team centric, and working together is the key. It’s too bad that most of the Alerts are just rehashes of what I’ve already ran earlier in the game. Sure the enemies are harder and there are some new bosses--like Zoom/Reverse Flash in the Gorilla Grodd quest-- it would have been nice if the endgame mission’s were completely new scenarios. The endgame content is fun, but that’s coming from somebody who hasn’t played a MMO at max level so this is my first taste of this type of team dependant content.

Still the interactions with DC heroes/villains are the most enticing part of DC Universe Online. I just wish it were a bigger emphasis. It annoys me that two quests have you rescuing Robin’s sorry ass. Rescuing heroes is an all too common theme in DCUO, and that’s just not what I want to do.

The biggest positive and negative with DCUO is that it’s for the fans. If you’re not a fan of capes and cowls then this isn’t the game for you. Strip away the aesthetic and DCUO is a fairly typical MMO. But for a person, like myself, DCUO is a step towards feeling like a real superhero. Which is something most superhero games haven’t accomplished.

There’s some fine-tuning that needs to be done to bring this game to the level of WOW, but it’s a reachable goal. The fanbase is there. More content with an emphasis on cameos from heroes and villains is a must. I want to feel like I’m in the world of DC. For that to flourish companionship with iconic DC heroes/villains throughout quests is necessary. As it stands DC Universe Online is an average game, yet somewhat of a poor representation of an MMO. I have high hopes that future expansions will iron out these issues and separate DCUO, from other MMO’s, more for it’s quality rather than its theme.

Monday, March 21, 2011

DC Universe Online: Progress Report 4

“Bitch slapping Lex Luthor”

It feels good to reach level 30. Finally I can partake in raids and harder instances that require more strategy. Or strategy period, as most solo fights dissolve into a cluster-F. There are little tactics to soloing in DCUO. If you’re given a quest there isn’t much required aside from mashing buttons until your enemy is subdued.

Once you reach level 30 the real game opens up. Well I can’t speak for those who chose Batman or Wonder Women as their mentors—since Superman was my mentor I had to beat Lex Luthor down for kidnapping the Man of Steel. Supergirl contacted me requesting that I head to the Daily Planet (Superman’s last known location), and get the low down on what happened to the Kryptonian. Turns out that Luthor decide to trash the place and take Superman hostage. In order to rescue Sup’ you have to infiltrate the Hall of Doom. Battling some of the lesser DC villains first like Cheetah and Metallo. It’s actually pretty fun going through the Hall of Doom. It’s that classic “endgame” feeling that you usually get from consoles, yet it’s captured well in this online game.

You finally come face-to-face with Luthor as Superman kneels powerless from the Kryptonite in Luthor’s power suit. What follows is a standard boss fight. You know--get a few hits in then watch out for a powerful attack that you must block or dodge. Half way through the fight Luthor even becomes enraged and his attacks become stronger. So it goes without saying that the fight with Luthor is your cliché final boss. After Luthor’s defeat you can speak with Superman (or your specific mentor) and you’re officially inducted into the Justice League of America.

Becoming a member of the League doesn’t seem to change much of the game. Once you reach level 30 you’re given quests requiring a group of at least 4 people. Some of the previous instances and alerts are upgraded to “Hard” difficulty as well. Doing these level 30 missions awards Marks: which are used to buy the best gear for your character.  The various Marks are as follows:

Marks of Allegiance- given to you for completing daily quests and some instances; the statistical bonus for this gear is minimal, you’d be better served going for the tier 1 gear immediately.

Marks of Triumph- Used to buy tier 1 PvE equipment; you can acquire these from hard alerts and group missions.

Marks of Distinction- What you really want as these allow you to get tier 2 PvE gear; you need to complete raids and alerts that have a “star” next to them.

Marks of Victory- This is your PvP currency for tier 2 PvP gear; complete arenas and legend battles to obtain these marks.

Being that I just reached 30 last night, I haven’t had a chance to experience most of the endgame content. But since most of the content is similar in structure to what I have done throughout levels 1-30 in DCUO I will be posting a review by the end of the week. But I will continue to play DCUO for the foreseeable future and I will post impressions of the endgame content as I experience it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

DC Universe Online: Progress Report 3

“Not structurally sound”

I’ve been playing DC Universe Online for the passed week. Some parts of DCUO are great, but there are nagging issues. The structure of DCUO has become obvious. There are some great moments (Ring War quest-line is particularly great, and I’m a big Green Lantern fan) it’s formulaic.

My hero reached level 23 last night, so I’ve played a significant portion of DCUO. Since the end-game/level 30 PVP content is later, I can’t write a concrete review. That said I have a firm grasp on most content featured in DCUO. Like I have mentioned before DCUO is combat heavy, so if you don’t like static areas filled with enemies then you won’t like DCUO. Fighting alongside DC heroes is engaging. But the quest structure is still-- go this location, beat a certain amount of enemies, then enter a building/ hospital/ warehouse and fight the boss-- which is usually a classic DC villain.

Most quests follow a similar layout. You’ll have 4 smaller assignments that culminate in a final boss encounter; followed by a comic-book-esc cutscene. The comic book panels at the end of large quest-lines are probably my favorite part of DCUO. They’re beautiful, colorful, and tonally fit the DC comic vibe.

Each quest has a different theme. Stop Bane from spreading Venom; follow clues to the whereabouts of the Riddler; help the Green Lantern Corps fight Sinestro, or save a DC hero in need. This last theme is frequent. I’ve saved Robin twice already. When Batman says, “Robin is already there”, that means he is tied up and you have to go save him.

Another problem is enemy spawn’s. Enemies cluster in groups making some fights difficult because you just get swarmed. This clustering together is more annoying coupled with very close enemy respawn points; some times enemies spawn right on top of you! Fighting off seven guys at once and then having them spawn right next to you without a respite is frustrating.

Money is largely useless in DCUO too. Aside from repairs to equipment, there is really nothing worth spending money on. You’ll find yourself just hording money or trading it away like me; or spending it on Soder Cola to restore lost health. Outside of that currency seems frivolous.

Large group raids and some instances aren’t available for me. But I have grouped with a few friends to take down villains like Bizarro and Solomon Grundy. Certain DC villains just wonder the battlefield and they’re tough to tackle without a friend or two to back you up.

Level 30 can’t come soon enough. I never raided in any previous MMO. For that matter I have never been relied upon to fill a certain role. As a Tank it’s my job to keep the focus on myself and not on the rest of the team. So it will be a learning experience. But the endgame content seems robust and I can’t wait to try it out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

DC Universe Online: Progress Report 2

“A Song of Fire and Fire”

Hells Light hoped back into DC Universe for his second outing. This time I matched wits with Gorilla Grodd’s forces as they tried to de-evolve humans; well, not so much a “matching of wits”, as it was me placing my fist right on his sloped forehead. This was my first taste of fighting actual villains from the DC canon. So it was cool to fight Gorilla Grodd in the end, with the help of the Flash. Together we sent Grodd back to whatever dimension, portal or world he can came from. It’s fun to have DC hero’s battle alongside of you during quests. That’s what DC Universe Online is all about.

I continued on to fight the HIVE forces, and then help Wonder Woman’s Amazonian friends. Really all the quests in DCUO center around combat with cameos from various DC villains and heroes to spice things up. Endless fighting is starting to get a bit repetitive, but that was to be expected…just not so quickly. I think using a controller may cure me of this constant mouse clicking that is putting serious strain on my wrists. I’m just not used to mashing buttons on a keyboard as well. I forget where my various powers are sometimes, and find myself repositioning my hands on the WASD keys constantly. The auto-target system—during combat, may feel more natural with a controller too, with a keyboard, not so much. 

As of right now I’m trying to spec my character into becoming a Tank, since I am just starting actually becoming a true Tank isn’t quite an option. I’m just kind of spending points wherever I want. “Fireballs that fall from the sky”, that sounds cool! That’s as much thought as I put into picking traits and abilities.

I’m playing on a PVP server so I have run into the level 30 villains who like to thrash unsuspecting low-level characters who are questing. But I chose to play on a PVP server for a reason. I wanted that extra feeling of unease that you get from realizing that all isn’t safe, no matter where you are. I haven’t tried any of the PVP combat arenas, nor have I done any group questing. So I’m looking forward to diving into those soon.

The art of “grinding” in order to level up seems to be a nonissue in DC Universe. Which is welcomed. Especially coming off the absolute grind-fest that was the MMO Aion. In DC Universe you just hope from quest to quest. There isn’t even a need to return to the original quest giver, in most cases you can just click complete and you’re done. Most missions have a nice pace, and you don’t need to stay in any one area too long, constantly killing the same enemy’s over and over like most MMO’s.

As of writing this I am level 12 and climbing fast. That’s only about 7 hours of play and I’m nearly half way to 30, where I’m told most of the action really takes place. That is where DC Universe Online is similar to most MMO’s, in which the best content is saved for the higher-level characters. That’s fine it gives people something to strive for. Still I’ve enjoyed most of what DCUO has to offer. The combat seems like it would be more inviting to me if I had a controller, and quests are still pretty simplistic. Yet like I mentioned before I just like being in this world. To live in the same world as my favorite comic heroes and villains is all I’m really asking for. In that regard DC Universe delivers.

Monday, March 14, 2011

DC Universe Online: Progress Report 1

“Through the ashes my PC rises”

DC Universe is a game in which I, as a comic nerd, feel obligated to play. Make no mistake I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.  My PC was on its last breath though. 7 months of “Blue Screen of Death” with no hope in sight. Upon updating my BIOS--sorry I’m going to get technical here—then replacing some hardware; installing new drivers for my Graphics Card; then wiping my OS clean in order to install Windows 7, I was finally up and running. My PC was finally ready for gaming. Was it worth the wait?

My first day with DC Universe was split up thusly: Install Windows, that’s 2 hours; Install DC Universe, about 1 hour 30 min.; choose a class/power/fighting style/appearance, that’s about 6 hours! I made 3 different characters before finally settling on a hero with Fire Powers; flight as movement; and energy projection as the fighting style.  Customizing my look was the most time consuming, as was finding a name that wasn’t already in use.

I had ran through Brianiac’s ship (the starting segment) 4 times before coming to the conclusion of what character and class I wanted to be.

After hours of debate, Hells Light (the name of my final character build), jumped into DC Universe. First off this game is quite visually striking. Granted the art style is pulled from comics, but the colors are vibrant and everything has a nice shine to it. Metropolis and Gotham are monstrous. It took me about 30 minutes to fly from one end of Metropolis to the other…I kind of had to for a quest anyway.

In the words of Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, "Classic...total classic!"

Visuals and scale aside the combat is the main focus in DC Universe. I chose a melee character and I was hoping to get that meaty feeling that games like God of War, or Devil May Cry have when you hit an enemy. Happily DC Universe does have that weighty combat feel, every hit you land has physical force to it. Enemy’s flinch and fall under the weight of your blows. And juggling enemy’s in the air is extremely satisfying. It’s good that the combat feels hefty and responsive…because there is a lot of it!

We’re in the early stages of an MMO’s lifecycle so it’s important that the combat is robust even in the starting areas. There isn’t much to do outside of pummeling people during quests. And well I haven’t had a chance to explore a lot--I’ve only done 7 quests-- I’m sure that there will be some fetch-quests that are thrown into the mix. There is an interesting mission where you try to win the hand of Aphrodite for Booster Gold (one of the lamest DC hero’s ever), in which you enter a dream state disguised as Cupid. The novelty wears off though, as you end up just doing standard combat scenarios, but now you’re a doughy kid in diapers with wings shooting arrows at other doughy diaper clad foes. I couldn’t wait to exit that realm and get back to my created character. So that quest wasn’t so hot, as I’ve said in my Skyward Sword examination, I don’t like transforming into unnecessary characters and that’s really what this quest was all about. But it’s early, so we’ll see how things move forward.

I haven’t had a lot of time with DC Universe, but as I progress I’ll post updates. I’m definitely enjoying the atmosphere so far. I just love being in this world with heroes and villains everywhere. The first time you teleport into the Watchtower and see Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter and countless other DC hero’s it’s a nerdgasm inducing experience. Even without my beloved Green Lantern Construct Powers (hopefully in a expansion), I still love what I’ve played to this point. Let’s just see if DC Universe continues to be more super-powered rather than Kryptonite poisoned.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Games of 2011: L.A. Noire

Release: May 17th

Adventure games, that is point-and-click Adventure games are largely dead. A game where you find clues and progress the story (like a detective) is rare these days. A few titles such as the Sam & Max on Xbox Live; the Strong Bad game on the Wii and the recent Back to the Future game, are examples of old-school Adventure games. L.A. Noire seems to be the evolution of the investigative Adventure mechanic. And I’ve been waiting for a game that makes you feel like a real detective.

L.A. Noire has that open world feel similar to GTA or Red Dead Redemption. The emphasis is on being an investigator and solving crimes and murder mysteries. A game where you actually sit down, go over a notepad and scour the city of Los Angeles for clues to a murder really sounds intriguing. Finding out how items fit together is why a game like Monkey Island is so fun; when you find out how things work—without any help—it’s a very satisfying feeling. L.A. Noire looks like it may deliver that same “eureka!” moment. 

The “Motion Scan” system that is used to capture each actor’s mannerisms and facial tics makes the interrogation scenes look realistic. “Motion Scan” introduces a new dynamic, one in which you ask, “can I tell whether or not this person is lying to me just from looking at their face?” I can’t wait to test that theory. 

Creepy, yes! But effective? We'll just have to see.

L.A. Noire looks different from most of Rockstar’s games. Well it may feature an open world, you don’t seem to have the ability to “go anywhere and do anything”, like many of Rockstars other titles. But if Red Dead Redemption showed us anything it’s that Rockstars main focus is on storyline. That’s actually how L.A. Noire can be unique; the story can change based on how you solve a crime. That’s really an interesting set-up one that leads to a lot of replay-ability in a game. And any game that has multiple outcomes is one that I will definitely check out.

Being a true detective and solving crimes is not a unique concept for movies—for games, on the other hand, it is unique. Being able to dictate the pacing and flow of an investigation and searching for clues; solving a crime and gaining admiration for doing so makes L.A. Noire one of my most anticipated games of 2011.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Does Sony need a PSP2?

Why does Sony insist on trying to expand into the portable market; it’s not as wide open as once thought. The iPhone and the Nintendo DS (which is set to release a successor that will undoubtedly surpass the PSP2 sales wise) are seen as the clear winners in the handheld market; something Sony shouldn’t even bother with. Focus on the PS3. Sony, you’re making real headway in the home console market and the potential to leapfrog the Xbox 360 has never been more possible prior to 2011.

The PSP2 or NGP, as it is called at the moment. Just doesn’t get me interested at all. Sure the 3DS may seem gimmicky, with the 3D visual aspect. But I remember thinking the same about the original DS and it’s two screens. The PSP2 is going to have some astounding visuals, I’m sure. But the 3rd party support for the original PSP wasn’t there, nothing so far makes me think that is going to change.

The handheld market isn’t oversaturated at the moment. But I think that the audience has segregated themselves slightly. One group likes the DS; the other enjoys the casual lineup of the iPhone. Where does the PSP2 fit? Is it the hardcore gamers portable system? Maybe that is Sony’s mentality, “this is the portable device for the hardcore gamer”. But that’s just it; I don’t think there is a hardcore handheld market. Casual games dominate the handheld landscape, and the lineup for the PSP just doesn’t have these pick-up-and-play games that the iPhone and DS have.

The PSP2/NGP is really just a portable PS3. That’s what it is! I mean the first title is an Uncharted game. If I wanted to play that I’d play it on my home console; the games that are on the DS usually aren’t on the Wii. The PSP2 just seems like a pointless endeavor, one that is going to backfire. I mean has Sony had any return in investment on the PSP? They must have or else they wouldn’t have green lit the development for a successor. I don’t know…I just don’t see who the audience is. I know for sure, it’s not me. The 3DS looks amazing!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beyond Good & Evil HD Review

I, like many, didn’t get to play Beyond Good & Evil when it first came out in 2003. I was busy playing GTA. And in some ways Beyond Good & Evil is like Grand Theft Auto…in the sense that there is a hub world, where you drive a vehicle and explore various locales. Other then that though this game is difficult to quantify.

Beyond Good & Evil takes many different gameplay ideas and combines them with varying degrees of success. The first portion of the game is centered on cooperative gameplay (your companion is controlled by the AI); the first half of the game is structured like Zelda. The areas you explore have simple puzzles; turn this lever here; push this crate that way, the standard fair that is seen in most Action Adventure games.

I wish the co-op aspect was much more of a dominant gameplay addition. Jade tends to get separated from her companion (Pey’J an anthropomorphic pig, who is your Uncle; and eventually Double H, a soldier of the rebel group IRIS). Because of this you are frequently on your own throughout large chunks, and it didn’t really feel like I was a team. 

Like I mentioned before the gameplay veers in different directions. But some things remain throughout. Jade, the main protagonist (and probably my favorite female lead to a game in a long time), is an investigative reporter—or at least she becomes one rather quickly. Regardless, I found the photography in the game to be probably the most compelling part. There is a lot of wildlife on the planet of Hillys (the alien world where the game takes place), and I enjoyed searching every area for new creatures to photograph. 

Pey'J up, ho's down!

Photography and investigation are the ways in which you gain Pearls (think Stars in Mario or Jigsaw pieces in Banjo Kazooie). With Pearls you can upgrade your hovercraft and explore the world of Hillys. And there are a good variety of things to do: races, bandit missions where you hunt down criminals; and the hovercraft allows you access to some areas that aren’t reachable on foot. Collecting these Pearls and upgrading your hovercraft is essential to progressing further in the game.

As the story progresses you learn that all isn’t right in Hillys. There is supposedly a war between the Alpha Sections (the peacekeepers) and the Dom’Z, a hostile alien race. The “S” hits the “F” quick and Jade finds herself wrapped up in a tangled web of rebellion. Well I won’t spoil the story, it becomes apparent quite soon that the Alpha Sections are hiding something big. Jade has to join forces with the rebel group called IRIS and get the low down on the Alpha Sections.

There is a lot to like in Beyond Good & Evil…until the final 50% of the game kicks in. The last half of the game is dominated by stealth sections that really don’t hold up well in this age. We’ve come a long way from--alert a guard, run fifteen feet away, hide in the shadows, and he’ll act like you were just a figment of his imagination. It’s dated. This is an older game, so you have to take the good with the bad. It’s just unfortunate that these stealth sections make up so much of the game, especially when my favorite section isn’t repeated nearly enough.

I’m speaking about the free running/ pseudo parkour sections of the game. Here you run towards the screen (I know that usually is a gaming no, no), and you have to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge your way past lasers, the Alpha Section pursuers, and other obstacles that are strewn in your path. The camera angles aside, I found these parkour moments really fun, and I have the feeling that Ubisoft wanted to make this a bigger feature in the game. I say this because of the leaked Beyond Good & Evil 2 concept trailer; where Jade can be seen fleeing and running and jumping from rooftop to rooftop Bourne Ultimatum style. It seems though that the tech at the time couldn’t allow Ubisoft to expand upon this free running style—here’s hoping it’s a major part of the sequel. I only counted 2 of these free running moments but I wished they were a bigger focus. 

Pictured: Stealth

The updated visuals are nice, and textures are crisp and clean. And the beautiful color pallet of the game really shines. Each character you run into has a unique look, be they talking cats, pigs, moles, birds—this game has an odd sensibility about it, but it's quirky and fun.

Beyond Good & Evil ends up being a mixed bad. Some sections like free running, the companion aspect (when you’re an actual team that is), and photography are really enjoyable. But the dated stealth sections that take up so much of the latter half of the game are really a drag.

That being said, Ubisot was trying to get people interested in Beyond Good & Evil 2. In that sense I think they succeeded. Before I had just a passing interest in Beyond Good & Evil 2, now I’m all in. I love the variety that is in Beyond Good & Evil, but there needs to be a better balance. Remove the stealth section entirely or rework it, but make stealth a lesser feature overall. Give Jade the ability to run and scale walls like Assassins Creed or Prince of Persia, two of Ubisoft’s other titles that feature a parkour exploration style. And make the co-op AI partner aspect a bigger feature. Pey’J is an interesting character…but you lose him within the first 3 hours of the game—what’s up with that? Still Beyond Good & Evil HD did its job. Get people excited about Beyond Good & Evil 2; hopefully we’ll see it at E3 this year.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My sword is going anywhere but skyward for the next Zelda

I’m going to get the title for Zelda Skyward Sword being a allegory to an erect penis out of the way. So, I’ll just say, “Zelda Skyward Sword definitely doesn’t get a skyward rise from my sword.”—BOOM! Okay now that’s over. Let’s get to the topic at hand. Zelda Skyward Sword looks so…how shall I put this? Average, boring, played-out, traditional (not in a good way), lacking, tired, done-to-death, formulaic…or any other host of words that can be applied to what I’m calling a very uninspired game.

Wait let me take that back. Zelda Skyward Sword isn’t uninspired; it’s actually inspired, but by a game that I l loath with ever fiber of my existence—Zelda Twilight Princess. 

That’s why I’m hating on Zelda Skyward Sword, because it looks like the arbitrary-wolf-including-Ocarina-of-Time-wannabe that was Zelda Twilight Princess. A small backstory is necessary for a retrospective on why I dislike Zelda Twilight Princess so much, and why Skyward Sword has me feeling the same way.

It all stems from expectation, or over-expectation really! You see I loved Zelda Ocarina of Time, loved with the biggest capital “L” you can find. Sure I was young (13 at the time of its release) but I never wanted a game to live up to the hype more so then Ocarina. I read every single published article; combed over every tidbit of information in every magazine; marked each day off my calendar (not really in the literal sense); scoured every video game site, for everything about Ocarina up to it’s release. Did it live up to the hype and my gaudy expectations? Oh hell yes! Yes, yes, yes it definitely did, in every area: Visuals that were (for the time) stellar (the color pallet was beautiful, every area was detailed and dungeons and temples were thematically different and expansive; the gameplay, amazing (the lock-on system implemented for the 3rd person action was innovative, and is still used in many games today); The story was impeccable and classic—the good vs. evil dichotomy was on display in its purest form in Ocarina.

There was a lot to love in Ocarina of Time, but I think that comes with a disclaimer, in the form of Majora’s Mask. Majora’s Mask made me realize that the world of Zelda could stand on its own two legs without the need of the oft-captured princess and the central antagonist Ganon. It was a standalone story set outside of Hyrule and had a very unique dilemma—the moon is falling. It wasn’t the traditional, “rescue the princes” storyline we’ve been subject to in so many Zelda games. And it gave me hope that future Zelda titles would use Majora’s Mask as an example. That the Zelda games can stray from the “Legend” premise and take on a completely new agenda. 

Instead we got Zelda Wind Waker…and it wasn’t bad, but I, like so many others wanted a realistic graphical depiction of Zelda. Not the Cel-Shaded/ Cartoony affair that was Wind Waker.

Link, master of the "stank face"

What the fans wanted would have to wait. And that is the main word, “wait.” I can still remember the cheers and elation from the crowd at E3 2004 when Zelda Twilight Princess was first shown (just called Legend of Zelda, at the time).  I was right there with everyone else in feeling that, “yes, finally…this is the Zelda I’ve been waiting for.”

Needless to say I had high hopes for Zelda Twilight Princess, It had been my most anticipated title of the past decade. 2 years felt like an eternity. And though I had to buy a new console—the Wii—I felt at the time it was worth it…boy was I wrong!

Let’s break this down. Why did Link turn into a wolf again? Well that’s easy, “because he was in the twilight realm…and uhm, because wolves are cool.” Actually the correct answer is nobody knows, and we still to this day have no real answer. Everything in the twilight world (or realm…whatever) was some form of mutated alien tentacle-mouth thing, nowhere were actually animals depicted; so why again would Link turn into a regular wolf in this twilight world when everything else is essentially alien in appearance. It just makes no real sense. 

do I have to?

Nothing says bad game design then a large portion of a game (10 or so hours) where everything you do is arbitrary. You didn’t do anything new, there was no great mechanic well you were trapped in the wolf form—unless you count collecting glowing balls of light as fun…then you probably had a good-ol’-time. For the rest of us we just wanted to play as Link again. Instead half of the game is devoted to collecting orbs/tears of light, for gods--well you wished that you could play an actual Zelda game; I’d go play Okami if I wanted to play as a wolf.

Okami is an example of a good game. And I still think when the Zelda devs saw Okami they thought, “Hey, that wolf game looks kind of interesting, wonder if we could add something like that into our game. We need some kind of gimmick that makes people think this Zelda is different from the rest.” The problem is it’s not different. Not only did it copy Okami, but also it did so in the worst possible way—Wolf Link controlled like a frickin tank! What exacerbated the crappy controls and animation was that most of the platforming was done well in wolf form. And it wasn’t at all fun it was just tedious.

Take out the wolf element and what are you left with, just another standard Zelda game. They even managed to shoehorn Ganon in towards the end. When that happened (after having no evidence that he had anything to do with what was going on in Hyrule, he practically didn’t exist) I was like, “What the hell! You have to be kidding me. He has nothing to do with this.” The inclusion of Ganon was just about all I could take. I didn’t want the standard “Legend” anymore; I thought I really was getting a new story up until that transpired. But really I was delusional. Besides the wolf aspects nothing here is any different from any other Zelda—its just Ocarina of Time with a new coat of paint. But no matter how much paint you put on pooh, it still stinks!

Some how my search results for "Wolf Link" gave me the "Dick in a Box" SNL Sketch.

That’s why I can’t get excited for Zelda Skyward Sword (besides the fact that the Wii is dead to me!), it looks like, at least for now--Twilight Princess. It makes me a little queasy just thinking about it. I remember when Zelda Skyward Sword was first shown, I read pressers that mistakenly called it Twilight Princess. But it wasn’t a mistake; at this point it’s almost impossible to tell them apart…even the visuals are very similar. Regardless, maybe I’m not a big Zelda fan, like I was in the past. Ocarina was the pinnacle, and Majora’s Mask made me think we were going to get original stories in the Zelda Universe that didn’t feature Princess Zelda or Ganon. Looking back maybe I shouldn’t have even got my hopes up that Zelda Twilight Princess would be something new, for a Zelda game.

I just don’t care anymore. I don’t care about Zelda Skyward Sword. It looks like every other Zelda. And that’s not what I want anymore. I’ve been doing the same thing (saving Princess Zelda and battling Ganon in some capacity) for nearly 20 years now. It’s tired, and I’m tired of it. Give me something new Nintendo. Because the next Zelda isn’t making my sword rise skyward in the least…not even half-mast.  Sorry couldn’t help myself.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

3 years N+


Death and taxes are inevitable…add in dying constantly in N+ and you’ll have my life in a nutshell. You could put on my tombstone, “Donntae,  an outstanding, charismatic, respectful individual and a great person…. but damn did he blow at N+. I mean that guy really sucked.” It’s been 3 years and I’m still lousy at N+. Trust me it’s not from lack of trying, I love platformers – I was raised on them. And I’ve busted my butt trying to get further into this game. Yet every time I say, “I’m going to get further, I’m gonna beat it, I’m determined”, I trip on a mine or fall to my death, or get blasted to little tiny pixels.

It’s an inevitable outcome; I just suck at this game! It makes it all the more humiliating when I see my close friends rocket up the leader boards with spectacular times that I couldn’t fathom getting. This isn’t something new – I’m terrible at Geometry Wars, yet I still try and “man up” and achieve a respectable score, only to fail miserably.

I just don’t know what it is either. Sure the game has floaty physics and your so-called “ninja” slides along the ground like he’s on a greased up skillet. But I should be able to overcome said factors, I mean they made the physics and character movement the way they did for a reason.  Don’t ask me what that reason is, but it’s something. I’ve played some hard platformers before….N+ is the exception. 

I feel ashamed; as a gamer I’m supposed to adapt. I’ve been doing it for years. If kamikaze ninja’s are giving me a hard time in Ninja Gaiden I don’t whine about it, I pick my balls up and get the job done and I teach the game a lesson, it’s not going to push me around – I improve on my own imperfections. If I keep placing 2nd in Forza I race on – repetition is the name of “the game”, and I’m a master of “the game”…just not N+.

It’s just dying; dying is so demeaning in N+. You feel like it’s absolutely unequivocally and 100% your fault, you loser! I half expect a voice shouting at me to give up and go play another game. Yet despite all this -- even questions on why I downloaded the game in the first place. I still keep going back. And I die, die, and die over and over again. Because some day I’m going to beat it…I just hope it doesn’t take another 3 years!