Monthly Archives: October 2010

Halo: Reach multi-player review

Halo: Reach, like Halo 3 before it, possesses one of the most replayable campaigns in gaming. Sure, there’s no RPG dialog trees or choices to make, but the various difficulty levels, skull permutators, and the all-important meta-game scoring gives new life to the same story. The new addition in Reach–matchmaking on campaign levels with complete strangers, not just Xbox LIVE friends–is a great thing for people like me with few (if any) friends that play Halo.

The quality of the campaign, both in terms of gameplay and narrative, is something of a mixed bag that I covered previously in my campaign review.

As for the quality of the multi-player, I can unabashedly say that this is the best Halo game yet. Everything else is in the details. Reach won’t convert many (if any) of those who haven’t liked previous titles in the franchise, but read on if you’re interested in those details.

Some people don’t like fragging friends or strangers, but working together. For those folks, or die-hard adversarial MP players just looking for a break, Firefight is back and better than ever. First introduced as part of the ODST expansion for Halo 3, this is Halo’s take on Gears of War‘s Horde mode. The basics remain unchanged, with the maps still being based off of certain spaces from the campaign.

Where it gets better is in the details. Read the rest of this entry

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Dragon Age 2’s “Rise to Power” Trailer

Things to note: there is actual gameplay showcased here (despite the lack of HUD). That being the case, I think we can all agree that Dragon Age 2 has gotten a visual rehaul of sorts.

The narrator is a dwarf named Varric, he is telling this story to an inquisitor trying to figure out how it is that the world is on the brink of war. We also get to see what we can probably assume to be a love interest for Hawke. She’s a gypsy pirate. Lastly, yes, the Qunari invasion that Sten mused about in Origins? It’s what is happening in DA2–here we see more snippets of this invasion, though the backdrop is most evident on the Destiny trailer, where we see Hawke battling a horned Qunari.

Noble Map Pack trailer

We have to wait until November 30th for the privilege of paying for more maps for Halo: Reach that aren’t based off of Forge World, but here’s a gift from Bungie to make the wait easier:

BLUE DRAGON – Review

BLUE DRAGON is a videogame developed by Mistwalker and Artoon, published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. It was directed by HIRONOBU SAKAGUSHI.

Well… this game sucks.

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New flavor of the apocalypse: New Vegas impressions

Aside from this bit about your character getting shot in the head and left for dead, the opening cinematic for Fallout: New Vegas feels like a documentary–but I suppose that’s the way Obsidian decided to set the (very) slow pace of a Bethesda-style Fallout game. It does feel like it goes on too long, but maybe that’s because I knew every piece of information it gave me already. For someone who hadn’t kept up with the pre-launch coverage, it probably was quite interesting. I can only offer my own opinion: meh.

Of course, any game can have an interesting (or awful) opening. It could have been worse. I actually did like the character creation sequence, though it’s not as unique as the one in Fallout 3. I wish more games would do a contextual creator rather than slap a bunch of menus in front of you as soon as the movie finishes.

And then the game starts. Instead of the dramatic opening of Fallout 3, you’re basically thrown out into a hick settlement that functions very differently from the major hub that Megaton was. Sure, there’s a couple quests, but I didn’t get to experience those. See, the character that’s integral to the initial questline died in my tutorial. Yes, because I sucked that badly at the combat tutorial, the NPC died.

Quest failed. Quest failed. Quest failed. Quest failed. Okay then. . . .

I even tried to figure out a “creative” resolution to the questline. Nope, there’s one whole tree that still can’t be resolved. Because I have to talk to the dead character to advance it.

This is a worrisome start.

It also doesn’t help that your first clue along the central story involves asking someone at the town of Primm. Obsidian, however, neglects to tell you where Primm is. No map marker, no general direction, nothing. I found it (by accident) pretty quickly, but to me it’s sloppy development work. Fallout 3 at least put the major settlements on your map to give a general layout. An open world RPG works, but only if there are clear indicators of how a quest starts when you get that itch.

I’m excited to see the different faction branching–I’ve seen some already–but I’m also more than a bit skeptical.

Share your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. Aiming down the sights is a great addition. Say goodbye to our dear friend, the Dunning-Kruger reticle.

Simplify, Simplify

We live in complicated times. The modern blockbuster title demands twelve buttons and three directional pads, some buttons doing different things when pressed in combination. There are multiple situations your character gets stuck in. You’re no longer just running around until you find a boss: now, you have to do a flying level to get there, solve eight puzzles designed like a game from the 80’s, platform up a building the size of the Statue of Liberty with obvious hand holds, and watch a 15 minute cut scene for each 5 minutes of gameplay against an easy, repetitive boss, before you lather back on the variety.

My favorite game of the year so far has been VVVVVV, a retro platformer which has three buttons, one mechanic and two goals: finding your crew members scattered around the map, and not dying from the horrible things you find. That’s it.

Simplify, simplify. It’s been a recent theme of games journalists to hammer home simplicity: the more complicated games get, they reason, the fewer people will play them, and the more mechanical the works become. If Henry David Thoreau were alive (and played video games, which is doubtful, unless they were made out of nature), he would no doubt say that a simplified video game is a better one.

The trick is, simple doesn’t have to mean basic. It doesn’t have to me visceral and film like, especially When we look back on the history of games, games like Chrono Trigger and Super Mario World and Mega Man 2 and the lot, these are “simple” games. Chrono Trigger features three buttons that do anything of importance: yes, no, and a menu. Mario has always had two buttons. Mega Man had two buttons. They feature few cutscenes, and tell their story through gameplay. These are simple, simple games.

But that doesn’t mean they are basic. They are just focused in their mechanics. The simplification video games does not have to start at their mechanics, but rather has to start at the bloated trappings of cinema that have been sewn onto the slowly dying corpse of video gaming.
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Wizards in silent films: Magicka

You may recall me mentioning Magicka before as a veritable masters class in how to sell your independent game. Part one of How the Gold Master Was Delayed was a happy romp, but part two is even better, because it contains crucial, vital information like a January release date and an $89.99 price point.

Chuckles all around.

Magicka, if you don’t know, is a four player co-op wizarding romp, where your spells affect other people’s spells. It’s like an isometric Left 4 Dead, if the zombies were replaced by horrible spiders and the guns were replaced by more different guns that, whenever their bullets touched, created a horrible maelstrom of epic destruction that killed half your party and all the enemies.

Chuckles, all around. Oh, and the price point is actual $10. I will not explain further because moving pictures do that better than I ever will.

Super Meat Boy Kicks Off With A Sale on XBLA

As a thank you to all the fans, Team Meat has decided to put Super Meat Boy on sale from the release date until November–a move never before taken on XBL. Good news for all you folks wary of high DLC prices, right?

“So, recently we have been talking to MS about eventual sales and the future of Super Meat Boy, we wanted to be able to do something special for Xmas,” says Edmund, SMB creator, on the Meat Blog, “but it felt like a sale only 2 months after launch would be a kinda shitty thing to do to the fans who just bought it.”

So, what’s the sale price? 800 MS points: that’d be 10 dollars.

Now you have two reasons to pick this game up right away: it’s insanely good, and you’ll save money doing it, too. Win-win! Just know that should you partake in this meaty sale, this will be your unavoidable fate:

In Defense of DLC

People sure seem bitter about DLC now-a-days, don’t they? Between MW2’s $15 map packs, EA’s Project Ten Dollar, content keys to unlock files already on the disk, the infamous horse armor, alleged “pay-to-play” demos, and even the future potential of charging you for user generated content, it seems people have a lot to be angry about. However, is it really as bad as it seems?

One of primary complaints I’ve seen surface is how games are shipped ‘half-finished’ or how content is intentionally removed in order to be repackaged as DLC. This thought process seems prevalent with the recent flux of “GotY Edition” titles surfacing (Uncharted 2, Dragon Age: Origins, GTA4, and Forza 3 all announced these past few weeks), with some gamers claiming that these are the “real” or “complete” versions. Is this really the case, though? Were you initially sold an “incomplete title”? I wouldn’t say so.

More and more, developers are budgeting for DLC releases. Meaning that, if DLC didn’t exist as a medium to sell the additional product, you’d never see it to begin with. The game itself is fashioned separately as a whole product. Yet some people seem to think without DLC, all this extra content would have otherwise wound up on the disk. From a business point of view, that kind of thinking is completely backwards and stands out as another example of how so many gamers have a false sense of entitlement (but that’s another discussion entirely).

Instead, we should be looking at it in a more realistic (and less idealistic) light. Our favorite games are given renewed life, replayability, and longevity in some fashion–something console gamers rarely had prior to DLC’s availability. Other than the SOCOM and Halo series, how many of your favorite multiplayer games had additional content to expand their longevity last gen? I certainly can’t recall any. How many of your favorite old school RPGs had chapters added after release to delve into the history of some of your most beloved characters? None. That’s the beauty of DLC though. Scenarios like this are now possible.

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Super Meat Boy Review

For the past couple of days, my reality has consisted of nothing but blood curdling shrieks. You see, I’m currently trapped in a nightmare. This terrible nightmare has a name–Super Meat Boy. Fun fact: Super Meat Boy is the devil. Hell, Super Meat Boy is perhaps the most infuriating title I’ve played all year. I can’t recall the last time I was this angry at a video game.

Yes, Super Meat Boy is the devil…but I can’t stop playing it.

The premise of the little monster is simple: Dr. Fetus is a dick. And true to form, he’s stolen your love interest, Bandage Girl. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you (incidentally the acronym is the same as Super Mario Bros). And, like Mario, I sincerely believe that Meat Boy deserves to be considered for a spot under “generation classic.” A bold claim which will need to be revisited at a later date, but one currently held with real conviction.

I can spend a long time detailing the aspects of SMB which exude the feeling of a classic title–from the retro chiptune soundtrack, to the inclusion of warp zones that teleport Meat Boy to homages to classic gaming consoles. Meat Boy himself oozes charm, thanks to the wonderfully gooey sound effects, his expressions, and his dashing animations. Even the “supporting cast” of Dr. Fetus and Bandage girl are precocious, in their own way (and isn’t the idea of a fetus as a villain amazing in of itself?), but none of this is what makes SMB stand out. Sure, it’s a love letter to old-school platformers, but what really makes SMB superb is the incredibly deliberate design. SMB stands strong on its core design without any of the “features” bloating modern titles. And it’s all the more bold, outstanding of a title for it. Team Meat knows, well, where the meat of the gameplay is.

Meat Boy must run, dash, jump and wall jump at high speeds–nothing new, as far as platforming mechanics go–across worlds designed to be microcosms for your own personal hell. These actions are all governed by simple controls which follow the ‘simple to pick up, difficult to master’ paradigm. The thing about the game is, Team Meat knows where you want to hide your family heirlooms, your children, and your dignity. But I will tell you right now: there is no escape. The only way to come out alive is to have the precision of a madman. Have I mentioned there are no checkpoints in any of the levels? Because there aren’t. Hence, the need for near perfection. Don’t take this to mean that SMB requires specific precision–levels aren’t (always) linear, and can often be approached in a number of ways. Some of the more creative approaches require nerves and reflexes of steel, though. In my current playthrough, I’ve died over two thousand times. Normally, that sort of death count would cause me to give up playing a game, but while each death brings me a little closer to heart attack, it strengthens my resolve to beat the level.

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