I thought this week was going to be a breeze. You see, it's Freshers' Week here at my University. It's the week before lectures start, when both new and established students return to campus in anticipation of both the new academic year, and the non-stop run of messy events going on throughout the week. Being a cleaner for my University's Students' Union, I knew I'd have to put some time in to help with the clean-up, but that didn't bother me much. Nothing wrong with spending a couple of mornings cleaning up spilt drink and lost lunches, is there? That still leaves me with a few free days to play video games, finish the book I'm currently reading, and maybe even nip into the refurbished Students' Union bar for a cheap pint.
Last week my supervisor told me I'd be needed to work every day this week. Let me elaborate. That's ten consecutive mornings (from last Friday to next Sunday) waking up at 4:00am to get into work for 5:30am, not finishing until midday or, if it's really messy, even later, cleaning up after the drunken revelry I have no opportunity to attend because these events are all ending at around the time I start work. Not that I would attend any of these events if I could, mind. I hate nightclubs and all the loud, repetitive music and over-drunk loudmouth idiots that come with them. It's the principle of the thing. On top of all this, my Students' Union expects me to volunteer to act as an Ambassador at some point this week. I won't be. Finally, there's the new neighbours that have moved in next door, a fresh batch of students who seem intent on serving as my alarm clock when they've crawled in at 2:30 every morning so far this week. This combination of early mornings, relentless work and the total apathy of an organisation that's supposed to understand the needs of a student has made me tired and grouchy. I feel really sorry for my girlfriend, because I must be hell to live with at the moment. The worst part of it all is that I'm only halfway through this torturous scenario. Sunday seems further away than Christmas right now.
With so little time to myself, it's a wonder that I've managed to even play any video games, let alone finish two of the damn things. That's exactly what I've done, though. I was hoping on devoting a full blog to at least the first of these titles, but given that I've barely got the time to write this one, I figured it would be best to restrict them both to a single paragraph within this blog, and that's exactly what I've done below.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace WalkerA year on my gaming calendar wouldn't be complete unless it witnessed the playthrough of a Metal Gear game. Last year saw me play three of them, for crying out loud. This year, that accolade went to the latest iteration of the franchise, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Already being fairly familiar with Metal Gear on the PSP, having played Portable Ops last year, it didn't take me long to settle into Peace Walker's bite-size missions and recruit-your-own-army gameplay mechanics. All told, I sank a good thirty hours into the game over three weeks in September, and I think it's now safe to say that it's one of my favourite episodes in the Metal Gear saga. The production values are top-notch, with the game's enormous budget showing itself very clearly in all the cut-scenes and comic-style graphic sequences that move the series-typical plotline forward. I loved the fact that Portable Ops' recruitment system was revamped into the running of Mother Base, too. The concepts of researching new equipment and fielding squads for Outer Ops made scouting for new talent both relevant and worthwhile. I think I may actually have spent just as much time with that statistical meta-game side of things as I did actually completing the game's missions. The missions themselves were varied, well-structured and appropriately short for a handheld title. The boss battles were as great as I've come to expect from the series, but there was an overbearing feeling that those battles have explicitly been designed to be fought co-operatively. They were all manageable, but I would have appreciated a little more fine-tuning for the single-player experience. All in all, though, Peace Walker grabbed me and refused to let me go until I'd seen the credits roll. Next year, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and Metal Gear Ac!d 2. You heard it here first.
Dante's InfernoIt wasn't my choice to buy Dante's Inferno. My girlfriend happened to see me examining the box art in a game store one afternoon, and ended up buying it for me without me knowing. Similarly, playing it wasn't my choice either. When I finally decided I'd had enough of Peace Walker, she exclaimed, "Now you can play the game I got you!". Not one to say no to a beautiful face (largely because if I did I might have ended up sleeping on the couch), I popped the disc into my 360 and spent the last five days working my way through Hell. Somewhat fitting, actually, considering the week I've been having. I did enjoy Dante's Inferno, and in a lot of ways I'm happy that my girlfriend treated me to it, because I honestly don't think I would have given it a chance otherwise. I'm not going to fuel the fire with regards to the "God of War rip-off" debacle. As someone who enjoyed both PS2 releases and the PSP game Chains of Olympus, I feel like I'm in a good position to assess what Dante's Inferno does well, and what its shortcomings are. The most obvious place to start is the combat, since that's what approximately 80% of the game consists of. I have to say, I really think that Visceral Games nailed the combat in this game, to the point where it's more fun than any of the three God of War games I've played. The combos feel fluid, the enemy designs encouraged me to experiment with different tactics and mix things up mid-battle, and the skill tree-style character progression was handled very well. The game also deserves top marks for its artistic direction. Every circle of Hell is grotesquely unique, while at the same time feeling like a cohesive part of the whole. It's a shame the game's pacing never really allows you to stop and stare at all the great environments, but at least the fixed camera does a good job of highlighting all the game's best features. For every bit of praise, though, I also have a piece of criticism to offer. My biggest problem with the game is its implementation of puzzles, which consistently come across as lazy, uninspired filler to break up the combat. With almost every puzzle in both God of War and God of War II, it felt like I was placing an important cog into a machine. They were well-designed, rewarding without being frustrating, and they actually felt like they contributed something to the overall package. By comparison, Dante's Inferno's box-pushing and lever-pulling feels more like pulling a spanner out from between the spokes - an unnecessary hindrance. The story is well told and acted in the game's cut-scenes and animated sequences, but it's butchery on such a huge scale that the story isn't really worth telling. Looking for a bottom line? Here it is - Dante's Inferno is worth playing and certainly enjoyable, but it's not without problems. Go in with that in mind, as I did, and I'm sure you'll have a pretty good time.
Oh, and one last thing. Fuck the Malebolge. Seriously.
So that's what I've been playing recently, but what am I intending to play next? Funny you should mention that. Those of you who've been reading these blogs for a while might recall that around this time last year, I put together a "to-do" list - a list of five games in which I intended to see the credits roll before the end of the year. Given that only three months of 2010 remain, I figured now might be a good time to put together this year's iteration of that same list. So below, I present the five games that make up The Official "To-Do" List - 2010 Edition, along with my reasons for selecting them for this list.
The Official "To-Do" List - 2010 Edition
| 1. Primal |
The first game on this list is also the first one I intend to play - Primal is sitting in my PS2 right this moment. I've been hankering for a decent 3D adventure game along the likes of Tomb Raider and Soul Reaver, and Primal looks like it could be the game to scratch that itch. It's also developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Cambridge, the team responsible for the MediEvil games. That can only be a good thing.
| 2. Beyond Good & Evil |
Hey, look! Another female protagonist. Beyond Good & Evil is primarily on this list for the same reasons as Primal, but there is an additional impetus behind it. Beyond Good & Evil is held in very high regard by a lot of gamers, and I'm eager to see what all the fuss is about.
| 3. Saints Row 2 |
2010's been a pretty damned good year for open-world games thusfar - Far Cry 2, Just Cause 2, and Red Dead Redemption all ticked a lot of boxes for me, so Saints Row 2 has quite a bit to live up to. Truthfully, though, my plan is to pick this up when the essay deadlines start to pile up at the end of term - I'll need something that's mindless and just plain fun to help me wind down after those long writing sessions.
| 4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask |
How this is still on my Pile of Shame, I'll never know. I've sat down and started Majora's Mask three times in as many years, and each time managed to get a little bit further than the last before shelving it and failing to return. I'm hoping that fourth time proves to be the charm with this Zelda title, which I love but seem unable to commit to.
| 5. Final Fantasy VII |
This is probably the only game on this list that I won't make it to the end of before the year is out. It's on this list purely to illustrate my intention to continue with my Enduring Final Fantasy VII serial blog - even with lectures to attend, assignments to write, and shifts to work, I'm enjoying this series far too much simply to drop it. My current plan is to continue playing it in tandem with the other titles in this list, and then when term finishes, commit to it 100% and make some real headway with the blogs. Wish me luck!
I think I've gone on long enough with this now, so I'll relinquish the keyboard. You probably won't hear from me until next week now, and only then if I manage to survive the rest of this week. In the meantime, make sure you all take care. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Final Fantasy VII (PSP)