Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?
Wow, the last few weeks have been crazy. Other than a few brief intervals, I was without an internet connection over the last week and a half or so, but that just meant more time to dump into the cavalcade of games that have been pouring out as of late. The lack of internet severely hampered my ability to enjoy Battlefield 3, with only half of a match under my belt, but from what I've heard the game has gotten off to a rough start anyway, so maybe it's for the best. I've also enjoyed playing through the latest incarnation of one of my personal favorite franchises, Uncharted 3. It's not everything I was expecting, but still manages to be great in most respects. Those mammoth releases dwarf the somewhat smaller Lord of the Rings: War in the North and Goldeneye 007 Reloaded, which are nonetheless solid experiences. Even Sonic manages to get in on the fun, with Generations marking the best Sonic release in a long time. Basically, if you're looking to pick up a game this week, you're safe with just about any of them. Well, except for that NCIS game.
As mentioned above, I'm not especially qualified to comment on the multiplayer portion of Battlefield 3, which is the portion that 99% of you are probably interested in. I played in the beta, but so did the rest of us, and from what I've heard, the final game's balanced multiplayer is far from the mess that was the beta.
The campaign, however, does everything it can to remind us that it's living in Modern Warfare's shadow. With next week's release of Modern Warfare 3, I had the strange feeling of pre-deja vu playing through Battlefield. I'm worried that the experiences will be so similar, some of the steam will be taken away from MW3's campaign because Battlefield's is basically the same. They even use the same story hook as Black Ops, with the story being told through flashbacks of a character who is being interrogated by nebulous forces in the present. Battlefield doesn't do the story nearly as well as Black Ops though, and as a result ends up feeling throwaway compared to last year's story of mind control and presedential assassinations. It all feels a bit hypocritical on EA's part, to bash CoD so thoroughly before releasing a product that so staunchly tries to imitate it.
Despite wearing its influences proudly on its sleeve, Battefield still entertained me. Its take on modern warfare felt ever so slightly more realistic and atmospheric than Activision's annual shooter, thanks largely in part to the fantastic sound design. It's common knowledge by now that Battlefield has superb weapon sounds. What really took me by surprise was the amazing soundtrack. Grinding electronic music builds at just the right pace, giving the proceedings a sense of gravitas that they don't always deserve. Mixed as its quality could be, I still enjoyed Battlefield 3's campaign well enough, and look forward to having more fun in the multiplayer.
This is the game I have been anticipating for two years. This is the game I have placed all of my faith in since its announcement. I've avoided most of the trailers, developer diaries, and previews in fear of spoiling any miniscule portion of this sure-to-be masterpiece for myself. This is the game I knew I would be setting atop my Best of 2011 list, come Game of the Year time.
Turns out I was wrong.
Yes, Uncharted 3 is an amazing game. Some might even go as far as to say it is a modern masterpiece. Thing is, Naughty Dog has already released their opus, and its name was Uncharted 2. For everything that Uncharted 2 did with such effortless perfection, Uncharted 3 feels just one step off. The pacing is stilted and back-heavy. While Nathan Drake's second adventure spread its stunning setpiece moments evenly thorughout the game, Uncharted 3 makes players wait almost two hours to get to anything more than basic fisticuffs and puzzle solving. Additionally, there are way more puzzles in the beginning of the game than in the middle and most of the end, giving the game the feeling of Professor Layton light for the first major exploration section. Then there's the checkpointing, which always insists on bringing me back to life after I've already failed the stealth sections, dooming me to a frustrating hour of being blown apart by dozens of overpowered enemies before somehow ekeing out a success.
It could be argued that I'm just nitpicking the game, and I guess that's true. None of these complaints are incredibly substantial, but in the face of Uncharted 2, for which I was genuinely at a loss when trying to muster any complaints, it's a small disappointment. Luckily, the game's quality does ramp up quickly enough, and by the end I was thoroughly engrossed as I usually am when playing an Uncharted game. The story hits on some pretty personal notes, and it's truly engaging stuff.
Then there's the multiplayer, of which both cooperative and competetive variants are offered. Again, my internet has been down so it's been tough to get into many matches. I have, however, played a few competitive matches (I mostly chose to play Uncharted 3 over Battlefield 3 in the brief time when my connection was back) and had a great time with them. Uncharted 3 introduces streak rewards similar to those in Modern Warfare, but they feel far more balanced here. The shooting and climbing translates well from the single player to multiplayer, just as it did last time, and map design is typically even better than it was before. The multiplayer seems to be the one area that Uncharted 3 has undeniably improved over Uncharted 2.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
Snowblind studios has been away from the game for a long time. They developed that crappy Eragon game which accompanied the crappy movie, but before that they were well-known as the go-to studio for a quality console dungeon crawl. They developed Champions of Norrath and Justic League Heroes, amongst a few other fantastic games, for the PS2, and War in the North represents a return to form for the studio. It's not quite of the same lofty quality of those other games, as it lacks the awesome character creator that most of their games featured, but War in the North is no slouch either. Playing on PC with two friends, I had a great time lopping off Orc limbs and slaying Cave Trolls. The three different characters generally complement each other well, and the combat is visceral and bloody in a wink and a nudge towards Bioware's bloodstained Dragon Age franchise.The game's biggest downfall is its lack of variety. Most encounters play out in the form of arena battles, where players will move into a walled-off section, enemies will pour out, and players will attack them until they're all dead, hitting a button to move on to the next area. It feels dated in its design, but the combat itself is still fun to play with a few friends.
Goldeneye 007 Reloaded
Speaking of dated in design, here we have a remake of a remake of a shooter that was originally released on the Nintendo 64 and later remade for the Wii. For Reloaded, the graphics have been sharpened up (again) and a few tweaks have been made to the gameplay, making it feel overall more like a Call of Duty game. Between this and Battlefield 3, I feel like I've played Modern Warfare 3 twice before it's even been released (officially and legally, that is.) That's not to say that it's bad, though. Far from great, but still not a bad shooter. The campaign hits the same recognizable beats as Goldeneye 64, but in an updated and more dramatic fashion. Craig's Bond takes front and center now, although the difference hardly matters once you're playing the game.Multiplayer also plays a big role, although I doubt anyone will be devoting any serious time to this with Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Gears of War 3, and Uncharted 3 all primed to dominate servers. Splitscreen is available, though, and I had a decent enough time reliving some classic memories with friends while my internet was down. Still, this is no Game of the Year contender, which is to say that at this time of year, it's one of the worse releases of the week. It's fun, but ultimately forgettable.
It's no surprise that Goldeneye 007 Reloaded didn't manage to capitalize on nostalgia quite as well as it could have. What is surprising is that SEGA's Sonic Team has managed just that with their latest Sonic release. After years of sometimes near-unplayable crap targeted at kids who don't know any better, years of SEGA promising that this time it'll be different, they've finally come close to recapturing the speed and urgency that made Sonic gun on the Genesis. Both the 2D and 3D levels in Generations are snappy and fun, despite a few graphical hitches. The graphics are bright and colorful as they should be, and Sonic and his friends have mercifully few speaking roles, with Classic Sonic being appropriately mute.
Unfortunately, as Sonic makes his way through newer and newer games in his history, the levels begin to suffer. It's an issue of the inspirational material just not being as good as it used to be, and it shows. Plus, the game clearly had some length issues after Sonic Team finished adding in all the content, as wihtout all the extraneous challenege missions they force you to run through this would be a very short game. Some of these challenges are perfectly fun, like a race between Classic Sonic and Metal Sonic, while others are borderline intolerable, like a treasure hunt with Knuckles. Still, the game as a whole is more entertaining than any Sonic product to be released recently, and if you still count yourself amongst the Blue Blur's fans, this should be enough to warrant a purchase. Heck, even those who have been burned by the little hedgehog in the past could do a lot worse than to revisit him in Generations.