New Games

I just bought Doom 3 and its expansion pack on Steam. With a discount of 50% off, it came to a measly $15. I suppose I could have gotten it a little bit cheaper through retail bargain bins (or not... I don't feel like even checking the price), but why do that when I can have it handily on my Steam games list and get it without too much of a wait.

It's downloading now, so I guess I know what I'll be playing for the next few weeks.

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Company of Heroes, a love-hate relationship

On a casual note, I'm getting frustrated with Company of Heroes and the game's lack of unit intelligence.

I'm currently on this mission to assault a rocket test facility with  only three small squads at your command at the beginning. Basically, you need to brute-force assault the entrance to the facility in order to capture a supply point.

So my first play-through is a complete bust. I press forward only to be slaughtered by a machine gun squad, which I tried to take out with a grenade, but my squad was pinned down and decided to squirm on the ground in random directions rather than move close enough to toss the 'nade. It was pretty gruesome.

Next, I tried rushing in to take the machine gun and AT gun before the enemy units had the chance. This turned out to be actually worse than my first attempt, believe it or not. My guys surged forward, making it all the way to the abandoned MG comfortably ahead of the enemy. But rather than capturing it, like they were supposed to do the first time I right clicked it, they just stood around and paced off in different directions, while the enemy squad walked right past them and stole the MG. But not before I clicked like mad trying to get them to obey my orders.

The same thing happened to me the other day, where my group of tanks were slaughtered because they decided to turn their backs to the enemy and ram into each other instead of moving where I wanted them to.

So I was only able to play about 5 minutes of COH today, all in all, before I had to hit alt-f4 and end the madness.

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Another day, another SKU

Sony has officially announced their 3rd generation PSP, and all I have to say is, WOW! All I was looking forward to was the inclusion of another analog stick, and they went ahead and added that, a built-in 120gb SSD drive, a 1080p lcd, and this thing can pump out the graphics like no one's business!

Wait... no... this is just a third release of their old hardware. A PSP 3000, to be exact. Where they came up with the numbering scheme, I still have no idea. And what's so different about this model? A built in microphone and an anti-glare screen. No, seriously, that's it. There's nothing else.

I'm sitting here, looking at my old first-gen PSP and thinking two things. One, I'm super pissed at the recent apathy towards existing customers, with companies releasing some major hardware that costs big bucks, only to improve and make the design what it should have been in the first place at the cost of the customer. Although looking back, I suppose this is nothing new, but that doesn't make it any less infuriating.

And secondly, I have to take a step back and wonder how this really affects me. My old PSP is still just fine. It is actually better than the PSP 2001 (or whatever it's officially called) because it has an IR port for using IR keyboards. No, I don't have video out support, but would I ever need it? Some people might, but I sure don't. And maybe it is a few ounces heavier. But i would surely trade that away for better backwards-compatible homebrew support, for the older releases that require the 1.5 firmware still.

And now, with the PSP 3000, I'm missing out on a built-in microphone. Wow. I have a million uses for that. Okay, I admit that being able to Skype on the go with that thing coule potentially be pretty awesome, if I still used Skype. The improved screen is something that didn't need any specific mentioning. Companies throw in different screens and other components to their hardware all the time, as price and technological improvements merit, and without any mention to the consumer.

All I have to say is that all of these little things could have waited for a proper PSP 2 later on down the line. Why? Because I might not feel so bad about spending another $150 to $200 on an all new piece of hardware, but I certainly wouldn't be able to afford spending it on a minor hardware update. Also, because Sony will be all out of things to improve on the PSP 2 at this rate. They can't just add a second little nub for controlling and call it a new product.

And don't even get me started on Microsoft and the 360 HDMI port (or lack thereof on their early-gen console revisions).

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Currently Playing

My game playing has been all over the place these last couple of weeks.

I've started playing Company of Heroes, and am enjoying it greatly. I can see why it is so highly praised. If I were to review this game to where I've played so far, I'd easily give it 5 stars. Of course, I can't actually give it a final review until I've played it to it's conclusion. That said, as an RTS game, I've pretty much seen most if not all of what the core gameplay offers already.

Anyway, I've been a past fan of RTS games, particularly focusing on the Age of Empires series and playing them to death. Unfortunately, I also suck at RTS games. Yes, it's true. I spend all of my time on base and defensive constructions, only advancing my troops when I'm dug in deep and secure in my position. It's a strategy that can work well, except for the fact that every self-respecting RTS game has some kind of long range seige weapons, be they mortars, trebuchets, or some sort of cannon. So I spend all my time building, only to have the computer read into my strategy and send pesky little seige weapons my way. I'm constantly fighting to repair my defenses, and spend all of my time making sure each and every building is at perfect health.

So you can imagine that when I'm in the thick of things, surrounded by tanks on one side and howitzers on the other, with some random bombardment and shelling coming from seemingly nowhere, i tend to get frustrated. In fact, at once point tonight I was actually screaming for extended periods of time at my monitor, fighting with my tanks that just wanted to crash into one another and approach the enemy head on with their vulnerable backsides exposed, ending in instant explosive death. Yeah, sometimes tank movement can be pretty damn terrible. But I think that is my only gripe with the gamne so far, which is pretty miraculous.

Probably my favorite part so far is the cinematic explosions. When those artillery shells start blasting, it really does sound like war.

This game is awesome enough to refuel my love for RTS games, and you should go out and play it right now.

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Braid

Braid is pretty much as awesome and important as everyone has been saying that it is. Granted, I've only played the demo so far, which only contains bits and pieces of the first three worlds, but just those three worlds had such drastic and inventive gameplay elements.

Without making this a thousand word essay, I just have to say that while the usage of time manipulation may not be original, but it's the way that Braid runs with that mechanic and changes the very laws of time that makes it different. It doesn't just use a time rewind to avoid death, or a slowdown with bullet time-like effects; it uses and even changes the way time works to solve puzzles. It's something that hasn't been done to this effect in any game I can think of, past, present, or future. Although I suppose in the future, there will be plenty of games to borrow the ideas that Braid has introduced.

I'll even go so far as to say I believe Braid will be the game which 2D platformers will have to be judged against in the future.

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Currently Playing

I just finished Max Payne 2 yesterday for about the millionth time. I have to admit that awhile back I cheated with god mode just to see the alternate ending because it makes much more sense (and will most likely be the ending used in the eventual Max Payne 3).

I'm currently playing Geometry Wars 2 on and off, in-between finishing off some of the treasure chest collecting in Kirby Squeak Squad.
 
I'm amazed how well the Kirby game formula seems to hold up to me. Each game is literally more of the same, with the only innovation being new abilities for Kirby, and yet I am totally okay with that. I love the platforming gameplay that Kirby offers. It's a unique experience when comapred to other platformers like Mario; not necessarily better, but different enough to feel fresh after you've exhausted all the Mario games.

No, Kirby left it's innovation in the dust after Canvas Curse; a game many will agree was inventive and fun, but was never capitalized on with a follow-up. Although I suppose there is plenty of time for that to still happen.

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Currently Playing

I've started playing Max Payne again. I have to say that my inspiration for playing is actually the upcoming movie adaptation that happens to look somewhat decent. Decent, at least, from the one trailer I've seen.

It also happens to be the first "old" game I've installed in Vista, and yeah, it's been a "Payne" in the ass (yeah, I had to) to get running. Anyone who's tried before will be aware of the little bug which stops any speech and music audio from playing. And Max Payne minus the speech is pretty much pointless. Well, with a whole lot of searching for the lazy method (a batch file with all the necessary programs to convert the audio to a format that is Vista compatible), the problem has been solved.

The game seems a lot easier than I remember it being; though also much harder, at certain points. There are times when I know an enemy is right behind a door, yet when I push it open and shoot literally immediately, as the doors are open just enough to see through, and my bullets will punch through the enemy on the other side.... as his own masterful reflexes somehow get a shot off just before my own and I am plastered and forced to reload my last save. But on the other hand, there are so many battles where I don't even have to use bullet time; and I try not to, because I like to conserve it for times when I really need it.

That's something Max Payne 2 did so much better. You could actually use your bullet time down to that halfway point without having to worry, because it would actually regenerate on its own without the need to kill more enemies. It does tend to make things easier, but at the same time, being able to use bullet time without the fear of conservation is great because bullet time is what makes the game fun gameplay-wise.

Anyway, I'm waist-deep in nostalgia already. The dialogue is just as perfectly cheesy as I remember it being; something I hope will translate over to the movie.

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Console wars

Even though my alignment is neutral, and I am a fanboy of no console in particular, I do have to admit to some personal bias based on the available offerings.

I love the 360. I think it's doing a whole lot of things right, Before you think that makes me a fanboy, the difference is that I didn't think the original Xbox was all that, and my opinion of the MS consoles will reset once the next generation rolls out. I'll elaborate on the 360 more later on, as right now I'm fighting time.

I think the Wii does so many things wrong, but still has the nifty motion controller to back it up. Nintendo's obvious problem is in a lack of third party games and quality control. There's also a shroud of doubt surrounding their existing franchises, as they are starting to wear thin after generations of re-releases and lacking originality (*cough* Zelda). Games need to bascially be built around the idea of the motion controller, or else the controls become a hinderance once random waggle is thrown in as an afterthought.

The PS3 is a near equal to the 360 in every regard. Unfortunately, my money was already spent on a 360 shortly after it came out. The price is a little too prohibitive, and the sheer number of SKUs with differing featuresets make me wonder what the hell Sony was thinking. Honestly, the PS3s major problem is that Sony is about Japan; which I suppose makes sense, given their marketshare over there. The mandatory and upgradable hard drive is a big plus.

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Impressions: Final Fantasy Tactics A2

So my early impressions of FFTA2 were a little underwhelming. The story doesn't seem to be as cohesive or as strong as the first game. The game mechanics you've grown used to in the gba game have been changed, shifted, tweaked, and erased. In many cases, this is a good thing, but its the difference from the core mechanics fro mthe first game that make me feel jaded.

I'll give you an example. The law system has been changed so that, rather than a set number of laws shifting from day to day, each mission has one single, set law which cannot be nullified by any sort of law card. In fact, law cards no longer exist at all. Subsequently, the penalty for breaking a law has become pretty much worthless. Basically, the only thing you lose in breaking the law is one little battle perk that you choose at the start of every battle (like an attack boost), and any character in your party that dies is sent to jail instead of just disappearing from the battle until they are raised. In a way, The one good thing about doing things this way is that, in FFTA, I would always just reset the game when breaking a law, as a character being sent off to jail was just too big of a hassel to deal with, and would usually make the battle too tough to win.

I'll tell you that the balance of power between different classes has shifter drastically. Whereas before, you could have a whole party of Viera assassins with concentration with essentially one-shot kills with little chance of missing, now that option is pretty much killed with a lessened boost in accuracy from concentration. You might think that is a good thing, since such a thing throws the class balance way out of whack, but I am of the belief that such a use of those mixed skills to come up with an ingenious way of slashing your opponents to ribbons was just a part of the game. Also, the lack of those abilities seems to make the assassin an otherwise uselss class.

But probably the most limiting change, and what makes me pine for the gba version again, is the way you obtain new items, and as a result, the way you obtain new abilities. You basically have to purchase the right to buy items, and that makes no sense to me. New items are found using the bazzarr, combining different materials and reagents you obtain as quest rewards. The problem here is that A) you still have to purchase these items with your standard "gald", and most items cost a whole lot more than they used to, and B) that obtaining these items is pretty random, and finding the things that you're actually looking for is difficult. Basic abilities you've grown used to having from the start are not so readily available here. I spent a good amount of the game waiting to get that one more theif ability giving item so that I could switch my characters to ninjas for the double weapon goodness.

But with all the gripes I have with the game, it's still great fun. FFTA2 is a game I'd reccomend to any Final Fantasy, Tactics games, or general RPG fans. I love tactics games for what their name implies: the use of tactics to win a fight; and there are plenty of those sorts of opportunities in this game. A number of quests involve defendng a central area, or making sure the enemy doesn't cross a bridge; and it's these defense scenarios that really illustrate how great the planning and tactical aspect of these types of games can be. I always block off any entrances with my bulk fighters, making sure they have counter for if they're attacked. Keeping a narrow path, where only one enemy can attack at a time, and keeping my healers in the background patching up my defending warriors ensures that the battle will be won, even if it does take forever.

And yes, tactics games are well known for their drawn-out battles. Every one of which may last  between 10 minutes to a half hour. Keeping in mind there are literally hundreds of quests, that adds up to a whole lot of gameplay time.

Unfortunately, that''s the reason I won't be beating the game any time soon, so count this as my mini-review, if you want. You can still expect a full review in the future.

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What I'm playing...

Currently, I've been separating my time between my 3rd playthrough of Tales Of Symphonia (my last one was a couple years ago now) and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2. I guess I'm sort of in a JRPG mode right now.

I'll be writing up a review of FFTA2 when I finish it, eventually. Unfortunately, I really don't have a whole lot of time to play, so finishing it may take awhile.

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