Q4 2010 Review

Hey, kids, I hope your holidays are/were spectacular.  With the calendar year coming to a close and Game of the Year discussions coming to a head, I figure I should write a blog on the games I've purchased since my last blog post.  These are just my impressions on the games I've purchased/played since halfway through October, nothing more.  If you're interested in my official GotY list, check it out here.  Alright, let's begin from the beginning:

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was an impulse buy.  I wasn't really looking forward to its release, nor particularly amped to play it.  It was something to fill time until Fable 3 came out, so my time with it was relatively brief.  The game is definitely a solid character-based action game.  The combat doesn't feel as tight as or balanced as God of War did in its hey-day, but it's still fun and flashy.  The environment traversal stuff feels a little stiff, but it's a valiant attempt.  The graphics are far from the years best, but the models show care in their design, and that's something I can appreciate.  While I only got through the first boss-fight  in my brief time with the game, it was pretty epic, if not a little too easy.  I'm intrigued by the story, and there seems to a be strange, dark sense of humor randomly packed in there.  The game seems to scream "money-to-time-investment ratio!"; it's long, and there is a focus on revisiting levels to pick up extra things.  It's a worth-while game that I look forward to revisiting and finishing.

Fable III

Fable III was one of my most-anticipated titles of the Fall.  Of course, Peter Molyneux promised the world, and, of course, it failed to deliver.  I rather enjoyed Fable II back when it came out two years ago.  I played the crap out of that game and its DLCs.  Fable III is essentially more of the same, only with a more irritating protagonist, improved graphics, and some interesting changes to character development.  Fable III saw the end to the "silent protagonist" of the series, which was disappointing but acceptable.  The thing that really irked me was the change in the way the game changed how it let you access your characters abilities.  Instead of being able to say... Steal something or buy property on the out-right, the game slowly lets you purchase these abilities after you pass predetermined, arbitrary points in the story.  The story's pacing was also a little questionable; the first act took way too long to come to a close, and the final act came way too quickly.  Everything in between the two points, though, was largely enjoyable.  The game was a pleasure to play as soon as it opened up.  There was also an intriguing economy/trade system for inter-character interaction.  It was a game that I sunk about 30 hours into overall, and might go back to it to finish my "downright evil" playthrough.

Super Meat Boy

Super Meat Boy was a game I wasn't expecting to buy, much less like, but the Giantbomb love and temporarily lowered price-point brought me, and the ridiculously awesome gameplay made me stay.  Sharp visuals, sharper controls, good sense of humor; all-around greatness.  Read more about it on my GotY list (yeah, it's on there).  Great game that deserves all the gushing-over it has gotten. 

The Force Unleashed II

Sucked.  I can't believe they tried charging full price for that game.  Moderately entertaining for the first hour or two, but ultimately falls flat.  And it's one of the blandest looking games of the year.  Maybe I'll actually purchase it when I falls below a $25 price-point, but I refuse to pay more than that.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

I'm not a multiplayer person; I don't play games for competitive multiplayer or really anything other than local co-op.  That being said, I know I missed out on one of the things Black Ops was supposed to be.  But I played most of the single-player campaign and... it's a Treyarch Call of Duty, yo.  The thing is, Treyarch wants you to go "Oh, was this game made by Infinity Ward?!" and that's not going to happen.  Don't get me wrong, the handling and the story of the game is leaps and bounds over Treyarch's last outing, World at War; they went bigger than they did before.  The problem is that they fall into the same old cheap tricks they used to, like infinity-respawning baddies with ridiculous aim.  It's a decent game, one that I'll finish eventually, but not one that I can recommend as the "next first-person shooter".

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Holy shit, this game is epic.  It takes the already-improved Assassin's Creed II mechanics and makes them even better.  A more high-risk combat system, reworked terrains to give you the ability to be really, really sneaky if you want to be, a better economy system, upgraded graphics, and another dose of that ridiculous story.  It's all anyone can ask for in an action-adventure game.  The first-time multiplayer was pretty good, too.  Nice and sneaky, mindgame-y.  Sure, it needs to be balanced a little bit better, and by God, it needs a better matchmaking system, but it's pretty fun.

Fallout: New Vegas

Now, I'm probably the most vocal in the Giantbomb community about how much I dislike this game.  I picked this game up for $20 from Amazon on their Black Friday sales.  It got to my house right as classes were starting to close out, so I didn't get to start playing until a few weeks ago.  I loved Fallout 3, and played through almost all of its DLCs, so I was kind of hoping for more of the same, and it wasn't.  The world of New Vegas doesn't feel anywhere near as populated or interesting as 3's did, and it feels as if the developers didn't really want to invest a lot of time in the "do it your way" thing.  There are fewer, stricter ways to get that treasure behind that locked door, and it feels like some of the skill requirements for such exploration were not properly balanced.  The morality system is nonsensical, and the allegiance system is a little too harsh.  Then add in all the ridiculous game-breaking bugs it shipped with and the not-improved and frequent loadtimes, and you easily have one of the most disappointing gaming experiences of the year.   I haven't finished this game yet and, after losing 5 hours of gameplay to a not-really-corrupted-but-the-game-thinks-it-is save file, I'm not sure I will bother.

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

This was one of the games I bought during this year's ridiculously awesome holiday Steam sale.  It's a charming little game that I find myself addicted to.  I've played near 20 hours of it over the past week or so.  It's a little grindy and the story isn't interesting, but it's charming and simply addictive.
That's about it...  I may write another blog doing a full-year retrospect...

Spidey, Chuck, and Smiley, Oh My (and a little Noble 6, too)!

Every year I eagerly await September through about late November.  Since I'm somewhat of a video game junkie, during this period of the year I find a little bit of a hole in my pocket.  I go on preordering sprees, which wind-up good (Last year's Borderlands and Assassin's Creed 2) or relatively bad (Brutal Legend), and end up spending a couple hundred dollars on games.
This year's spree of irresponsible spending started with Halo: Reach.  A lot has already been said about Reach and likely in better words, so I will be brief.  It's a Halo game.  Bungie slowed the pace down a little bit, making it more of a deliberately-paced type of experience (though, I will say that Bungie sucks at scripting events).  Legendary Solo is more manageable than it has been in the past (at least to me), but the game is still a little bit of a challenge.  The game does have a great ending, it gave me goosebumps.  But, for the love of God, why is Noble Six Noble Team's bitch?  Stop fucking yelling at me, I've killed more Covenant than you can even dream of.  Sorry...  Seriously, though, you are constantly being berated by NPCs in the game who, more often than not, end up staring at a rock face doing nothing while you eradicate the Covenant scum.  But that's all I'll say about Reach.  Oh, and the multiplayer is pretty good.  Okay.  Done.
Next up is Dead Rising 2, a little bit of an oddity for me.  You see, I purchased Dead Rising some months ago, but didn't enjoy the style of it to finish the actual game.  I didn't even bother to try out Case Zero when it was first released because of a particular comment I think Brad made during the Quick Look ("It's definitely Dead Rising...").  However, as I grew bored with Reach, I decided to give Case Zero a try.  And I liked it.  A lot.  There's something about chainsaws strapped to a canoe paddle that is appealing.  Not to mention broadswords being at the ready.  So I was sold.  I preordered DR2.
When I first received the game, I was kind of disappointed in it.  Even with the whooping level 5 Chuck Greene I had imported, the game was ridiculously hard and oppressive.  I felt that Dead Rising 2 was everything good about Case Zero diluted down to an outlandish extent.  That is, until I leveled up my Chuck more, and learned where all the cool stuff in the mall is.  The difficulty at the beginning of the game is by design, you're supposed to do the Dead Rising thing, where you die, then start over with your money and character stats from your previous game.  The system works better now than it did in the first game, allowing you to skip the more exposition-y parts of the intro so you can get right back in to the zombie killing.
Make no mistake, Dead Rising 2 is way better than Dead Rising.  The combo weapons are ridiculously awesome most of the time, and there is plenty of stuff to do and see in the mall.  If you disregard the story missions, you can spend three days (probably around 7 or 8 hours of realtime) killing zombies or doing whatever you see.  And that's where the game really shines, when you break away from the tightly restricted time-based gameplay and just go play.  Controls are still a little bit unresponsive, there are a few bugs, and the framerate can drop, but this game can really draw you in.  The story is "meh", and the voice-acting is a little bit hokey, but you're not playing a Dead Rising game for story.  You're playing to kill zombies.
Last week, I got bored with Dead Rising 2, so I bought Comic Jumper.  I thought Comic Jumper looked cool when I first saw it some months ago.  I saw the quick look and was kind of turned off to the gameplay.  But, whatever.  Yeah, the gameplay is bad.  It's not good.  It's not fun to play.  But holy shit, that game is funny.  I haven't finished it yet, as it really is kind of a chore to play, but I really do look forward to the next round of dialogue after a level in that game.  Good stuff.
Finally, I picked up Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions on Monday, as I need something to occupy my time until later this month.  So...  It's okay, not great.  There's a good sense of humor to it, there is a moderately well thought out upgrade and challenge system, but damn, the controls and targeting are not good.  At al.  The game isn't open worldy anymore; Activision went back to a level-based gameplay.  That would be fine to me if it didn't feel like they did it because they couldn't really get Spider-Man's traversal skills to work smoothly.  Web-slinging is okay, but ziplining is finicky AND wall-crawling is often awful, as the camera usually bugs out.  Web of Shadows had better controls than this.  I do like the different dimensions, but the only one that's really different than the others is Noir.  Noir has a uniquely dark atmosphere, and a truly different style of play (It is focused much more on stealth).  The stealth mechanics don't work without hitches, but I find the stealth sections to be more enjoyable than the others.  I haven't finished the game yet, but am about 60% through.  It'll be done by Friday.
That's all for now, but I'm really looking forward to Fable III, Costume Quest, Assassin's Creed, and maybe The Force Unleashed 2, New Vegas, and Black Ops...


I Took the Plunge

So, today I purchased my PS3 Bundle from Amazon.  I got the "Black Friday" PS3 Slim + inFamous + Killzone 2 bundle for $350.  It's a pretty good deal, seeing as how buying the Slim and inFamous separately would run me about $335.  I don't really care about Killzone 2, but for the extra $15 why not, right?  It's set to be delivered the day before classes start back up at my school 0_0 .  Awesome.  I look forward to getting Uncharted 2, LittleBigPlanet, and Metal Gear Solid 4 very shortly.
It's kinda funny 'cause the only reason I checked Amazon was that I wanted to get out of the sales tax on the system, but I ended up finding a pretty legit deal.


My FPS Commandments

After I finished playing through most of the fantastic releases that came out this fall, I decided to go into what I call "summer drought" mode in order to get myself through my Christmas vacation.  "Summer drought" mode is what I call it when I go to New Egg or any retailer website and look for decent, cheap games that I may have missed.  This behavior is more common in me during the summer, when the gaming releases tend to dry up, hence "summer drought".
In any case, in this round of frivolous spending I picked up F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, TimeShift, and Viking: Battle for Asgard.  While I found Viking to be enjoyable over all (though not free from certain quirks of its own), I found myself a bit more bored with TimeShift and FEAR 2.  I wondered to myself "What is it about these two games that I dislike?  What makes them less good than Call Of Duty 4 or Modern Warfare 2 or Borderlands?".  With that question in mind, I have found my list of FPS Commandments, a list of guidelines for FPS.  It's acceptable to break one or two, but three or more and the game spends the rest of eternity in my gaming hell.
So, here we go:

1.  Thou Shalt Not Make Regular Enemies Bullet Sponges

 This is one of the things that bothers me so much about so many FPSs lately.  I should not be pumping whole clips of my assault rifle into guys before they go down.  One to five bullet(s) from me, depending on point of contact, should mean death for whatever is on the other end.  Increasing difficulty should not increase baddie health, it should decrease my health, and increase the number (and proficiency) of my enemies.  This is not to say the game shouldn't have stronger enemies.  I have no problem with a much harder enemy appearing a dozen or two times throughout the game.

2. Thou Shalt Respect the Headshot

 This goes hand-in-hand with Commandment One, but the two are not mutually exclusive.  The commandment is simple: If a baddie takes a bullet in the brain, the baddie must die immediately.

3.  Thou Shalt Have a Unique Visual Style

 I don't like bland games.  Photorealism is one thing, but total lack of design and art direction is another.  Make sure there is something that "Wow"s me visually.  It could be nice looking explosions, special effects, or just the art direction in general.

4.  Thou Shalt Have Variety, Variety, and More Variety

 I don't like crawling through the same corridors over and over again.  I don't like using the same weapons over and over again.  I as a stereotypical FPS fan, have a poor attention span.  You need to be switching things up for me to stay interested.  Change what I kill, what I kill with, where I kill, and how I'm killing.

5.  Thou Shalt Not Be in World War 2

 Seriously.  Stop making World War 2 shooters.

6.  Thou Shalt Have Perfect Hit Detection

 Sniper rifles are pretty accurate.  Not 100%, but pretty fucking close at fair ranges.  If a dude's head is in my sniper rifle crosshairs at a decent distance and I pull the trigger, I expect one more notch in my rifle butt, not the dude looking at me with huge anime eyes, as if he were saying to himself "Well, shit, that was a close one".  I'm looking at you Medal of Honour: Airborne.

7.  Thou Shalt Have an Appropriate and Thought Out Cover System

This one seems like kind of a no-brainer, and it's pretty easy to pull off.  Either do the pure "hide behind wall, pop out and shoot" deal or go for something a bit more complex.  But if you try to do something more, make sure you test it out.  If you do the "stick to walls in 3rd person" thing, a la Rogue Warrior, make sure you can pop in and out of cover effectively and quickly.  If you do the "hide behind boxes or whatever other object that isn't a wall, pop out and shoot" thing, I strongly recommend having a way to go prone, or cover that is taller than the player when the player is couched.  EDIT: I feel as if people don't understand what I really mean when I say this.  FEAR 2 had this thing where you could knock over tables and other objects for cover, but those objects were never really tall enough to offer real protection and there was no prone mechanic (to my knowledge).  I don't need any additional cover mechanics in my FPSs.  Give me the ability to go prone and I'll find cover.  I'll hid behind walls without a "snap on" feature.  But if developers decide to do the whole "snap to cover feature", they should test it out, make sure it works properly, and probably add a blind-fire.

8.  Thou Shalt Have Be for Longer Than a Few Hours

The assumption by developers is that the player is paying $60 for the game.  The game should be longer than a, say, 5 hours, or 3 movies, counting both multiplayer and campaign experiences.  Anything less is bordering on a ripoff.

9.  Thou Shalt Have Something Unique in Thy Gameplay

There should be something that sets the game apart from other games in the genre.  There are a lot of ways to do this, from special player abilities (which usually seems to be some sort of time slowing), an upgrade system, customizable weapons, set pieces, or [gigantic] bosses.  Walking around and shooting just doesn't cut it anymore.

10.  Thou Shalt Have a Swift and Powerful Melee Attack

Melee attacks should be quick, strong, and have a decent vertical range.  I use melee attacks when I find someone has invaded my personal bubble.  I don't like people in my personal bubble.  Melee attacks should be quick (meaning, the knife should be plunged into invader quickly), and they should mean instant death for the person on the receiving end, a la Call of Duty/Modern Warfare.
And these are my Ten Commandments of First Person Shooters.  I also prefer my games (regardless of genre) to have at least an attempt at a story.  Keep in mind, there are FPSs that have excepted themselves from this list, such as Borderlands, and these are my personal preferences for what I look for in Shooters, and I find that Shooters that violate more than a couple of these rules I never finish playing.  TimeShift and FEAR 2 both violated commandments 1, 2, 7, and 10.  I finished them, but only because I was bored, and I didn't want super low gamerscores in my log....