Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- 5/01/2011

Greetings, compatriots. Maybe I should let it be known up front that that I‘m still feeling the effects of sickness and that I’m forcing myself to write this blog. I’m sorry if that actually becomes noticeable at any point. I feel like I’m on a good roll of consistently posted blogs though, and I’d rather not mess it up now. Besides, I’ve played some great games and also have some things that need mentioning. With that, I shall once again venture into my weekly ramblings.

First thing’s first. I need to give a giant shoutout to GB user Wunder_ for surprising me with the gift of Portal 2 over Steam several days ago. That was seriously awesome and super generous of you, duder. I’m not letting you get away with it though. I should be getting some cash in the coming weeks, and I’m totally going to gift you something back. Keep that Steam wishlist updated!

Before being so pleasantly surprised with this gift, I wasn’t even planning on buying the game until it was discounted. I figured that at the latest, I’d be waiting until this holiday season and the accompanying Steam sales. It’s not that I wasn’t excited for the game, but that it would cost me $50-60, and I just wasn’t sure about making that investment. Turns out any doubts I had about the game being worth it were misplaced. While it’s not a completely perfect game, it’s still very very good and extremely memorable. I’m glad I got to play through it.

**Portal 2 spoilers are officially in effect beyond this point**

Holy crap, what a story. What amazing characters and voice work. Of course, fantastic puzzles. All the way around this was a superb game. If one element really made the experience memorable though, it was most definitely the voice acting. It’s hard to describe how much I loved Wheatley. Right off the bat, he’s cracking jokes about your jumping ability and lack of speaking. He’s such a lovable doofus throughout the game, even when he's trying to kill you. I think I was only a couple hours into the game when I begin to think he may be my 2011 character of the year, come award time. We’ll see how well he holds up against the year's remaining game characters, but I think he has a pretty good shot at winning regardless of what else I see this year. As most probably already know, little Wheatley is excellently voiced by none other than the very funny Stephen Merchant. He couldn’t have done a better job delivering his lines. Almost everything coming out of Wheatley was constantly putting a big ole smile on my face, and that’s really all you can ask for. Of course GLaDOS delivered again. Cave Johnson was a nice surprise too. Some people were making a big deal over Cave’s dialog on Twitter and such, but I wasn’t as impressed. It was funny, and actually pretty interesting to learn more about the history of Aperture, but I just wasn’t having the same reaction that I had to Wheatley earlier in the game. Maybe I was just missing Wheatley, as that’s really the only part of the game that you’re really separated from him.

As much as I fell in love with the voice work, there were parts where I felt like the game dragged just a little bit. Mostly I had these feelings while in the old-time Aperture test chambers. That stuff was pretty cool and interesting for a little bit, but I just found myself wanting to get out of there and back to the slick future Aperture facility that I know and love. Although, the gels were first introduced in these sections, which helped. Those gels really kept the game from becoming truly tedious in spots by giving you entirely new sets of possibilities to grapple with.

The end of this game is something that I won’t forget for a long while. Valve is officially amazing, as if they weren’t before. When you’re laying on the ground with your portal gun in hand, about to die, I was just thinking “How am I gonna got outta this one?” Oh I don’t know, how about you shoot a portal onto the god damned moon! I was trying to aim my portal gun around the room and I noticed the movement was pretty limited. I pointed it up and noticed the gaping hole in the roof. I just thought “No way.” But then I shot the portal, and yes way! I’m sorry, I’m entirely too excited just reliving this, but it was such a great surprise. Anyway the end was complete magic. The companion cube bit was especially entertaining. I’ve seen some people taking the opinion that the GLaDOS song at the end is better than Still Alive. To that I say “You crazy, but I respect your opinion.” They’re both great, but I’m not sure Still Alive can ever be topped. Keep tryin’ though, Jonathan Coulton!

As a last bit, I finished the game with a Steam count of 8.9 hours. A bit of that was probably down-time, so probably closer to eight and a half hours. I haven't touched Co-Op yet, so that should be fun whenever I get around to it. I think I may need a Portal Buddy. Anyway, anyone who finished the single player in like five hours is just crazy. You must have been bookin’ though it. You’ve gotta stop and smell the roses. Or read the funny posters, as the case may be.

I think I’ve made it clear enough in the past that I’m a ginormous fan of Rock Band, and Harmonix in general. As seemingly one of the few to still carry the rhythm game torch, I’ve decided to finally pick up Green Day: Rock Band. This was yet another eBay purchase, and at $17 brand new, I feel like I got a fine deal. There’s 47 songs on disc, so that value alone is worth the cost to a fan of the genre. I can’t really say why it took me so long to commit to this game. I suppose it’s probably the same issue that always comes up in my life: not enough money!

After popping it in the ole 360 and playing for a bit, I realized how perfect this game is for me. Not only am I a Rock Band fan, but over the past few years, I’ve been slowly getting into Green Day as well. I remember revisiting their American Idiot album no so long ago and thinking it was way better than I remembered it when it was initially released. Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming are two legitimately great songs, and the accompanying tracks are no slouches either. Then, if I recall, one Bradley Shoemaker mentioned listening to their Dookie album while he would play F-Zero back in the day. Naturally I started to check out Dookie, and discovered what I had no idea I’d been missing out on all this time. So with all of this information, it’s hard to see why I wasn’t more excited about this game from it’s release. No matter, I have it now, and it’s a ton of fun.
The character models are all fairly accurate. 
The character models are all fairly accurate. 
One of the best things this game has going for it are the challenges. In order to unlock these challenges, you need to play through the career mode setlists. Once you’ve beaten enough songs you can start to unlock challenges such as playing the entire Dookie album start to finish, or more commonly, they’ll just give you a three song setlist. What actually makes these challenges worthwhile, though, is that after completing one, it unlocks a video clip under the awards menu. I’ve found these video clips are a pretty good incentive to play through all of the challenges. They range anywhere from funny interviews with the band, to full songs being played live on various tours and such. Some of the interview clips are pretty great and give you a good look at the band’s personalities. I haven’t unlocked all of the videos yet, but I definitely plan to. I may even jump on that right after I post this blog.

Another little touch that I really enjoy is the way the band is animated during songs. You can tell that a good amount of work went into giving each member lots of song-specific animations as well as random funny faces when appropriate (always). I forget which song it is, but one starts without any drums for a little bit, and Tre Cool gets up and trots around the stage a bit. Lots of subtle, yet good, Billie Joe and Mike Dirnt animations as well. It’s the little things that can make a big difference. The venues are also modeled well and are interesting, despite there only being three.

As far as my opinion on the setlist, it’s pretty dang solid. Dookie and American Idiot are there in their entirety. Then there’s the majority of their latest album 21st Century Breakdown. Beyond that there are some select tracks from a few other albums, Nimrod, Warning, and Insomniac. I personally would have enjoyed more of Nimrod and Warning, though. Those are great albums and it’s disappointing that in a Green Day specific game, they somehow couldn’t get more songs together.

I guess my overall thought on the game is that it is extremely fun and definitely worth playing; however, keep in mind that this opinion is coming from someone seemingly in the absolute ideal demographic for this game.

 I don’t want to talk about any news this week. I’m too tired. Besides that, the big story is still the PSN outage, and god knows I’m not going to talk about that. I’m also still trying to come up with a new news banner that looks decent, so probably better to just move along.

What other random things can I talk about to wrap this up? For some inexplicable reason, I’ve been using Formspring again. If you ever have the urge to ask a dude anything, I’m here for ya.

Props to Adam Boyes and Johnny V for running some hilarious live streams earlier in the week. They’re off doing unimaginable things in Mexico right now for JV’s bachelor party. I hope everyone makes it home in one piece.

That’s all that’s coming to mind. My god, it’s May already. Have a good May, everyone.