E3 predictions, I fart in your general direction.

Thanks to Dalai for the inspiration on this one. Only one of my predictions really came true. I suck.

Halo 4 was announced! Booyah, son. Booyah.

As for the rest, I should have remembered Star Fox was in the works for 3DS. Don't know if Paper Mario had been announced prior to this E3, so I'm chalking that one up as a half-win for myself if it hadn't. If it had... for shame, Sparkster, for shame. Perhaps the most disappointing is that we won't be seeing a Borderlands 2 announcement anytime soon. Pitchford's stage address seemed a little reluctant, so I'm not entirely sure if maybe Gearbox just isn't getting hammered with their already busy schedule or what. But with Duke, Aliens, and now Furious Four, a Borderlands announcement isn't likely any time soon, let alone the actual game.

No word on the Firaxis guys, which isn't unusual. E3's not exactly known for high-profile computer game announcements. Disappointed Nintendo didn't reveal a game lineup for the Wii U, but that means there's still hope for an F-Zero. Fuck, technically, that means there's hope for anything I damn well please on that console. The tech looks cool, and I've gotta admit, the ability to play a game on a controller tablet while zoning out to a TV episode sounds mighty appealing. That'd be killer for a grind-heavy game. I'd probably be way more into Final Fantasy XIII if I could let my mind concentrate on something else while I fight corridors of baddies.

All in all, it was a great E3. I'm still catching up on a lot of trailers and announcements, like that silly one for the Frank West-centric Dead Rising 2. Kind of disappointed there wasn't a stronger showing from straight-up RPGs, but with all the fantastic games on the horizon, maybe that's a good thing. The thin trickle of details on Forza 4, Skyrim, and Saints Row: The Third have been my favorites, but the awesome Nintendo lineup and that killer Uncharted 2 demonstration were awfully great too. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think both Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 look absolutely stunning and I cannot wait to play 'em both.

Surprise showing of the entire major conferences? That Rayman game. I hadn't heard much about it (if anything at all), and that demo made it look damn fine. I am giddy as all hell about Halo 4, too, but I try not to judge these things on CGI trailers alone.

All in all, this is going to be one of the best holiday seasons we're likely to see in video game history. And early 2012 should be pretty awesome too, if everything ships on time. Fingers crossed.

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Games I Want to See Announced at E3

Borderlands 2 - Perhaps more than any other franchise, I want to see a new Borderlands be announced. 
 
F-Zero Wii2: It's high time for this and a new... 
 
Star Fox Wii2: Give me an old-school Star Fox blaster with no adventure nonsense.  Or at the very least, combine the two in a better fashion. 
 
Halo 4: I think we can still have the Halo universe center around the fight between the Covenant and humanity.  Let's see more alien worlds and technology. 
 
Ratchet and Clank Future 3: I love this damn series. 
 
Civilization Revolution 2: Although I'd much rather see Civ 6 get announced, I think another console Civ game makes sense and would be a smart decision.  Alternately?  A new Alpha Centauri or Pirates! game. 
 
Super Paper Mario 2: We don't really have a Mario game in the works.  This would make a nice last blast along with Zelda for the Wii. 
 
Suikoden 6: Fuck, a guy can dream, can't he? 
 
And my perennial pick: 
 
Jagged Alliance 3: It's the unsung vaporware of my lifetime.

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PSP thoughts, The Killing, LOTRO

Just a quick update tonight, folks.  Expect more later this week, but for now, consider this my "welcome back, Giant Bomb" blog of sorts.

 

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEAT.............. UHHHHH, PSP 3000

 

Oh, damn, now I have an idea for my first Screened blog - my favorites of MST3K.  Jesus, that's a daunting proposition.

 

So I ended up buying the PSP 3000 along with a few games.  Among those are ZHP, Final Fantasy Tactics,  Dissidia 2 (I refuse to look up the full name of that game, for reasons forthcoming), Star Ocean 1 & 2, Jeanne d'Arc, and Lunar.  I picked up the games in a killer sale at a semi-local game shop, saving me a fortune.  With the exception of Dissidia 2, all the games were purchased for less than $10.  I've had a chance to dabble in most of them, save for Star Ocean and Lunar.  Most of the games are pretty great, but I'm glad I bought them all at discount prices.

 

Jeanne d'Arc is easily the best of the games I've played so far, with a solid as hell strategy RPG backbone, an intriguing story I love alternate reality novels, so this was pretty much guaranteed to succeed) and an anime art style that I'm really enjoying.  Yes, your anti-anime buddy Sparky just said he actually LIKED the anime stylings  of a game.  It's far more adultish than, say, the aforementioned ZHP.  Some of the battles are rough, but there are ample opportunities to grind out levels, skills, and the like, so I'm really, really digging it.  The only annoying part is the turn limit to each battle.  It adds an artificial tension to the game that just isn't necessary.  Overall, though, this one should hold up with just about any strategy RPG in my book.  It's superb.

 

ZHP is pretty typical Nippon-Ichii, which is Sparky-speak for, "It's truly and completely loony."  If you've played Disgaea or one of the other Nippon Ichii RPG games, you kinda know what you're getting into here.  Heroes, through love, courage, and a whole bunch of other touchy-feely nonsense, overcome crazy odds to be a hero, along with a cast of typically zany Japanese anime cookie-cutter figures.  I say cookie-cutter with a certain degree of fondness.  NIS games, starting with Disgaea, had some of the strangest characters you're likely to find anywhere, but by now, their characters feel like a well-worn glove of sorts.  There's a pattern to the lunacy, one I half-heartedly hope they'll break from upon release of Disgaea 4.  Overall, though, the gameplay is super addictive, crazy tough at times, and probably not the best game for an NIS beginner.  But if you've played and enjoyed their games in the past, or want to dabble in the super-hardcorest of RPG's, this might be for you.

 

Final Fantasy Tactics is Final  Fantasy Tactics.  Some of you might remember me fawning over the series in the past.  This remake is good, if unspectacular.  I haven't really got a chance to play with the new classes or characters, but you can bet your ass I will sooner or later.  I've yet to actually beat the entire game, and I intend to this time around.

 

Final Fantasy: Dissidia 2 leaves a fucking bad taste in my mouth.  The only reason to buy this game is if you're a die-hard Square fan who doesn't mind a plodding, incomprehensible story (even by JRPG standards), shoddy gameplay, and god-awful generic design.  It has a ton of fan-service, though, so if you've really been looking for that game that throws together all your favorite Final  Fantasy characters, I guess this is it.  This is the Square equivalent of a poor man's action game, with little to no redeeming qualities in my mind besides the superb quality of the character design in the cutscenes.

 

THE 4TH BIRTHDAY

 

Lord of the Rings Online is celebrating its fourth anniversary this weekend, and to judge by the server I play on, you'd think it was its last.  There are very few people logging on for the bonus experience, games, and frivolities that come with the usual holidays around LOTRO.  And maybe that's part of the problem - by now, we've seen these types of celebrations, we know what to expect, and to be honest, we know this is the sort of limitiation put upon games this old without severe overhauls.  There aren't going to mysteriously be new mini-game types.  We're not going to be able to dice, or play cards, or snowboard down Mount Doom.  I hope I'm wrong, and I hope the eventual release of the new expansion pack changes all this, but honestly, right now, there's very little to draw people in.  I still dearly love and enjoy the game, and cannot wait to see what they do down the road, but more and more, I find myself hankering for a new experience and cannot wait to see if maybe The Old Republic won't fit that bill.

 

THE KILLING

 

If you're not watching AMC's The Killing, you're missing one of the best shows on TV.  Period.  Exclamation point.  Upside down question mark?

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PSP, Torchlight, the wonderful Patrick Rothfuss, movies!

Short and sweet update from your ol' pal Sparky this week.  I've only really been playing one game of particular note (hint, hint - it's Torchlight), so I'll discuss some of the major changes from the PC version.  Other than that, it's pretty much a books n' movies sort of week.  Grab a slice, crack a beer, and plug yourselves in for what I'm tentatively calling Captain Sexypants's Ballin' Update of the Motherf***in' Week  
 
Like I said... it's a tentative title.  On to the show! 
 
BABY I'M BURNIN' I'M BURNIN' I'M BURNIN' FOR YOU 
 
Or rather, Torchlight is. 
 
Say, if you're new to the whole Torchlight shebang, why not check out one of Giant Bomb's Quick Looks?  If you're lookin' for the short and sweet of it, Torchlight is a great little Diablo clone, available on the PC and Xbox 360.  I've played both versions pretty extensively, and while I think the PC version is slightly better, both are definitely fantastic versions of the same game.   It focuses on action, leveling, and, of course, finding that sweet, sweet loot.  You have three generic classes (warrior, mage, archer/rogue), each with three subsets of skills to choose from as you level up.  And level up you shall, as the game is pretty great about handing out experience and items. 
 
So Torchlight isn't anything new, but it revels in its homage to Diablo and comes away all the better for it.  Other than Titan Quest, I think it's the best Diablo-clone on the market, simply because it recognizes the core elements of what made Diablo fun and runs with those in a very smooth, very tight package.  The PC version has a better inventory system and better menu navigation.  The Xbox 360 version has stabilized the sometimes atrociously bad achievements of the PC version (I talked to that goddamn horse at least 200 times before the Steam achievement kicked in), and has bumped up stacks to much higher amounts, making inventory management slightly easier.  The PC version edges out the 360 in terms of graphics, but since neither is really a graphical powerhouse, the difference is negligible. 
 
Most importantly, both are plenty of fun and have a ton of replay value.  You can retire characters, leaving behind one inherited item that receives slight stat boosts or an extra bit of enchantment (cue Sandal).  You can also transfer any items you'd like through a shared loot chest to your future characters, meaning that if you find an extra copy of a spell or a cool weapon that might be better suited to a different class, you can hang onto it and use it later. 
 
The difficulty for these types of games usually comes more from your character builds and your patience for testing out what spells or abilities work best.  Generally, I like to concentrate on three main abilities, passive skills that boost those abilities, and then... well, whatever catches my fancy.  The mage is perhaps the easiest class to play, as it has great pets and it can inflict massive amounts of damage through spells.  But you really can't go wrong with any class, as you'll find respec potions are relatively cheap and gear to be plentiful.  
 
My only real beef with the game is that there is no multiplayer.  Even something as simple as a way to gift items to friends would have gone a long ways towards enhancing the experience, but it's still a superb game for a pretty cheap price. 
 
PATRICK ROTHFUSS IS A NAME YOU SHOULD KNOW AND LOVE 
 
The reason I love books so much can be defined almost entirely by Patrick Rothfuss's newest novel, The Wise Man's Fear.  It left me feeling alive, adventurous, ready to take on the world and ready to come back home again.  That's a lot of hyperbole, but this book deserves it and more.  Rothfuss's prose isn't anything too complex or flowery, but it is beautiful.  He finds the exact balance between description and action, between movement and stillness.  It's more than meat-and-potatoes writing.  This is a master craftsman working on something elegant and making it look simple.  He never talks down to the reader, he doesn't choose the biggest words in his vocabulary, and he never overstays his welcome in any one particular act. 
 
If you haven't read it, please, I'm begging you - do yourself a favor and do so post-haste.  Along with Scott Lynch and Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss is spearheading a new wave of brilliant fantasy writers, and I thank him profusely for that. 
 
RDJ AND BRUCE WILLIS, OH MY! 
 
Really briefly: 
 
I enjoyed the hell out of Due Date.  It's a crass bastardized take on the Odd Couple-on-wheels concept that worked so well for John Candy and Steve Martin.  Of course, it's no Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (oh, man, that last scene of John Candy in that movie makes me cry every goddamn time - no shit), but it is fantastically funny, wry in all the right ways, and has a fantastic scene of insanity, especially in the fact that there are no repercussions whatsoever from some of the dangerously illegal acts Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifinakis get into. 
 
Red, on the other hand, is a bit of a let-down.  I guess I thought the film might take a more blackly comedic turn, so maybe my expectations weren't in the right place.  It's certainly not terrible, just not what I hoped for.  Still, a fantastic cast, solid dialogue, and a sense that the actors were having a blast makes this well worth watching. 
 
Just getting into 3rd Rock from the Sun, and wow, is it a joy to see these actors play.  The entire main cast and the supporting actors and actresses are incredibly fun to watch.  The sheer over-the-top bombastic nature of everyone involved makes me giddy and wish I was still acting. 
 
PSP, PCP... WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? 
 
I've decided I'm going to pick up a PSP 3000.  I'm looking for recommendations for games of any sort.  What are your favorites?  Don't just pick 'em from some website's top 20 PSP games list, either.  I want to know YOUR favorites.  Any genre, any age, I don't care.  Hit me!
 
 

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Dragon Age 2, Back to the Future, Brandon Sanderson, Chuck Hogan

Well, howdy there, lil' cowpokes, and welcome to the return of a semi-regular update thingamajig I used to do here on Giant Bomb.  Now, I know most of you pardners have some going-ons of your own, so let's giddy-up and get on with some quick thoughts, shall we? 
 
Today, I'm gonna be shootin' rounds at Dragon Age 2, Back to the Future (the Telltale game), Brandon Sanderson's latest in the Wheel of Time series The Towers of Midnight, Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain, and various thoughts on television shows I've been watching lately.  So let's grab some vittles, pull up a stump, crack open a sasparilla, and hunker down for a spell. 
 
DRAGON AGE 2 
 
Despite the lack of a strong central narrative, Dragon Age 2 is one hell of a sequel.  Other than the new approach to the combat system, it really just more or less expands on elements introduced in Dragon Age: Origins, fleshing out the world introduced in that spectacular little gem.  In this case (as in the case of New Vegas), this use of older tools allows the developers to expand upon what made the original great.  
 
Dragon Age 2 really shines when it comes to your party and the staggering number of side-quests and missions available.  Although the same environments are recycled a bit too often, I found myself drawn into the struggles of poor and rich alike, especially when some of the choices I could make weren't quite as clear-cut as in prior Bioware games.  There is still the three-tiered system of good, neutral, and evil choices (essentially), but the choices now have consequences and costs that hindered my ability to just play out the black-and-white Bioware characters I've become used to.  My party members didn't make this any easier, as picking between what's good for them and what's good for the world as a whole can sometimes be blurred, belying underlying attachments to the cast of Dragon Age II I didn't realize I had. 
 
The party chatter goes a long ways towards this as well.  Bioware smartly dropped most of the central protagonist's dialogue in favor of a natural evolution of storylines, doled out in small bits and pieces as time goes by in the world.  Instead, the party will chat amongst themselves frequently, trading barbs or jests depending on who is in your party and what choices have been made.  This dialogue alone makes me excited for my next playthrough, as I'm genuinely curious as to what reactions and consequences will take place when I make certain choices. 
 
The combat system does take some getting used to, but I think the changes Bioware made are generally smart ones.  It's a quicker pace, obviously, which isn't always a good thing as some remnants of the older PC RPG roots tend to shine through (particularly in a drawn-out boss fight).  Those fights were meant for a more deliberate, slower time of strategic gaming.  Don't get me wrong - they're actually the best fights in the game - but they do jar with the intended quickening of the battles.  I still needed to maintain a very deliberate pace when it came to battles, as quicker fights don't necessarily mean the game has become any easier. 
 
All in all, if you've been reading the doom and gloom types who have been saying that this game marks the end of Bioware as we knew it, don't listen to them.  It's a really great game that's obviously trying to find that line between its roots and what gamers want in a modern RPG. 
 
YOU MADE A TIME MACHINE... OUT OF A DELOREAN? 
 
I'm just gonna get this off my chest now.  I'm a Telltale fanatic.  And I'm a Back to the Future fanatic.  Seeing those two joined at the hip just gave me paroxysms of pleasure when I read the previews.  Playing the game was even better.  Although I'd have loved to have heard Michael J. Fox (one of my personal heroes, for reasons I won't go into) do voice-work, I think the actors they've hired to replace originals are fantastic.  Of course, hearing Christopher Lloyd as Doc again gives me goosebumps.  It's reliving a joyous part of my childhood again in a new format. 
 
The episodes themselves smartly focus on story, jokes, and characters rather than obscure puzzling.  I've never really found myself struggling with Telltale games as a whole, but this one seems even more breezy.  That might not be to your particular taste, but in my case, that's perfectly all right.  I'm in this one for the story and return to the world I so greatly enjoyed as a kid, and in that regard, I'm 100% pleased. 
 
A TROLLOC, AN AES SEDAI, AND AN OGIER WALK INTO A BAR... 
 
Towers of Midnight is a case of the whole being greater than the parts.  Sanderson, understandably, hasn't quite managed to make the intricate characters of Robert Jordan's novels read like themselves, but the guy sure does a fantastic job with the rest of it.  He has a magnificent grasp of the world Jordan so carefully crafted, and his deft touch with combat scenes is highly enjoyable.  Sanderson adds a level of tension to this one that I haven't feld in a Wheel of Time novel in some time.  I'm going to try not to get into specifics, but you should be warned that there will be LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD. 
 
Perrin's part in this novel is a bit of a slow burn, starting off dreadfully slow and ending in a fantastic crescendo straining with blood.  It's nice to see some forward motion in his character development as well, as he's been a little stiff in the last few novels.  Sanderson's best touch in the novel is definitely done with Rand, surprisingly enough, whom I haven't cared about in nearly eight or so novels.  Rand becomes likable again, something sorely needed before the end of the series is met.  Mat is perhaps the hardest character for Sanderson to write, as his jokes and dialogue occasionally feel forced and cliched, though he has the single most hilarious bit of the novels as a whole in a particularly well written letter to another character.  Despite the difficulty in grasping the character, Sanderson puts Mat through his most harrowing moments yet, ending the novel in a heart-pumping manner that leaves me wanting the next in my hands right now. 
 
CHUCK HOGAN NOT AS COOL AS EITHER PART OF HIS NAME - NEWS AT 11 
 
Chuck Hogan's The Strain reads like a bad, bland beginner's guide to apocalyptica.  Emotions are  forced, characters are given no room to grow, and at no point did I care one bit about any person in the novel.  And when you're reading something as supposedly sweeping as this, that's a bad, bad sign.  Hogan's novel reads like a bad medical thriller with a few horror-light elements tossed in for good measure.  The characters are direct nods to Bram Stoker's Dracula, complete with a vampire-slaying professor.  But none of these characters are relatable, given instead to cliched methods of storytelling.  It's a classic example of the author telling instead of showing a story, and it aggravated every sensibility of my being.  There's a level of condescension to the writing as well, as Hogan stops frequently to explain various facts and phrases that could have easily been adapted into the story without such blatant explanations.  The mark of a great storyteller is that he or she can weave a complete tale without needing to stop to pander to an audience.  Hogan fails completely at that, and if it wasn't for my masochistic need to finish most every novel I start, I'd have dumped this one after a few dozen pages. 
 
IN LIVING COLOR 
 
No, no, no, this isn't a blurb about that old sketch comedy show.  These are just some quick (really, I rpomise) notes on TV shows I've been catching up on. 
 
-Eureka is good, silly fun.  It's light enough that I can keep it on in the background as I write.  It wouldn't really be my cup of tea if it wasn't for the brilliant premise and the fun lead characters.  I can't recommend it to everyone, but for me, it's a fun diversion. 
 
-Castle is much the same.  The police procedural usually irritates the holy hell out of me, but Nathan Fillion's charm and the decent writing makes this one tolerable.  I can't stomach more than an episode or two at a time, but for what it is, it's not bad. 
 
-Mad Men is very well written and acted, but I can't tolerate the existentialist bullshit.  I've never been able to get into fiction that relates to that intolerable belief, and this is another example.  If you believe in it, more power to you.  Just let me know if you write it, so I can keep the hell away from it.
 
-I missed out on 3rd Rock From the Sun as a teen, mostly because of our nearly 4 year lack of cable or satellite, but now I'm catching a few episodes of it here and there.  Watching John Lithgow and the rest of the crew play is just amazing.  As a former actor who loves watching great actors get a chance to completely ham it up, this is a treat.  Not a show I'm sure I'll watch through its entire run, but I'm enjoying bits and pieces of it.

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Sparky's Shorts - I Hate Horror Games

I don't know if this is actually going to be a return of my blog or if it's just a one-time thing.  Over the last year, I've come to view my blogs as pretty pointless meanderings.  At best, they're a way for me to get some creative writing done, but at worst, they are nonsense that no one and their mother could care about.  It's not a self-pitying thing.  It's just the slow realization that some of the things I do ultimately just don't matter and will be lost in the ethos of the Internet.  That being said, I'm sure I'll continue to heap praises upon the games I enjoy, and I'm certainly not going to stop gaming.  Here, then, is my massive list of games I've been playing and what I've thought about them.  
 
RESIDENT EVIL 5 
 
I can't play horror games.  I just can't.  I thought this might have changed with the more action-centric Rezzie 5, but nope, it's still the same.  Let me get something clear - I'm not afraid of most anything.  I write horror, I watch horror, I've faced down my own personal fear of going completely blind in a six month situation where I had to wear sleepshades every day for eight hours, and even that didn't really faze me.  In any other medium, the stuff contained within Resident Evil 5 wouldn't make me bat an eye, but as a video game, it scares the everloving shit out of me.  It has to do with actually controlling the character, the feeling that I am in danger and not the avatar.  It's frightening fucking shit, and I know I'm gonna get razzed for it, so let the insults fly. 
  
The state of the horror game, much like the rebounding adventure genre, always continues to astonish me in great ways.  With games like RE 5 and Dead Space 2, the genre is not only alive and kicking, but it's doing pretty damn well, too.  Even if I can't play the bastards, I salute the genre as a whole for sticking through some rough times. 

BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 
 
The Giant Bomb staff review of BC2 stated that the campaign was kind of bland.  While I see what they're saying, I disagree.  I'm not saying it's the best in its class, but it's certainly entertaining, has many memorable firefights, and the squadmates' personalities are endearing.  The story itself is pretty generic (gotta stop a super scientist from unleashing bad shit upon the world, and you're apparently the only military within 5,000 miles), but it's the actual gameplay and the afore-mentioned firefights themselves that left me alternately grinning like a fool and cursing like a sailor. 
 
And the sound effects!  Oh my God, the sound effects!  My TV is certainly not anything to sneeze at, but my sound is somewhat limited.  Even on my TV, though, the sound effects were incredible.  The gunshots sounded resoundingly real, with a punch I've never really heard from games before.  The dialogue is surprisingly well blended and very audible, though at times, things tend to get a little hectic and voices can sometimes be a little drowned out. 
 
My only wish is that I could try the multiplayer.  Sadly, my Internet connection still stinks to high heaven.  Eh, oh well.  The campaign totally made the budget price more than worth it, and I'll be revisiting the game again.  Speaking of, does anyone know if weapon unlocks carry over to a new campaign?  That'd be sweet! 
 
MAFIA 2 
 
I spouted a lot on my status about how much I liked Mafia 2, and my feelings really haven't changed.  Other than some bland overworld elements, I thought this was a superbly told story with some surprisingly fun set pieces that reminded me of the best of Max Payne 2.  Yes, it wears its influences on its sleeve, but those influences are of such a high quality that I really don't mind a bit. 
 
HEAVY RAIN 
 
My frustration with Heavy Rain's nearly unintelligble on-screen control icons are more than balanced out by the superb story, interesting characters, and novel approach to every aspect of the game.  Like most games this generation, if they only added larger font sizes, this would have been near the very top of my favorite adventure game list. 
 
RATCHET AND CLANK FUTURE: A CRACK IN TIME 
 
I might have talked about this game in a previous blog in December or November, but I've been revisiting it a bit lately, and I still really enjoy it.  It's just a solid, well-crafted action platformer with tons of extras to keep me busy.  If you're turned off by this sort of game because you think it's too "kiddy," you're doing yourself and this game a disservice.  Give it a go, and I promise, you'll have a blast. 
 
MADDEN 11/TIGER WOODS 11 
 
Solid entries in venerable sports franchises.  Not much more to say about Madden - it's a fun diversion of a game.  Tiger Woods has thankfully dropped the on-the-fly skill system in favor of a tried-and-true RPG-esque system.  Yes, they've done variations of it before, but I still think this is the best version yet.  DLC courses aren't implemented into the Tour (boo!), and the price of DLC is still way too fucking high.  Other than that, from what I understand, they're going to do what we all want in TW 12 and drop the bizarre idea that experience points should purchase clothing, and instead make all clothing purchasable with in-game money.  Good stuff. 
 

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What would make me go gaga for the JRPG again?

It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a JRPG on consoles.  While I love the great games to be found on the DS and the PSP, my real wish for the genre is to see it return to form on the console.  With the exception of the lone game like Disgaea 3 here and there, the traditional turn-based RPG is a rarity in today's market.  There's something ironic in the fact that as the Japanese push more and more towards Westernized themes and ideas in their games that they lose what made their games spectacular in the first place.  I've been playing Japanese roleplaying games extensively since Final Fantasy VII, Wild Arms, and Suikoden became my bread and butter on the PS1.  By no means does that make me an expert, but as a fan of the genre who has gone back to play games such as Final Fantasy III and IV, Chrono Trigger, and a myriad of older SNES and NES RPG's, I think I can safely say I know what makes a JRPG fun to me. 
 
So here's what I want to see in future RPG's, be it a classic design or something innovative.  Note that when I refer to RPG's at this point, I am referring to JRPG's and not Western RPG's, which are going to make for a completely different blog post somewhere down the line.  Don't take it to mean that I prefer one over the other.  Please, as always, feel free to share your own thoughts or call me bad names. 
 
I know the classic turn-based combat model is going the way of the dinosaur, and it sort of makes me a little sad.  We've seen gameplay innovations both good and bad over the last seven to eight years of JRPG's, including a focus both on trying to improve traditional turn-based RPG's (Final Fantasy XIII) as well as action-RPG's (Tales of Vesperia/Symphonia, Rogue Galaxy, etc.)  There are a few holdouts and classic throwbacks, such as Dragon Quest VIII and IX, Disgaea, and Persona 4.
 
In terms of how much I enjoy RPG's, the classic turn-based RPG is a staple.  I think the high point of this particular sub-genre would almost have to be Final Fantasy X.  What makes it so particularly good is that it managed to meld the best of the classic Final Fantasy elements with a new look and feel.  It made it easy to introduce new players, while still retaining enough of the old to keep long-time Final Fantasy gamers happy.  The combat system and exploration were particularly noteworthy.  Final Fantasy X's combat was manageable, mostly due to the fact that the player was never overwhelmed by the speed of the opponent blitzing them as they made a crucial decision.  It definitely felt a lot faster than prior entries, but it still managed to keep a sense of chess-like maneuverability and methodical pacing, if the player so chose.  And perhaps most importantly, the combat felt rewarding, especially in regards to its highly customizable (yet accessible) leveling grid, where players could choose from several types of upgrades for characters. 
 
Later, Final Fantasy XIII would try to further this game's combat by melding it with elements from Final Fantasy XII (I'll discuss that game in a minute), and try to make it both breakneck and far more difficult.  Unfortunately, it would ultimately fall short in that regard, mostly because it didn't properly implement the action-centered Westernization so many Japanese developers are trying for.  By making the game's combat and exploration go at a breakneck speed for the first twenty or so hours, the game lost its way as a Final Fantasy game and became a poor man's imiatation of both prior entries to the series and as a Westernized action RPG. 
  
Other turn-based games have lost some flavor as well by trying to appeal to a mass market.  Suikoden Terkreis is a fine example of an essentially good game made slightly worse by comparing it to its brethren.  It dumbed down the castle building aspect, the magic system, ditched its mini-game elements, and became just another turn-based RPG.  It kept the bulk of the series' best elements, however, like the 108 recruitable characters, the simple-yet-addictive combat system, and a sprawling world.  It's just too bad the Japanese publisher felt the need to dumb down the game to such a degree. 
 
Now, in terms of action RPG's, we've seen some great strides forward.  Games like Tales of Vesperia and Star Ocean have become standard bearers for JRPG combat and exploration.  There is just an absurd amount of stuff to do, find, win, craft, and beat the crap out of, and I love every second of that.  True, I'm not the biggest fan of their stories or characters, but at the end of the day, the backbone of the action RPG as defined by those two games in particular is fantastic.  And with games like Rogue Galaxy, Dark Cloud, and Final Fantasy XII, we saw some real innovations in blending genres and introducing new ideas.  It's a shame we don't see more games like those, or even sequels in very similar veins.  If Japanese developers can create an action-RPG with those elements as well as the story and lovable characters of a franchise like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, they will have gold mines in IP's.  
 
What's disappointing to me is that it feels like Japanese developers are almost half-assing it throughout this generation and ballyhooing the West for the downfall of the once mighty JRPG.  Games like Blue Dragon, The Last Remnant, Infinite Undiscovery, and the godawful-yet-great Enchanted Arms all scream "phoning it in," but we haven't seen the kind of development efforts put into RPG's from the last generation.  And that's really what's going to make or break the next five years of the genre - if we see developers like Atlus and Square put forth real effort into reintroducing the JRPG to Western audiences on their terms with the elements that made their games classics to begin with, then we'll see a turnaround like we've seen with the adventure genre.  But if developers and publishers continue to produce half-baked shovelware and push it to the West hoping we'll gobble it up, well... their sales figures will speak for themselves.

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Why Assassin's Creed 2 belongs in my honorable mentions for 2010

I missed one crucial game in my top games of 2010 list - yes, those of you who told me I was posting the list a mite early were right.  I did wind up playing one more game - Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood for those of you click-happy jackanapes who didn't read the title of the blog - that deserves to be on that list as an honorable mention along with the other games I noted.
 
AC: Brotherhood (and its eventual Volition counterpart AC: Brother in the Hood) is a great game thanks to a well-crafted "kitchen sink" mentality of sorts that helped other open-world games of this generation like Saint's Row 2 or Red Dead Redemption.  The core gameplay is raised from being bland and unappealing (more on that in a sec) to greatness by din of that idea that the game needed just one more little thing for the player to do.  It encourages exploration, adds hours to the game, and in general, the side tasks are pretty fun to boot.  Ripping through the main quest only wouldn't have impressed me much.  It's serviceable, mind you, but it's very apparent that this is a filler title in terms of stories and characters.  It's sort of awesome that the story is as good as it is, considering the multiplayer was such a focus for the developer, but you're not going to get major revelations or anything that will render the next game unfathomable if you miss out on it. 
 
It's a game that could still use a lot of work.  The controls, while generally great, sometimes aren't as intuitive as I'd like.  Sometimes, Ezio kicks off walls without any real reason, or he makes backwards jumps when you need him angled a bit.  The combat system also needs to be examined from head to to, especially in terms of guns, crossbows, and darts.  There's just no excuse not to have a free-aim look without both a Y and X axis.  Hand to hand combat feels okay, but a better explanation of how to handle groups would go a long ways. 
 
There are other little issues, too, like font size and its colors against the background.  Again, that's primarily a problem with my eyesight and shouldn't be a problem for most anyone else.  However, there are other things that will almost certainly affect others, like the baffling lack of names when selecting your weapons.  Seriously, they couldn't have put "Small Weapon," "Hidden Blades," "Smoke Bombs," or any other small indicator other than a vague picture?  Certain mission structures are baffling or flat-out irritating, too.  I get that this is basically a stealth game, but taking away the player's option to rip through guards and watchmen on certain missions made me want to turn the game off at various points.  I've said it before in regards to games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Perfect Dark Zero - enforced stealth missions will bring down otherwise great games. 
 
Those things aside, Brotherhood is seriously meaty, and a whole hell of a lot of fun.  So yes, it definitely deserved to be on my Best of... blog, and next year, I'll know better than to post my list before I've finished up for the year.

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Top Games of 2010, or My Favorite Year

...which, by the way, is a superb film.  Go watch it if you haven't seen it.  
 
Gang, I can't quanitfy this year's games.  I have written and edited this blog three or four times now, and each time, the list swelled, numbers changed, and I could never quite make up my mind as to a numbered order of things.  I know what my absolute favorite game of the year was (Fallout: New Vegas), but the year was full of top-notch releases and a shocking number of awesome little gems.  
 
I feel like I should also mention the amazing list of games I haven't played yet and want to.  Games like Starcraft 2, Black Ops, and Hot Pursuit aren't listed below, but that doesn't mean they're not incredible games.  It just means that I haven't yet had a chance to play them.  I may do a future blog at some point of games from 2010 and prior that I still want to play, but that task is daunting, especially after writing this beast. 
 
I've been a gamer since roughly 1987, when I was a young'un and my parents brought home a Tandy 1000 with Quest for Glory (then Hero's Ques), Police Quest, and a forgettable flight simulator.  Since then, I've played many, many games on all sorts of platforms.  I'm not without my biases, and I'm not an expert on the specifics of all the games released within particular years.  But in all the years I've gamed, there have always been at least a handful of fantastic games released that year.  After looking back at the games I've played and the games I want to play released solely from this year alone, I've gotta say that this has to be my favorite year of gaming.  All of the games listed below have been more than worthy of their purchases, and the sheer number of games I've yet to play should say a lot about what this year held for gamers in general.  We had an awesome Assassin's Creed, Dragon Quest, Mass Effect, Super Mario, Metroid, Fallout, Fable, Gran Turismo, and Civilization.  We saw new IP's like Enslaved, Bayonetta, and Darksiders.  We saw a retro return of unparalleled quality games in Goldeneye, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders.   Red Dead Redemption took a stalled series and turned it into something entirely awesome. This year, readers, has the sturdiest backbone of games that I can remember. 
 
Perhaps the biggest gauge of a year's games is in its disappointments.  To me, two games this year hold that honor, and sadly, both of them share the same title.  Final Fantasy XIII and XIV weren't disasters by any stretch of the imagination, but strange development decisions and a number of bad creative ideas turned what could have been the banner year of Square Enix into something middling and disappointing to a long-term fan of their games.  And yet, if those were the worst this year had to offer (at least, that I've played and was anticipating), it's been a pretty damn good year.
 
Here, then, are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order after the first. 
 
--Falout: New Vegas-- 
 
I've waxed poetic about the grand scope of New Vegas before, but I want to reiterate how much fun this game is.  Obsidian has taken everything that made Fallout 3 great (the first person adventuring, the VATS combat system, loads of interesting characters and locales, and tons of guns and weapons) and expanded upon it.  The overall buggy nature of the game is a severe negative, but with comprehensive fixes on the way and DLC just around the corner, I suspect these woes to be a thing of the past.  And truth be told, I never experienced anything that really broke the fun nature of the game.  Was I annoyed that I couldn't find my companions from time to time?  Sure.  Did the game try to load every outdoor NPC each time I stepped foot outside HELIOS?  Yup.  Did any of that stop me from killing countless members of Caesar's Legion, exploring every nook and cranny for specialized guns, or keep me from exploring the post-apocalyptic wastes of the Mojave?  Hell no, it didn't.  If you didn't like this game because of the bugs, I respect that, as I do if you're waiting to play it until the patch is released.  But don't hold off on playing this game forever.  New Vegas is without question the finest Bethesda-styled RPG to date, and is almost certainly guaranteed a spot on my future "Favorite Games" lists. 
 
-- Super Mario Galaxy 2-- 
 
The House of Mario did not disappoint this year.  The level design shows a level of craftsmanship unrivalled by any other platformer to date, and the typical high quality gameplay I've come to expect from the primary Mario games is definitely intact.  The addition of Yoshi was a clever move and opened up some great new ways to play.  The bosses, while sticking to a general 3D platformer "hit me X times in Y soft spot) tend to be challenging and creative in their design.  The difficulty of the game might drive some away, but honestly, I think the challenge is just about right. 
 
--Civilization V-- 
 
Of all the games on this list, Civ V will probably be the one I sink the most time into years from now.  It's the best in a venerable series of games because it's both accessible and insanely deep.  While my computer can only run it well with a small number of players, I still find myself clicking through just one more turn, time and time again.  What's that, you say?  There's new DLC available?  Ahhhhh, shit... there goes another month of my free time. 
 
--Enslaved: Odyseey to the West-- 
 
I saw the Quick Look of this and wasn't impressed.  The level they demonstrated felt generic, and the gameplay didn't look like anything too spectacular.  Thank God I got Black Friday Fever then and picked this one up when it came on sale at Amazon.  I'm gaga over this game.  The gameplay is fairly vanilla action-adventuring, but it's been polished and feels right in the same way that the gameplay of inFamous felt just so.  The story and characters are engaging, the environments are a delight, and the game feels tough without feeling stupidly so.  It's also got one of the best first levels I've seen in a game to date. 
 
--Joe Danger-- 
 
This was, unfortunately, the only game I downloaded on my PS3 this year not related to the PS1.  It's an awesome little game, with a ton of replayability and charm.  It's breezy, and you can rush through it fairly quickly, but like Civ V, I kept finding myself investing much more time into the game than I originally wanted to.  Achieving just one more star on any particular level becomes an obsession quickly, and the perky atmosphere and perfect controls certainly help in that regard.  It's not a complex game, but damned if it isn't a riot. 
 
--Fable 3-- 
 
I've ripped on Fable 3 a little bit on Giant Bomb, and that's unfair of me.  Fable 3 is actually a hell of a fun game, but it's definitely not on the level of Fable 2.  That being said, there's a lot to like here.  Of particular note is the sometimes surprisingly funny dialogue, the shockingly good vocal talents of the actors and actresses, and the same basic solid gameplay from its predecessors.  Lionhead took a lot of small gambles on trying to make this game more accessible, and unfortunately, while those risks didn't pay off, I have to applaud them for trying.  I genuinely hope there is a Fable 4, but that they take a long, hard look at their target audience and determine whether or not they really want to divide the appeal between accessibility and actual fun. 
 
--Halo: Reach-- 
 
This is the most fun I've had with a first-person shooter's campaign since Timesplitters.  I even liked the firefight stuff, which I thought brought a level of intensity to moments of the campaign as well as offered up something new to me personally (I didn't get a chance to play ODST).  While I don't have the capabilities to play a decent multiplayer match, I'm looking forward to it.  I love what Bungie did with unlocks in this game.  Bungie, thank you for the decade of great Halo games, and I hope that whatever projects you work on in the future bring me as much joy as these games have.
 
--Sam and Max: Season 3-- 
 
I loved the uprade to the Sam and Max episodes.  The addition of psychic powers for Max as well as the general update of the locations and characters of the game breathed some much-needed fresh air into the series while maintaining established characters and the same insane humor.  I wasn't (and still am not) a fan of the new control scheme, but overall, these episodes shouldn't be missed by anyone with an interest in funny games or the adventure genre. 
 
--Darksiders-- 
 
There are three games on this list that took me by total surprise, and this is the second of the two after Enslaved.  Darksiders is a superb action-oriented Zelda-esque game with a ridiculously awesome premise.  I liked the visual style, with its almost cartoonish looking characters and the devastation of the world. 
 
--Risk: Factions-- 
 
I love Risk, and I love what Risk Factions has done with the classic gameplay.  Oh, you don't, you say?  Well, then, just turn on the option to go back to classic Risk gameplay.  The goofy animations are awesome, the characters (while groan-worthy) are pretty hilarious, and the game's unforgiving nature definitely reminds me of those six-to-eight hour marathons of Risk back in college.  Ahhhh, good times. 
 
--Gran Turismo 5-- 
 
I like Gran Turismo's car selection.  There's really nothing like it out there in terms of variety.  I admit, I greatly prefer the gameplay and accessibility of Forza 3, but Gran Turismo is an incredible game if you're a car lover like me.  And really, that's who this game is geared towards, which is both pretty cool and its biggest problem.  That being said, Gran Turismo 5 is one of my favorite releases this year. 
 
--Dragon Quest IX-- 
 
Wow.  I wasn't sure if I'd like Dragon Quest IX, but I'm delighted to say that it's my favorite traditional turn-based RPG since the days of the PS2.  For any fan of that particular genre, DQIX is a fucking delight from head to toe.  Classes are customizable, there are tons of quests, and a great many traditional places to explore and discover.  It does get a little grind-focused towards the end, but that's sort of a hallmark of the series. 
  
--Bayonetta-- 
 
Rounding out that triumvirate of pleasantly surprising games is the batshit crazy Bayonetta.  Again, I wasn't impressed with what I saw until I played the game for myself, at which point my jaw sorta hit the floor and I was hooked.  It's Japanese on a level I don't think any other game this year has topped, and there wasn't practically a moment in the game when some part of my brain was screaming, "What the hell?"  The gameplay and controls are very polished, there's a lot of variety in the combat moves you can eventually unlock, and Bayonetta herself is just one hell of a kick. 
 
--Mass Effect 2--  
 
Mass Effect 2 really cleaned up a lot about what I didn't like in Mass Effect while introducing some classic characters and moments.  While the game lost some of its RPG elements, it made the combat much more fun and efficient.  And thank God we don't have those stupid Mako exploration bits anymore.  Good Lord, I hated those. 

--Red Dead Redemption-- 
 
Holy shit, did I like Red Dead Redemption.  This game is now my standard bearer for open-world games, beating out my old favorite Saint's Row 2 pretty handily.  Rockstar addressed everything that pissed me off about Grand Theft Auto IV and made their games fun again.  While I don't much care for the post-game stuff, I think the story up until that point was incredible and very well-told.  The graphics were stunning, the gameplay as solid as a rock, and there were a ton of side quests, activities, and even the introduction of peripheral quests, which added a surprising amount to the game.

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Sparky's Shorts - Games Galore

Shit, it's been a while since I wrote an honest blog.  Thanks to a change in my personal situation, I was able to procure a few games during Amazon's Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales.  And while I haven't had a chance to get really in-depth with all of them, I've played enough of a few to give you some brief thoughts.  I know, you're slathering at the bit to read my thoughts on cheap ass games that came out quite a while ago, but hey, that's what I do, babycakes.  
 
Oh, and uh... no editing tools available on this one, kiddos.  No idea why the editing bar isn't showing up, but it isn't.  Not like my writing on here was ever all that tidy anways (damn you, lists and buttons). 
 
ENSLAVED: ODYSSEY TO THE WEST 
 
I didn't much care for what I saw in the Quick Look of this game, which thankfully didn't keep me from picking it up.  The level demonstrated in the Quick Look doesn't quite do the game justice, as it's definitely the most generic bit of the game I've encountered.  The rest of the early missions are fun, have some memorable sequences (I cannot stress how much I really liked the opening level), and lay out the groundwork for the rest of the game admirably well.  It never tries to really break the mold, but what it does, it does really well.  And what is that, you ask?  Well, the platforming is actually entertaining and easy to do (think inFamous's excellent controls, but on more of a guided path).  The combat is fairly simple but promises more complexity as the game goes on.  The alternately beautiful and haunting atmosphere gives the game a sense of style, and the environmental graphics are great.  The two leads have an interesting dynamic and some solid dialogue, though the character models themselves could use a little bit of work.   Alone, either character would seem sort of like your basic game archetypes of warrior and damsel in distress, but the two mesh together both in terms of the story and gameplay in effective ways. And while I'm still just scratching the surface, the story seems relatively intelligent and drives the game forward at a nice pace.   The idea of a wrecked American city feels quite a bit like The Time Machine's future portions, but that's actually a positive thing, as you really get the idea that in the hands of a clever writer, this could be a fantastic homage to that novel as well as the work it's actually based on.
 
Like I say, none of that isn't anything we've seen before,   But give it a chance if you can.  I hope you'll find it as pleasantly entertaining as I am. 
 
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM 
 
I know I'm way behind the times here, so I'll just quickly summarize.  Arkham Asylum is superb.  I really like the combat, and the fact that stealth is mostly optional really makes me enjoy it all the more.  I'll freely admit I'm playing it on Easy, but I full intend on playing this one through multiple times.  As a long-time comic fan, it's a joy to see something so cleverly written and fun to play.  Joker's insanity and violence are almost shocking to me here, and that image of the guard in the visitor center with the monitor where his head should be is pretty damn striking.  Looking forward to spending more time with this one when I can. 
 
SMACKDOWN VS. RAW 2011 
 
Everything that was said in the Giant Bomb review of this was absolutely correct.  It's a lazy half-assed "update" of a tired game franchise that owners of last year's game should avoid like the plague.  Very little from last year has changed, and even at the discount price I bought it for ($20), I don't think it's worth the money.  Now, if you haven't owned a Smackdown vs. Raw game since before 2010, you might be interested in the file-share content, which is easily the best part of the game.  But seeing as how that was available last year and (I believe) the servers are still up for that one, you'd be much better off buying the prior game at a discounted price.  As a long-time fan of this series, it's time I say enough is enough, and I won't be buying another one until they make some sweeping changes to the series.  The animations need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up, as there are tons of clipping issues, weird hiccups in move animations, and a frustrating lack of new movesets and entrance positions.  This shit has been recycled for years, and it's time I stop supporting that kind of bullshit with my dollar bills. 
 
AND THAT'S ALL, FOLKS 
 
I guess that'll do it for this one, folks.  I used to do a question of the week type deal, so I'll throw a random ass question out there for you.  Since you've been a gamer, which year do you think has been best for gaming?  Keep in mind, I really only want personal opinions here, so don't list something that's before your time.  I really believe this year has been my favorite year in terms of gaming, and I intend on writing an end-of-the-year blog on that topic soon, so I thought I'd get your opinions. 
 
Anyways, take care, folks.  Enjoy your holidays, stay warm, and keep on gaming.

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