Sparky's Update - A Fistful of Games!

Hi diddly ho, el Giant Bomberinos! It's your favorite neighbor, Neddiddl.... errrrr.... Sparky! It's a lovely day - for beatin' down some fools digitally! This week, I played a whole bunch of games, which I'll briefly be covering here, along with my thoughts on LOTRO's free-to-play system. Grab your butts!

ALPHA PROTOCOL

Sigh...OK. Alpha Protocol is a mess. There are two great ideas - the conversation system, and its cause-and-effect nature. Both really are game-changers in terms of how I want to see these types of things done in games in the future. Absolutely everything else though? Completely and totally subpar.

I've written a review on the game here on Giant Bomb, and I don't feel to reiterate every point I've made. But let me give you a brief summary. The controls are awful. The combat is completely unrefined and counters just about every skill point and upgrade you put into your weapons. The art style, music, and sound effects are bland. Almost nothing about this game is memorable or decent, save for those two points I mentioned above. It's a disastrous game that received no support after its release, meaning no patches, no fixes, nothing. Everything that was broken about the game at launch is still broken now.

Oh, one other thing. If you're an achievement whore? Ridiculously easy achievements ahoy.

BURNOUT PARADISE

I might still be pissy with Sony over the whole PSN debacle from a couple of months ago, but that certainly hasn't stopped me from taking advantage of their sales (albeit with PSN prepaid cards this time). Chief among those purchases has been Burnout Paradise for seven or eight bucks. I hadn't played a Burnout game since the third one, which I felt needed to be rectified, especially at that bargain price. I'm damn sure glad I bit.

In a weird way, though, Burnout Paradise has done more to piss me off than any game in recent memory, though to be fair, it's not actually the in-game content that upset me. First, in order to download the thing, I had to clear off space from the PS3's hard drive. Irritating, but not a big deal. I had some PS1 games saved on there that I can just download again later. That cleared up enough hard drive space to get the game installed - or so I thought. When the game finished downloading, my PS3 kindly informed me once again that I needed to clear yet more hard drive space in order to further install the son of a bitch - and the second install size was still freaking enormous. This isn't new to me. As I've mentioned, I've downloaded a few PS1 and PSN arcade games, but their install sizes when downloaded were so small as to be nearly pointless. This was not. I cleared off more games from my hard drive, but was still shy a gig or two. I ended up having to go through each and every game data file to uninstall the biggest ones I wasn't planning on playing anytime soon.

It really pisses me off that a) Sony doesn't lump the download and installation into one file size and process, b) I have huge game installs on my PS3 for games sent out on Blu-ray discs, and c) that I didn't have enough liquor to get piss drunk throughout the whole process. Seriously, a bottle of rum and I probably wouldn't have given two shits about the whole thing, but as it was, when I was finally able to boot up Burnout Paradise, I was completely pissed off.

And then? The game made everything all better. It's a pretty great game. The racing is intense and satisfying, the "wreaking damage" mode when you press R1 and L1 is about as addictive as crack, and the takedown mode is still a blast. I'm about five hours into it, and the races are becoming quite a bit more difficult for me, but that's okay. There's so much else to see and do that having problems with one small portion of it feels like no problem at all.

My only complaint with the game is that I wish there was a way to navigate previous events through a menu, with the option to quick travel to them. Also, a way to repeat events you've just lost without having to drive back would have been good. All in all, though, it's a spectacular game, especially at that price. I just hope next time I play a game on my PS3, I don't have to sacrifice 90% of the other games I love just to play it.

RECORD OF AGAREST WAR

Let's keep this brief. You know those times when you hear a mass of voices saying how mediocre or terrible a game is, but you want to believe otherwise and so end up buying the game based on the one lone voice in the crowd who says, "Hey, that game's pretty good?" And you know how after you start playing that game, you realize you really want to hit that stupid fucking reviewer over the head with a brick? That game for me right now is Record of Agarest War. Remember everything I said about Yakuza 4 being sexist? Yeah, fuck that. True, I knew the game's reputation going into it, but Record of Agarest War makes Yakuza 4 look as progressive as California.

Plus, the gameplay? Just horrible. Oh, it has all the proper elements of a SRPG, but it's like the did the absolute bare-assed minimum amount of work on the game before shipping it out. I think the publisher's mantra must have been, "Take the money and run."

HECTOR: BADGE OF CARNAGE

Here's the thing about Hector: Badge of Carnage. For better or worse, it is 100% faithful to classic point and click adventures. For some people like me, that's a great thing, even fantastic. And if you're looking at a modern nod to the days of LucasArts point-and-click games (or mid-to-late 90's Sierra, when they adopted the LucasArts motif of no-death, no-loss adventure games), it's fantastic. Hell, even gamers new to the point and click adventure genre will find a lot to love about it. But there's a strict adherence to the genre's staples that might make some newcomers wonder what the hell the fuss was about. And you know? I sure couldn't blame them.

You find inventory items. You combine inventory items in increasingly bizarre ways to solve puzzles that should be solvable in much more logical ways. There are dialogue trees a-plenty. Environments are generally static, with usually only one to two NPC's per screen to talk to. Hell, there are even genuine moments of pixel hunting. If all of that gives you goosepimples the way it does me, you'll want to check it out. If none of that appeals to you, this might not be the game for you.

Oh, and where the hell are the rest of the episodes?

LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE - THOUGHTS ON THE FREE TO PLAY SYSTEM

When Turbine announced Lord of the Rings Online was going free to play, I thought the game was on its last legs. I didn't understand that it was a smart move from a business perspective, because I idiotically forgot how people will actually pay real cash for the most inane bullshit items on the face of the Earth (or Middle-Earth, as it were).

That's not to say that the free-to-play system in LOTRO is a bad thing. In fact, if you're looking for a F2P game, this is an absolutely incredible opportunity to play through the bulk of the main game (minus its expansions). They've included all the main quests, as well as enough side quests to help gamers level enough to stay just competent enough to finish the main plot... with the right help from other players. Of course, that help is going to be required regardless, since many of the quests require a group effort to have a chance of succeeding.

I've paid for a subscription, and as such, I've seen what all becomes available. Basically, you get a little more of everything - more quests, more outfit slots, more inventory space, more characters, and so on. You also get 500 or so free Turbine points a month, their currency to purchase things from the online store. Nothing is ever quite as cheap as I'd hoped it would be. Costumes can cost upwards of 2000 points (with no stat increases whatsoever!), while actual real equipment can make that seem paltry. Some skills and boosts are pretty decent ways to spend those points, though, and there are new sales pretty frequently. Permanant stat and skill increases are fantastic, as they add up very quickly and are usually fairly cheap. One online purchase I've made good use of has been additional fast-travel slots, which have made navigating Middle-Earth much speedier.

The biggest perk of a VIP membership is the quests, without question. Having the main quest line available in a free-to-play system is nice, but the lore and writing of LOTRO is so solid that having all the quest lines available is a must for me. I loved Tolkien's works, and while I have my issues with boredom in MMORPG's (seriously, fetch/kill quests? Eat me), I love seeing the attention to detail Turbine has put into this game.

So while I'm still not cool with microtransactions and the cost of items in the Turbine store, I've gotta say, I appreciate what they've done with the F2P system. It's brought in some new players and it's big enough that gamers will get a good taste of whether or not they want to plunk down the cash for the full experience.

AND THAT'S ABOUT IT...

I played some other games too, most notably World of Goo and Defense Grid. I don't feel either really needs a paragraph unto itself, so I'll just say I immensely enjoy both. I also started to play Monster Hunter 3, which I don't feel I've delved into deep enough to warrant a decent write-up. And finally, I played a whole bunch of Mario Kart Wii, which is one of my all-time favorite games. So glad to have my Wii back up and running - I know, I know, that's not the popular opinion.

This coming week, I'm hoping to get caught up on my Wii backlog, including Monster Hunter and maybe Goldeneye. I'll also try to continue stomaching Record of Agarest War. We shall see.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out Giant Bomb user Egge's latest blog. Pretty damn well written.

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Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Hi diddly ho, el Giant Bomberinos! It's your favorite neighbor, Neddiddl.... errrrr.... Sparky! It's a lovely day - for beatin' down some fools digitally! This week, I played a whole bunch of games, which I'll briefly be covering here, along with my thoughts on LOTRO's free-to-play system. Grab your butts!

ALPHA PROTOCOL

Sigh...OK. Alpha Protocol is a mess. There are two great ideas - the conversation system, and its cause-and-effect nature. Both really are game-changers in terms of how I want to see these types of things done in games in the future. Absolutely everything else though? Completely and totally subpar.

I've written a review on the game here on Giant Bomb, and I don't feel to reiterate every point I've made. But let me give you a brief summary. The controls are awful. The combat is completely unrefined and counters just about every skill point and upgrade you put into your weapons. The art style, music, and sound effects are bland. Almost nothing about this game is memorable or decent, save for those two points I mentioned above. It's a disastrous game that received no support after its release, meaning no patches, no fixes, nothing. Everything that was broken about the game at launch is still broken now.

Oh, one other thing. If you're an achievement whore? Ridiculously easy achievements ahoy.

BURNOUT PARADISE

I might still be pissy with Sony over the whole PSN debacle from a couple of months ago, but that certainly hasn't stopped me from taking advantage of their sales (albeit with PSN prepaid cards this time). Chief among those purchases has been Burnout Paradise for seven or eight bucks. I hadn't played a Burnout game since the third one, which I felt needed to be rectified, especially at that bargain price. I'm damn sure glad I bit.

In a weird way, though, Burnout Paradise has done more to piss me off than any game in recent memory, though to be fair, it's not actually the in-game content that upset me. First, in order to download the thing, I had to clear off space from the PS3's hard drive. Irritating, but not a big deal. I had some PS1 games saved on there that I can just download again later. That cleared up enough hard drive space to get the game installed - or so I thought. When the game finished downloading, my PS3 kindly informed me once again that I needed to clear yet more hard drive space in order to further install the son of a bitch - and the second install size was still freaking enormous. This isn't new to me. As I've mentioned, I've downloaded a few PS1 and PSN arcade games, but their install sizes when downloaded were so small as to be nearly pointless. This was not. I cleared off more games from my hard drive, but was still shy a gig or two. I ended up having to go through each and every game data file to uninstall the biggest ones I wasn't planning on playing anytime soon.

It really pisses me off that a) Sony doesn't lump the download and installation into one file size and process, b) I have huge game installs on my PS3 for games sent out on Blu-ray discs, and c) that I didn't have enough liquor to get piss drunk throughout the whole process. Seriously, a bottle of rum and I probably wouldn't have given two shits about the whole thing, but as it was, when I was finally able to boot up Burnout Paradise, I was completely pissed off.

And then? The game made everything all better. It's a pretty great game. The racing is intense and satisfying, the "wreaking damage" mode when you press R1 and L1 is about as addictive as crack, and the takedown mode is still a blast. I'm about five hours into it, and the races are becoming quite a bit more difficult for me, but that's okay. There's so much else to see and do that having problems with one small portion of it feels like no problem at all.

My only complaint with the game is that I wish there was a way to navigate previous events through a menu, with the option to quick travel to them. Also, a way to repeat events you've just lost without having to drive back would have been good. All in all, though, it's a spectacular game, especially at that price. I just hope next time I play a game on my PS3, I don't have to sacrifice 90% of the other games I love just to play it.

RECORD OF AGAREST WAR

Let's keep this brief. You know those times when you hear a mass of voices saying how mediocre or terrible a game is, but you want to believe otherwise and so end up buying the game based on the one lone voice in the crowd who says, "Hey, that game's pretty good?" And you know how after you start playing that game, you realize you really want to hit that stupid fucking reviewer over the head with a brick? That game for me right now is Record of Agarest War. Remember everything I said about Yakuza 4 being sexist? Yeah, fuck that. True, I knew the game's reputation going into it, but Record of Agarest War makes Yakuza 4 look as progressive as California.

Plus, the gameplay? Just horrible. Oh, it has all the proper elements of a SRPG, but it's like the did the absolute bare-assed minimum amount of work on the game before shipping it out. I think the publisher's mantra must have been, "Take the money and run."

HECTOR: BADGE OF CARNAGE

Here's the thing about Hector: Badge of Carnage. For better or worse, it is 100% faithful to classic point and click adventures. For some people like me, that's a great thing, even fantastic. And if you're looking at a modern nod to the days of LucasArts point-and-click games (or mid-to-late 90's Sierra, when they adopted the LucasArts motif of no-death, no-loss adventure games), it's fantastic. Hell, even gamers new to the point and click adventure genre will find a lot to love about it. But there's a strict adherence to the genre's staples that might make some newcomers wonder what the hell the fuss was about. And you know? I sure couldn't blame them.

You find inventory items. You combine inventory items in increasingly bizarre ways to solve puzzles that should be solvable in much more logical ways. There are dialogue trees a-plenty. Environments are generally static, with usually only one to two NPC's per screen to talk to. Hell, there are even genuine moments of pixel hunting. If all of that gives you goosepimples the way it does me, you'll want to check it out. If none of that appeals to you, this might not be the game for you.

Oh, and where the hell are the rest of the episodes?

LORD OF THE RINGS ONLINE - THOUGHTS ON THE FREE TO PLAY SYSTEM

When Turbine announced Lord of the Rings Online was going free to play, I thought the game was on its last legs. I didn't understand that it was a smart move from a business perspective, because I idiotically forgot how people will actually pay real cash for the most inane bullshit items on the face of the Earth (or Middle-Earth, as it were).

That's not to say that the free-to-play system in LOTRO is a bad thing. In fact, if you're looking for a F2P game, this is an absolutely incredible opportunity to play through the bulk of the main game (minus its expansions). They've included all the main quests, as well as enough side quests to help gamers level enough to stay just competent enough to finish the main plot... with the right help from other players. Of course, that help is going to be required regardless, since many of the quests require a group effort to have a chance of succeeding.

I've paid for a subscription, and as such, I've seen what all becomes available. Basically, you get a little more of everything - more quests, more outfit slots, more inventory space, more characters, and so on. You also get 500 or so free Turbine points a month, their currency to purchase things from the online store. Nothing is ever quite as cheap as I'd hoped it would be. Costumes can cost upwards of 2000 points (with no stat increases whatsoever!), while actual real equipment can make that seem paltry. Some skills and boosts are pretty decent ways to spend those points, though, and there are new sales pretty frequently. Permanant stat and skill increases are fantastic, as they add up very quickly and are usually fairly cheap. One online purchase I've made good use of has been additional fast-travel slots, which have made navigating Middle-Earth much speedier.

The biggest perk of a VIP membership is the quests, without question. Having the main quest line available in a free-to-play system is nice, but the lore and writing of LOTRO is so solid that having all the quest lines available is a must for me. I loved Tolkien's works, and while I have my issues with boredom in MMORPG's (seriously, fetch/kill quests? Eat me), I love seeing the attention to detail Turbine has put into this game.

So while I'm still not cool with microtransactions and the cost of items in the Turbine store, I've gotta say, I appreciate what they've done with the F2P system. It's brought in some new players and it's big enough that gamers will get a good taste of whether or not they want to plunk down the cash for the full experience.

AND THAT'S ABOUT IT...

I played some other games too, most notably World of Goo and Defense Grid. I don't feel either really needs a paragraph unto itself, so I'll just say I immensely enjoy both. I also started to play Monster Hunter 3, which I don't feel I've delved into deep enough to warrant a decent write-up. And finally, I played a whole bunch of Mario Kart Wii, which is one of my all-time favorite games. So glad to have my Wii back up and running - I know, I know, that's not the popular opinion.

This coming week, I'm hoping to get caught up on my Wii backlog, including Monster Hunter and maybe Goldeneye. I'll also try to continue stomaching Record of Agarest War. We shall see.

In the meantime, I recommend checking out Giant Bomb user Egge's latest blog. Pretty damn well written.

Moderator
Posted by Bigandtasty

On Burnout Paradise, there is a way to repeat events you've lost. You have to install a patch, though. After that you should be able to use the Easy Drive Menu (right on d-pad I think) and pick Restart Last Event.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Bigandtasty: OK, thanks. I'll check that out.

Moderator
Posted by Claude

I miss Mario Kart Wii. I should have never traded it in. We could have been friends and played together.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Claude: It's ridiculously good fun. I'm still less than fond of the Wii's online capabilities, but oh my good Lord, I do love grabbin' my boy Waluigi and smoking some fools on the track. And by "smoking some fools," of course I mean coming in around tenth place on a regular basis.

Moderator
Posted by Claude

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: When I played, I was always my Mii and ran with a motorcycle. I usually could hold my own. I think my VR was around 7000 or higher if I remember correctly.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Read your AP review. It seems like your sentiments echo mine exactly in that the gameplay is bad, the story is pretty bad, the characters are mostly bad, but the way dialog and choice are handled is good. 
 
Also, Record of Agarest War is the game that had the collector's edition that came with a pillowcase of an anime girl and a boobie mousepad. That right there was probably a pretty good warning to stay away (unless you're into that kinda thing, at which point I feel like saying something petty to the effect of: "Go to Anime Vice, JERK"). I like Strategy RPGs, but I feel like most of the ones from across the Pacific are just Final Fantasy Tactics knockoffs (of course, FFT itself was a knockoff of Tactics Ogre) that throw in some sort of ridiculous contrived gameplay system that makes no sense whatsoever and are hella grindy in addition to not being very good. Does this game fit that description?

Online
Posted by ArbitraryWater
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Ah. That would explain it. While I'm probably not the right person to ask in regards to sexiness, or Japanese culture for that matter, there's a fine line between the requisite amount of fanservice that pops up in just about anything with anime girls ever (not that I approve of that, but it's practically a given. If I have to see the occasional tasteless panty shot in an otherwise decent work of fiction then so be it.) and deeply disturbing creepy exploitation stuff, like some of the animes I see on the Netflix . (I've been morbidly tempted to give any of the ones with pictures of girls with massive torpedo chests and descriptions that echo the classic harem setup a go for irony's sake, but then I realized that I would lose all sense of self decency and wouldn't be much better than the people who watch it genuinely for fapping material.)
 
But, if it's a bad game on top of that, it sounds a lot like Hyperdimension Neptunia, a game that I am to understand has the requisite number of creepy lolis wearing skimpy clothing while also being a rather craptacular and uninspired RPG on top. Seriously, I'm not even sure why most of this kind of stuff even comes over to the States, unless that niche that is into that kind of thing is really so prevalent over here. And at that point we can start wondering why actually promising games like Xenoblade and Fire Emblem Shin Monshou no Nazo (GRRRRRRRR) have yet to come over. The beach volleyball spinoffs to Dead or Alive are in some ways more creepy, mostly because the ladies are polygonal and the breasts are water balloons. Also, the premise of a game is even thinner there. At least the porn visual novels that Psychosis blogs about are honest in their intentions. 
 
Ugh. I feel like I have to... take a shower. In my mind.
Online
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@ArbitraryWater:

Me too, man, me too. I've only watched the tiniest bit of anime ever (something to do with a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and a group of techno-savvy youngsters trying to save the day - damned if I know what it was, and honestly, I don't really care), but having played a bajillion anime-inspired RPG's, I can say with complete and total honesty I've never seen one as horribly off-putting by its sexuality as this one. If the gameplay was solid? I could rip through it in no time. But each time I play through another crappy level and see another scantily clad anime cliche, it drives me crazy.

Moderator