A few days ago I finally decided to go ahead and delete the 4 gigs of Psychonauts off my 360's 20 gig harddrive and decided to take the opportunity to download a bunch of demos, specifically Just Cause 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Skate 3. I've played the first two before when they went up, but I decided I might as well give them another go. First time I thought they were nothing special, very much video games and not so much the perfect freeform combat simulators that had been pitched at me. Going in, expectations back to manageable levels, I think that Splinter Cell is too hard to control and not satisfying in the least, but on the other hand Just Cause 2 is pretty fun outside of the times where you die or run out of ammo. It's basically the Red Faction: Gorilla problem (as observed from its demo) of while having these great sandbox hooks, also having enemies that aren't fun to fight and don't take kindly to people tearing into all their shit. I also played some Skate 3 which is, well, bad. I don't think there's anything good about that demo. The tutorial is short and covers only moving forward and ollieing, and the rest is just mashing on the sticks and holding down random buttons for the 20 minutes the demo allows you to have.
It's safe to say that no single player game has ever been improved by the addition of a time limit, but then that's not why demos feel it necessary to throw one in. It's a matter of depriving the player of a complete experience as to not hurt sales of the full version. In Just Cause 2's case, I think one could easily spend 5 hours fucking around in the limited stretch of Panau the demo provides without feeling the need to run out and buy the full version if it didn't do something about it, but I think timers aren't the way to do it. I like a demo I can sink my teeth into, one that I can play for far longer than any business man would be comfortable with. Blur's beta is a good example of this, as I've played around 8 hours of it and will probably pick it up as a result. I don't think I can say this for any of the other demos. L4D2's demo was like that too, though I had preordered that one.
With a longer demo I'm able to get past the phase where I'm struggling to get around corners, shoot dudes, and pull off stunts, and into the phase were I'm having fun. As such, I can be a lot more generous about my appraisal of the game. In Skate 3's part I sorta understand that the game probably doesn't get good until you spend an hour learning the controls, but as it only gave me 20 minutes I was never able to get there. Plus, when it told me I only had 3 minutes or so left, I decided that I had seen enough of the game and quit out. Going in I thought that the 20 minutes would be too few, but as I went in I shifted my expectations of the game such that 20 minutes were too much, and that's not the impression EA should want me to come out with.
So I was invited into a party for some Left 4 Dead 2 today, and ran into difficulties. At first it failed to load the game and kicked me out to the main menu, which is nothing new, except that instead of zombies behind the main menu, there was static. I tried to join the game, got locked in the loading screen, quit out, and tried to start it up again. This time it said it was unreadable. So I took it out and looked at it. Looked fine, apart from a line going from the center of the disc straight out to the important bits. I tried cleaning it briefly, then gave it another go and managed to get in some L4D2.
It worked, but barely. It was the jankiest game of L4D2 I've ever played. The guns seemed to work alright and the zombies seemed to work alright, and it was fun I suppose, but after we failed the Parish's 2nd stage twice, shit started to go wrong. Textures started disappearing left and right, and I'd end up walking on odd textures that were probably supposed to be bumpmaps or something, random objects with no textures other than a blue one, hedges disappearing before my eyes as I got near, shit was fucking up around me. Now, more than anything I'm worried this mean no Passing for me, considering I need to be able to run it. Now, when I took it out the smudgy line appeared to be longer than it was before, and indeed longer than it is now after several hours of disuse. I've looked around the interweb briefly, and gotten the impression that it may be a crack, not a scratch and that would render it irreparable.
Anyway, options. I figure there are a few options, one I could see if I could pay 5 bucks to have it repaired at a local place. I know that according the internet I could do it myself, but I honestly just don't want to risk it. Second, I could find someone to borrow a copy from, install it to my hard drive, and run use the broken disc only for validation. Then again, this would eat up my poor 20 gig harddrive, and what I can tell, leave me with no wiggle room whatsoever. No more Live Arcade, no more DLC. Although I suppose now I could use a USB harddrive to add a gig or two when I need it. Third, Gamestop informs me I could take 10 dollars for the defective copy and use it on a used version, running me 45 bucks. Not really the best option, but there may be no other choice.
Personally, I'm leaning towards repair first, and should that not be possible I sorta hope there's a way to get it replaced for free. After all, the 55 dollars I payed was for the game, not the disc. If I had gotten the game on steam (which I didn't because while my laptop is just barely TF2 worthy, it's not quite L4D2 worthy), I would never have this dilemma. That's the situation I suppose, what do you guys think?
Been playing more of the blur beta, and it's still a ton of fun. There are a few issues, mostly the lobby system crapping up every now and again, but then the actual game part is fantastic. There's only one thing that troubles me, and I think there should really be a term for it. When you're up front in a thick pack, and get hit by a power up slowing you down such that everyone behind you passes you, each hitting you with a power up as they pass quickly putting you in critical condition. I've went from 2nd to last like this. It's just painful. Sorta wish it rewarded me with fans for getting halfway up the pack after having a train pulled on me though, it'd make it a lot more manageable.
Still, it's been really fun and I really can't wait for the full game. I've not enjoyed the demos of Splinter Cell and Just Cause 2, so I think I'll be picking this gem up come May. Also, Lead and Gold if it came out on Xbox Live Arcade, that game looks rad.
(Note: Not posting to forum because I've already posted two Blur blogs to the forums.)
Been playing the blur beta across the last week, and I got to say it's really fantastic. There were a few hiccups on day one having very little prior experience with realistic racers in that I was getting last place consistently, but by the end of the night I had become average and managed to even score some top 3 slots in some races. Been playing at that level pretty much from there since, and I really like it. I feel it addresses the things I find fun about a racing game really well. It's fast and furious, and massively multiplayer for a start, but it's really the power ups which come together to serve the greater criteria for a racer for me. First off they're really fun to use, and effectively using them to move up the pack is a ton of fun, giving a lot more opportunities for one to overtake the next man, and a lot more ways for the next man to defend his position. Second, they're static locations really contribute to the idea of the perfect lap, as you'll get to a point where you know where all the right power ups are and you know the route to hit all the right ones, which even then vary based on circumstances.
However, that said I've been running into problems lately, though not problems they can fix, like the times it automatically reloads the same track without a vote. The problems I've been having are a function of the amount of players playing, in that the game becomes fun in between 10 and 20 players. It's at that point that the pack becomes thick enough that something will always be going on where ever you are in the pack. Below that the races can become sparsely populated, and a little plain. And as the amount of active players has steadily gone down, it seems its been less and less willing to find me a lobby with more than 9 people in it. If there are 400 people online, then there should be 20 rooms each with 20 people, not 60 rooms of around 7 people. It seems really bad about building these large experiences the gameplay hinges on. Whether I get blur at this point will be dependent on how it addresses these problems, and how the other courses turn out.
Part of me wants to give Activision's Marketing Department kudos for the timing of their big press event, and how it popped up the week that Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing and ModNation Racers both got Quickly Looked at as it strikes me as the perfect way to rob both kart racers of their thunder. Watching the Kart Racers' Quick Looks what really stuck with me was how derivative they were rather than how their deviations from the formula were well done or how their fan service was better than Nintendo's fan service. While I sorta got the impression that for Mario Kart clones they were perfectly fine, the thing Blur made me realize is that I don't want a Mario Kart Clone. Now, this might be partially because I've never been a Mario Kart man myself. The earliergames controlled horribly and the latergames had terrible power ups and AI issues. I was always more of a Diddy Kong Racing man myself, and blur seems more like DKR than it does MK64. Items aren't randomized, theres an emphasis on collecting them and using them smartly, and there are several different classes of vehicles which all handle distinctly. It's interesting to note that the game that avoids the stigmas of being comparable to Mario Kart takes after a game that avoided the stigmas of being a Mario Kart Clone.
Going back to the Kart Racers, Sonic and Sega seems fine for what it is, a massive fan service wrapped around a kart racing game. Lots of well detailed tracks and characters from Sega's back catalog. As someone who has little experience with Sonic outside of the 3D ones (Which I actually enjoyed at the time) and a few other games, what it really did is make me wish that Nintendo's fan service in Mario Kart was half as good as this. I mean, they only give one course to DK per game, and that course will either be a jungle that doesn't look at all like anything seen on Donkey Kong Island, or a Mountain that may bear a slight resemblance to K3. Fucking Samba has like 3 courses in the Sega game, and everything looks like it wasn't made to fit into the game better, it was made to please fans more. But then, despite how good the fan service looks to me as an observer, judging from the quick look, actual Sega fans just walk away with a list of characters and franchises that should've been represented. I guess it speaks to the futility of fan service, as even if you do try to put together a fair amount of quality locations and characters for your game, crazy fans, that is to say your target audience, will be disappointed in the exclusions of their favorite characters and locations from your past. Brawl was like that for me with K Rool and Krystal as my reasonable hopes and Jr Troopa as my impossibly obscure hope.
As for ModNation Racers, it also looks fine for what is is, but watching the quick look I found the claims of the producer to really ring false considering how it was a clone and all. It's the way he talks about how the Power Up System is unique when it is obviously the DKR Stacking Power Up system only random, as well as the way he talks about how one might drop a mine when picking up a power up if they were to be clever, despite that being the first thing that comes to mind in a Mario Kart game when one gets a mine, especially in the case of the Fake Item Box mine. In the blur quick look road trip, Ben Ward pulls off a similar technique, dropping a mine as he picks up a nitro, but he does not stop to comment on it being something original to blur, and I think that's one of the strengths blur has as a power up based racer. It does not stop to say that it has originated all the ways of using power ups, only that it implements them more fairly and more satisfyingly than ever before.
Been thinking about Mass Effect 2's story after abandoning the game in my second play through pretty much immediately, and how while I thought that it was the strongest thing about the game in your first time, it totally falls apart when you see the same scenes play out with the only difference being some slightly different dialog from Shepard. The Illusion that any of your decisions have weight is lost, except for the one where you can choose to be all Paragon or all Renegade for a minor reward at the end. I've been thinking back to replaying Conker a few months back, and how that game didn't offer any illusions of control, and as such offers a much more compelling and honest narrative.
Not to say everything in Conker still held up, the a lot of the crude stuff wasn't nearly as amusing to me as it was even a few years ago. The Great Mighty Poo song in particular seemed much more unpleasant than it was funny, but really it was Conker's portrayal which I really dug that time. He really seemed like an honest character, being somewhat of a dick at times when he didn't like people, but not always as ME2 would have you do going down the Renegade path. What I got out of him is best seen in the lines "Aren't you a little short to be a grim reaper?" "Well, how many grim reapers have you met before, mate? What, what am I supposed to look like?" "Yeah, that's a good point, and well made." It's really interesting to as while Conker starts off as a dick, when called out on his dickishness, he backs down pretty much immediately, which to me makes him seem honest. He's a very cynical squirrel and is quick to make dick comments, but he usually knows when it's important to take a more responsible tact. He's sensitive to context, which is something the all renegade or all paragon Shepard isn't.
I played as a middle of the road Shepard myself, treating every dialog option tenderly, looking for options which people wanted to hear instead of going for Paragon or Renegade, and in the end I guess I payed the price by losing half my team in the suicide mission. It's just a bit of a bummer than the game punishes me for trying to make a choices in real time, instead of all in advance.
So played the Darksiders Demo, and it's Zelda. It has a lot of good ideas and a few bad ideas, which really got me thinking about trends in gaming, both good and bad. Theres a simple difference between one and the other, as good trends spread when a designer says "that was sweet in Blank by the Blanks" and throws it in. Bad trends meanwhile, are perpetuated when designers say "This was in Blank of Blank" and consider that a good enough reason. An idea being in a popular game does not imply that it is a good idea. If you were to ask the guys who made Dante's Inferno "Why must Dante mash X to open a chest?" or indeed "Why is anything in this game the way it is?" you know you would get the answer "Because God of War did it."
Really, game designers need to ask themselves, what is that people look for in the type of game we intend to make, and is this the best way to address those criteria? I for instance don't think that having an indiscriminate amount of orbs fly out of dudes and objects so that you can buy moves for arbitrary prices is the right way to go, as it renders the moves optional and thus no fights will demand a mastery of any given one, meaning that the player might not ever master the intricacies of the combat. I guess you could combat that by having an enemies have mile long health bars, requiring mastery of the combat, but even that that's a general mastery while you should be teaching the combat one technique at a time, and it violates the rule of three, making your game less fun as players use the cheapest or safest attack 20 times in a row to take out one or two dudes. So probably not the best idea, despite the fact that a popular game does it. Really, the mashey spammy overlong combat derived from these bad trends was what convinced me to stop playing the Darksiders Demo, and indeed stop thinking about purchasing it.
But then again Darksiders also has a lot of good in it coming from the Zelda bits, as it really does play as if designers looked at Zelda and asked "What is it that players expect out of Zelda, and how can we better address these expectations?" Sure, it has temples like a Zelda game, an inventory screen that looks like its taken right out of Zelda, bomb plants that you will be expected to throw at bombable rocks, even a puzzle where you have to chain your bomb plants, but theres a lot of fantastic polish that went into it. Theres the smooth platforming elements and climbing elements which sorta remind me of Kameo except a lot more smooth and enjoyable. Compared to the slow ass climbing in Zelda games and the nonexistent platforming elements, it's a godsend. I also really dug the Aiming Mode, which is their way of dealing with the fact that First Person Perspective in action games is played out, but precision is still needed for puzzles. Basically it zooms into a 3rd Person shooting perspective that while not optimal for combat, is swift and precisionate for puzzle solving, which is just how it should be. Personally I had been thinking about how I would handle that problem about a month ago and came up with a similar solution, so seeing that it works makes me happy.
So yeah, I liked the way that Darksiders implemented and improved upon Zelda a lot, but really it's the trends that they centered the fighting on that made me quit it and return to the Dashboard. I guess it goes to show that while accepting good trends into your game and replacing what you don't feel was good enough in the source material with innovation goes a long way to making a game great, a single bad idea can hurt the product significantly.
So I borrowed Borderlands from a friend a few days ago, having played the first 20 levels or so with him sporadically when it came out in splitscreen, and got about 10 levels into it in two days. It's fun and the shooting has a sorta open ended thing going for it which I've enjoying, though I'm getting the impression that the guns, despite their procedural nature, aren't quite diverse enough to really bring the game alive like say, Bioshock 2's Plasmids do, which makes it seem hard to think that the game is solid enough to last the time it suggests it does. That said I am enjoying it for the time being, and the Coop was always solid, so presuming that someone on my friend's list doesn't mind playing with a level 10 with no DLC, which happened the first time I popped it in, it should continue to be fun.
That said, I'm really annoyed by the way it controls. Not strictly in terms of sensitivity, that's something that I adjusted to quickly, but in terms of button mapping. Basically after playing probably around 30 hours of Bioshock 2 offline and online, I was used to those controls and as such even today I'm constantly hitting the wrong button. Jumping when I mean to pick something up, switching weapons when I mean to jump, throwing a grenade when I mean to switch weapons. I guess it's more a problem with myself than with the game, being accustomed to another game's unchangeable control scheme, but that doesn't stop it from being annoying, and thus its problem. It doesn't help that I sorta feel like I don't like a lot of the choices in its controls from the start. Sure, it offered some alternatives, but they didn't really seem any better, and given that one of them maps shooting to a bumper, I'd guess they' weren't being serious with those schemes.
I'm interested in what Perfect Dark's Live Arcade release is trying, making control mappings according to matching FPS controls, such as the Spartan control scheme and the Duty Calls control scheme, which seems to go a little farther to address the reason people actually want alternate control schemes, to resist change. I really hope they've throw in more thinly veiled control schemes, namely a Bioshock 2 based one called "Little Fish". I don't expect all the functions of Perfect Dark to have perfect parallels to Bioshock's functions, but then it's simple stuff like Weapon Selection, Reloading, and using I'm looking for, which is the sort of thing they implied the schemes were for, so it should be good.
Nintendo seem to have just hit their press event where they get a little less vague about their 3 big announced games of this year and show off a bunch of stuff that's either dumb, or too late. For example they made a point that DSiware will be become a games service, as opposed to a venue for clocks with photos. Only it took them a year, and they still got the issue that I don't see myself running out to the store to buy a new version of a system I play 2 games a year on tops. And no, a bigger one doesn't help. Another thing that's stupidly late is Warioware: Do it Yourself. I don't think you're allowed to have any mystery about a game that came out in Japan a solid year ago, so announcing its coming out does little to excite me, rather made me wonder if I was right in thinking it was an April 09 game for Japan.
Other than that, there were a few trailers for games that are actually of note, and I suppose they look okay. Can't say I really learned anything about the games in question, but makes me want them a bit more. Say what you will about the informative, interesting, 6 months in advance developer diary approach, the vague ass trailer has a way of getting into your head. A part of me makes me want to pass up Galaxy 2 on principle then, in favor of a game that had the decency to try to get me involved by awesome gameplay and developer diaries for months and months, but I sorta think I won't be able to. Pokemon though I'm definitely taking a pass on. As much as I'd love to play through Johto again, there are more better games to buy out there.
Metroid though looks a bit crap honestly. When looking at the article and drowsily reading the first passage I said to myself "Wait, is this like Shadow Complex? Some 2.5D Action? I could be into that." And then I read on and found that its a story driven metroid game with weird 3D controls and automatic fighting. I sorta wonder if it'll have a focus of exploration what with the solid story they're shoving into the series, but I'm pretty sure I don't care either way. The things they've done to the gameplay just sound bad to me for some reason, and I sorta don't want anything more to do with them.
So I've played through the Single Player twice (one on Normal, once on easy with no Vita Chambers), and gotten to the 21st Rank in the multiplayer, so I thought I'd summarize how I feel about the game.
It's hard to say whether or not Bioshock 2 is better than its predecessor as what one does right the other does wrong. I really enjoyed Bioshock 1 back in the day, finding its audiotapes fascinating, its world brilliant, but then it's gameplay was nothing special. Bioshock 2 I also really enjoyed, but because of the faster more punchy action, the big improvements of the Hacking and Research Camera which make them a lot more compelling, the little improvement of the Tonic system, but then a sort of straight forward plot with just enough interesting audiotapes to keep it good.
Really though, I feel that the Bioshock series has a lot going for it, as its structure of putting you in what is essentially a miniature sandbox with one or two objectives and bunch of little things to do allows it to have a lot of areas which are designed for action and meaningful exploration, while allowing you the freedoms of an open world game, which is something that other shooters don't have. I've mentioned before (in this list for instance) that I consider collectathons such as the Banjos or DK64, to be closer to the Open World game then they are to the 2D Platformer, suggesting the term "Concentrated Open World Game (With Platforming Elements.)" I think that Bioshock 1 and 2 could be considered Concentrated Open World Games with shooting. Really though, the strength of a sandbox comes from the amount of variety in the tasks, which are primarily doing the Main Objectives, collecting audiotapes and hitting up Power to the People Stations, dealing with Little Sisters, and shooting a ton of splicers all around. It's the strength of the last two which really put this game above the first, as for a start killing dudes is a lot more fun, so it becomes a joy to run across a Spoicer when roaming Rapture, and guarding the sister allows for a great twist of the usual gameplay, making you hold ground as hoards converge on you and your little sister. In the end, I think the gameplay story blend of the Bioshock 2 is better suited to take advantage of the miniature sandbox approach to level design they got going, meaning that when I want to play a Bioshock game, I'm going to replay the second because it's a better game.
The problem I had with the story was that it just felt shorter than the first one by far. Whether it really was is hard to say, as I sorta think that Bioshock 1 was just a lot smarter with pacing its story, and a lot more clever about it. The root of the problem is that the third act of Bioshock 1 was a surprise. Leading up to the death of Andrew Ryan, I thought for sure that the game was wrapping up, and the death of Ryan might as well be where Bioshock ends. But it didn't, instead plowing on for 4 or 5 more areas with a new sense of determination. It allowed us to form an expectation as to when it would end so that it could break that expectation. Bioshock 2 didn't do this so much, and it felt like it didn't have that extra push the first one did. Playing it, I also found the fact that half the primary missions centered around opening or clearing train station doors a bit dumb, but then I thought about how many times Bioshock 1 did the same thing with Bathyspheres and decided it was fine.
To me though, the weakest part of Bioshock 2 by far is the multiplayer. The main problem is that it feels more like a bad Bioshock Multiplayer mod for some random online FPS than it does an extension of Bioshock 2. I mean, optimally one should finish the single player, and roll into the multiplayer feeling confident with the gameplay. This is not true of Bioshock 2, as even at a basic mechanical level the way aiming handles is completely different from multiplayer to single player, the guns feel a lot less powerful, hacking is done by holding down a button, health regenerates, and we're back to either using weapons or plasmids, which becomes terribly annoying when you go to reload. I suppose there have been rounds where I have a lot of fun, but still. The worst thing I could say about it is that when faced with a choice between playing the single player again and playing some of the multiplayer, I choose to replay the single player all the way through, as I could get more variety and action out of the game doing that.