Backlog: Payday Edition

Paycheck in hand, I went out to get some new games, and ended up bringing home some old ones on the cheap as well. The PS3 lineup is really strong this spring, and I'm very excited to play all of the new titles I picked up. The Xbox 360 games I got were old or semi-old ones that I've been wanting to try for some time, but given the disparity of the review scores and opinions, I've been waiting for them to reach the right price point. I think I'll be doing myself a favor by trying these out before I get to the PS3 pile.

Game 1: TimeShift 

BEFORE: I tried the demo on XBL, and it felt like a good shooter, mechanically. I'm hoping that the section they chose to show in the demo isn't representative of the whole game. Time control seems like a neat idea for a shooter. 
AFTER: It's a little hard to figure out what's going on here. It's raining pretty heavily in what feels a little bit like City 17, replete with benign-sounding sinister overlord on PA speakers, but the story is hard to get a hold of, at least from the first half hour. The shooter mechanics are pretty solid as expected, and the time powers add some puzzle solving and strategy to the mix. In some ways, it reminds me of Resistance. The graphics are firmly rooted in last gen, although some polish has been applied to soften the edges. If this had come out in spring/summer 2006, things might have looked different for Sierra. First achievement at 17 minutes for completing the first level. Interesting game, might finish it. 

Game 2: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena 

BEFORE: Playing The Darkness last week made me want to check out Starbreeze's other games. I've heard a lot of good things about the Butcher Bay game, not so much about Dark Athena. I will be trying Butcher Bay first, if at all possible.
AFTER: I really like the menus. Also, the game's not bad. The melee combat is satisfying, and the thick atmosphere really sells me on the prison setting. In some ways, I can tell how old this game is, which serves only to impress me more about how ahead of its time this game must have been. 38 mintutes, Rust is dead. Will play more. 

Game 3: Too Human 

BEFORE: I'm trying really hard not to have too many preconceptions about this, but it's hard not to remember the controversy surrounding Too Human's release. All I know is, I like loot. Worth a try. 
AFTER: Showing off the world's most disturbing cleavage in the opening sequence is not going to win you any friends. The art is not pretty, the graphics are technically underwhelming, and the concept of cyber-vikings is just baffling to someone who grew up with tales of Norse mythology. I can see myself getting into the loot aspect of this, but surely there are more well-rounded ways of getting your action RPG fix. Got my first achievement for some random combat occurrence within the first thirty seconds of controlling a character, but before that happened, I sat through about 13 minutes of rough-around-the-edges in-engine cutscenes.  Not sure I'll  be playing more of this one.  

Game 4: Stranglehold 

BEFORE: Face/Off may be the only John Woo movie I can remember really liking, and I'm not a huge fan of the Hong Kong action movie style. Stranglehold was the talk of the games press for about three weeks back in '07, then suddenly the lines went dead. Is there something here, or is this one of those games that lend themselves to a great E3 showing and then underwhelm upon release? Expecting Max Payne with added Hong Kong cinematic flair.
AFTER: Pretty much as expected. The camera's a little wonky. The combat is gimmicky but fun, and I liked the standoff mechanic, which gave me the first achievement after 12 minutes. Looks pretty good for a 2007 game. 

Game 5: Ninja Blade 

BEFORE: Varying opinions in the press on this one. Jeff Gerstmann felt it was too repetitive, and Kevin VanOrd at Gamespot found it to be light-hearted over-the-top fun. My tastes align with Gerstmann's more often, but I'll give this a try. 
AFTER: Awesome late title card! The first mission took 47 minutes to get through, and I got 115G in the process. The first achievement took only 7 minutes to get, and I got another one immediately after. To be honest, I'm having a hard time putting this down. Even the QTEs seem satisfying and somehow actiony. Of course, I haven't played it long enough for it to get repetitive, but I'm intrigued by the story and entertained by the combat enough to make me continue playing. Awesome bargain bin find so far.

Backlog: Bad Company Edition

Last week I bought Bad Company 2. I took it home, put it on the shelf and started playing through Bad Company 1. It had its problems, mainly with save points and the weird semi-persistence of the world, but it was an awesome shooter experience and a breath of fresh air after all the MW2 I've been playing. So now, I guess, the time has come for another Bad Company experience, and along with that, I have three other games I've bought but not yet sunk my teeth into. 

Game 1: X-Men Origins Wolverine 

BEFORE: I hear the movie sucks. For the game, I really don't know what to expect. I've played some of the God of War games, a little bit of Darksiders and Heavenly Sword, but I'm not really into these character action games in a big way. I guess I'm expecting satisfying, gory combat. Also, apparently, this is the Uncaged Edition. Was there ever a caged edition?
AFTER: I'm a little surprised at liking this. You can totally tell where they've had to cut corners to make the release date, which is a shame, because the base game is very satisfying. The lack of polish gives Wolverine an early-gen feel, at least presentation-wise, but the combat is this satisfying, who cares? I mean, lunge chaining. Come on. The first achievement popped 17 minutes in, I stuck around for the first boss.

Game 2: The Darkness 

BEFORE: Picked this one up really cheap recently. I've had it on my radar for some time, and the price got me down off the fence. I'm not huge on dark and brooding stuff, but I've heard there's supposed to be enough here to warrant a playthrough, at least on a level of game literacy. 
AFTER: There's something to this. It looks very good for a 2007 release, and the audio is very well done. I love Mike Patton's Darkness voice work, and the immersion factor that Starbreeze seem to put into all their games is stellar. I will be playing more of this. It took 10 minutes to get an achievement for pulling of an execution move, and roughly 15 more minutes to finish the first level. 

Game 3: Bayonetta

BEFORE: This might actually be sort of cheating. I've played the demo, and I've watched my brother play the first hour or so, so I guess the crazy Japaneseness of it won't hit me in the gut like it did the first time I saw it. Still, this'll be the first time I've actually played it myself. 
AFTER: I was wrong. The weird combination of gratuitous crotch and ass shots and western-world stereotypes set to a soundtrack of J-Pop elevator jazz still freaks me out a little. The combat is rock solid, though. Got my first achievement after 25 minutes for randomly jumping on an enemy and killing him. If I can only get over the excentricities, I'll finish this one day. 

Game 4: Battlefield Bad Company 2 

BEFORE: After finishing the first Bad Company, and, surprisingly, spending quite a bit of time with the multiplayer, I'm totally stoked for the sequel. Bring it on. 
AFTER: Now that's how you make a sequel. The guns feel and sound better, the enemy AI has been worked on, sprinting feels faster, and the overall control scheme is closer to Modern Warfare. Solid stuff. I made it through the prologue in 20 minutes for the first achievement. Can't write more, must get back to playing the game.

Backlog: Playing Catch-Up

I won't even pretend to have played every interesting game from last year. Or the previous couple of years, for that matter. I did play a fair amount, though - at least enough to make an informed game of the year top ten here on the site. Still, the Backlog battle rages on. I missed at least one key title that I now have in my possession, I just bought a few new games, and I've got some old games laying around, still in plastic. Sleeves are rolled up. 

Game 1: RACE Pro

BEFORE: This one's actually not even mine, which is a first for the Backlog series. I might have bought it if I didn't have a racing nut friend who got it for Christmas and decided to share the easy achievements love. This is supposed to be the poor man's Forza. Some of my best gaming memories from back in my Amiga days are of playing knock-offs of other classic games - now that I think about it, most original Amiga games probably were. 
AFTER: Wow, this is a pretty hardcore sim racer. Total old-school PC-style racing sim. The sound and visuals are nothing special, but the driving engine is pretty solid. I can't really see how this is supposed to compete with games like Forza 3 at retail, though. The first achievement popped four minutes in for completing the first tryout in career mode, and I stuck around for the first career race. I'll be mining this for achievements while catching up on podcasts. 

Game 2: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City 

BEFORE: The Ballad of Gay Tony popped up in a lot of GOTY lists last year, so that's the one I'm checking out first. I was pretty much done with GTA IV by the time I finished it, the final missions of that game felt like too much of a grind for me. Hopefully, Gay Tony will bring some fun back to Liberty City. 
AFTER: I must have spent a lot more time with GTA IV than I remembered. The setting and mechanics are instantly familiar. Deep, deep hooks here. Although the past two years haven't been too kind to the engine - the framerate was never that hot in the first place - I want to play this to completion right now. Played for an hour and 15 minutes before I scored an achievement playing golf. 

Game 3: Lost Odyssey 

BEFORE: I've never played a Final Fantasy game. I intend to play FFXIII when it comes out later this year, and Lost Odyssey should be a decent warm-up - if the JRPG conventions aren't immediately off-putting. I've warmed up to western RPGs lately, so let's see if Japan can do anything for me. 
AFTER: The opening sequence is stunning. An amazing CG cutscene turns into a fairly epic player-controlled battle sequence almost imperceptibly. The battle system seems manageable enough, with simple menus, nice animations and satisfying sound effects. I got the first achievement one hour in, way too early to say whether I'll stick with it all the way through four discs. I'm definitely intrigued, though. 

Game 4: Darksiders 

BEFORE: There wasn't much coverage of Darksiders leading up to its release, but the reviews have been mainly positive, so I decided to give it a try. Although most reviewers have complained about the game's derivative nature, I haven't played all of the games it derives its ideas from - that might be a good or a bad thing. 
AFTER: Well, that was rather intense. Buttonmashy combat, post-apocalyptic demonic cityscape that's just about cartoony enough to land on the cool side of scary, and some great voice work by Mark Hamill. Got my first achievement for dealing in demon souls after 45 minutes. I suspect it will take me a few more hours to get into the game proper, but so far it holds plenty promise.

Game 5: Oblivion

BEFORE: If nothing else, this should be a nice contrast to Lost Odyssey. Though I've enjoyed it, I haven't quite fallen into the clutch of Fallout 3 so far. I'm more well versed in the post-apocalyptic wasteland setting than traditional fantasy, but after hearing John Davison going on and on about Oblivion in the early days of the 1UP Yours podcast, I decided to pick up the GOTY edition and give it a go. 
AFTER: Pleasantly surprised. It's dated, for sure, but the world looks and feels really nice. Plenty of loot, plenty of character customization options. I intended to do as mr. Davison advised and play until I got out of the sewers, and just as I saw daylight for the first time, the first achievement popped. 50G, no less. I'd like to play more at some point, although with Mass Effect 2 coming out later this month, I can't see myself doing so anytime soon. 

Game 6: Earth Defense Force 2017 

BEFORE: This is supposed to be a B-movie game in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way. I don't know if I'm ready for this. I will not be playing for the first achievement. I checked, and that would require me to finish the game. 
AFTER: Everything you've heard is true. These aren't the production values you're looking for. I'm having fun, though. I really like the destructable buildings, a feature Red Faction: Guerilla also did well this year. I must have shot more skyscrapers than I shot giant alien ants during the first mission, which took me about 13 minutes to complete. I'll have to check out the co-op sometime.

Backlog: PS3 No Trophies Edition

These are the PS3 games in my backlog without trophies. The Wii backlog sessions went well, so there's no reason this will be any different. I suspect a few of these games are pretty decent, too. 
The format stays the same, I write up a couple of sentences of what I expect from the game, then play it for 10-30 minutes and report back on how it matches my expectations, whether I'm compelled to continue playing, and general impressions on the overall quality of the presentation. 

Game 1: Everybody's Golf World Tour 

BEFORE: This is called Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds in the US. I've never played a game in this series before, but I tend to like golf games in general. I can also get into anime-style graphics on occation, depending on my mood. Let's see what happens. 
AFTER: I played 18 holes, no tutorial, spent 27 minutes. I really like certain parts of the presentation, like the wacky voice clips and the arcade-style sound effects, but graphically this feels like a last-gen title. The gameplay is a lot of fun, though. I'll be back. 

Game 2: MotorStorm 

BEFORE: MotorStorm helped sell me on next-gen gaming. Looking at the screen of a PS3 kiosk at the local mall, I could hardly believe my eyes. I'd never seen dirt look that good. The PS3 was actually the last system that I bought when I got into gaming, and one of the titles I bought with it was MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. I've played that a lot, but I've never touched the original. 
AFTER: I don't care, I don't care, I don't care, I don't care how many racing games you've played, you don't finish first in your first-ever MotorStorm race. After placing 12th (dead last) and 9th in my two first go-arounds, I won three straight races. This is one amazing racer, and Rain God is an insanely amazing track. It's starting to show its age a bit, though. I definitely see how the sequel improved upon an already solid foundation. 

Game 3: Devil May Cry 4 

BEFORE: Hold on, making a sandwich. I remember something of a stink about this game having a hard drive install. Everybody's Golf also had a lengthy install, I can't seem to remember ever reading anything negative about that. Also, DMC4 is not a PS3 exclusive. This is somehow a bad thing. Controversy aside, I really don't know what to expect from this game. I own all of the DMC games, but I've never played any of them. I have played Bayonetta recently, though, and I've played through some of the God of War Collection, as well as the Dante's Inferno demo. I'm still a bit of a masher in all of those games, and I expect nothing different here. 
AFTER: This game could not be more Japanese. A hour in, half of it cutscenes and tutorials, I'm pretty happy with it. It looks and plays fine, I'll probably revisit this once I'm done with Bayonetta. 

Game 4: Lost Planet: Extreme Condition

BEFORE: I recently spent a couple of months listening through the 1UP Yours and EGM Live* podcast archives, and one of the more divisive games discussed on those podcasts was Lost Planet. Some people loved it, some people were indifferent to it (and on podcasts, that often sounds like they hate it), and some liked it up until the end - "bait and switch" was thrown around. Having played and somewhat enjoyed the Lost Planet 2 demo, I'm interested in playing this before the new game comes out. 
AFTER: For an early-gen game, this holds up pretty well. It's got that Capcom polish, all pretty anti-aliasing and post-processing. The explosions are nice, satisfying and plentiful. The Akrid give me an antlion vibe, which I like, and they're fun to shoot in their own right, although the shoulder button 90-degree turn system feels a little unfamiliar. Spent 45 minutes, want to keep playing. Didn't expect this game to grab me like this. 

Game 5: Heavenly Sword 

BEFORE: Goddess of War with an octopus on her head? Again, my podcast listening may have given me preconceptions about this title. I remember trying the demo for a few minutes shortly after getting my PS3, and it can't have left much of an impression, because all I remember thinking is "this is not for me." I may have whanged in the meantime, though. The Rebel FM Game Club were pretty positive about this, although you have to take impressions with a grain of salt when the game is played on a deadline. Trying to keep an open mind going in.
AFTER: Nariko is gorgeous. She may be the most well-realised video game character I've seen, at least in terms of graphics. As expected, the voice work and cutscenes in this game are excellent. It plays quite well, too. The stance fighting system allows for depth in simplicity. It still feels a bit mashy at times, and the framerate is spotty, but I have a strong feeling I'm going to finish this game. It grabbed me within the first 15 minutes, and held my attention for a full hour after that before I could put it down. Quality stuff. 

Game 6: Valkyria Chronicles

BEFORE: I've seen this game pop up in more than a few "unsung" lists. Not really sure what to expect apart from a distinct art style and turn-based RPG combat in an alternate WWII setting. 
AFTER: Methodical pacing. One hour in, lots of cute Japanese cutscenes, two fights. It feels pretty good so far, I'm guessing that the combat gets more tactical and involved once the campaign gets started proper. Love the art style, though. 

All told: I have many more games in my 360 shelf than my PS3 collection, but the overall quality is much higher on the Sony side. If I take a year off from my life, I might actually be able to play through all of these.

Backlog: Wii Overload Day Two

The Wii festival continues. 

Game 1: Battle of the Bands   


BEFORE: What happened to Planet Moon? From Giants: Citizen Kabuto to Battle of the Bands in eight years. Anyway, I bought this for cheap after hearing some of the outrageous cover versions in the game. If the gameplay is anything other than absolutely horrible, I might enjoy this.


AFTER: Hey, this game is not bad at all. It's not a marathon session kind of game, but it was fun for the 15 minutes I played it. The music is very well done. The next time I have my bandmates over, I'll bust out some marching band versions of Insane in the Brain and Blitzkrieg Bop.   

Game 2: Okami


BEFORE: This is supposed to be an absolute classic. Hit me.  

AFTER: Wow. For a PS2 game ported to the Wii, this one sure has some impressive visuals. This is how you make games stand out on the Wii. Nintendo's figured it out, but I haven't really seen many third party titles pull it off this well. 11:30 PM is kind of the wrong time to read 20 minutes worth of text and then play a tutorial for 40 minutes, but this game has me intrigued. I'd love to play some more of this. Still, what if it had HD graphics...   

Game 3: ANNO - Create a New World


BEFORE: City building in all varieties is a long-standing favorite of mine. From the first time I got to play Civilization on a friend's PC, I've been fascinated by taking on the role of benevolent deity. Making broad structural decisions or minute tweaks and everything in between for the good of the people, and then pulling back to watch it all unfold. Civilization Revolution rekindled my love for these games last summer, and I even spent an inordinate amount of time keeping my Keflings content about a year ago. I've heard good things about the ANNO series. 

AFTER: I'm impressed by the solid controls and streamlined interface. Not too far away from the aforementioned Keflings in tone and style, but serious enough in economy management to keep the grey cells working. Just about half an hour in, I can already tell I'm going to enjoy this, and I hope my kids will grow to like it, too.   

Game 4: Pikmin 2


BEFORE: After hearing a lot of positive things about them, I picked up the New Play Control versions of both Pikmin games when they came out. From what I can tell, Pikmin 2 is in many ways a refined version of the first game, so I'm skipping straight to that one for the purpose of this Backlog. Apparently, Miyamoto's concept for this game grew out of his love for gardening. I'm not crazy about gardening, but I'm rather partial to Shiggy's games. 

AFTER: About half an hour in, one Duracell battery collected. A pretty slow-paced game so far, I'm sure it will ramp up in pace and complexity over the duration. I like the controls. This might be a good "My First RTS" for the kids.   

Game 5: Little King's Story


BEFORE: Pikmin with city building elements? Let's see. 

AFTER: Enough with the gibberish, already! It's plenty adorable, but I can see the unskippable lines of dialogue becoming a problem in the long run. Also not a fan of the archaic save system. Only 20 minutes in, though, so it's too early to tell, but I think this will be a mixed bag.   

Game 6: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10


BEFORE: Of course the guy sleeps around. He's a star. He's also one amazing golfer, and this game promises the closest approximation of the sport on any console yet. I bought this with the bundled Motion Plus the day it came out, but I haven't gotten around to playing it yet. For shame. 

AFTER: The graphics scale pretty well to my HD set. Although it doesn't look as sharp as its 360 or PS3 counterparts, the controls elevate it to a league of its own. I'm having people over for New Year's. We might be playing this.   


Game 7: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

My brother is a Zelda nut. He played the hell out of Ocarina on the N64, and the first thing he did when he bought his Wii was play through Twilight Princess. I own most of the Zelda games, but this will be my first experience actually playing one. Again, for shame. 
AFTER: I tried so hard to be angry with this game for the first hour. After playing through Assassin's Creed 2, Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum this fall, the pacing, controls and the lack of direction here seemed antiquated and stiff to me. But there's something here; a huge heart, some kind of magic. It grew on me tremendously. Unable to put it down, I played through the first two hours, and I'm planning on playing through the next 38 or so before 2009 is over.

Backlog: Wii Overload Day One

Apart from a little bit of New Super Mario Bros and the odd level of Rabbids Go Home, the Wii under my TV hasn't been getting much attention lately. Buying a Wii was what got me back into gaming two years ago, and though my Xbox 360 is by far my most played console, I've been quietly accruing games with the signature white covers anyway. I've currently got a pile on my coffee table of about 20 Wii games that I haven't yet touched, a few potential classics among them. 
For the previous backlog sessions I've done, the length of each game impression has been governed by achievements or trophies. Since there's no such thing on the Wii, I'm going to have to go by my gut. This might actually work out. 


Game 1: No More Heroes 

BEFORE: I intentionally picked a game that I'm somewhat in the dark about to start out with. I've read and heard so much about the strengths and flaws of this game that I really don't know how to expect. Action on the Wii? Not so sure about that. Quirky Japanese semi-pedo sex jokes? We'll see. 
AFTER: Played through the tutorial, beat the first boss, took about 30 minutes. This game is weird. The combat is extremely satisfying, with great sound design and rewards flying everywhere. The voice acting is hilariously over-the-top and totally Japanese, as is pulling your pants down to save on the toilet. And an after-boss cutscene where the petite agency girl you're talking to keeps her ass in your face most of the time. As I'm writing this the awesome J-Pop tune "Heavenly Star" video is playing on Travis' TV. The graphics are pretty terrible technically, the camera is last-gen wonky, and the framerate stutters a little too much, but all these negatives don't matter to me so far. I really want to get deeper into this.  Also, did I mention that it's weird? It's weird. 

Game 2: Samba De Amigo 

BEFORE: I have a Dreamcast, and Samba De Amigo seems to be one of the must-have titles for that console, though I can't be bothered to track down the original game with the maracas controllers. I pulled the Wii version out of the bottom of a bargain bin at a ridiculous price. The word around town is that the controls are pretty terrible. Let's find out. 
AFTER: Played through the basic tutorial and the first career challenge, about 20 minutes. Samba de Janeiro is still an amazing track. And, surprisingly, so is Smooth. They would be a lot of fun to play if the controls were reliable, which they aren't. Regular maraca shaking seems fine as long as you don't get too into the music and dance around too much, but as soon as dance moves and posing comes into the picture, accuracy suffers, taking the fun away. I love the idea and presentation, though. This should be a Natal launch title. 

Game 3: Order Up 

BEFORE: I seem to remember hearing positive things about this on some podcast. That's not much to go by, but enough to make me pick this up, it seems. I've never played a cooking game.
AFTER: Okay, I see how someone could like this. It doesn't seem to be for me, though. The tutorial overstays its welcome and some transitions are a bit on the annoying side, lenght-wise. Played tutorial and finished my first day as a diner chef. The cooking minigames are pretty fun, nothing special, though. The audio quality seems pretty terrible. It's for kids, I guess. 

Game 4: Klonoa

BEFORE: High expectations for this one, what with people all over the internet waxing nostalgic about the qualities of the PS1 original. 
AFTER: Yep, this sure is one late nineties platformer. The basic mechanics seem solid, and the presentation is colorful and jolly. I can't help thinking that I'd love to see it in HD, though. Will play more, I'm sure my son will adore this game if given the chance. Played through the first stage... er, vision. Ten minutes. 

Game 5: Super Paper Mario

BEFORE: Having played a fair chunk of the original N64 Paper Mario, my expectations for this game are pretty high. Should be equal parts platformer and light RPG, by what I've read. 
AFTER: Played for 30 minutes, end of chapter 1-1. The intro felt a bit long, but I guess that's what you get for playing five tutorials in a row. Awesome music, great writing, and nice little nods to Mario's 8-bit roots. I'm sure this game will take a while to play through, but I'm putting it on my list of must-finish games for 2010. 

Game 6: Resident Evil 4

BEFORE: A few weeks ago I played through RE5 in co-op with my brother. I liked it. How jarring will this supposed downgrade be? 
AFTER: Spent 40 minutes. It's Resident Evil with last-gen graphics. As expected, the game is about shooting zombies in the head and collecting the gold that they leave behind, and those parts are as satisfying as ever. The atmosphere is great, too. I doubt I have it in me to finish this, though. 

Game 7: Mercury Meltdown Revolution

BEFORE: Impulse bargain buy, the concept seems to be perfect for the Wii. 
AFTER: Nice Commodore throwback loading screen. Nice music. The game seems well thought out, but at this stage iPhone would probably be a better fit. Spent 10 minutes. 

Game 8: WarioWare: Smooth Moves 

BEFORE: I actually bought this with my Wii two years ago, opened it, put it in the console, played it for all of three minutes before I rushed back to the store to return it. I failed to make heads or tails of it at the time, maybe things will be different now that I'm a little more gaming literate. 
AFTER: Played for about 20 minutes. I think I get it now, I just don't see myself spending hours upon hours with this game. It's delightful in its totally Japanere, quirky manner, but when you have three seconds to point the Wiimote at a specific point on the screen and the sensor fails to pick up, it gets annoying quickly. I have no history with the franchise, maybe that's why I don't get the reviews it received back in the day. 

Game 9: Super Smash Bros. Brawl

BEFORE: No history with Super Smash Bros. No idea what to expect. 
AFTER: I played the first two stages of the "Subspace Emissary" story mode, and I really enjoyed it. Still fumbling a bit with the controls, but the action is fast, frantic and satisfying. I recognise the fact that half of the Nintendo callbacks and references go over my head, but I'm happy at the ones I do catch, like Mario's different special moves. Wow, this is a quality product. Need to play more.

Backlog: Old And New

A couple of games picked up on the cheap, and a couple of brand new titles. 

Game 1: Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X 

BEFORE: This came out during a pretty slow period and got decent reviews. I grabbed the demo off the XBL Marketplace back then, but only just recently got around to trying it out. I did not expect to like it as much as I did. 
AFTER: Not having to play the tutorial again is a very good thing. This game throws you right into the action, and it's the immediate feeling of being a badass fighter pilot that sells me on it. I don't foresee immense staying power, but it's going to be fun popping this in every so often to tear up the skies. The first achievement took 16 minutes, I stayed on for another 15 for a total of 20G.

Game 2: Guitar Hero Aerosmith 

BEFORE: I like Aerosmith. They tend to make pretty good rock songs. That being said, I would never have bought this at full price. Let's see what they've got. 
AFTER: Whoa, four achievements for 65G in the first song, 5:50 after pressing start. I'm a little surprised that the first song wasn't an actual Aerosmith song, though Dream Police by Cheap Trick is a great power pop number all the same. I'm not as jaded as a lot of people seem to be when it comes to music games, and for €5, this is a pretty sweet track pack on the cheap. Although the presentation seems alright, it's pretty sad when compared to Rock Band: The Beatles. 

Game 3: Guitar Hero World Tour 

BEFORE: In the great band game showdown of fall 2008, I went with Rock Band 2. Actually, I waited for the instrument bundle to get cheaper and then picked up RB 1 and 2 + instruments for a reasonable package price. Although Rock Band may be way ahead of the Guitar Hero series in quality, this game should prove a great value at €5. 
AFTER: Meh. I can't complain about the value, but having played the Rock Band series quite a bit, the gameplay and presentation feel pretty bland and uninspired. At least the track list holds the promies of a Steely Dan tune. It took 4:50 to get the first achievement, for naming and designing the logo for my custom band. I stuck around for three songs, barely missing the 1000 note streak on Beat It.

Game 4: Left 4 Dead 2 

BEFORE: I really liked the original Left 4 Dead, and played that a lot last year. Less story, more atmosphere, and truly inspired co-op play made the game stand out in an increasingly crowded console shooter market. The sequel was my birthday present to myself this year, and I'm expecting great things. 
AFTER: About an hour. Played a bunch of the first campaign, but there are no fast and easy achievements there. Jumped into Scavenge and picked up a victory straight away for an achievement. Will be playing Scavenge with friends if I can convince people I know to buy the game. 

Game 5: Assassin's Creed 2 

BEFORE: The original Assassin's Creed might have been rated higher by reviewers if they didn't have to play through it with a looming deadline. I played it stretched over a couple of weeks, and enjoyed the basic mechanics so much that I really didn't mind the repetitive nature of the missions. Also, I find it hilariously meta how its repetition keeps coming up in the press. After a great showing at the Sony E3 press conference, my hopes are set sky high for this one. 
AFTER: A very, very high quality product, right down to the achievements. The early ones are fast and easy, just like they should be to get you hooked on the game in multiple ways. 20G after five minutes, 20 more after ten, and a further 20 after fifteen. I like that. The most apparent upgrade here is the graphics, but it soon becomes evident that the structure and gameplay have been vastly improved as well. I will be playing more of this as soon as possible. 

Game 6: Overlord II 

BEFORE: Dungeon Keeper was a favorite of mine back in my PC days, and Overlord's seeming similarity to the venerable Bullfrog franchise had me intrigued, just not quite enough to make a purchase. Finding the sequel at the bargain price of €10 finally pushed me over the edge. Don't know quite what to expect. 
AFTER: Charming, if technically inconsistent. First achievement for creating chaos in the village eleven minutes out. I stuck around for about half an hour more, it got progressively more interesting. I'm intrigued, but I can't see myself spending a lot of time with this over Assassin's Creed 2 or any other game I've bought this fall.

Backlog: Not Really Edition

So, a couple of games that I already have for the PS3, one game I barely popped in my 360 before I returned it last year, and a few brand new ones I have high expectations for. 

Game 1: Borderlands

BEFORE: This is one of the games I'm expecting to enjoy, based on reviews, quick looks and Jeff Gerstmann's obsession over it. Going for a soldier right off the bat.
AFTER: I really like the art style, absolutely loved the intro. Great music. I like my pistol better than my machine gun so far. Loot is fun, I wanted to continue playing when the first achievement popped 26 minutes in. 

Game 2: Forza Motorsport 3 

BEFORE: Forza 2 turned me on to simulation racers, and based on the demo for Forza 3, this is going to be class. 
AFTER: Oooooooohhh this game is tough to put down. Got the first achievement for jumping 5 meters nine minutes in, and that's including the optional install. Just had to try a few more races with my first F-class car, and racing a Yaris has never been more fun. This is going to last me a while. 

Game 3: Alone in the Dark

BEFORE: This is gonna be brutal. Based on reviews, this is at best interesting but severely flawed. Practically got it for free, have to see for myself. 
AFTER: There is no "after." I quit before I got an achievement. This is a real stinker. Horrible controls, clipping all over the place, cheap deaths abound. I'm removing this from my played list and throwing it Gamestop's way ASAP. 

Game 4: Midnight Club Los Angeles.

BEFORE: I'm cheating a little here. I actually bought this last fall and played it for about an hour. It felt kind of weird after coming off 250+ hours of Burnout Paradise, so I gave up on it and traded it in. Found the Complete Edition on sale and decided to give it another go. 
AFTER: What was I thinking? This game is awesome. I could have used a higher framerate, but zooming around LA in first person with Snoop on the radio is pretty sweet. I got pulled over and burned rubber as soon as the officer got out of his car. There's an achievement for that. 24 minutes. 

Game 5: Mirror's Edge

BEFORE: I've already played and finished this on PS3, I'm expecting this to be pretty much the same. 
AFTER: Tutorial level complete, 7:35 in. I still love the atmosphere in this game. The controls feel pretty OK, though I might prefer the bigger shoulder buttons on the DualShock. I'll probably finish this a second time on the 360. 

Game 6: Unreal Tournament III

BEFORE: This is another one I have on the PS3, but I picked it up real cheap and wanted to see how it feels on Xbox Live. 
AFTER: 6:17, "Lock and Load." A little more pop-in than I remember from the PS3. I play better with the Xbox controller. 

Game 7: Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time

BEFORE: I've been playing through the Ratchet series with my son the past few weeks. This is supposed to be the best of the bunch, and I'm excited. 
AFTER: 15 minutes, first trophy, and I can already tell this is going to be a great one. Ratchet & Clank on the PS3 is what I expected games to be like in the far-flung future when all I played was platformers on my Amiga. The production values are sky high. My son's gonna be thrilled, too.

Game 8: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night 

BEFORE: For Xbox Live Arcade games, I usually play the trial version up until I get the first achievement, then I buy the full version and cash in. This game I bought on a whim while looking through the XBLA titles. It feels a little wrong to be playing this after completing Shadow Complex, but I guess it's never too late to brush up on your gaming history. 
AFTER: I'm guessing the VO recording budget didn't break any industry records. I love the music, though. This game must have been pretty ground-breaking at the time. "Rampage" unlocked seven minutes in. Lost all my stuff. Need to pick this up again ASAP.

Backlog: Fall Clearance 2

Got a mother lode of 360 games in the mail this past week, most of them look pretty promising. After finishing the single player in Uncharted 2 and messing about a fair bit in multiplayer, I'm ready for some backlog stuff again.

Game 1: Tom Clancy's EndWar 


 BEFORE: Don't know what to expect here, to be honest. My experience with RTS games is limited, but this one promises a fresh take on it, anyway. The reviews were generally on the good side, but there wasn't really a crazy amount of buzz. 

AFTER: The first achievement popped four minutes in, that was pretty quick. The voice command tutorial seemed to work well enough that I just had to play the first few missions to see if it held up in the field. Three missions in, feels pretty solid so far. Seems kinda easy, though.

Game 2: Resident Evil 5


 BEFORE: I bought two copies of this game and gave one of them to my brother, since I've heard that co-op is the way to go. I'm a Resident Evil virgin, so this is going to be a new experience. The focus on co-op is apparent in the opening menus, I'm doing this session alone, though. 

AFTER: Whoa, this game is... different. I needed 45 minutes and three continues to beat mission 1_1 on Normal and get the first achievement. The controls felt very slow compared to other shooters I've played, but popping zombies in the head and collecting gold got really satisfyting once I got over the hump. Can't wait to play this in co-op now. Also, after playing through Uncharted 2, the voice work and animation in the cutscenes here don't hold up.  

Game 3: 50 Cent Blood on the Sand 

BEFORE: This should be quite a contrast to RE5. 50's quoting Eminem in the opening screen track. I played and liked The Club, I should be able to have some fun with this. Expecting ridiculousness and lots of it.
AFTER: Even more ridiculous than expected. Wild and crazy arcade-style effects and a pretty good tempo to the shooting. Way fun. It's pretty good with the achievements too, the first one (for a successful melee attack) popped near the 6-minute mark, and another 30 minutes yielded a bunch more. Could not put this down right away.  

Game 4: Mortal Kombat VS DC Universe 

BEFORE: Fighting games was one of the genres I didn't foresee myself getting into when I started playing games again a few years ago. I'm also more familiar with the DC Universe than Mortal Kombat, so this should be interesting. I've heard good things. 
AFTER: Jumped straight into arcade mode with Scorpion, mixed opponents. Got two achievements in the first match, one for Free Fall Transition and one for Klose Kombat, both worth 25G. Pretty generous. I'm seeing some cool moves here, this should be fun once I get my Hori stick out and learn the finishers. 

Game 5: Bionic Commando 

BEFORE: There were a few things said about this game when it was released that kept me from buying it at full price, mainly about the collectables. I love collectables when they're done right. When they're not done right, they become an annoyance. I also tried the multiplayer demo, and it left me indifferent. I'm totally willing to give this a try at this price, though. Not expecting too much. 
AFTER: Damn, the Grin guys put their logo in the intro cutscenes. Clevery done. This could have used some more polish. Combat feels pretty goot, though. Not quite 10 minutes, finished the first challenge for 5G. I'm gonna have to play through this one later, though I'm already aware of the idiotic twist. 

Game 6: F.E.A.R. 2 Project Origin

BEFORE: Playing this as the last game before I hit the sack at 2:45 AM may not be the greatest idea. I tried the demo for this game when it came out, it seemed OK to me. Not enough to warrand a full-price purchase, though. 
AFTER: Bad idea for sure. I spent the better part of 40 minutes trying to finish the first mission because I missed the instructions and I couldn't find them again. This game look pretty. The atmosphere is almost tangible, and there are even some scary parts in there. Shooting seems solid, too. Should make for an interesting diversion someday, though I've got a feeling that once November rolls around, I won't have room for any other shooters than the obvious one.

Backlog: Fall Clearance 1

With the advent of the US holiday season, big games are coming out, and the big games of yesteryear (or even from last month) are dumped into bargain bins by the dozen. With FIFA 10 and NHL 10 in the house and already on my gamercard, it's time to get an overview of the other games I've picked up over the past few months, backlog style. 

Game 1: Katamari Forever

BEFORE: The Katamari series has been intrigueing to me for some time, maybe more so because the original isn't available here in Europe unless you get time-consumingly creative. I've played Beautiful Katamari only briefly on my 360, but I have it on pretty good authority that Forever is a much better starting point for a curious newbie. 
AFTER: Loving the intro and the tutorial - oh! First trophy already 4:56 after pressing start. Need to play five minutes more. The audio is amazing, especially the vocoder bits. 

Game 2: Halo Wars

BEFORE: Lately, I've been getting into a bit of strategy. I've always had a thing for turn-based games like Civilization, but lately I've played a bunch of tower defense games, as well as the League of Legends beta. To my surprise, I've really enjoyed it. I picked up a discounted copy of Halo Wars along with ODST, and I'm actually more excited to play this one. Jumping straight into the tutorial. 
AFTER: Just shy of the half-hour mark, achievement for completing the first mission. This seems like a pretty satisfying action RTS, need to play more. The CG story sections look great.

Game 3: Sonic Unleashed

BEFORE: I've read the reviews. I know it's supposed to be horrible. After playing the demo with my 4-year-old, I decided to pick it up on the cheap. 
AFTER: 40 minutes in, first achievement for leveling up my werehog's combat skills to 5. I can see how reviewers would hate having to play through this for review. The werehog sections aren't totally awful, just a little bland, gameplay-wise. The daytime stages are stronger, though it sucks when you lose momentum. It's a kids game, and I bet my kids are gonna love it. 

Game 4: Halo 3 ODST

BEFORE: I'm not the biggest Halo fan, but after 40 minutes of Sonic, I'm reasonably psyched to play ODST. Seeing as this is a North American game, the achievements should be more sensibly distributed here. 
AFTER: 8 minutes, "Heal Up." Ominous atmosphere, solid combat. This is my kind of Halo game, I would very much like to continue playing this right now. Pressing on, though. 

Game 5: NBA Street Homecourt

BEFORE: I bought this game on sale on the strength of FIFA Street, which I enjoyed for what it was. This should be a comparative experience.
AFTER: Wow, that took longer than expected. I had to consult an achievement guide and play three games before getting this down. If I didn't suck so much, I might have had the achievement come naturally. 45 minutes, two achievements at once for 100G. Apparently, this game's got some easy ones. NBA Street seems to have more personality than FIFA. Really digging the music. 

Game 6: Marvel Ultimate Alliance

BEFORE: Reviews for MUA 2 were fairly good, though most of them expressed a preference for the original MUA. I've been a little interested in this game for a long time, and the arrival of the sequel finally pushed me over the edge. 
AFTER: Excellent intro cutscene. Now for some gameplay. OK, I killed 5 guys pretty quickly and got the "Fledgling Hero" achievement after 7:24. How come I haven't played this before, though? Sure, it you can tell that it's an early 360 game, but it still feels great. 
There's a bunch more bargain bin games incoming, including Resident Evil 5, Bionic Commando, FEAR 2, MK vs. DC, EndWar and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. The next backlog session's gonna be meaty.
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