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What I did during the holidays blog v.2011

Howdy, howdy, howdy. I thought I’d make a positive start to my first blog of the year and, heh, this update is going to be a long, vain boast of my regular gaming endeavours since you may or may not of last heard from me.

2011 was a fairly jam packed year for gaming. It has been a while where the I would genuinely want to play and experience over a dozen of release over the autumn and Christmas period in the year with the likes of Uncharted 3, Battlefield 3 and Saints Row 3 dominating my time shortly after their launch dates in Europe. Lots of three, yet somehow all managing to be better or atleast equal to the earlier two and one versions in their respective franchises. I won’t go much further on any of these games because you’ve heard atleast a million things about all of them before me and Battlefield 3 versus Modern Warfare 3 alone could cost me too much time while I’m writing this.

360 box art (cropped)
360 box art (cropped)

At the sametime I’ve only just began experiencing games like Alice: Madness Returns , Shadows of the Damned and Driver San Francisco. The first, I’ve literally only made a start on now. I’ve probably put in only a hour’s worth of gameplay into Alice but I intend to mammoth it once I’ve finished a few other games in my backlog. Shadows of the Damned on the otherhand, maybe one of the most under-rated of this year’s releases, is typically awesome of a Shinji Mikami game, dozed with the artistic genius from the equally as talented Suda 51. It plays like Resident Evil 4, which I dug immediately, but has it’s own edge. I’m not sure as of yet where the hate derives from in this game: it visually looks solid, the writing is comical and the action is tight so perhaps the worse elements that have been omened will prop up later on. I am presently at the beginning of act 3, I believe I have a long ways off to play yet even so. Driver San Francisco, which I forgot to comment on originally as I published this blog, definitely had some interesting ideas of it's own, particularly the morphing ability that allows you to zap into any car in the city.

I also got the chance to play id Software's newest property, RAGE. It is a surprisingly long title, with my record clocking in at atleast eighteen hours gametime, a couple of which I spent additionally in the co-op and competitive lobbies in the game. For the most part, it is typical territory for the Doom developers who bulge out a ballsy first person shooter in RAGE, with heavy but comfortable controls, similar to Killzone 2 perhaps. It also features some simple loot and item creation system, vehicle sequences and various minigames that makes a welcome addition to the combat and gameplay. The technology of id Tech 5, the newest engine used by Carmack's company, is impressive, and pop-up aside, looks luscious on the Playstation 3, running smoothly at 60 frames per second and in 720p native, for the most part. It is a rarity in most releases to have that standard of visual quality out of a game, especially an FPS.

360 box art (cropped)
360 box art (cropped)

The technology does have a few less so desirable traits although. I hated the length of RAGE’s loadtimes and they can often make you wait a minute before the section has loaded. Fortunately, the levels are large and thus loadtimes aren’t quite as consistent or even pointless, as in Duke Nukem Forever but it can border in that territory if you die often in one section or need to complete the racing tasks as I set out to do in my playthrough. They were less so fun because it nudgingly felt that id Software didn’t know how to make a car game, especially based on how poor the level design was at times, it was an issue in Doom 3 also. I’ll have to save it for another time but to keep a long story short, RAGE drifts into different, less so memorable territory by the half-way point. Subway Town in particular felt like a stapled on area to help push the game to a narrative conclusion as the game takes more than a different feel upon the sudden departure to it.

Swiftly moving on, I think I should bring attention to games I finally decided to get a crack on with. About a month ago I FINALLY finished Bioshock 2 on Playstation 3, and I’m sort of surprised I did because this was all within the process of a week as opposed to slugging through it like I would with a JRPG. Still, it was difficult to avoid the fact that Bioshock 2 wasn’t all that different from the first game. It recycled a great deal of the content and lacked the same gripping story or character development as it’s predecessor. It is clear 2K Marin did their best but whereas I admired Ryan and liked how he was unravelled as the Caesar of Rapture in Bioshock 1, I absolutely detested Lamb in Bioshock 2, a character who had never been mentioned up until that point, who’s philosophical ramblings wanted me to choke her to death all through the campaign! She was a miserable cow with a rather deluded reason for being as such, thus I lacked sympathy for her. I think Bioshock 2 does work on a few levels though. It heavily improves on the controls and interface of the first Bioshock, being much more convenient in that plasmids and weapons can be used at the sametime. I like even more how this is adopted into the multiplayer, which actually isn’t half bad despite the initial concerns I had against it.

No Caption Provided

I’m also presently in the process of playing Mafia 2 again on Playstation 3. I first played this game on PC but lost my saves for it about a year ago, I was close to the end of the game on Chapter 13 too. I love Mafia 2 and I'm not even sure why, it is a sandbox driven game but pulled together by one hell of a strict narrative. Mafia 2 itself does have a much tighter set of controls than it's competitors, it has a wonderful score and atmospheric cinematic presentation, equivilent to the mobster films it is based on. It has a much deeper place in my memory than your average Grand Theft Auto clone. This is all very unlike the first Mafia, which I interpreted no further than as an overbloated tech demo, don't hate me for thinking like that - it always found to be shallow. Speaking of shallow, the butchered PS3 port of Mafia 2 has a rather colourful history of it’s own, something I reckon I should write up on when I feel the urge to. We'll leave that for another time.

I'd like to conclude this blog by mentioning a couple of Wii games that I've been finishing up on. I always have the best intentions of playing on the Nintendo Wii, like most people, although I’ve simply never found the courage to play on it. Wario Land Shake Dimension is a game I probably picked up long ago in late 2009 and for whatever reason never got round to full playing and enjoying it, which is a shame because now I’m going through it I realise how much of a gratifying experience it is to play, both from an artistic perspective with it’s hand-drawn art and from a fan of 16/32 bit platformers. This comes around the time of Rayman Origins which now is doing exactly the same thing only for the HD machines. Similarly, another game I’ve found myself wrapping up on has been Mushroom Men: Spore Wars, which again, is a mesmerising game visually and harks back to a previous time when platformers were large, sometime literally. It has huge levels that beg to be explored, secrets that obscurely dig in areas that remain to be found and a funny gibberish based languages that only the in-game cast would understand. I feel like a ten year old again. The best thing about it has to be the soundtrack by Primus. Serious, Les Claypool provided the game's soundtrack. Here is his band's best song, I hope you agree:

Puff Tijuana kids and Shake hands with beef :D

Well I guess that summarises my exploits. Please feel free to post nasty comments or whatever else you folks like to do.



Cloud Gaming Huh? (56k Warning)

Recently I obtained an Onlive Micro-console. If you don't know what it is, Onlive is an internet streamed method of playing video games - a very progressive area in home entertainment. There are few loadtimes, no need for installs and save storage is no longer an issue. Anyway, as the service saw it's launch here in the United Kingdom recently there had been a number of promotions ranging from £1 introductory games to the pre-order bonus that is the micro-console I am presenting in this blog. Wonder what game I preordered? It was Saints Row 3.

No Caption Provided

So firstly, the shipping. Although my Onlive console was technically free because of the Saints Row 3 pre-order, the shipping costs were not. It cost me £6 to have the machine sent however it was handled with care: the box was padded strongly with cardboard, with courier service courtesy of DPD. Needless to say, there was barely a dent even on the packaging and that says alot to me. As for the micro-console, it has some of the flashest packaging I've ever seen out of a gadget. The entire box has a glossy look, with the swirly patterns featuring a stronger matt finish. I like the look of it as it appears to be very elegant with it's simple yet affirmative design - much like the product itself.

No Caption Provided

The interior of this savvy device opens up like a shoebox. What you see above is simply the top half of the design as it pops up like so. Here we see the snuggly fit controller and console, and believe me, they're snuggly fit. Unfortunately they do have the same black reflective plastic that PS3 owners might be familiar with as smudge magnets and the photo might show that already as I smothered my greasy paws on the controller. It was worth it. As you can see, the console's logo makes a sleek cameo on the side again. Although I didn't take photos, underneath the board that fits the controller and console there are the cables necessary to hook the device up. I'm sure you'd imagine how they'd work anyway.

No Caption Provided

So the controller of the Onlive was the major draw to me when I purchased the console. You can actually plug-in a keyboard and mouse, aswell as an Xbox 360 controller into the Onlive console as far as I understand but given I already have a PC and an Xbox for both of these, I found it a little irrelevant - especially as I hate the Xbox controller. The Onlive controller is like a cross between Sony and Microsoft's designs. You can see that the face buttons bulge out like on the 360 controller however there are bumbers aswell as triggers for the shoulders. Despite this, the thumbstick layout is the same as on a Dualshock 3, as is the d-pad and the home button.

No Caption Provided

It's an ergonomic controller and I like how the joysticks warp like a radar dish because I dig my thumbs in easier this way. The triggers also don't feel like they trap as on Xbox 360, or squeak even, they simply click and have notably better pressure sensitivity to their design. The start, select buttons are small and out of the way, the guide button is also tiny and needs a good push before the switch is pressed - I prefer it this way too. I will say though the D-Pad is disappointingly stiff and the battery bulge, given this a wireless controller, it just as big as on the Xbox controller. Yet the Onlive Micro-Console includes both a rechargable controller pack AND a pair of batteries with a cover to give the option for the lighter, but less enduring option anyway. The media panel below I can only guess has use on videos via Onlive, which don't provide much aside from Gametrailers, atleast at present.

No Caption Provided

And finally the console itself. As you can see, it's compact, fairly lightweight although actually can get pretty warm when in action. It's best comparable to a media hub or external drive yet somehow more sophisticated. The photo was shot at an odd angle but you should be able to see that there a ethernet port, a HDMI slot, an Optical Out port, a 3.5 jack slot for the audio and another for the power cable - which, not surprisingly, has an external power brick. There is finally a tiny AV slot which I assume can be used if you want to play in composite or component. On the front, there are two USB slots which as suggested earlier can be used for anysort of controller supported by Onlive.

No Caption Provided

Well that's your lot. I only wanted to do a quick hands-on of what I got in the box. I can happily report that in 1080i, the device plays wonderfully with Deus Ex Human Revolution and I'm looking forward to playing Saints Row 3 when it is released for it. I may eventually subscribe to the playpack bundle but we'll see how it goes. As you can see in the photo above, I got Super Meat Boy. It's really good and it came with a T-Shirt too!

Until next time...

Oh, I almost forgot, see this game here?

No Caption Provided

It didn't cost me £100. It cost me £10

You look hard enough and you'll find rare games cheap anywhere.

Thanks for reading!



An Update?

I guess I should swing one around, so here we go.

1) Duke Nukem Forever (PC)

I'm nearly at the end of this one, I bought the Balls of Steel edition for £30 and it seems to have remained the same price since I bought it close to a month ago. I have to say the hate is undeserved for Duke Nukem Forever. If you know me well, you'd probably expect such an analysis - I have a taste for mediocrity, as my interest in budget games might of shown in the past, yet I didn't get that vibe with DNF. I like that it stuck it's foot in the old school platforming and puzzle elements of a first person shooter, a feature strangley absent in most games of it's type. In general, the design and humour of the game pays homage to the original in many ways too with many comical pop-culture references the series is famous for. Certainly the visual and presentation quirks are something that leave more to be desired and there are a few technical shortcomings from the engine in that the levels are perhaps a little too compact and spread out between lengthy loadtimes. Although I look positively at the variety and scope of the weapons, the pacing and the general depth of interactivity correspondent in Duke's world. These all make it above average as far as I'm concerned. I will probably give a full verdict once I've completed the game.

2) Brink (PC)

If you didn't know, recently there had been a free DLC update and a weekend trial for Brink available on Steam. I believe the DLC is also available freely on other platforms, as I recall seeing it on PSN of no charge. This is yet another first person shooter that has seen a somewhat aggravated responses from fans and critics, which arguably is deserved. What gets me is how demanding the game actually is. I haven't a powerful computer by any stretch of the imagination, but I tell you now, my PC happily executes Crysis 2 on hardcore settings - playing Brink shouldn't be a problem. Yet weirdly the game runs around 10-15FPS on default settings. Now bearing in mind Brink runs on a seven year old engine, this is unacceptable. Fortunately I found a work around by disabling the shadows and ambient effects which greatly enhanced my frame-rate. Brink is a multiplayer centric shooter like Splash Damage's previous game, Quake Wars. The levels on Brink are laid out on class specific objectives with sizeable upgrades offered  through character growth and customisation. The story is told via in-game cinematics before each level. I dig the parkour elements to Brink's gameplay. Mirror's Edge and Crysis show exactly what these manouvers add to a shooter in terms of accessibility and fluidity in combat, Brink coins in on those qualities quite boldly. The objective wheel and buff system are also flawelessly intergrated into the game - providing a points incentive to make players work tactically. Brink was reportedly said to have lag issues also but this wasn't an apparent issue for me. Maybe the lag has now been fixed. Whatever the case, I'm curious if the game is worth it's admission. It's fun, don't get me wrong, but lacking in any true depth. I'll go into more detail on this perhaps another time.

3) Ivy the Kiwi? (Wii)

I actually finished this game last night. It is a delightful and original 2D platformer by Yuji Naka's new development team, Prope. One of the reasons I love playing games on the Wii is that you come across the most creative and unique games of this generation of gaming only on that machine, atleast at home anyway. I've purposely avoided many new releases on 360 and PS3, despite the praise they might have, because I simply don't want another matured rated Gears clone on my shelf or have an experience dominated by flippant online functionalities. Ivy the Kiwi? is a classic though. The art style plays on the cutesy look of the previously successful Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island but your character is controlled only through your manipulation of the vines in the environment. The result makes for a simple but gradually difficult game. Towards stages 8,9,10 I found myself raging a number of times I had to start from scratch on a level in order to obtain all the hidden feathers in the game. Although something tells me the game was intended mostly for portable devices, and I have a number of nitpicks about the way Prope designed the interface and rules of play I think I can safely assure platforming fans, or even those casually intrigued by puzzle elements in games, that this one is worth checking out.
And so this concludes today's blog... Hopefully I'm capable of producing some more original content rather than copying and pasting whatever I've written for Gamespot. It's amazing to think how much I've contradicted my old bio on Giant Bomb. I think a change is in order.
On second thought, screw that.  
Thanks for reading.


Video Games: Changing For the Better Or For The Worse?

Selling video games is an odd business, and in recent years it has become perhaps its most unusual in all of its history. Where the old terms of better graphics and more high tech conponements meant the difference in winning a console war or not a few generations ago, today, it is all down to innovation that makes games and systems sell. An example of this would be the optomistic Wii, which has been changing everyones perspective on gaming for the last year or so it has been in business. Problem is, it is because of the Wii, the job of selling games has become a much harder task, especially for eastern game producers. How does a strategy work for everyone in gaming? How can games be altered to suit all audiences world wide rather than just one?

Back in the past, games were almost completely changed for the western audience when this question arised. Take Contra for example, the game was shaped into almost a different game when it was released as "Probotector" in Europe. The design was changed almost everywhere on everything! Interestingly enough too, into robots! Another example is the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. Both of these had scenes of kissing and romance cut out as well as a few references due to the audiences Square were working with over in America. We as gamers, we're too serious and edgey about the content in our games, and with Japanese audiences being mainly open about subjects we darn not to discuss, we sadly missed out on key features and devices in several games.

Today however, that story almost seems the absoloute reverse. It is something that really isn't necessary now. Games in Japan are being changed there in bizzare ways. Infact take a look at Soul Calibur 4, it almost lives and breaths fanservice the way characters have been presented in the game. Namco have gone to use some skimpy revealing clothes, similar to something found in Dead or Alive simply to sell a few extra copies of the game. What the hell?

Now Soul Calibur 4 is actually a good game, no doubt about that, but when it comes down to developers doing changes like this for the sad, sad perverted gamer something seriously has changed in gaming. Whether its for the better, I seriously don't know. But all that outrage about explicit content in games has been thrown out the window now. Don't get me wrong on this, explicit content should be in games, if it is a gameplay element or realistic element, but this is a mainstream game we're talking about!

Just imagine it yourself, what if your favourite game was changed just so it could suit everyone? Rememeber the Jak and Daxter games? The game was originally a cutesy, beautiful 3D platformer, and it took the old platformer roots from Mario, Crash and Sonic making a fantastic game just by mixing the 3. Yet with its sequel, everyones jaws dropped when they saw how gritty the game had become. Jak now had a gun, he now had a voice, he now swore his head off! And the whole plot of the first game was just ripped up to shreads. In fact, the game was no longer a platformer following this change, but rather an action adventure game. It followed as a GTA clone, something that became increasingly popular following Jak's release.

This seriously effects Japanese games. Not long ago, a game known as Okami was released. The game was a wonder for those few people who played it. The game had a tranquil atmosphere, it made a few unique touches to be a game worth remembering but sadly it sold very poorly. That isn't the end of it though. The Katamari games, also unique of a game, and an excellent game indeed, also did badly as far as sales were concerned due to how different it was.

Gamers no longer like something that is original, there I've said it. We no longer want to experience anything that is different or unique, but rather for assembling our love for guns and boobies. The reason I say this is because there are just so very few new games in developement and many more sequels in the works. Sequels can be good, but the sequel list was through the roof this E3. Call me mad or crazy for saying that I don't want a sequel to Fallout, I don't want a sequel to Metal Gear Solid and I don't want a sequel to Halo but is that really the only future for gaming? Sequel after sequel?

I could be wrong, but unless change is made for soon we could be developing a fatal pattern to an eventual downfall in gaming. It has already begun in the platform and puzzle genre and it is slowly working its way through the fighters. I could be just paranoid but look carefully at what games you're buying this year, just tell me, how many sequels are on that list? Is there anything starting, fresh as baked bread that you'd actually play? Because I honestly can't think of just one game off the top of my head.

Thanks for reading anyway though.

Take care guys!


The Giant Introduction

I suppose there isn't much point explaining who I am, since I've already done that (look above) but I figured I'd explain what I plan to do here on Giant Bomb. Firstly, I made the move because I've been left disappointed by nearly every other forum I've been in so far. The other forums have simply not impressed me because of their rules, their flaws (e.g. copy + paste issues) and lack of activity. I chose Giant Bomb simply because I know people will be here and I know that the contributions I'll be making (which I will be explaining in my next paragraph) would get alot more attention here than in the other forums.

So anyway, I plan to make blogs here. I'm not going to rehash anything you guys might have seen in the past, aside from reviews. What I plan to do with these blogs are more or less discussion topics, depending on my mood. I will make a few updates on several events I took up, such as EightBitWarrior's famous "Retro Revival Week" and My "Mission to Saturn" many of you have kept tabs on for the past few months. I also plan to post my video and audio reviews/blogs here when I can and once it actually is possible.

For now though, I'll be surfing the forums for some good topics and try to make contact with the people I befriended in other forums, since I know they're here. I've already found a few cool people who've made the change, and I'm down for the way this site has set itself up. Overall, I can't wait to find out what happens next. Keep watching my profile for more blogs.

Take care guys! :)