Messier

Extra Life on Saturday: Walking Dead Season 2, Wasteland 2 - looking for Co-Op partners for other stuff (Diablo 3, Risk of Rain, P...

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Its been a while...

After not playing much of anything for a few months, I have jumped back in with both feet recently.

First I bought Bionic Commando: Rearmed when it was half price on the Playstation Store. I played the demo back in August when it was first released and the controls worried me enough to make me not buy it. At only $5, I took the chance that my initial impressions were wrong, and that has turned out to be true for the most part. The original is one of my all time favorite NES games, but it had been a long time since I played a game like that  without a jump mechanic, so it took some getting used to. I'm playing through it on easy and enjoying it. The challenge rooms are really tough, but the regular stages are fun. I'm sure it gets more frustrating as you ramp up the difficulty levels, but for now I'm happy just playing through it to enjoy the visuals and music.

I've also rediscovered my love for NHL 09. I had only played a handful of games since January, but after picking it up again, I've powered through the remainder of the first season of my Be A Pro character and finished as the top line, right wing sniper for the New York Rangers. We are currently in the Eastern Conference Finals vs Atlanta and we are one win away from making the Cup final. This game is the best simulation of the game of hockey that I've ever played. I really do not know how they are going to be able to improve upon it for NHL 10. They are going to have to do more than add first person fighting to get me to stop playing 09. I still haven't even played online yet. If any of you guys have teams that need a guy, let me know. I've made a more concerted effort to get the achievements too. I couldn't take having a C for this game on Giant Bomb's new achievement tracker. That thing is great. I love the color coding system.

Speaking of achievement whoring, that brought me back to Castle Crashers as well. It made me realize I had left a few easy achievements on the board, so I went back and beat the barbarian boss with one of his minions and collected all the animals. After having the same gamerscore for close to 5 months, it's nice to see the number start to increase again.

During my absence, I also got a chance to play Guitar Hero & Rock Band at a few parties and I've been converted from my prior staunch, anti-plastic instrument stance. When you are with a bunch of friends, and especially if alcohol is involved, those games are just a crazy amount of fun. The ability to scale the challenge and the mix of songs makes it the perfect party game. I have now caved and just picked up the RB2 kit this weekend. Now I just have to figure out how to stop myself from buying a few hundred dollars worth of DLC songs.

It looks like I'm going to need plenty of money this fall with all the great games that we saw coming out of E3. These are just the ones that I'm hyped for:

Uncharted 2
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Ghostbusters
Lost Planet 2
Pixeljunk Shooter
Assassins Creed 2 (I really should play the first one already)
Mass Effect 2
Alpha Protocol
Crackdown 2
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Bioshock 2
Dark Void

I mean, damn, that's just the next 6 or 7 months. I better get back to playing!

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Finished Reading Watchmen

After seeing the trailer for the upcoming Watchmen movie, which played before The Day the Earth Stood Still, I decided it would be a good idea to read the graphic novel before the movie is released in March. Its always fun to be one of those twits who needs to let you know that they read the book and it was SO MUCH BETTER than the movie. In reality, I just wanted to see what all the geek love heaped upon it by the nerd population was about.

For my neighbors under the rock where I was living, Watchmen was a 12 issue limited DC Comics series originally published in 1986 written by Alan Moore, whose other works include V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While it involves costumed heroes, it's a more gritty portrayal of these characters, their motivations and the world in which they operate. The series narrative follows many paths, but the main thread tying them all together is the mystery surrounding the murder of The Comedian, a retired masked man thrown out the window of his apartment in the opening pages. Some of his former colleagues see a conspiracy targeting former heroes, those with a low opinion of The Comedian & his morally ambiguous history see it as a man reaping what he had sowed. This all takes place in an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President, America was victorious in Vietnam due to the assistance of superheroes, electric cars fill the streets and zeppelins fill the skies. Moore does a good job of building a deep backstory, explaining the origin of these vigilantes, the generation of costumed characters that came before them, how they affected history and how they came to fall out of favor with the public & ultimately outlawed by Congress.

Original Watchmen
Original Watchmen
One thing unchanged in the Watchmen's 1985 is the threat of nuclear war between the super powers which escalates as the story unfolds. As with many pieces of fiction created during the Cold War, at the heart of Watchmen is a message about the dangers of the nuclear arms race and the general violence & discord in society. Even though these things are still a concern today, this aspect of the story feels pretty dated 20+ years after being written and the collapse of the Soviet empire. I wonder how this will translate in the movie and what concessions had to be made to help it appeal to the modern audience.

The Comedian, Silk Spectre, Dr.Manhattan, Ozymandias, Nite Owl, Rorschach
The Comedian, Silk Spectre, Dr.Manhattan, Ozymandias, Nite Owl, Rorschach
In the end, it was an enjoyable read with some great complex characters, but I think calling it "One of the 100 Best Novels since 1923" as Time Magazine did is a stretch. It may have been fresh at the time to see comic book heroes portrayed as fallable humans with common foibles and imperfect pasts, but nowadays we are knee deep in anti-heroes and cynicism. If you enjoy the book or the coming movie, and are interested in reading more stories of imperfect superheroes, I recommend checking out the Wild Cards series edited by George R.R. Martin. I read those books years ago and Watchmen reminded me of them quite a bit.

After finishing the book, I went back and re-watched the trailers and every shot was recognizable as a scene from the book so it looks like they are sticking very close to the source material. It will be interesting to see how much they can fit into the 2 hour 43 minute runtime and how its going to be received by the public. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Watchmen when it comes out March 6th.

Here are the trailers if you haven't seen them
  

  
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Games Completed '09 - #2: 24:The Game

I've been enjoying the adventures of Jack Bauer since I bought the first season of 24 on DVD in 2003. The show was so compelling that I tore through all twenty four episodes in one four day weekend. The combination of exciting action, political intrigue and entertaining plots with plenty of twists & surprises has made 24 one of my favorite shows of all time.

24: The Game was released in 2006 when the fifth season was airing, but its story bridges the gap between the second and third seasons, answering some questions along the way. While I was fully expecting this game to be a simple cash-in that would disappoint fans along the lines of Lost : Via Domus, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the title. It captures the look and feel of the show, making you feel like you are in the middle of interactive episodes of the show.

The authenticity comes from all of the actual actors voicing the characters they play on the show, the use of the familiar 24 score, a plot that matches the show in terms of scope and complexity authored by one of the show's writers and cut-scenes which are edited like the show, utilizing similar camera angles, lighting and the show's traditional use of split screen.

The game is broken down into 58 missions which incorporate a variety of gameplay conventions and give you the chance to play as a number of your favorite characters from the show. These missions borrow a lot from a bunch of other games. There are third person action missions that play like a traditional shooter, stealth sequences where you need to quietly infiltrate a location or avoid detection, sniping missions, driving missions where you are chasing someone or being chased, a few different "hacking" mini-games, threat scanning mini-games, and the only real unique mission style to the game, the interrogations where you have to get information out of a suspect by taking the right approach to keep the stress meter in their "cooperation zone".

Example of an interrogation (not me playing):

  


After each mission is completed, you are graded based on your performance. If you score 90% or better, you unlock a piece of bonus content which can be character models, artwork, video interviews with the cast or some TV ads. The video interviews are cool, but the rest of the stuff isn't much of an incentive to replay missions you already passed.

The shooting controls are a little clunky and I found myself fighting the lock-on a bit. The game employs a very rudimentary version of the shooting controls found in GTA IV. You lock on to an enemy with the left bumper, then you adjust the aim of the crosshair with the right stick for head shots. Unfortunately, the enemy that it chooses to lock on to isn't always the one you want. There is the ability to hide behind cover, but you can't slide along whatever you are hiding behind. Any movement pops you out of cover. Its also difficult to aim at enemies which aren't directly in front of you when you are in cover. The driving is pretty basic: one button to accelerate, one button to brake and the steering is pretty forgiving. The hacking mini-games involve you either pressing the correct button that corresponds to the highlighted color or putting letters of a password in the correct order or taking the correct path to complete a circuit.

Some shooting & hacking gameplay from Mission 1& 2 (not me playing):
  


The game is paced well, with most missions lasting 10 minutes or less, and the variety of tasks breaks things up and keeps any one element from getting stale. It's not a terribly difficult game if you just want to advance the story, but there is a challenge if you want to score well on each mission. There was also a game stopping glitch about halfway through which almost made me quit playing. One mission involves you sniping enemies from a water tower until a truck crashes through a gate, then you are supposed to run back to a building and protect someone. Unfortunately, the enemies you need to kill to complete the mission refused to spawn. No matter how many mission restarts or reloads I did, I was stuck. With only one save file I thought all hope was lost. Thankfully a quick Google search revealed this as a common bug which is reset by restarting the mission & ejecting the disc. Upon reloading the game, this makes the mission start over from the cut-scene and somehow retriggered the enemies.

I enjoyed the game, but I would only recommend it to fans of the show. Each of the types of missions have been done better elsewhere. Taken on its own merits as a game, 24: The Game is pretty average. I had fun with it because I liked playing as these characters and I wanted to see where the story went. If you are interested in getting into 24, this isn't the place to start. Definitely pick up the first season DVDs. To get full enjoyment out of the game, you need to know who these characters are going in and what has happened to them up until this point. If you are a fan of the show, but do not want to bother playing through it, you can watch all the cut-scenes below.

  
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Games Completed '09 - #1: Dark Sector

After not really playing anything while preparing for an exam for the first two weeks of the year, I decided to pop in Dark Sector, a game that I bought months ago, but never got around to playing. Even with the average reviews it received upon release, Dark Sector still interested me because I enjoy shooters that use the cover mechanic & the Glaive looked like a fun weapon to wield. When I read that it was refused classification in Australia because of the violence & brutality contained there-in, I thought it would all add up to an entertaining package.

I was mostly correct in that assumption. Dark Sector is not the best game you will ever play, and it has some real drawbacks, but it fits right into what I call "Fast Food Games". Games that you play & enjoy, but never really think about again. They are competent in what they do and as long as you don't have high expectations, you come away satisfied. I would put games like Army of Two and Lost Planet into that category.

Dark Sector has a generic plot which I really didn't follow. That could be entirely my fault as I was looking up the location of the weapon upgrades anytime there was a break in the action, but the gist of it is some Russian fool developed some infection that mutates humans and turns them into monsters. You play Hayden Tenno, a CIA agent sent to the Soviet Union to off another agent and kill the guy responsible for the virus. In the process of handling his mission,  the bad guys get the drop on Hayden and his right arm gets infected, granting him a bunch of sweet powers and that kick-ass Glaive thing that you throw like a Mach 3 Boomerang. That's plenty of story for me. It hits all the right notes, reason for revenge, plausible explanation for throwing some crazy enemies at you in combat and a progression of abilities which reward you for continuing to play.

The game looks pretty good. The enemy soldiers mostly wear biohazard suits, I guess so when you cut their heads off with the glaive that it isn't too realistic. The mutants look pretty freaky and change up the combat somewhat. They all come apart in a satisfying, bloody mess. Make no mistake, the game is very brutal. One of the best parts of the game is the "finishers" you can perform on stunned enemies. There are a variety of them, but they all result in removing limbs, breaking necks or stabbing things through the head. Very fun to pull off and watch. Unfortunately a good chunk of the game takes place in very dark environments. The glaive can cast a glow which puts a pool of light out in front of you, but it lasts for a limited time (but you seem to be able to turn it back on immediately) and when you trigger a finisher you can't see a thing. So why put so much effort into creating these cool animations if you can't see them?

There are a good variety of weapons: pistols, shotguns, rifles, grenades and you can use the glaive to disarm enemies, pulling their weapon to you. Unfortunately you can only use a picked up weapon for a limited amount of time. For some reason the infection makes you throw it away after a few seconds. I missed the reason in the story if one was given. The only guns you are allowed to keep must be bought from the black market. The real star of the show is the Glaive though. You dual wield it with a pistol so most of the game you'll find yourself throwing the glaive to stun (or kill) and then popping the enemy in the head if he's too far to run a finisher on. A few chapters in you get the "aftertouch" ability which allows you to trigger a sort of bullet time & control the blade in mid-flight. This allows you to guide the glaive right into your enemy and get an up close view of his body splitting in half. It reminded me of the arrow & cannonball sequences in Heavenly Sword. Your blade also gains the ability to absorb electricity, fire & ice which is used to solve environmental puzzles in addition to shuffling off your enemies' mortal coils. I really had fun with the combat. You get enough things to play with that you there is variety to it even if the enemies don't change much.

All in all, I'd say if you enjoy shooters, Dark Sector is worth a play. I wouldn't pay full price for it, but it is a decent rental or worthy of a bargain purchase. It's going for $18 new on Amazon right now.

Next up will be 24: The Game. I re-watched Season 6 last week in anticipation of the premiere of Season 7 this week so I am all hyped up for Jack Bauer. The game can't be too bad, right? Lots of good shows are coming back, 24, Lost & Battlestar Galactica are all back in the next week. 2009 is starting off well.

On a side note, I can't imagine how cold those poor people were on the jet that landed in the Hudson River today. It was 20 degrees farenheit with wind chills in the single digits in the big city today. That water would have shriveled my wedding tackle to the size of a pea. Thankfully everyone made it out safely.

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Hulked Out

I powered through the last 2/3rds of Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction over the last two days and finished it this morning.

All in all it is a fun, satisfying game which I recommend to anyone who enjoys blowing things up and causing large amounts of chaos. There are a few negatives about the game in the mission structure which lead to some frustration towards the end of the game, but the positives far outweigh them.

The game is broken up into 7 chapters with between 3 to 5 missions per chapter. As you complete objectives and break things, you earn smash points which are used between missions to buy new moves. The game gets exponentially more enjoyable as you learn these new moves. Instead of just throwing that bus at the tank, smash it down into a shield, ride it like a skateboard down the street and then slam it into the tank until it explodes. Instead of dodging those missiles the jet is firing at you, catch them in midair, throw them back at the jet, then land on the cockpit and ride that sucker into the ground. Instead of beating back a bunch of mechs one at a time, charge up your sonic boom clap move and push them all back in one big wave. Got a giant Hulkbuster in your way, grab that tank by the cannon, smash it over your shoulder and then spin around until you hammer toss it into that robot's face. There is a great deal of variety in the ways to move around and beat things up, I only wish there were more varied missions.

Hulk: Ultimate Destruction suffers from the same lame kind of story missions that a lot of these open world games have. There are gopher missions where you have to go find something and bring it back to your base, escort missions where you have to protect a car from attacking enemies until it reaches it's destination, stationary protection missions where you have to defend a building for a length of time or through a number of enemy waves, chase missions where you have to catch something before it gets away and the standard boss fights. Some come in multi-stage varieties, some with checkpoints, some without which lead to some of the frustration, especially on the ones where you are fighting a boss AND a constantly respawning military. Your health can disappear quickly if you get grabbed by the boss, thrown down and then hit by a bunch of always too accurate rockets. That happened to me on the next to last mission a bunch of times so I turned the game off and decided to attack it fresh this morning. Unfortunately, there wasn't a save point between the mission before that one and the one I got stuck on for some reason so I had to go all the way back. Thankfully the mission before wasn't too much of a hassle. It is a 3 year old game after all so I can forgive some of the design issues since they really nailed the controls and feeling of being a chaos causing creature like the Hulk.

So that is another one off the backlog. Unfortunately it keeps growing.

Current state:
Playstation 2
24 - The Game
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Jak 3
Kingdom Hearts 2
Mercenaries
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
Sly 3: Honor Amongst Thieves
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria

Playstation 3
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Resistance: Fall of Man

Xbox 360
Assassins Creed
Bully: Scholarship Edition
Dark Sector
Fable II
Madden 09
NHL 09
Saints Row 2

I also want to finish all 50 waves of Horde mode in Gears 2 and finally finish Castle Crashers now that its patched. I guess I can't claim to be bored anytime soon.

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Christmas Haul 2008

I hope everyone had themselves a merry little Christmas. I spent Christmas Eve & Christmas Day at my mother's eating way too much. Along with a large quantity of leftover food, I came home with a nice stack of gifts from my family.

Games
Fable II
Fallout 3
NHL 09
24 - The Game

Blu-Rays
The Dark Knight
Band of Brothers

DVDs
24 - Season 6
Lost - Season 4
South Park - Season 11
Live Free or Die Hard (Unrated)

I guess I landed in the "Nice" column this year. Today I'm going to drive out to my Aunt & Uncle's house on Long Island to help set-up the PS3 I bought my Aunt for Christmas. I was able to snag one of those 80GB Metal Gear bundles that has backwards compatibility for her, which was huge because she still has a bunch of PS2 games she wants to play. Plus I'll get to play MGS4, so everyone wins! The only problem is they currently only have dial up internet access so I imagine the system update and game patches are going to take roughly 8 hours to download. It'll still be fun to see her reaction to how good games like Uncharted & Heavenly Sword look.

I hope Santa was good to everyone else out there. Hope to catch some of you guys on the ice once I get NHL 09 going.

4 Comments

Smashing

In my continuing attempt to play through the stack of old games I have collected over the years, I cracked open Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction for the PS2. It follows a similar open world style as the Spider-Man 2 movie game. Where swinging around the city was entertaining, rampaging around town as the Hulk is amazing fun. Sandbox games are only as good as the tools you are given to create chaos and the Hulk has that in spades. The creators captured the essence of the Hulk character perfectly. You are an unstoppable wrecking machine, tearing through tanks and buses, running up the sides of buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop, or jumping in the air to toss the truck you picked up at the helicopter that is shooting at you, and in general leaving carnage in your wake. You can also weaponize things in the environment meaning the lamppost you rip up becomes a bat to smack smack the cops down the block with, or you can tear a car in half and turn it into metal gloves to increase the damages your punches make, or tear a missile battery off a tank, put it on your shoulder and then throw rockets at your enemies. The move list is equally as impressive, allowing you to chain things together into some crazy combos. I'm only 10 missions into the story, but there are a bunch of challenge missions to soak up your time too. My favorite so far is the "golf" mission where the Hulk is standing on top of a building holding a pipe as unfortunate soldiers fall out a helicopter above him. You have to time your swing to launch these guys as far into the ocean as possible. These missions are quick bites of fun and help break things up. If you have the chance, there is a lot of fun to be had with the Hulk.

Here is a video of some gameplay

  

I also downloaded the Metal Gear Solid level pack for LittleBigPlanet and played through it with a friend last night. Media Molecule has produced another group of fun, creative levels that require multiple runthroughs to see all the secrets and to collect all the hidden items. The new paint gun is a great new addition to the LBP arsenal. I look forward to seeing how people incorporate it into their levels. There have been a bunch of clever levels and thankfully the new search system allows people a better chance to find them. The enemies they created for the Metal Gear levels are imaginative and fun to fight, especially the multi-stage Metal Gear Rex boss. If the level packs continue to be of this quality, LBP's future is bright.

Here is a video of the Metal Gear Rex fight if you don't mind being spoiled.
  

After finishing with LittleBigPlanet, I had to wrap some presents. So to get into the spirit I popped in the holiday classic From Hell starring Johnny Depp & Heather Graham. Nothing like a movie about Jack the Ripper slaughtering prostitutes in late 19th Century London to get your Ho Ho Ho going......don't blame me, blame NetFlix. Depp's portrayal of an Inspector that solves cases in part due to visions he has during opium induced drug hallucenations is his usual high quality. Its not his best role as a cop, but it's hard to top Detective Thomas Hanson. From Hell is a decent flick with a nice conspiracy to unravel, but something bugged me throughout the film. Where has Heather Graham gone? She was the hottest thing going 10 years ago. Swingers, Boogie Nights, the second Austin Powers movie, Bowfinger, From Hell, but I can't think of anything she's been in recently. Her IMDB page doesn't help much since I haven't heard of most of her credits from the last 8 years. Another mystery of Hollywood I guess.

Here is the trailer for From Hell
  

Anyway, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas out there. Enjoy the new games if you get them!
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42 Hours Mostly Well Spent

I finished off Okami this morning, these were the final stats

Play Time: 42 Hours, 16 Minutes, 8 Seconds (It seemed like half of that was clicking through unvoiced story parts)
Days Passed: 62 (In game, it took me 10 real days)
Saves: 71 (Excellent save system, 30 slots to use, never had to backtrack though)
Deaths: 0 (I would imagine most people don't "die" in this game. Your astral pouch saves you even if you run out of health)
Enemies Defeated: 555 (Combat was mostly fun due to the brush techniques and good enemy variety, although fighting the same bosses multiple times with no variety to their attacks seemed like a lame way to extend game length)
Money Gained: 2,677,266 Yen (1 Million of that came from beating the final boss, you find most of the items you need so most yen is spent on weapons and "secret" brush techniques)
Demon Fangs Found: 16 (Another form of currency in game, but I never had enough to buy anything of value from the vendor that accepted them)
Praise Earned: 3,525 (Sort of experience points used to buy extra Sun Pieces to expand your health bar, extra Ink Pots to expand the amount of ink your brush can use, additional Astral Pouches which save you from death (had 2 and never used them) and a bigger money pouch so you can hold more the 99,999 yen at a time.)
Sun Pieces: 15 (Health Meter, out of a max of 20)
Ink Pots: 8 (Holds the ink used with the Celestial Brush, not sure what the max is, but you do run out during heavy combat a lot)
Stray Beads Found: 33 (out of a total of 99, if you find them all you get a super weapon for a second playthrough, most of them are hidden and/or off the main story path.)

Slicin' Fools With My Mad Brush Skills Son!
Slicin' Fools With My Mad Brush Skills Son!






















I understand the praise for the game. It's a well made adventure with a unique art style (if you don't mind the overly Japanese nature) and some fresh gameplay controls. My only issue with the game is the time investment needed to complete it. Clover wanted to tell a big story and that required a ton of exposition scenes. Instead of cut-scenes with voice acting, they used semi-animated storyboards with characters spouting gibberish with text overlays that had to be clicked through. That got tiring 25 or 30 hours in, especially since the story didn't evolve much from the first half. Then again, there isn't much that hasn't been done in these kinds of games. At least you play as a wolf instead of some effeminette boy with a fruity haircut. If you have the time to play it, its definitely worth picking up. At the prices it can be had for these days, its one of the best values in gaming. I played it on my PS3 and it looked great, I only wish it were widescreen, maybe it was and I couldn't figure it out. I'm glad I played it, but I'm glad that it's over too.

Time to dive back into my pile of unplayed games and knock a few more off before Christmas. I'm thinking Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is up next. That seems like a good pallette cleanser after a 40 hour RPG.
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A Long December

I've had a lot more free time lately than usual and it has given me the ability to play some things I have been meaning to get through for a while.

PixelJunk Eden - Bought this back in August, got through the first 7 levels and then didn't go back to in until late November. I finally got through Levels 8 -10 and collected all 50 Spectra. I appreciated the artistic style of the game all the way through, but the later levels got maddeningly frustrating with changes to the core game rules and perilous level design. The later levels are much more vertical and spread out which increases the damage each fall has on your quest to collect the 5 Spectra in a level at one time. And fall you will, especially as the little pollen prawlers can cut your silk, random gravity changes & wind on later levels make it tough to traverse and even a boss character which can't be killed like the other enemies get in your way. The time limit becomes a real obstacle to enjoying the late stages of Eden. The game will definitely benefit from the incoming patch which adds a continue system and gives you the option to increase the time limit, but I'm glad I was able to finish it in its original form if only because I'm a masochist. I ended up in the top 500 on the PSN leaderboard which I'm more than satisfied with. I recommend everyone trying it out, especially after the patch. Early on its a game you can zone out to the audio/video presentation and later becomes a real challenge.

Gears of War 2  - I worked through the campaign solo when it was first released, but didn't get around to trying Horde mode until I got into a few matches with PyjamaRama & her cohorts. I now understand all the love that people heaped on that mode. Fighting off waves and waves of increasingly difficult Locuts with a bunch of friends is a ton of fun. Even when you die, its fun to be the eyes for your team, calling out enemy positions, warning people to watch their backs because a mauler is about to drop a club on their head. We got through waves 1 - 29 in one session a few weeks ago and the time just flew by. Hopefully we can get through the last 21 waves soon. I also want to go through the campagin again on Insane somewhere down the line, but I'd rather do it in co-op as I've heard there are some really frustrating parts if you go it alone. If anyone wants to make an Insane run, let me know.

NBA 2K9 - This is one of the best sports games of the year. The combination of the fun gameplay and the depth of game modes is tough to beat. The best part is, it can be as detailed as you want it to be. I didn't want to bother with player rotations or substitutions, so the AI does it for me. You can call plays, but the vanilla offense works fine. I slowly made my way through an abbreviated season as the Houston Rockets and am currently 3 wins over the Pistons away from winning the NBA title. Even though I win 80% of the games, most are very competitive and are decided in the last few possessions on the default setting. It's a very satisfying game. Once I win the title, I'll point whore my way through most of the achievments. Always a fun time.

Ratchet & Clank Future - I picked this up for $30 on Amazon a few months ago, but only played through it last week. I played through all the PS2 Ratchets except Deadlocked and loved the inventive weapons and light sense of humor. I love a good platformer and Ratchet still delivers. Tools of Destruction has sharp visuals, the usual variety of environments and some of the best weapons that the series has seen to date. The upgrade system has been improved, allowing for 5 levels of advancement on each weapon which are gained through using them to kill enemies as well as spending "raritanium" on certain enhancements which increase the damage and function of each weapon. Favorites were the Predator, which launched multiple homing rockets at a time, and the Nanoswarmer, which release a swarm of heat seaking little killers that can take care of big groups of enemies while you safely hide behind something. I burned through the game in only 4 days and it was a fun ride all the way through. I'll pick up Quest for Booty somewhere down the line, but for now I have a big stack of games I have to get through first. The first of which is

Okami - I haven't played a game this long since the last time I attempted a Final Fantasy. I really like it and yet I'm tired of it. If I were 12 years old and only had a game or two to play, this game would be great because there is so much to do and everytime you think the game is wrapping up, you find out you are only opening up a whole new quest line. Its a narrative that would probably be a trilogy of any other game type. I'm not even doing all the side stuff and optional missions and I'm 35 hours deep already with a good chunk of gameplay left based on the FAQs I've referenced. Even GTA IV didn't take up this much of my time. While I have enjoyed playing the game a lot, the brush mechanics are inventive and the unique art style looks great, I think I've seen everything the game has to offer at this point and I just want to get to the next game in my backlog stack. Instead I'm tapping the X button as fast as possible to move through the overly long unspoken story sequences which haven't really changed much from the first part of the game. "This land needs to be restored, Boss Enemy X is the biggest source of evil in the world, you have to stop them!" until its revealed that there is a bigger source of evil that in reality isn't all that different from the others. If this game ended at the last major boss, I would have put it up there with the very best adventure RPGs ever made, unfortunately its narrative excess is starting to spoil it. Sorta like eating too much candy at one time, too much of a good thing can make you sick of it.

Phantom Hourglass - On a trip to Denver before Thanksgiving, I cracked open my long neglected DS to start Phantom Hourglass. I thought the touch controls were well done and it was a pretty fun way to pass the time during the flights, but having to go through that Temple of the Ocean King over and over got tiring and I haven't gone back to it much since I got home. Some conventions of a Zelda game just can't be tolerated anymore. Maybe I'll go back to it when I stay at my Mother's over Christmas, but I don't feel compelled to finish it even though I'm passed the Ghost Ship and probably more than halfway done. Playing games on a large HD display has spoiled the handheld experience for me and makes it only something to do when I can't play my other consoles or in short bursts of a puzzle game.

Quick thoughts on a few movies I've seen lately
The Day The Earth Stood Still - If it wasn't for the heavy handed political message, blaming humanity for all the worlds problems, it would have been a decent sci-fi flick with some great effects. The original had a message too, about the danger that nuclear proliferation posed to humanity. Klaatu came to Earth to save us from ourselves. Unfortunately, in the remake humanity is the problem and Klaatu is here just to save the planet from us. We're too violent and destructive to the poor defenseless planet. What a crock of Hollywood guilt trip bullshit.

Untraceable - Thriller about FBI cybercops who are racing to track down a killer who is murdering people while streaming it live on a website. The more people who view the page, the faster the person dies in some gruesome ways. It was a good rental, with a plot that acts as sort of a social commentary on the cannibalistic internet culture that exists today.

Be Kind Rewind - A dumb comedy with one redeeming value. It accurately oortrays people that live in New Jersey as dimwits. Two dopes running a dump of a video store accidentally erases all the tapes in the store. In order to keep the building afloat, they reshoot the movies people want to rent themselves. There are some funny Jack Black moments, but its nothing to write home about.

Unknown - A group of men wake up in a locked warehouse in the middle of the desert without any memory as to who they are and how they got there. Some of them are tied up, one of them is shot, but no one knows why. All they know is some bad guys are coming back soon and they can't get out. It's a decent, tense mystery/thriller with a few twists. I never heard of it before I saw it on NetFlix, but its a decent rental if you are looking for something different.

Jumper - GARBAGE from start to finish. Even Sam Jackson with a bad dye job couldn't help this turd.

Memento - Somehow I missed this one all these years. A guy without a short term memory is on the hunt for the man that attacked and killed his wife. In order to remember things, he tattoos messages to himself on his body, takes pictures of people & places and writes notes to remind him who and what they are. The movie also plays out in reverse order, starting at the end and rolling backwards in sections revealing the truth. It is one of the better written films I've watched in some time.

I'll finish this mega-blog with the weepy song with the same title as this blog. I still have no idea how Adam Duritz was so popular with the ladies...

  
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Geared Up

Like a great number of you, I eagerly picked up Gears of War 2 on Friday and dove right in to the campaign. As I made my way through Act 1, everything I heard about the many improvements over the original were highlighted.

Having just played Gears 1, the graphical polish is noticeable. The environments and animations look better & more detailed in spots. Surprisingly there were a few times where the frame-rate dropped, but I think people make way too much of little visual hiccups, especially when it doesn't affect gameplay.  There is a lot more going on screen than the original so it's a trade off of a few seconds every hour of choppiness that I'm more than willing to make.

Gears 2 also seems much more epic in scope, giving you more the feeling that you are part of a bigger conflict where Gears 1 gave me a feeling of isolation, as if most of the time there was no one else around for miles besides Delta Squad and whatever enemies they were fighting. They did a smart thing with the collectibles too, making them be things like newspaper clippings, medical files and letters which give more information about Sera's back-story and, I hope, hint at where the narrative is heading. That makes them much more rewarding to find, than just to get achievements, which have also improved. Instead of getting points just at the end of each Act, they spread them out to major events throughout the chapters that make up each Act. They followed Valve's intelligent lead from The Orange Box and included progress indicators for the statistical achievements. A little, unobtrusive pop-up appears as you rack up kills, complete perfect active reloads or perform the different flavors of finishing moves. The achievement for killing an enemy with every possible weapon is smart as it gives you incentive to try out the entire arsenal. I've only encountered a few of the new weapons, but they've added a few new fun death bringers. I used the Locust weapons in Gears 1 only as a last resort as they were never as satisfying to use as the COG guns, but that has changed. The Locust assault rifle is great. It packs a punch and has a zoomable targeting reticule if you click the right stick, making headshots easier. The pistols, usually only brought out in low ammo situations, have been beefed up, especially the 6 shot Boltok and can be relied on to bring enemies down. The shotgun is still as reliable for short range blasting as before. It is my go-to weapon when facing those annoying new Tickers. Exploding Wretches 2.0 are still a pain. I still haven't found the flamethrower or the Mulcher, but using the Mortar to rain down fire on Reavers is pretty badass. A great addition.

The controls are still as solid and satisfying. Hopping from cover to cover is easy and smoothe. The level design is more varied than the original through the first Act, not that Gears 1 ever got boring. Gears 2 just does a better job, so far, of pacing the action. Having multiple Brumaks & Corpsers show up early on really hints that the scope of this game is far more epic than what we've played before. I'm excited to see where it goes.

That's just the campaign! I haven't had the chance to touch Horde mode or any multiplayer. The fact that you don't need a full room of people, and you can go up against AI bots with your friends make it way more likely for me to give the multi more of a chance than having to play with the random XBox live mutants. I dig how it plays, but I'm never going to be good enough to hang with the twitchy, killing machines online. I'm looking forward to teaming up with you guys to kill some Locusts soon. It's a great time to be playing games!

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