The Gunstringer Review

I thought I'd continue my theme of Kinect reviews after taking on SEGA's Rise of Nightmares, so here's my review of The Gunstringer. Overall I'd say it's solid, and I awarded it 3.5 stars.

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I've never had as much reverence for indie developer Twisted Pixel as everyone else seems to. I found their debut effort, The Maw, to be downright boring, and while the 'Splosion Man games have a certain delirious charm to them the gameplay never drew me in. My favorite of their games, Comic Jumper, seems to be their least appreciated. So when it was announced that they'd be developing a new game for Kinect, I was doubly uninterested. But after receiving a Kinect as a gift a few weeks ago I figured it'd be nice to have something to do with it other than make funny faces at the camera, so I caved and got The Gunstringer. What I found when I put the disc in was affirming neither of my disinterest in the Kinect and in Twisted Pixel nor of the rampant love that the studio seems to garner on a regular basis, but it was amusing while it lasted.

Essentially an on-rails shooter, The Gunstringer tasks you with shooting enemies, dodging obstacles, and even occasionally platforming over obstructions all while the titular Gunstringer moves on a set path through the environments. What separates this from something like Time Crisis is that you will control both the placement of the reticule on the screen and, to a limited extent, the movement of the character. You'll never be able to really deviate from the path that the game has set for you, as moving left to right and jumping are essentially the only ways to move around, but it works well enough to inject feelings of variety and control into a linear genre.

Segments like this serve to add variety to the game while highlighting its excellent art style
Segments like this serve to add variety to the game while highlighting its excellent art style

The truly unique thing about the game isn't in the core of the gameplay, but rather in the way that the game is controlled. The entire game is themed around the idea of a puppet show, with the idea being that the player is actually controlling a marionette from backstage. To this end, you'll move your left hand around to control the left/right movement of The Gunstringer and paint targets with your right hand, pulling it back as if firing an imaginary pistol to shoot. It's a good control scheme for the Kinect, as it doesn't require any overly complex motions, nor does it require the system to keep track of your legs, meaning you won't need as much room to play as certain other games.

While this core gameplay remains the same throughout, plenty of variations are thrown in to keep things interesting. Some segments switch to a 2.5Dperspective and focus mainly on the platforming, while others will throw you on the back of a mount, Panzer Dragoon style. Still others will huddle you up behind cover, forcing you to peek out using your left hand before firing using your right. None of the game's segments are particularly challenging, but there's a breezy sense of fun to be had from waving your arms around like a lunatic and watching all of the colorful scenery go by. Besides, if you're dying for a challenge, there's a hardcore mode and several mutators, which act like the skulls in Halo.

Ain't no slithery varmint what can stop The Gunstringer
Ain't no slithery varmint what can stop The Gunstringer

Even on the hardest difficulty, The Gunstringer is not a lengthy game. Most players should be able to get through the story in around 4 hours. There are incentives to go back, but whether or not it's worth another trip through the game is debatable. In addition to the requisite achievements for getting through on hardcore difficulty and using all of the mutators, there's a developer commentary track that you can lay over the action. I found the commentary to be entertaining enough, but not worth playing another 4 hours to listen to, and the simple mechanics really don't hold up for another run-through. Still, the developers are clearly a clever and interesting group of people, and this shows in just about every aspect of the game. Whether it's the colorful environments, the bizarre character designs, or the humorous story, something about this game will be making you smile. My favorite little touches actually came in the descriptive text snippets; the text under the tick box for hardcore mode tells you to enable the mode if you hate yourself, for example.

A co-op multiplayer mode is also available, but it's more Mario than Gears. Only one player will actually control the character. The second player exists in the game only as a second reticule to help player one spot and shoot enemies. It might be fun for a mission or two, but the entertainment is short-lived.

The package also includes a free copy of Fruit Ninja Kinect, a game which I intend to review separately, but which fits snugly alongside the colorful chaos of The Gunstringer. Although both games are short, together they easily justify the $40 asking price.

To say that The Gunstringer is the game to have on the Kinect is to perhaps make it sound a little more accomplished than it really is, but at the moment it's just about the best choice for anyone looking to pick up the platform. With the inclusion of Fruit Ninja it's a solid buy at 40 bucks, and there's a lot of fun to be had blasting through the game over a weekend. That said, the experience is short and ultimately simplistic. This shouldn't sell anybody on a Kinect who wasn't going to buy one already, but it's a strong addition to the peripheral's library.

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Rise of Nightmares Review

The concept of a B-movie, a piece of entertainment so bad it's actually kind of good, has been difficult to replicate in video games. Past attempts such as Swery's Deadly Premonition have nailed the cheesy atmosphere and awkward dialogue, but stumbled when it came to the gameplay. That so-bad-it's-good quality has been so rare in games because awkward gameplay is a nail in the coffin, even in a dumb game. SEGA's Rise of NIghtmares may be the first true B-game, then, because in a remarkable display of synergy between gameplay and story, both elements manage to be both stunningly insipid and gut wrenchingly funny. And it's all thanks to the Kinect.

I say, I am quite perturbed that you had the gall to interrupt my slumber old chap
I say, I am quite perturbed that you had the gall to interrupt my slumber old chap

Where a normal game would have you navigating the labyrinthine torture chambers that are Rise of Nightmares'forte using an analog stick, this game forces you to use the Kinect to mime out movements. From a first person view, you'll turn the camera by moving your shoulders side to side, move forward and backward by placing your foot out in front or behind, respectively, and attack by swinging your arms. It's every bit as dysfunctional as it sounds. While the turning generally feels okay, it's never possible to get a good sense of whether or not the Kinect is picking up your feet properly, and you'll often end up walking backwards when your foot is very clearly placed forwards. In conjunction with the wonky turning controls, the simple act of walking becomes a desperate battle against the controls.

The first few times you end up stumbling off a cliff through no fault of your own, it's actually kind of funny, especially because the character you embody in Rise of Nightmares is purportedly a drunkard. But in moments that require great precision, it can be frustrating. Luckily it is also possible to activate an auto-move function by raising your hand. This will carry out all of the movement required by the level as long as your hand is raised, so while the navigation controls may be hilariously awful, they'll never truly get in your way. Unless you want them to. Seeing the Kinect struggle to translate your movements into the game can be quite funny, in a pathetic sort of way.

Fortunately, attacking works better than moving. You can lock on to an enemy by raising your arms, as if preparing to engage in a friendly bout of fisticuffs with your television. You'll automatically block as long as both fists are raised, so again, no need to worry about blocking with any great precision. Attacks are executed exactly how you think they should be. Slashing vertically with a machete will lop off arms, while swinging horizontally will slash their throat. Make a throwing motion with the knives and you'll toss them at enemies. You can even kick towards the Kinect, which will knock enemies back and stun them briefly. Even with the full body controls, it lacks the visceral feel of something like Condemned. The breezy pacing, gross-but-stupid enemy designs, and fast paced combat actually suggest something more along the lines of House of the Dead, but with melee weapons instead of guns.

Carving through enemies with powers tools by miming the motions is actually satisfying
Carving through enemies with powers tools by miming the motions is actually satisfying

The best parts of the game by far though are the quick time events. I know that as a hardcore gamer that sounds blasphemous, but thanks to the Kinect it's actually true. Often, the game will ask you to make specific motions to progress. Common commands range from "Open the door" to "Wash your face" to "Pick off the leeches." At this point, you're supposed to mime whatever action the game is asking of you. It can sometimes be difficult to tell if you're actually performing the right action, or even what motion the game expects you to perform, leading to a lot of random flailing. I don't know if the game is really forgiving or if the Kinect is just bad at picking up your movements, but I've gotten through many of the QTEs by simple flailing my arms around like a clown. But when you actually invest in the game world and perform the action requested of you, it feels pretty cool. It's the one thing about Rise of Nightmares that occasionally works even when not seen through the lens of bitter irony.

The same cannot be said of the story, which is by far one of the silliest things I've ever seen, and by far my favorite part of the game. Everything from the ludicrous script to the lousy voice acting screams B-movie cheese, and like the best of the sub-genre, it's difficult to tell if the producers were genuine in their intent or in on the joke. I won't spoil much of the plot for fear of ruining the "is this really happening?" feeling that new players will have, but let's just say that the French ballerinas and crazed doctor speaking to his imaginary wife featured in the Quick Look are just the beginning of this descent into lunacy.

If you couldn't tell so far, I'm pretty sweet on Rise of Nightmares. Its lovable mixture of dumb story, laughable gameplay, and genuinely interesting quick time events has won me over, and in my mind this was a purchase easily justified. But that's not to suggest for a moment that this is in any way, shape, or form a good game, and if you aren't the type to enjoy things ironically, you should stay far away from it. SEGA's wacky new horror game may be dreamy for us lovers of cheese and gore, but for everyone else it's a nightmare.

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Weekend Bender, September 17-23

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. And trust me, when I say every game, I mean EVERY game. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?

And we'll start with everyone's most anticipated release of the week...

Kirby Mass Attack

No Caption Provided

That's right everyone, it's Kirby Mass Attack! What, you were expecting something else? Well let me tell you something: After the fantastic Canvas Curse, Epic Yarn, and Squeak Squad, Nintendo can pretty much crap out any game they want and plaster Kirby on the cover, and I'll be chomping at the bit to play it. Luckily for us, they've kept Kirby's hot streak going strong with Mass Attack. This is a game that I was sure wouldn't work out that well, and yet Nintendo and HAL have managed to somehow not only make the touch screen controls feel intuitive (something that even Nintendo themselves have struggled with on occasion,) but also to make them preferable to actual buttons. Flinging multiple Kirbies around using the stylus feels great, and smashing enemies by piling ten Kirbies on top of them has a weirdly brutal satisfaction to it.

The story mode, typically short and easy in Nintendo games, and especially typical in Kirby games, is both lengthy and satisfyingly challenging. The game asks that you have precision reactions, especially when going for all of the secrets, but it never feels like the touch screen controls are holding you back from success. The game paces itself well, and never asks more than it knows you're capable of. Overall, there's Plenty of enjoyment to be wrung from the story mode.

I'm going to cram as many pictures of this game into this article as I possibly can
I'm going to cram as many pictures of this game into this article as I possibly can

And that's not even getting into the minigames. Ah, the minigames. Okay, sure, some of them are your typical rhythm game, button mashey bullshit, but a few of them are actually really good. I never thought I'd play a Kirby top down shooter, but here I am. There's also a pinball game that's surprisingly fun, and a number of other games which I won't spoil. They're a great way to extend the life of the cart, and individually a lot of them are fun in their own right.

Okay, so maybe I'm in the minority in my preference of pink and fluffy to red and chainsaw..y.. but I'm sure we can all agree that this next release has gotten the industry's hearts all aflutter, and for good reason.

Gears of War 3

Gears 2 was a really stupid game. I know there were a lot of people who enjoyed it, and on a certain level I can see why, but to me it felt like Epic's seminal shooting franchise had started taking itself a little too seriously. The first game was dumb as dirt, but at least it didn't try to pretend like it was all smart and mature. Gears 2 left a bad taste in my mouth with its pretended maturity, like a little kid trying desperately to parrot the behavior of an adult. It was a fun game, yeah, but in my eyes it was a step downhill.

Gears 3 still has an undeserved sense of somberness to it, as if its characters and situations are somehow deep enough to actually warrant taking seriously, but it's much less in-your-face than it was in the second iteration. It is a more subtle desperation that the characters exhibit in Gears 3, and while the story isn't exactly perfect, it feels like Epic has finally learned something about proper storytelling. It's a more cohesive package than either of its predecessors.

Clearly this is the face of a contemplative and introspective video game
Clearly this is the face of a contemplative and introspective video game

But we don't come to Gears of War for the story and characters. We come for the chainsawin', and the chainsawin' is good. Gameplay has been smoothed over and sped up, but it still retains the semi-tactical feel of the older games. It's smooth enough to please CoD players, yet requires enough thinking to entice lovers of Rainbow Six and other tactical games. And man, those graphics. This is basically the best looking game on the 360, with great lighting and some fantastic texture work showing off just what Microsoft's console can do. It's still not as jaw dropping as something like, say, God of War III, but it's among the best looking games I've seen.

I don't feel like I really need to say any more about Gears of War 3, because everyone who was going to buy it probably already has. If you're on the fence, just know that everything about this release has seen dramatic improvement since Gears 2. This may be the last Gears game we get, at least for a while, but it's a fitting send-off.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2

Square-Enix's Pokemon-like DQM series is getting another DS release in the form of DQM Joker 2. While Ryan and Patrick may have found the game boring in their Quick Look, I can see what they were going for here and it retains a certain level of amusement throughout the first few hours. As is the case with the similar Pokemon franchise, the most entertaining part of the game is finding and capturing new monsters. There are some truly creative monsters to be caught in Joker 2, and although I've never been the biggest fan of Akira Toriyama's style of drawing, his creations look fairly nice on the DS's screen thanks to a chibi, cel-shaded style.

No Caption Provided

The draw of finding and capturing new and interesting monsters was enough to keep me going for a long time, especially since I had a few long car rides to endure over the last week. It's a grind-y sort of entertainment, one that doesn't necessarily require much thought or user input, but one which can keep you playing for a little while regardless. The biggest flaw of the game is its battle controls, or the lack thereof. While it's possible to directly control which skills your creatures use in some ways, the game doesn't spell it out for you, and most fights go by faster if you just mash on the "Fight" button and let the AI sort it out for you anyway.

DQM Joker 2 can be an interesting game in spots, especially in the monster design and the capture and training mechanics, but much of it just feels too automated.

Oh, and what is it with all of these cool games getting released on the DS while the 3DS gets nothing?

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2: Innocent Sin

I've had a soft spot for the Persona series ever since the third iteration debuted on the PS2 so many years ago. Since then, it's been impossible to tear me away from the addictive blend of social sim and dungeon crawler. But I'd always wondered what the original games in the franchise were like. Well, the original Persona was re-released on the PSP in 2009 and, although it certainly wasn't bad, turns out it wasn't really my cup of tea. Now Persona 2: innocent Sin has been released for the PSP, and I thought I'd give it another go.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you liked the original more than I did) this is basically more of the same. The merits and demerits of that original PSP re-release still hold true here. The game is presented from many different viewpoints, making the action feel a little inconsistant, and the dungeon crawling can still become tedious, at least from what I've played. But as is typical of Atlus RPGs, the story will pull you in immediately and refuse to let go until you've seen it through to completion. The battle mechanics are complex and varied, giving the dungeon crawling much longer legs than it by any rights should have. This is far from the perfect RPG, and it's far from the style of the franchise's later games, but fans of oldschool RPGs will find a lot to love here.

The remastered graphics look nice, but I much prefer the artistic stylings of 3 and 4 to 1 and 2
The remastered graphics look nice, but I much prefer the artistic stylings of 3 and 4 to 1 and 2

Also, on a side note, as similar as this game is to Persona 1, it's gotten me thinking about how similar Persona 4 was to Persona 3. After the release of the second game, there was a large gap between releases in the series, and when it resurfaced it had seen a dramatic overhaul in terms of style and mechanics. We are in a similar gap right now, with Persona 4 having been released in December of 2008. This leads me to wonder that if, when Persona 5 is inevitably announced, we might see a similar overhauling of game mechanics. Part of me hopes so, as I'm really excited to see what this team can come up with next, but another part of me hopes that they stick to the tried and true Persona 3/4 mechanics that I'm so fond of. Anyways, enough rambling. Let's get on to the next game...

Resident Evil 4 HD

With all the platforms this game's been released on, if you want to play it you probably have already
With all the platforms this game's been released on, if you want to play it you probably have already

Just about everyone who played Capcom's seminal horror/shooter back in the day has fond memories of it, and I doubt this HD release will change that. This is essentially the same game we all played on the PS2 (the HD release contains bonus materials not found in the original Gamecube version) but slightly nicer looking. If you missed out on RE4 back in the day, this is still worth a play, especially at its low price point, but if you've already had your fill of Ganados-blasting and head-tentacles, you can safely pass it up.

Oh, and if you're an achievement enthusiast, simply playing through the entire game will net you most of the 1,000 points contained within this release. That's kind of a nice bonus for us RE lovers too, I guess.

F1 2011

Codemasters has always been known for their gorgeous racing games. That's not gonna change anytime soon
Codemasters has always been known for their gorgeous racing games. That's not gonna change anytime soon

When it comes to gaming, I like to challenge myself to try new things, push myself to become proficient in genres that I normally don't show interest in. I picked up Dirt 3 earlier this year and although I don't typically enjoy racing games, I had a blast with it. Despite my experience with Dirt and my willingness to dive headfirst into new types of games, I still have no idea what the fuck is going on in F1 2011. I had become fairly proficient in driving with all of the assists off in Dirt 3, and although I knew F1 cars handled completely differently, I thought some of that racing game experience might carry over. This was not so. The inside of the cars' cockpits in this game look like something out of a science fiction movie, and the handling is realistic to the extent that I can barely even turn around a corner. Luckily for amateur drivers like me, there are plenty of assists to help streamline the experience, and the driving feels genuinely good when you can actually, you know, control it. Even with all the assists, it never gets too arcade-y.

This is a video game that I'll never be willing to devote the time to necessary to master. The tracks, while not exactly bland, just don't have the lush natural beauty of Dirt 3's, and the controls are even more complicated and realistic. I can appreciate the vast difference between the two sports that I'm comparing here, but for a casual driver such as myself, this is simply diving in too deep, too fast. I imagine lovers of F1 will find this to be a lovingly honest recreation of their sport of choice, and will appreciate all of the little touches that make the cars handle as they should in real life.

Might and Magic Clash of Heroes (Steam Version)

I've owned Might and Magic Clash of Heroes ever since it came out on XBLA earlier this year, but now PC gamers finally have a chance to see what all the fuss is about. This unique strategy/puzzle hybrid is developed by Capy, who have somewhat of a reputation in the industry for pumping out some fantastic hand drawn artwork (check out the gorgeous Critter Crunch for instance) and CoH is no exception. The game's HD sprites look positively gorgeous, even if the Americanized anime style isn't exactly my favorite.

Ooh, purdy
Ooh, purdy

Of course, there's more to this game than its good looks, and the battle system actually has surprisingly long legs. Combining your units together in groups of three allows you to make attack or defense positions, depending on whether you stack them vertically or horizontally. New units present themselves to you at a great pace, so you'll constantly need to be on the lookout for new battle strategies. This is good because for a fifteen dollar download, CoH actually has a really long campaign (probably due to its roots as a full-fledged DS release.) Even after the campaign is over, multiplayer matches will help stretch out your enjoyment of the unique strategic battles. All told, it's perfectly feasibly to spend anywhere between 30-50 hours in pursuit of seeing all that this game has to offer. It's a great value for fifteen bucks, and the gameplay has extremely long legs. The story itself isn't exactly the most compelling around, but with gameplay and graphics this good it hardly matters. I highly recommend strategy fans find some time to squeeze CoH in this week.

Bunch of Heroes

What a shitty name for a game. I mean really, could they come up with anything more benign? Anyways, Buch of Heroes is a Steam release that casts you as a.. well.. a bunch of heroes (okay, I guess it's kind of appropriate) who fend off an alien invasion. Also, zombies. Because hey, why the fuck not? The odd twin stick shooter that results from this weird amalgamation of movie monsters and secret agent teams is surprisingly boring. There's nothing in this game that you can't find done better and with more style in numerous other releases, not the least of which was last week's awesome Renegade Ops.

Burnout Crash

Crafting a puzzle game around crashing cars is awesome. Where did it all go wrong?
Crafting a puzzle game around crashing cars is awesome. Where did it all go wrong?

Burnout Crash looked really promising before its release, but now here we are. The game's main mode, Road Trip, is frustrating beyond belief, requiring precision that the controls are hardly capable of and luck that will only grace the Buddha-belly-rubbing-est of gamers. All of the silly endgame events, like giant tidal waves or angry lobsters, were in stark contrast to the pure rage that was flowing through me as I played through the game. The other modes are better, as they remove the strict limits on how many cars are allowed to pass through your twisted, flaming grasp, but you have to play through Road Trip in order to unlock the other modes on a level, and by then I just didn't give a shit anymore. This could have been a really fun, lighthearted release, but instead it's a Rube Goldberg-esque trap, a game that appears devilishly fun on the surface but quickly gives way to something more sinister.

Demolition Inc.

On the other side of the Steam-indie-release coin, we have Demolition, Inc. This goofy little puzzler casts you as a UFO looking to cause as much destruction in Earth's major cities as possibly. You'll do this by causing car accidents, tearing down buildings, and blowing up cows. Yeah, this game is kind of awesome. It's actually kind of like Burnout Crash in that its puzzles emphasize causing as much destruction as possible using as little player input as possible. Unlike Criterion's puzzler, however, this one feels much more freeform, and allows players to experience the joy of wanton destruction while still challenging them to think about the best ways to bring the city crumbling down. The entire affair is running entirely on a strong physics engine, too, meaning that no two destruction sprees will be exactly the same. It can occasionally be frustrating when the game's physics don't work exactly the way you'l hoped, but by and large it's quite satisfying. This is by no means a perfect game, and I haven't beaten it yet, but I have been thoroughly enjoying it so far.

Oh, and here's one for the road
Oh, and here's one for the road
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Education Run Part Three

Wow, it's been a long time since I updated this series of blogs. Since my last update I've moved to a different city, driven up and down the Easter seaboard twice, started classes, played a ton of video games, and, unfaithful whore that I am, started another blog series. But that's not why we're here. We're here to talk programming, and in those last few weeks I've managed to get a bit done even despite all the other crap I've had going on. I'm now working with a friend of mine, who lives back home (meaning we have to do most of our programming collaboration over Skype) on learning the C++ language, and surprisingly enough, even though I failed that class way back in high school I'm still remembering a fair amount of the vernacular. We've started using several websites, which I'll link to below, and also a book, Beginning C++ Through Game Programming, Second Edition. I believe there's a third edition available now... yeah, there is. We've found these resources to be incredibly helpful in getting re-familiarized with the terminology and the basics of the language. Right now we're working on putting objects into our program and using code to manipulate them.

We've also been talking about simple games to make, and have settled on a few ideas. The most basic is simply a button on the screen, which you'll click to advance your score. There'll be a timer counting down from 60, and after the 60 seconds are up it'll save your high score for later. Then there's the slightly more complicated ideas, like a word game or a shape-based puzzle game, or even a basic strategy game for when we want to practice with making AI.

Some helpful sites:

http://beginnerscpp.com/

http://www.cprogramming.com/

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Weekend Bender, September 1-16 Part Two

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. And trust me, when I say every game, I mean EVERY game. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

This dude is totally about to get shot. Duck man, duck!
This dude is totally about to get shot. Duck man, duck!

Man, this game is brutal. There's no targeting reticule and almost no HUD to speak of, meaning you have to freeball a lot of this. You'll have to manually keep track of your ammo count, and one or two shots will end your life easily. There's even some area specific damage when it comes to where your character gets shot, with leg wounds slowing your movement. Make no mistake, this is about as hardcore as competitive PC FPS get. Jumping into the game for the first time presents numerous hurdles to clear, and the online competition won't be particularly forgiving of any lack of experience you might have. A single player "campaign" exists to help newbies get their bearings, but this is largely an online-centric game, and the single player missions barely add up to anything more than bot matches with some context-giving cutscenes interspersed around them. If you're new to the game like I was, though, it's still incredibly helpful to go through some of these tutorial-styled missions before jumping online.

No matter how prepared you feel after the single player, chances are it's not enough. Death comes quickly and brutally online, and oftentimes you won't even be able to see who killed you other than in a brief post-death killcam. It was jarring to jump into Red Orchestra 2 after cutting my teeth on shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, and Battlefield (out of all of these, the PC Battlefield games are most comparable to the Red Orchestra 2 experience) and I quickly found myself frustrated. Taking a step back, it's clear that the mechanics of the game weren't to blame for my frustration, but rather my lack of experience and patience. Sprinting is included, but not recommended, as running around the maps willy-nilly is a surefire way to get killed. Instead, a methodical pace will reward you with a prolonged life and perhaps even some kills, which are intensely satisfying in such brutal context. Red Orchestra 2 may not be the most inviting shooter on the block, but after only a few hours in its harsh world I'm already certain that it will be one of the most rewarding. It's immersive and intense to an extent that most shooters can't touch.

The Gunstringer

Man, this has been a good month for the Kinect. First Rise of Nightmares, (which some people understandably hate, but I kind of adored) now this. The Gunstringer is arguable the best game on the Kinect, as well as one of the gameist... games. If that makes any sense.

You'll manipulate The Gunstringer with your left hand, like a marionette
You'll manipulate The Gunstringer with your left hand, like a marionette

What I mean to say is that this is no shovelware minigame collection or weight loss tool. This is a flat out, gamey-ass game. It's still pretty casual feeling in that it doesn't require a ton of skill to paint the targets with your hand, but the delicate balance of shooting with your right hand and platforming with your left, along with the occasional quick time event that will require you to punch at the screen, was enough to keep me engaged throughout its short runtime. It honestly never uses the Kinect in as interesting a way as Rise of Nightmares so frequently did, but also it's a hell of a lot more playable than that game, and the simple mechanics remain fun. The real entertainment inherent in The Gunstringer, as is so often the case with Twisted Pixel games, lies in the humor and the colorful cast of characters. There's a real DIY feel to the level designs that I found intensely charming, from the toilet paper tube trees to the popsicle stick bridges. It's a funny, charming, and totally bizarre game in a way that only Twisted Pixel can pull off, and although the mechanics are simple, it shouldn't be written off like so many other Kinect games because of this. If you're going to pick up a Kinect anytime soon, this one is the surefire best choice for your first game on the platform.

Oh, and the Wavy Tubeman Chronicles DLC is effing sick!

White Knight Chronicles II

The game might suck, but the art direction is still top notch
The game might suck, but the art direction is still top notch

White Knight Chronicles II is basically more of the same, and if you look at my review of the first game, you can probably guess that's not a very good thing. The story is just as insipid as it was last time, the gameplay only slightly less lethargic (the cooldowns for the different attacks have been reduced and character weight now plays a larger role in combat, but it still lacks the thrills of Tales of Vesperia/tales-of-vesperia/61-20836/ or the strategy of Final Fantasy/final-fantasy/62-194/) and the player avatar still just sits around awkwardly during the campaign, never serving a real purpose until you venture online. It's not necessarily a bad game, but it's dreadfully dull. Online is still the place to be if you intend to play WKCII, and the player count has been upped from 4 to 6, making the adventures feel more epic than they ever have before. Little touches like these will please fans of the original game, but everyone else should stay away. It's a real shame, because this series had so much potential, and with just a bit more tweaking to the gameplay, and a large overhaul to campaign structure, it could be fantastic. Here's to hoping that a third installment gets everything right.

Renegade Ops

This level of chaos is pretty much typical in the online mode
This level of chaos is pretty much typical in the online mode

I blasted my way through most of this fun little shooter in one sitting today, and I'm already excited to go back for some more. Avalanche, the same guys responsible for last year's gleefully insane Just Cause 2, have brought their A-game to their first XBLA/PSN title. You'll choose from several characters, each with their own special powers, and blast your way through thousands of terrorists on a tropical island paradise. The excrement really hits the proverbial fan when you bring in more players; with four people playing together online, the action happening onscreen is nearly indiscernible. And you know what? That's alright with me. Sometimes you just need to kick back, turn off your brain for a while and blow shit up with your friends.

A tiny bit of mental stimulation is provided by the game's skill trees, which are unlocked as you kill more enemies and complete more objectives. As you level up (which happens with enough frequency to keep you feeling good, yet scarcely enough to still feel rewarding when it happens) you'll unlock new slots to activate your powers, and more powers to put into said slots. Couple this with a damage multiplier, which builds as you damage enemies and multiplies itself every time you kill an enemy, and you've got a fun and addictive little download on your hands. It's not the most cerebral game, but somehow it's still intensely rewarding and a ton of fun, especially with some friends. This one comes highly recommended to those who like their action big and dumb.

Full review

Radiant Silvergun

This classic was perhaps a little before my time, and honestly the whole "bullet hell" sub-genre has never been my cup of tea, but I can't quite see why it's been the recipient of so much reverence over the years. It's basically just a top down shooter in which you have a ton of different weapons available to you, all mapped to the different buttons of the 360 controller. Sure, it's developed by Treasure, so if that means anything to you then, hey... that's a thing. Still, it's a nice looking conversion, and the upscaled graphics look nice without sacrificing the style of the original polygons. If bullet hell is your kind of thing, this certainly beats paying 200 bucks for a cart on eBay.

Red Bull X-Fighters

This is one of those games that tells you pretty much everything you need to know right in the title. Namely, this is a fucking Red Bull video game, don't fucking touch it. It's ugly and controls poorly, and it feels like the developers were just trying to capitalize on any love that might still be lingering out there for Trials HD.

Serious Sam Double D

I can't remember whether or not this game came out in September, so I'm gonna go ahead and assume that it did. I do however remember the delirious fun that I had blasting my way through Sam's first 2D adventure (hence the "Double D" in the title.) The big gimmick here is "gun stacking" a feature that, as the name implies, literally allows you to stack multiple guns on top of each other and fire them all at the same time. You can have, for example, a tommy gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, and chainsaw all stacked up on top of each other and all blasting away at the same time with the press of a button. It gets crazier than that, too. You'll find multiples of the same weapon, and you'll quickly unlock the ability to stack even more guns on top of each other, so it's perfectly feasible to have, say, six chainsaws all stacked on top of each other.

I dare you to makes sense of this. I DARE YOU
I dare you to makes sense of this. I DARE YOU

The absurdity doesn't end there, though. Not even close. Enemies are perhaps even stranger than ever, as you'll face off against Serious Sam staples like the kamikaze units, alongside stacks of sentient pancakes with numerous vuvuzuelas sticking out of their syrupy folds and other absurdist creatures. The enemy design alone had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Then there's the story, or what mascarades as a story, as Sam infiltrates essentially random areas in search of... you know what, I still don't know what he was doing or why. There are cutscenes, but they serve more as a vehicle for jokes than as a method of advancing the story, which clearly wasn't a concern for the developers. That's okay, though, because attempting to shoehorn a plot into a game so thick with nonsense would only be to the detriment of the absurdist stylings of the level and enemy design. The biggest flaw with Double D is easily rectified by plugging in a controller; this is, at the moment anyway, a PC-only release, but controlling it with a mouse and keyboard can feel a bit awkward. Using a 360 controller is far preferable. I said it above in the Renegade Ops blurb, and I'll say it again: if you like big, dumb action, you've come to the right place.

Alright, well I think that's it for this week. If I missed anything, let me know in the comments and I'll try to get an opinion out there as soon as possible. Look for full reviews of most of the games that I covered in this and the last post coming soon.

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Weekend Bender, September 1-16

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. And trust me, when I say every game, I mean EVERY game. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?

Note: This week's entry will cover last week's releases as well, since such a large volume of content dropped on September 6th, and it could prove helpful to have reviews of them all in one place.

Note 2: Usually, this blog will drop on a Friday or Saturday, so the whole weekend theme will... you know... make sense. This week I have papers to write, so I'll stick it up a day early.

Note 3: I'm going to try to make this into a video blog at some point in the future. I just need to scratch together the cash to get some new video capturing devices, which could prove difficult given that I just spent hundreds of dollars on all of the games featured in this EPIC FIRST ENTRY IN THE WEEKEND BENDER BLOG!

Wow, this has been one busy month so far. I'm about to cover a lot of ground in a little time, so let's get the ball rolling with a little bit of alien mayhem. I speak, of course, of

Resistance 3

We're gonna need a bigger can of kerosene
We're gonna need a bigger can of kerosene

Damn, this game was cool. Say what you want about the first two (I liked both of them, personally) but they both pale in comparison to what Insomniac has done here. They added an extra year onto their normal two year dev cycle for this one, and it really shows. Gorgeous lighting, great particle effects, and wonderful sound design leave a good first impression, but in retrospect it's really the script that impressed me the most. No, not the scripting, but the actual script. As in, writing. I feel like gamers tend not to pay much attention to the writing in a lot of games, often justifiably so because the writing is shit. But in this game, the script works in conjunction with all of the fancy graphical effects to create an atmosphere thick with oppression, yet sprinkled with vague, impossible hope. The characters and situations feel more real than almost any I've seen thus far this year, despite the fact that there's fucking aliens jumping around everywhere. It's an impressive feat, for sure.

That's not to say that the gameplay is any slouch, either. The weapons are, as you'd expect from the series, hugely varied, and all of them come complete with secondary firing modes to liven up the action. These crazy, often overpowered alt fires, along with the series re-introduction of health packs instead of regenerating health, really help the balance of the game. Where previous Resistance games were about as balanced as a legless man on a tightrope, this one has a smooth, sensual difficulty curve that eventually ramps up to truly challenge you. Using all of the alt fires and managing health effectively is key to survival, and dare I say that's how it should be in an FPS.

Simply put, Insomniac has finally made the Resistance game they've always been trying to make. It's moving, atmospheric, smooth, fun... everything a great game should be. Check out my full review for more detailed impressions.

Now we continue our binge of extraterrestrial.. thing.. killing with a little

Warhammer 40K Space Marine

This ork is shocked by how fluidly the gunplay transitions into melee
This ork is shocked by how fluidly the gunplay transitions into melee

As I mention in the opening line of my review, this game really shouldn't be fun. The videos, previews, and hell, even the demo all seemed so repetitive I couldn't believe people were actually getting excited for this thing. But then it came out, and everyone around me was buzzing with excitement, and well, I just had to give it a try. I'll give it to my friends: this time, they were right. Space Marine is a pretty cool game. What really struck me the most about the game was the weight of the character, Titus, and all of his movements, and how the gameplay somehow managed to feel snappy and fast in spite of this weight. The other big selling point, the "aha!" moment, if you will, was the smoothness with which Titus transitions from ranged combat to melee combat. Going from gun to sword and back to gun again is fast, easy, and feels fantastic. It's a mechanic that is literally fun enough to carry the entire 8 hour game on its shoulders, even if it does start wearing thin by the time the end credits roll.

And speaking of end credits, that ending sucked. Despite all of the build-up towards an epic battle, it all gets resolved with a simple quick time event and then BAM! it's over. It's a little gross, really, since there weren't even any other QTEs in the game. The story follows the gameplay's lead, and together they pull an epic tandem shark-jump in the last five minutes. Look game companies, I get that everyone and his grandmother is trying to pitch their IP as the next big trilogy, but that doesn't mean you have to leave everyone unsatisfied at the end of the first game, waiting for a sequel that may never even come. But I digress. If you're holding out on Space Marine because of the generic name, or the generic premise, or... okay, well it's all pretty generic, really. But if you're holding out on the game because of that, don't. If you're worried that your lack of Warhammer knowledge will impede your enjoyment of the game, don't. I had the same reservations, and ended up having a fantastic time.

Let's keep this game train a-rollin' with

Dead Island

Honestly, half of me expected this game to suck. While everyone else was fawning over the (admittedly totally awesome) now-infamous first trailer, I was waiting for the actual gameplay to emerge. And sure enough, when the first previews came out, it wasn't the emotional rollercoaster everyone was expecting. In fact it was kind of the opposite. A heavily loot-driven RPG with thin plot and poorly voiced characters, Dead Island couldn't get me to care about its story even if it wasn't atrociously written. Basically, this game has all of the Techland staples that the Call of Juarez series has trained us to expect: Wonky graphics that look really nice until you start moving, ear-gougingly bad voice acting, mind meltingly dumb writing, and physics that are all kinds of wrong (when you drive your truck into a sandcastle on the beach, it stops like it's hitting a wall.) But on the other side of the coin, the gameplay itself is actually pretty satisfying, especially when you dig into the options menu and switch on the analog controls, as Brad suggested in the Quick Look. The feeling of whacking blunt objects against a zombie's squishy skull is enough satisfaction to redeem many of the game's faults, and if you're in the mood for some co-op, and can actually coerce the game's matchmaking into working, you'll find that satisfaction multiplied with more players trekking alongside you. It's not a great game by any means, but it doesn't suck, either.

Somehow I'd always end up in these situations where I had to smack a bikini zombie's ass with a paddle until they died. Kind of ruined the gravitas
Somehow I'd always end up in these situations where I had to smack a bikini zombie's ass with a paddle until they died. Kind of ruined the gravitas

My full review of Dead Island is still forthcoming.

Driver San Francisco

Speaking of games that bucked expectations, Driver San Francisco is actually pretty awesome. I bet none of you were expecting that. It's okay, I wasn't either. When ace cop Tanner gets sent into a coma, he finds that he has the ability to leave his body and possess other drivers. He must put this ability to good use by hunting down escaped convict Jericho in the coma world, whose events parallel those of the real world. Like I said, I didn't expect this one to be any good. Color me pleasantly surprised that, not only is the game not shit, but as far as this week's open world games go, it's actually better than Dead Island. The developers knew how ridiculous their story was, and wisely channeled its insanity for some truly great sequences that I guarantee you won't see coming. It's really quite clever, in its own inane way.

This thing's about to smash headfirst into a bunch of enemy cars. Satisfying
This thing's about to smash headfirst into a bunch of enemy cars. Satisfying

That shift ability turns out to be the best thing about the game. No more driving across the city to pick up missions, no more struggling to lose the cops when you accidentally brush up against one at a stoplight, and no more waiting until the end of the game to get behind some powerful muscle. These are all very good things. Sadly, all is not perfect in the world of Driver, and oddly enough the one thing that suffers the most is the actual driving. Cars feel very prone to fishtailing, and this gives the drifting in particular a very imprecise and kind of random feel. The vehicles are a little too heavy, especially in the back, to feel arcadey, but too light and airy to feel realistic. It's a strange balance that doesn't necessarily work, but also doesn't really detract too much from the game as a whole. I ended up smashing and ramming my way through the entire game, and never had much trouble. In fact, some might argue that smashing through stuff is more fun than driving precisely, but it can still get frustrating at times, especially when the game expects you to race precisely. In times like these, I would resort to shifting into oncoming traffic and ramming my opponents until they died, leaving me to take the win. I guess it's cool that the game lets you improvise like that, but you shouldn't be forced into it by mediocre controls.

Driver San Francisco is a fun bit of fluff entertainment, but that's about all that can be said for it. Still, developer Reflections deserves some credit for taking such a madcap concept and running with it as far as it'll go.

Again, full review forthcoming

Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten

I usually like to beat my games before I comment on their quality, but for Disgaea 4 that is a sad impossibility. In fact, I doubt I'll ever finish the game. So far, however, it's reminding me a lot of Disgaea 3. Though the graphics still look like something a Playstation could spit out, only up-resed, the gameplay is still miles and miles deep. There are so many facets to this game, so many strategies and techniques to learn, it can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily the charming story and weirdo characters are still here to lighten the load. The Disgaea experience can come across as a bit grindy, but when battles have this much depth, it's hardly an issue. I'm still fairly early in the game, all things considered, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys Disgaea, or to anyone who likes a quirky story and a whole lot of gameplay depth.

The graphics may be miles behind other PS3 games, but that doesn't mean they're not pretty in their own way
The graphics may be miles behind other PS3 games, but that doesn't mean they're not pretty in their own way

Bloodrayne Betrayal

Bloodrayne Betrayal might be the game that made me happiest on this list, even as it was certainly the one that made me the most frustrated. The old-school gameplay and punishing difficulty give tribute to a time in gaming that I'm barely old enough to have fond memories of. This is pure 2D sidescrolling action at its bloody best. The controls leave a little to be desired in terms of response time, but in general they're responsive enough to get the job done, although maybe after a few dozen deaths. Yeah, the game gets quite difficult, and yeah, there were times when it really tested my short patience. But even as rage was boiling inside me, I was soothed by the gorgeous high definition sprites, buttery smooth animations, and incredible old school faux-rock soundtrack. If you have even an ounce of oldschool gamer's blood pumping through your veins, you'll love Bloodrayne Betrayal.

Look at this game. LOOK AT IT! It's gorgeous, and screenshots can't do it justice
Look at this game. LOOK AT IT! It's gorgeous, and screenshots can't do it justice

Rise of Nightmares

This really speaks for itself
This really speaks for itself

Scratch that. Bloodrayne didn't make me happiest out of all the games on this list. Rise of Nightmares did. This game is so fucking stupid, and I'm in love with it. It's very rare for a game to hit that so-bad-it's-good mark, mostly because if the gameplay sucks, then the game is no fun. Rise of Nightmares utilizes the Kinect in an ingeniously dumb way, though, and had me grinning from ear to ear the whole way through, even when shit was clearly very broken. In this case, the dysfunctional gameplay is actually part of the appeal, as you'll be jumping and juking around like an idiot to perform even the most basic of actions. In a bizarre kind of synergy, not only is the content of the game so bad it's good, but the controls themselves reach the same level of ironic appeal. Whether it's putting up your dukes to engage in fisticuffs, swinging your arms to cut through enemies with a knife, or lashing out with your feet to kick open a door, Rise of Nightmares had me laughing along with it. Even the movement, which has you twisting your shoulders to move the camera and setting your foot forward to walk, and which is horribly, horribly broken, had me in stitches. Okay, there were a few sections where the controls crossed that delicate line and became straight-up intolerable, but these scenarios were surprisingly rare, in large part thanks to an "auto-walk" feature that's activated by raising your hand. Couple the crazy controls with a story so thick with cheese the box should have a heart health warning on its cover, and you've got B-grade gold.

Of course, this is a Kinect game, and like many Kinect games, it can be very finicky if not in the right circumstances. I spent the better part of an hour trying to get past one section that was impossible because the Kinect couldn't fully register my legs before resigning myself to finishing it later, in better play conditions. These issues aside, Rise of Nightmares manages to hit that razor thin line of so bad it's good. If you're the type of person who laughed at movies like Piranha 3D, and you don't mind some wacky controls, you'll enjoy this one thoroughly.

Don't even get me started on the end of the game. Let's just say all those years practicing the Kamehameha when you were a kid may finally come in handy
Don't even get me started on the end of the game. Let's just say all those years practicing the Kamehameha when you were a kid may finally come in handy

My full review should be up soon, but right now it's looking like a 3 star. It's an awful game, but also incredibly enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.

Crimson Alliance

That person is totally crawling through that dungeon
That person is totally crawling through that dungeon

Crimson Alliance is a very odd entry into the dungeon crawling sub-genre. You don't really gain any levels, nor do you find a lot of loot, and there isn't even a map in the dungeons despite the fact that, as far as I'm aware, they were all hand-crafted and not randomly generated. It's a really straightforward experience, as epitomized by the fact that you do your level selecting through an overworld map screen instead of an open world styled hub, like in most of these types of games. I suppose what the game lacks in depth it makes up for in accessibility, but I don't necessarily know that anyone out there really wants a streamlined dungeon crawler like this. Co-op play can, as always, add a few hours of fun into the package, but the game itself isn't inherently entertaining. It just sort of... exists. Skip this one unless you're desperate for entertainment, and with a lineup like this, you really shouldn't be.

Star Fox 64 3D

This is Star Fox 64. It is in 3D. Here is a picture of it.

Also, it's like an hour long, so don't pick this up unless you're heavily invested in the idea of the game's versus mode. Which, admittedly, looks pretty awesome when you're literally shooting your friends in their faces
Also, it's like an hour long, so don't pick this up unless you're heavily invested in the idea of the game's versus mode. Which, admittedly, looks pretty awesome when you're literally shooting your friends in their faces

Whew, this is getting really tiring. I've got a paper to start and some studying to do, but rest assured I'll be back with the rest of the games, including The Gunstringer, White Knight Chronicles II, and much more, tomorrow. For now, I bid you goodnight and happy gaming.

3 Comments

Resistance 3 Review

I posted this review a day or two ago, and since I've enjoyed playing through Resistance 3 so much, and since it is so fundamentally different from the last entry in the series, I figured I'd post it again here to give people an idea of what they're getting themselves into before they buy

Insomniac's Resistance franchise might be the most inconsistant series of games I've played. The original game's dark and foreboding atmosphere gave way to cheesy male bravado in the second. The mechanics were significantly "overhauled," leading to fan outcry on the internet when the game ended up playing just like Halo. And then there was Resistance Retribution for the PSP, which was a third person cover-based shooter, because hey, why the hell not. Tonally, Resistance 3 is a sort of homecoming for the schizophrenic franchise. Gone are many of the changes made in R2, returned to the more strategic elements of the first game. And, as much as I enjoyed R2, this proves to be a good decision. This third, and potentially final, entry in the core series is by far the strongest of the bunch. Insomniac has finally made the Resistance game they've been trying to make for the last five years, and it's damn good.

WHO TOOK MY LUNCHABLES?!
WHO TOOK MY LUNCHABLES?!

Unlike many modern shooters, R3 is anchored by its campaign. Immediately upon booting up the game, it was clear that this was a more serious, grounded experience than either of its predecessors. Instead of jumping straight into the action, Insomniac gives you time to explore the beleaguered human settlements which lie underground, beneath the tattered remnants of society. As series regular Joe Capelli, you'll come across numerous people just trying to get by; doctors tend to the sick, frightened children write letters to faraway parents that will never be delivered, and people huddle together for warmth in the glow of a fire. Joe has a wife and child here, and throughout the game they'll remind him of the emotional stakes involved in his battle against the Chimeran aliens. It's an attention to human drama that few games have, and it makes it all the more intense when things inevitably go awry. The story only stumbles in the end, which seems to come early despite some great build-up, and which could have capitalized upon the bleak, emotional nature of the rest of the game a little better.

Unsatisfying ending aside, R3's campaign is a hugely satisfying one. The gameplay, while not quite as smooth as genre champions Battlefield or Call of Duty, remains solid, due largely to the vast number of options at your disposal. The weapon wheel makes a triumphant return after its inexplicable absence in R2, and in classic Insomniac style each of the ten weapons has its own unique alternate fire. You'll get your typical Auger shields and alt-fire grenade launchers, but there are some more interesting firing modes thrown into the mix as well, such as a gas cloud that causes anyone who inhales it to mutate and eventually explode. The game's balance has also been improved over R2's wildly careening difficulty curve. Chances are, if you're stuck somewhere, you just aren't utilizing all of the tools in your arsenal as effectively as you could be. This might not necessarily be your fault, as sometimes you'll have so many options available to you, it'll be hard to remember they're all there.

Crazy weapons make a triumphant return
Crazy weapons make a triumphant return

When the curtain finally closes on the 8-10 hour campaign, R3 presents a full suite of multiplayer modes with the now standard leveling and upgrading systems all firmly in place. The player count has been reduced to sixteen from R2's whopping sixty, and while this may seem an odd choice, it does help to focus the matches. Levels are now concise and easy to memorize, and you'll find yourself being caught off guard less often than in the other games, with their massive maps and numerous players. Although perfectly solid, and potentially capable of holding onto a particularly dedicated portion of the fanbase, it's unlikely that R3's multiplayer will distract anyone for too long after the genre heavyweights start rolling out later this year. It's good fun, but it just doesn't flow quite as well as some of the competition. A co-op campaign mode is also available, replacing R2's gigantic co-op skirmishes. In this case, it sort of feels like Insomniac threw out the baby with the bathwater after R2's negative reception, because the last game's co-op was actually really enjoyable, and to not have it available here is a shame. Regardless, it's nice to have the option to run through the campaign with a buddy, and the competitive matches should be enough to please genre fans until their series of choice makes its yearly debut (or, in my case, until Uncharted 3 comes out.)

All of this action is supported by one of the nicest graphics engines you're likely to see this year. The game is filled with instances of positively stunning lighting, and wonderful texture work abounds. It's easy to tell that Insomniac worked an extra year when developing this game, but they never shove it down your throat as if to say "hey, look at this sick lighting engine we developed!" All of the instances of moody lighting and dingy texture work feel perfectly natural in the context of the game's world, and more than anything else in the game, they help to sell the feeling of a world that has all but given up hope.

The Resistance franchise may never have found firm footing in its short time on the PS3, but R3 comes as close as the series is likely to get to delivering on the ideas that Insomniac has had dancing through their heads since the first game. It's beautiful, emotional, and bleak, and it plays like a dream. The story might not wrap up in the most satisfying way, and the multiplayer may not be as strong as some of the competition's, but in the end these are trivial complaints. What Insomniac has delivered here is the absolute apex of a series that has always been teetering on the brink of greatness. It's a great story, and a great game.

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Education Run: Part Two: Rise of the Education Run

Before you can run, you must walk. And before you can walk, you must be shepherded around the living room like some kind of slobbering meat puppet in a desperate attempt to give your limbs some semblance of self-awareness. I have done some YouTube searching and found the most basic of Visual Basic tutorials, the Hello World program, put into video form. This video, and others like it, will be my shepherds until I can gain a little bit of self-sufficiency. Upon viewing the video, I've actually found that a lot of the knowledge from that high school class came back pretty quickly. I feel pretty confident in skipping past some of the basics, such as if/then statements and the like, and jumping into something slightly more intermediate. Time permitting, I'm going to start working on a character of some sort, probably no more than a series of jumbled pixels as I'm no great artist, and try giving him some properties using online tutorials as guidance. First will probably be movement properties, assigned to the arrow keys.

For those fresh programmers like me who are just getting started, I've found this guy's YouTube tutorials to be very helpful. He does Objective C and Android tutorials too, and they seem pretty good.

Finally, I'm also downloading the XNA SDK and I'll be dabbling with that a bit on the advising of the lovely Fobwashed, who is running a similar blog and has great things to say about the accessibility of the platform. As mentioned earlier, the internet here is shit, so that download won't be complete for a little bit. Probably doesn't help that I'm simultaneously downloading tons of games from Steam, but I digress.

That's about it for today's update, as other than a few super basic programs (like the Hello World program in the above video) I haven't really been able to get a lot of time with the computer. With Hurricane Irene supposedly touching down near us this weekend, not to mention the fact that I'm moving on Monday and starting classes Tuesday, it could be a bit of a stretch to get much done, but I'll try to release a more substantial update by the week's end.

1 Comments

Education Run: Week 1: First Blood

After finally introducting myself to Valve's Steam service over the weekend, I've been exosed to a plethora of quality independent games. Games like Terraria, Bastion, and Space Pirates and Zombies are all a pleasure to play, and were all developed by small teams to boot. This has gotten me thinking (never a good thing) back to my childhood, when I received my first video game console. As my little seven-year-old hands feverishly tore the wrapping paper from a Nintendo 64, the halcyon glow of glorious 3D gaming filling me with happiness and excitement, I knew then and there what I would be when I grew up. Seems it was my destiny to develop video games, to bring this kind of joy to people around the world. But as I grew older, I discovered one big problem with my destiny: Developing video games is fucking hard! Now I'm 20, and looking back on this abandoned dream with a degree of hope and optimism that I haven't felt in a long time. I'm going to be a video game developer. I'm going to make those dreams come true. I'm going to inspire hope and excitement in people around the world. Or at least, I'm going to try.

So I've started this blog, which I hope to update on a weekly basis, to chronicle my little vision quest. Join me as I try to, and in all honesty, probably fail at, creating my very own video game! A little background information, first. I'll be doing my programming in C++, because I have the most experience with the language. That's not to imply that I'm fluent in any way, however, as the only real experience I've had with the language was a class I took in high school. Three years ago. That I got a zero percent in. In all fairness, some of the blame lies with the teacher, who freely admitted that she had no knowledge of C++ on the first day of class, but some of the blame also lies with my own indifferent attitude. It is this self-imposed hurdle that will be the greatest, and that I hope to overcome by starting this blog.

Anyways, back to the programming talk. As mentioned above, I'll be using C++, and I'll be running it all through Microsoft's Visual Studio 2010 Professional. I've found a Microsoft-sponsored program, called Dreamspark, that should prove incredibly helpful in pooling my resources. Basically, Dreamspark is a Mircosoft initiative to get more students familiar with their programs before they leave school, thus preparing them for the real world. In service of this, they'll provide students with numerous Microsoft programs, such as XNA, the WIndows Phone SDK, and even the Kinect SDK, for absolutely free. I've sent in my university information and have just received Microsoft's email in my student account, so all is going smoothly so far. Hey, this game development business is easier than I thought!

Dreamspark allows free downloads of all this stuff for students
Dreamspark allows free downloads of all this stuff for students

At the moment, that's really all I have to update. I'll likely be on again when the download finishes (don't hold your breath, the internet at my house is painfully slow) to dish on some ideas that I have for tutorial games, as well as how the overall process of programming is going. Ideally, I'd like to update this blog every week, probably on the weekends, but as a full time student, there will naturally be some weeks I'll have to pass on, such as finals week. I'll try to keep as regular a schedule as possible, though, as long as there are people interested in what I'm writing. I'd also like to throw in some video content where appropriate, showing off footage of tutorial games, the latest build of my own game, particularly difficult sections of code, etc.

Finally, I've noticed in the forums that there are other aspiring developers here. I'm not sure if any of you are using C++ and Visual Studio like I am, but if so, hint and tip trading would be appreciated. I'll post any nifty hints I find at the bottom of my weekly posts, and hopefully they can help out other aspiring developers.

I don't know if this journey will end in success or failure. Past experiences have in fact trained me to prepare for failure. But I won't be satisfied until I at least try to make a go at this. Who knows, it might just go better than I ever imagined. So thank you in advance for joining me on this Endurance Run of Education. This... Education Run!

9 Comments

Here goes nothing... (Nintendo 3DS, Crysis 2, Dragon Age 2)

The last month has been a hell of a ride for video games. February was capped off with the machismo-drenched Bulletstorm, and March has been going strong thanks to high profile sequels like Dragon Age 2 and Crysis 2. As if that weren't enough, the 3DS released just about five days ago, ushering in the mainstream-inization (totally a word) of 3D gaming. And judging by the sales of the thing, it's going to be a worthy successor to Nintendo's groundbreaking DS.  
 
I had meant to write up reviews and blog posts about all of these things, and more. But then something horrible happened. Namely, I realized that I am a college student, and God damn do my classes love heaping on the work around this time of year. I've been stuck so deep in the mire of essays, midterms, and projects, not to mention my part time job, that the prospect of writing up all of these articles is just downright scary. And yet finally, here I sit. It's noon on a Friday, my class was cancelled today (mean case of the flu making its way around campus,) and I've nothing to do until work at five. So screw writing up yet another essay. I may be a little late to the party with some of these topics, but I'd at least like to put them out there, briefly. Let's start with: 
 

Bulletstorm

 
I'm not going to hide my love for this game. To date, I've played through the campaign twice and I've made my way through about half of the Echoes with three-star ratings. So what is it, exactly, about Bulletstorm that I love so much? Well, that's kind of hard to quantify. It's certainly not the story, which pits space pirate Grayson Hunt  against the universe's biggest douchebag on a hostile alien planet. The setup works, sure, but a lot of the juvenile dialogue falls flat and the game's later attempts at redemption for the characters feel weird and out of place in a game so otherwise unconcerned with morality. Tonally, it feels uneven.  
 
 The game's attempts at making characters into empathetic figures feels..off
 The game's attempts at making characters into empathetic figures feels..off
And it's definitely not the game's multiplayer. Pitting four players against hoards of AI enemies in a co-operative battle for survival is an idea that was perfected by Epic's own Gears of War 2, and while the concept remains solid, the execution is a bit lacking here. I think the main problem with Bulletstorm's take on the idea is its staunch emphasis on co-op play. In Gears, everybody could run around and sort of do their own thing. Communication was nice, but not necessary. Here, however, skillful kills are the order of the day, and it is often a necessity to coordinate with your teammates in order to rack up the big points. This is a pretty good concept that could work out nicely with a group of friends. Randoms on Xbox Live, however, are a little more... let's say, uncoordinated. Remember trying to play Left 4 Dead with random people over Live? Yeah, it's kind of like that.  
 
That's the great thing about video games, though. Games don't need an incredibly nuanced story or a fleshed out world or even good characters to be considered a success. Bulletstorm is awesome for one reason alone: the fantastic gameplay. In a market as saturated as the console FPS genre, it takes a hell of a lot to stand out from the crowd. Luckily, this game makes a great first impression thanks to what is possibly the coolest tutorial in a FPS. The good vibes continue when you pick up the Leash, an advanced piece of military tech that tracks your kills and gives out points based on how creative they are. This eventually allows for some of the craziest kills you'll see in a video game this side of Madworld. Some of my favorites include: kicking people through the spinning blades of a helicopter, wrapping a grenade flail around a guy and kicking him into a group of enemies before hitting the detonator, and tearing a dude in half with another player in the co-op mode. The skillshots are numerous and varied, and the game ignited in me an urge to "catch 'em all," so to speak, that I haven't felt since the early Pokemon days. This creative gunplay carries over perfectly into the Echoes mode, which tasks players with gathering a certain amount of points in a given time limit. It's fun, frantic, and addictive.  
 
Overall, I agree with Jeff's assessment of the game: It's a solid 4/5 stars for me. 
 

Dragon Age 2

 
It's a little difficult for me to write in great detail about Dragon Age 2 because, well, not a lot has happened so far. After listening to the latest Bombcast, it seems that Vinny and I are taking the same approach to beating this game. I've spent upwards of 25 hours doing random-ass side missions in the same ten or so areas, and barely any time actually progressing the story. I ended up collecting the 50 gold pieces for that underground exploration mission, then forgetting that I needed the gold pieces in the first place and spending them all on new armor and stuff. It took a while to earn them back.  
 
Although the original Dragon Age sits fairly high on my list of best games of 2009, I still had a lot of problems with it as a console player. The movement was stiff, the melee combat was downright awful, the graphics weren't so hot, and eventually, because of these issues, I found the game quite difficult to complete as a rouge. All of these problems have been addressed by Dragon Age II, but I don't know that I would exactly call them "fixed." Well, the movement is certainly better, at least. But the combat feels equally archaic to me. In the original game, melee combat basically boiled down to holding down the attack button and waiting for things to happen. In the sequel, holding the button has been replaced with mashing furiously upon the button. It adds no depth or tactics to the game at all. At least the character responds immediately when you hit the button, unlike in the old game, but it still feels like it lacks any kind of depth. Pausing and playing is still probably the best way to go. The graphics have also been improved, but the environments remain unimpressive. At least the art style is more distinctive than the generic fantasy look that the last game went for.  

    
 The graphics may have improved, but don't call it pretty. Also, Issac Clarke 
 The graphics may have improved, but don't call it pretty. Also, Issac Clarke 

   
Overall, I'm not incredibly impressed by Dragon Age II so far. The plot lacks momentum, at least in this stage of the game, and the combat and graphics, while marginally improved, are still not up to the normal standards of this generation, or even of Bioware's other recent games. Of course, I'm still somewhat early in the game, and most of these things have the potential to improve. Plus, party interactions and item crafting are as cool as they ever were, so it's not like this is a bad game. It just feels like its losing itself at times trying to imitate its more successful older brother. 
 

Crysis 2

 
Like Bulletstorm, Crysis 2 shakes things up a bit in the realm of console shooters. It's not as drastic a reinvention as the skillshots system present in Epic's big release, but it's enough to keep the game from feeling like another stagnant Call of Duty ripoff. The main reason for the game's success is the Nanosuit. This suit allows players to cloak themselves, gain temporary super strength, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and withstand inhuman amounts of gunfire. It's basically like you're playing a FPS from the perspective of the Incredible Hulk. Only he's invisible sometimes. If that sounds fucking awesome, that's because it is.  
 
 Hello, beautiful
 Hello, beautiful
The best thing about Crysis 2 is that it never funnels you through its content. Games like Activision's aforementioned shooting giant always give you an objective and then tell you specifically how to attain that goal. Those guards up there? You have to sneak up all stealthy-like and cut their throats, or they'll raise an alarm and then it's game over. Those barrels over there? You've gotta run up and plant C4 on them before kicking them down into the trenches. Crysis 2, on the other hand, tells you what it wants and then sets you free. Those guards up there? They're blocking your path. Now do whatever the hell you want about it. In fact, in most cases, you don't even have to kill the guards. You could play Sammy Sneaky and just bypass the encounter entirely, if you're skilled enough at using the cloaking mode. Alternately, you could bust out the max armor power and go to town on them with a grenade launcher, or use the cloak to silently take them out one by one, or cloak yourself and snipe them from multiple vantage points to keep them on their toes, or unleash your inner Hulk strength to crush them with a car, or... You get the idea. Each encounter in this game can be completed in multiple ways, and while that's pretty standard fare for the Crysis series, it's rarely seen on consoles, and it's exhilarating.   
 
Sadly, the story is utter, nonsensical shit. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I never played the first Crysis game, and a lot of the characters and events seem to rely on some past knowledge of this world. This makes it rather difficult for a new guy, like myself, to keep up with it all. I found myself skipping through most of the cutscenes. The AI is also questionable, which stands out in a game so otherwise polished. I've seen lots of enemies, both human and alien, bug out and start running in place, or repeatedly running into walls, or chasing their tails in a circle. It breaks the illusion that the rest of the game works so hard to create. 
 
Luckily, the game is still a ton of fun to play and probably the best shooter I've encountered so far this year. It's positively gorgeous on the Xbox 360, the controls are nice and smooth, the multiplayer is fun in the vein of the original Modern Warfare, and the campaign is lengthy, especially if you opt for the stealth option as I did. Again, I have to agree with Jeff's assessment of 4/5 stars. There are a few bugs here and there, but overall Crysis 2 is a fantastic shooter. 
 

The Nintendo 3DS

 
Ok, this is getting to be a much longer post than I intended, so I'll try to keep this brief, and upload some more detailed impressions later. You've all seen the unboxing video that the GB crew did by now I'm sure, so I'll spare you the details on the contents of the box and jump straight into my impressions of the system itself. I got the Chrome Black version, a choice that I recommend for prospective 3DS buyers, as the Blue color looks weird and disjointed up close. The shiny finish on the Black system looks positively sexy, though, and the curves of the system are subtle but effective. In case you couldn't tell from the fact that I'm essentially talking about this system like it's a human being, the 3DS is quite an attractive little piece of hardware.  
 
The 3D effects themselves took a bit longer to grow on me. Upon booting up the system for the first time, it gives you this countdown from three and then throws up the Nintendo logo in 3D. It builds up a lot of suspense, and I guess Nintendo intended it to be a "holy shit" kind of moment, but I was unimpressed. Yeah, that logo looks like it's kind of moving away from me a little bit. Oh, and now it's coming back. My eyes hurt.  
 
The integration of 3D into the actual games is far more impressive. Super Street Fighter IV (the only game I have at the moment) looks fantastic in three dimensions. Although it doesn't impact the gameplay in any significant way, it truly does look 3D and it adds a lot of flair to the proceeding fights. With every great advancement there must come a detriment, though, and for the 3DS that detriment is the battery life. Prior to launch, Nintendo was throwing out estimates of 3-5 hours for a single charge with the 3D all the way up and the wireless settings on. We all know how liberal those kind of estimates can be, though; of course Nintendo wants to exaggerate the length of the battery a bit, they're trying to sell us a system! In order to get a more accurate feed on the battery life, I conducted a few tests. Please note that for the following tests, I simply turned the system on and let it rest on the desk until the battery was completely gone. I wasn't actually playing the games this whole time.
 
Playing SSFIV with the 3D all the way up and wireless settings on, the battery lasted me about 2 hours and 53 minutes.  
Playing with the 3D settings and wireless off, the battery life jumped to around 4 hours. 
Playing Pokemon Black, a Nintendo DS game, again with 3D and wireless off, yielded a battery life of about 4 hours and fifteen minutes. 
The initial charge of the system, straight out of the box, lasted under a half hour with all of the settings cranked up. 
 
So there you have it. While the battery life will clearly vary depending on the game and how high the 3D is turned up, don't go into the 3DS expecting to get 4-5 hours out of a charge. If you travel a lot or really hate charging your system, Nyko is selling a chunkier battery pack that is supposed to double the battery life.  
 
Other than the frankly awful battery life, it's hard to find fault with the 3DS. As someone who has always gone out and picked up early copies of Nintendo's handhelds, I can safely say that this is the most sturdy and sexy first generation handheld to come out of Nintendo. It really feels good in my hands, and the screens look great, so if you're considering a purchase and don't mind the shitty battery life, it's a purchase that I would recommend. 
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