Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Holy crap!




Folks who bought their PS3 primarily as a Blu-ray player won't much care, but for capital-G Gamers, the following rumor - not yet confirmed as glorious fact - is like manna from Heaven: PS2 backward compatibility on the PS3 is coming back. And not in another bloody SPU you'll have to purchase to take advantage of.

Siliconera reports that Sony has patented a technology that would allow the PS3's Cell processor to emulate the PS2's emotion engine. Without getting too technical...


(click to enlarge)

"Figure 2 from the patent is a schematic drawing of how the system works. Figure 3A is a drawing of the PlayStation 2’s chipset. Figure 3B is the emotion engine. Figure 4 is where the whole story gets interesting! It’s “an example of a host system based on a cell processor that may be configured to emulate the target system.” The target is figure 3B, the Emotion Engine."
-Spencer, Siliconera

So what does this mean for the immediate future of your Playstation 3? Absolutely jack shit. But at the very least it means Sony are still aware that their "feature rich" console has been short of a significant feature since they began pushing the new 80G SPUs. There is no hint as to when this tech will actually hit your PS3, or if all the folks who screetched that they would never buy a PS3 without BC will actually be moved to a purchase by the emulation - but it's another step towards making the PS3 a more complete system.

Is emulation all that important? After all, the cool games these days are all on the PS3, 360, Wii and Gaming PC. For my money, I have to say yes. I was lucky enough to score a 60G PS3, which includes the PS2's Emotion Engine - it doesn't have to pretend it's a PS2, because there is a PS2 inside it. Or at least a PS2's brain - and I adore the backward compatibility. Essentially, the only role my PS3 cannot play in the living room is a VCR's.

Not having access to the largest video game library ever assembled is a huge thorn in the side of the PS3. Many classics appeared only on the PS2 - and I've no doubt there are plenty who would pay $10 for PS2 classics on PSN.

At least, Sony had better hope so - because it would be no surprise if this backward compatability only allows you to play PS2 games purchased and downloaded off the Sony Store, instead of that disc copy you've got sitting on your shelf.

Or perhaps I've just gotten so used to Sony making such bad calls, I anticipate the worst from them. It's entirely possible that they would pay to design, patent and implement this technology without exploiting it for profit...

Well, alright - it's not possible - but it's nice to hope.

MUSING - only two hundred and fifty dollars!


But I hope you don't pay that much for it.

What the hell is Sony thinking, launching the PSP Go at $250 bucks, when you could go buy a Wii for the same price, or an Xbox 360 for less? They might be thinking, "we're the most expensive, and therefor the best," but I'm sure they're thinking "people will totally pay that much."

Peter Dille, SCEA's head of marketing has said, "it's targeting an early adopter, a tech enthusiast." Translation: "certain people will totally pay that much."

The reason some fellow is willing to pay that much isn't particularly flattering: this is the guy who measures the contents of his pants only by the technology it houses. This is a consumer who could easily afford a half-dozen 8GB memory sticks for his PSP 2000, but instead will purchase the Go simply because it is the newest, shiniest little peice of tech on the market. I hate that guy.



But I'm being a bit harsh. All early reports are that the Go is, in fact, a very slick nugget of hardware. It feels good in the hand, it's so compact, and aside from the lack of a UMD drive it is, in fact, more capable - more suited to its purpose - than the PSP 3000. Instead of having to carry around UMDs (which are relatively bulky, compared to the tiny DS carts), your entire library is virtual. And while a part of me loathes the idea of not owning a physical copy of the games I purchase - my inner conspiracy theorist is certain that Sony will burn down the PSN store and destroy my virtual holdings - it makes absolute perfect sense for a handheld system.

Slip the system into your jacket pocket, and you're good to go. Your little brother may be fiddling with his DS cartridges (well, not my little brother), but you're carrying your entire library with you.

And when that library includes the a free digital copy of a game you already own on UMD, nifty titles like a new Metal Gear Solid or those PS1 classics with their beautifully low price tags? Well, the PSP Go starts looking better and better. It's just more suited to be what it's always tried to become: an excellent handheld system.

I'm not saying the PSP Go will explode onto the market and the 100,000,000 DSes out there will cease to matter - just that, for the first time, I'm actually interested in purchasing a handheld system. But I will certainly wait until I'm no longer considered an early adopter.

Hate those guys.


Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm new at this.



So bear with me. I know this place is a little bare-bones at the moment - not much to look at, with relatively little character to speak of. It's my first try. But hopefully, given time, I'll get a handle on how this blog thing works and how I can make it a worthy destination.

And if that doesn't work out, I can always fill the place up with sexy cosplay.

Sexy in its accuracy, of course.

Leigh Alexander is awesome.



I wasn't sure if my reaction to Project Natal was a genuine distaste for motion-only controls, or merely the result of not owning a 360. The E3 press conference demos for both Sony and Microsoft's techs didn't precisely blow my socks off, but at least I could perceive of experiences with Sony's Wii-Too Remotes that I could enjoy. The archery thing looked cool - the swordplay thing looked cool, and the inclusion of buttons assured me it would not be a wholly alien experience.

Natal, on the other hand, held nothing interesting for me, and is nothing but motion. It would perhaps be impressive if the most remarkable part of its presentation wasn't headlined by Peter Molyneux. I'm sorry, Milo, you're a neat idea - but have no doubts there was a technician running you the entire time. And of course, it's coming out of Peter Molyneux - so I'll have to take it with a lethal dose of salt.



Anyway, on to my point. Leigh Alexander writes a monthly article for Kotaku - I am grateful for this, because it's one of those sites I check at least every day, and her monthly appearance always serves as an alarm clock which reminds me that her blog exists. Be warned: this isn't the more simplistic, this-game-is-good, this-game-is-bad stuff that some people write. Leigh's Sexy Videogameland blog is among the smartest video game related writing you will ever find - I wholeheartedly reccomend giving it a peek.

This month's Kotaku article continues Leigh's habit of perfectly articulating my exact position on a subject before I, myself, have even a rough approximation of it. Today, she tackles the defense of the classic controller, and as is her style, she exercises considerably more intelligence in the discussion than you'll find almost anywhere else.

My take on the issue is, like the rest of me, a little more simplistic: Die, motion control.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

FEATURE - Future Fine Times of 2009 - Part I

THE GAMES OF 2009

This fall and winter will contain entirely too much awesome to keep track of. But let's try anyway.

I'm not about to list every noteworthy title that will make an appearance between now and New Year's, but every time I try to have a conversation about what looks good in the latter half of 2009, I'm sure I forget more than I remember. It seemed to me I should make a list, and given that applying ink to paper is like, so totally 1985, why not do it up digitally?

Let's break it into three parts: Must-plays, radar hotspots, and awesome games I don't give a crap about. That should cover all the bases, and with 29 games to go through there's no time like the present to get started, is there? Let's begin with...

AWESOME GAMES I DON'T GIVE A CRAP ABOUT

Because we all love games, but we don't have to love the same ones.

Only the most blessed of gamers have the time and disposable income to play every great title that comes out in a given year, and I am only passably blessed. Perhaps it's that I own a Playstation 3, perhaps it's that tales of the 360's reliability have scared me off a purchase, but I'm more likely to buy a handheld system this year than I am Microsoft's console. So my console of choice leaves me with only a cursory interest in Microsoft's exclusives, and my personal tastes leave me with only a modicum of curiosity in the other guaranteed hits I'll list here.



Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2
Fall

Action-RPG. The sequel to a good super hero game. No, really.

What have I got against Marvel: UA2? Well, nothing really. I've heard very little ill about the original, but I just never picked it up. Too many games on my plate, too little time - and I don't mind that, with all the great titles this year, this is one blockbuster I don't feel the need to shell out for on day one.


Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
Fall

Action/sandbox. The standard by which all other DLC is measured.

I have no trouble admitting it: this one, I'm jealous of. If I had a 360 and a free copy of GTA IV to play on it, I would buy it - but I don't know why, really. Despite only playing GTA IV when my buddy Mario hits me up for some online action, not being able to play Lost and Damned and Gay Tony does indeed strike me as a loss. I'm not really big on including downloadable content when we should be talking about actual games, but Rockstar's phenomenal episodic DLC for GTA IV definitely deserves a mention - this studio doesn't do anything half-assed.


MAG
Fall

Multiplayer FPS, supporting 256 players. Might suck.

A Playstation 3 exclusive? Didn't see that coming, did'ja? At least it's one we can likely agree on. There's a lot that sounds pretty damn appealing about Massive Action Game (not the title, of course) - the idea of an FPS with a persistent world is an interesting idea. 256 player support is very technically impressive - and if the whole thing works, well that's pretty impressive in terms of design. But there are so many 'if's that MAG is one to watch indifferently from afar.


Wolfenstein
August 4th

Horror FPS. The current-gen return of the first FPS ever made.

To me, Raven Software will always be the crew that made HeXen. They have a measure of credit with me, and I'm always in id's corner - but I haven't read a preview, watched a video or seen a screenshot that convinced me Wolfenstein was a game I wanted to play. Dark, oppressive atmosphere, occult jive clearly going on, killing Nazis... God, I'm bored already. This will have to get some obscenely good reviews to get a rent from me.


The Beatles: Rock Band
September 9th

Social music game. The combination of Beatles and Rock Band will create a powerful convergence of cash cows that will udder in the apocalypse.

Like the folks who purchase a new version of Madden every year, I'm afraid I just can't identify with the fellow who picks up a plastic guitar or beats on plastic drums in the hopes of not fucking up the hit song he's listening to. The classic, dismissive reaction is one I must admit to sharing: why not play a real fucking guitar? Alright, fine - it takes time and patience and dedication - but in the defense of my classic, dismissive reaction I have to note that my brother recently put down the controller and picked up an old acoustic, and he's having a blast with it. As for me? I'll stick with the harmonica. Given my merely passable blessings and romantic history, I've got the blues, baby.


Halo 3: ODST
September 22nd

It's more Halo. Also, it's Halo.

Halo doesn't really inspire middle-ground emotions in most gamers - it's either the second coming of Christ or a merely acceptable FPS with solid gameplay, mediocre art direction and good-enough graphics. Personally, I always thought Halo was pretty darn good - solid gameplay goes a long way in my book - and the idea of a new protagonist with a new take on Halo's principal contribution to the FPS genre - automatically refilling health - makes ODST look attractive, even to me.


Splinter Cell: Conviction
October

Stealth. The current-gen return of Ubisoft's uber-successful modern espionage series.

I live for stealth games, but this is another one I don't mind missing. Despite a strong showing at E3 this year, the Splinter Cell name carries no weight with me. After years with Agent 47, Solid Snake and Rikimaru, I just never clicked with Sam Fisher's style of stealth. No doubt these games offer something really remarkable that others are able to plug into, but like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, I'm almost glad I never saw the appeal - I just saved myself sixty bucks by not caring.


Modern Warfare 2
November 10th

Classic FPS. Sequel to the best-selling game of the HD consoles, it will be huge.

Yes, fine. Disliking Modern Warfare? Gamer blasphemy! He floats because he's made of wood! (Turned me into a newt!)

It's not that I have any great problem with Call of Duty 4 - it's just that it never really managed to thrill me. It's gorgeous, the gameplay is solid, the online is robust, and I'd rather spend my time playing BioShock or The Darkness. The first-person perspective, to me, really lends itself to experiencing a unique setting or adventure - and CoD4: Modern Warfare just never blew my skirt up. Another sixty bucks I'm happy to keep - maybe I'll give this one a rental.


Left 4 Dead 2
November 17th

Co-op multiplayer horror FPS. The original is generally considered one of the best co-op games ever made.

Total honesty: I've never played Left 4 Dead, and so my opinion is wholly invalid. But it's my bloody blog, so I'm free to say that although I love everything I've played by Valve, I feel no great loss that L4D does not appear on my console of choice. Would I love to blast some zombies with my buddies? Absolutely. Can I see the experience getting old real fast? Totally.



Before you roll up your Angry Sleeves and flame the hell out of me, allow me to reiterate: I fully expect the games listed above will do rather well, will be recieved rather well by critics, and be considered must-own titles by many gamers. Just not by me.

Moving on...

Part II : radar hotspots
Part III : must-plays

FEATURE - Games of 2009 - Part II

RADAR HOTSPOTS
Come, brethren, let us pray. Let us pray these titles don't suck.

With so many games coming out every year, each and every title needs to jostle and push to get our attention. Once a game turns up on your Radar of Awareness, it is generally accompanied by a kernel of hope that the game will deliver on what your imagination promises. Last year I had my eye on Force Unleashed and Legendary, and they... well, didn't quite deliver. But the tiniest blip on my radar - a pretty little strategy RPG called Valkyria Chronicles - turned out to be one of the best games of the year.

These are titles that have potential - that could be awesome. But we'll just have to wait and see.



Max Payne 3
Fall/Winter

Bullet-time third-person shooter. I hope.

Rockstar Vancouver have a dash of credit with me - I thought Bully was an absolutely remarkable game - but the more I hear about Max Payne 3 (the first title in the series not developed by the original team over at Remedy) the less I want to know. Classic, gritty-handsome American Tough Guy Max is now an overweight, bald, bearded badass in a wifebeater. The atmospheric, noiry New York setting has been replaced by Brazil. They tossed Max's voice actor, and added a cover system. I think I just threw up in my mouth.


Darksiders
Fall/Winter

Action-adventure RPG. Plus a brooding, violent protagonist. Plus Zelda?

Darksiders is practically the poster child for The Radar Blip Game That May or May Not Suck. Last year it looked empty, lifeless and uninteresting - but recent gameplay trailers have shown it to be an ambitious title with great art direction and big action. That, plus hearing it's "sort of like Zelda" is enough to warrant some attention.


Dante's Inferno
Fall/Winter

Action adventure. It's EA's take on the God of War formula.

Of all the titles in this section, Dante's Inferno wins the Least Likely To Suck award, despite EA's morally questionable promotions. It's a blatant rip of God of War, from the vaguely historical setting to the combat system (if you're going to copy, copy the best), but it's worth keeping an eye on simply because it was made by EA Redwood Shores. The thing is, prior to last fall Redwood Shores was... nothing. They made licensed Simpsons games and expansion packs for The Sims. But - when they were finally loosed from their chains and set forth do make the project they wanted to make - we ended up with Dead Space. So, based on that one brilliant success, I'm willing to give the company that idiotically changed their name to Visceral Games the benefit of the doubt, and keep a close eye on Dante's Inferno.


Red Dead Redemption
Fall/Winter

Third-person shooter, sandbox. GTA + RDR = potential.

Rockstar Games is considered to be the undisputed king of open-world games, but Rockstar San Diego...? Not so much. This is the crew that puts out the Midnight Club racing games with such alarming regularity (yes, I know they're open-world), but perhaps their most notable title is the original Red Dead Revolver. It had good-enough shooting, a good-enough story, and bloody amazing art direction and music, perfectly capturing the feel of a spaghetti western. It... also went a little far, what with the psycho clown crew, and so whenever I feel like spending some time in the old west I tend to reach for Neversoft's GUN. GUN didn't do very well, and so my hopes of spending more time in a grand, beautiful open-world wild-west setting seemed dashed...

Until Rockstar announced Red Dead Redemption, and revealed it would be running on the RAGE engine - just like GTA IV. So far I'm prepared to say the game looks great, and if some of the talent from Rockstar North head over to the states to lend San Diego a hand in story and third-person action, Red Dead Redemption could be one of the best games of the year.


Batman: Arkham Asylum
August 25th

Stealth brawler. A super hero game that looks really good. But then... most of them do.

This one looks so good, it almost deserves to be in the next section. The graphics look great, the gameplay actually seems to hold true to Batman's style, they've got the voice talent from the Warner Brothers animated series, and Paul Dini is helping to write it. Arkham Asylum has so much going for it, I'm probably going to give it a rental regardless of its reception come August. You've hurt me before, Superhero Games... I daren't trust you again. But I want to believe.


Mini Ninjas
September

Adorable action. Featuring adorable ninjas, adorable forest animals and likely some adorable enemies to kill (adorably).

I was as angry as the next fellow when I heard IO Interactive was following up the less-than-stellar Kane & Lynch with a kiddie ninja game instead of what they should have made in the first place: a new Hitman title. But over the months, the media has won me over, and I'm now eagerly looking forward to tossing Mini Ninjas a rental. I'm not saying it's a GotY contender, I'm just saying it has the potential to be a helluva lot of fun.


Borderlands
October

Post-apocalyptic FPS RPG. But not Fallout.

To be honest, I barely care about Borderlands. But it has that spark of potential that makes it worth a mention. Unfortunately, the only reason it has a prominent place on my radar is it's much touted new art direction, which doesn't make me a very hopeful fellow - but it has lit the fires of my imagination. Gearbox Software's employees have some impressive pedigrees - even if the company's own track record is less than stellar.


Alpha Protocol
October 6th

Action RPG. A promising crack at the spy genre.

I know, it's being published by Sega - but don't let that turn you off! This is being made by Obsidian (previously Black Isle), the folks behind Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2. They're also the crew Bethesda has trusted Fallout: Vegas with, but pedigree aside I am really turned on by what they've actually shown of Alpha Protocol so far. An under-represented genre, huge amounts of character customization and (what appears to be) very open-ended mission design make this a definite one to watch.


PART I: awesome games i don't give a crap about

PART III: must-plays

Saturday, June 27, 2009

FEATURE - Games of 2009 - Part III

And now, we move on to the best of the best. Games that have cruelly whipped and bludgeoned my imagination, games I have no choice but to submit to, for they are

MUST-PLAYS
We can't always agree on what's awesome, but for me these are The Games of 2009.

Thank goodness for the ability to rent, 'cause to purchase every game here would no doubt break the bank. You may disagree with some of the titles listed here, but if it's on this list, it is a game I will get my hands on. It has seduced me, and I would not break free of its spell. Well... I suppose there is one I won't be able to play:


The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf
Never

Action RPG. The only game that makes me wish I was a PC gamer.

Based on the popular (in Europe) novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, almost everything about The Witcher looks incredibly cool - from the gothic art style to the solid narrative to the genuinely ambiguous moral choices - and I will likely never get to play it. It was slated to come out this year on the PS3 and 360, but the developers (Widescreen Games) stopped working on it because CD Projekt stopped paying them because Widescreen wasn't living up to the technical standards CD Projekt had projekted for the title.

Long story short? We're not getting The Witcher on consoles, and that sucks balls. I list it here because, in my heart, it's still coming out, and I'm very much looking forward to it.


Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition
Fall

Post-apocalyptic FPS RPG. Not Borderlands, though - this is the important one.

I admit it - as with GTA IV, I am jealous of the downloadable content that appears on the 360 and not the PS3. Fallout 3 was one of 2008's most successful, critically acclaimed titles for a reason: because despite Bethesda's usual plethora of sharp edges and annoying bugs, it's incredible. When the first two bits of Fallout 3 DLC appeared on the 360, I didn't mind much. But with the advent of Broken Steel and Point Lookout, the loss grew much harder to bear. Thank goodness they're porting all five DLC packs over to the PS3, with an Oblivion-style Game of the Year Edition coming this fall.

Yes, Fallout 3, I will buy you twice.


Demon's Souls
Fall

Roguelike action RPG. Oh yes, there will be blood.

You are the king of localizations, and for that I love you, Atlus. I was this close to importing the English-friendly version of Demon's Souls from Hong Kong when news dropped that you would be sending copies within more convenient reach. Why is Demon's Souls important? Well, for one it's a Japanese RPG, which the PS3 doesn't see enough of. It's a good JRPG, which neither the 360 nor PS3 see enough of. And it's a brutally difficult roguelike, which console gaming doesn't see enough of.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's also gorgeous, has huge bosses and seems to have some really visceral combat. Demon's Souls isn't just a must-play, it's a must-buy.


WET
Fall

Cinematic action. You're surprised to see it in this section, aren't you?

No, it's not a sexual pun. It's 'wet' as in wetwork. The title is a reference to military slang for particularly violent covert ops, which leave your hands "wet with blood". Get it? Good, moving on...

Developer Artificial Mind and Movement haven't been responsible for many exceptional games in their history - their credits read like a laundry list of licensed crap, churning out titles for everything from High School Musical to Smurfs. So why do I consider Wet a must-play? Well, first of all, consider EA Redwood Shores. Their credit list was the exact same thing - licensed crap - until they were given the freedom to make the game they wanted to make, and blew our collective minds.

Well, that's what Artificial Mind and Movement is trying to do. They're trying to make a title that interests them, and if that's not enough to win you over, watch some videos of protagonist Rubi Malone doing some crazy acrobatics while dual-wielding pistols in slow motion. My inner child peed himself when he saw that. It won't win any Game of the Year awards, but it looks like it could be the B-quality fun-as-hell cult classic of 2009.


Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
Fall/Winter

Adventure platformer. Stunderwear: huge seller on Umbris.

Since 2002, Insomniac Games have been pumping out Ratchet & Clank titles every few years - and I just keep on buying them, clutching them to my chest like a preteen who's gotten their mitts on the 8th Harry Potter novel. Over the years, very little aside from the technology has changed. At its heart, R&C is a kid-friendly, cartoony platformer with ridiculous weapons, zany alien worlds, snappy dialogue and a wonderful space-bop soundtrack - and every game is essentially the same. Start out with a single weapon, build your armory and explore strange new worlds. The formula works, the games are a blast, and with Crack in Time - the fifth entry in the core series - I hope they don't change a thing.


Bayonetta
September

Action. That makes all other action look idle.


Ready for some name-dropping? Good. Shinji Mikami was the director for legendary games like Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4 before he moved on to Clover Studio and made God Hand, one of the best brawlers ever. Hideki Kamiya directed Resident Evil 2, the original Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe before he moved on to Clover and made Ōkami. I hope you see the running theme here - these guys make classic games. Incredible games. And when they started up their own independent studio (Platinum Games), they continued making stuff no one else would attempt - like the ultraviolent Mad World on the family-friendly Wii.

This fall they bring their gonzo brilliance to the high-def consoles with Bayonetta. That's it - that's my whole schpiel. They only make incredible stuff - they're like the Team ICO of action games.


Muramasa: The Demon Blade
September 8th

2D action RPG. Beauty isn't all that matters - but it sure helps.

If you have a Playstation 2, you really should find yourself a copy of Vanillaware's Odin Sphere. It's certainly not for everyone, but it is a forty-hour, uniquely beautiful two-dimensional side-scrolling action-RPG with lovingly detailed animation, a deceptively deep alchemy system, Atlus's pitch-perfect localization, a gorgeous soundtrack and a moving story. Again, it's not for everyone (the gameplay is repetitive), but it's definitely for me - and so I cannot help but get goose bumps when I see screenshots of Muramasa.

Admittedly, there is a flaw in my plan - I don't own Nintendo's Wii. But come September 8th, I can promise you I will own a copy of Muramasa, regardless of my console collection.


Brütal Legend
October 13th

Action adventure. Tim Schafer? Tim Schafer.

Don't worry if the name is unknown to you - it's entirely possible you've fallen in love with a Tim Schafer game and never known it. Schafer had a hand in Lucasart's classic adventure titles like The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle before he started up Double Fine and put out the critically acclaimed commercial flop Psychonauts. Well, he hasn't given up. He's back, and he's got a lot going for his new game. But even if you ignore a star-studded cast of heavy metal legends, the unique energy of Jack Black, striking art direction and original concept, it's still a Tim Schafer game - which means it will have more life, more creativity, and more laughs than 99% of the titles out there.


Uncharted 2
November

Action adventure, third-person shooter. Basically, think of it as Indiana Jones 5.

Uncharted was a bit like God of War for me - it took me a long, long time to appreciate how special the game was. Over time, I was able to see that technical wizardry, rock-solid gameplay, the gold standard of voice work and truly endearing characters made the original Uncharted one of the best games of this generation - and based on the trailers shown thus far and the multiplayer beta, Uncharted 2 will be better. Day one purchase.


BioShock 2
November 3rd

First-person shooter. But that's not all.

There's not really much one can say about BioShock. If you are a gamer, it is required reading - so critically acclaimed, so artistically successful, that it begs the question: is a sequel required? As much as my intellectual side insists that we need no sequel, my imagination longs to explore the city of Rapture for the first time again. See unseen sights, hear unheard tales of ideals gone horribly wrong...

It may not be as good as the original - that was lightning in a bottle - but with Jordan Thomas at the helm (the fellow behind the legendary Fort Frolic level and Thief 3's Shalebridge Cradle), and most of the original team still on board, I can't wait to see where BioShock 2 will take us.


Assassin's Creed II
November 17th

Stealth action open-world. Less hype, more hope.

Assassin's Creed got a reasonably tepid response from critics after its mind-numbing crescendo of hype, but tedious, unskippable cutscenes and lack of mission variety aside, it is still exceptional in a number of ways. The fortunate thing about video games is that, unlike films, things tend to improve and refine as sequels appear. With all the complaints made against Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft Montreal certainly has plenty to refine - but even if the sequel is merely as good as the original, it will still be an umissable experience.



IN CLOSING
Because all exhaustively long lists must come to an end.

So there you have it. The remaining potent notables of gaming for 2009. In an unusual showing, this year's first six months have already been pretty darn good - but that's nothing when compared to the quantity of quality that will appear in the build-up to Christmas. Perhaps I misjudged my position when I said I am only passably blessed - at the very least, it is a wonderful time to be a gamer.




PART I : awesome games I don't give a crap about

PART II : radar hotspots

It's already been a pretty good year for gaming.



Well to be fair, last spring had Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4, but from the ebb of winter to now we've gotten some pretty great titles. You've got your Street Fighter IV, Resident Evil 5, Flower and Killzone 2. In the last month inFamous appeared (with the gift of the Uncharted 2 Beta) and hot on its heels was Prototype - plus, now we've got Final Fantasy VII on PSN!

I'm not too proud to say I'd never played FFVII before last week. Never liked RPGs - particularly turn-based. Oh sure, friends had tried to turn me on to the stuff when I was in junior high, but I managed to stay clean until - in a freakish display of faith - I went out and bought myself a copy of Persona 3 in '07. 130 hours on my first playthrough - if that's not an indication of affection, I don't know what is.

So with the Shin Megami Tensei series, I dipped my toe in the waters of turn-based RPGs and did not find it at all unpleasant. I'm less timid around RPGs now, but I still had a massive hole in my knowledge. If you play video games at all, it is expected that you've played Final Fantasy VII. So much so that even without having ever picked up the controller, I knew who Barret, Cloud, Tifa, Red XIII and Aeris were - and I knew what happens to The Flower Girl. Final Fantasy VII - regardless of its objective quality when compared to the rest of the Final Fantasies - is a legendary title.

It is required reading for gamers. But if, like me, you've never played it, I'll try to slap a review together once I finish it for the sake of others in my position.

Is it actually worth dropping ten bucks on? Or have fanboys romanticized the game so much over the past decade that its genuine value is indescernable?

Wish me luck.

*

At any rate, what you see below is the extent of the material I'd written prior to setting up shop here on the blogosphere. From here on out it's all fresh, no filler. Except for when I decide to review a four year old game (which I anticipate won't be an irregular event).

Also, I may do up something on Prototype Vs. inFamous. Because, of course, they're exactly the same.


**

Note: all the articles below (aside from the Uncharted 2 Beta and Prototype review) can be found at http://savingprogress.com. It's a fine site run by a fine bunch of guys, I just put them up hear because their future is beyond my control and I would be loath to lose them.



REVIEW - Prototype


Lost the Hulk, kept the Incredible.

When I was a boy, I had a dream. I was standing in line at a McDonald's in a mall (because I dream big), and the sudden thought struck me that I may, in fact, be dreaming. I straightaway decided to put this theory to the test, and so I turned to the fellow behind me in line and punched him in the face. When nothing bad happened, I gave the cute girl in the Kelly Bundy dress a smooch, walked outside and hopped into the sports car that sat waiting. Then I sped away and got into untold amounts of mischief.

Such is the lure of the open world game. Bully, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, Oblivion. A fantasy of freedom - indulgence without consequence. More often than not - unless you consciously choose to be a nice guy who obeys the traffic laws and donates to the church - we head into sandbox games and wreck shit. Players do awful things in these games - and Prototype embraces that fact better than, perhaps, any other title to date. The (rather innocent) childhood dream of turning around and punching the guy behind me in the face is extrapolated to a level of gory insanity. Arguably, the darkest fantasy one can have is that of unbridled violence - and that is precisely what the game offers.

There is no karma gauge, because it would be stuck at the indicator for "fiend". There are no forks in the road - only a straight path of immorality paved with the blood of fallen foes and the innocent populous. All sandbox games permit you to be an asshole, if you choose. Prototype makes this choice on your behalf: its mission statement is to fulfill your darkest childhood dreams of power and freedom. Many nightmare creatures prowl the game, but nothing is more monstrous than Alex Mercer.

Sound production is good, art direction is sub-par, and the voice work is all over the quality scale. But despite having all of virtual Manhattan to explore, Prototype is a very focused experience. There are three parts to the gameplay, and they mesh rather well together. The stealth component allows you to play hit-and-run with the military, and the movement aspect has a pleasing amount of depth compared to the game's spiritual prequel, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. But even with an engine that allows you to run up a piece of wall as it is blown through the air by a tank shell, nobody plays Prototype for those reasons. They only exist to facilitate and compliment the main course.

It's all about the combat. Mastering the air dash allows you to get to the next fight faster, and sneaking into a military base disguised as a commander only happens because you intend to eviscerate every red shirt inside. And when you do, I can assure you it is spectacular, thanks to a mammoth list of brutal and gonzo superpowers.

But is the game any good? Eh, it's a little better than average. The writing, the production values, the mission design, the boss battles? They're definitely below average. But include the gameplay in that list, and suddenly you've got... well, you've got a bit of a classic. Thanks to the ridiculously long move list (and the sense of power they convey), you have so much damn choice in how you deal with situations, it's impossible not to have fun with this title.

For example, the best way to kill a tank is to execute the Blade Drop move, which will destroy it with a single blow. But after you've Blade Dropped a hundred tanks, that starts to get old. So throw soldiers at it. Throw cars at it. Bury your clawed hand into the pavement and have a cluster of spikes explode from beneath the tank. Use a missile launcher. Highjack a helicopter and use that. Jump from a skyscraper, glide above your target and plummet headfirst to the ground in a shockwave that obliterates it. Switch to the muscle mass mutation, walk up to the thing and just kick it until it explodes.

The action is relentless (and unforgiving), and the amount of wild abilities available to you means the only thing standing in the way of enjoying Prototype is your creativity. If you're not having fun with this title, I have to posit it's because you've decided you're not going to.

Is it perfect? Hoo boy, not by a long shot. Is it better than Hulk? Not quite, I'm afraid. The boss battles are smaller and less interesting, and having to pull up a menu to choose your mutation - however easy it is to navigate - interrupts the action.

But if you were wise enough to pick up a copy of Radical's Ultimate Destruction four years ago, and have been waiting anxiously for a sequel, this is it for weal or woe. It's a little less here and a little more there, but it still allows you to run up a skyscraper while carrying a car, leap into the night air and chuck it into a helicopter.

And really, that's all I'm asking for.


THE GOOD
-an insane amount of abilities
-gore + humor = :)
-solid gameplay
-"adaptive parkour" really adapts
-a dream of freedom and power
-unique story presentation
-Phil LaMarr

THE BAD
-virtual New York is devoid of personality
-boring story
-horrid mission design
-menu for switching powers

THE VERDICT
Despite all its flaws, Prototype is unique in its phenomenal, over-the-top sandbox action. Give it a try.

PREVIEW - Uncharted 2 Multiplayer


Nowhere near the hook.

I wasn't alone when my blood ran cold at news of co-op and competitive multiplayer in Uncharted 2. Uncharted is a modern classic, one of the most beautiful, fun, challenging games of the high-definition consoles, and the thought of resources being pulled from the single-player portion of the sequel to work on a tacked-on multiplayer component seemed the height of idiocy.

Here's the good news: Naughty Dog isn't pulling a Resident Evil 5 and re-branding the game as a co-op experience (stripping away a lot of charm in the process). Thank goodness, the single-player and multiplayer portions of the game are entirely separate, and while the main campaign of Uncharted 2 will wait until Fall to be weighed and judged, the multiplayer portion has arrived via the closed Beta - and it seems anything but tacked-on.

It's hardly the whole schebang, but the Beta offers a very appetizing taste of Plunder (see: capture the flag), co-op and classic team deathmatch. It's perhaps best to ignore technical foibles that will, I trust, be ironed out come autumn - like the amount of time it takes for the system to find enough players for a game - and instead focus on how surprisingly solid the experience is once you actually pick up sticks and throw down.

Lag? Zero. None. Once you're in the game, it runs smooth as silk. I'm in Canada playing with a dude in Florida and a good 'ol boy from Tennessee, and the closest I came to a technical hitch was the Floridian reporting that an NPC enemy had instantly jumped four feet. Headshots are invariable with such negligible latency, and before long my team of Americans and I are a well-oiled grinder of NPC destruction. When heavily armored miniboss characters crash through the scenery, one of us would grab their attention with bursts of AK-47 fire so another could creep up behind the terrors for easy neck-snaps. Teamwork is essential to survival, and more fun than I had anticipated.

The co-op could very quickly become a bore (again, see: Resident Evil 5) thanks to predictable enemy placement, but the game seems to straddle the line between scripted events and a Left 4 Dead-style AI director that mixes things up. Examples like the enemy that busts through the wall are always present, but every game of the co-op portion plays differently thanks to the unseen director, and keeps the action clipping along with just enough challenge and variability to maintain the thrill factor.

The competitive portions are equally solid, and for some reason feel better - more fair, strangely enough - than any other shooter I've played, in my admittedly limited experience. Even with powerful items like riot shields and chain guns randomly placed about the arenas, what will win the day is always tactics, and - one example aside - I can't recall a death that felt cheap. It's always clear why the winner of a shootout deserved to win, and the result is a very satisfying experience. Even grenades - fiddly little bastards that they tend to be in shooters - are very easy to master, and have a strange tendency to go precisely where you want them.

There are certainly a few kinks to be ironed out here and there - random spawn placement can lead to popping up in a crossfire and surviving all of two seconds - but when small additions like the ability to throw objects (the Plunder objective, explosive canisters) works so well, when the gameplay feels so confident and comfortable, I find myself more than prepared to give Naughty Dog the benefit of the doubt. Really, the worst thing about the Uncharted 2 Beta is the worst thing about any multiplayer experience - anonymous internet douchebags, and their desperate quest to piss other people off.

I suppose I can let the final judgment of the Beta rest with the reaction of a kid I played a co-op game with. From the sounds of things it was his first day with a PS3, and his friend was constantly explaining button placement through their analogs on the 360 controller. Having spent enough time with the original Uncharted, I wasn't quite as thrilled with the ability to climb on an object and still shoot at enemies, or simply how gorgeous the game is, but at the very least I can agree with his appraisal that "this shit is off the hook."


THE GOOD
-co-op is a lot of fun
-competitive always feels fair
-zero lag
-prettied-up graphics
-same great taste

THE BAD
-matchmaking can take a while
-i'll have to wait until this fall for a second helping

REVIEW - inFamous


Quick and spry, clever and Sly.

There is a hunger, too rarely sated by the current generation of consoles. Born of the late 1980s, I have a deep, unquenchable thirst for video games that offer a character who jumps from one object to another, slightly higher object. I adore platformers, and the satisfaction I draw from them may be why I find myself so pleased with inFamous.

Sucker Punch's latest effort is a little hard to pin down, in terms of objective quality. The lightning powers could be an inspired choice for an urban superhero, or just a boring re-branding of familiar shooter weapons. The story is strong enough to make one well up at the end, and childish enough to roll your eyes at. It's polished but glitchy, beautiful and dingy, and ambitious without any real advances made. Good thing it's an absolute blast.

If you're familiar with the Sly Cooper series - Sly 2 in particular - you'll feel instantly at home as inFamous's Cole, dashing around his urban playground, leaping between skyscrapers and plummeting from the heavens to touch lightly down on a telephone wire. Personally, I found perhaps too much joy in running around Sly's cell-shaded world searching for clue bottles, and that simple, wholesome pleasure returns here in the form of collectible blast shards. The platforming element feels... well, classic. Familiar. It allows you to spend hours effortlessly exploring the world, but demands more precision and attention than Assassin's Creed or Prince of Persia. Although Cole perhaps reaches too readily for handholds, the traversal mechanics are fast, responsive, and reward the mastery experience provides.

The second aspect of gameplay is classic third-person-shooting, plus a few more whimsical abilities like an energy shield or a shockwave for blasting enemies off rooftops. The shooting mechanics excel when they combine with the karma system (Evil Cole will shockwave a half-dozen cars at his enemies, which electrocutes the cars and makes them explode on impact, while Good Cole can launch five electrical rockets into the sky and effortlessly command them to do a quick U-turn and slam into a surgically chosen enemy), but the comabt truly shines when it merges with the platforming.

No matter what Cole's position - zipping along a train track, leaping through the air or dangling by a single hand, pressing L1 will bring up your aiming reticle, and every single attack is always at your disposal with no menu or weapon-switching mechanic required. The two sides of the game never compete, and are married flawlessly. Again, it is fun as hell, and before long you're blasting off power lines, flying through the air and nailing headshots.

Really, beyond the rock-solid gameplay, there's a lot to say in favor of the title. The voice work is without a weak link, and any product that features Phil LaMarr is a winner in my book. The soundtrack headlined by Amon Tobin is remarkable, and at times seems to simply be the ambient noise of the city before you notice it's actually music, which dramatically shifts in tone to reflect your karma level. Cole's animations are as good as Sly's ever were - watching him kick along a wall or twist his body mid-flight to grab a ledge is gorgeous, and at the very least inFamous is a game with sewer levels that you desperately look forward to playing.

The city itself, and its connection to Cole is another standout. I won't ruin it for you, but inFamous actually manages to turn pressing the start button into gameplay, and immediately connects the unwitting player with Cole's predicament. The reactions, plights and stories of the pedestrians are on par with Grand Theft Auto's gold standard. They dig in trash cans for food, huddle on doorsteps for warmth and lynch each other, but what's surprising is how personal your interactions with them feel. Empire City sports superficial differences to reflect your karma level, but the city's outward transformation is less important than its symbiotic relationship with the hero. The city's weaknesses - areas devoid of electricity - are your weaknesses, and once you turn the power back on to open new areas for exploration, its strength becomes your own. Perhaps the lightning powers really are an inspired choice, after all.

Of course, there are problems. Let's be honest - a lot of tiny problems. I won't list them all, but they definitely grab inFamous by the arms and hold it back from being a triple-A game (which, perhaps, there are enough of anyway). The most glaring issues are the in-engine cutscenes, with animation that looks like placeholder work, waiting for the final coat of paint to be applied. As well, the same tenacious mechanic that allows Cole to zip up buildings at speeds that would make Altair blush also demands he reach for every handhold on the way back down. This is countered by experience, and an ability that lets you flash towards the ground to explode in a blast wave of energy, but it could have been easily solved by simply letting Cole fall past every ledge if you hold down the drop button.

It's fortunate this game didn't appear on the PS3 back when every exclusive title was held aloft or rent asunder as an indication of the console's value. In a lot of ways it's totally average, but I find myself coming up with excuses for inFamous simply because I have such a damn good time playing it. It doesn't have the polish of a triple-A title, but I'm willing to forgive a few issues for a team as small as Sucker Punch. All the nits that can be picked take a backseat to the simple answer that the game is fun - lots of fun.

Upon spending twenty-five hours in Empire City as a paragon of virtue, I happily started over again and tore the city apart as an acrobatic Palpatine. And once I'd completed that, I find myself itching to return to its streets, and continue the hunt for the remaining blast shards.

Heck, I think I'll start up another fresh game.


THE GOOD
-familiar, wholesome platforming
-above-par narrative
-above-par open world city
-exceptional music
-Phil LaMarr
-shoot people in the face with lightning

THE BAD
-godawful animation during in-game cutscemes
-a few niggling bugs which didn't impact my enjoyment
-a little pop-in while riding the rails

THE VERDICT
A worthy purchase - Sucker Punch has never done better.



Also see: I Think I Love inFamous.