Monday, August 31, 2009

How to prepare for the future (of Fallout 3).

You'd best get ready, now.

Whenever I take a peek at what my friends list is playing lately, two things strike me: "Huh, I'm like the only person playing Arkham Asylum!" and "Why is Mario playing Fallout 3?"

The other day it hit me - he's probably putting together a toon for when the DLC drops (a quick PSN message confirms this is the case). A wise and noble endeavor, says I!

I hate the lower levels in Fallout 3. I get that a great deal of satisfaction in any RPG results from growing your character, but with more mature storytelling and more engaging worlds, the less leveling matters to me. What starts to really matter is whether or not my character can solve the problems - can exist in the world - the way I want him (or her) to, as opposed to getting gibbed because I don't have the proper skill to adequately sneak up on a squad of super mutants.

Clearly, the answer was to have a Pimped Out Starter Character. The objective? Collect every bobblehead. Max as many attributes as I can, and achieve level twenty while (here's the hard part) completing no quests, accepting no quests, and visiting no major world locations aside from Rivet City - the only resource I'd allow for unloading merchandise and purchasing weapons.

A few months ago I attempted this on my PS3 version of Fallout 3 (a task that would be unnecessary on the PC version - but I had my share of fun with it, so I can't complain). I've learned a few things, and if climbing this virtual mountain is a task you would attempt prior to the DLC's release on PS3, permit me to be your guide to leveling without questing, and maxing your character with as little interaction with the plot as possible.

By level twenty, my character had the following stats:

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Attributes
Strength - 5
Perception - 10
Endurance - 2
Charisma - 10
Intelligence - 10
Agility - 10
Luck - 10

Skills
Explosives
Lockpick
Medicine
Repair
Small Guns
Sneak
Speech - all maxed. A few remaining points put into Heavy Weapons.

Clearly, I used the Intense Training perk a lot - I could have maxed more skills if I had used skill perks instead - but you can mix-and-match to suit your purpose. My character has always been a sneaky sniper - popping skulls from a hundred yards under cover of darkness, and relying on VATS when things get hairy. I need a lot of agility for all those VATS shots and sneakery and I need a lot of perception to get the drop on enemies. Luck ups my crits, and charisma simply lets me win any speech check I may come across.

No, the real story here is the Intelligence attribute.

Step 1: Nine Intelligence points.

Intelligence isn't just there to increase your Science, Repair and Medicine skills - your Intelligence attribute has a direct impact on any skill you wish to improve, because Intelligence dictates how many skill points you get to distribute per level.

Put simply, a character with 1 Int gets 11 skill points per level. A character with 10 Int gets 20, maxed at 23 with the Educated perk. It's not necessary to go quite so far if you don't wish to - for my first three or so playthroughs my Intelligence was always at 1 - I had no idea it had such an impact. By maxing my Int and taking Educated, I increased the amount of skill points available to me by 218. That's a spicy meatball (of skill).

So remember, as you leave the Vault, be sure to set your Intelligence to 9. Why not 10? Because of step 2.

Step 2: Get your ass to Rivet City.

Turn the difficulty to its lowest level and walk to Rivet City - your objective is the Intelligence bobblehead in the Science Lab, where Dr. Li can usually be found. By lowering the difficulty, you also lower the amount of XP you will gain per kill - you don't want to ding level three before you get that bobblehead and max your Intelligence!

Sell off all your crap, get a halfway decent suit of armor and whatever your choice of weapon is. Now, it's time to get some artillery...

Lucas Simms: Style Baron of the Wastes.

Step 3: Gather your implements of doom.

We all have our favorite weapons. As a Small Guns guy I prefer Ol' Painless (bread & butter damage), Lincoln's Repeater (for when the shit hits the fan) and The Terrible Shotgun (up close & very personal), but you probably favor your own rogues gallery of destruction. It's here where the rule of taking no quests and talking to no one gets a little... bent. If you simply cannot enjoy your character without A3-21's Plasma Rifle, by all means take The Replicated Man quest. I love me some VATS, so as soon as I feel up to the task I always head over to the Nuka-Cola Factory and get the Nuka-Cola Clear formula, to obtain Ledoux's Hockey Mask.

But it is simply a helluva lot easier to level your character and enjoy your time doing so when you have a nice, reliable weapon to bet your life on. Keep Step 4 in mind, but I generally worry about Step 3 first.


Step 4: Level gently and get the Bobblehead FAQ.


Personally, I liked to pump skill points into an area and leave it be at around 80pts. That way you have 10 empty points that won't be wasted if you should pick up a skill book for a discipline you've already maxed, and 10 points that won't be wasted when you find the skill's bobblehead - because maxing a character is all about the bobbleheads (and occasionally the perks).

For example, let's say that (like me) you're a sneaky sumbitch. Don't put 80 points into stealth - you're wasting points! At level 12 you can pick up the Silent Running perk, add to that the Stealth bobblehead and you're at the skill cap. Now if you ever pick up a Chinese Army training manual, you've wasted skill points! Bad character pimper! Bad!

This also applies to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes. Don't take 9 Str or Per if you want to max it - you'll find the bobblehead for 10, but the perk rewards for the quest 'Those!' will be wasted. Folks like me who want to max Luck, as well, would do well to remember the method for obtaining the Lucky 8-Ball in Big Town.

There's all sorts of ways to screw yourself out of efficient points distribution, but if you know the character you're trying to develop and the various bonus items and perks available, you can plan ahead and create a much more powerful character.

Of course, in order to find all those bobbleheads, getting your mitts on a FAQ would be a great help. Here's the one I use - it hasn't let me down. I wasn't prepared to break my own rule and enter Megaton to pick up the Strength bobblehead, but given that I had to breach The Republic of Dave to pick up Ol' Painless anyway, I snagged the Perception 'head while I was there.

Step 5: Kill, kill, explore, kill, repeat.

It was pretty darned surprising to me just how long it took me to level up to twenty without the benefit of quests. I went through the capital buildings, covered (what seemed to be) every square inch of the DC ruins, and had a good 80% of my map discovered.

Lots of stuff gets you XP that you wouldn't think of, at first. Hacking computers and picking locks, for example? Tons of XP. Disarming traps and mines is another big one, and freeing super mutant captives always nets a good chunk.

Another good note is that you can increase the amount of XP you get from kills by increasing the difficulty level. This also tends to mean you'll burn through much more ammunition than normal, but if you're interested in saving time instead of shells, it's a good trade-off.

One thing you'll definitely need is patience - let me check the time on that file I saved right after I dinged 20... thirty-six hours and forty-three minutes.

But when I was done, I could stroll into Megaton and begin the first post-vault quest with a big, strapping, you-don't-want-to-fuck-with-me level twenty Super Sneaky Sniper Lucky-Charmer Doctor Explosives-Expert. It feels very nice to have so much choice in how you deal with quests, instead of being shoehorned in to only an option or two by your limited skills.

And now, I am certainly ready for the launch of the DLC. Unless, of course, they decide the DLC won't be compatible with previous saves.

...they wouldn't do that, would they?

God of War and God of War II get upgrades.

Yep, God of War and God of War II, in 720p, running at 60fps, with trophy support this holiday season - for forty dollars.

Some may be disappointed to learn this isn't the original God of War games running on some sort of backward compatibility. These are no longer PS2 games - they have, apparently, been totally "remastered" to run on the PS3.

How on earth did this come to pass? Well, this past April there was a survey over at the Playstation Blog, asking what fans wanted to see in the Collector's Edition of God of War III. Soundtracks and art books are common fare, but it's pretty clear that everyone voted for God of War I and II on Blu-ray. So many people, it seems, that they decided to offer it on its own instead of as a part of the CE.

The cynic in me believes folks will buy the God of War Collection this fall, only to discover the Collector's Edition of GoWIII will also have the two games, but we'll see what Sony's got up their sleeves. The cynic in me also believes this is why Sony hasn't put its software-based backwards-compatibility to use - they've learned from Nintendo that they can charge people for classic games, and people will pay it.

It's also worth noting that news of this deal first dropped from a dude that PSX claimed was a manager for Sony Mexico - a dude who, in his twitter feed, said the GoW Collection would be coming this holiday season, and would include a demo for God of War III.

But still... am I the only one disappointed that this won't include a port of Chains of Olympus?

Also: this is nice, Sony, but up-ports of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus would be nicer.

Things get a little more efficient around here.

Over on the right side of the page, you may notice some text where there was no text before. These links, located under the words [ reviews ] and [ features ] will take you to some new pages I set up that list all the articles that fall under those respective categories. No longer will one have to wade through tags or that iffy search function! Huzzah!

There's whole bunches going on in gaming right now, so I have a ton of content to get to - but for today, I finally put up my review for Arkham Asylum. I'm not... particularly pleased with the review, but I'll happily blame its perceived (or actual) quality on my new attempt to quit smoking.

Way of the Samurai 3 info slowly trickles out.

Thank you, Siliconera. Thank you for finally calling up one of the publishers involved in the localization of Way of the Samurai 3 and asking a few questions!

Of course, I'd be a little more thankful if you had spoken to Agetec instead of UFO, but this beggar is no chooser! It's very nice to hear any new information from a reliable source.

A few interesting questions are answered. For example, why the heck are two different companies localizing the PS3 and 360 versions, respectively?
"During this economic climate, Agetec and UFO wanted to leverage our collective experience and knowledge to release a franchise title for both the PS3 and X360 platforms, while dividing up the total development cost. It’s a win-win situation for everyone, including the fans, who are able to get this title on the platform of their choice."

So Agetec is an old hand at PS3 development, UFO is a pro with the 360, and they've entered into a partnership where they share the risk of localizing a very niche title. Fair enough.

Over in Japan, Way of the Samurai 3 was a timed PS3 exclusive. It was ported to the 360 with additional content - but there is no such disparity in the localizations.

"The PS3 version of this title will be released first in the NA territories, with the X360 version to follow soon after. All content added to the (Japanese) X360 version has been added to the PS3 and both will be identical in content."

But what about Way of the Samurai 3 Plus? Recently announced, a new version of WotS3 for PS3 will be released in Japan this fall with a new low price and tons of additional content - like a bevy of beautiful warrior babes that can become your companion bodyguards - will we get neat stuff like that?

Nope.
"The Way of the Samurai 3 “Plus” budget version can be classified as a Japan PS3 exclusive."
Perhaps the most important question is, what about languages? I know I'm not the only high-horse riding Japanese-media-mastication machine who prefers the original voice work with subtitles (Atlus localizations excluded).
"Players will have the option of choosing either the English voice acting or the Japanese version with subtitles."
Be still my beating heart.

The interviewee goes on to point out that trophies will indeed be supported, and DLC that has appeared in Japan will be "available in the North American version as well." Whether that means included on the disk or offered via Xbox Live and PSN at a later date remains a mystery - but I'm going to presume it's the paid option. Localizers of cult titles like WotS needs all the help they can get, and DLC is a cash cow.

Again, all this information comes from Siliconera's interview. Again, thank you Spencer, for acquiring information I could not obtain alone!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

REVIEW - Batman: Arkham Asylum

It won't be the GotY, but it'll make the short lists.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best comic book super hero game ever made. That's the truth. It's not quite the BioShock of superhero games, but it's certainly the Dead Space - it came out of nowhere, nobody expected it to be as good as it is, and while it does not boast any particular artistic merit it is still of such uniformly high quality that it can be considered a modern classic.

The challenge of making a Batman game isn't just that it needs to be a good game - a game that would be enjoyable if the licensed property weren't attached - but that Batman himself has been passed through so many hands over the years. The most famous departure from what we consider to be Batman was certainly the camp TV series from the 1960s, but even some of Batman's most important aspects - his rule of never killing, for example - were added at a later date by folks far removed from Bob Kane. How does one plug in to our unspoken expectations for what The Dark Knight should be, when there have been so many changes - so many interpretations of the source material?

The answer, it seems, is to keep almost all of it. Throw in references to idiotic villains like Calendar Man, but put the major ancillary villains like Bane - the genius, monstrous arch-criminal who "broke the Bat" in the hugely successful KnightFall series, and was reduced to a mindless helper-thug in that abysmal Batman & Robin flick - front-and-center. Rocksteady never forces it - Bane's presence in Arkham is perfectly reasonable, but Catwoman would never be held in the asylum - so she is placed in the periphery along with all the other villains and references that would not serve to sell the world.

My favorite is easily the major role Harley Quinn plays. Harley - like Bane - is another late addition to the Batman universe, first introduced in the (fabulous) Warner Bros. animated series back in '92, and later worked into the comic universe. Her touching origin story and severely abusive relationship with Joker are given no more weight than the other major villains' stories, but it's still nice to see her appearance - even if her voice actor's performance is paper-thin in her back-story revealing interview tapes, and her "new uniform" is almost insultingly revealing.

Luckily, all the other major performances are remarkable. Kevin Conroy's been Batman for so long, I immediately buy into the character and his stoic, (insanely) unrelenting pursuit of justice. Heath Ledger wowed the world with his interpretation of the villain, but like Conroy, it is Mark Hamil's Joker that instantly bypasses my cynical defenses and plugs in to my unconscious expectations of the character. Alright, you've sold me. This is Batman and you are the Joker. I believe you, and so I believe this world. Now don't screw it up.

...and they didn't. Like Dead Space, Arkham Asylum picks and chooses what worked well in other seminal games and assembles it into a cohesive whole. What makes it really work is it - like the choices of villains, like the performances - is all informed by our personal expectations of "a Batman experience". Batman video games have always been (profoundly disappointing) straight-up brawlers, which showcase his ability to throw a single punch over and over and over.

Arkham Asylum certainly has its own take on brawling - the most original aspect of the game - a vicious ballet of bone-jarring strikes, counters, gadgets and takedowns. Wisely, Arkham Asylum's Batman is a very human character - guns will cut him down quickly, and if he gets nailed in the noggin with a pipe he'll see double for a few seconds - but he's also a master of all known forms of martial arts, capable of walking confidently into the midst of twenty seething goons and knowing that he will wipe the floor with all of them. The combat system is unlike any other title I've played, its initial simplicity belies its elegance, depth and the degree of satisfaction one can glean from the more difficult fights and the expert challenge rooms.

But no Batman movie, comic or TV series has ever been just about Batman going around punching people (well, the 60s TV show was, mostly). Batman looks down on his enemies from on high, and strikes with unerring, terrifying precision. And so, we also get "silent predator" mode. This is - arguably - when the player gets to feel the most like Batman. The iconic Inverted Takedown (Batman zips straight down, folds his cape around an unsuspecting thug and flies back up to his perch) is easily the best part. The whole thing seems very reminiscent of Tenchu, but streamlined for ease-of-use (you don't need to aim Batman's grapple gun, simply point the screen up and he'll usually find something to latch on to) and customized to remain true to the character. Again, they nailed it.

The third aspect of gameplay is detective work (Batman's first appearance was in Detective Comics, back in 1939). Serving as a breather between the other two gameplay types, Batman's cowl allows him to pick out fingerprints in the environment to follow a trail - or alcohol in the air to follow a trail - or tobacco on the ground to follow a trail.

It sounds boring, I know, but it fulfills its purpose of breaking up the pace of the title while still directing the player towards their next objective. Most of the brain-teasing is left up to The Riddler's Challenge - various collectibles and riddles placed around the island - and it rounds out the three tenents of Batman's character. He can fight, he can sneak, and he is the World's Greatest Detective. Each gameplay type is directly informed by the history of Batman and the most important aspect of his character - that he is a superhero without super powers.

No single aspect would be an enjoyable game on its own. The brawling, the stealth, the puzzle-solving would all get stale - but mixed together (and perfectly balanced), they accurately showcase the methods and style of Batman, and taken in measured doses they are thrilling, stylish, and immensely satisfying.

The game has problems, of course - little problems that don't begin to shift it out of "must buy" territory. The boss battles in particular - while it's a pleasure to confront these classic Batman villains - are disappointing, often rehashing mechanics used for miniboss characters when not simply complying to the age-old boss fight "figure out what to do to hurt me - now do it three times" rule.

Once one considers the little problems, Arkham Asylum is still stunning success. This is not Batman shoehorned into a single genre. This is a game that looks at the character in three-dimensions, that gets inside his head, and has designed itself accordingly. It is slavishly true to not only the source material, but popular culture's interpretation of it. Be the Bat, baby.

The best comic super hero game ever.

THE GOOD
-c'mon, it's Batman
-great art direction
-characterization well-realized
-satisfying, beautiful, original combat
-Arkham Island is huge, and demands exploration
-Scarecrow sequences
-Kevin Conroy & Mark Hamil
-Mark Hamil counts twice
-devotion to the source material
-a perfectly paced, well-rounded game
-the Challenge Rooms are great fun

THE BAD
-repeatedly-used boss fight mechanics
-final battle is very disappointing, even if it fits the narrative

THE VERDICT
Batman fan or not, it's an excellent game.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Heavy Rain becomes increasingly attractive.

Of all the stuff to come out of Gamescom last week, the single title that kept me reading preview after preview and watching vid after vid was Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain has been on my radar for a long time - ever since I heard the fundamentals of the plot and worked out that this was the type of unrelentingly mature adventure game (if you can even call it an adventure game) that I've not seen since the heyday of Sierra and its Police Quest series.

It's not about guns or blowing shit up (though it's possible and even likely to occur in the game), it's about emotions. Relationships. It also seems to be about a huge amount of choice on the part of the player. Eurogamer's preview, for example, covers the relatively ho-hum evening a father in the game spends with his son.

"On the blackboard in the kitchen there's a schedule for the evening - give Shaun a snack, get him to do his homework, make him dinner, let him watch TV, put him to bed. You can choose to do your best for him - gently put your foot down about getting the homework out of the way, for instance, and check it for him afterwards - or not bother. If you switch off the TV and refuse to let him watch cartoons, he goes to his room and screams at you when you confront him."
This doesn't sound hugely remarkable until you start to look at the rest of the game's media coverage, and compare it. For example, you may have seen a vid of one of the game's other protagonists - a middle-aged private detective - caught in the middle of a convenience store robbery.

First I saw a vid of the nervous kid with his gun on the player character - the player must hold down both shoulder buttons to keep the character's hands up, while dialogue choices swirl through the air (their frantic speed mirroring the character's jangled nerves). The man running the demo unerringly choosing calm, empathetic choices, and eventually talks the robber into just walking away - the relieved store owner gives the private dick the information he was looking for. But that's not really the interesting part.

The interesting part comes in watching the same scene, played out different ways. Stay quiet, perhaps - carefully pick up a frying pan, sneak up behind the kid and bean him on the back of the head. Perhaps you don't successfully sneak up on him, and he catches you, demanding you raise your hands.

Perhaps you don't raise your hands. The kid gets more and more nervous, and shoots you before running off. The relieved store owner again gives the player character the information he wants, but it gets me thinking - there's probably a way to get that store owner shot.

There's probably a way to get that nervous kid to kill you.

And if every scene in the game is as deep as the father-and-his-son scene, as loaded with potential as the convenience store robbery scene... that is a helluva lot of game. That is an incredibly ambitious game, and I have to admit I'm probably more excited for Heavy Rain than I am even for God of War III.

Don't get me wrong, GoWIII will be phenomenal, but it's also a known quantity. The only thing that compares to Heavy Rain is the developer's last-gen attempt at the same gameplay, Fahrenheit (which I've never gotten my mitts on).

So if you're at all curious in something that is - almost - wholly unique, start digging around for the various reports of Heavy Rain's appearance at Gamescom. I've probably read ten or so articles about it, and not one has described the demonstrated scenes identically - there's always little differences. It really does seem to change every time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's been a helluva week.

Things really got frantic around here today and yesterday, which isn't so much a reason for my lack of posts, but a reasonable excuse.

To play devil's advocate, there have been all sorts of interesting news stories popping up that I really have no excuse for not waxing on about - I am a shameful, shameful blogger!

But with a good night's rest, I'm sure the world will look much more bloggable tomorrow. 360 outsells the PS3 4-to-1 in Japan! Linux support in the Slim was cut to save costs! Heavy Rain looks bitchin', and Arkham Asylum is pretty much the game of the summer.

Tune in tomorrow for, y'know, an actual post.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yeah, you should buy Batman.


Just got finished with my first play through of Arkham Asylum, and I'm raring to go back for more. Another play through or two and I'll be satisfied with my capacity to write a full review, but for now let's keep things brief.

Y'know all those awesome reviews it's getting? Well, aside from the ones that grant it perfect scores, they're all correct. It's worth $60.00, it's incredibly ambitious, and aside from a few boss battles it achieves its ambitions.

Mein gotts.

I was thinking, this morning, "does this change all the rules, now?" Now that we've gotten an excellent Batman game, does this mean we should have higher expectations for superhero titles in the future?

I think not. When Arkham Asylum becomes a hit - which it will - and its sequel is invariably greenlit, I have no doubt I'll approach it with the same hard-nosed cynicism that had me disbelieving the hype about Arkham until I personally laid hands on the demo.

I can't think of Arkham as the first in a brave new era of excellent superhero titles, mostly because an era takes time to establish. It would be very nice for that to come to pass, but for now, I can only see it as a freak. A mutant, born of a developer who put a ton of thought into it, and executed its vision with near perfection.

Yeah, you should buy Batman.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gaming Diary.


Aside from new details about the Worgen and Goblin races in the new WoW expansion - which I am loathe to discuss, lest it convince you to try WoW (and let your life get sucked away in the process) - there isn't much news today. So let's talk about what we're playing. What're you playing?

I spent three hours with the MAG beta last night, and I'm becoming more and more pleased with it. I'm defending a building with one large corridor, two large rooms and three access points, so I break out a LMG and mow down enemies like nobody's business (we still lose - but I have fun doing it).

Later, I'm taking a second crack at sniper. We got air drop spawns, so I guide my parachute to touch down on the roof of a church. From there I lay down, peek through the scope and start popping enemy players so small they look like ants. It's fun, it's pretty addictive, and it never feels unfair. It always feels like tactics win the day. Good stuff.

But today is all about Arkham Asylum. I'm having a great deal of fun with it, as one should, but I find my enjoyment is invaded by a guilty lust for other games. I find myself wishing I were playing Wet, for some reason - which is strange, because by all objective criteria it's infinitely inferior to Batman.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Aaaaaaaugh!

This is where the "personal blog" aspect of this "mostly gaming blog" takes hold.

I wake up today, stretch, and wonder what news has struck the world in the eight hours I've been asleep - so I turn on my TV to plug myself in to the Internet's collective consciousness, and hear something I've never heard before.

Pfffffffff...

"That's odd," I think to myself, and notice that the screen is blank - but I'm getting audio. So I turn the TV off, and try to turn it on again. Only this time, it flatly refuses.

The smell of burnt plastic fills the room.

Arkham Asylum is out tomorrow! I'm in the MAG Beta, now is not the time!

But let's be fair - although now is never the time, now is also the precise moment when events tend to occur. TVs die, cats die (I miss you, Bob), and one day my PS3 will die (knock on wood).

But my PS3 did not die, and that is a blessing. There is a small, shitty TV I may make use of for the time being, and that is a blessing - for playing games on a (remarkably) low-quality, twenty-year-old SDTV is infinitely superior to not playing the MAG Beta at all. I am very, very grateful for that.

My Gods, you're still reading this? That's remarkable - this isn't breaking news about video games at all, it's entirely about my tiny little problems. So I suppose I'll end by saying I'm very thankful for you, as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No real post today.

Been busy-busy-busy, so as an act of contrition, let me provide you with some cosplay. Here, from BlizzCon, is a young woman who made it her business to look like a Dranei.

...and she did a pretty damn good job of it too. But there are three types of cosplay, in my book - or at least, three types one should take the time to look at. There's Good Cosplay, as seen above. There's Damn Good Cosplay, which leaves one in awe of the dedication and time it took to accomplish the feat, and then there is (perhaps the best kind) Sexy Cosplay.

I would not leave you without some Sexy Cosplay, so say hi to Lilith.

Mee-yeow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm in the MAG private Beta!

Sweet.

There's a stipulation in the EULA that says I can't disclose anything about the Beta to any media or whatever, but I don't think that applies to doing a "preview" write-up, a-la Uncharted 2.

That said, I'm not sure, and I'm hardly about to risk it, so I'll wait until I see a write-up on the Beta from some actual media source like IGN or 1up or Eurogamer before I go ahead and give you my take on things. I wouldn't want to bite the hand that feeds me free online massively multiplayer shooter action.

Weee! Let's go see if I can take it for a spin!

Update: Well, DLing the thing took forever. Spent a few hours last night with it, and I suppose it's a pretty good sign that I can't wait to get back to it.

...which won't happen for a while. Tonight is Family Dinner Night, and I'm on spaghetti detail.

The EU PSN store is the place to be, this week.

I don't buy much off the PSN. I'll purchase titles I'm certain to enjoy (Quest for Booty, Bionic Commando Rearmed) and very rarely take risks on games I'm not sure of (Final Fantasy VII) - but I always check the place out once a week - I adore a good game trailer.

But this week, my domestic PSN hasn't served me particularly well. Aside from the Mini Ninjas demo, there wasn't much to interest me. Where are the trailers? Where's the awesome Gamescom content?

I'll tell you where - it's on the European PSN store.

Want to get the awesome new Heavy Rain trailer? Go to Europe. James Cameron's Avatar? Europe. Dead Nation, White Knight Chronicles, Modnation Racers - it's all up on the European PSN store, but not its North American counterpart.

It makes a certain kind of sense - Gamescom is in Europe, so clearly only Europeans are interested in media revealed there, right? Durr.

The most interesting thing on the NA PSN store this week (aside from DLC for a Batman game that hasn't been released yet) is the Mini Ninjas demo.

But if you want more demos, well... you might want to check the European store for them.

WET demo - how did I miss this?

So last night, I'm up way late. I'm tired, I'm ready to crash, but I take a peek over at Eurogamer to see if their Arkham Asylum review is up (it got a 9. From Eurogamer. Wholly freakish and unnatural - but it certainly forms a trend.) Upon browsing the comments section below the article, this one pops out at me:

"NEUF?
Embargo!
Conspiracy!

All that aside, what a tasty demo there was for this game. Dead up for it, you could tell it was going to be class.

Completely the opposite to Wet, which had me reaching for the mind bleach. "
-Widge
(1) OMFG there's a demo for Wet up?
(2) Oh noes! The Wet demo does not impress?

So, naturally I had to ignore my growing need for rest, hop over to the European PSN and give it a try. And my, oh my.

I was a little trepidatious - Wet is a game I've waited a long, long time to get my hands on, ever since I saw Rubi doing a knee-slide under an obstacle while blowing away an enemy. Would it deliver, and be the game equivalent of a guilty-pleasure B-movie I dreamed it would be?

Oh Hell yes. I found myself smiling the whole way through that demo. But that was very late, and with very little sleep, so let me go play it again and give it a measure after a good night's rest...

...yep, I really enjoy it. It's not particularly polished and it'd be nice if the control for swinging off a pole was a little more forgiving, but it's exactly what I'd hoped it would be.

I'm not saying it's a day-one purchase, but if I was in a position to fear no price, it certainly would be. It's just violent, mindless, video-gamey fun, without all the high-minded stuff we (and certainly I) put on a pedestal. It's a little Max Payne, a little Prince of Persia, a little The Club - and yeah, I can dig it.

I can dig it very much. If you think you can too, check out the European PSN store.


What does "Okamiden" sound like to you?

Don't look at me, I can't read kanji - but Siliconera points out that Capcom has trademarked the word "Okamiden" in Japan. They suggest that "Okamiden might be a mashup of Okami Gaiden or Okami Densetsu."

As for me, I'm a little more cynical about the whole thing. Okami bombed on the PS2 before they spent the money to port it onto the Wii, so it could bomb there - it would be nothing less than an act of faith on Capcom's part to attempt a sequel - and if they did attempt a sequel, it would be without the Clover Studio/Platinum Games crew which brought us the beloved original.

That said? I would kill for a sequel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Well, Mini Ninjas is now a must-play.

The demo is now available for PC, PS3 and 360 - I highly suggest you give it a go.

In a lot of ways, it's better than I expected. The animations are wonderful (which, given IO's history, shouldn't be a surprise), the art direction really pops, the combat has just enough depth to sidestep button-masher territory, and it's a very inviting world. There are flowers to pick, mushrooms to harvest, and if you like you can float along a small lake on your oversized hat - and perhaps stop to do some fishing (caught fish instantly morph into sushi).

It directly plugs in to the western perception of a cartoony, feudal-era Japan - for example, in the forest you may encounter a Giant Panda. Giant Pandas are only native to China, but that doesn't matter - it fits our unconscious expectation of a Japanese world.

Really, it's precisely what I'd hoped it would be - an old-school 3D adventure title. Very satisfying - and it has cemented itself, at the very least, a rental.

On the downside, the camera takes a bit of getting used to and the use of the shoulder buttons is mildly confusing. L2 allows you to sneak through tall grass, and L1 selects which ninja you want to play as (you can instantly switch mid-combat). R2 performs your selected jutsu, and R1 opens a wheel to pick which jutsu you want to select.

On paper it's a perfectly reasonable layout - and given more time with the product it will likely, as in all games, become second nature - but to me, it's not very conducive to pick-up-and-play. It seems every time I wanted to switch my jutsu I would accidentally select a different ninja, and vice-versa.

But I suppose that's not the point. My point is, give it a try.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gamescom - twelve noteworthy trailers.

I still don't know how to link trailers so they'll embed in my posts, here. Do you know how to do that? You should tell me how to do that.

Until that day, links are all I've got - links that I'm more than happy to share. I usually prefer to save the best for last, but Uncharted 2's slo-mo Gamescom trailer is just dying to get out there and be seen:


I'm not sure if it's quite as good at that spectacular E3 trailer, but it sure got me hyped for the game - and that's really all I'm asking for. There's also cam footage of a cinematic with Chloe (story spoilers, but nothing really major) - although I admit I'm a little sorry I watched it, in the same way one can be a little sorry to have completed BioShock. I'll never have that first again.

I think the single trailer that had the greatest effect on me, though, was this new one for Heavy Rain.


No, not the sloppy French-kiss kind of love. The wholesome, sacrificing love of a parent for their child - this is the kind of stuff you just don't see in video games, and this relatively simple - but very affecting - trailer has me well and truly hyped for Heavy Rain. Between Darksiders, Bayonetta, God of War 3 and Heavy Rain, 2010 is going to be a blast.

Next up, Insomniac's bi-yearly ode to the pyromaniacal child in all of us. Spoiler alert - this one reveals a good chunk of story:


Again, it's not quite as impressive as the E3 trailer, but at least the new one outlines some major story points.

Here's something interesting - a 3D Castlevania game that doesn't look half-bad. In fact I find myself more interested in this God of War clone than I am in Visceral Games' Dante's Inferno. I don't know why - perhaps because this one seems aware that it's a bit silly, while Dante's Inferno has no idea. Either way, dig on this.


I don't think anyone was particularly impressed when, at E3 this year, Kojima unveiled a new Metal Gear Solid - what he claims to be "the true sequel to Snake Eater" - exclusively for the PSP. To me, it felt a little like he was throwing Sony fanboys a bone. "Sorry," he's saying, "the higher ups at Konami really want the money that a multiplatform MGS title would bring in, so let's just pretend I have almost no involvement in Metal Gear Solid Rising." (From all reports, he really has almost no involvement in Rising.) "But look, if you're really hardcore, here's a PSP game! Look! It's (Naked) Snake! We all love (Naked) Snake, right?"

It's true, we all love a good naked snake. But if he was hoping to really impress us with this trailer, I think he went a little too deep into "I love silly shit for the sake of silly shit" territory.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Gamescom Trailer


Plus, he's really stuffing the multiplayer component down our throats. Or at least, I hope to God it's a component and not the point of the whole game. If he went and pulled a Resident Evil 5 with one of the most respected gaming franchises of all time, I will be quite put out. (He probably did.)

And it must be said - remember Metal Gear Solid? When Solid Snake had to take out a tank? There was only one of him.

An interesting debut at Gamescom is...


It's a PSN title - a top-down zombie shooter with rather nice graphics, from the makers of Super Stardust HD. Curiously, I find myself a wee bit attracted to this game, but I have to think that's merely a result of having borne witness to so much Left 4 Dead media without ever having played Valve's ultrapopular shooter.

Had I played L4D, Dead Nation would likely hold no appeal for me. But zombie beggars cannot be zombie choosers - except of course, on PSN, where you could also choose to be interested in (multiplatform title) Zombie Apocalypse. The games are remarkably dissimilar for two titles with the same premise and perspective. Dead Nation looks to take itself rather seriously, while Zombie Apocalypse really, really doesn't. ZA is a multiplayer title, and while it has no official trailer, its gameplay can be viewed here.

Next up, an old favorite returns.


AVP is a real cult-classic among gamers, and it shames me to say I've never tried it. Not that this video would lend much insight into whether or not the title maintains the original's gameplay - there's none to be seen.

What the trailer does showcase is a slavish adherence to the architecture, style and atmosphere of the films - particularly Alien's sequel - so it's doing at least one thing very, very right.

Another interesting one is the


It starts off by showcasing BioWare's penchant for sexing up its RPGs (intergalactic strip clubs) before profiling a big, violence-prone party member who likes blowing crap up. Perhaps the most interesting note to come out of BioWare during Gamescom is, unfortunately, this twitter post.

One trailer that I found rather disappointing is...


It's not often a trailer actually manages to dial down interest in a title, but the Irishman In Paris trailer has done just that, for me. It's mostly a result of the graphics and facial animation, which hold up so terribly they deluge the trailer with flashy graphics and style that the in-game footage doesn't begin to live up to. Terribly disappointing, but I suppose that's my own fault for buying into the atmosphere and look of that beautiful, bluesy E3 trailer.

Perhaps Pandemic Studios should have taken a page from Double Fine's book by only ever showing actual in-game footage of their game. Brutal Legend's new trailer won't blow anyone's skirts up, graphically, but it won't disappoint anyone either - we're already perfectly familiar with the game's flashy, almost-cartoony style.


And, on the plus side, you've got the humor.

I've already linked to this one, but if you haven't seen the LBP Water trailer and wonder what, precisely, the deal is, all the information released thus far is contained in this video. Which is to say, not a whole helluva lot.


I've saved (one of) the best for last. It's certainly the most original game on this list, and it's on the damned Wii. I'll probably have a Wii for the purpose of playing Muramasa by the time The Tower of Shadow comes out, so it's not a particularly big deal for me, I'm just rather surprised to see such an experimental game on Nintendo's console.


There's no platformer like a pretty, clever platformer - and Tower of Shadow's got it in spades.

So there you have it. Day 2 of Gamescom - tons of trailers worth your attention.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seven in one blow!

Which is to say, seven posts in one day - which is a bit of a record for me. Yay me, you deserve a candy.
"There are some who would consider these M&Ms to be... unnatural."
There was a lot going on before and during Gamescom today, so here's a rundown of all the news:

...that last article is just below this article. So yeah - big day!

Update: It's "Gamescom", not "GamesCon." I feel like a bit of an idiot.

Suda 51's new project - Kurayami.

Suda 51 wasn't exactly a well-known name for gamers until the advent of psycho-pop shooter Killer 7. He cemented his reputation as master of weird and ultracool with the cult-hit Wii title No More Heroes, and now it sounds like he's moving on to the PS3 with an exclusive title inspired by the writing of Franz Kafka.

You'd think an ex-writer would be better informed on these things, but I had to check out Kafka's Wikipedia page to see what, precisely, the deal was. I still don't think I'm particularly well-informed, but this note is interesting:
"Kafka often made extensive use of a trait special to the German language allowing for long sentences that sometimes can span an entire page. Kafka's sentences then deliver an unexpected impact just before the full stop—that being the finalizing meaning and focus. This is achieved due to the construction of certain sentences in German which require that the verb be positioned at the end of the sentence. Such constructions cannot be duplicated in English"
It goes on to say that Kafka's work seems to be wholly infused with a sense of hopelessness, which - at the very least - seems to offer some sort of connection to the concept art for Kurayami.




(Right-click, open in new window to enlarge.)

Kurayami is Japanese for "darkness". Word is, the game is an action-adventure title that sees the young man (with the torch) trying to negotiate an eerie town and its denizens with nothing but the light (of his torch).

A few additional details are revealed in an Edge Magazine interview with Suda, where he says
"I thought for a long time about how to adapt the environment in his books into a game - to represent the mystery perhaps by applying filters, or dividing them into various missions. When I considered the visuals, I immediately thought of darkness, and imagined a hero within this night, with a light that would in a way symbolize his life. That became the core concept for Kurayami: literally, 'darkness'."
Some websites are already touting the remarkable technology that Kurayami employs and its groundbreaking graphics - which is doubly impressive when you consider the project has only recently been greenlit for support by Sony, and no screenshots have been released.

So yeah - new, adult-themed Suda 51 exclusive title for PS3. Nice. Don't fret, 360 owners, word is Suda is also planning on creating a title for Microsoft's platform.

New From Software PS3 title announced.

(Right-click, open in new window to enlarge.)

The latest issue of Famitsu reveals that From Software (Demon's Souls) has a new PS3-exclusive on the horizon. Very little has been translated so far, but one thing is clear: it has a very unique look.

3D Dot Game Heroes is an action-RPG, set in a world where a monarch has decided to turn his Kingdom 3-D, resulting in catastrophy. Beyond that? We have no information.

Consider your Games Radar. Now make sure Brink is on it.

There's a brilliant interview over at Kotaku with Paul Wedgwood of Splash Damage - developers of the upcoming multiplayer co-op shooter Brink - which addresses The Table Problem.

It's no new problem that mobility has always been somewhat arbitrary in first-person experiences. You have a standard jump height, and "if I walk up to a table and the level-designer made it an inch higher than I'm able to jump, that's it, I can't get over the table."

It's true, that really does tend to break immersion. It's nice that someone's aware of the problem, but it's wonderful that he's actually attempting to solve it. How? By turning every piece of geometry in Brink into a climbable, vaultable, scalable surface - essentially it sounds like Mirror's Edge without the wall-running, and with much more competent violence.

Here's the really important part:
"We wanted a system that was real-time, dynamic, blended animations, full trace of the geometry around you, not faked, not clutched. In other words, if I decided that I'm going to mantle up that wall, if it's a height I could climb or reasonably jump to, I can, irrespective of what a level designer wants. If it's there, I need to be able to climb it. And, as I'm climbing it, as my first hand comes free, I want to be able to start shooting. As my second hand comes free, I want to be able to start re-loading. If I want to stop and take my finger off the button, I want to drop back down to the floor. If, as I'm dropping I hit jump, I want to kick away from the wall. It must be a completely dynamic, fluid system. It's not on auto-pilot, but it is smart, which is handy because it stands for Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain [laughs]."
I love it. I love it. This is the "next gen" we were all looking forward to last gen.

If, that is, they can pull it off. Brink just moved up fifty points on my Hype-O-Meter.

Try Brutal Legend September 17.

Tim Schafer has announced that the demo for Brutal Legend will be made available on September 17, nearly a month before the game's October 13 release (which, like Mini Ninjas, suggests a lot of confidence in the title).

This is nothing but good news - though I hope the demo showcases the single-player portion, and not the action/RTS multiplayer component.

Gamescom - PS3 firmware 3.0 does not include BC.

I'll admit, this one took me by surprise. Not that - aside from the patents - there has been any evidence to support the assumption, but I was both hoping and expecting for Sony to blow our socks off with the announcement of software emulation for PS2 games. Alas, my socks remain firmly entrenched, and the truth of firmware 3.0 (due for release on September 1) is somewhere between "mildly interesting" and "detestable."

Here's the bullet-point list of features, right from the PlayStation Blog where you can watch a video that shows precisely what they've added.
  • “What’s New” – The “Information Board” will be replaced with a “What’s New” section, which allows you to enjoy interactive PlayStation news every time you start the PS3 system. Located under the PlayStation Network icon, “What’s New” displays the latest and greatest game, video, PlayStation Network and PlayStation news and releases, as well as your recently played games, in a sleek, new animated format.
I doubt I'm not the only one who very quickly learned how to turn the Information Board off when I first unpacked my PS3 - and I doubt I'll have much more use for this "What's New" section.
  • Status Indicator – In the top right corner we’ve added an indicator bar, which displays your user icon, friend icon, the number of friends you have online and a small message icon to let you know if you have any new messages. The indicator also includes a scrolling ticker that features the latest news from PlayStation Network. In addition, when you press the PS button, the battery life indicator will no longer cover up the clock.
Nice.
  • Friends List – Now your PlayStation Network friends will appear in a slightly redesigned format on your Friends List. Also, messages will now be viewable from each of your friends’ respective profiles.
Also nice.
  • PlayStation Store Shortcuts – We’ve added a handy shortcut icon to the PlayStation Store under both the Game and Video categories so you can access the latest content quickly and easily.
This has a whiff of bullshit, to me. We all know where the PSN store is - you don't need to have an Icon for it under Network, under Games and under my Movies headings. You want more money, Sony - we get it. For someone like me (and someone like you), who can competently navigate the PSN store, though, this is just one extra icon to sidestep in order to watch my movie or play my game.

On the other hand, for Ma and Pa Everyman who aren't particularly technologically savvy, this may be a handy shortcut.
  • Personalization – Personalize your PS3 with new dynamic custom themes and avatars. Dynamic themes as well as free and premium avatars will be available through PlayStation Store. A dynamic theme takes your screen to a whole new level as it incorporates animated objects into the background.
The LBP theme they showed off for LBP is pretty sweet, I'll admit - just not sweet enough to pay money for. But "premium" avatars? You're going to make us pay for the little picture of Sly Cooper or Ratchet that appears next to our PSN ID?

Dude, you're not Microsoft, your avatars suck in comparison, and... well, to be honest, anyone who actually pays for a tiny virtual picture of Noby Noby Boy to represent themselves deserves to be fleeced for all they're worth. Go for it. It's insulting, but go for it.
  • Trophies – Showcasing your hard earned trophies just got better. Update 3.00 gives game developers the ability to modify how they display trophies for add-on content. Base and add-on game trophies will continue to be combined into a single list so you can see where you stand in a game as a whole. Within that list, trophies will be broken out into subcategories—base trophies and add-on trophies—that way, you can easily view the percentage of your base game trophy collection, and separately track your trophy progress in add-on packs. Look for this enhancement to be included in upcoming games.
Can't say I have an opinion on this one way or the other. We'll see.

All-in-all? A disappointing firmware update. Hey Sony, here's my list of Shit You Should Get Done:
  • Software Emulation for PS2 titles
  • cross-game voice chat
That would thrill the community - get your stuff up to par with the 360! This? This 3.0? It's just another baby-step in a diagonal line that may, one day, lead back to The Right Track.

Gamescom - LBP finally gets water.

You asked for it, you got it (after about a year). Water will be included in Little Big Planet as part of an upcoming "new kit" - which I have to assume means a new pack you'll be obliged to pay to download.

There is likely a method for embedding YouTube videos into Blogger, but the closest I can find requires me to upload the video myself, straight to this site - so instead I'll just offer you this link to the official trailer, which contains all the information we have thus far on this new addition to LBP.

From what I can tell, the water doesn't seem to be dynamic at all - it doesn't flow, it doesn't pour. The water level goes up, the water level goes down - some objects float while others sink, and your Sack can swim in it (which makes it more than your standard addition).

All my years of playing Mario, however, insist that if you cannot jump out of the water it is a failed exercise - and the whole thing would be much more impressive if we could fashion water slides out of it, or pretty waterfalls of physics-based virtual liquid.

Oh well - there's always LBP 2.

Gamescom - Slim is the new Phat (and you already know about this).

In keeping with Sony's tradition of leaking every major announcement to the public before the official word drops, they unveiled the new Slim. They're not calling it the Slim, of course, they're calling it "a new form factor featuring a slimmer, lighter version of the PlayStation 3."

It's a Slim, Jack. That's what we'll all call it, because that's what it is.

And now for a cultural sidebar.

On the left is a one-dollar Canadian coin. ("Haha Canada is so backwards it has dollar coins instead of dollar bills!" Yeah? Well, shut up. I'll take that abuse when you stop using Imperial units of measurement.) On the right is a two-dollar coin. When the dollar coin came out, there were all sorts of polls and surveys and contests done to see what we, as a nation, would call it. Which name won? I have no idea - but I know the bird on it is called a Loon, and that's why we all call it the Loonie. When the two-dollar coin came out, there were an equal number of attempts to find an official name for it - I certainly don't remember what the official name is, but I know it's worth twice as much as a Loonie, 'cause we simply refer to it as the Toonie.

So ends our cultural sidebar.

So my point is, Jack Tretton, it's a Slim. It's The PS3 Slim, not "the new form factor". Let's move on to the facts of the matter.
  • $299 price point
  • 120GB HDD
  • No longer allows you to install the Linux OS into it
  • Otherwise, has all of the features of the standard PS3
  • Weighs 36% less than the standard
  • Uses 34% less electricity
  • Is 33% smaller
You may recall around the same time last year, Microsoft unleashed a similar price cut on the 360 which resulted in a significant sales boost. I think the PS3 may be in a slightly better position, this year, to take advantage of its new price.

As the price on the 360 dropped last year, so did the global economy (no, I find no connection between the two). It seems reasonable that people would be much less likely to go out and purchase a luxury item like a new video game console - not that "reasonable" and "people" have ever worked particularly well together - but this year we seem to be (slowly, with measured steps) crawling our way out of the quagmire.

There is greater optimism now - perhaps not precisely a new influx of wealth to the middle and lower class, but at least a perceived stability - a much more comfortable place in which to purchase a new video game system.

That said? We'll see. I'm not much for predicting sales.

Gamescom - yay!

The late-Summer/early-Fall games convention is upon us, which means I actually have interesting stuff to report! Two or three good stories appeared overnight, prior to Sony's presser at Gamescom today, so I'll tackle them after we run down the big(ish) news of today in the hopes that they don't get lost in the shuffle.

So let's get crackin'! But first, I'm gonna' read Leigh Alexander's take on the PS3 slim - my position is generally much more solid when informed by hers.

Update: Leigh's take amounts to informing us that there is a PS3 slim. Not what I was hoping for.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Have you looked into Shadow Complex?


Gloriosky, another 360-centric post! If I keep this up, I may have to turn in my Sony Stalwart credentials.

Anyway, have you familiarized yourself with XBLA's final major release of the summer? The quick breakdown is "it's like Metroid" - as in, you start out very weak but as you progress through the side-scrolling rooms you discover new weapons and powerups which grant you access to yet more areas and rooms with yet more weapons and powerups which... you get the idea.

What's special here isn't so much the concept behind the game, but the amount of time it's been since we've seen a new entry in this beloved genre - and just how well Shadow Complex pulls it off.

How well, you ask? I'm afraid I can't tell you - I don't own the 360. But I can point you towards Eurogamer and Kotaku, to dig on their reviews. Or perhaps just shorten your trip and point out its rather remarkable Metacritic score.

Mini Ninjas demo, this Thursday.

Don't give a crap? I don't blame you. I myself went through a few states of being before I settled on "quite curious" for Mini Ninjas.

First off, it's by IO Interactive. These are the guys who still haven't made a Hitman game for the PS3/360, and instead gave us the infamous Kane & Lynch - so when I heard they were making a kid-friendly ninja game, I was reasonably exasperated with them.

Then I saw a CGI trailer that introduced the art style. It certainly popped, and were it a Saturday morning cartoon I would have given it a chance, but the total lack of gameplay footage made no ally of me.

Then some gameplay footage dropped, and my curiosity was piqued. I liked the world, I liked the humor, I liked the art design, animation and occasional moments of stillness, but even then - IO has never been known for its action games. It does slow games - not beat'em'ups.

Even so... it reminds me of classic gaming. Not NES/SNES/GEN gaming - but N64/PS1-era cartoony, lighthearted combat-driven adventure titles (T'ai Fu). The type of game I used to love, which don't get made much any more.

And so, now that I'm a little more settled with the whole idea, I'm very much looking forward to goings hands-on with Mini Ninjas this week. The game doesn't drop in North America 'till the 8th of September - offering the demo so long prior to release shows a great deal of confidence on the part of the publisher.

Perhaps Mini Ninjas will be worth not having a Hitman game for PS3 (yet).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

News flash: Uncharted 2 is gorgeous.

When Uncharted was a child, it saw its reflection in a spoon and thought out loud,

"Maybe I could do this for a living."

"Do what, dear?" Uncharted's mother asked.

"Be really, really ridiculously good-looking."

As these comparison shots (shamelessly copied from examiner.com) show, a stunning amount of detail has gone in to Uncharted 2's world. Honestly, Naughty Dog, you're becoming the new Epic Games or Sony Santa Monica - showing all the other jive turkey development studios how it's done.

(right-click, open in new window/tab to enlarge)

It's still obvious which image is from a game and which isn't (it's certainly no Crysis on PC), and it's a lot more remarkable when you have a half-dozen enemies, three heroes and explosions everywhere, but that doesn't stop it from being damned impressive nonetheless.

(right-click, open in new window/tab to enlarge)

In the end, Uncharted's mother insisted the young game complete its education - but deep down, she knew she could never stop the child from being so obscenely attractive.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FEATURE - The BEST demos.

Yes, fine, I'm doing a top-5 list. But I am breaking the mold by listing them in no particular order and attributing no number value to them. It's also a little different because with most of these lists, you get to read a little bit about items or games that must be purchased to confirm the writer's claims - which means the writer's claims will never be confirmed, or even put to the test. Not so, here.

You can try all of these, simply by hopping over to the PSN store - lovely, convenient, free. Listed here are demos that were hotly anticipated, demos that turned skeptics into believers, and in one particular case a demo that turned my take on a title from "pretty looking" to "I'll get my most-anticipated game of the year next year - 'cause this needs to be purchased now."

First up, Dice's experimental platformer.

Mirror's Edge
Mirror's Edge is one of those rare titles that got everyone in its corner from the first screenshot, the first gameplay video. Not only does it eschew the current generation's standard grey + brown = realism equation, it attempted to make an entire game out of the worst part of nearly every first-person experience: jumping puzzles.

With all this originality, all this potential, gamers (and critics) were chomping at the bit to get their hands on the product and discover if it played as well as the idealized game they invariably imagined it could be - and when the demo dropped, the truth was revealed:

Yes - aside from some combat quibbles, it's everything one hoped it would be. Not perfect, but certainly a landmark game, and the birth of a new genre. Personally I think Mirror's Edge is the closest the current get has to a true, classic, "hardcore" game, thanks to the remarkable challenge of its time trials and speed runs. If you have a platinum trophy for ME, you are truly a master.

Of course, Mirror's Edge's originality ensured that it went on to sell significantly less than another freshman EA property that stuck very closed to established standards: Dead Space. But the demo was still enough to convince gamers that Mirror's Edge kept its promise - an immersive, beautiful game that successfully delivered what no other title would attempt.

BioShock
BioShock, on the other hand, wasn't as easy to like from the get-go. Oh sure, fans of System Shock 2 were no doubt drooling over a current-gen spiritual sequel to their beloved FPS RPG (for a comparison of just how similar they are, dig on Yahtzee's review), but for most of us BioShock was just another game where you travel through a series of hallways and rooms, shooting things. Been there, done that.

Until, of course, the demo. Beautiful, creative, eerie, mysterious, charming - and that's just the environment. Even with one of the more remarkable trailers out there, what really turned BioShock from just another interesting game to the must-experience experience of 2007 was its demo, which demands multiple playthroughs and held the promise of the most engaging title of the year. Every nook must be investigated, every cranny explored, and it leaves little doubt that you have discovered something absolutely remarkable.

There's not much more one can say about BioShock or its demo - everyone knows it's a modern classic, so let's move on.

inFamous
The inFamous demo is a pretty unique example of offering just as much quantity as quality. The game world is split into three islands, and giving players free run of the first island is a very gutsy move on Sucker Punch's part. "Spend time in our game," it suggests. "Run around, explore - there's a lot to see - put our mechanics and our world to the test and see if it passes muster."

And like BioShock, like Mirror's Edge (and the rest of this list), I spent an improbably large amount of time with the inFamous demo. And, like the rest of this list, I had no idea I would fall so deeply in love with the game.

"Do I want to spend more time in Resident Evil 5 or Fallout 3, or do I want to play that inFamous demo for the hundredth time?"

The demo would claim victory, again and again. And it's a testament to how successfully Sucker Punch merged the open-world conceit with classic, comfortable platforming gameplay. Very few demos simply sell the game as well as inFamous's.

Valkyria Chronicles
If a demo's worth is judged by its ability to inspire a purchase, however, Valkyria Chronicles is my personal winner, hands down. In 2008, my most anticipated game of the year was BioShock's PS3 port. I was so dedicated to it, so enamoured with the game, I went out and bought myself a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlus Shrugged over the summer, and read it cover-to-cover (making my way through the obscenely dense "I am Gohn Galt" speech took nearly two weeks, but I prevailed), just because I'd heard that familiarity with the book gave one a deeper understanding of BioShock's themes and story.

So imagine my surprise when, upon checking out the demo for Valkyria Chronicles, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. For the most part, I dislike RPGs - particularly JRPGs - but this? This was something new. Something very special. (Please don't correct me that it's a strategy RPG - I know it's a strategy RPG, but it's also from Japan which makes it an RPG with a J, no matter how you slice it.)

It's beautiful, to be sure, and expertly localized, but it was the gameplay itself that stirred me. An RPG that's fun to play? Something must be wrong. But, over and over and over, the demo called to me, demanding to be played, demanding to be mastered, until I could A-rank its single skirmish with two Command Points.

In the end, Valkyria Chronicles' demo was impressive enough to boot BioShock from last fall's must-buy list - a decision I've never regretted.

Batman: Arkham Asylum
This is the New Kid On The Block - a demo to a game we still haven't played yet - but like all those listed above, Batman: Arkham Asylum's demo delivers on the unspoken promises of all the screenshots and trailers we've been inundated with. First off, there's the big one:

It's a good Batman game. Which, until the demo, was a bit like saying "a fighting game with an engaging storyline" or "an incredibly good movie tie-in game" - these things just don't happen, so the demo is remarkable for that alone.

Unlike the rest of this list, it hasn't inspired a purchase out of me - the dense, protective barrier of my gamer's cynicism seems too difficult for even such a confident experience to break down, and I refuse to have the faith that a preorder would require - but I've already dogeared the funds required for a rental, which is a remarkable accomplishment for any video game with a licensed property.

And, like every other demo listed, it has demanded perhaps too many playthroughs (my best score turns out to be 1880 - beat that!). Like all great demos, it delivers on its promise, and moves us to re-evaluate the game's value. It is, simply put, one of the best demos I've played on the PS3.

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While we're on the subject, what's your favorite demo of all time? Mine's easy.

I played through Doom: Knee Deep In The Dead so many times in eighth grade it became a sort of zen meditation to me. If I was thoughtful on a subject, or upset, I could slip into Doom, 100% every level without consciously thinking about what I was doing, and by the time I had played through the campaign I would discover I had found a solution to what was troubling me.

Knee Deep In The Dead (the first of Doom's 3 campaigns) was so good, it had the opposite of the intended effect on me - I didn't need to purchase the rest of the game, because KDITD was a wholly satisfying experience for me.

To this day, if I ever go back and replay Doom, I just ignore that the last two episodes are there. Knee Deep In The Dead is all I need.

Easily my favorite demo. What's yours?