Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, gaming peoples.

Tonight The Fam and I curled up around the TV to hand out candy and watched Sam Raimi's return to horror, Drag Me To Hell.

I don't think it's quite as brilliant and clever as everyone says it is, but that doesn't mean it's not clever, and that doesn't mean it's not the best scary movie I've seen in quite some time.

It's got great pacing, creativity, originality, and - unlike a lot of high-profile "horror" films in this day and age - doesn't cheapen itself by simply presenting you with horrifying images.

This isn't Saw or Hostel - torture porn - that considers itself scary because it shows you something more horrible than anyone else has tried to make you watch before.

The scares are tied to sounds, suggestions, and understated special effects. I can only think of one cheap(ish) "boo!" moment, and all the rest are done better and smarter than you're likely to see anywhere else. I'm not particularly impressed with the lead actress - she is, at least, endearing - but the movie is so well-done (aside from some too-obvious foreshadowing) I don't mind.

It's a bit like the new Star Trek. A lot of it doesn't really make sense, but I was having enough fun that I didn't care.

Some awesome God of War III demo screens.

If you preorder God of War from EB (or a few other retailers), they should supply you with a demo code. Hmm... maybe I'll call my local EB tomorrow to se if that deal's in effect. Also, in addition, if you are mysteriously considered to be a "preferred customer" or something, Sony has emailed out demo codes to a few PSN users.

Long story short, the demo is now in the hands of Joe Gamer, and he's taking pictures! These are all original-size, so right-click and open in new window to enlarge. Look at the full-sized pics - check 'em out - they really are much more impressive than I was expecting.

The gods have a terrible dental plan.

This is the first time I've seen a pair of breasts and thought "not saggy enough."

Everything old is new again.

Kratos is still Kratos.

The source for all these images is the NeoGAF forums. Check it out for more big, beautiful screenies.

Is this worth a hundred dollars to you?


Here's what you get, ripped straight from the Playstation Blog:

Exclusive Collectibles
• High-End Sculpted Replica of Pandora’s Box
• Limited-Edition God of War Art Book featuring exclusive art, content and interviews

Exclusive Digital Content (Available via PlayStation Network voucher codes on day of launch)
• God of War Combat Arena containing an exclusive environment and seven challenges
• Premium Kratos Skin – Dominus
• God of War: Unearthing the Legend Franchise Documentary – a full-length movie documentary depicting the history of the God of War franchise
• God of War Trilogy Soundtrack – God of War, II, and III scores from the game (mp3 digital download).
• God of War: Blood and Metal EP – a heavy metal homage featuring original music inspired by God of War (mp3 digital download).


Point one: "Premium" Kratos skin? What the hell makes it premium? Does it have an extra 30% polygons? Was it so awesome they decided not to put it in the game? Maybe I'm being too hard on it.

Point two: a full-length documentary on the God of War franchise and a soundtrack containing songs from God of War, God of War II and God of War III. I like both of these. I would spend time with both of these, but we're paying a hundred dollars here. You can't give us the soundtrack on a CD and an extra Blu-ray for the documentary?



That sucks. Also, how many songs are on this soundtrack? If it's twelve selected tracks from across all three games, I'll be disappointed. Also, what happens in five or ten years' time when someone wants to revisit the God of War universe, but this content has been removed from the store? In terms of actual in-your-hands merchandise, they're asking you to pay an extra forty dollars for a pretty box and an art book.

For the most part, I'm not really thrilled with this package... but I love making-of docs and game soundtracks. I like to think I won't buy it, but I'm sure I'll be prepared to reexamine that position in 2010 - even if I may end up at the same conclusion.

Score!

The image at left is only there because it best approximates my current emotion. Score! A winner is you!

I have a list of games - in my head - that I intend to purchase. The list includes copious notes, which define how much I'm prepared to pay and what condition the game needs to be in.

Strangely, I can't just take this list and cross-reference it against Amazon.com or eBay, securing myself all the titles I want for reasonable prices and a minimum of fuss and muss. I need to find the game, physically, in a store somewhere. I need to make phone calls and personally track it down.

A successful hunt is what I'm talking about. Sometimes it's not a hunt - once I was digging through a box of old PS2 games in a pawn shop and found a perfect copy of Ico for seven bucks - but you get the idea. I have to find them in the Real World, unless we're talking the Asian disc release of Siren: Blood Curse or Way of the Samurai 3, which hasn't been released in Canada.

Anyway, high up on The List for the past year has been Heavenly Sword. I keep hearing positive things (and a few negative ones, which don't dissuade me), and I decided I'd pay up to forty bucks for a decent copy. This weekend, I find myself with an extra $40 burning a hole in my pocket, so I decide to begin the hunt. And once I begin, there's very little else on my mind.

An adorable young woman at my local Blockbuster Video told me if I rented a copy from a store, I could then purchase it for an additional $25. I called the nearest store - yes, you can purchase it after you rent it, the woman tells me, "but I can't tell you how much it will cost."

"You can't just scan it in and tell me?"

"No, you have to rent it first."

"Well that's ridiculous."

So I call up some other Blockbusters, which either don't have the game or aren't sure if the after-rental price is $55 or $9.99. The last store is one-hundred percent certain, it would cost me $65.00 plus tax to buy Heavenly Sword from Blockbuster. Fuck that noise.

I'm not prepared to wade through the interminable menu system that calling Best Buy, Future Shop or Wal-Mart would require, so I call up a local games-specialty shop called PnP. Yes, their location furthest from me has a copy. And it's only thirty bucks!

I can't get out there today, but they're open on Sundays. I'm both thrilled to have found the item, and a little disappointed it's from PnP. This is the same store I bought a copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for forty bucks from, once. Every single game in their store has been molested with gigantic stickers.

I loathe big stickers on my game cases.

So, just to check, I wander four blocks down the road to a local pawn shop liquidation outlet. It's the size of a grocery store, filled to the brim with the collected trash and treasure of several local pawn shops - items which were sold, or pawned and never reclaimed.

I check out the PS3 cabinet. No dice.

A shifty-looking, slender fellow with a mustache comes over to ask if I need any help. I tell him what I'm looking for, and he offers to check the back.

I wait. I compare the prices on some other PS3 games. He returns.

It's perfect. Original case, no sticker molestation, instructions included, zero scratches on the disc.

"How much?"

"I'll check," he says.

Twenty seven dollars.

Score.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Demos, demos, demos!


If you're hungry for a demo now, you can check out the PSN store for Fat Princess and Trine demos. I'll definitely be giving those a shot this weekend. Next week - on November 1st - is somewhat larger news. The demos for Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Valkyria Chronicles II will be available on the Japanese PSN!

Now's a good time to Google a how-to for setting up a JP PSN account, if you haven't already.

Demon's Souls gets darker, October 31st.


According to Atlus's Aram Jabbari:

“Early reports from the Kingdom of Boletaria indicate that the Old One’s power grows. We’ve discovered that the nefarious Demon will seek to descend the land in pure blackness on All Hallow’s Eve. His minions will be more powerful, but the rewards for those who seek to challenge them will be greater as well. We don’t know how long this dark tendency will last, but we do advise those prone to controller-into-LCD syndrome to proceed carefully.”
World Tendency shifts towards black when you die (in body form), or commit evil acts against friendly NPCs. It shifts towards white when you vanquish major demons. Black WT = tougher enemies with better drops, while White WT is the opposite. Major game events can only occur at the extremes of World (and character) Tendency.

I'll certainly remember to make time to hit up Boletaria on Halloween.

To celebrate US release date, Bayonetta gets naked(er).


I can't find this on the Platinum Games Blog, so for all I know these are just pretty-well-made fan creations, but yesterday websites were announcing more unlockable costumes for Bayonetta. You've got your two-piece swimsuit, seen above. Then there's the one-piece, the cheerleader outfit, and the gonzo traditional Japanese yukata. I almost want to believe they're not real.

Anyway, it's been announced that Bayonetta will drop on North American shores on January 5th, 2010. Happy New Year, baby!

Don't sweat public health care, Americans.

It occurred to me today that, while yesterday I obliviously wandered into a med clinic to get stabbed and have blood drawn (and pee in a cup), there's still a debate raging in the States about public health care.

Looking at Fox news, one gets the impression that publicly-funded health care will kill your grandma and deny your baby all but the most abrasive burlap diapers. And I can't promise you that that won't be the case. Who knows how your health care system will turn out? You might totally gum it up. But I know it's not the case in Canada, and from what I hear it's not the case in France or the UK either.

Dig on this: I stepped on a nail. Do I have to call my personal doctor, make sure my health care will cover it, or pay out of my own pocket to get the necessary tetanus shot?

No, dude. I walk in to one of a hundred (or more) clinics in my home town and slap down a Manitoba Health Card. Everyone in the province (that's Canadian for "really big state") gets one, and it's your "Doctor, heal myself" card.

I can't think of anything that isn't covered, beyond unnecessary cosmetic procedures. Want a boob job? You're paying for it. Got wrecked in a car accident and need reconstructive surgery? Don't worry, that's covered.

I can understand why there's this rabid fear in the States regarding health care: it seems Americans (as a generalization - and generalizations are always wrong) love getting rabidly afraid of anything, if you give them the opportunity.

Honestly, my American friends, give it a shot. It's really just one less thing you have to worry about.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I've been stabbed.

In the foot, to be precise. And then again in the arm.

The other day I went into the basement to find a measuring tape, confidently clad in some socks. I picked up the tape, and as I turned to leave I noticed I had clearly stepped on something rather uncomfortable.

This mystery object turned out to be a nail (in a workshop? Will wonders ever cease!). I grabbed hold of it, and was immediately impressed by how deep it had worked itself into my appendage. As I drew it out, I exclaimed "holy fuck!" several times - about every quarter of an inch - amazed at how much of it had penetrated.

"You need a tetanus shot," my mother told me. A bandage was good enough, I figured.

The next day at work, Katrina (lovely redhead) and Courtney (lovely brunette) both echoed my mother's advice. At three-for-three, I could hardly argue any more, and today I stopped in at a walk-in clinic on my way home.

While I was waiting for the doctor to enter the little room, it occurred to me that I've been reasonably sexually active throughout my life and a full series of STD tests would be a wise idea (I find out if I'm crawling with disease in two weeks, but given the total lack of any mysterious symptoms and generally well-chosen partners, I'm not particularly worried).

Anyway, the doctor comes in (nice guy), tells me everything I'm looking for is relatively simple, and jabs me in the arm with a tetanus shot.

I find that a little charming. The solution for the dangers presented by accidentally getting stabbed in the foot is to voluntarily get stabbed in the arm.

G'night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's like a bite of your mom's chocolate chip cookies.

At first I almost felt disappointed that A Crack In Time is - a few features aside - the same game we've been playing for the past seven years. Play a little as Clank, play a little as Ratchet.

I was even a little nonplussed with the ability to attempt space exploration. You can fly around whole sectors on a 2-D plane, getting into scraps with mercenary ships and exploring combat challenge / platforming challenge moon mini-levels for cash and prizes.

But at the same time... it feels right. It feels like snuggling into your favorite old, worn blanket. Like a hug from the beloved and excessively squeezable extended family member you only see once a year. It's comforting. Comfortable.

I can't wait to dive deeper into it, but this whole "work" thing is really taking its toll, so I think I'll snuggle into the comforting comfort of my bed, for now. Seeya tomorrow.

Unlockable Bayonetta costumes. ...huh.

Observe this low-quality image of an unlockable costume in upcoming super-action title Bayonetta. It may not seem ridiculous to you, but I'm here to offer a modicum of education.

This is a Japanese high school girl's gym uniform. In the land of the rising Sun, is is considered a phenomenal aphrodisiac. Along with the standard pleated skirt schoolgirl uniform and maid's costume, the gym uniform completes the trifecta of over-sexualized Japanese fetish gear. Annnd that's all I can say about this.

I don't know why it seems a little nuts to me - probably simply because I was born in Canada, and a Japanese gym uniform doesn't bring to mind the lustful adventures of my youth. I don't know what would... ah, yes. Sweat pants and a tank top.

That is hot. So perhaps this outfit is perfectly reasonable - not that Bayonetta's unlockable costumes stop there.

Soon the game will see its Japanese release, and they'll stop deluging us with promotional material - but I must admit it's working on me. I can't wait to get my hands on it. The game, I mean.

Monday, October 26, 2009

REVIEW - Demon's Souls.

Old school. That's Demon's Souls.

Nowadays, the checklist for game quality is mostly limited to gameplay, graphics, audio, overall presentation and (ocasionally) story. Once upon a time, there was another category - a hugely important and valued value - called challenge.

Games have become an increasingly accessible pastime, for as the market broadens the dedication required to master a title shrinks. Challenge has been largely relegated to a hidden, unlockable difficulty setting, and is no longer a matter of course. Such is the Hollywood formula of game design. Still, even Hollywood releases vanity projects from time to time. Higher-concept stuff that only a small percentage of the population will ever enjoy. It's not made for Michael Bay's audience - it's made for a very specific set of people who are ravenous for an experience of greater depth, of greater emotion than the mass market easy-access standard fare.

Enter From Software, and Demon's Souls.

Demon's Souls is an action-RPG, but even so I still find it a little strange that the first easy comparison that springs to mind is God Hand (don't run off! It's not that hard). It has its own very strict - and always perfectly fair - set of rules. There is no way to abuse its system, there is no method to trick the game into giving you an easy win.

You must fight, tooth and nail, for every inch. After a failure, you may manage to claw your way just a little deeper into the swirling dark, creeping cautiouslyforward with your shield raised, ready to deflect the unknown attacker you will be better prepared for - once it has killed you.

Take the Tower Knight, pictured here, for example. The dude's about thirty feet tall, and he's considered one of the meaner bosses in the game. When you first meet him - like ninety per cent of your foes - he will simply obliterate you, and you'll have no idea what can possibly be done to defeat him.

"But... what if I try it this way?"

That question pushed me forward. Again and again, to face a monster that had creamed me countless times - to test a strategy, to find the solution to the problem, to solve the puzzle of how to kill the bastard. And when you win...?

When you take a step past the blood stain that marks your last cruel death, when you kill Flamelurker. When you destroy the Tower Knight without aid from a (player character) helpful blue phantom? Few games of the current generation can match the feeling it inspires.

After a time with Demon's Souls, I discovered I was choreographing elegant, intense, perfectly-executed swordplay. The reward for unlocking the game's secrets isn't just the next soul level or even a new area to explore - it's a grim confidence as you stalk the darkened halls that so terrified you before. Here's the important part - I'll bold it, just to be safe:

I have never played a game that truly gives one the feeling of a lone, brave knight. Truly brave, truly resolute - facing unholy things no man should face, conquering them when no other hero could, and asking nothing in return.

Demon's Souls graphics are largely excellent. Its art direction is grand, its sound design is wonderful. Its gameplay is rock-solid, but none of those are the reasons why one plays it - they're simply the additions which make it better than pretty much every deeply challenging action game that has come before.

Not Devil May Cry 3, not even God Hand can compare to the feeling of playing - and mastering - Demon's Souls. It offers the same severe difficulty, but marries it with a spectacular world to explore, a one-of-a-kind multiplayer component, intensely weighty, satisfying combat and the most thickly choking atmosphere this side of Silent Hill.

If you'd like a different slant on an endorsement, let me put it this way: Uncharted 2 is, by all measurable criteria, the best game of 2009 - but it's Demon's Souls that I can't stop playing.



THE GOOD
-an incredibly satisfying experience
-haunting atmosphere
-uniquely weighty, visceral combat
-fantastic level design with memorable environments
-stunning boss battles
-a very unique online component
-fantastically challenging
-minimalist narrative


THE BAD
-fantastically challenging
-minimalist narrative
-boring dragon fights (really)


THE VERDICT
If you're willing to invest in Demon's Souls, you will discover one of the true treasures of 2009.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I hate the new GameTrailers player.

I'm likely in the minority when it comes to this particular problem.

Last friday, GameTrailers launched a new flash player. This one has some nicer features (so I'm told), and for most folks the downside seems to be that you can no longer skip pre-vid advertisements. It was necessary for GameTrailers to make the change, because under the old system they couldn't guarantee their advertisers that the public was viewing the full clip.

GT puts out tons of content, which likely costs an arm and a leg in terms of upkeep and bandwidth. They need advertising dollars to continue to run the site - that makes complete sense - and given that the ads usually last all of fifteen seconds this is no great issue for me.

What is an issue is that my PC isn't precisely top-of-the-line (YouTube doesn't even run well), and I tend to watch GT on my PS3's web browser. It was handy as hell!

"Say, Brother mine, have you heard of Game X?"

"No, what's Game X?"

"Give me fifteen seconds to open the PS3 browser and hop to GT, and I'll show you..."

"That's handy as hell!"

"Isn't it?"

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. The new player murders my PC and freezes up the PS3 web browser. For me, it means I cannot visit GameTrailers in the hopes of enjoying some game trailers - which is a little ridiculous.

It's probably more ridiculous that I have such an archaic hunk of hardware on my desktop, and chances are good the player works just fine for you and 99% of the GT audience - but still.

This is rather disappointing, to me.

Also, there's a Critter Crunch demo out on PSN. I kinda' dig it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Have you tried the new Ratchet & Clank demo?

I gotta' say, it's pretty ballsy. Clank's excursions have never been a highlight of the franchise for me, but Insomniac was confident enough in his gameplay, this time around, to try to use it to sell their game.

Well, it worked on me.

It didn't have to work particularly hard. Disregarding, say, a copy of Way of the Samurai 3, the new R&C title is at the top of my must-buy list. Playing through more-hardcore(ish) fare like Demon's Souls and Uncharted 2 has really highlighted for me how much I would love to sink my teeth into a new, kid-friendly but grownup-approved adventure. The type of game I wanted Little Ninjas to be.

Well, R&C have never disappointed in the past. I'm not even a stickler for crazy new weapons - just let me explore strange, unseen planets to a catchy space-bop soundtrack and I'm happy. Anyway, I was talking about a demo, wasn't I?

Even more ballsy than the basic premise is that the first third of the demo is a hand-holding tutorial, walking you through the mechanics Clank must utilize to negotiate The Great Clock. They expect us not to get bored - and, I'll be honest, it was a little boring until they took off the training wheels and threw some actual puzzles (and a bit of combat, a dash of story) at me. At that point, it opened right up.

Whacking crap with a magical time-scepter, and watching the broken pieces reassemble themselves? Nice. Throwing out time bombs to freeze speeding platforms? Cool. Copying myself three times, running around to activate switches so the Past Me can open the way forward as I scamper towards the exit?

Sold. And next week (I think) we get the Ratchet-only demo! Oh Insomniac. A triple-A title every year since '06? You do spoil us!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cosplay!

So I'm poking around the news feeds trying to find something blogworthy for today's post. Not much comes up - Dead Space Extraction isn't faring too well on the Wii (shocker!), Microsoft says they won't be putting out a Blu-ray drive peripheral (omg!), yadda yadda yadda. Just like last week, I end up clicking on the listing for Loot Ninja's cosplay girl of the week, and what comes up is... nasty. Don't get me wrong, the girl has a lovely figure and is likely very attractive out of that heinous Soul Calibur outfit, but it just rubbed me the wrong way, so to speak. I guess sexy is very subjective.
Awww yeah. Eleanor Varrot from Valkyria Chronicles. That is hot. But one pic barely makes a post, so lets continue the niche JRPG theme with Izanagi from Persona 4.
Very cool. Whaddaya think? Too much niche? Not enough blatantly-sexy-style sexy? Fine, here's Tifa from Final Fantasy VII, the un-niche-est JRPG ever. Hello, cleavage.

I agree, it's right on the cusp of unreasonable - but I'll take it. That's what Tifa wore, after all.

Why does Tifa get a pass and Ivy a fail? I have no idea. Maybe I harbor a subconscious hatred of skin-tight latex.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FEATURE - five things wrong with Uncharted 2.

Ya'll know me - I play my games on a PS3, and I'm rather partial to it. I'll also tell you without a moment's reservation that Uncharted 2 is the best game of the year (so far), and while many publications - 28, by my count - have granted it a perfect score, it's not a perfect game. It's got flaws. Significant flaws, some might say. Let's talk problems. But let's not talk if you haven't beaten the story mode yet.

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR UNCHARTED 2'S CAMPAIGN. DON'T READ THIS ARTICLE IF YOU HAVEN'T BEATEN THE GAME. FERSERIOUSLY.

Still with me? Good! I'm proceeding in No Particular Order here, but let's start off with one aspect of Uncharted 2 that I disapproved of long before I got my hands on the game (and was proven right about):


#1: Chloe.

Uncharted and its sequel put unprecedented emphasis on a character-driven plot. More than that, Uncharted was almost wholly unique in how much of an everyman Drake (and Elena and Sully) is (are). For the most part, the sequel follows suit. Flynn seems like a normal enough guy, Tenzin's cool and I even buy that a fellow like Lazarević exists, somewhere out there in the world. But Chloe?

Chloe is... too easy a solution to the problem of presenting Drake with a love triangle. She is The Bad Girl, the wholly-conscious-of-her-own-sexuality-and-works-it girl. Don't get me wrong - I've met this girl, I've known girls like Chloe (minus the sexy accent) - women who walk the razor's edge, consciously acknowledge themselves as "bad" and have a great time with it, but at no point in Uncharted does she feel as real as any of the other characters.

She always feels like she was only put there to blatantly sex up the franchise, to make quips about how great her butt looks, to be The Bad Girl for Drake to play off (his more-noble nature is put under a spotlight when placed next to her purely selfish ambitions).

In terms of plot it works fine, but in terms of buying into the experience, Chloe stands out like a sore thumb of forced characterization. Unlike every other character in the game, I never believe Chloe - she doesn't feel like a person, she feels like a set piece. A bullet point to be checked off on a features list, and shoehorned into the narrative.

Casting a sexy, bad girl opposite Drake wasn't necessarily the wrong decision, but they needed to be much, much more subtle with it. There are times when such subtlety occurs ("That was chivalrous, huh?" "It's not dead, you just have to ask for it."), and if that had been the rule instead of the exception Chloe could have worked out great - unfortunately when all is said and done, she just feels forced.

#2: It's only dangerous if it happens in a cutscene.

Speaking of Drake's leading ladies, remember the whole last third of the game where Elena is by your side as you storm the monastery and finally enter Shambhala? I don't know about you, but that girl took about three hundred grenades to the face and shrugged it right off. Of course, when Flynn pulls out a grenade during a cutscene? Well shit, now she's in trouble.

Just like Drake getting shot on the train (Flynn was busy, wasn't he?), it doesn't begin to ring true because we've seen the character get shot about a bazillion times. The whole train sequence I was expecting Drake to somehow get impaled on the Phurba dagger - that would have made sense! Why?

Because it's only buyable in a cutscene if it's (a) a weapon that hasn't appeared (or been used) yet in-game or (b) a one-time-only type of injury/accident. See: God of War and its sequel. Kratos gets impaled on a giant column thrown by Ares, or impaled (again) with the Blade of Olympus. It works because these aren't the same weapons your hero has been successfully negotiating throughout the game - they are special - subconsciously, we understand how they have managed to breach his defenses and mortally wound him. The same doesn't apply in Uncharted 2.

Bullets don't seriously injure Drake - they only make him see black and white for a few seconds.

#3: Ancient mythological relics of untold power only have one general type of power.

And that is to turn people into kinda-human-but-not-really monsters. This was acceptable in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune because, really, it served the exact same purpose it does in Uncharted 2 (and likely will in Uncharted 3). The same purpose such items gave Indiana Jones - it gives Drake a reason to push on against impossible odds, shed his selfish ambitions and selflessly attempt to save the world from this unholy power. Classic reluctant hero motivation - great.

The only reason it's not acceptable in Uncharted 2 is because they pulled the exact same shit in the original. Not even sort of the same - it's exactly the same. I swear, if Uncharted 3 has Drake searching for the Holy Grail but it turns out the Grail transforms guys who drink from it into Unholy Water Vampires I will be tres disappointed.

The reason the same mechanic has been used twice is because Naughty Dog endeavors to place its characters in a believable word with extraordinary events that are - arguably - possible. There could be a crazy dust/drink that drives men insane and sort of mutates them into feral/tribal creatures of nightmare. That's not as crazy as a box of dust that melts faces when opened, or a cup that heals the sick - but it's pretty damned close.

Honestly, Naughty Dog - we won't have a problem with it if next time you go full-out supernatural. It's cool - just don't do the Magic Mutation Mixture thing again.

#4: Gloves (and the lack thereof).

This is the smallest, most nit-picky of my problems with Uncharted 2, and it's likely only a problem because I live in a part of a world where we have Winter. Going on averages, you're likely reading this from California, Texas or Florida - where snow isn't much of an issue.

But let me tell you this, my seasonless associates: there's no way in hell anyone could go crawling over snow-and-ice encrusted structures for more than ten minutes without a good pair of gloves! I can accept that Drake is able to take countless bullets to the chest and survive. I can accept that, with two hands placed within inches of each other, he can repeatedly, perfectly propel himself six feet up a sheer cliff, but negotiating the the ice cavern and monestary levels without mittens? Impossible!

#5: I've danced this dance before.

I don't really want to include this one, as it doesn't actually bother me in the least - but it might bother you, so let's address it.

A common complaint from some major sites is that Uncharted 2 does nothing new if you discount the production values. That's all totally true. Cover-based shooting hasn't been new since the turn of the century, platforming has been around since before the NES and stealth gameplay reared its head in the mid-80s - but for me a lack of original gameplay mechanics don't begin to detract from the experience Uncharted 2 offers.

Sure it's all been done before, but when I'm leaping from an ancient ruin, flying through the air as Drake reaches backwards to fire an AK-47 one-handed to explosively ignite the glowing blue sap of the Tree of Life as a roaring, newly meta-human war criminal tears after me in a murderous rage, I totally don't care.

BOOK - No, really - what IF?

Over at the Penny Arcade Games & Technology forums - my virtual habitat of choice - there is a yearly Secret Santa event. I've never been able to participate, but I have reason to suspect that this year I may have the financial balls required.

Anyway, a common gift is anything zombie-related. Gamers love their zombies, and Word War Z in particular turns up with the alarming regularity of a Tom Cruise vanity project. Of course, I had to remedy my ignorance of the subject, and this week my local library obliged me with a copy (on that note, perhaps I do lack financial balls after all).

The cover lets you know that it was a New York Times bestseller, and a peek at some reviews will tell you that the book is "much smarter than it has any right to be." Don't go into World War Z expecting a tongue-in-cheek, rollicking yarn of the zombie apocalypse (go see Zombieland for that effect).

Instead, what we have is a disaster story. A... how to put this... an almost dispassionately told disaster story. The point isn't the marauding masses of undead - not by a long shot - the book is about crisis and how people handle it. Or, perhaps more to the point, fail to handle it. It brings to mind Hurricane Katrina - likely because that was the latest major catastrophe to be catastrophically mis-managed by the powers that be.

World War Z is about a world that ignored a growing crisis until it was all but too late. It's about opportunists who profit from human suffering, governments that are more concerned with public relations than the public itself, and the horrible cost of doing what is necessary. Eventually (I'm about 3/4 of the way through) it begins to concern itself with what individuals are prepared to do to survive when reality has shifted sideways, and the world is out to see you dead.

So yeah - great book - just don't go in expecting Kickass Zombie Horror novel. There are accounts of grotesque horror, but these only serve as the motivation to explore what characters are willing to do - to stay in power, to profit, to protect, or simply continue breathing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Famitsu: Bayonetta is perfect (on the 360).

Word dropped yesterday of the newest Famitsu review scores. If you're unfamiliar with the name, Famitsu is sorta' like the Japanese Gamers' Bible - it's a big, big deal over there - even if its review scores are often more than a little suspect, and (from what I hear) tend to reflect the amount of advertising dollars a title has pumped into the publication. Anyway, here's the scores - PS3 on the left, 360 on the right.

If these reviews can be trusted (which they can't), with a 38/40, Bayonetta's PS3 port may be a far cry from the grotesque, limping, feral troll we feared it might become. 40/40 reviews from Famitsu are a rather rare occurrence (not so much lately), but they should still be taken with a massive, fist-sized grain of salt: Nintendogs received a perfect score as well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Darksiders new official release date.

January 5th, 2010. THQ have been saying the date will be Jan 1 - they wanted to be the first game release of the year - but I suppose releasing a game on New Year's Day wasn't the smartest tactic they could pick. So they went with the 5th, which should be much more doable.

If you're not in the loop, Darksiders is one of those very-promising-but-could-easily-suck games - but the potential sucking is far outweighed by the potential for awesome. If you'd like to know more, check out the Darksiders spotlight I wrote up. There's a lot to love, here!

MINI REVIEW - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Have you ever had sex that was so good, so happy that you found yourself laughing, in spite of the intimate circumstances? I'm not talking just physical pleasure here, I'm talking joy.

That's Uncharted 2. I'm not kidding. During my first playthrough, I was so giddily thrilled with the experience I found myself laughing out loud. Not at a joke, or a clever reference - simply because my Cup of Happy was bubbling over, and had to be released through exultation.

It's wonderful. It is - far and away - the best game I've played in 2009 (or 2008 for that matter - and that includes the PS3 port of BioShock). For my money, it is the single best game on the Playstation 3. "Very, very good-looking" doesn't do its visuals justice. Calling it a third-person shooter doesn't begin to speak to the experience it offers. Talking about the standard-setting voice work and storytelling can't inform you of how you'll feel when the characters banter, or a loved one is put in mortal peril. It is, simply, an astounding experience that repeatedly one-ups itself with boggling set-pieces and ever-higher high adventure over the course of its campaign.

Oh, there's also multiplayer.


THE GOOD
-pretty much everything
-Emily Rose

THE BAD
-almost nothing

THE VERDICT
For my money, it's the single best PS3 game to date.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Alpha Protocol has "AAA potential."

I'm sure you're aware that Alpha Protocol was held back from its original October release date, in favor of - what was rumored at the time to be - a Summer 2010 release. SEGA has gone and corrected this, saying the game will drop in Spring of 2010. The reason for the delay? SEGA thinks, with a little extra spit-shine, Alpha Protocol can be a major release.

"Since the inception of Alpha Protocol, Sega has recognized the potential for the game to establish itself as an AAA title,” said Masanao Maeda, President of SEGA of America. “We’ve worked in conjunction with Obsidian Entertainment in making the decision to move Alpha Protocol’s ship date to spring 2010 to ensure that we have the best game possible at launch.”

I dunno, Maeda. I've seen the dev diaries of Alpha Protocol, and triple-A seems to be reaching a little. An A-quality game, sure - but with all the primo stuff dropping in early 2010 (Mass Effect 2, BioShock 2, Heavy Rain, God of War III, Bayonetta) you'll have to be pretty damned special to get a spotlight on you in that crowd.

That said, I have nothing against holding a game back for the purpose of additional polish. Look what it did for inFamous.

God of War Collection looks sharp.

Sony released some screenshots from the God of War Collection today. Judging from the size of the images, the game will be at 720p (though, heck, I could be mistaken). There's nothing particularly revealing about these screens, aside from how much it looks like the original.

Of course, the edges look much cleaner - but that's about it.

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


You've likely noticed the Eurogamer watermark down in the corner, there. Of course, feel free to check out the... Spanish? Well, Spanish or Italian Eurogamer site for more screens. You may think it's wrong of me to blatantly steal these marked images from a giant media workhorse like Eurogamer, but in the words of the near-extinct Striped Biologist Taunters...

"What're you gonna' do, shoot us?"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

D'awwwww!

Not feeling very Bloggey today, but on the bright side there's not much to talk about. There's a 250GB PS3 Slim on the way to North America for$349, Sucker Punch says inFamous's development was a real headache early on, and Loot Ninja's cosplay girl of the week is like, 70% Photoshoppage. The pic leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, I'm going to break with tradition and not present you with a sexy cosplay pic. In its stead, let's go with adorable.

D'awwwww!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In the NEWS - October 14th.


There's a few interesting stories to get through today, and given that I'm dog-tired from my first day at the new job I'm prepared to rattle them off in a quick in-the-news post. On the bright side, this means reading this blog won't cut as deeply into your Uncharted 2 playing time as you may have feared.


More cross-game voice chat rumors.
On the Playstation 3 forums today, a Naughty Dog dev let it slip that "the next PS3 firmware update is going to allow cross game chat." The post was quickly deleted, and when pressed for comment Sony only gave the classic "we don't comment on speculation and rumors" line. Still, this isn't the first we've heard of this - I'd be rather surprised if the feature doesn't make an appearance by Christmas.



Fallout 3 GotY Edition PS3 has bugs ...in Canada.
Okay, now this stings a little. I was very much looking forward to picking up the Game of the Year edition of Fallout 3 - I've even been working on some kick-ass questless level twenty characters for just that purpose - and now it turns out that (contrary to what the developers have said) the saves won't work with the PS3 in Canada. All reports of this problem have come from My Home And Native Land (save one from Sweden), and although a Bethesda rep has said they're looking in to the problem, this news certainly nudges picking up the GotY edition out of my Must Buy Soon list. This sucks!



Kojima on current-gen Zone of the Enders.
In a video interview over at the European Playstation Blog, Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) answered some user questions. Most were about the MGS series, but the most interesting is regarding Kojima Productions' other beloved franchise.

Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, if you're not familiar with them, are PS2 action games in which a child protagonist pilots a massive (sort-of-but-not-really-like-Gundam) mobile armored suit to do battle with other giant flying mechs. It's considered a classic in hardcore gaming circles, but many folks don't appreciate that (what is considered to be) the best game of the series - The Second Runner - was merely produced by Kojima, with Shuyo Murata acting as the writer and director.

Still, it's a Kojima Productions franchise, so Hideo's the man to ask. His response?
“Of course, Kojuma Productions has a long list of things we want to bring out, and of course Zone of the Enders is one of the... on the top of the list."
Nothing more commital than that, I'm afraid. He goes on - several times - to say he wants to make an original game once Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid: Rising come out. I wouldn't mind seeing a new Enders game, but I'm starting to feel kinda' bad that Kojima is only ever allowed to make sequels to his classics.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's very, very popular.

It's a strange thing to peek into your friends list and see all but one person playing a single game. Of course, when the game is as spectacular as all the pre-release buzz has suggested, it's a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that all your buddies are enjoying the same delicious confection that you're savoring.

I don't need to tell you which game I'm talking about, do I? Good, let's move on.

A voice actor has reportedly outed inFamous 2. I can't confirm that he has outed it, any more than I can confirm that inFamous 2 is in the works - all I know is that other sites are reporting it, and the tweet in question is no longer on his feed. Considering inFamous's critical and (moderate) commercial success - along with certain job listings at Sucker Punch - a sequel is no big shock. ...and no, that wasn't a pun.

This news is such non-news that I refuse to give it a post of its own. It can nestle here, in a Note post, without a title or picture to call its own. Still, I'm fond enough of inFamous that even the faintest whisper of a sequel is music to my ears.

Amazon gets in on the Mass Effect 2 for PS3 thing.

So check out this Amazon.com listing for the PS3 Dragon Age: Origins Special Edition. If you're reading this, perhaps, tomorrow it may have changed - so here's a screengrab for posterity. The notable part is this:

"Exclusive Collector's Edition items including: a tin game case, a bonus content CD, a cloth game map, four pieces of in-game content and an unlockable item for 'Mass Effect 2.'"
It occured to me that Amazon could have simply copy-pasted the 360 Special Edition's info for the PS3 page - but that's not the case. Both contain similar information, but it's phrased differently.

I think I'll stop talking about this now. I know BioWare is The Hot Shit when it comes to western RPGs, but aside from Jade Empire I can't say I've ever been drooling over their products.

Monday, October 12, 2009

EA: Mass Effect 2, Left 4 Dead 2 PS3 listings an "error."

Shortly after folks noticed that - on EA's Russian website - there was a listing for Mass Effect 2 for PS3, folks also noticed that there was a similar listing for Left 4 Dead 2. I say "was" because both these listings have been removed and EA has classified them as an error.

Let's pretend, for a moment, that this is a great conspiracy, and that these two listings are in fact accurate. What circumstantial evidence supports this?

(1) Microsoft is not publishing Mass Effect 2. Electronic Arts is.

Aside from that whole one-of-the-best-developers thing, Valve is also famous for having zero interest in developing for the PS3 - particularly after the EA-handled port of The Orange Box. Their reasons? The PS3 port was so bad, it did not live up to the standards of a Valve product - so they wouldn't do it again in the future. How is this supportive evidence?

Well, (2) EA has proven that they have the capacity to make triple-A games on the PS3, and (3) if anyone is going to port a Valve game, it will be EA - their publisher, who has (albeit, badly) handled ports for Valve in the past. Perhaps EA convinced Valve that a port of Left 4 Dead 2 would not be a repeat of the Orange Box disappointment.

The other evidence - which is only evidence because it does not disprove the existence of these ports - is the lack of straight denial from EA. (4)

These listings on the EA Russia website were an "error" - which could just as easily mean "we accidentally put up information we don't want you to know about yet," and an EA rep responded with "We don't comment on rumors. :-)."

Timed exclusives (Ninja Gaiden, Star Ocean, Tales of Vesperia) that get their start on the 360 before heading to PS3 aren't exactly unheard of. What is unheard of are developers or publishers admitting that PS3 versoins exist while Microsoft still has a muzzle order on them due to timed exclusivity. If people know the games will eventually be on another platform, they reckon, consumers may wait to buy the PS3 version and ignore the 360 one.

So, again, none of this is fact - it's still just a rumor with a lot of circumstantial non-evidence to suggest it may be true.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone!

Bet you thought I was going to break my Never Go Two Days Without An Update rule, didn't you? Ye of little cyberfaith!

Our family had its traditional turkey + stuffing + mashed potatoes + gravy + veggies + booze and / or Pepsi celebration tonight. I'm not precisely sure why Canadians celebrate thanksgiving, and - aside from the fact that it gives us a holiday in October - I can't imagine why it occurs a month before the American date.

Either way, good times were had by all, and I even got my little brother to sit down with my PS3 for a while to taste-test Demon's Souls. This may not sound particularly impressive to you, but that guy is a total workaholic. If he's not being shamelessly healthy and productive, I have to suspect he's feeling guilty about not being productive or healthy enough. (Of course, he'll become blindingly happy and successful.)

So, getting him to stay in a single location for an hour and a half for leisure and only leisure is a bit of a feat, and at the very least I'm thankful for that.

While we're on the subject, I'm also thankful for gainful employment, a uniquely supportive and loving family, cigarettes, and comfortable fall coats. I suppose I'm also thankful there's only two more sleeps 'till Uncharted 2.

Rumor: Mass Effect 2 multiplatform?


As I'm sure you've surmised from the image above (and this article's title), there are rumblings that Mass Effect 2 may become available on the PS3.

The offending parties are the Australian GAME site - a major video game store in PAL countries - and the Russian Electronic Arts website. I can hear the cynicism now:

"Dude, Mass Effect was published by Microsoft - no way are they letting their biggest exclusive RPG franchise go multiplatform!"

Well, yes, ME was published by MS - but lending credence to this rumor is the fact that they don't own the Mass Effect license, and they aren't publishing Mass Effect 2. Guess who is? Electronic Arts - yes, the same publisher whose Russian branch suggests the multiplatform-ness. Adding further fuel to the fire, BioWare hasn't shot down the rumor with a straight-up "no, Mass Effect 2 is a 360 exclusive." Instead, on the developer's forums, BioWare'sPatrick Weekes quipped,
"We don't comment on rumors. :-)"
Not a "no," not a "these suggestions are groundless," but a "no comment." With a smilie.

File this under rumor, but it's a very plausible one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Have you tried the Bayonetta demo?

My sphere of Gamer Consciousness only seems to contain three items, at the moment: Bayonetta, Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls.

Oh sure, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time is coming up (around the 20th, I think) and Dragon Age Origins looks wicked-cool, but until I have limitless funds to pursue all gaming options, my internal Hype-O-Meter has judiciously reduced my anticipation to the items of utmost importance. Hopefully, this will reduce the crushing disappointment when everyone else is enjoying the newest adventure of my favorite anthropomorphic space-wombat and I'm not.

Anyway, the Bayonetta demo. Have you noticed the little things? The way your enemies' flesh strips away to reveal the pulsating organs beneath, as you wail on them? Have you noticed her butt-bouncing strut if you lean forward gently on the analog stick? Have you tapped L2 and discovered the sword-in-the-hands, shotguns-on-the-feet combo?

Very appetizing.

In other, personal news, I'm trying to quit smoking (again!) - so despite my earlier ambitions, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday may not be for Demon's Souls. When a nicotine addict feels the least bit stressed, the immediate desire is always a cigarette - and Demon's Souls is an experienced based almost entirely around coaxing negative emotions out of the player. Aside from the triumphant glory of defeating an impossible foe, of course.

So I'll have to set that aside, for now, and pray that I can get over this whole nicotine thing prior to next week. I start training for a new job on Wednesday, and I really don't want to be in the throes of a snarling, snapping, nic-fit rage.

That said, do you have a smoke?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday is for Demon's Souls.

...but so is Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, now that you mention it. Whats that? It's Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday? I don't give a shit - Monday is for Demon's Souls.

This game is so damned vast I refuse to commit to writing up a review, but if I did let's just presume it falls in line with the majority of Metacritic: Demon's Souls is incredibly difficult, and that's a good thing. It's old-school in all the best ways, not the least of which is the sense of accomplishment one receives after triumphing over the (awesome amount) of impossible-at-first obstacles the game throws at you.

Combat? Great.
Art direction. Great.
Atmosphere. Thick enough to cut with a Giant's Club +5.

So yeah, I'm loving this game.

Of course, next Tuesday is not for Demon's Souls because next Tuesday is for Uncharted 2. I bring this up merely because - after scouring my sources - the most newsworthy item I could find for the day is that 9,905 days worth of playtime have been poured into the Uncharted 2 demo. That rounds out to over twenty-seven years, which is pretty cool.

The same post over at the Playstation Blog also points out that, of the 34 scores for Uncharted 2 on Metacritic so far, seventeen of them are perfect, and none of the others are below 90.

So yeah, I'm loving Demon's Souls, but Tuesday is for Uncharted 2.

Sorry for the lack of content, folks! Here's hoping tomorrow is more newsworthy.

My curious anti-PS3 bitching continues.

Sorry I didn't mention this last night (I didn't know), but if you have a Japanese XBL Gold account you can try out the 360 version of Bayonetta. And that, of course, leads to me. Bitching.

We've been here before. The PS3 version of Bayonetta looks different. How different? Different enough that you'll want to get the 360 version, if you have a choice in the matter.

Honestly, Platinum. You're a Japanese company making a phenomenally Japanese, hardcore action game, and you lead development on the console that's in last place in your market? Eugh.

Anyway, enough bitching - let's get to some facts. Dig on these comparison screenshots of the PS3 and 360 versions. The PS3 shots are clearly beset by a blur, with lower contrast and washed-out colors. The 360 shots pop, with crisp lines, sharp light and shadows, and bright colors.

Keeping in mind that the 360 version is locked at sixty frames per second and the PS3 version isn't... well, this is me - card-carrying Sony stalwart - telling you to invest in the 360 version of Bayonetta.

...if you have the choice. As someone (currently) without a choice, Bayonetta has enough style, substance and personality to make it worth a purchase regardless of its blurry, stuttering, screen-tearing Port of Crappiness.