Monday, November 30, 2009

Looks like Yakuza 3 is gettin' localized.

The rules for secret-keeping seem to be a little different in Germany, where products that don't officially exist have a habit of popping up on Amazon.de. The PS3 slim, for example.

For another, here's a listing for Yakuza 3. There had been mutterings from Sega about releasing it in the west as a PSN-only title, but it appears they're going for broke, perhaps emboldened by Bayonetta and Valkyria Chronicles' critical success.

The original Yakuza and its sequel were on the PS2, and both fared rather poorly in North America. In Japan, on the other hand, the series has all the mainstream recognition Grand Theft Auto does over here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It really is high time I played the original Silent Hill.

I had an extra eight bucks in my PSN wallet the other day, so I decided to nab Silent Hill. I reckoned it would do my Gamer Sense good, plus it would perhaps relieve the... feeling of intimidation I get from thoughts of attempting Silent Hill 2.

The CGI cutscenes certainly blow Final Fantasy VII's out of the water, but the voice work is... hard to explain easily.

It almost feels like the actors think they're going above and beyond what a video game needs, but they don't really seem to grasp how important their role is, in terms of the player's experience. As far as I'm concerned, Metal Gear Solid still owns the crown for voice work in a first-gen 3D game.

The other thing that's a little amazing (and off-putting, to a modern gamer) is how much the game just expects you to figure crap out on your own. "Go to the school," you're told. But every rout is blocked and I seem to be finding strange keys here and there, with no indication of what purpose they could be for.

Modern games do a whole lot of hand-holding in the name of accessibility, and in general this is both a blessing and a curse, but it's wholly a curse when you try to jump in to a classic title that would never stoop to such tactics. It's hard, man.

But I expect I'll be able to figure it out without resorting to GameFAQs. Eventually.

For now though, I really should continue my Dragon Age: Origins playthrough of penance.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

January, February, March, April, May.

Before we get deep into the end-of-year wrap-up stuff, let's take a look ahead at the notable titles of early 2010. The first five months have some great looking stuff.


JANUARY
Two very large titles for me in January. First off there's Darksiders, the first title from Vigil Games. What finally sold me on it was a series of developer walkthroughs you can find on GameTrailers. Everything I'd been hearing about Darksiders crystalized into sheer game-lust. It is what they've been saying it is! It is Zelda with big, spikey steel balls!

It will take some truly horrendous early reviews to keep me from picking up Darksiders at launch.

Of course, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't point out that Bayonetta drops the same day as Darksiders - January 5th - as would I be remiss if I showed the North American cover that doesn't present her posed posterior. I've explained this a zillion times, so one more won't hurt me: Bayonetta is the new action game from legendary director Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry), and the first HD game by his new studio, Platinum Games. Platinum Games is made up of the folks behind Clover Studio, the absolutely brilliant but commercially disastrous ward of Capcom that gave us cult classics like God Hand and Okami.

The only game that could stop Bayonetta from being the best brawler action title of 2009 is the mighty God of War III, and I'm not positive that God of War is up to it.

If you have a choice in the matter (unlike say, me), you definitely want to pick up Bayonetta on the 360 - the PS3 version is, by all reports, an astonishingly bad port by Sega - but that's hardly going to stop me from picking it up regardless.


In January, there's also the jetpack-propelled third-person shooter Dark Void and Zipper Interactive's MAG, but I must admit I lost all interest in MAG shortly after I was able to try it out.



FEBRUARY
BioShock 2, February 9th. What more can I say?

It's fine to say that BioShock was an astounding experience, an incredible narrative that needs no sequel - for a sequel is surely just a cash-in on the crossover popularity of the original. Which is true.

But, when I gave my older brother a copy of BioShock for his birthday, I told him "I'm so jealous of you. You get to play BioShock for the first time - I can never do that again."

And that, to me, is the whole reason for investing in BioShock 2. Go back to Rapture, and explore it for the first time again.


February is also sporting the looks-okay Lost Planet 2, the "Director's Cut" of Resident Evil 5 and Visceral Games' (EA Redwood Shores, of Dead Space fame) self-hyped God of War clone Dante's Inferno. Despite their... questionable promotion methods, Inferno is likely worth a rental.



MARCH
God of War III will be absolutely remarkable, if the phenomenal lengths to which Sony Santa Monica pushed the PS2 are any indication.

March also brings with it Battlefield: Bad Company 2 from Mirror's Edge studio DICE, and an under-the-radar RPG called Final Fantasy XIII. I know it's something of a gamer sacrilege, but I can't say FF13 is a day-one for me. More like a day-when-it's-twenty-dollars.

Ah heck, maybe I'll rent it - just to see.



APRIL
Rockstar San Diego's sequel to Red Dead Revolver seems to be a sequel in name only, and that's fine by me. Give me a gigantic, sprawling open world to explore on horseback, an adults-only, pulpy, lowest-common-denominator story and a soaring Sergio Leone/Akira Kurosawa-inspired soundtrack and I'm a happy camper.



MAY
I'm mildly interested in 3D Dot Game Heroes for its premise - it is a shameless Zelda clone and a self-proclaimed love letter to classic gaming. What gets me more than mildly interested is the fact that it's the new game from Demon's Souls developer From Software, and once again localized by the King of All Localizations, Atlus USA.

Clearly, 2010 has some good times in store for us. I wonder when Heavy Rain is getting a release date?

Disclaimer!

Soon enough (perhaps even too soon) I'll be getting in to the whole 2009 wrap-up thing. Games of the Year, outstanding titles et cetera. Of course, this will be the definitive Games of the Year article - you can safely ignore all others, comfortably ensconced in the knowledge that the only such documentation required is mine.

Which is bullshit, of course. I'm only one man, and I can only purchase/rent/play so many titles per year. As a result, my perspective is limited to the games I've played (which is further limited by my personal tastes). For example, Modern Warfare 2 simply isn't in the running on The Games of Chance. It may be incredible, but I didn't think much of Call of Duty 4, so I never gave the sequel a rental. As well, I don't possess a 360, so you can rest assured I won't be telling you how awesome Halo 3: ODST is.

These are the games released in 2009 that I've experienced, and so these are the games that are up for consideration. For titles with reviews, links are provided:


Flower

Killzone 2

Resident Evil 5

Wanted: Weapons of Fate

inFamous

Prototype

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Wet

Mini Ninjas

Demon's Souls

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Brütal Legend

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time


Dragon Age: Origins

Assassin's Creed II


...huh. I could've sworn I'd played more than 15 new games in 2009 - but I guess the summer months were pretty empty, and I do more than my share of retro gaming. Anyway - disclaimer! If a game you expected me to mention in my GotY material isn't mentioned in my GotY material, it's because it's not on this list as a result of not having played it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

You're such a tease, Bioware.

There have already been a ton of suggestions that Mass Effect II will land on the PS3. The most compelling bit of evidence that a PS3 version exists seems to be the total lack of evidence to the contrary, which could - of course - be easily provided by BioWare. Like this, for example:
"We have no intention of releasing a Mass Effect title on the PS3. Mass Effect and Mass Effect II are exclusive to the 360 and PC, and so shall they remain."
But that's not what they say. For example, in an interview with Joystiq, BioWare's Greg Zeschuk responded thusly, when asked about the franchise's appearance on Sony's console:
"We're not saying anything about Mass Effect for PS3. I don't know anything about that! That's crazy talk."
Let me translate. Here's what I read in that statement...
"We're not saying anything about Mass Effect for PS3 [yet]. [I'm not allowed to reveal that I] know anything about that! That's crazy talk. [We really should have kept a tighter lid on that.]"

Mmmm, open-world western by Rockstar...

Red Dead Redemption finally gets a release date! This means we have (at least) one must-buy title each for the first four months of 2010 - much more appealing than 2009's early lineup, even if inFamous did turn out to be pretty damned great.

Game mini-bio: Red Dead Redemption is the name-only sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver. Revolver was an exceptionally stylish, totally linear third-person shooter jaunt through the wild wild west. Its highlights were the art direction and the music which absolutely nailed the Sergio Leone style. Unfortunately the game went off its rails every now and again, the best example being a bunch of circus freak enemies like midget clowns.

All-in-all, I preferred Neversoft's Gun, which wasn't as capable a shooter but more than made up for it with the scope of the experience and its adult styling. As far as I'm concerned, Red Dead Redemption's mature-themed open-world western conceit is the closest I'll ever get to Gun II.

It doesn't hurt that it's by Rockstar, the undisputed king of the sandbox game.

Of course, Redemption isn't being made by Rockstar North (GTA) or even Rockstar Vancouver (Bully), but by Revolver's original crew - Rockstar San Diego - the folks who make the Midnight Club racers.

I enjoy the Midnight Club games, but can't say I have a great deal of faith in them when it comes to making a new standard-setting Rockstar sandbox game. On the other hand, the game's trailers refuse to disappoint me even a little, so Red Dead Redemption is likely getting a purchase.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fallout 3 is a cruel, misbehavin' mistress.

After I finished Assassin's Creed II and wrote its review, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had played every game on my list for 2009, and written about them. The "work" portion of my gaming was over. There was no more "required" playing. For the rest of the year, I would game for my pleasure alone, and not because I wanted to get a review up.

Then I realized I had fucked up the Dragon Age: Origins review pretty badly.

So I was about one-fifth of the way through my Playthrough of Atonement when a terribly bad mood struck and I decided to get the Broken Steel DLC for Fallout 3. (I'll return to DA:O soon.)

After being horrified by the tales of bugs in the GotY Edition, I decided to skip the disc version and just purchase the DLC instead. This is my story of love and betrayal, at the hands of a video game.

Playing through the main quest of Fallout 3 again to get to the new Broken Steel quests was absolutely tedious. It's not that the quests aren't interesting or fun, it's just that I've played Fallout 3's main campaign a ridiculous number of times. What I wanted was something new, but still Fallout 3. Clearly, I needed The Pitt and Point Lookout.

Point Lookout absolutely satisfied, particularly since my character is a Small Guns spec sneaky sniper. The Backwater Rifle is exactly what the doctor ordered. Even when it kicked the game out to the XMB once, and had a hard freeze later, it was okay - I was having a great time.

It's so damned refreshing to play Fallout 3 and not know what's around that corner. I didn't realize how completely I had played the vanilla version until I had some new content thrown at me, and creeping around an unexplored landscape was an absolute pleasure. I reminded me how much fun it's going to be to return to Rapture in BioShock 2 and stalk its halls for the first time again. Anyway, then I tried The Pitt and things went... downhill.

Two freezes over the course of my six or seven hours with Point Lookout was troublesome, but not horrendous. The Pitt is freezing up every half hour or twenty-five minutes, on average.

This is driving me nuts. Nothing draws you out of an immersive experience like pulling up the save menu every three minutes. Honestly, Bethesda, is this what I paid ten bucks for?

Why can't you release games that aren't broken?

Lots of other developers manage to make gigantic open world games that don't give the consumer the finger on a regular basis by crashing or freezing or otherwise fucking up. Why is it okay when you do it?

It's not, man. It's not, and I'm very disappointed with this. I can't even tell you if The Pitt is a cool new Fallout 3 experience or not because my impression of it is washed out in a red haze of frustration.

And the worst part is I'll probably buy Operation Anchorage and Mothership Zeta too. So I guess what's really frustrating is how much damage the Fallout 3 DLC seems to have done to my self-respect.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!

I don't live in the States. I visited there once, when I was just a lad, and the only really clear memory I have of the occasion was purchasing an idiotic black pleather jacket.

But I am a consumer of American media, and as such I know that Thanksgiving is a real big deal for you guys. It seems all sorts of distant and otherwise unseen relations come together to eat a large meal and generally behave terribly towards one another - or so film and television have led me to believe.

I don't know why you'd do this to yourselves, really - not with Christmas just a month away. Perhaps it's to appease in-laws. Thanksgiving with Her parents and Christmas with His.

Eh, what do I know? Not much. Happy Thanksgiving, Americans!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nolan North thinks someone else would make a better Drake.

Telling you that Nolan North is the voice actor who plays Nathan Drake in Uncharted is... selling him a little short. Hang on, let me get out a calculator... he's been in sixty seven games. Sigmund in Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time? North. Desmond Miles in Asssassin's Creed - North. The Prince in Prince of Persia - you get the idea.

Anyway, in an article in the new OPM, North all but confirms Uncharted 3:

"That would just be financially irresponsible, not to do a third one."

But the more interesting part is his take on who should play Nathan Drake in the Uncharted movie. He says he'd love to play the part himself, but...

"Somebody like [Hugh] Jackman is the guy I would like to see. I think the producers really would like to see Jackman, because he has that tough guy exterior but there's a lot going on behind his eyes."

I gotta' disagree here, Nolan. Nathan Drake gets put through all kinds of shit, but when you look at him you don't think "tough guy." You're not supposed to think "tough guy," you're just supposed to think "guy."

Not rockabilly.

Ever since playing Wet I've been on an electronic search for the soundtrack. I was able to find The Hypnophonics doing a live rendition of Children of the Atom on YouTube, but it wasn't the studio version I fell in love with, so my search continued.

Today my search bore fruit, and it seems my (total) lack of musical acumen led me to mislabel Wet's prominent genre. It's not rockabilly - it's psychobilly - which does seem a more accurate description, even if I'm not precisely aware of the word's definition.

I do hope I discover a (cheaply acquired) copy of Wet under the Christmas tree. Christmas morning is the ideal time for guilty pleasures, gaming or otherwise.

So that 3 console limit thing is a typo...

There's a little too much information to just put into an Update blurb, so here's a post of its very own to point out how silly SCEE are - but it's so much of an update, I feel I'll have to do something else today to make my content quota. Anyway...

Here is a screengrab of the Terms of Service over at the UK Playstation site. Game DLC can only be activated on three systems, it says. Hasn't been updated, as of yet, to reflect any change.

For posterity's sake, here is a post made by a Sony rep on the UK Playstation forums. He assures the UK community they still get 5 activations.

Was it just a typo? Why hasn't it been fixed yet?

Why didn't someone proof-read the email they sent out to thousands upon thousands of Sony customers in the UK telling them the limit had been reduced to three?

The world may never know.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

PSN Terms of Service changed (in the UK).

So dig on this. Time was, you could purchase a game on the PSN and enjoy it on up to five different consoles. Or, more likely, you and your friend (or in my case, sibling) could make all your PSN purchases on a single account that's shared between you. Pay for Burnout Paradise's PSN version once, enjoy it on up to five systems. Now that's what I call economic.

Anyway, the Terms of Service in the UK have changed - you can only have three systems activated and accessing the stuff at any given time, and you have to wait 24 hours before a separate system can download the game you wish to share.

I spent a half hour trying to find similar Terms of Service documentation on the US Playstation site and came up empty, so I ended up calling their customer support.

Y'ever have a waitress who was just way too sticky-sweet? Nothing duplicitous about her, but it's terribly obvious that no one in their right mind is that nice and she clearly has her eyes on the tip at the end of the evening? That was the customer service rep I got, which I must say was more pleasing than someone who, for example, didn't actually want to help me.

Anyway, no - the ToS in North America has not changed. The deal is still 5 consoles here in the West, but after springing this change on our European cousins I wouldn't be surprised if it happens here, too.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Year in Review - Features of 2009.

It's been about six months since I started up The Games of Chance, and the end of the gaming year is upon us. Oh sure, The Saboteur is coming out on the 8th of December, but to be honest I'm on the fence about giving it a rental. If I have ten bucks burning a hole in my pocket? Sure. Maybe.

Point is, as far as I'm concerned 2009 is pretty much over. On the bright side, January looks good (Darksiders, Bayonetta), but now is the time to look back at 2009 and examine the year that was. Let's begin the yearly retrospective with - what I consider to be - the notable featured articles on this little blog-o-mine...

Back in June, the Fall Rush of Games looked like an indomitable mountain of content. There was so much, in fact, I was having trouble keeping all the noteworthy titles organized in my head, so I decided to write 'em down. The list is long, but it's interesting to look back and see how some games impressed more (Batman: Arkham Asylum) or less (Wet) than I thought they would.

The article is so huge I broke it into chunks. To begin, we have Awesome Games I Don't Give A Crap About (undoubtedly high-quality games I had no interest in), followed by Radar Hotspots (games that may be excellent) and Must Plays (games that will be excellent). Or so I thought, at the time.


When word dropped that Way of the Samurai 3 was finally getting a localization, I was suitably thrilled. This is - not a - the title I've most wanted to get a North American release, and I said so. Thing is, it's such a niche title that not many people know what the hell the deal with WotS is - so I wrote an article that explains it.

You may now find it curious that, since starting this blog, Way of the Samurai 3 is the only game I've played and not reviewed. Why? Well, two reasons:

(1) I haven't beaten it yet. For someone who generally platinums a title within a week's rental, this is a freakish occurrence. The reason I haven't beaten the game is because, frankly,

(2) It's not very good. Which is a bit of a strange thing to say, because by all measurable criteria it's the best in the series. It looks the best, it sounds the best, it plays the best, but WotS 1 and 2 were already a little behind the times - Way of the Samurai 3 is so out-of-touch with how games are played and designed on the current gen, it would be perfectly suited to a rocking chair on a front porch, demanding that the Dragon Ages and inFamouses get off its lawn.

I suppose the real reason for no review is that I'd hate to write up a laundry list of things that are wrong with the game my brothers (thoughtfully, kindly) bought me for my birthday. It's not like I wish they'd gotten me any other game - the collector in me, the thoughtful gamer in me and the Samurai romanticist in me are all thrilled to have a copy of Way of the Samurai 3 - but I really don't want to spend nine paragraphs bitching about what I really do consider to be a lovely gift.


My affection for the upcoming Darksiders was a real, real slow burn. First impressions were abysmal, but over the past two (is it three, now?) years it's become one of my most anticipated titles. Don't know what Darksiders is? Let me tell you.


Prior to (and following) the release of Prototype and inFamous earlier in the year, comments sections and forum threads burned with fanboy rage against one game or the other. My response was to write an overlong, exhaustive comparison of the two games.

Look, they're really nothing alike. If you want a higher-quality game that's rock-solid-fun all the way through, get inFamous - I love inFamous. I like Prototype a lot, and there's nothing else really like it on the current gen, but Hulk: Ultimate Destruction used its formula better back on the PS2.

I almost hesitate to point this article out, because it really is too long, and to be honest the "gameplay" and "fun factor" sections should have been combined into a single compartment. But I wrote it, it's huge, and there it is.



Perhaps the closest thing I've ever done to a public service announcement on this blog is to point your gaze towards Atlus USA. Long story short, Atlus is a publisher that focuses entirely on the hardcore market. They publish games for us, and treat us like bloody kings, tossing us awesome freebies that any other publisher would charge us an extra thirty bucks for and call it the "collector's edition".



Fortunately for you, dear reader, wholly self-indulgent essays that have nothing to do with gaming are the exception around here. Still, if I were to point to one personal article that I rather like, it would be this one.

I've been trying my ass off to quit smoking for the past year. It's... still not going well. Back in July, this was my frustrated reaction to that battle. Long story short: don't smoke.



If you have a PC, you can just poke around in the guts of Fallout 3 and make yourself a character who starts out at level 20 (or 30) with every skill and attribute maxed. On the PS3 I don't have such a luxury, so I wrote up an article on how to make a "starter character". A toon who had barely spoken to a soul since leaving Vault 101, made it to level twenty and maxed as many skills as possible - perfect for heading into the DLC episodes with.

It's handy!


I was fortunate enough to get into the closed Beta for MAG - Sony's perhaps-over-hyped hugely-multiplayer first person shooter - earlier this year, and reckoned I should do a little write-up about it to tell you which way the wind is blowing.

The verdict? Towards Modern Warfare 2.



If you want to take out a stick and measure the quality of graphics, gameplay and production values, Uncharted 2 is probably the best game of the year, but that doesn't mean there aren't at least five things wrong with it. Warning: contains spoilers!


* * *


And there you have it. Some of my favorite featured articles of 2009. Of course, if what you're looking for is new content, I'm sure I'll be able to scrounge some up tomorrow. If, on the other hand, you want more old content, check out the Features page for all the write-ups I didn't think were important, interesting or just plain good enough to list here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Man, I screwed up.

Picard doing the facepalm is the only image of its type I feel comfortable using. The "Epic Fail" and "For the Lulz" ones always seem pretty mean spirited to me, but Picard pulls it off - as he tends to do with everything else. I like this one too:

Anyway, I messed up pretty bad. Roundabout two weeks ago I wrote up a review of Dragon Age: Origins that praised pretty much everything about the game save for the combat.

The combat, I argued, was all but broken on the PS3 version because the game could not be played tactically, as it needed to be. You cannot pause the action and give an individual instruction to each party member - every order given takes time that ends up getting you killed.

Anyway, I was wrong. Totally wrong. During combat you can hold down the left shoulder button to bring up an ability "circle", pause the action and give instructions to your main or a party member - but if you have the "circle" set to Toggle (tap the shoulder button to open, tap to close) instead of just Hold, once you give any party member an order the action will continue and you loose precious seconds.

If you have it set to Hold (the standard setting), you can give your main an order, switch to another party member and give an order, switch to a third and give an order, all without unpausing the action.

Aside from making it a little physically unweildly, it's exactly what I said was missing in the article, the exclusion of which broke the combat.

So obviously, the combat is not broken. I switched it from Hold to Toggle early in the game before any significant challenges reared their heads, and had no idea that was my problem.

So that review is bunk. I'll rewrite it soon, after I give Origins another playthrough on the normal or harder difficulty. I'm thinking harder. Clearly, after such a severe gaffe I deserve punishment.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed II

The dual hidden blades are really cooler than they should be.

It's easy to say this now that December is almost upon us: Assassin's Creed II is one of the best games of the year. Perhaps more impressive is that it's able to elicit such a response on the tail end of the Fall Rush of Games, when we've been deluged with at least a half-dozen extremely high-quality titles. I've been playing great games for the past two months, and brother, even strolling among such company, ACII stands proud.

It's unfortunate that the Assassin's Creed franchise was introduced to us with a title that wasn't nearly as solid in 2007. We could never be as thrilled with Ezio's effortless negotiation of the Florentian rooftops as we were when Altair showed off the mechanic two years ago, and after the ambitious but ultimately dissatisfying original, gamers will likely require convincing that the sequel isn't merely a more refined tech demo - it's a realization of the promise Ubisoft Montreal made in 2007. It is rich. It is satisfying.

Just pretty.

Let's get production values out of the way. It's got a slick menu system, staggering draw distances, solid art direction, masterful animation, a great original score and better-than-average voice work. The writing wavers between pretty good and cringeworthy, but the whole package is one of the best-presented titles of 2008. This isn't an Uncharted 2 level of graphical awe, but it handily beats out Batman: Arkham Asylum.

There's an extensive list of reasons why ACII is a much, much better experience than the original, but let's just stick to the big stuff.

Where it most deftly pulls ahead of its predecessor is how it approaches the player, and tasks them with story and side missions. AC forced you to endure its uninspired side missions by making them a prerequisite to attempting the story missions - Assassin's Creed II doesn't stoop to such tactics. Instead, side missions are entirely voluntary and much more pleasing. Race and Beat Up missions aside, the Assassination contracts are often like fun little puzzles - how best to use your abilities and tools to solve the problem (and obtaining them from a carrier pigeon is pretty damned cool). The most engaging are easily the indoor missions.

Reminding us what Ubisoft Montreal does best.

Throughout Italy are six hidden tombs (the preorder or "Master Assassin's Edition" allow access to one or two similar levels), which are entirely linear experiences. What's surprising about these segments is how they highlight just how good the platforming in Assassin's Creed II is - something I would never have admitted about the original - and handily recall Ubisoft Montreal's mastery of the genre with the last-gen Prince of Persia titles.

The story missions (and the story itself) also flatten anything accomplished two years ago. Starting out simply - and a little slowly - the narrative skips about, spanning twenty years in the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Ezio himself and the world he inhabits are a helluva lot more interesting than the original's jaunt through the curiously compressed Holy Land.

Florence and Venice are not a three-minute horse ride from each other. It's a small thing, but it lends a credence to Creed II that the original did not possess. There are still "harasser" NPCs that attempt to mess up your stealthing, but now they're funnier and make you feel less guilty when you kill them. And then, of course, there's the flood of additional NPC types and characters.

Easily one of my favorite missions.

Merchants call for business from shop windows, inviting you to spend some Florins on a new blade, armor upgrade or a painting for your villa. Courtesans demurely flash a little leg, offering
their services, and then there's the supporting cast of characters.

Having Leonardo da Vinci as your personal Q is at once inspired, a little tongue-in-cheek, and somehow - strangely - manages to lend the world an additional coat of authenticity. Although the facial animation and up-close graphics aren't as masterful as last year's Prince of Persia, the voice work and character design carry it through, and before you know it you discover you are invested in Ezio and the lives of his comrades.

The world is richer. The history feels more real, and that alone makes buying into the experience much easier - much more pleasurable.

Just as cool as you remember, but new and improved: Now with Fun!

Assassin's Creed II maintains everything that blew us away about the ambitious original, and takes an unerring blade to all the chaff that held it back. Once the unwanted bits were cut away, they rebuilt the game's structure on the foundation of their narrative. There is no filler.

It's just great. I can't speak to the GTA IV or Fallout 3 DLC, but Assassin's Creed II is probably the single best open-world game of the year. It's expansive, rewards exploration, is stuffed with content and enjoyable side quests, has an above-par story and one hell of an ending.

All that, and you can leap through the air with a hidden blade extending from your wrist to take down a distracted guard.


THE GOOD
-great presentation
-the solid platforming is a step up from the original
-feels very authentic, despite the fantastical elements
-excellent mission design and structure
-lots of variety in your tools and abilities
-satisfying side missions
-a metric ton of optional content
-indoor missions
-stylish, ambitious and unique
-you can row a gondala through the canals of Venice


THE BAD
-the writing isn't very solid
-beyond the counter and stealth kills, the combat isn't very satisfying
-had a hard freeze, once
-I spend 95% of the game with my finger on the R1 button to run. Wouldn't it make more sense to make R1 the "walk" button? Eh, what do I know?


THE VERDICT

It keeps everything worth keeping from the original and refines the rest into one of the best games of the year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Halfway there!

Perhaps it's a result of my stubborn refusal to mature in any meaningful way, but I lurrrrve Christmas.

This year, gainful employment has given me the opportunity to give a little more meaningfully than years past. Strangely, I always found methods to fandangle myself enough money around the holidays to surprise my family with respectable gifts, but this year I feel I can get a little overzealous and silly about it.

Not ridiculously silly, though. I'm not spending $125 on a pepper mill (sorry, man.)

But on the bright side, I'm halfway done! I think.

We'll see. I'll look at my next check and see how ridiculous I can be with it.

God of War Collection has some significant issues.

I know the PS3 has a long history of technical difficulties when it comes to ports, but this is pretty sad.

According to a thread on the official PlayStation forums and the comments on the PlayStation Blog, more than a few folks are experiencing some freezing issues with the God of War Collection.

Most complaints identify God of War as the major culprit, but a few mention freezes in GoWII as well. It's worth noting that the lion's share of those experiencing freezes are playing on the launch 60GB SKU, but one or two folks with the new Slims have reported problems as well.

I'm doubly pleased I didn't pick this up for myself, now. Hopefully Sony realizes what a gaff this is and gets a fix in the works tout sweet.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mmm, nostalgia.

I'll admit, I never played more than five minutes of the original Resident Evil. I was given the opportunity to try it at my buddy's house, but he shortly decided I was unable to negotiate the horrors of Capcom's PS1 classic and showed me how it was done.

I did, however, spend countless hours with the sequel's PC version, and I still have fond memories of it to this day. At $5.99, it's got a very reasonable price for a game with so much content (there are two full-sized campaigns), and I have to think that once I secure myself a PSP, RE2 will be one of my first PSN purchases.

BioWare wants my money.

This screenshot has nothing to do with the newly-announced DLC, it just reinforces that Dragon Age includes dragons.

Anyway - obviously - there's more cash-up-front content coming to BioWare's swords-and-sorcery epic, this time for only $4.99. That sounds like a deal, really, but I've dogeared my next PSN purchase for Broken Steel.

The DLC, titled Return to Ostagar allows the character to unironically return to Ostagar, and attempt to seek out revenge for the death of... well if you haven't played DA:O we're getting into spoiler territory, so I'll just leave you with a block of text from their PR dude:
"The Return to Ostagar DLC pack is a prime example of BioWare's commitment to give fans a game that continuously offers new experiences and further enriches a storyline that has already received critical acclaim and positive feedback from the players."
Translation: "We're gonna' milk this for all it's worth, and I hope we can nickle & dime our devoted fans for years to come."

Holy crap!

Right-click, open in new window to enlarge.

Gaze ye upon the BioShock 2 Special Edition and despair! After kicking myself a little for going for the Assassin's Creed 2 SE, I have resolved not to purchase the God of War III extra-expensive edition. This, on the other hand... this is right up my alley.

What do you get? Let's see!

  • 13" x 13" "premium packaging" with special art on both the slipcase and box cover.
Eh.
  • three posters featuring vintage ads from Rapture (rolled)
Very cool.
  • a vinyl 180g LP featuring the orchestral score of the original BioShock
Sweet! I don't even have a record player any more, but that is awesome.
  • a CD containing the BioShock 2 orchestral score
Y'see, Sony Santa Monica? Now that's how it's done.
  • a 164 page 8" x 11" hard-bound art book "chock full of developer commentary"
Ooh la la.
  • a copy of BioShock 2.
...which seems almost superfluous. All this can be yours for the exactly same price as the God of War III SE: one hundred dollars.

But in this case, I really, really want to pay it. So pretty. So pretty.

No More Heroes, now in HD! (Well, soon in HD.)


You may recall over the summer I mentioned a time or three that Marvelous Entertainment, publishers of Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Little King's Story and No More Heroes was considering porting some of its Wii titles to the PS3 and 360.

A few months later? They are! I'm not as slobberingly thrilled with NMH on the PS3 as I would be with Muramasa, but Wii-beggars can't be Wii-choosers - this is great news.

The HD ports will contain new modes, Japanese voice work and will not utilize motion control.

Nice. The Japanese release date is February 25th.

IO Interactive still aren't making Hitman 5.

They're making Kane & Lynch : Dog Days instead, which is due in the 2nd financial quarter of 2010. I'm not really up on my K&L, lemmie go poke around for a moment...

Hm. Clearly, not IO's finest hour.

Anyway, color me displeased. I was reasonably interested in Mini Ninjas, and it turned out to be merely okay. To be honest, I've always wanted to give Kane & Lynch a taste, but the fact that I'd have to pay ten dollars to rent it has always turned me off. I wonder if there's a demo up?

Hey, there is! I'll give that a try, methinks.

Update: Yeah, that was pretty hard to play / like.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three things...

One.
Assassin's Creed 2 is really good. Seriously.

Remember the game you wished Assassin's Creed was? Turns out it's Assassin's Creed II. If you haven't bought or rented this thing yet, get on it. I'll have a review up in a few days, I'm sure.


Two.
Support Demon's Souls in this bullshit awards show.

I got an email from Atlus (who are awesome) today, requesting I head on over to the Spike VGA page and cast a vote for Demon's Souls. It's competing against Borderlands (which I can't comment on, but may be great), Dragon Age: Origins (which I can confirm is great) and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (which I've heard isn't bad). Anyway, vote for Demon's Souls! Atlus needs all the love they can get, and it's not like Dragon Age is hurting for sales. Besides, it's easily the most unique thing on the list, and we need to support the weird shit unless we want a parade of samey design-by-committee games.

Also, in my humble opinion, it deserves to win, as it is awesome.

"But David, why should I vote if these awards are, as you say, bullshit?"

Because they're only bullshit to us because we're somewhat dedicated gamers. To Joe and Jane Moneyspender who want to be told what's good and what's not instead of collecting the information for themselves and coming to an informed decision, this is it. It's the VGAs and any ads that might end up appearing on TV - these people have never ever heard of Demon's Souls, and it's up to us to tell them.



Three.
The Spike Video Game Awards are total bullshit.

Last year Mario, Alex and I hooked up the voice chat on PSN and watched the Spike VGAs together. Quality company aside, it was... an unfortunate viewing experience. A video game awards show with very few video game awards, mostly consisting of inane comedy sketches, music performances that in no way relate to gaming and the appearance of celebrities who clearly didn't even like the subject matter. It was bloody awful, and only worth watching for the odd thirty-second trailer of a major upcoming title (God of War III, Uncharted 2.)

Some of it I can't really argue against - the nominees and winners, it seems, are chosen by a small army of respected games journalists and editors. If that's the case though, then why aren't Nolan North and Emily Rose nominated in the "best performance by a human male/female" categories? Are these categories just for Hollywood stars who deigned to lend their voice to a game? In either case, no way in hell does Eliza Dushku deserve a nod for Wet.

That seems to be the case, since North got a nomination in the "best voice" category, along with Claudia Black for her work in Uncharted 2. Really? Claudia Black for Uncharted 2? Nobody else thought she turned in a much better performance for Dragon Age: Origins?

Ugh. I'll watch you again, Spike VGAs - there might be a new trailer for The Last Guardian or something - but I won't enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sorry, games library. No Fallout 3 GOTY edition for you.

A little while ago I reported about a bug in the Canadian version of the Fallout 3 Game of the Year edition, that makes the game incompatible with saved games from the vanilla edition of Fallout 3. Lately I've been thinkin' on my Christmas list, and the GotY edition seemed like a good addition - perhaps by Christmas they'd have this saved game thing sorted out - after all, they are working on a patch.

So the other day I swing by their official forums to take a peek at the state of the game, and honestly, I'm floored by what I find.

The GotY edition seems to be broke as hell. Users report constant freezing, what seem like memory leaks, missing NPCs, glitched NPCs - the list is extensive. It occurs to me that this may just be the Bethesda community coming together to air grievances, so I check out the PS3 boards at GameFAQs. Same deal.

Fallout 3 is an incredible bloody game. I'm not contesting that. But - like Oblivion before it - the thing is so incredibly rife with glitches, bugs and errors that it would never have gotten past quality control on a system that could not support patches.

The problem is, they aren't patching it. I'm not talking about the save-game bug - which they have said they plan to patch - I'm talking about the litany of problems that appear on all versions of the game (PS3, 360 and PC). Bethesda just doesn't seem to care. Despite the phenomenal amount of problems blocking enjoyment of their product, their official blog doesn't begin to address any of these issues. Instead, they proudly announce some group or another has honored them for being one of the world's best game developers.

I'm not going to argue that point, but I can't buy the GotY edition of Fallout 3 either. From what I can see it's not just broken, it's incredibly broken, and they have no intention of fixing it.

On the bright side, I dropped my buddy Mario a line yesterday and he assures me that his DLC of Broken Steel among others works just fine. Perhaps I'll dip a toe in the DLC waters instead - maybe they'll work better than the disc version, a'la Little Big Planet on the PSP.

Monday, November 16, 2009

COMIC - Shortpacked!

For the past few months I've been checking out Shortpacked! - which is a little bit like PvP, if PvP concerned itself with action figures / toys instead of video games. There's a great deal of actual storytelling and character building, here, but frankly I find the whole thing to be a touch voyeuristic in a different way.

I know the internet is a veritable hive of subcultures, but Shortpacked's toy-obsession is - beyond being a pleasing thirty-second nightly diversion - an eerie mirror of our own gaming glee. Main character Ethan obsesses and agonizes over the true history of the Transformers, and is something of an elitist toy-buyer in the same way we are somewhat elitist gamers.

So I've done a little house cleaning in the Comics links section on the right of the blog. Planet Karen and Joe Loves Crappy Movies are out. They haven't updated in like, half a year and frankly I'm sick of it - I'll take this crap from Lucid TV, but not many others. Shortpacked! is in.

Planet Karen was particularly valuable to me, because for the first time since I was a teenager (when I had a gay friend and a gay writing mentor - two different dudes), it reminded me that since my youth I've slipped into a pop-culture informed habit of thinking of gay people as gay people, instead of just people.

Joe Loves Crappy Movies was a reasonably funny comic that had the added benefit of pointing me towards interesting cinema I would have otherwise ignored. I thank that comic for bringing the best movie I've seen in 2009 to my attention.

Thanks, Tim.


Did you know I like Megadeath? I had no idea, until I spent the last few days trying to 100% Brütal Legend. I've also discovered I like Lita Ford and Motörhead - or at least a few particular songs by those artists.

I used to be an unrepentant cinephile, and most of my musical discoveries came from the movies or (gasp!) local radio. In the last few years I've come to accept that - as the medium I devour most ravenously - games are responsible for the lion's share of my musical introductions. Which is fine - if you're going to put a licensed song into a game it had better be a good one.

So Grand Theft Auto IV was responsible for a great many additions to my regular playlist, along with Hitman: Contracts, Fallout 3 and BioShock. GTA: Vice City didn't change my opinion on 80s music, but at least San Andreas allowed me to accept that some country music is worth a damn (Amos Moses, for one).

Anyway - thanks, Tim Schafer, for turning me back on to a genre I'd all but forgotten since my childhood - back when the album covers alone terrified the shit out of me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Note to self:

Never call to get a pizza delivered again. There's thirty bucks blown on one (yummy!) meal just because I wasn't in the mood to eat perogies. Well guess what, Self? Perogies are fucking delicious, and that's thirty bucks you won't be spending on a wicked-cool Christmas gift for a family member this year, because you decided you wanted a bloody pizza.

Bad call, man. Bad call.