Sunday, January 31, 2010

D'awwww!

D'awwww!

The Line gets detailed.

There's been very little info about Spec Ops: The Line since its trailer debut at the (sigh) Spike VGAs - but the other day some new media went up on GameTrailers, giving us a better idea of what the game, precisely, is.

It's easy to tell from said trailer that it's a military-themed cover-based third person shooter, but the above media and a healthy discussion during Friday's Invisible Walls video podcast fills in a lot of details. Invisible Walls is the mostly-weekly show in which GameTrailers.com editor-in-chief Shane Satterfield and fellow staff members discuss games and game news - I've found I much prefer it to the more rigid discussions of The Bonus Round.

Anyway - here's the new info, in easy-to-swallow pill form:

(1) It's squad-based.
Which is to say, you can give quick simplified instructions to your AI teammates and they will provide cover or focus their attention on a specific enemy.

(2) Nolan North.
...voices the protagonist. Let's hope he throws a curveball on his delivery, this time. North is great, but hearing Uncharted's same easygoing rogue in Prince of Persia was a little jarring. I love his work, but I'd like to hear more characters from him who aren't just Drake re-skinned.

(3) Dynamic sand is dynamic.
In six ways, apparently. I don't have a list, but some mentioned are the way enemies will be momentarily blinded by the sand thrown up in a grenade's detonation, and of course you can shoot out windows to make sand flood a room and bury your enemies. Not bad.

(4) Ye Olde Moral Choices.
...won't be as binary as BioShock or inFamous's (so they say). They are also supposed to be presented rather fluidly - you may see some nasty jerks killing villagers and decide to stop them, or just keep under cover and move along. Hm. That does still sound pretty binary.

The developers promise such choices will have an impact on the narrative, yadda yadda yadda.

(4) Y'know Heart of Darkness? How about Apocalypse Now? That's the general narrative the folks at Yager Development are trying to tell in The Line. Essentially your player is tasked with bringing home a brilliant and respected military man, but of course he's turned to the dark side, et cetera. Chances are good the words "The horror!" will be whispered twice in succession, at some point.

It sounds like the devs are really taking the story aspect of the game seriously - which is good news, because a strong story is the only reason I'd get into a game like this. Honestly, I loathed the demo for Uncharted, but once I was able to play the full game and get some characterization, context and narrative added to the mix I fell in love with it.

For me, The Line will live or die on how well its story is told. If it doesn't hook me, I won't care enough to play it. Which is kinda' weird.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The best kind of problem.

This is not my backlog. These are the titles I feel compelled to replay, what with my super sexy new TV.

Case in point - I spent the last week playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum and just wallowing in how good it looks. Sometimes this blog steers me towards playing the games I need to play - for the sake of having something to write about - rather than the games I simply want to play.

I don't know why I picked Arkham over the above titles. I suppose Valkyria Chronicles and Metal Gear Solid IV would each take too much time to get through, if I watched the cutscenes (which I'd want to) - Demon's Souls is no ten-hour jaunt either - so they are perhaps left for a time of gaming drought. I've already platinum'd Dead Space, A Crack In Time, Wet, Uncharted 2 and inFamous, so the completionist in me guides my gaze towards additional time with Brutal Legend, Assassin's Creed II or Bayonetta.

And Mirror's Edge, come to think of it. Anyway, my appetites - and duties - seem to have made the choice for me.

Apart from one trophy that requires an ungodly amount of kills during a gameplay homage to Panzer Dragoon, Darksiders is a very platinum-able title for me. That is to say, I enjoy the very act of playing the game so much, hunting around for trophies is simply an additional, directed method of squeezing some more enjoyment out of the purchase.

I'm now in the "endgame" portion of my latest (third) playthrough, hunting around for missed chests and treasures, and taking care to use the scythe and gauntlet alternate weapons so that they may be fully leveled up. Both weapons have turned out to be surprisingly competent, if you spend enough time getting to know them. But soon... soon duty will demand more of me.

Of course, when duty demands a playthrough of BioShock as a refresher before the sequel drops in ten days, duty is welcome to take off its coat and stay a while.

At risk of repeating myself: this is a lovely problem to have.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remember that exclusive DLC Microsoft paid $50,000,000 for?

Coming to PS3 and PC at the end of March. That is to say, just before Rockstar's new open world magnum opus is unleashed upon the world.

In the Good News category, you'll be able to buy it in disc form just like on the 360. Also in good news, you don't need the original Grand Theft Auto IV to play 'em - just toss the disc in and you're good. I wonder if it needs an install?

In the Bad News Bears category, we were all very excited for Lost & Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony last year - and although I'd still love to play some new GTA IV content, I can't say I'm as thrilled at the prospect as I was twelve months ago.

Still, with the PS3 disc release coming in at $40, it's a pretty good deal. I'll have to reexamine how I'm feeling about Episodes from Liberty City after I've thrown down with God of War III.

Perhaps I'll be so ravenous for Red Dead Redemption at that point, I'll go for it just to sate my open-world gaming lust.

The Japanese are attacking!

That's not fair. Could be Chinese or Thai or Laotian, for all I know. Got this comment on last night's post on the reveal for Shinji Mikami's new title with Platinum Games, Vanquish. Oh! More news on that, by the way - 1up says it's a third-person shooter for the PS3 and 360. Let's hope they learned some lessons from Bayonetta's sub-par port.


Anyway, I got this comment. Lovely of someone to comment - always love those - and even if it's in a language I don't understand, that's fine. But when any post is nothing but a series of links, then the gift of a comment has been twisted into that monstrosity known as spam.

And spam must be dealt with. With the powers of moderation.

My first deleted comment! I feel so totalitarian.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What the hell is Vanquish?

The last sixty seconds of GameTrailers TV tonight were dedicated to the teaser trailer for the new title from (Bayonetta and Madworld developer) Platinum Games.

All I can tell you is it's about an all-in-white future-marine with a gun, who seems to be shooting at a large bipedal robot thing. Here's the trailer.

Vanquish is - as we expected - the new title from Shinji Mikami. Mikami may be known to you as the dude who created the Resident Evil franchise or (if you're hardcore) God Hand. His best-known work, however, is the seminal Resident Evil 4. Essentially, his past works are such that I'm prepared to give Vanquish two big thumbs up without ever having seen a screenshot or real gameplay.

...even if the science-fiction space marine thing has been done to death. We'll see.

Bayonetta is patched.


The install patch for the PS3 version is now live in North America. It's about 140mb, and installs around 4.5gb to the HDD (if you choose to install the data). Early reports say it totally eliminates load when picking up items and reduces screen tearing (I never found screen tearing to be an issue, myself), but I'll be most interested to see how it handles Gates of Hell/restart/level start loads.

It's worth noting that neither Sega nor Platinum Games had a hand in the patch - word is, it was created entirely by the folks at Sony.

I'll update in a few with noticeable effects.

Update: Just played the graveyard fight on Non Stop Climax difficulty post-install, and I swear to God the framerate's been improved.

It also puts load times precisely where I want them: nonexistent. Very, very pleased with this patch.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Well THIS ain't good.

"Naughty Bear?" Yes, Naughty Bear. Dig on some trailers, if you so choose. At this point, I'm so numbed by what I've seen of the game, I'm unprepared to make a statement of endorsement or condemnation. Let's talk business.

I guess Wet must've really tanked. The notoriously unreliable VGChartz lists it as 360k sold worldwide on both the PS3 and 360 - so it's entirely possible it never broke half a million between the two platforms. Either way, developer Artificial Mind & Movement has fallen out with Wet publisher Bethesda, and in with publisher 505 Games for their next title... Naughty Bear.

The limited research I'm prepared to do (Wikipedia, I choose you) leads me to the conclusion that 505 is a real bottom-of-the-line publisher. They don't necessarily only put out shovelware - some titles like Ar Tonelico and Wild Arms are very high-profile - but it seems that they publish in such small numbers the public often has no idea the games were even available at all.

Beyond that, I'm rather disappointed AM&M's next game isn't Wet 2. What can I say? It grew on me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Yayyy, Bayonetta's getting an install option.

In reference to Bayonetta on PS3, a supernaturally attractive man once said,
"The load issues are a black mark on the overall presentation of the title - why on earth they didn't just do a bloody install on the that version is totally beyond me."
I guess someone, somewhere, thought it was beyond them as well, as an update will be made available for the PS3 version of Bayonetta on January 28th which allows you to install the game data to your PS3's HDD.

Now all we get to complain about is the framerate - and for now, that will have to be enough.


Update: after further e-search, it's possible that the update has only been announced from Japan - but I've seen nothing to suggest it's definitely not also for NA. So we won't know 'till tomorrow.

Rest in peace, Crispy Gamer.

You may be familiar with Crispy Gamer, an editorial-based site that refused to take any video game-related advertising in order to maintain a complete lack of bias.

The only reason I ever went to Crispy was for the thrice-weekly Backward Compatible comic, and sometimes I would stick around to see if they tossed the latest game to be prominently featured on my radar a Try It, Buy It or Fry It - but even so, I hate to hear what they're doing to the site.

Crispy Gamer's board of directors has fired the entire editorial staff (see: every single fucking writer on the site, and some engineers, it seems), and plan to turn Grispy Gamer into a "gaming focused ad network." It's a bit like the leaders of a church firing all the priests and converting their cathedral into a casino and titty bar.

They dropped the bomb on the staff and gave 'em all two weeks severance pay. Chris Heldman (the project's CEO) resigned in protest.

So here's to Scott Jones and all the Crispy Gamer crew. I hope you guys pull a Giant Bomb and end up striking out on your own - independent, honest and successful for it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

One more thing about Bayonetta...

When Bayonetta performs enough damage or dodges enough attacks, she can fill up her magic meter to the point where she can execute these cinematic, slightly goofy moves to lop off a huge chunk of enemy health or simply obliterate them. You've likely seen the guillotine and iron maiden torture attacks in preview videos, but most enemies have torture attacks that are unique to their type.

I was fighting a Joy enemy, and executed the torture attack command. A spiked, metal horse-thing popped up.

"You gotta' be kidding me," I said to the empty room.

They were not kidding. They were totally, entirely serious. I can't fucking believe they got away with that.

REVIEW - Bayonetta.

While western pure-action games focus primarily on guns, melee-combat action has always been a product of Japan. Going all the way back to Double Dragon and Ninja Gaiden, the seminal games of the genre are always born of the east, and Bayonetta is no different - except, perhaps, its near-limitless degree of excess - excessive action, excessive creativity and excessively Japanese sensibilities.

It slyly winks at the past efforts of (the game's director) Hideki Kamiya and publisher Sega with a few belly-laugh situations and knowing gamer in-jokes - and the past efforts of Hideki Kamiya are nothing to sneeze at. Okami, Resident Evil 2 and - godfather of the modern brawler game - Devil May Cry. With Bayonetta, Kamiya delivers his most ambitious game to date, and it's very pleasant to admit that he's outdone the expectations that weigh against such an illustrious history.

Let's deal with the crappy aspect of the game first, shall we? I'll be heaping it with praise soon enough, but given that this is a PS3-centric e-publication I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't draw attention to the disappointing port that Sega performed when converting Platinum Games' action opus from the 360 to Sony's console.

They fucked it up pretty bad - but fortunately, not where it really counts. The framerate isn't as slick as the 360 version, but that didn't stop me from loving and stomping the game on hard mode. Gameplay has been left largely unscathed by the conversion (though not without a few superficial scars). No, what's really egregious here are the load screens.

If you pick up a collectible, the game has to take a few seconds to load before it can show you what it is. The load times between levels are significant - I often took to flipping the inputs on my TV to catch a little Cooking Network while the load chugged along. Want to visit the Gates of Hell to buy some upgrades? Load screen. Got killed and need to restart? Long load. Save your game? Ohhh, you better believe it'll be a load screen. And when you pause the game or open a menu? You see where I'm going with this.

* * *

Update: On January 28th, 2010, Sony released an internally-developed patch (neither Sega nor Platinum had a hand in it) that allows installation of the game data to the hard drive. This brings load times right in line with where one wants them - almost nonexistent. The presentation is markedly improved. And now, back to your regularly scheduled complaining.

* * *

The load issues are a black mark on the overall presentation of the title - why on earth they didn't just do a bloody install on the PS3 version is totally beyond me (update: hah!) - but again, where it really counts, Bayonetta escaped the porting process as a glorious, genre-defining action game that must be played. Even if your only console is Sony's black behemoth.


The game is gorgeous. It's no technical marvel on the PS3, but the wonderful animation, level and character design and overall art direction lend themselves to countless moments of awe and delight. The cutscenes (when they are cutscenes, and not voiced sort-of-still images) are funny, entertaining and occasionally - perhaps I'm alone on this one - touching. While other reviewers have admitted to only ever laughing at Bayonetta but never with it, I definitely got more than a few uninhibited chuckles out of the experience.

At this point, I feel I should address the straight-up sexuality of the game. Bayonetta gets naked-er as she uses more powerful attacks. She spends most of the game with a lollipop in her mouth, and the camera spends ample time examining her curves and posterior - but after getting my hands on the game, I find I agree with Leigh Alexander's appraisal [update] Leigh Alexander's article entitled Bayonetta: Empowering or Exploitive? has since been removed from GamePro.com.  Or at least I sure as hell can't find it. [/update].

Neatly ensconcing a game of madhouse action and glorious violence, Bayonetta is perhaps the first game I've ever played that quite intentionally - consciously - celebrates womanhood. From the lips that serve as your lock-on indicator to the lilting voice of a lady singing Fly Me To The Moon, the game allows the unique power of femininity (and so, uniquely feminine sexuality) to inform everything from the way Bayonetta throws a switch to her ostensively maternal relationship with the tiny, adorable Cereza.

Never until Bayonetta have I beaten the hell out of enemies to cries of "Yay, Mummy!," and I have to admit - for some reason I cannot explain - I really liked it.

So kyoot.

Enough beating around the bush. How does it play?

Perfectly.

This game's razor-sharp, supple combat is the standard by which upcoming entries in the genre will be judged - it's a good thing God of War III has its unique scale, solid gameplay switch-ups, peerless presentation and narrative to fall back on, because it would be a gargantuan feat to compete with Bayonetta in terms of straight-up action.

When you first lay hands on the game, it seems to boast a disappointingly lean selection of combos and abilities - but then you learn just how much you can mix things up. Then you get your alternate weapons. Then you tailor two weapon loadaouts (there are likely hundreds of possible combinations), then you perfect dodging and Witch Time, then you unlock the ability to block attacks with a perfectly-timed flick of the analog stick and begin to master the dodge offset.

And then you start owning shit.

To pull out that old, well-worn chestnut: Bayonetta is easy to learn and incredibly hard to master. Like the best of its type, it is lightning-fast and elegantly liquid. Combat is brutal, beautiful, satisfying and - for lack of a better word - glorious.

The only time the gameplay suffers is when they throw in a switch-up - a tribute to Afterburner, for example. When the core gameplay is as phenomenally well-realized as Bayonetta's, anything else simply can't measure up. The only reason I ever wanted to play such (rare) sequences was the promise of an eventual return to the incredible combat.

Bayonetta is funny, original, creative, and one of the best brawlers ever made. It offers a staggering degree of replayability, and the true teeth-gritting, carpal tunnel syndrome-inducing challenge that only the best can. Its core gameplay is flawless, and I'm more than prepared to forgive its inconsistent presentation when the offered experience is of such landmark quality.

Oh, and the bosses are awesome.


THE GOOD
-wonderfully creative, in terms of art direction, level design and even gameplay
-a uniquely feminine focus
-the most brilliant, furious brawler you can find
-a satisfying challenging
-Bayonetta herself is a treat of a character
-gargantuan, thrilling bosses
-a nice healthy length for an action game
-loads of replayability
-funny!
-easy to learn, hard to master

THE BAD
-Sega's sub-par port results in less than stellar presentation on PS3
-Sega's sub-par port results in lots of impressively lengthy load times (which has been since patched by Sony with an install option)
-they clearly saved production budget on some of the cutscenes
-switch-ups disappoint, compared to the incredible core gameplay
-when watching a cutscene, you may be heard to remark "okay, I have no f*&#ing idea what is going on."


THE VERDICT
One of - if not the - best brawlers to ever grace the genre. You owe it to yourself to try out Bayonetta.

Bayonetta and I have kicked each others' asses.

...but it is a meticulously-designed ass.

I just cleared Bayonetta on hard mode, so I feel comfortable sounding off in a review, now. Of course, I work today - so the review will have to wait 'till tonight. Given that I usually double-and-triple check every paragraph of the reviews, you're unlikely to see it posted until the wee hours of the morning - 1am or perhaps 2.

Preview: held back by some poor choices in gameplay mix-ups and wonky presentation, Bayonetta is still the action beat-em-up genre at the top of its game, and needs to be experienced. Clearly, I have pushed through The Darksiders Effect.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Isn't she a little more byootiful?

So I realized I wasn't totally satisfied with my new TV.

The picture quality is great, but I hated the motion blur. It's really jarring in certain games - and occasionally during fast-moving scenes in Planet Earth - so I decided I wanted to upgrade.

After spending a good eight hours swimming through the bogglingly savvy waters of a few technology-centric forums, I discovered that Best Buy will essentially take back any TV if it's still in working condition - within thirty days of purchase.

So I took Excelsia back and upgraded to a 120hz model. It's got a response rate that's twice as fast, some sort of onboard tech called TruMotion, and is a major step up from the last TV in terms of performance.

Because I was able to haggle them down to such a low price on Excelsia (which, normally, is $50 cheaper than the new one), the price difference ended up being about $350.00 - which stung a little less when I told them they could keep their $200 protection plan.

Perhaps in a few paychecks I'll feel better prepared to pay it - I have a month to decide - but for now I'm just happy to have the TV I really want.

Now, to finish up my hard run on Bayonetta. Maybe I can get that review writ tonight.

No promises.


Update: yeah, no Bayonetta review tonight. I've been playing nothing but Bayonetta lately, and I felt the need for a change of pace so I threw in Arkham Asylum.

Holy crap - the TV is incredible. The 120hz and TruMotion basically takes any video signal and significantly boost the frames per second by blending frames (or some technical nonsense I don't fully grasp). With a regular cable signal, one may wish to turn it off - it seems like my internal sensor doesn't want to see television at 60fps, but for games it's amazing.

Also, Arkham Asylum is ten times more gorgeous than I was able to perceive on my old TV.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Uniquely late to most parties.

After the PS3 came out, the question was raised time and time again on internet forums: "what's the first blu-ray I should get to really show off how awesome my new TV is?" In such discussions, one title was repeated ad nauseum.

So, on Thursday, I went out and spent the very last of my paycheck on the four-disc, nine-hour Planet Earth. I came home and had about twenty minutes before I had to pack up and leave for work.

Those twenty minutes were spent in blank-faced, slack-jawed glory as I watched the mating dances of birds of paradise and the spectacle of a hundred-meter tree crashing to the forest floor in slow motion.

I could go on and on about how much I'm loving the show, but let's stick to life events.

Today I sat my parents down in front of my new TV. It was on the local PBS channel.

"This is the standard definition TV you guys usually watch," I said. Then I switched the input to Planet Earth on the PS3. "This is HD." Then I walked away.

It seems my mother spent the next fifteen minutes trying to convince my father that they need an HDTV. Lo and behold, tonight their old SDTV decided to breathe its last breath.

My father just called me for advice. I've never heard of this "Visio" brand, but the specs are good and I promised him if he gets me a model number I'll look up some consumer reviews for it.

Planet Earth on blu-ray. It changes priorities.

Friday, January 22, 2010

So weary...

Tonight finished up a six-day work week for me. I'm beat.

So, g'night.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Halo: Reach looks gorgeous.

I really should've snagged some of the larger shots that were out there yesterday, as the accidental leak by GameStop.com has been patched up to the best of their ability.

Either way, Reach is looking like everyone hoped Halo 3 would - a generational leap over its predecessor. Very nice, and sure to be The Game of 2010 on the 360.

The latest news: there will be news, soon. Just not now.

Over at the Rockstar Games official site they do periodic Q&As, where they address the questions of their community. Usually not much is said - and the latest entry is not all that different - but there are a few tidbits worth pointing out. Two, specifically.


(1)
We'll learn all about L.A. Noire in about a month.
"There will be something great to see soon - a proper in-depth look at the game and why it is so ground breaking and innovative, both in terms of the game's design and the amazing new technology to support it. Expect to see a long-awaited reveal via a big cover story next month."

(2)
Rockstar will be good to the PS3 in 2010.

"...we understand the frustration of PS3 owners like yourself who haven’t been able to play any of our most recent releases. All we can say is that we at Rockstar promise to be very good to you with our releases in 2010. Please stay with us and stay tuned!"
Which is nice to hear, but hardly anything conclusive. Perhaps Bully 2, Max Payne 3 or even Agent will make an appearance this year.

Heavy Rain demo dated.

According to some fellow of authority over on the Euro PSN Blog, the demo for Quantic Dreams' magnum opus drops on February 11th.

I love it when a highly-anticipated demo falls in the same week as a Supergame (in this case, BioShock 2). Week 2 of February is gonna' be a doozy!

Be quick and you can try out ModNation Racers.

Log in to your European PSN account (you do have an EU account, don't you?), hit their PSN store and be among the first 100,000 people to download the new closed beta - that's all there is to it!

There may be a comparable deal up on the US store today, but by that time I'll be at work and unable to inform you of it, so you may want to keep an eye on the Playstation store/blog today.

As for me, I've got it installed and am much looking forward to being as disappointed with it as my Little Big Planet-obsessed older brother. From what I hear the gameplay is totally boring and the create mechanic doesn't actually allow for much creativity.

And, given that last night when I tried to broaden my gaming diet, I discovered all I really want is to dig in ever-deeper to the systems of Bayonetta's ultra-action, I have no idea when I'll find the time to put my mitts on this little beta.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Beat'd Bayonetta.

...and unlocked Hard Mode, which obviously requires a playthrough before I'm prepared to pass judgment in review form. For now it's safe to say that Bayonetta is a brilliant combat action game, the measuring stick by which future entries in the genre will be judged. At the same time, it has flaws - not the least of which are some ill-advised gameplay switch-ups and, yes, the load times on the PS3 are pretty awful.

Still, the technical foibles didn't stop me from grinning like an idiot at the game's cheeky humor or balls-out, spectacular action.

So yeah, review later. Next week maybe.

For now, strangely enough, I wanna' play some BioShock. I know I should save it for the week before BioShock 2, but there it is.

Pfft, as if I need more reasons to own a PSP.

In terms of flat-out popularity, the DS is The Console of the current generation - even if it is a handheld. Still, aside from playing Spirit Tracks or satisfying my curiosity about Chrono Trigger and Devil Summoner, I can't say Nintendo's handheld holds much appeal for me.

The PSP, on the other hand, is... probably going to require a purchase this year. Let's take stock, shall we? Valkyria Chronicles, Metal Gear Solid, God of War and now Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable (otherwise known as The RPG That Made Me Like RPGs) is getting localized by my fayyy-vrit bipartisan publisher, Atlus.

P3P tweaks the controls a little bit with "one-button menu shortcuts and streamlined team equipment changes," but more appealing is the opportunity to see the campaign through the eyes of a new player character (the red-eyed girl above) and the fact that load times have been reduced.

P3P, you go in the pile of Games To Buy For A PSP One Day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why does this screenshot turn me on?

Maybe it's the thinly-veiled double entendre, maybe it's that it's a hair's breadth away from the Maiden in Black's "touch the demon inside me" line from Demon's Souls, but for some reason this screenie gets me more piqued for 3D Dot Game Heroes than any media released so far.

I don't know why I'm not as thrilled at the idea for the game as most other sites seem to be - perhaps because it's not just sort-of spoofing Zelda, it's blatantly ripping off Zelda and doesn't seem to add anything more to the mix beyond its tongue-in-cheek humor. But is that humor enough to carry me through the same game I've essentially played a hundred times?

We'll see. Until then, From Software's pedigree is enough to keep 3D Dot Game Heroes on my radar. If you're interested, there's more media here at the official site.

Monday, January 18, 2010

God of War III is the end of the trilogy, but not The End.

In a video interview with GamerVision, God of War III Director of Product Development John Hight said...
"This is not the end of God of War. This is definitely the end of the trilogy, but we're going to continue making God of War Games, we're going to be very careful about what we do. We're the keepers of the franchise and we don't want to see it ruined."
None of us do, John. Also in God of War news, it's been revealed that the game will run natively at 720p, with a framerate that varies between 60 and 30 frames per second.

At this point, I can't say I'm hungry for whatever God of War title comes after III, but I'm quite sure that once I see the credits roll on the latest installment I'll be dying to get my hands on the next one.

First review: Heavy Rain's a 9.

Caveats: it's a first review, which means - on average - it's more generous than most. It's also coming from the Official Playstation Magazine UK, but that's not as damning as you may think.

OPM UK tends to be as harsh a critic of Sony exclusives as most non-partisan sites like IGN and Eurogamer - and although all I can show of the review is the part most people's eyes shoot to first, perhaps the most important bit is this single (very long) sentence:
"Put gaming conventions aside, go in with no expectations other than this is something new and massively good-looking, and you'll be rewarded with a unique experience that lurches between genius and madness, manages to be genuinely emotional, and that you'll be bursting to talk about with your friends."
We all knew Heavy Rain would be one of two things - a spectacular, colossal failure or a spectacular, colossal act of genius that will likely bomb commercially.

This first review is hardly the final word, but it's encouraging, isn't it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Playing Bayonetta first makes Darksiders less enjoyable, and vice-versa.

As many of you know, my preferred place to virtually chill is the Games & Technology forum at Penny Arcade. Lately I've been spending most of my time there with the thread concerned with Darksiders (you're shocked, I know!), and I've noticed this weird trend.

From what I've read of other people's reactions (and my own experience), even though the games are entirely different - they are different genres with different styles and wholly different gameplay - people tend to have a more positive experience with the first one they play, be that Bayonetta or Darksiders. Or perhaps a better way to put it - playing one prior to the other seems to have a direct, negative impact on how much you enjoy the other.

It's not so much comparing the two as it is about how experiencing one informs your experience of the other.

Folks who've put a lot of time into Bayonetta, and then try Darksiders find Darksiders' combat unwieldly. The whole thing feels clunky - as if the game doesn't want them to enjoy themselves. They do not have the same experience as someone who went straight into Darksiders. (Well duh - Darksiders is everything and the kitchen sink - of course its combat won't be perfect.)

For myself, who beat Darksiders and then went into Bayonetta, I found I had a hard time getting engaged in Bayonetta, because in Bayonetta there is only one thing to do - combat. The experience felt a little... I want to say "small," because I wanted more puzzles, more exploration, more character development (and better-looking cutscenes).

Well duh - Bayonetta is the new queen of combat action. She couldn't care less about offering a broader selection of gameplay because her whole deal is doing one thing perfectly.

It makes no logical sense - again, they're entirely different, and expecting Bayonetta to provide me with the same breadth of mechanics that Darksiders does is as stupid as expecting Darksiders to offer the silky-smooth combat of Bayonetta - but try telling that to my internal Fun-O-Meter.

* * *

Of course, one could just argue that folks like the game they played first more simply because it was - obviously - the game they wanted to play most. It's only natural that they would be less impressed with the game that falls under the Second Choice definition.

...though that doesn't explain my position. I played Darksiders first because I was convinced it may end up sucking and I wanted to investigate, while I felt confident in Bayonetta's excessive measure of awesome.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

They're saying Quantum Theory is Gears of War on the PS3.

By "they" I mean a Sony-centric website called pushsquare.com. The article is headlined by a low-quality YouTube version of this gameplay trailer, and claims that
"The above trailer could easily pass as a debut reveal for Epic’s latest Gears title."
...really?

There are definitely similarities. A great, neckless he-man engages in cover-based shooting against swarms of giant, neckless monsters with big beefy guns on both sides. Headshots result in glorious splatters of green and red. The camera bob when he sprints is nigh-identical.

But it looks so... empty. For lack of a better word, it looks uninteresting - a term I would never apply to any media I've seen for a Gears title. The only curiosity-piquing parts are the team-up attacks with a sword-wielding platinum blond minx. That might be cool.

I know some of you have played your share of Gears - what do you guys think? 'Cause I'm thinkin' no.

What am I, shilling for toy stores now?


The offer is valid 'till the 21st. Buy any two select titles - Dark Void, Army of Two: the 40th Day, Bayonetta or Darksiders - and get a $60 Toys R Us gift card in return. It's essentially a buy-2 get-1 free deal, but you have to pay tax on the free 1.

Oh, and I believe the offer is only available in the States.

Isn't she byootiful?

I call her Excelsia - Queen of the image.

Okay, I don't actually call her that, but I do love her. She's a modest size - 32 inches is perfect for my needs - and at the very least the fact that she came with a remote control makes her infinitely more user friendly than my last TV.

Ten eighty pee, baby. I spent most of last night and this morning just trying out various titles to see how they stack up on the new screen. I still haven't given the major ones a spin, yet - Uncharted 1 and 2, BioShock, Ratchet & Clank, Valkyria Chronicles, Dead Space and Metal Gear Solid 4 tremble in anticipation on my shelf, begging me to loose them upon this brave new world of visual fidelity.

But I dare not. Not yet. I still need to get through Bayonetta, which is a lot easier to play on Excelsia.

Hm - I guess I do call it that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rockstar are kinda' bein' dicks about this.

You may be familiar with the letter in which the 'Determined Devoted Wives of Rockstar San Diego employees' call out Rockstar on its allegedly horrendous treatment of its employees. Of course, there has been no official word from Rockstar regarding the letter - but further interviews with San Diego employees suggest the accusations ring true, and the comments sections of the letter's article on Gamasutra lend further credence.

An internal email from Rockstar has applied a modicum of lip service to the issue, but perhaps more distressing than the original letter, the contributions to the discussion from other (folks claiming to be) game devs and San Diego employees themselves, is the above image which is now available for download as a wallpaper from the official Rockstar website.

For Rockstar to make light of being accused of such downright nasty practices is either the height of insensitive stupidity, or an argument in favor of their innocence. I choose to believe the former.

Stories of the inhuman hours worked by game developers during "crunch time" (and fear of speaking out for fear of losing one's gainful employment) are not uncommon - it unfortunately seems to be the rule rather than the exception. But I'm positive that's not how it has to be. If it was, why would Insomniac constantly be voted one of the best companies to work for in the entire country?

That's 2 things Project Needlemouse has gotten right.


For the past week, they've been putting big regected stamps on the names of all the ancillary characters in the history of Sonic the Hedgehog. From Shadow to Amy, they've all been tossed - leaving the brand's namesake as the only playable character in the upcoming game - currently known only as Project Needlemouse.

A Sonic game where you don't play as a bad-ass black hedgehog or a red echidna is a good start. The other good news is the first news we got about the project - it is, finally, a new 2D Sonic title. Still, though - as Kotaku commenter Murray Melvin put it,
"Don't worry guys, there's still plenty of time for Sega to screw this up."

Telemavision.


I'm getting a te-le-vision
brand new te-le-vision

te-le
te-le vision

brand new te-le-vision yay!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In the NEWS - January 14th.

Ahhh January. The post-holiday lull. Very little news is floating about, lately - but there's three (moderately) interesting things I thought were due a mention. Let's start with the least interesting and most depressing story.

Sony says Uncharted 2 has sold 1,000,000 copies.

In the States. Canada and the UK aren't included in the tally... let's find some unofficial numbers for that total... VGChartz says 2.7 million worldwide, but (a) you can't trust their numbers and (b) it says it's sold 1.3M in the US - so you really can't trust their numbers.

Ugh. I feel so bad for Naughty Dog. This game should be selling on par with Gears and Halo, and - thanks mostly to Sony's tepid marketing, I have to think - it's not approaching even 20% of those numbers.

Let's move on to something more pleasant.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is getting a GotY edition.

The beans were spilled by - who else? - a ratings board, though no other juicy details are available. What could a GotY edition of AA have to lord over its predecessor?

The smart money is on all those challenge mode packs collected into one convenient package - but we can still hope it's something interesting, like additional content in the game's campaign.

Hope can be stupid - that's kinda' hope's thing.



Valkyria Chronicles 2 gets DLC 2.

In a recent interview with Japan's Famitsu magazine, a Sega rep has revealed that, much like the original, the PSP sequel will enjoy downloadable mission packs.

Given that I loved the original's DLC and I'll likely buy a PSP just to play the sequel, this is nothing but good news to yours truly.

Some of you (you know who you are) don't care for Valkyria Chronicles, and that's fine. But if you have no idea what the game is, I implore you - go to the PSN store and try the demo. You don't have to like it. Just try it - that's all I ask.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leigh Alexander on Bayonetta.

Leigh Alexander, the over-intellectual, insightful subject of my undying nerdy affections has written another one of her wonderful articles, this time coming to defense of the degree of sexuality in Bayonetta.

The short version: Not only is the hyper-sexualization of the game not a bad thing, it is perhaps the only game she can point to that allows a woman's sexuality to be truly celebrated as an aspect of her power - and not just for exploitation (Tomb Raider, Soul Calibur.) Nor is she one of the sexless, one-of-the-boys female protagonists we've been championing for the past several years (Silent Hill 3, Half-Life 2).

Bayonetta owns her femininity, in the same way most neckless space marines own their masculinity. Best quote of the piece:
"Bayonetta is the first action game heroine that's made me directly conscious of how cool it is to be a girl."
You've read more than enough of my ham-handed paraphrasing - read the article.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dead Space 2 in 2010? It's possible.

In a conference call with investors last night, John Riccitiello - CEO of EA - revealed that Dead Space 2 is dropping in the next fourteen months. In EA's fiscal year 2011, to be precise, which occurs between April 1st of 2010 and March 31st of next year.

So it may be this fall, perhaps next winter - next spring at the very latest.

Lovely news.

Ugh - ANOTHER Darksiders post?


Just wanted to say I took a second pass at the review and I think I'm happier with how it turned out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

So I've been playing through Bayonetta...


I'm 1/3 of the way through, I think, and certainly enjoying it. It is all that the reviews make it out to be (one of the best, craziest straight-up action titles ever) - and yet, coming home now at 11:45 at night after a grueling day (night) at work, I find what I want to do is play some Darksiders.

So I will.

I've already beaten Darksiders. I want to wander around and search for hidden treasures that I missed.

Strange that a very-good game should weasel its way into my affections more thoroughly than an excellent one - but hey, inFamous pulled the same switcheroo on me.

Yayyy people got GoW III demo codes!

Congratulations to Monica (who came closest to the number I was thinking of). She is

The Winner

and so she gets a demo code! Semi-congratulations to Rafael (who came second-closest). He is not the winner, but since I had two codes it seemed reasonable to send the other his way.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and I hope you two enjoy the demo.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

REVIEW - Darksiders.


I promised myself I wouldn't get in to how much of the title is lifted from other games, but there's really no getting around it:

Darksiders
is exactly what it's advertised itself as - it is Zelda, if the badass factor were cranked up to 11. Well, really more Soul Reaver than Zelda, but let's go with the standards. It's also Devil May Cry with a pinch of God of War, Panzer Dragoon, Portal and one boss fight pulled straight out of Shadow of the Colossus thrown in for good measure. With such a list of influences, one might expect some aspects of the title to fail. By trying to succeed at so much - trying to pull off what some of the most respected franchises and developers in gaming have perfected over years of refinement - the thing should be a roughly stitched-together mess. By all rights, turning such a jumble of ideas, inspirations and styles into a successful melange should have been out of reach of first-time developer Vigil Games.

It was not. Darksiders is excellent.

The game is good-looking without being graphically impressive. This is not a technical showpiece - in fact, it often allows muddy landscape textures to show - but it throws you into a marvelously creative and consistent world. Darksiders' dreary post-apocalyptic setting - a world of ruined human structures as a backdrop to the monolothic architecture of the demons who have set up shop - is splashed in big, bright primary colors and massive set pieces.

Character designs are equally bold and elegant in turn, the result of ex-comic writer and artist (and now Darksiders' creative director) Joe Madureira's work. You can taste his influence in every enemy snarl, every brutal kill animation, every cutscene, and the entire title oozes that late-90s comic book style. Even the gentle light bloom that was over-used so heavily at the dawn of the current generation is put to task here in service of recreating the luminescent art of modern comics.

If Darksiders has one single strength, it is the art direction.

Totally my favorite kill animation.
I just like the way the demon's jaw dangles back and forth after you rip its head off.


Little touches really do make
all the difference.

Its other strength (which is, perhaps, more impressive) is how it bends the standard gameplay of landmark action and adventure titles to serve its ends. Take the swordplay, for example. It is straight out of Devil May Cry, complete with moves and combos directly ripped from DMC3. But DMC's systems were complex enough to build an entire game on - so Darksiders' combat is simplified and streamlined to allow easy pick-up-and-play without sacrificing the satisfaction of elegant, responsive controls and a dizzying array of combat options.

The controls are a little shy of perfect, but it ends up being a brawler that's a good measure better than good enough - which gets more engaging and satisfying the more weapons and gear you obtain, resulting in a real sense of progression, power and accomplishment - but the combat is really just the beginning.

The other half of the game is classic Zelda. Start off weak as hell, visit a dungeon, find an item or weapon (usually a puzzle-solving weapon) which can then be used to solve further puzzles and access ever deeper areas. Like the combat, Darksiders impresses with its consistent ease-of execution and its ability to challenge the player without ever feeling arbitrary.

Few puzzles will have you turning to GameFAQs for help (one, in my case), as each mechanic is introduced with a gentle confidence that allows you to see exactly what the game's creators intended. You're able to examine an impassible room with the quiet surety that all the tools you need to solve this problem are at your disposal - progression is always earned with a marked satisfaction and a lack of frustration.


The mechanic that riffs on Portal is another prime example of the streamlined simplification of Darksiders. Portals can only be placed on circular pads found throughout the levels - this does have the effect of leading the player in the right direction, but it feels like a necessary refinement instead of unnecessary hand-holding - and applying the portals during boss fights results in some pretty spectacular action.

I've talked at length about the pleasurable specifics of the game, but what's allowed Darksiders to claim its place in my heart can't be measured and weighed so easily. On my first playthrough, I found myself drawn irresistibly forward - what's around that next corner is a constantly inviting mystery - because after a few hours with the title you come to understand that around the next corner will be something wonderful.

A glorious new set piece. A totally new gameplay mechanic. Some new weapon to further expand your deadly repertoire - or just the simple pleasure of a classic Zelda-style puzzle.

It works.

The pacing is great, the cutscenes are wonderfully-directed, and it's got a liberal sprinkling of massive boss fights and challenging mini-bosses.

Let's take a step back here - it's far from a perfect game. It lacks the youthful charm of Zelda, the cleverness of Portal and the depth of Devil May Cry's combat. While no single aspect matches up to the titles it apes (except, perhaps, art direction), Darksiders is constructed with such consistent quality that the disparate inspirations congeal into a rather new experience.

The exploration, puzzles and combat all feel very natural to someone who's put time into the above titles, but the effect of combining them has resulted in something that feels at once familiar and unique. It begs the question of why someone hasn't tried this sooner - like the first time you have a bit of vanilla iced cream with your chocolate cake - how did this combination go undiscovered for so long?

Why have so few developers attempted riffs on the Zelda formula? Why did no one else think to combine it with the satisfying, visceral, mature-rated combat of recent action titles?

I don't know - but I can tell you that Darksiders succeeds. It feels grand and mysterious. An adventure. A classic-feeling game.


THE GOOD
-stylish, consistent art direction
-great animation
-satisfying, streamlined combat
-elegant, natural-feeling puzzles
-a massive world to discover
-an homage to the best in the biz (it's like Zelda, but it's not)
-an interesting story
-fighting the first form of the final boss is like, totally oh-em-gee
-great ending
-Sherlock Zombes
-Mark Hamill
-Phil LaMarr


THE BAD
-not enough of the interesting story
-some muddy textures
-first few hours pales in comparison to what comes after
-the sequel isn't out yet

THE VERDICT

Darksiders feels like a title I'll be playing annually for a long time to come.