Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finally put hands on BlazBlue.


And I finally have a GameStop Screwed Me story! I'm part of the club, now. It's not a particularly egregious tale, but permit me the telling of it anyway.

It seems the entire Canadian shipment got stuck at the border for a few days, so when the general consensus at stores in my city was that the game would arrive on Friday, I planned to look into it around one PM.

I had an appointment from twelve to one, and deliveries tend to show up at my local stores at eleven AM - this would give the retail workers two hours to open the latest box to arrive in their store, and I figured they'd be able to properly inform me of the BlazBlue situation, given such adequate time.

After my appointment, for some reason, I called the local Blockbuster and asked if they had the game. "Yes we do!" the nice lady said. "To buy or to rent?"

To buy, on PS3.

"We've only got one copy for rent on PS3, let me check... there's one copy for sale in the whole city, it's at our [some back-end part of town I'd never heard of] location."

I thank her for her time, and call my EB.

"What's the situation on BlazBlue?"

"They're all gone," the guy says.

"...and if you preordered?" I inquire.

"No one preordered," he assures me.

"Can you look up a file? Phone number is [X], name is [Y]."

(Ticka ticka ticka.)

"...oh shit."

"Mmhm."

"Uhh... well... um, we should be getting another shipment on Monday."

"That's fine, I'll be coming in for a refund."

It must have been some sixth sense that made me call the Blockbuster first. I called them back, got the phone number for the location in an end of the city I'd never heard of (it did make for a nice adventure, exploring that alien section of my home town), and wouldn't let the nice lady at said alien BlockBuster off the phone until she assured me the game was there, it existed, and she had it in her hands.

Blockbuster, miraculously, held the game they told me they would hold for me. And it was five bucks cheaper than at EB. So - in the end - score. If an inconvenient one.


So, how's the game? Don't ask me, man.

I've put time in it, to be sure - probably around five hours so far. That time has been spent mostly smacking my head against the wall of the (very, very in-depth) tutorial. The second combo the game tried to teach me was like, C->B->rotation-A->rapid cancel->rotation-A->rotation-D.

I'm like, "this is how you try to get a beginner involved in your game? Why the fuck didn't I buy that arcade stick last week?!"

The inputs are really killin' me, but I'm slowly becoming comfortable with the funny cat-girl-in-a-creepy-hood character seen goofing above. I went for her because she is, pretty much, the only character who seems happy to be in the game. Everyone else is so damn serious and cool - she seems like the most unpretentious character of the bunch.

She also seems to be one of the fastest, and for someone who's feeling a bit fumbly with the controls, this proves very frustrating.


I can't successfully recreate the first combo the tutorial is trying to teach me. That is... very humbling. For some reason, around 70% of the way through the combo, I've smacked my adversary too far away for the final strikes to connect.

I think I'm supposed to be doing it much faster than I am, but it's still disappointing that I'm essentially doing everything right, I'm just not doing it fast enough.

I wonder why I took to Virtua Fighter 4 like a duck to water, but every time I walk away from a session with BlazBlue, my head is absolutely swimming?

This is not a condemnation of the game. I've no doubt that, once mastered, it is as spectacular as the consensus would lead us to believe - I'm just a bit frustrated with how... inaccessible I'm finding it.

[update] It seems my years of watching weird Japanese cartoons have had an effect on my appetites, 'cause I am loving the story mode. It's... well, it's funny, let's go with that. And it's lovely to have a fighting game that has some actual context beyond "there's a tournament." [/update]

Friday, July 30, 2010

Insomniac game reveal coming soon.



Specifically, between now and September 3rd.

I hope you know how much I love you, Insomniac. There's not many developers I would blog about announcing an announcement.

You sweet, hot bastards. What do we know so far? We know they refer to it as
"our upcoming PlayStation 3 project."
In which case, it's Resistance 3.

What the hell is Sucker Punch?

I even like the logo.

No, it's not one of my favorite developers (well, it's also that, but), in this case it's the new flick from Zack Snyder, director of ultrastylish comic-book-to-film translations like 300 and Watchmen. Sucker Punch is due out March 2011.

What, precisely, is Sucker Punch? I have no idea, but I'm going to find out starting now.

(Giant samurai with chainguns and dragons and WWII and Germans and swordwielding blondes in schoolgirl outfits and exploding zeppelins and way-way over-the-top everything.)

Go fullscreen, crank the HD and watch this.



Well look at that, it's not even based on a comic book! Truly, Snyder has turned over a new leaf. Snyder calls it "Alice in Wonderland with machine guns", while his wife and production partner says "in the end, it's about this girl's survival and what she needs to do to be able to cope."

This girl is gonna' cope our faces off.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Definitely check out this demo.


I can't say I have an opinion on the original Ultimate Ninja Storm - but I can definitely commit to loving the demo. The gameplay is easy enough to pick up, just-satisfying-enough and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Don't bother looking for screenshots - they don't begin to do it justice. This really is one of those games you have to see in motion to believe.

I loved the demo so much that N:UNS landed very high up there on the Will Buy It When I Find It Cheap list. Unfortunately, I never found it cheap - so my desire to gape at the rest of best damn looking cel shaded game in the world will have to wait.

* * *

Today I got wind of a demo for Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 on the Japanese PSN. My Japanese (and Hong Kong and European and US) PSN accounts had been left behind when I switched over to the Slim, but I reckoned this demo would be worth the effort.

I managed to fumble my way through the account set-up without the need for an online tutorial - I'm actually a little impressed with myself, on that point - and I'm here to tell you: check out that demo.

Don't just play it - beat it. This is just way, way, way too good-looking to be a licensed property tie-in game.

...why can't they do this with Samurai Champloo?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Three things (one actual thing).

Been a while since a Three Things post, no? Let's kick it off with the actual thing:

(1)

An RTS from Acti-Blizz



If the gaming in the final week of July 2010 had to be summed up in two words, those words would be "StarCraft 2." Folks are snapping up the Collector's Editions like nobody's business, and the title moved over 1,800,000 copies on its first day. Is it any good? Who knows? Let me check into that...

Yeah, you could call this a positive critical reaction, sure.

Also worth noting - those one-point-eight million copies are only taking North America and the UK into account - who knows what'll happen when it gets released in South Korea.

I'm guessing it will bomb horribly.

(2)

Someone Screws Up:
My Faith in Pre-orders is Shattered


I'm not playing BlazBlue: Continuum Shift right now, and this sickens me.

It's hardly the first time this has happened - in fact, it's often the case that smaller releases (and any game published by Atlus) won't show up in local store shelves when it's supposed to - and BlazBlue: Continuum Shift falls into that category. Often one shop will get a game in before the others - on release day, for example, only the local Blockbuster had a copy of Valkyria Chronicles. Tres bizarre, non?

But it always burns a little, y'know? And this example is particularly egregious.

This isn't just an "oh, you live up in Canada, it may take a half-day longer to get to you" thing - this is Someone, Somewhere royally screwed up and the game just isn't coming this week. Friday at the earliest.

Maybe. Which sucks.

It does not ease my pain that this wasn't just some schmuck working for EB who screwed up. No retailer in my city, my province, my country seems to have the game in stock.

It's like the dude who ships things to Canada at Aksys (the North American publishing partner of BlazBlue's Arc System Works) just decided to get drunk the day he was supposed to ship a few thousand copies of the game to my country, and then repeated the process for the next six weeks.

"You get those shipments processed, Doug?" his boss would ask.

"Ashurr did, Mishtur Grayshun."

"My God man, you're drunk! Again! If you weren't married to my wife's daughter, I'd have fired you eight months ago."

"But ya cann't."

"You've got my balls in a meat grinder, that's for sure."


(3)
Kane & Lynch 2 Demo Doesn't Suck


But neither does it truly rock.

The game's presentation is fine - it'd be nice if it were more graphically impressive, which would make the shaky cam/documentary/amateur video effects all the more striking - and at the very least, one can admit it's a bit inspired. The gameplay, as well, is fine. It's not great - it can't match up to other, better third-person shooters - but it gets the job done.

All-in-all, it's interesting. Everything feels very dirty, very chaotic, very similar to the cinematic trailers we got earlier this year - but it fails to inspire any great feelings of gaming desire. There are more interesting games on the horizon.

I'll likely give the demo another whirl or two - that, at least, speaks in its favor - but at the moment, Kane & Lynch 2 looks like a merely decent title, worth picking up on the cheap a few months after release.

Damnit, IO. When will you stop trying to do what others do better and focus on what you do best?

Make another Hitman game, you bastards!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Insomniac game reveal coming soon?


As a general rule, I refrain from posting announcements regarding announcements - not even Hideo Kojima can get me to do it - but a recent tweet from the Insomniac Games' official feed said, and I quote:

"...we have very exciting plans for PAX we are going to announce soon!"

They've also announced that there will be an announcement regarding an upcoming announcement in their email newsletter. Thrilling!

I know that sound mostly sarcastic - but I assure you, it's only a little sarcastic.

Today's PSN update: Kane & Lynch Demo, awesome trailer ... Flower demo?

Today's PSN update isn't exactly going to blow anyone's socks off. I mean, I'm glad I'll finally be able to try the demo for Kane & Lynch 2 - I've been waiting for IO to make a great game this gen, and this might be it - but aside from that and the ability to download a cherry copy of that incredible DC Universe Online, what else is there to talk about?

PlayStation+ subscribers get a free copy of Critter Crunch - which is actually a pretty great game, from my limited experience with the title - and there's a demo available now for Flower.

Seriously, Sony? It took you a year and a half to come out with a demo for the single most important PSN title of 2009?

...really?

Earthworm Jim HD coming to PS3.


The EU PlayStation Blog announced today that Earthworm Jim HD will land on PSN on Wednesday. Wednesday as in tomorrow - July 28th.

Now that may be a typo, as the PSN updates on Tuesday, but whatever - it's coming - one less reason to be jealous of XBLA.

For me, the reason to play EWJ now would be the same reason I had fif... fifteen years ago?! (I am old.) That reason is, now as then, that it's got great art direction and big, gorgeous hand-drawn pixels. But as a game? Yeah, it's okay. It's above-par. It's pretty frustrating.

Earthworm Jim HD didn't enjoy the same stellar reception as other classic updates like Bionic Commando Rearmed or Mega Man 10 (yes, I know MM10 is an all-new game) - its critical reaction ran the gamut from abysmal to exaltation - but if you're willing to accept all that crap that comes with fifteen (sigh)-year old game design, you'll get to enjoy a gorgeous, creative, gross and funny platformer.



I'll wait for a price drop.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Nintendo DS.

Now that my buddy Mario has finally read Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, I can highlight some product placement in its fabled pages. Behold - the struggling, practically dead-on-arrival PSP Go:


While the Go was inarguably the newest thing, once, it was never the hottest. I have never been more conflicted about having something in common with a character in a graphic novel.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Alpha Protocol review will have to wait.


True to my word, I finished up Alpha Protocol first thing today. Well, first thing after breakfast.

I've definitely formed an opinion on it, but at this point I'm not sure that my position is correct. That is to say, I want to be able to write a review that I'll agree with six months from now - and I'm not sure I'm well-informed enough, at this point, to accomplish that.

Alpha Protocol will require a second playthrough, with a different build and a different series of choices: I need to see how much choice actually is rewarded, I need to see if a machinegun-toting Schwarznegger ends up as satisfying as the silenced-pistol stealther I sneaked through the game as.

...needless to say, that's not going to happen any time soon. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift releases on Tuesday, and for now my heart has been stolen by a man named DeathSpank.

A new koi, a new teddy.

I continue to draw at work.

I'm not sure if the koi here (I think it's my 4th) is much of an improvement over the first. Different fins, different tail, different method for achieving the scale pattern - but the line of its body on the left gets a little wonky around the pectoral fin.

Hmph.

Still, practice makes perfect.

I think I need a new pen for inking - the one I'm currently using is just a bit too thick, and will occasionally make decisions of its own when I'm trying to make a curve or a line.

I am rather pleased with this new teddy bear - I call him the Tapdancing Tuxedoed Teddy, because that's what he is:

With a bowler hat. Kawaii, neh?

Of course, now I look at him and kick myself for not making his cummerbund red. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking - that's the problem.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Game Diary.

He's running because that unicorn will kick his monkey ass.

Also pictured above in the Enchanted Forest are a Gingerbread Wildman and a Rabid Gnome. I am loving DeathSpank. That stylish shoulder gear is called the Golden Pauldrons of Bling. What's not to love?

I'm loving it so much that I haven't put nearly enough time (see: 'any') into Alpha Protocol, which I intend to finish and replay a bit for review purposes. Balancing a gamer's natural nature to play games they enjoy is, at times, in direct conflict with also wanting to write reviews.

I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm often easy on imperfect games - it takes a real pile of crap for me to call a spade a spade - and most of my reviews will end in an endorsement. Now, this may just be because - for the most part - I'm keep myself so well-informed on the subject of video games that I rarely make bad purchasing decisions (I can't remember the last time I rented a game). Oh wait, yes I can - it was Wet, which I later purchased.

Maybe it's just that I tend to play good games, and then endorse them. But that hardly builds up any kind of cred, does it? I suppose it does - Roger Ebert gives a thumbs-up to seven out of every ten movies he sees, and people still rely on him for judgments.


Still, all this positivity in my reviews is getting kinda' old. Check this out - these are the 'verdicts' on a handful of reviews written so far this year:

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

BioShock 2: "...the sequel BioShock deserved, and an excellent game in its own right."

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

Heavy Rain: "Ambitious, imperfect, incredible. It may not be for everyone, but if you're tired of the same-old same-old, this is a breath of fresh air."

Red Dead Redemption: "I cannot recommend Red Dead Redemption highly enough."

Now look, those are awesome games. Except maybe Heavy Rain, which - upon application of hindsight - is really weighed down by its own ambitions and pretensions. I had played it two and a half times before writing that review (and I called out the writing and uneven direction), but let's not sugar-coat it - I'm rarely hard on a game.

Let me think... ooh!

The Saboteur: "...feels fresh enough to give it a tepid recommendation - if you can find it at the right price, and if you've got nothing better to play (which isn't a tall order)."

That's hardly a glowing endorsement, now is it? I really picked at the flaws in God of War III, and I wasn't all gumdrops and cherries with Peace Walker either.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: "...is a great game that offers perhaps too much, and loses sight of its central vision."

So perhaps I'm being a little hard on myself, and I do simply tend to play good games. Which brings me back to DeathSpank.


I should be playing Alpha Protocol. First off, I enjoy it enough. Second, it's a good game that's not great, and is begging to be bludgeoned about the neck and shoulders with a blunt instrument - in this case, a review. I need to write more reviews where I don't just spooge all over a game.

And Alpha Protocol will remain untainted. By metaphorical spooge, I mean - and let's face it, writing (and often reading) reviews is much more fun when the writer gets to be a bit of a dick.

So, for the remainder of this - my precious, precious weekend - I shall devote myself to Alpha Protocol, that I may be well-informed enough to advise you on the subject.

...right after I take Arcana Heart for a spin. It was only ten bucks, and it had the manual.

I couldn't resist. But right after that, I will be under the firmest, choking reigns of self-control.

[update] Holy crap, the last mission in Alpha Protocol takes for-everrr. [/update]

First God of War: Ghost of Sparta official footage.

Having the golden touch doesn't necessarily mean you have luck.



I don't know about you, but this footage doesn't precisely blow my skirt up. I mean, sure, it's Kratos and he's being horribly brutal to someone - and that's great - but I was hoping for something better. Something like the boss monster footage they showed during last night's GameTrailers TV.

Still - it's a God of War game, it's by Ready at Dawn and that's enough for me.

A six-minute CGI trailer for DC Universe Online.

Will the game be any good? Who knows! Here's over five very, very pretty minutes of epic superhero action.



Coming to PC and PS3, by the way.

Fighting games are officially in again.

And by "in" I mean everyone's trying to cash in on the success of Street Fighter IV. Including Capcom itself, of course. Behold - Street Fighter Vs. Tekken:



Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, a Mortal Kombat reboot, even that awful Deadliest Warrior game - as Tim Shafer pointed out, "the industry is imitative."

I'm not saying it's a bad thing, of course. Choice is good - and I've heard nothing but high praise from people who've laid hands on MVC3 and Mortal Kombat - but with all these high-profile fighters from major publishers coming out, we have officially entered a trend.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Check out Enslaved's ComiCon coverage.


First off, dig this hands-on preview over at Eurogamer. Gameplay looks fine, story looks above-par, but more than anything else, this is what I wanted to hear about Ninja Theory's newest title:

"The services of rubber-faced Andy Serkis have been employed in what we're assured is a 'full-performance' in the role of Monkey: motion capture, facial animation and voice acting. He, and Ninja Theory, have done a tremendous job, conveying more than enough emotion through the raise of a bestial brow and subtle vocal inflection to make up for his less than loquacious dialogue - adeptly penned by Alex Garland. In some scenes it touches on the uncanny valley, communicating so effectively with sub-conscious body language that I'm a little taken aback. "

They've also got a bit of Monkey action in a video that I can't embed, but here's a cam vid from SDCC that ably shows off a bit of one of those deliciously-animated cutscenes described above, and then some rather tedious combat. It is a unique sting, to watch someone who's never played the title before fumble their way through an anticipated game.

Not that I could do any better, no doubt.

LBP2 Collector's Edition meets adorability quota.


First off - release date: November 16th.

The Collector's Edition comes with an adorable seven-inch Sackboy plushie and two adorable "game ends" for keeping your games library secure. ...assuming you're not the type of gamer who keeps their libraries in a big metal safe.

The Little Big Planet 2 Collector's Edition is $79.99 US, which likely puts it at around $89.99 Canadian. But there's... well, there's a bit of a snag, there... In a comment on the PlayStation Blog, SCEA Marketing Manager Mark Valledor said
"Quick note for our European, Canadian and Latin American fans…stay tuned as more announcements will follow on your retail goodies."

...which I take to mean that perhaps we won't be enjoying the same awesome Collector's Edition as the States. ...which would suck.

Unless ours is better.

Which it won't be.

Which will suck.

[update] The thing hasn't even been available for twenty-four hours and it's already a bestseller. [/update]

Yep, Amaterasu is in MVC3.



...and they did her justice. Nice.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Amaterasu is in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3?!


Yes, yes she is, according to Marvel.com. Which kinda' ticks me off.

I didn't want to want this game, but now I sorta' do. I want to know how she plays in a fighter. I want to see some awesome Floral Finisher super move, and I don't care how that sounded.

Damn you, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. You've got my back against the wall!

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom gets a release date.

A long time ago, once - just once - I directed your attention to a game called, at the time, Majin: The Fallen Realm.


It's now called Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, and it has a release date: November 30, 2010 in North America on 360 and PS3. I know what you're thinking - that's a pretty dumb release window for a little-known game from a small independent developer! And you'd be right.

But some folks are following Majin's progress - folks who, with one look at that character design, can tell it was made by the same people who developed the exceedingly gorgeous action-RPG Folklore. Game Republic has never had a major hit on their hands - likely part of the reason they made Majin multiplatform - and it'll be sad to see it come and go with little fanfare.

That said, perhaps I'm being pessimistic. It may well turn into the sleeper hit of the year! (If it's any good.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Demon's Souls online continues: things get bright.


Atlus USA announced today that online support for Demon's Souls (the game has a very unique online component) will continue through "at least March 2011." Which... isn't that long, really. Less than a year.

Still, it's great to see little 'ol Atlus with a bonafide hit on their hands, and to celebrate the announcement they're shifting all world tendencies (which is something you'd understand if you've played the game) to pure white for the next few weeks.

Continued online support was something I always wondered about, when it came to Demon's Souls (and indeed, any online title that's not peer-to-peer). It may also be one of the reasons I favor single-player-centric titles like inFamous, Darksiders and Bayonetta - you can't pull the rug out of a single-player game like that.

As I perused the internet's reaction to the news, one comment from Kotaku jumped out at me:
"I was actually gonna pick this up tomorrow so I could play online with my friends. After this, i'd have to find it for pretty cheap before I bought it."
This dude is a silly goose. This other dude, however, keeps the faith:
"Atlus has always done right by fans. I doubt they'll turn it off until the popularity dies down quite a bit. "
And that dude is correct. If there's one thing Atlus does incredibly, stunningly well, its give its fans precisely what they want - over and over and over.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Arcana Heart 3 coming to PS3, 360.


The reveal came in the latest issue of Famitsu, which was diligently photographed and tossed to the winds of the internet. I never followed my little brother's advice and laid hands on Arcana Heart, but I do love anything with 2D sprites.

That said, I don't like the idea of a fighter that relies so heavily on a single hook - it's an all-girl brawler.

Still, it's happening - and its presentation alone grants it a spot on my radar.

Oh God, yes! Oh, wait... crap.

First, IO Interactive burst on to the high-def console scene with the disappointing Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. Last year, they followed it up with the disappointing Mini Ninjas. This year, they're dropping the could-be-good Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days.

I don't know about you, but every time IO announces a game that's not a new Hitman title, I die a little inside. I'm mostly dead, at this point - but as Miracle Max will tell you, mostly dead is slightly alive - and today my pulse returns with renewed fervor, at this official bit of concept/poster/art/thing:



Another image promises a 2011 release date.

Fi
na
lly.

[update]False alarm. According to a site citing contact with IO spokesperson Tom Stratton, the image was

"created as part of a portfolio, intended to showcase an artist’s style or method of work and does not represent any new Hitman game.”"

Boo-urns. Got myself all hyped for nothin'. [/update]

Mafia II is a painstaking recreation of a real time, a real place.


And by that I mean the collectible, classic issues of Playboy magazine you find throughout the game world feature uncensored photos of naked ladies.

It's okay. It's okay that this game just moved up on your list.

I won't tell anyone.

What, me? Don't judge me, it was already on my list.

* * *

I've got a spare five minutes - might as well turn this into a real post about Mafia II and not just "boobs!"

There's an interview up at the PlayStation Blog with Mafia II's Director of Creative Production, Jack Scalici (an authentic-sounding name!), and what he continually hammers home about the game is where it separates itself from other GTA clones - that is, the atmosphere and the world it sets itself in.

In terms of gameplay, he suggests, they have quite intentionally not reinvented the wheel. GTA IV did some things great, and they flat-out copied them. The rest of the time, he's talking up what attracts me to the title (beyond the boobs, of course) - a well-rendered alternate place and time.


Given that gaming is - more often than not - pure escapism, I'm always quite conscious of the difference a compelling game world can make in the experience. BioShock is the prime example of this. Gameplay can be half-decent (Brutal Legend) - heck, the gameplay can be broken (Wet), but give me wonderful presentation and a zany, creative, beautiful well-realized world, and I'll happily spend hours living there.

That, more than anything, is what Mafia II seems to promise - a painstaking recreation of a real time, a real place, with some real character.

That said, I kinda' hope it gets crap reviews, 'cause this year is already looking terribly expensive.

Monday, July 19, 2010

REVIEW - Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

I beat Peace Walker's campaign over two weeks ago, and then a funny thing happened. I didn't write a review. That is to say, for the first time in over a year I beat a game and didn't review it.

I felt I should. It's what I do, after all, but I just didn't feel compelled to.

I thought I should just let the game rattle around in my head for a while, that I may settle on some conclusions about it. But no - the realization came to me the other day - I didn't feel like writing a Peace Walker review because I simply didn't care that much, one way or the other, about the game. It neither thrilled nor disappointed.

I cannot judge it to be a bad game, because it certainly isn't. In fact, by all measurable criteria, it's the single best title I've played on my PSP. It's all the other criteria - specifically, the experience I want a Metal Gear Solid title to deliver - that make it an entry in the series which one could leave or take, and be none the worse for it.


It's not wrong to compare Peace Walker to a console Metal Gear Solid title - as long as that title is the PS1 classic that re-launched the Metal Gear franchise, which Peace Walker handily defeats in terms of graphics and gameplay.

It's a phenomenally good-looking PSP game - peerless, in terms of presentation - with voice work, music and sound direction which are in keeping with the sky-high production values the series is known for. Strange, then, that part of the presentation is also one of my biggest gripes with the title.

It's the animated cutscenes that turn me off, I think. They look great, they still sound great, and once you plug your cranium into Metal Gear Solid Mode, you'll happily find yourself back in a world of international intrigue and artificial intelligence theory and the nature of nuclear deterrence and "oh no, someone plans to launch a nuclear weapon, let's hope a Naked and/or Solid Snake is available to save the day."

Unfortunately, the story feels like a wholly separate affair from the action the player participates in. This is due to its presentation - 2-D graphic novel-style animated cutscenes, featuring concept-like art by Ashley Wood - with characters that look nothing like their in-game counterparts.


Occasionally - rarely - the gorgeous scenes cut through that disconnect and are able to draw the player into the narrative, but such moments are the exception to the rule.

Peace Walker would have been improved with less-pretty, immersion-maintaining in-engine cutscenes - but the engine doesn't not allow for facial animation, and such an addition would have proven rather expensive to implement - so this concession was made. It's not without precedence - Portable Ops went the same rout - but it still makes Peace Walker feel like the slightly undercooked cousin of its console counterparts.

The game's mission-based structure is another concession to the PSP's nature - pop it open, select the mission you want to play and slide it back into your pocket when you're done - but this too harms the presentation of the narrative. There is no flow - no pacing, save that which the player chooses to impose on themselves - and so, what could have been a required experience in Metal Gear cannon becomes a series of compact, emotionally disconnected missions.


Have I doom-and-gloomed enough? Good - 'cause this is where things turn around.

The game plays beautifully. There are multiple control schemes, but with movement on the analog nub and aiming handled by the face buttons, Peace Walker gets the job done admirably.

A few options have been removed from the close quarters combat system pioneered in MGS3, with the addition of consecutive takedowns offered in trade. This may sound like the short end of the stick, but it's very satisfying to run into a group of six enemy soliders and take them all out with two well-timed series of bone-crunching CQC maneuvers.

Peace Walker also doesn't have the needless hazy-gray depth of MGS4's stealth system - what we get is an instantly accessible, meaner and leaner stealth experience. It plugs neatly into classic sneaking sensibilities, and feels deliciously comfortable to a player who has favored the genre over the years.


Boss encounters are suitably lopsided, for the series - 'there's no way Snake can handle this' - which makes it all the more satisfying when he does. Major enemies are always some sort of enemy armor - APCs or tanks - or massive AI weapons that tend to sing a creepy, innocent-sounding tune as they try to gun you down.

Psycho Mantis they ain't, but that's fine - it suits the narrative, and if you can defeat one of those tanks without destroying it, they are added to the garage back at Militaires Sans Frontiers - Snake's burgeoning PMC.

Managing MSF is the other, well, fifty-five per cent of the Peace Walker experience.


Beyond one-off "extra ops" - one-shot, selectable side-missions with specific conditions and objectives - you will spend a staggering amount of time managing your base, and assembling a well-maintained fleet of APCs, tanks and helicopters is the tip of the iceberg.

Every single enemy solider you encounter can be forcibly kidnapped via a crazy balloon thing, and they'll be waiting for you back at Mother Base when you complete your mission. Freed POWs will be more than happy to join your cause, but the elite soldiers which accompany boss encounters will often have to cool off in the brig before they'll sign up.

As Big Boss's reputation grows (represented by the Heroism stat), volunteers may begin to sign up to join MSF, and it's up to you to put them where they'll do the most good - active duty, mess hall, medical, intelligence or research and development. This constant management of soldiers - and a constant desire to get better people working in R&D to develop that new rifle upgrade - gives Peace Walker an RPG-like, gotta-catch-em-all undercurrent.

Mr. Kojima, you're going straight to the Intel division.

I won't go into detail about the incredible amount of things to do in Mother Base, or the (over 100) extra ops or the clever multiplayer or the...

Let's take a step back.

There is a ton to do in Peace Walker - hundreds of hours worth, more than any other Metal Gear Solid game - but that doesn't necessarily mean it delivers on what the player expects of an MGS experience. Quite the contrary - Peace Walker's glut of content often leads the player to ignore the core game in favor of the OCD tangents one can be dragged into via Mother Base.

It doesn't feel as (this isn't a pun) solid as any other title in the franchise. It admirably squeezes the basic Metal Gear Solid gameplay onto the PSP, layers a suitable narrative on top and gives the player a phenomenal amount of additional stuff to think about, but all this extra stuff - all this different stuff doesn't really end up sating my hunger for a new Metal Gear title. ...and that's weird.


It should satisfy. David Hayter still captures the player's imagination as Snake, an Otacon analog still provides comic relief and someone's trying to launch a nuke - great! Add the best production values in the biz and gameplay that is remarkably well-realized, and you've got an excellent game.

It's just... so disjointed. All these well-thought-out, addictive additions to the Metal Gear Solid formula don't end up serving to create a stronger whole, and the game becomes less than the sum of its parts. It's diluted. It seems to lack the cohesive vision of the series' other entries.

It's an excellent game. An excellent PSP title, and a remarkable accomplishment to realize Metal Gear Solid's gameplay on a platform that fits in your pocket - it's just not a Metal Gear Solid game that truly lives up to the rest of the series.

Is it worth a purchase? Yes.

Will it shock you with how good it is? Yes.

It just can't stand shoulder to shoulder with its console brethren - overshadowed by its own far-reaching ambition. If it had settled down and tried to be just an MGS game, it may have been absolutely remarkable. As it is, it's merely a great game.


THE GOOD
-excellent graphics
-standard-setting production values
-David Hayter as Snake
-it's MGS, but it fits in your pocket
-the gameplay is almost perfectly realized
-great music
-a ton, ton, ton of things to do
-an interesting discussion on nuclear deterrence

THE BAD
-so much to do, you lose sight of what you're actually doing
-the mission-based structure and player freedom prohibit any intentional pacing
-not as focused or vital as any of its console brethren
-animated cutscenes often feel very separate from the game you're playing

THE VERDICT

Peace Walker is a great game that offers perhaps too much, and loses sight of its central vision.

My day has been brightened.


Nine months ago, I wrote a review of Demon's Souls, and someone I'd never heard of read it. One month ago, they got themselves a Google account, and left a comment on the review. Today, I found it.

This shit made my day:
We've passed the 8 month mark since I read about, and purchased, Demon's Souls due to this review. After I have a particularly trying day at work, I'll still throw in Demon's Souls to get my mind out of the office. Whether it's tackling a boss with a new build, or some heart-pounding PvP, it always does the trick.

While it's certainly not the most played per month any longer, I'd wager it'll get some love fairly consistently until the PS3 is unplugged for the next gen console. Then, years later, I'll be talking about this game with friends, rosy glasses gleaming, discussing how this era in gaming did have at least *one* game which inspired that triumphant elation, and genuinely rewarded those who persevered. Then, later that evening, I'll find myself rooting around for a television with an HDMI input...

Thanks :)

-Ardent Marauder
June 28, 2010
Thank you, dude.

Gah! Critics say Limbo is like a sexual encounter with an angel.


It's hanging out at 91% on Metacritic. And those aren't 90s from a bunch of pithy little unknown sites - we're talkin' Giant Bomb, Game Informer, IGN et cetera. Well, IGN giving a game a 90 is... pretty standard - but a 90 from Eurogamer?

That is hot shit.

Nothing to report.


Nothing you don't already know, anyway. Limbo comes out on Tuesday, and it pains me to the depths of my soul that it's exclusive to the 360. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift comes out next Tuesday, and it will be super-sweet.

For the time being, I find myself rather enjoying Disgaea. What the hell.

It may have something to do with the simple fact that it's on my PSP. I can open it up, play for fifteen minutes while dinner is cooking, snap it shut and come back to it an hour later.

I've been played for (at least) four hours total, and y'know how many floors I've cleared?

Two.

Two floors, not counting the training floors. I've cleared those two floors a half-dozen times each - leveling characters and skills - and fired a few new recruits through the tutorial floor to get them some levels before I field them.

I've spawned minions - a healer, two mages and a monk - and equipped them. I've been promoted twice, by killing some zombies in front of the Demon Assembly. I've gotten a new sword, and a gun for Etna - though I'm not sure it's her style... oh right you can see how well a character will do with a weapon based on their rating with that weapon type...

Excuse me.

...yep, she needs a spear. Or an axe. I'm thinkin' spear - having a ranged attacker is handy.

I think I'll deal with that right now.

Don't look at me that way. I was once like you.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Game Diary.


I've been putting almost all of my game time lately into Alpha Protocol. Just by the way it's structured, I'm sure I'm about 65-70% of the way through, and I'm taking my time with it - perhaps precisely because I know it is a modern, short game. If a mission ends with a bit of red text telling me that I was spotted, and the backdoor I installed on an information hub's servers may be rendered useless, I'll happily replay the mission and ensure sure no alarms are tripped. I'm enjoying it, I'll say that much.

Strange that - while playing through a game that's as short as modern RPG standards will allow - I tripped and fell into a title that tends to take up hundreds upon hundreds of hours of playing time.

With the post below this one, I was reminded of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, sitting unplayed on my PSP Go. I bought it with some extra PlayStation Funbucks I had lying around - probably because I wanted an RPG on my PSP, and Persona 3 was still a few months away - and hadn't touched it. So, with NIS's announcement today about Disgaea 4 and that crazy Z.H.P, I decided to finally dip my toe in the endless waters of Afternoon of Darkness.

After all, there must be something to this whole Disgaea thing. Net-friends often sing its praises, but I quite consciously kept the series out of reach. Mostly, I was intimidated by it. Whispered stories of hundred-floor dungeons that exist solely to level up your sword seemed largely obscene - Disgaea is an unabashed grindfest. It's got a goofy, endearing sense of humor - but it's a mediocre-looking game that plays like...

I'm about an hour in, so I don't think I'm educated to the point where I can say what it plays like, but already I can feel its velveteen tendrils creeping across my obsessive-compulsive gamer nature. Its systems seem designed to entice the player along with an irresistible bread crumb trail of ever-expanding power.

"First taste is free," it hisses from the shadows.

"I just wanted to try it once," the player replies.

And from that black void erupts a chilling peal of laughter.

"That's what they all say."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

NIS announces Zettai Hero Project.

Among other things. They've also announced Disgaea 4 (for PS3), Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel (also for PS3) and Cladun: This Is An RPG for PSP. It's either a download-only PSP title, or a PS Mini - I expect the former.

Perhaps most interesting is Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman. This is a PSP-exclusive, made by the team behind Disgaea - and suitably, it advertises itself as the ultimate grindfest where you basically die over and over and get stronger and stronger, you can customize everything, and play the game forty million times.

Dig on this insane-o trailer.

A closer look at Makoto.

BlazBlue: Continuum Shift is like, two weeks away! Let us rejoice.



Underboob: the best kind of boob.

Y'know what's weird? I feel no shame in posting this video on my blog.

You'd think I would.

Mega Man Universe. What the hell?

BlustreakX, this one's for you. It is, apparently, a Mega Man game made for Mega Man fans - but it clearly includes some other classic Capcom heroes.




Kenji Inafune of Capcom said
“This game will break the mold and challenge the conventional wisdom of what a Mega Man game can be. When fans finally get to see it, I believe they’ll envision their most far-out Mega Man dreams coming true.”

Word is we'll hear more at this year's ComiCon (it begins on the 22nd).

Friday, July 16, 2010

A note about PlayStation Plus.

The PlayStation Blog announced today that - rather like how an Xbox Live Gold subscription allows one early access to demos - the demo for Kane & Lynch: Dog Days will be available to PlayStation Plus subscribers on Tuesday, the 20th of July. Regular folks will just have to wait 'till the 27th.

More than free games and discounts, it's stuff like this that makes me want to try out PS+ - even if I have only a passing curiosity about K&L2. I like being in the know about how a game plays, that I may provide adequate conversation on the subject, should the need arise.

It also reminded me to bring up something I've been meaning to bring up since I got an email from Sony about how awesome PlayStation Plus is and why I should sign up: some small print.


Under the pricing options there, you will notice some gray fuzz. Those are words, and you can enlarge the image if you want. This is what they say:

"PlaysStation Plus is only available to PlayStation Network users 18 years of age or older. PlayStation Plus subscription renews automatically and continues until cancelled. For more details, please see the Terms of Service and User Agreement."

First: They misspelled "canceled." Second: hands up, everyone who hates subscriptions which automatically renew.

Look what I made!

At work, there's a young lady who's working through her second University degree. She's already gone to nursing school, but now she's getting a psych degree because she wants to be a psychiatric nurse. She wants to deal with crazy people.

She gets up early, goes to school, works all day, then comes to work and works all night. She, herself, is obviously crazy.

She's also a bit of a delight, so when she asked me to draw her a Koi I said I'd absolutely do it - but it would take some time. When I draw a fish it always ends up looking like a misshapen salmon, in profile, and I knew Koi were something special, somehow.

So after getting some reference material and spending most of my last shift doing the pencil work, I did the inking on this last night. That picture is actual size - well, it is on my monitor, anyway - and I've gotta' say, that's one of the best things I've ever drawn.

When I show a drawing to someone and they say "wow" or "that's awesome," it's very rare of me to say back "I know, right?!" But with this thing.

That is awesome.

Beware of falling milestones.


Some time during the day, The Games of Chance received its ten thousandth visitor.

Cool.

Thank you for your patronage, Internet.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kinect's limitations: sitting, driving and skirts.

I've said very little ill about Microsoft's Kinect on this blog - mostly because this is a PS3-centric e-publication, and I needn't court flamebait material. Generally, when mentioning the device, I've said that Dance Central is going to be massive leap for dance games, on par with the first time Mario moved from two dimensions to three.

Beyond that, though... what's Kinect got? Party games and motion control for movies.

The media in general was nonplussed with the racing games that have been shown - the fact that you have no control over your speed (once the race starts, your car is on cruise control) and no tactile connection to steering is, simply, an issue.

Then came word that you have to be standing to use Kinect. How on earth that will be compatible with watching movies is beyond me.
"Can you rewind it, honey? I want to watch that scene again. Here's the remote."

"Why hit a few buttons on a remote? That's archaic technology. Here, just let me stand up and start waving my arms - it's much simpler."
And today comes word that you must dress appropriately. In an exhaustive analysis over at TechRadar, this line stands out:

"...we saw one woman who's long skirt prevented her from playing the track racing game on the device because it couldn't see enough of her legs."

Of course, long skirts are the exception rather than the rule these days - but it's sort of another thing to throw in the pile of Kinect's limitations. For Kinect to keep its promise, it needs to be instantly, intuitively accessible to everyone - and to ask your party guest to remove her skirt before she takes part in a night of gaming is the height of boorishness.

Usually.

Zelda: Skyward Sword still doesn't have a release date.


But it has a release window - which is almost as good - according to producer Eiji Aonuma, at least. He recently told the UK's Official Nintendo Magazine,
"The basis we have now is very, very solid. Early 2011 - that is what we're aiming for."
Something:
It's better than nothin'.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Eurogamer Tim Shafer interview.


The internet was buzzing today, because in a six-page interview with Eurogamer, Tim Shafer used the words "total prick" when speaking about Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. He didn't specifically call the prick a prick (like I just did). Context is important, and here it is:
Eurogamer: I think he's a bit misunderstood because he's trying to make lots of money when people think he has an obligation to make gamers happy.

Tim Schafer
: His obligation is to his shareholders. Well, he doesn't have to be as much of a dick about it, does he? I think there is a way he can do it without being a total prick. It seems like it would be possible. It's not something he's interested in.

Eurogamer
: Why should he care?

Tim Schafer
: Well, he makes a big deal about not liking games, and I just don't think that attitude is good for games in general. I don't think we're an industry of widgets. I don't think we can approach it like we approach bars of soap, where you're just trying to make the cheapest bar of soap.

Activision has responded via a... hang on, I have to copy paste this woman's job title... Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Activision Blizzard Maryanne Lataif - who said,
"Tim Schafer's comment that Bobby Kotick 'makes a big deal about not liking games' just isn't true. Bobby has always been passionate about games, and loves the video game industry. But as CEO of a company that makes games enjoyed by millions of people worldwide, the demands on his time now make it difficult to play games as often as he'd like to or as much as he once did.

...As Schafer himself notes, he has never actually met Bobby Kotick."

Yadda yadda yadda.

The interview is, of course, worth a read. For my money the most interesting part is on the first page, when he brings up the similarities between the way creativity in game development is largely stifled by the practice of - as in film - examining what has been successful, and then copying the shit out of it.

Eurogamer: Why is comedy in games untapped?

Tim Schafer: The industry is imitative. A lot of people are chasing the last thing that was a big hit. What we need is a big hit comedy game. As soon as we have one, everybody will follow, of course.

It's just like with movies. Easy Rider was one of the first indie movies that ever made a massive profit, because it cost almost zero to make and then it was a huge hit. People were like, 'Oh, that's an interesting business model. Spend no money and make a lot of money'. Eventually Miramax or whoever turned that into a real art form or a business. Now we have a really active independent movie scene.

If you're making smaller works that aren't so expensive you can do more of them, and you don't need every single one of them to be a blockbuster. You just need to be a tidy little business, and then every once in a while one of them will break out as a hit.

I was watching a documentary about the making of Casablanca. It's one of my favourite movies. And they were asking the guys who made it, 'What did it feel like to the most beloved movie of all time?' And they were like, 'We had no idea. We made 50 movies that year, and that was just one of them', which is an interesting take on that.

The interview also hints that Double Fine's next title(s) may be download-only. Interesting!