Thursday, September 30, 2010

Enslaved dev diary: the mocap.

I want all of this to be in the special features on the disc. I love this kind of stuff - and yes, it all looks very silly and a bit stupid as they run around in their ball-suits and do their thing - but the short clip at the end shows the payoff.

The payoff is fantastic. Yet another example of how the more I see for Enslaved, the more I want the game. Five days to go! Eeeee!

RDR: Undead Nightmare trailer.

Learning YouTube certainly has its benefits. I can throw up a video without any of the stupid logos or in-video links others tack on. Handy!

I love it when Eurogamer interviews Tim Shafer.


It's always just a fun, interesting read.
Eurogamer: There's a mini-game where you have to eat apples that bob in water. For some reason I was revolted by the apples that had worms coming out.

Tim Schafer: How strange. That's strange that you would be revolted by the idea that you were eating a worm.

Eurogamer: What would Freud say?

Tim Schafer: Obviously your potty training was botched. That's what Freud would say.

They're talking about the developer's upcoming Costume Quest, a Halloween-themed RPG helmed by Tasha Harris, a lead animator at Double Fine.

Eurogamer: It seems like a funny and nice game. It's not violent and doesn't have swearing...

Tim Schafer: It's got people exploding into candy. What are you talking about? It's super violent. But delicious.

* * *

Tim Schafer: There's a lot of physical comedy that's pretty funny in the game, like when that monster – it's so unnecessary – he falls off that dumpster and topples into the trash can. I always crack up on that. That's not exactly high brow. I'm not snob when it comes to comedy. But I do try and use Einstein's theories a lot when I'm writing, because he's very smart.

Eurogamer: I did notice that. I thought it was too obvious to mention, though.

Tim Schafer: It's a response to Stephen Hawking theology. It's a subtext. He's represented by the cat's butt.

Eurogamer: I didn't see the cat's butt. Where is it?

Tasha Harris: Oh, you're going to have play it again.


They also touch on the recent Kotick V. Shafer hooplah, but I won't spoil that one for you.

Check it out.

* * *

I'm also a bit surprised at myself for not mentioning it earlier, but Double Fine has signed on Ron Gilbert for one of their upcoming games - this is big news, because the last time Shafer and Gilbert worked together, the result was the legendary Monkey Island and its sequel.

From the Kotaku interview:

Kotaku: What's your new title there?

Gilbert: We haven't really talked about that. I'm the boss of Tim.

Schafer: He's the official Ron Gilbert. Though he started out as vice Ron Gilbert, we want to make sure he works out.

Gilbert: Yeah, I'd like to be executive vice Ron Gilbert one day.

Schafer: Yes, eventually maybe director of Ron Gilbert.


I love these guys.

Beyond Good & Evil HD.


Beyond Good & Evil is good enough to be considered an essential PS2 title. Fans are still calling for a sequel, we've been teased one twice, and now it looks like Ubisoft is testing the waters with an HD up-port of the original.

Announced at their Ubisoft Digital Days mini-conference, Beyond Good & Evil HD features - this is not a typo - 1080p resolution, a remastered soundtrack and updated textures, in addition to trophies and achievements. It's a PSN/XBLA-only title, and is expected some time next year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A few nice items on the PSN this week.


DLC for Valkyria Chronicles II required immediate purchase, but the way you have to download them (individually downloading and installing 22 separate 1.2MB files) is... pretty idiotic. But let us look on the bright side!

There's (finally) a public demo for God of War: Ghost of Sparta, and both of the BioShock Infinite videos are up. Yessir - the original trailer and the ten minutes of gameplay footage are both up on the store in HD.

Very nice.

Some screens for Resistance 3.

Lookin' good. Open in new window/tab to enlarge.




All the 3DS details happened last night.


I don't have a DS - but between the Zelda titles and Okamiden, I find I've been thinking about it - and told myself I would only ever consider the 3DS if it had backward compatibility.

It does. It plays all games in the DS catalog. There's a metric ton of news to get to, so let's break it down, point-form style.

Most importantly? Price:

¥25,000
That is three hundred and eight American dollars, and eleven cents.

That's a PS3.

Next-most importantly, date:

Febriary 26, 2011
in Japan. The following month in North America.

  • it comes with a "charger stand" that you place the unit on - very stylish - as well as an AC adapter, a 10cm "touch pen", a 2G SD card, 6 "augmented reality cards" and the standard instruction books.
  • it has a motion sensor and a gyro-sensor.
  • plays 3DS virtual console games, as well as DSi VC games.
  • dimensions are 13.4cm x 7.4cm. 2.1cm thick and weighs 230 grams.
  • the lower screen is 3.02 inches, liquid crystal display, 320 x 240 pixels.
  • it has three 0.3 megapixel cameras on it. Two outside, one in in clamshell.
  • has wifi.
  • game cartridge slot, sd card slot, AC adapter slot, headphone jack.
  • has speaks and a mic.
  • 3DS cartridges are the same size as a DS cart.
  • top screen is 3.53 inches, liquid crystal display, 800 x 240 pixels.
It also has a crapload of first and third-party software coming (Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Mega Man Legends, Super Street Fighter IV, Dead or Alive, Love Plus, Nintendogs and even 3D streaming TV), but I'm not prepared to get into all that. Here's a screenshot from the Ocarina of Time up-port.

"New" Fatal Frame on the way.

Whether or not it's "on the way" to North America remains to be seen - a troubling concern, given that Fatal Frame IV: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse (Wii) only saw a release in Japan.

Also, it's only "new" in quotations, because this is a remake a certain remarkable title.

Recognize this early-game scare?


Or this familiar room?


That's right, baby. It's a remake of Fatal Frame II, or the scariest game ever made.

...which probably won't get localized.

...and it's for the Wii.

Now, where's that YouTube vid? Ah.

Some Red Dead Redemption DLC worth buying.

Maybe it's all been worth buying - I dunno, I didn't really look into it - but Old West + Zombies = bought. I know, I know, I'm adhering to a gamer stereotype here. I don't care.

Undead horse equals purchase. That's just science.


More screenshots here. Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare DLC doesn't have a release date yet, but I don't think expecting it around Halloween is much of a stretch.

Guillermo Del Toro is making a game with THQ.

File this under "could be absolutely awesome."

Guillermo Del Toro is the dude who created and directed (the incredible) Pan's Labyrinth. Great film, yadda yadda yadda, but what I find doubly impressive about him is that he also managed to take a property that could have been a special-effects-based throwaway, and turned it into a proper, character-driven series of good films (Hellboy).

The other day another blogger was considering the potential for Hollywood films based on Anime properties - a concept that chills me to the core - but one director did spring to mind. Guillermo Del Toro could take Ghost in the Shell or Spirited Away and make a good bloody movie out of it.

Here's the news: when speaking with MTV, Del Toro divulged that the game he said he was working on back in July is with THQ.

THQ is quickly becoming very dear to me, publishing both Darksiders and Double Fine's upcoming Costume Quest.

He would not get into specifics on the title, only that

It's horror...but it's a very different type of horror game. It's not survival horror. It's truly a strange, geeky mix. It's a Lovecraftian thing. Let's leave it at that.
and
With THQ we're looking at around a three year developing deadline for each game. Big games. More details forthcoming, but we are truly exploring them in a serious manner. Expect the first game, best case scenario, 2013.


THQ has not officially announced the game. Unlike the film industry, the game business tries to keep a tight lid on announcements - when asked for comment, their response isn't atypical: "At THQ, we are focused on the highest level of creative development by putting artists first. Guillermo del Toro is one of many creative artists that we respect and would be interested in working with. However, at this time, we do not have any formal announcement to make."

Translation: "Yes, it's happening - we just can't talk about it yet because we haven't put together the press material."

So, all things considered? This is good news. Of course, whether or not being a great director of films will translate to making a great game remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Self-indulgence.


It's been a while since I did an "I'm lazy/tired, so this is the only post today" post. I'm not entirely sure that I am lazy, but I'm feeling pretty damn beat, and all I want to do is tumble into Dead Rising 2. Having never played the first, the game's systems and uniqueness recall in me an old-timey sensation of getting one's mitts on an anticipated new game, and having to come to terms with all kinds of stuff one has never had to deal with before.

Delicious.

I'll get to those Resistance 3 screenshots and Valkyria Chronicles news later.

Or tomorrow.

Just not now.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Best Link cosplay ever?

With all due respect to these two, of course. But no, this is... this is pretty bloody spectacular. Open in new window/tab to enlarge.







It comes from a group in L.A. going by The Zelda Project. They hope to release a short film in 2011.

PSP 2 dev kits are being sent to studios.

Industry website develop-online.net ran an article today that assures readers the PSP 2 is coming, and it's in developers' hands. Citing numerous unnamed sources over the last few months, they say they are left with the impression that Sony hopes to have a huge amount of third-party support in addition to its internal studios for the launch of the new handheld.

The only quotation comes from Shaun Himmerick, executive producer of Netherrealm Studios (formerly Midway Chicago), who said his studio

“has a PSP2 in the house and we’re looking at the engine, like what can it support. Always a big thing for us is the performance. We’re running at 60 fps, what can we do and do we have to build all the art assets over.”

I have only one question about the PSP2:

Does it have two analog sticks?

That's all I really care about. The rest is just gravy.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer beta looks pretty fab.



When I preordered Brotherhood, I was given a little cardpaper thingie with a code on it, which contained instructions to go to Brotherhood's website and give them my email address. A code for beta access would be emailed to me, the website promised. The card said the beta would occur some time this month (which ends in three days), though now it's slated for early October.

I'd rather have just preordered and gotten the code.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

REVIEW - Valkyria Chronicles II.


Full disclosure: I love Valkyria Chronicles, and I was as peeved as the next fellow that its sequel would appear on the PSP. Though like the next fellow, of course, I was also pleased as punch that one of the best PS3 titles no one played was deemed deserving of a follow-up.

Valkyria Chronicles II
seems to be an attempt to introduce the franchise to a larger audience. A shame, then, that some of the original's most striking strengths are almost entirely abandoned - what remains, while uneven, will sate the appetite of a VC fan, but is unlikely to convert a great many heathens to the church of Valkyria.

It's still long on charm, it's still rather inspired and it still has mercilessly addictive gameplay - so what remains is still a great game.

But...


In the small nation of Gallia, every teenager must get a bit of mandatory military training (should the need to conscript them into the militia during a time of crises arise), but the best of the best get scouted and offered an education at the Lanseal Royal Military Academy. It's like Hogwarts with M1 Garand rifles instead of wands and flying brooms replaced by tanks - and like Harry, Ron and Hermione, protagonists Avan, Zeri and Cosette will spend a year within its walls, negotiating the stereotypical pitfalls of youth, discovering a little about the true nature of war and a lot (sniff) about themselves.

Avan's going to have to work hard to do it, too - he volunteered for Lanseal and barely made it in - and his class is the worst in the school, comprised exclusively of social misfits and head cases. Will the academically-challenged Avan manage to whip the underdog Class G into shape, save his homeland and learn to trust in his own strength?

Ugh, man. If it sounds like I'm laying it on a little thick, let me assure you Valkyria Chronicles II is a honey-flavored explosion of saccharine writer's vomit.

Harry, Ron and Hermi-
I mean,
Avan, Zeri and Cosette

As I played, I kept trying to tell myself that the title was aiming so low with its characterization, writing and plotting because it was quite consciously trying to address a younger audience - but even that possibility doesn't excuse what's on display here.

Plenty of entertainment aimed at youth still manages characters with more than an ankle's worth of depth, and the exploration of its subject matter beyond simple lip service - a task Valkyria Chronicles II does not attempt. Ninety per cent of the game's narrative consists of writing and circumstance so utterly cheesy and infantile my skin was literally crawling.

The other ten per cent, well, that was a guilty pleasure. Here and there I legitimately found myself laughing along at character-driven comedy, feeling genuine anger at the mistreatment of a virtual colleague, or being moved by their plight. It's very, very unfortunate that such examples were few and far between, in the sequel for a game where an engaging, intelligent story with endearing, well-realized characters was the rule, instead of the exception.

RPGs live and die on their narratives - and this one's sucks.

This part actually got a chuckle of out me.

Fortunately, that's VCII's most disappointing facet. The rest is good enough (presentation) or much improved (gameplay).

Concessions are naturally made to bring the franchise to the PSP while still recalling the incredible presentation of the PS3 title. Most story sequences are delivered via expressive character portraits with touches of manga-like shading to reference the style of the original. The occasional fully-animated sequences are the highlights, here, but they are few and far between.

Sound design is largely strong, with a fine score, sound effects that pop a cast that ably and passionately delivers the (sub-par) dialogue - but the game's real strength is on the battlefield.



Unlike the original, which had five well-defined classes, Valkyria Chronicles II has five base classes and an additional thirty total specializations. Yes, that is perhaps too many, but it's great to pick one of your (many) classmates and decide to put them to use in battle until they've gained the required number of credits to become a claymore-wielding powerhouse or a living phoenix down.

This system also provides the greatest strength of the game's narrative, as little scenes with each unit will be unlocked the more you use them, giving greater insight into their character and finally unlocking a powerful "potential" that activates on the battlefield, making them an even more potent addition to your arsenal. While most of these side-stories are merely amusing, some do serve to genuinely endear you toward your classmates - and it's certainly more exhaustive than the original's occasional exploration of Squad 7.

The battle system - a mishmash of genres - is a deeper pleasure than it was on the PS3. With thirty-five classes (and countless gear options) and a tank with a frankly ridiculous degree of customization, the amount of variables operating on the field at any given point may seem intimidating from a distance, but in practice the game's systems very quickly become second-nature.

One soon comes to understand that, in order to defend a base camp, you need only plant Zeri or another Shock Trooper behind some sandbags and leave them alone - they will survive almost any incoming attack, and automatically kill anyone silly enough to approach. Simple rules of what is survivable, what is not, and how to deal with any given enemy deployment is a puzzle to be solved with a glance at the overhead map, which before long is a considered yet effortless pleasure.


Another major change from the original is the use of smaller, multiple maps - travel between which is impossible before capturing an enemy camp. This mechanic - very foreign at first - quickly reveals itself to be the agent of faster, more deliberate action on the part of the player.

Missions play out far more quickly than in the original, but span just as many turns while allowing more room for error. It works really well.

Unfortunately, for each area-type in the game (desert, rural community, urban area), there are four or five of those little maps - and they are used countless times in various configurations. Enemy and allied camps are moved, enemy placements are changed, objectives are changed, but the player runs through the same environments ad nauseam. Major missions which serve as story events often (not always) take place in new, unique locations, which makes it all the more disappointing to have to run through another four or five "stock" missions to unlock the next event mission, and increases the nostalgia for Valkyria Chronicles' many unique, beautiful maps.


The repeat use of environments is a bit of a necessity, however - unlike the linear, story-driven original, the mission-based Valkyria Chronicles II has a positive glut of content and gameplay. The months of the year serve as chapters, each month requiring you to play through three or more "key" missions to unlock a story event mission. Of course, you're only required to play through a certain number - but more than the required number are available. Then there are additional free skirmishes, classmate missions, class-specific challenges and battles that must be purchased from Lanseal's on-campus store.

This adds up to an intimidating amount of gameplay - good thing it's so darned addictive.

It's also a double-edged sword. While such an impressive amount of content is assuredly a treat, it's also a real threat to the game's pacing and story. It's all too easy to lose yourself in the gameplay, grind out missions for an hour or two and forget that there's actually a story going on, and a context to your actions. By the time you return to the narrative, you're doubly reminded that you just don't care about it.


The original Valkyria Chronicles, a gorgeous, intelligent, unique strategy RPG, was strength upon strength upon strength. Its sequel is a better game, but not an equal experience.

While its inane story and unchecked pacing hurt the overall package, it is saved by its exceptional gameplay and a setting that still manages to charm and romance the player. The principality of Gallia, its history, its dark past and future struggles remains an interesting, inspiring backdrop to set an adventure against - and I still want to see more of it.

I just want to enjoy a decent story with interesting characters while I'm at it. Fortunately, the rest of Valkyria Chronicles II is more than engaging enough to keep a player invested for its fifty-hour length, and beyond into the staggering amount of content and challenges that await in New Game+.


THE GOOD
-good presentation
-strong cast
-bright, colorful art direction and design
-gameplay has gained an impressive amount of depth
-an incredible amount of customization and options
-every single squad member has a side story to discover, if you choose
-hours and hours (and hours) of gameplay

THE BAD
-the writer needs to be taken out behind the shed and shot
-the way credits are randomly awarded post-mission is seriously awful
-glut of content hurts the pacing
-environments recycled ad nauseam


THE VERDICT
Valkyria Chronicles II is a mixed bag that will ultimately satisfy fans of the original with its ambitious additions to gameplay, but suffers from a story that's like claws on a chalkboard.

Hm. That didn't take long.


PS3 Move Battle Rifle.


Move Precision Shot 3.

So I'm replaying Heavenly Sword...


I guess Enslaved's impending launch made me want to re-familiarize myself with it - I think I'm enjoying it even more than I did when I wrote the review.

Lately when I wanted to have a taste of something triple-A I would throw in God of War III, but I guess I just wanted to remind myself of what Heavenly Sword is. Is it really as good as I thought it was?

Nope, it's better. (Certainly no God of War, but) it's an incredibly impressive debut for Ninja Theory on the current gen, and I find myself a little sad that they turned to the ubiquitous Unreal Engine for Enslaved.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beat VC2.


Took me close to fifty hours. I knew the "due date" of this coming Tuesday (Dead Rising 2) was looming over me, but looking at the calendar now, I can't believe I've been playing this game (almost) exclusively since August 31st. Hopefully I'll be able to fire out the review tomorrow night, but I don't really want to offer any quick impressions here, out of context.

Well, maybe just one: better mechanics, worse story.

Still, fifty hours. I haven't put that much time into a single title since Resonance of Fate - RPGs are a trip. And speaking of trips,

Enslaved: the evolution of Trip.


I don't know about you, but the first time I saw Trip in the upcoming (as in 9 days) Enslaved, all I thought was "yep, Ninja Theory sure does have a thing for redheads." Turns out, a sizable amount of thought and numerous iterations went into Trip's design.

Speaking recently with Game Informer, creative director Alessandro Taini showed off some concept art and discussed her development. My personal favorite of the series is this one - a mix between Trip, Kai and Tank Girl:

To see the whole article, head on over to GameInformer.com.

I didn't mean for things to turn out this way.


I'm a touch ill, with my head is doing this odd loopy thing where specific concentration fails me. I decided to go through my PS2 library and reexamine why the fuck I have so many. Surely, I should at least get rid of stuff I don't much care about like Arcana Heart, Summoner and Final Fantasy XII (I keep trying to like FF games, I really do) - but in the end everything went back into my safe the same way it came out.

I gained no storage space, but on the bright side I wrote another huge feature. Whether or not that's actually on the bright side of anything is, like the feature, a matter of opinion.

Friday, September 24, 2010

PS2 library: The Essentials.


I have a PS2 library of healthy/reasonable size. It's not one of those multiple-hundreds-of-games libraries, pictures of which cause one's jaw to unhinge (though, granted, I've only been of a "collector" mind since around 2007). Some titles are guilty pleasures (Enter the Matrix), some are kept for sentimental reasons (SSX 3), some held fast by collector's compulsion (Summoner), but most fall into a category best described as "essential."

Even with such a modest collection, that's still an awful lot of games. It should be noted, of course, that taste factors into this equation. Some folks may balk at the inclusion of Odin Sphere and be absolutely furious at the omission of all racing titles - such is life.

Now then - let's see how many tiny images you can throw at Blogger without breaking it.


ESSENTIAL TRILOGIES
Because good things come in threes.


Grand Theft Auto III

GTA III is almost historical value personified. Not only did it launch a new genre (constantly imitated and duplicated to this day), it was one of the big three games your friend would trot out to show you how incredible this newfangled PS2 thing was (the other two being MGS2 and Gran Turismo). It is a definitive essential title.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

While it was, in nearly all respects, head and shoulders above III (and is considered by many the best of the PS2 trilogy), my general dislike of the 80s prevented me from joining the chorus that exalts Vice City - it is still deserving of a place in the library.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

One of my favorite video games of all time. When I was a kid and I played my first driving game, for a fleeting moment I imagined you would be able to drive down the highway and turn off where you wished. You might stop in at a gas station/convenience store and buy something to nosh on, before driving off to the destination of your choice. It took almost fifteen years for someone to make the game I imagined as a child, and they called it San Andreas.



Devil May Cry

Hideki Kamiya revolutionized the brawler with DMC, and most other designers are still playing catch-up. God of War directly ripped much of its combat from it, Darksiders blatantly copied moves verbatim, and only Kamiya himself truly broke through the landmark set by the original title with Bayonetta.

The first PS2 game I ever loved.

Devil May Cry 2

This is a terrible, terrible game. Seriously awful.

I have it because, if you're going to have a DMC collection, you may as well be inclusive - but I absolutely do not endorse this product. It's so bad. What's amazing is the dude who directed DMC2 also helmed...

Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening

The best game in the entire series, it matches the combat of the original and ratchets the difficulty up a few notches. A glut of new weapons, four combat "styles" to choose from and a level of melodramatic craziness rarely matched elsewhere elevate it to legendary status.

If you're in the market for it, be sure to get the "Special Edition." The original release of DMC3 in North America starts you off at Japan's Hard Mode - which is phenomenally difficult - while the SE re-release has a few extra bells and whistles, and the standard difficulty modes.



Ratchet & Clank

The first title in the hugely successful series, Ratchet & Clank also holds up the worst over time. Its mechanics and most of all controls lack the refinement of even its sequel, but it's still the R&C game with the best Metropolis level.

I'm still waiting, Insomniac. I'm still waiting for a better Metropolis.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

I feel Going Commando is the best of the PS2 R&Cs. It has all the strengths, none of the weaknesses of the other titles, and the best space combat sequences in the series.


Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal

A graphically remarkable game, Up Your Arsenal is markedly better than the original, but suffers from pacing issues here and there. Still, an imperfect Ratchet & Clank game is better than 99% of the other crap out there.




Metal Gear Solid

...is a PS1 game. But it got a PS2-style disc release with the stylin' Essential Collection, so I'm counting it.

Beyond being part of the franchise that introduced stealth gameplay to the masses, this is the first console game to really nail cinematic presentation, even while limited by blocky polygons. There's a reason Kojima can't ease up on Sweet Lady Cutscene - and the reaction to this game is likely it.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

MGS2 got more than its fair share of hate due to Raiden's starring role and a crazy postmodern story, but it has a special place in my heart. I got every single bloody dog tag in this game - probably investing more time in it than any single PS2 title this side of an RPG.

MGS2 was a benchmark for the PS2, unsurpassed for much of the console's lifetime. This was, also, one of those games you showed your friends to prove just how awesome the PS2 is.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence

There's no shame in merely ensuring you have a copy of MGS3: Snake Eater handy, but Subsistence is the definitive edition of (arguably) the series' best game, thanks to the inclusion of the MSX versions of the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, both (truly) localized for the first time.

Brutally, brutally difficult games by today's standards, and required reading for any enthusiast.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Hitman, Sly Cooper & Prince of Persia

Blood Money is the high point of the Hitman series, with much-improved depth of play and greater options, but every PS2 Hitman title has fantastic animation, art direction and graphics, and an incredible soundtrack by Jesper Kyd.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves is the best title in Sucker Punch's series - huge open levels to explore, lots of tinkling clue bottles to collect, cartoony, colorful presentation, liquid-smooth platforming and expressive animation. It's a real gem of a game. My only word of warning about the series is that Sly 3 leans a bit too heavily on mini-games.

The Sands of Time trilogy relaunched the Prince of Persia franchise, after multiple failed attempts. The first Sands title was hailed as the game of the year upon its release, despite (very) lackluster combat. Later games in the series improved this a bit, but that's not why you play these games - they are fantastically well-designed platformers, and wonderful adventures.



ESSENTIAL SERIES
This is probably where I'm going to piss a few people off, by not including their favorite franchise. Sorry dudes.


Silent Hill

Silent Hill 2 remains the high water mark of survival horror in the eyes of critics and gamers. It is an absolutely genius exploration of emotional trauma, but equally startling is the title's presentation and remarkable atmosphere.

Having never finished it, I can't vouch for 3, but 2 is pretty bloody spectacular - even if it's rarely "scary."



Fatal Frame

If you want scary, you want this. The original Fatal Frame and Fatal Frame III fared reasonably well with critics and audiences, but Fatal Frame II is the scariest fucking game I have ever played.

I still can't finish it - it terrifies me - but it's so incredible, I went out and paid a small fortune for a sealed copy.



ICO & Shadow of the Colossus

I won't beat you over the head with what you've heard a million times before - suffice it to say, it's all true.

Interesting note - ICO actually comes on an old-timey compact disc, having been originally intended as a PS1 game.




Shin Megami Tensei

The PS2's cup runneth over with JRPGs, but for me there's really only one series, and this is it.

There are a total of eight SMT titles on the PS2 - and some purists look up their noses at the Persona franchise, thanks to its social-sim elements - but for me, Persona 3 will forever be the game that showed me I could love a JRPG.

This is a series I'd wanted to explore since the first time I saw a print ad for Nocturne back in 2004. It took me 'till 2007 to dip my toe in those heady waters, but I am now a convert.

I'm hardly well-read on the subject of SMT, but I do particularly suggest Persona 4, which makes Persona 3 look like a practice run.



God of War

Sony Santa Monica's beautiful, bloody action-adventure opuses became legends in their own time not just due to technical wizardry or combat mechanics that aped Devil May Cry without sacrificing accessibility, but thanks to truly remarkable game design, pacing and overall presentation.



HONORABLE MENTIONS

Kingdom Hearts, SSX, Tenchu &
Virtua Fighter 4


I was blown away by the original Kingdom Hearts, but II's uniquely... exhaustive opening bored me to tears. If you're unfamiliar with the series, I highly suggest taste-testing the first game.

SSX is a big, bold, crazy snowboarding game with awesome music, zany characters and fun, tactile, addictive gameplay, and the PS2 Tenchu titles have better gameplay than any stealth title I've ever played. And I've pretty much played them all, except the original Deus Ex. Tenchu: Fatal Shadows, the kunoichi-centric sequel to Wrath of Heaven boasts updated graphics and a few additions to your repertoire.

You may feel Virtua Fighter 4 isn't a series per say, but it's got two very different versions, so that's good enough for me. My favorite fighting game ever. I'm no connoissuer of the fighting genre, but VF4, VF4: Evo and VF5 (PS3, 360) are as good as it gets, for me.



ESSENTIAL SINGLES
The amazing and atypical.


Okami

Short version: it's kinda' like Zelda, except you're a shinto deity who's taken the form of a white wolf, haulin' ass all over ancient Japan.

Okami is my single favorite PS2 game. Let me tell you why.



Odin Sphere.

(Takes a deep breath.)

Huge, gorgeous and lovingly animated 2D sprites brawling their way through beautiful, hand-painted stages, a deceptively deep item creation process, phenomenal localization with excellent voice work and music, and an epic story all wrapped up in a 40-hour action-RPG.

Wonderful.


The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

2009's Prototype, by the same developer, was essentially the true sequel to Ultimate Destruction.

Prior to Arkham Asylum, this was the best superhero game ever made. An unbridled fantasy of freedom and power, an above-par story, great mission design, an intimidatingly huge move list and seriously fun combat and gameplay.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Resident Evil 4, God Hand, Bully & Beyond Good & Evil

The legendary Shinji Mikami took the old-school beat-'em-up back to its roots without sacrificing the third dimension in the uniquely challenging God Hand, and revolutionized third-person shooters with Resident Evil 4.

Bully (from Rockstar Vancouver) takes the Grand Theft Auto formula and boils it down to a high school level, but with an incredible presentation that not even Rockstar's flagship franchise could match at the time.

Beyond Good & Evil is a fantastic roaming, picture-taking stealth-sneaking melee-combatting hoverboat-driving adventure title with great art direction and overall presentation, which was largely ignored thanks to an unfortunate release window (holiday 2003), and Ubisoft spending most of its advertising budget supporting Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

* * *

This is hardly the most comprehensive list you'll find. These are the trilogies, series and individual titles I strongly recommend. If you want a single "best" PS2 game? Well, that depends on your genre. I feel like I should do a top five.

Let's do a top five. Y'know what? Let's make it six.

What can I say? MGS2 just means more to me than 3.