Saturday, April 30, 2011

Catherine's box art toned down for "select markets".

Here are Catherine's original covers - with Catherine on the PS3 cover and Katherine on the 360's.


There's an argument to be made for the PS3 cover being a bit much, but I see little wrong with the 360's stylish accoutrement. Still, Atlus has announced that "modified covers will appear in select markets." What's the deal?

In terms of specifics, we don't know. In terms of art, here's the deal:


Before we get all freaked out, Atlus forum admin Inzaghi clarifies a few things in a thread on the Catherine board:
"In addition to the existing North American covers for Catherine on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, there will also be modified designs that appear in select markets. The vast majority of copies available at launch will feature the cover we originally unveiled, essentially the Japanese cover of the game. A small percentage of copies, however, will feature a cover that is more considerate of certain retailers' broader customer demographic. Fans need not worry; Catherine's cover art is NOT being altered for North America. There is just an extra option being made available for more sensitive shoppers."
My question becomes, then, what retailers will have the "modified" design, and which will have the original? If I preorder the game at HMV or Best Buy, will I ramble into the store on July 26th only to discover I've been deprived the original art?

Atlus isn't telling - perhaps this is just to get the game onto Wal-Mart shelves - but it's worth noting that Amazon.ca and Amazon.com both list four versions of Catherine. For example, on the Canadian site I've got the PS3 version, the 360 version, the PS3 version that's kindly labled as having "alternate boxart" and a similar 360 version.

I know where I'll be ordering it from - just to be on the safe side.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hey Blue, guess what? You're buying a 3DS.


Y'know what this is a screenshot from? It's from the 3DS-exclusive Mega Man Legends 3: Prototype Version.

That's right, Blue - there's another Legends on the way. Your prayers have been answered - but oh no! There's some bullshit in the mix!



Ask me what Prototype Version means. Go ahead, ask me.

Sigh.

C'mon. Ask.

Just tell me.

Thank you for asking! Prototype Version will be a downloadable pre-alpha "demo" of Legends 3 that will be available from the 3DS's Nintendo eShop for two-bucks - in which you don't play as Mega Man.

Why would I spend two bucks for a demo?

Because you'll get the opportunity to give your feedback to the developers, and get your suggestions put into the game!

So why would I want to pay for a beta?

Because if you don't, they won't actually make the full game!

...that's not funny.

It's not a joke!

You are fucking kidding me.

Ferseriously, I'm not! Legends 3 director Masakazu Eguchi said over at the official Capcom blog that...
"...the heat and excitement surrounding this downloadable title would determine whether or not the full game could be greenlit. If hype is strong, the full title will be a go. If not, it’s a no-go. I don’t even want to think about that outcome!"
Translation: If you don't buy this beta, we won't make your game, so bend over, Legends fans!

At 3:01, this becomes a day-one.



Wait. Just wait. Sit through three minutes of the good folks at EA Canada explaining why, in the process of making the new SSX title, they didn't make Elise's boobs any smaller ("these are superheroes with snowboards") and we're treated to five seconds of pre-alpha gameplay footage.

Sold.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.

This looks kind of sucky. On the other hand, so did Constantine, and I loved that. I liked Brandon Routh in Superman Returns and I loved him in Scott Pilgrim - so I'll certainly give this a viewing, though perhaps not in theatres.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fine, so it's Video Day.



I'm not sure it's lazy of me. Is it lazy of me? I see some videos, they're worth talking about, and I post 'em. Check out this basics tutorial for Brink, by the way - that's one of those very rare online shooters I'm actually curious about.

I've been mulling over how I feel, deep down in my belleh about The Sony Thing. It would surprise me if Joe Sixpack who bought ten million copies of Black Ops even knows this is going on. He's just pissed off he can't play online.

Folks like us, we know what happened, 'cause we keep up on these things - but I'm unsure how great of an impact it will have in the long run. It could be significant - it could cost Sony a great deal when the next gen comes around, or even when PSN Ver.2.0 gets up an running - or it could be a blip in an otherwise steady five years of PS3 growth.

Personally, I don't think it actually has any impact on how I feel about my PS3 or my PS3 library or future multiplatform games (L.A. Noire, Skyrim, Arkham City) which I will surely purchase for Sony's console.

It won't stop me from buying Journey when it drops, or any other PSN game. I won't stop me from continuing to purchase PSP games via the PSN - though that may be because I buy stuff with PSN cards.

On a personal level? I don't care - I love my PS3. I use it every day to play games and watch movies and browse the internet when I'm not on my computer. Perhaps more than anything, I love my PS3 library - which isn't something a hacker can really compromise and take from me.

I suppose that's why I picked up a double of Metal Gear Solid 4 today. I've been asking myself for about a year why I have doubles of God of War III, Valkyria Chronicles, Demon's Souls, inFamous and Uncharted 2, but not MGS4.

Well, mystery solved - it's because I didn't find a copy that wasn't red label in mint condition until today.

...of course, if - once the PSN comes back up - if discover I no longer have access to the shitload of PSN, PS1 and PSP games I purchased over the network, I'll likely feel very different.

On the other hand, that is why I purchased UMD versions of Valkyria Chronicles II and Peace Walker - because of a generally shaky faith in the virtual ownership of anything.

I don't think I've told you about Outland, have I?



Outland is the newest thing from developer Housemarque, who've been a bit PS3-centric lately with Dead Nation, Super Stardust HD and Super Stardust Portable. The above trailer illustrates that it's a lovely, 2-D platformer, but doesn't really give us much indication of what the gameplay is actually about. Turns out, Outland has a bit of Ikagura in it - you switch yourself from light (blue) to dark (red) powers depending on the enemy you're fighting and the attacks they're using.

If, for example, you're fighting a blue-powered boss and you want to damage them, you turn yourself red. If they throw a blue beam at you and you want to survive it, you turn yourself blue. It's illustrated rather well in this trailer, which I can only find at GameTrailers.

If you want to play Outland - right now, today - you'll want to head over to Xbox Live Arcade. On the other hand, why bother booting up the 360 when you could just hop over to the PSN and ohhhh low blow...

Grand Knights History intro!

I'm sorry, but this is the only embed-able version I could find - but still! It's another teensy taste of Grand Knights History - and anything that reminds the world that this game exists is tops to me.

Atlus, if you don't localize this I will hate the shit out of you.

Oop - found a version without a bunch of splash screens and watermarks:



Niiiice.

Hmm. This doesn't look awful.

But it probably will be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Double-able.


I bought Resonance of Fate today.

Again.

I was out engaging in some payday shopping with Bluestreak - I also picked up a new jacket which everyone around me assures me looks "awesome," component cables and a cradle for my PSP Go - which allows the device to basically serve as a tiny console with a dualshock for a controller. Sweet.

Blue, in which I can only call an abundance of good taste, picked up sealed copies of inFamous (red label), Demon's Souls (red label - sigh) and Uncharted 2. I could not be more proud.

As we were leaving the mall, he admitted he was surprised I hadn't purchasing a new copy of BioShock 2 for ten bucks.

"I've already got BioShock 2," I said.

"But you love it."

"That's true... I did give it my Game of the Year runner-up... but there's a difference between 'best' and 'favorite.'"

Although I will concede that BioShock 2 may be a better overall game, for some reason it's not as important to me as Resonance of Fate. For some reason Resonance of Fate is double-able.

...I think I'll go back and see if they've still got that price on BioShock 2 this weekend.

Sony answers a couple questions.


Sony posted a few new articles over at the PlayStation Blog, addressing one issue and answering a few questions about the nature of their (and our) recent woes. First of all, they say, they totally didn't wait a week before they told us all our personal data could be out there - they told us as soon as they figured out that it was a possibility - so they say.
"There’s a difference in timing between when we identified there was an intrusion and when we learned of consumers’ data being compromised. We learned there was an intrusion April 19th and subsequently shut the services down. We then brought in outside experts to help us learn how the intrusion occurred and to conduct an investigation to determine the nature and scope of the incident. It was necessary to conduct several days of forensic analysis, and it took our experts until yesterday to understand the scope of the breach. We then shared that information with our consumers and announced it publicly this afternoon. "
In a separate post, they answer a few frequently-asked questions. I'll repost it here, in its entirety.

Q: Are you working with law enforcement on this matter?
A: Yes, we are currently working with law enforcement on this matter as well as a recognized technology security firm to conduct a complete investigation. This malicious attack against our system and against our customers is a criminal act and we are proceeding aggressively to find those responsible.

Q: Was my personal data encrypted?
A: All of the data was protected, and access was restricted both physically and through the perimeter and security of the network. The entire credit card table was encrypted and we have no evidence that credit card data was taken. The personal data table, which is a separate data set, was not encrypted, but was, of course, behind a very sophisticated security system that was breached in a malicious attack.

Q: Was my credit card data taken?
A: While all credit card information stored in our systems is encrypted and there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained. Keep in mind, however that your credit card security code (sometimes called a CVC or CSC number) has not been obtained because we never requested it from anyone who has joined the PlayStation Network or Qriocity, and is therefore not stored anywhere in our system.

Q: What steps should I take at this point to help protect my personal data?
A: For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well. To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports.

Q: What if I don’t know which credit card I’ve got attached to my PlayStation Network account?
A: If you’ve added funds to your PlayStation Network wallet in the past, you should have received a confirmation email from “DoNotReply@ac.playstation.net” at the email address associated with your account. This email would have been sent to you immediately after you added the funds, and will contain the first 4 digits and last 4 digits of your credit card number. You can also check your previous credit card statements to determine which card was attached to your PlayStation Network or Qriocity accounts.

Q: When or how can I change my PlayStation Network password?
A: We are working on a new system software update that will require all users to change their password once PlayStation Network is restored. We will provide more details about the new update shortly.

Q: Have all PlayStation Network and Qriocity users been notified of the situation?
A: In addition to alerting the media and posting information about it on this blog, we have also been sending emails directly to all 77 million registered accounts. It takes a bit of time to send that many emails, and recognize that not every email will still be active, but this process has been underway since yesterday. At this time, the majority of emails have been sent and we anticipate that all registered accounts will have received notifications by April 28th. Consumers may also visit www.us.playstation.com/support and www.qriocity.com for notices regarding this issue. In addition, we have taken steps to disseminate information regarding this issue to media outlets so that consumers are informed.

Q: What steps is Sony taking to protect my personal data in the future?
A: We’ve taken several immediate steps to add protections for your personal data. First, we temporarily turned off PlayStation Network and Qriocity services and, second, we are enhancing security and strengthening our network infrastructure. Moving forward, we are initiating several measures that will significantly enhance all aspects of PlayStation Network’s security and your personal data, including moving our network infrastructure and data center to a new, more secure location, which is already underway. We will provide additional information on these measures shortly.

Q: Has Sony identified the party or parties responsible for the PlayStation Network hack and subsequent theft of personal information?
A: We are currently conducting a thorough investigation of the situation and are working closely with a recognized technology security firm and law enforcement in order to find those responsible for this criminal act no matter where in the world they might be located.

Q: When will the PlayStation Network and Qriocity be back online?
A: Our employees have been working day and night to restore operations as quickly as possible, and we expect to have some services up and running within a week from yesterday. However, we want to be very clear that we will only restore operations when we are confident that the network is secure.


After reading this I've checked the email associated with my PSN account - I've received their missive, and they were kind enough to include a copy of it translated into French, just in case I turned out to be that kind of Canadian.

I'm not, for the record. Bluestreak is.

Oh, in other news, it looks like a law firm is stepping up to try to sue Sony for not taking "reasonable care" to protect our data. Whatevs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I couldn't resist.


Ooh - alternately:

75,000,000 people bent over, are screwed.

Seventy-five million possibly compromised PlayStation Network accounts, to be precise.

Sony - after a full goddamned week - finally admitted today that
"between April 17 and April 19, 2011, certain PlayStation Network and Qriocity service user account information was compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network."
What does this mean? It means I hope you didn't give Sony your credit card info. Or address. Or real birth date. Or anything else that matters to you. Among the information that may have been stolen...
  • name
  • address (city, state, zip)
  • country
  • email address
  • birthdate
  • PlayStation Network / Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID.
"It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained. While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility."
Once the PS3 was hacked, hackers noted that there seemed to be an absence of "hashed" information on Sony's side. "Hashed" information is basically your password or credit card info or whathaveyou that, once it's passed on to a third party, has been broken down into a code that only the third party can read - so that if someone breaks into their servers, the "hashed" codes will be useless - but when you try to login, the system runs what you've typed through their "hasher," and if what comes out the other end is identical to their "hashed" password, you're in.

Sony, according to hackers who poked around the PSN shortly after Hotz was kind enough to let everyone in the world know how, didn't use hashed data - everything from your passwords to your credit card info is stored and transmitted in plain text.

So, not only did Sony create a current-gen gaming platform with every single one in the world having the same effective "password" for running illegal code on it, they gathered our personal information and protected it via an unprotected network where all of our shit was basically kept in its original form, practically begging to be stolen.

[update] Folks with more technical acumen than I say that, upon parsing the chat logs of hackers that pertain to this point, our data is transmitted to Sony in plain text, but not necessarily stored in an unhashed form. [/update]


Now, Sony says that "an unauthorized person" may have our info. Not "a flock of folks," but a singular unauthorized person. It is perhaps then, unlikely that anything has actually been done with our information - it could just as easily be some Anonymous douchebag trying to make a name for himself in hacker circles who has some sort of ethics about using our information for monetary gain. On the other hand, I'm the same guy who thought this whole downtime was a preemptive move by Sony to strengthen their security - which, in hindsight, was obscenely faithful and optimistic of me.

Sony.

You. Have. Fucked. Up.

Not only have you severely and egregiously fucked right up, but you waited a goddamned week to tell us that our personal information - information which is ideally suited to identity theft - has been compromised.

I can guarantee your stock is going to take a hit. I can guarantee you have lost more than a few customers who will turn right around and buy Microsoft's console. I can guarantee that, come the eighth generation of consoles, thousands if not millions of people will be much less likely to trust their information to your network, and deign to buy your next console.

You have lost so much trust today, and few will forget that - plastic bag! Plastic bag! Plastic bag!

* * *

Ooh, look at that - Michael Pachter agrees with me. When asked for comment by Eurogamer, he said
"It's really hard to protect against a determined hacker, and Sony's customers should take solace in the thought that an evil hacker would have been wiser to attack a bank instead of a gaming network. That's my attempt to say that this was probably the work of a show-off, rather than of a thief."
So - again - it is perhaps unlikely that anyone will actually use the PSN info to steal your shit. What I'm concerned about, now, is whether or not Sony still has my PSN information, still has my userID and my trophies and records of the hundreds of dollars I've spent on the PSN Store.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Seriously.


Below, you'll see I am rather surprised and very pleased with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Surprised is the most important bit - I really wasn't expecting it to be as good as it is, which is why I waited until I could find it for thirty dollars.

When I explained the game's strengths to my little brother over Easter supper, he shrugged and said "well, yeah - when it came out all you heard about was how amazed people were at how good it was."

But I'm not prone to believe that crap. These are the same people who told us The Force Unleashed is a half-decent game, and that's bullshit. This is the same reason I cocked an eyebrow and said in my haughtiest voice "really?" when we were told that Arkham Asylum is actually pretty damn awesome.

Still, when I was watching the Penny Arcade TV episode that relates to the above comic, it resonated with me when Gabe called Castlevania "fucking amazing" and Tycho agreed with him. Castlevania moved from passing curiosity to A Game I Need To Try Out Soonish - and I'm thrilled that I did.

Honestly, I'm not going to finish this post and start up a fourth playthrough of Portal 2 - I'm going to go give Lords of Shadow another spin.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

REVIEW - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a surprise. A sumptuous, vicious, meaty, gorgeous surprise which immediately reminds one of God of War - not simply because it cribs a great deal of its playbook from Sony's storied franchise - so I'll often compare the two, here.

When David Jaffe pitched the first God of War title to execs way back when, he was told there was nothing innovative about it at all - to which he replied
"I don't care about innovation. I care about fun. I think we can execute this better than anybody."
Like Sony Santa Monica, Spanish developer MercurySteam took what others had done before and set to the task of realizing it spectacularly well. They haven't refined anything. They haven't iterated or evolved any mechanics - they've just done their damnedest to polish everything to a mirror shine - and they almost entirely succeeded.

Almost.



Take the music, for example. Oscar Araujo has crafted one of the finest scores of 2010, rivaling the trembling emotional strings ably plucked by Gary Schyman in BioShock 2. The game's overall presentation is absolutely remarkable for a multi-platform endeavor - particularly as an entry in the adventure/brawler genre. The writing is lean and sharp (up until the lengthy final cutscene), and the story - narrated during loading screens by Patrick Stewart - is just as engaging and affecting as the God of War standard.

How on earth did they convince Stewart and Robert Carlyle (Belmont) to lend their talents to this? Whatever it cost, it was more than worth it. There are no weak links among the cast, but Stewart and Carlyle in particular imbue the entire proceedings with their worthy, human gravitas that draws the player in and invests us in this world - and the world is gorgeous.


Throughout its twenty-hour duration, Lords of Shadow never, ever repeats itself in setting. You'll slog your way through a fetid swamp one moment before coming to a place that seems an explosion of life, and subsequently navigate the ruins of an ancient civilization.

Lords of Shadow's most stunning achievement are its environments. They are graphically and, more than anything, artistically sublime. Each and every level seems to sing with gothic, gorgeous, vibrant inspiration. It's very unusual, to view a vista and feel so little disconnect from the concept artist who imagined it - as if we're not seeing a sunset or structure as translated and limited by technology, but as it was originally intended. As it was first seen by artists with fever-dreams of looming castles, ancient forests and forgotten places.

It's beautiful. Familiar, in terms of style, with our collective understanding of gothic fantasy, but still thrilling. Still gripping and engaging and inspiring us to push forward, and see what sights lay in wait beyond the next monologue from Sir Patrick Stewart.

Yum.


Character designs are likewise very strong - particularly on the part of protagonist Gabriel Belmont. A troubled but soft-spoken man of God, his gentle eyes do not betray the savagery he is capable of. Like God of War's Kratos, he is a tireless, vicious creature - a giant who stands a head taller than every other mortal man - but after playing the title for a while, you come to understand that, unlike Kratos, he is not the spectacle we focus on.

The classic, familiar enemy designs do not initially impress on the same level as the environments, but it quickly becomes apparent that the monsters are the real stars of the show. As with the old 2-D Castlevanias, a great deal of the draw of the title comes from confronting and defeating storybook villains. Vampires and werewolves and witches, oh my!

There's something more satisfying about defeating them than the cannon fodder that populate other brawlers - something righteous. About staking a vampire, I mean. So long have the fantasy nightmare creatures on display here permeated the popular consciousness that it feels very right and almost wholesome to dispatch them.

Don't stake me bro!

Thankfully, the combat is up to snuff. While it doesn't approach the remarkable depth of more focused titles (Bayonetta, Devil May Cry), it ably matches Sony's gold standard. Gabriel's chain whip - the "Combat Cross" - allows for the same direct/area attack strategies that Kratos employs, and the mechanics have been streamlined here and there to allow similar accessibility and satisfaction.

While Lords of Shadow's combat is the front-and-center entree, you'll spend a great deal of your time navigating its wonderful environments. In terms of mechanics it is perfectly serviceable, here, but this is where the game begins to falter, in terms of design.

While I love that the title rewards - and often demands - exploration and recalls the heyday of its franchise in doing so, Lords of Shadow is not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to telegraphing potential routs to the player. Many of the game's more frustrating moments are a result of having absolutely no idea where - or what - you're supposed to do next. Perhaps this is an intentional nod to its roots, but it's still a frustration that mars the game's otherwise excellent pacing.

It doesn't help that the answer is often a mechanic you were told about four hours ago, and haven't had to use since - or one that was never explained at all. MercurySteam simply isn't very practiced at introducing and successfully layering mechanics as the game progresses.


Without question, the worst parts of the title are the occasional battles with titans. It's commendable that they tried to pursue the spectacle of Shadow of the Colossus, but these represent a shocking failure of design.

The player is expected to instantly grasp mechanics the game doesn't introduce, and each encounter with one of these (visually thrilling) behemoths is the gameplay equivalent of bashing your head into a wall until one of the two suffers a structural failure. Once understood, they reveal themselves to be rather scripted affairs - their only saving grace being a generous checkpoint feature that remembers how much of their health you've bashed away after a restart.


I am, frankly, stunned by Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It is 2010's Arkham Asylum - a new game from a property we'd all but given up hope on that blows the lid off our expectations. It's a far cry from perfect, thanks to some amateurish design in a few key spots, but this doesn't tarnish the lasting impression the title leaves.

When I think of Lords of Shadow, it is precisely what one should think of when presented with an action-adventure game. It is a game of soaring dreamscapes. Of blazing, beautiful fantasy. Of love and violence and the terrible weakness that hides in the hearts of men.

It's gorgeous. I think I'll go start up a new game.


THE GOOD
-technically accomplished and visually thrilling
-an exceptionally good soundtrack
-the narrative is well above par, and engaging
-tight, tactile, satisfying combat - the whip works
-responsive, comfortable platforming
-incredible environments and encouraged exploration
-great boss fights
-Patrick Stewart and Robert Carlyle!
-kill werewolves with silver and stake vampires
-you get to carry a little container of fairies with you to send at enemies, and they're all "ooh, fairies!" and then you beat the crap out of them
-the stunner of an ending leaves you desperate for a sequel

THE BAD
-riding larger enemies feels like a forced bullet-point
-those titan battles are significantly awful
-navigation is sometimes a real hassle
-there's this one crank that was clearly never playtested and will drive you nuts

THE VERDICT
A thrilling, inspiring, gothic, romantic adventure with a few nits to pick. Buy it.

PlayStation's online is still offline.


Yesterday's update on the PS Blog blames "an external intrusion." I'm still of the mind that Sony took the whole schebang offline to beef up their security after Anonymous very nearly pantsed them - which seems to be reflected in today's PS Blog update:
We sincerely regret that PlayStation Network and Qriocity services have been suspended, and we are working around the clock to bring them both back online. Our efforts to resolve this matter involve re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure. Though this task is time-consuming, we decided it was worth the time necessary to provide the system with additional security.

We thank you for your patience to date and ask for a little more while we move towards completion of this project. We will continue to give you updates as they become available.

If you go poking around internet forums, you'll quickly discover some very apocalyptic talk. Some folks suspect that Sony may have somehow deleted all their PSN information - specifically, who you are and what you have and have not bought off the PSN - and this could spell doom for the entire future of digital download.

Me? I suspect they may actually be telling us the truth, and they're just reinforcing their online armor as a reaction to the recent attacks. Time will tell, and I hope to hell I ain't wrong.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

FEATURE - the best games that aren't "the best."


We all love our triple-As - they're so damned close to perfect, you can't not love them. These days, we demand our games are of such uniformly high quality, or we do not deign to partake - after all, this can be an expensive pastime - if you're going to charge me sixty dollars, you'd better fucking bring it.

The thing is, "triple-A" almost exclusively applies to production values. That's not to say they have lacking gameplay (though they can) - but compelling, comfortable, satisfying gameplay is achievable by much more humble productions. Exemplary design - or an otherwise exemplary gaming experience - doesn't require a forty-million dollar budget. Neither does sheer ambition, creativity and inspiration - and these are the qualities that elevates a game from "great" to "special".

These titles aren't always the most attractive date you can take home to Mom, but they've got personality. They've got heart - and they'll offer so much, if you'll give them half a chance - and since most of these titles fell short of our collectively high standards, they can be found rather cheap these days (if you can find them).

Ooh, and look at that - I've got reviews done for all of them. This will be linky. I think we'll start out with the two games that are, to be honest, the worst games on the list...



Pandemic Studios - open-world action - Electronic Arts

The Saboteur is, I'm sorry to say, the game that sunk Pandemic. After its release and subsequent tepid response from critics and consumers, the studio was liquidated - which makes sense, given that the title had fun driving but mediocre shooting and sub-par platforming.

You've got to hand it to them, though - they really tried with The Saboteur. They tried to give us something new. Something beautiful. Something inspired - and in many ways that matter, they succeeded. If you're able to disengage your brain from titles with better gameplay (the platforming of inFamous or Assassin's Creed, the gunplay of Uncharted), you'll find this title offers a wholly unique experience. It has a beautiful, inviting world, a shining kernel of endearing inspiration at its core and art direction that is, at times, shockingly attractive.

You can find it (very) cheap nowadays - if you find yourself wanting to try something that feels rather different from every other open-world title, I suggest you pick up The Saboteur. You get to tool around 1940s occupied Paris and the surrounding countryside in sweet, curvy, classic rides, listening to cool old tunes, kicking Nazi ass and growling at folks in a thick Irish brogue.

IMPRESSIONS

REVIEW



Artificial Mind and Movement - third-person shooter
Bethesda Softworks


Despite being kind of a... shitty game, Wet is still one of my favorite titles of 2009, thanks almost entirely to its presentation.

It falters in design that quickly gets boiled down to the most efficient way to clear a room and maximize your points - you run up a wall, jump off the wall, knee-slide across the ground and shoot dudes in the head. And that's cool - but because that is the single best thing you can do in terms of earning the game's currency, that's pretty much what you're always doing, which can get old. It also has some very sketchy platforming, but who cares?

When you decide to forgo the points pursuit, just have fun with the title and choreograph some slick John Woo action, Wet wants to let you.



It's got a phenomenal soundtrack, inspired presentation, and if you can just flick your brain off and let yourself enjoy the ride, it will regularly paste a big 'ol smile on your face.

REVIEW
WET - ON SECOND THOUGHT



Sucker Punch - open-world action-platformer
Sony Computer Entertainment

Now here's a game that got platforming deliciously right. In fact, every facet of inFamous's gameplay is polished to mirror shine - Sucker Punch's success at nailing third-person shooting on their first attempt is pretty incredible. It's easily my single favorite platformer on the current gen (or will be until, perhaps, inFamous 2), and boasts production values that put it within striking distance of the coveted triple-A standard.

But Chance, inFamous is a triple-A game!

No it's not. Sony tried to market it as if it was, but let's face it, it's not. Its engine gets the job done, but - aside from the gorgeous electricity effects - won't really wow you. More egregiously, its in-engine cutscenes have animation that looks like placeholder work, and the animator just never got around to making them look decent.

I don't care, though. Not one whit. It's a fantastic game. Intelligently, thoughtfully designed, brilliantly executed and beautifully laid out with sharp, poppy art direction. More than anything, inFamous is a game that is constantly a wholesome, thrilling pleasure to play.

REVIEW
THREE MONTHS LATER



GRIN - action-platformer - Capcom

Another fantastic platformer. The game came and went in spring 2009 with barely a blip on the collective gamer radar, thanks to heavily mixed reviews and a multiplayer-only demo that did little to sell the experience - and it is a Goddamned tragedy that GRIN shut down, and we'll never get a sequel that improves and polishes the experience put forward here.

I don't know why I picked it up, when I saw it for ten bucks - I suppose because I dared to hope. When I paid the kid behind the register at Best Buy for it, I swear I was blushing because I didn't want anyone to see me buying this game that we had all accepted as horrible.

I now tell anyone who'll listen that Bionic Commando is a nearly perfect modern interpretation of the classic. It is - inFamous aside - the funnest game on this list. After my buddy Blue and I turned it into our Game Night game for a few weeks, he went out and bought it. Then he showed it to his friend, and his friend bought it. Bionic Commando love is catchin' like a fever and I want you, dear reader, to get infected.

Now, look. I know you don't believe me - and that's fine. To be suspicious when someone contradicts everything you've heard on a particular subject is the natural reaction, but let me leave you with this hopeful kernel which may take root:

It's true.

REVIEW



Radical Entertainment - open-world action - (sigh) Activision

Prototype is first and foremost the spiritual successor to Radical's orgasmic 2005 title Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Those of us who played (and subsequently adored) that rare licensed gem had high hopes for Prototype, but it is perhaps not quite as ridiculously fantastic as Hulk.

The narrative - which the developers really tried to hype - is just godawful. The mission design, likewise, doesn't approach the awesome stuff we were doing in Hulk, but at the same time...


Prototype is all your sickest fantasies of power and violence, realized. Its action is huge, its gameplay is (for the most part) razor sharp, and if you can't have any fun with it I have to posit it's because you've decided you're not going to.

REVIEW




Studio Japan - survival horror - Sony Computer Entertainment

Siren: Blood Curse is more criminally underrated than Bionic Commando - but the ignorance of the PS3-playing population is more egregious in this case, given that survival horror is all but dead on the current generation.

It's essentially a retelling and (successful) retooling of the brilliant, ambitious and severely flawed Siren on PS2. Like the original and its sequel, it is a genius combination of the stress-fueled survival horror genre and the tense, nervous gameplay of a stealth title. It's also emotionally affecting, has gorgeous art direction, capable graphics, an exceptional lighting engine and a story that will twist your brain in knots.

Blood Curse strips away all the shit that made the original Siren all but completely inaccessible, streamlines the experience, tweaks the gameplay, gives the whole thing a graphical overhaul and aims itself squarely at the Western market - and it succeeds at every turn.

I cannot recommend Siren: Blood Curse strongly enough.

Due to the spectacular (and mostly deserved) failure of the original in North America, though, this title is only available on the PSN. It's a 10GB download, and costs around $40, unless you wait for Halloween. It's relatively cheap if you're looking to import the disc release from Asia (this version is in English) or the UK (this version has an English manual and a making-of video).

REVIEW
OKAY, WE NEED TO HAVE A TALK




tri-Ace - Japanese role-playing game - Sega

Aside from Shin Megami Tensei and Valkyria Chronicles, JRPGs and I don't really get along. They're just so damned boring. The ones I like tend to significantly break from the norms of the genre, either by way of presentation, inspiration or mechanics - and Resonance of Fate boasts all three.

One of my favorite games of 2010 - a remarkable feat for any JRPG - it was passed over by the masses because some genius decided to release it one week after the ultra-hyped, incredibly gorgeous Final Fantasy XIII. Unlike Square Enix's latest magnum opus, however, Resonance of Fate actually passed the Attention Span Test, and kept me coming back for eighty-plus hours.

A great deal of the for-the-masses entertainment that breaks free of Japan has annoying tropes that drive me nuts, which makes much of it taste like a year-old stale cracker. Resonance of Fate, on the other hand, boasts a bright, crisp, sparkling flavor thanks to being so damned different. Lemmie break it down for you:
  • beautiful, unusual, interesting art direction and world
  • a wonderfully subtle story
  • costume design that's actually really, really good
  • the best voice work of 2010
  • the craziest weapon customization you've ever seen
  • quite possibly the best turn-based combat system I've ever played
Resonance of Fate is really one of the unsung gems of this generation - I can simply never get enough of its combat.

REVIEW



Vigil Games - action-adventure - THQ

Darksiders is the closest thing this gen has to a Cinderella story. Vigil Games, co-founded by (in)famous comic book artist Joe Madureira, came out of nowhere and somehow presumed to know what they were talking about, when they promised us Darksiders would be awesome.

They explained that it's a lot like Zelda, except like, totally badass. They showed a combat system that cribs the brutal finishers of God of War and the stylish swordplay of Devil May Cry - and we were all like, "well, I'd like to believe you guys, and - wait a minute, who are you guys again?"

Few of us were prepared to hope they knew what they were talking about. Those of us who took a chance on this Little Game That Could in early 2010 discovered that, as with Okami before it, when a developer of skill and vision takes on the Zelda structure and adds their own spin, the results can be an absolutely sublime experience.

With poppy art direction, streamlined, snappy combat, a decent narrative, the classic progression mechanics of one of gaming's greatest franchises and a breath of inspiration, Darksiders is one of the best examples of a great game that's not-quite triple-A.

REVIEW



Platinum Games - brawler - Sega

Bayonetta, like inFamous, is on the cusp of triple-A-ness. It has exceptional graphics and art direction, is technically astounding (on the 360) and is probably the single best realization of the brawler genre ever created. It also has some cutscenes that look like they were put together with Garry's Mod, and a piss-poor PS3 port done by Sega.

The PS3 version retains the stellar art direction and incredible gameplay - it's still a blast - but it is wholly inferior to its 360 counterpart in terms of technical merit. Bayonetta remains an exceptional title. A further evolution of brawling in three dimensions from the man who re-wrote the rules with Devil May Cry back in 2001, and one of the better games of 2010.

REVIEW




Obsidian Entertainment - open-world RPG - Bethesda Softworks

Despite being one of the biggest titles in the industry with a grand publicity budget, Fallout: New Vegas falls well short of the triple-A standard thanks to its stunning variety of bugs, crashes and hard freezes.

At the same time, Fallout: New Vegas is the most enjoyable western-developed RPG I've played in years (and yes, I'm counting Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 in that assessment) - and a much better game that Fallout 3.

New Vegas understands the whole 'RPG' thing much better than its predecessor, while maintaining the fantastic, immersive atmosphere. No matter which quest you're working on, it never feels like you are simply running through a lonely, isolated thread of narrative. Instead, you are running along and vibrating one strand of a very, very large web that stretches across the entire game world. It's pretty incredible.

REVIEW

Finally.

I started working on that feature last Saturday. I have no idea what took so bloody long.

Well, now I care that the PSN is down.


I just beat Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (review incoming), and if you too have beaten it, you know that after that awesome ending, all you want is more.

Turns out, there is more, in the shape of DLC that's received some mixed reviews. Still, Reverie is precisely the kind of DLC I like - it's not hats or weapon skins or cheat codes - it's new content for the campaign. Specifically, three levels that serve to bridge the gap (a teensy bit) between the game's incredible finale and the stunner of an epilogue that follows the credits.

I wonder how much it costs? Damn you, PSN "maintenance"! ...oh wait, I can just turn on the 360 and see how much it costs on there... ten bucks. Yeah, you probably got a deal, Konami.

Chrono Trigger coming to PS3/PSP.


Finally.

The legendary Chrono Trigger is on its way to a console that I own, if a recent ESRB rating has anything to say about it. It looks like the title will be released as a PS1 classic on the PSN (once the PSN starts working again) - specifically, it will likely be the version that was included in Final Fantasy Chronicles on the PSX.

Of course, purists will tell you that the tiny changes made to the title make the PSX version the inferior choice - and while it's clearly not the same as playing the original game on the SNES, Mogs assures us that it's better than the version which was recently released on the Nintendo DS. Speaking of the DS, did you hear the DS Lite's been discontinued?

File that one under rumor, but the 3DS is out - makes sense.

Friday, April 22, 2011

If you're interested in Skyrim, this is the hands-on you want to read.


It's a widely-believed fact that I love Eurogamer. I like that their preview articles don't religiously fellate whatever game they're talking about, I like that they tend be a lot harder on games than every other site in their reviews, and I like that - no matter what they're talking about - they try to come at it from a bit of an angle.

Now that I've oversold Eurogamer, go read this hands-on of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Screenshots are nice, gameplay vids are better, but it's that article that cranked my Hype-O-Meter to max for Skyrim.

Well lookie here...


It was discovered today that Square Enix has trademarked "Hitman: Absolution" in the UK. I can take this as nothing but good news.

We've already had a few whiffs of a new Hitman game in the works - which is good! Hitman: Codename 47 was rather sucky, but Hitman 2 had excellent production values, animation and most of all atmosphere, Hitman: Contracts had better balance and Hitman: Blood Money managed to give the whole affair some pretty damn great gameplay - essentially a realization of the series' long ambition.

On the other hand, IO Interactive haven't been nearly as awesome on the current gen, what with the rather sucky Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, the almost-good Mini Ninjas and the rather suckier Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. Still, I love Hitman, as it makes up one third of the Triforce of Stealth, sharing space with Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid. Bring on the Absolution.

Totally NSFW Duke Nukem Forever trailer.

This trailer highlights that this June's Duke Nukem Forever is a pretty shitty-looking game, in terms of presentation, and that I will have difficulty with not preordering it. It just manages to push all the right nostalgia buttons.



Though, in fairness, Duke Nukem 3D didn't have nipples.

I hope the PSN didn't mean much to you.


Lately, you've no doubt noticed, the PSN is down and out - and you can't log in to any PlayStation websites. This affects some more than others. My elder brother, for example, almost exclusively uses his PS3 for playing Little Big Planet 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online - the recent outage has hit him like a freight train of lost entertainment, but I have taken the opportunity to wrangle him in to doing some Portal 2 split-screen co-op with me.

Folks on the interwebs are - as usual - freaking right the hell out about it. The comments section of the PlayStation blog is afire with people trying to stand up for their rights to enjoy the free service - particularly those who shelled out for PlayStation Plus - and elsewhere on the 'net you'll find folks vilifying Sony or Anonymous spitting fire and poison at each other from across the cyberchasms that separate them.

Me? I don't much care.

A day or week's PSN downtime has essentially no impact on how I enjoy my PS3 - that is, almost exclusively by way of single-player games. At the moment, the only issue I suffer is being unable to link my new copy of Portal 2 with Steam to get myself a free PC copy of the game.


Now... Sony says they're "investigating the cause" of the Network outage. Sony has never publicly acknowledged Anonymous's attack, or named the group, or actually admitted that Anonymous had any impact whatsoever on the PSN or their websites. I reckon there are three possibilities:

(1)
Some Anonymous douchebag managed to seriously fuck up the PSN during their recent attack, but it just didn't take effect until this week (which seems unlikely).

(2) Anonymous are still attacking the PSN and never stopped, despite making a public statement (insomuch as a group with no defined leadership can make a statement) to that effect.

(3) The cause is Sony. They've taken the PSN offline in order to beef it up so a future Anonymous-style attack won't be able to affect the system.
To be honest, I think #3 is the most likely scenario. Speaking of Anonymous, they've taken no responsibility for the PSN's downtime, but note that they'll get right back on fucking up Sony's business when the network goes back up.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mario's cake was indeed a lie.

Specifically, the "cake" we all assumed was code for "sexual favors."

Prototype 2: Mercer vs. Heller dev diary.

In which some folks from Radical try to sell us on not playing Prototype protagonist Alex Mercer in the sequel.



Uh... huh. Darth Vader, huh? As much as one part of me understands how you sold yourselves on this idea - and even kind of likes it, lemmie break this down for you:
  • Nothing you do will ever live up to Darth Vader
  • Darth Vader doesn't even live up to Darth Vader
  • especially after Lucas made the prequel trilogy and turned him into a sobbing little girl with mommy issues.
You could have just pulled some standard sci-fi bullshit on us and stripped Mercer of his powers at the beginning of the new game and everyone woulda' been fine with that. I mean, c'mon - Mercer was the only cool character in Prototype, and that was only from an interesting-science-fiction perspective.

Also, Yoda 4 life. Peace out.

Lots of news!


A few cool vids, shit is going down with the PSN, it's 9pm and I am totally ready to go to sleep. I expect I will. Or at least I'll try.

If I fail, I'll likely do up some substantial posts later tonight. If I succeed, I'll seeya tomorrow - which I assure you will be much more productive, in terms of bloggery. So begins my weekend! And it's an actual weekend - with like, two days in a row off of work! It's not just a one-day-off-back-on-for-five-days kinda' deal!

Oh, it will be delicious.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Game Diary: Beat Portal 2's campaign.


I was expecting Portal 2 to have clever portal puzzles, and the rest would be gravy. As it turns out, there's a lot of gravy. Because I had very high expectations to begin with, I anticipated this would count against my experience with the title. Like when someone tells you that Film X is like, the best movie evarr and then you see it and you're like, "yeah, that's pretty good, but it's nothing I need to rave about" - because the title had been built up to much.

We've all been building Portal 2 up. I certainly have - Valve itself most of all - turns out it is just goddamned exceptional. It's very, very strange to be playing a hugely-anticipated title that not only lives up to your expectations, but largely shatters them, and leaves you grinning.

The game - as a whole - is a blast. The finale is, in particular, some of the best gaming I've experienced.

I shall have to lasso Blue into completing the co-op campaign with me before I do it up, review-style. Review Preview: "Worth sixty dollars."

DICE promises Battlefield 3 won't suck on consoles.


Okay, so we've all seen The Twelve Minutes, yeah? Perhaps best described as The Twelve Minutes That Make A Better Case For Gaming PC Ownership Than Anything We've Seen In Years? Well, we all know the PS3 and 360 versions won't come close to that PC footage, but in a recent interview with MSXBOX-World, the question of console performance was put to Battlefield 3 executive producer Patrick Bach:
MSXBOX-W: The stunning footage of the game seen so far is supposedly from the PC version: when will you be showing some footage from the Xbox 360 version? And which differences can we expect from the PC version (aside the already known multiplayer differences?

Patrick Bach: Our philosophy is to not to talk about things we cannot prove and this is true also when it comes to the quality of the Xbox 360 version of the game. All of the core game systems (animation, destruction, rendering, audio etc.) are the same on all platforms so there will not be a difference when it comes to the general experience of the game. Some technicalities will of course be different due to larger memory and the graphics cards you can have on the PC. We are trying to push the envelope of FPS games in general and this will be obvious in all versions of the game. Looking back to what quality we achieved with Battlefield Bad Company 2 last year we do know how to make high quality games on all platforms.
Of course, that website is a 360-centric publication. DICE engineer Christina Coffin reminds us it's also coming to PS3 via her Twitter account - and that things are lookin' just fine on Sony's console as well.


While I am absolutely drooling over the next-gen-now footage they've shown so far, it's nice to know the lion's share of what makes up the experience - graphics aside - will be making the transition to consoles intact.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Portal 2 dropped today.


...and I for one have been playing the shit out of it. I actually managed to stop for long enough to write this post and the one below! Aren't you proud of me?

I'm proud of me.

American McGee's Alice - for free!

...when you purchase Alice: Madness Returns new! Speaking with CVG, American McGee himself said
"There's also going to be pretty significant release which is the original Alice brought over to the consoles so that a person who's purchased Madness Returns gets a download code and is able to bring Alice 1 onto their console and play through the entire original game alongside playing Madness Returns."
He also notes that Alice will get DLC in the form of dresses. Before you get horrible, guilty flashbacks of Bayonetta's alternate outfits, he assures us that these dresses come with special abilities that will alter the way you play through the game. Plus, I can't see him putting Alice in a bikini.

I am pleased as punch at this news. I once had Alice on PC, but like the rest of the PC games I once played it is lonnng gone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rage: Dead City mission trailer.

Sonic Generations trailer.

Shit. This looks fun.



Don't! Don't let it happen! Don't get hyped!

Remember the Sonic cycle.

Step 1:
Shitty Sonic game comes out, crushing fan hopes.

Step 2:
Fans complain about shitty Sonic game.

Step 3:
SEGA announces a new Sonic game that looks pretty cool.

Step 4:
Repeat steps 1 through 3.

Don't get hyped.

Uncharted 3 multiplayer trailer.



It doesn't really have the wow factor I was expecting - but the single-player game will, no doubt, blow my mind in the tradition of Drake's Fortune and Among Thieves.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Anonymous's Sony Store protest falls flat.

Hacker group Anonymous's next move after they failed to cause any real dent in Sony's online infrastructure was to boycott and protest the physical Sony Store retail locations.

It did not go well. Here are a series of quotes from Anonymous members, regarding their siege of this dastardly multinational:

"I went to the Sony Outlet in San Diego in the San Ysidro mall. No One was there. I didn't have the materials to make signs. I didn't have the ink to print fliers. I don't own a mask. And NO ONE was there. Do you know what I did? at first I waited, then I stood outside the store and talked to people. I stood there, alone, simply asking people to listen and telling them what was happening."
"Well I went to Costa Mesa and no one was there, went to LA ... no one there... so I stuck fliers places till I got kicked out haha mostly fail if ya ask me."
Even Anonymous agrees that this was basically a big non-starter. Nothing ended up happening at all - but they promise that the lack of anything happening isn't over yet.
"There will be another protest date. This movement does not end here."
And at least one member seemed to be a bit confused about what, precisely, a boycott is.
"Just went into a Sony Store for the first time in my life!. Bought a Bravia :)"
It is to laugh.

-source-

The first 20 minutes of Portal 2.

I am not watching this - as such, I'm not even sure it is what it claims to be. It could be a twenty-minute Rick roll. I encourage you to not watch it as well, if you intend to pick up Portal 2 any time soon - if you're on the fence about ownership (???) and want to take a peek at how it opens up, here's your chance.

MOVIE - Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance.

I'm probably going to make some enemies with this one.


Evangelion 2.22 was another of Amazon's reccomends, but I was reticent about checking it out. I've heard of Evangelion in the same way I've heard of Madden - I'm aware it exists, I'm aware it's very popular, and I've never exposed myself to it. It's like poutine. The series has been out and about in anime form for like, the past sixteen years, and it seemed that it would be silly of me to enter the series with its most recent story.

Best to start at the beginning, yeah?

But I didn't do that. I poked around the 'net and found a series of uniformly positive reviews. I watched a trailer which made it look reasonably cool. I decided to check it out.

I can't remember the last time I was more disappointed with an anime. Again, this is coming from the perspective of someone who's never seen the series. Perhaps if I'd watched Neon Genesis Evangelion and gone through it from there, I could sort of respect 2.22 - but man, I don't.

This show is a shopping list of The Things That Piss Me Off About Animes. In fact, let's keep this short - let's use some visual aides.


Oh - also - tsundere girls.

At the same time, it's clear that a great deal of care and attention went into this show. It's got phenomenal attention to detail and pretty great animation - but as someone unfamiliar with the series, 2.22 was a terrible place to start. Instead of making me want to investigate the rest of the series and find out what everyone's been talking about, it has essentially guaranteed I will look no further.

Series direct Hideaki Anno said,
"Many different desires are motivating us to create the new "Evangelion" film … The desire to fight the continuing trend of stagnation in anime."
Which is, basically, the complete opposite of what's been accomplished here.
"All stories and techniques inevitably bring with them a sense of déjà vu. The only avenue of expression left open to us is to produce a collage-like effect based on a sampling of existing works."
Yes, that makes sense. That's what you've done. You've taken all the dumbest parts of anime, combined it with lush production values and gorgeous animation - and everyone seems to love it.

The action sequences can be pretty gorgeous, I should note - and as a general rule, giant robots fighting is not a bad thing. Beyond the action, though, I feel like I'm the only one at a party who didn't drink the kool-aid.