Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's!

The Best Gameplay post has turned in to a magnum opus - there's ten titles this year I feel a need to talk about, when it comes to gameplay, and I've got eight finished.  But the last two - the best gameplay of the year and the runner-up - require more attention than I'm prepared to pay, tonight.

It's New Year's Eve and I have festivities to attend, so I'm sorry to say it'll have to wait 'till tomorrow.  Again.  Bleugh.

In the mean time, here's a sexy picture of the Nintendo princesses lookin' all badass:

Here's a panda bear with chainsaws for arms:

Here's Naked Snake and Eva lookin' all cool:

Some sweet Alice: Madness Returns fan art.  The Internet is a limitless font of this stuff:

...who could?  Not me. Speaking of which, here's Frank and Rocky:

And finally, here's Mario tripping balls:

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Game Diary - Dark Souls?

After picking up a $20 copy on Boxing Day, I came home and lamented the fact that it wasn't the Prepare to Die edition with all the cool extra content.  So then I went on Amazon, found it for $30 and put in an order.

...which got me all hyped for returning to Dark Souls, and then I had to play it.  Having lost the character I built when the game first launched to a PS3 HD malfunction, I rolled a new character (a deprived - no starting gear) and dove back in.

I had assured myself that today - my one day off this week - would be dedicated to beginning and completing episode 5 of Telltale's The Walking Dead, and beginning work on the Best Game of 2012 post which I would throw up tomorrow.  New Year's Eve is an auspicious date for it, no?

And then, last night, after going out for supper, I came home and stretched out and loaded up Dark Souls.

I have to go to sleep early tonight for work in the morning, but I spent so much time with the game last night that I didn't wake up until 3:30pm - which basically means Dark Souls' deeply engaging gameplay and rich gothic world have robbed me of my one day off, or shortened it to a degree which ensures I can get nothing of substance done.

But still - Dark Souls!

It's so gorgeous in its own filthy, slightly-sub-par way.  The almost ludicrous assortment of weapons are all so capable and balanced and useful in their own way, and just rolling through the Undead Burg on route to the first bell... it's awesome, man.

I don't know what, precisely, From Software has in mind for Dark Souls II - or what effect the new engine they're touting will have - but if its predecessor is anything to go by, it's already a frontrunner for Game of the Year 2013.

'Course there's also The Last of Us to worry about, and I wonder if Sony's going to announce Sucker Punch's next thing...

Anyway - I'll have a GotY post up tomorrow.  I'll be the Best Gameplay post, I reckon, as I refuse to engage in Game of the Year discussion until I've put The Walking Dead to bed.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hey, a trailer for the new Die Hard!

Oh, c'mon - the last one was good!

Warm Bodies trailer & first four minutes.

I've been hearing and reading a lot about this Warm Bodies thing - a zombie romance movie - but today Kotaku posted the first four minutes of it:

Which prompted me to find a trailer:

Which make me Wiki it and discover it's based on a novel. I'm not sure if I'll track down the book, but I'm certainly going to see the movie.  'Cause at the very least - John Malkovich.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Disgaea D2's debut trailer.

And I've had a shitty day so I'm pretty much going straight to bed.  G'night.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012 - Box Art.

I'll be honest, this category only exists so I can exalt the winner - and if this category existed in 2011, it would only contain the words Resistance 3 - but 2012 had a few examples of box art that drew outside the lines, and commercialism be damned.  First up, a Vita game...

honorable mentions

A girl, standing comfortably horizontal on a wall, her hair and scarf point the way down as a bustling city of soaring towers and flying vehicles stretches out before her.

Gravity Rush's box features a lovely bit of key art that tells us, instantly, so much about the game, and beckons us forward as it establishes the fantastical setting and tantalizes us with the mystery surrounding our hero.  For a game where so much of the pleasure is found in exploring the Victorian/gothic/art-deco/M.C. Escher-like city of Hekseville, it's a perfect choice - 'cause let's be honest, you really want to dive into that picture and check things out.

Just imagine - this image could have been Lee pointing the business end of a shotgun at the viewer as the hands of the dead claw at him from all angles - and chances are the folks in marketing argued that it should be so - but you've got to hand it to Telltale.  They know what they're doing with The Walking Dead, and it's not an action epic.

It's a story of a man and the salvation he finds in the love of a little girl, set against the apocalypse.  It's a thoughtful, patient, emotional journey - and honestly, looking at Clem holding Lee's hand makes me wanna' well up a little.

...I just finished Episode 4 last night... God, what a cliffhanger.

Like the above titles, Far Cry 3's art is meant to introduce us to a world instead of simply selling us on the bombastic action we'll find within, and forces us to ask questions and look closer.  Who is that poor, terrified soul buried up to his nose and who is the bad mother fucker sitting in the sand who seems so murderously calm?

That alone makes it a very weird cover.  There's someone sitting. And then, as the viewer looks closer... why is that knife in the surf?  What fire burns on that distant mountain and oh my God there are people hanging from that tree!

Far Cry 3's box art does a fabulous job of setting it apart from... well, every other first-person shooter this side of Resistance 3.

best box art
of 2012

Here's what it looks like with all the logos.  Here's what it looks like without them :

Anything I could say about it would only diminish its awesome power.  From the moment it was revealed, there was never any doubt - Sleeping Dogs has the best box art of 2012.  It doesn't hurt that the game is pretty cool too.

Three Things.

First off, the demo for Dead Space 3 will be available on January 22nd for PS3 and 360.  If you have a 360, though, you can go here to sign up for early access, and play it on the 15th instead - a week before everyone else!

Not me, though.  If there's an attractive game I can play with a Dualshock, it's a game I will play with a Dualshock.

* * *

Second, there's a very interesting article over at Eurogamer detailing the struggles Microsoft has faced in Japan with the Xbox and 360.  It goes a long way to explaining the console's problems in the east, and shines a spotlight on the very different way business is conducted there.  (Hint - it requires a lot of booze.)

* * *

Finally, Game Informer's got an article up about the creation and success of one of the greatest gaming characters of 2012 - Clementine.  If you've been playing The Walking Dead, check it out. If you're not finished playing The Walking Dead, don't worry - it's spoiler-free. 

Red-hot hoodie action!

For Christmas, my older brother asked for a Dead Space hoodie.

I ignored it, at first, because I check the EA store every month or two to confirm that they are, in fact, still sold out of Dead Space hoodies.  To this day, if you look for one of the originals with I. Clarke on the front and the spinal health meter on the back (at left is the only pic of it I could track down), you won't find them.

There's this one with the Dead Space 2-esque health display on the back and a marker logo on the front, but it's not... quite the same.

But Christmas is Christmas, so I checked out the EA store and found this little beauty with the U.S.G. Ishimura crest on the back:

Stylin', no?  And a great deal more low-key than my fabulous Okamiwear. So I ordered one for my brother and one for myself and wouldn't you know it? They show up two days after Christmas.  Like Okami, this one's a tad big - but hoodies are supposed to be baggy, I suppose.

Them's the breaks - but on the bright side, a bitchin' Dead Space hoodie!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

REVIEW - XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is incomparable.  Or largely incomparable, at least, to anything aside from UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-Com: UFO Defense in North America).  If one were to try to suggest how it compares to other strategy games, there are few examples available - but that's likely because UFO: Enemy Unknown created its own standard when it appeared seventeen years ago.  

Since then, any game with remotely similar mechanics would be compared to it.  In 2008, when Internet forums were lit afire with joy at the discovery of tactical strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles, for example, all the old-school crowd wanted to know was how it compared to X-Com

Because for those who loved the original - and there are many of them out there - the idea of a current-gen experience that mirrored the mechanics of those bygone days is a delicious dish.  The idea of a game world where you take your time, examine your assets, weigh your options, and - with a grim, nervous, self-assured hand - move one of your precious pieces into harm's way...  

X-Com - the classic experience, the gold standard - has returned in a slick high-def package, and the result is... well, yes, incomparable.  This may be a once-in-a-console-generation experience, and it's executed at the triple-A level.  Or as close to it as any such game has ever come.  

It's not for everyone, certainly.  Let's get that out of the way.  If you need constant feedback, if you need constant action and exploration and constant play, XCOM is not for you.  If you lack patience, XCOM is not for you.  

A great deal of the game is played in the mind's eye, scrying the triumphant and terrible possibilities of the future.  A great deal of it is played by just sitting there, silently, staring at the screen and at all the alien baddies - frozen in time - who threaten to swarm your team, trying to sort out a solution that won't equate to suicide by Chrysalid. 

You are the nameless Commander, obeyed by all in XCOM headquarters and lorded over by the shadowy Council of Nations that funds the project - mankind's first, last and only defense against an apocalypse of alien invaders.  You decide which research projects get funded.  You decide which troops are fielded, and what gear is available for them.  

You decide to shoot or take cover.  When you succeed - when you make it through another month without a member nation withdrawing from the project, when all your troops come home from a hard mission - it's because you made the right calls. 

The game is a constant gauntlet of decisions - huge decisions and tiny decisions - but always meaningful, potent and important choices that have a major effect on your success or failure, often between two seemingly equal avenues.  Do you build an additional satellite up-link facility, which will allow you to provide greater coverage to a Council nation (and earn more resources and personnel each month), or do you use those precious resources to provide your chronically under-equipped troops with state-of-the-art plasma weaponry?  

With so much constantly hanging in the balance, so much at risk, XCOM could easily become overwhelming, or worse - frustrating.  On normal difficulty, however, the game walks this miraculous tightrope of fairness where the player feels comfortable with owning their failures of strategy, and glorying in their victories.  

Similar to last year's Dark Souls, XCOM is a game that is absolutely unforgiving of stupidity while generously rewarding considered, thoughtful strategy and success.  

It's split, rather evenly, into two components.  There's menu-driven base management and turn-based strategy versus aliens in the field.  Here's a base: 

A base - not your base or even my base - it's unlikely two will ever look precisely the same, because each player's priorities will be slightly different, and the terrain that must be excavated beneath your base is randomized for each game. 

You may have a half-dozen valuable steam vents!  Crucial zones for construction of the mighty Thermal Generator, which is able to power a ton of satellite up-link facilities - but be sure to build it in such a way that attaches it to your other power plants for a sweet bonus.  You may ignore your satellite coverage in favor of immediately strengthening your troops, but either way your base operations are a game of patience. 

When you decide to build your Thermal Generator, for example, it doesn't just - poof! - appear out of nowhere.  "Okay," your engineers say.  "That multi-million dollar power plant will be ready in three weeks."

A whirlwind of efficiency in the real world, to be sure, but what are you to do in the mean time..? Sit on your hands.  Go out on missions.  'Cause until you get enough power running through your base, you won't be building much at all - if only you'd planned ahead, and built that generator months ago... well, that's something to keep in mind for the next playthrough, isn't it?

We need satellites over Mexico, the UK and South Africa, stat!
India?  Fuck 'em - we already lost Japan, so there goes the Asia continental bonus.

Navigating the base is accomplished through a slick system of menus that fly open in the blink of an eye and efficiently tell you everything you need to know.  Zipping back and forth from your R&D department to Engineering is an easy-going, intuitive pleasure - and a serious bonus, given how much time you spend there, and how stressful the decisions you make will be. 

While the base management is a large part of XCOM, it doesn't overshadow the wonderful combat.  Instead, each side of the game acts as a palette cleanser for the next.  After twenty minutes or so fooling around in your base, getting all your ducks in a row, arranging for this research to be carried out and that project to be completed, as soon as you get bored and want to dive back into some action, you return to the situation room and let the globe spin. 

Hours and days tick away, and - ping - we've got contact.  There are alien attacks simultaneously occurring in Stockholm, New York and Montreal - who will you save?

The game's combat is polished to a mirror shine.  It sidesteps photo-realism in pursuit of a sort of sci-fi-fantasy style, with power armor and glowing laser rifles and hissing plasma grenades that recall the heyday of G.I. Joe playtime.  

Keeping in mind, every soldier you get is randomly generated.  A random name matching those from their randomly-chosen country of origin, randomly designed. You can name them, if you want, but one discovers they have personalities of their own.  One discovers Brett Smith is a goddamned coward, but Johan Schmidt keeps his cool under pressure, and gets the job done when it counts most - and you start knowing them by name, and by reputation.

It is here, I must admit, that I fell in love with XCOM.  It is here that heroes are made, and here that war stories take shape - like The Ballad of Wildchild Sakamoto, who went on to become my star quarterback for the entirety of a campaign, and single-handedly saved the Earth from total annihilation.

In RPG terms it's very easy to understand.  Each unit has several abilities you can activate, dictated by their class and the specific skills you've chosen (always at the expense of other, equally attractive options).  Each unit has a specific distance they can cover in a turn, or two actions.  They can move twice as far at the cost of both actions, or they can move half as far before shooting.  

Your soldier's accuracy in combat is dictated by their experience, their stats, their equipment, and their proximity to their target. 

You'd think a Heavy trooper would have a better than 61% chance to hit a target five feet away.
You'd be wrong.

Every soldier can take standard shots, can hunker down to get a better defensive bonus from cover, and can be set into "Overwatch" mode at the expense of an action point, which allows them to take a pot-shot at the next enemy who moves in their line of sight (with a slight penalty to aim).  But enemies out of cover are much easier to hit than enemies in cover, so it evens out. 

That's it, in a nutshell, but it doesn't begin to describe the experience XCOM offers, which is really unlike anything I've ever played.  When my troops step off their transport and stand, facing a strip mall or motel or sparse forest, I am invariably struck by a brief and paralyzing terror.  

The enemies in XCOM are not mere cannon fodder.  These things will fuck you - and your loved ones, if present - right up.  If you ever leave a unit out of cover?  Well, sorry man.  

They're dead. 

But right now, at this moment, before anyone takes a single step, things are fine. 

No one's in danger.  No one's probably getting killed on the next turn.  Everything's cool. 

As soon as you pick one soldier and tell them to move forward (usually your lowest-ranking rookie who's not much good for anything else), you'll be gripped by a clawing fear.  If he wanders in to the line of sight of some enemies, that could be it - he might not be comin' home.  

Best-case scenario, he'll step out into the fog of war and find nothing at all.  You move your team up behind him - all in cover, half on overwatch.  The aliens' turn comes and goes.  No movement.  No sightings.  

And you might find yourself paralyzed, for a moment, before selecting your rookie and sending him a bit further into the unknown. 

Enemy Unknown is one of those minute-to-learn, months-to-master affairs where your understanding of all its straightforward mechanics - and more importantly, how they interact with each other - begins with a simple Gun + Alien = Win equation and ends up looking like something Einstein scribbled on a chalkboard.  

Take, for example, the ability called Flush.  

Flush is an activated skill that can only be learned by a tactics-centric Assault trooper (those who follow the Way of the Shotgun) or a similarly-specced Support.  It is a single shot that does relatively little damage, but has a very high chance to hit and forces an enemy to move from whatever cover they're currently behind to seek protection elsewhere.  

I hated Flush.  Never used it.  I found it almost entirely useless, only relying on it as a shot my Assaults could land from a generous distance.  And then, one day, it becomes something utterly beautiful. 

Beauty is when a turn begins, deep within the bowels of an enemy hellhole with a sniper Captain.  Thoughtfully placed at one of the two cherished "breach" positions on either side of a door, you tap X and she releases the force field blocking your way, revealing sight lines into the next room.

A herd of Muton Elites sees the movement, and sprint into cover.  Captain "Claymore" Sakaki leans around the corner and squints through her scope.  Not good odds of hitting any of them.  But she's a crack shot when a target is dumb enough to move, not suffering the usual aim penalty - so I activate Overwatch.

Cooper - an Assault from Ireland - zips around the corner.  Not very far, just into cover on the other side of the door.  He raises his shotgun (terrible chance to hit) and activates Flush.

I select the Muton furthest from my team - the one that will be hardest to reach - and tap X.

Cooper lands the flush.  The Muton breaks from cover.  Wwwhamm!  Sakaki blows its head off with a critical reaction shot.

And that, my friends... is gorgeous.

The combat in XCOM is a fabulous, aggressive, tactical, thoughtful exercise in strategy.  This is a game that sees you firing a rocket across a supermarket to level twenty square yards of shelving and foodstuffs, clearing the line of sight for an assault to dash in a deliver a fatal blow to a lumbering Berzerker.  This is a game where every shot counts, and every choice walks along a razor's edge of risk and reward.  

It's terrifying in its own, wonderful way.  A strategy RPG that feels closer to survival horror than any survival horror game in recent memory.  

My only real complaint about the game is that, on the harder difficulties, it no longer feels... well, fair.  

When you have five soldiers on the field and all of them have a 60% chance to hit a target, and every single on of them miss, it doesn't feel much like a 60% chance to hit.  It feels like bullshit.  

Players of the classic X-Com games don't mind this - quite the contrary, they love it, as it more closely resembles what must have been the horrifying, arbitrary difficulty of the original - but I don't love the harder difficulties.  

I kinda' hate them.  The game is built on the player understanding its systems and making sound choices, but once you crank it up to hard mode it really feels like XCOM starts playing with loaded dice.

It cranks the challenge, the satisfaction and the tension in all scenarios, but - for me, at least - it does real damage to the title's fun factor when every single one of your troops takes a shot at a single enemy and misses, and then that single enemy fries the face off your best soldier.  But that's fine, because on Normal difficulty XCOM is one of the best games of the year - and certainly one of the most unique. 

There's something downright luxurious about a dedicated strategy game that approaches the triple-A standard, as XCOM handily does.  It won't blow your graphical socks off, but its presentation is detailed, comfortable and purposeful.

It is a game of profound depth and craft (Firaxis has a long history with strategy games, most recently with the acclaimed Civilization franchise), and represents some very, very considered design on the part of its creators.  

In XCOM, nothing feels extraneous.  Nothing feels like it was denied due consideration before being added to the whole, and no part was permitted to remain without extensive testing of its interactions with the game's other systems.  

It's beautiful and creative and challenging and tense and balanced.  It's not for the impatient, and not for the meek.  When you step out of line - when you leave your star quarterback out in the open, without cover - you will get your face melted off, simple as that. 

But once you learn its rules, one you understand the intricacies of its systems and how beautifully they dovetail in to each other... it's XCOM.  

It's the gold standard.  Long may it reign. 

Happy boxing day!

Twenty dollar copies of Dark Souls, Max Payne 3 and Silent Hill: Downpour.  DS and MP because those are games that deserve doubles - though, honestly, I'm kicking myself for not just getting the Prepare to Die edition of Dark Souls off Amazon.  It's just that I've never seen it in the wild, and keep forgetting it exists.  Silent Hill because I'm not prepared to pay more than twenty for one of the new SH games.

Out of Sight is like, the only good Jennifer Lopez movie in existence.  It's Jennifer Lopez back when she was the equivalent of Angelina Jolie in Playing God.  It was like "who's this actress?  I've never heard of her, but she's both reasonably attractive and reasonably talented."  And she had good chemistry with Clooney and it's based on an Elmore Leonard novel and yeah - good stuff.

The new Resident Evil because I've got the other four and these movies just keep getting worse but I refuse to abandon the only successful movie-based-on-a-video-game franchise.

HDMI cables because on Christmas eve I suddenly realized I'd bought Kayla a PS3 for Christmas and accomplished the dick move of not providing her with an HDMI cable for it - so I pulled the cable off my 360, wrapped it, and gave that to her.  So I needed a new HDMI cable.

Finally, I paid full price for the Mass Effect trilogy because on Christmas morning I found myself a little sad to not have it.

* * *

The Internet is always a weird place to talk about boxing day pickups.  You're all happy with yourself for getting four games for under a hundred bucks, and someone just has to put up a post about how they got a $4,000 flatscreen for $2K or a new car or somethin'.  

It always makes my splurging feel poverty-stricken in comparison. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Here, have some gifs!

The last one's not very Christmassy, but it's hard to dislike a gif of gaming mustaches.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hey, thanks Sony!

In addition to a few sales, PlayStation Plus players get Retro City Rampage for free - merry Christmas!  Sweet - been wanting to try that one.

Game Diary.

Most of yesterday went into housework.  I got my domicile all spic and span for Christmas festivities - and alphabetized my games library. It's much easier to find everything now (it used to be sorted by developer and /or genre) to the point that I want to give my movie library the same treatment.

After the work, I settled down in to more Okami HD and returned to Telltale's The Walking Dead, finishing up Episode 3 and cracking in to Episode 4.  Eventually I got to a point where player character Lee is sneaking up on a scavenger, and the scavenger pops up behind him and beats the shit out of him.

But the prompt to block that blow was right there so I exit to the title screen, go back into the game and try again.

I successfully block the attack!  The scavenger comes back with an uppercut and knocks me flat.

So I exit to the title screen, go back in and try again.

And again.

And I'm sure it can be done, and it is what I want to do, but with all the loading and trying I'm getting bored, so I return to my newly-alphabetized library and scan it... what do I want to play..?

Ahh, Resonance of Fate.  I frickin' love this game - it's hands-down my favorite JRPG of the current gen - but that's not precisely a strong statement, is it?  The PS3's not exactly the haven for foreign role playing games its predecessor was, but still...

So I boot it up and load my last saved game (it's a mid-dungeon save - the kind that gets deleted as soon as you load the game!  What swamp of evil did I leave my intrepid trio in?

Turns out, it was the Christmas mission.

Ha!  It's a one-time dungeon where you're tasked by a society elite to deliver Christmas presents at an annual party - so your crew dress up like a sexy Santa and adorable/creepy reindeer to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls.

But you're not reindeer and sexy Santas, so you deliver the presents in the only way you know how - with the ass-kickin' high-flyin' martial-arts gun-fu combat system you use for the rest of the game - only this time, once your aim gauge fills up you do an awesome super-stylish throw/kick/spike of gifts to deliver a merry Christmas.

Oh, RoF.  I need to do up a new Best Ten Games of the Current Gen, Period list just so I can include you in it.

The traditional Games of Chance Christmas comics!

And just for the heck of it, here's Peter Griffin and the gang knockin' The Rose out of the park.  It's not Christmassy, but it is spiritually uplifting!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The God of War: Ascension demo.

I had forgotten that the only way to access it was through buying that shitty Total Recall remake on bluray until I saw the movie yesterday in Best Buy with a big 'ol sticker on it, advertising the demo's presence.

I looked it up and down.  I narrowed my eyes.  And I kept looking for Blue's Christmas present.

After I'd secured all necessary sundries, I returned to it.  My mouth tightened into a grim line.

This was happening.

So I got to play the God of War: Ascension demo today!

First of all... y'know The God of War Combo?  Square, square, square, square, square, triangle?  Like the combo?  As in the first thing I do in every single God of War game once I gain control of Kratos?

The first time you try it in Ascension, you won't be able to do it.

Ain't that a kick in the head?  Observe this screenshot:

You'll notice a gauge in the lower-right corner, separated into two segments.  This is Kratos's ragey-firey pissed-off-Greek gauge, and you can only perform The Combo after you've filled up the first half of the gauge.

As you fill the gauge, Kratos's blades become imbued with fire (presumably he does more damage?), and once you max it out you have the option to hit R1 and L1 together.  Kratos throws both his blades into an enemy and the gauge empties completely, filling them with his firey wrath.

Now... I get it.  I get the why of this.  In Ascension, Kratos isn't the bad mother fucker he was in God of War III or even God of War - he's just a man - and perhaps these tweaks to his repertoire and play style are meant to inform us of that, but... that's not where the differences end.

There's a lot of little differences in how it handles, and the demo is just too short to get a real understand of whether or not this is a good thing.  Initially, though, I'm prepared to say that Ascension's Kratos feels a bit more of a mad berzerker than he used to - once you get your meter half-filled, he can just go nuts on guys.

One thing that is, at least, pretty sweet is how it handles executions.  You still get a pop-up over an enemy's head telling you they're good to go, but Kratos can now begin the execution from fifteen feet away - each one starts with tapping R1 to throw one of your blades into them.

If you tap R1 while no enemy is around to be executed, Kratos will still throw his blade - it sticks into your chosen enemy, and you can then drag them around by the chain while whapping them with your free blade via the square button.  Press triangle and Kratos throws the enemy in an arc over his head before slamming it into the ground with his firery-angry-wrathy power, wiping out a few other peons in the process.


I've got to say, though, this was not a very good demo.

I should point out that for any other game or franchise it would be stellar, but for God of War, it must be compared to what came before.  It must be compared to the God of War III demo, and while Ascension's does a fine job of cluing one in to the differences in its combat system, it's not as accomplished at suggesting Ascension is in any way better than III - or even as good.

The demo hasn't hyped me in any capacity for Ascension's launch.  If anything, it strikes a worrying chord that Ascension, like Uncharted 3, will be a capable and gorgeous game that languishes in the shadow of its predecessor.  An accomplished title that is nonetheless lesser, slaved over by the B team of one of Sony's best development houses while the A team goes off to work on Santa Monica's next pet project.

Let's hope whatever Santa Monica's A Team is working on impresses us in the same way The Last of Us has.  Let's hope I'm not wrong about the whole A-Team-B-Team thing, 'cause if this is Santa Monica's A Team, they've put way too much time into the multiplayer.

The multiplayer that no one gives a shit about.

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII extended cut debut trailer.

Is it just me, or did Final Fantasy XIII's graphics get shittier?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Of wolves and teenagers.

I've been returning to my library to re-sample the best of 2012 over the past few days.

In keeping with my personal standards, this is contrary to any reasonable guidelines of common sense and productivity - I really should be playing The Walking Dead in order to get that finished before final verdicts are rendered.

I should also just go ahead and write the XCOM: Enemy Unknown review, as I'm quite sure I won't have the time to complete a campaign on hard mode.  But no, I've just been backstroking through 2012's notable titles.

When I played Mass Effect 3 earlier in the year, I was struck by a game was, essentially, equal parts exploration, story development and action game.  It posited a future where genre lines - RPG, first person shooter, third person action - were blurred into nothingness.

Upon returning to it, I find it doesn't compare well to the other games I have in mind for the best of the year - games that do one thing really, really well, instead of trying to do a few things and only executing at a mid-to-high range level.  After ME3, I returned to Max Payne 3.

Max Payne 3 is still totally awesome, and I found myself reflecting on how the game is - deliciously - designed with an infrastructure that encourages repeat play.  It has this delightful chapter select option, which simultaneously allows you to decide if you want infinite bullet time or infinite health, et cetera.

It seductively beckons a return to your favorite sequences - the shootout in the office! Eee! - but man, those load times still suck.

Then I asked myself what I wanted to play next.  I'm still thrilled with Persona 4 Golden on the Vita, and I got Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD the other day, which is proving rather interesting... and I considered returning to Darksiders II for a second sampling, but what I found I wanted to play was...

...Okami HD.  And upon playing it, I find I'm comparing it to... Far Cry 3... which I am, to be honest, leaning towards for Game of the Year.

But soft!  But wait!  That's not cool, man.  It's not cool to give a re-release GotY consideration!  Is it?

What, then, about Persona 4 Golden? Should it be excluded from consideration as the best Vita game of 2012 simply because it's an up-port of a PS2 game from 2008? I don't think so - and a lot of people seem to agree and are pointing to it for the Vita GotY, perhaps because Golden is such a significant improvement over its initial incarnation.  Everything in that game is sharper and more refined than its original version (except Chie's voice actress) - it really is the closest-to-perfect, most uniformly delightful Vita game of 2012.

And if it is - and we consider it as such - if the PlayStation Blog wants to give it the Vita GotY Gold Trophy..?  Doesn't that suggest Okami HD should equally be considered alongside the best of the PS3's 2012 lineup?

And if so...

...2012 has had a rather large crop of great games, but very few that actually border on perfect.  As much love as I have for Dishonored, Lollipop Chainsaw, XCOM, Max Payne 3 and Mass Effect 3, all of them have flaws of structure or design or presentation or technology that kind of separate them from... well, three games that are very close to perfect.

And Okami HD is one of those three.

I don't know what to do, but if Okami HD does deserve to be in the running, it makes a very, very compelling case for itself.  As I suggested with Far Cry 3, this is a game that fashions a rupture in the fabric of time itself, causing minutes and hours to melt away as the player dashes through the enchanted, enchanting Nippon of ancient myth, slaying demons with wolf-fu and inky brushstrokes that explode them into delightful floral arrangements while making fantastical friends and exploring and solving ancient riddles.

And stopping in a misty wood to feed a family of hungry monkeys.  'Cause y'know, Okami.

It's easy-going and comfortable to play, it's deeply endearing, and its art direction and sountrack (omg the soundtrack) put it on par with or exceeding nearly every full release game in 2012.

I don't know what to do.