After the madness of bum-rushing through nearly fifty hours of Dragon Age II, reviewing five of the 3DS launch games in the span of about two weeks and beating what must be the longest FPS single-player campaign ever in Crysis 2, I found myself without a big, new game to play. You see, I’m one of those “whales” that Abner talked about in his Sunday Time-Waster. I get games when they’re new, and I try to at least play everything at least reasonably interesting that comes out. I think it’s important as a games writer to check everything out in a timely fashion to get a handle on trend and to keep discussions current. But I can’t catch ‘em all, so to speak, so inevitably some things fall between the cracks. That’s why I like it when there’s a lull in the endless conveyor belt that is the video games release schedule, and there’s nothing particularly worthwhile on the books for a couple of weeks.
These times are when I get to catch up on games I missed, never finished, or just want to check out. I’ve actually got a small stack of these “inbetween days” games. It seems like R.U.S.E. is determined to remain at the top of it. I swear I’m going to play that game one day. Yet I still wind up hitting Gamestop, Half.com, or Gamefly to bring in new titles even though I’ve got this rainy day pile, and over the past couple of weeks I did it again. All while Oblivion, a half-finished replay of Arkham Asylum, and a bunch of XBLA and PSN games lie there asking “why not me?”
I thought I’d just capture some thoughts on the games I’ve been messing around with. I hesitate to say “play”, because some of them are literally just one-night stands. And in case this gets picked up by the All Seeing Eye of Metacritic, I’m going to assign these all-or-nothing scores. 0 or 100.
Tom Chick is on record as stating that this game is better than Mass Effect 2. I also suspect Tom was that one kid that got Go-Bots instead of Transformers for Christmas and then went back to school proclaiming the superiority of Leader-1 and Cy-Kill over Optimus Prime and Megatron. Sure, the game features some amazing concepts such as the real-time conversation decisions and the mission-based structure with actual espionage and intelligence-gathering gameplay, but the problem is ultimately that Obsidian had no idea how (or perhaps the resources) to leverage them into a decent game. Between the awful controls, graphics that feel like punishment to look at, and a virtual dumptruck full of “clunk” littering every single facet of the game, I couldn’t make it past a couple of hours.
On top of all of its widely reported issues, Michael Thornton is quite possibly the worst character I have ever seen in a game. I don’t know why they bothered with different “tones” for you to select when they all are really “asshole”. At least they could have been honest and gave you a choice between “Smarmy prick”, “Arrogant jackass”, and “Flippant jerkoff”. Facial modeling is uniformly nightmarish across the board, and I found myself pining for the doughy faces of the Gamebryo engine. It’s that bad.
Truth be told, I knew this game was going to be bad when I saw the metallic gold logos and fonts in the menus. For some reason, that just says cheap and tawdry to me. I really wanted to give this game a fair chance, but it actively dared me to like it with its poor quality and sloppy design. I threw in the towel.
All or Nothing score- 0
Another game that met with middling reviews and a general lack of interest, yet there was also some noteworthy praise and suggestions that this might be something of a cult sleeper. I was kind of feeling it at first even though it definitely had a huge, Bioshock-shaped chip on its shoulder. Come on guys, don’t copy everything about a successful game. Regardless, I liked the Cold War theme, I’m a sucker for Soviet kitsch, and I love story-driven FPS games. So it was looking good, even though “workmanlike” was the watchword and there wasn’t anything particularly exciting about it. The stink of mediocrity was faint, but definitely present.
The time travel thing and the business with the “ghosts” was compelling, but once I got to the phasing mutants, whatever they were, I realized that I wasn’t really enjoying the game. I was just “doing” it. I died a couple of times trying to get into this guy’s lab and my interest in the game just plummeted. The weapons were dull, the enemies completely uninteresting, and the setting was repetitive and ultimately boring. I played for several hours and I still didn’t get to the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), which might have made things more interesting with its promise to let you age enemies to death or turn them into embryos. I’d like to use the TMD to help the game get back to Gamefly quicker so that they can send me something else.
I’d love to attack this game more passionately, but it’s just so dull that I can’t muster up the willl.
All or Nothing Score- 0>
Now we’re talking. Here’s one that I thought for sure was going to be a single session game, but I wound up absolutely adoring it. It isn’t really an open world game, at least not in the Rockstar sense. It’s an open world game in the Sega sense, which puts it more in league with Shenmue than GTA. But what’s even more interesting to me is that it’s almost like a Warner Brothers gangster movie, with a soft-hearted and imminently likeable protagonist who tries to be good but just can’t help getting himself into trouble again. You can almost see Bogart playing Kazuma.
Yakuza 3 is strangely sweet and good natured even beyond its orphanage subplot, and most of the time when you beat down the street punks that accost you at random, they capitulate, apologize, and offer you a gift. How very Eastern. The fights are fun and frequent, and I love picking up a rusty old bike to teach some guy that didn’t like for me to walk by drunk a lesson. By the way, all of the booze in the game is real. I like to get tanked up on Macallan’s and Herradurra before hitting the streets.
I love that the game is very much a Streets of Rage-style beat ‘em up but with light RPG elements and what a forum poster here called “Yakuza soap opera episodes” in between action sequences. Sometimes they’re pretty long, but I’ve actually not minded watching them because the characters are good and the situations are interesting.
There’s a stupid amount of gameplay, most of it light and fun. I usually despise minigames, but I found the golf and other goofy activities kind of fun. There’s silly dating sim material, completely with Karaoke rhythm games. There’s light crafting elements so you can tool up your extendable pole or stun gun. Throw in a little baseball, fishing, and I’m sure there’s probably some kind of racing at some point. The key is that like Saints Row, none of this serious and the game recognizes its own ludicrousness. It’s not self-important and pretentious like most of Rockstar’s titles. It knows it’s a silly video game.
It’s a funny, fun-to-play game. It looks good, controls well, and who knows how much content there is by the time you get to the end. This is going on my “inbetween days” pile to play every now and then, probably on top of R.U.S.E.
All or Nothing score- 100>
You know, I love Nintendo. I think that their first party development is amazing and they do great work in making games that provide players with the ability to effectively choose how difficult they want them to be. I love the “star” mechanic, how it lets the player beat the game fairly easily but everybody knows that getting all the stars is where the challenge is.
That being said, I was sort of looking forward to this kind of game with PilotWings 3D. But every time I started to play it, I got really sleepy. Despite the good 3D effects, this has got to be one of the most sedate, terminally unexciting games I’ve ever played- and that includes the insomnia-curing Kirby’s Epic Yarn. I couldn’t find anything in the game to keep me interested beyond the first couple of courses, and it made me wonder if Nintendo’s explorations into vitality-sensing peripherals might be to provide the user with a warning that they may be about to enter a game-induced coma.
All or Nothing score- 0
SOCOM 4 Beta>
Downloaded it. Then, when I sat down to check it out, the game wanted to download another 1554mb or something. On my connection with PSN that’s an overnighter. Deleted. Never played. Sounds like I didn’t miss much.
All or Nothing score- 0>
Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD>
I ignored this back when I had a DS. Once I got around to trying it, it didn’t stick with me for some reason. I thought it was OK but unremarkable. I thought I’d pick it up on the cheap sometime and try it again. One I heard that the XBLA version was essentially the same game but with obvious HD upgrades, I thought I’d go the Half.com route but then I lost my resolve and plunked down $15 for it and the immediate gratification of content-on-demand.
I just beat the first campaign today, and now I get it. The game is brilliant. It’s easily tbe best puzzle RPG to date, and I think it’s superior to Puzzle Quest by far if only because it introduces some fresh puzzle mechanics rather than simply adding layers to Bejeweled.
As I play through the game, I’m constantly surprised at how incredibly well-designed its mechanics are. The need to balance offense with defense while playing not only with the three-move limit but also space provides a lot of deeply strategic opportunities. Watching for matches is much more complicated than in other puzzle games since there are two types, vertical and horizontal, that have different functions. Then there’s the linking, fusion, and champion units to consider as well as the five unit types to develop your army.
The story mode is fun, although it uses the old timey portrait-and-typed-words crap that I hate that dates back to NES days. It’s not an awful story at least, and it does give some context. The load times, as reported, are terrible and I’m not quite sure why they’re so bad. Maybe a patch can fix that.
I haven’t played multiplayer yet but it looks to be fun, although reports of 60-90 minute matches will probably mean that it’s a friends-only pursuit for me. The AI seems good, but I’m getting to the point where I’m trashing it every game. Human players might give this game some serious legs.
I keep thinking that somewhere in it there is a good design for a tabletop game. It feels board gamey, and I think tabletop gamers will get a lot out of it. If there’s a better XBLA game out there, I haven’t played it yet. Outstanding on every level.
All or Nothing score- 100>
So that’s it for this interim period. Tomorrow we’ve got Mortal Kombat and Portal 2, the Gears 3 beta next week, and a bunch of big titles like L.A. Noire and Brink on the immediate horizon so it’s back to the high profile, AAA stuff for the time being. Next time, I swear I’m going to play R.U.S.E. No, really, I mean it this time.