Video Games

Heavy Rain: Spoilertastic Thoughts

I was only a few hours into the game when I wrote my first post on Heavy Rain, so I thought it might be nice to revisit the game. In short, I loved the game. It’s not without its faults, but my first playthrough was about as good as I could have hoped for. If you haven’t played the game and it sounds like it might be your thing, definitely go play the game. Don’t read anything about it, don’t consult gamefaqs, and definitely don’t attempt to replay the chapters. I think that’s the best way to play the game, and I think some of its finest qualities can be impacted by treating it like every other game. The rest of this post will contain spoilers, though I’ll put most of the egregious spoilers into the extended entry.

I don’t want to fully retread everything I said in my initial thoughts, but I think that post holds up and my feelings haven’t changed much. I was initially suspicious of the choose your own adventure aspects of the story, but for the most part, I was wrapped up enough in the story to not really notice the limitations. I wasn’t sure if the controller scheme would hold up throughout the entire game, and it does grate at times. It was done well enough that it didn’t entirely detract from the game, and there are definitely times when the controls were very well executed. The control scheme is probably the most obvious flaw in the game, and the one that would probably turn off the most people, but in the end, it worked well enough for me. The “thought” mechanic was basically pointless, but it’s also completely optional. Visually spectacular, but not to Avatar levels. Voice acting is terrible and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, but it wasn’t bad enough to completely pull me out of the experience.

A big deal was made about the game’s mature themes. By “mature”, I don’t mean violence or sex, though both are present in the game. There’s real emotion at the core of the story, and it plays out well. It doesn’t really approach the great serial killer movies like Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs though. It’s more like the middle-tier thrillers that were popular in the 90s, like Kiss the Girls or The Bone Collector. Or perhaps a really good X-Files episode. This isn’t really meant as a slight. It’s not a great story, but neither is it a really bad story.

I suppose I should disclose that my first playthrough did not come to a happy ending. Some of my characters did die. And you know what? I thought that was great. I’ve since replayed the game and tried to get a bunch of the other endings, and I honestly think that the first ending I got was the best I’ve seen so far (more about this later). Alas, in replaying the game, some of it’s limitations become even more clear. I’ll leave it at that for now. The extended entry will contain more detailed descriptions of my favorite moments in the game as well as some more detailed discussion about the game’s limitations and where I hope gaming is going…

God of War III

The first God of War was one of my favorite games for the PS2. I had some problems with it (namely, the Hades level towards the end of the game) and upon replaying the updated version, I noticed that some of the previous generation video game conventions were annoying (namely, the save points), but it’s still a great game. I was less enamored with God of War II, but it retained the feel of the original and was still an excellent game. When I bought my PS3 last year, one of the major reasons was that God of War III was coming (and it’s a platform exclusive for Sony as well). Having finished the game this week, I’m happy to report that it was well worth the wait. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s an extremely well executed game.


The critical response to the game has been mostly glowing, though there is an undercurrent of complaints about the repetitiveness of the franchise. Reactions seem to be split into a “OMG, this is the best game evar!” camp and a “It’s great, but it’s the same damn game, why am I playing this?” camp. Mitch Krpata falls into the latter camp, and makes an interesting case:

I don’t know. This game does almost everything right. It’s better in some clearly definable ways than its predecessors, and somehow worse in the gestalt. Playing God of War III, I was aware that I was playing a game that had been produced at a high level, but I just didn’t care what was happening.

I actually think this is a valid point, even if it’s not something that really bothered me. There were some things that didn’t entirely work in God of War III, but it’s still a great game and I think it’s definitely a big step up from the second game. Indeed, much of what I don’t like about this new game could be pinned on the preceding entry in the series (namely, the story).

I don’t think any of the games have a truly great story or anything, but the first game has a solid character arc for Kratos. Of course, the story isn’t completed there and there is little in the way of closure, but it works really well as a fresh take on the Greek mythological tragedy. Kratos fits right in with the rest of the Greek pantheon. He’s a tragic figure, and there are times when you don’t especially like him, but by the end of the game, I think enough empathy has been built up that you do care about him. As I mentioned in my review of the God of War Collection, Kratos is less likeable in the second game, and his motivations and actions are also rather odd. He starts the game as a war-mongering douchebag, for which Zeus lays the smackdown. So Kratos ends up in Hades (again) and makes a deal with the Titans to get revenge on Zeus. He eventually fights his way back to Zeus and something tragic (and rather silly) happens, leading to a literal cliffhanger of an ending. Even beyond those flaws with the story, there’s no real character arc in part II either. Ultimately, this story just isn’t very convincing, and given that the second game ends on a cliffhanger, God of War III starts off with a bit of a handicap.

Now, I’m not saying that they story they came up with was especially good and I think that Yahtzee’s dramatization of the writer’s conundrum is pretty spot on:

At this point, the story writer said “Shit, whose idea was it to put a thrilling climax at the start of the game? Now I have to contrive some unconvincing way to drag this out for another six or seven hours.”

And indeed, they came up with basically the same idea as last time: send Kratos back to Hades (for a third time!), strip him of his powers, and make him fight his way back to the beginning of the game. This has, more or less, been the structure of all three games. Start off with a rousing action sequence, show the primary objective of the game, then make you jump through 10 hours of hoops to actually get to the objective. It would have been nice to perhaps break from tradition here, but again, the end of God of War II handcuffed the writers. Eventually, the story does progress to a point where Kratos actually regains his character arc and proceeds to actually redeem some of his past misdeeds. There’s an element of hope injected into the story, and so I think what ended up happening was that the new team, having inherited a crappy cliffhanger ending, did their best to get out of that and provide their own take on the story. As such, I think the beginning of the game suffers a bit from inherited writing of dubious quality, but it eventually shrugs that off and the overall theme of the story works well enough (even if there are massive, titan-sized plot holes strewn throughout).

I can see how it wouldn’t work for some folks though, and that’s the sort of thing that can sap the fun of the game a bit, especially if you’re getting tired of the game mechanics. Fortunately for me, I love the game mechanics, and while not much has changed since the first game, I think that actually works well here. The core combat mechanics are as fluid and satisfying as always; there’s no need to muck that up, and I’m glad they haven’t. The puzzles, too, are as inventive as ever, and I have to admit that this game flows much better than the second installment. There are still some platforming sections as well, but none of the amazingly frustrating stuff from the first game (i.e. it’s actually fun in this game). Finally, the tone and pace of this game is impeccable. I remember complaining that the flow of the second game was worse than the original, but I shrugged that off as a typical sequel problem. Well, part three solved that problem – in terms of pacing, it’s at least as good as the original, if not better.

There are some minor changes in the combat system though, not all of which are for the better. There are four weapons in the game, and as with the original and second games, the new weapons aren’t very special or engaging (with one exception, which we’ll get to in a minute). The blades of chaos (or whatever they’re called now) are as great as ever and little has changed. Two of the new weapons are essentially the same thing as the original blades – pointy objects connected to chains. As such, they don’t really add much to the proceedings. The third new weapon, and the only one I really connected with, is called the Nemean Cestus (a pair of fist gauntlets shaped like lion heads), and I actually had a lot of fun with this one. While perhaps not as versatile as the traditional blades, they do pack a whallop and can be a lot of fun (especially once powered up).

Kratos rockin the Nemean Cestus

Kratos, rockin the Nemean Cestus

We also get some new magic spells this time around, though each spell is now tied to the weapon you’re using instead of being a separate function. So if you have the blades equipped, you can call on the Army of Sparta magic. But if you have the Nemean Cestus equipped, you have to use the Nemean Roar magic. This isn’t that big of a deal, but I think the best magic is also associated with the default weapon, making it harder to branch out into other weapons (I have to admit, I barely used the Nemesis Whip and it does have a promising electricity area-effect magic attack associated with it). In addition to magic, you do also acquire some additional magic items. There’s a bow that can shoot flaming arrows, there’s the head of Helios which acts as a sorta gruesome flashlight (Helios was the Greek god of the sun, and you’re literally holding his decapitated head throughout most of the game), and there’s the boots of Hermes, which allow you to run up walls, etc… Some of these are important, some not so much (the Hermes boots are rather lame).

All in all, I’m actually pretty impressed with how many attacks and capabilities they were able to fit onto the controller scheme without making it all that confusing or hard to use. There were some times when I got tripped up, but for the most part, it was very easy to pick up (part of this may have something to do with my familiarity with the original games – not sure how well someone new to the series would do). And speaking of usability, things are pretty damn good this time around. When I revisited the first two games, I noted that I’ve become spoiled by current generation console games and computer games that have automatic save systems and checkpoints. The first two games had save points, and while that was fine for the previous generation, that’s not acceptable now. I’m happy to say that God of War III has implemented a very forgiving auto-save system. Strangely, they have implemented save points as well. Theoretically, these are unnecessary, but I ended up creating a lot of save files anyway (not sure why they couldn’t just let you save anywhere, but whatever). It would have been nice to have a sorta chapter system, so I could easily replay various sequences in the game, but according to an interview at 1up, this idea came up too late in the development process and was causing the team to deal with a lot of unintended consequences when they tried implementing it…

And so we come to the dreaded Quick Time Events discussion. The God of War games are certainly no stranger to QTEs, and indeed, the original game was my first real introduction to the modern QTE. I thought that game did a great job of it, but there are certainly a lot of games that do a poor job implementing them. The first Uncharted, for instance, has a few terrible QTE prompts that essentially equate to “Press this button to not die!” God of War games have always been much better at integrating them into the game, though God of War II actually reverted towards the end of the game and implemented a few really bad ones. But they got back on the right track with God of War III, and there are some really memorable boss fights in this game that essentially feature a series of QTE prompts, interspersed with some short combat sequences here and there.

Which brings up the visuals of the game, which are truly impressive, perhaps the most impressive that I’ve seen so far on the PS3. And the added power of the PS3 allows the QTE sequences to really soar, especially the Cronos bossfight about midway through the game. The sheer scale and scope of that battle is difficult to describe, even though it essentially boils down to the aforementioned QTEs interspersed with some combat. Visually, it’s quite arresting. I don’t think any of the boss battles are as great as the Hydra or Giant Armored Minotaur from the first game, which remain the best in the series (perhaps because of the seemingly rare combination of boss fight and environmental puzzle that the two aforementioned boss-fights rely on), but God of War III far outclasses the second game when it comes to boss fights. I think the improved capabilities of the PS3 hardware really allowed the game to soar, and the second game’s bosses seem flat by comparison. Of course, the visual splendor isn’t limited to the boss fights. There are many sweeping vistas throughout the game and numerous cut-scenes as well. You can’t skip the cut-scenes, but you also don’t have to watch them again (unless you are replaying the game from the beginning) because the game remembers that you already saw it and auto-saves after the cut-scene. From what I’ve read, it seems that these cut-scenes are where the game does a lot of the pre-caching that allows you to continually play the game without having to wait for loading screens (this is something I’ve always loved about this series – previous games have gotten around it by making you run through long, winding corridors, which might be a slightly better solution due to the perceived control the player retains). There are more cut-scenes here than in previous games, but I think they work well and don’t interrupt the pacing of the game. The added horsepower of the PS3 does lead the developers to perhaps indulge a bit too much at times, sometimes pulling the camera back too far for too long. At first, this is an impressive feat, because you can still see and control Kratos, even when zoomed out, but eventually I found this effect grating. Fortunately, it doesn’t come up that often.

The character and environment designs are great, as usual. One of my complaints about the original game was that the fixed camera was annoying. For the most part, you still don’t have any control over the camera, but it’s something I’ve grown used to and even embrace at this point. And the level designers seem to take advantage of the various blind spots, etc… in a way that makes me enjoy it more. I suppose you could make the argument that this is actually lazy level design, if you were so inclined, but when you look at how well the game plays, I don’t think that argument would wash. Take, for instance, the labyrinth, which manages to evoke the sort of paranoid fear of Cube (for me, at least) with genuinely fun and entertaining puzzle set-pieces and action sequences. Other examples include varied gameplay sequences (i.e. a music minigame, the sequences where you’re flying through a collapsing tunnel at high speeds, etc…) and the usual roster of challenging enemies and mini-bosses. There are still times when I really do wish that I could control the camera more and it’s taken me a while to get used to it, so I can certainly understand the sentiment, but I feel like the game designers are able to make up for it with their level designs at this point.

You could still complain about some of the longstanding issues of the series, such as the fact that there are plenty of times when you seem to run up on a non-existent wall (Krpata mentions the Gardens of Olympus puzzle sequence, which features a bunch of walls you should easily be able to jump over, yet the game doesn’t allow you. There’s more to his complaint about the sequence, and it’s valid, but I still enjoyed the sequence a lot). This certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s not like there are other games that have solved this problem yet. The music, sound effects and voice acting are also excellent. If you have any complaints about the game, I doubt it is with the quality of the production.

In the end, what we’re left with is a game which is superior to God of War II in every way. The visuals, the audio, the pacing and flow of the game, the usability, the bosses, the level design and even the story are much improved in God of War III. When it comes to the original game, the comparison is a bit more mixed. God of War III has none of the low points of the first game. For instance, there’s nothing approaching the frustration of the Hades levels from the original game. But I have to admit that the story of the original game tops the story of part three. This might not be that big of a deal… if God of War III wasn’t so laden with cut-scenes. If you liked the first two games, this one is certainly worth checking out. I’m not sure how new players would react. Perhaps some of the things that seemed easy for me to pick up would be hard for someone who is coming to the game cold. Having played all three games in the past few months has been a fun experience though, and I’m happy with all the games. It’s a great series, and well worth a play if you’re a hack-n-slash action/adventure video game fan.

Various and Sundry

I must get back to being an inadvertently incompetent FBI agent in Heavy Rain (in fairness, my private eye is doing a stellar job), so just a few short notes:

  • First, an announcement! Yes, the Oscars are this Sunday, and in accordance with tradition, I will be liveblogging the event (as I have for the last several years). Feel free to stop by and stick around. I might even get me one of them event chat thingies.
  • The 2009 Muriel Awards: Speaking of movie awards, it’s nice to see that some other folks are as tardy as I am with my awards. In any case, it’s a good list, and lots of worthy winners.
  • I’m probably the only person who cares about this, but I found this announcement that 2K sports won’t be putting out a NHL game for the PS3 or 360 (instead focusing on a Wii version) mildly interesting, and probably a victory for PS3 and 360 owners. My own experience with the 2K Hockey game was rather poor, and I found it very strange indeed when the unforgivable bug that was in my 2005 game was still in evidence at least 3 years later. In any case, this move probably makes sense for 2K, as they only sold somewhere on the order of 150 thousand copies of the game last year (on the PS3 and 360) while selling 250 thousand on the Wii. I suppose it also helps that EA isn’t putting out their NHL game on the Wii (yet), as EA’s games are clearly superior to the 2K versions. That being said, hockey games (and probably sports titles in general, including Madden) have gotten a bit too complicated for their own good these days. Aside from the tacked-on inclusion of the NHL 94 controller scheme in EA’s games, these aren’t really games you can just pick up and play. Whatever you may think of the Wii, it does represent an opportunity to rethink the way you approach a game. Often, making a game simpler can increase the fun-factor. But then, I’m not exactly confident in 2K games making that sorta leap. Still, it could prove interesting if EA followed 2K to the Wii. In other news, both 2K and EA missed out on another opportunity at an Olympic Hockey themed game, which I think could be a great change of pace for the Hockey gaming crowd.
  • Frederik Pohl has been writing a sorta retrospective of his friend Isaac Asimov (part 2, part 3, part 4, and ostensibly more coming). I’ve read a ton of Asimov and credit him with being one of the first SF authors to really get me into reading, but I’ve never read any of Pohl’s books. Yet another addition to the book queue, I guess. In other news, I’ve actually been making some progress against the queue of late (3 books in 3 weeks, which is pretty good for me, though probably not a sustainable pace), so perhaps I’ll get to a Pohl book sometime in the next decade.
  • Holy cow is this post boring… To spice things up, I present this item from the “I’m not scared enough of the Japanese” file (not really NSFW, but worth noting I guess). MGK, as usual, perfectly captures the situation with his captions (note the one underneath the image too).
  • Haven’t seen many 2009 movies, why not spoil them all?

Alright, I better end here, or this is going to get really boring.

Heavy Rain: Initial Thoughts

One of the games I’ve been looking forward to for a while now has been Heavy Rain. I just got the game recently and have only played through a few hours, but I fount it interesting enough that I wanted to share a few thoughts about it (which is more than I can say for most games). For those who’ve not heard of the game, it’s probably best described as an interactive movie. In terms of subject matter, well, I haven’t progressed very far, but some interesting stuff is happening.

You play a few different characters throughout the game. There a troubled father, a private detective, an FBI agent, and a journalist. They’re all part of a noir-like serial-killer mystery. Things have not progressed very far for my story yet, but one of the big draws of this game is that supposedly the storyline changes depending on the choices you make.

Father of the Year

Indeed, there are times when it feels like I’m playing a choose your own adventure style story, albeit one with more interaction than you typically get with those books. This is an interesting dynamic, and one that I’m a little suspicious of. There are certainly times when I feel like I’m on rails and I question whether or not my actions will really matter within the game. However, this is based mostly on previous experience with such “branching” games that give you lots of choices that all lead to the same place (or, sometimes, two places). From what I’ve heard, choices do matter in this game, and I’ve decided that for my first playthrough, I’m just going to stick with whatever decisions I’ve made (so I can’t really act on my suspicions by replaying a level… yet).

As far as I can tell, I’ve made several mistakes. As of yet, I have no idea how those mistakes will impact the outcome of the game (or if they will at all), but I will have some incentive to replay the game after I’m done. In any case, one of the interesting things about this game is that it actually lets you make mistakes in the first place. In 99% of video games, making a mistake means you die and have to restart the level or something. In Heavy Rain, you (presumably) have to live with your choices. Again, I’m a bit suspicious of this. There are times when I can definitely detect the presence of rails. I don’t want to ruin the opening of the game, but is it possible to avoid the event in question? At a later point in the game, I missed a key quick time event… and yet, I survived. I found that suspicious. Supposedly, if you make enough mistakes, you can cause your characters to die (and yet the game will go on)… but how many mistakes? And how often can you die? Clearly not every dangerous situation can lead to death?

Speaking of quick time events, this game is heavily reliant on them. However, unlike, say, Uncharted, this game actually makes good use of them. As previously mentioned, you’re allowed to fail. At some point, I presume failure means death, but not in the dumb way that some games do it. Apparently, in this game, death means your character is not coming back. In any case, the QTEs are well done and surprisingly varied here. There have only been a few times that I’ve gotten tripped up with my controller (one interesting tidbit – the game’s difficulty meter is based entirely on how well you know the PS controller). It makes use of most of the buttons, but in a realistic sorta way. There might be some Do it Again, Stupid elements in the game, but they’re not as frustrating or widespread as they are in a lot of other games.

The control scheme is a bit weird though. It’s a mostly third-person game, but instead of the dual-analog controls most games use, this game uses the R2 button to move forward and the left analog stick to choose direction. The right analog stick is mostly used for interacting with the environment (whereas most games use the right analog to allow you to move the camera around). They do provide some limited camera control in the form of pressing L1, which will change to an alternate view, but this still ends up being somewhat awkward, and I still find myself often trying to use the right analog stick to move the camera. These sorts of issues are not entirely uncommon in third person games, but the R2/Left Analog system does take some getting used to and is definitely the most awkward thing about the game.

On the other hand, the interaction scheme isn’t really all that complicated. Some of the interactions can be a bit confusing at first, but for the most part, you just hit the buttons or move the sticks in the way they appear onscreen. It’s pretty easy to pick up and go. There are a lot of games where you have to memorize the gameplay mechanics and mentally map the mechanic to the buttons. In some games, this can get quite complicated and not playing the game for a while can really confuse you when you pick it up again. Aside from getting used to the way you walk around, I imagine Heavy Rain will not suffer from this at all.

One other element about the game that I find a bit odd is the Thought mechanic. Most of the time, you can press L2 and see a list of things your character is thinking about. Unfortunately, I’m not really sure how much value this adds to the game. However, it also appears to be completely optional, and I think it could perhaps provide some hints to players who aren’t sure what to do (I’ve used it, but more in a probing What does this do? sorta way…)

Visually, the game is quite impressive, though I do think that in the wake of Avatar, video games have their work cut out for them. The camera is very cinematic, even during non-cut-scenes (and besides which, this game sorta blurs the line between cut-scene and gameplay), but the characters aren’t always perfectly realized. There are times when Heavy Rain shines in this respect, but it doesn’t quite make it all the way across the uncanny valley on a consistent basis (the way that Avatar did). Some characters are better than others and the between-chapter closeups (see image above) of characters faces, for instance, are nearly perfect. The in-gameplay visuals aren’t always quite as successful, but are still impressive by general video game standards (see image below). For all intents and purposes, though, the game looks great (and besides, even though both stories are somewhat derivative, Heavy Rain has a better plot than Avatar so far). The voice acting is actually pretty good, despite the fact that most of the actors have a bit of a French accent. I mean, most voice acting in video games is pretty bad, so it’s hard to fault Heavy Rain on this, except that Heavy Rain does rely on voice acting more than most games. The music is well crafted, low-key and atmospheric, which is perfect for the game.

Couch potatoes

One other interesting meta-note is that 99% of the trophies for this game are “hidden” (at least, in the game itself – when you view trophies, all you see is a long list of ??? trophies). This probably makes sense when you think about it, as some of the trophies might give away plot elements. It also probably ruins the immersion the game is going for to list out the trophies and have people looking to earn them instead of playing and enjoying the game for what it is… Still, I found this interesting.

This clearly isn’t a game for everyone, but it appears to be right up my alley. I love open-ended video games, and if this one delivers on its promise, I think I’ll be very happy with this game. The first hour or so is a bit slow, but things seem to be moving along at a better clip now, and while the story hasn’t developed much yet and the controls might be a bit weird at times, I find myself fully engaged with the game. Unlike most games, I’m actually a bit intrigued with the storyline and there have even been a few emotional moments within the game that were reasonably effective. I can’t imagine that this will sell well, and I’m positive many people will be frustrated or bored by the opening sequence of the game (the first thing you have to do is brush your teeth and take a shower – hardly exciting stuff) and turn it off in disgust. This isn’t an arcade game. It’s more like an updated, easier to use text-based adventure game. The extensive cut-scenes, controls and QTEs will probably get on people’s nerves as well. But I find myself drawn to this game more than most, and I have a feeling that I’m going to want to replay it several times.

Update: Well, up until now the game has been fine, but it appears that the reports of bugginess are somewhat accurate. Just had my first freeze. Tried to exit out and reload, and now it froze during the loading screen.

Also of note, the FBI agent’s voice acting is so bad it’s kinda funny. I’m not exactly sure what they’re going for, but it sounds like a Frenchman attempting to imitate either a Boston or New York accent. The output is a bizarre mixture of all three accents. Heh.

Revisiting God of War

One of my favorite games for the PS2 was God of War. I certainly had a few issues with it, but overall it was a great game and far beyond its hack-n-slash adventure game competition. Indeed, it’s become my gold standard for these type of games, and most games I’ve played since don’t even come close. Sony recently re-released the first two God of War games (with updated graphics) for the PS3. Since I’d never played the sequel, and since the God of War: Collection was reasonably priced, I figured it was worth a shot (and would help prepare for the upcoming and long awaited God of War III). Some thoughts on the games:

  • The games look great. They’ve been upgraded to HD, though you can kinda tell that it’s a previous generation game that’s been upgraded. So while it’s not a showoff game, it’s a significant improvement over the PS2 version of the game. Of course, the character and level design were great to start with, and so this treatment only makes things better. As near as I can tell, everything else is pretty much the same as the PS2 version.
  • Unfortunately, there are some things that worked in the PS2 version, but which annoy me now. Most notably, the save points. Now, don’t get me wrong, the save points are reasonably well spaced and there are even checkpoints between savepoints that make things less frustrating. However, I’ve noticed lately that I’ve become spoiled by current generation console games and computer games that have automatic save systems and checkpoints. I have to give the GoW Collection a pass on this because it is based on a last generation game, but if GoW III has the same save system, I’m going to be royally pissed. David Wong perfectly encapsulates why this type of thing sucks:

    This is a throwback to the arcade/NES days when physical limitations in the system wouldn’t allow you to save your progress just anywhere. There is no reason for this now. None. We’re busy. We’ve got work, appointments, phone calls. We shouldn’t tolerate an inability to save our progress in any piece of software.

    Half Life 2 did this perfectly–it auto-saved every few minutes, behind the scenes. You didn’t have to worry about it and you didn’t have to re-fight enemies you had already defeated.

    There are people who say that preventing saves adds to the “tension” of the game. Sure, in the sense that the fact that your 360 could catch on fire at any moment also adds to the tension. Face it, if the only way you can think of to add suspense to your game is to disable a feature of the hardware, then you suck at making games.

    Now, again, God of War isn’t that bad when it comes to save points. It’s a lot better than even some current gen games (I’m looking at you Metroid!), but it grates on me. Again, I really hope God of War III will feature a more seamless checkpoint system.

  • Ares was much more difficult this time around! I must have inadvertently switched to easy mode or something when I played the game last because Ares kicked my arse this time around. Of course, I eventually beat him and won the game, so there’s that. Interestingly, the battle with Zeus in GoW II was a lot easier, if a little tedious (more on this in a moment)…
  • Conversely, the Hades level didn’t give me nearly as many problems this time around. The last time I played, this was a major complaint, and I nearly quit the game because I hated this level so much. I wasn’t especially looking forward to it and it’s still not fun, but I got through it amazingly quick this time. The platforming in the game is still the worst part (especially given the way the camera moves at times), and I was happy that GoW II mostly did away with the platforming, or took an approach more appropriate for a 3D game (there’s a lot more climbing)
  • One of the things that God of War does well is quick time events. QTEs are somewhat of a bane in other games, but God of War always got it right. For the uninitiated, QTEs are basically a series of buttons you need to press during a cut-scene or cinematic. So you’re fighting a Minotaur and a little circle appears above the Minotaur’s head. Press the circle button and you see Kratos leap up and do some crazy maneuver to kill the Minotaur. There are often multiple steps to the process, in effect creating a mini-game. God of War was always pretty good about this. For the most part, if you failed to press the buttons fast enough, you would be given another chance to do so. In some cases, you don’t need to use them at all. Some bosses do require you to complete the sequence though. But again, if you fail the sequence, you can just try again (you might lose some health in the process). A lot of other games are not as forgiving. In many cases, failing to execute the QTE will result in instant death. In such cases, QTEs cease being a fun mini-game and become an exercise in “Press this button to not die.” which is kinda silly. And quite frustrating. One game I’ve played recently that did this poorly was the first Uncharted. That game was terrible at hinting that a QTE was even coming, and when they did happen, they were almost always of the instant-death variety. One of the things I loved about God of War was that they handled QTEs well… right up until the end of GoW II. For some weird reason, the final stage of the Zeus battle is an instant-death QTE. It only took me a couple of times to get it right, but it was annoying, even moreso because the series had always gotten QTEs right.
  • God of War II is still a pretty solid game. There are a bunch of new weapons and mechanics at work, but the game never gets too unwieldy and the primary gameplay is the same familiar hack-n-slash adventure stuff. The new weapons are fine, but the Blades of Chaos are still probably your best bet (also, I miss the Blade of Arcturus from the first game, but even that wasn’t that well handled). This time around, there seem to be more in the way of environmental puzzles, all of which are pretty great (and none of which seemed to trip me up as much as a couple of puzzles in the first game). There are also a lot of mini-bosses. Some of these are great fun. Others are a bit lacking, but still pretty good. Ultimately, I don’t think the game flows as well as the original, but that’s kinda expected in a sequel. I’m already familiar with the things that make the game work, so there is less that feels new about the game. With the exception of a couple small control scheme changes, you could play the second game without knowing that it’s even really a sequel (i.e. it seems like a single game… albeit one where you lose all your powers halfway through)… Apparently the series was planned as a trilogy (aren’t they always), and so the middle installment ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (hehe, pun intended). Storywise, things are fine this time around. Kratos is less likeable this time around, and his end goal is a bit odd (destroy Zeus?), but by the end, it begins to make more sense. I’m looking forward to the conclusion in the third game…
  • This is completely irrelevant, but both games have PS3 trophies, and a lot of them are rather easy to get. I played through the first game and got 77% of the trophies without even really trying. I only got 60% in the second game (perhaps because I hadn’t already played that one before). Still, if you’re looking to build up your trophies (even though, uh, there’s not actually a reason to do so), these games are probably a good candidate (if I played through again, I bet I could even get the Platinum trophy relatively easily).

Well, that wraps up God of War for now. More to come when part III comes out next month.

Friday is List Day When I Say It’s List Day

This is probably the most uneven feature on the blog, but I like to make me some lists from time to time. It’s just not predictable, I guess. Anyway, enjoy.

Not So Random Ten

I suppose an explanation is in order. Normally I start off a list day post with 10 random songs from my playlist. Lately, I’ve come to realize that my music selection has become rather stale. So I’m attempting to liven things up a bit, with some help, of course. Any musical recommendations are welcome, though I suppose I can’t guarantee I’ll listen to everything… Anyway, what this means is that the selection below isn’t quite as random as normal. Some of it is new, some of it is old, some I’ve heard before, some I haven’t.

  • Vendetta Red – “Shatterday”
  • Arcade Fire – “Intervention”
  • The Animals – “House of the Rising Sun”
  • The Mars Volta – “Aberinkula”
  • The Mars Volta – “Metatron”
  • Sufjan Stevens – “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!”
  • Sufjan Stevens – “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!”
  • Modest Mouse – “Paper Thin Walls”
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela – “Hanuman”
  • Sigur Ros – “Hoppípolla”

5 Annoying Things People Do When Playing NHL 10 Online

  • Abandon A Game – This happens all the time, and it’s really annoying. Picture this: You’re playing a game of hockey online, and for once, you’re doing really well. The puck is bouncing your way, you’re putting up a pretty good wall of defense, and you’re actually getting scoring chances. You’re about halfway through the game, and you’ve just taken a 4-1 lead when… your opponent quits the game. Now, it can be intensely frustrating to play this game against someone who is a lot better than you, so I can sympathize, but at the same time, this is a douchey thing to do. Indeed, some of the Trophies you can earn are dependent on actually finishing the game (this happened to me for the Century Play trophy, a gold-level trophy I’ve been slowly chipping away at for a few months now). Of course, there are accidents. People lose connectivity, etc… But those are rare. This happens way too often.
  • Watch All the Cut-Scenes/Highlights – Dude, come on, they’re the same damn things every game. There’s no reason to do this. None. It’s a big waste of time. Sure, you want to watch a particular goal because you’re amazed at how good I am (or you want to rub your talent in my face), fine, that’s understandable. But that should be maybe once or twice a game, not during every goddamn whistle. Also related, but not a full-blown pet peeve, are the people who pause the game constantly for some reason. I’m assuming it’s because they’re fiddling with their lines or something, but that’s still annoying. Real players can win with what they’re given.
  • Play With The All-Star Team – Look, if you’re really that bad, maybe you should put in some time playing the CPU on Hardcore Superstar until you get better or something. Choosing the All-Stars as your team just pisses me off. It’s bad enough that most people seem to choose amazingly good hockey teams like Pittsburg or the Canadiens, but there’s at least a reasonable chance that those people are legitimate fans. I play with the Flyers. A good team, but nowhere near the best.
  • Gratuitous Fight Picking – This is partly the game’s fault for allowing so much shenanigans after the whistle and there is a place for fighting in the game (among other things, it boosts your lines energy, etc…), but that doesn’t mean we need to take EA up on the offer every time gameplay stops.
  • Playing With A Slow Connection – Really? You want to play a game that’s this choppy? Gimme a break. This is the one time I think it’s acceptable to abandon a game (but you need to be sure you’re not the offending party, in that case).

All that said, I am enjoying myself with the game. Now I just need to figure out the online league thing. I created a team and I have like 7 members on the team, but I can’t figure out how to join a league or play a game. I guess some of my other members have to be online or something. Damnit.

Recent Podcast Listening

Podcasts are strange beasts in that most of my favorites usually end up closing down (often right after I discover them!) This isn’t really surprising. By all accounts, putting out a well produced podcast with regularity has got to be very time consuming. When you consider that most podcasters are doing it as a hobby, it’s pretty easy to see that it would take a toll. I’m still amazed at Filmspotting’s longevity, though they at least have some income and professional output (I believe their show airs on Chicago Public Radio). Anyway, some interesting stuff lately:

  • All Movie Talk – I knew I kept this in iTunes for a reason. Imagine my surprise when the long-defunct movie podcast suddenly sprouted a new episode last month. Of course, they’re not planning on weekly podcasts like they used to do, but it’s good to have them back. I’m hoping for maybe 1 a month. So far, they’ve recapped what’s happened in their absence and also did an episode about accessible old and foreign movies, which turns out to be an interesting topic (and one which added about 10 movies to my Netflix queue).
  • A Life Well Wasted – Extremely well produced podcast about video games and the people that play them. It’s put out by Robert Ashley, a freelance video game journalist and musician, and everything about the show, from the website design and posters (designed by the awesome Olly Moss), to the music and editing, to the actual interviews and subjects, is very well done. While ostensibly about video games, Ashley takes a broader view, often focusing on a more human element (examples include people who collect old video games and a guy that gave up playing video games for a year). The only real problem here is that the episodes are few and far between. But given the quality of the production, it’s always worth the wait. I think he’d like to do one a month, but he has trouble finding subjects to interview and of course, editing the shows has to be a bear. Great stuff though, and well worth a listen.
  • My New Best Friend – I’ll be honest. I haven’t listened to this yet. But it sounds interesting. I won’t even try to summarize the concept, but it appears to basically be an interview show (moderated by the hilarious Clown vs. Wolf blogger Greg Rice) where one actor interviews another actor. I’m not really sure what to make of it, but I will most definitely be checking it out.
  • 4 Guys, 1 Up – This one isn’t technically new, but since the departure of Garnett Lee from 1 Up, David Ellis has taken over the show, renamed it, and retooled the format a bit. What they’re going for is to have an industry guest every week, whether the guest be another journalist or an actual video game designer. So far, the shows have been good and I like the more structured format. Along with Filmspotting, this remains my only other “must listen” show every week.

I’ve actually toyed around with the concept of doing a podcast myself, but I have a feeling that it’ll be a while before anything really comes of it. There’s some groundwork I’d need to do first, and I’d also have to find a suitable cohost (I hate the way single person podcasts sound, and also, I’m just not articulate enough – I need someone to play off of…) Plus, the whole “time-consuming” thing won’t make things very easy… I doubt I’d ever be able to do a weekly podcast, but then, I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll have to be content with listening to podcasts…

Odds & Ends

A few follow ups to recent posts (and, uh, not so recent posts) as well as some other buffoonery. Enjoy.

  • Infinite Summer has been suspended indefinitely. I only got about 400 pages into the book (and only wrote about the first hundred or so). It’s hard to articulate why I never got into the book. It’s extremely well written. Some of the subjects are interesting. It’s not “hard” to read for me (at least, most of the time) in the way that, say, Gravity’s Rainbow was… I just never found myself in the mood to pick up the book. And when I did, I almost immediately found my mind wandering. I wasn’t bored, per say, but I found myself thinking about something else and having to refocus and reread the last paragraph. I guess I just don’t like it. I have no idea what it’s about… if I were having fun with it, that wouldn’t be a problem, but I just couldn’t connect. There are a ton of characters, but I never really understood or related with most of them. And the ones I did relate to or at least feel empathy for, well, they weren’t around often. I don’t particularly have any aversion to the amateur tennis world and indeed found that part of things mildly interesting. I really don’t get the obsession with addiction and drugs though, and reading about that stuff is grating. There doesn’t appear to be a plot. There are tons of things happening, I bet there is a sort of overarching story there, but ultimately, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to care about it when it resolves itself (or when it doesn’t). The thought of reading 600 more pages to get there isn’t really motivating me either. You know what it reminded me of? It reminded me of a Saturday Night Live episode. Every chapter is like a different skit. Sometimes there are recurring characters (or you see the same actors in different circumstances), there’s an occasional laugh here or there, but for the most part, each chapter is an independent thing. There are thematic similarities and even some direct connections, but there are times when you read a 10 page character study on someone, then don’t see him again in the next 300 pages (or for all I know, the rest of the book). In the end, I’m giving up on it. This is not something I do often. I can count the number of books I’ve given up on with one hand. There is a chance, however remote, that I’ll get back on the horse someday, but that probably won’t be anytime soon.
  • I think perhaps I was a little too hard on Valkyria Chronicles last week. It’s not that anything I said was inaccurate, it’s just that the combat – the actual part of the game you play – is really a lot of fun. Of course, everything outside of the actual gameplay is still annoying, but perhaps not as much as I made it out to be. I have a feeling that the inability to save games in the middle of a battle will be frustrating, but I just played 5 battles and only had to replay one of them (and that was ok because I was having fun probing the defenses and doing silly things with my people). I really hadn’t gotten that far into the game when I wrote the last post, so I feel a little bad that I was so hard on it. It’s certainly not a perfect game (it feels a lot like a PS2 game, and suffers from some of the same things that it shouldn’t have to now that we have better technology on consoles), but it can be a lot of fun. One of the things I complained about was having to choose my full squad towards the beginning of the game without knowing what I would need, etc… It turns out that you only take a few people into battle anyway, and also that you can modify your squad at any time (and you kinda have to, because some of your people have traits that are or are not suited to the terrain in various levels). Of course, that makes me wonder why I have to limit my team in the first place, but I did find myself getting attached to certain characters and now have go-to folks in my squad. It will be sad if one of them ever dies… Anyway, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the game a lot more upon revisiting it and am looking forward to playing more. I think I just picked it up when I wasn’t in the mood for this type of game…
  • Flickchart is an interesting website. The main concept here is that instead of putting together a list of your top movies directly, you indirectly compile the list by picking between a series of choices between 2 movies. So for example, they put The Terminator up against X-Men Origins: Wolverine and make you choose (guess which one I chose!) There are, of course, a lot of flaws with the concept. The list that’s emerged for me is probably only 30-40% accurate… And the grand majority of choices result in the better movie holding steady in the rankings. What’s more, sometimes inferior movies creep into the top 10 and it’s hard to unseat them because they don’t come up to be rated very often, and when they do, they’re against drastically inferior movies. You can narrow the pool of movies to choose from though, which helps a bit. In any case, it’s a lot of fun, and I started to notice patterns or at least, types of choices that continually present themselves:
    • The Obvious Choice – Where one movie I love is placed against a movie I hate. This is surprisingly often. For example, this just came up: The Fugitive versus Transformers. Duh.
    • The Who Cares Choice – Where two movies I could care less about are presented. I usually just hold my nose and choose randomly. A good example of this just came up for me: Magnolia versus The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Both mediocre movies from great directors. I like both movies, but I’m not especially enthusiastic about either and they’re a far cry from what their respective directors are capable of…
    • The Sophie’s Choice – Where two movies I adore are placed against each other. I suck at picking favorites, so this usually tough.
    • The Fun Favorite versus Great Classic Choice – This one seems to happen quite often. A fun movie is ranked against a movie that is extremely well made and a classic, but also a bit of a downer. Which do you rate higher? What’s the criteria here? I would usually prefer to watch the fun movie over the great movie… but does that make the great movie less great? For example, Aliens versus Citizen Kane. Kane is the more important movie and is probably a better made film in a number of ways. But I would rather watch Aliens for the 110th time than Citizen Kane for the 3rd or 4th. It doesn’t help that the two movies could not be more different. That might be a different category (or perhaps a different name for this category).

    And so on. Right now, my favorite movie of all time is listed as The Terminator, followed by Casablanca. They’re both a bit too high, but reasonably accurate. My number 3 movie is Predator, which I love, but which is also far too high on the list. Meanwhile, my true #1 film of all time, The Godfather, is languishing at #120 on the list. Someday, perhaps after rating a few million more times, the list will be more accurate. I do have to wonder how many ratings you’d have to give in this way in order to arrive at a reasonably accurate list.

  • I seem to be in something of a rut in terms of blog posting. This happens from time to time, but I do have some posts planned that will have a little more meat on them (and not consist of unordered lists of things, the way the grand majority of posts here have been lately). I don’t know when they will happen though, as they require more time and effort than your average post (honestly, I don’t know how some bloggers do it).

That’s all for now…

PS3 Game Corner

Just a few thoughts on games I’ve played recently:

  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: In anticipation of the recently released sequel, I finally got around to checking out the original. It was one of the few notable PS3 exclusives a couple years ago and it is indeed one of the system’s standout games (though the recent sequel is supposed to be even better). Overall, it’s a great game, though there are some annoying bits here and there. Visually, it’s quite impressive and ranks right up there with Assassin’s Creed the prettiest games I’ve seen for the system yet. The gaming style is mostly as a third-person shooter, with some basic platforming and puzzle elements thrown in for good measure. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the shooting aspects of the game, but I rather liked it. The cover system (similar to Gears of War‘s system) could get a bit cumbersome at times, but overall, I really enjoyed it. There isn’t a huge variety in weaponry, but what’s there seems to work well. I suppose the one thing that seems odd is that your primary enemy consists of endless throngs of pirates… you’d think that an organization consisting of several thousand pirates and the logistical ability to support them on remote islands would be more organized and effective (and perhaps not need to go on such risky treasure hunting trips), but I guess not. The platforming is well done, though there are lots of times when you think you should be able to climb up a wall or make your way through some rubble or something, only to find yourself jumping ineffectually. Still, 3D platforming can be very annoying, and it never reached those levels here (the focus of the game is not the platforming, but it works well). The puzzles are almost alarmingly simple, but they work well enough.

    The one blemish on the game is the dreaded “Quick Time Events”. I never understood the near universal hostility towards QTEs because my experience of them (mostly in the God of War games) was always pretty good. Well, they’re awful here. This is a very cinematic game, with frequent cut-scenes where you passively watch the story progress. The problem, about 3 times in the game, the cut-scene suddenly throws up a button that you have to press within about 1 second, or you die. Not once did I ever notice it in time, forcing me to replay the QTE section again, this time knowing that the QTE is coming. It would be one thing if every cut-scene featured something like this, but 95% of them don’t. The reason QTE works in games like God of War is that you don’t immediately die when you fail to press the appropriate buttons in the right sequence. In some cases, the QTEs aren’t even necessary in GoW. But in Uncharted, they are absolutely pointless. Fortunately, that’s the only real major problem on an otherwise very polished game (and it’s actually a pretty small problem). The only other minor annoyance is that saving the game doesn’t actually save all progress… it only saves you up to the beginning of your current checkpoint. For the most part, the checkpoints are well spaced, but there is the occasional annoying area that’s difficult to defeat.

    In terms of a story, well, there is a coherent story here, which is more than you can say for most games. The plot is a little thin, but I can see why a movie adaptation is planned. Indeed, there are several sequences that actually built tension and made me surprisingly jumpy at times. The generator sequence towards the end of the game is pretty harrowing, for instance. It’s a lot of fun and one of the better adventure games I’ve played recently, though I suppose it doesn’t really add much in the way of new or innovative gameplay. Still, in videogameland, a game that is this well executed deserves some credit, and I’m really looking forward to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

  • NHL 10: I’ve never been a big fan of sports or sports games, but for some reason, I’ve always loved hockey video games. From Blades of Steel on, I’ve gotten a new game every few years, starting in 1995. During the 2004 to 2006 corridor, I played 3 different games. I played the hell out of NHL 2004 (which probably remains my favorite hockey game of all time), but lost the game when I moved to my current house. I then made the ill-advised move to ESPN NHL 2K5, which was something of a disaster (and it appears that 2K Games were still suffering from major issues at least 3 years later). So made the move back to EA’s franchise with NHL 06, which was a massive improvement over the 2K game, but ultimately lacked the spark that really captured me in 2004’s installment. So I took a few years off and finally decided to take a look at what the current generation was doing. NHL 09 was apparently one of the best sports games of last year, and NHL 10 was poised to be even better, so I decided to pick it up.

    I have to admit, it’s not as good as NHL 2004 in many ways. It’s a much deeper game, and it managed to add that depth without sacrificing too much in terms of usability, though there are some things that still baffle me. It seems that in 2009, they completely revamped the controller scheme, and after some initial discomfort as I learned the new scheme, I began to warm to the new system. It makes primary use of the two analog sticks, with much less focus on the buttons. I have to wonder how well someone new to the game would react. I had issues with it, I think, because I was unlearning 15 years of muscle memory. Someone completely new might think it was a little easier. Or not. Who knows? Once you get beyond the basic mechanics, I think it starts to falter a bit. I’ve always been a big fan of poke-checking, but this game also has this “stick lift” feature that I think might be overemphasized, especially when you get into online play with someone who is really good. It’s amazingly frustrating to play against someone who is that good with the more subtle controls. In any case, the game is customizable, so if you’re a die hard purist and want to play with NHL 94 controls, that option is available (the PS2 era control scheme is also available). For the most part, the actual gameplay here is probably better than NHL 2004. The game does feature a much deeper franchise mode (called “Be a GM” mode) that manages to be more usable than, say, NHL 2K5 (which also had a deep GM mode). Still, there are some weird usability niggles that confuse me. For instance, advancing to the next game seems oddly manual. You have to manually sim up to the next game. I believe previous games just had an option to “Play Next Game.” Also, every time your minor league team has a game the same day you do, you have to tell the system that it’s ok to sim the minor league game. This is extremely odd since you can’t actually play the minor league games. And even if you could, who would want to do that? What’s more, the dialog boxes for this are very poorly written. Anyway, aside from that, things seem to work reasonably well.

    There are a lot of other modes available as well. There’s a “Be a Pro” mode where you insert yourself onto a team and try to turn yourself into a star player. I haven’t played this mode yet, but I’m very interested in checking it out. There is a new way of doing shootouts and penalty shots that I actually find kinda disorienting (in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never scored a goal against the computer – though I have against a human player). They also made a new fighting system that’s a first person view. I’m not sure I have the hang of it yet, but it works reasonably well. There is an online mode that I think I’ll actually play a good amount of… which is rare for me. The only online game I’ve played much of in the past has been Resistance 2′s online co-op, and I didn’t even play that much. I haven’t managed to get into a league yet, but the Online Versus play seems to work fine for now.

    Ultimately, I feel like the game is missing many of the little things that were just so right about NHL 2004. For instance, winning the Stanley Cup was much more memorable in NHL 2004. They played a song you rarely heard and did a really nice presentation of the trophy and recap of the season, featuring little recaps for each individual player. Most of that is gone in NHL 10. You here one of the standard songs they play all the time, the presentation is there, as is the final photo, but the rest is missing. Indeed, the soundtrack in general seems a little weak this year. There is supposedly a feature that lets you import songs from your own collection, which is something I should look into. I wonder how much the soundtrack really impacts a game like this? Also, is it just me, or is this year’s play-by-play and commentary distinctly inferior to previous years? I understand that things will be repeated often, but it seems like much of what they’re saying isn’t really representative of what’s happening in the game (ok, fine, I just don’t like it when they say that I’m dumb for trying so many one-timers). Also, is it just me, or do the face/hair designs not seem to match the players as well as previous games? I find this rather surprising, considering the improved graphics capabilities. It’s not that the designs look bad – the graphics are definitely better – but they don’t look as much like the players. Strange.

    The one thing that this game does have that no previous game has had is PS3 trophies. I know they don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but I’ll be damned if that feeling of earning a new trophy isn’t awesome. When I think about it, that Pavlovian “ding” is a little disturbing, but I love it and it keeps me playing games after I normally would have given up on them. I certainly wouldn’t have given up on NHL 10, but the trophies do get you to think about new and interesting ways to play the game. All in all, it’s a worthy game, probably the best I’ve played since 2004. I wish there was a way to fix some of the things that annoyed me, but it’s a solid game and I’m sure it will keep me busy for a long time.

  • Valkyria Chronicles: This is a game I was really looking forward to for a while there, but as soon as I got it and started playing, I almost immediately lost interest… and I’m not sure why. I think it may have been because I started playing as soon as I finished Fallout 3. Not that I disliked Fallout 3 (in fact, I kinda want to revisit it), but the fact that you had to play for like 2 hours at a time in order to accomplish anything was annoying. I ended up writing a lot more than I thought I would below, but you should probably just watch Yahtzee’s review. He’s a bit harsher on the game than I would be, but he also hits all the pain points of the game and he is quite right that stuff like no auto-save and the crazy menu system are very annoying. (Also worth watching – the Unskippable guys tearing a cut-scene to shreds)

    Valkyria Chronicles is a sorta mix between a RPG and a turn-based tactical shooter (it’s, uh, kinda hard to explain). There are a few things that immediately turned me off about the game. First was the way the story was told. There’s this book that is broken up into chapters, and you have to click through each one (not sure why it’s set up this way – if there are 3 cut-scenes in a row and I have to watch all of them, why not just show me them all instead of taking me back out to the menu after each one). In a lot of cases, there aren’t even animations on screen – you just see a lot of dialog boxes and hear people talking, etc… This is something I have associated with a lot of Wii games, but this exposition-heavy style seems like a more common Japanese thing. Whatever the case, that’s annoying. The story itself is ok, I guess. I haven’t gotten that far, but the none-too-subtle fantasy version of WWII seems reasonably well done. The story concerns an evil empire in the East attacking a group of allies in the west. You’re characters are part of a Switzerland-like country caught in the middle of things. All well and good, I guess, though the main characters don’t seem like your average soldier-types. There’s a certain naivete that the characters seem to have that I can’t quite reconcile with the war setting.

    Anyway, once you get into combat, things are interesting and actually quite fun… but you can’t save your game in the middle of a fight, which I predict will be really annoying as time goes on. I haven’t gotten far into the game though, so maybe that part is addressed with checkpoints or something. I actually just finished putting together my first squad, and I’ve only really taken them on a small recon mission, but even putting together my team was a kinda odd experience. I would have thought we’d start out small, then gradually add team members. Instead, they make you load out a full 21 person team all at once. The process was kinda strange. I haven’t played enough of the game to know what kind of balance I need from the soldier classes, and I’m not sure I understand the various attributes that give bonuses or penalties (i.e. some soldiers are apparently better at urban warfare than others, or vice versa, you have to consider the relationships between soldiers and various chemistry things there, etc…) I suppose that’s something I can tweak as I go, but still. Again, I’m not very far into the game, and it is fun, but there have been a few annoyances along the way.

    The cell-shading art style is gorgeous and the game is generally pretty nice to look at. As previously mentioned, some of the cut-scenes skimp on the animation, but otherwise it’s pretty good. Apparently there is an Anime show that is loosely based on the game. Anyway, it’s a game I certainly want to play more of before really passing judgment, but so far, I find myself agreeing with Yahtzee on this one. Also, this shouldn’t matter, but I can’t get my Pavlovian trophy fix with this game because it was made before trophies were required. Dammit.

    Update: It seems I was too hard on Valkyria Chronicles. I’ve been playing it this week and am having lots of fun. The combat is great fun. The complaints above are still valid, but the story is getting more interesting and the various chapters seem to be a good mixture of combat styles (i.e. a battle in a wide open area of desert requires you to use a lot of scouts and snipers, but not so much shocktroopers). Good stuff…

So in the near future I think I’ll find myself playing a lot of NHL 10, giving Valkyria Chronicles another try, playing more NHL 10, checking out the God of War Collection (mostly for GoW2, which I haven’t played much of, but it might be nice to see GoW1 in HD too), then maybe catching up with The Force Unleashed. Then I might actually get around to some of the recent releases like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Modern Warfare 2, and Assassin’s Creed II.

I noticed the other day that I still haven’t unpacked my Wii from when I brought it with me on vacation in August. And honestly, there’s not much coming out for the Wii that really intrigues me either. I’ve never been a big Mario fan, so New Super Mario Bros. Wii doesn’t interest me that much, and definitely not Mario Galaxy 2 (I liked the first game a lot, but ultimately got tired of it). I’m a little interested in Wii Sports Resort, but the fact that I have to buy another damn peripheral for the system holds me back (even if it is only an extra $20). Similarly, I might check out Wii Fit Plus. I tend to only do real exercise during the summer months for some reason, so perhaps Wii Fit will help me keep a minimum level of exercise going through Winter. It also sounds like they’ve improved on the original quite a bit. I’m not expecting my ultimate in video game fitness (which would be a game that combines the just-one-more-level addictiveness of video games with the healthy side effects of exercise), but it does look better than the original (and it seems to be marketed more as a replacement than a sequel). Other than that, the landscape on Wii looks pretty bleak for me. There’s supposedly a new Zelda game in the works, which is definitely interesting… but then, I never really got into Twilight Princess. The upcoming Metroid sounds rather dull as well (or maybe I’m just soured on the series because of Metroid Prime 3) There are a few other games I still want to check out, but nothing really jumps out at me. I’ve been a much more avid gamer with the PS3 than the Wii, and quite frankly, I paid around the same for both consoles. Plus, I watch lots of movies with the PS3 (and the recently added Netflix support is an awesome addition, if a bit awkward to use).

NES Links and Thoughts

Just finishing off the NES retrospective with a few links and thoughts…

  • FCEUX: An easy to use and feature rich NES emulator that I used to get most of the screenshots for this series of posts. The best feature is the ability to save your game state anywhere during a given game. Since most Nintendo games didn’t have this feature natively, it became a godsend when playing longer, relatively complicated games like Metroid or Zelda. It’s amazing to me that there are still games made today, even on the current console generation, that don’t allow saved games (or employ a nifty checkpoint system, etc…) NES games didn’t allow them (or provided limited functionality) due mostly to technical reasons, though I guess it also gave kids bragging rights for some of these insanely difficult games. But for someone like me, save states are pretty much a necessity. While on the subject of save states, Kernunrex recently played Castlevania and made a similar point:

    I have no idea how anyone ever did this in the era before save states. … I can’t imagine the gallons of tears this game must have generated from ’80s children who had parents mean enough to buy it for them. As an adult, I had to make a save state after every successful hit on Dracula. Even then, it took me 30-40 minutes of work. Yeash.


  • JSNES: It’s no FCEUX, but it’s a pretty neat little javascript based NES emulator that runs on an HTML page. It’s pretty impressive, though it only works really well in Google Chrome (other browsers have varying levels of lag).
  • Two honorable mentions I inexplicably forgot: Super Mario Brothers and Bionic Commando. Alas, I don’t have a ton to say about Super Mario Brothers, except that I never really got into all the sequels (though SMB3 seemed pretty cool) or spinoffs (though I do like Mario Kart). The original came is pretty cool and did indeed engage me for weeks after getting the NES. Exceptional music and that peculiar early NES design aesthetic are true classics though (I mean, seriously, the game is about mustachioed Italian plumbers who are seeking to save a Princess from a giant, turtle-like monster called Bowser by eating mushrooms that make them larger and flowers that allow them to throw fireballs). A lot of the classic games like SMB draw from archetypal sources, which lends them power, I think. For instance, in SMB’s case, one of the primary sources has to be Alice in Wonderland. Ok, so I ended up saying more than I expected about SMB. Sue me. As for Bionic Commando, I said my piece on that a few weeks ago in a post on Bionic Commando Rearmed, the rather excellent current-gen remake (though by all accounts, the current generation Bionic Commando game is rather sucky).
  • The Games that Defined the NES: A nice sampling of iconic games on this console – a lot of overlap with my list and… crap, I forgot to mention Excitebike. I did enjoy that game, though it was mostly because of the fact that there was a track editor that came in the game… which may have been a first for me. Anyway, the list has a few other games that are worth mentioning, but which I never really owned or got into (i.e. Kirby and Kid Icarus, though I may have played that one at some point – it seems very familiar).
  • Duck Hunt is another I forgot to mention, though it’s primary claim to fame was that it came with SMB and was the only game I ever owned that used the Light Gun. This is actually interesting to me because it’s yet another Nintendo game that matches really well with a peripheral that was never really used so well again. Kinda like the Wii, where the single best example of a Motion Control game is still Wii Sports (though I guess you could argue that Wii Sports Resort has superseded the original… on the other hand, it’s pretty much the same concept and it also requires an additional peripheral). But I seem to have digressed away from the NES. Moving on…

And that about wraps up the NES retrospective. It was fun! Next up in the list of retrospectives will probably be my family’s first IBM compatible computer, a 66MHz 486 Gateway computer, and the various games I played on that (This will be very imprecise though, since there are classic games that I never played until much later on different computers… but given the personal and subjective nature of these retrospectives, it probably makes sense to focus on what I played on what machine… so when I leave out Sim City, don’t worry, it’ll probably be on the next computer on the list…) Hopefully, I’ll get to that series of posts much quicker than I got to the NES (i.e. hopefully within the year).