Sunday, October 24, 2010

How awesome would your games look on THIS?

THE GREATEST TV EVER MADE (available to consumers so far)

Every time I go to Fry's, I walk by the 55'' version, and it stops me dead in my tracks. The picture quality is unmatched. However, I already have a 65'' Mitsubishi DLP in the living room, and I didn't want to downsize. Then I saw that price, and OMG, STICKER SHOCK set in. I'm gonna wait a while. Still, the long-term plan is to get this, and move the Mitsubishi into my game room. One of these days, it WILL happen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

REVIEW: Vanquish

I always appreciate a time where I can just kick back, relax, and kick some ass. 

When I first saw Vanquish back in May of this year, my first thought was "Gears of War" meets "Robocop" meets cocaine. Seeing a futuristic over-the-shoulder shooter may have looked like visual porn, but I wasn't quite sold on how it would play, what the story behind it was, and how it would play with friends. When the playable demo came out last month, it was the same thing I had already seen, but getting hands on was a different story. This was going to be some fast paced, intense action that I hadn't seen in a while. Not only was the demo level engaging with crisp controls, but there was a lot going on screen which showed me the game had potential.

For the most part, the retail version did not disappoint. 

This is the second game to come from Sega's Platinum Games developer with the critically acclaimed Bayonetta dropping 10 months ago. You will notice a somewhat similar feeling with Bayo with the Arcade-type presentation (I say 'Arcade' because you are "scored" at the end of each mission); there are a lot of visual stimuli going all over the screen, and the difficulty curve goes from shallow to controller-shaped-dents-in-wall difficult. Vanquish is, however, refreshingly more "western" in its execution ditching the really cheesy cut-scenes to slightly less cheesy cut-scenes (and the annoying as hell faux-Joe Pesci character).

Cuidado; Piso Mojado.
In talking about the game there are two things I need to say up front: Yes, there is no multiplayer. I'll address that in a moment. Also, I really have no idea what the hell the story is about. You play as Solid Snake Alex Murphy Sam Gideon, a dude with a bad ass mechanical super suit who is about to wreck shop on some bad guys. I mean, is there really much else you need to know story wise? Not really. Anyway, you are the tip of the spear of a rag-tag group of soldiers looking to fight a combination of robots and mechs. Sam's suit is capable of switching modes of weapons nearly instantaneously, he can power slide across the floor using rockets, he can do some bullet time slow-mo action when his suit depleted of energy either by damage or activation by the player. There are a good variety of weapons as you progress through the game, and each one serves a useful purpose from a plain old assault rifle, to heavy machine gun, to lazer cannon, to sniper rifle. Everything works well in combat. There is a pretty good cover system, but what is a little unique is that some cover can be destroyed, so you have to move around, strategize, flank, and overcome. This especially holds true in some boss battles, which not only come at end of levels, but some pop up mid-level, too. 

Visually, if you already don't have ADD, Vanquish will take care of that for you. With a smooth framerate, there is a lot that goes on screen, and it all looks really pretty good. There are points in the game where there are seemingly endless amount of baddies, and you can take them out with a weapon that locks four missiles on various targets, as a Thunderdome-reject style tank is barreling down on you. I can't remember having any camera issues or control issues; Vanquish does a good job in keeping the game enjoyable. There is also a good variety in level design. The differing environment kept the combat from getting repetitive, as I never felt bored or bogged down- everything moves fast. The game comes up short on playtime, but honestly, my suggestion is to play on harder difficulty- that way you are well challenged, and you get upwards of 8
hours of gameplay in. 

Pew! Pew! Pew!
So yeah, there is no multiplayer. Honestly, that doesn't bother me. I think multiplayer would have felt tacked on, and after Bioshock 2, I'm good with a stand alone strong Single Player game. I mean this is a game that was really easy and fun to play, I didn't even care about all the plot components. There is even a point in the game where you are crawling in the belly of a mech-stratofighter and you happen along a small room with a robot disguised as a boombox and a few band guys just dancing. Hilarious, and just a reminder to not take things seriously, just kick back and enjoy the ride.

Again, one dude that did NOT enjoy the ride was the review over at Destructoid. I hate to pick on them, because I do enjoy their website, but when a game is hitting an 83 on the Metacritic, and you drop a 5/10 on it, then you pretty much come off as a troll. I'm not saying you have to be in lock-step with everyone else on the internet, but at least you need a little bit of perspective. Again, in reviewing a game, or anything, you need to present what the game is about, what you think the developers are trying to present, and what works. Whether or not you like a game will affect how you review it, but there needs to be enough objectivity that it shouldn't sway it into a category of "Mediocre". There are plenty of games that I weren't keen on but I'm not going to say they straight up suck if there are things about it that are technically sound, and enjoyable.

What makes things worse is when there is no consistency throughout reviews. For example: Buggy, Glitchy, Obsidian developed Fallout New Vegas is worthy of a 9/10 rating from their site, but Buggy, Glitchy, Obsidian developed Alpha Protocol nets a 2/10. Now, I will concede that Fallout New Vegas (TL;DR review pending) is better than Alpha Protocol but the difference isn't 9 and 2; that is ridiculous. Vanquish deserves better as well.

TL;DR - For Sega fanboys, Vanquish is Space Harrier meets Zillion meets a lot of fun. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

DLC REVIEW: Borderlands Claptrap New Robot Revolution

If you had told me that so far I've played more Borderlands this year than Modern Warfare 2, I would have thought there was some sort of game crashing bug, Gearbox was handing out free candy, or told you that you are a complete moron. In May, I threw a quick post together about how I was still enjoying Borderlands, but things didn't really kick into full gear until over the summer when I was determined to finish the third downloadable episode 'Armory of General Knoxx'.

I was in full Borderlands mode when the fourth installment of Downloadable Content released a few weeks ago. "Claptrap New Robot Revolution' takes you to a few new environments and introduces you to a few new (and some old) enemies. Quick summary: The Claptraps are getting kind of sick of being the 'Butler Bot' of Pandora and have risen up to overthrow everything and kick some ass.

No matter what playthrough you begin this episode, everyone is going to be tough. I played through on a level 61 character and all the baddies were at least level 60. If you play alone, prepare to die a few times. Claptraps have taken over all the bad guys so all the humanoid enemies hey are imbued with cybog-like abilities in terms of strength and weapon skill. There are also a few varieties of Claptraps that will kick your ass, roll up on you and kamikaze you into a quick death. As with everything Borderlands, Co-op is the best way to go; I suggest having characters that have good up close weapons, some rocket launchers that do electrical damage, a guy who can sustain damage and heal, and someone who goes around and collect dropped items.

Speaking of collecting, you will do a lot of it. We never really found a large amount of really good weapons that you can find in General Knoxx's Armory, or ones that Crawmerax drops when killed. You do have to collect a bunch of bits and pieces of Claptrap entrails as a mission, and it gets a little tedius. Its not really as entertaining as the 'Braaaaaaaaains' mission in Dr. Ned's Zombie Island, maybe because Dr. Ned was more entertaining in that you can line up four zombies, blow their heads off and ...brains!

I honestly felt underwhelmed when completing this DLC. Its much shorter than either Dr. Ned or General Knoxx, and I think its shorter by a long-shot. I played through the whole thing, went back and brought a few friends up to speed and finished all withing 5-6 hours? I didn't feel that it added much in terms of story, or even humor. I know that may be nit-picking but humor is something that I really enjoyed about Borderlands. There are some funny bits toward the end but it's not really all that entertaining.

There also isn't a lot of re-playability in the game. Dr. Ned is good because Zombie's are fun, and The Armory is really really good because you can go back and kill Crawmerax unlimited times to find good loot; or you can enter the Armory up to three times, as well as traverse a very large map. Upon completing the DLC's main storyline, all there was really left to do was gain a few collectibles that claptraps dropped and even at the time of this review, the Xbox 360 Achievements associated with getting things like pizza boxes, 3-D Glasses, bobbleheads and oil cans are glitched.

At 800 Microsoft points, you get much less than you did with the like-priced other DLC's. At 560 or so Points, this would be a good deal. At

TL;DR- Unless you are a fanboy (which I profess I am), pass.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Undercover (Videogame) Boss

I always hated the premise for the show 'Undercover Boss'. If you work at a company and you don't know what your CEO looks like, then there's either your memory sucks, or the company you work for is way too big and impersonal.

But Undercover Videogame Boss? I'm in.

Monday, October 4, 2010

REVIEW: Dead Rising 2

Hey everyone! My name is Lord Bling. Well, not in real life. If it were, my parents would be complete assholes. Anyway, most of you regular readers probably know me IRL, but if not, here's a quick introduction: I work for a video game publisher, my Xbox Live gamerscore is high and nerdy, and violent games help keep me from killing people in the real world.

For the past few years, I've also been posting on a blog that Miles links to here, called 'Ryan the Angry Midget and Friends'. I went to college and worked with Ryan, and we post all sorts of things about sports, politics, and random humor. It's not for the easily offended, but if you like that blog, chances are good that you and I will get along just fine. I'm the resident video game guy on that site, and tonight I posted my review of 'Dead Rising 2'. Miles asked that I cook up some copypasta here for the TL;DR crowd. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

"Zombies. Who doesn't love 'em? The zombie movie has made a comeback in the past decade. A couple of them were pretty good, and they helped coax George A. Romero and his Harry Caray glasses out of retirement. There's a zombie TV series starting on AMC this month called 'The Walking Dead'. And, they're the perfect video game cannon fodder. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 sold millions each, as well they should've. They're great games.

Another strong-selling zombie game is Dead Rising. Set in a shopping mall, your job is to find out what caused the undead outbreak, but you only have 72 hours to do so. It was a great setting for a zombie game (even if it's taken lock stock and barrel from a classic Romero film). Great graphics, especially for a launch-window game, with hundreds of zombies on screen at once. Tons of objects that can be used as weapons, and you can level up your character for multiple playthroughs. So why did I hate it?

The game did everything in its power to get in the way of the fun. They give you an open-world setting, but they restrict you with a timed mission structure. The missions are given to you via text, at the bottom of the screen, and almost always when you're in the middle of another mission. 90% of the gameplay is 'escort missions'. Just the word 'escort mission' is enough to make most gamers groan, and the ones in Dead Rising are no exception. They make sense in the scope of the game, but the survivor A.I. was terrible, and rarely fought for themselves or made any effort to keep up with you. And the biggest deal breaker for me? The save system is archaic and broken. You have to walk into a bathroom to save your progress. On the way to every bathroom are tons of zombies. If you're low on health and don't have any food to eat, you may not survive long enough to get to a bathroom, which means whatever progress you've made since the last save will be lost. After this happened a few times in a row, combined with everything else, I gave up on it.

The worst part of all of this? Before Dead Rising shipped, they released a demo on Xbox Live. In the demo, you had 30 minutes to go wild in the mall and kill zombies however you wanted. It was a blast! Playing the demo only set me up to be disappointed by the restrictive final product. But then Capcom announced Dead Rising 2 last year, and I felt optimistic.

Set in a small Vegas-like town, you're given the ability to combine two objects and create a new weapon. This replaces the ability to take pictures that was in the first game, which I rarely used. This got me (and a good amount of gamers) excited. Put a shotgun together with a pitchfork and create a 'boomstick'! Put a propane tank with a box of nails and create an IED! Put a coat hanger with a wheelchair and create a rolling abortion machine! Okay, so you can't make the last one, but trust me when I say the possibilities are almost endless. On top of the weapon system, and the new setting, I also assumed that they'd fix the broken save system and the mission delivery method. So how did they do?

I hate it.

While it takes place in a gambling town, most of your time will be spent where? In a shopping mall. That's right. Your safe house exits into a mall, which may as well be a copy / paste job from the first game.

The load times are atrocious. They were bad in the first game, but they're even worse here. The screen freezes up when you're trying to get to the main menu. Every time you walk through a door? Load screen. And you'll walk through doors a lot, so I hope you like loading screens! Every time you save the game, the screen freezes for almost 15 seconds. It makes you think your Xbox is crashing. Not good.

How do you get your missions? Via text, at the bottom of the screen, usually when you're in the middle of another mission. Again, you're fighting for your life against a horde of zombies, while escorting survivors (who admittedly have improved A.I.) and you have to 'answer your walkie-talkie' to hear about some other survivor you need to save. Wait, did I say 'hear'? I meant 'read'. Does someone at Capcom have a problem with voice acting? Other than cutscenes, there's hardly any of it in this game.

The save system? Still shitty. They give you three separate save slots instead of one, but you still have to run to a goddamned bathroom to save. Note to developers: It's 2010. Most games have aggressive auto-checkpoints, or are like Elder Scrolls IV or Fallout 3 (autosaves, and save at any point you want, into as many save slots as you want). Make an effort to keep up with the competition. If you make gamers work to save their progress, you failed as a developer.

Combining items to make new weapons? Yeah, it's pretty cool. However, you have to take these items to a 'maintenance room', so you can't just do it on the fly. This adds to the tedium that the game seems to relish.

They added online co-op, but it's limited and basic. They also added an online multiplayer mode, but it's stupid and feels tacked-on. It's a reality game show where contestants have to kill the most zombies. It ties into the beginning of the single-player campaign, but it's just a set of mini-games that make Fusion Frenzy 2 look like Mario Party. I like that you can carry over your prize money to the single-player, but it doesn't make the game modes fun. I had troubles finding a game, and I was playing on the first weekend after the game released.

I really wanted to like this game. I played for quite a few hours last weekend, but it just kept getting in the way of itself. If you're a fan of the first game, by all means, pick up a copy of Dead Rising 2. If you weren't a fan of the first, stay far, far away."

TL;DR -- Dead Rising 2 sucks

Sunday, October 3, 2010

REVIEW: Halo Reach

At first, I was a skeptic.

In 2002, I was working at a retail store in Lawrence, KS, riding my high of having the latest and greatest in next generation gaming. I went home from class and work every day to the delights of...Medal of Honor Allied Assault, and SSX Tricky. I was a complete PS2 fanboy at the time, rebuffing all attempts from my co-workers to invest in Microsoft's HUEG monstrosity and its silly little game called 'Halo'.

When I finally pulled the trigger (let's face it, it really didn't take a LOT of convincing for me to purchase a new console), I ate my words in a bad way. Halo was one of the most impressive games I had played to date. The single player campaign, which was a great combination of immersive environments and storytelling gave way to 3 AM rocket-fights with 15 of my friends (ok, 2 friends and 13 people I didn't know). When Halo 2 came out a few years later, the addition of Xbox Live expanded the scope of multiplayer, leading to many legendary online matches, clans, and game variants (Troy, Jihad). There are still many people on my XBL friends list from the old Halo 2 days.

In 2007,  Halo 3 launched, anticipation had built back up, we all played the Beta (and managed to discover a decent game in Crackdown in the process), we were ready to go back in for another few years of multiplayer madness. However something happened: Call of Duty 4 came out, and offered multiplayer game play that not only rivaled Halo, but exceeded it in many ways. We didn't have to deal with 'Halo Jumping', tea baggers, and  the l337 Combo, to the extent that Halo dragged us down. Halo 3 stayed at the top of the Xbox Live leaderboards for quite some time, but eventually it was eclipsed by Call of Duty, and even all but forgotten when Modern Warfare 2 launched. Microsoft and Bungie tried to counter with Halo 3: ODST. It didn't work. The campaign was lackluster, and although the introduction of the Firefight multiplayer mode was refreshing, it just didn't have the punch.

I had become a skeptic again. When Halo Reach was announced, I kind of rolled my eyes and fed myself a big spoonful of apathy. And while I was always outwardly quick to defend the franchise from straight up hatred, I was not necessarily ready to sprint to my local game store and reserve the game.

What helped me in preparation for Reach was a combination of the intrigue of a few changes in multiplayer, and, quite frankly, the letdown of other first person shooters on the market. Modern Warfare 2 started out strong, but I honestly haven't picked that game up in months, right along with Bad Company 2. I guess I was ready for something fresh, ironic considering the franchise is nine years old and the last game released wasn't interesting.

In case you haven't been keeping score, Halo: Reach is a prequel. The player is the newest member of Noble Team, a team of rag-tag and gruff Spartans. Not quite as bad ass as Master Chief, each one has a certain uniqueness about them. Are you bearing witness to the destruction of the planet Reach by the Covenant.

When I played through the campaign (yes, we are finally getting to the 'review' portion of the review), I was hit by a bit of nostalgia. No, Bungie didn't re-invent the wheel, but the environments are expansive, gorgeous, and had good level design. As with the problems in most prequels, you have to deal with technology that is supposed to be inferior to Master Chief's arsenal, so you get the old school assault rifle, pistol, and the new single-shot designated marksman rifle (which I found a salvation in the Campaign, and a pain in the ass in Multiplayer).

As you progress through the story, you will find something that is both interesting and something you can follow. Its pretty simple: fight the covenant, realize the covenant is kicking your ass, find something that can potentially best them in the end, and escape with it so that humanity has a chance to survive later. No flood, no Arbiter, no problem.

Colony Wars, anyone?
Bungie included a few new things in the experience that mixes things up. One is a space mission that seems kind of out of place, but isn't poorly done and has some challenges. The other, and more lasting is a variety of "classes" in which you can spruce up your Spartan. You will find these augmentations during the campaign and can choose them straight up in some multiplayer games, but you can be able to rocket around, sprint (I'd forgotten after playing CoD for 3 years that you couldn't 'run' in Halo--until now), create an armor barrier, go invisible (only if you walk r-e-a-l-l-y slow and don't fire a machine gun) or replicate yourself in an interactive hologram, Total Recall style.

There is a good variety of gamplay in the single player campaign. You can mix it up with sneaking around and sniping, running and gunning, and just plain running. I beat the campaign on Heroic and had to use an interesting blend of tactics in order to advance through some of the trouble stages where you find yourself with little to no ammo. Four player co-op does well, at some points you actually have to strategize how you are going to defeat hordes of bad-guys, elites and hunters (by the way, if you are going to play co-op, be a real gamer and play on Legendary).

Chuck Norris Spartan doesn't sleep; he waits. 
Multiplayer has a bit of customability to it. Firefight is horde mode co-op game type where you can take on legions of covenant in a contained area. Invasion is rather enjoyable, as you are either attacking and defending certain checkpoints, ultimately ending is an attempted smash and grab job. There are also a slew of variants in game type that you can vote on (as opposed to veto) that can incorporate classic slayer, to using to various abilities I mentioned earlier.  Right now, my favorite is using the Hologram. Its great to get a read on where people are as they fire onto your fake image, or when someone does have the drop on you, hit the holo to evade their fire. I've also found renewed success with the sprint class, although I've also found renewed failure against many of the transplanted Halo savants. Its always been a game I've been 'OK' at, but when running up against the MLG wannabe's who are dome-rackers with the DMR or Needler Rifle, it just becomes frustrating. Not the game's fault; just some people need to get a life.

You will notice that I have left out the Forge and Theater parts of this review, as I am about to discredit myself completely and say I haven't paid much attention to either. There are many players who pretty much immerse themselves in those, and come up with some very good presentations in both their own level design and videos.

Going back to my previous post about the beta, I want to readdress a few things:

  • Most of my 'meh's from the beta are pretty much not 'meh's anymore. Character classes spruce things up, The visuals are great, and I haven't run into the new '1337 combo'. I still wish the sniper rifles didn't have a reticule so pros can no-scope, and I wish the world took note of how awesome a sticky grenadier I am, but those are minor gripes.
  • I do wish weapons were a little more unique, not necessarily more powerful. I love the needler rifle and yet the DMR drives me crazy in MP because slower single-shot weapons that take multiple shots to bring someone down are tedious. 
  • I previously said that Halo is still relevant and can still evolve, and I'm beginning to wonder if that is true. Yes, Halo: Reach is one of the best of the franchise, and with Activision's struggles with their flagship, this could have some staying power into the next year, but what after that? Bungie is now done with Halo, and Microsoft is taking it to another one of its internal studios. Unless they can redefine the franchise by finish story and bring back freaking Master Chief, bringing through some more customization in multiplayer, add a lot of unique (a mix of vast and smaller, NOT retreads of old) maps, then do we really need it? 
I think the answer to the last question is going to be "you may not need it, but we sure hope you'll buy it." Perhaps since this Reach is a step in the right direction, the next one will just continue that path. Then again, with all that is coming out at the end of the year, I doubt I will still be there to put in the time, energy, or patience. 

TL;DR- Tonight, we dine on Reach, Tomorrow we dine at Arby's.