Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fallout 3 Preview

So one of the bigger things on the market that is getting both praise and hatred and curiosity and I think that was three things is Fallout 3. The issue is really divided into two very equal groups.

Generally, the fans of Fallout say, hey, this isn't Fallout. This is a Fallout-inspired Oblivion knockoff. This is because the game has been turned from a strategy RPG kinda hybrid into a first- and third-person perspective RPGish game. Bioshock comes to mind.

The other group is everyone else. They say, hey, this looks neat. Being able to target body parts in freeze-frame time and shoot them with an accuracy based upon your skills? Interesting.

I'm of the latter group, but I'm also of the former. Let me elaborate.

I played Fallout 1 and 2, and hey, they were pretty great. They were chock-full of problems but they were really great. I loved the engine and I got a kick out of the After the Bomb setting. My problems with the game were simple; the game was too difficult to play. There were way too many areas where I wasn't clear about the sequence you could go in, and therefore I would sequence break the hell out of it.

It was like to play Fallout you needed a degree in The Fallout Sequence.

Picture this: I go out of the Vault, I find the water chip, return it to my vault, get sent to the Glow, and suddenly there's a mutant who captures me and shoves me in a cell and demands answers from me. I answer with "I don't know," but at that point that was supposed to be a lie.

I totally understand Bestheda's twisting of the game itself as being perverse. I would love to see a fully immersing Fallout tactical RPG just like the old ones, but newer with a new story. But this is the catch; I'm more interested in the Oblivion/Fallout hybrid they've stumbled across.

Maybe I'm just being a Whorehammer, and yes I make up terms sometimes, but the moment he picked up, quote, a "Powerfist", I perked up and paid lots more attention. It severely lacked Space Marine Power Armor or Witch Hunter runes written on it, but punching someone's head off was awesome enough that I forgive them for not committing plagiarism.

Fallout 3 isn't without problems - it's still the Oblivion engine. People talk amazingly stiff, swaying only at the head and, if they feel dangerous, shifting their pinkie. I'm going to place big money on a few points where the game is just going to be loaded with bugs.

I'll still buy it, but the game comes with free redness and irritation.

Monday, August 25, 2008


So I wanted to take some time to talk about my absolute favorite game of all time.

(*WARNING: I'll probably call twenty games or so my 'favorite games of all time'*)

This game is, as the well-known Gabe has one said, the best hour of his life. I can't help but agree. See for me, whenever I play a game, I have to figure out how to define what kind of an experience it is for me.

Like, most games fall into a 'time passing and accomplishment' category. Puzzle Quest and Mass Effect and KOTOR series and all sorts of games with cool storylines are just something I have to beat to know what happens. The story book but with graphics, if you will.

Some games, fighters especially, are under the competitive flag. I have to play because I like being good enough to conquer my friends. I like being competitive and improving, being able to defeat any opponent, conquer any adversary. Knowing what I can do, and seeing what my opponent's limits are. Isn't that what wandering kung-fu masters do? If I think I was meant to be born in the Chinese Dynasty era.

Then we get to the third category, which is kind of the point of this newspost. I play some games because I like being enthralled by the experience, carried away to literally feel myself becoming part of the game. Very few games have managed to do this to me so far, Rez and Shadow of the Colossus are the first and foremost examples.

Most rhythm games follow a pattern where the music is being played and, in that, you have to keep up with the music to make it sound official. You are, in essence, repeating the music. An actor playing out a script that has been written for him.

Rez takes this approach in reverse. Instead, you are the rhythm, and you become the music itself. The background music is just the setting for the music you produce; everything from locking on, firing, missing, activating the power-up, advancing your form, even getting hit all are just music-making sound effects that mesh.

I have never, in all my life, been so in unison with music itself as I have been with Rez. The first level - Buggie Running Beeps - made me feel as though I really was that hacker trying to enter a super-high level security zone, captured my extremities and pulled me in.

I really was fantastically absorbed by that game. But, really, why? What made it so amazing?

Synthesia is, I think, the word we're looking for here. The game was nothing special as far as video games go. But I'll be damned if it wasn't totally worth the ride.

See for me video game music has always had a special place in my heart - that's for another newspost, of course - but I'd like the record to show that I truly believe games just aren't the same unless they have amazing music. God of War needed it's epic surging of classical and vocals. Shadow of the Colossus needed it's sweeping, shifting fantasy music to cue in at the appropriate moments. Devil May Cry 3 needed to abandon it's entire rock/metal aesthetic in favor of a full-on orchestra with vocals leading "Devils Never Cry" for the final battle.

And, in that, Rez needed it's trance.

I mean strip everything that makes it Rez away and you've got a cakewalk of a rail shooter. But in doing that, I think, you'd be undoing everything the lead developer actually spent time on. Instead of dumping his money and planning into a rail shooter you've probably seen a million times he made you feel like you were a part of the game instead of holding the controller.

And hey, it worked. Game of the year, or something. Woo.

One other game has managed to do that, and that is Shadow of the Colossus.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Too Human review

Looks like my thoughts were right. "Do not buy this game." But the writer in me must insist upon telling you more. Brace yourself gentle reader.

I'm generally a patient person.

Like, only a few things really piss me off. Someone being intentionally a jerk because they think it's funny comes to mind. But everything else - stupid customers, stupid customer service/tech support, braggarts, dying repeatedly in video games - I can handle it. I'm generally calm enough that I can blow it off.

Too Human seems bound and determined to test my patience with death.

I have spent years - years! - being extremely trial-and-error in video games, starting with Mega Man, Castlevania, and Mario back in the day. Today I have Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden to provide me with those sorts of love/hate relationships. One false move, and that's it. You get comboed and there goes a huge portion of your life.

But do you know why I have an infinitely easier time stomaching - indeed, loving passionately - these games? Because they allow you to heal yourself, or give you the ability to block, or some combination of the two (God of War, in a way). Too Human does none of this. In fact, out of five classes, only one of them even has the rudimentary ability to heal, and your only method of not being hit is to dodge.

But, again, this wouldn't be so bad if you basically knock everything into a 'stunned' mode for hitting them, Double Dragon style. Too Human barely does this. Let me explain.

Here is a basic encounter in Too Human: Twenty minions with a handful of hits a piece. Two to three missile-launching mortar-machine whom can launch about four at once, all of which track to your last known location. One to two melee-combat decked out robots whom are immune to the 'stun' effect until you break their shield.

So, what do you do? Wading through the hordes of minions is fun, but you're still being peppered by missiles. Well, if you go to fight the missile-launchers, you get fucked up by the Tricked Out Rape Bot. Engage him? Well, every attack you hit him with just hits his shield instead, meaning he doesn't get stunned unless you air combo him.

So, okay, the encounter goes Air Combo Robot, Kill Mortars, Finish Off Rest. Well that's when the game fucks with you.

Instead it'll pitch out the whole system to instead throw four or five ranged arrow-launching fuckers, or three of them and an ogre-like robot with an attack throw, all of whom immune to melee stun, or (and here's the kicker) minions that explode or freeze upon death, thereby making you more dead/vulnerable to the other minions.

So, like, the game hates you.

That's not even counting the fact that the game mercifully grants you the ability to respawn after death with slight durability damage back at a checkpoint. However, like the benevolent asshole, this merciful event is knocked from your childish grasp by the Goddamn longest death animation ever, where a Norse tech angel swoops down and picks you up. Slowly. Unskippably.

It would be less annoying if the game didn't rely on you dying once or twice every encounter at minimum.

Let me flash you back to this time two weeks ago. I go into Gamestop. I know everyone there. The Assistant Manager Jessie is talking to me.
"You getting Too Human?"
"Huh? Oh, probably not. I haven't heard too much about it."
"It's going to be awesome! I heard it's like a sci-fi Diablo for the 360, but better!"
I think a moment. "...well, sci-fi would make Diablo suck less."

I guess not, then.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Treachary and Judging

It recently hit me that I am too long-winded when I blog. I'm nowhere near as interesting or as arrogant as Tim Rogers, so I should keep things relatively short from now on. I shall do so. Starting...Wait for

Today I was playing FFTA2. It is a good game. In fact, I daresay it is a very very good game. I have one slight problem with it though, and that is some of the Judgment system's choices for 'banning.' It seems slightly unfair to me when I end up entering a fight that pits me against four Black Mages and a team of fighters at the front, and the Judge says I can't use actions that "Consume MP."

Picture this: You enter a fist fight, prepared to brawl, but you can't make attacks that "Utilize Limbs."

But then I thought, oh, that's okay, I can't heal or nuke, I still have two fighters and a thief on my side, and they can't nuke either. Hell, that's over half his party! This should be easy. Come to find out these universal rules don't apply to my cleverly-constructed opponent. Sure, it may have been a challenge specifically created to raise my guild's stats, but I will not give the game the satisfaction of being right.

Especially not when it then bans "Reaction Commands," right after they give me a Thief-class character who comes equipped with counter.

I mean, sure, it probably was my fault for not looking at what powers she had, but come on! This was the beginning of the game! I figured it was a safe assumption to believe that, if none of my party could get this power, neither could newcomers. Consider myself taught.

Too Human comes out tomorrow. It's getting mixed reviews by people who call it Diablo on the 360. I hated Diablo 1 and 2, so with luck this game should be a simple review of "Don't Buy This Game."

I'm going for 'short and sweet' from now on, so 'simple review' sounds pretty good to me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Soul Calibur 4 Review

So, Soul Calibur 4. Let us discuss.

Soul Calibur has been a fixture of mine for years, ever since Soul Calibur 2. It has always held a small spot in my heart, because I'm a huge fighting game fan. But, like Tycho, I prefer when my fighters are situated in the second of dimensions. Fighters are, have been, and always will be at home when holding "away" is the best defense you'll ever need.

Soul Calibur manages to do it right, somehow. I'm pretty sure it's abandoning the entire 'twitch mechanics' that was repeatedly introduced with counter systems like Dead or Alive, and peppered up with weapons adding range, functionality, and all kinds of crazy extra shit. It adds a wonderful amount of balance to a game when you can change a character's range, power, speed, and the like with logic.

I mean, when you pick up Rock or Sigfreid, you know he's going to be stronger and tougher than Talim.

Regardless, Soul Calibur 4 is a pretty great game, so let's get to reviewin'.

Let's not kid ourselves here; it is Soul Calibur. That's a huge part of the review right there. We've hit a point in our gaming lives where a good half of the releases that come out end up starting the review by saying "This is a sequel. If you haven't played the original, go do something horrible to yourself and come out from your Batcave" or some variant thereof.

Here's the scoop for those of you who are just turning in; there's a powerful evil blade called Soul Edge, made by a weaponsmith to be the ultimate weapon. It just so happened to go around sucking out people's souls as well. Lots of people either want it, or want to destroy it. There's also a blade called the Soul Calibur, the antithesis of Soul Edge. People want this or to destroy this too. Thus the game starts.

Characters are varied and awesome. I am especially happy with the changes they made to my favorite characters Rock and Sigfried among them. Rock in the last game was pretty bad, but this time around they gave him lying-down opponent throws, meaning he can usually squeeze out a bit more damage each time he overwhelms you. These sorts of changes are more than welcome and they spread out all over the roster.

But then there's the one small problem: the veterans are the balanced ones. Amy and Rock were pretty lousy last time around, so they got amped up. Amy became less Raphael and more of a swashbuckler, trading in Raphael's precise foil fencing for lots of sweeping maneuvers, twirling, and jumping. But now we have the infamous Guest Characters, hailing from a galaxy far, far away.

First guest character is the Apprentice, from the upcoming Force Unleashed game. And, let me tell you, he is too good. You have been told.

Back in Soul Calibur 2, they gave guest characters to each console. Namco brought out their own guns in the form of Heihachi on the PS2. Todd McFarland guest-designed Necrid and Spawn. Necrid was on all consoles, Spawn was on the Xbox. Nintendo got Link.

The Apprentice is, for lack of a better term, a completely tricked out Spawn. He should be a veteran character and therefore have no problems being balanced, but the similarities end after 'balanced.'

Lots of his attacks combo into Force Levitate, allowing him to air combo. He can summon an unblockable Force Lightning from the ground or a slightly weaker one from the air. He flips in all directions for mindgames. All of his attacks are quick and some have long range. Many of his attacks can Force Throw his lightsaber. He has a bursting shieldbreaker and a Force Pull that stuns you and brings you close range from medium range.

The Apprentice is good. Again, you have been told.

A big part of his balance is that lots of his moves rely on the Force meter, a feature for the Star Wars characters. Attacks that use Force drain the Force bar, and when it is depleted it slowly recharges but puts you into a 'dizzy' state for a moment. With so many attacks and abilities relying on the Force meter, it basically demands that he end up in the dizzy state repeatedly. But this is a small weakness on an amazing character.

Yoda, on the other hand...well, I'll put it this way. When Final Fantasy 7 came out, everyone shit themselves at how great it was. I was a bit more cynical - it seemed like it did everything, but not very well, as though it had been pulled in too many directions at once. Think X-Men 3 of video games. It had some epic and moving moments, but it also had the awful chibi-sized graphics mixed with the taller, darker, mature fighting scenes. It was a huge mixed bag.

Much in that way, Yoda seems to have everything you could need on paper but in execution it can be awkward, clumsy, and embarrasing. Like a threesome.

And now you can all think of Yoda orgies.

Yoda's 8-way run makes him leap, and from there he can do an attack. While attacking, he can burn up Force to leap again and make a new attack. This can go on as long as he has Force to consume. Add to the fact that some attacks totally whiff over him, he's incapable of being grabbed, he can use the Force to make a GI-field around himself, and most of his flips completely dodge all low attacks and you'd think he'd be an all-star character.

Problem is most of his attacks are slow as hell and easily telegraph themselves. If you see Yoda flip in the air, he's probably not trying to dodge, so block for a moment. However if you avoid spamming the flips you can mix it up quite a bit before unleashing, problem is getting close to the opponent is difficult when your range sucks and your run makes you flip forward. And, you know, stubby legs.

Where was I? Oh, right.

Aside from that, Soul Calibur 4 is a kick and a half. The engine itself is nicely polished and everything looks great and plays amazing. Which reminds me.

On principle, I don't play fighting games online. Halo's twitch mechanics are constructed in a way you don't have to have perfect lag, as it can handshake the effect quick enough that when you know you killed someone, you know it. Fighting games are not this way. Guilty Gear is not this way. Nor is Street Fighter or Soul Calibur or Smash Bros. It just can't be. I will always have less than stellar performance and, for that reason, I just can't play fighting games online. I will eternally curse at the ever-present lag and feel horrible at my unchivalrous spamming of a 'safe' move to combat the lag.

My own honor gets in the way of me winning, yes. I would make a good samurai if it wasn't for my laziness.

However, Soul Calibur gets it damn near. When I played it online, it was only fractions of a second off. I've seen few fighters that get it that accurate.

The one thing that I seem to be alone with is the game's one-player modes. This is a strange one.

See since Soul Calibur 2, as far as I know, the game has always forced you to crawl through an agonizing single-player mode that was, for lack of a better term, 'thrown together'. Chronicles of the Sword has been a pain every time I played it, both 2 and 3. Worst thing was I just wanted to unlock the characters, then I can worry about getting everything like costumes and, later, character armor. But instead I was forced to play through this thing every time I wanted to just get Cervantes.

And Story mode is like the Star Fox of plot single players - every time it tries to take itself seriously the world just stops paying attention. You were given branching pathways and interactive cutscenes in Soul Calibur 3...

...when actually it was only given to you if they felt like it. The branching pathways didn't actually alter my fate or change what I saw or who I fought to the point where it mattered. It was just another Fight Followed by Fight. Guilty Gear handled it the best - cutscenes with interesting dialog and stuff that actually mattered. You actually learned the plot and the characters to a degree. Branching storylines changed things and mattered. To this day I've yet to see a story mode as effective as Guilty Gear's.

So now that you've been caught up, here's what Soul Calibur 4 does: Story Mode is an intro, five fights under different circumstances for each character, and an ending for that character. Instead of dealing with all that shit, you just get this. And it works because they're not shoving gimmicks on us. While I'm not praising it for sucking, I'm just saying the alternative is much worse.

Instead of Chronicles of the Sword, you can just take whichever character you like - even your custom characters - and throw them into the Tower of Souls. Remember how most games had challenges that were totally impossible that unlocked cool shit? Well, that's what this is. And it's great. Instead of a super-long single play campaign with tacked-on RTS elements, you get to fight a few matches one-after-another with tag-team style mechanics, including your custom character and all his bonuses and special items.

My one problem with it? Fighting in it gives you gold, but doesn't unlock items. Instead you have to do challenges that are ambiguous and nonsensical. Minor complaint, though, it's a great way to enforce playing the game through trial-and-error. The way fighting games should be.

Plus you can just play through arcade twice or three times and buy all the characters. Simplicity.

Character creation is amazing, but I have yet to delve into it.

All in all, totally great. Get a copy.