Review - Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls is one the most difficult game I’ve played in years and I love it! I find the choices made in its overall design both compelling and fascinating. In an industry where the current trend seems to want to make games easier and more accessible for the masses, it’s nice to see one game proudly stand up and pound its chest challenging gamers alike. It’s a call to arms of sorts for the hardcore.

For those of you who don’t know, the Prince of Persia series was recently “rebooted” to contain mostly simple button presses and thumb-stick gestures to execute “complex” maneuvers. It’s a divisive concept in the gaming community, and though I enjoyed the game quite a bit, I do admit that the trend is starting to bother met. Take Uncharted 2-- even though it's one of my favorite games of the year, the auto correcting jump mechanic had me shaking my head at times because I felt it was removing some of the games inherent gameplay challenges.

Embarrassingly I recall an incident from last year where I was playing Burnout 3 and became so boiled over with frustration I physically twisted and cracked my $50 DualShock 2. I cracked the internal circuit board rendering it completely useless. “Way to go Mark!” I thought, “What are you, 12 years old?!” Clearly this was a stupid and expensive reaction on my part, but I had had it with the game ending crashes caused by bumper tapping. I’m just the type of guy who doesn’t tolerate cheap and unapologetic design tactics in games.

I bring this up for two reasons: First to make it clear that poorly designed games can frustrate me to point of time travel. Secondly, I never once came close to feeling this kind of frustration in regards to Demon’s Souls challenges.

I think for most gamers to really appreciate Demon’s Souls they must make a conscience decision to be up for its back-breaking challenges. At its core, Demon’s Souls is an intensely exhilarating and well crafted experience coupled with unmerciful consequences for dying. But once one is aware of that fact, you will be forced to constantly contemplate your strategies knowing full well that even quickly turning a corner could have dire consequences.

Death in Demon’s Souls (see, even in writing it makes me wince!) has several penalties: It restart you from the very beginning on your current stage, you lose all your currency (souls) and all previously defeated foes will respawn sans bosses. In contrast of a game with a very generous checkpoint system like Batman: Arkham Asylum--checkpoints simply do not exist. I would like to be clear on this because it so very much goes against the grain--there will never be an automatic save made for you, nor is it even possible to manual save the game at your every whim.

Intimidated yet?

Hey, the game is not completely ruthless though. If you return to your fallen corpse without dying then you will be able to recover 100% of your souls. However, if you do die along the way then they will disappear completely leaving you with nothing but your weapons and health. You do have the opportunity to stashed away Demon's Souls, equipment and items with a friendly NPC located in the game’s hub (The Nexus), for safe storage. So if you utilize your resources properly you won’t completely lose everything.

I know it might sound too frustrating to even consider playing, but what Demon’s Souls manages to do is increase the intensity and quality of the experience without it feeling cheap. Almost every time I died in the game it was due to the fact that I wasn’t being careful enough, or frankly I was just practicing improper battle techniques.

So why would someone want to play this game? The only explanation I can give you is my own—Demon’s Souls managed to invoked emotions that I've not felt in a very long time. Its deliberately slow progression made me appreciate seemingly simple acts, but ostensibly were monumental progressions.

If the difficulty of Demon's Souls is at the core of the game’s draw then the boss fights are definitely the cherry on top of that cake. Yes this game has fun boss fights. Sing some praise with me! Though they can be a little outlandish at times, they are mostly radiating with originality and are enjoyable crafted sequences.

Demon’s Souls is a game full of "tough love"—it’s firm, but fair. If you slip up with your hand in the cookie jar even once then you will get it slapped hard! In some instances this means losing hours of your concerted efforts at the flick of the games wrist. Undoubtedly at some point you will dip your head in despair. But once you realize you were the one at fault you will suddenly realize that you're back in the game honing your skills and surpassing the games challenges. It's incredibly rewarding.

I'll never forget playing the game for the first time--it was a 4 hour session that ended with my jaw aching. Later I realized that it was from me gritting my teeth the entire time. I that pretty much sums up my experience with this game.


Still Alive

I hate to be a typical blogger here that's typically blogging about a lengthy absence from said blog that will only be thwarted by a triumphant return--but what the hell--that's exactly what I'm going to do! God that's a lame intro.

Nevertheless I quickly wanted to let the readers of this blog know that I have some thoughts and impressions coming very soon.

Thanks for the emails, private messages and support--your voices have been heard!


iPhone Gaming: Karma Star

Karma Star, developed by Majesco Entertainment, is without a doubt the most fascinating and unique game I’ve played on the iPhone. No seriously—I can’t stop playing the darn thing!

It’s a game that takes you through the paces of life in just 8 turns where you compete against 2 other players (represented by either AI or human). Games are over fairly quickly with an average of 8 minutes in length. You compete with 2 other players (AI controller or human) for the highest score. Each player has 5 traits: Health, Mind, People, Love and Money that are rated with a score of 1 through 5. Each turn you’re given the option to either boost a trait, which improves it’s score by 1, or by attacking another player’s identical trait scoring 2 points if you win the battle.

During combat players roll “dice” against one another. The higher rating your trait has, the more dice rolls you will get. For instance if your trait rating is 4 then you will get 4 dice rolls. If the accumulated score from these rolls are higher than your opponents—you win the round!

To really add some variety to the game Majesco has added wildcards. You can choose to play wildcards at the start of your turn, or during combat to influence the game in your favor. Wildcards vary from the helpful “Corruption” which allows you to steal a trait point from another player and “Moxie” which adds +2 to your dice rolls in combat, to the hell Mary type like “Sacrifice” where you can sacrifice 2 traits for an extra turn.

The game also rewards strategic gameplay with bonuses. Bonuses are a bit like the Achievement system on Xbox Live but more practical in nature because they boost your game score. For instance if you steal a wildcard from both players you will receive the “Thief” bonus boosting your score by 1. Or how about the bonus “Bully”, were attacking both players at least once nets you a point. The “Double Major” bonus get you a point if you get 2 of your traits up to level 5.

Karma Star is a game about human nature: Progression, development and conquest, but in a bite size format. With it's short game time and instant replayability it’s a perfect fit for handheld gaming. On top of all of this it's a steal for $1.99!

iTunes Link


E3 Impressions: Mass Effect 2

Those of you who listen to Played know that I adore the first game--despite it's faults--and have taken Commander Shepard through his paces more than once. Knowning how brilliant and effective Bioware is at creating entertaining experiences, my expectations for Mass Effect 2 were sky high going in to E3.

After getting two hands-off demonstrations I can mightily exclaim that Bioware has done a tremendous job at listening to it's fan base! Their plan is to advanced Mass Effect 2 in every direction possible including--one of my favorite parts of the series--the conversation system.

Being demonstrated on an X360, the first thing I immediately noticed were the graphical improvements. Gone are the annoying pop-in textures, the crosshatched creeping facial shadows, and most importantly--the feeble frame rate. It looks so fantastic in fact that I was forced to ask the project lead, Casey Hudson, if what we were watching was prerendered material. It sounds like a silly thing to ask, mainly because I knew the answer, but I had to be sure (and get it on the record).

The conversations between characters in the original, though interesting enough, mostly took place in rooms with static positions and sometimes drab perspectives. Bioware feels that that was a little too unnatural looking for the series. So in ME2 the perspectives used during conversations are more dynamic, "organic" and just overall more interesitng to watch.

In the demonstration I saw, Shepard was having a conversation with someone in a moving vehicle and the perspectives varied, moving from the back seat to close-ups and then outside of the vehicle. Though it's a small improvement, but it's one of the many little things Bioware is doing to improve the overall experience (and I don't mean to imply that every conversation will use Dutch angles) either, so please don't take it that way.

A new option has been added to the conversation system that appears to allow physical interaction with someone. It was basically a prompt--lasting only a few seconds--in the lower left-hand side of the screen to press the left trigger. When used in the demo, Shepard threw a guy out a window! I don’t know if this new prompt is always going to be an aggressive act of violence, but I'm very interested in finding out where they're going to take this addition. The original game did something similar in several instances of the game but it was interpreted through the conversation wheel—it just appears that now those instances have been defined elsewhere.

After the demo I asked the design lead about the inventory system. He wouldn’t give me specifics but he did say that they have completely scrapped the old system, from both the console and the PC versions, and are starting anew. He added that they are going for something much more practical, accessible, and useful.

I moved on to--perhaps the biggest gripe amongst us fans--the optional planetary visits and side quests. He smiled and assured me that every planet will be unique in design which quickly forced me to stopped him and press “every planet?”. Responding with another smile, “yes every planet.” In end of the demo they wrapped things up with a short video showing one off of the new planets and it was the exact opposite of what we're use to seeing in ME1. It was a lush green planet with a massive forest and rolling hills--it was exciting!

Lastly, I asked him if the same composer was returning and he said, unfortunately, that he could not talk about that.


What To Know What I Played At E3? BAM, There It Is...

I survived the E3 monster my friends! Yes, I'm back and I'm happy to report that I got to get my hands on some really amazing (and not so amazing) games. Here is the list:
  • Assassin's Creed 2
  • Uncharted 2
  • God of War 3
  • Brutal Legends
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Heavy Rain
  • Pixeljunk Shooter
  • Split/Second
  • Blur
  • Prototype
  • Darksiders
  • Red Faction: Guerilla
  • Overlord II
  • Ghostbusters
  • Brink
  • Fallout DLC: Point Lookout
  • The Conduit
  • Aliens vs Predator
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum

I'm working on a write up right now, but I just wanted to check in with you folks and let you know I was alive.

Also, if the title of this entry does make sense then click here.

Stay tuned...


E3, Twitter and Me!

I am overjoyed, you have no idea! I am fortunate enough to be attending E3 this year. I will be there on all 3 days and the plan is to see and play everything I can get my hands on. Though I'm not doing coverage for any one in particular (besides Played and, of course, this blog) but I will be fully dedicated to updating my twitter feed with my advantures on the showroom floor.

There really nice thing is that I have very few appointments scheduled so my time will be spent playing lots and lots of games. That's a good position to be in don't you think?

Here are the games I plan to check out so far:
  • Half-Life 2: Episode 3
  • Assassin's Creed 2
  • Rage
  • Alan Wake
  • Uncharted 2
  • MAG
  • God of War 3
  • New Zelda
  • New Mario
  • Crackdown 2!!
  • APB
  • Gran Turismo 5
  • Modern Warfare 2
  • Brutal Legend
  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Diablo 3
  • Starcraft 2
  • Bioshock 2
  • Trico
  • Heavy Rain
  • LA Noire
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Forza 3
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic

Anyone have any further recommendations?

The reality of actually running through the estimated 40,000+ people, I imagine, will be a bit daunting but I'm up for it!

Again, stay tuned to my Twitter for all the action as it will be my only source of information for the next 3 days.


Review: inFAMOUS

After playing through one of the three islands in inFAMOUS, I think I have a pretty good understanding of what inFAMOUS has to offer. In short--it's the game I've been waiting to play for over 2 years. Ever since Crackdown's release in early 2007 I've been itching for something that's even remotely close to what that over-the-top, explosive world has to offers. Though different games overall it does seem to satiate the same appetite. I love a game with a moral compass, at least when it's put to good use, and inFAMOUS does a pretty decent job of doing that. But to be frank--it's not perfect.

inFAMOUS calls it's moral system "Karma" and it takes form in a three-stage slide scale. The function of the Karma scale is to allow the player to unlock certain abilities, as they progress up it, to unluck and upgrade abilities depending on their moral choices in the game. Being a do-gooder will unlock that allow for more precise attacks, while acts of evil will allow for chaotic, power surging ones. For instance one exclusive evil power allows you the ability to slamming down onto the ground, shooting out electrical charges, in mid-jump.

The people of the city will react accordingly to your persona by cheering you on as you run by and taking your picture if you're a hero, or by gathering around as a mob to boo and hiss as they throw rocks at you. It's a pretty entertaining sight in some respects and it really does help you feel like you're affecting the world around you. It reminds me of the Fable series where people run up to you cheering and clapping over their head, but also, like in Fable, I found myself wanting it to be a little more practical instead of "showy". Assassin's Creed did something relatively similar as well where someone you save--which is effectively what you're doing in inFAMOUS--actually physically restrain the guards as you attempt to escape. I really think Sucker Punch missed at opportunity to innovate and do something special here.

These morality choices are presented to you throughout the main story and then through side missions as well. The side missions consist of two types: Standard ones that are marked on your map in the form of a yellow exclamation point, and then Karma based ones with either a red (evil) or blue (good) circle around it. You will be offered to choose one of these karma-based missions per territorial section and when completing, will wipe out the alternate one off the map.

It just so happens that the single most important aspect of a video game is the one thing Sucker Punch really nailed--the gameplay. It just feels really really good to play! Running, jumping, dashing, climbing, sliding, punching..I mean I could go on and on for days here.

But being able to jump off of the main story’s mission line is an essential element to an open world game and inFAMOUS does this by offering a host of side quests that range anywhere from rescuing some captive civilians from thugs (the Reapers gang) who are escorting them to certain death, to following a ghost to their killers is location. They’re interesting, fun and are repeated a few times throughout the first island (unsure of the second or third island). As you complete these side quests you are rewarded with experience (which is used to unlock more powers and upgrades) and a small “cleansed” segment of the cities territory. These cleansed segments will no long allow Reapers to respawn in their respective area. If you played Viking: Battle for Asgard, it's very similar to that in that, aesthetically speaking, everything becomes a little brighter and happier. It’s a nice and appreciated touch.

Initially one of my concerns about the game was transportation. I think Rockstar created a graceful solution with the Taxi system that was introduced in GTAIV. They essentially act as teleporters for the impatient (ME!), or a "rollercoaster 'o fun" for the vacationers. But that particular system just wouldn’t make sense in inFAMOUS’s world, plus it would rob the game of it's chance to remind you of how much of a badass you really are. After a few hours of playing the game you unlock the ability to slide along power lines and it's just a fast and fun way to get around town. The first time you do it I guarantee you'll exclaim "woooo hooo!" But it really wasn’t until I repaired the cities train system that I stood up cheering for Cole. Once I hopped onto that crazy train (aaall aboooard HAHAHAHAHAH! -Ozzy) I realized that utilizing this system for transportation around the city would allow me to get from one side of the city to the other in no time. The sense of speed when you're on top of one of these things just has to be experienced, and wait until you jump off that thing moving at those speeds. :)

For an open-world game I think the game, graphically speaking, looks great. After reading some comments on various gaming forums I think some people have too high of expectations for the current generations console's rendering power (and the software that drives them). Rendering games like inFAMOUS and GTAIV are extremely taxing on these system's resources. But to me, in the end, it really comes down to the art direction. That's what makes all the difference! It's what separates the good from the bad (pun intended). If I had to pick a better looking game, for comparisions sake, I would probably say GTAIV looking a bit better--mainly because of the impeccable city designs where nothing is copy & pasted. unofrtunately I did notice once or twice that the same building was being used in different locations of the same island, but just flipped around in disguise. For some this is completely trival, but for me it was a bit of a bummer as I had high expectations for the city's design.

I do have a few more gripes.

I adore the animated comic book style panel sequences that move the narrative along, but found the in-game cutscenes to be much lower in quality. It's almost as if they were tacked on at the very end of development. They appears to be less polished and are certainly not at the same level as the rest of the game's offerings. It actually left me wanting more of the well animated storyboarding instead.

The voice and general deign of Cole isn’t too spectacular either. Though I find his overall attire to be pretty cool, his facial design is rather bland. He looks like...well just some dude off of the streets, which I suppose is the point but now that he's got all this power he's not generic--he's special. My point is that I think it would have done some good for the character to have some distinguishing physical marks (of some sort, just please no tattoos) left on him after the incident.

In regards to his voice, it appears to be straight out of the David Hayter school of video game voice acting but with less passion (and grunting). It's dry and dull and does nothing to invoke likability for Cole.

My final complaint might be insignificant to some, but for me it’s a point that is grating. There is a very slight and faint squeaking noise that is made when Cole runs. It's a lame complaint, I'll agree. But there are times when I completely forget about it, and then sudden hear it again! This mainly happens when I've been fighting or watching a cutscene for a while and as I begin running I hear it again. I'm left scratching my head wondering why Sucker Punch left this in the game. What appreciative value does it add to the overall experience?

In the end though the good far outweigh the little gripes I have with inFAMOUS. With incredibly fun gameplay that just feels right, excellent graphics, spectacular music, a huge city to explore, excellent transportation methods, a decent morality system, and wonderful fighting mechanics--this game is absolutely amazing! Buy it now.


Peggle Review (iPhone)

Peggle for the iPhone and iPod touch sucks--but I don't mean pejoratively. It is litterally sucking up much more of my free time (and battery power) than should be allowed. There are several key reasons this is the definitive version of Peggle for me: It's accessability, the platforms inherent touch screen controls and the overall excellent translation to Apple's platform. It's actually a dangerous prospect for gamers-on-the-run like me because its addiction is like a ninja. It will sneak up on you and take you by surprise!

But not surprisingly, Popcap utilizes the iPhones touch screen interface to control the game really well. The controls are on par with it's mouse driver counterparts on the other platforms thanks to it's three aiming modes: The finger-swipe for broad aiming, a crank located on the right-hand side of the screen for fine-tuning adjustments to aim and finally a double-tap zoom in mode for access to a really percise aiming mode. The combination of these three aiming mechanics really allow for a less frustration expereince and not once have I found them to be clumsy.

In addition to that, Popcap has added a OMG-I-have-a-plane-to-catch fast forward button that allows you to lessen the wait time. It can be used to speed up the wait for that perfect shot, or--not that I would encourage it--you can even use it during the "Ode to Joy" segment if you wish.

Popcap has also included the ability to capture replays for those one-in-a-million shots that you must show off to friends and family. Though I've not exepreinced any performance issues on my iPod touch, I have heard of some performance issues with older hardware. Nothing that would destroy the experience, but it's only fair to mention it for those that are hyper sensetive to those kinds of things.

Much like the original game, Peggle for the iPhone includes 55 levels and only 40 of the 75 Grandmaster challanges that are in the other versions.

With an asking price of $4.99 this game provides a excellent amount of entertainment for iPhone gamers but to be fair it's a little pricey when considering the average price of similar games (Pachingo is $.99) is a 1/5 of the price.

I almost always have my iPod with me and not my DS . That being said, with all the tweaks mentioned above, the pass-the-phone duel mode, and trophy room--this makes it my favorite version of Peggle.


Sacred 2 Stopped Making Me Weep

Sacred 2 has this way of luring you back for more--even with its faults!

It pleases me to say that after becoming a little bored with the Shadow Warrior--with it's monotonous melee--I decided to create a different character, a Dryad, and give Sacred 2 another shot. It's not that I dislike Sacred 2, it's that it's got so much potentoil and it's first impression was spoiled! Hey, I gotta keep trying, man. I just love these dungeon crawlers ok?

So I headed in another direction and went with a ranged class to see how differently it would play. The Dryad class can use melee weapons like the Shadow Warrior, but really, it's built for ranged combat. I have to say, after playing for several hours, I am really enjoying my time playing the Dryad. Sure, chalk it up to personal preference perhaps but it really feels like this game was built for bows-and-magic on the consoles (not the PC.) Come’on, this is coming from a guy who hated the “push-the-stick” melee in Too Human but loved the Marksmen class--it just feel right.

With the class change I dutifully played a few more hours of the game (roughly 4). Unfortunately with in that time I noticed a few more obtrusive issues with the game. Thankfully none of these are deal breakers, at least not for me. Before I get to those I want to reiterate—I am now enjoying this game! unfortunately It’s not as refined as I would like it to be.

However, with that being said....

I cannot find a way to blacksmith in the field despite obtaining the skill to do so. I've checked around on several forums, asked a few people and it appears that this is a common issue amongst players. It’s a nice skill to have as Blacksmiths just aren’t prevalent in the game.

When browsing the inventory there are two options available to you—“Details” and “Compare”. "Details" allows you to—are you ready for this—see more details about a particular item! "Compare" allows you to....see more details about an item! Yes the problem is--both buttons do the exact same thing. This is another very useful feature that would make life easier when upgrading and selling items. Anyone know what's going on with this?

In my previous post I complained about the act of Looting. I'm happy to report that the "catch all" collection system now feels really good and makes my little pavlovian brain salivate with it's "Cha-ching" sound effects.
Just to note--and not to complaint--gone is the color system the PC version of the game uses to identify power level and importance of items and weapons (a la Word of Warcraft) and replacing it is a star system. It works well and I see no real difference between using the two. I'm wondering if perhaps the change took place to better suite colorblind gamers?

Overall—this game is beginning to win me over and I'm excited about that.

Anyone up for some coop? :)


Sacred 2: First Impression

Although I was only able to spend about an hour playing the game yesterday, I feel like I have a few noteworthy remarks about the console release of Sacred 2. Take my feedback with a grain of salt but with that being said I'll do my best to describe what I experienced. At the very least this will provide a morsel of information out there about this highly (for some) anticipated game. Also to confess, I've not played the PC version more than about an hour so I'm not overly familiar with the game in it's many iterations--but I do love dungeon crawlers of any kind like Diablo I & II, Titan Quest, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2, and Champions of Norrath.

The installation of the game took as long as any other 360 game--roughly 8 minutes. The installation improved load times significantly. I don't mean to imply that loading levels is non-existent but they do load with in seconds.

I decided to play as a Shadow Warrior and check out how melee is handled in this game. You have the option to choose to play the Light or Dark campaigns and select an applicable deity to worship. The Shadow Warrior begins his saga in a tomb and my initial impressions was "cool, a dungeon! There's bound to be lots of loot around here!" I ran around a bit and everything looked well enough. It certainly wasn’t mind blowing but it definitely looked better than the games I mentioned above. :)

Unfortunately, once outside the tomb the frame rate took a little bit of a hit. Not severe enough to make the game unplayable, but I think people who are really sensitive to a slight drop in frames and tearing will be put off by this. Personally, I thought it was a little annoying--but not annoying enough to ruin the gameplay. If I had to guess I would say it dropped < 30 fps.

The fighting was a little strange for me. I felt a little disconnected when fighting (melee) because you don’t mash a button. It's not similar to the Baldur's Gates or the Champions of Norraths where you hit a button to attack. Instead you hold down the button and direct your attacks towards the enemies. It works--and I imagine it takes some getting use to--but for me I would rather mash on a button and feel more involved with attacking. It felt a little too passive but I am only an hour into the game. I imagine this is a mechanic that will feel more natural (and perhaps for connected?) in time.

Loading up on loot in these games is always something I look forward to--don't we all? In Sacred 2 (console), looting is done automatically when pressing the LB. Again, you feel a little detached when loot is magically transported into your inventory and where's the satisfaction when you don't get the feel of snatching it up? At least you see it on the ground and know you have to pick it up so the process isn't as drastically passive as Too Human where goodies didn’t even fall on the ground but jumped into your inventory. I am sure this sounds totally trivial to a lot of you but for me, I enjoy picking it up and hearing the "clinks", the "clanks" and the "cha-chings" of the gold pieces. For those of you like me, a little thing like that is hugely missed.

I did notice that weapons, abilities/skills and magic can be bound to any of the 4 face buttons. The LT and RT act as a "shift" key so you can bind up to 8 more items for quick use. It looks really effective and I think it's a smart way to handle diversity in combat methods.

In the inventory, I noticed that comparing items is as easy as pressing a button so it does look like Ascaron made an effort to create as console-friendly game. Again, these are very early impressions of a ginormous game. There are still many many things left for me to see and find and get used to. Knowing some of you are as eager as I am for first-hand impressions of this game on the console -- feel free to ask if you have any questions!


Sacred 2 Is Here!

Look was showed up on my doorstop today! I'm very interested to see how this game turns out. Though we talked about it on a previous episode of Played--that was the PC version. Will post soon with impressions as their is no embargo on this baby. What do you think? Does Sacred 2 on the consoles have the potential to be as good or better than Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (one of my favoritet console dungeon crawlers)?


Article: I'll Cry When I'm Done Killing

[Warning: Slight MGS4 spoiler below]

Ask yourself: Can video games be uniquely therapeutic when compared to other entertainment mediums? No other medium matches the catharsis of interaction.

Let’s take the extremely intense button-mashing sequence near the end of Metal Gear Solid 4. You must help the protagonist—Snake—pull his dilapidated body through a fiery corridor before he’s burnt to a crisp. As the clock ticks away, you must furiously mash away to assist him in his agonizingly slow progression to safety. One sweaty hand reaches forward slowly clutching the floor as a leg bends slightly to help push him forward a few inches. Bit by bit the screen glow an ominous red reminding you that death is imminent. Once I completed that particular experience and lived, I dropped my controller to the ground in need of a break! It felt like I ran a mental marathon dealing with all the emotions the sequence evoked. Nervousness, dread, anguish, excitement, and then finally relief were all there and all because of game play. No words or touching dialog to take me here and yet I felt exactly what the game wanted me to feel.

Can video games go the other direction? How about actually consoling the loss of a loved one? According to one man--who’s brother was unfortunately killed in Iraq--they can:

“I was fighting back too. Not from some watered-down, digitalized version of patriotism. I was inflicting retribution on the people and the ideas that had hurt Luis, working through my grief and my rage. It wasn't the real thing; I don't think I could survive twenty-four hours of patrolling the physical, flesh-and-blood Baghdad. But Call of Duty 4 was as close as I could get. By the time I'd reached the end, I felt a visceral sense of relief and satisfaction. And part of me thought: "This one's for you, buddy. Hooah."

"I'll Cry When I'm Done Killing" is an interesting read and I highly recommend it. Thanks goes to SVGL for the link.


The Godfather 2

Though I love me some 3rd-person shooter action, the original Godfather game bored me to tears. I just couldn't get into it! I know I know, some of you out there really enjoyed this game quite a bit--and I respect that--but it never struck a chord with me despite my several attempts at playing it.

I'm happy to say that The Godfather II is a little bit of a different story...for the most part. To be frank, it's not much to look at, but I found the overall game engaging enough that I was compelled to play it all the way through to the end in roughly 10 hours.

Initially the experience didn’t feel much different from the first as the game (slowly!) introduced all the gameplay mechanics, but in about an hour or so the game began to hit its stride and everything sank in. It turned out this game was deeper--gameplay-wise--than some most other open world games and I found that refreshing as it was unexpected.

The Don View (initiated by hitting the Start button) essentially pulls the game out to a 3D map of the mob world you're trying to take over. Here you will be able to control your game in much greater detail. You'll find yourself inviting people into your family for their beneficial abilities (like lock picking or demolitions), promoting them up the chain (which in-turn grants them additional skills), upgrading their abilities (there are roughly 15 abilities per character ranging from increased health to better aiming), purchase them new weapons and more.

The Don View also offers the ability to delegate tasks for your family by send some of your men to assist in defending a business of yours that's under attack, or bomb an enemies business to cripple a crime ring, or even to attempt to take over another business making it your own. It's a cool system that wasn’t as buggy as I was expecting it to be.

In one instance I was attacking a much needed trucking depot to complete a crime ring that would have added bullet proof vests to my crew. While I was waging war the game notified me that one of my other businesses--a bar--was under attack (the notification helpfully offers to take you to the action via the Don View at a press of a button). No problem--I simply instructed 4 of my thugs to help fortify the defenses at the bar. Once I was done taking over the trucking depo I quickly drove over to the bar to assist and as I arrived I could see my guys laying waste to the other family as they finished up the last few guys. It's a rewarding system that works really well and is easily one of the highlights of the game.

Initially I was worried that I was going to spend more time in the Don View than actually playing the game because I was under the impression that this game might have been part 3rd-person shooter and part RTS--but that was not the case at all. Though you do spend a decent amount of time in the Don View, you really spend the majority of your time running around and attacking other families. Also, it's worth mentioning that the Don View might offer enough options to make some peoples head spin at first as it has a plethora of options. I do feel like it could have been organized a little better or at least consolidated in some ways to make it a little more approachable.

There are three cities throughout the game: New York, Cuba and Florida. You can (and will) visit back and forth by visiting the airport in each city. It sounds like a pain, but the maps are small enough that I found it painless.

Without a doubt the most fun I had with the game was when I was attacking other families businesses cannibalizing them into my own crime rings. These rackets--which normally consist of several businesses--have additional benefits that are exclusive to that string of businesses. For instance one racket will grant you larger ammo clips for your crew. One of the bigger ones spans several cities and offers incendiary bullets doubling the damage of your bullets. It's a nice carrot-on-a-stick until the end of the game.

There are some annoyances in the game worth mentioning (some minor but I’ll let you be the judge). You will use the thumbsticks to navigate the world, but as soon as you enter any menu system--including the Don View--you must switch over to the D-pad--its inconsistence is an annoyance, and what’s further frustrating is that it doesn’t even offer the option to do so. Also, the game expects you to interact with the world by talking with people on the streets who need favors (and boy there are a lot of them), but there isn’t enough variation on the NPCs, their voices and the environment to keep in very interesting. The graphics never go beyond mediocre and are never impressive.

But I think the biggest gripe I have with the game is the severe lack of side missions or alternate activities to participate in. The whole idea of an open world game is to offer the player choice. In Saint’s Row 2 or GTAIV you have so many different activities or side missions at your disposal one could get lost for hours! You can (and in some cases are encouraged) to stray from the main story and get completely lost. That’s the joy of an open world game--you make it your own! Yes I understand that there is a specific story to tell here with The Godfather 2, but the other games I mentioned do as well. I just feel like there was a huge opportunity here to move this game into a more interesting experience than it is and in the end we get a game whose world is nothing more than an empty shell. Perhaps EA is hoping people will get lost in the multiplayer experience? Personally I have no interest in that portion of the game.


Happy 50th (Podcast) Anniversary to Played!

Come what may, my two co-hosts and I managed to record 50 podcast episodes of Played over the last few years. The anniversary episode went live last night if you're interested in listening to some geeks talk about video games.

It’s a entertaining episode where we announce the winners of the Haiku contest we ran last month. Included is a fun little ditty my co-hosts, Chris Remo, wrote which is comprised of all three winnings submissions. We also chat at length about Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II, Killzone 2, King’s Bounty: The Legend, Fable 2 and Microsoft’s claim that gaming is health for kids (in the UK).

I imagine that it's probably a bit tacky to link to it here on my own blog, but it’s something I’m pretty proud of so please do check it out.


Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazzard

Within minutes of starting Eat Lead you will learn that Matt Hazzard was a big celebrity back in the 80s where he starred in a string of very successful video games. Since then he has unfortunately plummeted off the charts (due to making a Mario Kart type game) and been out of work. Destined for a comeback he is commissioned by "Wally" Wellesley to star in a new, next-generation video game. But not all is as well as it seems—Wally really wants to destroy him.

Allow me to explain: When Wally was a kid he bested every video game he played except for one—Matt Hazzards. Taken as a whole it is actually an intriguing idea for a video game as it leads to an unusual take on breaking the 4th wall.

For instance kicking off the voluntary tutorial leads to Matt Hazzard exclaiming, "Great--an in-game tutorial. God I hate these things!" and “Yeah Yeah! I know how to shoot a damn gun!”

During the beginning of one particular level--in habitual third-person/first-person fashion—the objectives start to appear in the upper right-hand corner. As they pile on they begin to cover the protagonist making him exclaim “Ok! Ok! Can we summarize this or something?” This prompts the list to be consolidated to “Shoot stuff that moves”.

It gets even more clever.

In one particular instance Matt Hazzard has to fight some of the enemies from his first game and they are literally 2-D sprites running around shooting at you. The real clever part is they purposefully become more difficult to hit by turning to their sides, thinning themselves.

But all this great material is simply overshadowed by the real issue--the gameplay. Though it replicates Gears of War in this regard, it fails to be engaging. The weapons have little-to-no kickback and lack any sort of originality. The AI is nonexistent and possibly inferior to the PB&J sandwich I had for lunch today. The quick-time events are slow and far too crude to be entertaining. The game is so unbalanced I completed 75% of a level using melee attacks that—when performed at the right moment--seemingly render you invincible.

It would be a bit trite for me to even mention to the readers of this blog that most video games expect you to slip into the boots of their protagonist. But in Eat Lead it’s just too difficult to do because the games foundation is so weak. It leaves Matt Hazzard to be possibly the most apologetic video game character ever. He consistently looks back at you winking and nudging his way through the levels in hopes that he will distract you from the real issues at hand.

No More Heroes is a similar game in that it’s self-aware (but to a much more mild extent). One of the glaring differences is the protagonist--Travis Touchdown. He is self-assured, hilarious and backed by an extremely robust gameplay model. In contrast I imagine Matt Hazzard would rather crawl out from the TV, sit next to you on the couch and entertain you with his knee-slapping humor. It ultimately makes for an awkward gaming experience that eventually falls prey to the same ridiculous paradigms it sets out to mocks.


King's Bounty: The Legend

Killzone 2 will astonish you with its deferred rendering engine that utilizes multi-sampled anti-aliasing to produce unbelievable graphical fidelity for a home console. Burnout Paradise will have you sweating at a blistering 60 frames-per-second as you soar over skyscrapers crashing through billboards (queue 80s rock DJ!) Madworlds protagonist, Jack, wants to violently seduce you as he chainsaws his way throughout a blood-spattered--Frank Miller enthused--world justly confirming that it really is a mad mad Madworld he lives in. But recently I was plucked out of the hardcore gaming stratosphere to be reminded that gaming isn’t always about boiling your blood with crazy gameplay antics or pumping your adrenaline over its procedural merit.

King’s Bounty: The Legend is here to say it is ok to slip back to a more classic style of gameplay and focus on strategy while having a good time. It's ironic that I initially found King's Bounty: The Legend to be precisely the game I wasn’t looking for. For the last two years I've been feverishly pushing forward at 180 mph playing everything I can get my hands on. To name a few, I've played through to completion F.E.A.R. 2, Mass Effect (five times), Far Cry 2, Fallout 3 (twice), Dead Space, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand theft Auto 4 (twice), leveled a Priest to 80 in Warcraft obtaining 4/5 of my Tier 7 gear, and really just about everything else imaginable. I consume games and love every minute of it (hence the name of this blog). But after spending some times with the game I realized I almost missed out on something special and now I'm here to inform my fellow gamers they might be too.

King's Bounty will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played the Hero's of Might and Magic series. That is to say it's a turn-based tactical RPG that takes place in a fantasy setting. You control one of three character classes (Fighter, Paladin or Mage) in real-time, traversing a map overflowing with treasures, monsters, and NPCs. These NPC bestow quests upon you which push you farther and farther into the recesses of the world. Sometimes you'll just fall into a wacky situation--I once chatted up a stump only to discover he ailed of distraught and was in dire need of help. How could one resist!

As you progress through the game your character will gain new abilities through the now ubiquitous skill tree, obtain new weapons and armor from merchants and treasure chests, and venture off to new lands. These lands are segmented by portals that whisk you to-and-fro consisting of super-green grasslands, dank mines, eerie swamps, chilly ice-lands, gloomy forests and scorching dungeons.

The turn-based warfare takes place in a completely separate battle-screen that essentially resembles a chessboard. Though this might sound a bit dowdy, the board is modified throughout the game to vary movement strategies.

I do not remember the last time I played a game that possessed such a vibrant, colorful, hand-drawn palette. When I saw the menu screen for the first time I just sat there staring at the beautifully drawn image analyzing its absurd level of detail. Unfortunately, once in the game, the game loses that level of impressiveness and moves to something more similar to the Warcraft series. But that’s not to say it isn’t a good looking game. Although clearly inspired by Blizzard’s work, there does seem to be just enough of a departure from it to tell the two apart. Overall it is a very visually appealing game.

If there is going to be a downside to King’s Bounty it will probably be that it really does nothing new in this particular genre, and some might perceive it as borrowing heavily from the above mentioned Heroes of Might and Magic series. The interesting twist is that the original King’s Bounty came out in 1991—four years before the Heroes of Might and Magic series. For me personally this was never an issue, but I suspect that this will be a source of contention for some.

The dialog that carries the story can be a bit monotonous at times as its standard fantasy fare. It’s worth noting that the Russian developer, Katauri Interactive, tried to inject some comedic value into the dialog to liven things up.

With King Bounty I realized I was letting a small portion of the gamer in me miss out on something special just because I was caught up in the mix of things. If you’re looking for something to change that up you should give this game a chance--it’s worth your $30.


GTA Phone Calls Have Me Lost and Damned Damned Damned!

On the whole I would say that the GTAIV: Lost and Damned DLC is a triumph. It offers a respectable amount of debauchery, hog ride'n, Arm Westle'n, F-bomb drop’n and even brings a new-fangled episode of Republican Space Rangers for all of us to enjoy.

Unfortunately there still remains one absurd design choice that drives me to shouting at my TV in I hopes that Sam Houser will take notice--scripted phone calls.

They have got to stop.

Actually the calls wouldn’t be so bad if Niko or Johnny didnt stop running to answer these intrusions. But in regards to this game in particular, I don’t know of anything else more frustrating than the inevitable phone call once you've completed a mission. The likelihood that one is involved in a car chase in GTA involving a insane amount of munitions had got to be high. Not only are there bound to be 37 cop cars hot on your trail, but you are most likely going to be running from your burning charriot thereafter. To have the protagonist suddenly stop running while trying to get away is maddening. It got to the point where I would try to find an alley to run and hide in so Mr Turtle wouldnt get killed. It wouldnt be so bad if the save system was a little more logical, but after a long tedious mission this is the last thing we want to have happen.

I understand Rockstar wants to slow things down a bit so you can focus in on the narratives progression, but there has got to be a better way of handling this.

what's more is the run ability is shared with the hang-up button? How many of you have hanged up on a caller while mashing the run button trying to get away from a burning vehicle?