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)?