2012 in review


A short summary for our first year. We’ll come back with new reviews and so on soon.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Mass Effect 3

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There’s not much to say about Mass Effect 3 that I didn’t say in the reviews for the other two games: the good parts are there, the bad parts are making a comeback, but overall it’s a good game and a fitting end to a great trilogy. The second one remains the best of the series and the first one remains the not so good one. So, after I praised the shit out for Mass Effect 2, let’s focus on the things Mass Effect 3 doesn’t do so well in this review. Also, not that I played the game with the Extended Cut DLC installed, so my view might not match the ones of the raging internet. Here we go…

The overall feeling is lazy design. You can spot this if you do some multiplayer matches before setting out to save the galaxy (for example, if your copy on the game comes with 2 free days of XBOX Gold). In multi, you and other 3 players are set in a rather small area and asked to defend against waves of enemies; pretty much Horde mode from Gears. Well, that’s the multiplayer in ME3; it has classes and level and so on, but that’s not why we’re here. Now, imagine how the single player is pretty much the same: you get a mission, you land on a planet, talk with somebody, he sends you somewhere and then you have to defend against wave of enemies. Waves end, advance a bit and repeat. Lazy…

Also lazy, the boring ass missions from ME1 are back: you know how in the first one you got called on the radio and somebody told you about a planet somewhere, where shit happens? Here we are again – most of my time my log was filled with ‘Get artifact X from planet Y in system Z’. It would have been a lot better if there were no side mission at all, instead of having this waste of time. Oh, just to be fair, there are also wave based side mission. They are a huge improvement over ‘go there get that’, but see the previous paragraph about what’s wrong with them.

I had a feeling that the roster from ME2 will never be matched, in any game, be it BioWare game or not. And I was right. Your squad is made up of characters that have been with you in all three games, with one exception that steals the show. It’s a great addition and it should be in the top of ‘Best supporting characters’, along with half your squad from ME2, but just one person does not save the day. Maybe some people will be thrilled to see the same characters from the first game, but after playing side by side with Jack and Legion, it’s hard to go back to Garus and Tali. That’s doesn’t mean you won’t see your old friends – in your path to save the galaxy you’ll meet all your all crew and, sometimes, you’ll be surprised how the evolved (like how hot Jack is now).

The new and improved Jack.

While we’re at this subject – don’t expect world changing changes from the decisions you made in the previous game. That is not really a bad thing and I enjoyed the way saving Wrex or not letting someone die makes its way into the story. Everything is so well done that you’ll think the game was designed around your decisions and it’s hard to imagine how that specific mission would have look if you did something different.

The dialogues are also lazy, almost like they don’t want to bother you too much. The text is great, but the problem is that it’s mostly someone and Shepard talking and, like they remember you were there, you heaving to choose one of two options. Lazy…

We’re getting close to my opinion of the ending, have a little more patience…

I also have some problems with the story – what was up with the Collector’s in the second game? Why did the Reapers need them to build a human Reaper since they were coming Earth’s way anyway? I mean a point other than making Shepard a huge threat for them. As for ME3, the story is a cliché, recycling a lot of classic themes; the most prominent are ‘the magic object that save the galaxy’ (this is done by 90% of the Sci-Fi literature, didn’t anybody realize it was overused?); then there’s the ‘unite the people’ motif – that would have been okay if BioWare hadn’t already done it in Dragon Age. Actually, half of ME3 feels like Dragon Age with Space Marines. Lazy…

One of the new characters. The boring one…

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the ending: *drumroll* I like it. Story wise, that is. I found the Reaper’s motivation really made sense, and ME3’s story show how it makes sense. The execution, on the other side is crappy and, you guessed it, lazy. Without giving too many spoilers, it pulls a Deus Ex: Human Revolution. And we’ve talked in the past about how that sucks. It also lacks a proper ending for an epic trilogy, a la Fallout ending. The Extended Cut tries to add this sort of closure, but it doesn’t even come close to what the guys who now work at Obsidian were doing back in ’98. I should probably go and do some research to find out if Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter had this sort of ending, or if it’s something BioWare just doesn’t do. Also, they better not change the ending and show that Shepard was dreaming. Shove off, conspirationists!

 

So, yeah, ME3’s design is a bit on the lazy side; and if you just read this article it might sound like it sucks. But it really doesn’t. To understand how good it is, I couldn’t play any other game after completing ME3 because there just didn’t stand up to the comparison. It’s the second time this year when I find myself in this situation (first time was The Witcher 2) and it’s a great and an awful feeling. Come on, BioWare, gives us something new, I don’t want to be bored forever!

Mass Effect 2

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I need to get this review off my mind, otherwise, if I prolong any further, it’s going to get filled up with Mass Effect 3 comparison, and we better leave those for their own post. So, yeah, Mass Effect 2 – great game. To reiterate on how I began my previous post – if there’s a good example of a sequel that kept all the good parts of its predecessor and then improved on the bad ones, Mass Effect 2 would be that example. Of course, there are some people that always complain that the game has strayed of its roots too much, that it EA had taken over BioWare and messed up everything and so on. These are the type of guys with whom you can never win: don’t change anything and they’ll complain that you are redoing the same game again and again (Modern Warfare 2 comes to mind as an example here, but it might not be a particular good one) or change something and they’ll complain that you have pissed on the great legacy that the previous game had been. And there’s nothing wrong with being in one of those groups, just don’t be in both at the same time. Actually, don’t be an Internet Dick. Now back to our game.

In the Mass Effect review I had said that it was really lacking in gameplay and (secondary quests) design. I think it was just the beginning of the Gears of War era, and cover mechanics was not something used by every freaking game in the galaxy. Plus, there was that whole RPG stuff BioWare had done through the years and it seemed a bit complicated to stray too far from that. These were the facts that put ME in the posture of not knowing if it was a shooter with RPG elements or an RPG with shooting mechanics. Luckily enough, somebody on the design board said “You know how we are trying to determine if you hit something by doing some math? And how your targeting reticle changes based on what class you are? Yeah, yeah, those ancient RPG elements that we had in the previous game. Well, fuck them!” I wasn’t there to know for sure, but I’m guessing that’s how the new shooting mechanic was born, finally giving the series a clear identity – a shooter with RPG elements. The whole control scheme has been streamlined to look and feel like a third party shooter, weapons have recoil, targets fall under impact – it all feels like shooting a gun instead of waiting for somebody’s program to compute the last digit of PI.

Actually “streamlined” is what defined the whole new experience. A lot of the people in the first paragraph called “dumbing down”, but it are actually “improving”. The skill system in the first game wanted to prove it was a true RPG system with over-the-top “+1 flushing speed” stats that got confusing at some point. It has now been simplified: fewer powers but more impactful. You don’t unlock a “Level 2 Warp” by investing 5 points into Warp, you just invest in Warp to its full potential and then you can choose how your super power will evolve. Also, a skill with just one point invested in it has visible impact (I could fend off Husk with Push with little investment) and you don’t have to put all your points into that skill to actually see what it does. Inventory – that was a fun thing in the first game. Now it’s gone – instead of picking up tons of garbage you just pick up upgrade blue prints and, sometimes, some weapons and armor. One could complain that the arsenal is a bit limited, and he might be right, but it makes sense if you look at the fact that you don’t have any actual stats to compare. It’s all about how that gun looks and how it feels in your hand/gamepad/mouse. Then, again, more is better.

The side quests in Mass Effect were awful – they sent you to different planets where you had to do pretty much the same thing: drive your car, find a base, shoot stuff, and get out. Those are pretty much gone to. Now, before you start complaining, keep in mind that it took me 30-35 hours to complete the game. What is that time filled with? Well, remember how I said I love character interaction in the first game – they improved that aspect. You can still go talk with people after every mission, but at one point they’ll ask you to do a ‘personal’ mission, each mission being different and original. So now, instead to get to know your crew just by talking with them, you can find out more by going on a journey into their past. There’s a lot of ‘daddy issues’ in some of these quests, but they make some of the coolest characters in a video game look even cooler. Oh, and I probably should have started with the fact that ME2 is the gaming equivalent of a ‘gather the team’ movie (in the lines of X-Men: First Class).  I might start sounding like a teleshopping gig, but – not only do you get to play those wonderful loyalty missions, but you’ll also play the recruiting mission for most of your squad.

Meet your squad

Speaking of your squad, I already said it: these are some of the most interesting characters in a video game. Thane comes to mind as a clear winner, as he’s a former assassin that speaks like a catholic priest. But then there’s Samara, the Asari Justicar with a stick up her ass, Legion – the geth representative, Jack – the slightly psychotic super-women and even Mordin – the “I’ll shoot you in the face” medic of the team. Basically half of your crew is superb characters. The other half are just good, okayish by BioWare standard but over most of the characters from any other game.

What else to say? Oh, the DLCs. I should write something about why DLCs suck, but let’s just stick to this particular case – there nothing great about them, their more like ticks sucking your wallet rather than something you need to have. If it wasn’t for the fact that they influence some things in the next game, I don’t think I would have got them. Oh, yes – the game imports the saves from the previous game and sets up the universe around them. In theory, as most of the choice from the previous game reflect in emails you receive and some cut-scenes, but there are also some things that might make me think a bit better about my choice in the next playthtough. And the saves from ME2 will go to ME3 and I’ll probably talk more about this when I write the final review. So back to DLCs – there’s a really good one (Shadow Broker), some okayish ones (Overlord and the ones where you get new squad members) and some crappy ones (the one where you return to the Normandy crash site and just looks around and the one were the Mako is resurrected as a better controlled vehicle that shoots like ass).

And then there’s The Arrival DLC which fucks thing up a bit. It adds a quest were you have to delay the Reaper invasion, and that’s good and all, but why the hell am I wasting time with Collectors if the Reapers are definitely coming? Again, I’ll get into more detail about this after I finish the whole trilogy, but right now it feels like ME2 was just a filler episode.

Mass Effect 2 is a great game that does (almost) everything right. The only problem I see is that it’s going to be though to top this performance.

Will Mass Effect 3 manage to be better? Find out next, only on Child of the 90s. Also, don’t forget to check our news on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/childof90s) or our daily rants on Twitter (https://twitter.com/child90s).

Mass Effect

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If there’s one example of a game that is saved by its story and the way that story is told, that game would be Mass Effect. Sure, Planescape: Torment was a bit plagued by the same issue, but if you take into account the age the two games were released, ME wins this round. I replayed this game because the third part was out and I wanted to play a more exotic class (I’ve been playing Soldier for my first runs and, apparently, that’s a pretty boring class). And since you can carry your saves from game to game, and I haven’t played them in a while, and I wanted to play the second game again, and I had some spare time, and so on…

I entered my third run with an Adept and wanted to just go along with the game and reach the second one where the fun really begins. But somewhere along the line I got hooked into my companions’ drama; if there’s one thing BioWare (still) does really well is to create interesting and believable characters. Helped by the fact that I knew from the second game that it’s good to speak with everyone after each mission, I found myself in front of a somehow new game. I think it also helps that, beside conversations, the game is not that interesting (I’ll get into that next), and so you will delay the next mission to have another chat with the guys on board. My previous run was at a 13 hour mark and the last one had 20 hours just because I enjoyed chatting a bit too much.

Mass Effect Races

To give some examples:

–          If you talk to Wrex (and he survives) his position in the second game really makes sense

–          I didn’t think so until now, but Garrus is a bit of a renegade and I pretty much showed his the way (since my Shepard is the nicest guy in the galaxy)

–          Ashley is a racist bitch (voice by a pretty girl). In both my first playthroughs, I had saved Ashley because, well, she was a girl (and I even had a romance with her). But now, we got into more intellectual stuff (not just ass) and she turned out to be an alien hater that didn’t, ever, listen to reason. So, yeah, she dead now

With that being said, boy does this game have an awful gameplay. The most know fact is driving the Mako, which is a car that controls like a fancy shoe on the most slippery ice in the galaxy. But, because the ‘fans’ though it’s part of the game, it came back in the second one in a better shape. Then there’s the inventory, a relic from a different time that will have you spending minutes trying to equip something new or just sell your junk. And the overall control is not that well though, probably because BioWare tried to do a RPG shooter, instead of a shooter with RPG elements, like its successors. Because of this, shooting depends a lot on your skills and fun is sacrificed in favor of making the numbers behind the scenes count. It gets better when you really grow and your powers become devastating, but as a low level Adept I pressed the reload button a lot because I couldn’t hit anything with my guns, and using my powers felt like I was hitting them with pillows.

But, again, overall the game is really good and it should remain as a lesson about how you can design a game and how you can be saved by your best part. To understand how good it is, I’m going to say the same thing I said on my Bulletstorm review – when you finish the game in four days and you have no idea how that time passed, that you clearly have a winner.

Max Payne 3

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So I have completed Max Payne 3 about a week ago, but I’ve been delaying this review because I have no clue what to write in the intro paragraph (and because I have no editor or whatever to push me for deadlines). There’s just too much history behind the Max Payne series and the new game is just not good or bad enough to make me go through all that in the intro. Is Max Payne 3 a good game – yes, it’s a decent and fun shooter. Is it a Max Payne game – no; it actually feels like a clone that takes itself too seriously. In regards to gameplay, Stranglehold was a lot closer to the first two games than this third installment – just that it overstated the fun factor of bullet time and John Woo theatrics. As for Rockstar’s Max Payne 3, here a detailed look into its components and where they fail.

Story

When we last saw Max, he was just finishing killing the other thousands of New York bad guys that had survived the first games. He had found love and lost and was a depressed cop. Somewhere along the line of The Punisher, but with better narration and with some good punch lines. It the 10 years we haven’t seen him on our monitors, it seems he has been hitting the McDonalds joints, and also the gym, because he’s a fat, bulky dude. He has moved away from the police life and is now a hired gun somewhere in Brazil, protecting one of the organized crime families there. As expected, the family gets attacked, somebody gets kidnapped, so Max has to go hunting for whoever attacked him and unravel the plot behind the attacks. Which is a pretty cliché plot, and I don’t feel it makes just much sense. It feels just some writers got in a room and tried to come up with some shit to keep Max going through his murdering ways. There are also two plot lines, and the focus alternates between the two: one following the Brazilian murders and the other one showing how Max actually got to be a bodyguard.

The story is just bad – it’s badly written and, especially badly told. What was great about the old games was that they had this Noire feeling to them – a cop in New York going through corruption, drug use, losing his friends and family. It’s pretty obvious you can’t have Noire storytelling in Brazil, because that place is just too colorful for that sort of stuff; there’s one scene towards the end that almost hits this nail, but overall this is just another shooter story. Where they really fuck up is that there’s no way to relate to Max – he’s this depressed, skeptical prick that complains about every damn thing every damn step he takes. It’s not even depression anymore, it’s fucking whining. Max, we get it, you’ve been through some shit, but at the beginning of the game you are popping up whisky like water, you are surrounded by hot girls and hotter drugs, and all you can do is complain about how much your life sucks. Really now, stop complaining and do something about it if it’s that bad.

Max between the old and the new…

Gameplay

Somebody at Rockstar decided that bullet time jump were just not what current games do. Sure, you can still do them, but you’ll usually end up lying on the floor punched by bullets, because Max’s arthritis is acting up and it takes him five minutes to get up after each jump. The more mature mechanic seems to be bullet time cover system – Max can hide behind stuff, just like in all the other generic shooters, then you can slow up time, pop you head and start filling gang-members with bullets. And it works pretty well and it’s also pretty fun. It does take some fun out of dual wielding, because the aim and dual shoot button is the same, so this combination just translates wrong.  You can also use some pieces of the environment to do crazy stunts; but you can also miscalculate a jump and end up hitting your head on a desktop – it’s going to look funny to you, but it’s going to look even funnier to the five guys holding AKs and looking for you.

Another change, this being a modern shooter and stuff, Max can hold only a limited amount of weapons, so you’ll find yourself running out of clips and looking for new guns on the ground.  He’s still popping painkillers like crazy, though.

Having some rest after a jump…

Design

How the hell does one go about killing hundreds of people? That’s like a small army of something. Is it really like that in Brazil, everybody has a gun and everybody want to kill you? I’ve always had this problem with Max Payne games – where do all the bad guys come, because you are literally murdering armies.

But other than that, the overall design is pretty good, sceneries change, enemies and cut-scenes look very well executed. What it does really well is change its pace from time to time – it’s like it feel shooting people in the face again and again might get boring so it places you in a new situation for a few minutes. It might be a helicopter from which you might have to protect somebody; it might be a watchtower from where you must provide sniper support for your partner; or it might be a collapsing water tower from where you must take out your welcoming party. All this are nice changes to the pace of the game and they help you recharge you batteries for the next wave of killing.

My personal Max Payne gear

All-in-all, Max Payne 3 is not a bad game. Just that it feels it has sacrificed some of its specific elements just to be more like all the other games out there. The next one will be really great if the let us do more crazy stuff and less hiding behind cover. And also if Max just goes to see a psychiatrist and loses the whining attitude.

The Dark Knight Rises

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I finally saw this film last night and spent today talking about it, so I just have to tell you this – it’s a great movie, putting on screen another great villain. There’s not much else I should say, just go and see it for yourself. But I will indulge in a few words… spoiler free, of course.

First off, the movie is bigger than the previous two (as a side note it seems every movie had 12 minutes more than the previous one) – the scale is greater, a lot of stuff is happening all over the world. You’ll know this from the first minutes when a kidnapping involving two planes happens high in the sky. That scene is outlandish and it got me dizzy from everything that happened on screen. And everything that happens after this follows the same path – great action all over the screen. The Bat is no longer small scale threats, but something that puts in danger the whole Gotham, and the scenes that you see on screen give you that feeling. The sound also help putting that sinking feeling in you, and the chanting from the pit (you can also hear it in the trailer) will follow you for a while.

But what really steals the show is the new villain, Bane. Let’s admit it, no one expected anyone to come even close to Heath Ledger’s performance as a Batman villain; and that was a though role, as Joker is one of the iconic character from the comics. Bane, on the other hand, is someone you never heard about unless you’re a fan of the whole Batman universe. I remember being disappointed when I first saw a trailer and realized who the villain will be this time. And boy was I wrong; to give you an idea on how great a performance it is, let me just tell you that I got spooked real bad the first few times Bane appears on screen. Tom Hardy (the actor that plays Bane) described Bane as an absolute terrorist: “He’s brutal, but also incredibly clinical in the fact that he has a result-based and oriented fighting style. The style is heavy-handed, heavy-footed… it’s nasty. It’s not about fighting, it’s about carnage!” There are two things that contribute to the brutal feeling: his looks his voice. Bane is a bald, bulky, mountain of a man that has his face covered by a mask. Because of the mask, everything sounds distorted, but he also has an accent that I can’t quite pinpoint (According to Tom Hardy, he based his voice for Bane on Bartley Gorman (1944 – 2002), an Irish Traveller who was the undefeated Bare-knuckle boxing champion of the United Kingdom: “The choice of the accent is actually a man called Bartley Gorman, who was a bare knuckle fighter, a Romani gypsy. So I wanted to underpin the Latin, but a Romani Latin opposed to Latino.”). Also, because of the mask, you can’t see his mouth, so when he talks you just see his unblinking eyes and hear the psychotic words that come out of his mouth. Really, he’s one of the scariest persons I ever saw on screen.

Also, it seems Christopher Nolan gave some fan shoutouts in this movie, although he had previously proclaimed his distaste for comics. (One of these is quite obvious, the others you can find here, but be careful as there are a lot of spoilers.)

The Dark Knight Trilogy is the perfect way to do a Batman movie: it’s dark, serious and filled with deep, interesting characters. It will be interesting to see in what new direction the world’s greatest detective will be resurrected, but for now go and re-watch the first two movies (I just got them on Blu-ray) and then go see this last installment. You won’t regret it.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction

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Longs ass name, I know.

The first time I read Tom Clancy name in one of my torrent files, I thought he was some great designer a la Sid Meyer, who makes games that are so revolutionary that he has to put his name on all of his game’s boxes, so that people don’t have to bother too much with the question “Who’s the genius that brought us this?” No. he’s just a writer with a military fetish, a Michael Bay of the print. I don’t know how much work he actually did on these games, but Ubisoft spawned some good, long lasting series that are carrying his name.

Splinter Cell is one of these games and it appeared in a time when the Thief series were introducing stealth games to basement nerds. The game future Sam Fisher, a modern age Garret that used all sort of gizmos to protect the world from terrorist and whatever capitalist approved menaces are threatening the world. I don’t think I finished any of the previous games, but I remember them being quite fun: you hid in the shadows, crept up behind enemies, grab them by the next and take them for a nice chat about were your next neck grabbing friend might be. The pistol was mostly used to shoot out lights, you had the snake camera to examine the next room, you could hide bodies and so on. You know, the usual stuff that you do in a stealth game. I think I stopped somewhere around the second game, I just didn’t have enough patience for it, plus the Gold Age of RPGs was happening.

So, here I am, the last installment played, and all I have to say is: what the fuck happened? Well, apparently, Sam’s daughter died and he is now a renegade agent, living his life in the slums and sobering over past deeds when somebody, for no apparent reason, wants to mess with him and gets him out of hiding. Notice how I said “for no apparent reason” – that because the story gets really convoluted and enters that rather silly cliché where the hero is taken out of hiding just to save the day. If the bad guys have just chilled and left Fisher in whatever dark corner he was, the world would have been theirs by now. But, you know how villains are: “Is there a guy that can stop us? Yes. Does he have any idea what we’re up to? No. Is there any way he can find out? No. Okay, let’s go tell him” Maybe I just don’t get it because I missed the previous games, but all the twists and character revivals (oops, spoiler) seem to just be pulled of out a hat to tie things together.

But that’s not the worst thing. Neither is what I’m going to say next – the game doesn’t have an identity. It just can’t decide if it’s a shooter or a stealth game. One of its main mechanics is that you can mark targets and then just execute them at a press of a button. The only problem with this is that you have to takedown an enemy in order to charge it. So here’s the psychological factor setting it – I have an uber power to pit bullets into my enemies’ heads, why should I bother sneaking up and taking them out the clean way? And once you go the killer way, it’s complicated to go back to the merciful ninja. Also, stealth games usually place the enemies nicely apart so that you can sneak and take the out without being seen, even if you have to wait a bit for that perfect strike. Conviction, on the other hand, places its mercenaries in packs, begging you to go out into a firefight. Compare this to Human Revolution: enemies where nicely placed and you could stealth or shot, with none of the options having an advantage over it. Or, to a lesser extent, Alpha Protocol – you still ended up placing head shots, but silent and deadly ones because you were afraid to have a pack of enemies attacking you. Instead, Conviction is more of a shooter (there’s no penalty if you take out your machine gun and shoot everything) with a little bit of sneaking if you want that special move.

The other cool mechanic being interrogation, which pretty much means head smashing QTE.

And now to the annoying part. I didn’t finish the game, as I just couldn’t stand it no more, but I played it in two parts. The splitting point was when grumpy old Sam needed to infiltrate some building. The mission opens up with a 5 minutes cut scene that can’t be skipped and then has you running against the clock to fuck knows where. So you’ll have to restart and restart and restart again, every time loosing 5 minutes of your live listening to the same stupid, unskippable conversation. In what day and age don’t designer realized that sometimes you need to be able to skip a cut scene, especially in a chaotic mission, with high chances of being played again and again.

All and all, I didn’t enjoy this game as much as one of my friends did (he was trying to shoot out the bar light on Christmas). I know there another game in the works but, for what it’s worth, Sam should just be the nice agent a go invisible for a while, until he’s sure we’ll both be fine with sneaking and breaking necks.

Batman: Arkham City

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Apparently, it’s very hard to do a good super hero game. I can count the really good ones just by pointing both my middle fingers to the corporate game industry, but that’s a story for another day. What’s even funnier is that one of these good games is not only a super hero game but also a movie tie-in. A really, really, bad movie tie-in – ladies and gentlemen, I give you none other than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I mean, that game was like the ugliest, most likely to die while taking a closer look at the electric outlet or juggling knives, but somehow became Prince Charming. (As another side note, there are other decent super hero games like X-Men Legends or Marvel Alliance. And they were quite good. And they were also developed by Raven Software; which is now owned by Activision, so enough of these non-milking-cow games.)

Since all the names so far belonged to Marvel Comics, it’s only fair that the other good game (I should have said series) star a protagonist from the DC universe. We are talking here about none other than the Dark Knight himself, the alter ego of the playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne, the same guy that will hit the big screen in another blockbuster this summer – Batman. This is not really an easy character to put in a videogame, as I find Batman to be one of the most complex heroes of the genre. Compare, for example, Christopher Nolan’s film with the ones where the Bat-Suit had nipples included – which tone would you prefer to have in a video game. That is not about Batman’s tits… You also have to take into account that the Bat has a lot of history behind him, so where would you start with your game? The moment he decides to become the dark hero? The moment he first meets the Joker or some other lowlife praying on the streets of Gotham? With the first game( Arkham Asylum), Rocksteady Studios decided to start somewhere in the current timeframe of things – Batman has been a vigilante for some years, has made friends, has made a lot of enemies, and was just bring the Joker it when something bad happens.

Arkham City continues some point after the events of the first game – and that basically the problem with the game: it’s the same game, but with a different story and map. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, everybody seems to be doing it this days. So there’s this big compound where prisoners are being held and Bruce Wayne smells something is fishy, let’s himself get captured, then puts on the suit and starts kicking ass. And you pretty soon see why the game hasn’t changed that much – this is almost a perfect recipe and there’s little reason to change something so close to perfection. The combat feels natural and fluid, helped a lot by some great animations, so that sometimes you are amazed by how much havoc you can wreak with just to buttons. Then there’s the running around part, with more emphasis this time, since the game has become some sort of open world: you can either follow the main mission blindly or take a detour and meet some of the other interesting residents of Arkham City.

Smashing heads like a bat.

There’s actually a lot to do in the games: you can jump or glide from building to building looking for your next mission; you can stop and start kicking ass; you can silently stalk your opponents (and you will do this when they’ll be armed); you can try to solve all of the riddles that the Riddler has left lying around; or just take up flying lessons.

Since the world is bigger now, it had to be filled with something, so a lot of the villains populate the street of Arkham. And here is where the game really shines – the artist and designer did a great job, as these are some of the best designed Batman characters I have seen in all media. While the Bat keep his classic, bulky look, all of the others have a distinct, never seen before look, at the same time keeping their key features that make them easily recognizable. I was most impressed with Robin, who appears as a mature sole artist, with a bad-ass hood covering his head. Whoever will be doing the next movies after Nolan finishes his trilogy better take a close look here.

Robin of Arkham CIty

While it’s nothing new, the developers at Rocksteady Studios have managed to create a thrilling gaming experience, making this not only one of the best super heroes games, but also one of the best games of last year. Just remember to stay away from Activision, guys, there enough Call of Duty as it is.

Diablo 3

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Two weeks have passed since The Lord of Terror has re-entered our PCs, so I guess everything is now mature enough to allow me to write an unbiased, un-full-of-rage review.  The reason why I need to mention this is because the first days after the launch were a fuck-fest for the honest buyer; we’ll get to why later, but the bottom line is that if you weren’t willful enough, you just couldn’t get into the game in the first few days. I actually think that this was the game tutorial, and it is quite a crafty idea: “So, dear gamers, you are going to spend lots of hours doing the same thing over and over again. So let’s see if you are ready for this – how many times can you type in your password before you either give up or be allowed into the game?” (This, as it usually happens with most Blizzard games, was nerfed later, the “error 37” and “error 73” bosses being easy to kill right now). So, yeah, two weeks have passed, technical problems are gone, and I can finally review the game and not the servers it runs on.

At least in theory, because the reason I’m writing this instead of actually playing the game is that our good friend “error 37” is back again. Why is this happening? Theoretically in order to prevent cheating and to allow the game to pay for itself even after launch. You see, at one point in Blizzard games items become a commodity and people are willing to pay real money for imaginary items. If you played WoW (or any other MMO, I guess) you know the gold spammers. So, what better way to cut a profit than to make selling items legal and then take a share of the selling price – sound good right? People have fun playing the game and they can earn a little extra; if you are a spoiled brat you can take your dad’s credit card, but the best gear and then whoop ass without much hassle; and it the middle is the developer who earns it’s 15%. Win-win for everybody. Except that you can’t allow people to generate items from thin air, and in order to prevent this, all characters are stored server side, so there’s no way you can change them in any way. Sure, it might be a bit greedy, but I can’t say I’m turned off by this. But, and this is quite the big, black, Afro-American queen but, this comes with some issues: first off, you need the servers to be up in order to play, even if you just want to play by yourself. Apparently this is a tough one for Blizzard, as the fact that every person on this planet pre-ordered the game gave them no clue as to what capacity their servers should hold – so there you go, “error 37”. Also, I can see how you might need to do server maintenance, but Sunday afternoon or evening is not a good time to do this. You can trust me on this. And the worst part is that Blizzard are not some new comers into the online thing; they have been doing this with WoW since like forever, so I guess people were expecting they kind of got the ropes on this. The second problem is more philosophical: even if Diablo 3 has server-side stuff for gameplay, there’s also a strong message that can be have dire consequences for PC gamers – this is a game that hasn’t been cracked in two weeks and it’s the bestselling game on PC. Publishers (who as businessmen who are only interested in profit) might see that means that if you have an uncrackable game you’ll sell like crazy – so more draconic DRM it is. Also, a lot of people seem to have no problem not being able to pay 60E for a game that they can’t play whenever they want. I guess Blizzard still raises a lot of wet childhood dreams in most of us, even if they are not the developer we fell in love with anymore. Just to end this, Penny Arcade said it best “Requiring that players be online is one thing – but we are!  We’re online right now!  They’re the ones who aren’t online.”  And Jim Sterling came in close second.

Those aside, let’s get to the game – is it any good, is it still Diablo? Yes and yes and no. The game is really good, and one of my friends said it best in one phrase “I don’t know how they do it, but Blizzard sprinkled crack on their game again.” It’s addictive and fun, and becomes challenging in parties on higher difficulties where you’ll have to develop some sort of strategy in order to stop dying again and again. It is the same Diablo? Well, yes, as it’s a really fun and addictive action-RPG game. No, because the mechanics have changed – instead of attributes and putting points in skill trees, the game is more streamlined, easier to get into and understand. Sure, people will complain that it’s a worse game that the second one, but for what counts, I think that the right ingredients are there; and I have a feeling that even the QQ-ers are playing it like crazy. The story is crap, but playing Diablo for its story is like buying a dildo to study anatomy. It’s the sort of story written in a weekend afternoon and then taken way too serious. And, really now – how many times must we kill Diablo before that asshole really stays dead? It’s the third game already, people need to come up with better shit than “Diablo has risen again”; and don’t get me started on the “this has been planned since the beginning of time part”. But back to gameplay – you have six categories ( i.e. left click attack, right click attack, defensive, super offensive etc. skills) and three passives. As you level up you gain a new ability in each category and, for further customization, you can assign a rune to each skill, to modify its effects. With this you can basically change your build on the fly – reached a boss and your full DPS build sucks? Change it to something with more survivability with just a few clicks. The skills system actually works and you might even call it original if you haven’t played Dungeon Siege 3. Another thing is that this game is really console-port friendly (you can map all the keys you use to a controller) so expect a PS3 version somewhere soon (I’m saying PS3 because Sony is more likely to allow Real Money Action House than Microsoft) – it will be fun to see the PC puritans’ reaction when one of their flagships betrays them.

Kill me, don’t kill me, whatever. We’ll see eachother in Diablo 4.

Finally, let’s talk about the Action House and let us hold hands and ask ourselves “What were they thinking when they fucked up the game’s economy so bad?” Like I already said, you can sell/buy items from AH (right now just for imaginary gold, and I’m curious to see how thing will change when real money will be involved). Also, the game seems to scale to gear and not to you character’s level. So you’ll enter the game, kill beasties, sell your lame shit to in game merchants and the better ones put them in AH; then, with all your hard earned cash you’ll buy better items for yourself. Cleanse and repeat every few levels, until you have two games – the actual Diablo and the Action House meta-game. The problem is that it’s hard to identify how much an item is worth, so with 10k (which now I can make in 5-10 minutes) gold you might buy the best shit for your level. So what’s the point of the blacksmith and the jeweler? You will spend 10k for a helm with random properties when he can buy a vacation on the Riviera with the same amount? And, as I found out last night, why would I create a gem for 7.5k (not mentioning all the ingredients needed) when I can buy one for 500 gold from AH? My feeling is that AH somewhat missed QA, at least high volume testing (and its sluggish performance is a big clue to that) so the actual in game price has no correlation to what’s going on in AH.

 

Bottom line is that Diablo 3 is a great game, currently plagued with technical problems. But wasn’t it about time that Blizzard brought something new to the table, instead of refining to perfection whatever anyone else is doing? Because, if they continue this way, what will they do when all other developers will be gone (because no publisher picks up your game unless you do the same number as Blizzard) and they’ll have nothing else to polish. And kicking your audience in the nuts with online DRM is never nice.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

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I haven’t been following the news, but I guess this is pretty much Drake’s last adventure. Not because of how the story of the third part plays out, but mostly because I doubt there are any more lost temple left that Drake could casually destroy. You see, Drake is some sort of treasure hunter or archeologist: as a treasure hunter he bring to mind Joker from The Dark Knight – gather all the money, put them in a nice pile then set them on fire. As for archeology, Drake is to this art what throwing dynamite in a lake is to fishing.

Having disposed on the ancient lost Shangri La in the previous game, Nathan Drake is now following the greatest secret in history, hidden by none other than the great Francis Drake. Notice how they both share the same last name? The story will go back to 20 years in the past and you might found out that Nathan Drake is not actually Nathan Drake. Who is he actually – that secret is not shared. But, anyway, the story is classic Uncharted, with Drake following clues, being chased by baddies and blowing up shit along the way. The gameplay is also classic – shoot, jump, run, hide – but why change something that works.

What really makes this game stand out is the directing, and if there was such a thing as best director of a video game, the guy responsible for Uncharted 3 surely deserves it. If you watch the bonus “Making of” videos on the disk, you will hear the developers admit that their game is built on set pieces – some guy thinks “wouldn’t it be cool if Drake was to fight in an airplane?” and the everybody else builds the story so that Drake gets on that airplane and blows the shit out of it. The good part about this is that you’ll take part in some of the most awesome action scenes ever seen in a multimedia product, with the highlights being the airplane part already mentioned, or trying to escape a sinking ship. The bad part is that, at some points, the plot gets messy. Going back to the airplane – it would have been a quiet ride is Drake wouldn’t have started getting curious and stuck he’s head out; and because his Japanese kamikaze ain’t got nothing on his enemies, shit hit the fan real quick.

I would also like to take a moment to notice that Drake is one of the unluckiest bastards in the world, but maybe it’s just karma – you blow old shit up, you get a mini heart attack every time you try to jump on a ledge and it brakes under your hand. It’s exiting the first twenty times this happens, but it just loses its charm after that.

Not much else to say about Uncharted 3 – it stays close to its predecessor and does not change a recipe that proved successful. And, to be honest, why would you want to do that? This is a game with great graphics, interesting characters and the best action scenes and set pieces in videogames. The only thing that could be improved is to let Drake actually bring something back from his travels, not just dust and ashes.