Saturday, December 29, 2007


For $9 on Steam, how could I not buy this one? A cowboy game with open-world features and decent gunplay. What could go wrong?

A lot, actually. Not enough to make this a "bad" game by any means, it's very fun, but some issues do get frustrating.

The first issue is the frequent loading. Now, this is an open world so naturally it's going to need to load different areas somehow. The way that it's implemented, however, is rather awkward. While you're traveling, the game will just suddenly freeze for a second or two while it loads the next part. It often happens at inopportune times, there's no real predicting it, and it interrupts the flow of gameplay. This wouldn't be such a huge problem if it wasn't so frequent. While traveling through a large canyon, for instance, even though there's absolutely nothing inside the canyon of interest, it will load for a few seconds upon entering the canyon, then load again as you leave the canyon to go to the next area. So you enter, it loads, you ride through for maybe 7-10 seconds, then it loads again as you leave. The loading was never this frequent in GTA, which rendered sprawling cities with only a load between different large areas separated by bridges. Gun would be like if GTA loaded after every 5 blocks of street travel. This won't happen in combat-heavy sections of the game, so its impact of the gameplay is mostly negligible, but it's still annoying.

The second major issue is the hitboxes and general aiming. This is a console port, unfortunately, so this means that if you aim at someone your crosshair will start automatically tracking that enemy until he's dead. If you aim a little to the side of the enemy, it will still hit him because of how big the hitbox is. This doesn't make the game unplayable, but it's annoying for sure. It also makes headshots seem a little random, because your reticle is usually rather large. The best you can hope for is to center their head in the big box of your crosshair and hope for the best. Sometimes it blows their head off (literally, it's cool looking) or sometimes it just hits their chest.

Ok, with that out of the way, I do like this game. The protagonist is a bad-ass, the storyline is actually decent (if cliche) and the open-world mechanics work well in a wild west setting. I wish there was a little more going on in the world to interact with, since usually you're just traveling through empty canyons and plains or else in a dusty towns with people just walking around. Occasionally you'll see a saloon shootout or something but they don't affect you much. The game is a lot more linear than the GTA series, in fact. Most of the time, you'll just want to get to the next scripted story mission, which are the real focus of the game and handled well in general.

I wish the control problems and loading interruptions weren't there, but even so this is a good game. I doubt I'd have bought it for more than $20 or so, but for $9 it's a good deal.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Game of the Year 2007?

It's that time of year again. The end. The time when all major game publications start naming Game of the Year awards. I've read a number of these lists, so here's my take on the whole thing.

This is without a doubt a great year for gaming. We've had some truly great games released this year that will go down as some of the best of all time, as well as some gameplay innovations that will definitely see a long-lasting impact on the industry. Here's a few notable games this year (in no particular order) that I felt will be remembered for a long time as not only good games but innovative ones, and are all probably eligible for GOTY:

1: The Orange Box (Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Portal, Team Fortress 2)

This is absolutely a must-own for anyone who enjoys FPSes. Or puzzles. Or PC games. Or, well, games. Ok, this package is a must-own for ANYONE regardless of who you are or what you like. First, it features the newest Half-Life 2 installment, Episode 2. The Half-life 2 series is my absolute favorite of all time. Valve is the master when it comes to game design, storytelling, immersion, gameplay, and anything else you can think of. Episode 2 features some excellent gameplay moments, incredible Hunter and Strider battles, and some very interesting plot twists and storyline. They even improved the graphics for the Source engine with the game to include new lighting effects that look great, especially in the Antlion tunnels.

Next, Portal. Since this takes place in the Half-Life universe (Aperture Science competed with Black Mesa for government funding), I consider it a part of the Half-Life 2 series and therefore it is also my favorite game along with all the other HL2 games. That said, it's just awesome. More fantastic level design from Valve, along with some excellent gameplay concepts brought over from the originators of the Portal idea at Digipen. I played Narbacular Drop before Portal came out and definitely enjoyed it, but Portal just took the fledgling idea from Narb and ran with it. It was also one of the funniest games I've ever played. I cannot wait for the inevitable Portal gun that will be featured in Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

Finally, Team Fortress 2. I haven't played this nearly enough because I've been otherwise occupied, but it's a quality multiplayer FPS. The classes are all balanced, useful, and specialized. They do not play alike at all, and that's a good thing. Shanking someone in the back as a spy, or lighting up a group of enemies as a Pyro, or mowing down foes with the Heavy's machine gun is just plain fun.

Oh, and if you never played Half-Life 2 or Episode 1 (shame on you), the Orange Box includes both of these games. That's probably 40+ hours of amazing singleplayer gameplay, plus a very deep and long-lasting multiplayer game, all for the price of a single game. Talk about a good deal.

2: Super Mario Galaxy

I got this for christmas and I'm up to 30 stars already. Simply put, it's Mario 64, but with the addition of some insanity and awesomeness. The levels have you running through environments where gravity will shift on the fly or lead you in multiple directions. You'll be running on the ceiling and floating through space. It's probably more addicting than crack and I had to literally stop yesterday because my hands hurt too much to keep playing. Best Mario game ever? Yes.

3: Bioshock

Another quality FPS. It's the spiritual sequel to System Shock 2, which I have never played but will try to get around to it some day. The storyline is surprisingly good for a game: there's an underwater city named Rapture where scientists and artists are free to create and experiment. This leads to technical advancements but also to gene-splicing which of course eventually causes the population to go insane and murder each other. Well, your plane crashes in the ocean and you just happen to come across this underwater city, and now you've got to survive and stop the mad administrator, Andrew Ryan. Well, that's how it first appears. I won't spoil anything but there's some big twists that are actually surprising. The gameplay, of course, is solid. You get powers called Plasmids that let you shoot lightning bolts or light people on fire or throw objects with telekinesis. In the interest of keeping this short, I'll only add that the water effects in the game look more real than real water. I was very impressed with the graphics technology of the Unreal 3 Engine.

4. Metroid Prime 3

Best FPS on the Wii, unless Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 is better. Haven't played that one. Regardless, I consider Prime 3 to be an excellent game. It feels like Zelda, but in space and a FPS. You'll see that the game has a sort of dungeon layout; there's specific areas with themes like lava or ice or whatever, and at the end is a boss and you receive a new weapon or gadget which helps you with the next area. This is what makes Zelda great and it works amazingly well in Prime 3 as well. The fact that it's a sci-fi FPS/adventure game just sealed the deal for me, and I like this one more than I do Twilight Princess. The fact that it controls amazingly well really helps, too. I just wish it had autofire, since my thumb got really sore of tapping the A button to rapid-fire for hours on end.

5. Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Classic point-and-click puzzle/adventure game for the Wii. I hesitate to call it an adventure game because it's set up as a series of individual levels, each with puzzles to solve, and no items carrying over between levels. Also, there's no inventory to speak of; you only carry a single item at a time. As a puzzle game, it's just great. It makes good use of the Wiimote, in many different ways. This will probably go down as a little-known gem for the Wii, especially since Capcom only made a limited number.

6. Call of Duty 4

I've only played through the single player campaign of CoD4, but it's intense and immersive. There are lots of memorable moments including sniping somebody while taking into account wind and the Coriolis effect, being killed by a nuclear explosion (while in full control of your character even during the fallout), and playing through an entire level as a dethroned dictator getting executed on television. You never get a gun, nor move around on your own. You can only watch as armed escorts lead you through the city and up to a platform where you are promptly shot in the face. I hear the multiplayer is excellent as well.

7. Games I haven't played (Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Unreal Tournament 3, Crysis)

These all look like very good games. Can't properly talk about them until I play them fully, though. The former 2, I'll need to wait on the PC version. The latter, I've played the demos already. UT3 was fast and fun, but didn't cooperate with my computer. Crysis, on the other hand, ran surpisingly well on medium settings and was lots of fun. I'll be getting that one for sure, some way or another.

So, what do I think is Game of the Year for 2007? How am I supposed to decide between all those? Play them all and make up your own mind.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

First-Person Shooters Suck with Dual-Analog Controls

Watch the above video. That's Fatal1ty, probably the #1 player in the world at Quake 3 Arena. Look at how fast the gameplay is. Ask yourself this: how much of that would even be possible on the dual-analog controllers that the PS3 and the Xbox 360 utilize? Now, take a look at this video of Halo 2 1-vs-1:

Notice how slow this is? In fact, you hardly seem them turning around much at all. They rely on the 1-hit snipe kills and sticky grenades. I won't go nearly so far as to claim that Halo requires no skill to play; a lot of those grenade ricochets and launches were impressive. However, the hitboxes in Halo are so big that it isn't terribly challenging to snipe someone and kill them anyway. You can literally miss the character model and still kill them. Go ahead, watch the above clip one more time and look for exactly where the guy is aiming when he snipes his opponent. To contrast this, here's a clip of some "quick sniping" in Counterstrike:

In Counterstrike, if you miss even a little bit, you miss. There are also some close range snipes as well as headshots on fast-moving targets. To me, this is far more impressive. You need a quick eye and accurate mouse hand to land those shots.

Anyone who has played FPSes on a PC for any length of time can tell you that a mouse is way better than dual analog sticks. The gameplay is much faster, you can actually turn around in a split-second which can mean the difference between a frag and a death, and you can aim very precisely in a small amount of time, assuming you're good enough. With dual analog sticks, the aim movement is jerky, the turning is slow, and the aiming itself is less accurate. I'm not saying you can't play and have a good time with dual-analogs. I personally can't stand playing FPSes with controls like that, if you haven't guessed, but when I do play I can certainly hold my own in most games. The point, however, is that to play a serious FPS, you just can't really do it with dual-analogs and expect it to be as good as a mouse.

Halo, for example (and I know I'm picking on it a lot but it's just the best example; this does apply to every dual-analog FPS), is a very slow game, without a whole lot of tricks or depth to it (not a LOT; there are some obviously, and it does take some skill, but not a ton). It's a fairly average FPS that is only popular because of (a) Microsoft's marketing dollars, and (b) it was the first major online FPS for a console. PC gamers have been playing solid, fast, and deep online FPSes for years and years. Team Fortress, Counterstrike, Quake, Unreal Tournament; these are all excellent fast-paced FPSes that would just not be as fun on a console with dual-analogs, because it would slow down the gameplay considerably.

Take a stand against the continued trend of game developers to release FPSes on consoles or to even focus on consoles and then port (poorly) to the PC. Stop playing FPSes with dual-analog controls when you could be . . . you know . . . aiming.

Wild Arms Update

Ok, so I couldn't finish the game within a week. In fact I doubt I'm even halfway through it. And after today (Christmas), I don't think I'll have time for much besides Mario Galaxy and possibly Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. And Battalion Wars 2. And Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. And Crysis. . . . I'll try to find some time to play it at least once every day or two, though, once I get home from my Christmas vacation. Last time I lost a couple weeks of play, I picked it back up and forgot what I was doing or where I was completely.

In fact, now that I think about it, I'll just use this blog as a quick notepad to mention where I am at the moment I'm typing this. I'm in this maze in the desert near the ship graveyard, and I'm supposed to go fight this giant Preying Mantis boss.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wild Arms

This certainly is an old one. I bought this RPG on the Playstation when it came out in 1997. I never got around to beating it, so this week I'm making it my goal to try to beat it by saturday (6 days from this post). I hear this is pretty long so I'll be in for a challenge. Not to mention that for an RPG, this game is notoriously difficult. This might be a less well-known RPG for the simple reason that Final Fantasy VII came out a few months after this. It deserves more attention though, so here's my take on the game as I play through it again for the first time in at least 7 years.

So how is this, as an RPG? Essentially, it's Crono Trigger. I don't mean that in a bad way, because Crono Trigger is the best RPG ever created. Wild Arms takes everything that CT did well, adds some great anime FMV sequences and 3D battles, and a good if somewhat cliche story. It feels very polished even it is rather standard. The main element which makes Wild Arms a little unique is the puzzle elements. Most RPGs offer only very basic and easy puzzles, but Wild Arms actually goes well beyond that for some interesting and thought-provoking dungeons. This would be enough for a good but standard RPG, but what makes this a really great RPG is the fact that it combines these puzzles with some great combat. Sure, the actual gameplay of the combat is fairly standard also; you select your attacks, specials, and items in a turn-based system where you take turns with the enemy. The combat is above-average because of difficulty and balance of the enemies. This is one tough RPG. The boss fights are all memorable. You'll need to really think about what moves to do each turn, and when to defend or heal and when to attack. After a while, I was actually dreading the random monster encounters in the dungeons, not because the fights weren't fun, but because the monsters are legitimately dangerous. In most RPGs, you won't face anyone really dangerous until you get to a boss. In Wild Arms, the monsters are deadly, but the bosses are even harder.

I'll post again when and if I beat this one. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 14, 2007


This is seriously the best adventure game ever conceived. Download it for free here.

It's amazing what sorts of things you can do. The game functions much like any other RPG, except you only control a single character (the little @ on the screen). Battle and traps and other things run on a dice-rolling system for probability. There's an extensive stat system and inventory. The game is also randomized, so every time you play the game, the dungeons and enemies will be different. You also don't know what some of your items are. For instance, you might pick up a scroll entitled LEP GEX VEN ZEA. It won't say anything more than that. It could do pretty much anything, from generating a hundred monsters that attack you, to teleporting you somewhere random, to curing disease, to polymorphing an object or genociding an entire race of monsters. Each new game you play, those nonsensical scroll titles will be randomized too. The LEP GEX VEN ZEA scroll might teleport you in one game and kill you the next. Now of course, there are scrolls of identify, and other ways to tell what a scroll actually does (potions and spellbooks are randomized as well). Some character classes can also identify certain objects. Oh yeah, and there's food in the game. If you don't eat when you get hungry, you'll die. This forces you to press onward in search of food and gold.

Speaking of pressing onward, the game has upwards of 50 dungeon levels (I've never made it far enough to know the exact number). The object is to reach the bottom and acquire the amulet of Yendor, and then return to the top (ascend). This is insanely difficult. When I say this is difficult, I mean you will die. A lot.

If you needed another reason to play this game, it has Grues in it. Yeah, that's right.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Finally, a game with grues! I would also like to mention right off the bat that I was eaten by a grue within about 15 minutes of playing this game. Maybe I should have learned by now that dark caves aren't terrible safe in Zork games?

Grand Inquisitor is the most recent (and probably final) game in the Zork series of adventure games. It is one of the few graphical Zork games, most being text adventures. It plays in a similar way to Myst, in the way that it features heavy FMV (Full Motion Video) and most everything is pre-rendered. You can pan the camera around in 360 degrees in every static area you move to, and you point and click on items and buttons and what-have-you with the mouse.

This game features heavy item combinations and out-of-the-box thinking. This is a bit problematic for me because I'm a more straightforward logical thinker. It's not in my nature to consider unintuitive solutions such as using my spell of open door on one door of a dam because the buttons which one assumes will open the doors given the proper combination actually can never open all the doors. I see the buttons controlling the doors and think "ah, a button puzzle. Ok, this button controls those doors there, and this button switches those doors here," etc. But no, solving the puzzle that way is impossible. The game is full of weird things like this. Another example is using a cigar to light an Inquisitor Action Figure on fire, so that the fireman would come to put it out and get arrested for setting the fire in the first place, allowing you to break into his house and steal the magic lantern that he was refusing to fix for you. Yeah, it seems obvious when you hear the results of the actions, but when you're in the situation where you need to think up that clever solution on your own, it's a lot tougher. Some people have brains that will solve those sorts of puzzles. I don't. I'll have to confess to using Gamefaqs on this game, a lot. I really wish I could try to solve more of the puzzles myself, but believe me when I say that even in terms of adventure/puzzle games, this one is very hard. The puzzles also get tedious often, much like a lot of point-and-click adventure games. You will probably need to try out every item combination in every room by trial and error, and it gets frustrating after a while.

So why keep playing it? Because the game is funny, that's why. There are some great and smart jokes as well as tons of references to past Zork games. It's kind of difficult to give an example, because you really need to play the game to get the humor. However, here's one example: right inside the entrance to the Great Underground, there's a glass case containing a sword and a hammer and saying "in case of adventure, break glass." When you open the case, the sword is clamped down. You then take the hammer, close the case, and smash the case open, after which the clamps are removed allowing you to take the sword. Not a very hard puzzle but it gives you an idea of the absurdity and overall fun the game is. It never takes itself very seriously and that's the best thing about it. As funny as the one-liners in Sam & Max are (another great adventure game), the overall feel of Grand Inquisitor leaves me wanting to play it more just to see what will happen next. I just wish my brain was wired to be able to solve the puzzles better.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Warning! No Refuge!

"Be attitude for gains: Be Praying"

This is the message that pops up right before the final boss in the amazing Shmup by Treasure, Radiant Silvergun. Here's a picture of the boss, named Xiga:

This boss throws a LOT of stuff at you. This guy legitimately tries to kill you; he is absolutely no joke. This is the last of MANY bosses in Silvergun, and he's easily the hardest. So, why am I talking about an old Sega Saturn game? Because it's a shmup, that's why, and a darn good one too.

"Shmup" of course means "shoot-em-up" and stands for the genre of games where you have a tiny spaceship (or plane, or dragon, or magical human) and you have to take down about a million enemies while avoiding everything on screen except the powerups. If you get hit, you're dead. If you run out of lives, the game is over (no, you haven't really beaten the game if you use continues to do so. That's lame). Commonly, the genre involves dodging intense patterns of colorful but deadly bullets, like this game here named Dodonpachi:

Everything on screen will kill you if you touch it. Your ship is the tiny green one at the bottom. There's no wussy life bars or hit points. There's no storyline or fancy 3D graphics to get in the way of the sheer mayhem and action.

This is a genre that lives primarily in arcades, and even then primarily in Japan because that's where the new ones come out. However, every now and then a great one comes out to a console in North America and Europe. Take Ikaruga, for example. You've probably heard of it because it's consistently rated as one of best games on the Gamecube. Reviewers complained it was too hard (all shmups are hard, that's the point, play it for long enough and you'll get good at it) and that it was too short. Let me address this last one in detail because it plagues most shmup reviews by mainstream game press. These guys credit-feed through the game, using continues left and right, and when they beat it in 30 minutes they say "what, it's over? that was fast."

They don't understand the point of the genre. As with most arcade games, you've never really "beaten" it until you have done so without continuing at all. The way the game was meant to be beaten. Ikaruga can be played all the way through in about 30 minutes. To 1-credit-complete the game (1CC to those knowledgeable folks), it took me about 25+ hours of play (believe me, it's logged on my memory card). And by the way, that was on the eastiest settings in the game. It will take me another dozen hours probably to beat it on the normal settings, the way the game appeared in arcades.

Another thing reviewers often mention about shmups is that they are a "Throwback to a bygone era" or some such nonsense. Shmups are being played and released all the time. Not as often as the cookie-cutter FPSes coming out every week nowadays (to consoles, no less! More on that in the future), but still usually once or twice a year a big-name shmup releases. With the advent of downloadable games services like Xbox Live Arcade or WiiWare or the Playstation Network, many of the most popular games have been shmups. I'm looking at you, Geometry Wars.

The one reason everyone praised Ikaruga, and why everyone loves Geometry Wars, is the gameplay. It is about as pure as gaming can get. Shoot them, while avoiding projectiles. You need to move into the line of fire of enemies in order to kill them, and thus risk getting shot. Risk-reward system. There's challenge. Self-improvement. There are skills to learn. The games require reflexes. Knowledge of the games over long periods of play time will improve scores. Incentive to play better and longer. If you want replay value in the game, you won't find more than in a shmup. You're replaying the same levels over and over and over, improving your score, learning the enemy patterns and how to stay alive. It's just plain addicting.

I'll end this with a quote from Winston Churchill:

"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result"