Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Every now and then I come across a game that simply feels right. Where I feel hard-pressed to think up any serious complaints against the game, and it contains a large number of elements so great and so well done, I wonder why they haven't been done before in this capacity (Or maybe they were done before, but weren't done right). I believe the last game I played that was like this was Valkyria Chronicles. That game had so many good things going for it, but Sega completely failed to advertise it, and thus pretty much no one played it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is another of those games. It's a game where I don't mind whiling away the hours working at a particularly tough trophy, or where I'm having so much of a blast playing it that I simply don't really care what time it is, or when I need to stop. That's what happened the second day I played it, as I stayed up till 3am working at the 40 hit combo trophy, and enjoying every second of it.
So enough single minded praise for a bit, let's talk about the premise. The game opens just as Batman is driving the Joker back to Arkham Asylum in his Batmobile, having spent the evening foiling the clown's attempt to assassinate the mayor. You play as Batman, escorting the Joker deeper and deeper into the depths of Arkham. You can feel tension in the air as Joker continues to make jokes and be cheerful as usual. Naturally, you soon find that the Joker let himself be captured (as Batman suspects out loud). You watch as he attacks and kills both his captors, and reveals that his men, transferred from Blackgate prison due to a [rather coincidental] fire, have already begun taking over the asylum. Now everyone (including Batman) is trapped on the island, and there's no help coming. So put simply, Batman's spent a lot of the past couple of months rounding a lot of big super criminals and throwing them in Arkham Asylum. Now he's trapped on the island with all of them wanting a piece of him.
Fortunately, you've got the brains, skills, and tools to not only escape the island, but to put every criminally insane individual back in their cell in the process. Arkham Asylum is composed primarily of three things. Brawling, exploring, and sneaking. I'll explore each of these components separately, starting with hand-to-hand combat.
Rocksteady (the developer) has devised one of the most simplistic, satisfying, deep fighting systems ever for Arkham Asylum. I've spent a lot of time cracking skulls with this system, and it works so ridiculously well, I can't imagine how any game with close combat in it could possibly compare favorably anymore. It's completely off-balanced my scale on how I would compare combat systems. It's called the FreeFlow Combat system. At the most basic level, you only need to use Square and Triangle to do pretty well. Square is the attack button, you mash it continuously until you see a dude trying to attack you. Then you press Triangle to counter his attack. Eventually, you'll come across enemies that have to be stunned with O or dodged with X before you can attack them. If you want to get fancy, you can also quick-throw Batarangs with L1, and (once you get it), pull enemies with the Bat Claw by double-tapping R2.
At the beginning, you can get by fine enough just button mashing. But in later fights, you'll find that hordes of thugs won't let you just hit square all the time or rely on a simplistic strategy. As Batman, you need to keep an eye not just on the guy who's arm you're breaking, but on everyone around you. If you're not observant, you won't notice that guy on the fringe of the battle who runs off to rip a pipe off the wall to attack you with, or to break into the gun depository. At a more basic level, you won't notice the guy slowly making his way towards you, getting ready to throw a punch. An experienced brawler is paying more attention to the battle at large, than just Batman and the poor soul getting kicked in the balls.
But you can't just sit around, either, because another important element to combat is the combo counter. You'll need to throw three punches in quick succession before you go into FreeFlow mode, where you can easily direct Batman's attacks. From there on, you'll want to maintain your combo. Getting a high combo chain is the basic key to a high score and getting large heaps of EXP in one sitting. Every time you get hit, miss a punch, or stop attacking for about two seconds, your combo drops back down to zero. Unless you rely on heavy variation in your attacks, it's pretty difficult to get a high score without getting good at combos.
Occasionally you'll have to fight a boss. Even though (without spoiling much) these are generally famous enemies of the Bat from the comics, in my opinion boss battles are actually one of the lower points of the game. There's a Zelda-esque simple pattern to beating each of them, and but they don't really ramp up the difficulty each time you outwit them. So the battle becomes boring.
The alternative to facing foes head on is sneaking. These areas, where it's better to take a stealthy approach, are known as predator challenges. Of course, you're the predator. Again, this is a very well-designed aspect of the game. In predator challenges, the only goal is to take out every single enemy. How you do this is entirely up to you. There are usually numerous hidden pathways, hiding spots, and alcoves for you to hide in, as well as gargoyles that you can perch on to survey the area and plan your moves. As you systematically take out each person, the Joker will make comments directed at both you and his henchmen. The funny thing is, he often spends more time chiding, taunting and threatening them than he does Batman. For example, by the time you've taken out all but the last person, that dude is just completely terrified. He turns this way and that often, and looses off shots at even the slightest hint of your presence. Meanwhile, Joker will constantly insult and threaten him over the loudspeaker, definitely not helping his psyche. You almost feel sorry for the guy.
You have numerous moves and tools at your disposal for dispatching henchman. One signature takedown is to hang from a gargoyle and wait for someone to walk under you. Then you can immediately swoop down, grab him, and string him up from the gargoyle. Later on, goons will start wearing suicide collars, which alert the rest of the crew when someone is taken down. One of my favorite things is to dispatch a guard, then boobie trap his body with explosive gel. You can guess what happens when the others come to investigate. Another fun one is to take advantage of structural weaknesses to bury a henchman in falling debris. Besides gadget based attacks, you also have a number of physical takedowns. Sneak up behind an unsuspecting henchman to take him down cleanly and silently. Hang from a walkway and wait for someone to walk by you, then rise up and pull them over the edge, Assassin's Creed style. Alternatively, you could lie in wait behind a corner, and wait for your prey to walk up just close enough to pop out and KO him in a corner takedown. These predator challenges really are made of good stuff.
And finally, there's exploration. Though you'll constantly feel propelled through the campaign, and rarely lost, the fact is Arkham Asylum is one big sandbox. At most points in the game you're free to explore and backtrack, either to solve riddles or just to see the sights. I say most because one of the villains, Poison Ivy eventually breaks out and wreaks havoc on much of the island structure. Gameplay wise, this could actually be a good thing, as it often forces you to take different routes when backtracking, because your normal way might have been blocked off.
The game provides incentive to stay observant with riddles and other secrets hidden all over the island. There are over 200 Riddler challenges to solve, from hunting down Riddler trophies to scanning the various Amadeus Arkham plaques left behind. Besides the latter example slowly unraveling an interesting side story, completing Riddler challenges not only net you a hefty XP bonus, but also unlock combat and predator challenges, patient interview tapes (all of which are quite amusing to listen to), and biographies for a bunch of famous and not-so-famous characters in the Batman universe. I know I learned quite a lot about Batman and his past through the character bios. If the campaign secrets aren't enough replay value, each combat and predator challenge also has it's own online leaderboard, including the ones in the Joker DLC.
Finding and these challenges is simple enough, but solving them might be another story, as many of them are real head-scratchers. A lot of the Riddler trophies and riddles are only accessible with the use of certain gadgets though, so it's nice that you can continue strolling the island after you've beaten the game.
Arkham Asylum is also visually crisp and impressive. The animation especially is very fluid, and it shows during combat and ingame cutscenes. It also makes notable use of depth of field blur effects, and overall a very dark (almost horrific at times) style, fitting for the Dark Knight and the tone of the game. The audio is also pretty good, with the Joker obviously having the best performance. Just like the Dark Knight movie, you can expect to hear a lot of deep woodwind instruments as you stroll through the ruined halls of various Arkham facilities.
Ultimately I found I was unable to find much fault in Arkham Asylum. It's just an excellently done game with great pacing, superb controls and gameplay, and impressive replay value. The PS3 version even comes with free DLC that let's you play as the Joker through several Predator and Combat challenges. Really, just go play it if you can. A 9.5/10.
Note: By the way, there's also an Alternate Reality Game going for Arkham Asylum. It involves the fire at Blackgate, and how one of the employees there thinks how incredibly strange it is. Visit ArkhamCityMunicipal.com to start.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Yep, I got a new computer, and it's awesome. And the best part is, I built it from the ground up. Well, sorta. I ordered each individual part and put it together; I'll put it that way.
With the help of a couple real thick books, one or two websites, and some real technically inclined friends, I was able to gather an amazing amount of information and theoretical knowledge about the field that is computer hardware and how to put it together.
Here's the specs:
CPU: AMD Phenom II x4 3.2Ghz Quad Core Processor
RAM: 4GB 1600mhz Corsair Dominator DDR3
HDD: 750GB 7200RPM Seagate Barracuda
GPU: 1GB Sapphire Radeon HD 4870
Disc Drive: Sony Optiarc DVD Burner (can't remember the precise write speed)
PSU: Corsair 850w supply
Case: Antec 900 gaming case
Keyboard: Razer Tarantula
Mouse: Logitech G5
Motherboard: Can't remember the exact specs.
-NetGear Wireless N-Draft internal Wi-fi card
-Lacie: 250GB Firewire 400 drive
-LG 22" HD monitor
-OS: Windows 7 RC
Yep, it's good stuff. Seeing as I'm mildly bored and feel like bragging once again about my feat, I figured I'd mesh together some info about each part, and my impressions.
Before: This thing worried me, and was probably the most nerve-racking part of construction. You see, I assumed that the processor (or some other part) came with thermal glue. At the time, I didn't realize that the putty-like gray square on the bottom of the heatsink was in fact thermal compound, and thus had to stop for the night to go out and buy some in the morning. I applied it, and continued on to finish the computer, but then it wouldn't turn on. I freaked out, and after consulting with my buddies, we decided it might have to do with the thermal compound. So I went BACK into the computer, and took of the heatsink (the heatsink is strapped on HARD; it was very difficult to strap on, and even more difficult to take off). The few sparks that did go through the mobo (slang for motherboard) when i first pressed the power button had begun to melt the thermal compound, fusing it with the pre-applied stuff. Long story short, the pre-applied compound was ruined, and I ended up having to completely scrape it off, and re-apply my own. I eventually got the computer to work, and it had nothing to do with the compound, but that's another story. In the process of re-applying the glue, I actually dropped the processor twice. It was scary. <=O
After: Well, this thing is a beast. I've yet to max out it's usage percentage (highest I came was 92% before it promptly dropped back to 30-40), even will running an internet browser, torrents, messenger, Guild Wars, steam (downloading an update), and anti-virus. It's incredible, this computer pretty much NEVER lags. And if it does, it tends to be more the program's fault than the computer's.
Before: The memory modules look incredibly beastly. They've got black spikes on top for heatsinks, and have a brushed finish. At first it was very tough making sure they were actually fully installed, but everything worked out. They say you should never force anything when it comes to computer parts, but I think it's okay to get a bit strong with your RAM, if it doesn't feel like it's in completely. The good thing about RAM is that you can only put it in one way, due to the notch it has.
After: On average, I'm using up about 30-40% of my RAM on a constant basis. This is with messenger, Opera (no torrents), Steam, DaemonTools, and Avast! running. The two main culprits of RAM usage appear to be Steam (also a CPU hog) and torrents. Highest RAM usage I've gotten to was about 75%.
Before: Installing the harddrive is simple in theory, but due to the insane amount of cables spewing from the PSU, it's really a huge pain.
After: I haven't told anybody this because it isn't really a big deal to me (As it stands, I've yet to use up more than half of my 250GB external, even though I've had it for a couple years now), but this drive actually only has 700GB on it. I coulda sworn I ordered one with 750GB. It performs pretty quick though (faster than my old IDE drive, at least), so I guess that's cool.
Before: Jesus, this thing is huge. I was actually planning to buy a second one and try CrossFireX later on, but as it stands I'd be hard-pressed to install anything else in the computer (besides more RAM or HDDs), let alone a SECOND one of these beasts. It takes up two PCI slots, and has it's own fans and vents. It has a black and blue color scheme, with blue LEDs.
After: But it sure shows results. I tried Batman: Arkham Asylum on this computer, and it actually looks better than it does on my PS3 version!
Before: Probably the easiest thing to install. I just slid it into the topmost slot, plugged it in and was good to go.
After: Haven't tried burning anything, but it played my Oban Star Racers DVD just swell.
Before: Oh my god, this thing has so much guts hanging out of it. I have the power supply to blame for my computer being a horrible mess of cables inside, only half of which are actually connected to anything. It was all I could do to tie what cables I wasn't using away to the side.
After: At this point, an 850w power supply is probably waaaay overkill (I was future-proofing for the possibility of a second GFX card), so of course I'm having no problem powering the various components in my computer.
When you look at the incredible size of the case, this thing looks like it'll be huge. But it's actually pretty much the same size as the tower of my last computer (an old Dell Dimension). The case is also pretty heavy, as expected. It's got a really flexible design, so you can re-arrange the fans, and optical/harddrives. There's 9 5.25" drive bays, and you can also install up to three hard drives in every set of three bays (or a fan). As for interface, It's been lackluster so far. There's two USB ports and one Firewire port on the front, as well as two audio ports. There's also a HDD activity light, a reset button, and of course a small rectangular power button. There's no power light, but one isn't really necessary, because each of the midsize fans have a bright blue LED on them that lights up when the computer turns on. Seeing as, by default there's two medium fans situated in the bottom two 3-bay sets, you can immediately tell the computer is on by the ambient blue glow. The LEDs really are a pretty feature, in my opinion. On the top, there's a small depressed area where you can deposit iPods and such that are syncing with your computer, and, more importantly a HUGE fan. This fan takes up just half the space of the front. This is good for cooling, but I have one large concern. If you sit your computer under or beside a desk, and have a habit of eating at your desk, you need to be extremely careful, because any liquids spilled on the tower will go right through the fan grating on the top and hit the circuitry. Coincidentally, the case has a black color scheme with blue LEDs..just like the graphics card.
Really, this is a pretty impressive keyboard. I would have liked backlit keys (some of them actually are backlit), but I try not to do much heavy computing in the dark anyway, so it's a minor complaint. This keyboard apparently has all sorts of fancy capabilities for hardcore gamers, like programmable "blank" keys on the left and right, and the ability to store up to 100 profiles. I paid more attention to the practical parts of the keyboard, though. The hyper-response keys work nicely, though the letter space is a bit more cramped than I'd like. There's also shortcuts on the edges for music and other stuff. Besides the solid and simplistic design, what I like most about this keyboard is the pulsating blue Razer symbol on the hand rest. Well, no actually that's not it, though I do love that. What I like most is the fact that you can remove the keys, making it easier to go after dust and such.
I actually had this mouse long before I got the computer. It's a pretty fancy mouse, and a practical one, with a side leaning middle button, and two side buttons. It's also ridiculously easy to grip, and has some sort of wierdly smooth plastic that lets it glide across even mildly rough surfaces. It also comes with an assortment of small weights you can use to customize the feel of the mouse. Now that's fancy.
Before: The motherboard was the first thing I installed, and initially the most intimidating part of the computer to install. I was still deathly afraid of static shocking it to death, so I handled it somewhat timidly. But installing it was ultimately a breeze, and this thing looks pretty cool. I like it's color scheme, which is primarily blue, by the way...with blue LEDs. It's got power and reset buttons for those hardcore technicians that need to run a computer without a case, and dual LAN ports (capable of bridging them).
After: The integrated sound is pretty damn good.
Before: Easy install. It comes with an external antenna you can either attach to a wall or sit somewhere higher up.
After: Yeah...I hate wireless. Only reason there's a card for it in here is because my mom insisted on buying one.
Pretty fancy looking moniter, wtiih a piano-black finish (like the keyboard), and an interesting touch interface. I'd have preferred buttons, but I appreciate the clean and simple look the lack of button gives this monitor.
I had actually originally planned to install Windows XP, but learned it was 32-bit, and decided to just go with W7. It's a pretty slick OS, I really love how well many programs are integrated. I almost didn't mind using IE, simply because of how tightly integrated into the OS it is (making it that much more intuitive to use).
So yep, I'm pretty darn satisfied with this rig.